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Intrigue at Sandy Point: The Oz Files, #2

Intrigue at Sandy Point: The Oz Files, #2

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Intrigue at Sandy Point: The Oz Files, #2

Length:
502 pages
6 hours
Released:
May 27, 2015
ISBN:
9781622537020
Format:
Book

Description

Will Martin and Claire overcome this new danger before their lives can be terminated once and for all?

When a CIA agent is murdered at the idyllic seaside resort of Sandy Point, Martin and Claire are despatched to investigate. They uncover a plot with international implications and go from one end of the country to the other to stop those responsible. Fast cars, planes and helicopters aid them in their race against time to avert this threat to world peace.

"You are so engrossed in what is going on you don't realize time has passed and you're on the last page. Yes, this book is that good!" ~ Terez Lyle

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS the second 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

Released:
May 27, 2015
ISBN:
9781622537020
Format:
Book

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.


Book Preview

Intrigue at Sandy Point - Barry Metcalf

dreams.

Prologue, Part I: The Politician

Sandy Point, 1985

~~~

I don’t think this is such a great idea, Duds. Greta Gravinsky unravelled her arms from around her body and pointed at the whitecaps whipped up by an icy wind. I really don’t think you should go into the water today.

Dudley Edward Ormond, self-made man and rebel, gazed at the ocean. Despite his rise to the position of Premier of Victoria, complete with a staff of advisors, secretaries and security guards, he continued making decisions against the better judgement of his entourage.

Today was a perfect example.

Although it was December and officially summer, the weather had turned cold and blustery. Since yesterday, conditions had deteriorated, resulting in a last-minute attempt by winter to retake the landscape with frigid fingers. Hail and sleet, driven by an Antarctic blast, had battered the coastline on and off during the night. Waves slapped and chopped at the sandy shore, accompanied by squalls and strong wind gusts.

In this unseasonal weather, Greta could’ve been forgiven for thinking she’d woken in the wrong hemisphere. While the sun shone in a feeble attempt to overthrow the influence of this sudden return to iciness, the wind gusted from the south with no sign of abating.

Notwithstanding the conditions, Dudley had decided to go scuba diving.

I really don’t think this is a good idea, Duds. Although Greta had agreed to accompany him to the beach, concerns for his safety occupied much of her mind. She’d sensibly slipped into a long fur coat and gloves but regretted not having exchanged her bamboo stilettos for fur-lined boots. A silk scarf bearing the colours of the Carlton Football Club was wrapped around her neck, keeping her warm. She’d snaffled this last-minute addition from the back seat of Dudley’s official car.

He sighed and cast an appreciative eye over his paramour.

Although her heavy outer garment hid her ample charms, she knew he retained the image of her svelte body encased in a chocolate-striped, wraparound blouse that she’d left open to the waist. It complemented her brown, three-quarter-length slacks. As usual, she’d dispensed with underwear.

Dudley said her long, black wind-tossed hair reminded him of how her tresses spread in disarray over the white satin sheets of his bed.

She smiled and pressed herself against her lover, slipping her hand between them. As usual, he had a hard-on. She removed her hand and ground her crotch against his.

He chuckled and gently pushed her away, squashing the idea before it got out of hand. You know I need a workout in the ocean to freshen my mind for the meetings this evening. He ran his fingers lovingly down her cheek.

She sighed.

In his own fashion, Dudley loved her. He enjoyed sex with her more than with any other woman. That didn’t mean he’d listen to her advice. He had stopped taking notice of women when his mother suffered a sudden, fatal heart attack when he was twelve years old.

Greta ran her long, gloved fingers down his cheek. He needed a shave. She made a mental note: Remind Duds to attend to that when we get back to his office. She stepped closer again, fluttered false eyelashes and smiled. I could think of other ways to help you relax.

He smiled in return, his expression indicating he recognised the look and understood its implications. We spent lunch-time making love.

She hardly needed this reminder. Despite the cold, she couldn’t clench her chafed thighs, the result of the aggressive, hour-long pounding he’d delivered less than two hours ago. A bear of a man in size, Dudley had a sexual appetite to match.

I need to be fresh—not so relaxed I fall asleep. He reached out a large hairy paw and patted her cheek. Much is riding on what’s decided tonight.

This sudden admission surprised Greta, jolting her from more gloomy thoughts never far from her mind. In the regular course of events, Dudley didn’t mention work. She was his mistress. Nothing more. He didn’t take her with him to public functions. His wife, Brenda, fulfilled that role—one she performed more than satisfactorily. Nor did Dudley usually make Greta privy to discussions affecting the state or the nation.

He had made it abundantly clear. Greta served in the bedroom where she pandered to his aggressive and demanding sexual appetite. She tended to those needs his prudish wife condemned as animalistic.

Experience gained during their three years together taught Greta that comments such as this were out-of-character. But she soon thrust these thoughts aside in favour of the ones that had occupied her mind since waking. Last night, she’d had a dream—a premonition, perhaps. Dudley’s body, limp and lifeless, suspended beneath a churning sea. She feared for his life and didn’t want him entering the ocean. Besides, she detested any water that rose above her shapely ankles.

