Belinda Beale could have sworn that she heard a stealthy footfall right behind her. She paused and turned around abruptly, causing her long blond hair to cascade in golden wisps around her frightened face. As she peered into the still night, she tried to put a face to the step but the only thing she could see was a pall of darkness floating towards her. Rubbing her arms vigorously, in an effort to shove the goose bumps back into her skin, she spun around on her red, high-heeled shoes and stalked towards the bridge purposefully. She was supposed to meet Jeremiah there soon and she couldn’t afford to be late. He was finally getting rid of that silly wife of his, just for her, and she wanted to see his expression as he gave her the good news. She thought about the way his blue eyes twinkled whenever he smiled at her and she felt her heart flutter. After two long years of hiding and sneaking around, she couldn’t believe that they would finally be together. Smiling to herself, she leaned against the railing of the bridge and turned to look into the dark waters swirling underneath. She was lost in her contemplation of the mysterious depths of the yawning river, when she suddenly found herself hurtling downwards. She opened her mouth to scream but ended up swallowing a great deal of the murky water instead. The scream quickly died down in her throat and gave way to panic. She thrashed her arms and legs frantically but she knew it was useless. She had never been a strong swimmer and her feeble flapping was no match for the powerful, whirling currents. As she felt her lungs begin to burn and the blood rush to her ears, she managed to turn around and look up at the bridge. When she saw a shadowy silhouette stooping over the railing and looking down at her, she felt a surge of relief flooding through her veins. Bolstered by a renewed sense of optimism, Belinda summoned all the strength she had left and dragged her arms out of the water. She stretched towards the blurry shape in a silent plea when her eyes cleared momentarily and she spotted a familiar face gazing down at her. A chill ran up her spine as she saw the look of hatred blazing through the eyes. Suddenly everything made sense. As her heart scrambled to understand what her brain had just deciphered, she was so shocked that she let her arms drop while she floated under the water noiselessly. As a last act of defiance, she stared back at her assailant for as long as she could, till the swirling waters closed above her head and everything went dark.
It had been a crappy day to begin with. And then he had seen Belinda. Beautiful, fragile and dead. As Detective Munro had stared at her, he had wondered why anyone would have wanted to destroy such a lovely piece of art. Right from her long golden hair, to her perfectly manicured toenails, Belinda was made of the stuff that regular blokes like him only dreamt about. Of course, he hadn’t yet confided in any of his colleagues, that he thought she had been destroyed. When he had been called in to the crime scene this morning, they had pegged it a suicide and initially, Munro had been inclined to believe them. But then he had started noticing a few things. Like the way her eyes were opened wide, as though in shock. Munro knew that when a person jumped to her fall, the last thing she wanted to see was her own death. Or the way her hand was clutched tightly around a glittering diamond ring. If you were going to leave this world, you wouldn’t really care too much about material possessions. Or the tattoo that said B loves J inked on her ankle. Munro knew from experience that a love interest made things a whole lot more complicated. But he didn’t share his theories with anyone. He was anyway known as a rebel in the whole squad. As someone who played by his own rules. And that suited him just fine. He could work his cases the way he wanted to and he was damned if he would let convention come in the way of unearthing the truth.
As Munro parked his car outside Jeremiah Johnson’s house now, he took a moment to survey the surroundings. The sprawling three floor mansion had a sports car in the driveway and all sorts of toys scattered around the well-manicured front lawns. From the looks of it, Jeremiah seemed to be a wealthy and happy family man. But Munro knew that was far from the truth. A little bit of digging and it had been almost too easy to connect Belinda with Jeremiah. Maybe suburban utopia had finally gotten to him and Belinda was his mid-life crisis, thought Munro. In any case, he would have bet his bottom dollar that Jeremiah was the ‘J’ he was looking for. He got out of his car, strode up to the front door and rang the bell.
After about two minutes, the door was opened by a mousy looking young woman. She was wearing a light blue uniform and had flour all over the apron tied around her waist. Munro showed her his badge and asked if he could meet Jeremiah. The young woman looked from the badge to Munro’s face, gave a frightened little whimper and disappeared behind the door. Then, a distinguished looking gentleman came to the door and introduced himself as Jeremiah. Munro noticed that Jeremiah’s blond hair was flecked with dots of grey and curled slightly at the nape of his neck. He was dressed in a custom made white shirt with grey trousers and was smiling at Munro with clear blue eyes.
“May I come in?” said Munro, holding up his badge.
“Yes, please,” replied Jeremiah. He ushered Munro through a plush lobby and into a tastefully done up living room. There were hints of leather and glass wherever Munro looked.
“I wanted to talk to you about Belinda Beale,” said Munro without any preamble. He wanted to catch Jeremiah off-guard.
