Murder I Wrote


Unknown

The spider slowly descended down its half constructed web looking for a secure place to anchor its next thread. The slim sliver of light that made its way into the darkened room, illuminated the scene; a builder in the spotlight still deciding where to attach his next spar. Such was life in my small dusty half forgotten second hand shop in downtown New Norfolk. Few customers with even fewer sales kept me bored and disillusioned. Life’s monotony was in full display in this ageing shop of mine. Even the bric-a-brac looked tired and bored as my eyes slowly scanned the store looking for who knows what; a habit from years of diminishing mental activity. The odd piece that was sold was soon replaced with something that looked the same, did the same. I gave up a secure job that placed a great deal more on my mental agility to do this. The idea seemed right at the time. But like most things in my life, it hadn’t turned out the way I expected.

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My wife Betty was banging around in the back doing what she did most days – bang around. We had stopped most communication a long time ago and only talked when it became absolutely necessary. We shared an ordinary house in an ordinary street in an ordinary suburb with almost nothing else in common. Life’s like that for some, never raising its head much above the water line, a constant struggle not to drown until.. you know, you drown.

The apartment block across the road was one of those places you aspire to if you are poor but can’t wait to get out if you’re not. Most were investment properties, so a constant stream of unlikely types moved in and out like an army of ants searching for their queen.

A van pulled up, a large nondescript white one. Two men and I think, a woman jumped out and scurried up the low entrance staircase leading to the ground floor units. I say think because it was bitterly cold and all three wore heavy full length coats with their collars turned up in a vain attempt to keep warm. One of the figures, much more diminutive than the other two, was bent over slightly with a hand on the stomach like you see when someone wants to vomit but can’t. I couldn’t see their faces; they were in such a hurry.
The action only lasted a few seconds and my thoughts and sight returned to that spider and its constructive life.

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A day or two later my wife in an unexpected burst of civility drew my attention to a newspaper article about a spate of missing teenager girls. Four had gone missing the previous six months. Not that it’s uncommon with teenagers to run away, but these were well adjusted reliable kids that had never been in trouble and from all accounts came from stable homes. The police were becoming concerned and asked the public for help.

Photos of the four filled most of the page. Innocent faces frozen to a time and place, not knowing what the future had in store for them. My wife muttered something about how terrible it was and hoped they would be found soon safe and well. I wasn’t listening.

My thoughts went back to the day I saw that van.

The bell on the door broke the spell. In front of me stood a burly man, some 6 foot tall, thick necked with strong masculine hands, sporting a ridiculous handlebar moustache and a sort of pointed goatee which made absolutely no sense together. His clothes were baggy and dishevelled, though clean. He gave the impression of an oddity rejected from the Moscow circus.

” Can I h-help?” I stuttered.

He stood there for a moment, eyes surveying, in deep thought. When he finally spoke, it came as a surprise. An unexpected soft cultured voice enunciated.

“Good afternoon, my good Sir,” I was wondering whether you could help me. My colleague and I are conducting a little business in the apartment block across the road and we require a few odds and sods, props that sort of thing to liven the place up. Is it all right to browse?”

“Certainly!” I said.

He walked around the shop muttering to himself, inaudible to me. Returning to the counter often, he collected an eclectic assortment of items. Curtain stays, a set of candle sticks with candles, a roll of packing tape, an old make up artist case, a paint brush, a large brown leather strap, the type you secure a travelling trunk with and an ornate 19 th century Persian ceremonial dagger.

All in all it came to well over 200 dollars, the best sale I’d had in weeks. I was pleased. When finished he paid promptly, gathered his purchases and scurried across the road.
Just as he was about to disappear into the apartment block, a white van pulled up in front. He walked over to it, and after a short conversation with the driver, jumped in and they sped away towards the city.

“Argh, so he was one of the characters I saw that day,” I thought to myself.

