Authors: Kathryn Patterson
LAKE OZARK PRESS
he call came at 2.15 a.m. on Thursday the 20th of February.
No one ever called me in the middle of the night, unless it was murder.
The hottest February for over a hundred years had swept over the city. I remember the day clearly, not only because of the middle-of-the-night telephone call, but also because of the
’s headline ‘Sizzler of the Century’, which would be splattered over its a.m. edition in a few hours.
Lying naked in bed, soaked from head to toe, still feeling the full effect of the forty-one degree temperature from the previous day, I longed for some sleep. Somehow, in the middle of this heat, I managed a sore throat, which glued me to bed for the entire previous weekend.
Melbourne was one of the worst cities in the world for meteorologists and citizens alike. Days, which promised to be filled with sunshine, ended in a downpour.
Whenever Melburnians decided to wear jumpers and winter woollies, because of a cold morning snap, they ended up swimming in perspiration for the rest of the day.
On the floor, next to my bed, were my panties, bra, and a half-filled, plastic bottle of purified water. I’d been drinking since I got to bed to combat loss of fluid from the heat.
A street light outside illuminated the bedroom brightly enough to be annoying
The sheets on my back were soaked with sweat. Flipping from one side of the bed to the other, I was desperately seeking a dry spot. I turned my blue pillow over every fifteen minutes. Perspiration had given the pillow an unpleasant bittersweet smell.
My clammy, swollen fingers kept brushing my auburn hair behind my ears.
A car outside drove past while I reached for the telephone on my side-table.
My throat was still tight when I answered the call.
‘This better be good,’ I said to the voice on the other end of the line.
Oh, it’s good all right,’ the voice answered, unable to hide the excitement in its tone.
If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought Frank Moore’s voice was that of a serial killer, or some journalist, who got off every time he heard someone got butchered in the middle of the night.
But Senior Sergeant Frank Moore was not a serial killer, nor a journalist.
He was head of the Crime Scene Division at the Victorian Forensic Science Centre (VFSC) on Forensic Drive, Macleod. He thrived on really bad cases. It gave him the chance to play cat and mouse with human vile, be it serial killers, child molesters or rapists.
Six months ago, I became the first unsworn civilian authorised to conduct both crime-scene examination and homicidal investigation whenever it suited the VFSC and the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB). The Deputy Commissioner of Police had been opposed to this project since the beginning of my appointment. Prior to that day, I worked as an academic consultant for whoever was willing to pay for my opinion.
In ten minutes I was showered, making as little noise as possible. Michael, my twelve-year-old son, was sleeping in the room next to mine, and I hated to think I’d woken him up.
By the time Frank Moore parked his white Ford Falcon with government plates in the driveway, I was already downstairs from my second-floor apartment on Chapel Street.
Wearing navy slacks with a white blouse, I would have rather worn a dress with this heat. But I knew better than going to a crime scene and looking too pretty. Men lusted after me more often than I cared to satisfy them even though I never considered myself to be Vogue material.
The air outside was dense and warm. It was hard to believe it was the middle of the night.
You’re still using Velvet soap,’ Frank said, sniffing the air as I jumped in the passenger seat.
And this Homebrand shampoo is killing your hair,’ I laughed while gazing at his thinning hair. The air conditioning caused a tightening sensation in my throat, but the rest of my body was shivering in delight.
Ha, ha,’ he answered dryly. ‘Very funny, Ms Malina’.
Dr Kristin Malina, if you don’t mind.’ Kritina Oliveira Dos Malina was my birth name, but I dropped the middle names of my Brazilian ancestors when I turned eighteen. And I only insisted on the Dr in front of my name to remind others, especially men, I was up to their level.
Oh, for Christ’s sake. I don’t tag my friggin’ B.A. behind my name every time I need to be announced. What is it, you’ve got an inferiority complex or something? I know you’re a woman, and that’s fine with me. You’re better than all the guys I know out there. I wouldn’t be driving at two-thirty in the morning to your place if it wasn’t true.’
I sighed, but laughed on the inside. I found it funny that he took it so seriously. ‘All right, made your point. But I’m a thirty-nine year-old single mother, and you’re forty-seven, in bad need of a hair transplant, never-married and horny as a cat on heat. I think I’ve got the right to be cautious.’
He threw his indicator to the left, turned onto Alma Road and said, ‘Jesus, Malina, you sound like I’m trying to come on to you. What do you think? I’ve got nothing better to do all day than think about sex? You’ve really got some twisted, preconceived ideas about what men are like.’
I never said anything about your sex life.’
You just compared me to a horny cat.’
You’re misinterpreting everything. I said nothing about you sex life.’
You just did.’
No I didn’t.’
Yes, you did.’
I gave up. ‘Oh, what does it matter, anyway? Are you going to tell me what’s going down, or are we going to argue all night like a couple of teenagers?’
He shook his head slowly, and I knew he was hurt.
I liked Frank Moore very much, but receding hairlines and thick, dark moustaches didn’t turn me on. He was far from being ugly, but then, there was nothing physically attractive about him either. If I’d met him in the street, I’d have never looked twice. A prominent nose, a strong jaw line, and two beady green eyes. He stood at around one hundred and eighty centimetres, tall enough to stare down at me, and weighed a reasonable eighty-something kilos. He reminded me of a crocodile, as if he was ready to bite someone’s head off. Like most men of his age, his belly could have done with toning-up.
