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Allegations, Money, and Murder. Detective Sergeant Stella Bruno investigates the apparent gangland murder of motor mechanic Ken Draper and his partner, Samantha Atwood. Her investigation is complicated by Samantha’s recent allegations of sexual harassment by a former employer, who does not appear to have any gangland connections. Stella discovers it’s having friends in the right places that counts in this one. If you enjoy mystery and intrigue, you'll love Fallout, book six in Peter Mulraney's Stella Bruno Investigates series of quick reads.
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This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events, other than those clearly in the public domain, are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2018 by Peter Mulraney
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover image: Mike Wilson | Unsplash.com
Created with Vellum
A note from Peter
Also by Peter Mulraney
A few Australian terms:
ABC - Australian Broadcasting Commission
RAA - Royal Automobile Association
RAA van - vehicle used to deliver the RAA emergency roadside assistance service provided by contracted motor mechanics throughout South Australia.
Reds - Adelaide United Football Club
An abbreviation you might not be familiar with:
SWIFT codes - Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications identifiers. Also known as BIC (Bank Identifier Codes) or IBAN (International Bank Account Numbers) used to facilitate the movement of money across international borders.
Doug Easton slipped Friday morning’s paper from its plastic wrapping and read the headline covering half the space on the front page: Bookkeeper Alleges Sexual Harassment by Prominent Adelaide Accountant.
So, this is how she’s going to play, thought Doug, as he looked at the photograph of himself staring back at him and tried to remember where it had been taken. He scanned the article to see what nonsense she had invented to start applying pressure, and wondered how long it would be before she made her next demand for payment. He presumed he’d have a few days while she enjoyed the media spotlight, and the feeling of power his public shaming would give her, before she moved in for the kill.
He put the paper aside and finished his breakfast, before spending half an hour drafting the media release he’d use to deny the allegations and threaten to sue both the editor and the woman for defamation, if the allegations were not retracted.
At nine o’clock, Doug backed his Mercedes out of the garage into the media scrum waiting for him outside his house. He stopped the car and hit the button to slide down the window. But when he turned to address them and saw the wall of microphones and cameras converging on him, he decided it might be a better idea to get out of the car and make the most of his moment in front of the cameras.
‘Mr Easton! Do you have anything to say about these allegations?’
‘Mr Easton! Are they true?’
Doug held up his hand. ‘For the record, these allegations are nothing but lies. I have never acted inappropriately with any woman employed by my firm. Never! If these preposterous allegations are not withdrawn immediately, I will be suing the paper and this scurrilous woman.’
‘Is it true the woman named in the article worked for you?’
Doug turned towards the young woman who had shouted the question. ‘There was a woman by that name who worked for my firm more that twenty years ago. Yes, that’s true. But I had nothing but a professional relationship with her. I certainly did not make any sexual advances on her!’
‘Was she fired?’
Doug shook his head. ‘If my memory serves me correctly, she resigned when she decided to start a family.’
‘Why would she make these allegations, if they’re not true?’
‘You best ask her that question. I have no idea.’ Doug smiled. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, I have appointments in the city.’
Doug got into the Mercedes, drove slowly through the reporters and headed for his office, wondering how he was going to handle the fallout from the story in the paper when he got there.
He knew he’d gone a bit too far with some of the women that had worked for him, and he was aware of the rumours circulating among his partners about his behaviour, but no-one had confronted him. And, he’d been extra careful since he’d paid the last one for her silence. He smiled, as he reminded himself she’d signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of the settlement.
Although he was aware the allegations reported in the morning’s paper weren’t really about his sexual misconduct, he hoped his accuser’s bravado wouldn’t encourage any of the others to come forward and air their grievances before his lawyer could contain the situation.
Despite being worried about how his partners might react to the story, what really concerned Doug was the knowledge that the woman behind the story in the morning’s paper was threatening to ruin him, if he didn’t agree to give her a million dollars, and she’d called his bluff in a very public fashion.
Doug pulled into the car park of the Burnside Village, where he spent a few minutes watching people scurry from their cars into the shops to spend their money, as he gathered his thoughts.
He realized they’d have to stop her before she took the next step, if he was going to enjoy his much-anticipated retirement and keep himself and his client out of prison.
Doug swore at his luck and cursed her timing. She’d already cost him half his fortune once, and he had no intention of giving her the money she wanted now. He was too close to reaching his goal.
He picked up his mobile phone from the console and scrolled through his list of contacts. When he found the one he wanted, he pushed the call button.
A little after seven thirty on Wednesday morning, Todd Draper pulled up outside Draper Motors in Elm Street, Hampstead Gardens, in the brightly marked RAA van he’d used overnight. He was surprised the gate was still locked, since in all the years he’d worked for his father, Ken Draper had never been late for work. Todd wondered where he was, and why he hadn’t heard from him if he was going to be late.
Todd fished his mobile phone out from under the papers in the console next to his seat and punched in his father’s number. The call went through to voicemail. He tried Sam’s number. She didn’t answer either. He knew something wasn’t quite right. His father was always up before six, and Sam was usually up before he left for work.
