This is the 26th Installment in the Series surrounding the activities of Murder Squad Detective Joseph Lind and his young partner Shelley Shields.
Two skeletal remains are discovered in bush graves in an area known as the Belanglo State Forest. This gets the Police Hierarchy and the Media into a frenzy knowing the past history of this area and its connection with the notorious Backpacker Murders of the mid-90's.
After this connection is dispelled further connections are made mainly by the Media into Child Abduction cases of old creating sensationalism and mixed emotions of the families involved with the missing children. The evidence is scarce. The Bush Graves loathe to give up their secrets. The investigation is tortuous and involved and eventually leads to the underbelly of suburban life with its drugs, adultery, treachery and murder.
It's always a lovely drive down the South-west Motorway towards Canberra.
The sun was out.
Not a cloud in the sky.
A slight breeze to keep things at a comfortable thirty degrees and I was in love with the world.
Some may say that this euphoria did not deserve to last and that some catastrophic incident would soon occur to spoil the moment. That theory was not going to spoil the mood that I was in, no matter what!
My young partner, Shelley Shields was driving the Unmarked.
I often wondered why this was so, as though it was a reflection of her opinion on my driving skills. As I said, no matter, nothing was going to spoil this day. I had finished entering the scant details of this new case into my Laptop, transferring what little information we had on the 'call out' over to her Laptop.
The Computer Course that I was undertaking had improved my computer literacy in leaps and bounds. I smiled to myself at my obvious improvement. Dallas Courtney, who at one time had made up the trio with Shelley and I, and who had been selected to partner Shelley as a proud Murder Team in their own right thanks to my tutelage and mentoring skills, would be proud of me, I thought.
The conversation swung around to her absent partner, Dallas Courtney as it always did on long hop drives such as this. He was still in Hospital with an imminent transfer to a Rehab facility in the coming weeks. He had endured countless operations. Now it was up to his courage and stubbornness to see if he could walk again unaided.
The prognosis was that if he could gain some strength to support himself, it would be with walking sticks and full-length callipers on both legs to achieve an ungainly manner of getting about. If not, he'd be confined to a wheelchair. Something I doubted, he would accept without making a fist of proving the prognosis wrong.
"So, what did Abbey say?"
She glanced across at me as she asked the question.
Abbey more formerly known as Detective Superintendent John Robert Clifford James Church, the Head of the Murder Squad Room, was the best boss that I had ever worked with. There were rumours about his impending retirement.
I doubted that the place would ever be the same in his absence.
I personally was not looking forward to that day.
"Um...he agrees. Dallas has too good a brain to be pensioned out. But as he mentioned, we still don't know whether Dallas's brain has retained its sharpness, especially for computer work. I mean, he was in an induced coma for close on three weeks such was the damage he suffered...I've suggested, and it appears that you too have also mentioned it, that any movement restrictions will make it almost impossible for him to be considered back into the fold as an Investigating Homicide Detective, but...because of his mastery of all things computers, he may be able to fill a position up in the Digital Analysis Section of Forensics...as far as I know, there are two wheelchair-bound persons employed in various forensic science areas that do not require outside physical examinations or visits...he's going to suss out the possibility. Don't worry, Shells, he'll do everything in his power to help Dallas out, I can assure you..."
"The fact that the accident occurred while we were doing week-end 'slip team' duties and while Dallas was on his way home after an almost 36-hour duty roster doesn't seem to have caused any hassles, heh?"
"You're forgetting the elephant in the room, Shells. That he was on his way home...um...to an address that he shared with a major Case person...a POI in an open case that ensured that he should not have been fraternising with the woman at all. He knew that it was against the Policy and procedure Manual, Shells. To tell you the truth, knowing Abbey, I reckon that he would have remembered...you know...jigged to her name being involved in a murder investigation...Christ, he had to have linked her name with the bashing murder of 'Billie' Worseley...her being his 'live-in' partner and he's hoping, like us, that it does not surface in any investigation into Dallas' accident...keep your fingers crossed, heh?"
She glanced across at me, biting her bottom lip as she did so.
"Um...if it ever came out that we were aware of the situation, we could be in the poo, too."
"Yeah, you could be right...right up to our armpits...but we'd survive. Dallas could find himself out on a limb without the comfort of sickness benefits or any form of compensation or injury cover...so pray that his misdemeanour...his indiscretion...his infraction never surfaces, eh?"
- - - - -
We dropped off the Motorway at the Mittagong exit.
Drove through that town to stop at the historic Pub at Berrima to grab a coffee and something to eat.
We stocked up on take-away sandwiches knowing that was the only way we would be getting sustenance for the time that we were at the Crime Scene.
It was that remote.
After a delightful ten minutes and an excellent mug of coffee, we continued down the old Highway towards the Belanglo Forest. An area synonymous with evil and perhaps the worst crime of the last century. Ivan Milat brought his 'backpacker' victims to this State forest to torture and eventually murder some seven victims. Other sick bastards have used the area since including Milat's grand-nephew who tortured and killed his mate in some type of initiation ceremony that only he understood.
I'd also visited the area early in my Murder Squad days on another murder investigation. The Case of White and the 'Snake Bite' Victims.
It was as if the area was a magnet for evil acts.
Evil and twisted men.
I gestured with an arm as a Patrol Vehicle came into view, parked off the highway up a side track.
We slowed onto the breakdown lane and turned onto the entrance track into the forest. Stopped beside the highway patrol vehicle as a young Constable unfurled himself from the car. Nodded his head in our direction. Peered at our ID Card and wrote the particulars and our time of entry onto a Crime Scene Attendance Sheet.
"OK Detectives...um...you'll be right for about a kilometre in. Don't turn off the main track. Just follow the Police tape tied to the tree trunks at any track junction. You'll need to leave your vehicle at a large turn-around...a clearing and track intersection that we are using as a staging area. That's where all the vehicles are corralled, so to speak as it gets pretty hairy from there on in to the site. It's about another 2 kays in, on the bank of a creek. An open flat area. Small. Rather pretty actually. Hitch a lift in a 4WD... I'll radio through on your arrival. The...arrh...the track deteriorates pretty bad...needs a bloody good grading before the bushfire season starts again."
"Who's there?" Shelley asked the tall lad who was leaning his body against the side of our vehicle.
He turned the Pad around so that she could see who was in attendance.
"Muscles? He's the attending Lead Forensic Pathologist...and he's bought a bloody big team with him...isn't that a little unusual these days?" She asked, as she turned to me.
"Yeah...he likes to keep himself Morgue bound. With his back, any long-distance call-outs such as this wouldn't agree with him much...must be a doozy to bring him out here, that's for sure." I concurred.
"Or political pressure..." Shelley murmured.
I nodded my head in agreement.
Shelley peered up at the young Uniform Constable.
"Who found the body?"
"A family of Campers who like to come out here to get away from the rat-race...there's a certain pull according to some people. The family are at the large intersection waiting for you guys. From Canberra...I could think of at least a hundred dozen more suitable camping spots to take the kids, that's for sure...um...bodies? Remains? Two. When the corridors of power learnt of the find last night, they ordered a complete transfer of manpower out here. There seems to be a mindset that it is further victims of the Backpacker Murderer. Ivan Milat. They reckon that he has at least five other victims with their likely resting place around here somewhere, so they've brought in the local SES guys and local lads to do a thorough search around the crime scene. I guess that is why the Number Two man from the Morgue and his team have been called out..."
Clem 'Lofty' Hills Series:
Murder Squad Series: