Love. Greed. Revenge. And a desperate search for answers … Against the stunning backdrop of the Great Barrier Reef, two women in different eras discover how their hearts and fortunes are swayed by the secrets of the sea.
2019: Bethany Kristensen faces her toughest challenge to date, skippering the family charter business. With rivals doing their utmost to undercut her prices and reputation, the Kristensens’ operation hangs by a thread. Winning the tender for a new scientific research program headed out to the farthest edge of the reef is her last chance to keep the business going. But when rumour and vandalism turn to outright sabotage, things take a drastic turn…
1934: Stella Booth flees a future of domestic drudgery in small-town outback Queensland, heading for employment and an independent life in Mackay. But fate has other plans and an accident en route sends her life spinning in a most unexpected direction…
Linked by a family mystery, decades apart, Bethany and Stella will both need to dig deeper than ever before to forge their place among the turbulent seas of the reef.
Australian author Annie Seaton applies her passion for conservation of our iconic landscape to a compelling mystery and family saga of belonging.
Mackay, March 2019
Bethany Kristensen frowned as Lady Stella 2 shuddered and pulled to starboard. She corrected the helm and cocked her head, listening to the note of the engines; for a brief second, one of the diesel motors had missed. She shook her head as the engines purred quietly; a rogue wave must have caught the side of the vessel. They skirted Oom Shoal and she looked to the east, keen to get home. No matter how fast the trip was down through the Whitsunday Passage, the last few nautical miles into Mackay Harbour always seemed to take longer than the rest of the trip.
The call of home.
As the afternoon light faded, the three white fuel tanks at the north end of the marina stood out like beacons. A darkening sky, bleak with scudding clouds, promised a wet disembarking. Ahead for the crew was unloading and cleaning the thirty-three-metre vessel to prepare for the next charter on Tuesday, only two days away.
Paulie, the young deckie on the boat for high school work experience, called up from below and she jumped. ‘Hey, skipper, do you want me to help pack the fish or carry the guests’ bags up from the cabins?’
Bethany leaned over the edge of the deck and peered down. ‘If you could help the other guys pack the fish, that’d be great.’
‘On my way.’
The young deckie had worked hard since they’d set out to the inner reef five days ago. He’d done a top job of keeping Stella clean on the fishing charter while the permanent deckhands, Matt and Aaron, had helped the charter guests bait up their lines, and had filleted the fish as soon as they were hauled in. This trip the decks had been awash with fish guts and blood as the guests pulled in fish after fish. It had been an eye-opener for the young deckhand; he’d not been out to the reef before. He’d fitted in with Matt and Aaron and had shown respect to the guests: a corporate group of sixteen financial advisers on a team-building trip.
Maybe I should have picked their brains, Bethany thought wryly. Then again, her brother James—one of the silent partners in the business—was a financial adviser, and he said they were going okay. Just.
‘Cuppa for you, Beth?’ Lois, their long-time hostess, poked her head around the wheelhouse door, which was just slightly open.
‘Oh, yes, please, Lo. You’re a love.’
Before Bethany could leave the helm to open the sliding door the rest of the way, Lois had nudged it with her shoulder as she came in, balancing a small tray with two cups of coffee and a packet of biscuits. ‘You’ll just have time before we dock. Your father taught me that a cuppa for the skipper before the unloading is a given.’
‘And then the real work starts.’ Bethany took the coffee with a smile and wrapped her hands around the mug.
‘Where are your parents now? Still away in their van?’
‘Yeah, according to Mum, they’re still out around Emerald fossicking in the gem fields.’
‘Ah, retirement is a wonderful thing. I’ll get there one day. Won’t be long before Larry and me’ll be heading down that track too. You won’t see us for the dust.’ Lois picked up the three empty cups that Matt had left on the console during his watch. ‘I was surprised that your dad pulled the pin when he did, although I do love having a lady skipper. You keep the wheelhouse clean and tidy just like it should be. As much as I loved your father as skipper, it was always a pigsty up here. It’s a wonder he could ever find anything.’ She climbed up on the second chair beside Bethany. ‘You want a bickie?’
