Excerpt for Trapped by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Crocodile Dreaming Series

Books 2 and 3 Box Set

Book 2: Crocodile Man

Book 3: Girl in an Empty Cage

Novels by

Graham Wilson



Graham Wilson

Copyright Graham Wilson 2017

Crocodile Dreaming Series


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or

transmitted in any form without prior approval of the author.

For permission to use contact Graham Wilson by email at grahambbbooks@gmail.com

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Book 2

Crocodile Sprit Dreaming Series

Second Edition

Graham Wilson


Crocodile Man

Graham Wilson

Copyright Graham Wilson 2017

Crocodile Spirit Dreaming Series -Second Edition

ISBN: 9780995431362


Thanks to many various people who have reviewed and commented on the book since the initial version was published. These comments have been invaluable in making it better.

It is gratifying to hear of the enjoyment people gain from reading this book and the prior book in the series ‘An English Visitor’ and also about their appreciation of how this book contributes to the rest of the series.

This book was previously called The Diary, but this new edition is now named Crocodile Man to better reflect the story which has unfolded since I first conceived this novel and series.

Special thanks to Alexandra Nahlous who did an editorial review of ways to improve the book and the overall series storyline. Many of her suggestions have been incorporated into this edition.

Background to Story

This is a story set in two places, London and Australia, with the Northern Territory of Australia as the principal location in which the main events unfold.

A feature of this part of Australia is its thriving aboriginal population with a culture which has continued over an enormous span of time, a period of at least 50,000 years. These people adapted to this place and shaped it with their occupation. Rock art dotted over many of the rock faces and caves tells many of their stories which are handed down from generation to generation, ever since the coming of the first people, a time often called the Dreamtime or Dreaming. In these stories the animals of the land sit alongside these first people, with their spirits too forming and shaping the people and the land. There are many tribal clans and language groups across this land and many have their own stories and totems which feature animals of this place.

One of the most well-known totems is the salt water crocodile, a huge and ferocious predator, with large adults reaching over seven metres, weighing well over a ton and attaining ages measured in many decade or even centuries. These ancient creatures, with stories passed down from the Dreamtime, form a central part of this story.

Aboriginal people continue as a vibrant part of the NT community, making up more than a quarter of its population. During the last 200 years they have mixed with and shared influences with many other migrant communities. Many aboriginal people not only trace their own history but that of European, Chinese, or Afghan or other ethnic groups.

Synopsis of the Series

Book 1 –An English Visitor

The first book of the Crocodile Spirit Series, An English Visitor, follows a backpacker, Susan, who comes to Australia from England on a holiday. Here she meets an Australian man, Mark, while diving on the Barrier Reef. He works in the Outback and has a wild and reckless charm.

They have a passionate affair and she is captivated by him. But she soon notices odd behaviours of his which seem asocial. Despite some reservations she accepts his invitation to meet him again and travel through the outback of the Northern Territory with him. She decides not to tell anyone else where she is going.

At first the trip goes well. But some chance discoveries lead her to believe he is not who he says he is, and suggest he may have harmed other backpackers. He also has an obsessive love of crocodiles. Yet, the relationship grows ever more intense, notwithstanding her deep and growing suspicions of his past.

Her love turns to terror when he discovers what she knows. Now she is convinced he will kill her and feed her body to the crocodiles to hide her existence. She seeks to escape through her sexual attraction. She distracts him, knocks him unconscious then drags his body to the edge of the waterhole where the crocodiles take him. She is alone, filled with shame and remorse. As no one knows she is here she decides to hide the evidence, remove signs from the waterhole and destroy evidence of his identity, pretend it never happened. She catches her flight back to England, determined to block out the experience and ensure nobody ever finds out what took place. She was just a visitor and now the trip is past, she tells herself over and over again.

Crocodile Spirit Dreaming Books 3 –5

These books continue the series story of what happens to Susan and the other backpackers whose existence she discovered as well as the story of this man of the crocodiles.

Chapter 1 – Darwin – Catfish Man’s Catch

Charlie was getting old. He could feel it in his bones. The weather was moving out of the Gurrulwa, big wind time, into the Dalirrgang, the build-up time. That hot, sweaty weather was really building each day. In the way the white fellas counted time it was the end of September. The mornings were still starting cool but by morning smoko he could feel his shirt stick to his back from sweat. By lunchtime a lie-down under a big shady tree was the place to be.

Once upon a time, when he was a young and fiery buck, he could go all day. Ten hours or twelve hours in stinking October heat was nothing to him. Then he could hit town at night-time with his mates for a party and still be up at the crack of dawn for another just as long day of work.

He had lived a full life and a good life. Sure, sometimes he had lived rough, sometimes the grub was poor. But, for a boy from Retta Dixon in Darwin, whose mother was a proud Larrakia woman and whose father was a stockman from the buffalo country out east of Darwin, that Point Stuart Country around where the Mary and Wildman Rivers ran, he had done OK.

