"So, Jane Doe, you kept your promise."
Jane noted that the voice was breathless and disguised. "Yes. Why don't you come out, and we can talk?" Jane peered into the darkness of the warehouse, but she could only see a vague shape in the shadows. "You asked me to come. You said you have information about the serial killer."
"Yes," she lied. "Please come over here. I'd prefer not to call out to you."
The man moved a few steps towards her, but stayed in the shadows. "I'm glad you came alone, as requested, Jane Doe."
Jane's nerves tingled down her back. You don't know, mate, but Steve is outside! The stocky figure moved another step closer. At that instant, Jane realized why she could not see his face. He wore a dark balaclava. She feigned nonchalance as she spoke. "What do you want to tell me?"
The hoarse voice echoed around the empty warehouse. "I know who you're looking for. But I can't tell you his name or it will be the end of me."
"We can give you protection--"
"I don't want protection, Inspector, I just want you to know that this man is clever--he targets prostitutes."
"We know that already--"
"He thinks they are all trash! All of them are trash! He must be stopped--he'll kill again."
An eerie silence followed. Jane's heart pounded in her chest. Her mouth was dry and her voice croaked, "What's your name?" He did not answer. She steeled herself and asked, "What do you know about this killer?" She needed to feel the cool comfort of her gun that was nestled in her handbag, but resisted the temptation, not wanting to scare him away.
The hoarse voice repeated, "Trash! All trash!"
"You're not telling me what I need to know."
There was a noise outside the warehouse as Steve bumped into something in the dark.
"You're not alone!" the man snarled, and spun away.
Jane grabbed for his arm, but the bulky figure was surprisingly nimble on his feet. She managed only to snag his jacket sleeve. He jerked free, then shoved her backwards into one of the metal roof poles. Her head hit the pole with a thud. Surprisingly, there was no pain at first, but as she crumpled, warm sticky blood oozed down her face.
Her assailant turned and ran.
Although dizzy and weak, she managed to call out for her partner. She heard him in pursuit, then yelling at the retreating man. A moment later, Steve was at her side.
"Steve?" she croaked, then dry-retched onto the floor as nausea and pain overcame her.
Strong, but gentle arms went around her. "It's okay, Boss, everything's okay. I've called for an ambulance. You'll be fine, Boss--Boss?"
Jane slipped into unconsciousness.
"Jane? Can you hear me?"
She did not recognize the voice. She tried to move her head, then stopped, overcome with severe pain. Her mouth was dry and her lips felt like parchment as she mumbled, "Don't shout! I hear you."
Someone, a man, peered directly at her. She realized that the voice belonged to him. "Follow my finger. Yes! That's good, Jane. You're lucky! One fraction to the right, and--well, it wasn't, and you'll be fine. I repaired the depressed fracture. There will be bad headaches for a while, but with patience and rest, they should gradually disappear. By the way, I'm Doctor Green, your surgeon. You just need rest now. You gave us quite a scare, you know."
"I'm so tired," she muttered. Bright sun from the window made her frown in pain. A nurse quickly closed the curtains. Jane thought her lips would crack as she croaked, "It's daylight. I've been out all night?"
"You've been in a coma for a week, Jane."
"It's time to rest. I'll call in later. By then, your fan club might be allowed to visit." Doctor Green grinned.
"One is your fiancé, Oliver Tarrant, and the other is Senior Sergeant Steve Ho."
"Oliver's not my fiancé--not yet."
Mr Green smiled again. "They can wait a little longer. You need to sleep for a while first. I'll see you later."
Jane wanted to thank him, but he had already disappeared in a rush through the door. The nurse stayed, patted her on the arm, and said, "Relax. The doctor wants you to rest. This is the call button, if you need us." The nurse left the room. A few minutes later, Jane drifted off to sleep.
When Jane woke, she felt light-headed. Doctor Green magically appeared and extended more platitudes. Finally, with his examination complete, he smiled at her again. "It's time to let your fan club in," he said, and left the room.
Oliver entered first, holding a toy 'Pooh Bear' and a single red rose. Steve came in behind him, clutching a bunch of flowers. "Oliver--Steve!" Jane tried to sit up, but was stopped by pain.
"Keep still, my love," said Oliver.
"I'm sorry he got away, Boss. But my priority was looking after you," said Steve as he put a bunch of flowers on the bedside table. "These are from the squad, Boss." Steve was not a man to show any emotion. Jane wondered if his deliberate deadpan look was part of his Chinese heritage. Steve Ho, you always take everything so seriously. In contradiction to her thoughts, Steve suddenly flashed a big smile and said, "I won't stay now. You two need some time together. See you tomorrow, Boss. Take care of her, Oliver."
