Posted April 01, 2017
People who don’t mix business and pleasure took bad career advice
Had she been religious she would have said a prayer. It was dastardly, it was cruel and it was unjust. It was spread everywhere, covering everything, going against nature and defying all that was correct.
Surely, Catherine thought, there was no need for this much hollandaise. And yet it was there, perfect, in front of her.
Catherine Kint was at that moment sitting on the bench of an eatery in the north of Melbourne, taking in the ambience, eggs benedict, the newspaper and large amounts of life-giving coffee. While the ambience was doing little, therapeutically speaking, all other elements were exorcising her hangover and lifting her mood. She had made a deal with herself about the hangover (it being her fifth in as many days) in which she would reconcile with it, and its side order of regret, after breakfast. Then she would plan an attack for the mounting work that was plaguing three corners of her mind. For now though, it was just her, the hollandaise and the coffee. Alone, and almost at peace.
As minutes became tens of minutes, and they became clusters of tens of minutes, the mosquito-in-the-tent irritability that had dogged her since waking was receding as surely as the barista’s hairline.
Instinct caused her to turn momentarily and look towards the room, seeing newspapers rapidly fluttered in front of two men on separate tables. A moment to check their body language told Catherine there was nothing but admiration in their glances; she caught sight of her own reflection in the dark metal of the coffee machine and smiled. The hangover didn’t show, just a slim woman with a Mod bob haircut and dark eyes. Perhaps her slow burn contentment was alluring, and they appreciated the languid way she turned her newspaper page, or the way her dark fringe danced in time as she nodded agreement to one of the more astute opinion pieces. Maybe they enjoyed watching a woman contemplating her position on the planet at that time, and finding it increasingly satisfactory.
Her contemplation was ended by the locust of the twenty-first century: her mobile rang.
The news on the line was bad.
If Boris had been screaming, or crying, Catherine would have been less worried. Instead, he spoke with a detachment Catherine had only ever heard him use moments before vomiting. Boris – raconteur, friend and barman – was obviously upset.
‘I hope you’ve started without me.’
‘I have, of course.’
‘Catherine, I’m looking at a dead girl.’
‘Where are you?’
‘Alleyway near the Abruzzo.’
‘On my way.’
‘She’s what, Boris?’
‘She’s … Christ … she’s had her throat cut, Catherine.’
‘You called the cops?’
By the time Boris had uttered his final blasphemies, Catherine had peeled a twenty from her wallet, finished her latte and was out the door. She had ascertained from this conversation that:
- a) Something horrible had happened.
- b) Boris was in no state to be alone, as he was possibly about to vomit on a corpse. Nor was he able to say exactly where he was. Was it the alley behind the Abruzzo Club or the T-junction of alleyways near the Abruzzo car park?
- c) She would be a better friend if she moved immediately to wherever he was; the cafe was only a hop, skip or a jump from either place.
- d) Work was going to have to wait.
Catherine walked briskly in the Melbourne spring morning, watching the birds on the power lines and listening to the rumbling traffic, her mind moving through the possibilities of what the next minutes would show. She tried the car park alley first. Considering the two possibilities, she thought the T-junction was more likely to be a crime scene. It was better concealed, for one thing, and reeked of possibility. The possibility of lust, of garbage, of the odd student desk, even the possibility of blood.
Catherine arrived just as the yawp of sirens came from the south. She saw two figures sitting, one facing the other and one slumped, surrounded by dried blood. Blood sprayed over the ground in curved lines around the body as it fell. A woman who had been young and beautiful. The blood that hadn’t circled her body stained her torso and pooled around the nearest cobblestones. Her right arm lay across her body; her right hand was missing the middle, ring and little fingers. Her mouth was slack. Her dark eyes were still open.
Opposite her, Boris was breathing deeply, his bulk folded into an uncharacteristically compact unit as he stared. The parts of his face not covered by his light brown beard were pale. His eyes blinked often, but his line of vision remained consistent. About a metre of cobblestones separated his boots from the outermost circle of blood. Catherine suspected she could cross his path of vision or even pinch him but he would not stop looking at the figure opposite him.
