Winner! I was thrilled that my short story Shanty Shooting won first prize in the Mystery with History category at the recent Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Awards. Honoured to receive my prize from the creators of the Phryne Fisher TV series - Fiona Eagger (l) Deb Cox (r)
There’s more to Matilda than meets the eye.
Matilda is a powerful bisexual name of German origin. In Australia it is used as a girl’s name while in Germany and the Netherlands it is primarily a boy’s name. During the Middle Ages the name was popular among European royalty. There was the Empress Matilda of England (1102 – 1167), the first woman to be named as heir to the English throne, and many other royal Matildas.
The name is composed of maht which means strength and hild which means battle, giving it the meaning of ‘strength in battle’. That makes Matilda appropriate and perfect for the Australian women’s national soccer team, don’t you think?
The team’s name was inspired by Banjo Paterson’s song Waltzing Matilda. The Matilda in the song refers to the swagman’s bed roll or swag – an indispensable possession that went everywhere with him.
The name Matilda was chosen for the team formerly known as the Female Socceroos by popular vote in 1995 in a naming competition organised by the Australian Women's Soccer Association through SBS (the Special Broadcasting Service).
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has suggested Australia should create a Public Holiday in honour of the Matildas if they win the 2023 FIFA World Cup. Some groups are against this idea fearing another public holiday will be too hard on businesses.
We can resolve that issue easily. In Australia Easter has four holidays. With such a rich cultural and religious diversity in this country surely it is no longer appropriate to have a strong national focus on a Christian tradition. Let’s remove Easter Monday from the public holiday list and replace it with Matilda Monday. Too easy!
A free story for you. :) Click here.
Potential customers of my books are told by Amazon that 'this title is not available for purchase'. Great! Thanks Amazon.
That is the message Aussie customers get when they go to 'amazon.com.' to purchase one of my books. I realise they should be shopping at 'amazon.com.au' but for a long time Aussies had to purchase through 'amazon.com'. Old habits die hard and sometimes Aussies will stick to the well worn path that takes them to 'amazon.com'.
Most people see the first sentence and believe it. They believe my book is not available for purchase. Some of them have contacted me about it and I am able to explain and redirect them. However, many won't contact me. They'll simply buy something else. Thanks very much Amazon. Even if they click on 'manage content and devices' they are not directed to the product page for my books on 'amazon.com.au'. (This issue will be affecting all Aussie authors, and perhaps all authors in countries other than USA.)
I contacted the Amazon help team (who are unfailingly courteous and strive to find a solution). The answer was 'At the moment we do not have a solution for this...' That had me right gobsmacked! All they have to do is change the wording in that first misleading sentence to something like 'this title is available for purchase at your local Amazon marketplace' or better wording than that. The thing is the customer should know the title IS available.
The team member I communicated with promised to forward my feedback 'to the relevant team to consider your input as we plan further improvements'.
I'm still waiting. Thanks a lot Amazon - I need every sale I can get, you know.
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“Gracie Chamberlain claims she didn’t notice her boss’s dead body.”
Dusty looked at her companion with raised eyebrows. They were breakfasting on the top floor balcony of Villa Depaul, a luxury chateau in a five-hectare landscaped park. The Villa, with a façade inspired by French Provincial architecture, sat graciously amid manicured green lawns, ancient trees, and well-tended floral beds. A faint coffee aroma emanated from two cups on the Parisian style bistro table where the pair was sitting. The coffee was part of the breakfast delivered by one of the excellent cafés that lined the main street.
“That’s where it happened.” Dusty pointed toward the eastern side of the park. From where they sat, she and her research assistant had a clear view of Albert Park’s St Vincent Place precinct, a nineteenth century residential development known as millionaire’s row. In a leafy street amid a line of grand terraces facing the gardens stood the white double-storey Victorian terrace where Ralph Mason had been killed.
“Gracie’s office was on the ground floor. She worked there every day as usual while his cadaver lay in an upstairs bedroom. Can you imagine that?”
“Sounds macabre.” Had anyone been within earshot they would have detected the thirty-six-year-old’s Irish accent. “Ralph Mason was a chef, right?”
