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Authors: Maddy Hunter

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G'Day to Die

BOOK: G'Day to Die
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Walkabout…or run away?

Since no one was waving around
The Big Golden Book of Reptiles, Insects, and Marine Life That Can Kill You in Australia,
I figured all this sudden knowledge had originated in one place.

“Emily, dear!” Nana waved at me. “Did you know there’s more things that can kill you in Australia than anywhere else on earth? That fella what looks like the crocodile hunter was nice enough to give us the scoop.”

Note to self:
Kill Jake Silverthorn.

“Okay, gang,” I said in the most soothing voice I could muster, “I think you might be overreacting a teensy bit.”

“Tell that to the girl who keeled over out there in the underbrush,” argued Dick Teig, his gaze riveted on the floor in an obvious search for killer insects with dinner plans.

“None of us would have signed up for this trip if Emily had told us how dangerous this place was!” complained Bernice. “It’s all her fault. No one wants to be insect bait for the next two weeks. I say we go home. And we better get refunds!”

Hula Done It?

“Fabulous…filled with intrigue [and] humor…. Hilarious…. The secondary cast is a delightful crowd that will charm readers. Maddy Hunter writes a great who-done-it.”

—Harriet Klausner

PASTA IMPERFECT

“Bitingly funny.”


Deadly Pleasures

“Laugh-out-loud funny…[with] delightful characters.”


Romantic Times Bookclub Magazine

“An upbeat, often slapstick yet cerebral mystery.”

—Harriet Klausner

TOP O’ THE MOURNIN’

“Hilarious and delightful…. I can’t wait for the next trip!”


The Old Book Barn Gazette

“A delightful cozy that is low on gore but rich in plot and characterizations.”

—Thebestreviews.com

“WARNING: Do not munch on Triscuits or anything covered in powdered sugar while reading this book! I nearly choked from laughing so hard…. There was belly laughter, or at least a chuckle, on each page.”

—The Mystery Company Newsletter

“No sophomore jinx here…very funny and full of suspense.”


Romantic Times Bookclub Magazine

ALPINE FOR YOU

“I found myself laughing out loud…. The word ‘hoot’ comes to mind.”


Deadly Pleasures

“While we’re all waiting for the next Janet Evanovich, this one will do perfectly.”

—Sleuth of Baker Street (Ontario, Canada)

“A debut with more than a few chuckles….
Alpine for You
is one to cheer the gloomy winter days.”


Mystery Lovers Bookshop

“If you’re looking for laughter, you’ve come to the right place…giggles and guffaws aplenty…. First-rate entertainment!”


Cozies, Capers & Crimes

“Hilarious. The characters are an absolute hoot.”


Under the Covers

“Delightfully fresh, with a great deal of humor.”

—Creatures ’n Crooks Bookshoppe

“As funny as anything by Katy Munger, Janet Evanovich, [or] Joan Hess…. The laughs started on the first page and continued, nonstop, to the last…. This one gets five stars. It’s a winner.”

—Blackbird Mysteries

Also by Maddy Hunter

HULA DONE IT?

PASTA IMPERFECT

TOP O’ THE MOURNIN’

ALPINE FOR YOU

Availble from Pocket Books

An
Original
Publication of POCKET BOOKS

POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2006 by Mary Mayer Holmes

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

ISBN: 1-4165-3122-X

POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Visit us on the World Wide Web:

http://www.SimonSays.com

Dedication

To Aunt Kelly—

Who has always been there for me when I’ve needed her most. This book couldn’t have been written without you, Auntie! Love you—

mmh

Chapter 1

I
f you were to ask your average American to locate the West Coast on a map, he’d rap a knuckle on California. If you were to ask your average Australian the same question, he’d slap his hand over the lower right hand corner of his country to indicate Victoria—a state whose
southern
border flanks the sea, but whose landlocked western border is a whopping fifteen hundred miles away from Australia’s
actual
west coast. Which, comparatively speaking, makes it the geographical equivalent of Iowa.

