Dark Heart Chapter Preview

Chapter 1

Detective Sergeant Charlie Cooper threw his keys into the wooden bowl he kept on his desk for just that purpose. Their clink signalled the beginning of his work day, which he hoped was going to be a light one — he still wasn’t fully recovered from the fortieth birthday party Liz had thrown him on the weekend. No such luck, though, Senior Sergeant Frank Munro was already heading his way.

“Coop. Got a call from Leichhardt Local Area Command. They had an aggravated assault on a fifty-year-old male yesterday. Today it’s your new murder case.” Munro had never been one for morning pleasantries.

“The guy didn’t make it, huh?”

“His father agreed to switch off life support last night, so it’s officially a homicide. SOCOs are at the crime scene now.” Munro handed Cooper the file. “Take Quinn,” he added with a grin, before returning to his office.

Cooper pushed the hangover to the back of his mind and glanced over the file. The victim’s name was Fraser Grant, a real estate agent. He was found in his Glebe apartment the day before by his elderly father, shortly after one pm. Blunt force trauma to the head; no sign of a weapon. Taken by ambulance to RPA Hospital, where they pronounced him brain dead. Detectives from the local area command, along with the scene-of-crime officers Munro had referred to, would be all over Grant’s apartment by now. Cooper placed a call to the officer in charge from Leichhardt LAC. It was standard procedure for the Homicide Squad to be notified of, and provide an initial response to, any homicide state-wide, but often it was more practical to leave the majority of the investigation to the local boys. After a brief discussion, however, Detective Sergeant Perrotta from Leichhardt admitted he could use some help. Cooper agreed to interview the father. 

“Quinn,” he called. The big guy looked up from where he was busy making coffee. “White with one for me, and put them in foam. We’re on the road in two.”

 

As Cooper drove the unmarked car out into the Parramatta traffic, he wondered how long it would be before the latest addition to Homicide started asking questions. He didn’t have to wonder long.

“So, you’re the lead on the Adultery Killer case, aren’t you?”

He’d been expecting it, but Cooper still flinched. “I’ve been investigating the murders that were given that name by the media, yes.”

“He’s been quiet almost a year now, hasn’t he? Doesn’t that mean he’s just about due?”

Cooper sighed. Every cop wanted to yap about that case, but when it came down to it, not many wanted anything to do with the investigation. Hardly surprising; no-one wants to be on a losing team. 

The Adultery Killer had struck every year for the past nine years at around this time. He chose his victims carefully — all married women who were cheating, hence the nickname. Each time, a woman went missing and a few days later a photograph album and the victim's wedding ring arrived in the mail for the husband. The photos essentially documented the stalking, kidnapping, and murder of the victim. An identical set of photographs was sent to the Sydney Times. No bodies had ever been recovered, but the photos left no doubt the women had been murdered.  The killer's message was simple — don't cheat — and in his own way he was trying to get that message through to the people of Sydney. At least, that was what Dr Max Christie believed. Cooper had spent so much time going over the case with the forensic psychologist that he’d accepted the conclusion as if it was his own. 

Quinn was looking at him expectantly.

“His last victim was kidnapped in late August, so yes, it’s been twelve months. We are still actively investigating that case, Detective Quinn, but for now I suggest you focus on the one we have in front of us.” Cooper indicated the case file. “You finished reading that?”

Quinn shook his head and returned his attention to the file. At least he knows when to shut up, thought Cooper. But the kid had touched a nerve. Cooper knew the whole squad was wondering if the real reason he was quitting homicide was to spend more time with his family, or because he couldn’t find the Adultery Killer.

 

Jack Simpson, the father of today’s homicide victim, lived in a modest Californian bungalow on the outskirts of Marrickville. As Cooper opened the wire gate and stepped onto the front verandah, he guessed that Jack had probably lived here most of his life. At the very least, he made his mark here long before the suburb became trendy. Quinn knocked, and they waited a full minute before the door finally opened.

“Yes?”

The old man seemed sturdy enough, so Cooper got straight to the point. “Mr Simpson? I’m Detective Sergeant Cooper, this is Detective Senior Constable Quinn. We’d like to ask you a few questions about your son.” Jack said nothing, giving a tired nod and opening the door wide.

