Davie was down at the bungalow on his mobile with Jeff Bannister in Melbourne . He'd just gotten out of bed and was going to head up to the main house for breakfast when his boss called.
" Davie , we've got another problem, which I'm going to leave in your capable hands to explain to Ms. Brooks. My guys left the Caravan somewhere overnight to see what could be done to fix it today and someone broke in and stole all our production equipment! Everything down to the last nut and bolt! So our shootings are going to be delayed somewhat longer than I expected."
"Oh, my God, Mr. Bannister! That's awful!" Davie exclaimed. "What are we going to do, then?"
"I'll have to round up some more equipment. But at least it looks like they'll be able to fix the Caravan. In any case, it's probably going to take me a couple of days."
Thank God, all of the equipment was fully covered by my insurance. Hopefully I can buy other equipment on credit, using my insurance money as collateral, and pay for it when I've collected from the insurance company. I've already borrowed as much as I can off of my photography studio.
"What do you want me to do?" Davie asked.
"There's not much you can do, Davie , except to continue to keep an eye on Ms. Brooks and watch where she goes. And don't let anything happen to her. You can do that much, can't you?"
"Yes, sir. You can depend on me to do that ."
"I certainly hope so, Davie . But aside from the disaster I'm having here , is everything all right up there?" Mr. Bannister asked.
"Yes, sir, everything's great here!" Davie said with all the enthusiasm he could muster under the circumstances—knowing he wasn't quite truthful. He hated to lie about the situation, but knew he'd be in trouble if his boss actually knew what had happened yesterday. So he never mentioned that Shannon and Jo and their two friends had gone into Daylesford yesterday, leaving him stranded because there wasn't room in Shannon 's car. And he never mentioned that Fred couldn't drive him to Daylesford, either, so he could try to keep an eye on Shannon , because Fred had to clean out the chook pen.
"Well, I'm glad to hear that," was Mr. Bannister's response. "At least something is going according to plans—like it should." He looked on the present predicament as just another road block he had to climb over. As long as he could get things squared away by the end of the year, when his plan came to fulfillment, he'd be okay. But he didn't need any more disasters!
Davie asked, "What if Shannon —uhh...Ms. Brooks—wants to go out and about and take some photos while you're gone. She's not really working yet, is she, sir?"
"She can go if she wants to. And no, technically she's still on her own personal time. You just make sure you're with her! All right?"
"All right, sir."
"I'll call you back when I find out something more definite. But it probably won't be till late tomorrow. I'm going to be tied up most of today."
"Yes, sir." Davie folded up his mobile. He really did need a battery now. His phone was blinking, showing that the power was very low. He supposed he'd have to walk down to the General Store today, unless Fred was going somewhere and he could tag along.
Davie walked into the kitchen just as the women were digging into the bacon and French toast. He sat down at the head of the table where he had been sitting previously and then noticed there was no plate there. He looked at Rose.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Davie boy," Rose said. "I thought you were still sleeping. Here, let me get you something to eat with." She got up and put a place setting in front of him. He began helping himself to what seemed an enormous pile of bacon and French toast. But the women were eating heartily, and he was sure it would all be eaten. Even Carly and Paige had abandoned their healthy food regimen this morning.
"Please pass the syrup," he said. Shannon, who was closest to it, passed it down the table to the end. Davie poured a hefty amount over his French toast.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, Shannon," he said, setting the syrup down. "And yet it might be good news, depending on how you look at it, I guess."
Shannon looked at him and stopped eating, setting her fork on her plate, waiting for him to continue. What now , she wondered. What else is going to upset the applecart? She felt a headache coming on.
"I just talked to Mr. Bannister before I came up here to the house, and he's had some more difficulty in Melbourne . The Caravan was broken into last night where it was parked, and all of our production equipment was stolen. Every last bit of it." He looked at Shannon for her reaction. He noticed she didn't seem too upset.
"What does that mean for me, then, Davie ?" Shannon asked. Is Mr. Bannister going to cancel my assignment? She was relieved, up to a point. But was she going to have to sit around on her butt now waiting for her employer to come back with a new Caravan and equipment? Davie quickly answered her question.
"Mr. Bannister is going to have to round up some more equipment before we can begin shooting. He thought they might be able to fix the Caravan. But in any event, it means shootings will be delayed a bit longer."
