The Last Newspaper in the World
16 January 2015
23 STEAD TELLS A STORY
The Coastlands police station was one of the newest buildings in town. Rather than being a multi-storey concrete fortress like the old building, the new station was quite sophisticated. Three storeys high, it filled much of a block of land behind the main town centre. Made out of some kind of new material, like a hard wood toothpaste, it was meant to be all eco-friendly, which seemed at odds with its purpose. We’d all had a tour when it first opened recently, lots of glass, very open. Also lots of cameras but that was to be expected. The occasional buzzer but otherwise very quiet or maybe just well soundproofed. Harry muttered about there probably being the same old clients.
His suspicion seemed confirmed a couple of nights later. Listening the police scanner, we heard an officer describing a suspect he was looking for as ‘wearing a tangerine baseball cap, on backwards’.
I had called ahead, so Stead quickly came down to reception when I arrived.
‘Are you here to help us solve this murder?’ he asked, without any movement in his face.
I waved him to lean forward, and put my mouth closer to his ear.
‘No, I think you mean suicide don’t you Mr Stead?’
He turned his head around straight away so his face was right in mine.
‘You had better come through.’
A buzzer went and the door swung open.
‘Do you want an interview room?’ the duty officer called from the desk.
‘No, no it’s not that kind of visit,’ Stead said and waved me towards the stairs, saying to me ‘Let’s go to my office.’
It was true the new police station was an improvement on the old one. That building looked like somebody had dropped a giant block of concrete on the ground and proceeded to fashion a police station from a template. I did wonder whether there was still the mythical basement where difficult prisoners were processed Stead flashed his card as we went through humming glass doors. Offices were visible on each side as the wooden beams curved up to the ceiling. From where we walked I couldn’t see them, but I knew, the cells below were actually reinforced glass boxes enabling the officers on duty to have a clear sight of all the cells. I was struck how a building of enforcement could also be a thing of beauty.
Stead buzzed us into his office, its walls of exposed timber giving off a golden glow even in the winter.
‘Nice office,’ I commented as Stead sat behind a practically paperless desk.
‘Head office reckons we’ll be more productive if we see more light,’ he said, then shook his head. ‘So what’s all this suicide rubbish you’re talking?’
‘It’s not rubbish, it’s a story, and a good one,’ I said. I raised my hands up as though scoping a large headline, adding: ‘How about ‘mayor’s suicide cover up’ or ‘top cop in the gun over mayor’s death’?’
‘Too long,’ Stead said, and sat back in his chair.
‘The last one, you know ‘top cop in the gun’, it’s too long. I don’t think your old man would go for it.
‘Because it’s got too many words?’
‘Nah, because it isn’t going to happen is it?’
It was my turn to sit back in my seat, and then I got my phone out.
‘Look, I want to record this interview.’
‘Who said anything about an interview, put that thing away,’ Stead said firmly, leaning forward now.
‘Why? Why should I?’
‘Well, for one thing, you won’t want this on the record and neither will Harry.’
That surprised me and I wondered why Harry wouldn’t want me to keep a record. I shrugged and thought how I could get around this situation, but before I could say anything, Stead stood up and came around from his side of the desk to sit in a chair opposite me. He really did enjoy invading my space, I thought.
‘You’re a really clever guy when you try and in this case it looks like you’ve tried too hard,’ he said.
‘Is that meant to be a compliment or an admission?’
‘Neither. Let’s put it like this – why do you think Harry sent you to cover the story in the first place?’
‘Because he knew I was bored and thought it’d be good for me to do something useful?’
‘Yes, I suppose ‘useful’ is the right word.’
‘You don’t mean useful in the way I mean useful do you?’ I said, trying to not look embarrassed by my perceived uselessness.
‘That’s the boy, you’re catching on. Why did you think I showed you Mr Brand’s body like that?’
‘It did seem a bit odd, but you said you owed Harry and we both know what that was about.’
It was Stead’s turn to look uncomfortable, but I noticed that it was only a mild discomfort.
‘So you framed the mayor for his own murder.’
‘That’s a bit twisted even for you,’ he said, the rock wall that was his face cracking a slight smile.
‘Okay, so Mr Brand ended up in a ditch with a hole in the front of his head, with you standing next to him, and Harry’s given, sorry, a head’s up.’
‘That’s what it looks like, yeah. Well, you were pretty convinced and so was everybody else.’
‘So who put him there? Was it you?’
‘Does it really matter?’
‘I’d say so wouldn’t you?’
‘Let’s just say he arrived where he was at his own hand.’
‘So there was that final call to Mariana and then ‘bang’ it’s all over?’
‘Maybe, something like that,’ Stead said, his voice trailing away before I urged him to tell all.
The way Stead told it, Mayor Brand’s brother Gerry had called Stead at home. He could hear Mariana sobbing in the background as Gerry outlined the situation, so he drove quickly around to the house from where he lived in Brandsville.
Mariana seemed more composed when Stead arrived at the house. She told him how she had received a call from Brand saying how he loved her and couldn’t bear the shame of losing her. He admitted things had gotten the better of him, the business was a mess and he was forced to do things he hated. Mariana had looked up from her seat in the pristine lounge and commented ‘Well, he still did bad things.’
Stead told Gerry to go on. Brand told Mariana to call Gerry, and that she would be well taken care of in the future. Before he pressed the ‘stop’ button on the phone, Brand said he was at Drain Road in Paroa. Mariana asked why he was there and told him he should come home. Brand said this was where his grandmother lived and where he had always felt safe, which Mariana always thought was strange because Brand had always to the area as a ‘damp hole’. Mariana heard a single shot.
