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What Goes Round....

Guest WYN100

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  • 2 weeks later...


The Village of Andrews Cove was far distant indeed from the legal and judicial cut and thrust of the city that Morag was so used to. Situated at the head of Roper's Row - the road the traffic report had mentioned as the site of the fatal accident, it was the kind of community where one could genuinely believe the word "hurry" had been extracted from all local dictionaries.

She'd three times driven past and then back past the building that served as the local police station, no doubt subconsciously unable to accept that any arena of the law could resemble the kind of place where vegetables may some days be sold loose from a doorstep basket. Ultimately though she realized the sun-bleached sign appearing at first glance to read " ICE" was where she needed.

Already frustrated by the delay and pumped by inner concern about Alf, she quickly discovered her ordeal wasn't yet over. Her next obstacle took the form of Constable Alan Kenyon, a man of roughly middle age but seeming a lot older. Constable Kenyon gave the impression that he'd be surprised to hear that John Howard had become Prime Minister or that Kylie Minogue wasn't still with Jason Donovan in "Neighbours".

In any event, having been summoned from the back yard of the whitewashed end terrace house where he'd been attempting to mend his motorbike, it took Morag well over 20 minutes to focus his thoughts and attention on a crash that had occurred little less than a mile away but about which he seemed to posess only the sketchiest knowledge.

"Mmm yes, " he mumbled. shuffling through a pile of documents that could have had no bearing at all on the issue at hand, "..it's the city boys that get called to bumps where someone...well.,...." he elevated his eyes respectfully to the ceiling, causing Morag to emit an exasperated snort.- "Oh for Heavens' sake man, you must at least be able to tell me where a body would be taken in such instances, even if you don't have an actual mortuary or undertaker in this pre-historic backwater !!"

Even as she said it Morag didn't hold out any great hopes of an affirmative answer, but after some chin-scratching and deep sighing from the distinguished Constable, Morag's belief in miracles was surprisingly and unexpectedly refreshed - Constable Kenyon DID know !! It was in fact the local cottage hospital- a 10 minute car-ride to the furthest western edge of the village - a small, quaint-looking largely wooden structure, finished in similar whitewash to the unconventional police station they'd just departed. Morag had felt both her heart and pulse rate quicken as they'd parked and ascended the handful of steps outside.

Suddenly, Kenyon's ponderous manner had ceased to be quite such an issue as. in a matter-of-fact way what would happen when they entered the ante-room just off the operating theatre, Holding up her hand to cut him short, Morag observed "Thank you constable, I've enough working knowledge of such situations to know what happens next - now, shall we...?"

Taking a deep breath as they entered the room where she'd be asked to identify the body, she nodded slowly to Kenyon, who did likewise to the doctor wearing a green robe and standing next to the resting table. She slowly opened her eyes as he twitched back the top of the sheet covering the lifeless form...- as she looked down. she found an involuntary tension-wracked gasp escaping a throat that had somehow assumed the consistency of bleached sandpaper...

Matilda's rather theatrical and equally transparent hailing and greeting of Brad in the shopping mall had hastened through into an end-game about which Cassie was growingly concerned - but not a bit surprised.

Having feigned wide-eyed and coy surprise at seeing him there, she'd swiftly and skilfully but somehow unobtrusively worked her conversation with him around to the benefits of having another 1 to 1 session that afternoon at the caravan park house. She'd bade farewell to Cassie with all the sincerity and fulness of someone she'd perhaps happened to meet by chance in a burger queue ten minutes previously and headed off home to prepare, her face gleaming with an anticipation that even the very least cynical of those who knew her would have struggled to believe was generated by an imminent session of studying World History while the sun was beating down outside.

And so it was that Cassie found herself relatively suddenly back at home, flicking blankly and with zero interest through the pages of a fashion magazine and fretting over this rapid acceleration of something in her friend's life she'd only that day truly picked up on. One thing she did know - it crackled with potential trouble and flashpoints whichever way it was viewed.

As her mental merry-go-round began to rotate at increasing velocity and saw further and darker passengers leap on board with every frenzied spin, it suddenly thudded to a halt with decisive impact. Rising from her seat , she slapped the magazine down on the table and made for the door..

