Abbey Day did not arrive at work on Tuesday morning her supervisor noted the absence but thought little of it assuming the girl had taken ill and failed to ring in.
When Abbey did not arrive the following day Daine Forrest shook her head and frowned.
"This was most unlike Abbey" She said to her 2 I C.
Theresa Derwent looked up from her cluttered desk and said "Yes I noticed she is away again, it's a bit odd, she usually rings in if she's sick. Last time she had laryngitis and I could hardly hear her but she rang anyway "
Daine Forrest sat a moment in thought "Perhaps her car has broken down she lives out of town doesn't she?"
"Yes but she could have rung."
"One of us had better speak with Simone Flinders, I think they're friends, she might know what's going on"
"Do you want me to go down to the 'assembly room'? Theresa offered.
Mrs Forrest nodded and the telephone ringing put an end to the discussion.
Later in the day Theresa found time to walk across the paved courtyard from the admin. building to one of the assembly rooms to find Simone.
Drayton and Doyle had been manufacturing plastic ware here for the past eight years and the plant was now quite large. It comprised of a series of large buildings housing offices, manufacturing areas and assembly sections along with delivery of raw materials and the dispatch of finished product at the other end.
Upon entering the barn -like room she passed stacks of plastic chairs, they had a new smell about them, piles of legs and flat tabletops along the walls. There was a lot of noise, clatter and voices intermingled.
She found Simone at a high bench fitting two plastic parts one into the other.
Theresa spoke over the noise.
Simone stopped and looked at her "No Mrs Derwent I didn't even know she wasn't in. I saw her Saturday, we played a game of squash, she must have taken sick since then". Perhaps someone had better ring her, do you want me t...."
"Mrs Forrest will do it Simone, we just thought you might know if she had gone out of town for the long weekend or something". Theresa interrupted her.
Simone shook her head "What about Mrs Day, she would know?"
"Perhaps, but we didn't want to alarm dear old Mrs Day needlessly".
"I wonder if I should drive out there after work? Simone suggested.
"I'll see what the boss says first". She gave the girl a smile and turned away.
Simone stood still a moment and watched the wide glass door swing to and fro after the woman's figure. As she returned to her work her mind wandered. She saw in her minds eye, Abbey in her squash gear last Saturday and she heard her laughter as they played.
Simone was taller and thinner than Abbey so had the advantage of a longer reach and a little more pace on the court. What had happened? If it had been personal surely she would have rung me.
Simone was bewildered.
* * * * * *
"Mrs Day I don't want to worry you but I am concerned"
Daine Forrest pressed the speaker button and turned her chair to face Theresa.
The voice crackled a little as it was relayed and amplified "---I can't understand it, she was here only a few days ago, she comes over regularly you know, even more often since Bob died--"
"Yes I'm sorry I'm sure we'll catch up with her". After a few more words she put down the phone.
"I wish I hadn't done that but I figured Abbey could be there, I thought that maybe Mrs Day had taken ill and Abbey had simply forgotten to ring".
They sat in silence for a few moments.
"Simone saw her Saturday you said ?" "Yes"
"Damn, where is she Theresa? She's never done this before". "Should someone go out there?"
"I suppose that's the next thing to do. Do you know where she lives?"
"Yes. I've been out there once or twice, I- well I think I'd like to have someone go with me".
"Of course, perhaps we should get one of the men, who knows the roads and tracks out that side of town"
"What about Ken Taylor, he works with Abbey?"
Mrs Forrest nodded "I'll ring through to 'dispatch' he's probably down there at this hour ". She looked at her watch.
Twenty minutes later Theresa and Ken sat in silence in the front seat of his old Ford Ute. He was speeding up a narrow corrugated gravel road in the lower levels of the mountain range that ran behind the town.
"Sorry she's s bit rough Theresa, I'm thinking of trading her in for one of those smooth riding jobs they advertise on TV, but I've got to save a few more dollars first"
Theresa smiled as she bounced again a couple of times. "Don't worry, we're not out here for a joy ride anyway".
"No by gosh we're not at that, I hope this little lass is all right, she's a bonny wee girl".
Theresa smiled at his idiom, his Scottish ancestry often emerged in Ken's speech. She understood because her family often used phrases or terms that were derived from the Irish vernacular even though they were several generations removed.
Suddenly Ken put on his brakes, sending dust and gravel flying to the four winds, Theresa grabbed the dashboard.
"That's it, I remember that old tree, it marks the turn off to the lane ".
"I'm glad you came Ken I'd have missed it" Theresa said breathlessly.
The lane was even more narrow, virtually only two wheel tracks indicating it's direction. Shortly a small cottage came into view.
Two large dogs came bounding out of the trees toward the truck.
"There are her two pups".
"Pups you say, they are as tall as the car door Ken. Will they bite?"
"I don't know I'll get out first, it sounds a friendly bark to me".
He stopped the ute in front of the small red brick cottage. The front door and windows were closed.
As he got out the dogs only jumped on him and barked, so Theresa ventured from the vehicle.
"Where's your mistress?" Theresa said to them as they ran to Ken and back to her.
She patted one of the sandy brown Afghans who looked delighted to see someone, perhaps they were hungry too.
Ken knocked loudly on the front door.
Theresa stood beside him and tried to keep calm she felt uneasy and apprehensive for some reason she couldn't explain.
"Lets go around the back".
She followed him and they found the back door unlocked, they cautiously stepped in calling out to Abbey as they went.
There was no sign of the girl, a uniform worn at Drayton and Doyle was thrown across a kitchen chair, a few dishes lay in the sink and a coffee cup was on the table. They went into the lounge there were two glasses on the low table in front of the fireplace.
"I wonder if her car is here, you have a look around and I'll see if it's in the shed". His broad shoulders filled the door as he left the room. "That's strange the kitchen light is on".
Theresa put her head into the room, the long fluorescent globe on the ceiling was not easily noticed in the daylight.
She walked through the rooms again. The small cottage was sparsely furnished, some ash was in the fireplace, and the bed was unmade. She walked slowly outside.
"The car's there, where the hell is she? Ken called. "I'm worried Ken, I think we'll have to go to the Police." "I'm beginning to think about that too".
"The dogs look hungry".
"I'll see if there's some dry food in the shed before we go". He turned back to retrace his steps and Theresa got into the Ute.
She waited, her mind conjuring up all sorts of unpleasant scenarios.
" We'll stop at the station on the way back". The man said as he returned and climbed into the truck.
"Should we speak to Mrs Forrest first?"
"Na-y I don't think so lass, what good would that do".
Ken Taylor had been employed by D and D from it's opening day he was the unofficial father of the place although he still had several years before retiring. His title was Senior Foreman.
He was responsible for the delivery section and the dispatch section. He worked at one end of operations and Abbey at the other. She took telephone orders, and kept records of dispatches and the like. Between either end of the line there were the teams of workers who made the parts, wrapped and sealed or packaged the goods .
Ken felt no need to clear anything with Mrs Forrest. She was Staff Supervisor and in Ken's books no higher or lower on the company ladder than he was.
She had seen fit to call him in on this so he would do what he considered practical. He considered this was a matter for the Police now.
However the local senior Sergeant on duty did not seem concerned with Ken's concern. He explained in fine detail the legal aspects of the situation , which boiled down to the fact that it was too early for the police to list Abbey as a missing person.
"If she played squash with her friend last Saturday, she has probably taken off to spend the rest of the holiday weekend with a friend in the city or somewhere and hasn't got back yet". He suggested .
"And not told anyone?" Ken remarked gruffly "Not told work". Theresa intoned.
"Some people forget".
"Miss Abbey is in her twenties not her eighties Sergeant". Ken replied frowning.
"She wasn't due for holidays anyway why would she do that". Theresa added. She's not that sort of girl at all, she not irresponsible like that".
"Well if she's not back in a day or two let us know". The police officer turned away and sat at his desk again.
"Aren't you going to do something about it now?" Ken exclaimed unable to comprehend this man's attitude.
"We have to establish she is a missing person before we can take any action Sir. You are presently assuming she is missing".
Ken banged an open hand on the counter, turned his back and stamped out of the small police office .
Theresa stood a moment and then followed. She caught him at the Ute thumping one tyre with the toe of a cracked boot.
"What are we going to do now?"
"I wan' tell ye what I'd leek tee do Miss but first I'll go an' see Mrs F.- as you said". He climbed into the truck and angrily thrust in the ignition key and gear lever and grated off to the plant.
After listening to their account Mrs Forrest put her hand on the telephone "I think I had better get onto one of the Directors. Theresa could you ring Mrs Day again, she has a son, I'm not sure where he lives I think we should contact him. Mrs Day is too old to cope with this alone. Gone to the city indeed what a load of broken beans that is". She was making no attempt to keep calm. Her blue eyes flashed angrily and her smooth fluffy hair tossed about as she shook her head in disgust.
Theresa and Ken excused themselves and returned to the days routine.
Daine Forrest spent a considerable time on the telephone during that afternoon.
* * * * * *
Simone Flinders was summoned to her Supervisors office early in her morning. She had heard a little of what had been happening over recent days but it was all second hand. The sight of a young uniformed police woman and an older man whose uniform bore more insignia, seated in Mrs Forrest's office told her that Abbey must still be missing.
"This is Detective Sergeant Briggs and Constable Frost, Simone, this is Miss Flinders officers".
"Sit down Miss". Was the only acknowledgment beyond a nod of the head that Briggs extended, and that more in the tone of an order than an invitation.
Simone sat on the edge of a chair and looked nervously from Mrs Forrest to Briggs.
The young officer moved and stood behind her somewhere.
Briggs was a thin balding man in his forties, he had very few laugh lines around his mouth. She felt cold eyes assessing her. She coughed.
"Now Miss Flinders I have been given to understand that you had a game of something with Miss Abbey Day last Saturday is this correct? "Yes, we had a game of squash". "What time of day was this then?" "In the afternoon, probably around 2 o'clock". "Probably, don't you know?" He barked. "I didn't take much notice". "Didn't you set a time to meet, book the court or something?" "Ye-s, 1-30". "You met at 1-30 or you booked the court for that time?"