They entered a small lounge room decorated in the browns and beiges of a long-ago era. A large wall unit covered in a wood-grain material housed knick-knacks along with an old analogue television, a set-top box, and a box for pay TV. Horses and their brightly-coloured jockeys raced silently across the screen. Jack lowered himself into a worn-out armchair, and with a wave of his hand invited Cooper and Quinn to sit in the matching brown-striped velour lounge. Quinn took out his notebook and they both sat.

“Mr Simpson, I realise this must be a difficult time for you,” Cooper began.

“I signed papers last night, gave permission for them to take out my son’s organs and give them to other people,” said Jack. “I think that’s about as difficult as it gets, Detective.”

Cooper always struggled when it came to interviewing the relatives. They each dealt with grief in their own way. He studied the old man for a moment: neatly dressed, clothes old and worn but tucked in and tidy. His trouser belt had begun to fray along the edges years ago, but the buckle was shiny as new. 

 “Mr Simpson — Jack — can you tell us exactly what happened yesterday?”

“I got to Fraser’s place just after one. I have to get two buses, so it takes me quite a while. When I got there I knocked, but there was no answer. I checked the door and it was unlocked, which was unusual for Fraser. I went in, and that’s when I saw him lying there on the floor. There was blood…” Jack’s eyes moistened and he focused on the television, the horses kicking up the track. It was a good thirty seconds before he continued, but Cooper was patient. “He’d fallen and hit his head, that’s what I thought, at first. His eyes were closed, and I couldn’t rouse him, so I called an ambulance. They don’t reckon he fell. They said someone must have hit him.” 

“Jack, let’s go back a step. How did you get into the place? It’s a security building, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, except the main door doesn’t always shut properly, so sometimes I don’t need to buzz. Fraser had a good ol’ stoush with building management about it, never seemed to get fixed though.”

“And yesterday?” Cooper prompted.

“Yeah, it wasn’t shut properly yesterday, so I went straight in. Took the lift to his floor, that’s the second floor, and then down the corridor to Fraser’s unit.”

“Okay. When you entered the unit, did you touch anything? Besides Fraser, I mean?”

The old man took his time. “I used the phone to call the ambulance, so I touched that, and probably the counter around it. I don’t think I touched anything else, I just sat with him until the ambulance arrived.” 

Cooper nodded, took another tack. “Tell me, Jack, why doesn’t Fraser have your surname? Are you his stepfather?”

“No, that’s not it. Look, you’ll probably find out anyway. My son, his name was Jimmy. James Simpson, he was christened. But he got into some strife when he was young, went to jail. When he got out, he needed to make a break from his past. So he changed his name, got a start in the real estate business, and worked hard to make a new life for himself.”

This was interesting. “Do you think it’s possible someone from his past did this?”

“That’s your job to find out, isn’t it?”

Cooper nodded, figuring he’d heard all he was going to on that subject. He glanced at Quinn, who was busy writing notes. It looked like the kid had written word for word everything that had been said. He was about to wrap it up for now so they could go check out the crime scene, when Jack had something to add.

“I did bring that with me, from Fraser’s place.” He pointed to a soft leather briefcase on the kitchen table. “It’s his work bag. Never saw him without it. I took it to the hospital, because I thought he might need it. I haven’t opened it, though. He never wanted anyone to touch that bag, was real protective of it. I don’t think he’d want me going through it now, either.”

“Okay,” said Cooper. “We’ll need to take it with us as evidence, but we’ll get it back to you as soon as we can.” He stood and looked at Quinn, who rose and picked up the briefcase. “Thank you for your time, Jack. We may need to speak to you again, but we’ll leave you in peace for now. We’re very sorry for your loss.”

Jack nodded, remaining silent as he showed the detectives to the door. Once outside, Cooper heard the sounds of horse-racing come to life on the television. He was suddenly glad gambling had never been his problem.

 

Cooper pulled up alongside the van belonging to the Crime Scene Operations Branch parked outside Fraser Grant’s apartment building. He instructed Quinn to bring the briefcase they’d bagged at Jack’s house.

