"Morning Miss. Could I cadge a cigarette?" His bright blue eyes were dancing like light on water and he beamed a smile as wide as the Bass Strait. Her breath was taken away as she reached for her packet of Capstans and offered him a smoke.
"Mind if I sit?"
Louise nodded approval and before long, the country girl and the soldier were immersed in conversation. He told her of his campaign in North Africa, his childhood in Nowra and study of Medicine in Sydney. How he adored living among the snow gums and crystal creeks of the Snowy Mountains but would prefer to live somewhere more cosmopolitan one of these days. He outlined his plans to set up practice and become a famous surgeon on Macquarie Street. She told him of her affection for theatre and dancing and her gratefulness that the war was over and life could begin again. She was electrified, mesmerised by this handsome man with great prospects, her passport to freedom. She neglected to tell him of her boredom in such a parochial outpost and her yearnings to be a socialite.
Louise was a secretary for a local law firm, Cal about to return to medical practice and looking for a small town location in which to build his patient list. Funny how a shared cigarette brought them together. If one could call it 'together'. At least he'd slipped a ring on her finger and relieved her from from the boredom of stenography. Just as things would swim along, he'd interrupt their relationship for short breaks into Sydney, making a long distance home visit or attending a course to further his career. At first, it was for a couple of days, but lately, days extended into a week or two.
Upon his return, he'd bring her gifts. Flowers, chocolates, nylon stockings. He'd even arrived home last time in a brand new car. A Holden the colour of pale sunshine, they could ill afford it but she loved it, and the prestige that came with it. They'd christened the back seat down by lake Jindabyne steaming up the windows while the snow fell outside. She loved that car, not just because of their back seat love making. It reminded her of the desire for big city living and all that it encompassed, but they had to start somewhere and for now, this was home.
He'd also shower her with affection each time he returned, and for a while, things would become normal. She trusted him with her heart, her life. He was her life. She, an only child. Her father killed in the Pacific and her mother long gone, frustrated by the constraints of a gossipy little town. He however, was somewhat circumspect about his emotions, his finances, his trips away. The secrecy began to tear at her. Her constant inquisitions began to annoy him.
"Cal, who is this patient in Wollongong? And if you're doing all these courses, where's your certification?" She'd pry. "Where's this hundred pounds a month going?"
He'd never answer directly, just hold her and kiss her. His constant intimation that he was doing it 'all for her' and to not worry her pretty head about business matters was working. She felt guilty for being suspicious.
"Lou, trust me. It's necessary. If I don't keep on top of things, we'll never progress to a bigger practice. You want that don't you? More experience, more money? A move to somewhere a little more exciting and sophisticated than this Godforsaken hamlet."
She did. She did want more. She wanted it all. She was a doctor's wife. She wanted the hustle and bustle of the city, intelligent conversation, access to theatres, dance halls and fashion. Yes, she wanted much more. As did he, but what he wanted did not include his increasingly nosey wife. The parochial country girl trying to play debutante. She was beginning to annoy him and his desire for more sophistication. Climbing the medical ladder to success did not include dragging an ignorant country girl along. He'd already found a replacement. More refined, more appropriate. Frankly more beautiful and ultimately more suitable for his career objectives.
He had a plan for Louise. First to undermine her, then to make her look unstable. Then to be finally rid of her. He would talk about his frail wife to his patients.
"She really needs a break . . " He'd say when they enquired after her.
"She's not happy here"
"She's taking medication"
"She has a heart condition"
. . . the slow trickle of deception began to breed in a town where everyone talks.
"That poor doctor", "How does he deal with such a woman", "Dear man deserves better."
"I'd like to take out an insurance policy." Cal leans back in a Winchester leather chair opposite a bespeckled clerk at Mutual Insurance in Sydney.
"Right, I'll just take down a few more details, your date of birth . ." the clerk begins, pen in hand.
"No. Not for me. For my wife." Cal retorts whilst examining his newly manicured fingernails.
There are benefits to being within the medical fraternity. Normal protocols can often be waived for such pillars of the community.
"Of course sir. We would normally require your wife's signature but, seeing as you're 'remote', we can probably dispense with that formality Dr Morcombe."
The clerk doesn't bat an eyelid and continues questioning on the nature of the policy and the policy holder. "What amount would you like to insure your wife for?"
Again, Cal is cool, he's already done the math. "Oh, I think probably fifty thousand pounds would do it."
She never saw it coming. Not for a moment. It was a delightful drive. They'd done it many times before, picnicked by the lake. Held hands and skipped pebbles. Had coffee in the cafe across the road then driven too fast along the Alpine Way. Sometimes, they'd sneak into a lay off and he'd kiss her tenderly, then vigorously before sliding his hand beneath her skirt.
"Wanna get in the back seat?" he'd asked that day. She'd complied and started to remove her underwear. He slid on top of her and caressed her hair. This time, he didn't kiss her. He put his manicured hand across her mouth and nose and placed his full weight on her sleight body. A small hypodermic needle in hand, he'd injected a pocket of air into her carotid artery. She'd resisted violently but he was a strong man and pinned her down until she moved no more.
The autopsy showed nothing other than coronary distress and myocardial infarction. Unusual in one so young but then everyone knew that she had been under enormous stress and pressure. Cal knew that she also had an atrial septal defect and just 20mg of air forced into an artery would be fatal and untraceable. His obvious distress at losing a wife so young, so lovely engendered sympathy and affection rather than suspicion and criticism. He'd got away with it.
Her 'distraught' husband of course, could no longer live in their house and had made arrangements to move to Sydney. The house and surgery were closed as Morcombe prepared to move to the city. Furniture had been forwarded to a new address. He merely had an overnight bag and a full tank of fuel. Keys in the ignition, he started the car, checked his wing and rear view mirrors and left Nimmitibell and stone cold Louise behind him forever.
It was that very turn, next to that very lay-away, where they'd done the deed and where she'd met her fate. He checked his rear view mirror, more on reflex, or perhaps the draught felt at the back of his neck. His face palled and the world went by so slowly and yet so fast. It was her, smiling in the back of the car, her face translucent, her eyes dead, her once pouty mouth smiling as he slammed on the breaks - too late.
"Nice car! Barely damaged apart from a bit of a scrape on the bumper."
The first Officer on the scene scanned the surface of the vehicle, "Ah, broken windscreen too." It was moments later that the limp and lifeless body of Dr Calvin Morcombe was found hurled 20 feet from the front seat. Bloodied, broken and contorted, it was not a pretty sight. But it was the expression on the corpse's face that brought an expression of terror to a young Jindabyne policeman's visage.
"Bloody Hell, looks like he saw a ghost!"
"He nominated me as his next of kin,"
A black gloved hand takes a large cheque from a clerk's fat fingers. Red lips smile seductively.
"Thank you . . . "
"Jeremy, Jeremy Nathan . . ." The clerk can barely make eye contact for fear of getting a hard-on.
"Thank you Jeremy." The blonde sashays from the bank, kisses the cheque and places it in her purse.