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DESTINATION TRIBULATION - An Annie Bryce Mystery

DESTINATION COVER

VENGEANCE, SWEAT AND FEAR  

Annie Bryce is terrified. Martin Barclay is coming to kill her. The police are powerless to stop him. She knows Barclay’s revenge for putting him behind bars will be brutal. And final. A hasty move to steamy North Queensland with her boyfriend, photographer Steve, is no escape − Barclay is hot on their trail, peppering their lives with threats and destruction. Even her euphoria at an unexpected inheritance evaporates when it clouds her already stormy relationship with Steve. Isolated and anguished, Annie throws herself into researching World War Two in North Queensland, eventually uncovering a shocking long-held secret. And all the while the sadistic Barclay, ever more deranged, is closing in…  

In Store Price: $28.95 
Online Price:   $27.95

ISBN: 978-1-921731-10-5   
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:276
Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Cover Design: Olga Art Directions and Design

By the same author 

Loose Ends (2006)Rockhound (2007)
Intrigue in Paradise
(2009)

 
 

Author: Pat Noad
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2010
Language: English

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Author profile  

Pat Noad divides her time between Brisbane, where life happens, and the northern Sunshine Coast, where inspiration seems to float on the sea breeze. Destination Tribulation is the fourth of the Annie Bryce mysteries; hunting for background, stories and atmosphere took Pat around North Queensland, as far as the tip of Cape York, across to Thursday and Horn Islands, and into some fascinating encounters along the way.  

Pat’s short stories have been published by CrimeWriters Queensland and elsewhere, and others have won awards; she also gives occasional writing workshops and is regularly invited to judge competitions.

The critical verdict on the earlier Annie Bryce Mysteries: 

  • ‘A riveting thriller…intrigue in abundance…convincing dialogue, engrossing mystery, suspense sustained to the climax…not just hard to put down – it’s impossible.’ Scope Magazine.
  •  ‘Noad skilfully builds the tension and revels in her characters and locations ... in a word – compelling.’ The Gold Coast Bulletin
  • Highly intelligent…a thriller permeated by menace…a gripping read.’ Ian Callinan, novelist and former High Court Justice, launching ‘Intrigue in Paradise’.

CHAPTER 1 

 

That Tuesday was a fateful day. The two phone calls, just an hour apart, would change everything. Forever.

The day had started off unremarkably enough, suitably hot for sub-tropical Brisbane in early summer. The sunshine was punctuated with fleeting shadows as a breeze sent wispy white clouds drifting across the blue sky. Steve was off on a photo shoot somewhere, and by mid-afternoon I was at home in his unit in inner-city Auchenflower. After clearing a space on the cluttered table I was absorbed in putting the finishing touches to an article, reflecting a bit smugly that my journalistic career seemed to be on the way up.

The shrill of my mobile made me jump. Scrabbling around, I found my little rucksack lurking under a heap of papers on the couch and managed to connect on the sixth ring.

‘Ms Bryce?’

Suddenly I went cold. I would know that voice anywhere. It was the call I had been dreading for weeks.

‘Ah, yes.’ My voice sounded a long way off, even to me. 

‘This is D.I. Mason of the West Sussex police calling. I hope you are well?’

‘I was, Inspector Mason. But your calls usually mean bad news for me. Please tell me I’m wrong.’

He cleared his throat. ‘I’m afraid not, Ms Bryce. I have an update on Martin Barclay for you.’

I braced myself. ‘Tell me.’

Nothing ruffled D.I. Mason’s formality. ‘We have maintained contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office since Barclay’s release from prison, as we said we would do. As a result, we know that a passport has been issued to him, and he has purchased an airline ticket to travel to Australia.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Under the circumstances, I sought approval to let you know of this development, and it was granted. My superiors have agreed that you should be warned of his impending arrival. We know all too well what a dangerous man he is.’

My mouth had gone dry. ‘Impending? That sounds like very soon.’ I swallowed. ‘When exactly?’

‘Next week, Ms Bryce. He will land in Brisbane early on the Wednesday morning, on flight QF52. He’s taking a direct flight through Singapore.’

My brain in freefall, I struggled to get a grip on the situation. ‘He’s coming straight here? Straight to Brisbane?’