There’s a simple explanation for this anomaly.

It’s Australia. It’s complicated.

We’d spent our first full day Down Under motoring along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, a one-hundred-sixty mile, two-lane, roller coaster of a highway with panoramic views of the Southern Ocean’s golden beaches, pounding surf and wind-tortured bluffs. In the late afternoon we’d arrived at Port Campbell National Park so we could ooh and ahh over the chimney stacks of rock that rise from the sea like gigantic lumps of coal. Our travel brochure refers to these craggy monoliths as, “The Twelve Apostles,” and they were nothing short of spectacular. With the fearsome Southern Ocean gnawing at their base and the sun gilding them with blinding light, they were the most dazzling natural wonder I’d seen in my fifteen month stint as a tour escort.

“What a gyp,” Bernice Zwerg grated in her ex-smoker’s voice. She crab-walked over to me as we gathered inside the protective shelter of the visitor center, waiting to reboard our tour bus.

“Why is it a gyp?” I wasn’t surprised by Bernice’s negative reaction to one of Australia’s most breathtaking landmarks. Bernice hated everything.

She held up her travel brochure and squinted at me down the length of her blue-zinc-oxide-covered nose. It was January, the height of summer in Australia, so all the seniors in my group were taking measures to prevent sunburn. Bernice’s nose matched her sandals today, a striking example of how fashion savvy she’d become since her bunion surgery.

“Twelve Apostles? Did anyone bother to count them? There’s only eight. I paid to see twelve, so I’m looking into my future and seeing—refund.”

“Maybe the Aussies have a different numbering system,” offered Helen Teig as she dragged her three-hundred-pound frame toward us. She used her travel brochure to fan her face, which had turned candy-apple red in the hundred-degree heat and body-battering wind. “Maybe ‘twelve’ to them is ‘eight’ to us.”

Bernice rolled her eyes. “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. Hey, you.” She thwacked the arm of a ruggedly good-looking tour guest whose pale green bush outfit and wide-brimmed Akubra hat hinted that he was either a homegrown Aussie or a seasoned
Travelsmith
shopper. His name tag identified him as Heath Acres. She flashed three fingers before his face. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Wot’s she want to know?” shrieked the grizzled gnome of a woman who clung to his arm.

“She wants to know how mini fingahs she’s holding up,” he said in a vowel-altering Crocodile Dundee twang that labeled him as a local.

“Why? Can’t she count?” The little woman fixed Bernice with an impatient look. “Three fingers. Wot are you? Stupid?” The woman’s hair was a wild, windblown cotton ball. Her eyes were pinpricks of brilliant blue in a face so deeply seamed with wrinkles that she looked as if she’d spent the last thousand years smoking Marlboros in the desert. I suppressed an uneasy shudder as I studied her face. Oh, my God. I was on a two-week tour of Australia with the world’s oldest living human.

“Excuse me. There used to be twelve,” said a tall, chestnut-haired, middle-aged man in neatly pressed walking shorts and sandals. “Unfortunately, time hasn’t treated them kindly. Four of them have collapsed into the sea, and there’s another that looks to be on the verge.” He punched a button on the fancy digital camera that hung around his neck and angled the display screen toward us, poking the screen with his forefinger. “This one here. Did you notice? The base has been all but eroded away. In another few years there may only be seven.”

“The Magnificent Seven,”
said Helen, hand splayed over her ample bosom. “I loved that movie. Yul Brynner was so…so…”

“Bald,” snapped the thousand-year-old woman.

“As a bowling ball,” agreed Helen. “Yul was a real trendsetter when it came to hairstyles.”

“Those are some great pictures,” Bernice allowed as she hovered over the man’s camera. “I’ve got a digital camera. How come my shots don’t look like yours?”

Whoa! Had an actual compliment just escaped Bernice’s mouth? Grab your bobsleds; hell had officially frozen over.

