It wasn’t hard to find where it was that Alexis had been pulled from the harbour. All we had to do once we had reached the Opera House entrance was follow an ambulance with lights flashing and sirens blaring that was trying to push its way through the late afternoon crowds.
When we made it to the forecourt we could see more flashing lights sitting atop a number of patrol cars parked on the far side of the plaza. There was also a rather large crowd of people milling around, most of whom seemed to be looking out over the edge of the breakwall, down into the harbour.
In the gathering dusk, which on any other day would make the beginnings of a beautiful sunset, there were already a number of floodlights set up, all of which were pointing their heads out over the wall as well, and illuminating the water’s edge. The whole scene struck me as being a lot of activity for just one body.
Police tape marked out what was supposed to be a crime scene, but not too many people seemed to be taking much notice of that, and the couple of young looking uniformed officers positioned there to keep the crowds in place already appeared resigned to the fact that they weren’t going to have any success with their appointed task.
‘Christ! It’s a regular three-ring circus down here!’ Helen spat as she pulled her unmarked car to a halt beside one of the parked patrol cars.
We got out of the car and Helen locked it, then we started toward the centre of the crowd, which is usually where the most action can be found. As we made our way through the throng I couldn’t help but remember the words of one of the officers from the academy, which had been drummed into us relentlessly. He always said, ‘Whenever there is a crowd at a crime scene, always looked around you and take note of the faces. Chances are that the perp will be amongst them!’
Taking heed of the instructor’s words I looked around me as we crossed the cobblestones. I saw lots of people looking our way, but they were just faces in a crowd. Thanks to my training I figured that I may be able to recall them, or at least some of them, at a later time if I came across them again, but I wouldn’t have put money on being able to do that. The old Sergeant would probably be disappointed in me, but just at the moment I didn’t really care about that.
And then it happened.
For just an instant I saw a face that I thought I had seen before. It was only a glimpse, accompanied by the briefest moment of recognition. But that was enough, I thought.
It was a man. Tall. Thin build. Thin face. Narrow eyes. Pale skin. Short, spiked hair.
I was sure that I had seen him before.
But then, just as soon as he had appeared, the crowd moved aside to allow Helen and me to pass, and he was gone. Whoever it was became swallowed up in the jostling mass as someone moved in front of him, and then someone moved in front of them.
I stopped and stared at the space where moments earlier he had been, but it was useless. He was gone. And so too was any chance of my being able to recall from where I knew that face.
Puzzled, I remembered the feeling that I’d had at the train station earlier, that someone had been watching me, and I had an image in my mind of what that person looked like. They were similar, but not the same. Or at least I didn’t think so.
The next thing I knew was that Helen was standing at my shoulder and asking; ‘What’s your problem?’
I turned and stared at her and the puzzlement must have been showing on my face.
‘You see a ghost or something?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know what I saw. Just a face that was familiar, but I can’t say who, or where from.’
‘Ahhhh . . . that! It happens to me all the time.’
‘Yeah, and you want to know something? They say that everyone has a double someplace, so just remember that that face you think you sometimes know could be the double that you don’t know!’
‘It’s been my experience that every face you think you recognize usually isn’t the face you think it is, that’s all. Just keep an open mind about the faces you think you see, all right? Sometimes they might be who you think they are, but oftentimes they ain’t.’
‘I’ll try to remember that,’ I replied, although not totally reassured.
‘You do that! Now we better go check out poor ‘ol Alexis before they cart him off in the meat wagon.’
We pushed our way through the crowd and found the top of the steps leading down onto the small wharf, which I think was usually only used for the arrival of dignitaries at special events. After identifying ourselves to the constable guarding the steps we were permitted to pass, then made our way down onto the wharf, where we found about half a dozen officers, investigators and constables huddled around a white sheet, which was covering what was obviously a body.
As we reached the bottom of the steps one of the uniformed officers detached himself from the group and greeted us.
‘G’day Helen,’ he said. ‘They told me he was one of your boys, so I figured you’d show up here eventually.’
‘Hey Jack,’ she replied, shaking the offered hand. Then when she noticed his gaze shifted in my direction Helen added, ‘This is my new partner, Rick Cooper.’
‘Hi, nice to meet you,’ he said, while stretching his hand out toward me. ‘I heard there was a new kid on the block.’
‘It seems bad news travels fast,’ I replied with a grin.
‘Well, that depends on what side of the fence you’re sitting I suppose,’ he replied.
