Blood on the Rocks Chapter 2
Detective Frank Diamond arrived in the dark, his flight from Sydney to Coffs Harbour delayed to unload the baggage of a passenger who didn’t board. Then the officer supposed to collect him from Coffs Harbour airport didn’t show and didn’t answer his mobile. After waiting 30 minutes Frank called a cab, which took another 30 minutes to arrive. It was well after 10.00pm when he reached his apartment accommodation. Frank took a shower and fell into bed.
In the middle of the night he was woken by the sound of a goods train, pulsing past his window. Frank rolled over, and didn’t go back to sleep. Around stupid o’clock he gave up all pretence of sleeping and levered his long form from the bed. First light was sneaking into the room, illuminating the tastefully anonymous décor of the holiday apartment. Frank’s bag sat beside a TV table stacked with tourist brochures. He probably wouldn’t get to ‘Explore the Solitary Islands by Boat’ or ‘Experience the Beauty of the Rainforest’, he thought, as he pulled on a pair of well-worn track pants. Unless the possible murderer was a tour guide, of course. And after his one experience with organised tours last summer on Sydney Harbour, jostled between a young Queensland couple relentlessly posing for their Insta profile and another couple relentlessly arguing over who’d said what to whom the night before, Frank could understand why a tour guide might turn to homicide.
He scrummaged around in his suitcase, retrieving the padded bag that protected his treasured teapot and caddy and ambled out into the main room, yawning. The stark white and steel kitchen was ornamented incongruously with inspirational messages and seashells. Frank thought wistfully of his old weatherboard in Morpeth, near Maitland, overlooking the river. He’d been gone almost a year. While he waited for the kettle to boil, he pulled back the sliding glass doors to a generous balcony and stepped outside.
The view was amazing. Past the back garden, the train track and a snarl of streets lay the Pacific Ocean, a ribbon of breathtaking blue on the horizon. Fingers of gold spread forward from the rising sun as if pointing out the beauty of the landscape. A posy of cumulus clouds drifted lazily in an indigo sky. A gull wheeled overhead, and down in the garden finches had begun to flit and tweet. Frank felt weariness wash away from him. Despite being shanghaied onto this case, despite being once again a stranger in a strange town, Frank felt that it would be a good day.
His ocean-inspired euphoria was not diminished by an excellent breakfast at a café across the road, although at first he had been put off by its beach vibe. Frank understood that his RM boots and moleskin jeans had been unfashionable in Sydney and that didn’t bother him, but here he just felt overdressed.
‘Are you waiting for someone?’ a waitress asked, wiping her hands on the apron she wore over skimpy denim shorts and a cropped white t-shirt. ‘Want me to bring you something? A coffee? Water?’
She smiled and waited expectantly. Frank hated to disappoint her.
‘Do you serve tea?’ he asked. ‘In a teapot?’
‘Of course,’ she replied. ‘What kind?’
‘Oh, I usually have Irish Breakfast, but just black tea is fine if it’s leaf.’
‘No,’ she replied, with a laugh that revealed a shining silver stud in the middle of her tongue. ‘What kind of teapot? If you want black tea we have two-cup porcelain pots, but if it’s green or jasmine, we serve those in iron pots. We have all the T2 blends, plus our own originals. Come on in, I’ll get you a good seat before the rush.’
Frank followed her inside, watching her twin plaits bob and swing; he thought maybe he was in love.
As he finished breakfast his phone rang. It was the missing officer, a Constable David Thompson from the night before, calling with a bevy of excuses about being out of town, out of range, out of charge, none of which Frank believed. As recompense, Constable Thompson was offering to come and get Frank now.
‘Nah, that’s okay, mate,’ Frank replied. ‘I think I’ll walk.’
There was a moment of silence on the other end.
‘But the boss said I had to have you in before nine,’ came the reply. ‘Sorry sir, it’s not worth my life to have you go MIA.’
Probably should have considered that last night, Frank thought. He replied, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be there. Cheerio.’ He hung up on the other man’s protestations and stood, turning his phone off for good measure. The café had certainly filled up since his arrival. The diners represented a cross-section of the community: a clutch of real estate agents, all suited and booted; three young mums in workout gear pushing babies in strollers boasting more torque than Frank’s old Norton; couples and whole families; and a lone diner with a laptop who would have looked at home on Oxford Street. Frank paid his bill, hoisted his backpack to his shoulders and set off.
