Stella Bruno Investigates - Peter Mulraney - E-Book

Stella Bruno Investigates E-Book

Peter Mulraney

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Six Stella Bruno Investigates stories.
The Identity Thief
Detective Sergeant Stella Bruno Investigates the murder of 'nice guy' Bob Cunningham, and discovers he wasn't who he claimed to be. To solve this one, Stella not only has to work out who the victim was, she also needs to find out why he was pretending to be someone else. And, there's the distraction of Shaun Porter, the new man from Public Prosecutions, who walks into her life.
A Gun of Many Parts
Easy to use and conceal, Glock pistols are the weapon of choice in the Australian criminal underworld, even though possession of a Glock is restricted under Australian law. When a Glock with multiple serial numbers is discovered in the wreckage of a car after a senseless shooting, Detective Sergeant Stella Bruno Investigates and finds herself on the trail of a group of gun smugglers making creative use of a Licensed Post Office.
Bones in the Forest
A skeleton, found after a fire in Wirrabara Forest, is identified as a young man reported missing five years before the fire. Detective Sergeant Stella Bruno Investigates. The trail is cold. The evidence is circumstantial. Stella wonders if they'll find a way to solve the case. Detective Constable Brian Rhodes has his own ideas on this one.
A Deadly Game of Hangman
Detective Sergeant Stella Bruno Investigates a murder disguised as a suicide when the body of a young man is found hanging from a tree in the Adelaide Park Lands. Three weeks later, a second body is discovered hanging in Morialta Park and Stella finds herself chasing a serial killer - and hoping for a lucky break.
Taken
Detective Sergeant Stella Bruno Investigates the abduction of eight-year-old Julia Ryan, taken from her nanny at gunpoint. When the kidnapper demands something outside the control of Julia’s family as ransom for her release, Stella is determined to find him before it’s too late. Detective Constable Brian Rhodes is confident the kidnapper will make a mistake.
Fallout
Detective Sergeant Stella Bruno Investigates the apparent gangland murder of motor mechanic Ken Draper and his partner, Samantha Atwood. Her investigation is complicated by Samantha’s recent allegations of sexual harassment by a former employer, who does not appear to have any gangland connections. Stella finds out it’s having friends in the right places that counts in this one.
If you enjoy mystery and intrigue, you'll love this collection of Peter Mulraney's quick reads.

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Stella Bruno Investigates

Books 1 to 6

Peter Mulraney

This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events, other than those clearly in the public domain, are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2019 by Peter

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Cover image: Jimmy Bay on Unsplash.

ISBN: 978-0-6482661-3-6

Created with Vellum

Contents

The Identity Thief

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

A Gun of Many Parts

Glossary

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Bones in the Forest

Glossary

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

A Deadly Game of Hangman

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Taken

Glossary

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Fallout

Glossary

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

A note from Peter

Also by Peter Mulraney

Chapter 1

Stella observed the blue plastic tent and its ring of crime scene tape as Brian parked alongside the patrol car in the rear car park of the Old Spot Hotel in Salisbury Heights. There were two other vehicles parked near the patrol car. One was marked as a police vehicle. The other she recognised as the Coroner’s van.

Brian killed the engine. Stella stepped out of their air-conditioned cocoon into a north wind pushing dry air from the overheated interior of the continent towards the coast. It ruffled her short dark hair and stung her face. She walked around to Brian’s side of the car, out of the wind, to slip into her scene-of-crime suit.

Stella thought it was hot enough for her to melt in her skirt and blouse without the extra layer of required protective clothing. She’d only been out of the car for a couple of minutes but it felt like she’d been standing in a sauna for hours by the time she’d donned the suit.

She watched as Brian struggled into his disposable suit, sitting on the driver’s seat to pull on his blue plastic bag shoes, and wondered if he was about to keel over on her.

‘You need to lose some weight, Brian.’

‘Think I’ve lost three kilos since I got out of the car, Sarge.’

‘Couple of beers will take care of that.’

‘If I live long enough to get into the bar.’

Stella noted the lack of onlookers standing around. With the mercury pushing towards forty degrees Celsius, she assumed anybody with any sense would be inside, standing in the eighteen-degree air-conditioned interior of the hotel, and planned on joining them as soon as she could.

They walked over to the constable standing in the shade of the blue tent. Stella flashed her ID and they entered the crime scene.

The tent covered a new looking white Mitsubishi Lancer. While the tent provided shade and protection from the wind, it was suffocatingly hot under its flapping blue plastic. Stella looked into the car. The body of a grey-haired man with matching beard occupied the driver’s seat of the Lancer, held in place by the seat belt. The inside of the windscreen was splattered with blood and brains, thanks to the bullet that had entered his head from behind his right ear and exited above his left eye.

‘How long’s he been here, Steve?’ Stella asked the pathologist with the crime scene investigators.

Steve Wright looked up from his task. ‘Hello, Stella. Nice to see you, too.’

‘Steve, it’s too bloody hot to stand around making small talk.’

Steve smiled. ‘I’d say we were lucky someone spotted him this morning. He’d be a right old stinker if he’d spent a few days like today locked in here.’

‘So, you reckon he was killed last night, then?’

‘Probably.’

‘Any sign of the round?’

‘Nine mill. Got it bagged.’

Stella glanced at the body. ‘Any ID on him?’

‘Driver’s licence and a couple of credit cards.’

Stella waited while Brian snapped a copy of the driver’s licence and credit cards with his iPhone and wondered why the killer hadn’t bothered taking the victim’s ID.

‘I’ve got people to talk to, Steve. Send me your report.’ She didn’t wait for him to respond. She knew he’d be thorough.

Once they were back by the car, Stella stripped off her scene-of-crime suit and waited for Brian to do the same. When Brian had stowed their discarded suits in the boot of the car, they headed towards the constable standing at the back door of the hotel.

Stella showed him her ID. ‘Who’s inside?’

‘Sergeant Murray. He’s got the bloke who found the body and the hotel manager in the back bar, Sergeant.’

‘Thanks.’

Stella could feel her perspiration freezing across her shoulders as soon as she walked into the back bar where three men sat at a table talking. The man in the uniform stood as Stella and Brian approached them.

Stella thought he looked too young to be a sergeant. She held up her ID. ‘DS Bruno. This is DC Rhodes.’

‘Simon Murray.’

Stella shook his hand. ‘Who found the body?’

Simon introduced Matt Brewer, the day manager of the drive-through bottle shop.

