Murrook Farm

Part 11


Lois Kay


The phone call came when Trishia was outside on the veranda. She was sitting on the top of the steps, her long legs stretched out in front of her, while she was leaning her head against the side of the railing. Her eyes were closed and she was trying to empty her mind and enjoy the soft breeze and the morning sun kissing her skin.

Inside she could hear soft voices coming from the kitchen, where Jody and Sam were cleaning up the remnants of their breakfast and Lucy and her mother were talking in subdued voices. Fiona was outside, in front of the house, playing with Kurt, who thoroughly loved the attention and happily bounced around the grassy area to fetch the stick that she kept throwing away. Now and then an enthusiastic high pitched bark pierced the silence, making the policewoman smile in response.

Lisa and Alice had not yet returned from Alice’s bedroom and Trishia sincerely hoped that was a good sign. She knew the psychiatrist was famous for the way she could get young people to open up to her, but Alice would be a tough nut to crack. Although Trishia did realize that the events that had taken place that morning, might have given the introverted teenager a push in the right direction. She hoped she had not just imagined the look in Alice’s eyes that had been more relaxed and less guarded. Maybe the McDonnell clan had already worked their magic and made Alice feel safer and more at ease than she had been in a long time.

A soft buzzing from her cell phone startled Trishia from her musings and her eyes shot open. She pulled the small device from the waistband of her shorts and brought it to her ear.

"Peter," she spoke, having recognized his phone number on the display. "What’s up?"

"Hey, Trish," Peter’s voice sounded in her ear, the tone of it immediately ringing alarm bells in the back of her mind.

"What’s wrong?" she breathed, not able to hide the tension in her voice. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she was filled with a mixture of hope and fear.

"Something you wouldn’t have dreamed off," Peter sighed. "There was a nasty surprise here waiting for me when I got back to the office. I think you should come over and check it out."

"Has there been…?" Trishia asked, swallowing hard. She was almost afraid to ask the question.

"No, there hasn’t been another murder, but my guess is the murderer did pay us a visit."

"What?" Trishia almost cried out, making Fiona turn around and look at her with wide eyes.

"I locked away the faxes that were sent to me last night, plus my personal notes. I put them all in an envelope and stored them away in my desk drawer. Somehow I thought they would be safe there. Silly me," Peter answered in a voice full of frustration and sarcasm.

"When I came in, about fifteen minutes ago, my envelope was gone and it was replaced by a doll, with a knife sticking out of her chest. Oh, and of course a picture of Alice attached to it."

Trishia was grateful she was not standing up, because she didn’t know whether she could have remained in that position, after hearing Peter’s words. The expression of her face was one of pure shock and she frantically tried to regain her composure when she saw Fiona unhurriedly walk back to the house. Her eyes never leaving Trishia’s face.

"Is…what.?" Trishia uncharacteristically stammered.

"Forensic is already dusting, but I doubt they will find anything worthwhile," Peter sighed. "But one can always hope, of course."

"How long had you been away from the office?" Trishia asked, welcoming the fact that her brain was finally kicking back into gear.

"Not that long, Trish. I went home to have a nap, so I guess I have been away for no longer than four hours. I left around six and came back fifteen minutes ago. I am so pissed, Trish. How the hell did a stranger manage to walk into the office and pull this number on us?"

After Peter’s words there was a brief silence while both of them processed the words and its meaning. When Peter spoke again, it was just a whisper.

"Sweet Jesus, Trish, I feel like throwing up."

"You are on your cell phone, right?

"Yeah, can’t get near my desk at the moment. Not with all those people buzzing around."

"Go outside, Pete," Trish ordered. "We need to talk in private."

"I am already on my way," Peter answered.

With a grim expression on her face, Trishia impatiently waited for Peter to leave the building and find someplace where they could talk without running the risk of being overheard. In the meantime, Fiona had reached the steps of the veranda and cast the policewoman a curious look. Trishia tried to smile and reached out her free hand to grab Fiona’s.

"Want to do something for me?" she asked as calm as possible, knowing the teenager would notice the tension in her voice anyway.

Fiona merely nodded and her face sported a deep frown.

"Would you please go inside and stay there? And call Kurt and have him stay here, on the veranda?"

A pair of dark green eyes, so incredibly similar to Lucy’s widened in surprise and Trishia noticed Fiona scanning her surroundings. There was an unspoken question on her face, when her gaze returned to Trishia.