Daine Forrest listened to the routine questions and Simone's answers with only half an ear. The session lasted over fifteen minutes,---
--what time did the game finish? --where did you go afterwards ?-was she meeting somebody ? --did she live at home ? --did she have a boy friend or defacto ? --and and, until the inspector ended it with, "You can go back to your work now ,if we want to know any more we'll contact you".
Briggs turned to Mrs Forrest and said "I hope you are satisfied, that is the pattern of our interviews, I'm sure you'll not want to sit in on every one of them".
"Very well then, but they are my, well the company employees and I am responsible for them. If one of their workmates is missing, killed, murdered or raped I don't want you blurting it out as though it were some summer sale announcement. Some of these girls are very young and not accustomed to ...."
"I think you've made your point, in any case Miss Day will probably arrived back here at work in a day or two, all this fuss will have been for nothing". He stood up and led the younger officer through the door, jabbing his cap into place on his elongated head.
'Mervyn the Monster', Daine mumbled, and then chided herself for it.
* * * * * *
The following weekend brought storms, gale force winds and a deluge of rain.
The company opened for work on Monday as usual but it wasn't a usual day, there was a dark cloud of apprehension hanging in every workroom and office, everyone's mind were on the missing girl. There was both fear and bewilderment drifting like a smoke cloud preceding a fire on a summer day.
Martin Day was now up with his mother and several family members cousins, uncles or aunts had arrived. They had done an amateur search of the surrounding areas over the weekend, between the heavy downpours, but there was no trace of Abbey.
The Police finally listed her as a missing person. An official search was started.
"I can't understand why they haven't called in the Police divers". Daine Forrest said as she stood with some of the company staff on the edge of the muddy lagoon below Abbey's cottage.
"Ken said it's very deep at one end but tapers off to swamp and mud further over" Theresa remarked.
"Her brother said he has some friends from the city who would come up and dive but he doesn't want to interfere in a Police job" Someone else said.
I don't know what that Briggs is bloody well doing" One of the men added.
"I think she might have gone for a walk up into the range and fallen, perhaps the dogs came on home without her".
"It's a strange business."
"I wonder if they've spoken to the boy friend yet". "I didn't know she had one, who is he?'
Further conversation was curtailed as a Police vehicle drove up, one of the two officers directed them all to go back down the track.
"These damn inquisitive bods, they ought to get out and give a hand or stay right away". The other officer remarked.
They got out of their vehicle and prepared to join the search. "Is the boss going to call in the divers?" One said.
"Na-y, he says it's a waste of time, it's too shallow to drown a pup" .
"He'll have to contact the city boys if she doesn't show up tomorrow won't he ?"
"I doubt it, there's no body, it's not a murder case".
The two young men now rigged up in searchers gear strode off into the scrub.
Mrs Day sat glumly on the low old couch, the log fire crackled and flared and voices carried to her from the adjoining rooms. Occasionally one was raised in anger or impatience, but she chose to ignore them.
While it was very good of them all to come up it was also very exhausting. She 'knew' now that Abbey was dead and she wept silent tears for the little girl she had lost.
She 'saw' Abbey in her cot, in her high chair, her first day at school, later at her fist dance her graduation from university in the city. she 'saw' her long waved hair caught back in a pony tail, swept up in a chignon or flowing loose and free. she felt her soft warm brown eyes and heard her gentle husky voice. She sobbed she would never again see her girl smile, hold her close in a hug or feel her sincere kiss. Abbey was gone forever.
She was angry then, angry at the person who took her daughter from her, angry at the Police for not finding her body and angry with herself because she should have been able to protect her, her little girl, from this madman.
And why? Why would anyone do this? Who would want to kill a lovely young woman......
Martin found her, tears seeping slowly down her cheeks. He comforted her, then they cried together.
The house had fallen silent the family had gone to bed. It was late.
"She's gone you know Martin".
"Yes, I think that might be so Mum".
"Can they find her body? I want to say goodbye to her. We need to do that at least, don't we?"
"We do, and we will Mum". He said resolutely making a silent vow to find his sister.
They sat in embrace rocking slowly together and staring into the fading fire.
Mrs Day fell asleep in her sons arms.
After a while he lay her along the couch and covered her. Then he lay down on the fire rug with a cushion under his head and tried to get some sleep himself.
Tomorrow his two mates would come up, they would go into the lagoon with him to make sure she was not there. But where else could she be? 'Damn the Police, we're not going to wait forever' he muttered as he lapsed into a fretful doze.
* * * * * *
It was mid-afternoon, Noel and Allan and Martin had been diving in the lagoon for some hours without finding anything, not a shoe a sock, a hat or cap.
Martin heard a call from somewhere, he paused, he heard it again. He surfaced and saw Allan waving an arm. He moved across to him.
Martin I think I've found something I don't think you had better come down. Where's Noel?"
"I'm not sure" He answered looking about.
The water beside them erupted and Noel's head and shoulders appeared.
"You got something?"
"You come with me, Martin you stay up here". Allan responded as he dived.
Noel followed him.
Martin hesitated then he too dived into the murky water.
It was difficult to see with all the shadow, silt and brambles under the trees. There was also what appeared to be an old tank out of shape and dented, from it a human arm protruded.
Martin's stomach heaved, he surfaced and gasped in the fresh air. the world spun the sky and water met in a wild shattering eclipse, he was at a loss what to do.
Then Allan and Noel came up. They took him by the elbows and guided him to the bank.
"We think it may be your sister but it could be anyone, so try and keep calm mate" Noel said.
"I'm going to ring the Cops". Allan added. He scrambled up the bank, took off some of his dive gear and sprinted out of sight.
"Did you see her face?" Martin gasped.
"Yes, but we don't know her- it could be anyone Marty".
"No it's her ". The boy said resignedly. "I thought she must have been in there. Why the hell didn't they look?' He raised tormented eyes to his friend.
"I don't know why. Maybe they intended too, eventually".
They sat in silence and waited. Martin shivered.
Noel went up to their 4 wheel drive and came back with a flask. He poured out a swig of hot liquid and gave it to Martin. Neither of them said a word.
Some time later the Police and ambulance men herded them into the background and began their work.
"I'd better go and tell Mother ". Martin said. "Not yet mate not yet".
But the postponement was to no avail. When the men brought the dripping crushed body from the water Martin pushed through and looked at her.
There was no doubt. His mother had been right his little sister was gone.
His legs buckled at the knees and someone led him away.
"Certainly not, she had no reason to do that". Martin retorted indignantly in response to Det Sgt Brigg's query about the possibility of suicide.
"If she did that, why was she in the tank?"
"Yes, well, as I've told you, we found no tank".
"That's because you didn't go down for it that day. We had a hell of a downpour, it probably washed away to another area. you should have brought it up that day". Martin admonished.
The Detective stared at him coldly for a moment and then turned away.
"When can we bury my sister Officer?" "In a few days".
"Will you tell us the results of the Autopsy or will that be kept filed away in some .....
"No". The lawman interrupted, turning back to the young man
"We'll tell you what is found but I suggest you use your discretion about how much you tell whom. Remember your mother is not a young woman".
"I'll worry about my mother, you just find this bastard who killed my sister -- and when you do keep him well out of my reach or there could be another bloody murder in this town".
He stood up and turned to the door.
"Is that all?"
"Yes you can go". Briggs waited for the slam of the door and he sighed.
"Come in Mr Day, what can I do for you" Ben Brady stood and extended a hand across his desk. He looked at the young man entering his office and saw a clean tidy fellow of 30 or so. Large blue eyes troubled and apprehensive.
"I need someone to do some investigating for me you were recommended". Martin took his hand and looked closely at Brady
a tall powerful fellow in his fifties Martin suspected, his dark brown eyes were large and alert.
He pointed to the chair facing the desk and Martin sat .
"My sister was killed some recently and the Police have as good as closed the file ".
"I see. You'd better tell me something about this Mr Day". "My name is Martin".
"Mine's Ben". He picked up a pen and rolled it about in his fingers.
Martin related the details and he listened in silence making an odd note on a thick yellow memo pad in front of him. His dark eyebrows rose a couple of times.
"Well, I see". He said slowly when the young man finished.
"And you believe they haven't really tried to find the killer?" "I do and I'm mighty irate about it".
"Yes, I got that impression".
"My dear old Mum is fretting herself to death. Dad died a couple of years back and now this".
"Oh dear, what a cross". This local police station didn't they call in the city boys when the body was finally found?"
"Yes, there were two men up there for a couple of days and then they left".
"How many Police officers are at that station?" "I'm not sure, three or four I think?"
"The Death certificate ,did it show drowning as the cause?" "Yes".
"Mm-m, well Martin I'm not free to begin working on this immediately. But yes I believe I may be able to tie up some of the loose ends. I wouldn't promise to be able to produce the killer for you of course, this is real life not a TV series".
YOU working on another case?" "Yews" "When would you be free?" "That depends it shouldn't be too long". "Well then, what if I contact you again in a few days if you can't do it for us we might have to get someone else, this thing has been in limbo too long now" "That's fair enough, give me a few days if I can see that I will be tied up for a while, I'll give you a ring ". "Right. Now the last thing we have to talk about is your fee". Martin said as he wrote down a phone number and passed it across the desk.
It was some days later, Ben Brady sat at a small table in his Motel room in Colbreeth. A small light formed a circle on a blank piece of paper before him.
He sat for a moment reviewing his day. It had been a three hour plus trip up from Sydney. He found the town of was set in the lower level of a mountain range and overlooking rich pasture and cropping lands.
The population was officially over 10 thousand but it had the air of a small town about it.
It had the usual hotels, a library sporting ovals and courts, several banks, strips shopping running down the main street. There was also shopping centre complex set a little way out of the main town.
It was autumn, the trees were just beginning to loose their beautiful leaves.
Martin would not be up here until the weekend so tomorrow he would begin .
He began his work sheet.
OFFICERS NAMES--- he hand printed this in bold letter Inspector,----------------Detective Sergeant------------Senior Sergeant -----------Constable ------------and--------------
He wrote one word - Right
He left a large space then wrote
Work mates ????????
