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One Of "Those" Days...

Guest WYN100

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Jesse was learning just how much easier it was to fidget than concentrate on a dull task ? especially when something was gnawing away at the back of your mind.

The light in the office had dimmed to almost Halloween party proportions as the sun had set around 40 minutes earlier and he hadn?t yet stirred himself to rise from the padded wheely chair and cross the six steps or so to put the light on.

The ?Bar Noah? accounts were getting dangerously overdue ? he knew that ? and if by some slight chance he HADN?T then the snappy reminders from Josie were now coming at increasingly short intervals. Once a week he?d been just about able to deflect ? if they squeezed any closer together than the current rate of roughly every 30 minutes , he was quite prepared to fulfil his mental visions of stoking up his partner?s weights bar by an extra 30 kilos or so next time she was training and calling out ?I?m doing the accounts? when the squawked suddenly for help from the next room.

But he felt he had reason to be distracted ?good reason. Rhys Sutherland was back in the Bay ? after nine long months ? but it wasn?t the same ?hit first ask questions later? Rhys that had stormed off to the city after the kiosk had been trashed by Dolby. No ? this was a new model indeed ? crisp suits, top-of-the-range car, - and most infuriatingly ? and puzzlingly ? of all ? a confident, smug expression on his face that Jesse felt was reserved solely for him. No answers ? no explanations ? no threats or grand statements, but Jesse was rapidly tiring of having an itch he couldn?t scratch.

Yes, the takings at Noah?s had been disappointing ? even worryingly ?low in its first few months ? but Rhys COULDN?T know that ? COULD he ? So what WAS his story ? WHY was he back ? ? the incessant merry-go-round in his head started up again ? interrupted only by Josie?s voice, drilling through the gathering gloom ? ?Have you done those accounts yet ? ? and why is it so damn dark?..?

?How many MORE times ? I?m DOING them?.?The much-chewed, splintered pen thudded past her head and into August?s impossibly tanned and athletic page occupant of the ?Surfing through the Year? calendar . It was already September the 23rd ? life at Noahs Bar had become like that lately?.

?Ah, il est tres calme, le pauvre Henri?

?Just shut up Matty, you?re SUCH a pain? growled Henry- proving he had indeed NOT lost the power of speech.

At the table Robbie turned from reading his ?Inventa-Centa? magazine, and sagged in mock amazement ?Quick ? call the TV crews ? the radio ? Sydney Morning Herald ? after long years of waiting ? it speaks !!?

Henry was unsurprisingly not ready to share his brother?s hilarity.?Just rack off and get off my case ? ALL OF YOU ? , he growled, above a shrill and rising ?OOOOOOHHHHHH? supplied by a grinning chorus line double act of Robbie and Matilda.

But- squatting thoughtfully on the edge of the kitchen table, Kit remained quiet. She for one had noticed and filed away how her brother had been looking and acting in recent weeks. Through the weeks of the college vacation she?d noticed him becoming increasingly withdrawn, irritable ?she even fancied he?d lost some weight and was certainly paler in the face. Perhaps more tellingly than anything was his appetite ? or lack of it. When Henry Hunter sent back a large part of a Marinara pizza and a good portion of Southern fried chicken and chips all within the space of a 5 ? day period, the alarm bells now sounding in her head had grown to air-raid siren pitch.

Kit felt a shudder of cold recollection attack suddenly and slide down her spine like an escaping thief in the night. She was sure she recognized the signs,,,,,or was she ?.?

?Rock FORWARD on your feet ? then arm OUT --- and DOWN? like SO?.. then REST?.?

Beth paused from rapping out instructions then ? hands on knees ? paused to take a welcome breath. This was all down to Matty she thought ? pride hastily swopped places with ruefulness on stage at the front of her mind ? and the smiled. If Matilda hadn?t probed away at Mr Hyde ? ok, why not be honest,, PLAGUED Mr Hyde ? this ladies self-defence group meeting now at the surf club would have been a non-starter, She?d thought at first it would amount to little more than glorified gym lessons with the bonus of keeping her daughter happy and out of trouble 2 nights a week. But when the shockwaves of that first Summer Bay mugging had died down, the call had come to widen its scope. A second and third woman being robbed close by had seen that call grow to a high-octane demand. Summer Bay had never seen anything like this, and though Peter Baker was now back and slowly resuming a 5-day week as Special liaison officer for the Bay ?no woman could be watched 24/7.