Lois looked at her long and hard. ‘You’ve barely eaten on this trip. You okay?’
Bethany nodded. ‘I’m fine. Just a bit on my mind.’
‘Ronnie Riley still giving you a hard time?’ Lois picked up her coffee.
‘I can handle him. Not much gets past you, does it?’
The older woman’s eyes narrowed. ‘Don’t you worry. I’ve heard him winding you up. And more than once. A drunk and a sexist pig.’ Lois leaned back against the console. ‘You need to get your father or those brothers of yours to sort him out.’
‘I can look after myself.’ Bethany softened her words with a smile. ‘That would just add to Ronnie’s opinion that a woman shouldn’t be skippering a vessel. He’s a drunk. No one pays him any attention and I can ignore him. I handled the old salts up in the Gulf. They were disgusted when I arrived. They weren’t expecting a woman captain.’
‘Fair enough. So long as you know what you’re doing, love.’
‘Riley’s smart remarks to me aren’t a problem, but if I hear he’s badmouthed Stella again, I’ll deal with him. And fast.’ Bethany leaned forward and looked at the screen. ‘Almost home.’ Draining her coffee, she put her mug on the tray. ‘Thanks, that’ll keep me going until we get unloaded and cleaned up.’
‘And then you’ll turn around and do it all again in a couple of days.’
‘I will, but hey, look at the great job I’ve got. And I’m really pleased we have back-to-back charters this week.’
‘And I’m pleased you don’t let any bloke tell you that you’re not good at it. I know how proud your dad is.’ Lois held up the biscuits. ‘Can’t tempt you with a Tim Tam? Just one?’
Bethany waved her away with a laugh. ‘Get out of here. I’ve got a vessel to berth.’
Lois picked up the tray—Bethany smiled as the packet of choco-late biscuits was left on the console, between the GPS and the radar screen—and then Lois left with a laugh over her shoulder. ‘And I’ve got sixteen beds to strip and cabins to clean.’
All was quiet as Bethany brought Stella into the marina. She looked across at the western shore. High-rise buildings, hotels and restaurants were surrounded by parkland; then there was Gramps’s house with its beautiful gardens and old trees. Over the years, the old family home had become as much of a tourist attraction as the high sea wall. Bethany smiled at the small house, sitting incongruously in the middle of the developed strip.
No matter what the developers had offered—and in the end it had been an incredible amount of money—her grandfather had dug his heels in and refused to budge.
‘My father built this house and I’m not selling. The only way you’ll get me out is to carry me out in a box. I’ll chain myself to any bulldozer that comes within cooee of my house.’ Gramps had ignored the offers of developers and the pressure from the Harbour Board, and the development had continued around him. Now the house was squeezed between two apartment blocks.
‘Bloody things keep the sun off my tomatoes,’ he muttered every winter.
Gramps and Gran had moved out to the farm for a few months in 1998 when the sea wall was being built to cater for the six-metre tidal range, but he went to the harbour every day to make sure it wasn’t a trick to get him out. He was a gruff old bugger, but Beth-any loved him to bits.
She and her brothers had grown up on the cane farm out at Eton, but they’d attended the Catholic school in town. Mum had been working part-time in town in those days, so twice a week, when Andrew and James had football training, Bethany went to Gramps and Gran’s house. It was her special time with her grandfather; Gramps would buy her an ice cream and then they’d go for a walk to see how much the wall had grown since the week before. Even when he and Gran were out at the farm, he would drive into town at the end of the school day, and he and Bethany would observe the progress while the boys were training.
‘I’m going to be a sea captain when I grow up, Gramps. Just like you and Dad.’
‘And your great-grandfather too.’ Gramps crouched down beside Bethany and pointed to the river to the south. ‘See down there?
That’s where my father used to moor his boat before the harbour was built. He had to row to the shore back in those days.’
‘My great-grandfather helped plan the first harbour, didn’t he, Gramps? Even before you were born. And his boat was called Lady Stella after your mother, way back in the olden days.’
Gramps had laughed and taken her hand as they walked along. Her hand was almost lost in his, and she loved the feel of his rough and strong fingers. ‘Yes, sweetheart, he did, way back in the olden days.’