‘Spotted him when I came in. Thought he was asleep.’ Matt looked at the older man sitting at the table. ‘Didn’t think anybody in his right mind would want to sit out there in this heat, so I went to see if he was okay. That’s when I saw the mess on the windscreen and realised he was dead.’

‘Did you touch anything?’ said Stella.

‘No. I didn’t even need to open the door to see he’d been shot.’

Stella wondered if Matt had been working the previous night. ‘When do you knock off?’

‘Around six. Andrew does the night shift.’

‘Who are you?’ said Stella, turning her attention to the other man at the table.

‘Michael James. I manage the hotel.’

‘We’ll need to talk to whoever was working last night.’

‘I’ve given their details to Sergeant Murray.’

‘I’ve got people out taking statements,’ said Sergeant Murray.

Stella nodded to let him know she’d heard him. She liked it when Uniform used their initiative and updated her appraisal of Simon Murray. He seemed to know what was expected of him.

‘Did either of you know the victim?’

‘He’s been coming in for a meal every Thursday night for the last few years. Usually eats in here and then spends a couple of hours on the pokies,’ said Michael. ‘Said his name was Bob, but I don’t really know anything else about him.’

‘I’ve never seen him before,’ said Matt.

Stella turned to Brian. ‘What’s the name on the driver’s licence?’

‘Robert Cunningham.’

‘Doesn’t ring any bells,’ said Michael.

‘Did he meet people here that you noticed?’

‘No-one that I noticed. We get a lot of single older people in here for a meal and a play on the pokies. They seem more interested in the pokies than each other.’

Stella didn’t want to imagine what that sort of life would be like.

‘Do you have CCTV?’

‘In the gaming areas and at the entrances but nothing outside in the back car park.’

‘Can we take a look at last night’s recording?’

Michael escorted them to his office and switched on the bank of monitors on the wall.

‘He usually played in the small room. That monitor there.’ He pointed to the screen in the top right-hand corner. ‘Just let me find last night’s file.’

‘What time did he generally come in?’ said Stella.

‘He was pretty regular. Arrived around seven and was usually gone by ten. Here it is.’

They watched the victim walk into the small gaming room and sit at one of the machines at nineteen forty-eight, according to the time stamp, and play until twenty-one fifteen when his mobile phone rang. He left the room immediately after taking the call at twenty-one eighteen.

‘We have a camera over the back entrance,’ said Michael. ‘It will come up on the screen under that one.’ They waited while he located the file and then watched the victim leave the hotel by the door that led out into the rear car park at twenty-one twenty-three.

‘That’s a five minute gap,’ said Stella.

‘Probably went for a piss on the way out,’ said Brian.

‘Would you have last Thursday’s file by any chance?’ said Stella.

They watched the victim do a repeat performance and leave after receiving a phone call at twenty-one thirty-six.

According to his driver’s licence, Robert Cunningham lived in the Vineyard Retirement Village in South Gawler, a twenty-minute drive up Main North Road from the Old Spot Hotel.

Brian parked the car in front of the Community Centre, located alongside a bowling green, in the middle of the gated community of one hundred and forty residential units that made up the retirement village.

Stella surveyed the streets of landscaped gardens and neat lawns.

‘This is May’s idea of retirement,’ said Brian.

‘You sure you want to move into a retirement village?’

‘She’s already looking. There’s a waiting list for most of them, unless you go to Mt Gambier.’

‘Mt Gambier?’

‘Yeah. They’re advertising vacancies.’

‘Seriously, Brian, Mt Gambier?’

‘Her sisters live there.’

‘But aren’t all your friends here?’

‘I don’t think she’s thinking about my friends.’

‘How long before you retire?’

‘Another five years, I hope.’

‘Mt Gambier.’ Stella shook her head as she opened the car door. 'You need to work on her, Brian. You’ll die of boredom down there.’

They entered the Community Centre and approached the woman sitting behind the counter at reception.

‘Can I help you?’

Stella held up her ID. ‘Police. We’d like to speak to the manager.’

‘Just a moment, I’ll see if Mrs Hill is available.’

The place appeared deserted and Stella guessed everyone was sitting inside with their air-conditioners on. She knew that’s what she’d be doing if she wasn’t working.

‘How long’s this heat wave supposed to last?’

‘Supposed to be a big thunder storm later tonight. Think I heard them say it would be thirty something with high humidity tomorrow.’

‘As if that’s any better than this.’

‘At least this place is air-conditioned,’ said Brian.

‘Mrs Hill can see you now,’ said the receptionist, who directed them to an office two doors down the corridor behind her.

‘How can I help you, Sergeant?’

‘I’m investigating a murder at the Old Spot Hotel.’

‘Oh, yes, saw something about that on the morning news. What does that have to do with us?’

‘Appears the victim lived here,’ said Stella. ‘We’d like access to his unit.’

‘Who are we talking about?’ said Mrs Hill.

‘Robert Cunningham. According to his driver’s licence he lived in unit 65.’

‘Bob,’ said Mrs Hill. ‘Are you sure it’s him?’

‘Show her the driver’s licence, Brian.’

Mrs Hill examined the image on Brian’s iPhone. ‘That’s him, alright.’ She looked at Stella. ‘This is dreadful.’

‘Murder is never pleasant, I’m afraid,’ said Stella. ‘Do you have any next of kin details, Mrs Hill? We’ll need to notify them.’

Mrs Hill sat down behind her desk. ‘Let me check.’

They waited while she searched through the files on her computer.

‘I’m afraid not, Sergeant. From what’s on file it looks like he never married and he hasn’t listed any next of kin.’

Stella looked at Brian, who was writing in his notebook.

‘When did he move in?’

‘He’s been with us for just under five years. Model resident as far as I’m aware. Never late with his service payments, no complaints from his neighbours.’

‘Is that unusual?’ said Stella.

Mrs Hill smiled. ‘Not everyone ages gracefully, Sergeant.’

‘Does your file have his previous address listed? We may need to talk to his neighbours.’

‘He told us he lived at 28 Gladstone Terrace, Prospect, before moving here.’

Stella waited while Brian wrote that down. ‘Can you let us into his unit?’

‘You don’t have his key?’

‘His personal belongings from the scene are still with Forensics. I assumed you’d have a master key.’

‘Let me call security. They have the master keys in case of emergencies.’

Stella pulled on a pair of latex gloves as she stepped into the living room of unit 65.

‘Turn on the bloody air conditioner, Brian. We’ll die in here.’