A short walk away at the Caravan Park, the hastily-arranged tutorial was moving towards a stirring conclusion. The key staging posts of World History had flowed around Matty's ears in random fashion - few indeed of them having stopped to knock and enter. Brad had now reached what he considered almost as important a strand as the material itself - the motivational one. It was an area he considered pivotal in clinching the hoped-for entry to the new university and had risen from the book and document-laden table to pace around, punching the palm of his hand to emphasize the salient points.

"Isn't his voice GORGEOUS,,? " Matilda was thinking.."And ..doesn't he know SO much....mmm...and he MUST reckon me, with all the time he's given me, and......"


Brad's striding was apparently complete, and he'd paused at the side of her chair, leaning his face down to be level with hers ..receiving no response to his rousing and final declaration that she was as capable as any HSC Student in Australia, he tried again "..Matilda ..??...don't you think....?"

She stared dreamily into his eyes for a few seconds before...from somewhere inside ... came the impetus to kiss him.....which she did..

Slowly...her own perception of reality appearing to recede, dim, and stand still around her. she leant further forward into the kiss, - - - time not only standing still, but seeming to relocate her somewhere almost too far distant to hear the opening door and call of "Brad, look there's something I've GOT t....."

The new arrival was NOT in fact Cassie -- but someone CONSIDERABLY less appropriate to be arriving at that precise moment.....

Beth burst in through the kitchen door - the springs of that unfortunate object giving a plaintive creak of discontent as it came shuddering back off the wall. Dropping her thin over-jacket and handbag as if they were black sacks at a recycling plant, she bypassed any pretence at ceremony to launch into her protest. Her mouth snapping open from a thin, tight line, she let rip with complaint - - - "Ooooh...!!!....that WOMAN !!!....just WHERE exactly does she get OFF ??...."

At first sound of the Discontent Squadron's onset, Tony had allowed his eyes a well-concealed roll in the direction of the ceiling before alighting from the sofa where he'd been stretched out, armed not only with the sports paper but with the prospect of a few quiet hours to himself and - he'd believed - a happy Beth on her return after easing her mind on that whole business of his ex-girlfriend and getting a "killer" hairdo into the bargain.

He was of course wrong on both fronts. He rose, looking to placate her "Whoooa, hang on just a minute, WHO are we talking about here, Dana ? - You two didn't get into it, did you...?" She snatched her hand away impatiently from his, barking as she did, "No, NOT Dana or whatever her name is..."

"Then who.....?"

"Well that's just IT.." she responded in semi-condescending manner..."IF you please, ONLY Mrs Shelley airs and graces Sutherland !!!"

With the limited tools available to him, Tony was struggling to piece together the story..

"Don't tell me SHE came into the salon too...??"

The undeserved impatience again reached out and swatted him round t he ear,..

"NO !! - this isn't the HARDEST story in the world to understand, is it...!!?? She wasn't IN the salon, she's OWNER of the salon, or seemingly as good as, anyway !! Exactly what she's UP to, that's what I'D like to know - anyway, she asked me into her office for some TEA if you can believe the cheek of that ???.."

- - Oh yes, virtually a capital offence, of course ! - - - - wandered through Tony's mind but very wisely chose to remain unspoken.

He zoned back in to see a meaningful if mirthless smile clamp itself on Beth's face as she said with some emphasis "Well I certainly showed HER where the land lies and who owns it, THAT'S for sure !!"

Concern again awoke in Tony's mind at that comment, so he interjected "Ok ok, so humour me this one more time, - you and HER didn't get into it, did you...??"

On this occasion he fancied he noted a hint of hesitation in her denial, as she shook her head in a world-weary fashion - "Oh please - what do YOU reckon ?- but SHE got the message I can assure you - what I want to know though, is...WHAT is she doing back in town ??" She accentuated the question by banging her clenched fist angrily on the kitchen worktop, her brow clenching into tight frown-lines as she did so.

Tony looked perturbed - this wasn't like Beth - not like her at ALL - he was keen to unearth a little more of the day's events if he possibly could.

"So...let me get this straight ...Dana does your hair...you like her even though she doesn't know it's you.. you leave - briefly - come back to get a leaflet - you see Shelley Sutherland...- she invites you to have tea - and....???"

