It was a low, scudding–skied day. One of those windy wet Melbourne autumn days. The cemetery was flat: bare and windswept – even the chapel and crematorium buildings hugged the ground. This was the Australian way of death, unaccepting, almost furtive – no Victorian melodrama or mid-European marble proclaimed any feelings; just freshly turned earth and a small plaque on a concrete stump.
The mourners picked their way across the puddled grass to the graveside, occasional muttered curses testament to their unsuitable footwear. She stood alone at the back, on the other side to where the family had assembled, watching the family mourners huddle on the muddy green carpet. The bearded priest, his tall hat shivering in the wind, sheltered beneath the undertaker’s large black umbrella and read the service swiftly in his guttural Balkan accent across the loud wailing of the women.
Grant watched her, raindrops dripping off his hat brim. It always rained at funerals – his job took him to more than most people had to attend and he had long ago acquired warm, weatherproof coats and shoes. He also still wore a hat – seen as an affectation by some of his younger colleagues but useful on days like today. Turning his head he saw Wilson, the young detective-constable he had brought with him, rain dripping off his small folding umbrella that the wind would soon render unusable. Wilson’s long, modish hairstyle was damp and wind blown and his shoes were undoubtedly wet through. Grant shrugged deeper into his coat and watched the small crowd around the grave – which one pulled the trigger he wondered.
Inspector Lesley Grant looked at the house while Constable Wilson parked the car as close to the front gate as he could. It was one of those typical Hawthorn houses, a solid brick, double fronted thirties bungalow, neat but not outstanding. A scruffy old Volvo station wagon stood in the driveway. He wondered how much the house was worth and how many people lived there. He opened the door and walked quickly through the rain to the front veranda, leaving Wilson to lock the car.
It had been raining all night; it had poured on the way home after her last call and continued steadily since. The doorbell went as she got out of the shower and she dripped her towel-wrapped way to the front door and peered through the spy-hole before opening the door.
“Mrs Alice Scott?”
“It’s Ms, but yes, my name is Scott.”
He was a policeman, she knew. He had that air of having stood on too many doorsteps, which only policemen and insurance salesmen have, and she knew far too many of the latter to mistake him for one – besides it was too early in the morning for them to call unannounced. The damp young man in a fashionable dark suit behind him could have been one of those door-to-door evangelists, but for an air of quiet physicality that marked him as a policeman too.
He introduced himself: Detective Chief Inspector Grant, could he have a word? The ID appeared, the case worn and the photo recognisable but younger. She was curious, never having been door-stepped by the police and she stepped aside to let them in. He stood in the hallway holding his hat: it dripped quietly on the carpet, not quite in sequence with the drops from under her towel. She showed them into the lounge and excused herself to dry and dress.
Grant looked around: the walls needed painting and the carpet was old but the room was comfortable in a shabby sort of way, old furniture contrasting with a new TV and complicated looking sound system.
She returned to find the Inspector still on his feet, over by the bookcase looking at the two shelves of law and insurance texts. She noticed that he was wearing sensible brown shoes and a dark suit, while his shirt had an old-style button down collar, further evidence of his profession and age. A wide gold wedding ring indicated he was married and she wondered if his wife had seen him before he left the house this morning - she thought not, as he had the tired look of someone who had been up half the night.
He looked around at her as she came back into the room. Mid forties, he thought, not bad for her age. Stretchy leggings revealed shapely legs and she wore an oversized sweater under which he suspected that she was not wearing a bra. She looked like a buxom, mature version of the young starlets who had stirred his adolescent hormones in the late sixties.
“Are there many women in your line?”
“Claims assessment? I’m the only one in my company, but there are a few others about. I’m making some coffee – do you want one?”
He looked at his watch then nodded.
“Yes please. When I rang your office they said you would probably be working at home this morning – working late last night were you?”
She waited until they were in the kitchen and the kettle was boiling. She waved at the chairs at the table, half covered with files and notepads.
“I was, but I don’t keep office hours anyway – you can’t in this business, everybody else is at work during the day so often you have to see them out of hours. Please sit down.”
She made the coffee and they sat at the kitchen table. When the constable got out his notebook she pushed the files and papers to one side to make some space.
“Who did you visit last night?”
“A timber merchant, out the back of Heatherdale, called Arnold Bristol. Why what’s he done?”
“Should he have done something?”
Alice sighed. “Inspector, I make my living out of working out when people are telling the truth just the same as you do: I have this lot,” She waved at the files, “to deal with this morning, so can we get to the point?”
Grant nodded. “He’s dead – looks like suicide but we’re not sure yet – did you give him some bad news?”
She laughed, looked horrified then apologised. “Sorry, that was in bad taste wasn’t it? No, I had good news for him, actually. Well reasonably good news anyway.”
“Which was about a claim?” The younger man was making notes as they talked, and until then he had not spoken other than to thank her for the coffee.
“Yes, a timber mill he owned up past Marysville burnt down recently, and the insurers are likely to pay out on it once I put my report in. He won’t get as much as he wanted though: like most people he was underinsured and it was an old mill, so it will cost more to replace than he’ll get on the insurance. I don’t think I would kill myself over the difference though.”
“What were the rest of his finances like? Did he have money troubles?”
“Not that I’m aware of – his business appears successful but I didn’t do an audit of his books or anything.”
“Would you usually do that?”
“Not unless I was asked by the insurance company. In cases where it’s possible some financial irregularity is involved there’s more likely to be a forensic accountant involved these days.”
