© Rod McKeough
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As he entered the clearing, Jimmy Davis raised his rifle, his eyes scanning the tree line. After taking several steps he halted mid-stride, his attention captured by a rustling sound in the trees ahead. Without warning a flock of corellas burst out of a tree canopy. The birds wheeled overhead, surging through the branches and soaring into the air above the trees. Their shrill screeching interrupted the stillness of the forest.
Startled, he stumbled and tripped over an object partially hidden in the long grass. Unable to steady himself Jimmy tumbled heavily, his head striking the ground. At the same time his rifle discharged, the noise reverberating in his ears.
When he struggled to his feet his mouth froze open in stunned surprise, his face drained of colour. The motionless body of a young woman sprawled on her stomach in the grass. Her arms, like the limbs of a rag doll, splayed out from her sides and her legs twisted beneath her. Congealed blood on the back of her head discoloured her blonde hair and blouse.
He stifled a cry and toppled back; his gaze fixed on the body. With his head in his hands he tried to comprehend what had happened. He ran a trembling hand through his grey hair.
After a few hesitant steps he crouched by her side, before gently rolling her on her back. Startled by the sight of her lifeless eyes he reeled backwards on his haunches, his face ashen.
“Jeezus, it’s the Hagen girl.” His mouth dry, he swallowed hard and licked his lips.
Apart from the sound of his heart pounding in his chest there was an eerie, unnatural silence. A chill tracked its way down his spine. Jimmy felt like prey even though there was no sign of a predator.
His ribs heaving he strained to inflate his lungs, but choked, struggling to breathe. A bilious feeling in his throat overcame him, and he leaned over and retched.
He wiped his mouth and stumbled back through the scrub and trees to the river where he left his boat. At the water’s edge he slumped to the ground, wheezing and coughing. When he noticed the blood on his hands he panicked and tried to remove the stains by immersing them under the water.
Jimmy inhaled large mouthfuls of air trying to erase the image of the dead woman from his mind. He removed his hat, plunged it into the river, and placed it back on his head; ignoring the stream of water flowing down his face.
“I’ve got to tell the cops,” he whispered, shaking the water from his eyes.
A rustling noise in the trees on the other side of the river jolted him into action, and regaining his feet he dragged his boat into the water.
Sergeant Warner stood at the edge of the clearing; his eyes fixed on the body of the young woman lying in the grass. On either side of him were Jimmy Davis and two policemen. He turned to face Jimmy; a man still agile despite his seventy-five years. Jimmy’s wiry body stood upright and his wizened pale face peered out at Bill Warner from under his battered fishing hat. The sergeant had known Davis for at least ten years.
“When you told me about the body, Jimmy, I didn’t believe you. I thought it was one of your tales. You’ve told plenty of whoppers in your time, but I must confess, this time you told the truth,” he said, crossing his arms.
The sergeant turned to the other policemen. “Constable Jackson. Contact Markham City Command and tell them we have a possible homicide. Then take the boat and pick them up at Caldwell.”
Jimmy sat at the base of a tree and puffed on a cigarette while the policemen moved towards the young woman. Sergeant Warner slipped on gloves and stepped forward, trying not to disturb the ground near her body.
When he bent over the body he bit his lip and felt a lump in his throat. It was Eliza Hagen. This made his task more difficult, and he looked skyward to catch his breath. Bill Warner had seen dead bodies before but this was different. He knew her parents well. Even though her eyes were open, they were lifeless. The policeman checked to see if she had a pulse. There was none. The congealed blood on the back of her head indicated she’d been dead a few hours or more. Damn. She was only a youngster… he had attended her twenty-first birthday. What a waste.
He shook his head and returned to examining the body. His eyes glanced down her torso to her shorts. They were unzipped and pulled down, revealing her panties. Apart from the head wound there were no other visible signs of trauma. His inspection complete he retraced his steps and joined his colleague. He told the police officer to secure the area to prevent contamination, while he meticulously documented everything- sight, smell, sounds. The forensic team would make a thorough examination of the corpse and the surrounding area to determine if it was an accidental death or a homicide. For now he would wait till they arrived. His work finished, he walked towards the old man.
