by Claire McNab
Australian top cop Carol Ashton must outsmart a fiendishly clever killer.
A careless jogger plummets from a great height. A man is the victim of a fatal hit-and-run. A woman topples over a cliff while sightseeing. Tragic accidents occur everyday.
When Detective Inspector Carol Ashton is called in to investigate Captain John Trelawney’s fatal fall from Sydney’s scenic North Head, she discovers that his brutal demise may fit into a disturbing state-wide pattern of apparently accidental deaths. Carol’s suspicions are heightened when a closer look at these accidents reveals that they effectively eliminate a problem person and provide a substantial insurance payout. But before Carol can catch the killer she must prove that these seemingly unrelated deaths are, in fact, murder and very much related…
Fourteenth in the Carol Ashton Series.
First Published by Bella Books 2002.
The Wednesday early morning phone call came just as Carol returned from her daily run through the bushland with Olga, her neighbor’s enthusiastic German Shepherd. She snatched up the receiver on the fourth ring before the answering machine could cut in. “Carol Ashton.”
Detective Sergeant Mark Bourke’s voice had its usual amused timbre. “Someone tumbled off the cliffs at North Head around six-thirty this morning. I’ve got a name—John Trelawney, but not much else. The local cops are on the scene and the Police Rescue Unit should be there by now. The victim’s wife is crying foul play, so I thought you’d like to take a look, since it’s so close to you.”
Carol sighed as she put down the phone. It was early autumn, and not yet too chilly to have breakfast outside on the back deck sheltered by crowding gumtrees. She’d been looking forward to sitting with her coffee and toast and the morning paper spread out on the redwood table. Sinker would be lurking nearby with his habitual high hopes of snagging one of the birds who regularly mocked his hunting efforts. The rainbow lorikeets, their feathery bodies beautiful, but decidedly garish in blue, green, violet and orange, were always particularly abusive, screeching insults the moment they spied Sinker’s black and white form.
This morning she’d have to forego this small delight that helped her prepare for the morning drive to work. Traffic seemed to be becoming thicker every week. She had a fast shower, gulping black coffee as she dressed, and was making sure Sinker had adequate provisions to keep his feline self happy when the phone rang again.
“The inestimable Detective Inspector Carol Ashton?” inquired a warm American voice.
“That would be me.” Carol found herself smiling. “And I presume this is remarkable FBI Agent Leota Woolfe.”
“The very one. Carol, I’ll be in Sydney tomorrow for a conference on international terrorism, and I was hoping you could keep an evening, maybe more, free for me. Sorry to spring this on you at such short notice, but I’ve just learned myself that I’m scheduled at the conference.”
“For you, Leota, I’ll cancel everything on my busy social agenda.” It was almost disconcerting to hear the playfulness in her own voice.
“It’s at the Wallitz Hotel in Sydney. I’ll call you once I’m there and can figure out when I can steal some time. They’re expecting me to be available twenty four-seven, of course, but hey, a girl’s got to have a break, don’t you think?”
“I do,” said Carol with emphasis. “I’ll wait for your call.”
Hurrying to her car in the street-level carport, Carol pictured Leota Woolfe’s dark skin, compact body, and the slow urgency of her kiss. Carol had met her while she had been in the States for a rigorous training course at Quantico, Virginia. Their relationship now was a great deal more than mutual attraction, but Carol deliberately had not thought of the future, even when Leota arranged for a transfer to overseas duty in Australia. For the past few months Leota had been stationed in Canberra as one of the FBI representatives liaising with the Australia federal government.
Casting one last regretful glance at her tree-surrounded house, Carol turned her mind to the situation ahead. The site of the fall almost certainly meant that the victim was dead, as the cliffs plunged at least a hundred meters to the rock platform below.
The Sydney Harbour National Park was only twenty minutes away from her home in Seaforth. Carol zipped down Sydney Road, glancing with resignation at the clogged traffic on the other side heading towards the bottleneck of the Spit Bridge and the torturous drive through suburban streets towards the city. She skirted the Manly shopping area and flew up Darley Road, a steep ascent that passed the imposing presence of St. Patrick’s College and then the far more utilitarian buildings of Manly Hospital.