"I don’t know, sweetie," Trishia gently answered. "But I don’t want to take any risks, so…"

She gave Fiona’s hand a friendly squeeze before she released it and was pleased to see the teenager nod. A loud whistle pierced the air and immediately Kurt came running back to the house. It was a bummer his playmate had called him, because he had just found an interesting looking ants nest he wanted to investigate, but maybe she would give him a treat. Or even better, find another stick and play his favorite game.

Kurt’s ears slightly drooped when Fiona gave him the command to come up on the veranda and stay. He reluctantly obeyed and looked at the slender dark haired human with pleading eyes. But the next word pulled him out of his puppy behavior and the Sheperd’s ears perked up again, while his eyes immediately shone with keen interest.

"Guard, Kurt," Fiona commanded, as she had watched Sam do on different training sessions with the dog.

She affectionately petted his massive head and answered the smile that Trishia sent her way.

"Thanks, Fi."

"No worries," Fiona answered with a sigh. "Shall I send Sam outside?"

"Yes, please, I need to talk to her."

Trishia stood up from her seat on the steps and slowly walked away from the house. When she heard the kitchen door close behind Fiona, she returned to her conversation with Peter.

"Are you alone now?" she asked, unconsciously scanning the line of trees with her eyes.

"Yeah, mate," Peter sighed. "I walked away from the building and there’s no one around. Damn, Trish, we are both thinking the same thing, aren’t we?"

"If that would be suspecting the murderer is someone with undisturbed access to the police station: yeah, we are thinking the same thing," Trishia answered with controlled anger. "Damn, Peter, somebody is doing a number on us."

"Do you think it could be a sick joke?" Peter hesitantly asked.

"No, I don’t believe that," Trishia sighed. "I have got a bad feeling about this, Pete."

"Me too," Peter somberly answered. "I will check who was at the station during those hours I was away. I guess we can rule out delivery people, since it was too early, besides, they never come upstairs."

"Did you notify the boss?" Trishia asked.

"Yes, I called her before I called you. She wasn’t happy and….oh, hell, she just pulled in the parking lot, Trish, she’s fuming. Think she will chew my ass?"

"Don’t worry, mate," Trishia chuckled, in spite of the situation. "It’s not your fault. Listen Pete, make sure you get the tape from the surveillance camera and ask the boss if you can bring it over to me. I have a bad feeling about leaving this place and leaving Alice unprotected. We could have a look at the tape here, in peace, without possible suspects glancing over our shoulder, okay? And tell the boss I would appreciate some security around here as well, to keep an eye on the road. Oh and Pete, make sure …"

"You talk to her in private," Peter interrupted. "Sure, Trish. Anything else on your shopping list?" he cynically asked.

"The mongrel we are looking for, preferably in shackles?" Trishia wryly replied.

She could hear Peter snicker and smiled. They had been through some tough times together and knew each other well. One thing they both appreciated about each other was their sense of humor. And though they did not always agree and even ended up in an occasional shouting match, their friendship was strong.

"Right, Senior Sergeant Waters." Peter quipped. "I wish… Well, keep an eye on the girls and I will be there as soon as I can, with the tape I hope."

"Watch your tail, Pete," Trishia warned.

"I will, mate. Don’t worry."

"I know," Trishia smiled. "Let’s only use our cell phones from now on, okay?"

"Good idea. I’ll see you soon, partner."

When Trishia clipped back the phone on her waistband and turned around, she saw Sam standing on the veranda. The tall blonde was leaning against the railing, seemingly relaxed, but Trishia could easily see the tension in her long frame. She motioned her friend to come closer and Sam purposefully strode up towards her, away from the house.

"What is up?" she asked, her blue eyes filled with worry. "He didn’t…?"

"No, he didn’t strike again," Trishia was quick to reassure her. "Something happened at the station this morning. I don’t know if I should tell you all this, but I will anyway, because it…complicates things. Peter just called me and…"

In her usual calm way, Trishia explained to Sam what had happened and she could see the anger flare up in Sam’s eyes. She could not blame her friend. Trishia felt the same, but she could not permit herself the luxury to give in to that, because it would cloud her judgment. She needed to stay alert and sharp, since too many things depended on her.

"Now what?" Sam asked through gritted teeth.

