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00.07 AM. TENACIOUS RAIN, frenetic wind. An old Holden sweeps along Venus High Street beneath the glare of blue streetlight and yellow stars. It swerves into Austin Crescent, veers along a curb, almost climbs into it and stops with a jerk. DCI Matt East turns towards a small man curled into himself on the passenger seat.
"Get out, Professor," he says.
Grey hairs stir. A whine escapes Prof Alistair Patterson's thoughts. His head turns slowly away from the scratch on the window awash with downpour sheets, an aged chink level with his nose. Now, he focuses straight at the wiper. It beats to and fro like a stable heartbeat, brushing rain from the windscreen in a clean arc.
Matt leans across and opens the door. "Go home, Professor."
Boarded up eyes glance at him, electric blue eyes that have lost their gleam.
"Why?" Alistair asks. His voice is dead.
Matt shrugs. He studies the man beside him who wears a stillness of shock and surprise. A man whose life is swirling in a blur since Banjo's death. Banjo. Nobel Prize Nominee now dead.
His face goes soft from the harshness it wore. "I don't know why, really," he says. "Your confession that Banjo stole your brain research and took credit for it gives you motive for killing. It looks like a suicide; I believe it is murder. One minute you have a fight in his office, the next you go home, and he jumps through a glass window from the 31st floor. Your fingers - and blood - are all over the crime scene. I don't know how you will eat your way out of this shell, professor. Or why I am letting you go."
"You picked me up for questioning. Now you throw me out before weget to the station? Is it the evidence? Don't you have enough?"
"You must badly want to be arrested. Please get out of my car. Your wife is waiting for you."
Matt's green eyes follow the professor's stumbles to a walled compound by the roadside. Tremulous hands enter a security code through spits of rain and Alistair lets himself in through a small black gate.
00.13. Matt sits in silence inside the Holden. The windscreen wiper beats a hammer in his thoughts. He ponders the CCTV camera he saw only minutes ago outside the east wing of the hospital. A little blinker above the library, angled towards Banjo's window, the one he supposedly jumped from. How the hell? he wonders. When he and SOCOs cleaned up the crime scene yesterday morning, how the hell did he miss that?
00.17. Matt secures confirmation from 24-hour call out that an Evidential Services team will retrieve the CCTV tape from Royal King Albert Hospital.
"First thing tomorrow morning," the night shift supervisor says. "We have to secure authorization first."
"How long will it take to process the data?" Matt asks.
"How long after tape seizure? Who knows? Depends on the length of the reel, the quality of capture and how soon Forensics can enhance processed images. They have to be clear enough to stand in court."
"Roughly how long?"
"24 hours. Maybe 48. For you."
"Thanks, mate. Owe you one."
00.21. Shimmers of rain slide down the window like silver flecks. Matt phones Pathology. No answer. Gets Tara Caine on her mobile.
"It's me," he says.
"Hiya!" she says cheerfully.
"You're not in the office."
"I'm a senior pathologist," she says. "Not a caretaker. Is this an official call?"
"Do you want it to be official?"
"I want it any way, Matt." No reference, he knows, to the call. "Are you tired of breaking my heart and are now taking up my drink offer?" she confirms his thought.
"How about The Old Sailor?" he says. "They open late."
"How about my place?"
00.25. The moon's glow softens. The wind's whistle sharpens. Rain has petered to a halt. Matt sits pensive in the car, brooding at the silence of dusk. A tottering drunk in muddied jeans and waist length jacket jumps an invisible line on the road. One wrong foot, and he splashes on sogged ground.
Matt turns the ignition key and backs away from the curb.
01.03. Tara's place off Deuce Road. Matt remembers it. Dropped her home years ago. He parks outside a well-clipped olive hedge. A loose chain slips easily off a steel gate and falls into his hand. The gate is heavy. Needs a firm push before it gives.
The compound brims with light. He lopes past a purple pond spangled with starlight, past leaves tipped velvet with dusk and violet bell-flowers with pink blush. Tara's gray Outlander 4WD stands neat on the driveway. Pooh bear and Tigger wave from the back of the car.
Matt picks an acorn under an umbrella tree dazzled by floodlights. A mahogany door opens before he presses the security intercom.
"Hey dumpling," Tara says. Tosses red, lustrous hair, and kisses him full on the lips. She smells of peaches and passion. Her hair is freshly washed.
"For you," he says, and gives her the acorn.
Copyright © 2006 Eugen M. Bacon