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Behind The Smile...

Guest WYN100

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**PART 13

McGrath gave a deep sigh, rolled his eyes skywards, considered turning back , but succumbed to the inevitable and continued onwards towards the Police Incident Room trailer at the Caravan Park. He sometimes thought that if he headed towards that trailer at 3-30 am amid an electric storm that Colleen Smart would still appear and tell him both what an amazing co-incidence it was, and also berate him that the murder investigations weren't moving quicker, despite the body having been discovered less than three days previously.

Colleen also felt Miss Marple had been an inefficient disgrace to female detectives, so there was an unsurprising lack of enthusiasm in the Sargeant's voice as he greeted her flatly "Hello Mrs Smart, you keeping well ?"

Ignoring his greeting, she bustled towards him,and looked theatrically over both her shoulders even though both could see the only sign of life for some distance around was a small bird at the corner of the washblock, chewing with quiet satisfaction on some hard-won cake-crumbs.

"Now Sergeant, as anyone will tell you, I hope I'm not someone who'd ever stick their nose into other people's business...."

..supreme effort of straight face holding from McGrath,,

"..but I do have to say I'd have expected you to have marched someone off to jail for that AWFUL grisly murder before now - I mean we can't even sleep peacefully in our beds anymore !!..and I feel like I've been traumatized for the rest of my LIFE by being there when poor Miles uncovered the body...!!"

One would have found it hard to tell !, thought the officer drily.

"But look...if you ask me, ..that Alf Stewart can have a FILTHY temper..."

McGrath's limited reserves of patience for Colleen had by now comprehensively run dry, and employing a sidestep that a rugby centre twenty years his junior would have been proud of, he ghosted past her and mounted the two or three steps to the trailer, calling back as he did "Thank you Mrs Smart, I'm sure we'll be in touch if we need anything ..!" She scuttled off. muttering darkly under her breath about the decline in law enforcement since her day, while McGrath consulted with Norris inside the police vehicle.

"So sir, you still working on that same path as when you called me..?"

"Very much so Sergeant, it seems to fill all but one or two of the boxes - background, character etc seem to fit, and I think we've got to move on it - despite the obvious difficulty.....what do you say about a snap visit to the house..?"

"Can't see it would harm....no, can't see it would harm at ALL replied McGrath, peering a little apprehensively towards the door, as if a little in fear of seeing a Colleen Smart-propelled periscope come inching through. Norris was observing his behaviour a little curiously .. "Everything alright Sergeant..?"

"Yes Sir - it's just that it's not only walls that have ears around here, and I don't think we can be too careful with this one - - how about we get going to the house..?"

"Agreed, Sergeant !"

And so it was that Norris and McGrath set off to their target location, with the baleful stare they received from Colleen Smart as they passed her on the way to work thankfully unable to hinder their progress.

"How will we play it then, sir ?" asked McGrath as they swept along the main road through the Bay.

"Have no fear Sergeant McGrath, I always have a great faith these situations resolve themselves as they unfold !"

The rather sceptical look on McGrath's face alongside him indicated that such situations all too rarely DID resolve themselves simply from his long knowledge of Summer Bay law enforcement.

Arriving at their target location, Norris carefully parked the patrol car and the two dismounted. "I'll do the talking, ok sergeant ?" Norris said softly as they headed for the door - adding "We need to remember the importance of this to the whole enquiry..."

Hearing what sounded like a heated argument emerging from an upstairs window they exchanged glances...and Inspector Norris fingered the revolver in his utility holster as McGrath knocked decisively on the door. The air around them seemed taut during the 20 second or so delay before - - a rather stunned looking Roman Harris opened the door....

Whatever one might say about Josie Russell, it could never be levelled at her that she lacked audacity, a sense of the dramatic, or the ability to milk a situation. Completing her rise from the floor into Jesse's arms she lingered there just that moment or two longer than was really neccessary, and adeptly ran her fingers down Jesse's bare chest as she straightened up fully and turned to face the new arrival . Aware of the thin but significant vein of insecurity that had underpinned all Sally's previous significant relationships with men, she opened a shattering smile and gushed "Why Sally - perfect sense of timing, as ever...!!"

