Episode 31: "Crimes of the Heart"
I apologise for the delay in getting this episode up. Circumstances have not been particularly conducive to fanfiction writing lately (uni work, migraines, eye trouble, computer trouble...really, you name it, it's probably happened lately). I do promise that True Heelers is alive and well and that I have many ideas for future episodes kicking around.
Synopsis: Amy is left looking hard at Charlie Clarke when his wife goes missing and his house is found looking suspiciously like a murder scene. As Dash begins to make her way back towards the light, Nick and Zoe continue to sink further into the abyss.
Chris bent over the table as she collected the glasses. Someone who had been sitting there had apparently managed to spill a substantial quantity of wine over the table and onto the floor that was going to need cleaning, she realised with a sigh. She was about to let her barman know when she heard a familiar voice from behind her.
She rolled her eyes as she turned to face PJ and Amy. They looked like they'd come straight from the station after that day's work. She couldn't help a laugh as she noticed the pants of Amy's suit were covered with stains. "What the hell happened to you?"
"Bloody burglar decided to do the chasing thing through a paddock, didn't he?" Amy replied, making one last vain attempt at wiping the marks off her clothes. It was a failure.
PJ just looked at her. "I told you to slow down."
"I nearly had the little bastard," Amy pointed out. "Stupid patch of mud."
Chris chuckled, her mood substantially improved, as she headed back towards the bar. "You should just be glad it wasn't something far more smelly and unpleasant."
Amy pulled a face as she grabbed a chair at a nearby table. PJ sat down beside her. "So what's going for dinner tonight, Chrissie?"
"Just the usual," Chris replied. "Can I gather you'll be wanting a shepherd's pie, PJ?"
PJ grinned. "Oh, you know me so well."
Chris went to ask Amy for her order, but was stopped by the sight of someone else entering the public bar. Her silence drew Amy and PJ's attention and they turned to follow her gaze. It was Dash.
Dash smiled. "Hey guys," she said as she pulled her brown jacket tighter around herself. "Can you believe how cold it is out there?"
Amy and PJ just shared a wary glance. It was left to Chris to speak. "How are you going?"
"Good, good," Dash replied, nodding thoughtfully. "I thought I might get away from the farm for a bit. The more time I spend there, the more obvious it becomes that about all Charlie and I have in common is a little bit of DNA."
Chris and PJ seemed to regard this with doubt. If anything, Dash had more in common with Charlie than with any of her siblings, if only in their possession of that amazing strength and selflessness that had so characterised their mother.
Dash ignored their silence. She looked to Amy and PJ warily. "Can I talk to you guys...in private?"
Amy and PJ looked to one another and nodded. "Sure, sure," Amy replied. She turned to Chris. "Can we use the Parlour?"
Chris nodded and gestured vaguely towards it. "Go ahead," she told them. She watched the three of them leave the bar and resumed her cleaning. Within seconds, she had been distracted by someone else entering the bar. Looking up, she realised it was Nick. She rolled her eyes. "I'm not serving you," she said firmly, folding her arms. "I refuse to serve you again until you've sorted yourself out."
"I'm not here to drink," Nick explained, adjusting his black woollen scarf as he stepped towards Chris. She stared at him blankly. "I wanted to buy the best wine you've got."
She raised an eyebrow and looked him up and down. Nick certainly looked better than he had for weeks – brighter, cleaner and far better dressed. He even sounded cheerier, optimistic even. But her scepticism remained. "You're planning on wooing Zoe back?" she asked.
"Are you playing amateur detective?" Nick replied.
"It won't work," Chris said, placing a hand on her hip. "She's not looking for you to impress her romantically, you know."
Nick's expression faltered briefly, but he quickly rebounded. "She's my wife, I'll do this my way." He nodded towards the shelves behind the bar. "So, are you going to sell me a bottle of wine, or should I take my business to Carla at the Commercial?"
She frowned at him for a moment before storming back over to the bar and grabbing a bottle of wine off the shelf. She had a hunch Nick's efforts were going to fail and fail miserably, but it was Nick's money to waste.
Dash shut the Parlour door behind her as Amy and PJ made themselves comfortable in two of the chairs. She sat down opposite them and leant across.
"What's this about?" Amy asked, eyes narrowed as she shook her head in confusion.
Dash hesitated for a moment before she spoke. "You have a couple of spare rooms at your house, don't you?"
PJ looked to Amy warily before turning back to Dash. "Yeah, why?" About a second later, it clicked. "Is this a rather clumsy attempt to ask if you can move in with us?"
"Yeah," Dash said with a nod. She shifted her position in her seat as she elaborated. "As much as I love Charlie and the girls, I left home a long time ago and I need to get away from the farm. And I really don't want to go back to that house."
Amy nodded. "I understand."
"I considered the pub, but..." Dash was silenced by a wave of PJ's hand.
PJ and Amy looked at each other and nodded. PJ grinned. "Dash, we would be glad to have you aboard."
Zoe sat curled up on the bed in her motel room, picking at her microwave sweet and sour chicken. She was half-absorbed in an episode of Inspector Rex when she heard a knock at the door. Sighing, she sat her dinner aside and crawled off the bed to answer it.
Her expression turned to frustration at the sight of Nick Schultz. "What?" she asked, placing one hand on her hip while she kept the other fixed on the door, ready to slam it shut if need arose.
He pulled the bottle of wine out from behind his back and bowed slightly. He grinned as he looked at her. His face fell as he caught her rolling her eyes. He stood up straight and offered her the wine. "I bought this for you."
She shook her head. "Did you pay attention to anything I said when I walked out the door?" she demanded. At Nick's wounded expression, she rolled her eyes again and closed the door.
Amy stood over the kitchen counter, one hand pressed to her temple while the other stirred the contents of her mug. It was late, or more accurately early; probably not even two in the morning. She let the smell of the hot chocolate waft over her, warming her body and making her feel relaxed. As she finished stirring her drink, she tossed the spoon into the sink and sank into the couch in the living room to check what was on TV.
