Emily and her four cottage inmates stood beside their open cell doors while the nightly head count took place. With only five inmates, it was a short process.
Once her name was checked off the list Emily stepped into her cell. The heavy door slammed behind her. A metal latch clanged and the keys jingled as her door was locked. It was a sound she struggled to get used to. It was a sound that, above anything else, reminded her she was a prisoner.
Emily learned of the nightly head count and lockdown from one of the other women during dinner. Earlier in the evening, all women prepared their meals and dined at the same time. Three of them kept to themselves. But the one who sat next to Emily was quite chatty.
When the other three left the table, the chatty one introduced herself as Mandy. She informed Emily how the other three women had drug habits and were undergoing rehab while on remand, during which they battled their own demons.
Mandy even disclosed to Emily what she was on remand for — theft of two million dollars from her employer over a four year period.
Then came the question Emily expected, but dreaded. ‘What are you in for…?’ Mandy asked.
’I was once told it was taboo to ask another inmate what they were in for,’ Emily said. ‘I will say this though…I have not committed any crimes,’ Emily said.
‘Yet here you are…’ Mandy said, possibly a little bitter over Emily’s reluctance to share her story. ‘But that’s OK…you don’t have to tell me. I understand.’
Emily sensed Mandy’s slight annoyance. ‘Look…At the moment I’m struggling to come to terms with being here when I am innocent…so talking about it upsets me too much. Maybe with time I will be able to freely chat about it…but right now I’d prefer not to. OK.’
Mandy held up her hands. ‘It’s OK. I understand. Really.’
Over dinner, Emily happily shared everything else about her life with Mandy. It was comforting to have such a friendly inmate. It helped pass the time, of which she had plenty.
By the end of dinner they were like two besties, chatting and laughing. If only for that brief moment in time, Emily forgot her troubles. She forgot why she was there and enjoyed the company. Mandy made her laugh.
After dinner, Mandy and Emily did their dishes together; Mandy washed, while Emily dried and put away. It was apparent that Mandy was happy to finally have a non-drug affected cottage inmate to chat with.
With the dishes done, Emily and Mandy strolled to their cells for nightly lockdown. Emily stopped at her cell door.
‘See ya in the morning,’ Mandy said, in a chirpy tone, then kept strolling to her cell, two doors over at cell number five.
Emily regarded the departing Mandy. She was perplexed at how someone could be so upbeat while serving time. She couldn’t help but admire Mandy’s positive attitude. Maybe that was the key to surviving this with your sanity intact.
With the cell door now secured, Emily felt alone. She sat on the side of her bed. Her first night in prison would be spent in the clothes she currently wore.
Earlier in the day she provided her list of approved names to the Guard, however it was too soon for Brad to drive up from Geelong to bring her changes of clothes, or to deposit money into an account. She hoped to be able to arrange all that tomorrow.
Without warning the cell light went out. Emily fumbled for the switch on her wall mounted reading light and flicked it on. The grey and black shadows cast across the cell from the dull light gave the small room an eerie appearance.
Emily fell back onto her bed. She tried to visit her happy place by thinking of happier times with her husband. Eventually she allowed herself to sleep.
Detective Sergeant Max Higgins rubbed a concerned hand across his mouth while he watched the rows of searchers combing the Otways Forest. They had been at it for over three long hours without result. He started to question if he had the correct location.
Two weeks after he remanded Emily Davis in custody, he decided to re-visit Emily’s List. The list recorded that Libby Vassillou, now missing for twenty-seven months, was somewhere near a bush hiking track leading into Erskine Falls, the popular tourist attraction in the forest on the outskirts of Lorne.
The list referenced a fork in the hiking track and a treated pine bench seat, but nothing further. It was up to Max to try and decipher the message and his search team to locate Libby’s body.
Around one kilometre in, the hiking track forked. Max located a pine bench on the path along the right fork. Satisfied this was the correct location, it became the starting point of the search, and fanned out from there. Now he wasn’t so sure.
Max nodded a silent greeting to the approaching Search and Rescue team leader.
‘How far into the forest do you intend the search line to go…?’ The Team Leader asked.
