Despite Henry Watson suggesting a few names, the Morton Sands investigation stalled. Carl grew progressively more frustrated as time passed, until the morning, three weeks after Mike had delivered his bombshell, he received a call from Todd Wilson, the constable stationed in Carrick.
‘Say that again, Todd,’ said Carl.
‘I’m calling from the hospital, Inspector. John Breton, one of our local farmers, has turned up here with a girl he says he found wandering naked on a road near his farm. Says she was so frightened he had to call his wife to come down, before they could persuade her to get into the car so they could bring her into the hospital.’
‘Has the girl said anything?’
‘She’s incoherent, Inspector, but the doctor reckons she’s been raped, and someone’s tried to strangle her. She’s really badly bruised around the throat and suffering from exposure. Doctor reckons she’s lucky to be alive.’
‘I’ll be down there as soon I can with a counsellor from Rape Response. Any idea who she is, Todd?’
‘Kelly Downs, Inspector. She goes to school with my son.’
‘Was she reported missing overnight?’
‘Her folks are divorced, Inspector. Mrs Downs told me they’d had a fight last night and Kelly had stormed out to go to her father’s. He lives over by the caravan park, about a fifteen to twenty minute walk from her mum’s. Apparently she does it quite a bit, whenever she’s had a blue with her mum.’
‘What about the father? What’s he saying?’
‘As far as he knew, she was with her mother.’
‘So, no-one realised she was missing?’
‘Not until I called Mrs Downs this morning.’
‘Okay, see what else you can find out, Todd. I’ll touch base when we get to Carrick.’
Carl hung up and put on his coat.
Detective Constable Peter James almost spilt the dose of caffeine he was self-administering to kick start his brain, fogged by a night of interrupted sleep.
‘He’s struck again, some time last night, but this time the victim woke up after he’d strangled her.’
Two hours later, they arrived at the Carrick District Hospital with Sergeant Heather Smart, from Rape Response.
Carl and Peter waited in reception with Constable Todd Wilson, while Sergeant Smart went with a nurse to interview Kelly Downs and speak to the doctor who had examined her.
‘Where did this farmer pick her up, Todd?’
‘His farm’s up in the hills, around twenty kilometres out of town, but who knows how far young Kelly walked before John found her, Inspector.’
‘So, not a main road then?’
‘More of a bush track, Inspector. Not much traffic up that way.’
‘The Crime Scene boys should be here soon. Where’s this farmer now?’
‘He’s gone home but I told him we’d probably be out to see him when you got here.’
Carl’s mobile pinged. The Crime Scene Investigators were at the Carrick police station.
When Sergeant Smart emerged, she briefed them on what Kelly had told her.
‘She said she knew the man, Inspector.’
‘He’s a local, then,’ said Carl.
‘No. Kelly works in the shop at the caravan park after school. She said the man’s been staying in the caravan park since last week. She doesn’t know his name but she’d thought he was a nice guy until this happened.’
‘Was she able to give you any sort of description we can go on?’
‘Said he looked about as old as her father, so mid-to-late thirties. Blond hair, baby blue eyes and a bit shy when he was in the shop.’
‘What does she remember about what happened to her?’ said Carl.
‘He offered her a lift when she was going to her father’s last night. I gather her dad lives near the caravan park. Apparently, he drove up and stopped to talk to her when she was walking past the school.’
‘That would figure,’ said Todd. ‘There’s only one street light over there, and no houses.’
‘So what happened when she got into his car?’
‘I gather it was some sort of white van, Inspector.’
Carl held up his hand and turned to Constable Wilson.
‘Call the caravan park and see what you can find out,’ said Carl. ‘If we’re lucky, he might still be there.’
Carl turned his attention back to Sergeant Smart and asked her to continue, while Constable Wilson telephoned the manager of the caravan park.
‘When she got in, he locked the doors and drove out of town instead of going to the caravan park. When she asked where he was taking her, he flashed a knife and told her to shut up if she didn’t want to get hurt. She said they drove up into the hills behind the school for about half an hour, before he stopped. Then he threatened her with the knife again and forced her into the back of the van, where he cut her clothes off her and raped her. Then he grabbed her around the neck and squeezed really hard so that she couldn’t breathe. The next thing she remembers is waking up cold and naked in the dark, with no idea where she was, so she stayed put until the sun came up. When she realised she was near a road, she followed it until she was picked up by the Bretons.’
‘And, what did the doctor say?’ said Carl.
‘He’s confirmed she’s been raped,’ said Sergeant Smart, holding up an evidence bag, containing the swab the doctor had taken from Kelly. ‘He reckons she’s lucky to be alive, and that someone’s definitely tried to strangle her. You should see the bruising on her neck.’
‘Guess she’s lucky it wasn’t a really cold night, otherwise this could have ended differently. When did he say we’d be able to interview her?’
‘Not until tomorrow, at the earliest, Inspector. She’s pretty traumatised, and she’s having trouble speaking.’ Sergeant Smart showed Carl her notebook. ‘She wrote the answers to my questions in here for me, poor thing, she’s got a tube down her throat to help her breathe.’
Constable Wilson rejoined them.
‘The description fits a guy called Dale Reed, according to the manager. He checked out yesterday. He’s given me the registration number of his van, a white Nissan.’
‘Okay, Todd. Let’s see if we can get an address to go with that number, so we can pay Mr Reed a visit. The Crime Scene boys are at the station. While we’re tracking down Reed, I want you to take them out to speak to Mr Breton. They might be able to locate where Kelly was dumped in the bush. They’ve got a dog with them, so you’ll need to get something of Kelly’s from her mother.’
‘I’ll stay here,’ said Sergeant Smart. ‘I need to talk to Kelly’s mother. The Crime Scene boys can give me a lift back to the city, otherwise I’ll catch the train.’
to be continued…