“The brewery is not what you think…”
Dig Buckley is the dependable son, honest and hard working. But after a tragic accident, he is unnerved by his dad’s dying words.
Without his father, it falls to Dig and his belligerent brother Jake to put aside their differences and get the successful family brewery running again—or their mother will be forced into bankruptcy and lose the family home.
The Buckley Brewery makes Australia’s most popular craft beer—but there’s a catch. The recipe is based on a unique hop sourced from a secretive supplier in India. And when the supplier hears of Dig’s father’s death, they shut down deliveries and threaten to silence the family.
Why is the mysterious group acting so aggressively? Was there a hidden side to their father’s business? Is there another reason the beer is so popular?
Dig is forced to travel to India to try to track the supplier down. He embarks on a challenging journey across the Indian countryside, unravelling a complicated history as he fights for his family and comes to terms with his father’s death.
The Amber Trail – Sample Chapter
The hardest moments in a person’s life don’t come with a warning. They don’t give you time to prepare, to psyche yourself up, to make sure you get enough sleep the night before. They sneak up unannounced and give you a cold, hard slap in the face that can change your outlook on life in an instant.
Dig Buckley certainly went into the hardest moment of his life unprepared. In fact, with it rapidly approaching, he was already breathing hard and cultivating wide crescents of sweat under his armpits as he worked at shifting forty cases of beer into the back of a boxy white truck.
The morning was hot, the type that punished any attempt at physical exercise. Dig crossed a white gravel driveway between two buildings, an aged suburban house of red-brick on one side, and a tall warehouse of new aluminium on the other. Its shiny panelling reflected the sunlight directly into Dig’s eyes.
Inside the warehouse, he squatted beside a pallet stacked knee high with pale orange cases of beer. He gripped two cases and lifted, then trudged them slowly across the drive as gravel crunched under his feet.
Dig paused momentarily, then continued on. When he reached the truck, he slung the cases into the back tray with a thud.
“Hey Dimwit, you listening?”
Dig turned to face his older brother Jake.
“You have to go help Dad.” Jake’s eyes were bloodshot, and his dress shirt creased.
Dig pushed past his brother and hoisted two more cases of beer to his chest. “I thought you were helping him today.”
“Nope. Important sales meeting at the casino. Wilson himself called me up…says he’s thinking of serving our beer. I’m meeting him for lunch today.”
“Can’t you see I’m busy at the moment? In fact, would you mind helping me load a few of these?”
“Why don’t you use the forklift?”
“It broke down.”
Jake glanced at the pallet and shrugged. “Already told you bro. Important meeting. Someone’s got to find customers for all this stock. Can’t keep Wilson waiting.” He leaned inside the truck and ripped the cardboard away from one of the cases.
“Hey! Leave it.”
Jake lifted two six-packs, one in each hand. “Better take some samples too. Important contract this one.”
“No thanks.” Jake walked up the driveway toward a bank of cars near the road. “I’m taking the work car,” he shouted as the park lights flashed on a blue sedan. “And don’t forget Dad. He’s waiting for you out back.”
Dig shook his head. He reached into the truck to retrieve the half-empty case, and moved it to a shelf inside the building. Footsteps then returned from the drive.
“Need to find my…sales folder,” Jake said.
“It’s in the boot.”
“No, your squash racquet. I saw it there last night.”
Jake opened his mouth, then closed it again. He gave a sarcastic smile and dropped his head as he trudged stiffly back up the driveway.
“And also,” Dig shouted. “Wilson was on the news this morning, on a boat in Portugal. So I don’t reckon he’s turning up to your important meeting.”
Jake raised his arm through the car window, his middle finger extended. The engine roared to life and the car reversed out to the road.
Dig watched him leave, then wiped the sweat from his forehead with the shoulder of his T-shirt. He turned and walked down to the rear of the red brick house via a patch of faded grass, flapping the base of his shirt with two hands, trying to work up some breeze on his sweaty midriff.
Behind the house, the grass stretched out to create a modest backyard. A rusted Hills Hoist washing line stood lopsided in one corner. A barbeque sat in the other, covered in cobwebs. On the far edge of the grass, a rocky drop fell to a forest of gum trees and wirey shrubs, marking the edge of the property and the start of public bushland.
His father stood on the grass, positioning a ladder against the gutter of the house. He wore a faded pair of blue football shorts. A pale singlet tan was etched around the grey hairs on his chest and a tool belt hung from his waist.
“You going to help me, or come up with a fake excuse like your brother?”
“Depends if I can think one up in time,” Dig said, smiling. “Might cost you though.”
“Really? Well that’s fine. You can take it out of the rent this week…oh hang on, you don’t actually pay rent.” He raised an eyebrow. “In that case, I’ll give you some imaginary money, and you can give it back to me as imaginary rent.”
