I’ve put my new comical novel on pre-order for release on November 5. Rest assured I’ll be polishing it every day until then.
But in any case, I hope you enjoy the free excerpt I am providing today.
When someone moves in to demolish the historic Wind Tunnel Cafe and build a 12-storey building on the site, it’s time to take sides.
This sets the old men bickering again. But this time they have a new referee.
The new cop in town is an infamous figure from Windy Mountain’s past, but he returns in a very different role.
Readers of this series are used to the Tasmanian Tiger making an appearance.
But a Tiger Shark? In inland Tasmania?
The quirky characters just get quirkier in this comedy.
Who Knew Tiger Sharks also Eat Apples? is the sixth novel in the Windy Mountain series but comes with a new story.
|Excerpt: Chapter 1|
The old man kept talking as he unlocked PO Box 15 on the second row. “Did Clarence look sick to you the last time you saw him?”
When he stepped back with two letters in his hand, Wendy was giving him a searing look.
“What’s wrong?” James Northan said.
“How long have you had that box, love?”
“A few weeks. Why do you ask?”
“I’ve had my name down for something higher for two years! Bending down to the bottom row does my back in.”
“What can I say?” James pretended to adjust one of his hearing aids while he came up with an excuse. “The post office manager here has got it in his head I’m somehow behind the new development. I’m obviously not. But if people want to try to curry favour, who am I to stop them!”
Wendy looked puzzled. “What new development?”
James twiddled with his other hearing aid. “You don’t know yet? Really?”
Wendy was not used to seeing anyone else at the Post Office alcove just before dawn.
A yellow glow came from the fluorescent strip bolted to the brick outer wall, but the only other light came from a flashing red and green reindeer in the window of her cafe next door.
She had been rummaging around in her handbag looking for the key when she heard approaching footsteps and looked up.
She had never been so relieved to see the former mayor come around the corner in his familiar suit, shiny shoes and old school tie.
He didn’t seem as happy as her. He recoiled and clutched his chest. “You scared me half to death, Wendy!”
“Nice to see you too, love,” she shrieked, much higher than the normally husky voice thirty-five years of smoking had given her.
She hadn’t run into James for months.
The last time she had seen him was on his 83rd birthday.
He was doing three months’ quarantine with two other old men, Clarence ‘Oodles’ Noodle, 85, and Bert ‘Wish-Wash’ Whish-Willson, 84. Oodles had once worked for him at the council and Wish-Wash had once been the town drunk.
Their confinement was for their own good. Friends and relatives wanted to keep the three elderly men out of circulation when there was a fear COVID-19 might strike them down.
But James hated having to share a three-bedroom, one-bathroom weatherboard house with them for three months. He missed the comfort and privacy of his own home, and hated the other men’s childish pranks.
Wendy had tried to cheer him up by taking a strawberry cheesecake to the house and setting it up with candles on a table in the front yard.
But it didn’t seem to make him any happier.
* * *
James studied her for a moment, trying to work out what was different. “Your hair looks quite drab in this light, Wendy.”
She smiled, but didn’t say anything.
The truth was it had nothing to do with the artificial light. Something had to give as money got harder to come by. She needed the comfort of a nicotine hit more than ever right now — so it made sense to end her monthly trips to the hairdresser for blonde tints in order to afford her packet-a-day cigarette habit.
But she was not even going to dignify that with a reply. He’d find out in time her hair really was grey now. Instead, she fired back with a question of her own:
“How come I haven’t seen you or Oodles and Wish-Wash at the cafe for months? Was my cheesecake really that bad?”
James gave her a humourless look as he twiddled with his hearing aid controls. “Actually, I haven’t seen Clarence and Bert either. I thought you might have run into them?”
She shook her head slowly.
“I wouldn’t normally be worried, you understand. It’s just that I lent them money.”
* * *
Before the pandemic, the three old men had been among her best customers. The only thing they had in common was they remained alive when many of their contemporaries had dropped off the perch, but they came at least once a day, drank tea, dunked their biscuits and squabbled.
But like a lot of people, they had stopped visiting the cafe.
As much as she needed the business, she could not blame them.
The Wind Tunnel Cafe had only ever had room for two tables. But now she was restricted to just three customers at a time and to enter they had to log in by smartphone with a QR code. People were still nervous, especially old people.
* * *
“Bert caught me in a weak moment,” James said. “He visited me at my cottage and told me Clarence didn’t want me to know he had cancer.”
Oodles had cancer? This was news to Wendy.
“I’m worried now they might have done a runner with my money,” James said. “I’ve heard of old people going on cruises so they can die in style, but I didn’t think you could get on a ship at the moment.”
“I’m sure they’ll turn up.” She smiled. “Just what kind of cancer does he have, anyway?”
He snapped sourly at her: “Do I look like a doctor?”
“Well, he looked fine the day you all came out of your quarantine. Before he was laid low by the food poisoning anyway.”
“Did you have to remind me? Damn Dave Jenkins and his tainted ice-cream!”
“So, how much did you lend them?” Her voice dropped back into huskiness.
“Are you trying to change the subject, Wendy?”
“Dave didn’t even attend your coming-out party. He was conducting a funeral.”
“Yes, well, we will see about that flimsy alibi. If you must know, Bert said Clarence was too proud to tell me he needed help paying his medical bills.”
Her voice dropped even more. “How much did you lend him?”
“I’m now thinking too much.”
“OK, but this is just between us. Ten-thousand dollars.”
“Ten-thousand dollars!” Wendy started coughing, bending over and hacking.
She composed herself and straightened up.
Everyone knew The Mayor had money hidden away in family accounts, even though he claimed to have lost all his money in a bad investment.
But ten thousand dollars? Wendy had never seen that number of dollars in the same room at the same time.
Now Gordo was gone, fetching the mail from the Post Office was another of her many jobs, and the short trek to next door was the nearest to a holiday she got these days.
She got to relax when she took the letters — increasingly bills — back to the cafe and opened them over her first cup of tea and her third and fourth cigarettes for the day.
* * *
James made a point of studying the return addresses on both of his letters. “I’m afraid I’ve got to go. I’ll need to attend to these ASAP.”
“Should I be worried about this development?” Wendy said.
“I’m sure you’ll find out about it in the fullness of time.” He bowed his head. “You’ll have to excuse me. I’m afraid I’m very busy. Among other things, I need to go to the police station as soon as it opens this morning. Clarence’s and Bert’s suspicious disappearance is just another thing I have to raise with Sergeant Stretch.”
“But . . .?”
“Merry Christmas to you.” He trotted back around the corner.
* * *
Wendy resumed searching her handbag, and found her keys among the lipsticks, tissues, hair bands, hair brushes, breath mints, fingernail polish, cigarette packet and matches.
She bent down, opened Box 30 and saw a letter waiting.
She took it out and turned it over to see who it was from.
Kipling and Howard Property Management Pty Ltd.
She sighed and dropped the unopened letter into her handbag. Don’t tell me the rent is going up again!