Jess at the Noted Publishing Fair requested (definitely adults only)
12 Magpies + Crime + Deakin
‘I think he’s a spy, boss.’
With those words, Matt felt his heart sink. Trying to restrain his emotion, caused partially by the gruesome scene before him, and the news Jules had just delivered, he spoke the first words that came into his head.
‘You think he’s a fucking what?’
He hadn’t taken his eyes off the body. He could not muster the energy to move his gaze away. He tried to consciously send signals through his brain synapsis to his eyes, but there was some mental block. Instead, he found himself studying all aspects of the crime scene: the incredible amount of blood, the dismembered body parts, what was left of the guy’s face, if that’s what you could call it. Seemed to be more like a collection of minced meat on top of a skull.
He knew already it was down to him to sort this out. That’s why he had been brought here.
He had seen some nasty shit in his time, but this would stay with him for a long time to come. Probably forever. He still had nightmares about his time on Taskforce Blueprint, assembled to dig up some particularly horrific unsolved child sex offences. He had woken up plenty of times in a cold sweat in the weeks after he had completed the work. Still did some nights. At least he had found a way to get out of that work.
A lot of phone calls, string pulling and big promises on his part had got him this far. He still had at least a pound of flesh, if not more, to repay for his move off the taskforce.
How did that saying go? Out of the frying pan, into the even more gruesome murder scene? The image before him would certainly make an appearance in his dreams in the near future. This was already turning into quite the first day.
‘Forensics have arrived, boss.’
Jules appeared to have ignored his earlier question, or at least treated it as rhetorical. He supposed it was. She seemed to be dealing with the image of the body before her far better than he was. Still, he had seen things she hadn’t seen – and he had a job to do.
He felt a tap on his shoulder, which lifted him out of his stupor. He turned, mercifully finally able to take his eyes away from the carnage. A forensics guy in a white suit indicated he wanted to push past him. Matt happily waved him past, pleased someone would be doing something to begin dealing with the mess before him.
Jules pulled him aside.
‘I’m serious boss, I think he’s a spook.’
‘Is this some sort of initiation you spring on the new detectives? Try to convince them their first crime scene in Canberra has an espionage connection. Make them look dumb in front of the CPO?’
Jules looked hurt.
‘No way Matt, no way. I’ve never suggested something like this before. Honest. But I listen to this true crime podcast…’
Matt held up his hand.
‘Jesus , you listen to a true crime podcast? Don’t you get enough crime at work? How quiet is a usual day on the beat in Canberra?’
‘Nah, not really. Well, I mean, round here actually, there is plenty of violent crime…’
‘Hang on, save your podcast story for a minute. What do you mean “round here”? These apartments? They’re pretty swish – they look brand new?’
Jules nodded, enthusiastically, and Matt was pleased to find he may have directed her away from podcasts and conspiracy theories.
‘Yeah, these apartments have just been built, but the old Embassy Motel used to be on this spot, and some stuff went down here. It used to be the hotel for diplomatic staff. And we’re in Deakin. All the big Canberra crimes have happened around here. I mean, Colin Winchester got shot in his driveway a few blocks up that way,’ she said, pointing to her right.
She moved her arm to indicate a slightly different direction. Matt realised he little understanding what she was pointing out, particularly as they were inside a small kitchen with no windows.
‘Over there is Red Hill, and there have been a bunch of violent incidents and murders there.’
Matt held up his hand, interrupting her again.
‘And I bet over there,’ he said pointing in a random direction, ‘is a particularly hostile brood of 12 magpies that are responsible for a horrific series of swooping attacks?’
Jules followed the direction of his arm, and mercifully fell silent for a moment to consider his question. Her green eyes narrowed as she apparently processed his suggestion. At last she tossed a red fringe away from her eyes and met his gaze.
‘Nah boss – you’re pointing to the service station. I don’t think anything violent happened there lately – maybe a hold up once? But there wouldn’t be any trees for the magpies to sit in.’
Matt sighed, exhausted. Jules took this as an opportunity to keep talking.
‘And, over there,’ she continued, pointing to straight across the street, ‘is the Saudi Embassy. I bet they’re involved!’
‘So because there is an Embassy across the street you figure this guy is a spy? There must be loads of Embassies around here right?’
‘Yeah, but…on this podcast.’
Christ, not this fucking podcast again, thought Matt.
‘They covered this case of the “Somerton Man” – they called him that because he was found on Somerton Beach in Adelaide with no identification, tags cut off his clothes. Just like this guy. They reckon he was a spy, it was at the height of the cold war. And it would make sense that our victim would have that done to his face – you know, to make him unrecognisable.’
Matt wondered if Jules had noticed the tags had been cut off on the victim’s clothes.
