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Red Bellied Brown

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Detectives Johnson and Yoshida must find out why Daniel Bailey underwent rapid physical transformation and where his flatmate went. Having started as a cop on the streets Detective Johnson has learnt the hard way how hopeless and ineffectual everyone is. Constantly disappointed in the rest of the forces he thrives to outshine them all. The only other person he has any respect for is his partner Detective Yoshida; a stoic man who knew from the onset he wanted to be a detective. Together they must solve their hardest case; what happened to Daniel Bailey, a university student found horrifically disfigured in his apartment bedroom. The only hints to go on are a missing flatmate, evidence the place was broken into earlier that night, and the impossibly distorted appearance of Daniel himself.

Mystery / Scifi
Sam Muller
Age Rating:

Chapter 1: An Apartment in Toowong

Detective Yoshida and I were called in to investigate a murder in Toowong, a reasonably well off inner city suburb that was close to the riverside. The star attractions being two pubs and a number of restaurants. Most of them are pretty ordinary. The exception being an Indian restaurant I reckon is the best in Brisbane.

We arrived at a yellow bricked twelve pack apartment block built in the seventies. The kind you see scattered throughout Brisbane and much of the rest of Australia. The block was right next door to the large mirror windowed shopping complex known as Toowong Village. Despite towering over everything else in the suburb, not that hard considering the second tallest building was three storeys, there wasn’t much to do inside the shopping complex except grocery and liquor shopping. In the seventies they must have thought Toowong would be the next big thing in Brisbane. A spot on the river between the university and the CBD.

In one regard it did take off. The two pubs are some of the most popular in Brisbane at. At least if you are on the west side of town and between the ages eighteen and twenty five. One because it was cheap, near a university and was generally considered a safe place to get plastered. Fights were rarely reported there and there hadn’t been any glassings. Not that I knew of anyway. The second pub was popular because it wasn’t the first pub. It was a little bit classier. In the sense that they didn’t let you in if you were wearing shorts or sneakers. You had to be in trousers, a polo shirt and a pair of shoes the bouncer liked. That’s if you were a guy anyway. The women could wear whatever they liked. The place looked and acted more like a club than a pub even though the clientele were clearly there to just get smashed and try to pick up. If you ever wondered what Brisbane was like back in the seventies, you just needed to go to Toowong.

A grunt stood at attention at an open apartment on the second floor of the apartment building. He was bobbing his head from side to side, reminding me of a crim on lookout. His eyes darted our way and he shifted his whole body in a way that suggested he was ready for a fight but wouldn’t be the one that started it. Before being a cop he was probably one of those young bloods at the pub itching for brawl. Judging by the age of him he probably still was.

‘Detectives Johnson and Yoshida,’ I said flashing my badge. He nodded, relaxed his stance a little and let us in. Forensics were already running all over the place doing whatever it is they do. That seventies flair had affected the inside too. The place was ablaze with pastel browns and oranges. The ceiling even had paisley wall paper on it. I felt like I needed to grow a handle bar moustache and put on a safari suit to fit in the room. In stark contrast, the furniture was all Ikea.

‘Must have been a party,’ I said looking around.

‘What makes you think that?’ asked Takeshi.

‘Pizza boxes and empty beer bottles is a pretty good indicator.’

‘I sometimes forget you live in that nice suburban house with your family. This just looks like my place on a regular Tuesday afternoon.’

‘You have a pizza party on Tuesdays?’

‘No, I meant it may not be a party,’ he said exasberated, ‘could just be the guys renting this place ordered pizza and had some beers.’

‘It’s a lot of pizza boxes,’ I said counting at least ten.

‘I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion. These boxes could have been from over several days rather than all at once.’

‘They didn’t clean up?’

‘There you go again with your family perspective. The more time a person has to clean up stuff the less likely they are going to do it.’

‘So you don’t think it was a party.’

‘Not committing either way, until I see more proof,’ he concluded.