"Peter will come over here, I asked for an unmarked patrol car, so the road up to the house will be watched. And if it’s up to me, I will have twenty four hour protection around your house. If it’s alright with you and Jody, I will go home, pick up some stuff and bunk in the guesthouse until this is all over."

"Of course," Sam immediately responded. "No problem at all, Trish."

"I want one of our techs to come up here and secure the windows properly. The fact that Yarra had access to Fiona’s bedroom bugs me, Sam. I don’t want any nasty surprises. I am sorry we have to do this, because it will probably add to the stress everybody is already under, but it is the best thing to do."

"I can do that myself," Sam replied. "Until proven otherwise, from now on, outside my friends and family, I will only trust you, Peter and Carol Wong. I will pick up stuff in town and fix those windows myself. I don’t want anyone I don’t know, near the house." Sam raked her fingers through her hair and angrily kicked away a pebble. "This whole situation is insane, Trish. I feel like we are trapped in a nightmare."

"I know, Sam and I am very sorry about that, believe me."

Sam sighed and cast a look at the house she and Jody loved so much. When they moved in it was like a dream come true: their own little paradise, where they would live and enjoy each other, their family and friends. It was supposed to be a happy place, not the center of another horrible nightmare.

Trishia noticed the sadness and pain in her friend and she nervously bit her lip.

"Listen, Sam. I feel responsible for bringing this whole damn situation to your doorstep. I could take Alice with me and find another safe place for her to…"

"Absolutely not," Sam interrupted with determination. "I don’t want you to do that, Trish. We opened our door to her and I am not changing that. I am sure Jody wouldn’t want that to happen either. Alice stays here, with us. And stop blaming yourself. If you hadn’t have taken Alice with you, she might have been dead by now. If we all work together, we can beat this, I am sure."

Trishia stared in the clear eyes of her friend and she could see the willpower radiating from the blond woman. A smile worked its way to her face and she slowly nodded.

"Alright, Sam. Thanks. You and Jody are pretty special people and so is your family, you know that?"

Sam answered the smile with one of her own and Trishia could see the usual twinkle had returned to her friend’s eyes.

"Don’t forget you are part of that family as well, Trish," she answered with a grin. "My guess is it’s just a matter of time before you will make an honest woman out of Lucy."

Trishia chuckled and put her hand on Sam’s shoulder, while they leisurely walked back towards the house.

"You think she will have me?" she joked, but Sam could detect a hint of insecurity in the policewoman’s voice.

"Are you kidding?" Sam responded with a laugh and she looked at her friend. "Don’t be a goofball, Trish. Believe me, I have known Lucy for a long time now. True, I have been away from them all for almost nine years, but she has not changed much. I have never, ever seen her act the way she does around you. She loves you."

"So you think I should ask her?" Trishia inquired, all of a sudden feeling nervous butterflies dancing around in her stomach.

"Do you want to?" Sam responded.

"Hell, yeah!" Trishia sighed wholeheartedly. "It’s just that I …I am scared witless just thinking about it. What if she says ‘no’."

"She won’t," Sam replied full of confidence. "I know how you feel. I was a nervous wreck when I asked Jody, even though I knew how much she loved me. I guess it’s the fear that is sparked by latent insecurity," she chuckled. "But trust me on this one, Trish. Lucy loves you deeply."

"I know," Trishia answered with a smile, remembering the moment they had shared the previous night. They love they shared had almost been palpable and even the memory of that moment caused her heart rate to increase.

"Good," Sam grinned, giving the policewoman a friendly slap on the back. "Just one word of warning: whenever you ask her, make sure Fiona is not around, or you will never live it down."

"I don’t care how you do it, as long as it’s done," Carol Wong almost shouted, before ending the conversation on the phone and slamming down the receiver.

A pair of fire spitting, dark eyes turned towards Peter and he convulsively swallowed, wishing his partner could have been with him to share the heat. Their inspector might be a petite woman, but she had not made it all the way to her current rank by being demure. The woman was sharp, intelligent and a force to be reckoned with.

"Talk," the inspector commanded, taking a sip from her coffee and wincing at the strong taste. She pushed away the cup and leaned back into her chair.

Peter wiped his damp hands on the fabric of his slacks and took a deep breath. Sticking to the facts as he knew them, he quickly told his inspector what had happened since they had parted the previous evening.

Carol Wong’s face was unreadable, only her dark eyes showed any of the emotions she was feeling. When Peter was relating how he had found the doll in his desk drawer, they flared up in anger.

