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Authors: Susan Duncan

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Gone Fishing

BOOK: Gone Fishing
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About the Book

For bargeman Sam Scully, life in Cook's Basin is nothing short of paradise. A wonderland of golden sand and turquoise waters, battered old tinnies and wonky pontoons, it's a realm unspoilt by the modern world. But then a notice goes up in the Square that screams ‘EXCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT!'

Paradise is about to be ripped apart. With plans underway to build a flash resort in the heart of their

community, the residents leap into action – with Sam as their leader, and a twelve-foot papier-mâché cockatoo as their mascot . . . But it's never going to be easy to turn the tide of ‘progress'. Meanwhile there's trouble brewing at the Briny Café. Kate Jackson is struggling to come to terms with the dreadful secret spilled on her mother's deathbed. And as for Kate's co-owner, Ettie Brookbank . . . Well, what is happening to Ettie?
Gone Fishing
, the sequel to the bestselling
The Briny Café
, is a heartwarming, inspirational novel about taking a stand against all the odds.

 

For

Shane Withington,

Friends of Currawong,

and

the anonymous benefactor who followed his heart and

every eco-warrior who never loses sight of what matters

 

 

Chapter One

With the early-morning sun beating through the cabin window and a dawn breeze pleasantly cool on the back of his neck, Sam Scully steers the
Mary Kay
off her mooring, checking behind to make sure the stern is well clear before pushing forward the throttle. Through the cabin windows, he looks rock solid. Square. Shoulders as wide as his hips, powerful legs, all muscle. His hair is a helmet of tight squiggles — as though it's been singed all over by a sudden burst of flame. His clothes, faded by the sun, look dusty: he could have stepped out of a drought-stricken paddock instead of onto a working timber barge. He spins the helm with a single finger, his ear tuned to catch the slightest off-note from the diesel engine thrumming under his feet. At one with the sea and his vessel.

The light, more orange than pink now, fires up the escarpment, treetops; it drills into the water before bouncing back, poker sharp. He is struck, as he often is, by his good fortune. How many men can claim they live and work in paradise? He quickly reaches to touch a small overhead trim made from golden Huon pine. Like all good seamen, who understand the deep blue waters are dark, mysterious and endlessly unpredictable, he's as superstitious as hell.

In the distance, he sees Kate Jackson's half-cabin, snub-nosed fibreglass runabout explode out of the shadows of Oyster Bay, going so fast it skims the satin-smooth water like a bird. A dead ugly commuter boat but stable as a cement slab, it barely rolls in even a heart-stopping sea. Perfect for over-confident novices who often fail to grasp the force and fury of the physical world until they are threatened by it.

He watches her through narrowed eyes. Nearly a month, he thinks. Certainly not long enough to accurately call it a relationship but long enough to pin down what makes her tick and truthfully, he doesn't have a clue. Some days, he feels like a yo-yo. Wound in tightly one moment and unspooled the next.

Up ahead on the mainland shore, The Briny Café tilts haphazardly eastwards, blasted every August by winds straight from the South Pole. It's haloed by a shimmery heat haze or sea mist: he's not sure which. He points the bow towards it, noting for the umpteenth time that the warped and rusty corrugated-iron roof badly needs replacing. If the café's new owners can continue their promising start through the short dark days of winter, when locals rush past to avoid bumping blindly home over a black sea, he'll gently suggest it.

He swings the barge alongside the creaky rear deck, throws a rope around an oyster-crusted pile worn needle-thin by more than a century of tides. Ties up. Picks his way through a motley collection of tables and chairs, cast-offs donated by Cutter Islanders: the financial status of the café is still precarious. Arrives at the café's private pontoon in perfect time to help Kate, who's drifted dockside with a centimetre to spare, secure her boat. Not such a novice any more, then.

‘You look a million dollars,' he blurts, happy to see her. She looks at him blankly. ‘The clobber,' he continues, steadier now. ‘Nice jacket, trousers well cut. Silk shirt that's seen the flat side of a hot iron, for chrissake. First-rate professional gear. And those heels will knock the bluff out of any lawyer.'

Kate glances at her clothes as if she's seeing them for the first time. ‘The heels are tame, Sam. Trust me. And city people will take one look at my shaggy hair and see
country hick
at a hundred paces.'

