“He doesn’t smell like grilled chicken, does he, sir?” the young constable said with a smug smile to Detective Jack Creed, who was crouched next to the charred remains of a body, the left wrist handcuffed to the downpipe under the kitchen sink. Creed seethed at the comment as it washed over him, giving the constable the death stare before he spoke.
“You make a comment to me like that again, Constable, and I’ll have your badge and personally boot you off the force. Understand me?”
“I-I didn’t—” the constable replied in a dry voice, his face ashen as Jack cut in and ordered the constable out of his sight.
“Tell Detective Pratt to finish up his interviews and meet me at the car. We’re heading back to the station.”
Detective Jack Creed looked at the dead bodies pinned to a wall in the incident room. There was a similarity. They were all black, mostly aboriginal. Their faces screamed innocence. Nobody was over 25. The first victim was murdered around 10 years ago. The last was found about eight months ago, doused in acid and the skin peeled off his body.
Creed was brought in to oversee the case. All the murders had occurred in and around Cabarita Beach, a sleepy seaside village in northern New South Wales, Australia. Mostly famous for surfing and fishing, the town was building a reputation as the ‘murder capital of the northern coast.’ The local constable was used to dealing with an occasional drunk at the Beach Hotel, but murder was not his expertise. Enter Detective Jack Creed, a no-nonsense copper from the school of hard knocks whose unorthodox methods annoyed the hierarchy but got results.
When Creed began on the case from his Kingscliff Police Station base, about a 20 minute drive from Cabarita Beach, he had nothing. Piece by piece he methodically put the puzzle together. The only missing part was the killer, but Creed’s tenacity would ensure that one day either he or she would be caught. That was a given. Sooner or later the perpetrator would slip up. They always do.
Creed had four other victims from unsolved crimes. It appeared that they had all been killed by the same person but to date there were no clues that tied them all together. Operation Charlie, named after the first victim, was proving to be Creed’s longest running case. Creed didn’t like long cases. Normally he could wrap things up in few days, weeks at the latest. But this case was different. The only thing he and the profilers could be certain about was that there would be more.
The time between each murder meant the media had not caught onto the possibility that maybe Cabarita Beach had a serial killer living in its midst. That was a good thing, as the local press boys could whip up a whole bunch of hysteria; something he didn’t need nor would the local mayor approve. The mayor was regularly on television promoting the area as the fishing capital of the world. The last thing the local hoteliers needed was the media saying there was a nutter running around the town killing people every 18 months or so. The vacancy rates would soar and Creed knew that somehow he would be blamed for the empty beds.
Creed was also pleased that nobody else had cottoned onto the fact that all the victims were dark. If they did, then racial tensions would be rising. The police had been handing out warnings to young people for years not to stay out all night clubbing. Even though the night life in Cabarita Beach was bustling, the kids didn’t heed any the police warnings anyway.
Creed thumbed through the files of missing people. A photo caught his eye. Tom Langley. He was older than the rest. Wrinkles exposed his hard life. Creed pulled the photo and put it to one side as he looked at the expressionless faces of other missing adolescent aboriginal kids.
“He doesn’t fit the bill, Jack,” Detective Sergeant Pratt interrupted. “He’s too bloody old.”
“Yep, that’s why he’s out of the file, Pratt,” Creed replied without lifting his eyes from the folder. The operation had mainly focused on a broad area from Pottsville in the south, Lismore in the west and north to the Tweed. Creed thought of it as his ‘Bermuda Triangle’ where instead of boats or planes going missing, people disappeared here at regular intervals.
“Oh, by the way, Simpson has been taken to hospital. Heart issues. He might be out for a while,” Pratt advised Creed.
“Shit. That’s all we fuckin’ need. Get a replacement and quick. I don’t want that O’Halloran prick closing the case.” Creed grimaced. They were making progress and the families could get closure soon.
Pratt returned an hour later with just three names and their profiles. “Sorry, mate, not a lot of choice out there.”
Creed looked over the meagre pickings. The first guy was from Queensland, looking for a transfer to a ‘quieter area.’ Creed shook his head, amazed at the idiocy of some people. He definitely didn’t fit Creed’s mantra of working a case, no matter what it took, until it was solved.
