Short Story by: Miranda J Taylor
Genre: Mystery and Crime
A camouflage net draped over the caravan rendering it invisible to all but the keenest eyes. Detective Rhen Greer knew where to find it. His partner witnessed a man driving down the narrow bush track in a beaten-up ute. He saw him reach into his pocket and take out the key to remove the padlock and chain from the door and had heard the girl’s terrified screams when he entered.
There was no ute now, but Greer drew his gun and stalked around the back of the van before reappearing and slipping the weapon into his holster. He nodded to the constable waiting with the cutters, and the chain fell to the ground. Greer opened the door and was about to enter but hesitated. He shook a handkerchief from his pocket and placed it over his nose and mouth before gripping the side of the door frame and stepping in.
The constable tugged at the rusty steps below and drew them out before using them to follow the detective inside. “Oh, my God.” He turned and started back to the open door.
Greer approached the naked figure on a soiled mattress on a narrow bed frame.
She lay with her knees drawn to her chest, stretching the skin over prominent ribs. The black-stained soles of her feet matched the colour of the bruises covering much of her body.
Greer reached out slowly and gently pushed back the greasy lengths of hair covering her face.
A pair of startled green eyes opened. She screamed. “Please don’t hurt me anymore.”
Greer squatted above the filth on the floor and held his badge in front of him. “No one is going to hurt you. I’m here to help you. Do you understand?”
She reached out and grabbed his arm.
“It’s all right. I’m not going to leave you.” Greer removed his coat and lay it over her.
She pulled it to her chin and stared at him.
He peered around at the taught wire mesh covering the windows and up at the sheet of metal riveted over the skylight.
“You'll be leaving soon. An ambulance is coming. How long have you been here?”
"Months, I think. I want to go home.”
A petite female officer interrupted. “The Sarge is here. He wants to talk with you. I’ll take over in here.”
The Sarge beamed as Greer stepped outside. “How did you find this place?”
“It was more than a hunch. I want a full report by tomorrow. If you keep solving cases at this rate, you’ll have my job by the end of the year.”
It wasn’t the first time Greer had collaborated with Charles on a case. He knew it wasn’t right. It wasn’t him finding the evidence and building the case the way they trained him, the way all the other detectives did, but together they’d solved more missing persons cases over the past two years than Greer ever could on his own.
“We did it again, detective.” Charles lowered his tall, slender frame into a lounge chair opposite Greer. He smiled, revealing the perfect teeth of a dentist.
“When will you call me, Greer?”
“Maybe one day. What did Sarge say when they found her in the caravan?”
Greer smiled and poured a glass of brandy. “He asked me how I knew. I showed him the map you planted in the ute’s glove box.”
“What did he say?”
“You know what I’ve told you about the Sarge, he doesn’t ask too many questions, just waits for the report.”
“We have to be careful. One slip up, and your goose is cooked.”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take. That 14-year-old is back with her family. Even if she’d survived the winter out there, he would have killed her when he tired of her.”
“Do you know people that well?”
“I’ve met plenty of his type in my career. Loners, no friends and estranged family members.”
“Have you worked on my case lately, detective?”
“You know I haven’t. You’ve kept me busy.”
“Well, we could take a break for a few weeks while you take another look.”
Greer peered down into his brandy glass and watched the golden liquid coat the sides as it swirled with the gentle movement of his hand.
He looked up. “It’s a dead end. No witnesses. No enemies. No DNA. No murder weapon.”
“I know. But maybe you missed something. Please take another look. Let me walk you through again what happened that night.”
“All right. One more time. I guess I owe you that much.”
“He entered the house after eleven because I remember hearing the last train whistle before I fell asleep." Charles stood in the middle of the lounge rug. “It was hot, and I had the window open.”
“I know.” Greer moved to the window. “He hacked through the fly wire, stepped through the window and knocked over a lamp, waking you. The last you remember, you stepped onto the rug and a cricket bat swung at your head.”
“Not just any cricket bat. It was my father’s.”
“It doesn’t matter. Without the bat we have nothing.”
“I don’t know of anyone who would want to kill me.”
Greer threw his hands up in the air. “Maybe you pulled the wrong teeth out of someone, or did a bad crown.”
“Now you’re making fun of me, detective.”
“I’m sorry, Charles. I’ve had a little too much brandy.”
“It’s not good for your teeth, you know. Too much sugar.”
“Thank you, Doctor Foreman. But you are neither my father nor my dentist, so stop lecturing me.”
“I’m not. I’m just saying you drink too much.”
“Well, if you’d seen what I have, maybe you would too. Or, at least you might if you were still alive.”
Charles returned to his seat. “Fate brought you here, detective. You were meant to buy my house and find my killer.”
Greer edged forwards in his chair. “Have you had a chance to look over the Mendelsohn case? My money is on the aunt and uncle. They couldn’t have children, so why not take his brother’s kid?”
Charles sighed and nodded. “It’s been twelve years since that little boy disappeared. Best to let this one go, I think.”
Greer straightened in his chair. “We found the body of the missing hiker, didn’t we? Everyone else said she met with misadventure, but I knew there was something dodgy about that boyfriend of hers.”
Charles nodded and stared at the wall as he reminisced.
“I know. I spent two months in that livestock pen he called home. I didn’t think I was going to find out anything until his drinking buddy showed up. A few whiskeys under his belt, and that man confessed everything, right down to where he buried her. They laughed about it, you know. I was so angry I went to his electrical box and pulled the main fuse.”
Greer laughed. “You never told me that.”
“Didn’t I? Now, what about my case?”
Greer drained the last of the brandy from his glass.
