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Authors: Robert Sims

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Sex Crimes, #Social Science

The Shadow Maker

BOOK: The Shadow Maker
3.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
The Shadow Maker
Robert Sims
Sex Crimes, Mystery & Detective, General, Social Science, Fiction

A brutal predator is on the loose, targeting women and savagely attacking them. His first victim is found chained, blinded and hanging on to life by a thread. His next target isn't so 'lucky'. After a forced bondage session, her ears are cut off and she's left for dead.As the attacks become more frenzied, and the mutilations ever more vicious, the pressure on the Melbourne homicide squad reaches boiling point. Along with her colleagues, Detective Marita Van Hassel must muster all her profiling knowledge and investigative ingenuity to catch the killer before he strikes again. But first she must crack the killer's obsession with firelight and shadows . . .In this dazzling debut novel, Robert Sims takes us on a thrilling journey into the dark mind of a disturbing killer.

Robert Sims grew up in Melbourne, going straight from high school to a job with the
Herald & Weekly Times
in Flinders Street. This was to involve stints as a reporter at
The Sun
, 3DB radio, the
Sydney Morning Herald
and the
Papua New Guinea Post-Courier
. He took a career break from journalism to complete a degree in politics and philosophy. After that he spent more than 20 years in London working for Independent Radio News and ITN. While writing
The Shadow Maker
he did freelance radio work with the BBC. Robert and his wife and two young sons divide their time between London and Melbourne.

The Shadow Maker

Robert Sims

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

First published in 2007

Copyright (c) Robert Sims 2007

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.


an imprint of Allen & Unwin

83 Alexander Street

Crows Nest NSW 2065


Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100


(61 2) 9906 2218

mail: [email protected]


National Library of Australia

Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:

Sims, Robert, 1950- .

The shadow maker.

ISBN 978 1 74175 173 4 (pbk.).

I. Title.


Set in 12/14.5 pt Adobe Garamond Pro by Bookhouse, Sydney Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Some sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: prisoners in misery and irons

Book of Psalms

Philosophers have pointed out that hell exists in this world, not the next.

To observe the ranks of the damned we need only look at ourselves, for we comprise both the devils and the souls in torment.

Although this subtlety would have been lost on the woman facing a man across a cheap hotel room, she was about to experience her own version of it, for the man was there to engage in an act of inhuman depravity.

The room was furnished with no more than a double bed, a bedside table, a wardrobe and a wooden chair. There was no carpet on the floor and no curtain on the window, just a blind patting against the window sill, warped by more than a century of sun and rain. The only light came from the flickering flames in the fireplace - strange in such uncomfortably hot weather. Not that it bothered the woman. She wasn’t fazed by the man’s need to act out a fantasy, or, for that matter, by the mask, manacles and neck shackles he was placing on the bed. This encounter was part of the anonymous life she’d chosen by default - the series of mistakes that had led to this night and to this room. Her purpose was business, that was all, or so she thought as she removed her clothes. His tense attitude she put down to impatience.

When he put on the mask and took hold of her she pushed him away.

‘Back off,’ she told him. ‘Money first.’

He stood there, not responding, just staring at her.

‘I told you,’ she said. ‘Bondage is extra.’

Then he said something in a quiet voice, and she realised, with a sense of panic, that she’d just made the biggest mistake of her life.

She turned to grab the spray can in her handbag, but he hit her from behind with a glass ashtray from the mantelpiece. The blow stunned her, and she felt her ribs crunch against the metal base of the bed as she dropped to the floor.

The woman regained consciousness with a piercing headache. There were points of pain in her ribs, and a dull throbbing in her groin.

The room was in total darkness, but she could feel the breeze from an open window and hear the drone of cars zooming past at high speed. There were smells of drains and petrol fumes and also a strange odour of burnt flesh. Then she remembered. He’d cruised to a stop where she was standing on a corner by the casino and after he’d picked her up they’d driven to a hotel beside the freeway. That’s where she was lying now. But why was it so dark?

He hadn’t paid the extra money, she remembered both that and the way he’d come after her in the mask. He must have hit her from behind and she’d fallen against the bed, but afterwards - a blank. It wasn’t the first time she’d been caught. More than once she’d been left with cracked ribs, and by the feel of it that’s what she had again.

Along with the pain came the humiliation. Under her body she could feel the scattered contents of her handbag pressing into her skin - lipstick, tweezers, a broken perfume bottle, a piece of foil for inhaling crack. The spilt components of her life.

Groaning with the pain, she propped herself up against the bed, her chains clinking as she moved. So that’s how it was. He’d acted out his fantasy on her unconscious body. The weight of the manacles dragged on her wrists, and the metal shackles pressed down on her neck. But how much damage had he inflicted? After knocking her senseless he must have chained and raped her, and - what else?

She raised her hands nervously to her face and felt a gritty texture on her cheeks. She put her fingers to her nose and sniffed something like soot or ash. At first she thought her face had been disfigured then realised there were no wounds on her cheeks. So where did the burnt smell come from? Tentatively she moved her fingertips to her eye sockets. That’s when she started screaming.

The desk sergeant looked up as a young woman walked through the lobby of Melbourne’s police headquarters.

‘Good morning, Van Hassel,’ he said. Then he raised an eyebrow at her pale turquoise linen suit. ‘Very arresting,’ he added.