“I’d better be a halfway-decent photographer,” the man said, laughing. “It’s how I make my living. Guy Madelyn.” He gave her a smile that animated his face. “Weddings are my specialty, so if you’re ever in the market for a high-priced wedding photographer, I’m your guy. Pun intended.”

Bernice peered up at him, doe-eyed. She gave her name tag a demure touch and her stubby eyelashes a seductive flutter. “I’m Bernice. Did I mention I’m a widow?”

She was twice his age and half his height, with a dowager’s hump that rivaled Ayers Rock. Oh, yeah. That was gonna fly.

“I got pictures!” Nana shuffled toward me in her size five sneakers. She was wearing a duckbill visor, white capri pants, and a shell pink T-shirt embroidered with flowers, songbirds, and the words, I
OWA’S
N
O. 1
G
RAMMA
. My brother Steve’s family had splurged last Christmas and bought her one in every color, which had aroused a bit of envy among her friends. T-shirts bearing the words
Best, Greatest,
or
No. 1
were all the rage at the senior center.

“You wanna see, dear?” She handed me a fistful of Polaroids, narrating as I flipped through them. “That’s the wooden walkway leadin’ to the lookout points. And there’s them scrubby bushes growin’ beside it. Don’t know how that pink flower ever managed to sprout up in the middle of all them brambles, but it sure is pretty. That’s Dick Stolee after the wind blew his baseball cap off his head.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I was waitin’ to shoot the expression on his face when his toupee flew off, but it just sat there. It was pretty disappointin’. He must be springin’ for better glue than what he was usin’ in Switzerland.”

Guy Madelyn craned his neck to peek at Nana’s shots. “Have you tried a digital camera? I’m sold on mine.”

“Already got one,” Nana said, “but it’s too much fuss. Pricey batteries. Pricey memory cartridges. Pricey photo paper. Monkeyin’ with every picture you download. So I’m back to my Polaroid. Pixels might be the in thing, but I’ll take instant gratification any day.”

I flipped to a photo of an isolated limestone tower.

“Can you guess which apostle that is, dear? I think it’s a real good likeness.”

Bernice burst into laughter. “The rocks don’t have names, Marion. Someone called them the Twelve Apostles as a marketing gimmick.”

“That’s St. Peter,” Nana continued, “and the puny one in the next shot is Judas. You can tell ’cause it looks more sneaky than them others.”

“Which one’s Dopey?” asked eighty-nine-year-old Osmond Chelsvig, hobbling over to us on the bone white spindles that were his legs.

Osmond’s inability to distinguish dwarfs from apostles wasn’t surprising, considering he hailed from a long line of agnostics.

“Excuse me.” Guy Madelyn was suddenly at Nana’s elbow. “Would you mind if I take a closer look at your photos? You seem to have captured some unique angles that I missed entirely.”

“No kiddin’?” She handed the stack over, smiling broadly as he examined every snapshot. “I didn’t think they was so special, but the light here’s real bright, so it makes everything look good.”

“You’re being modest. The Australian light isn’t what makes your shots so outstanding. It’s your composition. Your contrast. Look at this shot.” He flashed it at the handful of guests circled around us. “You’ve turned an ordinary pink flower into something extraordinary. And on a Polaroid camera, no less. You have an incredible eye.” He lowered his gaze to her name tag. “Marion Sippel, eh? I’m not familiar with your name or your work, but tell me I’m right in assuming you’re a professional.”

Nana gave a little suck on her dentures. “I do have some professional trainin’.”

“I knew it. Where did you study? The Royal College of Art? The Brooks Institute?”

“Windsor City Senior Center. They run a two-hour minicourse last November. It was real in depth.”

He let out a belly laugh. “You took pictures like
this
with only two hours of training?”

“It was s’posed to be four, but we run into a schedulin’ conflict with the low-vision group’s Christmas cookie and pickled herrin’ exchange.”

He shook his head, awe in his voice. “Mrs. Sippel, if you’ll allow me an unbiased opinion, these photos are nothing short of Ansel Adams caliber. I’m speechless.”