She had barely gotten it turned on when Dash appeared, combing her hair back from her face. Amy suddenly became apologetic. "I'm sorry, did I wake you up?" she asked. As Dash sat down beside her, she gave a weak laugh. "I don't usually pay that much attention to how much noise I make; it's usually only me and PJ and that man could snooze through anything."
Dash laughed. "That sounds like PJ. Nah, you didn't wake me." She nodded towards the hot chocolate. "Is there anymore in the kitchen?"
Amy nodded. "Yeah, there's a box in the cupboard," she replied. "Do you want me to make it?"
"No, I'm fine," Dash said as she climbed to her feet and headed into the kitchen. "I can actually do some things for myself, despite what most people around this town appear to believe."
Amy sat back, cupping her mug in her hands. "Okay, fair enough." She could understand how Dash felt. She had more than once found herself up against those who wanted to wrap her up in cotton wool to protect her.
Dash reappeared about a minute later with a mug of her own. She sat down beside Amy and began sipping at her hot chocolate. "Is there anything good on?" she asked as she looked towards the TV.
"Probably not," Amy replied. "There usually never is any other time I'm looking for something to watch."
Dash looked at her thoughtfully. "You usually up at this time of the morning?"
Amy nodded. "Yeah, I'm not a very good sleeper," she explained. "I usually end up spending a portion of most nights sitting up with a hot chocolate, watching some infomercials, reading a book or trying to catch up on some paperwork." She smiled. "I'll try to be quieter in future."
Dash waved off her concerns. "It's okay, I'm usually up half the night as well. I think it started when Phoebe was born and never really went away." She went quiet for a moment when she realised that she'd mentioned her daughter's name. Finally, a little smile crossed her face. "I was thinking of returning to work tomorrow."
Amy looked at her worriedly. "Are you sure?"
Dash nodded. "It still hurts, Amy. It'll probably always hurt, at least a little. Phoebe will always be a part of me and I'm glad she will be. But...I guess I'm reaching the point where I'm ready to rebuild myself and pick up the pieces."
Amy thought for a moment then nodded.
PJ leant back in his office chair, his fingers intertwined behind his head. He had his gaze fixed on Mark's office at the other end of the muster room, where Mark and Dash were talking. He was disturbed from his thoughts by the sound of Amy returning from the mess room, coffee in hand.
"Anyone home?" she asked. She followed his gaze. "Are you worried about Dash?"
PJ frowned for a moment. "I'm worried, but...she's her mother's daughter to the core. She's...she's a lot stronger than most people would ever give her credit for. Myself included."
Amy nodded. She already knew all of this. She relaxed back into her chair and began to sip at her coffee. Almost on cue, the phone rang.
"Always when you're just sitting down to eat, isn't it?" PJ said with a chuckle.
She shot him a filthy look and answered it. "Hello, Mt. Thomas CID, Senior Detective...no, this isn't PJ Hasham...look, who is this?" She rolled her eyes. "Alright, alright, Mr. Clarke, can you just slow down, I can't understand a word...look, we'll be out there shortly." She almost threw the phone down in frustration.
PJ was grinning with amusement. "Charlie Clarke, I take it?"
"He was hysterical, I've got no idea what he was even on about," she replied. "He was going on about his wife...quite frankly, he sounded like he'd just swallowed a thesaurus."
He chuckled. "So our Charlie's just being himself, then?" He suddenly tried to preoccupy himself with his disorganised piles of paperwork. Realising that Amy was glaring at him, he looked up slowly. "Yes?"
"Aren't you going to, you know, do something?" she asked. "Like, you know, stand up, grab your jacket and prepare to come with me and do some detecting?"
He began to look rather pained. "Amy..." he moaned. "Charlie Clarke...he smells, he has permanent verbal diarrhoea, he...he...he smells!"
She just shook her head as she rose to her feet and grabbed her blue folder. "You big baby."
PJ looked a little offended and flustered. "Why don't you take Dash?" he suddenly offered in a moment of inspiration.
"Dash?" Amy asked doubtfully.
"Yeah," he said, nodding out to the muster room. Dash had now left Mark's office and was now sitting at her desk, apparently trying to get Ringo to leave her alone. "It'll be good for her. Fresh air, sunshine, a case to solve..."
She nodded thoughtfully. "Alright, I'll take Dash." On her way out towards the muster room, she hit PJ over the head playfully with her folder. "But you're still a big baby."
He just grinned as he sat back at his desk and intertwined his fingers behind his head. He watched as Amy headed out into the muster room.
"Nick," she said as she approached the Sergeant.
He looked up at her with curiosity. "Foxtrot, dear. You want something, don't you? You always use that tone when you want something."
She shuffled slightly. "I was wondering if I could borrow Dash. Charlie Clarke called and it seems something might be wrong over at his place."
Ringo looked confused. "Charlie Clarke?" he asked, unfamiliar with the name.
"Ah, Charlie Clarke," Nick explained with a slight grin. "Local plumber. Complete drunk, utterly incompetent and veers wildly between malapropism and talking like a thesaurus on legs." Ringo nodded, looking a little bemused. Nick turned his attention back to Amy and lowered his voice. "Dash? You want Dash?"
Amy shrugged. "It might be good for her to get out of the station, get back into the swing of things."
Nick seemed undecided on that point, but a part of him realised that he had no right to argue. Finally, he nodded. "Okay. Dot, you're up. Looks like you're playing detective-in-waiting for the day."
Dash looked puzzled for a few seconds before becoming distinctly more animated. "I'll just grab my folder."
Charlie Clarke was sitting on the veranda when Amy and Dash arrived. He looked far older than either of them remembered, with unironed clothes. Amy thought she could see blood stains mixed in with the alcohol spills.
Amy looked to Dash uneasily before drawing her folder closer and speaking to Charlie. "Is everything okay?"
He looked up, seemingly only just becoming aware that they were even there. "I don't remember anything, I...I swear. I...I...I just woke up and...and..."
Dash and Amy looked to one another. Amy raised an eyebrow. Dash just looked confused. Normally Charlie got more flustered and verbose when he was nervous. Now he struggled to string together more than a few syllables.