‘I’m alright. Thanks for coming.’
He would be alright — he hadn’t even vomited. Catherine raised her gaze above his head, where a nail protruded from the wooden fence bordering the alley. Fixed to the nail was what looked like a small sheaf of wheat stained with spots of blood. Then she looked at the woman.
Catherine’s eyes went soft as she took it all in. She felt the synapses of a previous career twang and crackle. Part of her fought it, reminded her that she wasn’t that job anymore. She kept looking. The cool air seemed to hold more light than usual. Catherine wondered if she could smell the blood. No, just fresh air, pollen and cold cobblestones.
She moved closer. Not close enough to touch — that was for police, which had never been her job — but to absorb all she could. Only if needed, only for the interview.
She’d bled out, as victims of throat injuries often did. The coagulation told Catherine that the wound was at least an hour old, but it could be many more. It would be impossible to say without an autopsy. Her carotid artery had been neatly sliced along with the rest of her throat, the wound continuing across the neck to her right ear. Judging by the amount of blood that stained the cobblestones, where her singular finger now pointed, she’d lost blood from the wound in her throat before her fingers had been severed. Catherine was painfully aware how long it had been since this had been her job. Her experience with crime scene investigation meant she could read things here, but that suddenly felt a long time ago. Catherine shook her head slightly, pushing away the idea of all the things she was missing.
Her head was tilted back, showing the opened neck. Her dark eyes seemed focused and low, as if she were staring at something above Boris.
The wounds on the right hand were clean. A single blade, a knife — likely the same knife that slit her throat. Catherine couldn’t see the fingers nearby. Scanning the bloodstains, she noted three spots where blood had spurted in three arcs of diminishing distance. They were consistent with the body’s current position. They had been cut while she sat here, after the death.
Her black hair was long and straight, partially tied back in a loose ponytail. She was wearing lipstick and, Catherine decided, just a hint too much eyeliner, though her foundation was perfect for her tanned complexion. Double checking her theory on time of death, and murmuring an apology to the police, Catherine gently touched the dead girl’s forehead — it was cold. This had happened hours ago.
The woman seemed familiar to Catherine, maybe she had been on television. She was in her twenties, dressed in jeans, leather belt, pale brown jacket over a black cotton top, a scarf of many colours that may have been purchased in Vietnam, Collingwood, or both. Somewhere a raven called an expletive.
Catherine followed the murdered woman’s eyes, she had been staring at the wheat hanging from the fence opposite her. Three visible spots of flecked blood stained the golden stem and ears.
Two police came hurrying up the alleyway. Boris began to move as they came close, standing slowly like an old man rising for the national anthem. His movement did not disturb the wheat behind him. The terse-looking constable with the blonde bob approached quickest.
‘Move back, miss.’ Her voice sounded brisk.
Catherine turned, and took two steps back. ‘Good morning, officer.’
She was appalled that her voice wavered. She knew it was understandable in the circumstances, but she found it disappointing.
‘Move over here, please. You too, sir.’ Boris moved next to Catherine, three metres away from the body.
‘Did you find her?’
There was no waver in the cop’s voice. Her partner meanwhile moved up the alley, speaking into his radio. He was tall and kept shifting his head as he peered down the long alley.
Catherine motioned to Boris. ‘No, he did.’
Boris gave a little wave.
The cop realised that Boris was in shock, and turned to Catherine. ‘When did he find her?’
‘I got a call fifteen minutes ago.’
‘Why did he call you?’
‘He was running late for breakfast.’
‘Your name, please?’
‘Kint. I’m Catherine Kint.’
The cop’s pen paused halfway to her pad. ‘I know that name. You’re police?’
‘No, I’m a milliner; I was CSI for a few years. Unsworn.’
The cop’s eyebrows knitted and she smiled. ‘And now you make hats?’
Catherine raised a palm. ‘Permanent sea change.’
