This is crazy! What the hell am I doing?
April didn’t care. She had broken free from her life and was feeling no pain. If a wild fling with a guy from her high school ended in pregnancy, her marriage would be over, her choices removed. She had done it as a teen and could do it again easily. She was well equipped to raise a child alone if need be. She had a secure, well-paying job and plenty of savings. Last time, she’d done it with nothing.
These thoughts were streaming through April’s mind as she clung to her lover’s hand all morning. They passed a town every now and then. The country had flattened. The mountains were left behind, and fields of green rolled either side of the road as far as the horizon. It was wheat and barley, according to Jason. He hadn’t stopped smiling since they had sex and was chattering non-stop.
They arrived in Moree about lunchtime. The address Jason’s firm had given them for Petrov’s place of work was an empty service station. The proprietor of a café across the road told them it had been a vacant site for years. The residential address they had was for a caravan park, with new management.
They pulled up in front of the police station. “It can’t hurt to ask,” Jason suggested.
He held the glass door for April, touching her back as she walked through. She liked that a lot, she decided. He seemed to have a habit of doing it.
A young female police officer attended them at the enquiries counter. “Good afternoon, Officer. My name is Jason Ford, of Baine & Associates Investigations…” Jason offered his ID. “This is my partner, April Anderson. We’re hoping to speak with the officer in charge here today.”
The woman handed back Jason’s wallet. “Regarding?”
“We’re investigating a cold case murder. A man we believe to have been involved resided here in Moree for about a year in the late 1980s. We’re interested to know if you have any record of his activities here.”
“And the man’s name?”
The young constable jotted that down and went into an office at the back of the large open room full of desks and people on computers or phones. She returned after a few minutes accompanied by a tall greying man in a plain suit.
“We have record of one minor incident involving your guy,” the man offered. “It was a simple domestic argument between neighbours at a caravan park where he resided. The issue was resolved.”
Jason opened his notebook. “May I ask when, exactly?”
“Thanks. By any chance do you have any open files on murdered or missing women from around June 1987?”
The policeman’s face hardened, his eyes narrowed. “Sorry—you are?”
“Jason Ford—private investigator.”
“Come through,” the policeman said, lifting a fold-down section of the counter. “Ma’am…” He ushered Jason and April through to his office. “Have a seat.”
They sat and waited while he addressed his computer for a moment. He took a breath and expelled, leaning back with his hands behind his head. “What makes you think this man you’re investigating would have any involvement in the disappearance of a woman?”
“You have one?” Jason asked.
The policeman nodded slowly.
“Was she a nurse?” April asked. The words leapt from her throat.
The policeman nodded slowly again. “She was.”
April looked to Jason. Her excitement reflected in his eyes.
“We don’t have a lot… The remains of a young nurse have been unearthed in a field at Everly Cove on the far south coast. She was murdered in 1985. The facts are: she lived across the road from where Clive Petrov was staying in a caravan, that he knew her, and that an elderly woman residing nearby gave us his name and insisted we track him down. She appears to have some history with him. We don’t know what that is… The police in Everly Cove have no interest in Petrov. We hope to find something to link him to the murder and to learn what became of him. There are no records of his existence beyond 1988, as far as we can see.”
“Can I have a copy of your notes?” the detective asked.
He offered Jason and April cards with his name and contact information.
“This is scribble. I’ve got a folder in the car,” Jason said. “Back in a minute.”
Jason left. The detective smiled at April. “Can I get you a coffee?”
“No, thanks… I’m not really a private investigator. He is, but I’m just trying to clear my granddad. I’m just helping.”
“That’s fine. This is encouraging. It’s the first lead in this case in a long time.”
“So, you’ll follow it up? Is that what you call it?”
The detective smiled. “We’ll certainly be following it up. It might take some time, but we’ll learn what there is to know about Clive Petrov’s stay here in Moree.”
Jason returned with his folder of information. He and the detective photocopied the contents. April and Jason were back on the road shortly after. Their next destination was about nine hours’ drive according to April’s navigation.
