The Brunswick Street Irregulars – Chapter Two

Here’s a much belated addition to that first chapter I put up here some weeks back – I’ll try to keep them coming a little more frequently.

Chapter Two

The business of giving a statement was always a lengthy one in Rag’s experience, especially when the cops had nothing to go on.

When they had you, they knew it and you knew it, and the whole statement thing was pretty much a formality. When you were clearly an innocent witness, it was usually even simpler – not to mention that the cop taking your words down would be a lot nicer to you about it. But when they didn’t know what to do next, they just tried to keep you talking, hoping you’d say something – anything – that would give them something to work with.

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The Brunswick Street Irregulars, chapter four

McEwan sighed and looked across the desk to his partner. Drysdale was leaning back his chair, his feet up on the desk and a lazy smile on his face. The smile only got wider as the silence lengthened. Finally, McEwan gave in.
“Fine, so there was nothing useful in any of those phone calls,” he grudgingly admitted.
“Just like?” Drysdale prompted.
“Just like you predicted.” Drysdale sat up straight, still smiling.
“Damn right. But at least now we know that.”
“What do you want to do next?”
“Well, we’ve got the uniforms to canvass the street – maybe someone saw or heard something.”
“You don’t think so?”
“People work all kinds of crazy shifts these days. We might get lucky, but the ones most likely to be up at that time are students pulling allnighters…”
“…and they’re unlikely to be reliable or cooperative witnesses,” McEwan finished the thought.
“About the size of it.”
“So, that leaves us with either taking another run at our two witnesses – and I really don’t think either of them is the shooter – or waiting.”
“We should put off taking that second run until we get the results of the canvasses back. It might give us more to work with. Other than that, we fall back on our existing case. Rag and his lady definitely have some connection to the Irregulars, and if our body was one of them, they’ll want to mark the occasion somehow,” said Drysdale.
“So, we’ll see what tomorrow brings, then?”

***

Peta was trying to solve a puzzle without enough pieces. The Brunswick Street Irregulars would definitely be out tonight, but where would they be? The cops were bound to know that too, and they’d be looking high and low for them.

She decided to compromise. There was a twenty-four hour convenience store on the corner of Johnson and Brunswick. It would provide a reasonable place to wait and watch from without drawing too much suspicion, although she might have to flirt with the guy behind the counter a little more than was really advisable. But needs must.

The Brunswick Street Irregulars, part five

Yeah, I know, the previous bits have been labelled chapters and this one’s a part. That’s because these sections are getting a little smaller – there will still be installments, just probably only chasing one or two plot threads at a time. But I’m feeling good about this.
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The Brunswick Street Irregulars, part six

It had been a long and frustrating night for Peta. The convenience store was brightly lit, and there was nowhere to sit – and staying there had meant spending hours fending off pass after pass from the guy at the counter. But it was out of the way. She’d spotted a few police cars patrolling, and once even saw one of the detectives who took her statement – she hoped he hadn’t seen her too.

But overall, the night was a bust. No sign of any of the Irregulars all night long. Stumbling home, an hour after dawn, it didn’t even occur to Peta to look at the walls of Smith Street’s Fitzroy side.

*    *    *

Despite his tiredness, Rag found it difficult to sleep that night. Partly it was just the uncomfortable couch he was lying on – at 6’4″, Rag could choose between dangling his feet, his head or both of the ends – but mostly it was recent events.

Tommy’s death – Tommy’s murder, he corrected himself – was bad enough on its own, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a harbinger of worse to come. The police had been sniffing around the Irregulars for months now, but now there seemed like a chance they might actually get somewhere. They hadn’t asked him anything about the Irregulars, but Rag was sure that they suspected. Tommy had still smelled of paint, and there’d been no hiding the fact that they knew him.

Even more troubling than the police – who to Rag were an annoyance about on the level of the weather; you allowed for them then did whatever you were going to do in the first place – was the murderer. Because there was little chance that it wasn’t someone in the Irregulars. Who else would Tommy have been with at such a time? Hell, who else would have been awake? Tommy had stumbled into something he shouldn’t have, and now he was keeping secrets in the only absolutely reliable fashion. And whatever it was, he’d wanted Rag and Sally to know about it.

So they’d better bloody find out, thought Rag.

The Brunswick Street Irregulars, part seven

Sally awoke to the certain knowledge that Rag didn’t sleep a wink last night. After six years together, she sometimes suspected she knew Rag better than he knew himself. Certainly she found his reactions easier to predict than he seemed to, although his honest surprise at the passion of his responses to things was a part of his charm.

Today, he was tense, wired. It wasn’t just the coffee or lack of sleep, either. He had something on his mind, and it didn’t take a shrink to work out what. But when he tried to speak to her, she shut him down as gently as she could.
“When we get home, love. When we get home.”

* * *

Drysdale was driving home from the station when he saw it.  Dumb luck, too – if he hadn’t needed to pull in to refuel, he might have missed it entirely.  But there it was.

