LEROY DOBBINS LEARNING

February in Alice Springs: hot, sometimes steamy, always an unforgiving, never-ending month of heat.

And on this floor of the police station it was stifling. Yet Ari MacDonnell felt as comfortable as if it were an autumn day in April. She had secured an interview with Leroy Dobbins.

It had taken a good deal of persuasion to get an appointment with this particular policeman. He had been reluctant to meet, she knew, because of her reputation as a medium.

Nevertheless, she was here in his office now and would use every device she knew to get him to act on her information. Her friend, Jessica Doyle had met with a particularly nasty end at the hands of others yet it had been made to look as if Jessica had done away with herself.

Well, it just hadn’t happened that way, Mr. Leroy Dobbins, and you’re about to find that out.

Usually, her dreams were filled with the laughter of special children, but sometimes when Someone from the Other Side had to make contact, they entered her dreams to make conversation. She saw them and heard them, and sometimes they even visited when she was awake.

It was always a social affair with greetings and acknowledgements, with courtesy and with love. But when Jessica Doyle came through, she was persistent and very clear. Ari could not have denied acting on Jessica’s information. And to achieve her goal, Ari would have to employ the full extent of her knowledge.

This was the first time she’d ever needed to contact the police with her information, so in deference to that, she dressed simply, a shift in delicate apricot, and a pair of neutral coloured low heels. The only nod to her Empowerment was a pair of long, dangly, spiral earrings made by a master craftsman who used the finest of old silver, but nothing more ornate than that, nothing funky or whimsical. The earrings caught the sun’s rays, and at times she knew the glint complemented the eerie grey of her eyes, at odds with her dark chestnut hair. Today she looked like a respectable non-psychic person. It was imperative.

Already determined to concentrate her efforts on him, she steeled herself against his disinclination the moment she entered his office. She would persist until he investigated further. She owed that to her friend.

She also steeled herself against the instantaneous more earthly attraction she encountered upon meeting Leroy Dobbins. She owed that to herself.

And so now, Ari MacDonnell sat comfortably in front of the cluttered desk across from the man behind it, closed her eyes and inhaled slowly and deeply.

She felt ambivalence in his weary spirit, and saw exhaustion written on his craggy features.

Their messages were clear and she saw the pictures which told his story. She focused on warmth and friendship, and vowed she would be wherever he was until he assisted Jessica to settle. She would enter his consciousness, his world, and so her work on him began.

She exhaled and opened her eyes knowing a little prayer had opened the channel to him. He stared back at her as she focused.

Immediately, Ari felt his fatigue, bone deep.

All I want to do is go home to a good few beers before a large steak and a bottle of Lehmann’s (cooled-in-the-fridge-but-not-cold) red.

Yet once again here I sit confronted by a lunatic.

Her eyes flickered at that but she continued to concentrate on his thoughts.

The thing is, Ari MacDonnell doesn’t  look like a lunatic—

Oh, I’m glad about that—

—which of course begs the question. What does a lunatic usually look like - like this? She’s absolutely gorgeous, put together the way a woman should be, with good curves and a friendly smile.

You nice man.

But there you have it: lunatics come in all shapes and sizes, and they certainly come out after a full moon’s night, particularly in Central Australia and after days of searing 44°C heat. Ask any copper worth his salt. Full moon brings trouble.

Thanks a lot. But she understood how he felt. There were many people who felt the way he did. She focused again.

She knew he scoffed aloud at the full moon thing, embarrassed he’d even thought it. He knew hardened police officers who swore to its truth, one of whom had been his dad.

Opening her eyes, Ari MacDonnell’s gaze met his. “I know you don’t believe what I’m saying,” she said and smiled a little when she heard his unspoken words: You got that part right.

She watched him nod and rub his eyes. “Look, Ms. MacDonnell. I’m, ah, not overly happy listening to this stuff again, but as I told you the other day on the phone, if you have real proof your friend was murdered and didn’t  hang herself, I’d be very happy to hear of that.”

She kept her eyes steady on his. “Go back over evidence you already have.” Ari knew exactly the effect of her gaze.

