As mentioned previously, I decided to blog the opening chapters to some of my books. This the first chapter of my adult murder mystery trilogy which can be found on all ebooks. This gentle murder mystery series is set on the Mornington Peninsula on the south coast of Australia.
1. Olivia. Saturday
Rain had set in, just as the AM weather-woman had predicted, rain forming miniature lakes in the gravel outside. Olivia Beauman, sole proprietor of Not Just Desserts, tried to ignore the mud trekked in by two small boys agonising between strawberry creams, old-fashioned humbugs and rubbery jelly babies. ‘That… an’ those,’ the taller and bossier finally decided.
Olivia scooped sweets into bags, rang up two dollars fifty in five and ten-cent pieces, and watched the boys drift outside. Her gaze drifted to the counter where four sticky hands had left their imprint. She picked up a cloth to polish them away. Suddenly the clouds parted, a watery sun streamed through the window, and two men walked into the Store.
The younger man – sloe eyed, olive skinned, medium height, maybe in his late thirties – went to the fridge and took out a bottle of orange juice. He walked to the counter, and with a quick smile handed her a two-dollar coin and took off. Her gaze followed him as he climbed into a late model red Saab and drove away in a swish of gravel.
The other – Shire Councillor Harry Oldritch, owner of Broderick Real Estate P/L plus other business interests too numerous to mention – coughed loudly then said, ‘S’pose you’ll be selling up.’
She turned to face him. ‘What makes you think that?’
His gesture took in her empty premises. ‘Why not let my firm handle the sale?’
Olivia’s mouth thinned. She said, ‘If and when I decide to sell, I promise you’ll be the first to know.’
He nodded gravely. ‘Well now…’ surveying the contents of her Bain Marie, ‘I’ll have some of that Madras chicken.’
Olivia filled a carton and handed it over. He said, ‘Nothing wrong with your food. Your problem is you’re under capitalised.’ His eyes drifted towards her breasts. ‘What you need is a partner. Sleeping, of course.’ He turned to survey her store. ‘If things don’t work out, some lucky bugger will get a bargain.’ To emphasise his point, he handed her a one hundred-dollar note.
‘That’ll be five dollars seventy. Sorry about this…’ equally pleased to be counting out his change in five dollar notes. ‘We’re fresh out of tens and twenties.’
He left, banging the door behind him.
Olivia’s gaze followed him resentfully. Harry’s white hair, red cheeks, drooping lower lip and pendulous belly reminded her of a predatory Santa Claus. In her sixteen months as owner of the Grevillea General Store – which she’d renamed Not Just Desserts to sound more up-market – she’d heard enough about his business practices to try very hard to avoid him. But recently he’d started turning up every day wanting to buy in and when she refused, taking whatever her menu offered. Then she thought how he mightn’t enjoy that curry. Whilst preparing it, she’d had an accident with the chilli powder.
Serves him right if it burns his throat.
She turned to view her store through a stranger’s eyes. Inside this turn-of-the-century wooden building was space enough to hold a barn dance. The walls were plastered with posters of long forgotten film festivals, plus a couple of pre First World War sepia photos of farming families, various members frowning at the camera. Newspapers and magazines were displayed on a thirties dresser. Cakes and breads on a Victorian sideboard. Home-made pickles and jams on shelves behind the counter. Other furniture consisted of five wooden tables, some mismatched chairs, and several unglazed pots containing Chinese and Bungalow palms. Modern fixtures included two see-through refrigerators, a glass and metal counter with hot and cold food compartments, and a steam breathing espresso machine.
Though the outside walls needed paint, and in places the old corrugated roof was almost rusted through, the area between the circular driveway was planted with banksias, she-oaks, grevilleas and kangaroo paws, its centrepiece a clump of silvery-blue cootamandras flaunting a veil of dusty yellow. Fifteen months ago, when Olivia and Austen went looking for some new venture, they decided that these premises offered the best opportunity to combine business and a new lifestyle. So far nothing, not even Austen losing his superannuation trying to lick the stock-market and then moving out of her life, has dissuaded Olivia from pursuing her goal.