"Then he's not going to cancel everything?" Shannon inquired.
"No. Not that I know of," Davie responded. His boss never said anything about that.
"How much longer, Davie ?" Shannon pressed.
"He didn't know for sure. He'll call me back late tomorrow and let me know what's happening. It will take him at least that long to assess things, I guess."
"Tomorrow?" Shannon asked, not believing her ears. At least there's a bright side to the bad news, she thought.
"That's right. I need to get a battery for my mobile so he can call me." Turning to Rose, he said, "Do you think Fred is going down into town today?"
"You'll have to ask him that, Davie ," Rose answered. "He's down at the garage doing something with his tools."
"Well, girls, looks like we have at least one more work-free day," Shannon told the others, smiling broadly.
Rose was smiling broadly, too, as she said, "Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! Oh, I'm so sorry Mr. Bannister is having such a run of bad luck."
“Mr. Bannister did say you could go out and about and take some pictures, if you wanted to, Shannon," Davie said brightly. "You're kind of still on your own personal time. But he said that I'm supposed to go with you." His shoulders raised a notch, as if what he said was important.
"Oh, is that right?" Shannon said, looking him in the eyes. "Why, Davie ?"
"Well, uhh...he said...uhh...uhh—" Davie was at a loss for words.
"What reason did Mr. Bannister give you for going with us girls when we go take pictures, Davie ?" Jo said.
"Uhh...uhh—" Davie stuttered again. Mr. Bannister never told him why he had to keep an eye on Shannon , so he didn't know how to answer.
"Oh, never mind!" he finally exclaimed, and got up from the table to get himself a cup of tea. He turned around to them and said loudly, "I'm just supposed to go with you!" Then he sat back down and finished eating.
Shannon and Jo looked at each other. This was the second time Davie had tried to bring himself along with them. Shannon wondered why Davie had to be so protective of her. It was that way from the first time she met him. He was always under foot, it seemed, to make sure she didn't step on a tack or something.
But Shannon had already made up her mind that there was no way she was going to let Davie tag along with her anywhere. Especially now that she knew for certain that Mr. Bannister had given him those instructions! What business is it of his where she goes and what she does when she isn't working?
Davie got up from the table after he'd eaten, muttering something about hoping Fred could drive him into town so he could get a battery. "Maybe I can get a charger, too," they heard him say to himself as he went out the back door. "Or maybe a charger is all I need—"
The women had also finished with breakfast, and Rose was beginning to clear off the table, declining their help.
"Come on, girls, we need to make a plan," Shannon said. Jo, Carly, and Paige followed her into the blue room.
"What would you girls think about taking a trip into Melbourne today?" Shannon asked, as soon as they got situated on the two beds. "As a matter of fact, we could leave as soon as we get ourselves together."
"I'd really like that!" Carly spoke up enthusiastically. "Since I didn't get a chance to see Sydney ," she added under her breath.
"Sure! I'll go along with that," Paige said. "I've never seen a city that big. I never got any further than the hotel in Sydney —and the airport in Melbourne . I heard they have cable cars all over the place, like San Francisco . Of course, I've never been to San Francisco , either, and—"
Carly, sitting next to Paige, reached out and put her hand over Paige's mouth.
"What about you, Jo?" Shannon asked.
"You know my answer without even asking, Shannon ," Jo responded, grinning at her.
"Well, let's get hopping then," Shannon said, winking at Jo, "before Davie comes back up to the house."
Shannon went back into the kitchen to let Rose in on their plans. She instructed Rose to tell Davie that they had gone out to take pictures, but she didn't know where, and there wasn't room for him—again. Rose laughed, and as Shannon headed back to the bedroom, she said, "You'll have that boy running around in circles pretty soon, wondering how he's going to explain all this to his boss." She added with a hint of sarcasm in her voice, "The esteemed Mr. Jeff Bannister!"
The four women were back in the kitchen within minutes, ready to go. Rose gave them some bottled water to take along. "It will save you money when you're walking the hot streets of Melbourne in the summertime heat. You won't have to buy that expensive stuff on the market. Maylene keeps me supplied from her grocery story for guests that prefer bottled water rather than the good ol' rain water that comes out of our faucet."
