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An Evil Family

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A teenager is brutally battered to death, his body dumped at a rubbish tip as a warning for other street kids. DS Chris Martin believes that criminals are luring vulnerable street kids into the 'family' to use them as disposable couriers. Set in New Zealand, this is the struggle of those who try to help abused and vulnerable children against the criminals who corrupt and take advantage of them.

Mystery / Thriller
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:

Chapter 1


The stink of rotting garbage and the decaying muck that sucked at his shoes weren’t what turned Detective Sergeant Chris Martin’s stomach. Strangely enough, it was the seagulls that really got to him. Wheeling above his head, the scavengers screamed, squabbled and swooped, as much at home in the decay and putrefying rubbish as the animal who had used this as a personal dumping ground.

He moved so he could get a better look at the battered body of what had once been Brad. The young, homeless teenager had vanished off the face of the earth two weeks ago and now Chris’ worst fears were confirmed. He had been taken, tortured by the look of him and battered to death. No one should die like that, especially not a 16-year-old. Brad’s life had been hard and his death brutal. The guilt of being too late swamped Chris and he deliberately focused. Left as rubbish for the gulls and the rats, didn’t say a lot about the significance of a life. But it said a lot about the people who had done this. Brad hadn’t been hidden in garbage bags or buried, he’d been left in open view where the dump workers would find him. Whoever, left him there, knew the police would be called, that the word would get out.

The news would have reached the other street kids by now. This was a warning, pure and simple. Except that there was nothing pure or simple about it. Brad’s murder was a clear message of power, utter control and total ruthlessness. Chris straightened, his rage now burning ice cold. Silent until now, his partner Joe asked, ‘It’s him?’

‘Yea, it’s him.’ Chris took a deep breath and turned to scan the crime scene with his mind. This was the part of his police work he didn’t talk about. He called it reading the scene, picking up the vibes. The sixth sense or intuition he had inherited from his family meant he found things others missed. Most cops hated what they called the CSI effect, the ‘hero’ detective walking in and finding a vital clue just by standing there and looking. Crime scene investigation was meticulous and painstaking work, carried out by scientists, forensic photographers, fingerprint technicians to name just a few, all under the watchful and note-taking eye of the Officer in Charge Detective. They didn’t like it, but sometimes Chris would pick up one thing that set him off on the right track, making him even more of an outsider. Which accounted for his sarcastic nickname, Sherlock.

Taking another raged deep breath, he fought for the control needed to put aside the rage and absorb what he could see and, more importantly, what he couldn’t. He stayed crouched close to the ground and scanned the garbage. Then he straightened, moved further around the body, and scanned from a different angle. He sifted through feelings of fear, hopelessness and anger and his eye stopped at a spot about two metres off to the right of the body. A wheel was sticking out of the rubbish. ‘Joe, that wheel, check and see if that’s Brad’s bike.’

Joe climbed over the rubbish, removing a pen from his pocket and carefully raised the edge of a cardboard box and peered underneath. ‘You got it. How the hell do you do that, Sherlock?’

Chris ignored him and returned to his scanning. Brad hadn’t died here. He tried to find anything else that might have belonged to Brad but his senses were now blank.

The gulls screamed for his attention again. He turned away and took a vicious kick at a bucket close by. Bending down, he chose a can, took careful aim and biffed it at a group of seagulls, scattering them screeching back into the air. ‘Seagulls! I hate bloody seagulls.’

Joe remained silent. He knew well enough the frustration, the sense of being inadequate, of being too late. ‘You’ve got shit on your hands now.’

‘Yea, like the animal who used this place as his message. So help me god, I’ll find you, you bastard. You just made this personal.’ He took a deep breath. ‘I want you so bad, I can smell you,’ he added.

