Authors: Jon Cleary
The Scobie Malone Series
LARRY HUGHES, A DECKCHAIR CHUM FROM THE TITANIC
Â© 1995 by Jon Cleary
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher.
First ebook edition 2013 by AudioGO. All Rights Reserved.
Trade ISBN 978-1-62064-803-2
Library ISBN 978-1-62460-124-8
Cover photo Â©
next day said,
DEATH BY DEFENESTRATION
. It was written by a veteran sub-editor who had cut his teeth on alliteration, an old tabloid habit. Strictly speaking, however, Robert Sweden did not die by defenestration, a custom made popular by Italians in the early 17th century: though there was an open window nearby, he was tossed off a balcony. Whatever the exit, the effect would have been the same. A fall from twenty storeys up, though the quickest, is not the best way of reaching the ground.
Rob Sweden was charming, seemingly generous and gregarious; on the surface he had everything that was needed to hide the fact that, underneath, he was an unmitigated jerk, a sonofabitch and a scoundrel. Only a few people, however, knew this about him: including, presumably, the person who killed him.
His watch, an expensive item that gave the date as well as the hour and was guaranteed to function at forty fathoms, a comfort to drowning swimmers still concerned about punctuality, was smashed to smithereens when he landed. His time of arrival, 9.27 p.m., was given to the police by a passing taxi driver cruising for a fare, though not from above.
At 1.05 a.m. that same night the duty mortuary assistant at the City Morgue was in the body storage room, checking the Completed Bodies list for the past twenty-four hours. Normally he did the check around 11 p.m., but with the arrival of Robert Sweden's body and another two bodies, he had been busy and two hours had passed before the police had done their paperwork and departed.
Minto was a cheerful man in his late twenties, a half-blood Maori who spent his Saturday afternoons on the rugby field trying to add to the week's roster of corpses. He had arrived in Sydney two years before and soon found work at the morgue; as he said, it was just like Sunday in Christchurch. Working alone at night he joked with his silent audience and would have been insulted if anyone had suggested his humour was macabre. He would have explained that the dead, rather than being offended by his jokes, laughed silently, knowing that their worries, unlike those of the rest of us, were over and done with. He was a fatalist, though he would be surprised when death came to him.
He was joking with a middle-aged corpse, asking if it was comfortable, as he examined it. The corpse had been brought in just after Sweden's body had arrived and he had made only a perfunctory examination of it. It was not his job to do a detailed report, but since he had started work at the morgue he had begun to dream of becoming a pathologist, of getting some professional standing. He was scribbling a note on the tiny wound he had found at the base of the dead man's skull, when he heard the buzzer that told him there was someone at the big door to the morgue's garage and loading dock.
“I'll be back, Jack. Don't go away.”
Whistling a Billy Ray Cyrus tune, he left the body storage room, closing the heavy door to keep in the chilled air, and went out to the big loading dock. It was empty except for his own battered Toyota. Through the grille of the wide, shuttered door he could see the dark panel van outside. He could also see the dim shape of a man standing by the recently installed intercom.
“We have a body. A woman from a car accident.” The man had an accent, but that was not unusual these days. Aussies told him even New Zealanders had an accent, an insult if ever there was one.
“Nobody told me to expect it.”
“The police were supposed to tell you we were coming. Anyhow, here she is. Let us in, please.”
Strapped for money by a succession of State governments that, unlike certain electorates overseas, could see no votes in the dead, the morgue's security had for a long time been a staff joke. Only two months ago three men had walked in, as into an all-night delicatessen, and, after showing him a gun, had asked to see a particular body which had been brought in earlier in the evening. Satisfying themselves
the two bullets in the man's head had indeed killed him, they had thanked Frank, given him twenty dollars, and departed. It turned out later that the dead man had been the victim of a gangland shooting and the three men were just checking the job had been done properly, conducting due diligence before they paid off the hit man.
“Okay, bring her in. Are the cops on their way?” He pressed the switch that opened the big door.
“We thought they'd be here by now.”
Frank Minto went back up onto the loading dock and through to the receiving room where an empty stainless-steel trolley was always kept in readiness. He dropped his clipboard on the trolley, then wheeled the trolley out on to the dock. The panel van had been driven in to the foot of the dock and three men stood beside it, all of them in grey dustcoats, all of them wearing black hoods with eyeholes in them.
The shortest of the three men came up on to the dock, took a gun with a silencer attached from under his dustcoat, said, “Sorry about this,” and shot Frank Minto twice in the chest.
“Jesus!” said Frank Minto, though he wasn't a Christian; and died.
The other two men clambered up on to the dock and helped the man with the gun lift Frank Minto on to the trolley. Then they wheeled the trolley back into the receiving room.
The killer unscrewed the silencer and put it and the gun back into the pocket of his dustcoat, doing it unhurriedly and with a tradesman's skill. Then he neatly arranged the trolley beneath the camera fitted to the ceiling in the centre of the room. “They video all the bodies here before they put them in the body storage room.”
“You're not gunna fucking video
, are you?” Both of the other men, taller and heavier than the man with the gun, were visibly on edge, even though they still wore their hoods.
“Of course not. But I think he'd like to be waiting in the proper place for his colleagues in the morning, don't you?” He lifted Frank Minto's feet and picked up the clipboard holding the Completed Bodies list. He ran a slim brown finger down the columns. “Here he is.”
entry showed: 7âE.50710âMâU/KâCanterburyâ29/3â
“He's on trolley number seven, he's tagged E.50710. He's down as “Unknown”, so that's good. They've got him marked
, so that means they don't know the cause of death yet, that would be done by the forensic people in the morning. Get him. The body storage room is through that door and the first door on the right.”
“Aren't you coming with us?”
“I have to find the records and destroy them, I told you that.” The leader sounded irritated. “Now go get him!”
The other two hoods looked at each other, then one of the men shrugged and the two of them went out of the receiving room. The leader, left alone, went to work with the ease of a man familiar with his surroundings. He turned to the small rack of shelves against one wall, flipped through the videotapes stacked there, found the one he wanted and put it in a pocket of his dustcoat. Then he went out to the adjoining office. Here, too, he worked with the ease of experience, as if certain that everything would be where he expected to find it. He found the register book where all details were entered by the police who brought in the bodies; he tore out the page with the details on the Unknown Male, E.50710, found at Canterbury. He crossed to another desk, searched through a hardboard folder marked
and found what he was looking for: a Form P79A with the same details on E.50710. He put the form and the torn sheet from the register into the pocket with the videotape. Finally, he sat down before the computer which was on a bench against the wall, switched it on and then destroyed all data for the previous twenty-four hours. He sat back for a moment like a man well pleased with what he had done, though the hood showed no hint of what expression lay beneath its silk. For he wore silk, while the other two men wore black calico.
He stood up, looked around him as if making sure he had forgotten nothing, then he went back to the receiving room and through to the corridor that led to the body storage room. The other two men were just coming out, pushing a trolley on which was a body in an unzipped green plastic bag.
“Holy shit, it's freezing in there!”
You'd be complaining more if it was heated in there. You should smell the bodies where I come from, the ones they leave lying out in the open because there's no room for them.” The other two said nothing: killers both, they knew he had probably seen more death than they ever would. “Let's have a look at him.”
He merely glanced at the grey waxen face of the middle-aged dead man; after all, he had never seen him before he had killed him. He lifted the thick black hair and looked at the back of the scalp. “Good. They haven't even started an autopsy.”