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Volume XXXIII

The Croxton Creeper

 

 

 

The sequel to Reviews from the Dead. Follow Lucy Offerman: the once imaginary friend of serial killer Charlie Wattle, reporter extraordinaire, crime blogger and author of Twisted Tweets, as she attempts to track down The Croxton Creeper. The serial killer has slain a dozen men and women across the northern suburbs of Melbourne, each based near the area no longer the suburb know as Croxton. Tracking the murderer down to the Croxton Park Hotel, Lucy finds herself cornered, the next victim The local police have a suspect, suspected perpetration of matricide, patricide and fratricide, Charlie Wattle - her boyfriend.

 

Book II of the Spottiswoode Mysteries

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Chapter One

Lucy Offerman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across the High Street, where one dodges the trams decorated with rhinos as warnings, there is a suburb that does not exist. Croxton has a railway station and a pub named for it, but no one lives there. People stop off or chug on. Immortalized by The Croc, the disco once buried in the bowels of the Croxton Park Hotel, Croxton is a village usurped by two others. Without its own postcode, Croxton is known only in fading stories of reefer-filled nights with a guy named Molly.

Trams rattle through this non-place, down the road from the comic book store where Lucy Offerman stands. In the cool of the evening, wearing fewer clothes than is appropriate for a wintry climate, she contemplates why superheroes persist with making movies.

Don’t they know everyone is watching — that their cover is blown? A curl does not maketh a mask, nor does an invisible plane hide a pair of skin-tight, star infused briefs from a leering fan.

Lucy also ponders the Olympic movement, about to bloom in Rio, as a tram squeals to a halt with the assistance of a sand dump on the tracks. The glass doors slide open and a man alights. He wears a white singlet and a pair of thongs. His stomach grinds over the seams of his shorts. Men like this used to hold out newspapers to hide their gut, but now they cradle selfie sticks with tablets attached to view the news of the Games. Lucy holds back the urge to pitch the device under the tram – she considers smashing a tablet cathartic. There should be an Olympic event – tablet diving – with an inward twisting reverse pike beneath tram wheels. The glass from the screen would add sand back to the mix to aid the braking system. Lucy Offerman from Melbourne, Australia scores a ten, yet she is unconvinced by an athlete’s merit as a hero.

Shouldn’t an Olympian, who thanks God for helping them, be disqualified for using supernatural powers to win?

She skips across the tram tracks, through a break in the traffic. The sun has set and there is work to be done; a task that requires the dead of night, a flurry of imagination from her poison pen, and the touch of lyricism only she can deliver.

In an age that closes bookshops, and pulps original ideas to promote a flood of fan-fiction, Lucy Offerman, the once imaginary friend of serial killer Charlie Wattle, reporter extraordinaire, crime blogger and author of Twisted Tweets, is not recognized on the street. Very few people populate what has become a sea of nations rushing hither and thither, twenty-four-seven. Those who do wander the streets are consumed by the messages on the screens of their phone, yet not a single one of these audio devices is held to their ear.

Do I hear a scratched record, a pause in the action? Do we all know what a record is? It’s something rappers use in the boring bits between grooves. You know, where they don’t have anything to say, if they ever did, beyond booty largesse, bling, and booze. Perhaps we should defy convention, dismiss the rule of the linear timeline, and go back, way back to where Lucy’s character was stamped on her... or perhaps you would prefer to see her murdered first.

Every first scene requires action in this high-tech world of short attention spans. Lucy’s opening act will be drenched with blood, and she is fresh for the taking, naïve in her belief this story is about her and the exploits that will bring her notoriety. I suggest we follow her to the lane behind the Croxton Park Hotel, watch her finished off, then concentrate on me. I’ll even flounce my hair and you can imagine what a beauty I am. Not that I seek attention or require a spotlight, but there are already too many characters in this tale, and a girl should be made to feel special.

Alright, alright, I know what you’re thinking, what about the girl. Lucy had a hunch, of the bell ringing kind, but not the dangling off a bell tower perversion. This was more of a prickling sensation up the back of her neck; a patch of skin rarely seen due to her shoulder-blade-length blonde hair. When the goose bumps rippled through her flesh Lucy knew she was on the verge of a cliché — a winner the unimaginative would say, but that term did not sum up Lucy: a young woman most aware and highly imaginative.

“Stop being so bloody pompous and literary. Tell them about my theory.”

Yes, yes, I’m getting to it.

Lucy walked on, an excited wiggle in her hips, yet she paused mid-stride and placed her hands on those curves. The persistent tapping of her foot suggested impatience… in me… I digress.

Lucy had a theory. She walked on with this fermenting in her mind, the seam in her stocking a tad awry. Her derrière swung excessively when she rushed to make a point… as she would be now if I desisted with my flourish of superfluous adverbs and adjectives.

She paused… forcing me to do the same, to reconsider my verbal diarrhoea, and ad hoc narratus interuptus. I paused and she walked on.

Her theory had festered for weeks. It clung to her like a gargoyle to a cathedral; steeped in faith, fantasy and the myriad thoughts often linked to visionaries… who you might call the insane. The story of the month was the serial killer now dubbed The Croxton Creeper. According to Lucy, he had developed a pattern.

“There is no according to it, there is a plan, and you should be careful with your pronouns. No one knows if the Creeper is a he or a she.”

Lucy poked out her tongue and edged her chin into the air. She believed in gender equality, but not criminal profiling. Why couldn’t a woman kill as many as a man? And why did every maniac have to be male? Women had just as much of a right to become a cold-blooded killer. According to our soon-to-be-slain heroine, The Croxton Creeper chose victims based on an algorithm, one layered over the local trams’ timetable, and cross-referenced with daily delays. In this era of Japanese perfection, a Tokyo train driver would commit hari-kari beneath a tram’s wheels rather than submit himself to a Melbourne time table, which was more of an algorithm to fantasy, with any computation possible.

The Creeper’s trail ran red through the Northern Suburbs. Up the High Street tram lines, compressed between the Merri and Darebin Creeks. Lucy’ mythical Myki, her constantly failing travel card, ran red into debt tracing this local monster, murderer of a dozen known bodies.

She mused at how trees became dead wood when chopped down in their prime and people became bodies. How words could kill an idea or a thing, once vibrant. Thankful for the chill of the June night, its vibrancy enveloping her with a bitter wind, Lucy pulled her collar close about her neck. She knew these cobbled lanes well. Her maternal grandparents once lived a block from The Croxton Park Hotel, despite it being in Thornbury.

The mission tonight required wheels. Her pride and joy, the metallic-green New Beetle parked across High Street, represented a woman on the rise. Remodelled for the Twenty-first Century; sleek, colourful, and wildly impractical.

Lucy smiled as she stood in the shadows of ‘The Croc’, its public bar the haunt of more than locals, its mystique legendary. All the great rock bands played here in the Seventies and Eighties. Many aging Rockers revisited their triumphs on Saturday nights, thirty years on, but she was looking for someone younger, stronger. Someone savvy enough to lure men and women. An androgynous killer in intent and, perhaps, in makeup.

None of the Creeper’s victims showed signs of a struggle. IN her opinion only two things could draw the young to willing deaths; sex and drugs. Rock and Roll was merely a link to a distant past, as Lucy’s homework informed her. She weighed up the possibilities, rudimentary at best and prone to being compared to a sieve, yet a hunch was a hunch, and the bells of Sacred Heart Catholic Church sounded the hour with ominous intent.

