The Holiday - Peter Mulraney - ebook
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Murder. Kidnap. Redemption. Inspector Carl West investigates the murder of seventy-five-year old Kieran Moore and the disappearance of his ten-year old great-grandson, Toby, after the pair secretly steal away for a holiday weekend. If you like mystery mixed with intrigue, you'll love the twists and surprises in The Holiday, the second book in Peter Mulraney's Inspector West series.  

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The Holiday

Inspector West

Peter Mulraney

This is a work of fiction. All characters and events, other than those clearly in the public domain, are the products of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2014 Peter Mulraney

All rights reserved.This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review, without the written permission of the publisher.

ISBN: 978-0-9924269-6-5

Cover image: Tobias Hüske on Unsplash

Created with Vellum

To those whose hearts are touched by the innocence of children.

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

A note from Peter

Acknowledgments

Preview Holy Death

Also by Peter Mulraney

One

Helen woke with a start. She looked at the alarm clock. It was nearly ten o’clock. She had slept in. Terry would be arriving any minute to pick up Toby to take him to the game.

She slid out of bed and went to see if Toby was ready. He rarely slept in on Saturdays. It was the only day she let him watch TV in the morning. He was always excited whenever Terry took him to the football. They were football mad and their team was having a great season, so she fully expected to find him ready and waiting to go.

She wondered why Toby hadn’t come in to wake her.

There was no sign of him in the TV room. There were no dirty breakfast dishes on the table or in the sink. There was nobody in his bed. She was the only one in the house.

She looked into the backyard through the laundry window. There was no sign of him. She checked the back door. It was locked from the inside. She checked the front door. It wasn’t locked, but the security door was locked from the outside. Maybe Terry had come while she was asleep. She went into the kitchen, to see if they had left her a note on the white board attached to the side of the fridge - nothing.

Typical bloody Terry, she thought. She went back into her bedroom to fish her mobile phone out of her handbag.

Before she could call him, she heard Terry’s truck pull up in the driveway. When she opened the front door, he was standing there, alone.

‘Hi, Helen. Is Toby ready?’

‘I thought he was with you.’

Terry looked at her. He hadn’t expected that response.

‘How could he be with me? I only just got here.’

The colour drained from Helen’s face, as it dawned on her that she didn’t know where Toby was.

‘If he’s not with you, where is he?’

Terry managed to catch her, before she hit the tiles on the front veranda, and carried her inside. When she came out of the faint, he checked the house. He opened all the wardrobes that Toby could be hiding in and looked under the beds. He went out into the backyard and checked the small shed where the garden implements were stored. Toby was nowhere to be found.

When he returned to the living room, Helen told him that Toby’s backpack and red parka, which he had left next to the front door before he went to bed last night, were gone. It looked like he’d taken off on his own. They looked at each other in disbelief.

‘God, what if he’s run away?’

Helen felt warm tears running down her face.

Terry did something he hadn’t done in a long time. He hugged her. It felt so good she was reluctant to move out of his embrace.

‘We’ll find him,’ he said softly, as he stroked her back, like he used to do when she was upset over something. ‘There has to be a logical explanation.’

They called their parents to see if Toby had turned up at either of their houses. Toby spent a lot of time with his grandparents in the after school hours. While Terry asked the neighbours if they’d seen him leaving, Helen called the mothers of Toby’s group of school friends. No-one had seen him.

Terry called the police to report him missing and then they waited, not knowing what to expect. This was so unlike Toby. He was such a good kid. He had never given them any trouble.

‘What have we done to him?’ Helen asked.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Think about it, Terry. What do you think our separation, and all the fighting that went before it, has done to Toby?’

‘Hadn’t thought about that.’

‘You not thinking about things is half the problem.’

Terry reached over and held her hands. ‘Let’s not get into a fight?’

Helen glared at him. ‘What if they can’t find him?’

‘Don’t go there. He can’t have gone too far. He’s a ten-year old on foot. The police should be able to track him. They said they’d bring a dog.’

The twenty minutes it took the police to arrive seemed a lot longer to Helen and Terry. They were relieved when a patrol car pulled up in front of their house. Five minutes later a second patrol car with a police dog and its handler arrived. The dog was introduced to Toby’s scent and immediately appeared to pick up his trail at the front doorway of the house. The dog crossed the front lawn and stopped at the kerb in front of the house next door. The trail ended there.

The policeman handling the dog spoke to the sergeant interviewing Helen and Terry, and then returned the dog to the back of his patrol car.

‘Looks like your son probably got into a car in front of the house next door,’ said the sergeant.

‘What does that mean?’ asked Helen.

‘Means we have a bit of a problem, Mrs Moore. It looks like either your son has been taken or he had help.’

‘If he got into a car, he could be anywhere by now.’

‘Do you have a recent photo of Toby, Mrs Moore?’

‘The school photos came last week. I haven’t even paid for them yet.’

‘Where are they?’ asked Terry.

‘On the TV,’ said Helen.

Terry got up and went into the TV room off the kitchen. He wanted to have a look at the photos before they handed them over to the police. One of the downsides of living at his parents’ place, while he and Helen were sorting themselves out, was missing out on things like seeing Toby’s school photos when they arrived. He pulled out the large portrait of Toby and handed it to the sergeant.