“And there wasn’t in this case? Irregularity, I mean.”
“Not as far as I know – although your people were involved because the CFA found a body in the building when they were clearing up – turned out to be some old tramp apparently, a bit of a local identity – the fire investigation people think the fire probably started where he was sleeping.”
“Did you visit the mill?”
She nodded. “I usually do a site visit so I can match the claim up with the other documentation.”
"No sign of foul play?”
“Not my business, Inspector. What did the late Mr Bristol die of?”
“He was shot – looks like a suicide with a shotgun – what was his mood when you saw him?”
“Business-like, I would say: He was obviously a busy man – we had a set appointment time, an hour, to go through the details of his claim and the draft of my report and we finished within that time and I left.’
“So was he happy when you left him? About the money, I mean. What kind of mood was he in?”
“He seemed okay about the claim. Anyway, the final figures are up to the number crunchers in the insurance company; my job is to establish that it is a valid and legal claim. I don’t negotiate figures with clients, just establish the broad boundaries of the claim, and highlight any circumstances that might affect the claim, that sort of thing.”
“So he wasn’t suicidal when you left him?”
Alice gave the policeman an old-fashioned look. “I’m an insurance assessor Inspector, not a psychiatrist; I’m hardly qualified to give an opinion on his state of mind.”
“Of course, I understand that, but you may well have been the last person to see him alive. This would appear to be a suicide but we have yet to establish that and eliminate any other possibilities.”
“Such as murder?”
“Well that is always something we consider – so far we haven’t found a note, and it certainly doesn’t look like an accidental death.”
“So you may be investigating a murder and I am probably one of the last people to see the victim alive – apart from the murderer, of course.”
“Well we’re not as definite as that, but any information about the victim’s last movements will help us to determine what it is we may be investigating. Did you see anybody else while you were there, or as you were leaving?”
“It was dark and pouring with rain – by the time I got to my car I was soaked and my shoes were ruined – I didn’t notice anyone else around but then I wasn’t looking either.”
“No other cars? No car parked nearby that you noticed as you were leaving?”
“No – I didn’t notice anything, Inspector, but as I said it was a dirty night and I was more interested in getting home.”
“What time was that?”
“Just after eight o’clock – about five past, I think – we finished our business and I left.”
“What did you do then – did you have any other calls?”
“No I didn’t, I came home. I was in the door here by about 8:30.”
“Did it take you less than half an hour to drive here from Heatherdale – we couldn't make it in under thirty minutes in daylight this morning.”
“I’m not a policeman.” She got up to top up their coffee cups.
“Meaning?” Grant gave her a rather wolfish grin.
Women often engaged the boss, thought the younger man – he wasn’t an evangelist but he wasa committed and practising Christian, and sometimes felt that the Inspector was distracted by the attractiveness of female witnesses. This never seemed to make any difference to his conduct of a case, but Wilson thought that they would be more effective if the boss kept his mind on the job and not on the women.
“I drive carefully but quickly and I was keen to get home, even in the dark and pouring rain. There wasn't much traffic about anyway.”
“And it was raining when you left Bristol?”
“As I said, pouring – I was wet through by the time I got to the car and I still hadn’t dried out by the time I got home.”
Wilson suddenly realised where the inspector was going – there was no evidence outside the office because the rain had persisted most of the night and he was confirming with their only definite witness that it had been raining when she left the deceased. Not for the first time he had to revise his view of his superior. The Inspector drained his coffee cup and stood up.
“Okay, thanks Ms. Scott – if you think of anything else give me a call.”
He put a slightly damp business card down on the table and jerked his head at the constable.
“Let’s go Wilson.”
Alice followed them to the door and closed it as they hunched and dashed down the path to the unmarked Holden at the kerb. She went back to the kitchen and slid the Bristol file out from the bottom of the pile on the table. Maybe she would have a look at this one first.
The first thing Grant noticed as he entered the office was the victim’s shoes. Or rather, the soles of the shoes, as that was the view he had of the body which lay on its back behind and half under the desk so that only the feet were visible as he came through the door. He noticed that they were expensive but well-worn slip-on shoes with holes in the soles – unusual in this wet weather, until he noticed the muddied gumboots by the door. There were several people in the small room. The doctor called out by the ambulance had left after pronouncing the victim dead and the crime scene officers were setting up their equipment. The pathologist had just arrived and looked up as Grant entered. The office was brightly lit in contrast to the wintry darkness outside. It was five o’clock in the morning and would not be light for a couple of hours yet. Grant addressed the general brightness.
“What have we got?”
“Looks like a suicide, sir – shot himself with a 12-gauge.” The sergeant pointed at the body as Grant approached the desk. A body was spread-eagled on the floor, the face and head a bloodied mess. A shotgun lay near the right arm, and the chair was on its side near the wall. The inspector bent over the body and looked at the gun. Blood could be seen on the barrel end.
The doctor stood up and picked up his bag.
“Gun in the mouth?” He raised an eyebrow at the sergeant.
“Looks that way, although I’m not sure the gun would end up where it is if he had been holding it. It should have fallen on the body as he fell back.”
“He might have held it in his right hand and it was flung aside as he fell.”
“Possibly, but I have seen one or two of these before – when I was a constable up the bush there were a couple of local farmers who went broke and shot themselves. This doesn’t look quite right to me – maybe some one else was holding the gun.”
Grant looked up from his examination of the body. “Are you suggesting murder, sergeant?”