There was still no sign of the victim but the smell of a fresh corpse lingered throughout the apartment. Shit and vomit clung to the air. A forensics officer led us to the bedroom. It smelt worse in there but that wasn’t what got to me. I’ve seen plenty of crime scenes in my time but this one gave me a moment’s pause. A malformed human lay on the bed. Its limbs were twisted at agonising angles. Bones stuck out of the skin. His organs were on the outside as if disembowelled by a sword or knife, yet I couldn’t see any signs of physical force or cuts on the body. My bones twitched and twinged in empathy. It was all I could do to keep myself in the room. I took a death breath to steel myself and immediately regretted it considering the stench. The victims face was strange to behold. I didn’t want to comment on it just in case the guy originally looked that way but there was something definitely inhuman to it. I wondered how Takeshi was fairing. He’s always been more sensitive to these things than me. His face betrayed nothing though, he leaned closer to the body as if he was looking at a museum piece. He was doing the job first and would react later in the safety of his own home.

‘Reminds me of a documentary I watched on the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam,’ he remarked, eyes still fixed on it as he strolled around the room, ‘children born with twisted limbs. It showed parents looking after teenagers who were wailing around in pain all the time.’

‘Someone gave this guy Agent Orange?’

He shook his head.

‘It only affected newborns that way. Adults who ingested it wouldn’t know anything was wrong until they either died of cancer or tried to conceive.’

‘Grim,’ I replied, considering the jutting of bones, mutation of the limbs and the state of the victim’s bowels, a chemical attack may not be such a bad guess, ‘do we know if this guy was . . .’ I paused trying to think of the best way to phrase it. The forensic seemed to guess what I was wanting to say. He shook his head and flipped open a wallet.

‘Driver’s license.’

The name read Daniel Bailey. I took the wallet off him and compared the face with the one on the bed. I could make out parts of him that looked the same in much the way you can spot the family resemblance between two brothers. I looked again and revised it to cousins, distant cousins, twice removed and known for inbreeding.

‘Same guy?’

The forensic shrugged his shoulder.

‘The wallet was found on him,’ he said, ’seems he didn’t change his clothes before bed.

‘Must have had a big night,’ I replied looking knowingly over at Takeshi.

‘Doesn’t mean there was a party,’ said Takeshi taking the bait, ‘maybe he always falls asleep in his day clothes, maybe he did have a big night but it was only him and his flat mate.’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ I said to Takeshi, ‘we’ve got to be certain, here take a look.’

I passed the wallet to Takeshi who grunted as he looked at the license.

I looked back at the victim hoping for some more clues. He looked like he had thrashed around a bit. I checked for signs he’d been defending himself. Blood matted hair suggested he could have been hit in the head. I looked around and noticed blood on one of the bed stands. If someone was attacking him they would have had to throw his head against it. Otherwise it was self-inflicted in whatever caused his twisted limbs.

‘What’s the cause of death?’

‘No idea,’ replied the forensics officer, a little bit too excitedly for my liking, ‘we’ll tell you once we’ve done the autopsy.’

‘What could have happened?’ pondered Takeshi, disgust heavy in his tone, ‘check the contents of his vomit and stool. Check his trash too. I’m going to stick with my first hunch. That he ingested something, but I can’t think what.’

I suspect he didn’t need to say that. The forensics would probably be all over that already but you never know. You couldn’t always rely on them to get it right. Sometimes things needed to be said out loud. Some days forensics were spot on, other days they throw a key piece of evidence out and then we have the whole lot of them hunting through the police station dumpsters until it’s found.

‘Food scraps?’ asked the forensic.

‘Anything he could have put into himself,’ replied Yoshida, ‘any medicine you find as well.’

We went to the kitchen. The kitchen inlet had orange and brown tiling. Wooden cabinets with white handles lined the wall all proclaiming a brand of maker I had never heard of. The sink looked typical of a share house. Or one incredibly messy bachelor.

‘Any other residents?’ I questioned the forensics officer following us.

‘There is, but there’s no sign of him,’ replied our tour guide, ‘take that to the lab,’ he said imperiously to some other forensics in the room pointing at the bin. Two men pulled the bin bag out and carted it away

‘What do you mean no sign of him?’

