Cerise Noire: An Australian Serial Killer Thriller

The Sydney Quartet Book 3

When Joy and Rick meet in a bar one night, they discover that by pooling information and working together, they can help each other achieve their goal.

That decision leads them into more danger than they could ever imagine, and to an outcome that nobody could foresee.

Chapter 1

I walked away from the Woolloomooloo waterfront, took a left, and ended at the bottom of McElhone Stairs. Memories of how we used to meet at the top, smoke drifting above her head as the corner of her mouth curled in a sardonic smile. For a minute I stood there remembering those times. Could she be there, waiting at the top with her back leaning against the wall? I put my foot on the first step and almost started to climb before turning away. At the top of those steps lay the road to Kings Cross and a painful death. Even here I was vulnerable. Danger was never far away.

The frigid night air poured down the worn stone steps and worked its way into my skin. The full moon hit me like a spotlight. I moved into the shadows, leaned against the rough, moss-covered wall, slid a cigarette from the pack and placed it between my lips. My fingers trembled. Three times I tried to light a damp match, cursed, and tried again. There was a movement, then a metallic click beside my head followed by a blinding flash.

A flame moved to the end of my cigarette, and a familiar voice said, ‘You got one of those for me, handsome?’

I lit from the slim, gold lighter. ‘What are you doing here, Polly?’

‘On my way home.’ She took a cigarette from the pack I offered. ‘Not going to The Cross are you, Rick? I heard Ray Peterson is looking for you. Didn't sound good.’

I took a step away from the wall. ‘Your place is by the causeway, isn't it?’

Even in the dull yellow streetlight I could see a frown in her face. ‘It's the other side of the flyover. Why?’

‘I'll walk with you.’

She flicked the lighter, and let the flame burn between us for a moment, then she lit the cigarette, and said, ‘Will it get me killed?’

‘If anyone spots us, say you were turning me in.’

She let out a short, smoky snort, and looped her arm through mine. We walked west along Foul Street, away from the steps, away from Kings Cross.

‘Haven't seen you around for a while, Rick. Been away again?’

‘Just getting some sea-air. Are you still working shifts at The Dog & Duck?’

‘There and Ronnie's Place. That's where I've been tonight. I was supposed to finish at eight, but Meagan was late, as always. So here I am at quarter to eleven on my way home.’

‘You can use the overtime.’

‘Hah! You think Lennie pays OT? You're a funny man, Rick Stone.’

‘That's why I have so many friends.’

She seemed to think about that for a while before saying, ‘What happened to piss off Ray Peterson enough to want to kill you?’

I figured she'd know; all the Kings Cross regulars would have heard. Ray Peterson was chief enforcer for Gary Mitchell, who was a freelance underworld Mr Logistics. Mitchell took care of problems for Johno Brookes, who at that time was the Boss of the Cross. Ray always struck me as being borderline psychopath, or is it sociopath? Either way, he's not a guy I wanted to get wrong with. Ray commanded a small army of muscle on the street and was the most feared man in Kings Cross.

‘Ray thinks I might have dogged on him.’

‘And did you?’ she asked in a matter-of-fact way.

I shrugged, flicked the cigarette stub away. ‘You know me better than that, Polly. Ray's looking for someone to blame for that ecstasy bust in Pittwater. It was probably one of his own guys being careless with his mouth, and now Ray's taking heat from Brookes, and the cops are looking at him. It'll blow over. The truth always comes out in the end.’

‘And the truth is?’

‘The truth is I didn't know anything about it. I've never been mixed up in anything like that. I'm clean and running my own life. The word on the street is that I was talking to the jacks not long after being seen talking with Horse, who was one of those arrested, and is now in the safekeeping of our fine police force. Horse approached me about getting a van for him, the jacks wanted to know what I'd been saying to Horse.’

‘What did you tell them?’