‘You'll knock 'em dead, love. You're a dead-set star turn. Sure you don't want me to come with you?' A tinny roars past. The wake strikes out and whacks the pontoon with a thump. He thrusts out a hand, huge, scarred, sunburned to a crisp, and grabs her arm to keep her steady. ‘Freaking moron,' he mutters. ‘One born every day.'

‘Gotta run, Sam. I'll call you.' Her slight figure disappears up the gangplank, the sun casting blue highlights on sleek black hair. He sighs. She might have let him get away with the
moron
bit but the
one born every day
was a lay down misère loser line. Made him sound like a die-hard whinger looking back on years of disappointments when all he really cares about is her wellbeing. He glares as the renegade tinny is noisily rammed into a row of equally decrepit boats further along the sandstone seawall at commuter boat dock. Feels an uncharacteristically violent urge to garrotte the driver. Love does your head in, there's no doubt about it.

Had they met in her former life as a globe-trotting journalist interviewing the men and women who make the top-end decisions, he is painfully aware Kate would never have given him anything more committed than a nod. Blame the sea. The sun. Summer madness brought on by the warm and sexy north wind, he thinks, not sure whether to curse or bless it. Essentially, they are an improbable coupling: a journalist and a bargeman. One end of the cultural stratosphere and the other.

He'd read the signs last night. Never mind the frigidly cold beer that was shoved hospitably in his mitt the second he walked through her front door. Never mind the cosy dinner with candles that smelled like a French tart – the kind you scooped onto a spoon with plenty of thick cream – and never mind the fact that, after less than a month, you'd expect to skip the foreplay and head straight for the main course. Which was the giveaway, when he thought about it. A barrage of social rituals aimed at softening the news that she'd prefer him to cross the enclosed waters between Oyster Bay and Cutter Island to sleep in his own empty bed. Feinting and demurring when all she had to do was say she felt like a night alone, thanks very much. At least he hopes she meant a night alone and nothing with more of a nasty streak of longevity attached to it.

‘Just spit it out straight and to the point, Kate,' he'd told her, trying to lighten the load by smiling over the words. She'd given him a look that was part relief and part ice because he'd seen through the rigmarole and seized the upper hand. ‘Old habits,' she said. ‘Journos spend their entire careers coming in from oblique angles to arrive at the main point.'
(Jeez, he thinks now, the media is a roaring cacophony of white noise that no one trusts for that very reason.)

Later, crossing plate-glass water under stars that snatched away the importance of any human-sized moments, he'd wondered if she believed sneaking towards the main goal had its own nobility. If she did he was in for some rough crossings.

He shakes himself like a half-drowned dog. He isn't himself this morning. A lonely night in a bed where the sheets needed changing and the dust was thick on the floorboards – he slaps the palm of his hand against his forehead, eyes squeezed tight with relief. No coffee yet. No wonder he's ratty. The caffeine fix is long overdue. A large mug with a double shot is all that's required to set him back on track. If it's combined with one of Ettie's fragrant raspberry muffins, he'll be a happy man. Sex or no sex last night.

‘Ettie,' he shouts through the patched flyscreen door of The Briny, ‘I'm a man who's teetering dangerously on the edge of complete physical collapse from lack of proper nourishment. A coffee and one of those delicious raspberry muffins that turns a dull morning into pure ecstasy. If you please.'

But he can't shake the niggling feeling that a forty-year-old man who turns himself inside out for the love of a woman is headed for the kind of beating that leaves him crippled for life.

Ettie Brookbank, the aging hippy co-owner of The Briny Café, is dealing with a long queue of tradies. With Kate en route to the big smoke to sort out her mother's last will and testament, god help the girl, she's knee deep in orders without any back-up and everyone in a tearing hurry because it's Monday and they're late for work and ferociously hung over.