‘That sounds like a hint to slap the cuffs on you,’ she laughed.

‘I can think of worse ideas.’

She smiled and breezed past him to the lifts, looking cool and crisp in defiance of the heatwave. Despite her composure, she gave the impression of a woman who strove hard to win. Her face and physique were in keeping with the Australian ideal of athletic good looks, and her short blonde hair was swept back.

Detective Sergeant Marita Van Hassel - Rita to her friends - was arriving for another day of work with the Sexual Crimes Squad. As usual, she came with a sense of energy and purpose. It was more than a job to her, it was a daily challenge. It was also an opportunity, a career path.

She’d been assigned to Sex Crimes seven years ago, thanks to the recommendations of a senior officer at the Police Academy and her honours degree in psychology. It hadn’t taken long to impress the head of the squad, Detective Inspector Jack Loftus, with her intuitive grasp of crime scene analysis and an assertiveness that had to be channelled. He decided she was the type who needed fast-track development, and three years ago she’d been selected by the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence to train as a profiler. That meant a part-time return to studies in subjects like forensics, behavioural science and pathology. It also meant a three-month visit to the FBI Academy at Quantico in Virginia. She still had a year to go on the course, but once she was fully qualified she’d move up to the Intelligence Data Centre, perhaps with a post in the Behavioural Analysis Unit. Until then she was still a squad detective - albeit one who possessed profiling skills and a small, glass-panelled office to focus on them, as well as a desk in the squad room.

Once upstairs she cleared a space on her desk and started sorting through her case files. Her in-tray had accumulated a drift of paperwork and, with another court appearance pending, she wanted it out of the way. The mood around her was subdued. Officers sat at their work stations tapping at keyboards, shuffling through reports or mumbling their way through routine phone calls. Some were nursing hangovers. No doubt most of them wished they were somewhere else, preferably by a shaded pool outside. That said, the office was quarantined from the hot March day by tinted windows, air-conditioning and fluorescent strip lighting. Like so many other workplaces, its design was neat and functional, right down to the grey filing cabinets and the drab roller blinds.

When the paperwork was under control, Rita logged on and transferred a set of evidence notes from the server to the hard drive of her computer. There were no other pressing chores, so after checking her emails she strolled over to the coffee maker.

‘So how’s your love life, Rita?’ came a voice from behind her, as she got her espresso.

She turned to greet Erin Webster, a fellow detective sergeant with the squad.

‘Detached. How’s yours?’

‘With a two-year-old driving me nuts, non-existent, despite the holiday,’ said Erin. ‘Your ex is still your ex then?’

‘Definitely. And he’s not moving back in.’

‘Why not? I thought you two were good together.’

Rita thought for a moment. ‘Because he appeals to my worst impulses.’

Erin laughed. ‘But that’s what makes you interesting.’

Erin Webster was Rita’s closest friend inside the police force. As well as being a colleague she filled the role of confidante - a woman to share gossip and moral support in a male-dominated environment.

A fellow graduate from the Police Academy, Erin had employed a different work method to Rita to gain promotion, one that came naturally. Her looks helped. A boisterous competitor to the core, she had copper-coloured hair and a wholesome face with hazel eyes.

These she highlighted, though her freckles she tried to hide. They made her look
- not an image she wanted. Physical prowess and out-scoring the boys were what counted. And an appetite for fun. As a career strategy it had its rewards. Those who won her favours usually put in a good word for her.

‘I can see we’re due for another wine session,’ she said.

‘Thanks for the warning,’ joked Rita, before the shrill ring of her mobile broke into the conversation.

It was Detective Senior Sergeant Wayne Strickland. ‘This is a bad one,’ he said. ‘Put everything on hold. I want you down here as soon as possible.’

The sombre tone of his voice as he gave her the name and location of the hotel he was calling from told Rita it wasn’t a good time to ask questions. Swallowing her coffee, she quickly farewelled Erin, grabbed a notepad and ran downstairs to her car.

When Rita arrived at the crime scene the hotel parking lot was already taped off, and half a dozen squad cars and patrol vehicles were slanted at untidy angles out front. Uniformed officers stood around, eyeing the passers-by.

The Duke of York hotel was a classic Victorian building with high gables and turrets. Sandwiched between a corner garage and a used car dealer, the place had seen better days. The paintwork was peeling, slates were missing from the roof and there were weeds in the spouting. The nearby concrete pillars and graffiti of the freeway overpass completed the tawdry aspect.

Rita lifted the yellow tape, spoke to a uniformed officer at the entrance and hurried up the stairs. Walking down a passage on the second floor, she took in heavy wooden doors and framed lithographs mildewed with age. The place was redolent of cheap, anonymous vice.

The crime scene investigation was well underway when she reached it. Evidence techs were busy dusting for prints, measuring distances and bagging anything that might be relevant. In front of the fireplace, chalk circles were drawn around two small, ugly stains on the floor. A police photographer bent over them, camera flashing.

Beside them lay a poker. The rest of the fire irons stood in a rack on the hearth, where ashes and charred wood littered the grate. A dented fire screen had been moved to one side. There were more stains nearby, next to chains and manacles that hung from the metal bedstead. A red handbag sat on the bedside table, and underneath a chair was a pair of red stilettos. The contents of the handbag were strewn across the floor. A detective constable squatted on his haunches, taking notes.

BOOK: The Shadow Maker
3.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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