When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide. But all is not what it seems.
Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town. To complicate the situation, the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover. When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duty, she must cast aside her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands.
To find the murderer … and clear her name.
The cellphone ring snapped me out of my trance. Well, it didn’t ring, strictly speaking. It performed an electronic abomination that would have made Bach scream with indignation.
‘Ah, God damn it.’
I slowed up, pulled the phone from my running-shorts pocket and gulped in a few quick breaths.
‘Gore Watch House.’
It would have to be work. They could find you anywhere.
‘Hi. What’s up?’
‘We have had a missing person report come in. Wyndham Road. Are you able to attend?’
Wyndham Road? I knew several people down there. I glanced down at my watch and calculated it would take another ten minutes to run home.
‘Yes, I can be there. It could be half an hour, though. You caught me out on a run. What number?’
‘One fifty-three. The Knowes household.’
‘Knowes?’ Lockie? Missing? My heart rate jumped up again.
‘Yes, the reported person missing is Mrs Gabriella Knowes. Mr Knowes called it in.’
‘Thanks. I’ll be there soon.’ I hung up, tucked the phone back in, then set off at a jog in the direction of home. My quiet little winddown after work was out the window.
Gaby Knowes? At least it wasn’t Lockie. Curious, though: he wasn’t the kind of man to panic if the wife was late home and there was no dinner on the table. And it was only 5.15pm. He must have only just got in from work and called the police straight away.
As the sole-charge policewoman at the Mataura station, it was my lot to be on call more often than not. But call-outs after hours were a rarity now. When I lived at the police house behind the station, I
was fair game for the slightest gripe at any hour of the day, or night. The situation had improved only when I moved to a flat and put some distance between me and the job. Nowadays call-outs were
usually for a fracas at the pub or a minor car accident – something quick to sort out.
I looked up at the horizon, judged that there were, at best, two or three hours of light left and took off at a trot, preferring the regularity of running on the road rather than on the scraggy roadside gravel
and overgrown grass, and having to dodge the matchstick roadside markers. There was only the odd car to worry about, and they generally gave me a big swerve. Occasionally, I’d get some idiot who’d
almost force me into the drainage ditch, but they were the exception around here. For the most part, farming folk were very polite. I knew most of the occupants of the houses on the outskirts of town. Molly Polglaise had lost her husband of forty-five years only a few weeks back; her granddaughter had moved in for a month or so as consolation company. The smell of her freshly trimmed macrocarpa hedge reminded me of Christmas. The Mayberry household had a new baby. John, who was out watering the garden, gave me an absentminded wave as I passed. Considering it had rained the day before, I wasn’t quite sure why he was bothering.
Mataura was quintessential small-town New Zealand, although if I was being honest, it was a slightly shabbier and more run-down version of it. Like most towns, it struggled to provide employment
and ways to entice the young folk to stay. How could it compete with the excitement of the city? It had a smattering of pubs, stores – mostly empty – and churches: the main ingredients for life in the sticks, although the pubs saw a lot more patronage than the churches. I knew the area intimately, and its residents. That included Lockie Knowes, though I hadn’t had more than a passing conversation with
him for an age. The fact I’d avoided him probably had something to do with that. Since he’d married the city girl and settled down to do the family thing, I’d pretty much sidestepped any contact – an achievement in itself, given the size of the town and my job. Now it looked like a good dose of professional detachment would be required. I would have to ignore the tightness in my stomach.
I slowed up the pace only when I reached the gateway to my house and its slightly skewiff letter box. Running was my vice – freedom of the road, isolation, being able to tune out everything but the rhythmic rush of blood pumping and powerful breathing. A legal high.
Bugger the telephone.