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Sandi HallPaekakariki (pie kaka reekee – no syllable accented) is a real seaside village on the sunny Kapiti Coast at the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island. It is a village known all over the country for its eclectic artistic community and its passionate citizenry. It achieved musical immortality through the song Paekakariki On the Main Trunk Line, written in the 1920’s,when the railway first reached the village.

Oval-shaped, Paekakariki is bordered on the west by the sea, and on the east by the railway line, and State Highway One, itself bordered by a range of steep hills. This has meant that, as road traffic increased, entering and leaving the village by road has become more and more dangerous.

As the story opens, Lucy Coalport, cyclist, mother, and bread-deliverer for Heaven’s Bakery, sees a notice saying the village is holding a meeting to, among other things, find ways to get the Road Transport Authority to install traffic lights at the intersection. She decides to go.

Charles Harrier, 40-something supposed technology consultant is in reality a successful art forger, and is on his way to sell a sketch he’s done imitating the style of the renowned (and dead) artist Colin McCahon.
In Heaven’s Bakery, owner Angelica Kitts, widowed four years before, is wishing she had a lover. A few days later, Harrier introduces Angelica to Jacob Maru, a partner in an art valuer’s firm, and her wish is granted.

Lucy is injured while trying to cross the dangerous intersection, and Jacob Maru’s firm begins to be suspicious about the sketch they’ve bought from Harrier, stirring a yeasty brew of action and affection in a tale in which one of the main characters is Paekakariki itself.

Chapter One

“Whetu! Jake! Can’t you hear the buzzers? For goddsakes, take out the bread!” Angelica, shouting down the stairwell of her bakery as she went, crossed the russet wooden floor to unlock the bakery’s big double doors.

“Sorted!” came Whetu’s returning shout.

‘It is now,’ thought Angelica, smiling as she wedged the doors open and looked out into Paekakariki’s 3 a.m. mid-summer dark. The Southern Cross, looking like the world’s most expensive diamond brooch, twinkled above the New Zealand eastern hills. On the dewy air hung the faintest scent of wild ginger flowers. Angelica breathed in deeply, feeling yeasty optimism rise.

Black hair in damp elf locks from her exertion, Lucy Coalport grunted as she gave her bicycle’s left pedal an extra-vigorous push, grinned happily up at the shimmering stars and, feeling a kinship with kiwi cyclist Olympian Sarah Ulmer, leaned to the left and sped ocean-wards down Paneta St. Bands of white phosphorus made glowing squares on her yellow safety vest. Her strong thin neck thrust up through the collar, pale beneath her hair. Steel wire specs straddled an imposing nose. She thought of Jake struggling with his share of the bakery’s deliveries. Her grin deepened. Serve the bratty boy right.

Her own deliveries -- except the Dailey’s--finished, she pedalled furiously around the corner onto the Parade, zipping past the Art Deco Beach Store owned by John and Bridie Girdlestone, who ran a successful gift and coffee shop there. No waft yet of their near-famous latte on this soft spumy air. Wheels humming, she whisked past Campbell Park and the Memorial Hall where, as one of Paekakariki’s poets put it ‘ ghosts of the Old Boys linger’ . On her right, the dark ocean heaved, thickening the salty air.

Just beyond Memorial Hall, Lucy turned left, away from the sea into Ocean Road, hoping her impetus would take her some way up that twisting incline. At twenty nine, she was very fit, having cycled these hills for almost ten years. A few metres up the hill, she caught the smell of baking bread clinging to the moist air. A few extra hard pedals and she reached the corner, rolling into the yard of Heaven’s Bakery, alive with light, warm as fresh toast.

The bakery was a two storey wooden building painted cobalt blue with silver stars, orange suns and greeny-white moons arching across its front over the name of the bakery, rendered in warm yellow. A couple of cars were parked out front; she glimpsed three or four more people walking on Wellington Road toward the bakery. ‘Like homing pigeons,’ thought Lucy, crunching to a stop. She propped the bike against the bakery, lifted off the empty bread basket and took the stairs two at a time to propel herself into the mazy aroma of Angelica’s kitchen.

“All OK?” asked Angelica, raising a reddish eyebrow.

“Very OK,” said Lucy, pulling off her no-slip fingerless gloves. She stuck them in her pocket and shucked off the safety vest. “Marama just arrived at the Kohanga Reo as I got there, so she took the order right from my basket – I didn’t even dismount. “ She eyed the pan of cinnamon rolls cooling on a rack. “Yum yum,” she enthused pointedly “Can I have one before I do the Dailey’s?”

Angelica frowned, giving her triangular face the look of a perplexed fox. Her fiery hair was crammed under a transparent white cap. Silver and paua earrings swung from her lobes. A bell pinged as the shop door pushed open. In the moment Angelica glanced up to see who had come in, Lucy broke off one sticky roll and slid back along the counter to the window. “Ta, Ange,” she said airily, cramming a good portion of the warm roll into her mouth.

Angelica had bought the bakery three years ago when the crash of the light aircraft carrying her husband Sam left her a widow at 34. Lucy had been her first delivery employee. Now she threw a disapproving glance in Lucy’s direction before turning to greet the customers. “Tom, Ellie – half a dozen cheese scones?”

“Please,” nodded Tom Criney, running a large white hand over his lank brown shoulder-length hair. His middle-years stomach was obvious under his faded All Blacks tee. A square carnelian gold ring adorned his middle finger. He glanced at Ellie. “You wanted something else, love?”

