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The NEXT Day...

Guest WYN100

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It was a strange position to be in, reflected Morag, probing for weaknesses in your own client ? and without him even knowing. But the overheard snippets of that cellphone conversation outside the diner had sharpened her voracious curiosity to intense levels. Was this man really all he seemed? or were there other forces at work here ? She simply had to discover whether that conspiracy theory was justified ? but remain as subtle as possible about it.

?Do you know Summer Bay particularly well Mr Austin ?? she quizzed ? her keen eyes sizing up his response. ?Not particularly?? came the suave, easy response ? and pre-empting the question about to pounce from her lips, he went on ??but I?d heard so much about it in the tourist pamphlets ? the surf club carnival, the iron-mam competition and so on, I just thought I?d give it a look one afternoon.?

Quickly changing tack, Morag followed up reflectively ? You?re considerably BIGGER than Kit Hunter??

?Ah yes? came the polished reply ?,? but that girl has a kick like a mule on a fillet steak diet --- and when she catches you by surprise?.? A still slightly dubious Morag found herself joining in the chilled shudder he gave to emphasise his point. In Austin?s pocket, his cellphone ? on ?silent? mode was vibrating softly in alert. Morag hadn't noticed it ? but had she been able to see the name of the caller lighting up the display, she?d have indulged in something a little more pointed than a chilled shudder?.

The Palace had certainly seen happier atmospheres. Irene and Hayley had seen Danni racing out as they?d arrived back from a shopping trip they?d cut short as neither really seemed to have the necessary appetite for an all-out on the clothes-rails ? and it couldn?t be argued with ? a girl needed to be fully committed to a serious bout of retail therapy.

They sat silently over mugs of instant coffee made with little enthusiasm ? and their combined and growing despondency was underlined by the fact that neither even mentioned chocolate biscuits?

?It just seems a little odd?? said Rhys, reclining comfortably in the leather-backed chair and beginning to empty the glass of perfectly-chilled lager that had been poured for him

? I don?t pay you to ask questions?? came back the voice ? even enough, but with a freshly-sharpened quality to it.

?Didn?t I finance the Sydney Swans for 2 whole seasons ? Didn?t I bale you out of that VERY messy steroid business which could have got you banned for life ? ? Acknowledging Rhys?s nods, he continued ? So all I?m asking for in return is some help - you said you were sick being the guy left holding the dirty end of every stick, right ? Well I think I can help you do something about that. I take it you don?t have a problem with better money, better clothes, better car and a feeling that it?s YOU calling most of the shots, right ?? Rhys smiled ? it didn?t look as if he had a problem in the world at that moment. Despite the earlier semi-order though, he still had a question he couldn?t leave unasked. He was framing his mouth to ask it when a loud crash from outside the window cut his flow like scissors through ragged string?.

Kirsty was beginning to recover her breath slowly from the afternoon?s breathless and unsettling sequence of events.

Phillips had been sent unceremoniously on his way ? though that ?5 per cent? area at the back of most of our minds was beginning to query quietly but provocatively how long for ?

Nonetheless she was hugely grateful to Stafford McRae, and looking at him admiringly found herself wondering how this guy never fronted up anywhere or did anything without looking the perfect gentleman ? never a hair out of place on the few occasions she?d encountered him.

?But I still don?t understand ? how did you KNOW ??.?

McRae?s explanations always reflected his appearance and manner ? crisp, to-the-point = economical ??Well, I?ve been aware of that guy for quite some time..?he paused before the Stafford Rolls-Royce of explanations continued purring its way up the hill???and for a number of different reasons. But we knew he was HERE because ? well ? Mrs Roberts wasn?t told a full 120 per cent of the truth about those surveillance cameras??

Kirsty?s earlier admiration threatened to spontaneously ignite into a New Year?s firework display set ablaze early by a carelessly discarded cigarette. ?Mr McRae, this had BETTER be good?.? He though remained wholly unflappable ? Oh Mrs Phillips ? I assure you ? it IS !?

The phone had rung at least three times before either of the silent coffee-drinkers were roused to speech. ?Well perhaps you?d like me to GET that, milady ? questioned Irene with elaborate sarcasm- sadly and wholly wasted on Hayley.

?I guess, ? she said without enthusiasm, turning her eyes to the kitchen door, beyond where the raised voices of Danni and Scott were just coming into audible earshot. The head swivelled back like a spectator at a tennis final however at a hiss from Irene, who was brandishing the phone in the air ! ?Hey missy = look lively ? I reckon you?re going to want to hear this !? Hayley didn?t doubt Irene, but as the warring voices behind the door grew louder , she reflected ruefully how a state of abject boredom could become a frustratingly forced choice between two tempting and ?need to know? attractions in just a matter of moments??.

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:) Thanks for the nice comments about the last part, they're much appreciated !