‘He isn’t here.’

‘Shit mate, that’s different to there’s no sign of him,’ I said as I stopped one of the other forensics leaving the room trash bag in hand.

‘Better get whatever pizza is left and the beer bottles too,’ I said to him as an aside.

‘We’re not a cleaning service,’ he mumbled under his breath as he started stuffing pizza boxes into a plastic bag. His response made me smile. So many of them chose to be a forensic from some misguided view that it was as glamorous as the TV show CSI. They thought they’d be solving cases using the enhance button on digital finger prints scanned in from the scene; interactive three dimensional high resolution holographic replications of crime scene; algorithmic projections; five dimensional digital reconstructions they can use to solve a crime before it’s even happened. Now they get to see that it’s picking up pizza scraps and looking through trash. Some leave before the year is out disgruntled, not realising they were doing real detective work. Solving a case was a whole lot of dumpster diving. Sometimes that was a metaphor sometimes it wasn’t.

‘How did we find this guy?’ I asked.

‘Neighbours made a noise complaint about three in the morning,’ replied the forensic officer with us, ‘Constable Petrov on the door over there found him.’

Petrov had just been promoted from a grunt to somebody I wanted to talk to.

‘You found him, Constable?’

I could see just how tired he really was beneath the pseudo-military façade he’d adopted. He must have been on the graveyard shift. Should have finished an hour ago. I immediately felt a pang of empathy for the poor guy. Typical of the system to put such a fresh face on the streets at night on a Saturday no less. With experience came getting the cushy hours. First year you had to do the hard yards. Graveyard shifts every night of the week in the high crime areas. Stay on the force and maybe they’ll give you the night shift instead. Then once you feel like you’ve permanently adjusted your body clock to being a creature of the night they throw you into the day shift. At least this guy got Toowong instead of the Valley. No one ever wanted to get the Valley. More drunken disturbances there than anywhere else in Brisbane. Plenty of other action there too, being Brisbane’s biggest nightclub district and therefor the druggie part of town. Ironically, it was always the people taking the legal drugs that caused the most harm. Worse the druggies ever seemed to do was try to give you a hug or injure themselves doing something their altered state tells them is doable. You never heard of a stoner or a pill head trying to stick a broken glass bottle in your face. Still, thanks to the law we have to be all over them like a rash.

There was something else there too beyond simple tiredness. He was trying to hide it, but I knew PTS when I saw it. We were given plenty of professional development to spot the signs. Coppers were more likely to try and hide it and pretend everything was fine. The young ones were always scared of people thinking they were soft. The old ones weren’t so different. You could usually only get them to open up after a beer or three.

‘Walk me through it?’ I ordered him but kept my voice soft. The police force wasn’t the most sensitive of places. If this boy was shook up I could end up losing a lot of information to false bravado.

‘Yeah,’ he replied his voice was a little shaky, despite his efforts to cover it up, ‘arrived at about three fifteen, heard screams coming from the apartment,’ he shivered, ’one of the worst sounds I’ve ever heard. Sounded like he was being tortured or something. I thumped on the door and shouted police trying to get my voice above the screams. No answer. I counted to ten, thumped on the door a second time shouting even louder. After the third time I kicked the door down.’

‘You kicked the door down?’ I asked, he puffed his chest up, clearly proud of his achievement.

‘You didn’t hear the screams man,’ he replied, ‘the moment I arrived my whole body was on edge. I acted.’

‘Johnson,’ called Takeshi.

He was leaning down in front of the door pointing out a large hole near the lock. I squatted down to have a closer look. It wasn’t drilled. It looked like someone had been at it with a chisel. The hole was wide enough to fit your arm through. Strange, obviously the perp didn’t know how to pick a lock.

‘You didn’t notice this?’ I asked Petrov. He bent down to have a closer look and was pretty startled to see the hole.

‘It was dark,’ he replied defensively.