The Brunswick Street Irregulars had been here.

He couldn’t see that much of Nicholson Street from where he was, but he didn’t doubt that they’d covered a good portion of it. Without undue hurry, he paid for the petrol and got back into his car.

It took a while to make the full circuit, but he had to admit he was impressed by the scope of it. Five kilometres – give or take – of walls and other vertical surfaces covered in vandalism of all sorts. Clearly, there were more Irregulars than they had realised. He and McEwan at estimated the size of the group at twenty or twenty-five members. But based on their latest exploit, it had to be at least double that. At least.

And the co-ordination it implied was frightening. In the space of about five hours, they’d put together a display of size that dwarfed anything they’d done before, and at least matched it in quality. A criminal conspiracy that big wasn’t easy to keep in line, and he couldn’t help wonder how they managed it.

And what else they might be planning.

The Brunswick Street Irregulars, part eight

Trish looked at Sally incredulously.
‘Why the Hell would I know?” she asked.
“Tommy was your housemate. I was hoping he might have said before he went out that night.”
“He probably would have, only I left before he did – that was the night we did the new train station.”
“The Broady line one?”
“You know any other line’s got a new station?”
“Fair point. Bugger.”
“Look Sally, you know I loved Tommy like he was my brother. If I knew anything at all that might help, I’d tell you.”
“What was he working on?”
“Could have been any of a half dozen things. It wasn’t that stencil piece the cops are staking out, he was smarter than that,” said Trish.
“Rag has this theory that Tommy was coming to our place to tell us something important, and whoever shot him wanted to stop him.”
“Rag has this theory?”
“Yeah, okay, I think he’s probably right,” said Sally. “It all makes sense. Rag thinks he was running when they shot him. His knees were freshly skinned.”
“Well, I’d be running too, if I knew someone was trying to shoot me.”
“I wouldn’t. I’d go for cover.”
“So you think that Tommy didn’t know he was being chased?”
“And if that’s the case, it must have been something important for him to be running.”
“I wish I knew more, Sal.”
“I didn’t really think you would, to be honest. You’re all pretty independent over there. I’m just being thorough, is all.”
“Less independent now,” said Trish sadly.
“How do you mean?”
“Oh, just missing him mostly. Me and David both. Plus, there’s that other problem.”
“Other problem?”
“Our, uh, financial independence has also been compromised. We need a new housemate, or we won’t be able to afford the place.”
“And I guess neither of you feels much like interviewing strangers right now.”
“Not at all.”

The Brunswick Street Irregulars, part nine

The night before was a wasted effort, Peta decided, but that still left two nights from now. According to what she’d heard on the tape, there was an informal meeting due to take place in a back room at the John Barleycorn. All she had to do, she figured, was get to the pub ahead of the couple she’d met when their friend was shot, and accidentally-on-purpose meet them again.

Peta wasn’t quite sure how the conversation would go after that, but she wasn’t too worried. If there was one thing that the student life had taught her, it was how to improvise.

That just left her with two days to fill. No classes, all her assignments complete, and nothing better to do than watch the teev for all her waking hours. One day, she’d pay off her overdue fines at the library and they’d let her borrow stuff again, but right now, there wasn’t much else to do but turn on the news.

The news was remarkable.

*      *      *

The news was horrible.

Even with Drysdale’s warning, McEwan wasn’t prepared for just how much heat the latest (and, undeniably, the greatest) exploit of the Brunswick Street Irregulars brought down on him and his co-workers.

But there was the Premier, and the Lord-Mayor of the City of Melbourne, and several state and federal politicians, and all of them on the news and the current affairs shows, talking about how this unprecedented outbreak of criminality was not their fault, but the fault of Victoria’s long-suffering police force.

McEwan toyed with the idea of calling in sick, but then realised that he’d only be deeper in the shit when he returned to work if he did.

On the plus side, as far as he was concerned, this confirmed the link between their dead body and the Brunswick Street Irregulars. Time to call his witnesses in for another round of questioning, he thought, and grinned like a predator.

The Brunswick Street Irregulars, part ten

“I’m just saying, Rag. We could do a lot more than we do. Last night proved that.”
Rag sighed. He liked Eric Nelson – he was smart and funny, but dear christ, the man could be wearing at times. Rag was still exhausted after the marathon effort of the night before.
“Like what, Eric?”
“Civil disobedience.”
“Aren’t we doing that already?”
“Yeah, we are, but not in an organised way. We’re doing spontaneous artistic projects, and that’s it.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Not a thing. It’s an important political statement in its own right. But we could be making other statements besides that.”
“I like that one,” said Rag. “And besides, plenty of the stuff various people do has political comment in it. David’s stuff, Marla’s, some of the others.”
“But that’s what I mean. It’s scattershot. What if we had a unified political agenda?”
“Eric, if you think you can herd these cats better than Sally or I can, you’re welcome to try. We’re first amongst equals, nothing more.”
“Sally just proved that we can do more.”
“Granted. But I think you’re underestimating the degree to which people’s emotions played into that.”
“What if I’m not?” asked Eric.
“Okay,” said Rag. “Assume for a moment that the Irregulars can be marshaled to a cause like you want to. What would you do with them?”
“Like I said, civil disobedience. But more targeted, aimed at specific goals.”
“Give me an example.”
“Those damned ticketing machines on the train stations. We could wipe them out in a single night.”
“You think?”
“I’m sure of it,” said Eric. Rag thought it over for a minute.
“Listen, bring it up at the meeting. I’m in favour of it, but I’m not coming out with it for you – you have to make the case yourself.”
“That’s all I wanted, Rag. Just a chance, see what we can do.”
“Good luck. I think you’re gonna need it.”

