“Sixty-eight point three per cent of all murder victims that have been found dead more than two days after death are found by citizens walking their dog.”
The lecturer had excellent chalkboard technique. I ought to know, I did two years of Teacher’s College before I signed up. During those two years, we did one fifteen-minute session, and I remember learning how to hold chalk so that it didn’t make that excruciating squeaking noise. “Makes you look like you know what you are doing.”
Our instructor, freshly escaped from the classroom, knew that we didn’t — know what we were doing, that is, and he was trying to minimise our ‘knownothingness’ in the only way he knew how.
A futile but kind gesture.
“How many of the dog walkers wear jumpers, Sarge?” The smartarse with a death wish was just as bored as the rest of us, and he foolishly chose to show it.
“Roughly the same percentage as you got on your last evaluation detective Wilson from Broadmeadows. Considering the suburb you are stationed at, detective, I would have thought that your arrest record would be higher. You pretty much only have to be the unfortunate bastard who opens the front doors in the morning, and five nefarious characters come tumbling in.”
The ‘smartarse’ detective indeed got a bit of a giggle out of us, but it has to be remembered that if ‘two or more of you are gathered together there will be mirth’ applies to any gathering of knuckle-dragging police officers — it’s infectious. Laughter kills the boredom and at least a bit of the terror — terror that you might get maimed for no good reason and then get pensioned off, and terror from the thought that you are wasting your life. My terror falls into the latter category.
Our instructor got a bigger laugh.
The sound of one of the many smartarses in our life being brought down to earth is satisfying and mirthful.
He kept on writing.
Never turned around.
Eyes in the back of his head.
I could easily be back at school again.
It helped that we were in an old school room in an old school building. Now called The Baker Institute, anyone who went to school during my decade knew the unmistakable architecture. I was tempted to hang my coat on the hooks outside the sliding door. The walls are painted a modern colour, and there have been other attempts to hide the room’s original purpose.
The chairs are comfortable, but my arse was not interested in testing their long term durability.
At a glance, I’d say that there are about twenty-two of us. Mostly males, a variety of ages, but I’m probably the only one over forty. A quick scan of body language clues tells me that most inhabitants of this standard-sized room are just as pissed off as I am. One or two still think that this one-day course is part of their growth as a police officer.
“What about the bodies what never get found?” The smartarse was making one final attempt to redeem his flagging status as the funniest bloke in the room.
Without missing a beat, our instructor (I’ve forgotten his name – on the job I write stuff down, or someone else does, but here and now, who gives a fuck what this bozo’s name is) writes one point zero nine per cent on the board. Somehow he has changed the chalk colour — impressive.
“Somewhere in the region of your chances of promotion,” says our instructor. He speaks the words so softly that we lean in to catch them. Those in the front row snigger before the rest of us.
“Can we have a window open sir?” says an attractive brunette sitting a few rows forward of me.
“Yes, we can and don’t call me sir. I’m a sergeant. I work for a living.” He shot a look at the bloke sitting on the end of the row who sprang out of his seat and opened a window with the skill of someone who had done it many times.
The brunette who had been one of the few people in the room taking notes said, “Thank you, Sargent.”
There were a few moments of silence.
The board was covered in colourful statistics and a wellborn piece of chalk dangled between the instructor’s fingers.
He was thinking.
I doubted that he had lost his place.
This bloke came prepared.
I made a mental note to remember his name the next time I heard it.
Why was he here in this room with us percentage losers?
Our instructor raised a chalk dusted finger and pointed at his handiwork.
“This shit is just numbers. We’ve got a few minutes before we break for lunch (I hadn’t thought much about food until now. A raging hunger rolled over me) I want to hear a human story. Without humans, you don’t have the raw ingredients for murder. The causes are simple — sex and money.”
“And religion,” said someone behind me.
