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Nightmare In Alice Springs
by Barry William Metcalf

CHAPTER VI

     Peter Eugene Porter was an extremely happy man. He had this very afternoon completed one of the most important and lucrative business deals of his life, and that fact made everything else in his otherwise mundane world pale into insignificance.
     As he drove his Mercedes back to Alice Springs from the airport where he had concluded the day’s business, he let his mind wander erratically over his fifty plus years of life; but never had anything he had previously achieved reached such dizzying heights of success. Certainly there had been nothing in his life during the past twenty years to come anywhere near matching that which he had accomplished in the past few days.
     Had it only been six months ago that he had thought his life was over? It seemed impossible to believe that so much could have changed in so little time.
     He was a man of slim build and about average height. His features and his frame were slender rather than robust (in fact, he had often been mistaken for being homosexual, so feminine did he appear), but he kept himself in excellent shape by running between ten and twenty kilometers every day (and in the heat of the summer months in Alice Springs that was no mean feat) and by umpiring local matches in the Australian Rules football competition. Sure his wife, Janice, dyed his hair, for she more than he hated the idea of his going gray (she had no objection to being married to an older man, just don’t let him look older) and his short black (but really steel-gray) hair was becoming very thin all over his head, especially the crown where a definite bald circle had formed (growing, it seemed, a little bigger each and every day) over the last ten years. His face, however, was not yet deeply lined by either his age or by the rigors of living in the Red Center and for that he was grateful. Janice, he was sure, was cheating on him; but he felt deep inside his heart that had either his face or his figure truly depicted his age, she would have left him for a much younger man.
     But the last six months had certainly changed how he thought of himself and the fruitfulness of his life. Just when he had been convinced that life had passed him over, that in fact he had nothing left to live for, this incredible opportunity had come his way, almost by chance really. Fast approaching the age where he would have to start thinking seriously about retirement (Christ! he wasn’t really that old, surely!), he had begun to despair of ever having enough money to withdraw to the kind of life he had once envisaged for himself. He was almost fifty-two. There could be no denying that fact, but today he felt as though he were a young and sprightly thirty-five.
     Six months ago Janice had decided he needed a vacation, a rest from both his profession and their somewhat humdrum lives in Alice Springs. He did not particularly want to go, but she had insisted. In fact, she had rung the local travel agents, obtained booklets and brochures and, when he could not decide, had decided for him. She booked a single return flight for him (she was too busy with this committee and that committee to accompany him) to Kuala Lumpur, telling him to hang the cost, stay a week, a fortnight, a month if he wished. He deserved it. He had worked hard at his job for her, to provide her with the finer things in life, to pay for her to go on annual holidays to Melbourne or Perth or Sydney or Adelaide. "Why Kuala Lumpur?" he had asked. "Because I like the sound of the name," she had replied. "It has a certain ring to it." With Janice names either seemed to have a certain ring to them or they sounded ‘yucky’: there were no in-betweens, no shades of gray. And he knew he was lost. Whether he wanted to take this holiday or not, he knew that once Janice had made up her mind there was very little he could say or do to change it. And in the end he had gone. She had kissed him tenderly, had waved him goodbye at the airport and he had flown off to Darwin where he had changed planes for Malaysia.
     He had hated it. For the first six days he had absolutely detested Kuala Lumpur.
     He hated the weather--it was too hot, too humid, and the sun was too bright. He hated the hotel--it was too drab, and there were too many foreigners. He hated the food--even when he ordered something that sounded plain or bland, it turned out to have some kind of spice or seasoning in it that left him sitting on the toilet for what seemed like hours. He hated the people he was forced to deal with--there were too many foreigners and they spoke a funny language, jabbering and chattering at each other like monkeys, and besides he was sure they were ripping him off every time they charged him in their currency, their ’fake’ money. All in all, he just plain wanted to go home.
     And then he had met Jasmine.
     He had been sitting at his small breakfast table in the hotel dining room, contemplating how much seasoning they could put into the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes he had decided to order (he hated Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, but he was hoping to start the day without his usual two hours or so of plonking his backside over the hole in the toilet), when she had walked in. Walked was not really the word to describe her manner of perambulation, he decided when he was reliving the experience in his mind later that day; glided would have been a better word. Jasmine (of course he did not know her name then; that came later) had glided past his table, dressed in a red and gold cheongsam, her long incredibly black hair falling in a perfectly motionless cascade down her back, reaching to just short of her waist. She was shorter than was he and her features were seemingly carved from ivory, the only color in her face being the striking scarlet slash of her lips.