After the door closed, Oliver moved across the room and kissed her lightly on the lips, then tucked 'Pooh Bear' in beside her, and laid the rose on the bedside table.
"That idiot nearly killed you, Jane," he murmured.
"So Doctor Green keeps telling me."
"Well, your Doctor Green has ordered that you stay in the hospital for two weeks, with at least four weeks rest at home. Then, I think you should take another month's leave. Perhaps we can go away somewhere."
"Maybe," Jane responded, then feigned a yawn as she added, "I'm sorry, Oliver. I'm so tired. Thanks for Winnie the Pooh. I always wanted one." Jane yawned again, but this time it was a natural one. She suddenly felt exhausted.
"I love you, Jane Doe," he remarked, and kissed her on her cheek. He sat down on the chair next to her bed and took her hand in his. Within a minute, Jane drifted off to sleep.
"It's always your bloody work! What about us?" Oliver paced around the room. "Why can't you commit yourself? For God's sake, Jane, I love you."
"And I love you, Oliver, but I need time. I can't think clearly with these damn recurring headaches. The month down at the coast will be good for me. It's the first time I've been down in that area since my parents died."
Oliver stopped pacing and returned to the couch to put his arm around her. "I know that."
"When I was stuck in that little room in the hospital, I had plenty of time to think. I can't let mum and dad's accident at Apollo Bay stop me from going there again."
"Good! That's my girl!" Oliver kissed her lightly. They sat in silence for a few minutes.
Jane looked at Oliver and sighed. "I now accept the fact that they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Your parents would be proud of you. You're now a Detective Inspector and idolized by the members of your Homicide Squad." Oliver fidgeted on the couch and moved forward to look at her as he added, "I'm only asking for a yes."
"I don't want to give an answer tonight. Please understand." Jane hugged him, and added, "Look, I promise that I'll give you an answer the day I return. Okay?"
"No, it's not okay, but I guess I have no choice, do I?" Oliver responded, with a wry grin. "I'd better go. Look after yourself, and please, please keep in touch!"
"I will. I'm taking my mobile. I'll phone you. The local police know I'm coming. Sergeant Stan Greenough and I worked together years ago. I'm staying in his rental cottage. I guess it won't be long before the locals find out who I am and start to fuss over me. That's the nice thing about small coastal townships. Steve told me that our informer phoned to apologise for hurting me, but also said he won't meet the police again, as he's too scared of the killer."
"Look, I'm a hundred percent behind Steve, if he finds this man, and arrests him for assaulting you. Scared, or not, he could have killed you. But, as a police profiler, I agree that he was right when he told you that the killer only stalked prostitutes."
"Well, I'm not a target, Oliver. I pity the prostitutes, though--they're all scared of being his next victim."
"Jane, for goodness' sake, forget about this case. As much as I want you here, you need to get away and stop thinking about work for a change." Oliver put his arms around her and kissed her. "I'm going. Sweet dreams, my love."
Jane was filled with mixed emotions as the sound of Oliver's car disappeared into the night. She went to bed, but sleep eluded her as she mused about the ten horrifying rapes, and mangled bodies of young prostitutes that she had seen over the last three years. Each had daunting, similar autopsy reports. Rape followed by a savage beating, faces battered beyond recognition, making identification difficult. The latest victim still lay unidentified in the cold fridge of the city morgue, labelled as Jane Doe. As usual, the killer had left no fingerprints and had used a condom. But Jane and her squad had connecting evidence. DNA results of skin found under each victim's fingernails matched. All Jane had to do was find the man who matched the DNA. Oliver's right, I mustn't think about this case. That's Detective Senior Sergeant Steve Ho's job now, she mused. Heck, I wish I could get to sleep.
In desperation, Jane got up and took one of the sleeping pills that had been prescribed for her, then returned to bed. The drive to the coast would take her around three and a half hours or longer with a lunch break. Don't worry, Oliver, I'll phone you on my mobile when I get to Apollo Bay and have lunch. Damn you, why did you have to propose to me tonight? Tonight of all nights! She recalled the irony of the connection between her name and her job. Jane Doe! God, there are times when I hate that name!
Jane devoured the homemade steak and kidney pie, and French fries. She had washed lunch down with a glass of red wine, and then capped it off with a frothy cappuccino. Her rumbling stomach was now satiated. An icy wind slapped against her body when she stepped outside of the hot, stuffy-aired cocoon of the hotel's bistro. She walked briskly back to her car on the other side of the road. The dull warmth of the heater felt good, and the rhythmic baroque music was much better than the wailing music that had been playing in the bistro on the jukebox. After a final quick look at the map to get her bearings, she pulled out onto the Great Ocean Road again, and proceeded towards the famous Otway's National Park.
