Excerpt for The 13th Black Candle by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The 13th Black Candle

The 13th

Black Candle

Bob Goodwin

Copyright © 2015 by Bob Goodwin

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, email the publisher at info@storiesandplays.com

13th Black Candle

Cover design by

Spiffing Covers

In memory of


William Henry Goodwin (Harry)

13/10/1914 – 01/06/2015


A creative artist

A distinguished gentleman

And my Dad

Contents

Chapter 1 - Tuesday - June 3rd 1986

Chapter 2 – The First Interview

Chapter 3 – Narangba

Chapter 4 – The Bodytone Club

Chapter 5 – The Ruins

Chapter 6 – Second Interview

Chapter 7 – Familiar Friends

Chapter 8 – The Briefing

Chapter 9 – Surveillance

Chapter 10 – The Walking Wounded

Chapter 11 – Security

Chapter 12 – Under Lock and Key

Chapter 13 – Race Day

Chapter 14 – Playing Chess

Chapter 15 – Breach of Duty

Chapter 16 – The Red Scarf

Chapter 17 – Dinner is Served

Chapter 18 – Sweet Dreams

Chapter 19 – An Innocent Man?

Chapter 20 – Poor Old George

Chapter 21 – Friends and Foes

Chapter 22 – The Madhouse

Chapter 23 – Robes and Rituals

Chapter 24 – Don’t Leave Me This Way

Chapter 25 – The Departure

Chapter 26 – The Great Pentacle

Chapter 27 – Devilish Creatures

Chapter 28 – Return of the Lust Busters

Chapter 29 – A Snake in the Grass

Chapter 30 – Goldsmith

Chapter 31 – Lucy

Chapter 32 – Cherry Minx

Chapter 33 – A Waiting Game

Chapter 34 – Stakeout

Chapter 35 – Let the Service Begin

Chapter 36 – The Sawmill

Chapter 37 – Sacrifice

Chapter 38 – Confessions and Apologies

Chapter 39 – Sex on the Beach

Chapter 40 – Unfinished Business

About the Author

Other Books by Bob Goodwin

Acknowledgements

Chapter 1

Tuesday - June 3rd 1986

11.55 p.m.

Simon Stacey looked beyond his car headlights and into the darkness as he drove along the quiet country road. Being one kilometre from his home, he could normally spot the location by the external night-lights; but tonight, there was just blackness. One minute later he turned onto his property and headed down the driveway.

Shit!’ He braked sharply to avoid hitting a metal jerry can. The car skidded a metre or so on some loose gravel before coming to a halt. After a quick scan of the area, Simon got out and retrieved the can. He shook it. It was empty. ‘Huh, weird. Who’s been in my shed?’ He shrugged his shoulders and placed the can off to the side of the driveway before continuing towards the house.

‘Alison, the bloody security lights. They need to stay on!’ he muttered.

As the headlights of the Mercedes illuminated the rear of the house, a man, wearing only a pair of shorts, darted across in front of the car.

‘What the fuck?!’

The man stopped in his tracks, turned, and raised a pistol. But then, as if suddenly changing his mind, he lowered the weapon and ran.

Simon instinctively put his foot on the accelerator. With the car almost upon him, the man had little choice; either scale the high pool fence to his left or become one with the driveway. He tossed the gun over the fence, then with outstretched hands, grabbed the top rail and swung his legs high. The vault itself was a medal winner; the landing, however, was a disgrace. He plunged chest-first into the grassed area surrounding the swimming pool. Simon slammed on the brakes. Before his winded adversary regained his feet, Simon was out of the car, through the pool gate, and had the pistol in hand.

Who the hell are you? And what in God’s name are you doing on my property?’ Simon was trembling. He held the weapon uneasily with both hands, but its general aim towards the stranger’s head kept him from running off a second time. Clutching at his chest, the man slowly straightened himself up.

‘Mr Stacey, it seems you have me in an awkward position. You don’t really want to use that gun, do you? It would be very foolish.’ He took two steps backward off the grass and onto the tiles that encircled the pool.

‘Don’t move! I may not be a good shot, but from this distance I’ll do you some serious damage. That’s a promise. How do you know my name? Who are you? If you’ve harmed my family, I swear I’ll kill you!’

‘I can assure you, Mr Stacey. No harm has come to your family.’ The man slowly lifted his arms from his chest and displayed two open hands, as if to reinforce his sincerity. ‘My name is Romoli.’

‘Keep talking and keep living.’

‘Your wife signed a contract a long time ago. You might say I have come to see that she honours the agreement.’ Romoli glanced at his watch.

‘What’s the hurry, dickhead? You’re not going anywhere until I’m good and ready!’ Simon’s voice became louder and impatient. ‘I don’t like this. I’m not hearing what I want to hear. You got any ID? Empty your pockets. Now!’

‘Don’t panic,’ Romoli replied softly, while turning his two pockets inside out. A handkerchief, a few silver coins, and some newspaper clippings fell to the ground.

‘That’s it?’

‘Hey, I travel light. Sorry.’

‘Move to the side.’ Romoli took a couple of steps sideways. Simon knelt and picked up the pieces of newspaper, at the same time keeping a close eye on his captive. He held them toward his car headlights and scanned the headlines.


MAN DISEMBOWELLED BY DRUGGED YOUTHS

WOMAN SLAIN IN RITUAL KILLING

LIVE HUMAN SACRIFICES BY BIZARRE CULT

COURT TOLD: CHILDREN TARGETED BY SATANISTS

WITCHCRAFT SECRET SOCIETIES WIDESPREAD.


Among some jottings in pencil at the top of each clipping was a date, clearly written in red biro. None were more than two years old. Down the side of one piece of paper was a short list of what appeared to be phone numbers.

Simon had seen enough. He now had a very good idea what this oddball was on about. As he shoved the pieces of paper into his pocket, his expression changed. His eyes narrowed, his teeth clenched, and his head moved slowly from side to side.

‘She made a commitment,’ said Romoli very matter-of-factly. ‘I needed the articles to help remind her of our continuing work. She signed her name in front of many people. She signed it in blood.’