Sally completed her entry, crossed to the hall stand to pick up the missing birth certificate, and, casting a very calm and unruffled glance at the other woman, said drily, "Hello Josie, things a bit quiet in the call-girl trade these days, are they ?"

Jesse had been making goldfish-style efforts with his mouth to intervene and provide Sally with a context for what she'd just seen, and finally seized his chance, jumping in with " Sal, this isn't anything at all like it seems, truly...."

Still with a calm and thoroughly unflustered air, Sally ran her hand down his arm, kissed him on the cheek and retorted, "Oh Jesse, this doesn't seem like anything other than what it is - a very sad, irrelevant woman who had her chance with you and would rather attempt to re-rake the failures of her past than try and face any kind of future she may possibly have.."

She moved back towards the front door. "Now I'm not sure WHAT rather pathetic excuse you used to get in here, much less do I care, but - WAS there anything else at all...? If not, I'll let Jesse see you out - oh by the way Jess, meant to say I'll sort the washing out when I get back - see you later !"

And with that, she'd made her exit, before even the swift tongue of Josie could carve out a reply.

Jesse firmly re-iterated the ground laid down by Sally, pointing his forefinger decisively at the door through which Sally had just exited, accompanying it with the plainest and most unarguable "Good BYE Josie !"

Not thrown for a moment, Josie switched to a pre-prepared Plan B. Having played for time with a taunt of mock indignation "Well, Jesse McGregor, I don't know - not even a kiss for old times' sake ?", she slipped her fingers imperceptibly into the small bag slung over her shoulder and cashed in a mental hunch that organized women such as Sally would almost certainly check through the pockets of garments in laundry bags for safety's sake before washing them - so as she squeezed unneccessarily close to Jesse on her way out, she pushed into the left hand pocket of his shorts one of a number of pre-prepared notes she'd brought with her in preparation, this one saying "SO glad you felt the same Jess - I agree, no-one else should know...call me..!!"...followed by her cellphone number. The Jas/Josie Grand Plan was well underway....

"No WAY ! - - Viv is NOT going to be told about this, you hear me ??"

The atmosphere in Ric's hospital room had become uncomfortably thick with emotion, tension, and steadily rising heat, as a warm Summer Bay afternoon provided an amenable backdrop for the dozens of sun-worshippers, surfers, families and day trippers just a short hop away from the hospital, but effectively light years distant for those biting nails and drumming fingers as the tense wait for news of baby Alice continued.

Matilda had now joined Ric and Alf, sitting quietly in the corner and offering heartfelt words of encouragement at suitably appropriate moments - of which there had admittedly been few.

Minutes previously though, Dr West had arrived at the door. After regretfully subduing the urgent and hungry clamour for information about Alice from the trio, he'd raised the possibility that now Viv had fully recovered consciousness following her operation, that she should possibly be told about the abduction.

Ric was however was firm, fierce and borderline aggressive in his rejection of the idea. "Oh yes, I can JUST see it, she's just back talking and hearing again and you lay THAT one on her ?? She'd be back downhill as quick as a brick out of a window - look here aren't you meant to be a damn DOCTOR ?? - I can't BELIEVE you'd suggest something like that !!!- - "

"Hey, steady on mate," murmured Alf

"No Grandad, I MEAN it - - I KNOW she pulled a really low stunt on me today, but after what happened and what she's gone through that is one thing she does NOT need..!!"

Dr West waited patiently through the tirade, then responded mildly, "OK Ric I understand- It's my obligation to ask as she is Alice's mother, and those are the rules in these situations, but let's just see how it develops for now and certainly give Viv a little more time, ok..?"

"....Ok....." replied Ric very slowly, running his hand through unkempt hair that had become matted with perspiration, and squatting back down on one of the bedside chairs.

Another long, unsteady silence ensued, broken only as Matilda volunteered the question that so often can be so meaningless where people are suffering or living through crisis moments, but which those around them at those moments find is their only option, ..

"You ok Ric......?"

Head in hands, a reply was slow to emerge from Ric's chair- eventually a deep, troubled sigh was followed by "Yeah, I guess, but..."

The sentence remained destined never to be completed, as Sergeant Harper's burly frame appeared at the door, joined within a split second by Ric.

"Well - ?? You've found her, right, right ..??"