“Okay,” conceded our instructor, “but mostly sex and money. Causes might tell you why, but my job is to give you an insight into why people do what they do after the fact. Fuck why they did it, where do they dump the body? And how does that affect your investigation? Can anyone share a story about a citizen finding a body.”
He was now pointing at me and inexplicably, my hand was in the air — no idea how it got there.
“Yes. You. Leather jacket.” At least he didn’t know my name.
“Got yourself into a spot of bother with a highly ranked officer’s wife, if I remember rightly. Back of a Bentley? A patrol car shined a light in your direction. Took you a few minutes to retrieve your warrant card. Firm buttocks were unnecessarily added to the report? Was that you?”
I didn’t need to answer.
“I’ve been involved in a few cases where a body was found by a punter — before my buttocks became famous.”
The laughter was generous. The kind of laughter that says ‘glad it isn’t me that’s in the sergeant’s spotlight, you’ll be just as generous when it’s my turn, won’t you?’
“I was stationed at Preston. Most dog walkers wandered up and down the footpaths or headed to Bell State School after hours to exercise their dogs. Still, a group calling themselves The Widower Dogs Society walked their dogs up behind the old cinema off Oakover road. Merri Creek runs through there and in those days it was rough and ready. No shortage of old fridges and car tyres. These days it’s all gentrified.”
“So, what happened?”
“The Widower Dogs Society were three members strong. All of the dogs had lost a female partner. The owners banded together to brighten up their lonely dogs. Grief hits dogs as hard as it does us.”
I could see the brunette looking at me, listening intently.
I finished my story, and the instructor looked at his watch.
“Close enough,” he said, and we filed out of the room in search of food and a beer. We’d earned it.
“These things are usually a bit more salubrious. This one isn’t even catered,” said a mellifluous female voice.
“Mel Carter,” said the brunette.
“Catastrophy Jones,” I said with a straight face. “This is punishment. Catering might have spoilt the effect.”
She looked a bit surprised at my words, which could have been taken one of two ways.
“Everyone in that room, with the possible exception of you and the bloke next to you, were there because they had pissed someone off — a way of wasting our very precious Saturday.”
She thought about my words, dismissed them. They didn’t apply to her. She was young (younger than me) and on her way up.
“Your story — the Widower Dogs Club. How did you know that was what they called themselves?”
“Back then. I listened to people. When you listen, people tell a uniform all sorts of things. They were shocked. Trying to understand why someone would do such a thing. They understood stealing cars, ‘we used to nick cars when we were kids, but this!’ No-one was yelling at me to get on with it, so I listened — let them talk. They felt better because someone appeared to care about them.”
“You interest me. leather jacket.”
“You interest me, open window.”
Open Window looked at my left hand — no ring.
“Can I buy you lunch?” she said.
“Lunch with a liberated woman. Very Jane Tennison.”
“Don’t tell me you have never watched Prime Suspect? I can see that I’ll have to take your education in hand. By the way, there isn’t a ‘Mr Tennison’ floating around, is there? I don’t want to get thumped by some hulking constable who believes he has branded you.”
“There are no brands on me sunshine.”
“I look forward to proving that statement,” I said, and she didn’t slap my face.
Anyone who has ever worked anywhere will tell you that their job would be easier if they didn’t have to wade through an ocean of excrement cleverly disguised as bureaucracy. The senior officer in a small country police station solves a mysterious crime only to have his decisions scrutinised by those above him. The writing is on the wall for him and his staff, but he still has a job to do. Fate will take care of the rest.
One day, the world will stop using paper money as a currency, but until that day thieves will target where the most substantial amounts are kept.
Banks are a favourite target for obvious reasons.
It’s been my job to catch those that see robbing banks as a shortcut to the easy life. I’ve worked my way up to inspector, and I’ve served my time. In a couple of months, I will retire on a full pension. I haven’t the slightest idea what I will do with my time, but I’ll worry about that when it comes. For now, I’ve got more significant problems.