The final twist had come when Sally and Mrs Rogers ? parent at the school ? had led a deputation to ask HER to take the classes. She could have cheerfully felled Robbie with a karate chop there and then for letting slip his mother had briefly done duty as a gym mistress way back ? another life thought Beth, interrupting her own guided journey back through life ?so ? she?d been trampolined into the post. But for some strange oblique reason, she WAS actually enjoying it ! ?Right Ladies ? back to it?, she smiled, ?We?ll start with the hands held high and a SLOW wheel ? up ? then ROUND ? then down, then ROUND?.?

Suddenly her voice was interrupted by another ? stern, harsh, even. She craned her neck to see who the uncatered-for new arrival could be. It rarely takes anyone anywhere a period of thinking time to identify Morag Bellingham , though. Beth opened her mouth goldfish-style into an exhortation not to quit ? but the class were already whispering to each other in surprise, annoyance and bewilderment at the interruption.

Morag ? unsurprisingly, strode to the front. ?I?m sorry ladies?, she boomed town-crier style , ?I must stop this class right away?. Pausing to look (as she always did at such moments) for a reaction ?she gave an all-but-invisible dry smile = her words had brought the desired effect ? there was no doubt about it?

?No WAY Tash, NOT this time !? ? Robbie had escaped the rather grim atmosphere at the Hunter house to head for fresh air, and was enjoying the sea breeze propelling him and his girlfriend very gently along one side of the high mountain road as they walked. ?There?s NO WAY we?d go kayaking and be safe again !?

?But Ro..? Tasha opened her mouth to object, but the answer was firm ?It just doesn?t HAPPEN with people round here. They go bush or camping, swimming ,quarrying, rallying , walking ? and there?s ALWAYS a disaster ! They may escape once ? but twice ? NEVER. Anyway, I like the feel of good old Australian soil underfoot !?

?I know, let?s ask Henry !? Tasha shrilled excitedly. ?Henry ? But where?? Robbie?s technical wizardry was certain to win him many future prizes, but bread-and-butter observation was unlikely to be among them . His younger brother was walking in their direction, but about 50 yards ahead and on the other side of the road. Robbie?s puzzled blinks turned into a reaction leap of horror as Tasha sprinted easily and diagonally across the road and almost into the path of a large, white, American-style car. Relief at her narrow escape was then diluted with new waves of paralyzing horror as the car screamed to a halt, and a tall, well-built but unsavoury-looking man burst forth from the passenger seat, pounded 8 to 10 steps back, grabbed Henry by an arm twisted behind his back and dragged him harshly into the car which re-started in a huge fan of scorch-ridden exhaust smoke and sped off at limit-defying speed.

Robbie?s mixed cry of warning to his brother and protest at the man?s logic-defying actions remained lodged silently in his throat??.

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*Thanks to everyone fot the nice comments on the first part - really appreciate those - never quite sure myself on how it reads ! lol :) , so thank you again, this is such a cool site !*

Beth dropped gratefully onto a chair in the side office adjoining the room where she?d been taking the class.

Her hair was still damp with exertion, and as her breath hadn?t yet resumed normal pattern, she dwelt briefly but rather bitterly on how that made her feel at DOUBLE disadvantage. Why was it, she thought, that a scarcely attractive woman such as Morag could command instant attention from any gathering, whether it be two tramps arguing at a roadside or a hushed lecture-hall containing the finest legal minds in Australia ?

The voice owned by the subject of that riddle ambushed her quickly back to her senses? ?So you see Beth, this makes it a very awkward situation all round? well, for you mainly?? she said, a trace of a sneer ghosting across her face.

?Run that by me again Morag ,? ? Beth needed to re-focus? ?You?re telling me that you?re HELPING the guy who?s been doing the muggings against one of OUR group he says attacked him????

?Come now Beth ? there?s no shred of proof for what you claim about him ? wheras my client is MOST insistent he was attacked by not just a member of your group ---?, she paused like a veteran wine-taster enjoying the best vintage of a 40 year career ??.but a member of your FAMILY? !?

The figures were beginning to blur into dancing stars before Jesse?s eyes, and the first stab of an infant migraine was beginning to press above his left eye. Incomings, outgoings and allowances all seemed to dissolve into a picture of Rhys Sutherland?s mocking face, revelling in its unspoken secret from the pages of the ledger.