It’s a possibility, sir – we can’t discount it.”
Grant nodded. “Who found the body?”
“Security patrolman – came past last night at about ten and saw the lights and car, but just thought the owner was working late. Came by again at about 3 am and saw them still on so he came to have a look. That’s when he found the body.”
“So the victim was alive at ten?”
“We don’t know, sir, the patrolman didn’t come over to the office – he knows the owner’s car and he was running a bit late on his round so he just drove up to the gate, turned around and left.” The sergeant looked at Grant and shrugged. “When he came past again at about three o’clock he came up to the office to check on the owner. That’s when he found the body.”
“So he might have been dead at ten o’clock – what do you think Doc?”
“Too soon to say, Inspector: although I can confirm that he died sometime within the last ten or so hours, if that’s any help to you.”
“Not much.” He turned to the sergeant. “Is the security guy still around?”
“No, sir, he wanted to get off duty so we took his statement and details and let him go. Do you want him back here?”
“He’ll keep – what about next of kin?”
“We’ve identified the body but we haven’t contacted any relatives yet. We know who he is and where he lives.”
Grant nodded then looked around the cramped office. The office was part of a portable three-roomed building tucked in the corner of the yard. The CSOs were photographing the body and the surrounds from all angles. One of them looked over at Grant.
“All right to bag the gun now, sir?”
“Yes, if you’ve got all your pictures, let’s get the rest done so we can shift the body.”
Pulling on some disposable gloves he turned to the desk. Without touching anything he looked carefully at the large desk diary that lay open and blood spattered on the top of the scuffed wooden desk. He pointed at the last entry for the previous day.
“Looks like our victim had a visitor last night. Get the details, Andrews, and we’ll check it out later.”
The peak hour train had just entered the tunnel at the far end of the platform when the woman screamed. The man sitting opposite her had lolled forward as the train lurched into motion and fallen onto her, his head in her lap. As she screamed and pushed him off her hands were covered in blood and she screamed again. The young woman next to her leapt up and pulled her away. An older man in a suit pressed the alarm and a buzzer sounded. The driver’s voice came over the PA system.
“Someone has set off the alarm – we are about a minute from the next stop. I have asked for assistance. Please stay in the carriages when we get into the platform.”
Two women had taken charge of the woman that screamed and a young man had cleared some space around the injured passenger. As the train pulled into the next stop staff in orange vests were hurrying down the platform. One was speaking into a radio as they reached the carriage doors. As the doors opened the one holding the radio stepped forward.
“Someone pressed the alarm in this carriage – who was it?”
The man in the suit pushed through the group.
“I did – someone appears to be injured.”
“Could you all disembark and wait on the platform. We will let you know when the train will resume.”
They entered the carriage. The two women and the young man had remained with the woman who had screamed and the staff approached the group.
“What happened here?”
The young man explained how the woman had screamed when the injured man fell forward and then they saw the blood. One of the staff knelt down by the man and felt for a pulse.
“He’s dead I think.” The woman uttered a cry and started sobbing again. The other two women led her to a seat away from the body as the man with the radio took charge. Speaking rapidly into the radio he requested police and paramedics and then sent one of his staff to speak to the driver. Two other staff went to speak to the passengers on the platform. The train sat in the station with its doors open as the driver made his way along the platform towards the group of officials. Within minutes the paramedics were jogging along the platform and shortly afterwards transport police arrived to take charge. By the time Grant got there most of the passengers had been allowed to leave. He found a small group standing on the platform, several uniformed constables checking the train with the transport police and one of the paramedics attending to the woman passenger. Four other passengers stood nearby talking. Sergeant Andrews appeared from inside the carriage and waved to him.
“Over here, sir.”
As Grant entered the carriage a short, officious man, wearing a bright orange safety vest, approached him.
“And you are?”
Grant waved his ID. “Chief Inspector Grant, Homicide - are you in charge?”
“I am: Watkins, Assistant Station Manager and Incident Coordinator.”
“What have we got here?” Grant peered over the seat back at the body then turned to the sergeant, “CSOs on their way?”
“Should be here soon, sir.”
“You had better secure the area – what about the doctor?”
“Ambo’s called him as soon as they saw the body - he’s on his way too.”
“Let’s have a chat to the people outside.” He turned to the man in the vest. “This is now a crime scene, sir I will have to ask you to stay on the platform while the area is secured.”
The officious one looked like he might object but then turned and waved to the other station staff.
“Come on - the police are in charge now –everyone out!”
Sergeant Andrews raised an eyebrow at Grant and grinned as they left the carriage. The CSO squad were walking down the platform towards them carrying their equipment.
Alice spent the morning going over the files on her kitchen table, rewriting her notes on one of the yellow foolscap pads she used and attaching them to the front of the files as she methodically worked her way through the claims. This was what made her good at her job and so prized in the business: she was meticulous and methodical. Her attention to detail meant there were very few challenges to her recommendations and the actuaries and accountants who determined the risks and payouts for the insurance companies and had risen in recent years to senior positions in the industry ensured that she was always busy.
Despite this characteristic she found nothing unusual in the file on Arnold Bristol. The only thing she remembered was what she had noticed the first time she had spoken to him. His heavy central European accent meant that Arnold Bristol was probably not the name he had been given at birth. As far as she could see this was of no particular consequence, either in relation to his claim or his death. One thought did occur to her as she attached her notes to the file though: now he was dead who would inherit the business (and the payout under the claim) and if he had life insurance, did it pay out on suicide?