‘You bastard! You deadshit, deviant bastard! She’s finished with all that Satanist crap. I helped her over it. That’s ancient history.’

‘Ancient history? No. Continuing history? Yes,’ nodded Romoli. ‘And our future will therefore be assured. And just to put the record straight, we are not Satanists.’

‘An arsehole by any other name would still smell like shit,’ retorted Simon.

‘We are the Order of the 13th Black Candle.’

‘Yeah, as I just said.’

Romoli glanced at his watch once more. He smiled and extended his arms to the sky. ‘Dear Lord, Prince of Darkness and Ruler of the Universe, accept this offering from your loyal servants.’

‘Shut up!’ Simon glanced nervously back at the house. It remained shrouded in darkness. All was still. Romoli continued his prayer.

‘Hail Satan, accept our souls. Hail Satan, accept our gift.’

‘I’m warning you! If you’ve harmed my family I swear I’ll blow your fucking brains out!’ Stacey straightened his arms to steady his quivering aim. ‘I’ll shoot! I swear I’ll shoot!’ His finger tightened on the trigger. There was a tremendous flash of light, followed almost instantly by a thunderous explosion. Simon felt his body being pushed forward by the force of the blast. The gun discharged. Romoli flew backwards into the pool. Stacey fell forward onto the tile work.

The man’s body was face up in the water, slightly below the surface. Golds, yellows, and reds flashed over the pool from the explosion. Romoli’s eyes and mouth were wide open. Bobbing up a few centimetres, his face protruded from the rippled pool surface, then slowly sank. A stream of small bubbles ran from his mouth. An enveloping cloud of redness, emanating from the back of his head, closed over him, and he disappeared.

Chapter 2

The First Interview

It came as some surprise to Simon that he was permitted to freely leave the Alderley Police Complex after an exhausting three hours of interviews with numerous police officers and detectives. He had endeavoured to be as cooperative as possible, without disclosing more than was necessary. The investigators were very sympathetic to the loss of his family, allowing him several opportunities to take a break and compose himself. Of course, they wanted to know all the details of where he was and who he was with when his Samford Valley home burnt to the ground. They focused at length on anyone who may have had reason enough to commit such a dreadful act. Simon gave them a few names of individuals he had crossed swords with over the last few years, knowing full well that they were all dead ends.

While they did take his fingerprints for the record, and to assist in eliminating him from their line of enquires, it did seem strange that nothing had been said about a body in the pool or a weapon being found at the scene. And there was no reference to the empty jerry can he’d left lying on the ground.

Detective Marshall had provided him with some general details about the arson. An accelerant had been used; probably petrol. They were still investigating how ignition had taken place. The fire was virtually an instantaneous explosion throughout many rooms of the house. Any occupants had no chance of survival. Two bodies had been found, an adult and a child, and were awaiting formal identification.

Simon walked slowly to his parked Mercedes-Benz W126. He stood near the driver’s door, staring out across the busy South Pine Road but not seeing anything. There was a lot to think through. And the numbness he was feeling was not helping. He stood motionless for a full two minutes before opening the car door.

You okay there, Mr Stacey?’ came a call from behind him. He turned. It was Detective Marshall. Marshall was a tall, slender man with a weathered complexion. He had seemed compassionate, thoughtful, and knowledgeable. For a cop, Simon thought he was not too bad.

‘Yeah. I’m okay. Just needing a few deep breaths before I go.’

‘You sure you’re okay to drive? I can get one of the boys to drive you if you wish.’

‘Very kind, but I can manage. Thanks.’ Simon raised his hand and nodded. The detective replied likewise.

Sitting in the car, he managed to decide on three things. Right now, he needed to see his best friend, Adrian Devlin. He needed rest, and tomorrow he needed to go back to his property to see the damage and convince himself that the nightmare was real.

Chapter 3

Narangba

Simon completely missed the highway turnoff to Adrian’s Narangba flat and had to double back at the next exit. He briefly told himself off, then forgave himself the error as he drove the extra ten kilometres before pulling up in Main Street outside a block of six brick veneer flats.

The area was on the outskirts of Brisbane, about forty kilometres from the middle of town. As a place to live, Simon didn’t mind it; it still had some rural appeal and some good-sized acreage properties. At the same time, it was handy to the station and a few shops. But the best thing about Narangba was that this was where his lifetime friend Adrian lived, and for the time being, this was also the place he would be calling home.

There was one parking space for each flat underneath the building. Number two was vacant, but Simon decided to park on the street anyway; it seemed the courteous thing to do. He slipped on his jacket when he felt the cool air against his skin. Looking down at himself, he would normally have felt a little embarrassed at his untidy appearance, as his jacket, shirt, and pants were all creased and dirty. As he had told Detective Marshall, he’d had an argument and a bit of a fight last night at a poker game with his friends. Teddy Duncan had a bit too much to drink and didn’t like losing, but liked it even less when Simon went to leave. That’s when the fight started. But right now, he needed to lie down. Sleep deprivation was taking its toll. Later, when Adrian turned up they could talk, share a drink or two, and try to get their heads around the whole bloody mess. Simon climbed the fourteen stairs, lifted a small plant pot, grabbed the key, and let himself in.

* * *

Five hours later, Simon Stacey woke himself up screaming. He breathed heavily for a few moments while he slowly regained orientation to his whereabouts. It was dark, but the room was partially illuminated by the street lights. He took a moment, sitting on the side of the bed, then plodded through to the bathroom. He flicked the light on and splashed copious amounts of water over his face.

He studied his dripping image in the mirror. Still wearing the same clothes. Still untidy.

‘You look like a fucking hobo, Stacey. Get your shit together!’ From his pocket, he removed the newspaper clippings he’d obtained from Romoli. He wandered to the kitchen area and placed them on the table under a bottle of Johnnie Walker. Back in the bathroom, he stripped off and took a long shower.