And what was more, once side of his over-taxed brain was attempting to eavesdrop on the low, whispered conversation Josie was having on her cellphone just outside the door. She seemed worried ? animated ? angry even? ?You did WHAT ?? she hissed ? ?Of all the idiotic.. No, I REALIZE that, but to pick on HIM. ! ? well you?d BETTER get it sorted?and QUICKLY..!? Noticing Jesse?s slightly raised head through the window she stabbed the ?off? button and stalked in with the unconvincing air of normality used by those whose minds are churning but hope it isn?t showing.

She noticed Jesse?s head dip a little too quickly and plunged on ? That?s the last thing you need at a time like this ? suppliers letting you down?.?

Jesse returned silently to the row of figures he was beginning to know- but NOT love ? as well as an old friend. Now he had TWO things to sieve urgently through his exhausted grey matter?? the migraine began to knock his inner door with increasing determination?..

Peter Baker stared absently through the small window of his new office ? the scene outside would hardly have featured on one of Summer Bay?s many popular postcards, and indeed his eyes had no meaningful focus on the neatly trimmed small square patch of lawn OR the junction with neighbouring Ocean Avenue which wound rather chaotically into the distance as far as the eye could see. His mind was concentrated squarely on the Leah situation. Even during those weird, random days of the coma where time and his life had seemingly moved into another dimension, the few ragged fragments he could recall that had kept him going had all been centred round her. Surprisingly not the dry , soulless features of the maniac Sarah ? just the face of Leah. She above everyone and everything ? even his family ? and Dan ? yes Dan ? ANOTHER area needing resolution. But how could he POSSIBLY work up to telling her what had been sitting impatiently on the tip of his tongue through almost every hour of his rehabilitation ?

The faintly despairing tone of a telephone that?s rung a dozen plus times without answer suddenly bisected the troubled trance he?d drifted into ? but as he reached for the receiver , real life seized his lapels with even greater force as the door crashed back on its hinges and Tasha burst through, followed some seconds later by a red-faced and wheezing Robbie ?Peter =-quick- its HENRY !!!! ? ? Police training in an instant pressed the override key on Peter?s previous thoughts ? and he was again somehow propelled seamlessly into duty mode?

Scott gave a half ?wave and warmly polite smile as the girl called ?Hello? across at him ? he?d just finished a day of all the grubby annoying tasks that had kept building up on the boat, and that he and Kane had kept sidestepping with the kind of nimble Hunter footwork that he, Beth and of course Henry had displayed at the Noah memorial concert.

Today though, it had been a welcome relief. He and Danni had gone to sleep the previous night not on speaking terms, and this morning he?d been up and out before she?d woken. This latest plan of hers ? to visit all the local prisons and secure units to give talks on writing books on ?life inside? had stirred up all his doubts again. The girl he?d fallen for hadn?t been a non-stop social campaigner- always jumping head first into other people?s problems ? what had happened with Felix was evidence enough of how dangerous it could be.

All he wanted was an easy, quiet, peaceful life ? the usual 1 point 7 arguments a month that normal couples have - to work on his boat- help the family ? that was MORE than enough. But the cold feeling in the pit of his stomach was starting to advise him of a life spent firefighting the problems encountered by his other half? the prospect wasn?t a pleasant one. He noticed the girl had dropped into a mock wrestling fight with her small dog on the grassy verge while her horse rested and ate. Scott smiled ? that seemed the very picture of the ?no hassles? life he craved.

?Hi I?m Scott ? he called. The girl sat up, pressed her hair straight and called back ?Jessica ! ? and this is Jimmy? ? gesturing at the dog who didn?t realize the final bell had rung in their bout, and was still intent on pinning Jessica squarely to the grass. Scott felt a sudden wave of happy contentment splash through him ? unfamiliar indeed in recent days ? and called out ? I?ve got some cold drinks in the freezer box ?like to come and join me in one ?? Jessica hopped up ?aye aye INDEED captain? she replied in a pleasant, bubbly voice ? she almost hadn?t noticed how hot the day had become. ?On one condition though,? she shouted after Scott. He stopped in the act of turning away ? his face falling for one semi-second.. It quickly resumed an upward path though as she jerked her thumb at Jimmy and giggled ? ..as long as he can come too ? ?Weeeel ----- I THINK we can manage that? Scott conceded with an exaggerated purse of the lips. The unlikely wrestler?s ears pricked up and he gave an optimistic little bark at the prospect of a cold drink and a new friend lying in wait. As Scott pulled his t-shirt on, he was thinking much the same??..