At the crest of the hill Carol turned onto the narrow North Head Scenic Drive. On her right was bushland, on her left the anonymous military homes belonging to North Head Army Barracks. These were soon replaced by the blank surface of a high stone wall garnished with broken glass to discourage trespassers. It was early in the day for tourists. Carol saw only a few cars on the road, although she knew when the story hit the news quite a few people would be unable to resist visiting the scene of the tragedy.
Focused on finding where the police cars were parked, Carol hardly spared a glance at the wonderful views that soon appeared off the Sydney Harbour, and far away across the water the tall buildings of central Sydney glistening in the morning sunlight. The vegetation, now fully exposed to the harsh winds from the ocean, had become progressively more stunted as she drove along the headland.
The scenic road ended in a one-way loop that brought all traffic back the route it had come. In the adjacent parking area Carol saw two patrol vehicles, a black four wheel drive with two people sitting in the back seat, and a couple of other cars, one parked away in a corner. A constable who looked far too young to be in uniform was waving would-be sightseers’ vehicles away.
“You can’t stop here,” he barked at Carol, then blushed. “Oh, Inspector Ashton, I didn’t realize it was you.”
“It’s me. Where did it happen?”
He pointed. “That way. Follow the path and look for the Rescue truck. You can’t miss it.”
“Apart from the patrol cars, can you account for all these vehicles?”
He frowned, then realization dawned on his face. “You mean could there be someone else here we don’t know about?”
“Something like that.”
“The Toyota four wheel drive belongs to the guy who fell off the cliff. That’s his wife in the back, with Sid trying to calm her down. This car here is Sergeant Dent’s.”
“The one in the corner?”
Carol suppressed her impatience. “Radio the license plate details and find out the registered owner.”
“Right away,” he said.
She parked her car and set off through the low shrubs. Only hardy vegetation could exist in the poor soil and exposed conditions of the headland. As if to prove this was an inhospitable environment, a brisk, cutting breeze was whipping up over the edge of the cliff, bending the brush before it. Carol pulled her jacket more tightly around her. In the shelter of the parking area the sun had been warm, but here there was a wintry bite to the air.
Joining the silent knot of people peering over the cliff, Carol checked who was there: two patrol officers in uniform, a man and woman whom she assumed were local cops from the Manly Station, and a couple of members of the Police Rescue Unit. The police doctor hadn’t yet arrived, nor had the crime scene personnel.
The Police Rescue truck had been backed right up to the safety fence so that a cable attached to a heavy winch could snake over the edge, joining climbing ropes that also disappeared into the void. Carol wasn’t worried by heights, but even she was appalled when she glanced over the rim to see the drop down which the other two members of the Rescue team were abseiling.
The sandstone cliff, constantly assaulted by the elements, was slowly disintegrating. Huge slabs that had fallen from its face were heaped on the rock platform far below. On one sloping block the body lay, arms and legs outstretched. It seemed tiny, like a discarded toy, and the two men dangling on ropes above it like foolish risk-takers who could plunge to the bottom any moment.
The man in overalls next to Carol, who was supervising the playing out of the cable holding the cradle to which the body would be strapped, glanced over at her with a grin. “How yer goin’, Carol?”
She’d known Vance Leroy for many years. “Fine,” she said. “And you?”
“Can’t complain. Squeaked by without the Integrity Commission gettin’ me.”
Carol grimaced. The Police Service was in the middle of yet another corruption scandal. Several cops with whom she’d trained had been caught up in the Commission’s net.
Their conversation broke the spell that held the rest of the group silently staring over the edge. A burly man in a wrinkled brown suit held out his meaty hand. “Sergeant Richie Dent, Manly cops.” He had narrow eyes that slanted downward at the outer corners, giving him a perpetually pained expression. “Don’t think we’ve met.”
He gave an amused grunt. “No need to tell me that, Inspector. You’re famous, remember?”
Ignoring the jeering note with which he delivered this comment, Carol glanced at the woman by his side. Dent flapped a hand. “And this is Constable Karrie North, just new to the station. And we’re lucky to have her, eh, Karrie?”
Constable North gave him a cold look, then nodded politely to Carol. She was tall and awkwardly made, as though her body hadn’t turned out quite as intended. Or perhaps, Carol thought, it was the way she held herself, as though uncomfortably aware there was a good chance she would blunder into some object unless she took great care.
