Authors: Dave Warner
For Nicole, shelter in the storm.
In his bright blue windbreaker the boy was clearly visible to his father, who dawdled behind, allowing the little girl the opportunity to try to walk on her own. She would manage about five steps before tumbling, her round thighs cushioned by soft grass. The boy was lead scout up the steeply rising fairway that signalled the last stretch before turning home. Summer was losing its grasp, the air significantly cooler than even a week ago but still pleasant. After a day staring at a computer screen the father enjoyed this little pre-dinner ramble with his children across broad swards of park, over the little wooden bridge where the boy would run fast to avoid the troll hiding below, through the mini forest of slender trunks ideal for hide-and-seek. Refreshed by this exercise the trio would return home where, beneath a sub-strata of television news and the delightful smell of roast pork, his wife's demands for dirty shoes to be removed would ring in their ears. There would be baths, books read, some tears from the boy wanting to stay up late, a compromise offer to read a story which involved robots and the destruction of the planet, at first rejected, later begrudgingly accepted. After around twenty minutes the boy would grow sleepy, his eyes would shut, his blond hair fanning over the pillow. Mother and father would kiss him goodnight, retreat quietly to a glass of wine and perhaps a favoured television show or some music.
The father glanced up. The boy had disappeared from sight. The father was not concerned. It was a steep rise and anybody over the crest of the hill was momentarily absent from the view of those following. Even so, he called out the boy's name, yelling for him to wait. The girl, perhaps feeling she'd lost her father's attention tripped over a little too deliberately. She was giggling, golden curls framing her angelic face. After righting her once again her father
called for the boy to come back but when he did not appear at the top of the hill, the father scooped up the little girl, threw her over his shoulder and, much to her amusement, began jogging up the incline. He was still not worried, the only reason he was jogging was to entertain her. By the time he began to crest the rise however a scintilla of anxiety had worked its way into his pragmatic soul, for the boy was still invisible. Surely he had heard him?
He hit the top of the rise and immediately looked to the right, which was their route back. His heart cramped. There was nothing but a narrow strip of grass and widely spaced trees. Reflexively he threw to the left and relief swept through him. The boy stood twenty metres ahead looking at something on the ground. His father took three quick strides towards him and any mystery evaporated. It was obvious why he had not responded. His whole attention had been snared by a cute black cocker spaniel. The boy adored dogs and his father would have loved to give him one but the apartment block where they lived had rules about pets.
Now as he drew closer, however, the father saw something about the scene was not right. Tail down, fretting, torn between sitting and pacing, the whimpering spaniel was wearing a collar and lead. His son was not even looking at the dog. A man was prostrate, a quite large man with a shock of white hair. The father put down the girl without breaking stride. His first thought was that the man had collapsed. Even as he pulled his phone from his pocket he was regretting he had not signed up for one of those CPR courses. So often he had told himself it might be critical, the kids could somehow touch a live wire, it could be the difference between life and death, but the impetus always drifted away like smoke in the opposite direction.
Then he froze as if somebody had punched a pause button.
He was looking down at the man's face. It was clear he had not suffered a heart attack. An arrow bisected his throat, the fin somewhere under his chin, the arrowhead protruding through the back of his neck. There was no question about it, the man was dead.
Clang, clang, clang. There he was, that guy with the hammer, five fifty-five every morning. Had to be illegal. The sound of metal on metal carried any time but over water it echoed and bounced exponentially. Clement supposed he could put on some shorts, stagger down to the wharf, find the culprit, play the heavy. I'm Detective Inspector Daniel Clement and you're out of line, mate. By the time he did all that he would have to get ready for work anyway. Sure, it might discourage the guy in the future but what if the fellow kicked up, asked where Clement was living and happened to know by some chance that this apartment above the chandler's contravened the industrial zoning for the wharf?
Clement swung up and sat sideways on the mattress. He rubbed his face as if that might make the place tidier. Okay, it wasn't exactly what you wanted to wake up to but it could be worse: a bottle of white which had lasted three days; three longnecks which had lasted around ninety minutes last night, not so good. Already the air was thick and sticky, no breeze yet. Clement scooped up the empties and dumped them in a large green garbage bag. He walked to the window and stared out over the ocean, which always seemed greener here in the north-west. The place was small and devoid of luxury but it had a great view. He'd been lucky to find it, or maybe fate had handed it to him, a special token from one estranged husband to another. The chandler's marriage had broken down and he'd taken to sleeping in his office above the workshop. It already had a toilet, so one weekend the chandler had shoved in a kit bathroom and kitchen and made it his home. Unlike Clement, he had eventually patched up differences with his wife and moved back with her. Realising he had a potential earner in his bachelor quarters, he relocated the minimal office equipment downstairs and began renting the âapartment' for cash. Clement
found out about it by word of mouth and snapped it up. At night it was tranquil and isolated, but during the day it was like living inside an axle and totally inappropriate for a nine year old. Instead, for his weekends with Phoebe, Clement maintained a second property in Derby over two hundred k to the east. He loved Derby. It was open, untouched and unfashionable, and he'd found a gem of a property, a genuine stilt house looking north over mangroves, the famous Derby jetty visible in the distance. The loan to buy it wiped out any other lifestyle but what lifestyle did he desire anyway? He had a small runabout and Phoebe loved spending time with him on the water.
