Max Higgins marched through the bull pen and dumped his folder and car keys onto his desk. He glared at his whiteboard and shook a slow, disapproving head, concerned at the unprecedented high number of people missing due to suspicious circumstances.
He flipped open his folder and lifted a ten by eight colour photograph, the seventh in his growing collection. He paused to pass his eyes across the whiteboard, then affixed the photo.
Taken during happier times, the photo was given to him by Tanya Denyer, the distraught wife of Malcolm. She had one stipulation when Max visited her earlier this afternoon and that was, the photo had to be returned to her.
Three months had passed since her husband, Malcolm was last seen leaving the charity soup kitchen in Geelong’s CBD around 10pm. His bank accounts remained untouched. His mobile phone diverted to voice mail and probably the most telling was, his social media was inactive.
Malcolm regularly used Facebook. He invited all his students to interact with him via the social media platform. He viewed it as a way to break down perceived barriers between students and their Principal. He used it as a news forum and a way to distribute information to students and their parents. It was also his clever way to deter online bullying among students.
He was considered somewhat of a pioneer in this area. The concept was embraced by all at the school, including his teaching staff, so his long-term absence from Facebook concerned all who knew him.
While passing his eyes over his photo board collection, Tanya Denyer’s heartfelt question resonated with Max. It was a question that so many others in her position asked him, and it was the one question he avoided answering — “Do you think he is still alive?”
To Max and his years of experience investigating missing persons, the answer was sadly obvious. But to desperate family members clinging onto the slightest glimmer of hope, it was a question he couldn’t answer truthfully— for their sakes.
While ruing the latest addition to his collection, Max’s boss, Detective Senior Sergeant Jeff Fry approached.
‘How’s it coming along Max?’
Max turned to his approaching boss. ‘It’s not…’ he said in a tone riddled with frustration. Jeff stood beside him surveying the photo display.
Jeff flicked a finger at the photo of Malcolm Denyer. ‘Is this a new one..?’ he asked.
Max’s eyes flicked to the photo. He nodded once. ‘Just put that up…’
Jeff moved closer to Malcolm Denyer’s image. ‘Is that a rug…?’ he asked knowingly. ‘That would have to be one of the worst I’ve seen. I don’t understand why guys wear those things…’ His eyes lifted to Max’s balding head. ‘They should be like you and just wear it naturally…’
‘Each to their own Boss.’
Jeff waved a hand across the whiteboard. ‘Any chance some of these are drug related disappearances…?’
Max shook his head. ‘No.’ He gestured to Malcolm Denyer’s image. ‘This guy with the rug for example, he’s a primary school Principal,’ he said.
‘Could any of these disappearances be linked…?’
‘What…You mean like to a serial…?’
‘Something like that.’
‘I don’t think so. They’re too spread out for a serial killer…Serials tend to offend in areas they are comfortable with, like where they live, or where they work.’ Max paused at the interruption when his desk phone warbled to life. He continued as he moved to answer his phone. ‘Plus we have varying occupations and a mix of gender and ages…’ He lifted the handset while continuing. ‘No, too erratic. No pattern,’ he said, then took the call. ‘Detective Sergeant Max Higgins.’ Max’s eyes flicked to his whiteboard. ‘OK. Give me the address.’ He lifted a pen and scribbled notes. ‘OK. Got it. I’m about twenty minutes away...’ He hung up the phone and ripped the page from his note pad.
‘Whatcha got…?’ Jeff asked.
Max moved over to the whiteboard and tapped photo number two — Jenny Cox. ‘They’ve just found her car in a farmer’s dam in Anakie…Search and Rescue divers are there scouring the dam…’
Jeff read the details recorded under the photo. ‘Been missing for twenty-five months…Went missing on her way to Bacchus Marsh…’ He nodded knowingly. ‘Anakie is practically on the way to Bacchus Marsh. Maybe you’ll have an answer to this one.’
Max lifted his keys and folder. ‘We’ll see,’ he said, moving towards the door. ‘I’ll let ya know. Gotta go, Boss.’
The road to Anakie was typical of most Victorian country roads. Sealed bitumen roads with wide gravel shoulders, lined with kilometre after kilometre of barbed wire fencing. Each fence painstakingly erected to retain livestock and define the outer boundaries of the expansive rural acreages stretching as far as the eye could see.
During his drive to the small rural township thirty kilometres north-west of Geelong, Max was anxious at the possibility of solving one of his missing person mysteries.
