Detective Sergeant Darryl Hill parked his unmarked red Holden SS Commodore outside the small one-storey house. With its neat garden, mowed lawn and clean gutters, it was the last house anyone expected to see with blue and white chequered police tape around the perimeter. He half-expected to see a couple of kids run out of the house squealing in delight, tossing around a football.
It was mid-morning, so most of the neighbours were already at work. A few lingered outside the tape with obvious interest at what had occurred on their quiet street in the early hours of the morning. Darryl climbed out of the car and made his way toward the front door, following his partner, Detective Inspector Amelia Donovan.
His last partner, Matt Murphy, was currently on leave with his wife Natalie and adopted daughter Hallie, taking a much needed break in Port Douglas. Before he’d left on his trip, Matt had, with a smile on his face, suggested there might be a new addition to the Murphy family in the coming months.
Darryl couldn’t believe Matt had settled so easily into married life, although at first it had been hard for him. Both he and Natalie worked long hours and they’d had to deal with being a readymade family when they had decided to adopt Hallie, who had been institutionalised for the past five years after witnessing her parents’ gruesome double murder.
It had been Darryl’s first homicide case since passing his detective’s exam and both he and Murphy had been assigned to finding the man who the newspapers dubbed the Butcher due to fact that he butchered his female victims until they were almost unrecognisable.
He had been Harbour Bay’s first and thankfully only serial killer. They still had the occasional homicide, of course, but it was nothing like the carnage left in the wake of the Butcher. Residents could once again sleep easy.
Harbour Bay, a city of about three hundred thousand on the southern New South Wales coast, was nestled against the harbour it had been named for. It had its share of good and bad, a blend of white and blue collar neighbourhoods and one large section spanning several blocks notoriously known as Coleani’s territory. The area was also the city’s central hub for crime.
Besides the state run rehabilitation centre, Paradise Valley, which specialised in the mentally unbalanced, the city also boasted a beautiful bay, a golden sand beach and marvellous breathtaking views. It also housed Harbour Bay’s Local Area Command—LAC, which sat on an outcropping of cliffs overlooking the harbour, as well as the Tasman Sea further out.
Thankfully, despite its recent bad press, people from all over the country still flocked to one of Australia’s best tourist locations.
Donovan showed her holographic Warrant Card—her official Police ID—to the uniformed officer standing guard at the front door and introduced both herself and Darryl for the record. The guard nodded, took note of their names on the crime scene log, and opened the door for them. She entered first, her light brown gaze sweeping over the interior of the combined kitchen, dining and family room. Darryl tried not to gag when he was assaulted with the aroma of dead bodies.
There is nothing like the scent of decomposing flesh to get you going in the morning, he thought grimly, as he followed her inside to the crime scene.
Two dead bodies lay face down in the centre of the room. Darryl barely glanced at the victims before moving to assess the scene. He liked to see the crime scene as his victims had first and noted there were no personal effects on the walls or on any of the surfaces. Had they just moved in? There were no boxes littering the room, so it wasn’t as if they’d just finished unpacking. People of few means, perhaps, which would explain the shabby furniture that looked to be mismatched op-shop cast-offs. This was at odds with the expensive wall-mounted flat screen TV and gaming system. A game was frozen on the LCD screen where someone had paused it and the dialogue box was prompting the user to ‘resume’ as if they had been interrupted by an unexpected guest.
Friend or foe?
The room showed no signs of a struggle. The house was as tidy on the inside as the exterior. Darryl’s gut told him that was important. He never knew men as young as his victims who kept such a clean house. Hell, he still didn’t despite being in his thirties. It appeared they had no money to pay for someone to come in and tidy up. Was it an attempt to keep neighbours from discovering something they shouldn’t?
The lingering scent of garlic and onion that warred with the smell of death had him turning to the coffee table near the bodies where two open pizza boxes sat beside the controllers for the Xbox. Most of the pizza had been consumed with only a few pieces left. A half-empty glass of flat Pepsi rested on the cardboard flap of the pizza box. He wrote down the name of the pizza company in his notepad so that he could interview the employees and verify the delivery time.
The forensic team buzzed about the room dusting for fingerprints. Men and women in white latex gloves snapped photos while collecting and methodically cataloguing evidence.
Darryl blocked out the hum of voices as he allowed his gaze to wash over the scene again. He had already seen all there was to see but a second look didn’t hurt, and he memorised the scene so that he could recall it later.
Blood and brain matter had splattered against the furthest wall, indicating that both victims had been standing at the time of death. The deep crimson had soaked into the beige carpet around the two bodies. Each body had three bullet wounds—one in the head, two in the chest, execution style.
Donovan bent down, producing a pair of latex gloves from her pocket and expertly put them on as Doctor Eric Stone, the LAC’s coroner, arrived with his liver thermometer.
“Large calibre weapon. A forty-five would be my guess, judging by the damage,” Doctor Stone told them as he knelt down beside one body.
Donovan waited until Stone nodded his permission before searching through the pockets of the closest victim. She found a wallet, flipped it open, and slid out the licence. “Carl Benedict.”
Darryl did the same for the other man. “Kevin Butler.”
A young uniformed officer stopped beside Donovan and cleared his throat, trying hard to look her in the eyes. It was common knowledge to all uniforms that Amelia Donovan was a hard woman. If you stuffed up in her presence, you were blacklisted on further assignments. Darryl figured she got some perverse pleasure out of scaring the green officers.
“Detective Donovan, a neighbour from across the road witnessed a car leaving this address at about midnight last night,” the officer said.
Amelia glanced at the young man, her gaze hard. The young rookie sweated nervously and shifted on his feet under her scrutiny.