“Where’d he come from?”
Bill Warner pointed at a man talking to Jimmy and mouthed an expletive.
“Do you know this fellow?” he asked constable King. King shook his head. The sergeant swore under his breath again and marched towards Jimmy.
Halfway there he shouted, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
When the man faced him, he could see he was wearing glasses and holding a notepad. ** Not a bloody reporter. That’s all we need.**
“I’m Paul Miller from the Markham City Herald,” the man said, stepping toward Bill and offering his hand. The sergeant ignored his gesture and scowled.
“Why are you here? This is a police investigation. That means no reporters,” he said, his eyes narrowing. Before the man could answer, he added, “Show me your press credentials, sir.”
Paul Miller displayed his press card and said, “I was at the jetty when you took off upstream with Jimmy. I knew something had happened, so I followed you here. Jimmy told me a young woman was dead. Can you fill me in?”
He smiled, but the sergeant turned away from him and spoke to constable King. “Escort this gentleman to Caldwell. If he follows you back here, arrest him.”
“Can’t you tell me anything? Who is the young woman? What happened to her?” Paul asked.
“I can’t tell you anything. You’ll get your information through the usual channels. Please leave… now. Don’t you know I can charge you with interfering in an investigation?” Bill Warner pointed toward the river.
After Miller left with the officer, Warner turned to Jimmy who was staring at the cigarette smoke wafting skyward.
“Jimmy,” he said, his voice low and angry. “If anyone asks you about the young woman, you will tell them you can’t make a comment. If you blab I’ll grab you and put you in a cell. Is that understood?”
The old man stubbed the cigarette on the ground before gazing up at him. “Yes sir,” he said. “I won’t say a thing, sarge. You can count on me.”
The policeman grunted and took out his notebook.
“Did you move the body?” the sergeant asked.
“When I found her she was on her stomach, so I rolled her over to see if she was alive. Was that wrong, sarge?”
“No, that’s okay. Apart from that, did you touch her clothing or her body?”
The sergeant looked up from writing notes. Even though it seemed improbable, he had to consider Jimmy as a suspect.
“What were you doing in the forest?” he asked.
“I was hunting rabbits.”
“I see. What do you use… traps, baits or guns?”
“A rifle.” The sergeant’s ears pricked up.
“How often do you hunt in this area?” he asked. “I know Billy Jack Collins sets rabbit traps in the forest around here, but I’ve never heard your name mentioned.”
“I might go hunting twice a year, sarge. This is the first time I’ve been in this area. It’ll be the first and last time after this.”
“It looks like you picked the wrong day and place to go hunting.”
Jimmy grunted. “Yeah, It’s been a rotten day.”
“Did you see anyone in the vicinity or notice anything unusual? You know… hear sounds, gunshots, see a boat…anything at all?” the policeman asked.
“Nothing. Not a soul, sarge.” Jimmy removed his hat and scratched his head, his brow furrowed.
“How well did you know this girl?”
“I’d seen her around town, and I knew her name. That’s all.”
“Okay. That’s all for now. The detectives in charge of the investigation will need to ask you questions and once a post-mortem determines the cause and time of her death, they will check your alibi. Our forensic people will check your rifle to eliminate it as evidence.”
When the sergeant mentioned the words ‘alibi’ and ‘check your rifle’ the colour drained from Jimmy’s face.
“I hope you don’t think I had something to do with this,” he muttered, frowning.
“Nah! It’s just routine. I’m sure you have nothing to worry about. I’ll ask constable King to return and take you back to Caldwell,” the sergeant said, closing his notepad.
“Was it an accident sarge, or can’t you tell me?”
“I can’t say. Remember what I told you… Don’t talk to anyone about this.”
Worry lines gathered on the policeman’s forehead. The old man was the town gossip and Bill Warner had doubts whether he could keep quiet.
He drew in a sharp breath and stared across the clearing to the crime scene. He now had to tell good friends that their daughter was dead. This was the worst part of his job and he wasn’t looking forward to it.