‘Nice looking lad,’ said the sergeant.

‘What happens now?’ asked Terry.

‘Two things. First, we’ll distribute a copy of this photo to every patrol car in the State.’

‘How do you do that?’ asked Terry, thinking that could take forever.

‘We’ll scan this photo into the system in the car. It will appear on the screen of every other patrol car within seconds.’

The sergeant handed the photograph to her constable, who went out to the patrol car.

‘Okay, and the second thing?

‘When I get back to the station, I’ll release details to the media so we can get Toby’s picture and description out to the public. They’re our eyes and ears. Hopefully, they’ll help us locate him as soon as possible,’ said the sergeant.

‘And, what do we do?’ asked Helen.

‘Stay here in case he comes home. Give me a call if he does. If you come up with any ideas as to who he might have gone off with, call this number.’ The sergeant handed Terry a card and stood up to leave. ‘If you hear from anyone who claims to have taken him, call me. I’m sorry I can’t make it any easier for you. This is going to be tough until we find him or he comes home.’

As the police were leaving Helen’s parents arrived.

Kevin and Mary Sloan waited for the police car to leave before alighting from their silver Mercedes. The police car had been parked in Kevin’s favourite parking spot in front of the house. He liked to look out through the front window and see his Mercedes in the street.

Mary waited for him to check that the electronic locks had engaged, and then she followed him across the small patch of lawn to the front door. Terry opened the door before they could knock or ring the doorbell.

‘Any news?’ said Kevin.

‘No. They’ve only just left to start looking for him.’

‘Where’s Helen?’ asked Mary.

‘In the living room,’ said Terry, stepping back to allow them to enter.

Mary pushed past Terry. Kevin stood on the veranda. ‘What did the police have to say?’

‘They think he got into a car in front of next door.’

‘How’d they work that out?’

‘They used a dog. It followed Toby’s trail across the lawn and stopped at the kerb just over there, about a car’s length in front of where your car’s parked.’

‘Any sign of forced entry?’

‘No. It appears he let himself out the front door. Took his backpack with him. Helen thought he’d packed a few things for the football. Looks like he had other plans.’

‘So, he’s run away from home.’ Kevin took one last look at the car and entered the house.

Terry closed the door and followed Kevin into the living room. If Helen hadn’t been distressed before her mother arrived, she was now.

‘Hello, darling,’ said Kevin.

‘Hello, Dad,’ said Helen. ‘Thanks for coming.’

‘Terry, have you called Sean and Louise?’ said Mary.

‘I’ve talked to Dad. They’ll be here once Mum gets home from the hairdresser.’

Louise Moore visited her hairdresser and manicurist every Saturday morning. It was a treat she gave herself as a reward for surviving another week picking up after Sean. She’d given up trying to change his habits after thirty years of marriage, and now simply used his credit card to compensate herself. She reasoned that if Sean could throw good money away on the horses, he could afford to look after her in the style of her choice.

He’d only protested her credit card bill once. A month of no sex had been enough to persuade Sean it was better to pay the monthly account, regardless of the balance, without asking questions.

Mary glared at Terry. She blamed him for everything. He was so much like his father - irresponsible and self-centred. Mary regretted ever having supported Kevin, when he insisted Helen marry Terry, once they had discovered she was pregnant with Toby. Helen would have been better off as a single mother, in Mary’s opinion.

‘You realise this wouldn’t have happened if you two hadn’t separated,’ said Mary.

‘For God’s sake woman! Our grandson, their son, has run away from home and you want to blame them. Where’s your compassion woman?’ Kevin didn’t particularly like Terry either, but he didn’t see any point in inflaming an already strained relationship.

‘It’s okay, Kevin,’ said Terry. ‘She’s probably right. We love Toby. I’d do anything to have him walk back through that door.’

‘Would you grow up and accept some bloody responsibility as the boy’s father?’

Everyone in the room stopped as Mary’s outraged shout washed through them.

Terry looked at the floor. He knew Mary didn’t think much of him. She wasn’t all that good at hiding her feelings, especially when she was attacking him for what she regarded as his immature behaviour. She’d taken him to task several times over the years for his gambling and drinking. He looked at Helen. She was waiting for him to answer.

‘Yes, Mary, I’d be willing to do that.’

The fight had gone from Terry. The three weeks he had been apart from Helen had been the longest three weeks of his life. At first, it had been a relief to have a break from their constant quarrelling. Then it had turned into agony. He missed being with her so much it hurt.

He’d planned to ask Helen if they could get back together this weekend. He’d already admitted, to himself, that it was his fault they had been fighting, especially after his mother had opened up and shared what is was like living with his father.

Louise had even advised him to find another job. Spending all day with his father, she’d told him, would not help, if he wanted to change his habits. Terry didn’t know if he could do that, he enjoyed working with his father. They were a good team, and they were making good money. But he did know that for things to work out with Helen, he’d have to give up going to the pub and betting on the horses, for starters.

Helen smiled. She’d seen Terry beaten before, but there was something about his energy this time that suggested his perspective might have shifted. There was no fire in his response. She hoped he’d stay with her until Toby came back. She didn’t want to have to cope with this on her own.

‘What say we call a truce and have a coffee?’ said Kevin.

Before anyone could answer, the doorbell rang. Terry opened the door to his parents, Sean and Louise Moore.

