Comments (None yet)

Add New Comment

1 correction by JaneM1951 - Show corrections

Sixteenth Instalment of the "Herald's " Second Prize      




Illustrated by JAMES PHILLIPS

McCOY did not want to go

back to the hotel just yet. He wanted time to think, to marshal his thoughts here in the cold bright light of day. He turned back up Oxford Street.

Starting right now he had to remain two jumps ahead of the police. He had to try and think what they might know. Out of the past, out of the entertainments and pleasures of days when there had been no trouble, a film, unrelated to and without in- fluence upon him up till now, came back to him. It had been a murder film and the murderer had gone back to the scene of his crime to find out how much the police knew. The police had known everything but who the murderer was—and they were waiting for him. He, McCoy, wasn't going to fall that way. He would never again go near the Domain so long as he lived. The police could wait there till Doomsday but he would never go back—there was not only the fear of capture, there was the horror of the memory of her lying

dead in her blood.

How did the police begin on these  

jobs? He had only seen policemen at work in the films and they had all been Americans. They took pic-

tures of the body and they looked round for clues and the doctor tells them how long the stiff has been dead. The stiff—McCoy, don't talk about

her like that!

He unrolled the papers again and looked at the small boxes where the news was. It told nothing—just that she had been found and where, what had happened to her, and that the police were working on the case. That was all it told. But suddenly to him it was something. It was   the beginning. To-morrow there would be more: her name, where she lived, where she had last been seen alive. Next week Myra's murder would be spread across middle pages like the Belmore Park one and he would be reading it avidly in the same way that the Belmore murderer would be read-

ing this week's paper. He felt in his pocket for his nail file. Perhaps if he cut out the clippings he would know the progress of the police's knowledge step by step. He did not know whether the police told the papers everything they knew but again a film came out of the past to fit into the pattern of his predicament.

In the film the papers had printed everything that was known and the murderer would read it and see the police getting closer and closer to him and in the end he had cracked and had rushed to the police with

his confession.

HE wasn't going to go nuts. He was going to keep up with the police   with these clippings and when they looked to be getting too close then he would disappear. He folded the papers round the clippings and slit them with his file and put the clip- pings in his wallet. He rolled, the papers into a tight ball and looked up and down the street. There was no one in sight. Quickly he bent down and pushed the papers down a drain then stepped back on to the pavement and walked back down to the hotel.

Quietly he let himself in the side   door. He was about to go upstairs when Meg carne to the door of the kitchen, dressed in a red silk dressing gown, her hair in curling clips.

He came back down the two bottom steps. "Hullo."

"I thought I heard someone come in." Her eyes went to the scratches on his cheek; here was the second of his questioners: he would have to be prepared for them and accept them. "Who got at you?"

Suddenly he decided he would tell the truth, or part of it. Perhaps they were too obviously fingernail scratches and it would be no use denying them. "She did." He grinned and put his hand up to his cheek.

"Getting fresh again, eh? You'll learn." She turned and went back into the kitchen, and he followed her "Where you been now?"

"Just for a walk."

"For a what?" Her voice incredu- lous; he could have told her he had just jumped to the moon.

"A walk. I wasn't feeling too well. I been awake all night with the tooth- ache. I couldn't sleep."

"She scratched out a filling too?"

He was in no mood for badinage, out the pretence had to be kept up: from now on there must be no break in the facade. "Have you ever had a good kick in the behind?"

"Last time you were going to slap my cars down. Still wanna try your luck?" She turned from the stove, holding a saucepan in her hand.

He grinned, the expression just a movement of his facial muscles. "All right, all right; don't throw it. You'll only spoil the kitchen."

"That won't be all I'll spoil."

He picked up a fork and absently began drumming on the table. His mind left the kitchen, drawn by an overpowering magnet back to his crime. He wondered where the police were now. How much more had they learned about the crime? They would probably be out in the little side-street in Coogee knocking on the door of a small semi-detached cottage, rous- ing an old man and woman from their Sunday beds to tell them their daugh- ter was dead. They would have iden- tified her from her identity card, bul they had probably kept the informa- tion from the papers till her people had been told of their loss. The police would go into the small cottage and they would begin asking questions: Whom did she go out with last night? Who were her friends? When did they last see her? The questions would go on, but the parents would not be able to help. He was safe enough there; he had never met her

mother and father.