* * *

Simon didn’t bother to dress; he wandered into the kitchen-dining area just wrapped in a towel. Adrian had not arrived home. This was not completely unexpected, as he had left the poker night earlier than everyone else with some hope of getting lucky with Angela. The passion and lust were still running rampant. The only way Adrian could know about Alison and Robbie was if he had heard about the Samford Valley fire and deaths on the news via radio or television, and if that was the case, he would definitely be here right now.

Simon moved the phone from the bench top to the table, poured a big glass of Johnnie Walker, and looked through the phone numbers scribbled down the side of one of the newspaper clippings. There were two that he knew immediately; his own, and the Bodytone Fitness Club. The other three were unfamiliar, so he rang them one at a time and hung up after each call. Strangely, one of the numbers was the Alderley Police Station. Another was Ward 21, the psychiatric ward at the hospital. The final one he called several times but it just went unanswered.

Chapter 4

The Bodytone Club

Apart from a handful of new recruits trying to hide in the back row, the room was alive with synchronised activity, and the third aerobics session of the morning was well underway. The four large black boxes were visibly vibrating with Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time.” Despite the hard work of the ceiling fans, all faces were beading sweat. Full wall mirrors at either end reflected a multi-coloured plethora of leotards, and enough footwear to bring a smile to the face of any Nike shareholder. A solitary performer shouted out commands from the slightly raised platform area.

‘And one - and two - and three - and other - arm - and two - and three - and four’. The counting and staggered speech continued monotonously, never missing a beat. ‘And - don’t - forget - to breathe - and one - and two...’

Charles Madden, the fitness club manager, had been standing near the door watching the aerobics show for the last two songs. Deborah, wearing glistening sky-blue leotards, moved alongside him.

‘Why is it necessary to remind people to breathe?’ muttered Charlie. ‘A perfectly normal automatic bodily function. I really wonder what happens to these people when they go to sleep at night. Perhaps they have a cassette playing under the pillow. Now breathe. In two three four and out two three four.’

‘Charlie, it’s important. It helps you keep rhythm, allows your body to work more efficiently, and stops you getting exhausted too quickly,’ replied the slender brunette standing at his side.

‘You’ve been an aerobics instructor too long, Deb. The brainwashing seems to be working.’

You should try it, Charlie. What have you got to lose except that lower back problem and a couple of kilos?’

‘The last thing I want to do is bust my backside learning how to count and breathe, and my weight is exactly right for my height. Thanks all the same.’ Charlie was amused with Deborah’s attempt. It was not the first. Several of the regular staff had been trying for the past few months to convert him to their fitness religion.

‘It would be good for you. You know, a healthier lifestyle and all that.’

‘What are you suggesting? That I’m not healthy? Not fit?’

‘I’d have to see you work out to know that for sure.’

‘Well, that event seems most unlikely.’

‘That’s a shame,’ she replied coyly.

‘Hmm…I best be on my way. My morning rounds await.’ He held his farewell glance a little longer than he normally would have for a polite good-bye. Deborah smiled.

Charlie Madden generally made two strolls a day through all areas of the prestigious club, greeting and chatting with members and staff, checking on any repairs, and looking for new ideas. The appointment of a part-time medical practitioner, a part-time physiotherapist, together with the development of the social club, were three such ideas that had proved most popular. These innovations were all financed by the wealthy club owner, Simon Stacey. Membership had increased fifty percent in the few short months since these developments had come to fruition. The social club, more affectionately known as Pluto’s Den, boasted a games room, a quiet lounge, covered outside barbecue area, restaurant, and a small but well used night club. The two bars within allowed members to replace those kilojoules they had worked so hard at removing in the gym, pool, sauna, squash courts, and aerobics classes.

Chapter 5

The Ruins

It was a challenging start to the day after a little too much Johnnie Walker the previous evening, but Simon had somehow found his way, as planned, to his property. Now, here he was, surrounded by the charred remains of a once beautiful home.

He lowered his head, sighed heavily, and tried desperately to hold back another emotional outburst. The attempt caused a choking ache in the back of his throat and a stabbing pain over the bridge of his nose. He pushed his thumb and forefinger hard into the corner of each eye to suppress the feeling. It may have been better to allow his grief, anger, and confusion to run full rein and discharge itself completely. However, this trauma would demand a long passage of time, and would not simply be satisfied by one massive catharsis. Besides, there were reasons why he needed some control. He couldn’t get swallowed up by this; not yet.

Past and recent events weighed heavily on his mind. Things that he had long forgotten now welled up like an eerie fountain of muddled happenings. The sensation pushed back against his fingers. A knot at the base of his sternum grew tight. He wanted control, discipline, and reasoning; later the grief.

Later, please later,’ he pleaded, as he pressed harder with his fingers. He kicked a small piece of charcoal and forced himself to raise his head and survey the burnt-out shell that was once his home. His breathing was forced in short, controlled grunts. It seemed to help. As best he could, and to prevent a total meltdown, he tried to focus on his property and on the surrounding landscape of low rolling hills.

He looked across the Samford Valley. It was a cool and cloudless winter morning. A few houses could be seen in the distance, with any closer locals being well hidden behind native tress and gullies. It was a picture fit for an artist’s brush and one that belied the tragedy that had occurred only 32 hours earlier.

Simon’s home had been a stand-out in the local community, with five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a study, sunken lounge with adjoining bar and entertainment area, and of course, his pride and joy, the library. It was only twenty kilometres from Brisbane City, where he had spent the previous five years. But from a lifestyle point of view it had seemed so much further. Now, after his dream’s destruction, he failed to comprehend both his feelings and commitment towards its completion in the first place.

Simon stepped gingerly through the soggy black mush and angled himself carefully under some flimsy charcoal framework that somehow had remained standing. The recliner rocker was more or less in an upright position, with the mesh of exposed springs supported by the remains of the burnt wooden frame. Hundreds of books were spread amongst the rubble; some of the larger ones he recognised as long-standing favourites. All, however, both large and small, were damaged beyond any hope of repair.