The Creeper could be an Adonis, able to spellbind a man or a woman with mesmerizing eyes and a velvet tongue that dripped with clichés. However, this was the Northern Suburbs. The closest thing to a bona fide stud here starred in the movie The Wog Boy. The more probable solution was drugs, and the current Ice epidemic.

She thrummed her fingertips on a cast iron down pipe and kicked the heel of her Sketches on the cobbles beneath her feet. Don’t make ‘em like they used to, not the pubs, the lanes, or the serial killers. I know you Croxton Creeper. This is your next stop, your weekend deal, but in what laneway will you strike?

The night closed in, as it does in mid-winter, but the persistent winds and the dreaded El Niño effect  kept the rain at bay. Lucy skulked from one shadow to the next, between lanes and cobbled rear access right-of-ways. Never more than a few blocks from High Street or the hotel, she kept a wary eye and a fine-tuned ear, to no avail.

Teenage girls, dressed in surreal Anime outfits, hunted in packs, seeking out dealers and fake ID’s. Lucy tracked the movements of each group, but baulked at following. She sought a lone victim; desperate, vulnerable, perhaps already half-wasted, as she was with the chase.

I think a quick pint at the pub would fill the space. No! A journalist jousts for the jaws of a tale, a blogger blogs, and a woman must prove herself better than a man to a misogynous editor.

Lucy left the teenage girls to their foolish attempts at being adults and pursued darker places, where street lights struggled to provide a lone walker solace.

She sidled through a crack in two slabs of corrugated iron masquerading as a fence. They separated two ends of a bluestone lane, once the conduit for High Street’s overflowing excrement, and the Dunny Man . Snagged on a stray flat-head nail, she turned her back on the right-of-way she’d slipped into, only to be greeted by the dulcet tones of a deep baritone.

“Hello, gorgeous girl.”

Slamming her back into the metal sheet with a defensive twist, Lucy wrenched her coat from the obstruction. The voice, a mystery in the night, had provided her with a blind audition. Its owner revealed himself in the darkness with a Cheshire Cat smile and the whites of his eyes as he searched beyond her for companions.

Lucy fumbled for a suitable joke to ease the tension as she straightened her coat and tugged down her impossibly brief skirt. “You… you could lose yourself back here if you fell asleep.”

“I often do, princess. As you have.” He stepped in closer, his garlic breath breezing in from a good half metre above. “What is your desire, a little white pleasure pill, a puff of my most famous grass, or the cool chill of my custom-made ice?”

“Um, a p — pill.”

The hands of the dealer parted Lucy’s coat and cupped her breasts, pert and inviting in their low-cut top. The shock of his advance precluded a slap. She expected a crude squeeze, but this man proved more skillful. His left hand massaged her nipple through the material, while the right slid down to her waist, which recoiled with an ecstatic breath. His fingers traced an S to her hips, and his hand, large enough to envelop her peach of an arse, pulled her into his groin.

“Oh, yeah. I have a thrill in my pocket for you, gorgeous girl, and the first one is free.”

The hand on her breast slid up Lucy’s neck, until the tips of his fingers toyed with her lips. Thighs pressed together, her mouth hung wide open and receptive. Pill dropped onto her tongue, his palm pushed up on her chin and sealed the drug inside.

“I have more for you to swallow if you enjoy that present.”

Lucy nodded. He released his grip on her and stepped aside. She hadn’t expected this and lurched forward, into the hidden lane.

“Yes, gorgeous girl, enjoy the sweet sensation. I have plenty more.”

Dizzy in the moment, Lucy staggered across the cobbles and into a pair of wheely-bins, scattering their loads of plastic rubbish bags.

“Take care now. We won’t want you injured. None of my guests have been marked, and you’re the prettiest of them all.”

“Guests?”

The tip of a match illuminated the lane as he bent down and struck it on the bluestone surface. Lucy tracked the light up his form as she stood. He was draped in sloppy track pants and a hoody marked with an A in a circle. A giant of a man, his skin painted with the night, a natural camouflage. The cigarette he lit wafted towards her on the breeze.

Weed.

“They call me The Grass, because mine is the best. Try some.” He stepped toward her and wedged the joint in her mouth. “Suck on this, as you will my manhood.” He held her nose and Lucy drew a breath.

Smooth.

His smile widened.

How many teeth can this guy possibly have?

“Now, gorgeous girl, I have something else for you. He reached into the pocket of his hoody and tugged out a bag of pills, accompanied by a square foil labelled ‘XXL’.

“What are you going to do with that?”

The pulled his track pants down over his black Nike trainers. He was so big Lucy almost gagged just looking at it.

“Don’t worry, gorgeous girl, I won’t leave no trace, and this rubber’s lubricated.” He rolled the condom on with one hand. “I never leave no mark, except the sign of The Creeper.”

Lucy backed away, falling over the upturned wheely-bins. The Creeper Mark… she had heard of this – a C cut into each butt cheek – discovered on all twelve victims. She reached for the mace in her pocket as she stared up at him, but he reached down and flipped her onto her stomach. Bent over the bin like a sacrificial wild dog, with legs kicked apart and arms pinned beneath her, Lucy imagined herself thrashing about under The Creeper’s weight, yet she lay as motionless as a spider waiting for an escape route to present itself.

“Unlucky thirteen, gorgeous girl, unlucky thirteen.”

Poor Lucy. What a pickle. Well, facing more of a black pudding really, with her arse about to be prepared as a cold cut.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

The Hand

 

 

 

 

Lucy rolled her tongue along the upper edge of her gums, retrieved the dealer’s pill, and spat it out. She grit her teeth as The Creeper reached up her skirt and tore away her panties. Arms pinned, she refused to concede, yet she decided not to fight his entry. Despite the burning pain as he forced himself inside, she held firm to her belief… he would get his.

“Oh, gorgeous girl, there won’t be no pain. My pill will make sure of that.” With each syllable he grew inside her. “You just go to sleep. I won’t carve my initials on your arse until I’m finished.”

Her legs spread-eagled, his massive weight pressed down on Lucy at the hip. His torso kneaded the length of her back with each thrust, leveraged by his hands, which engulfed her head.

Just have to wait. Just have to wait for that moment when he loses control.

Lucy fought back the urge to struggle, to sob away the tear that burnt in its duct. The Creeper’s breathing increased in her ear, from pants to grunts, as she inched her right arm out, in synch with his thrusts. Hand freed as he climaxed, she reached for her jacket pocket, tugged out her mace, and aimed it over her shoulder.

“No!”

Manhood retracted, as if doused in ice water, he pushed off her.

Freed, Lucy spun around, weapon cocked. The Creeper staggered back towards the corrugated-iron. Track pants about his ankles, he reached out for a black, Nike sports bag. Through blinding rage he managed to poke his hand inside, and retrieved a blade as he collided with the fence. The weapon clattered to the bluestone cobbles at his feet and Lucy pounced.

She snatched up the implement, a meat cleaver with an odd addition — a metal hook at the top edge. Lucy raised it above her head. Her hand shook with the weight of the metal, which glinted with a distant street lamp.