A week or two later, I happened to catch sight of the same white van pulling up out front. Two men got out, one I recognised as the man that came to my shop earlier and to my utter astonishment, a young girl with long flowing chestnut hair. My heart missed a beat as my thoughts focused on the missing girls.

“Get a hold of yourself,” I said aloud.

They walked up the flight of stairs to enter the building. She seemed perfectly at ease, laughing and chatting with both men. The other man was not as large as his friend, but like his friend, he wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a foreign circus. Bald as a bagger, wearing a strange peaked Robin hood like felt hat that made him look like a court jester from a medieval castle. He did a kind of a skip and a hop gig as he circled his companions, exuding an abundance of excess energy.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it . The puzzle in my mind was coming together. Why would such a young girl be hanging around with ageing men? She being so pretty and they so strange. He bought that odd collection of items from me. It just didn’t add up.

I stared at the shop wall. My spider was sitting in the middle of the web waiting for its next victim.

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I was fighting with myself, my head was telling me I was reading too much into this. My gut told me there was a room full of young girls – dead or alive! They were up to no good, I was sure or was I ?

A cold sweat engulfed my forehead. I can’t just do nothing, but that was just what I did. I slumped into my office chair.
Deep down I’m a coward, scared of my own shadow; bad things happened to others, not me. I’m a runner, not a fighter.

Betty walked into the room and stared at me.

“Whats wrong with you? You look more miserable than usual.”

” I’m ok, just tired,” I snapped back.

“Suit yourself. I’m going home to eat. By the way, a white van is blocking our drive. Go tell the owner to move it. Stupid place to park, trying to shove a rolled up carpet square into the back that obviously doesn’t fit.”

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The blood drained from my face, rolled carpet, body inside being disposed of.

I was sure now. How am I going to deal with it…

My spider was examining a fresh victim tangled up in fine gossamer threads as I made my way to the front door.

Gone! Nowhere to be seen. There was an immediate sense of relief not having to confront them, my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Ohh what a yellow bellied snivelling coward I am. Do something.

Call the police, that’s what I’ll do.
No wait, it’s none of my business. Not my fault they’re over there. They could have been anywhere in this city. Why did they have to be across the road?

Stop it right now, you have a public duty to tell the police. Think of the girls, the poor girls.

No hang on a minute I don’t have any proof, the police will think I’m a trouble maker, trying to get my name in the paper.

Headlines – Read all about it. SECOND HAND SHOPKEEPER FOILS SERIAL KILLER MURDER GANG, SAVES MANY LIVES.

Ridiculous, I’m deluding myself or maybe this will make me a hero.

“TOO MUCH!” I cried out loud.

My head was pounding I was frozen into inaction. Wait until tomorrow now. Another night won’t make a difference. It’s too late for that poor girl in the carpet anyway. I soothed my nerves with these thoughts.

Always been a procrastinator ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper. My dad used to say that boy would take a life time to make up his mind, has a permanent indentation on his backside by spending too much time sitting on the fence.
I showed him though. I made a snap decision to ask Betty to marry me and, well… we all know how that turned out.

I had a dreadful night’s sleep and arrived at the shop early.
My spider was now devouring its victim bit by bit.

The van arrived about nine and to my unbelieving eyes, two young women jumped out with those brutal beasties of depravity, laughing and giggling without a care in the world. The smaller of the two men wearing another farcical hat escorted the two women inside while the other parked his van around the back.

Two more entering the spiders den. I was dizzy with indecision.

This is it. I need to do something now.

Plucking up all the courage I could muster ( almost none), I dashed outside. Seeing a policeman on his passing bike, I frantically flapped my arms like a duck who had been shot in its final death throes to gain his attention.

“Officer, officer I think…I know… I don’t really know but I think there has been a great injustice committed in that apartment building.”

He looked at me with eyes that said, “Here we go, another nutter.” And was about to say something to me when his radio crackled to life.
“All active units need to proceed to 32 Baker Street New Town immediately. Re missing teenagers, suspected multiple homicides in house, suspects detained.”