For Simon, the library had occupied many of his recreational hours. He could picture the room. Two of the library walls had been exclusively devoted for exhibition of his family photographs. The old brown and white print he had painstakingly restored depicted the stern, bearded face of his grandfather, and was the first in the family tree series that staggered across one wall. The lower-most image was of his son, Robbie; a fine shot indeed, which captured the innocent, excited gleam in his eyes and that unforgettable cheeky smile which always preceded a high-pitched chuckle. The picture had sprung to life, and Simon could see his son toddling towards him. There was the smile, soon followed by the chuckle. Quickly the volume and intensity of the laughter gathered an unusual, disturbing dimension. Louder and louder it became. Something was wrong. The chuckle had altered. It was no longer a chuckle. His son was now screaming. The flames gathered behind the child as if in anticipation. They sprang forward and enveloped him. In a flash, Robbie was gone.

Simon opened his eyes, then closed them as tightly as he possibly could, moisture oozed between his lashes. The tortured image of his son wanted to return, but he somehow found the strength to suppress it.

Crouched and nestled amongst burnt, water-soaked books and broken glass, Simon shook his head slowly and ventured another look. He attempted to identify some of his possessions. Why he even wanted to, he was not sure. It was something to do, and having something to do seemed to help, if only for a few seconds at a time. To his left, he noticed a large pile of burnt paper. The top pieces disintegrated as he pushed at them with his fountain pen. He carefully slid the pen into the middle of the stack and tipped it to one side. A small, undamaged section of a photograph revealed itself. It showed the face of Alison. She was wearing a blue, floppy towelling hat. Simon recognised the picture instantly. She had just thrown some manure his way after he had surprised her with the camera as she tended the roses. Tears welled in his eyes, and two drops fell in quick succession onto a charred piece of wood and disappeared like water into a sponge. Another terrifying image was forming in his mind.

‘Hey, Stacey!’ came a commanding shout. Simon welcomed it at first. ‘I told you not to disturb anything.’ It was the policeman guarding the scene of the tragedy. The two had argued only minutes earlier, with Simon finally being permitted a few minutes to look through the ruins. Forensic investigators had spent all day yesterday examining the scene and taking evidence. The area was still surrounded with blue and white police crime scene tape.

‘Just a small bit of a photo. No harm done.’

If you touch anything else you’ll have to leave. Looking only! Is that clear? The forensic guys will be back here later. They will kick my arse.’

‘Okay, okay. I get the message, all right!’ snapped Simon, catching himself by surprise with his sudden change into irritability.

He stood and meandered through the rubble, coming to another halt in the remains of the lounge. He moved slowly toward the fireplace. With images of Alison dancing through his mind, he cupped his face in his hands. A warm stream of tears now flowed uncontrollably down his cheeks. Simon was wearing a grey, pin-striped suit which he had intentionally left at Adrian’s flat. It was possibly not the best thing to wear given the state of the area in which he now stood, but there was little other choice, with pretty much everything else having gone up in smoke. He sat down on the cracked brick surround of the fireplace. Simon always prided himself on his appearance, no matter what the occasion. It was his trademark, a sign of confidence and success.

He tried to focus his vision and attention on a winding trail of ants that had carefully plotted a dry course through the black sludge. In ant terms this must have been like Hiroshima, thought Simon, yet here they are organised and already going about their business of cleaning up and starting afresh. Lucky ants.

Startled by the sound of a car pulling up sharply on some loose pebbles in the circular driveway, Simon quickly rose to his feet and reached for his handkerchief. He wiped his face, not realising that his right hand was partly covered with the black ash that coated the brickwork where he had been sitting.

‘Mr Stacey!’ a voice shouted, as a car door opened. Simon hesitated. The voice was very familiar, and one he knew he should recognise immediately, but the name somehow eluded him.

Yes, I’m in here,’ his voice wavered. ‘Just a moment.’ Looking down at his red silk tie, he cursed as he noticed that, not only was it wet from his tears, it also bore a large, sooty smudge.

Shit. Shit. Shit,’ Simon muttered as he removed the tie and stuffed it in his hip pocket. Proceeding through what used to be a set of sliding glass doors, his eyes met those of Inspector John Cochran. How could he not have recognised that husky sergeant major voice? ‘Yes, Inspector. I’m guessing you have some more questions for me?’

‘I’m sorry, Mr Stacey, just a couple. And if you could remove yourself from the crime scene it would be greatly appreciated.’ The inspector glanced over at the policeman on guard duty and shook his head. Simon took a few careful steps forward and lifted the tape over his head. ‘Thank you. Look, I know this must be difficult for you,’ continued the inspector. ‘But it would be a great help to our investigations if we could have a chat.’

Simon was surprised by Cochran’s manner. He had actually addressed him as mister and used the word sorry in the same sentence. The fat man’s sensitivity was verging on the impressive.

What’s puzzling you, Inspector? You’re unusually restrained and oddly polite this morning.’ Stacey was demanding self-control. He and Cochran had some history and they did not get on. Seize the moment, he told himself. Such directive self-talk seemed foreign; his responses normally flowed freely. His brain was struggling for sharp, cutting responses. ‘Hey, I know, you old devil,’ continued Simon. ‘I’ll bet you got lucky last night. And I’m guessing it must have been with your elocution teacher? Good score.’ It was a slightly provocative remark, but wasn’t terribly impressive. Simon knew he could have done better, but given the present circumstances it was the best he could muster. Still, it would irritate the crap out of lard arse, and once again it was something to be doing, and provided a brief respite from the torment.

The policeman had clenched his fists. He pressed his lips and teeth tightly together, then made a concerted effort to relax them before responding.

Stacey, now I accept that you’re very upset, but we both want answers don’t we? I know you’ve already been very helpful and that you’ve spent several hours at the station, but there are a few things that have come to light that quite honestly leave me a little perplexed.’ There was a firmer tone in his voice, but the air of concern and the attempt at empathy still prevailed.

Simon now stood directly in front of Cochran, trying hard to look into the fat man’s eyes. Direct eye contact had served him well in his dealings with difficult acquaintances in the past. With Cochran, it was different. His podgy face made it seem you were staring at his eyelids rather than his eyes. Simon pondered for a moment on the close resemblance to a walrus; just a few long whiskers under that flattened nose, and SeaWorld would be signing him up.