Henry lay with his head pressed down on the back of the car seat as instructed. The roar of the car?s large engine and the well over-loud rock music pumping from the side speakers served to drown out almost everything, though he had heard some talking at some point ? he remained tense and highly uncertain on what was possibly to come ? he?d never realized it was possible to hold one?s breath for such a period of time..

Suddenly the car slewed to a halt ? the figure who?d dragged him from the road what seemed like days ago now took a rug that had been between the two of them and slung it over his head. As his mind whirled - vague snatches of a conversation drifted their way through the window that had been opened to expel the smoke from the driver?s acrid-smelling cigarettes. None of the words or sense of the conversation itself could pierce his senses, but suddenly ?from his low-slung, cramped and thoroughly uncomfortable position, Henry stiffened--- he KNEW that voice? he strained his ears for a few more seconds amid the general noise pollution ? yes ? he KNEW that voice--- and he knew it WELL??????????????..

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***PART 3***

Scott walked slowly, grudgingly up the path from the boat ? it had been one of those afternoons you just don?t want to end, but feel it slipping deviously away through your fingers and increasing in speed as it does so. This was a rare feeling indeed in the last year or so ? he felt energized, positive ? and most welcome of all, a million miles away from talk of prisons, risk assessments and the pointless but inevitable bickering that seemed to go with it.

He looked back and smiled. Jessica was kneeling down, wiping the amiable Jimmy?s nose with a tissue ? he?d explored a little too well in finding that half-finished carton of soup Kane had left there earlier in the day.- the mid-evening sun was picking out the honey-coloured streaks in her hair, he noticed?

She looked up ? ?Sorry again about that mess?.he means well?!? she giggled ? and anyway ---you?re a fine host, winning three straight games of cards !!?

?Oh I think its nothing less than a court-martial for him,? Scott called back laughingly over his shoulder ?, and anyway ? there were TWO on your team !!? The failed card shark trotted happily up the path to display his newly-cleaned features ?Scott leant down to pat his head and made one last unavailing mental grasp to pull back an afternoon now scurrying away at the pace of an egg-timer that knows boiling point is here but you?re at the front door with the postman?..

Kit?s cheeks were glowing red with barely suppressed fury as she sat alongside her mother and Morag. Beth had already felt the small table a little cramped to accommodate both herself and the imposing Bellingham persona ? with a seething daughter stirred into the mix, she felt the onset of acute claustrophobia couldn?t be far off.

?So you see Beth?, the judge swept on imperiously ? My client stoutly maintains he merely stepped into the lane to ask your daughter the time, and was, within minutes the victim of a savage and unprovoked assault.?

?That is SUCH a crock Morag and you KNOW it ? ? the rise in Kit?s voice was in proportion to her sharp vertical rise from the seat ? ?you just let me see that guy for FIVE MINUTES ? ? underlined by a thump that rocked the table ? ?Five minutes, and I?ll?.? The likely timetable of events in that wished-for five minutes was stopped short by Beth ? ?Sit down love, you?re not doing yourself any favours..?

Morag had been watching Kit?s outburst with the largely emotionless but faintly sardonic sneer that was her trademark ? ?Good advice Mrs Hunter ? I observe just how quickly your daughter is raised to contemplate acts of violence ?I need hardly remind you of her unprovoked and painful attack on Kim Hyde in full public view some months back ?while there is of course the drink issue?..?. The inferno now lit and raging in Kit?s eyes indicated she was more than ready for another six rounds with Morag?. Beth?s eyes set and cast rather like the bar gate over a level crossing indicated sternly that that would NOT be a good idea? She ran two fingers wearily across her brow ? little did she know it, but the embryo migraine encircling Jesse just a short distance away was revving up its engine for a short and unwelcome tour round selected heads of Summer Bay..