Together they’d watched the huge sea wall being built, and by the time Bethany was at high school, hotels and apartment blocks filled the once-marshy tidal flats. The Mackay Harbour and the old port of her grandfather’s childhood in the nineteen forties had changed, but Gramps’s love for the sea remained steadfast.
‘Why would a man want to live anywhere else?’ he’d say. Beth-any’s determination to go to sea had never faded and she knew that Gramps had been proud, and not surprised, when she had been the only one of his grandchildren to follow a maritime career.
A tug hooted as it passed the Lady Stella 2 on her way through the leading lights in the channel, and Bethany focused her attention on her vessel as the marina loomed ahead. Rusted fishing vessels draped with tangled black fishing nets hugged the finger wharves along the north wall. As Stella motored in, Bethany glanced towards the back wharves. She expelled a sigh of relief when she saw the empty berth where the Rileys’ charter boats usually sat.
Ronnie wouldn’t be hanging around as they unloaded. He’d wander along smoking his foul-smelling cigarillos under the pre-text of a chat, but Bethany knew all he wanted was to see how many fish they’d caught and how successful the charter had been.
She frowned as a shudder ran through the vessel and Stella pulled to one side again. Bethany corrected the helm and listened intently; there was a miss in one of the engines. As she looked ahead, the last rays of sunlight reflected on a small tinnie anchored directly in her path.
‘Jesus, what the hell . . .’ Bethany pressed the horn to warn the tinnie of their approach—as if they couldn’t see the huge vessel looming ahead of them—but as she went to step out of the wheel-house to yell at them to get out of the way, one of Stella’s engines cut out.
‘Shit, shit, shit.’ Bethany rushed back to the console as the vessel slowed, but not enough to miss the boat with the lone fisherman in it.
Footsteps pounded up the stairs. ‘Beth, what the hell are you doing? There’s a tinnie fifty metres ahead of us.’ Matt, her senior deckie, hurried though the door, his eyes wide. ‘We’re going to go right over the top of him.’
‘I know. The port engine just cut out.’ Bethany gritted her teeth as she pressed the starter. Relief flooded through her when the engine kicked back in. ‘What the hell is the fool doing anchored in the main channel anyway? Why isn’t he moving the bloody thing? Oh, for God’s sake! He’s going to jump.’
They both watched the fisherman jump from the small tinnie and swim towards the wharf.
Bethany held her breath as her hands gripped the helm, her feet planted firmly on the floor as the motor vibrated beneath them. The gap between her vessel and the man in the water narrowed. Keeping her focus firmly on the swimmer in the water ahead, she manoeuvred Stella slightly to starboard, conscious of the finger wharves scant metres to her right. If she went over the tinnie, so be it; it could be replaced. She let out her breath when the man clambered up onto the wharf and her vessel missed the small boat by mere centimetres.
He stood on the wharf and shook his fist at them. ‘You stupid bitch.’
‘Don’t go abusing me, you fool,’ she muttered under her breath as she gripped the helm.
‘Bloody well done, Beth.’ Matt wiped the back of his hand over his forehead as Lady Stella 2 headed towards the end of the main channel.
‘Matt, go down and see what’s wrong in the engine room. We can’t risk that engine cutting out again when we’re berthing.’
As Matt turned towards the steps to the lower deck, Bethany narrowed her eyes at the man limping along the wharf.
‘Bloody hell. It’s Ronnie Riley,’ she said. ‘I thought they were out on a charter. Their boat’s not there.’
Matt peered into the fading light. ‘Sure looks like him to me.’
‘Why the hell would he be fishing in the channel?’ Bethany tried to breathe through her anger. ‘He did that deliberately. He was try-ing to make me look incompetent.’
Matt shook his head. ‘You’re stretching it, Beth. How could he have known that the motor would cut out? He could have been killed.’
‘Why would he be fishing in the middle of the channel in a tin-nie?’ she muttered. ‘I wouldn’t put anything past that low-life.’
Matt flicked her a sceptical glance and headed down to the engine room. She shook her head slowly, refusing to let herself think of what if.