It comes as no surprise to me (although everyone else seems thoroughly shocked) that a long-serving, high ranking police officer decided to inform on most of his former corrupt colleagues to avoid going to gaol for what remained of his life.
I remember the day when detective sergeant Wilson (now assistant commissioner Wilson) first handed me an envelope with my name on it. The envelope looked innocent enough, and the wad of fifty dollar notes made it look slightly pregnant.
“Don’t look at me like that you little piss ant. You take your cut and keep your expletive mouth shut.”
I didn’t take the envelope, but the angry DS dropped it on my desk, wiped his nose on his sleeve, tucked in his considerable gut, sneered at me and sauntered off in the direction of the exit which led to our local hotel — his other office.
I’d been in the squad for about five minutes, and the old members looked at me as a spy. I was way too young in their eyes. I had to be sleeping with someone or someone’s nephew. Either way, I wasn’t to be trusted.
It may sound like I was surprised by all this, but I wasn’t. I had a mentor who told me what to expect. My mentor was six feet five inches tall and almost as wide which was partly to blame for him being retired from the armed robbery squad and the police force in general. He was just too big a target. He’d been shot three times during his career, and the last bullet damaged his colon so severely that he was considered unfit for duty.
William Prentiss was a friend of my father. In fact, my father blamed him for my career choice.
“They’ll smear you with their dirty dealings, and you will have to decide very quickly how you are going to handle yourself. If you refuse to take the kickbacks, you are likely to find yourself on your own one day staring down the barrel. If you take it, they have you, and they know you won’t tell anyone because you will look as guilty as they are. The whole thing will unravel one day when some chunky bastard contracts something terminal and decides to get all his naughty deeds off his chest before he meets his maker. But until then, you have to work out how you are going to survive.”
It was a valuable insight, and a sane person would have resigned at that point, but I’m a stubborn bastard, and I liked the idea of hunting bad guys with guns.
I gave the whole situation a lot of thought, and I decided to take the envelopes (and bundles when things went decidedly well) and catalogue them. I wrote the time, and the date and the prick who forced me to take it and I wrapped it in plastic (mostly supermarket bags) and wrote the information again on the plastic. These bundles would then be stored in shoe boxes. The boxes ended up in a huge old wooden cupboard I bought at a government auction. This thing was monstrous and weighed a lot, but it served the purpose. It’s in my garage as I write and it is packed tight.
The Greenies will tell you that supermarket bags don’t break down over time — that bollocks. Many of the bags fell to pieces as the Rat Squad pulled them out which made me glad that I had written the details on the envelopes.
You may be wondering why so many decades went by without the truth coming to light.
When everyone gets paid there is a high degree of motivation for things to continue.
Behind the scenes, there were officers like myself trying to gather information to bring these creatures in front of a court.
We planted marked money in several banks over a period of years, but the robbers always managed to avoid the tell-tale banknotes.
We had all of the phones tapped but never did we intercept a call.
It turned out that most of the banks that were being robbed had an inside person — often high ranking. Whenever a crew burst into one of the banks where we had marked money, there would be a pair of shoes in the vault. The unoccupied shoes meant that the money was tainted so the robbers would stick to what was in the tills. Small pickings, but preferable to getting caught.
If we salted the tills, the bank employee would take his shoes off and stack them neatly together where the crew would notice them. If he were questioned later, he would say that the robbers made him do it and he didn’t know why.
Naturally, the newspapers had a field day.
‘SHOELESS JOE CREW STRIKES AGAIN.’
‘THEY TOOK ALL THE MONEY AND LEFT THE SHOES BEHIND.’
‘SHOELESS AND CLUELESS.’ this last one was a dig at us for not being able to catch the robbers.
It got to the point that customers started taking their shoes off during a robbery because they thought it was expected.
This led to a lot of confusion for the thieves, and they had to switch to a different signal.
They stole a lot of money, and a great deal of it went in payoffs. The insurance companies put their premiums up, and the general public paid the price.