The car was engulfed by the rich, southern coast rainforests. It was as if she was driving through a prehistoric, surreal landscape. At Lavers Hill, the road veered to the left and wound its way downhill again, back towards the rolling plains of the coast.
There was no urgency to reach her destination. The day was hers to enjoy. She turned left, up a bush track to Moonlight Head, a rugged peninsula that jutted out into the ocean. The barman back at Apollo Bay had suggested the detour. Jane was glad that she had taken his advice. It was the one spot where a person could stand and see the Cape Otway Lighthouse to the east, and the famous "Twelve Apostles" to the west. These unique pillared outcrops, scattered offshore, gallantly defied the ravages of wind and water, which swirled around them. The strong ocean breeze combined with the smells of the hardy eucalyptus trees, which clung to the cliff top. Above the wind whistling past her ears, she could hear the distant cries of gulls. She strained her eyes, searching for them, and spotted them hovering over the rocks on the beach far to her right, where a lone angler braved the elements as he fished from the beach.
For the first time in years, she felt completely isolated. The sounds and smells reminded her of the happy times when her parents had taken her to the beach. The vista was indeed stunning, but the wind strong and icy. Straight off the Antarctic, she thought, hands tucked deep into the parka's pockets, teeth chattering. It was time to return to the warmth of her car and go back to the main road.
A few kilometres down the road, a hidden paradise unfurled before her through the windscreen. Pastures, dotted with fat cows and sheep, were sheltered from the wind by the tall dunes at the edge of the land facing the ocean. Jane started to hum the Bach fugue as she slowed at Princetown, a tiny community that boasted a pub, with a general store and fuel pump as its main features. Five kilometres down the rugged coastline, she turned left. Her car bounced and rattled down the gravel side road.
This was the area where she had prepaid a month's rental for a 150-year-old sandstone cottage, aptly called Cliff Cottage. Jane quickly glanced at the brochure's photo that lay on her passenger seat. The photo was of a little white cottage perched atop a tall cliff. The nearest big township from the cottage, Port Campbell, was another twenty kilometres to the west along the coast.
Five minutes later, Jane slowed and turned left onto a gravel track. The corrugations in the surface made it difficult for her to steer in a straight line. A road sign had indicated that it was a 100-kilometre zone. Ha! I can't get over 50! Just as well my car has good shock absorbers.
At last, she spotted the small, white sign that simply said Sea View Farm andCliff Cottage. She turned right, up a winding track that led to a rickety-looking farmhouse atop a hill overlooking the ocean. The view from the farmhouse was stunning. Jane turned off the engine, and quickly rechecked the name of the woman who had rented the cottage to her over the Internet. Beryl Greenough.
A plump woman with cropped, mousy hair waddled out to greet her as Jane got out of the car. Out of habit, Jane took a mental description of the woman. Caucasian female, solidly built, early 60s, approximately 152 centimetres tall, with blue eyes.
"Welcome to Sea View Farm," the woman said. "You must be Jane Doe. I'm Beryl, Stan's wife. I own Cliff Cottage. It's a couple of hundred yards down this track, right on the cliff's edge. Gorgeous site! I'm so pleased that you booked. Read all about you in the paper, love. Dreadful business! I often worry that Stan could be hurt on the job. Wasn't it about fifteen years ago that you worked together?"
"Yes, in 1987. It was my first job. I um--"
"Stan was your boss then, wasn't he, dear?" Beryl rattled on. "Stan hasn't gone up the ladder much since the 80s. He's not ambitious. He'd rather be here, away from the big smoke. Of course, you have a degree, don't you? Stan says that's the reason why you're a Detective Inspector, and he's still a Sergeant. Guess you'll want to catch up on the old days sometime with Stan."
"Not at the moment. I'm really here on sick leave to recuperate, Mrs. Greenough."
"Beryl, call me Beryl, love. Now, what was I saying? Oh, yes. Guess you hate your name at times," laughed Beryl. Her blue eyes filled with emotional tears as she nervously fiddled with her apron. "Come on in out of the cold, dear. I've got a fresh batch of scones, homemade jam, and whipped cream fresh from old Maisy out there ready for you. Tea or coffee?"
Jane smiled politely. How could she refuse such country hospitality? As she followed the loquacious, nervous Beryl into the farmhouse, Jane mentally noted that she would need to go on a diet after this holiday. Beryl reminded her of the highly-strung 'Mrs. Tittlemouse' from one of her favourite childhood books, constantly scurrying around the room in little steps, chattering all the time.