Creed recognized the next name. Sergeant Peter Tebbitt and Creed worked briefly at Tweed Heads. Briefly being the operative word. Creed couldn’t stand the guy, a self-centered, lazy arsehole. That left just one folder. And immediately there was a problem.
Detective Sergeant Joanne Boston-Wright grew up in the area. Her family resided just outside Bangalow. She had graduated with honors from the Academy, spent her probationary period in the back streets of Kings Cross before being transferred up to Lismore. Her file read “takes initiative,” an ingredient Creed could use right now.
Boston-Wright, out of the process of elimination, was now the number one contender to be the new member of ‘Operation Charlie.’ She had been exposed to drugs, prostitutes, robberies and auto theft. Murder was about to be added to her resume, something she had previously tried to join but was knocked back. Murder is a bit of a boys club and Creed was a stickler for keeping the tradition, but he was desperate. He could maybe handle the fact that she was a woman, but a hyphenated surname? Would she be bringing her toffee-nosed, small ‘L’ liberal ideologies into the team? Would it mean the boys would have to curb the use of their favourite four letter word?
Creed was weakening. More to the point, he was desperate. Yes, she had an impressive resume, but Creed took those with a pinch of salt. “Never read a bad referral” was Jack’s mantra, so why have them in the first place he would often say. What he needed was initative. Somebody who could think on their feet but follow orders at the same time. Well, to be frank, Creed’s orders. Creed wasn’t the most order-abiding policeman on the force, something that had held his promotional prospects back.
Creed read the last paragraph of her CV. Jo was the daughter of Bruno Boston, a half Italian, half Aussie detective who not only developed Creed’s love for Italian loafers, but was his first true mentor.
Pratt strolled in. “Any luck, Jack?”
“Give Boston-Wright a call. Get her on the team,” Creed replied, slipping his Versace jacket on to add style to his Boss jeans.
“But she’s got no form, Jack. We need somebody with experience in murder.”
“At the moment, Detective Pratt, we need some different thinking. More importantly, we need more legs on the team to find our killer before that Irish mother fucker O’Halloran shuts us down. Would you like to go back to traffic?”
Creed slipped out of his office and Greg Pratt started dialing.
Boston-Wright was excited to have received her call. After all her years of hard training she was finally being called upon to do what she had joined the police force for – some hard crime solving. Too nervous to eat breakfast, Boston-Wright quickly knocked back a flat white coffee, jumped into her car and raced off to the Kingscliff Station, about 30 minutes from her home.
There she met Greg Pratt, a round-faced red-cheeked, heart-attack-waiting-to-happen kind of guy, along with Constable Surti, a light-framed, 30 something officer of Indian descent. The boys ushered Boston-Wright into the back seat of a panda car and sped off to 17 Cypress Avenue, Cabarita Beach, scene of the latest victim’s burnt remains.
They parked the squad car about 200 hundred meters from the house. The rubberneckers were still commanding front row seats near the police tape. Some looked like they hadn’t been home since yesterday. Boston-Wright followed Pratt and Surti up the street, giving the occasional sideways glance to the gawking onlookers. Why on earth would people loiter around such a gruesome crime scene? Did they really expect to see the blackened remains of the poor soul?
Pratt and Surti made a beeline to the mobile espresso van. Obviously some opportunist with an entrepreneurial flare decided that Cypress Avenue could be a good spot to set up shop for a few days to feed the hungry troops investigating the case. Pratt and Surti would not disappoint and promptly placed their orders for coffee and two ham with cheese croissants.
Boston-Wright was amazed at the lack of respect the boys were showing for the victim. “Shouldn’t we go into the house?” she enquired, receiving a rookie look from Detective Pratt.
“I’m guessing you’ve already eaten then,” Pratt responded while Surti chimed in with, “a decaf latte and muesli – organic, of course.” Boston-Wright knew straight up she had a fight on her hands. Once again she would need to prove herself in this male dominated industry, more so at the Kingscliff Police Station.