‘Haven’t your mob taken enough happy snaps of the kid yet?’ Helen asked, nodding toward Alexis’ body and the police photographer, who was kneeling down and getting a close-up shot while a uniformed constable, looking suitable sickened, held the sheet back for him.
‘Yeah, they should be just about done,’ he answered.
‘What can you tell us?’ I asked, as I walked over to the body then crouched down beside him and took a look at the body while the Constable still held one corner of the sheet. He looked so different to the Alexis I had only just met, but I can tell you, after seeing a dozen or so bodies since the Academy, death does that to a person.
‘To be honest Rick, not much at all,’ Jack answered, with him and Helen coming closer. ‘All we can really say is that he received multiple stab wounds. I guess we’ll know more once the Coroner has done his thing though.’
I glanced up and over my shoulder at Helen, raising an enquiring eyebrow toward her. She looked down at the body, which was dressed only in dark trousers and grey socks, and then nodded, apparently satisfied that it was Alexis.
‘When was he found?’ Helen asked. Jack looked from us to the Constable.
‘About an hour ago, ma’am,’ the Constable replied.
‘What? And he’s been floating here un-noticed all day, right next to the Opera House and the Botanic Gardens?’ Helen asked.
‘No ma’am. He was found floating out toward the middle of the harbour – someone on a ferry spotted him out from Mrs. Maquaries Chair.’
‘So how did he end up here then?’ I asked. ‘How come the Water Police weren’t called to come and pick him up?’
‘It was a couple of fishermen, sir, in that little runabout,’ the Constable answered, pointing to two men that were standing at the far end of the wharf, with an aluminium dinghy tied behind them. They were talking to another constable who was frantically taking notes. ‘They said that they saw someone on the ferry going hysterical and thought they’d see what all the excitement was. Then when they found him floating out there they reckoned they’d do what they thought was the right thing, so they hooked him and towed him here before the Water Rats were even called, seeing as this was just about the nearest thing around here to a wharf.’
‘I take it that you guys are getting their statements then?’ asked Helen.
‘All right. Just see that copies get passed on to me when they’re done, okay?’
‘Yes ma’am,’ the Constable replied.
Jack waved the Constable away and turned his attention back to us.
‘Do you know who ID’d the body, Jack?’ Helen asked.
‘No, I don’t. As far as I can tell they found his wallet on him, that’s about all.’
‘Did they find anything else?’ I asked. ‘Any other personal effects?’
‘Just the usual . . . keys, comb and the like. Oh, and some rubbers and lube. Must have been planning quite a night, by the looks of it!’
‘Didn’t do him much bloody good then, did it?’ Helen replied quite sharply, while looking down upon Alexis and the sheet that was covering him.
‘No. I guess not,’ Jack answered. ‘We’ll find out who did this Helen. I’m sure of it.’
‘Yeah, whatever you reckon,’ she answered, before turning on her heels and heading for the steps that led back up to the Opera House forecourt.
At first I didn’t follow her, but when she reached the steps she turned back toward me and said, ‘Are you coming hot-shot, or am I leaving you here with this lot?’
‘No. I’m coming,’ I replied and hurried after her.
‘And Jack,’ she added. ‘Make sure you get some of the uniforms to track down his last movements will you? There’s a good lad!’
‘Yeah, no problem!’ he answered.
* * * * *
By the time we reached the car most of the crowd had dispersed, having no doubt been disappointed at the lack of excitement that surrounded the dead body on the wharf. Helen had said nothing between the time we left Jack and when we reached the car, but I was already starting to grow accustomed to these little silent periods. What I was finding a little difficult to tell however, was whether or not she was upset or brooding over something, or just plain sulking.
We sat in the car in silence for a few minutes before she made any move to start the car, but just as I thought she was about to finally say something we noticed the ambulance officers and Police who had been down on the wharf come up the steps. There were four of them, and they were carrying Alexis on a stretcher between them. We watched as they carried him to the waiting ambulance and slid him inside, before finally closing the doors and shutting him off from our view.
Glancing across at Helen I could see her just staring at the ambulance, her faced etched with a mix of anger and heartbreak. Then, after a little while, I noticed a single tear form in the corner of her eyes, slowly burgeoning until the dam broke and the salty liquid trickled down her cheek.
Quickly I looked away, not wanting to invade what was a very private moment for her, but it was too late. I’d been busted.
‘Yeah kid, even the tough ones cry sometimes,’ she said to me, as she wiped the tears away using the back of her hand. I pulled out a handkerchief and offered it to her, but she just waved me away.