     On an impulse, he had reached out his hand to touch her as she had glided past. This kind of behavior was so out of character for him that he was instantly mortified by what he had done. Later he would try to analyze it, attempt to figure out why he had done such a thing: perhaps it was because he was feeling so miserable, so fed up; perhaps it was because he was missing Janice so incredibly much (which he was); perhaps it was because he was a stranger in a strange country and felt a little immune from all of life’s laws; perhaps it was because this extraordinary-looking woman was so beautiful and filled him with such a longing that he could not control himself; perhaps it was a combination of all of these factors. Whatever the cause, reach out and touch her he had.
     Instantly he regretted having done so, but she turned towards him and, instead of being abusive, had given him such an amazingly beautiful smile that he completely forgot what he had been thinking, momentarily forgot even his name.
     “Good morning,” she said as she paused beside his table. “How are you today?”
     Her voice was musical, and he noted that there was color in her face other than her full red lips--her eyes. Here eyes were jade green, made even more striking by incredibly long, dark lashes and fine black eyebrows that had been drawn in with eyebrow pencil.
     He gulped and tried to speak, but could not.
     She smiled again. “Please,” she said. “May I sit down?”
     “Yes.” The word was little more than a croak, a boulder trying to force its way up his rusty, flaky throat. He coughed several times into his hand. “Please do,” he added in somewhat of a more normal voice as she selected a chair from the next table and turned it to face his.
     “You are new in town, yes?” she asked.
     “Well, I have been here for six day…well, yes, I suppose I am,” he stammered clumsily.
     “And what do you think of our city?”
     “I…well…I…” How could he tell this vision that he had not even ventured out of his hotel and its enclosed little arcade of shops?
     “I see," she said and smiled at him again, her green eyes twinkling like stars in the night. He melted as she continued; “that you have not really seen our city as it should be seen. There is much for tourists to see; but there is so much extra to see if one is more than just a tourist. May I be your guide for a few days?" And she reached across the table and clasped his hands in hers.
     He blushed at the contact, long forgotten feelings coursing through his veins, but he did not withdraw his hands. A fire seemed to have ignited in them that was burning all the way down to his testicles.
     “I would like that very much,” he answered, gazing directly into her eyes. It seemed to him that they were deep wells and that he was falling into them, unable to help himself, unable to do anything that would prevent him toppling into those depths.
     “And I would like that very much also,” she assured him, smiling again. “Now, have you had breakfast yet?’
     When he replied that he had not as yet done so, that he was waiting on a bowl of Corn Flakes, she had waved this aside as one would dismiss the uninformed choice of a child.
     “Let me order for you,” she suggested. “I can assure you that you shall not regret it.”
     He had tried to prevent her from canceling his order, but he did not seem to possess the strength to do so; besides the waiter seemed to act if this were nothing out the ordinary, as if meals were cancelled all of the time in this dining room. To this day he could not recall what she had ordered for them, what he had eaten; but it lived in his mind as one of the most tantalizing meals of which he had ever partaken. And, surprise, surprise, he had not needed to make his regular pilgrimage to the toilet once the meal was concluded.
     The remainder of the day passed in much the same hazy sort of way. He recalled that they had climbed into the back of a taxi together and then they were traveling around the city of Kuala Lumpur, she pointing out things of interest, he taking them in with an eagerness he did not know he possessed. At some time during the trip (had they really hired the taxi for a whole day and part of the night?) he remembered asking her her name and she had told him, the word rolling off her tongue like some mystic symbol, some ancient secret formula to total bliss. Jasmine. That was her name. Jasmine. He recalled how she smelled as fresh and as heady as the shrub after which she was named.
     For the balance of his stay in Malaysia he was never out of the company of his beautiful guide. While during the first six days he but awaited the earliest flight he could take home, now he dreaded the thought of ever leaving this place, of ever leaving HER. During the daytime they toured, not just the city sights, but also those of the surrounding countryside, often venturing beyond the city limits for most of the day; and once, for three days, to a world that seemed so far removed from anything he had ever heard of or read of in the real world, a world that he had seemingly left behind the moment he had met this intriguing woman. He often wondered what he had done with the rest of his life before he had ventured into this, to him, very unreal world. In the nighttime they visited the nightclubs and other venues of entertainment, many of which were peculiar to this part of the world. It was here that he witnessed things, experienced things, things that demonstrated on the one hand the sheer ingenuity of the human mind, on the other just how debased that same mind could become, things that surely could not have happened except maybe in his daydreams, his imaginings.