Sherie Hagen sprawled on the old sofa on the front porch of her home, a magazine in her hand.
“This article says teenage girls reach their sexual peak at eighteen.” she said, thrusting the magazine into her girlfriend Emma’s lap. Emma giggled and skimmed through the publication.
“Well, if that’s the case we’d better get a BF before it’s too late,” she said, “I’ll be an old maid before nineteen.” She threw the glossy magazine on the floor and looked to her friend.
Sherie laughed. “I’ve gone out with heaps of boys our age but they are so juvenile… you know what I mean.”
Emma grunted and sat up. “Yeah… Most are pimply faced and all hands. What we need is older, more mature guys.”
At the mention of older men, Sherie giggled. “By older guys, you mean someone in their twenties I hope.”
Emma laughed. “Of course, silly. Someone like him.”
Her eyes fastened on the young man working in the garage across the street. Sherie followed her gaze, and they sat staring at Michael Stewart, three years their senior.
“I’d do him,” Emma said, with a cheeky grin.
“So would I,” Sherie said. “But good luck with that. I’ve known him most of my life and he still treats me like a baby sister.”
“Maybe you act like you’re his sister. You should wear sexy clothes that show your boobs and legs. That should get his attention, unless he’s gay.” Emma stared at the youth again and added, “I hope he isn’t.”
“He’s not… You could be right about sexing up.”
While Emma answered her mobile, Sherie continued to gaze at Michael. He had dated her sister Eliza for two years until she dropped him. As far as she knew he didn’t have a steady girlfriend. Emma jumped off the sofa and interrupted her.
“Gotta go,” Emma said. “I’ll see you later. Change into sexy clothes and visit that hunk over there. Go for it, girl.” She laughed and left.
Sherie took her advice and strolled across the street to the garage. She sat on the bench-top inside the garage and said “Hi”, but Michael continued working under the hood of the pick-up truck. Sherie wanted to thump him on the back to grab his attention. When he ignored her she poked out her tongue and pulled a face.
“Hand me a screwdriver, Shree,” he said, without raising his head from the bowels of the engine bay.
“What’s the magic word?” she replied, with a cheeky grin.
“Give me a damn screwdriver, please.”
“No need to swear at me.”
She feigned indignation but gave it away when a girlish giggle escaped her lips. With the screwdriver in her hand, she hopped off the bench and poked him in the back. When Michael turned to face her he grabbed her hand, but she refused to let the screwdriver go. The tug-of-war match ended with her in his arms. Sherie felt the heat rise to her cheeks. Her skin tingled where he touched her. She noticed he was blushing and grinned. Michael pushed her away.
“Boy, you’re a pain sometimes,” he said, scowling.
“Look what you’ve done,” she said, pointing to the grease marks on her arm and blouse. She tried to sound angry but gave it away when a giggle escaped.
Instead of apologising, he came back at her. “Don’t blame me. You wouldn’t let the screwdriver go. It’s your own fault.” She had no comeback so she poked out her tongue and pulled a face.
Her gaze settled on his face, framed by tousled, sandy hair. When she gazed into his brown eyes, her body flushed warm. She turned away.
The sound of a vehicle approaching interrupted them, and they watched a police car pull up in front of Sherie’s house.
“Looks like the law has caught up with you,” Michael said, a wide grin on his face.
“Wonder what they want?” she said. Her shoulders tightened, and she felt an uneasy feeling in her stomach. Police coming to your home usually meant one thing… bad news.
“I’d better go. Bye,” she said. Before he could say goodbye she was striding across the street.
When she reached her front door a scream of agony shredded the air. It was her mother, and the sound of sobbing confirmed her worst fears… something had happened to either her sister, Eliza Jane or her father. Eliza had told her mother earlier in the day she would return from a boat trip on the river in the afternoon. Dusk had fallen and there was no sign of her. Her heart racing, Sherie pushed open the door and entered.
Beth Hagen sat at a table shaking uncontrollably, her eyes red. Sherie rushed to her mother’s side and wrapped her arms around her, holding her close. She glanced up at Sergeant Warner standing in the centre of the room.