‘Some day it’ll happen to you too,’ she continued. ‘Probably when you get to ID the body of some kid you’ve saved from the streets, or rescued from some old pervert. Do you think you’ll be able to handle that, Rick?’
‘I have no idea,’ I answered honestly. ‘But if I can handle it half as well as you, then I guess I’ll do all right.’
She looked at me coldly, in a way that sent shivers down my spine. ‘You’re not trying to patronise the old lesbian are you?’
‘No, I wasn’t,’ I replied. ‘I was actually trying to pay you a compliment, believe it or not. But maybe it didn’t come out quite right?’
‘Yeah well, the thought was there I suppose,’ she answered, managing something that resembled a smile as she said it.
‘So, what about the advice you gave me about not getting too involved? Don’t you practice what you preach?’ I chided, trying to lighten the moment a little.
‘Only when it suits me!’ she replied flatly, then turned the key in the ignition and started the car.
We ended up waiting until after the ambulance had moved off before Helen shoved her Ford into gear and followed. She was grim faced and clearly still upset as we tracked the ambulance out past the Opera House and onto the street, so I didn’t know if I should say something or just keep my mouth shut. I opted for the latter . . . for the first few blocks at least.
‘So, how did you meet up with Alexis?’ I eventually asked her.
For quite a while she didn’t answer, so I didn’t push the point, but eventually she replied, saying: ‘He was one of my pet projects. I busted him lifting some old lady’s handbag when he was about fourteen or fifteen. He wanted her money for some drugs, which is typical of most kids that get up to that sort of thing, then I found out he was living on the streets, so I guess my maternal instincts just took over.’
I grinned at the thought of her having any maternal instincts at all, and got busted once more when she glanced across at me.
‘Whatever thoughts are swirling around in that pretty little head of yours, Sunshine, I suggest that you leave them right where they are!’
‘Whatever you say, boss,’ I replied.
It was just then that my phone rang and so I quickly pulled it from my pocket to answer it, saving me from any further comments from Helen. After glancing first at the number and seeing it was Adam. I soon realised that I had arranged to meet him.
‘Shit!’ I muttered to myself.
‘Is something wrong?’ Helen asked me. I simply shook my head and pressed the button to take the call.
* * * * *
Adam was standing by his car when we arrived at the station, leaning back against the passenger side door with his arms folded across his chest and looking all too pissed off at having been made to wait for more than an hour.
‘He sure is cute,’ Helen said as we pulled in behind Adam’s car. ‘He doesn’t look happy though.’
‘Oh, he’ll come around,’ I said to her as I opened the car door to get out.
‘I reckon he might,’ she offered, with a tired kind of smile.
‘Are you going to be all right?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ll call around and check on young Jimmy. I’m sure the sisters will cheer me up no end.’
‘All right then. I’ll see you in the morning.’
‘Yeah Rick. See you.’
I got out of the car and closed the door, then after giving Adam a little wave she pulled out into the traffic, causing a taxi to slam its brakes on as she did so. She copped a blast of the taxi drivers’ horn for her trouble, while he got shown the finger in return, which only made me laugh.
I walked the few steps up to Adam and propped myself up beside him, leaning back against his car just as he was.
‘Sorry, mate. We got caught up down by the harbour. They fished out the body of someone we knew.’
‘It’s okay, really. You don’t have to apologise.’
‘I wish I could say it won’t happen again, but this isn’t a regular nine to five job that I have here. I’ll be late home more nights than I’ll be on time. And some nights I might not get home at all.’
‘That doesn’t matter,’ Adam replied. ‘I understand that it comes with the territory. Just . . . err . . . try and let me know, that’s all I ask.’
‘I’ll try,’ I answered.
‘That’s good then. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m starved. What do you want to do for dinner? I thought we could grab something and then we can head out to your place. Is that okay with you?’
‘There’s a little café just up the road from here, in Oxford Street, will that do you? Then, yeah, my place sounds good,’ I answered.
Leaving the car where it was, we walked up the road and headed along Oxford. There were a few people around, but as it was still relatively early, and not being a weekend, the street wasn’t as crowded as it can be. When we reached the café that I’d had in mind we found that it was about half empty, so we took a table just inside the front door and waited to be served.
‘So, who was the guy from the harbour?’ Adam asked.
‘His name was Alexis, and he worked at one of the cafés heading down toward the harbour. I only met him the other day. He was one of Helen’s boys.’
‘I thought you said she was a dyke?’
‘Yeah, she is. Alexis was a street kid that she saved from the streets and set upon the straight and narrow, and now he keeps, or I should say he kept her up to date with what’s happening on the streets.’
