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Trisha Hughes

Beware of Beautiful Days

Chapter 1

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If I had one wish, it would be the ability to catch a glimpse of the future and what lies ahead. We might see things that make no sense whatsoever and some, I suppose, would scare the hell out of us. If we knew what was coming, we could avoid certain choices and mistakes and select a different fork in the road that would change our future. If we only knew, we could exercise discretion and restructure our fate. But we’re shielded from the knowledge of these dangers ahead and this means, you could say, we’re protected from future horrors. At some point in our lives, we all want to go back in time for some reason or other. It has to do with the illusion of control that we all want to use against helplessness in a world that we can’t really control. But I guess there are no guarantees in life and rubbish gets thrown at all of us at some time in their lives. How we deal with that rubbish is who we are.  

 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I look back now on that Monday and I ask myself ‘What if I hadn’t gone to work that day.’ ‘What if I’d had one more week off like my doctor had told me to do?’ If I’d only done one of those two things, I wouldn’t have been sitting in my car watching the medical crew cut the body down after he’d tried to hang himself in a deserted lane off Marine Parade. Mixed in with the smell of sea salt and seaweed, the wind carried the smell of McMeals, exhaust fumes, alcohol, coconut oil and excrement. 

You didn’t have to be a genius to know that the guy had been drinking heavily and had changed his mind about ending his life at the last minute. Most of his fingernails were broken and bloodied from clawing at the rope around his neck and the toes on one foot were broken from kicking at the wall. But by then it had been way too late. At the end, he’d shown such a desperate will to live, that it made me wonder what had preceded the suicide act. Where was the determination to live as he put the cord around his neck? 

I’m not one those people who believes in fate or karma but the strange thing is, before heading off to work that morning, I’d had an unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach, an uneasiness, but I put it down to my first day back at work after a long break. It was, after all, 1st January. Any cop will tell you that New Year’s Day has always been a big day for depression and suicides. While most people view New Year’s Day with a sense of hope for a better year than the last one, there were those who see it as a good day on which to die.

There’d be no happy-ever-afters for this guy.

I glanced down at my watch and made a note of the time in my notebook for when I wrote up my report later on at the station. It was right on 12 o’clock and if I was lucky, my day was halfway through. So far in just four hours, I’d been called to a botched armed hold-up at a convenience store and two suicides. I put the notebook back in my jacket lying on the passenger seat of my car and looked back up through my windscreen just as the body was being loaded onto a stretcher and wheeled unceremoniously into the coroner’s van that was crammed into the quiet lane behind the blue crime scene tape stretched across the street. Behind the tape stood reporters, shuffling their feet and standing at the ready with microphones trying to catch my attention, eagerness written all over their faces. From where I stood, I could see a female reporter had snared a local woman and was asking her questions with concern written all over on her face. TV gold.

“You don’t expect anything bad to happen here. Not here.”

 

The quivering words drifted over to me as the reporter arranged her features into a perfect blend of sympathy and shock for the camera. Those drama lessons at school hadn’t been wasted after all. 

She flicked her blond hair back from her shoulders and waited for the woman to stop blowing her nose before continuing.

The heat was already brutal and as I watched, one hand shielding the sun against my eyes, I could feel wet patches under my arms and an itch in my crotch. Body odour wafted up from my armpits, fighting against the cloying scent of my aftershave. By lunchtime in this weather, the hospitals would be full of people suffering from heatstroke, sunburn and God knows how many victims of testosterone-induced fights exacerbated by the heat.

 

Thankfully at that point in my morbid thoughts, my mobile rang, turning my thoughts away from the scene before me. I looked at the number and smiled a little.

“Welcome back, Jack,” the female voice sing-songed on the other end of the line.

The voice over the phone was Sam Neil’s or rather, Detective Samantha Neil. It was clear and teasing, and in my mind, I saw the lop-sided smile, the chocolate-brown eyes and the little lines that crinkled at the corners of her eyes. 

I hadn’t been at work for six weeks due to a bullet to the mid-section. My doctor assured me I’d made a full recovery, but to be honest, it had frightened me to think I’d come this close to death although I feel compelled to state that, unlike most reports about the moment of death, my life did not pass before my eyes in a flash. There was no bright light at the end of a dark tunnel, no warm fuzzy feling that heralded my approach to the ‘other side’. What I did hear was a little voice in my head saying in an outraged tone, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! This is it?’ Where were my dearly departed relatives and friends who were supposed to welcome me over to the other side? And where were the angels? All I saw was the waves crashing over the sand and a few scraggly seagulls flying overhead. 

