ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Meskell is a retired Queensland
Detective Inspector, residing on the Gold Coast. He was educated at the
I acknowledge the wonderful technical
assistance and help I received from Alex Stuart, a Gold Coast computer genius;
from Betty Barratt, for her knowledge of the English language, grammar and
expression of speech.
It would be remiss of me if I did not make mention of John Casey, the Gold Coast artist who gave me immeasurable assistance with the book cover he helped design, of circumstances depicting the murder without reason.
DESPITE THE AIR CONDITIONING Paul Lennon felt a trickle of perspiration track its way down his spine. His nervousness annoyed him and he was experiencing an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped moisture from his brow. It was a Monday morning in February 1986, a particularly hot and humid time of the year in Queensland. He was sitting in the foyer of a waiting section at Police Headquarters preparing to be interviewed over a vacancy he had applied for with the Criminal Investigation Branch.
He watched the flow of human traffic go by the waiting area. Uniform patrolmen, detectives, plain-clothes personnel, policewomen and public servants; some he knew by sight and name, others he did not. He nodded recognition to those he knew and received a smile or nod in return.
Lennon stood up and strolled nervously to a large window overlooking the street. Outside he could see the hustle and bustle of traffic hurtling backward and forward with pedestrians waiting impatiently for traffic lights to change before proceeding on their way. There was the usual Monday morning rhythm of interstate transport, the drivers grinding through the gears of their heavy trucks, hurling grey exhaust smoke from mufflers into the atmosphere as they crossed the busy intersection. He sighed and walked back to his seat; sitting down, he stretched out his legs, arching back his feet. His calf muscles felt tense.
He was annoyed that he felt a sense of guilt about the ensuing interview. If he got the position it would mean the end of his partnership with Barry Croft, an association of almost five years working mobile patrol units together, and as a team were regarded as a first-rate unit. Both men were single, and they had the same outlook in life: booze, women, rugby league and fishing, in that order. They lived together in a rented unit overlooking parkland and the Brisbane River at Fairfield. Recently Croft and Lennon had decided to pool their money, putting a substantial deposit on a new unit overlooking the river and the city in Macdonald Street, Kangaroo Point.
Lennon squirmed uncomfortably as he remembered Croft’s excitement. ‘Shit, we’ll own it in no time, and be able to sell it off at a profit when the time comes,’ said Croft.
It had been their rest day from work and they were sitting in the lounge of a suburban club on the prowl for female company. Lennon strolled over to the bar and ordered two beers. He walked back to the table and placing them on a coaster, sank down in a comfortable upholstered lounge chair. He didn’t quite know how to broach the subject but taking the bit between his teeth he said to Croft, ‘There’s going to be a few changes in our lifestyle.’
‘Whaddya mean?’ said Croft, swallowing a mouthful of beer.
‘Well, I’ve given it plenty of thought and I’ve decided to give the CIB a go. In fact I’ve already applied for a vacancy that’s going here in the city.’
‘What? You’ve got to be kidding,’ said Croft with an incredulous look on his face.
It was difficult for Lennon to hide his feeling of guilt. It was the moment he’d been dreading and he knew that if he was successful with his application it was going to become the ultimate split-up of a formidable combination. But only work-wise, if he had anything to do with it. He was acutely aware of Croft’s intense hatred for plain-clothes staff. This is bloody crazy, he thought to himself. Why should I be getting my balls tied up in a knot over Barry’s problems?
‘Is it me?’ Croft’s distaste was obvious. ‘Have I done something in the past to upset you? We’ve been mates for a long time, Paul, and there have never been any secrets between us. You’ve never discussed this with me. Why? What on earth has made you decide on this path?’
‘No, you’ve done nothing to upset me,’ Lennon protested. ‘Maybe I was scared you’d talk me out of it if I told you before I made my decision.’
Croft leaned back in his chair, and proceeded to massage his face vigorously. He looked at his friend. ‘I thought I knew you, Paul, you’ve got to have rocks in your head. We’re getting plenty of overtime; it’s better than you’ll get going into plain clothes. We get plenty of weekend penalty rates, and we’ve got no worries. Surely you must have heard the stories of some of the boys who’ve been in plain clothes and came back to uniform again.’
‘Yeah, I’ve heard them mouthing off, but I’ve never known them to do anything else. They’re negative thinkers who pull the job down with their constant self-serving badgering instead of getting on with the positive side of things.’