     And it was during one of these night excursions that he had met Kim Fon Yuen. (Did people really have names like that? He guessed they must; he remembered Kim vividly.)
     Peter and Jasmine had been seated at a table in one of those dark, smoke-filled night places that one often reads about in books, but rarely if ever gets to experience. It was an extremely noisy place and Peter had found that he had to shout to make Jasmine hear, but she had merely smiled at this, her own sing-song voice seeming to cut through the babble and confusion of excited Asian voices like a hot knife through butter. On stage a naked, diminutive Chinese-looking girl with very tiny breasts was alternatively stuffing table tennis balls into her vagina, expelling them with great skill, speed and accuracy into the cheering audience, and demonstrating her smoking ability by lighting a cigarette clasped between those same lips and then puffing out copious clouds of smoke, again much to the loud approval of her appreciative audience.
     Peter had been watching this amazing performance (had he been there on other occasions when the throat of some luckless street urchin had been slashed, the blood not only covering the stage but a large section of the cheering audience as well, he would have thought this night’s entertainment tame by comparison) in utter silence, mouth agape, when a tall figure dressed entirely in black had stopped at their table and spoken.
     “Excuse me,” said a voice so cultured that it might have been that of an English aristocrat. “Do you always ignore old friends, Jasmine, my sweet?”
     Peter looked away (albeit reluctantly) from the stage performance to discover that the man standing before them was anything but of English stock. He was tall and lean, of Oriental parentage, and his black eyes were like lumps of coal. He reminded Peter of the actor Joseph Wiseman, who had played Dr. No in the James Bond movie of the same name.
     “Why, hello Kim,” Jasmine enthusiastically greeted the newcomer. “Peter, I’d like you to meet a friend of mine, Kim Fong Yuen. Kim, Peter Porter.”
     The two men shook hands, and the Australian was aware of an innate strength in the hand that was clasping his. The ridiculous thought entered his mind that maybe this really was Dr. No and that he had metals hands, as did the character in the movie. Then he shrugged this ridiculous thought aside and smiled.
     “Pleased to meet you,” he said affably, for he was still embraced and entranced by the warmness he felt for Jasmine. Any friend of hers was a friend of his.
     “I see that Jasmine is showing you some of the quaint little entertainments of our city,” said Yuen conversationally. “How are you enjoying it so far?”
     “Extremely so,” replied Peter Porter. “I am witnessing so many intriguing things that I cannot always be sure that they are really happening.”
     “Oh, you may rest assured,” asserted the Chinese; “that what you have seen is very real indeed.” He smiled his expansive smile, a smile that did not carry all the way to his eyes. “By the way,” he added; “Jasmine tells me that you are an undertaker by profession.”
     Peter was somewhat taken aback. He was not aware that Jasmine had been discussing his profession with anyone, nor in fact that she had had time since meeting him to talk to anyone about him. The two of them had been almost constant companions since the day they had first met. For that matter, he could not remember telling her what his occupation was.
     “Yes,” he replied, his voice betraying somewhat his thoughts. He detested talking about his profession. It always seemed to make people ill at ease when they discovered what he did for a living.
     Kim Yuen was different somehow. Not only did he profess a genuine interest in Peter’s work, but he was not the slightest bit put off by talk of death, embalming, coffins or the medical examinations the undertaker was often required to perform as a part of his position as pathologist within the community. Kim had ordered drinks and then Jasmine had ordered drinks; this had been followed by Peter ordering drinks and then the whole cycle had started over again. What they drank Peter could not recall, but by the time they had left the nightclub he had lost all semblance of sobriety. He did not remember the taxi ride back to his hotel, he did not remember getting undressed and falling into bed, and he certainly did not remember making love to Jasmine. That they had, however, was attested to by the fact that when he awoke the next day, some time around noon, she was asleep in the queen-sized bed beside him and both of them were naked. And there was a muskiness lingering on the air of the room that could only have had one source.
     In the time that remained to him on this trip (he had already telephoned Janice twice to announce that he was staying an extra week and this news she had seemed to readily accept, nor did she press him to hurry home as he had thought she would) he saw nearly as much of Kim Fong Yuen as he did of Jasmine, the only difference being that he slept (it was amazing how little sleep one really needed when one was in bed with a sultry nymphomaniac as was Jasmine) with the woman, but merely talked to and otherwise enjoyed the man’s company wherever they ventured out by day or night.