Without further ado, he gunned his bike and disappeared down the road.

I stood there with my jaw dropped and in shock.
Before I could gather my wits, the burly man with the ridiculous hand bar moustache and goatee that looked out of place walked from behind the building.

“Hello, my good sir,” hand outstretched “ Aren’t you the shop owner from across the road?”

I feebly nodded

“Oh good oh. Those props I bought off you the other day worked like a treat. Pity we have to rehearse here and not in the theatre but those bloody renovations aren’t finished yet,” he cackled. “Beggars can’t be choosers as they say and we actors are surely beggars, ha ha.”

“Actors?” I sputtered out.

“Yes old boy, the girls were having a ripe old giggle about having to rehearse in a flat. Not enough room you see. Had to remove that old Indian carpet because they all kept sneezing due to the dust or cat’s hair or something. Ha, Ha, what a hoot. Every time we killed our victim he’d start sneezing. Ended up in hospital, poor chat with asthma.”

“Murder?” I chocked.

“Hang on my old boy, Just had a thought. We need a new murder victim. You would fit the bill perfectly. Can you play dead? ha ha”

With that, I let out an almighty scream of “Noooooooooo” and ran across the road slamming the shop door behind me.

Old Handle bars looked perplexed, “What a strange fellow. Takes all types I suppose.”

On the dirty dusty floor of an old nondescript run down secondhand shop, lies a dead spider.

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The Red and Blue Ribbon

Stewart stared across the breakfast table at his small grandson eating his cereal with a spoon. Sam had been stopping with them all week as his parents were in Adelaide for work. They enjoyed having him around as it reminded them of their own little boy all those years ago. Friday, one more to go. He had promised him this weekend they would go fishing, something they both enjoyed immensely. Steward does most of the fishing of course, while little Sam plays at his feet with whatever is lying around on the wooden planks of the old Beachport jetty.

Steward gazed out the window at the inclement weather.

“Ahhh, a wet drive to work.”

The fog had still not lifted and hung low over the ground in wispy pools of white.

Sam made himself comfortable in front of the television to watch Play School.

“Aren’t you going to give grand dad a kiss before he goes to work?”

Steward received no response.

“I’m wearing that red and blue ribbon pin you gave me for my birthday, pinned to my jacket.”

Sam was transfixed to the screen. Steward smiled to himself, kissed his wife on the cheek and walked out the front door.

Mount Burr, where they lived, was a good 45-minute drive to Steward’s job in Mount Gambier, very easy with most of it on the country’s main road, National Highway No 1. The tall pine tree plantations stood like soldiers to attention with only their feet visible, their heads inside the clouds.

Steward’s new Land Rover backed out of the drive, on to the side road and slowly motored up a slight incline towards highway No 1.

“Well, this is bad, can’t see a bloody thing,” he stated aloud to himself.

The car parted the mist like a ship parted the ocean, disturbing the air only long enough for it to flow back upon itself and leave no trace of the disturbance.

Steward fiddled with the radio’s frequency knob until he found his favourite station. It was playing a song he knew well. Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets. That brought back memories. The night he met his wife, Sandy at the local town dance, they were playing that song. A little rye smile passed across his face as he thought of all good times they had spent together over the years. The raising of their boys into men they could be proud of.

The 3 kilometres to the turnoff was slow and tedious. The fog refused to lift. For a moment, Steward thought he could see the sun trying to force its way through the thickened soup but he wasn’t sure. How he hated driving in the fog.

Crawling along the narrow road, he came across no other cars. It was 7.30 am and normally you would have passed something by now. The radio gave out a fit of static then recommenced suddenly with a male announcer.

“Good morning all, what a beautiful spring morning we are having today.”

Roger Monk here wishing you a pleasant day ahead. Steward’s ears pricked up.

“Roger Monk? He’s been retired for years. What’s he doing back on air?”

Steward was perplexed. Maybe they dug him out of retirement for nostalgic reasons. Music replaced the voice and another golden oldie was played. Steward himself didn’t know this one.

