Authors: Erik Hamre
Tags: #Techno Thriller
He dialled Mark’s number. “Hi, it’s Scott. Could you stop by my office in five?” he said before hanging up.
A few minutes elapsed before Mark Moss knocked on the door of the meeting room. He had probably first looked for Scott at his assigned work station. There wasn’t much to look at there. Scott had never spent more than ten minutes at his desk. A lady from Human Resources had once visited the premises. She had wondered whether Scott was a new employee as his desk was devoid of any personal items. He had looked her straight in the eyes. He had managed without any family pictures or other knick-knacks for thirty-five years. There was no reason to start making it homey now, he had replied.
“Please sit,” he said to Mark Moss. “Good job. Well done.”
Mark’s mouth broke into an insecure smile. He could see that Scott had the folder he had prepared in front of him. He had obviously read it. But Scott was an intimidating person. “So you think there is a connection between the cases?”
Scott held up a hand. “That’s way too early to conclude. But I do agree that there are some surprising similarities among the cases.”
“So what’s the next step? Should I contact the police? Get an official statement that there may be a serial killer loose on the Gold Coast?”
“Hold your horses, son. Who said anything about a serial killer?”
“The body at the Spit. It’s Marissa. I’m one hundred percent sure.”
“First of all: It’s not possible to be one hundred percent sure. Not with the information you currently have. Secondly, let’s assume you’re right. Let’s assume that it was Marissa’s arm and foot that washed up on the beach yesterday. How did she die? She could have been out taking a late night swim. As far as I remember it was nice weather the weekend she disappeared. She may have been knocked over by a rogue wave, and pulled out with the currents. Her drifting body could have been caught in the shark nets, leaving a small feast for local fish and sharks. The arm that washed up on the beach yesterday could quite possibly have been bitten off by a shark, or the body tissue could have softened from all that time in the ocean and basically broken off in the wild weather we have experienced lately. Meat tenderises quickly in saltwater.”
“It was no accident,” Mark Moss said. “You’ve read their bios. They are almost identical. What are the odds of that?”
“You have a point, Mark. I’ll admit that much. But tell me Sherlock Holmes; what are the police going to do if you start claiming we have a serial killer on the loose? Or even worse, what’s going to happen if you print unfounded accusations in the paper?”
“I’ll lose my job.”
“Bingo. You’ll be on your arse out, before you even know it. This new boss of ours, Ms Connor, she is obsessed about creating a fairy tale picture of the Gold Coast. She only wants us to report feel-good stories, stories about babies being saved from flooding and battlers winning the lotto. I’ve been told to focus solely on these new technology companies for a while. If you bring up this story, before you have some proper evidence to back up your claims, then you will be finished. Believe you me.”
“So what do you suggest I do?”
“I suggest we do some detective work,” Scott replied. “The Gold Coast police are too busy handing out speeding fines and writing reports to do a proper job. No, if you want to have a job done properly you’ll have to do it yourself,” he said before lifting the almost two metres tall body from the chair. He caught Mark Moss staring at his tie. It had a large coffee stain.
“It’s the new logo for the Gold Coast,” Scott said. Mark Moss laughed. The Gold Coast City council’s new logo had been the main subject of lunchroom discussions the last few days. The council had used one hundred and eighty thousand dollars developing a new logo. They had come up with a red dot. A red dot. Most of Scott’s colleagues thought somebody should be fired. But Vesna Connor wanted to preserve the positivity they were trying to create about the city. Find positive sides about the new logo, she had said. Let it become a success story for the Gold Coast. Scott Davis was starting to get tired of this constant focus on feel-good news. Perhaps it was time to become a proper journalist again? He grabbed his car keys and headed towards the door. “Follow me, Mark. Let’s put in a day of decent work. But first we have a small errand to run.”
The bling-bling-factor was high along the short strip of restaurants in Tedder Avenue, Main Beach. One of Andrew Engels’ old clients from Avensis Accounting nodded as he sat down at a table further inside the restaurant. Andrew couldn’t quite comprehend how the guy could justify going out for lunch; he had never paid his accounting fees on time, and half his companies were bankrupt.