“Where’s the neighbour?”
The rookie turned and pointed to an older gentleman standing beside the sign-in officer at the front door.
“Over there. His name is Albert Carter.”
She nodded briskly. “Thanks.”
Darryl followed her as she made her way to the neighbour.
“You know you could give him a little more encouragement. A little ‘good work’ or ‘well done’ goes a long way,” he pointed out as he saw the rookie’s crestfallen face. “They may fear you but they also idolise you.”
She gave him a sidelong glance. “Why should I be the one to pat them on the back? That’s what they’ve got supervisors for.”
Darryl sighed loudly, his point lost on her. It wouldn’t kill her to acknowledge work that had been done well. She could easily make their day by remarking on their jobs. But she wouldn’t be Donovan if she did. Amelia Donovan had to do it the hard way. She saw no reason why others couldn’t do the same.
The neighbour, Albert Carter, looked at them as they drew near. His bushy eyebrows knitted together as he waited for his tale to be heard. His portly stomach strained at the buttons of his linen shirt and his hair had been well oiled and combed.
“Mr. Carter?” she asked.
Carter, who appeared to be in his late sixties, nodded. “Yes?”
“I’m Detective Donovan. This is Detective Hill,” she introduced, pointing first to herself then to Darryl.
“How do you do?” Carter asked politely.
“Better than these guys,” Donovan replied casually, but Darryl saw Carter pale at her comment. “Mr. Carter, I just want to ask you a few questions.”
She produced a notebook from her pocket. “At what time did you say you saw the vehicle speed away last night?”
“Around midnight. I’m on the neighbourhood watch committee, so it’s my job to record strange circumstances.”
She made some notes, her hand moving speedily across the page.
“And what made you think that was a strange circumstance?”
Carter raised an eyebrow. “The car skidded away. Like the person was in a real hurry.”
“You didn’t hear any gunshots or loud bangs?” Darryl asked. “A car backfiring maybe?”
Carter shook his head. “No. I thought it was strange, yes, but I had no idea illegal stuff went down in the house. The owner seemed nice enough. You know the type. Kept his garden clean, brought in his garbage bins. It came as a real shock to wake up to the police across the road and to hear that not just one person but multiple people had been murdered. My property value just went down.”
Donovan nodded as if she gave a damn about his property values.
“Did you happen to catch the make or model of the car?”
Carter’s dark eyes twinkled. “I did better than that.” He handed her a piece of paper. “I got the number on the licence plate.”
“Thank you, Mr. Carter.”
Darryl turned away from Carter and spoke to the nearest officer.
“Put a BOLO out on this vehicle.”
The officer nodded. “Yes, sir.” He relayed the request into the radio that rested on his shoulder.
Darryl turned back to his partner. “Gotta love nosey neighbours. They make our jobs so much easier.”
Donovan stared out at the picture perfect street with its green lawns and painted houses. The place resembled a cover for House and Gardens.
“Yeah, although I wouldn’t like to live in this neighbourhood, what with every move you make being scrutinised.”
“Got something to hide, Donovan?” he teased.
“Hardly.” She scoffed. “But I wouldn’t want some joker with no life telling me how many times a week I ‘entertained’ or if I forgot to mow my lawn this month.”
He agreed. There was little privacy to be had these days, let alone your neighbours keeping tabs on you. It was no way to live life, being inside a fishbowl—which was clearly the case for everyone on this street. However, no privacy was good for solving cases.
He and Donovan moved back to the crime scene, just as Stone finished zippering the last body bag closed.
“Give me a couple of hours and come see me. I should have some answers by then,” he told them.
He watched with interest as Donovan bent down to examine the tiny, almost invisible mark of white powder on the floor where the bodies had once been. It was clear the body had protected the powder after it had fallen.
“Looks like I found something.”
He kneeled beside her as she placed the powder into an evidence bag.
“Is that cocaine?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.
She shrugged one shoulder. “One way to find out.”
Darryl handed her a drug testing sachet and she deftly added a little of the powder into the clear plastic sachet and broke the vial inside the bag. The liquid inside turned a blue colour, indicating that the powder proved positive for drugs.
“Murder and cocaine. I’m guessing they were having themselves a party,” she said flippantly.
The mobile phone attached to her belt chirped from its perch beside her gun holster. She yanked it off and answered, listening to the voice on the other end. Once she had the information she needed, she pressed the disconnect button and faced him.
“They found the car. It’s downtown.”
He nodded. “Let’s go.”
“I’ll drive,” she said.
Darryl rolled his eyes and exhaled his breath heavily. “I hate it when you drive.”
Normally he had no issue letting his colleagues drive but Donovan was a mad woman behind the wheel of the car. She didn’t slow down for anything or anybody, usually weaving in and out of traffic at about ten kilometres an hour more than the sign dictated. He had witnessed a few near misses and one in particular that he wasn’t too proud to say scared the shit out of him. But he wasn’t about to argue with her. His lovely partner could get a bit touchy and his number one rule was to never piss off an armed woman.
He climbed into the passenger seat and secured his seatbelt as she started the car. “What’s wrong with my driving?”
Where should I start?
She suddenly grinned, changing her whole heart-shaped face. She was an attractive woman, not graceful, but she had a quality that certainly made every man give her a second look. Strong and fit, with mocha tanned skin, she kept her raven hair short and pulled back into a severe ponytail.
She never wore makeup, and never needed to, having the type of skin which looked good under any circumstances. Other than her obvious good looks and lithe body she was intelligent, hardworking, a damn good cop, and had the respect of her team.
“I thought you took tactical driving,” he complained.
“Twice,” she said.