“I do,” agreed Ellie, who wore a scarlet Juliet cap embroidered with jet and seed pearls. Ten years her husband’s junior, she maintained the ‘free spirit’ look she’d had when they first met at a music festival in Golden Bay. Glossy black hair almost reached her waist, tendrils wafting about her shoulders. “A couple dozen baps, please Angelica, and a loaf of raisin bread. Ronnie’s mates are coming over after school. End of term.” Her hazel eyes sparkled at the thought.

“Ronnie’s made the team then?” smiled Angelica, beginning to wrap the order.

Wishing she had butter to garnish the warm roll, Lucy turned from the conversation to watch the sea, trying once more to catch the exact second dawn’s airy fingers pushed night’s shadows from the sea’s face. The sky had paled above the hills to the east but the sun had not yet breached their rims. Sucking lovely sticky goo from her fingers, Lucy skirted the counter and headed downstairs to pick up her last delivery batch.

“One day I’ll charge you for that roll,” Angelica called to Lucy’s departing back.

“And one day I’ll pay you, “ called back Lucy, completing this near-daily interchange. She thumped down the stairs to the kitchen where Whetu was stacking loaf pans at the far end of the long kneading table. The deliveries table was bare except for two brown cottage loaves and a carrot cake peeping out of sky blue paper wrappers emblazoned with stars. They were destined for the Dailey’s, a stout-bodied couple whose farm lay up the notorious Paekakariki 45 degree- incline hill road.

‘Jake been gone long?’ Lucy asked Whetu, munching at the last of her roll.

‘Yuh. Speck him back in a min.’ He eyed the last bite of her roll hungrily.

Lucy looked at the roll and then at him, then exaggeratedly placed the last vestige in her mouth. ‘Mmm mmm,’ she said.

‘Hope it poisons you,’ growled Whetu.

‘You saying Angelica’s food is poisonous? She wouldn’t be happy to hear that.’

‘Aw get fucked,’ returned Whetu, retreating behind the bread shelves. Lucy grinned, picked up the order and shot out the door.

Rather than dread its challenge, Lucy welcomed the vigorous heart-lung exercise the Dailey’s delivery gave her, as well as being continually entranced by the literally breath-taking view.

As she wheeled her bike across the bakery’s parking lot to Wellington Road, the sun peered above the ridge-top, pouring colour across the hill flanks and over the sea. It sailed free of the hills’ ridges as she turned into Beach Road. Ahead, State Highway One and the railway tracks. The commuter traffic was light, but it was just twenty to six. Charles Harrier, a lone early commuter, came walking beside the railway tracks, briefcase in hand. Lucy raised a hand to him before pushing her bike to the edge of the highway.

‘God, I hope we win the traffic-light battle,’ she thought as the air-push from a silver Holden estate wagon buffeted her face. Annoyance gave a surge of energy to her feet. She darted across the road, reaching the verge just as a road freighter thundered by. The likelihood of the village winning the battle to have traffic lights erected on SH1 at its junction with Paekakariki’s Beach Road seemed slim: big business wanted nothing to slow down the deliveries of commerce, and the trinity of councils (local, regional, city) were hesitant to take any action seen to encourage the use of the car.

Seagulls screamed at each other as Lucy, resolutely keeping her eyes from the view, groaned up the hill. The view was her return trip reward for delivering to the Dailey’s. A pair of rabbits scuttered ahead of her wheels before diving into orange bracken. Heart thumping, sweating, Lucy panted her way into the Dailey’s front yard.

Rose Dailey, her kitchen door ajar, seemed to be searching for something on the ground beside it. At the sound of Lucy’s wheels, the plump mid-60s woman grunted as she stood up.

“Oh it’s you. I suppose you’d better come in and have a coffee.”

“Ta” panted Lucy , taking the bread and cake from the bicycle’s basket. The smallest sound drew her eye to the large pot of marigolds and lobelia by the door mat. ‘I didn’t know you had a cat!’ she exclaimed.

“Is it there? I’ve been looking for it all over,’ replied Rose Dailey, looking down then squatting beside the marigold pot, pale blue skirt settling round her like a small village pond. Lucy looked down on Rose’s salt and pepper hair, still bushy from the night, as Rose’s work-thickened fingers tenderly inched a hissing scrap of ginger feline from behind the pot. With the door jamb helping her rise, Rose held the kitten to her shoulder and turned to Lucy.

“Meet Spring, “ she murmured. ‘Came to me yesterday.’

‘From Billie’s?’ inquired Lucy knowledgeably. Her own kitten, now a stalking grey tom, came from Billie up the coast in Paraparaumu, who bred ordinary moggies for sale.

‘No –.‘ Rose led the way into her inviting kitchen. Large sideboards with knobs like big caramels for handles had doors which didn't quite close because the wooden toggle was worn and loose. Thick cream pottery dishes vivid with Italian flowers stood in crooked stacks. A fist of rosemary was drying in a yellow glass cylinder. A gathering of Woman's Weekly's threatened a glossy fall.

'No, I found him by the front gate. Scared into hissy fits. No idea how he could have got here.' She rubbed the back of a kitten's head with a large finger. 'Thrown from a car, maybe,' offered Lucy, putting the bread and rolls on the kauri table and sitting in her usual place on one of its long sides.

The table was, as it always was, crammed: mail, a pot of pens and pencils, and stacks of photographs were always there, old photographs resigning their table commission only when new ones to marvel over could take their place. Today, added to the regulars were half dozen jars of jam, pickle, mustard and relish, chairs for a pair of tiny scarlet-clad puppet twins; at their feet, a large box proclaiming 5 EASY STEPS TO MAKING YOUR OWN PUPPET THEATRE. Piles of NZ Farmer and Beekepers' Digest made generous plinths for library books, one a picture essay of the Aegean.

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