Read an Excerpt
An Easeful Death
By Felicity Young
Fremantle PressCopyright © 2007 Felicity Young,
All rights reserved.
The absence of sexual intercourse in a crime that is obviously sexually motivated will often indicate some form of sexual dysfunction in the offender.
James L De Vakey, The Pursuit of Evil: A textbook for law enforcement officers (PUV Press, Sydney, 2004)
The telephones were supposed to be the same model, but by now Stevie could recognise each by its own unique shrill. And her sleep-deprived brain was beginning to see the tones in various colours too. With each shriek a coloured streamer seemed to shoot itself into the air and tangle with the others already hanging in the thick fug of the incident room. The one-sided conversations added further texture and tone to this multicoloured net.
'You think it's your neighbour ...'
'Is that a T for Tom or a P for Peter?'
'You've seem him do what with the garden hose?'
'Serious Crime Squad, DS Angus Wong speaking ...'
'If you can give me your address, Ma'am, I'll send a uniformed officer over.'
But the net was no tighter around the offender than it had been two days ago.
Stevie's phone had been silent for all of three minutes. She rubbed her forehead and, taking advantage of the lull, began to transcribe the scrawl of her latest interview. About to rewrite a sentence, she pressed the pencil to her notebook.
A sudden crash made the pencil point snap on the page.
Wayne Pickering rolled his eyes at Barry Snow and placed a hairy hand over his receiver. 'Here we go again. Better call the cleaner, Barry.'
Barry pulled a frog face, his protruding ears following his mouth downwards. Stevie wondered why a man with ears like that would choose to shave off all his hair.
'I'm surprised there's anything left in there to break,' Barry said.
The stream of expletives seeping through the porous office walls became a torrent. Angus Wong kicked Stevie under the desk, indicating the inspector's office with a jerk of his blue-black head.
She set her mouth into a straight line and didn't move.
'Go on, make yourself useful,' Wayne said as he put the phone down and smoothed a long feathery sideburn. Today he wore his wide-lapelled bottle-green suit and zebra- print shirt; Stevie could still see the black and white stripes when she closed her eyes. They added a crackle of static to the web of sound.
'You have such a soothing effect on him,' Wayne added.
She reached into her bag for her smokes, met his eyes and lit up. After a luxurious inhalation she blew out, enveloping him in a grey cloud.
'Put it out, Stevie,' Angus said without expression. He didn't give a hoot about smoking in the incident room, but it was in the book, so he enforced it.
Young Barry Snow grinned a monkey grin. She ground out her cigarette and mouthed 'fuck off' to him.
'Go check on Monty,' Angus said.
Stevie swallowed her sigh of resignation, stood up and pulled at the legs of her jeans to dislodge the bunch of seams knotted at her crotch. The inspector's door was ajar. She pushed it open and stood in the doorway for a moment, watching him.
Monty was standing with his back to her, hands on his hips, gazing out of the sixth-floor window. He was looking at the aerial acrobatics of a red leaf caught in the updraft of a wind tunnel, rising and falling like the flicker of an igniting flame.
He turned when he heard the click of the closing door. 'Watch the glass,' he said. He closed his eyes and let out his breath, his complexion fading from red brick to jarrah pink in the time it took to inhale again.
Stevie managed to pull her features into an expression of cool severity not lost on Monty. He slapped at his thighs, bent down and started tossing the bigger chunks of glass into the rubbish bin.
She took a leaflet from his desk and scraped the smaller shards into a tidy pile. 'Barry's called the cleaner. This'll need vacuuming,' she said at last.
Monty made an indifferent grunting sound.
After some more silent scraping she said, 'You going to tell me what this is about?'
'I'm surprised you need to ask.' He tossed a piece of glass into the bin, straightened and jabbed his fingers into his rust-coloured hair.
'The super?' she asked.
'He's piked out of the press conference last minute; knows he's in for another roasting and handed it over to me.' Monty wagged his head from side to side, mimicking their superintendent. 'You always handle the press so wonderfully, Monty, in the palms of your hands. Just tell them the bare essentials, tell them we have some leads, that we expect to be laying charges within the next twenty-four hours.'
'But that's bullshit!'
'Of course it's bullshit, which is exactly how the Kings Park murders were handled.' Monty flung a hand towards the super's office, two floors above. 'His excuse is that he's got that Christmas in July dinner with his politician buddies. The bottom line is he's terrified of the press and wants me to do his dirty work for him.'
'Let's face it though, Monty, he is good at schmoozing the pollies.'
'I know, he's a natural brownnose. I guess he does have some talents.'
Stevie looked her inspector up and down, unable to hide the smile she felt tugging at the corners of her mouth. 'Well, you can't go to the press conference looking like that,' she said, indicating his smudged tie and the crumpled shirt he'd been wearing for two days.
Monty glanced down at his clothes; his physical appearance wasn't one of his priorities. But one of the perks of belonging to an elite team like the SCS was the luxurious appointments of the inspector's office: on the back of his private bathroom door Stevie found a hook laden with dry cleaning. She thrust a plastic-covered bundle into his arms and turned to leave.
