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Broometime Serenade: The Oz Files, #1

Broometime Serenade: The Oz Files, #1

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Broometime Serenade: The Oz Files, #1

441 pages
6 hours
Nov 29, 2014


WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award -- Best Thriller

When authorities fail to identify human remains discovered in and around Broome, Martin and Claire are despatched to the idyllic seaside resort to investigate. Little do they know their every move is watched, as they follow first one lead then another, until they are face to face with a ruthless enemy who is determined to end their lives.

"The author has created an intriguing mix of suspense and the supernatural in a breathtaking tale that left this reader wanting more. The vivid descriptions of Broome and its surrounds made me want to pack a bag and fly there—and I would have but for other constraints. Dialogue was exceedingly well used and served to drive the action. An excellent read." ~ PWindsInspirations

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS the first thrilling installment in "The Oz Files," featuring a series of intriguing thrillers set in Australia, written with great authenticity by Aussie author Barry Metcalf. [DRM-Free]

  • Book 1: Broometime Serenade
  • Book 2: Intrigue at Sandy Point
  • Book 3: Spirit of Warrnambool
  • Book 4: Lost at Logans Beach
  • Book 5: Picnic at Gantheume Point [Coming 2020]
  • Book 6: The Fremantle Doctor [Coming 2020]

More Great Thrillers from Evolved Publishing:

  • The "Zoë Delante Thriller" Series by C.L. Roberts-Huth
  • The "PI Kowalski" Series by Chris Krupa
  • "Forgive Me, Alex" by Lane Diamond
  • The "Syndicate-Born Trilogy" Series by K.M. Hodge

Nov 29, 2014

About the author

Born in 1943 into a working class family with middle class aspirations, I began writing stories while at school, finally venturing into novels when I retired from teaching in 1997. The result was a series of murder mysteries set in Australia and featuring two unorthodox investigators, who work for the fictional Strange & Obscure Cases (SOC) Unit, an autonomous offshoot of ASIO. Encouraged by positive feedback, the stories flow easily and usually reflect my bizarre sense of reality and weird humour. When the muse’s ego is bruised, I bide my time, reworking old short stories into Sci-Fi novels and waiting for new ideas to evolve. The longest time I’ve gone without writing anything new has been eighteen months, but when the drought broke, the words flowed thick and fast. Three times married, with four children, I live in Morwell, Victoria, Australia.

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Broometime Serenade - Barry Metcalf



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The Oz Files - Book 1

Copyright © 2014 Barry W. Metcalf


ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622537009

ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-700-6


Editor: Mishael Witty

Cover Artist: Mallory Rock

Interior Designer: Lane Diamond



At the end of this novel of approximately 83,447 words, you will find two Special Sneak Previews: 1) INTRIGUE AT SANDY POINT by Barry Metcalf, the next novel from The Oz Files series, and; 2) WHISPERS OF THE DEAD by C.L. Roberts-Huth, the first book in the chilling Zoë Delante Thrillers series of paranormal crime thrillers. We think you’ll enjoy these books too, and provide the previews as a FREE extra service; you should in no way consider it a part of the price you paid for this book. We hope you will both appreciate and enjoy the opportunity. Thank you.


eBook License Notes:

You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.


A Clarification from the Publisher

Given that the author is from Australia, and the story takes place in Australia, we have decided to leave this story in Australian (British) English rather than Americanize it. Therefore, some spellings may look off to you, but that’s simply the difference in language.