Dent said, “You’ll be wanting to speak with the victim’s wife, Inspector. Got her sitting back in the parking area.”
“Did she see her husband fall?”
He shook his head. “She says it was too cold for her, so she waited in the car while he went off with his binoculars. He was captain, retired, she says, came up here several days a week to watch the shipping.”
Carol looked around. She remembered a time when there had been no barrier to the edge, but in recent years safety fences had been erected in the locations that offered the best views. Here where they stood the wire-netting fence was waist high, and easily surmounted. There was a meter or so of rock before the sheer drop began.
“Do we know the point from which he fell?”
Dent jerked a thumb in the direction of the Police Rescue officers. “Ask them. They’re the experts.”
Vance Leroy was fully involved in paying out the cable from the truck, so Carol asked the question of one of the other men in overalls.
“Yeah, Inspector, we nutted it out before we drove the truck in. Didn’t want to put our big feet in any evidence, did we? Still, I reckon you won’t find much anyway.” He pointed to the other end of the fenced area. “Judging from where he landed, we calculated he probably took the dive from about there, give or take a bit.”
“Did you tell this to Sergeant Dent?” asked Carol, hiding her growing irritation.
“Yeah.” The man gave her a grin. “Wasn’t much interested.”
Carol thanked him, did a quick visual check of the area indicated, being careful not to step too close to the railing, then went back to Dent. “I want this entire area cordoned off.”
Dent, looking bored, said, “Look after it, Karrie, will you?” He shoved his hands into his pockets and began a tuneless whistle.
It was not uncommon for Carol to run into this passive-aggressive stance. Some suburban cops had an automatic us-and-them response to any head office incursion onto their turf. Deciding that challenging Dent about his attitude would only encourage him, she stuck to the matter at hand. “Have you any feeling that this might be a suicide?”
“A jumper?” Dent lifted his thick shoulders. “I put the idea to his wife, but no way would she go along with it. Seems she thinks he was pushed, but she didn’t come up with why or how or who.” His attitude made it clear he thought her opinion was hardly worth discussing.
“Nope. Or at least, no one that stuck around.”
“Perhaps you could have your patrol officers do a quick search.”
Dent’s face hardened at this, obviously seeing an implied criticism in Carol’s suggestion. “Look,” he said, “the guy got too close to the edge and fell over. Or maybe he did jump. Who knows?” Unsaid was, Who cares?
“There’s an unidentified car in the parking area, so there well might be a witness on the headland who noticed something.”
He gave an impatient grunt, called the two patrol officers over, instructed them to do a sweep of the immediate headland, then turned to Carol. “Satisfied?”
By now cynically amused by Dent’s near insolence, she gave him a half-smile that seemed to disconcert him, but was spared any further confrontation because the cradle with its lifeless burden was winched into view. Vance maneuvered it to the ground near the truck and unclipped the cable. “A total goner from the second he went over,” he observed.
The body was wrapped in a waterproof sheet, held tight by the straps cinching it securely into the cradle stretcher. Vance unfastened the top strap and flipped back the sheet. “Want to have a gander?”
Carol gave the body a quick look, knowing nothing she could observe here was going to be of much help. The post mortem would reveal the cause of death, which was almost certainly from the trauma of the fall. There was always the off chance that John Trelawney had been shot or stabbed before his trip into empty air.
He’d landed face down, so his features were unrecognizable. Carol thought she could detect a mustache. His skull was smashed and deformed, but it was still clear that he had had a fine head of steel gray hair. Incongruously, the remains of binoculars, flattened by the fall, were still on a strap around his neck.
“Doctor’s here,” said Dent.
The police doctor was followed, Carol saw with pleasure, by Liz Carey, head of the crime-scene team, and three of her technicians. Liz, short, square and brusque, said, “Morning, Carol. Any idea where he went over?”
Carol pointed to Karrie North, who was running crime scene tape around the boundaries of the area. “The Rescue guys think about there.”
Liz gestured to her team, who moved off with the competent movements of those who know exactly what was expected of them. As Liz herself often said, “I run a bloody tight ship,” and no one stayed on her team who failed to meet the standard of excellence she demanded.
“Nice day for it,” Liz said to Carol, squinting up at the sky.