"You mean we've been drinking rain water?" Carly shuddered, because she was sure now that she was going to get sick.
Paige never batted an eye.
Neither did Shannon , as she had no problem with rain water when she was here ten years ago. It never bothered her in the least.
Jo was wondering how long ago it had rained.
"Let's get going," Shannon said. She was first out the door, her digital camera hanging around her neck. She and Jo both wore their Aussie hats.
* * * * * *
"Harv, is everything in place?" Jeff Bannister asked over his mobile phone from Melbourne .
"Yes, sir," Harv answered. "Me and Stacy are stationed close by keeping an eye on the B&B , just like you said."
The two were in a dark green sedan and had pulled up onto a well-worn dirt track in a grove of eucalyptus trees—virtually hidden from sight. But they were close enough to the B&B so they could see the driveway and the main house down below it.
"I just talked to Davie , and he said he'd go with Ms. Brooks everywhere. But there are four of those women, and they'll probably all take off together. I know there's no room for him in that little sports car that Ms. Brooks rented, so I'm sure he can't go with her. I don't trust him, either, because he's already messed up a couple of times. That's why I hired you , Harv."
You're my contingency plan, even though you don't know it. I never thought that a bright young boy such as Davie would give me problems like he has.
He continued. "I'm leaving it up to you to tail them and report on any unusual activity on Mr. Brooks' part, especially if she meets up with anyone else. I can't let this opportunity go down the drain because of my inefficient young assistant. Ms. Brooks is the shorter of the four—the one with the golden blonde hair. She'll be driving."
"Yes, sir, we're on it," Harv said. "Well, well, looky here! There they go right now! And you're right—all four girls are in the car. But no Davie . Looks like they might be headed for Melbourne . So we need to get going. I'll keep you informed."
"How is your hip doing, Carly?" Shannon threw the question out at her. Carly sat in the back seat with her legs over Paige's lap, just like yesterday when they went to Daylesford.
"It's doing real well. Paige has been giving me massages," Carly answered.
I'll bet she has! Shannon thought. And not only on your hip!
The four women were silent most of the way into Melbourne , enjoying the scenery in the early morning coolness with the windows rolled down. Shannon decided she was going to put their trip on her expense account, since she would be taking photographs. She doubted Mr. Bannister would want any of them, since she was on assignment to photograph small towns, not the big city. But if he did , he could take his pick—copies, of course.
They parked in a public garage, thus avoiding a traffic jam trying to find a place to park downtown. They could ride the free City-Line tram around town, getting off and on anytime they wanted to.
Shannon never paid any attention to a medium-sized dark green car that rolled into a spot four cars away from them, or at the young couple who got out and started following them. The man and woman were dressed in many-pocketed summer shorts and flamboyant shirts, with broad-brimmed hats and cameras around their necks, like most tourists in the city this time of year.
Cars whizzed past them at a high rate of speed as they crowded as close to a tram stop railing as they could. The street was on one side, the tram tracks on the other. They had done a considerable amount of walking from the parking garage before they reached a place where they thought they could catch the City-Line tram. Carly was leaning on the railing and against Paige. There were no benches to sit on. But she wasn't complaining.
There were many trams that passed them or stopped in front of them, all with different destinations, and all painted in various shades of grays, silvers and other colors. When some turned the street corner, their wheels made a loud screeching noise on the tram tracks. But none of them had City-Line written on them.
"It should be a brown-colored tram," Shannon said.
"How do you know that?" Paige said, curious.
"Oh…" Shannon replied, thinking fast. "Uhh...Rose told me when I was talking to her in the kitchen before we decided to drive down here. She clued me in on a number of things to watch for in Melbourne ."
Jo looked at her curiously, and Shannon shook her head slightly, so Jo wouldn't say anything.
Eventually a brown-colored tram came along, slowing down. Then it speeded up and zoomed right on past! Carly was mad. She started to give them the finger, and Shannon reached over and jerked Carly's hand back down. Jo said maybe it was full, and they couldn't take on any more passengers.
The next brown tram came along fifteen minutes later, and although they all held their arms out with thumbs up—like hitchhikers—the tram sped on past them again, not even slowing down this time.