Shortly after Sean O’Kelly arrived in Australia five years earlier, Dusty signed him up after learning of his IT qualifications. The generous salary package with retainer, which allowed him to continue his travels around Australia when not working on a case, was tempting enough for him to accept immediately.
“Not just any chef.” Dusty scooped froth from her cappuccino with her finger and smeared it over the tip of a fresh strawberry. The fruit had accompanied her smashed avocado on toast. “He was one of Australia’s most popular celebrity chefs. Better known as Rafe.” She slipped the strawberry into her mouth.
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Her assistant, a hearty eater despite his lean frame, was in the process of devouring a Farmer’s Omelette which included fried rashers of bacon, roast halved tomatoes and cooked spinach served on slices of sourdough toast.
“Never heard of him. Myself and I are not fans of cooking shows.”
Ignoring Sean’s creative use of pronouns, Dusty pounced on his description of Rafe’s television programme.
“Cooking show? Wash your mouth out Sean O’Kelly. Our murder victim would not be pleased to hear you referring to La Cuisine Rafe that way. He insisted on calling it a culinary programme. If anyone had the temerity to refer to it as a cooking show, they would suffer his caustic tongue.”
“Pardon me.” Sean looked suitably chastened although his blue eyes revealed his amusement.
Dusty grinned. “His programme was aimed at educating home cooks in the art of French cuisine by demonstrating the simple dishes, not the complicated ones.”
“Yep. It was one of the reasons La Cuisine Rafe was so popular. The dishes were authentic but easy enough for the audience to reproduce in their own kitchens.” Dusty jerked her head toward the back of the Villa. “He harvested fresh herbs and vegetables for his show from the food garden at the rear of this place. Rafe’s mantra was ‘fresh for success’.”
Sean pointed up at a flock of rainbow lorikeets flying toward the back of the Villa.
“Looks like they’re after breakfast. I assume there are fruit trees in the food garden.”
“Shade and water might be their priority today.” Dusty checked the weather on her phone. “We’re expecting a top of 36 degrees.” She was appropriately dressed for the heat in a sleeveless olive-green shift, her wild auburn hair swept up into a topknot leaving several untamed tendrils wisping around her face.
“Right.” Sean used a serviette to dab at the moisture on his brow. “From what you tell me, Rafe Mason’s killer has been apprehended. The secretary who went to work every day as usual while her boss’s body lay a-mouldering in his bed upstairs has been convicted of his murder. Correct?”
“Correct.” A slow smile spread across Dusty’s face. “So why are we here?”
Sean acknowledged the accuracy of her mind reading with a tilt of his head.
“Because the person who invited us to this ritzy mansion to investigate Rafe’s murder is an executive of the AusBoss Network called Brian Chamberlain.” Dusty paused to sip her cappuccino.
“Husband of the secretary?”
Sean reached for a slice of toast as he considered this. “He doesn’t believe his daughter killed her boss?”
“Right. We’re here to prove Gracie Chamberlain is innocent of the murder of Rafe Mason?”
“No.” Dusty shook her head emphatically. “Brian Chamberlain wants me to prove his daughter is innocent, but I’ve made it clear to him I’m after the truth, whatever it may be. He’s accepted that.”
“Which means he has complete faith in his daughter. Otherwise, he wouldn’t let a renowned cold case investigator take charge.”
Sean was having a gentle dig at Dusty’s lack of modesty when it came to her extraordinary ability to solve cold cases. If Dusty was aware he’d been teasing her, she gave no sign.
“Exactly.” She placed another strawberry into her mouth.
“Right. The police must have had good reason to think she did it.” He pushed his empty plate away with a satisfied pat on his stomach. A faint tang of omelette lingered in the air.
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Dusty nodded. “They didn’t find her story credible. Gracie told them she had absolutely no idea her boss’s corpse was in his bedroom during the four days she went about her work as usual. The body must have already started decomposition by the time she arrived for work on Monday; he’d been dead for forty-eight hours by then. Yet Gracie reported for work each day, let herself in the front door, made her way along the hall past the two front rooms and through the kitchen to her workspace. On the way, she also passed the staircase leading upstairs.”
Sean O’Kelly wrinkled his nose. “She must have caught a whiff of the decomposing remains of her boss wafting down the stairs.”
