Carl looked at the clock on the bedside cabinet and groaned. He’d collapsed into bed, exhausted, when he’d arrived home from Morton Sands but his slumber had been fitful, haunted by a collage of images of Melissa Keating playing over and over in his mind. The clock told him he’d managed four hours sleep.
Reluctantly, Carl rolled out of bed and made his way into the bathroom, where he stood under the shower for ten minutes, letting the warm water soothe his tired body. As he was drying himself after showering, he remembered he was supposed to be going to his cousin’s farm for a family barbecue. ‘Shit!’ he said to the room, anticipating his cousin’s disappointment at the disruption of their plans, again.
Over breakfast, he called his cousin to break the news that he wouldn’t be able to attend the barbecue, and to promise he’d come up as soon as he could to see the kids, who adored him, despite Carl’s misgivings about knowing what to do with children.
After breakfast, he called Peter and arranged to pick him up on his way to Morton Sands, knowing Janice would not be happy about their weekend plans being screwed as well.
Deep in thought about the case as he left the apartment, Carl forgot his cigarettes. He didn’t realise he’d left without them until he was picking up Peter. Instead of going back, he decided to buy another packet when they got to Morton Sands.
‘We’ve had a whole summer of minor crimes. Nothing worse than a couple of bungled seven eleven holdups. Why couldn’t this bastard pick next weekend?’ said Peter, as he got into the car.
‘Criminals are like the weather, Pete. Unpredictable and guaranteed to fuck up your weekends.’
‘Yeah, you’re not wrong there. Janice is not happy about me working this weekend, especially since I was rostered off. She’d planned a catch up with her sister. I was supposed to look after the kids.’
‘If it makes you feel any better, I’m supposed to be at a family barbecue today as well.’
‘Sometimes, this job sucks.’
‘I guess that’s true of any job.’
Their conversation was interrupted by a call over the radio from Operations, informing them that Darren Jackson had died.
‘What’s your theory on this one, Pete?’ said Carl.
‘It’s not your usual sexual assault case, is it? I mean, how many times do you come across the boyfriend being bashed and left for dead, and the girl being sexually assaulted and strangled?’
‘First time for me,’ said Carl. ‘You’re right about it not being normal. Usually, these guys pick a girl in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
‘I wonder if there was more than one offender.’
‘Guess we won’t know that until Mike has the results on the semen sample,’ said Carl.
‘Or the search turns up something.’
‘We’ll know if they’ve found anything soon enough. They kicked off at first light.’
Twenty minutes after picking up Peter, Carl parked in the car park of the Morton Sands Surf Life Saving Club, which looked more like a police parking lot than a public car park. The beach south of the clubhouse was closed to the public. The foreshore, which normally would have been filling up with bathers at that time of the morning, was instead occupied by a line of police officers, slowly making their way along the beach and through the dunes towards the clubhouse from the south.
When the detectives entered the clubhouse, Carl joined a group of crime scene investigators gathered around a laptop, studying photographs of the two locations of interest.
‘Anything?’ asked Carl.
One of the investigators reached into a box under the table, and held up a plastic evidence bag containing a blood stained white tee-shirt.
‘Where did they find that?’
‘Stuffed into a rubbish bin on the esplanade, Inspector, about a hundred metres south of where the girl’s body was found. Right next to where one of the paths comes up from the beach.’
‘Better get that blood analysed. She wasn’t bleeding.’
‘Could be the boyfriend’s, Inspector. Apparently he was pretty smashed up.’
‘Did you get the update? He died this morning.’
The officer holding the bag nodded. ‘We heard, Inspector.’
‘The blood might be the rapist’s. Mike said she’d scratched him,’ said Carl. ‘Anything else turn up in the search?’
‘They’re still checking the dunes but the beach has had way too much traffic over the last few days for us to find anything useful. Plenty of rubbish, but no sign of a blue bikini or a likely weapon.’
‘What’s with the photographs?’
‘Checking to see if we missed anything with our visual inspection. At this point, Inspector, all we have for you is the tee-shirt.’
‘Thanks, boys. Let me know if anything else turns up.’
Peter, who had wandered off to look around the clubhouse, came back and asked Carl to come and look at the map on the back wall of the clubhouse.
‘There’s a fairly extensive network of paths through those dunes, Inspector, but there is only one with a fork in it.’
Carl studied the map and came to the same conclusion. ‘Our killer’s been here and had a good look around, I’d say. He’s probably stood where we’re standing and watched people, like Melissa and Darren, leave and head up that path.’
‘Could mean he’s a local,’ said Peter.
‘That might explain why he disappeared so quickly last night.’
‘Let’s go over the timings, Inspector. If the victims left here at nine forty-five, as the brother claims, it would take them less than five minutes to get to where the boy was bashed, and the brother would have been there by five past ten at the latest, assuming he’s given us the correct times.’
‘Hmm. That only gives our killer a fifteen minute window in which to bash the boyfriend over the head, grab the girl and take her down the other path and rape her, before anyone knows what’s happened. How long do you think it would take to rape and strangle someone, Pete? Do you think fifteen minutes would give him enough time?’
‘Well, I guess there’d be no foreplay, apart from getting her gear off. And, if he was threatening her with a knife or some other weapon, she might have stripped it off herself. Either way, it wouldn’t take long to get a tee-shirt and a bikini off her and for him to drop his shorts and rape her, assuming he raped her before he killed her. If he’d done it the other way round, strangled her into submission first, he certainly wouldn’t have had any trouble getting her gear off her.’
‘She put up a fight, if Mike’s right about the blood under her finger nails,’ said Carl.
‘The body was a fair way down the beach. Took us nearly five minutes to reach the spot after we got onto the beach last night.’
‘He would have been pretty fired up after bashing the boyfriend, so I guess he moved a lot faster than we did. There’s a fair chance she was dead before the alarm was raised and, if he hadn’t run by then, the sirens would have alerted him to the fact that the boy had been discovered. If he is a local, he would have known how to get off the beach without being seen, using the path that led up to where they found the tee-shirt.’
‘The bastard was probably at the party last night,’ said Peter.
‘Hmm. I wonder whether he followed them or was waiting for them at the fork. It was fairly dark in the dunes last night. They probably wouldn’t have seen him either way, especially if they were kissing or cuddling on their way home. Must have been some reason why the brother wasn’t with them, if both boys had to be home early.’
‘Hate to have to say this, Inspector, but the brother would have been in the perfect spot to commit both crimes, and he’s a local.’
to be continued…