G'Day to Die: A Passport to Peril Mystery - By Maddy Hunter

Chapter 1

If you were to ask your average American to locate the West Coast on a map, he’d rap a knuckle on California. If you were to ask your average Australian the same question, he’d slap his hand over the lower right hand corner of his country to indicate Victoria—a state whose southern border flanks the sea, but whose landlocked western border is a whopping fifteen hundred miles away from Australia’s actual west coast. Which, comparatively speaking, makes it the geographical equivalent of Iowa.

There’s a simple explanation for this anomaly.

It’s Australia. It’s complicated.

We’d spent our first full day Down Under motoring along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, a one-hundred-sixty mile, two-lane, roller coaster of a highway with panoramic views of the Southern Ocean’s golden beaches, pounding surf and wind-tortured bluffs. In the late afternoon we’d arrived at Port Campbell National Park so we could ooh and ahh over the chimney stacks of rock that rise from the sea like gigantic lumps of coal. Our travel brochure refers to these craggy monoliths as, “The Twelve Apostles,” and they were nothing short of spectacular. With the fearsome Southern Ocean gnawing at their base and the sun gilding them with blinding light, they were the most dazzling natural wonder I’d seen in my fifteen month stint as a tour escort.

“What a gyp,” Bernice Zwerg grated in her ex-smoker’s voice. She crab-walked over to me as we gathered inside the protective shelter of the visitor center, waiting to reboard our tour bus.

“Why is it a gyp?” I wasn’t surprised by Bernice’s negative reaction to one of Australia’s most breathtaking landmarks. Bernice hated everything.

She held up her travel brochure and squinted at me down the length of her blue-zinc-oxide-covered nose. It was January, the height of summer in Australia, so all the seniors in my group were taking measures to prevent sunburn. Bernice’s nose matched her sandals today, a striking example of how fashion savvy she’d become since her bunion surgery.

“Twelve Apostles? Did anyone bother to count them? There’s only eight. I paid to see twelve, so I’m looking into my future and seeing—refund.”

“Maybe the Aussies have a different numbering system,” offered Helen Teig as she dragged her three-hundred-pound frame toward us. She used her travel brochure to fan her face, which had turned candy-apple red in the hundred-degree heat and body-battering wind. “Maybe ‘twelve’ to them is ‘eight’ to us.”

Bernice rolled her eyes. “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. Hey, you.” She thwacked the arm of a ruggedly good-looking tour guest whose pale green bush outfit and wide-brimmed Akubra hat hinted that he was either a homegrown Aussie or a seasoned Travelsmith shopper. His name tag identified him as Heath Acres. She flashed three fingers before his face. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Wot’s she want to know?” shrieked the grizzled gnome of a woman who clung to his arm.

“She wants to know how mini fingahs she’s holding up,” he said in a vowel-altering Crocodile Dundee twang that labeled him as a local.

“Why? Can’t she count?” The little woman fixed Bernice with an impatient look. “Three fingers. Wot are you? Stupid?” The woman’s hair was a wild, windblown cotton ball. Her eyes were pinpricks of brilliant blue in a face so deeply seamed with wrinkles that she looked as if she’d spent the last thousand years smoking Marlboros in the desert. I suppressed an uneasy shudder as I studied her face. Oh, my God. I was on a two-week tour of Australia with the world’s oldest living human.

“Excuse me. There used to be twelve,” said a tall, chestnut-haired, middle-aged man in neatly pressed walking shorts and sandals. “Unfortunately, time hasn’t treated them kindly. Four of them have collapsed into the sea, and there’s another that looks to be on the verge.” He punched a button on the fancy digital camera that hung around his neck and angled the display screen toward us, poking the screen with his forefinger. “This one here. Did you notice? The base has been all but eroded away. In another few years there may only be seven.”

“The Magnificent Seven,” said Helen, hand splayed over her ample bosom. “I loved that movie. Yul Brynner was so…so…”

“Bald,” snapped the thousand-year-old woman.

“As a bowling ball,” agreed Helen. “Yul was a real trendsetter when it came to hairstyles.”

“Those are some great pictures,” Bernice allowed as she hovered over the man’s camera. “I’ve got a digital camera. How come my shots don’t look like yours?”

Whoa! Had an actual compliment just escaped Bernice’s mouth? Grab your