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What Goes Round....

Guest WYN100

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In line with the new rules for fanfics we'd appreciate it if you'd take 5 minutes to fill out the following form:


Story description:[/..WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT....Peter, Rocco, Jack...

Type of story: LONG FIC

Main Characters:

BTTB rating: G)

does story include spoilers: NO

Is story being proof read: YES, ME

Any warnings: NO

Summary: 5 lines max

Thanks, the Librarians.

d" What goes round..."


"Ok you mongrel - you back right off - nice and easy- you even THINK of being a hero, I'm SO ready to make a mess of you...!"

Lucas's voice was taut, focused, and surprisingly calm. His finger tightened on the trigger, his eyes clear and determined. The other figure displayed a rising awareness that this was a situation that rated high on the tight corner scale . Jack though was experienced enough to know some kind of diversion was what was required . Lines of tight concentration ran horizontally across his forehead , and though his eyes were still fixed firmly on the area of immediate danger, they couldn't help but execute a slight upward flicker as, seemingly from nowhere, the internally prayed-for distraction seemed to have arrived.

"Ah..um - look, can I just say something..?"

Lucas barely flinched from his position of studied concentration, but Jack was more than ready to grasp the slight straw offered by the interjection of the female voice . "Yes, go on...?" squeezed from the side of his mouth. A tense two seconds or so followed before they heard...

"You two are....such.....LOSERS !!!!!!!"- accompanied by a shower of flying food as most of a family packet of salt and vinegar crisps swirled around them and onto the sofa . Despite sporting a new potato-flecked hairstyle the newly-liberated thug dissolved into gales of laughter , while the thwarted gunman was understandably less sympathetic and gave vent to his feelings accordingly.

"Matty you DORK !!!! I've NEVER got to the last level of that "he roared, jerking his thumb aggressively at the TV screen where the abandoned X-Box game had disintegrated into an untidy chaos, and a flashing panel proclaimed "Player 1 (Lucas) - Eat dust !....." The final elusive strata of "Blood Culture" was to remain a pleasure postponed for Luke.

Resisting the screen's offer for him to sample the top layer of the carpet, he turned his full aggravation onto Matty..

"Like YOU'VE got room to talk ANYWAY !!" he jeered - "the body may be here, but we all know where the MIND is, eh, eh ??..." Grinning just a fraction smugly, he nudged Jack in the ribs, looking for support to elevate this quick-hit mocking campaign - - but he was surprised to find none forthcoming.

Getting up, he replied gruffly "Just leave it, Luke - anyway I should be getting on now. my shift starts in 30 minutes.." The deflated mocker's mood was scarcely helped by an even more smug expression of triumph from Matty than his original one had been. Grumbling under his breath in a style that even Muttley would have found hard to top, he fiddled with the game control, reluctantly contemplating a one-player return to the dubious charms of "Blood Culture", while his food assailant disappeared to her bedroom. Jacks's mind though was troubled as he jammed on his hat and headed towards the squad car outside. The Matilda "situation" had been discussed more than once towards the 'upper' end of the family, and the increasing amounts of thime she was spending there was doing nothing to dilute the growing concern. That would have to keep though he told himself as he eased down into the driving seat - and immediately another troubling issue flooded back into his mind to fill the space only deserted seconds earlier by Matilda's issues. He grasped the half bottle of vodka he'd almost sat squarely upon - - and immediately his mind's voice began to recite the script labelled "Denial" - They didn't understand...how could they..? It was HIM not them - he could handle it ...but of course he could stop if he needed to...

His face grew thoughtful - of course SHE had told him to stop more than once.....His features hardening again he unscrewed the top of the bottle, lifted it to his lips, and swallowed a deep draught....then gunned the squad car engine = and drove off..

"Owww....dammit !!..." Will Smith sharply pulled back his finger from the oven where it had accidentally touched one of the heated rings, quickly sucked the end of the now red and throbbing digit, then plunged it under the cold tap. He knew his mind had been 90 per cent AWOL since his decision to head back to the Bay, but that had been at least somewhat balanced by the security that no-one ELSE knew why he was there....at least that had been till the anonymous letters had started to arrive....

Constructed from clumsily cut newspaper headline letters, they let him know very plainly that someone else DID know the reason for his return, and while they'd so far contained no element of t hreat, he was guessing that was unlikely to be far away. He'd settled well into that refuge for many - the flat above the diner - and had been intending to take things very slowly and in as low-key a fashion as possible. Now however a huge cloud of uncertainty had been cast over that strategy, and as the gushing stream of H2O did its best to soothe the damage inflicted to his skin, he again found his mind running busily over possible alternative strategies in light of the unwelcome new development. He remembered suddenly why the accident had occured in the first place - turned off the tap, and attempting to shake the suffering finger dry gave another, far more careful stir to the tomato soup that was to form his early lunch or possibly late breakfast , turned the power down a notch or two, and headed towards the door that led to the long outer staircase. He'd heard a noise from that direction earlier and had assumed it was Alf heading up either for a chat, collect the rent, or make another unsuccessful attemp to get him to go fishing - his lips parted in a slight smile as he recalled a recent exhortation from the landlord

"C'mon mate, the day's as fine as a chimp with a banana out there !!" had failed to tempt him - but he knew just how persuasive his landlord could be ! No Alf though had subsequently materialized, so he investigated by opening the door. The aforementioned chimp would certainly have been in the highest of dietary spirits if one adopted Alf's equation of reasoning as the sun blazed in at him and the rest of the quite dimly-lit room, but just as the mildest of sea breezes began slowly t o choreograph some new dance routines for his hair, the earlier embryoniuc smile and small seed of weather-generated growing bonhomie were both wiped out as súddenly as a fast-falling curtain at the end of a theatre play. Bending his head slightly downwards to the coconut matting doormat , it jerked through him like a static shock from a metal surface on a sunny day - - the envelope and writing on the outside of it were all too familiar. It was another of THOSE letters....andas he jerked his head feverishly from side to side in search of clues, one thing was again clear. The deliverer - his tormentor - had again merged away into whst was now a steadily growing summer's morning crowd......

"Thanks Irene !" smiled Peter as he accepted the bag across the counter , " ..the way I'm headed, I'll need to be going straight from here to the health club to lose all the pounds I'm putting on !"

"Ah, but you love it darl !" she shot back as he changed ownership of the takeaway cappucino and raspberry cheesecake from his left hand to the right. Squeezing sideways past a deliveryman to leave he headed for his car and propped the food bag on the passenger seat as he headed off. For once he had no specific incident or investigation on his agenda for attention, so decided to take in a general sweep of the overall community as he endeavoured to do at least once a month. Enjoying the heady cocktail of a balmy Summer Bay morning and the spectacular visual sweep of the bay he made for the coast road and decided to make Reefton Lakes his first general destination.