By one o’clock she was in her bedroom putting on her work clothes to drop into the office. One of the advantages of working from home had always been the opportunity to get out of the suits that had been her business uniform for so many years. She was fairly sure the Inspector hadn’t known it, but she had had no underwear on at all that morning, just the comfy stretchy leggings and her favourite baggy sweater.
Lesley Grant was not a name to inspire or strike fear into the heart. Lesley was a fadingly popular name in the 1950’s but it was his father’s name and his grandfather’s before that, so there was no other choice, really. He was the oldest son, of the oldest son, of the oldest son, and so the name went on. He had never bothered to investigate whether his great grandfather had been called Lesley too – to be honest he didn’t want to know – it was bad enough that his family was so unimaginative as to carry the name through three generations. If it went even further back it just reinforced the family psyche. There was a pretty unimaginative pattern with occupations in his family too. His grandfather had been a policeman who became a solicitor, his father and uncle had both gone into the law, his father ending up a QC and his uncle a judge. Two cousins had joined the family profession and there were several other lawyers among the extended ranks of spouses. Not surprising really, as those were the circles they moved in.
Lesley had done his best to break the cycle. He became a policeman. Not just an ordinary policeman though: he became a military policeman, a member of the most despised part of the army. He joined up as a seventeen year old without completing high school. At twenty he was a corporal in the military police and by twenty-four a sergeant.
When he joined the job was still about pulling soldiers out of bars but by the time he had finished his second stint in the service his work was more about investigating fraud. He had transferred across to the police and rapidly risen to detective inspector. Despite his background in the army fraud squad however, he now headed a homicide team. Partly this had happened for career reasons – that was where the two inspector vacancies were when he went for promotion – but he was also happy to get away from white-collar crime and into something that was thought of as mainstream policing.
The CSOs had reached the carriage and started to tape off the area. Grant was talking to Watkins, the railwayman about the possibility of getting the CCTV when one of the CSOs called to him.
“Sir – we need you here!”
Grant turned to see the three CSO officers tumbling rapidly out of the carriage and dashing up the platform. He strode towards them, Sergeant Andrews and Mr Watkins in his wake. The senior CSO reached him, slightly breathless and drew him aside.
“There’s a backpack under the seat – which may belong to the victim. We think it’s a bomb!”
“What?! Are you sure? Have you checked it?” Grant looked across at the train. The CSO raised an eyebrow.
“We looked in the front pocket: there’s a mobile phone with a wire which runs through into the main compartment – we didn’t look any further!”
“Quite right – we had better get the bomb squad down here and clear the station.” He turned and waved to Andrews and the station manager. Quickly he explained the situation and they all moved back up the platform towards the little group of passengers and police by the exit.
Constable Wilson had been taking details from the four passengers and had just reached the young woman who first helped the woman who had screamed. The rapid approach of the group from the train interrupted him just as he had written down her contact details. He looked up as they jogged towards him. Sergeant Andrews was the first to reach the group.
“Suspect package, Wilson – clear the area.”
“Right, Sarge.” Wilson began to shepherd the group towards the exit and up the escalators. The young woman hung back to speak to him.
“Do you still need me? Only I’ve got to get to work – could I be seen later?”
Wilson looked down at her and checked his notebook.
“I’d better have your work address and a mobile number as well, then.”
She gave it to him, smiled and walked quickly after the others. Wilson looked back along the platform to check that it was empty and followed the station staff and his colleagues towards the escalators. He noticed the senior railway official talking urgently into his radio and the Inspector on his mobile. Sergeant Andrews called him over.
“They are evacuating the station, Willy; did you get all the details of the passengers?”
“I spoke to the woman the victim fell on and got her details, before the paramedics took her to hospital – she’s a bit shocked I think. I got contact details from the people who helped her and I will follow them up. The transport police gathered names and addresses from the rest of the passengers in the carriage so I will do a computer search on them when I get back to the office.”
By now, the three detectives and the small group of station officials were the only people left at this level, one of the station staff had hit the stop button on the escalators and the silence was quite eerie. The CSOs and the paramedics had moved up to the next level and they were waiting for the bomb squad. The sergeant looked a bit twitchy and Wilson remembered that he had only recently given up smoking – if ever you would need a cigarette this would be the time, he thought.
There was a noise on the escalators and the bomb squad appeared in their dark blue overalls, carrying large equipment bags. The Inspector detached himself from the little group and went to brief them. Wilson watched them with interest; he had not been involved in a proper bomb alert before. Grant and Andrews took them to the entrance of the platform and explained the set up of the carriage and what the CSOs had seen. Wilson drifted across and listened as Sergeant Andrews explained the situation in the carriage. Inspector Grant interrupted:
“Do you think you can defuse the bomb?”
“We need to have a look at it first – if it’s fairly simple one, the answer is probably yes, but at this stage we just don’t know.”
“Well, it would be good if you could – we have a major crime scene in there and it would really not help if you blew it up!”
“We’ll do our best, Inspector. Now we’d like all other personnel to move back up to the next level, thanks.”
