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The Girl in the Red Dress

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Story Title: The Girl in the Red Dress

Type of story: One Shot
Main Characters: Charlie
BTTB rating: A (V/D)
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller,
Does story include spoilers: No
Any warnings: Contains reference to violence and death.

Summary: Charlie's day starts with the finding of the girl wearing a red dress.

She looked liked every other girl in town. Long blonde hair covering a heart shaped face. Charlie Buckton took a step forward, mindful of the wet sand and the foamy surf swirling around the body. As senior officer her phone had rung with news of the discovery of the unknown female washed up on the beach. She’d immediately run into the other bedroom checking on Ruby, sighing with relief when she saw her daughter tucked up safely in her bed. The covers childishly pulled to her chin.

Her daughter had been going through a phase of rebellion, not that Charlie could blame her with the events of the past couple of years. First there was finding out about the circumstances of her birth and then the shock of Grant’s murder and their personal involvement in the case. She was glad that she had Angelo there; the other person in their small family. He always managed to listen to her rants about her daughter and what was going on in the Bay without passing judgement. It was all the harder because he had been a police constable before circumstances made him hand in his notice. Focusing once more on the body in front of her she pulled on a latex glove and moved the blonde hair away from the girl’s face unable to contain her gasp as she recognised her.

“Charlie, forensics are here.” One of her officers called over to her.

“Ok.” Charlie said easing up and backing away from the girl lying motionless on the hot sand. “Better mark out a perimeter.” Charlie instructed looking around the beach and seeing a crowd beginning to gather to gawk on the body in the red dress. She watched as one of her constables moved to the police car parked on the sea front and took out the kit from the back. Metal spikes would be placed in the sand to hold up the infamous blue and white police tape that would mark out a large square around the crime scene in order to gather as much evidence as possible in the event of a suspicious death.

“Charlie.” She heard her voice called and moved over to where Romeo was standing to one side. “Who is it?”

“Sorry Romeo, there is nothing I can tell you at the moment.” She told him looking over at him and taking in his concerned gaze and ruffled hair as though he’d put his hand through it repeatedly. She took in his appearance without even thinking about it, his T shirt was ruffled as though hastily dragged from the washing pile and old denim jeans, ripped from a lot of use as opposed to a fashion statement. She glanced down and saw that one of his laces was undone and she frowned as all the details connected in her head.

“Look.” Romeo began.

They heard a car approaching and turned automatically to look at the vehicle. Charlie noticed a set of red marks on the other mans neck as he had his head averted. Four diagonal lines that resembled scratches and she made a mental note to ask him about them when she was called back over to where the body lay.

Romeo dragged his phone out of his pocket and started to dial when he realised that he had no idea what to say. He glanced back at the scene and felt a sob rise up in his chest. Turning away he slipped past the crowd gathering at the dramatic show and tried not to allow the repulsion he felt because of their macabre gawking turn his stomach. Already it felt churned up because of the brief glimpse of the dead girl thatt he’d seen.

“It’s a female, no outwardly visible signs of trauma, possible drowning. We’ll know more after an autopsy.” Charlie was told.

She nodded and looked once more at the body, seeing the wet fabric from the dress cling to the lifeless limbs offering some mystical protection to the still pale form. She watched as her hands were bagged up to preserve any trace evidence and she was struck by how small the girls’ wrists were, fragile bones with a covering of pale skin translucent now from the absence of life. Her fingernails long and manicured.

“We’ll need next of kin to make a formal identification.” The person from SOCO continued.

“There could be some problem with that.” Charlie proclaimed before looking back up the beach. She caught sight of Romeo disappearing through the crowd and she wondered what he knew.

“Did you know the deceased?” She was asked.

Charlie nodded.

“The girl in the red dress is Nicole Franklin. She lived here for a while.” Charlie pronounced wondering how she was going to break the news to Ruby. Nicole had taken her HSC a couple of years ago and even before getting her results through she had left the Bay. When she was last seen there had been a bad thunderstorm, people had made their way to the diner or what was the surf club and held out for the night. When people talked later they said Nicole had last been seen moving along the road that led out of town with nothing more than a denim jacket on over her clothes and a large handbag. Making her leaving as much a mystery as her reappearance and subsequent death.

Coming out of her daydream state she saw Nicole’s body lifted into a black bag and the zip being slowly pulled up, shielding her from view before she was taken away. She followed carefully catching sight of Irene standing some way away next to Leah, the two women on their way to the diner to open up. She moved over to them.

“Any chance of a coffee ladies?” she asked them thinking about asking if they’d seen anything out of the ordinary. The diner was always a hub for information on anything going on in the Bay.

“Sure thing Darl.” Irene said turning away. “Do you know who the poor dear is yet?” she asked softly.

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you.” Charlie said quickly.

She caught Leah giving her a look and she averted her gaze hoping that Leah hadn’t seen anything betraying in her eyes, knowing that the shine in them was from the sheen of tears that she hoped her officers also hadn’t seen.

“Of course you can’t.” Leah agreed with her quickly, heading ahead of them and opening up the diner.

“Strewth.” Irene gasped seeing the chaos inside. Overturned tables and broken crockery spread over the floor.