As he drove, he thought of how much had happened recently and how he certainly wouldn;t say no to a calmer period in his life, should such a thing actually exist ! What had become increasingly certain to him through it all however was that Summer Bay felt progressively like home to him. Since that huge fallout with his parents and subsequent life on the road moving from one patrol car to another. he'd never felt the welcoming arms of a community fold around him and effectively insist on him staying. He liked that - and was perfectly happy for that bond to flourish and grow further and deeper. The period of time living in the city with Claire hadn't been what he'd imagined - witness protection was the kind of hospitality that would fail by some distance to gain even half a star on any tourist accomodation guide - and this was surely a period of his life where some stability and continuity could only be good .

He smiled and waved a casual greeting as Sergeant Harper's patrol car cruised steadily past on the opposite side of the road - Harper's day was clearly starting as quietly as his, thought Peter as he flicked the radio on - some appropriately West Coast driving music emerged, and the now pleasantly warm Summer Bay sun played its part, streaming in through the passenger window as the coast road unfurled straight ahead of him. He pressed the accelerator pedal a little harder, but was a little disappointed to find he couldn't open the engine out as the line was proceeding at a laborious rate, seemingly due in the main to a painfully slow moving lorry at the front. Peter drummed his fingers a little restively on the dashboard, inched the car along, then found himself struck by a thought shadow tracing along the back of his mind. Craning his neck out of the open window and over the wing mirror, he felt the shdow steadily translate into something more substantial. He RECOGNIZED that lorry, and was beginning to remember why. More than once he'd encountered it while driving in this coast road region, and had been struck by just how slow it had been driving.

Indeed he'd remembered thinking one of the times that it must have been heading to a garage for repairs of something of the kind. As the progress of the queue upped from a plod to a mild canter, the flow began to become steadier as drivers even more impatient than Peter were able to peel out and overtake the lorry before gliding with relief away into the distance. His indefinable policeman's instinct now beginning to hum distinctly, Peter resolved to follow the lorry, which had defied the majority traffic flow and headed left up the road running up the side of the hill in the general direction of Mangrove River. The lines of curiosity elongated further on Peter's brow as his car began to mount the incline a careful distance behind. The lorry meandered through a mile or two of unremarkable country lanes before stopping short and taking a sudden sharp turn to the left. Peter inched the car carefully along to a spot a few yards back from where the lorry had turned. making grateful use of the thick hedgerow as cover. Slipping carefully out of the car, he pushed the bush gingerly to one side and looked down to observe a small winding access road leading down towards what appeared to be a small industrial estate of some kind, where the lorry was reversing sideways towards the open doors of a medium sized warehouse, it's large metal sliding doors yawned open. As he leant forward, Peter became aware of action as the rear end of the lorry's extremely container section was hoisted open and then - - as sounds began to float up towards him he became very aware of just why the articulated vehicle's progress had been so exaggeratedly slow. His jaw dropped slowly as the scene unfolded beneath him - and the shock factor jolted several notches higher as a figure emerged from a corrugated iron office-style structure alongside. The angle of view towards this figure wasn't totally perfect , but it looked SO much like....He emitted a long, deep breath - - giving as he did a hearty internal pat on the back to that policeman's instinct - - it seemed he certainly HAD stumbled on something here.....

Tony had certainly been open and honest about it, she had to admit that much. Yes, she was an ex-girlfriend of his, yes they'd been together a while , NO she hadn't been the love of his life and NO he certainly HADN'T known she was moving to the locality - ...yes he WAS sure about that !!

They'd been walking through Yabbie Creek High Street the previous week - a bright, sunlit day, arm in arm - Tony lingering appreciatively outside the window of a TV showroom where cricket from the West Indies was being shown on a huge plasma screen costing three times the price of a plane ticket to the Caribbean, and Beth gently propelling the held arm away from its owners smiling appreciation of another Ricky Ponting boundary. Roles were reversed as she then stopped outside a newly opened hairdressers . "Nu-era" boasted a bright and bold window display, with price lists in coloured italics, and sleekly finished personal photos of all the stylists.

Beth nodded with slow but increasing approval at what she was seeing. "Hmm. maybe just a leetle on the pricey side, but it could just be about time for your trendy other half to have a new image, wouldn't you say...?" Hearing no immediate reply, she assumed it may be because of the "upper-end" price list, so turned round in anticipation of some jocular sparring over the dollard involved. Instead, she saw a Tony who'd actually registered very little of what she'd said, but who was instead gazing with open-mouthed shock at one of the stylist photographs. It showed an attractively heart-shaped face in its early thirties and topped with a short blonde bob labelled "Dana Regan - Assistant Chief Stylist. " Quickly making the connection and darting her eyes between his and the photo. she offered questioningly "Tony......?"

And so it was that around a week on, she'd booked in to "Nu-Era"- believing his version of events in the main, but as a true inquisitive Gemini, preferring to try and forge her owm take on the situation. Feeling a little underhanded, she'd booked a styling with Dana under the assumed name of Polly Armstrong, slipping in questions that her brain told her were subtly incisive but which her ears heard and categorized as weak and a little vacuous . Nonetheless she approved of the style that Dana was showing her with the discreetly angled mirror from side and rear, and was feeling almost sisterly to the stylist as she arose, brushed herself down and headed to the cash desk. That 3 minute walk to the other end of the store meant she missed Dana's smiling response to a casual query from fellow stylist Briony alongside her...

"Yes, he called me last week when he heard I was coming here... we do go back a long way....and call me a dreamer if you like... but talking to him I think there's DEFINITELY still something there....!!"

Over at the cashdesk, Beth's smile was akin to that of a newborn lamb whose life SatNav had just spelled out a one-way route to a sheepdog convention............ mb who

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Cassie was preparing herself to perform the "Summer Bay Escape" . It was a well-rehearsed manoeuvre employed efficiently right across the town and involved extricating oneself from a conversation with Colleen Smart.

It consisted of shuffling slightly sideways then a step or two backwards - - glancing at the wrist - - whether or not it contained a watch , while murmuring sentences containing combinations of words including "time, be somewhere, and stuff to do, " while watching hawkishly for any break in Colleen's flow or attention, then swivelling swiftly and exiting swiftly through the nearest door.

Cassie had indeed moved smoothly into the early stages of the routine having accepted her takeaway orange juice, but on this occasion, something within the monologue had pierced the "zoning out" shield that exponents of the Summer Bay Escape all possessed within their armoury and she paused to listen.

