In Alice Springs
by Barry William
Bryan Jones, the officer in charge of the Alice Springs
Police Station, was a burly individual, his flesh deeply
tanned and his complexion made ruddy by long exposure to
the sun and other elements. His brown shirt was
unbuttoned at the neck far enough to reveal the gray
hairs on his tan chest, and his shirt-sleeves were
rolled up above his elbows; his sun-bleached hair was
close-cropped in military style and he gave every
impression of being a man who would stand for no
nonsense from anyone, let alone a couple of visitors
from down south.
George Mitchell and Claire Elizabeth Jennings had
decided, following their near-accident, to stop at
Coober Pedy, some six hundred kilometers south of Alice
Springs, for the night. Both sets of nerves were
somewhat unstrung by the recent incident and, as this
would have made driving somewhat more hazardous on these
roads and at these speeds, they had decided to stop long
enough to regain their composure. Besides, the Volvo
needed to be checked for undercarriage damage and Martin
required the use of a hoist for this. By the time this
was accomplished, it was quite late. Thus they had spent
the night in a Coober Pedy underground motel, getting an
early start the next day.
day behind schedule now, they had gone straight to the
police station upon their arrival in Alice Springs and
had immediately introduced themselves to Sergeant Jones.
He had regarded them coolly (Claire tall, slim and
blonde, Martin short, slightly built and dark); but,
even after they had shown him their identification, his
manner had not changed. He made it plain to them that he
could do just as well without their interference. Yet
the fact was that so far he had come up with no leads,
no ideas and no suspects in this baffling case; and he
had known that the case was weird enough that sooner or
later the bureaucrats in Canberra would send someone to
assist with the investigation. He had hoped that at best
he would have been allocated another uniformed officer
to assist with the running of the office while he would
be free to investigate the death of Eric Stephenson; at
worst he hoped that the brass would send a detective
from Melbourne or, more likely Adelaide, to investigate
the strange death while he was left to run the office.
That someone had seen fit to send what amounted to two
civilians with some sort of special badges from a
department he had never heard of, galled him more than
he would have readily admitted. Now he knew he would
have to look after these two city slickers whilst they
tramped around his territory making nuisances of
Claire and Martin had encountered this kind of reception
before, and, although it did not make their task any
easier, they had found in the past that it was best not
to further antagonize the local officials in any way.
Martin, therefore, made it very clear to Sergeant Jones
that he was to continue his workload in the usual manner
and forget that they were even there.
Jones simply grunted. He knew that sooner or later these
two city investigators would need his services in some
form or another; or that they would simply march off
into the surrounding countryside never to be seen again.
He had seen it all before: he knew that it was bound to
finalize our business with you today, Sergeant,"
Martin concluded; “Claire and I would like to view the
body, if possible. When we have done that we shall find
ourselves a motel and get ourselves settled in for a few
nights. Do you have anywhere you can recommend?”
Mount Nancy Motel along the Stuart Highway is just as
good as any,” offered Jones begrudgingly. At least he
would know where they were staying if he needed to chase
them up over anything. “It’s clean and fairly
centrally located, and it’s not too expensive. Also
the meals they serve in the motel restaurant are just
about the best in town.”
you,” said Claire, smiling her most engaging smile.
“Now if you could direct us to the morgue, we shall
remove ourselves and cease interfering any further with
your busy routine.”
grunted and headed for the main door to his office.
“I’ll take you there and introduce you. Then I’ll
have to leave you to your own devices.”
you again,” smiled Claire winningly, her blue eyes
reflecting the smile. “We know how busy you must
he grunted and opened the door, in no way at all
affected by her wiles. Without another word he passed
out of the office and into the street, leaving Martin
and Claire to follow if they chose.
glanced sideways at Claire, raising his eyebrows. She
winked with her left eye, but did not speak. Together
they hurried in the wake of the tall, burly sergeant.
it turned out the morgue was located at the back of the
funeral parlor on the other side of the railway line
that effectively divided the town in two. When they
reached the street, the sergeant was already in his
Landcruiser, with the motor running. “Follow me,” he
called and drove off.
and Martin quickly climbed into the Volvo and followed
the rapidly departing four-wheel drive.
the time they reached the imposing edifice that housed
this important amenity and had alighted from their
vehicle, Sergeant Jones was waiting for them, one hand
poised to open the door to the main entrance, one foot
tapping impatiently on the footpath beneath his feet.
smiled and entered the building. Martin followed closely
behind with Bryan Jones right on his heels. It was cool
but gloomy inside the reception area of the funeral parlor
and, once the main door had closed behind the
sergeant’s back, the only light came from a desk lamp
that sat astride the counter directly in front of them.