Harper extended the palm of his hand in a restraining gesture..

"Whoa, hold on , hold on..!! We've got SOME positive news - of a sort...We've thoroughly gone over the CCTV footage, and it seems the snatch wasn't noticed when it might have been as it was done by a woman, wearing a nurse's uniform..."

The three gave involuntary gasps as Harper proceeded.. "AND - only JUST... we managed to get the rego of her car as she drove out of the car park.."

"YES..."from Ric, giving a small punch of the air..

"NOW "- - went on Harper, "We've run the rego through the computer. . . and it's actually registered to a guy called Logan..."

"What...!!??" exclaimed Ric...

"What's up, mate ?" asked Alf, up and out of his seat, brow creased with concern....

Feeling as if he'd been paralysed on the spot where he stood-, Ric turned his head slowly to reply hoarsely.."Logan, grandad is the guy I was due to fight on that last night for Noel - - the REALLY crazy one from Johnny Cooper's gang..."

At a stroke, Dr West's earlier suggestion of updating Viv on the Alice situation was rocketing even further into reverse at lightening velocity...

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**PART 14

Tony had decided to head off for a stroll after he'd dropped Rachel at the help-group meeting. Clearly he was never going to have gone inside with her, and he knew that if he'd opted to sit in the car or remain around the vicinity of the building where the meeting was taking place then he'd only have grown very edgy indeed. He just knew he'd have bitten nails and ended up trying to peer through gaps in the curtains like an over-anxious infant school parent on the first day of term, so putting some distance between himself and the risk of likely mutual humiliation for both him and Rachel seemed an extremely sensible idea.

The truth was he cared so much for Rachel he was acutely keen for this course of action to bear some benefit for her especially as it had originally been his idea, so he could certainly live with any clearing of the mental decks, however brief. He set off in the direction of the small hamlet that lay among the suburbs of Mangrove River, thinking as he did about the current contrasting life-tracks of his two sons. His face clouded a little as he thought of Jack - he genuinely wished that guy could have a far less issue-laden life. But- shaking his head ruefully, it seemed his eldest son had of late seemed destined to drag those sort of issues left, right and centre whatever he happened to be doing or whoever he happened to be doing it with ! You never stopped caring as a parent of course - but other than on highly critical occasions such as the whole mess surrounding and concerning Sam, Jack was someone who regularly and rigidly kept his own counsel, so...a father could only take a step back and hope for the best....

As for Lucas though - how different could THAT be !? The Advanced writing course going famously well - working on his second book - Tony glowed with involuntary fatherly pride as he completed the loop around the small village and came back within sight of the village hall ., jogging the final few yards across the road to the car park. After a wait of ten minutes or so, members of the group emerged in casual clutches of twos and threes, chatting away happily enough , it seemed to Tony. As more numbers emerged and melted away, Tony gave a quick glance at his watch, then- brow furrowing slightly, he turned to face the main exit door. A couple more minutes elapsed, then - his heart giving its familiar and regular slight skip whenever he saw her, there was Rachel, coming out and heading across towards him.

He noted that she appeared a little distracted, but putting that down to the new scenario and people around her, he beamed and greeted her "Hey, YOU ! How did it go- you ok ??" Her smile seemed rather nervous as she responded "Uh - yes , yes - they're really really nice people, and I think it'll help - - yes, I'm sure it will...."

"Aw Rachel that's awesome, I'm SO pleased.." He turned towards the car, slipping his arm round her waist, but paused as the cause of her hesitant manner was slowly explained..

"Tony, I uh, kind of ran into someone I know in there..."

Tony rolled his eyes and shook his head in frustration,

"Aw Rachel that's annoying, I'm REALLY sorry - I honestly thought it was far enough..."

She shook her head and held up her hand in a placatory gesture "No truly Tony,, not a problem, and I'm SO grateful...this was a bit from left field - it was ..Lewis...."

Tony's eyes widened.."Lewis...Lewis Rigg ??" - he put his hand on her shoulder - "are you ok ?? - did he do anything...??...or say anything..?? because if he DID, I'll..." Again she shook her head...

"No - really...it's no problem...well......"

She paused - -

"Tony, I need to ask you something....and if I DO, will you PROMISE not to lose your cool...?"

