by Claire McNab
Detective Inspector Carol Ashton is unaware that her investigation of execution-style murders and the bombing of a small-town police station has put her life in grave danger. The case leads her to the fringes of a mysterious underground group whose members are waging an undeclared war against anyone who does not share their extremist views.
Eighth in the Carol Ashton Series.
Originally published by Naiad Press 1996.
The Lesbian Review
I was really excited to read about the various organizations that worked together to solve the case. Introducing other prominent characters into the story was wonderful and I love how this author tied everything in so well without losing focus of the main character. In addition, there was no lag at all in the story. It was pure action all the way through! This story will grip you from the first page and carry you through the opaque networks that Detective Inspector Carol Ashton has to navigate in order to solve the case. If you are indeed a fan of riveting mysteries and thrillers, then I heartily recommend this book to you!
There was no moon. The shadowed suburban street was quiet. Neat lawns and disciplined flower beds surrounded darkened houses. In the distance a dog barked once, then was silent.
The battered station wagon, lights off, coasted to a stop in front of a house in the middle of the block. Fallen leaves scrunched under its tires. A striped cat, patrolling her territory, darted under a sheltering bush to watch the intruders.
The two men were efficient. They didn’t speak, but one grunted with the weight as they unloaded the first of two wrapped objects from the vehicle.
There was a subdued crackle of plastic as they removed the outsize rubbish bags. The taller of the two men fussed over the exact positioning of the bodies on the damp grass.
When he was satisfied, he looked up at the house. “Traitor,” he said softly.
As they drove away, the lawn sprinkler system came to life with a sibilant hiss.
Detective Sergeant Mark Bourke squinted as he ducked under the blue-and-white plastic tape that delineated the crime scene. The autumn nights were cool, but the sun still had a bite, even this early in the morning. Although most of tree-lined Burma Drive had been cordoned off, curious onlookers were at all vantage points, some locals equipped with binoculars.
Bourke looked back at the crush of media vehicles. Reporters clustered around the police doctor, who was trying to make his way to his car. Bourke’s blunt-featured face, usually pleasant, clenched in a scowl. Gesturing to a uniformed officer, he snapped, “Keep them back. Way back. And don’t let any media talk their way into these neighboring houses.”
The constable looked doubtfully at the swelling crowd. “We’ll try, but—”
“Just do it.”
The focus of police activity was at the lower edge of an unfenced gently sloping lawn, freshly cut and still a lush green, even after a long, hot summer. White screens shielded the crime scene from the media’s cameras. On the right side of the lawn a short driveway led up to a double garage. Wide sandstone steps continued to the substantial, but undistinguished, house. Its single story of pale brick was capped with a brown tiled roof. Some attempt to mitigate its plainness had been made with a number of sandstone urns spilling bright cascades of flowers. The beige front door was tightly closed, although Bourke was sure the white curtains twitched in the front room.
He glared balefully at a news helicopter chattering overhead, then turned his attention to the crime scene. The photographer was packing up his gear and telling a long involved joke to one of the forensic technicians. They laughed together, ignoring the still faces turned to the sky, the flies that were beginning to buzz around the scent of death.
The bodies were laid out precisely on the grass, their arms folded tight behind them, their feet bound. Each wore jeans and a bloody T-shirt. The younger man, his mouth gaping below the black cloth of his blindfold, lay parallel to the roadway to form the top of the T shape; the older, stockier male formed the stem of the letter. His mouth was closed tightly, as though he had met with fortitude the bullets that had shattered his chest. A rolled newspaper rested against his thigh.
“Quite a shock for the guy delivering the paper,” said Bourke to Liz Carey, head of the crime scene team. “Don’t imagine the rest of the street got their Monday morning news in time for breakfast.”
Short and square, with a shock of iron-gray hair, Liz grinned up at Bourke. “Have you seen the headline? Seems appropriate.”
He leaned over to inspect the rolled newspaper. The black lettering was clear: DEATH PENALTY DEMAND. Underneath in smaller print it continued: Agar Blasts Critics. ‘Let the People’s Will Be Heard’.