Ari saw his courtesy waver as if it were a mirage in the desert. He was inclined to tell her he knew his job, but he didn’t speak. He leaned back in his seat, body language communicating what he didn’t want to verbalise.

She concentrated again as his gaze remained steady on her.

He was reminding himself that he was the public’s servant, but that he just couldn’t remember where it said he had to sit through an explanation of a suicide that wasn’t a suicide, simply because a Spirit on The Other Side said It had information to refute hard evidence. Hard, clear, forensic, irrefutable, tangible, plain-as-the-nose-on-his-face evidence. That sort of evidence.

Ari nodded, understanding completely.

He stared. “I’m not in the habit of investigating leads on the whims of a, ah, what-ever-you’re-called. No offense intended.”

Obviously, the battle for courtesy was on a downhill slide. But Ari remained undaunted. “I’m not going to give up on this. I know you have to check every possible avenue, every possible chance that a member of the public might actually bring forward a piece of evidence.”

“That’s the right word, Ms. MacDonnell. Evidence. Tangible evidence, that is.” His nose wrinkled and Ari knew he had detected the perfume people sometimes associated with her. There were even some things she did not understand.

Pushing long, dark hair back from her face, she flicked the ends over her shoulders. “You must know that Spirit is very strong in this country, Mr. Dobbins, and that we live in one of the most spiritual places on earth. I connect with that spirit and country; intangible as it is, it’s not a difficult concept to grasp.”

Ari deliberately used the word ‘country’ the way Aboriginal people used it, as a living entity – which of course it is – with custodianship, and with a belonging.

She knew he had many Aboriginal friends, and many Aboriginal connections. He also had his own connections to the land. To Country. Not to mention he was born to it. She felt a shift in Leroy.

“I don’t deal in spiritual anything,” he said. “Facts are all I want in this case. Facts are all I connect with.” And maybe you should connect with the fact that it’s Detective Senior Sergeant Dobbins, not just your garden variety run-of-the-mill ‘mister’.

“Yet you don’t have all the facts, Detective Senior Sergeant Dobbins,” she shot back, pleased at his momentary surprise. “I have given you something tangible to look at. It’s come from an intangible source, I agree, but it’s real to me if not to you.”

“Therein lies the difference,” he said. It was a dismissal.

She leaned back in her chair, linked her fingers. “Why is it you live here, Mr. Dobbins, other than for your job?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Your father died here, didn’t he? That connects you very strongly to Alice Springs, I’d say.”

“Is that so?” Anybody would know his father had died here, it wasn’t a state secret but it was some years past. Her intense gaze was unsettling. He should get rid of her.

So, why didn’t he?

“And you don’t see him every morning in the mirror and speak to him? Is that not of a spiritual nature? Intangible, too.”

Ari felt combustion build inside her as heat surged through him. She exhaled to cool the blast as he took a breath or two, himself.

He shook his head. “For your information, I don’t see ghosts in my mirror,” he began. “You’re upset that your friend is dead and you’re tired. I am, too, Ms. MacDonnell. But you have a belief system which frankly doesn’t generally deliver the guilty to our prisons.”

Ari smiled briefly. “I won’t be put off, Mr. Dobbins.”

She held the smile steady even when she heard his angry thoughts. If you’re such a bloody good clairvoyant, you’ll know that I don’t believe this claptrap.

I know you don’t, she let him hear. But I can show you how to find facts you will believe.

He looked startled again, waited a moment, leaned back in his chair and regarded her carefully. “If you have this … ESP, why is it you didn’t warn your friend to be cautious?”

Ari spread her hands, palms up. “I tried. She was a diabetic and the doctor had told her she’d soon need treatment with injections. She thought I was referring to that.”

“You claim you foresaw her murder, yet you couldn’t  convince your friend of the danger?”

“Even I doubt myself, sometimes, Senior Sergeant, who doesn’t? The diabetes and the injections … I wanted to believe that was what I was seeing, but I knew. Deep down, I knew. In the end, I was only frightening her by continuing to insist.”

