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Spirit of Warrnambool: The Oz Files, #3

Spirit of Warrnambool: The Oz Files, #3

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Spirit of Warrnambool: The Oz Files, #3

Length:
302 pages
4 hours
Released:
Mar 25, 2016
ISBN:
9781622537044
Format:
Book

Description

Martin and Claire's nemesis, Wanda Jean, is dead and buried in Broome. Or is she?

Martin and Claire go to Warrnambool to investigate a savage and despicable murder. The latest killings, reminiscent of their former enemy's handy work, have the ASIO agents on edge, wondering if their belief of Wanda Jean's demise is accurate. Or could it be that someone has constructed this web of intrigue to draw them out?

"So this was really good. Some trigger spots for those who are sensitive to rape scenes... but the action and characters kept me thrilled and on the edge of my seat." ~ StarWarsLover

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS the third 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:
Mar 25, 2016
ISBN:
9781622537044
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

Spirit of Warrnambool - Barry Metcalf

novel.

Prologue: The Mahogany Ship

The Shipwreck Coast, 1840

~~~

The time has come, my children, to take control of your destinies. Dressed in a long, black, hooded robe, Piter de Groot stood with legs apart, braced against the lurching wooden decking. Despite the clamour from the raging storm, his voice carried to every corner of the small cabin.

Outside, wind howled. Waves slammed into the vessel’s sides and swamped her decks, washing overboard anything unsecured. The Flamenco lurched and bucked, pitched and heaved. Timbers groaned in protest. The congregation huddled together, as if remaining close would protect them from the ravages of a rampant ocean. Their faces were pale. Their fear-filled eyes darted left and right. Only the power emanating from their leader kept them from fleeing, panic-stricken, from the cabin. The single lantern swung back and forth above their heads, sending misshapen shadows dancing over the meagre furnishings.

Fear not, my disciples, continued Piter, his voice clear and reassuring. Alone, you may well perish before landfall, but together, combining our powers, he said, extended his hands, we shall prevail.

The man’s words calmed the twenty-odd souls assembled before him. As one, they reached out their hands, palms upward. All power to Piter, they chorused. Let the might of those we worship protect and enrich us.

Hold firm to your beliefs. Channelling the energy emanating from them through his body, Piter increased its power a hundredfold. Then he flicked his fingers and returned it to each individual in the group, imbuing them with confidence. You shall thus be carried to safety.

Thank the Master, the group chanted.

Thank the Master, Piter said.

The congregation lowered their heads in silent prayer. For several minutes, no one moved, confident they were protected from the forces pounding the ship.

Now, said Piter, breaking the period of contemplation, who among you shall venture out into the tempest to ensure this vessel, in which we’ve entrusted our future, reaches the coast? Who will act as our guide? He surveyed each face in turn.

I will go, said a strong, feminine voice. I have no fear of the storm. I shall direct the captain.

Come forward, sister. Let your fellow travellers gaze upon your face, adding their courage to yours. He extended his hand and the woman stepped forward without hesitation.

Once at Piter’s side, she turned and faced the group. The lantern, which had swung like a pendulum, mirroring the motion of the ship, suddenly stopped as if seized by a giant, steadying hand. Its light grew brighter, bathing her in its glow. Tall and dressed like the others in a long, black robe with the hood resting on her upper back, she presented an imposing figure. Long, dark, lustrous hair cascaded over her shoulders and down her back. Her pale face, without colour except for bright red lips, gleamed. Her green eyes twinkled, vibrant with life. Her expression contained no fear.

What is your name, sister? asked Piter. Speak it loud so that those before you may fortify you for the task at hand.

Isabella. My name is Isabella Diego.

That is the name you used in the old world. How will you be known in your new home?

Wanda, she responded without hesitation. Wanda Jean.

Wanda Jean, chorused the ensemble. As one they raised their hands, fingers outstretched, their eyes fixed on her as though in a trance.

Wanda Jean you shall be from this moment on, said Piter.

Several minutes passed with only the raging storm finding its voice. Unaffected by the elements and the lurching of the ship, none within the cabin moved.

Eventually, Piter addressed them again. Time to prepare yourselves, my children. Time for your courageous sister to tackle the elements and guide us to our new home. Time for the remainder to look to your possessions, the old and the new. He beamed, and spread his arms, dismissing his followers.

Without speaking, the crowd dispersed, each engaging in a pre-arranged ritual, gathering belongings and stacking them in the centre of the cabin.

What of the crew? asked Wanda Jean. Will they not intervene and assist the captain in keeping the vessel safe?

Piter shook his head. The crew has served their purpose. They are, to a man, confined below decks. They shall not interfere with our plans.

Without a backward glance, Wanda Jean turned and stepped purposefully towards the companionway.