Or was he safe? 'Had she ever   told them his name? Maybe some time she had let it slip. Maybe her mother had said. Who are you going out with. Myra? and she had said, Oh, a boy named Frankie Brown. The fork stopped suddenly and there was just the sound of fat sizzling in the pan, a tap running, and the move- ment of Meg. God Almighty, what luck! Brown. What's your name?

she said. Frankie Brown, he said. And she had said, I tell 'em where I'm

going but I don't say who I'm going with. A shiver of excitement swept

through him and he wiped his hand, across his mouth to stop the noise of his breath as it escaped with his re-


He went upstairs to his room and   lay down on the bed. There was nothing to do now but wait till to- morrow—from now on the story of the murder as the papers told it would be a serial. His mind more settled now, the horror less frightening in the daylight, the long hours of wake- fulness began to creep in over him, slowly pushing him into the softness of the bed beneath him and under the dark heavy waves of sleep


Meg's voice came more like a re- membrance than a sound and he opened his eyes, blinking, trying to place the room in his consciousness.

"Frankie! You're wanted on the 'phone!"  

He sat up. "All right! I'm coming."

He went down to the 'phone, his steps slowing as he reached the bot- tom of the stairs. The instrument stood on the table, the receiver and mouthpiece lying beside the stand, black inanimate bakelite moulded into a simple shape that now held terror for him. Did someone know some- thing? Was this call in connection with the murder? Had someone re- cognised him coming out of the Do- main? He picked up the 'phone and his voice was weak.


"Hullo? McCoy? It's Barney

Lowe here."

He had forgotten all about them. They had been wiped from his mind as cleanly as if they were names on a blackboard, and a wet rag had been passed over them. He took a firmer grip on the 'phone, and there was a relieved friendliness in his voice. "Oh, hullo Barney. How's things?"

"You'd know better than I would. Have you got our money?"

"Yeah, yeah, I got it. I can fix you."

"Good. See you t'morrer night


"Okay. T'morrer night in the bar." He put the 'phone back on the stand and went upstairs. He had for- gotten the bets completely. Thank God, though, he didn't have to worry about them any more. He was still a few quid short, but he could pay some of them a percentage and promise the rest of it next week. They would trust him till then if he showed his willingness to pay off

some of the debt.

He got out his books and began to count his debts. They added up to one hundred and ninety-three pounds. He sat back. Last night's haul from the safe had been one hundred and twelve pounds. He would be able to spread the difference over some of the coves he had known a long time, the coves who would trust him, know- ing he wasn't a welshcr.

He reached across for his coat, hanging on the foot of the bed, and took out his wallet. He had put thirty pounds in the wallet when he went out last night. He opened it now and dropped the notes on the bed. He counted them, then felt in the wallet. The wallet was empty but for the clippings. There was no more money. On the bed lay three five pound notes, six one pound notes, and two ten shilling notes. Twenty two pounds. Quickly he ran over in his mind what he had spent last night. He had given Flanagan a pound for the whisky and had spent just over ten shillings in the rest of the night. That made almost twenty-four pounds for

which he could account.

One of the five pound notes and one of the pound notes were miss-

ing. He had no idea where he had lost them, but could only guess, and the horror began to creep back into

the room.

LIKE health to an invalid, sleep, to   him, had become an elusive thing,   something that came creeping slowly, like some reluctant animal, then dart- ing away to leave him wide-eyed and


Sometimes fatigue made his mind collapse, his resistance folding, and he would fall off into fitful sleep that always contained the same dream. Myra would come walking into his loom, laughing through the blood and hair on her fac,e looking at him with the old welcoming smile, then she would disappear and he would be in a lonely wood, beneath gnarled and twisted trees, black and evil-looking, and he would be walking ankle-deep in bank notes, fives, and tens, and ones, and he would reach down to pick up one and it would be covered in blood and would slip away through his fingers. He would suddenly plunge into wakcfulncss, cold in his own sweat, and sit up and light a


Monday morning he got out of bed at six thirty, did not wait to shave and shower pulled on some clothes, ran a comb through his hair, went quietly down the siatrs and out into the street and up to the paper-shop.