“Apparently not. And she stayed in the house all day without realising something was not right. The police didn’t believe she could have spent four days on the property without detecting the unsweet fragrance of decomposition.”
“Didn’t she even notice her boss was missing?”
Dusty acknowledged the irony in his tone with a grin. “The police wondered about that too. But Rafe was on a break from filming. Gracie claimed she thought he’d met someone and decided to stay at their place for a few days; something he’d done before.”
“Right.” Sean pulled the pot of marmalade closer. He spread a spoonful of the sticky orange jam on a slice of toast. “He wasn’t a married man then.”
Dusty gave him a knowing look. “Definitely not married.”
“Right. What is the case against the secretary? Just the fact that she failed to notice her boss’s cadaver was upstairs while she was working downstairs?”
“Nope! Much more than that.”
Almost fifteen months had passed since the rotting corpse of Ralph Mason had been discovered in the upstairs bedroom of his Victorian terrace.
The third day of Melbourne’s annual Moomba Festival was in full swing along the banks of the Yarra River on this cloudy autumn morning in 2019. Flashing lights and thumping music marked the festival atmosphere. Adventurous people, strapped into seats in the Sky Flyer, were being rotated around a gigantic tower, thirty-five metres above the ground. Others sought their thrills on the giant ferris wheel, spinning in cages against a backdrop of palm trees. Family groups swarmed past game stalls festooned with soft toys under brightly striped canopies.
In the crowd, absorbing everything around her with eyes the colour of spring green clover was a petite young woman wearing a pair of patterned yellow leggings teamed with a white T-shirt and gold sandals. She paused from time to time to examine prizes on display or items for sale. The thirty-five-year-old was on her way to rendezvous with a crew of volunteers preparing a special machine for her. Weaving in and out of the crowd, she continued toward the river. Rows of spruikers bellowed encouragement to passers-by. From food stalls came the tempting aromas of steaming sausages, burgers and piping-hot potato chips.
Resisting all temptation, she continued on toward the set-up point for a favourite Moomba event. This year she would have an entry in the popular fund-raising contest. Through a donation page on social media, she had already accumulated $10,000.00 for her chosen cause. Today was to be the culmination of her money raising efforts – the pièce de résistance.
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The approaching melodic jangle of trimbles reminded her of parades in her hometown of Claigan when members of the Salvation Army paraded along the main street beating their trimbles with the heels of their hands. As the sound drew near, she saw the source was a trio of young women wearing full bodysuits in vibrant pink. Orange ribbons flowed out from their trimbles when they brought them down in a full arc.
Following the pink women was an eight-foot-tall stilt walker, a breath-taking human replica of a butterfly. A long purple skirt covered her stilts, aqua silk wings rippled from her arms. She smiled down on the diminutive redhead craning her neck to admire the glittering headdress of purple feathers and shimmering beads. Clowns, jugglers, and buskers entertained her on the way to her destination.
She had almost arrived when her attention was caught by a small boy holding a stick adorned with a head of fluffy fairy floss. He laughed as the candy caught on his tongue. Her eyes fixed on the pink floss in a vacant stare. The noise and bustle of the festival faded into the background. A long-forgotten memory stirred, at first nothing more than a tantalising scintilla of recollection appearing as a distant hazy image. As the image gathered momentum to cover the span of years, it took on definition. A stick of pink fairy floss in a child’s hand. A smiling woman bending down at eye level with the child. Her mother! A sharp clear image of her mother encouraging her daughter to put her tongue to the fairy floss.
Now she saw her own happy face. It was the day the carnival came to their small town. The excitement of being there had almost overwhelmed her that day. She had clung to her mother’s hand as they walked around the bumpy ground of the football oval from one exhibit to another. The memory that had been hidden in the attic of her mind all these years sent tendrils out to other recollections. No. She would not unlock the door to the dungeon where sad memories were imprisoned. She blinked away thoughts of the past. The small boy with the fairy floss had gone. Crowds milled around her as though she were a bollard in their path.