‘No, that’s just your hand you can smell.’ As usual, his partner’s humour was inappropriate and not funny, but sometimes at a crime scene, it helped. Brought him back to what he was meant to be doing. And what was he meant to be doing? He was meant to be helping these kids get their lives back. This showed him exactly how powerful the people were that he was trying to protect them from. Someone was using street kids to support their operation, vulnerable kids who trusted no-one. They were sucked into a game where first they became ‘family’ developing the loyalty and dedication to gang life until they became disposable, eventually dead. He’d been looking for Brad for two weeks and he knew jack-shit. In fact, now, he was Jack-shit. He looked down at his hand and realised, that he was okay about having foul shit on his hand if it meant that it fuelled the rage. He wanted to feel. So many of his cases were seen through a filter of logic and deduction. This time, he wanted to feel. He wanted his stomach to heave with the stench. He wanted to scream at the outrage of abduction and the torture of this beating. And he wanted to mourn for the lonely, clever boy who had stumbled into the hornet’s nest and got stung to death.

Chapter One

‘You’re sending her into the lion’s den!’ Johnny was in Detective Sergeant Chris Martin’s face and Chris knew he wasn’t going to back down.

‘It’s not the lion’s den. Don’t be so damn dramatic. All I’m asking her to do is to volunteer to go to camp.’

‘To get a lead on Brad’s murder! You think that a camp full of kids at risk will know who got to Brad.’

‘It’s not like…’

’I know exactly what it’s like. Are you going to tell her what kids to approach? Share their criminal history? Tell her what kind of abuse they have suffered? How about their psychological profile? So she’ll be fully informed on how to approach them?” Johnny lowered his voice. ‘You, Detective Sergeant Martin,’ he stabbed his finger into Chris’s chest with each word, ‘are obsessed like every other cop who makes detective. You don’t just ruin your own life, you ruin everyone’s around you as well!’

Johnny was getting to Chris. That and the fact that there was a grain of truth in what Sam’s neighbour, said. ‘And who’s life did you ruin when you were a cop?’

‘Stop it! Will you two stop it!’ Sam’s tone made them both turn. ‘It’s my life and my decision remember? I’ve had my decisions made for me all my life, first my father and then my husband and, when I left my husband, that stopped. No one makes my decisions for me now. I’m going.’ She stood hands on hips making it clear there would be no arguing with her.

Chris had to smile. He had met Sam when she was a vulnerable, confused woman who was being stalked. Now, standing in Sam’s kitchen, she still didn’t cook much but she sure had improved in confidence.

He’d got there in time for her even if he hadn’t for Brad. But Johnny was right in one thing, she was an innocent. ‘Sam, these are violent people, I don’t want you taking any chances.’

‘I thought you were cooking us dinner.’ Sam indicated the bowls of food spread across her bench. But Chris hadn’t been expecting her neighbour Johnny to be there and he hadn’t been prepared for the over-reaction of the ex-undercover cop. Chris turned back towards the bench, relieved to move away from Johnny’s accusations. Like all the men in his family from the old country of Croatia, he had enjoyed planning this meal for Sam. The mixture of Croatian and Maori blood in his family, gave him a wide range of favourite dishes. Tonight, was nothing too gourmet but a good menu to impress the girl he cared about.

‘Johnny, would you like to stay and have dinner with us?’ Sam asked.

With relief, Chris saw Johnny start to reject the idea. He had not imagined their first dinner together would include Johnny.

‘Will you be discussing the plan to volunteer at the camp?’

Sam took a step towards him. ‘Johnny, it’s not The Camp. It’s Youth With a Future. They help teenage kids at risk of self-harm. It’s a great idea for me to volunteer and if I find out something about Brad, even better.’ She put her hand on Johnny’s arm, driving Chris crazy. ‘Why don’t you stay?’

Chris glanced at Johnny, holding his breath.

‘Yea, all right, I’ll stay. I’d like to hear more about this cock-eyed scheme of his. Thanks.’ Johnny caught Chris’s eye and, if Chris had wanted to whack him before, the smug look on Johnny’s face almost tipped him. Chris turned back to the food. Only the thought that he would be playing right into Johnny’s hands in front of Sam, stopped him. He could only hope that her ex-cop neighbour got indigestion easily.

As he slid the main course and the desert both into the oven, he reviewed what Johnny had said. Chris had looked at it from all angles but this was the only option he could see that was left to him.