“What happened?” Sherie asked, her voice a husky whisper.
Beth looked up through a mist of tears. “Liza’s dead.”
Sherie sank back in her seat, stunned by the news. This can’t be true. She looked to Beth again for confirmation.
“Liza’s dead, sweetie,” her mother whispered and kissed her on the cheek.
Tears flooded Sherie’s eyes, and she sobbed in her mother’s arms.
“What happened to her, Bill,” Beth said, looking to the sergeant.
“Liza’s body was found in a clearing near the Karinya River, eight or nine kilometres upstream. A post-mortem will determine the cause of her death. I’m so sorry Beth,” Bill said, his voice trembling.
“Was it an accident or don’t you know?” Beth asked.
“From the initial investigation her skull was fractured, but there were no objects nearby to suggest she fell and hit her head. We are treating it as a homicide because of the nature of her injury and the fact she was found in an isolated clearing in the forest. The coroner will determine the cause of her death after an autopsy.”
At the mention of the word ‘homicide’, Sherie looked up and wiped her eyes. She had expected a boating accident or something similar, but not this. She glanced at her mother. Beth sat, bewildered; in a state of shock.
“Why would anyone harm Liza?” Sherie asked. Her voice was barely audible.
Her body shaking, Beth gasped and covered her face with her hands. Sherie struggled to come to terms with the death of her sister. Who’d do such a thing? Tears welled in her eyes and she brushed them away with her sleeve.
A female officer returned from the kitchen with a glass of water and Sherie helped her mother take a few sips. Beth dried her eyes and rested her head on her daughter’s shoulder.
“Who found Liza?” Sherie asked, her voice breaking.
“Jimmy Davis. He was hunting and discovered your sister in a clearing. Beth, can you tell me what time Liza left home this morning and when you expected her to return?” Bill said.
“She left after breakfast this morning… about eight-thirty, and she said she’d return here about two o’clock. When she didn’t come back on time I assumed she was still with Jordan McKenzie, her boyfriend. He took her upriver in his boat,” Beth said.
“I see. Detectives will interview him to fill in the details.”
“Liza dumped Jordan, and this trip was his idea because he wanted to sort things out with her,” Sherie said, turning to the sergeant. Her mother’s angry stare stopped her from saying more.
“Do you know when she died?” Beth asked.
“We don’t know,” Bill Warner said. “When the detectives interview her boyfriend, they might establish a timeline. The autopsy will help us determine the time of death.” He placed his pen in his pocket and closed the notebook.
A few moments of silence followed while Beth collected herself and wiped her face. Sherie took a sip of water and leaned back in the chair.
“Beth, I am sorry, but before we can investigate further, we need her identity confirmed by you or Steve,” Bill said.
When there was no response he cleared his throat and repeated the question. A helpless look in her eyes, Sherie’s mother shook her head.
She whispered, “I can’t. I can’t do it… Sorry.” Choking back a sob, she placed her head in her hands, her chest heaving.
“That’s not a problem. I’ll contact Steve and ask him to come home. Is he working in his garage?” the sergeant said.
Beth nodded and wiped her eyes.
“Constable Bickmore will stay with you. Once again, I’m sorry to be a bearer of sad news, Beth,” Bill said.
Later, when the sergeant left the house with a distraught Steve Hagen, Sherie placed an arm around her mother, and they sat in silence, struggling to come to terms with her sister’s death.
“A strong cup of tea will help settle the nerves,” officer Bickmore said.
While Beth sat staring at the front door, a vacant look on her face, Sherie joined the policewoman in the kitchen.
Moments later, her mother called out, “When your father comes home he’ll need more than tea. There’s whisky in a cupboard. Have a look dear!”
When Sherie returned from the kitchen, her hands were shaking, but she placed the tray on the coffee table without incident. A glance at her mother’s troubled face brought tears to her eyes, and she looked away. She handed Beth a whisky. Her mother took a few sips to settle her nerves.
Now they were alone, Beth turned to her daughter, a puzzled look crossing her face. Sherie poured out the tea and handed a cup to her mother.