Above, a gray sea-eagle was riding the wind, its wings stiffly upswept as it soared on the updraft from the water. Carol had the fanciful thought that the eagle was watching them, amused at the sight of humans struggling to conquer the height with ropes and tackle. Abruptly it folded its wings and plunged, disappearing in a near-vertical dive after some prey only it could see.
Carol wished she had a leisurely day to spend enjoying such sights. She was very familiar with North Head and had spent many hours there. It was a favorite place to take visitors to Sydney to show off the splendid panorama of water, rocks and city. Along with the matching South Head, this northern headland formed a spectacular gateway into Port Jackson, with precipitous sandstone cliffs plummeting to the dark blue-black of deep ocean water. Carol had stood on this headland after fierce storms, watching the huge waves rolling in from the Pacific to obliterate themselves against the coastline with such force that her face was wet with salt spray lifted over a hundred meters by the wind.
The two Rescue Unit men who’d gone down to secure the body had climbed back up and were busy, retrieving ropes and divesting themselves of equipment. Liz and Carol went over to question them about their observations of the body and the area where it had landed. “Here, love,” said one, handing Liz a set of Polaroid photographs. “Didn’t think you’d want to go down there yourself, and the tide’s coming in anyway, so me and Doug took some pictures for you.”
Delighted, Liz flipped through them. “Mate, your blood’s worth bottling. Is it too much to hope you had a good look around the site, as well?”
“Good as we could under the circumstances. We had to get the bloke out of there before the waves washed him away. I didn’t see anything unusual.” He looked over at his companion. “Greg, did you?”
“Not a thing.”
Liz made a face at Carol. “Hopeless as a crime scene, and I don’t think we’re going to get much up here. Any idea if it was an accident, or something more interesting?”
“I’m praying for accident,” said Carol in heartfelt tones. “I don’t want anything more interesting at the moment.”
Carol made her way back to the parking area, enjoying the few moments of solitude with the company only of the wind and the raucous cry of a seagull overhead. As she approached the black Toyota, a uniformed officer opened one of the back doors and leapt out with palpable relief. “A bit hysterical, she is.” He looked more closely at Carol and added hastily, “Inspector Ashton.”
Anonymity was not a state that Carol could look forward to with any confidence. Over the years she’d had many high profile cases that had excited media attention. This meant she was easily recognized not only by other cops, but also by members of the general public.
Moving away from the vehicle, Carol asked if the woman had said anything of interest while he’d been sitting with her. He shook his head. “Just very upset, you know, crying and saying how she always told him to be careful. Stuff like that.”
Evelyn Trelawney turned to Carol with relief when she slid into the seat vacated by the officer. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re a woman, if you know what I mean. Not that he wasn’t trying to be helpful, but…” She made a vague gesture with one flaccid hand. “Men…They don’t really understand, do they?”
Evelyn Trelawney had a high, piping voice, stick-thin arms and legs, and a pigeon chest that Carol always associated with chronic asthma sufferers. She was wearing a tweed skirt and a lilac blouse with a cardigan in a deeper shade of the same color. She had limp gray hair, pale blue eyes and an expression that combined anxiety and a desire to please. Her eyes and nose were red from crying, and she clutched a handful of damp paper tissues.
Carol introduced herself, and the woman nodded. “Do you want some coffee, dear?” she asked, indicating a large silver thermos flask. “The Captain always liked his coffee after he’d finished with his sightings. We came up here, two, three, sometimes four times a week. He was a captain for many years, many years. It was his hobby, you know, watching the shipping movements. Kept him interested.”
Ordinarily Carol would have killed for coffee, but somehow the idea of drinking a dead man’s beverage seemed macabre. “No, thank you.” Then, thinking there might be a possibility some drug had been added to the thermos that could explain the fall, Carol added, “Did your husband drink coffee before he left the car?”
“Oh, no dear! The Captain was a man of very decided habits. He only had coffee after he returned from his sightings. Never before.”
“You didn’t accompany him on his sightings?”
“Well, yes, I did sometimes. I kept very quiet, of course. The Captain doesn’t like to be disturbed when he’s concentrating. But this morning it was so cold, and I wheeze a bit when I get chilled, so I stayed here while he—”
She broke off as tears filled her eyes.
“So you didn’t see anything?”
