Daff’s Saturday morning changed with one phone call. She’d reserved these precious hours for the nutting out of Liam’s complex narrative. By accepting the unexpected call, that freedom vanished instantly.
Lyn had rung in sick, again, and Nancy was doing the ring-around to see who else could cover the shift. ‘You don’t need to lead any services today, but I need someone to do the preparation for tomorrow’s presentations.’
Nancy didn’t usually speak so tactfully; guests must be gathering in the foyer already. Daff agreed and an hour later she pushed open the swinging doors of the morgue. Though she felt a tinge of regret for her lost hours of solitude, she knew that not all writing took place before pen and page or keyboard and screen. Truthfully, her best ideas came when she was out participating in life’s ordinary routines. In fact, the premise for her current crime novel started after discovering a watch amongst the sand at Golden Beach. She didn’t know the owner, obviously, and yet their identity was shaped into the mould of the red silicon band and scratched glass face.
With no other staff members on shift, Daff would have the place to herself. She could feel the watch’s light weight inside the pocket of her scrubs; a slight reassuring pressure that said, ‘You’re not entirely alone’. At least I’ll be able to speak to Liam freely; he can finally show me who he really is. The last thing Daff wanted was for her colleagues to think she had an invisible friend. Though one could argue that’s precisely what he was.
‘So, this is your office?’ Liam walked the circumference of the room. He was tall, but aren’t most male protagonists? His hair was shaggy, the tips brushing against his wide shoulders – another typical feature. She watched as he stopped before a steel wall. The metal ran from floor to ceiling, segregated by two rows, each containing five small doors.
Daff stepped forward and gripped the chrome handle on the bottom left door. ‘It’s a cold chamber. If you were wondering.’ She pulled out the body tray and checked the deceased’s wrist band: Jake Riley. The name matched the death certificate in her file.
Liam leaned over the young man as though he were only asleep. ‘Never trust a man with two first names.’
‘Traditionally speaking, Riley is a last name. Now, stop distracting me.’ Daff waved him away, though she was secretly pleased by his outgoing nature. Extroverted characters were so much easier to work with; they’d usually show up on the page fully formed. Returning to her file, she searched the paperwork for an age: Twenty-one.
There was a deep gash on his forehead and bruising around the neck. The cut would require adhesive, but the bruising could be hidden with cosmetics and a high collar. The cause of death was listed as a motorcycle accident. He looked like the type too. His shaved head gave the sharp angles of his face a mean quality. Rough tattoos dotted his arms, chest and stomach. Spider webs were etched into each elbow, a hula girl danced over his heart and a blotchy Southern Cross covered the back of his right hand. There were swallows, a reaper, a pirate ship and an anchor. The strangest, though, was a simple circle on the top of his arm, slashed by a slanted line.
‘And I thought you were chatty at home.’
Daff looked up and realised she’d been staring. She coughed dryly and connected the tray to its wheeled counterpart and rolled Jake over to the work area. ‘I didn’t have to bring the watch with me, you know.’ That was a lie and they both knew it. Looking closer, she could see that Liam had the same peculiar tattoo, its gentle curve peeping beneath the sleeve of his tee. Could that symbol be a gang sign? Clearly, Jake was into motorcycles. Maybe Liam could be the member of an outlaw bikie club. It was certainly a timely topic.
She unravelled the hose and turned the tap. The water ran over the steel table in ripples, reminding Daff of the creek she had played in as a child, only this water was clean and cool instead of thick and muddy. One hot day, her old man came home early and suggested that they go for a swim. Jon Lawrence wasn’t a playful man. For him, police work had always come first. On nights when he did come home early, he would shower, eat dinner and collapse on the coach. But that day at the junction had been different; he was different. He’d laughed. He’d swum. He’d been there. Daff shook her head. She hadn’t thought about her father or the river in years.
Liam waved a hand in front of Daff’s face. ‘Careful love, I think you’re in danger of drooling.’
‘What?’ Daff patted her face and realised she’d been staring, again.
‘Now that you’ve finished checking out this stiff, how’s about we flesh out some kind of a backstory?’
She could have corrected him, but that would only lead to more questions and she didn’t feel like talking about Jon. Though he hadn’t been the greatest of fathers, he was a valuable resource in terms of research. The biggest obstacle in crime writing was getting the police procedural stuff right. ‘Trust me, I’ve hardly forgotten about you.’ Daff shut of the valve, grabbed a towel and started to pat down the body, wishing Liam could give her a hand. ‘I’ve three days off, starting tomorrow. That will give me some time to work out who you are and how you died.’
The file lay open, displaying a photograph of a younger Jake, pre-tattoos. He looked about fifteen, his cheeks were flushed and face damp from perspiration. He wore a blue cap backwards. Daff wondered what sport he’d been playing that day as she pulled out the dyes needed to recreate his colouring. His cheeks had sunk and hands withered too; both would need plumping up. Humectant will help with that. She opened a drawer and drew out the syringe needed for the restorative fluid.
‘Why do I have to be dead?’ Liam stood back, crossing his arms over his chest.
Daff’s mental work plan vanished in an instant. ‘Because that’s what will make this novel different, innovative! We’ve talked about this, remember? Your spirit will be attached to the watch that is discovered by the embalmer, Nora, while she is walking along the beach. You’ll have no memory of your former life and Nora will be compelled to uncover your identity and solve your murder. It’s called supernatural suspense.’
‘I thought you were writing a crime novel?’
‘It’s an offshoot of the genre.’
‘You think that will sell?’
She shrugged. The plot was still a work in progress, but between the best friend’s theory of ‘unfinished business’, the psychic insightful reading, and Liam’s apparent amnesia, Daff thought the manuscript was shaping up nicely.
It made sense that Liam was a homicide victim. After all, if he’d died peacefully, surrounded by family and friends, then why had he shown up in chapter two with no memory of his former life? Funerals are for the living, but they must serve some purpose to the dead. If Liam’s body received proper preparation and burial, then why was he haunting the watch? In chapter seven, the psychic claimed there was a connection between Liam’s death and a sharp chest pain. Sure, he could have had a heart attack in a remote location, his body never found, but there was nothing interesting about that. If his body were discovered (even without a wallet) it wouldn’t take long for coroners to ID the body, so that was a major plot killer. Nora stepped on the watch while walking along Golden Beach, a highly populated slim strip of sand with little vegetation. Liam could have drowned there, but it’s unlikely. The Pumicestone Passage that carved the eastern boundary of Golden Beach was a calm flat channel, the currents of the coming or receding tide barely caused a ripple to the water weeds. There was no alternative for Liam. Murder was the only logical explanation.
Liam stepped forward, breaking Daff from her reverie. ‘Will Nora find out who I am? Will there be peace for me … in the end?’
‘Someone will know who you are. She’ll just need to find them.’
Tara East has completed a Bachelor of Journalism (JCU), a Graduate Certificate in Editing and Publishing (USQ) and a Masters of Professional Practice Creative Writing (USC). Her non-fiction work has appeared in The Townsville Bulletin, The North West Star and ABC local.
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Vol 21 No 1 April 2017
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy, Enza Gandolfo & Julienne van Loon
Creative works editor: Anthony Lawrence