***

Fool! Wanda Jean strode across the deck, heedless of the waves washing across it or the swirling water that parted without touching her feet or legs. Although dark clouds obscured the sun, she moved with certainty across the cluttered woodwork. You run this coven now, but just you wait. She raised her hands above her head and pointed towards the tops of the masts. Led by you, we fled like wounded curs from Salem when we should’ve stayed and fought. Bolts of pure energy shot from the tips of her fingers.

Coward! Like lightning, each bolt struck the rigging, slicing through ropes, splitting timbers and rending canvas. You claim you want to run this new world. Debris tumbled down, falling to the deck, only to be swept overboard. None struck her.

You couldn’t even direct this ship. She spun and, staring back towards the companionway, twirled her fingers. Let’s see you override my magic and escape this cabin. Piles of debris gathered at the opening, sealing the doorway. You promised me power and position, but you betrayed me. I overheard your plans with that bitch, Serena. She reached out, curled her fingers and plucked an enormous boulder from the nearby headland, adding it to the tangled mess blocking the companionway.

I’ll show you who has the power. Turning, she marched towards the rear of the ship, her hands performing intricate patterns in the air. I thought we’d share this world together, but you’ve shown your true colours. Timbers tore from the decking as if wrenched by giant, invisible hands. You thought I didn’t know our cargo. The cover over the hold exploded upwards and sailed over the side of the ship, lost in the churning sea. The cargo you thought to claim as your own. Water poured inside the vessel.

Wrong! Another lightning bolt erupted from her fingers, zapped through the opening she’d created, and smashed a hole in the bottom of the boat. I’m Wanda Jean, and I know everything. Already heavily laden, the Flamenco wallowed. You’ll die tonight for daring to double-cross me. Closing her eyes, she threw back her head and rose above the deck. And when you’re dead, I’ll make sure your name is forgotten forever. When she’d cleared the tops of the masts, she turned towards land, the southern coast of Australia, the new world.

Alighting several seconds later on a grassy cliff top, she again surveyed the churning sea, the foundering ship, and the dark storm clouds. She twirled her fingers and dispersed the storm she’d created, but the ship was still encased in a blanket of darkness. She laughed, the sound deep-throated, almost masculine, and filled with evil. Reaching out, she hauled on invisible ropes, pulling the ship towards the rocks that lay hidden offshore, directly below her vantage point. Despite its bulk, the ship moved steadily through the water towards its final resting place.

It’s mine, all mine, she bellowed, knowing her words would carry to those trapped below decks. "I’m more powerful than any witch you’ve even known, and I plan to grow stronger still. One day I shall rule the world."

***

The darkness surrounded Captain Fernando de Soto. Thick and impenetrable, it was like nothing he’d ever encountered, and he’d skippered vessels to all parts of the known world. His first voyage to the new world looked like his last. It seemed his experience counted for nothing in these treacherous waters.

The southern coast of Australia lay near. Just how close, he didn’t know. Heading for the port of Belfast—not in Ireland as he’d first believed, but the treacherous coastline of New Holland—strong currents had forced the Flamenco south, towards the pole, then driven it northward for two days and nights before this howling gale. With sky and sea enveloped in cloud, he could only guess their rate of progress.

The wind roared through the rigging, ripping lines from their stanchions, whipping trailing ropes in the spaces between masts and decking, tearing canvas with the ease of paper. Spray, driven before the gale, lashed his face, stinging his eyes, blinding him. Each gust of wind smashed against the ship like the hand of some infernal demon. The vessel shuddered and creaked under the strain.

The foul conditions had continued unabated for forty-eight hours, promising no relief from wind or wave. How long could the vessel’s timbers hold together after such a battering?

Captain de Soto again wiped a hand across his face, attempting to clear the spray from his eyes, but the salt water that soaked him to the skin clouded his vision. Even with clear eyes, he doubted his ability to penetrate the curtain of blackness enveloping his ship and the sea.

To add to his troubles, lightning chose this moment to strike.

A spar tore loose from the rigging and crashed down upon the deck where the captain stood. It landed on top of him, breaking bones in his back, arms, and legs. Blood spilled on the timbers at his feet, washed away by the ocean in seconds.

For a moment he hung there, still secured to the wheel. Then this too gave way and the whole conglomeration slid across the sloping deck. It broke through the railing, sliding over the side of the listing vessel and into the sea.

In the minutes that followed before he disappeared beneath the waves, he heard the ship’s mahogany timbers breaking apart on the rocks. Accompanying this came the dying screams of sailors and passengers trapped below decks as the Flamenco slowly broke up and slid into the sea.

Chapter 1: A Night Out

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

~~~

What’s the occasion? Martin George Mitchell smiled across the table at his wife, his eyes flitting between her face and her cleavage.

