Authors: Nikki McWatters
Tags: #Fiction, #Psychological, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thrillers
‘Bad time to get caught out, you mean. This guy’s a sex symbol and he’s on the road travelling for half the year. You can bet this is not a one-off lapse of judgement. He’d be boning everything that throws itself at him. And you see how those kids dress at rock concerts? Like prostitutes.’ Osterloh was not mincing his words.
My partner is a hard bastard. He’s about as emotional as a multiplication table. He can investigate some truly disturbing cases and not lose sleep. On the other hand, I’m not as good at keeping as calm, tidy and patient in my work. The truth is sometimes it gets to me. So many kids, young women, old women, even young guys who have their lives disintegrate into a bog of misery all because of some arsehole’s sexual perversions. I’ve seen some bad, bad things and met some characters who belong in Hell. Never to be released.
‘So if he can get it on tap why lure these particular young ladies, drug ‘em and then have sex with one of them and when she fell unconscious, rape the other one?’ Osterloh repeated his earlier statement.
‘I don’t like that line of thought that goes to thinking that just because he didn’t have to rape, means that he didn’t. Mike Tyson. Fucking famous footballers…they don’t have to…you know…no-one
to rape,’ I tried to explain. ‘Rapists are not all lonely losers that can’t pull a root. You and I both know that!’
‘Thrills,’ I guess, Osterloh shrugged his heavy shoulders. ‘Upping the ante. Getting it too easily would become stale after a bit, I reckon?’ The man had a bullet neck sand ample jowls up around his lips so that he looked like a ruddy clown. ‘Not that I’d know,’ he wheezed.
‘Yeah when was the last time your old lady put out?’ I laughed.
‘Oh, in about 1998,’ my partner lobbed back.
I looked up and saw the timber chicken coop up ahead. I could see a dog sniffing about the fence, separating him from the chickens which pecked about, a mix of white and brown and the sound of their high-pitched clucks rose up to meet us. The dog was digging at the ground, tail wagging like the clappers.
‘Oh…shit, look, he’s got a kid with him. I hate that,’ I muttered.
It’s always messy and I end up feeling like the bad guy when I’ve got to approach a suspect accompanied by a child. The complainant has already approached this guy apparently and said her piece, so Bergin was going to know why we were there. That made it a little easier. I wouldn’t need to spell it out in front of his kid.
The guy looked up at us and his face literally fell apart. He stared at us like we represented the total devastation of his life and in so many ways we did. Even if the charges got dropped or he was found innocent, this shit sticks like superglue and you can’t scrape it off. Not ever. His marriage, his friendships, his career…all thrown away for a bit of pants-action when he’s high as a kite. Stupid moron.
The guy must have been exhausted from a long tour, high on endorphins, he has a line or so of cocaine and some booze and he’s got girls in his room dressed like street hookers and it gets out of hand. The girls don’t look like kids and they went willingly to his room. It’s not a popular view and not one I share with any of my colleagues. They’re very black and white on the issue of the age of consent. My sometimes grey attitude could get me sacked if I ever shared it aloud. But the way some of these girls get around…really….men are only human. It’s not the same as some bottom- feeding, boy-raping Catholic priest or some creep who sits at his computer all day haunting kiddie sites hunting for ten year old prey. I’m just saying…
‘Christopher John Bergin?’ I asked.
He nodded and had the good sense to send his daughter back inside.
‘Run those eggs back up to Mum hey, Olive? That’s a good girl.’
She was a pretty girl, just developing. Probably about thirteen or fourteen. That was going to really eat at this bloke’s wife. His daughter was only a few years short of the alleged victim of his sexual assault. That was gonna smart. That’s for sure.
‘You know why we are here? There has been an allegation of sexual misconduct with a child under the age of sixteen.’
‘It was consensual and I had no idea she was …that young,’ he stuttered.
‘Stop right there, Mr Bergin,’ Osterloh cautioned. ‘I need to let you know that you have the right to remain silent and the right to engage legal counsel…you know the drill.’
‘You’re arresting me?’ he stammered, the colour receding down under his t-shirt, leaving him as pale and cracked as my grandmother’s china. ‘Now? Like…taking me away?’
‘We need to apprehend you and take you to our Sydney station to make a formal statement. I suggest that you get your lawyer to meet us there. Do you have a lawyer?’