He continued leaving large blank spaces on the page
ex boy friends?????
religion or cults???
what did she "do" -- outside of work why was she living out of town on her own
where is this tank why the delay for the search why the animosity why didn't the dogs protect her who is gaining from this ???
was the investigating officer guilty himself or was someone else pulling the strings ???was he protecting someone else ??if so who and why
FLIP SIDE was the killing to hurt someone else was it a revenge killing ---a jealousy crime
The small radio emitted soft music as he sat in thought. Martin had recommended this Motel because it was reasonably priced and clean. Also because there was a hotel across the road and the food there was good. Nice boy Martin, anyone under 30 was a boy to Ben he was pushing 60 and had been in this game for too many years to recall.
He looked again at his list and wrote heavily MARTIN
'No not unless my judgement is failing in my old age' and he scrawled out the name.
One of these years he would get out of this occupation he'd find himself a little cottage beside a mountain stream. Oh dear. His mind went back to Abbey Day, tomorrow he'd begin to fill in some of these spaces that glowed up from the circle of light in front of him. He stood, stretched and yawned.
* * * * * *
The following evening Brady sat again at the small table and wrote untidily.
ABBEY, came directly from Sydney Uni. to work at D and D, got on well with workmates, played squash and netball, worked as a volunteer in the Community Services Protection Scheme--state government. He grunted 'it's is going to be hard to find the connection here'.
--no involvement with sects, religion or cults --no de-facto-no family drama
Boy friend ? rumoured but not located ex boy friends --- several girl grew up here, anyway it depends on the term boyfriend
Mrs Day says the clothes she had on were not hers VERY STRANGE he added and underlined it
--Who took the tank from the lagoon and why?
Dogs knew the person?
It was at night
* * * * * *
Martin came up to Colbreeth the following weekend, he went straight to the Motel.
"All I have and that is little, is I'm sure Abbey was either murdered or abducted at night and I think it was someone she knew because otherwise the dogs would have protected her". "Oh I'm not so sure about that, they're pretty friendly to anyone". Martin remarked doubtfully
"But if their mistress was being attacked?" Ben argued. "Yes I see what you mean. why at night?"
"Ken Taylor said the kitchen light was on when he went up there days later".
"So he did, I'd forgotten about that".
"That's one of the most difficult aspects of the case, we're not sure when she did die. We're not even sure when she was abducted or went missing because of the long weekend. It could have been anytime between Saturday late afternoon and the Wednesday when Taylor and Mrs Derwent went up there".
Martin only nodded a frown creasing his brow.
"This business about the clothes your mother couldn't be mistaken could she, they couldn't be some clothes that she hadn't seen before I suppose?
"They were too big for her Ben".
"It's most puzzling, it's almost as though she was out somewhere and got wet or something and borrowed someone's things".
"But why would she do that?".
"I wish I knew. Sexless clothes too".
"Pardon?" The young man look at him sharply.
"Well, jeans, a tee shirt and jacket they could be worn by male or female".
"Yes I suppose so". Martin could only agree.
"I want to establish who the boy friend is. He hasn't come forward, no one seems to know who he is , I find that odd".
"So do we, Mother and I didn't know she was seeing anyone". "There were no men's belongings in her cottage ?"
"No, we didn't notice any when Mother tidied up".
"Mm-m must have been a married fellow I reckon, he's got a fright and kept low".
"Has to be. I'm having trouble with this volunteer thing I won't be able to get access to any information there and there could be so many odd bods".
"Very odd from what I've heard, some of these people are queer if you ask me".
"No, not that sort of queer, more peculiar type queer".
"Ah, exactly, this is why we should think about this, the killer could be one of these people she was counselling ".
Martin shrugged "I don't know, I spoke to the woman in charge in there but I met with a dead end".
"It seems though that the staff go out to visit these clients for want of a better word, anywhere at any time.
"It's crazy some of the people are most irrational, I was always warning her about the possibility of one of them going berserk".
"Did they go out alone?"
"The volunteers you mean, officially no, they went in twos but if the call was very urgent and there was no one available to go with them they went anyway".
"I don't know much about this Organisation what is it exactly?" Brady asked.
It's very similar to the old Lifeline organisation but now it government funded, to some degree anyway. People who are disturbed, depressed, have been bashed by a spouse, are morbid or suicidal, ring up the base and talk and then they either come in to the rooms or someone goes out". Martin explained.
"Good grief, what an occupation".
"It wasn't her occupation".
"No, well I'd hardly call it a hobby either"
"No I guess you're right".
"How long had she been doing this?"
"Must be close to two years".
"I'm told it's normally quite safe. There's nothing that indicates her death had anything to do with the voluntary work is there?" -
"No, but I'll bet the police wrote it off as the action of some crank".
Martin looked at him steadily "Do you think so?"
"It explains why they have done so little to find who killed her".
"I don't think they believe she was killed, they have pushed this suicide theory all along".
"The Coroner will decide that, finally though. Do you believe she did?"
"Of course not".
"If you are thinking of the tank that could have happened by chance if she jumped into the lagoon".
"You wouldn't jump in there, it's too shallow and why would you wear someone else's clothes to commit suicide?"
"Yes, true, and where were her own clothes?".
"Can I tell you my theory". Martin needed to put his thoughts into words and he had not been able to talk to anyone about this. "Go ahead". Brady nodded.
"She was attacked at the cottage her clothes removed and she was knocked out and put into the water".
Ben stared a minute at him but when he realized there was no more he said quietly " Martin why would the killer change her clothes?"
"I don't know" The young man answered lamely.
" If she was physically abused there would have been bruising".
"Was there?" Ben raised an eyebrow and turned to his notes and added a line.
"They said it was caused by the buffeting from branches and tree-trunks in the water".
"I see". I hesitate to go on, but you've probably been thinking about this anyway, if she was sexually abused that should have shown up too".
"It didn't. But it was days later of course. The other thing I was thinking, maybe she was up into the mountains and had on this clothing for warmth ".
"Again why, if she was with this boy friend they could have been his but why did she have them on".
"I can't fathom that either".
They sat in silence a minute.
Suddenly Martin said "What if she stole the clothes, what if they belonged to the person who abducted her, maybe she escaped and fled, maybe he caught her again".
"That does make sense, no it doesn't how would she steal his clothes?"
"Maybe he wasn't wearing those clothes, maybe she was held captive in a house or shack where there were some clothes in a closet or ....".
"A Fisherman's cabin, that type of thing you mean? I suppose that does make sense".
"Yes but where and who held her? Was it in town in an ordinary house or up in the mountains".
"It had to be somewhere not too distant from the lagoon Martin".
"Yes I expect so".
"You're a local, you were a local, think of isolated cabins, farm houses, even boats that could be moored on the river further north. This is a sound idea. I'll work on that before I follow any other line I think". Ben grinned and slapped the young man on the shoulder.
Mervyn Briggs and Ben Brady didn't get along from the first word. Briggs had no tolerance of investigation officers of any sort, be they insurance investigators, government or other even armed security men riled him immensely. Brady was at a disadvantage to begin with.
Briggs on the other hand had read very badly in the prelim. notes which Brady had on this case and he was somewhat biased himself.
It was Briggs firm opinion that the 'Lagoon case' as it had been tagged should have been closed weeks ago.
"You are not entitled to see any police files, they are strictly confidential and are to be seen only by the Police officers involved in the case. This applies to all Police inquiries. I would have thought you would have known that. You are licensed I take it?"
Brady took out a small folder from his jacket pocket and opened it to allow the man to see his credentials.
"You're wasting your time coming to see me".
"I appreciate that officially you can't help but I thought you might be agreeable to give me an odd piece of information or two I need it to go on with my investigations. Such things as whether the girl died in the water or before and if she had been beaten up and if she was pregnant these things are pertinent to a thorough...."
"Look Bradley or Bridley or whatever your name is, I have no intention of telling you anything. If you want to go ahead and extract money from this grieving family that is outside my control but by damn there is no way I will aid or abet you".
Brady said nothing for a moment and then quietly "O.K. then information not on Police file. What sort of family are they, are they likely to be hysterical over this event and is there any history of violence in the family itself?"
It was Briggs turn to hesitate. "I really don't know, I figure she jumped in there herself I suppose the boy could have bashed her and dumped her in there is certainly no reason to arrest anyone for this there never was from the start. Yes I do think they are hysterical about it' Putting a city PI like yourself on indicates that".
"Either of the kids in trouble with the law at all? Yes I know it's privileged info ".
"Not here anyway, they both went off down to the city to a University when they finished at the local school. Goodness knows what they got up to down there. The boy stayed there and worked and the girl came home. The old man died a year or so ago. If you ask me she was mad to get into the CSPS, that's the community service protection scheme , she was a volunteer there, now I have got work to do so you'd better be off". He stood up.
"Was it heart?'
"Was what, oh the old man, no cancer I think".
"There's a lot of that about lately. They moneyed?" "Not really, a bit above average I'd say" Brady stood " Thanks for your time". He refrained from slamming the door.
The Day home was one of several old but well cared for timber places either side of Sampson St. The street was wide and lined with tall liquid amber trees, now bearing brown, gold and yellow foliage. The house had no front fence but a large garden dotted with evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs. A garden bed ran along the front verandah baseboards. Brady parked his car and loped up the few front steps. "Mrs Day I don't want to disturb you". Ben apologised as the door opened. "Oh it's all right Mr Brady I'm not doing anything special, I could do with the company ". She moved one hand inviting him in. "I don't suppose you have any news yet?" "No, nothing significant I'm afraid". Ben followed her into the house. "Sit down do". She lowered herself slowly into an armchair.
Maggies front room was cluttered. Cushions on arm chairs, protective linen squares on the backs of chairs and couch, small tables beside the chairs and the couch which ran along beneath the front windows. The fine lace curtains billowed softly now in the autumn breeze. A long and very old sideboard (more commonly now called a buffet) ran along another wall. On it were many ornaments, family photographs, a branch of silver candle holders and two matching small lamps.
Bookcases filled the space remaining.
Ben could see no television set or stereogram.
He learned later her TV was in the sunroom at the rear of the house.
As he sat down he noticed the kitchen adjoined this room two opaque glass doors stood open. Their doorstops were two large old milk cans without lids, now brightly painted and holding dried flowers.
Ben eyes betrayed his amusement as he looked back to her. "I haven't seen a genuine log fire for years". He remarked.
"It's my little bit of luxury, wood is expensive but Martin says I can afford it".
"Martin looks after your book work then?"