Brian spotted the remote on the kitchen bench and activated the air conditioner. The apartment was compact, so it didn’t take long for the split unit mounted on the back wall of the kitchen to fill the space with cold air.

There was a bedroom and a study off the living area, a separate kitchen and a combined bathroom and laundry. Stella peered out of the kitchen window into the small paved courtyard. Brian opened the door in the wall of the living room and inspected the empty single car garage.

‘You check the bedroom. I’ll have a look at what’s in the study,’ said Stella, when Brian returned from the garage.

Stella opened the drawers of the desk under the small window that looked out onto the street. The top drawer held an assortment of pens and paper clips. The bottom drawer, more like a small filing cabinet, held a collection of personal papers, including several copies of Robert Cunningham’s birth certificate, a copy of the contract of sale for 28 Gladstone Terrace, a signed copy of his agreement with Vineyard Retirement Village, and the details of his Commonwealth Superannuation payments.

Stella boxed up the contents of the bottom drawer. The only other item of interest in the study was a laptop computer. Stella added it to the box, along with its associated cord and charger.

‘Find anything, Brian?’

‘Only this, Sarge.’ Brian walked into the study with a small wooden box in his hands. ‘Our boy had a loaded 9mm Luger on the top shelf of his wardrobe.’

‘I didn’t see a gun licence in his papers,’ said Stella.

‘Maybe it’s in his wallet,’ said Brian, ‘but these things are supposed to be stored in a locked cabinet.’

‘Make it safe and put it in the box.’

While Brian secured the box of items they had taken from the apartment in the boot of the car, Stella rang the doorbell of unit 64 and waited in the shade at the front of the building. Brian had rejoined her by the time the door was opened by an elderly woman.

‘Hello.’

‘Hi, I’m Detective Sergeant Bruno.’ Stella held out her ID. ‘I’d like to ask you a few questions about your neighbour.’

‘Well, you’d better come in, then.’ She opened the screen door and let them in.

Stella noted that the apartment was the mirror image of number 65.

‘Would you like a cold drink?’

‘That would be wonderful,’ said Stella.

‘Thank you,’ said Brian.

Their hostess opened her fridge and a few moments later they were sitting around her table sipping glasses of ice-cold water.

‘How long have you lived here, in the village?’ said Stella.

‘We moved in when Clem retired. That was twenty years ago. We lived in a double unit then. Number 24. I moved in here after Clem died. That would be ten years ago next month.’

‘Can you tell me your name, please?’

‘Doris Appleby, but, please, call me Doris.’

‘Thank you, Doris.’ Stella took another sip of her water.

‘Who do you want to know about, love?’

‘The man that lives in number 65. Robert Cunningham.’

‘Bob? Everyone calls him Bob. He’s usually home on Fridays but I haven’t seen him today.’

‘I’m afraid I have some bad news about that, Doris. The reason we’re here is we’re investigating his murder.’

Stella thought Doris was going to spill her glass of water and reached across the table and steadied her shaking hands. ‘I’m sorry. That’s probably come as a bit of a shock.’

Doris took a couple of deep breaths and shook her head. ‘Who would want to kill Bob? He was such a nice man. A real gentleman.’

‘What can you tell us about him?’

‘I was surprised he’d never married. If I were twenty years younger, I would have chased him myself.’ She smiled at Stella. ‘It gets lonely being on your own. I’ve got everything I want and the young ones come to see me, but it’s not the same now that Clem’s gone.’

Stella nodded her agreement. She knew what it was like to be the one left behind after a visit from the grim reaper.

‘Do you know who he mixed with in the village?’

‘He was very friendly. He was always talking to someone. But you should probably talk to Sheila McGregor in number 44. He spent a lot of time with her. I thought they’d get together after her Henry died.’

‘Did he tell you anything about himself?’

‘Told me he’d been a public servant, but he always joked that he’d have to kill me if he told me anything about what he’d actually done.’

Stella looked at Brian, who shrugged his shoulders and made a note.

‘What about visitors? Did Bob have many visitors?’

Doris looked at her hands. ‘You know, now that you mention it, I don’t think he did. He went out a bit but I don’t recall seeing anyone come to visit. Not anyone from outside the village, in any case. I usually have the blinds up and the door open when it’s not hot like this.’ She looked up. ‘When I’m just sitting here reading I can see the front of his place.’

They walked over to number 44 and rang the doorbell.

‘Be with you in a minute!’

They waited in the shade on the porch.

The door opened. ‘Oh, hello. Can I help you?’

‘Mrs McGregor?’

‘Yes.’

‘Detective Sergeant Bruno.’ Stella held up her ID. ‘Mind if we come in?’

Stella guessed Sheila McGregor was in her late sixties. She certainly moved with a lot more energy than the elderly Doris Appleby as she ushered them into her apartment.

‘What brings you here?’ said Sheila, as they stood inside her living room enjoying the cool air blowing across them from the air conditioner mounted above her kitchen window.

‘Robert Cunningham.’

‘Bob. What’s he been up to? I didn’t think he was the type to get in trouble with the police.’

Stella smiled. ‘I understand you’re close friends. Is that right?’

Stella noticed a blush rise and fade in Sheila’s neck.

‘I suppose you could say that. He’s been good to me since my husband died.’

‘I think you’d better sit down, Mrs McGregor, I’m afraid I have some bad news.’

‘What sort of bad news?’ said Sheila, sinking into the couch and looking from Stella to Brian.

‘I’m sorry, but Bob’s dead. He’s been murdered.’

Sheila sank back into the couch. ‘Murdered? When did this happen?’

Stella sat down beside her on the couch.

‘We’re not sure yet but probably sometime last night.’

‘Where?’

‘At the Old Spot Hotel.’

Sheila reached for a tissue and blew her nose. ‘What was he doing there?’

‘Apparently, he went there for a meal every Thursday night.’

‘Oh, I knew he went to the city every Thursday, but I had no idea he was stopping off there on the way home.’

‘Do you know why he went to the city on Thursdays?’

‘Told me he met up with some of his mates from work but I’ve never met any of them.’

‘Do you know where he used to work?’

‘He only ever said he’d worked for the government.’ She chuckled. ‘He always said he’d have to kill us if he told us anything about what he’d done for them. He was such a wag.’

‘I take it you didn’t know him before he moved into the village?’

Sheila shook her head. ‘We moved in around the same time. Bob hit it off with my husband before he died. They spent a lot of time playing lawn bowls and flirting with the older ladies. But that all came to an end when Henry had his heart attack. Bob seemed to lose interest in the bowls after that.’