“Stand back Irene.” Charlie called out stepping in front of the two women and pulling out her weapon as she moved inside a. “It’s clear.” She said after a minute holstering her gun.

“The door was locked.” Leah said puzzled.

“The back door is wide open.” Charlie told her pulling out phone.

“Could this be connected?” Irene asked. “To the body on the beach.?”

“I don’t know.” Charlie said thinking of the possible connection between Nicole and the diner. It used to be the place where Roman Harris once worked, Nicole’s father. Her mind drifted back to meeting Nicole for the first time and how she’d had to write a ticket out because the girl had been speeding in her yellow car and how difficult that made it when she’d later dated Roman for a brief time.

She glanced up at the officers heading over to her reacting to her radio call to them to come and check out the damage in the diner and to see if there was a connection between the two events. She walked over to them and gave them instructions before glancing back to Irene and Leah standing to one side looking as shocked by the scene in the diner as they were the discovery of the body.

“Can I give you a lift home? The SOCO team will need to examine the scene.”

“I’ve got me car.” Irene said quietly her eyes on the carnage.

“Thanks.” Leah said slowly.

Charlie moved out of the diner and walked with Leah and Irene to the car park where their respective cars were.

“We’ll contact you and let you know when you can return to the place. “ Charlie said to both of them before Irene climbed into her car and Leah and Charlie climbed into the police car. “Do you think there is a connection?” Leah asked.

“I don’t know. Who was last to lock up last night?”

“Indi was on last night.” Leah murmured. “Oh my God, that wasn’t her on the beach was it?”

“Leah.” Charlie said quickly.

“Well?” Leah demanded turning to her friend.

“You know I can’t tell you.” She said turning into the road where Leah lived and where she had also once lived, sharing Leah’s house. “We have to inform next of kin before anybody else.”

Leah gave her one of her famous looks, her brows lifting and her brown eyes glaring, before slowly getting out the car. She didn’t slam the door but it wasn’t far off and Charlie winced. She consoled herself with the knowledge that soon everyone would know the identity of the body found today, especially if Colleen had anything to do with it. She watched Leah move into the house before driving off and over to the Summer Bay house having already told the station she would begin notifications. Someone was going to contact the prison where Roman was and ensure that he was notified too. Maybe she would even take a trip out there and visit him once the investigation was concluded and hopefully, they had the person responsible behind bars.

She pulled up outside Summer Bay house and turned off the engine before taking a moment to compose herself before she moved to the green painted door. Pulling back the screen door she lifted her hand and knocked hearing her knuckles rapping on the wood and the resulting semi-echo from inside. Not many people knocked on the door, it was always metaphorically open to people. The door was opened and Miles stood there barefoot in front of her. She glanced over him before looking past him into the room and saw Romeo standing by the entrance into the hallway.

“Can I come in?” she asked.

“Who was it Charlie?” Miles asked her obviously have been told about the body by Romeo.

“Can I see you alone?” she asked looking pointedly past him and to Romeo.

Miles nodded distractedly glancing over at the other man.

“I’ll be upstairs.” Romeo said quickly rushing out of the room.

Charlie moved into the room and did a surreptitious check that Romeo had left the room shutting the door that separated the reception rooms from the hallway and stairs.

“Please sit down Miles.” She began looking at him.

“Just tell me who is it?” Miles muttered.

“It’s Nicole.” Charlie told him watching as the colour drained out of his face.

“No.” he gasped out clutching at his chest.

“Miles.” Charlie called out rushing over to the other man. She caught him as he began to fall but unable to support his weight she could only guide him to the floor. He gasped again, his face ashen, a moan of pain escaping his lips. She pressed her fingers to his neck checking for a pulse. Swearing she ran over to the door she had closed earlier and yanked it open.

“Romeo.” She yelled out before running back to Miles. She checked again for a pulse and saw the chest sink down as he stopped breathing. Entwining her fingers she pressed on his chest counting compressions before breathing into his mouth.

“Call for help.” Charlie bit out as she continued CPR.

Romeo nodded distractedly as he yanked his phone out of his pocket.

Charlie heard him speak into it as she continued pumping Miles’ heart and breathing for him. She felt a tightening of her own muscles as she worked and prayed for the strength to keep working on the other man equally praying that he would come back to them. She looked at his face not liking the greyish tint to it.

“Miles come on.” Romeo called out.

“Go out and see if the ambulance is here.” Charlie called out.

Romeo nodded and ran out of the door. It seemed an age before the paramedics were guided in by a frantic Romeo but knew that it was minutes. She was eased aside by the men in the green uniforms and she gave them the relevant information, age, nature of collapse, how long she had been trying CPR. Now the moment had passed she felt the adrenaline leaving her and the faint tremor to her limbs robbed her of movement for a brief time until she could stand again.

She watched as they brought out the paddles and pressed them to Miles’ chest trying to get his heart started again.

“Charlie.” Romeo got out his face pale with worry. “What did you say to him? Who was it on the beach?”

“Nothing, don’t ask Romeo I can’t tell you yet,” She denied glancing at him and catching sight of the now angry red welts on his neck. “But we will need to have a talk.”