"Fancy having to cope with your name in the police force!"
Jane again preferred not to react, and instead changed the subject, asking, "Is the cottage stocked with food and drinks as requested?"
"Of course, my dear. All stocked within the budget that you pre-paid. I've even added a bottle of red wine as a welcome surprise. I also chopped up enough wood to last you for the first two weeks, at least. I'll chop more for you later, when the weather's better, and bring some down in the trailer for you."
"Doesn't Stan help you with the heavy chores?"
"Stan's rarely at the farm. That's why I do most of the chores myself."
"Please, don't worry," Jane told her. "I'll be able to look after myself."
"Nonsense, my dear. You still have hospital pallor. I know what it's like. I've been in and out for years. They tell me that it's something to do with my nerves, you know. Milk?"
It was an hour before Jane could find a suitable excuse to leave Beryl's incessant chatter. With the keys tucked into her pocket, she strode out to her car as light rain started to fall.
"Only a coastal shower, love. I've got it on good authority from the local weatherman at Cape Otway lighthouse Station that the forecast is for fine weather tomorrow. I'm so glad to have you stay at my little cottage. Off you go now and get some rest. You look a little tired."
Jane waved good-bye, and headed off downhill along the narrow, winding track, which led to what was going to be her home for the next month. Solitude, at last! No more hospital antiseptic smells, no work, no tension and hopefully, as the specialist predicted, decreasing headaches and better health as the sea air would also help her asthma.
Cliff Cottage appeared at the end of the track. It was prettier than the brochure picture. In fact, to use Beryl's description, "gorgeous." So Beryl is the owner, not Stan! The sun emerged from the now-scattered clouds, and beamed down on the sparkling, white-painted, sandstone cottage. It had a white, wooden picket fence with a waist-high, luscious green hedge. A further surprise awaited her as she walked through the gate. Behind the hedge was a tiny, beautifully manicured cottage garden, full of winter flowers, blues, soft pinks and gold colours, protected from the strong, Antarctic Ocean winds by the hedge and the natural tea-tree scrub, which lined the top of the cliff area. A lovely, soft scent wafted by her as she entered the gate and walked past the bed of perfumes. Perhaps I should move into a house with a garden. I don't know any of the names of these flowers. I must ask Beryl to tell me about them.
As she turned around and looked towards the sea, she noted a path that led towards the cliff edge. Atop the railing hung a sign that simply said, Five Mile Beach.
Inside the cottage, Jane felt as if she had stepped back in time to the days when the cottage had been built by one of the early settlers to the state. Lace curtains graced each window. A solid oak table for dining, chairs, and a big comfortable couch and two armchairs, covered in flowery linen, completed the sparse furnishings. There was a strong smell of furniture polish. There was an open fireplace, complete with a pile of old newspaper next to a large box of chopped dry wood. Beryl had also stacked a pile of wood against the back wall of the cottage. The only concessions to the modern age were electric power, a small fridge stocked full of fresh goodies as promised, an electric stove, and to Jane's relief, a microwave oven. The one bedroom had a king-size bed squeezed into it. Good, an electric blanket, Jane thought. I'm going to need that tonight. She shivered as she walked over to the fireplace, picked up a new box of matches, and lit the carefully set fire. Beryl's certainly a considerate hostess.
Looking at her watch, she noticed that it was nearly 5PM. No wonder it was getting dark. After all, it was mid-winter. Jane rushed out to her car to collect her travel bag, portable CD player and box of CDs. The last box that she brought in contained cereal, Long Life milk, instant coffee, a loaf of bread, pasta, tins of pre-made spaghetti sauce - her staple diet when working - and a carton of eggs. The cupboard had been stocked full by Beryl with healthier, fresh food supplies for the first week.
Jane clicked on her car alarm, then laughed at herself. Silly fool! You're in the country now. Who's going to steal your car from here? A creature of habit, she left the alarm on, and went back to the warmth of the now-crackling fire.
By 8 PM, dinner done, she sat in the armchair next to the glowing fire, dressed in her favourite, warm tracksuit over her flannelette pyjamas. Thick wool socks covered her feet. She sipped her cocoa as she waited for the electric blanket to warm up the large bed. The flickers of the flames were therapeutic and comforting. She turned down the volume of the Bach preludes so she could hear the distant thunder of waves. Regular thumps of the rollers pounded upon the rocks at the base of the sheer cliffs that were only a few meters distant from the cottage's front door.