After finishing his story and repeating Trishia’s requests it was silent for a long time.

"Her name is Melinda Culpepper. She was eighteen years old and she had run away from home only two days ago. Her parents did not approve of her boyfriend, who lives up in Cairns. She was on her way to see him," Carol Wong’s voice quietly filled the room. "She was an only child."

Peter’s hand gripped the arm of the chair so tightly, his knuckles were turning white. His eyes were cast down and he desperately fought the anger he was feeling bubbling up inside. He wanted to jump up and vent his anger by pacing around and screaming, but that would not be of any use. So Sergeant Jones remained in his chair and for a moment he gave in to the sadness that washed over him, saying a silent prayer for Melinda and her family.

When he looked up again, his hazel eyes were clear and focused and Carol Wong could see the hard glint that she knew was an indication of Peter Jones’ dog headed determination.

"Tell me what you want and need," Carol simply said.

"We were thinking about surveillance teams around the clock, handpicked by either Trishia or me. We need permission for me to take the security tape with me to be able to review it with Trishia. We will make a list of anyone who has entered or exited the building during the period I was at home."

Carol Wong did not answer, but reached inside her desk drawer and pulled out a bulky, yellow envelope that she pushed toward Peter.

"Here’s the tape," she said. "You have permission on picking the teams, but you do need to realize I cannot have those people work around the clock. I will instruct them myself. They will have to know that anyone who leaks information about their assignment is in breech of violating confidential police information and will be punished accordingly."

"It’s not a hundred percent water proof," Peter hesitated and Carol noticed the conflicting emotions on his face.

"It’s the best I can do, Peter," Carol Wong sighed. "Unless you have another idea."

"Actually, I do, inspector. It’s just that I haven’t discussed it with Trish yet and…"

"Spill it, Peter. You know you want to," Carol Wong encouraged him.

"It’s to keep a tight lid on it all, inspector. Only you, Trishia and I would know about it, from our end anyway. Umm…do you know about surveillance cameras? The ones mobile ones…wireless? They are solar powered and if you have a decent one it could even run for about ten hours. We could use on those, inspector. We could set up some cameras alongside the road and keep an eye on anyone that comes up to the house."

"Excuse my lack of…nerdness," Carol Wong dryly replied. "But isn’t the purpose of the system to actually put a tape in the VCR or stare at a monitor and keep watch? If you’ll be sitting outside in the bush, we might as well use a surveillance team."

"That’s the beauty of it, inspector," Peter grinned. "With a high gain antenna, we can have a view from the camera from at least three hundred meters away. We could set up a surveillance room up at the house, or the guesthouse maybe."

Carol Wong’s face displayed an unreadable expression, but Peter thought he saw a hint of appreciation in her eyes and inwardly impatient he waited for her response.

"And you know all this…how?" she finally asked in an amused voice. "Do I need to worry about you, sergeant? You have a secret job on the side?"

Peter’s face broke in a wide grin and he shook his head. He could tell by the way his inspector was twirling around a pen in her slender fingers, that she was contemplating his idea.

"Nope, inspector, but my brother has his own business and he sells surveillance equipment. I sometimes give him a hand when he’s got a bigger project than he has time," he grinned. "I could get the stuff from him and I trust him with my life, so when I ask him to keep quiet, I know he will."

"Did you consider the costs?" Carol Wong asked, impressed by Peter’s idea. "And wouldn’t it take long to install all that equipment?"

"Installing is easy, inspector. Considering we need to hide the cameras from view it might take a couple of hours, but I am sure it can be done before the end of this day. About the costs," Peter scratched his chin and looked very confident. "I don’t think the superintendent would approve, so I was thinking of talking to Sam about it. We have discussed some ways to keep an eye on the property before, so I am positive she wouldn’t mind investing in a system like this. I don’t think money will be a problem," he ended with a laugh.

Carol Wong slowly nodded and shot the man in front of her desk an appreciative glance. She had always respected Peter Jones. He was as honest and straightforward as they came and she valued the input he and Trishia Waters had around the police station. They were both liked and well respected by their fellow officers and often it was their contribution that kept the atmosphere pleasant, even in times of absolute chaos and stress.

"Talk to Sam Stevens and do it as soon as you can," she decided. "But I want you to keep me informed."

"I will," Peter promised.