"Yes, I just couldn't BELIEVE it ! Imagine ME winning a prize like THAT !" Having missed some of the earlier specifics, Cassie interjected "What prize is that exactly, Colleen ?" She paused in the act of filling a cup of frothy cappuccino. lent her head forward and hissed theatrically "The New Zealand Lottery- sixty-five thousand dollars !! How about that !!"

Cassie's face was a mixture of real doubt and peripheral joy - - "OH ...um ...but Colleen...amazing ! . but..ah.. I didn't even know you DID the NZ Lotto...?!"

Colleen's brimming internal ecstasy seemed clouded by a little doubt on this particular score.."Well, ah... no...but seemingly they do some kind of a draw or something, and my name just happened to come up !" Her composure by now fully regained, she proceeded - the sibilant whisper swiftly re=ascended the scales "Sixty-five thousand dollars ! Just wait until Lancie, Debbie and little Maggie find out - won't they have something to say !!"

A small bell of "You can say that again !" was beginning to ring in Cassie's head, but she fervently hoped it was chiming a premature warning. Keeping her voice low, she asked "Um - so when do you actually get to collect this money Colleen ? " Still wreathed in smiles, the apparently soon-to- to be woman of wealth responded happily "Well that was just it - ALL they wanted to know was where I go to my bank and what number my account was - what could be easier than that ??"

That was a sentiment being echoed a relatively short distance away from where they were talking as Colleen's savings account details were being tapped into a computer database and a figure that was far from unfamiliar to the unfortunate Mrs Smart was observing with a smile, "Yep -candy from a baby indeed......!"

Ric and Rocco had arrived at Lucas's house in fairly quick succession after Jack had left. Ric had found Luke still in aggrieved mode after Matilda's hi-jacking of his "Blood Culture" duel against his brother, and though the new arrival enthusiastically grabbed the play console and was ready to launch into some action, his host was still nursing his private grief and looked content to remain slumped on the sofa in that mode for the rest of the day. With the sun continuing to stream boisterously through the window, that kind of inertia wasn't exactly how Ric had imagined the day panning out, but he had no precise alternative strategy to offer, so it was an atmosphere somewhere between indecisive and subdued that met Rocco when he arrived slightly breathlessly and with a querying look on his face.

Having regained his breath a little he was then able to wave his hands around urgently and say "Aren't you LISTENING to it ???" Lucas inclined his head slowly back, and with no great interest , inquired "Listening to what ?" Rolling his eyes sky-wards , Rocco quickly explained how BayFM the local radio station for the region were running what they described as a "Once in a lifetime" competition connected with the upcoming gig by the number one group of the moment X-Hail who were appearing at the Yabbie Creek Dome the following week, and there was a "VIP Package" on offer for one listener to meet the group, spend the day with the road crew and also take home a vast amount of merchandise that even the most skilful Ebay user would be unable to track down.

"Oh yeah right, like one of US is going to win that - those phone lines are going to be up in smoke with people calling !" muttered Ric over his shoulder as his thumb continued to plunge up and down on the X-Box remote, smiling with grim satisfaction as a miserable looking gangster sporting a hat of highly dubious fashion taste lurched to his left while his gun span away to the right.

"Whatever you reckon mate, whatever you RECKON !" grinned Rocco , " now get that radio ON !!" Luke stretched to his right without any undue haste, and clicked the switch which brought Whitney Houston in typically love-scarred mode booming into the living room. Luke and Ric performed a theatrically coreographed double yawn as Rocco smiled and picked up the cordless phone , "You don't mind do you, man ?It's just that Sally's on the phone to her foster-mum and looks like she'll be there till this time tomorrow - AND I've got no credits left on mine, so..." Whitney had reached her soul-wringing crescendo and the presenter's voice was urging that vital call . Seemingly within seconds Rocco was connected and seeing a derisive gesture from Ric as the presenter informed them "We'll take caller number 77 !"

Ignoring his sceptical audience, Rocco clutched the phone tight, closed his eyes and mouthed a small internal prayer. Whitney had now been replaced by Beyonce, who - it seemed to Rocco- had perfected the art of literally producing the eternal single that would never actually end. Seconds later though, all three guys stiffened with surprise and excitement as the presenter's voice was heard, along with two versions of Rocco's - one as he spoke into the phone, and one - plus a second's satellite delay- emerged from the radio, saying "I'm Rocco Cooper and I'm ready to X-hale with Bay FM !" The next few moments were submerged in local-radio style celebratory music, the end of which saw Rocco providing his name , address and phone number while Robbie Williams had assumed control of the airwaves. Rooted to the spot with disbelief Rocco let the phone slip from his hand onto the sofa as he managed only a weak "I won...." For the other two though, the victory had given the day the oxygen it had needed Luke darting round the sofa and Ric vaulting it, there was a noisy exchange of high fives "You DID it man - you only went and DID it, didn't you !!!"

Even as the resonance of the slapped hands was still dying away, in a radio studio just east of Stewart's Point, a grubby looking character in a low-fashion leather jacket was handing envelopes to the on-air presenter and his production assistant-cum-telephonist. "Good work guys - you have a good day now !" And as he reached the exit door he paused, half-turned, and added "Of course - I was never here - in fact , you don't know I exist - ok ?" He drifted away to the accompaniment of two willing nods.....

Peter's thoughts were churning around his mind as he drove back - who could possibly have imagined discovering THIS ?

He'd need to ask a few questions of course, but everything seemed to make sense - the lorry, the route, the secluded location of the warehouse and office complex - - - he could admit that even given all those factors , this would be something big indeed to fall within the Summer Bay police radar, and amplifying the shock factor even more would be the ability to 100 per cent identify the figure he believed he'd seen emerging from the office.....

But, as police instinct had led him there in the first place, he'd obeyed the police instinct that had then told him to leave when he did - - if he was right about this, there was no point at all in being sprung by these people, as despite the obvious risk to life and limb if he had been, it would only mean that they'd disappear into the Summer Bay sea haze and relocate to another part of Australia leaving the trail irretrievably cold.

He was re-tracing the route he'd taken only an hour or so previously and had now reached the coast road where the lorry had caused such a logjam earlier. He was intending to head straight back to the police station to start ferreting , but reminded himself that even in the workplace he'd have to keep things very tight - what with Corey, Evan Rice and most recently Ash, the station had become more like an internal espionage ring than a law-maintaining institution at times - - he shivered involuntarily as the thought of another "ringer" crossed his mind , this one a so-called 'lady' - his own colleague who'd betrayed him to Zoe McAllister and... he have another shiver and decided firmly not to 'go there' - but they were all salutory lessons about keeping his own counsel in the near immediate future.

