An Aus­tralian Ad­ven­ture by Jan Snook

Laura’s trip to Aus­tralia was not go­ing well, and to make mat­ters worse it seemed Oliver had a new lady in his life . . .

The People's Friend - - Contents -

AS she and Perry got off yet an­other plane, Laura re­alised she’d never truly ap­pre­ci­ated how big Aus­tralia was.

Now that they had flown from Syd­ney to Bris­bane to Ade­laide to Ho­bart and then to Mel­bourne – and had vis­ited many towns in be­tween – she was be­gin­ning to run out of en­ergy. And pa­tience.

Be­fore they left Lon­don, Ed­ward, Laura’s boss, had made it clear to Perry that this trip was strictly busi­ness, and that there could be no re­peat of his be­hav­iour from the night of the party. And Perry had been tak­ing his re­venge: he had been the most de­mand­ing and ob­nox­ious au­thor Laura had ever come across.

At least the jour­ney out had been bet­ter than she’d an­tic­i­pated, thanks to Oliver’s un­ex­pected ap­pear­ance. Their close prox­im­ity had given Perry no op­por­tu­nity to mis­be­have.

Un­for­tu­nately, ever since they’d ar­rived in Aus­tralia, Laura had been run off her feet try­ing to meet her charge’s con­stant de­mands.

Still, there was just one more book-sign­ing ses­sion to go, Laura re­minded

her­self, and then they’d be on their way back to Syd­ney for the pre­miere of “Crocodile Crunch”.

They would fi­nally head north for a photo shoot fea­tur­ing Perry pos­ing with snakes and lizards – maybe even al­li­ga­tors, for all she knew. She couldn’t think of any­thing worse.

Laura felt she’d been sit­ting in book­shops next to him for months, not weeks.

Still, that af­ter­noon she handed him copies of “Crit­ters Of The Out­back” to sign, chat­ted brightly to the book­shop owner and smiled at the cus­tomers.

They both sat be­hind a small ta­ble piled high with books to be signed. Perry com­plained about the size of the ta­ble, and de­manded that she find him a more com­fort­able chair.

“Get me a drink,” he said rudely, in be­tween cus­tomers.

“There are cold bot­tles of wa­ter here, Perry,” Laura said, point­ing to a nearby ta­ble and be­ing care­ful to keep her voice friendly.

“Did I say I wanted wa­ter? I said a drink!” Laura grit­ted her teeth. “I’ll see what’s avail­able.” “What’s ‘avail­able’ will be cham­pagne,” Perry said loudly, “and I don’t mean any of the rub­bish I had yes­ter­day, ei­ther.”

Laura gave him a look, and nod­ded to­wards the mass of peo­ple who were now lis­ten­ing to them.

So many fans were wait­ing to talk to the great au­thor that the queue snaked back on it­self more than once. They would be here for hours.

Perry was star­ing at her. “So, what are you wait­ing for?” he asked nas­tily. “You wouldn’t want my pub­lic to know what cheap­skates my pub­lish­ers are, would you? Get me some vin­tage cham­pagne.”

Fu­ri­ous, Laura stood and picked up her bag.

“Ex­cuse me,” she said, smil­ing au­to­mat­i­cally at the near­est cus­tomers.

She turned to Perry. “I’ll get your drink. Though I must say, I find it as­ton­ish­ing that some­one who writes books about rough­ing it in the out­back can’t get through a few hours with­out a con­stant sup­ply of cham­pagne, or sit on an or­di­nary chair.

“And also,” she added, “in­sists on eat­ing the most ex­pen­sive item on the menu, at the most ex­pen­sive restau­rant in ev­ery city we visit.”

She smiled sweetly at him, then threaded her way be­tween the shelves of books to the door marked

Staff only.

A mo­ment later, she was re­new­ing her lip­stick in front of the bath­room mir­ror. Her eyes were still blaz­ing and she had colour in her cheeks.