She turned -eyes aflame- saying in low, clipped tones, "RHYS went BACK to that woman - she was seeing him for WEEKS...and I was NOT...AM not getting sucked into some sickly little false friend situation by HER....WHATEVER her game is...and I LET HER KNOW....satisfied ?" Tony sighed, running his fingers through his hair. He certainly WASN'T entirely satisfied - "So...what exactly...."

He broke off, turning as he heard a knock on the door. Sergeant McGrath had taken a step or two inside...

"Hi Sergeant!" Tony greeted him - "Now don't tell me you're here about that charity marathon you police boys are running for the surf club...?" McGrath shook his head , "No, ..uh, it's work I'm here for - I'm going to have to ask Beth to come to the station with me..."

"What...???? "

"There's been an allegation of assault against her...."

Tony's eyebrows hurtled higher up his forehead as he felt the day hurtling even further out of control...

Peter eased the car up the small hill leading off the coast-road for the second time that day. After dealing with that rather odd Jack Holden thing earlier on, he'd shut himself away for some serious research into his suspicions over what and who he was pretty sure he'd seen at that small industrial unit up there earlier in the day. Internet, police files and some lateral thinking had all been called to duty, and his ideas were now far more concrete as he headed back up. He knew what kind of Pandora's Box he'd be opening if he was right - but if he WAS right, it certainly needed following through on - and the sooner the better.

He didn't plan on doing anything reckless or immoderate , but he had definite hopes and plans for solidifying timings, locations, routines, schedules and other such nuts and bolts, and he felt instinctively that now was the time to do it.

He wasn't far from the top of the hill where the wider road merged into the more constricted narrow lanes when his mobile phone began to intone its "Mission Impossible" ringtone (just his ironic take on the joys of police work..!). Checking his mirror and sighing a little as he observed the rules of the road in pulling over to take the call, he noted it was from 'Jez', the scientific and pathology expert back at the police station.

"Hi guy,!" Peter said, interested to hear why he'd called, "What gives ..?"

Peter's look became more bewildered "Hold on though, e got that one sorted didn't we...you know..the bump, then he..."

He listened further, but the confusion was decidedly slow to abate, "Jack Holden, right...? And you're saying HE'S been using...but Jez, Jez we've only run into that a couple of times haven't we ?? Yep, that's what I reckoned, and you say JACK HOLDEN....geez...ok. thanks for letting me know Jez appreciate that ....yep, I'll catch up really soon, ok..." Peter clicked the "call end" button and sat, slowly shaking his head in disbelief....now this really WAS something worth turning back for.............

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  • 2 weeks later...

**PART 7**

Rocco pounded down the lane towards the beach, his face flushed red and breathing heavily through his nose. His mind revolved in swift, angry, indignant circles.

'Where the HELL did Rick get off, talking to him like that ?? Just because HE'D been asked out by a true babe - - HOW green was Daulby about THAT ??? Why SHOULDN'T it be HIM that people looked up to just for once - huh ?? huh ??

He paused - ghosts of the past suddenly swirling around him at that whole issue of his own self-worth. He couldeither let them submerge him again - - OR he could make a stand, and assert himself as someone who really MATTERED around these parts. Sunk deep in this wave of introspection, he was blind to the fact that a good many people around the Bay already thought that anyway, so, punching hard at a garden wall next to him, he felt as if he was choosing a highly personal and ground-breaking option.

"Daulby can go SUCK !!" he spat, alarming as he did a marmalade cat that had been dreaming of roast chicken while squatted asleep a few feet further down the wall. Torn between two natural cat desires - one to stay and express disapproval at this breacher of the peace and the other - rather stronger - to ensure preservation of life and limb, it expended far less time and angst on its decision than Rocco had, pausing only to flash a disapproving scowl in its tormentor's direction, it turned and dropped over the wall back towards safer pastures in the garden. It needn't in fact have bothered, because as it did, a Rocco fired up by an indignant sense of being at siege from the wider world was already striding back down his originally chosen route, the narrow lane leading to the beach - refuge of so many in Summer Bay at times of conflict, stress and confrontation when welcome headspace was needed.