"Good, now, you can tell Trishia I have already started to do a background check on everybody who came to this station within the last ten months. I want to know where exactly they came from and where they were at the time of the last two murders. If I find anything out of the ordinary, I will let you know."

"Thanks, inspector," Peter responded.

"You’d better take the tape and get out of here," Carol Wong advised him. "And watch your tail," she added with a raised eyebrow. "You and Trishia are not the only ones with a bad feeling about this. The three of us are the only ones who know where Alice is and I would like to keep it that way."

More than two hours had passed before Lisa Bailey came walking back into the kitchen, looking slightly pale and tired. She smiled at the expectant faces that immediately turned towards her and slowly sank down in a chair.

"My guess is you would like a cup of coffee," Joan said, pushing her chair back and starting to get up. But a gentle hand on her shoulder pushed her back in her seat.

"Sit down, mom, I will take care of that," Lucy’s voice sounded behind her.

"Mom thinks coffee is a cure to almost anything," Fiona remarked, shooting the psychiatrist a curious look.

"Well, I think she is right," Lisa smiled at the dark haired teenager. "It’s been a cure for me a lot of times and I am not even talking about trying to wake up in the morning without my much needed dose of caffeine."

"I can only have one cup a day, mom’s orders," Fiona complained, but there was a twinkle in her eyes.

"Handling you is difficult enough without you being high on caffeine," Lucy snorted. "You better stick to something less stimulating, Red."

"Listen who is talking," Fiona retorted with a raised eyebrow. "Miss ‘Grumpy-without-tea."

"Girls," Joan McDonnell sighed, shooting Fiona a warning look. "Let’s try and be civilized, will you, please?"

Fiona opened her mouth to make another remark, but Trishia, who was seated next to her at the table, put her arm around the slender shoulders and clamped her hand over Fiona’s mouth, which elicited some muffed words, spoken in mock anger.

"You keep forgetting your sister’s girlfriend is a police officer," Trishia teased. "As soon as you start learning how to, seriously drive a car in, I can make your live miserable."

Everybody started laughing and Trishia released her hold on Fiona, earning a poke in the ribs.

"Are you threatening me?" Fiona asked, secretly enjoying the bantering. "Because if you are, I will call your boss and tell her about the way you abuse government property and then you will have to go out and buy your own handcuffs."

"Fiona!" Joan warned.

But Trishia was laughing heartily, unmercifully tickling the teenager, who was squirming in her chair, but refused to give up.

"Mom, tell her to stop," Fiona gasped, while she was trying to slap away Trishia’s hands.

"Think again, dear," Joan dead panned. "You are the one who started it."

"Of course I can always pick you up and put you outside," Trishia announced, pushing back her chair. She unfolded her tall frame and effortlessly picked up the teenager and draped her over her shoulder.

With a few strides she was at the door that was held open by a helpful Sam, who was laughing out loud when she saw Fiona’s red face.

"You can keep Kurt company," Trishia grinned.

"Ha! After you told me to go back inside because there is a psycho on the loose?"

Fiona’s words immediately brought back the tension in the room and Trishia’s movements halted. She carefully put the teenager back on her own two feet and cast her a serious look.

"You are right," she answered. "We need to focus on that."

"No big deal, Trish," Fiona said. "We were only goofing around. I know you would not have left me out there."

"No way! I have to keep you and your friends out of trouble," Trishia smiled.

"As long as you don’t handcuff me to the kitchen table," Fiona joked, winking at Yarra, who was sporting a big grin.

"I won’t, as long as you behave yourself," Trishia promised, giving Fiona a gentle shove towards her chair.

The tall policewoman walked to the kitchen counter, where Lucy was waiting for the coffee pot to finish its important task. She leaned her back against the counter and pulled Lucy in front of her, holding her close. Over the dark hair she cast a look at the group of women who were sitting around the table and again she felt the responsibility weigh heavy on her shoulders.

"So, Lisa, how did it go?" she finally asked, using the warmth and security of Lucy’s presence to center herself again.

"Better than I hoped it would be," the psychiatrist answered with a smile. "In fact, Alice had no objections to seeing me again."

"That’s great," Jody happily smiled. "I am so glad. Thank you, Lisa. Alice needs all the help she can get."

"She does need help, Jody," Lisa admitted, the expression on her face suddenly very serious. "Before we had our talk, I told you that I thought that Alice could be suffering from PTSD and our conversation has confirmed that. As I said before, PTSD can cause amnesia and in every case it is different. Alice’s amnesia seems very severe."