It was after dark and about four hours into the journey when they pulled into a new looking motel in the main street of a large agricultural town. They had their evening meal in the motel restaurant. Jason showered first. April took her time shampooing her hair and shaving her legs. She had no sexy sleepwear, but what she wore to bed was soon pulled off her, anyway.
She and her lover slept nude that night. They made love wildly the first time then sensually after an hour talking and cuddling.
Another four hours of straight open road and plains of dry grass and red dirt the following morning brought them to the town of Augathella. They ate lunch and took a walk to stretch and exercise. The workplace of Petrov was another service station. This one still operated, but ownership had changed hands a few times over the years, and there were no employment records to be found. His work address was also his home address. It seemed he had stayed onsite.
“This storage room used to be living quarters,” the young service station manager explained, showing Jason and April around the workshop where Petrov would have spent his time repairing trucks. His taxation records listed him as a diesel mechanic.
The local police station was considerably smaller than the one in Moree. The sergeant in charge had a look at his records but found nothing of note. He had no record at all of Clive Petrov.
“So, it’s west from here and no more highway,” April said, studying their map book. “This is going to be fun.”
“Fun, huh?” Jason checked around. They had just fuelled up and were parked away from other vehicles. He leaned across and lifted April’s chin with his finger. He kissed her.
She responded, meeting his tongue and touching his shirt. He cupped her breast, squeezing and thumbing her nipple, making it hard.
“Not here,” she said. “We’ll get arrested.”
“Yeah, and that cop didn’t look like the humorous type,” Jason agreed. “You’re just so damn sexy. I can’t keep my hands to myself.”
“You can wait until tonight.”
“Barely.” Jason started the Land Cruiser and drove off.
“The wait will do you good,” April told him, tugging her skirt up to sun her legs. She gathered it as high as she modestly could.
Jason did a double take then shook his head. “That’s not going to help.”
“It isn’t meant to.”
They backtracked south for half an hour to where the road they needed branched off the highway. The map indicated it was another 400 kilometres to the town of Cooper’s Crossing, and there wasn’t much in the way of civilisation to be encountered.
They stocked up with food and water then headed west toward the desert. The road was narrow but good enough to keep to a good speed. The country all looked the same to April and, flashing by her window, it soon had her hypnotised into a trance then sleep.
It was dusk when she woke, the sky orange—a beautiful sunset on the horizon. There were too many kangaroos to keep the speed Jason had set all afternoon. The last hundred kilometres took forever.
“Well, here we are… Cooper’s Crossing.” Jason gave April’s leg an affectionate squeeze. “What’s first—food or lodgings?”
“Yeah—good idea. This is the main road in. There’s got to be a motel.”
There were quite a few houses either side of the road, which gave way to parkland on the left, then the town began with businesses on the right. They drove over a broad arched bridge with moonlight glistening off water beneath. The road then wound into more parkland and a brightly lit main street.
“There!” April said. “There’s the motel.”
It was quite large, maybe 30 rooms in two levels. There weren’t many cars. Reception was attended by a thin old man with Coke bottle glasses. He gave them the key to an upper level room and took their order for breakfast.
April hurried upstairs leaving Jason to park the car. She needed the toilet badly.
“Hey, this is nice,” Jason called to her. The room was an apartment. It had a kitchenette and a separate bedroom. There were open doors, and April found Jason on a balcony overlooking the river.
He took her into his arms. “I say we stay two nights and have a rest.”
“Definitely! This is beautiful and I’m sick of driving.”
He left her to use the toilet. She undressed and got into bed. When he came back, she had the covers pulled up to her chin. He tossed his clothes as he stripped them.