'Stevie wait, there's something else.' Monty put the bundle of clothes on his desk, yanked at his tie.
She knew what was coming and her heart dropped. She'd missed putting her daughter to bed for the last two nights; it was already seven — only half an hour until bedtime.
Monty knew it too. He spoke without looking at her, too busy ripping at the flimsy membrane covering his clean shirt.
'You're going to have to go to the airport and pick up De Vakey. His plane comes in at eight. I'll never get there on time now with this fucking press conference.' He stopped what he was doing and scrawled out the flight details for her.
Now it was her turn to feel wound up. 'Jesus Monty, can't you ask someone else? I haven't seen Izzy for two days!' She didn't like the whine she heard in her voice but it was too late to take it back now.
He raised his eyebrows and held up one finger.
Don't push it, she said to herself, you knew the hours when you took the job.
Her intentions on holding back, however, proved futile. 'I've never been in favour of bringing De Vakey in. Baggly's against it and he could make things very difficult for you. It's a big career risk.'
'Just let me worry about my career, okay?' Monty's frown suggested this was the end of the topic. He handed her the sticky yellow slip and turned away in a quaint gesture of propriety. A shiver rippled the muscles of his broad back when the crisp fabric of the shirt brushed his skin.
'Izzy's happy enough with your mother, isn't she?' He turned back to Stevie as he did up the buttons.
'She's taught her the ABC song.'
'That's great.' The lines at the sides of his eyes crinkled like a geisha's fan.
'And how is Dot?'
'Batty as ever. Driving me crazy.'
'I think she's coping remarkably well. It can't be a year since your dad died.'
'Eighteen months. I think she has TAFE tonight.' The lie slipped out without any premeditated help. 'She's just enrolled in a herbalist class. I don't know who else I can get to babysit.'
'You'll find someone. What about Justin Baggly? I thought he was good with her.'
Stevie let out a sigh; she could see Monty wouldn't be budged. When he started fumbling with his belt buckle she decided it was time to leave. She opened the door just as the cleaner raised his hand to knock. His sudden appearance made her jump back a step. He was a strange-looking man, an albino who worked the night shift, sleeping during the day so he could hide from the sun.
'C'mon in, Martin,' Monty said, unfazed at being caught in his polka-dotted boxers.
Stevie pressed herself into the doorjamb and tried to squeeze past the cleaner without making any physical contact. She found the man repulsive, like one of those blind naked moles that live underground somewhere in Discovery Channel land. The sullen look he gave her in return suggested he was well aware of the distaste beneath her transparent smile. She shivered, ashamed of herself. Prejudice. God, she knew all about that. Sometimes she felt she'd written the department manual.
'Hey Martin,' Monty said. 'Did you hear the one about the nun and the bus driver?'
'Nope. Don't think so.'
She stepped over the vacuum cleaner and closed the office door behind her.
* * *
Stevie slicked her way down the rain-washed highway where the lights flickered like coloured stars. Lost in her own thoughts, it was only when she had to slam the brakes to avoid the sudden erratic lane change of a mini-minor, that she found herself jolted back to the present. With alarm she realised she had no memory of leaving Central, of the dodgem dash across the roundabout, the Causeway, or even noticing Gustav the one-armed fisherman on the bridge. Until now she hadn't even been aware of the press conference on the radio.
She reached for the volume button and turned up the sound. Monty began with the standard plea to the public for help. The sound of his voice was a welcome distraction from the unsettling thoughts that had been dogging her for the last few days. She pictured him standing at the podium in the conference room, reading from his official statement. In one of his better suits he would look dapper and imposing and maybe even intimidating to some.
Now it was question time and his voice boomed. She visualised him holding his hands up to silence the barrage. 'I'll answer what I can of your questions now, one at a time ...' The mike amplified the coughs, the whispers, the jostling. 'Yes, you in the red coat.'
In her head Stevie saw a glowing beacon among the sea of bodies.
'Can you tell us anything more about the victim, her family, where she lived?' a woman's voice asked.
'Miss Royce lived with her family in Kensington. I'm hoping the press will have the courtesy to leave them alone for now. If they wish to give any statements, I'm sure they will in their own good time.'
'Michelle Birkby, the West.'
A beat. 'Yes Michelle?'
Stevie's grip tightened on the steering wheel.
'Inspector McGuire,' the journalist said, 'newspaper polls have shown a significant drop in the public's confidence in the police service, particularly after the failure to catch the Kings Park killer who terrorised the West Perth area nearly four years ago. Have the police learned from past mistakes? Will they adopt a different approach to catching this killer?'
Neither Stevie nor Monty had been with the SCS during the KP murders. She had been stationed at a quiet outer suburban police station, busy swotting for her sergeant's exams, and Monty had been taking a course in England. He had not returned to head the SCS until the case had been closed for some time, although he had experienced some of the aftershock and heard the rumours. One of the major problems, he'd explained to her later, was the ridiculous isolationist policy the top brass had chosen to pursue by refusing to accept the offer of interstate aid. This time, desperate to repair a damaged reputation, they'd reluctantly allowed him to call in De Vakey.
'Because of the bizarre nature of this crime, we're enlisting the aid of a nationally renowned criminal profiler,' Monty said.