The fact that Rocco's head still badly required that kind of space probably accounted for the fact he didn't notice the movement of the car behind him. The black sedan inhabited by two guys , one driving, one in the passenger seat was unremarkable in almost every particular other than the curiously over-darkened nature of the windows, preventing any casual observer from observing anything very much about the interior. It had in fact followed Rocco since he'd stormed out of the caravan park onto the exterior road and down the narrow side-line, pausing to observe with a detached interest the episode which had so unsettled the dreaming cat, but now, as Rocco proceeded - walking more or less straight down the small road to avoid the occasional cars parked with wheels up on the pavement, the vehicle too moved on - but this time, very much with a purpose. As it entered the centre of the road, the driver, getting a nod from the other occupant alongside him, depressed the accelerator pedal - - - and a completely unaware Rocco - his head still churning and step now far slower than it had been, .. suddenly may as well have been wearing a bulls-eye target on the back of his shirt...

Jack propped himself up against the pillow, smiled, and gave a long, slow sigh.. "Well, I can certainly imagine worse ways of spending a Tuiesday afternoon", he said in the general direction of Amanda's bare back, propped as it was at the end of the bed. Given the celebrity lifestyle-magazine nature of her furniture and house in general, it somehow seemed oddly far away in proportion, and for the moment, no reply was forthcoming to his contented observation. Undaunted, he continued with another smile "You know, at that moment I smacked into Peter's car and got carted off to the station, I didn't EXACTLY imagine feeling this good this soon in the same day !" He was feeling a strong craving for coffee, but not wanting to play out a cliched male stereotype by suggesting she went to make it, but at the same time not wanting to shift from the warm comfortable gully he'd carved for himself under the duvet he compromised by stretching out for the glass of water that was situated on the bedside table.

Swallowing a long draft, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand continued his so-far unanswered monologue. This time the introductory smile became a small giggle, which he followed up by observing "Hey can you IMAGINE people's reaction if they could see us now ? Or even if they KNEW about us ? Oh man - imagine Colleen Smart ?? Switching into mimic mode he squawked 'Well I NEVER - did you HEAR about those two ? IMMAT-ERIAL I call it, positively IMMAT-ERIAL !!"

Seill no reply came, and starting to be puzzled that the intimacy of just minutes previously had been replaced by this very definite wall of silence, he made his next offering far more specific. His brow wrinkling with a little confusion, he called "Amanda, is everything ok ? Sorry I'm rattling on, but that was....rather awesome, and I guess I'm just feeling good, you know...?"

She began to turn slowly, saying "Oh no, it's nothin....", but was cut short by the insistent peal of his cellphone that cut through the still afternoon air of the bedroom. Jack fromned, gave a low grunt but said reluctantly "I guess I'd BETTER amswer it " - the smile flitted back accross his face "After all, I am still OFFICIALLY on duty you know !" Tossing her hair back slightly she gave a low, mirthless laugh and listened as he went into rather defensive mode - - - "Yes, hi.... Sergeant Baker wants me,,,?? But I saw him this morning, you know that...yes, but... well have you any idea WHY ? Right, well I guess I'll head straight over then - - - it may be 20 minutes yet though... ok. tell him I'll be there then., right - bye !"

His eyes narrowed curiously as he started sliding out of the bed in pursuit of his clothes - "Well what do you make of that then ? Wouldn't tell me why, but Peter apparently wants me back at the station ASAP .. what do you reckon that can be about ?" She shrugged as he began to dress - but a gambler would have been tempted to speculate that her rather preoccupied expression had a completely different cause than Jack's sudden summons to his place of work..............

Morag's face still bore very evident signs of shock as she grasped the cup of coffee that had been pushed across the table to her. "Thank you so much Irene, I really didn't know who else to turn to - there was no reply from Beth's place, and it's NOT exactly the short of thing you voluntarily share with Colleen Smart , Madge Wilkins and Betty Allsop while they're arguing over the Midsummer Ladies Bowls Shield, believe me !!"

Irene only knew the barest details this far, but even they were enough to make her lean forward with genuine concern in her eyes. Turning her head to make sure no-one else inside the sparsely-populated diner was within listening distance, she hissed " So Alf disappeared - then you heard about this crash !!??" Morag nodded gravely, stirring a seldom-desired sugar into her drink - she had enrolled it on this occasion to help shield the shock she was more than entitled to feel closing in on her with steady and determined stealth.

