"What the--? Damn people dumping their dead dogs at this tip. Don't worry, mate, I'll bury you with the others in the lower paddock."
The driver turned off the earthmover's engine. He climbed down from the cabin, and walked around to the huge bucket at the front to take a closer look.
"Oh, my God!" Vomit rose into his mouth. He leaned against the machine and shivered. It was some minutes before his fingers were steady enough to call the police.
* * *
Senior Sergeant Frank Stubbs strode around to the bucket, peered in, and shook his head. He looked at Senior Constable Marion Moore and said softly, "Looks like it's a serial killer now."
Stubbs blew his nose hard into his handkerchief. Marion Moore joined him at the side of the bucket and looked in. A foul stench emanated from the tear in the plastic. The constable put her hand over her nose and mouth. She waved her free hand in a vain attempt to brush away the flies buzzing around the parcel that contained the remains of a human torso.
"Well, at least we know one thing, Sarge."
"It's a male." Moore blushed then added, "No boobs, and--um the obvious appendage."
The sergeant was unimpressed. "I'm going to get Doe and her new Special Crime Squad. It's the same M.O. as her Malloy murder."
"But, Sarge, it might be a copycat. There were enough details in the papers."
Stubbs stared at the gruesome parcel. "Marion, we need to secure the area. This tip is closed until further notice, or I should say until we find the rest of this poor sod's body."
Senior Constable Moore walked over to the car and joined two ashen-faced young constables who had retreated to the police car.
Senior Sergeant Stubbs stood transfixed. The plastic parcel had an old-fashioned, cardboard tag attached with rough, heavy-duty string. The cold, evening breeze flicked the card from side to side. It read: SEVERANCE PACKAGE, 1 of 6.
* * *
Detective Inspector Jane Doe shuffled the pile of papers on her desk. She sorted them into the In, Pending, and Out trays. Stretching her arms above her head, Jane yawned, then swung around on her swivel chair, looked out the window behind her desk, and let her thoughts drift for a moment.
It's still a bit of an effort to get up so early after all those weeks of sleeping in. I'm glad my new office is on the fifth floor. The view's fantastic. I must go for a walk in the gardens at lunchtime. I might even go up to the top of the Shrine of Remembrance. A good way to keep fit.
She gazed at the gardens across St. Kilda Road, frowned, and blinked.
Damn, the last thing I need is a headache. The specialist did say I'd still get them for some time. Better take a couple of painkillers or I won't be able to think clearly.
Jane looked at the sparkling, solitaire diamond ring on the fourth finger of her left hand.
Why did I accept your ring, Oliver? I love you and want to live with you but I can't agree to be a fulltime housewife; not yet.
She rummaged through her handbag and retrieved a packet of tablets.
Heck, is it only eight weeks? No, don't think back. Think forward. Headache or not, it's good to be back at work.
The phone rang. She reached across the files on her desk and picked up the receiver.
"Doe speaking. Hello, Frank. What? Damn. Yes, you're right. I need to check this one out." She glanced at her watch. "Don't move the parcel yet, Frank. I'll send Doc Harvey to you straight away. Steve Ho and I'll be there as soon as we can, say in forty minutes."
Jane replaced the receiver, her thoughts racing.
First week back and what do I have? One chopped up body of a retired MP and no suspects. Now there's the first parcel of another identically packed body-part found at the Sunbury tip. What's the connection to Sunbury?
Jane popped out two painkillers from their foil package and swilled them down with cold coffee from the mug on her desk. Grimacing, she dialled Detective Senior Sergeant Steve Ho's extension. "Steve? There's a neatly wrapped parcel waiting for us."
"Another severance package?"
"Looks like it."
"Yep. But, this one's at the tip, not the vineyard."
"Pieces of garbage? This killer is some son of a bitch, Boss."
"Sick and dangerous, Steve. I'll meet you out front."
Jane hung up. She put on her parka and picked up her murder kit. The fragrance of Chanel No. 5 drifted back into her office as the door slammed shut.