‘What? Like an informer or something?’
‘Yeah, something like that.’
‘So, what happened to him?’
‘We don’t know yet. Looks like he was stabbed, but we don’t know why, or by whom.’
Adam leant back in his chair and let out a long whistle, while studying me from across the table.
‘What?’ I asked him.
‘I don’t know. I guess it’s a little hard for me to get used to the fact that this is the world you live in, with murderers, rapists and child abusers and such. I don’t know how you can do it.’
‘Well, someone has to keep the streets safe. We don’t have any Superheroes in this country . . . we don’t pay them enough!’
‘Maybe you should take that up with the Commissioner, then?’
‘And do you think he’d take any notice of me, a lowly junior detective?’ I joked.
‘Well, he must have noticed you somehow, otherwise you’d still be pounding the beat in Maroubra. Maybe you’re just his type?’ he replied, grinning.
‘Mate, I don’t even want to go there,’ I laughed.
It was right about then that a waiter arrived at our table to take our orders, which he quickly wrote down before disappearing back through the swinging doors which led into the kitchen.
‘Hey, that was cute,’ Adam whispered to me, leaning across the table after the waiter had left.
‘Was he? I wasn’t paying that much attention,’ I replied, suddenly feeling slightly miffed that Adam would make remarks like that while he was with me, and doing my best to hide the indignation I was feeling. I had noticed the waiter, of course. It was hard to miss the tight black t-shirt and even tighter black pants, the rather wild Harry Potter look to his black hair, and the stud in his lower lip.
Adam must have sensed that something was wrong though, as he soon asked; ‘What’s wrong? Did I say something?’
I simply shook my head and looked out onto the street, while I gathered my thoughts.
‘I’m sorry Rick. I guess my mouth was running off again before my brain had kicked into gear.’
‘It’s all right,’ I finally answered. ‘I mean, it’s not like we’re married or anything . . .’
‘Pffttt . . . married? In this fucking state?’ he joked, although I sensed that there was more to his remark than it being just a flippant throw-away line.
‘Yeah. I know what you mean. We may as well still be living in the dark ages,’ I answered. ‘Not that I really want to get married or anything just now, but still, you never know what might happen one day.’
‘Ahhhh . . . so there is some hope then, eh?’
‘Who knows?’ I answered with a grin. ‘I suppose anything is possible.’
While we waited for our food we chatted about our respective days and what we had been up to, but after the day I’d had, and having seen Alexis’ body lying there on the wharf that afternoon, I was finding it a little difficult to show much enthusiasm in our conversation.
‘Are you all right?’ Adam asked me after a little while. ‘I’ve been talking for fifteen minutes and you’ve hardly said a thing. You seem like you’re a million miles away.’
‘Huh? No. I’m all right,’ I answered. ‘Just a little strung out I suppose. It’s been quite a day.’
‘You’re referring to Alexis?’
‘Yeah, that mainly. I mean, I only knew him for a few days, but . . .’
‘I know what you mean,’ Adam said to me, nodding. He reached across the table, placing his hand over mine and instinctively I started to pull my hand away, while quickly glancing around us to see if anyone had seen it, but he held onto me and stopped me from doing that. ‘It’s never easy,’ he said, ‘no matter how long you’ve known someone. I’m still amazed at how you handle everything at all.’
I simply shrugged and said, ‘I suppose that you just get used to it after a while.’
We talked a little more, and as best I could I tried to concentrate on what Adam was saying, but when it came to keeping my attention I’m afraid he was fighting a losing battle. Eventually our meals came, providing us both with a welcome distraction, and for the next half-hour we sat there eating our Pasta of the Day in a somewhat uncomfortable silence.
‘I’m afraid I’m not very good company tonight,’ I said to him after we had paid for our dinner and headed out onto Oxford Street once more, where we then started walking back toward where Adam’s car was parked.
‘That’s okay,’ he replied. ‘Nobody really expects you to come up smiling at the end of every single day . . . and especially not in your job, so I understand if every now and then things get you down.’
We pulled up at a set of traffic lights and I pressed the button for the pedestrian crossing.
‘How come you’re always so understanding?’ I asked in reply, as we waited for the lights to change.
‘I guess that’s just the kind of guy I am,’ he laughed.
‘Yeah, right,’ I responded. ‘So, what now then?’
‘Well, for starters, how about I take you home and we work on just how good a company you can be after a day like today?’
‘And after that?’
‘Well, if that’s what you want, we’ll just take things one day at a time from there, eh?’