After arriving at the address scribbled on his notes, Max left the roadway and travelled down a long unmade, barbed wire lined driveway, towards the residence situated over 500 metres from the road. Two-thirds of the way down the drive a uniform Constable met Max and directed him to a break in the barbed wire fence on his right.
After carefully navigating the wire fence, which had earlier been knocked down by the tow truck that preceded Max’s arrival, he continued driving across the uneven paddocks towards the vehicles gathered away in the distance.
The cars were parked at one of the largest farm dams he had seen. It would’ve been at least the size of a soccer field. The tow truck had already dragged the abandoned vehicle from the dam.
Max parked his car and made his way to the banks of the dam. A uniform Constable met him along the way and strolled with him.
‘Who found the car…?’ Max said as he walked.
‘The farm owner…Bill Marx,’ the uniform cop said, keeping stride with Max. ‘He said he went to the dam to check the level, which was low due to poor recent rainfall. The low water level revealed the roof of the car. He assumed it was a stolen car and called us.’
‘What do we know about this bloke, Bill Marx…?’
‘Clean skin. No record.’
‘Good. Are there any remains in the car?’ Max asked.
The cop shook his head. ‘No. Empty, including the boot.’
‘And the car is registered to Jenny Cox…?’ Max said as a question.
‘Correct. Well, it’s unregistered now, but the last registered owner came up as Jenny Cox. It looks like it has been here a while….’
‘About 25 months, I’d guess,’ Max’s said. ‘That’s how long she’s been missing.’
Max walked around the pale blue Toyota Camry. Evidence of rust bubbling under the paintwork replaced what were once polished panels.
All doors were closed. All windows were wound up. Max shielded his eyes to peer in through the driver’s window. A green slimy algae on the inside of the window reduced visibility. Car keys were still in the ignition.
Max approached the three search and rescue divers who were in the process of gathering their dive equipment. ‘Hey guys…no luck finding a body…’ he said.
‘No, no human remains in there,’ one of the divers said. ‘Just a bloated, decomposing sheep… but no human body.’
Max nodded. ‘OK, thanks for coming out guys…’
Max scanned the surrounding wide open, parched farm land. ’If her car was dumped here…she must be around here somewhere… but where…?’ he said, scanning the country side.
‘Could be anywhere…’ the uniform cop said, stating the obvious to Max’s rhetorical question.
‘Make sure the car is towed back for full forensic examination,’ Max said to the cop.
Despite the disappointment he felt on the return drive to his office, Max knew that while the discovery of her car was not a break through, it was another small piece in the puzzle to finding out what happened to Jenny Cox.
Such was her focus on scribbling notes while seated at her breakfast bench, Emily’s morning coffee had gone cold and the butter spread thick across her untouched raisin toast had congealed.
With Boyd working morning shift, the 6am start meant he left for work at 5.30am. So Emily was home alone with no distractions and no-one to remind her that she was already late leaving for work.
Instead, her focus was solely on scribbling notes from her latest nocturnal visitor. At 3.23 am this morning a woman in her late twenties visited Emily. She was dressed in knee-length khaki coloured cargo shorts and a light blue singlet top.
She asked for Emily’s help finding her and provided directions where her body could be found, just off the path leading to Erskine Falls. The popular tourist attraction was located on the outskirts of Lorne, a seaside hamlet, fifty kilometres south-west of Geelong on the world famous Great Ocean Road.
Emily wanted to record the notes while her conversation was still fresh in her memory. Part of her was glad Boyd had already left for work. She didn’t want to waste time justifying to him that this latest in a line of many visits, wasn’t just another dream.
In her own mind Emily believed the visits had purpose. These people wanted help from her and she felt obligated to assist where she could. Problem was, she didn’t know where to start.
After completing her latest note taking, Emily sat back and reviewed her list. It was now quite long. She opened her phone’s internet browser and navigated to the Victoria Police Missing Persons website. One-by-one she scrolled though the photos, searching for the familiar face from last night.
At page four she stopped and examined the image. A smile filled her face. ‘There you are…’ She read the name. ‘Libby Vassillou. How long have you been missing Libby…?’ She checked the date recorded on the site. ‘Oh my God. 27 months…Your poor family…’
The hair on Emily’s neck stood on end when she read on the website that Libby was last seen hiking in the Otways, which Emily knew as the expansive forest that surrounded Lorne.
Seven people were now recorded on Emily’s list. Not all seven had names yet, but all seven had each alerted Emily to their locations during their respective early morning visits.
On one occasion, not too far back, three people, two males and a female, visited Emily simultaneously. It was disturbing enough waking from her sleep to find one person staring back at her, but to have three people standing by her bed was triply frightening.