But it was noth­ing com­pared to the dark, an­gry flush that had flooded Perry’s face, she noted with sat­is­fac­tion. And he couldn’t have en­joyed the muf­fled tit­ters from the crowd, ei­ther.

How dare he? She wasn’t his skivvy.

Her lip­stick was shak­ing slightly in her hand. She put it down and took some steady­ing, calm­ing breaths, then splashed cold wa­ter on her face.

She glanced at her watch. It was al­most four o’clock; early morn­ing in Eng­land.

Sud­denly that was all she wanted: to be at home, thou­sands of miles away from Perry Floyd and his con­stant de­mands. Or in Syd­ney. More pre­cisely, in Oliver’s arms, in Syd­ney.

Never mind that he had a dan­ger­ous job; never mind that she had spent ev­ery wak­ing hour when they were apart wor­ry­ing.

She just wanted to be with him now, to see his eyes darken and crin­kle up in sym­pa­thy. To see him clench his jaw with anger on her be­half. How she wished she was hav­ing din­ner with him tonight, in­stead of fac­ing an­other evening with Perry.

She shiv­ered.

Of course, that was as­sum­ing that he was will­ing to have din­ner with her, af­ter what she’d just said to him.

A few hours by her­self would be a god­send. Time for them both to cool off.

She might let him save face by de­vel­op­ing a headache that evening.

Un­less, of course, he had al­ready com­plained about her be­hav­iour to Ed­ward.

Her heart plum­meted. Of course that’s what he’d do. He’d want to get his side of the story in first. He might be tex­ting her boss at this very in­stant.

And then what? Would she be sent home on the next plane, like some er­rant teenager? Would she be called in and asked to ex­plain her­self?

She had a feel­ing that, how­ever be­nign Ed­ward might be, he wouldn’t be im­pressed to hear that she’d in­sulted their star au­thor in pub­lic.

She put the lip­stick back in her hand­bag, and looked at her re­flec­tion glumly.

Then she squared her shoul­ders and headed back. Per­haps there would still be so many cus­tomers that she could just slip back in un­no­ticed.

She glanced at her watch; she’d been less than five min­utes. And she hadn’t done any­thing about the cham­pagne, vin­tage or oth­er­wise.

The dreamed-of headache was ma­te­ri­al­is­ing in earnest, and she longed for a cup of proper English tea.

****

Oliver left his step­fa­ther’s small, pri­vate ward to an­swer his phone.

“Ed­ward,” he said by way of a greet­ing. “What’s up? And what time is it? It must be the mid­dle of the night in Lon­don.”

“It’s just af­ter eight.” “Well, what are you do­ing at work? Don’t you ever sleep?”

Oliver looked at his step­fa­ther through the glass par­ti­tion be­tween the ward and the hos­pi­tal cor­ri­dor. A bank of ma­chines flick­ered and beeped above his bed. He was un­aware of Oliver’s pres­ence, or his de­par­ture.

“I’ve just had Perry Floyd on the phone,” Ed­ward splut­tered. “I don’t know what Laura thinks she’s play­ing at, but Perry’s apoplec­tic. He’s talk­ing about tak­ing his next book else­where.”

Let him, Oliver thought, re­mem­ber­ing the last time he’d seen the au­thor. And good rid­dance.

“They’re in Mel­bourne, trav­el­ling back to Syd­ney to­mor­row,” Ed­ward said. “When they ar­rive, could you go and see Perry? Smooth things over?

“I know it’s a lot to ask. I don’t sup­pose your step­fa­ther’s up to it, is he?”

“No.” Oliver didn’t elab­o­rate. This wasn’t the mo­ment to tell Ed­ward just how bad things were. “I’ll find out what’s go­ing on.”

“Good. I’ll get some­one to send you the de­tails of where they’re stay­ing, and so on.” There was a pause. “Get back to me as soon as you can, OK?”

Oliver rang off with­out both­er­ing to tell Ed­ward that he al­ready had a de­tailed itin­er­ary of ex­actly where Laura was go­ing to be while she was with that ob­nox­ious man.

