Red Bellied Brown

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Chapter 4: A house in Saint Lucia

\The suburb around the university was much what you’d expect of a university town. Plenty of restaurants and cafes were littered around the area many of them reasonably cheap and not necessarily of good quality. There were also plenty of parks and sports grounds making the suburb quite a beautiful place to live. The plethora of trees meant the suburb felt a little cooler in the blistering summer heat. Despite this I could still feel my skin burning up just in the time it took to get to the car. The suburb was also quite central to the rest of Brisbane and along the river to boot so it had plenty of well off residences. These could be found littered among run down old Queenslanders built in the 30s with anywhere between four and ten residences with varying levels of skill.

Jeremy Walters’ house was more like a student’s residence than a professors. It looked too small to have more than one room. That said, it looked a sight better than the neighbouring property which had fallen into disrepair. It was tucked away among trees making it significantly cooler. A green Toyota Corona station wagon sat in the driveway. I guessed it was at least three decades old. It looked like it lacked any modern features. A quick glance inside the car showed me a myriad of electrical equipment that meant nothing to me scattered in the back. We walked along orange brick pavers overgrown with moss and covered in grime up to the front door around the side of the house. I knocked.

A man wearing boxers and little else answered the door. A glance inside told me that Jeremy had more stuff than he could possibly need. A real pack rat.

‘Detectives Johnson and Yoshida,’ I said indicating my partner. The door slammed in my face. I banged on it and tried the handle. It was unlocked. I forced my way in. Jeremy was already running out the back door.

‘Takeshi, out the back,’ I shouted and dashed through the living room after Jeremy. I stumbled over some unrecognisable machinery on the floor cursing as I crumpled to my knees. Without wasting any more time I jumped up as if were a sprinter. I could see Takeshi ahead of me and Jeremy leaping up at a two metre high fence and trying to haul himself over. The effort cost him time though. Takeshi was one of the fittest guys on the force. He often mentioned he joined the track and field club in high school so he could practice running down the crooks. It didn’t surprise me at all to see him easily catch up and yank Jeremy off the fence before he got over. The kid landed on the ground with a thump, the air knocked out of him. Takeshi quickly had Jeremy’s arm behind his back and a knee in his lower back. I came up alongside Takeshi.

‘That’s police brutality right there,’ I heard Jeremy Walters say in defiance trying to wiggle free. I squatted down so I was face to face with him.

‘Why’d you run?’ Cop shows make it look like we’re always chasing after people. Most perps tried to deceive you rather than run. Nothing says “take me to jail, I’m guilty” like running from a policeman.

‘I didn’t do anything.’

That made me laugh.

‘You know the two things that make a policeman think someone is guilty?’

Jeremy looked like he had contemplated spitting in my face but gave it a second thought. I suspect the kid had seen too many mafia films or cop shows. Mysteries were a mixed bag. On the one hand they promoted the idea that the perp was always caught and that the cops were the good guys. On the other hand, they prescribed how to behave towards cops if you were a criminal usually in the form of outright defiance. I guess it made our job easier.

’Runners and people saying I didn’t do it. Especially when we haven’t even asked you anything. You must have a pretty guilty conscious, Jeremy Walters.’

‘I don’t have to talk to you.’

‘You are the most suspicious person I have ever met,’ I laughed, ‘what don’t you want to talk about?’

‘Nothing,’ he sulked.

‘We’re on a case, a homicide to be precise,’ Takeshi paused letting the information sink in, ‘in fact you probably know the victim. Daniel Bailey died early this morning.’

‘And his flatmate, Stanley Fitzgerald is missing. During our investigations your name came up as someone we should speak to, any idea why that might be?’

‘Murder? I didn’t murder anyone; I don’t know anything about a murder.’ Jeremy replied the kid looked more shook up now than before.

‘There was a party last night at the flat,’ I stated, ‘I have reason to believe you were there.’

‘I didn’t kill him,’ he repeated.

‘But you know who did?’ asked Takeshi, ‘otherwise why would you run away from us?’

‘No, I don’t, I left when Daniel mentioned he was feeling sick. The guy had drunk a lot.’

‘What kind of sick?’

‘He said his guts were really hurting, and um every muscle in his body was hurting.’

‘And you didn’t take him to a hospital?’ asked Takeshi.

‘I thought he was just drunk, we helped him to his bed and said good night,’ he replied now calmer. I got the distinct impression we should have stayed vague. At least we had someone who was at the scene.

‘What about Stanley Fitzgerald, he is still missing,’ I enquired.

‘He told us he’d keep an eye on him and waved good night,’ he explained, all of his fear of us was now gone. I couldn’t help feel that we had missed something.

‘Jeremy,’ I said patiently, ‘you’ve just admitted that you were at the crime scene. One dead body, one missing and here you are. Why are you ok?’

‘I left early,’ he replied.

‘Can anyone back this story up?’

‘Yeah, Stanley can.’

‘I bet you can see why that is problematic,’ said Takeshi, ‘we may have to bring you in.’