“Lemme see those,” said Bernice, snatching the stack from his hand.

“Me, too,” said Helen Teig, grabbing a fistful from Bernice.

“Careful!” Guy shouted as Nana’s photos made the circuit, passing from hand to hand. “Don’t get your fingerprints on them. Have a quick look, then give them back.”

Amid the buzz of enthusiasm, he turned back to Nana. “Have you ever thought of turning professional, Mrs. Sippel? Hollywood glitterati are willing to pay ridiculous amounts for wedding photos these days, and the photographer they’re clamoring for is me. But I’m having trouble going solo. Too many remarriages to keep up with. I’ve been looking to hire another photographer, but I haven’t found anyone suitable—until today. Are you available? I’d start you out as an apprentice, but with your talent, I could probably guarantee you a six-figure salary.”

A hush descended over the crowd. Limbs froze. Mouths fell open.

Bernice hit a button on her digital camera and shoved it in Guy’s face. “I take some pretty good pictures myself. See here? What do you think of that contrast? And look at this one. Have you ever seen better composition?”

“My Dick takes better pictures than that,” Helen claimed. “DICK! WHERE ARE YOU? GET OVER HERE!”

“I’ve taken some mighty fine pictures,” said Osmond, elbowing Bernice out of the way. He angled his camcorder display screen in front of Guy. “My scenery’s moving, but if you see anything you like, I’d be happy to freeze-frame it for you.”

“This is Mushroom!” cried Margi Swanson, waving a snapshot of her cat in the air. “I took it myself. You think I have potential?”

“Get out the way!” snarled the thousand-year-old woman as she pushed toward Guy. “I’ve got a photo for you.”

I stood on tiptoes to sneak a peek at the sepia-toned picture she handed him. The print might once have been glossy, but time and touch had dog-eared the corners and dulled the finish so much that all I could see was an irregular pattern of creases cobwebbing an image that was no longer clear.

Guy studied it for a long moment in the manner of one accustomed to handling other people’s photographic treasures. “A lovely picture,” he said kindly. “But if you want to preserve it, I’d suggest a frame rather than a wallet. Or perhaps a photo-restoration process. They’d have this looking good as new in no time.”

“Come along, luvy,” said the young man in the bush outfit, tugging on the crone’s arm. He retrieved the print from Guy and gave him an appreciative wink. “Photo of her mum. You know how that goes, mate. She shows it to everyone.”

“No problem. Would everyone please start handing Mrs. Sippel’s photos back? I don’t want to lose track of any.”

Bodies shifted. Elbows flew. I got jostled left and right and suddenly found myself ejected from the crowd like a stray pinball. I skidded to a stop on my new ankle-strap wedges and looked back at the melee. Geesch! Who’d have guessed that one teensy compliment could start such a feeding frenzy?

“Emily!”

I looked across the room to find a man beckoning to me. But this was no ordinary man. This was Etienne Miceli, the Swiss police inspector I’d fantasized about marrying.

“Come join us!” shouted his companion.

And this was no any ordinary companion. This was Duncan Lazarus, the doggedly persistent tour director who fantasized about marrying
me
. The two men had become “buds” since they’d met two months ago and seemed to be enjoying the kind of intense male friendship that’s so ballyhooed among Marines, fraternity brothers, and belching-contest finalists.

“Be there in a sec,” I shouted back, still unnerved by the prospect of juggling both of them for the next fourteen days. But this had been their idea. They insisted on going head to head on a level playing field, like players in a
Survivor
challenge, and no argument on my part could change their minds. So here they were, vying for me as if I were the lone bucket of chicken wings on an island whose only other food source was sand flies. This pretty much confirmed something I’d been unwilling to admit until now.

I hated reality TV.

As I marshaled my courage to join my two suitors, the crowd encircling Guy spat out another guest who came hurtling straight toward me. “Eh!” I cried, sidestepping her before her sturdy Birkenstocks creamed my open-toed wedges.

BOOK: G'Day to Die
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