All in all there was very little that indicated that the Gold Coast was in the middle of an economic recession as Andrew seated himself in between jewellery-clad pensioners, toasting glasses of champagne and white wine. Andrew presumed that the density of Italian sports cars was higher in Tedder Avenue than in the most exclusive shopping streets of Milano. He studied the yellow Maserati that was passing the restaurant for its fourth time. It was evident that the owner wanted to park as close as possible to the restaurant, probably to ensure that people saw him exit the fancy car. There were plenty of carparks just a few hundred metres down the road. That was where Andrew had parked his old Mazda 3.
Andrew Engels raised his gaze as a two-meter tall bald guy entered the restaurant, Blue Grotto. The bald giant exchanged a few words with a waiter, who pointed to Andrew’s table.
The reporter from the Gold Coast Times.
Andrew wiped his hands on a napkin. They were clammy. His first face-to-face interview ever. He rose to greet the reporter.
Scott Davis introduced himself and his colleague Mark Moss, who apparently was just tagging along to listen and learn.
“Have you ordered?” Scott asked.
“No. I was waiting for you.”
“Well. Order whatever you feel like. Lunch expenses are one of the few items the paper is still allowing, so we might as well enjoy it while it lasts, eh? Red or white?”
“White,” Andrew answered.
Scott Davis sighed.
“But red is fine,” Andrew quickly interjected.
“Ok. We’ll start with a bottle of Cab Sauv. Wolf Blass Yellow Label, and some sparkling water,” Scott Davis told the waiter, after having had a quick look at the wine list.
“And what can I get you, Sir?” the waiter asked Mark Moss.
“A light beer, please.”
Scott shot Mark a quick look. He should probably apologise for having forgotten him. But apologies weren’t his style. And Mark was a big boy. Scott clapped his hands together. “So, Tuna Life. Tell us about this new mobile app everybody is talking about.”
Andrew Engels had just started to talk about the Tuna Life application when Mark’s phone rang. Scott Davis shot him a disappointed look. Instead of hanging up Mark got up from the table and swiftly walked outside.
“You’ll have to excuse my colleague. As I mentioned; he is still in training.”
“No problem,” Andrew said. “You could say he is typical for our target market. The mobile is gradually becoming a more and more integral part of our lives, especially for the younger generations. Instead of talking face to face, you now send pictures and chat online. To your colleague, answering that phone may have been as natural as exchanging a few words with an old friend approaching our table. To you it would probably have been rude to ignore your old friend. And in the same way Mark could have viewed it as rude not to answer that phone call.”
Scott sniffled. It actually suited him. One could hardly describe him as a social butterfly, and the opportunity to ship off an email instead of talking to a person was often very tempting. But he didn’t care much for people talking on phones at restaurants.
It didn’t take long before Mark came jogging back to the table.
“Scott, can I have a word with you?”
“I guess you can call or text me.”
“Ok. What is it?”
“Privately,” Mark said, and nodded towards the bar.
Scott apologised to Andrew, before walking across to the bar with Mark.
A short minute later he was back at the table.
“I’m afraid we will have to postpone the interview, Andrew,” he said.
“Is everything ok?”
“Yes. We just have this situation we will have to handle.”
The waiter had just placed the bottle of red wine on the table. Scott Davis noticed that it sported a screw cap. He handed the waiter the Gold Coast Times Visa card before tightening the screw cap and putting it into his shoulder bag.
“I’ll call you for a new appointment, Andrew. Nice to meet you.”
Andrew remained seated. He felt stupid. As if he had just been dumped on a date. The waiter returned and asked whether he had decided what to order. Andrew shook his head, but ordered a Corona. He wasn’t that hungry anyway. It was only a short hour ago since he had eaten sushi with Richard.
As he sat there, waiting for his beer, a wave of anxiety rolled over him. He concentrated on listening to what the couple at the table next to him were discussing. Were they talking about him? Discussing Andrew?
Did they just say he smelled?
Was that laughter he heard?