Dropped the mister already, have we? Shame. It wasn’t really you though, was it?’ The man was a hopeless case, thought Stacey, couldn’t even hold a pretence together for five minutes. ‘So, you’d like to know what’s going on.’ Simon paused. That knot in his gut tightened. His temples pulsed in pain. Any sense of control was plummeting headlong into the ground. ‘Well let me tell you, Inspector. This is my house, my new house. This is my life’s achievement. You know what I really created here, don’t you? I created an elaborate coffin. A crematorium. Notice how I’ve cleverly installed open skylights throughout the building and developed a wonderful, charred, rustic appearance, so authentic you can even smell it. Quite novel, don’t you think? I must say though, the carpets are a bitter disappointment. Scotch-guarded to the max, and the damned water has got into them like a fucking sponge. And what about —’

‘Stacey!’ bellowed the six-foot policeman. ‘Shut up!’

Please, please let me continue, Inspector. My family. Alison, my wife, and my son, Robbie; my little boy; only a little boy, Inspector; nearly two. Nearly two years old…’ Simon’s speech faltered and stopped. The tight knot spread quickly to his stomach and like a wave into his throat. His mouth watered uncontrollably. He dropped to his knees, vomited at Cochran’s feet, then sobbed loudly for what seemed like an eternity for both men. Reaching into his pocket, he removed what he thought was his handkerchief and began loudly blowing his nose into his red tie.

‘Fuck, look at me. What a mess. If you ever run out of hankies, Cochran, let me know. I’ll lend you a silk tie.’ Stacey continued wiping his face regardless. He thought for a moment of wiping the regurgitated specks from Cochran’s shoes, but then changed his mind.

Simon slowly forced himself into an upright position and exchanged his tie for his handkerchief.

‘Sorry, Inspector,’ he said, wiping his face roughly and spreading more soot across his nose. His own words caught him by surprise. Now both men had used that word. He forgave himself the indiscretion.

‘You have no need to apologise, Stacey,’ replied Cochran. ‘We do need to talk again, and you need to clean yourself up. Be at the Alderley Police Station by 1.00 p.m.’ Not waiting for a response, he pushed his bulky frame through the open car door and dropped heavily onto the seat. The suspension groaned as if to complain at the insult of the one hundred and thirty kilograms. The engine sparked into a throaty rhythm and jerked as the gear stick found its notch. ‘Be there, Stacey!’ he said firmly. ‘And don’t tamper with anything around here.’

The white Ford Falcon XF sedan looped around the driveway and was quickly out of view. Simon thought about the gun and the jerry can, both covered with his fingerprints. If they had found either, Cochran would have just taken him in immediately. It seemed that someone had done him a favour. But who? And why?

He looked to the side of his private roadway, at the large rectangular plot of carefully turned soil. Several rather bare-looking sticks protruded from the earth. Alison had a passion for roses. She had spent much of last weekend tending her garden. Many other plots had been planned, and she had meticulously marked them all with sticks, string, and coloured ribbon. To the right of the garden was the oval-shaped swimming pool and spa, both covered in a fine, black-and-grey speckled film. Simon stared at the coated water, imagining it to be a thick, oily quagmire. A place where you would slowly descend into the murky depths and be captured and tortured for eternity. A soft, cool breeze reached his cheeks. A chill penetrated his spine and goose pimples spread from his neck to his limbs. On the pool, a slow wave ran under the carpet of mire.

The garden beyond the swimming enclosure was a picture, with two pergolas and some strategically placed garden furniture. A cobblestone path wound its way through the thick grass carpet, finishing at a large, aluminium garden shed that was carefully tucked away behind a cluster of native trees and shrubs. The goose pimples were receding. Robbie had been so fascinated with the garden, spending so much time running, playing, and rolling on the cool grass. Hide and seek had taken on a whole new dimension since moving from the city. The goose bumps were gone.

With the stale smell of wet charcoal lingering in his nostrils, Simon hung his head, turned, and slowly made his way along the driveway to the entrance where the solitary policeman stood on guard.

Chapter 6

Second Interview

After thirty minutes of driving he arrived back at Adrian’s Narangba flat. Simon pondered for a moment on how he had arrived at his trusty friend’s dwelling in what only seemed to be a matter of minutes. He thought back and had no memory of passing the Samford Valley Dairy, had completely missed the deserted sawmill at Eaton’s Crossing, and surprisingly had not the slightest recollection of even turning onto the highway.

Back inside the flat there was still no sign of Adrian. Simon placed a call to his Bodytone Club. He spoke to Wendy, the receptionist, and enquired about Angela, one of the personal trainers.

‘She has called in quite ill, Simon. She said she would be away for a few days,’ recalled Wendy.

‘Can you give me her phone number please?’ Simon wrote down the number as she spoke. ‘Thanks for that, Wendy. Now I need to ask you, have you heard about the fire and the deaths out at Samford?’

‘I heard about that on the news. They didn’t give out any names. I hope it wasn’t anybody you knew.’

‘Are you sitting down?’ Simon proceeded to give her the details and asked her to inform Charlie Madden, and also let him know that he would be dropping around in the late afternoon.

At the kitchen table, he picked up the newspaper clipping with the list of phone numbers. He checked them off against Angela’s number that Wendy had just given him. There it was, on the list, third from the top.

‘Fuck me!’ He dialled the number and waited. It rang out. ‘Shit, Adrian. What the hell is going on? I need you.’

The two men had shared so much and had always been there for one another when the chips were down. The bond they had formed from school days was still as strong as ever. Simon could recall numerous occasions when he and Adrian had teamed up to do battle against some of the school’s hardheads and overlords. They had certainly copped some hidings, especially in the beginning, but their track record of memorable victories had improved markedly when they realised their strength lay with their guile and cunning rather than their modest physical attributes.

Simon glanced at his watch: 11.45 a.m. He sat motionless for a few seconds then checked his watch again, having already forgotten the time. He went to pour himself a drink but changed his mind.