‘That is correct.’ Another pause. ‘We know of no reason for him to visit your country, Ms Bryce, other than to seek you out. He is not a traveller. This is the first passport that has ever been issued to him.’

‘And you still can’t offer me witness protection? That’s what you told me last time we spoke.’

‘Regrettably, we cannot. We will, however, alert the police in your home state to the situation, and provide them with a full briefing on the background of the case. If there’s any more I can do, you know where to find me.’

‘For whatever good it will do me!’ I snapped.

He sighed. ‘I am so deeply sorry about all this, Ms Bryce. Sometimes these days the law in this country seems to privilege the guilty, rather than protect the innocent. This is, unfortunately, one such case. Please keep in touch.’

I forced myself to be civil. ‘I will. I know you’ve done everything you could – so thank you for that, D.I. Mason.’

I disconnected. Then I buried my head in my hands.

 

The second call came through on Steve’s landline.

I’d taken a mug of tea onto the little balcony, and was staring absently at the empty street lined almost entirely with blocks of units, most of which were inhabited only at night – such a different world to my little cottage across the river in Dutton Park, with its neighbourhood of families and pets and retirees and workers coming and going at all hours. Steve had whisked me over to his place when the Barclay threat had once again raised its ugly head, reuniting us both physically and emotionally after months of separation. While I often felt a bit homesick and disliked unit living, one thing was crystal clear: at this time in our lives, being together was definitely good for us both.

The all-too-familiar knot twisted tight in my stomach and for once the tea seemed tasteless. I checked my watch, willing Steve to come home. That was when the phone rang. I was still hunting through the debris in the bedroom for the cordless phone when the message bank clicked in: some man wanting Steve for some job, leaving an assortment of numbers and instructions to call back ‘soonest’ in a tone of perceptible urgency. I was debating whether to call Steve on his mobile when I heard his key in the door. A second later I was in his arms, my face buried in his chest.

He hugged me tight for a bit then gently pushed me away, his hands on my shoulders, his brown eyes boring into mine.

‘What’s up? I can’t flatter myself you’re missing me so badly just since breakfast.’

I exhaled. ‘D.I. Mason rang. Barclay’s flying into Brisbane next week. On Wednesday. He says he’s after me.’

‘Shit.’ He pulled me close again, his chin on my head. ‘We always knew it was going to happen, but … shit. The question is, now what?’

‘Beats me.’ I gulped and disentangled myself, wiping my eyes. ‘We’ll have to think of something. And fast. Want a coffee?’

He shook his head and made for the fridge. ‘It’s a beer day.’ As he pulled out a stubby the message machine gave a chirp.

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘that’s for you. Some bloke about a job, just five minutes ago. Sounded a bit frantic, I thought. I couldn’t find the phone in time – sounds as if it’s in the bedroom somewhere.’

Drowning in our combined stuff had become a standing joke between us. Steve often puzzled over the mathematics of the case: how could one extra person in his unit create ten times the mess that he managed to make alone? The answer probably had something to do with two freelance professionals with separate careers and different deadlines trying to work from one small home base. Fortunately we weren’t into blaming each other. Yet.

After we unearthed the phone I went out onto the balcony to give Steve some space while he returned the call, and to try to come up with some ideas for dealing with Martin Barclay. My mind was still totally blank when Steve joined me fifteen minutes later, looking a bit gobsmacked.

‘What’s that saying? “God moves in mysterious ways.”’

‘Huh?’

He took a swig of his beer. ‘Annie, I’ve just had the most amazing offer. D’you remember Ted Tryson?’

‘Isn’t he that veteran photographer who keeps winning awards? And doesn’t he have a soft spot for you?’

‘That’s him, and yes, he’s always liked my work. Well, poor old Ted’s just had a massive heart attack. He’s going to pull through, they say, but it’ll be months before he can work again, if ever. Anyway, he was just into this contract on adventure tourism up north – some sort of deal where he could take stand-out publicity shots and videos for them and sell any they didn’t want to his other connections, or publish himself, or whatever. Every freelancer’s dream, but you have to be a Ted Tryson to pull it off.’

‘And?’

‘Well, he’s recommended they hire me to replace him, on the same terms.’