All this came spilling out as evidence in the case, and several high ranking officers were arrested, and a few who had retired were scooped up as well.
When they knocked on my door one Sunday afternoon, “for a friendly chat”, I told them what I knew and showed them the cupboard and its contents.
“You’re a confident bugger,” said the painfully young sergeant who was probably serving his time in the Internal Investigation Squad because it would speed his rise through the ranks.
“You’re a confident bugger — sir,” I replied.
“Yes sir,” said the young man, who now seemed a few inches shorter.
“I never spent a penny of it. It’s all there and clearly labelled. You will have fingerprints and DNA to back up my labelling and you will all look like a bunch of ungrateful bastards if you charge me. My barrister will have a field day,” I said without the slightest hint of a smile.
The brighter ones among them knew I was right, but that didn’t guarantee my safety.
“You’ll have to testify, you smug bastard,” said the highest-ranking officer and it was the first words he had spoken since they all arrived.
“It’s a little bit cramped in here,” I said. “Do you think that ten or twenty of you could step out and give me and the senior officer a bit of air?”
No one moved.
“Go on piss off,” said the officer with the gold braid. My garage was soon empty except for me, and the gold braid and a shit load of yellow envelops strewn across the floor.
“I’ll testify, and that will sew this thing up tight,” I said. “I want early retirement — starting from today, no gaol time, no protective custody, and I keep my pension.”
“I’ll have to make some calls, but I’m reasonably sure I can get you most of it, but you can kiss your pension goodbye — they’ll never go for that.”
“Just put it to them forcefully, and I’ll live with what follows,” I said.
The ‘gold braid’ got on his phone, and before long, all the blue uniforms were gone, and I had my house back. They didn’t search the house, but they did bring in a truck, and they took the old cupboard away.
They didn’t search my toolshed either, which was just as well because it contained every fourth envelope I ever received. The nasty people who forced me to take them most probably didn’t keep records so how would they know after all these years?
I had spent some of it over the years, but there was still a small mountain of them unopened. If I did lose my pension, I’d still be okay.
“What was that all about Birt?” my wife asked as the truck with the cupboard drove up the street. She is an excellent copper’s wife — she stayed out of the way until I could explain to her in private. I know she wondered why other police families had boats and holiday houses and trips overseas while we chugged along on the basics, but she never complained — not once.
“A bunch of blokes who made my life a misery are about to get theirs, and I’m the one who is nailing the coffin lids shut.”
She knew there was more to it than that and she knew I would tell her most of it. We’d lie in bed and I’d unfold it for her. She’ll understand. Keeping secrets is part of the job, but not telling her — my best friend — all these years has been difficult. I’ve always tried to ‘not bring the job home with me’, but this was different. I wanted her to be genuinely shocked by the discovery of all that money if my plan went south. She’s put up with a lot during my career and I was not going to let these arseholes drag her down with me. The next few days will see if the brass sticks to our deal, but I’m not going to lose any sleep. Our new life starts today.
“I think it’s time to break out that bottle of bubbly that your sister gave us, but before we do that, there’s something in the shed I’d like to show you. I think you’re going to enjoy this sweetheart.”
I knew it wasn’t good, and I knew that I was in deep shit, but just at that moment I was enjoying the view.
Beautiful fluffy white clouds set against an azure sky.
The only thing that was spoiling the view was the masked gunman, complete with balaclava and sawn-off rifle.
I’m assuming it was sawn-off; it is hard to tell from my angle because he had it pointed at my head and all I could see was the hole in the barrel.
I was reasonably sure that a bullet was going to emerge from that barrel at any moment.
It seemed disingenuous to point and not shoot.
The gunfire had ceased, but I could hear loud talking — ‘Don’t do it mate’, followed by, ‘No one has died [how the hell did he know that] and all you have to do is walk away, but if you kill a cop they will never stop looking for you.’