The man nodded. He certainly didn’t look much like a superstar. He was kind of lanky and hairy, he stunk of armpits and his clothes were covered in dirt and grime.
‘This hasn’t leaked to the press has it?’ he muttered, distractedly, like a shifty-eyed hobo.
‘Not that I’m aware of,’ I answered him but I felt I had to be honest and make him aware of how it would probably unfold. ‘I’ve got to level with you though Bergin. You’re a celebrity. You were the Australian of the Year a while back for your contribution to the music industry. It’s going to get out and my guess is that it won’t take real long either, so if you want to change into something …more suitable, we’ll wait. There might be cameras already.’
Osterloh snorted and frowned at me.
‘It’s Chris Bergin. He’s not going to run. Let the man put something half decent on.’ I went to bat for the bloke.
To be honest, I was keen to have a squizz inside his house. It looked pretty impressive from the outside and I wanted to be able to tell Karen all about it when I got home.
‘Have you told my wife?’ I could hear the pain and shame in his voice.
‘Nope. Not allowed. But we did tell her who we were and I don’t think that went down too well,’ I responded. ‘When’s your baby due?’
‘Four weeks,’ he mumbled. ‘Shit. It’s going to kill her.’
‘It always does,’ Osterloh said under his breath.
The wives or girlfriends and the mothers. They were the other victims of this sort of crime. It’s not just that little girl he stuck it to, however that came to be. Her family. Her friends. All up this business was more destructive sometimes than an outright murder. Then you had grieving and closure. Sex crimes hung around like a toxic fog for years. Years and years sometimes.
Inside, I was not surprised by the elegance. It was stylish and chic without being completely decadent. There were some nice homey, crafty touches like the Grange Hermitage bottle turned into a lamp.
The wife had changed out of her pyjamas and looked ill. She searched her husband’s eyes and asked us if they could have a moment alone.
‘He’s just changing clothes to accompany us to the city to help us with our enquiry,’ I smiled and nodded, trying to keep the damn thing as benign as possible. ‘You go with him upstairs, if you like and have a few words. But remember Mrs Bergin, it’s just an accusation at this stage.’
I didn’t want the poor woman to go into premature labour. That would be compounding this devastating fork in her life. The little girl looked at us curiously. She had an intelligent face.
‘What do you want to talk to my Dad about?’ she asked.
‘Olive!’ both her parents cautioned.
‘Be quick though please, Mr Bergin. It’s a two hour trip back and then we’ve got a long day ahead of us.’ I nodded at the musician.
The husband and wife disappeared toward the bedrooms upstairs and I smiled at the girl, hoping she was well-adjusted enough to cope with the nightmare that was about to explode around her. Would her love for her father be tested? Yes it would. Would it survive? Chances are that it wouldn’t and that was sad. But be it for what it was, the bottom line was…well..it was the line that he crossed when he unzipped his trousers. That was a line he crossed and if you do that enough, you get cocky and slack and when someone finally squeals, it’s all over Red Rover. It’s always a gamble when you sleep with a pretty strange girl. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off quite the way you hoped. Did he rape her? That’s what we needed to find out.
The man came out again, about five minutes later, still unshaven but wearing a crisp button-up white shirt and a pair of casual blue jeans. He had a lap-top bag strung over one shoulder and his wife was crying and sobbing beside him.
‘Sorry mate,’ I nodded at the bag. ‘There’s some fellows outside who are coming in to look around the place. They’ll want to look at that.’
He frowned and looked confused. His wife looked scared. They both looked shattered.
‘They’ve got a warrant. I’m sorry Mrs Bergin,’ I smiled but felt awful. ‘They’ll be very respectful and keep out of your way.’
‘Call Tim Murphy,’ the rock musician called back to his wife, his voice thin and stringy. ‘Tell him to meet me in the city. Clayton’s got the number.’
‘Where do I tell him to go?’ she sniffed, still shaking and obviously distraught.
‘Tell him to call the Sex Crimes Squad main number and they’ll let him know,’ I said, trying to sound light-hearted, but I caught the sudden shock on Bergin’s daughter’s face. Like someone just punched her in the head.
That look said it all. I walked out behind the other two and couldn’t look back at the two, the woman and the child, who had just had their lives ripped out from under them.