'So, Inspector.' Stevie could hear the smugness in Michelle's voice, visualise her condescending smile. 'You admit the Kings Park murder investigation was a bungle from start to finish?'
'I admit no such thing, Ms Birkby. The case of the Kings Park killer is not, I believe, the subject of this press conference.'
A question from someone else: 'Do you have the cause of Linda Royce's death yet, Inspector McGuire?'
Monty's sigh of relief was audible. 'We're still waiting for the last of the autopsy test results to come through.'
'Do you have any suspects?'
'Several people are helping us with our enquiries, but no charges have been laid yet.'
'Had the victim been sexually assaulted?'
'I'm afraid I can't comment on that at the moment.'
'Apparently, the Kings Park murder victims were sexually assaulted. Is there any chance that this latest death could be the work of the same killer?' It was Michelle Birkby again.
'The chief KP murder suspect was killed in a car accident.'
'So we can assume ...?'
'It would be naive to assume anything at this stage in the investigation, Ms Birkby.'
For a moment Stevie forgot her own troubles. She laughed aloud as she turned off the highway and onto the airport road.
* * *
Tottering through the car park in her skirt suit and high heels, Stevie used her umbrella for balance as well as shelter. After lecturing Monty on his appearance, she could hardly go dressed in jeans and a bomber jacket to pick up a dignitary such as De Vakey.
The press conference had been an amusing diversion, but the icy sting of rain on her calves quickly brought her back to the here and now. She should be at home now, tucking Izzy into bed. Then, once her daughter was asleep, she should be curling up in front of a favourite DVD. Most of her movies were oldies, but there was a special section of recent romantic comedies devoted to George Clooney. She kept them in a banana box on top of the wardrobe, away from prying eyes, like a teenage boy with his hidden collection of porn.
But there would be no movies tonight and it would be Nanna reading the bedtime story. They'd be sitting in the double bed cuddled together under the heirloom patchwork, the warm air tinged with baby powder and strawberry shampoo. After three nights in her grandmother's bed, how was Izzy ever going to settle back into her own?
And this was the least of her problems. What if Tye called, or worse, went around? Would her mother be able to handle the scumbag? How would Izzy react? The unpredictable appearance of Izzy's father always upset the child.
Stevie's wet ankles chafed against her leather shoes as she walked, her high heels slamming into the concrete as if they might crack it. Muscles and tendons tightened, her heart raced, and she found herself glancing around to make sure she wasn't being followed. She hated having to get tarted up, she hated the shoes; she couldn't move fast enough in them.
She couldn't run.
A car reversed from a parking bay and behind her a car boot slammed. She passed a line of people queuing at the ticket machine and no one gave her a second glance. She forced herself to take slow, deep breaths until the feeling of panic began to subside.
Inside the terminal doors she shook out her umbrella and tucked it under her arm, grateful to be out of the weather and the sickening smell of jet fuel. She looked at the overhead monitor. The plane hadn't arrived yet. She had ten minutes to collect her thoughts, stop thinking about the mess she'd made of her personal life and concentrate on where she was and what she was doing now.
Looking past the crowds of travel-weary people jostling around the luggage carousels, she spotted a counter at the terminal's far end. It would be a handy thing to lean on, she thought as she navigated her way towards it. After producing a strip of card she'd kept dry under her suit jacket, she began to search her bag for the marker pen she'd pinched from Wayne's desk.
Her bag was a bottomless pit tonight, the pen buried beneath all the debris. She began to unpack her things to find it. Her purse went next to her ID wallet, latex gloves, handcuffs and pepper spray. Her keys, a mouse- nest of tissues and an old dummy for emergencies joined the pile, then a ragged article about George Clooney torn slyly from a hairdresser's mag. At last she found the pen — things were looking up, it hadn't leaked.
'Yessss,' she hissed under her breath and tossed the junk back into her bag. She began to write his name on the card.
'Are you looking for me?' The smooth voice, the sudden hand on her shoulder, made her start.
'Sorry to startle you, but you looked as if you were about to write my name — James De Vakey.'
She turned to see a tall, slender man in a cashmere overcoat. The smug smile he offered suggested he'd delighted in catching her off guard.
'Mr De Vakey? I'm sorry, I didn't think your plane had arrived yet,' she said, making a quick recovery.
'They offered me an earlier flight. I've been in about half an hour. I was in the bar watching the press conference on the news.'
Stevie took his hand and introduced herself. His grip was firm and cool, the skin of his hands as soft as his wool coat. His grey eyes scanned her body with disconcerting scrutiny. Men often gave her the eye, despite her efforts to the contrary, and she found herself fighting the urge to turn away.
He said, 'I'm sorry to have to drag you out to the airport on such a foul night. I'm sure you'd far rather be at home with your daughter.'
She gaped at him for several seconds before managing to say, 'My daughter? How ...?'
He nodded towards the pink dummy still pinched between her thumb and forefinger. 'Just an educated guess, DS Hooper, and I can see by your reaction that I'm correct.'
Excerpted from An Easeful Death by Felicity Young. Copyright © 2007 Felicity Young,. Excerpted by permission of Fremantle Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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