After dousing himself in the cold shower for all of two minutes, Clement dried himself and threw on his clothes. His system was to rotate shirts and pants, two of each, which gave him three days' wear before washing, four at a pinch. The place didn't have a machine so he handwashed in the basin or used the laundromat near the station.
A couple of months earlier, in the prime of his career as one of Perth's go-to Homicide cops, Dan Clement had brought down the cleaver and cut clean through to the bone, amputated his prospects, his professional standing, his minor celebrity even. Not that he ever wanted that part of it; the press conferences, the six p.m. news grabs, that wasn't him. He was no show pony but a smart, hardworking detective who had toiled a long time and sacrificed too much to get to the top of the heap.
And that really was the nub of it, the paradox, he thought you called it. You were good at something, you excelled, it was what you were meant to do with your life and you clawed your way to its peak losing pieces of yourself along the way, first small nips, then progressively larger chunks. There was no avoiding it, no best of both worlds. There you were, part of a crack team, clever colleagues, the latest in crime detection paid for by the trainloads of iron ore being shipped out from deserts to the north. You had pretty much a murder a week to put away. You had restaurants and bars and colleagues' patios where you could talk about the cases to the gentle click of an articulated sprinkler. You had honed yourself, you were elite. But, and here's the paradox, you discover that's not enough, that those things you had to discard were things you should have kept. Like a marriage. And no, you're not taking all the blame here but it's too late to apportion blame because it has happened and now, on the eve of your forty-first birthday, Marilyn's
heading back to her ancestral home with your daughter and you have a simple choice: stay and say goodbye, or keep close to the only thing you wouldn't dare screw up.
Clement had chosen the latter. So here he was counting flies in that desolate country near where the ore was shipped, working junior cases with rookie detectives or jaded colleagues who would rather drink beer and fish.
And no washing machine.
There was nothing to eat in the bar fridge except a block of cheese and an apple but as he had no bread, only crackers, he decided he'd leave the cheese for an evening meal. He took the apple and was halfway through it before he'd reached the bottom of the rickety external staircase at the foot of which was his car. He climbed in, put his hands on the wheel and sat there, already feeling stale. The day promised little. There was a domestic violence case going to trial tomorrow and he'd have to make sure there was nothing to let the bastard slip off. Apart from that it would be an array of minor dope charges and grog-induced assaults. He would have pushed to go north with Hagan and Lalor where there'd been some clan strife but this weekend he had Phoebe and he didn't want to risk cancelling.
Having delayed as long as he could, he turned over the engine and drove slowly out. Though it was Wednesday peakhour, there was hardly any traffic, not much more than when as a ten year old he'd ridden his pushbike around these streets with a playing card attached to the back wheel by a peg so it clattered, allowing him to imagine he was on a motorcycle. He switched on the police radio and caught Mal Gross, the desk sergeant, directing a car to a suspected break-in at the old abattoir. He was minutes away. The turn-off was dead ahead. Clement eased left. Of course he should have radioed Gross but then he'd be told there was no need for him. The approach, a pitted feeder road with low scrub either side, was not too different to how he remembered it thirty years ago. The smell which used to waft toward school on the inland breeze was there in his nostrils as if the long-dormant slaughterhouse were still operating, so real, so clear that Clement was forced to consider if the place had been reactivated. But by the time that thought had run, the smell was gone and he knew it was just memory, just a trick like those mornings when he woke and felt certain he heard Marilyn's soft breathing beside him.
The outline of the slaughterhouse showed up ahead, nothing
much more than a flat group of tin sheds. A police car was pulled up at a rusted perimeter fence, the uniforms clambering out. The dark-haired female constable he recognised as di Rivi. Jo? He'd only been there around nine weeks and his retention of names of those in the lower ranks was poor. The uniforms paused and watched his car pull in. He saw puzzlement, suspicion, then, when they identified him, a kind of vague fear that they must have done something wrong.