Jane couldn't get the image out of her head. She walked away from the earthmover's huge bucket.
Damn! We need the rest of you mate, and fast. What's your connection to Malloy? If only the dead could speak! No, I can't think about ghosts.
She looked around the immediate area of the tip, where she stood. Huge mounds of waste surrounded her; plastic bags, both sealed and torn, bulging with putrid garbage, dwarfing her in mountainous piles. Some bits and pieces caught her eye. An old, twisted handbag, a frayed ladies blouse, and a summer straw hat without any crown, oddly out of place in the rain-sodden winter setting.
A collector's paradise, if one is interested in discarded rubbish and junk. Thank God it's winter. This place would really stink in summer. Phew, the odours are still pretty bad though.
Jane, jolted from her thoughts, looked up at the handsome face of her sergeant, Steve Ho. "Yes?"
"Can the Doc let the mortuary van take the trunk back to the morgue?"
"Yes, I don't see why not." She looked towards the western horizon. "Damn, it's getting dark."
"Yeah, it's going to be difficult to find the other parts by spotlight. I'm presuming you want to keep searching?"
"Of course. The sooner we find the rest of the packages, the better."
Jane turned her back on Ho and stared out across the piles of rubbish.
* * *
Steve walked away from her, moving with care across the sticky clay to join three men standing near the earthmover. One of the men was Doctor Fred Harvey, the chief forensic pathologist from the Melbourne Coroner's Office. Steve nodded at Doctor Harvey.
"The trunk's all yours Doc. Are you staying?"
Doctor Harvey's deep brown eyes stared directly at Steve Ho. "Yes, I'm as keen as you and Jane to find the rest of this poor man's body. On first observations, this looks like the same killer. I won't know for sure until I get the whole body and compare everything with my autopsy on Malloy." The doctor wiped raindrops from his beard with the back of his hand. "Malloy's murder certainly caused a real stir last week. This one will only add fuel to the tabloids' headlines." He looked across to Jane in the distance. "By the way, how's Jane coping?"
"Like the professional that she is. She still gets bad headaches. But she never complains. She's still married to her job."
"Is there any truth in the rumour that Jane can now communicate with the dead?"
Steve frowned. "What are you talking about?" He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his nose.
"Come on, Steve, I know Jane's fiancé Oliver. He recently mentioned something about Jane communicating with a ghost called Ryan. A ghost who might have saved her life. Mind you, it was at an alumni night and Oliver and I had had a few beers. But he said it happened when she was on R and R, down at the coast. Surely, you know what happened there. Oliver reckoned he doesn't know whether to accept it as fact or fantasy. As for myself, I like to think laterally. By that, I mean that research shows that some people, with head injuries, who haven't sustained permanent brain damage, actually gain new mental powers. Quite the opposite from loss of functions." Harvey smiled at Ho. "A Hong Kong lad like you would believe in karma. Am I right?"
Steve frowned again and cleared his throat. "Doc, I wouldn't mention what you've just told me when you talk to Inspector Doe. She believes in the strength of facts to solve a murder investigation, just as I do. Cold, wind-swept, dark nights on a cliff top can certainly heighten one's imagination. As for myself, I was brought up in Hong Kong as a Buddhist. I believe that karma, or what you call fate, guides our destiny. A ghost didn't save her life. Oliver just happened to be in the right place at the right time."
* * *
Ho and Harvey stopped their conversation as Jane approached. She pulled her right hand from her pocket and shook Harvey's hand.
"Hello, Doc. Thanks for coming so quickly. Hell, it's freezing up here. Let's go up to the tip office." She pointed to a large portable shed on the far side of the dumping area. "The manager's topped up the urn and the local police are organising some refreshments to keep everyone going all night, if necessary." She led them across the sticky clay.
* * *
Steve Ho opened the door. He followed Jane and Doctor Harvey into the warmth of the portable.
"What do you think, Doc?" asked Jane as she took off her parka and placed it on a chair next to the table.