One-handed, she cracks eggs on the smoking hot flat-plate, checking the whites are firm, the glossy yolks perky – which means the supplier isn't trying to slip her dud stock while she's not looking. She lines up ten bread rolls like roundly plump soldiers, loads them with bacon strips and scrambled eggs. Her homemade tomato chutney is spooned on top. She gets a whiff of the spices. Mustard seeds. Cumin. Cinnamon. Fennel seeds. Mixed in with a cayenne pepper kick that would wake the dead. As good a cure-all as her famous chicken soup. For hangovers anyway. Ten bleary-eyed blokes, barely out of their teens, with hair sticking out from their sunburned scalps like corn stalks and wearing groin-skimming Stubbies that only serve to emphasise their knobbly knees, pounce on the food like starving dogs. ‘Thanks, Ettie. Ya saved the day.' She shakes her head, tempted to warn them about the evils of alcohol but bites her tongue. Not so long ago, the number of mornings that found her with a blinding headache had been turning into more of a problem than a social ritual.

The young fellas exit the café, a ragged platoon, grease running down their sharp young chins. A lone straggler, avoiding Ettie's eyes, mumbles a request for the price of a buttered roll. He's broke, she thinks, and he's ashamed to admit it in front of the others. ‘Yesterday's are free,' she says. With her back to him, she reaches for fresh bread, fills it with ham, cheese and tomato. Whacks the sandwich in a white paper bag and twists the corners. ‘There you go. Would've had to toss it to the fish so you've done me a favour.' He hesitates. Unsure. ‘Quick, off you go,' she adds, ‘or you'll be left behind.'

He nods his thanks. Taking a quick break, she follows him out of the café and watches as he races off towards a small armada of barely seaworthy tinnies, outboards raspy as an old man's last gasp. The tradies jump lightly on board and ship themselves off to various building sites. Spilling not a single drop of Ettie's famously frothy cappuccinos.

She makes a mental note to keep an eye out for the straggler tomorrow morning. He has the look of a half-starved dog. Not long off one of the boats, she reckons. And she's not talking about cruising pleasure yachts.

While he waits for his order, Sam pulls a small book out of the back pocket of the shorts he wears year-round no matter how far the mercury dips, thinking it's a bloody slim volume to claim it contains
The Concise History of the World
. Still, Kate told him once that she had a sub-editor who reckoned the bible could be cut back to twelve hundred words if you put your mind to it, so who was he, a bargeman who took his daily cues from the sky and sea, to judge? He silently chastises himself for referring to his beloved lighter as a barge. Habit. Tell people you have a lighter and they think you're talking about a Bic. He'd always been a matches man back when he indulged in sweet-tasting rollie tobacco. The stuff that gave off a scent – now that he thinks of it – not unlike the candles Kate'd whipped out last night to soften him before giving him his marching orders. He feels his emotions spiralling downwards again. Opens
The Concise History of the World
to page one to take his mind off the precariousness of romance.

Global cooling around six million years ago wiped out tropical forests in sub-Sahara Africa and triggered the rise of savannahs. The change in environment saw the development of new carnivores and omnivores, including hominines, the ancestors of modern man.

He wonders what global
warming
will give rise to and quickly decides that on an evolutionary scale of six million years – or six hundred years, which seems to be the equivalent time-frame in the current high-speed world – it's not going to be his problem. And, looking on the bright side, who knows what amazing creatures will evolve out of the heat and dust? His eyes track the glitter of a plastic bottle floating under the deck. He's tempted to hazard a guess that wet footprints will be the next significant evolutionary step if the current epidemic of two-legged water guzzlers continues. The bottle emerges into daylight. Sam swoops on it like a hawk and heads inside the café to locate a bin.

Finding the café deserted, he leans on the polished counter and raises an eyebrow in hope.

‘Give me five,' Ettie says, still looking frazzled, even though the pressure is off. ‘I'm having trouble getting my head sorted this morning. Monday, eh? Bugger, where did I put the oven mitt?' She spins full circle. Wipes her brow. Goes bright pink.

‘No rush, love. Take your time. Er, the mitt's in front of you. There.' He points. Ettie snatches it up. ‘Bloody hell. Must be going blind,' she says, crossly, her face beetroot now.

Sam grins, joking: ‘Senior moments compressing, eh?'

Ettie gives him a look that shrivels his kidneys.

In Bertie's day, Sam recalls, the counter was a dusty mess of tins of antique baked beans, melted globs of sweets and green-fringed bread. Cantankerous old bastard that he was, he'd done the right thing by selling The Briny to Ettie for a knockdown price. Understood money wasn't much use to a dying man and he might as well do something useful before the rock-hard knobs that had latched onto his lungs cut off his oxygen supply forever.

BOOK: Gone Fishing
2.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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