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Chapter 4 - Rats in the Rafters

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I walked in on Mrs Gregory throwing books at the feet of a middle-aged man in a suit. The small, elderly woman stood behind the check out counter on her tiptoes. She threw one book after the other at his feet, and each one inched closer to actually hitting him. I stood between them and let the next book she threw hit me. The man behind me gasped louder then I did when the sharp corner of the hardcover book hit me. I gave her a sharp look and bent down to pick up the books off the grey carpeted floor. “Let’s pick these up.”

“Thank you, Sir.” The man straightened up his suit jacket and walked out the door. I followed him out to the car with the pile of books tucked in my arms. He looked surprised to see me when I apologised to him after he opened the door to his car. “I collected all of them for you.”

He looked at me for a few stunned seconds and handed me a business card. “I didn’t borrow those books. She started throwing them at me when I requested the accounts information for the library.”

I looked down at the card… he was an accountant, Alexander Lowe. “Why would sh-”

“Do you do the finances, Mr Lacy?”

“No.” I frowned. “She’s never let me see them.”

“Do you think you could get me a copy? I’ve been hired by the council to do the accounting for this financial year.”

“Why wouldn’t she let you see the accounts?”

“I assume it’s a physical accounts book.” He handed me a small, cheap smartphone. “Once you verify my identity with Mayor Chesterfield without hinting at why. You take a photo of every book with handwritten financials you can find in that building and send it to me.”

“Every department?”

“How old are you?” Lowe asked.

“Twenty three,” I said.

“Legally I shouldn’t be telling you anything, but I’m going to give you the same advice I’d give my son.” He swallowed and looked at his carefully polished leather boots for a couple of minutes. “Get the fuck off that burning ship while you can. You’re too young to be there when it explodes. You will be caught in the crossfire.”

I nodded and pulled the books closer to my body, the sharp corner an anchor to reality against the panic that threatened to engulf me. “What exactly is it you’re asking me to do?”

“Just take photos, then once I’ve confirmed I’ve got them, destroy the phone.”

“Is that legal?”

“Nothing that can be taken to court, but it can’t hurt to know where to look for evidence we can use.”

“Mayor Chesterfield is my husband’s uncle.”

“I know.”

He knew who I was… the age thing had been some kind of trick question. I looked at the man before me carefully to take in the navy, pinstripe three-piece silk suit, pearl cufflinks and expensive black leather shoes. No accountant I knew had the money for an outfit like that. He’d been scanning our surroundings out of the corner of his dark eyes. I caught a whiff of his cologne. He smelt like a cop.

My eyes fixed on the tree line behind him, the river that cuts through the town was just visible through the tree branches. We were alone at the far end of the town hall parking lot, a parking lot that backed onto a large river and empty park.

The park would be empty; it held a depleted toilet block, weather-beaten toddler-sized wooden playground no one would actually let their kid play on and about three car parks. Every town had a park that everyone avoided unless they were looking to shoot up after dark.

I was alone with a cop who’d just asked me to do something illegal near a spot perfect for hiding a body. Why would they look for me in the river? I had no reason to walk through the rugged line of bushland between the town hall and river. I’d always thought it was a little convenient that no security cameras faced this part of the parking lot. I didn’t feel comfortable with what this man was asking. Despite his age, he was slightly taller and stronger built then I. Would I be able to run, if he decided my refusal meant I was going to tell Mayor Chesterfield what I’d just learnt?

“Will you do it?” Lowe took a step closer to me, his hard eyes locked on mine. I felt exposed as though he was trying to find a way into my brain through my eyes. There was a presence building at the back of my mind, something worming its way into the back. I tried to blink and break the contact, but I couldn’t, my eyes refused to close.

He knew. He knew I knew he had magic. I forced myself to speak. “Yes.”

“You’re not the rat I’m looking for, but I won’t hesitate to step on you. Some might consider it a favour.” He raised an eyebrow, smiled and chuckled darkly.

I couldn’t bring myself to laugh at his joke. I let out a breath I didn’t realise I was holding.

“I can do as you asked. Is there anything else I can help you with?” I brought out the ‘customer service’ smile and voice.

“You look like you’re about to piss yourself. Are you really as powerful as they claim? Is this whimpering coward thing, all just an act? If I didn’t need you, I might take the chance to see.”

I swallowed. “Mrs Gregory will be looking to yell at me for taking so long.”

“Chop, chop, Dexter.”

“Why me?”

“You have permission to be there, and I don’t.” He hopped in his car and drove off; the car narrowly avoided my feet as he pulled out from the car park. I made my way to the back door of the town hall and quickly let myself in.

I relaxed as I walked down the dark hall, hardwood floor creaking under my feet. I had permission to be there. The building sang the same tune as all of the other pre-twentieth-century buildings, ‘lock the door and never return’. I’d practically grown up in this building, and it felt like home.

I slipped the phone from my pocket to the desk drawer and then proceeded to place the books back on the shelf after waving at Mrs Gregory. All of them were basic accounting books. I had no idea how she’d accumulated half of the accounting books in one place to use as projectiles.

I sat down at my desk after sending Julie off with the afternoon’s coffee order. Was there a way out? If what that rat was implying was true… I needed an out. I punched the table… fuck. I wasn’t about to give up my dream job because of something that Mrs Gregory and Mayor Chesterfield had done. I knew I could get thrown in jail if they proved fraud. I was here everyday for over a year and didn’t notice anything… Would the authorities believe that? I knew they were crooked but crooked enough to fudge the accounting? Eli and Julie’s maternal family were wealthy in their own right. Why would someone like Mayor Chesterfield steal from the town council? Lowe seemed like he was ready to spray and pray when it came to the workers for Dunn Council. Where had his hatred for me come from? I’d never seen the man in my life. I was playing with half a deck, and I needed to find out more information. If I wasn’t going to take the photos, I’d have to destroy the phone. The phone had to be a plant; he wasn’t just going to trust me to do what he asked. I left the phone buried in my bottom desk drawer, because I wasn’t stupid enough to bring it home even though it would be safer where my bosses were concerned.

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