The press will undoubtedly drag out that tired old moniker
the silver fox
but frankly it’s getting very boring and ill-fitting. I’m fifty-seven this year and getting too old to be labelled a
inferring that I’m dashing or handsome. I’m craggy and cranky and haven’t had sex since my prostate operation three years ago. So much for being a sex symbol. I’d sooner wear the crown of the
old white polar bear
. Today I am feeling particularly knuckled and rheumatic.
When I’d gotten the call from Megan she was inconsolable and very confused. I tried to calm her down and let her know that it was probably a deranged fan with dollar signs in her eyes. But she said that Chris had apologised to her. He’d held her after his arrest and said he was deeply ashamed and sorry and that sounded like guilt to me and to her. I just hoped to hell he’d had the sense to take the police caution to heart and keep his mouth shut to the cops. He could sing all he wanted on stage but I really did not need my client to sing in the slammer. If he was guilty, it mattered little to me. I knew Chris. He was a good guy and he and the band had weathered a few legal stoushes over the years. Fame attracts allegations of misconduct all the time. It’s a job lot.
The charges at presentation appeared to be one count of rape and one count of sexual penetration of a child under sixteen. It had been alleged that Chris supplied the girl with illicit drugs but without any physical evidence there was no way they could charge him with that.
I was shown into the interview room and Chris looked up at me. I was certainly taken aback. He looked like a skinny Grizzly Adams and ten years older than he was. Beneath the bush he had the face of a drowned man.
‘Chris,’ I nodded.
‘Tim,’ he mumbled.
I slapped my briefcase on the laminated table between us, flicked it open and took out a yellow legal pad and my pen.
Sitting down, I looked back at the uniformed guard and made a hand movement to indicate that we needed coffee. The Sex Crimes division served decent coffee. My theory was that they tried to make their detainees as comfortable as possible so that they felt more predisposed to relax and open up.
‘White with one,’ I smiled and looked at Chris.
‘Black with two,’ he said softly.
The door closed and we were alone.
‘So let’s hear all about it Chris. Just tell me the truth and it doesn’t leave this room. I’m water-tight and can spin it into pure gold no matter how sooty…okay? I’m the Rumplestiltsken of criminal defence lawyers okay?’
Chris looked around and shifted nervously in his seat.
‘Don’t worry. This is an interview room and there are no hidden mirrors or bugs. We can talk freely.’
‘Oh fucking hell, Tim. Please tell me this is not happening,’ he groaned and rubbed his hirsute face. ‘I messed up, okay? I fucking messed up. After all these years. I’ve been totally faithful to Meg. Rock solid. And then these she-devils turn up with a cache of drugs…I did some coke okay? It had been a long tour. I don’t know where it came from and I had a few drinks and I’d been sick…the combination was brutal. It was a wake me up and I was so tired… so I took some coke…I know I’m an idiot. Next thing I know the blonde is on top of me in my hotel room with her goblin side-kick friend grinning voyeuristically from the sidelines.’
‘So you did have sexual intercourse with the complainant?’
‘No…I mean. I don’t know. The blonde isn’t the one that claims to be pregnant. It’s the other one. The fifteen year old.’
‘Well. Fifteen is better than thirteen and depending on how close she is to sixteen the Magistrate might view a case of consensual sex as acceptable. Maybe. So you had sex with the blonde, so what about the other one?’
I looked at the charge sheet the desk had handed over, scanning it quickly.
‘Elizabeth O’Neil and she’s three months off sixteen. That’s good. But she’s claiming you forced intercourse while her friend was out of the room and that she repeatedly asked you to stop.’
‘I don’t remember that. No,’ Chris looked at me with eyes brimming with desperation.
‘Do you remember having sex with her?’ I asked.
He shook his head, frowning, forcing himself to go back there and remember.
‘I was pretty out-of-it…it had been a long tour and I was just relieved to have it all over. Felt like letting my hair down and the coke just pushed me over the edge. I remember the girl, Libby or Elizabeth trying to give me a blow job. I tried to push her away. I’d finished with the blonde and I was feeling bad, man. I was out of it but feeling remorse and guilt. I didn’t want to do it again. But she started…well…going down on me again and I was just…well…I guess I just let her. I felt…like I said…paralysed.’