And me, too. He snorted. “I’m sorry you don’t have anything more concrete to offer. I like things to be as plain as the nose on my face. Very plain and very clear.” He pointed to his large nose.

Ari gazed past his left shoulder, her eyes de-focused. “You have a son on the other side. He wasn’t born when he passed over.”

She grew hot herself as she felt the prickly heat pervade in a rush up his arms and over his chest. Tears threatened to well in her eyes. It was unmitigated grief. She steeled herself and continued. “He was perhaps six months in the womb and—”

“Stop,” Leroy demanded. “You couldn’t know that.”

Ari MacDonnell looked at the policeman. “He’s standing at your knee, here.” She indicated the area by his left thigh. “He’s well. They grow on the other side, you know. He’s four years—”

“Stop. Stop, stop.” Leroy sat for a moment. “Do you know my ex-wife? Is that where you’re getting this from?” he barked.

A thick, suffocating blanket descended on her as she felt his bewildered anger. He was in turmoil. He felt this stranger, this MacDonnell woman, someone who had walked in off the street with a cockamamie spiel about spirits, for God’s sake, was now invading his privacy with this – this—

She blinked back the surge of his wrath, shielding herself from its furnace. “No. They’re saying They—”

“Oh, They’re saying. That lot on the Other Side you keep going on about. Well, tell the Them to mind Their own business.” He flung himself back into his seat.

Once she knew his temper and shock had settled Ari allowed herself another deep breath for calm. After a moment, he spoke.

“Who let you in here, anyway? This floor’s closed to the public after six,” he said.

“A man said I’d find you here.”

“What man?” he asked, clearly disbelieving.

Ari concentrated again. “He said—well, he was—he looked a bit like you.”

He squinted at her. He looked a bit like me, right. Is there anybody on this floor with blue eyes and black hair like me? No. Anybody on this floor with a nose the size of Uluru? No. Anybody else on this floor a six-foot-three male with a strawberry birthmark the size of a dinner plate on his neck? No.

“Look, I’ve had enough.” He indicated the door.

She stood up. “Jessica didn’t suicide. She tells me quite clearly she did not take her own life. Don’t you have to take my statement or something?”

“You don’t have anything to tell. The case is clear-cut. She hung herself.” He rested his palms on the desk. “If you don’t stop wasting my time I’m going to have to charge you with a misdemeanor.”

Ari leaned over his desk. “She was murdered, given something intravenously. You have the proof in your hands. Revisit the syringe. It wasn’t hers. She wasn’t using injected insulin yet. What you need is there on that syringe,” she insisted. “The police haven’t yet released the fact that Jessica had an illegal substance swimming in her veins.”

Leroy stared at her. How do you know that?

How much more proof do you need from me to prove I know?

The overhead fan hummed lazily but the heat in his office was now excessive. Ari watched the sweat pool on his shirt, droplets appearing down his chest and stomach until it collected where his shirt tucked into his trousers. He stood up and walked past her to flick on the refrigerated air, no doubt a luxury on his floor. The relief was instant.

Sighing, she said, “The person who did this: his name starts with an ‘O’. I see that very clearly, but that’s all at the moment.”

“No one with an ‘O’ name rings a bell,” he said flatly. “It’s time for you to go.”

Turning her grey gaze on him again, she acquiesced. “All right, Mr. Dobbins. Here’s where you can reach me,” she said, placing a business card on his desk before she went to the door. “You should have that mole on your back checked, just for peace of mind,” she said over her shoulder.

He stared. “Proof,” he demanded.

Ari smiled to herself as she took measured steps down the stairs. No one knew about the mole, but she had just seen him worriedly trying to check it in his bathroom mirror earlier that day.

“Proof as plain as the nose on my face,” he called after her as she disappeared in a gentle waft of that same flowery scent he’d smelled before.

 

*

 

Ari MacDonnell sat in her favourite armchair at home and concentrated on the policeman. She could see him now in his own home, and could follow the train of his thoughts. His mind was agile, his mood receptive. How many times had she heard that policemen really rely on “sixth sense”, or what everyone usually called instinct? She had great faith in him.

