Rough Justice

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 28

'I don't trust it. Nothing should be this easy.' An irritated Inspector Kareltin paced the small room he had commandeered above the main entrance. It was half-past five, they had a believable suspect, and he could close this part of the investigation. Instead of savouring victory, however, he felt cheated. Mountains of interview summaries, forensic reports, facts, opinions and gossip, appeared to point directly to Lance Osbairne, but Kareltin's instincts screamed, "No!"

Lance had continued to deny everything. He had wept, screamed, howled abuse, and almost knocked himself senseless against the wall of his cell. It hadn't been enough. Even his father apparently didn't believe him, because he refused to visit his son; a good lawyer his sole contribution to his defence. This did little to help his son's cause.

'Right, Jurgenz, give it to me.' He closed his eyes, sighed and leaned back wearily in a chair. 'No padding, cut to the chase.'

The detective constable cleared his throat. 'We have eliminated everyone except for Lance Osbairne and Robert Karim. All the others have satisfactory alibis, or no reasonable motive, or both. Osbairne has admitted being at the scene of the crime, and driving away in panic before the police arrived. His smudged prints were found on the plastic bag, door handles, light switches and such-like, as well as Nikelseer's left wrist. Letters saved in the computer suggest he was silencing the headmaster to stop him revealing his involvement in the murder of Murray Corso, the attack on Vaselly, the burning of the shed with Karim locked inside, and the sabotaging of Vaselly's brakes. We are almost certain the first one is correct, because of the testimony of Nigel Borg and Ernest Bradwin, and charges will be laid. Despite his denials, it appears he was also involved in the other three incidents.'

Constable Jurgenz continued. 'There is no evidence to suggest that anyone other than Osbairne and Nikelseer had been in the headmaster's house that evening. The three girls; Sorens, Corso and Gross, accuse him of drug dealing and pimping. According to Borg and Bradwin, he has unusual sexual appetites. He has been left to run wild since his mother died. The housekeeper, who left recently, also has a low opinion of young Lance.

'Apart from providing excellent legal counsel, his father appears to have washed his hands of the boy.'

Constable Jurgenz looked at his superior's closed eyes and hoped he hadn't fallen asleep. 'That's all about Osbairne, Sir. Are you ready for Robert Karim?'

The inspector grunted.

'On the day of the murder he wagged school and went to a movie in the city. Any motive he might have for the murder can only be deduced from circumstantial hearsay or creative imagination.'

Kareltin looked up. 'Stick to the facts, constable.'

'Yes, Sir. Karim suspected that Osbairne had something to do with Corso's death, the attack on Vaselly, and the fire in the shed. Lance was in the habit of calling him unpleasant names – but he did that to everyone. Osbairne claims Karim attacked him last Monday. Both deputy headmaster and guidance counsellor dispute this. Karim's parents received an extraordinary letter from Nikelseer abusing the boy for over-stepping the mark, but no one would believe that was sufficient motive for murder. Perhaps he killed the old man in order to set-up Osbairne for revenge. Such a scenario would set a jury sniggering, especially if he presents himself in the dock as well as he did at our interviews. He didn't set a foot wrong – even when you tried to trap him.'

'That in itself is suspicious,' grunted the inspector.

Jurgenz continued. 'If it could be proved that Karim knew for certain it was Osbairne who murdered Corso, attacked Vaselly, set fire to the shed, and was going to try to murder them again, then there is, perhaps, a motive. A motive to murder him, not the headmaster. However, they have already been to the police with their previous suspicions. That suggests they would do so again and, in my opinion, rules out Lone Ranger retribution.'

Kareltin grunted. 'Keep your opinions to yourself.'

'Yes, Sir. Karim's alibi for the night checks out, but is suspicious because it was unusual behaviour and coincided with the murder. However, it would be impossible to prove he didn't do what he said he did. The train and cinema tickets are authentic. A ticket collector at Roma Street recalls seeing him. The assistant manager at the picture theatre reckons he remembers him from before the film started, that's before eight o'clock. He described him, school uniform and all. Karim has definitely seen the entire film. Added to that, his teachers, the deputy headmaster, guidance counsellor, Uncle Tom Rowley and all, think the sun shines out of his backside.'

A snort from the inspector.

'They also consider him incapable of a vindictive action. Rands thinks he's headed for great things, Vaselly dotes on him, the groundsman likens him to Heroes of Old. Gerald Manly Hopkins is not studied in Literature at any level. The only other possible motive for Robert Karim would be something between him and Nikelseer we don't know about.'

