But today was a workday, so Cleo rose, showered, ate breakfast, dressed as usual in her Pandanus uniform and drove to the café.
The lunch crowd had cleared, and Cleo was taking a moment to have a quick sandwich with a smoothie, when Bev appeared, her face alight with excitement. ‘Have you heard?’ she asked. ‘Martin told me the police are investigating the fire to Will’s van and…’
‘It was Joy Taylor.’ Cleo didn’t want to be reminded.
‘It seems she may not have been responsible.’
‘What?’ Cleo almost choked. ‘But who else could it have been?’
‘They’re investigating some reps from Masuko, interstate visitors who were in town for the carnival. The word is, they heard about the paper Will put together – the one citing potential damage to the dugongs’ environment if the development goes ahead. Will and Kerri-Ann did a good job there. Guess they don’t know about Kerri-Ann’s input.’ Her voice faltered as if she realised Kerri-Ann could be in danger too.
‘Kerri-Ann?’ The same thought occurred to Cleo. ‘I must warn her.’
‘She’s still in Bellbird Bay?’
‘For another week. Then she’s going to a conference in Townsville. I think she intends to spend some time at the university there. James Cook University is a leader in the field of marine biology and…’ Cleo smiled, ‘at Easter she met Grace Winter’s son. Ben works on an archeological dig close to Townsville. She hasn’t said anything, but I suspect that’s part of the attraction.’
‘Easter? That was only a week ago.’
‘Sometimes it doesn’t take long.’
‘Mmm.’ Bev’s eyes took on a distant look, making Cleo wonder, not for the first time, about her friend’s past.
Then the full import of Bev’s news hit Cleo. If Joy Taylor wasn’t responsible for the fire, then what had she been apologising for in her text to Will? And was there still someone out to cause harm to Will? Forgetting Kerri-Ann, her thoughts returned to Will. She shivered. ‘Does Will know?’
‘It was Will who told Martin. Steady on,’ Bev said, seeing Cleo’s expression change to one of horror.
‘I must…’ Cleo looked around wildly. She felt Bev’s hand on her arm and stared at her friend.
‘There’s nothing you can do. It’s in the police’s hands. Will is being careful, and Martin is staying close to him.’
Cleo felt herself deflate. She couldn’t bear it if anything happened to Will – or Kerri-Ann. In the short time she’d known the girl, she’d become fond of her, noticing more and more how she resembled Stan, but Will… Even though their relationship had ended, Will still held a special place in her heart. She’d discovered too late that she loved him. Nothing could change that.
She knew she had to see him, to see for herself that he was all right.
‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about,’ Will complained to Martin who had become his shadow. ‘You should be with Ailsa, not following me around like a sheepdog. And don’t you have any work to do?’
‘You know what the police said. These men could be dangerous and until they catch them…’
‘They’ve already destroyed my van. What else are they going to do?’
‘Well, I don’t intend to let you out of my sight till the council come down with their verdict.’
Will sighed. He knew it was no use trying to dissuade Martin. He was a good mate, and that’s what mates did. They looked out for each other. ‘I guess we’ll find out at the council meeting tonight.’ The sub-committee must already have made their decision, and Will was disappointed his contact there hadn’t seen fit to inform him. But he supposed some things were confidential.
In the brief period between clients, Will and Martin chatted, with Will learning more about what Martin had been up to in the past few months. He’d certainly turned himself around since meeting Ailsa McNeil, Will thought, as his friend described their recent trip to North Queensland and a forthcoming one to the Queensland outback on a promotional trip for Tourism Queensland. Gone were the days when he risked his life attempting to secure shots in godforsaken places. Now he seemed content to remain within Australia, travelling to places to which Ailsa could accompany him.
The council chambers were filled with onlookers, the knowledge the decision about the development was to be announced having attracted the interest of both those who supported and those who opposed the proposal.
Will shuffled into a seat with Martin and Ailsa and smiled across to where Bev was seated, his heart leaping at the sight of Cleo sitting beside her, a fixed smile on her face. He regretted his decision to cut ties with her, but had only been thinking of her safety, concerned she might be Joy’s next victim. Now the police had decided Joy Taylor wasn’t to blame, would she be willing to give him a second chance?
The chattering ceased as the mayor and councillors entered the room and took their places. The first part of the meeting comprised the usual boring stuff, and people were becoming restless by the time the agenda item they were waiting for was reached.
‘Report of the development sub-committee,’ the mayor intoned.