The stink of cigarettes wafted in with them as they entered. Sean had obviously had a quick smoke between the car and the door. Louise did not allow smoking in her car. Sean could smoke in his work truck if he wanted to, but she drew the line at the front door of the house and inside the family car, the one she regarded as her own.

At the time of Toby’s birth, Louise and Helen had invested a lot of energy into persuading Terry to stop smoking. That was one victory that still gave Louise joy, and it had helped cement her relationship with Helen.

‘We think we might know who he’s with,’ said Louise, breezing into the room, looking radiant with shining hair, highly polished nails, and firm breasts bouncing under a tight pink sweater, thanks to her Berlei lift and shape bra.

That got everyone’s attention. Except for Kevin, who was momentarily distracted by the movement of Louise’s pink sweater.

‘Who?’ said Mary.

‘Kieran.’

‘What makes you think he’s gone off with Grandpa?’ said Terry, who was having a few problems believing Toby would go off with the grumpy old man he knew as his grandfather.

‘The two of them have spent a lot of time talking on Skype over the last couple of weeks. Kieran even dropped in to see Toby after school on Tuesday. First time I’d seen him since Martha died,’ said Louise. ‘They took the dog for a walk down to the park.’

‘Any way you can contact Kieran?’ said Kevin, now that he had tuned into the conversation.

‘I’ve been trying to get him on his mobile ever since Louise joined the dots,’ said Sean. ‘He’s either got it turned off or he’s out of range. I’ve left him a message to call me.’

‘Can’t you go around to his place?’ asked Helen.

‘We called by his place on the way here. He wasn’t home,’ said Sean.

‘His next door neighbour said he’d heard Kieran leaving around five thirty this morning,’ said Louise, who wasn’t shy about asking people for help.

‘Wouldn’t he have said something if he was taking Toby somewhere?’ asked Mary. ‘Surely, he wouldn’t kidnap his own great-grandson, would he?’

Kieran was a mystery to Kevin and Mary. They’d only met him briefly at a couple of family events, and he hadn’t been all that friendly. Mary had been repulsed by his tattoos. He was simply too taciturn for Kevin, who liked to engage people in conversation to see if they offered anything he could take advantage of, even if it was only a connection to someone else who might be interested in what he was selling.

‘I’m pretty sure Kieran wouldn’t see it as kidnapping,’ said Louise. ‘He probably thinks he’s helping these two get their act together, giving them something to think about apart from themselves. He’s a man of action. He does stuff and thinks about the consequences later.’

‘We’d better call the police, Terry. The sergeant said to call if we thought of anything,’ said Helen. ‘Where’d you put that card she gave you?’

Terry took out his wallet, extracted the card the police sergeant had given him, and went into the kitchen to use the telephone attached to the wall above the sink. After a couple of minutes, he came back into the lounge and asked his father to come and talk to the sergeant. They all listened as Sean told the police Kieran’s mobile phone number, described his van and told them where he lived.

‘He’s semi-retired. He’s got a little courier business, does runs between here and the Riverland, two or three times a week. Okay, I’ll ring as soon as I hear from him.’

Sean put the handset back into its cradle.

‘She said they’d look up the registration number and send out an alert,’ said Sean, as he rejoined the others in the living room.

‘I hope you’re right about him being with Grandpa,’ said Terry.

‘Let’s hold on to that thought until we hear otherwise,’ said Louise.

‘What do we do now?’ asked Helen.

‘Well, we can sit around and starve or we can do something about lunch,’ said Mary. ‘Louise, why don’t you and I go down to the shops and get some fresh rolls and cold meat?’

‘Sounds good to me,’ said Louise. ‘Do you have any cheese, Helen?’

‘You’d better get some of that, too,’ said Helen.

‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ said Kevin, who was dying for a coffee.

After an hour of polite conversation over lunch, Sean and Louise went home. Sean wanted to place some bets and Louise needed to have a lie down.

Shortly after, Kevin and Mary decided to go home as well, so that Kevin could prepare for the open inspections he had booked for Sunday.

‘Are you two going to be alright here together, or do you want me to stay?’ said Mary, as they were preparing to leave.

‘We’ve been together for eleven years without killing each other, Mum. I think you can go,’ said Helen, with a forced smile.

After her parents had gone, Helen turned to Terry. ‘What are you planning on doing?’

‘When today started, I was planning on asking if I could move back in with you and Toby. Now, I’m planning on staying.’

‘I’d hoped you’d say that. I don’t think I can do this on my own.’

They sat looking at each other across the kitchen table.

‘I’m sorry, Helen. I’d like to start over.’

‘Do you think we can?’

‘I had a really long talk with Mum last night, when Dad was at the trots,’ said Terry.

‘You mean you didn’t go with him?’

‘No. Mum asked me to stay home and talk things over with her. She pointed out a few home truths. Some stuff, in fact a lot of stuff, I didn’t want to hear.’

‘What sort of stuff?’

Helen was starting to understand where the change in Terry’s energy had come from. He’d been enlightened by his mother.

‘For starters, she told me I was an idiot for the way I’ve been treating you. Then she told me that Toby needed a father, not a big brother.’

‘How come it seems to mean something when she tells you? Isn’t that what I’ve been telling you?’