“No, dear. But when he took so long, I went to look for him.” A sob shook her body. “His favorite spot—I went there. And I couldn’t see him, and then I looked over the edge, not really thinking that…”
“I’m so sorry for your loss, but I hope you understand I have to ask these questions.”
Evelyn Trelawney blew her nose daintily, then patted Carol’s hand. “I understand. You’re only doing your job.”
“Did your husband ever climb over the fence to get a better view?”
“Yes, dear. All the time. He had no patience for things like safety fences. Said everyone should take responsibility for their own safety. He was very adamant about that.”
“And this morning, did he seem quite normal?”
“Normal?” Evelyn seemed defensive. “Why wouldn’t he be normal?”
“What I mean is, was your husband preoccupied, perhaps, or not feeling as well as usual?”
This gained Carol a sharp look. “What are you saying? That he got dizzy, or something like that?”
“It is a possibility.”
“The Captain was perfectly well. He hardly had a day’s sickness in his entire life.”
She filed away the fact that the topic of Trelawney’s health seemed to cause some indignation in his wife, and changed the subject. “Did you see anyone else around, or notice a strange car? Anything unusual?”
Evelyn Trelawney gave an emphatic shake of her head. “Absolutely nothing. But I’ve been sitting here thinking, and I know what happened.” Her soft face had a look of grim determination. “I couldn’t tell that young man who was sitting with me—he wasn’t a detective. I decided I needed to speak with someone who would understand.” She leaned toward Carol. “Like you, Inspector.”
“Please tell me.”
“It could have been Dianne, you see. She’s always hated the Captain. Dianne could have sneaked up here to wait for him, and then pushed him over the cliff.”
She sent Carol a hopeful look. “You’ll question her, won’t you? I wouldn’t want her to get away.”
“And Dianne is…?”
“The Captain’s daughter.” She put up her thin hands. “No relation to me, thank heavens! Child of his first marriage.”
“Did you actually see Dianne here, this morning?”
Evelyn shook her head emphatically. “Oh, no. She’s far too cunning for that.” She clasped Carol’s hand with surprising strength. “You do believe me, don’t you?”
Carol had lost count of the times she’d been asked that question, frequently by people who were attempting to lie convincingly. In this instance she had no idea whether this accusation was a true belief, wishful thinking, or a spiteful attempt to vilify someone Evelyn disliked.
Choosing to be diplomatic, Carol said soothingly, “We’ll investigate everything fully.”
There was nothing more for Carol to do at the site. When Evelyn confided that the Captain had never let her behind the wheel of the four wheel drive, Carol arranged for one of the patrol officers to take the Toyota to Manly Police Station while she herself drove Evelyn there. The media had arrived in force, as had members of the public determined to see what was happening.
Once free of the crush of vehicles, Carol asked for more information about Trelawney’s daughter. Evelyn was pleased to comply. Dianne Beaton was John Trelawney’s only child, and had been ten when her mother and father separated. The divorce was acrimonious. Hostilities had continued until Dianne’s mother had died.
“Ruth and the Captain were never really suited,” Evelyn declared. “And then, of course, he fell in love with me, you see.”
Her tears had stopped, and apart from an occasional tremble of her lips or the odd sniff, she seemed considerably calmer. “His first wife, she was a loud woman. John couldn’t abide loud women. Ruth accused me of stealing him away from her, but that, of course, wasn’t true. Don’t smile, but when he met me he told me that it was a case of him finding his true soul mate. Ruth never understood that. Until the day she died she blamed me.”
Resisting the temptation to ask why the Captain had married a loud woman when he couldn’t stand such a creature, Carol asked for the daughter’s address.
“Double Bay, dear. Dianne couldn’t afford to live in that area—she’s feckless, you know—but for the fact that her ex-husband gave her the house in the divorce settlement.”
“Did Captain Trelawney see his daughter regularly?”
“Oh, yes. The Captain was punctilious about such things. He knew his duty as a father, even if Dianne had no idea of the proper respect she owed him.”
“And they were on good terms recently?”
Evelyn folded her hands and bent her head to study them closely. “I believe you’ll have to ask Dianne about that. All I know is that her father was furious with her, and—” She broke off to look over at Carol. “I don’t accuse her lightly, you know. John was threatening to cut her out of his will. I don’t know any details. He didn’t discuss such things with me.”