The boys devoured their breakfast as if it were their last meal. Tossing their polystyrene cups into the bin provided by the coffee van, they marched into the yard of the property and ascended the stairs two at a time. Looking at Pratt’s broad arse, at least two axe picks wide, wobbling up the stairs in front of her, Boston-Wright couldn’t help but wonder if that heart attack might come sooner than later.
“You lot took your time,” Creed barked while inhaling a cigarette. Creed wasn’t a big smoker, not since lung cancer claimed his brother four years ago, but he had the occasional puff around crime scenes. The smokes helped settle his mind and gave him time to think.
“Sorry, boss. Surti was feeling peckish,” Pratt replied, dumping his junior offside right in Creed’s bad books.
“You’re our replacement?” Creed said looking directly at Boston-Wright with his piercing hazel eyes.
“I knew your father. A good bloke.”
Detective Bruno Boston, known as ‘The Don,’ passed away 12 months ago from pancreatic cancer, the downside of living the good life of too much salami and vino. Boston-Wright always looked up to him, appreciated his guidance as she made her way through the ranks. She was now in the big league and would call upon her memory bank to harness the good advice her father had passed on. Above all else, she wanted to uphold the Boston name and be as good a copper as Bruno. As for Wright? Well that’s another story. The divorced Jo knew there wasn’t much she needed to do to better herself than being with that low mongrel. Brett Wright had trouble keeping his willy inside his pants.
“Suit up. Make sure you grab a mask. Even though the poor bugger has been removed, the stench will outlast religion” Creed quipped, flicking his cigarette out the window of the two-story brick rental.
Boston-Wright ripped the packet open and hastily pulled out the plastic one piece suit. She didn’t want to lag too far behind the team, nor did she want to hang around the scene too long either. The smell was horrific. No amount of training ever prepares you for your first corpse. They say the first one lasts with you forever and his burnt remains most definitely will. Welcome to the murder squad, Boston-Wright. You’ve got a doosey.
Boston-Wright stepped quickly but precisely throughout the scene to catch up to her team. Creed was speaking with Pratt, who gave Boston-Wright a welcoming rookie look, almost ignoring her as he kept conversing with Creed. Was it the fact that she was just a rookie or was she witnessing firsthand the silence of the boys club? No matter what, Boston-Wright was going to show these old boys that she could cut the mustard.
“We’re not a hundred percent sure, but we think our victim is Sam Thompson. The scientific team will let us know more later.” Creed included Boston-Wright in the latest update. Boston-Wright heard him but didn’t fully engage. His lips were moving, his voice blurred as Boston-Wright saw the actual death scene for the first time. Even though the body had been removed, the lingering smell almost took her breath. She wanted to vomit. Beads of sweat formed on her top lip. Her cheeks glistened with perspiration as she felt her body drain of blood. Quickly turning so as not to embarrass herself, Boston-Wright made her way to a window, the breeze cooling her skin and bringing her back to the present.
“It’s okay, love. We’ve all experienced it. Would you like tea or coffee? I’ll send Pratt to grab you one,” Creed commented.
Shaking her head indicating she could carry on, Creed continued with his update. “We think the victim is male, about 21 years old. When we found him yesterday, his left wrist was handcuffed to the downpipe under the sink. He had been set alight, with an accelerant possibly being used to quicken the burn.”
The sweats never really left Boston-Wright, her legs almost buckling as she visualized what might have occurred. Creed could see what was about to occur and quickly motioned for the troops to move back outside. Boston-Wright barely made it to the golden cane palm before it all came up. “See you back at the car,” Creed shouted. Boston-Wright waved to indicate she heard him, but she was unable to speak.
Back at the station, Boston-Wright tried to keep pace with Creed and Pratt as they entered via the rear. The kitchen door almost took Boston-Wright out as Pratt let it go, failing to wait until she had passed through.
Boston-Wright took up a position at a vacant desk and grabbed a file, trying to make herself look busy. It was a coloured girl, stabbed to death about five years ago. The other files read with a common thread. All victims were coloured, black actually, and all were handcuffed when killed. The bodies had been found in Pottsville, Tweed South, Kingscliff, Hastings Point and now maybe Cabarita Beach.
