Murder, mystery, and a little intrigue.Detective Sergeant Stella Bruno investigates the murder of ‘nice guy’ Bob Cunningham, and discovers he wasn’t who he claimed to be. To solve this one, Stella not only has to work out who the victim was, she also needs to find out why he was pretending to be someone else.And, there’s the distraction of Shaun Porter, the new man from Public Prosecutions, who walks into her life.If you enjoy a good murder mystery with a little intrigue, you’ll love The Identity Thief, the first book 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 Ⓒ 2017 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.
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A note from Peter
Preview: A Gun of Many Parts
Also by Peter Mulraney
Stella observed the blue plastic tent and its ring of crime scene tape as Brian parked alongside the patrol car in the rear car park of the Old Spot Hotel in Salisbury Heights. There were two other vehicles parked near the patrol car. One was marked as a police vehicle. The other she recognised as the Coroner’s van.
Brian killed the engine. Stella stepped out of their air-conditioned cocoon into a north wind pushing dry air from the overheated interior of the continent towards the coast. It ruffled her short dark hair and stung her face. She walked around to Brian’s side of the car, out of the wind, to slip into her scene-of-crime suit.
Stella thought it was hot enough for her to melt in her skirt and blouse without the extra layer of required protective clothing. She’d only been out of the car for a couple of minutes but it felt like she’d been standing in a sauna for hours by the time she’d donned the suit.
She watched as Brian struggled into his disposable suit, sitting on the driver’s seat to pull on his blue plastic bag shoes, and wondered if he was about to keel over on her.
‘You need to lose some weight, Brian.’
‘Think I’ve lost three kilos since I got out of the car, Sarge.’
‘Couple of beers will take care of that.’
‘If I live long enough to get into the bar.’
Stella noted the lack of onlookers standing around. With the mercury pushing towards forty degrees Celsius, she assumed anybody with any sense would be inside, standing in the eighteen-degree air-conditioned interior of the hotel, and planned on joining them as soon as she could.
They walked over to the constable standing in the shade of the blue tent. Stella flashed her ID and they entered the crime scene.
The tent covered a new looking white Mitsubishi Lancer. While the tent provided shade and protection from the wind, it was suffocatingly hot under its flapping blue plastic. Stella looked into the car. The body of a grey-haired man with matching beard occupied the driver’s seat of the Lancer, held in place by the seat belt. The inside of the windscreen was splattered with blood and brains, thanks to the bullet that had entered his head from behind his right ear and exited above his left eye.
‘How long’s he been here, Steve?’ Stella asked the pathologist with the crime scene investigators.
Steve Wright looked up from his task. ‘Hello, Stella. Nice to see you, too.’
‘Steve, it’s too bloody hot to stand around making small talk.’
Steve smiled. ‘I’d say we were lucky someone spotted him this morning. He’d be a right old stinker if he’d spent a few days like today locked in here.’
‘So, you reckon he was killed last night, then?’
‘Any sign of the round?’
‘Nine mill. Got it bagged.’
Stella glanced at the body. ‘Any ID on him?’
‘Driver’s licence and a couple of credit cards.’
Stella waited while Brian snapped a copy of the driver’s licence and credit cards with his iPhone and wondered why the killer hadn’t bothered taking the victim’s ID.
‘I’ve got people to talk to, Steve. Send me your report.’ She didn’t wait for him to respond. She knew he’d be thorough.
Once they were back by the car, Stella stripped off her scene-of-crime suit and waited for Brian to do the same. When Brian had stowed their discarded suits in the boot of the car, they headed towards the constable standing at the back door of the hotel.
Stella showed him her ID. ‘Who’s inside?’
‘Sergeant Murray. He’s got the bloke who found the body and the hotel manager in the back bar, Sergeant.’
Stella could feel her perspiration freezing across her shoulders as soon as she walked into the back bar where three men sat at a table talking. The man in the uniform stood as Stella and Brian approached them.
Stella thought he looked too young to be a sergeant. She held up her ID. ‘DS Bruno. This is DC Rhodes.’