"More or less, although dear old Mr Bolley is my taxman, accountant, solicitor, you'd probably call him my general manager in today's language". Her tired eyes brightened a little and a weak smile flashed for a second across a grieving face.
"Mrs Day can you tell me why Abbey chose to live out of town on her own as she did?"
"Abbey loved the bush, she wanted to have dogs and birds and space around her, she found she could have all of those out there". The woman spoke slowly and he saw pain in her eyes.
"Did she buy the place recently?"
"A year or so ago".
"Do you mind me asking how could a girl of her age afford it".
"Oh Bob left her a portion of his estate and he helped her set up out there before he died. They got on well they understood each other".
" I see -- and Martin did he get on well with Dad too?" "Yes".
"And did Dad give him a kickstart too?"
"Why are you asking me all this Mr Brady?" The automatic answers had stopped.
" Well I've got a large jig-saw puzzle to assemble Mrs Day and I've got to find all the pieces, even those that I don't know exist".
The woman looked at him steadily a moment then said "Bob left Martin shares in this property and he inherits it solely when I pass on".
"That fill in some irregular pieces for you?"
"Ye.s". He nodded satisfied now . He went on "I know this is an imposition but I need to look through Abbeys belongings, may I have the key to the cottage?"
Ben watched the woman, she appeared frail and tired, dark rings beneath her eyes told him she had been having little sleep . She's probably not eating properly either he thought to himself as he met her soft blue eyes.
Maggie Day wasn't as frail in spirit as she appeared however. It had been her suggestion to Martin that they find an Investigator to see what could be uncovered about the death of her daughter.
Right now she was 'low' as she would term it but normally she was bright, energetic and spontaneous.
Victoria Margaret Day had early in her life learned to cope with adversity.
She hesitated only a moment before agreeing to Ben's request.
She stood slowly again then walked to a small corner stand- and took out a key ring.
"Let me know if there is anything helpful there I could have missed something, my profession is housewife and mother I have done that well but this is another world for me Mr Brady".
"I suppose the Police have been through ?"
"Yes. Martin went up there with them one day". Her voice had lapsed into the absent tone again.
Ben stood and bade her goodbye.
"Mrs Dawson I'm Ben Brady" He put his head into a small cubicle that appeared to be the office in the CSPS building.
"Yes" The woman said raising hazel eyes to see who was disturbing her this time.
"I want to talk to you confidentially ". He stepped in. "Most people do".
"This is not personal, it's about Miss Abbey Day, she used to be a volunteer with your service I believe". He held out his I.D.
"I see". She hesitated a minute, then "Yes she was, sit down, what do you want to know? " .
"I understand she was working with some of your most desperate er- cases ? "
"Ye-s, you could say that. "
"I know this is out of order but could I go through her appointment book or could you give me a list of names? Probably the regular ones back to say six months before...."
"My goodness Mr Brady I'd be hung, drawn and quartered if I did that " .
Mm-mm, your distant bosses would be horrified if an Investigator got his hands on private information eh?"
"There's no way we can get around this I suppose?"
For a flashing moment he had a vision of having to creep into the office in the dark of night to search the files himself.
"Even if there were I don't have that information any longer, Abbey's files are in the city, she's not a volunteer here any more".
"Of course, how stupid of me". He stood. "She would be a loss to you I guess". He remarked casually.
She's a great loss to everyone Mr Brady, she was a lovely young woman, very conscientious and sincere".
Ben thought he detected a tear in her eyes.
He bade her good afternoon and left.
"Are you sure you want to do this Milly?"
"No, but I want to earn some extra dollars so I'll do it".
Brady nodded and smiled, Milly Munro was a good recruit, she had come in on jobs with him before . She was a Uni student and often took short term jobs to supplement her allowance. She was willing and reliable, undercover work suited her well. A small dark girl with a pixie nose she seemed to be able to fall into her surroundings inconspicuously. She could often pick up vital information for him. He was sure she could now fit into the volunteer team at CSPS. The organisation and others like them are always desperately short of staff.
He was gambling on his judgement that Mrs Dawson would not suspect anything was amiss.
"But before you go up to Colbreeth there's one thing I'd like you to do down here". He said.
"Right, but first what's my cover story ?" The girl asked.
"You're an Aerobics teacher and you've had a major operation and you can't do anything physical for several weeks, so you've taken the opportunity to take a break from the city".
"And I'm visiting sick people?"
"O K, it's a bit weak, but- you tell me if you come up with a better one".
Before Ben left the city to return to Colbreeth he made one more business call to a colleague. They spent a short time over a couple of drinks and Ben left his contact telephone number on the table .
Milly must have been lurking nearby, for the moment he put his key in the door late the next afternoon she appeared at his elbow.
"Inside quick". He said. You're not meant to know me".
"Yes I suspected as much, now about this cover you suggested". She said as she shut the door.
"Come up with a better one?" He threw off his jacket.
"Yes, it'll stand the strain because in part it's true". She propped on the edge of the upright chair without waiting to be asked and looked at him for an answer.
"So fire ahead" He put on the electric jug, I've have only coffee " -
"That's fine, now I've read through your summary notes, Simone Flinders and Ken Taylor I'm going to be a cousin or a niece come up to visit, to fill in some time I'll join the volunteer brigade. Which one of these do you trust sufficiently to let in on our plan?" Her words tumbled one on one excitedly.
"Er-,I don't know about that!"
"I'll be cheesed off at Uni, I feel like dropping out, I've come up here to make up my mind. It's better believe me Ben. I'll get to hear all sorts of local gossip too".
He nodded slowly "I don't think Simone would be mixed up in any of it ".
"And Taylor? "
"No I doubt it, he was only called on to go out there when she was missing".
"He is an older man, he is married".
"Ye-s". Ben paused coffee spoon in hand.
"Could he have been the boy friend they Couldn't find? " I sure as hell hope not".
Perhaps if I talk to Simone myself".
"Oh and you've had all these years of experience of course". Ben said flippantly.
"Well I'm learning I've worked with you and Lester a few times".
"Hmph I wouldn't put too much faith in Ted Lester he couldn't investigate a glass jar".
"Don't be nasty Ben Brady, rivalry jealousy doesn't become you". If I'm going tg learn about this game I have to have practical experience."
"So you going to tell me because your studying criminology you're going to become a criminal too. What are you going to do with this Uni degree when you get it.?"
"I might write a book. she laughed. "No I'm going to become a consultant for the Police Dept".
"My goodness we do have high goals don't we".
" It's the only way to aim. Sometimes the higher targets are easier to hit " .
He passed her a cup "Good for you, anyway I'm sure you'll find an interesting job for yourself " .
"I'll come and work for you". She smiled.
"That would be for free more often than not, you'll need a salary"
Ben spent most of the next morning in Abbey's cottage and in the surrounding bushland and scrub. After a snack lunch he picked up Milly.
Ken and Dorothy Taylor were both seated on their wide front veranda as Ben and Milly drove up. They ushered them into the house after the initial introductions.
It took Ben a few minutes to put forward their idea.
There was a pause the couple each looking at the other.
"I may not learn much but then again I can try". Milly put in.
"And it's impossible to get any names in straight forward procedures ". Ben looked at them a moment, this was the stumbling block. They were upright honest people and would not approve of subterfuge. Deceit was not a thing they would practise. He was ready for a refusal.
"Why don't Milly and I go and have a look at your lovely back garden while you two have a pow-wow about this". He stood up.
Milly followed his lead and then Ken stood too. He led them to the rear door.
"I've got a few vegetables in but Dorothy hogs most of it for her annuals and bulbs". He gave a half-grin and let them out .
Ben and Milly sauntered about and then sat on the wrought iron seat under a peach tree and waited.
Dorothy put her head out the door in a while. "I'm boiling the kettle, do you two like tea or coffee".
They knew they had an agreement, she was smiling.
* * * * * *
Several days passed.
Martin was getting uneasy. Was he wasting their money on Brady, perhaps they should let him go. He would speak with his mother .
He arrived up about mid-morning on Saturday he planned to take Mrs Day out for a drive tomorrow, she'd been cooped up in the house too long. All the family had long gone and her days ran one into another. He spent most of his working day worrying about her. Yet three and a half hours was too far to commute each day.
Maggie Day understood this and never said a word to cause his concern.
But he saw his mother failing, her eyes lacked their normal lustre, she had become slow in movement and speech. He was sure she was developing a stoop in recent weeks. The weight of her sorrows physically weighing her down .
They sat at the kitchen table with lunch spread before them when he broached the subject.
"I don't know if we're wasting our money Mother it's been weeks now and we still know nothing".
"Well dear he's been up here a couple of times, always apologises for disturbing me. As if I was one of the busiest people in the world". She gave her son a thin smile. "He asked me for the key of the cottage said he needed to have a look through Abbey's belongings. I've taken all her private things so it's not as if he's intruding". She looked at Martin a question in her eyes, an unspoken 'did I do the right thing'.
"Yes mother I figure we have to co-operate with him. I think he's genuine enough.
"Perhaps we should give him some more time".
" I guess so". Martin muttered absently as buttered another bread roll.
"He said something like- rural towns have closed shops, I don't know what he meant."
"Probably no one will tell him much, about us or Abbey or anything" .
"It's an uphill battle then".
"Yes I guess so" Martin agreed.
"Now how did you get this?" Ben's eyes widened as he looked at the paper Milly passed him.
"Ben you don't ask questions like that, you of all people". She grinned mischievously.
"So these are the names of the people seen through the CSPS in the months prior to her death?"
"Yes the small initials off to one side indicate who was counselling them, I've run a highlighter over those Abbey was seeing"
"Great, you've done well my girl this could very well be the breakthrough we need".
"Only if the murderer is one of those though eh?"
"Yes I expect so". He wasn't paying attention " Some of these names are familiar" He looked up.
"Yes I noticed". Millie pointed to the name TAYLOR, I checked it out there is no connection".
"I think I had better double check that, no reflection on your Competence" He added quickly. He suddenly had horrible visions of Milly sitting in nest of spiders by being up at the Taylor house day and night.
"There's' a Briggs and Dawson too".
"But the names you are interested in are the two the police questioned right? They are there, Downer and Ramsay".
"How do you know that? "
"Are they both still here in the town".
"No, Downer has left, he has some folks interstate".