‘Oh, and what’ve you turned into, a psychoanalysis expert or something? Surely, Professor,’ he sarcastically lampooned, ‘the public, the people we’ve sworn to serve, are happy to see patrol cars around their neighbourhoods with uniform police manning them. There’s no chance of weekend penalty rates being abolished, the public outcry would be disastrous if anyone was stupid enough to try and implement that.’
Lennon realised the conversation was getting heated. He felt a lump in his throat. ‘Look, Barry,’ he said quietly, ‘it’s not you, my good friend. It’s just that I’ve been getting pissed off with the same old system. I’ve been like this for some time now, we never get any variety, and it keeps coming back to the same old thing, shift after shift, day in and day out.
‘Readout, check the car over before we go on patrol, we end up like mechanised robots, nothing but domestic blues, drunken husbands bashing their wives and kids, pulling drivers up for speeding, putting the breathalyser on ’em … The novelty’s worn off and it’s becoming one big pain in the arse for me. The only time we seem to get variety is when we actually catch someone breaking into a place or driving a hot car and that’s not very often, despite all the crime going on.’
They downed their beers and Croft walked over to the bar and ordered another two. He returned and sitting down at the table, clicked his glass with Lennon’s. ‘I confess you’ve taken me by surprise,’ he said. ‘It’s the last thing I expected, but good luck anyway, mate.’
Lennon smiled in relief. ‘It’ll make no difference to our friendship, Barry, as far as I’m concerned. It hasn’t been easy for me because I know what you think about detectives. All I’m saying is, there’s got to be more going for us than pulling corpses out of cars and putting mangled bodies into body bags. I’m sick to death of knocking on doors all hours of the night to tell people their loved ones have been killed in an accident. I think that’s the worst part of all. They know what you’re there for – you can read it in their faces. You want to reach out and help them, but you know you can’t.’
‘Yeah,’ said Croft. ‘I have to agree with that, but you get used to it.’
‘Yeah well, some might say that, and no doubt they do get used to it. Not me. My gut turns over every time I see the look on the faces of those poor people. Christ, how many death messages did we have to convey last week? Four, wasn’t it?’ Croft nodded. ‘And what about the dirty old drunks we have to look after so some bum doesn’t murder them?’ Lennon added savagely. ‘Filthy, scabby, helpless old people shitting and pissing their pants, while we take them to the Watchhouse.
‘The putrid smell coming from them makes me want to spew. It’s not for me, pal. How those blokes in the Watchhouse put up with it all the time has me beat. You’re never out of the shower trying to get the stench from your body and out of your clothes.’ Lennon grimaced. ‘No, pal, I need a change, enough is enough and I’m going stale.’
‘Well, it looks like your mind’s made up, so don’t blame me, my good friend, if I shake my head in despair,’ Croft shrugged.
Lennon’s mind drifted back to his present situation and the wall clock showed he had been there an hour and ten minutes. The early-morning corridor traffic inside the building had begun to subside and a petite young woman approached him. ‘Would you like a cup of coffee?’ she inquired, her smile accentuating dimples at the side of her mouth.
Lennon smiled in appreciation. She wore a clinging dress, which hugged her body tightly. Of average height, her platform shoes gave her added inches, and she moved with a lithe grace that indicated she was well aware of her sensuous impact. Lennon reckoned she would have been nineteen or twenty years of age. I know what I would like, he thought to himself as he mentally undressed her.
‘Sure, why not,’ he said aloud.
‘Black or white?’ she inquired. ‘The DI should be free shortly. It won’t be too much longer before he sees you. He’s having one of those days.’
‘Sure, no sweat,’ said Lennon. ‘I’ll have white with one sugar, please.’
Within a few
minutes she had returned with his cup of coffee and some biscuits on a saucer.
She leaned over and placed them on the small table in front of him. Her neckline
opened and he could see the cleavage of her large breasts. She turned from him,
her brown, square-cut, long hair falling softly over her shoulders, and walked
back through an office door.
Paul sipped his coffee. It was just as he liked it and his mind began to drift back a few months to the night he and Barry had received a radio message to investigate a call about intruders inside premises at the Bayside Shopping Centre, a new mall that had recently opened. Their target was the electrical appliance store in the building. They were patrolling in car 76 at the time, close by, and acknowledged the call.