‘Do you know if he had any enemies?’

‘Not that he mentioned.’

‘What about here in the village? Anyone he’d upset?’

Sheila looked down at the floor. ‘I suppose he might have upset James over in 46. He fancies me but Bob was a lot more fun. I hardly think James would have been jealous enough to kill him though. Besides, he’s a retired minister.’

‘Do you know if Bob had any next of kin we need to talk to?’

‘He didn’t have any family. Said he’d never married.’ She paused and looked up to the right. ‘Told me his parents were dead, and that his brother died when they were still young. Some kind of boating accident.’

Stella stood. She was ready to leave.

‘We’ll need someone to identify the body. Would you be prepared to do that?’

Sheila nodded. ‘At least I’ve had some practice at that. We ran the funeral home in Clare before we retired.’

‘I’ll let you know when you need to come in.’

They rang the bell at number 46 but James Murphy wasn’t home.

Chapter 2

When they arrived back at the office, DI Williams, who was overseeing the investigation as part of his caseload, was waiting to speak to Stella, who had operational responsibility for solving the crime.

The inspector was sitting at his desk looking at his computer screen when Stella walked into his office. He looked up from the screen but didn’t invite her to sit. ‘What have we got, Bruno?’

Stella felt her bristles rising. She hated the way he talked to her as if she was still a junior constable and not an experienced detective sergeant and suspected it was because she was the only woman on his team.

Frank Williams had been an arsehole when she’d first met him as a detective sergeant, not long after she had become a detective constable. That experience had taught her to be wary of the man and his habit of claiming credit and allocating blame. The promotion to detective inspector hadn’t improved his character in Stella’s estimation, even if he had shown himself to be an astute investigator, so she was always on her guard in his presence.

‘A retired public servant with a bullet through his head, no witnesses, no apparent motive, and a lot of questions.’

‘Go on.’

‘I’ve spoken to the people at the retirement village where he lived. They don’t know shit about him.’ She shook her head. ‘Sounds like he spun them some yarn about what he’d done for a living. Anyway, as far they’re concerned, he was mister nice guy. We picked up a pile of documents from his apartment that should help with background checks, and he had a loaded pistol in his bedroom.’

‘A pistol?’

‘A 9mm Luger, to be precise.’

‘That could be interesting. Does he have a gun licence?’

‘That’s something we’re looking into.’

‘Any next of kin?’

‘Nothing on record at the retirement village.’

‘Anything else?’

‘We watched the CCTV from the hotel. Someone called the victim on his mobile just before he left the gaming room.’

‘Gaming room?’

‘According to the manager, he dropped in every Thursday night for a meal and spent a couple of hours playing the pokies.’

‘Anyone who can identify the body?’

‘I’ve got a Sheila McGregor, one of his neighbours from the retirement village but I’d like to find someone who knew him before he moved to the village five years ago. I’ve got a previous address in Prospect. Hopefully, we can find out where he worked from Commonwealth Superannuation.’

‘Okay. Let me know if anything turns up in the background checks.’

When DI Williams turned back to his computer screen, Stella knew she’d been dismissed.

She returned to the squad room and drew up a list of the things she’d have to do the following day and then headed home.

It was deemed too hot for school sport on the Friday evening news, despite the impending overnight thunderstorm, so Stella enjoyed an extra Saturday morning hour in bed seeing she didn’t have to make sure her son was ready to leave by seven am.

She wondered how people slept without air conditioning and then remembered what it had been like growing up in the house next door before her parents had installed air conditioning. She chuckled to herself as she remembered her father complaining about the cost, and the pleas of her mother for relief from the heat in ‘dis bloody country you bringa me to!’

Stella's long-suffering mother had come from the alpine region of the Veneto in Italy where it got freezing cold but nowhere near as hot as it did in Adelaide during the summer. Stella was still amazed that her mother had stayed. It must have been a challenge coming half way around the world to live in a country where she didn’t know anyone, apart from her new husband, and didn’t speak the language. Stella was glad she did.

She got dressed and made her way into the kitchen for a quick breakfast before heading in to the office. Police work didn’t stop because it was Saturday, especially work on a new investigation. DI Williams might be having the weekend off but she and Brian had work to do. She popped an English muffin into the toaster and the coffee percolator onto the stove.

‘What are you doing today, Josh?’ Stella asked, as her son appeared at the breakfast table in boxer shorts and a T-shirt.

‘Homework.’

‘Surely that won’t take all day.’

‘Nonna’s taking us to the pictures after lunch.’

‘Oh, what are you going to see?’

‘The Boss Baby.’

‘That looks like fun.’

‘Yeah, she reckons it will help us understand Nonno.’ Josh laughed. ‘She’s always stirring him up.’

‘She’s been like that for a long time, mate.’

‘Don’t know how Nonno puts up with it.’

‘Guess that’s why they call it love.’

Josh filled his bowl with Weet-Bix. ‘Were you like that with Dad?’

Stella stopped eating and looked across the room at Rick’s photo on the wall of the family room. ‘No, your father was nothing like your grandfather. He had a sense of humour to start with.’

‘I wish he was still here.’

‘Me, too.’

Josh poured cold milk over his cereal. ‘What are you doing today?’

‘I’ve got a new case, a murder.’

‘Is that the one at the Old Spot Hotel?’

‘Yeah. Bit of a mystery though.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘No motive. The victim was a retired public servant. Everybody is saying he was a nice guy.’

‘Maybe they shot the wrong guy.’

‘Think you’ve been watching too much TV with Nonno. Criminals do some stupid things, mate, but they usually shoot the right person.’

Stella looked at her watch. ‘I gotta go. I’ll see you tonight and you can tell me all about Boss Baby.’ She kissed him on the cheek and tousled his hair ‘Love you.’

‘Love you, Mum.’

Brian was at his desk in the squad room when Stella arrived.

‘Couldn’t you sleep, Brian?’

‘Too many loose ends. Couldn’t stop thinking about our man, Bob. Besides, May wanted me out of the house. We got people coming over for dinner tonight and she reckons I mess things up as soon as she’s cleaned.’

Stella made herself a coffee and pulled her chair up next to Brian’s desk. She thought Brian and May were as bad as her parents when it came to being together in the same place. ‘What’s bothering you about the victim?’

‘Cunningham doesn’t have a licence for that Luger. I checked before I went home last night. Wish I’d waited until this morning.’