Stella shook his hand. ‘Who found the body?’
Simon introduced Matt Brewer, the day manager of the drive-through bottle shop.
‘Spotted him when I came in. Thought he was asleep.’ Matt looked at the older man sitting at the table. ‘Didn’t think anybody in his right mind would want to sit out there in this heat, so I went to see if he was okay. That’s when I saw the mess on the windscreen and realised he was dead.’
‘Did you touch anything?’ said Stella.
‘No. I didn’t even need to open the door to see he’d been shot.’
Stella wondered if Matt had been working the previous night. ‘When do you knock off?’
‘Around six. Andrew does the night shift.’
‘Who are you?’ said Stella, turning her attention to the other man at the table.
‘Michael James. I manage the hotel.’
‘We’ll need to talk to whoever was working last night.’
‘I’ve given their details to Sergeant Murray.’
‘I’ve got people out taking statements,’ said Sergeant Murray.
Stella nodded to let him know she’d heard him. She liked it when Uniform used their initiative and updated her appraisal of Simon Murray. He seemed to know what was expected of him.
‘Did either of you know the victim?’
‘He’s been coming in for a meal every Thursday night for the last few years. Usually eats in here and then spends a couple of hours on the pokies,’ said Michael. ‘Said his name was Bob, but I don’t really know anything else about him.’
‘I’ve never seen him before,’ said Matt.
Stella turned to Brian. ‘What’s the name on the driver’s licence?’
‘Doesn’t ring any bells,’ said Michael.
‘Did he meet people here that you noticed?’
‘No-one that I noticed. We get a lot of single older people in here for a meal and a play on the pokies. They seem more interested in the pokies than each other.’
Stella didn’t want to imagine what that sort of life would be like.
‘Do you have CCTV?’
‘In the gaming areas and at the entrances but nothing outside in the back car park.’
‘Can we take a look at last night’s recording?’
Michael escorted them to his office and switched on the bank of monitors on the wall.
‘He usually played in the small room. That monitor there.’ He pointed to the screen in the top right-hand corner. ‘Just let me find last night’s file.’
‘What time did he generally come in?’ said Stella.
‘He was pretty regular. Arrived around seven and was usually gone by ten. Here it is.’
They watched the victim walk into the small gaming room and sit at one of the machines at nineteen forty-eight, according to the time stamp, and play until twenty-one fifteen when his mobile phone rang. He left the room immediately after taking the call at twenty-one eighteen.
‘We have a camera over the back entrance,’ said Michael. ‘It will come up on the screen under that one.’ They waited while he located the file and then watched the victim leave the hotel by the door that led out into the rear car park at twenty-one twenty-three.
‘That’s a five minute gap,’ said Stella.
‘Probably went for a piss on the way out,’ said Brian.
‘Would you have last Thursday’s file by any chance?’ said Stella.
They watched the victim do a repeat performance and leave after receiving a phone call at twenty-one thirty-six.
According to his driver’s licence, Robert Cunningham lived in the Vineyard Retirement Village in South Gawler, a twenty-minute drive up Main North Road from the Old Spot Hotel.
Brian parked the car in front of the Community Centre, located alongside a bowling green, in the middle of the gated community of one hundred and forty residential units that made up the retirement village.
Stella surveyed the streets of landscaped gardens and neat lawns.
‘This is May’s idea of retirement,’ said Brian.
‘You sure you want to move into a retirement village?’
‘She’s already looking. There’s a waiting list for most of them, unless you go to Mt Gambier.’
‘Yeah. They’re advertising vacancies.’
‘Seriously, Brian, Mt Gambier?’
‘Her sisters live there.’
‘But aren’t all your friends here?’
‘I don’t think she’s thinking about my friends.’
‘How long before you retire?’
‘Another five years, I hope.’
‘Mt Gambier.’ Stella shook her head as she opened the car door. 'You need to work on her, Brian. You’ll die of boredom down there.’
They entered the Community Centre and approached the woman sitting behind the counter at reception.
‘Can I help you?’
Stella held up her ID. ‘Police. We’d like to speak to the manager.’
