A Danny Arbor Investigation
Copyright © 2019 by Calder Garret All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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I acknowledge the Noongar people as the traditional custodians of the land on which this novel is set and was written, and the continuing connection that Aboriginal people have to land, waters and culture. I pay my respect to Elders past, present and emerging.
This is an entirely fictional work. The views of the characters in this novel are not intended to offend and do not represent my own views, but rather reflect the reality that we, as a country, still have some way to walk together on our journey towards reconciliation.
About the Author
The rain was coming. He had sensed its arrival all day. In the sticky air, in the low grey blanket of cloud that stretched in every direction, in the excited mood of the locals. And when the gently cooling breeze announced itself in the late afternoon, he had known for sure. The rain was coming.
Now, as he lay on his bed in the small room over the shop, listening to the steady patter on the iron roof above, Butch Paterson could hear his thoughts confirmed. The drops fell slowly at first, but all the time loud, as if children were throwing pebbles. Stones, even. You shouldn’t throw stones, he might say to them, but they might not listen. Brats, all of them.
Soon, the steady patter became a crescendo. It was so loud that Paterson could hear nothing else. Nothing. Not his clock radio. Not the insects at the window. Not his own breathing. Nothing. Stil; l, the rain would be welcome, he thought. It had been four months since harvest and nearly six since that poor excuse for a finishing rain. Now the cycle could begin again.
Out of the darkness, an array of light began its dance upon the bedroom ceiling and upon the hallway wall opposite. Paterson checked his clock. 10.30 pm, Saturday. The train was on time. He rose and peered through the curtains. On any ordinary night, the Indian Pacific would be the only source of commotion. Its rumbling wheels would rock the town of Chatton to sleep. But not tonight. As the train snaked silently away, towards Kal, towards the Nullarbor and, eventually, towards the east coast, the rain continued to fall, already leaving massive shining lakes along the town’s main drag.
Then, silence. As quickly as they had arrived, both train and rain were gone. Paterson could see the burning gold of the tail carriage’s lights now one, two, three kilometres away. The odd anxious star was forcing its way through the clouds. Both train and rain would return, he knew, train in a week’s time on its return trip to Perth, rain well before the night was out. They were inevitable events, he decided, like death and taxes. But, for now, it was quiet. He closed the curtains and returned to his bed, reaching automatically between the mattress and base in search of his customary succour. He lay down and flicked it open.
The toys and clothes presented inside the Christmas 2018 department store catalogue held no interest for Paterson. What did excite him were the children who played with them, the children whose tender little bodies they adorned. Not brats here, he thought, but playmates. Here, in their stillness, in their frozen poses, he could do with them whatever he pleased. Young or old, boy or girl, it made no difference. Each child, in its own way, offered few limits to his imagination.
This nightly ritual, the strange self-pleasuring, the gentle caressing of each colourful, glossy page, was a poor substitute for the real thing, he knew, but, for a man of his age, for a man of his appetites and desires, he accepted its necessity. He allowed a hand to drift inside his pyjamas. Yes, he was a man of his age, he thought, as he felt himself stiffen, but these desires needed release.
A sound … It might have been the cat. He always left the kitchen window open a few inches for the cat to squeeze in. But no, the cat was dead. It had died quite suddenly a few months ago after eating some spoiled meat. Paterson pushed the catalogue back under the mattress and listened. It was quiet, sure enough, but in an unsettling way. He swung himself to the edge of the bed and slid his feet into his slippers.
‘Hello!’ he shouted. ‘Is anyone there?’
Only the silence answered. He reached into the corner of the room for his rusty seven iron and, making a tentative move into the hallway, shouted down the stairwell.
‘I’ll have you, you mongrels!’ he called. ‘I’ll give you two minutes, then I’m coming down.’
This time the noise, and the presence, was confirmed. Something, maybe a pot, maybe the frying pan, hit the floor with a clatter.
‘Right,’ said Paterson. ‘Get ready to wear it.’
He lifted the club and, switching on the hallway light, began a slow, cautious descent into the murky depths below.
‘I’m warning you,’ he said. ‘If I catch you in my shop, you’ll get the hiding of your life.’
He reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped into the darkness.
He sensed it immediately. The stench that came with thirty years of dressing meat in the rooms next door had long since entrenched itself into every wall and into every stick of furniture Paterson owned. It was, for him, a permanent reminder of his trade. But now he could sense something else, something foreign, and close, something that didn’t belong. He began swinging his club, wildly. It met the still air with a swish.
‘Come on, you buggers,’ he said. ‘I’ll have you.’
He had pictured kids, maybe two of them, up to no good or after the contents of the till. In his mind they were Noongar kids. In his mind they were always Noongar kids. But as the lights came on and he felt the seven iron ripped rudely from his hand, he could see. They were all adults, and white. There were five of them. He could see four men and one woman, and they were all armed. With his own knives, if you don’t mind. And they were locals. He knew that in an instant. Why else would they hide their faces behind those stupid masks? Each wore the face of a familiar comic book hero. Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, the Hulk and, to add some Australiana, Blinky Bill. Paterson turned to retreat up the stairs, but felt a knee give way as his own golf club struck home.
‘Not so fast, prick,’ said Batman.
‘Who are you?’ Paterson shouted. ‘What do you want? I’ll call the cops, I will.’
‘Well, you do that. Go on. Call them, Paterson,’ said Spider-Man. ‘We’ll be long gone by the time they get here. It’ll take us just a minute to deliver our message.’
‘And what’s that?’
‘Have a fucking guess.’
The knives seemed to cut the air. The butcher used a false bravado to hide his fear.
‘You don’t scare me,’ he said. ‘I asked you. What do you want?’
‘You don’t need telling,’ said Wonder Woman. ‘You know why we’re here. We thought you might have stopped it all by now, but you haven’t, have you? You’re still messing with the kids.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ said Paterson, inching back. ‘I don’t. I’ve done nothing wrong.’
Despite his fear, the butcher couldn’t help but feel just a little aroused. He knew all too well the effects of power in situations such as this. But he was usually the one wielding it. He looked deep into their dark eyes, searching for something, anything, that he might recognise. Blinky Bill, he thought, seemed the more reticent of the five, and, in his bearing, he seemed naggingly familiar, but other than that there was nothing.
‘Don’t worry, you gutless fuck,’ said the Hulk. ‘We’re not going to hurt you. We should, but … Consider this a warning, eh? Here’s the deal, Paterson. We’re giving you a week. If you haven’t packed up and cleared out of town by then, we’ll be back for you. And we won’t be so gentle next time. We might take a part of you with us when we go. Have you got that?’
‘Yes, yes, I’ve got that,’ Paterson said.
‘Good. Now turn around,’ said Batman. ‘Look back up the stairs.’
Paterson did as he was told and looked into the yellow light of the hallway upstairs. After a moment, stillness came.
‘How long? How long do I have to stay like this?’ he said.
His question met with silence. He risked turning his head. They were gone. Bastards, he thought. He would find a way.
He got to his feet and entered the kitchen, reaching into the pantry for the bottle. He took a long, mean swallow, savouring the burn at the back of his throat. He glared out the kitchen window, letting the grog focus his thoughts.
Brats, he thought. They were all brats at some stage. He would get them if it was the last thing he …
The clatter of the screen door. Paterson scowled. A figure stood in the doorway. The koala. He still held a knife.
‘What do you want now?’ said Paterson.
It had taken Probationary Constable Danny Arbor only a short while to realise that the young men of Chatton were just a few snags short of a barbie. Every Sunday morning, Arbor had realised, all he needed to do was drive a few kilometres out the Ashby road, park the paddy wagon in the copse of trees at the bottom of Norman’s Hill, aim his radar gun back towards Chatton, and wait. And every Sunday morning, guaranteed, it wouldn’t be long before he heard the distant roar of a high-powered engine and saw, yet again, the latest attempt by a Chatton youth at the Australian land speed record. Perhaps they were a chop or two short, as well, he thought.
Today was no different. Arbor had barely settled in and had just begun to feel the sweat building inside his shirt, when he heard a faraway rumble, getting closer.
Here she comes, he thought. Or rather, here he comes. For it was always a guy. And Arbor knew, by instinct, by the sound of the engine, that it was a Monaro. And that meant it was Colin ‘Nobby’ Rodgers. Rodgers had the only Monaro in town.
How ‘Nobby’ got the nickname, Arbor didn’t know. And he didn’t want to.
But sure enough, as the car became visible at the top of the rise, Arbor could see the redhot paint job glistening in the sun and the mirage-like haze forming in the searing exhaust. He aimed the gun and waited … 150 … 180 … 200. Rodgers was already well over the limit. But he was going faster still. Arbor waited some more. He had a fair idea what Rodgers had in mind. He let the boy reach the magical 250 klicks before pulling the trigger. And, almost immediately, Rodgers backed off. He had reached his target for the day. Arbor alighted from the wagon and waved him down.
Rodgers pulled up in a cloud of gravel. Arbor could feel the pellets bouncing off his shins.
‘Hey, Constable,’ said Rodgers. ‘How’s things?’ His face was flushed and he was wearing a beaming grin. ‘I didn’t even see you there.’
‘Obviously not,’ said Arbor. He decided to keep it at least a little bit official. ‘So, Colin. Have you any idea what you were doing there?’
‘When? Where? No. What?’
‘I clocked you at 250. Fucking crazy if you ask me. Where’s your licence?’
The boy reached for his wallet.
‘I’ll get that in writing, won’t I?’ he said. ‘It’ll be something to show my mates.’
‘Yeah, you can show them the fine, too,’ said Arbor. ‘And the demerits. Is this right? It can’t be. It says you’re clean.’
‘Yeah. That’s me,’ said Rodgers. ‘I’ve been a good boy. So what do I lose?’
‘Twelve hundred bucks. And seven points.’
‘I know. You should have thought about it beforehand.’
Arbor stepped closer and passed back the licence. And, although he didn’t drink it, he knew its smell. Rodgers stank of beer.
‘Have you been on the grog, Colin?’ he asked.
‘No, I … I swear, Constable Arbor. Not since last night.’
‘Still, I think we’d better check, eh?’
‘Ah, shit, no.’
‘Turn off the engine, Colin. I won’t be a minute.’
Arbor reached into the paddy wagon for the breathalyser kit.
‘Have you done this before?’ he asked.
There was a ring of defeat in the young man’s voice.
‘Okay,’ said Arbor. ‘One long continuous blow. Until I tell you to stop … Okay, stop.’
He checked the reading.
‘Bad news, Colin. You’re reading 0.07. I’m afraid you’ve earned a trip back into town.’
‘Ah, what? Shit. I’m telling you, Constable. My last drink was about midnight. Two o’clock at the latest.’
‘We can check it again back at the station,’ said Arbor. ‘In the meantime, get out and lock up your car.’
‘What? … I can’t,’ said Nobby. ‘I can’t leave it here. You’ve no idea what sort of hooligans live around here.’
‘You’ve no option,’ said Arbor.
Nobby wound up his window and alighted.
‘Does your old man have a key for it?’ said Arbor.
‘Yeah, I think so,’ said Nobby.
‘Then we’ll ring him,’ said Arbor. ‘He can bring someone to pick it up.’
‘Yeah, thanks, Constable,’ said Nobby. ‘Why don’t you really stick me in it?’
‘Please yourself, Colin,’ said the constable. ‘It’s absolutely no skin off my nose. Are you going to ring him?’
‘Yeah, I suppose.’
Regulations told Arbor that Rodgers should sit in the back of the paddy wagon on the trip to the station, but the truth was he didn’t want to make the boy’s morning any worse than it was. He let him ride up front. As he drove, he listened as Rodgers, full of apologies, explained his predicament to his father. After only a few moments, the boy turned to Arbor.
‘He wants to speak to you.’
‘Put him on speaker, then … Yes, Mr Rodgers?’
‘Yeah, Constable. Listen, I want you to do something for me.’
‘When you get back to the station, I want you to kick that stupid little bugger’s arse for me. All the way up Palm Street. You got me?’
‘Yeah, I’ve got you. Consider it done.’