‘Yeah, I’ve been wondering about our man as well. Why would anyone want to shoot a retired public servant that’s such a nice guy? Is he on any of our databases?’

Brian leant back in his chair. ‘The only database he’s on is motor vehicles. I checked his driver’s licence and the registration of the Lancer. Everything looks in order. He doesn’t even have a speeding ticket. Too clean for me.’

Stella wondered whether their victim had reinvented himself when he moved into the retirement village or if he’d always been a nice guy. ‘I think we should door knock his neighbours in Prospect. Someone might remember him. It’s only five years since he sold the house and moved into the retirement village.’

‘That might be a good idea, Sarge.’

‘Get a request into Telstra for his mobile phone records. Be interesting to find out who called him on Thursday night.’

‘What about asking Com Super if they can shed any light on his employment? They should be able to tell us what agency he worked for.’

‘We’ll have to leave that until Monday. They’re closed on weekends.’ Stella moved over to her own desk and logged on. ‘Let me see if anything’s come through from Forensics or Uniform.’

When her PC booted up, Stella read an email from Sergeant Murray, which listed the details of the hotel employees working on Thursday night, and advised her that none of them had seen anything.

Next, she read the interim report from Forensics, which confirmed what she already knew: Robert Cunningham had been shot in the head at close range with a 9mm pistol. The only new bit of information was a note from the ballistics analyst informing her that the same weapon had been used in an unsolved gangland killing two years ago in Victoria.

‘What do you make of this, Brian?’ She showed him the note from the ballistics analyst.

‘Suggests he was assassinated by someone in the underworld. I wonder what our man got himself mixed up in after retiring from the public service?’

‘Or before,’ said Stella.

‘Do you think they might have bumped off the wrong man? Wouldn’t be the first case of mistaken identity.’

‘That’s what Josh said.’

‘How is he?’

‘Pretty good for a fourteen-year-old being spoilt rotten by his grandparents.’

‘You’re lucky to have them.’

‘Tell me about it. I wouldn’t be here doing this if it weren’t for them. Come on, let’s go and speak to the people in Gladstone Terrace.’

Although the overnight thunderstorm had dumped five millimetres of rain on the city, at ten in the morning, when Stella rang the doorbell of number 26 Gladstone Terrace, the air temperature was already above thirty degrees with a humidity reading close to one hundred percent. Stella could feel her dress sticking to her body as she admired the neat front lawn edged with rose bushes.

Brian had sensibly left his suit coat in the car but perspiration was dripping from his face.

The front door edged open behind a locked security door that blocked Stella’s view of whoever had opened the door.

‘We don’t do Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ said a male voice.

‘Police,’ said Stella, holding up her ID.

‘What the fuck do you want?’

‘I’d like to ask you a few questions. Would you mind opening the door so I can see you? I don’t like talking to shadows.’

‘I don’t like talking to the police.’

‘It’s not about you. I want to know about the man that lived in number 28 until five years ago. Can you help me?’

There was click, and the door opened. A middle-aged man with a well-developed beer gut, a silver goatee, and tattoos on his arms stepped out onto the porch. He towered over Stella in his shorts and navy blue singlet but was matched in height and weight by Brian.

‘I’m Detective Sergeant Bruno. This is Detective Constable Rhodes. Do you mind telling us your name?’

‘John Schmidt.’

‘Have you lived here long, Mr Schmidt?’

‘Around twenty years.’

Mr Schmidt, we’re investigating the murder of Robert Cunningham, who I understand lived next door. Did you know him?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Have much to do with him?’

‘A bit. He wasn’t that social. Kept to himself a lot.’

‘Do you think you’d recognise him?’

‘Probably.’

Brian showed him the image of the victim’s driver’s licence.

‘Looks a bit like him, but I couldn’t say for sure. Do you have anything clearer?'

‘Not yet, I’m afraid.’

‘Hang on a minute. I think I have a photo of him on my phone. We had lunch at the Bombay Bicycle Club when he retired. My phone was new then. Took pictures everywhere we went.’

John went inside and came back with an iPhone in his hand. He scrolled through his images. ‘Here it is.’ He held it out for Stella to look at.

‘You sure that’s him?’ said Stella.

‘That’s my wife sitting next to him.’

‘Can you send me a copy of that?’

‘Sure. What’s your email address?’

Stella handed him her card. ‘It’s on there.’ She waited while John keyed in her email address and sent her the image.

‘Were you surprised he sold up and moved into a retirement village?’

‘Not really. He was pretty sick there for a while after he retired. Came home from hospital one week and sold up the next. Didn’t even come over and say goodbye.’

‘That strike you as strange?’

‘Well, as I said, he wasn’t all that social.’

‘Do you know where he worked?’

‘For the ABS, you know, the Bureau of Stats. He was some kind of mathematician. Maybe that’s why he was so weird. My wife liked him though.’

‘Is she home?’

John looked past Stella to the rose bushes. ‘She’s no longer with us. I scattered her ashes around the rose bushes. She loved those bloody roses.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.’

‘It’s okay. She’s not suffering now.’

Stella thanked Mr Schmidt for his help and they walked up the street to number 30.

The couple in number 30 had only moved in a few months ago but the woman in number 27 across the street had lived in the house all her life.

‘He was a weird one, love. I reckon he was one of those homosexuals. Only ever saw other men visiting him. Never a woman.’

‘Is this him?’

Brian showed her the image from the victim’s licence.

‘Looks like him but he’s put on some weight if that’s him. He was frightfully skinny when he came out of the hospital.’

‘Which hospital, do you know?’

‘He was in the RAH. The Royal Adelaide. We all thought he was going to die, and then he sold up and disappeared.’

‘Do you know why he had been in the hospital?’

‘Poor man had chronic leukaemia. He’d had it for years.’

Chapter 3

After Monday morning’s autopsy of the victim tentatively identified as Robert Cunningham, Stella suspected she had a problem. There was no sign the body in the morgue had belonged to someone who had suffered from leukaemia in any of its forms. She relayed her suspicion to DI Williams.

‘We’ll need to access his medical records to confirm my information, sir.’

‘Do that. Have you spoken to anyone at the Bureau of Stats?’

‘I have an appointment at two o’clock with a Myles Christopher.’

‘Let me know what transpires. This is starting to look messy, Bruno.’

Stella returned to the squad room. ‘Any luck with motor vehicles, Brian?’

‘They reckon this licence is a fake. A very good one, mind you, but not one of theirs and the image they have on file matches the image Mr Schmidt gave us. Our man resembles Cunningham but I doubt he’s the genuine article.’