He'd by now taken a shortcut left off the main coastroad and was heading down a small-ish tree-lined hill that would allow him to access the main arterial route to Yabbie Creek at the bottom. He waited at the give-way lines making a mental list of the tasks he'd assigned himself - 1) Reserch the permit-holder of that warehouse estate, 2 ) Check into the lorry company though it was almost certainly a false name. 3 ) He had to.....

"WHAAt the....!!!" - number 3 had been interrupted in sharply intrusive fashion by a stark crunch of one set of metal paintwork buckling another as the back of his car absorbed an impact of no little force that semi-lurched him forward in his seat. He killed the engine and swung himself round the side of the car his jaw set and stern. But - that forbidding expression quickly eased a touch, becoming more one of slight surprise as he recognized the other driver.

"Now look sir, I'm.....oh !!...well well, Constable Holden !! Well I guess I'll take the charitable view and assume you were so keen to get to work, your enthusiasm got the better of you, right ?" He examined the back panel of his own car, and turned back saying "Well, doesn't look the worst damage I've ever seen.."

But, adopting a slightly mock-stereotypical policeman's voice he said "But I shall have to insist sir that you provide me with a sample back at the station - purely routine, that won't be a problem will it ..?" Anyone who'd witnessed the moment with Jack and the vodka bottle that morning could well have been forming their own shrewd answers to that particular question....

"VJ will you turn that DOWN ??" Leah was finding the school holiday to be a distinctly mixed blessing . With her son having started regular infant classes at the start of that term, she was partly enjoying having him around the house a little more again, but that had been quickly diluted by several perilous stumbles over stray floor-level toys , discovering an unsavoury cocktail of earth, grass and infant caterpillars in her favourite cake-tin, and also by the NOISE !

She'd forgotten just quite HOW golden the silence could be while the teachers were so nobly taking charge on those mornings she wasn't at the diner and could put her feet up at home - now she was consoling herself with a mental image of locking Morag in a padded room from the outside with a never-ending loop recording of the "Bob the Builder" DVD that Mrs Bellingham had so "generously" given VJ for his recent birthday, and the soundtrack of which was now boring itself relentlessly into Leah's subconscious like the sharpest DIY drill. Receiving no response to her plea for the tinkling cacophony to be lowered, she strode from kitchen to living room, cursing internally as she barked her shin against a cumbersome toy crane that had clearly lain in wait for her just a whisker from view, and picked a careful path past her son who was gyrating in some strange form of infant lambada to the animated builder's shouted instructions.

She propped herself precariously on the edge of the sofa, her hands to her temples. This day was getting steadily out bof hand, she thought - she still had most of the 84 meringues she'd promised for the diner still to do, and - - where was Dan ?? He'd clearly been out since the crack of dawn, there'd already been at least 3 calls about him attending a school teachers' inset day, and moreover SHE could have done with his help too ! With a kind but firm warning to VJ about keeping the decibel level acceptably low, she picked her way slowly back towards the kitchen , fervently hoping the latest batch of meringues hadn't had too much time in the oven already.

As she reached the cooker, the back door bumped open, ushering in a breathless Dan. As she turned with a "Where have you BEEN....." she was halted mid-track by Dan's raised palm looking to placate her as he offered "Iknow, I knoww, it 's just been craz......", and also the phone starting to ring. In her current nerve-shredded state, its tone seemed exceptionally shrill and aggravating to her, but as if by divine intervention of some kind it halted after four or five rings. Dan tried to take the chance to continue his placatory story but had only reached a few words further when a bleary eyed Drew shuffled in. For someone who'd slept through the shattering melodies of Bob the Builder, it was mildly amazing that the phone had finally pierced his slumber, but as he stood giving his head an extravagant scratch, he turned slowly to Dan, saying "Oh, I didn't know you were actually here - some guy called Gio..? Said all seemed ok and same again on Wednesday or something..? though I guess I could have got it wrong...?" Lines of concern flowed momentarily across Dan's brow as one challenging and one sleep-creased face looked towards him for answers about that seemingly mysterious call and his precise whereabouts that morning....."Can he fix it....yes he can !!" pounded from the other room at renewed high volume.....Dan wasn't quite so sure...

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"Okay, OKAY !!" Kim groaned under his breath - wasn't it ALWAYS the way ?? he thought ruefully . You only had to THINK the word "shower" and a whole catalogue of people seemingly must receive a text from some fiendish shadowy figure telling them to report for "annoyance" duty and start hammering door-panels as soon as the first splash of water hit shampoo inside.

And of course - was there EVER anyone else in the house to answer it ? Ho no - now that would be FAR too simple, wouldn't it !! He considered ignoring it - - but sadly for Kim that option came under the heading "naive" in the handbook of life - or in the compact version under "You'll be lucky, buster !" Such knocking was about as likely to go away as the most aggravating of houseflies that gatecrashes the living room as you're about to try and watch TV and proceeds to hurl itself against the nearest window repeatedly auntil your programme is abandoned with a snarl of frustration, the nearest newspaper is rolled up and a generally unsuccessful small game hunt is launched.

In the 8 seconds or so that the undeterrable knuckles had permitted him, Kim had actually been enjoying the shower - - - he was feeling as relaxed as he had for quite some time. The dust had settled on that whole Rachel and the baby thing -he'd tried adopting a "que sera sera" attitude to life since then - n- - and BOY had it seemed to work - he'd even allowed himself to smile at thinking what other 19 year old could have , however briefly. acted as parent to - and then lost touch with - - over 25 per cent of the manpower needed to form a cricket team ! He gave a slight involuntary shiver. No, ...um... INTERESTING as the "daddy" thing had been in its various stages , he'd decided to postpone the next chapter for quite some while, ....although.....he smiled as he quickly dried himself off and reached out for a dressing gown that could have been anybody's.....the knocking was getting a little more intense, - - if this was Colleen collecting for her "Baby Bootee Bonanza again,....he'd have something to say....he sprang the last couple of steps and dragged the door open..."Now loo...." He stopped short as a sensation akin to quick-drying cement seemed to encase his feet. The impatient percussionist hadn't after all been Colleen.

"Hello Kim - I, that is..we...REALLY need your help...."..as Kim gaped open-mouthed at Hayley, she bent to gather up a toddling Noah.....

As Dana Regan completed the conversation with her fellow "Nu-era" stylist that Beth would have given much to hear and weighed up the colour chart options for her next client , the unaware Mrs Hunter had exited via the front door and strolled off in quite rosy spirits. She'd enjoyed having her hair pampered, felt quite chic as a result of it, and primarily felt that her peace of mind and security had both received a welcome and neccessary top-up injection.