As she took his hand and fidgeted with it in a mixture of affection and apprehension - Tony's expression was by no means guaranteeing that her request would be granted,,,

Jack sighed as he emerged from the small block of flats, tapping his notebook on the palm of his hand with mounting frustration before opening the door and flopping into the passenger seat of the patrol car.

"Another one bites the dust ?" enquired Harper who'd been the driver as they'd embarked on their so-far fruitless search for former Cooper gang member Logan, who'd been linked to the abduction of baby Alice through the hospital CCTV film which showed the woman who took her making off in his car.

"Yes, " sighed Jack, " and I had a REALLY good feeling about that one - JUST the sort of place the likes of him would hang out..." He gave a shiver of slight distaste at the state of the dwelling he'd just emerged from - "..but I'm guessing he's holed up somewhere even WORSE if I'm any judge..!!"

"Any clues all ?" enquired Harper , in classic 'more in hope than expectation' fashion.

Jack's face assumed a dubious expression as he tapped his pencil slowly against his notebook. "Well...there was this one girl who seemed reasonably on the case, and she SAID there's a couple of houses that these fly-by-night characters tend to use, down at the end of Millers Row..."

"Oh-another exclusive area then !..." observed Harper drily. Millers row was on the northernmost fringes of the Bay - a fairly run-down region leading up to a small common where very occasionally groups of travellers would site their caravans before being moved on by the authorities.

"Yep, you know the kind of thing - - shonky landlord, not too fussy about the electrics etc - they take a few dollars cash in hand and then it's a blind eye job !"

"Give it a go then, ?"

Jack concurred, and so it was that he and Harper arrived at the top end of Miller's Row, but as the other officer parked the car, he found his arm gripped in excitement by Jack's hand - the forefinger of the other hand pointing down the road to where - without any doubt - the car they were hunting was parked - two wheels up on the kerb - outside a shabby run-down property near the end of the street.

Jack got on the police radio link back to the main station - "Fitzy we've tracked down the car - Millers Row, near the common - now tell me - any news on those tests on the DNA the woman left on those doorhandles and the baby cot in the ward ? .It would REALLY help to know who we're dealing with..

'Just coming through now, apparently' he mouthed to Harper while he waited... then, "...she's ??...oh man !! ... as Jack turned to look at Harper, the expression on his face indicated he was far from thrilled on learning exactly who they were up against...

Norris had remained downstairs to fire some questions at Roman, while McGrath was dispatched upstairs to investigate some of the lines of thought they'd been going down. As he ascended the stairs, the sounds of heated argument they'd been able to hear while outside became louder and more forceful. McGrath knew where he needed to look most closely, but the rising din emerging from one of the rooms couldn't in all conscience be ignored.

He stepped towards the door concerned and pushed it open to witness a scene blending chaos with confrontation. There was Belle Taylor with her hands all but placed around the throat of Roman's daughter Nicole, while Drew Curtis was standing between them, resembling a particularly ineffective referee in an American wrestling bout. All that was missing was the black and white striped shirt as he swayed from one foot to the other, seemingly dependent on how the balance of the near-catfight was proceeding. The room itself also appeared to resemble a minor explosion in a DIY store as around the shrieking combatants lay rolls of shredded wallpaper and an upended mini stepladder which had all been casualties of Belle's unannounced arrival a little earlier

Belle was in full vocal attack mode - "I'm WARNING you, you scheming skank, you just keep your hands OFF...."

McGrath had already tried one experimental announcement of his arrival, but with the hostilities continuing unabated he filled his lungs to bellow "QUIET !!!!!!!!!!! - ."Now I don't know exactly WHAT is or has been going on here, but I need to do some looking around upstairs..WITHOUT interruption ! .." he said quickly to ward off any unwanted accompaniment or interruption as he went about his business. "SO - sort your problems out QUICKLY and do it on your way DOWNSTAIRS, right ? "

