At the sound of my raised voice the Inspector had entered the squad room; just in time to see my breakfast come up.
‘I’m sorry, Rick,’ Helen said to me. ‘But it was a question that had to be asked.’
Pulling my handkerchief from my pocket I managed to wipe my face, as the two of them looked on.
‘Go get yourself cleaned up, Cooper. Then I want the two of you in my office.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Helen replied, for the both of us.
The Inspector took one more look at us, then, with a nod, he turned and retreated to his office.
‘You actually thought it was me?’ I asked Helen, without even trying to disguise the anger in my voice.
‘No,’ she replied. ‘Not for a minute.’
‘Then why even ask?’
‘Because it had to be asked. And if it wasn’t me, then it would have been someone else, and maybe they wouldn’t be quite so gentle.’
I could only shake my head at her.
‘This may be hard, I know, but just keep this between us for the moment, will you please? The others don’t need to know just yet.’
‘Which part? The fact that Alexis looks to have been killed by someone using the same MO as whoever killed Martin? Or the fact that you had me in the frame? Anyhow, why not share it with the others?’
‘It’s what the boss wants. Now, go clean yourself up . . . he wants to talk.’
I headed out into the hall way and found the men’s room, where I quickly flushed my breakfast down the toilet and rinsed out my waste paper basket, before then sloshing my own face and cleaning a bit of gunk from my shirt. After I dried my face and combed my hair I began to feel, and look, half respectable again, so then I returned to the squad room, where I found that Helen was still the only other person who had arrived so far.
‘Are you okay?’ Helen asked as I entered the room. She sounded sincere, and genuinely concerned.
Having had a few minutes to think about things, I had to admit that I was still feeling upset and quite confused. Just what did it all mean? Were Martin’s and Alexis’s deaths actually linked? Or was it all simply a coincidence . . . as improbable as that sounded?
‘Come on, hotshot, we better go talk to the old man,’ she said, as I placed my waste paper bin back on the floor beside my desk, then followed her toward the Inspector’s office.
‘Enter,’ we heard him say, after Helen had knocked on the door, and so we did. As expected, we found him sitting behind his desk. He then told us to sit, before sitting back in his over-sized leather chair and staring out at the two of us, studying us, but saying nothing.
I exchanged glances with Helen but said nothing.
‘Two days, Cooper. Just two days,’ the Inspector finally said. ‘That must nearly be a record for a newbie to by command to land himself in the shit!’
‘Just what do you think is going on here, Cooper?’ the Inspector asked.
‘I don’t know, sir.’
He silently shook his head at me.
‘And what do you think, Helen? What do you think is going on here?’
I looked across at Helen, who I found to be studying me intently. ‘Well sir, as I see it, there are a couple of ways to look at it.’
‘It could be entirely a co-incidence,’ she said.
‘And the chances of that are?’
‘So then, what are the other options?’
‘It could be a copycat. Perhaps someone who read about or knew about Martin’s murder and decided he liked the MO, however unlikely that may be.’
‘Any other ideas?’
‘It could be someone who knows Rick, and knows his secrets. Maybe they want to get back at him for some reason. Maybe they want to see him hurting, or even punish him for something . . . or . . .’
‘Or it is Rick himself who committed both murders.’
‘What?’ I protested, my voice raised once more in anger.
‘Calm down now, Cooper,’ the Inspector said.
‘Cooper!’ the Inspector barked. ‘Listen to yourself. You’re sounding like a whining school boy! We’re telling you this for a reason. Neither of us think for a minute that you were involved in either death. We already know you had a rock-solid alibi for the time Martin was killed, and I understand you won’t have any trouble coming up with an alibi for the time Alexis was killed, is that correct?’
‘What’s his name and where do we find him?’ the Inspector asked, with his eyes seemingly burning their way into my soul.
Somewhat reluctantly I gave them Adam’s details. I knew he would tell them what they needed to know, but at the same time I was terrified of how he might react, or of what he might think. Would this, on top of all my other insecurities and foibles, be what sends him packing? And just when I was beginning to think I could leave those dark days of five years ago well and truly behind me, and build something of a new life?