"I can't give you an accurate answer until I've investigated all the body in a PM. But, off the record, I share your gut feeling that it's the same killer. The wounds appear to be clean and concise. The cuts are like those on Malloy's neck. The printing on the label could be written by the same person."
"Done by a professional?" Jane asked. "Or perhaps someone within the medical fraternity?"
"Not necessarily. Vivisectionists, scientists, nurses, mortuary assistants, butchers, fisherman, and many other jobs all utilize the knife as a tool of their trade."
Jane paced around the room. "You're right. Unfortunately, there are plenty of medical books, informative diagrams, and videos, in libraries and, of course, on the Internet, to give any layman an idea of how to dissect a body. Coffee anyone?"
Jane spooned instant coffee into three polystyrene cups, pressed the tap on the side of the urn and filled each cup with hot water. Only then did she look directly at Harvey.
"We haven't found any real motive for Malloy's killing yet, Doc. The only link we have between the two victims is that their bodies were found in Sunbury." She handed over the coffees and watched as the Doctor stirred in milk and sugar.
Ho sipped his coffee. "The killer has a sense of the macabre. He put the first victim's body pieces into six different wine barrels at the front of Malloy's vineyard. He's dumped this one at the tip. Each label, Severance Packages, is almost like issuing a statement, like a threat or warning of sorts."
Neither Jane nor Doc Harvey responded to Steve's comments. In mutual silence, the trio savoured the warming effect of the steaming coffee.
A loud knock at the portable door disturbed them, and Steve Ho opened the door. A young constable from the Sunbury station stood to attention outside. She was shivering, despite being heavily rugged up against the cold.
"Sir, we've just found the--um--the right leg."
Jane, Harvey, and Ho dumped their half-empty cups on the table and grabbed their parkas. Jane caught her breath as the cold wind outside slapped against her, then followed the others as they made their way down the pile of trash, stepping with care over split and soggy bags, vegetable peelings, and other unidentifiable, rotting matter that seemed to smell worse when trodden on. Jane screwed up her face.
Hell, if smells were music, this would make a ghastly symphony! She was getting breathless, and took a quick dose from her inhaler, then moved down through the rubbish. Damn my asthma. Damn the smell. Damn the weather.
"There it is, Inspector." The constable pointed to a small depression down in the pile ahead.
Jane's feet squelched and slipped. To prevent a fall, she leaned back, but her feet lost traction and she landed on her backside in a heap of muck.
"Need help, Boss?"
Jane saw the broad grin on Ho's face. She snapped back at him. "No, I'm all right." She struggled to her feet, and shook her hands in a vain effort to flick off the sticky mud from her gloves, before joining the sombre group standing around the second parcel.
They watched in silence as Doctor Harvey carefully measured the leg and dictated pertinent remarks into his recorder. Then he stood up. "At a rough guess, I'd put him around six foot or so. Of course, I'll know when I get the head. In the meantime, fingerprints from an arm will help. At least we have two of the six pieces."
Senior Constable Marion Moore called from the top of the trash pile. "Hello down there. Food's ready. Come and get it before it goes cold. Hamburgers and chips." Moore disappeared from their view.
At the bottom of the trash pile, Doctor Harvey looked at Jane and Ho. "Go on," he said. "I'll meet you up there in a few minutes. I only need a couple more photographs, and then this can go to the morgue."
Jane touched Ho on his shoulder. "Come on." She moved up through the trash. "Don't be too long, Doc," she called back. "I might eat your share."
Ho rubbed his neck, shrugged his shoulders, and then pulled up the collar of his parka against the icy wind. He walked beside Jane back to the portable.
"The hot food will make us warm again," said Jane, shivering.
"Nothing like eating a bit of mince meat," he replied, "when looking for a chopped up body!"
* * *
Jane was devouring her hamburger when Doctor Harvey entered the office and helped himself to a bag of chips. She allowed herself the luxury of a second cup of coffee, then glanced at her watch.
Only seven-thirty and it's pitch black out there.
