Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Cop of Cafe

When she first met Calvin Morcombe, he'd just been demobbed and was still wearing his Military Police uniform. He sauntered over to the cafe where she was quietly sipping tea and contemplating a slice of Pavlova. She barely saw him approach but heard his velvety voice.

"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!"

***
Somewhere  in Sydney, an unknown blonde dressed in an imported Chanel suit presents an insurance policy to a bespeckled clerk.

"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.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Clutch and Choke

It was a good day for fishing in the Peel River, its dry banks moistened by the receding waters. It was more of a deep creek at this time of year.  It yielded little but large carp. Too bony to eat but easy to catch. Joe Franklin and his pal Finn Riddell wandered along the bank of river gums in pursuit of such a catch. Joe, a larrikin of a lad, the perfect foil to the quieter and stumpier Finn.  His gangly legs bearing the beginnings of adult hair, yet his body lithe and thin, he was built like a streak of Pelican Shit.

"You're havin' a growth spurt!" his Nana had said as if it was something surprising for a 15 year old boy. "You'll be 6' 3" like your Grandad before you're 18!"

Finn, the smaller of the two, had yet to embrace the bum fluff moustache of his counterpart. Fresh-faced and freckled, he'd been forced to don a stripe of zinc across his fair nose. The perfect foil to the the chocolate smudge embracing the corner of his mouth.

Their hook lines and sinkers had been carefully packed in canvas packs along with a swag of Vegemite sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper and tucked into brown paper lunch bags. Each had a flask of Cottees lime cordial and a small tube of Aerogard to deter biting insects. The flies that summer were in plague proportions. Not even the Australian wave was enough to deter them. Finn's mum, God bless her aproned form, had been slaving away dipping small squares of sponge cake into chocolate then covering the iconic 'bricks' with coconut. She'd popped a couple of the Lamingtons into each of their lunches but these were devoured long before the boys reached their 'secret' fishing spot. Each laughed at the other, as they extended their tongues to the sides of their mouths to salvage  remnants of chocolate. The 'lammos' were delicious.

It was hot. Christmas was over and the school holidays in full swing. It was a perfect day for casting and hooking a couple of carp. Little else swims in the Peel at this time of year. Occasionally, the local trout hatchery throws in a few tiddlers but the carp manage to out compete the little tykes and rarely can a full sized rainbow be fished in here.  The River Oaks made swishing noises in the hot breeze. Cicadas tuned in and out with their deafening song. Occasionally a cockatoo would screech its objection to the interlopers below then settle quietly among the River Oak branches happily crunching on its seeds, the husks fall noisily to the bank below.

As they approached their familiar lair, the boys peeled off their rucksacks and began grubbing around the banks for anything that might do for bait. At best, they'd find a wichetty grub or a worm. At worst, they could use the crusts from their sandwiches. Either way, it was the doing of the thing rather than the prize. Carp are poor eating so they'd throw them back anyhow.

"Finn!" yelled Joe.

The two boys had slowly separated, scrounging with deep concentration amongs the shale pebbles an deep into the soggy mud below.

"FINN!" Joe yelled again, with some urgency.

"Look what I found! Think there might be any money in it?"

Joe was waving a small clutch purse. Pink leather with a silver chain. The kind of purse he'd seen his mother take to the Masonic Hall Ball on Ladies nights. A posh purse that she saved for special occasions. Finished in now muddied satine with a small rusted pearl clasp.

Finn ran along the bank, slipping on the wet shale stones and recovering his composure after wiping more muddy smears on his shorts. No care about the scolding he'd get upon arriving home for being so dirty and having grazed his knees. By the time he reached Joe's side, the small purse had been pried open and its contents were being removed and placed on warm shale pebbles to dry.

"There's some coins!" Joe's smile of delight assured Finn that there was probably enough for an ice cream on the way home. "Not much else. A lipstick and a hankie."

A flash on the water elevated their gaze. The river being low in the height of summer was normal. What was not, was the appearance of a smooth yellow metallic form, the sun glinting blindingly from its wet surface.
"Waddaya think it is?"

Joe's head cocked from side to side trying to work out what it could possibly be. Finn shielded his eyes with a hand coated in black mud, leaving yet another smear across his forehead.

"Dunno. Might be an old car or something?"

Little went on in the country town of Nundle. A sleepy village on the outskirts of Tamworth NSW. Years ago, when gold was found at Hanging Rock and Swamp Creek, it had been a bustling town of prospectors from all over the world. But since, it had reverted into a small farming community. Everyone knew everyone. If a baby was born, everyone knew about it. If someone had an affair, everyone knew about it. If there was a prang at the corner of Gill and Oakenville, everyone knew about it. Few of the township even owned a car so it was a mighty big deal when one ends up in the drink. This latest turn of events however seemed to be the Peel's best kept secret. The boys were hell bent on solving the mystery.

Bait gathering and fishing became unimportant as both boys stripped down to their shorts, leaving shirts and shoes on the bank. They waded in to examine the object. As they forged a watery path across the shallow creek, it became clear that it was indeed the roof of a car. Snagged on an old log, probably during flood time in Spring. From the bank, only the roof could be seen but the body of the vehicle had formed a natural dam. As they rounded the object the discovery of pink fabric, flowing atop the water and a partially decomposed corpse had them terrified and excited. Still seated, her faded pink gown, remnants of brunette hair flowed gently with the current as if trying to escape their anchorage. A choker of pearls, still in place around neck.

"Bloody Hell!!" both boys spat in unison. "Better call the cops."

The whole town turned out to watch the palaver that involved retrieving the vehicle. Instructions were being yelled left right and centre as men tried to tie a sturdy rope around the  Holden 48-215. The muddy water's of the Peel barely revealing the grisly passenger within. Women raised hands to their mouths in horror, shocked at the discovery but not so much that attaining a voyeuristic position was a priority. Mumblings about how 'awful' it was, how things like this just don't happen in Nundle. It took a good 10 men to secure the vehicle and unwedge it from the sticky mud. As men hauled and harrumphed, the car began to move slowly across the river, towards the bank, leaving little eddy's and whirlpools in its wake. Harry McCormack, the most senior of the two officers on duty that day, began to wave the crowd away.

"Nothing to see here folks. Go back to what you were doing. This'll be a job for Sydney detectives."

As he shooed the reluctant audience from their viewing vantage points the car slowly emerged from it's watery grave. Water gushed from the windows as the body of the woman was slowly revealed. The men, pulling the rope had their backs to the ordeal but when Harry McCormack took a closer look, he began to laugh. Not just a snicker or a giggle, a hearty belly laugh, a guffaw in fact. He'd seen some crazy things before, but as a country cop most calls involved drunk and disorderly, an occasional kerfuffle with local Abbos and the odd domestic. Joe Curry had shot himself accidentally in the face years ago but he was an ape and most thought it poetic justice. But what appeared to be a young woman in a ball gown, in the prime of her life, now lifeless, had him clutching his belly in hysterics.


"Alright fellas, good job," he managed to stutter through his tearful giggles, "Looks like we've rescued a Mannikin!"

Continued in Part 2 A Cop of Cafe

Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 7
Clutch and Choke