She began to walk briskly and continued at a vigorous pace until she reached her goal. The four-person crew of engineering students that had laboured for weeks to prepare the unique vehicle she had ordered, greeted her with beaming faces and broad grins. They stepped aside to reveal their masterpiece. She brought her palms together in awe. During the construction stage, she had seen only photos and videos. The turquoise of the flying motorbike was more vibrant than it had appeared on screen. Its matching helmet and cape were both edged in white, the bold contrast highlighting the turquoise. She gave the crew an emphatic thumbs-up. Her entry would be sure to stand out from all the others.
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“I’ve got someone special to ride this today. He doesn’t know exactly what he’s in for yet.” Mischief gleamed in her eyes in anticipation of the reaction she expected. “I’m sure he’ll take it in his stride.”
The smile that brightened her face was the smirk of someone about to throw a curveball. Her thoughts of the past now stored away; renowned cold case warrior Dusty Kent was in the mood for fun after a harrowing few days closeted in a lavish villa with a group of murder suspects. It had been a crucible-like atmosphere where tempers flared and accusations flourished. But the investigation was now finished. She couldn’t wait to see her research assistant’s face when she presented him with this surprise.
Her smile faded when a poster attached to the scaffolding behind the motorbike caught her attention. Dusty stared at the billboard for National Missing Persons Week depicting a collage of faces, the faces of the missing. She knew what it was like to yearn for a long-absent loved one to return home.
Her mother’s face, that much loved face she had just seen in the unbidden recollection, had once featured on a poster such as this. She too had been smiling into the camera, obviously happy and relaxed. Dusty had experienced a sharp pang to see her looking so cheerful on a poster pleading for information about her whereabouts. She had wanted that familiar face to reflect the pain and anxiety she must be feeling at being separated from her daughter. It was irrational to feel that way about a photograph taken before the tragic event, but she had needed to know her mother yearned for reunion. Instead, she had had to live with the cold silence of not knowing and years of wondering, throughout her childhood, if she had done something wrong; years of fantasising about the day her mother would walk back in the door; years of yearning to know what had happened.
All that was over now, the dreams, the wondering and the living in limbo. Two years ago, Anna Kent had been confirmed dead. A victim of homicide, her body had been found buried in bushland. When Dusty was given that news, the last irrational flicker of hope had been obliterated. What had remained was a dull, aching emptiness.
The tendrils began to reach out once again toward the dungeon. Unable to resist their urgent demand, she felt the door open, felt the anger that had been confined in that dark place rush out like a blast of heat from a fire. The rage her young self had directed at her mother had been intense. It swept over her after the shock, the confusion and the tears. How could her mother leave her? Why did she just suddenly go? Without saying goodbye. At first the anger simmered behind hope, the enduring hope her mother would come back. Every morning she woke up and hurried to the kitchen hoping to see her mother preparing breakfast. When school finished, she ran to the gate and looked along the road for her. As the months went by and the day of her sixth birthday drew near, her hope increased. Mum would not miss her birthday. But that day had ended in tears and a violent tantrum. The mother she thought had loved her so much did not care about her. The betrayal cut deep. She had remained angry with her mother for years. It had been an understandable reaction from a child. She knew that. She also knew her mother would understand. Yet the shame she had experienced for the animosity and resentment she had felt never left her.
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Dusty Kent, you’re being maudlin. Pull yourself together. And she did. She locked the unwelcome feelings away again, took a deep breath and shook her head. As always, when her loss threatened to drag her mind into a dark place, she reflected on the way her mother would want her to live her life. Anna Kent, that beautiful lady whose red hair she inherited, had loved to laugh. Dusty put a hand up to her shoulder-length mop of wild auburn hair with a nostalgic smile.
Lost in her thoughts she turned away, almost colliding with a father carrying his daughter on his shoulders. Reflected in the huge bubble she held in front of her was the child’s laughing face, misshapen as though in a distorting mirror.
One thing Dusty knew was that her mother would wish her to find laughter in life. I will honour that wish today and every day, Dusty promised. The investigative journalist waved to the grinning father and daughter as they went on their way.
She skipped a few paces in a sudden rush of contentment, then stopped to look around, marvelling at the overcast weather conditions. The pungent fresh tang in her nostrils suggested rain might not be far away. Only ten days earlier the city had been sweltering. Melbourne had experienced above average March temperatures following a heat wave in the last week of February. It had been in those oppressive conditions that she had begun her investigation into the fatal strangulation of Ralph Mason.
