Vinny hated being caught in the middle of these things and the weirdest shit always seemed to happen to the people he followed.
Lucky you’re not paranoid, isn’t it! soothed gold vinny and black vinny sitting on his left shoulder sniggered.
“Luck has nothing to do with it,” Vinny answered his inner voices.
“You reckon, mate?” asked Senior Sergeant Bradley Johns. “I reckon luck has everything to do with it. What the fuck happened here, Vinny?”
Vinny chided the inner voices and scratched his head. He wasn’t entirely sure but his theory fit the circumstances. He looked at the body face down in the pool of gods-only-knew what. The abhorrent liquid poured down the garden steps, feeding the pool around the body.
The copper and Vinny both took a step backwards, careful not to trip over the sandstone path edges. When Vinny first arrived, he’d done exactly that, losing his footing from the jolt he received when he saw the body. He called Johns on his mobile and waited.
The small town sergeant knew Vinny quite well and had grown accustomed to coming across bizarrities when he took Vinny’s calls. So, he wasn’t all that surprised when he saw Bert Warden face down, but the puddle was growing and he stepped backwards to save his black shoes, falling arse over. The already bruised rosemary bushes that grew alongside the dunny wall were well and truly flattened by the big man! His mishap took away Vinny’s own secret embarrassment.
“Care to fill me in on why you found Bert like this?” Johns asked Vinny dryly.
“Yeah, no secret I suppose,” Vinny answered. “He was the subject of an investigation I was carrying out on behalf of a local client. At this point, if you don’t mind, I’ll keep their name out of it. Mate, can we get out of here to talk this through? The stink is putting me off.”
Johns nodded and waved at his off sider, the hapless Constable Beales. “Leave it to you Eric. We’ve got a few things to discuss. Gimme a call when the ambulance arrives.”
Vinny followed Johns back down the darkened path to the back porch where an ancient and fly covered mosquito zapper occasionally buzzed with a new victim. Beneath it was a small mound of insect bodies, even a mouse skeleton. Vinny nudged the skeleton with his toe then recoiled when he realised what it was.
“Look, Brad. Off the record, Pam had me following him. She was jack of his harassment and his light fingers,” Vinny said. “Simple as that. I’ve been following him the last couple of days just mapping his movements around town and taking the occasional photo. I was going to hand it all over to you blokes after I talked to Pam about it.”
Brad took his hat off and nodded. “Not sure how much we could have used, Vinny. But we’ve had half an eye on the old bastard for awhile. Cunning as a shithouse rat … er … ironically.”
They both turned and looked up the path towards the dunny. The young cop was gagging and both men watched a little sympathetically as he leaned over those rosemary bushes and belched out a stream of egg nog and chocolate clusters.
“There ya go. He was complaining he’d eaten too much!”
The older man turned to Vinny and winked. He sighed and took out a notepad.
“Alright, so, what sparkling gems did you discover about our mayor?”
Almost comically, Vinny took out his own notepad; a fresh shorthand pad for every new case. Lately, Vinny even had to invest in a bulk packet. Last year’s drama with the TV producer and his sister-in-law was paying dividends in a way, and he thought briefly of Emma and her baby with affection.
“Hang on a sec, mate. Let me take a load off. Unlike Eric there, I aint bulimic and me pork roast is digesting quite nicely, but I reckon I’m carrying an extra 20kg from grandkids’ nuts and chockies over the past coupla days.”
Brad set his frame down on a swing chair – of all things – although the swing mechanism had rusted over and swing it did not! Vinny leaned against a peeling, wooden Corinthian column and started a routine narrative of the past week.
“On Monday at 09.00 hours the deceased departed his abode, walking out his front door and …”
“Cut the crap Vinny. Just call him Bert and be done with it. In a nutshell would be good too!”
“Uh, sorry mate. Force of habit from talking to the city blokes,” Vinny answered and blushed a little. So in a nutshell he told it.
Pamela Robbins was the mayor’s ex-wife. They originally had met a decade earlier when she catered for the local council’s evening meals during council meetings and it was, by his account, her ultimate love-at-first-sight experience. Over the years she learned about his incredibly mean spirit.