I couldn’t see who was doing the talking, but given the circumstances, I thought that he might be mad or very brave.
Either way, he was going to get himself killed; and it would be a shame to get yourself killed on such a beautiful day.
I remember talking about the weather when we started our shift.
‘Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.’
That was my dad’s favourite weather joke, and he wheeled it out whenever it looked like there was someone in the vicinity who had not heard it before.
In our job, the weather can tell you what sort of day you are going to have.
I’d been on ‘days’ for a couple of weeks.
I didn’t dread ‘nights’ like a lot of the blokes.
‘Nights’ had their dangers and their appeal; it’s a whole other world.
A rainy day means we attend more than the occasional road accident. Once, we had to park on a major highway with all our lights flashing to stop anyone running into a young couple who were moving furniture into their house.
The truck wouldn’t fit up the driveway, and they were soaked to the skin and the traffic coming around the bend at 70 kph had little time to see and avoid them.
They weren’t doing anything wrong, just trying to move into a very difficult house.
They lived through it, and so did we.
They gave us a wave when they were finished; that doesn’t happen too often.
Hot weather tends to bring out the drunks and the crazies but a lovely sunny spring day like today forebode well.
It should have been a routine day, and up until lunchtime, it was.
I bought lunch yesterday so today, Michael my partner, decided on ‘fish and chips’, and I didn’t mind.
This little shopping strip was famous for having the best fish and chips in the area.
There was plenty of people about, many also on a break just like us. People heading to the cafe or looking for a spot to sit quietly and eat a sandwich that someone else had lovingly prepared.
I can’t remember if the birds were singing but they should have been.
There was on-street parking, but there was also a medium-sized car park which the council had built a decade or more before by buying and knocking down a couple of shops and the houses behind them.
Some space was reserved for grass and trees and benches and a tiny playground, but mostly it was bitumen and white lines.
We had parked opposite the bank, which amazingly was still there. Suburban Bank branches were rare in those days.
It had a ‘whole in the wall’ teller machine and was built out of those ubiquitous cream bricks that invaded this country in the 1950s.
I was dodging traffic while trying to cross the road when I saw the first masked gunman come out the front door of the bank.
The bank was old, so it had steps at the front and a ‘disabled ramp’ that had been installed some years after the building was completed.
The gunman was scanning the street, but he had to look down to negotiate the steps, and this gave me just enough time to draw my weapon.
I remember thinking that there was an even chance of either being run down by a car or shot by the armed robber in the mask.
He saw me and levelled his ‘sawn-off.’
I saw the flash.
I’m not sure how many rounds I got off, but I know I missed him.
At least one shot hit the cream bricks behind him, and bits of brick and mortar exploded in a cloud of dust.
There wasn’t anywhere for me to hide so I just kept moving in his direction; even after I felt what seemed like a small truck hit me in the chest.
My legs wanted to carry me further, but the rest of me said ‘fall down’, so I did.
I came to rest in an empty car space; I didn’t quite make it to the footpath. I rolled onto my back and stared at the amazing blue sky and the fluffy white clouds.
I didn’t see them, but I heard a couple of other blokes run past in the direction of the council car park.
I remember wondering why they would park in a car park; why not out the front of the bank?
I also remember wondering [or was that much later] why they didn’t have a look-out or a driver, waiting to whisk them away.
Back in the 1980s, this kind of thing happened twice a week, but then the banks got sued for not having enough security, and people started having their paychecks paid directly into their accounts and banks stopped being easy targets.
These blokes were not pros’; and not long after all this it got them killed, but that was to come, and now I’m staring down the barrel, so to speak.
I found out much later that the voice belonged to Nolan James Sieracki.
Nolan was on his lunch break, just like us, and when the shooting started, he ducked for cover.
The amazing thing is, he didn’t stay under cover; he spoke out; he saved my life.
As the gunman walked away, I could see a smile in his eyes.