Books by Barry Metcalf

The Oz Files

Book 1: Broometime Serenade

Book 2: Intrigue at Sandy Point

Book 3: Spirit of Warrnambool

Book 4: Lost at Logans Beach

Book 5: Picnic at Gantheaume Point (Coming 2020)

Book 6: The Fremantle Doctor(Coming 2020)




What Others Are Saying about THE OZ FILES:



Powerful characters make an entertaining read. Martin and Claire are strong-willed, intelligent and witty as they follow a trail of dead bodies and other clues in the remote but beautiful holiday resort, located on the West Australian coast. While they may not always know the direction their investigation is taking them (because the killer is laying a false trail and is intent on luring them to their deaths), they quickly recover from early setbacks and finally gain the upper hand. I look forward to reading others in this series. ~ JesterDev


The author has created an intriguing mix of suspense and the supernatural in a breathtaking tale that left this reader wanting more. The vivid descriptions of Broome and its surrounds made me want to pack a bag and fly there—and I would have but for other constraints. ~ pwindsinspirations


Wonderful story; mystery, suspense and some romance portrayed by captivating characters in a tropical paradise. Very well written, I could easily place myself in the story along with Martin and Claire as they pieced together the puzzle and once again foiled the witch Wanda Jean attempt at world domination. Highly recommend reading. ~ Sharon Hatt



This is the second book in a trilogy involving agents Martin and Claire. It starts off at a rollicking pace. Two abductions, a murder, a rape and we are introduced to a very unsavory character Herrick and his twisted past. The author sets the book before the events leading up to 9/11 so the plot has international twists as well as local historical events. There are some really exciting scenes such as the shark attack.Adam Sharp


This has a lot of action, intrigue, fun and exciting characters. The story is fun. The characters keep you on your feet and entertained. You never know what’s next, and then when you find out you are like... ahhhh, I get it now... lol. Very good story.Kaila


We’re pleased to offer you not one, but two Special Sneak Previews at the end of this book.


In the first preview, you’ll enjoy the First 5 Chapters of Barry Metcalf’s INTRIGUE AT SANDY POINT, the next book (Book 2) in The Oz Files series.





THE OZ FILES Series at Evolved Publishing

In the second preview, you’ll enjoy the First 3 Chapters of C.L. Roberts-Huth’s award-winning WHISPERS OF THE DEAD, the first book in the chilling Zoë Delante Thrillers series of paranormal crime thrillers.





ZOË DELANTE THRILLERS Series at Evolved Publishing

Table of Contents


Books by Barry Metcalf


Table of Contents



Prologue, Part I: James & Captain Newberry

Prologue, Part II: Lucky Jim

Chapter 1: Broome, 2000

Chapter 2: Dreams & Reality

Chapter 3: Mulder & Scully

Chapter 4: Past & Present

Chapter 5: Ships of the Desert

Chapter 6: Murdered

Chapter 7: Meeting with Gavin

Chapter 8: Serenade of Broome

Chapter 9: Chatting with the Locals

Chapter 10: The Proposal

Chapter 11: Fresh Clues

Chapter 12: Mildred Goes Missing

Chapter 13: Abandoning Broome

Chapter 14: The Third Degree

Chapter 15: Taking the Initiative

Chapter 16: Willie Creek

Chapter 17: A Stroll on the Beach

Chapter 18: Hunted

Chapter 19: Chinese Tea

Chapter 20: Heartbreak

Chapter 21: At the Seashells

Chapter 22: The Hunger

Chapter 23: Retail Therapy

Chapter 24: The Local Copper Delivers

Chapter 25: Cape Leveque

Chapter 26: Body Language

Chapter 27: Love Potion

Chapter 28: Drawing Together

Chapter 29: Smuggling

Chapter 30: Constable Kimble

Chapter 31: Derelict

Chapter 32: Breaking & Entering

Chapter 33: Seeing isn’t Believing

Chapter 34: Strumming

Chapter 35: The Impossible Cave

Chapter 36: The ‘Flower Drum’

Chapter 37: Idle Chatter

Chapter 38: Waiting for Nightfall

Chapter 39: Pretty Please

Chapter 40: No Trace

Chapter 41: Pieces of the Puzzle

Chapter 42: The Best Laid Plans

Chapter 43: Spoils

Chapter 44: Fast Exit

Chapter 45: Loose Ends

Chapter 46: Bouquets

Chapter 47: Caught off Guard

Chapter 48: At Wanda Jean’s Mercy

Chapter 49: Some Torture

Chapter 50: Police Work

Chapter 51: Last Minute Nerves

Chapter 52: A Little Magic

Chapter 53: Honeymoon in Paradise

Epilogue: Life Goes on

Historical Notes

Special Sneak Preview: INTRIGUE AT SANDY POINT by Barry Metcalf


About the Author

What’s Next?