Shannon overheard a man telling a couple of women, who were apparently as confused as the four of them, that the City-Line tram stopped only where there was a brown round sign. There was no such sign where they were standing. Those two women took off down the street, and Shannon and her friends followed. They walked for two long blocks and finally spotted a brown round sign. The two women they had been following had disappeared in another direction.
The four women walked over to the tram stop where the sign was and found a single seat attached to a billboard enclosure. Carly gratefully sat down to take the pressure off her hip.
When they finally got on a City-Line tram, it was so full, they had to stand up and hold on to hanging straps. Although more people continued to board the tram, holding on to straps, no one got off! A young man saw how distressed Carly was and gave up his seat to her.
Shannon never noticed the same couple who had followed them from the parking lot also got on the second section of the tram.
Shannon said they would get off at the corner where the State Library was. They could go in there and sit for a while. A block before that, a crowd of people disembarked for the Victoria Street Market—an open-air market place that people flocked to on any given day to go shopping. They all sat down with a sigh of relief as seats were freed up. But their respite was only for a minute, as they got off at the next stop. And it looked like everyone who was left on the tram got off at this stop, also!
Shannon wondered if they should have done something different—like going to the zoo in Ballarat! It had been ten years since she was in Melbourne , and she didn't ever remember it being so crowded! They had already spent an hour and a half just walking to catch the tram and then riding to this point. When they got off the tram, they brushed by people as they walked, making shoulder to shoulder contact as they passed them on the sidewalk going in the opposite direction. But this was the Christmas season, too, so Shannon thought that might account for the crowds.
The State Library had recently celebrated 150 years of existence from the time it was built. It was a beautiful old building—a huge edifice—with rising marble columns in front and a massive golden-colored dome on top. They started to go inside, but a Security guard stopped them and requested they leave their bottles of water at the entrance gate before they would be allowed access into the library.
When they were inside at last, they sat in plush leather easy chairs. Shannon told them it was a great place for research, as they had over a million volumes here. Paige and Carly never questioned how Shannon knew such things, thinking Rose had told her. Rose did tell her that when they lived in Melbourne , they would give room and board every year to an exchange student from Japan —a young girl—so she could go to 'uni.' But other things Shannon knew from when she and Kim were here.
There were multiple computer stations all around them with students at the terminals. It was Christmas break—a prime time for catching up on studies. The students were mostly Asian, because of the influx from Indonesia , Japan , and Southeast Asian countries. Melbourne had some of the best universities in the country for foreign students.
Shannon remembered when she and Kim had come here and poured over volumes of Australian history and the Aborigine culture. Kim was intensely interested in things like that, but Shannon never knew why until later.
After they cooled down, they went back outside and retrieved their water bottles and sat on the top steps leading back down to the street. Shannon wanted to take photographs of her friends and told them to stand up while she backed up and got them into focus. As she backed up, she wasn't watching where she was going and bumped into a little Japanese man and his wife who were taking photos of the huge library. She made her apologies and then had an idea.
"Excuse me, I wonder if you could take a picture of me and my friends with my camera," she said. "Then I could take a picture of you and your wife."
"Ah, yes. Yes," the little man responded, bowing slightly.
She handed her camera over to him, showing him which button to click and then rushed back up the steps to join the other three women. Mr. Japanese man took two photos of them and Shannon took two photos of him and his wife on their camera, plus one on her own. They exchanged bows.
"That was fun," Shannon said, as they all started down the steps to the street. "Hey, Jo, would you like to get some coffee somewhere here? A welcome change from the B&B ?"
"Sure," Jo responded enthusiastically.
They spotted a Subway sandwich shop across the street, amazed again that a city on the other side of the world would have American fast food places. They decided to go ahead and eat at Subway , as well, since it was nearly noon. Shannon preferred to put her trust in an eating place they were familiar with, rather than trying to find an Australia restaurant where they had no idea what they might be eating. Her recent allergic reaction to seafood in Sydney was still fresh in the back of her mind.
Carly and Paige needed to exchange their American money for Australian before they bought anything in Melbourne , so they made a side trip just down the street to a stately-looking bank. Hurrying back to Subway , they got caught in the middle of a large group of people who had just gotten off a tram, and who were heading in the same direction. Lunchtime!