His father had not been much good really, a white fella, with a bit of Chinese, who mostly shot buffalo for their skins, and odd times shot a few crocs and broke a few horses. He only visited his mother now and then, mostly when he wanted a bit, but she had stuck to him while he fathered three kids, two with mostly dark skin like his mother’s, and a third, himself, who had a lot more of his father’s white-fella skin and even a dash of the Chinese about him; some people had called him a yella fella when he was young. So of course when the cops and field officers had spotted him in the camp near Darwin they had grabbed him, quick smart, and taken him to Retta Dixon, where he had lived for ten years.

They had thought of it as trying to civilise the black fella out of him and turn him into a proper white fella. He thought that they had it a bit arse about. There was more civilisation in his mother’s Larrakia tribe than in most of the scum whites that hung about the town. His father was really one of them scum whites, if the truth was told.

Anyway his mum had been determined not to give him up that easily, but also not to leave her other two children with the tribe’s aunties and uncles and get cut off from her culture. So, while she was given a house on the Retta Dixon grounds for when she wanted to visit, a place where Charlie could stay with her, he’d mostly stayed in a dormitory with other boys around his age.

But she kept coming to see him at least every week, bringing his brother and sister. And she kept making sure his uncles, aunts and the old people come to see him too. She also found ways to bring him out of the home a lot, so he kept getting his tribal knowledge and learning about the bush.

Then, one day, when he was almost old enough to leave Retta Dixon and get a job working on a station, a beautiful girl named Elsie had come to stay there. She had lived for most of her childhood on Goulburn Island, and her family had come from the South Alligator River country somewhere around Jim Jim. She was a half-caste, like him. She had been taken away from her parents at a camp near the river when she was only little. However, her family could not travel to visit her at Goulburn Island, so she had lost track of them.

Then, when she was thirteen and just turning into a woman, they had sent her to Retta Dixon so that she could learn more; they said she was too smart for the Goulburn Island mob. She was the clever one in the family and had done real good with her school lessons.

So someone had thought that maybe she should go to school in Darwin, where they could educate her better. That was how she had come to Retta Dixon.

From the first time he saw Elsie Charlie had thought her the most beautiful thing in the world. She had lovely honey-coloured skin, and eyes like glowing coals, dark and deep. He was fourteen to her thirteen. Before then he could not wait to get away and go bush. Now suddenly he did not want to leave Retta Dixon anymore, he sought any chance to be close to her. It was like puppy love. She had been very shy but he could tell she liked him; she gave him a sort of secret, special smile.

But then, when the year was gone he had to leave and get work out on a station, as he was not so good with books. But he kept coming back to visit Elsie whenever he could. Early on he told his mum about her to make sure she still kept visiting too. So, gradually, he brought Elsie into his family and she had learnt their customs.

Then when he was eighteen and she was seventeen he had wooed her and when she turned eighteen he had married her. And to this day she was as beautiful to him as the day her first saw her, when she was thirteen. Sure her hair had gone a bit grey and she was rounder and plumper than the slip of a girl he had married. But that was how grown-up women were supposed to look.

His mum had been like that, plump and shiny, almost until the day she died ten years ago. Now his wife had taken over her tribal role, as tribe grandmother, even though her true country was somewhere out at the edge of the stone country, the place where Jim Jim Creek came over those big waterfalls.

But she had lost her own tribal knowledge as a child and only lately had got a little bit back through tracing some cousins. So now she was mostly Larrakia but with a bit of the Gagadju culture as well.

One thing that Elsie got from his own mum was a recipe for the best catfish curry he had ever tasted. His mum had got it from her own mum, who said she learned it from a Chink in Chinatown, and then improved it.

So now, each year, just at the start of the build-up when the catfish were big and fat, it was his job to go out and get one or two really big catfish for Elsie’s catfish curry. This year she said she wanted two, maybe even three, because she wanted to do an extra-big curry to celebrate the engagement of their youngest daughter, Becky, to a lad from out Roper way, a boy named Jack.

He was a wild one that boy, not real big but a serious horseman with great reflexes and a handy pair of fists. He had gone a few rounds in the ring with some fancied names and was pretty to watch, so light-footed and quick. Somehow he had taken a shine to Becky and Becky to him. So now Elsie wanted to have a big family feast this weekend when Jack would be in town along with a gang from his own family. It was a sort of engagement party.

Charlie liked the lad too. Perhaps Jack reminded him a bit of himself when he was a wild one in his young days; he could scrap a bit with his fists too. Elsie had been like his Becky, doing the calming down.

The one useful thing his own father had done for him, way back when he was a lad, was to take him fishing and teach him the ways of fish. He supposed his dad had also given him a way with horses, even if later he learned that more from station work. But his father, when not shooting or poaching crocs, was a seriously good fisherman. It was like he thought with a fish brain. So he had taken young Charlie to his own favourite fishing spots out on the Mary and Wildman Rivers and taught him the many ways and places to jag a big fish.

