Episode Twenty-Eight

16 Weeks

The day of the wedding

“You met your father’s killer?” Inspector Wesley Manning asks Councillor Dustin Harris.

The elderly mayor of Peppercorn Patch leans across the table towards the police officer, pausing briefly before smiling curtly. “I did.”

“And who was it?” Inspector Manning asks curiously.

Dustin leans back in his chair. “You wouldn’t believe me.”

“Try me,” Inspector Manning presses.

Dustin smiles again at Inspector Manning. “No one would believe me.”

Inspector Manning pushes himself up from his seat and leans down imposingly over the table. “It was Gretel Helling, wasn’t it?”

Dustin Harris remains in his seat, unmoved. The smile on his face disappears.

“Gretel killed your father, didn’t she?” Inspector Manning adds. “And that’s why you killed her.”

Five months earlier

Joanne Evans sits in her wheelchair next to her aunt, Valerie Pickering. The dialysis machine that Valerie is hooked up to hums along quietly. Joanne grabs hold of her aunt’s hand.

“I don’t want you to see me like this,” Valerie says to Joanne.

“Stop being silly,” Joanne hushes her aunt. “I’ll be here right by your side.”

“You’re too good to me.” Valerie sheds a tear. “I’ve done this to myself.”

“Life can be cruel sometimes,” Joanne sighs. “But we can’t let it beat us.”

“I don’t think I can continue to do this,” Valerie begins to cry.

“Aunty Val!” Joanne says sternly. “You are one of the strongest people I know. You need to have a positive attitude. There’s nothing you can do about this at the moment but keep being positive and have faith that all is going to be okay.”

“It’s too hard.”

“Enough of that!” Joanne says, frustrated. “You just can’t give up!”

Valerie wipes the tears from her face. She realises that Joanne’s tough love is what she actually needs right now.

“Hopefully you’ll get a kidney transplant soon,” Joanne continues. “I’m sure there’ll be a donor soon enough.”

“Suppose it is rejected,” Valerie says, defeated.

Joanne gives her aunt a stern look. She thinks about giving her aunt another lecture, but decides against it. Instead, she lets go of her aunt’s hand. “It’s a pity I can’t donate one of my kidneys.”

“No, Joanne, I wouldn’t let you…” Valerie starts to protest.

Joanne pushes herself up from her wheelchair, holding onto its handle for support. She looks down over her aunt. “Doctor Smith says I’m not compatible.”

Valerie looks up at her niece, confused.

“Supposedly, we’re not even related.” Joanne looks away from her aunt, unable to look at the woman. “You haven’t been truthful.”

“Joanne, honey,” Valerie starts, completely shocked by the news. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I should share some of your DNA, but we don’t share any!” Joanne is becoming angry. “Who are you?”

Valerie is lost for words. She can’t seem to process what her niece is telling her.

“If I’m not related to you, then who are you?” Joanne repeats. “Better still, who am I?”

“He has a clean record,” Sergeant Michael Anders says, throwing a stack of papers down on his desk. “I would expect nothing less.”

“There must be something we can find on him,” Amber Harp sighs.

“Like what?” Sergeant Anders says. “Kyle Cook is clean. We have no proof.”

Amber runs her fingers through her short brown hair. “I need to get in contact with people from his past. Find out some background information.”

“As far as I know, both of his parents are dead,” Sergeant Anders offers.

“Do we know how they died?”

“You’re not thinking?” Sergeant Anders looks at Amber inquiringly. “Surely you don’t think he killed his parents?”

“We can’t rule anything out until we know for sure,” the reporter in Amber says. “We need to pin something on him. Make him break.”

“I’m just not sure.”

“Michael Anders,” Amber Harp bites. “You’re not backing out now, are you?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, Ms Harp,” Sergeant Anders sniggers. “I’m sure you would cut off my balls if I did.”

“That’s my boy,” Amber says, reaching up and placing her arms around his neck. “We’ve had enough carnage of late.”

Their lips lock and Sergeant Michael Anders pushes Amber Harp onto his desk. Paperwork goes flying across the floor.

“Looks like I might need some help with my filing,” laughs the police officer.

Joanne lifts herself up from her wheelchair and gingerly walks up the stone steps leading to the front door of Cathy Gilmore’s unit. She knocks on the door and waits for an answer.

The door swings open and standing in front of Joanne is Mark Gilmore. He looks dishevelled in his pyjamas. His facial hair hasn’t seen a razor in a few weeks.

“Joanne,” Mark says, surprised. “I wasn’t expecting to see you.”

“How are you, Mark?” Joanne holds onto the doorframe for support.

“I’ve been better,” Mark replies. “Please, come in. Sorry, but the place is a mess.”

“Not to worry,” Joanne says, stepping inside. She looks around the untidy unit.

“You’re on your feet.” Mark gives Joanne a kiss on her cheek.

“Slowly, but surely.” Joanne smiles. “Have you heard from Cathy?”

They both take a seat on the lounge. “I haven’t heard from her since she left,” Mark informs Joanne.

“So she’s still at her mother’s place?” Joanne asks.

“That’s what the note said. She said she didn’t want to be contacted.”

“It’s just not like Cathy,” Joanne says. “Why wouldn’t she call me?”

“She was pretty upset,” Mark tells Joanne. “I admit that I was stupid.”

Mark had informed Joanne of Cathy’s disappearance when he had found the note that Cathy had left him. The note told Mark that Cathy was headed to stay with her mother for some time and she didn’t want to be contacted.

“I won’t even begin to ask about it,” Joanne sighs at Mark. “It is strange, though. I tried to call her mobile phone, but it just goes straight to voicemail.”

“As I said, her note said that she didn’t want to be contacted.”

“Have you tried calling her mother?” Joanne persists.

“I just wanted to give her time, Joanne,” Mark says. “I’m not proud of what I did. Cathy deserved better. I’m sorry for that.”

Joanne looks up at her best friend’s husband. A rush of hatred flushes through her. “No, Mark,” she says. “You’re just sorry you were caught.”

It is dark by the time that Amber Harp steps out of the Peppercorn Patch police station. She walks along the footpath heading in the direction of the caravan park. She had been staying in one of the cabins since she had arrived in town.

On her way towards the caravan park, she stops outside the Peppercorn Patch cemetery. Grabbing the flashlight out of her purse, she makes her way through the tangle of headstones.

The light of her flashlight illuminates the headstone belonging to the grave of Benjamin Pickering. She stands on top of the grave. Her high-heeled shoes sink a little into the grass.

The sudden movement of the leaves from the large peppercorn tree next to her causes her to jump. “Hold yourself together, Amber,” she says to herself.

Looking down at the headstone, she can’t help but think of what the site looked like only a few short months earlier. Benjamin Pickering’s body had been dug up and burned in a fire at the local high school. Everyone assumed it was Thomas Helling.

“He couldn’t have done this by himself,” Amber says to herself. “There’s no way he could have dug this grave up and pulled out a body on his own.”

Amber hears the sound of the leaves rustling again. She shines her flashlight up into the tree.

The attack comes unexpectedly from behind.

The deafening crack of a metal object smashing into Amber’s skull echoes through the cemetery.

Amber’s attacker runs off into the darkness.

Next Episode – Monday October 12

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