Jane reflected upon the healing powers of nature and the perfect spot that she had chosen. She was, for the first time in her life, isolated from any other living person, though Beryl was not far away, up the track on top of the hill. Beryl had told her that Stan only slept at the farm on weekends, preferring to be near to the station in Port Campbell. No wonder Beryl liked to talk! Being a very independent person by nature, Jane looked forward to enjoying her own company for a change. It's going to be a challenge to read all these books, she thought, and perused the shelves stacked full of paperbacks next to the fireplace.
She had planned this holiday to be a time for reflection, and a time to reassess her future career and personal life. Do I really want to continue being in the police force? Do I want to get married? I'm near the top of my profession and respected by my fellow workers. I'm organised and find satisfaction as head of the homicide squad--no, that really hasn't been true lately. I've been getting snowed under with paperwork and administration, one part of the job I hate--and there doesn't seem to be any chance of a promotion for a long while. My private life is a mess. Washing and housework not done, because I'm too tired when I get home. Now, Oliver wants to marry me--and although I love him--I don't know if I want to make such a commitment! Whilst lying in her bed in the hospital, she had experienced moments of reflection. Now was the time to make decisions. This, she hoped, was going to be the ideal place for her to contemplate.
"Trash! All of them are trash!"
Damn it, those words are going to haunt me until this killer's caught. That informer ran off like a frightened rabbit. He obviously doesn't want his identity known. Oliver's profile of the killer describes a loner, not at ease with women--Oliver! Jane snapped out of her thoughts. She had been unsuccessful when she dialled his number back in Apollo Bay after she had eaten lunch. His line had returned a recorded message that his mobile was turned off. Jane pulled out her much-used mobile phone from her handbag, and flicked it on. Damn! A black spot. No reception.
Still, she wasn't concerned. She logically decided it would be wiser to drive, or better still, walk up the hill to get a transmission signal, and call him in the morning. It's too cold and dark outside now, anyway.Oliver's a patient man! Besides, he knows I will keep my promise to stay in touch.
Jane remembered the tinge of excitement that she had felt at the mention of the word "murder". Beryl's voice reflected her mutual excitement as she spoke. "A lovely young lass, with long, auburn hair--just like yours, in fact--was murdered near here a few years back. Thrown off the cliff, down onto the rocks below, about a mile east of the cottage. She's buried in a small, old cemetery, along the track to the west. They never found the murderer, you know."
Jane felt a momentary twinge of police curiosity as she pondered the unsolved murder. A shiver went through her as she thought of the comparison that Beryl had made between the victim and herself. From the information that Beryl had given, the murder was similar to the one she had been investigating back in Melbourne at the time she was nearly killed. Jane, for goodness sake, put your mind into neutral and out of gear! Stop thinking 'shop', and start thinking about nothing. Don't be stupid! You're tired after the long drive today, and your imagination is taking over your senses.
The only people in Melbourne who knew where she was staying were Oliver and Steve. Sergeant Greenough and the police at Port Campbell also knew that she was staying at the cottage. I'm going to enjoy this break from work. Now, what books will I read?
Jane inspected the books on the shelves next to the fire. She chose several of the large, hard-backed picture books. Expertly produced, she thought, as she flicked through the crisp, shiny pages, full of beautiful photos of the region. An hour later, she picked out one of the numerous ghost books. Beryl was obviously interested in ghosts! A ringed, black folder fell to the floor as she moved the book. She laid it on the little table next to the armchair, intending to look at it later. She browsed through a book that contained short stories about the ghosts in homes and castles in Europe, and sightings in England. She started to read them for light amusement. After an hour, she decided to retire for the night. As she put the book down on the oak table, she smiled and thought, fanciful stuff, but I don't believe in ghosts!
The king-size bed was now warm, so she turned the electric blanket down to minimum, climbed in, then switched off the bedside lamp. But sleep eluded her. She flicked the bedside light on again, and went to the kitchen to make a second hot cocoa. Earlier, she had not wanted to take one of the sleeping pills that her specialist had prescribed. But it seemed that she needed to take one now. Her head was clogged with unanswered questions of unsolved murders. She needed to sleep and get some rest.
It was over two hours later when she finally snuggled into the big bed. She lay on her back and listened to the sound of the wind that rattled the windows. The distant, methodical thunder must be the waves, she thought. She started to count the seconds between each wave as it crashed against the rocks at the foot of the cliff. Eight, nine, ten, Thump! Jane strained her ears, and kept counting the gap between the crashes of the waves on the rocks. As she continued to concentrate only upon the waves, nothing else, all the mixed thoughts of indecision and murder were forgotten. Ten minutes later, the counting trick started to work. Jane's thoughts centred on ghosts, and spirits from shipwrecks, and former inhabitants of the area, before she drifted to sleep.