‘I don’t know. I couldn’t or didn’t want to hear it before. She made me look, really look, at the way my Dad treats her.’

‘And how is that?’

‘He treats her like a slave. He doesn’t even put his dirty undies in the washing. He just leaves them on the bathroom floor for her to pick up. He expects her to meet his needs, but he’s not interested in knowing what her needs are. She said I was the only reason she stayed with him when I was growing up.’

‘Why does she stay now?’

‘Now she stays for the money and what it lets her do. It’s become a game for her and Dad doesn’t know the half of it.’

Helen wondered whether Louise had found herself a lover. That might explain why she spent so much money on clothes and beauty products, and the way she flaunted her body. Must be nice not to have to work, even if your husband is a jerk.

‘So what does that mean for us?’

‘I don’t want to treat you the way he treats her.’

‘Do you have any idea what that might mean?’

Terry looked her in the eyes. ‘It means doing what your mother said - accepting my responsibilities as a husband and a father. It means being here for you, and not being in the pub. It means putting you and Toby first.’

‘Do you want to do that? Do you think you can do that?’

‘The other side of that coin is life without you. After the last few weeks, I don’t want to do that.’

‘Do you know how hard it is to break habits? We’re talking some seriously addictive habits here. Do you think you can give up the horses and the pub, and your mates?’

‘Ask Mum. I haven’t had a drink or placed a bet for a week.’

‘A week! I read somewhere the other day that it takes forty-two days to change a habit. You’ve got some way to go yet.’

Terry noticed she was smiling. ‘At least I’ve started.’

Helen reached across the table and held his hands. ‘I love you, Terry. Let’s start again. I don’t want to end up living like your parents, or mine.’

They were wrapped in the afterglow of their reconciliation when the telephone rang.

Two

Carl sat in his reading chair, soaking up the winter sunlight streaming through the floor-to -ceiling windows of the sitting room of his two bedroom apartment, enjoying a quiet read of the weekend paper with a glass of red.

He put the paper down and let his thoughts drift to wondering how he was going to resolve his Nina problem. She had gotten closer to him than any other woman since the end of his failed marriage. He’d had a series of short relationships to get over Virginia, who had divorced him and married an accountant, someone who kept more respectable hours than a policeman. The last time he’d seen her, a couple of years back, she had presented herself as a happily married woman with three children, and a big house in the eastern suburbs. He let Virginia fade into the background. She wasn’t his problem.

The previous afternoon, Chief Inspector Rankin, commander of the Major Crime Unit, had summoned Carl to his office to discuss, what the chief had referred to as, his ‘Nina problem’. The chief inspector had been supportive. He’d told Carl he was relieved to see that he had settled into a stable relationship, which was a good thing, according to the chief. The chief inspector was a man who believed in stable relationships. He’d been married to Evelyn for thirty years.

The chief had also pointed out to Carl the potential conflict of interest between his professional and personal relationships.

Carl had been a little taken aback. He’d thought that he and Nina had been discrete. However, it seemed the chief had his sources. Carl hoped they didn’t include Harry.

The upshot of the meeting was that, as of Monday, Detective Sergeant Nina Strong would be a member of DI Reid’s team. The chief had wished him well with his relationship with Nina, and added that he thought they suited each other.

When he broke the news to Nina, she requested a week’s leave and went to visit her parents, who had moved onto a small riverside property in the Riverland following her father’s retirement. She wanted time to process being found out. The chief inspector’s intervention meant a lot more people knew about them than they had believed. Their relationship being public knowledge within the force created a whole new dynamic she would have to live with.

Having heard the stories of his exploits in the years after his divorce, Nina wanted to know how committed Carl was to their relationship. She’d already had one bastard of a husband, a lawyer she had discovered screwing his secretary, in their matrimonial bed, after coming home early from an aborted night shift stake out. This time, she wanted someone she could trust, so she’d asked Carl to think about where he wanted the relationship to go.

In her mid-thirties, Nina also wanted to consider having children before it was too late, and she’d asked him if he was prepared for that, and given him until she returned to make up his mind.

Carl hadn’t thought about children since his divorce. What sort of father would he be? Could he be a father? Did he want to be a father? His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of his mobile phone.

‘DI West.’

‘Sorry to trouble you, Carl. I hope you haven’t had too many reds,’ the voice of Chief Inspector Rankin sounded in his ear.

‘Only the one, so far, Chief.’ If the Chief Inspector was calling him on a Saturday, when he was rostered off, something serious had happened. ‘I guess this isn’t a social call.’

‘Get your travel bag, Carl, and make sure you pack a toothbrush. I’m sending you on a little holiday up the river. Harry should be there to pick you up in about half an hour,’ said the Chief Inspector. ‘We have a body and what looks like a kidnapping.’

That sounded like standard fare to Carl. There had to be more to it than that.

‘Why can’t the local boys handle it?’

‘The body is Kieran Moore.’

‘Oh. And the kidnapping?’

‘Been listening to the radio or watching the TV today, Carl?’

‘No, I’ve been reading the paper.’

‘Yesterday’s news, Carl. We’ve been looking for Kieran’s great grandson since eleven o’clock this morning. Turns out he was with Kieran.’

‘And now he’s not.’

‘Good to see your head is clearing. Give me a call when you’ve spoken to the local boys.’ The Chief Inspector hung up.