‘The truth. I had nothing to hide. Horse thought I did a bit of work for Tommy Tucker, a small-time car dealer over on Parramatta Road. He thought I could get him a deal. Thing is, I haven't done any work for Tommy in ages, so told him go talk with Tommy yourself. And that was it.’

‘What are you going to do, Rick? You going away for a while until things cool off?’

‘That'd be the smart thing to do.’

She gave a light snort. ‘So you're staying?’

‘Sure I'm staying.’

‘I thought so.’

‘When was the last time we did this, Polly?’

‘You mean walk along the Woolloomooloo waterfront?’

‘I was thinking of late night strolling, enjoying each other's company.’

‘Let me think… oh that's right, it was a few days before you disappeared without so much as kiss my cute arse. Not a phone call, no postcard, nothing.’

‘Come on, don't get mad about that, Polly, it's not like we were an item.’

‘No, but a “see you round” would have been nice.’

We walked in silence for a while, then she said, ‘What were you doing there tonight — at the bottom of McElhone Stairs?’

‘Waiting for you to come and light my cigarette, Polly. What else?’

She stopped, her unblinking eyes penetrated me for the truth. ‘She's gone, Rick. Katie's gone. You can't spend the rest of your life running away to sea, or moping around Woolloomooloo waiting for a ghost. It's been seven months now.’ She watched me, waiting for a response. When it didn't come, she said, ‘Did the cops find anything more about her murder, or have any suspects?’

‘No.’ I said with more edge than necessary, then turned from her gaze and continued walking. ‘Neither did I. I drew a blank at every line of inquiry. It was like she was murdered by a spirit.’

My jaw clenched in that familiar way. It always did when I thought about Katie, about how she was stabbed to death, and how there wasn't a trace of evidence. No leads. The killer got clean away.

I was lost in thoughts of loss and savage revenge when Polly said, ‘What will you do… about Ray?’

‘I've been thinking about that, and I'm going to front him. Tell him it wasn't me who dogged on him.’

‘Are you sure that's a good idea?’

‘No, but I'm going to do it anyway.’

‘I thought as much.’

When we crossed the deserted road and approached her apartment, she slowed and asked, ‘Have you eaten yet?’

‘No. How about you? Do you want to go and get something?’

‘It's a bit late for eating out, and I'm not getting caught in a restaurant with you. I'd be guilty by association.’ She was quiet for a moment before saying, ‘Do you fancy Indian takeaway?’

‘Sure, Indian would be great. I've hardly eaten all day.’

She unlocked the door to her apartment, stepped aside to let me in and said, ‘You better stay here. There's beer in the fridge. Make yourself at home.’

She pushed away the twenty-dollar bill I offered, turned back toward the street and said over her shoulder, ‘I'll be back in twenty minutes. Is Chicken Korma okay for you? You can have what you want, but the Korma is always good.’

‘Chicken Korma sounds great. And rice, lots of rice.’

I stood in the doorway watching her walk back across the road. I'd known Polly Sparrow for years. She'd always worked around Kings Cross, and for a while, so had I. For her it had been dancing, then bar work as she slid into her thirties. She was still attractive and kept herself trim, but dancing in clubs was for the young. We met during my brief spell as a club bouncer. But just as Polly abandoned the pole, I moved into a less physical life myself. We remained friends, bumping into each other in a club, or she'd serve me drinks in one of the bars she worked in. We were close for a short while, about eight years ago, but I never saw it as serious. Then I met Katie and my life changed. For the first time, I had plans for the future. Hopes and aspirations.

Seven months ago Katie's body was found lying in a shop doorway a mile from home, on Valentine's day for an extra cruel twist. I dropped everything trying to find out what happened, who had taken her life from her and her from me. When all I turned up after more than three months investigating and trying to work in with the cops was a fat zero, I didn't feel worthy of working as an investigator anymore. I'd failed the most important job I'd ever have.