‘He hasn’t had leukaemia either. Come on, we need to go to the RAH so we can verify the information we got on Saturday.’

‘We’ll need a warrant for that, won’t we?’

‘Got one.’

‘Have you uploaded the images from Forensics?’

‘I’ve got the cleaned up one.’

They had to wait at the RAH but they left with a copy of the medical record of the Robert Cunningham who had lived at 28 Gladstone Terrace, Prospect, and his vital statistics did not match those of the body in the police morgue as far as Stella could tell.

On their way back to the office, they stopped in at the Australian Bureau of Statistics in Waymouth Street to meet with Myles Christopher.

‘We’re trying to confirm the identity of a man killed on Thursday night.’

‘Is this the man found in the car park at the Old Spot?’

‘Yes. He had this driver’s licence on him, which we now know is counterfeit,’ said Stella.

Myles studied the images on the screen of Brian’s iPhone. ‘Well, I admit he looks a bit like Bob but that’s not the man that worked here.’

‘You sure about that?’

‘I worked with him for ten years, Sergeant. That’s not him.’

‘Have you heard from him since he retired?’

‘The last time I saw him he was in the RAH. To be honest, I’m surprised I haven’t read his funeral notice in the paper but, now that you mention it, I don’t think I have heard from him since then.’

‘That strike you as strange?’

‘A lot of people that work here are what you’d call introverts. You know, the type that keep to themselves. They tend to drop off the radar when they leave work, so I guess it’s not all that unusual.’

‘Would you be prepared to sign a sworn statement about what you’ve just told us?’

‘Certainly, Sergeant. I don’t know who your man is, but he certainly isn’t Bob Cunningham.’

As soon as they returned to the office in Angas Street, Stella double checked the autopsy report against the medical record she had collected from the hospital. The victim didn’t even have the same blood group as the Robert Cunningham who had been admitted to the RAH.

She picked up her desk telephone and called DI Williams.

‘I don’t know who we have in the morgue, sir, but it’s not the Robert Cunningham that worked for the ABS or lived at 28 Gladstone Terrace.’

‘That gives you a few puzzles to solve then, Bruno.’

Stella sat at her desk looking through the documents they had collected from the victim’s apartment and listening to Brian questioning someone in the Office of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages about Robert Cunningham.

Brian clunked the receiver back into its cradle on his desk. ‘Well, officially, Cunningham is still alive, Sarge. At least, they don’t have a record of his death.’

‘Looks like he hasn’t changed his address with his bank or Com Super either. Everything’s been going to Post Office Box 125, Prospect.’

‘But, if they’re in that pile, that means our man was collecting his mail.’

‘Might explain why he came to the city every Thursday. Have a look through the personal effects Forensics bagged at the crime scene and see if he had a key to a post office box.’

Brian retrieved the plastic bag of personal effects from the evidence locker and looked through the keys on the victim’s keyring. ‘This looks like one.’

‘Well, let’s go and see if it works.’

It took them fifteen minutes to negotiate traffic and park outside the Post Office on Prospect Road. Brian inserted the key into box 125 and opened the door. The box was empty. They went inside.

Stella showed her ID to the woman at the counter. ‘Detective Sergeant Bruno. I’d like some information on the holder of one of your post office boxes. The one that goes with this key.’

‘What number is it?’

‘One hundred and twenty-five.’

The woman consulted a list on her computer. ‘That’s assigned to a Mr Robert Cunningham.’

‘What residential address do you have for him?’

‘Looks like his residential address is a unit in a retirement village in Gawler South.’

‘Do you know when he accessed his box to pick up his mail?’

‘Just a minute.’

The woman disappeared into the room behind the counter, from where Stella could hear her talking with someone but not what they were saying. A couple of minutes later she came back out to the counter.

‘According to Phil, who sorts the mail, Mr Cunningham didn’t get much mail, but it seemed to disappear on a Thursday afternoon when he did.’

‘You might want to hold any mail that comes for him from now on. The man that had this key is dead, and if anyone turns up claiming to be Robert Cunningham, please call me on this number.’ Stella handed her one of her cards.

They stood outside and surveyed the cars in the car park. It was still hot but at least the air temperature was down to what Stella considered a more bearable thirty-two.

‘Not looking good for Cunningham, Sarge, if this other bloke was collecting his mail.’

‘I was thinking the same thing, Brian. Let’s go see if anyone is home at 28 Gladstone Terrace.’

It took them less than five minutes to drive around to 28 Gladstone Terrace. The door was opened by a young woman holding a small boy on her hip.

‘Can I help you?’

Stella held up her ID. ‘Hi. I’m Detective Sergeant Bruno and this is Detective Constable Rhodes. Do you mind telling us how long you’ve lived here?’

‘Bit over five years. Why?’

‘In that case, I’d like to ask you a few questions about what you found in the house when you moved in.’

The young woman shrugged her shoulders. ‘Do you want to come in?’

She led them through the house to the family room at the rear.

‘Is this bit new?’ said Stella.

‘Yes, we had this built just before Jamie was born.’

‘What was here before you added this room?’

The woman pointed to the kitchen bench. ‘That’s where the back wall used to be. This part was like a lean-to laundry. We have a new laundry through there.’ She pointed to a door in the opposite wall.

‘I like what you’ve done,’ said Stella.

‘My sister’s an architect. She designed it for us.’ She smiled. ‘What is it you want to know about the house?’ She placed her son on the floor among his toys.

‘Did you meet the man you purchased the house from?’ said Stella.

‘Mr Cunningham? No, we only dealt with the agent.’

‘Was there anything about the house that looked new or out of place when you moved in?’ said Stella.

‘Like what?’

‘New flooring, built-in robes, things like that. Maybe a new feature in the garden.’

‘There was nothing new or updated in the house which is probably why we got it for such a good price, but there was a new concrete floor in the garden shed.’

‘Where’s that?’ said Stella.

The young woman opened the curtains and pointed into the backyard. ‘Over there.’

Stella looked at the shed in the far corner of the backyard. It had seen better days, in her opinion, but with a glory vine growing on a trellis attached to the side facing the house it had that characteristic old-world garden shed appearance she’d seen in House & Garden.

‘Can you show us inside the shed?’

‘Why?’

‘Just want to see how large the floor space is,’ said Stella.

‘Three metres by two. We thought if we added a window it might make a nice cubby house for Jamie when he’s older.’

Stella looked at Brian.

‘Be big enough.’

‘What’s going on?’ said the young householder.