Romeo looked at her and self-consciously covered up his neck.

“Indi and I had a fight in the diner last night as you probably know by now,” He said in explanation rubbing at the marks on his neck with his left hand before turning away and looking back at the space where Miles had collapsed. “I thought maybe it was Indi on the beach for a moment… that’s why I ran off earlier, I wanted to come here and borrow Miles’s car and..” He shrugged as though remembering something else as he glanced down at his ring less finger and then looked at Miles. “I’d just told him about the body when you turned up.”

She gave a brief nod making a mental note to talk to him later about the mess they’d encountered in the diner earlier knowing not only that now wasn’t a good time but also that it obviously wasn’t connected to Nicole’s death having seen his wedding ring missing as he’d touched his neck, plus of course, he was here and not over with Indi at the farm.

Both of them focused on Miles, watching as the two paramedics worked on him. They saw the faint look of remorse on their faces as they sat back and began clearing away equipment.

“No!” Romeo cried out.

“We’re sorry.” One of them said. “There was nothing we could do.”

Charlie nodded acknowledgement and moved over to Romeo’s side.

“Get away from me.” He cried out pulling from her grasp and running outside. Charlie watched him go transfixed by shock before following him. She saw him running down towards the road and she paused by her car before rejecting it and chasing after him.

“Romeo stop!” she called out.

He continued running dashing out into the road. It was then that she saw him stumble tripping on the untied shoelace and half falling. Turning her head she thought she saw the car driver frantically trying to stop before seeing the impact. Romeo splayed over the bonnet of the car bouncing on the metal before the thud sound even reached her. She called his name feeling that this seemed to be happening in slow motion, first his body tumbling like a discarded toy doll and finally the sound as he smacked into the granite road and then a pool of crimson spreading from his head and staining the dark tarmac of the road. Running towards him and kneeling down she peered frantically into his sightless eyes hoping for some sign of life. His lips opened and a slow hissing breath escaped.

“I didn’t see him until the last minute!” the driver cried out sounding hysterical.

“Sir I need you to get back into your vehicle.” She murmured pressing her fingers on Romeo’s neck. She sighed at the absence of a pulse feeling something inside her reacting to all the death she’d seen today. Nicole, Miles and now Romeo knowing she needed to sort things out because that was what she put on the uniform to do and it was her job but this was too much. Looking up from her position beside Romeo’s inert body she felt a dawning comprehension of the voice of the driver. “You?” she gasped out.

“Yes me.” He responded, sounding as though he was bored by the time it took her to realise who it was..

“But you are dead?” she said puzzled. She began to stand up sliding her hand towards her holster.

“No merely someone you thought was me.” Penn Graham murmured looking around. “I had some business to finish in the Bay. Steady.” He cautioned.

Charlie looked up at him seeing the gun he was now holding in his hand.

“Did you kill Nicole?” she asked.

Penn smiled.

“She tried to hide from me but I knew she would come back sooner or later.” He told her.

She gave a careful nod standing to her full height.

“Hand away from the holster, in case your fingers get a little twitchy,” Penn instructed. “I didn’t intend my little friend here to come hurtling towards me, I’d arranged something else for him but I had to improvise,” Penn stopped talking and focused once more on Charlie’s face.

“Miles.” She gasped out thinking of the other man’s all too convenient collapse.

“Yes I added a little something to his coffee.” Penn admitted shrugging nonchalantly. “Three down two to go.”

“You can’t….” Charlie began trying to think of something to get him distracted, just long enough so that she could get to her gun or her phone or her radio and get help.

She heard the report before seeing the flash from the gun he had pointed at her then the impact of the first bullet in her chest. She felt strangely detached from everything, seeing a second and third flash and then feeling the impact as the bullets rammed into her body pushing her backwards. She fell to the hard road looking up at the sky and clutching at her chest. Warm sticky liquid spread over her fingers and she lifted up a hand looking at the stain of crimson.

“I’m sorry Charlie.” Penn announced kneeling by her side as she sucked in a rasping breath. “I really wasn’t going to get you. Now Angelo is a different matter and then there is Alf.” He murmured before glancing around. He must have heard something because he got into his car and drove off leaving her there to be sucked down into darkness. She moaned softly under her breath feeling herself sinking down deeper and deeper before the shrill ring of her phone dragged her back and she reached for it groggily not glancing at the caller display.

“Hello.” She murmured opening her eyes again.

She gave a gasp and sat up looking around the room she shared with Angelo the fog of the dream receding but pressing a hand to the chest anyway feeling a faint surprise when she saw her clean hand for some unknown reason.

“Charlie, it’s Watson. There’s a body on the beach.” He deputy announced.

“Let me guess she’s wearing a red dress.” Charlie muttered looking over at Angelo beside her. Even asleep and gently snoring beside her he was still cute. She liked the way his hair draped on to his forehead when he wasn’t paying attention to it.

“How did you know Sarge?” Watson asked.

Charlie gasped feeling a myriad of emotions as the dream replayed itself in her head.

“I er.. I…” she gasped trying to respond to Watson even as a shudder of reaction went through her and her heart sank in dread.

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