 

 *

 

Leroy Dobbins was leaning over the stove.

He had a lot to learn about cooking steak when distracted; about the effects of drinking a bottle of red after a few beers, and about the spirit world and its laws.

Firstly, you don’t try cooking steak when distracted, you stand to ruin it. Secondly, you always feel a bit wobbly after drinking a bottle of red following beer on an empty stomach after a discussion from someone claiming to have a hotline to the spirit world. Thirdly, what he knew about the spirit world and its laws amounted to a big fat nothing.

Jessica Doyle had hung herself after shooting up. Simple as that. Besides, how many other cases had brought in these psychic types and got absolutely nowhere? Heaps of them. Nah, he wasn’t going to be made the laughing stock of the NT police. Good old-fashioned police work would crack it.

Crack what? It was said and done. Case closed.

Not so, Mr. Dobbins.

He shook the sound of her voice out of his head but the vision of her face remained.

That night, restlessness cursed his sleep.

 At some dark time, on sheets as warm as the temperature in his bedroom, Leroy awoke with a start. He could smell Ari MacDonnell’s damn perfume again. The scent was so strong he imagined for a moment that she’d snuck in and was standing at the foot of his bed.

Yeah, right, Leroy. Fat chance of that happening. And, he figured, if it ever did happen, he sure as hell wouldn’t be sleeping. There was certainly nothing wrong with the way she was put together, nor the way her soft voice commanded his attention and distracted him, though he figured she wouldn’t like to hear him say that.

The scent grew stronger, and somehow a happy surge swept through him, as if he’d breathed in an elixir—

Don’t be a complete jerk, Dobbins.

Another thought struck him. Maybe she knew more about Jessica’s death than she was letting on, maybe she was a decoy and he was just the stooge—

And maybe you’ve gone stark raving mad on a full moon night yourself, you complete raving lunatic.

So hard on yourself, Leroy. It’s very simple – revisit the syringe and put your mind at rest.

It was later still when he felt a cool hand of comfort on his shoulder and it scared the living daylights out of him. Her face appeared once more in his mind’s eye and try as he might, there was no way he could get off to sleep.

It was now 4am.

Time to get up, Mr. Dobbins. You’ve tossed and turned enough for one night.

 He ignored that. He’d get out of bed when he was good and ready, which happened to be a moment later. He got out of bed, pulled on his boxers, fired up the computer in his bedroom and sat staring at the case file of Jessica Doyle, line by line.

He scrolled down page after page, line after reference line. Nothing suddenly inspired him. There were no dongs on the head by some inspirational thought flown in on the wings of a gnat. No epiphanies swept forth from his open window.

So, now what, Ms. Ari MacDonnell?

The scent in the room remained, swirling gently around him as the early morning light filtered through the open window. He had a fleeting vision of Ari MacDonnell standing behind him and watching as he checked the file. He turned his head, but of course there was nothing. Only the scent.

“I bet it’s just a damned shrub in the yard.” He closed the window and returned to the screen, sure he’d shut out the bouquet of the garden. Stubbornly, it remained.

Then he saw an ‘O’ name. A man’s name for sure, but it was the name of a gym Jessica Doyle had frequented, Otto’s Workout. His team had visited the gym as a routine part of the investigation, but nothing revealed itself. The instructors had all checked out. But his heart thudded inexplicably. He would return to the gym, he knew that much was certain.

Revisit the syringe, he heard her say.

All right, I’m revisiting.

It startled him when an image of her smiling face flashed in his head.

He shook it off and banged out an email to Grant Joseph, his expert fingerprint mate, asking for a double check on the syringe.

His head ached, and he blamed the strong perfume. Another moment longer and the fragrance would give him a lethal dose of sinusitis.

Exaggerated, Mr. Dobbins, but point taken.

The scent receded. Ari MacDonnell rested a while. She could stop nagging for the moment because after all, he had begun to dig deeper.

As Leroy showered, his thoughts drifted to his dad. Leroy was the image of Roy Dobbins, right down to the size of the strawberry birthmark on his neck. Every morning he shaved, he saw his father’s face reflected in the mirror.