One swift chop to the forehead, just one.

Arm extended and trembling she fought between logic and retribution.

Twelve people. The bastard’s murdered twelve bloody people, and… and raped me. Kill him you stupid bitch!

The weight of the blade bore down on her conscience, the murderous intent required quelled by logic.

If I call the cops now, they’ll send him to prison on the minor charge of rape… if I can prove it on the stand. Shit! If I do survive that embarrassment, we will all pay for his comfy cell, with free Internet, pay TV and three meals a day.

“Aaauuugggghhhh!”

She kicked The Creeper’s foot, again and again, weapon raised in case he stirred. “You deserve this in your head, you bastard, not a blunt tin fence. You raped me!”

The storm, brewing all evening, broke upon the scene, blending with her tears and dampening her enthusiasm for blood. Poor Lucy. The D in the death she desired, so final, dwelt in the D of dilemma, so uncertain. What would you have done? Expelled the wrath, where you enter the darkness of the belligerent, the evil of mankind, or make the call?

 

 

 

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Lucy reached for her mobile phone, tapped in her four digit code, and punched in three numbers — 0, 0, 0 — emergency services. Let’s pop back into her mind to see what she is thinking.

She could see the future stain of blood on her hands, persistent, despite the torrent of rain washing it off. The same crimson nightmare streaked off the cleaver’s blade as she lowered it to her waist.

I call the cops now and you will rot in gaol… or will you? Where is the evidence here? I haven’t been drugged, I spat his pill out. There’s no trace of semen, you wore a bloody condom. This could be construed as consensual — shit — a lover’s spat.

She kicked at her assailant again.

I have no conclusive evidence you are anything more than a rapist. You’ll be out on the street with a new cleaver in a year if you have no priors.

Lucy activated the light on her phone and searched the lane about The Creeper. Besides the bins she had upset, and her underwear, rendered useless, she only discovered three pieces of evidence. A plastic bag full of pills lay discarded near the reefer stub that still fogged her mind. Over by the fence a third object, the sports bag, unzipped and filling with water, completed the collection.

The Creeper’s ability to rape and murder his victims without a trace of a fight had intrigued Lucy since the third murder had been made public. She studied his little bag of pills. How long would it take one of these to incapacitate someone? Half an hour—fifteen minutes?

“We’re talking more classic drugs, though, aren’t we, Mr. Creeper. What else have you got in those pills?”

She raided his pockets, retrieving a wallet, complete with Myki travel card and probationary license – Jimcaale Amiin, eighteen, from the south-eastern suburbs.

What were you doing over here, way up north?

Lucy wrapped a handkerchief about her fingers and checked The Creeper’s pulse — still alive. Mind racing, she rummaged through the rubbish until she discovered a cracked plastic cup. Ideas forming without thought, she filled it with rain water pouring from a nearby downpipe, and approached her assailant.

You can do this, Lucy, just as he did… do it!

She pressed one of the pills between his lips and washed it down with the water. The Creeper spluttered and stirred, grabbing for his throat. His eyes bulged like two Kuro-tamago  rimmed with a sulphurous shell. Lucy held up the bag of pills.

“Ever sampled your own medicine, Mr. Creeper?”

“What you do, girl?” He raked his tongue with frantic fingers.

“Why you look scared, mate.”

“How many?” He lunged at Lucy, but she skipped away and he fell short on the cobbled surface.

“I’m guessing it doesn’t matter, does it?” The despair in his eyes answered Lucy’s question. “My, you have been a naughty boy, haven’t you? The victims didn’t fight back because they were already dead. Fancy a little necrophilia, do you? Well go fuck yourself.”

The Creeper latched onto Lucy’s ankle in a final desperate attempt to regain control. She allowed him the fanciful notion, while reaching down to his sports bag. Lifting out the cleaver, Lucy raised it high. The blade sliced through the rain as she brought it down on his wrist. Her action severed it in a single blow. The fingers still gripping at her ankle, she kicked the hand off. It landed in the Creeper’s bag.

“A souvenir, and why not? It’s a killer substitute for a dog. Perhaps I’ll pet you on those cold, lonely nights you imagined for me.”

Lucy watched The Creeper’s pulse fade from squirts to a dribble at his exposed wrist. His drug was permanent, as she suspected, his final look not the peaceful sigh he had left on the twelve victims known by the police. She snapped herself out of wonder. The fragility of life would return as her burden if she failed to manipulate this scene. A further search of his bag revealed a box of unused condoms.

An idea formed. She shone her phone light on the rubbish bins. A cucumber, the size of the Creeper’s, caught Lucy’s eye.

Perfect.

Condom rolled neatly over the gourd’s green and yellow stripes, she stuffed the phallic vegetable up his arse. The pleasure of the violence draped her arms in goose bumps, yet she held her composure. This act could not be construed as too obviously post-mortem.

Heart racing and lips dry, she lifted her head towards the heavens and allowed the rain to sate her thirst, before picking up the cleaver. The final act upon the Creeper’s corpse required guesswork. How did he sign his name on the victims? Was it uniform, artistic? Lucy decided on illiterate and violent for no particular reason than that’s what her murderous self felt like doing. She carved out a C on each of his butt cheeks with the hook of the blade, completing the design with a slashed T across the small of his back and down towards his anus.

Perfect.

Lucy studied the scene she’d created, taking photos as she surveyed. Drugged body: tick. Sexual violation: tick. Isolation: double tick. Mark of the Creeper on body: tick… but what of the unreported nuance she had seen being removed from the wall of two previous Creeper crime scenes. She searched his bag and discovered the equipment required — a spray can. The sign of the Creeper’s gang membership painted on the corrugated fence, she cleared any evidence of her involvement; reefer stub, knickers, cucumbered condom, and sports bag containing severed hand. She sent the pictures to an alternate email address, before deleting the shots and the sent email links.

A deep breath to gather her wits before she faced the world, Lucy crept down the cobbled lane under cover of the storm. Careful to keep to the higher, fence side, away from the overflowing central gutter, she turned left at the adjoining street. The territory here, away from High Street, was familiar. One block west, Lucy ducked into another right-of-way, lined on one side by a two metre high bluestone wall. She followed this for thirty metres, the exact measurement fed to her by a long-dead grandparent, to where a willow tree bulged out from the fence, forcing it to dog-leg behind the gnarled trunk. Folding the sports bag until it formed half its original length, she squeezed behind the tree into a hidden alcove and stashed away her evidence. Yet to be spied, Lucy returned to the lane, tugged out her phone and dialed triple zero.

“What service do you require?”

“Police.”

“What is the nature of your emergency?”

“A murder.”

 

* * *

 

Rain dripping off her nose and torso shivering, Lucy pressed her left hand into the matching jacket pocket and balled it into a fist. This would be the third time she had explained herself, but unlikely to be the last.

“I was walking down here from High Street, close to the wall to shelter from the rain.” She paused as Detective Martin smudged the details onto his notepad.

“Go on, Miss Otterman.”

Lucy pointed to the page. “It’s Ms, and Offerman, with two F’s. I’m not a fur-encrusted fish monger.”

He corrected the notes. “Right, you were saying.”

“He came out of the lane—”

“Did you see his face, Ms?”

“Not through his hoody, no.”

The detective stopped scribbling. “Then how do you know it was a he?”