On arrival, an excited security guard with a revolver in his hand met them.
‘Put that bloody gun away,’ snarled Croft. ‘You’ve been reading too many storybooks.’
The security officer, in his mid forties, glared at Croft but held his anger. ‘There’s a reason,’ he hissed. ‘The breakers are still inside and I’m here on my own. What did you expect me to do, pull a guitar out and start playing Yankee Doodle Dandy and sing at the top of my voice? I don’t need that type of shit from you or anybody else.’
Lennon could sense a sticky confrontation developing. ‘Whoa, hang on a minute,’ he said. ‘Let’s not get too personal about this. Barry, slip around to the back and cut off any avenue of escape. I’m calling for a backup unit.’
Lennon hurried to their car and radioed for assistance. He saw Barry disappear around the rear of the darkened building. Lennon whispered to the security officer, ‘My name’s Paul Lennon. You’ve done a good job here, mate. Don’t take any notice of my partner, he’s a good man and didn’t mean any harm by what he said.’ He looked around. ‘We’ll wait for the backup unit to arrive. Those bastards inside will know we’re out here and we don’t want any silly bloody heroics. Do you get what I mean?’
‘Only too well, Paul. My name’s Les Sampson,’ said the guard. ‘Ask around some of your older colleagues, they’ll know me. I’m here to help you guys but I didn’t like your mate’s attitude. I was in the job for over twenty years before I was boarded out. I’m not the enemy, those pricks in there are, not me for Christ’s sake.’
Lennon immediately became aware of the situation. An ex cop! Careful, go steady buddy, he thought to himself. Who knew what connection this guy may have. Ordinarily he did not have much time for security guards; half of them acted like they were police officers and knew everything about the law. They seemed to take a great delight in brandishing their weapons to impress people. But this bloke sounded a different proposition to some of the others he had a dislike for, and he was immediately on his guard.
Lennon drew his Glock pistol and with his long-handled torch disappeared into the darkness down the side of the building. Arriving at a side entrance he leaned against it with his ear to the wooden structure listening intently. He couldn’t hear anything. He moved back to where he had left Sampson.
Making conversation he said, ‘Why did you get out of the job, Les?’
‘Not such a big story really,’ shrugged Sampson. ‘Until a year ago I’d reached the exalted rank of Detective Sergeant. Not a real big deal I suppose, but I got there with a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I came to a situation exactly like this. I was a hundred feet tall and bullet proof. I believed I could tackle anything but was totally unaware I had horseshit for brains. To top it off we’d been to one of those parties we enjoy from time to time and I was half full of lunatic juice.’
‘What happened?’ Lennon asked.
‘My partner went around the back and me, superman in charge, and unarmed, influenced by a fair amount of the looney juice I’d consumed, became the world’s greatest hero at the time, deciding not to call for a backup. That was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life and unfortunately nothing can undo that. Not only did I go in unarmed but also my partner coming in through the back door was shot dead. I didn’t have a gun and I didn’t call for a backup. The plain fact of the matter was I let my partner down badly. He was married with two kids and I tell you, it happened just like that.’ He snapped his thumb and forefinger together.
Lennon did not reply; he knew the story now. The very matter had implemented a department policy that no man working night shift was to be unarmed under any circumstances. He saw the headlights of a car snaking up the hill towards them and knew it was a backup unit. The car pulled up and two plain-clothes officers got out.
Lennon knew Detective Sergeant Jamie Everett and his partner Bill Malcolm. He and Croft had encountered them on many occasions during night work. Everett was a big man with a round face. A faint double chin was beginning to appear at his jaw-line. His brown hair was neatly combed and intelligent brown eyes peered from beneath bushy eyebrows. He recognised Sampson and waved to him.
‘Hi Les, how’s things?’
‘G’day, Jamie boy. Fair, mate, fair, I can’t complain,’ said Sampson.
Everett introduced his partner Detective Bill Malcolm to Sampson and said, ‘Les here was one of the best in his day, and real good friend to have around in a tight situation.’ He turned to Lennon, ‘Alright, down to work, what’ve we got here?’
Lennon quickly filled them in on what he knew. ‘Les found the back door unlocked and thinks he heard noises inside. The intruders could still be there. My mate’s watching the rear entrance.’
‘Okay,’ said Everett, taking charge of the situation. ‘This is how we’ll attack.’