Tony's old girlfriend had seemed very pleasant, genuine and driven by her career. She hadnt remotely given an image of the "bored other woman on the prowl.." Now what she'd have DONE about it if Dana HAD been like that, she'd admit she wasn't sure, but hey ..

Thinking about it, she did regret the fib about her identity, but as they wouldn't be running into her again, no damage done there then, eh ? She paused with a giggle...Polly Armstrong, eh ! Imagine Matty finding out that what she'd actually done was to fuse a surname and Christian name she'd remembered from Australian Idol 2003 - one boy and one girl ! The thought of that successful little deception heightened her feelgood factor still further. Passing a shop window and catching sight of her reflection , she joked quietly to herself "hey - who IS that hottie, and what have you done with Beth Hunter ??" Running off that thought came another one - she was sure it was the sort of place Sally would like to go and get her hair done - Rachel too, maybe Martha - - she should go back and get some of those glossy brouchure/price list magazines they'd had on the reception counter - it wouldn't take her a minute and she was sure the shop would be glad to have to have someone spreading the word, too ! She skipped quickly back down the block, but having pushed the door open, noticed the reception shelf was now empty, the pamphlets obviously having been picked up by other clients arriving and leaving. The pleasant looking girl behind the counter finished a phonecall and Beth leant across, asking if there were any more of the sheets to be had. The girl's hand flew to her mouth in surprise, noting "Wow, we HAVE been busy today, haven't we !" She leant back slightly in her chair and, calling across to the slightly ajar door marked "Manager", asked "Mrs S, do you have any more of the price list brochures handy that I could give to this lady ?" Whatever the answer had been, Beth could not faithfully have confirmed, as her brain had become numb and the room started to spin at the moment that door had opened and emerging had been....Shelley Sutherland....as she gave a slight involuntary external gasp, Beth's internal voice was asking searchingly - Just WHAT was going on with this hairdressers' shop....??

Cassie had called in at Matilda's to confide her concerns about the Colleen supposed "lotto win" situation and maybe get some advice about what her next step should be . A combination of uncertainty and sympathy had stopped her diving in to prick the Mrs Smart bubble there and then, but Matty could certainly provide another set of eyes and ears on the situation - or at least that had been the plan.! She'd bypassed the three guys in the living room - they'd been high-fiving and sharing what had seemed a typically guy-style conversation about some gig or other, so she'd tossed a cursory "hello" at them and headed for her friend's bedroom. She began to try and explain the reason for her visit, but as she stretched out comfortably on the side of the bed, immediately noted Matilda's distracted and slightly faraway air as she leant back in the chair by the desk near the window.

Shaking her head in mock exasperation, Cassie sat up and, wagging a finger across the room, said firmly "There's one of two things going on here girl - and my guess is - you're becoming an exam bore !!" Matty had been selected as one of just a handful of pupils from Summer Bay High to sit an entrance exam for the prestigious new University that had recently opened on the outskirts of the city, and her pursuit of one of the highly-coveted places there had without doubt curtailed of late the time she had available for leisure and social activities.

But, doodling steadily on the exercise book opened in front of her she refuted her friend's suggestion - "Oh yes, like as if an evening going over and over and OVER the yearly economic output of Brazil or trying desperately to remember the French for 'tablecloth' or something is going to be better than a good old girlie night dressed up to go to Noah's or somewhere - whatever you RECKON !!!".

"Hmm"- Cassie pursed her lips - "In THAT case, there's only ONE other explanation !"

"Oh yes, and what's that then ?"

"It's just GOT to be a new guy you've got your eye on - come on, spill all - now !!"

Matty opened her mouth for a denial - hesitated for a split second - then slammed the exercise book shut, rose decisively from the chair, and moving briskly across the room said "Right girlie, I hope you've brought your purse, as we're going to Yabbie Creek now, and I'm going to girlie-shop you under the TABLE, ok !!?" She pinched an in of the t-shirt on Cassie's shoulder as if attempting to pull heer up, and though Cassie smiled as she rose, she was still less than 100 per cent convinced by Matilda's protestations on the subject.

She'd have been even less convinced had she been able to open the exercise book on the desk by the window at the page where a well-chewed biro was lodging it slightly open - - and see a doodles heart with the name "Brad.." written inside it.....

"I don't need YOU to tell me that, do I ??" . Jack spat the statement into his mobile phone with as much expression as the situation would allow him - and that wasn't much ! He'd followed behind Peter as a very subdued participant in a police procession of two until they'd reached the main station they knew so well and where they spent so much of their working days. Force protocol insisted that any officer involved in a car accident of any kind should provide an immediate sample test - largely so no accusations of "cover-ups" could be levelled in their direction. Before they set off, Peter had continued to make placatory murmurings about it being "routine" and "straightforward" - Jack meanwhile believed strongly that his superior's assessement of the situation was at risk of being extravagantly optimistic.

After he'd given the sample, Peter had disappeared into one of the back offices with the testing kit and one of the constables who'd been on office duty as the obligatory "third person witness" to check all aspects of the procedure had gone correctly. That left Jack sitting jammed into the corner of the small sofa that ran alongside the inside of the frosted glass window leading up to the main door. It was a location where many worried Bay family members had sat and huddled waiting for news of loved ones on the wrong side of the law - and Jack felt particularly uncomfortable, unfamiliar and incongruous in having to wait there now.

"I KNOW what you've told me !" he hissed into the phone, wondering bitterly if that reception area was ALWAYS as quiet as a church confessional, and feeling as if his voice was reverberating around it like the match announcer's at the Sydney Cricket Ground. "It's MY life - - - ok, ok yes of COURSE you're part of my life and I'm very grateful for all you've done for me, but..." Situation was a little thick with both tension AND emotion for he and the female voice at the other end to communicate "as one", but he still tried some retrieval work, adding "look, you're the ONLY one that's been there for me and I can rely on - and I just wish you were here so I could give you a hug, honestl.....ah, gotta go !"

He stabbed his finger at the "hang up" button, and rose, attempting with a largely very unconvincing air to look relaxed. Peter had re-entered the room, holding a sheaf of paper. There was an unsettlingly neutral look about his face decided Jack, whose brain had been quickly processing hundreds of possibilities and their implications.

"Constable Holden, I have the result of your sample test.." said Peter - his steady, implacable delivery giving not a shred of a clue about the outcome - Jack felt as if his stomach had quit normal duties to take a course in trapeze acrobatics..........

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  • 3 weeks later...

