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Rusty Bore’s Favourite P. I. and Takeaway Queen is Back!
Dead Men Don’t Order Flake by Sue Williams

Sue Williams’s Murder With the Lot introduced us to smart, sassy Cass Tuplin—owner of the best, and only, takeaway in Rusty Bore, with a nose for a nice bit of juicy gossip and anything that might be considered suspicious behaviour. Murder With the Lot was shortlised in the 2013 Ned Kelly Awards for Best First Fiction, and now Cass is back in another irreverent and refreshing crime caper: Dead Men Don’t Order Flake. Or do they? Read on to find out in this extract from chapter one.


Dead men don’t order flake. But that’s exactly what Leo Stone asked for the April afternoon he strolled in, his gladiator shoulders filling up my shop doorway. A blast of cold wind whirled in behind him, slapping the fly strips against the wall.

‘Leo?’ I grabbed the glass counter for support. 

He closed the door; the bell jangled. He stamped the red-brown dirt from his boots onto my mat and sauntered over, doing a damn good impression of a fella categorically alive. Leo’s skin was smooth and tanned; he hadn’t lost any of the blond superhero hair either.

I stood there in gobsmacked silence. Twenty-odd years ago we had a top-notch memorial service for Leo. Every one of Rusty Bore’s hundred and forty-seven residents made it. The church was full of the sound of stifled sobs by the time Ernie got up to do the eulogy.

I let go of the counter and ran a shaky hand across my forehead, then touched the counter again. Normal cold glass: it felt reassuring. 

‘Been a while, hey, Cass.’ Leo gave me a long look. 

His voice was low and husky. He certainly didn’t sound dead. And there was nothing dead about the way he made me feel.

He shot me his killer smile. ‘But you haven’t changed a bit.’ 

Not entirely accurate: only a thousand years of extra smile lines, two adult sons, supplementary stretch marks. But he looked as though he meant it. 

He put a hand onto my counter, about a centimetre from mine. A very warm hand for a dead bloke. And a hand I wouldn’t have minded having nearer. 

I stepped away quickly; busied myself tidying my precision-stacked pile of white paper. 

‘Any chance of a piece of flake? And some of your chips? I bet they’re still the best in the world.’ 

I’ll admit I pride myself on quality chips: crisp on the outside, fluffy in the middle. I scooped up a generous quantity plus a piece of fish and put them in a basket. My hands were unsteady as I dropped the basket into the bubbling oil, but I managed all right. Comfort food’s been in my family for generations.

A sudden memory of Leo, at that doomed function years ago at the Hustle Golf Club. In his James-Bond-suave dinner suit, surrounded by frocked-up women fluttering long champagne flutes and longer eyelashes. Leo always had a gathering of women.

I stood there staring at the vat a moment, trying to get my brain cells reorganised. There was never any actual confirmation of Leo’s death: no body, obviously. But we all knew he was on that woman’s yacht. Showbag checked it all out. 

A thousand questions bubbled up as I stared into the oil. First, obviously, where have you been and why didn’t you contact anyone? I don’t mean me, of course, not given everything that happened or, to be more precise, didn’t happen between us. But couldn’t you have given someone, anyone, a lousy little phone call? 

I turned back to face him. ‘So. How you been, anyway?’ My voice didn’t sound right. I cleared my throat.

He shrugged.

‘You seen anyone in town yet? It’s just, err, one or two people thought you might have...’

‘Died. Yeah, I heard.’ A laugh. 

Leo’s laugh. I’d forgotten what it felt like to hear that. 

‘The rumour mill never stops, does it? And what’s this I hear about an inscription for me on my folks’ gravestone? Crazy, huh?’

It had been my job to come up with the heartfelt wording for that inscription. It hadn’t been hard to be heartfelt.

I turned away quickly. Shook his order in the oil. Stared ahead, blinking fast.

‘Serena reckons it was the best thing I ever did, getting out of this joint. Although...’

Serena?

‘I’ve missed you, Cassie.’ The husk in his voice went up a notch.

I carefully avoided turning around; it was really better if I didn’t look at him.

‘Did a heap of travel though. Been all over. DRC mostly.’

‘DRC? And that is…?’ 

‘Democratic Republic of the Congo.’

‘Right. Doing what?’ Knowing him, it probably involved something glamorous. I wondered for a moment if glamour was feasible in the Congo. 

A sudden memory of Leo, at that doomed function years ago at the Hustle Golf Club. In his James-Bond-suave dinner suit, surrounded by frocked-up women fluttering long champagne flutes and longer eyelashes. Leo always had a gathering of women. 

Strictly speaking, I wasn’t at that do in a Leo-surrounding capacity: I was serving platters of upscale finger food. He’d brushed my hand as he took a caviar-smeared square of toast; flashed me a secret smile. 