As they headed downstairs, cowed - briefly- into silence., Norris was firing some quick, sharp questions at Roman - "So, remind me Mr Harris, how long have you actually lived in this house ? Tell me Mr Harris why DID you leave the forces?" They both turned suddenly as three sheepish-looking youngsters shuffled into the room, but though Norris did stop barking out the questions, Roman immediately turned back to him, chiding only a trace angrily "Oh NO Inspector , please DON'T stop - anything you want to say to me, you can say in front of these guys, I have NO problem with that !! - and if you DO have any further questions for me, I think you're obliged to arrest me and take me in, aren't you ?" That brought forth an involuntary gasp from Nicole, but at that moment, McGrath reappeared in the doorway, holding a bag through which the outline of a small, plastic 'evidence' bag was clearly visible, prompting Norris to turn back to Roman and continue in clipped tones - "Very well Mr Harris, you may or may not know we're currently investigating a murder here in Summer Bay...?" - Roman nodded - "well the line of enquiry we're currently pursuing here ISN'T relating to yourself - - - relieved smiles were evident around the room, , "no, it's actually the PREVIOUS owner of this house that we're investi gating...

Belle and Drew turned to face each other, their earlier argument forgotten and their jaws having dropped simultaneously open - - - - THEY knew very well who the previous owner of that house had been.....

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**PART 15

The car park landscape around him had seemed - to melt into a kind of paralysis around Tony, and the positive feelings of just minutes previously as Rachel had been describing the meeting were dissipating un-snatchably into the evening air.

"I AM hearing you right, aren't I Rachel ?" he said with mounting incredulity.

She gave a small, apprehensive nod.

His head whirling, Tony said "The guy who you became pregnant by, then walked out on you. - not to mention the trouble he caused elsewhere - I imagine he's also got some kind of substance problem to be at a meeting like this...?"

Again she nodded, but added "So do I, remember, Tony..."

He stopped temporarily, reaching his hand out to stroke her shoulder - "Of course, I know, and YOU, lady, are doing FANTASTICALLY, and I'm SO proud of you..."

She smiled, but Tony breathed in and continued..

"But Rachel, ALL that, and now you want Lewis to....come and STAY with us..?? It really is a HELL of a leap !!"

She nodded, but eagerly darted in to the conversational window, expanding eagerly..

"Tony, I UNDERSTAND all that, I REALLY do, and remember it was ME that got hurt by a lot of that..."

"But...?" from Tony

"But...I've spoken to him Tony - a good half hour or so, and he's CHANGED - he had SUCH a bad time after he left the hospital - went to stay with his sister - hasn't been able to hold down a job - but NOW, if you can believe it he's had to be caring for his sister's little baby as she and her boyfriend just upped and left to some weird New Age convention interstate and just LEFT him there with Lewis and haven't come back ! Now THAT's maturity isn't it ? - taking on THAT kind of responsibility ! - but now though he couldn't keep up the rent on their flat so he's in a one room bedsit in the city, working part-time in a takeaway and getting others to look after the baby - - "

Tony looked set to intervene, but she ploughed on...

"That's where the little boy is now, with the mother of the guy who runs the takeaway, but if he comes to us, he could collect him tomorrow - oh Tony I know it all seems VERY upside down in a lot of ways, but I feel really EMPOWERED by coming here to face up to the painkiller thing, and I just think doing something like this would be so much a part of that, can you understand at all....??"

Tony breathed out heavily - he loved Rachel, he knew that, and didn't see it changing, but...this ?? A thought occurred to him - - "so why was he at this meeting then...?"

"Ah, now I thought you'd ask that, and rightly so - - - he said that before he went to his sister's, and for a while afterwards, his cigarette smoking got out of hand - - you know he was a smoker when he was here, well he said it upped to 50 or 60 a DAY at worst, but he's cut it out COMPLETELY these last few weeks, and you've got to hand it to him for that haven't you..? I really think I can do something GOOD here T ony, but of course I couldn't and wouldn't do it without your say-so...?"

He looked at her, and as so often in the past, her eager, earnest and hopeful expression just seemed to reach inside him and turn his heart upside down. Leaning forward, he kissed her tenderly on the lips and said "Oh I must be ma d of course, but yes, go on then..., we'll give it a go.."

She squealed with girlish delight - something else that inevitably touched his hearty, thanked him, hugged him and scuttled off to quickly return with a quiet and a bashed-looking Lewis.

"Mate I REALLY appreciate this...."

Tony held his hand up..."No need mate, just don't make me sorry, right..?"