As Stella approached her berth, Bethany pushed Ronnie Riley from her mind; she would deal with him later. She turned her gaze back to the channel ahead. Two small runabouts headed out to sea for night fishing, one on the starboard side of Stella and one on the portside, both with scant disregard for any maritime regulations. Confident that her vessel was under her complete control, Bethany throttled back the engines as they approached the central wharf. She glanced up at the concourse above them; music and voices drifted from the hotel. She reached for the handset as the radio crackled to life.
‘Lady Stella, Lady Stella, Lady Stella, this is Mystique. Over.’
‘Mystique, Lady Stella, switching to Channel 20.’
Bethany switched down. ‘Beau, what’s up?
‘Nothing, just touching base.’
‘Thought you had some time off this week.’ Her gaze ran over the instruments again.
‘I was supposed to, but Micky had to go to Brisbane and wanted his boat prepared for a trip out, and I got called in. Margot was not impressed. I was supposed to pick up Grace from day care because Margot’s on day shift.’
‘All good though. The dragon mother-in-law stepped up. Listen, I know you’re about to dock, but seeing we’ve got a babysitter, we’re going to have a drink at the pub when Margot picks me up at six, if you want to join us?’
‘Okay, I’ll see. If we’re finished unloading by then, I could make it.’ Anger still pulsed through Bethany; having a drink with Beau and Margot would calm her.
‘Try to make it. I’ve got a good job lead for you,’ Beau said.
‘Talk later. Over and out.’ The back of Stella was in line with the wharf and Bethany leaned out of the wheelhouse and called out to Matt, who was waiting on the foredeck.
‘Good to go, Matt?’
‘All good, skipper.’
‘Okay, I’ll follow up later. Forward line on first, Matt, and let her drift in, then the stern line and the springers.’
‘Got it,’ Matt called back with a wave.
Stella had scored one of the few big berths near the tourist precinct, making her highly visible to tourists—the Rileys’ boat was on the sea end with the commercial fishing vessels. Ronnie had written a letter to the harbourmaster demanding to know why the Kristensen family got special treatment.
There were no deals, as she well knew; as well as skippering Stella, Bethany had managed the charter business since she and her brothers had bought the family business when Dad had retired two years ago. She had come home from the Gulf as soon as Dad had mentioned retirement. Andrew and James were silent partners; they had their own careers in Brisbane. Her share of the loan was still significant, and to service the repayments, pay the crew and maintain the vessel she had to be at sea with a boat full of paying guests on back-to-back charters. Marina fees, fuel costs, insurance and the maintenance of a classic vessel like the Lady Stella 2 took every spare dollar. Bethany had lost sleep—and her appetite—as bookings had slowed. There had been a downturn in charters since the last six-monthly report, and she’d tried to come up with innovative ways to advertise, determined to increase bookings before she shared the latest cash flow figures with her brothers. But no matter what she came up with, the bookings weren’t as strong as they had been a year ago. At least this corporate charter meant the bills would be paid on time this month.
If anyone had seen her almost run over that boat, they’d have no faith in her being able to handle a vessel the size of Stella. She replayed the timing of Ronnie jumping out of his tinnie in her head. It was almost as though he’d been ready to jump out of his boat. She’d be talking to Riley, but Matt was right, there was no explanation for the engine cutting out at that exact moment.
It wasn’t long before Matt and Paulie had the lines secured and Stella was resting gently against the fenders on the wharf. The guests milled on the lower deck as the gangway was put in place ready for them to disembark.
Bethany checked the temperature dials and turned off the sounders as she waited for the engines to run down, so she could go and thank the guests before they left the charter. It had been a successful trip: the weather had been kind and the fishing had been excellent. Hopefully, it had been good enough for the company to book again and pass on a recommendation in the corporate world in Brisbane.
She ran lightly down the steps to the timber-panelled saloon.
Lois was putting down a laundry bag full of linen. ‘Great tippers,’ she said, patting her pocket. Bethany smiled as Lois headed towards the back deck.
Happy staff made such a difference to the atmosphere on board, although Bethany knew Lois would still be smiling even without a good tip; she loved being on the boat.