Munro’s ploy worked. Jeremiah immediately went ashen. His smiling demeanor deserted him and he stared at the ground miserably. When he looked up at Munro, his eyes were infused with a deep sadness. Either he was a great actor or he had actually loved Belinda dearly, thought Munro.
“I heard about her… it… in the news,” said Jeremiah slowly.
“Where were you at the time?” asked Munro relentlessly.
“In my office,” replied Jeremiah softly.
“Did you happen to talk to her on the day of the incident?” asked Munro, although he knew the answer.
“No,” replied Jeremiah, a little too quickly.
A lie already, thought Munro. This was becoming even easier than he had thought. “What do you think Belinda was doing there, all alone on the bridge?” he continued.
“I don’t know,” said Jeremiah, a hint of anger creeping into his well-modulated voice.
“She wasn’t there to meet you, was she?” asked Munro casually.
“No,” replied Jeremiah, this time not bothering to hide his irritation. “Why would you think that?”
“Maybe because I found her cell phone at the base of the bridge,” replied Munro smoothly. It delighted him to see the expression of shock on Jeremiah’s face. “The last two calls were traced to your phone and the messages were fairly informative. The phone must have dropped out when she fell from the bridge.”
“I had no idea…,” muttered Jeremiah, still looking stunned. He got up suddenly, walked up to the door of the living room and pulled the door shut tightly behind him. When he returned to his seat, the calm disposition he had exhibited moments before was nowhere to be seen. He looked agitated as he continued, “I guess there is no point in lying anymore then. Yes, I was supposed to meet her but I got held up at work.” He ran his hand wearily through his hair and then through his face. “I was trying to explain to her that I would be late but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Belinda is…I mean was very stubborn.” He stopped then and looked at Munro awkwardly.
“Why was she so adamant that you meet her that night?” asked Munro.
“She was expecting me to tell her that I had left my wife,” said Jeremiah, cocking an incredulous eyebrow at Munro.
“Your wife?” asked Munro, raising his eyebrows in return.
“Yes,” said Jeremiah. He made little circles in the air next to his head and said, “Belinda was a little cuckoo.”
Munro bit his lip at the blatant sign of disrespect but decided he didn’t have to bite his tongue. “So you’re saying that you were in a relationship with Belinda in spite of being married?”
“I was in a relationship with Belinda because I was married,” said Jeremiah, an amused expression splayed on his face.
“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” said Munro, straining to appear deadpan.
“You just met my wife,” said Jeremiah. “Would you be happy spending the rest of your life only with her?” He leaned forward in his seat waiting for Munro’s answer, his eyes almost twinkling with amusement now. Munro decided he did not like this guy one bit.
“So the young lady who opened the door is your wife.” stated Munro flatly. He already pitied the poor thing.
“Her name is Mary,” said Jeremiah. “And yeah, I’ve been married to her for the past five years. Too long in my opinion,” he said, chuckling to himself as though he had cracked a joke. Munro wished he could crack his head.
“Why was she wearing a uniform then?” asked Munro, determined to get through the interview without causing any bodily harm to Jeremiah.
“Oh, I just make her wear that when she is cooking, or cleaning,” said Jeremiah nonchalantly. “Besides, it suits her way more than any of the other dresses she buys.” He flashed a stupid grin and it took all of Munro’s willpower to sit tightly in the chair.
Munro looked away from Jeremiah’s infuriating face and turned to study the notes in his hand. “When did you meet Belinda?” he asked.
“About two years back. She was like a breath of fresh air. Mary, as you can imagine, isn’t exactly a fitting companion for me. So Belinda filled that void in my life,” he said gloatingly.
“What went wrong then?” asked Munro, wondering what on earth Belinda saw in this buffoon.
“Every relationship has its honeymoon period and ours had one too I guess,” said Jeremiah, “I was starting to feel a little trapped but Belinda didn’t get that. The more I tried to break away from her, the more demanding she started getting. I tried to reason with her for months but she convinced herself that I was going to leave Mary for her. At the end of the day, I am a married man who has a full household to take care of. It’s not possible for me to leave everything.”
“It’s strange that you didn’t think of that before you started a relationship with her,” said Munro, before he could stop himself.”
“What Belinda and I had was pure fun. It was never meant to become a serious relationship. Of course, if I had known how things would have ended, I would have been much nicer to her.” Once again, Jeremiah’s eyes were shrouded in remorse. In a split second, the amusement on his face had been replaced by traces of grief. Munro found it disturbing.
“Could I talk to your wife?” asked Munro, merely going through the routine questions now. He had already hooked and booked Jeremiah in his mind.