Max scanned the bushland. ‘I was just thinking about that…’ he said. ‘I’m starting to wonder if I deciphered this list correctly.’ He slipped the list from his file and opened it out. ‘See here. It mentions the fork in the path and the pine bench,’ Max said. ‘There’s the right fork…and there’s the pine bench.’
‘Can I see that?’ The Team Leader said. He accepted the list and read it. His eyes lifted and flicked from the left fork, to the right fork and back. He rubbed his chin. ‘See, I read this differently to you,’ the Team leader said. ’It is vague, but I read the search area is the left fork, not the right fork with the pine bench…We’ve been searching the right fork, behind the pine bench…’
Max accepted Emily’s list back and re-read it. ‘OK. I can see that as an option,’ Max said. He gestured to the left fork. ‘So you think we need to search down there…’ he asked rubbing his chin stubble. ‘A bit cryptic isn’t it?’
The Team Leader shrugged. ‘Who knows what she was thinking when she wrote that list.’
Max and the Team Leader moved down the left fork with their eyes glued to the ground adjacent to the path. Around twenty metres along, they stepped off the track and toed the sandy soil through the accumulation of fallen twigs and leaves. ‘OK. Let’s get the search teams over here. We’ll start from this point, working outwards on both sides of the track.’
Within a short time, lines of police and SES searchers relocated to either side of the left fork and fanned out in rows, prodding the sandy soil with long search sticks.
Forty-five minutes had passed without success when Max impatiently checked his watch. He removed Emily’s list from his pocket and re-read it. He rubbed a frustrated hand across his mouth and chin.
While he pondered the many possibilities in the interpretation of Emily’s list, loud voices from behind caught his attention. He turned to the noise. News media — a cameraman, a producer, a sound recorder technician and a field reporter— approached the crime scene perimeter tape, guarded by a uniform Constable.
Max rolled his eyes. ‘What kept you?’ He mumbled to himself.
The female reporter called out to Max. ‘Excuse me Detective…Could we have a word please…?’
Max checked his watch, more out of reflex than interest, then moved to the perimeter tape.
With a note pad in one hand and a pen in the other, the attractive young female reporter smiled at Max as he approached. After a brief introduction, she fired off the questions and scribbled Max’s responses. She was hungry for a breaking story.
Once the details were obtained, the reporter asked Max if he was prepared to be interviewed on camera. Max agreed. The Producer checked for the position with the best lighting.
Max and the reporter positioned themselves in front of the camera. Another from their group angled a reflective shield that directed sunlight onto them.
The Producer gave a signal. A red light appeared on the camera and the reporter started to file her report. ‘Earlier today, teams of Police and SES searchers descended onto a remote location in the pristine Otways Forest, a location where Police believe — ’
A shrieking whistle caused the Max to step away from the camera and glance back towards the searchers. The reporter paused and turned to the sound.
When the Search & Rescue Team Leader — the source of the whistle — caught Max’s wondering gaze, he gestured towards the right side of the left fork. Several of the searchers were migrating to this area.
‘Gotta go, sorry,’ Max said to the reporter. He jogged back to the area where the search team were gathering. On the way the Team Leader met Max on the left fork and moved to keep in step with him. ‘What’ve we got?’ Max asked the Team Leader.
‘Looks like a shallow grave…’
Max and the Team Leader trudged a path through the thick overgrowth. Twigs and dried grasses crunched under foot. Max brushed aside fern fronds, spindly tree branches and shrub foliage as he high-stepped through the overgrown ground cover.
The searchers had located a clearing in amongst the overgrowth that was out of place to the rest of the forest floor. Their probing search sticks struck something just below the surface. Three of the searchers were on hands and knees carefully excavating dirt with small hand shovels when Max arrived.
The out-of-place clearing suggested to Max they had located Libby Vassillou’s shallow grave. Over time the disturbed dirt had re-settled and was firm to dig through, so every care had to be taken.
A member of the police search team eventually uncovered a dirty brown coloured human head, in advanced stages of decomposition. The rest of the body remained interred. Max halted the exploratory dig and called the forensics body recovery experts to the location for a more thorough dig, to ensure all evidence was recovered.
The forensic team were in the nearby coastal hamlet of Lorne enjoying a leisurely coffee when Max called. Within fifteen minutes they were on site, carefully excavating the soil around the body. Disturbed dirt was sifted onto a ground sheet.
