In Alice Springs
by Barry William
X: Dingo Rocked At Uluru
As the outside door to the funeral
parlor closed behind him, Martin drew in a lungful of the clean outback air, expelling it in one long breath. He was pleased to be away from the smell of death that lingered in the mortuary. Selecting a cigarette from the silver case in his pocket and lighting it, he inhaled, the smoke serving to assist cleansing the stench from his nostrils and lungs. He felt the sun beating down on his head, shoulders and face. Yet again he was reminded of the heat.
It was then he remembered he did not have the car.
He reached for his mobile phone, but it was not in its usual place, attached to his belt. Then he recalled how he had left it for Claire to seek clarification concerning the current
heat wave. He looked up and down the street, but could not see a telephone booth. He noticed the police Landcruiser parked outside the morgue and he contemplated asking Sergeant Jones for a lift back to the motel. However the feeling of unfriendliness from the two men had been so strong he did not wish to submit himself further to their pettiness. Besides, he needed a little time away from them in order to ponder the new information he now possessed.
Martin decided to walk towards the highway and then in the direction of the motel. On the way he hoped to spot a public telephone and ring his partner, for he was alert to the dangers of sunstroke. He did not relish being out in the heat of the day without a hat longer than necessary.
Turning right from Kidman Street into Milner Road, he was relieved to observe a Telstra payphone further up the path. He quickened his pace. As luck would have it, the booth was empty and he stepped inside, closing the door. The glass cage was very hot and stuffy, but its
fiberglass roof blocked out the overhead sun.
He inserted a dollar coin into the machine’s maw and
dialed their mobile number. After a few seconds a recorded message informed him the number was currently engaged. He replaced the receiver and forked the coin out of the return slot. He was about to leave the hot booth when his eyes were drawn to the telephone directory sitting, dog-eared on the shelf beneath the phone.
A sudden impulse caused him to open the tome and turn to where those names that began with the letter ’M’ were located. With a finger that was not quite steady, he traced down the column until he found the entry he required. ’Mills Wanda J 12 Kraegen’ he read. Unsolicited remembrances from the past flooded his mind. This time he shut them down completely before they could engulf him. He forced them back into the dark recesses where he buried all those unpleasant memories he would rather forget. He closed the book.
So, Wanda Jean Mills, he thought. It looks as though our paths have crossed again!
Before leaving the booth, Martin rang the number again and was delighted to hear Claire’s agreeable tones. She informed him she had some interesting news to share with him, and would be there to pick him up within ten minutes. He hung up the phone once more, the sweat streaming down his face.
Janice Porter endured the rape by her husband. She had complied with his wishes without anything more escaping her lips than a series of small cries of pain each time he hurt her with his hands or teeth. Apart from his threats, which had petrified her, the force of his passion had titillated her once he was inside her. It had been a long time since he had exhibited such desire. This was a large part of the reason why she so enjoyed sex with the burly, uncouth police sergeant--what he lacked in finesse, he more than made up for in animal passion. A secret part of her enjoyed the roughness, the sense of helplessness, the tinge of danger that these elements added to the sexual experience. The fact that there was a video camera taping the entire proceedings had at first made her feel uncomfortable. She had discovered, however, she could ignore the presence of the camera by concentrating on the sensations that were coursing through her body.
As to the threat of being the star in a so-called ’snuff’ movie, Janice did not believe a word of it. Her husband was a very practical man, very unimaginative in his business as well as personal life and, if she needed further proof of this, there was the video camera itself. She knew someone as practical as Peter would not tape anything criminal in which he might participate. He would never voluntarily provide any kind of damning evidence for the police. She knew her husband very well. She knew that, as soon as he had had his way with her, as he would express it, when he was through with his act of revenge, he would beg her never to cheat on him again. Then, having extracted his promise, he would set her free.
Thirty-five minutes later--some sort of record for Peter--her husband collapsed on top of her. Feeling his strength pour out of him with his semen, she expected him to withdraw and begin the process of reconciliation.
When he did lift his face to look into hers, however, it was not her husband she saw. The man who stared at her was a man possessed by some new driving force. She could see it in his eyes as he gazed into hers. When she returned his stare, she saw deep within those once-familiar
gray orbs, a man she did not know. For the first time since he had climbed on top of her, she was frightened.