Henry struggled desperately to focus his senses to deliver the answer he so desperately wanted. If minds had tips like tongues then the identity of the owner of that frustratingly muffled voice would have been standing on the tip of it ready to perform an Olympic high-dive with triple salka straight into his grasp. But conditions were far from ideal for an eavesdropper with a thirst for minute detail. However, the naggingly very familiar tone and pattern of the talker continued to aggravate his mind, even through the sharp apprehension at the position he was in, the constricting proximity of the scratchy travel rug thrown over him, and the seemingly ever louder backdrop of Metallica from the car CD player were all convincing reasons to abandon the task. Suddenly ? the voice hit a brief crescendo of anger then-the front car door slammed, Metallica were paused for a brief second as the engine burst chaotically into life and Henry found himself pitched awkwardly into his back-seat companion as the vehicle?s erratic motion was resumed. For how long ? his scrambled senses couldn?t really define, but it couldn?t have been all THAT long before suddenly daylight again probed his eyeballs after the period beneath the rug ? the car shuddered to a sudden halt and as the man flung open the back door, he found himself hurled to the roadside where he uncomfortably inhaled dust and - barely audible over Metallica thrashing through the kind of song his mother would cross the entire kitchen to turn off on the radio he could just hear ..? you saw nothing kid, and you REMEMBER nothing??Henry shifted uncomfortably in readiness for standing up- he certainly wished he could REMEMBER who owned that voice?

Kirsty sucked the pen ? cradled her forehead between thumb and forefinger- started writing ? stopped ? scribbled the words out irritably ? screwed up the paper and tossed the small ball angrily at the bin. It missed by several feet and sat accusingly on the carpet looking up at her. The pen-sucking turned to chewing and she felt the barrel crack between her teeth. A few meagre words later, the scribbling returned ? and as always seems the case with a foreign object on the floor, the original sheet of paper seemed to expand to begin filling up the entire carpet. It was mocking her now ? ?can?t do your assignment. Can?t throw straight..?

This was all Kane?s fault, she thought ? WHO?D encouraged her to stay on and study after the HSC, who told her she?d breeze it etc etc ? more fool her for listening, she told herself. She dropped the pen, breathed in slowly and decided to head for the TV and watch the swimming ? it was something she?d always enjoyed, right back to when Shauna helped her train as a lifeguard ? a nice cup of coffee, that last piece of mandarin cheesecake and the world would look a brighter place ? she hoped !


She powered the TV from standby ? filled the coffee mug and headed for the waiting delights of the chair. But ? in another slice of proof that an Ian Osbourne-style figure sits among the fates somewhere watching and planning these things ? right on cue, there was a knock at the door. She sighed deeply and opened it to reveal a fairly shot, thick-set man in his early fifties, who asked ?Is Kane here ???, combining the question with enough forward motion to get him inside without needing an invitation. Kirsty?s mouth dropped open to protest, but the man was inside. He had a restless air about him, moving constantly from chair to table to bookcase ? picking up and reading one of Irene?s birthday cards- the constant motion was making Kirsty feel unsettled and a little aggravated ? lived here long ? ? nice place ? how far from the shops ?? With the swimming trials and cheesecake now starting to seem as if they belonged in another life she resolved to stop the man?s random progress around the room - it felt like he and she had become caught up in some bizarre line dance. ?When?s Kane back then ? Got a good job, has he-is that his jacket over there??

Kirsty stood squarely before him ? breathed in ? and resisting the temptation to seize him by the shoulders to pin him down, demanded ?Why do you want to know all this- are you a friend of Kane?s ?? The man paused briefly, and a smile lacking in warmth or humour crossed his unshaven face. Now she was able to focus a little more clearly on him she noticed his clothes were a little on the shabby side. ?That?s a good one,? he said after a short pause ? ?friend ? lady ? I?m his father !?

Kirsty?s feet seemed at once to turn to heavy sludge. Her blood ran to an eerie chill. She was alone here with Kane?s father ? the man who?d seemingly inflicted those appalling wounds on her husband?s back?.she?d NEVER wanted to see him as much as she did now ? but that was unlikely-----

Henry?s mind was as full and confused as his body was comprehensively exhausted. It might have been a day , a week, a month or longer since he?d been snatched this morning ? he knew the volley of questions on that was to come. Just ONE question however was boring a hole in the fabric of his mind ? WHO ? had that voice belonged to ? Hearing a car up ahead, Henry shuffled up one side of the dirt-track that doubled as a road wherever he actually was. The approaching vehicle?s engine revved and as it did from somewhere ? a connection ? a thought ? an answer was triggered in Henry?s mind. He stumbled slightly in the sandy-coloured dust, but as he righted himself, the name screamed refreshingly loud and long into his throbbing grey matter ? it had been?RHYS- RHYS SUTHERLAND !! ? barely had the thought had time for a first infant scream than the car braked sharply to a halt alongside, hurling up new clouds of dust ? as it settled he glimpsed through the window a trio of set, and in two cases agitated faces ? they were ? Robbie ?Tasha ? and Peter Baker???