And here he was now, at one of those places his father had shown him, long, long ago, on the Mary River. Here the biggest catfish could be found, along with a barra and other fish. But today was a catfish day and he, Charlie, was far and away the best catfish fisher that he knew.

He had come here last night, leaving home in the dark after dinner. He had driven through the closed gate that stopped most tourists and Darwin weekend warriors. Then he had put up his mosquito net, not right alongside the billabong but well back.

This billabong had some of the biggest bloody lizards he had ever seen, what others called crocs. He thought they were just overgrown lizards, with not much more brain. But, even though he did not think they were real smart, he knew they were plenty dangerous. So he kept away from the edge when he was sleeping, better than sharing his swag with one in the middle of the night, when these crocodile spirits came out and searched the land for food. They might only be spirit crocodiles but they could eat you just the same.

Now he had just woken up in his half damp swag. He put a billy on the fire in the pre-dawn light. The early-morning coldness made his old bones ache and he shivered. He wanted to start early so as to be away before smoko when the real heat started. That way he would be back in Darwin in time for a siesta. He looked forward to the smile when he presented his catch to his dear Elsie. He could, even now, imagine her cackling laugh.

“Well, Charlie, we’se both bin gittin bit ole, but you just as good a fisher as in dem ole days. Ye still catch a fine fish or two and I can still make a fine fish stoo.”

He sipped his tea. Time to get down to this fishing business!

He took two hand lines and baited each with his own special catfish bait. When he came close to the water’s edge he sat down, real still, for a long five minutes, looking for any sign that a big lizard was lurking.

There was a strange murky mist over the water further out. It gave him the creeps, raised the hairs on his arms and gave him goosebumps along this neck. It almost felt like there was an ancient spirit of some ancestor creature lurking out there in the mist, seeking something to devour. Unbidden, an image of a hugely ancient dreamtime crocodile spirit rose in his mind. It seemed to be warning him to be gone from this place which was claimed by another. But he pushed the image away, determined not to allow his blackfella side get drawn into this superstitious stuff.

Instead he concentrated on the nearby water, eyes and ears alert to seek out any real danger lurking there. He watched and waited some more, still nothing moved; the other was only imagination. Satisfied it was safe he came to the water’s edge, dropped his two bait lines into what looked like the best places and waited.

Five minutes of nothing happening passed, then one line started to twitch, then it was the other too; two different fish, two different water places, well apart. He hoped to Christ they both did not hook on at the same time. He waited until he got that definite bait pick-up feel on the right line and gave it a good jerk. Now he knew he had that sucker, he could feel the weight and the real tug.

He wound the loose line onto the reel so he had a proper grip. This felt like one mother of a fish. He could feel the other line still twitching. He thought he’d better pull it in for a minute lest he end up with a fish on each line together. He gave this line a tug to jerk it away from its inquisitive visitor.

Bloody hell, now he had another big bloody fish on this line too; just as much weight as the first one. Good in one way; if he could land them both his fishing was as good as done. But jeez, they were both big, heavy fish. It would be a fair handful to get both in together.

Then he thought, I must be turning into a pussy in my old age, surely I can land both together, got two hands and arms haven’t I?

So, rather than trying to haul them in pulling each toward him with his arms, he used his two arms like shock absorbers, each hand holding a reel and his elbows flexing to ease the jerking on the fishes’ mouths. Foot by foot he eased both fish in towards the shore, walking step by step backwards to pull the line in, making odd quick movements to wind the loose line onto the reels and keep himself close to the bank.

Finally he had both fish on less than six feet of line. He could see each one sitting in the water just below the edge. Time to get them out before a hungry gator tried to grab an easy feed.

Grasping the reels firmly, one in each hand, he walked backwards steadily, hauling both fish to the bank with even pressure, accelerating as he went. They pulled against him like two big logs. Two glistening bodies popped free of the water. A quick slide and he had them both over the lip of the bank. They lay flapping, side by side, on dry sand. They were seriously big mothers. He thought both fish weighed between twelve and fifteen pounds.

He knew these fish alone were enough to feed all comers. But hell, catching them had been a buzz. The sun had barely broken the horizon. It was a too early to give up for the day. So, while he could fix some tucker or lie back in the swag for another kip, he was too pumped up for that. He thought, I won’t be greedy, I’ll just try for one more. This time he decided to have a crack at the open water straight out from the bank. There was a nice clear patch between water lilies, ten or twelve metres out. He baited a line to cast it into this space.

As the line swung he was seized by powerful dread, that same huge crocodile image resisting his cast and forcing itself into his mind. But he was buggered if he would stop now. He let the line go, watching as it flew free and landed far out, past where he meant to cast. The ripples faded away and his baited hook sank out of sight.

It was a beautiful morning, temperature now perfect, with dawn colours fading into a perfect sunlight day. Charlie felt good to be alive, old bones and all. Just one more fish and I’ll be away, he thought.

His reverie continued for five minutes. Nothing was happening this time, not even a little fish nibble. He mind said, I’d better haul in, check the bait is still on, then try a different spot. His hook snagged something heavy. Too far out for a tree root, maybe it’s a water lily bulb.