“Please don’t say I noticed,” Lucy hid her mouth behind her hand, “but he had an enormous hard on, poking out through his track pants.”

She managed her best shocked blush, practiced for occasions where playing on her gender would advance her cause. The detective coughed and returned his focus to the notepad.

“Um, what do you do, Ms Offerman?”

“I’m a blogger.”

“A… what does that even mean?”

“I have a blog.”

The Detective rolled his index finger in the air.

Lucy sighed, his greying temples a sign of a generational lapse. “A blogger writes things, online, you know, the Cloud, or the Internet, as they called it in your day… and people follow the daily entries. You know, now I think about it, it is a really silly idea, but it does pass the time. I do other things too.”

“Like going out on miserable nights, alone?”

She clasped her hands together and tilted her head until chin rested on neck. “Doesn’t mean I was planning to go home alone.”

“Enough of that, Ms Offerman.” He closed his notepad. “I have your details. I will speak to you later.”

“But I have questions.”

“I am in no position to provide answers. I suggest you go home and dry off.”

Lucy bit her bottom lip. Should she press the Detective? Would she give herself away?

Such a dilemma would shrink the testicles of most men and fill the bladder of many women, yet Lucy Offerman stepped closer to the officer.

“Was the hooded man I saw running away The Croxton Creeper?”

The Detective, in mid-turn, snapped back at Lucy. “When you get home, don’t waste your time reading through ill-informed newspapers.” He raised his index finger and pointed it towards her chest, careful not to touch anything that might be misconstrued. “I’d also advise you to give the Internet a miss, Ms. I’ve had it up to here with conspiracy theorists and those whackos who call themselves The Creeper’s Cunts.”

“Really?”

“Go home!”

Satisfied she was less of a suspect and more of a band mole, Lucy wrapped her hand about his finger. “You have strong hands, and big, bold fingers. I can only imagine what you’d do with this digit.”

He pulled his finger away. “You know, people are dying out in these streets, murdered against their wishes. I don’t appreciate your morbid fantasies, especially if I am forced to clean up your bloody mess!”

Lucy allowed the Detective his rant and feigned a skulk back to High Street. Her VW Beetle awaited — an odd symbol of freedom, where earlier in the evening it had represented girl power and individualism. She had repressed the words, but their reverberation in her head drowned out a passing tram.

I’m the only one who’ll clean up my bloody mess.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

Scoop Offerman

 

 

 

Metallic green on the outside, with a beige interior not suitable for children, Lucy’s VW Beetle skidded across the tram tracks outside her place of employment. Laptop in hand, she exited her bubble mobile and patted the bonnet, still warm from the journey, despite the rain. The number plate, INEBG , reminded her of Kermit’s song and wrought a smile as so few got the joke.

She stared up at her editor’s office, a fish bowl of continued torture, but not this night. Lucy checked her Apple Watch: 12:01. OK, so it’s technically morning… but not in Western Australia. There was still time to make the front page, if only the online version, so she dashed upstairs.

Her fellow reporters sat with eyes glued to their computer screens, preening and editing their current and future pieces. No one noticed Lucy’s newly acquired confidence, probably because she had never successfully submitted a story for print, and was not yet considered a proper journalist.

I’ll show you all, and our Editor in Chief.

The name plate on the editor’s door read I. Isaiah Isaacson, but everyone called him J. Jonah behind his back. There was no way he could be considered one better than that iconic figure, ala HAL and IBM. Lucy imagined herself as Cockroach Girl, impervious to any criticism, even a nuclear blast of edits, as she pushed through the Editor’s door without knocking.

“Where’s your copy, Offerman?” Isaacson hovered over his layout mock up, his eyes too busy to acknowledge the cub reporter.

Lucy slapped her laptop on his desk and tapped it with pride. He pushed it aside.

“The laptop was invented before I started this job, Offerman. I asked you to WOW me!”

“I did have a W tattooed on each butt cheek in your honour, but the Ethics Department said I couldn’t present them to you. Something about harassment, but they were unsure who’d be the victim.”

The Editor raised his eyes to her. “What you got in there that could produce sass from your mealy mouth, Offerman?”

“You asked me to put my arse on the line.” He nodded as Lucy squeezed her cheeks together, recalling the Creeper’s violation. She held her composure, fighting back the tears she should have shed in the cobbled right-of-way behind The Croxton Park Hotel. “I present you with tomorrow’s front page.”

“I’ll give you an inch or two before World News.”

Lucy lifted the lid on her computer, her article, in bold typeface, loaded and ready to read. “No, Mr. Isaacson, you will give me the front page.”

“Still think you’re Cockroach Girl, eh?” He scanned the headline as she pondered how he knew about her fanciful pseudonym. The initial lines wiped the smile from his face. He slammed the lid on the laptop. “You can’t just make shit up, Offerman. How many times—”

She held up the detective’s business card and flicked it onto the desk, wishing she had attempted to slot it in the Editor’s gaping mouth. “Call him, now!”

Isaacson reached for his back pocket as many a teenage girl would when in dire need of confirming whether their favourite boy-band member had married or recently come out. A quick punch-in of the ten digits and he began to pace, phone to his ear, the wear on the carpet squares robbing him of two centimetres in height.

“Detective Martin, Isaacson, Editor in Chief at the Daily Rag. I have a reporter here with your card. Says… tonight… called it in… a description… vague, eh?” His eyes bore into Lucy’s forehead. “Right… thank you, Detective.” He disconnected the call. “You’ve been busy, Offerman. Got lucky, eh?”

“I researched, had a theory, and… was lucky.”

“Honesty now? Not a good trait in a reporter.” Isaacson sat down and fired up the laptop, his eyes greedy with expectation, the sensationalist in him seeking out a headline. Editing as he read, Lucy spied the words too flowery and too proper on his lips. His response as he leant back in the chair made her cringe. “The Creeper woz here. Did he really spray paint that on the fence?”

“Yes.” The crassness of the graffiti, by her own hand, matched several recent crime scenes, but she had omitted the reference to the gang he ran with.

“You do know our readers are not used to wordplay and perfect sentence structures? You can hang your but out there in my publication, along with your trailing prepositions.”

She’d already had her butt exposed tonight. The mere thought bringing on a shiver.

“Don’t worry, Offerman, I see your angle: literary versus graffiti, subtlety versus debauchery. I’ll buy it this time.” He tapped his hand on the layout. His current front page headline read, Star Footballer’s Second Bout with Melanoma. He slid it across to the back page. “Did you see anything else, Offerman?”

Lucy fought the response, but her infernal honesty won out. She nodded.

“You’re learning. I don’t need to know… yet. However, if it’s the basis of a follow up, make sure you protect yourself. The cops will be all over any omission that might help them solve the case.”

“Let’s just say it’s nothing they need to know, nor would it save anyone else from The Creeper.”

He stared at the screen again. “The Creeper Leaves His Mark — good headline. Did he really carve his initials into that bloke’s arse?”

“In a font bigger than your headline.”

“Any pictures, Offerman?”

“There’s a link to my USB on the desktop.” She pointed out the thumbnail-sized device already plugged in and ready to be explored.