**The Chapter #1 previously published on this blog has now become Chapter #2.
In Murder in Murloo, Dusty Kent investigates her first cold case in the small town of Murloo. When Sean O’Kelly, her research assistant, meets Dusty for the first time she overpowers a drunken youth who is tormenting a gentle old sheep and threatening her with a length of timber. He looks on as Dusty uses her karate skills to tackle the youth. 'In an instant, she had grabbed his wrist with one hand and flicked his hand with the other, ejecting the piece of wood from his grasp and sending it plummeting to the ground.
Later when Dusty learns Sean is one of those 'unbelievably clever people who know the inside, backside and all sides of a computer', she invites him to assist her with her investigation into the murder of the young local woman, Gabby Peters.
Murloo is an Aboriginal (Kurnai) word meaning ‘clay or muddy banks’. The Murloo in the book is based on Marlo, except that I have taken poetic licence with some of the geography. The route to Giuseppe’s house mentioned in Chapter 10 which ‘offered spectacular views of the sand and ocean below’ is actually the Marlo-Conran Road which ends at Cape Conran; a surfing haven with outstanding surfing beaches attracting serious surfers from around the country.
Murloo Mansion is fictional. It’s actually Marlo pub that 'is situated on a bluff overlooking the Southern Ocean'. (Chapter 1). Marlo is a quiet seaside village at the mouth of the Snowy River in a region of Victoria called East Gippsland with a population of less than 500. It is largely unspoilt with excellent walking trails, and abundant wildlife such as kookaburras and lyrebirds. Anglers know they can catch the best perch and bream in Australia at Marlo – and so do the pelicans that frequent the area. The creation myth of the local Aboriginal people (Kurnai), who have occupied the area for at least 20,000 years, tells us the first man was Borun, the pelican. Even older than Aboriginal settlement are the magnificent old-growth forests forty kilometres north-east of Orbost.
The township of Claigan is based on Orbost a small town fifteen minutes drive from Marlo. Most of the road runs parallel with The Snowy River. The legendary river starts on the slopes of Mount Kosciuszko in New South Wales. It crosses the border into Victoria, flows through mountains and all the way down to Orbost where it runs adjacent to the town and concludes its almost 400 km journey at Marlo where it flows into the ocean.
I have taken the name Claigan from the Isle of Skye in Scotland in the same way that Orbost is named after a farm on the Isle of Skye. In the 1800s, many Scottish migrants settled in the East Gippsland area and established sheep runs.
Once a year at Christmas I return to my hometown where my sister Irene still lives. Here’s a photo she took of me at the town sign last year.
I hope to have Dusty Kent Mystery #6 on the shelves before I next visit Orbost. Murder on a Melbourne Tram is set in my current hometown of Melbourne.
Until next time... JB & BG :)
Dusty Kent Murder Mystery #6 is in progress. The plan is for it to be finished and ready for publication by the end of 2021.
Murder on a Melbourne Tram: Twenty-nine-year-old Gracie Chamberlain claimed she didn’t know her boss’s dead body was decomposing in the upstairs bedroom while she went to work every day in the downstairs office. That is one reason the police arrested her.
It is the hot autumn of 2019 in Melbourne when Dusty Kent starts to investigate the strangulation of celebrity chef Rafe Mason. Four suspects have been identified by Gracie’s wealthy father who believes his daughter is innocent of the murder.
Dusty must decide if one of them is the killer. Her task is made difficult when it is established that each of the suspects has an alibi for the night of the murder. Dusty’s assistant suggests the police got it right in arresting Gracie Chamberlain. However, Dusty is not so sure.
Secrets unravel, tempers flare and fear causes suspects to attempt to flee.
The last time I predicted the publication of one of my books I was ambushed by a pandemic! In the end Tooting Moon was not published until November 2020.
The Covid 19 pandemic also impacted on Murder on a Melbourne Tram in that it more or less dictated the setting. Due to travel restrictions, lockdowns and uncertainty, Team Dusty was unable to travel to research a setting outside of Melbourne. Therefore, I decided to set the book in Albert Park where I live. I'm glad I did; I've thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering my own village.