**PART 4**

Dan had attempted to play for time, but attempting to become inconspicuous in a relatively small suburban kitchen was proving a task somewhat beyond his relatively limited prowess as an illusionist. As indeed was avoiding two pairs of keen eyes tracking his every move with all the diligence of hovering kestrels waiting for a family of fieldmice to depart their home en mass and move across country.

His first gambit had been to mutter a selection of dismissive cliches such as "Had to pop out, no biggie...just chill, can't you....". while levering himself into a chair and flicking through the local morning paper as if it were the most gripping document he'd ever encountered. His eyes had in fact rested on a highly turgid article outlining the council's apparent concern that increased tourist traffic to the Bay that year would mean a major programme of roadworks upgrading the main coast route into town once the summer had finished.

It therefore came with something approaching relief when the voice of one of his inquisitors re-sounded to drag him away from that rather less than fascinating article.

"So are you going to tell me where you've been this morning or what ?" came the voice of his wife once again. Her probing train of thought had been interrupted by the oven's warning timer alerting her that another set of meringues had reached near-readiness for transport to the display shelves of the diner some ten minutes away.

But now she stood, arms folded across her chest, in characteristic battle pose , mouth set in an uncompromising tight, thin line. Dan looked up from the joys of imminent road-mending and countered, "Oh, so a bloke can't go out for a bit of a morning jog without getting cross-questioned now, can he ?" Leah sensed a gap in his explanation armour and went straight for a decisive cut . The folded arms barely shifting she lent forward sceptically noting " hm, a jog you say ? Not exactly dressed for it - and,..." leaning forward to drawm a disapproving fingertip across his brow, "a jog that didn't break a sweat ? What was it - here to the front gate ?"

While Leah was steadily stoking the fires of inner rage and indignation, Drew was taking the whole mystery far less seriously - from his sitting position on the top of the long deep freeze alongside the fridge, he observed with a knowing smile and hint of a wink "You need to watch him Leah, I reckon he's got a woman tucked away somewhere !!"

Dan's face darkened, snapping "Don't even joke anout something like that mate !!"

"Mmm, now who said I was joking !!?" shot back Drew as he eased himself from freezer to floor. Quickly raising his palm at the glowering Dan, he said "No, no use begging me to stay - it's been great and all, but I just HAVE to go...!" After his departure, a taut silence again threatened to engulf the small kitchen, but Dan's dual helping hand from fate smoothly completed its circle as Leah glanced at her watch, then shot one hand to her mouth with an involuntary gasp and blurted involuntarily "Oh NO ! I should have got these dow n to Irene HOURS ago !! but, ...." - jabbing the point of one very war-like finger into Dan's shoulder "We WILL continue this conversation later - got it !!?" Dan's appetite for that promised scenario appeared less than ravenous, and after he'd some minutes later bade farewell to her as she made an unsteady path tp the car, boxes held in a tall, wobbling column - he headed straight for his mobile phone. Jabbing a number in, he pressed "send" and spoke in clipped, curt tones - "Gio - what the HELL were you doing calling the house - what have I SAID about that -look I don't give a DAMN about that - NO more call here, OK ? But about Wednesday - YES, more of the same -and we need to get this sorted - time's getting too damn short for my liking, ok !!??" He snapped the phone shut and stared into space for long minutes after the call ended - his breathing a little heavier than before....

"So when is it again ?"

"You what...?"

Rocco and Rick were encountering the age-old and almost unwinnable dilemma of how to conduct a conversation in a music store while standing any more than six inches or so apart.

"No I don't feel like dancin'......" cascaded into, through and around the airspace of the decent-sized but compactly-arranged music store.

"I SAID...." bawled Rick

"No sir, no dancin' todayyy....."

It was an unequal battle, and one the Scissor Sisters , aided by half-a-dozen powerfully charged speakers were undoubtedly winning. Rocco though was then to fall victim to a trap into which many have tumbled. Hand cupped behind his ear , he was howling back to R ick..


..when the music decided to end mid-way through his sentence, drawing the inevitable sniggers and sideways glances from those around him - - to whom the very same had probably happened only the previous day. Red-faced, Rocco dispensed a few embarrased apologetic gestures to those around him before being joined from the other side of the display case by Rick.

He and Rocco had decided to leave the still-grumbling Lucas to his own spiky company and head for the shops . Winning the X-hale ticket competition had spurred Rocco to seek out their latest CD and hopefully familiarize himself with it before the gig came round. There was also the issue of who to take with him - neither Rick or Lucas were great fans of the group and he wasn't currently seeing anyone, so that was a decision that needed taking before too long, anyway.

Ric, relieved to no longer feel like he was in a contest to be the next Summer Bay town crier had by now forgotten what he'd been attempting to ask Rocco earlier, so contented himself by asking "So, you buying anything, then ?"

Rocco hesitated a little, but he did have a little extra cash in his pocket thanks to some part-time work he'd been doing at the boatyard, so , taking the plunge , he reached out, pulled down the new X-hale CD and said "yep, why not, eh ?" Not possessing an IPod and having only limited access to the Caravan Park computer , he was looking forward to pumping the music through his CD headphones upstairs and get familiar prior to the gig. Turning to head for the cashdesk he felt his arm bumped and began a simultaneous " Oops, sorry..." as he turned to face an attractive, blonde-haired girl with whose face he was very familiar. Leanne Carter was in the year above him at school and was the subject of much unrequited admiration from guys at the school.

He coloured a little again, mumbling " No, no - my fault.. um..."

Having turned fully round, she gave a shattering smile and said with a slight gasp of apparent surprise, "It's...ROCCO isn't it...oh my Lord, I heard you on the radio before, that's SO cool !! - there must have been THOUSANDS calling in for that - I'd just DIE to see X-Hail - I've liked them like for EVER !! Your girlfriend must be like -- WOW about it !! - how lucky is SHE !!.."

Rocco shifted from one foot to another, gave an embarrassed smile, admitting with yet another slight blush...."Um, well, I don't actually HAVE a girlfriend at the moment, ...um...ah..."

He felt the edge of Rick's elbow giving a slight prod to his ribs and took the plunge..

"Um - I don't suppose YOU'D like to come too ??...." Her reaction left little scope for doubt as to the answer to that question. Eyes instantly flashing wide open to reveal in close detail their clear cobalt blue colour she gave a shrill squeal and exclaimined "Ooooh Rocco would I EVER !!! That would be just truly and amazingly AWESOME !!!" Rocco's blushing mechanism was certainly being called into some serious overtime that day as Leanne instinctively lent over and kissed him on the cheek - but as it once again flared into life, it was joined by a small shy smile as he murmured "Oh cool - I , uh..guess we'll sort it at all out at school...?"