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?So you SEE Scott ? there?ll be no danger at ALL ? there?ll be two warders alongside me, and a kind of shelf thing between us and them?.SCOTT?!?

Her words finally managed to chip a little entry-hole in the protective thought-shield he was building around himself. Three years back, prisons were places a million miles removed from his kind of life. Even when some of the workers at the Hunter farm had begun what they wrongly considered to be some well-disguised theft of goods and stock ? Jack hadn?t believed in prisons ? just a brief dose of his ?no-appeal? style of justice, and a dire warning not to come within 100ks of the farm again .

But now ? prisons had become a regular feature ? first Danni?d been in one herself ? then the whole saga with The Guv ? now this lecture-tour or whatever it was?.. so THIS was what it was like to feel the walls closing in ! Analysing his late-twenties life, he wanted fresh air, horses, FUN ..and he wanted,,, his mind strayed to Jessica and that giggle Chanel would give thousands to bottle and sell..

?SCOTT ? what on earth?s got into you this evening ?? ? he felt the reality drill pare away a few more crucial inches at the edge of his shield??Uh --- I think I left something? I need some air?.? And he turned and headed out.

Danni shrugged and was about to return to reading ?Ladies behind the lock ? The female touch inside a cell.? ? one of her many research books. She stopped short at a shrill double beep ? ?Scott, your mobil??.too late.!. Intrigued in spite of herself at an ?unknown number?, she gently tapped the text message alert and saw..?Three times was too many ? revenge on its way !!?

The bald, uncompromising statement had her welded to the spot ?her jaw resembling that of a parachutist who?s jumped===and feels no ripcord?.

Kirsty was torn between attack and defence = she could reassure and settle Kane?s father by shuffling into small-talk, - but that made him more likely to stay , when it would have been all but impossible to imagine a far enough distant place on earth where she?d want him to be at that precise moment,,

OR ? she could confront him and demand he left?. But the very thought of that set a tension pulse booming at the side of her forehead ? and suddenly ? ruthlessly ? repeatedly ? those images of Kane?s scarred back came volleying at her again and again like fireworks in the night sky ? all in deep and expressive scarlet shades..

Her mind did a quick audit of the other house residents, while the un-invited guest sat and idly flicked the pages of her study book. Irene ?- - a late birthday coffee at the Sands with Beth? Robbie and Tasha ?,, she?d heard something about a long walk over the hill road?and Kane ? her darling Kane ? ? when she needed him most ? ? where was he ? ? late at the charter-boat she guessed , as seemed to have been the case the last few nights.

A middle way ? WAS there a middle way ? ?Kane wont be back for hours yet? she ventured - ?I?ll wait?, said this most unwelcome of visitors ? ?I?m sure he?ll be interested in what I have to say to him??- a smile ? or to most observers an unpleasant sneer wandered across his rough, unwholesome features. Kirsty cast a longing eye at her mobile phone on the table amid the sea of English study notes- in the steadily thickening silence the tick of the small clock on top of the cupboard seemed to have become as intense as a dentist?s deepest drill..

Morag stopped ? frowned ? and observed keenly. She?d been for a late afternoon walk along the sea-front path to help clear her head and prepare for another briefing with Kit Hunter?s accuser Joe Austin.It hadn?t taken her long to decide she didn?t LIKE the man, but as she?d inhaled deep and energizing lungfuls of sea air, the defence counsel rose in the opposite corner of her mind to plead his case ?He has the money ? his story seems plausible..? But?the prosecution corner snapped back ? Where did he GET the money?.and he has no witnesses !? Morag sighed ? she sometimes wished her brain didn?t constantly have to shake down EVERY chapter of her life like it was a scene from LA Law,,,But by then her eyes had swooped on Auistin and her ears clicked into phone=-tap mode as she noticed him talk into his mobile. He was leaning against the outer wall of the diner ? a little early for their scheduled meeting. She noted instantly his tone wasn?t that of someone pressing ahead with litigation just days after an alleged vicious assault. ?NO problem?. Yes, I?m sure ? QUITE sure?.no, she doesn?t ? ABSOLUTELY not?? Morag took another step behind the parked surfer?s van shielding her from her client?s gaze ? this could be well worth hearing , she thought as the prosecution counsel rose once again in her mind?