Arbor grinned at the boy. Colin was cowering.
‘Shall I give him some stir as well?’ Arbor asked.
‘Yeah, you do that,’ came the answer. ‘And throw away the flaming key. I don’t want him back.’
‘I’ll put him back on, shall I?’
‘Yeah, if you have to.’
The boy turned his phone off speaker and resumed his conversation. Arbor set his eyes on the road to town. He could just see the top of the silo behind the trees. It wouldn’t be long. Not more than a kilometre away, he guessed. Only one victim for the morning, he thought, but at twelve hundred bucks and seven points, plus whatever came of the drink driving offence, it wasn’t a bad day’s work.
‘Matt Todd was asking for you. Something about footy.’
Sergeant O’Reilly was at the PC, playing Scrabble. He didn’t look up.
‘Yeah, thanks, Sarge,’ said Arbor. ‘I said I might have a squiz at the game this arvo. I’ll catch up with him later.’
‘You weren’t out for long.’
‘No, but I bagged a big one. Young Rodgers here. He was doing 250 down Norman’s Hill. And he read 0.07.’
‘You stupid bugger,’ O’Reilly said to the boy. ‘Are you trying to kill yourself?’
‘Yeah, all right,’ said Rodgers. ‘My old man’s already read me the riot act. I don’t need it from you as well.’
‘If I was your old man,’ said O’Reilly, ‘I’d knock your fucking block off.’
‘Take a seat, Colin,’ said Arbor, as he reached into a cabinet.
‘Put your elbow on the scales, Constable,’ said O’Reilly. ‘Earn the little bugger some prison time.’
‘You can’t do that!’ said Rodgers.
The boy was trembling now. Arbor put him at ease.
‘Relax, Colin,’ he said. ‘The sarge was just winding you up.’
‘Well, it worked,’ said Rodgers. ‘Bastard.’
‘Here,’ said Arbor. ‘Blow in here again.’
The boy blew.
‘0.06. It’s come down a bit, but …’
‘It still means your licence. Three months probably.’
‘Shit. What can I do?’
‘You can try a urine test if you like,’ said Arbor. ‘Or a blood test. But that would need Doc Phillips.’
‘What’ll that do?’ said Rodgers. ‘The piss test?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Arbor. ‘You might be lucky.’
‘But, what?’ said Rodgers. ‘As it stands, I’ve done my licence?’
‘Then let’s give it a burl.’
Arbor picked up the phone.
‘You’re serious, aren’t you?’ laughed Rodgers. ‘He’s going to take the piss?’
‘Yeah, that’s clever, Colin,’ said Arbor. ‘Very witty. That’s a new one.’
‘The mongrel’s got no show in shit,’ said O’Reilly. ‘You shouldn’t lead him on.’
‘Ah, you never know, Sarge,’ said Arbor. ‘He swears he hasn’t had a drink since last night. It might just be some residual alcohol in his system.’
‘Residual, eh? That’s a ten-dollar word. I’ll use that.’
Arbor put the phone to his ear.
‘Yeah, hi. It’s Constable Arbor. Is Doc Phillips free? … Uh-huh? … Yeah, well, get him to ring me, will you? When he gets back. Tell him I’ve got a blood alcohol test for him … Okay, thanks.’
He hung up.
‘So what does that mean?’ asked Rodgers.
‘It means you’ve got room and board for the afternoon.’
Arbor led the boy towards the back of the station and into the cell.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I won’t close the door. Tell me. Are you hungry? I don’t suppose you’ve had any lunch yet?’
‘I haven’t had any breakfast.’
‘That’s half your problem. I’ll get you something. Relax. The way Doc Phillips is, I can see you getting off with this altogether. He’s got another three hours. Otherwise …’
‘Otherwise you walk.’
‘Cool. What are you getting?’
‘Burgers, probably. From Jack and Jill’s. Is that okay with you?’
‘Yeah, brill. Barbecue, though, not tomato.’
‘Sauce. On the burger. And extra beetroot. What do they say? You can beat an egg, but you can’t—’
‘Yeah, right, Colin.’
Ordering lunch from Jack and Jill’s Deli was always a hit and miss affair. Some items were delicious, something to look forward to. Others were fit only for the bin on the way out. The problem was, Arbor could never be sure which was which. On any given day, the burgers came grilled to perfection, the buns fresh from the oven and the salad bursting with life. On the next, the burgers could be dripping with fat, the buns three days old and the salad limp and pale.
Today’s fare, Arbor hoped, would be okay. He could smell the beef and onions frying and could feel his mouth watering. That was always a good sign. He grabbed some drinks – a ginger beer for the sarge, a Powerade for himself and a Mother for the Rodgers boy – and then reached into his pocket for some cash. Cash. It was always cash here in Chatton. It might be 2019 but might as well have been 1919.
The bell on the door chimed and someone entered, silhouetted by the sunshine beyond. It took Arbor’s eyes a moment to adjust.
It was Amira Rashid. Amira had recently reopened her father’s newsagency next door. Not that she had needed to. Since Salim’s murder just a few months before, his daughter had become a very wealthy woman.
‘All set for tomorrow?’ Arbor asked.
‘Yeah, sort of,’ said Amira. ‘But I’m not looking forward to it. Not really.’
‘Yeah, I understand. I can’t say I am, either.’
Tomorrow marked the start of the trial. Local pig farmers Henry, Jim and Phil Hogg and Henry’s son, Harry, were all up for Salim’s murder in the Supreme Court. Amira and Arbor were both listed as witnesses for the Crown. And while they might not be needed straight away, the prosecutor had asked them both to be ready.
‘I’ll pick you up about half five, eh?’ said Arbor. ‘It’s a bit early, but we’ve a hell of a drive.’
‘Yeah, that’ll be great,’ said Amira. ‘I’ll be ready.’
She stepped forward to the counter, ready to give her order.
‘Hey, and I heard some news,’ she continued, smiling.
‘Yeah? And what’s that?’ said Arbor.
‘I was speaking to Jenny,’ said Amira. ‘She said you might be moving out to the farm.’
Women, thought Arbor. They can’t keep a secret.
‘Yeah, I’m thinking about it,’ he said. ‘I might as well, I suppose. I spend half my time out there, anyway. Of course, that’s if she’ll have me.’
‘Oh, she’ll have you,’ said Amira.
Jill Lemon had emerged from the kitchen, burgers in hand.
Was Jill her real name, Arbor wondered. Jack and Jill’s. It seemed a convenient brand if it was.
Damn it, he thought. I forgot the barbecue sauce. And the beetroot. Too late, he decided. Rodgers would have to deal with it. He handed the woman his money.
‘Separate?’ she asked.
‘No. That’s cool.’
She bagged the burgers and drinks. Arbor lifted the bag and reached for the door. A sudden jolt forced him back.
‘Hey, steady on,’ he said, as the young Jones boys, Drew, Jason and Shane, pushed their way in.
‘Danny! Danny! Come and see!’ said Shane, at ten the youngest and, marginally, the most civil of the three. He was tugging at Arbor’s pocket.
‘Yeah, hold your horses,’ said Arbor. ‘What is it? Did you find ET? Yeah, hang on. I’ll see you later, Amira.’
‘Yeah, catch you, Danny.’
Arbor followed the boys from the shop.
‘Back here,’ said Drew. ‘We were looking in Butch’s bins for some bones for the dog … and we found this.’
He and Jason flipped the lid of the nearest wheelie bin.
There had been no effort to hide it. It lay on top of some more general scraps of rubbish and amongst some other pieces of rotting flesh and bone. But it was not a piece of beef, or lamb, or even a piece of pork. It was human and it was not a butcher’s cut. It was a leg, the left Arbor noticed, extending from just below the knee to the stumps of the missing toes.
Arbor called the station and waited.
‘Hey, Sarge. It’s Arbor.’
‘Of course it bloody is. What is it?’
‘I’m afraid we’ve got trouble.’
‘What is it? I’m getting hungry.’
‘It’s the Jones boys. They were rummaging in the bins at the back of the butcher’s. And they found something.’
‘What’s wrong with that? Butch probably tosses all sorts of stuff.’
‘No. You don’t get me. It’s a leg. It’s a human leg. It’s human.’
‘Shit. Are you sure?’
‘Yes, of course I’m sure, Sarge. I’m not an idiot. I know a leg when I see one. And it’s missing its toes.’
‘Are you coming down?’
‘Yeah, yeah. I suppose I’ll have to. Just give us a minute. And don’t touch anything.’
‘As I said, Sarge, I’m not an idiot. Will I try Doc Phillips again?’
‘Yeah, you do that. Boy or girl?’
‘The leg. Is it male or female?’
‘Male, I think. Pretty hairy. And there’s a tattoo, too. A big one. A magpie on the calf. That’s one less Collingwood supporter, I suppose, Sarge.’
‘That’s not funny, Arbor. And if I’m not mistaken, I know who it is.’
‘Who? … Sarge? … Sarge? … Shit.’
The sergeant was gone.
‘Who is it?’ said Jason Jones. ‘Is it someone we know?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Arbor. ‘Look, keep clear. I don’t want the sarge getting onto me because you’ve been getting your grubby little hands everywhere. But hang around, why don’t you? He’ll probably have a few questions for you. And keep your voices down. We don’t want a crowd like last time. Do you understand?’
Last time had been Boxing Day, when Salim had been found gutted and dumped on the pavement outside his shop.
He rang the medical centre. He knew Doc Phillips always ate lunch at home, but surely he was back by now.
‘Yeah, it’s Constable Arbor again. Is Doc Phillips back yet? It’s urgent this time.’
‘Christ, man,’ came a voice on the other end. ‘Can’t I let my lunch settle? It’s only a drink driving offence. That gives me until … two o’clock.’
‘No. It’s something else, Doctor. The Jones boys have found someone’s leg in a bin at the back of the shops.’
Arbor could hear the doctor thinking.
‘Yeah, all right. I’m on my way. Is O’Reilly there?’
‘He will be.’
‘That’ll be a first. Don’t touch it.’
Again, thought Arbor. As if he needed telling. He stood back and ushered the boys away, reaching for his Powerade. No sense in wasting it, he thought. He would drink it before it got warm.
‘Get the kids out of here,’ said O’Reilly. ‘Shout them a drink or something.’
Arbor took the last twenty from his wallet and gave it to Drew.
‘Get yourselves some drinks,’ he said. ‘And some chips as well, if you want.’
‘Savage,’ said Drew.
The boys darted back into the deli.
‘So, do you know who it is, Sarge?’ Arbor asked O’Reilly.
‘Too right, I do,’ said the sergeant. ‘I’d know that ink anywhere. I’ve seen it dozens of times. I used to play footy with him back in my younger days.’
‘Who is it, then?’
‘It’s Butch,’ said O’Reilly. ‘As sure as shit. It’s Butch Paterson.’
‘You’re not wrong. There’ll be hell to pay when news of this gets out. A popular bloke, was Butch. I say was … I mean, I pity him if he’s still alive … Christ, look at those toes. They look like they’ve been taken off with pliers … You do know what you’re going to have to do, don’t you, Arbor? Once Doc Phillips has had a gander? You’re going to have to go through both those bins, bit by fucking bit.’
‘Yeah, well, you don’t see me doing it, do you? Here’s the doctor now. I’ll see to him. You head down to the co-op and get yourself the biggest sheets of plastic you can find. Bring them back here. We’ll see if we can’t sort you out a spot at the back of the shops.’
Despite the mild autumn weather, and although the co-op was only fifty metres away, Arbor didn’t fancy the idea of lugging heavy rolls of plastic back along the street. So he climbed into the paddy wagon and, dumping the burgers and remaining drinks on the passenger seat, started it up.
His first thought was for the Rodgers kid, probably still stuck on his lonesome at the station. With Doc Phillips now sure to be busy for the rest of the day, it appeared Nobby had had a lucky escape. There was no chance of a blood or urine test now. It did cross Arbor’s mind that maybe O’Reilly had let the boy out already. But that seemed unlikely. It would be just like the sergeant to leave the boy hanging. So he decided to drop off the boy’s burger and then send him on his way.