Boston-Wright gave a sideways glance at Jack Creed while flipping through the case studies. He looked washed out. It looked as though he hadn’t slept in months, his skin was dry from the lack of water and his five o’clock shadow looked like a week’s growth. Boston-Wright kept thumbing through the file, trying to take the facts in.
“Pratt, I’m heading over to see Dr. Russell. Want to tag along?”
“Can I come too, sir?” Boston-Wright asked, feeling a bit like a first grader asking her teacher for permission.
“Sure, but you supply your own hanky this time.”
Dr. Russell was expecting Creed. She had the charred remains on table three set in the corner and away from the main flow of traffic. The scientific team was used to seeing horrific sights, but even this one was a bit gut-wrenching for some.
Creed moved around the table, taking it in from different angles. It looked impressive, but Boston-Wright was unsure as to what it would achieve. He brushed past Dr. Russell, biding for the best position as the photographers moved around, flashing their cameras. Jane Russell carefully moved the blackened bones onto the side, hoping not to break any. The body’s forearms were up close to his face, looking like he was trying to protect himself, but Dr. Russell assured the onlookers that was the result of muscles tightening during the fire. Her dry, somewhat quiet voice seemed to give her statement more authority.
“The left knee has taken quite a bashing going on the multiple fractures,” Dr. Russell observed, “possibly broken with a mallet or sledge hammer. He was struck with considerable force.
“We found blood smears in the second bedroom, probably caused by dragging his body over the lino. Either he was trying to escape himself or the perpetrator dragged the body out of the room. No matter what, Jack, he suffered, most likely tortured over a period of time.”
“So far the neighbours say they didn’t hear a thing. No screams. Do you think he may have been drugged, Jane?”
Jane Russell gave Detective Creed a lingering stare. She was an old fashioned girl for her 40 years, preferring formalities in her lab, especially in front of her staff. Titles should be used at every occasion, something her surgeon father instilled into her from an early age.
“The good doctor will enquire with toxicology to see if any traces can be found in the tissues.”
Boston-Wright was trying to focus her mind on what was being said rather than looking at the body. She picked up on Dr. Russell’s stance on casualness, repeating in her head a saying her Dad often said, “Casualness leads to casualties.” That advice had kept Jo in pretty good stead, although it was no armor of protection when she met Brett Wright.
The sound of the electric saw finally got to Boston-Wright. Till then she was putting on a brave show, but the sound of metal and bone coming into contact had her running for the women’s toilet. She just made it, slammed open the cubicle door and by the time she lifted the seat, she let fly with an almighty heave. Leaning over the bowl, glistening with perspiration, Boston-Wright braced herself then lifted herself back to a standing position. Feeling weak and somewhat dehydrated, she shuffled over to the basin, splashed some water into her face and sipped some water from her cupped hand. Looking into the mirror, Boston-Wright confirmed she looked like death warmed up. Now to face the boss, smart arse Pratt, and Dr. Russell’s crew.
Creed met her in the hallway on the way to the gents. “Killed around 11pm Saturday night. Bloody amazing that nobody heard a thing,” he said as he disappeared into the toilet. Creed was soon out and beckoned Boston-Wright to follow him out of the building toward the patrol car, doing up his zip as he walked.
“Did your old man snore?” Creed asked, turning to Boston-Wright.
“What? What do you mean?”
“Well if he did he may have owned a nose clip. Snore–eze is one of the biggest sellers for that sort of thing. You could peg your nose until you become accustomed to this kind of stuff.”
Boston-Wright nodded, gave a wry smile and slipped into the back of the patrol car. She thought Creed’s knowledge of snoring preventative measures was a little too intimate for him not to be a user himself, but for now she’d keep those thoughts to herself.
Resting her head on the back seat, Boston-Wright closed her eyes as the patrol car sped back to the station, Pratt driving while Creed, one arm on the window sill, took in the scenery. The cool air helped Boston-Wright relax. Her thoughts turned to the victim. How did he end up in this situation?