Unfortunately, the place was packed when they got there. They waited an interminable amount of time in line and then discovered Subway didn't have coffee.
They all got their sandwiches, anyway, and sat at the only vacant table they could find—situated outside another restaurant a couple of doors down. The metal table was 'crummy,' as Carly put it, but Shannon said, "Beggars can't be choosers." There was no other place to sit. Some little sparrows flitted around their table, picking up crumbs that dropped from their sandwiches.
* * * * * *
"Mr. Bannister," Harv said over his mobile. "We're here in Melbourne , where Ms. Brooks and her friends wound up. Nothing has been happening so far. They took the City-Line tram and got off where the State Library is and went inside for a while. Now they're sitting at a table eating lunch from Subway . Nothing out of the ordinary."
He and Stacy were standing at the corner of the street with the four women clearly in view.
"Did you follow them into the library?" Mr. Bannister said.
"No, we didn't think it was necessary," Harv answered. "We waited outside for them to come out."
"You didn't think it was necessary?" Jeff's voice raised a notch. "Dammit! Why not, Harv? They could have met someone inside! Aren't I paying you to keep an eye on Ms. Brooks?"
Davie I can understand about not following orders, but I thought I could at least count on a grown man to do what I asked.
"They weren't in there very long," Harv responded weakly, seeking a way out of the problem he had just created by opening his mouth.
"Well, just keep watching them, Harv," Jeff Bannister said exasperatedly. "Ms. Brooks might slip up. And I mean keep...your...eye on her at all times! Don't let her out of your sight! Do you get that?"
"Yes, sir," Harv replied and folded up his mobile. He reached over and took the other half of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich Stacy held out to him. "Boy, he's sure pissed off about something," he told her.
The four women—and unbeknownst to them, their two followers—hopped on the City-Line tram again after they'd eaten. They rode down past the Parliament Building to the southeast corner of the city and got off at Fitzroy Gardens .
As they walked through the gardens/park, Shannon took photos of the beautiful walkways that wound through the lush green grass. Huge Moroton Bay fig trees arched over the walkways, providing shade. And green metal benches dotted the landscape at regular intervals so they could sit and rest when they needed to. Shannon took a great shot of a bronze statue of Diana, the Goddess of the Moon and Hunting, with a dog at her side, in front of an important-looking building.
Captain Cook's cottage was located in Fitzroy Gardens , on the far side of the park. The famous explorer's dwelling had been exported from England to Melbourne . It was smaller than Jo remembered reading about in travel brochures, but it was one of the things she had hoped to see. She had read a little bit about the history of Australia and Captain Cook's discovery of the Land Down Under. She thought that when she began writing her book, she might be able to use all of the information she had read, plus first-hand experiences when she came to visit Rosalie.
But with what has already happened since I've been here, I'm afraid not much of my book is going to deal with the history of Australia ! At least, not in the strict sense of what "history" is. There were other things to consider now. For instance, never in her fondest dreams would she have imagined herself walking the streets of Melbourne with three other lesbians instead of seeing the sights with her pen pal! What a remarkable turn of events! Maybe there is something to write about concerning "lesbian" history of the country. Hmm... she wondered. I'll have to look that up somewhere.
Carly was loath to leave the area because it was—as she put it—so clean and neat and orderly . So different from where they had been walking around the State Library and tram stops. There was absolutely no litter here.
But Shannon pulled her up from the bench she was sitting on and said, "Hey, Carly, you wanted to go sightseeing in Sydney . Remember? I know this isn't Sydney , but Melbourne has a lot to offer, too, so get off your butt and get your feet moving. Let's sightsee! "
They rode the City-Line tram around to Swanston Street and got off four blocks from the Bourke Street pedestrian mall, which Shannon insisted they had to see. Walking was more on level ground now. At Fitzroy Gardens , they had strolled downhill to Captain Cook's cottage, but struggled with the uphill walk back to catch the tram.
They walked past St. Paul 's Cathedral and other old buildings on Swanston Street on their way to Bourke Street . Shannon busily snapped photos everywhere. Two tourists were standing nearby as Shannon stopped to take a wide-angle shot, on the vertical, of the Cathedral. She remembered that this kind of shot was now called a portrait shot, due to the influence of the growing digital camera era associated with computers.
