Instalment 27: pages 109 - 112 [Elliot and Danielle talk at the police station]
Sunday afternoon in the cells
“I came as soon as they finished questioning me,” said Danielle. Her voice was low, almost a murmur. “It was surreal, a woman and a man in suits, badges out, introducing themselves as Federal Agents.”
“Yeah,” I answered flatly. “Hysterical. The Australian Federal Police, national crime fighters, and beat cops for the country’s dinkiest jurisdiction. I’m sure they think it’s funny too.”
We sat across from each other at the kind of laminexed fold-away table that belongs in an RSL, both of us perched on plastic garden furniture – the type that will bend and bend without ever shattering into something sharp. It could have been a communal table at a Kingston markets food stall. Instead we were in a little room with carpet-covered corkboards clad in last year’s community policing fliers. A visit room.
“Elliot,” she said, “don’t be a shit. I’m here because I care.”
“Fuck,” I said softly. “Danielle, I’m sorry. I just can’t get my head around it. Someone killed Jenny. I don’t know if they meant to, but they must’ve wanted to hurt her pretty badly. And I was first on the scene – that looks bad, especially as I’m ‘known to the police’.”
“But they know you were with me last night, right through to when you found her.”
“And at home with Eva before that, so it just depends on when they think she died. Anyway, the solicitor David Carmichael sent is in there now talking to the detectives.” I nodded my head in the direction of the wall.
“So they might let you go soon?”
It’d already been five hours, but I forced a smile.
“Yeah, I think it’s now or Monday morning.”
She frowned: “Why would you still be here tomorrow?”
I sighed. “If they think they’ve got a case, they’ll charge me. If I’m charged I don’t get out unless I get bail, which means appearing in the magistrate’s court. Magistrates don’t work on the Sabbath. So, it’s now or Monday.” I tried to focus on Danielle, not the thought of another twelve or sixteen hours in the antiseptic, off-white claustrophobia of the watch-house.
“Jenny,” asked Danielle, “was she …?”
“Her body was in the bath. An empty bath. Torn bathrobe. Bruised. There was some blood on the walls, seems she got hit in the side of the head pretty hard … She must have fallen against the walls on the way down. They, the police, took me out on the balcony while they started to search the flat, asked a few questions. They didn’t find anything … there wasn’t a weapon, at least not that they found while I was there,” I said. The words followed each other out of my mouth, and I tried to assemble them carefully on the table, my fingers wandering across the surface. “It was awful Danielle, her eyes were open. She looked frightened, like she was reaching out for … help.”
And then, I thought, I arrive – hours too late for her. I looked down at my own hands on the grey plastic of the table. Danielle reached out and took them.
“I’m here,” she said. “Eva will be too, soon. They were going to see her next. You didn’t do anything. It’ll be fine.”
I looked up at her and smiled weakly. “Thanks. Thanks for calling her, and Carmichael. The hard bit about waiting here is not having anyone to talk to. Nothing to think about, except worrying what happens next. They did a study on the right to silence. Almost no-one uses it. It’s not police intimidation – it’s just once you’re inside, after a while you’re desperate to talk …”
I was babbling, she indulged me.
“Probably best you told them everything,” she said with a weak smile. “They must think you’re in the clear if they let me see you.”
Yeah, I though, and I only told two lies: the security door was ajar, and Danielle’s door was open. The Detective Sergeant hadn’t liked that, it was too pat, but if my alibi was good for the time of death there wasn’t much they could do. They’d only found one set of keys in the place – the one’s I’d planted. Which meant either Jenny had lost her own keys, or her attacker still had them.
“So what’s the hold up?” she asked.
“They’ll want to speak to the Minister’s office, work out the last time anyone saw her, not easy on the weekend – and they’ll want some white-coat to sign off on time of death.”
“I told them it looked like Marina was missing. In case … Jesus,” I breathed. “I’ve had enough of this.”
There was a silence. The large old public-service issue clock thudded mechanically, heaving another minute down into the room. Danielle looked down at our hands, then up again at me.
“Elliot, tell me about last year,” she said.
“It’s part of how you feel now, isn’t it?”
Last year. The story of why I wasn’t a solicitor. How I came to be stamped: “refused admission to practice.” There was a lot to cover, and some of it I knew I would have to skip that first time with Danielle, but at least with her finding a beginning was easy.
“You asked me about my dream, the one I had at the coast. You’re right, I do have it often. I’m driving in the dark, out along the road between Kingsford Smith and Ginninderra drive. I come round the corner, accelerate, pass under the pedestrian bridge, scrub on both sides of the road. Then this man leaps out in front of the car. He’s grinning like it’s a joke, hands held up like he’s surrendering. His smile is – it’s vicious. Then comes the thump, and the car spins out into the wattle between the carriageways. After that it sort of jumps. The time spent in here, and on remand, it’s just a grey space. It always ends with my trial – me being cross-examined by the DPP barrister. Wonderful insinuations about me having had a little to drink, being a little tired, being overconfident as a young man with a spotless driving record. That’s when I feel really trapped, like I’ll be there forever.”
I looked at her: “That’s pretty much the way it happened.”