Carl pulled the travel bag he kept prepared for these situations out of the closet in the hallway, collected his toiletries from the bathroom, and a suit from the wardrobe in his bedroom. By the time he was ready to leave, Detective Constable Harry Fuller was ringing his doorbell.

Carl settled in for the three hour drive from the city to the Riverland, a narrow zone of agricultural land and townships stretching along the river for three hundred kilometres, devoted to irrigation farming, mostly grapes and fruit trees, and tourism. He knew the place was dotted with riverfront shacks, hamlets, farmhouses and houseboats, because last winter he’d been one of the thousands of tourists attracted by the wild beauty of the region’s national parks and abundant wildlife.

The arid, sparsely populated area outside the irrigation zone was a place he’d had cause to visit in the line of duty on several, less enjoyable, occasions. All sorts of things and people had disappeared into that vast empty space, and its network of roads provided a place for people to meet and transact all sorts of business, unobserved. The Riverland itself was also a place where interested parties grew illicit crops in among the legal ones, far from the prying eyes of the police. The force was thin on the ground outside the city, which was precisely why he and Harry were heading into the interior.

‘Know anything about this Kieran Moore the Chief Inspector was so worked up about, Boss?’

‘The thing to keep in mind, Harry, is that the Chief and Kieran Moore go back a long way. I’m fairly sure that Kieran Moore was the Chief’s first big conviction, about thirty years ago, before I joined the force.’

‘So why is his death such a big deal?’

‘I guess we’ll find out in due course. What I do know is that the Chief and Kieran Moore came to some sort of understanding while Kieran was doing his time. The Chief used to visit him in prison. I know they had meetings over the years after Kieran had done his time. In fact, the Chief introduced me to Kieran in a pub not long after I made sergeant. Big bloke, arms covered in tattoos. Intimidating, even though he was probably in his fifties at the time.’

‘What was he done for?’

‘Something to do with drugs. He’d be well into his seventies by now, so I guess he would have lost some of the intimidating physique. Let me have a look at the file.’

Harry concentrated on driving through the afternoon traffic, while Carl logged onto the on-board computer to see what information they had been provided with to introduce them to the case. Not much as it turned out.

‘A conviction for dealing, the heavy stuff, back in the eighties. The leader of a local ring, and a Hells Angel to boot. Only the one conviction.’ Carl scrolled through several screens. ‘Going by his date of birth, he would have turned seventy-five this year.’

‘Old enough to be well and truly retired. Wonder what he’s been up to recently.’

‘No details on that in here. Do you know anything about his great grandson being missing? Must admit I hadn’t heard anything about it until the Chief mentioned it. Too busy with yesterday’s news.’

Harry smiled, as he recalled Nina telling him how Carl got his weekend relaxation - with his head in a newspaper and a red in his hand.

‘I heard the media briefing on the midday news. The boy’s name is Toby, a ten-year old. Was gone when his mother woke up this morning. The Chief told me it wasn’t until a couple of hours after he was reported missing that someone in the family realised he was probably with Kieran.’

Carl located the report on the computer and read the details, including the note stating that the boy’s parents were separated.

‘Tough being a kid these days, Harry. You ever thought about having any?’

‘Haven’t got to that part yet. Still working on finding someone willing to play the game.’

‘Don’t rush it, Harry. Being a policeman’s wife is a big ask.’

‘So my mother keeps reminding me. I think she’s looking forward to the day my dad retires.’

‘Your father’s got it easy. Nice, cushy desk job down in the dungeon supervising all those girls in the call centre. Regular shift. What’s your mother got to complain about?’

‘I think my mum remembers the days when he was with the highway patrol, away for days, when I was a kid.’

‘That why you became a detective, Harry?’

‘Not really. I’m not into car chases or sitting around with radar guns. Too boring, if you ask me. I became a detective because I like to find out how things happen, and why people do them.’

‘Yes. All that patrol work is not much fun. A lot more routine than some of the cases we get to work on.’

Winter days consume their daylight quota quickly. Harry was obliged to turn on the headlights an hour before they reached their destination.

Riverland Police Station had been a regional headquarters before the last restructure had seen its status downgraded. The Commissioner’s new design for the region had moved the headquarters two hundred kilometres down river, to where the crime statistics told him he needed the resources.

Inspector Bill Norris, the officer in charge of Riverland, wasn’t happy that Major Crime’s Chief Inspector Rankin had seen fit to interfere in his investigation. He didn’t score many murders but that didn’t mean he lacked the resources or the skills required to solve one.

Carl and Harry entered the station and introduced themselves to the duty constable. He informed them that Inspector Norris was still at the crime scene with Forensics, who had arrived earlier in the afternoon. Carl called Bill Norris and arranged to meet with him later in the evening, as he couldn’t see any point in blundering around in the dark and getting in the way of Forensics’ examination of the crime scene. There would be plenty of opportunities to look at the crime scene in broad daylight.

‘We’re staying at the Resort Hotel. We’ll go and check-in and get something to eat while we’re waiting for Inspector Norris.’

‘Okay, Inspector. I’ll tell the inspector where to find you when he gets back.’

Carl and Harry drove the short distance from the police station to the Resort Hotel. It took around ten minutes to complete the check-in process and locate their rooms. They were in the dining room, eating dinner, when Inspector Norris entered looking for them.