‘Just a moment, I’ll see if Mrs Hill is available.’
The place appeared deserted and Stella guessed everyone was sitting inside with their air-conditioners on. She knew that’s what she’d be doing if she wasn’t working.
‘How long’s this heat wave supposed to last?’
‘Supposed to be a big thunder storm later tonight. Think I heard them say it would be thirty something with high humidity tomorrow.’
‘As if that’s any better than this.’
‘At least this place is air-conditioned,’ said Brian.
‘Mrs Hill can see you now,’ said the receptionist, who directed them to an office two doors down the corridor behind her.
‘How can I help you, Sergeant?’
‘I’m investigating a murder at the Old Spot Hotel.’
‘Oh, yes, saw something about that on the morning news. What does that have to do with us?’
‘Appears the victim lived here,’ said Stella. ‘We’d like access to his unit.’
‘Who are we talking about?’ said Mrs Hill.
‘Robert Cunningham. According to his driver’s licence he lived in unit 65.’
‘Bob,’ said Mrs Hill. ‘Are you sure it’s him?’
‘Show her the driver’s licence, Brian.’
Mrs Hill examined the image on Brian’s iPhone. ‘That’s him, alright.’ She looked at Stella. ‘This is dreadful.’
‘Murder is never pleasant, I’m afraid,’ said Stella. ‘Do you have any next of kin details, Mrs Hill? We’ll need to notify them.’
Mrs Hill sat down behind her desk. ‘Let me check.’
They waited while she searched through the files on her computer.
‘I’m afraid not, Sergeant. From what’s on file it looks like he never married and he hasn’t listed any next of kin.’
Stella looked at Brian, who was writing in his notebook.
‘When did he move in?’
‘He’s been with us for just under five years. Model resident as far as I’m aware. Never late with his service payments, no complaints from his neighbours.’
‘Is that unusual?’ said Stella.
Mrs Hill smiled. ‘Not everyone ages gracefully, Sergeant.’
‘Does your file have his previous address listed? We may need to talk to his neighbours.’
‘He told us he lived at 28 Gladstone Terrace, Prospect, before moving here.’
Stella waited while Brian wrote that down. ‘Can you let us into his unit?’
‘You don’t have his key?’
‘His personal belongings from the scene are still with Forensics. I assumed you’d have a master key.’
‘Let me call security. They have the master keys in case of emergencies.’
Stella pulled on a pair of latex gloves as she stepped into the living room of unit 65.
‘Turn on the bloody air conditioner, Brian. We’ll die in here.’
Brian spotted the remote on the kitchen bench and activated the air conditioner. The apartment was compact, so it didn’t take long for the split unit mounted on the back wall of the kitchen to fill the space with cold air.
There was a bedroom and a study off the living area, a separate kitchen and a combined bathroom and laundry. Stella peered out of the kitchen window into the small paved courtyard. Brian opened the door in the wall of the living room and inspected the empty single car garage.
‘You check the bedroom. I’ll have a look at what’s in the study,’ said Stella, when Brian returned from the garage.
Stella opened the drawers of the desk under the small window that looked out onto the street. The top drawer held an assortment of pens and paper clips. The bottom drawer, more like a small filing cabinet, held a collection of personal papers, including several copies of Robert Cunningham’s birth certificate, a copy of the contract of sale for 28 Gladstone Terrace, a signed copy of his agreement with Vineyard Retirement Village, and the details of his Commonwealth Superannuation payments.
Stella boxed up the contents of the bottom drawer. The only other item of interest in the study was a laptop computer. Stella added it to the box, along with its associated cord and charger.
‘Find anything, Brian?’
‘Only this, Sarge.’ Brian walked into the study with a small wooden box in his hands. ‘Our boy had a loaded 9mm Luger on the top shelf of his wardrobe.’
‘I didn’t see a gun licence in his papers,’ said Stella.
‘Maybe it’s in his wallet,’ said Brian, ‘but these things are supposed to be stored in a locked cabinet.’
‘Make it safe and put it in the box.’
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