“Peter?” she asked. “Peter, please set me free.”
He smiled. She realized
she did not know that smile. It was, she concluded as he answered, more of a leer than a smile.
“In a little while, my sweet; but first let me check your bonds.”
“Peter? I think you’ll agree…this has gone far enough.” She let her voice plead a little.
He climbed down from the tabletop and proceeded to check the bandages that bound her wrists and ankles.
“Peter, please?” To her pleading she added a touch of whining.
“I’ve told you already...” He paused as he stepped outside the line of her vision once more. “…not to make too much noise. Speak again and I’ll tape your fucking mouth!” He turned back towards her, a knife in his hand.
“Peter!” Her voice was neither pleading nor whining. It was now authoritative, chastising, as a mother speaking to a disobedient child. She had used this tone before to make him mend his ways and in the past it had never failed.
“Bitch!” he spat. “I warned you!”
He turned to one side. Suddenly he had replaced the knife in his hand with the silver tape. He tore off a long strip, biting through it with his teeth. He reached forward, positioning it above her mouth.
“Peter!” she screamed, but it was the last time she ever said his name. With the adhesive poised just above her lips, he forced her chin up with one hand, and with the other, pushed the tape into place.
She struggled, but her efforts were useless.
Peter Porter grasped the knife again and re-positioned himself between her legs. This time he did not climb upon the table. This time he was not interested in sex.
By the time Claire arrived to pick up Martin in the Volvo, the heat was unbearable, and he was grateful for the respite brought about by the over-worked air-conditioning. As he fastened his seat belt and settled in his seat, Claire passed him two cigarettes. He lit these using his gold Ronson gas lighter, the one she had given him for his last birthday.
“Hello, darling,” she greeted him. “You look hot and bothered.” Then, when he had inhaled and made sure the cigarettes were lit: “How did your morning go?”
“So far…” he answered, offering her one of the cigarettes. “…my morning has gone fairly well.”
“You’ve made some progress, then?” She engaged the vehicle’s gears and they headed back towards the motel. The radio was tuned to a local FM station, which was playing ’Bits and Pieces’ by the Dave Clark Five. “I presume we’re returning to our accommodation?”
“Yes. That’s as good a place to start as any. So, how was your day?”
“Not so good to begin with. I couldn’t locate Janice Porter anywhere.”
“Not even at her work or home?”
“Definitely not her home. The place feels like she hasn’t been there for some time.”
Martin gave her a quick sideways glance, but he did not discredit her intuition. Over the past several years he had learned to accept, with some authority, her insight. Instead he said: “What about the Weather Bureau? Did you find out anything from them?”
“Indeed I did.” She piloted the automobile into the car park at the rear of the motel units where there was some shade. “It seems that not only is this heat unseasonable, it’s also somewhat of a record.”
“Our bodies weren’t deceiving us, then?”
“No…the last two days have, in fact, been the highest temperatures ever recorded in Alice Springs. There should be a fax from the Bureau waiting for us at reception.”
They opened the doors of the Volvo and were again blasted by the intense heat.
“Phew!” Martin commented, but made no further remark until they collected the fax and reached their unit.
As the door closed and the relative coolness of the interior enveloped them, both felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from their shoulders.
“I need a drink.” Claire turned on the air-conditioning and headed for the small refrigerator. “I bought a few beers while I was waiting for you to ring me.”
“You life-saver. But first I need to go to the bathroom. I’ve been holding on to this for what seems like hours.” He walked through to the toilet and lifted the seat. “What kind of beer did you get?”
“Carlton Cold…don’t flush. I think I need one myself now that you’ve mentioned it.”
Further discussion was forestalled until they were seated on the bed. Claire spread out the papers and photographs relating to the case. She handed her partner a beer and they commenced to quench their thirsts.
“So…“ Martin finished his drink and lobbed the stubby into the plastic bin. “…the only luck you had was with the Weather Bureau?”
Claire smiled enigmatically.
Martin raised his eyebrows, but made no comment. He knew she would explain when she was ready. She did so as soon as she had swallowed a mouthful of beer.
“I’ve discovered three strange things. Or, at least, I think I have.”
“The first is…I’ve worked out what’s been bothering me about the photographs we’ve seen so far concerning this case.”