More from Barry Metcalf

More from Evolved Publishing

Special Sneak Preview: WHISPERS OF THE DEAD by C.L. Roberts-Huth


For my mother, who gave me the courage to believe in my ability.

Prologue, Part I: James & Captain Newberry


February 1942


But Cap’n Newberry, James Planter’s exasperation coloured his voice, I enjoy the life of a beachcomber. All I need is one lucky find... one juicy pearl an’ I’m set fer life.

Gilbert Newberry smiled and handed his companion a tumbler filled with rum. Dressed in a white suit, matching shirt, navy cravat, and black shoes with white spats, Gilbert epitomised the English gentleman, more at home in a green, country estate than here on the edge of the brown, Australian desert.

James, he paused to squash a mosquito settling on his forearm, nobody becomes a beachcomber unless he’s running away from something.

The comment struck home. James lowered his eyes and turned his attention to his drink. Remembering his past, perhaps.

Gilbert smiled. Even on sweltering days like today, he appreciated the attraction of this isolated shantytown, far from home.

Situated on the rugged coastline of northwestern Australia, the rough-and-ready town had gained a reputation as the world’s largest supplier of mother-of-pearl, but the little gems inside the shells were the real draw. They had lured men from all over the world with their promise of instant riches, despite the one in a million odds.

Like many before him, Gilbert recognised the possibilities abounding in Broome. What he didn’t make from his fleet of luggers—harvesting pearl shell and the odd gem—he more than compensated for in his store. Through a combination of hard work, good luck and an astute business sense, Gilbert had amassed more money than he’d ever dreamed. Soon, he would have to return to all the trappings of civilisation he’d once thought he’d never see again.

Part of him would be sad to discard the lifestyle he’d established. He’d miss the aboriginal servants who tended his house and kept his suits immaculate despite the red pindan dust, the evenings spent dining with the elite of Broome society, and the respect accorded him as a successful businessman.

The weather, of course, he wouldn’t regret leaving behind.

During the wet season, temperatures hovered around ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit, but the heat was bearable. Coconut palms, long verandas, or the insides of dwellings provided shelter from the sun. However, no one could hide from the oppressive perspiration that refused to evaporate in the intolerable seventy percent-plus humidity.

Cap’n Newberry, almost everyone livin’ in Broome today is runnin’ away from somethin’. He untied his red bandanna and mopped the perspiration off his red face.

The interior of Gilbert’s store, a corrugated iron structure, offered no respite from the oppressive conditions. Despite the lateness of the evening, both temperature and humidity remained high.

Mosquitoes buzzed and zoomed, targeting the exposed skin of the two men sitting and drinking in the rear of the building. Huge moths darted and fluttered in ever-decreasing circles. Attracted by the flickering flames from two kerosene lanterns sitting on upended wooden casks, they performed kamikaze flights destined for only one ending.

If the drinkers noticed the unpleasant conditions, they didn’t show it. They accepted them, and the constant intermittent swatting of annoying pests, as an everyday occurrence. They conversed, engrossed in a heated debate about life in Broome, a favourite topic. A half-empty bottle of rum sat on an improvised table between them.

James raised the small glass to his lips and drained it in one gulp. He belched. Since he’d come to live in the remote pearling town, his manners and his dress had both deteriorated. This evening, the beachcomber wore his entire wardrobe—old, torn, salt-stained moleskin trousers, loose shirt, and sweat-stained bandana. All had seen better days.

That may be true. Gilbert recalled how he’d departed England in a hurry following a failed career in the Army. But most of the people who live here work for a living. He kept his voice impassive, not allowing any hint of how close to the mark James’s comment had come.