A middle-aged woman was seated behind this counter,
which doubled as a work desk, her eyes glued to a
computer monitor in front of her, her fingers busily
locating letters on the keyboard over which they fairly
flew. She had obviously not heard them enter.
Jones marched straight up to the counter and struck the
small bell located there with such force that, even
though both Martin and Claire had been expecting the
sound, its harsh, shrill jangle made them both start a
little. The woman behind the counter, however, merely
turned her head sideways to take in the cause of this
sudden interruption. Her face lit with a smile as they
espied the form of Bryan Jones and her fingers paused in
mid strike, hovering like vultures over the keyboard.
her eyes registered the presence of the two strangers
and her manner changed. She did not become unfriendly,
but her smile faded and her voice, when she spoke, was
cool and soft. “Yes, Sergeant,” she addressed the
policeman, while removing a small set of headphones from
about her head; “can I help you?”
cleared his throat. “Yes, Janice; these people have
come to view the body of Eric Stephenson.”
raised her eyebrows at this information, but her manner
did not otherwise change. “Relatives are they?” she
began the sergeant; “but I don’t think that’s our
concern right now. Is Peter in the back or is he out
somewhere on other business?”
not in at the moment,” Janice informed him. “So, if
they’re not relatives, what do they want with the
body?” she asked.
Peter’s not here, I’ll take them straight
through,” he advised, staring straight into her eyes
and ignoring her question. For a moment there was
something that passed between the two of them, then the
contact was broken as she averted her eyes. “If
that’s all right with you,” he added, already moving
around the end of the counter to a door marked PRIVATE.
course,” answered Janice, already repositioning the
headphones on her head. “Take them through and let
them see what they make of it.” She had already begun
to type back the dictation that was stored on the tape
of the dictating machine beside her computer.
cast a quick glance at Martin, this time raising her own
eyebrows. He simply smiled as they followed closely in
the footsteps of their guide.
a cool, brightly lit room at the rear of the funeral parlor
was located a dissecting table, cabinets full of medical
instruments, several drawers for storing bodies, a
stainless steel sink, numerous framed certificates, and,
along one wall, a hospital trolley upon which lay a
stiff white sheet that appeared to cover a number of
irregular objects of some kind. Striding towards this,
Sergeant Bryan Jones grasped one corner of the sheet and
whisked it off whatever was concealed beneath it. What
was revealed was indeed a body, but one that had been
flattened out so that it resembled little more than a
cardboard cut-out. If the sergeant’s intention had
been to startle his two guests, he was badly mistaken.
is Eric Stephenson,” he said by way of introduction.
“Or what’s left of him. Examine him at your
leisure.” And as the two investigators stepped
forward: “I’ll be in my office if you need me.”
that he turned on his heel and, without another word,
left as quickly as he had arrived.
the door to the morgue sighed closed on its pneumatic
arm, Claire and Martin approached the body before them,
examining it with their eyes only, neither saying a
was Martin who first broke the silence that had
surrounded them since the policeman’s departure.