Tossing his suit jacket at a chair as he passed by his desk, Creed moved to the incident room and entered the details he had learned from Dr. Russell and her team on a glass panel with a non-permanent marker. “I’m starving. I need food. Jenkins, grab me a ham, cheese and tomato toastie and a cappuccino from Jarrod’s next door. Don’t go down to Mary’s canteen. Her coffee tastes like shit.”
Constable Jenkins jumped up from his seat and quickly moved toward the back door. “Can I get you anything, miss?” he asked Boston-Wright.
It was nice to be asked but her stomach couldn’t take food. “No thanks,” she replied.
Pratt walked into the room as Creed continued to mark up the panel. The two men got chatting, completely leaving Boston-Wright out of the conversation. “Pratt, give O’Halloran an update and tell him we need a few more bods on the case. Let’s reconvene at, say, 6 o’clock.” Looking at his watch and thinking a little more, he continued, “No, that’s beer o’clock. Let’s make it 5.”
“Sir, is there anything you want me to do?” Boston-Wright enquired.
“Check out the case files on the other murders.”
Boston-Wright grabbed the files and moved over to the corner. Just as she rested her backside into the seat, Creed’s booming voice could be heard all over the station. “I said a fucking cappuccino, Jenkins. What’s this, a latte? Lattes are for fucking poofters.” For all Jack’s appreciation for fine clothing, his tongue could be rough.
Boston-Wright kept her eyes on the file. This was certainly a boys club; something she would have to get used to if she were to survive in the murder squad it seemed. There was no offer for lunch. An instant coffee, International Roast to be precise, and an Arnott’s biscuit would be her lunch today.
Four detectives and two constables entered the room, closely followed by Chief Superintendent O’Halloran. It was 5 o’clock. Creed was in close pursuit, eyes gazing at the floor as he walked behind O’Halloran. Chief Super O’Halloran was everything Jack was not. It was clear why Creed loathed the man. Thinner, with a more athletic appearance, straight back and square shoulders, O’Halloran turned at the front of the room to address the troops, hands behind his back and a slight rocking on the balls of his feet. This copper did things by the book. So did Creed, but in a more relaxed way.
Giving the nod to Pratt, Creed called for attention. A hush came over the room as the officers listened in to the briefing.
“Our victim is Sam Thompson. Male, aged 21. We only have his mother’s statement for now to go on, which is sketchy to say the least. On the night he was murdered she was in the mental health ward at Tweed Heads Hospital, self-admitted apparently. She’s still away with the fairies, so we’ll have to verify her statement when she comes back to Mother Earth.” O’Halloran gave Creed a look of disapproval.
“Like the other victims, he is black and was handcuffed when found. But unlike the other victims, he is male. This might be our breakthrough, gentlemen. Uh, sorry, Smith, it’s been a trying case. Constable Carmel Smith smiled. We think of you as one of the boys. We need to move quickly on this one.”
Boston-Wright was out of the loop having not been privy to all the info of the other cases. However, it seemed that Sam had walked home from Maccas after having a fight with his mate Harry Sturgess. Harry and the rest of the gang at Maccas never saw Sam alive again. Harry had phoned Sam several times that night but no reply. When his mother didn’t answer the house phone the next day, Harry went over the Sam’s house. Even though it was completely locked up, he could smell burnt timber and smoke. He called the police to investigate.
O’Halloran was not convinced that Sam Thompson was connected to the other killings, and he suggested it should be treated separately. Creed was seething. In his mind the cases all intertwined. He conceded that Sam was male but all had been tied before they were killed. “Sir, we need to stay on this. Thompson is our breakthrough,” Creed said, looking at O’Halloran as if he would not take no.
“I’ll run with it for now, Detective Creed,” the Chief Super reluctantly quipped.
The team broke up and headed out the back door as if somebody had shouted fire. It was beer o’clock, to turn a Jack Creed phrase. The junior constables were left to straighten the room and dispose of the empty Coke cans and dirty coffee cups.
Boston-Wright soaked up the atmosphere and reminisced about her late father. There must have been many times that the head of the table sat empty at dinner time over the years caused by incidents like tonight. She felt a sense of pride. She was living her purpose.