Peter sat in the Land Cruiser for several minutes before turning over the ignition. He watched the homestead in the rear view mirror, hoping that Sarah would reappear at the door. She didn’t.
Eventually, he cranked over the ignition and headed back up to the main road without a second glance. I am here to help Sam. That’s it.
When he reached the main road, he stopped the Land Cruiser and looked left and right. Left or right? Should I go straight to Cornish Downs or back to Bluey’s Croc World? He had most of Sam’s provisions—a bit battle-scarred but mostly intact. He also had a hunch that Bluey might have been trying to tell him something. So, should he go left or right? He turned right. The hunch won.
He turned off to the crocodile farm and headed slowly towards the house. Except for Sam’s Toyota under a nearby tree, there were no other vehicles parked at the house. He half-expected the police to still be there, but the place was deserted. He turned off the ignition and headed to the front door. The police tape had been pulled off, and tossed into the garden bed below, where it billowed in the breeze. The door was slightly ajar.
He stepped through the door cautiously and into the darkened interior. The furniture in the lounge room had been upended and the contents of a china cabinet emptied and scattered about. There were bits of china all across the floor. Someone had pulled all the books out of the bookcase, leafed through them and tipped the bookcase over. Photographs lay out of their frames, flung everywhere. Peter took an unused tissue out of his pocket and stooped to pick up a photograph hanging half out of its frame. It was of Bluey and his wife. They were smiling and holding up a plaque. He pulled it right out, tossed away the frame and put the photo to one side. It seemed that they were celebrating a great day. Sorry Bluey, I might be able to use this. He poked at the rest of the frames with the toe of his shoe. Under a pile of books lay the plaque they had received in the photo. He read it and decided to keep it too.
He had been to many crime scenes in his career, but he had never seen the police wreck a house to this extent in the search for evidence. He stepped carefully between the rubble and moved towards the kitchen.
The kitchen had also been pulled apart; plates smashed, cutlery strewn everywhere. The kitchen sink had been pulled out of its mounting and the stove had been overturned. Perhaps it wasn’t the police after all. Even out in the middle of nowhere, word got around pretty quickly when a place was empty. It looked like the handiwork of townies. Bush people would never do it.
He tiptoed through the mess. At the other end of the room was a small alcove that they used as a pantry. Tins of food were off the shelves, and bags of flour and sugar had been opened and their contents spread everywhere. Tiny black ants were swarming over the mess. There were tracks through the flour leading towards a half opened window, where a possum had got into the house to gorge on the sugar.
There weren’t any tags, or graffiti, or walls kicked in for the heck of it. It wasn’t mindless vandalism. Peter’s thoughts immediately turned to drugs. Someone was searching for something valuable. He left the kitchen, methodically scouring each room for clues. Everywhere he went, it was the same story; furniture and contents lying all over the place. Even the mattresses had been slashed open.
He returned to the lounge room, noticing a doorway leading off it. The door had been ripped off. He stepped through the doorway and into a small office. The only furniture in the room was an antique desk and a filing cabinet. The drawers of both were open and their contents scattered about the room.
He flicked through a mountain of paper, finding nothing of interest. More photos lay on the floor: pictures of Bluey around the world. He’d obviously spent a lot of time in Africa and South America. It surprised Peter that someone so well- travelled would live out his days running a croc farm, miles from nowhere, surrounded by rednecks.
Peter walked back through the kitchen, opened the back door and stepped out to the yard. He tried not to look at the tree where Ethel had been hanging. Instead, he tried focusing his eyes on the small corrugated iron shed beyond the yard fence. He passed through a gate and saw that the shed door was open and banging against the wall. He looked around. There was nothing lying around outside the shed. He peered in and then he stepped inside.
The shed was only illuminated by tiny shafts of sunlight through gaps between the walls and the roof. The light switch didn’t work and he found it hard to see much after the brightness of the daylight outside. He could tell that part of the shed was lined with shelves. It looked like some sort of laboratory. Once his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, he gazed around. A deep shelf housed several rows of jars filled with animals floating in clear fluid. There was a baby kangaroo in one. Beside it were a dingo pup and a brown snake. In front were baby crocodiles at various stages of development. No-one had touched them. Maybe, they looked too frightening to destroy.
As he moved away, he brushed up against something bumpy and hard. The hairs on the back of his neck rose. He spun around and let out a yelp. Without thinking, he jumped back, knocking a few of the specimens off the shelf and onto the floor. Hung lengthwise on the wall was a crocodile about a metre and a half long. It took him a few seconds to notice that it was stuffed and a little bit longer for a smell like strong pickles to reach his nose.
One of the jars had smashed and the fumes from the formaldehyde were filling the shed. Peter’s eyes began to sting and his throat started to burn. He tore out of the shed blindly and to a water trough nearby, sucking in as much clean air as he could. He didn’t care what the water was like, he needed to wash his face.
His face still dripping, he walked back into the house to collect the photos and the plaque that he had put aside. On his way back to Sarah’s Toyota, he took a detour to check out the crocodile enclosure. The last time he had been there it was filled with the din of crocodiles thrashing about in the water and Bluey’s dying wails. Now, as he got to the gate, there was only silence.
The metal door had been left wide open and there was no noise at all, not even from the pond. He wondered if someone had taken the crocodiles away. He stepped gingerly through the gateway and peered around. There was no sign of them anywhere. That’s enough. Relieved, he left the enclosure. They had either gone to another crocodile farm, or into the river, but he hoped it was the former. There were quite enough crocodiles in the river already.
Finally, he decided to check out Sam’s Toyota. The passenger door was open. He was sure he had locked the doors when he had left it. As he checked the car over, he noticed that the contents of the glove box had been emptied out. He looked behind the seats and in the back. The toolbox had been jemmied open. He knew that Sam was going to be pretty pissed off that someone had broken into his Toyota. The cops would never have bothered breaking into Sam’s vehicle. They had seen Peter with it; they could have simply asked him for the keys.
Something else was at play here.