‘I’ve heard of the Somerton Man, White, and not from some podcast. But the problem back then was that there was no DNA. We should be able to find out who this guy is pretty quickly. Mangling his face isn’t going to help with that. It’s probably more likely some sicko who gets off on…’
‘But it will slow us down,’ Jules interrupted, apparently undaunted by Matt’s cool response. ‘And you found that scrap of paper in our victim’s pocket, just like they found on the Somerton Man!’
Shit, thought Matt, this girl doesn’t miss a thing. He didn’t think she had noticed him slip it into his pocket earlier.
‘What does it say? And shouldn’t we give it to Forensics?’
Matt nodded, pulling the small piece of paper out of his pocket.
‘I was just about to give it to him. I was trying to decipher it first. It says “N Z F”.’
Jules paused to consider the message. Her face suddenly lit up.
‘That’s Arabic! I’m sure it is. Do they speak Arabic in Saudi Arabia?’
Despite everything, he couldn’t help but be impressed. He wasn’t expecting her to know it was Arabic. He wondered how long it would take her to translate it.
‘Hang on, White. It could be an acronym for something. Like National Zoo F…’ but before he could finish, Jules continued her earlier thought.
‘I remember the Saudis had some issue with these apartments being built. I think it was linked to one of their diplomatic staff being killed a few years ago.’
‘What, here?’ Matt asked, suddenly concerned.
‘Nah, in his apartment in Kingston,’ Jules replied. ‘But he worked at the Embassy.’
Jules looked over at the body. Matt decided not to follow her eyes. He had seen enough.
‘He sorta looks Saudi.’
Before he could stop it, Matt’s mind’s eye immediately recalled the image of the poor guy’s bloodied skull.
‘How can you tell, White? There is nothing left of his face.’
‘The colour of his skin.’
‘The colour of his skin, c’mon…’
‘My guess is he is Asian or Middle-Eastern, from the skin colour and skull shape, but too early to say for sure,’ called the forensics guy who was still bent over the body.
Great, thought Matt. Everyone was an expert on his case.
‘C’mon boss, we might as well start with the Saudis.’
Matt shook his head.
‘No way White, we are not going to march across the road and start questioning the Saudi Ambassador on the basis our victim has tanned skin and one of their people was murdered twenty years ago. Do we want everyone from the Prime Minister to the head of Foreign Affairs screaming down the phone to the CPO about a couple of bumbling cops asking stupid questions of the diplomatic corp?’
Jules fell silent. He had had appeared to have finally curbed some of her enthusiasm
‘I think we’ve got everything we can here. You sure there is no identification about this guy here? You searched him completely?’
Matt still felt guilty for asking her to search the guy’s pockets. Jules shook her head, still looking disappointed.
‘No wallet or phone on him. And the place has been completely cleaned out. Apart from the furniture and couple of tins of soup, the place is completely empty. It looks like an apartment that a real estate agent would use as a display, not that someone would actual live in.’
Maybe it is, thought Matt, but decided to keep that to himself.
‘Let the forensic guys do their work. Uniform will scour the area for witnesses and see if the neighbours saw anything. It’s late, it’s been a long day. I’ll meet you at the station tomorrow morning.’
She nodded reluctantly and slowly exited the flat. He felt bad for being so hard on her, but what choice did he have? He too trudged away, waving to the forensics guy.
‘You’ll deal with the fingerprints?’ he asked.
The guy nodded, appearing to understand the message.
As he walked down the flight of stairs, Matt realised just how little he looked forward to putting his head on his pillow tonight, and the images that would undoubtedly follow.
As he opened the car door onto the street, he was partially blinded by the flashing lights of the squad cars around, and the bright lights of what he assumed were media.
Several journalists yelled at him from behind the crime scene tape, mercifully drowning each other out. He had already agreed with the CPO that they wouldn’t say a word until a press conference tomorrow. He muttered a ‘no comment’ and slipped around the back of the building, where his car was parked.
After a fitful night’s sleep, he arrived at the civic station early the next morning, only to find Jules crossing London Circuit at the same time as him.
‘Morning boss,’ she called cheerily as they entered the station together.
‘Detective White,’ yelled the desk sergeant as they walked past. ‘The lab called, some problem with samples they took yesterday from your murder scene. They can’t get a DNA match because of the samples being corrupted. They are going to contact the morgue and see if they can get some more.’
Jules walked over the counter
‘What about fingerprints?’ she asked.
The sergeant checked a piece of paper
‘Oh, actually, says here they didn’t find any.’
‘They didn’t find any prints? You serious?’
Before Matt could respond, Jules had pulled him over to the corner of the station.
‘This feels like some big conspiracy, boss,’ she whispered. ‘You know, the message on the note. I looked it up last night on google. “Nzf” in Arabic means ‘clean up’. Put that together with all the other stuff: the apartment being wiped clean, forensics fucking up. I’ve never heard of anything like that before.’