‘Hello, Carl. Been a while,’ said Inspector Norris, extending his hand.

Carl stood and shook hands with him.

Carl did the introductions. ‘Inspector Norris, Detective Harry Fuller, my right-hand man.’

Harry stood and shook hands with the inspector.

‘Why don’t you join us, Bill? You look like you’ve had a long day,’ said Carl.

As Inspector Norris took his seat, the waitress arrived with the chicken schnitzel and salad he had ordered on the way in.

They exchanged small talk about the weather, the state of the world and the recent federal elections while they ate, and waited for the tables around them to empty as people moved off to their Saturday night activities.

‘What’s so important about this one that Rankin thinks I need help from you, Carl?’ Inspector Norris asked while they contemplated the dessert menu.

‘What do you know about the victim, apart from his name?’

‘Not much.’

‘What about the missing boy? Any sign of him?’

‘A backpack, full of clothes, with his name on it under the seat of the old man’s van. And if that’s not enough, the old man’s girlfriend has disappeared as well. No luck with the dogs either.’

Harry was volunteered to place the dessert and coffee orders.

‘How smart’s your right-hand man, Carl? Is he a good apprentice?’

‘One of the better ones I’ve had in a while. He actually thinks for himself.’

‘What’s your team like?’

‘Decimated. I lost most of the good ones in the reshuffle.’

Harry came back to the table. He was followed by a waitress with their desserts and coffees. They waited for her to serve.

‘I suspect the chief thinks this is not a local crime, and the boy is a complication that might not end well. That’s why we’re here, Bill,’ said Carl.

‘How do you want to play it?’

‘I was going to suggest that your people focus on finding the boy. You have the local knowledge and contacts. Harry and I will work with Forensics on the murder. What do you think? It’s your kingdom.’

‘Might have been a kingdom once, Carl. I think it’s more of a duchy these days,’ said Inspector Norris with a wry smile. ‘Anyway, that sounds like a plan. I have a meeting scheduled with the Forensics people at eight in the morning. Guess you had better be at that. There’s not much point wandering around in the dark looking for the boy. We’ll have to wait for first light for that. In fact, my sergeant is organising a search party for first thing in the morning in case he’s gone to ground locally, if you want to join in.’

‘We’d only get in the way, Bill. Besides, if the dogs couldn’t pick up his trail, he probably didn’t leave the scene on foot.’

‘You’re probably right, but we need to cover all bases, just in case.’

‘Who’s the girlfriend you mentioned?’

‘Sally Arthur. She has a shack on the river about three kilometres out of town. Seems our Mr Moore stayed with her whenever he was in these parts. The body was found in the yard outside her place. She’s in her mid-fifties, so maybe girlfriend isn’t the right word.’

‘What makes you think she has disappeared as well? Maybe she just isn’t home.’

‘Her car is still there.’

‘Does she own a boat, Inspector?’

‘That’s something we have to find out, Harry. We know she doesn’t have a registered boat but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a boat.’

‘Any near neighbours?’

‘Her shack is in a group of three but the other two are holiday homes. It was one of the other shack owners coming up for the weekend that found the body.’ Inspector Norris stood up from the table. ‘It’s been a long day. I need some sleep. I’ll see you boys in the morning.’

‘Okay, Bill. We’ll see you at eight.’

They watched in silence as Inspector Norris made his way out of the dining room.

‘What do you think, Boss?’

‘Just as well you like a puzzle, Harry.’

‘Just off the top of my head, I’d say we have a few possibilities around the disappearance of the boy. The woman and the boy could be hiding. If the woman has access to a boat, say a canoe or a row boat, she and the boy could have escaped on the river. That sort of boat doesn’t make any noise. Or maybe the woman had a role in both the murder and the kidnapping. Or maybe the boy didn’t arrive with Kieran. He could have left the boy someplace between here and the city. And I haven’t started on the murder yet.’

‘Might be best to leave that until after tomorrow’s meeting with Forensics.’

‘Yes, we don’t want my wild speculations to distort our thinking.’ Harry laughed.

‘I’m calling it a night. I’ll see you in the morning for breakfast.’

When Carl got to his room he noticed there was a text message on his phone from Nina, telling him that she was thinking of him. He dialled her number.

‘Where are you?’ she asked, when she answered the call.

‘I’m in the Riverland Resort Hotel.’

‘If you miss me that much you could have come and stayed here. I’m only half an hour upriver from there.’

‘I miss you but that’s not why I’m here.’

‘I thought Inspector Norris was handling the case. In fact, I saw him talking about it on the TV. I didn’t see you.’

‘The victim has a long history that involves our chief inspector.’

‘What about the boy?’

‘I’ll know more about that in the morning. If he doesn’t turn up, I’ll have to make him my priority. The locals are conducting a ground search in the morning.’

‘That might not suit Rankin.’

‘The media will crucify him, if he makes solving the murder of a veteran Hells Angel the number one priority. Besides, solving one will probably solve the other, unless Harry is right about the old man dropping the boy off somewhere on the way here.’

‘Better keep that in mind, sweetheart. Harry’s hunches have been right before.’

‘Anyway, I just wanted to hear your voice before I go to sleep. I love you.’