Tonight she’d worn a low-cut red dress that accentuated her curves. This... this is where it all started, Claire Elizabeth Jennings said in a casual manner, but her voice contained a note of ‘you-should-have-remembered-that’. Her blue eyes sparkled, alive and full of mischief, telling him she intended no malice; she’d simply been toying with him.

They’d reserved a quiet table at the Dragon’s Pearl. When new, this establishment had generated enormous interest among the somewhat parochial residents of the Latrobe Valley. This had as much to do with the decor as with the attempt to provide genuine Chinese fare. Two small, carved dragons imported from Singapore graced the entryway.

Tonight, a warm, affable atmosphere suffused the half-filled restaurant, the other patrons conversing in muted tones.

I don’t think we met in a restaurant, let alone this one. He lowered his voice, making it sound like a confession.

Her smile broadened. I meant the town. She picked up her champagne glass and sipped.

Martin raised his glass and drank, his mind turning inwards, taking a detour to the past.

He recalled a casual conversation, struck up between two colleagues, a throwaway line leading to an arousal of interest. A series of brief encounters followed, escalating into a full-blown affair with the usual repercussions. By the time they’d attempted to rebuild their marriages, he and Claire realised they couldn’t bear to be apart. After spending a few hilarious nights in a tent, they’d moved into a unit together.

Five, no six years ago? He took a drink from his glass. Nice champagne.

Seven. She sipped her drink again.

He noticed the level in her glass had barely changed. It doesn’t seem like it. He shook his head.

Do you miss teaching?

Since joining SOC? Not a chance.

Several years ago, both had resigned their jobs to join the Strange & Obscure Cases Unit, an autonomous offshoot of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Together they’d investigated weird cases in places as far apart as Alice Springs, Darwin, and Broome. Along the way they’d crossed swords with a woman who claimed to be a witch. Challenging her had led to several bizarre encounters with deadly snakes and disintegrating caverns from which they’d barely escaped with their lives. Whether or not she was what she claimed, Wanda Jean was dead now and could no longer harm them.

Claire looked down at her napkin, nervously folding and refolding it in tight, meticulous creases on the tabletop. Her voice had dropped to almost a whisper, and again he wondered what she had on her mind. She seemed to have tensed in the last few minutes.

I’m pregnant, she announced, taking him by surprise. She looked up from her busy-but-pointless work and held his gaze.

What? He spluttered, choking on his drink. He scrabbled for a napkin, unsure he’d heard correctly. What did you say?

I’m pregnant, she said in an even quieter voice. I tested this morning, and the results were positive. She continued to gaze at him, checking his reaction.

Darling, that’s great. He patted his lips and mopped at a stain on the tablecloth.

You are pleased then? she asked, the tension in her body visibly easing. "You really are... pleased, that is?

Of course I’m pleased. He reached across the table and took her hands in his. I’m just so... so surprised.

She smiled, relief evident on her face. The sparkle had returned to her eyes and she glowed as if lit from within. I wasn’t sure how you’d take it, she said, confessing in a little girl voice. I’m sorry.

You don’t have to be. It’s just that with the....

It’s gone, she said with a force that took him by surprise. The cancer’s gone into remission, or something.

How... how do you know? He still clasped her hands, and he squeezed them together.

Ouch, you’re hurting me. She pulled free of his grip.

Sorry. You surprised me again.

It must be the day for it.

But seriously, how do you know about the cancer?

I went to see the specialist this morning. She averted her eyes. While you were taking the car in for a service. She had the grace to look sheepish.

You went without me? He couldn’t credit his wife’s selfishness. They had no secrets from each another. They did everything together.

She blushed. I’m sorry, but.... Well, I’ve had this feeling for quite some time, since we were last in Alice Springs, in fact.

What kind of feeling? He struggled to follow what she was saying.