“G’day, Dad,” he whispered to it this morning then caught himself. That’s what she’d said he did in the mirror. It was his own face, of course, but how could she possibly know he was the image of his dad, and that Leroy talked to him?

He arrived at work half an hour later. Just as he sat at his desk and booted up the old PC, the telephone buzzed and he snatched it up. Someone else was up early and knew he’d be at work. “Dobbins.”

“Hey, Dobbie.” It was Grant Joseph. “Did some more checking for you, even before your pre-dawn, illiterate email this morning. I had a look at a sort of smudgy, shadowy thing on that syringe. It’s another print, not one of your victims’,” Grant qualified. “It’s a partial, real slim chance, but we’re running it through. Could have a match, you never know.”

“Why didn’t we see that print before now?” Leroy said.

“Would’ve eventually with the double checks, but well, it was the funniest thing, you know,” Grant continued. “I woke up this morning at some god-awful hour smelling this strong perfume, and all I could think about was revisiting the syringe. Got in here as fast as I could, and this time I did the work myself.”

Leroy’s heart rate rocketed as Ari MacDonnell’s smiling face flashed in his head. Revisit the syringe. He could smell that frigging flowery scent again. All right, Miss Smarty-Pants. Who else are you getting to in this investigation? “Grant, we got prints from all those instructors at the gym; check it against those first.” He smacked the receiver on to its cradle.

The scent again … A shadow in the room, a footstep.

He looked up to see her standing in front of him. “I was, uh—how did you get in here?”

Ari MacDonnell beamed at him. “Someone let me in.”

He tut-tutted. “Security in this place has gone to hell,” he said and beckoned her to sit. “Am I allowed to mention hell?” he asked.

Ari spoke without invitation. “I have something further on a name for you. The ‘O’ name I mentioned. I can’t quite grasp it, though, I’m sorry. Sometimes things don’t come through so well,” she said.

“Clearly,” he agreed.

Ari frowned, tried to concentrate but something was blocking her. She knew her own defenses were under assault. He had a very strong presence and she felt his intense scrutiny roll over her like a hot wave.

He cleared his throat. “What’s the ‘something further’ on the name?”

“It’s Ole-o or something like that, I’m not sure. But he’s your murderer.”

“It’s an alleged murder.”

“You’re acknowledging it’s not suicide. We both know what it is.”

Leroy looked grim. “I’ll check the names again.” He ran a search on the computer file. “Nothing.” He kept jotting down O’s until she looked over at his scribble pad, which he promptly closed. Then, “If you don’t mind a personal question, what is that scent you’re wearing?”

Ari’s heart thudded. It meant that the connection from his side was very strong, too. Good. Now there was a big chance he’d find the man who orchestrated Jessica’s death. “I don’t wear a scent, but people have often said they associate me with native boronia.”

“Is that right? Native boronia. I think I must have it in my garden. Perfume kept me awake last night. Very cloying.” He gave her a look.

“Sometimes it is,” she agreed. “Perhaps more like ‘persistent’ than cloying.” She smiled.

He shifted in his seat. “You’re out early,” he said. “It’s barely seven a.m.”

“I’m on my way to work.”

“Spirit stuff?” he asked.

Ari stood up. “You could say that. I work with disabled children.”

The phone buzzed again. “Wait, please,” he said to her. “Dobbins,” he barked, listened, thanked his caller then hung up. “I’ve got a match of that print to a name and it doesn’t start with ‘O’. It starts with E’.”

Ari wasn’t dismayed. “It’s an ‘O’ name, and he’s a known criminal,” she insisted and checked her watch. “I have to go now.”

“Dinner,” he said. “Dinner sometime would be good. You and me.”

“It would be good,” she agreed, knowing he had surprised himself by inviting her out. “You know how to contact me. And thank you for taking some action.”

He looked away, thumbed a number on his mobile. “Bluey, we’re going to Otto’s Workout, the gym.” He closed the phone. “My partner,” he explained to her. He indicated the door. “After you.”

 

*

 

Ari watched the policemen from the comfort of her armchair.