"OH yes, " she nodded again to underline the point "So I arrived at this God-forsaken hamlet - really, did you know such places still even EXISTED in this day and age ? - only to be confronted by this policeman who truly must have been on his lunchbreak from a Punch and Judy show !!"

Irene 's face was growing increasingly concerned - "Geez Morag and you've been facing all this on your OWN ? - how about Ric and Martha - didn't they know anything by this point ?" Morag shook her head vehemently - - "No and that's a big part of why I wanted to talk to you and ask your advice - they STILL don't !! Anyway - between myself and this Disaster Zone policeman, we established the car involved was definitely Alfred's, and..." a catch entered her voice as she paused...

"..that there had been only one fatality.." Irene gasped, and found a tear springing to one eye. "Oh Morag darl, no....!!" - she instinctively reached out and clutched the other's wrist...

It was though as if the normally hard-edged and supremely no-nonsense Judge Bellingham had temporarily ascended to some new and higher plain - eyes staring glassily ahead, she continued "Irene I don't know how many times I've HEARD about those kind of body-identifying situations or seen them on the TV - - - but when the man peeled that sheet back and I looked down knowing what I knew...his car...one death...that of the driver...." She gave an involuntary shudder of remembrance...

"Oh darl...." murmured Irene in a hoarse whisper..

Morag emitted a heartfelt sigh laden with a cocktail of unspoken and profound emotions...."Irene, it..it..WASN'T him.....!!!" ..dumbfounded confusion and amazement adorned two faces somehow brought dramatically closer together by adversity ...and now by sheer naked mystery too....

Hayley had initially proved reluctant....almost rigidly so...to expand on the precise reasons for her explosive re-entry into Kim's life landscape that morning. Instead she'd continually rebuked and reproached herself for even being there ar all - - - "Oh look I shouldn't have done this...I knew it...it's not fair...not fair on you Kim...I'll go...just forget you ever saw me again....I knew it was a bad idea...."

Despite his initial amazement at her re-appearance, Kim had actually given her no reason to think that way - quickly drying and changing after his shower, offering and getting her tea, and even launching some friendly play-scuffles involving a well-behaved young Noah, with whom he still felt a strong and definite bond. She wasn't to be easily evicted from her prison of self-doubt though, more than once sweeping the little one up into her arms and saying " Look little man, you and I'll just get out o here and leave Kim to his day and his life - this was just SO unfair of me...!"

Eventually though after painstaking coaxing and cajoling, Kim had begun to settle her and somehow begin extracting the first nuts and bolts of this developing and unheralded situation from her.

"Ok..ok...if you're REALLY sure...REALLY now...?? Well, when we first got to Europe it was like good...and I mean REALLY good...we'd even talked about having more children !" - she brightened with visible enthusiasm at that point, even giving an involuntary and modest blush...but her still very soft and appealing features quickly re-darkened as she fell silent again.

"But then...?" prompted Kim, as gently as he could

"But then...it all began to change...gradually, you know.., not suddenly like a light switch, but..." she sighed deeply.."looking back with hindsight it was fast enough....back home late..less affectionate,,,always looking like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders..."

"Was it....another woman....?" Kim tried to proffer the suggestion as sensitively as possible - but there was a firm denial.

"Oh no, it wasn't THAT ..no a woman knows -it would have been almost easier if it HAD been, you get me ? Oh, in some ways it would have been almost easier if it HAD been that.! No, this was definitely a business thing , I'm certain of it - shady guys I hadn't seen before coming to the house, long whispered phone calls, strange packages coming to the house,, and then..and this is why I had to get a way, just HAD to, AND bring Noah, I mean I couldn't have had him there with all that, I just COULDN'T..." Kim's brow was clouding with confusion again by now but having got her this far down the line he was very reluctant to risk the barriers going up again.