“He’s pissing into the wind,” said Liz. “They’ll never reinstate the death penalty.”
“Mr. Agar thinks he can say or do anything,” said Bourke, his voice heavy with scorn. He glanced up at the house. “I bet he’s waiting for the timing to be just right before he fronts the cameras.”
“He’s a politician, so he can’t help it, but even he would think twice before using this for publicity.”
Bourke shoved his hands into his pockets. “You think so? It looks like every media outlet got the word something was happening here.”
Liz grinned at his sharp tone. “Inspector Ashton on her way? That’ll stir them up even more.” She gestured toward the carefully arranged bodies. “And I can only imagine what reporters are going to make of this little layout. Got any ideas?”
Brushing a fly away from his face, Bourke said irritably, “Beats me. Some ritual…An initial?”
Liz looked at him sideways. “Not your usual sunny self, Mark?”
He grunted. There was a flurry of excitement in the media contingent. The sunlight caught a sweep of smooth blonde hair. Bourke watched Carol Ashton stride gracefully through the crowd, nodding recognition to reporters, but never breaking step. They’d worked together for years and he respected her, both as a friend and as a colleague, but sometimes, seeing her approaching like this, her cool beauty took him by surprise. She looked purposeful, determined, professional—all the things he knew her to be—but he also knew her well enough to see the anger in the tightness of her jaw and the line of her mouth.
Carol made a face as she came up to them. “You could have warned me about the media blitz.”
Liz Carey grinned. “Thought you’d be used to it, being as you’re so notorious.”
Carol’s eyes narrowed as she looked up at the house. “Thanks to Agar. Has he made an appearance?”
“Not yet,” said Bourke. “Thought I’d leave him to you.”
“Thanks a lot.” Carol switched her attention to the carefully arranged bodies on the grass.
Liz Carey gestured widely. “Artistic arrangement, eh? I was sure you’d like to see the stiffs before we moved them.”
“They were found like this?”
“Absolutely. And no one’s moved them, at least since the sprinkler system came on sometime during the night. The grass underneath each body is comparatively dry.”
Bourke shook his head. “Not a thing. Someone’s cleaned out their pockets.”
“Any of the neighbors hear or see anything?”
“I’ve got a team door-knocking both sides of the street,” said Bourke, “but so far nothing. And Anne Newsome’s at the local cop shop getting a statement from the guy who discovered the bodies, but I don’t think he’s going to be much help.”
“Liz? What’ve you got?”
“Pretty well what you see, Carol. Seems they were both tied up, blindfolded, and then shot in the chest. Multiple wounds. Rigor’s pretty well established in both bodies, so that makes time of death roughly twelve hours ago.” She chuckled. “And I think someone would have noticed if they’d been lying there since yesterday evening, so that means they were brought here sometime after the firing squad.”
Carol raised her eyebrows. “Firing squad?”
Liz beckoned Carol to come closer to the younger man’s body. Using a ballpoint pen as a pointer, she said, “Look here. You can see the fragments of yellow cloth and a safety pin. Someone pinned cloth targets over their hearts.” She indicated a wound in the left shoulder. “Not everyone was a crack shot, however.”
“A lot of noise,” said Bourke. “Certainly would have woken up the neighborhood if it’d happened locally. I’ve asked for a check of all the metropolitan stations to see if anyone reported anything that could have been a volley of gunfire.”
The three of them stepped aside as two gurneys rumbled along the footpath. “Okay to move them now?” asked Liz.
“Sure.” Carol watched as the bodies, grotesquely frozen by rigor mortis, were loaded. She peered at the grass, which still had the imprints of the bodies. “Did you get anything here at the scene?”
“Only this,” said Liz, showing Carol a plastic evidence bag. “It’s some sort of medallion on a broken chain. Otherwise they were bloody careful. Hope we’re luckier with the bodies and the clothing.”
There was a stir in the crush of media. Carol looked up. “Surprise,” she said. “Kent Agar is making an appearance.”
A man had come out of the front door of the house on the rise above them. He was slightly built and wore a well-tailored charcoal double-breasted suit and his signature red bow tie. Agar paused for a long moment—Bourke made a sour observation about grandstanding—then began to walk slowly down the sandstone steps.