He pointed to his partner Malcolm and said, ‘You go around the back and support Barry Croft. When you’re ready, signal with your torch and we’ll go through the front door. Now be careful, we don’t want any incidents unless it’s absolutely necessary. If someone takes a shot at you then shoot back. They’re my instructions and I’ll wear any flack if anyone gets hurt.’
Just at that moment they heard a loud crashing noise inside the building. ‘Okay, let’s go,’ Sampson hissed.
Malcolm slipped down the side of the building and flashed his torch towards Samson and Paul. Drawing his Glock from its holster, Sampson smashed a hole in the glass of the front door with the pistol butt and opened the lock. Quickly, he pushed the door open and feeling around found the light switch. Suddenly the store was brightly illuminated. They saw an electric fan lying on the floor. A ginger cat meowed and meandered out from behind a counter, purring and rubbing itself up against Sampson’s leg.
‘Well, well,’ Sampson laughed, ‘here’s your burglar.’ He bent down and picked the cat up giving it a tickle behind the ear. The cat responded to the kind treatment, arching its back in pleasure.
Lennon and Croft were left to attend to the necessaries, notifying the owner etcetera. Just before Everett and Malcolm left, Croft saw Malcolm lift a small CD player from a display counter and deftly slip it into his pocket. Croft said nothing at the time, but he was greatly disturbed. He waited until he and Lennon had left the scene. It was 4.00am.
Swinging the patrol car around a corner, they cruised slowly past a block of shops while Lennon busily flashed the spotlight on the doors. Croft couldn’t contain himself any longer and told Lennon what he had witnessed.
‘Shit,’ exclaimed Lennon, startled by Croft’s allegations. He switched off the spotlight. ‘Why the bloody hell didn’t you say something there and then while we were all there?’
‘I dunno, mate, what should I do?’
‘What the bloody hell can you do now? He’ll deny it and no doubt he’s gotten rid of it by now. Hell, Barry, you’re alleging he’s a thief. I don’t think we should open a can of worms at this point in time, hours after the event’s taken place. There’d be one hell of an investigation, and the stigma would hang over us for the rest of our service. We’d be branded dogs by the troops. Whistleblowers, for want of a better word, and you know what that means if we can’t prove anything. But don’t be swayed by me. You’re master of your own destiny and you do what you think is right.’
Croft mulled over what Lennon had said. ‘Yeah, well, I guess you’re right. You know, I’ve never liked that bastard Malcolm with his holier-than-thou attitude. Looking down on us uniform guys with contempt and all the time the bastard’s a two-faced thief,’ snarled Croft.
The incident was never raised again but from that moment Croft’s attitude towards plain-clothes staff hardened considerably. He no longer trusted anyone in plain clothes and made no secret of his dislike for them.
Lennon on the other hand had become friendly with the security officer, Les Sampson, since meeting him that night. Besides being a widower with one son to support, Les had contributed part of his superannuation towards his deceased partner’s widow to assist her to raise her two children. To Lennon, that was a fine and noble gesture.
About six months later he met Sampson in the Lakeside Club at Cleveland to have a few beers. He told Sampson about his ambitions to join the CIB.
‘Well, what’s stopping you?’
‘I feel a little guilty about breaking up my partnership with my mate, Barry. We’ve been together for about five years now and he doesn’t think too favourably about detectives. He’s got this thing about them and claims they act like they’re superior to him all the time, but I’ve met some really good blokes in the CIB.’
‘Well, look at it this way,’ explained Sampson. ‘Sooner or later you and your mate will be split up because of your seniority. You’ll both have to train a junior officer who’ll be your new partners. On the other hand you might get transferred to some other place at the whim of someone who believes it will be for the betterment of the department. Believe me, that does go on, particularly if you’re single and have no ties. Never mind what your circumstances might be, you’ll have to cop it sweet. Generally, it’s a waste of time protesting and unless you have very real reasons for not being transferred your pleas will fall on deaf ears. No, mate, you’ve got to take the bit in the mouth. Jump in and make your move.
‘Don’t let some shiny arse make your mind up for you and transfer you to woop-woop or God knows where just to keep the records straight. Look out for yourself and do what you want to do. Make a decision and act now while you’re young enough to enjoy a change.’
Lennon grinned back. ‘So, you think I should go for it?’
‘As hard as you can. Make the decision and do it,’ retorted Sampson. ‘Don’t even bother discussing it with your mate; he could sway your way of thinking.’