Leo strolled over to my shop fridge to examine the drink selection, busy ignoring my query about his Congolese activities. He opened the fridge door and took out a can of Solo, wandered back and put it on the counter.

‘What were you up to over there?’ I said, and then regretted it. No doubt he’d be getting the full interrogation from everyone. Rusty Bore’s inhabitants might have convinced themselves that I’m their personal private eye, but they all ask a lot more nosy questions than I ever could. 

And frankly, if I’d just returned from the dead, Rusty Bore would be the last place I’d be headed for. I’d be on an unstoppable quest for freedom. Around here, freedom’s a commodity in short supply, with everyone’s nonstop scrutiny of your business.

‘Oh, I did a bit of this and that. Worked with Médecins Sans Frontières mostly. You should have come over, Cass. Looked me up.’ A lopsided smile.

‘Hah. How exactly would I have done that?’ Since you, Leo, were apparently dead and some of us were doing our best to get over it. I turned, shook his order back and forth in the oil with more force than was strictly needed. 

‘I should have kept in touch. You know, I thought about you. A lot.’ His voice softened. ‘Sorry to hear about Piero. You been OK here, on your own?’ 

I hooked up his fish and chips to drain. How I’d been since Piero died wasn’t any of Leo’s business, not these days. 

I turned and faced him. ‘You’re never actually on your own in Rusty Bore. You forgotten that?’

I haven’t studied it scientifically, but I’d say there’s roughly zero chance you could die at home alone in this town and get eaten by your Alsatian. There’d be fifty people tramping through looking for you before the Alsatian had a chance to get in its first bite.

‘So how long you back for?’ I said.

‘Depends.’ His blue-green eyes darkened. 

I didn’t ask what on; just wrapped up his order in crisp white paper. 

‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘got my own business these days.’

‘Right.’

‘With Serena. Yeah, met Serena in Kinshasa.’

None of my business who Leo met and where, but for some reason I froze for a moment. 

‘And I’ve found a place not far from Hustle. We should catch up some time.’

‘Uh huh.’ Over my Alsatian-ravaged body. ‘That’ll be nine-fifty.’ I held out his parcel.

He rummaged around in his wallet and held out the cash. Leaned across the counter, his white T-shirt stretched tight across those shoulders. 

‘Cass, you know, I can’t quite believe you’re still here. I thought you’d have escaped this town by now.’ He smiled, the Congo-sun Serena-kissed lines around his eyes crinkling. ‘I figured you’d be off travelling, finally getting on with your life, properly.’ He paused. ‘You gotta grab life by the throat, you know. No point in allowing yourself to moulder into the ground.’

Yeah, thanks. It was true my life wasn’t powering through its most vibrant phase at that moment: serving takeaway and a weekly visit to see Ernie in the retirement home pretty much summed up the Cass Tuplin action highlights. 

But life advice from Leo Stone? At least I knew enough to pick up a phone and let people know when I wasn’t dead.

Leo left with his white paper parcel and I spent a few minutes wiping down my spotless counter. There’s nothing like a bit of auto-cleaning to soothe the reeling mind. I had to hope this wasn’t the beginning of another chapter in my complicated non-history with Leo. I really needed to develop some kind of immunity to men. To him, certainly.

Still, Leo would be off to somewhere else far-flung pretty quickly, I reassured myself. He’d be keen to get out of here before he, too, mouldered into the ground. I gave the glass front of my bain-marie a vigorous windex-over.

Ever since Edna’s snowdropping case I’m this big-time private eye, apparently. Edna’s problem didn’t exactly require the services of a mastermind: a swift search through her spare room chest of drawers did the trick. Still, you have to appreciate the loyalty.

What Leo didn’t know was that after my shop burnt down sixteen months ago, I did in fact give serious consideration to leaving. After all, growth hasn’t been part of the business model in Rusty Bore for decades. The town consists of Vern’s general store and my shop, along with a row of three galvanised-steel silos. Admittedly, Vern does an impressive job of waxing lyrical about the sunsets over those silos, when he manages to find someone prepared to listen. 

But I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the idea of deserting everyone. Especially Ernie. That reminded me: Ernie’s birthday next week, his eighty-ninth. I’d tuck some money inside a card and take it up to him at the home, enough to put a bet on the dogs. I could work harder at discouraging his betting, but Ernie hasn’t got a lot of vices left.

I put down my cloth: the bain-marie was spotless. The whole shop was pristine. The rebuild had turned out pretty well, I must say. Wall to wall stainless steel. Fresh new tiles, blue and white. And a flash rotisserie for a whole new line in BBQ chickens.