Bit-by-bit the decomposing, fully clothed body was uncovered from its shallow grave of around thirty centimetres deep.
Once evidence photos were taken, the body was carefully removed from the hole and placed onto a stretcher.
While the forensic team sifted the dirt remaining in the hole, Max removed the photo of Libby Vassillou from his file. He compared it to the recovered body. DNA would have to confirm it, however Max was satisfied he had located another of his missing persons. Emily Davis’ charges just increased to six murders.
With nothing but time on her hands, Emily looked forward to her regular telephone calls to Boyd. She didn’t always have much to report, but it was so nice to hear his voice. Today however she had some good news to share.
This morning she received notification that all persons on her approved visit list had passed probity checks and were cleared to visit her.
The thought of eventually being able to see her husband again excited her. It helped her get through the long days. It had been over three weeks since she last saw his handsome face and that was in court as she was being led away. No hugs, no kisses goodbye, just a fleeting glance over a shoulder before being whisked away.
Emily’s excited heart pounded when she lifted the telephone receiver. She entered her allocated PIN, followed by the number 1, which was Boyd’s reference number on her approved call list.
Inmates were not able to dial numbers from inside the prison. The prison’s telephone system dialled the telephone number recorded against the reference number on the approved call lists.
She nervously drummed her fingers on the wall as the phone chirped in her ear. It answered after four rings. She listened to the standard pre-recorded message informing Boyd he had a call from Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. The message outlined the rules he was required to follow, if he was prepared to accept the call. The message instructed him to hang up if he did not want to obey these rules, or if he wanted to reject the call. Alternatively, he was instructed to hang on the line for the call to be connected. The call connected.
‘Hi Hun…how are you going?’ Emily said with excitement in her voice.
‘Hey stranger…It’s great to hear from you. Is everything still OK with you…?’
‘Yep. All’s good. I have some good news though…’
‘I could do with some good news for a change.’
‘Me too. You have been cleared to visit me.’
‘Finally. That’s so great.’
‘It is. It will be so good to be able to look at you again, rather than imagining you, while listening to you talk on the phone.’
‘So, when can I come up to see you?’
‘Tomorrow. You have to book the visit with the prison though.’
‘Yeah, that’s fine I can do that, but what time?’
‘Ah, Thursday’s visit times are 12pm to 2pm. 2.30 to 4.30 and 5pm to 7pm. What shift are you working tomorrow?’
‘I’m on an RDO tomorrow so what time would suit you?’
‘The earlier the better. I won’t be able to wait until the afternoon.’
‘OK. I’ll arrange for 12pm. If that’s booked out, I’ll go for 2.30pm. OK.’
Emily was like an excited school girl preparing for her first date. ‘I won’t be able to sleep tonight, Hun. I can’t wait.’
The balance of the call was occupied with small talk to fill in the time and to hear his voice. Before long a warning tone beeped.
‘My twelve minutes is nearly up Hun. I gotta go.’
‘Twelve minutes is such a ridiculous time they allocate for calls…’ Boyd moaned.
‘I agree…It passes so quickly.’
‘OK. How’s your funds going? Do you have enough?’
‘Yeah, pretty good at the moment, thanks. I can’t wait until tomorrow. I love you.’
‘Me either. Love you too. Bye.’
Emily hung up the phone. For the first time in over three weeks she was happy; as happy as one could be in prison. She now had something to look forward to tomorrow.
Emily was showered, her room cleaned and her bed made by the time her cell door opened at 7.30am. She patiently sat on the end of her bed waiting for the sound of jingling keys and clanging metal.
The excitement of finally seeing Boyd again caused a disrupted sleep. She was so excited, she kept waking up and peering out her window to check for evidence of the new day. Eventually it was there. Signs of day light rising up against the fading night sky was her silent alarm. Time to get up and get ready.
After a short wait, the heavy cell door flung open. ‘Morning,’ the Guard said. It was Clive this morning, one of Emily’s favourite Guards. He checked Emily off his morning head count list.
‘Morning Clive…’ Emily jumped up from her bed and exited her cell. No one else had emerged as yet.
Clive glanced over his shoulder as he unlocked cell two. ‘You’re up and about early this morning…Couldn’t sleep?’ He said as he reefed open the cell door. ‘Morning,’ he said to cell two’s occupant. He checked her off his list.
