Part 7: Alberto Drops In To Save The World.

Jackie Nitaki becomes Jackie NotHappy, while the police decide to nose around Zach’s place.

Part 8

Gerry waited up for a little while after the call, to see if the video came through.

While she was doing this she checked the stats on nipaluna Newsmonger. The Hobart Cop Attacked By Thylacine! article was already in the top 10 story on the site and was way above quota for comments.

I just might give this a tickle on Scatter she concluded, then set about boosting it on her favourite social network. Within minutes it was was up and running, being shared with an audience beyond the nN’s regular followers.

She was impatient for the video, and why not. What on earth could it actually be? Gerry was a regular pourer of cold water on conspiracies, but this now appeared to have two pillars: a police radio call, and now a video. From the same night, though in different locations. Places not far from each other. Possibly means that it is at least the same animal involved. She kicked herself for not asking Jackie Nitaki more about it.

Bridgewater Gerry watched again the video she did have, of the Byron Brookes meltdown. It had been posted anonymously and was doing the rounds on another social network.

As you can see, the screen is broken. That happened, I can tell you – I can tell the world – as the incident unfolded and the tiger knocked the phone from my hand.” it began.

She watched the beginning again, then paused it and thought. Then let it continue.

Most of the video was so dramatic-pathetic that probably no-one’s really listening to the words at the start. And even if they think about it, they might conclude that ‘tiger’ refers to his mistress. Or to a wayward tiger tiger. Or that he’s just a drunken liar seeing things.

But if Byron Brookes thinks he’s seen a tiger, that’s three pillars. Three makes a tripod and they don’t fall over easily was her motto.

She looked back at her screen. Hits on the article were still arriving steadily, both from Scatter now and in just general traffic.

Maybe I don’t need the video just yet, she thought. This has enough steam of its own to roll for a few days as is. Oh the video might well be good, but I can drop when interest starts to flag and kick the story into high gear again. This train’s a-comin’.

If she’d been the rubbing-hands type she might have done so, but as it was she was grunt-tired and just massaged her forehead and bright-red fringe for a moment.

Softly softly catchee monkee she whispered to herself. The glanced over at Mono, who was suddenly looking a bit miffed.

“Not you, silly.”

* * * * *

As soon as Zachary woke up he sent a text to his boss saying “Not feeling well. Won’t be in today.”

Then realised he hadn’t been in for weeks now and had to send another. “You know what I mean. If anything comes up please send to my email, otherwise I’ll be back a work tomorrow. – Z”

He thought about sending another to say why he was ill, but then realised it would just sound like an excuse.

If you can’t take a sick day to ‘stay at home’ during a global pandemic brought on by a barely-known disease with no vaccination, no particularly effective treatment and no cure, then when? he thought.

When Alberto padded softly into the kitchen he didn’t either to offer him Tasmanian-grown quinoa and buckwheat mélange with lucuma powder. Zach figured he was probably still full of cat, or had left pieces of cat lying around the yard for later on.

Zach had that ‘we need to have a talk’ look about him, Alberto pawed at the fridge and Zach opened it and poured a little fruit juice into a bowl for him.

“Not bad,” he said after he’d lapped it up. “Just the thing to wash down …”

“Half the neighbourhood’s pets?” Zach finished the sentence for him.

Alberto shrugged. “Carnivores gonna carniv.”

“I’m just worried people are going to report these animals missing,” said Zach.

“Whoa Johnny! People do that?” Alberto’s eyes were wide and fierce now.

“Of course. People love their pets.”

“So my people were hunted to extinction, and these good-for-nothing interlopers get treated like members of the family? Don’t tell me…they get taken to the doctor when they’re sick?”

Zach nodded. “It’s worse than you think. There are even grooming salons for pets these days. Training schools. Places to stay when their owners are on holidays. Designer beds to sleep on. Special parks to play in.”

“You people have a very strange relationship with animals,” said Alberto despondently.

Zach nodded again. Yep. And the complexity of that relationship was going to make things very difficult for Albert, he was beginning to realise.

“Besides,” said Alberto. “There are a lot of cats next door.”

It had been a long time since Zach had spoken to his neighbour on that side, Deirdre Marks. She had some quite hard-to-understand British accent, or was it Irish? She was not very chatty, and would often just looked away if she happened to be outside when a person walked past. Someone had said she used to run a laundry, until her husband died. After that she’d retired, and spent most of her time at home.

Zach knew she hated gardening and never went out the back of the house. Each year, fully laden apple and pear trees just dropped their fruit on the ground to rot; this year, the smell of rotten apple pie had lasted for months. The rhubarb had grown so high it was almost over the fence. The front yard was much smaller, and she’d had it entirely covered in a pebbles either side of a concrete path from the gate to the door. Occasionally Zach would see her out spraying nascent weeds with something.

“I might pay Deirdre a visit next door,” Zach said. “I won’t be long, just in case the police come around again.”

“Do you have a futon?” asked Alberto quickly.

“Umm, no. I had one a while ago. I liked it at first and then it didn’t seem very good for my back. I guess I could look for one. The rubber core ones aren’t bad. I’m not sure if with current restrictions the furniture stores are still…wait…why do you need a futon?”

