Blood on the Rocks Chapter 4
Frank made it to the beach, just. As Mac pulled into the car park off Mullaway Drive, he leapt out, managing to get a few metres away before up-chucking the best part of his breakfast.
‘Big night last night?’ Mac asked as he reached in to grab his water bottle. Frank shook his head, took a slug, swilled and spat.
‘You’re not sick, are you? I don’t want Sydney germs.’
Feeling a lot better now the food had been evacuated, Frank was happy to reassure her.
‘No germs. Motion sick. Had it since I was a kid. Most people grow out of it…’
‘But not you.’
‘Ah, no,’ Frank replied, trying not to misinterpret her tone of voice. ‘It’s better if I drive, if that’s okay with you?’
‘Now you tell me. You’re the boss. Come on, they found the body at the low-tide line.’
She headed down a rough grassy slope to the sand. The Pacific lay before them, living up to its name. An onshore breeze ruffled the tops of tiny waves, dotted with swimmers splashing about. Their squeals and laughter carried across the sand to where Frank and Mac stood silently. Three days after the incident there was nothing left to see.
‘We’re pretty insignificant, really,’ said Frank.
‘Sorry, sir?’ Mac eyed him up and down.
‘Oh, nothing ‒ thinking out loud. And please call me Frank. Did you know the deceased? He was a local, right?’
‘A bit – see him out in the surf. Saw him,’ she replied, correcting herself. Mac was looking seaward, not meeting Frank’s eye. ‘Saw him more at the pub. But he’s not a local.’
‘Sorry, I thought he was,’ said Frank. ‘So he’s a recent arrival?’
‘About eight years.’
‘Oh…’ Coffs Harbour seemed a city in comparison to Frank’s home town of Maitland, in the Hunter Valley, but he understood this small-town attitude to newcomers. For a moment he felt a longing for Sydney and its friendly anonymity. Only a moment. ‘What did you think of him?’
‘I didn’t. Seen enough?’
‘What’s over there by the rocks?’ he asked, pointing south to the platform that jutted out below the car park.
But Frank had already gone, striding purposefully. By the time Mac caught up he was hunkered down, photographing rock pools with his phone.
‘All the crime scene pics are in the file, sir,’ said Mac.
‘I’m sure they are,’ Frank replied, peering down at something. ‘Fascinating. You know, the Solitary Islands is home to some unique crustaceans.’
‘You don’t say.’
‘I’d like to see the body of the deceased next, if that’s okay.’ Mac nodded and they turned and walked back up the slope to the car. Frank stopped at the bonnet.
‘Ah, is it okay if I drive? It’ll help me get my bearings too, and I don’t want you to think of yourself as my chauffeur.’
‘Like I said, you’re the boss.’ She tossed him the keys and slid into the passenger side.
‘You didn’t lock the car?’ asked Frank, conscious of his backpack in full view.
‘This isn’t Sydney. There’s no need to ‒ it’s off-season and everyone knows everyone.’
Frank headed down Mullaway Drive, taking a left onto the Boulevarde.
‘What’s that?’ he asked, tapping his window to point at a round building.
‘Yurt by Sea,’ replied Mac, barely audible.
‘Oh. Pretty packed during summer?’ he asked, nodding to the tourist park.
They drove in silence for a while, taking the Solitary Islands Way into Woolgoolga. Exiting Woolgoolga he admired the ornate temple on the hillside, calling it a mosque.
‘It’s a Sikh temple,’ said Mac, correcting him. ‘Huge Sikh community on the Coffs Coast.’
‘I see. Tell me, Constable McFadden, you called it a crime scene earlier…does that mean you think Brent was murdered?’
Mac looked out the window a moment, as if mesmerised by the motorway scenery of concrete and steel.
‘We need to get to the hospital,’ she replied.
Frank looked over at her.
‘Sorry?’ he asked.
‘You wanted to see the body. No morgue in Coffs, which is a crime in itself. They keep bodies for us at the hospital, just until they are ready to receive them at the Newcastle or Sydney morgue. But with covid there is an even longer delay, so Brent is still at the hospital.’
Frank nodded. He didn’t pursue his previous question, but did notice the slight quaver in Mac’s voice and that she had used the deceased’s first name. Plenty of time to find out what that was all about.
The hospital was on the way to the airport, through a choke of traffic that stopped and started all the way across town.
‘What’s that parking lot for?’ asked Frank, pointing to an asphalt paddock dotted with cars.
‘A shopping centre. Got all the cheap shops.’
‘And that one?’
‘Movies and pub.’
‘You’ll be happy when the by-pass is finished? Turn the town into something more than a carpark?’ asked Frank, as they pulled up at yet another red light.
‘It already is, if you’re a local. This end is touristville.’
The receptionist at the front desk of the general hospital greeted Mac by name and gave Frank the once over.
‘I’ll let them know you’re here. You right to find your own way?’ she asked Mac. ‘You and your friend?’
‘Detective,’ said Mac curtly. ‘Colleague.’
Frank smiled back at the receptionist, wondering if he should try some small talk, get to know the locals.
‘Frank Diamond,’ he said.
‘Yes, flew in last night.’
‘And how do you like Coffs?’
Frank almost replied that he hadn’t really had time to see Coffs yet, but Mac had started off down a corridor.
‘Um, beautiful. Excuse me. Lovely to meet you.’
‘She seems nice,’ he said, as he caught up with McFadden. ‘Friend of yours?’
Frank glanced sideways at Mac’s stony face and tried to imagine her smiling at him. Maybe he’d have more luck with the dead guy.