The inspector opened his eyes. 'Exactly! According to Arnold Osbairne, Nikelseer was profoundly upset by the relationship between Vaselly and Karim. He wanted it to stop. Maybe he threatened them?'

Arnold Osbairne had not, however, mentioned either his offer to the headmaster to "fix the problem" or the commissioning of his son to "attend" to it. He might have given up on his son, but he wasn't going to load the enemy's guns.

'Sounds like a smear campaign to me. No one else thinks there's anything in it. No one else thinks they're gay, come to that.'

'Have you asked?'

'No. But someone would have mentioned it. According to his classmates, he's got a girlfriend. Marcia something. Bright kid.'

The inspector nodded sagely. He had no idea where to go from there, but wasn't admitting it.

Jurgenz continued. 'Now to Bart Vaselly. He's not a suspect, but is interesting because of this rumoured association with Karim. His alibi was confirmed by Karim's parents, who, by the way, have been au fait with all goings on. It was the father who contacted the police regarding Lance's possible connection with the burning shed. Vaselly's motives, if any, would be as unprovable as his friend's. He is held in almost as high regard as Karim, although some think he's too tough on the kids.'

The headmaster's attitude to him would appear to be ambivalent, if you can believe that letter, which had only his fingerprints on it and was definitely signed by him.' He looked up expectantly. 'That's it, Sir.'

Kareltin got up and looked out the window. 'There's one thing you haven't mentioned. The tip-off phone-call. What is the chance, Jurgenz, of someone getting lost and stopping their car in front of that house at the precise moment the headmaster is knocked on the head? A zillion to one! That's what it is, a zillion to one!'

'Coincidences do happen, Sir.'

'Just as Robert Karim coincidentally goes walkabout? I do not like it.' The inspector shook his head in irritation. He desired nothing more than to end the case quickly, but couldn't stop himself wondering if that too-clever-by-half Karim kid didn't have at least as much to do with it as Lance Osbairne.

A movement below caught his attention. He leaned against the glass and saw Bart and Robert cross the car park, get into a green van and drive off. A slow smile dawned. They had walked with their shoulders touching and, before separating, had brushed fingers. From his vantage point he could look down into the cab and, as the vehicle swung round, caught a glimpse of a hand on the driver's knee. They were on together. He knew they weren't underage, and didn't care how they got their thrills, but he was too old to change prejudices. When it came to queers versus straights, straights won every time in his book, even if they were more than a little bent. However, he knew better than to sound off in front of Jurgenz, who'd been brainwashed by the Gay-Liaison brigade. A thought struck him and he turned abruptly.

'What if Osbairne was right? What if Nikelseer discovered his PE teacher was having it off with Karim and threatened hellfire and damnation?'

Jurgenz looked surprised. 'You're serious?'


Jurgenz was now looking thoughtful. 'You're stretching things, Sir. Remember that letter? The old chap sounded more than half in love with Vaselly himself. And anyway, they're not under age. Why would they care? It's hardly a big deal today.'

'Where do you think you're living? This is the Bible-Banging State. Don't you read the papers?'

'Attitudes are changing.'

'Like hell they are!' The inspector was warming to his theory. 'Decriminalisation has terrified the anti-homo brigade. Teachers with pupils? Could get very nasty. Don't you remember that federal politician? And she was straight. The papers would have a ball. Television would love it. Families fall apart and people suicide from that sort of stress.' The thought did not appear to concern him.

Jurgenz shook his head. 'If that was the case, surely they'd be in it together? I can't imagine Vaselly letting his mate go it alone.'

Kareltin grunted. 'How about the computer files? Those concerning Lance Osbairne had been mucked around with that evening. Surely that's suspicious?'

'It's annoying, but doesn't point to anyone. Anyway, we reckon we've solved that. The bloke was a letter-writing nutter; fussy and fastidious. He would have prepared himself for the meeting with Lance by going through all the old letters again, and it only takes the knocking of one key for the computer to consider the file to have been modified. It'd be surprising if he hadn't changed the letters a bit. He was so far gone he probably imagined they would form the basis of his memoirs.' Jurgenz looked across to his superior officer for confirmation, but was faced with a glassy stare of incomprehension.

'You're saying it's not suspicious enough? We can't use it to nail too-good-to-be-true Karim?'

'No, Sir. As I said, it's curious, but doesn't necessarily point to anyone else. Forensic agrees, especially as only the victim's prints were found on the keyboard.'

The inspector sank into a lethargy. 'Sure, sure, Jurgenz. No one uses rubber gloves. OK you're the expert. What else?'