"What's going on?" Amy asked with a shake of her head.
Charlie opened his mouth to try to speak, but words failed him. Finally, he just pointed towards the open front door. Amy and Dash shared a glanced before heading inside.
Dash almost passed out as soon as they entered, while Amy found herself instinctively recoiling and longing to return to the sunshine outside. Blood was pooled on the floor and splattered across the walls and furniture. A white blouse was lying on the floor near a coffee table, torn and soaked in dried blood. Nearby was long knife, not covered in blood but wiped clean. There was enough blood to make it clear that someone had died here, yet there was no trace of a body.
Amy turned back to Dash. Her younger colleague was leaning back against the doorframe. "Are you okay?"
Dash nodded. She drew in a few deep breaths to recompose herself. "Yeah, yeah. I'm fine. It's just...the smell...everything"
Amy nodded. She understood. It did it to the best and the most hardened of them. She squeezed Dash's shoulder before heading back outside to Charlie. He hadn't moved. She drew in a deep breath before speaking. "There's a lot of blood in there. Do you know whose it is?"
He stared blankly ahead for a moment. Finally, he spoke. His words surprised Dash and Amy, not just in their content but in their startling clarity. "I don't remember last night. I can't find my wife. I...I think I might have killed her."
PJ watched from his desk as Amy and Dash led Charlie Clarke through to the interview room. His interest piqued, he headed out to see what was going on. He raised his eyebrows as he noticed the blood on Charlie's overalls and pulled Amy aside. "What's going on?"
"His living room is covered in blood, there's a woman's blouse soaked in blood, a knife wiped clean, he doesn't know where his wife is and he suspects he might have killed her."
"He claims to not remember last night," she replied.
PJ nodded thoughtfully. "That wouldn't surprise me. He spends most of his evenings propping up the bar at the Imperial Hotel. That is, unless Chris has barred him or it's the cricket season, in which case he'll be at the Commercial." He sighed. "He doesn't strike me as the murdering sort though."
Amy just shrugged. "Anyone's capable of it, Peej," she pointed out. She motioned to the interview room. "Do want to be involved in this?"
"Nah," he said, shaking his head. "You guys took the call out, so it's your case."
Amy leant back against the wall of the interview room, watching Dash as she dealt with the formalities of the tape recorder and Charlie as he squirmed uneasily. As Dash finished and sat down, Amy spoke. "Can you tell us what happened last night?"
"I already told you..." Charlie said.
Dash looked over her shoulder to Amy and the pair shared a weak smile. "Why don't you humour us?" Dash replied.
"Look, I don't remember much about last night. I was...Alright, I was drunk. Surely with your not inconsiderable intelligence you can work out what that means?"
Amy rolled her eyes. "Why don't you tell us what you do remember then?"
Charlie sighed and shifted uncomfortably. "Well, after I finished work I decided to have a couple of beers at the Imperial Hotel. Of course, Christine was angry at me over an issue with her pipes and refused to let me drink there, so I ended up at the Commercial. I drank...well, a lot, and took some home."
"Charming," Dash said as she scribbled something down.
Amy moved towards the desk and pulled up a seat next to her colleague. "Do you remember going home at all?"
Charlie thought for a long moment before nodding. "I drove home in the ute. Dylan the Second began barking his head off..."
"Dylan the Second?" Amy asked, her brows furrowed.
"The dog," Dash whispered into Amy's ear. "Bob Dylan, you know, the musician..."
"Thank you, McKinley, I do know who Bob Dylan is." Amy replied tersely. "Anyway, the dog was being noisy..."
Charlie nodded as he continued. "Which alerted Raelene to my presence. She came out and we ended up having a blazing row and...I don't remember anything else."
Dash raised an eyebrow. "That's it? You don't remember what happened after?"
He shook his head. "Nothing. The last thing I remember is her threatening to pour the ten year old scotch down the toilet."
Amy took a moment to consider Charlie's story. "Where were you when you woke up?"
"On the couch. I saw all the...the blood and...and...I just called you lot."
"Back at the house, you said that you thought you might have killed your wife. Do you really think that's what happened?" Amy asked as she leant forward across the table.
Charlie looked confused. Finally he shrugged. "I don't know. I...I really don't remember. But...I guess that's what it looks like, doesn't it?"
Amy stood in Mark's office. Charlie was sitting in the cell, looking guilty or hung-over or both. Dash had gone back out to the house with PJ to have a bit of a sticky beak around. Not that Amy was entirely sure they'd find anything.
Mark frowned. "So he doesn't know if he actually killed his wife or not?"
Amy shook her head. "He drank too much last night. He claims to not remember anything."
"Could he be just pretending?" Mark asked. "Lying about not remembering in order to get off lightly?"
Amy shook her head again. "It's doubtful. If you're going to kill your spouse, even in a drunken rage, there are better ways of getting away with it than this. Much better ways." She combed her fringe off her face as she paced the office before turning to Mark. "Have you informed Homicide?"
"Oh, yes. They laughed, said they weren't the Missing Persons Unit and told me to get in touch when we had a homicide." He passed a hand across his brow thoughtfully. "Forensics are out at the house now?"
She nodded. As she opened her mouth to speak, Nick barged in without knocking. She glared at him critically. "Really, Nick? Is it that hard to knock on a door before you open it?"
He just grinned at her in his way. "Oh, you know you love me, Foxtrot." As she rolled her eyes, he produced a few sheets of paper from behind his back. "Forensics have faxed through their preliminary report."
Amy grabbed it excitedly and began to read. After a moment, she passed it to Mark. "The knife wasn't wiped particularly well. It still has a lot of traces of blood on it, but they managed to wipe the prints clean enough that there's nothing useful for identifying purposes," she explained.
"Blood type is B positive," Mark noted as he finished skimming through the report and sat it on his desk.
"It's Raelene Clarke's blood type," Amy mused.
Nick scoffed. "And mine."
She looked at him for a moment before folding her arms across her chest. Mark noticed she was biting her lip in that way she did whenever she was deep in thought. It was a long moment before Amy became animated again. "We need a bigger picture of this," she said. "Charlie might well have killed her in a drunken rage, but I want to know more about Raelene Clarke before I charge Charlie with anything."