I tried me hand on a lugger once. I was no good at divin’. No use when it came to mannin’ the pumps, an’ I cut meself every time I tried to open a bloody oyster.

Gilbert sighed. He liked reasoning with James as much as he liked arguing with a piece of sailcloth. The beachcomber always gave back more than he received. Not for the first time, Gilbert wondered why he put up with the man. Then he recalled what James knew.

Humouring his drinking partner was better than having him mention his suspicions to the authorities. And what are you running from, James? Gilbert directed the conversation away from himself.

This an’ that.... More rum? James licked his lips and extended his hand.

Gilbert sighed again but reached for the bottle and poured another tot. He needed to dole out the amber liquid with care, or the silly blighter sitting opposite him would drink his liquor supply dry. Here’s mud in your eye. During his years in Broome, Gilbert had adopted a few of the local idioms. I’m about ready to turn in.... Big day tomorrow. He hoped James would take the hint and leave.

His companion raised his glass and saluted. Here’s to me findin’ that special tomorrow. He gave no indication of departing before they’d emptied the bottle.

You’re sailing north... just like you planned? Gilbert took a sip from his glass. Unlike his drinking partner, he’d lost few of his manners and other affectations, despite the time he’d spent in the rough West Australian seaside town.

Yep. James gulped the rum and held out his glass again. Gonna make a sweep of the northern beaches... see what’s been washed up in the last coupla weeks.

Gilbert sighed and refilled the glass tumbler. You’re not worried about the war?

The Nips? You must be bloody jokin’. The Japanese war machine’s never gonna come here.

Since they attacked Pearl Harbor, they’ve taken Malaya and Singapore. It’s only logical they’re heading this way.

James drained his glass again. He wiped the back of a hand over his mouth. Like the rest of his body, it hadn’t been bathed for some time. Nah. They don’t have the long-range fuel tanks for that kinda operation. I heard it the other day on the ABC. He spoke with all the confidence of a man fully informed on the affairs of the world.

So, you don’t think they’ll try to invade this country?

He laughed and held out his tumbler again. Nah. Australia’s as safe as houses. They’ll never launch an attack on our soil.

Reluctantly, Gilbert refilled his drink. I hope you’re right. He poured himself another tot. I’ve invested too much time and money in this business to risk losing it now.

At the mention of money, James looked around. Gilbert’s eyes followed the direction of his companion’s gaze.

They sat in the back of the store, reclining in canvas chairs beside a large brick fireplace, the chimney of which thrust through the corrugated iron roof like a termite’s nest rising from the red pindan dirt. Of course, in Broome the nighttime temperature rarely dropped below sixty degrees, so it was an unnecessary addition built only to remind Gilbert of his homeland.

Behind them stood trestles and counters displaying the Englishman’s wares. In this one shop, every pearl diver, deckhand or lugger owner could outfit himself and his boat with any of the numerous items required for long stretches at sea.

In this modest establishment, Gilbert had amassed the bulk of his fortune, but it wasn’t his only source of income. His less-than-legal pursuits, which he tried to keep secret, represented a large proportion.

White women had always been a scarce commodity in the rough-and-tumble pearling town. Some wives tolerated the harsh conditions, but their status and the heat precluded them from menial labour. Single women—what few braved the harsh climate—worked as barmaids. With an eye towards remedying the imbalance, Gilbert had hit upon an audacious scheme. Once a year, he and a bunch of his deckhands sailed north to a remote beach. Going ashore, they’d acquire a cargo of young aboriginal women.

If the tribe co-operated, he purchased them with a bag of flour or a side of beef. If not, he took the women at gunpoint. If he killed aboriginals in the process, who’d object? Once employed as prostitutes or housemaids, the women received meals and clothes, and Gilbert collected their earnings for his trouble. Both illegal and immoral, but the offices of those authorities who might seek to remedy the situation were thousands of miles to the south.

Mmm. James returned his attention to his companion.

Does James’s interest lie in the clothes, diving suits or the other paraphernalia I sell? Or is it the legality of my business dealings that concern the beachcomber tonight? He preferred it when his companion’s fascination lay in the bottles of rum kept in cases behind his main counter.