Tonight she and Perry were din­ing with the com­pany’s sales di­rec­tor for Aus­tralia.

Oliver al­most called Laura, but changed his mind and rang Perry’s num­ber in­stead.

Half an hour later he came off the phone, and had to make a con­scious ef­fort to un­clench his fists.

Perry had launched into an ac­count of the af­ter­noon’s fi­asco, dur­ing which he protested a great deal about his own in­no­cence. But even the very few things he would ad­mit to had made Oliver’s blood boil.

The only pos­i­tive out­come from the whole thing was that Perry was re­fus­ing to have din­ner with Laura that night.

If only his step­fa­ther wasn’t so ill, Oliver thought.

Still, he could ring and in­vite Laura to din­ner to­mor­row night in Syd­ney.

Sud­denly all she wanted was to be in Oliver’s arms . . .

Mean­while, he could do some­thing about her din­ner tonight . . .

****

Perry had been busy, Laura thought as she pon­dered the day’s events.

He hadn’t looked at her at all when she had re­joined him in the book­shop, de­spite the cu­ri­ous glances from the cus­tomers.

She had con­tin­ued to pass him books to sign, and he had taken them from her as though they were red-hot coals.

The river of buy­ers had at last thinned to a drib­ble, and even­tu­ally she and Perry had left the book­shop and been driven back to their ho­tel by the syco­phan­tic man­ager.

She was saved the trou­ble of con­ver­sa­tion by the con­stant stream of chat­ter be­tween the man­ager and Perry – mostly about the record num­ber of books Perry had sold, and how proud he must be.

Nor­mally, Laura would have en­joyed look­ing out of the win­dow at a new city, but it was dif­fi­cult when Perry was bristling with un­spo­ken fury be­side her, and when she was be­gin­ning to worry about the com­plaints he would un­doubt­edly be rais­ing as soon as he got the chance.

Perry al­most knocked the door­man down in his ea­ger­ness to get into the ho­tel and fling him­self into the wait­ing lift.

“How dare you?” he hissed as the lift doors started to close in her face.

She raised her eye­brows at him and de­lib­er­ately waited a few mo­ments for the lift to leave with­out her.

She was re­lieved at the thought that he would be safely en­sconced in his room be­fore she ar­rived at their floor, but found him wait­ing out­side her room.

“I’m din­ing with the sales di­rec­tor,” he said curtly. “You’re not re­quired.”

****

Laura let her­self into her room, and headed au­to­mat­i­cally to­wards her lap­top. Then she turned her back on it de­ci­sively.

The UK of­fice wouldn’t be open for an­other half an hour. Right now she needed a re­lax­ing bath.

The thought of an evening with­out Perry was a cheer­ing one. She would or­der an omelette or some­thing sim­ple from room ser­vice. It might not be din­ner with Oliver, but at least she’d be alone.

She ran a deep bath filled with bub­bles, and lay lux­u­ri­at­ing in the warm wa­ter. Af­ter 20 min­utes of con­sciously re­fus­ing to think about any­thing un­pleas­ant, she could no longer stop her mind from wan­der­ing back to the e-mails she was sure would soon be wing­ing their way to­wards her, and her body tensed in the cool­ing bath wa­ter.

She stood up and stepped re­luc­tantly out of the bath, wrap­ping her­self in a large, soft white robe.

Her lap­top pinged. Laura glanced at her watch. There couldn’t be an e-mail yet, surely? It wasn’t even nine a.m. in Lon­don.

But the Lon­don of­fice had ev­i­dently been busy.

The first e-mail was from Ed­ward’s sec­re­tary.

Hello, Laura,

Just thought I’d bet­ter warn you: Perry Floyd’s been on the phone to Ed­ward for the past half hour. I gather you’ve up­set the golden boy! MD’S on the war path.

Have a good evening.

Laura scrolled down to the next mes­sage, her heart sink­ing as she took in its cool greet­ing.