Dig laughed. Since his twenty-first birthday, the hints from his parents that it was time to move out were becoming increasingly less subtle. “Okay, maybe this one’s on the house.”
“It’ll be on the house all right.” His father passed him a pair of gloves. “The ladder’s already set up.”
They spent the morning replacing roof tiles, and as they slotted the final piece into place, Dig’s father nodded and surveyed their work. “There. No more water drippin’ on my head while I watch the footy.”
“How are my hard working boys going?” Dig’s mother shouted from below. She stood in the front drive, wearing a floral dress; her hair was up in a bun. “You want something to drink?”
“Nah. We’ll grab something when we get down.”
“He working you hard Dig?”
She smiled and held a hand up to shield the sun. “I’m going to pick up something for lunch.”
His mother fumbled through her purse to find her car keys, and waved again as she backed out the drive.
Dig sat on the crest of the roof to catch his breath. A light breeze blew through his hair and a lawnmower whirred from a neighbour’s yard. From this vantage point, they had a 360 degree view. Beside them was the imposing shape of the new warehouse, freshly built on the other side of the drive. A sign hung from the building, facing the street.
Home of Australia’s Favourite Pale Ale
“Looks good, huh?” Dig said. “The new building.”
“You ever think you’d build your own brewery next door?”
“Nope, happened pretty quickly.”
They gazed out over the treeline to the expanse of bush beyond. The cicadas had started up in a buzzing wall of noise.
“Man I love the view up here,” his dad said, smiling. Crow’s feet bunched in the corners of his brown eyes; his mess of dark hair waved in the breeze.
Dig nodded. “It’s awesome.”
“You know, sometimes I think about building a platform up here and sticking a couple of beanbags on it in the evenings. We could watch the sun go down with some of the stock.”
“I like it.”
His father pointed to a small clearing in the trees. A glint of water shimmered behind the branches. “Waterhole’s looking good.”
Dig lifted his head, straining for a better look. “Perfect day for a swim.”
“Wanna head down there?”
His father shrugged. “Just a quick dip before lunch.”
They descended from the roof and headed inside. Dig changed his clothes and walked out to the back deck, where his father was waiting in swimmers, holding two bottles of beer. The labels read Buckley’s Chance. “Quality control,” he said, grinning.
They followed a winding dirt track down into the bush until it reached the edge of the creek, where it turned right and ran parallel to the sandy bank. After fifteen minutes the path turned the last corner to reveal their destination.
The waterhole was a clear expanse, around the size of a tennis court, and framed by pale, knobbly gum trees with bark peeling from their trunks. The creek cascaded into the pool, sending ripples across the surface that reflected the sunlight, inviting them to jump in. Hidden frogs called out from the reeds.
Dig’s father stepped down to a flat section of rock on the water’s edge and placed the two beers beside the pool. “Yee ha!” He launched himself at the water, executing a haphazard bomb that sent a plume of liquid into the air.
Dig was close behind him, diving in; the cool water bit refreshingly at his skin. He returned to the surface with the familiar earthy taste of the creek water on his lips. It reminded him of his childhood.
“Great day huh?” His father was treading water with wet hair stuck flat on the side of his head.
His father swam a few strokes and lifted himself to sit on the rock platform at the edge of the pool, his legs dangling. Dig followed, and sat beside him. The trickling of the waterfall filled the air.
“Would sir care for some refreshment?” His father held out one of the bottles.
“Certainly, my good man.”
They clinked the necks together before taking a couple of long drafts.
“You kids were always good swimmers.”
Dig held up his left foot. Two of the middle toes were webbed together with skin—a minor condition that he had lived with since birth. “Well it’s easier to swim when we inherit deformities like this.”
His father held up his own foot, where the same two toes were webbed together. “Deformity’s the wrong word…I call it a genetic advancement.”
Dig shook his head and took another mouthful. Silhouettes of the trees reflected on the water surface.
His father abruptly lurched his head forward, gagging the contents of his mouth onto the rock between his legs. The bottle slipped from his grasp and shattered on the platform with a pop, scattering glass fragments into the water.
Dig stared at his father. “You okay?”
His father didn’t answer. His head was bowed forward between his thighs and his mouth was open; saliva dripped from his lips. He gagged again, and coughed, and a small object fell from his mouth to the ground, where it sat waterlogged—twisting and flapping in the creases of the rock.
Dig looked closer. It was an insect, with a thick orange body covered in hairy black stripes. A pointed black stinger throbbed from its rear.
It was a wasp.
“Bugger.” His father pulled himself roughly to his feet, clutching at his neck. “Must have flown into my beer.”
“Did it sting you?”
