Red Bellied Brown

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Chapter 11: Consequences

I went straight to the police station as soon as I could. The atmosphere in the office told me something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Kit, one of the other detectives told me I had a package on my desk. I heard a snigger from George. He was clearly having difficulty hiding the smile trying to break across his face. Something about being on the force pushed people to attacking any perceived weakness they could find. I decided to bite anyway. Get it over and done with. On my desk was a smallish box with holes in it. I opened it up knowing that all eyes in the station were on me. The package contained two pet rats. My pulse quickened and I felt my eyes bulge. I forced myself to smile. I even gave them a sarcastic laugh.

‘Thanks guys, my daughter’ll be stoked.’

They turned back to their work disappointed I hadn’t given them a show. No weakness here I boasted to myself.

‘Hey George,’ I called to the detective with a terrible poker face, ‘you’ve got nothing on your plate right now? If I give you a fifty would you go get a cage, maybe a wheel, and some food?’

‘I’ve got plenty on my plate,’ he replied indignantly.

‘Yeah, I can tell,’ I said looking pointedly at his stomach, ‘look, you can get yourself a coffee or something with the change.’

‘Yeah alright,’ replied George and accepted the fifty.

I sat down at my desk to write up a report making sure I didn’t miss any details. The work drained me of whatever energy I had managed to get from my rest at the hospital. I went to the break room for some fake energy. Takeshi soon joined me.

‘How you going?’ he said.

‘Tired,’ I replied.

He leaned in close to me.

‘You fooled them but I saw your look,’ he whispered, ‘how are you doing?’

I knew it was coming from a good place but I couldn’t handle this from Takeshi right now.

‘I’m fine,’ I replied. He looked me up and down.

‘Fine,’ he said.

‘Johnson,’ called one of the detectives, ‘super wants you.’

The superintendent was a staunch old warhorse. Rough as guts and shrewd to boot. He’d solved a lot of cases in his day. Rumour was he had rarely solved the cases above board, not that he’d ever admit to it. Can’t exactly be telling people to play by the book if you admit you never did. Apparently he wasn’t afraid of giving a suspect a good smack. Those that served with him seemed to tell even worse stories about him but I always figured they were just feeding the legend.

‘Tell me what happened last night, word around the station is you were attacked by a bunch of punks dressed up as giant rats.’

I passed him the report I had just finished writing up.

‘All in there sir,’ I said.

He skimmed through the report and grunted.

‘It mentions you killed three,’ he said.

‘I was under duress,’ I replied assuming he knew I’d just come from the hospital.

‘It says they were unarmed.’

‘Sir, the first two that attacked me were trying to bite at my throat,’ I defended myself, ‘it was much worse than that sounds. I have the wounds to prove they weren’t just standing there.’

I pulled my shirt down to show him the bandages.

‘You realise that makes you sound like a loose cannon at best, a fucking lunatic at worse.’

‘I know sir, it’s hard to make sense of what happened last night. I do believe if I had not fired my weapon I would be dead now.’

‘Are you willing to say that on record?’

‘Is there going to be an enquiry?’ I asked

He paused.

‘No,’ he said choosing his next words carefully, ‘there were no bodies.’

‘What?’ I asked.

‘No bodies.’

‘So they covered their tracks?’ I asked wondering why they would hide. Then a hideous visage of the giant rat came to mind. I subconsciously touched my fingers to my bandages. Surely it hadn’t been real.

‘You know what there was though?’

I shook my head.

‘A dead fucking dog,’ he said shot in the head.

‘There’s no way that was a dog,’ I said, ‘what about at the hospital, that wasn’t a dog.’

‘There’s no evidence anyone was at the hospital.’

‘No blood?’

‘We didn’t check, just the fevered nightmare of someone who had a bad day, I want you to go Higgins,’ he said.

‘The quack?’ I burst out. ‘I’m fine seriously.’

‘It wasn’t a suggestion.’

I let out a loud sigh and conceded I would see him. It wasn’t fun. Higgins was a good man but it annoyed me that I had to waste my time with him. He gave me the usual spiel about the pressures of police work, that it was important to confide in people to destress the things that we experience. I tried to play my part, answer all the questions as if Higgins were making real progress with me but it soon became too much for me and I left the little room before I wasted any more time. Higgins chanced after me.

‘Johnson I haven’t finished here,’ he shouted out.

‘Do it after the case,’ I said, ‘this is more important.’

‘More important than your mental health?’

‘Yes,’ I replied grimly.

‘I’m going to have to tell the superintendent.’

‘Do me a favour and wait till I’ve left the building won’t you?’

‘You know I can’t do that Johnson,’ he said, ‘just come back in and we’ll finish up.’

‘Sorry mate, you’re wasting my time.’

I had to get out of there pretty quick. It annoyed me to see George had had enough time to buy a cage and a bag of what I hoped was food for the rat. Despite my need to get out of here I took the time to remove the rats from the box and put them in the cage giving them some feed while I was at it. I wasn’t really sure what to do with them at the moment and left them on my desk.

‘Takeshi is alright at the sight,’ reported George.

‘Thanks,’ I said and set off.

I took the bus to the main drag in West End getting off in front of Three Monkeys cafe. To my surprise police had barricade Boundary Street. I flashed my badge.

‘Detective Johnson,’ I said.

They nodded their heads grimly. I paused.

‘Are you part of the West End police station?’ I asked.

One of them nodded.

‘Last night I got a call from one of you tailing a van,’ I began.