Todd climbed out of the van and unlocked the gate, then drove into the yard and opened up the workshop so the men could start work when they arrived.
Bruce showed up first.
‘You heard from Ken?’ said Todd.
‘Nah,’ said Bruce.
Todd tried his number again. No answer.
‘Something wrong?’ said Bruce.
‘They’re not answering their phones,’ said Todd.
‘Maybe he’s sick,’ said Bruce.
‘He would have called me,’ said Todd, feeling more than a little concerned. ‘Perhaps I’d better go around and see if everything is okay.’
‘I’ll get things started here,’ said Bruce.
Todd jumped back into the RAA van and drove around to the house his father shared with his girlfriend, and pulled into their driveway behind his father’s van. He climbed out of the van and rang the doorbell, expecting his father to come out full of excuses for being late and blaming Sam for keeping him in bed. Todd laughed to himself as he imagined his father trapped in bed by Sam, demanding sex first thing in the morning.
He rang the doorbell again. There was no response.
He went around the back and peered through the kitchen window, and wished he hadn’t.
Stella surveyed the street as Brian eased their car in behind the patrol car parked in front of 75 Dyott Street, Hampstead Gardens, and shut down the engine. Apart from the patrol car, there were four other vehicles Stella recognized parked in the street, including the coroner’s van used for collecting bodies. The neighbours were standing in their yards gawking and waiting to find out what had happened. Stella noticed some of them were being interviewed by Uniform as they stared at the house she and Brian had come to visit.
They climbed out of the car, donned their crime scene suits and approached the constable standing outside the front door of number seventy-five.
‘In the kitchen, Sergeant. Stay on the blue plastic.’
Stella and Brian followed the trail of blue plastic sheeting down the corridor from the front door to the kitchen at the rear of the house, where Dr Steve Wright, the police pathologist, was watching the forensic photographer capture the scene and the state of the bodies.
‘Morning, Steve,’ said Stella.
Steve stepped into the corridor to allow Stella a view of the crime scene.
‘Watch where you put your feet, Stella,’ said Steve.
The walls were splattered with blood. The body of a male slumped across the kitchen table in a pool of dark red blood that had spread across the table and dripped onto the floor, where the body of a female lay in a small sea of congealed blood in front of the wall oven. Both victims had gunshot wounds to the head.
‘Murder suicide?’ said Stella, before noticing both victims had multiple gunshot wounds.
‘Looks like murder to me,’ said Steve. ‘Besides, there’s no weapon.’
‘Not too long ago, by the look of it,’ said Brian, peering over Stella shoulder.
‘Some time in the last twelve hours,’ said Steve.
‘Any shell casings?’ said Stella.
‘No, but we might find a round or two during the autopsy. Looks like your killer was trigger happy,’ said Steve.
‘Could be a few slugs in the woodwork, Sergeant,’ said the photographer, pointing to the cupboards.
‘Do we know who these people are?’ said Stella.
‘Ken Draper and his partner, Samantha Atwood,’ said Steve. ‘Ken’s son found the bodies and identified them for us.’
‘Isn’t that the name of the woman whose story was in the paper last week?’ said Brian. ‘You know, that woman who accused her former boss of molesting her. Wasn’t her name Samantha Atwood?’
‘Something to look into, Brian, but it could be coincidental. This looks more like a gangland execution to me,’ said Stella. ‘I wonder what these people were mixed up in.’
Todd Draper was sitting at the table under the pergola at the back of the house, smoking. He looked up when Stella and Brian came out the back door of the house and walked towards him.
‘You okay to talk?’ said Stella.
‘Who are you?’ said Todd.
‘Detective Sergeant Bruno. This is my colleague, Detective Constable Rhodes,’ said Stella.
Todd blew smoke into the air.
‘I’m sorry for your loss, Todd, but we need to ask you a few questions,’ said Stella. ‘I hope you understand.’
Todd nodded. ‘Nobody deserves to get away with that.’
Stella felt sorry for him. He didn’t look much older than Josh, and the number of cigarette ends on the ground by his feet suggested he was probably still in shock.
‘When was the last time you saw your father alive?’ said Stella.
‘Knock off time last night.’
‘You work together?’ said Stella.
‘Yeah. Around the corner in Elm Street.’
‘What do you do?’ said Stella.
‘Motor mechanic,’ said Todd. ‘Draper Motors. It’s my dad’s business.’
‘What made you come here this morning?’ said Stella. ‘Do you always call in on your way to work?’
Todd shook his head. ‘I usually meet Dad at work. He’s always there to open up at seven thirty. He wasn’t there this morning, and he hadn’t called me to say he was sick or something. I couldn’t get either of them on the phone, so I came around to see what his problem was. I knew something had to be wrong. He’s never late for work.’
Stella waited while Todd fumbled with lighting another cigarette.
‘What did you notice when you got here?’ said Stella.
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