It was taking forever to get to the highway. The side road was full of pot holes much more than he remembered. He cursed the council for not doing its job properly.

Finally he reached the turn off, it was still quite dark and he could hardly make out the road markings. Turning left, he observed a sign he had never noticed before. It was made of wood, white and pointed at the leading edge with words Mount Gambier 20 miles.

“What the heck!” Steward was confused. “When did the council start using wooden signage with mileage written on it?”

Steward smiled to himself and shook his head.

“I must be dreaming. They haven’t used imperial measurements since 1966.”

He felt uneasy though. The car drove slowly forward when to his total astonishment he notice another bazaar thing. The national highway was now only a single lane.

At that moment, a logging truck steamed passed at high speed in the opposite direction, surprising Steward to the extent he almost ran off the road.

Steward took a few deep breaths. “What was going on? The truck seemed to come from no where.”

The roads so narrow, it’s not like this, it’s a national highway, dual lanes. Where is it? Have I taken a wrong turn? I can’t have. I have driven this road for years.”

Questions with no answers raced through his mind.
The radio spluttered again into static. Steward played with the tuning knob and found a station on an unfamiliar frequency.

The surprises didn’t stop coming. Robert Menzies’ voice filled the airways telling all to prepare for war.

Steward was totally confused.

“I must be going mad.”

He wasn’t sure what to do. He slowed to a crawl. The roads surface was now poor, rutted and loose.

He looked down to his mobile phone and found no signal. The radio was now solid static.

The fog was lifting. The sun shone through, burning off the remaining mist to reveal a beautiful day. Steward wound the window down and took a deep breath. What superb air, he had not smelt anything like it.

The surrounding countryside looked very different. Large gum trees dominated either side of the road, the pine plantations had disappeared. The odd small clearing opened up amongst the trees to reveal the stone farm houses.

Steward’s head was spinning. This could not be. Was he dreaming or caught in some type of time warp? No answers.

The road was now an overgrown track. He stopped and jumped out. This was very foreign. Nothing was familiar apart from the gum trees and the vast number of birds in the sky. Kangaroos could be seen everywhere. Curious and unafraid, they stood in mobs observing this strange distressed creature with the lost expression.

Without warning, a spear pieced the thick undergrowth and thudded into a large red gum just to the left of his head. He awoke from his distressed state as the adrenaline kicked in. He noticed a slight gap between two sheoaks and darted through it. Running as fast as his old legs permitted, he headed for a rocky outcrop that might offer some protection.

Panting like an overworked sheep dog, he scurried behind the first boulder he reached. Peering around the rock, he discovered he need not have worried, no one was following. Steward caught his breath, then proceeded to walk to the crest of the hill to see where he was.

Looking out over the far reaching green plain, the area was deeply wooded, interwoven with vast interlocking wetlands. Hugh flocks of birds created clouds of colour as they took to the air, circling and returning to earth in a vast shimmering wave. Dotted over the landscape, a few thin wispy grey streaks of smoke drifted upwards towards the heavens, camp fires by the aborigines. A world of tranquility, except for a flickering glow of orange and red on the horizon, standing out in stark contrast to the rest of the greens and greys, an artist inadvertently dabbing the wrong water colours on to his masterpiece.

It took a moment until he realized what he was observing. Though it was still cool, sweat poured down his brow and on to his eyes. He wiped the salty solution away. An uncontrollable tremble took over his body. He fell to his knees.

Mount Gambier, the volcano had not erupted for 4600 years and there he was watching it. Steward touched the small red and blue ribbon his grandson had given him and cried.

He eventually staggered to his feet and slowly descended the ridge walking towards the far distant glow not knowing what to do or where to go. He staggered on for what seemed hours. He looked down at his boots, now covered in water.
These were the old wet lands of the South Australia’s Southeast before the European settlers drained them. It felt a thousand pairs eyes were focused at him, but he saw no one.