“I’ll go over my case notes again tomorrow. I promise.”
Charles sat with his chin resting on his palm at the Mendelsohn’s kitchen table listening to them complain bitterly about the neighbour’s noisy comings and goings during the night.
“It’s the anniversary of Ben’s disappearance today,” the uncle said to his wife.
Charles sat up.
She spread butter across her toast and plunged onto a chair opposite Charles. “Do you think they’re still looking for him?”
“Nah. They must think he's dead by now. I’ll take him his breakfast.”
He carried the tray outside to a double garage and stepped over to a pit under a car hoist. He lifted a metal door in the floor and descended the stairs.
Charles followed close behind.
The large space looked like any other teenager’s room. An unmade bed, posters on the wall, and a hunched figure sitting at a computer desk.
“Ben, I told you to dress before you start your lessons. I brought your breakfast. Eat it up, then have a shower. I’ll be back later.”
Greer sipped his coffee and placed it on the corner of his desk. He reached behind him to pull in his chair and turned back to the desk. “Oh, Charles.” His dropped his hand from his chest. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“Sneak? I don’t sneak. I reappear.”
“You know what I mean. Did you find out anything about the Mendelsohn boy?”
And, what did you find?”
“The uncle and aunt have him. They keep him in a shed out back.”
“He’s alive! I knew it! I’m going to get a team together right now.”
“Can I watch?”
“You know why you can’t.”
Charles folded his arms across his chest. “I know, I’ll be a distraction. But I’ll keep out of your way. I want to see the princess rescued from the tower for once.”
“Stay here. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.”
Greer paused at the door and waved.
Charles sat at Greer’s desk and twirled a ruler around in his fingers. An end caught the coffee cup knocking it from the desk.
“Oh, hell.” He sighed and knelt beside the stain with a box of tissues. As he dabbed at the carpet, he noticed a large envelope taped beneath the desk. He pulled at it, ripping away the tape and tearing the envelope open. Inside was a black and white photograph, bank documents, and Greer’s handwritten notes.
Charles stared at the photo and frowned. It was a picture of Charles’ father in his cricket whites with another man standing next to him holding a bat. A crease ran through his face, obscuring his identity. Charles shuffled through Greer’s notes for a clue.
The name Dicky Masters glared out at him. His laconic father had mentioned once how he and Dicky had made a record-breaking run chase and how Dicky went on to become one of the nation’s best test batsmen.
The bank documents represented a trail of business debts leading to the bankruptcy of Dicky’s only son.
Charles took a magnifying glass from the desk draw and held it above the photograph. The bat was the one his father left him and the very one the killer used to crush his skull. Dicky was giving it to his dad in the photograph. It must have been worth a small fortune.
Greer threw his keys on the dining table and removed his holster.
“Charles? Are you here?”
“I’m here.” Charles appeared next to Greer.
“There you go again, sneaking up on me.”
“When were you going to tell me you’d found my killer?”
The documents flew across the room as though caught in a fierce wind. The photograph landed on the table in front of Greer.
“I wasn’t sure if it was the son. He needed the money, but I didn’t have any concrete proof.”
“And I couldn’t have gotten that for you? Like I did with all the other cases that have bathed you in glory?”
Greer was about to speak but closed his mouth. He sniffed the air.
“What’s that smell?”
“What do you mean? What have you done?”
“I can leave this earth now. But that’s what you’ve feared all along, isn’t it? That I would find my killer and be free, and you would be back to being just another run-of-the-mill detective?”
“You don’t understand. Our partnership has changed lives. It’s brought people back to each other.”
“It’s changed your life, you mean. You’re the hero missing persons detective.”
Greer flicked his eyes to the front door then back to Charles. “I was going to tell you. I just wanted a few more months.”
“Too late.” Charles tapped a match from a box. “Good-bye, Greer.”
© Copyright 2023 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.
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Indeed it is. It's creepy, intriguing, and VERY well-written.
I guess sooner or later all good things will come to an end. We see that clearly in this chilling tale. It's a classic, Miranda, yet it's uniquely YOU.
I was IN the story! It was as though I were watching from behind trees, desks, from inside closets, what-have-you.
Creepy, creepy, creepy. In a VERY good way.
BTW, been meaning to get back to you and others...hope to do so very soon!
I hope all is going well with you with your new pursuits. I certainly hope you've had some luck getting what you want.
Thank you for your review. The praise means so much to me coming from the absolute king of creepy story writing. I've never written anything like this before so you've made my day with your approval. Many thanks.
lol. i've never heard the word "ute" until now, as I've never been to Australia, although always wanted to go. I adore Nick Cave as a fiction writer.
i thought your story was interesting, and it's clear that you normally write full length novels rather than short fiction as your story seemed to long to build more on the characters. I haven't got it in me to write a full length novel. never have done, probably never will
there is a definite absence of compassion for the victims in this story, they don't have a voice, and they are treated more like stats or potential credits to a law enforcement profession than actual human beings who suffered terribly. it's like a giant void, and sadly, it rather accurately reflects police attitudes towards victims of serious crimes
ironic that the lead character is also a victim, isn't it. you leave the reader wanting to know more about what exactly happened, and why
if you want to see an absolutely brilliant scene where the "bad guy" is holding a lighter near to someone who is covered in petrol, watch Luther, the series. the portrayal of police detectives in Luther is flawless, least imo
Looking forward to what else you have to offer
Thank you for your review. Yes, I don't normally write shorter pieces, but I was interested in the notion of a spirit helping someone to solve crime.
Ute is short for utility, as in a utility vehicle built for trades people to use. Australians tend to shorten everything, for instance, a tradesperson is called a tradie.