Part 9: Alberto Drops In To Save The World.

Zach acquires a supply of cats for Alberto, ambitious pollie Richard Kanitji makes his moves while Byron Brookes backtracks.

Part 10

The next few days were a bit quieter than previous helter-skelter ones. Alberto settled in and Zach climbed over the fence to see him every day, at least nominally on the pretext of cleaning out the shed. Alberto had been told which of the cats was Nina and was under strict instructions not to molest her if she happened to go out.

And there was some progress with the cleanup. Zach bundled up the old tools, all kissed with rust, and with the permission of Deirdre Marks had them ready to drop off at the nearby men’s shed which was within walking distance.

They also found a stash of old books in the shed. Alberto begged to hang on to a 1980s dictionary of Australian slang, and set about reading it after Zach rigged an improvised bookstand and page turning device from old bits of this and that.

As it turns out Zach didn’t have any Pink Floyd posters but he did have some of his favourite band, The Triffids. Which Alberto had never heard of. “I’ll need to … get a line on that,” said Alberto, reading from his book and trying to be polite.

Zach at least appreciated the attempt.

* * * * *

Bridgewater Gerry remembered a saying she’d heard somewhere in Asia. Was it in Borneo during the second Confrontation the Indonesians had managed to keep secret? Maybe.

Hot hot chicken shit.

As in, boy that stuff is steaming when it comes out, but it cools down pretty quickly.

That was exactly the case with her thylacine story. After creating quite the ripple, at least among her readers and the most fanciful conspiracy theorists of social media, the hubbub had died down. Byron Brookes had backed off, the police were maintaining that nothing happened and no-one else had any information.

She’d pressed Salamah Salamova for the video, but she’d said she needed a few more days.

“Can you at least send me a frame?” pleaded Gerry.

She could, and did.

Gerry looked at it first on screen, then printed it out. She had to admit, it was inconclusive. Part of the problem was that thylacines hadn’t been much photographed while extant. Certainly not at night, up close and with poor lighting. Stripes would be a major clue but all this showed was a somewhat blurry snout and tongue.

Still, there might be someone else who knows something. She formatted a one-pager of The Comrade with the headline Have You Seen This Animal? and the picture she’d just received courtesy of Salamova. Underneath there was a little bit of background and a link to the nipaluna Newsmonger story, and the byline Geraldyna.

She sipped some jasmine tea while the printer whirred away, churning out 500 copies. She also printed out a map of the streets within a 1km radius from the house of Byron Brookes’ town house. Five hundred ought to do a few lamp posts, signal boxes, fences and every tenth letterbox, she thought.

* * * * *

Later that night Lady Jane Macquarie saw Gerry when she was out and about, pasting up The Comrade on cold poles and slipping the odd one into mail slots. Bridgewater Gerry, after all, did not move particularly fast with her crocked leg.

After Gerry had passed, Lady Jane edged out and had a look at a poster that had slipped out of the woman’s portfolio. She recognised Alberto immediately. As she pouched the poster she remembered how he’d been on the run, and terrified. Now these humans were looking for him.

First there had been that man at the rivulet looking closely at the mud. After she’d left she’d gone over and hopped around a bit, so that if he came back during daylight he would find it impossible to identify Alberto’s tracks.

Now this there was suspicious lady with a fringe the colour of fire, who didn’t walk like humans nor hop like proper animals, and had pictures of Alberto.

I need to find Alberto and let him know.

But where? She knew how far she’d taken him, but not exactly where he lived. Was he still there anyway?

She nibbled some more grass while she thought about it. And then it struck her. I’ll hear about it through the grass-vine: the network of nocturnal browsing animals.

Just then a bandicoot appeared and began noodling at some mulch around one of the trees in the park.

“I say kind sir, a lady is in need of some small manner of assistance.”

The bandicoot hesitated for a moment. Her Ladyship normally didn’t say very much and he’d written her off as an other-side-of-the-rivulet snob.

“Yeah. What?”

She pulled one of the The Comrade posters out of her pouch and held it out to show him.

“This animal. Looks like a loarinna. Have you seen him?”

“Can’t say as I have, m’lady.”

She furrowed her brows, expecting a bit more cooperation.

“But, ah, I can ask around. Alright if I get back to you tomorrow night?”

She nodded, and he disappeared almost as soon as he had appeared.

Lady Jane put the poster quietly back in her pouch. Not bad looking, for a carnivore.

* * * * *

Monday came and the usual crew of journalists had assembled. Jennarenn Jetsam had heard a whisper that something was going on with Richard Kanitji and had pre-written a story about Richard him being promoted in a reshuffle of the shadow cabinet. Now just to find out where the pieces were going to fall.

There was a little chit-chat while they waited. Although the coronavirus case numbers were increasing, public support appeared to be strongly in favour of the hard line being taken by the Premier to try to get the epidemic under control. Surely this wasn’t the time for an Opposition stunt?

As the door opened and Rosandra Gutfeld strode into the room, the voices gave way to camera shutters snapping like hungry beasts. Richard Kanitji followed her. He looked composed, as almost always did, but strangely not as much as Gutfeld.

“Good afternoon,” she said. It was like a school teacher addressing a class, but without the chorused response.

“I am here today to make an announcement regarding leadership.”

She let that hang there. Brett Gee did a double take and hit the magic button that sent out the video from his phone live.

“On Friday Richard Kanitji came to see me regarding the leadership of our party. Well, his party.”