Mark nodded. "You off to speak to Chris then?" Seeing Amy nod in reply, Mark rose to his feet. "I'll come with you."
Mark couldn't help but take a moment to admire Chris as he and Amy stepped into the public bar. Amy watched him, trying not to chuckle at the lovesick expression on his face. Somehow, the idea of Mark and Chris didn't surprise her. She wasn't quite sure why; if someone had suggested it to her just a year ago, she would have died laughing. After a few moments of contemplation, she tapped him on the shoulder. He snapped to attention.
"Enjoying the view, are we?" she asked cheekily.
He blushed. "What...whatever do you mean?" He followed Amy's gaze to Chris, who was busy behind the bar. "What? Chris?"
Amy just rolled her eyes. "You're very transparent, Boss."
He drew in a deep breath to steady himself. "Unlike you and PJ, I suppose. Exactly how long did that stay secret for again?"
Now it was Amy's turn to blush. She struggled to come up with either a decent comeback or a truthful answer. In the end, she decided to ignore the question. "Let's just stick to the matter at hand, shall we?"
Chris looked up from where she was serving someone a meal at a nearby table and grinned as she spotted them. She folded her arms across her chest as she headed over. "So, let me guess...you two are here to pick my brains because you can't solve some nasty crime on your own?"
Mark shuffled his feet as he blushed. Amy watched him with a sly grin on her face. He was behaving so unlike the Mark Jacobs she knew and more like a love-struck teenager. It was cute.
She cleared her throat to bring Mark back to attention as she addressed Chris' question. "Got it in one, Chris."
Chris just laughed as she led them into the parlour. "You guys really ought to have me on the payroll by now. I've probably helped solve nearly as many crimes as PJ," she said. Once they were all inside the parlour, she closed the doors and looked to them thoughtfully. "What's going on?"
"I was wondering what you could tell us about Raelene Clarke," Amy replied, tucking her dark hair behind her ears.
Chris' brow furrowed. "Charlie Clarke's wife?" she asked. She sat down in one of the lounge chairs. "Why? What's happened?"
Amy and Mark shared an uneasy look. Finally, Mark responded. "Raelene is missing. It appears she might have been murdered."
"Oh, no," Chris whispered, shaking her head as she passed a hand across her mouth. "Poor Charlie. He's a useless plumber and a hopeless drunk, but no one deserves that. Is he okay?"
Amy seemed uncomfortable with Chris' question. "Charlie appears to be in the frame," she answered. "We're just looking for a...a more complete picture of Raelene's life and we were wondering if you could help us."
Chris remained silent for a moment before brushing a loose red curl from her face and nodding. "Yes, yes...of course." She frowned. "Well, you know she's Charlie's second wife..." At the look of interest on Amy and Mark's faces, she elaborated. "His first wife, Cheryl, finally got sick of his drunkenness and ran off to Townsville with one of Charlie's suppliers in 2000. Raelene was a local girl, born and bred in Widgeree. I'm not sure how or when exactly they met, but they married in about mid-2001. No kids...the marriage seems to be about as happy as a marriage can be when the husband spends half his life being my best customer."
Amy scribbled everything done inside her folder while Mark spoke. "Did she work at all?"
"Ah...yes, I do believe so," Chris said thoughtfully. "She was working at the Bushranger Hotel out at Widgeree before she met Charlie, then I think she did a bit of retail here and there for a few years. She'd been doing some cleaning work most recently."
"Do you know where?"
Chris nodded. "A couple with one of those big houses on that new estate. I think Raelene said their name was Walker."
Amy nodded as she closed her folder. "That should be enough to go on for now. Thanks Chris." As she went to leave the parlour, she looked back over her shoulder and caught a glimpse of Mark whispering something in Chris' ear. Amy tried to stifled a giggle. She hoped she and PJ had never been quite that obvious.
PJ crouched down beside the sofa in the Clarke's living room. The bottle of whiskey that Charlie had been drinking when he'd fallen asleep was lying on the ground, its remnants having long since soaked into the carpet. He considered it critically. He'd never been a fan of Charlie Clarke. Charlie made it very hard for anyone to like him, what with his permanent stench, his sheer incompetence and his eternal intoxication. But, as much as he understood Amy's argument that anyone could kill, he didn't believe Charlie was a killer. He just struck PJ as too pathetic a man to have any violence in him.
"Oh, Charlie, what have you done?" he mused quietly.
He was distracted from his thoughts by Dash's voice. "Hey, PJ! Over here!"
He looked over to where she was standing in the kitchen. Curious, he headed over, only to see that she had upended the Clarke's bin on their dining table. The smell was repulsive. "Oh, McKinley!" he said, pinching his nose. "Couldn't you have done this outside? You know, fresh air and ventilation and all that?"
She ignored his admonishment and waved something at him. "Look what I found!"
Rolling his eyes, PJ took it from her. It was a pregnancy test. PJ shook his head. "What does this mean?" he asked.
Now it was Dash's turn to roll her eyes. "Don't you know anything? It's positive. Raelene was pregnant."
PJ frowned as he sat the test down on the table and motioned for one of the nearby St. Davids uniforms to bag it. "I wonder if Charlie knew," he mused.
From outside, they could hear the sound of a car pull up, followed by what sounded like an argument. PJ and Dash looked to each other, bewildered, before heading out to have a look. A large woman was attempting to force her way into the house and didn't seem to like the fact that the two male uniforms on duty outside were trying to stop her.
"Oh, God," PJ whispered.
Dash looked at him. "That's not...is it?"
PJ nodded. "The Minister for War."
Amy refused the offer of tea and coffee as she was invited inside the Walker's house. Although to call it a house seemed misleading to Amy as it seemed more like a mini-mansion. She sat down on a couch opposite a couple in their mid forties; the woman with cropped blonde hair and the man with short black hair and thick rimmed glasses. Both struck Amy as very average – average height, average build, average weight. Nothing at all of note except the ridiculously expensive house they lived in.