"Oh, NO chance - you got it !!"

A smiling Rachel joined the two guys in climbing into the car, Lewis alone in the back seat - as he settled into his seat, the fingers of his left hand headed for his jacket pocket, locating and pushing further down an a lready opened and used half-bottle of whisky...

Morag Bellingham was never one to accept or carry out an engagement down the routine channels. Not for her the 'meet client-prepare brief- fight case' kind of approach. No rather she preferred to make some initial enquiries around the subject herself, then - if she accepted it, lift the more obvious lid a little further to see what lay beneath.This current case was a prime example. Concerning alleged corruption at some big city companies, she instantly felt there was more to it than met the eye, and she was currently starting the phase of ' lid-lifting' she frequently found so productive - and often quite enjoyable, if the truth were known. The slight downside was proving to be the amount of time it was involving her in travel to the city and back, and having undergone the rather startling renaissance she'd demanded of herself from the frequently panic-inducing severe figure at the fringe of friends and family that she'd become to a less daunting if slightly incongruous Marje Simpson-style figure, she didn't want this case to risk banishiing her back to the more remote fringes of people's perceptions of daily Bay life. It certainly was though a complex and reasonably tricky case which was why she'd stopped off at the diner on completion of her latest trip back from two intensive days in the city which had at least suddenly called her away from the wallpapering, for which she'd quickly begun to lose her original zeal. She'd had chosen a secluded wall booth to spread out her files, papers and documents on the case plus prop open her laptop and do some further digging all sustained by a cup of hot, stromg black coffee.

She'd worked with some, if not spectacular success for around 40 undisturbed minutes, but still couldn't help rolling her eyes to the ceiling a little on hearing some young, eagerly chattering voices slip into the booth next to hers. She vaguely registered the voices as belonging to Belle, Drew, and - slight frown - Nicole. Shaking her head in mild frustration, she turned back to her work - -but the nature of the conversation meant she was NOT destined to get much more productive spadework achieved !

It was as if Nicole's elaborate scheme to lure Drew into her wallpapering 'honey trap' and Belle's subsequent retribution-seeking foray into that zone had never occured.

The three were now hungrily chewing over the detail and implications of what they'd heard at Roman's house a little earlier.

"So when do you think he did it then ?" from Drew.

"Well, that Norris, or Horace guy, - whatever he's called - said he could have been dead three weeks or more - - and of course he WAS back here at least for a little while around then !"

"But do you think he MEANT to kill him ?" queried Nicole, "I mean he could have just wanted to frighten him or something and he ended UP killing him !"

On the other side of the seat-top partition separating the diner booths, Morag's ears had immediately pricked up and her mouth dropped open. Highly frustratingly though, the overheard hubub from the other section wall was stubbornly refusing to contain the two must hugely pieces of information central to this amazing turn of events that was seemingly being laid out in her earshot. The use of the words "he and him" was also proving a major aggravation in terms of seeking clarification, so when Drew started again with "Ah but what if he KNEW he was coming..." that Morag could bear it no more. Stepping down grom her booth to the side of theirs, she said as patiently as she could muster "A moment please, ladies and gentleman. Do forgive me for hearing your chat, but could someone PLEASE tell me the answers to two questions - WHO has been murdered, and WHO is the latest main police suspect you mentioned ? And please - no 'he or him' if you could possibly manage it ! - thank you !"

Belle eagerly won - by a short head - the race to impart the news first -

"Well !" she replied importantly "HENK was murdered- and they said the top suspect used to live at Roman's house - - and that's BRAD ! - Brad Armstrong !"

Morag's coffee, perched on the next table was already going cold - - it was now highly unlikely to be sampled again - its purchaser had far more serious thoughts on her mind...

The Jas and Josie catch-up session had been a high-spirited and positive one . "Well you CLEVER girl !!" Jas had trilled appreciatively on hearing a potted account of her visit to Sally and Jesse's house and her laying the start of the paper trail that had been so integral to their planning.

"And you've texted him since, right ?"

She beamed in response to Josie's affirming nod - adding "HOW cool is it that he's kept the same cellphone number too , after these few years - of course, we girls about town change ours at least, ooh.. every three months or so, right ? - DARLING !!..."