The news-agent, a tall stooped man

with a pock-marked face and thinning sandy hair, looked up as he walked


"Hullo, Frankie. Up early."

"Yeah. Stan. Give me the morn- ing papers."

"Checking Sat'day's prices?"

"Yeah, that's right. Got to see I stay on the right side."

"They tell me you been having some   bad luck since you come back. Still, it can't be bad all the time—your luck's gotta change some time."

"Yeah." If only it would. If only

it would.

He dropped the fourpence on the counter, took two papers, and walked out of the shop. Containing his eager- ness, he walked down from the news- agent's and stood in a doorway of a not yet opened shop.

The inner pages of the first paper he opened carried the story, a two column spread. He read the news, skimming lhe words, reading too fast for the import to sink in, and he had to read it again.

The story did not tell much more than the Stop Press item had yester- day, had only elaborated on it with a few further details that had been re- leased by the police. Her name and age were given, and it also told that she came from Coogee. Her move- ments on Saturday night had been traced to the Trocadero, and, after a description of her, there was a request from the police for anyone who had seen her to come forward. There was no mention of notes being found by the body.

The report finished with the obser- vation that this was the second brutal murder within three weeks and there was a strong theory that the murders had been committed by the same man, this theory being lent weight by the

similarity of the circumstances.  

The last paragraph stood out before his eyes as if it were printed in capi- tal letters and heavy type. Quickly he opened the other paper, and its story finished with the same observa- tion. The possibility rose before him like a lightening in a dark sky—per- haps they were not looking for him but for the man who had committed  

the Belmore murder. A silent, almost hysterical laughter bubbled through him. Jeez, how'd it be if they caught the other bloke and pinned both the murders on him? The laugh'd be on both of them, him and the police. He folded the papers and put them under his arm. He stepped out of the doorway, still laughing within him- self, took two steps, and the laughter was gone. Suppose they caught him and pinned the Belmore murder on him? He walked on down the street, weak and frightened and sick.

Quietly he went in the side door and managed to get up to his room without being observed. He locked the door behind him, then with a razor blade snipped the stories out of both papers, putting the clippings into his wallet. He opened the door, went downstairs and out into the back- yard. He dropped the papers into the dustbin, put a match to them, and watched them burn. Then he turned and went back inside.

As he walked into the kitchen from the outer door Meg came in the other door from the hallway.

"Gosh, what's the matter with you?   Can't you sleep? Two mornings run- ing. You must be sickening for


"Oh, my tooth was giving me hell again."

"Why don't you get it out then?" "I dunno. I just don't like the idea  

of the dentist's. I never been to one before."

"Well, now's a good time to start." She began to prepare for breakfast, putting the kettle on, getting out the pan. "Just cleaning them four or five times a day like you used to, keeps 'em clean, but it don't always stop

the holes."

"I'll think about it. It's a bit better now."

He went into the lounge-room and turned on the radio. He sat down in a deep chair lolling listlessly, and listened to the music that came from the dark-wood, streamlined cabinet. The music finished, to be instantly replaced by an early-morning comedian whose jokes were as empty as his, as yet, unfed stomach. McCoy sat listening to him, wishing to hell he'd go back to bed and stop trying to be so b—— bright.

The comedian at last gave way. There was martial music, then the news session was announced. McCoy sat up. leaning forward. Why hadn't he listened to the news yesterday and last night? Maybe they had said something that he needed to know.

Now the war news came on. the cultured dispassionate voice of the announcer giving the calamitous state of the world, while McCoy sat in impatient eagerness that was almost a fever, twisting his fingers, every nerve strained, waiting for the story that must come. The war news finished, then the announcer told of the

national happenings of the last twelve


"Here is the State news."

The murder was the first item. The morning papers' theory of the double murderer now seemed to be the official view—the police were trying lo find further links between the two cases, other than the similarity of circumstances. The announcer finished the story on the murders and went on to the latest strikes.