It’d be a shame to waste all this good product. James held forth his glass yet again.

Gilbert stood. Much taller than James, he carried himself in the manner of trained military personnel. He poured another glass of rum, and then made a show of replacing the stopper. You might be right. He relaxed. Tonight, at least, James had no interest in anything other than rum. But I’ve got an early start in the morning. Customers to outfit, and all that. I’ll bid you good fossicking on the morrow, and may fortune smile upon you.

I’ll drink to that. James rose unsteadily to his feet and swallowed the contents of his glass. He placed the tumbler on the upright wine barrel doubling as a table and turned towards the door.

Prologue, Part II: Lucky Jim


March 1942


The Miss Nancy, an old lugger with paint peeling like paperbark from its hull, decking and superstructure, glided over the smooth waters of Roebuck Bay. Despite the boat’s dilapidated appearance and the patchwork quilting of its three sails, the Miss Nancy returned James Planter in safety from his beachcombing tour of the northern beaches of the remote, uninhabited Australian coastline.

In excellent spirits, he reefed in the sails and swung the tiller towards land. He hummed a little ditty and turned his gaze towards the shoreline. As the boat rounded a bend and nosed into the mangrove-lined inlet leading to Streeter’s Jetty, his euphoria faded.

Something was dreadfully wrong.

For one thing, none of the pearlers sat at anchor beside the narrow wharf. As a rule, there should have been a hundred or so. As he contemplated the reason for this unusual event, something else came to his attention. He spotted no sign of life as far as he could see. Apart from the hotels, this was the busiest location in town. Sailing closer to land, he discerned clusters of ruined buildings, where a week ago there’d been solid structures.

Dread tied knots in the pit of his stomach as James brought the Miss Nancy bumping against the jetty and jumped over the side. Running beside her, he made fast to a stanchion and directed his feet towards the centre of town.

The closer he came to the main business district, the more damaged buildings he saw. As yet, he hadn’t sighted a solitary person. His heart in his mouth, he mounted the timber steps of the Roebuck Bay Hotel and pushed open the doors.

In the dim interior, he barely made out the shapes of twenty faces turning towards him from the bar. All drinking and conversation ceased. Hands holding glasses froze, half raised towards mouths. James scanned the faces before him, not seeing one he recognised.

James, said a voice from the deeper gloom at the far end of the bar. Where the hell did you stem from?

James turned in the direction of the voice. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he recognised Harry Potts, the postmaster. Harry. His relief at finding a familiar face was evident in his tone. What the hell’s been goin’ on here? The place looks like a bomb’s hit it.

Someone laughed. James turned, but he didn’t recognise the man who wore army fatigues. Then it hit him. All the men either seated or standing at the bar, except for Harry, wore uniforms.

Let me buy you a beer, James, said the postmaster.

James moved to that end of the bar.

Where the hell have you been? asked Harry.

Beachcombin’, up north. Forget about me. What’s happened?

The Nips! said Harry.

Pull the other one.

Harry laughed at the surprise in James’s voice. No, seriously.

The Japs’ve been here?

Bloody oath, mate!

The bartender pulled two beers and placed them on the counter.

Suddenly parched, Harry grasped one in his huge, dark paw while James snatched the other. Cheers. He raised his glass.

Yeah. James lifted his beer and drained half the contents in one swallow. Tell me about the bloody Japs. When did it happen?

Just over a week ago, I reckon. Harry drank again, his manner soberer than his companion’s. They bombed the town twice.

Shit! James started, almost spilling his drink. I left here only a month ago.

You were lucky then.

James thought for a moment. Anyone killed?


How many?

A coupla hundred, maybe. Nobody knows for sure.

Jes-us! James downed the second half of his beer in a single swallow.

Yeah. Harry continued drinking in a sedate manner.

Where is everyone? James glanced around at the strange faces lining the bar.