She nodded enthusiastically as Rocco indicated he'd better go and pay for the CD, Rick following him to the cashdesk.

"Man how about THAT for a re-ZULT !!" he enthused as Rocco handed over his cash. "Guys are queuing all the way to Mangrove River just to sit next to her in CLASS !!"

"Well you know, if you've got it.....!!" joked Rocco -but even as they talked, a little further along the precinct Leanne was being handed an envelope containing a wad of dollar notes - - - - - by the same man who'd been at the radio station when Rocco won the competition earlier that morning.....

"You can NOT keep being that lucky !!" The chiding female voice bounced out of the kitchen but fell largely on a patch of stony ground as Jack frowned, shifted his feet to a more comfortable position on the coffee table and growled "You call that lucky ?? Banging into my superior's car, dragged back to the station like some cub trainee, waiting half the afternoon before I could even GIVE a damn sample - - - then waiting like some kid two years younger than Lucas before his Lordship comes out - FINALLY ! - to tell me that I'm not going to be in life-long after-school detention !!?"

There was a slight pause as the sound of food being spooned onto a plate floated from the kitchen, then the voice resumed "Um - Firstly, I CAN'T imagine Peter behaving like some kind of modern-day Donald Fisher like you're describing, and secondly -just a gentle little reminder here Jack...."

"What's that, then?"

"You HAD actually been drinking and driving, and you DID bump into your Superior's car...!?"

"Oh trust you to look at the technicalities, of course...!!" came the grudging and only partly humorous reply , "YOU know what I've been up against, and you know JUST how hard I've beenm trying to kick it into touch..!!"

The disembodied meal-making voice sounded sceptical.

"Well Jack, to the neutral observer, there's really NOT a great deal of evidence to support that - I've been telling you again and again and again to knock it sideways, but I'm guessing I wouldn't be far wide of the mark to say there's hardly been a DAY in the last month where you haven't had at least one drink ??"

This time-tellingly- the reply was slow coming.

"Yes, ok, you're probably right - but you know the background - and I know how lucky I am that I've got you to help me through it !!"

"Aw, well that's my pleasure - we'll talk about it later - but I hope you're hungry anyway..! BUT - I just HAVE to know - as you HAD been, how the HELL did you pass the sample test ???"

Any neutral observer would also have been eager indeed to hear the answer to that -but many would have been considerably more interested to observe that the two lunch-plates were being held by Amanda Vale..........

"Alfred....?" Morag edged round the door, tutting as she partially stumbled on a bulging kit-bag that had been partially obstructing her initial push. She reached down, picked it up and deposited it on the adjacent table. "ALFRED ..!!" she called again, her tone becoming just a little aggravated. This wasn't how she'd pictured her return at all. Her stay in the city had been interesting - VERY interesting in fact, and she was keen to bring her cousin up to date with who she'd happened to bump into there - quite by chance - and exactly what they'd had to say to her.

And here she was - greeted by nothing but an awkward obstruction and no immediate sign of anyone at all to share her news with. . That element admittedly changed within a minute or so, but as it did, her features grew increasingly baffled as the bedroom door ope ned, and in walked Alf - carrying a suitcase in either hand.

He didn't appear BEST pleased to see her, managing only to mumble, "Oh - Morag - didn't expect to see you here...", before lifting the kit bag back down from where Morag had placed it to where it had originally been sitting.

Frowning slightly to see her handiwork so reversed, she replied "Oh that's charming - uh, can I ask you what you're actually DOING ??" His reply was blunt and to the point- "Leaving !"

Her features showed little sign of being able to part their clouds of steadily growing confusion "LEAVING ? ..uh, what do you mean - leaving ??" He darted her a look, replying "Um, I would have thought that was a simple enough concept even for a circuit judge to understand..?"

"Oh I UNDERSTAND it all right", she rallied - I just wondered what you MEANT by it - you're going to stay with Roo for a holiday...?"

"No Morag, I'm not going to Roo's - I'm just GOINGM and I'm NOT coming back - AND before you ask, I have not told ANYONE, and that's the way I want it to STAY ! And before you giv e me the speech about how the town will fall apart without me you can save it - I HAVE to go, to go QUICKLY and they'll just have to flamin' well COPE, ok ?!"

Her brow furrowed increasingly deeper as he spoke, "But WHY do you HAVE to go, as you put it ??" He stopped at the door, and spoke - low, clipped and determined - "That's nobody's damn business but mine - now I'm going to put these in the car - and if you're still here when I come back up - - well, that's ENTIRELY up to you !!" As the door slammed shut alongside her, her face had completed a swift voyage from mild irritation to thoroughly dazed......

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  • 2 weeks later...

**PART 5**

Cassie and Matilda had drifted through the usual schedule of a "girlie" shopping trip to Yabbie Creek - clothes shops, beauty counters, coffee bar - but Cassie felt very keenly that it had a false, even surreal air about it. Yes, jokes had been shared, lipsticks sampled, tops tried on and more besides, but the prevailing atmosphere was a distant one. Cassie's thoughts hadn't moved far anyway from the highly revealing heart doodle in her friend's notebook, but how , when - and if - to broach the subject remained the thorniest of issues.

They were finishing up their visit to the "Topaz" coffee house - one late, one cappuccino and a shared Danish pastry - but the conversation had been a little laboured, their traditional "all-girl gossip" session, normally such a crackling ingredient on any such occasion had registered a decidedly low score on the "zing" scale. On the Colleen lotto dilemma, Matty'd reached little further than the shoulder-shrugging "Do what you think best" approach - exploration of Lucas's currently disgruntled frame of mind had piereced little further - but - Cassie was convinced she'd hit a more profitable seam when raising Matty's recent revision schedule. It seemed unarguable that her eyes had become brighter, and her interest level significantly increased - something of an oddly-reversed focus for an HSC sudenht during holiday time and having "hit the mall" with her closest friend !

"Gee Cass, " she was saying, having pulled her chair back in and leaned further across the table again . "It's just amazing how cool history can be when you look at it that bit closer, - I mean all those dates and wars and anniversaries and stuff, that's just like on the surface, but some of the characters, and the conspiracies, they're like wow !, and Brad says....."

Cassie noticed too how Brad's name became an increasingly prominent ingredient in the conversation from that point on. As if to prove the point, she zoned her ears back in to hear, "Of course Brad says I'll have to be crash-hot on all this to get into that new Uni - Brad says it's only the top couple of per cent who get to try out and only a tiny per cent of THEM get in !"