McCoy sat back in the chair, going down into its soft depths, the arms coming up beside him like protecting walls. Was it a good idea that the police were coupling the murders? Maybe they would lead themselves up a blind alley and get nowhere. And maybe they wouldn't. He wondered again about the notes. There was still no mention of them. Was this a trick of the police, something they were holding back in the hope that he might commit himself? Had he. after all, lost them in the Domain? Couldn't they have fallen out of his wallet somewhere else? But even

while he asked himself the questions he knew there was no comfort in the


"Why don't you take a coupla asprin?"

He looked up to see Meg standing in the doorway.


"I said, if it's still aching, why don't you take some asprin?"

Realisation came to him: he had been sitting crouched down in the chair, his head resting on his left arm, and she thought the toothache was still worrying him. He sat up,

then stood up. He would have to wake up. You'll have to snap out of it, McCoy. You've been kidding your- self you're smart up till now but now you'll have to be really smart or people will begin to ask questions. And questions you do not want.

"It wouldn't be a bad idea. You got any?"

"I think there's a couple out in the cupboard."

He went out into the kitchen and to the cupboard in the corner. The asprin were on the top shelf. The irony of the situation made him smile wryly. Taking asprin for his trouble!

He gulped the two white tablets, drinking a glass of water after them,   then put the box back in the cupboard.

"They should give you some relief," Meg' said,

HE still had no inclination to eat and  

the toothache was a good excuse   for refusing breakfast. He went up to his room and lay on his bed. He could not sleep, but he lay there re- laxed, his mind blank, staring at the stained ceiling. He raised his arm and looked at his watch, then sat up. He stood up, put on his coat, and went down out of the hotel to the phone box on the corner of the street.

"Hullo, can I speak to Margie  


"Is it a private call?" "Yeah, please."

There was a click as the extension was made then he heard Margie.

"Hello? Who is it?"

"Hullo, Margie. It's Frankie—" "Look, Frankie. I told you I don't want to hear from you unless you ring from camp."

"Look, hon, please—"

"It's no use, Frankie. And please don't keep ringing me. I'll listen to you if you ring from camp, but other- wise you're just taking up time on the phone. Good-bye."

He walked out of and down the street in the bright warm sun that he could not feel. Coming to

the phone there had been no thought in his mind, no reason, other than that he must ring her. Now he knew he had been hoping for some com- fort from her, but there had been nothing there for him, just an adamant refusal to see him that could have been dismissal by a stranger.

"Hullo, Frankie. Don't you want to speak to me?"

He looked up from the ground that had been slowly sliding back beneath his walking feet. "Oh, hullo. Mum. Didn't see you. Guess I was day- dreaming."

She stood beside him, a frail figure who could have lent him strength had she known of his trouble.

"What's the matter, Frankie? You don't look well."

His troubled mind was becoming a tangible thing; it was becoming vis- ible, apparent to everyone. "No, I had the toothache the last coupla nights."

"You look as if you had for the last week." She opened her hand- bag. "I got a letter for you. It come in the mail this morning."

She handed him the letter. The handwriting was strange, yet faintly familiar. He opened the envelope and look out-the single page and looked at the bottom of it.

"It's from Keith Grayson." He folded the letter and put it in his pocket. He could read it later.

"Well, look after that tooth. Is there anything you want down home?"

"No, I don't think so. I'll let you   know if there is. Have the provosts been down again?"


"They won't worry you any longer. I told you that. But I better stay up here a bit longer."

"It's lonely without you, Frankie."

The empty house and the silent echoes, the weeping in the pillow and the memories, the clang of iron against iron, and the first farewell reached long arms through the abyss of their loneliness to the small cramped hotel room, the long oppres- sive nights, the frenzy in the pillow, the horror of his crime.

He put his hand on hers. "I'll be home soon, Mum," he said, and he knew he never would, not ever again. She went up the street and turned the


Al the side door of the hotel he turned and saw Meg coming down

the street. He waited for her.  

"Hear the news?"  

(Continued To-morrow)

Digitisation generously supported by
Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
Digitisation generously supported by