She continued.."And then Kim, then...oh..I think I discovered something REALLY bad...." She flinched then instinctively and suddenly in her seat as a volley of knocking...not dissimilar to her own of earlier on drilled roughly through the room's atmosphere. Kim tutted as, rolling his eyes in frustration he extended the palm of one hand to counsel patience and headed to investigate. She instinctively drew Noah closer to her as if to re-inforce the temporarily weakened blanket of protection - but she quickly felt anxiety's onset once again at the sound of raised voics and clearly some dissention from the region of the door. Sitting where they were, only snatched phrases were audible at first like " Now hold on mate...who the hell... and Oh, you WILL, will you....??... but her internal alarm bells escalated rapidly to a crescendo at the sudden and very definite impact of sound that spelt bone on bone, flesh on flesh, and as her heart pumped urgent emergency alerts around her body, her head craned past a kitchen unit in time to see Kim lurch suddenly backwards from the doorway and fall to the mat, his nostrils already beginning to flow scarlet....

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  • 1 month later...

**PART 8**

Jack was thinking a little fretfully that his own personal 24 hour version of climate change - this being of the emotional variety - could certainly do with sailing into some calmer waters - rather than having to face this potential -but still faceless - new storm that his summons back to the police station seemed to be spelling.

The afternoon oasis of time spent with Amanda had most certainly served as a welcome - and enjoyable steadying of the pressure but there was genuine foreboding ghosting around the back of his mind about what lay immediately ahead. He shuffled uncertainly to the door of Peter's office, raised his fist to knock- dropped it again - hovered briefly in a mid-way position, and was contemplating his next move with a slight uncertain bite of the lip, when the door suddenly swept open to reveal a level-faced Peter. He examined his younger colleague for three or four silent seconds before saying "Ah Jack, thanks for heading back - have a seat - I'm sure this won't take long." Jack summoned a forced and mirthless smile, noting as he did that Jez was sitting at Peter's desk with some items of his equipment propped in front of him.The foreboding at the back of his mind upped its tempo to a brisk quickstep as he ran an urgent mental audit on what this new development implied.He had little time to compute a conclusion though as he heard Peter's voice in slow, precise mode saying "Now Jack, I know this may seem a little out there, but we need to straighten something out about that....úh....test today...."Jack found his smile becoming increasingly stretched and superficial, mixing it now with what he considered a suitable measure of bewildered confusion. Peter continued. "You see, the problem is that Jez was doing the regular follow-up test - - - purely routine you understand - when he found a residual trace of something in your sample - and I was just hoping we could get it cleared up. Jez ?...."

The other officer lent earnestly forward, indicating the relevant sample bottle, and was anout to embark on an explanation of what he'd discovered, when the heads of all 3 shot instinctively and suddenly to the door, outside which reigned the sounds of real disruption in the reception area. The outer door was still rocking on its hinges as Peter led the 3-strong investigation team upon the sight of Kim Hyde leaning animatedly across the desk all but grabbing a young constable by the arm and being restrained by the hastily advancing McGrath, while Kim's frenetic cries seemed to thunder in repeated circles around all six of them "You've got to DO something !!... get AFTER them....they've GOT her..."

Hearing Peter urging calm behind him, Kim swung round, at the same time revealing his bloodied face to the officer who cut in "Steady Kim, steady...WHO exactly are THEY, and WHO exactly have they got ??"

"HAYLEY !" roared back the anguished reply ... "Peter they've got HAYLEY .... AND NOAH TOO - YOU'VE got TO DO SOMETHING....!!"

Standing a few paces to one side and studiously examining the floor, Jack Holden had rarely been this acutely grateful for a distraction...long may it last, he was thinking....

Rocco was far from sure where he was going, and even less sure what he'd do when he got there - scarlet flames of resentment were continuing to course through his mind above the variety of random flashpoints buried there - his tense, chequered upbringing - Johnny - the gang - the unsavoury and volatile baggage still strewn in all directions from that situation - - and now - NOW - just as light seemed to be breaking through - |the competition - a girl to share the prize with - - life was again ganging up ready to hi-jack him.

Dangerously for Rocco the raging of this mental cacophony had prised his focus and attention away to a place where the noise of the advancing car behind him was entirely failing to burst through - and , at that very moment, twenty yards back the driver's jaw was setting firm, his foot starting to jam the accelerator pedal lower to the floor, Rocco's form assuming steadily sharper dimensions in his eye, until....the figure of Ric burst out of a narrow side access to thr beach road, and, chest heaving , t-shirt dripping with perspiration he planted himself squarely in front of his troubled friend.

