Blood on the Rocks Chapter 1
Dusk is when the mulloway are running off the headland, as the tide turns on the beautiful beaches of the Solitary Islands National Park. The day-trippers and tourists have packed up, a half-moon is rising over a lilac-hued horizon and all is good with the world.
These were the thoughts of Brent Turnbull as he stood, rod in hand, watching gentle waves roll in to his favourite beach, on a perfect Sunday afternoon. For Brent, it was a time of day second only to early morning at the bluff break, with an easy left-hander curling across the sapphire blue of paradise on Earth.
Brent checked his line, checked the time and then checked his phone. Nothing from Freak, which was weird. Usually by this time his brother would have called at least twice to check the deliveries were made. Even when he was away on a trip to see the boss in Sydney, Freak would call to check up on him. But not tonight.
Brent wasn’t complaining. It was good to relax for a few hours without his twin hassling him. Freak would be back Monday and, in the meantime, Brent was happy to take it easy. Freak’s rare lapses in surveillance were usually because he had some new lady friend keeping him occupied: Freak by name, freak by nature. Even his parents, when they were alive, had given up trying to call him Phillip. Brent took a swig from his hip flask of Jim Beam; the deliveries could wait until after he’d had a fish and a few bevvies. They weren’t going anywhere and those he was delivering to would be desperate enough not to care that he was a few hours later than usual.
But even the thought of Freak and the grief he’d dish out was enough to break the calm Brent had achieved. He took another slug from his bottle and surveyed the landscape. The sun had set behind him and the moon was rising through cloud over a darkening sea, now dead calm. Long shadows of dusk deepened into night. Brent sat himself down on his towel and took a few minutes to practice the exercises the bloke at NA suggested. He closed his eyes, letting the gentle rhythm of the waves slow his breathing until he felt the real world slip away, with all its stress and anxiety.
Which is why he didn’t hear the two men approaching across the sand. As the stout branch the assailants had fashioned into a club caught him with force across the back of his head, Brent registered only a shocking pain. And then nothing. He was unconscious as they dragged him into the water and 25 metres across to the southern headland, where they hauled him out onto a rocky platform and, using all of their considerable strength, hoisted him to standing height. Then they pushed him forwards. His body crumpled as it fell, his head cracking sharply on one of the many protruding rocks. With gloved hands the murderers rolled him back into the surf and held him under, until the little hope and imagination with which Brent Turnbull faced the world exited his body in a slow stream of blood-tinged bubbles. Dead.
The two men slipped back up the dark beach the way they had come, leaving Brent floating lifeless on an outgoing tide. All in all, it had taken them just three minutes to end 30 years of life.
The next morning a pair of surfers found Brent washed up, bloated and sodden. They called the cops, and then their mates, because despite the state of the body they could still recognise the face of Brent Turnbull, twice world-champion long-boarder and twin brother to Freak Turnbull, owner of SurFreak gear, an icon to every surfer dreaming of getting rich on the back of this supposedly free and easy lifestyle.
That was why the press arrived before the cops had even cleared Coffs, so by the time the police made it to the beach the track from the carpark was well trampled and the surfers’ story of grim discovery had been told enough times to sound polished.
A terrible fishing accident was what the press ran with in the next day’s paper; it even made the local ABC. It was not until Probationary Constable Rebecca McFadden wondered out loud how the deceased had travelled to the beach, with no vehicle found in the vicinity, that Senior Sergeant Mike Henderson looked twice at the case.
Calls to Phillip Turnbull, next of kin, went straight to voicemail and no one called back. Nor was a mobile or car keys found on the deceased’s body. It was surmisable that his belongings had been left on the beach and been washed away by the tide, but the constable had a point about the vehicle. Either someone had been with Brent and left him there, or someone else had taken his car. Neither scenario gave Mike Henderson a good feeling.
Coffs Harbour is a beautiful place that has played the part of capitol city to the magnificent Coffs coastline, from Kempsey to the Solitary Islands, on the traditional lands of the Gumbaynggirr Nation. It’s a big country town with arms open to surfers, tourists and refugees alike. Crime is low in Coffs; murder is rare and the murder of someone as well-known as Brent Turnbull was worse, but not because he was dead. Although both brothers enjoyed legendary status among the surf fraternity, Senior Sergeant Henderson knew that Brent was a stoner well past his glory days, and Freak had earned himself that nickname the hard way. Whatever the circumstances, the death of Brent Turnbull would attract attention, so Mike Henderson picked up the phone, and called in a favour.
‘We’re shorthanded here since the cutbacks, and with the Pacific Highway upgrade and covid patrol, I need focus on traffic. We’re already in the pooh with Community for the press finding out before we could contact next of kin. I need this handled fast and quiet, without influence from town politics, you understand? Mate, we’re just not set up for a high-profile case,’ he said.
There was a moment’s silence on the other end, then the gruff voice of Detective Sergeant Colin Sherry, of Surry Hills Sydney, replied, ‘Yeah, I remember. It’s a bad day in Coffs when they get graffiti on the Big Banana. What do you want me to do about it?’
‘Send me someone, but someone I can keep a handle on. You got anyone spare I could second for a couple of weeks?’
After the Sydney cop stopped laughing and Mike stopped calling him a sarcastic bastard, Colin Sherry said, ‘You know mate, I think I do. A bit of an odd one, but good at his job.’
‘We-ell, unconventional maybe is a better way to put it. But he gets results…sometimes more than the rest of the crew are comfortable with.’
‘Would I know him?’
‘Nah, he’s been in Maitland most of his time. But he gets the job done‒’
‘You said that already. My accountant gets the job done, mate, but I don’t want him on a possible murder with press attached.’
‘I hear you. Look, some people reckon he’s brilliant…but y’know, some people’ll say anything…’
‘What’s his name?’
‘Frank. Frank Diamond. I’ll get him on the next plane up.’
‘He’ll do what he’s told…probably.’