‘You know I’m quiet used to an atmosphere of distrust towards authority,’ I said, ‘as a generality we have to deal with on a day to day basis but that lab was something quite different. Any ideas why that would be the case?’

‘Probably because everyone in that lab is under thirty and you’re cops.’

‘What’s that mean?’ asked Takeshi.

‘He’s suggesting that any tension we felt in the air back there is most likely because young people hate cops,’ I explained to Takeshi, ‘I’ve been doing this job for a while, Jeremy. I know the difference between hostility because of parking fines, and speeding tickets; and hostility because something a lot darker is going on.’

The boy looked up at me in sullen silence.

‘You remind me a lot of a certain type of person,’ said Takeshi thoughtfully, ‘you know there’s only about twelve different types of people. Get to know people enough and you can generally pin them on an x y chart pretty easily. You’ve got the air of, what’s the word I’m looking for?’

‘A weasel?’ I suggested, ‘a mercenary, a snitch, a snivelling little whinger who’d do anything to get ahead?’

‘So,’ continued Takeshi, ‘what do you have that others would trade for?’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ said Jeremy.

‘Expertise?’ he suggested as he inspected Jeremy’s face, ‘no, something much simpler. You may be a professor but just a look at this place tells me you aren’t a smart one.’

‘I’m smarter than any of them there,’ he declared, ‘do you know how many professors there are as young as me at that place?’

I rolled my eyes at him, ‘the only thing you have of value is,’ then I paused as I thought back to that wonderful high tech lab, ‘access.’

Walters squirmed under Takeshi.

‘His security pass,’ I suggested, ‘who did you let in? Could be that you had no idea what the person was doing. Just let them in when no one was around. Picked up a little fee in exchange.’

Jeremy’s cockiness drained away from him. Here was no poker player. He looked from one face to the other desperately searching for leniency. Considering I didn’t know how involved this guy was or what he was even involved in I wasn’t exactly willing to give him any. I stared back at him with cold unforgiving eyes. At least that’s what I was going for. I often practiced my looks with my wife and daughter getting feedback on which ones were the best for intimidating crooks.

‘I, God, I don’t want to go to jail. I never meant to do anything wrong.’

‘You didn’t mean to do anything wrong?’ I asked. ‘Helping an outsider access the laboratory equipment is definitely illegal. Who was it?’

He shook his head unwilling to answer.

‘Who?’ I asked.

‘You did know his name and purpose right?’ berated Takeshi.

I was surprised to see Jeremy look even more hopeless than he already did.

‘Nothing,’ he said in a whimper, ‘I got nothing for it, just a feeling of guilt and unease.’

‘Give us a name Jeremy,’ I said.

‘Dr Stern,’ he replied ashamed although I couldn’t tell what part of his story he was ashamed about.

‘Dr Stern?’ I asked, ‘I’ve heard that name before. Stanley’s dad mentioned it, he’s a professor. Why would you need to get him access to the lab?’

‘He wanted to cover his tracks,’ he replied sheepishly.

‘With yours?’ I asked.

He shrugged.

‘How did you do it?’ Takeshi asked.

‘Not as hard as you’d think,’ he said ‘I’d contact him when the lab was empty, usually past midnight. I’d meet him at the door and swipe him in.’

‘How long has this been going for?’

‘About five years now I reckon.’

‘Five years?’ I asked, ‘Why would he need access? He has it already right?’

‘I don’t know,’ he replied, ‘he told me never to tell anyone.’

‘Or what?’ asked Takeshi

‘He’d get me kicked out.’

‘On what grounds,’ I asked. Jeremy looked incredibly uncomfortable now. I suspect we had hit on the real reason he ran.

‘He’s influential is all,’ he replied.

‘You’d need more than that to get someone fired,’ said Takeshi.

‘University is a pretty ruthless working environment,’ he explained.

‘Do you know what he was doing?’

‘He wouldn’t tell me, and to be honest I didn’t want to know anything just in case he was making drugs, you know plausible deniability.’

‘That’s not how the law works,’ said Takeshi.

‘Get us a meeting with him,’ I said to him. It wasn’t a request.

Jeremy looked worried, furtive even, ‘you can just go see him at the office.’

‘No, we need to catch him at it. Come on, you said it was easy, do what you usually do and get this guy to come,’ I said, ‘if you don’t know anything about what he’s doing then you won’t be bothered.’

‘He’s in on it,’ said Takeshi, ‘look at him, he doesn’t want to upset the boss. The threat is a lie.’

‘No, no, I don’t know anything, I just let him through the door,’ he pleaded desperate for us to believe him, ‘I can get you the meeting.’

‘Tonight.’ I stated.

‘Yeah, tonight,’ he replied.

Both Takeshi and my phone went off at the same time. Takeshi got his out first.

‘Tech found the phone.’

‘Did they send an address?’ I asked feeling the tingle of excitement I get when a case looks like it’s going forward. Takeshi nodded showing me the message on his phone.

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