Planting his hands on Rocco's shoulder as the threatening car barked in frustration to a halt behind them, Ric rather wheezed his way into explanation. "Look mate, I don't want to argue with you - I was just telling you what I'd HEARD about that girl, ok ? Now do we just get along as mates or what ?"

Rocco had been staring very intently at Ric through all this, one of his front teeth absently gnawing at his top lip. As Ric's final olive branch question drifted shapelessly past him, that gnaming grew steadier - and darker -and as a pinprick size dot of blood appeared on his lower lip, the fist forming in his right pocket instinctively shot back and out before thudding into the side of Ric's jaw with with a shuddering impact,

Just three dozen potentially life-threatening yards behind them, the car driver and his passenger exchanged looks that evolved swiftly from bewilderment to a macabre pleasure at the swiftly-changing turn of events - as the front wondow view offered them sight of Rocco bending and tugging at Ric's shirt in urgent fashion- before shooting a panic-stricken glance up the street to check for onlookers - then sprinting away down the curving path towards the beach - every step clearly designed to remove him from the scene at high speed. As the car duo exchanged high-fives of unpleasant relish and prepared to back up the car and vanish , an ominous trickle of blood appeared from an open wound at the lower left hand side of Ric's head - centimetres across from eyes that remained resolutely closed.....

It was a classic case of "get your story straight" as Brad and Matilda sprang instinctively apart from the impromptu kiss at the familiarly shrill and slightly grating "Yoo hoo, AWNLY me !!" that had comprehensively punctured the moment. Tottering slightly backwards from his previously crouching position, Brad waved his hand rather in the style of a symphony orchestra conductor, partly to regain his balance, and partly as he struggled wildly for something he could actually say to the halted Colleen. She'd who'd stopped short by the wooden kitchen table and her questioning, slightly belligerent face was demanding an explanation of what she may have seen before her lips had managed to catch up in doing so.

Managing to slightly steady his rocking gait, he blurted unconvincingly "C-Colleen.. ! w..what a nice surprise - we were just doing some practical, um, ah..history !!..um, Lord Nels....."

"Drama , Colleen !!" suddenly cut across him from the direction of Matilda's chair - "..this exam I'm doing for the new university has a practical drama module, and Brad was helping me with a scene..." her tone was clear and confidemt, her eyes bright and sparkling. She betrayed no indication at all of reluctance or hesitation about the highly tailored and creative spin with which she was embellishing her response to the still goggling Colleen.

"Now you see what happens is , I MAY be called FOR the module - not everybody is - - but you have to be ready to hit them with a performance at the drop of a hat..." She rose, darted past the chair towards the sofa, where she arched her back theatrically, sweeping the back of one hand to her forehead and declaimin in stylized tones " So I...we ! ... thought , what would be better to have up my sleeve than.....Romeo and Juliet....?? So I've been getting the balcony seen JUST so...'Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou..'....but Brad thought..."- with the ghost of a glance at him-

"....WE thought....that a little bit of Mr Montague added in the mix couldn't harm....so we'd moved onto that bit where she finally DOES find out where he is, so to say...."

Emotions had begun to shift intriguingly among the other two as she now looked expectantly across at them, a little likea contestant on "Australian Idol" awaiting the judges' verdict. Brad wasn't entirely radiating the persona of a seventeenth century tunic-wearing Shakespearean tragic hero - bulging eyes stared incredulously at Matty's mini-masterclass while the fingers of one hand ran absently through decidedly ruffled hair, now starting to be matted by the increased perspiration that had beset him over the recent few minutes.

Conversely though, Colleen's manner had evolved markedly from the earlier stunned pregnany outrage to a position where her face waqs now painyed with a shimmering haze of whimsical nostalgia..."Oh how BEAUTIFUL..." she sighed..." TRUE love..." she emitted a sigh .."takes me RIGHT back .... of course I'VE performed like young Matilda there - it 'twasn'#t QUITE Shakespeare of course....Seven Brides for Seven Brothers , 1958, the year before I won Miss Groper of course..." a cloud crossed her brow - " now of course Madge Wilkins SOMEHOW got involved in that too... between you and I Brad I doubt if all SEVEN brothers would have been enough for her...NOT that I'm one to cast aspertions of course, but did I ever tell you......"