Most of the guests were already down on the wharf; their bags, assorted fishing rods and boxes of fish were piled up ready to be taken up the main gangway to the car park.
‘Great charter, skipper.’ Michael Edwards, the manager of the finance company, came over and extended his hand to her.
Bethany shook it with a smile. ‘I’m pleased you enjoyed yourselves.’
‘We all did, but I tell you what, it’s going to be hard to get this lot back in the office this week. You’ll see some of them again, they’re already talking about booking some private fishing charters in the winter.’
‘That’s great. You guys had the best coral trout catch so far this season.’
‘It wasn’t just the fishing. You run a good ship, captain.’ He lowered his voice. ‘I’ll be honest. The company was reluctant to book for a while.’
‘Female skipper?’ Bethany raised her eyebrows and kept the pleasant smile on her face. She didn’t suffer fools gladly, but when there were guests on board, she had a smile ready no matter what she thought. She hoped they’d all been too busy packing up to see the Riley incident. ‘Don’t worry, I’m used to it. I’ve been working on boats since I could walk; my family has always been on the sea.’
‘There was that, but to be honest, it was more about the cost. We had a local charter company approach us with a much cheaper quote.’ He paused and held her gaze for a moment. ‘Your rates might be higher, but it was well worth it. You did a great job, and we’ll be back. I can guarantee that.’
Bethany pushed back her anger; the only other local charter company was the Riley brothers. She was tempted to say, ‘pay pea-nuts, get monkeys’, but that was unprofessional. ‘I’m pleased to hear that.’ But her smile was genuine as she said goodbye and Michael walked towards the gangway. She waited on the foredeck as the guests collected their luggage and the fish packed in dry ice before they made their way up to the car park. Once the deck was clear, she called out to Matt. ‘You get the boys to start washing the boat, stow the ropes and help Lois bring the linen down to the wharf. We’ll leave the rubbish until last.’
‘Do you want me to get the ute?’ Matt came up to the foredeck. ‘No. I’ll go. I’m going to see Ronnie Riley on the way. He’s sure to have gone to the pub.’
‘After he dried off,’ Matt said with a grin.
‘There’s nothing funny about it, Matt. If they keep undercutting us, you’ll be out of a job.’
Matt’s grin disappeared. ‘Seriously? Have bookings dropped that much?’
‘It’s not good. You keep an eye on Paulie, show him what to do. How did you go down in the engine room?’
‘One of the air filters looked a bit dirty but everything else seemed okay.’ Matt held her gaze. ‘Enough to cut the motor, probably.’
‘Okay, fair enough. We’ll replace them all before we head out on Tuesday.’ Bethany looked up as the first spots of rain landed on the deck. It was only a quick shower and it stopped almost as soon as it had begun. With a frown she looked up at the concourse. The sky had darkened, and the lights had come on. The music was getting louder as the Sunday-night live band warmed up on the outdoor stage outside the hotel. She put one hand up to shade her eyes from the bright spotlight at the top of the gangway, where a familiar figure stood looking down at the Lady Stella 2. A hollow feeling settled in her chest.
‘Something’s wrong,’ she said quietly as she moved quickly towards the gangway.
Bethany hurried along the wharf and met her mother halfway up the metal walkway. ‘Mum? Why are you home? Where’s Dad? Is he okay?’
‘He’s fine, love.’ Kay Kristensen lifted a tissue to her face and dabbed at her eyes. ‘We didn’t want to radio you while you were at sea.’
‘James, Andrew? Are they—’
‘They’re okay. And the kids are fine. They’re on the way up from Brisbane. They’ll be here in an hour or so. James hired a minibus, so he and Andrew could share the driving.’
Her chest was tight with dread and a sudden buzzing in Bethany’s ears made Mum’s words hard to hear.
‘What’s wrong? Why are—’ Suddenly she knew, and her words caught as Mum took her hand and held it tight. Time slowed and the music in the background faded to nothing, replaced by the slow heavy beat of her heart.
Kay straightened her shoulders as she took a deep breath. Her voice was steady. ‘Your grandfather passed away on Friday night. We were out in the gem fields and got a call at lunchtime. We got back here in time to sit with him for an hour before … before he—’
‘No, Mum!’ Bethany stepped back and pushed her mother’s hand away. ‘No. Gramps can’t be dead.’