He wandered through the wetlands looking for the telltale smoke of an aboriginal campfire for he needed to be with others. The anxiety of dying in the wilderness alone mounted in his ever increasing confused mind. What did he do to deserve this fate? Where did he go wrong? More questions with no answers.

Exhaustion set in, he could no longer stay on his feet. The sun was low when he slid to the ground underneath an old red gum and rested his back upon the trunk. He closed his eyes.

A bright light appeared in his dream. The light spoke to him, it was his dear beloved Sara. She whispered to his soul, she was there by his side. The light became brighter and with it, all fear left his body. Her comforting face filled the space in in his head. All was well now.

A large group of aborigines surrounded the prostrate body lying still, under the old gum tree. A large black hand removed the pin on Steward’s jacket and they all milled around to admire the beautiful soft blue and red ribbon, wondering what it was.

Sam was stilled glued to the television set when the screen flashed brilliant white before fading in on itself to a pin prick. For a moment he thought he saw his grandfather’s face.

“Grandma come here quick, the television is broken.”

No response. He jumped up and ran around the house looking for her.

“Grandma , Grandma, where are you? Talk to me I’m scared, Grandma, Grandma…”

Twenty years later.

Sunday afternoon and Sam got up from the couch, as he was shouting to his sons.

“We’re going out, get your things. Enough lying around for the day.”

Two small adorable fair haired boys fell into line as they giggled to each other. The twins loved it when dad took them for a drive. It was always an adventure and the chance of an ice cream or piece of cake was always on the cards.

“Daddy, where are we going today?” they chortled back.

“Surprise!” was the abrupt reply.

Sam had read in the local newspaper about an interesting local discovery a few years ago. A cave with Aboriginal paintings had been discovered in a range of hills close to Mount Gambier. Remarkable to think that after all these years of European settlement, they were still finding artefacts. It was being open to the public for the first time and he was keen to take a look. Besides that, the boys loved drawing and were always interested in the bedtime stories he told them about the aboriginal dreamtime. Getting them away from the television had become a priority. He remembered watching way too much tv himself as a child.

It was a glorious day, the sun shone fiercely through the few clouds that were in the sky. They bumped along the old dirty track that led to the caves. A number of other cars followed behind looking for the new signs that were put up to direct them to the location.

This part of the area’s vegetation was till mostly intact and had survived the farming revolution as it was designated a national park early on in the country’s history.

A make shift car park had been organised on a piece of flat land below a rocky outcrop. The path to the cave was steep and difficult to transverse.

The boys plodded on gamely. Not complaining at all. Sam was proud. He thought how much better behaved they were than him at a similar age.

Eventually the path ended and after rounding a large boulder a small opening could be seen under a ledge. It wasn’t very obvious, so he now understood why this had not been discovered earlier.

After crawling on all fours for some metres, the cavern opened up. A temporary lighting arrangement was in place. It did a good job of exposing the magnificent array of cave drawings. A guide was on hand to explain to the public the significance of what they were witnessing.

The boys looked on in awe, mouths opened. The scene was one with nature. Kangaroos, wallabies, emus and birds of all kinds. Beautifully depicted in the aboriginal way, vivid natural colours with simple, but inspiring symbols.

At the back of the chamber in all its prominence was the erupting volcano. The aborigines were there to witness the event.

Sam took a step back to take everything in. His eye glanced upon a curious symbol – two blue and red lines.

Memories flooded his mind from that long ago day. He had been frantic, he could not find his grandmother. He ran screaming to the next door neighbour for help.

“Where’s my Grandma? I want my Grandma.”

Police cars, sirens, people everywhere.

His dream was broken, upon hearing the guide make a comment about the two-coloured lines.

“The archeologists don’t quite understand this symbol yet. It doesn’t relate to any animal or plant we know of. At the moment the meaning seems to be lost in time.”

Sam with a tear in his eye, looked down at his two small boys.
But he knew.