The editor waved at a chair opposite as he clicked on Lucy’s JPEG collection, the marvel of wireless connections, the Cloud and passing evidence through multiple email accounts her saviours. She tugged at her skirt, remembering her panty-less state, the warmth of embarrassment spared by Isaacson’s concentration on her mobile snapshots. A yawn stretched her jaw, the action more obvious than she cared to show.

“Get used to it, Offerman. Stories like this will only accentuate the baggage beneath your eyes. That’s why the best of us wear sagging faces over nicotine-stained fingertips. Some jobs were meant for ugly, aging men like me, not pretty things like you — no offence.”

“None taken.”

“You sure?”

“I want to blend in, not wedge myself. Maybe if I lose the eye-candy wrapping people will take me more seriously?”

“No, Offerman. Writing shit like this and snapping pictures of graffitied arses will. Make sure you take the time to focus next time you snap a crime scene. We could’ve had a lot more to work with here.”

“Yes, Boss.”

“One more thing, don’t lose the cute girl act. Go Manga if you like. Use any edge you can. I’m sure you batted those eyelids to get away from the crime scene early enough for me to consider stalling the presses.”

Lucy hunched her shoulders, dipped her chin and arched her palms beneath it. Isaacson grinned. “Don’t forget to pin your knees together and pigeon your toes.” Lucy performed the stance, as seen in many a Japanese comic, with dreams of Tokyo admirers swooning in her presence. Sexism may be banned, but it was rife, and any advantage she could obtain to purloin an unlikely story seemed worthwhile at this age.

 

 

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She hadn’t developed the strength of a determined woman overnight. Her education began at the age of fourteen, high up on the gables of Wattle Manor. A place that tortured her resilience for over thirteen years, it also paved the way for the woman she would become. Charlie Wattle’s mother was not an attractive woman, but she did have a presence. She taught Lucy that a dress did not preclude her from being matron of her domain. Perception could be created, and Lucy had been sacrificed that day, all those years ago, accordingly. Laid out, as if thrown off the roof, to teach young Charlie Wattle a lesson, but Lucy learnt more. She could also change and create perception, as she had today. The culmination of fourteen years staring in her bedroom mirror, she began by practicing the raising of a single eyebrow, then the blush, followed by other deceptions.

I will refrain from divulging anything more, as this is ostensibly a mystery, and any reader who expects an entire story arc in a single chapter should go back to grade readers. Jack and Jill are still venturing up the hill, despite everyone knowing he will fall down and break his crown. It’s always the same with the younger generation, they never learn from our mistakes. You’d think one of them would have read the book by now and adjusted their actions accordingly, read the tablet version, or googled the likely outcome, but I digress. Instead, I will drag out a cliché, one characters are rarely afforded these days. Since I am more of an annoyance than an actual character, I couldn’t give a stuff, so here goes. One should never judge a book by its cover. Take a careful look at our sweet heroine. What do you think you will find between Lucy’s soft, velveteen pages?

Lucy allowed her eyes to wander about the Editor’s office as if unconcerned with his judgment, appearing flippant in her time management. Trophies of headlines gone by lined the walls. Front page stories, scoops and novelties, including the crash of 1987. The dramatic graph depicting the freefall of the Stock Market served to remind everyone who entered that certainty provided a haven for fools and the next big story was the domain of the brave.

Her gaze never far from the Editor’s enquiring eyes, she caught them as they returned to her and noticed the sigh released at her expense. He had tarred her with a particular dust jacket, but her real cover could only be discovered many layers beneath.

“Alright, Offerman, get this lot to the sub-editor’s desk. I’ll email him the arse photo. Not even gonna pixelate that one. I’m going all out.” He closed the laptop and passed it to Lucy. “Really sunk your teeth into this one, didn’t you, Scoop?”

Lucy smiled at the reference, while thinking, You have no idea.

 

 

 

Chapter Four

Croxton House

 

Lucy stared up at the tower of her Grandparents’ home. She tingled with disbelief from head to toe, yet the key in her hand confirmed ownership. Dating from the 1880’s, the house had originally been formed in a narrow triangle of land. She knew the plot now widened and stretched out beyond the actual house, giving her room to play, develop or hide. This comforting detail allowed her the luxury to lean back into the arms of her boyfriend.

She sighed. “What do you think, my love?”

“It’s creepy. The windows in the tower are staring down at me.”

“Rubbish, they smile at us, for they know this is our new home, and we will treasure it, as my grandparents did.”

Lucy wove her fingers within those of Ozwaldous Jones, a lattice of trust built on six months of reunion. The fourteen years he spent locked away in his parents’ manor seemed unreal; such was her force of nature and the youthful skip that set her off toward the house. Lucy Offerman: reporter extraordinaire, crime blogger and author of Twisted Tweets — now girlfriend of suspected multiple murderer Charlie Wattle. His assumed name, Ozwaldous, had served him well. Anonymity his sheath, the sale of his father’s funeral parlour was his fortune.

I, as Narrator, often wondered why they called it a parlour, with all those people dressed up in their Sunday-best dying to get in. I usually associate the word parlour with treats, like ice-cream and prostitutes. I could go for a massage about now. However, this is not my story, so why should you care what I think? You’re more concerned about dear Lucy, so sweet and girly: a loving partner for a surly killer. Do you think he has noticed the crusted, red stains she keeps picking at beneath her cuticles, gathered the night before? Come in closer, reader, and I’ll tell you a secret. Closer… whoa, no snotting up the text. Lucy is not quite what you think she is, and neither is Ozwaldous. Sure, an entire suburb, the region once called Spottiswoode, suspects him of murdering his entire family, but what’s a few stray bodies when an inheritance is at stake? The thing is, he burnt down the family estate and donated the grounds to the local council. It’s not his fault the ghosts of his parents haunt the playground built in Lucy’s name, nor was it by his design that his incomplete characters should scare the children down the slide and off the swings. Where there is no evidence, guilt is no more than a whisper on a wicked zephyr.

Let’s focus on this odd ball, this Ozwaldous.

He stood across the road from Croxton House and kicked through the last vestiges of autumn lining the bluestone gutter. The leaves beneath his feet were crumbling reminders of the death that lingered about him every day. The flounce of Lucy’s skirt and the bob of her ponytail represented life, and he so wanted to live. He inhaled the chill of the winter’s day, its vibrancy igniting his nasal passages, slapping his brain awake.

You’re alive, man. This is your new home. Go live in it.

He checked Lucy’s Beetle was locked and skipped across the road to the front door. Set on the footpath, the building had no imposing fence or garden to conceal its features, as he was accustomed to. Roman capitols and laurels trimmed the window frames and doorway of the rendered façade, the bricks beneath well hidden. This edifice had more front than Myer , yet the actual frontage was a single door beside a window, set in a half hexagon below a six-sided tower. Beyond this nook the building fanned out at thirty degree angles, decorated with a series of ten arched, sash windows. A second floor mirrored this design, sans the central door. The tower above this level, a beacon in the neighbourhood, watched passers-by with at least two glaring windows at any given angle.

The creak of the front door drew Ozwaldous back to Lucy. Silhouetted in the entrance, she represented a dream to him, yet had become more tangible each day. Her shadow bore no fears, despite the walls of this new house enclosing about her. She skipped inside and he stepped over the threshold of bluestone into a new life.