'That's it, Sir. Do we lay formal charges?'

'All in good time. I think we'll visit the Karims first. Let's drop by tonight.'

'Shall I ring and arrange it?'

'No. It'll be a spur-of-the-moment visit. We don't want to worry them.' He smiled thinly and heaved himself to his feet. 'Go home to your long-suffering wife, and pick me up at half-past seven.'

Bart drove carefully, sick with concern. Robert was rigid in the seat beside him, eyes staring ahead, right hand clawing spasmodically at Bart's thigh. Certain of the truth, Bart was uncertain about his feelings and what he should do. Murder most foul. But was it? Was it a crime? Surely not! It could never be a crime to kill in self-defence. Some judges think it a reasonable defence if a murderer claims he was upset at being propositioned by another man - even when the killer had a history of gay bashing and he'd told friends he was going to go and kill a faggot. At least thirty such murders had been committed in the last decade of the twentieth century in Australia, not to mention the thousands of cases of maiming, assault, mental abuse and, of course, suicide.

In the absence of anti-vilification laws, hate merchants were growing ever bolder and trumpeting their poison throughout the land. What was it John had said? Death is not important, it's how you live your life that matters. Nikelseer and Lance had made their lives intolerable, and would have destroyed, maybe not their physical bodies, but that more important realm, the mind. Life would have ceased to be worth the effort.

He drove past the Botanical Gardens to the nearest off-road parking area, and led his friend up a track through the trees until they were out of sight of prying eyes. Robert was twitchy and distracted.

'Ever studied any poems by Hopkins?'

'What? Oh, only Peace. The teacher at the last school thought he was the greatest thing in verse.'

'You made a good job of the signature.'

There was no reaction. Robert found he couldn't speak. His normally serene face had become pinched, a nervous tic twitched at his left cheek, dark skin around his eyes attested to insufficient sleep, and lassitude infected his being. Bart stopped walking, took hold of Robert by the shoulders, turned him so they faced each other and said softly, 'Robert, I know you did it, and I understand why. You've been keeping it to yourself to protect me, haven't you?'

Robert nodded.

'That was wise and very brave. I'd never have been able to face the last few days if I'd known. Now, sit down and tell me everything. And I mean everything.'

Ten minutes later a sobbing, exhausted Robert, his heart several tonnes lighter, rested his shuddering back against Bart's chest. 'I…I…I shouldn't have done it. I don't know how I did!'

'It's too late for regrets, and anyway, I'm glad you did.'

Robert looked up in disbelief.

Bart's look was serious, his voice aggressive. 'It was self-defence! We were both going off our rockers, remember? You were defending us. If you hadn't done this, our names would have been splashed over the tabloids and television news, I'd be looking for a new job, you'd be a neurotic mess, and our relationship would not have survived. As for incriminating Lance - he murdered Murray, tried to kill us, and was planning a third attempt. He bashed up gays, pimped, blackmailed old men, dealt in drugs and was probably going to do Nikelseer in before long himself. We went to the police with our suspicions, they were polite and helpful, but we didn't have enough proof to be taken seriously.'

Robert began to shake again. 'But I… I murdered him.' His whisper was full of the horror of self-discovery and the shocking realisation that he, Robert Karim, was capable of such an act. What other dread surprises lay in store? 'I'm a… a murderer!'

Bart pulled his head back and stroked his hair. 'Murder is an emotive word for killing, not applicable in this case. Vilification from pulpits and teachers' desks is a primary cause of suicide. That's murder - by remote control. He stopped speaking and let the rustling of leaves, the distant cackle of kookaburras and the peace of the forest work their spell.

Robert bit his lip and looked up nervously. Desperate to believe. 'I was sure you'd hate me - be frightened of what I… '

'Hate you? Not possible!'

'It makes me as bad as Lance.'

'That's utter crap! Lance is a vile vigilante. He makes bigoted, unprovoked attacks on people who pose no threat. You are a man defending his right to live a full and free life.'


'Remember Sanjay telling us how Nikelseer quoted Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war? The headmaster was at war, and we were the enemy. At this very minute, dozens, if not hundreds of young men are being killed, maimed, imprisoned and tortured in some war or other, somewhere on the planet. That is the nature of humans.

'Killing is only a crime if it is done for personal gain in peacetime, against a fellow citizen who has the same rights and privileges of citizenship as you. We live in a country that does not extend to us the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals, but demands the same responsibilities. All gays are in a constant state of skirmishing, fending off mental and physical attacks, in a state of readiness to conceal, hide or defend their right to exist. It is totally unfair, unjustified and unethical, but the state permits this. Those who deny us the right to live freely, abrogate their own rights and must be prepared to accept the consequences. We are at war, against mindless bigotry, and you did the only thing possible.'

