Carl sat in his reclining armchair, watching the late night news and thinking about going to bed. He hated sleeping alone but, most nights, he had no other choice. For reasons he was not yet ready to face, Carl had not been able to establish a lasting, long-term relationship in the years since Virginia had left him.
Whenever a lover packed up and moved out, usually after several months of lust fuelled sex, Carl always told himself it wasn’t about him. In his mind, it was always the same reason Virginia had given him – being married to a policeman sucked.
He turned off the TV and thought about Debra Baker. Her life was turning into a nightmare, not because her husband was a policeman but because he was a smoker. Wally had only just celebrated his fiftieth birthday but, according to Dr Wentworth, he wouldn’t be around to celebrate any more birthdays. Wally was expected to be dead within a matter of months.
Carl had been relieved when Sally, Debra and Wally’s twenty-six year old daughter, had arrived at the hospital. Comforting distraught women was not one of those things Carl ticked as a strength, whenever he was analysing his life performance to date.
He wondered how hard it would be to actually quit smoking. If Peter had pulled it off, almost overnight, he decided it couldn’t be that hard.
Instead of having a final cigarette before going to bed, he decided to go online and look up what he could find on quitting smoking. As he was keying ‘quit smoking’ into Google, his mobile phone rang.
The ringtone told him it was not a social call.
Half an hour later, at close to midnight, Carl parked his car behind a gaggle of patrol cars clustered around the entrance to a path that led down to the beach through the dunes, about a hundred metres south of the Morton Sands Surf Life Saving Club. Glancing at the parked cars, he noted that Peter hadn’t arrived yet. He took the opportunity to survey his surroundings and enjoy a cigarette while he waited.
There was a small group of onlookers on the footpath, under the street light opposite the entrance to the path, quietly talking and waiting. And, not surprisingly, every house along the esplanade was lit up, despite the late hour.
Five minutes after Carl had arrived, a silver Ford, identical to the car he had driven to the scene, pulled up and Peter James joined him in the warm summer night.
They walked past the parked police cars to where Constable Head stood at the head of the path, with three other officers, doing much the same as the onlookers.
‘Evening, Charlie,’ said Carl. ‘Where’s the body?’
Constable Head switched on his torch. ‘This way, Inspector.’
They walked towards the sound of breaking waves. The path forked about ten metres down. Constable Head stopped and shone his torch on the crime scene tape stretched across the path that went in the direction of the surf life saving clubhouse.
‘This is where the boy was bashed.’
‘Any news on his condition?’ said Carl.
‘I was here when they put him in the ambulance, Inspector. The paramedics didn’t give him much of a chance,’ said Constable Head.
They walked down the other path to the beach, where another constable stood with a torch. Constable Head pointed to the lights further down the beach.
‘You’ll need to walk along the beach near the water. You might get your shoes wet but we can’t search the area along the edge of the dunes ’til first light.’
Fortunately, out on the expanse of the beach, there was sufficient moonlight to distinguish wet, firm sand from moving water, so they were able to avoid damaging their shoes. It took them almost five minutes to walk down the beach to where the pathologist, Mike Jonas, and three crime scene investigators stood in a huddle outside a blue tent. The area around the tent was lit up by a bank of lights, attached to a pole driven into the sand and powered by a noisy portable generator.
‘Evening, gentlemen,’ said Carl. ‘What have we got?’
‘Come and take a look,’ said Mike.
Carl and Peter followed Mike into the tent. A high wattage globe, hanging from the frame, illuminated the interior. On the sandy floor of the tent, next to Mike’s bag, lay the naked body of an athletic looking young woman, with short dark hair and an open-eyed stare. The girl so closely resembled Peter’s wife that Carl thought she could have passed as her younger sister.
‘You okay, mate?’ said Carl, placing a hand on Peter’s shoulder.
‘Shit, she looks a lot like Janice, doesn’t she?’ said Peter.
‘Fortunately for you, Pete,’ said Mike, ‘she’s been identified as Melissa Keating, the girlfriend of the lad that was bashed back there in the dunes. She only lived a couple of streets from here.’ Mike looked at the body at his feet. ‘Her father identified the body for us, poor bastard.’
Carl took a couple of deep breaths and thought about that poor bastard, who he’d have to confront before he went home.
‘What can you tell us?’
‘She’s been strangled and sexually assaulted.’
‘Anything concrete to go on, Mike?’
‘There’s blood under her finger nails, so your killer’s likely to be scratched, and it looks like he hasn’t heard about safe sex. Left us a sample.’
‘Let’s hope he’s in the database then. Any sign of her clothing?’
‘Nothing with the body. The boys might find something when they search the dunes in the morning but, who knows, perhaps your killer collects souvenirs.’
‘I don’t like the sound of that, Mike,’ said Carl. ‘I don’t like the sound of that one bit.’
to be continued…