“And that is?”
“In all the photographs we’ve got of Eric Stephenson’s body, there’s no sign of blood. If a man had been squashed the way he was supposed to have been, there would’ve been blood everywhere. Blood over the clothes, the body, the parking lot, everything. There’s just no trace of any blood whatsoever.”
Martin was suddenly a very interested listener.
“And your conclusion?”
“To me it seems to point to the fact that he was killed somewhere else other than the car park where he was found.”
“Or that his body wasn’t crushed when the photographs were taken.” Martin could not help interjecting.
“What? Of course! We both commented on it! There was no evidence in those photographs to suggest he was squashed as flat as a pancake!”
“Because perhaps he wasn’t!”
“Well then. Who? How? Why?”
“All in good time, my dear. I’m not yet sure I have all the answers; but you’ve done very well indeed. Without your discoveries and intuition, I would never have started putting the pieces together.”
Claire smiled broadly and finished her stubby.
“Another one?” She rose from the bed.
“Please.” And when she returned with them he asked: “What else did you discover?”
“I think Peter Porter’s a fraud.”
“A fraud, eh? What kind of a fraud?”
“I think his medical degrees and certificates might be false.”
“Interesting. I was starting to wonder about that myself. What put you on to him?”
Claire took another swig of beer and said: “I started wondering about him yesterday when we were in his back room with all his certificates framed on the wall. Why would someone with a degree in medicine open up a funeral
parlor instead of practicing in his chosen field? Earlier this morning I rang Melbourne University asking about him. Once they verified my credentials, they were only too willing to assist. The registrar said she could find no records of a Peter Eugene Porter…I obtained his middle name from one of the certificates on his wall while I was returning from being sick…anyway…she said she would check again and fax me the relevant details as soon as possible.”
“So, we perhaps have a fake coroner with a fake background. But that doesn’t make him a murderer.” Martin said while Claire took another swig of her beer.
“True, but it might account for some of that local hostility we’ve encountered, mightn’t it?”
“Yes, it very well could.”
“But what about the sergeant? Why is he so hostile?”
“I think he has quite another reason for that.”
“The lovely Janice Porter!”
“She…and something else…I can’t quite put my finger on it…but those reasons don’t really make him a murderer, either.”
“Well, perhaps the third thing I discovered this morning might help us in identifying the murderer.”
“And that was?”
“This!” Claire produced the morning newspaper from beside her on the bed. “I found this article on page three.”
Martin picked up the paper and, reading glasses on his nose, scanned the print. At the bottom of the page, above a tiny article of only a few lines was the heading: ’DINGO ROCKED AT ULURU’. Beneath it were the words:
'The body of a dead dingo was discovered not far from Ayres Rock yesterday. Apparently the animal had entered the nearby camping grounds during the night, had stolen a package containing sausages from one of the tents and then had been killed by someone or something unknown. The only strange things about the dingo’s death were that it was squashed almost completely flat and there was no sign of blood around the body.'
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Martin asked.
“I believe so.” Suddenly Claire’s voice became serious.
“You do know what this whole crazy thing suggests?”
“It sounds to me very much like Wanda Jean all over again!” His voice was little more than a hushed whisper.
“Yes.” Her voice, too, was a whisper, and a frown creased her forehead.
XI: Bits & Pieces
“Before I kill you, my dear faithless wife,” sneered Peter Porter standing naked between Janice’s widespread legs. “I’d like to tell you several things.” The long-bladed knife clutched in his right hand gleamed in the light. He smiled and his face almost split in two. “And I want to be able to talk to you without being interrupted. That’s why I taped your mouth…I’m sick and tired of listening to your fucking voice!
“Understand what I’m saying?”
Janice nodded. She suspected she was going to die. An ember of optimism still burned within her, however. She hoped her husband would let her live. Maybe, if she went along with everything he asked of her…maybe he would not kill her. It was, at best, the tiniest fragment of hope, but it was better than none at all.
“Good!” He leaned forward and placed the point of the knife against her neck.
She held her breath. She prayed he was not about to slit her throat. Instead he ran the tip of the blade from her neck, down over her chest. She could feel the coldness of the metal as it traced a path across her skin, and then it was sliding between her breasts and down to her pubic mound. However, it did not cut. Peter continued to smile and kept up his calm discourse.