Brad though had recovered a degree of composure by now, and knew there was an issue-laden conversation still to come with Matty at which Mrs Smart would NOT be the ideal spectator, so placing his hand gently on her shoulder, he guided her steadily but firmly to the door, still fired by the literary theme. "Of course I'm a GREAT lover of the Card..."

"The Bard, Colleen....."

"Yes, him as well - the Merchant of Vienna and that kind of thing..."

As her voice died away outside, he closed the door behind him and swung round - of course she'd be BOUND to see how wrong she'd been and probably be way beyond embarassed he told himself, but the law still needed laying down....

"Matilda what the HELL was that all about ?? Do you know just how........."

But - not for the first time that afternoon, Brad was left gaping as Matilda placed her finger on her lips, and, moving two steps closer to hin replied

"Do not swear at all. Or, if thou wilt, swear by the gracious self which is the god of my idolatry, and I'll believe thee..."

And, having delivered the Juliet line in the style of the most accomplished thespian, she kissed the finger that had been momentarily on her lips, placed it lightly and briefly on Brad's cheek, and with just the suggestion of a conspiratorial wink, added softly "Until we meet again, my prince..." before exiting "stage left" as Colleen had done minutes previously..

His head pounding, Brad propped his hand on the reassuringly solid kitchen table for a moment or two of support. Far from expecting the invisible audience to roar their demands for an encore, he instead had the impression of a highly critical and potentially very compromising "first night" review preparing to be penned somewhere not too far down the line at all unless he acted quickly....or = he gave an involuntary shiver..might it already be too late for that....?

Will had carried a dark, brooding cloud of suspicion, uncertainty and a degree of fear with him through the day as he'd gone around the Bay. He'd firstly re-traced steps around familiar haunts - up to the momentarily reassuring calm of Stewart's Point, down to the boatyard - and he'd even semi-inexcplicably found his feet tracing a path round the perimeter fence of Summer Bay High, where assorted ghosts of the past - Donald Fisher, Kenny Gibbs the caretaker, Danni Sutherland and many others seemed to swarm across the fence to join him.

This had been intended as an escape - a bolt-hole, a safety net where nobody knew who, what or even where he was fleeing from ­ but the anonymous -and vaguely threatening letters had punctured all that , leaving him on a permanent state of alert.

He gave a short, involuntary jump as his cellphone went off, but seeing Gypsy's name come up for roughly the sixth time that day, he rolled his eyes to the sky, abandoning her to another unaccompanied trip to his voicemail. He stopped briefly, shuddering a little at the thought of how long it had been since he'd seen young Lily, and also Rachel MacGregor, but hardened his overall heart as to those issues, and proceeded on up the main hill bordering the town. As far as he was concerned , there was a very limited crop of candidates indeed for the identity of the letter -writer. To the best of his knowledge, few indeed could possibly know-or even be allowed to know- the reason for his sudden and seemingly unexplained flight from his home base.

He paused in the act of stepping out to cross a road near the top of the hill as a small flotilla of police cars and ambulances swept by - his mind would have thumped considerably harder if he'd known they were headed to tend to the wreck of Alf's car- then stepped across to the other side, his tread beginning to slow considerably as he reached and trudged to the the pavement before ascending the final few steps to the wooden bench which marked the plateauing of the road into its far distant path.

He flopped down with a huge involuntary sigh and rested his head in his hands. His thoughts meandered back towardspast years here in the Bay - Irene, Ken, Nick, Hayley... somehow what had seemed so complicated and intense back then now seemed so childishly simple when viewed retrospectively through the tunnel of time - girls, party deadlines, scandals over alcohol experimentation.. he found himself giving a short, mirthless laugh followed by a slight involuntary start as a second swathe of emergency vehicles volleyed past on the road behind him.

Head returning to hands, he realized he'd need to dig deep to navigate through this new, imminent and challenging dilemma, and this was the time to start. It was a situation admittedly littered with potential hand-grenades, but he had enough inside HIM to deal with...

"Mr Smith, well well.....!"

Will jerked around, eyes once again aflame with concern, his new bravado of mere seconds earlier comprehensively blown away.

"And there was I, beginning to think you were avoiding me.." were the words that emitted from the smiling face of Constable Ash Nader.........

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