“Looks like I need to lie low!” roared Alberto as he made a show of clutching his stomach and rolling around the floor.

Zach got his coat.

* * * * *

Bridgewater Gerry had written a few features about up-and-coming women. One of them had been Salamah Salamova.

Originally from Chechnya, she’d moved to the other side of the world to get away from her parents trying to marry her off, but the war made a better back-story. At least that gave her and Gerry a few things to talk about.

Gerry had seen her graphic design work and she was quite brilliant. But being a ‘come-from-away’ no-one was going to give her a decent go until she’d worked her way into the mates network. And Salamova was not that type of person.

“Salamah Salamova speaking,” she answered promptly as the call came in.

“So good they named you twice!”

“Gerry!” she recognised the slightly slurred voice immediately. “What’s up? Would love to catch up but you know, lockdown schlockdown.”

“Same same,” said Gerry. “Look, I have some work for you.”

“Hang on, let me see if I can fit it into my busy schedule. I have an appointment with Couch this morning, followed by Lunch, followed by a full afternoon of Daydream. Sorry!”

“Super. I’ll send it through.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a video,” said Gerry. “Taken through a phone with a cracked screen. One particular crack went right over the lens. So do you reckon you can remove that?”

“What’s the background?”

“You’ll see. There’s quite a bit of dark sky, and an animal.”

“Is there anything to reconstruct? Do you me to try that?” asked the designer.

“No. ‘Cleaned up’ is what I want. Don’t want people to see it and think it’s been manipulated.”

“There’s fine line between pleasure and pain,” sang Salamova.

“Which you will tread with aplomb, because you’re the best.”

“Right! So no pressure then. When do you need it?”

“It’s not that long. Not that urgent either. Say, a week?”

“Okies. Can confirm once I’ve seen it. But between you and me and the wolf: Sixalla – sonalla, sobar – qеtam.”

“I am so here for your pearls of the Caucasus,” said Gerry enthusiastically.

“Rashness is folly, patience is a talent,” translated Salamova

* * * * *

As Zach tapped on the wooden wall next to the front door, his knuckles nearly went through it. The door itself was a mess of rusty iron and insect mesh full of holes. There was doorbell dangling from a wire on the left side of the frame.

The yard was bare, save for a bit of chickweed starting to re-emerge.

Mrs Marks opened the door and didn’t say anything. She was wearing a flannel dressing gown covered in cat hair.

Zach cleared his throat. He was now having trouble remembering why he was there. They looked at each other as the wind blew a plastic bag across the yard and pinned it against the crumbly brick of the front fence.

“Um, hello,” said Zach.

Deirdre Marks continued to stare, slightly past Zach, as if there was something interesting near the gate.

“Thought I’d say hello.” He remembered then that he just had. “Um, coronavirus, they said we’re all in this together.”

She adjusted her dressing gown slightly. Zach couldn’t really see her through the screen anyway.

“Sooo, if you, um, need a hand with anything. I would, um, I mean I could, you know, do some shopping or something.”

“I don’t need any shopping done, so I don’t,” she said.

Zach thought he might as well try to gracefully, or even gracelessly, escape. This wasn’t working.

“But ye might as well come in,” she said unexpectedly. “I really need some help to do something about all my kitties.”

Zach stood there open mouthed, as he she turned the screen door handle and then held it open for him.

“And ye’d best make it soon. I’m dying, so I am.”

* * * * *

Lady Jane had just come out for the evening. A few friends looked on from the safety of the thicket. All of the mob looked up to her, although she hated that term ‘mob’. My sundry disciples she might have called them.

Over near the rivulet she could see a man in a knee-length coat and peaked cap. She recognised him from that alone. Not that she knew who he was, specifically, but she knew he was a regular walker along her favourite patch. And she knew he presented no danger. In fact more the opposite. If he saw her or any of her friends he would stop and gaze, and often try to creep closer. He would crouch down, creeping unnaturally, trying to appear less threatening.

Well you look a tad ridiculous rather than unthreatening, but one is nonetheless inclined to be appreciative of the gesture she would say to herself.

Today however he didn’t even notice her. He seemed fascinated by some mud right beside the rivulet.

It was the spot where the pademelon and the thylacine had cross the rivulet to access the secret tunnel.

Now it was her turn to creep. Seeing as he wasn’t paying attention to her, she leant on her front paws then levered herself a hop closer. Then another one. Silent as the flush of dawn, she took another hop until she was just ten metres away.

He was holding, horizontal to the firm mud, one of those little black slabs that humans like so much. The man held it there for a moment, then muttered and fiddled with it, then held it out again. This time there was a tiny pop of light. He held flat rock up to his face and examined it.

A clumsy wallaby thumped his way over to where Lady Jane was, to see what was going on.

The man turned around and saw them there.

“Who’s your little friend, eh? One of these prints is not like the others.”

The secret’s out, and Alberto is on the run! Join Alberto and Zach’s coronavirus adventure in Part 9 of Alberto Drops In To Save The World next weekend.