Not that she could mention this to Dudley. Nor could she explain why she felt this way. Not one for woman’s intuition, Greta had never experienced an omen before, and she didn’t trust her instincts. Why now? No idea. Besides, Dudley would no more listen to her over this matter than he had any of the other topics she’d broached in the past. She, therefore, did the only thing she could—dropped her bottom lip and pouted. It had worked before. It might succeed today.

Dudley chuckled. The wind whipped the sound away. He recognized the ruse for what it was. It only worked when he allowed it to—when giving in to her demands had little significance. The set of his jaw showed determination. He wasn’t about to surrender.

He grasped her chin and raised her face to force her to look at him. His expression had turned serious. I know I don’t normally confide in you, but I’d like to explain.

She brightened, her fit of pique passing as quickly as it had arisen. His candour always did that. It’s not important. She touched his lips with her fingertips.

Dudley grasped her hand and held it. Without taking his eyes from hers, he removed the glove and inserted her fingers into his mouth. He sucked for several seconds, and then withdrew them, licking each digit in turn.

Heat rose in her loins at this familiar, sensual act.

He trailed his tongue along her pinky finger and smiled again.

She responded with a weak grin, all her strength having ebbed from her body and legs.

He glanced over his shoulder to check the location of his bodyguards.

Her eyes followed his gaze. The men were more than three metres away and had their backs to the duo.

Listen, Dudley said, dispelling any thoughts she harboured about luring him back to the beach house. His intimate finger sucking had been nothing more than a promise of future delights. Tonight I face the most important challenge of my life. A very powerful man has proposed a plan—a madcap plan, I might suggest, whereby he assumes control of every emergency service in the state. Ambulances, hospitals, tow trucks—you name it, he wants it. He’s offered my government an exorbitant sum of money for those we still own, which has gained his scheme much support from a number of government ministers. He’s also requested we waive the normal regulations preventing monopolies of any kind. He again checked the location of his staff.

Although he still held her hand in his, she saw it as an unconscious act. His eyes, when they returned to hers, were lost in some other time—some other place.

If he gets his way, he’ll be free to charge what he wishes, putting medical attention and other services out of the range of taxpayers’ pockets. Worst of all, I’ve recently discovered he’s been buying up refineries, service stations and tankers in an effort to control the petroleum industry. One can hardly imagine what would happen if he pushed petroleum prices up towards the two or three dollar mark. All hell would break loose. The economy of the state—perhaps even that of the entire country—would collapse. He paused and licked his lips. I don’t like the man involved. What’s more, I don’t trust him. Although I have no proof, I believe he’s involved with criminal elements. I have no direct evidence, but there have been threats—threats against my person, against my family. If I don’t agree to the scheme, I’m as good as....

Once again, his mind seemed lost somewhere other than where they stood. Finally, his eyes focussed.

He resumed speaking, his usual forceful self. As premier I have the final say—the power of veto over this matter. Dudley smiled at his lover once more, and his eyes held hers. Tonight I require a totally clear mind and refreshed body to deal with this man and his minions. I must stop him at all costs. After that, I’m all yours. The smile remained, but his face bore the strain of the last few days.

She returned the smile, not quite sure what to make of their first real shared confidence.

Dudley kissed her fingers, released her hand and undressed, seemingly unaffected by the icy wind.

Greta watched, fascinated as always by his tanned, muscular body.

A fine athlete, even at fifty-seven, his body was toned and healthy. He knew no fear when it came to a contest between his prowess and Mother Nature. So, on this cold, windswept day, he donned his wet suit, strapped on air tanks, kissed her briefly on the lips and strolled towards the sea.

He reached the water’s edge, the outgoing tide curling at his ankles, and sat on a rock uncovered by the receding waters to pull on flippers before turning towards his companions. With a grin and a wave to his minders and mistress, he disappeared beneath the cresting waves.

On shore, the bodyguards stood, hands in pockets, engaging in small talk. Greta sat and smoked.

After fifteen minutes, the men wandered along the water’s edge, eyes on the ocean’s surface. They didn’t appear worried. Far from it. Dudley had engaged in many similar ventures and always returned unscathed.

She kept her fears to herself.

Another ten minutes passed. The wind increased, and the sea turned the colour of lead. Swells rose higher and higher. Greta stood, took her gloves off and nibbled on a fingernail. The minders had stopped chatting. They peered at the churning waters, perhaps expecting Dudley to emerge at any moment.

Some fifteen minutes later, she saw something protrude above the waves, and she called to the bodyguards. But the wind had increased in intensity, and the rising swell prevented her from being sure. With a feeling of impending doom, her original premonition magnified a thousand fold, she returned to her seat on the rocks. Still, the entourage watched and waited as the water grew more turgid and the waves became mountains.

Eventually, when sure he must have exhausted his air supply, the bodyguards waded into the shallows, scanning the towering plumes and calling for the premier.

Greta ran up the beach to a nearby house to call the police and raise the alarm.

The body of Dudley Edward Ormond, Premier of Victoria, was never recovered.

Prologue, Part II: Without a Trace

Sandy Point, 1990

