A mysterious caller brings a killer to justice.
I watched her body sink to the bottom of the river. I looked around again to make sure there was no one watching me. It was dark. A line of car lights snaked along the Boulevard and across the bridge, but down by the riverbank there was no one. I breathed out slowly. I was all right.
I dipped my hands into the water to wash off the blood then ducked down to wash the sweat off my face. Something fell into the water and I jumped. Was anyone there? Could someone see me? I looked around. There was no one. It was nothing. My foot must have slipped and kicked a stone into the water. I was all right. I was safe.
I went home and went to bed, but I didn’t sleep. I could still hear the girl screaming as I cut her throat, see all the blood. My heart pounded. The old fellow throbbed. I gave him what he wanted and we both fell asleep after a while.
Why her? I don’t know. She was small and pretty with long brown hair. Fragile, like one of those sparrows I used to hit with my slingshot.
I followed her every day for a week. When I first saw her she was walking to the bus stop. I rode on the bus with her to the university and followed her in. I sat near her in the library. When she went to class I waited outside until she came out and followed her to the café. I watched her with her friends, drinking coffee, talking and laughing. When her friends all got up to go home, she went back to the library and stayed until late. I followed her as she walked between the dark buildings to the bus stop and rode back with her on the bus.
For the next few days I followed her in my car, watched her at the bus stop, followed her bus to the university, sat near her in the library, caught her eye and smiled. That night as she left the library I held the door open for her. I thought she lived near me, I said, would she like a lift home? She turned me down, of course, but I managed to keep her talking until I knew she would miss the bus. Later I found her sitting alone at the bus stop in the cold and dark. It was dangerous sitting here alone and the next bus wasn’t for forty minutes, I told her. Was she sure she didn’t want a lift? She got into the car.
She didn’t suffer. I did it quickly, cut her throat with one clean swipe. But she struggled as I dragged her down to the river, she screamed when she saw the razor, and she bled all over the raincoat. I wrapped her in it before dropping her into the river.
Every night, even now, I hear her scream and I see the blood. It freaked me out at first, but now I enjoy it. It’s like killing her again and again. The old fellow’s never had such a work out.
The day after it happened, I couldn’t find my mobile phone. It’s not as though I use it much, it’s so bloody expensive, but you’ve got to have one these days. I looked everywhere for it. All over the house. In all the drawers. In all my pockets. It was nowhere. And I knew I’d had it with me the night before. I’d used it to call old Munroe, the landlord. The hot water service was playing up again. He was out so I left a message on his machine. And then I got this sick feeling. Had I lost it by the river?
I drove to the river and looked up and down the bank, in the grass and under the trees. It wasn’t there. My heart started to race. What if someone found it? What if someone saw me last night and found my phone? Would they go to the cops? Would they be coming to get me? I had to think. I sat down and tried to breathe.
My hands were dirty and my face dripping with sweat. I bent down to the river to wash myself and then I remembered. Last night, when I washed my hands, I’d heard something fall into the water. Was it my mobile phone? Was my mobile phone at the bottom of the river? If it was there was nothing to worry about, was there? No one would find it down there. I was all right. I sat back and breathed.
But what if I was wrong? What if it wasn’t down there? I had to have a plan B. I had to cover my arse. Report it stolen. Report it stolen a couple of days before it happened. Then, if the cops found it, I could say it must have been whoever stole it put it there. Now I could breathe. Now I had my head together enough to get in my car and drive down to my local mobile phone shop. They put a bar on my old number and gave me a new phone and a new number. Then I called the coppers. I enjoyed putting one over on them. Now I was all right, all bases covered. That night I slept.
I was back at work the next day. Holidays were over. My new phone beeped when I was in the toilet. I felt the blood drain from my face. The text message said: I no wht u did. I deleted it straight away. Then I remembered that I hadn’t given anyone my new number yet. It had to be a mistake. Just kids mucking around, dialling numbers at random. I was all right. I could breathe.
But then all the next day I got the same message every hour or so: I no wht u did. Bloody kids were taking this too far. I’d give them a fucking message. I checked the number to return the favour and then I recognised it. It was my old number, the one on the phone I’d lost. Someone had found it. Someone had seen me.
I rang the phone company, abused the hell out of them. I thought they’d put a bar on my number. I thought they had all these security checks. What were they doing, taking the bar off? Who gave them the right to hand my new number out willy-nilly? In the end they put me on to their head of security. He swore black and blue that my old number was well and truly dead, and no one had given my number to anyone. It just wasn’t possible. I told him I didn’t believe him and if it happened again I’d go to the ombudsman. He told me to do that and hung up.
But the messages kept coming.
I went back to the phone shop, told them I was getting nuisance calls, made them give me a new phone, a new number and a new carrier.
But the messages still kept coming: I no wht u did.
It was about three o’clock in the morning. I hadn’t slept. Every hour my phone had gone off like a demented alarm clock.