Jeremiah looked at him strangely, as though caught by Munro’s unexpected request. He nodded slightly, got up from his chair and left the room. After a few minutes, he re-entered the room and informed Munro that his wife wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to make it downstairs.
Secretly relieved that he didn’t have to waste his time playing out a charade when he had so much to do, Munro snapped his book shut and stalked out of Jeremiah’s house quickly. As he was walking to his car, Munro could feel Jeremiah’s gaze boring into his back. He got in and turned around to look at him. Jeremiah was waving out to him slightly, a small sinister smirk playing on his lips. Munro nodded his head curtly and drove away without a second glance. He knew he had his perp.
Munro was sweating profusely. He shook off his jacket and dabbed his forehead with a handkerchief. It was a sweltering hot afternoon and the memorial service for Belinda had just ended. Munro had successfully proved that Jeremiah had murdered Belinda and it had made him a hero in the whole city. Munro had to admit though, that it had been an easy case to solve. He had found Jeremiah’s handkerchief on Belinda and a chain that Belinda had been seen wearing that night, had been recovered from Jeremiah’s bedroom. The love triangle and the incriminating phone calls had also served to provide Jeremiah with a strong motive for the murder. Jeremiah, as expected, had denied his involvement but in the end, had accepted his arrest calmly. And now that Jeremiah was in prison, Belinda’s parents had finally held a memorial service for her. The service had been beautiful but the cramped little chapel had become stifling and Munro was glad to be outside again. As he took out a packet of cigarettes and lit one up, he noticed a petite figure, shrouded in a dark garb, exiting the chapel and moving slowly towards him. It was only when she came and stood in front of Munro and took off her oversized sunglasses that Munro recognized her.
“Mary?” said Munro, not bothering to hide his surprise.
“I’m glad you recognised me,” she said with a nervous laugh. “I don’t go out much by myself nowadays.”
“I’m sorry about your husband,” said Munro sincerely. Jeremiah was a creep but he felt bad for the timid little soul standing in front of him.
“Thank you,” she said, nodding her head like a little bird, “but if he is guilty, then I guess he deserved it.”
“Trust me, he is guilty,” said Munro, looking straight at her. “Do you doubt it?”
“I don’t know,” she replied softly, nervously plucking at her dress. “He did have a temper but I thought he was only capable of beating me, nothing more.”
“He beat you?” asked Munro, glad that the jerk was in prison.
“No, no,” she replied quickly, “I just meant that he would get angry sometimes, that’s all.” She paused for a moment and then said, “I’ve digressed. I just wanted to come up to you and thank you.”
“For what?” asked Munro.
“For doing the right thing,” she replied, “The children and I are leading a much more peaceful life now and it’s only possible because you sent Jeremiah away. The last few months had become a living nightmare for all of us because he was upset over her and I had no choice but to hang on for the sake of my children. But now, I am finally free.”
“So you knew Belinda?” asked Munro, fascinated by the little woman who had the strength to live with a man like Jeremiah.
“I knew about Ms Beale, yes,” she replied in a small voice. “Jeremiah wasn’t very secretive about her. He said a man should have interests outside the house. In fact, she even came to visit him at home once.”
“How long back was that?” asked Munro, feeling sorry for the woman.
“About a month or so,” she replied timidly. “I remember because I had just baked a carrot cake for Jeremiah that day…his favourite,” she said, smiling slightly. She paused then, seemingly lost in her own thoughts. When she started speaking again, her voice was quivering with anger, “But Jeremiah made me serve it to Ms Beale in my uniform. She liked it a lot and he just gave her the whole thing to take home.” She stopped and tried to compose herself.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” said Munro sympathetically.
“I had no choice,” she answered feebly. “But I have no regrets. Belinda was actually a really lovely girl. And she always looked so pretty in those striking red shoes. It’s a real pity she was found wearing them. My heart really goes out to her parents. They are such wonderful people.” Just then, Munro saw Mary look beyond him and instantly her face was aglow with a warm smile. Munro turned around and saw two boys, laughing and shouting for her to join them. Mary let out a deep laugh and Munro realized that he had never seen her look happy before. It suited her. As she called out to them, Mary turned to Munro, her eyes shining with merriment, “It was so good to talk to you Mr Munro,” she said. “Do come and visit us sometime. The boys would love to have your company.” With that, she flashed Munro a friendly smile and strode happily across the lawn.
Munro stood there, watching her sweep the little boys up in her arms and couldn’t resist smiling at the happy little family. Feeling content that he had a small part to play in their happiness, he started walking away. He had almost reached his car, when he came to a grinding halt. As he replayed their conversation in his mind, Munro’s head started spinning. He had never told Mary that Belinda had been wearing red shoes the day she had been drowned.
Munro started sweating again.
The Australian Literature Review