Operation Camilla

By: Tabitha Ormiston-Smith


***

Of all the denizens of Yarrangong, Ben was perhaps one of the only ones to be purely happy on that Monday morning. He had had a wonderful time in the city, staying at a flash hotel, going out with his new mates every evening and starting every day with a sauna, followed by a full English breakfast, which he never got at home, Tammy being always fast asleep when he got up for day shift. Despite all this, he was ecstatic to be home. Tammy had already gone to work when he’d got in, so he had failed to notice the transformation of their bedroom, but had wandered around and around the house, too keyed up to sleep, carrying Tom in his arms and marvelling at his good fortune, until he’d heard her key in the door. She had seemed tired, he thought. Probably she’d been missing him badly. God knew he had missed her. Despite the luxury hotel and the novelty of it all, despite the new friends he’d made, somehow the gloss had been off things.

Day shift for police starts at seven a.m., so Ben had not seen the paper before he presented himself, scrubbed and suited and sharply lemon-scented, at the Yarrangong C.I.B. office. He whistled as he climbed the stairs, and greeted the other detectives with high good humour. Ben was happy to be back on the job. He loved his work, he loved his mates, he even loved his gruff Sergeant. That morning, Ben was full of charity for all the world. When Sergeant Stevenson stuck his head out of his office and summoned him for ‘a word’, he strolled jauntily across the room, grinning hugely.





CHAPTER FIVE





“Ben, come in, mate. Take a seat. Good to have you back,” said Sergeant Stevenson, shaking Ben’s hand and gesturing towards a chair. He sat down behind his desk and sighed, rubbing his eyes. “It’s just in the bloody nick of time, that’s all I can say. I sent you on that computer crime course for a treat, you did so well with the Carlson case that I thought it would be a nice break for you, trip to the city, bit of fun, kind of thing. Just as bloody well I did, that’s all. Have you seen the papers at all since you got back?”

The grin died on Ben’s face. For the first time, he noticed how worn the sergeant was looking. Even this early in the day, his shirt had a wrinkled, slept-in look, and the bags under his eyes were actual pouches. He shook his head. “Not really, mate. Just a quiet weekend with - well, you know.”

Stevenson snorted. “Well, you’re it, mate. The one and only expert we’ve got in this kind of crime. Thank God I sent you on that course instead of the anti-terrorism one.”

Ben had a sinking feeling. A good part of the course had been gibberish to him, and although he’d done his best to keep up, he knew he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box about that kind of thing. He hadn’t known all the words the instructor had used, and had been too embarrassed to ask, since everyone else had seemed to know what the bloke was talking about.

“We’ve got a hacking case on our hands,” the sergeant went on. “Someone’s hacked into the database of that Yarralove mob, and they’ve been leaking shit all over the shop about local people. Some very prominent citizens are involved. I’m under a lot of pressure to solve this quickly, Ben. A lot of pressure.”

“What Yarralove mob?” asked Ben, who had never heard of it.

“You know, that, well I suppose you call it an introduction agency. You know, lonely hearts kind of stuff. You want a woman, you ring up and they fix you up with one.”

“A brothel?”

“Nah, well, not that they admit, anyhow. It’s just the introductions. You look at the profiles, women’re in it too, they join, men join, then they pick out someone from the photos and that. You must have seen the ads for it.”

Ben, who had not wanted for female company since he’d been twelve, shook his head.

“Here, I’ll show you.” Stevenson typed something into the url bar on his computer and turned the screen around so Ben could see it. A pale pink screen was displayed, with ‘Yarralove’ across the top in big, curly red letters.

“The owner’s given me an admin password, so we can look at everything. See, you log in here,” he suited his actions to his words, “and then you can browse through what’s on offer. These fields here are for narrowing it down. Like, if you’re a man looking for women, you select this, and this, or if you’re looking for a man, you select that, and so forth. And then you can type words in here and it’ll match up on what they’ve put in about themselves. Say, if they like dogs, or play golf or whatever.”