Jason slipped beneath the covers and pressed close to April’s body, pulling her to him and kissing her lips. He was already erect. She captured him, hooking a leg around his and rolling on top as their kissing deepened and their tongues lashed and explored. She positioned herself, mashing her sex against the underside of his shaft until she was wet enough that it slipped inside. She then rode him, grinding firmly as he tried to remain latched to one nipple or the other, sucking on her and driving her crazy with the kind of lust that quashed any restraint. April gripped Jason’s head and thrust her breasts forward. He was sitting, and she gyrated lewdly on his powerfully erect member.
Her orgasm hit so hard that she cried out. He held her tight while her body convulsed and her belly twisted in delicious knots of pleasure. He then bucked her off his lap and flipped her over.
“Like this?” she teased, wagging her bottom at him.
He mounted her. She reached beneath and guided him back in. He gripped her hips and immediately lost control, thumping against her—surging and grinding until his head shot back and he cried out as she had, his body pressed firmly against her with his big fingers digging into her thighs to hold her in place.
When finished, Jason bent over and kissed April’s back. She held his head, lifting to her knees with him. He felt her breasts as they kissed over her shoulder.
“I’m hungry,” April said.
They dressed and strolled hand-in-hand along the main street of the small outback town. There were several clothing stores, barber and hair dressing businesses, furniture and electronics stores, the full range of health, legal and financial services, and a huge saddlery that stood as the centrepiece of the town at the main intersection with the only set of traffic lights. There were several restaurants and a couple of pubs.
April and Jason ate alfresco at a café. It was a cool evening. The air seemed different. It was crisp and dry. There were plenty of others out strolling. April noticed the cowboy hats amusingly. Lots of guys were wearing them and some of the girls too.
“We should walk back along the other side,” she said to Jason after they had finished their meals.
The other side of the street was busier. They stopped in at one of the pubs and had a beer at the bar. There was country and western music as background and a small dance floor. Jason led April over and they swayed through a few slow songs. They were the only dancers but April didn’t care. She didn’t care about anything on this road trip. She could do whatever she wanted, and unlike with her real life, the man she was with could do whatever he wanted with her.
April never relinquished control, but this felt different. This guy was sure of himself. She sensed it in him, and it gave her confidence—the confidence to let go and not need control. Jason was not the boy she played with twenty years ago.
They had finished dancing and bought a six-pack of beers for their balcony. There were two seats but he pulled her onto his lap.
“This feels right to me, April… It feels real.”
“Oh yeah? I’m having trouble with real at the moment.”
“Meaning life is complicated, but I can’t seem to get worried about that here.” April waved her beer at the silver swishing river. “This is a fairy tale come true.”
Jason nodded. “But it will have an end, right?”
She shrugged. “I don’t want to think about that.”
He nodded some more. He seemed to be thinking, maybe getting all serious. He suddenly smiled. “Okay—a fairy tale… I can deal with that.”
“Sure. I can do real, and I can do pretend.”
April blushed a little. It only worked—being this far over the line—if she didn’t analyse.
“I like that we’re not dealing with what comes next, Jason. I think I stopped worrying about that when we left The Cove. It’s way too complicated to think about and be this free at the same time.”
“I get that,” Jason assured instantly. “It’s not quite like that for me, but I appreciate how you feel… I didn’t have it clear in my mind a minute ago, but I get it now.”
April leaned against the guy, fiddling with his shirt and undoing a button. “Are you sure?”
His hand was resting above her knee. He stroked upward with his fingertips—up and slowly back. “Right now, I just want to keep screwing you every chance I get.”
April’s blush fired up. “Okay.”
Jason met her lips. “And kissing you.”
She nodded. “I like kisses.”
He grinned. “You’re frigging hot for a fairy tale princess.”
She giggled into his next kiss. Seriousness kindly faded away, and they laughed and chatted while drinking the six-pack. April claimed the first shower but was joined in there by her make-believe lover. She held his head while he was on his knees kissing and licking and sucking on her. She had to grip the glass shower screen when her orgasm hit and her legs gave way completely. She was then taken to bed and made love to, and she clung to Jason’s body while he screwed her for over an hour.