Cynthia Walker smoothed out the creases in her skirt as she spoke. "So if nothing's wrong, what did you want to speak to us about?"
Amy sat forward, resting her hands on her folder. "I understand that you employ a Raelene Clarke to clean for you, is that correct?"
Cynthia seemed slightly thrown. She looked to her husband, Victor, who simply shrugged. "Yeah, we do," he said nonchalantly. "It's a big house. Cynthia's busy with work a lot – she's on the town council – and I run my computer business from home. We don't really have the time to clean and since we have the money to pay someone else to do it, it makes sense to." He frowned. "Why? You haven't just come over here to ask about our cleaner, have you?"
Amy brushed her hair aside. "Raelene Clarke is missing and it appears that she may have met with foul play," she explained. "We're speaking to everyone we can to try to ascertain what might have happened to her."
Cynthia seemed shocked, though her behaviour made Amy uncomfortable. It was shallow and unsympathetic and reminded her half the girls she'd gone to school with. Victor just seemed a little surprised.
"What can we help you with? We'd like to be as much help as we can," Cynthia said finally.
"When did Raelene first start working for you?" Amy asked as she opened her folder.
Cynthia frowned, struggling to remember. Victor ended up answering. "About a year and a half ago. Cynthia had just been elected to the council and we'd just moved into this house, so we decided to get a cleaner. There was an ad in the 'Work Wanted' section of the Gazette and we answered it." He sighed thoughtfully. "I think she'd just been sacked from her last retail job and was looking for something to pull in some extra cash. Her husband is a bit of a...well, you know...alcoholic...and now there are other plumbers in town, his business is beginning to go down the gurgler a bit."
Amy nodded. "Did either of you see much of her?"
"I didn't," Cynthia replied. "I was usually out when she was here. She came in every Monday and every Thursday. Victor was here though, weren't you Vic?"
As Amy turned to Victor, he began to speak. "I generally stayed out of her way as much as I could. I was busy was my business, you know..." He waved a hand in the vague direction of his office. "She seemed unhappy, though."
Amy shook her head in confusion. "Unhappy?"
Victor shrugged. "How would you be? Married to that failure of a man."
Amy nodded. She closed her folder as she stood up and shook the hands of the couple opposite her. "Thanks. I'll be in touch."
Mark frowned as he heard shouting from the direction of the back entrance. Intrigued, he headed out to take a look, with Nick and Ringo hot on his heels. His eyes widened at the sight of PJ and Dash trying to a lead a woman taller than both of them, and probably taller than Nick, through to the interview room.
Nick raised an eyebrow. "The Minister for War?"
Mark turned to look back at his Sergeant. "Should I even ask?" he said.
"I just went out to Charlie's place to try to rekindle the marriage and these two goons arrested me!" the woman shouted, trying to throw Dash and PJ off.
"We haven't arrested anyone," Dash protested. "Cheryl's just helping us with our inquiries."
Mark passed a hand across his eyes. He was beginning to wonder if anyone would miss him if he went home early. Finally, he spoke. "Okay, put her in the interview room. Ringo, you can go keep an eye on her. Amy's on her way back from the Walker's now."
Amy, PJ, Mark and Dash stood in the CI office, looking at the whiteboard that had been wheeled in and was standing in front of the windows out into the muster room. The case had been plotted out on it, or, at least, what they knew of the case. There seemed to be far too many uncertainties and question marks for any of them to feel comfortable with.
Mark shook his head as he watched PJ add Cheryl Clarke's name, plus a big question mark, to the disorganised mess on the board. "So Charlie's first wife is now back in the picture. Where do we think she fits into all this?"
Dash shrugged. "Could be a coincidence? She just happens to show up, hoping to get her marriage back together at the same time Raelene disappears."
PJ shook his head. "No such thing as coincidences."
Amy sighed. "Especially not in this case. Charlie's second wife just happens to end up missing presumed murdered at the very same time that his first wife reappears on the scene? It'd be a miracle if she's not connected somehow."
"What about the Walkers? Did you get anything useful from them?" Mark asked.
Amy shook her head as she perched herself on the corner of her desk. "Not really. Both claimed to not have had much to do with her. The husband did say that Raelene seemed unhappy and laid it all at Charlie's door though." Amy looked to PJ and Dash. "Did you find anything interesting at the house?"
Dash nodded. "Apart from the pregnancy test, there were a lot of unpaid bills. They're in trouble financially. I get the feeling Charlie's plumbing business has pretty much gone downhill."
"There's no obvious evidence Charlie knows about the pregnancy," PJ noted. "No signs of preparation for a baby."
Mark shrugged. "Even if Charlie does know, they might be waiting before they go all out."
"We couldn't find Raelene's mobile," Dash added. "I found a charger for one of those Samsung flip-phones, but there's no sign of it. And it doesn't belong to Charlie's mobile, because he has one of those massive brick phones."
PJ frowned. "Going off the evidence we've got right now, it looks like there's two possibilities," he mused. "Either Charlie's killed her in a drunken rage and Cheryl's reappearance isn't related; Cheryl's come back to town for Charlie, discovered he's remarried and killed Raelene and framed Charlie for it in revenge or..."
Dash shook her head in confusion. "Or?"
"Or Charlie and Cheryl have killed Raelene in order to run off and live happily ever after."
Cheryl Clarke sat opposite PJ, Amy and Dash in the interview room, her arms folded across her chest. She was eyeing them with bitterness and fury. She actually scared PJ a little. She'd always frightened him slightly – then again, he suspected that Cheryl Clarke frightened all men except Charlie.
"What are you doing back here, Cheryl?" Amy asked from where she stood behind PJ and Dash.
Cheryl rolled her eyes. "I already told Laurel and Hardy here," she said as she pointed to PJ and Dash. "The relationship I had fell apart and Queensland lost its appeal so I thought I'd come back to Mt. Thomas and try to see if Charlie and I couldn't pick up where we left off. I was hoping maybe ten years might have seen him dry out a bit."
Amy frowned. "Did you know Charlie had remarried nine years ago?"