One of the tourists said, pointing, "Look down there," to his woman companion. "Isn't that an Aborigine?" Shannon almost dropped her camera, as she turned around to look, too. It was an Aborigine! Actually, two of them. She never expected to see any Aborigines here in Melbourne . She knew there were a few African-Americans who lived here, but no Mexicans. And Aborigines were hardly ever seen in Melbourne .
She looked intently at the two Aborigines engaged in conversation while standing on the street corner at the far end of St. Paul 's Cathedral. One of the men was smoking a cigarette and was dressed in a plaid flannel shirt, his thinning hair bushing out in all directions. She never noticed that a man and woman wearing broad-brimmed hats and many-pocketed shorts on the other side of the street a half-block away were watching her when she stopped taking pictures.
Memories raced through her mind, and she clutched at her stomach, all of a sudden feeling nauseous.
Carly, Paige, and Jo had found a long, green metallic bench in front of St. Paul 's Cathedral to sit on while Shannon was snapping every picture imaginable. They were admiring and talking about the intricate architecture when Jo noticed all of a sudden that Shannon was just standing there. One of her hands held her stomach, the other was holding on to the camera dangling around her neck. But she was not taking any more pictures. It was not like her at all! Maybe she's just tired, Jo thought.
"Come and sit down for a minute, Shannon ," she said. "You must be tired. You've been snapping photos like there's no tomorrow!"
Shannon sat down with them, opened her water bottle and gulped down a big mouthful. She kept eyeing the two Aborigines, wondering what they were doing here. Kim had said Aborigines stayed far away from the cities—especially Melbourne—and were loath to associate with the white Australians and the "white transplants" from England that had originated back when the country first opened up for settlement.
* * * * * *
Australia was a very young country—relatively speaking to Old World countries. The first settlers were mostly prisoners who had been transported from England , beginning in 1788, because the United States refused to allow any more of England 's prisoners onto its shores. Once they were freed after serving their sentences, most of these prisoners were brutal to the Aborigines as they began to farm the land, pushing them back farther into the Outback and away from the lush green land of coastal areas—committing genocide in the process. There were exceptions, of course. But even most of the white pioneers who were not prisoners and had come to settle in Australia , did nothing to stop the wholesale slaughter of the indigenous population of the country. They just went along with it and many times joined in.
There was still a great deal of tension between the two factions, even after two centuries. And although a stable government had been set up under the rule of the Queen of England, it mostly excluded the Aborigines, who were now fighting for their 'rights,' like many native peoples do when they have been invaded by foreigners. The majority of them didn't get along very well with white people. And vice-versa.
* * * * * *
According to the facts she and Kim uncovered at the State Library ten years ago, Shannon thought there might still be a lot of tension in a big city like Melbourne .
"Run! Run away! " a voice inside her head said suddenly.
"Come on, girls, let's go," Shannon said, jumping up from the bench. "I want to get to the pedestrian mall before it gets too hot." She started walking briskly away, hurriedly passing by the Aborigines without glancing in their direction. Carly and Paige followed as fast as they could.
But Jo took her time, wanting to admire the building more. So she was lagging behind, again gazing in awe at the beautiful spire of St. Paul 's Cathedral stretching skyward and figuring out—with her writer's mind—how she could incorporate such a magnificent edifice into her novel. Finally she turned to catch up with the others.
As she started to walk past the two Aborigines, one of them—the one with the cigarette and thinning, bushy hair—stepped out and blocked her way.
"What!" Jo said, startled, as she never expected someone to step right in her path. Her hat slipped off, and she caught it before it landed on the sidewalk.
"Sorry, mate," the Aborigine said, looking closely at her. "For a minute there, you looked like someone I once knew."
"Really?" Jo responded. "Who might that be?"
"Never mind, mate. I made a mistake," the man said. "No worries." He stepped back to his friend and started talking again.
Shannon had stopped halfway down the block and waited for Carly and Paige to catch up with her. She was sorry she was hurrying so fast that Carly—with her new hip—was finding it difficult to keep pace. But Shannon couldn't get away from that area quickly enough! She wondered where Jo was, and as she looked back up the street, she saw her talking with one of the Aborigines. She had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as she thought, What does that fellow want with Jo? She hollered for Jo to hurry up. Jo waved at her and put her hat back on and started down the street towards them. The Aborigine turned to look at her as she walked away.