For those of you who watch the Formula 1, this is where the F1 Australia Grand Prix is held - the circuit goes around the beautiful Albert Park Lake. In March 2020 the F1 was dramatically cancelled at the last moment. This year it was optimistically rescheduled for November, but a few days ago the Australian Grand Prix Corporation in conjunction with the Victorian Government announced the Grand Prix has been cancelled ‘due to restrictions and logistical challenges relating to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic’. The silver lining for me is that I don't have to endure the scaffolding and other constructions that mar the beauty of the area and diminish the enjoyment of my weekly early morning walk around the lake.
The picture on the right gives you some idea of the sort of thing I see on my walk around Albert Park Lake. The lake, which is named after Queen Victoria's consort Prince Albert, was once swamp land and was a meeting place for the local Wurrundjeri tribe. Today the lake and surrounding area is a public parkland home to yacht clubs, rowing clubs, cafes, a sporting stadium and more. The walking track goes all around the lake and covers a distance of 4.8 kilometres.
Albert Park Lake is prolific with bird life, especially the beautiful black swans that sometimes like to join picnickers on the lawns.
Not only do I have the lake on my doorstep but the beach is also a short distance away. I can walk along the beach down to St Kilda, another popular Melbourne suburb where visitors flock to Luna Park. I can also walk (or take a tram) to the extraordinary Melbourne Botanic Gardens.
After all that walking I can sit down at one of the many cafes in Albert Park, most of which offer outdoor dining, and enjoy a good cappuccino.
Until next time...
JB & BG
Anyone expecting a thriller or a suspense novel when they read a Dusty Kent Murder Mystery will be disappointed. It’s a shame that mystery, thriller and suspense are grouped together by Amazon and other online booksellers. Furthermore, there’s no whodunit sub category! All of that can lead to confusion for readers who don’t understand a mystery novel has many variations.
The majority of the readers of the Dusty Kent Murder Mystery series enjoy the books and leave positive reviews. That tells me most readers ‘get’ the books. They understand the whodunit genre.
Today I’d like to highlight three Amazon reviews of Murder in Murloo.
Thank you to BrainybirdAA from the United Kingdom, Bev from Canada,
and KylieD: Top 100 Reviewer from Australia.
Some readers rate the books with their preferred number of stars without leaving comments. That is also much appreciated. Readers don’t always have time to compose reviews.
Some readers read the books without offering public feedback. I appreciate them very much, too.
To all my readers and supporters: Thank you. xxx
JB aka Brigid George
For your free gift from Brigid George CLICK HERE!
Within two weeks of its release in November 2020, Tooting Moon achieved #1 New Release!
I was on Sindbad’s back ready for my ride. Instead of getting up from his sitting position as he was supposed to, the camel turned his head in my direction and bellowed a snort of protest. Lugubrious brown eyes stared at me from behind great wide nostrils that resembled portals to secret caves. This dromedary didn’t like me. What was his problem? A prejudice against Irishmen?
Relaxing my grip on the saddle handles, I turned to tell the tour guide I was getting off. That’s when Sindbad rose with sudden and unexpected speed. One minute the camel was on the sand, legs curled under his body. The next minute he’d sprung to full height.
“He’s the tallest camel on Cable Beach.” This had been the proud declaration of Hugh, a tanned and muscular Australian tour guide in his early thirties, when he introduced me to Sindbad. At the time, having only seen the camel seated, I thought Hugh was exaggerating. He wasn’t.
My stomach lurched. I toppled to one side. I think I yelled. Or screamed. Or swore. Probably all three. The next minute I was flat on my back on the sand. All six feet of me spread lengthwise like a misplaced cadaver.
One of the cameleers, a cheerful blue-eyed blonde in her twenties who had earlier introduced herself as Iris, ran over to me. I managed to scramble to my feet before she had a chance to check my pulse.
“Are you all right?” Her tone was serious, her expression concerned, but she couldn’t hide the hint of amusement in her eyes.
“Nothing broken.” I reassured her as I retrieved my brand new Akubra hat which had become separated from my head during my descent. I brushed the sand from the back of my shorts. Luckily the beach had provided a soft landing.