Leroy and Bluey had no trouble once they got to the gym. As soon as he was confronted by the police, Peter Edwards bolted past them and tried to make it out the back door. He was fit and strong but Leroy was on him like a mad man. A short, intense scuffle ensued until Edwards was subdued, cuffed and read his rights.

He confessed to poisoning Jessica Doyle because she’d accidentally walked in on a drug exchange and witnessed big money changing hands. She died not long after and he’d strung her up to make it look like a suicide.

But so far, Peter Edwards wasn’t on file, and hadn’t any previous criminal history on record.

 

*

 

Ari MacDonnell was expecting his knock on her front door that evening.

She knew Leroy carried a tiny pot of native boronia (which nearly asphyxiated him in his car), and that it had taken some finding. He’d visited a few nurseries because there’d been nothing at all like it in his garden.

He handed her the pot when she opened the door. “I want you to know that Peter Edwards confessed today to Jessica’s murder.”

“Thank you for telling me,” she said, smiling. “And thank you for the plant.” She’d have to find a special place in her garden for this particular pot away from all the other native boronia plants she’d been given.

“Do you have time for a drink?” he asked. “I was hoping you’d accept my apologies for … well, you know.” He held out a bottle of red wine.

Ari stepped aside. “Great idea. Come in.” She followed him in and placed the little pot on the side dresser.

“Nice place,” he commented, looking around. “I like the space, no clutter.” He stared at the dinner table, set for two. “I’m sorry—I’m interrupting your plans.”

Ari reached for a corkscrew and deftly opened the bottle he proffered. “Not at all, you’re part of them,” she said.

“You were expecting me?” He accepted an elegant crystal goblet half-filled with the smooth cabernet sauvignon. “Oh. Of course, you were. I think.”

She smiled again. “You did say dinner would be good. I have fillet steaks and salad if you’ll care to join me.”

“Thank you,” he said, looking momentarily awkward. “Delighted,” he added quickly. They clinked glasses. “One thing, though, ah, the, ah, suspect didn’t have an ‘O’ name, after all,” he said.

Ari allowed a gracious smile. “Perhaps it doesn’t really matter. He’s confessed. Jessica is satisfied, I know that. Please sit down.”

“Oh, well, I’m glad Jessica’s satisfied.” You big girl’s blouse, Dobbins. Thoughts of Roy flashed into his head. Dad would be pleased with this choice of woman. Huh?

“Your father was a nice man,” she stated. “I’ve seen him a couple of times and we chatted a bit. You look very much like him.”

Leroy stared at her. “It was Dad you saw at the station,” he said, flatly.

“He seemed keen to direct me to you. Says that mole on your back will be all right.”

Leroy shut his mouth. He was due at the doc’s next day. “That’s great news. Great news.” He shifted in his seat. “You got so much right, but not the ‘O’ name.”

Ari shrugged. “I’m human, sometimes get the messages wrong, I told you that,” she answered. “But the ‘O’ was clear.”

“You’re very confident, but our information—” He was interrupted when his mobile chirruped loudly. He checked it. “Sorry, have to take it, it’s the station. Dobbins,” he said and listened. “Thanks, Bluey,” he finished and closed the call. He sat for a moment.

Ari waited.

“You know, I’m realising how much more I have to learn, and how little I’ve really learned all these years. About anything.” He gave a short laugh. “My apologies,” he said. “Peter Edwards is also known as Peter Edward O’Leary. He has a long criminal history under that name.”

She raised her eyebrows. “I see.”

“I’m beginning to understand that.”

They both let a moment’s silence pass then Leroy leaned back on the settee. “So, what else do you see? Want to give me a run down on my future?”

She settled back herself. “I see a great meal ahead, medium rare steaks, pardon the pun.”

“Good call. Is that all?”

“That’s about as far as I can predict right now, though I suppose I can add that there’s good company involved.”

“That doesn’t take psychic prowess,” he said, and raised his glass to her.

“You’re absolutely right, Detective Senior Sergeant Dobbins.” She laughed then, and her eyes sparkled. “Some things are just as plain as the nose on your face.”