A tremor on the pavement stopped the pedestrians’ march—a tremor that made them turn their heads, squint their eyes, and prick their ears in search of the pulpy thud that birthed it. Their collective search found a crumpled man—a man that once had a name—reduced to shards of bone and scattered teeth. A man whose life ran from him and scurried into the gutters and the storm drains. A life cleaved by a cinder block that fell from a five-storey building—the last of his thoughts smeared on a pair of pointed tip, black leather, wedge heel shoes.
They erupted then—the commuters, the students, the travellers. Some screamed, some yelled, some swore. A brave one checked the pulp man’s pulse with a tremoring hand. Others pressed their phones to their ears and spoke street names with shaking voices. Some held their phones out in front, their lenses tracking the mess, before looking skyward to an empty roof backlit by sunrise. The cinder block lay cracked on the pavement and a faint puff of its chalk carried on the wind. The man’s nerves twitched with the last fires of life before being extinguished by death’s deft fingers.
He was pronounced dead on arrival at 8:47 am on the twenty-fourth of August.
Floor three, room thirty-two
‘We’re asking all residents if they saw anything irregular at the time of the incident. Any information you have will be useful,’ the Senior Constable asked a man hunched by age.
‘Well, not on the day exactly, but there is one fellow. He’s a twitchy man. Wears an oversized coat. Makes him look like a cockroach. He’s rather ugly, with eyes too big for his head that dart around like lice.’
‘And the relevance of this, sir?’
‘I’m getting there. He takes the number eleven tram. I’ve been stuck with him on it. He gets off at North Melbourne. He’s out quite often—got a lot of appointments. He told me once, ‘it never ends, it’s always a case worker or Centrelink or work-for-the-dole thing.’ You’ve seen his type, the sit-at-the-back-of-the-bus type.’
The senior constable replied with a series of nods. Her unclicked ball point tickled at her notepad in circles.
‘He recently got let go from his volunteer work at the vet. Apparently, Vick the vet—who I talk to from time to time at the market—found him staring at the receptionist, drooling. I saw him do it when a woman got on the tram. You should have seen the spit drop from his fat tongue. Disgusting. Oh! I’ve heard him watching porno—can hear it a floor down. He’s got that feral look in his eyes. Heard he got expelled from high school too—hit some kid with a rock, gashed him right open. And the leather gloves! If you want to know who done it, that’s him. He’s in room forty-seven.’
They called it the Humpty Dumpty case. Chatter flitted around about the poor bastards that had to work it.
Hargrave rubbed at her eyes with the bend of her wrist. Squinting, she scanned the file thick with statements and notes:
- Rundown complex, ex-commission now privately owned.
- CCTV in the lobby of complex—some hallways. Don’t show anyone with a bag big enough to carry a cinder block entering the building. Cameras inoperative on Floor Four. Suspect potentially inside.
- Possible escape via fire exit—alarm faulty.
- No construction gear on roof of complex.
- Cinder block may have been planted at/near complex days prior.
- No fingerprints on cinder block.
- Targeted killing unlikely. Victim a barista studying drama. No enemies or debts. Dropping cinder block unlikely MO for targeted killing.
- Lack of interpersonal motive. Budding impulse killer. Potential to kill again.
Hargrave sighed and turned to her partner. ‘Hey Chim, we need to go door knocking again. Floor Four—mighta missed something.’
Chim released a thick cloud of watermelon scented vapour from his lips. ‘Sure, but you’re driving.’
Floor four, room forty-seven
‘Sorry to bother you. I’m Senior Constable Hargrave and this is Constable Veras. We’re asking if you have any information about the events of the 24th?’
He looked an odd man. Greasy face, unfortunate underbite, bug eyed. He opened his door just wide enough to expose his features. ‘None more than anyone else.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ Chim examined the man, pondering what category of existence he belonged to.
‘Well, I’m guessing you haven’t got much if you’re around here again.’ The man yawned and scratched at his cheek with a gloved hand.
‘Did you have anyone here with you, or hear any visitors?’ Hargrave tried to spy into his hallway. The man’s eyes tracked her movement.
‘Wanna take a peek?’ He smiled, drool sliding down his canine, down his pencilled-on lip and onto his concave chin. He opened the door wider revealing the paint in his hallway, jagged and chipped like bitten fingernails.
‘Why the gloves?’ Chim asked.
The man sniggered. ‘Of course, you wouldn’t want to come in. Your type never does.’
‘My type?’ Hargrave cocked her head.
‘Women.’ The man straightened himself and tried to stand tall—a bluff his small, crooked frame couldn’t sell.
‘I think we’ve got all we need, thank you.’ Hargrave and Chim turned, ready to leave. The man beckoned them.
‘I know who did it.’
Curious, Hargrave turned. ‘Ok, spill it. Try not to waste our time.’
‘Someone with a duffle bag marched up those fire exit stairs, Hargrave. Someone I’ve never seen before. And on that roof, they threw that cinder block. They smiled in a friendly way and nodded knowingly as they passed me. I guess they wear their mask well because I couldn’t believe what lived in them. Venom bubbled in their marrow. Their skin itched with malice. Murder was always on their mind. And they looked just like you, Hargrave. Just like you.’
‘Looked like me how?’
‘Normal. Feel free to search my apartment any time.’
The man’s room was searched the following day. Nothing was found.
The file sat cold and dormant. Time curled its edges, faded its print, yellowed its paper skin. ‘Death by misadventure’ was Hargrave’s final entry.
The man in forty-seven still dwells there. The man in thirty-two said he spotted him on the roof, mouth slathered with spit, lizard-eyed, peering down, watching.