Lucy reached out her hand to him. Their fingers joined. The same bond formed in kindergarten. His front teeth tingled as she leant in and touched her lips to his. The old wound kissed better, he managed a smile.

So this was home. He’d only ever had quarters in his parents’ mansion, even after they’d died and willed the manor to him. Their constant presence never made it a home.

The room he and Lucy entered was no grand entrance. The almost triangular-shaped reception room filled the narrowest portion of the building, yet opened up like a pair of welcoming arms and enveloped them with a warmth Ozwaldous had never experienced.

“Where’s the tower, Lucy?”

“That’s part of the surprise.” Her eyes glinted in the light of the crystal chandelier, stars in a foreboding future, set to blossom into daylight as he drew near. She dragged him over to the faux-log fire, a gas contraption wedged into an old marble-framed fireplace. A sweep of her arms signaled home, and it certainly exuded the requisite coziness. An upright piano accompanied a sound system, along with a five-seated couch that faced the front door, no plastic in sight, two modern recliners and a trunk, which acted as a coffee table.

“All bequeathed?”

“Nope, all new, Ozzie, except the brass monkeys.”

He knew these well. Three monkeys, now slightly melted, one who saw no evil in the furniture, one who would hear nothing against the placement, and a third that would speak only praise if its hands were not covering its mouth.

“Most of the rooms are bare, but we have time to populate them. I focussed on four, can you guess which ones?”

“Surprise me, Lucy.”

She clapped her hands and dragged him on, through the door in the wall opposite the main entrance. This opened up into a hall with a staircase running up the left-hand wall. Ozwaldous poked his head into half a dozen non-furnished rooms off this. Each space had a marble fireplace, some with gilded mirrors hung above, all with tiled hearths. The ceramics were a mixture of green and burgundy, with embedded tulip designs. Echoes off Baltic pine floorboards traced their footsteps up to botanical ceiling roses and six-inch deep cornice work, all freshly swept of the cobwebs he expected to see.

Lucy noted his every nervous tic, catching his eye each time he strayed into paranoia. She raised her eyebrows. He smiled back through a deep breath.

“What’s at the end of the hall, Lucy?”

“Would your testes contract if I said there’s a conservatory?” He nodded and she threw an arm around his shoulders. “Lucky for you it’s a kitchen, with state of the art stainless steel fittings, industrial fans, and a machine to make your cheese toasties. Come on.”

She ran back up the hall towards the front door. Hooking her arm on the octagonal newel post at the end of the balustrade, she stomped up the stairs. Ozwaldous followed with less derring-do, saddened by the lack of decoration on the woodwork and wishing a gargoyle had been carved there. Lucy yelled down to him.

“You can carve your own creature there if you miss your Félix so much.”

Fourteen years apart, yet she could still read his mind. He chased her up to the first floor, skidding to a halt on the polished boards beyond the stairway’s carpet runner. God!

“No, Ozzie,” she’d read him to perfection again, “your relatives.”

The entire Wattle clan stared down at him from along the hall’s walls. Suffering from various degrees of burns, some blistered and peeling, others with charred frames, they all disapproved of his presence. Lucy threw her arms about his neck and smothered his gawp with lips moistened by strawberry gloss.

“Now you’re truly home, my love.”

“But… how? Fire… destroyed…”

“By your hand, true, and your ancestors don’t look happy, do they?”

“None of them ever did, Lucy.”

“There you go; even with a bit of fire up their knickers they’re still sour. Can’t please some people. Want me to put a bit of fire up your boxers, Oz?”

Always… was his usual answer… but the words came out, “How did you?”

“Long story or short?”

“God, please make it short.”

“It’s not like you to play the typical male trait card. Haven’t I been teaching you to prolong the pleasure these last few months?”

Ozwaldous groaned and she slipped a hand into his back pocket with a giggle.

“Not a lot of pleasure in these faces, eh? Bet you’re glad I didn’t hang your mother in the master bedroom. There are eight bedrooms up here. Ours is in the back, over the kitchen, one of the four rooms I had decorated so we could move in. You can help me with the rest.”

“How, Lucy?”

“We go down to the Northland Home Centre and buy—”

“No, how did you save the paintings?”

“Oh, well, the night you torched your parents’ manor I broke in, smashed the stained glass — sorry — but I told you that and not about these. Remember the long stick in the corner beneath the grand staircase?”

Ozwaldous recalled the device. He believed it had been used to light the chandelier, before the candles were electrified, and since adapted to brush clean the concave cornices.

“I discovered it had a hook attachment. I dislodged every portrait that night, some crashed to the floor, already alight. Those ancestors scowled at me, but I still threw them out onto the front lawn, then ran upstairs to find you. I found you, Ozzie, and I never let go. Even during our deadly swing through the flames of the fire. Singed my #The 15 Million Followers of Fame Asylum t-shirt that adventure did.”

Her eyes as wild as the bonfire of Wattle Manor, Lucy skipped up the hall.

“I’ll show you the master bedroom later, Oz. You can soothe a burning sensation I’ve had since last night, and sate my desire.”

“Not in front of this lot, Lucy.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll lower the shutters on the ancestors so we can keep the light on.”

Ozwaldous expected her usual flirtatious wink, but she skipped on toward the tower end of the building, above the front entrance. He followed, content to leave the Wattle portraits in his wake. The room she led him into opened up to the small wedge as expected. A wrought-iron, spiral staircase wound its way up to the tower. By the window to its right sat an antique roll-top writing desk, far grander than the escritoire that had almost done Ozwaldous in when it toppled onto him and drove his father’s blade through the upper regions of his chest.

“This one won’t teeter, Ozzie.”

“If it does, it will kill me instantly.”

“That was the idea… so no lying in front of it, use the chair I bought for you instead. Now, sit. “She pushed him into the ergonomic, leather folds, spun it around once and dropped into his lap. “Do you love me?”

“You’re all I have, Lucy. You and your daffodil smile. What did I do to deserve you?”

“You survived, my love.”

“While you waited.”

She brushed the unkempt fringe from his face. I did, but now I’m impatient. I want you to write out all those wonderful tales, in this room. I’ve a tower for you to stand upon and observe the world, and the perfect ambiance.”

Lucy lifted the roll on the desk and snatched up a remote control. Selecting a button with the preciseness of a child, tongue to the corner of her mouth, music wafted about the room. A muted trumpet, accompanied by the swing of double bass, piano and brushed drums, permeated the writing space. The beat set Ozwaldous’ toe tapping on the splayed feet of his office chair, Lucy’s eyes studied each nervous reaction.

“Who’s this?”

“Vince Jones, a local jazz musician — sings and plays trumpet.”

“Can we see him live?”

“Oh my god, Ozzie.” Lucy pulled him in tight and sobbed in his ear. “You want to go out… you want to go out… of course we can see him live. He’s old, but he’s not dead yet, and neither are you.”

The trumpet trailed off to the words of the song, I feel kinda good, ‘cause I had a crazy little dream last night , which summed up Lucy’s effect on him. He could make a home of this place with her, and he would continue to write. Charlie Wattle was dead. Long live the Oz.

Lucy ruffled his hair. “Before you get all writerly on me, or horny with this babe on your lap, we have to finish this part of the tour.”

Another quick kiss and she was up, tugging on the brevity of her skirt with a wiggle of her hips, before mounting the stairs to the tower.