‘That was officer Tristan,’ the officer replied.

‘Has he checked back with you?’ I asked.

‘No, he has been missing since last night.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ I said earnestly.

I went past.

‘Wait,’ the man called out, ‘what do you know about it?’

I turned around, ‘they got him.’

Takeshi was standing near a digger tearing up the road. I sidled up alongside him.

‘The road?’

‘Yeah, by the description the cop gave it sounded like the underground system went this way. Beside you want to dig up someone’s business instead?’

‘Fair enough,’ I said.

‘What’s Percival say about all this?’

‘Not a whole lot about the pub but he’s been talking a lot about the virus. He’s been with forensics the whole time working out what the virus does. You know if it wasn’t for everything being centred on him I’d think he was innocent.’

‘They are though,’ I said, ‘too much to be coincidence.’

‘Agreed, forensics got back to me about the lab. Half the names going into that lab ended up on the missing list.’

‘Hmmm, collecting scientists?’ I concluded, ‘that was the goal of the foundation wasn’t it?’

‘We got someone,’ a shout came from ahead of us. I looked towards the pub seeing another group digging up the ground.

Takeshi started running over.

‘Hey,’ I shouted as I ran after him.

It was the first time I’d looked at the pub since we got here. Half of it had fallen into a sinkhole that took up more than three quarters of the property. The rescue crew had done the finishing touches on the place to get to the trapped policemen. A police officer covered in dirt had been pulled out. He looked dead to me but they confirmed he still had a pulse. The short burst of action had left me winded. Takeshi turned to me.

‘Are you ok?’ he said to me his word coming to me as if I was underwater.

‘Yeah, yeah,’ I lied steadying myself, ‘wasn’t ready for that dash.’

‘You sure you’re ok?’ he asked.

‘I’ve gotta get these guys,’ I replied. He nodded his head but kept his face pensive.

‘We’ve found the other one,’ the same voice called out. The other officer was pulled out of the earth. He looked like he had taken the brunt of the explosions, burns covering a lot of his body.

I swore at the sight of it, or perhaps at the wooziness I was feeling.

‘How do we know they didn’t destroy everything?’ I asked.

‘Where are they in that case?’ he asked.

‘If they had explosives set up they had a back-up plan.’

‘You don’t think we’ll find anything?’ Takeshi asked.

‘I think there is a chance we will find nothing.’

‘We’ll see soon enough.’

‘Did we ever find out where that bottle came from?’ I asked.

‘There was no sign of bottling facilities at the pub. The beer in the place check out safe, no virus.’

‘Anyone check the local bottle shops?’

‘No,’ he said thoughtfully, ‘you think they’d just sell the beers at the shops?’

‘Why not? How else would people get it?’ I asked.

We headed to the nearest bottle shop. It was just down the road. The man behind the counter sported a beard a bikie would be envious of with shades to boot. He looked like a man who seldom smiled.

‘Do you have any Red Bellied?’ I asked.

‘I’ll have to check,’ he said, ‘it’s been selling well.’

We went out to the fridges and went through one of them to where they kept all the slabs of beer. To my surprise he came back with a crate of it.

‘It’s always delivered in milk crates,’ he said shrugging his massive shoulders.

I picked up one of the bottles, the label read Red Bellied white. This time the red bellied snack around the beer keg was white on top. It looked even stranger than the brown one we had seen.

‘Where do you get these from?’ I asked.

‘They appear outback every Thursday,’ he said.

‘Do you pay for it?’ I asked.

‘Of course I do,’ he said indignantly, ‘they leave an invoice, usually pretty cheap.’

‘Who is it made out to?’

‘Something called the Rat Pack,’ he replied.

‘Do you have any idea where it’s brewed?’

‘At the pub with the same name I would have thought,’ he said evidently not giving it much more thought than that.

‘You’ve never met anyone about the beer?’

‘Oh sure, a guy came in in a suit about three years back, asking if I wanted to start stocking the beer.’

‘Do you know his name?’

‘That was three years ago, haven’t seen him since, just always got the delivery and the invoice.’

‘Strange,’ I said.

‘Wasn’t until you pointed it out,’ he said stroking his beard.

‘We’re going to need this crate, actually whatever you have of the stuff,’ I said.

‘Well there’s that crate and another three. It’ll cost you around a hundred,’ he said before I could commandeer them. Not having a hundred on me I rang up forensics and asked them to come down. They could be the ones that have to deal with this man’s anger when he finds out we don’t intend to pay.

‘While you’re at it check all of the bottle shops in the area for Red Bellied beer,’ I ordered signing off. Just moving about the place had knocked the wind out of me. I began to breath heavily again.

‘Take it easy mate,’ Takeshi said to me, ‘you just got out of the hospital, don’t exert yourself too much.’ Takeshi said. His worried expression cutting me with guilt.

‘I’m alright,’ I replied. I took some deep breathes and managed to steady the nausea I was feeling. An idea came to me, ‘hey did you get a look at that list?’

‘We’ve got a few lists now, which one do you mean?’

‘The people who used the Rat Pack foundation,’ I answered.

‘Yeah I had a look,’ he replied, ‘not many names I recognised, now that you mention it though I took note of Celia and Jeremy Walters names but forgot to bring it up in all the excitement.’

‘If you have access to a lab at UQ why do you need another one?’ I asked.

‘You heard the service, free use, free resources,’ he replied.

‘Nothing’s free,’ I countered, ‘let’s go talk to them.’

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