A sudden, overwhelming silence descended on the customs shack, as Trevor felt goosebumps rising on his arm at the news that the press was on its way. All the fears he’d had that the bomb and pirate attack might be somehow connected returned in full force, and he again felt hunted.
Officer Fowler nodded out the window, towards Atlantis. “What I’ve heard so far is that a couple of reporters have been making phone calls to people in town, and they already know that your boat’s an American-flagged Lagoon 55 – unfortunately, that was part of our radio calls to the hospital, when we were describing your situation and condition – shot up and badly damaged. They also have your description, and your accent is pretty noticeable. They’ll come here and see your boat, sure as hell. My guess is they won’t be alone; you’ll have other reporters showing up too, and there’s been a fair lot of locals come to have a look today, as well.”
“No way to keep ‘em out?” Trevor asked.
Fowler shook his head. “I could close off the road but they can get close enough for a good view in plenty of other ways, including hiring someone to run them around in a boat, or they could just use a telephoto lens. The end of the road here is also home to the local fishing boats, so as a practical matter I can’t even try to seal the area for long. However, we may have an option: Ned Kelly is on his way here now – I told him that we need to help you with the press, but not why, though I think he’s going to need to know. One possibility is, we could help him tow Atlantis around to his yard tonight, then he can haul her out and cover her with tenting. Another option we considered was to tow your boat down to Fremantle, where the service has a major boatyard, haul her out, and hide her in one of the big boat hangers. That’s a government base so they couldn’t bother the boat, but it’s really you they’re after, not your boat. You might want to take a trip for a while.”
Trevor’s eyes glazed over for a few moments, and he remembered how he’d dealt with the shire councilman. Then something Shane had said forced its way to the forefront of his consciousness, and a sly smile began to spread across Trevor’s face. “The reason the press is coming here is Atlantis is here, and so they think I’m here, right? But they don’t know my name, or Atlantis’s.”
Fowler shrugged. “That’s my read on it; they were trying to find out your name and your boat’s name, so I’m guessing they don’t know them – yet.”
A puzzled-looking Ned arrived, and Trevor – with a little help from the two officers –spent the next few minutes filling him in on what was going on, and why Trevor needed to keep himself out of the news.
Ned’s reaction was very calm. “Sounds like you’re in a right fix, but I’m sure we’ll think of something if we put our heads together. The first step will probably need to be getting your boat to my yard and out of sight.”
Trevor thought for a few moments. “So... if we move Atlantis, they’ll just keep looking, and they’ll probably do some news stories anyway – just the news that a pirate-hit Lagoon 55 made it to Australia could be enough to clue in whoever tried to kill me. Maybe it’s time to give the press exactly what they want; show them the bullet holes and damage, do a few interviews...” Trevor went on to outline his idea, filling in a few details on the fly.
When Trevor was done, he looked at the three men hopefully. Craig Grundig was the first to weigh in. “That’s very creative, but... would headquarters even go for it?”
Fowler shook his head, and then froze for a moment, deep in thought. “They aren’t going to allow me to outright lie to the press... but we’re under no obligation to tell the press anything, especially in a case involving a minor, and I guess I’d technically be telling the truth. I can’t see them objecting, so I’m willing to give it a go if you are, Craig.”
Officer Grundig nodded, but Ned held up his hand to interrupt. “Not so fast. We’re getting far ahead of ourselves.” Turning to look at Trevor, Ned continued, “I’ve heard that black eye Shane is wearing is courtesy of you? And that bruised lip of yours is his doing, yet you think you can trust him? I think you’re in for a bad surprise there. I don’t know what you know about Shane, but I’ll bet he’s never said why folks here hate him.”
Trevor blinked in surprise. “Only about him being an outsider in a small town, and a surfer–”
“Not even close,” Ned said, and then nodded to Fowler.