You can tell a lot about a town from a walk through its streets. Frank took the main road, noting the number of real estate agencies and building sites. He turned off Harbour Drive at Gordon Street, passing an impressive shopping centre. It was just past eight o’clock and already the town was bustling, seemingly fuelled by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
But on the other side of the shopping centre this atmosphere evaporated. Frank passed young men and women, hanging about, smoking, staring, waiting, but for what?
He crossed the road near the library, taking the Coffs Creek footbridge onto Fitzroy Oval. A group of three men and a woman, stood watching the protestations of a plover as it warned them off its patch, in the middle of the cricket pitch. Its mate sat steadfastly on the nest, a short bowl from mid-off. The men were uniformly dressed in ill-fitting grey suits and leather shoes; the woman wore comfortable looking khaki.
‘It can’t bloody stay there,’ said the fatter of the three blokes, as Frank passed.
‘Well you’re not shifting him, Raj,’ replied the woman, arms akimbo. ‘They’re protected.’
Frank passed them by unnoticed, crossing the Pacific Highway to the police station. At the doorway he ran a hand through his hair, trying to groom the thick tangle into some kind of order. Perhaps he should have worn a tie. Another station, another dead body, another oh-so-important first impression.
‘Take a seat, someone will see you in a moment,’ the Constable at the front desk of the brightly coloured foyer instructed as Frank approached. Before he could introduce himself, her phone rang.
‘Coffs Police, Constable McFadden speaking.’
Frank folded himself into a chair and watched. The constable looked to be in her late twenties, but wore the air of someone aged beyond their years. Her long dark hair was twisted into a tight bun at the nape of a slender brown neck that to Frank seemed more suited to one of those fashion magazines his ex subscribed to. He brushed a hand through his own hair again.
“Nah, no sign of him. Not my problem, Dave.’ She hung up and turned to look at him. Frank stood. The phone rang again. Frank sat.
‘Coffs Police, Constable McFadden speaking. No sir, no sign. And Rhonda’s running late…Dave’s on his way…no, he didn’t. Traffic’s due back now. Yes boss, I will, straight away.’
She hung up and turned to Frank. He stood. As he did four highway patrol officers walked in the front door.
‘Hey Mac,’ called the leader. ‘All good?’
‘You’re late, bro, he’s waiting,’ she said. ‘Muster room now.’
‘Buzz us in then,’ the officer replied with a grimace.
They headed to a door at the right of reception. Frank stood again.
‘Wait there please, sir, I’ll be with you in a moment,’ said Constable McFadden, not even bothering to look at him. Frank took two steps forward.
‘Yeah, about that, I think‒’
The constable fixed him with a stern look.
‘I said wait, please sir. Are we going to have any problems with that?’
Frank shook his head. The door to the muster room buzzed open and the four officers filed through. Frank took two quick strides to follow them, catching the door before it snapped shut. He was about to announce himself when the wind was knocked from him by a blur of somebody coming with force from the side, while simultaneously kicking his feet from beneath him. Too late for polite introductions now, he thought as he fell.
‘Stay down!’ barked Constable McFadden, twisting his arm behind his back in a move Frank could only admire. He heard the jangle of cuffs and smelt an aroma of vanilla as she pinned him with her knees. He relaxed to let her cuff him, giving her ten out of ten for efficiency and speed.
‘Now I’m going to stand up,’ McFadden said. ‘You will wait until I have released you and then you will roll over and rise slowly. Understood?’
Frank nodded as best he could with his face pressed to the lino, but before he could act on their agreement a pair of boots stepped into his vision.
‘Morning Mac, got some trouble here?
Frank felt her legs clamp around him again and wondered if her impressive knee-power was due to horse riding prowess, which meant they had something in common. A positive?
‘Under control, sir.’
‘Of course it is. Any sign of Detective Diamond?’
Frank felt he needed to speak up.
‘Here, actually,’ he said. ‘I’m Frank Diamond.’
‘What the hell are you doing down there, Detective? Let him up Rebecca, and next time keep me informed. And you lot, stop sniggering – I don’t see anything funny. My office now, Diamond.’
Mike Henderson strode off. Frank sat up and tried a smile.
‘Hi,’ he said. ‘I’m Frank Diamond. Don’t s’pose you could take these off?’
With a look of deep dislike, Rebecca McFadden hauled him to his feet. Frank heard the click and release of the cuffs but as he went to shake his wrists free she grabbed his arm and twisted it into another lock.
‘Don’t ever pull a stunt like that again,’ she whispered. ‘You might be some hotshot from Sydney, but we don’t need you here.’
She let him go and disappeared back to reception. Frank rubbed his wrists, looking around at the rest of the crew, who were suddenly heads down, engrossed in their paperwork. He could understand how the plover felt.