Thursday, 27 October 2016
Instinctively his dog, a blue heeler dog jumped off the back of the truck to see the visitors.
"Oi! Marky!" barked the farmer, whistling sharply. "Get back here, ya mongrel . . ." the dog ran back onto the truck as told, and Peter walked over to the cops in their dark, blue uniforms.
"G'day, Pete," said Officer Franklin, a tall, thin man with a thick, salt-and-pepper moustache and wrinkles that made him look fifteen years older than his middle-age. He shook Farmer Brown's hand as he glanced at the trees. "The techies are on their way."
"So, what’ve we got?" said Officer Henries, a burly young Kiwi with a close-shaved head, bright eyes and a heavy New Zealand accent. “We got a call in for a dead body, is that right?”
"Yeah . . . it's bloody dreadful," said Peter, turning towards the trees “I’ve never seen anythin’ like it in my life.”
The two officers followed him as he wandered deeper into the trees. Henries whipped out a flashlight to light the way.
“Is it all the way out here?” said Franklin.
“Yeah, just a bit down in from the road,” said Peter.
“So how’d you find ‘em so far out here? Pretty bloody dark.”
"I got a call from Sandy, said she was driving home from the shops, and saw some trespassers on my property.”
“This is part of your property?” said Franklin.
“Yeah, just a foot from the road down.”
“Nah, too fucken expensive,” said Peter, “and the trees keep out most sticky-beaks.”
“Well, it’s not really tresspassin’ if yer ain’t got a fence, bruv,” says Henries.
“Nah,” Peter says, waving a hand dismissively. “I don’t give a shit, they can come as they please; the paddock’s fenced, they ain’t gonna steal a cow.”
“So, why’d you come out here if you don’t care?” asked Franklin.
“I just worried that some backpacker’d gotten lost. Some of them try to shortcut through to get back to town, but they get turned around in these trees. It looks straight and narrow, but under the canopy it gets craggy . . . here we go.”
Peter stopped by a shallow ditch a good 50 metres from the road. Henries shone his light onto the spot. A young blonde, probably European, was on her back, her pale, dead eyes looking up at the sky, but a nasty, purple bruise covered the right side of her forehead, and scratches down her face that had crusted up with dried blood. Her hands and feet were draped across her, limply.
Peter Brown took his hat off and held it over his chest as he looked down at the sorry sight.
“It ain’t right . . . pretty young thing.”
“Is that her bag?” said Franklin, pointing a few metres away to a nearby tree, a huge hiking backpack was resting by it.
“Yeah . . . I found her facedown,” said Peter. “I thought she’d just tripped, I tried to help her up, but she was limp as a sack o’ potatoes. I took the bag off, so I could try to resuscitate or somethin’, but when I touched her cheek she was stone cold . . .”
The farmer sniffed and exhaled a heavy, wet breath.
“Goddamned disgrace,” he said, he put his hat on and started walking back towards his truck.
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” said Franklin, kneeling down beside the body, turning on his own flashlight.
“Yeah, cuz,” said Henries, sounding unsettled. “Just some bloody boyfriend or somethin’, crack her round the head with a bat, I say.”
“Hmph . . .” grunted Franklin, stroking his moustache. “It wasn’t a baseball bat. It’s scratched up her face.”
“She coulda cut her face on a branch or somethin’,” suggested Henries.
“Do you see any low hangin’ branches?” said Franklin. “No twigs on the ground . . .”
“Maybe the attacker scratched her,” said Henries.
“Not unless he had two thumbs,” said Franklin, looking at the shape of the scratch.
“Well, I dunno, cuz . . . we’ll leave that to the lab boys, eh?”
“Right . . .” said Franklin standing up again with a grunt.
There was a rattling sound from the trees above that made Henries jump.
“What’s that?!” he said, shining his torch up. “Is that a snake?!”
“It’s a possum, ya goose,” said Franklin, patting the man on the back as he walked past. “Come on, we better cordon this place off. You take Pete up to the road and question him properly, get his statement, and I’ll . . .” Franklin looks back with a sigh. “I’ll wrap this up.”
The crime scene techs showed up soon enough. Officer Franklin stood by the blue and white tape and lifted it to let them through, one by one, taking note of the time. Not long after, the detective showed up, wearing a simple business suit and tie. The first thing he did was walk up to Franklin and Henries, introduce himself as Detective Samson and ask what they’d documented so far. Then he headed into the scene. Franklin stood outside, calmly, waiting for the detective to secure the scene, when he heard an angry shout, then some people started screaming.
“Wait here!” Franklin told Henries, and he ducked under the tape. He ran full-tilt towards the crowd of techies, but their lights were darting around, frantic, and people were stammering, panicked.
“Is it gone?”
“Oh my god, are you bleeding?”
“Get her away from the scene.”
“Is everyone alright?” called Franklin, shining a torch around. Two of the techs had taken a third aside, a girl who was bleeding from the forehead.
“Call a goddamned ambulance!” barked the detective.
Officer Franklins grabbed his radio and called it in before going to attend to the crying technician.
“What the hell happened?” he said.
“Something dropped out of the tree,” said the detective. “I thought you secured the scene?”
“I did . . . there was nothing here but possums.”
“That wasn’t a possum, it was a . . . spotted quokka or somethin’,” said Detective Samson.
“It bit me!” said the crime scene technician, in an American accent. “Just above my eye.”
In the trees above, they heard some snuffling and rattling.
“Clear the scene!” said the officer. “Out, out, come on!”
There was a loud screech from above, and Officer Franklin drew his weapon. The explosion of sound echoed across the paddock as he fired twice. There was a cracking of branches then a loud thump as something fell out of the trees.
The other technicians gasped and jumped as it hit the ground.
“What is that, a koala bear?” said the detective.
“Koalas aren’t bears, they’re marsupials,” said the policeman, he stepped towards the lump of grey fur, its back mottled with black spots. “And these trees sure as hell aren’t Eucalyptus.”
He gave the thing a nudge with his boot, and felt thick bone under its rump, but it didn’t move otherwise. He rolled it over onto its back to see its face, a grey little snout with a wide forehead, like a wombat, but sharp teeth.
“Well, bugger . . . they got the drop on another tourist . . .”
“What?” said the detective, approaching the creature, shaking his head. “No way, you’ve gotta be kidding, it’s a myth. They’re not real are they?”
“Oh, they’re real, I’ve just never seen one so close to town, before,” said Officer Franklin. “We’d better call in animal control . . .”
Franklin walked out of the crime scene, Henries standing anxiously by the chequered tape.
“What is it, cuz.”
“D.B., Henries. Call in animal control,” said Franklin, then he turned to Farmer Brown. “Look, mate, it’s a right tragedy and you’re not at fault. But if you’re not going to fence off this area, I recommend that you put up a sign warning tourists about the drop bears.”
“What, really? This close to town?”
“Hey, they’re as scared of us as we are of them,” he said, glancing into the crime scene. “So, if people don’t start taking them seriously, we’re gonna have a real problem on our hands . . .”