Sure enough, even with the doors wide open, the boy hadn’t budged. He sat on the cot like a condemned man.
‘You took your time,’ he said. ‘I thought I’d be stuck in here all by myself for the rest of the day.’
‘Unlikely,’ said Arbor. ‘I would have had to come back tonight to put out the lights.’
Rodgers didn’t get the joke.
‘Come on,’ Arbor continued. ‘You can eat your burger in the kitchen.’
They settled at the small table that separated the kitchen from the rest of the office. Arbor retrieved a bottle of water from the fridge.
‘So what was it?’ asked Nobby. ‘World War Three?’
‘I know you’re joking,’ said Arbor, ‘but it’s sort of worse. There’s been a murder … I think.’
‘Yeah. So far we’ve only found a piece of him.’
‘Strewth. No kidding? Unreal. Do you know who it was?’
‘Yeah. The sarge seems to think it was the butcher … Butch Paterson.’
‘You’re kidding me. Fuck me … Hey, nice burger. Even if it has red sauce.’
‘So Doc Phillips is going to be tied up all afternoon,’ said Arbor. ‘You may as well shoot through once you’re finished eating. Did you get your dad to pick up the car?’
‘No, he wouldn’t.’
‘Then get a mate to pick you up … But I don’t want to hear about you driving any time today, you got me? If you need to, rope in a couple of mates. Get one of them to drive the Monaro back to the property. All right?’
‘Yeah. All right,’ said Rodgers.
‘You don’t seem that fazed, Nobby,’ said Arbor. ‘About Butch. Did you know him much?’
‘Yeah, sort of,’ said Rodgers. ‘But just to say hello to. He used to be my footy coach. When I was ten. But that was all donkey’s years ago. I only played for one season. I couldn’t hack the training, eh? Not like you. Big footy star and all. But I bet you get sick of talking about it.’
‘Just a bit.’
‘Anyway, on and off,’ said Rodgers, ‘the old man would get Butch to dress and pack a lamb for him. If he was sending it down to rellies in Perth.’
‘And that’s that?’
‘Yeah. I guess.’
The boy drained the last of his Mother and belched.
‘Sick,’ he said. ‘That was just what I needed.’
‘I didn’t take your phone, did I?’ said Arbor.
‘No. I’ve still got it,’ said Nobby. ‘I’ll give someone a ring. And you know me. I’m sure I’ll manage to keep myself busy until they get here.’
‘That’s just your style, Nobby,’ said Arbor. ‘Just your style.’
Rodgers laughed, something loud and base.
Style. The boy had no style at all.
One of the strangest things about the Chatton co-op was that you never knew what was hiding at the back of the shop. Apart from the usual range of dry goods, tinned goods and semi-fresh vegetables, there were assorted items of furniture, bins of dusty toys, electrical appliances, tools and more. The women of Chatton, if they so desired, could find sewing patterns and bolts of fabric dating back to the 1960s. Arbor himself, during an early rummage, had uncovered an Elizabeth Jolley first edition and faded cassette tapes of Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ and Van Morrison’s ‘Into the Music’. Although he had nothing on which to play the tapes, he bought them. Perhaps, one day, he might find a still functioning tape deck lurking amongst the pile of old analogue TVs.
It took him less than five minutes to find what he was after. In what passed as the hardware section of the store, alongside some odd-sized sheets of chipboard and various lengths of pine and jarrah, he found a large roll, about two metres high, of thick black plastic. Fine. It was just what he needed. But it was impossible to unroll without some help.
‘Are you all right there, Danny?’
It was Karen Todd. Wife of Matt. She was manager of both the Chatton co-op and the Chatton Blue Tongues. She was a short bustling woman with an endless smile.
‘You wouldn’t have a knife handy there, would you, Karen?’ said Arbor.
‘Yeah. Give us a tick,’ said Karen.
She went searching behind the counter and found what she was looking for at the very back of a drawer.
‘Matt says you’re coming to the game this arvo,’ she said.
‘News travels fast,’ said Arbor. ‘Yeah, I wanted to. But I might have to give it a miss. There’s been an incident.’
‘So, I heard,’ said Karen. ‘Butch Paterson.’
News does travel fast.
‘Yeah, well. See how you go,’ Karen continued. ‘If you can make it, it’d be great. The guys need all the help they can get … Here it is. But watch yourself. It’s one of those Stanleys. It’s got a bloody sharp edge.’
‘Thanks. Give us a hand, will you? Maybe we could spread it out a bit.’
‘No worries. How much were you after?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Arbor. ‘I need a couple of bits. One bit, say, two or three metres. The other twice that.’
‘That’s easily done,’ said Karen. ‘You spin it. I’ll roll it from this end … I can usually tell. I’ve been rolling fabric for God knows how long … But you’re not thinking of playing again, though, are you?’
‘Christ, no,’ said Arbor. ‘My playing days are long gone. The doctors at the Eagles told me one wrong move and I’d be … Let’s just say I don’t mind chasing a crim every now and again. But that’s about all I’m up for.’
‘That’s a shame,’ said Karen.
‘Yeah, well. Every cloud …’ said Arbor. ‘That’s what they say, isn’t it? That’s about enough there, I reckon.’
‘Give it another couple of rolls,’ said Karen. ‘Go on. I won’t charge you for it. This stuff’s been back here since before I was born, I reckon.’
‘What’s it for, anyway?’
‘Ah, you don’t want to know,’ said Arbor. ‘While Doc Phillips is away doing his forensics and O’Reilly is making a stab at an investigation, I get the good job. I get to sort through the bins at the back of Butch’s place looking for evidence.’
‘You’re not wrong. I know they’re emptied once a week, but I reckon some of the treasures at the bottom might be pretty ripe.’
‘And what is it you’re looking for?’ asked Karen.
‘Good question. I guess I’ll know it if I find it.’
‘From what I’ve heard, some more bits of Butch?’ Karen smiled. ‘Are you sure you can tell man from beast?’
Arbor gave it some thought. No, he decided. He really wasn’t sure.
O’Reilly and the doctor had positioned themselves outside Jack and Jill’s. By the drinks in their hands and the cigarettes in their mouths, Arbor could tell that, for now at least, they had drawn a line under their investigation. He pulled up nearby and alighted.
‘How did you go?’ asked O’Reilly. ‘You certainly dragged your feet.’
This was just the sergeant’s way, thought Arbor. He shrugged it off.
‘Yeah, I got some plastic sheeting,’ he said, opening the back door of the wagon. The plastic came out in a cloud of dust. Arbor coughed.
O’Reilly and the doctor laughed.
‘I’ve cordoned off a space for you out back,’ said O’Reilly. ‘But there’s no security to speak of. You’ll just have to work there until you’re finished. If you get my drift.’
‘Yeah, I get you,’ said Arbor.
It would be a long haul. It would be sunset by the time nature put an end to the day.
‘The doctor’s taking the leg back to the clinic,’ said O’Reilly. ‘I’ll pop in there before I get on to the usual bods. You just keep at it. If you find anything worth looking at, let me know. Okay?’
‘Yeah, okay, Sarge.’
‘As I said, there’s room for you out the back. I’ve wheeled the bins around there for you, too. I thought I’d make it easy for you.’
‘Yeah, thanks, Sarge.’
Arbor dragged the plastic off the street and into the narrow alleyway between the butcher shop and the newsagency.
‘And don’t forget your spacesuit,’ said O’Reilly.
As if, thought Arbor. He could smell the stench from where he stood.
The scene was far from pristine to begin with. The lane that ran behind the shops and businesses, parallel with Palm Street as far back as the Chatton Hotel, had long been a haunt for the kids of the town. Their shenanigans had left behind an assortment of rubbish, empty bottles and other paraphernalia. Arbor entered the open doorway to the newsagency. Amira was leaning against the counter, lost in a magazine.
‘Hey, Amira,’ he said.
She looked up.
‘Hey, Danny … Is it true?’ she asked.
‘Yeah, I’m afraid so,’ said Arbor. ‘It’s a right grisly business. Say, you haven’t got a rake or a broom or something in here, have you? I need to clean up the lane a bit before I lay some plastic down. I’ve got to sort through the bins.’
‘Lucky you,’ said Amira. ‘Yeah, I’ve got a broom back here. Behind the door. Will that do?’
‘I guess it’ll have to,’ said Arbor.
‘Oh, Danny, I was wondering,’ said Amira.
‘If you don’t mind, I might close the door on you while you’re working there. What’s in those bins is sure to stink the shop out.’
‘Hey, it’s good to know who your friends are,’ he said. ‘Yeah, fair enough. I’ll drop the broom back later on.’
He let Amira close the door behind him and then began a vigorous sweep of the lane, pushing everything in his sight back towards the co-op. Before long, he had cleared an area wide enough to spread both sheets of plastic.
He had decided on a simple triage system. The smaller sheet would become home to anything worthy of a second look, anything that might be considered evidence. The larger sheet would become home to anything else. He dragged sheets and bins into position, dropped his watch, keys and phone into his cap, and donned his coveralls. He felt like a fool. His only relief was that he was out of view of the street and therefore unlikely to draw an audience.
He had hoped that lying beneath the surface he might find a weapon, a knife or a cleaver, or perhaps another body part or two. But it wasn’t to be. Several hours had passed before he discovered anything of interest. In the meantime, the second plastic sheet had become a tower of refuse: boxes, paper, plastic, but also bones, offal and parts of animals Arbor had never seen before. His coveralls, originally a shining white, had become bright red. No doubt his uniform underneath was ruined too. And he smelled, a smell he knew that no number of showers would remove.
But he had found something. It had seemed innocuous at first, bundled together with what was clearly waste from the residence: chip packets, chocolate wrappers, junk mail, discarded tissues and the like. It seemed to belong with the junk mail, but was instead tangled in a number of tissues. It was a department store catalogue, remarkable for no other reason than several of the pages being sealed, as if by glue. An ill feeling passed through him. It couldn’t be, he wondered. He placed it to one side.
Enough was enough. Arbor removed his mask and gloves, reached around the corner for his radio and slid to the floor.
‘What’ve you got for me?’
It sounded as if O’Reilly had just woken up.
‘Not a great deal, Sarge,’ said Arbor. ‘There’s no more of Butch here, if that’s what you’re wondering.’
‘Then what happened to the toes?’
‘I was wondering that myself. It doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?’
‘No. I suppose it doesn’t. So what have you got?’
‘Butch Paterson, Sarge … Exactly how well did you know the bloke?’
‘Well enough. I told you. We played footy together. Why’s that?’
‘It’s just that … There’s something here, Sarge. It looks like … I’ve a feeling your mate had some strange habits. Some habits you might not have known about.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘I’ve got some junk mail here. A brochure. It came glued together with a bunch of tissues. It looks like he’s been using it as … as a stick book.’
‘Uh-huh. And what’s wrong with that? A man’s got drives, hasn’t he? A few knickers and bras. Pretty harmless stuff, if you ask me.’
‘Yeah, I get what you mean, Sarge,’ said Arbor, ‘but this thing’s stuck together … at the kiddies’ clothing section. At both boys’ and girls’ sections, as far as I can tell.’
Arbor had to wait for a reply.
‘Has anyone else seen it? Have you shown it to anyone?’
‘No. No. Only me.’
‘Yeah, well, let’s keep it that way, eh? How far are you into the bins?’
‘Just about finished. One bin’s empty. The other one … Well, I can see the bottom.’
‘And what else have you found?’
‘Nothing. Just blood and guts mostly. And none of it’s human, as far as I can tell.’
‘Okay, then. Knock it on the head. Clean up your mess and drop what you’ve got in here. I’ll look after it.’
‘Yeah, okay, Sarge … Oh, Sarge. Do you mind if I drop off at home first? I’m rancid. And covered in crap.’
‘Yeah, all right. Just don’t waste your time.’
Arbor dropped the radio and picked up his phone.
It was good to hear her voice. When he needed it, her manner was always strong and comforting. The age difference between them, nearly twenty years, had that kind of effect.
‘I heard,’ she said. ‘That’s awful. Are you okay?’