With the delicacy of a trained handler, Iris coaxed Sindbad into a sitting position again. I ignored the waiting back of the camel and looked up at Dusty, astride a dromedary called Aladdin and looking cool and relaxed in a pair of turquoise cotton shorts and white strappy top. She made no effort to hide her amusement. Even Aladdin appeared to have merriment in his sultry brown eyes.
“I think I’ll pass on the camel ride.” I tried to sound nonchalant.
Sindbad turned his head in my direction, his mouth wide open. His fat lower lip flopped down to expose square yellow teeth that looked like three inch high tombstones. I recoiled.
“Don’t worry,” said Dusty. “Camels are herbivores.”
I gave her a look which I hoped expressed my scorn for her flippancy. Dusty tossed her head back and laughed.
“Come on, Sean. A sunset camel ride in Broome is an iconic tourist attraction. You don’t want to miss out.”
It had been almost a year since Dusty Kent and I worked our last case together in Port Douglas. Four years ago, just after I arrived in Australia from Ireland, Dusty took me on as her assistant after learning about my IT qualifications. An investigative journalist, she had already established a reputation for solving the cold case murders she wrote about. In fact, she had solved every case she’d accepted. My role as research assistant had broadened into adviser, listener and friend during our travels to various Australian cities to solve murders. Now we were over two thousand kilometres north of the Western Australian capital of Perth.
I was about to reply that any interest I might have had in this iconic experience had vanished when Sindbad, sounding like a baritone bull with a sore throat, bellowed with the triumph of a conqueror.
That did it! I wasn’t going to let a dromedarian Shrek get the better of me. I put my foot in the stirrup and took a firm hold of the saddle handles. Iris was quickly at my side supporting my back with her hand.
“You need to sit down very gently,” she urged in a soft voice. “Then you won’t spook the camel.”
So it was my fault Sindbad got spiteful? My fault he didn’t like the way I sat in the saddle chair? I held on tight to the handles, swung my leg over the camel’s back and lowered myself into the saddle.
“Perfect.” Iris gave me the thumbs-up.
No reaction from Sindbad. But I didn’t trust him. I sensed he would take the first opportunity to assert his dominance.
Hugh appeared on the other side of Sindbad with some last minute instructions for me on how to stay safe during the camel’s ascent to full height.
After a glance in my direction to check if I was ready, Iris gave Sindbad the command to rise. I held my breath, leaned back as instructed and gripped the handles. The camel half rose on his front knees, at the same time extending his back legs to full length for support then straightening his front legs to stand on all fours. Smooth. Graceful. Trouble free. I relaxed a little but remained on guard against further tomfoolery from the contemptuous camel.
“Bravo,” said Dusty.
We were soon on our way. Cable Beach is a twenty-two kilometre stretch of white sand bounded by sand dunes and ochre red cliffs that runs along the edge of the Indian Ocean. Already on the beach were long caravans of camels with eager riders on their backs. Dusty had booked a private tour so it was just the two of us riding side by side with the handlers leading Aladdin and Sindbad.
“Are you sure camels are herbivores?”
“Yep. It’s true.” Dusty’s response had the earnest ring of sincerity. “On the other hand…” Now she looked at me with an all too familiar mischievous sparkle in her eye. “I read an article the other day about a man in India having his head bitten off by his camel.”
“The poor camel had good reason for its behaviour. The owner had left him tied up in the searing heat for hours.”
“Right. Sounds like he deserved to lose his head.” But who could predict what a camel might deem as ‘good reason’ to chomp a person’s head off? Sindbad managed to take offence simply because I didn’t sit on him with the required amount of gentleness. I maintained a watchful eye on the back of Sindbad’s head as our camels galumphed along the white sand accompanied by the sound of waves crashing into shore. The camel caravans ahead of us created long shadows on the sand as the sun began to set across the water.
To my amazement, I saw several people strolling along the beach without a stitch of clothing on.
Noticing my reaction, Dusty smiled. “This is the nudist end of Cable Beach.”
That some of the naked bodies were not unpleasant to my eye was an agreeable surprise. I apparently slipped into a deep state of concentration. We’d travelled some distance before I heard Dusty cough. She grinned when I turned toward her.