You know the kind of feelings I get. Now they’re telling me things about my body instead of an assignment, she attempted to explain.

He’d learned to trust her feelings, but they’d mostly linked to some person or event. Claire’s sixth sense—or whatever it was—normally didn’t relate to her. And what has that to do with... with going to the specialist alone? He was still feeling a little hurt.

If you’ll just be quiet for a moment. She spoke as though to a student. Realising what she’d done, she laughed and patted his hand. I’ll tell you.

Sorry.

I don’t quite know how to explain it—what’s unusual about that—but I’ve felt so well these last few months I was positive the cancer was gone.

But...?

She patted his hand again. No, don’t ask me how I knew, I just did. And this morning when I discovered I was pregnant, I just had to have confirmation before I told you. Forgive me? Her eyes had become large, round pools, the colour of the Indian Ocean.

There’s nothing to forgive. He grinned, the prospect of becoming a father suffusing him with self-importance. He reached for his glass. How long?

Oh, about three months, I think.

That long? He performed some mental calculations. Ever since...?

Ever since the destruction of the World Trade Center? Yes.

He winced as the images of that disaster, still vivid, filled his mind. He shut them out and raised his glass. Claire followed suit.

Here’s to parenthood, he toasted, grinning.

They clinked glasses.

Here’s to the three of us, she said.

I wonder what it’ll be. He pondered the possibilities.

Oh, she blushed again, I already know it’s going to be a boy. She made the announcement with absolute certainty.

Chapter 2: Musings

Seated at a table on the far side of the Dragon’s Pearl, a short, brown-haired woman sipped red wine and studied the husband-and-wife team as they celebrated their forthcoming happy event. Although too far away to overhear their conversation, the woman faced the wife and had lip-read almost every word.

Wanda Jean snarled and curled her top lip. How dare he waste the fruits of his loins on that bitch. How dare he impregnate her when I could offer so much more as mother of his offspring. She emptied her glass in one gulp and poured another from the bottle at her elbow.

She’d tailed Martin and Claire during their drive from Melbourne to this quaint restaurant, located in a drab, unpretentious town in the heart of the Latrobe Valley. What they saw in this place, she didn’t know or care. Only they interested her. And though she’d entered the eating house almost on their heels, she didn’t fear being recognised.

For one thing, Claire and Martin believed they’d killed her at a remote resort on the far side of the continent. They’d left her to die in the Broome Hospital, a bullet lodged in her brain—a bullet from that bitch’s pistol. But Wanda Jean had escaped, leaving another woman to be buried in her place.

For another, she’d adopted a disguise so different from her normal appearance neither agent stood a chance of seeing through it. Her face was rounded rather than elongated, and her piercing green eyes had turned a faded blue. Her light makeup accentuated the darkness of her complexion, and she wore pale pink lipstick, an insipid colour she detested. She’d chosen a drab-coloured pullover and skirt, and her shoes were practical rather than attractive.

On top of this, Martin and Claire seemed engrossed in each other’s company, paying no attention to anything or anyone around them. The woman’s eyes had slid over Wanda Jean several times as she chatted with her husband, but not once had she shown any hint of recognition.

Until recently, Wanda Jean’s thoughts had revolved solely around taking revenge against these agents, who’d too often interfered with her schemes and nearly killed her. Since regaining her full powers, however, she’d evolved a new plan, one that would rid her of the woman and claim the man for herself. Events are already well in hand that will draw my enemies to my new base of operations. Once there, I can separate the two. Having disposed of Claire, Martin will be mine to do with as I desire. She licked her lips in anticipation and swirled the blood-red liquid in her glass.

Yes, it’s simply a matter of time.

Martin possessed something she coveted. She’d come to realise this over the past year, and tonight she’d obtained the final proof. His genetic makeup contained a unique building block she meant to acquire. Her only concern had been that Martin might be impotent, unable to father a child. Tonight had laid that doubt to rest. Before the end of the year, the man’s genes and hers would combine to produce the most powerful wizard the world had ever known.

She raised her drink. Reflected in the glass, her eyes gleamed, revealing a hint of her true self. A toast. To the day Martin is mine. She drained her glass. May you enjoy your lives, while you still can.

Laughing, she stood and strode across the room. As she approached the counter and pulled out a credit card to settle the bill, Claire’s eyes met hers. Wanda Jean smiled. Claire smiled back. Then Claire’s attention returned to her husband.

You’ll pay for your complacency, bitch!

***

Martin peered across the table at his wife, but her attention remained

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