     Eventually, of course, all good things must come to an end as Peter’s entertaining and exhausting vacation in Kuala Lumpur certainly did. All too soon it seemed to him he was at the airport, about to board his aircraft. The crazy whirl of the past month was already becoming little more than a hazy blurred memory in his mind.
     Both Jasmine and Kim were there to see him off, the former to kiss and hold him tightly, obviously not wishing him to leave, the latter to shake his hand and bid him good fortune.
     Eventually, it was time to depart.
     “Don’t forget,” Kim called, as the Australian was about to hand his boarding pass to the airport staff.
     Peter turned back, hesitated in the act of proffering the magnetically encoded card.
     “Forget, Kim? Forget what?” he asked.
     “We have a deal, a business deal.”
     “Deal? I don’t remember a deal?”
     “Of course you do. I’ll give you a call as soon as you get home.”
     “A call?” Peter was perplexed. He did not remember making any business deal with the tall Asian.
     “Your pass, sir.” It was one of the boarding staff.
     He turned to her. “Yes. Just one moment please.” He turned again towards Kim. “A call, did you say? Do you have my number?”
     “Yes.” Kim reached into his shirt pocket and produced a white card. “You gave me your business card the other evening. I’ll ring you the day after tomorrow and we can sort out the finer details. Have a good flight now.”
     “Your pass, please sir.”
     He turned back to the hostess, his face crowned by a frown. “Yes,” he said, automatically handing her the rectangle of printed card; “I’m sorry.”
     Why couldn’t he remember giving Kim his card?
     The flight to Darwin and then to Alice Springs seemed to take only a fraction of the time that the outward journey had done and before he knew it Peter was being whisked home by his wife. She chatted and laughed brightly, obviously delighted by his return and did not seem to notice at all his taciturnity nor the single-word answers that he gave to the innumerable questions that she asked. The next couple of days passed by in the same kind of blurry haze as had the flight home and, although Peter did not consciously think about the impending phone call from Kim Yuen, that it was never far from his mind was evidenced by the fact that he dreamed of the Asian and his promised call on each of the two nights following his return home.
     And of course, ring Kim had done; and the details of the business proposition that he had put to the Australian, which had, at first, seemed too far-fetched to believe, had at length sounded plausible; and then as Kim talked on, possible, and he had eventually agreed to give it a try.
     That had all happened six months ago.
     Today, while at the airport, he had used a public phone and his Telstra Visa Card to telephone Kim in Kuala Lumpur, informing him that the merchandise was ready for shipment. Kim had instructed him to check his bank account and, when he was happy with that, to place the shipment on the next plane leaving Darwin for Kuala Lumpur. Using an automatic teller machine, Peter had checked his account balance, found that the three-hundred-and-fifty thousand dollars he had asked for had been deposited, and had duly arranged for the container with the merchandise to be dispatched to his business partner in Malaysia.
     So far he had accumulated over three-quarters of a million dollars in a trifle over six months and there was much more money where that had come from.
     All of a sudden, retirement did not seem such a big deal after all.
     It was as he was driving back from the airport congratulating himself on the successful conclusion of yet another piece of profitable business that he came upon the accident.

 

CHAPTER VII

     The car, a new Mitsubishi Magna, had run off the highway where a tall outcrop of rocks appeared to grow abruptly out of the otherwise completely flat landscape. At what he estimated to have been a speed of well over one-hundred-kilometers-per-hour the vehicle had simply veered off the road to run head-on--or as close to dead center as one could hope to achieve--into the outcrop as if the driver had not seen the obstacle. Either way, the Magna had smashed into the rocks without any attempt at braking or avoidance and, as always in cases of this kind, one wondered how such an accident could have happened on such a perfectly straight stretch of road.
     Peter Porter pulled up alongside the wreck, knowing deep down that there would be nothing he nor anyone else could do for the occupants of that car: it was so mangled that those trapped inside would have been squashed or worse and those thrown out by the impact would have been ejected with such force that the chances of survival were minimal at best. Still, as he opened the door of the Mercedes to check the wreckage, he reached for the medical bag he always carried with him, a carry-over from those days where he had actually attended medical school with the burning ambition of becoming a doctor.
     The car had been traveling south, just heading out of Alice Springs and perhaps speeding towards Ayers Rock. There had been two occupants (a young man and an even younger woman) and both of these had been thrown from the vehicle (had they been wearing seat belts?) at the moment of impact. It was plainly obvious, even to someone of lesser experience than the undertaker, that both were quite dead.