Kay reached out to her again, but Bethany moved away and stared at the water. Curling her fingers, she pushed the heels of her hands against her eyes to stop the tears. Stars filled her vision as she pressed hard, and she swayed as the solid walkway seemed to move beneath her feet. All she could think about was when she’d sat on the verandah with Gramps on Tuesday. He’d been asleep in the high-backed cane chair when she’d walked through the gate, and that had surprised her. Despite being almost eighty-one, Gramps was still physically active, and his mind was as sharp as a tack. He’d been unusually talkative that afternoon, and Bethany had stayed longer than she’d intended.
‘You look tired, Gramps. I hope you haven’t been overdoing the digging in your vegie garden.’
‘No, it’s all ready for the spring. I didn’t sleep well, Bub.’ He’d stared past her to the water for a while. ‘I had the strangest dream about my mother last night. I woke up in the middle of the night and then I couldn’t get back to sleep.’
‘Bethie.’ Soft hands touched her shoulders as a sob rose in Beth-any’s throat and she forced it back. She turned into her mother’s arms, one long drawn-out cry keening from her chest. She pressed her face hard into Mum’s shoulder while gentle fingers stroked her hair. Her mother’s familiar perfume and calm voice surrounded her, but she was hurting too much to take any comfort.
‘No, Mum, no! Not my Gramps—’ Her throat constricted, and she swallowed.
‘It was his heart, darling. He called triple zero, and while he was waiting for the paramedics, he called us. I think he knew how bad it was. We left the van at Anakie and came straight home.’
‘But, Mum, there was nothing wrong with his heart. He was still playing bowls and working hard in his garden.’ Bethany’s nose ran, leaking onto the soft cotton of Mum’s shirt and she lifted her head and wiped the back of her hand across her face. ‘I’m sorry.’ She stared down at her hand as the spotlight shone on her wet skin. A tug hooted in the channel and she drew in a shaking breath. ‘I have to go. I have to get the boat sorted.’
Kay pulled a wad of tissues from her pocket. ‘He was comfort-able, and we got to talk to him.’
‘I don’t want to know how. I just don’t want it to be true—’ Bethany took the tissues and wiped her streaming nose and eyes.
‘Gramps said … he said what a wonderful family he has, and to tell you all how proud he is—’ Kay’s voice broke, ‘was … of all of you.’
Bethany shivered as goosebumps rose on her arms and legs ‘Where’s Dad? How is he?’
‘He’s over at … at the house.’ Her mother shook her head. ‘You know what he’s like. He’s holding up okay, keeping himself busy. Uncle Nev and Dorthe are on their way home from Denmark, so Dad’s done all the organising. The funeral’s on Wednesday.’
‘You should have radioed. I would have come straight in.’ Bethany’s words came out clipped as she looked down at her vessel rocking gently at the wharf. ‘I’ll have to ring Jill and see if she can organise Steve to take Stella out on Tuesday. We’ve got a short charter booked.’
‘Dad’s already called her for you. Steve was fine to go, but that charter had been cancelled.’
Bethany nodded. ‘Okay.’ There were more important things to worry about than another booking being cancelled. ‘I guess that’s worked out then. Thanks, Mum.’ She stood straight and took another deep breath. ‘I’ve just got to get the ute and take it down to the boat, so they can unpack the rubbish and the linen, and hose down—’
‘I know how it works, love. I was hostess on Stella for a long time before you and your brothers came along. Go and do what you have to, and then come over to … to the house. We’ll get something in for dinner.’ Kay crooked her arm, and Bethany tucked her hand into her mother’s elbow, finally gaining small comfort from her familiar floral perfume and the warmth of her skin.
They walked up the gangway together, and when they reached the top, Bethany managed to hold back the tears when Mum folded her in another hug.
‘See you in a little while, Bethie. Dad’ll be very happy you’re home safe. It’s been a long couple of days waiting for you, and dreading telling you.’ Her words caught on a sob. ‘Dad sent me. He knew he wouldn’t be able to tell you. You were closest to Gramps and he loved you so much.’