Move your arse, Stacey. Inspector Cochran awaits,’ he muttered to himself as he moved to the bathroom. After noticing his charcoal-smeared appearance in the mirror, he was pleased to feel the steady stream of soothing, warm water running over his face. The old, thinning towel was only sufficient to render him half-dry. On entering the bedroom, a further dilemma no clothes. His legacy from the fire was one suit now in need of dry cleaning, and yesterday’s dirty clothes. He threw the towel to the floor and marched to the second bedroom. Simon rummaged through Adrian’s drawers and removed a creased and faded pair of blue denim jeans. Turning to the plastic laundry basket, precariously balanced on a chair near the end of the bed, Simon delved amongst the assortment of items. After rejecting two T-shirts he found a pink floral blouse.

‘Angela? Huh, the plot thickens.’ The sleeve of a white shirt caught his eye, he pulled it free. Well, it was almost white, and it did have most of its buttons. It would have to do. Simon spent a few minutes searching for an iron. This proved fruitless, and just served to cause irritation.

Jesus, Stacey, get your shit together.’ His legs had slipped into the denim before he realised he wasn’t wearing underwear. He continued cursing himself and shook his head in disbelief of his faltering style. Taking a little extra care with the zipper he was soon dressed, out of the flat, and on his way to see Cochran.

He briefly surveyed the block of flats and the few nearby houses before turning the ignition. While Narangba itself was a nice enough place, Simon wasn’t particularly impressed with the edge of suburbia; to him it was a sign of a steady deterioration in living conditions right through to the noisy metropolis. His rural living desires developed as a child on an avocado farm with his parents until the age of six. A succession of extraordinary weather conditions had led to multiple crop failures and the family moved to town. The city had its purposes, but over the years, incentives such as wealth, success, and beautiful women had been strong enough to override his preference for country living.

Soon enough he was back at the Alderley Police Complex. He entered the front parking area and took the only vacant spot in the Reserved Police Only space alongside Cochran’s vehicle. The building was large, with various police activities being distributed throughout many offices over the two-storey structure. Simon entered the reception area of the ground floor.

The first thing noticeable on entering was an offensive odour of stale, sweaty feet. He looked around to locate the source of the smell. The desk sergeant was typing away awkwardly with two fingers at a computer keyboard behind the counter, refusing in any way to acknowledge Simon’s presence. Simon continued his surveillance. He spotted the problem. In the far corner, a pair of joggers sat propped up on a low wooden stool in front of a bar heater.

A large dot matrix printer kicked into action then stopped. The sergeant walked slowly to the other side of the room, grabbed a new roll of printer paper, then returned and fed it into the machine. He jabbed with annoyance at a few buttons. The machine came back to life. Simon had decided he would neither say a word nor rap his knuckles on the bench. He placed his hand over his nose and waited. The game continued for some time until the sergeant spoke.

‘You know anything about computers?’ he snapped.

‘Just enough to get me into trouble.’

‘Huh, what’s the good of ya? Down the hall, second on the left. He’s expecting you. And you’re late.’

With some relief, Simon proceeded down the corridor. Behind him came the sound of spray from a pressure can. He smiled, brushed at a couple of creases in his shirt with his hand, and then knocked three times on the door.

‘It’s open. Come in.’

‘Good morning again, Inspector,’ said Simon, trying to sound relaxed.

‘It’s afternoon, and secondly, you’re thirty-three minutes late ...’ Cochran paused as he looked up. ‘And where did you get those clothes? It’s just not you, Stacey.’

They’re not mine, they belong to a friend who is helping me out.’ Simon looked about the room. ‘I must say, this office is pretty ordinary. A bit of a step down from your inner-city room with a view.’

It was in that Brisbane City office where the two men had met three years earlier. Stacey’s apartment had been ransacked. Nothing was missing, but the place was a mess. Glassware and bottles smashed, books and documents ripped, and blood smeared over windows and mirrors. A heated argument had erupted after Simon repeatedly insisted he couldn’t help with any enquires. Their second encounter was more recent; Stacey’s car, another Mercedes, had been stolen. Investigations failed to discover any trace of the vehicle. In both cases, no one was apprehended.

‘This office is just fine, Stacey. Can I offer you a cup of tea or coffee?’

You are really trying hard, aren’t you? It’s good to see a man who recognises his own shortcomings and tries to change them,’ said Stacey. Cochran forced a grin but said nothing. ‘Do you have any freshly squeezed orange juice?’

‘No.’

‘That is a shame. I’ll have nothing then.’

‘As you wish. Now, we have some rather disturbing results of our preliminary enquiries. Please sit down.’ Simon carefully slid out a rickety wooden chair and sat down. The inspector shuffled a few sheets of paper as if collecting his thoughts.

‘The fire was, of course, deliberately lit, and this is a homicide investigation. Traces of several incendiary devices have been found at the scene. I believe Detective Marshall gave you some details. For what it’s worth, Stacey, suffering for anyone inside would have been minimal.’

Simon was silent. How do other people know that suffering was minimal; that they all died instantly; that there was no pain? How can those who are alive tell others what dying is like? Maybe seconds seem like hours and suffering is unbearable. Maybe you have to feel the fire singeing the cilia from the depths of your lungs. Maybe you have to watch your own flesh burning and falling from your bones.

‘There’s more, I’m afraid. A third body was found late yesterday morning. A man aged probably thirty-five to forty. One point eight metres tall, that’s about five foot eleven. Weight estimated at eighty kilos. He was discovered in your back yard behind the garden shed. He had a single gunshot wound to the head and he was naked. Any ideas on this guy?’

Simon’s brow was now resting on the edge of the desk. His hands grasped the laminated surface on either side of his head, as if to prevent his falling to the floor.

‘Stacey, if you’re going to throw up again can you use the basin in preference to my shoes?’

‘That sounds more like the John Cochran we all know and love,’ mumbled Simon. ‘I’m not going to do an encore. But I might just decide to die right here. There’s another body? Jesus!’

‘What about this bloke behind the shed then? Do you know who he might have been?’ said Cochran.