“Right, Sergeant lets leave the job to the experts.” Grant led the way across to the silent escalators and they climbed up to the next level. It was after noon when Constable Wilson got back to the desk in the Homicide office he shared with two other junior members of the branch. There were three squads working out of this office and he rarely saw his opposite numbers on the other squads. On bigger more complex cases they occasionally worked together, but day-to-day they covered the work on rotating rosters. The rare times the squads were pulled in together the biggest problem was desk and computer space. Strangely there was never a time when they couldn’t get a car from the pool – indicating to Wilson that the force had more cars than it did either desks or computers. When he queried this with Sergeant Andrews, the sergeant just grunted and suggested that police work was still better done away from the desk. Nevertheless Wilson felt that he did some useful work sat in front of the computer and organising his notes.Today he switched on the computer and called up the police database. It took him about twenty minutes to enter the hundred or so names they had gathered at the station and then he sorted them and began to check them against various criteria. A lot of the names did not show up anywhere but the electoral roll, some were included for traffic offences of varying severity and a couple had some kind of minor criminal record. There was nothing that at first glance suggested any link with either the dead man or a bomb. He hadn’t thought the answer would be there but it at least let them eliminate a lot of people. They were still trying to identify the dead man. He was Asian, possibly Vietnamese, but was not carrying any ID.
He typed up a preliminary report on the list of names saved it into his work file and printed a copy for Sergeant Andrews which he left on his desk. He went through his notebook until he found the mobile number of the young woman from the train and called it. It rang several times and just when he thought he would have to leave a message it was answered.
“Hello – Jaz speaking. Shit, get out of the way, you idiot! Sorry, hello again.
“Hello, it’s Detective Constable Wilson, I wondered if I could talk to you about this morning. You are one of our key witnesses so far, and I want to get your impressions while they’re fresh.
“I’m working at the moment – maybe later this -” A horn sounded “you idiot – sorry, maybe later this afternoon.
“Okay – what time and where?”
“I should be finished by 3. I gave you my work address – meet me there - you can buy me a coffee; I’ll need one by then! Bye.”
She rang off. Wilson sat for a moment looking at his phone then hung up and went to get a sandwich before going through his notes again.Just before three o’clock Wilson parked the unmarked police car in a loading zone a few doors down from the address he had been given. This turned out to be a coffee shop and café at the business end of Lonsdale Street. As he entered the door he saw the girl talking to a middle aged man behind the counter. She took off an apron and hung it up and came around the counter.
“Hi – sorry about all the swearing on the phone, some drivers around here are just idiots and we’re always in a hurry!”
“I hope it was a hands-free kit you were using.” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“Oh God – you’re a cop, sorry a policeman, yes it is – so you can’t arrest me for that.”
“Is there something I should arrest you for?”
“Not that I can think of – are you going to buy me a coffee?”
“Do you get a discount for being staff?”
“Not here! Petro’s coffee is terrible – there’s a really nice place around the corner.”
She led the way out the door and they walked up the street. She was small and slim – what used to be called petite – and Wilson looked down at her as she skipped along beside him talking about her job at the café.
She worked there part time, in the kitchen, behind the counter and delivered the corporate lunches which were a feature of all the cafes around here. She finally stopped when they were settled at a quiet corner table in a larger café and they had ordered. She had big eyes and looked across the table at him.
“You don’t say much do you?”
“Only when I have to – most people will tell you all sorts of things if you just let them talk – but I have been known to hold a conversation or two.”
“Oh, have I said too much? I do go on a bit if someone doesn’t stop me. I’ve always been a chatter-box.”
“That’s OK, I now know all about your job – what do you do the rest of the time?”
“I’m a student.”
He looked across the table at her.
“What are you studying?”
“Don’t laugh, but,” she looked down at her hands, and Wilson noticed them for the first time – they were beautiful, he thought, fine, slim, smooth hands with long expressive fingers which at that moment were fiddling with a paper napkin. She looked up again: “I’m studying aromatherapy.”
“Why would I laugh? I’ve never met an aromatherapy student - to be honest, I’m not sure I quite know what it is.”
“I just thought that, as you’re a policeman, you would think it was a bit, well, sort of hippyish, you know?”
He looked at her. “Now you’re stereotyping me. Just because I’m a copper … I do have a degree and I can spell aromatherapy!”
Their coffees came and the cake Jaz had ordered. She attacked it with gusto. Wilson watched her for few moments then spoke.
“So what can you tell me about this morning?”
Jaz paused with her mouth open and her cake-laden fork at her lips, then reluctantly lowered the fork to the plate. He put a small digital recorder on the table and switched it on.
“Well when the woman screamed, I just thought, so what, some creep had become tired and emotional and put his head on her lap. But then I saw the blood and I pulled her away. The young guy on the other side pushed the dead guy back and me and the other woman sitting opposite looked after the one that screamed. Then some old guy had the sense to push the alarm and the driver came on the radio and said she had radioed ahead and could everybody just stay on the train when we got there. You probably know the rest.”
She ate more of the cake then looked at him.
“Did he really have a bomb in his bag?”
“God that is so scary – how come it didn’t go off?”
“According to the bomb squad guys the mobile phone had a flat battery and couldn’t connect in the tunnel of the loop.”
“You’re kidding – that guy was trying to blow us all up and his mobile phone had a flat battery? What kind of terrorist is that disorganised?”
“We don’t know if he was a terrorist – maybe if you tell me all that you can remember about this morning that might help.”
She looked up at him, sitting across the table from her – he had an air of quiet strength about him. At first glance he looked like most of the smartly dressed thirty-something men in the city, but now that she looked at him, he looked a bit like those football players when they wore a suit to a red carpet event: tall, broad shoulders, but more than his size there was a physical sense about him, of confidence, but also of danger. That was it really – she felt that he could be very dangerous and yet she felt safe with him. A shiver ran down her back.