They told her they were lying together in a deep hole near Steiglitz. Emily later identified the woman from the website as Jenny Cox and one of the men as Brian Taylor, but she could not find any information about the other male. She suspected from their visit that the unnamed man may have worn a wig.
Emily glanced over her list of seven people. She had to consider how best to handle this information. Her gaze lifted to the wall clock. Her jaw dropped. ‘Shit…’ she blurted. She was running late. She picked up her coffee and took a sip as she moved to the dishwasher. Her face screwed up and she spat the liquid back into her cup. She shuddered. ‘Blah, cold coffee’, she muttered to herself.
Following a quick clean up, Emily scooped up her list and shoved it into her hand bag on her way to her car. Within sixty seconds she hit the road for the ten minute commute to her work.
This morning’s visitor distracted Emily from her work. She sat at her desk reviewing her list of notes compiled from her many nocturnal visits.
Being the Manager of her department, Emily was afforded the luxury of an office, which is essence, was just three shoulder-high partition walls forming two sides and a rear.
The rest of the open plan office in which she worked was occupied by desks placed side-by-side and back-to-back, forming rows along the room.
Naomi didn’t work in Emily’s department, but her desk was nearby. They did however share the same senior manager responsible for overseeing both Emily and Naomi’s respective departments.
Emily stood from her chair and peered over the top of her partition wall, towards Naomi’s desk. Naomi waved and smiled when she saw Emily’s head appear. Emily gathered her notes and moved towards Naomi’s desk.
‘Do you have a minute, Nomes…?’ Emily asked as she approached.
Naomi sat back in her chair watching Emily approach, ‘Of course. What’s up?’
Emily dragged a nearby chair over and squeezed in beside Naomi. She unfolded her list and dragged a hand across it. She checked over her shoulders then said in a quiet tone, ‘I had another visitor this morning…’ She tapped the fourth name on her list. ‘This one…Libby Vassillou. She told me where she could be found…’
‘Oh my God, Em…’ Naomi said. ‘How many is that now…?’
‘Ah…’ Emily tapped each name as she counted down her list. ‘That’s seven now…’
Naomi placed a hand on Emily’s forearm. ‘What are you going to do about it…?’
‘I don’t know. What can I do…?’
Naomi sat back in her chair and folded her arms in contemplation. ‘You know what…? I reckon it’s time, Em.’
‘Time you went to the cops with this. You have too many names for them to think you’re a nutter. They’d have to listen to you.’
‘I’m not so sure, Nomes.’
‘Look. I’ll come with you,’ Naomi said. She checked the time on her computer monitor. ’Why don’t we go at lunch break today? We can walk to the police station and get it out of the way…Tell ‘em what you know, then they can worry about it. What do ya say…?’
Emily stared at her notes while considering Naomi’s suggestion. She wanted to tell the cops what she knew, but something in her gut warned her off it, in case they thought she was a raving lunatic.
Up until six months ago she would’ve thought exactly that of anyone who claimed to speak to dead people in their sleep. And she expected the cops to do the same. But if she didn’t act, nothing would get done for these poor people.
‘You know what…?’ Emily said. ‘Let’s do it…’
‘Good girl…’ Naomi said. ‘I’ll come and get you at 12.30…’
‘Done. See ya then,’ Emily said. She pushed herself away from the desk, rolled the chair back to the spare desk and returned to her office.
The butterfly’s in Emily’s stomach kicked in when she noticed the time was 12.25. It was almost time for her lunch break. The last time she felt this nervous was when Molly Williamson dragged her up on stage in front of all those people at the Medium seminar. She was divided in her thoughts. Part of her wanted to tell the cops what she knew to help them locate these missing people. The other part of her was cautious as to how it would be received.
Emily startled when Naomi stuck her head around the front of the partition wall. ‘Ready…?’ Naomi said.
‘Yep…’ Emily said. She locked her computer screen, folded her notes and placed them into her handbag. ‘Let’s do this…’ She shouldered her handbag as she moved to exit her office.
Following a short stroll through Geelong’s CBD Emily and Naomi arrived at the Geelong Police Station. The public inquiry counter was occupied by three cops taking reports from other people who must’ve had similar thoughts of visiting the cops in their lunch break.
Emily and Naomi stood back waiting their turn. It wasn’t long before a young male cop squeezed in beside the other cops and beckoned Emily and Naomi towards him.
‘How can I help you ladies?’ He asked. The cop was personable, with a warm smile. Emily felt at ease as she approached the desk. She read his name tag. Constable Brandon Coutts.