She ended up with her head resting upon his chest as he slept. She absently twirled his chest hair while thinking about leaving her husband and doing this for real—imagining what it would be like to be with Jason and start a new family.
She kissed his cheek. I’m a girl—I’m allowed to think about it…
Jason opened the door to find a lady with their breakfast on a big tray. He took it. “Thank you.” April was finishing up in the bathroom. They were ready to see what was what in Cooper’s Crossing.
They set up at the small dining table. April brought coffees from the kitchenette. “So, what first, Sherlock?”
“It looks like the address for Petrov is out of town. I say we try the cops first.”
“It was only a small station. I hope the boss copper is friendlier than the last one.”
The police station was along a little from the motel. They had strolled past the previous night. After breakfast, they found what looked like an unattended counter until a young female officer came from a back room.
“Good morning,” she greeted with a natural smile.
“Hello. Who do we see about cold case murder mysteries?” Jason asked. He was feeling good.
The girl—she looked only about twenty—cocked an eyebrow. She pointed to herself with the index fingers of both hands. “That would be me.”
Jason produced his ID. “This is my partner, April Anderson. We’re on the trail of a man named Clive Petrov.”
“I’m Juliette—Officer Cole.” The girl opened a half door and ushered Jason and April into the room. There was a single desk where they sat across from her.
“Who’s in charge here?” Jason asked. She looked so young.
“Sergeant Hoffman is out all morning… Who is Clive Petrov? Who has hired you to search for him?”
Officer Cole opened a big notepad to a new page. She looked up with her pen ready.
“I’m investigating for the Barrett family of Everly Cove.”
Officer Cole wrote the names Barrett and Everly Cove. “And you, ma’am?”
“I’m one of the Barrett family,” April answered. “My uncle employed Mr Ford.”
“Thank you.” That was noted. “Now, you were saying, Mr Ford?”
“Um…” Jason swallowed. “Yeah—Clive Petrov… There have been human remains unearthed at a field in Everly Cove. They are a murder victim from 1985—a young female nurse Grace McKenna. April’s grandfather has served a life sentence for the murder. We believe Petrov to be the actual killer.”
More notes were jotted down. The young officer looked up. “What makes you think this Clive Petrov is the killer?”
“Are you sure there’s not a more senior officer we should be speaking with?” Jason asked. “I mean respectfully…”
“I’m it for now, sir… What about Petrov?”
April giggled. “Sorry,” she said to the officer. “You tell him!”
“Call me Juliette,” the girl replied. “Is he always this stuffy?”
“I think he’s used to being in charge,” April explained.
Juliette turned back to Jason. “Oh! Wait until you meet the sergeant.”
Jason frowned. They were both smiling at him. “Okay… Sorry… I’m just usually the one asking the questions.”
“You’ll get your turn. Me first,” Juliette said. “What makes you think Petrov did it?”
“We don’t have a lot to go on, but he was at the scene, and he was also at the scene of the disappearance of a young nurse in Moree a year later.”
Juliette glanced up from her notepad again. “What year was Moree, exactly?”
“We have two from 1988—both nurses.”
“Oh my god,” April cried, her hand covering her mouth.
“Yes,” Juliette agreed. “This Clive Petrov was here, I gather?”
Jason nodded. “Yes, in ’88. We’ve got no information about him beyond ’88.”
“Do you have a local address or something?”
The young officer’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Yes, really… What does that mean?” Jason asked.
“One of the victims was from Warburton Station.”
This kid was impressive. Jason was taken aback by her. “You seem to know a fair bit about this?”
She shrugged. “It’s a special interest. I like the old unsolved cases. I want to be a detective when I grow up,” she added with a half smirk.
April giggled again. Jason scratched his head.
“So, should we take a run out to Warburton?” Juliette asked, getting up and buckling on her utility belt.
Jason and April followed. They were taken to the back of the station and a big 4WD police wagon.
“So, the owners of Warburton have been here for a while?” Jason enquired.