Cheryl raised an eyebrow. "Really? Well, it shouldn't surprise me. He is a bit of a stud muffin." She grinned a little cheekily at this. Amy and Dash looked sickened at the thought. Almost as quickly, Cheryl grew serious again. "Anyway, no. I didn't know. I hadn't spoken to him since the divorce went through. What's going on out at the house? You lot were all over the joint..."
PJ tilted his head slightly as he studied Cheryl. "Charlie called us this morning. When Senior Detective Fox and Senior Constable McKinley here arrived out at the house, they found it sprayed with blood. Not to mention a knife wiped clean and a blood-soaked blouse. Now Charlie's wife is missing and he claims not to remember what happened last night. You wouldn't be able to fill us in on anything more, would you?"
"What?" Cheryl looked winded at PJ's explanation. She just shook her head. "Charlie? Murder? You've got to be kidding me. I couldn't even get him to throw the bloody dog out at night, he's such a soft touch. If he's a murderer, I'm the bloody queen!"
"He does drink a lot, though," Dash pointed out. "He was drunk last night."
Cheryl shrugged. "Yeah, I know. And his drinking is a nuisance; it's why I left him. But he's not a violent drunk. He turns into a loud, bumbling roaring fool when he drinks. Not a dangerous one."
Amy drew in a deep breath. She got the feeling they were going around in circles with this case. It was time to try something different. If Cheryl was as scary as everyone said – 'the Minister for War', she'd heard people call her – then perhaps it was time to give Cheryl a scare.
"Look, Cheryl," Amy roared as she leant against the desk so that her face was close to Cheryl's. "We know you came back to Mt. Thomas to win your ex-husband back. When you found out he was already taken, you got angry. You got even angrier when you found out that Charlie was going to have a baby with her. So angry, in fact, that you killed her and decided to frame Charlie for it."
Amy was nearly thrown back against the wall when Cheryl burst into fits of laughter. She backed away so that she was level with PJ and Dash, feeling more than a little surprised. She'd had plenty of reactions to her 'tough cop' routine before. Most of them were usually fear or a rush to confess. Sometimes someone might try to match her in being terrifying. But never before had someone just laughed at her.
PJ frowned quizzically. "What's so funny?"
It was a moment before Cheryl had composed herself sufficiently to be able to respond to PJ's question. "You reckon Charlie got this wife of his pregnant?"
"We've found the pregnancy test," PJ told her.
Cheryl just shook her head. "His wife might have been up the duff, but it sure wasn't Charlie who got her that way."
Dash's eyes narrowed in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that...well, Charlie might be a stud muffin, but he's shooting blanks."
Charlie seemed flustered, PJ decided. He and Amy were interviewing him while Dash gave the Clarke house another search in the hopes of finding some test results that might support Cheryl Clarke's claims.
It was hard to know how Charlie felt about Cheryl being back in Mt. Thomas. Something had lit up in his eyes, a kind of spark that made PJ realise that Charlie had never stopped loving Cheryl. Yet it was tempered by the fear and desperation of not yet having any idea of what had happened to Raelene.
"We just spoke to Cheryl," PJ said as he pulled up a seat opposite Charlie while Amy remained standing beside the tape recorder. "She's denying all involvement in Raelene's disappearance."
"She would, wouldn't she?" Charlie said as he ran a hand through his hair. "If you think she's responsible for this, then you're barking up the wrong deciduous object."
PJ rolled his eyes while Amy tried to stifle a smile. He leaned forward across the desk as he spoke again. "Cheryl told us that...well...you were infertile."
Charlie looked somewhat alarmed by PJ's words. "She's told you what?"
Amy tilted her head slightly as she watched Charlie. "She said that you were, and I quote, 'shooting blanks'. Are you saying that she's wrong?"
Charlie buried his face in the palms of his hands. "No, no..." He remained silent for a few moments while Amy and PJ looked on. Finally, he lowered his hands and spoke. "Back when Cheryl and I first got married, we tried having kids. After a little while of doing...well, you know...and not getting anywhere, we went to see a doctor. They ran tests and found that I couldn't have kids."
Amy and PJ looked to each other thoughtfully. This certainly put a new spin on the case.
"Why are you asking about this anyway? Surely with your not inconsiderable intelligence the pair of you should be able to find out who killed my wife without bringing that up!" Charlie said.
It took a while before either Amy or PJ could respond. Finally, PJ offered Charlie an explanation. "We searched your house. There was a pregnancy test in your bin. The result was positive."
The look on Charlie's face was heartbreaking. He stared at PJ for what seemed like an eternity before once more burying his face in his hands. He'd finally worked out what had already occurred to the two detectives opposite him. Raelene had been cheating on him with another man.
Mark removed his reading glasses as he processed PJ and Amy's explanation of what had occurred during the interviews with Charlie and Cheryl. He frowned thoughtfully for a few moments before looking up to them. "Could they be lying? Could this be some sort of 'get out of jail free' card that they've cooked up between themselves so that it looks like Raelene was killed by someone she was sleeping with rather than by either of them?"
PJ and Amy shook their heads. "Doubtful," Amy said. "Dash is still looking out at the Clarke property, but I'm willing to trust Charlie on this even without them."
"You didn't see the look on Charlie's face," PJ added as he leaned against the window in Mark's office. "If he was acting in there, then I'll nominate him for the Oscars."
Mark nodded as he studied his detectives. "So Raelene was pregnant, but it wasn't Charlie's baby," he mused. "Any ideas?"
Amy began biting her bottom lip absentmindedly. "We need to look at the other men in her life. She was pregnant. There must be a father."
The door opened without a knock. Mark opened his mouth and prepared to admonish Nick, only to find it was Dash. She looked excited.
"Did you find any test results?" Amy asked as she folded her arms across her chest.
Dash shook her head. "Nup. Even better." She held out an evidence bag for her colleagues to look at. Inside was a notebook.
PJ frowned. "What exactly are we looking at, Mac?"
"It's Raelene's diary," Dash explained. "There's a half-finished love letter in there." She looked to Amy. "Guess who it's addressed to?"