He thought back to when he was a Constable and the boys who’d been caught smoking cannabis at age six. Their teacher had reported them hoping to run an intervention. Brad had been one of three kids in one family, where their mother’s new boyfriend thought they’d make good practice with his baseball bat. At times, they’d been locked out of the house and had to spend the night in the small shed out the back with the rubbish. One time he’d found them hungry and tied up like dogs. He supported them through the court case against their parents, a long three years in all. They’d come to expect abuse and neglect rather than support and guidance. Despite the three disadvantages of adult, male and a cop, Chris had got their trust by being in the right place at the wrong time. He knew he was good for talking to but, that was as far as it went, he was a cop after all. But when Brad disappeared, the boys had closed ranks. Chris knew that their gang gave them a sense of family, of belonging and, Chris was still an outsider.

He turned back to Sam. Her hair, no longer cropped close to her head, fell in soft waves around her face. Delighted to have a legitimate reason, he stepped forward and kissed her on the cheek, apologized and followed it with a lingering hug. Over her shoulder, he glanced at Johnny who was obviously none too pleased at the embrace. Chris held Sam a heartbeat longer. He stepped back and held her at arms length, reluctant to let her go. “You look great.” He gently touched her hair, letting her know he had noticed the change. When she was young, Sam’s hair which had hung down past her waist, was her mother’s pride and joy. She had no memory of the ruthless haircut arranged by her grieving father when they moved from Germany after her mother’s murder.

She touched her hair, blushing slightly, “I thought I’d let it grow again.” She tentatively grinned and he couldn’t help himself, he hugged her again. “It’s really good to see you.”

Dinner was a mix of cheeky comments from Sam, flirting from Chris and taunts from Johnny. Over coffee, it was Johnny who got it started. ‘Why don’t you just spit it out? Tell us what the plan is?’

Chris eyed Sam then Johnny. ‘Okay. I know these boys. They’ve either attempted suicide or been abused, maybe both. I stay in touch with them under the umbrella of a group called Youth with A Future. They offer the opportunity for people to volunteer their time to support the boys.’

Sam leaned forward. ‘Do you think that the boys might relate to me because of my Mother’s murder? I guess some of them are abused if they’ve got no parents to look after them.’ She caught the look that passed between the two men. ‘What?’

‘Actually, Sam,’ Chris continued, ‘many of them are abused by their parents. Home is not a safe place to be and adults are feared. Forget the Stranger Danger that they teach in school. In their world, the monster lives in their own home. Some of their parents are alcoholics, drug addicts, criminals and maybe even sadists.’

‘What! Surely, that’s not common.’ She looked from one to the other, searched their faces, both looked away. ‘Oh my god, when I think about what cops see in their job, I never for a moment thought that abused children would be common. But this group sounds good. Doesn’t it?’ Sam sensed there was more.

‘Yes, don’t get me wrong,’ Chris added quickly, ‘ I have nothing but praise for the work they do. There’s a waiting list to get on their programs. Every week they have to turn kids away. They’re doing a great job. But, two of my boys have disappeared and now one’s been murdered. Beaten and left for dead. No one seems to know where they got to. I just know the other boys know something but, they’re not saying.’ Chris’s frustration was obvious.

‘Rent boys? Gone back to the street?’ Johnny asked.

‘No, that’s just it, the boys who went missing weren’t on the game. Look, we know what type of abuse they suffered and we know their associates. But they’re mainly involved in petty theft. I’m wondering if some low-life is building himself a young gang.’ Chris turned towards Sam. ‘That’s why I thought that you might consider doing some volunteering at Youth With A Future and see what you can find out.’

‘Become a volunteer and a spy you mean.’ Johnny was still looking for trouble. ‘Get their trust so she can milk them for any information. It could be dangerous. If anyone suspects she’s connected to you, Sam’s life could be in danger. Thought of that, have you?’ Johnny wasn’t going to make this easy.

‘Of course, I’ll do it.’ Sam interrupted. ‘You didn’t have to cook dinner for me to get me to do this. Of course, I’ll do it.’ Sam took another sip of her wine. As far as she was concerned, it was settled.