Henry knew he had to frame his explanation carefully. Peter Baker?s voice cut through the rising crescendo of Robbie and Tasha demanding answers at a combined and increasingly raucous volume..?But WHEN did you?.? ?WHAT makes you think?.? ?WHY did you?.?, ?Why DIDN?T you???

?QUIET you two - just give the guy a minute for heavens? sake ! Look Henry ? there are too many loose ends here for my liking. Firstly I need to know WHY those guys took you like they did, and secondly what on earth would make you think Rhys Sutherland would be involved with them ?? Henry coloured as he glanced across at the reluctantly ? and probably temporarily ? quiet duo of Robbie and Tasha, who were equally agog for the answers Baker had demanded. He sipped uncomfortably at the juice Peter had brought into the small front office where the first fingers of dusk were beginning to slip through the blinds. One answer he couldn?t give because he didn?t have it ? one he couldn?t give because he DID?

Within 20 yards of each other, separated only by the diner wall, 2 phone calls were concluding. Inside, Jesse strained both to hear and to look casual as he finished massaging his migraine with black coffee ? Rhys Sutherland was in the adjoining booth, conversing in the low, throaty tones that eavesdroppers so dislike. Jesse?s neck was twisted to a severe degree that threatened to revive the migraine from its jaccuzzi of coffee ? he could register just the odd word ?Right--- no, it WON?T ? you have my guarantee ? wasn?t that exactly why?..I understand? ? click?.

Outside ?Joe Austin concluded his call, also unaware of invisible eyes and ears trained his way??You can bank on that?I?d say EXACTLY to plan--- you?ll be the first to know- yes the VERY first..I understand..? click?

Ian Osbourne returned the phone to its cradle on the table ? nodded slowly? and formed a humourless smile ?Oh, I hope you DO understand ?? The sun?s late rays picked out the azure-blue tiles of the swimming pool alongside him

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**PART 5**

Beth held her head in her hands ? a small part of her was maybe hoping if it stayed there long enough this day would prove to have been nothing but a bad ? and progressively worsening ? dream. An uneasy rustle gave the first indication that such hopes were built on quicksand ? and when she finally and reluctantly loosed her head from its brief sanctuary , the problems that had sent it there remained in ever more stark focus. That coffee with Irene ? the exercise class even ? already seemed light years ago..

With a cocktail of fatigue?driven emotion and rising anger she spoke ?Its just a couple of lousy MONTHS since I told all of you that moving here was a new start !?, - she gave a short, bitter laugh. ?Now look at you ? a daughter accused of common assault..?

?But Mum..? from Kit ,? ?QUIET ? I am TALKING ? a daughter accused of common assault and a son - - mixed up in?? Her voice grew tight ? DRUGS-..? ? Henry chose the wisest option of non-interruption until she?d finished. ?It hasn?t been Five MINUTES since that business with Eric Daulby and the marijuana and now THIS !? Henry shifted uncomfortably and his face reddened . While this was bad enough, he knew his suspicion about who was involved had to be kept from his mother at all costs?

Kirsty was becoming increasingly desperate.. Since Kane?s father had so intrusively ambushed her afternoon, her mind had been working at high speed- but still not reaching satisfactory destination. He?d installed his unwelcome presence into her afternoon nearly two hours ago, and it was now dawning on her how the phone never rings or door knocks just when you WANT it to.

She was beginning to actively detest this man with his cheap aftershave, shabby and overworm t-shirt, dirty fingernails and..and..WHERE was Kane ? Surely he couldn?t STILL be at the charter ?? THINK ! She instructed herself ? but any ideas that may have been attempting to slide through and rescue her were being met by a solid concrete wall. Curiosity however was still battling away with adrenaline and mounting apprehension at the situation in which she found herself . ? Look , Kane may not be back at all you know?? she attempted one more desperate deal of her increasingly fragile hand of cards. Phillips looked up, tossed her another unpleasant glance and snapped back ?Try again lady? I?ve told you enough times what I?m after and why?.?

But then? the downward hurtle of Kirsty?s heart clattered into swift reverse..he was getting up?. ?Where?s the little boy?s room round this joint?? A ray of hope?. Kirsty attempted mightily to retain a casual air as she replied ?Oh , just on the left, opposite the bedroom?? She watched him go, scratching, coughing?.