“Well, I got on the train at North Melbourne and managed to find a seat. As far as I remember he was already sitting there so he must have got on before then. The train was pretty full, but there were a few seats around and only a few people standing. Do you ever catch the train?”
He shook his head.
“I didn’t think so. Well, most people usually sit down if there are seats free, but some people always stand. Usually its men, young men mostly, they sort of lounge in the doorways – I’m not sure why, they probably think its cool or something…”
Her tone was dismissive of these young men, who thought they were so cool but in her opinion were not. Wilson raised an eyebrow and she continued.
“Well there were quite a few people standing in the doorway – if they are only going a few stops a lot of people can’t be bothered to find a seat 'cos they’ll have to get off soon – and as you get closer to town there’s more like that so the door area gets quite crowded.”
He looked across at her. She had a crease of concentration in her forehead as she tried to recall the scene. He smiled encouragingly and she continued.
“I think I can pretty much remember all the people who were standing in the doorway…”
She described in detail a half dozen men and a couple of young women who she had noticed standing in the doorway of the carriage behind the murdered man. Wilson listened to her in some amazement until she had finished.
“How can you be so sure of all this?”
“Oh, well the other thing I’m studying is acting – so I spend my time on the train studying the people and trying to work out the stories for each one.”
She looked down at her hands again and then smiled uncertainly up at him.
“It’s a bit voyeuristic I guess, but I’m pretty good at making sure I don’t stare too obviously.”
“What do you learn from all this surreptitious staring?” Wilson asked.
“Mostly I look at the body language: how people stand can indicate confidence or otherwise, some people are very sure of their own space while others aren’t; the interaction as people move through a common space is always interesting – you know - who stands where and stuff like that.”
“But you must notice other details: you have just given me very specific descriptions of about six or eight people that you would have observed for less than ten minutes. Can you give me any further information about them? Were any of them carrying anything unusual, or did they behave in an odd manner?”
Jaz put her chin on her hand and stared into space for a few moments.
“I don’t recall anything particularly unusual, to be honest. I can tell you roughly who was standing where but not much else.”
“It would be helpful if you can recall that. It might give us some idea of who was closest to the victim just before he died.”
“Can I borrow your note book – I’ll draw it.” He opened a fresh page and slid it across the table to her then watched as she sketched the train compartment for him. Handing it back to him, she explained the positions of the people she had noticed. Wilson made a few notes on the drawing as she spoke and then put it in his pocket with the recorder.
“OK – I’ve taken up enough of your time and I need to go; can I give you a lift anywhere?”
He smiled at her. She smiled back, nodded and gathered up her bags.
“Can you drop me in Latrobe Street? I’m at college for the rest of the afternoon.”
“Sure.” He went and paid for the coffees and they left. She chatted all the way up to where he dropped her; she was quite inquisitive but not in a prying sort of way, just interested, and he found himself responding to her questions about his job and asking her about her work and study. He pulled up in a no parking zone outside the college to let her out. She opened the door and turned to get out then turned back to him.
“Will you want to see me again?”
“Professionally, or otherwise?” He found himself grinning wolfishly like the Inspector had the other day. Jaz blushed.
“Do you need to see me again – about the train thing I mean?”
“I might, but I’d like to see you again anyway.”
“Good,” she said briskly, getting out of the car. “I’d like to see you again too, Detective Constable. Give me a call – you’ve got my number!” And she was gone, skipping across the pavement to the college entrance and inside. Wilson drove back to his office in a thoughtful silence.
Tony Bristol was still in shock. His wife assumed it was because his father was dead apparently from suicide, although the police had only said it was an apparent suicide. For some reason they seemed to think that he might have been murdered. As far as Kelly Bristol was concerned that only made it worse. They had to tell the children something soon, but she did not think that they should say it was either suicide or murder: they were much too young to understand those things and they would only have nightmares. She was prepared to give Tony a day or two to pull himself together and then they would have to tell the children, get the funeral out of the way and get on with their lives.
She was an ambitious woman, for Tony and herself, but more particularly for their children. She and Tony had two children, a girl of ten and her seven-year-old brother. They lived in a nice house that she and Tony had built in the eastern suburbs within driving distance of the private school belt. Tony had gone to the local high school near his parents’ home in the outer suburbs and then studied accountancy at university. Kelly had gone to the same high school a couple of years behind Tony but had left after year 10 to become a hairdresser. She had met Tony at an ex-students’ barbecue and they had got married a couple of years later. By then she had her own salon and a year after they married she had opened another one.
Once the children came along she had stopped working full-time in the salons but she kept them both. She had promoted a member of staff to manager in each one but neither of the managers had been the most senior staff member in their salon. They had been the best pick as manager though. Tony had tried to persuade her to sell and had even introduced a couple of potential buyers until she made it clear that she was keeping the salons and would run them her own way. He was scathing when she offered the managers a ten percent stake in the salon they managed and persuaded the senior stylists to stay by giving them a pay rise and five percent of the salon. He said she was throwing her money away.
“Don’t come to me to bail you out when they send you broke.”
Kelly looked at him, and her eyes narrowed.
“I was running my own salon while you were still learning how to fiddle your old man’s tax, so don’t try to teach me about business.”
Kelly kept the salons and kept them as a separate company, away from their joint assets on the advice of her accountant (who was not Tony….). This was another point of dispute between them but as she told Tony, any good accountant would give her the same advice.