‘Just do what any volunteer would. If you go to their weekend camp, you might overhear something, someone might confide in you or just mention something in passing. I know it would be good for you too, Sam.’ Chris reached out and took her hand. ‘You’ll see the suffering these kids have to handle.’ Chris thought that maybe it would help Sam put her own life back in perspective.

‘Yea, right! DS, you’re all heart. Well, I think I might just go along for the ride to make sure Sam is okay.’

‘What do you mean?’ Chris didn’t like the sound of this.

‘Exactly the same as Sam, volunteer to work with the boys. They need good male role models and I think my martial arts will impress them. What do you think?’ Johnny slashed his hand down in a chopping movement.

Sam was delighted. ‘That’s a great idea. Johnny. What do you think, Chris?’

Chris liked the idea of having someone covering Sam’s back, just not Johnny. Ultimately, this was a no win. If he put Johnny off, Sam would take offence. He nodded. ‘If you volunteer now, there is a camp coming up in a few weeks. You stay in the dormitories with the kids, you can get quite close to some of them over the weekend. You do exercises with them and eat with them. If you don’t think there’s anything going on, if you’ve heard nothing, then we forget all about it and the boys got some extra help at camp. You did a good deed.’ Chris shrugged, got up and walked over the bench and brought back a couple of brochures he had slipped under the dishes when he arrived.

Sam grinned, a sparkle in her eye, ‘My mother was murdered, and I had a stalker who was going to kill me. The kids will probably think that was way cool.’ Sam looked up from the brochure, sat back and looked at Johnny. He looked exactly what he was, strong, serious, dark and mysterious. He had been brutally bashed by Sam’s stalker, it had been touch-and-go for a while, but Johnny was nothing if not stubborn.

‘Okay but, if I get so much as a whiff that Sam is in any danger or getting close to anyone she shouldn’t, she’s out. Agreed?’ The challenge was clear.

‘Agreed. Sam, I don’t want you to take any chances. Just keep your eyes and ears open. My guess is they’ll like having a spunky young volunteer around and some of them may boast to impress you. That may be all it takes to get a hint of what is going on.’ He looked at Johnny, ‘Okay?’

Johnny nodded. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll mind her back.’

Chris knew that there was more than one meaning in the warning. Chris stood up and began to pile his dishes into the box he had bought them in. He took great delight in giving Sam another hug at the door, knowing that Johnny was in the next room and perfectly aware of what was going on. Being her neighbor, he only had to walk next door to get home and was deliberately leaving after Chris. ‘Promise me, Sam, you’ll do exactly what we’ve talked about. I don’t want you taking any risks.’

Back home, he couldn’t keep his mind off the boys. He’d ruled out a pedophile ring, the two boys who had vanished would’ve lived by their wits rather than go down that path. That’s what bothered him. Everyone simply assumed that they didn’t want to come to his group any more. But background checking revealed the boys had vanished. What kept him awake at night was the fact that they had no one looking out for them.

When he got home, he loaded the dishwasher and threw a final glance around his kitchen. He’d bought the house in a state of advanced dilapidation. It took all his weekends and holidays for a year, plus the help of his entire extended Croatian family, especially two retired uncles who were good with their hands and looking for something to do. But he loved his old federation-styled house, loved the veranda which wrapped around three sides, loved the wooden Kauri floors and French doors leading out onto the veranda. He’d had the kitchen specially designed and its practical workability was satisfying. The garden was almost a jungle when he’d started. While he’d trimmed it back, it shielded him from his neighbours and he could sit on the veranda without seeing any people or cars. Perfect for a cop when he needed time off.

What wasn’t quite so satisfying was the promise he’d rashly made himself that he would go for a run every morning the day after he cooked a dinner for others. This was meant to be a way for him to get fit again. What with the renovation, the boys and his job, he’d stopped any exercise he’d previously forced himself to do and this was how he was going to try to work it back into his routine. His partner Joe, a total fitness freak, was a constant thorn in the side of his good intentions. He followed all the latest gurus and if he wasn’t at the gym, he was out pounding the pavement. Chris looked at his watch, thought about what he had booked in his diary for the next day, flicked the kitchen light switch off and told himself that he’d definitely go for a run after the next dinner he cooked.

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