Doc Harvey licked his salty fingers clean. "Mmm, I needed this." He emptied the bag's contents. "That was nice of Senior Constable Moore to bring us some tucker."
"She's got a heart of gold, Doc. Marion works with Frank for the youth in this area. They run the local blue light disco." Jane stopped as Marion entered the office hut carrying a large box full of takeaway.
"I've organised more food for the rest of the crew."
Jane checked her watch again. "Thanks, Marion. Steve, call in the others in groups for a break, will you?"
"Right, Boss." Steve grabbed his parka and stepped outside with Senior Constable Moore into the now howling wind.
Doctor Harvey stood up and started to put on his warm gear. "Congratulations!"
"I was referring to the sparkler on your fourth finger."
"Oh. Oliver caught me in a weak moment."
"He's a lucky man. Guess you'll retire eventually, eh?"
"It's only an engagement, Doc. Goodness knows when we'll find time to get married." Why does he think that I'll retire? Jane had done up the wrong press-studs on her parka. She pulled them open and started again.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine." She opened the door. "Come on. Let's go, Doc."
By nine o'clock, there had been no sighting of the left leg, the arms or the head amongst the piles of rubbish, and the searchers were slowing down because of deteriorating weather conditions. Jane called another twenty-minute coffee break in the hope that a heavy shower of rain would pass. To her relief, the rain abated. Everyone, including Jane, continued hand-sifting through soggy bags, parcels, and decomposing food scraps.
At eleven-thirty, after a slow scramble up the pile of rubbish, Jane made a decision. "The search will be much easier in the morning. My boots have at least three inches of clay stuck to them."
Damn this rain. Damn this killer. Damn this job. I'd kill for a glass of scotch.
"Inspector?" It was the same pasty-faced, shivering constable.
"Yes? Constable Nguyen, isn't it?"
Angela Nguyen's boots sloshed through the mud as she moved closer. "Yes, Ma'am. I--I've just found the right arm. It's down there." She pointed to the base of the pile, fifty feet down the slope.
Jane and Steve, with Doctor Harvey close behind, followed Nguyen to the spot. A mud-spattered hand stuck out of some plastic. The rest of the arm lay half-submerged in a pool of muddy water.
"I didn't move anything, Doctor. As soon as I saw it, I went to tell Inspector Doe."
"Just what I wanted you to do, Constable," said Harvey, bending down. He snapped on some gloves, then reached down into the water for the rest of the parcel. A brief smile flicked across his face as he looked up at Jane.
"False alarm, folks." Harvey held up an arm from a store dummy. He looked at Nguyen. "Don't fret, lassie."
Jane said, "It's time to quit for the night. Bloody impossible conditions."
By midnight, Jane and the search team were ready to leave. Senior Sergeant Stubbs had organised a roster to guard the tip overnight.
"Thanks, Frank, your assistance is always appreciated," she said. "Until I say otherwise, the tip remains closed."
Frank nodded acknowledgment, then stood back as Ho started the car. Jane sat huddled up in the passenger seat. Ho drove along the slippery track that led to the main road back to Sunbury.
"Frank has organised accommodation at the local motel in Gap Road," Jane said.
"I know. He gave me the instructions to get there."
"Good. Ooh, I need a hot shower." Jane struggled to keep her eyes open as Steve motored down the winding road into the township. Her head started to nod and she drifted off.
"Boss, your handbag's ringing."
"Hmm? Oh, hell. I was going out to dinner tonight with Oliver."
Ho grinned. Jane scrounged around her bag and retrieved her mobile phone.
"Hello? Oliver, I'm sorry. What's the time?" I know the time. Why am I lying to him? "Heck, it's that late? So you know where I am?" Of course, you would know. You're our police profiler, after all. "Just doing my job." Jane grimaced as she listened to Oliver, then responded, "I'm sorry about dinner. You know what it's like when I'm on a case. I'll give you a ring. Okay?" She kept the phone to her ear. Although Oliver had hung up, she spoke to the dial tone. "I'll call you in the morning. Night."