"How did that happen? I mean, the amnesia," Yarra asked with keen interest, determined to learn as much as she could, in order to be able to help her new friend. "I saw movies when people hit their head or something and after that they didn’t remember anything"

"Well, it is a complicated matter, Yarra," Lisa replied. "And although there have been numerous studies done about it, a lot of things are still not clear to us. A traumatic event can have so much impact that the traumatic memories and ordinary consciousness are split. It’s called dissociation and it can result in flashbacks and nightmares."

"Is that what they also call ‘shell shock’?" Sam asked.

"It is," Lisa nodded. "After the first World War, soldiers, who had gone through traumatic events, did not remember anything about the event itself. But later on they relived their ordeals as flashbacks and nightmares. The frightening things about PTSD is that, while normally the way we remember things sometimes changes and emotions seem less intense as time goes by, people who suffer from PTSD feel like they relive the traumatic event all over again, including all the emotions and sensations that were part of it. That is why Alice could feel the heat of the flames and smell the smoke, when she was having the nightmare. It was like she was reliving the whole event again. Exposure to certain stimuli, like a sound, a scent or an image can trigger that kind of recall."

"Which happened this morning," Trishia remarked. "Something we said must have triggered her."

"Perhaps," Lisa answered. "Of course I cannot tell you, Trish, you know that. You will have to ask Alice. She gave me permission to tell all of you that she suffers from PTSD, but the rest is up to her. Our talk has left her drained and she is taking a nap. But I can tell you, that is one heck of a courageous girl in there."

"What are the chances of her recovering from all this?" Lucy asked in a worried tone.

"That is very hard to tell," Lisa sighed, pushing back her hair. "But given the fact that Alice suddenly does remember her name makes me carefully optimistic. A stable environment, a chance to find some rest and peace and a lot of tender loving care might work miracles. I have the impression that Alice has also blocked out certain things, simply because they are too painful to remember. If she feels a sense of safety, that might help her to finally face her demons and let the memories come, so she can deal with them and move on. But unfortunately there will always be emotional scars."

"What can we do? I mean, how can we help her?" Joan softly asked.

"Just be there for her. Be patient. Be her friend. And after what I have seen already, that will be no problem," Lisa smiled, winking at Yarra and Fiona.

"Of course not," "We’ll be there for her," they simultaneously spoke.

After Peter had left the police station he had casually driven to one of his favorite sandwich bars to indulge in a fresh roll with spicy chicken, lettuce and tomato. Enjoying the peppery taste he walked back to his car, while his eyes took in his surroundings. To anyone who might be following him, he wanted to appear unhurried, like he did not have any worries at all. Inwardly a feeling of impatience had settled in his chest, he wished he could just drive up to Murrook Farm and talk to Trishia. But both his partner and his inspector had urged him to be careful and he knew they were right. Until they were able to identify the murderer, they needed to be very alert and cautious.

Leaning his back against the side of the car, Peter munched on the tasty sandwich, while his eyes took in the view of the ocean and the beach, where a group of teenage boys and girls were playing beach volley ball. He smiled at their antics and his face sported a grin when one of the boys pumped his fist after scoring a spectacular point.

Peter loved living on the coast. He always had and he could not remember ever being bored when he grew up. Somehow there was always something to do. He just hoped that his children would have the same fond memories of their childhood as he himself had.

That thought brought him back to reality and Peter’s face grew somber when he realized that the parents of the girls who had been murdered might have had the same thought once. But their dreams had been shattered and the future of their daughters taken away by a ruthless psychopath.

With a frown Peter crumpled his napkin and dumped it in a nearby trash can. Casting one last look at the activities on the beach, he stepped into his car. Using his rearview mirror he thoroughly checked for anything that seemed out of the ordinary, but found nothing. Slowly pulling up he steered his car into the traffic and made his way up to Murrook Farm taking a long route.

It had taken him twice as long as usual to finally reach his destination, but when he finally had driven up the road that led to the house, he knew for a certainty that he had not been followed.

Peter parked his car next to Trishia’s and stepped out onto the gravel. When he closed the door and turned around, he suddenly stood eye to eye with a German Sheperd. His face lit up with a smile and Peter reached out his hand to pet the dog on his massive head.

