As we re-entered the foyer, a short, stocky man strode purposefully towards us. “God help us!” exclaimed Hyland. “It’s Mr Wilson!”
I nodded towards the constable who was supposedly guarding the front door. “How did he get in? Too short for the Oz police. And I know all the residents – he’s not one of us. A reporter if ever I saw one! You gave orders – ”
“Public relations! What can I say to keep the vultures out of here?”
“Let me hande him,” I offered.
“Well, Hyland, are you finally ready to make a statement to the press? The boys have been waiting ten hours or more.”
“Inspector Hyland has nothing to say to the press at this point.”
“Who are you?”
“Manning. Sergeant Merryl Manning. Atlantic City police.” I flashed my warrant card at him – too fast for him to read the date. “I’m assisting Inspector Hyland with his inquiries.”
“That’s great! I’ll bring the boys in.”
“Outside!” ordered Hyland. “This is still a crime scene.”
So I go outside and pose for photos for tomorrow morning’s papers and snatches for today’s late evening TV updates.
How do you spell ‘Merryll’?
What are you doing in Australia?
On furlough. My mum was an Australian. Met my dad during the war.
World War 2.
Did I know the deceased?
Sure did. Fellow resident and all that.
What was she like?
Lovely girl. Heart of gold and a personality to match. Just one terrific human being. She will be missed. Deeply missed. We are all of us shocked. Deeply shocked.
Did I know her well?
Sure did. I was helping the public-spirited little lady with her election campaign. She was standing as an alderman for Beachfront Council, you know.
No, we didn’t know! Wow! What did she look like?
I’ve got some election posters upstairs. I’ll give them to Mr Wilson to distribute in a moment.
Any ideas who killed her?
None. She was so well-liked. Everyone loved her. Such a kind and generous nature. Heart of gold, as I said. Do anything for you. She was a treasure. An absolute treasure.
What’s your theory?
A robbery that went wrong is my guess. Thief probably thought she wasn’t home. Instead she was sunbaking on the balcony.
Wow! Let’s have those photos!
“Mind if I take Wilson up to my place, chief?”
“I’ve promised the wolves outside a stack of election posters. Why not? They may as well have originals as tear them off lamp posts. And it might do us some good.”
“We were all give twenty or thirty posters. I just never got around to putting my lot up – like probably half the other residents in this building. And there’s a limit to the number of available lamp-posts anyway. Besides, it’s illegal.”
“Your place? Have we searched your apartment, Manning?”
“You and Jarrett gave me and mine the once-over last night, remember?”
“We weren’t looking for Mrs Erwin last night.”
“I don’t offer sanctuary to zombies and witch doctors.”
Hyland signaled to Jarrett and two of his men and we all of us trooped up to my apartment. I felt like protesting just as vociferously as old Miles-of-fun Garrani. But what was the use?
There was nothing for the constabulary to moon over, of course, although the inspector insisted on closely examining Susan’s election posters before he allowed an impatient Wilson to snatch them out of hand and run off with them. Otherwise, the only center of interest was a dirty big garbage tin right in the middle of my ant-sized kitchen. Sunday night was garbage night, so I’d angled the tin as prominently as possible to remind me to take it downstairs. Such fun in store, with the elevator out of order!
Hyland sighed. “I guess that’s all we can do today. If by some remarkable chance, Mrs Erwin is still bottled up somewhere in this building, I’ll station a man at each entrance – front and rear – for the night.”
“We don’t call them front and rear, inspector. Front and beach. Get it?”
“See you in the morning, my office, seven o’clock.”
“Whoa! I’m just a volunteer here, remember?”
“Crims don’t keep regular hours, Manning. Tomorrow at seven. Coming, sergeant?”
Hyland raised his eyes to heaven, but said nothing. He signaled to his two constables and the three of them marched out the door.
“What can I get you, Vic? Whisky and soda? Beer?”
Jarrett shook his weird-shaped head. “I could really go for a glass of water,” he said, sitting himself down on my kitchen chair.
Typical! “What a nightmare day!” I remarked as I sloshed water into a glass.
He drank greedily.
“Sure you don’t want something stronger? I’ve got some brandy handy.”
He shook his head. “You going to bed?” he asked.
Thick! I’d already told him I had to wrestle the garbage tin down seven flights of stairs. I felt like cracking some smart reply, No! No! I’m going to stay up and knot out today’s crossword puzzles! But wit is wasted on country boy. Instead I told him what I planned to eat. “I know I’m asking for nightmares,” I added, “but it’s hard to break a habit.”
“Nightmares!” he repeated with surprising force. “They’re part of the job, mate.” He creased his lips into a wintry smile. “You’re talking to a flaming expert.” He ran his big hand over his narrow forehead. “Yeah, join the police force and see the world – the nightmare world. She’s right there, cobber – and not just below the surface. She’s right there!” He pointed to his heart. “And right in here!” He tapped his forehead. “Yeah, too right, I’m no stranger to bloody nightmares. Though I never got her really bad, till after I killed that guy. I was afraid to go home. Work overtime, till I’d drop at the desk. I’d still see him though. And not just in dreams, mate. I’d see his head on every corpse. Turn over the weightless body of a nameless O.D., sift through the ashes of some burn-out, jack open the door of a wreck, and there he’d be, skin blued by hundreds of jabs, face scalped by broken glass, hair combed with sticky, dull red blood!”
“How about that jot of brandy now?”
He shook his head slowly. “Thanks, mate, but I never touch the stuff. Well, I’ll be moving along. See you tomorrow.”
“Going home?” I asked.
“What did I just tell you?”
He put his fingers to his lips. “Think I’ll follow up a little hunch. There was one place we didn’t search.”
He was gone. I stared at his empty chair. If he had a hunch, he’s supposed to share it with me. I’m his partner, but if he wants to work alone, let him! As for me, I’m going to open a tin of vegetable soup, then eat a whole bar of chocolate for dessert. Maybe then I’ll have enough energy to wrestle the garbage tin down the stairs. And then I’m going to climb all the way back up and thankfully crash into bed, dreams or no dreams.