Carol met him before he was halfway. “Mr. Agar? I have some questions. Could we go back into the house?”
Agar stopped on the step above her. She was half a head taller, so they were eye to eye. Uncharitably, she decided that he had done this deliberately, knowing the cameras were on them as they spoke. He had a small-featured, sharp face, and high-arched eyebrows that gave him a habitual expression of supercilious surprise. His thinning auburn hair abruptly reminded Carol of Sybil, and the rich, exuberant red of her hair.
Agar’s narrow mouth twisted in a derisive half smile. “Keeping me away from my public, Inspector? Afraid I’ll have something disparaging to say about law enforcement…or you?”
“I would have thought you’d said quite enough about me…All under parliamentary privilege, I note.”
He gave a short laugh at her caustic tone. “You’d sue me if I spoke outside parliament, would you, Inspector? But I only spoke the truth—you are a sexual deviate, aren’t you? And in my opinion that makes you unfit to take any position of authority.” He cocked his head, apparently expecting some reaction.
Carol kept her face blank. “Do you know what time the garden sprinkler system comes on during the night?”
“Changing the subject, Inspector?”
Carol waited. Agar gestured impatiently. “I’ve no idea. I’ve just bought this place. I imagine there’s a timer somewhere.”
“Have you looked at the bodies closely?”
“Of course not.” He was clearly affronted. “The first I knew that anything was wrong was when I heard the sirens. I had no intention of joining the ghouls who turned up like flies at a picnic.” He gave Carol a small, smug smile. “However, I did call the Commissioner and the Minister for Police…But I suppose you know that already.”
Professional distancing always controlled her anger. She said neutrally, “Would you be willing to see if you can identify either of the men?”
“Identify them?” His voice was stiff with indignation. “I imagine the bodies could have been dumped on anyone’s property. It’s just my bad luck that it happens to be mine.”
Carol looked at him steadily. “There is a possibility, however remote, that there is some link to you because of your role as a member of parliament.”
“That’s highly unlikely.” His tone was contemptuous. “You’re just trying to involve me in some grubby little drug deal gone wrong.”
“It seems odd that two bodies should be arranged so carefully on your particular lawn, Mr. Agar.”
He glanced down at the activity below, then back to Carol. “It’s hardly common knowledge that I live here, since I only moved in last week. That means this has got nothing to do with me.” Bellicose, he shoved his face close to hers. “So, I suggest, Inspector Ashton, that you stop harassing me and get on with your job.”
Unmoved, Carol said crisply, “It will only take a moment.”
His mouth tightened. “Oh, very well!” He pushed past her and strode down the remaining steps. Halting beside Bourke and Liz Carey, he gave a cursory look at the bodies. Then he jerked his head back. Carol, following, heard him exclaim, “Christ!”
Bourke put a hand under Agar’s elbow. “You okay?”
Agar was gray faced. He swayed and bent double. It seemed he would fall without Bourke’s support. “Can you take the blindfold off?” His voice was hoarse. “The boy…”
Carol took Agar’s other arm. “No, that’s not possible. It has to be removed later, when the bodies go to the morgue. Do you want to sit down?”
With an obvious effort, Agar straightened. “I’d like to go inside.”
Carol said, “You recognize the younger man.” It wasn’t a question.
Agar nodded slowly. “I’m not sure, but it could be…”
“Who?” Bourke was abrupt.
“A friend of my son’s. Bayliss. Dean Bayliss. But it can’t be…”
Half an hour later, Carol and Bourke walked down the sandstone steps leading from Kent Agar’s house. They hadn’t been able to interview the politician. Once inside, he’d rushed to the bathroom and they had heard him vomiting. When he returned, pale and shaking, he’d refused to answer any questions and had reacted with spluttering fury when Carol had asked solicitously if there was any reason that he might need personal protection. Agar had announced he was calling his doctor and asked them to leave.
Outside the sun was higher, the day was warmer and, with the removal of the two corpses, the sightseers had dwindled to a tenacious few. The media contingent, however, still lingered.