“Come on, Ozzie, and no peeking. You’ll see plenty when we get to the bedroom. The slush pile’s on heat.”

She clattered up the iron steps, the railing of intertwined vines rattling with her eager advance. Ozwaldous sought out the freedom of the view, and followed, surprised by the initial landing at the top of the stairs. Surrounded by six arched, sash windows, the hexagon-shaped tower provided three hundred and sixty degree views. To the north, the roof of Croxton House spread out below, its rectangular form confirmed, extending into a large yard, more than twice the size of the residence, surrounded on three sides by bluestone walls. The northern boundary hugged an enormous willow tree that seemed to grow out of the wall and the lane beyond.

Lucy continued up the next flight of stairs, a wooden ladder, her legs a constant enticement. These steps led to the tower’s roof. Ozwaldous discovered her there, swinging in the breeze, her legs about a flagpole.

“Like my erection, Oz?” She giggled. “The old one was rotten, couldn’t get my legs around it, so I had this one made. My own private, open air pole dancing space,” she arched her eyebrows, “but you’re always welcome to come up and watch.”

“With only the young lions to stare at you.”

She reached out to his jeans and tugged him closer. “I only desire one such big cat.”

“So why did you invite them?”

Lucy peered over his shoulder and smiled. “You don’t miss a thing, do you?”

“Not when it concerns you.” The plaster lions of his joke stood proud, chests extended, on the edge of the roof; four original features that had stood the test of time. Whispers of purrs echoed about Ozwaldous’ ears, before he realized Lucy was attracting his attention.

“Must be time to explore the bedroom, Ozzie.”

“It’s midday.”

“I thought you wanted Lucy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I certainly desire some Wattle in every meal.”

The playfulness he remembered from Lucy’s eyes as a child had not deserted her, yet the intent had switched focus. As a girl and a teenager, she was always seeking out adventure and running off to experience it. From push carts in kindergarten, to monkey bars in primary school, and high gables as a teen, Ozwaldous had always chased Lucy. He did so again, down the wooden steps and onto the wrought-iron spiral. Through the writing den and along the hall of ancestors, all shaking their heads and rolling their eyes. Disapproval had become such a badge of honour, he didn’t even close the bedroom door behind them.

“Da daa!”

Lucy swept her arms low and wide as she twirled about the bedroom and latched onto a solid oak bed post. One of four holding up a lace-frilled canopy, all were carved with vines and grapes. She leapt onto the mattress and prowled across the doona cover as if one of the roof’s lions.

“Think we can break it, Ozzie?”

“I’m willing to try.”

She grabbed at his button-fly jeans, tearing them open, and pulling him onto the bed. Her smother of kisses worked their charm and she rolled Ozwaldous onto his back.

“Make me forget last night, Ozzie.”

“What happened last—”

Swamped by her lips, the question drowned in desire as she peeled off his t-shirt.

“Nothing, my love, just a headline I’d rather forget. Make me forget.”

Her Fame Asylum t-shirt lifted up over her head, it caught on the ponytail Ozwaldous had chased up the hall. Reaching out, he unclipped her bra.

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“Hey! Naughty. One item at a time, please.” Freed of the T she stroked his boxer shorts. “Hello there, Captain, nothing like a good sturdy mast to ride through a storm. Sure you don’t want to close the door?”

“Nope, all I see is…”

“Ozzie? What’s wrong?”

“All I see is… you.”

He sat up on his elbows and stared over her shoulder, while she worked at removing his underwear.

She ignored his odd response, quite used to him requiring a firm hand. “You know, all those years of masturbation can wear a good man down, Ozzie — not to mention us girls — but practice… hey! What happened to Captain Wattle?”

“I… I think he just saw a ghost. What the hell are those?”

 

 

Chapter Five

The Morgue

 

 

Lucy sat back against the antique headboard, the carved daffodils etching the pattern into her shoulders. She reached out to Ozwaldous, but he inched toward the edge of the mattress, fixated on the wall opposite. Fingers falling on the floral design where he should have leant, she traced the pattern. The purist of motivations had been behind the choice of bed, as well as the two picture frames hanging on the wall — images that horrified her boyfriend.

The likenesses did verge on the cartoon rather than the more lifelike studies of his ancestors in the hall, but… she thought he looked smart, while never had a dud portrait been made of her.

“Don’t you like them, Ozzie?”

“They’re… a bit… they remind me of the hall, and Wattle Manor.”

“You can’t escape your past, my love. It will always be there. The trick is not to let it haunt you.”

His sunken shoulders confirmed he had yet to be convinced. It would always take time with Ozwaldous, but they were young, and at least she had a career. His would take off soon enough. Everything blossomed for her: material, furniture, and opportunities. He would do so in her wake.

She slid to his side and draped an arm over his shoulder. “I think the likenesses are grand, Ozzie. I swore I’d watch over you, and I have for fourteen years. This is just a tad more personal, but if I’m not pretty enough—”

Ozwaldous held his hand up to Lucy’s mouth. “Don’t go there. You’re so much better than I deserve. I think it’s my portrait that disturbs me: the daffodil-infused smoking jacket and the slicked back hair. Can we turn that around?”

“Certainly not. Who’ll watch over me when you’re not here?”

Lucy kissed Oz on the cheek and stood at the foot of the bed. She would serve herself up for dinner, to satisfy them both. A tug of her skirt and she skipped off, pausing at the chest of drawers by the door, where she’d left the final surprise of the day. She unravelled it from its plastic and tossed it to Ozwaldous.

“Surprise.”

“More?” He spread out the newspaper and read the front page aloud. “The Creeper Leaves His Mark by Scoop Offerman. Really? I mean, the name… the article is well overdue. ‘Bout time that fool Isaacson woke up to himself and recognized your brilliance, but Scoop?”

Lucy felt a blush engulf her face and neck.

Ozwaldous smiled. “Last night’s work eh? I’m not surprised you wanted to forget a murder scene. So, a hunch, or luck?”

“Both.”

“That’s my girl. You ride your luck like—”

“I will ride you tonight, because you are my lucky charm.” She blew him a kiss. “I should get to work on a follow-up, but I will be home for dinner. Feel like walking round to The Croc for a pub meal? It’s schnitzel night.”

His failure to answer did not surprise her, so she didn’t force the issue. He would come when he was ready, like all men. One had to be subtle in their control.

Lucy skipped down the hall, the echoes of her Sketches created a gay patter compared to the thudding footfalls of their parents. This house would bring them luck, as it did her grandparents, and their parents. Hers should never have abandoned Croxton… but if they hadn’t she would be oblivious to Ozwaldous.

 

Fate: often purloined by the egotistic to feign superiority, and more likely to bring on a faint in the uncertain as the gravity of its momentum struck its subject. Lucy was under no illusions. Everything she had been, every decision made and each encounter had drawn her to this moment. Her place in the world, so vague until she saved Ozwaldous in January, had taken a quite definite turn, with a shape she was yet to understand or able to predict. However, her decision to work rather than console would have far reaching consequences for her world. The life and death of many others, most yet to meet her, would spin on the toss of this two-headed coin. Nothing would ever be the same again.