He immediately withdrew his hand when Kurt let out a low, throaty growl and Peter noticed the dog was not wagging his tail.

"Come on, boy. Kurt. Give it a rest. You know me boy, remember? Just stop growling and I am sure mommy will give you a nice juicy leg."

"One of yours?" an amused voice suddenly sounded from the side of the house.

Afraid to make a wrong move, Peter slowly turned his head, all the while making sure he had the dog in his peripheral vision and noticed a grinning Sam looking at him. The tall blond woman was leaning against the side of the house and was twirling a screwdriver around in her slender fingers.

"Come on, Stevens. What kind of a sick joke is this?" Peter asked, afraid to raise his voice. "Your dog knows me. Hell, I played with him not even a week ago. What is up with this bull?"

"Just training Kurt," Sam laughed. "I was wondering if he would take the ‘guard’ command serious, even if he would see a familiar face. Or should I say: smell a familiar face?" Sam chuckled.

"Very funny," Peter snorted. "Well, end the experiment and call back this furry, four-legged descendant of Canis Lupus will you?"

"It’s alright, Kurt. Good boy," Sam praised the dog who immediately started wagging his tail and stepped closer to Peter to press his nozzle against his legs.

Carefully Peter petted the dog and looked at Sam with hesitant respect. He still did not know whether to be annoyed with her or praise her qualities as a dog trainer.

"Sorry, Pete," Sam said, giving him a friendly slap on the back. "Can I make it up to you with a cold drink?"

"Sure," Peter grinned. "By the way, you did have me scared there for a moment. I guess the training works out well."

"He is a very smart dog," Sam answered. "And he loves to learn."

"It’s good to have a dog like that around when you live up here. What’s up with the screwdriver?"

"I was fixing the blinds," Sam explained. "We had an outbreak this morning," she added with a grin. "But I will tell you about that later. Come in, out of the sun, before our brains start to leak from our nostrils."

"Eeew, nasty visual, Sam," Peter grinned, following the blond woman towards the house.

"I guess you didn’t come over here to bring us some good news in person?" Sam asked over her shoulder, while she stepped up the stairs that led them to the veranda.

"No, I am sorry Sam. I came to see Trishia and also to talk to you about a security system."

Sam’s eyes lit up with interest and she slowly nodded.

"Sounds like a good idea," she admitted. "I would feel better if we had one. I have to warn you though, Pete. The house is filled with women."

"Great," Peter mumbled. "Somehow I feel I would rather face a pissed off Kurt."

When they stepped inside, Peter was greeted by six women, who were all sitting around the huge kitchen table, talking quietly.

"Would you like a cold drink, Peter?" Jody asked, already walking towards the refrigerator.

"Thanks, Jody," Peter answered. "Sam promised me something cold to make up for the fact that she let Kurt scare the heck out of me."

Trishia grinned and slapped her partner on his back, which made him wince.

"We saw that, mate. You looked a little frightened there."

"I was," Peter admitted. "I like dogs, but somehow a growling Sheperd always makes me nervous."

He smiled at Jody who handed him a tall glass of cold lemonade and gratefully sipped the cold liquid, enjoying the feel of the chilly taste in the back of his throat.

"Have you got the tape?" Trishia curiously asked, looking at the envelope Peter had put on the table in front of him.

"Yup, got it. So, is there anywhere where we can have a look at it?"

Trishia cast a look at Sam who rose from her chair and nodded.

"You can use my office. I have a VCR in there."

"I need to talk to you as well, Sam," Peter reminded her.

Sam glanced at Jody who looked up at her with a puzzled expression on her face. She knelt down to the smaller woman’s chair and smiled at her.

"Want to come as well?" she invited. "I don’t want to be seen around here as the one who makes all the decisions."

Jody answered the smile and looked at Sam with all the love and trust she felt for her partner reflected in the green depths of her eyes. She reached out a hand and traced an imaginary line down the side of Sam’s face. Still smiling she slightly bent forward and gently kissed a pair of soft lips.

"Go ahead, I will stay here. Alice might wake up soon and I want to be here in case she needs anything."

"Alright, love," Sam answered, cupping Jody’s face between her hands and kissing her forehead. "I will tell you about it later. I love you."

"I love you too," Jody whispered. "Better get going, Sam. I feel Fiona’s stare burn holes in my back."