The apartment was on the second floor, overlooking Blackwattle Bay. They rode the lift in silence, Cooper visualising Jack Simpson’s arrival the previous day. Stepping out of the lift, they walked about fifteen paces to the door of number 18. Detective Sergeant Phil Perrotta recognised Cooper and let them in.

“How are you, Phil?” Cooper enquired as they shook hands.

“Keeping busy, you know how it is,” the detective replied.

Cooper nodded. “We’ll take a look around.”

As they walked in, the kitchen was on the right, followed by the open plan dining and living area. Just past the dining table on the left was a short hallway leading to two bedrooms and a bathroom. The master bedroom and living room both opened onto a long balcony with views of the bay. It was a nice place, now that the old industrial precinct had been tarted up, but Cooper wasn’t interested in the outlook.

 “What do you see?” he asked Quinn. “Give me your first impressions.”

“Well, the bloodstain, of course. But I’m guessing that’s not what you mean.”

Cooper nodded. “We were expecting blood. What else?”

Quinn looked around the room, pausing briefly at the view before answering. “There’s no sign of a struggle, nothing is out of place. In fact, everything is so neat and tidy it’s actually a bit creepy.”

Cooper agreed. “The door was unlocked, the father said, plus there’s no forced entry. We’ll have to wait for the autopsy, but the initial assault report says one blow to the side of the head. So it was quick, and he knew his attacker, or at least trusted them enough to invite them in.”

They wandered into the main bedroom, Perrotta following. Fingerprint dust was everywhere, and they nodded to the two crime scene techs taking their last photographs. Cooper snapped on some gloves and opened the wardrobe. What he found gelled with the rest of the place: shoes paired and in neat rows at the bottom, shirts arranged from dark to light colours, and suit jackets lined up like a group of private school boys, ready to march off to class.

In the second bedroom, more of the same. A desk with three things on it — computer, keyboard, and mouse. Shelves of books arranged in order of height. And a single bed made up with sheets tighter than those in the fancy hotels Cooper rarely got to stay at — where you had to pull and pull to untuck the bottom so you could move your feet around. He was inclined to agree with Quinn. It was creepy.

Back in the living room, the crime scene guys were finishing up. Cooper recognised the lead technician, and was almost sure the guy’s name was Danny. “Anything interesting?” Cooper asked.

Danny shrugged. “There’s a space on the shelf over there, could be something missing. Could be your murder weapon. Then again, could just be a space.”

Great. Very bloody helpful. “Anything else?”

“Nothing that stands out. Place is too clean. Sorry, Coop.”  Danny led his team out of the apartment.

Quinn was still looking through the bedrooms with Perrotta, so Cooper picked up the briefcase they’d brought over from Jack’s place and sat with it on the lounge. Adjusting his gloves, he removed it from the evidence bag and emptied the contents onto the coffee table: a manila folder full of real estate documents, two pens, a pencil, mobile phone, a set of keys, and an envelope. He sat back into the lounge and opened the envelope, pulling out a single photograph.

“What’s that?” asked Quinn as he and Perrotta re-entered the living room, but Cooper didn't answer. His mouth was suddenly as dry as sandpaper.

He jumped up from the lounge and strode toward the spare room. “The computer! Did you turn it on?”

Perrotta answered. “There's a login screen. Need a password.” He and Quinn followed Cooper to the smaller room. “What's going on?”

“Get the SOCOs back in here. We need to take that with us,” said Cooper, pointing to the computer. 

Quinn shouted instructions to the guy on the door. He turned back to Cooper. “You want to fill us in?”

Cooper handed him the photo. It was an image all too familiar to him — a naked woman chained to a bed, long hair positioned to cover her face. Cooper had seen that bed before, too many times. He’d seen nine photos of that same bed, nine other women in the same pose shackled to it. He’d also seen more pictures of those other women. Macabre pictures of their brutal deaths.

“I don’t get it,” said Quinn. “Who is she?”

“She’s the next one,” said Cooper. “It’s him. Jesus Christ, it’s him.”