“What do you make of that then?” he asked, stepping
as he did so towards the head of the corpse.
think he’s dead,” replied Claire straight-faced.
cast a quick, amused grin in her direction. “Jones and
the woman, Claire. I meant Jones and the woman,” he
explained, faking exasperation.
grinned in turn. “Oh!” she said. “I’d say
there’s something going on there.”
thought you’d pick up on that. And whatever it was,
they didn’t want us to know about it. More of that
later, though. For now, let’s get this over and done
with, shall we.”
they had been talking they had been superficially
examining the cadaver before them on the gurney, noting
the purple bruise on the shin where it had been skun a
little. Now, Martin moved closer, looking intently at
the cuts that the coroner had made in the victim’s
chest and the crude way in which they had been
restitched. With the man’s organs and bones removed
from his chest cavity, there could be no doubting the
fact that he looked as though he had been run over by a
now turned his attention to the head of the deceased
man. Unlike the rest of the cadaver, this part of the
man’s body had not been flattened, appearing huge in
comparison to the remainder of the corpse. Taking a
plastic packet from his pocket, Martin tore at the top
edge with his teeth and then extracted a pair of rubber
gloves. These he stretched over his hands and bent to
more closely examine the dead man’s head. He hefted
the skull, feeling of its weight, before slowly turning
it to one side in order to study the back of the
deceased’s cranium. His fingers began to probe the
back of the head that was hidden beneath the man’s
long, lank hair.
noise off to one side of the chamber caused Martin to
glance in that direction; but he merely grinned at what
he saw and continued with his investigation. Claire, he
noted, had retreated to the sink located at one side of
the room and was noisily throwing up.
with his inspection of the head, Martin at last turned
his attention to Eric Stephenson’s face. That the man
had died in horrific circumstances was obvious: his eyes
were wide and staring, his teeth were bared, his lips
pulled back in a rictus of fear, and the flesh was a
pasty color that had managed to erase the dead man’s
ruddy complexion but had failed to blanche the myriad of
tiny drink-emphasized veins that ran, like cobwebs,
across the entirety of the dead face.
he concluded his investigation, Martin was aware that
Claire, white-faced and sniffing, had re-joined him.
“Do you have a hankie I can borrow?” she asked. “I
seem to have misplaced mine.”
he announced, reaching into his jeans’ pocket and
extracting a freshly ironed handkerchief. He passed this
to her without commenting on her little excursion to the
sink. “Let’s go and locate that motel and get
ourselves settled in. I don’t know about you, but I
definitely could do with a shower.”
than ten minutes after Claire and Martin had thanked the
receptionist at the funeral parlor and had driven off in
the Volvo, Sergeant Bryan Jones once more entered the
reception area and approached the counter where sat
Janice Porter. This time, however, his entrance did not
pass unnoticed; in fact, she was waiting expectantly for
him for she knew that he would return once the two
strangers had completed their business and had left the
he said the moment that the door had sighed closed
behind him; “did you tell them anything?”
be bloody stupid,” she replied, the color high in her
cheeks. “They didn’t even ask my anything. Anyway,
it’s just as well they didn’t because you didn’t
even attempt to warn me.”
couldn’t.” He had stepped across the intervening
space between the door and the counter, his long legs
eating up the distance in but a few strides. “They
arrived in my office unannounced only minutes before
they insisted I bring them here.”
rose from her chair, heading around the counter to the
side where he stood. She was tall herself,
bottle-blonde, with a well-preserved figure which the
outfit she was wearing accentuated now that she was no
longer seated behind the counter. She wore a very short
skirt and high heels. And, despite a few lines that had
been etched into her face by the climate of the area,
her features were fine and unblemished in any way.
I didn’t tell them anything, so there’s no harm
done,” she said quietly, reaching him and placing a
hand on his shoulder. He was trembling, she noted, but
whether from fear or from passion she could not tell.
“Unless,” she added thoughtfully, looking into his
eyes; “you told them something you shouldn’t
started, surprised at her quiet accusation, but then the
smile of earlier returned to his face and he turned so
that he was facing her full on. “Don’t be
ridiculous,” he answered. “As a matter of fact, they
didn’t ask me anything either, except to recommend a
motel.” And he laughed.