"He's the young kid? "
"Yes it seems he was devastated by Abbeys death and it was decided to urge him to move on, resettle elsewhere".
"And this Ramsay?"
"Still on the books, only periodic consultations now".
"So if we write them off, that leaves us with five or so to check on".
Yep. Which do you want me to do?"
"First of all, are things all right with you, are there any problems up at the Taylors or has Mrs Dawson asked any curly questions? "
"No probs. boss, everything's going smoothly. The Taylors are nice, I'm quite enjoying myself actually".
"Good, perhaps that makes up for the small money I'm giving you". "We'll have to pay the Taylors something soon won't we, they're feeding me".
" I thought of that, I'd better go up and see them".
"How is Martin? "
"Martin Day? He's OK I think. Why?"
"I thought he seemed a nice guy". Milly said casually.
"So you've met him?"
"Dorothy Taylor introduced me, Martin and Mrs Day were in the shopping centre the other day".
Malcolm Frederick Briggs, Ben looked at the name several times and then nodded his head slowly. He turned to his telephone and dialled a number.
"Mrs Taylor how are you? It's Ben Brady". He paused for a minute, "Not a lot of progress yet I'm afraid, I was wondering if Milly was there just now? "
He waited "Thanks" He waited again.
"Hi, I was wondering if you could get down here later? He paused again.
"Right I'll see you then".
He replaced the phone and leaned back in his chair and pondered. He rolled the pen around in his fingers.
"This is the sticky part Milly, we think we're on the right track, we think we know who and why the Police didn't do the job thoroughly but how the hell do we prove it? "
"Let me see if he's still on the books. If he is I'll see if I can get to visit him in place of his usual person".
"Mrs Dawson said the files were in the city".
"Abbey's file is in the city. The client files are all still there " .
" I wonder if she was putting you off".
"Yes perhaps I was fooled but she seems a genuine character".
"I think she is".
" You take care if you go out to his place. He could be the killer you know".
"Yes, but he's not obsessed with me, as he was with Abbey".
"He is married, apparently lives on the other side of town somewhere, his wife works". Ben was reading from some notes in front of him.
"And that particular week she was out of town". Milly was leaning over his shoulder .
"She has a sister in Mackon. Well well".
"If the girl was held there, at the house, wouldn't the neighbours have heard something?" She queried.
"I'll have a look at the place, maybe there's a cellar. The story is he's a returned Vietnam soldier and he can't hold down a job".
"Oh dear "
"Yes, that's what I said too. And his brother was in charge of the inquiry what a.... "
"Yes but what I can't fathom is why the city Detecs. didn't pursue it". Milly cut across.
" I reckon Briggs, Mervyn, must have spun them a good yarn".
"I wonder if he removed the tank?'
"Or had it removed, but I can't for the life of me work out what he'd do that for".
"Martin, Mrs Day I'm reluctant to speak about this yet but I guess you're growing impatient so I will bring you up to date with what I have learnt so far. There is one thing I want to say. When an Investigator finds out things there is sometimes no way they can be proven. Therefore the situation is one where no action can be taken. Do you understand my drift?"
Martin and his mother exchanged glances and she said "No Ben but if you've found out something we want to know, please go ahead". She added the latter anxiously.
Ben told them the facts already uncovered. Neither of them spoke for a moment ,then Martin said "This Milly girl who is she?"
"She's an assistant I bring in from time to time, she can often go where I can't".
"Where did you say she was staying?"
"At the Taylors".
They exchanged glances again "Didn't we.... "
"Yes you did, she wanted to meet you". Ben interposed.
"Well well". Maggie Day muttered.
"Is this usual, planting people with neighbours like this? Martin demanded.
Ben shrugged and pulled a face " Yes and no, sometimes we do, sometimes we don't".
"The Taylors agreed?" Maggie asked her voice indicating her surprise.
"Yes, they think a lot of you".
"Well Brady you've certainly dug up some info for us".
"You have confirmed a suspicion I had from the outset". Maggie added. She stood up squaring her shoulders .
"Oh! You didn't say anything to me Mother".
"An old lady's imaginings Martin". She was at the front window gazing off into the garden.
" I don't say these things ".
"But others would ,old Doc Oxley would give me something to take and the population would mumble, --it's all been to much for her, poor old dear--"
"Tell me about your suspicions Mrs Day".
"I believe that the Policeman who came up here to see me did not want to find my daughter's body. I believe he didn't want to find her killer either".
Ben and Martin looked at each other a moment.
"Now Mr Brady how do we go about getting this rotten man ? " The woman asked in a determined tone.
"I'm not sure yet, as I said we have no proof. It's all hypothetical and we have used foul means, we have planted a stooge so to speak, the law will not look kindly on me to start with, it may listen it won't act".
Victoria Margaret Day, nee O'Riley, turned and stared a long moment at him.
" In any case we couldn't go to the local police " Martin said flatly.
"Spot on Martin, you certainly couldn't, you'd get what Abbey got, pushed into the nearest dam or lake".
"You think they'd go that far?" It was a question from Mrs Day
"My word I do. They removed the tank didn't they? They are working a major cover up here but unfortunately we haven't got any evidence of value".
"You know I knew Doreen Briggs, slightly, she used to come to the CWA meetings and functions, she's an inoffensive woman, I remember she got a job somewhere in town .I wonder if she knows her husband did this " .
"She was away you said?"
"That week, yes."
"I wonder why".
" Her sister was sick " .
"Oh. I wonder if that's true".
"Mother now you sound like Ben, stop being a detective".
"Not until our girl is avenged son".
"Don't you go doing anything silly Mrs Day " Ben said in alarm, looking swiftly to Martin.
"No she'll be sensible, she'll keep her counsel and let us handle this - won't you mother? " Martin coached.
"Yes son of course I will". But she looked at neither Ben or Martin.
"My dear old Dad used to say there are several ways to skin a cat". She muttered and when one of the men asked her what she had said she shrugged and put it off.
Maggie Day wasn't actually old, sometimes she felt very old particularly lately, particularly since Bob went. Since his death she had lost direction somewhat, no one to cook breakfast or dinner for, no one to share a cup of coffee or watch a TV program with, her time was her own and she seemed to be squandering it, frittering it away like sugar from a split bag.
Now in the early evening half light she sat on the old timber seat in the garden, she remembered Bob building it, he had asked what colour she wanted it painted. It was still pale blue he had never changed that.
So Malcolm Briggs was the killer, it was he who took her daughter away from her, Martin too, when she was gone Martin would have no one. Well Mr Briggs you are not going to get away with this. Your big brother will have to do a lot more than he has to save your butt.-- oh dear, she was getting crude in her old age, she mustn't say such things, what would people think.
Ben was almost asleep when the phone rang. "What? Mrs Day are you all right?" He sat up quickly.
"Of course I'm all right, tomorrow sometime when you have a spare moment I want you to come up and see me".
"Why yes, sure".
"And don't bother to tell my dear son that we're having this little meeting please".
"Oh, very well then. He's gone back to the city anyway hasn't he?"
"I expect so, I'll see you tomorrow then. Thank you Ben ".
The line was dead before he replaced the receiver.
Wide awake again his mind went back to the case. Maggie Day was a sweet old soul, she must have been quite an attractive woman in her youth. She still carried some of that charm, although he hadn't noticed it until yesterday.
I wonder what she is up to, he had an uneasy feeling about this, he felt he was about to be propositioned for something he would not want to be part of.
* * * * * *
It was late morning before he got up to the house, there were several cars in the drive and garden. As he parked one or two people emerged and went to their cars.
Mrs Day appeared on the porch saying goodbye to a couple more and when he went up the steps two men stood at the doorway. One was Ken Taylor the other man he had not seen before.
"Good morning Ben, this in Dr Oxley".
The men shook hands Ben looked sharply at Mrs Day "Are you ill?"
"No, not at all, we just had a cup of morning tea, we do that every now and then don't we Ken?"
Taylor nodded his head gave Ben a grin and left.
The doctor followed a moment later. A short grey haired man plump and red faced he waddled to his car.
"I thought the little jolly overweight country doctor had long gone". Ben remarked
"Goodness don't let him hear you say that, he spent most of his life in Practise in the city, he's only been up here five years or so".
Ben smiled, in most towns you'd be an old identity by five years . He followed Maggie into the house she was walking briskly and she was smiling today. They sat down in the back sunroom, a long glassed in room overlooking the garden.
As Ben sat his glance took in a long glass case on one wall. In it were several well polished rifles and shot guns. He turned to look at Mrs Day an question in his eyes.
"Oh, you are admiring Bob's collection? He had only a few, some of his friends have double that number". She sat down.
"Were they all in a gun club or something? "
"Wel-l, they used to go duck shooting every season, until it was made illegal in this state, and sometimes they'd go out into the bush and shoot wild pig, but they weren't in a club or anything. Well not that I know about but then of course you men tend to keep some of your activities to yourselves don't you ? " She smiled at him innocently.
Again he got the feeling this dear old soul, as he had thought of her previously, was cooking something up.
"So you wanted to see me today? "
"Yes I did, but please excuse me a moment, how rude I am, I am becoming very forgetful". She stood and walked in the adjoining room, she turned on an electric kettle. " I'm sure you'd like a nice cup of tea, it's almost lunch time I have some nice sardine sandwiches made for lunch. You're not allergic to fish are you?" She added the latter as an after thought and looked at him carefully.
"No I'm not, that's very kind of you how did you know I'd be here at lunch time?"
"I didn't. I always make up a plate of sandwiches about mid-morning. I don't have anything to do at lunchtime then.
Sometimes I watch a midday movie you see". She added the last in a conspirital whisper, as though letting him in a secret.
He grinned and nodded. He got up and had a look at the guns in the case while she was busy.
"I can open it for you if you'd like to feel them".
"No no, I have a great deal of respect for guns but they're not something I wish to handle any more often than I have to".
"Yes I expect you would have to have a licence or something, in your job I mean".
"Yes, but I don't think one of these would fit in a shoulder holster or my briefcase Mrs Day". He replied lightly.
"My name is Maggie, that is everyone calls me Maggie, you may do so too if you wish -- Ben" She carried in a tray.
"Thank you" .
They sat in silence then each sipping or eating and Ben knew he was being appraised, he hoped she didn't realize she was.