‘So, you see, Cooper, that leaves us with the alternatives,’ the Inspector continued. ‘I don’t believe it is a co-incidence that Alexis and Martin were killed in the same manner, which brings us back to you. And if you didn’t do it, then who did? Is someone wanting to make you pay? Does someone want to see you hurting? And if so, who, and why?’
Once more I could only shake my head. I can remember clearly being asked these same questions five years ago. I couldn’t answer them then, and I doubt if I would be able to shed any new light on things now.
‘What about that face in the crowd?’ Helen asked. ‘Have you been able to place him?’
‘No,’ I replied. ‘It was just a fleeting image of the person, and all it was was an impression that I had seen him before, but where, I have no idea.’
‘I don’t think I need to explain to you, Cooper, just what sort of a position this places us all in, do I?’
‘Any hint of a scandal around you could have repercussions; for the force, for the Commissioner, and for this unit. Do you understand that?’
‘All right then,’ the Inspector said. ‘Here’s what we are going to do. The circumstances surrounding Alexis’ death and any link to Martin’s death need to be kept under wraps. I should, by rights, take you off the case altogether, Cooper, but that would only attract unwanted attention. We will investigate Alexis’ case thoroughly, and if, by chance, something further comes up which links this case with Martin’s, then hopefully we will be able to throw some more resources at them.’
‘Yes sir,’ both Helen and I replied.
‘I want you to go back over Martin’s case file, and if there is anything new that you can remember or come up with, then I want you to check it out. Look at student records. Look at staff records. Look for anyone who may have anything to hide. Think about anything and everything that happened in the days leading up to Martin’s death. Do I make myself clear?’
‘Yes sir,’ both Helen and I replied once more.
‘Good. Okay then, that will be all for now, and keep me informed of any progress.’
‘Sir?’ Helen asked.
‘Can you put in a request for the full case file relating to Martin’s death, please? We’ll need access to all the original reports and notes. We will also need to request additional records from the school.’
‘Agreed. I’ll get right on it. You should have everything by tomorrow at the latest.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
We left him then, his eyes studying us carefully as we left his office, right up until we closed the door.
I started down the corridor toward the squad room, but Helen stopped me.
‘We need to talk,’ she said in a matter-of-fact manner. ‘We won’t have anything to look at until tomorrow, but I want the whole story, and today. Let’s go for a drive.’
* * * * *
About twenty minutes later Helen pulled her car into the same park where we had picked up young Jimmy just a few days ago, then shut off the engine. We had made one small detour through a fast food drive-through for coffee and now found ourselves sipping on our brews, while sitting in the car, beneath the shade of some leafy trees.
‘So, you and Martin were high school boyfriends. He ended up dead, stabbed in the back during sex . . . but not with you. All that, I know already,’ Helen said.
I looked across at her and suddenly felt like a hand had reached inside my chest and squeezed my insides, draining them of air, of blood, and of all hope. Right at that moment I hated Helen for the way she had so coldly laid the facts on the table. Martin wasn’t just some John Doe that had been found dead on the streets. He was a living, breathing human being, or at least he was once. He was also someone I had loved very much, and his memory deserved better than this.
Helen looked across at me and must have seen the distaste which I was feeling at how she had spoken about Martin.
‘I’m sorry. That probably came out sounding like I’m a heartless bitch, and you’d probably be right in thinking that. What you need to remember, though, is that we deal in facts, and sometimes the facts can actually be quite hard to deal with, Rick. We sometimes have to hear things about people we care about, or love even, which we would rather not have to hear, but we have to look past those feelings and just deal with the facts. Plain and simple.’
‘That doesn’t make it any easier though,’ I replied, unable to disguise the venom in my voice.
‘No, it doesn’t. When I think of Alexis I’m thinking the same thoughts you are about Martin. Well, almost, I guess. We weren’t lovers, but we were close enough to care, and for his death to hurt.’
Time stretched on, as we sat and sipped our coffees, each of us trying to piece together in our own minds just what we were feeling.
‘We grew up together,’ I eventually said to her.
‘When did you meet?’
‘In primary school. I think we were about nine or ten. Some bigger kid was bullying him, so I tried to be the hero.’
‘And were you?’
‘No,’ I chuckled. ‘I got sat on my arse and ended up with a bloody nose. It was Martin who ended up giving me a hand and pulling him to my feet. After that we were best friends . . . for life . . . or so we thought.’