If he picked up a five cent piece on the footpath next to a blind man collecting for the guide dogs, the mayor would pop it in his pocket rather than the obvious.
“He doesn’t even have the excuse of coming from an impoverished background,” Pam told Vinny. “He’s just incredibly tight.”
“Fish’s arse?” Vinny asked and Pam nodded seriously.
“Foolishly I went into partnership with him in my business. Of course, after enduring five years of his laziness AND of keeping audited housekeeping accounts, I finally gave the marriage the flick and set up my own catering business. I lost half of the original business to him but I just wanted to cut my losses and walk away,” she explained.
“For god’s sake the mean old shit didn’t even let me install indoor plumbing in our …” she laughed bitterly “… in our marital home. It was disgusting. He never got it cleaned out. At this time of year, you could almost feeling it lapping against your cheeks.”
Rolling bile made itself felt in Vinny’s stomach.
“That IS mean,” Vinny said. “Makes you appreciate mod cons!”
The Christmas season was the hardest time of year for Pam, not because she was so very busy, but because Bert went out of his way to steal her clients. Generally, she told Vinny, she had her loyal followers and those who used her services by default.
“He isn’t well liked, you know,” she said, stating the obvious.
Each year he would devise some malicious new way of harassing her and this year she had decided to get ahead of the game. She hired Vinny.
“It’s not that I want to get back at him. I did actually love the bastard at one stage! I just want to guard against whatever surprise he has in store. Last year he got into the shop and put mouse poo in my chocolate éclairs.
“I found them luckily, but I lost thousands of dollars in stock because I couldn’t risk selling tainted food. That really hurt.
“The year before, my delivery of Hungarian strudels went missing. Turns out, the courier turned up to my shop early and he was there waiting, said he’d look after them for me. They turned up as gifts to the council staff! And no doubt he kept a great many for himself – he put on a lot of weight that year and even though they don’t freeze well, he would have eaten them down to the last, tiniest piece of flaky pastry.”
Vinny stopped his narrative when they heard the ambulance pull up in the gravel driveway.
“S’alright mate. Eric can look after them,” Brad urged. “This stuff’s better than TV. Not that there’s much on the box at this time of year.”
“Gidday Brad. Oh, hey Vinny,” called Jerry.
“Oh shit. Must be a strange one waiting for us then?” Mathilda said as she followed behind him.
“Makes life interesting for us,” Jerry answered. Mathilda snorted.
“Who needs THAT sort of interesting,” she said, clearly put out that it was midnight on Christmas Eve and they would most likely have to take the body to a big city morgue over an hour away.
“Ignore her, mate,” Jerry called out to Vinny, and he walked up the path whistling Waltzing Mathilda.
“Will you cut that shit out,” she grumbled.
Brad yawned and flipped his notebook page over.
“Alright, all that’s pretty common knowledge,” Brad said. “Couldn’t prove none of it, but the grapevine knew it. What did you find when you followed him about?”
Vinny was pretty sure Bert knew he was being followed. It was hard to keep a low profile in a small town and most of Vinny’s work generally in Melbourne, but when Emma asked him to help her friend out he could hardly say no. He didn’t know how much he could help, but he was willing to try.
“He was doing the usual Christmassy freebies round, I reckon,” Vinny said.
Bert had actually put on his mayoral robes and, with an assistant in tow, he virtually door knocked businesses throughout the central business district. That may sound grand, but in a small town it only amounted to about twenty shops and thirty offices.
“He did the rounds daily for the past week! How bloody greedy can you get. He was dropping in to most places under the guise of council business. I just don’t know how you lot can put up with that shit.”
Brad grunted. “What you gotta understand Vinny is that in a small pond like this a big fish can make life difficult. Yeah, they could stand up to him, report him to the ombudsman, get rid of the bastard. But the bottom line is, it was just easier to give him a few mince pies and send him on his way. And no one else can be bothered doing the job!”
Vinny had heard variations to this from time to time. He remembered Errol Goodman talking about successive councils, councillors and the various rorts that the townsfolk tolerated for the same reason. He asked Errol why the job attracted that sort of ‘breed’.
“We all got better things to do with our time,” he answered.