He suddenly felt hot. He could literally feel his sweat glands working overtime, and wet patches starting to form under his armpits.
How could it take this long time to bring a bottle of beer?
He placed a ten-dollar note on the table and left the restaurant. As he walked down the pavement, on his way to the car, he could hear someone calling his name.
He turned around, but there was no one there.
“Did he say who found them?” Scott asked.
Mark Moss quickly glanced in the rear mirror before changing lanes. “No. He only said that they had received an anonymous tip.”
“Anonymous tip, of course. In this part of the city most people don’t want to talk to the police even when they are innocent.”
Mark Moss took the second turnoff to Australia Fair Shopping Centre. He entered the northern entrance and drove all the way up to the roof parking. Upon arrival he noticed that most of the parking lot had been cornered off by police tape. A police officer walked over to their car, and knocked on the window, on the driver’s side. He bent down and perused the interior of the car as Mark rolled down the window.
“Look at that. Scott Davis is out of the office again. Last I heard they had reassigned you to the gossip pages,” the policeman laughed.
“For your sake you should hope that rumour is untrue,” Scott Davis replied calmly. “I could easily fill a whole paper with your indiscretions at the Swingers Club in Bundall.”
The police officer’s smile vanished in an instant.
“You have no business here, Scott. You’re not working on the crime desk anymore,” the police officer snapped.
Mark Moss pulled out his press card and handed it to the police officer, who scrutinized it for what seemed to be an awkwardly long time.
“You should find yourself some better company, kid. And this site is closed off to the press.”
“Can you tell us what you’ve found?” Mark asked.
“There will be a press conference later tonight. You’ll have to wait for that.”
Mark desperately tried to get hold of his friend, Martin Munroe, the entire drive back to the office. Martin had been assigned to Southport Police Station a couple of months back, after graduating from the police academy. He had heard the call out on the radio about the possible discovery of human remains in a garbage bin at Australia Fair Shopping Centre. Mark had managed to convince his friend Martin that there was something suspicious about the disappearance of all these young girls. And even though Martin was smart enough not to mention anything about Mark’s theory at work, he wanted to help out. If he and Mark worked together, then the result could possibly mean a promotion for both of them.
“Hi Mark, how are you?” Martin answered on the eighth call.
“We were turned away from the scene. Weren’t even allowed to get near the garbage bin.”
“They are trying to keep a lid on the case,” Martin answered. “I don’t even know if it’s smart of us to talk together. They are really afraid of leaks.”
“You know you can trust me, Martin. I would never print something that could jeopardize your job.”
“Ok. But slow down a bit. And don’t call me multiple times. The phone kept going off when I was in the car with a colleague. I had to tell him I was trying to avoid a girl I had fooled around with on the weekend. I can see if you have called. And I’ll call you back as soon as I can. Clear?”
“No problem,” Mark said, before hanging up.
“So, what do we know?” Scott asked.
“Not much. Someone spotted a couple of hands in the garbage bins outside the rooftop parking entrance. Chopped off just above the wrist. There are no cameras at the top floor parking, or at the roof. Theoretically the person leaving the hands could have done it without being filmed by any CCTV cameras. If the perpetrator entered the shopping centre after disposing of the hands, the police will most likely have caught him on film. But they will still have the problem of figuring out who he is, and they have no idea when the hands were left there.”
“How often do they empty the dustbins?” Scott asked.
“Every second day, apparently. That means the police would have to go through two full days of film in a garage with more than two and a half thousand parking spaces.”
“But not all customers enter through the rooftop entrance,” Scott remarked.
“I’m only telling you what Martin told me.”
“He’s been in the force for six months, you say. I guess he’s settled in quickly. You can get everything to sound like a chore if you want. The roof parking is by far the least trafficked in the centre. Most shoppers prefer to have a roof over their car when they go shopping, and half the roof is reserved for people working in the building, who most likely have parking tokens directly connected to their name or the company they work for. My guess is that there are at most twenty to thirty normal customers using that entrance on a regular day. Not a very daunting task to check that out, is it?”