About the Author
Patricia Hughes has only been writing for seven years, having started her career with two non-fiction books, ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ and ‘Enough’. She has now moved on to crime fiction, with this book being the second in a series of Jack Curtis novels based on the Gold Coast. She is currently working on her third novel.
Everyone asks themselves ‘what if’. What if I had left ten minutes later then I wouldn’t have been at that intersection? What if I’d left ten minutes early, I wouldn’t have had that fight with my wife?
We all want to go back in time for some reason or other. It has to do with the illusion of control that we all want to use against helplessness in a world that we can’t really control. But I guess there are no guarantees in life and shit gets thrown at all of us at some time in our lives. How we deal with it is who we are.
If I had one wish, it would be the ability to catch a glimpse of the future and what lies ahead. We might see things that make no sense whatsoever and some, I suppose, would scare the hell out of us, but if we knew what was coming, we could avoid certain mistakes and pitfalls and select a different fork in the road that would change our future.
As I look back on that day two weeks ago, I ask myself ‘what if I hadn’t gone to work that day?’ What if I’d had just one more week off, like my doctor had told me to do?
If I’d only done one of those two things, I wouldn’t have been sitting in the car watching the medical crew cut the homeless man down after he’d tried to hang himself in a deserted lane off Marine Parade. Mixed in with the smell of sea salt and seaweed, the wind carried the smell of McMeals, exhaust fumes, excrement and coconut oil.
The guy had changed his mind about ending his life, but by then it had been way too late. He had showed such a desperate will to live, that it made me wonder what had preceded the suicide act. Most of his fingernails were broken and bloodied from clawing at the rope around his neck and the toes on one foot were broken from kicking at the wall.
Where was the determination to live as he put the cord around his neck? This was a question I remember asking myself as I watched the medical crew cover up his body.
My day had been halfway over and so far had consisted of a botched armed hold-up at a convenience store and two suicides. I looked through my windscreen as the latest victim’s body was loaded onto a stretcher and wheeled unceremoniously into the coroner’s van.
The heat was brutal and as I watched, I could feel wet patches under my arms and an itch in my crotch. In this weather, the hospitals would be full of people suffering from heatstroke, sunburn and God knows how many victims of testosterone-induced fights exacerbated by the heat.
Before going to work that morning, I’d had an ominous feeling, a premonition if you will, of terrible things to come. After all, it was the first of January. Any cop will tell you that New Year’s Day has always been a big day for depression and suicides. While most people viewed New Year’s Day with a sense of hope and a new beginning, there were those who saw it as a good day on which to die.
At that point in my morbid contemplation, my mobile rang and I welcomed the chance to turn my thoughts away from the scene before me.
‘Welcome back, Jack,’ the voice said.
I hadn’t been at work for two months - I’d been recuperating. One bullet to the mid section eight weeks ago and I’d been listening to the day-to-day routine of my neighbours while a thousand different instincts and habits ran rampart through me in my forced solitude.
Although at the time they assured me that there would most certainly be a full recovery, it frightened me to think that death could come so close, waiting to fool me. Almost as a reaction to death, to the fragility of life, I have become uncharacteristically quiet and introspective.
You might say it was just restlessness and you’d be right. I hadn’t had a break of any sort in five years and I was like a reformed drunk whose hand reaches for the bottle looking for a fix that isn’t there anymore.
For almost fifteen years, I have been a part of an organisation that promotes isolation from the outside world and all of a sudden I was temporarily in that ‘outside’ world with no idea how to act because I really wasn’t part of their club.
The voice over the phone was Sam Neil’s or rather, Detective Samantha Neil. It was clear and crisp, businesslike, but in my mind I saw the lopsided smile, the chocolate brown eyes and the little lines that crinkled at the corners of her eyes. If you’re a cop, the best thing you can hope for is a partner like Sam Neil. I’d missed her for the past eight weeks.
‘You finished out there yet?’ she asked.
‘Almost. The ‘tag ‘em and bag ‘em’ team are just finishing up.’
There was silence as I watched the coroner’s blue van pull away into traffic.
‘How come you got rostered for today?’ I asked. ‘Did you piss off someone or are you just having a fight with your husband?’
Her voice held a mild reproof. ‘Jack! Could I let you come back to work on your first day without being here to welcome you?’
‘Yeah, well, where are all the dancing girls then?’
‘It’s New Year’s Day. It’s a public holiday.’
All I could manage was a harrumph. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve got something else for me.’
‘Sorry, Jack. I thought I’d call you rather than put it over the radio. All we need today is the media to pick this one up, especially if it’s a slow day for them.’
‘Please, just tell me it’s not another suicide. I’ve had my fair share of them today.’
‘Nope. Someone on the road to Tamborine Mountain out walking his dog called us to say his dog came running back with a bone in its mouth. Says it’s human and it’s an arm bone.’
I almost groaned. You get these calls all the time. Hysteria-based calls from citizens who were instant experts. There were always simple explanations. Animal bones.
As if she’d been reading my mind, she said, ‘I know what you’re thinking, Jack. Not another bone run. But this is different. The guy with the dog? He’s a doctor and he says he’s absolutely positive it’s a humerus and it’s from a child. He says…’ I heard paper rustling over the earpiece as Sam began reading from her notes. ‘The bone’s got a fracture visible just above the elbow…the ummm…medial epicondyle. Something like that.’
I felt a trickle of electric current run down the back of my neck. A slam straight into a case with no time to catch my breath and if I was honest with myself, I’d have to say I wasn’t going to be at my best after eight weeks of drinking beer while lazing in a recliner on my veranda.
‘I’m reading from my notes here, Jack, so I’m not sure if that’s the right pronunciation. But the doctor says it’s definitely from a kid. Could you humour me and go check out the humerus?’
I let the pun slide and said nothing.
‘Sorry, Jack. I had to say that.’
‘And very funny it was too, Sam.’ I pulled out my own notebook to write down the address. ‘Okay, go ahead. Where is it?’
She gave me the address and said she’d meet me out there with a team.
‘You were right to keep it off the air, Sam,’ I said. ‘We don’t need reporters wandering around out there before we even arrive on the scene.’
As I closed my phone, I glanced over to the entrance of the lane where the drunk’s body had been found. My bet was we wouldn’t find any next of kin and he would be treated the same way in death as he had been treated in life. Left alone and forgotten.
I sat for a second, looking around and listening to the silence. It looked depressing and abandoned for miles around. Nothing stirring. Morning of New Year’s Day is as close to any inhabited place can get to absolute stillness.
I indicated and pulled away from the curb, heading towards Tamborine Mountain.
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