I hope you had the good sense to recommend the Mount
Nancy,” and she, too, laughed out loud.
should know me better than that. Of course I recommended
the Mount Nancy.”
laughter and the little exchange released the slight
tension that had been between them since Janice had
noticed the two strangers in the office and now Bran
Jones pulled the woman to him, crushing her curvaceous
figure against his. They kissed, passionately and
lingeringly, the kiss of lovers who meet far too
the kiss was over, Janice drew back from him a little
and placed her mouth against his right ear. “I’m not
wearing any panties,” she whispered conspiratorially.
wicked woman,” he muttered into her neck, his
breathing quickening as he felt his passion start to
rise in his groin. He placed his hands on her thighs
where her short skirt ended and commenced to run his
hands up under the material until he was cupping both
her buttocks in his large, calloused hands. She was
wearing neither knickers nor pantyhose and her flesh
felt warm, whilst her bottom itself felt round and
tight. “But what about your husband?”
Oh, I’m not sure what he’s wearing." He glanced
into her face for a fleeting moment, and then commenced
to laugh at her little joke. Janice joined in his
laughter before continuing: "Don’t worry about
him. He’s gone out to the airport to take care of some
business. He won’t be back for hours yet.”
that case, why don’t we just take advantage of the
was hoping you’d say that.”
kissed him lightly on the mouth and moved away towards
the door. She turned over the sign in the window,
changing it from OPEN to CLOSED and slipped the bolts at
the top and bottom of the portal into place.
she muttered. “That should keep the locals out of our
hair for as long as we need.” She walked back towards
him, her hips swaying seductively.
Jones licked his lips, his tongue indicating what he
would do to her once he had her at his mercy, and
reached out for her as she moved within reach. She
slapped his hands away good-naturedly.
here,” she scolded. “How many times must I tell you
that?” She laughed. “If you’re really good,
though, I’ll let you make love to me on the table in
the back where Peter performs his autopsies.”
smiled, a light of pure lust entering his eyes. His
penis stiffened at the thought.
smiled wickedly, tracing her fingers over the front of
his trousers. “I see you’re just about ready for
laughed, took his hand and led him through the door
glad that you changed your mind,” commented Martin
Mitchell as he soaped his grimy body under the cascade
of warm water from the showerhead.
my mind about what?” queried Claire Jennings, watching
the sudsy water run over and down her companion’s
up on my boots when we were viewing the body back
there,” he answered, handing her the soap and allowing
the full force of the water to land on the back of his
neck. There was a slight stiffness developing there that
had resulted from their long drive from Melbourne.
that,” she chuckled. “It wasn’t so much a matter
of changing my mind as it was of being able to make it
to the sink before I totally disgraced myself.”
I’m so pleased that you were able to maintain SOME
control over your bodily functions.”
know that I have NEVER been able to view a corpse
without being physically sick. It’s not something that
I can choose to do or NOT to do.“
stepped out from directly under the water and allowed
Claire to take his place. He watched as the water struck
her shoulders then ran in tiny rivulets down her slender
body. He noted her erect nipples and he felt himself
I know is that you threatened to throw up all over my
boots if you were ever forced to view another body.
I’m just so grateful that you changed your mind.”
huh,” she grunted, splashing her face with cupped
hands filled with water. “And just what did you find
out about the victim?”
cast a quick glance over his shoulder before answering.
“Not here. Not now,” he eventually said. “We’ll
go somewhere later--once we’ve had something to
eat--and I’ll fill you in then.”
not now?” Her voice denoted puzzlement, but her eyes
told him she understood.
you notice anything?" he asked, changing the
mean about the heat?”
heat and the hostility.”
kissed his mouth and slid open the shower door.
hostility is about what I expected,” she said,
stepping out of the shower and reaching for a towel.
“But the heat seems to be much more intense that I
would have expected...especially for this time of the
too hot, far too intense,” he agreed, shutting off the
taps and joining her in the small bathroom where he also
reached for a towel. “Tomorrow I want you to check up
on some weather details for me. Think you can do that
without throwing up?”
bastard!” she hissed, pretending to be furious. She
swung her towel with the obvious intention of flicking
him across the buttocks with it, but he grabbed the end
of it and used the material to pull her towards him. He
forced her arms to her sides, moved in close to her and
hugged her to him, his arms encircling her.
bastard!” she repeated. “You’re still wet and you
know I’ve just dried my…”
pressure of his lips against hers cut off further words.