     As he wandered back to his automobile Peter Porter wondered how long the ambulance would take to get here, not that it made any difference at all to the two dead people. And he, himself, was not in a hurry to be anywhere on this particular afternoon. He reached into the car and pulled his mobile phone from its holder on the side of the center console. As he dialed the number of the Alice Springs Police Station he noticed that the sun was now low on the horizon and he wondered from what urgent business this call would drag Sergeant Bryan Jones.

**********

     The sunset had been everything that they had hoped it would be.
     Claire had parked the Volvo in the very center of the Ayers Rock viewing bay from which position they could take in the whole of the monolith and watch the sun go down behind it. From where they sat they were able to see the huge rock, the side towards them in shadow, its ruddy brown color deepening to black at the base, the top golden from the last of the sun’s setting rays. As they watched the sun disappeared, first behind the monolith, then sliding behind the distant horizon, until Ayers Rock became nothing more than a silhouette lying upon the black earth beneath it.
     For the umpteenth time, Martin wished that he had brought his camera.
     As he sat there, hand in hand with Claire, the two of them enjoying this respite from the last few hectic days, content just to be in each other’s company and taking in this magnificent scene, it came to Martin how much like the rib-cage of a cadaver (in silhouette, of course) the shape of the rock appeared; and then the sun disappeared completely behind the horizon and the image was lost.
     Martin turned to Claire. “Well, what did you think of that?” he addressed her, his arms sliding around her shoulders.
     She turned towards him, her eyes sparkling in the last of the light. “It was won…breathtaking,” she replied.
     They chuckled at this, their own private joke.
     "I’m told it’s even more spectacular at sunrise," he advised. "Shall we park here in the car until then?"
     For an answer she kissed him lightly on the mouth. He was about to return the kiss, but sat suddenly upright in his seat instead.
     “What’s wrong?” Claire asked.
     “I’m sorry to be unromantic,” he answered. “But something is nagging at me from the back of my mind.”
     “What?”
     “I’m not sure, but it has something to do with that body I looked at earlier today.”
     “Eric Stephenson?”
     “Yes.”
     “What have you remembered?”
     “I’m not sure,” he replied pulling her to him again. He kissed her mouth, long and hard. “But we have to go back to town. I have to take another look at that body tonight.”
     "What about the sunrise you promised me?"
     He sighed. "I’m sorry, darling. I’ll have to owe you one."
     She paused, thinking a moment before replying. The she glanced at her watch.
     “Look at the time,” she suggested. “It may not already be too late for that now, but by the time we get back there, the morgue will most certainly be closed and who knows where that fellow Porter will be. Why don’t you wait until morning?”
     “I’ll get Jones to open up the funeral parlor. Even it we can’t find Porter, I have the distinct feeling that the good sergeant will welcome any opportunity to have to call in on the curvaceous Mrs. Porter.”
     “You may be right, but the police station will be well and truly closed for the night by the time we arrive back in town.”
     It was Martin’s turn to pause, thinking; then he said suddenly: “I’ll ring him now. The mobile’s in the boot. You said so yourself. With any luck he hasn’t left the station yet, and he can have the funeral parlor open and ready for us as soon as we get back.”
     He opened the car door, went around to the back and extracted the Nokia 100 from the boot where Claire had placed it. He wiped some dust off its face on the seat of his shorts and stood beside the open door using the interior light for illumination, his fingers punching at the keypad.
     “Damn!” he muttered.
     “What?”
     “The battery’s flat!”
     “Where’s the spare?”
     “At the motel. In one of the bags!”
     “Hop in. We’ll see if we can rouse someone when we get back.”
     He did as she instructed, muttering to himself as he settled in the seat. He was still muttering quietly to himself as he did up his seat belt.
     Claire restarted the car and they drove back towards Alice Springs. For a while Martin was silent, annoyed with himself for having let the mobile phone’s battery go flat. Then, once he relaxed somewhat, they conversed animatedly for a while about various elements of this unusual case that was before them, but nothing new arose from this conversation and, after an hour, they lapsed once more into virtual silence.
     Claire was aware that Martin was reviewing the case in his mind, working on whatever tendrils of an idea was lurking within his subconscious, attempting to bring that nebulous wisp of something to the forefront of his mind. She, for her part, concentrated on steering the Volvo through the darkness of the night, willing herself not to think about the case any longer. To help her relax and forget about their problems, she grabbed the first tape her hand encountered in the side pocket, and inserted in into the player. The music soon relaxed her more than she had been in days; and she discovered she was listening to Ringo Starr and the hit song, ’Photograph’.