Stead told Gerry to stay with Mariana, and drove down to Drain Road. He drove slowly, making sure not to draw attention to his car in any way. Paroa was about 10 minutes away from Brandsville but Stead said it felt like the drive took an hour. He drove slowly along Drain Road peering through the winter night until he drove up to the mayoral car. Finding the car empty he used his hand torch, keeping the light as low as possible, to find Brand slumped backwards with his head under water in the drain.
Stead was in a quandary, because if he went closer he would leave footprints around the drain and the body. He went back to his car and found the night vision binoculars he used on stake outs and searches. Crouching low and bringing up a stronger light, he could see more details of Brand’s body with his head under the water. Stead let out a breath before carefully retracing his steps along the road to his car where put on a pair of gum boots. He made his way carefully down the bank and walked along beside the drain. He’d seen a lot of bad scenes but even Stead felt something usual as he approached the body. He found the gun, a neat little revolver and carefully picked it up off the ground. He couldn’t see Brand’s cell phone straight away but saw it out the corner of his eye reflecting the shallow torchlight more than an arm’s length away from the body, partially submerged on the edge of the water. He drove back to Brandsville, this time at what seemed a faster pace than before. He broke the news to Mariana and Gerry.
Brand’s brother swore, then burst into tears; his wife, just nodded and sat silently. He was able to formulate something resembling a plan as he had driven back from Paroa. Gerry would stay at the house with Mariana, saying she had called him concerned by the circumstances of Brand’s departure. Stead would go home now for a few hours, before going in early, but not too early, to his office at the police station. He chatted to the duty officer, then went to his office where he sat facing the window. He was ready when Mariana called to tell him at 5 am to say her husband hadn’t returned home after unexpectedly being called away to a meeting at Paroa. He went home for a few hours.
‘You slept?’ I asked.
‘Of course, why not?’ Stead asked in reply.
‘Nothing. So you woke up on time then?’
‘What do you think?’
Stead was in his office at 5 am when Mariana put her call into him. He gave the duty officer a message to say he was going out to Paroa to look. This was something of a risk as ordinarily he came and went relatively freely, but it was a risk he was prepared to take. He drove out to Drain Road but he could see the figure of farmer Elliott Hope standing next to Brand’s body at he approached the drain. Hope looked to have just arrived as he was still on his farm quad-bike, his back to the road as he stood up to peer at the body in the drain. Stead slowed down and thought quickly, he could quietly cruise on down the road and leave the farmer to report the death. He pulled up on the road next to the drain and sounded his horn. Hope turned and waved him over urgently. Stead climbed out of his car and met the farmer down by the drain.
‘Thank God you are here,’ Hope said, ‘looks like you’ve turned up at just the right time Mr Stead. That’s our mayor right there; he’s pretty dead. Did somebody call you?’
‘Yeah, his wife. She was very worried. He was to come out here for a meeting but didn’t come home. And now here he is.’
‘Strange place for a meeting,’ Hope said as he crouched down. Stead was worried the farmer would notice the extra set of boot prints, so he quickly went down over the ground to check the mayor. After looking down at the mayor’s body, he turned and looked up at Hope.
‘Well, you know these tycoon types; they’re always popping up for meetings all over the place.’
‘He won’t be popping up anywhere soon, poor sod,’ Hope said, with a farmer’s practicality.
‘Yeah, look, don’t worry about it. I’ll call this in and tell them you found Mr Brand. I can take your statement while we wait, so you won’t have to worry about this anymore.’
‘Sweet,’ said Hope, as practicality ruled.
So it was done.
‘So you guys rallied around to help, that’s okay, but why would you do that?’
‘You know there’s a group of us who really want to see this place turned into something special. We want Coastlands to reach its full potential and Mr Brand was our leader in that cause.’
‘But things went places he wasn’t quite prepared to go to?’
‘I guess you could say that. No, he went there alright but there’s a difference in inheriting a property development company and doing the job yourself. His old man was much more ruthless.’
‘What about Mariana? She is devastated and believes she caused him to commit suicide after all?’
‘Yes, that’s true but she had a couple of million reasons to go for our option.’
‘Life insurance. The company wouldn’t pay out on a suicide?’
‘It’s a classic win win.’
‘Except for the mayor I suppose. In the meantime, the search for the murderer will go on. Then what? It’s not going to look good on your career record.’
‘What does Harry like saying ‘Coastlands Cops – they never get their man’?’ Stead said. ‘Besides, I love this place, why would I want to get promotion and have to leave?’
‘Harry’s going to love this isn’t he?’
‘I don’t think so, buddy, he’s as involved as the rest of us.’
‘Apart from the blood on your hands.’
‘Well, there is that I suppose. But, yeah, you go and talk to your old man and see what he says. You’ll probably find he won’t have a bar of your daft theory that the mayor killed himself.’
Stead stood up. I remained sitting for a moment but he jerked his head towards the door. As we walked down the stairs, Fish Marren, came up the other way. He and Stead stopped and had a talk while I continued on down. Stead caught up with me at the bottom of the stairs.
‘We’re going to have a briefing on how the murder inquiry is going.’
‘What do you think? Say hi to Harry,’ Stead said as he opened the door to let me out.
Published by BMS Books
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The Last Newspaper in the World
Copyright © 2012 Mick Stone
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