Cynthia looked distinctly displeased to have the police on her doorstep again, regardless of her earlier keenness to be of any assistance possible. She looked even more displeased when Amy and Dash produced a warrant and told her that they would be searching the house.
"Is this about that Raelene Clarke woman still?" Cynthia asked as she chased Amy and Dash into the living room. "I honestly don't know what you expect to find. All she did was clean the house."
The disturbance was enough to draw Victor from his office. "What on earth is going on?"
By now, Dash had pulled all of the cushions from the sofa, while Amy was rifling through the cabinets. Amy looked up as she finished searching the cabinets and noticed Victor and Cynthia were watching with confusion and outrage. She contemplated telling them what evidence they had, but decided to hold off. Instead, she pushed past them and headed upstairs.
She could hear Cynthia and Victor hot on her heels. Cynthia was complaining very loudly. Now she was no longer protesting and was now promising to report Amy and Dash to their superior officer. Dash was trying to calm Cynthia down, but wasn't succeeding.
Noticing an open door, Amy headed inside. It looked to be the master bedroom. It was certainly nice, she had to admit. Like something from one of those home renovating shows. She heard Dash head into the bathroom next door. Cynthia followed Amy while Victor remained in the doorway, watching.
About fifteen minutes later, Dash joined Amy in the bedroom. "Anything?" Amy asked hopefully.
Dash shook her head. "Nothing."
"It's exactly as I keep telling you." Cynthia said irritably. "I hope you two can afford decent legal representation on your wages because I'm going to be hitting you up for harassment, slander and anything else that my lawyer can think of."
Amy sighed. "You have every right to file a complaint as a member of the public..." She felt her hopes falling. Nothing was turning up so far and it was proving hard to do a decent search with Cynthia screaming harassment. They had enough evidence for an arrest, but nothing would stick without further proof.
Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Dash was playing with her mobile phone. Amy was pulled from her thoughts. "What are you doing?"
Her question was answered not by Dash but by the sound of a phone ringing. Amy's look of bewilderment became one of realisation. Dash had just called Raelene Clarke's mobile number.
Cynthia's tirade was halted. "What the hell is that?" she asked. She looked down. "Is it coming from under the bed?"
Amy got down on her knees and lifted up the doona. Sure enough, lying on the floor under the bed was a Samsung flip-phone, slowly moving towards her due to the vibration that was accompanying its ringtone. She grabbed it and stood up, offering it to Dash.
"Looks like Raelene Clarke's missing mobile," Dash said with a grin.
Amy stepped towards Victor. "Victor Walker, I'm arresting you for the murder of Raelene Clarke..."
Cynthia's look of bemusement suddenly turned into horror as she turned her attention away from the police officers and instead towards her husband. "Victor? Victor, what the hell is going on here?"
As Amy finished delivering her spiel and handcuffed Victor, Cynthia made a grab for her husband, only to be pushed away. As Amy and Dash led Victor away, she was left standing alone in the bedroom, all of a sudden feeling very small.
Amy pushed Raelene Clarke's diary across the table in the interview room towards Victor Walker. It had been opened to the love letter that Dash had found during her search of the Clarke property. "Raelene Clarke wrote this to you," she explained. "She seems very infatuated with you."
"That's not even starting on the number of times you feature in this diary," Dash added. She picked it up off the table, flipped to a page at random and began to read. "'I'm in love with Victor. Oh God, I love him. He is simply perfect.'" She sat it down so that Victor could read. "The whole thing's like that. It's not exactly brimming with ambiguity."
Victor shrugged, pulling away from the diary. "Escapism," he suggested. "A fantasy cooked up by a lonely woman married to a drunk."
"Victor," Amy said as she shook her head sadly, "we know Raelene was pregnant. We also know Charlie couldn't have possibly gotten her pregnant. There's not a lot of candidates for who the father might have been."
Dash looked at Victor thoughtfully. "She thought the pair of you were going to run away together, but that was never going to happen, was it? Did you tell her that or did she concoct that idea on her own?"
Victor sighed and looked away. Amy hit her folder hard against the desk, forcing him to look up. "Look at me!" she snapped. She opened her folder and sat a photo of the crime scene in front of him. "You did that. You waited until Charlie had passed out, you murdered her, you wiped the blade clean, you made a mess of her blouse, you hid her body, then you cleaned yourself up and went home for breakfast."
"I didn't have a choice!"
Amy raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
He briefly lifted his glasses off his face in order to massage the bridge of his nose before replacing them. Even so, he was struggling to keep himself composed. "We were sleeping together. I can't remember when it started, but...we both just wanted an escape. She was sick of Charlie and I...I...you've seen Cynthia. It was half an hour every few days when we didn't have to...oh, I don't know...deal with everything."
"Then she told you she was pregnant," Amy said thoughtfully.
"She had these stupid delusions of us running away together and playing happy families." Victor just shook his head. "We'd joked about it. But it could never have happened. We were just two people who had sex together. We weren't going to get married or have babies or live happily ever after. Cynthia might be an egomaniacal bitch, but to have run away with Raelene would have been to have nothing."
Dash looked a little bit stunned. There was something about the brutality of Victor's words that hurt her. And, she had to admit, she didn't like the way in which Victor so quickly abandoned Raelene when a pregnancy made things hard. "How did Raelene take this?"
"Not well," he admitted. "She sort of went into shock. I told her that terminating the pregnancy might be the best bet and she went mental. I thought she was going to kill me and you know Raelene wasn't exactly a small woman. So I tried suggesting that she pass it off as Charlie's."
"But she knew that wouldn't work, didn't she?" Amy asked. "Because she knew Charlie was infertile."
Victor nodded. "She went into some long rant about how Charlie couldn't have kids because he was shooting blanks and that she wouldn't be able to pass the kid off as his." He looked at Amy and Dash, almost pleadingly. "I told her that if she wanted to keep this baby, then it was going to have to be her problem. She just wouldn't listen. She was threatening to tell Cynthia. You know Cynthia's on the town council; she would have left me at the first whiff of scandal."