‘I love you too, Carl. Have a good sleep. Call me if you need to talk anything over. Better still, come and see me. My parents are dying to meet you.’

‘I’ll call you tomorrow once I have a better picture of what’s going on. Sweet dreams.’

Carl ended the call. He wished he was with her and not here in a hotel, with Harry in the next room.

Three

Toby was so excited about sneaking off with Grandpa Kieran that he was awake at 5.30 am. He had agreed to meet Grandpa Kieran out the front at 6.00 am. After quietly peeing in the toilet in the bathroom, he washed his face, collected his toothbrush and got dressed without turning on a light. He sat on his bed and waited for the clock on the dresser next to his bed to read 05:55. Then he crept, as silently as a ten-year old boy sneaking out of his house could, along the passageway past his mother’s bedroom. Fortunately for Toby, Helen always closed her bedroom door, and concrete floors don’t creak. He wasn’t really worried that she would wake up. He knew she liked sleeping in on Saturdays, especially after staying up late studying.

When he got to the front door, he slipped on his parka and put his toothbrush into the front zip pocket of the backpack holding the change of clothes Grandpa Kieran had told him to bring. With the backpack on his back, he used his house keys to open the front door, and then the security door, and stepped out onto the veranda. He looked over in front of the house next door. Grandpa Kieran’s van was parked where he said it would be. Toby closed the front door, locked the security door and walked over to the van.

Kieran opened the door for him as he approached the van.

‘G’day, matey. Jump in and we’ll get going.’

Toby pulled off his backpack, dropped it on the floor in front of the seat, climbed in and buckled up.

‘Morning, Grandpa.’

Kieran didn’t like being called Great-grandpa. It made him feel ancient as opposed to just old, so he had schooled Toby, his only great-grandson, to call him Grandpa or Grandpa Kieran, when there was the possibility of confusion. Besides, he had missed the opportunity when Terry was still a small boy of being called Grandpa. Apart from spending the first eight years of Terry’s life in prison, he’d suffered years of Louise preventing him from spending time with Terry. He hadn’t gotten to know Terry until he was a teenager. It wasn’t until he had re-established his life after prison, kept out of trouble for five years and married Martha, that Louise had been persuaded that he was sufficiently reformed to no longer be a threat to the safety of her precious son.

Oh how he missed Martha. She had been twenty years his junior and the love of his life, but she had succumbed to breast cancer, after a long battle, earlier in the year. Kieran had thought being inside was lonely. It had nothing on being without Martha. He hardly ever thought of Susan, Sean’s mother, who had overdosed and left him to bring up Sean on his own. Sean had been mothered by more women than Kieran could remember. If he was honest with himself, he couldn’t remember much of what happened between the time Susan died and he ended up in court.

He often wondered what his life would have been like if he’d never met Susan and her drug dealing mates. Too bad he hadn’t met someone like Martha instead way back at the start. The last seventeen years with Martha had been magic. He’d finally discovered what it was like to be appreciated for being himself, instead of for being a muscle-bound thug on a big motorbike. Unfortunately, it had all come to an end way too soon. The last six months had passed slowly. In a way, the bust up between Toby’s parents had helped him come out of his self-absorbed funk. It had given him something and someone else to think about.

Kieran knew what it was like being the small boy caught between quarrelling parents. His parents had split back in the days when women had few rights, and men settled things with violence or by disappearing and abandoning their wives and kids. He’d passed through a string of foster homes after his father had abandoned him and his mother, at the end of an alcohol fuelled year of violence, when he was about Toby’s age. His mother had been so badly beaten that she’d died three months after his father disappeared. He knew things were different these days, but he didn’t want Toby to suffer what he had suffered. When the boy had opened up to him and shared his pain, Kieran had decided that an unauthorised weekend holiday away from home would be just the thing to get Terry and Helen back on the same page.

‘Your mum still asleep?’

‘Yes. She’s going to get a surprise when she wakes up, isn’t she?’

‘That’s the plan.’

‘You sure we aren’t going to get into trouble?’

‘We might but it will be worth it if we can get them back together, won’t it?’

‘I hope this works. I hate it when they’re fighting and shouting at each other.’

‘Well, shall we go?’

Toby nodded his assent. Kieran started the engine and they drove off into the darkness of a cold winter morning.

Three hours sitting in a car was a long time for a small boy, especially one that had spent half the night watching the clock. Toby was asleep before they had reached the city limits. Kieran let him sleep until he parked the van in the yard of Sally’s riverside shack just before 9.00 am. Sally wasn’t home. She’d let him know on Wednesday night, when he had called to tell her he was bringing Toby up for the weekend, and the circumstances under which the trip was being conducted, that she wouldn’t be home when they got there. She said she’d keep his secret and make sure the larder was stocked, so they could have a quiet weekend without having to venture into town. Sally was good like that. She was a discrete operator and had been his partner in their little business venture over the last fifteen years. She was the only person alive that Kieran trusted. She had been Martha’s closest friend from their school days.

Toby awoke as the van came to a stop.

‘Are we there?’

Kieran reached over and tousled his hair. ‘Yes, sleepyhead, we’ve arrived. Come on, let’s go get some breakfast.’

They climbed out of the van and walked across the yard to the back door of the shack. Kieran inserted a key and opened the door into the main living room of the dwelling.