He nodded. “Got me in the throat.”
“Allergic? Yep.” He swallowed, wincing with pain.
“Don’t you have some kind of antidote needle?”
“The Epipen? Left it back at the house.”
Dig pursed his lips.
“Well I haven’t been stung since I was a kid.” His father frowned. “And I didn’t think we’d be down here long.”
“But if your throat starts swelling up…”
His father nodded.
“We need to get you to a doctor.”
Dig’s first instinct was to grab for a mobile phone, but they didn’t bring one. They only had their swimmers and sandals with them, and a half empty beer.
“Let’s go,” Dig said.
They pulled on their shoes and turned for home. They had about two kilometres to travel, but suddenly that seemed like a marathon distance.
Dig let his dad take the lead, settling in behind him as he broke into the stiff jog of a man whose knees had given up running years before. Dig jogged a few paces behind, trying to let his dad set a pace he was comfortable with—but adrenaline was pumping in his veins, and he had to restrain himself from running the track at a sprinter’s pace.
The first section of the track climbed up and over a large rocky outcropping. They stepped from rock to rock in big strides, trying to maintain balance in their sandals.
The track levelled out as they passed through the rocks, and trees gathered close to the track, pitching eucalyptus branches out over their heads. The sun splintered through the leaves, throwing shadows at their feet.
Dig’s breathing increased, and he tried to keep an eye on his father—who was jogging with his head tilted forward and his mouth open. His cheeks were pink and dots of sweat lined his forehead. Dig could hear his breathing, and he noticed it had taken on a rasping quality, his chest heaving in and out in time with his steps. Dig tried to ignore it, but he knew what it was. It was the sound of an airway closing in on itself.
“How’re you doing?”
His father glanced back and smiled weakly. “I’m…okay,” he said. “We’ll get there”. He continued in a stiff jog, his shoulders hunched, his eyes staring forward.
A tree branch hung over the track ahead of them; it caught his father’s face and flung back in Dig’s direction. Dig dodged away and regained his stride. The next time he looked up, he saw the branch had sliced a red strip across his father’s cheek, just below his eye. A bead of blood tracked down his face, but his father didn’t seem to notice.
Dig tried to remain calm. The adrenaline rush he’d ridden to this point was bottoming out, and replaced by fatigue. Sweat poured from his body, running down his chest and face; his head felt like a furnace. He was sure his father must be feeling much worse.
They followed the track for a few minutes as it wound down through a swampy section of high grass. The ground was mushy here, and his father’s strides shortened to a shuffle. His arms hung low at his sides and his face was red; the tip of his tongue hung on his lower lip like a slug.
The track snaked out of the swamp and up a small rise, and his father dropped the pace back down to a walk. His hands went to his head, and for the first time Dig noticed swelling on his face and neck. His left eye was puffy, and partially closed.
His dad tilted back his head and took in three deep breaths—a sound like air being sucked through a wet straw. His torso swayed left, and with a dull thud his foot caught hard on a tree root protruding from the track. He pitched forward and reached out, but took the impact on his shoulder. He rolled to his back, eyes closed, gasping and wincing with pain. Brown sand clung to his arm and chest.
Dig fell beside him. “Dad!”
His father opened his eyes briefly, then closed them again. His bare chest rose and fell rapidly as he took in shallow, ragged breaths. “Just…need…to get…my breath back.”
Panic churned in Dig’s stomach. This can’t be happening, he thought.
His father’s breathing regulated slightly, and he lifted his head and opened his eyes.
“Dad.” Dig’s eyes were wide. “I’m going to run ahead and bring the needle back.”
His dad reached out with a clammy hand to grab Dig’s forearm. His forehead was creased in fear. “No,” he said. “Just stay with me. I can get there.”
Dig clenched his teeth, nodded slowly, and grabbed his father below the armpit to hoist him to his feet. They stood together on the track for a moment, shoulder to shoulder, covered in dirt and sweat.
After a few deep breaths, his father took a step forward and they moved away in a brisk walk. Dig kept his arm hooked around his side, supporting him the best he could.
How far had they run? Dig thought. Halfway? More than that? His concept of time was skewed. He tried to gauge his position on the track.
They trudged along, step by step, following the trail as it snaked through the shadows of trees by the creek. Up this close, Dig couldn’t ignore his father’s laboured breathing, which had slowly developed into a wet bubbling in the back of his throat.
Finally, the track broke away from the creek and turned up to the house. They were almost home.
As they walked up the first rock step, his father coughed and retched out a sticky glob of phlegm that fell forward and hung from the end his chin, wobbling in time with his step. Dig wiped it away with the back of his hand. His father’s face was bloated, and his left eye swollen shut.