"So you killed her?" Dash asked, shaking her head in disbelief and disgust.
"I went out to their house. I knew Charlie would have been drinking. I just had to wait until he passed out. Then I...I stabbed her, wiped the knife down and left it with her blouse and buried her body." Victor looked away. He looked a bit sickened with himself.
"Where did you bury the body?" Amy asked.
Victor remained silent for a few moments before speaking. "Charlie Clarke's back paddock."
Dash looked up at Amy and saw Amy nodding. It was over. "Victor Edward Walker, you are being charged with murder and attempting to pervert the course of justice."
Charlie Clarke was sitting on the bench in the cell and didn't look up as PJ opened the door. It was only when PJ spoke that Charlie seemed to come to life again. "We've charged someone with Raelene's murder."
Charlie looked up slowly. His face looked grey and he suddenly seemed much older than he ever had. "Who?"
"Victor Walker, one half of the couple Raelene cleaned for," PJ explained as he leaned against the door frame. He was having an affair with Raelene and when she fell pregnant and refused to terminate or pass the kid off as yours, he killed her to avoid having his wife find out."
It took a while for Charlie to digest that information. Finally, he just shook his head. "Why did she end up sleeping with him?"
PJ tossed up whether or not to reply, before finally deciding to. "She got tired of the drinking." Charlie looked ashamed now. PJ sat down beside him. "Do you know why Cheryl came back to Mt. Thomas?"
Charlie shook his head. "Why?"
"She still loves you. I don't know why, but she still loves you. But she's already left you once because of the alcohol and if you keep going the way you are, she won't stick around and she'll find someone else. You're beginning to run out of chances." PJ paused as he considered that day carefully. "You called us this morning because you thought you might have killed Raelene in a drunken rage. You didn't kill her, but this needs to be your wake up call. Sober up, Charlie."
As he climbed to his feet, he motioned towards the door, indicating that Charlie was free to go. Charlie began to move before stopping. He looked to PJ sadly. "You know, if Raelene had come to me and told me she was pregnant, even if it was with another man's child, I wouldn't have minded. I would have happily played along."
Amy knocked on the door to Dash's room as she peered inside. Dash was sitting on her bed, holding what looked like a stuffed bunny rabbit in her hands. It was old and pink and had certainly seen better days. Dash looked up, startled by Amy.
Amy frowned in concern. "Are you okay?"
Dash looked down to the toy bunny before looking up at Amy again. She forced a smile and nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine...I'm fine."
Amy was unconvinced. She could still see the tears on her colleague's cheeks. "Are you sure?" she asked. "You look like you've been crying."
"No, not crying," Dash replied weakly. "Just...having a moment, I guess." At Amy's bewildered expression, she elaborated. "This bunny was Phoebe's. Charlie and the girls bought it for her just after she was born. You could never get her apart from it. Well, almost never. You usually had to bribe her with something in order to wash it."
Amy found herself smiling. She began reprimanding herself, only to notice that Dash was smiling too. "Phoebe really was a great kid," Amy said, kicking herself for not having anything more constructive to say.
"Anyway," Dash said, trying to put the memories that hurt too much out of her mind for a moment. "What did you want?"
Amy seemed a little thrown. She'd almost forgotten what it was she'd originally come to see Dash about. "Ah, PJ and I were just heading down to the pub for dinner. We were wondering if you'd like to join us."
Dash seemed to cheer up considerably at this, though there was still a note of sadness hanging around her features. "Of course," she replied. "Do you think I'd ever miss a chance to kick PJ's arse at the pool table? I'll just be a sec."
Amy nodded and disappeared down the hallway. Once she'd gone, Dash's smile faded and she looked down to the bunny in her hands again. She considered it for a moment before kissing it gently and placing it on her pillow. Standing up, she looked at it for a moment before grabbing her coat and heading down the hallway after Amy, becoming happier at the thought of a good night out with good mates.
This wasn't the life she wanted or had ever expected to find herself living, but it was the one she had and she intended to enjoy it.
Zoe had dozed off while watching some quiz show on the ABC when she was awoken by a knock at the door. She remained lying on top of her bed for a few moments, trying to decide whether or not she could be bothered to open it. It was late and she'd just finished a long shift at the hospital. Not helped by the singing telegram that had shown up during her lunch break. Or the flower delivery that had had most of her colleagues joking about her having a lover on the side.
"Zoe? Are you in there? It's Nick."
She groaned. Of course it was. The man was making her life a misery and was beginning to make her wonder why she'd ever decided to pursue him all those years ago. All she'd wanted was a bit of space to deal with what had happened and for him to hopefully get the hint and try to face up to it himself. Instead, she'd found herself the unwilling partner in a courtship ritual.
Reluctantly, she climbed to her feet and opened the door. Looking Nick over, she conceded that he looked better than he had in a long time. At least he looked like he was consuming something other than Chris Riley's finest alcohol. But the sight of a heart-shaped box of chocolates in his hands made her blood begin to boil.
"Chocolates?" she said, folding her arms. "What is this? 'Courtship for Dummies'?"
Nick looked a little wounded, but he tried not to let it bother him. "Zoe, I love you. You are my world. I don't know how to prove that to you."
She just shook her head. "I don't want you to prove anything to me," she replied. "I don't want expensive wine, I don't want flowers, I don't want singing telegrams and I don't want Belgian chocolates." She grabbed his arms and met his gaze. "I want you to accept what has happened rather than just trying to shut it off and pretend everything's fine. I want to go through this with you, but if you're not going to deal with this, then I'll go through it without you."
Nick remained silent. After a while, he lowered his gaze from hers.
Finally, Zoe pulled her hands away. "I'm not coming home, Nick. And, right now, I'm not so sure we've got a future."
With that, Zoe headed back inside her motel room and closed the door, leaving Nick standing outside in the cold holding a box of unwanted chocolates.
Next episode ... "Occupational Hazard"
Several careers are left in the balance after allegations of a cover-up regarding a death at the hospital. Nick's continued refusal to face reality forces Zoe to concede that their relationship may be too broken to fix.