The place looked quite up-market, apart from the skewiff verandah. The state of my verandah was thanks to Vern, who managed to back a speedboat into it just after the builders left. Showbag’s speedboat, or so Vern claimed, but what Showbag was even doing with a speedboat beats me, since he’s afraid of everything beyond his front gate. And Perry Lake contains, at best, six inches of water.

My phone rang. 

I picked it up. ‘Rusty Bore Takeaway.’

‘S’that Cass Tuplin?’ A male voice, a little slurred.

‘Speaking. How can I help?’ 

‘You’re Cass Tuplin, the detective?’

‘Err.’ I’m not actually a private detective, not officially. But that’s not how most of Rusty Bore sees it. Ever since Edna’s snowdropping case I’m this big-time private eye, apparently. Edna’s problem didn’t exactly require the services of a mastermind: a swift search through her spare room chest of drawers did the trick. Still, you have to appreciate the loyalty.

Of course, my status as a celebrated yet non-licensed investigator doesn’t entirely suit Dean. Dean’s my eldest. Senior Constable Dean Tuplin. Was an acting sergeant for an encouraging moment there, but it didn’t quite work out.

‘My name’s Gary Kellett,’ the man said.

Not a Rusty Bore resident, but his name seemed somehow familiar; possibly not a good thing. ‘Edna Rawlins gave me your number.’ 

Ah. One of Edna’s hopeless cases. This’d be about a lost pet, iffy ferret dealer or non-existent knicker nicker. 

‘What is it you’re wanting, Gary?’

‘Can we discuss it in pershon? I’m in Muddy Soak.’ Definitely slurred. He’d had a drink, maybe. Or a stroke.

Muddy Soak’s a two-hour drive away. Bit far for the hopeless-case-comfort-chat. ‘How about we meet in Hustle?’ I said.

‘Yep...I could do nine o’clock tomorrow.’ 

‘Right. Slick Café, 9 a.m.’

I got on the blower to Edna who answered after one ring. 

‘Why do I recognise the name Gary Kellett, Edna?’ I shouted. Edna’s hearing’s not the best. 

‘Bank manager in Muddy Soak,’ she shouted back. ‘Well, ex-manager, to be precise. Liberated from his employment about a month ago.’

Gary’s gentle, slurred voice wasn’t what I’d have expected of a bank manager. Not the kind of voice for announcing mass staff redundancies or telling farmers how much he regrets foreclosing on them. Maybe the bank got rid of him due to a substandard capacity for brutality.

‘Nice fella,’ she said. ‘And seen more than his fair share of tragedy. On his own, like you. And he’s not gay, not even bi. At least that’s what he said when I asked him. They don’t always like to tell you, of course, not straight off.’ 

‘Edna...’

‘Anyway, he’s got a lovely smile. And all his hair—good going for a fella who’s past fifty. I know, I know, he’s a bit older than you. But you can’t have everything, not at your age.’

I tried not to bristle. I’m not quite a geriatric: I’m forty-six. In my prime. A bit of a solitary type of prime, unfortunately, since Piero died three years ago. 

Mum, just be thankful you’re alive. Plenty of people your age already dead. Dean likes to tell me that, with that depressing downward slant to his mouth. 

You can count on Dean to boost the spirits with one of his little pep talks. Anyway, he doesn’t need to worry about losing me, assuming that’s what he means. I’m still here, fit and well, enduring the full range of life’s pleasures: paying my bills, frying fish, investigating Edna’s drawers. It’s possible it would be a more cheery experience to have someone to share it with. Someone a little like...Leo. 

No, I knew better than to go there again.

‘What exactly are you up to, Edna?’ I shouted. I hoped this wasn’t an attempt to set me up with the bloke.

‘No need to shout. I’m not bloody deaf,’ she snapped. ‘And I’m not up to anything. Gary Kellett needs help. And so would you, if you thought your daughter had been murdered.’

‘Murdered?’

‘I wish people wouldn’t repeat everything I say, like they think I’m an imbecile. Yes, he says Natalie was murdered.’

I sat still a moment. Natalie Kellett. That’s why I knew the name: Natalie Kellett died in that car crash on Jensen Corner. It’s a renowned black spot; my own mother died there when I was a kid. Named after the first person that crashed and died there: Alistair Jensen, back in 1950-something, decades before my mum. Nice for the bloke to be remembered for something, I suppose. It doesn’t seem to matter how many accidents happen there, apparently there’s no money to fix that bit of road. 

‘But that was just a car accident, wasn’t it? Why’s he say she was murdered?’

‘Well, I don’t know. I’m not one to poke around in people’s business. That’s your job, Cass.’ 

Cass Tuplin Crime
    Murder with the Lot

    Murder with the Lot

    Sue Williams
    Dead Men Don't Order Flake

    Dead Men Don’t Order Flake

    Sue Williams

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