The young woman who had served him coffee and biscuits earlier suddenly interrupted Lennon’s thoughts on Sampson.
‘Okay, Mr. Lennon, he’ll see you now. Come this way, please.’
He followed the young woman into a tastefully furnished office. The man sitting behind the desk was in his early fifties, maybe late forties; it was hard to tell. He appraised Lennon as he walked in and indicated a chair.
‘Take a seat – some coffee?’
‘Yes, please, white with one sugar.’
‘Two, thanks, Eileen.’ The woman left the room. Lennon examined the Detective Inspector while he read Lennon’s file. He was a big man, white shirt and black tie, square face with short, white, wiry hair. He looked over his rimless reading glasses at Lennon with piercing brown eyes, which were the darkest brown Lennon thought he had ever seen. He smiled broadly and Lennon instantly relaxed.
‘Tell me, young fellow, what on earth made you want to become a detective?’
Lennon spread his hands out on the desktop and took a deep breath. ‘I want to give it a go, sir. I think I’m ready for a change. I believe the experience I’ve had in Mobiles would assist me greatly to start off in CIB work.’
‘Is that all?’
‘Well, sir, I have quite a few friends in the detective field and the work sounds exciting and variable. Don’t get me wrong, Mobiles have been great to me, but to be honest with you, sir, it becomes the same old monotonous duty day after day, and I’m terrified I’ll lose interest and go stale,’ said Lennon.
Detective Inspector Whiting perused his file. ‘I see here you’re single and have played a bit of sport in your time.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said Lennon. ‘I’ve had a lash at most things, never good enough to be a champion but I’ve tried my best. A bit of rugby league, boxing – without too much success – and I belong to a surf club on the coast. I like to go to the gym and work out each day providing I get the time.’
‘Let’s see, you joined the job when you were eighteen. That makes you twenty-five now. Do you reckon you’ve knocked around enough to put up with the rigors of CIB work?’
Lennon smiled, ‘Yes, I think so.’
‘It’s a demanding job at times and you’d be expected to put that little bit of extra effort into it, and take the good with the bad. There’ll be times when extreme loyalty is essential to your work partner and to the department.’
‘I’d like to try, sir, all I want is a chance. If I don’t measure up then boot me out,’ said Lennon.
The Inspector laughed. ‘Oh, don’t worry, we’ll do that alright, make no mistake about that. I want you to remember what I’m now about to say to you. This is not a job for schoolboys, as you’ll soon find out. However, in saying that, it would appear from the qualifications noted here in your record that you’re worthy of a punt, and I’m going to recommend you be given a chance.’
‘Thanks, Inspector, I can’t ask for anything more than that,’ said Lennon.
‘Well, the final say’s not for me to decide. You’re still going to have to front a panel for clarification of my recommendation. However, off the record I’d say you’re just about there. You’ll get notification in the near future.’
Lennon left the DI’s office on cloud nine. He thought the interview had gone over quite well. Following his friend Sampson’s advice he had acted natural, with ‘The Fish,’ as Detective Inspector Whiting was affectionately known. He made his way to the downtown watering hole where the troops who were not working congregated to swallow grog and talk shop. He had arranged to meet his partner there and spotted Croft’s big frame amongst seven or eight of the Mobile troops as soon as he walked though the door.
‘Hey, Paul, over here,’ Croft shouted above the noise of a jukebox. He greeted Lennon with a big grin. ‘How’d it go, are you the big gun detective now?’
‘Not yet, mate, but it went okay. I’ve got to go before a panel for the final assessment. The detective inspector who interviewed me seemed to be onside, so I guess that’ll help.’
‘Well, I wish you the best of luck, mate,’ Croft remarked. ‘I guess it all boils down to who will be in that ultimate panel.’
‘What do you mean by that remark?’ said Lennon.
‘Well, nothing really, Paul, but the way the job’s going at the moment, there are some awful dills being appointed to those assessment panels. You know, alleged academic geniuses who’ve never met an angry man in their life, and would have no idea how to handle a difficult situation in the street.’
a few swallows of his beer and laughed at his friend’s remarks. ‘Yeah, well,
let’s wait and see, Barry. For the moment I’ll let those remarks slide over my
shoulder. Anyhow, I’m here to have a few beers with my old mates. Drink up!’
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