Fowler took the cue. “I’m not supposed to comment on open cases, but under the circumstances, you need to know so I will. A little while after he got here, Shane’s past caught up with him; the local police paid him a visit and took him in for questioning. Long story short, there was a string of yacht burglaries at damn near every marina between Perth and here – cash and food mainly – and in three cases, the crook was seen from a distance as he legged it. Shane fits the descriptions perfectly, including some security camera footage. They couldn’t get him to confess, and they didn’t have enough proof – the footage wasn’t clear enough, unfortunately – so after searching Kookaburra and finding nothing except a backpack that looks like the one on the tape, they cut him loose. However, the word got out about a crook in our midst. We’ve kept an eye on him, and there haven’t been any thefts here in Carnarvon yet, but I’m betting that won’t be the case for long. That’s why I warned you about a thief when you arrived, and part of why I made you put your cash in the bank. What we don’t have is hard proof against him – yet.”
Trevor looked at the three men, each in turn, and then replied softly, “I only need this to work for a little while, and there would be some money in it for Shane. I also don’t think I have a choice.” Trevor’s mind raced, and something clicked. ‘Shane told me he did what he had to, in order to survive,’ Trevor thought, finally understanding why Shane was so disliked.
Ned shrugged. “Just telling you what we know, so you can go into this with your eyes open. Now, another thing: we can’t even think of using the Kookaburra without the owners’ consent. The Blakes are good people, but they – reasonably in my opinion – can’t be expected to agree to let a stranger use their boat for free. So to sweeten the deal, I can mention your rental-replacement situation and make the offer that you’d rent Kookaburra for a few days, starting today. Your insurance rather stupidly shot down the idea of a hotel – and staying in a Carnarvon hotel under these circumstances would likely expose you – so I’d already been calling around this afternoon, for a yacht for them to rent for you. The problem is that many of the charter yacht owners are off on their holidays and I can’t reach them – the main season here runs from April through October, our dry season. Also, a few are still running charters on and off until after the New Year, so they’re booked. However, there are some fine boats available; I found you Canberra, which is a beauty so that’s the one I recommend, and Gillicuddy, which is a big monohull, though a little on the outdated side. You’ll need to make a choice soon, but you can get by for a few days, if the Kookaburra deal works out.”
Trevor sat still for a moment, his head awhirl. “Okay, I guess that’d work. I really don’t want to leave Atlantis, but I don’t see a lot of choice.”
Ned retreated to the far side of the room, where he used a desk phone to make the call. While he talked, Trevor and the two customs officers fleshed out a few details of the plan. There were still problems, but the biggest obstacles they believed they would face would be Trevor’s nationality and the news that had already spread around Carnarvon.
Ned hung up his cell and reported, “I spoke with Martin Blake, explained the gist of the situation and your plan, and made the offer. He sounds agreeable but he wants to check with his missus, Sarah, first and she’s out shopping. He said she should be back within an hour. My guess is it’s a go, so we may as well plan on moving Atlantis. Now, the big problem as I see it is, you’re counting on that scumbag Shane to play along. Maybe we should find someone else?”
Trevor prevaricated, trying to sidestep Ned’s hostility to Shane. “Let me ask Shane first. We can’t keep it secret from him; he lives on the boat we need. I’ve got time before it gets dark; I’ll run down and ask him.”
Ned scowled. “Your neck so your choice... and we do need the Kookaburra for this, so that means we’re probably stuck with Shane. We’ve got time... go ask the bludger, but if you doubt him in any way, get back here quick so we can think up a new plan – and maybe we should anyway. Come back inside of an hour; we’ll hopefully have heard from the Blakes by then.”
Trevor stopped at Atlantis only long enough to tug on his new shoes, and tore off at a run for the Kookaburra, racing through the humid air.
When he arrived, Trevor bounded aboard and Shane met him in the cockpit. “Hi Trev, ready for that beer?”
Trevor shook his head. “Not yet, we’ve got some scheming to do. I just found out that the press will be arriving sometime tomorrow, at the latest. Some of them are driving up from Perth right now...” Trevor took a deep breath, and with an apologetic look, said, “I didn’t level with you about everything. There’s a big reason I want to keep this quiet; that pirate attack was the second time somebody tried to kill me on this trip...” As Shane’s expression changed from puzzled to shocked, Trevor went on to explain about the bomb, and then about the several charges against his father. He was careful to avoid any mention of his other reasons for leaving, and concluded by saying, “I don’t know if my father is guilty or not – I hope not – or if the pirate attack was connected, but that’s why I’m trying to keep this quiet. Even if it wasn’t my dad, somebody sure as hell tried to kill me with that bomb in the Suez, and maybe they killed my Mom the same way.”