‘Steve! That sounds fantastic – what an opportunity!’

He leaned over and took my hand. ‘It’s more than that, Annie. I’d have to base myself in Townsville and I’d be on the move a fair bit. And they want me immediately. They’ve got a schedule of shoots set up they want to run with. Ted was always super-organised. I said I’d go and talk it all through with their Brisbane people tomorrow. But …’

‘But what?’

‘I won’t leave you here – I wouldn’t anyway, not after last year, and now Barclay’s suddenly hit the radar it’s not a remote possibility. But think of it – we could kill two birds with one stone. It would get you out of Barclay’s way, at least for the moment. So what do you say?’

I stared at him, a bit dazed by all these developments. ‘What? Move up to Townsville pronto? But what about our work?’

‘We’d have to figure that out, wouldn’t we?’ He paused to think. ‘I could probably offload most of mine, it’s all fairly routine. Have you got much on?’

‘Actually, I’ve just finished a big article this afternoon. There are a few small things …’

‘You could probably use a break after the horrors of that job on the Gold Coast. With what they’re paying, I’ll be more than able to support us both.’

‘No way!’

‘What?’

‘I’m not going to become dependent, Steve,’ I said sharply.

He drew back and raised an eyebrow. ‘Really? Why not?’ His voice suddenly had an edge too.

‘I told you. Ages ago.’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Yes I did – you know, about moving in with my boyfriend after we graduated.’ I looked away.

‘Well, go on, remind me.’

‘You see …’ I hesitated. ‘Well, he was – still is – a big earner, much more so than me, and somehow my work began to seem trivial, insignificant. First to him, then to me. Anyway, eventually I completely lost track of who I was and what I wanted out of life. When I woke up to what was happening, I ended it with him. I swore to myself then that I’d never go back there.’

He was silent for a beat. ‘That must be at least ten years ago now, Annie,’ he pointed out, ‘and anyway, we’re only talking short term. What would a few weeks matter?’

‘It matters to me!’ I snapped. Until this minute, I hadn’t realised quite how much.

He glared at me. ‘Okay, stay here then and let Barclay do his worst. Is that what you want?’

‘Of course not.’

‘Oh for God’s sake!’ His stubby banged down on the table. ‘You go figure, then.’

I had a thought. ‘There’s Jack’s bonus, I suppose – I could use that until I find some work.’

The elderly Jack Riversdale had been the Gold Coast client who had produced that harrowing project, and had paid me a handsome bonus for the traumas I’d incurred on his behalf. I’d put half of it into reducing my mortgage, but I did still have the rest on short-term deposit; it was enough to support myself for a while.

Steve’s lips thinned. ‘That’s just absurd – and a complete waste, into the bargain. Why spend it if you don’t have to?’

‘Because I want to, that’s why.’ My voice was tight. ‘My money, my decision. End of discussion.’

‘Christ,’ he muttered, ‘you can be so bloody minded, you know that?’

I shrugged and we lapsed into an uneasy silence for a bit, both deep in thought.

‘Why did he have a heart attack?’ I asked suddenly.

‘Eh?’

‘Ted. What brought that heart attack on? Is it dangerous work? Listen, Steve, you’re only just back in full swing after that ultralight crash and all the misery that followed – you don’t want to go falling out of helicopters or boats or getting eaten by sharks or anything. So what happened with Ted?’

‘Hey.’ He softened, leaning over to squeeze my hand. ‘He just got up one morning, had a glass of orange juice, then got this pain in his chest and blacked out. That’s all. With his lifestyle, and at his age, it was always on the cards.’

‘Oh.’

‘So, what d’you say?’

I hesitated. ‘It’d take an awful lot of organising – your unit, all our stuff, then there’s our work …’

‘It would.’

‘We’d have to do that in nothing flat.’

‘Yep.’

‘And it’d be terribly hot and sticky up north now, in the middle of summer.’ I had another thought. ‘It’s the wet season too, isn’t it? That’s a strange time for an assignment in the tropics.’

He drained his stubby. ‘That’s seems to be the point. There’s a push to extend the tourist season up there for a couple of months, at least in the southern parts. Townsville’s in the dry tropics, remember?’