‘White, murderers wear gloves, they wipe surfaces, cover their tracks…’
‘Yeah, but there was something weird about the apartment. It was so clean! And since when do forensics lose DNA samples!’
Matt opened his mouth to answer, when a commotion behind them caused both he and Jules to turn around. They found a thin, sickly looking woman in tight black jeans and a white t-shirt yelling at the desk sergeant, while a tall, muscular man behind her in a leather jacket seemed to be nodding enthusiastically.
‘I’m telling you, we killed him. We did it. Will you just fucking charge us?!?’
Matt intervened, a feeling of déjà vu came over him.
‘What’s going on here?” he asked.
The woman held out her hands.
‘Cuff us – arrest us. Just do it. We’re confessing. We killed that guy!’
‘Which guy?’ asked Jules, her eyes narrowing.
‘The dead dude you pi….guys found in Deakin. We did it.’
Jules looked suspiciously at both of them, but before she could answer, Matt intervened.
‘Arrest ‘em, read ‘em their rights and then put them in different interview rooms, White.’
‘But boss,’ she whispered. ‘They look like a couple of nutters who heard about the case on the news.’
He glared back at her.
‘Just do it. And then meet me in interview room one in ten minutes. We’ll do the girl first.’
Ten minutes later he joined Jules in the interview room, switching on the audio/visual gear as he entered. After recording the time and date, he sat down.
‘So…’ he began, ‘Tell us why you’re here?”
‘I killed him. Me and Brad, the guy I came in with.’
‘And why did you do that?’
‘We used to go out – years ago, and it ended badly. He started calling me. Harassing me. I’d had enough, so I asked my new man to help me sort him out.’
Jules shook her head.
‘I don’t buy it. Where did he work?’
‘When I knew him, he worked at an embassy.’
‘Which one?’ Jules asked.
The woman paused, before shrugging her shoulders.
‘Bullshit!’ Jules exclaimed. ‘You went out with this guy and you can’t even remember which embassy he was from. You know more than you’re saying.’
Matt regarded the woman coolly. She smiled a big fake smile back at Matt.
‘That’s the sort of slut I am. So get on with it and charge me, will you! The name is Carol. Carol Jones. You can add prostitution if that will speed things up! I’ve got a few convictions already.’
Jules stared across the table at her.
‘You’d never met him, have you?’
Carol, if that was her real name, stared back silently at her.
‘I want some fucking answers?’ Jules yelled, slapping the table and standing up. ‘Why are you confessing to a crime you clearly did not commit? Shit you, let alone anyone else, can even tell us which country he is from!’
Matt looked up at Jules nervously. She was losing her shit.
For her part, Carol lifted her gaze and met his eyes, a grim expression on her pasty white, pimply face. She was so thin, he could clearly make out definition of cheek and chin bones. A vein was pulsating in her neck – the only evidence of any stress.
‘Listen mate, I can tell you get it. You won’t get any answers. That’s not how these things work. Not in this town. Not with shit like that. Shut up, do your job and process me.’
‘Unless you want to end up like him.’
But Jules wouldn’t let it go.
‘Tell us what is going on. We can protect you.’
‘Listen lady, I don’t know what’s going on, okay!’ Carol said quietly, fear written all over her face. ‘I just know it’s better for all of us if you stop asking questions. There are some powerful people involved in this thing.’
‘How high?’ Jules asked, leaning forward.
‘I dunno…government types…’ Carol answered, her voice trailing off.
‘Boss, this sounds more and more like some sort of conspiracy…’ Jules whispered in his ear.
Matt sighed. These people were putting things together in ways he didn’t like. Already they knew far more than they should. Fucking Jules and her fucking podcast.
‘You know what they say about conspiracy theories?’ he said loudly, standing and drawing his gun. He aimed at Carol’s head and before she could react, pulled the trigger. Her body was knocked backwards by the force, tipping over her chair so Jules could only glimpse the horrific damage the bullet did to her skull at such close range.
He swung around and pointed the gun at Jules, shock then understanding spread across her face.
‘Boss…’ she whispered.
It was such a shame. He liked her, and it was only his second day. He hadn’t expected things to move so quickly. Still, he had a job to do.
‘Never trust the new guy, Jules, particularly when he’s desperate to stop staring at horrific photos all day. You were right about the conspiracy. I had to pay a price to get here. And now my debt is due.’
Reluctantly, he pulled the trigger.
Photo of Alfred Deakin Bust (A Life in Three Phases, copyright ACT Government. See http://www.arts.act.gov.au/arts-in-the-act/public-art/alfred-deakin)
Crime Scene photo by Fanboy30 on Flickr