 

Lucy belted down the high street in her VW Beetle, the daisy in the tube on the dashboard replaced with a daffodil. Guilt drove her on. The police would be chasing a phantom murderer thanks to her decision. She could only hope there would be no copycat killers to muddy the waters. In order to circumvent awry events, Lucy made her way to the City Morgue, to learn more about The Croxton Creeper.

A dozen reporters greeted her with an ironic applause. She curtseyed in her Manga skirt, comforted by the underwear now protecting her modesty.

“Look out, mates, it’s the Creeptographer.”

“No, she’s the Croc of a Scoop.”

“Who’d you pay off, luv? Is your boyfriend The Creeper?”

The third barb hit home and she bit back. “Careful I don’t get him to sign your arse and wedge it with his massive manhood.”

She bowed this time and saluted as she strode inside, her usual skip saved for the man of her dreams.

Detective Martin stalked the echo-chamber halls of the morgue, taking the names of every visitor. Lucy was no exception. He held out a pen to her, accompanied by a notepad. The opportunity to scan through the names was too good to refuse, but she required an angle to extend her browse. The Detective provided the perfect opportunity.

“Bit cold for that getup, isn’t it, Ms Offerman?”

She scanned the first few names on the list. Amiin; obviously family members of the deceased bastard. “A bit of wind up my skirt’s worth it if a big strong DIC like you notices.”

“You’ve changed since last night?”

“What do you think I am, a clubbing slut?”

“Not at all. I read your article, Scoop Offerman.”

“Oh,” Lucy took a mental note of the next few names, “did I do your crime scene justice?”

“Left out a few things. In fact, I’m surprised you didn’t consider the victim’s size.”

“Believe me, I did, every inch of him.” She memorized the next three names. “I know where you’re going with this. The Creeper’s a big bastard, sizable enough to subdue that Somali giant laid out in there. I bet the murderer didn’t leave a trace, did he?”

“Off the record, no comment.” He tapped the page. “Hurry up and sign your name… now you’ve noted all the visitors.”

She ignored the ribbing and continued with her misdirection. “Artistic or standard typeface, Detective?”

“What?”

Lucy traced her fingers around the next few names. “I could manage some pretty swirly things, especially on the L and the Y, or I could go all journalistic and formal.”

“Just put an X on the bloody page. I know who you are and I know where you live, Offerman.”

“Do you now? Who’s the stalker with the big badge, then? Fancy a girl in a short skirt, do you, Detective Marlin?”

“It’s Martin.”

“Marlin sized, I’ll bet.”

He snatched back the pen and pad. “I make it my business to know the whereabouts of anyone who crosses paths with my investigations. Careful how far you stretch the friendship, Offerman. As the bodies pile up, the pressure will be paid out on anyone who gets in my way.”

Lucy straightened her back and puffed out her chest. The action inched up her skirt. She completed the tease with a salute, but his eyes had been drawn to her thighs. She giggled and skipped off into the depths of the morgue. His curses trailed behind her in an echo, justifying the mixed signals she had given. As her editor had warned, whatever it takes to get the story.

She was inside now, soon to be amongst The Creeper’s family and friends. A pinch of her cheeks to redden them, plus a dab of salt in the eye, and her demeanor was set.

Wails and moans led her to the appropriate viewing area. She would not have to suffer the identification questions or the sliding out of the body. The Creeper had company. Jimcaale Amiin’s closest encircled his lifeless form. Their African roots clear from the colour of their skin, Lucy stood out like the thumb he was missing.

“What do you want, girl?”

Lucy tugged her jacket close. “I… I came to see if it was true… if… if Jimmy had… passed.”

Hostility bled into the eyes of the thirteen mourners, the tallest pushing his way towards Lucy, all two metre plus, with a scowl almost as wide. “I asks you what you want, whitey.”

T-to say goodbye.”

“Like you eva met my man.”

“I was his girl.”

Laughter spat out through the giant’s teeth, spraying her with disdain. “My boy ain’t touch no whitey,” he lowered his voice, “and I seen him with plenty of arse.”

Lucy mirrored his whisper. “Well, he said he liked my skinny, white arse… especially from behind. Would you like to see the bruises his fingers left when he last pounded me as he moaned gorgeous girl in my ear?”

“You got no rights to be here, girl.”

“Are you family, mate?” Lucy’s rebuttal caught the African short.

“I…”

She pressed her advantage. “Did he pound you with love?”

“Only with his fists.”

“Then I have as much right as you, whoever you are. I haven’t seen you around him, over at The Croc.”

“He never—”

“Then how come that’s where they found him? I want to say goodbye to my old man. That’s all I want.”

Grabbed by the throat and handbag rent from her shoulder, Lucy gasped and acquiesced like a feeble woman should.

“Artiste, enough!”

He pushed her away, the protest from behind belonging to the oldest mourner, perhaps The Creeper’s mother. The contents of Lucy’s bag strewn across the floor, her assailant sifted through the wreckage until he spied her purse.

“Now we see who you really are, “he picked out a plastic card, “Reguyna Perfister.”

“Pfister, Regina Pfister.” Lucy straightened her dress, holding back a smile in honour of her fake student ID. Designed eleven years before, the updated dates had become a useful tool when wandering into unknown territory. Her choice of bag vindicated, Lucy patted her own back, virtually. She had one name from the list identified, a non-family member, Prince Sharmaarke. “I’ve heard of you, but are you really the Artiste formerly known as Prince?”

“Ha, my man called me that every day, but he ain’t mentioned no peaches of cream.”

“Well, he didn’t call your name out, if I remember, unless your middle name’s God.”

“Enough!” The mother stepped forward and poked her finger in the man’s abdomen. “Clean up the girl’s things.” Turning to Lucy, she latched onto her ponytail. “And you, say your goodbye and leave. Don’t let me see you again unless you carrying his child. I know he weren’t no good boy, but he still my only son.”

“Yes, Mrs. Amiin.” Lucy snatched her bag and stepped into the circle of relatives. Touching her finger on her rapist’s foot, she forced out a tear and mumbled abuse in the form of a sob, incomprehensible to his family’s ears. Feigning an emotional shudder, she stepped back, taking note of every face. “My condolences.”

Lucy scurried out, fresh information begging to be scrawled on the notepad she kept concealed inside her skirt. She slid it out, removed the pencil attached to its cover with a rubber band, and jotted as she walked. Head over her work, she bumped into Detective Martin, who snatched the information from her grasp.

“Scary bunch, aren’t they, Scoop?”

“I… I wouldn’t know.”

“Yeah, right. How’d you survive? Flash ‘em a bit of pink?”

“No need to be disgusting, Detective. Between you and me, they don’t think much of us whiteys.” She leant in close and lowered her voice. “I think they’re racists.”

“So would you be if you’d been repressed by Europeans for centuries. You filing a report, or what?”

“I’ll consider my options. Notepad please.”

He surveyed the pages.

“looking for likely damage, Detective?”

He pitched it back at her. “Careful what you print, Offerman. This family has links, you know…”

“I understand… street gangs… I saw the tag. These lips are sealed, unless, of course, I can pin something on them.”

“Jesus!”

“I don’t remember seeing him there last night. A hand of fate, perhaps, but no hand of God.” Lucy tucked her notepad up her skirt and spun about, careful to flash a good portion of arse cheek. “See ya, Martin. I’ll drop you an email if I discover anything.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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