‘We might have to dig up the floor of that shed,’ said Stella.

‘What?’

‘We’re trying to find Mr Cunningham.’

The woman’s hand went to her mouth. ‘And you think he could be buried under the shed?’

‘I don’t know for sure but someone’s been impersonating him for the last five years.’

‘Why don’t you ask him?’

‘I wish I could,’ said Stella, ‘but I can’t. He’s in the morgue.’

The young woman looked from Stella to Brian. ‘So what happens now?’

‘We’ll get a search warrant and you’ll get a new floor in your shed. Perhaps a new shed.’

It was late Tuesday afternoon when Forensics arrived at 28 Gladstone Terrace in an unmarked van and backed up the driveway. The team entered the backyard through the carport and dismantled the garden shed before erecting one of their blue tents over the corner of the yard where the shed had stood.

Stella sat in the family room chatting with John and Anne Summers about everything happening in the world, except what was going on in their backyard.

By nightfall, the concrete slab had been cut up and removed, piece by piece, to reveal a depression in the soil beneath. The team ran a cord from a socket in the carport to power their lights and the tent took on a spooky glow. Two hours later, Brian came into the house and called Stella out to the tent.

When she entered the tent the team was standing around what looked like a freshly dug grave, drinking coffee from styrofoam cups. The sergeant in charge shone a torch into the hole and asked Stella to take a look at what they had unearthed.

The torch illuminated a skull embedded in the soil at the bottom of the trench.

Stella called DI Williams to let him know what they had found.

‘Let me know when you have a positive ID, Bruno. And, Sergeant. Good work.’

Stella nearly dropped her phone. ‘Thank you, sir.’

It was several more hours before the skeleton had been extracted and packed for its journey to the forensic pathology laboratory.

By the time Stella arrived in the office on Wednesday, Forensics had used Robert Cunningham’s dental records to verify that they had, in fact, found his skeleton.

There was also a line in their report informing her they had recovered a 9mm bullet from inside the skull which suggested to Stella that Cunningham had not died from leukaemia or any other natural cause.

As she was preparing to leave for the day, Stella heard the ping of an email notification. She opened the email and read the attached report from Forensics’ ballistics analyst, in which he advised that the bullet found inside Cunningham’s skull had been fired from the Luger she and Brian had retrieved from the apartment the Old Spot’s victim had occupied at the Vineyard Retirement Village.

She called DI Williams and passed on the information.

‘Still doesn’t solve your original problem, Bruno. Who’s that fellow in the morgue, and why is he there?’

‘This Cunningham guy must have been a real loner if no-one noticed he was missing,’ said Brian, as they waited in line to buy coffee.

‘What do you mean?’ said Stella.

‘Think about it. He’s been at the bottom of the garden for five years. Surely someone would have missed him?’

‘Maybe he really doesn’t have any next of kin.’

‘No friends either, by the look of it.’

‘That could be you, Brian, if May drags you off to Mt Gambier.’

They sat at a table with a view of the street.

‘She’s changed her mind about Mt Gambier. Too bloody cold in the winter, apparently. I could have told her that but she’s not listening to me.’ He shook his head. ‘Now she wants to look at places down at Victor.’

‘That’s closer to the city, at least.’

‘Yeah, and they’ve got some nice golf courses down there.’

“I didn’t know you played golf, Brian.’

‘Well, I haven’t for years but I played a lot when I was younger.’ He gave Stella a sheepish grin. ‘And fitter.’

‘I worry about you, Brian. You’ve been putting on a bit lately.’

Brian shifted in his seat and looked out past Stella to the traffic in the street. ‘Doctor says I have to cut down on the sugar and get off my arse more, or I could end up with type two diabetes.’

‘Shit, Brian! That sounds serious. What are you doing about it?’

‘She’s put me on a diet. No booze, and I have to eat like a rabbit and stay away from all my favourite foods.’

Stella sipped her latte. ‘What about exercise? Isn’t that supposed to help?’

‘I’m going back to golf. I’ve renewed my membership at North Adelaide. Do you remember Jack Wynn?’

Stella nodded her head. She had fond memories of Jack Wynn. Jack had been Rick’s sergeant at the time of the accident that had taken him from her. He’d taken Stella under his wing and helped her re-establish her career when she’d returned to work after Rick’s death.

‘He plays every morning. I’m going out with him two mornings a week.’

‘Good for you. What’s May think about that?’

‘She’s been at me about my weight for years. Now she’s making me salad for lunch and begging me to get fit.’

‘Guess she doesn’t want to retire to Victor on her own, Brian.’

‘Me neither.’

‘What, retire to Victor or on your own?’

‘On my own.’

Stella finished her latte and waited for Brian to finish his long black. ‘What do you think we should do about our mystery man?’

‘I was thinking we could ask Sheila McGregor if she had any photographs of him. We need something better than what we have. Might be a bit of an ask for anyone to recognise him from any of those crime scene images.’

‘Probably be a good idea to interview her again. She might see him a little differently now. You got her details on your phone?’

Brian nodded.

‘Give her a call and see if she’s available.’

Sheila McGregor opened the door as soon as they got out of the car and ushered them into her living room.

‘Will I still need to identify the body?’

‘I don’t think that will be necessary now, Mrs McGregor. I think we have established that he was the man you knew as Bob Cunningham. Our challenge now is to find out who he was before he started pretending to be Bob,’ said Stella.

‘How do you think I can help you with that? I’ve told you all I know about him. I still can’t understand how such a nice man could be a liar like that, though. I really liked Bob.’

‘I guess it’s all been a bit of a shock for you, Mrs McGregor. First finding out he’d been murdered and now finding out he wasn’t who he said he was.’

‘It’s worse than one of those shows on TV. At least you know they’re only make believe. This is just ridiculous. I feel like such a fool to have been taken in by him.’

‘Don’t be hard on yourself, Mrs McGregor. You weren’t to know, and you certainly aren’t alone. He fooled village management and the conveyancer he used to sell the real Mr Cunningham’s house in Prospect. So he must have been a pretty good actor.’

‘And good at counterfeiting documents,’ said Brian. ‘Remember that driver’s licence we showed you? Looked real to me but it’s a fake.’

Sheila smiled and invited them to sit down.

‘Do you by any chance have any photographs of Bob?’ said Stella. ‘We need something other than the ones we took after he'd been shot.’

‘Might have some of him on Facebook. Henry was always taking photos when we went places. Probably only group shots. I’m not sure I have any of Bob on his own. He wasn’t keen on having his photograph taken. Guess we know why now.’