‘Yeah. Nothing a good shower won’t fix. But I’ve had a gutful. I’ve been sorting out all sorts of crap out the back of Butch’s all afternoon. How are you going? Are you just about finished?’
‘Just one more,’ said Jenny. ‘Little Scott Bennett. Can you still pick me up?’
Ten-year-old Scott Bennett was one of several kids Jenny had taken to tutoring in her spare time. It was something to break up the boredom of country life, she had said. The small property she owned just west of town kept her fed, but it had been obvious, even to Arbor, that she needed more than that to keep her stimulated.
‘Yeah, I think so,’ he said. ‘I’ve just called the sarge to let him know what’s what. I’ll finish up here and then nip home for a shower. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Suit you?’
Arbor hung up. He looked around at the pile of garbage before him. The mountain, it seemed, was four times larger than the bins it had come out of.
He scrubbed himself as hard as he could, rubbing soap deep into every inch of his skin, but still the smell of his afternoon’s work remained. It would remain for a while, he figured. He just hoped that Jenny, in particular, would not complain. It was her opinion that mattered most, and he had no desire to keep her at arm’s length. Dried off, and the best part of a bottle of Aramis later, he decided on civvies. If O’Reilly saw him still in uniform, there was a good chance he would put him back to work.
He had little to fear. O’Reilly, too, had decided to call it a day. Arbor was forced to use his key to unlock the station door. O’Reilly had killed most of the lights and had settled into what appeared to be the first of many at the kitchen table.
‘Show me what you’ve got,’ he said.
Arbor passed him the evidence bag containing the brochure. O’Reilly showed little concern for procedure. He took the brochure from the bag and examined it.
‘It’s a bit strange, I agree,’ he said. ‘But it could be anything. Mayo, maybe? I’m certainly not going to condemn the bloke on the basis of this.’
‘Yeah, maybe not, Sarge,’ said Arbor. ‘But I thought … You will get it looked at, won’t you? I mean, if he was into kids, it might point to some sort of motive.’
‘Yeah, we’ll see,’ said O’Reilly. ‘Leave it with me … I tell you, I’ll see to it. Have you finished all your paperwork?’
‘Then clear off. Go on. You might as well have an early night. We’ll be getting the Major Crime Ds up tomorrow. You know what they’re like.’
‘The same ones as last time?’ said Arbor.
The same ones that had made a dog’s breakfast of the Salim Rashid investigation.
‘That depends, I guess,’ said the sergeant, ‘on when they’re appearing in the Hogg case. But if it is them … do you reckon you can handle them this time?’
Arbor had been well and truly handled last time.
‘Yeah, I’ll be all right,’ he said.
‘Go on, then. Hit the road,’ said O’Reilly. ‘I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than entertain an old fart like me … Leave this with me. I’ll see it finds a home.’
Arbor didn’t need telling again, and he was beyond caring about the brochure. If O’Reilly decided that the best place for it was in his own bin, well, that was his problem. As far as Arbor was concerned, its meaning was apparent and the line of inquiry it offered was undeniable. He headed for the door and the paddy wagon.
Jenny had already finished and was standing by the Bennett family’s 4WD, chatting with the woman of the house. Arbor waited for them to finish their conversation. It didn’t take long.
As Jenny climbed into the wagon, Gloria Bennett offered a wave.
‘Hi, Danny. A real shame about Butch, wasn’t it?’ she said. ‘I feel awful saying it, but he made the best snaggers in the district. Any suspects yet?’
‘No. No one, yet,’ said Arbor.
He knew for sure that the murder would be on everyone’s lips. In a town where nothing much ever happened, it would be a topic of conversation for months.
‘I heard they tried to eat him,’ said Gloria.
‘And where did you hear that, Gloria?’ said Arbor.
‘At the co-op.’
‘I wouldn’t go believing everything you hear.’
‘So it’s not true, then?’ said Gloria.
Arbor didn’t answer. Instead, as Jenny slammed shut her door, he gunned the engine and feigned a momentary deafness. They left her disappointed and bemused.
‘That was cruel,’ said Jenny with a smile. ‘She was only being friendly.’
‘Friendly schmendly,’ said Arbor. ‘I say the wrong thing to anyone and O’Reilly will drill me a new one.’
‘Okay … But you’ll tell me, won’t you?’
‘Do you really want to know?’
‘No, I suppose I don’t.’
‘I didn’t think so.’
He squeezed her hand and then rested his own on her thigh.
‘Eyes on the road, Buster,’ she said.
‘Hey, Jen,’ he said.
‘I know you’re probably like me, and just fancy heading home, but would you mind if we took a short detour?’
‘Where to?’ said Jenny.
‘I was talking to Matt and Karen Todd, earlier. They want me to look at the Blue Tongues. I’ve a feeling they want me to coach them.’
‘Uh-huh … And you’re interested in that, are you?’
‘Yeah, I reckon I wouldn’t mind,’ said Arbor. ‘I’m not sure, really. It depends on how serious they are. I mean, if they’re just piss-farting around, forget it. I’ve got better things to do. But if they’re serious …’
‘Yeah, well. Okay, then,’ said Jenny. ‘So long as we’re not too long. I am a bit knackered. And I know that lot. They’ll try and drag us into a drinking session.’
‘That’s hardly surprising,’ said Arbor. ‘I had some thoughts about that already.’
The game was over, it probably had been for some time, but half a dozen Blue Tongues and their partners remained. They had gathered under the one and only floodlight. Eskys were open and several empty stubbies had formed a campfire in the centre of the group. Matt Todd, team captain, rose to meet them. In his day, Arbor thought, Todd might have had an engine that ran all day. Now it had been worn down by advancing years. He was maybe forty, and had a penchant for booze.
‘Danny. Jenny,’ he said. ‘Sorry you missed the game.’
‘Work,’ said Arbor.
‘Yeah, so I heard,’ said Todd.
‘How did you go?’ asked Arbor.
‘We got done. As usual. Eighty points.’
‘We ran out of legs in the last quarter.’
‘Bullshit,’ came a voice. ‘We were gone well before half-time.’
It was Benjie Wood’s voice. In slightly better shape than Todd, Benjie’s features were his short blond hair and specs. He reminded Arbor of a character in Breaking Bad. Todd, Wood and several of the others had grown up together and were the best of mates. Danny had got to know a few of them over the preseason. Jenny, a local, had known them since childhood.
‘Hey, Jenny,’ Benjie continued. ‘If you’re still cradle-snatching, you can snatch me next.’
There was laughter, even from Arbor and Jenny. They were so beyond it now.
‘Fuck off, Benjie,’ said Jenny. ‘You’re older than me.’
‘Do you fancy a beer?’ said Todd.
Here it comes, thought Arbor. He was thankful that his usual choice of beverage remained, for Chatton at least, quite exotic.
‘No, thanks,’ he said. ‘I only drink cider.’
‘Wuss,’ said Todd. ‘What about you, Jen?’
‘Yeah, I might as well,’ said Jenny.
‘But I thought …’ said Arbor.
‘Well, you thought wrong, didn’t you?’ said Jenny. She took the beer and opened it with a flourish, then joined Karen Todd on the bonnet of their Honda.
‘So, that was bad news about old Butch,’ said Matt.
‘You’re not wrong,’ said Arbor.
‘It doesn’t bear thinking about,’ said Benjie. ‘What a way to go.’
‘Did you guys know him much?’ said Arbor.
‘Off and on,’ said Benjie.
‘And, so, Danny,’ said Matt. ‘Do you reckon you can offer us some pearls of wisdom? Can you turn us into Premiership material?’
‘I don’t know about that,’ he said. ‘I’ll have to have a real look. So what’s the story? How many of you are there? All up?’
‘Twenty-two? Twenty-three, maybe?’ said Todd. ‘Twenty-five on a good day. There’s us lot. All the old codgers. And while we are all old codgers, don’t get us wrong. We’ll all fight to the death. You’d be surprised. You know the saying. When the going gets tough. I mean, look at Shorty here. He can run all day. Isn’t that right, Shorty?’
Tony Short opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He nodded his head. Short was, indeed, a short man. Another of Todd’s closest companions, he was a man who didn’t say much. The word was, he let his footy do the talking.
‘And the rest?’ said Arbor.
‘That’s our problem,’ said Todd. ‘We’ve got maybe fifteen or twenty youngsters. Don’t get me wrong. They’re all as keen as mustard. Giant killers, to look at them. But they’re all raw, if you know what I mean. They drop their bundle as soon as we’re a goal or two down. Hell, with that lot, when the going gets tough, they might as well go shopping.’
‘Nathan … Nathan Webb,’ said Arbor. ‘I thought he played for you.’
‘So he does,’ said Benjie. ‘He’s one of the best we’ve got. When he feels like it.’
‘But he wasn’t here today?’
Todd shook his head.
‘As I said, when he feels like it,’ he said. ‘But if he turns up, he gets a game. He’s that good.’
‘I’ll have a word with him,’ said Arbor. ‘I live next door. I’m sure I can talk some sense into him.’
‘So you’re interested?’
‘I didn’t say that. I’ll come and have a look at your next few training sessions. Then, if I think I can help, I’ll say so. But I don’t want to come just to watch you drinking piss, do you understand? If I come, you train. Got me?’
‘Yeah. We get you. Don’t we, boys?’
The boys cheered. Arbor didn’t hold his breath.
‘I’m zonked,’ said Jenny, resting her head on Arbor’s shoulder. He couldn’t look at her. The unlit stretch of road ahead needed all his attention.
‘Is that right?’ he said.
‘You shouldn’t have had those beers, then,’ he said.
‘Yeah, maybe not,’ said Jenny. ‘Ah, but what’s a girl to do? So, you’re going to help them?’
‘Probably,’ said Arbor. ‘I might as well. But I told them. They’re going to have to lay off the grog if they want to improve.’
Jenny laughed again.
‘That’s a big ask,’ she said. ‘Some of those older guys, they’ve been drinking for years. I mean … Matt Todd, Benjie Wood, Alan Wells. Tony Short likes to look after himself, but the rest of them. They’re all my age. You can’t expect them to change overnight.’
‘We’ll see,’ said Arbor.
‘And Nathan,’ Jenny continued. ‘He likes a drink too, doesn’t he? You can’t just single him out for special attention.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Did they mention Butch?’ said Jenny. ‘I thought they might have asked you about him.’
‘Yeah, Matt did. What about Karen? Did she ask you about him?’
‘No. She didn’t say a thing.’
‘It’s probably for the best. The less said the better, eh?’
Jenny didn’t reply. For a moment, it seemed she was sleeping. Then she spoke.
‘I’ll be glad to get home,’ she said.
‘Yeah, me too,’ said Arbor.
He could feel her hand running along the inside of his thigh.
‘But if you want to get there in one piece,’ he said, ‘you’d better not touch the driver. It might not be safe.’
‘I wouldn’t mind a piece of you tonight, Constable,’ she said.
‘But I thought you were cactus,’ Arbor said.
‘Yeah, well. Some good loving might cap me off nicely.’
‘Jen, what are you doing?’ he said, as she undid her seatbelt. ‘This is a paddy wagon.’
‘I’m just getting myself ready,’ she said.
She lifted her legs and slipped off her knickers. In an instant, Arbor felt his own buckle snap and his pants open. Her hand slipped inside.
‘Jen … No,’ he said. But she laughed.
‘I’m just claiming what’s mine,’ she said. ‘Hey, I’ve never done it in a cop car. Have you?’
‘No. And I’m not about to.’
‘Come on, officer. Pull in here.’
‘We can’t, Jen. It’d mean my job for sure, if we got caught.’
‘But who’s to catch us? Come on, Danny. No one in their right mind comes up this road after dark. Just pretend you’ve pulled me over. What about it? I’ll even let you frisk me.’
Jenny was sleeping soundly by the time they reached the farm. Arbor carried her indoors and put her to bed.
He watched her sleep for a while before turning out the light and returning to the kitchen. He had a lot to mull over, so bed, for now, was not a possibility. He filled the kettle, turned it on and listened to the water hiss.
