Stella observed the blue plastic tent and its ring of crime scene tape as Brian parked alongside the patrol car in the rear car park of the Old Spot Hotel in Salisbury Heights. There were two other vehicles parked near the patrol car. One was marked as a police vehicle. The other she recognised as the Coroner’s van.
Brian killed the engine. Stella stepped out of their air-conditioned cocoon into a north wind pushing dry air from the overheated interior of the continent towards the coast. It ruffled her short dark hair and stung her face. She walked around to Brian’s side of the car, out of the wind, to slip into her scene-of-crime suit.
Stella thought it was hot enough for her to melt in her skirt and blouse without the extra layer of required protective clothing. She’d only been out of the car for a couple of minutes but it felt like she’d been standing in a sauna for hours by the time she’d donned the suit.
She watched as Brian struggled into his disposable suit, sitting on the driver’s seat to pull on his blue plastic bag shoes, and wondered if he was about to keel over on her.
‘You need to lose some weight, Brian.’
‘Think I’ve lost three kilos since I got out of the car, Sarge.’
‘Couple of beers will take care of that.’
‘If I live long enough to get into the bar.’
Stella noted the lack of onlookers standing around. With the mercury pushing towards forty degrees Celsius, she assumed anybody with any sense would be inside, standing in the eighteen-degree air-conditioned interior of the hotel, and planned on joining them as soon as she could.
They walked over to the constable standing in the shade of the blue tent. Stella flashed her ID and they entered the crime scene.
The tent covered a new looking white Mitsubishi Lancer. While the tent provided shade and protection from the wind, it was suffocatingly hot under its flapping blue plastic. Stella looked into the car. The body of a grey-haired man with matching beard occupied the driver’s seat of the Lancer, held in place by the seat belt. The inside of the windscreen was splattered with blood and brains, thanks to the bullet that had entered his head from behind his right ear and exited above his left eye.
‘How long’s he been here, Steve?’ Stella asked the pathologist with the crime scene investigators.
Steve Wright looked up from his task. ‘Hello, Stella. Nice to see you, too.’
‘Steve, it’s too bloody hot to stand around making small talk.’
Steve smiled. ‘I’d say we were lucky someone spotted him this morning. He’d be a right old stinker if he’d spent a few days like today locked in here.’
‘So, you reckon he was killed last night, then?’
‘Any sign of the round?’
‘Nine mill. Got it bagged.’
Stella glanced at the body. ‘Any ID on him?’
‘Driver’s licence and a couple of credit cards.’
Stella waited while Brian snapped a copy of the driver’s licence and credit cards with his iPhone and wondered why the killer hadn’t bothered taking the victim’s ID.
‘I’ve got people to talk to, Steve. Send me your report.’ She didn’t wait for him to respond. She knew he’d be thorough.
Once they were back by the car, Stella stripped off her scene-of-crime suit and waited for Brian to do the same. When Brian had stowed their discarded suits in the boot of the car, they headed towards the constable standing at the back door of the hotel.
Stella showed him her ID. ‘Who’s inside?’
‘Sergeant Murray. He’s got the bloke who found the body and the hotel manager in the back bar, Sergeant.’
Stella could feel her perspiration freezing across her shoulders as soon as she walked into the back bar where three men sat at a table talking. The man in the uniform stood as Stella and Brian approached them.
Stella thought he looked too young to be a sergeant. She held up her ID. ‘DS Bruno. This is DC Rhodes.’
Stella shook his hand. ‘Who found the body?’
Simon introduced Matt Brewer, the day manager of the drive-through bottle shop.
‘Spotted him when I came in. Thought he was asleep.’ Matt looked at the older man sitting at the table. ‘Didn’t think anybody in his right mind would want to sit out there in this heat, so I went to see if he was okay. That’s when I saw the mess on the windscreen and realised he was dead.’
‘Did you touch anything?’ said Stella.
‘No. I didn’t even need to open the door to see he’d been shot.’
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