Closing her eyes momentarily in semi-disgust but also fervent hope, she crossed quickly to the table, liberated her mobile phone and reciting a silent prayer, urgently began to tap in a text message?.

Scott?s mind was a random fog as he made his way back towards the jetty ?those few minutes back home had rallied his forces more strongly than ever against allowing the taste of his afternoon with Jessica to simply evaporate ? he wanted to sit down with her again ? hear her laugh- help her tease Jimmy the dog and ---like a plane suddenly hitting the sound barrier the truth emerged ? he wanted SO much to kiss her as well. Could it really be that he?d only known this girl for one afternoon and now he was grasping a cotton-thin strand of hope that she would still be there ? Maybe the horse had been reluctant to leave? maybe Jimmy had?? he stopped = looked around him and felt the cold rush of disappointment sweep in. She?d gone..when he so much needed to embrace that real life world again and reassure himself it was still an option. Then ? renewed hope ? they?d swopped mobile numbers ? OF COURSE ?the flow of disappointment was dammed temporarily ? but was overtaken by rising panic as the increasingly desperate fumbles in his pockets revealed nothing but a scribbled note from Danni telling him to buy more writing paper..

He swivelled quickly and broke into an urgent run, feeling the icy foreboding of one who knows they could well be called to account if events stack up unfavourably. The sprint back to the Palace would need to be his quickest ever. The Hunter Personal Best wasn?t to be required however- coming towards him wearing what he?d come to consider her characteristic grim expression was Danni? planting her hands aggressively on her hips she demanded ? Scott? do you want to tell me just what the hell is going on???

Henry took a deep breath and set out down the path of explanation he hoped he?d never have to take ??Well, after Matty and you started all the self-defence stuff and Robbie may as well have moved his pj?s round to Tasha?s place,,,? ? a warning glare from Beth told the two open mouths standing ready for protest not to interrupt. Henry lurched onwards..?So I was walking home alone every night ? started thinking how it was nearly a year since that whole thing with the kiosk ? and since Rhys left us - and it seemed like no-one cared ..? this time they all began to contradict him, but he ploughed on?? then there was this guy?.?

?What guy sweetie??? said Beth, a little more tenderly now..?

?I don?t know ? but he was there every night ? going on and on about how this stuff would make me feel better?and then he wanted money? so I gave some?but then I couldn?t?but I liked how it made me feel??

Robbie broke in?? but what about Rh?.OWWWWWW? ? he yelled as the sharp pain of a hack from Robbie?s shoe caught him squarely on the shin under the table. The youngest Hunter son had began to slowly unburden his secrets ? but he DIDN?T yet want tto hang round his mother the worry of knowing he suspected her estranged husband MAY somehow be implicated in an increasingly strange web of events?.

Kirsty?s thumb was working as quickly as her scrambled senses would allow as she tapped out the digits ? cursing silently at the over-run letters and the unwanted spurts of predictive mode that haunt all texters at the most vital moments ? the vital message was taking shape ? BIG trouble? I need U here ? NOW ? explain all l8r ? Wher?? But the question remained unfinished and the message unsent as the hand wrenched roughly at her shoulder and the phone was sent spinning across the room. ?What the ? you little *****?I go to the john and you?re straight onto the cops with that thing?.?

Kirsty thought desperately as she blurted out ?No, you?ve got it wrong??? she?d relied on the sound of the toilet flushing to give her a few seconds advance warning of his return ? typical of this beast of a man not to even do that?. But such thoughts were replaced by more immediate ones of terror and self preservation as he grabbed her, wheeled her round and spat ? You?re just as bad as he was.. why I ought to give you..? he raised his fist threateningly- but then another interruption ? as Phillips himself was sent spinning sideways and a voice said ?I don?t THINK so ? do you ?? ? as Kirsty gasped with relief ? Kane?s father snarled iratetely ?and who the hell might YOU be ???

?McRae ? Stafford McRae ? for what business it is of yours ? now are you leaving ? or do I have to finish the job and throw you out ??

Kirsty?s onlooking eyes grew ever wider..

Rhys Sutherland?s near top-of-the range car purred up the hill in the outlying and exclusive estate of houses situated snugly just off the coast road. As it stopped and prepared to indicate, the face of the driver in the older, weather-beaten model snaking cautiously behind at the foot of the incline took on a determined expression, with the vaguest hint of smile that senses triumph ??NOW..? thought Jesse?he MIGHT start getting some answers?


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