Frank always wore the same pair of cream-coloured slacks and a white shirt two-sizes too small, causing his underarms to produce two horrible yellow stains. Maybe it made him feel muscular or something. And his car stunk like an ashtray. He made an effort not to smoke when I was around because he knew how much I hated it.
I opened my window fully despite the fact that he had turned on the air conditioning.
He cleared his throat, a signal to ask me if I was ready to hear the story.
When I nodded, he went on, ‘Some old man called up and said he heard a terrible scream from the apartment next door. They sent someone to check it out. And then I got called.’
Port Melbourne. Five minutes from here.’
The place is covered in blood. One person is down, the other in a state of shock.’
Think so, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.’
That’s all you’ve got?’
That’s all I was given.’
How did the person die? Did they get to tell you that?’
That’s what we’re about to find out.’
Uniformed Officers were at the scene in Port Melbourne when we got there. They had requested the presence of Frank Moore and myself.
Frank and I worked as a team on many previous homicides, and although we could get on each other’s nerves, we always managed to put a good case together.
Frank had been involved in many important cases around the State, including the Russell Street Bombing, the Hoddle Street Massacre, and the recent bushfire in the Dandenong Ranges.
My reputation rested on a fourteen-month training stint at the FBI Academy in Quantico, USA, in conjunction with programs at the University of Virginia and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
When the white Ford Falcon entered Kensington Street in Port Melbourne, beaming blue and red emergency lights were flashing like the entrance of the Crown Casino. An ambulance was already at the scene.
Kensington Street was filled with units and flats mainly occupied by young professionals who could not yet afford a house of their own.
Dark trees lined both sides of the pedestrian walks, making it difficult to observe our surroundings.
Frank parked the car on the other side of the street. I shook my head at the circus of lights and on-lookers parading in their nightgowns and pyjamas in front of a three-storey, Georgian-style, grey building.
We stepped out of the white Ford without a word and attached our photo identification to our breast pockets.
Frank’s credentials confirmed he was a sworn member of the Victoria Police.
‘Christ, I hope no one’s touched anything,’ Frank muttered as we approached the multitude of curious on-lookers. He was carrying a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) in two dark briefcases, which he’d just removed from the trunk of the Ford.
The PERK was filled with scissors, probes, tweezers, brushes of various sizes and shape, an eye glass, scalpel handles, rulers, a compass, a number of writing tools, assorted packaging and stick-on labels. The purpose of the PERK was to help us gather physical evidence at the crime scene, including semen and other bodily fluids from victims, and trace evidence of all sorts.
I carried a green, army-style, soft bag filled with two sets of overalls, a complete first-aid kit, soft-hats, hard-hats, footwear, eye wear, gloves and various other crime-scene protective wear. I also had my log book with me, where I would write down in detail everything I was going to say and do.
Check this out,’ I said, pointing at a 4WD equipped with a circular, white satellite dish. Its blue and yellow round logo looked uncomfortably familiar. I could almost hear the television station jingle.
Media. Fucking Media,’ Frank muttered.
The Channel 10 news crew was already shooting footage galore.
Frankly, I didn’t have any hang-ups about the media. They did their job, and we did ours, and as long as we respected that, everything was fine.
In fact, many difficult homicides had been solved with the help of the media. The only way to get public participation was to use the media to our advantage. In the past, I found making deals and maintaining a good relationship with a particular journalist was what worked best. But if promises were not kept, all hell broke loose on both sides.
What I failed to understand was how journalists always managed to get to a crime scene before we did. And why they couldn’t wait until after we had a chance to inspect the area before bombarding us with questions.
Rumour was spreading that some journalists were equipped with police radios, something they’d strongly denied. However, no other explanation rationalised their premature arrival at a crime scene.
As soon as we approached the apartment blocks, someone shoved a large, grey microphone under our noses. The light from a two-thousand watt flash turned me blind.
Do you know what’s going on in here?’ asked a journalist, whom I couldn’t even make out.
No,’ I answered, trying my best to remain calm. But the heat from the light was killing me, and I could feel my temper snapping. The air felt like the inside of an oven, and I didn’t need the additional heat from an artificial sun. ‘If there’s anything to report, you’ll be the first one to know. Promise. Now, could you please let us go through?’
We’ve heard someone’s been murdered,’ the journalist went on.
No comments at this stage. Could you please get out of the way and let us do our job.’ I struggled to move forward. Right at that moment, I sympathised with politicians and celebrities who sometimes lost their cool when constantly harassed by the media.
Frank Moore was posing for the cameras. He was always bad-mouthing the media, but he loved the attention. It made him feel important, just in case he forgot he was.
Too many people were hanging around the block of apartments. No doubt most of them were from the same building. They’d have a story to tell friends at work the next day, a slice of the action worth missing out on sleep for.
One uniformed officer was talking to an attractive, dark-haired, young woman in a white nightgown. Another seemed preoccupied with the lawn in the front yard of the apartment block.
I approached the first officer and noticed immediately he was barely twenty-five. He wore a neatly-trimmed moustache, an obvious attempt to look older in order to be treated with respect by his peers. Perspiration covered his forehead. His name tag read, ‘Constable Gus Patterson’.