This was clearly enough. ‘Did you touch anything?’
‘No, I didn’t — I was just making sure Boris was OK. Before you guys came.’
‘Do either of you know the victim?’
Catherine looked to Boris, who seemed mesmerised with watching the tall cop tape off the scene.
‘Not me, Boris?’
He turned back to the body while he answered the question. ‘No, I don’t know her.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘My Dad is. I’m from here.’
‘When did you find her?’
‘Just before I rang triple O,’ he checked his watch, ‘twenty minutes?’
‘Why were you coming this way?’
Catherine turned back to the body as Boris answered more questions. She longed for a gin, worrying about hangovers suddenly felt indulgent. The woman’s handbag was still by her side. In that handbag would be identification, a name. A name that would lead to family, friends, parents.
She moved to Boris, who had finished giving his details, and put an arm around him. He leaned into her and exhaled softly. Comforting, thought Catherine, was the only thing she needed to be. Even so, there was something in the way the cop was staring at the girl, and then trying to take notes with a pen that wouldn’t work, that churned her gut. Made her want to be a part of the machine that made scenes like this make sense. As much as any person or machine could.
Catherine turned back to the victim. Her dead eyes staring at the spattered wheat. It looked like a challenge, or a warning. As if the girl was an arrow towards this symbol. A bloody arrow.
Later, once she had pledged to breathe police station air, drink police station coffee and to give an official statement, Catherine walked home. Boris hadn’t felt like breakfast.
Just three years earlier that had been a daily event. Working the scene of a death. Crime scene investigation was a life of fact-checking and staring into the eyes of dead strangers. Cataloguing facts of a person’s demise, to be cross-checked by the police and the coroner. Catherine remembered the busyness of such scenes. She wondered if back then she would have felt as shaken as she did today, or was it just the time elapsed since she had last been at the scene of a murder? Perhaps death was easier when you had a job to do.
Entering her apartment, she scratched her cat’s neck, put the kettle on and ran the shower. Her mind churned over the morning’s events. Catherine knew the victim would have lived long enough to see her blood spray from her body. What the victim had seen, felt and thought as the knife came across her throat haunted her.
These images were front and centre, but were continually interrupted by the ocean-like chatter rising from a brain that was trying to drown a terrible event. The chatter only noticed in the quiet that holds the mind for hours after a consciousness-changing event. Catherine wondered if Boris would be at the pub tonight to verify her story? How long had he stared at the body before he’d rung her? How much knowledge of blood had she lost in three years? Is it ridiculous to say that juice is to tomatoes as blood to humans? If tomatoes had only been introduced to Europe in the eighteenth century did it really mean that Shakespeare never had a BLT, and if so how could his world view be so broad?
She kept coming back to the body and the fingers. They would be centre stage of her brain for a while. Time was the thing. Once time had passed, the body would be a memory only arising every now and again. The police would find who committed this murder and she would understand the horror. That would have to be enough on this one. There was no connection to her aside from the fact that her best friend had found the body.
She breathed in as she pushed a towel through her hair. She looked at the framed photos that punctuated the pale walls of her bedroom. Memories become photos become furniture become background, until someone dies and they awaken. As she walked back into the living area the light seemed to flood her. It all seemed temporary; the fact that it existed at all was suddenly miraculous.
Catherine made a pot of earl grey tea and settled in her favourite chair, excellent for lounging and the perfect distance between her phone, bookshelf, fish bowl, television, stereo and liquor cabinet. She had missed a call while in the shower — a blocked number. Waiting for the voicemail, she anticipated a work-related message. Something about the new brim block she was expecting, or a late order for the spring racing carnival. More normal, a girl deserves a bit of normal.
All things considered, Melissa sounded calm. ‘Catherine it’s me. I’ve just handed my passport to police. They’ve questioned me over the murder of a girl called Cassandra. She was killed in the alley behind my house last night. They’re going to search my house. I’m freaking out here. Can we meet?’
Did you enjoy the first chapter of Jinx and want to read more?