‘Hi…I have some information that you might find useful in relation to some missing people,’ Emily said. She removed her notes from her handbag.
‘OK…’ Constable Coutts said. He dragged a note pad closer and removed a pen from his shirt pocket. ‘Let’s start with your name…’
‘Ah, Emily Davis…’
The cop scribbled on his pad. ‘And your address Emily…?’
Emily frowned nervously at Naomi. ‘Ah, 14 Wentworth Court, Belmont.’
The cop scribbled her response. ‘Do you have a mobile contact?’
Emily nodded. She glanced at the other people at the counter. ‘I’ll write it for you.’ She accepted the pen from the cop and slid the page closer to herself. She jotted down her mobile number and handed the pen back to the cop.
Constable Coutts read the number. ‘Now, what is the information you have for us…?’
Emily unfolded her notes and placed them on the counter. ‘I have some information on the whereabouts of some people that have been missing for some time.’
‘Oh, OK.’ The cop’s eyes dropped to Emily’s list. He gestured to it. ‘Is that the information there…?’
‘May I have a look at it…?’
‘Please…’ Emily handed her notes to the cop. He leaned on his elbows as he read the list. Emily watched on.
The cop frowned. His eyes lifted to Emily. ‘There are seven names on here…Which one do you have information on?’
‘All of them…’
Constable Coutts stood back upright as he regarded Emily. An awkward pause ensued. ’You have information on the whereabouts of all seven of these missing persons…?’ The cop said.
‘How do you know this information?’
Emily and Naomi exchanged a brief glance. Naomi gave a reassuring jab of her head towards the cop. Emily took a breath and said, ‘I have the ability to communicate with people who have passed on…’ She paused when the cop’s shoulders noticeably dropped. ‘I am what is called a Medium and these people told me where they are located.’
Constable Coutts exchanged a brief glance with his colleague standing beside him. The other cop rolled his eyes before returning to his own report.
Constable Coutts’ questioning eyes flicked from Emily to Naomi and back again. ‘You believe that each of the people on this list are dead and they visited you and told you where their bodies are…?’ Coutts said.
A woman to Emily’s right scoffed loudly. Emily was too embarrassed to look in the woman’s direction. The Emily of old would probably have shared the same cynical scoff, if she heard those very same words uttered by the cop.
‘That’s right…’ Emily said. ‘Look I know how strange this sounds, but I—’
‘I appreciate you coming down here today Ms…’ the cop read from his notes. ‘Davis…But I’m afraid we need something more substantial than what you have to offer, for us to act on the information relating to missing persons. I’m sure you understand…’
Emily glanced around the public reception area. Everyone, including the cops on the other side of the counter all stared at her, judging her, or so she felt.
‘OK…’ Emily said. She wasn’t going to argue with the cop who just politely informed her, she was a nut and he was not interested in what she had to say. Emily tapped Naomi on the arm then gestured towards the exit door. ‘Thank you for your time,’ she said then quickly exited the foyer. Naomi followed behind.
Emily’s stride was long and fast. Naomi jogged to keep up. ‘I told you they would think I was a nut…I told you Nomes,’ Emily said. She cupped her forehead. ‘My god that was embarrassing. Did you see those people looking at me…?’
‘At least you tried Em…you can’t control what the cops think.’
‘I can’t blame them Nomes…I would think the same, if all this wasn’t happening to me.’
Naomi placed a reassuring arm around Emily as they walked. ’It’s OK, Em…don’t let them get to you. You’re not a nutter. At least you tried. Let’s get some lunch. My treat.
Constable Coutts watched Emily and Naomi storm from the public reception area. His puzzled gaze met a colleague’s standing beside him. The colleague rotated a finger beside his ear, then shook a slow head before he returned to his report.
With no one else waiting to be served, Constable Coutts checked his watch. He lifted his notes and Emily’ list from the counter and moved away from public view, into the watch house. He re-read Emily’s list. When he finished he shook his head and scrunched the papers into a tight ball and lobbed them into a bin. ‘I’m going for some lunch Serge,’ he said to his supervising Sergeant.
The Sergeant checked his watch. ‘Enjoy…’ he said.
Constable Coutts sat in the large police station meals room enjoying his sandwich when his cynical colleague from the front counter wandered in with his own lunch. The arriving cop slid into a chair next to Coutts.
‘How was that nutter you served, bro…?’ The second cop said with a chuckle.
Coutts shook his head. ‘Unbelievable. I can’t understand why they let these people walk around unsupervised.’
‘I never heard the full story…’ the second cop said. ‘What was she saying…dead people visit her, or something…?’