The green letters shone. I no wht u did.
It had to stop. I had to sleep.
Who r u? I sent back. Y r u doing this to me?
The answer was: I’m some1 who nos wht u did.
I sent: If u don’t stop this I’m going to police.
The answer said: Yes. Go to police. Tell em wht u did.
The next day I went down to the jetty, walked right out to the end and threw the phone as far as I could. It rode the waves for a minute then sank. I’d just have to live without it.
It started on the television news soon after that. A university student was missing. Her parents came on to plead for her. The mother cried. The father could barely speak. The detective said she’d last been seen at the university library. If anyone had any information to call Crimestoppers. Posters of her went up all over town. On all the light poles, on the sides of trams, on the backs of taxis. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing her face. Thin cheeks, sad brown eyes, long brown hair. A little sparrow.
That same night the calls started on my landline. It was a girl’s voice. Have you gone to the police yet? Have you told them what you did? Then the phone went dead.
And so it started again. A call every hour or so, even when I was at work. I’d come home and there’d be half a dozen messages on the answering machine. All the same. Have you gone to the police yet? I had to take the phone off the hook when I went to bed, not that I slept much. A couple of times I just let the phone ring out and did star-ten-hash. It was still coming from the same number, my old mobile number.
At first I couldn’t speak to her. Then I started shouting at her. I hadn’t done anything. Who the hell was she? If she knew something, why didn’t she go to the police? But she’d just say the same thing and then the phone would go dead. Have you gone to the police yet?
I rang the phone company. They gave me a new number, a silent number and for a couple of days the phone was just that, silent. I know because I lay awake for those two nights waiting for the calls to start again. When the first call came, I didn’t even jump. I’d been expecting it.
I tried the phone company again. They were terribly sympathetic, but there was nothing they could do. Perhaps I should call the police.
The next time she called I said: What if I did? What if I did go to the police, would you stop this?
There was a long silence, then the dial tone cut in.
I called Crimestoppers. I gave them an anonymous tip-off, told them where to look under the bridge. On the news the next night they said they’d found the girl’s body. The calls stopped coming. I got one night’s sleep at least.
Three days later the cops knocked on my door. Two of them in plain clothes, a tall young fellow with tickets on himself, and a stocky older bloke with a cruel smile. I invited them in and sat them down. No need to act nervous, guilty. It was just a routine inquiry they said. They thought they’d found my mobile phone. The one I’d reported stolen.
The young one did most of the talking while the older bloke watched me with that thin smile. He confirmed the make and number with me. It was definitely my phone. I asked where they’d found it. In the river, the older bloke said. In the river? So I had dropped it that night. There’d been nothing to worry about all along. All those calls. I must have imagined the number they came from, misremembered my own number. Things like that happen when you’re under pressure. I was all right. I could smile now. Stay cool. The copper smiled back.
He asked me how I thought the phone had got into the river. The thieves must have dumped it, I said. Probably just some dumb kids. Amateurs. Maybe I dropped it and someone picked it up. I had a bar put on the number. It would’ve been useless to them. Maybe that’s why they threw it in the river.
The older bloke nodded, agreeing with me. Then he asked when exactly had the phone been stolen. I gave him a date two days before it happened. Was I sure, the young one took over, because they had been able to reconstruct the phone’s memory. Two days after it was supposed to have been stolen, a call had been made from that phone to my landlord. The caller had left a message. The landlord recognised the caller’s voice. It corresponded with the name the caller had given. My name.
Oh, well, I said, staying cool. I must have made a mistake. I was on holidays at the time. I probably lost track of the date. It happens.
The younger one pulled a little plastic bag from his pocket. There was a mobile phone in it. He held it out to me. Just so they could be sure, he said, could I confirm this was definitely my phone.
Cold sweat ran down the back of my neck, but I had to keep smiling, to stay cool. Yes, that was it, I told him. I didn’t want to ask, but I had to know. How had they found it exactly?
Well, it was a very strange story, the older bloke said. A couple of days before, they’d dragged a girl’s body out of the river. Maybe I’d seen it on TV. She was a university student who’d gone missing a couple of weeks ago. There’d been something strange about her. He shook his head and sighed. It would’ve been funny if it weren’t so tragic. The girl had a mobile phone clutched in her hand, as if even dead, these young girls couldn’t be separated from their mobiles. They’d prised it from her hand and given it to forensics to find who’d been the last person she’d spoken to. But they got a surprise. It wasn’t her phone after all.
I kept my cool all through this long story. I had to. Their eyes never moved from me. The copper picked up the little plastic bag. This is the phone, he said. It doesn’t belong to the girl so we reckon it must belong to her killer.
He smiled his cruel smile at me. Then the younger one got out a pair of cuffs while the older one said: You are under arrest for murder. You have the right to remain silent, but anything you say…
© Pauline Montagna 2013
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