Quinn looked around, as if he expected ‘him’ to be in the room. Cooper shook his head and snatched the photo back, his mind now running wild.

“Fraser Grant, the victim. He’s the killer. Fraser Grant is the Adultery Killer.”


Chapter 2

She was pale, so very pale, the woman in the dream. Eva reached out, tried to touch her, but the woman was already gone.

She sensed someone bending over her, tried to open her eyes, but the glare of the fluorescents prevented anything more than a one-eyed squint. It was enough to catch a glimpse of the nurses and other staff checking monitors and tubes, enough to let her know that the operation was over.

Eva tried to speak, but something was blocking her throat. She tried to move her head, but the effort was too much. The faint smell of her mother’s perfume registered before she drifted back into a safe, welcoming fuzziness.

“Eva, can you hear me?”

What now? Was the woman calling her? No, the voice was deeper, male.

“Eva, you have a new heart.”

She opened her eyes and saw Dr Graham’s smile escaping the sides of his protective mask. 

“Just a couple more minutes and we’ll get that tube out of your throat.”

Eva felt a slight pressure on her chest from her cardiac surgeon’s stethoscope as he listened to her heart. Her new heart. She closed her eyes again and more voices surrounded the bed.

“Hold still,” said one, as if she were going somewhere. “This won’t hurt too much.” 

Eva felt the respirator tube slide from her throat as she gagged. Again she tried to speak, this time to tell whoever it was that it did indeed hurt, but all she managed was a raspy croak.

“Don’t try to talk, sweetheart.” Eva opened her eyes again and saw her mother, the mask across her nose and mouth collecting the tears that streaked her face. 

Eva nodded, then felt something being placed in her hand. 

“Press this button if you feel any pain,” said yet another voice. Eva complied, and was rewarded with blissful rest.

The next time she woke it was to the sound of continuous beeping, the familiar noises of intensive care staff going about their business. She saw for the first time just how many tubes and wires snaked their way from her body, monitoring her new heart, draining fluid into bags that hung from the side of the bed. Turning her head, she caught sight of her mother’s handbag resting on the plastic chair.

“She’s popped out for a cuppa,” said a nurse, smiling as she checked the fluid bags and adjusted a drip hanging above Eva’s head. “You’re doing well,” she added. Eva closed her eyes and pressed the button again, escaping back into sweet nothingness.

 

“Eva?” The gentle touch of the surgeon’s hand on her shoulder brought Eva back to the ICU. “There you are,” said Dr Graham. 

Brenda Matthews looked hopefully down at her daughter from the other side of the bed. She’s been here the whole time, Eva realised. Tears made a path from her own eyes now, curling down the outside of her face and tickling her ears. She wanted to sit up, wanted to ask a thousand questions, but the fatigue was still so overwhelming.

“The surgery was successful, Eva,” said the doctor, as if reading her mind. “The new heart is strong, and so far your vital signs are good. Can you feel your heart beating?”

Eva closed her eyes and focused on the heart. She’d waited almost two years for this moment, at times wondering if it would ever come at all. Two years of a life spent on hold, of doctor’s visits, stints in hospital, people filling in for her at work. Did she dare believe that she finally had a future?

Her mouth was dry, and she glanced toward the cup of water sitting on the side table. The doctor held the straw to her lips and Eva relished the feel of the liquid cooling her mouth and throat. Finally she was able to answer his question.

“It feels fast.”

He nodded. “It’s normal for a newly transplanted heart to beat faster than your old one. What about your breathing?”

“Better,” she croaked. “It feels easier… easier than before.”

“That’s good. I need you to try and cough for me, and then take a couple of deep breaths. Can you do that?”

Eva did as he asked. It felt like breathing fire. “Hurts,” she said.

“Yes, but it’s important that you keep doing that every couple of hours to prevent mucus from collecting in your lungs. The nurses will help you.” Dr Graham smiled again.  “The operation went well, Eva. But remember, we still have a long road ahead. Get some rest now. I’ll be back to check on you later.” He finished writing on her chart and replaced it before leaving. 

The room was abuzz with activity; Eva could see she was one of a handful of patients in the cardiac intensive care unit. She looked the other way, toward the person keeping vigil on the other side of the bed. The mask could not hide the dark circles under her mother’s eyes.