~~~

Of course I’ll be careful, Mum. Call you again in a couple of days. Bye. Jessica Handcock replaced the receiver and stretched like a cat awakening from a long nap. She gazed out the window and smiled with delight.

The sun shone from a clear blue sky, heating air and sand. Today was September 21—the Spring Equinox in the southern hemisphere.

Victorians were emerging from a long, cold winter, and they swarmed to its many beautiful beaches. Usually, the warmth crept back early in September. Not this year. Winter clothed the mountains in white coats until the end of August, and constant winds from the snowfields kept a firm grip on temperatures at the lower altitudes until the middle of the ninth month.

Jessica suffered the cold days and even colder nights with the quiet tolerance of a crocodile lying in wait at the water’s edge. Sooner or later, what she sought would come her way. Winter would give way to spring. Eventually, the snow melted. Spring arrived. The first balmy day was upon her, and Jessica wasn’t about to let it pass uncelebrated.

After she made the bed and hung out the washing, she donned her bright red, two-piece bathing suit and headed for the beach. Today’s Tuesday. The tourist season hasn’t started yet. She hummed a tune as she strolled along the foreshore.

This was a popular holiday destination. The crowds from Melbourne and elsewhere would descend like seagulls to a feast of chips come Saturday. Most who lived in the small, seaside community of Sandy Point worked for a living, their livelihoods dependent on the tourist trade. Not Jessica. She’d resigned from her teaching position two months ago, taking a termination package. The payout had bought her a cottage by the beach where she could write and soak up the sun.

Today, she would have the sand to herself.

In her mid-thirties, she carefully watched what she ate. An attractive blonde, she exercised often to prevent the development of what she called ‘excess flab’. Her friends often remarked how much she resembled Marilyn Monroe in her prime. Jessica didn’t really know about this, nor did she care. She was content with her looks and pleased she still possessed her slender figure.

She reached a spot where towering dunes screened her from the wind and spread her towel. The view in all directions was spectacular. Behind her rose sandy slopes, awash with grassy tussocks waving in the offshore breeze. Before her stretched a wide expanse of yellow sand and a vast plain of water: The Great Southern Ocean. The sea was mostly flat, a blue-green colour, with intermittent whitecaps.

Unlike most natural blondes, Jessica didn’t possess pale skin tones that burned at the first hint of sun. She was thankful she rarely blistered and peeled, a process that left soft, pastel pink in its wake. Her dusky brown complexion, when exposed to the sun, darkened to a deep tan. Today was her first attempt at sunbathing since last summer, when she’d come to this location on holiday. The sun felt warm on her exposed skin but not hot enough to burn. She applied coconut oil to her long, slim arms and legs as well as the uncovered parts of her abdomen and back.