'I couldn't live with myself if I hadn't put up a fight.'

'I know, and now you think you can't live with the result. But you can, and we'll live happily ever after.'

Robert's attempt at a smile was painful. 'But we don't tell Mum and Dad.'

'Of course not.'

'The police suspect me. The old one nearly caught me out. He guessed nearly exactly right!' The panic was back.

'They have no proof. None at all! You've been too clever for them. The only thing that will betray you is self-doubt. If the cops'd seen you half an hour ago they'd have strung you up - no questions asked.'

'And now?'

'They'll lock up Lance, the true culprit.'

'I did it for us.'

'I know.'

'I wasn't strong enough on my own, though.'

'I would be frightened of you if you were.'

The atmosphere during the meal had been more relaxed than at any time during the previous two days. Bart had just finished explaining why it would be foolish to mention Nikelseer's threats on the morning of his death.

'But - surely you don't think the police would suspect Robert?'

'From what I can gather, they are ninety-nine percent certain it was Lance, but it is suspiciously obvious. They have to check out anyone who might have the slightest motive, so we had better not give them one.'

Monique nodded her head doubtfully. Sanjay grunted his assent.

'Robert was out at the time of the murder,' Bart continued, 'and Lance has been bending their ears for two days with the best lawyers money can buy. I've a feeling Inspector Kareltin suspects we're gay, and it would be convenient if he could accuse us. Pupil-Lover of gay teacher brutally murders his Christian Headmaster! Can't you see the headlines? He'd get instant promotion. Much better than prosecuting the heterosexual son of a local business man who employs lots of people.'

'Surely not!' Monique was horrified, and had gone quite pale.

Sanjay just nodded sad agreement, placing his hand over his wife's.

'My alibi with you is automatically suspect because I'm a friend of the family and an employee. Robert's is suspicious and not foolproof. There's no point in creating further suspicion. Agree Sanjay?'

'Absolutely. And so does Monique.'

She nodded her head.

A knock at the door disturbed their thoughts. Sanjay answered.

The two policemen followed him into the lounge.

'Monique, this is Inspector Kareltin and this is Detective Constable Jurgenz.'

Monique nodded coolly, then sat on the couch between Robert and Bart. Kareltin sat in the easy chair beside the fire, Sanjay brought up another chair for the constable before taking his seat opposite the inspector.

'I hope you are getting overtime?' Sanjay smiled.

Ignoring the attempted pleasantry, Kareltin spoke brusquely. 'Some new information has come to light.' He peered at Bart. 'It is convenient that you're here, Mr Vaselly, I can now kill two birds with the one visit, so to speak.' He smiled thinly, cleared his throat and turned back to Sanjay. 'We have almost concluded our investigation into the murder of your son's headmaster, but a few points need clarifying. He gave a humourless smile and opened his briefcase. 'Nice place you have here.'

'Thank you.'

'This won't take long. How upset were you at the headmaster's letter criticising Robert?'

'We thought it was pathetic.' Monique did not bother to hide her contempt. 'My husband went to school the next day to clear everything up.'

'And was it all cleared up?' He addressed this question to Robert.


'It was an unpleasant letter. You must have a very forgiving nature.'

'Not particularly.'

'But you had an argument with the headmaster on the morning of his death, I believe.'

Robert's look of surprise was real. 'No,' he said as though shocked at the idea.

The inspector raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips and turned to Sanjay. 'What is the work Mr Vaselly does for you?'

He was told. They were each asked to re-confirm their whereabouts on the night of the murder.

'And why were you here, Mr Vaselly?'

'For dinner.'

'Without Robert?'

'I'm a friend of the family.'

'Of course. Did you know Mr Vaselly was coming that evening, Robert?'


'Then why the- ah - impromptu truancy?'

'I felt like being on my own.'

'Had you had an argument?'

'With whom?'

'Mr Vaselly.'

'No. Why?'

'How long have you two been having an affair?'

Robert gazed at the inspector blankly.

'An expressive word, affair,' broke in Sanjay. 'It conjures up libidinous and secret arrangements. What did you mean by it, Inspector?'

The inspector hesitated.

'Robert and I are not having an affair,' Bart stated bluntly.

'OK. If you want to split hairs, how long have you two been on together?'

'I've no idea what you mean.'