Their marriage was a disappointment to her on almost every level now. In the beginning it had been physically satisfying and as they pursued careers at the same time as starting a family and building their home their lives had been busy and exciting. Over the last few years though things had changed and she wasn’t quite sure why.
She could trace it back to a particular point in time though: it was three years ago that Tony came home and told her he was leaving the big corporate firm where he had been made an associate and setting up in partnership with a couple of old friends from his university days. They had a huge row over why he would leave a solid, well paying and well regarded job with a front-line firm for what she called a speculative venture with a couple of no-hoper student mates. He said it was an opportunity to set up his own firm and if she insisted on keeping her salons then he was entitled to have his own business too.
After the row things settled down for a while: Tony and his partners set up their firm and she had to admit that they were very successful. They had some big clients that they had brought with them from other firms and they moved within the first year to much bigger offices and took on staff “to do the bread and butter stuff – a bit like your business” Tony told her, implying that he and his partners dealt with the high value clients.
Kelly sniffed at this, quite sure that Tony had no idea how much she made from her two salons or that she was planning to open another one to service a client base that did travel to the existing ones but who would appreciate a more local one and bring their friends in as well. She still paid into the joint account the amount they had agreed five years ago and Tony’s dim view of her business was such that he never thought to ask whether she was making more money. She was though: considerably more, but had decided that she would use that to develop her business for herself and her children.
Despite Tony’s successful transition from junior partner to joint proprietor, their relationship had continued to fade. He worked late a lot of nights now – this was the best time to see the high value clients, he said, and he made a lot of interstate trips, often overnight. When she taxed him about this he simply said that he was building the business for her and their children, and he certainly seemed to be making plenty of money – their mortgage was pretty much paid off within two years of him starting the firm.
Sex was a thing of the past now though, when he got home he was too tired and the physical excitement of the early years of marriage had long gone. She mentioned this to one of her best friends over coffee one morning and received a brusque and honest answer.
“He’s got a girlfriend!” said Angela with certainty. “Who does he go away with? I bet its some young chick from the office that he takes as his ‘assistant’ but really is just shagging.”
“Tony?” Kelly gaped. “Who would want to shag him? He’s a fat Yugoslav accountant.”
Angela laughed. “No, he’s a rich, fat Yugoslav accountant who happens to be this young chick’s boss. And he’s probably fed her the old line about how his wife is more interested in the kids than him and has gone to seed, anyway.”
Angela looked at her friend, admiring the trim body and well kept hair and shook her head. “Men are led by their dicks – Tony doesn’t know what he’s got at home and those partners of his have probably encouraged him. It would suit them to have him ensnared by some spunky young assistant accountant: gives them a hold over him.”
Kelly shook her head in disbelief.
“What – how – why? How do you know that Tony’s up to all this?”
Angela shrugged. “I don’t, but I have experience of it. Do you remember my ex?”
“That’s the one – sneaky, sleazy bastard he was too. I was like you, he was working all these hours and I thought it was for us because he was making lots of money. But he was actually making a lot more than I knew; he was making so much that he had set up his secretary in a penthouse flat in South Yarra and he was shagging her when I thought he was working. He was actually short-changing us. He could have paid our mortgage out, but he drip-fed it and salted his dosh away with this secretary.”
“How did you find out?”
“My mum – she spotted him in a tete-a-tete with her one Saturday in Toorak, when I thought he was in Sydney and mentioned that she had seen him. I had the sense to act casual and then I checked all our mobile phone records – you know how the bill lists where the call comes from? Most of his calls to us were actually listed as being made in South Yarra. Simple really….”
“So what did you do – did you ask him what he was doing?”
“No way - I knew what he was doing, he was shagging his secretary when he should have been shagging me. I found myself a good divorce lawyer and a smart accountant and made sure that me and the kids got our share of what he’d been making.”
“Do you think that’s what Tony is up to? He’s got some other woman on the side?”
“Actually, you’re the one on the side, you know. If he’s shagging her then she’s the one he’s interested in, not you.” Angela shrugged her shoulders. “Look if he’s successfully running his own business now, he’s going to think he’s superman and he’s ripe for any smart young chick who wants to improve her career prospects by getting closer to the boss. You said you didn’t like those partners of his – what’s wrong with them?”
“Oh, I don’t know; they’re so-called friends of Tony’s from uni. They’re a couple of private school boys who have always looked down their noses at me because I’m a hairdresser and I always felt they were laughing at Tony behind his back. You know, they have the wealthy parents and the wife who went to Ruyton while me and Tony went to Upwey High and he worked his way up through the system. I just think they’re creeps and I don’t trust them – they’ll drop poor old Tony in the shit when it suits them. The thing is he won’t know about it until it happens.”
“Do you still love him – do you want him back?”
Kelly leaned back in her chair and looked into space for a moment.
“Not really – all the magic’s gone: to me now he is just a fat Yugoslav accountant, and I’m a wealthy Australian hairdresser – only Tony doesn’t know how wealthy.” She finished ironically.
Angela leaned over the table and looked into Kelly’s eyes.
“If that’s what you think then you can do one of two things: you can get the evidence you need to throw him out – I can recommend a good lawyer – or you can sit tight while he pays off the mortgage and dump him then. Of course there’s always the possibility that he’ll stuff up of his own accord, or leave you for this chick.”
She leaned back. “The choice is yours.”
Kelly thought for a moment, then said: “I think I’ll sit tight for the time being and see how things pan out – he’s still paying the mortgage, we’ll own this place in less than a year at this rate.”