Soon she stood and going to a corner cabinet took out a cardboard box "Ben these are the clothes, these are our evidence".
Ben put down his sandwich. "What do you mean?"
"These are the things that my dear girl had on when they brought her out of the water ".
"My gosh, I'd forgotten about that, in any case I thought they'd still be with the police".
"No no. I was wondering did you find anything helpful in the cottage? "
"No I couldn't find anything that would tie anyone in".
"Have a look at these then, she handed him another box.
He put it onto the low table, it contained papers, photographs, cuttings, general keepsake items.
"Didn't the police take her personal belongings from the cottage?"
"Ben the police didn't even bother to search for her for days, one doesn't leave personal things lying in an empty house when the owner is missing - does one". She met his eyes and then returned to her task, serving the refreshments.
"I don't, well I suppose not".
Damn, blast it, what a stupid idiot ". He muttered as he went through the things.
"Who is an idiot?"
"Me, Mrs Day, I am". "This photo who is this with her?"
"I'm not sure, it's very blurry".
"He is embracing her, is it an old boyfriend?".
" It doesn't look like anyone she went out with ,not anyone I met anyway. Now to get back to why you're here. I want you to come with me today, I intend to go and visit Malcolm Briggs"
His head shot up his eyes widened and he let the photo slip from his hands. " Mrs Day have you taken leave of your senses? The man may be a murderer and you want to go and call on him like some....."
He was at a loss for words he went on. "It's not an afternoon tea and biscuit situation here Mam".
"Now now Ben, nothing ventured nothing gained. There won't be any dramas. You'll be in the car". She soothed him. "Have a cup of tea "
Ben sat gazing at her "How old are you Mrs Day?"
"Never you mind Ben Brady, it's extremely rude to ask a lady her age. I would have thought you would know that . You struck me as being a man who went to one of the good schools of years ago. Then boys and girls were taught some of the finer things in life. I'll tell I am not as old as I look, you'd be surprised.".
"Tell me if I'm close, I'd say you would be coming up seventy".
She laughed, a short humourless chuckle "Don't be silly, my daughter was only 25".
"Yes but- "-
"You see everyone thinks I'm old and useless".
"No we don't".
"Everyone thinks anyone over 55 is old and useless these days. Although I will admit I'm no longer 55 either ". She walked to the cabinet and took a photo and passed it across. Two people smiled back at him through a cracked glass.
That's Mr and Mrs Day on their third wedding anniversary, the date's on the back".
The faded figures read 1960
"So you were, about 20 then?"
"23 actually. He was my first beau and we lived happily ever after". She grinned at him the creases around her eyes deepening.
"I'm surprised there weren't a dozen little Days then". Ben said and apologised profusely a second later.
She chuckled again there may have been, but my accident put a stop to that. I nearly said goodbye to Bob then but they managed to keep me breathing and put some of the pieces back together ",
"Oh I'm sorry to hear that".
"Don't be, it's a long time ago".
"And now you're thinking of going off on a one woman crusade to avenge your daughter... "
"You just come along, you don't have to say a word, in fact I want you to stay in the car"
"And if I don't go with you?"
"I'll go anyway".
"How did I know you would say that? But he found he was grinning. " I wouldn't mind betting there is a lot of Irish in you, you're such a stubborn woman".
"Yes you're right there Ben Brady and sure that's got an overtone of the old country too or I'll be damned".
"Where is this cup of tea you talked about then, though a shot of whisky is more what I need now".
"Coming up, but no whisky until after dark".
"What is that an old Irish legend too? "
"Yes, me father said if ye start tah drink tah early yah drink tah much ".
He could only laugh.
"When are yah planning tah begin this tour o' foolishness then?".
"Miss Munro I was wondering when you would be leaving. I have to do the rosters for the next 8 weeks will you be here that long do you think?"
Milly stood at the doorway of the cubicle Mrs Dawson called an office.
"Possibly not, I'd better not outstay my welcome with uncle Ken.
"It's a pity, you have been most helpful and our- er- clients like you ".
"Yes, what happens about that, what happens if one of these guys get fresh with us?"
"You must let me know, you haven't er- had any unpleasant incidents have you?"
"No I had just wondered about it a couple of times".
"You let me know if any of them try anything on, anything at all you understand Milly? "
"Sure". I'll bet poor Abbey told you but it didn't help her a scrap. Milly thought but said only. "How long has the Organisation been going Mrs D?"
"Several years now. We have helped a lot of people, it's amazing how just talking about a situation can help sort something out".
"What about their families?"
"Too many families make the situation worse rather than better".
"They are too close? "
"It seems they can't be objective, they can't see the persons problem" .
"Why do we go out to talk to them wouldn't it be better if they came in here?"
"Yes it would but as you have seen only a small percentage want to come in here".
"They feel more comfortable on their own ground?"
"Yes. What did you say you were studying at the university?"
"Behavioural science is one of the units and this has been most helpful for me. I may have to do a paper in the future".
"You'll go back then?"
" I think I will. I think I just needed a break. Uncle Ken has been urging me to return to my studies " .
Mrs Forrest and Theresa Derwent were taking their coffee break, they had not bothered to go to the canteen but sat back from their desks in idleness for a few minutes.
"I saw Martin Day at the weekend. " Theresa said.
"Did you? I suppose he was home to check on poor Mrs Day".
"I heard that Martin had employed an Investigator Mrs F.".
"Oh and do you believe that?"
"Maybe he did he was angry".
"Have you spoken to Simone lately? "
"Yes she a had a visit from some girl from the city. She said she was from some insurance company but Simone's sure she wasn't".
Mrs Forrest looked across "Oh yes, what did this girl look like? "
"I don't really know, wait a minute I remember Simone saying she had gorgeous long red hair. Simone was bemoaning her own at the time, she couldn't make up her mind which colour rinse to get next payday".
"M-mm, I had a girl come to see me too. She also had longish red hair, well auburn in today's terms of course but it's the same thing".
Chestnut and canterberry-brown and black ebony, the list in endless, it's too confusing. I just leave mine as it is".
"She was only a slip of a girl, she wouldn't be an investigator, if it had been a man it would have made me think twice". Mrs Forrest was speaking softly almost to herself, disregarding Theresa's remarks on hair rinse colours .
"Oh Mrs F today a girl can do any job a man can do".
"Yes which reminds me is the new girl coping with the job"?
Abbey's old job, yes she seems quite competent . Ken said she's O.K. easy to get on with, that's about as much as we'll get out of him".
"If you couldn't get on with Ken you'd have a problem".
"Oh, I've seen him show a bit of fire if you do the wrong thing by him. I suppose he's entitled to be cranky at times like any of us" .
Daine Forrest put down her mug "M-mm. By the look of that clock over your head I'd better get back to it".
"Don't forget you have a meeting upstairs at 11". Theresa reminded her. I just plod along here alone until you return". She added flippantly.
"I can't see why you have left out Dawson, he may be some relation to the Co-ordinator".
"Even if he is what of it?"
"Well how do we know he's not involved? "
"Now listen young lady I don't ask you to help me and then leave all the footwork to you. Yes Dawson is a cousin. He's being treated for depression over several years now. There is no indication that he is anyway involved with the murder".
"Why couldn't it be him? "
"For one thing the clothes wouldn't fit him".
"That's pretty weak".
"We can place him elsewhere at the time".
"DO we have a time? I thought it was any number of days. Have you checked this out? "
"Now listen young lady... "
"Oh O.K. I'll concede, I just don't wont to go chasing up the wrong lane that's all".
"No offence meant"
" Thanks again"
They pulled into Briggs driveway and Ben turned off the motor. The house was small but in fair repair. It was a newish estate a little out of the town it appeared a lot of blocks had been bought but were not yet built on . Some of the natural bush and scrub had been left unfelled by the developer. There were wattle and eucalypt trees and low scrub along the roadway and in some of the blocks. It didn't have the new raw look about as most new developments.
Maggie got out of the car and went up the steps to the front door At first there was no response to her knocking but then it opened.
Mrs Briggs stood in the frame, he presumed it was Mrs Briggs. It was like the old silent movie he could see what was happening but hear nothing. After a few moments Mrs Briggs took the parcel from Maggie, she pulled out part of a garment and nodded her head . Both women smiled and said a few more words and Maggie returned to the car.
"Now she has the evidence, I can't see the point of what you're doing here".
The woman smiled at him "There are other garments " .
He was backing the car out he paused "You didn't give her them all?"
"Of course not".
Ben shook his head he should have known better than to think she would do that. Then again he hardly knew this woman.
"Now that she has them how does that help us? It doesn't mean they are his just because she took them".
"She said they were his".
"He'll say they're not".
"Maybe, maybe not, we'll see.. In any case it covered me for the off chance she was at home. Now we're going to have to find out when she isn't and when he is. "Stop here Ben".
He had travelled only a few hundred meters from the house.
"What for? "
" I want to wait here until he comes home, I want to see what happens".
"Good grief woman". He couldn't argue with the logic so said nothing further but settled himself as comfortably as he could in the seat. He had no need to keep watch Maggie was turned inside out watching the driveway. He could not resist a smile.
It was not a long wait. The old rusted sedan rattled down the road and turned noisily into the house. A heavy set stooped man left the car.
"Now Ben I want you to get back there as close as you can and see if you can hear anything. Hurry".
She urged him out of the car by word and action almost pushing him off the seat "If they spot you tell them you're at the wrong address, tell them you're looking for the Devon family".
"Quickly man quickly".
"Bloody hell woman".
He felt foolish. He hadn't ever been placed in this sort of position before. He made his own decision who to watch and who he listened in on. This case was getting out of hand. It was bordering on the ridiculous.
He proceeded anyway, at a smart lope. He could hear voices as he neared the house but could distinguish nothing. The voices were raised and shortly the man emerged from the house carrying the parcel . He threw it on to the seat of his car.
Ben sprinted back. 'That crazy woman was right'.
"Now what" He puffed.
"What did you hear what did he do?"
"He went back to the car, I expect he's going out again he's got the parcel on the car seat. " He gasped between puffs .
"Did he shout at her?"
" Yes "
"I knew he would. Lets wait now, he may take the parcel somewhere we have to wait and see what he's up to".
"What he's up to".
Ben could hear Martin's voice berating him for allowing his mother to become involved.