I still had the licence, but had spent the last three months working around various waterfronts on the east coast. Anywhere I could earn enough to keep me in smokes and mooring fees. My boat was the thing that kept me sane… maybe the thing that kept me alive. It was where I could escape the internal accusers, the voices shouting “FAILURE” anytime I closed my eyes. I think lots of people expected me to come undone, to hit the bottle or lie around getting stoned. But I didn't. I stopped drinking altogether and hadn't touched bud for years. The only vices I had were isolation and cigarettes. I'd spend the days sanding hulls or rolling on anti-fouling paint for eight bucks an hour, and at night sit in the cockpit staring into nothing and crushing cigarette butts in a tin can.

In those first few months after Katie had been murdered, Polly was there as a friend, someone to listen, sympathise, and occasionally get pissed and sleep with. Despite that, I'd never been to her flat before.

The door needed a shove to close properly, the effect of years of neglect. I walked up the wooden stairs that were once painted green, but were now worn bare in the centre by a thousand tired feet.

I found the fridge, cracked a beer and flopped into an armchair. It wasn't how I would have imagined her place to be. There was a short bookshelf containing mainly crime thrillers and mysteries, a cluttered table with two hardback chairs.

I stood and looked around, curious about how she lived. The bathroom was behind the first door I opened. When I pulled the switch cord, a tired florescent buzzed and flashed twice before flooding the room with hard white light. The room was clean and orderly. Across the hall was the bedroom with pink curtains and bedcover, and like the bathroom, clean and orderly. All of it more feminine than I remember her being. Perhaps she was growing up, maturing. The small kitchen area was sparsely stocked. I figured she spent most nights eating out or hauling takeaways home. My curiosity satisfied, I took a copy of Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty from the bookshelf, sat back in the armchair and started reading.


Chapter 2

When an hour had passed and Polly still wasn't home, I left the apartment and went looking for her.

Flashing blue lights reflected in the windows of a house when I turned the first corner. Faces peered out from behind the glass. I stayed close to the wall and waited, expecting Polly to walk out of the shadows carrying a bag of food.

A host of scenarios ran through my head. Maybe it was a car crash, and she was a witness. Maybe someone had fallen, and she was there helping them.

These possibilities and more ran through my mind. But fearing it was her kept me leaning against the wall, wondering if someone had seen us together, and that she was lying damaged on the ground… or worse.

A man was walking away from the scene on the other side of the road. I slipped back around the corner, waited a ten-beat, then walked out and crossed toward him. As I drew level with him I said, ‘What's the rumpus?’

He looked at me for a second, shrugged and said, ‘Another prossie murder from the sounds of it.’ He walked on.

‘Wait. What do you mean, another?’ He glanced at me over his shoulder, but kept going.

More blue lights bouncing off the buildings as I walked toward the police cars parked at odd angles across the road. There was a group of uniformed officers and medics gathered around the open doors at the rear of an ambulance.

Yellow and black crime-scene tape stretched across the narrow road, holding back the small crowd of onlookers. I joined them, listening to the buzz of gossip. Another young woman… he's done another… must be the same one.

‘What's happening?’ I asked the middle-aged woman in a housecoat and slippers standing beside me.

‘Seems like another woman's been murdered,’ she said with more excitement than was appropriate.


She looked at me with mild disdain. ‘Don't you read the bloody news? It's been in the bloody news for weeks now. Both of them single women, both on their own late at night. Makes ya wonder.’

‘Wonder what?’ I said with a touch of anger.

She looked at me, then turned her attention back to the unfolding crime scene.

I pushed my way to the front, ducked under the tape and strode toward the ambulance. A uniformed police officer held his arm out to stop me. ‘It might be a friend of mine.’

Before I could protest, a familiar voice came from my left, from the group at the back of the ambulance.

‘What brings you here, Rick Stone?’

The uniform looked towards the plain-clothes detective. ‘It's okay, let him through.’

