Short fiction by Iain Ryan
I didn’t like Wayne Shorten. No one did. He looked more like an estate agent than a copper. Kept himself tucked in and polished. All for show because he was dirty in ways he couldn’t cover up. It showed in his face. Mongrel eyes. A terrible smile.
“I’ve got myself a problem,” he said, all teeth.
“I figured as much.”
We were down one end of the pub bistro. Wayne devoured his meal. Mine looked pretty much the same as when it came out.
“A week back, some blokes I know decided to knock over a bank truck. Now I can’t really condone that sort of thing, but nobody got hurt and these blokes were okay. They could deal. We came to an arrangement. But then some sneaky bastard came and pinched the lot before I got my share. Rob the robbers. Who’d have thought.”
“That’s terrible,” I said. I took a gulp of beer. “So what do you want?”
“That’s what I like about you, Bill, always straight to the point. I got wind the money’s now on Tunnel. One of my young Constables is a bit of a go-getter and…you don’t want to hear the hows and whys do you?”
“No,” I said. I could see where this was heading. “You want me to go over and have a look?”
“Would you? That’d be mighty helpful.”
“Got a budget in mind?”
“I think this one’s on the house, Bill.”
They were all on the house. That’s how it went with Wayne.
Tunnel Island heaved in the high season. Finding two idiots burning through money over there was needle-in-a-haystack stuff. But, as told, the Rockhampton police had the haystack narrowed. They had a credit card trail, receipts for a rental car spotted in the vicinity of Wayne’s money, CCTV footage from an ATM nearby. The most recent transaction on those cards was a deluxe suite in Tunnel’s finest, the Gold Point Hotel.
I staked it out. It cost me. A week lurking in a hotel like that isn’t cheap. It was thirsty work. And I had my own problems, things I needed to forget, as well as Wayne’s case.
Sure enough, the blokes were there. They were idiots but they were doing a better job of it than expected. They were keeping a low profile. They didn’t mug it with the regular punters or shout the bar. Instead, they kept to themselves, gambled in the high rollers lounge and tipped large. All smart moves but I owed Wayne and a few hospitality burn-outs at the Gold Point owed me and that was that. I had someone from the hotel run the card. It married up to a room number.
The room service kid brought them champagne. I waited till he was back in the elevator, then knocked.
A woman opened the door. “We’ve already got our — ”
She saw the gun.
“Back it up,” I said.
She didn’t say a word as she backed into the suite. The two men I was looking for sat on the lounge in their underwear. No piece in sight.
“You, sit down,” I said. “And you two, stay put.”
“Look, we just — ”
“Shut it. This is a courtesy call. You took the wrong bloke’s money. He wants it back. I’m going to give you his number. If you’ve got any brains at all, you’ll give it back and disappear.”
The men looked at each other.
“Okay,” said one of them.
There was a pause.
“I’ve got expenses,” I said.
They had the cash piled up in a mound in the walk-in closet. One of them obviously knew his way around a poker table. He said they were up. They had more than what they stole from Wayne. A lot more. But it wasn’t enough.
A week later, the Morning Bulletin carried a piece on a dumped rental car over in Stanwell. Someone lit it on fire. There were three bodies inside.
Wayne sat in the bistro with his charcoaled chicken and chips. He picked at it.
“Poor thing,” he said. “Burning’s no way to die.”
He wiped grease from his mouth.
“Let me tell you a joke,” he said and it was some story about how a group of thieves stole money from one another. At the punch line, he laughed a big laugh and I sat there silent and waited.