‘I think it might have been the milkman.’

Shit, Stacey, it’s time for some straight answers. This is not just another break and enter like at your damned flat. It’s murder. It’s now triple murder! This guy was shot in the head and guess what? His tongue had been cut out of his head. Don’t fuck me around here!’ The inspector was overheating. The two men’s complexions were at stark contrast. Stacey pale and ready to pass out, and Cochran on the verge of exploding.

‘It was an apartment or a home unit, not a flat. And I honestly have no idea who that bloke is, or was. His tongue cut out? What sort of deal is that? Some mafia thing? Fuck me.’

‘Was there anyone else besides your wife and son staying at the property?’

‘No. There was no one else there when I left the house at seven o’clock on Tuesday night. I don’t know anyone who hates me enough to do such a thing. Why didn’t they get out of the house? There must have been noises. They should have heard something. They should have got out. There were so many exits. Windows, doors. They should have got out!’ Simon found his speech was racing as he tried to keep pace with his thoughts.

‘I believe the arsonist planned it so that no one would escape with their life. We are still waiting on final results of the autopsies, but despite the state of the bodies, we have confirmation that one was your wife and another was most likely your son — according to weight, age, height, etcetera. As for the other body, we have no leads.’

‘I really want to help. Don’t you think I want to nail the murdering sons of bitches?’ Simon’s voice faltered as a solitary tear ran down his cheek.

‘There are a couple of questions I must ask that I know you’re not going to like.’

‘Okay, Inspector, go on then, don’t be shy.’

‘You told the detective yesterday that you were with that Duncan fellow, playing cards, at the time of the fire.’

‘Yes, I was,’ replied Simon cautiously.

‘I’ll need his full name and address to confirm that.’

‘You think I had something to do with this! Are you crazy? This is totally absurd.’

‘At this stage I don’t know what to think. I have to check out all the angles. Isn’t it true that you stand to collect five million dollars from your wife’s life insurance policy?’

‘That policy is nearly three years old. It covered both our lives. I don’t need the money, anyway.’

‘Isn’t it true that you altered the policy six months ago and doubled the payout?’

‘You arsehole, Cochran! That’s enough. Are you charging me?’

‘No, I’m not. But if you hinder investigations, I’ll ...’

‘Well thank you very much and good-bye.’ Simon promptly stood up and made for the door.

‘That name and address, Stacey!’

Twenty-One Kingsview Terrace! Teddy Duncan!’ shouted Stacey. He wrenched the door open, hesitated briefly, then looked back at the inspector. ‘Those fat cells have infiltrated your brain, Cochran. Your synapses have been replaced by cellulite.’ He slammed the door and left.

After taking few deep breaths, Cochran sifted through his paperwork, examining the reverse side of each page. He flipped over the second-last sheet and found what he was searching for. There it was; Edward Duncan - 21 Kingsview Tce. - Deceased – time of death estimated at 0400 hrs. on Wednesday 4th June – (approx. 4 hours after Stacey’s house fire).

Chapter 7

Familiar Friends

Upon completion of the afternoon rounds, Charlie Madden entered the foyer and reception area. His office was located behind the reception desk where Deborah stood chatting with Wendy, the receptionist, and two other fitness enthusiasts. Charlie smiled.

Hey, Charlie,’ she said brightly. ‘Excuse me for a moment guys,’ she said to her companions before stepping across in front of Charlie Madden.

‘Hey there, Deb. Always nice to see you. What’s up?’

‘How are you?’ She placed her hands on his shoulders. ‘That news about Simon. I know you were probably closer to him and Alison than most people here.’

‘It has shaken me up. I do worry for Simon more than anything. He’s a pretty strong guy but this…’ he paused and swallowed, ‘I don’t know how someone could ever recover. It’s just too hard.’ Charlie dropped his head, stepped away from Deb, and turned away. The small group had all stopped chatting and watched with Deborah as Charlie scurried into his office with his head lowered.

‘I’m just going to see if he’s okay,’ mouthed Deb softly to her friends. They all nodded. She followed him into the office and closed the door.

Charlie was sitting with his elbows on the desk, resting his head in his hands. As Deborah entered he immediately grabbed a pen and paper.

‘You know, Deb, I’ve got a couple of great ideas. I have been thinking about the night club area. It’s a bit too small, but if we open the side wall towards the barbecue we can double the floor space as well as... as well as allow easier access to...’ Deborah squatted down next to him and grabbed him in her arms and squeezed.

‘You are a good man, Charlie Madden.’ She kissed him on the cheek.

‘Sorry,’ he squeaked.

You have nothing to be sorry about.’ She turned his head to face her. ‘Showing you have feelings is a good thing.’ Deb kissed him on the mouth. Lightly at first, then more passionately as he responded.

‘Wow,’ said Charlie when they finally broke. Their faces were still close.

‘I think we should sleep together,’ said Deborah.

‘Really!’

‘Oh, do you think that’s a bad idea?’

‘Oh, yes… I mean no. I mean of course. Yes, yes. It’s probably the best idea I’ve ever heard in my life.’

‘I have been told you can cook.’

‘I do okay. You should come over for dinner.’

‘Yes, I should.’

A sharp rap on the door disturbed the conversation.

‘Hey, Charlie, you got a minute?’ Came a loud voice through the door.

“It’s Simon!’ declared Deb.

Charlie blotted his face with a tissue and settled himself back at the desk. Deborah took only a moment to turn the door handle slightly to release the lock and sit opposite Madden.

The door’s open. Come on in,’ said Charlie. He took some deep breaths and began drawing on a blank sheet of paper. As the door opened, Deb took the initiative.

‘That sounds like a good idea, Charlie. How do you think it will work out cost wise?’

‘Ah! Simon. It’s good to see you.’ Charlie stood and moved to the side of the desk. Deborah gave Simon a consoling hug and a kiss on the cheek. Apart from his serious expression, Stacey looked a million dollars. He’d felt compelled to do some shopping after seeing Cochran, and had notched up a bill for five grand to restock some of his wardrobe. He was very smartly attired in a white wool sports coat, navy blue tie, and blue pin-striped business shirt.

