When Sir Peter Percival, owner of the Woodburne Wine Estate and former member of Parliament, is found dead, three Australian detectives embark on a baffling investigation in which it appears everyone has a motive...
He fought for breath, choking, his heart pounding, clammy mist swirled around him. He peered through the steam and saw hot, bubbling water. Out of the foam, a large, wet, pink blob with wide, staring eyes bounced up at him.
Joe Wilson lay in his bed, breathing heavily, shaken by the nightmare that had woken him so violently. The dream's vivid images still danced before his eyes in the dark. He took a deep breath and his heartbeat slowed down to its normal rhythm.
He forced a smile to his face, then shivered and stretched. "Come on, you idiot, it's only a nightmare. Snap out of it."
It was cock-crow time. The deep blue-black velvet cloak of the night sky was beginning to disappear as dawn approached. There was total silence. Even the frogs in the creek at the bottom of the hill were quiet. It was even too early for the morning chirps of the birds that would later scrounge for worms and other tasty morsels for their young.
Joe's mind began to wander quietly through the list of things that he needed to do that day. Check the vineyards, talk to the boss--Sir Peter--about the wine stocks, and also catch up with the work-experience boy from the local high school.
As the manager of Woodburne Wine Estate, Joe lived in the cottage at the foot of the hill. Sir Peter Percival's grandfather George Percival had built the manager's cottage and the mansion Woodburne, which squatted on top of the hill, overlooking the vines that grew on the estate. This imposing estate dominated the local township of Sunbury nestled at the foot of this hill.
Joe stretched again and turned over onto his side to look at the clock. It was almost six. He cancelled the alarm just a few seconds before it was due to ring, then got up and turned on the radio at a high volume so he could hear it from the bathroom as he showered.
Despite the warmth of the shower, as the steam fogged up the glass cubicle, a cold shiver tore down Joe's spine. Vivid images of the dream seemed to appear in the steam. He hurriedly turned off the water, stepped outside the cubicle into the cool air of the bathroom, dried himself, and then returned to the bedroom to get dressed. Sooty, his black cat, purred around his feet asking for some food.
* * *
At the same time Joe was dressing, there was movement in the chicken shed at the end of the home paddock. The big cockerel instinctively stretched and flapped his wings. He strutted out through the flap-door and hopped onto a low branch of the gum tree that stood inside the farm's fowl run, or walk. He was a magnificent creature, with black plumage that glistened with a bluish tinge when the streaks of the approaching light of dawn shimmered on them. The cock puffed out his chest and feathers, stretched up his neck, and opened his beak as wide as he could.
"Cock-a-doodle-doooooooo!" he shrieked, then strutted around looking very pleased with the loud noise that he had just made.
The eastern sky was streaked with the orange glow of scattered clouds. It was nearly time for the sun to light up the countryside. As if in response to the cocks heralding, the sun crept up from behind the distant hills. A new day had begun at Sir Peter Percival's farm, Woodburne.
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