‘Can you show us, please?’ said Stella.

‘Let me turn the computer on. I can’t see anything on my phone these days. Come into the study.’

They waited while she fired up her laptop and logged on to Facebook.

‘Here’s one of him. I’d forgotten about this one.’ She turned the laptop so they could see the screen.

‘When was that taken?’

‘About three months ago. We went on a bus trip up the river. It was organised by the village.’

‘Do you think you could locate the original image,’ said Brian.

‘It would be on my phone.’

‘Do you mind if I take a look?’ said Brian.

‘Let me get my phone.’

Sheila retrieved her mobile phone from the table in her living room. ‘That’s where the photos are, in there,’ she said, handing her phone to Brian and pointing to the Photos icon.

Brian tapped on the icon and scrolled through the images until he spotted the one she had uploaded to Facebook. ‘Looks like you took a few of Bob that day.’

‘He was in a good mood. We’d stopped at a winery for lunch. He’d had a few before we got back on the bus.’

‘Is it okay if I email these to myself?’

‘If you think it will help.’

‘Do you know if Bob was on Facebook?’ said Stella.

‘He didn’t like Facebook but I’m pretty sure he was on that Twitter thing. He spent a lot of time on the internet. I think he had some sort of online business but he never went into the details with me. I remember him explaining it to Henry one time. Affiliate marketing or something like that I think it was called.’ She looked at Stella and smiled. ‘I don’t even know what that is.’

‘Me neither,’ said Stella, ‘but I’m sure Constable Rhodes knows what it is. He has a son that’s into all that sort of thing.’

‘Makes more money than I do,’ said Brian. ‘Perhaps I’ll do some of that stuff when I retire, if my wife will let me.’

After speaking to Sheila McGregor, they walked over to unit 46 and rang the doorbell.

A white-haired man dressed in a shirt and tie opened the door. ‘I suppose you want to talk about Bob. Sheila told me you were coming. Come in. Would you like a cup of tea?’

‘That would be nice, thank you,’ said Stella. ‘By the way, I’m Detective Sergeant Bruno and this is Detective Constable Rhodes.’

‘James Murphy. Come in.’

They sat in another tiny living room designed for one while James made the tea.

‘The ladies seem to think Bob was wonderful, Mr Murphy. What was your impression of him?’

‘Oh, he was a charmer alright.’

‘What did he tell you he’d done before he retired?’

‘Same story he told everybody else. I thought he must have been a spook. Either that or he liked to pull people’s leg. He was always telling jokes.’

‘Did he ever talk about his past?’

James poured the tea. Stella noticed he’d used a pot instead of offering individual tea bags. ‘Funny you should ask that. Most people living here spend a great deal of time reminiscing about the past. I get to hear a fair bit of it being a retired minister. People seem to think I’m some sort of counsellor, and I suppose I am, but Bob only ever talked about the present day as if yesterday didn’t exist.’

‘You’re aware that he wasn’t actually Bob Cunningham?’

‘Yes, Sheila did mention that. Came as a bit of a surprise, I can tell you. He might have been a bit of a wag but he was nice chap. Be interesting to find out who he really was.’

‘Yes, it will be,' said Stella. ‘Do you know if he had any visitors?’

‘I suppose you know he went down to the city every Thursday?’

‘Yes, we know that.’

James sipped his tea and then placed his cup back into its saucer. ‘I didn’t think much of it at the time, but a couple of Thursdays ago I noticed the District Nurse ringing his doorbell. I hadn’t seen her before, and I’m pretty sure Bob hadn’t been called on by the District Nurse before either. I asked her if she was looking for Bob and she said she was, so I told her he wasn’t home and wouldn’t be back until after dark.’

‘Do you think you could describe her?’

‘Not really. As you would imagine at this time of year, she was wearing sunglasses, but I’d say she was middle aged, I’d suppose. Maybe early forties. Hard to tell these days. About my height, a little overweight, and I think she had blonde hair.’

‘Did she ever come back?’

‘Not that I’m aware of.’

‘Did you mention her visit to Bob?’

‘Yes, the next day, but he said there must have been some mistake as he hadn’t asked for a District Nurse to visit.’

Chapter 4

While Brian concentrated on negotiating the south bound traffic on Main North Road, Stella placed a call to the Gawler office of the Royal District Nursing Service and asked about the abortive visit of a District Nurse to the Vineyard Retirement Village looking for Robert Cunningham.

‘We don’t have a Robert Cunningham listed as a client at that retirement village, Sergeant.’

Stella thought for a minute and wondered if someone had used the cover of being a District Nurse to confirm Bob, or whoever he was, lived there. ‘Have any of your vehicles been stolen in the last month?’

‘None of ours here at Gawler but the service has hundreds of vehicles. You’ll need to check with head office.’

Stella thanked her for her cooperation and ended the call. She pulled the car’s on-board computer towards her and spent several minutes interrogating the stolen vehicles database.

‘Bloody hell! They’ve reported three cars stolen in the last month, and only two of them have been recovered.’

‘What are you thinking, Sarge?’

‘I’m thinking whoever killed Bob might have been playing at District Nurse to confirm his whereabouts.’

‘How do you think they found him?’

‘The same way we’re hoping to. That photograph Mrs McGregor posted on Facebook.’

Brian glanced in her direction. ‘She’ll be mortified when she realises that he’s been knocked off by a friend of a friend.’

Stella pushed the computer back towards the centre console. ‘I wonder if she fully understands Facebook’s privacy settings. She could be posting all of her stuff publicly without realising it.’

‘I think Facebook gives you a reminder about that in your news feed.’

‘You’re right. I saw one the other night. But even if she changed her privacy settings it would be too late for anything she’d already posted publicly.’

Stella gazed out of the window and wondered how long it would be before there were no rural properties left between Adelaide and Gawler. Most of the suburban houses she could see as they drove back towards the city hadn’t existed in her childhood, those far away days when her parents had started their annual trek to Barmera to spend the Australia Day long weekend with her father’s brother and his family. She smiled as she recalled those long ago fun filled days sailing on Lake Bonney with her cousins. They all had kids of their own now, but her parents still made the annual trek, and she was grateful they took Josh with them so he’d get to know his country cousins.

Brian’s voice brought her back into the present moment. ‘I think we should send these photos to Victoria Police, Sarge. Maybe our man’s someone they’d know, given the history of the gun used to kill him.’

‘Worth a try, Brian.’