A flurry of activity greeted their appearance: Cameras were hoisted to shoulders; reporters hastily checked their grooming; microphones were readied.
“They scent blood,” said Bourke. “There’s no way they didn’t see Agar’s reaction.”
As Carol and Bourke reached the bottom of the drive, several reporters shouted questions. Carol shook her head slightly, indicating that she wouldn’t give a sound bite. In the front of the pack, one brashly determined woman seemed energized by this refusal. Brandishing her microphone like a sword, she ducked under the crime-scene tape, evaded a uniformed constable, and rushed at Carol. “Inspector Ashton! How’s Kent Agar involved? Did he identify the bodies?”
Carol said smoothly, “I can’t comment at the moment. This is obviously very early in the investigation.”
The outflanked constable finally managed to grab the reporter’s arm. As she was escorted away, she called back over her shoulder, “Inspector, how do you feel about Agar’s personal attack on you last week…?”
Carol made no sign she had heard the question. Turning her back on the media, she said to Bourke, “Mark, I’ll be taken off the case if Agar’s involved in anything but a peripheral way.”
“There isn’t a cop that doesn’t hate his guts after the attacks he’s made on the Police Service.”
“True, but they were general—the one on me was personal. It could be hard to believe I wasn’t biased after that.”
Bourke’s mouth curved in a cynical smile. “And you aren’t?”
Carol glanced up at Agar’s mundane house. “If you mean would I be upset if something unfortunate were to happen to the little bastard, the answer’s obviously no. That doesn’t mean I can’t run an investigation fairly.”
“I’d love to nail Agar for something.”
There was so much venom in Bourke’s voice that Carol was startled. He was easygoing and objective, and rarely let even the most sordid crimes or loathsome suspects disturb his equanimity. “Agar’s really got under your skin, hasn’t he?”
“I can’t imagine why,” said Bourke with heavy irony. “I mean, Agar’s only a narrow-minded, self-righteous, grade A hypocrite who’s an apologist for White Australia, the gun lobby, and any other loony right-wing group who needs someone to make wild accusations under parliamentary privilege.”
“Well, you’ve convinced me!”
He grinned at her dry tone. “Sorry, but I really can’t stand the guy.”
Carol frowned at the grass where the indentations were still plain. “Any ideas on the T formation? I think we can take it that the arrangement was intentional. Can you think of any significance as far as Agar’s concerned?”
“Not a thing. As I told Liz, my guess is that it’s an initial or a symbol of something. It doesn’t have to be a letter of the alphabet—upside down it’s just two lines at right angles.”
“Inspector?” A young constable, face flushed, hurried up. “I’ve found out the lawn sprinklers were timed to go on at three-thirty for half an hour…And…” He paused in obvious triumph. “I’ve found someone who saw the bodies dumped!”
Buoyant with his achievements, he led Bourke and Carol to the house opposite Agar’s. It was a pleasantly sprawling building with large picture windows and a faintly neglected air. The rumpled middle-aged man waiting at the top of the short flight of steps hadn’t shaved. He introduced himself as he shook hands with Carol. “Hal Brackett, Inspector. As I told the officer, I may have seen something…”
He ushered them inside. The living room was untidy, with newspapers piled beside an easy chair. The coffee table held dirty glasses, a nearly empty bottle of whiskey, and an overflowing ashtray. Brackett looked around. “Sorry about this.”
A polite prompt from Bourke, “You may be able to help our investigation?” elicited a weary smile from Brackett.
“It may be nothing…” His voice trailed off. He made an ineffectual gesture at the room. “I never was much good at housekeeping.”
After a moment’s silence, Carol said, “Mr. Brackett, you saw, or heard, something during the night?”
Brackett sighed. “I told the officer, I haven’t been sleeping well…that’s why I didn’t answer when your people knocked earlier…I’d finally dozed off.” He fell silent.
He responded to Carol’s cue with another sigh. “This morning, about three-thirty, I got up because I couldn’t get to sleep. I came out here in the dark and…” He looked at the whiskey bottle. “…I had a drink.” He added defensively, “Just something to relax me.”