‘Yeah, that’s right. She had a list with her which she said she compiled from visits she had from dead people who are missing persons…’
Max Higgins sat alone in the corner enjoying a quiet feed. His ears pricked up when heard the words “Missing Persons”.
Coutts continued. ‘I read her list after she stormed out…Hey, how’s the way she practically ran from the reception area…?’ Both cops laughed out loud. Coutts continued. ‘I read from her list after she’d gone and it was filled with notes about the supposed locations these ghosts told her, as to where their bodies were…’ Both cops laughed as they dined.
Coutts continued his recollection of reading Emily’s notes. ‘The first one on her list…What was the name…? Oh yeah. Sarah Moon…Apparently the ghost of this Sarah Moon told this nutter her body is in a dam near Winchelsea… yeah right…’ the cop said.
Max heard enough to pique his interest. He approached the two cynical cops. ‘I only caught part of what you were saying then…something about someone knowing the whereabouts of a missing person…?’
‘Oh, hey Higgo…’ Coutts said. ‘Yeah that’s right. I just had a female nut case come in to the watch house and tell me she knows the whereabouts of seven missing persons…’
‘Don’t get too excited…She said their ghosts visited her and told her where their bodies were…’ He scoffed. ‘Do you believe that shit…?’
‘What was it you said there before, something about Sarah Moon? She’s one of missing person cases.’
Coutts scoffed. ‘Like I said, I wouldn’t get too excited, mate…I think she was on lunch time leave from the looney bin ward of the psyche hospital.’
‘Yeah. I got that part…What did she say about Sarah Moon though?’
‘She didn’t say anything. She had a note with her with seven names on it. The top of the list was this Sarah Moon. In her notes she wrote the body was apparently in a dam near Winchelsea… Do you believe that shit…?’
Max’s firm expression held the grinning cop’s gaze. ‘Where’s this list…?’
The cop waved the back of his hand. ‘I threw it in the bin in the watch house…’
Max gestured towards the kitchen door. ‘Come with me and get that list…’
The young cop looked up at Max with surprise. ‘Surely you’re not believing this nut job, Max…’
‘I’m not believing anything. I just want to see this list you’re speaking about…’
The cop stood from his chair. ‘What’s got you interested in this list?’ He said as he scooped up his lunch rubbish and dumped it into a bin.
‘The location of the body…’ Max said, as both men exited the kitchen en-route to the watch house.
‘What…in a dam near Winchelsea…? She probably saw this Sarah Moon went missing from around that area and made the rest up…’
‘Sarah Moon went missing from the Geelong CBD. Her car was found burnt out near Winchelsea a few weeks later…’
‘There ya go…She probably read that on the website, or saw it on the news…’
‘None of that information about Sarah’s car and its whereabouts had been released…So how did your nut job know Sarah Moon’s body is in a dam near Winchelsea…?’
Max followed the young cop into the watch house and watched him retrieve some screwed up paper from a bin. Constable Coutts unfolded the paper and handed it to Max. ‘That’s the list she brought in with her…’
Max accepted the list and commenced to read from it. ‘This is her writing…it’s not yours…?’ Max said as a question.
Max glared at the young cop.
‘What…?’ The cop said.
‘All seven of these names are long-term missing persons and each is one of my case files…’ Max said.
‘So, she probably visited the missing person’s website and got the names from there…’
‘Is that right…?’ Max said with his own hint of cynicism. ’He gestured to the names at numbers six and seven — Malcolm Denyer and Dale Cartwright. ‘Tell me how she knew about these two missing persons…’ The young cop shrugged. Before he could answer Max continued. ‘Their names are yet to be published on the missing person’s website…’ Max held a firm glare at the cop. ‘So, how could she know they were missing and more importantly, where their bodies are supposed to be located?’
The cop’s open-mouthed stare at the list was enough of a response for Max.
‘Did you get this woman’s name…? Please tell me you at least got her name.’
The young cop handed Max the crumpled up page in his hand. Max opened it up. He read from the notes. ‘Is this her…? The woman who brought in this list…’
‘Yep, that’s her. That’s her mobile phone number on the top there...Why the sudden interest in this nut job?’
‘Because this nut job just gave you information that only the offender, or an accomplice would know about…or, she was telling you the truth about being psychic…Do you know which one she is…?’ Max said, again with cynicism that was unfortunately lost on the young cop.
No. I don’t know.’
‘Neither do I…’ Max said. ‘But I’m going to find out…’ With a disapproving shake of his head, Max marched out of the watch house.