“Why would anyone kill Liza? She harmed no one. What monster would do such a thing?” Beth said, shaking her head.
Sherie shrugged and drank the tea.
“Surely Jordan wouldn’t harm her,” Beth said, turning to her daughter.
“You know my feelings about him,” Sherie said. “I told you he was bad news, but you didn’t believe me.” She shook her head and poured another cup of tea.
For the rest of the evening everything was a blur. When Sherie lay in her bed, the realisation Liza was dead and no longer with them caused the tears to stream down her face. To ease the pain she tried to focus on her sister’s life.
Despite one or two heated arguments over Jordan, she and Liza had been best friends. Although Liza was twenty-one, she confided in her younger sister, but in the past two months they’d had fewer chats.
Liza was a popular member of Caldwell’s young crowd, so why would anyone murder her? Was it jealousy? She was always the centre of attention with her beauty and vibrant personality, and young men besieged her in droves. Sherie was certain of one thing though… Jordan McKenzie was involved in her death.
Her eyes misted when the muffled sounds of her parents’ sobs, filtered into her room. Soon, painful cries replaced her tears and she covered her face with a pillow. There was a gaping hole in her heart… an aching nothingness.
A nauseous sensation rose from the pit of her stomach and leaning over; she grabbed a waste bin near the bedside table. Her head spinning, she retched, before stumbling to the bathroom, the container clutched in her hands. She was wiping her mouth with a tissue when it gripped her again and she vomited into the toilet bowl. A wave of misery engulfed her and she choked back a sob, before shuffling along the hallway to her bedroom.
She didn’t want to believe Liza had irrevocably disappeared from her life. Grief threatened to consume her and salty tears once more trickled down her cheeks.
Her thoughts turned to Jordan McKenzie, and she clenched her teeth remembering her first meeting with the young man. Sherie disliked Jordan from the first time they met a year ago. It was not a pleasant memory.
He had arrived at the house to pick up Liza, and Sherie was in her room when she heard his voice. Ever inquisitive to meet the new boyfriend, she scrambled out of bed to put on clothes.
Without warning her bedroom door swung open and Jordan entered. She was standing in front of the mirror half-naked and although startled by his sudden appearance; she managed to cover her bare breasts with her arms. Outraged because he hadn’t knocked, Sherie’s face turned a bright red and she gazed at him in disbelief. He stood at the doorway, ogling her.
“Get out!” she ordered, her voice crackling. The greed in his gaze and the smirking grin on his face made her skin crawl. Furious, she turned her back on him and yelled out to her mother.
Her anger didn’t faze Jordan. “Nice panties. I like pink,” he said, grinning.
Liza and Beth found him in the hallway when they arrived. He looked at them and shrugged his shoulders.
“Oops,” he said. “I walked into the wrong room.”
Sherie, her body wrapped in a dressing gown, opened her bedroom door and pointed a shaking finger at the youth.
“This cretin came in when I was dressing and stood gawking at me.” She scowled at the intruder; her face twisted in fury. “I had no clothes on, Mum. He wouldn’t leave.”
Jordan turned to them; poker-faced and emotionless. “I made a mistake, and I’m sorry. She abused the hell out of me when I apologised,” he said.
His attitude infuriated Sherie, because not only was he misrepresenting the situation, her mother and Liza accepted his lies. She glared at them.
Beth turned to her daughter. “Who is this young fellow, Liza?” she asked.
“This is Jordan. He’s my boyfriend.”
“Did Liza let you into the house, young man?” Beth asked. She glanced at Liza, who shook her head.
“I knocked on the door and when no one answered, I let myself in. I planned to surprise Liza, but I picked the wrong room.” He shrugged his shoulders as if to say it wasn’t important.
“Well, next time, wait till someone opens the door.”
“I will. Sorry.” Jordan turned, and his lips parted in a mirthless smile.
“This creep didn’t bother to knock on my door,” Sherie said. “He barged in.”
She wanted to smash his face into pulp but instead she scowled at him, but any hope that this would unsettle the youth disappeared when he winked at her. She turned away, her body trembling with anger.