The remains of a roast chicken beckoned from the top rack of the fridge. Arbor claimed it and, pouring his cocoa, took a seat at the table. He sipped his drink and then peeled back the clear film from the bird. Then it hit him. They hadn’t had dinner. He checked the clock. It was barely eight o’clock. Jenny had consumed three stubbies in an hour on an empty stomach. No wonder they had had such a profound effect. He had not been drinking, but he, too, could feel the effects of probably his worst day on the force so far. It would be best to gather his thoughts while he could. Tomorrow was an early start and it was important that he treated Amira well.
Amira. It went without saying. The trip to the Supreme Court was sure to be a big deal for her. Arbor had sensed her nervousness in the deli. And he had understood it, too. He, too, felt on edge. Salim’s murder had been enough to ruin his Christmas. And, he expected, the Hogg family trial might be enough to ruin Easter.
It was strange, Arbor decided. Just four months ago, following Salim’s murder and Amira’s disappearance, he had been all too willing to jump into an investigation. He had been quick to take on the search for Amira, and, on finding her, he had kept her safe while he ardently investigated the case. He had put his career on the line in order to protect her. So what was so different now?
Butch Paterson’s demise, and he felt sure the man was dead, had all that was needed to get the town buzzing. The leg of a colourful local identity found discarded like a piece of trash. Who needed more? But while the likes of Gloria Bennett and the Jones kids had found it all so appealing, he could barely find an interest in the case himself. Even though he had spent most of the day literally knee and elbow deep in it.
It was strange, Arbor decided. But why? Because he hardly knew Paterson? Maybe. In any case, this time around, he swore, he would leave it to the city Ds to do the work.
He stood to refill his drink, leaning on the counter top while the kettle boiled. He looked around. From curtains to calendar, from biscuit tins to magnets on the fridge, the room was all-familiar to him now. And it spoke of Jenny. But he wondered. Would he be able to call it home? And, with only eight months left of his time in Chatton, was it really worth the trying? The truth was, he decided, it didn’t matter. When Jenny had suggested he move in, he had been delighted. He was dead keen on the idea. And, whatever happened, he would make it work.
He pencilled a note in his mind to chase up Nathan and ask him for some help in moving his gear out to the farm. Not that he had much. His old bed, the sofa, the fridge … With the paddy wagon, maybe one trailer load. He was sure that Nathan, now a good mate, would be happy to help. And he would take the opportunity to quiz him about his attitude to training, matches and the Blue Tongues in general. Maybe an expression of his own growing interest in the team might spark a similar interest in Nathan.
So he was now committed to coaching the Blue Tongues now? Yes, it seemed so.
There had been some pressure on him, from the likes of Matt Todd, to take up playing again, even if just as an immobile target at full forward. With his size and skill, Matt reckoned, at the level of the Blue Tongues, he was sure to take a few marks and kick a bagful every match. But he quite simply didn’t want to risk it. The most basic overextension, the slightest pressure from an overaggressive opponent, and he’d be well and truly fucked. Better to sit on the sidelines, run a few drills and pass on all he could remember from the big league.
The bird had been picked clean and his second cup was empty. He rose from the table, tipped the chicken carcass into the bin and then dropped the plate and cup into the sink. He would leave the washing up until tomorrow, he decided. He turned off the light and headed for bed.
When he woke, it was dark and cold and his cock, as hard as a pestle, was lodged deep between the cheeks of Jenny’s arse.
‘That doesn’t belong there,’ she said.
‘Yeah, I know,’ said Arbor. ‘But … I didn’t mean to … I was only cuddling you … in my sleep.’
‘Yeah, sure you were,’ she said. ‘What time is it?’
‘Just after four.’
‘Shit. Christ, what happened last night? I can’t remember shit.’
‘Are you sure?’ said Arbor. ‘You don’t remember jumping me in the paddy wagon?’
‘I didn’t,’ she said.
‘Fuck me drunk,’ she said. ‘I really must have been pissed.’
She laughed again, then rolled over and kissed him lightly on the lips.
‘But I did notice,’ she said. ‘I got up for a drink about an hour ago. You left me a sink full of dirty dishes.’
‘Yeah, sorry about that,’ said Arbor. ‘I’ll clean them up before I go.’
‘And when will that be?’
‘About five, I reckon. We’ve got to make the city in plenty of time.’
‘Oh, good,’ said Jenny. ‘We’ve got time then.’
‘Time for what?’
He felt her hand on him.
‘So, last night,’ she said. ‘This root. Was I good?’
‘Yeah, not bad,’ he said.
‘That’s good to know,’ she said. ‘I’d hate for me to get on the wrong side of the law.’
She pushed him onto his back and climbed on board.
‘So, tell me, officer,’ she said. ‘Is that a gun in your pocket? Or are you just pleased to see me?’
It was the oldest line in the book, but he didn’t mind.
As she had promised, Amira was waiting for him outside her house. Although the sun had not yet risen, she was standing on the front lawn, reaching for leaves from the lowest branches of a large gum. She seemed without a care, thought Arbor, for someone who had been through so much. She offered a wide smile as she climbed into the paddy wagon and, by the time they had reached the town limits, had set the tone for their conversation on the way to the city.
‘So when are you moving in, Danny?’ she asked. ‘Have you made your mind up yet?’
‘Sometime soon,’ said Arbor. ‘I’ve just got to find the time. To move my gear.’
‘Do you have much?’
‘Not really,’ said Arbor. ‘I was thinking about it last night. One trip’s worth, maybe two.’
‘I keep looking at the stuff in our place,’ said Amira. ‘Dad’s stuff. I really don’t know what to do with it.’
‘I guess you have to decide what you’re keeping,’ said Arbor. ‘I mean, are you selling up? Do you even know if you’re staying yet?’
‘I’m still thinking about it,’ said Amira. ‘I think I want to, and I do like the house. I mean, I own it now and I have lived there for over half my life, but … there are memories, you know? Not just from what the Hoggs did, but of Dad as well. In every room. Part of me wants to stay and the other part just wants to sell everything and clear off. Then, to top it all off, there’s Hashim.’
‘My cousin. In Pakistan. He’s the one I’m supposed to … Dad arranged my marriage to him yonks ago. I’ve spoken to him. And to my Uncle Ali. I’m under a bit of pressure to follow through with the arrangement. It’ll tie up all the family holdings in a neat bow, if you know what I mean. But to tell you the truth, I’m just not sure anymore. I’m not that keen on moving overseas. I mean, why should I? I’m Australian, aren’t I? And, if I’ve listened right, I think Hashim wants to finish his university studies in England before maybe moving to America. I’m not sure the marriage is something either of us wants.’
‘Then who does?’
‘Uncle Ali. He’s the one. He’s dead keen.’
‘He can’t make you, Amira,’ said Arbor. ‘Just remember that. Things might be different in Pakistan, but here we get to choose for ourselves.’
‘Will you tell him that for me?’
‘I reckon maybe June. I’ve heard on the family grapevine that if I haven’t let them know by then, he’ll be bringing Hashim out for a face-to-face.’
‘What, you haven’t seen him before? Hashim?’
‘God,’ said Arbor. ‘He might be nine feet tall. Or have hair on the palms of his hands.’
‘Don’t, Danny,’ said Amira, with a laugh. ‘I’m sure he’s not. They wouldn’t do that to me. And besides, Pakistani men are very nice looking.’
‘Maybe,’ said Arbor. ‘To Pakistani women.’
He felt her hit his upper arm. Hard. He massaged the muscle.
‘Thanks for that,’ he said.
‘You deserved it,’ she said. ‘Now hurry up and drive.’
The drive from Chatton to the city was roughly three hundred kilometres. Given slow passage through towns such as Ashby, the need to negotiate the odd winding road and the increased traffic as they reached the hills and the coast, Arbor figured three hours. Three and a half at the most. Barring obstacles, they would make it with time to spare.
He felt a little guilty. This was his first trip back to the city since his posting to Chatton and he wouldn’t be visiting his parents. He wouldn’t even tell them he’d been and gone. It would be far better to let them think that he was, all the time, hard at work in Chatton, under the heavy thumb of the demanding Sergeant O’Reilly. Not that O’Reilly was really that hard to work with. After nearly six months, Arbor was starting to understand the old man’s ways.
For much of the journey, Arbor let Amira chat away. For some of it, they listened to music. At times, Amira enjoyed listening to the police radio. At others, they enjoyed the silence. In any case, there was little sense of boredom. They appreciated the changing scenery, the sight of livestock, buildings, and seeding machines lying dormant, ready for work, shining in the warm light cast by the rising sun.
As they reached the foothills, and the sun became lost in the trees behind them, the temperature dropped again. But Arbor felt a sense of relief. Only ten or fifteen minutes more, he knew, and they would be at the top of the escarpment. The city of Perth, and perhaps the Indian Ocean, would be laid out before them.
‘Do you get to the city much, Amira?’ he said.
‘No, hardly ever,’ said Amira. ‘Not nearly as much as I’d like. One day, though, I’ll have my own car.’
‘I’d offer to give you lessons,’ said Arbor. ‘But I’m not sure I’m allowed to. Especially if I end up taking you for your test.’
‘Yeah, that’d be a laugh,’ said Amira.
‘What about Jacinta Wallis’s dad?’ said Arbor. ‘He seems like an all right sort of a bloke. You should ask him.’
‘Yeah, maybe I will,’ said Amira, thinking. ‘Maybe I will.’
Through Swan, Bassendean and down Guildford Road, Arbor followed the same railway line he had lost nearly two hours before. Just in time, he cursed, for the morning traffic and breakfast radio. But he stuck to the railway line as best he could until, with a few detours and shortcuts, they had reached the Terrace. The nineteenth-century facade of the Supreme Court came into view.
‘And here we are,’ he said.
‘Thank goodness,’ said Amira. ‘It’ll be good to get out and stretch my legs.’
‘Although I’m not sure there’s parking,’ said Arbor. ‘I’ll drop you out front and see what I can find.’
‘No, it’s all right,’ said Amira. ‘I need the walk.’
They found parking beside the City of Perth offices next door. Arbor grumbled that he had to pay. But his mood improved when he heard the news to come. Mary Bird, the Crown Prosecutor, was waiting for them on the steps of the courthouse.
‘What’s the story?’ Arbor asked.
‘It’s the cousins,’ said Mary. ‘They’ve done deals. They’ve pleaded guilty to accessory charges, and turned Queen’s Evidence. They’ve thrown Henry and Harry under the bus. Those two have had no option but to change their pleas.’
‘So does that mean …?’ said Amira.
Her eyes filled with expectation.
‘Yes, it does, Amira,’ said Bird. ‘It’s all over. Before it even began, more or less. There’s still the sentencing, of course, but you can relax. They’ll all be locked away for some time to come.’
‘That is such a relief,’ said Amira.
She nearly hugged Arbor, but chose instead to wrap her arms around Mary Bird. The woman laughed.
‘You don’t mind, do you?’ said Bird. ‘Driving all this way for nothing?’
‘No way,’ said Amira. ‘I would have been happy to drive all day for that news.’
‘Excuse me a minute,’ she said as she reached into her bag for her phone and took a few steps away, seeking some privacy. Someone to call.
‘Thanks a lot,’ said Arbor, offering Bird his hand.
‘You’re very welcome,’ said the prosecutor. ‘We’ll be in touch. As I said, there’s still the sentencing.’
Arbor watched as she climbed the courthouse steps. Nice pins, he thought. He stretched. They’d find a nice cafe, he decided, and have some breakfast before considering the drive back home.
‘So it’s all over?’ said Amira.
‘Yeah, it looks like it,’ said Arbor. ‘You’re as safe as houses now.’
They had a better run on the way back to Chatton. Morning rush hour in the city had been and gone and by the time they reached the country roads, there was barely another car in sight. Arbor gave himself permission to put the foot down a little and, although it was strictly against the law, he said nothing when Amira extended her hand out the window and allowed it to cut through the breeze.
It was just after noon when they drove onto Palm Street. Arbor dropped Amira outside the newsagent’s.
‘Why don’t you ring Jenny?’ he said. ‘I’m sure she’ll be glad to hear the news.’