Her friend nodded.
Alice spent the afternoon at the office. She had two meetings with senior managers from insurers and a teleconference with a third. Jeanette, the receptionist said: “Did the police contact you?”
“They arrived on my doorstep at 9:30 this morning, thanks very much.”
“Oh Sorry – I didn’t know they were coming around. I thought they would phone you.”
“Did they call in here?”
“Yes, a Sergeant Somebody-or-other came in and got your address and phone number just after nine.”
“Really – they sent an inspector around to see me.”
“Oh well obviously you became much more important once you weren’t in the office!” Jeanette laughed and Alice went through to her desk. She dealt with her mail, had the meetings and had just finished the teleconference, when her mobile rang.
“Hello, Alice Scott.”
“Hello Alice.” It was a familiar but unwanted voice.
“Adrian, how are you? Is this business or pleasure?”
“Business or otherwise, it’s always a pleasure to speak to you Alice.”
“Spare me the flattery Adrian – what do you want?”
“You always did get straight to the point, Alice. Have you had any dealings with a timber merchant called Arnold Bristol?”
“He’s a client of ours and I understand he has a claim in for a fire at one of his timber mills – I just wanted to check that it was progressing and reassure him.”
“Really - you have a professional interest? I thought you were a big time corporate accountant these days – I wouldn’t imagine a local timber merchant was the kind of client you would be bothered with.”
“Actually, he has family connections with the firm – he’s the father one of our partners.”
“Oh,” Alice thought for a moment, “Have you seen that particular partner today?”
“No, but I wouldn’t necessarily – we all spend a bit of time out of the office, so we might only catch up once or twice a week. Why?”
“Look, I can’t really say much more; I think you should get in touch with your colleague if you can. As far as the insurance matter is concerned I have finished my report and sent it to the insurance company. Completely off the record it was pretty straightforward.”
“You mean it was a legitimate claim and the insurers will be paying out?”
“I didn’t say that – all I said was it was a straightforward assessment and my report has been sent to the insurers. What they do with it is their business.”
“Absolutely – I can chase them up. Thanks Alice”
“Not a problem Adrian. See you around.”
“Hello Chrissy, how was your day at uni, honey?”
“Oh, okay I guess, the lecturers are getting more boring by the day!” Christine came into the kitchen, kissed her mother on the top of her head and went to the fridge.
“Hey, guess who I saw this morning?”
“I don’t know dear - who?”
“Dad - he was in a café in Lygon Street with one of those guys he works with – you know, the partners.”
“Stephen? The one he went to school with?”
“No the other one – the one he and Stephen went to uni with, the one who’s wife is a hairdresser.”
“Oh, Tony? But I thought… never mind. Anyway, as far as I know Kelly owns several hairdressers and probably makes a lot more than I do! So let’s not get too snobbish.”
“No I didn’t mean that, it’s just that she works…”
“Excuse me, madam – I work too – who do you think puts food on the table around here?”
“I saw your husband the other day, Kell; down at the casino he was. Big spender is he?”
Kelly trimmed a few stray gray hairs from the elderly woman sitting in her salon and looked up at her reflection in the mirror.
“Not him – tight with his cash is Tony – he’s an accountant. What was he doing when you saw him?”
“Oh he was talking to our driver, you know those trips we go on, month about with the ones to the factory outlets; that charity that provides the bus and a bit of spending money for us oldies. It’s nice to get out somewhere different than the local shops. Oh, not that I don’t like coming down here for my pensioners cut!” The older woman looked embarrassed.
Kelly smiled reassuringly at her.
“He’s probably connected with the charity; his firm does a lot of that kind of work for free. Tony says you can make enough money out of the big clients to do the charity work for nothing – probably a tax deduction too. Good idea I think, don’t you?”
“Oh yes – I don’t know who provides the money for us to go out but we’re very grateful to them. It must cost them quite a bit, you know: there’s the bus and driver – he’s a nice man our driver - lunch and then spending money for each of us.”
“How much spending money do you get?”
“Well it’s not money as such, you know – its tokens, the ones you can put in the pokies. That’s what most of us play; some have a go at the tables but your money doesn’t last so long there so most of us just stick with the pokies. We get to keep our winnings too.”
“What do you mean keep your winnings?” Kelly stopped snipping for a moment and looked at the older woman in the mirror.
“Well if you win, and we often win a little bit, we give the tokens back that we played with but we get to keep anything we win. It gives you a little bit of extra spending money, which is nice.”
“Yes that is nice.” Kelly snipped and trimmed away for a few more minutes then called the junior over to set her client’s hair.
The funeral was set for the following week. The police released the body and Tony and his sister made the arrangements. Well Kelly’s sister in law and her husband did most of the organising, in fact if it hadn’t been for Jason things just wouldn’t have got done. He came around with Anna and went through everything with Tony one evening and Jason just took it all on. Tony was next to useless and Kelly became increasingly frustrated with his attitude.
He took no responsibility for anything: Kelly and Anna sorted out the catering for the wake, Jason dealt with the funeral directors and the priest and Anna sorted out her mum, who was just about as useful as Tony, but more understandably so.
What really puzzled Kelly was that Tony and his dad had never been close. Tony had been expected to go into the business his immigrant father had started and built up through his own business skill and hard work. But he had gone off to university and become an accountant, a profession his father viewed as akin to burglary and second only to the taxman as a despised figure. Tony reminding him that professionally he saved his father large amounts of tax only exacerbated the tension between them.