“Mum, go home. Sleep,” Eva managed to say.

“I’m just fine, right where I am,” Brenda replied.

Eva shook her head, reached for that magic button, and pressed.


Chapter 3

Cooper paced the room, eager for Quinn to return. After this morning’s discovery, Strike Force Darby was back in full swing, occupying one of the sections of City Central Police Station specifically set up to accommodate long-running strike force investigations. Cooper thought it looked more like a call centre than a police operational room, with the huge open-plan office space fitted out with individual desks separated by partitions. Attached were two other rooms: an office for the OIC, and the meeting room where they now waited. 

Strike Force Darby had been formed ten years ago, when the first set of macabre photographs had been sent to both the victim’s husband and the media. They had set up operations in this part of City Central ever since, only returning to Homicide Squad headquarters in Parramatta when the trail ran cold.

“Does this mean you’re staying?” Frank Munro made no attempt to disguise the smirk. Cooper enjoyed working with Munro. Frank was one of the best bosses he’d had, and he was glad this man was the one to run Strike Force Darby. Working an ongoing case for so long under an officer in charge you didn’t get on with could be hell. 

“I’m still going, Frank. As soon as this is over.”

Cooper had been part of the team on the trail of the Adultery Killer from the beginning, and he could hardly believe the guy had now turned up. Dead. But all this didn’t change things; he’d made a commitment to Liz to spend more time with her and the boys. 

“Yeah, whatever. Where the fuck did that kid get to? We need to get this briefing started.”

As if on cue, Quinn walked in with a tray of coffees. Detective Senior Constable Ray Davis and his partner, Sammy Saulwick, two regular members of the strike force, followed closely behind. Quinn set the tray down in the middle of the large table dominating the meeting room, and the five of them took their seats.

“Okay,” said Munro, “Quinn, why don’t you give us a rundown.”

Quinn’s eyes lit up. “Where do you want me to start?”

“How about the beginning?”

“Right, Sarge.” Quinn walked over to the evidence board and pointed to a head shot of a middle-aged man. The closed eyes and grey pallor left no doubt the man was dead. 

“The deceased is Fraser Grant, aged fifty. He lived in an apartment in Glebe down by the water. His father, Jack Simpson, arrived at the apartment approximately one-fifteen yesterday afternoon, finding Grant unconscious and bleeding from a head wound. He called an ambulance and rode in to RPA with them, taking Fraser’s briefcase. Fraser Grant was declared brain dead at three-twenty. After signing an organ donation agreement, Jack Simpson returned to his own home. When we interviewed him earlier today, he handed over his son’s briefcase, which he thought to be related to Fraser’s employment. This is where Sergeant Cooper came across the photograph.”

“And the photo makes us believe we’ve found the Adultery Killer?” asked Munro.

“Yes, Sarge,” said Quinn. “Sergeant Cooper recognised the bed.” Quinn faltered at that point, so Cooper jumped in.

“It’s the same bed, the same room, even though you can’t see much of the surroundings. I knew as soon as I saw it, Sarge. Then when I looked back over the apartment it all made sense. Fit with Max's profile almost perfectly. It’s him.”

“You’re sure, based on one photograph?”

“No doubt in my mind.”

“Hang on a minute,” Davis piped up. “Organ donation? You mean some poor bastard out there has his heart? How does anyone agree to donating the organs of a serial killer?”

“No-one knew at that point,” said Cooper. “Apparently the organs were harvested from him late last night, but it was only when we found the photo this morning that we made the connection.”

“Do we have any idea who this new victim might be?” Munro got them back on track.

“We’ve asked Missing Persons for the files of women who fit the victim profile. Specifically, any who went missing in the last seven days,” said Cooper. “I’ve also given them a copy of the photo. Her face is obscured, unfortunately, but it will help narrow the field. We’ll start running them down as soon as we get them. There’s something else I think we need to look into.”

“What's that?”