“Since forever. It’s a family business—the Thompsons. Madeline Thompson is a girlfriend of mine. It’s her mother who was murdered, when Madeline was a young child. Her grandparents, Ron and Beth, are cool. They won’t mind us dropping by and asking a few questions. You mustn’t mention anything about suspecting Petrov of murder. The Thompsons may have an idea of where he went after leaving their employ if we’re lucky… Better leave it for my boss to bring up the idea of him possibly being the murderer of their daughter.”
“Got it,” Jason agreed. “How old are you, Juliette?”
The young officer glanced and checked with April in the back seat. “How rude!”
“I know… He used to be sweet once—years ago.”
Jason shook his head. “I just meant you seem so mature,” he mumbled. “Geez Louise.”
Both girls giggled.
“I’m 23,” Juliette announced. “Thanks. I like to be seen as mature.”
“And are you from here?” April asked. “I can’t imagine living all the way out here.”
“Tell me about it… I shout myself a flight to the city every now and then. But yes, I’m from here. My parents have a property out the other side of town. You would have driven past just before you got to the river coming in.”
“Do they breed Kangaroos?” Jason asked, straight-faced.
Juliette laughed. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”
The conversation meandered from all about Cooper’s Crossing to Everly Cove and Brisbane and Melbourne cities. Warburton Station was huge. They were driving on it for half an hour before reaching the homestead.
A party of people greeted their arrival. Juliette got hugs from everyone. She introduced Jason and April to the elderly owners of the property, Ronald and Bethany Thompson and their pretty, golden-haired granddaughter Madeline. Tea and cake were served on a broad, insect screened veranda.
“Sure, I remember him,” Ronald replied in answer to Jason’s question. “He was an arsehole.”
“Well, he was,” Ronald went on.
“In what way?” Jason asked the old man.
Ronald coughed. It was deep—chesty. He opened a packet of cigarettes with shaking hands and lit up a smoke. He shouldn’t have been smoking, Jason thought.
“He wasn’t what he seemed with that Bible toting rot. He worked here for three months—as long as I could put up with him and his preaching. You could see in his eyes he was an evil bastard. No surprise you coppers are chasing after him… What did he do, anyway?”
“We’re not at liberty to say,” Juliette answered curtly. “Do you have the exact dates of his employment, Mr Thompson?”
“I’ll look it up,” the granddaughter, Madeline, said and went inside.
“Did the guy leave anything here by any chance, sir?” Jason asked.
The old man took a long pull on his cigarette. He shook his head. “He left nothing here. Nothing at all.”
“Oh… Well, where did he actually live? Can we see his old room?”
“It doesn’t exist anymore, son. I bulldozed it and built new stockman’s quarters some years ago.”
“Thank you, Mr Thompson.” Juliette glanced at Jason, giving him a look that told him to back off. “This has been very helpful… One final question—do you have any idea where this man might have gone after he left here?”
The old man took a moment before looking up with clear blue eyes. “No idea, Officer. Sorry.”
That statement struck Jason as a lie. The granddaughter returned and handed Juliette a folded piece of paper. Jason and April finished their tea and waited by the police wagon while Juliette chatted with her girlfriend.
“That was interesting,” April said.
“It was… The old man didn’t like Petrov much. He knows more than he’s saying too.”
April sat on the edge of a water trough. Jason looked around at the expanse of grey and green shrubbery that carpeted the red earth. There was a lawn surrounding the homestead but no other grass in sight. It was hard to imagine how they raised cattle. There were men working in a set of timber yards in the distance. Beyond the homestead was a grove of trees, and there were more buildings back there. Cows were mooing, a massive dust cloud slowly drifting away on the gentle breeze. Apart from the cows, there was a ringing silence, the sky perfectly blue and absolutely enormous.
“But it’s obvious this guy was a killer,” April went on. “Surely they will reopen the case now, and Granddad will be cleared.”
Jason sat beside April. “Wait until I get all of this to my boss. We’ll fax it from town. He’ll make sure the right people are informed. There’ll definitely be a new investigation.”