Gaynor Deadwood leaned in a little closer and started scribbling some proto-questions on his notepad.

“As of today, I am no longer a member. I am resigning and sitting on the crossbench. Unfortunately, the party has moved away from its core values. It has back-flipped on key issues that it took to the last election, issues upon which the voters who elected me expected to find a voice. It has become a vehicle simply for empty ambition.” Gutfeld didn’t need to glance over her shoulder at Kanitji because she could feel him withering.

“While I wish the party well, I can no longer be part of it. I tried my best to provide the captaincy, if you will, to turn this stricken vessel around. I was unable. I feel that I can say now, and I need to say now, that it has almost lost its reason for being. When policy matters less than posturing, and slogans more than substance, and the ‘movers and shakers’ are simply those who want to warm a seat while waiting for a government to go stale and get thrown out so they can ‘have a turn’, the party is doing a disservice to the people of this island. They deserve better. I know I can provide better, and I will do it untramelled by the pettiness of personalities, and the dead weight of a party that has lost its way. I bring you energy, not spent force; vision not sketches; integrity, not a sham of ritual.”

She looked down briefly as if she should shuffle some notes, but it was entirely off the cuff. Kanitji was trying to find anywhere to look. He knew the cameraman had lined up the shot so that he was squirming in the background as Gutfeld belted out her speech.

“I make no comment on the leadership, as it does not concern me. What concerns me is the leadership I can offer to the voters of this state, as I do my best to hold to account the government of the day, in times of sickness or health. As you know I have backed the Premier’s actions to deal with coronavirus. To date. But as he holds our very lives in our hands, those decisions deserve as much scrutiny as anything else a government does.”

She held up a hand, backed by a confident smile.

“I will not be taking questions today. But I want to ask one, and it’s this: Tomorrow I will write to the Premier and urge him to recall Parliament. Will the Opposition do the same? The bunch of people I used to lead, who – I can tell you now – made it clear to me they wanted to stay home and collect money for nothing while the state was under threat from a deadly pandemic. I ask them, and whoever their leader is, if it is now time for them to stop phoning it in and return to the job that matters?”

She marched out of the room, leaving a bewildered Kanitji now the sole focus of the camera. He took a step towards the microphone, then a step back. Then sideways. Another hesitant step towards the microphone.

None of the journalists had ever seen him like this.

He turned and headed for the door, then realised Gutfeld would be in the ante-room. He changed direction and headed for the public door. It was a solid wooden door with a little glass panel in it. After he’d closed it behind him, the press could just make out Kanitji sprinting along the corridor and then disappearing down the fire escape.

Well, thought Jetsam as she began composing the article mentally, I’ll have to trash the draft and start again, but this is a better story.

You think that Gufeld’s in

But now Gutfeld’s out

You blame the tricky-Dicky and you turn around

That’s what it’s all about.

* * * * *

Mono looked sad. Perhaps he knew the implications of the financial state of the nipaluna Newsmonger. It was one thing to operate on a shoestring, but now they were practically barefoot and blistered.

Their usual trickle of advertising was like Disappearing Tarn: a beautiful and comforting thing when it existed, but as the water of life slips away it returns to being just a memory. And right now, their revenue pool was totally a bunch of rocks.

Gerry had spend a few hours writing up the Gutfeld resignation. That’s what it was, technically, but it was more than that. She’d not only carved out a new niche for herself, she’d lobbed a grenade that was going to damage the Opposition; the extent of that damage, and how they dealt with it, remained to be seen. As for the Premier, he would still be focused on the health of the state but he couldn’t ignore that the political landscape had just heaved. Would he wobble?

She was feeling sleepy as the call came in. Unknown number. Why is it that hot tips always come in so damn late at night? She wanted to ignore it but Mono’s face was telling her to take the call.

“nipaluna Newsmonger.”

“Hello, this is Claudia Rodriguez from PNN.”

“Yes?” Gerry knew the best way to deal with journalists was to be incredibly uninterested. Let them do the lifting. And this was Premier News Network, one of the world’s biggest.

“We came across your thylacine story recently. News director asked me to look into it.”


“Well, is there anything in it? Any new material you might have?”


“What have you got?”

“What might it be worth?” asked Gerry.

“Depends what it is. Any images, we pay $40 each. Video $90 per 30 seconds. Flat fees obviously, no royalties.”

Gerry waited a moment.

“Do you know what time it is here? 10.30pm, and I’m going to bed. So by the time I wake up tomorrow, you can either make a serious offer for exclusive rights to our unique footage … it’s just come in … about eleven seconds total, of an animal once thought to be extinct, or I’ll take the other offer.” She hung up.

Mono was wide-eyed. Gerry didn’t move.

Within two minutes the phone was ringing again. Unknown number.

Gerry accepted the call and waited.

“Five thousand dollars.”

“I’ll tell you the best way to send it, and you tell me the best way to send the video. It’s very good.”

They exchanged email addresses and that was that.

“Cripes Mono. I’ve just sold a video that’s not mine, that I haven’t seen yet, for five big. We’ll even be able to pay Salamah properly.”

Shocked to the stuffing the monkey was, absolutely shocked. Just not quite shocked enough to erase his cheeky grin.

The secret’s out, and Alberto is on the run! Join Alberto and Zach’s coronavirus adventure in Part 11 of Alberto Drops In To Save The World next weekend.

Source: Tasmanian Times