Shane nodded for a few seconds, staring at Trevor. “Fuck, that’s a mess. I wondered why you brushed off my question as to how you’d talked your old man into letting you circumnavigate... so you just took off, and I sure see why. And yeah, with those kind of reasons, if I were you I’d keep my whereabouts quiet too.”
“I need your help on that part,” Trevor said.
Shane blinked, and grew uneasy. “I’ll do whatever I can... Uh, there’s something you don’t know about me: I’ve a really bad reputation here.”
Trevor smiled, and then broke into an evil grin. “Yeah, I’ve noticed, and I’m kind of counting on it... but can you do an American accent?” Trevor asked, hoping.
Shane gave Trevor a puzzled look. “Sort of, I’ve watched a lot of Yank TV shows,” he said, and then paused for a moment. “So maybe I can do the Amer-i-can ax-cent, like this,” Shane said, struggling with the words.
Trevor rolled his eyes. “That won’t work. Your American accent is even worse than my Australian one. Okay, here’s the idea...” Trevor said, and gave Shane a rough outline of the first part of the plan.
Shane scratched his head. “Uh, yeah, that might work, except the damage to Atlantis can’t be hidden that quick, and I’ll bet nearly half the town knows where she’s moored–”
Trevor shook his head. “Not me, you, if you want to... We look a little alike: we both have long blond hair – yours is a few inches shorter, but people do get haircuts – and have roughly the same size and build....” Trevor went on to flesh out the plan.
Shane nodded, and then glanced around the salon with a frown. “Sounds great and I’m willing, but I can’t, not without the Blakes’ okay. I can call ‘em though–”
“No problem: Ned called, and they’ll call back with a yes or no. Got a phone?”
Shane shook his head. “Not one I’m allowed to use, so I’d prefer not to unless I have to... can I come with you so I’m there when they call back? Or, I can use the payphone at the convenience mart–”
“Lock up and come on,” Trevor said, grinning as he envisioned his plan coming together. There were still some big gaps, but he felt confident they could make it work.
On the way to the customs shack, Shane became uneasy, and Trevor guessed the cause. “They already told me why you’re not too popular around here. Whether it’s true or not is your business and I don’t care, either way.”
Shane hesitated, and then, with a sullen look on his face, replied, “If it’s about me on my way here from Perth – taking stuff from yachts... they aren’t wrong. When news of that got out here, they let me know that if anything went missing anywhere, I’d be their number one suspect. So, when I saw you and thought you were scouting the yachts, looking to steal stuff...”
‘No wonder he went after me when he thought I was casing the yachts...’ Trevor thought, nodding inunderstanding before he said, “If I took anything, they’d come after you for it.”
Shane came to a halt and glanced down at his feet. He hesitated for a moment, and then said quietly, “Got it in one, mate. There was also that bit about jumping aboard to hail the owner... let’s just say I know for a fact that that’s a great way to scout a yacht you’re planning to nick stuff from. I really was protecting the Blakes and Kookaburra, like I said, but now you know the rest,” Shane said, meeting Trevor’s eyes.
Trevor stared into Shane’s green eyes, seeing no sign of deception. Trevor hesitated, trying to think of something to say, and finally, he just smiled and nodded, which said it all.
When Trevor and Shane arrived at the customs shack at a jog, they bounded in the door, finding Ned on the phone. Ned hurriedly waved Shane over, handed him the phone, and then herded Trevor outside for a private talk. As soon as they were outside, Ned said quietly, “Martin Blake called back; he’s talking to Shane now to give him the okay for you to use Kookaburra, so long as her name, and theirs, stays out of it.”
“That’s great!” Trevor said, grinning from ear to ear.