She stretched out on her front and opened a novel by Ian Fleming: You Only Live Twice. In the past, she hadn’t found time to read James Bond, but a friend had recommended it. Since she was retired, with time on her hands, she’d promised herself she’d start it today.

***

Jessica was still at the beach, soaking up the sun, at three o’clock that afternoon.

A man walking his dog observed her lying on her back, engrossed in her novel. When he returned two hours later, she was nowhere to be seen. Her towel lay where she’d left it, the book face down and open at her place. The dog owner assumed she’d entered the water for a swim, but he didn’t see her.

When she failed to keep a lunch appointment with her mother three days later, her family started worrying. They tried telephoning her house but got no answer. They notified the local copper and requested his assistance.

After a brief search, he found the towel, heavily coated with sand. Her other belongings were close by, but there was no sign of Jessica.

Everyone assumed she’d entered the sea and hadn’t returned. Her body was never found. To all intents and purposes, she’d disappeared off the face of the Earth.

Chapter 1: Chopper & Boat

Wednesday, January 17, 2001

~~~

Good morning. Randy speaking.

The lone gunman was acting under CIA orders, said the voice at the other end of the line. The speaker possessed a strong American accent and reminded Randy of home.

I beg your pardon? Who is this? Something stirred deep in the recesses of his mind, and his stomach squirmed.

The lone gunman was acting under CIA orders. The voice contained no trace of irritation—just repeated the unemotional statement.

Is this some sort of joke? Even before Randy completed the question, long-submerged memories surfaced. A shiver ran through his body, and his stomach did a backflip. Are you sure you have the right party?

The lone gunman was acting under CIA orders, said the voice a third time.

Randy almost dropped the phone. Sweat broke out on his forehead, and his hand trembled. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, prepared for the worst. So was the gunman on the grassy knoll.

Silence, except for the hum of the line.

What do you want? He struggled to keep the fear from his voice.

Report to Sandy Point tomorrow. Take your windsurfer, and act normally.

And then?

You’ll be contacted. Your contact will identify himself with the phrase ‘Nothing takes place without the permission of J. Edgar Hoover’. Understand?

Yes.

Good.

The phone went dead. Randy replaced the receiver and stood in the hallway, shivering. He stared at the floor with unseeing eyes.

Randolph Timothy Hurst had two passions: one, windsurfing; the other, skiing. Fortunately, he lived in Victoria, which meant he could windsurf in the summer and ski during the winter. From his home in the Latrobe Valley, located in roughly the centre of the state, Randy had only to travel two hours in either direction to participate in both sports. Mountains lay in one direction, the coast in the other.

Sandy Point was his favourite spot.

Randy had moved to Australia after being recruited by the Victorian Government some twenty-odd years ago. At that time, enormous gaps existed in the ranks of the state’s secondary teachers.

Of course, moving to Australia hadn’t been high on his agenda. He’d seen himself as an up-and-coming employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, with the top job in his sights. Because his cover occupation in America had been schoolteacher, his superiors had suggested he volunteer and carry on his work in a foreign country.

After all, the United States Government had invested a sizeable amount of money in numerous Australian projects, the most notable of these being Pine Gap in Central Australia. He was selected because the State Department believed it couldn’t have too many agents in the area. The fact that he would be located half a continent away from the base he would be minding didn’t occur to his superiors. Like many from overseas, his handlers had underestimated the vast size of the Australian continent, having erroneously assumed their installation was a mere kangaroo hop away from where Randy would be teaching.

In the long run, none of this mattered. Randy had grown to like the Latrobe Valley and the schools where he worked. He’d met an Australian girl. They’d married and had a child. His superiors, of course, had suggested these major life changes to strengthen his cover. The relationship was based on friendship, not love. By the time their child reached the age of five, Randy and his wife, Joan, were leading separate lives.

Before he immigrated to Australia, Randy’s main passion had been skiing. On the beautiful Victorian beaches he added windsurfing to his favourite pastimes. He didn’t permit his teaching job to take up too much of his time, just on the off chance his bosses needed him for some urgent US government business. This permitted him more than ample opportunity to gain proficiency in both his leisure pursuits. Even his wife, on one of those rare occasions she’d condescended to join him, commented she’d never seen anyone windsurf better than he.

Today, Randy’s past had caught up with him, and he was scared shitless.

