Trigger

I swirl the ice in my drink and survey the scene. Pictures of boats hang askew and there’s fishing nets tacked to the ceiling, a busted ship’s helm on the wall. Two guys joke around as they circle a pool table located at the back of the bar. A bloke and his girl sit talking in the corner. An old fella seated nearby smiles at nothing.

I can’t explain to you how miserable I find this place, which pretty much suits where I’m at—I’m just a worn out, middle-aged cop with nothing better to do than drink myself stupid.

I sit alone, trying not to think about the murder victim Anderson and I found a few hours earlier. Pretty girl. No more than eighteen.

Such a fucken waste.

Someone had reported a disturbance at the premises, a busted up apartment downtown, but there was no sign of the asshole who’d done the damage. And we had nothing on him: no prints, no leads, nothing. The guy will act again soon—I know it. He’ll have a taste for notching up victims.

I pretend not to hear the sound of water dripping. It’s like a ratchet cranking up my angst. I shut my eyes and will the noise into submission. Probably another flashback. I’ve seen some crazy shit in my time. That’s what working undercover in narcs for six years does to you—fucks with your brain. I breathe in, counting to three. Then breathe out. In. And out. Just like the shrink taught me. When I open my eyes, the bartender’s staring at me.

‘You okay?’

‘Fine, thanks,’ I say.

‘Hard day?’

‘Yeah.’

The bartender looks at me while wiping the bench, then takes the hint and moves away.

I watch the couple in the corner. The girl seems upset. The bloke leans forward, shoulders taut.

I hear laughter and move my gaze. The game of pool is done and the players shake hands. They’re good-looking boys, well-dressed, and I can’t help but wonder what they’re doing in such a dive. Maybe they’re in unfamiliar territory, just passing through. Personally, I’ve got no excuse for coming here, except that it’s a quiet place to drink.

The sound of dripping continues.

I watch the bartender stack glasses, then look back over at the couple. The girl examines the surface of the table, while the bloke keeps talking. Some people don’t know when to shut up.

The old fella appears beside me. He smiles, showing a gap where his front teeth should’ve been. ‘Evenin’.’

I nod.

‘How’s life?’

‘Alright.’

The bartender comes over. ‘Another whiskey, Ralph?’

‘Yeah, thanks.’

‘No problem.’

The bloke in the corner raises his voice—something about a phone call and money.

The girl glances around, looking embarrassed. She’s young, probably still in her teens. Catching her eye, I force a smile. Her gaze flicks away and up the wall. I’ve seen that look before. She’s nervous. Trapped.

The old fella tilts his head in the couple’s direction. ‘Bit of a tiff, hey?’

No kidding Einstein. ‘Sounds like it.’

The old fella lets out a sigh. ‘Women.’

I can’t muster up a reply.

The bartender hands a whiskey to the old fella, who pushes some coins across the counter with a wink, then returns to his table.

The bloke in the corner hasn’t let up. He twists the girl’s wrist. She shifts in her seat and bites her lip. I down my drink and get to my feet. As I approach, the girl observes me with a jittery stare.

The bloke looks over his shoulder. ‘You right?’

‘She’s had enough,’ I tell him.

‘It’s fine,’ she says. ‘There ain’t no problem.’

‘That’s not how it looks,’ I say.

Her smile fails to reach her eyes. ‘It’s nothin’ I can’t handle.’
The bloke stands, his chair scraping against the floor. ‘Maybe you’re the one with the problem.’

I don’t respond. The sound of dripping water threatens to swamp my focus, but the noise vanishes as someone touches my shoulder.

‘How’s it goin’ boys?’

I turn to see the old man flashing his ludicrous grin.

‘Just fucken dandy,’ the bloke answers.

‘Take it easy, son.’ The old fella pats the bloke’s arm.

The bloke smacks the old fella’s hand away.

I shove the bloke square in the chest and he falls against the table. Drinks spill.

The girl jumps up. ‘We don’t want no trouble, hon. Let’s just go.’

The bloke moves towards me, chin thrust upwards.

The old fella steps between us, hands raised amicably. ‘Let’s just calm down.’

The bloke moves fast, knocking the old fella over. I lunge at him and we tumble to the floor, a bundle of tangled limbs. The bloke is stronger than he appears, but I soon have him pinned. I hit him over and over, spurred on by the satisfaction of flesh splitting beneath my knuckles.

Not so tough now, are you? Mother-fucker.

I hear water dripping. Or maybe it’s blood. In any case, I keep on hitting as the jagged hook of an image comes to the fore of my mind.

The dead woman lies in the bath, face submerged, hair billowing. Water drips from the faucet, landing right between her eyes. She’s young and thin; scars litter her skin, suggesting she was one for self-harm. Or maybe someone else had done it to her. I lift her out of the water and lay her gently on the floor. Purple plumes encircle her neck. I cover her with a towel and look around the bathroom. There’s no sign of the perpetrator. Things might’ve have been a whole lot different if we’d arrived ten minutes sooner. Then again, maybe not.

I wonder if her parents are still around, or whether she had siblings. Did they know how she made a living? Did they care?

Anderson radios in the homicide to HQ.

I stay crouched by the dead young woman. I’ve seen cases like this before—there’s no shortage of brutal crimes in this city—but for some reason this one’s hit hard, you know? I lean to the side and vomit on the lino floor.

Anderson appears beside me and touches my shoulder.

‘Sorry,’ I say.

He doesn’t answer.

The sound of dripping water is engulfed by screaming. Then there’s an arm around my throat and I’m being dragged across the floor. I roll onto my back, gasping like a stranded fish, and stare at the black netting above. Seconds later, the bartender’s face comes into view. His lips move, but I can’t hear a word he’s saying. Everything’s a blur of white noise. The pool players stand close-by and the old fella’s made it to his feet. They’re all staring at me. I shift my gaze and see the girl leaning over her boyfriend. She’s crying, almost hysterical.

Jesus fucken Christ.

My hand throbs. The pain migrates to my head and then a wave of darkness encroaches upon my vision. It reaches the height of the ceiling, rearing like some giant fucken monster. I can’t tell you how much I long for it to take me away, to sweep me out beyond the stars, to a place where there is only silence. But I’ve never been that lucky.

And, somehow, amongst all the chaos, I hear the sound of sirens.

Dr Eileen Herbert-Goodall is a published writer of fiction and non-fiction, as well as an experienced editor. She is Director of Field of Words, the writing organisation dedicated to helping writers grow. She also teaches creative writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Eileen is the author of a cross-over novella titled ‘The Sherbrooke Brothers’. Her second novella is due for release in 2019. She holds a Doctorate of Creative Arts.