Been evac-u-a-ted, mate. Harry pronounced every syllable of the word with care. Everybody who’s not considered essential’s been packed off to Perth. Pretty much just these army fellers left... and yours truly.

Where’s all the luggers an’ their crews?

The Army made the owners burn the boats or sail ‘em south. The Japanese divers have been interred.

Jesusssss! James drew the word out in a long, sibilant hiss. Then, after a moment’s reflection, he added, My shout!

Harry raised his eyebrows. Have a bit of luck up north, James? He eyed his companion with more care, and James made note of the curiosity on his face.

Bit a luck. You better bloody believe it! He reached into the pocket of his salt-stained trousers, and his hand emerged holding a metal caddy. Old and sporting a multitude of blemishes and scratches, it had clearly once contained Bushells’ tea.

Sorry, James. Harry grinned. Tea’s not legal tender here.

What? Oh.... Ha! Ha! James sneered. He opened the container and tipped it forward.

Harry craned his neck to see what tumbled out. He gasped but said nothing. In the dirt-smeared palm of the beachcomber’s hand, gleamed numerous round, lustrous stones.

Whattaya think of them babies? James grinned from ear to ear.

In seconds, everyone had left their seats and crowded around, making for one of those rare occasions in an Outback pub where curiosity took precedence over beer consumption. Questions flew from every direction.

James held up a hand and silenced them all. No questions, no lies, fellers. This is just between me an’ the Nipponese Air Force. He threw his head back and laughed. Anyway, I’ve got more of these than I can spend in a lifetime. The beer’s on me!

Cheers and laughter echoed out into the hot, deserted Broome street.


That evening, James strolled to Gilbert Newberry’s store overlooking Roebuck Bay. Harry had informed James that, as soon as the second raid ended, Gilbert had packed his belongings, loaded several of his luggers, and set sail for safer environs.

Although saddened his drinking partner had deserted the town, James had another reason for visiting the captain’s place of business.

One night, as they sat talking and drinking by the fireplace, Gilbert detached a loosened brick and levered it free with his fingers, revealing a hole gouged in the brickwork behind. I don’t believe in banks, he’d said in reply to James’s questioning glance. It’s much safer to secrete my valuables in this homemade safe. With the brick and mortar returned to their former positions, no one can tell they’ve even been disturbed.

A part of James wondered whether Gilbert had left his stash behind. Another didn’t care. He simply wanted to use this secret place—to have somewhere safe to hide his pearls. He didn’t distrust the men in the pub, not even the ones he didn’t know. He dreaded the thought of police intervention.

If the authorities paid a visit to the town and investigated the source of his sudden wealth, James would be in trouble. By then, everyone would know he’d come across a lugger, shot up and run aground in a bay to the north. Burnt almost beyond recognition. No sign of survivors. Knowing where he’d acquired the pearls was one thing. Taking them away from him was quite another.

The door of the deserted building was unlocked. He opened it and entered and was struck by the strangeness of the now empty, forlorn store. Without the trader’s benches and merchandise, it no longer possessed any allure.

Although the only illumination to the room came from moonlight streaming in through the windows, James walked straight to the fireplace beside which he’d spent many hours drinking and chewing the fat with Gilbert. Squatting, James prised the brick free and reached inside. The hole was empty. He smiled to himself as he extracted his own treasure from his pocket.

He opened the tea caddy and emptied all but a few jewels into his hand. From another pocket, he took a white Vegemite jar. Into this he deposited the bulk of his pearls. He replaced the lid of the caddy and tucked it back into his pocket. Then he sealed the jar and inserted it into the space behind the brickwork. When he’d replaced the outer brick and the mortar, he stood and dusted off the knees of his pants.

As he left the building and strolled down the main street to the pub, James pursed his lips and whistled. From somewhere his mind had plucked the song, ‘I’m Sittin’ on Top of the World’. Al Jolson had made the tune popular in the late ‘20s, but James couldn’t recall when he’d last heard it.

It didn’t matter. His thoughts focussed on his fantastic luck. He’d never need to work again.