“This guy’s killed before. I mean, Max Christie said the guy we were looking for probably has a record of some sort, and he was more right than he knew. Fraser Grant has actually been done for murder.” Cooper consulted his notes. “Victim was a Renee Vale, age twenty-two, back in the eighties. He got twenty years, released on parole after seventeen. Was a good boy for the two-year parole period, or smart enough not to get caught. Then he changed his name and got into the real estate business, according to the father. The jail time accounts for the age difference from Max’s profile.”

“Okay. We’ll need to find out everything we can about this first kill.” Munro turned back to Quinn, still waiting patiently by the evidence board. “Anything else from his apartment or work office?”

“Nothing so far, Sarge. The tech guys are still trying to get his computer files open. That’s where I’ve been until now. Grant worked for the Glebe branch of Lexman and Jones Real Estate. SOCOs are still there, but they’ve come up empty. We haven’t found a camera anywhere, either. There were no photos on his mobile phone.”

“Have them bring all his office files back here and check them into evidence, along with any computer he’s ever touched.” He took a sip of his coffee. “Cooper, what do we know from this photo?”

“As I said, it looks like the others. I guess he was following the same pattern, but it’s hard to tell from just this one photo. For all the other victims we got a package — stalking, kidnap, murder. This one is just her chained to the bed, the same way he got all the others to pose. I figure it must be his trophy photo. But the question is, where was he up to? Without the rest of the sequence it’s impossible for us to know. In the past we’ve thought that he liked to keep them alive for a few days, although with no bodies we haven’t been able to confirm it. Now, I hope for this woman’s sake we were right. Time will tell. If she’s already dead some husband somewhere will be getting a package in the mail. But we can’t wait ’til then. We have to work on the assumption she’s still alive.”

“So where is she?” asked Quinn.

“The apartment is definitely not his killing ground; there’s bugger all evidence and the neighbours would have had no trouble hearing a woman scream. We guessed from the photos of the previous victims that he kept them somewhere isolated, as there was never any sign of a gag. I think we’re looking for some place that’s either well soundproofed, or off the map.”

“Killing ground?” asked Davis. 

“That’s what Max tells us. Grant must have had a place to keep and kill these women, plus the camera has to be somewhere. So, yes, killing ground. If the shoe fits.”

“Fair enough.” Davis shrugged. “We spent time today interviewing the neighbours,” he continued. “Of the ones that were home, no-one remembers hearing so much as a peep from him. The only other person who has been seen with him is the father. Mostly they just said the usual — that he was quiet, kept to himself. The woman directly across the hall had been inside once, he let her use his phone when she locked herself out a couple of months ago.”

“Cooper, you and Quinn interviewed the father. What’s your take on him?” asked Munro.

“I’m not sure. He says he didn’t open the briefcase, so if that’s the case he still has no idea about all this. But he was the one who found Fraser unconscious.”

“You think it’s possible he knew, and killed his son to stop the murders?” 

“Could be,” replied Cooper. “I don’t think he’s as frail as he looks, and it was one blow. He could have caught Fraser by surprise. He is definitely a suspect, at this stage. I’m going to have another go at him tomorrow.”

“No sign of a murder weapon?”

“Not yet, no.”

“So what?” asked Davis.

“Excuse me?”

“I said, so what? If it was an accident, or if someone helped him on his way, what do we care? End result, the bad guy is dead.”

Cooper fumed. “Murder is murder, Senior Constable. Who he was makes no difference. And besides, finding out what really happened in that apartment could help us find the missing woman.”

Davis said nothing, preferring to hide behind his coffee instead. The five detectives sat silent for a moment before Munro spoke.

“Shit,” he said. “We can’t afford to waste time. Who knows what condition the last victim could be in, if she's still alive. Davis, you two get back to his place and finish talking to the neighbours. The ones you missed could be home by now. Once you’ve done that, get working on his office files, and the ones from his home. He’s a real estate agent, so maybe he’s got a property somewhere. And Cooper—”

“I’ll get onto Missing Persons,” Cooper finished for him, before taking out his mobile phone.

“Right, but give Max a call first. Tell him what we know. See if he can come up with anything that could help identify our girl. Quinn’s with you. I’ll work on getting us some more manpower. We’re on this round the clock, people.”

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