“What? Running a town, making decisions that affect everyone’s lives?”
“Oh geez, if it meant that, yeah, we’d all put our hand up. But we all reckon the staff keep the council in line. They’re not a bad lot really.”
“Greedy bugger, that Warden bloke,” Errol finished simply. And that was the end of it.
It appeared Bert Warden did the rounds late each afternoon, filling up on Christmas fare, pretending to take notes of conversations, and giving very little in return. But Vinny could find no evidence that he was planning any subterfuge against his ex-wife.
“The sod never went shopping the whole time. I reckon he probably didn’t need to. He was gorging on everyone else’s food. Well, that pretty much brings us up to today!”
Vinny followed Bert doing the rounds; but this time it was staff lunches and break ups.
“He started with chicken and champagne in the park with the school staff, then over to Paul and John’s garage for beer and nuts at 11. He stayed there for about two hours. Poor blokes couldn’t get rid of him and they were trying to fix Mabel Overnewton’s Volvo in time for her trek to the rellies in Castlemaine. He looked at his watch around 12.30 and went to the Nugget Hotel where Joe and Peter were having counter meals with their potato harvesters. Naturally he sat down and waited for his invitation to lunch, which he ate then left before the bill arrived.”
Brad yawned. “Sorry to cut you off again mate. But we know all this. He does it every year. What you’re saying … what you reckon is someone’s got jack of his greed and knocked him on the noggin when he’s come out of the dyke,” he enquired.
“Hell no. I reckon this is all accidental,” Vinny said. “Well, at least, it’s a bit of karma coming back at him. Although by all accounts he seems to have outdone himself this year. Everyone I spoke to said he was sticking around more, eating more. One bloke even said there had been a tab set up at the pub just in case he dropped by and ‘drop by’ he did! He had lunch and snacks there about seven times in the last five days! They thought he might have planned ahead.”
Brad raised his eyes from his notebook, surprised.
“Nope, don’t reckon so. He never paid for a meal in his life. This bloke was born with one hand sticking outwards, palm up.”
He struggled out of the swing chair and stretched.
“Better go have another look at Bert before they cart him off. Hey Jerry, hold on a sec will ya.”
Vinny followed Brad back up the path to the dunny. He switched on his police issue torch and shone it around the edges of the path, in the bushes, and then around the body which the ambos had turned over.
Beneath his body had been a wad of envelopes, some of them slit open and the contents removed. They looked as though they had been clenched in his fist.
Brad picked one of them up despite its dampened state. It was an invoice from the Nugget Hotel. He picked up another, also an invoice. It was from the pie shop and detailed the catering for a staff Christmas party. A third was from the local chicken shop for an order of chicken platters to be delivered to the park.
“Heart attack?” he asked Jerry.
“Can’t say,” the ambo answered. “But there’s none of the usual telltale signs. I would hazard a guess – a guess mind you – that he drowned. You’ll have to check after the autopsy.”
Brad looked around again and found what he was looking for; a garden hose attached to the tap and the end still dripping.
“Do you know where Pam was this evening?” he asked Vinny.
“No. But then, I wasn’t following her, was I! I assume she was home.”
“Have to check, I suppose. Don’t like this sort of shit. Really hope she wasn’t involved.”
But Vinny figured she most likely was. It was ingenious and impossible. At least it would have been impossible anywhere else. But Vinny kept finding weird shit not because it dogged him, but because it always seemed to happen to people with even the most tenuous connection to this town.
“There’s something in the water at Cluesford,” he’d heard more than once or twice.
“Siphon effect,” he blurted out to the surprised copper.
“He filled up on food. More like he gorged in legendary style! Came home, picked up his mail and took it with him to the loo where he planned to read it, started to do his … you know … business, but the loo was full to the brim. Then he opened the mail, vomited when he saw how much money he supposedly owed and … you know … siphon effect.”
Brad looked at the encroaching puddle again and shuffled backwards.
“Wouldna worked for someone less greedy,” he muttered.
Please indulge me as I begin to post chapters of Emma #2. Ignore if you want to wait for the completed work. This chapter appeared under the NoS account as “Greedier” so you may have already read it.