At first she stiffened in his grasp, but only for a
second; then she melted in his arms, her long body fused
against his. The kiss lingered for some moments before
he pushed them slightly apart. He placed his hands on
her shoulders and gently brought pressure to bear there.
She commenced to assume a kneeling position before him,
smiling knowingly, her eyes never leaving his.
something I KNOW you love to eat, and I KNOW you won’t
throw up over either.”
dropped her face to his groin and opened her mouth
several minutes the only sound in the motel room was the
noise of the air-conditioner as it attempted, only
somewhat successfully, to counteract the effects of the
unseasonable heat. Then came the sound of Martin
grunting, a sound that was somewhat like that of a wild
cat coughing in the night, a sound that ended with a
quick intake of breath.
rose to her feet, licking her lips, her breath coming in
short, sharp gasps. Perspiration had once more begun to
trickle down the cleft between her heaving breasts.
Martin, too, was no longer merely dripping with water
from the shower.
was nice,” she announced with a smile a satisfaction
on her face; “but I hope you’re going to provide
something more substantial for me now that I’ve had
the entree.” She kissed him lightly on the end of his
nose. “Right now though, I think I need a quick shower
to cool me down again.”
turned on the water once more and, when the shower was
at the temperature she desired, stepped back into the
small cubicle. Without a word Martin joined her again
and they assisted each other in washing sweat from their
bodies, continually turning the hot water back in an
effort to cool themselves.
dried, dressed and ready for the road, the two
investigators headed out to the motel car park and the
Volvo waiting there for them.
Claire unlocked the driver’s side door, she commented
dryly: “What a mess! The car looks like it hasn’t
been washed for months!”
mind, darling,” responded Martin as he opened the
passenger side door and entered the car. “Just think
what it would have looked like if we’d hit one of
those rocky outcrops when we ran off the road, or
smacked into that old man kangaroo, for that matter.”
wedged herself into the driver’s seat, pushing it all
the way back to accommodate her long legs.
right there. It could have been a right mess…we could
have ended up a right mess!”
started the engine and reversed out of the parking bay
in front of their unit. Selecting first gear, she eased
out of the parking lot and stopped to give way to
traffic traveling along the Stuart Highway.
to?” she asked, her hand poised over the indicator.
I think. Why don’t we find a fish ‘n’ chip shop
then head out to Ayers Rock? I always wanted to see it
are aware that Ayers Rock is more than two hundred kilometers
selected the direction indicated and they drove slowly
along the Stuart Highway until they located a small cafe
where they purchased hamburgers, chips and cappuccinos
to appease their appetites.
simple if greasy repast over, they settled back into
their respective car seats, both remaining quiet until
they had reached the town’s perimeter. Once there, and
beyond the restricted zone, Claire accelerated hard,
finally selected fifth gear and let the automobile
cruise along the straight stretch of tarmac.
my sweet, what did you learn from the victim’s body
when you examined it earlier this afternoon?” the
woman finally ventured.
mean while you were being sick?” He smiled.
smiled a sickly grin in return. “Yes. While I was
being successful in not throwing up on your new
laughed. “You won’t believe this,” he said. “I
found a tiny fragment of bone!”
right! It was lodged in his hair at the back of
there was no damage to his skull, right?”
how do you expect it got there?”
she lapsed into silence and Martin waited for her to
regather her thoughts after this disclosure. Claire
possessed a most analytical mind and she was more than
likely to come up with answers that he would never have
dreamed about. “So, why didn’t you wish to talk in
the motel? Afraid there might be hidden microphones or
something?” she eventually asked.
looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, wondering if
she had not fully understood him when they had been
emerging from the shower in their room. Then he decided
that she had, that she simply needed him to help clarify
his and her thoughts with a vocalization of his
suspicions. “Didn’t you notice how quickly Sergeant
Jones recommended the Mount Nancy Motel to us?”
look she gave him suggested that this had indeed not
escaped her notice, so he continued without waiting for
an answer. “He didn’t even have to think it over at
all. Now, either he directs people to that motel every
day (which I seriously doubt), or he had some particular
reason for suggesting we go there (which is a distinct
possibility), or he had a first-hand experience with
that particular motel (which is highly likely) and it
came to mind without any really conscious thought on his
Porter and the sergeant?” mused Claire, her eyes never
leaving the road before her. "I know we both picked
up some sort of connection between them in the funeral parlor."