“I went over to the window and looked out. Not for any particular reason—just for something to do. There was a station wagon, Volvo, dark colored, on the other side of the street. I noticed it because it started to move off without lights, and it stayed that way until it turned the corner at the end of the street.”
Carol said, “Can you be sure it was a Volvo wagon? It was dark last night, Mr. Brackett. There was no moon, and there are a lot of trees in this street.”
His mouth turned down at the corners. “It was a Volvo,” he said bluntly. “My wife…my ex-wife drives one. Dirty brown color.” A pause, then he added, “I hated that car.”
Outside, Bourke made a face at Carol. “I’ll check the description of the station wagon against the stolen vehicle listings, but Brackett’s been hitting the sauce, so how reliable is he?”
“The time he gives might be elastic, although it would fit in with the lawn sprinklers, since the bodies had to be in place by three-thirty. Regarding the station wagon, I think he disliked that particular model enough to recognize it.”
Bourke grinned. “At least he’s not suggesting it’s his ex-wife driving the getaway car, is he?”
“No,” said Carol. “Let’s hope the thought doesn’t occur to him.”
* * *
Carol’s office was standard-issue police utilitarian, with impersonal furniture, neutral walls, and a window providing a view of yet another generic city building. As she entered, the phone rang. On top of the papers on her desk was a message from Superintendent Edgar with an imperious Urgent scrawled across the top. She picked up the receiver, expecting the Super’s self-important bass.
“Carol?” Madeline’s husky voice had a provocative lilt. “Where were you last night? I called, but you weren’t home.”
“I was working late.”
This wasn’t strictly true. Carol had found herself uncharacteristically reluctant to go home to an empty house and had spent two hours in a gym working out until she was exhausted.
“I haven’t seen you for days.” Rather than resentment, Madeline’s tone was one of mild astonishment.
“I’ll get back to you when I can. Right now I’ve got an appointment…”
“So you don’t have time to hear that the media were tipped off about the bodies on Agar’s lawn, before the cops were called?”
Carol straightened in her chair. “Are you sure?”
“I’ve been talking to the news director here at the station.” Madeline sounded pleased with herself. “Bill says Channel Thirteen’s overnight standby crew arrived at Agar’s house about the same time as the first patrol car. That was about six-fifteen. And we weren’t the only ones apart from other networks, key radio stations had been notified too.”
“How notified? And when? Was it logged in?”
Madeline gave a low laugh at Carol’s crisp questions. “You could see me tonight and learn every detail.”
“I need to know now. What’s the news director’s name?”
Madeline sighed. “Bill Keith, but I can tell you myself…It was an anonymous tip-off by phone at five-forty this morning. Whoever it was said that there had been a double murder at Kent Agar’s new home on Burma Drive, gave the exact address, and even helpfully supplied the nearest cross street.”
“Madeline, I’d appreciate it if you kept this quiet until we check it out. It might just have been a neighbor who didn’t want to get involved.”
“You mean I can’t feature this as a breaking story on my show tonight?” said Madeline in mock outrage. “As it is, we’re trying to get Agar on in person, though his PR woman won’t give a definite answer yet.”
“The Shipley Report” was stripped at seven o’clock, Monday to Friday, and Madeline Shipley was a potent force in television. Her image—copper hair, wide gray eyes, and confident smile—rode on the sides of buses, beamed down from billboards, stared out from the pages of magazines. Her interviewing skills, polished on many high-profile egos, ensured high ratings, and this in turn encouraged public figures to queue to be on her show.
Thinking of how shaken Agar had been when she and Bourke had left him, Carol said, “Do you really think he’ll go on television tonight? A double murder can’t be good publicity.”
“Darling,” said Madeline, “any publicity is good publicity to someone like him.” Her tone became warmly intimate as she purred, “Am I going to see you after the show? Please don’t disappoint me.”
Carol was irritated to feel a thrill of desire, and surprised to feel irritation. “I’ll get back to you, but it’s likely I’ll be tied up on this case.”