Because of the forced leave, I’d been feeling restless and bored listening to the day-to-day routine of my neighbours. I hadn’t had a break from work in five years and I was like a reformed drunk whose hand reaches for the bottle looking for a fix that isn’t there anymore. For almost thirteen years, I have been a part of an organisation that promotes isolation from the outside world and all of a sudden, I’d been temporarily in that ‘outside’ world with no idea how to act because I really wasn’t part of their club.  

So here I was, glad to be back at work two weeks earlier than the doctors had recommended, giving someone the opportunity for some unexpected time off. As for me, I couldn’t put up with the boredom at home another day.

“You finished out there yet?” she chirped.

That’s the only way to describe Sam’s voice. She was dark-haired with a little Irish perhaps in the background somewhere and she was chirpy. But this Sam Neil certainly did not look like the Sam Neil from Hollywood. This one stood at five feet four inches tall and although she clearly preferred wearing lightweight skirt suits, she couldn’t hide the gentle curves that were plainly obvious beneath the fabric. Apart from being nice on the eye, the best thing you can hope for is a partner like Sam Neil. I’d missed her for the past six weeks.

        

“Almost,” I replied as I watched the coroner’s blue van pull away into traffic. “The ‘tag ‘em and bag ‘em’ team are just leaving.” I watched the coroner’s blue van in silence as it pulled away into traffic before saying, “Please don’t tell me you’ve got something else for me.”

“Sorry, Jack. I thought I’d call you rather than put it out over the radio. All we need today is the media to pick this one up.”

“How come you were rostered for today?’ I asked. “Did you piss off someone or are you just having a fight with your husband?”

As soon as I uttered the words, I wished I could take them back. The rumour at the station was that she and her husband were having marital problems. Like most cops, there was a fine balance between work and home life and if we were all honest about it, we’d admit that work took precedence every time. Ask my ex-wife. 

Instead of a reproof, she said, “Jack! Could I let you come back to work on your first day without being here to welcome you?” 

Her voice sounded teasing and with a certain degree of relief, I mumbled, “Yeah, well, where are all the dancing girls then?"

 

“It’s a public holiday, Jack. You’ll have to make do with me”.

I was already regretting I’d ignored the doctor’s advice to stay at home. “Just tell me it’s not another suicide,” I complained. “I’ve had my fair share today.”

 

“Nope. Not a suicide. Someone on the road to Mount Tamborine was out walking his dog and called in to say his dog had come running back with a bone in its mouth. He says it’s human and it’s an arm bone.”

I almost groaned. You get these calls from time to time and they’re always hysteria based. Usually there’s a simple explanation and most times, the bones turn out to be animal bones. But these days, people watch CSI and overnight everyone’s an expert.

As if she’d been reading my mind, she said, “I know what you’re thinking, Jack. Not another bone run. But this is different. The guy with the dog? He’s a doctor. And he says he’s absolutely positive it’s a humerus and it’s from a child.  He says…hang on…" I heard paper rustling over the earpiece as Sam began reading from her notes. “Here we are. In his statement, he says the bone’s got a visible fracture just above the elbow. The…ummm…medial epicondyle.”

I felt a trickle of electric current run down the back of my neck. One day back and I was straight into a case with no time to catch my breath. I knew I wasn’t going to be at my best after six weeks of drinking beer and lazing in a recliner on my veranda, but it was good to feel the old familiar rush nonetheless.

“I’m reading from my notes here, Jack, so I’m not sure if that’s the right pronunciation. But the doctor says it definitely from a child. I’ve got the address here.”

“Hang on. Let me get some paper.” I reached over to pull the notebook out of my jacket pocket. “By the way, you were right to keep it off the air, Sam. The last thing we need is reporters wandering all over the crime scene before we even get there.”

While I was talking, I held my mobile phone in the crook of my neck, balancing it between my ear and my shoulder as I opened the notebook. “Okay, go ahead. Where do you want me to go?”

She gave me a Mount Tamborine address and finished up by saying she’d meet me there with a team.

I ended the call and glanced over to the entrance of the lane where the body had been found. My bet was we wouldn’t find any next of kin and he would be treated the same way in death as he had been treated in life. Left alone and forgotten.

I sat for a second looking around and listening to the silence. It looked depressing and abandoned for miles around. Nothing stirring. Just the promise of another scorcher in Paradise. I indicated and pulled away from the curb, heading towards Mount Tamborine.

What I didn’t know was that within one week, my life and my world would spiral out of control and change irrevocably forever.  

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