"I'll be the next murder victim". He moaned.
"Why do you say that? ". Mrs Day turned to look at him quizzically.
"Martin will kill me next weekend".
"Hah" She said and turned away.
Ben was looking through his rear vision mirror and soon the sedan was being backed out of the driveway.
"Dam he's gone the other way, I'll have to do a U turn".
As he followed the dirty car he began to think Maggie may be right they seemed to be heading out of town.
After a couple more turns she exclaimed "This is the Tip road Ben, he is going to get rid of it".
Ben kept his distance but they observed Brigs stop at the Tip entrance. The gates were now closed for the night but there was a large yellow open-topped container beside the gate.
"He's going to use that dumpster, you'd better stop back here Ben". She warned
They watched and saw the man leave the car and move to the bin he threw the brown paper bundle into it. Returning to his car he spun his tyres in the gravel and headed away.
Ben and Maggie slid down in the their seats as he sped past. I'm glad it at was so late do you think he saw us".
"I doubt it. He would have stopped and dealt with us if he had". Ben said.
Maggie was not sure whether he was joking or not. She said nothing.
"Now that the evidence is gone what are we going to do?"
"We're going to get it out of there of course".
He turned to stare at her "you mean we came all the way out here to watch this man throw away the parcel and now we're going to retrieve it?"
"Yes, come on now start the car, lets get up there before it's too dark to see what we're doing".
Ben swore under his breath but complied with her wishes.
Fortunately the large bin had been emptied late in the afternoon, there was very little else in it.
Are we tampering with evidence he wondered as he turned the car to go back to town.
"Thanks Ben". Maggie said smiling.
For some reason he felt better, he felt that all this nonsense had been worthwhile.
He didn't go directly back to his motel but accepted a lady's invitation to a home cooked meal and a nip or two of Scotch.
Milly stopped and turned, Martin Day was striding through the Saturday morning shoppers.
Lilly isn't it?" He said as he stopped in front of her.
" I remember " .
"That's a start".
"How are you?"
"Not bad, we're getting along, it's Mum I worry about. But anyway, how are you?.
"I'm not sure, I think I'm about to head off back to the city".
"Oh, old Ben told you to leave it to him has he? "
She looked at him widening her pretty eyes innocently.
"Don't worry he told Mother and I you were working with him".
"Oh, well then I hope you keep that bit of information to yourselves. Mrs Dawson won't be at all pleased if she thinks..."
"Yeh, he explained that too, could I thank you, it seems you've been a big help to him".
"Yep. Well it's difficult to get access to police files and CSPS files, even medical reports, poor dear, sometimes I wonder why he bothers".
"We did have the Autopsy report ".
Which told him little. It would have been helpful to know if the bruises were caused by logs and branches or whether they - well anyway " .
"He seems to have managed to build up a pretty vivid scenario thinking of it gives me nightmares".
"I'm sorry Martin I shouldn't have been talking about this".
"No no, it's OK".
" It's unfortunate that we can't prove any of it " .
"Milly have you got some time?"
"Yes-s, I suppose so".
"Would you have cup of coffee with me?"
Milly met his eyes, they were bright yet appealing. She hesitated only a minute.
"All right Martin, do you know somewhere that's quiet?"
They were being jostled by passing shoppers pushing trolleys, mothers dragging toddlers by one arm and pram or stroller wheels
"While I've still got two ankles left". She added, smiling.
"Yes, I think I know just the place".
He led her out of the noise and hustle through the car park to an adjacent building. This one incorporated a hotel, with a bottle shop and T.A.B. couple of specialty shops, an Australiana and a camera shop and a coffee lounge.
Only a few people were seated, they found a table off to one side and sat down.
"Tell me Milly how did you get into this?"
"Well, I'm studying".
"Yes, what are you majoring in?"
"I hope to gain a degree in Criminology".
"Yes". She smiled. His reaction had been the same as most people when she answered this question.
" Well that's why I work with Ben sometimes. It's good experience to see how things are - are, uncovered I suppose"
"It's an odd career to select"
A middle aged lady wearing a brightly striped apron and carrying an invoice-pad and pencil in hand came to the table, they gave their order.
"I suppose it is, but I've always been interested in crimes, law and the process of enforcement and such ,so I can study something I'm interested in, makes studying less tedious". She added lightly
"Yes I suppose so . I've had nothing to do with the law or crime at all until now. I can't say I'm too impressed with what goes on"
"I don't blame you. I think you did the right thing by getting an Investigator. It will help to ease the pain for your Mum too, even if we can't nail this sod".
"Yes, this is the ridiculous part of it, it makes me very angry, here Ben and you put in weeks of work and it's all for nothing".
The coffee was brought, they exchanged a few words with the lady and she moved on.
"How has it been at work, are the people there good? You had some time off?"
"I took a couple of weeks off, yes they've all been great, they make allowance for my cranky moods". He gave her a half smile and stirred his coffee.
"What do you do?".
"I work for a company known as Blimpsom, they make washing machines and things. "
"What do you do there? I can't see you assembling parts or painting the cabinets".
"No, I look after the electrical systems, buttons and switches and cycles that sort of gear".
"So when my washer jumps missing a cycle I can blame you".
"Not on your life it was right when it left the factory".
Milly laughed and he relaxed her cheerfulness was infectious. They spent an hour over the cup of coffee.
Ben and Milly drove out to the Briggs place after lunch she had her file from CSPS and looked very official.
She left the car first and walked confidently to the front door. In answer to her knock the door was opened by Malcolm Briggs.
Ben watched the two talking for a minute and then they went into the house.
He quickly jumped out of the car and sprinted up the driveway the garage door was open. one end of the oblong building was divided off into a room, it appeared to be a combination office-den. It was obviously where Briggs spent a good deal of time here . He must have felt the need to get out of the house by himself. There was a fridge which had a few bottles of beer and chair an old radio, a few books and magazines lay about. An old chest of drawers stood in one corner it was to this the Investigator went. The bottom drawer had what he wanted. Photos, dozens of them family, war, war friends, maybe these were girl friends, and here it was, one of Abbey. He couldn't stay any longer Millie may not be able to keep him talking. Finding nothing else he hurried back to the car. He was barely seated when the front door opened.
"How did you go?" He asked as she got into the drivers seat.
"He's an odd-bod all right. Did you find anything?"
"Bingo". he held out the photo".
"It is Abbey?"
"If it's not it's her double".
"So we're right he was obsessed with her".
"Is he the kind, you're the one who spoke with him?"
"It's hard to say he was polite but remote".
"Did you feel comfortable or uncomfortable with him?"
"Uncomfortable he kept looking at my legs. Do we know his age? "
"He fought in Vietnam, that's late sixties into early seventies so if he was around twenty then ,its the mid nineties, now so that puts him in his forties".
"If only we could talk to the Dr we could find out if he's psychotic".
" If the police would co-operate we could have found out if he's been violent in the house. I wonder if Mrs Day knows she said she knew the wife at some club or other".
"I think I may have an idea, I think I may be able to find out if he's ever caused any scenes at the pub or the sports club or....".
"I've done that, all I got in way of an answer is something like, --yes but who isn't a bit agro when they drink too much was all I got. Have a try anyway Milly you may do better".
"I have heard he goes away for a week or so quite often, perhaps that indicates things are not too good at home. Where does she work? "
"At one of the local motels, as cleaner, kitchen hand, that sort of thing".
"Mrs Taylor thinks she a bit slow, simple is the word she used".
"She may be and if she is she may be quite unaware of what he's done".
"I suppose we really should be saying if he's done it".
"Yes, I stand corrected, you are theoretically correct and far be it from me to contradict those big books you study night and day".
He gave her a bemused grin across the car.
It was Friday Ben took very little notice of Ambulances rushing to and fro past the motel. It was not such a quiet place as he imagined it would be when he first spoke to Martin. This morning then he merely raised his head from his task and thought sympathetic thoughts for the poor fellow having this crisis in his life.
It was an hour or so later that Milly rang, she informed him that Malcolm Briggs was in the hospital, someone had taken a shot at him.
He put down the phone his mind twirling quickly ,a gyrator gone wrong different thoughts were fighting each other for supremacy. He sat down and took out a crushed packet of cigarettes he had given up the habit of smoking some time ago. Everyone in the medical world and on TV and in print kept on advising people to Quit and propounding the dangers of it. There were times he felt the need of the odd puff, to help him think.
He wondered if Maggie had heard yet, Briggs would get little sympathy from her no doubt. He might just drove around there.
"What do you know. Well well" Maggie made a cup of tea as they talked about it and later on she said she'd go and see Briggs this evening. I might take him some flowers".
"You're going to do what? " Ben paused with tea cup in midair
"Do you want a meal here before we go or later? "
"I think you're crazy".
"I know, and I know you thought that the other day too. Just bear with me for a little while Ben, just humour a little old lady".
Ben grunted a laugh "Little old lady you're fitting less into that image day by day."
"You need not say a word just stand there. In fact I don't want you saying anything"
"Maggie why do you want to do this?" "Never mind that, will you come?"
"Very well". She walked to the door, You can go, I'll be going out shortly I haven't time to chat". Her tone was both commanding and derisive. She stood straight shouldered and head tilted up.
Ben stayed seated - "Go and get your dress on then or whatever it is you women do, we'll go now and don't take all evening".
He couldn't resist the last to get himself back onto level footing with her.
Maggies face broke into a delighted smile she shut the door and hurried off.
Feisty old crone he thought to himself as he strummed his fingers on the arm of the chair.
The old velveteen chair was scuffed and frayed but still damn comfortable, he leaned back and closed his eyes momentarily.
'How the hell did Briggs get shot? If he killed Abbey was his protector now trying to get rid of him? Or have I been totally wrong all this time Ben questioned himself.
His thoughts were interrupted by steps in the hall, Maggie was back. she had chosen a soft green thing that hung sort of crosswise on her, she had put on make-up and she looked 10 years younger.
His eyes must have betrayed his thoughts for she said. " Don't stare Ben Brady, lets go".
He had to stop at a shopping complex on the way. she bought flowers and chocolates. He was about to berate her then he reminded himself it would be a waste of words so drove to the hospital feigning not to notice the daintily wrapped parcel.