***

For once, as he surfed the wind along the sandy shore of the eastern arm of the long sandbar, his mind wasn’t on his pastime. That didn’t alter his performance, of course. Randy could windsurf all day without utilising more than a small segment of his mind.

A confusing array of thoughts filled his head, including memories of the almost-forgotten time he’d been a newly trained operative of the CIA, his ambition to secure the top job. Since settling in Australia he’d become nothing more than what he pretended to be—a school teacher. As the years passed without the expected call to duty, he’d come to believe he’d left the espionage world behind in his mother country.

The wind picked up and plucked at his sail. Randy leaned back and pushed his bare feet hard against the surface of the board. His arms strained against the force threatening to plunge him into the surf. The wind rushed past his cheeks and through his blond hair. He loved windsurfing. He loved the sea. He loved this country more than he’d ever loved his own.

What will they ask me to do? Who will be my contact? How will I be contacted? What emergency has befallen the US, and how can I assist? It had been so long since his recruitment and training, he was more nervous than a novice.

He made five or six passes up and down the sandy shore, losing himself in his craft. The feeling of exhilaration grew, so all-engrossing it halted all worries about his mission. He forgot his meeting. He disregarded everything but the wind and the waves. This was living—what he wanted to do for the remainder of his life.

All of a sudden, a loud and familiar sound encroached on his thoughts. Wup, wup, wup. He recognised it instantly—the sound of a helicopter, probably the local rescue craft. The thundering rotors had become so familiar on the beaches of Victoria over the past decade everyone took them for granted.

What the heck is that doing here today? A surf carnival was scheduled for the weekend, and the helicopter would be present for that, but that was three days away. Perhaps some pleasure-seeker had got into trouble a little farther out from shore.

He peered into the distance, but he’d left his glasses in the car, and his eyesight was blurred at best. Still, he could see no sign of other swimmers or board riders. He glanced towards the beach. His four-wheel drive was the only vehicle in the parking bay. No sign of anyone else. When he’d arrived more than an hour ago, there’d been several other board riders, but they’d gone ashore—perhaps for lunch.

The clatter of the helicopter grew thunderous, so loud it seemed to invade his head. He peered over his shoulder, expecting to see the chopper overhead—heading out to sea. Nothing. Although he couldn’t see it, it sounded low.

Abruptly, it leapt from behind the dunes marking the shoreline and, before he knew it, the familiar yellow body loomed beside him. Randy almost fell from his windsurfer in surprise. His arms strained and his feet shifted, but he was able to recover. Many other windsurfers would not have been able to do the same.

He stared up, almost into the underbelly of the craft. Hey! What do you think you’re doing? he yelled, but the whirling rotors whipped away his words.

And then the craft settled beside him.

He stared into the face of the pilot. The man wore headphones and sunglasses. He waved to Randy, a huge smile creasing his dark-skinned face. Randy had time to note other details. The man sported a heavy, dark moustache and wore an army-style shirt. Perhaps this was his contact.

The pilot raised a hand in salute, and the helicopter slid towards Randy.

What the...?

He expected the whirlybird to lift and pass over him, so he didn’t take evasive action. Instead, the craft crowded him, its undercarriage smacking against his shoulder and knocking him sideways. Randy toppled into the water.

As he surfaced, spluttering, the aircraft veered toward the beach. Stupid, fucking bastard! I’ve a good mind to report you to the authorities. He raised his fist and shook it at the receding craft.

Because he faced inland rather than towards the open sea, because the noise from the aircraft drowned all other sound, and because the antics of the errant helicopter pre-occupied his thoughts, Randy didn’t notice the motorboat until the second before its prow connected with his head.

Too late! He attempted to dive, but the craft struck him in the middle of his back. Stunned, he disappeared beneath the surface, swallowing water. He struggled upwards, desperate for air. Wide-eyed, he watched in horror as the craft’s keel parted the water above him. Then its propeller slashed open his head like a ripe watermelon, killing him outright.

***

The helicopter returned and hovered overhead for several minutes as the pilot checked to see if Randy returned to the surface. The swarthy man waved to the operator of the motorboat, which veered to the left, circled and then headed in an easterly direction.

After several minutes, Randy’s lifeless body surfaced in a pool of blood, which immediately dispersed on the tide.

The helicopter ascended and headed inland.

Chapter 2: Humiliation & Tears

Thursday, January 18, 2001

~~~

I’m sorry. Tears flooded Claire Elizabeth Jennings’s red-rimmed eyes. I just can’t help it.

