The sliver of daylight that shone across his face had turned in the inside of his eyelids red. Now he knew how the bad guys had felt during a tough interrogation.
The former District Attorney never imagined he would end up here, in Australia, in the blazing summer heat.
This place does everything backwards, he mused. But still you have to admire the sense of humour of a country that can sing Jingle Bells in sweltering heat, where the only relief was a Long Island Iced Tea or a G&T.
Nick opened his eyes to tiny slits. It was a big mistake.
He started to notice the little things - the dry mouth, the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach, the noisemaker feather that brushed the bottom on his noise.
He sat up gingerly and surveyed the bedroom. Nora lay sleeping.
After a second or two she swatted at the feather that was tickling her cheek. Nicky grinned.
"Happy New Year Darling," he whispered into her ear. Nora stretched languorously.
"What time is it?" she asked.
Nick glanced at the open bottle of champagne on the dresser. "About half past Clicquot."
The trip from the master suite to the entertaining floors below revealed a ruination of revelry. Silly pointed hats and streamers littered the stairs. Empty glasses on side tables and shelves had still to be cleared by the staff.
One pair of guests had been unable to make it to their rooms and snored in drunken harmony in the facing wing back chairs in the library.
Otherwise, Nick observed, no damage done.
The welcome dark aroma of strong coffee wafted toward him and a cup of the black brew appeared at his elbow. It was delivered by Butler, the Butler.
“Thank you, Richard,” said Nick.
He watched Butler recede. He still had misgivings about hiring him, what with his unfortunate history of UN weapons inspection and that debacle as GG in Tasmania. But when the agency sent him, kind-hearted Nora insisted on giving him another chance.
Nick stepped out onto the terrace. He sipped at the coffee and surveyed the view.
A dark mass lay untidily on the even plain of the manicured lawn.
Nick strolled over and looked down. It was one of the guests.
Nick didn’t have to examine them closely to know they were deceased.
A pair of electric hedge trimmers lay near-by.
It was not a pretty sight.
Part II to follow...
... In the meantime, enjoy:
Long Island Iced Tea
1 part vodka
1 part tequila
1 part rum
1 part gin
1 part triple sec
1 1/2 parts sweet and sour mix
1 splash Coca-Cola
Mix ingredients together over ice in a glass. Pour into a shaker and give one brisk shake. Pour back into the glass and make sure there is a touch of fizz at the top. Garnish with lemon.