April smiled. She glanced away then back again. “Thank you, Jason… Thank you so much for this.”
“You’re welcome. And you helped… You’re a very cool PI slash navigator.”
“Uh oh!” Juliette cried, suddenly rounding the police wagon and catching the staring contest. “Are you two on together?”
“Yes,” April replied simply.
“Do you want another minute? I could go for a walk… Or you could sit together in back. I have handcuffs if you need them.”
They all laughed. Once in the vehicle, Jason got serious.
“So, the old guy didn’t say as much as he knew.”
“No, he didn’t,” Juliette agreed. “We have the dates and a general character assessment that fits, though. Except the murder of the Thompson woman occurred a month after Petrov was fired… I’m guessing Ronald Thompson at the very least suspects Petrov murdered his daughter, and possibly knows what became of him.”
“That could be why there’s no record of him existing afterwards,” Jason suggested.
“Could be, Mr PI. It could well be, which is why it was best we keep that from getting too heavy and leave it to the experts at extracting information. I’m sure the boss will bring in someone from the city.”
“So, you think there will be an investigation here?” April asked.
“Oh yes, there certainly will. This has been a very productive few hours. Thank you both for your help.”
“Is there a fax machine I can use back at the station?” Jason asked.
“Sure… Of course…”
April took another stroll around town while Jason finished up with the police. The sergeant was back and wanted to speak with him. It seemed to April that they had achieved what they had set out to do. No doubt the police had ways of digging a lot deeper than Jason could. She felt hopeful to the point of belief that her granddad would eventually be cleared of suspicion. It was obvious Petrov was the murderer.
That afternoon, April and Jason slept fully clothed and cuddled up together on the bed. They found the pub they had been to the night before had come to life. It was crowded with cowboys and cowgirls dancing to a very loud country and western band. It was perfect to celebrate the end of formalities with the investigation and to switch the mood to total fun and adventure.
They partied into the early hours and made love halfway drunk from too many beers and Cherry Kisses.
“Can you drive for a bit, please? My head’s killing me,” Jason asked pleadingly after breakfast.
There were still lots of Kangaroos mid-morning but nowhere near as many as there had been coming in at night. April enjoyed the first couple of hours of her drive, but the red dirt outback road kept on going and going, and she was happy to take her turn in the wound-back passenger seat with her eyes closed.
They made it back to civilisation and found a nice motel for the night. “I think we should go straight to the coast,” Jason was saying as April came from her shower. He had the map book open on the bed. “We could be in Brisbane tomorrow night, then two easy days to drive home. How does that sound?”
“I don’t want to go home,” April replied, straddling his bottom.
He was in boxer shorts and a tee-shirt, she wrapped in a towel. She massaged his shoulders.
He rolled over and sat up, keeping her upon his lap. She kissed him and peeled off his tee-shirt. Her towel unravelled. He lifted her and pulled down his shorts.
April took him inside, guiding him and lowering onto him slowly until she had him all the way in. She began moving, squirming back and forth as they continued kissing. “Still happy to keep screwing me?” she whispered into his ear…………..
Part 5 coming soon – full novel will be available to read free through January.
From the back cover:
Jason Ford is back in town after twenty years to investigate remains of a young woman unearthed at the local soccer field. April Anderson still has his unanswered schoolboy love letters hidden in the bottom of her jewellery box. Her hubby is overseas visiting his parents. Surely it’s okay to offer an old friend the spare room… Nothing problematic in that, right?
Wrong! All kinds of wrong. All levels of it… But will it ultimately be wrong if it turns out to be a new happily-ever-after?
Both times Jason has encountered April there’s been another dude with a claim. This one is overseas and out of the picture for the next few weeks. And April isn’t happy in her relationship. Not that that should be any of Jason’s business… Except there’s the tiny detail that Jason actually did see and develop feelings for April before this current guy did – back when they were at high school together… Surely that gives him some small level of entitlement, doesn’t it?
Happy reading, G.S.Bailey