"What did that man want?" Shannon questioned her cautiously. "Did you know he's an Aborigine?"
"I never gave it a second thought. Why? He just said he thought he recognized me as someone he once knew. He wouldn't say who, but then said he'd made a mistake," Jo answered.
"Really!" Shannon said. "Did it bother you, Jo, that you might look like someone he once knew?"
"No," Jo responded. "Should it have? Just a common mistake anyone could have made. And what difference does it make that he's an Aborigine?" She looked at Shannon curiously.
But Shannon turned away without answering and started walking down the street again.
At first, Shannon thought she might just be conjuring up some irrational thoughts without any reason. But now she was coming into a full-blown paranoia and didn't know why. There was no reason to panic. And there was no reason to be upset. Get a grip on yourself, girl , she told herself. But she couldn't stop the uneasiness that settled in the pit of her stomach.
Maybe we should just go back to the B&B . But what excuse could I give the girls? They'd think I was crazy.
The four women walked another half block, and Carly and Paige both said they needed to find a restroom. Shannon steered them into a small street-side café called Café L'Incontro. She noted the little café had gone overboard with Christmas decorations. But it's cheery enough, she thought. Maybe that's what I need—a little cheering up.
"Let's get something to drink here, Jo," she said, holding her mid-section and hoping the knot settling there would untie itself with something in her stomach. She gestured to Carly and Paige, "You two find a restroom, and we'll wait here." She ordered a cappuccino for herself and Jo, and they split a cranberry muffin.
They sat at an outside table which was sheltered behind a partition of glass, protecting them from the brisk, hot wind. Two little sparrows came and flitted around their feet and under their table pecking at crumbs, as other birds had done when they ate lunch by Subway . By the time Carly and Paige returned, a pigeon had joined the sparrows.
Carly said they'd found a restroom on the lower level, but the floor was disgustingly dirty. Paige just rolled her eyes and shook her head at her new friend, wondering why she had to be so picky about things. Boy, if she could see what I have to put up with sometimes, she thought, she'd get over that pretty quick. They each bought a cappuccino and joined Jo and Shannon at the table.
When the conversation began to lag about what they had all seen in Melbourne, Shannon decided they'd better get going if they were going to walk through the Bourke Street pedestrian mall before the day was over.
When they got up to leave, there were now twelve pigeons and eight sparrows around them, feasting on crumbs that some university students were throwing to them from a nearby table. Carly stepped daintily around pigeon and sparrow droppings as they went back down to the street.
Seeing those Aborigines had really shaken Shannon up. She thought again about cutting short their sightseeing tour and heading back to the B&B. Observing that one Aborigine talking to Jo had especially jangled her nerves. But she didn't want to disappoint the others, so she forced herself to continue walking towards the mall. At least her heart had finally quit beating rapidly, and her stomach had settled down. But she didn't understand the fear she felt. And she was thankful Jo had seemingly forgotten the incident and never questioned her further.
They passed several jewelry stores which sold opals. Shannon quickly nipped in the bud any notion the others might have about purchasing an opal. Australia mined opals of varying shades in two main opal-mining districts, one of which mined the very expensive black opal. But here in the city, there was no way of knowing if these were real opals in these jewelry stores. There were a lot of fakes on the market.
A female clerk stepped out of one of the stores and offered them 50 percent off because they were overseas travelers. Shannon quickly hurried her friends away from that row of jewelry stores, wondering how the clerk knew they weren't Australians.
They came to Bourke Street at last and turned left into the pedestrian mall. It was all that Shannon remembered it was. There were benches and flowers galore—the flowers now mostly in Christmas colors. There were a lot of shoppers this afternoon. Tram tracks ran down the middle of the street, and only emergency vehicles were allowed here.
Shannon easily recognized tourists, as they were usually attired in shorts, hats, sunglasses and had a camera with them. She looked down at her own camera, touched her sunglasses and the Aussie hat on her head and burst out laughing! Jo wondered what was so funny. Shannon said, "We're bloomin' tourists!" They all started laughing with her, realizing that they were indeed tourists!