He gave a firm pull. It came free. He was dragging something heavy in on the line. It felt the weight of a good-sized fish but with no fish-sized tugging. Instead there was just a sort of bumping, like it was half bouncing along the bottom as it came in.

Charlie wound up the excess line on his reel as it came in. Now he could see something, white to grey, at the end of the line in the water, sort of round and football-sized but way too heavy for that.

As it cleared the water he realised, in a mix of surprise and shock, that he had caught a human head.

In that last second before he pulled it to the bank he was seized by an image of the huge crocodile spirit fighting to keep its own, fighting both with him and other large crocodiles not to surrender a part of its being. Charlie felt an assault on his senses and a great urge to cast away the line and let this object return to its crocodile home in the watery deep. He put his hand to his head to clear the tumult and the vision receded.

In the process, as if of its own volition, this object came out of the water and half rolled across the land, stopping next to his feet. His mind sensed two spirits struggling for mastery of the destiny of this object; a human spirit which sought release from its place of crocodile capture, to let it return to the lands of its own people; and a crocodile spirit which sought to hold fast to one it knew as kin.

In the end the human spirit had won but the crocodile spirit stayed beside it, calling out, “Return to the water.” Charlie broke the mind’s connection with the spirits and as he did his own world returned.

Chapter 2 – Who Owns This Crocodile Man

Charlie looked at the ugly object lying next to his feet. Still clearly part of a person though the eyes were gone and only remnants of skin and hair clung to one side of the skull, he guessed the small fish had nibbled off all that they could get to and the bits that remained were lying in the mud.

He decided he had better pull it further away from the edge, lest its scaly owner determined to return to seek retrieval. He was not going to touch it but the hook seemed well attached so he half lifted the thing and dragged it across the ground. As he did he felt a second tug of war going on between a crocodile spirit and human spirit. It was pulling hard at him too, making it real difficult to move. He sensed that he had messed up the balance of forces in this place and no longer trusted his ability to keep out of harm’s way. It seemed to take an age until it was a good ten metres back from the edge and the struggle abated. He let the skull settle on the ground, reel and line alongside. His body was now weary with the effort.

He forced the spirits to leave his mind and looked away outwards again, scanning at the trees and earth around himself. He could feel the crocodile spirit sliding back to its watery place. It was still proper angry but had left for now. He felt safer himself at once too.

He looked at this part of a person. Poor bugger, this once was someone who should’ve taken more care to hide themself away from the crocodile spirits, he thought. He wondered who he was. Clearly a white man, but much more than crocodi.le food the way the crocodile spirit had tried to hold him in the water.

He wondered why he knew it was a man. Perhaps it was the remnants of short brownish hair, perhaps it was the size of the skull, but it was also the type of spirit – a man spirit with strength and an uncompromising fierceness, no soft edges to this spirit.

He felt a huge urge to cast it back to its watery grave, but knew he could not.

He did not really believe in accidents. It was part of his destiny to find this. Now he must fulfil what the white man’s law, and maybe the spirit law of the land, required. Then, when it was all done, he would try to find a way to placate the crocodile spirits which lurked in this watery place. Without their blessing he dared not return here to fish.

He walked back to his Toyota. He needed to think, so he rolled up his swag. He sat on it while he rolled a smoke. A few blowflies were already drawn to this new prize. He did not want to handle it but could not leave it lying here for the birds and flies. He must cover it. Then he would drive back to the nearest bit of civilisation, the Bark Hut Inn, and ring the police, he decided.

He had a big bucket with a rope. He used it to gather water from billabongs, when it was not safe to come close to the edge. There were good-sized rocks in the old fireplace at the far side of the open area that he had used this morning. So he placed the upended bucket over the head, carried the heaviest rock over and put it on top of the bucket.

That would stop the birds and flies, not much good for a big dog or pig, but it should do for an hour or two while he went to call the police.

He cleaned up his two fish and put them in his esky, on ice. He put the esky on the back of his truck covered it with a tarp and some other things so it was not obvious.

He flung the fish guts into the water and noticed, with satisfaction, a big swirl as they vanished. At least he had returned some part of his catch to the river spirits.

He was determined to fulfil his mission to Elsie, and keep these fish. So he would not tell the police about this part. He thought, if he did tell, the cops would try to confiscate the fish for evidence. Instead they could have the man’s head and he would have his fish. So long as they did not know he had kept his share all would be happy.

At the Bark Hut Inn he asked to use the phone and got put through to the Darwin Police Station. After a peculiar conversation, one where someone wanted to know lots more than he knew about how the head came to be there and who it belonged to, at last he got onto a senior policeman. This man assured Charlie he understood what he was saying. He asked Charlie to remain where he was until a police vehicle came to meet him.

It was two hours later before three policemen, in two cars, arrived. It was another half hour before they got back to the billabong. Charlie insisted on driving his own car, with the policeman following, even though the cops asked him to come in one of their cars.