“Do you know how long I’ve been trying to get your attention?”
“What do you mean?”
My innocent tone caused her to raise her eyebrows.
I attempted to justify my distracted state. “Right. Well, the view…I mean, you’re correct. It would have been a shame to miss this iconic experience.”
Dusty chuckled. “It’s not the only reason I summoned you to Broome.”
I didn’t know anything about the murder we were to be working on. In her email, Dusty had simply described it as ‘an extraordinary case’ promising to ‘reveal all’ when I arrived.
Without waiting for an answer, Dusty continued. “We’re here to nail a mongrel who murdered his wife.”
Her sharp tone surprised me. Was there something personal about this case? Her profile gave nothing away. The setting sun added a warm glow to her features and deepened the auburn of her frizzy hair which today she wore loose.
“Right. So we know who the murderer is already?”
“Yes, we do.” Dusty’s lips set in a firm line. “None other than Blake Montgomery.”
“Blake Montgomery? The Hollywood actor?”
Sindbad discharged a loud warning snort. My surprise must have caused me to move inappropriately in the saddle. Iris soothed the camel with soft words of reassurance.
“The very one,” said Dusty. “The famous Hollywood actor.”
The death of Blake Montgomery’s wife Tirion Welsh, affectionately known as Tiri, had been big news when it happened. She was the toast of Hollywood and considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. In fact, Blake and Tiri were Hollywood’s golden couple, both of them big stars in their own right. Whenever possible, they escaped from the media and the fans on their private yacht. Once a year they sailed to the west coast of Australia to visit Tiri’s sister in Broome. On one such visit seventeen years ago Tiri Welsh drowned at sea when she fell overboard. Her death was ruled an accident but Tiri’s adoring fans hadn’t accepted Montgomery’s story that his wife had fallen overboard.
As the camels continued their slow meander along the beach, we admired the spectacular colours created by the warm orange sun lowering itself toward the horizon. Silhouettes of several people standing at the water’s edge, fishing rods extended over the water, foreshadowed the advent of nightfall. They all appeared to be wearing at least one piece of clothing. However, the occasional naked body could still be spied on the beach.
We arrived at the finish of the sunset tour without any further shenanigans from Sindbad. He appeared to have accepted me now I had learned how to behave in the saddle.
When the camels came to a halt, Dusty was the first to dismount. Aladdin lowered himself to his front knees, folded his back legs under his body and settled onto his stomach on the sand in what seemed like one smooth movement. Dusty got off his back just as effortlessly, giving the camel a caress before stepping away and looking up at me.
“Finding out what really happened the night Tiri Welsh died could turn out to be a tough case to crack,” I said, looking down at her from Sindbad’s back.
I knew Dusty’s absolute confidence in her ability to solve the cold cases she accepted was legitimised by her one hundred percent success rate. However, the death of Tiri Welsh was pretty much an open and shut case of accidental drowning with no way of proving otherwise.
Instead of replying, Dusty took out her phone and held it up ready to take a photo of me as I alighted from Sindbad. This might not be a picture I would be proud of. When the camel lowered himself to the ground without mishap, I breathed a sigh of relief and dismounted.
Sindbad got up almost immediately, perhaps keen to go home. Grateful to the animal for carrying me safely, I reached out to stroke his neck. Sindbad turned his head toward me and brought his face close to mine. I jumped back. This beast and I might have established friendly relations but I drew the line at kissing! To my surprise, those flappy camel lips bypassed my mouth and went straight to my hat. Before I knew what was happening, Sindbad had gripped the brim of my Akubra in his cenotaphic teeth, whipped it off my head and galloped away.
Iris yelled after him. “Sindbad! Come back!”
The camel paid no heed. Iris gave chase.
“Don’t worry. We’ll get your hat back.” Hugh’s apologetic expression was not as solemn as it could have been.
Dusty held her phone up. “I’ve got it all on film.”
“Right. Useful evidence for when I take the camel to court.”
As we watched Iris pursuing Sindbad along the beach, Dusty responded to my earlier remark about the cold case.
“It’s not Tiri Welsh’s death we’re here to investigate. Blake Montgomery’s second wife was murdered six months ago.”