‘On and off…’ Emily said. ‘But I’m having my first visit today. My husband has been cleared to visit and he is coming up at midday,’ she said with a beaming smile that illuminated her face.
‘Good for you,’ Clive said as he unlocked cell one. ‘You should probably have an early lunch today then. You won’t be back here until after 2.’ He reefed open the door. ‘Morning.’ He checked off his list.
He hooked the jingling keys to his belt and shoved the clipboard under his arm as he and Emily moved towards the kitchen. ‘So, you haven’t experienced a box visit before…?’ Clive said as a question.
Emily frowned. ‘A box visit… What’s a box visit?’
‘That’s what we call non-contact visits. That’s what you’ll be having today… a non-contact visit,’ he clarified. ‘They are conducted in this small room, bit like an oversized phone box. You’ll sit on one side of the glass and your husband will be on the other.’
‘Do we talk through telephones, or something?’ Emily asked as she selected her coffee mug from the overhead cupboard.
Clive nodded. ‘Now ya got it…’ he said. ‘I’ll have one with ya…’ He selected a mug.
Emily spooned instant coffee into her mug, then into Clive’s mug. Percolated coffee was not an option in prison, even in the lenient Remand Precinct. While not a fan of instant coffee, it was that, or nothing. She still craved the caffeine kick from a hot, Barista prepared coffee, but with every passing week, those cravings faded into memories as she slowly acquired a taste for the bitter processed alternative.
They added their milk and slid into chairs at the kitchen dining table.
With only five inmates to look after in the shared cottage, the guards were quite relaxed. They didn’t feel threatened and they actively interacted with the remandees. Guards like Clive treated the inmates with respect; he treated them like people, not crims.
So for Clive at least, sitting and sharing a morning coffee with the more friendly remandees like Emily and Mandy was a common occurrence.
Around the time they considered a refill, Mandy shuffled into the kitchen, yawning.
‘Here she is, right on time,’ Clive said.
‘Morning,’ Mandy said. She made herself a strong coffee and slid into the chair beside Emily.
‘What’s for brekky this morning ladies?’ Clive asked in his typical upbeat tone.
‘I’m going with my usual…cereal and a cuppa,’ Emily said.
‘I think I’ll scramble some eggs,’ Mandy said. ‘I feel like eggs this morning.’
Clive checked his watch. ‘I’ll leave you ladies to it then,’ he said. He pushed himself up from the table. ‘I’ll come and get you around 11.45am, OK?’ he said to Emily, then returned to his desk.
The repetitive clip-clunk, clip-clunk of a table tennis game echoed from the common area. Rallies were short and cackling laughter followed as table tennis novices, Emily and Mandy often sent the ball ricocheting off the roof, or a side wall.
An entertained Clive leaned his elbows on his guard station watching the friendly game. He checked his watch. ‘What’s the score?’ he asked.
Emily tapped her chest. ‘18-10 my way,’ she said, then served. Laughter followed as Mandy launched the ball forty-five degrees to her right. ’Make that 19-10,’ Emily said.
‘OK. Finish your game then we’ll have to go, Emily. You’ve got an important appointment.’
‘I do. Is it that time already?’
‘It’s a little before 11.45. Keep going. Finish your game first.’
Emily served. Mandy swung and missed, which said more about Mandy’s eye-hand co-ordination than the quality of Emily’s serve. ’20-10. Game point,’ Emily said.
Emily served. Mandy connected with this one. Her unintended tennis style forehand drive sent the ball rocketing passed Emily’s head, into the back wall. Mandy covered her mouth. ‘Sorry…’ she said.
‘You’re dangerous, girl. I think that’s game,’ Emily said.
After returning the equipment to the cupboard Emily approached Clive, still leaning on the high ledge of his Guard station counter. A huge grin illuminated her face as she rubbed her nervous hands together. ‘We all set?’ she asked.
‘We sure are. Let’s go,’ Clive said. ‘Just escorting Emily to her box visit,’ Clive said to his relieving guard at the front desk.
The guard lifted his eyes from the newspaper. ‘Nice.’ He said. He smiled at Emily. ‘Enjoy,’ he said.