The mental image of that heart in Matty's notebook had now acquired a neon strobe-light accompaniment in Cassie's minds eye, and an inner voice was telling her that for better or worse, airing her own thoughts on the subject was becoming a not-to-be-delayed near-necessity. Re-joining Matilda's enthusiastic monologue once again, she this-time heard "Of course Brad says it takes a special type of person to get there...."

"Surprised he has time to do any teaching, the amount he says,..." muttered Cassie under her breath- that drew a sharp look from Matilda, but just as she was about to continue expanding on the "The thoughts of Chairman Brad on every aspect of life you could ever imagine.." her eyes were swept to the open shop door by where they were sitting.. Bending to rearrange some carrier bags in front of him at floor level in front of him was the very man clearly occupying so much of Matilda's mind, their headmaster.

"Oh..um..ah... there's just something I really NEED to ask Brad about, the.." - and the hurried explanation grew no more solid as Matty twisted up from her seat and skipped out of the shop into the precinct outside towards her target. Wrong-footed by the speedy switch in events, Cassie made for the cash desk giving small apologetic little shrugs as she did..Looking nervously outside as she fumbled for change, she knew instinct had moved through hunch to become fact and concern in very short order. And that concern was telling her she definitely needed to monitor the conversation that Matilda was preparing to broker with an unsuspecting Brad....

"That is AWESOME ! ...." - Rocco was bent down in front of the CD player in the caravan park, flicking individually through the tracks on the X-Hail CD and murmuring remarks of almost universal approval after each one - those hard-accumulated dollars had certainly been well spent ! As he scrolled down to the next track, he reflected what a TRULY huge day this had been. This morning, merely entering the competition had seemed like such a long-shot, now he was not only GOING to the gig, but taking Leanne Barnes - and all with VIP passes, thank you very much ! He straightened up from the floor, grabbing the CD remote as he did, and settled into the closest chair with a contented sigh. As he did, Rick, who'd been sitting in the outer verandah talking on his mobile, re-entered the room, a little thoughtfully, as if something was preying on his mind. Rocco, in his current benign state of personal well-being, didn't immediately guage the change of mood from that which had more or less enwrapped the whole day since his competition victory.

"Hey mate, what about THAT for a day, eh ! Little old ME guest of honour at X-hail - AND scoring a date with a MAJOR babe too !! Anyway, who've you been on the phone to ?If you've been trying to score a ticket you got BUCKLEYS man, even gold-dust wouldn't get you an OJ from a food stall there !!"

With no reply forthcoming, Rocco swivelled round to look Rick in the eye. Slowly , finally the response came - "Mate, that was Benny - you know, from Leanne's class at school ?"

Rocco nodded "Yep, I know, top guy in the footy team and all that...?" Rick nodded before continuing - "Well mate - and it's not me saying this , remember- he reckons that Leanne is bad news - and of the SERIOUS variety. Like, there's NOTHING much on the dodgy list that she HASN'T been in to at one time or another, and like if even her SISTER had something she wanted, we'll he wouldn't even advise the sister to walk drop side of a cliff path with her, you know what I'm saying ? And like I say, remember it's not ME saying this, you know where I'm coming from ?"

Rocco had listened without speaking- Rick trying again, "Rocc ? - sorry man, but, you know....?"

Standing up slowly, Rocco stepped closer to Rick until their faces were no more than 6 inches apart. His face lined firm with simmering anger and disappointment that a previously glittering day had been thus thrown off course, Rocco replied in a voice that was low, but laded heavily with bitterness and frustration.

Nodding meaningfully he said, as if chewing the words one by one off a kebab-stick "Oh yes, MATE, I know EXACTLY where you're coming from - you're JEALOUS, that's what you are, jealous of me getting the prize AND the girl..."

Rick tried responding, but there was no halting the Rocco flow, "..and jealous because Matty's attention is somewhere, ANYWHERE but precious Rick at the moment.." He shaped to leave the room, pausing only for one final low hiss, "Thanks a BUNCH, SOME friend you turned out to be !!"

Rick rolled eyes to the ceiling that were at once exasperated,

disappointed, - and concerned...

Morag had eaten - but not particularly enjoyed - a troubled meal at the diner amid the post-lunch dip in trade. What COULD Alfred have meant by he "HAD to go...." ?- and what was it all ABOUT ?She'd turned over numerous options in her mind but dismissed them all as insubstantial, unrealistic, or usually both. She'd chosen not to alert anyone else quite yet, hoping that events would conspire to supply more of a reasonable explanation before she worried either Rick, Martha, or even Sally for that matter -but so far events had proved stubbornly fruitless in fulfilling that hope.

She had of course rung his mobile phone anything up to a dozen times with no luck, and was, in spite of herself, beginning to get more than a little irritated by now with the cheery "G'day, this is Alf Stewart..." that ushered in the inevitable detour to his voicemail, where after leaving three or four messages, she was now contenting herself with an aggravated jab of her forefinger at the small red telephone receiver image on the "end call now" button almost as soon as she'd heard it.

It all seemed so unreal, she thought, as she crossed to the counter to pay, characteristically even in such moments having the correct cash assembled to pass to the relief waitress Kelli with only the thinnest of smiles going along with it. After all, it was meant to have been SHE passing her cousin a piece of what she considered intriguing news indeed about her visit to the city, but instead it was now her who'd been rocked back by this bombshell and the implications of it left confronting her. Clicking the car radio on as she eased out of the space outside, she decided a drive around would be a good idea before considering her next move - in the slim if unlikely chance that it may jog the mind sufficiently to unearth a sorely-needed clue = plus, if she was honest, to delay the moment further before it fell to her to update the other family members - - not a task whose prospect she was in any way relishing.

Her eyes scanning the erratic row of small boat sheds and moorings to her right, she eased the car up the slight incline that lay through the heart of the town, again churning the day's events in one direction then another through her mind, emitting as she did a deep sigh blending frustration, growing fatigue, and a genuine cocktail of worry and affection for Alfred - the wilful disagreements they'd encountered in the past all seemed set in very sharp and poignant context at a time like this.

An attention-catching tone from the radio bisected the intense level of thought being enacted in her head as the station ushered in an unscheduled travel update - Morag's fingers paused in the act of lowering the volume level, hearing "Police are advising drivers to stay clear of Roper's Ridge this afternoon follow ing a fatal accident within the last half-hour. Emergency rescue are headed there now following the earlier crash between a motorbike and a pale green coloured Ford ranger 4 by 4..no further details....." As the announcer's voice drifted to other matters, Morag's thumb and forefinger remained immobilized , seemingly welded to the volume control, where she began to feel the blood seemingly drain slowly from them...Alfred drove a Ford Ranger....it was pale green in colour......

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