It’s okay. You cry as much as you want. Martin George Mitchell was doing his best to comfort his wife. So far his efforts had met with little success.

Huge sobs wracked her tall, slender body and sent reciprocating shudders through his. There was nothing he could say—nothing he could do. Nothing would soothe her anguish. He could only be there, be supportive and help her pick up the pieces when her grief had run its course.

This morning they’d been happy—carefree, planning a well-earned holiday in Tonga and thinking about the new life they anticipated creating in the future. This afternoon, devastation reigned. Their hopes for parenthood had been dashed, and their holiday plans were no longer prominent in their thoughts following an appointment with the doctor, a routine test and a less than satisfactory result.

Before embarking on motherhood, Claire wanted to visit her local GP for a check-up. The doctor had applauded her decision to have a baby and, as a routine practice, had carried out a Pap test.

A week later, during the follow-up visit, the doctor delivered the bad news. The biopsy revealed the presence of cancer cells.

The usual blood tests, scans and x-rays followed. At length, after much nail biting, interminable waiting in hospital corridors and an endless procession of paperwork, the screenings had come to an end.

Today, Claire received the devastating news. She had cervical cancer. Sure, the growth could be cut out and wouldn’t spread to other areas. Sure, her sex life would remain unimpaired. Sure, she’d probably live to a ripe old age.

But she could never bear children.

With the shattering news hanging over their heads like a winter fog, they returned to their dwelling in a haze of tears and grief. Martin didn’t cry. He couldn’t. Instead, emptiness had opened up inside him—a void created by his powerlessness to remedy his wife’s loss. And, as his sense of uselessness grew, his libido shrivelled.

Claire slumped in the passenger seat of the car, unmoving—as unresponsive as a block of wood. Her eyes had transformed into perpetual springs from which gushed more fluid than it seemed possible for a body to hold. Neither would recall what they said during that seemingly endless drive home, nor would the details of the journey ever be clear in their minds.

Somehow, they’d arrived safely at their unpretentious, redbrick house situated in the Melbourne suburb of Mooroolbark. Without any idea how to console his wife, Martin ushered her up the front steps and into the house.

The phone rang moments after they walked through the front door. Martin cursed the caller’s poor timing, ambled into the lounge room and tossed his keys onto the sofa. He picked up the black, cordless phone from where it sat on the occasional table and pressed the ON/OFF button. Hello. Martin Mitchell speaking.

Claire didn’t give the ringing phone a second glance. She retreated to the toilet, leaving him to deal with the caller.

He listened to the voice on the other end of the line before responding. We’ll be there first thing in the morning. He rang off, replaced the phone on the table and slapped his fist into his palm. Damn! He walked around in circles, looking for something to occupy his mind while he awaited Claire’s return. He mulled over the phone call and his response, reason assuring him he’d made the right decision. Surely doing something, no matter how trivial, was better than sitting around doing nothing but feel sorry for themselves.

By the time he’d boiled the electric kettle and made coffee, Claire joined him in the living area. Who was that? She picked up her coffee cup and sipped the steaming liquid. She seemed to have momentarily stemmed the flood of tears.

Gavin. Martin held up his hand to forestall her objections. Gavin August Byrne was their immediate superior. I know, I know. Let’s just meet with him in the morning and hear him out.

She curled her lip and lowered her gaze. I’ve never felt less like seeing anyone. Not with the news I’ve just.... Her voice trailed off, and Martin placed his hands on her shoulders. Besides, she said, recovering a little, we’re supposed to be going on vacation the day after tomorrow. Her blue eyes pleaded with him.

I know. He attempted a smile. He did say it was very important.

Gavin always says that. Anger flared in her eyes.