Dear Laura,

I have just had a most dis­turb­ing con­ver­sa­tion with Perry. Ring me at once to ex­plain, please. Re­gards, Ed­ward.

The next e-mail had been sent 20 min­utes later.

Laura, I promised Perry I’d tele­phone him when I’d spo­ken to you. Ring me at once. Ed­ward.

She sighed. Not even “re­gards” that time.

Laura flicked through the next cou­ple of e-mails.

One was from the Aus­tralian sales di­rec­tor, to say he was sorry she was feel­ing too ill to make din­ner. So at least Perry hadn’t told him the truth.

Then an­other from Ed­ward’s sec­re­tary. Laura read it twice, con­fused.

Hope I didn’t put the fear of God into you with my last e-mail – you know Ed­ward’s bark is worse than his bite. And of course you have friends in high places!

What on earth was she talk­ing about? If she meant Ed­ward was a friend, as well as her em­ployer, then she’d ob­vi­ously not read the e-mails he’d sent her.

Laura put her head in her hands. Why couldn’t she just have kept her tem­per?

Surely she could at least have waited un­til they were alone be­fore point­ing out that vin­tage cham­pagne wasn’t, as a rule, avail­able in a book­shop.

She re­luc­tantly picked up her mo­bile. Best to ring Ed­ward now and get it over with.

The screen was flash­ing un­read mes­sages. She punched the rel­e­vant but­tons, and found texts and voice­mail mes­sages by the dozen. Each one was brusquer than the last.

Laura, still hold­ing her phone, went back to the com­puter screen and looked at the next new e-mail, which was from Perry him­self.

It was long and ram­bling; words like “un­pro­fes­sional” and “fu­ture ca­reer prospects” leaped out at her from the screen.

Then her mo­bile rang, and she was aware of her knees trem­bling as she an­swered it.

Ed­ward ranted and raved, then was grimly silent as she gave a brief and fac­tual ac­count of the book­shop fi­asco.

She tried to sound busi­ness-like, but her voice was shak­ing.

“Look, Laura, I can hear you’re up­set,” he said more mildly, “and I do know that Perry isn’t the eas­i­est of peo­ple. Just try to smooth things over, will you? “And apol­o­gise. Ab­jectly.” A sharp knock on the door – which even Ed­ward heard – made her jump.

Her heart sank with the re­al­i­sa­tion that it could only be Perry. No-one else knew she was here.

She hastily ended the call to Ed­ward, who signed off by urg­ing her once again to apol­o­gise.

Tug­ging at her robe’s belt in a pro­tec­tive ges­ture, she padded to the door, her bare feet sink­ing into the deep pile of the car­pet. “Who is it?”

“Room ser­vice, madam.” But she hadn’t or­dered any­thing.

Vague thoughts about the wis­dom of open­ing ho­tel doors to strangers crossed her mind, but she dis­missed them.

Was this Perry’s idea of a joke? Even as she thought it, she re­alised how hun­gry she was sud­denly feel­ing.

“Maybe he’s feel­ing guilty be­cause I’ve had no din­ner,” she said to her­self.

She opened the door cau­tiously. A uni­formed waiter was stand­ing by a trol­ley, com­plete with a gleam­ing sil­ver cloche, sparkling white linen and a cham­pagne bucket.

Laura looked from the trol­ley back to the waiter, then back again.

“I didn’t or­der this.” He frowned for a sec­ond and con­sulted a notepad.

“It’s got your room num­ber on it, so maybe you should just en­joy it,” he said with a smile.

He wheeled the trol­ley into the room, and re­moved the sil­ver cover with a the­atri­cal flour­ish. Half a lob­ster was ar­ranged ar­tis­ti­cally on an oval plat­ter, a del­i­cate sauce be­side it in a sil­ver jug. A warm roll peeped out from be­neath a linen nap­kin, be­side a bowl of crisp green leaves.

“Would you like me to open this now?”