‘Been there, done that,’ said Amira.
She unlocked the front door.
‘Thanks, again, Danny,’ she said. ‘For everything.’
‘No worries,’ said Arbor.
He took a sharp turn and headed the wagon back towards the station.
O’Reilly was at a cabinet, doing what appeared to be some actual work.
‘Hey, Sarge,’ said Arbor
‘Shit. You’re early enough. Was there a continuance?’
‘You could say that. The cousins. Jim and Phil. They turned Queen’s Evidence. Hogg and his son changed their pleas as soon as they heard.’
‘That’s good news, I guess … Listen, Major Crime are on their way.’
‘Uh-huh. And I can bet, too,’ said Arbor. ‘Now that the trial’s all settled, it’ll be Burke and Cole, again, won’t it?’
‘Yeah. Up there for thinking, lad,’ said O’Reilly. ‘I should have realised. Burke and Cole. I’m surprised you didn’t see them at the court. Listen, if it is them, I don’t think it’s a good idea you getting under their feet and under their skin the moment they arrive. You’d best stay away from the station. And from Butch’s shop. Is there anything you’ve got worth doing?’
‘I didn’t get much traffic duty done yesterday. After I picked up Nobby and then went to the deli … Well, things just got out of hand after that.’
‘Yeah, okay. Why don’t you clear off and catch a few hoons? Grab yourself some takeaway lunch before you go … And stay away as long as you can. We’ll give them a chance to make a mess of things themselves before you waddle in in your size twelves.’
‘Fourteens. I wear size fourteens.’
‘Christ … Go on. Rack off.’
Arbor stepped out of the station onto Palm Street and stretched. He had parked the paddy wagon only a few paces away, but, for the moment, he decided on a walk. His arse and back were still sore from six hours of driving. And besides, O’Reilly, he knew, would not venture from the station, which meant that the street, and the day if he liked, was now his to explore.
He crossed the side street to the Chatton Hotel, running his fingers along its glossy new billboards. He smiled. The shit had really hit the fan, he thought, in the months since the murder of Salim Rashid. The pub, like the town of Chatton in general, had been through some big changes. Rusty Piper, the long-serving publican, was gone, hounded out of town in disgrace. And the hotel was now under shiny new management, a young couple fresh from the city. It was so far, so good, thought Arbor. At least they had managed to put an end to a few of Piper’s many excesses. The back bar, for example, that throwback to nineteen-sixties segregation, was gone. Of course, its closure had met with objections in some quarters, but the city pair had been quick to support the demands of their indigenous patrons. Like it or not, Chatton was being dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.
His phone rang. It was still that embarrassing Eagles team song. He had meant to change it. Ever since he’d copped the moniker ‘Big Bird’. Thankfully, no one in Chatton had cottoned on.
It was Matt Todd.
‘Yeah, how’s it going, Toddy?’ Arbor continued. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘It’s just a courtesy call, Danny,’ said Todd. ‘I was talking with Karen this morning. At breakfast. We were wondering … I hate to put pressure on you, mate, but we’ve a big game next week. Against the Redbacks.’
‘Uh-huh,’ said Arbor. ‘Are they any good?’
‘Better than us,’ said Todd. ‘They made the Grand Final last year.’
‘But they lost?’
‘Yeah, they lost.’
‘So they’re beatable, eh?’ said Arbor. ‘Yeah, I’ll lend you a hand. I was going to give you a ring later, anyway. When’s your next session?’
‘Cool. I’ll join you then … Oh, hey, Toddy?’
‘There was something I wanted to ask. Butch. Butch Paterson. I don’t know much about him. Do you know if there was there a Mrs Butch? Some little woman tucked away somewhere?’
‘Not that I know about,’ said Todd. ‘As far as I know, he lived by himself in that little room above the shop for the whole time he lived here.’
‘Yeah, all right.’
‘No reason. I was just wondering. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
‘It’s a date.’
‘Yeah, a date my arse.’
The road past Norman’s Hill was quiet and the traffic to and from Ashby non-existent. It gave Arbor a chance to relax. He found a nice spot just off the road, tuned into some regional radio and closed his eyes. He would hear any unexpected customers, he knew, from a mile away.
Twenty minutes had passed before he opened his eyes again and the desire to stretch his legs got the better of him. He alighted and did a few full body stretches before leaning against the wagon to stretch his hamstrings. He yawned. The afternoon sun was soft on his back, like a blanket.
Then, in the distance, from out Ashby way, came a hum. It was a vehicle, travelling at a fair clip. He reached into the cab for the radar gun.
Thirty seconds went by before he saw the glint on the horizon, tiny at first but soon a defined shape. It was black, late-model, and travelling fast. He lifted the gun. 150. 140. 150. It was well over. He reached in, hit the lights and grabbed his cap. Best to look the part, he thought. He moved to the side of the road and began hailing the car.
They were about three hundred metres away when he got the feeling. What was a black late-model sedan doing on this road, in this neck of the woods, at this time of day? It simply didn’t fit. He was used to farm vehicles and the souped-up beasts of the local lads. He had a strong desire to withdraw and let the vehicle pass. But it was too late. They were already slowing down. 100. 80. 60 metres. In a second, the gravel crunched and the side panel brushed his pants.
‘Well, if it isn’t?’ came a voice from inside the car. ‘Haven’t you got anything better to do than annoy the public?’
‘You were speeding,’ said Arbor. ‘And from that distance I couldn’t see who it was.’
‘Yeah, well. You’re a dickhead,’ said Detective Sergeant Anna Burke, alighting. ‘You’re just lucky I could do with a fag. How far from town are we?’
‘Ten … Fifteen minutes.’
‘Come on, Jack,’ said Burke. ‘Smoko.’
Her passenger, Detective Constable Jack Cole, opened his door.
‘So, how’s things, Constable?’ asked Cole. ‘What’s been happening in Sleepy Hollow?’
‘But there’s been another murder, eh?’ said Burke. ‘Otherwise we wouldn’t be here, would we now?’
‘No, I guess not,’ said Arbor.
‘No, I guess not,’ said Burke.
She smiled at Cole.
‘He’s a sharp one, this one,’ she continued. ‘Watch you don’t cut yourself.’
They laughed. To Arbor, it was a reminder. It was their wit that cut, and they didn’t mind who felt it.
He tried to follow orders and follow the detectives into town, but within minutes it was clear that the pricks had derived a punishment for him. For over six kilometres, the detectives’ Commodore, and subsequently Arbor’s paddy wagon, did not move a feather over forty. The crawl was infuriating. At first a tractor, and then some piece of earthmoving equipment, moved in behind them.
Eventually, he had had enough. At this pace, it would take an hour to reach the station. Arbor put his foot down and, hitting lights and siren, flew past the Ds. He would make his excuses later, he thought, by inventing a sudden local call out. But his ploy didn’t work. The Commodore, too, accelerated and fell in behind him. They were nose to tail all the way into town.
‘You’re a fucking galah, Arbor,’ said Burke, alighting outside the station. ‘What are you?’
At least she was using his name, he thought. In the entire duration of their previous visit, he had heard it only once.
‘Does your sergeant know how much of a peanut you are?’ she continued.
‘Hey, mistakes,’ said Arbor, locking the wagon. ‘Mistakes can happen. From that distance you could have been anyone.’
‘Yeah. But I wasn’t, was I?’
She climbed the step and entered the station. Cole scurried in behind her. The door closed before Arbor could make a grab.
Yeah, but you were speeding, he thought.
‘I’ll sort you out one day,’ he found himself saying out loud. But when and how exactly, he hadn’t a clue.
O’Reilly was in the kitchen, making a sandwich. Burke and Cole made themselves at home at Arbor’s desk.
‘It looks like you’ve got the front counter again, laddie,’ said O’Reilly.
‘Yeah, it looks like it,’ said Arbor.
He waited. Surely the detectives would start in on him again, making it clear to the sergeant exactly how much of a fuck up they considered him. But they didn’t. Instead, they joined O’Reilly in the kitchen. Cole filled the kettle. Burke dived into the fridge, pulling out a yoghurt.
‘Whose is this?’ she asked.
‘It’s not mine,’ said O’Reilly. ‘I don’t eat that shit.’
Burke made a cursory gesture to Arbor, almost peaceable. Take it, he thought. It just wasn’t worth the aggravation. Burke flipped open the lid, grabbed a spoon and then sat down at the desk.
‘So what have we got, Senior?’ she asked O’Reilly. ‘Here in the murder capital of the west? We only got the barest of rundowns back in town.’
‘Butch,’ said O’Reilly. ‘Bill Paterson. The local butcher. A long-time resident. Yesterday morning, some kids were rummaging around in the bins at the back of his shop. They found what we think is the lower part of his left leg.’
‘Fuck … That’s lovely, isn’t it? Anything else?’
‘No more body parts, if that’s what you mean. Arbor here spent yesterday going through the rest of the bins. He didn’t find squat.’
‘I thought I could smell something.’
‘Oh, and there was something else,’ said O’Reilly. ‘The toes. All of the toes were missing.’
‘Shit. You really don’t have to go to Texas, do you?’
She had said it. For a chainsaw massacre. It had already crossed Arbor’s mind.
‘I suppose we’d better have a look, then. Where’s the shop?’
‘At the other end of the street.’
‘And where did he live?’
‘There’s a small flat above the shop. It seemed to be enough for him.’
‘And the keys?’
‘This’ll get you in the back door,’ said O’Reilly, tossing Burke a key. ‘I found it yesterday under the mat.’
‘Magic.’ Burke tossed the spoon into the sink and the container into the bin.
‘Come on,’ she said to Cole, who was just pouring his drink. ‘Constable Arbor. Lead the way.’
Arbor glanced to his sergeant, hopeful for a reprieve, but O’Reilly ignored him.
‘Relax, Constable,’ said Burke. ‘It’ll give us a chance to renew our friendship.’
That, thought Arbor, was just what he was afraid of.
‘You didn’t look in here yesterday?’ said Burke, as they entered the butcher’s kitchen. Although dated, the place looked clean and presentable to Arbor, just as it had in the day before’s briefest of examinations.
‘No,’ he said. ‘The sarge just gave it a quick squiz. But we were outside most of the day. Looking for body parts.’
‘Uh-huh. Nothing like doing half a job, is there? What’s that smell?’
‘Bleach, I think.’
‘It’s coming from in there,’ said Cole, gesturing.
‘That’s the back room of the shop,’ said Arbor. ‘Where Butch does … did most of his butchering.’
‘Fair enough,’ said Burke. ‘Cole, take the kit and check it out.’
‘Do I have to?’ said the junior detective. He had a face on him like one of those meerkats. ‘Can’t Buggerlugs here do it?’
‘No. I want it done proper,’ said Burke. ‘Arbor can help me upstairs … Come on, Constable. Lead the way.’
The way she touched his elbow and pushed him up the stairs put the hairs on his neck on end, but Arbor did as commanded. With every step, the stairway seemed to grow narrower.
‘There’s just the bedroom and bathroom up here, by the look of it,’ he said.
Burke looked around.
‘And so, Constable. What’s your instinct?’ she said. ‘What can you tell me? About the scene? What hits you at first glance?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Arbor.
He looked for something.
‘Haven’t you learned anything from last time?’ said Burke.
‘How do you mean?’ said Arbor.
‘I mean,’ said Burke. ‘I remember you taking twenty minutes to study a bloody shoe. I hope your detection skills have improved since then. Come on. What can you see?’
‘The bed’s unmade, I guess,’ said Arbor.
‘Yeah, that’s a start,’ said Burke. ‘And what does that tell you? Come on, Constable. Earn your pay.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Arbor. ‘Downstairs looked neat and tidy. So I guess he was probably the type to make his bed.’
‘Well done,’ said Burke. ‘We’ll make a D out of you yet. And what does that mean?’
‘It means … he might have been disturbed during the night.’
‘Spot on,’ said Burke. She tossed the sheets and blankets in search for something she didn’t find. ‘From what I can see, he probably wore fluffy pyjamas as well. We can add them to our “To Find” list.’
She sank into thought.
‘When was the last time he was seen alive?’ she said.