But whatever his reasons, I didn’t wish to discuss the
case while we were there just on the off-chance there
was more to its selection than the sergeant’s guilty
paused as his companion pulled out to pass a vehicle
with Victorian number plates. The car was crawling along
the highway at what seemed to be a snail’s pace.
what then do we really know about this case?”
firstly,” Claire began; “we know that a man has been
Martin laughed, but extended his left thumb.
know that his organs and his bones were crushed or
removed without there being a trace of however this was
His finger was extended to join his thumb.
also know that the locals are distinctly hostile. That
could be because we’re outsiders and they resent our
they have something to hide and are frightened about
what we might discover in our investigations.”
do you think?”
too soon to tell.”
then. Three!” A second finger joined the first and
thumb. “What next?”
tried very desperately to prevent us from getting
what about the suddenly booked airlines?”
A glitch in the computers? Human error? Who knows?”
about that high-pitched noise from the mobile phone?”
just another example of modern technology gone berserk.
What did you do with it, by the way?”
phone? Oh, I put it in the boot. By the time I had
located it lying in the dust where I had tossed it from
the car, it had stopped emitting that screaming sound.
It was a little dusty, but otherwise seemed none the
worse for its experience.”
else do we know? Anything?”
about the old man ‘roo that stepped into the middle of
laughed. It was usually he who grasped at straws when a
case like this was being difficult. He found it hard to
believe that Claire had suddenly undertaken that role,
while he that of the detractor. Still, he was enjoying
this unusual switch in their roles.
what about the kangaroo?” she repeated, turning her
head slightly towards him. “Why do you think he picked
that spot, while we were preoccupied with that bloody
mobile phone, when the otherwise straight stretch of
road suddenly decided to curve all over the place?’
that’s just the way things happen, that’s all.”
I don’t know what, but right now I just have one of
those feelings…call it woman’s intuition, if you
like…that there are too many COINCIDENCES in this
there I agree with you,” advised Martin, patting her
bare leg with his right hand. They had both changed into
shorts and t-shirts for the excursion to Ayers Rock.
“The problem ahead of us it to pick out those things
which are coincidences and those which are not.”
said than done,” she advised as she maneuvered around
another car, this time with South Australian license
plates. “Aren’t there any Territorians on this
Essex,” responded Martin, ignoring the latter
Said Than Done’…a group called the Essex had a hit
with it in…"
ha ha! Thank you for that little bit of trivia. But
there is something else we’ve overlooked. Something
else that might just be a factor in this case.”
know I am.”
course,” added Martin thoughtfully. “It could
That’s not what I was thinking.”
could just be that it’s bloody hot here in the Red Center
at this time of the year!”
sure! And my name’s Elle MacPherson!”
I always thought your body was too good to be just plain
of the ‘plain’ business, buster. I’m going to
check with the Weather Bureau tomorrow and find out just
how unseasonable this heat is.”
for you." He sighed and stretched, extending his
frame in the seat. "Well, if that’s all we know
about this case, let’s listen to some music and
relax." He reached over and turned on the cassette
player. The mellow vocal tones of Elvis Presley singing
’Witchcraft’ filled the car’s interior.
we play this tape already on the way to Alice
Springs?" Claire asked.
thought you liked this tape." Martin yawned and
do. I just thought we had it already."
that was the other Elvis tape."
So when is it my choice?"
soon as this side is finished."
lapsed into a comfortable silence, each occupied with
their own thoughts, as they continued the long drive to
time later, Martin ejected the tape and selected
another. When the music commenced, Claire recognized her
favorite group, the Fureys.
you," she said to her partner. "I was
beginning to think you weren’t going to give my music
okay," he answered, smiling mischievously because
Claire had been right--it was the same tape. "Now
is that Uluru up ahead?”
looks like it.”
wish I’d brought my camera!”
Chapter 6 and 7