Monique laughed. 'You use bizarre words for friendship, Inspector.'

The inspector blushed. This was not going as intended. His shock questions hadn't shocked. The parents obviously had no idea their son was screwing his teacher. He was uncomfortable with these self-satisfied, well-heeled couples so secure in themselves and their place in the world. Even if the parents did know, he wasn't sure they'd care. Bloody intellectuals.

His audience sat looking at him, faces politely expressionless. Constable Jurgenz buried his head in his notes to stop himself from grinning. This was the family he dreamed of having. A charming, cosy house, inhabited by intelligent, attractive people contented to be themselves, and comfortable with each other. There and then, he decided Osbairne was the culprit.

The inspector was irritated. These people were supposed to be nervous, not blatantly at ease. Kareltin felt that he, and by extension the law, was being treated with disrespect. He wanted to pin something on these up-themselves, educated shits. The beautiful people. God how he hated them! But what could you expect? A Wog, a Frog and their Poofy-Mongrel. He was pleased with his joke. Christ he'd like to nail that pair of faggots.

The inspector understood that the aim of our judicial system is not to punish the bad and reward the good; it is concerned solely with interpreting laws, many of which are ineptly written; fostering injustice. As for finding 'the truth'; there's little point wasting time on that in an adversarial system where lawyers only need to seek weaknesses in the law. All the intuition in the world is of no avail without proof.

Understanding, however, does not make for happy policemen. Two recent cases had left him angry. A fraudulent investment manager whose bankrupted client had suicided, received a fine he could well afford; and a housebreaker had successfully sued the poor old bloke who had only been protecting his own property with a shot-gun. Discarding his usual prudence, Detective Inspector Kareltin stood.

'Robert Karim,' he said solemnly, 'I accuse you of the murder of Ian Nikelseer.'


'And planting evidence to incriminate Lance Osbairne.'

Still no reaction.

Aggression replaced conviction. 'And I will not relax until you are brought to justice!' He was starting to sweat, knew he was sounding melodramatic, and wished he hadn't stood up.

Sanjay's quiet voice broke the silence.

'You are tired, Detective Inspector. I suggest you go home, get a good night's sleep, and in the morning if you are certain your accusation is correct, do something about it.'

Kareltin lowered his eyes and his mouth drooped.

Sanjay went for the throat. 'You are obviously an intelligent and hard-working officer, and have achieved a position of great responsibility. It would be a pity to risk humiliation by pursuing a gut feeling when you're tired.'

The inspector looked around the room warily. No one seemed perturbed; no one looked ready to confess.

'If we haven't heard from you by ten o'clock tomorrow morning, we will forget this conversation took place.' Sanjay sat back and gazed at his three loved ones.

Inspector Kareltin stuffed his papers into a briefcase, grunted something incomprehensible and stomped out. Jurgenz turned to Sanjay and Monique, shook their hands, and followed.

Monique shook herself, brushed at her dress as though to dislodge an offensive object, then sat on the arm of Sanjay's chair and blew softly onto his bald spot. 'What an unpleasant man,' she whispered.

'It's an unpleasant job.' He looked across at the two young men who had moved together as though for support, eyes fixed on the floor. 'Cheer up.' He smiled softly. 'Go for a long hard run. Sweat the last few days out of your systems.'

Robert turned at the door. The concern on his parents' faces sent a surge of guilt deep into his guts.

'Thanks,' he said seriously, biting his lip to stop the quiver. 'Thanks for… for everything!'

Thanks for reading 'Rough Justice.' It ends a bit abruptly, I guess, leaving some of you wondering what happened to Robert and Bart in the following days. I left it like this because I thought it would be a good idea to let the reader decide for himself what the ending should be. Our notions of 'Justice' are often very rigid and it is usually a surprise to realise that the Laws made by those in power are designed to maintain the current socio-economic order, and prevent any change or social unrest that might threaten their interests. Any laws that improve the lot of the rest of us are accidental by-products of their need for a stable, unquestioning society, which is why governments are demanding mandatory sentencing, that forbids judges to take into account extenuating circumstances, the background of the plaintiffs and accused, or the intricacies of their lives that might mitigate unnecessarily harsh sentences.

About the Author

I live with my partner as naturally as possible in today's world, on several sclerophyll forest acres in sub-tropical Queensland.

My first twenty-four years on this earth are recorded in a light-hearted memoir, Dancing Bare, in which my doings in nineteen sixties London, Paris, Europe and North Africa are recalled.

If the urge to communicate overtakes you: email:

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