     When they reached Alice Springs, both the police station and the funeral parlor were in darkness, as too were the residences of both the sergeant and the mortician. With no other option left to them at this time of the night, the two investigators repaired to the motel. Discovering that the restaurant had long since closed for the evening, they returned to the small café they had visited earlier in the day and ordered another hamburger each. They supplemented this with a bowl of chips and washed their meal down with two cups of black coffee.
     Having satisfied their hunger, they returned to the motel, and prepared for bed. Martin located the charger for the mobile phone as well as the spare battery and, while he was setting this up for the night, Claire had made coffee. They undressed and climbed into bed, for the unit had already lost most of the heat it had gathered during the day and it had become quite cool. They chatted as they drank their coffee and smoked a final cigarette for the day. When that was finished, Martin indicated his intention of going immediately to sleep and snuggled down beside his partner, his left arm encircling her waist. She had decided that she was not yet tired enough for slumber and sat, propped up in the bed, scanning through the printed material they had on the case. As well as photographs of the first victim, Head Office in Canberra had provided then with detailed backgrounds of not only Eric Stephenson, but also all the other major players in this outback town. Claire had decided, whilst driving back from Ayers Rock, that there had to be something in those files that she had missed. The more she had thought about it, the more positive she had become.
     Morning found neither of them any further advanced with their theories; but both felt considerably refreshed from their night’s sleep. (Claire had not read for long. She had fallen asleep halfway through a second reading of the small sheaf of papers relating to the case and had woken up in the early hours of the morning to discover the bed lamp still on and the papers having fallen to the floor. Without picking them up she had simply turned out the light, snuggled down within the warmth of Martin’s arms without disturbing him and gone straight back to sleep.)
     They awoke early, and in order to give the town officials sufficient time to open their office doors and complete the early morning duties, they decided to eat breakfast in the dining room before driving to the police station.
     Several slices of toast having been disposed of, they were on to their second cup of coffee when Martin suddenly cursed loudly. As they had walked into the dining room, Claire had picked up a local newspaper lying on a table just inside the door. It had lain unopened between them while they had eaten, and Martin had just opened it to the front page.
     "What is it?" asked Claire. "What’s happened?"
     "Damn!" he said again. "There was an accident just outside of town yesterday afternoon."
     "And you think it has something to do with us…something to do with the case?"
     "Look at this," he directed, pushing the paper across the table and under her nose. And, when she had turned her attention to the blurred photograph of a wrecked automobile lit by other car headlights, he added: "No, not the photo. Underneath it where it gives a description of the bodies. Where it says…"
     "…that both bodies were flattened almost beyond recognition," she concluded. "Could this be a coincidence?"
     "I think you said it yourself yesterday in the car. There are too many damn coincidences in this case!"
     "What are we going to do?" she asked. "Do we tackle Jones first, or do you still wish to view Stephenson’s body?"
     "I think this calls for a slightly different approach," he suggested after a moment’s hesitation. "I think I need to tackle our less-than-friendly sergeant on my own, man to man, so to speak. I think there’s more going on here than just hostility to outsiders."
     "And me? What shall I do while you engage in some heavy macho bullshit?" She laughed.
     "You, my dear, shall tackle the rather charming Mrs. Porter. Take her out and buy her a cup of coffee or something. Talk to her. You know, woman talk. See if you can find out a little about her and this town without her really knowing that you’re trying to find out anything at all."
     "What am I after, exactly?"
     "Exactly? I don’t know; but you’ll recognize it when you hear it."
     "Uh huh! And what do I do then? Toddle off and have my hair done maybe, a facial, my nails?" She ran a hand caressingly down the back of her head.
     "Very funny," he chided. "No, I still want you to find out about the weather details. Confirm for us both that this heat is really unseasonable, that it’s a lot more than merely a bit of summer that’s arrived extremely early."
     "And you?"
     "Once I’ve had a few words with the sergeant, I’ll take a closer look at the evidence. That is, if he hasn’t destroyed it. I’ve got three bodies now instead of one. Surely they must tell us something."
     "Where shall we meet? Back here?"
     "Yes. Let’s make it back here in, say, three hours. That should give us both plenty of time."
     "Fine."
     They stood, their coffee forgotten. Claire gave Martin a lift to the police station, dropping him off outside the front door. They kissed and each went their separate ways, determined that one way or another, this case was going to break today.

To be continued...