“Did he change his will?”
“No, I’m sure not.” Her face full of consternation, she said, “Oh, dear. I suppose it’s only proper for me to call her and say what’s happened, even if she secretly knows already…”
Glancing over to see that Evelyn’s eyes were again brimming with tears, Carol said, “I’ll look after it.”
“Would you? I’d be so grateful. She’s always resented me, I’m afraid.”
At the station Evelyn Trelawney’s statement was typed and signed. Constable North, who was to drive the widow in the Toyota to the Trelawneys’ Balgowlah home, arranged for a patrol car to follow her for the lift back.
On her way out Evelyn caught sight of Carol and came over to say to her, “He was a handsome man, the Captain. People looked up to him. He was that kind of person, he demanded respect automatically, if you see what I mean. You’ll return the photos, won’t you?”
“Of course. It’s just a formality to ask for them.”
She nodded, satisfied, and allowed herself to be led away.
Double Bay was only a few kilometers from the Police Centre, so Carol called Bourke, told him the events of the morning and arranged for him to call on Dianne Beaton. Evelyn had assured Carol, “Dianne doesn’t work, or do anything useful, just rattles around inside that mansion of hers. And Dianne’s had plenty of time to get back there this morning, after she…” Evelyn’s voice had faded away at that point as her face crumpled into a fresh flood of tears.
“Mark, when you tell Ms. Beaton about her father’s death, see what you think of her reactions. Evelyn Trelawney is more than keen to accuse her of making an early morning trip to this side of the harbor with the aim of killing her father. It seems far-fetched on the face of it, but you never know.”
“You certainly don’t,” said Bourke with a laugh. “There’s something about close familial relationships that brings out the murder in people.”
Sergeant Dent intercepted Carol as she was about to leave for the city. Seeming displeased, he said, “That car in the parking area belongs to one Reginald Munson. After a bit of a search we found him halfway down the headland in the middle of the bush.” His mouth twisted in a sneer. “He claims he’s a birdwatcher, but I’d reckon he’s a perve.”
“What would interest a pervert at that location so early on a cold morning?” Carol asked.
Dent shrugged impatiently. “Ask him yourself. He’s on his way here right now.”
“Has he got a record?”
Another irritated shrug. “Doesn’t seem to. Maybe he hasn’t been caught, yet.”
Reginald Munson was a meek, round-shouldered man in a worn duffel coat and ancient jeans. He held a binocular case in one hand and a faded baseball cap in the other. He entered the interview room cautiously. His gaze flickered in turn to the sparse furniture—a table and several battered chairs—to the faintly grubby walls, the scuffed floor, and then to Dent and lastly, Carol. She introduced herself and invited him to sit down. When he shed his coat he revealed a homemade sweater of many colors, apparently knitted from odd balls of wool.
“See here,” he said, trying for truculence and succeeding only in looking apprehensive, “I was just minding my own business. You’ve got no call to bring me to the station.”
“A man fell from the cliffs this morning.”
“Yeah? Well, don’t look at me. I don’t know anything about it.”
Dent had remained standing. Hands rammed in his pockets, he loomed over Munson. “Just exactly what were you doing on North Head, hidden in the bush?”
“I told the other cop—I was birdwatching. I go up there often.”
“What sort of birds would they be? Young, attractive ones?”
Munson managed a weak smile. “The feathered sort. You wouldn’t catch girls up there that time of morning.” He leaned forward so he could yank a notebook out of his hip pocket. “Have a look at this. I keep a record of the birds I see.”
Dent’s derisive grunt indicated his opinion of Munson’s notebook. “You been in trouble before?”
“No!” Munson swallowed. “I did get a ticket once for speeding…That’s all.”
Interposing before Dent could continue, Carol said, “If you go up on the headland frequently, Mr. Munson, I imagine you see other people who are regular visitors too.”
“I might,” he said cautiously, “but I mind my own business. I’m not one for talking much.”
“Just hiding in the bush and watching, eh?” sneered Dent.
Ignoring this, Carol said to Munson, “Did you see any other vehicles?”
“When I was driving along I noticed a car parked on one of the pull-offs along the road. You know, where you can stop and look at the view.”
