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Dead Lucky Chapter 1

 You don't get a prize-winning garden by sitting around on your bum.  Carmen Brown, co-owner of the popular Stonehaven Manor Golf Club in Bangalow, New South Wales, stood, put her hands on the small of her back, and stretched her sore muscles.  She didn't sit around on her bum when it came to tending her garden, but she did crouch far, far too much.  Her poor muscles and bones were getting too old for this.

“But it's worth it in the end.”  She ran her fingers across the heads of her petunias as if they were her own children.   In a sense, they were.  She tended them and raised them and was proud of them just like her own children.  The only difference was they didn't pop off to her like her own children.  “Ungrateful buggers,” Carmen sighed. She bit her lip and hurried to correct her mistake.  “Oh, not you my lovely girls.  My kids without petals.  I never saw such an ungrateful lot in my--”

A shrill scream pierced the quiet, lazy afternoon.  Carmen looked up, first on edge and then relaxing once she realized what direction the sound came from.  It was just Kristie Byrnes.  That girl was a screamer.  Carmen learned that the hard way when she practically broke down her manor room door after hearing her scream bloody murder only to find Kristie and her boyfriend Robert well...Carmen shuddered at the memory.  The less she knew about her guests' private lives, the better.

The same shrill scream ripped across the air a second time.  Carmen froze.  One scream could just be 'oops, I got carried away’ but two?  “Bugger that,” Carmen muttered.   She threw down her gardening hat and gloves and raced inside.

Carmen's husband Peter met her on the staircase.  “Did you hear that?” 

Carmen covered her ears as another scream filled the air.  Hear?  How can I hear anything but that daft girl and all her racket?”

They took the stairs two at a time.  Once on the second floor, Carmen ran to Room 205 and pounded on the door.  Peter was just one step behind her.  

“Miss Byrnes!  Miss Byrnes!  Open up!”

The door swung open.  Kristie stood outlined in the sun coming in through the window that overlooked the garden and Carmen's prize petunias.  Peter’s eyes lingered at the thirty-something petite frame, graciously gazing around every single curve and bump, but careful enough that Carmen wouldn’t pick up on his wandering eyes. It had been a while since he had seen such an inviting figure; and the sun was exhibiting it in all its natural glory. Peter was thankful for small mercies the Club sometimes offered.

 “I'm sorry.  Did I miss check out time?”

“Check out?”  Carmen's mouth dropped open.  Peter reached over and closed it with a click.

“What my wife means to say is we heard screams and came to check up on the situation.”

Kristie smiled; a serene glow of sunlight framed her, making her blonde hair shine like a golden halo.  “Screams?  I don't know what you're talking about.  Maybe someone had the telly up too loud.”

“But we heard--” Carmen shook her head.  It was no use arguing with the girl.  She kept her secrets secret for a reason.   “Well, as long as you're alright then, we should be going.”

“I'm perfectly alright,” Kristie said.  “No need to worry about me.  I'm more than alright I'm brilliant.”

Carmen thought the girl's eyes were a little too bright and her smile a little too forced, but it really wasn't her place to question things.  If she said she was alright, she was alright.  There was nothing they could do to prove otherwise.

“Oh, and Mr. and Mrs. Brown,” Kristie called when they turned to leave.  “I think I'll stay another night.  Just charge it on my card.”

“Of course” Peter nodded.  “Good day, then.” Another day to catch a glimpse of this fine specimen of a woman; her stay should almost be free Peter thought.

She shut the door without answering.

“Ten years, Peter.  Ten years, we've been running this residence and she has got to be the strangest bird that's ever come to roost,” Carmen complained as they walked downstairs.  “She's hiding something.  I just don't know what.”

“Not everyone has secrets like in those detective mysteries you read,” Peter reminded her.  “Maybe she just wants to be left alone.”

“If she wanted to be left alone, she wouldn't invite that boyfriend of hers up to stay over.”

“She's a paying customer.  She could bring the entire Bangalow cricket team into her room and we couldn't do much about it besides tell them to keep the noise down.” Carmen thought that Kristie might just be that sort of girl, but perhaps she was just being spiteful.

Carmen leaned against Peter.  She closed her eyes and tried to calm her still-rattled nerves.  “You're right.  Let's just keep an eye on her anyway, shall we?”

Peter kissed the top of her head.  “Anything you say, my love.  This Club is just as much your dream as mine.  Quirky guests come with the territory.”

“But do they have to be Kristie-Byrnes-level quirky?”  Carmen sighed.  “We should implement a questionnaire before guests are allowed to let a room.”

Peter laughed.  “Now who’s being quirky?”

Carmen allowed another half a minute to collect herself before stepping away from Peter.  “I'm going back to my garden.  At least my petunias never cause trouble. Miss Byrnes could learn a thing or two from flowers.”

~*~

The next morning, Carmen watched the clock tick to 11 a.m.  Check out time and still no sign of Kristie Byrnes.   I'd love to charge her an extra day even if she's just slow to pack up her things, Carmen thought of her favorite guest. Besides how long does it take to pack a few pairs of lacy knickers?  She put the 'Please ring bell for service' sign on the front counter and walked upstairs to room 205.  

The door was slightly ajar.  How strange. Kristie always came across a little uptight to Carmen; somebody with whom security would be at the forefront of their mind. Carmen knocked and the door swung open all the way.  “Miss Byrnes?  Kristie?  It's Carmen.  I just came to remind you of check out time.  I'm going to have to charge you an extra day otherwise.” Carmen’s voice was a little apprehensive but mostly curious as to what this slip of a girl may have been up to. 

The bed was neatly made and nothing seemed out of place.  Did she skip out in the middle of the night? Now that wouldn’t have surprised Carmen. Such a doing would be typical of these ‘fur coat and no knickers’ types. But what would be so important to leave without letting anyone know?

Carmen made her way toward the bathroom.   She tripped over something sticking out near the edge of the bed and went sprawling.  As she climbed to her hands and knees, she glanced to the side and saw Kristie lying on the floor.  Typical.  She probably spent the night partying and passed out without even getting undressed and into bed.

“Time to get up, Miss Byrnes. Time to check out.”   Carmen shook Kristie's leg–the 'something' she tripped over earlier.  It was strangely cold.   Carmen sat up straighter.  “Miss Byrnes?  Kristie?”   She stood up and looked down at the sleeping guest.  No.  No, not sleeping.   Kristie's eyes were open, staring up at the ceiling and her mouth frozen in a silent scream.  Kristie Byrnes wasn't sleeping.  Kristie Byrnes was dead. 

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