A mo­ment later the waiter had left, and she was sip­ping the chilled cham­pagne – which, to top it off, was vin­tage.

Ev­ery­thing seemed bet­ter with a glass of bub­bly in her hand, and the prospect of a de­li­cious sup­per. She had just un­furled her nap­kin when her phone be­gan to ring.

She dreaded speak­ing to Ed­ward again.

“Hello?”

“Laura.” It was Oliver. The voice she wanted most in the world to hear. “How’s the lob­ster?”

****

“He looks just the same,” Oliver said, gaz­ing in­tently through the glass par­ti­tion at his step­fa­ther. He was still wired up to a broad bank of ma­chines, which whirred and beeped seem­ingly at ran­dom.

“Ap­par­ently he’s not,” his step­sis­ter Gemma said sadly. “The doc­tor I spoke to ear­lier said he won’t last more than a few days at most. And it could all be over in hours.”

Oliver put his arm round her. He was fond of her, and he knew how much she would miss her fa­ther.

She was his only child, and al­though Oliver’s own mother had been a kind and lov­ing step­mother to Gemma, it wasn’t the same – as Oliver knew well.

“He’s al­ways been such a bril­liant fa­ther,” Gemma said, on the verge of tears.

“He’s been a great step­fa­ther, too,” Oliver replied. “He’s al­ways treated me like a son.”

“Do the peo­ple at Collingswood’s know he’s so ill?”

Oliver shook his head. “Ed­ward in the Lon­don of­fice asked whether he was up to talk­ing to Perry Floyd, so, no.”

He pulled a face. “We’re meant to be rep­re­sent­ing him at the pre­miere of that film to­mor­row. We’ll can­cel.”

“I don’t think we can. Not with­out an­nounc­ing to the whole world that he’s . . .”

“That re­ally would put the cat among the pi­geons, I sup­pose. Lately a few peo­ple on the news­pa­per and at the pub­lish­ers have been look­ing at me a bit spec­u­la­tively. Peo­ple who think I must know who Wil­liam’s got lined up to take over from him.

“There are sev­eral guys who look hope­ful. I don’t like to think of them all jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion when it could be a while be­fore we find out.

“He’s a tough old boot

– it could be longer than we think.”

They stood in si­lence for a few mo­ments, then Oliver squeezed Gemma’s hand.

“Who­ever it is will still have to an­swer to you. You’re his heir, af­ter all.”

“I wish we could do some­thing for him,” Gemma said, look­ing tired and wan.

“When did you last eat? You look ex­hausted. Can I get you some­thing?”

“Oh, no! You were sup­posed to be go­ing out to din­ner with Laura!” Gemma said.

“She’ll un­der­stand,” Oliver replied sooth­ingly.

“Have you at least told her how ill Dad is? I mean, it’ll af­fect her job, too.” Oliver hes­i­tated. “Sort of. She knows Wil­liam’s my step­fa­ther, and she knows he’s re­ally ill, and she knows he owns the pa­per I work for. But she doesn’t know he owns Collingswood’s.”

Gemma was look­ing at him in­cred­u­lously.

“She hasn’t made the con­nec­tion be­tween Collingswood’s Pub­lish­ers and Wil­liam Collingswood?”

“I’ve al­ways re­ferred to him as Wil­liam. I’ve never men­tioned his sur­name and it’s dif­fer­ent from mine . . .”

He saw Gemma was look­ing at him ac­cus­ingly.

“I sup­pose I haven’t told her be­cause I didn’t want that to af­fect our re­la­tion­ship,” he ad­mit­ted. “In as much as it’s a re­la­tion­ship at all.”

****

Syd­ney’s State Theatre was just as grand as Laura had ex­pected, and she was glad she’d bought what had felt at the time like an im­pos­si­bly ex­pen­sive dress.

Perry looked im­pressed, too, in spite of him­self. He had ac­tu­ally told her she looked nice, though he said it with a sneer.