Beth fixed Jordan with a stony gaze. “And you, young man, it’s proper to knock on a door before entering. When you’re told to leave do so without delay.”
Jordan smirked and said, “Sorry, it won’t happen again.”
He swivelled on his heels and strode out of the house. Liza glared at Sherie and followed him.
Sherie still recalled the words she uttered to her mother. They remained embedded in her memory.... “What a creep. He makes my skin crawl.”
Soon after the incident in her bedroom, Jordan approached her in town and grabbed her arm while she was walking along the footpath.
“Let go of me, you prick,” she said, her eyes flashing. When she strained to draw away his grip tightened, causing her to wince in pain.
He yanked her toward him and whispered in her ear, “If you come between Liza and me, you’ll be sorry, bitch.” He emphasised the last word.
Before she could respond or call for help, Jordan released her and disappeared into a shop, leaving her on the footpath shaken by the threat.
Sherie never told Liza or her mother because she knew nothing would change. She was the only one who deemed Jordan an arrogant jerk. After a year she had no reason to change her opinion of him. The teenager thumped her pillow, turned on her side, and tried to sleep.
Sherie woke the next morning, her pillow damp with tears, and the horrific events of Liza’s death flashing through her mind. She inhaled, fighting to contain her emotions. Her parents hadn’t stirred, so deciding not to wake them, she showered and dressed, even though she felt wretched.
When she looked at herself in the mirror she noted her pale face and red, tear-stained eyes. She splashed cold water on her cheeks to add colour and brushed her hair.
While she sat on the steps of the front porch sipping hot coffee, she didn’t see Michael Stewart sauntering across the street. The front gate creaked when the youth swung it open, and Sherie looked up, acknowledging his presence with a wave of her hand. He stepped past her and perched on the porch railing. She placed the coffee mug on the step and turned to face him.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I can’t believe it.”
Sherie wiped away tears. “Neither can we. Mum and Dad took it bad... Why would anyone do such a thing?”
She moved to the sofa and wrapped her arms around her knees.
“What happened?” Michael said. He winced. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be asking you.”
“It’s fine.” She struggled to master the trembling in her voice. “The police believe she was murdered. They won’t know the details until they get the coroner’s report.”
“Murdered? You’re kidding. I thought it was an accident,” he said, his face pale. “I heard someone found Liza in a clearing upriver. How did she get there?”
“Liza planned to go up the river with Jordan, so whether they argued and he left her, or someone took her there, is a mystery. Her skull was crushed…no accident.”
Her breath caught and she angrily brushed away tears.
When Michael remained silent, Sherie continued. “I hate Jordan. That piece of shit… pardon my language… killed her. It was no accident. He’s an arrogant bastard.”
She stared into the distance, her body shaking with anger.
“There’s no doubt he’s capable of doing something like that. He thinks he can do whatever he likes,” Michael said. After a pause, he added, “I should keep my mouth shut. Maybe he had nothing to do with Liza’s death.”
“Wanna bet. I’ve seen what he can do. He was with Liza, so who else could it be?”
Michael shrugged his shoulders and slid off the railing to place a comforting hand on her
“Anyway, I’d better go. Mum said she’ll come over later.” He turned to leave.
His eyes showed the gentle concern her grandmother used to have. She had never seen this side of him before and it warmed her heart. Sherie stood and wrapped her arms around him, whispering, “Thanks Mikey”, before dashing into the house.
Michael strolled across the street and joined his mother on the front porch of their home. He lived alone with her because his father, an abusive alcoholic, was ordered by the courts to leave the house after assaulting her.
“How are they?” Ann Stewart asked, her face pale. She stared at the Hagen household.
“Not too good. This has hit Liza’s parents hard.”
“I’m sure it has. When things settle down, I’ll pop over and see them,” Ann said.
“I told Sherie you would. She believes Jordan McKenzie killed Liza.”
“Oh, my god. How terrible. We’ve never had a murder in Caldwell. This was a lovely quiet town… and now this.” Her eyes widened in surprise and she grasped his arm.
Michael’s brow furrowed. Liza had been the love of his life, until she met Jordan McKenzie. Now she was dead. He sighed and looked to his mother. Ann broke the silence.