‘See if you can find some eggs and bacon in the fridge, mate.’

Toby opened the fridge door and found a packet of bacon sitting on top of an egg carton full of eggs waiting for him. He carefully picked up the egg carton and carried it over to the bench.

After breakfast, as Kieran was explaining that a few people would be calling around to either pick up or drop off packages over the next few hours, a grey van pulled into the yard and parked next to Kieran’s van. Two men dressed in black, one tall and muscular the other just as tall but slender in stature, got out of the van and waited.

Kieran looked out the window. He didn’t recognise either of the men but, given the nature of his business, that was nothing new.

‘How about you clean up the breakfast dishes while I sort these guys out?’

‘Okay, Grandpa.’

Kieran walked out into the yard.

‘Morning, boys. Picking up or dropping off?’

‘Picking up,’ said the slender one.

‘Who for?’ said Kieran.

There was no response apart from the big guy flexing his muscles.

Kieran stopped. He looked at the big one, who reminded him of himself in his younger days. Then he remembered that time had done things to his body, despite all the hours he spent in the gym. Being seventy-five had some disadvantages, one of them being he could no longer fight his way out of trouble.

The smaller one pointed towards the van. ‘Open her up, we haven’t got all day.’

Kieran noticed the smaller guy had something in his hand. One of those switch blade things, which Kieran knew had a very sharp pointy end. Kieran didn’t like knives. He’d seen what could be done with a knife.

‘Don’t do anything stupid, old man, and you won’t get hurt.’

Kieran had heard those words before. He’d used those words himself when he’d been an enforcer. He hoped Toby was doing the washing up and not looking out the window, because he knew that people who used those words didn’t always tell the truth.

‘What is it that you want?’ he asked, as he walked up to his van and slid open the door to reveal a pile of small packages and three metal drums encased in wooden frames. He hoped they didn’t want everything. Robberies were not good for business, and there were some things in his cargo, like the drums, that couldn’t be insured.

The big guy transferred the three drums into their van while his partner stood next to Kieran. Although this wasn’t the way the customer who ordered the drums on a regular basis usually conducted business, Kieran decided to act as if this was the normal pick up and not the theft it appeared to be.

‘Do you have the return delivery?’ Kieran asked. Usually he got a package in return for the drums.

The big guy smiled. He walked up to Kieran and said, ‘Game over, old man.’

Kieran looked at him. He had no idea what he was talking about but, before he could respond, the big guy punched him in the stomach. As Kieran’s body buckled under the force of the blow, his head came forward. The big guy lifted his knee.

Kieran jerked backwards away from his attacker and fell. His head hit the edge of the floor of the van as he went down. He crumpled onto the ground and lay still. The slender guy bent down and checked for a pulse. He slipped the knife into his pocket and stood up.

‘That was easy, George. I thought I’d have to use the knife to finish him off.’

‘Guess we got lucky.’

The back door of the shack banged shut. George looked up from the body at his feet. Toby had come out onto the veranda to see what Kieran was doing.

‘Malcolm, there’s a kid over there.’

‘What’s wrong with Grandpa?’ Toby ran towards them.

George grabbed him as soon as he arrived where they were standing, next to Kieran’s body.

‘What’s your name, boy?’ asked George.

‘Toby. What’s wrong with Grandpa?’ Toby squirmed trying to get to Kieran but couldn’t break from George’s hold.

‘Your Grandpa tripped and hit his head,’ said Malcolm.

‘Are you going to call an ambulance?’

‘Things aren’t quite that simple, kid,’ said Malcolm.

Toby looked at Malcolm and then at Kieran. A wet patch had appeared in Kieran’s jeans and the smell of fresh excrement wafted up to his nose. Toby had seen enough action movies on DVD with Terry to recognise those signs.

‘He’s dead, isn’t he?’ Toby stopped squirming.

Malcolm squatted down to look Toby in the face. ‘What were you doing in the house?’

Toby didn’t respond. He looked away from Malcolm down at Kieran’s body on the ground.

George pulled him around to face Malcolm. ‘Better answer him, kid. He gets pissed off when people ignore him.’

Toby sized up his position. He was clearly outnumbered and outgunned. ‘Cleaning up the breakfast dishes.’

‘Where’s the woman that lives here?’

‘I don’t know. Grandpa didn’t tell me anything about her.’

‘What are you doing here anyway? We were told your grandpa would be on his own.’

‘Grandpa brought me for a holiday.’

‘A holiday? Well, we can’t have you missing out on a holiday just because you grandpa fell down and died on you, can we?’ Malcolm stood up. ‘George, put him in the van. I’ll check out the house to make sure there’s no-one else in there.’

‘For Christ’s sake, don’t touch anything!’

Malcolm pulled out a pair of leather workmen’s gloves, the type tradesmen wear on building sites, and slipped them on as he walked over to the back door of the shack.

George’s firm grip, as he led Toby to the van and opened the door, was a clear signal to Toby that he didn’t have any say in what was happening. Toby did as he was told. He knew a bully when he saw one, and this one was a lot bigger than the bullies he usually encountered at school. As he climbed into the van, Toby told himself not to cry and to pay attention. He wasn’t so sure Kieran had tripped and hit his head, and these men were acting like they had something to hide. He suspected they were taking him with them so that he couldn’t tell anyone about them.