**The ?NEXT? Day ? Part 2

Jesse stood defiantly on the plush , velvety, thick-underfoot carpet in the small side-room where he?d been bundled with no great ceremony by one of the two thick-set, bullish security guards making alternate clockwise and anti-clockwise loops of the garden. The attendant labrador had retreated reluctantly with him behind the thick oak-panelled door, having clearly earmarked Jesse?s shin as an early pre-dinner snack.

Wholly in character, Ian Osbourne wasted zero time on pleasantries as the door swung open. ? Give me one good reason why I shouldn?t hand you over to the police this minute and have done with it?? he rapped, striding purposefully past his uninvited visitor but not once turning to look at him. Jesse?s hackles began to rise . If there was even a chance this man had been ultimately responsible for the migraine which had plagued his last 36 hours, humble backtracking wasn?t even an option?

?You are KIDDING me?? gasped Irene ? the sluggish Sunday-afternoon style cloud of indolence which had hung over the pair having been comprehensively punctured by the telephone call.

?Nick said he?d run into Duncan ? or rather Duncan almost ran into HIM in the flashiest sports car you EVER saw?? Irene?s brow darkened momentarily as memories of Seb?s dreadful accident scudded back across her mind ? but curiosity won her over as she broke in ??but tell me again about this GIRL !!!? Hayley took a breath and continued???Well, she?s 17 and her family have got money to BURN !! They have this business owning and renting luxury holiday apartments on the West Coast ? And SHE thinks the WORKD of Duncan !!?. Irene rolled despairing eyes to the heavens ?Must have rocks in her head then !?

?Quite?? replied Hayley ? but growing slower and more thoughtful went on..? I don?t like the sound of it though. He told Nick being with her is like having a bank account with bottomless credit ? but apparently he?s still very bitter about how he says he was treated here ? he?s drinking a lot ? and he kept saying the money he?s got can help him get his own back???

Peter Baker walked with slow, careful steps along the edge of the path which marked the start of the beach. He was grateful for the fresh, salty early-afternoon breeze which was doing the job he?d hoped it would ? begin to blow clear the combined web of angst in which the Henry Hunter episode had featured large, plus the aggravating realisation that since the coma, he still wasn?t able to take as much in his daily stride as he had previously. The corrugated brow then gave way however to a brighter, more buoyant aspect as he sighted Leah strolling across the beach in one of her ?Colleenn-cleansing? breaks as she liked to call them. She hadn?t seen him as he stopped, smiled and felt a pleasant inner warmth start to wipe away the corners of inner concerns. He took a few steps forward, intending to call to her, but almost as he began, stopped and checked back as Dan Trotted onto the beach from Leah?s left , linked her arm, and immediately he could hear genuine, carefree laughter from the pair carried across on the breeze to where he was standing,.

The brow re-darkened, and Peter was immediately reminded of the centrepiece in that stress jigsaw ? how, even after all that had happened, the newly printed off email in his pocket still had the potential to blow at least two and as many as four lives wide apart?.

Kirsty was unwilling to let the expression of outrage vacate her face easily, but McRae was by now well into his stride ?Three or four years back, Mr Osbourne?s parents had a burglary at their house ? nasty thing ? two guys, tied them up. Robbed a whole load of valuables??

Concern wiped out indignation on Kirsty?s face = ?Poor things ? were they hurt ?? The narrator went on ?Well ? interesting point ? one of the guys was far more aggressive than the other- made threats, acted ugly ? but the second one actively stopped him ? backed him off ? made him calm down, in fact that one seemed very reluctant to be there?.?

?But I still don?t see?.? From a puzzled Kirsty

He continued regardless ?Mr Osbourne was wild with fury ? blamed himself he hadn?t been there ? its very likely that the stress of it contributed to his stroke?but anyway ? he devoted a large part of his life to finding out who?d done it ? thousands ? tens of thousands on private detectives ? watched the tape from the CCTV camera almost till it snapped. And then last year ? finally ? a name?.SCOTT PHILLIPS?.

Kirsty was beyond words ? a breathy gasp was all she could manage, but her eyes were bulging seemingly far enough to reach out and lean on Stafford?s crisply-suited shoulder for support ? so Kane?s misfit brother had a role in this bewildering sequence of events?

Joe Austin was enjoying his day. The session with Norag had gone smoothly ? he?d made short work of the fresh fish special at the diner ? even enjoying a little bit of banter with the daft old duck behind the counter ? though he remained unsure whether apparently sharing the same hearty appetite as ?her Lancey? was the greatest compliment a man could collect along the way? he decided a beach stroll with plenty of eye-candy to appreciate was next on the agenda. His cellphone?s ?Australian Idol? ringtone (his private joke) summoned his reluctant attention from the sunbathers and he smiled as he saw the caller ID ? he was glad it wasn?t HIM having to pat for all these transatlantic calls??