As she put down the receiver Carol reflected that when she was removed from Madeline she felt strong and complete, but in person Madeline had the disquieting ability to put Carol off balance, to jangle and disturb her. It certainly wasn’t Madeline’s obsessive paranoia about secrecy—that was only an aggravation. And it wasn’t just the undoubted potency of Madeline’s physical attractiveness. Somehow it was to do with the stainless-steel quality of Madeline’s will, her total self-confidence in the efficacy of her palpable charm, and the seductive suggestion that her feelings for Carol provided the only weakness in Madeline’s armor against the world.
Putting his head through the door, Bourke said, “No doubt you’ve got the same royal command from the Super that I found on my desk. It hasn’t taken long for Agar’s calls to the Minister and the Commissioner to filter down the ranks.”
Carol stood up. “Let’s get it over with.”
“What’s the hurry? We know what he’s going to say.” Bourke beckoned to the young woman standing behind him. “Anne’s here to give you a rundown of the statement she got from the guy who found the bodies.”
Anne Newsome crackled with energy. Her stocky body was ramrod straight, her short chestnut hair seemed to spring from her head, and her smooth olive skin glowed with health and enthusiasm. Carol felt an affection for the young constable, remembering herself as a green detective, and how anxious she had been to do well.
Carol subsided into her chair. “Okay, Anne, what’ve you got?”
“The guy from the newsagent—Dave Flint’s his name—drives down each street throwing rolled papers onto the appropriate lawns. He hit Burma Drive at a quarter to six and, because Agar’s new in the neighborhood, he slowed down and double-checked his list before he lobbed the newspaper. He says he saw the bodies in mid-throw, and almost sideswiped the curb. Got out, took a good look, then grabbed his mobile phone and called the cops.”
Carol broke in. “Did he call anyone else?”
“Just the news agency to say he had to stop delivering papers and wait for the cops.”
“And he’s positive it was six forty-five?”
Anne nodded. “On the dot. Says people turn feral and start calling if their morning paper doesn’t arrive in time for breakfast, so he starts his run at five-thirty in order to cover his whole area on schedule. If he doesn’t hit Burma Drive by quarter to six, he knows he’s in trouble and—”
The phone interrupted the rush of her words. Carol’s end of the conversation was brief. “Yes, Mark’s with me…We’re on our way.”
She slapped down the receiver. “Anne, while we’re with the Super, I want you to double-check the time Flint called in. Then start checking all the major newsrooms for press, radio, and TV. I want to know if they got an early tip-off about the bodies on Agar’s lawn and, more importantly, exactly when.”
“What was that about?” Bourke asked as they walked down the corridor to Superintendent Edgar’s office.
“Madeline called to say Channel Thirteen got an anonymous call about the bodies at five-forty this morning. That’s five minutes before Flint discovered them.”
“Madeline Shipley,” said Bourke with an admiring grin. “She’s got the story by the throat, as usual.” He looked sideways at Carol. “I wouldn’t like her after me—she never gives up.”
“Too true.” Carol thought wryly how Madeline would use almost any means to get a jump on her opposition. If guile, charm, or subtle intimidation didn’t work, she’d call in a favor—there was always someone influential who owed Madeline something.
Bourke, hands in pockets, was whistling thoughtfully to himself. “The call’s interesting, but it could just be someone out jogging who saw the bodies and didn’t want to get involved.”
“If more than Madeline’s station got an early warning, then somebody wants fast, intense publicity.”
She broke off as they reached Superintendent Edgar’s closed door. She knocked sharply and opened it. His office was a step up from Carol’s, but still austere. Edgar was seated behind his slightly larger desk. He swiveled in his regulation chair, gestured for them to sit, then regarded them pensively for a long moment.
Carol gazed back impassively. Superintendent Edgar had never shown brilliance as a detective, but he had worked his way up the ladder by being a consummate player of office politics. Carol knew that she would have his total support just for as long as he thought it prudent. If Edgar decided that being on Carol’s side would damage his career in any way he’d distance himself immediately…unless someone superior to him was willing to take the heat.
Carol was keenly aware of the advantage she had in that her mentor throughout her career was now the Commissioner for Police. It had cut both ways. The Commissioner had certainly advised her, guided her—but in return Carol had been given the hot potatoes, the challenging cases that had the potential to short-circuit her career.