“Come on Dad! Nearly there!” he said, but Dig could feel the energy depleting from his father’s body. His steps were slower and his balance off, until Dig felt like he was supporting his whole weight, willing him to take one pace after the other.
“Come on Dad!” Tears ran down Dig’s face. “Help!” he shouted towards the house, the waterhole, the sky. “Help us, please!” The words echoed around the bush and returned to him.
His father took two more shuffling steps, and then tipped forward. Dig tried to support him, but his body slipped from his sweat soaked grasp. He landed heavily on his back against the trunk of a gum tree.
His father opened his good eye and looked upward. “I’m sorry…bud.” His face had a blue tinge, and his breathing was a shallow wheeze. “Can’t…do it.” He grabbed Dig’s arm and met his eyes. “Listen,” he said in a weak, croaky voice. “The brewery…is not…what you think. If I go…you should…shut it down.”
“Forget work!” Dig stood over him. “Where do you keep the needle?”
“Tell Max…the deal…is off…no more…packages.”
“Shut up!” Dig screamed. “Where’s the bloody needle?”
“Okay. I’ll be back.” His father nodded.
Dig sprinted up the remaining track at a breakneck pace, ducking and weaving through foliage at the side of path that ripped at his torso. When he reached the house, he bounded up the steps at the side of the building, through the back door and into the kitchen.
His mother stood at the kitchen counter, unpacking groceries. The radio played Frank Sinatra. She looked up, and her expression dropped.
“Dad’s in trouble,” Dig said, breathing hard. “We need to call an ambulance.”
She looked at him blankly. “What?”
“He was stung by a wasp…and is having trouble breathing.”
“He’s allergic!” she said in a high pitch.
“I know!” Dig ran past her into the hallway. “We need to find his Epipen!” At the end of the hall he turned into his parent’s bedroom.
His mother’s voice echoed down the corridor behind him. “—in his sock drawer.”
Dig skirted around the neatly-made bed and yanked open the top drawer of the dresser. The drawer pulled out completely and the contents fell to the floor.
He crouched and scrambled amongst the paired socks and underwear until he found what he was looking for—a thin, pen shaped object that had Epinephrine Auto-Injector written on the side. He grabbed it and scrambled back out of the room, striking his shin on the corner of the bed.
He passed his mother in the hall. She held her phone to her ear. Her eyebrows were drawn together. “Where is he?”
“Down the bush track, not far…” Dig bounded through the kitchen, out the back door and across the deck. His mother followed behind him, speaking to emergency services as she jogged.
His father lay on his back beneath the large gum, his face turned up to the sky. Dig was relieved to see that his chest was moving shallowly. He knelt beside him and fumbled with the needle.
“Oh Shaun!” his mother whimpered as she knelt on the other side. She held a bottle of water in a trembling hand, and lowered it to his mouth. The liquid bubbled between his lips, only to dribble away and run down his cheek.
Dig grabbed his father’s leg and positioned the Epipen over his thigh, then jammed down the catch, firing the needle into the muscle.
His father’s good eye opened and darted around. He met his wife’s gaze, and his breath laboured in his throat with a sickening constricted squeal; the words came out slow and punctuated. “I’m…sorry…guys.”
“Shaun!” His mother grasped his hand, her fingernails digging into the skin. “Come on now, breathe!” A curtain of her hair fell from its bun and hung over her face. Tears ran down her cheeks.
The wail of an ambulance approached in the distance, before filling the air, then shutting down altogether.
Dig ran the short distance up the track to see the ambulance screech to a stop outside the house. Two paramedics, a petite blonde woman and a big bald guy, leapt out of the vehicle, equipment in hand.
“This way!” Dig shouted. “Quick!” He led them down the track.
His mother was hunched over her husband when they arrived, cradling his head, panicked. “He’s stopped breathing!” The paramedics took over, starting CPR, and injecting further drugs into his arm.
Dig pulled his mother gently to her feet and led her a distance up the track. The CPR wasn’t something they needed to see. She fell to her rear, clutching the bottle of water to her forehead like a crucifix. “Oh please,” she whispered. “Please God.”
Dig sat beside her with an arm on her shoulder. Tears ran down his face, uncontrolled.
Above him, the cicadas sang uninterrupted in the trees. A bird with feathers of green and blue crossed the sky.
Eventually, the female paramedic approached them. “Mrs. Buckley?”
Dig’s mother looked up. Her eyes were red and wet.
“We’re sorry. But your husband isn’t responding to treatment. He had a severe allergic reaction, and there wasn’t enough time for the Epinephrine to arrest it.”
The energy drained from Dig’s body and he closed his eyes. This can’t be real, he thought.
But unfortunately it was. And even worse, it was just the start of the upheaval to come.