I didn’t bother to point out there was a light right outside the door. I took a deep breath instead of saying it, knowing the last thing the kid needed right now was criticism. Besides that, there was a good chance the light blew years ago. If he kicked a locked door in, it should have been splintered around the lock. It was clear he hadn’t just tried the doorknob. That was the problem with the new recruits. They always saw action heroes kicking doors down. Police dramas were slightly better only because they tried the door knob first.

My wife always told me I should try and think more positively. It’ll brighten up my perspective. In my defence I told her that by contemplating the negative I was often pleasantly surprised and filled with joy when I found fortune favouring me. Nevertheless, I tried to think positively if for no other reason than to give Petrov a bit of boost.

‘You did good,’ I told him, ’when there are screams there’s no time to think.

I stood up and looked around the room knowing it had probably been a break and enter. The sliding door was wide open. It could have meant anything.

‘You may have just missed the perp, Petrov,’ I said indicating the open door.

‘Yeah? How do you figure?’

‘Just a theory, looking at the state of the door and the open veranda I’d guess someone broke in and exited via the veranda before you kicked the door in.’

I went over to the veranda. We were on the second floor. Grass down below. I looked to the side and noticed the first floor hallway entrance was only a metre to the left. Half a metre of cement jutted out from it making a perfect landing spot for someone who didn’t want to risk a sprained ankle.

‘Did you hear anything like a car drive off or someone running?’ I asked him. He shook his head.

‘Couldn’t hear anything over the screaming.’

‘So he was still alive when you saw him?’ I asked Petrov. For a split second horror played over his face before the iron mask of a grunt not wanting to seem weak returned. It was a mask all cops needed. Authority stemmed from the image you projected.

‘He was still screaming, in the midst of,’ he hesitated searching for the right word, ‘of changing.’

‘Changing?’ asked Takeshi.

‘Yeah, changing, limbs shrinking, head bulging unnaturally, hair growing where it shouldn’t. It was like he was going through puberty again but all at once. The whole time he was letting out inhuman shrieks of agony, then he stopped.’


‘Stopped dead.’

‘Whatever made him change killed him?’ I asked.

‘That’s what I reckon,’ replied Petrov.

‘You may not be wrong,’ I said looking at what I had seen in a new light.

There was still the question of the flat-mate. I went to his or her room. The place was an absolute mess. An amateur detective would probably assume it was a man’s room. Assumptions can destroy a case. Besides that, I’d seen plenty of women’s rooms that looked far worse. It didn’t take long before I found what I’d been looking for. A stack of papers on his desk revealed a name- Stanley Fitzgerald.

‘Do we have the victim’s mobile?’ I asked a nearby forensic officer.

‘Yeah, it’s been bagged.’

‘I need the number for Stanley Fitzgerald.’

‘Get it from directory enquiries,’ he replied obviously not wanting the extra work and not realising how much of a pain in the arse that would be for me. I scowled. It wasn’t news to anyone that I didn’t get along with forensics. They always seemed to think they were so much busier than me. Worse than that they always thought they were better detectives. Obviously they’d never needed to get a phone number from directory enquiries.

‘Just give me the phone. I’ll look up the number myself,’ I barked, annoyed at this man’s cheek, ‘how hard is it to get me the bloody phone.’

‘Yeah, ok,’ he said hastening away before I had anything else to say on the matter.

It was some time before he came back with the phone, probably took his time. I scrolled through it finding no trace of a Stanley Fitzgerald. There was a Fitzy though. I pulled out my own mobile and punched in the number. I got nothing but ringing. I moved around the room with my ears peeled back listening keenly in case it was in the room. I couldn’t hear anything. Didn’t mean it wasn’t there though. People always had their phones on silent mode these days.

I went back into the living room shrugging my shoulders.

‘Just rang the flat-mate,’ I said to Takeshi who waited for me to continue in silence, ‘No answer.’

‘So we’ve got a body, a break in and a missing person,’ replied Takeshi.

‘You reckon it’s a kidnapping,’ I stated grimly.

He shrugged his shoulders ponderously, ‘we don’t really know what the break in was about. Doesn’t seem to be a robbery since all the electronics are still here.’

‘So we assume the break in was about Daniel.’

‘And probably Stanley.’

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