Ev­ery­where she looked, there were faces she recog­nised from the news­pa­pers. The man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Collingswood’s Syd­ney of­fice had in­tro­duced them to politi­cians, sports­men, tele­vi­sion per­son­al­i­ties and, of course, the star-stud­ded cast of “Crocodile Crunch”.

It seemed that any­body who was any­body in Syd­ney so­ci­ety was there, and the whole place glit­tered.

Nor­mally Laura would have been en­tranced, but her mind was still on the pre­vi­ous evening.

She and Perry had flown back to Syd­ney yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, and as soon as she ar­rived in her ho­tel room there was a phone call from Oliver.

“Don’t worry, our plane wasn’t de­layed or any­thing,” she gab­bled hap­pily, be­fore he’d said a word, “and I’ve palmed Perry off on the MD tonight, so I’m free!” There was a pause. “Oh, Laura, I feel as if I’m al­ways let­ting you down,” Oliver had said apolo­get­i­cally.

They’d been sup­posed to have din­ner in a water­front restau­rant over­look­ing Syd­ney Har­bour yes­ter­day, but Oliver had can­celled. His step­fa­ther had taken a turn for the worse, and Oliver didn’t feel able to leave him.

She’d given her good wishes for his step­fa­ther and said good­bye, try­ing to hide her dis­ap­point­ment.

“I’ll ex­plain when I see you,” Oliver said, “and I will see you, very soon.”

The au­di­ence took their seats. The lights dimmed, and the au­di­ence stilled.

The haunt­ing theme tune of “Crocodile Crunch” filled the au­di­to­rium, and for the next cou­ple of hours Laura found her­self en­thralled.

“Great, wasn’t it?” Perry asked.

He stood up as the fi­nal cred­its rolled and started shak­ing hands with ev­ery­one he could reach. He couldn’t keep the grin off his face, and his ex­u­ber­ance was in­fec­tious.

Laura found she was al­most look­ing for­ward to the cel­e­bra­tory party.

“I might have known he’d turn up,” Perry said, sud­denly sour again. “Who?”

“Your hero, Oliver Eve­sham. I sup­pose he’ll be at the party, too.

“And,” he added ma­li­ciously, “I see he’s not alone.”

So that’s what he’d meant by “very soon”. Laura spun round to look, and her smile froze on her lips.

Oliver was sev­eral yards away, and he was stand­ing next to a very beau­ti­ful woman, his arm round her waist. He seemed to be scan­ning the peo­ple in the first few rows, as if he was look­ing for some­one. Per­haps he was hop­ing she wouldn’t have spot­ted him. Perry nudged her. “Come on, our car’s here. I’m sure he’ll be at the party, if that’s what you’re wor­ried about.”

“What’s he do­ing here?” Laura couldn’t help ask­ing.

“I thought his step­fa­ther would be here, not him,” Perry said. “He’s only the step­son. Pranc­ing round as if he owns the place.”

But Laura had stopped lis­ten­ing. A sink­ing feel­ing told her that the woman with Oliver had some­thing to do with why he’d can­celled din­ner.

And so, the next time Oliver rang her – as well as the 100 or so times af­ter that – she ig­nored his calls.

****

Laura and Perry were met at the air­port in Dar­win the next day by a cam­era­man called Stu, who was tak­ing them to Kakadu Na­tional Park in a sort of pick-up truck that Laura was learn­ing to call a “ute”.

They were go­ing to a place called Yel­low Wa­ter Bil­l­abong, part of the South Al­li­ga­tor river sys­tem.

“It’s a na­tional park, for heaven’s sake,” Perry had sneered when she’d men­tioned that she wasn’t keen on al­li­ga­tors. “There won’t be any­thing dan­ger­ous. They don’t want tourists be­ing at­tacked, do they? I’ve talked to a cou­ple of peo­ple there – or­gan­ised some stunts . . .”

“What do you mean?” Laura asked. “Perry, it’s my job to or­gan­ise the photo shoots, and we’re go­ing to be short on time.” He snorted.