Chapter 1: Aftermath


Thursday, April 27, 2000


Cyclone Rosita had raged for several days. It stood out to sea and buffeted the coast with howling wind, horizontal rain and towering waves. It lingered, hovering, as if waiting for the right moment to strike. When it finally headed for land, it unleashed its full fury on the desolate northern coastline of Western Australia.

Gusts up to two hundred kilometres per hour raced in from the Indian Ocean. Huge breakers hurtled with astonishing force against the dunes, rocks and mangroves lining the shoreline from Port Headland in the south to Derby in the north. Rain, driven by the all-powerful wind, lashed both sea and land. Assisted by savage gusts, the torrent tore fronds from palms, paint from exposed buildings, and tiles from roofs. Structures that hadn’t allowed the elements access for many years succumbed to the terrible onslaught.

All of the shoreline suffered, the beachfront along Cable Beach and further south of Broome bearing the full brunt of the ferocious onslaught.


I’d swear this was the strongest, wildest cyclone ever to batter these shores, said Maude Rowley one morning, a week after the hurricane passed. I’ve lived here all me life and never seen anything like it.

If you ask me, said Heather Fochs with authority, there was nothing natural about it. She plonked down onto one of the aluminium chairs outside the Boulevard Café and massaged her arthritic joints, wincing in pain.

The way it stayed out to sea for so long, sort of waiting. Velma Garden had coloured her white hair bright blue, and her faded eyes appeared almost colourless next to it. I mean, to be so powerful and yet do so little damage in the town.

It’s almost as if it was directed by some entity... something evil, maybe, said Heather, following up her first train of thought.

Maude’s high-pitched giggle was out of control. You and your evil spirits. You were going on about things like that in the days when you used to tell fortunes. Next, you’ll be telling us Mildred’s been abducted by some wicked spirit.

Where is Mildred? Heather’s voice showed sudden concern. She’s usually the first to arrive, and she did suggest this place. She looked around the shopping centre, distaste evident on her weathered face. Although why, I’ll never know.

I’m here, my dears. I’m here. Never fear. Mildred Jones stepped from the doorway of the chemist shop, where she’d been watching her friends and listening to their conversation. She pulled up the last vacant chair and sat. What’s all this nonsense about spirits?

We’re just talking about the cyclone. Maude laughed again. What have you heard?

They say, said Mildred in a conspiratorial tone, that Cable Beach’s been washed away.

The whole of the beach? Heather always took everything literally. Even after seventy-one years, she hadn’t yet learned the art of small talk.

Nah, said Velma, just the sand from the area near the access road.

Access road? What access road? At eighty-two, Maude suffered from a mild case of Alzheimer’s, and today was one of her vague days.

The four-wheel drive access road, you silly old bag. Velma’s tone was scathing. She was a sprightly sixty-seven-year-old, and everyone knew she didn’t suffer fools lightly, not even her best friends.

Someone said the end of the road’s suspended. Mildred leaned forward and stared at each of her friends in turn. Must be... oh... two metres above the level of the beach. She ran a hand over her hair, although there wasn’t a strand out of place.

I’ll bet that made the papers down south. Maude suddenly emerged from her vague spell. They’ll be mightily pissed to learn their favourite holiday destination’s been.... What’s the word I want?

It’s not a word, it’s a new bloody brain. Laughter tinged Velma’s tone. Honestly, you’ll be forgetting your own name soon.

Leave her alone, Vel. She can’t help it. Heather prided herself on sticking up for her friends. You might end up like her one day.

I bloody hope not. I couldn’t think of a worse fate than losing my memory. I’d kill myself first.

Ah well, we can’t please everyone. Mildred waggled her fingers in front of her face, swatting at non-existent flies.

The others stared at her.

Jesus, Mil. Are you losing your marbles as well? asked Velma.

We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have something to complain about, Mildred continued as if Velma hadn’t spoken.

She’s lost the plot. Heather sighed. Perhaps Mil got hit on the head during the cyclone.

The others laughed.

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