‘Yeah,’ she said softly.
I looked across at her and could see the pain which she too was feeling.
‘So, what was he like?’ she eventually asked.
‘He was the best. He was smart, funny, good looking. Just the type of kid that every mother dreamed their son could be like,’ I said, while pulling my wallet from my pocket and flipping it open, then passing it to her, with Martin’s smiling face shining out.
‘You’re right. He was a good looking kid,’ she said. It was a copy of the same high school photo that Adam had seen this morning.
‘He was always helping others out and trying to make others feel good, but . . . but there was also another side to him . . . one that was insecure and one that he kept hidden from almost everyone.’
‘Are you talking about the side that was in a sexual relationship with you?’
‘Sexual relationship? There was no real sexual relationship . . . unless you count some mutual masturbation or oral? We were boyfriends, and we fooled around some, sure, but that was it. We were both virgins . . . or at least I thought we both were. That’s what made things so damn hard for me when he . . . well . . . I guess maybe I didn’t know him as well as I thought.’
‘Don’t be too hard on yourself, kid. You were both only teenagers and both still figuring yourselves, and each other, out. Most teens would dive in, fuck each other, then move on, usually because it was just too hard to try and pick up the pieces. By the go of things you two were taking your time and were wanting to be sure about it all before taking that next step. Am I right?’
‘Yeah, maybe it was something like that.’
I downed the last of my coffee then opened the car door, intending to get out and walk the short distance over to the nearest garbage bin, but a hand on my arm stopped me.
‘Whose suggestion, or decision was it to hold off on having intercourse together?’ Helen asked.
‘What?’ I exclaimed. ‘What fucking difference does that make?’
‘Was it yours? Did he want it but you didn’t?’
‘What, so then he went looking for it elsewhere, only to cop a knife in the back? Is that what you’re thinking?’
‘I’m just trying to cover all bases, Rick.’
‘I know, I know,’ I answered.
I got out of the car and walked across to the garbage bin, dropped my coffee cup inside, then returned to the car, choosing to lean against the front mudguard rather then climb back inside.
Helen climbed out from behind the steering wheel and traced my steps for the same purpose, before returning not to her seat, but to a spot right beside me.
‘Did you have any idea at all that he might have being seeing someone else?’ she asked gently.
‘No,’ I replied. ‘And I don’t believe for a second that he was.’
‘What makes you so sure?’
‘We had spoken about it. About us. About our relationship. We were on the same wave length, we both wanted our first time to be something special . . . not some quickie in the back seat of mum’s car, or anything like that. It was our last year of school and had plans of going to the Gold Coast for Schoolies week, just like everyone else. We had both hoped that it was going to be there.’
‘So, what happened?’
‘Fuck, I wish I knew.’
We stood there in silence for a while, watching the traffic zoom by on the nearby road, each lost in our own thoughts, until Helen finally spoke once more.
‘Okay, how about we try another tack, then.’
‘Can you remember anything out of the ordinary happening in the days leading up to his death? Was he moody? Did he do anything out of character? Did he mention anyone new on the scene?’
‘Do you have any idea how many times I’ve been asked those questions? Or how many times I’ve tried asking them myself?’
‘Well, you just never know how or when some memory might be jogged. How about this then, did he ever keep a journal of any kind? Somewhere he would record stuff he didn’t want others to see.’
‘What? Like a diary? No, not that I know of . . .’ I started to say, but then I hesitated.
‘You said journal. We both had accounts with a website called Live Journal. We used to use it to send messages, or post stuff online that was funny, or whatever. It was kind of like an early version of Facebook, only you didn’t actually have to use your real name. I’m sure I told the investigators all about it back then. We also used that chat program a lot . . . Messenger or something.’
‘Do you still use the journal account?’
‘No, I gave it away after that. The account is still there though, I’m sure of it. I just haven’t logged in or used it in years.’
‘And so would his then, I assume?’
‘Did everything you post go online, or could you make private posts that no one else could see?’
‘I have no idea.’
‘Okay then, how can we check them out? Can you remember your account name and password?’
‘Yeah,’ I said, while grinning. ‘At least the account names, anyhow.’
‘His was Marty McFly,’ I said. ‘What can I say, he loved the Back To The Future movies.’