But he was determined to leave as soon as he could. So he would show them what he had found and then get away somehow. It was close to lunchtime when he left the cool shade of the Bark Hut Inn and it was stinking hot by the time they got back at the billabong.

Everything was as he had left it, his line lying alongside the bucket which looked undisturbed. Charlie pointed to the bucket, saying. “Dis morning, real early, I try to catch him big catfish. I threw out bait, longa there,” he said, pointing to a spot in the water. “Den, after little while, no fish bite and me think, Maybe little fish eat bait. So I go to pull in and instead I catch this thing, dead man’s head. I pull it to here, and cover it with bucket and rock, so bird or goanna not eat more.”

The boss policeman lifted off the bucket, but it was smelly now and he soon covered it again.

He turned to Charlie saying, “Show me where you cast your line when you caught that thing.”

Charlie pointed to a spot, over ten yards out, where he had cast and picked up a pebble and threw it to hit the water nearby.

“Where were you were standing when you caught it?

Charlie led him to a gap in the trees, next to the water. He pointed to some scuff marks on the ground about two metres back from the edge. “I was standing right dere, not too close cause big gators in dere. Den, when I pull out it stop dere,” he said pointed to a damp patch a metre away from the footmarks. “But den I pull up in air and carry it away from water, cos frightened dat big gator might try eat me too, same as for dat man,” he said, pointing to the bucket.

The policeman walked back to the bucket. He looked at the line and reel saying, “Well, it looks like you hooked him good. We will have to keep that fishing gear for evidence.”

Charlie shivered and nodded. “I not want that line anymore, no more want to touch it. You keep it. I got plenty spare one.”

The policeman nodded and walked away to talk to his colleagues. Charlie shivered again and turned away from the water. He could still feel that bad thing out there and really wanted to be gone.

The policeman came back and said, “When did you last come here before today?”

Charlie said, “Last year, bout same time, I come. Try to catch catfish, same as today.”

They asked him a few more questions but it all seemed clear.

One policeman wrote in his diary a record of what he had told them and read it back to Charlie. He agreed it was correct and initialled the page. Then this man recorded his contact details, and checked them against his driver’s licence.

Now he could see they were no longer interested in him. So he made an excuse about needing to get back to Darwin to meet his wife and some people who were visiting.

The cops nodded. It was like they had forgotten about him now; one cop, the boss man, got on the radio back to Darwin, organising for a boat and a team to help search the area and the billabong. A second was taping out the scene, and the third was taking photographs.

Finally he got the boss man’s attention, just to confirm his departure. The man half nodded, so Charlie walked over to his Toyota and drove away. As he was leaving he could see one of them waving at him. He did not know if he was waving goodbye or telling him to come back. He ignored it and kept driving.

No one followed after him. As he left he thought, Bad spirit place, I not want to come back here anymore.


Sergeant Alan McKinnon, the senior officer, watched Charlie leave and wondered if he should call him back. In the end he just waved to him. He knew the man was in a big hurry to leave and probably had not told them everything he knew. But hell, if I fished out something like that I would want to get far away too, he thought. He could see this guy was most definitely spooked, but who could blame him.

Truth was he was a bit spooked himself when he first saw it, like it was somehow connected to a big crocodile which lived here. He could almost imagine a huge crocodile hiding in the shadowy water, eyeing him off, angry to have lost its prize. Just superstitious nonsense, his mind said, but still he shuddered.

Then he thought, This man, Charlie, has done his job and we don’t need him anymore. Investigating here will keep us busy for the next couple of days and it’s better to not have him or anyone else in our way. Plus we have his details to interview him again later if we need to. And it was too bloody hot to keep that poor old bugger standing around in the afternoon sun, with nothing to do but watch. With that Charlie passed out of his mind.

Now it was an afternoon for organising. He thought he had seen some tooth punctures to the head, which made him think crocodile. The pathologist was an hour away, so nothing would be disturbed until then. If it was a crocodile attack it was funny nothing had been reported and no one he knew was missing around here. Still people, particularly tourists, came and went everywhere so how could you really know.

He did not like the idea of trying to search this billabong for a body; it was a big billabong and it was bound to be full of big crocodiles. So no divers would be going in here until they worked out how to do it safely. And there was little point trying to drag the bottom with all the other crap that would be down there, all the logs and debris that washed along these rivers each wet.

What was needed was a steel cage that a diver could work inside. This would allow a diver to search the area around where the head was found, to see if any other bits remained. But, before they got too serious about searching the water, they should do a careful search of the dry land and get some pathology done to see if there was anything suggesting other than an unfortunate crocodile victim.

Now his radio crackled back to life. The pathologist, Sandy Bowen, had passed through the Bark Hut and asked for someone to meet them on the main road so as not to get lost on the last bit. It was a pretty confusing place to find with roads running every which way.

So he told his men to continue inspecting the site and he would go and meet the pathologist, back on the main road. The pathologist’s name was new. He hoped this bloke Sandy had a strong stomach; this smelly, half-decomposed head was not a thing for the faint-hearted.