Briggs was in a small private room . Ben had a fleeting thought that this was odd, why was he alone and not in a Ward, however his mind was diverted to the present. Briggs was propped up on pillows one shoulder and arm bandaged he also had a large sticking plaster on one side of his face.
"I thought he was shot only once".
"So did I".
Briggs opened his eyes at the sound of their whispers. He jerked back in alarm when he realized he was looking at Mrs Day. Ben made a mental note to ask her about this later, he hadn't realized they knew each other.
"How are you Malcolm?" Maggie asked sweetly " I heard someone took a pot shot at you. What a dreadful thing. I've never heard of such a dreadful thing and here in our nice crime free town too. It's too much really it is, first my poor Abbey and now you it's just too much. you poor man here I've brought you some lovely flowers and some chocolates. I'm sure the nurses will let you have one tomorrow. She crooned.
"Malcolm have you met our friend Mr Brady he's up from the city for a while ".
"Evening Briggs". -
Briggs nodded in his direction but looked at once back to Maggie.
"He's that big city detective everyone been gossiping about you know. You're privileged aren't you, him coming out to see you".
Briggs already white paled further and stared at Ben again
"Well come on Ben, Malcolm looks tired, perhaps we'd better go we don't want to tire the poor man out. I'll come and see you again tomorrow Malcolm do sleep well. Don't think about that silly idiot running around out there murdering all and sundry. I'm sure your big brother will eventually get onto him I do hope they hang him when they do. Goodnight now then".
Ben closed his mouth and turned to the door. Mrs Day went through and he followed promptly. They had been in the room only a few minutes. He took her elbow as they went up the corridor and said in a stage whisper "You could be accused of harassing a patient you know that? "
"Too bad. I'd do more than harass him if I got half a chance". Maggie smiled up at her new friend and said "Now would you like to have that evening meal with me or not?".
After a moments hesitation Brady grinned and said " I'm not sure I'm game I might incur your wrath" .
As they came out of the swinging doors and walked to the car Mrs Day called out and waved to a couple of people going in.
"Oh that's Daine Forrest and her hubby". "they have someone in the hospital too? "
"I don't know really".
Before he started the car he faced Maggie across the seat and said "Now Maggie what is all this about what have we gained by coming down here? "
"That remains to be seen, ask me in a few days. Are we going to my place now?"
No, I think we make a diversion, I think I'll take you to the hotel for a drink or two, I could do with a long Scotch".
Maggie was about to decline but changed her mind and said nothing. She patted her hair into place and smiled in the twilight of the car.
"I don't have a rifle Officer and if I did I'd hardly go around firing at local residents and risk my licence now would I? "
Brady was irate. This pompous local big-wig had the nerve to summon him down here to question him about the shooting. He felt like adding 'it was only an arm injury it's a pity the sniper wasn't more accurate', the more he saw of Inspector Mervyn Briggs the less he liked him.
"I think it's a preposterous idea"
"You may very well think that ".
Ben searched his mind for where he had heard that phrase before. "But it is my job to find out who is responsible for crimes committed in this town ". Briggs said righteously
'You haven't done so well with the murder of an innocent girl though' Ben clamped his mouth firmly refraining from uttering the words .
"You haven't told me where you were late on the 16th". Briggs went on.
"I'm not sure off hand, I will go back to my room and look up my diary for you and let you know. Now you cannot.... "
"Yes go on then, but if you find anything in your investigations for the Days you could let me know".
'Like hell you won't co-operate with me why should I make any effort to help you' again he did not verbalise his reply.
Ben stood motionless as he looked at the room, what a mess. Everything was turned about, bed stripped, robe open, drawers on the floor and his notes scattered.
He made no attempt to fix anything but went immediately to the telephone.
Brigg was busy he left the report with the desk Sergeant.
He waited, expecting they'd put it to the bottom of the list and he was prepared to wait half the day. Strangely enough they were there in a short while.
After the men had taken fingerprints and photos he was permitted to sort out his notes and begin to tidy up. As he suspected several pages were missing.
In the normal procedure of an investigation the loss of pages of notes is a gigantic setback. Every fact or suspicion or interview all thoughts and facts are combined in haphazard order but there to turn up as soon as the investigator needs to remind himself of something or verify something . This break and enter should have set back his inquiries by days. However in this case it made little difference. Ben was an experienced investigator and he knew the value of scraps of information be it one line or one word it was his practise for many years past to duplicate his notes and send them off to a safe place. That safe place he and one other person knew. He varied both person and place, every now and then as an extra precaution.
He smiled now as he thought 'Well Joe whoever you are your little scheme has fallen on its nose, you haven't cut off my track at all - but I'll let you think you have'.
"Ben I've had that dreadful Briggs up here, he demanded to see Bob's guns, he wanted to take them away, I refused, he said he'll be back, he's gone to get a warrant or something. What should I do?"
Maggie's words tumbled through the phone before he could say more than hello
"My gosh. Wait I'll be up there in ten minutes. If he comes back stall him. " He grabbed a couple of things and left the room as it was .
"You'd better let me have a look at those guns before he gets here". Ben said as he bounded into the house.
"To check if they've been fired recently " .
" I've done that".
"You've done it? Do you know how to... " He stared at her.
"Of course I do, I used to shoot with Ben from time to time".
"You did? Good grief . Maggie you didn't? No of course you wouldn't, what a stupid idea. Maggie someone may have taken one of these guns shot Briggs brother and put it back in here".
"Nonsense. How would they do that ,I would have heard them, seen them, him " .
"What if you were asleep?"
"He was shot in the daytime.
"But the gun could have been taken at night and returned here".
"Don't be silly . I would have seen it was missing -- surely I would have known if one was missing".
She gazed at him her eyes wide and fearful.
"Where's the key?" He realized the cabinet was locked.
She had the key in her hand and passed it over. He took out each gun out singly and checked it over. He couldn't find any trace that any had been fired lately. But he was not in Forensic the Police no doubt would be far more thorough. The sniper could and probably did clean it thoroughly after use anyway.
Lets be sensible, he told himself suddenly, there are lots of other guns in the town. The Police will have names and addresses of owners who have licence. Those that did not would not be checked anyway . What a maze this was becoming.
"Maggie how many of Bob's friends used to go away shooting, have they all got guns now?"
"Yes I expect so . I don't know how many really 5 or 6 of them most times but not always it would depend".
"Yes but there were regular ones weren't there? "
"Can you give me their names?"
"I'd like to have a talk to them".
"You sound like Briggs, no I'm not going to bring Bobs friends into this. You just tell me what I can and can't do about this can he come up here and take the guns?"
"I think you should ring Mr Bolley about this, he'd be the expert" .
"Wouldn't you know?"
"I can give you an opinion". Ben prevaricated
Martin slowed his car to turn into the driveway of his mother's, house, he had left the city early and it was now late morning.
He was taken aback to see several cars parked on the drive or on the lawn. His heart lurched, was his mother ill, had she been attacked. 'Oh no' his mind protested silently as he parked on the roadside and walked toward the house.
There was no ambulance or police car so he breathed a little easier as he went to the house.
Several people were seated at one end of the long side verandah and as he came up they stood and began to disperse. His mother came to greet him.
"What's going on Mother, are you all right?"
"Yes my dear of course, I spoke to you only last night".
They hugged and stayed in embrace a long minute
"Yes, but all these ... What are Daine Forrest the Taylors and Theresa Derwent doing here and who is that chubby fellow?"
He was whispering.
Maggie replied in the same tone. "Now son stop worrying, old friends like to meet once in a while and share a cup of tea and a hot scone. Saturday morning is a good time for everyone. You should remember Dr Oxley".
"Oxley? He's put on a lot of weight".
"He eats well". His mother replied facetiously.
"It seems like it, now where we?"
"I'll just say goodbye and then I'll make a fresh pot of coffee for you, go on in and get comfortable my dear".
Maggie turned her attention to her friends leaving and Martin exchanged a few words of greeting with one or two before entering the house. He was frowning.
"You've heard about Briggs? " Maggie said as she came back and went through to the kitchen .
"Yes you told me last night".
"So I did, how forgetful of me, I keep forgetting things lately I must be getting old".
"Nonsense you're looking better than you have in months " He looked at his mother and was pleased to know he didn't have to lie. Her eyes were brighter and her long hair was groomed and styled into place high on her head.
"Ben's coming up about lunchtime".
"I think he's bringing that young lass, he says we need a round table conference".
Milly arrived first and was in conversation with Martin when Ben drove up. Maggie was quick to meet his eyes as he entered the room and sat down
"How are you Ben ?"
"Worried " .
"Why is that? "
"I can't say at the moment". He looked away and opened his briefcase.
"Ben have you been into the hospital? Milly asked as she turned to them.
"Yes I have, which brings me to a point I wanted to clarify too...."
"I've just come from there the room is full of flowers and chocolates, dozens of them Ben! " . She gazed at him waiting for his reaction
"What?" He turned to Maggie but she was busy straightening cushions, turning them over, patting them into place on the long couch under the window. She might not have heard a word they had said.
"Maggie what is going on?" He said gruffly. Martin looked at him sharply
Maggie turned and with eyes wide replied "What do you mean Ben?"
"Have you got everyone in this town lined up to take flowers and chocolates to Malcolm Briggs?"
Martin turned to look at Maggie , Milly stared from one to the other.
"I have an uneasy feeling that there is a small town conspiracy going on here".
"Is this called killing with kindness or something is it? It won't gain anything you know that. In fact it will probably stir the other Briggs up and .... "
"He deserves to be stirred up if you ask my opinion. Anyway who is for a cup of tea or would you rather something cold Ben?"
He stared at her a moment, their eyes locked in silent combat and then he shrugged and turned back to his briefcase
Martin was frowning "Would someone like to tell me what the hell is going on?"
Milly replied "It seems some one stood across the road in some trees and took a shot at Malcolm Briggs as he came out to his car "
"I know about that I'm talking about flowers and chocolates and these two and the silent war going on here".
Millie shrugged and turned to Ben.
"I found out why he had that bandage on his face too it seems he injured it when he fell" .
"And how did you come by that bit of information? No don't tell me I shouldn't ask? " He was cranky and irritable and he knew it. He must pull himself up here or there would be bad results.
" Oh I can divulge that source I simply spoke with one of the nurses". She smiled smugly.
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