“Well, Carol…” Superintendent Edgar had an avuncular smile she didn’t trust. “…This is another fine mess you’ve got yourself into.” He put his elbows on his desk and gave Bourke a man-to-man look. “Eh, Mark? What do you think?”
Bourke scowled. “Anything Agar’s involved in has got to be trouble.”
Edgar smoothed back his silver hair with a thick hand. “The Commissioner’s just spoken with me,” he said with satisfaction. “We had a long talk about the situation.” He paused to let his audience appreciate his favored status. “I don’t have to tell you this one has to be handled with kid gloves. As you say, Mark, Agar is trouble, and he’ll be just waiting for us to put a foot wrong. Even so, I’m sure his involvement is only incidental.”
He waited, silver eyebrows raised, for acceptance of this view.
Carol said, “There may be evidence that the media were informed before we were, to ensure maximum publicity.”
This clearly displeased Edgar. “You’re not suggesting Agar is responsible, are you?”
“The whole thing was premeditated. The bodies were brought to the house and deliberately arranged in a pattern on the grass. It seems unlikely it was an accident it was Agar’s place.”
Frowning, Edgar settled back in his chair. “I want to be kept informed, down to the smallest detail. And I want a clamp on this—no cozy off-the-record chats to reporters, understand?” He tapped his stubby fingers on the arm of his chair. “When are the post-mortems scheduled?”
“Tomorrow morning,” said Carol.
“I don’t want any leaks there, either. Sometimes the bloody reporters seem to have the autopsy findings before we do.”
“We may have a tentative identification of one body,” Carol said. “Kent Agar thought he recognized the younger man as a friend of his son’s.”
The Superintendent’s frown deepened at this further unwelcome news. “I don’t need to tell you that this investigation could be a minefield. But of course I have every confidence in you both.” He sucked in his lips. “I’m hoping you’ll find that Agar has no involvement, other than that someone randomly dumped the bodies on his property.”
To Carol the subtext was plain: Close the case as quickly and neatly as possible with the least political fallout.
“If Agar’s spot-on with his identification,” said Bourke, “there’s got to be some tie-in. It’s too much to believe that a friend of Agar’s son turns up dead at Agar’s Sydney house.”
“In the eventuality that Agar’s heavily involved,” said Edgar tartly, “Carol’s off the case. After the press we’ve had lately, we can’t afford any suggestion of prejudice on the investigating officer’s part.”
Carol didn’t argue. On one level the possibility of being replaced infuriated her: She wanted to be the nemesis of whoever had coldbloodedly ordered the executions. However, as far as her personal life was concerned, freedom from the pressures of this investigation would be an advantage. Sybil was arriving from overseas in a little over a week’s time, and Carol didn’t want to be consumed by a high-profile case.
It was as if Bourke had read her thoughts. As he closed the door to Edgar’s office, he said, “Sybil’s been in London for well over a year, hasn’t she? Pat was asking the other night when she’s coming home.”
“Sometime next week. Why?”
Her hard tone made him put up his hands in mock defense. “Hey, Carol, just an innocent question. No hidden agenda, honest!”
She gave him an apologetic smile. Bourke and his wife, Pat, were good friends. “Sorry, Mark. I’ve no idea why I’m so touchy.”
Of course she knew. Her life was changing—she was changing. Her work had once satisfied her fully. Relationships had been pushed to the side…important, but not central to her happiness. Now she felt impelled to find a balance, to make decisions that she would have avoided in the past.
Sometimes it seemed to her that only when she was running early in the morning did she achieve harmony between her mind and body. Then she occasionally felt a flash of joy—a conviction that the future was full of opportunity and achievement. The quick thud of her feet on the dirt track, the beauty of the wild bushland, the amiable company of her neighbor’s German shepherd—all these could combine to calm her roiling thoughts and ease the tension that tightened her shoulders during her working day.
Sybil’s return to Australia was the issue that was forcing this reevaluation. Although they had both acknowledged that there were no strings, that each was free to do whatever she wished, Carol knew that until she saw Sybil, she couldn’t make any hard decisions about the future.
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