I know. His mind still numbed by the morning’s devastating news, Martin found himself at a loss for words.

Tears again welled in Claire’s eyes, and she was unable to stem the tide.

Martin clasped her to him and held her in a tight embrace. He attempted to draw the sorrow from her body—to impart some of his own inner strength to her.

He seemed to succeed somewhat when, after several minutes, Claire drew away from him and wiped the back of her right hand across her eyes. When did you say we’d be there? In the morning? She sniffed in an attempt to clear her nose.

Yes. He offered her his handkerchief. The red square she’d used so often today was soaked and crumpled. It resembled little more than a wet, deflated balloon.

Without comment, she accepted it and blew her nose. I’ll go on one condition. Now she was more in control. She handed him the sodden cloth.

He held it as one might a pile of steamy dog poo. What’s that? He inserted the handkerchief into his pocket with care. At that moment, he would’ve agreed to almost anything.

I decide whether or not we take this case. Her tone indicated she’d brook no argument.

What makes you think there’s a case? He grinned into wide blue eyes glistening with tears.

Gavin only ever calls when there’s a case that can’t be solved. She returned his grin, although the expression was forced. So why don’t we have an early night?

Despite the fact that the sun hadn’t yet set and they hadn’t eaten since breakfast, Martin agreed.

***

Robert Douglas Herrick sprawled naked on the king-sized bed, grasping a large Cuban cigar firmly between his teeth. He studied the nubile teenager servicing his penis, gobbling on it as a child might an icy pole. Each time her teeth raked against his stiff member, he bit a little harder on the cigar.

He wondered how his wife would react should she arrive at their holiday house unexpectedly and catch him in the act. Then, he chuckled. He didn’t care. Besides, Caroline wasn’t in Sandy Point. She worked as a nurse at the hospital more than an hour away in the Latrobe Valley. Today, she worked the afternoon shift. She’d sleep in their Traralgon house tonight and work again in the morning. Only when she was rostered off for several days would she make her way here. Plenty of time to enjoy this bimbo and clean up the evidence before Caroline arrived.

He studied the naked young thing on the bed with him and contemplated how much his life had improved in recent years. He’d been penniless once. Now, he was rich—filthy rich. He’d come a long way since his childhood in the streets of Haifa and the female waifs who’d taught him the ways of the flesh.

He abruptly pushed thoughts of his past aside and let his mind dwell on the chance encounter that had led to this assignation. Several hours ago, this young female had been sunbathing on the beach. He liked what he saw as he strolled past—young, shapely, suntanned, her miniscule bikini accentuating, rather than covering, her assets.

He’d engaged her in conversation. Should you be here all alone?

Defiantly, she pouted and pulled her shoulders back. I’m old enough to go wherever I like. She was self-assured in a manner only those whose lives have suffered no setbacks can achieve.

Of course you are. He nodded his head. How silly of me to mistake one so lovely for a child.

I’ll have you know I had my eighteenth birthday only last week.

Liar! If you’re more than fifteen, I’m not.... How would you like to earn some easy money? It was a gambit he often used—one that touched a nerve with today’s avaricious young.

She removed her sunglasses and squinted against the glare as she studied his face. What would I have to do for this easy money?

Nothing you haven’t done before.

Are we talking about sex?

He smiled. We are.

And you’re willing to pay me for fucking you?

Straight to the point. I like that. Yes.

Again, she considered before replying. How much are we talking about?

What would you say to five thousand dollars?

She threw her head back and laughed. Long black tresses gleamed in the sunlight. Pull the other one, mister. No one brings that kind of cash to the beach.

Is that right? He reached into his hip pocket. Well, missy, you might just have to eat those rash words before you’re much older. He produced his wallet, opened it and extracted a wad of one hundred dollar bills.

Oh my God! Her eyes grew big and round, and she reached out a hand. Is that for real?

As real as you can get. All five thousand dollars’ worth. He flicked through the notes, keeping them just out of her reach. And it can all be yours.

Want to do me here? She stood and started undoing her top.

He glanced up and down the beach. Although they were alone, that could change any minute. Besides, what he had in mind required privacy. Not here. I own a house within walking distance. He pointed towards a cluster of roofs visible through the tea-tree tops beyond the dunes. A man of my age likes his comfort.

She bent and scooped

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