“I’d like to begin by telling you how pathetic you are in bed. You won’t like me saying that…the truth is that you’re a lousy fucking lay. You lack imagination. You lack skill. When I make love to you I might as well be fucking a corpse.” In fact…” He paused and chuckled at some private memory. “…there’s a gorgeous young carcass over there who’s more alive than you’ll ever be!” He noted the widening of Janice’s eyes, and chuckled again at the shudder that ran through her body as the full meaning of his words hit her. “Oh yes…” He ran the tip of the knife back and forward over her flat white stomach. “…I fucked that road accident victim last night right after the ambulance boys dropped her off. She was still warm from the heat of the day. Rigor mortis had not yet set in. Apart from a broken neck there was nothing wrong with her. She was indeed quite beautiful. I made her moist and wet in the same way I made you ready for me earlier, and I managed to capture the whole experience on video. You know…I think watching the film again will be more interesting than fucking you in the flesh, so to speak!”
Janice shuddered. She was positive her husband had lost his mind. The things he was talking about were so far outside the realm of normality she feared for both his sanity as well as her own life.
“And you may wonder…” Peter continued his narrative, the knife again tracing little patterns over her chest and around her nipples. “…how I came to broaden my horizons so much that I can make these
judgments. Well, my dear, I have you to thank for that. You and Jasmine…oh…that’s right…you don’t know about Jasmine, do you? Because of you I took a holiday in Kuala Lumpur. It was there I met Jasmine. Now that lady…although I suppose that’s the wrong word to describe her…she certainly didn’t fuck like a lady…she taught me so many things. Most of them concerned screwing and how to heighten it. But she taught me other things as well…how cheap life is regarded in other parts of the world…how people will do anything…absolutely anything…for money. Money excuses anything. Money excuses everything. Money is the only motivating force in life. Money is indeed the root of all evil!” And he laughed outright, his voice shrill and sharp.
“And now to the business at hand.” When next he spoke he had suddenly sobered, as if he had flicked a switch in his mind. “What exactly do I have in store for you? You must’ve been wondering that for some time. Well, I’m not going to keep you in suspense any longer.”
Peter sat the knife down on the table between her outspread legs. She could feel its tip just touching the lips of her vagina. He walked to the other side of the room. She heard him open one of the cupboard doors. While his attention was away from her, she hunched her bottom up and moved herself away from the chilling feel of that cold, hard, steel blade. When her husband returned to her side, he had the hypodermic in his hand again. Fearing he was about to poison her, her eyes again widened in terror.
“Don’t fret, my sweet.” His voice was smooth, reassuring. “I’m not going to poison you. This is just a little Novocain. You see, I want to be able to remove the tape that’s covering your mouth…it would look very unprofessional in my movie…I don’t want to have to listen to your pleading, whining voice. I shall administer enough Novocain to ensure that you cannot talk…” He grasped her face in one hand, the other plunged the needle into the flesh around her mouth. He did this in about a dozen places, refilling the syringe three times before he had finished. Despite the pain, she was unable to cry out. “…but you shall still be able to scream for your fans. They love that, you know. They love screaming almost as much as they love the sight of blood.”
Peter tore the strip of tape from her face. The pain forced a stifled cry of agony from her. Then he returned to his position between his wife’s spread-eagled legs and again took up the knife. He traced it up and down the insides of her thighs, stopping just short of rupturing her skin.
“Do you have anything to say? While you still have the chance, that is? Before the Novocain renders you incapable of speech?”
She could think of nothing to say that would alter the situation, nothing that might stay his hand. She shook her head.
“No.” As she answered, she could feel the numbness caused by the injections commence to creep through the nerves around her mouth. Even now her lips felt puffy and useless.
“Very well, then.” There was a note of finality in his voice. “This is what I’ve got in store for you. Listen carefully, for I’ll say this just once.
“Since the part of your body that betrayed me most is between your legs…your cunt, in fact…that’s where I’ll begin. I’ll
utilize this most appropriate of instruments, this knife. I’ll slice you from here…” She felt the cold blade touch the lips of her vagina. “…to here.” He traced a path all the way up to her chin. “Following that, I intend to open up your torso. I’ll expose your evil insides to the light. One by one I’ll extract the various organs therein. I’ll conclude with your cheating heart. How long you’ll remain alive, I can’t guarantee. But believe me, you’ll suffer for your crime before you expire.