“If it’s a homicide, the police will come by asking questions,” she said.
“Why? Why would they want to speak to me?” He felt a knot tightening in his stomach.
“Because you went out with her before she met Jordan. They’ll want to interview anyone who knew her.”
Michael nodded his head. “I suppose so,” he said, and helped his mother to her feet and followed her into the house.
When the police car stopped at the tall, wrought-iron gates, the driver leaned through the window and buzzed the intercom to announce his arrival. Without a sound the gates swung open, and the car trundled down the sweeping, gravel driveway, blanketed in a carpet of lilac-blue flowers from the jacaranda trees on either side. At the end of the thoroughfare, an imposing house nestled in a grove of English oak trees. The detectives had arrived at the McKenzie residence on the outskirts of Caldwell to interview Jordan McKenzie.
The driver, Detective Sterling, parked the car and turned to his partner. “This place is a mansion. The McKenzie family must be loaded,” he said, a touch of envy in his voice.
“The local police say the McKenzie family owns a large quarry and half the businesses in the area, so they have plenty of money,” his partner, Detective Lee, said. He removed his hat and mopped his brow.
“Money and power,” Sterling said. He glanced at Lee. With his cropped hair and hardened expression, Lee looked like a classic detective from a paperback crime novel.
Matt McKenzie, Jordan’s father, met the policemen at the door, and they displayed their badges.
“Come in, gentlemen. I was shocked to hear someone murdered young Liza Hagen near our township. If I can help with your investigation please let me know. I’ll take you to Jordan. He’s in the study,” he said.
“We appreciate it, Mr. McKenzie. Thank you.”
They followed him into the house and along a hallway until they reached the imposing doors of the study. Inside, a sizeable polished table occupied the centre of the room and slouching in a leather chair at one end was Jordan McKenzie.
Dark wavy hair shadowed his bronzed features and his piercing dark eyes stared frostily at them. A thin pair of lips formed a permanent smirk. Detective Sterling decided he was a typical conceited youth used to getting his own way.
The detectives glanced at the majestic bookcase on the side wall containing impressive leather-bound volumes. Sterling shot a quick glance at his partner who like him, was staring at the opulent interior… the plush carpet, a magnificent open fireplace and a chandelier centred above the table. He guessed this was a room the McKenzie family would use to impress visitors. His gaze once more settled on Jordan.
“I’m Detective Sergeant Sterling,” he said, introducing himself. He jerked a thumb at his companion. “This is my partner, Detective Lee. We’re from Markham City Homicide Division, investigating the death of Eliza Jane Hagen. We have a few questions.”
“Happy to help out. I’ve got nothing to hide,” Jordan said.
With a smug look on his face Jordan leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table. His father pointed to chairs and the detectives sat facing the youth. Jordan was a good-looking young man, but it was his cold expressionless eyes that caught Sterling’s attention.
“Does Jordan need to have his lawyer present?” Matt McKenzie asked.
“No sir,” Lee said. “We are not accusing your son of anything. We want him to explain his relationship with Miss Hagen. That’s all.”
“Do you mind if I sit in on the interview? I won’t interfere.”
Lee glanced at Sterling who nodded his head. “It’s unusual, but as long as you don’t interrupt it will be okay,” Sterling said. He turned back to face Jordan.
“Jordan, what was your relationship with Eliza Hagen?” Detective Sterling asked, opening his notebook.
“She’s my… I mean, she was my girlfriend.” His brief reply showed no emotion.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” the detective said. Jordan’s response was a shrug of the shoulders. The policemen raised their eyebrows and glanced at each other.
A sharp intake of air from Matt McKenzie disturbed them and they turned to face him. He looked visibly shaken and the colour had drained from his face.
“Sorry,” he apologised, “Something caught in my throat. Jordan never told me that Liza Hagen was his girlfriend. I thought she was just an acquaintance.”
Sterling opened his mouth to continue, but Jordan’s father interrupted him again.