Harv and Stacy blended right in with the other tourists as they followed Shannon and the other women. They made no effort to stay out of sight like they had done earlier.
The women wandered in and out of stores, most of them unfamiliar to them. They walked between some buildings—a walkway to the next street over. The walkway was about 20 feet wide with little stores along the sides of the building. There were many small cafés with outside tables. Open-topped kiosks ran down the middle of the walkway selling everything from jewelry to chinaware, from toys to mobile phones.
From the next street over, they walked down a ways and then came back to Bourke Street via another walkway between buildings. They sat for a brief moment to rest at a table in front of one of the cafés.
When they emerged onto Bourke Street again, the afternoon sun was radiating up from the pavement in the afternoon sun. Shannon and Jo had their hats on, but Carly and Paige were at the mercy of the sun's rays when they were out in the open. So they sat down on two of the benches that were on the broad sidewalk of the pedestrian walk, facing each other a few feet away. Large trees overhung the sidewalk, providing shade. Huge flower pots with a myriad of different-colored flowers cascaded over the sides of pots placed at each end of the benches.
They heard a number of street musicians coming from different directions. One man was beating a drum to the rhythm of a CD that played some type of religious music. He was horribly out of beat with the music, and they decided he was a complete dud! Then the sound of a didgeridoo came to their ears. Shannon looked across to the other side of the street. A young man with blonde hair was sitting on a blanket on the sidewalk with his profile towards them, his mouth at the end of the didgeridoo. She told the others, "Let's go over there and listen to the didgeridoo. Now that's real Australian!"
As soon as they were seated on benches again, the young man stopped playing and began conversing with a companion. He never picked the instrument up to play it again. Shannon looked longingly at the didgeridoo. It was one of her most treasured memories of the past.
"We need to be starting back," she finally told her companions. She took one last photo—a shot of the blonde-haired young man with his didgeridoo propped up on its stand next to him.
”The City-Line tram doesn't run on Bourke Street ," Shannon said, "but we can hitch a ride on another tram to the top of the hill. That's the only route that will take us back to where we parked the car." She looked at the four steep blocks ahead of them. "I know you can't walk up this hill, Carly, so we're not even going to try."
They should have paid for the ride, but they were so confused about where to put their money, that they were at the top of the hill before they could even sit down. "Well, we got a free ride this time," Shannon exclaimed as they got off the tram. "But we won't be coming back to Melbourne and riding a tram anymore, so we don't have to worry about next time."
On the way back to Clunes, Paige and Carly fell asleep in the back seat. They must have been up most of the night, Jo thought, smiling and remembering their moaning. She was tired herself, and wanted to get back and rest. Shannon was driving and seemed lost in her own thoughts.
* * * * * *
"We're back in Clunes, Mr. Bannister," Harv said into his mobile after pulling into the secluded grove of eucalyptus. "Nothing much happened. They were just sightseeing. One thing though. When some tourists pointed out a couple of Aborigines, Ms. Brooks must have heard them, because we noticed she almost dropped her camera in a hurry to look where they were pointing. She really went bonkers. Then she and two of the girls started walking away. When the other one started to catch up with them, one of those Aborigine fellers stopped her and was talking with her. She finally caught up with Ms. Brooks, who seemed really upset. But that was the only thing that happened out of the ordinary."
"Two Aborigines, you say?" Mr. Bannister asked.
"Which one of the other women did that Aborigine stop?"
"The other shorter one."
"That must have been Ms. Campbell. Did you hear their conversation?"
"No, sir. We were on the other side of the street. They were too far away."
"Did Ms. Brooks have any idea you might be following her?
"No, sir. Not a clue. She and her friends were quite wrapped up in seeing the sights of Melbourne . And you telling us to dress up like tourists was a good idea. We blended in with everybody else."
"You and Stacy might as well take the rest of the night off, but stay around the area. I don't think those girls will be going anywhere else tonight. And I want you to be back there before dawn tomorrow. We may be getting closer."
"Yes, sir. Me and Stacy will be on it bright and early."
"Good work, Harv," Jeff Bannister said as he hung up. He wasn't completely satisfied with Harv's report, but unless he followed Shannon himself, he'd have to suck it up and hope Harv and Stacy did a better job the next time they tailed Shannon .
To be continued...
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