The Brunswick Street Irregulars, part eleven

Drysdale wasn’t impressed at all with the results of the second round of questioning their two witnesses. McEwan had persuaded him not just to stop with Rogers and Henderson, but also to call in McShane as well. If Rogers had the tape, he would have shared it with her, McEwan had argued, and Drysdale had conceded that questioning the both of them made it more likely to catch any lies.

But they were both a little too good at the game. Neither of the two suspected Irregulars had given them anything that they could use, although some of their alibis were felt a little dubious. Drysdale didn’t doubt for a second that if the alibis were pushed, they’d turn out to be a lot more solid, and although it was dead set that it would be other Irregulars supporting them, that wouldn’t help too much.

McShane was even worse. The kid was jumpy and scared, but that turned out to be because she thought they’d called her in thinking she was the killer. It was hard to not to feel sorry for her, even if she did have a less convincing alibi than the other two – although no doubt had the security camera footage been available, it would have proved her story.

What that meant was that he and McEwan had passed a frustrating afternoon getting nowhere in a hurry. At best, the day was a no-score draw. They knew someone was lying, but not who; conversely, none of their suspects suspected that Drysdale and McEwan were onto the lie. It probably wouldn’t be enough to crack this on its own, but every little bit helped.

The Brunswick Street Irregulars, part twelve

It was with some difficulty that Sally managed to not smile while she was leaving the police station. Rag picked up on it, but no one else seemed to notice – and even he seemed to have no idea what she was smiling about.

As soon as they were far enough away, however, she told him.
“I got something,” she said.
“From the cops?”
“Yup.” Rag waited a minute, and they took another few steps before his impatience got the better of him.
“Well?”
“The cops think it was an inside job.”
“An inside job?”
“They didn’t come right out and accuse me of being an Irregular, but it’s obvious they think that me, you and Tommy all are.”
“We figured that they’d get that much.”
“Yeah, but they’re working on a theory that we aren’t. They think whoever killed Tommy was also an Irregular.”
“That’s crazy.”
“Maybe. The group’s bigger than it used to be, and we don’t know everyone anymore. We’re trusting people because people we really trust do,” Sally pointed out.
“And you think they might be wrong?” She shrugged.
“No one’s perfect, and not everyone has your codes of ethics regarding lies, love.”
“I suppose not. I…”
“…don’t really like to think like that,” she said. “I know you don’t; neither do I.”
“But you think we might have to, anyway.”
“Assuming the cops are right – and those guys aren’t dumb. They probably know the mindset of professional criminals better than we do.”
“This going to suck,” said Rag.
“Big time,” agreed Sally.
“Also, if those cops are going to stay on us – and it looks like they are – we need to be a little more careful.”
“Was thinking the same. You have a plan?”
“Not yet,” said Rag. “But I will.”

The Brunswick Street Irregulars, part thirteen

“I’m just saying,” said Trish as she held the pub’s door open for her companion, “I don’t like it any more than you do, but we need to do something.”
“Like what?” asked David.
“You know what. We need someone else to move in.” David looked at her like she’d just stabbed him, all betrayal and grief.
“Tommy’s only been in the ground three days!” exclaimed David as they approached the bar.
“I know! But we’re going to be on the street in less than two weeks if we don’t fill his room. If we both got jobs tomorrow we still couldn’t afford the rent without a third.” Trish was calm, but implacable. David would back down once he got to vent a little more grief – and maybe then it would be her turn. Right now, she was having to be the sensible one when all she wanted to do was break down crying and stay in bed for a week.
“I just miss him, y’know?” said David.
“I know you do. I miss him too.”
“His mum’s coming by tomorrow to get all his stuff.”
“We better make sure all his paints are out of his room, then,” said Trish. “Two pots, thanks,” she said the barman.

There was a momentary lull in the conversation, while they were served their beers and Trish paid for them. Picking their drinks up, Trish and David turned to face the room as they drained them.

That was when the woman next to David, a blonde with short spiky hair turned to them and said:
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help overhearing. Did you say you have a room going?” Trish and David exchanged a look.
“Yeah,” said Trish after a minute, “yeah, we did. You looking for one?”