At the beach-house McRae was settling down to the business end of the unfolding story he was laying before Kirsty. He wouldn?t have uttered another syllable however had he known his audience was double what he believed it to be- Kane?s father squeezed as close as humanly possible to the barely-open living room window, still rubbing tenderly one of the developing bruises Stafford had presented him with earlier. As the name of his eldest son filtered out into the secluded side=path he grinned with real malice and stretched still further forward. Now this WOULD be worth hearing?..

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**PART 3**

Rhys was beginning to stir a little uneasily despite the comfort of his padded, leather-backed chair opposite Osbourne' imposing mahogany desk. His host had been out of the room for 10 minutes or more, and now he could hear raised voices?.

There was no fly on the wall of the small, tight room where Jesse had been dragged ? it would have probably been very daunted by the clean, angular precision of the place. If however one had dared to alight there it could have reported back a very heated exchange to Rhys?

?WHY is Rhys Sutherland back in Summer Bay ?? The question was dismissivley ignored as Osbourne weighed in with the equivalent of a heavyweight boxer?s left and right hooks. ?Why were YOU trespassing on my land Mr MacGregor ? I believe that IS your name ? And I?d be very careful of your ground if I were you before you go pulling a lion?s tale ? how sure are you for example of Miss Russell ? I forget whether she?s your love or business interest this week ? ? take a tip from me ? steer clear or it could come crashing down in flames around you!? Jesse bridled ?Is that a threat of arson at Noah?s ,MISTER Osbourne ?? The glacier-cool exterior didn?t wavre. ? An interesting image ? now remind me ? does Leah Paterson know the REAL cause of that prison fire which could ?and still may- have killed her husband ? The spirit of battle which has been lighting up Jesse? eyes was draining away southwards0 at the speed of a fast-running hot tap ? he gaped?

Austim sat on the bayside bench and listened ? he?d done a lot of that since being contacted by Duncan. He?d remembered the kid from his days as a delivery van driver at the old Beachside Diner, and when he?d been caught doing what he considered to be some ?perks of the job? pilfering from Alf?s wallet, he considered Duncan?s silence had been bought with a few dollars and some airy general phrases.

Until now? the unexpected call had come a few months back- and this was no longer a typical less-than honest kid after a quick profit?.this was a calculating teenager with long-kept evidence in his pocket -- and venom in his soul??

?So you see?? ended McCrae, ?it?s all very simple? Kirsty?s look indicated she?d have probably found college degrees in industrial physics and pure maths to be more simple. ?So?. You ACTUALLY want Kane to do a robbery with Scott ? but only Scott will get arrested for it ? That?s just crazy ? it could never work !?

?But that?s just the beauty of it ? McCrae urged encouragingly??Scott needs another for this job he?s planning ? and who would he possibly trust more than Kane ? Sergeant Haslam at Yabbie Creek let?s say = owes Mr Osbourne a few ?favours? and his squadron would put Kane totally in the clear afterwards. Then..? he said rubbing thumb and forefingers together to indicate cash . ?you two would find he was very ?. And I mean VERY grateful,,,?

Kirsty gaped ? speechless once again. How would she EVER explain the evening?s events to her husband ? And even more to the point ? where WAS he ??

If Beth rated herself on any one thing in life, it was being able to read her children closely and succinctly. Her track record with husbands was an open book of self-delusion and wafer-thin role-playing ? but children were different. She?d spotted Kit?s alcoholism from the start, and while the achingly painful trauma of Rhys?s sudden departure and the ghosts awakened by his enigmatic reappearance had prevented her fully detecting the nature of Henry?s problem, her mind had detected there had BEEN a problem. Now she was wholly convinced there?d been a ?missing piece? to his explanation. After all, his under-the-table hack at Robbie?s shins had been far more WWE wrestling than Swan Lake ballet.

She?d mulled it over, and now found her youngest son staring blankly at a documentary about Argentinian cattle. She slid down next to him, and eased the remote from his fingers. As she flicked the TV off-?Hey, I was watching th?No you weren?t ? Henry wriggled?. But there was no escape?

The very earliest signs of dusk were beginning to start lightly shading in the corners of the day as Rhys walked slowly down the imposing stone steps at the front of Ian Osbourne?s home.

His brow was furrowed ?even more so than usual ! Osbourne hadn?t referred to or commented on the raised voices and sounds of a scuffle he?d heard in the adjoining room once he?d returned to the well-appointed study?but Rhys tensed and froze as he noticed Jesse?s car travelling hastily down the roadin his general direction- but a startled doubl-take showed hiM it WASN Jesse at the wheel, but one of Osbourne?s shaven-headed security personnel ? and he was driving AWAY fron the big house, picking up high speed as he went. The dusk grew suddenly thicker around Rhys?s uncomprehending gaze?.

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