“You, or­gan­ise photo shoots for one of my books? If I left it up to you, I’d be lucky to get a shot of me with a cou­ple of kan­ga­roos. And you’ve prob­a­bly never even seen a quoll.”

Laura re­frained from say­ing that she’d never even heard of a quoll, but took the next op­por­tu­nity – while Perry was flirt­ing with the air host­ess – to look it up. Ap­par­ently they were car­niv­o­rous mar­su­pi­als and mainly noc­tur­nal.

Once on the road, Laura was able to take in the scenery while Stu and Perry talked about the shots they were aim­ing for.

Stu hoped to see flat­back sea tur­tles, and Perry men­tioned poi­sonous cane toads and quolls (again).

“We’re not likely to see quolls in the day­time, though, are we?” Laura asked, and Stu gave her an ap­prov­ing look.

“Glad to see you know yer an­i­mals. Good on yer. You will need to keep a look out for –”

“She’ll be fine,” Perry in­ter­rupted. “There’ll be rangers around.”

“You haven’t men­tioned al­li­ga­tors,” Laura said, strug­gling to keep her voice calm. “Are you plan­ning any pho­tos of them, Stu?” He broke into a grin. “You don’t need to worry about al­li­ga­tors. The Al­li­ga­tor River was named by some ex­plorer who thought there were al­li­ga­tors, but he was wrong – there aren’t any na­tive to Aus­tralia.” Laura gave a shriek. “Did you see that snake?” she asked, point­ing at the side of the road. “It must have been six foot long!” Perry snorted.

“Now do you see why I don’t want you or­gan­is­ing the photo shoot?” he said rudely. “Any­thing scary and you’ll freak out!”

There was, as Laura had known there would be, a lot of wait­ing around in the heat while Stu fid­dled with cam­era an­gles and light me­ters, and Perry prinked and posed, wor­ry­ing about Stu not tak­ing him from his “best side”.

They drove from one spec­tac­u­lar back­drop to an­other, wait­ing for the an­i­mals to ap­pear, then coax­ing them to co-op­er­ate.

“Help your­self from the Esky,” Stu said as he parked un­der a eu­ca­lyp­tus tree. “And stay in the ute. It’s safer.”

It took Laura a mo­ment to iden­tify the Esky as a cool box, then she grate­fully lifted an ice-cold soda from it.

Once, she thought she saw a snake, but with­out Stu it was hard to iden­tify what she was look­ing at.

It was hot in the ute, and sev­eral times she found her eyes clos­ing.

The third time it hap­pened she climbed out of the truck and stretched. She didn’t want Perry re­port­ing to head of­fice that she’d been asleep on the job.

She walked to­wards the wa­ter’s edge, en­joy­ing the cool­ing air. Stu and Perry were 30 yards away, try­ing to en­tice some un­known an­i­mal with a hunk of meat.

She turned to watch them, then glanced at her watch. She and Perry were due back at the air­port in just a cou­ple of hours.

“Stu,” she called, “how much longer do you . . .?”

Stu looked up at the sound of her voice, and his face froze.

“Laura, be­hind you! Run! Get back in the truck!” Perry looked up as well. “Salt­wa­ter crocodiles! Fan­tas­tic! Don’t put the cam­era down, Stu!

“Film her! I want that look of ter­ror in my book – it’s pure gold!”

Laura turned. Com­ing from the bil­l­abong were three enor­mous crea­tures head­ing to­wards her.

The ute was a few yards away; surely she could out­run a crocodile?

Laura started to run, her heart ham­mer­ing and her whole body prick­ling with cold sweat. She looked over her shoul­der and was hor­ri­fied to see that the gap be­tween her and the crocodiles was clos­ing.

Stu was rac­ing to­wards her, but Perry stood still, ap­par­ently en­joy­ing it all.

She was nearly at the truck; it was 20 feet away; 10, and then her foot snagged on a tree root and she hit the ground, a look of pure ter­ror on her face. To be con­tin­ued.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.