“Remember…you may scream for the camera as much as you like. In fact, I insist on it. As your director, I instruct you to enhance your performance in this way.” He gave a wicked smile and she noted that it reflected in his cold,
“Shall we begin?”
Janice attempted one last time to plead, to beg for her life; but the drug had rendered her powerless to speak. She desisted, tears of fear welling and streaming down the sides of her face.
When the knife cut into her flesh between her legs, her body bucked at the pain that lanced through her. It was a pain that was far worse than any she had ever endured. Involuntarily, she screamed. As the knife continued to slice its way through her flesh, she screamed and screamed and screamed.
Peter Porter smiled and applied himself to his work.
A semi-silence settled over the motel room shared by Martin and Claire. It was a calmness in which the only sound was that of the over-worked air-conditioner as it struggled to reduce the ever-increasing temperature in the unit. Both were thinking about the implications of what they had discovered concerning Wanda Jean. Both were preoccupied with what this sudden turn of events could mean to their investigation and themselves.
It was Claire who first broke the solitude. In her practical manner she attempted to pull the two of them back on track, back to reason, back to the safety of logical thinking.
“What did you learn today, my sweet?” she asked. “You intimated that your day had gone well. Did you find something new?”
Martin dragged his mind from his reverie.
“More than that,” he said as he reached for the brown envelope he had earlier placed on the end of the bed. Claire had noticed the packet, but had not commented on it. “This is one of the photos of the road accident yesterday…there’s more on the way here as we speak…I’m sure you’ll be more than interested in what it shows.”
He extracted the black-and-white print from its cover and passed it to her. There was a sharp intake of breath as her eyes observed the words scrawled in the dirt by the dying girl.
“Also,” he added: “I checked in the local telephone directory. She’s here, all right, listed as clear as day. I wrote her address down before I rang you.”
“My God, Martin! This is much more substantial than the article about the dead dingo. Do you suppose Wanda Jean’s really behind all this…that she’s transferred her venue of operations to Alice Springs?”
“Everything seems to point to it. But I don’t really want to rush over to her house. I don’t want her to skip out on us. She disappeared once before while we were in the middle of a case. I don’t want that happening again!”
At that moment a knocking interrupted their discourse. Martin rose and opened the door. It was the constable. She had brought the two folders containing the photographs he had requested. He thanked her and, closing the door, emptied the contents onto the bed.
For a few minutes the only sound was again that of the air-conditioner as it struggled for supremacy over the hot air. Both investigators studied each print in turn.
Eventually Martin broke the silence.
“What do you think?”
“Our first assumption about the bodies seems to have been correct. There is no evidence of blood in any of the pictures of Eric Stephenson. Nor is there…despite the somewhat poor focus and light conditions of the shots…any evidence of massive loss of blood in those of the road accident victims.”
“Where does that leave us?”
“When the victims first died, or were killed, they weren’t squashed flat as we’ve been led to believe.”
“We’re now forced to accept the fact that the sergeant and the coroner are involved in some sort of conspiracy, some plot to cover up these deaths.”
“Were any of the victims related in any way…other than the newlyweds?”
“Not as far as I can gather. Eric Stephenson was a local and a loner. The honeymooners were Victorians.”
“What were their names…the newlyweds, I mean?”
Martin sorted through the scattered papers until he found the one he was seeking.
“According to the drivers’
licenses they were Joshua Edward Cantrell and his bride, Amanda Louise. Her maiden name, according to some other papers found in the wreck, was Southern. No relation to Stephenson as far as I can ascertain.”
“That leaves us with three victims. Two of them were not related in any way. And no motives. We also have a local policeman and a doctor who operates a funeral
parlor, conspiring to alter the facts of these deaths.”
“That’s about it. Plus a nebulous lead to Wanda Jean Mills. Someone from our past. Someone who slipped through our fingers once before in a case not too dissimilar to this.”
“Uh huh! And a dingo found out in the desert, flat and as dead as any of the human victims.”
“I wish. But I can’t help coming back to the fact that there seem to be too many damn coincidences in this bloody case!”
Martin nodded and began to gather the photographs and printed information together.
To be continued...