‘That would have been Saturday,’ said Arbor. ‘Saturday night. He was seen leaving the pub about nine.’
‘And was he with anyone? At the pub? Did he have any drinking chums?’
‘Not that we’ve found.’
‘Yeah, well. Fair enough. At least we know that. Time of death, if he is dead, was probably Saturday night, Sunday morning sometime. And not in here, by the look of it.’
She stopped her searching and looked at Arbor.
‘What?’ he asked.
She had a way of turning him inside out.
‘I suppose we should head down and see how Cole is getting on,’ she said. But she made no move towards the door. Instead, she made a rough attempt to straighten the bedding. Then she put one foot on the bed and leaned towards him. The top few buttons of her blouse spilled open. He got the feeling she was looking at him in all the wrong places.
‘So, Danny,’ she said. ‘How have things been here in Chatton? Have you missed me? I guess things must have been pretty dull without me around.’
Here it comes, he thought. He had been waiting on it. He just hadn’t expected it so soon.
‘Look, I was thinking,’ she said. ‘I can’t see this investigation winding up anytime soon. How’s about you and me, we have some fun while I’m town.’
Direct, if nothing else, he thought.
‘Yeah, I remember your idea of fun,’ he said.
Last time, she had charmed the pants off him. Literally. And then left him in the lurch.
‘Besides, not ten minutes ago, you were chewing my arse off.’
‘Ah, that’s just me,’ said Burke. ‘Grow a pair, why don’t you? I’ve got to lay it on a bit. I get no respect otherwise. I can’t be all namby pamby, can I? Where would that get me?’
‘Anyway,’ Arbor continued. ‘I’ve got a girlfriend, now … sort of.’
He cursed himself immediately. The qualifier would give her an opening. And, sure enough, her response was immediate.
‘Sort of, eh? You don’t sound convinced. Hey, look. I’m not begging you or anything. But … Look, anytime. No pressure. You know where I’ll be.’
Now she headed for the door. For a moment, Arbor feared that she might close it.
‘Come on,’ she said. ‘I’ll come back later for a proper look. In the meantime, let’s see what Cole’s uncovered.’
She lumbered down the stairs like a bear.
‘Cole!’ she cried. ‘What have you got for me?’
‘Not much,’ said Cole, as they entered the shop. ‘The place is spotless. There are a few traces of blood, but you’d expect that, wouldn’t you? And there’s not enough to determine if it’s human. At least not with the tools I’ve got.’
‘Is anything missing?’
‘Not so’s I can see.’
‘So what does that mean?’ asked Arbor. ‘Do we get a proper forensics team up from Perth?’
‘Yeah, and that’s likely,’ said Burke. ‘I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Constable, but police resources here in WA are stretched pretty thin. And Chatton is not exactly metro, is it? Quite frankly, you can be grateful you got us.’
‘Fair enough,’ said Arbor, but not meaning it. ‘So what do we do, then?’
‘We move on,’ said Burke. ‘Me and Cole will take a run to the doctor’s and have a butcher’s at this leg. Butcher’s. Get it?’
The detectives laughed. Arbor remembered once again why he didn’t like them.
‘And you,’ Burke continued. ‘You can head back to the station, or out on patrol or wherever you like. Just leave the real police work to us.’
Arbor blushed. He felt genuinely slighted. Upstairs, she had seemed willing to listen to him. Here, she was her cold hard self again. It was Cole’s presence, just the existence of some kind of audience, that seemed to matter. Never mind. Soft Burke or hard Burke. He would be wary of them both.
Arbor strode down Palm Street towards the station, the Jones boys at his heels.
‘Hey, Danny. Is it true?’ said Jason.
‘Is what true?’ said Arbor. ‘Shouldn’t you guys be at school?’
‘We’re sick,’ said Drew. ‘Is it true? That you’re going to coach us?’
‘Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it,’ said Arbor.
‘Beauty,’ Drew continued. ‘Shane needs some help with his kicking.’
‘I’m sure he does,’ said Arbor. ‘The footy’s almost as big as he is. But I don’t know what you mean, Drew. It’ll be a few years yet before you guys are ready for the seniors.’
‘No. That’s not what we meant,’ said Drew.
‘What then?’ said Arbor. ‘Look, I haven’t got time, guys. I’m a bit pushed.’
‘Us. The Nippers. Someone told us you were gonna coach us.’
‘Yeah, and who told you that?’
‘I don’t know. Someone.’
‘Why would I do that, guys?’ said Arbor. ‘Look, boys. I’ve agreed to have a look at the Blue Tongues, the seniors, but that’s about that. Anyway, don’t you have a coach? I thought you’d already have someone.’
‘Yeah, we did,’ said Drew.
‘And who’s that?’
‘Old Butch Paterson.’
The sound of smashing glass came from somewhere back behind him.
‘Fuck, someone’s stuffed up,’ said Drew.
What the hell was that, thought Arbor. Had one of the detectives managed to walk themselves through Butch’s shopfront window? From where he stood, he couldn’t tell. He turned and retraced his steps.
‘I’ll speak to you later, boys. Don’t you go bothering people.’
It wasn’t the butcher’s window that had smashed. It seemed as if the detectives had already departed. The gaping hole in Palm Street belonged to the newsagency. It was as if, in breaking, the storefront window had completely disintegrated. Arbor could see Amira standing inside the shop, alone and still. Thankfully, she seemed unhurt.
‘Are you all right, Amira?’ Arbor asked.
‘Yeah, I think so, Danny,’ said Amira. ‘Wow, I didn’t see that coming.’
‘That did,’ said Amira, pointing to the floor in front of her. Closer, Arbor could see a brick. Despite thoughts that perhaps he shouldn’t, he picked it up. Attached was a sheet of paper. A message. Straight out of an American action flick, he thought.
‘Do you want me to read this?’ he said.
Arbor opened the note. It was written in red marker, in a not too literate hand.
‘What does it say?’ said Amira.
‘I’m not sure I should—’ said Arbor.
‘Tell me,’ said Amira. ‘I want to know.’
Arbor squinted. The bad writing and dim light make it difficult to read.
‘Are you sure?’ he asked again.
‘Yes,’ said Amira. ‘Go on.’
‘“Dear Paki Bitch”,’ Arbor began.
He looked at Amira. She smiled.
‘It’s cool,’ she said. ‘I’m used to worse.’
‘“Dear Paki Bitch”,’ Arbor continued. ‘“If you think locking up our mates will make you safe, then you’re wrong. Watch your back, moll. We’re coming for you. Signed, The Revengers.”’
Arbor felt the desire to laugh, but he knew that threats such as this could not be easily dismissed. Amira let out a giggle.
‘Part of you really wants to laugh, doesn’t it?’ said Arbor.
‘I know,’ said Amira. ‘I mean, the Revengers? They probably wear capes and masks and meet in their cubby house. They don’t scare me, Danny. Not really.’
‘No, I bet they don’t,’ said Arbor. ‘But I don’t think we should take any chances. I’ll get a couple of blokes from the co-op to board up the window for you. How’s about you stay out at Jenny’s for a few days, eh? While I look into this?’
‘You don’t think she’ll mind?’
‘Of course she won’t mind. Give her a ring now. Find out for yourself.’
It didn’t take long. With the newsagent shopfront boarded up and Amira having collected a few things from home, she and Arbor were soon headed out the Melton road towards Jenny’s. Stay as long as you like, Jenny had said to Amira. Arbor felt just a little miffed. Amira’s presence would seriously cramp his style. But he had another, nobler plan. With both he and Amira out at the farm, there would be no one to keep an eye on either the newsagent’s or Amira’s home. Another brick, or worse still, something flammable, could be disastrous.
‘Tell me if I’m overstepping the line, Amira,’ he said. ‘But I was thinking. How’s about while you’re staying out here, I keep an eye on your place for you? I mean, I’m not convinced that anything will come from that note. Knowing the blokes around here, it’s probably just hot air. But we can’t be too sure, can we?’
‘I don’t mind, Danny,’ said Amira, ‘if you don’t. But it would mean you sleeping in my dad’s bed, if that doesn’t freak you out. I’m sure you don’t want to sleep in mine.’
‘No,’ said Arbor. ‘Anyway, I reckon it’ll only be for a few days. Just until the news about the Hoggs settles in. There’s more sense in a goldfish bowl than in most of the blokes around here.’
As the wagon pulled up, Jenny came out to greet them. Arbor waited for the women to hug before embracing Jenny.
‘Dinner’s just about ready,’ she said.
‘No, I’m not staying,’ said Arbor. ‘I’ve agreed with Amira. I’m going to look after her place for a few days. Just in case. You never know. That note looked like it was written by an idiot, but it’s often idiots that do the most damage. And I need to catch up with Nathan and pick up a few things from home.’
‘Well, have something,’ said Jenny. ‘I don’t want to think of you going back in there on an empty stomach.’
‘Yeah, come on, Danny,’ said Amira. ‘I’m sure the house will be fine for another hour or so.’
Bugger it, Arbor thought. He was easily persuaded. Especially when food was concerned. He followed the women into the house.
The sun had just touched the horizon by the time Arbor pulled open the screen door of the Webb residence and knocked. He was on friendly enough terms, he figured, to open the main door and give a shout. But he thought against it. He was still in uniform and the thought of a police officer entering without invitation seemed too much of an intrusion. Perhaps he needn’t have worried. Mandy, drying her hands with a tea towel, greeted him with a smile.
‘Kaya, Danny,’ she said. ‘How goes it?’
She noted his puzzled look.
‘Aloha, konichiwa, ciao. Kaya is Noongar for hello.’
He blushed. He wondered how he’d never known that. ‘Kaya, Mandy.’
‘Come on in. Nathan’s out back playing with Chopps.’
Arbor entered and closed the door behind him.
‘I’m not here for long,’ he said. ‘I just wanted to ask … I suppose you’ve both heard about Butch Paterson?’
‘Yeah. It’s awful,’ said Mandy. ‘It’s all over town.’
‘Did you know him?’ said Arbor.
‘Yeah, sort of,’ said Mandy. ‘I didn’t like him, though. Look, have you got time for a cuppa? Head out and say hello to Nathan. I’ll put the kettle on.’
Nathan was on the ground wrestling with the dog. Arbor was unsure who was the most exuberant or making the most noise. He watched for a few moments until the dog broke free.
‘Danny,’ said Nathan, puffing. He got to his feet and brushed himself off.
‘He’s a big bloke,’ he continued. ‘And he doesn’t know his own strength. What’s up?’
‘A couple of things,’ said Arbor. ‘First off, you wouldn’t have any idea who’d want to put the wind up Amira, would you? The Hoggs pleaded out today and Amira came home to a brick through the shop window.’
‘Shit. No, I wouldn’t,’ said Nathan. ‘It could be any of them. The Hoggs have quite a few dickhead mates around here. What was the other thing?’
‘Butch Paterson,’ said Arbor. ‘I thought I’d ask you and Mandy about him. Although it looks like I won’t have much to do with the investigation this time around, I just want to keep myself in the loop. If you know what I mean. And you and Mandy are about the only locals I reckon I can trust.’
‘I’m not sure we can help you much,’ said Nathan. ‘Neither of us knew him that well. Still … Come inside. I can hear the kettle.’
As they entered the house, Arbor felt a force push past him. It was Chopps, his wagging tail rattling the door like a drumstick. Arbor followed Nathan into the kitchen and joined him at the table. He watched Nathan watching his wife pour the coffees.
‘Mandy, you didn’t have much to do with Butch, did you?’ asked Nathan.
‘No. No way,’ said Mandy. ‘His meat wasn’t half as good as it was cracked up to be. His sausages weren’t bad, and I know he got his pork and lamb local, but his beef … A few of us always reckoned it was worth the trip to Ashby. The butcher over there is top notch.’
‘I see,’ said Arbor.
Mandy slid a cup and some sliced Swiss roll towards him.
‘Thanks, Mandy,’ he continued.
‘No worries,’ she said. ‘You can share the roll with Nathan, if you like. But watch him. Sure as hell, he’ll give it to the dog.’