Sandy turned out to be a lady in her mid-twenties, one of those new grads who got sent to Darwin to learn their craft before getting a comfy big-city job.

She seemed very young and fresh-faced for something like this. Perhaps she would need her hand held. He would not mind doing that though he had his doubts about the level of her experience. He had spent ten years in the police force getting to where he was and it had been a steep learning curve. But he loved the bush and it was a pretty good job, truth be told.

He did not say this but it must have been written on his face; a disdain for newcomers. He could feel in her a mix of antagonism to his manner and a desire to prove herself.

Back on site it was clear that she was sharper and tougher than he had credited. First she asked him to lift off the bucket so that she could look at the head from various angles but not touch anything.

She looked very carefully and said, “It looks like teeth marks, but it also looks like the upper left side of the skull has been fractured, perhaps from the force of a bite. You can see it’s out of shape, compared to the right side.”

She continued, “I would guess this happened at least a fortnight past and no more than six weeks ago, though the laboratory tests will tell more. It looks like the head of a man of young to middle age.”

Then she did the careful walk around, noting the slight drag mark where the head had come out of the water and been pulled across the dirt. She tracked a mix of scuff marks and damp spots to the final destination. Then she pointed to two other drag marks nearby but to one side of the one that led to the head. They were about two feet apart and came in from the bank for about two metres, ending in two flattened areas in the dirt with some damp patches.

She said, “It looks like something else has been pulled out of here, probably this morning too,” pointing to the still damp patches of mud.

“It’s a pity that the man who hooked this head is not still here. I would’ve liked to ask him about this. It looks like he caught a couple of fish first and, if so, it’d be nice to know what sort they were and if they had been feeding on this. Not that I suppose it really matters, I just like to get a complete picture,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.

She carefully scrutinised the rest of the site, looking from where she was standing, next to the bucket, saying, “Before I look in detail at this head I’d would like to look around the site, in case there’s dried blood or other signs left from when the victim went into the water.” She walked directly towards the water’s edge, as if to start her search there.

At first Alan just looked on. He was feeling a bit silly for letting old Charlie leave without a closer check. Maybe he should radio the Darwin office. They could arrange for someone to be there to meet Charlie and check his car for fish when he returned.

But, like she said, it was really of little importance. They could ask him later. Plus he did not really want any fish Charlie had caught, just in case they had a bit of a person in their stomachs. Not to mention that, if he read the signs in the damp earth right, Charlie had already gutted them and tossed the guts in the water. So it would be a total waste of time, not to mention seriously annoying this good-hearted old fellow.

Then he realised Sandy was going right up to the edge of the water. Well she might be good at pathology but she needed to learn a few bush survival skills. He did not want her to become another statistic on his watch. He called out, “Just wait a minute.”

She stopped a metre back.

He came over to her and, as he walked towards her, he unclipped and removed his service revolver. He made a signal to her to step back. Now they both stood side by side, two metres from the edge.

He said, “You were right about catching the fish and questioning the old timer who found this. You’re obviously good at your business. But you need to be careful in a place like this. If it was a crocodile that did this to him, it could be sitting below here, just a metre down and the same back. You’d never know. In less than a second, before you had a chance to move, it could come out of the water and drag you in. So, if you really need to get that close to the water, I need to be standing right alongside you, with a gun in my hand, and, if possible, you should keep at least a couple of steps back and never turn your back to the edge when you’re close.”

She looked at him and laughed out loud. Her face was kind of nice when she smiled. She said, “That makes us one all. How about now we both work together? I’ll trust you for the bush sense and you’ll trust me for the pathology bit.”

He laughed back. “Deal,” he said, holding out his hand which she shook solemnly. He liked her light firm grip.

So they worked side by side, using a grid pattern, along with a long stick to gently move aside leaves and debris without marking the ground. It was amazing how two sets of eyes at different levels and angles could together spot details that one alone might have missed.

He pointed to some regular scrape marks in the dirt which were mostly covered by leaves. “Unless I’m mistaken someone used a spade to scrape dirt away from this place, like they wanted to take off the top half inch of soil. I don’t know how long ago it was done, not too recent with the leaf cover, but definitely since the rain last wet season. Out last rain around here was a heavy burst at the start of May.”

She nodded. They followed what looked to be the line of the spade marks away from the water. Now she pointed to a place a few metres back. “It might just be a stain, but I’m ninety percent sure that’s a patch of dried blood, like someone had scraped up most of it but missed that bit,” she said. “Can you keep your eye on the place until we photograph it and then I’ll collect it in a sample jar?”

Alan called over his constable, who carried a camera, and had him take several photographs. Sandy returned with a jar and scalpel. She dug out the piece of rust-coloured soil, placed it in the jar, then labelled it. By the end of an hour of careful searching together they were almost sure where the body originally lay and had also found a scraped-away drag route to the edge of the water. They had also found two further small patches of blood like staining that they had also sampled.