Sam gave her partner one last kiss and rose back to her full height. Looking at Fiona and Yarra she noticed both girls were grinning and she chuckled.

"Be good, you two," she warned.

"Oh,Sam. Ouch. That hurts," Fiona answered, covering her heart with her hand. "We are always good."

"Good enough to get into trouble," Sam teased, giving them a wink. "Alright, let’s go, police people. My office is this way."

Carol Wong frowned while her glance traveled between the documents in front of her to the computer screen and back again. She twirled the pen she was holding around in her fingers and tried to convert the figures and facts she was seeing, into a plausible story.

When the phone rang again for the sixth time within the last twenty minutes, she let out an aggravated sigh, but quickly picked up the receiver.

"Carol Wong," she announced.

"Hey, you beach bum. How are you doing?" a cheerful voice sounded on the other side of the connection.

"Who are you calling a beach bum?" Carol laughed, having recognized the voice instantly. "You are the blonde with the great tan, mate."

"Not anymore," Claire Philips grinned. "That was a long time ago, when I was young and innocent."

"That must be a very long time ago, because I cannot remember you ever being innocent," Carol Wong quipped. "How is life in Sydney, Superintendent Philips?"

"Not bad, Carol. At least they do have a few decent beaches around here."

They both laughed and Carol Wong did not need to see the face of her friend to know that her blue eyes were twinkling with mischief.

"It’s good to hear your voice," she said. "How is Karen?"

"Her usual sweet and patient self. Sometimes I wonder how she puts up with all the extreme hours I put in. I mean, it’s Saturday. I should be home with her, or taking her out to lunch."

"I know what you mean," Carol Wong sighed. "Greg never complains when I ruin his plans for the weekend, but I still feel bad about it."

"How is the hubby doing?"

"He is great. He started to work from home recently and that makes a lot of difference for the both of us. We do have more time together now. When are you and Karen coming up, Claire? It’s been too long since we have all seen each other."

"You are right," Claire admitted with a sigh. "I promise I will talk to Karen about it this evening. We were planning some time off together soon and I would love to drive up the coast and visit."

"That would be wonderful" Carol Wong answered, the warmth evident in her voice.

"It’s a deal then. I will let you know when as soon as Karen and I have talked it over. Now, my friend, about that information you requested."

"Yes?" Carol asked, feeling the tension in her body grow when she looked at her computer screen again.

"He worked here for several years and we never had one single complaint about him. His last day at work was towards the end of February. I think it was the twenty sixth, a Wednesday. His mates wanted to throw him a farewell party, but he had to decline, because he needed to pack and move. He was scheduled to start at your department on March the third."

"March the third?" Carol Wong asked, echoing the words to make sure she had heard them right.

"Yes, according my file here, it was March the third."

"That is very interesting," Carol Wong slowly answered, leaning forward to cast a look at the file on her desk. "According to my file he started on May the fifth. He had requested to delay his move for another month, because his wife was ill and needed treatment in a hospital."

There was a long silence, when both women processed the information they had just shared. Finally Carol Wong could hear Claire clear her throat. When she spoke again her voice was calm, but Carol, who had known her friend for the better part of her life, could easily detect the tension.

"His wife?"

"Yes, that is what I read here, in a letter he himself wrote, dated February the nineteenth."

"Carol, he wasn’t married. I remember he once had a relationship with a single mother, who had two children. But they broke up. That is why he moved to Sydney. She stayed in Perth."

Carol Wong stopped the twirling of the pen and let it drop on her desk. It bounced back from the impact and rolled towards the edge of the desk, where it took a plunge and tumbled to the ground.

"Perth?" Carol Wong repeated in a strained voice. "When was that, Claire, do you know?"

"I am not sure," Claire answered, realizing the importance of the question. "But it was just after the break up, so that must make it about two and a half years ago, maybe longer. I know he went back once, to try and patch things up, but it never happened."

"Do you have any idea why? Did he ever talk about it?"

"The whole department knew," Claire sighed. "It was pretty tragic, really. They all died in a fire, well, forensics showed the mother and little boy did. The girl was never found."

Carol Wong felt her mouth go dry and while she unconsciously clutched the receiver tighter to her ear, she swallowed hard.

"Do you happen to know their names?"

"The mother’s name was Amy and the little boy’s was Dean. He was only five when he died. The girl must have been about fourteen or fifteen years old. Her name was Victoria Alice Wilson."


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To be continued in part 12

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