They laughed. Nathan took a slice and fed it under the table. His hand came up empty.
‘So what do you know, Nathan? I’ve heard he coached the Chatton Nippers.’
‘Yeah, for years, I reckon,’ said Nathan.
‘No, not me. I was too old when we moved up from Albany. But … By the way, I hear you’re thinking about coaching the Blue Tongues.’
‘Yeah, it looks like it,’ said Arbor. ‘And I hear you don’t like training.’
‘Ah, I just can’t be bothered most of the time,’ said Nathan. ‘Honestly. I reckon it’s a waste of time. I mean, I go for a run two or three times a week. Keep myself in decent enough shape. And if there’s a big game coming up, I might go to training. Put in a bit extra.’
‘Well, that’s all going to change,’ said Arbor.
‘How do you mean?’
‘I mean, now that I’m in charge, I want you at every training session. And at every game.’
‘You what? Steady on.’
‘And not only that, I want you setting an example for the rest of them. From what I’ve heard, you’re about the best player the Blue Tongues have got. You should be a leader for the team, not an also ran. Have you got me?’
‘Yeah, whatever, Sergeant Schultz.’
‘So I’ll see you there? Tomorrow night?’
‘Yeah, all right. I suppose you will.’
The scratchy gravel crunched under his feet as he took the dozen or so steps across Royal Street to the place he called home. It was home, he figured, but it was also a dated, weather-beaten dump, like every other home on Royal Street. This was a part of town that most of the locals liked to avoid.
He entered the house. There was no need for a key. He had long since given up locking it. There was nothing worth stealing, he told himself. And besides, he figured it considerably unlikely that someone would burgle a cop.
Every time he looked at it he wondered why he had brought it with him. At the bottom of the wardrobe, now covered in dust, his footy bag lay, chock full of memories. Memories that hurt. Memories that made him almost too scared to look. It was a painful reminder that the chance of ever playing again was zilch. But he forced himself. He unzipped it and checked its contents. Boots, socks, shorts, guernsey … It was all there. Everything he had taken away from his last game with the West Coast Eagles.
But a cold thought hit him. Would any of this shit still fit? It had been more than two years since he had worn his gear in anger. During rehab, for the first year following his injury, despite all the inactivity, he had managed to keep the weight gain to a minimum. But during the time since, especially the time in Chatton and the time with Jenny, he had let things slide. He now wore a ten-kilo ring of excess Arbor around his waist. Nevertheless, he decided to try the gear on. At least, he thought, it might help him make a good first impression on the younger Blue Tongues. He slipped off his uniform and pulled the bag wide.
He could barely pull the shorts beyond his hips. He could feel the waistband cutting deep into his flesh. They would not last two minutes in a run, he figured. And the guernsey proved even more of a struggle. With some difficulty, he managed to get it over his chest, but he could move it no further. For a moment, he stood there, unable to either don or remove the garment. Finally, he gave a hefty tug. He heard a rip and the guernsey came free. He cursed, threw it back into his bag and then sat on the bed.
An old tracksuit lay on the floor beside him. He picked up the top and gave it a sniff. That would be fine, he decided. Many of the players would smell far worse. It had some give in it and it would hide a multitude of sins. He tipped the contents of the bag onto the floor, threw in the tracksuit and a pair of runners, and zipped it up.
It was just as well, he thought. Turning up in all his Eagles crap, especially as he was so out of shape, might not have been such a good idea. He didn’t want the Blue Tongues thinking he was showing off or big-noting himself. Nor did he need to hear any more stories about how he was just what they needed as their power forward. No way. He was there to help, but there was no way on God’s green he was going to do any playing or training himself.
He donned his police gear again and then sat on the bed studying the room. Small, stark and untidy, it was swamped with just the faintest whiff of unwashed laundry. Apart from his sofa, his fridge and a kitchen full of utensils, the room’s contents constituted just about everything he had in Chatton. Bed, chest of drawers, telly and a few clothes. There was not much to it, he decided. And, it occurred to him, when he moved to Jenny’s, most of it would remain stored away, rotting or rusting in one of the sheds. Only his clothes, his uniforms and civvies, would see the light of day. Some of which, he remembered, he needed to collect for his stay at Amira’s. Taking a little more care this time, he packed another bag.
He began by inspecting the yard and the few large bushes that grew in front of the house. All this foliage wasn’t the wisest option, he thought. Under any circumstances, the bushes would surely hide any goings on from the neighbours across the street. But there wasn’t much he could do. He was certainly not going to take up gardening. So, after giving the area a closer inspection, he examined the house. Small but impressive, he thought. And unlike his own place, and Nathan’s, it was brick, one of the nicer places in town. He unlocked the front door and entered.
For some reason, he had in mind the smells of the subcontinent – coriander, ginger, cinnamon and the like. He knew Amira was a good cook, he had tasted her cooking, and he had expected the traces to be evident. But they were not. Instead, all he sensed was the strong scent of a commonly available household deodorant, maybe Glen 20 or Ambi Pur.
Similarly, when it came to decor, he had expected something else. Something Pakistani in style. Whatever that was. But as it was, the furnishings in every room he visited had probably been purchased in a Perth department store. Sure, there were a few signs of the Rashids’ Pakistani heritage, but no more than he could have expected. Certainly no more than the Aussie sporting memorabilia he knew he would find in his old man’s man cave. As an afterthought, Arbor scolded himself. As much as anything, he had been guilty of an, albeit minor, case of stereotyping.
His difficulty lay in choosing a place to sleep. Amira’s room was easily spotted. Out of a strange sort of politeness, he closed the door. Salim’s room, with a double bed, seemed, on the one hand, inviting, yet on another … It had all the feelings of a tomb. Arbor closed the door on this one, too. That left the third bedroom, which, he quickly discovered, was in use as a study. There was no other option, he decided. And it probably made sense. If there was trouble during the night, it was better he was dressed. He grabbed a blanket from the linen closet, settled into the most comfortable of the armchairs and turned on the television.
His first stop was Jack and Jill’s. Although he had had a good feed at Jenny’s the night before, it had been a rough night. He needed sustenance. And coffee. Lots of it. He sat at the small, and only, table in the corner. He would eat and drink there, he decided, rather than risk taking it all back to the station and having his meal interrupted by the detectives. Neither the toasted sandwich nor either of his two cups of coffee touched the sides.
‘Thanks, Jill,’ he said with a wave. Jill Lemon waved back.
He tossed his garbage into the bin and opened the door.
‘Not you guys, again,’ he said. ‘You’re like a bad smell.’
‘What’s this, Danny?’ said Drew. ‘Did someone bake you a cake?’
Sure enough, a small cake box sat on the bonnet of the paddy wagon.
‘When is your birthday, Danny?’ said Jason.
‘In a couple of days,’ said Arbor. ‘Maybe it’s from one of the co-op ladies, eh?’
‘Maybe you’ve got a secret admirer,’ laughed Shane.
‘Yeah, maybe I have,’ said Arbor.
He lifted the lid.
‘What is it, Danny?’ said Shane. ‘Let us see.’
‘No way,’ said Arbor. ‘I’m saving it.’
He lifted the box and, climbing into the paddy wagon, placed it on the passenger seat. Only now, he noticed, there was a stain soaking through the cardboard at the bottom of the box. It wasn’t red, but he knew for sure. It wasn’t icing either.
‘What the fuck?’
Sergeant Anna Burke glared at the thing in front of her.
‘What the fuck is that, Constable?’ she continued. ‘Are you bringing me presents now?’
‘Yeah, of sorts,’ smiled Arbor. ‘Have a look.’
Burke placed her fingers on the edge of the lid and lifted.
‘Jesus,’ she said.
‘Yeah, that’s what I thought,’ said Arbor.
‘What is it?’ said O’Reilly, leaning back in his chair.
‘Come and see, Sarge,’ said Arbor.
Reluctantly, the sergeant stood and shuffled over. Before them lay a hand, cleaved sharply at the wrist. Its colour on the colour spectrum lay somewhere between green and black.
‘Is this some sort of a joke, Constable?’ said Burke. ‘Are you trying to wind us up?’
‘No, Sergeant,’ Arbor replied. ‘No way.’
‘Where did you find it?’
‘On the bonnet of the wagon,’ said Arbor. ‘It was sitting there when I came out from my breakfast.’
‘Shit,’ said Burke. ‘Why didn’t you leave it there? Didn’t you think we’d want to check it for prints?’
‘But it was starting to rain,’ said Arbor. ‘And there was a bit of a crowd gathering again. I couldn’t just leave it.’
‘Don’t worry, Arbor,’ said O’Reilly. ‘You did the right thing. You preserved the evidence.’
‘The right thing.’
Burke swore under her breath.
‘But it doesn’t bloody help us much, does it?’ she said. ‘Come on, Cole. Put the whole lot in a bag and let’s take it to the doctor. We’ll see what he can make of it.’
Cole grabbed a large evidence bag and slid the box inside. The two detectives headed for the door, leaving, Arbor noticed, his desk strewn with piles of paper and manila files, biscuit crumbs and coffee cups.
‘Just be thankful,’ said O’Reilly.
‘Why’s that, Sarge?’ said Arbor.
‘Watching the doctor with the leg the other day was enough for me,’ said the sergeant. ‘All that prodding and pushing. All that scraping. You can be thankful that she took that other bod instead of you.’
‘Yeah, I guess so.’
‘So what are you doing with yourself?’
‘I thought I might hit the road again, Sarge,’ said Arbor. ‘I reckon I’m just about in the right mood to put the shits up some of these young blokes.’
‘Yeah, I know what you mean,’ said O’Reilly. ‘You’re learning, son. Go on, then. If those two twits can’t find you, they can’t very well put you to work, can they?’
Arbor didn’t need telling twice. In a second, he was out the door and in the wagon, heading east, towards Whitney and, he hoped, towards some well-earned peace and quiet.
The stretch of road that led towards Whitney was even quieter than the road to Ashby. Arbor knew he was unlikely to be drawn into action. That wasn’t the plan. The day, he hoped, would be taken up with serious some rest and recuperation. He sought out a secluded spot under the cover of some large trees, pushed back his seat and close his eyes. He had just done so when his phone rang. It was Jenny.
‘Hey, babe,’ she said. ‘Where are you?’
‘On the Whitney road,’ said Arbor. ‘I thought I’d squeeze in some traffic duty, if you get my drift. How’s things with you? How’s Amira?’
‘Oh, she’s fine,’ said Jenny. ‘Listen, do you fancy coming out for tea again tonight?’
‘Yeah, I suppose I can.’
‘You can look forward to it. Amira’s cooking.’
‘Beauty,’ said Arbor. ‘I’ll be there. But what time? I’m supposed to be going to footy training.’
‘We can make it later,’ said Jenny. ‘Seven? Seven-thirty? Even eight, if you want.’
‘Yeah, all right,’ said Arbor.
‘Listen, Jen,’ he continued. ‘I was going to talk to Nathan, to see if we can use his trailer to shift my gear. Are you still all right with that?’
‘Yeah. But on one condition.’
‘We don’t have to sleep on that shitty old bed of yours again.’
They had done it once. Not side by side, but layered, like a sandwich. She was the top. He was the meat in the middle.
‘Deal,’ he said.
‘I’ll see you later, then,’ she said. ‘Try not to get into trouble. Oh, and Danny?’
‘That detective chick. Burke. How’s it going with her? Has she tried it on, yet?’
‘Nah. She’s been on her best behaviour.’
‘Yeah, well. She’d better be. She might carry a weapon, but I’ve drawn blood with mine.’
Arbor laughed. So she had. Henry Hogg, the killer of Salim Rashid. She had crippled him with a shot from her .22.
She was gone. He hadn’t mentioned the butcher’s hand. That was probably a good thing. He closed his phone and closed his eyes. He would let the sounds of nature send him to sleep.
All he heard was the sound of the wind through the leaves and grass. And the chatter of the birds. The cockatoos and kookaburras. But the kookaburras disturbed him now. These supposedly jovial characters of the bush, he had only recently learned, had a dark side. They were known to steal the young of other birds and smash them against the trees, softening