There was something that looked like an old fireplace, off to one side, a bit further away from the water. The soil was blackened, and there were sprinkles of ash and charcoal, but not the old fire debris which one would expect. The centre was hollowed out for almost a metre. It looked like it had been dug out with a spade not so long ago.

Alan said, “It looks like there was a big fire here, maybe to burn stuff. Then when it was finished someone got a spade and dug out the ash and took it away. They may have dumped it somewhere else but my guess is it went into the water. In fact, if you look hard, I think you can see bits that have dropped off near the water. It’ll be something to look for when we go diving, a big pile of ash sitting on top of the mud.”

Sandy raised her eyebrows and grinned at him. “Quite the bush detective, aren’t you? I could leave now and go away as I think you could’ve figured this all out without my help.”

Then she screwed up her nose in mock disgust. “Well I’ve been avoiding that smelly head for an hour now, but I can’t leave it cooking in the hot sun any longer. What do you think, is it time for me to take a proper look?”

He grinned back. “I suppose you must and I’ll just have to hold my nose while I look on. Glad I don’t have to touch it.”

Even though it was a baking hot and sweaty afternoon as the sun streamed down, and lunch had been forgotten, they were totally absorbed in their investigation and barely noticed anything else. They both could feel that buzz of excitement as the shape of something that was not just a crocodile attack began to emerge.

Sandy returned her attention to the head. After carefully palpating it through her gloves, and advising him that the left side of the skull was definitely fractured, she transferred it to a plastic bag and placed it in an esky full of ice to preserve it until it got to the laboratory for a post-mortem later that afternoon.

Then she announced that she must be on her way if she was to examine this today. So Alan escorted her back to where the track met the main road and arranged to call in to the lab to see her and get some initial results in the morning. It was mid-afternoon before their work was done, and Alan and his team were ready to leave.

A new team had arrived to continue the site investigation over the next two days, to search the billabong nearby for any more body parts or other things which may relate to the victim, and to finish searching the rest of the site. Alan briefed them on what he had found and what he thought they should look for. He knew this part would be in good hands. It was led by an old techy, Ron, who’d been doing this since before Alan was born and was the best.

Alan waved goodbye to his two constables, saying, “No need to go back to the office, head straight home once you get to town. I will follow behind soon in the other car.”

The driver leaned out of his window saying, “Thanks boss, but my throat is like a leather glove from all the hours we spent in the hot sun. First stop is a beer and a feed at the Bark Hutt to make up for the lunch we never got. You owe us; you were in such a hurry to get here. How about you join us for one on your way home?

“Maybe I will, just for one, I certainly need a drink.”

Alan watched them drive out of sight then walked towards the water, stopping in the shade just back from the edge of the billabong. He relaxed his mind and soaked in the feel of the place for a few minutes. He had always found this last look was most valuable because it grounded him in the scene and helped get perspective.

He reviewed what he knew in his mind. Male adult victim, high likelihood of crocodile involvement, but getting a murder-scene feel. Another person was here with the victim who went to considerable lengths to hide the evidence of the death. Maybe it was deliberate, maybe accidental; but if so why so much effort to hide it all?

Plenty of questions to be answered: who owned this head, how did he get here, who else was here, how did this person leave, and most of all why, why the death, why the cover-up?

As he stood there contemplating, he saw two eyes watching him. They would have been easy to miss, over in the tree shade at the far side of the billabong. He had seen plenty of crocs in his years and was a fair judge of size.

This one was a long way away, and the eyes were all that showed. But he knew this was big, bigger than anything he had seen before. It was watching him with intent, maybe as a food item. But he felt the intent was more personal and focused; almost a sadness, as if it had lost something it cherished. Not just a meal but a companion.

He shuddered as if the devil was walking over his grave. A picture came, unbidden, into his mind. A huge malevolent but grieving spirit, half man and half crocodile that belonged in this place and yet had a part taken from it and felt loss. It was claiming an ownership to what was taken.

He shook his head, breaking the spell, walked to his car and slowly drove away feeling fingers of presence seeking to hold him back.

He caught up with his constables at the Bark Hut Inn for a five-o’clock lunch, washed down with an icy VB, the best cold beer. It tasted so good after the hot sun. He would have loved a couple more but one was his limit when on the job. Instead he had a couple pint glasses of lemon squash to replace the lost fluids.

As they were finishing drinks, Fred, senior constable, turned to them both and said. “Don’t know about you two, but I would be happy if I never went near that place again, there was something about it that spooked me, maybe that man Charlie was a part. He certainly was freaked out. There was something real bloody eerie about it, the idea of a huge big crocodile sitting just under the water, having already had one of us for dinner, now maybe waiting again. It was almost like I could feel it watching and waiting. I am not normally superstitious but it gave me the total creeps.”

Alan pushed aside his own memories, “Turning into a wimp, Fred, I would not have picked it.” As he said it he knew it was as much to hide his own freaked feeling.

He drove back to Darwin, towards the red ball of a setting sun, falling towards a smoky horizon, feeling strangely sombre when he knew he should be upbeat about the day’s success.