Nolan came over to me, knelt down, and asked me about my gun, ‘Do I have to cock this thing or do I just point and shoot?’
Holy shit this bloke is going to get us both killed.
He seemed determined; there was no way I could talk him out of it, ‘Point and squeeze’.
I was pretty sure that the safety was off; I heard a single shot.
I half expected him to fall, but he didn’t, he just got up and walked toward the car park.
More shots — and then he was kneeling beside me again.
I heard my partner shouting; I wanted to say ‘He’s with me’, but no words came out, and I became very peaceful and very unconscious.
It was weeks before I woke up again and, even more weeks before anyone in a uniform asked me what happened.
This seemed very strange to me.
I can remember detectives asking questions of people who had minutes to live; nurses and doctors whispering very loudly that we needed to leave, and being ignored.
Eventually, I heard that the gunmen were all dead.
“That was a hell of a shot for a wounded man to make. Lying on your back like that with all that Claret oozing out of you. Lucky shot, or are you that good, constable?”
The words were spilling out of the Chief Commissioner of Police for the State of Victoria.
I’d seen his picture on the wall in the Senior Sergeant’s office, but this was the real bloke; in person.
I couldn’t figure out why he was speaking in that strangely affected tone until I noticed that my small hospital room was full of cameras.
They had woken me up because the Chief Commissioner was late for another appointment and they wanted to ‘get this over with’.
I smiled, I think, and said, “Lucky shot I guess.” At the time, I had no idea what they were talking about.
The room emptied, and I lapsed back into that beautiful Morphine-induced sleep.
I know why people get hooked on this stuff; not only does it take away the pain but it takes away your ability to care about anything; it’s really rather lovely.
They let my wife visit but not my kids.
I’m not sure who they were protecting, them or me.
Janice cried a lot and told me how the kids were going and then cried some more; but she didn’t tell me what was going on and frankly, I didn’t care.
My young mind thought that my career and my life, as I knew it, was over.
It’s strange to remember that bit, especially as I’m writing this from the Chief Commissioner’s office.
Things worked out well for me.
You might be wondering why I’m writing this now, after all, this time?
I just found out that Nolan James Sieracki passed away last night.
His heart gave out, and he was surrounded by his family; his wife his two sons and his five grandchildren.
He lived a quiet life; raised a family; taught his sons what it means to be a man.
I hope they knew what a remarkable man he was.
His life had its ups and downs; I know because I’ve been watching.
He worked in that hardware store for another dozen years; then he went out on his own.
His business sputtered along for a few years but eventually a downturn in the economy finished him off.
I made it known that every officer in my station should consider supporting his little shop, and they knew why.
My story was legendary, and they knew that their commander was one of only a very few serving officers who had been awarded the Medal of Valour.
The men and woman under my command knew that I wasn’t a desk jockey; I’d been out there; been shot; nearly died; Medal of Valour.
After a period where his wife supported them all, and he descended into a deep depression, he received an offer of a job working for the Victoria Police at their maintenance depot in the outer Eastern Suburb of Ferntree Gully.
I’m sure he wondered why they had asked him, but he said yes, and he worked there until he retired.
By all accounts, he was good at his job and was well liked.
His boys were good sportsmen, and one went into the computer business, and the other made amazing pastries.
Nolan’s family need to know how brave their patriarch was.
They need to know that he saved my life and allowed me to have a family and a career.
They need to know that I kept the promise I made to him in that letter. He had his reasons for giving me credit for taking that shot, and I kept my mouth shut; kept my word.
Not because I wanted or needed the glory; I really didn’t care much about anything at the time.
It might have taken me a year to write it, but I meant every word.
If you are reading this now, it means that I too have passed away.
This was a story and a secret that needed time to be told.
Lives were built on this secret, and it was the way that both of us wanted it, but now it is time for our descendants to know the truth.
Whoever reads this is honour-bound to send a copy to Nolan’s descendants.