Kay headed to the left and Bethany lifted her head and focused on walking. The music got louder as she approached the outdoor area of the hotel where the band had set up. The lockup shed was at the back of the car park behind the parking area. Once she got there, she would let the tears come.
Mackay, March 2019
Peter Brooks glanced down at his phone to check the time as he stood at the crowded bar waiting to be served. Beau had said he’d be here at five and it was just past the hour now. He’d met Beau Turner up in Townsville in the first year of their marine science course, and even though they’d followed different paths—Beau worked on a superyacht now, and Peter had gone into scientific research—they’d stayed in touch over the years. And now, fortuitously, Beau lived in Mackay and when Peter had needed information about local boats and mariners, he’d asked Beau to meet with him.
‘Yes, mate?’ The barman finally reached him.
‘A middy of light beer, please.’ Peter glanced at his phone again as he waited. His timeline was tight, and he didn’t have time to waste sitting around; he only had three days in Mackay before he went back to Brisbane.
‘Thank you.’ He nodded and handed over the exact change as the barman put his beer in front of him. Peter picked up his glass and moved towards a vacant table on the edge of the grass away from the stage and the loud music. Comfortable chairs were grouped around the low table and he pulled one out and sat down. If the music was too loud for conversation after Beau arrived, he’d suggest going back to the quieter bar in the hotel.
He watched the white vessel making its way along the channel. Narrowing his eyes as the large boat approached a fishing tinnie directly in its path, he held his breath as the skipper pulled to one side at the last minute and narrowly missed the small aluminium boat. He kept watching as the boat came into the wharf; the engines roared and the water churned as the captain prop-walked the stern, allowing perfectly for the drift from the northeast wind. It was the most skilful seamanship Peter had ever seen. As the boat slid into the narrow dock smoothly, he looked at his phone again; Beau had five minutes.
The wharf was a hive of activity as the deckhands secured the ropes and the passengers disembarked and headed up to the con-course. Tapping his foot impatiently, Peter lifted his glass for the last mouthful of beer. It was fifteen minutes past the hour.
One more minute, Beau.
As he put his glass down, his gaze was drawn to two women walking up the gangway arm-in-arm. For a moment he thought they were twins; both were tall and had the same blonde hair. But as they approached the path along the front of the concourse, he realised that one was older. The other one was obviously a boatie, with her black shorts, white polo shirt and a pair of white boat shoes.
They hugged and separated, the younger one then walking his way, her head down, looking at the path.
‘Beth, wait up.’ Peter turned at Beau’s voice, pleased he’d finally showed up. He watched as Beau waited for the young woman. She stopped and turned to Beau; Peter was surprised to see her eyes were red-rimmed. Older than he’d thought at first, she was maybe a bit younger than him, late twenties. He frowned as a memory tugged; she looked familiar, but he couldn’t place her.
Beau and the woman stood talking, heads close together, and her arms stayed stiffly by her sides as Beau hugged her briefly. Peter looked out over the marina, waiting for Beau to join him.
After a couple of minutes, Beau and the woman approached the table.
‘I’m really sorry, Beth.’ Beau had one arm around the woman but when they reached the table, she moved away from him.
‘Peter, Bethany can’t stay to talk with us, but I just wanted to introduce the two of you.’ He turned to the woman. ‘Bethany Kristensen, Peter Brooks.’
Peter stood and held his hand out, and the woman’s grip was cool and firm. ‘Bethany.’ He nodded, as a pair of grey-green eyes held his steadily
‘Pleased to meet you.’ Her lips were compressed but her voice was calm. ‘If you’d like to set up a meeting, I’m free after Wednes-day. Beau has my number.’ She gave him a crisp nod. ‘I have to go now. Thanks, mate.’ With a brief squeeze to Beau’s forearm, she hurried away.
Beau stood and watched until she disappeared into the crowd on the other side of the stage before he took the seat beside Peter. ‘I’ll text you the number.’
Beau lifted his head, and his gaze was intent. ‘Bethany has exactly what you are looking for.’
Available in-store and online from the 27th of October 2021