‘And what about yours?’
‘Tricky Ricky,’ I chuckled.
‘And how about the passwords?’
‘They could be a bit harder to come up with. I didn’t ever know his password, and I’ve got no idea what mine may have been. I’ll have a think about it though.’
‘Come on then. Let’s go see what we can find out about Tricky Ricky and Marty McFly. There has to be a way we can crack the passwords and get in to have a look around.’
* * * * *
As we rode back across town Helen pressed some buttons on her phone and made a call. The phone was sitting in its hands-free cradle and everything was feeding through the speaker, so, once the phone rang and the call connected, I was able to hear everything that was being said.
‘Hey Helby,’ a woman’s voice said, obviously having recognized the caller ID. ‘What’s happening darlin’?’
‘Hiya Denny. Nothing new, babe, but I’ve got a favour to ask.’
‘As always,’ Denny, whoever she was, chuckled.
‘I need to know how hard it is to hack into online accounts, for things like Facebook, or specifically a place called Live Journal. Do you know it?’
‘Yeah, I’ve seen it. It used to be very popular, until it was bought by the Russians; now it’s a mere shadow of its former self. As for hacking into an account, that’s a piece of piss if you ask the right people.’
Helen looked across at me and raised her eyebrows, almost as if she was asking my consent. I simply shrugged.
‘So, do you know the right people, hun?’
‘You wouldn’t have called me if you didn’t think that I did, now, would you?’
‘You know me too well,’ Helen purred.
‘So then, who are we looking for, and what do you want to know? Is this official business?’
‘Kind of, but we need to fly under the radar if we can. The fewer people who know about it the better, if you catch my meaning.’
‘We just need their passwords, so we can get in and have a look around. The accounts have been dormant for about five years. The names are Marty McFly and Trick Ricky, and they would be linked in some way I think, like as friends or something.’
‘Anyone we know?’
‘Tricky Ricky is known to me. Marty was his boyfriend, who is . . . errr . . . no longer with us,’ she said, while glancing sideways at me. It was obvious this was being done on the low down, so the less information that was divulged the better, it seemed.
‘Okay then. What else can you tell me about them . . . so we can know if we’ve got the right accounts. There could be heaps with very similar names.’
‘I’ll let my new partner, Coop, fill you in with some details of what to look for.’
‘Hi Denny, this is Coop,’ I said. ‘They lived in Newcastle and went to school together at Waratah High. Marty’s last post was about five years ago, and I guess Ricky’s would have been at about the same time. On Marty’s page you could look for a heap of photos he had taken around Newcastle, if that’s any help?’
‘Okay, that’s a great start,’ Denny replied. ‘I’ll get some friends onto it and we’ll see what we can come up with for you.’
‘Thanks Denny. Just give me a call if you have any luck?’ Helen said.
‘Will do, Helen. I’ll talk to you soon,’ she said, then disconnected.
‘Do you really think that’ll work?’ I asked her after we had driven a few blocks in silence.
‘If anyone can get into your accounts, she’ll know them,’ she replied.
‘What about the Cyber Investigation Unit, couldn’t they have helped?’
‘I guess they could have, but at least this way we can keep things quiet.’
We drove on in silence for a little while and I soon recognised where we were going; to visit young Jimmy.
‘Have you thought about what we might actually find in there?’ Helen eventually asked. ‘And how you might feel it you find out something about him that you would have rather left alone.’
For years I had been carrying the hurt around inside me, thinking that Martin may have been seeing someone else, or worse still, been having sex with random strangers when we had promised each other we would wait, but in spite of all that I still loved him as much today as I had on the day he died.
Would I still feel the same way, however, if I found out that my suspicions were true? More than likely the answer to that was yes. I think I’ve cried enough over the years to be able to forgive him any indiscretions, but I really wouldn’t know if I could do that until the time came, would I?
‘I honestly don’t know,’ I eventually replied. ‘I loved him then, and I love him now. I know that whatever we might find isn’t going to bring him back, but some closure would be good, not only for me, but also for his family. If something we find helps catch his killer, and also Alexis’s, then whatever pain it may bring me will be worth it. Won’t it?’
‘Yeah, Coop. I think it will be,’ Helen replied. ‘I think it will be.’