He was heading back to the office to finish writing up his day’s notes when a thought crossed his mind. Rather than turning down McMillans Road and heading for the station, he went on towards the town and then turned right towards Parap, where Charlie’s address was. Sure enough Charlie was sitting on his verandah, beer in hand.

Charlie waved to him, then covered his face with mock chagrin when he saw the serious look on Alan’s face. Alan walked over and sat in the chair next to Charlie, accepted the proffered beer and took a deep draught. “OK, Charlie, I think you had better tell me about those other fish,” he said. He could have sworn Charlie was laughing behind his twinkling eyes.

“Better still I show you,” said Charlie. He got up and went to the kitchen. He returned with a plate covered with rice and steaming curry.

He handed it to Alan. “More better to taste than talk. Maybe you kill me little bit for not giving you the fish. But if I let you take the fish and not bring them back, my Elsie, she kill me big time. So I have to decide, which trouble is biggest, and I know, better to go to jail than trouble with my Elsie.”

They sat side by side, each eating a plate of fish curry in the dusk. Both agreed it was the best they had ever tasted. As they sipped their beers the story of the morning was told.

A second beer was brought by a beautiful girl with honey-coloured skin in her early twenties. She was introduced to Alan as Charlie’s daughter, Becky, who was having her engagement party tomorrow night. The fish curry would cement the bond between the two families. “Once we share this together we’ll be friends for life,” said Charlie.

Alan knew the matter of two catfish was something that would stay out of his and the pathologist’s reports. But he had a little plastic box of catfish curry to give to Sandy tomorrow. He was sure she would enjoy both the story and its end result as much as he had.

As he was getting up to leave Charlie asked him, dead serious amongst the banter, “Did you feel that bad crocodile spirit? It not want to let that body go. You tell youse men be real, real careful in that place. Very dangerous crocodile spirit that one. Maybe it’s crocodile spirit body, body belong to crocodile and crocodile belong to body.”

Chapter 3 – England – The Consequence

Susan looked at the pregnancy test kit with dismay. She had known in her heart what the result would be. But now, as she stared at the double line, the second line just as clear as the first control line, its meaning was clear. She really was pregnant; she knew with certainty it was real. So that was it, no more clinging to a false hope that it might be her imagination. She knew the test kits were over 99 percent accurate and that was not even accounting for the other signs in her body which said the same thing. She had that man’s baby growing inside her.

She sat down on her bed, her mind reeling. Why should she feel this could not happen; she had taken no precautions for the two weeks during which the sex was almost non-stop, going right over her fertile period. So why did she feel both surprised and shocked?

For more than a month now she had tried to pretend that Mark was just a figment of her imagination, that her time in Australia was an imagined fantasy that she had dreamt about. But this was no divine conception and it certainly had not happened since her return to England; no men had been remotely close to her since then, except in those recurring awful dreams. So the shocking truth, that her mind now had to confront, was that this man, the man whose face evoked a shuddering horror in her mind, was the father of her child.

Suddenly her mind shifted to her time in Sydney and David’s forlorn face as she’d said goodbye. Was it just possible that the child was his? It was not likely, her period was barely finished on the first night they slept together and the second night was only a day later. Still there was a slight chance it was. She had heard of rare cases where it happened from sex almost right after a period. The idea that David could be the father of her child seemed infinitely preferable to it being Mark’s child.

One was a normal healthy man, kind and decent with no significant flaws she knew of. Her cousin, Ruth, who knew him well, said he was really lovely, and her own experience had backed that up. The other man was … She tried to think of an appropriate term to describe Mark, but all she could come up with was the term she had been trying to avoid, a psychopath. Mark, the father of her child, was a psychopath who had murdered numerous other people, and she had almost been the next victim. So, even though she knew she was probably clinging to a false hope, she was not prepared to totally discount this slight chance that the father of her child was the good man, not the crazy evil one.

She looked around her bedroom. It really was time to get a place of her own again. Staying at her parents’ house, as she had done for the last six months, since splitting from former boyfriend, Edward, was not a long-term option when you were in your mid-twenties. She needed her own place; somewhere back towards the city of London, not here forty miles out, comfortable and convenient though it was.

Her eyes fell on an envelope on the mantel. It was the letter from David, the one she had carelessly cast aside over three weeks ago when it arrived, unwilling to allow any memories of her Australian trip to find their way into her life back in England. When that letter arrived it seemed an unwelcome intrusion from another place. Now she knew that the other place could not be so easily excised, at least not unless she had a termination of her pregnancy – that word somehow seemed more acceptable than “abortion”.

Her mind seized on this new idea, she was sure it was the best solution. In the same way as she had physically excised Mark from her life, dispatched him to an obscure watery grave, into the bellies of those hideous creatures, she would excise this new unwelcome life from her body. She was on the point of going out to make a doctor’s appointment, thinking, That’ll start the required arrangements; I’m still very early and it should only take a day or two to resolve.

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