It was Alex Wilson, Detective Sergeant Alex Wilson of the notoriously corrupt Kings Cross Division. Wilson had been a cop at kings Cross as long as I'd been going there. When I first worked as a bouncer, he was a rooky constable walking the beat along the Golden Mile of Darlinghurst Road. In those days we had what you might call a working relationship with the cops. For instance, if a new face showed up looking to make a name for himself and upset the status quo, we'd load him up with a few grams and then give the likes of Alex Wilson a call. He'd get an easy arrest and conviction, making him look good, and he'd owe us a favour. It worked for them, worked for us, and worked for Kings Cross, keeping it free of the loose cannons and fly-by-nights.

‘The victim might be someone I know, Alex. Have you got a name?’

‘You know I can't release that information, especially to a bloody PI.’

‘Is it Polly Sparrow?’ I asked.

When his expression darkened, I knew it was her. I wondered if she'd died as a result of being seen with me? Maybe they'd tried to get my location from her and given her a beating when she wouldn't give it up?

‘How'd she die?’

‘Come on, Rick, I can't give you anything this early, you shouldn't even be here.’

‘But it is her… it is Polly?’

Before Alex could answer, a young detective said, ‘It looks like another. Same MO.’ He was walking towards us, chin tipped up and a confident stride.

‘Another what?’ I asked.

He looked down his long straight nose at me. ‘And you would be?’

‘Stone, Rick Stone. PI,’ I said, and held out my hand. He looked at it, then muttered, ‘DC Rod Blane. What's your interest?’

‘It's okay, Rod, I know him,’ Alex said. ‘Me and Rick go back a long way.’

When I turned back to face Alex, a flood of relief hit me as I saw Polly talking with a uniformed police officer fifty feet away.

‘It's okay, Alex, she's over there. I'll see you around.’ I clapped Alex Wilson on the shoulder as I walked to where Polly was speaking with the uniform.

I laid my hand on the small of her back, and said, ‘What happened?’

Before she could answer, the uniformed officer said, ‘Are you her

‘A friend. What happened?’

‘Ms Sparrow is helping with our inquiry. If you wouldn't mind waiting while I finish taking a statement, sir.’


Polly handed me the plastic bag containing our Takeaways, smiled, then turned back to the cop. He looked at me when I took a step back, as if he might have recognised me, but then continued questioning Polly.

We walked back to her apartment, her arm looped through mine, her head down, her face serious. I didn't ask her anything, just kept her close and walked fast. Listening to the last five minutes of her statement to the cops told me enough. She'd been second on the scene of a grisly murder with a blood spattered corpse behind a rubbish skip.

Back at her apartment, I zapped the food in the microwave, then half-filled a tumbler with Scotch and handed it to her. She took a large swallow. I put the food on plates and we sat facing each other in leather armchairs.

She took another slug of scotch, picked up her fork, and said, ‘This old guy walking his dog found her. Seems like the dog smelled the blood, sniffed around the back of the dumpster and found the body. Least that's what I heard the cops saying.’

‘Did you see the body?’

She scooped up some korma and nodded.


Her eyes held mine as she chewed and swallowed. ‘A lot of blood. Her clothes were ripped.’

‘Sorry. Sorry you had to go through that. I should have gone for the food instead of you.’

She nodded again, then lifted her glass indicating I should refill it, which I did. She wasn't doing anything in particular to make me feel guilty, but I did anyway. Had she gone five minutes earlier it could have been her lying in a pool of blood behind a skip.

‘Wrong place, wrong time,’ she said. ‘Story of my life.’

‘Did you touch her? Check for a pulse?’

‘No, of course not. Why?’

She took another drink, fumbled the glass spilling it down her shirt. Her face flushed when she looked at it, then she stood, pulling the shirt off as she walked toward the bathroom. I heard the washing machine start, then saw her cross naked to the bedroom. She came back into the dining area wearing a clean top and track pants. The events of the night had rattle her, and it was understandable.

Indulge in a gripping suspense novel—a wonderful way to spend the day. And once you’ve finished one, a vast world of other books awaits your exploration.
Get free short story right now!

Scroll to Top