I paused to take that in. ‘There’s an awful lot to think through, too, about Barclay for a start …’

‘There is.’

‘But the timing’s good. For me – us – if not for the weather.’

‘Couldn’t be better. So?’

‘So,’ I took a deep breath, ‘if it works out for you tomorrow, I say yes.’

That night we’d arranged to meet some of Steve’s mates and their partners for drinks and dinner at the Regatta Hotel on Coronation Drive, but one way and another neither of us was really in the mood.

Steve checked the time. ‘Time to go. Let’s just have a drink with them then mosey off. Anyway, I’d like to catch up with Luke. Townsville’s his home base – he could have some useful contacts there.’ I smiled to myself. Steve was the ultimate networker.

‘Sounds good.’ I was relieved. With so much suddenly on my mind, I was feeling distinctly anti-social.

With its wide verandahs and cast-iron lacework, the Regatta was a landmark watering hole for the nearby campus of the University of Queensland, and it was pumping on that warm summer night. We found our convivial party in full swing on the upstairs balcony overlooking the action on the Brisbane River. Sitting and sipping and smiling at the entertaining banter with the soft breezes from the river caressing my face, I began to relax. Steve explained that we would have to split before dinner.

‘Pity, mate, Luke’s not showing either,’ someone contributed. ‘He called me yesterday, sounded a bit shattered. His mother died suddenly, he said, and he’s had to fly home for the funeral.’

‘Is that so?’ said Steve thoughtfully. ‘I am sorry. You don’t have his mobile number handy, do you?’

The speaker produced a mobile phone, scrolled down and read out the number. Steve scribbled it down. ‘Thanks, mate.’

After half an hour we made our apologies and left. Steve hadn’t mentioned his job offer. I hadn’t mentioned the murderer who was about to hunt me down. It was a relief to settle at a table in our favourite little pasta restaurant in Milton and mull over the events of the day.

‘You know what we need?’ I was thinking aloud.

‘What?’

‘To talk to someone like Jim Mahoney – someone who really knows the ropes about vindictive thugs.’ Jim was the senior policeman who had been in on my first clash with the Barclay family, and I remembered him warmly as immensely experienced, kind and compassionate. ‘But he went and retired, didn’t he?’

Steve nodded slowly. ‘Great idea, Annie. Jim himself probably wouldn’t be all that hard to track down, if he’s in town. He knows the background, and his contacts in the police wouldn’t be stone cold yet. Maybe you could give his old unit a ring tomorrow.’ He grinned. ‘Everything’s urgent, all of a sudden.’

‘I will.’

‘Speaking of contacts, I’ve just been wondering about Luke …’

‘What about him?’

‘Well, from everything you hear, housing up north is as scarce as hen’s teeth. Maybe Luke could put us onto something – even his mother’s place, if it suited the family.’ He raised his glass. ‘I suppose that makes me a cold-blooded opportunist, huh?’

I considered. ‘Maybe. But practical. And it could be win-win for both them and us. You should sound him out.’

I leaned across and put my hand over Steve’s, looking at him affectionately: his big shaggy presence, his ginger beard, his concerned brown eyes under that untidy thatch of brown hair. We’d been through some rough times and had given each other a lot of grief, and we had our fair share of rows into the bargain, but I knew that at this moment there was no one on earth I would rather have in my life.

‘Nothing like teamwork, huh?’

While we ate we decided to put everything on hold until the next day and opted for an early night, anticipating some very busy days ahead. After we got into bed I put my light out and snuggled into the crook of Steve’s arm.

‘Speaking of teamwork …’ I thought he sounded a bit hesitant.

‘What about it?’

‘Well … with Barclay on your trail, have you thought about changing your name?’

‘Take on an alias? The idea’s never crossed my mind. Like what?’

‘I’ve been thinking … Annie Maxton’s got a nice ring to it.’

I sat bolt upright and snapped the light back on. He was staring innocently at the ceiling.

‘What? Steve, are you proposing to me?’

‘I guess,’ he said cautiously, ‘that could be one way of looking at it.’

‘My God. What a day. This is too much. I’ll have to think about that. Um, for a while.’

‘Take your time.’

With that I turned the light off again and crashed back on the pillows. Then I pulled one over my head.

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