“Jordan bottles up his emotions,” Matt McKenzie said. “I can assure you Miss Hagen’s death upset him.” The detective frowned and placed a finger on his lips.
“I’m sorry detective. It won’t happen again,” Matt apologised.
Sterling noticed Mr McKenzie scowling at his son and saw Jordan’s face darken for a moment. His anger dissipated, Jordan tilted his head to one side, a smirk on his lips.
“Jordan, could you tell us in your own words what happened when you met Miss Hagen on the day she died?” Detective Lee asked.
“Liza and I had a late breakfast in a local café. It was the ‘Blue Moon’ in the middle of town. Then we went upriver in my boat and arrived back at the jetty near Mike Stewart’s house at around twelve-thirty. I dropped her off and returned here before going to the quarry with some mates.”
He sat back in the chair and folded his arms.
“What are the names of your friends?”
Jordan scratched his head. “Let me see. There was Tony Charles, Tim Ogilvy and
“Can you give me their addresses? We’ll need to interview them.”
“They work at our quarry. I’ll arrange for you to speak to them there or they can come to the local police station. Whatever suits you.”
“At the quarry would be fine. What time did they leave your house?” Sterling asked. He expected the young man to spend several minutes trying to remember and was surprised when the answer was instantaneous.
“They spent from midday till three with me. We worked at the quarry before going for a spin on the highway. I got a speeding ticket from a highway patrol cop at two-thirty… Are we finished?”
The young man pushed his chair away in readiness to leave.
Detective Sterling disliked his insolence. Was this arrogance? A glance at his frowning partner confirmed his assessment.
“Now, are we finished?” Jordan asked again, standing and placing his hands on the back of his chair. His father glared at him, but he remained standing.
“Just one last question. Can you tell me why Miss Hagen was found in a clearing upriver, when you say you brought her back to Caldwell?”
His answer was a shrug of the shoulders, followed by “Nope!”
Ignoring his father, he strolled out of the room.
“Mr McKenzie,” Sterling said, his voice abrasive. “You need to tell your son that this is a murder investigation, and he needs to take it seriously. If he is not willing to answer our questions sensibly, we’ll spend a few hours interviewing him at the station.”
“I’m sorry detective,” Matt McKenzie said. “I will talk to him about his flippant attitude. It won’t happen again.”
“Jordan must realise that as the last person to be seen with Miss Hagen he is a suspect in this homicide. It is a serious matter,” Sterling said, closing his notebook.
“I understand. I’ll talk to him.”
When the two detectives left the house they drove to Caldwell where they had a meal at the ‘Blue Moon’ café. It also gave them a chance to corroborate Jordan’s story.
“Arrogant little prick,” Lee said, sipping a coffee.
“I’d say he’s a spoilt young man used to getting his own way,” his partner said. He placed a half-eaten sandwich on his plate and thumbed through his notes.
“He showed no grief. Something stinks with Jordan McKenzie and I don’t mean his odour,” Sterling said. Lee nodded his head in agreement.
“Let’s not pin the murder on him yet. We need to talk to his acquaintances. Also, don’t forget Michael Stewart. He was her ex-boyfriend, and he might be the jealous type. Until we find the murder weapon and get the autopsy report showing the time of her death, we can’t do much,” Lee said.
“I suppose so,” the detective sergeant said. “We’ll interview Jordan’s friends now before visiting her ex-boyfriend. Also, we’ll need to get samples of hair, skin and DNA from all the suspects. The autopsy report will indicate if she was raped. Once we get this information we’ll have a clearer idea of what has happened.”
He snapped the notebook shut and finished his meal. In their car, Lee grabbed a folder from the back seat.. He opened it and skimmed through the contents.
“We also have Billy Jack Collins,” Lee said. “He sets traps near the crime scene and he has been in trouble with the police.”
“I forgot about him,” Sterling said, starting the car. “The local police said he is a difficult man to track down. He’s either in the bush setting traps, fishing on the river, or wandering the town searching in bins for scraps. Let’s get the police launch and scout the river for him. If we can’t get him today we’ll ask the local sergeant to find him. Jimmy Davis found her body, so we’ll need to check his alibi, too.”