Carol asked him for more details. Munson was unable to add more than to say it was an ordinary sedan, blue he thought, and there was no one sitting in it.
Recalling Evelyn Trelawney had stated she hadn’t seen any other vehicles, Carol said, “When you parked your car was there anyone else there?”
“A black Toyota. Big thing—one of those off-the-road numbers. I didn’t want to get anywhere near it, so I parked at the other end.”
Dent, who’d been rocking on his feet and whistling to himself, broke in with, “Hiding, were you?”
“I wasn’t hiding, but neither of them would have noticed, anyway. They were having a ding-dong fight, or at least the old guy was shouting at this woman. It was his wife, I suppose, but whoever, he was off his head, and she was crying.”
“It’s not likely you could hear all this while they were in the vehicle, is it?” said Dent.
“They’d both got out. While I was watching, the man grabbed her arm and was pulling her, but she didn’t want to go. Red in the face, he was. He raised his hand and I thought he was going to hit her.” Munson’s face was apologetic. “Suppose you think I should have done something, and I would’ve if it had gone on, but then the old guy yelled something like, ‘Fuck you,’ and walked off.”
Dent’s expression showed he was inclined not to believe this story. “And what happened then?”
“The lady got back in the car. It wasn’t my business, so I took the long way around and avoided both of them.”
“Had you seen them on other occasions?” Carol asked.
“Yeah, I think so. But I told you, I don’t go up there to chat with people, so I don’t pay any attention to them. In fact, I keep away. They scare the birds.”
Further questioning didn’t shake Munson’s story. He’d seen no one else, apart from the occupants of the Toyota, he hadn’t heard a scream or shout, nor had he noticed anything unusual or out of the way.
“Then you lot turned up,” he said to Dent, adding with a hint of resentment, “I’d just spotted what I thought was a Southern Emu-Wren, but you cops frightened it away.”
As he was speaking, Karrie North slid quietly into the room. She went to Dent and handed him two photographs. He gave them a quick glance, waved a dismissal to the constable, then handed the photos on to Carol.
The larger one was obviously a formal portrait taken by a professional, the smaller a snap taken outside, with the Captain standing to attention in what looked like the back yard of a house. In both, the man was glaring directly at the lens with a set face. His steel gray hair was as disciplined as his posture, and his mustache bristled vehemently under a bony, high-beaked nose. His widow had been accurate when she had said he was handsome, Carol thought. In his youth John Trelawney had probably been quite stunning.
She put the photographs down in front of Munson. “Do you recognize this man?”
“Yeah, of course I do. It was the guy fighting with his wife in the parking area.” With what seemed to be an attempt at a jocular remark, Munson added, “Bit of a bastard, eh?”
“A dead bastard,” said Dent quellingly. “Sure you didn’t push him off the cliff?”
“I never went near him. Why would I?” He looked to Carol for help. “I didn’t even know the bloke.”
“Hmmm,” said Dent, rocking heel to toe, hands back in his pockets.
“Look, I want out of here. You can’t make me stay.”
Dent frowned at him for a long moment, then said, “We need a formal written statement from you, signed, before you can leave.” He leaned his bulky body closer to the seated man. “You have a problem with that?”
Munson put his hands up as if he thought Dent was about to strike him. “Okay, okay.”
Carol kept her face blank. She disliked bullies, and Richie Dent was plainly getting considerable pleasure out of intimidating this witness. “I’d like a copy of Mr. Munson’s statement faxed to me as soon as it’s available,” she said.
“You’re leaving us, Inspector?” Dent almost smiled.
Amused that he was so obviously delighted to be rid of her, Carol said, “Unless there’s something…?”
“We’ve got everything under control.”
Leaving Munson to make his formal statement, Carol located Constable North to ask her to make sure the photographs were returned to Evelyn Trelawney after copies had been made, then she went to her car.
The traffic had subsided to moderate levels, so Carol could take pleasure in contemplating the blue expanse of Middle Harbour as she swooped down to Spit Bridge, and, closer to the city, the gray arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the incomparable views of the harbor and Opera House.
Serenity wasn’t something Carol expected to feel, but this morning she felt content, calm. Her work schedule was extremely heavy, but several cases were in the winding-up stage and the rest appeared well under control. And Leota was coming to town. She smiled to herself.
Life was good.