‘We’re all so sorry to hear about Alison and Robbie,’ said Deb. ‘It’s horrible. How are you managing? Is there anything we can do?’

Simon returned the kiss, shook hands with Charlie, then dropped into the soft single recliner lounge to the side of the doorway.

‘Thanks, Deb. I’m just managing to cope and that’s all. If you don’t mind I’m trying to focus on the practicalities for the time being — to keep me from losing my mind. But it’s comforting to know I have such good friends.’

‘If there’s anything we can do, you know we are always here for you,’ said Charlie. ‘You have no need to worry yourself about this end of things. Everything is just fine. Business is booming.’

‘I know I can rely on you both, as I can on everyone here. I just thought I’d better put you all in the picture before you read it in the papers tomorrow morning.’ Simon paused and swallowed heavily before continuing. Deborah sat down.

‘It’s been confirmed that the fire was deliberately lit. So you see, it’s murder. My family has been murdered. And so was someone else; an unidentified man’s body was found as well. Now, I believe that whoever orchestrated this tragedy has some master plan. I have no idea at this stage what that might be or who is involved, but it does mean that you all need to be a little careful.’ Stacey was concentrating on his words, trying to keep his emotions under control. He looked up at his two friends. Deborah and Charlie were stunned.

‘What the hell are the police doing about it?’ asked Charlie after an extended silence. He began a slow pace around the office.

They don’t tell me much. They just ask lots of questions. Apparently, they have very few leads.’

‘Why do we need to be careful here? Is there some sort of threat?’

No. There is no threat, Charlie. It’s just me being careful. When someone targets your family, and blows up your house, it makes sense to take a little extra care. Wouldn’t you agree?

‘Sure. Of course.’

‘You need to tell everyone to keep their eyes open. If they see anything unusual or anyone… Charlie, can you sit down please?’ Simon was both surprised and a little irritated by Madden’s behaviour.

‘Sorry, just thinking, that’s all. I think better when I’m walking.’ He returned to his desk chair.

‘Now let’s get this clear; I don’t want anyone else getting hurt. I don’t think anything is going to happen here at the club, but I’m not prepared to take any chances. I’ve hired a security guard. His name is Oscar Schliemann. He’s a big German guy who knows his business. You can expect him tomorrow morning. As far as security matters are concerned he is to have full control. He will be doing a little quiet research for me as well, so tell him anything he wants to know. No secrets whatsoever.’

Deborah sat quietly. Her dark-brown eyes glistened as the first tear ran down the side of her nose. While she found the whole scenario very upsetting, it was the soulless act of Robbie’s fiery murder that cut the deepest.

‘And what if we see something then?’ asked Charlie, fidgeting with his pen.

‘Tell Schliemann, he’ll know what to do. That’s what he’s getting paid for. And one more thing; let’s not start a panic here. Use those staff management skills of yours, Charlie. I’m counting on you. We don’t want to scare off our members, do we? It’s business as usual.’

‘Okay, sure. I’ll chat with the others this afternoon. Where will you be in case I need to contact you?’

‘I’m staying at Adrian Devlin’s place. I think you already have his details.’

‘Yes, I do.’

Simon stood and moved over to Deborah.

‘Are you okay, Deb? I’m sorry about all this, but we’ll have it sorted out within a couple of weeks.’

‘I’ll be just fine, thanks, Simon. You take care now. It’s nice having you around.’ Deborah blotted the tears from her cheeks.

‘Right then! I’ll be in touch. Sorry I have to rush, but as you might appreciate there are a few matters I still need to attend to. Are there any other questions?’

Probably lots, but I’m lost for words at the moment,’ replied Charlie.

‘Well, you know where to reach me. Leave a message on the answering machine if you need to.’

Stacey reached across the desk. Madden stood, and the two men shook hands firmly.

‘Thanks, my friend,’ added Simon. Charlie nodded and escorted Simon to the main entrance. On returning to the office he found Deborah still sitting quietly, but looking much more composed. He squatted beside her chair.

‘You okay?’

‘Yeah,’ she sniffed. ‘I’ll be fine. What sort of a world is it, Charlie, when a family can’t be safe in their own home?’

‘You hear about this sort of thing, read it in the papers, then, suddenly it’s all so real, and so very close. It’s frightening. Makes you realise how vulnerable we all are. I don’t mind telling you, Deb, it makes me a little nervous.’

They both pondered quietly for a moment. Charlie felt a hint of guilt for not being able to devote his thoughts completely to Simon’s cruel ordeal.

‘Deb, about before?’

‘Oh, that. It’s nothing. I’m fine, really. Just got a little upset with all that talk. It’s so sad.’

‘No, no, I don’t mean that. I mean before that.’

‘Oh, that! I guess I was a little forward, wasn’t I!’

‘I’m not complaining.’ She laughed lightly at his remark. It helped dry up her tears.

‘I’ve been trying to get your attention for a while. I wasn’t just sitting on your lap at the night club the other night for the benefit of the photographer.’

‘I guess I’ve been a bit preoccupied,’ said Charlie, with a slight flush in his cheeks. ‘Sorry.’ Deb put her finger over his lips.

‘No more sorries. Just dinner. At your place.’

‘What about this evening?’ Charlie wasted no time with his response.

‘I’d love to, but I’ve promised to babysit three kids for friends. Worse still, I’ll be going to spend a couple of days with my parents. They live out of town and I’m driving up there tomorrow after work. I haven’t seen them for ages. Mum’s been a bit unwell. But I’m free on Monday evening.’

‘Monday, eh! Seems an awfully long time away. I’ll just check my diary.’ Charlie grabbed the book off the desk and opened it. ‘Yes, it looks like I have some room in my schedule.’

‘Best pencil me in then.’

Chapter 8

The Briefing

The idle chatter quickly subsided as Cochran marched through the open door to the debriefing room and took up his position in front of the large whiteboard. He threw some notes and photographs on the table. The four men took up their pens and notebooks.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-42 show above.)