They dissolved into a mutual giggling fit that had the relatively few mid-morning customers at the Coffee Culture branch they favoured glance up from their frothy mochas or morning newspapers, and had the ever so slightly prim waitress enquiring "Will there be anything else at all, ladies ?" Josie asked for a second cappuccino, but Jas shook her head and started to rise, saying "Thanks but no - have to get back to darling Dominic ....keep plan A simmering nicely !!" She swept off to the accompaniment of more swirling giggles and her co-conspirator to pore over the moving mental tapestry of thoughts that were driving her on - BOY how both she and Jas had been victims of the self-righteous moralizing militia that inhabited Summer Bay. She reflected how she really had made the effort to drag her character and behaviour towards their kind of thinking around the time of her aborted wedding to Jesse, but never again - - ho no, never again ! How QUICK had they been to revert to type and start condemning her THEN ! Well fine - the likes of Morag Bellingham and Irene Roberts, who'd looked RIGHT down their noses at her could - and would - have PLENTY to occupy their tiny minds if hers and Jas's ideas came to fruition, and while they were prepared to be patient for that, accquiring the factory space was all-important, hence the need to userp whatever was being planned by Sally and Jesse.

Jesse,,,there was another one - someone whose own live CV the Archangel Gabriel would hardly be looking to copy and paste, but his pronouncements to her after their non-ceremony could have easily come from the pulpit of any hard-line Methodist Sunday preacher you'd care to produce. Savouring that essentially scalding and cream-laden sip of her cappuccino, a trace of resentment ran through her, and she stiffened instinctively as she viewed the busy street outside from her window-seat location. No- she was BETTER than that, despite what any of them said , and - a smile smuggled its way onto her face - if she was honest, yes she rather DID enjoy these kind of manoeuvrings when they were needed, and both the motivation and the endgame here were most certainly 100 per cent neccessary and worthwhile.

Now something Josie HADN'T noticed since her return to the area was the proximity of the Coffee Culture outlet to a huge , maxi-style branch of TopSport, the country's premier sport equipment and facilities franchise around six door or so down the block. That was little wonder, as celebrity magazines and Desperate Housewives were far nearer her chosen forms of leisure and relaxation, but it did mean the newly-emerged smile froze in brief uncertainty on her face as she saw none other than Jesse at that moment entering the coffee shop. Jesse had spent a productive 30 minutes or so at TopSport looking to further his vision for the factory outlet by collecting catalogues, price lists and a few small items he intended to form part of further discussions on the project with Sally. Explaining briefly to the cashier situated near the door that he wouldn't be staying long holding two carrier bags he came to the window table to be met by Josie's quickly re-discovered composure via a shattering and far less sincere version of the previous smile.

"Well !! Mr McGregor - we WILL have to stop meeting like this - people will talk !! - do sit down !"

Declining that kind offer by the lack of any movement in response, Jesse said in short, clipped tones, "This isn't a social thing Josie - I noticed you in here on the way back to my car and wanted to say I don't know WHAT your game is, but STOP texting me, , don't call, write, email or ANYTHING - I'm with Sally now - END OF, and that's how it's going to stay -so maybe best for all if you just clear off back to whatever twisted planet it is you actually come from, ok ??"

Josie sat listening to the invective in silence before responding with a big sigh - "Ah well - if you're sure I can't tempt you ?" And, as the mischievous streak she'd thought of earlier broke cover and headed for centre stage, she swept a blob of frothy cream from the top of her drink onto her forefinger and in one movement onto the tip of Jesse's nose, leaning over as she did to put her arms round his neck in a hug, and as, in mock dramatic style her voice quavered into "Then farewell kind sir, my life will be but a hollow shell without you..." and finished by placing a showy but lingering kiss of accompaniment on his lips.

It was particularly unfortunate that should be the very moment that the Secretary and Hon Treasurer of the Summer Bay Ladies Bowling club in the forms of Madge Wilkins and Colleen Smart- headed to TopSport as they were, in search of new bowls bags, should be passing the large, long plate glass window of Coffee Culture. An educated observer would have felt the expression suddenly embedded on Colleen's face meant the bowls bags had suddenly been relegated to a low position indeed on her day's priority list...

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