Ned sighed. “It’s not that good. They want Shane – of all people – to keep an eye on their boat at all times. I’d have preferred they just got rid of him and we got someone else... but then he’d probably run and yap to the press, so maybe this is the least-bad option. I just wish Shane wasn’t involved. You and Shane fought... and I think he’s a lowlife, not to be trusted, but Martin Blake – who is normally a reasonable man – again refused my suggestion to boot him off the boat.”
Trevor wasn’t happy that Ned was still trying to get Shane fired, but decided to put that aside for now, and shrugged. “I’m not worried; we’re friends now. Ever since the fight, we’ve been getting along great.”
Ned arched an eyebrow. “So you gave him a black eye and now he’s treating you okay? Maybe I should try that approach with him a few times...” Ned said, smiling wryly and then leading Trevor back into the customs shack.
As soon as they were inside, Shane looked at Trevor. “Mr. Blake gave me the go-ahead, but I won’t move Kookaburra on my own–”
“Why the bloody hell not?” Ned demanded. “You’ve just been told to by her owner.”
Shane scowled. “If you’d let me fucking finish, you Pommie bastard, I said on my own. He gave the okay, but I’ve never conned anything bigger than a seven-meter monohull except at sea. Mr. Blake knows that, so he told me to get someone experienced in catamaran handling to do it. The only two I know for sure are Ned and Trev, so one or both of them would have to do it. I’ll help any way I can, but I can’t con her in confined waters,” Shane said, puffing out his bare chest a little as he glared at Ned.
Ned glared at Shane. “You useless sack of–”
Trevor jumped in fast. “I can do that; she should handle just like Atlantis. The engine controls are a bit different, but that should be easy, especially in calm waters,” Trevor said.
Both officers sent disapproving glances in Ned’s direction, but only for a moment. They both knew that Shane’s refusal to risk piloting a boat that was beyond his capabilities was a responsible action.
Ned shot Shane a withering glare, but then his expression mellowed, and he turned to face Trevor and nodded. “I’ll go get set up for the haul out.” A few details were discussed, and then Ned said, “Trevor, be advised that there’s sometimes a strong current across the mouth of the Fascine. Okay, I think we’re about ready to try this madcap scheme. I just hope we can get it done before the press shows up.”
Ned dashed off, and as Trevor and Shane headed for the door, Officer Fowler put a hand out to stop Shane and told him quietly, “If you play your role, Craig and I are willing to let bygones be bygones, and we’ll put in a good word for you with the Carnarvon police. That won’t help if you break any laws, but...”
Shane met Fowler’s eyes and replied, “Thanks, I’ll do all I can.”
With a wave, Shane and Trevor set off for the Kookaburra. “This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever been in on,” Shane said, with a shake of his head, and then added, “Mr. Blake told me to go along with this plan of yours, and also that you’ve arranged to rent Kookaburra for a few days. Are you?”
“Yeah, but no... The few days’ rental was Ned’s idea, to make it worth the Blakes’ while to have Kookaburra involved. My insurance company is paying so I think that’s great. I won’t be staying aboard though, because of all the press that’ll be around. So, you’ll technically be on a charter but tied up at the dock for a few days,” Trevor replied, taking a glance backwards toward Atlantis as they walked.
“I think that’s the one flaw in your plan: you staying in Carnarvon. Mr. Blake told me that if you wanted to go anywhere, you’ll need to stay in the region but could go as far south as Shark Bay, which is where we usually go and what he recommended. I’m pretty sure he believes you’ll be taking her out.”
“I guess Ned implied I would, but we figured they sure wouldn’t mind being paid for having her sitting dockside like she’d do anyway,” Trevor said.
“Why? I mean, why not take her out for real? You sure as hell know how, you’ve the owners’ permission, and it’d solve any worries about hanging around Carnarvon until the press clears out. There’s also the fact that Shark Bay is awesome, you’d love it,” Shane said with a grin, as they reached the Kookaburra.
Trevor waited until they were in the salon, and with a sad sigh, he looked around the spectacular catamaran. “I wish I could... and I’d like to, but I wanted to check with you first. What if this doesn’t work and my name gets in the press, or leaks out some other way? Whoever planted the bomb might come after me again, so being around me could be dangerous. This is your home, Shane, so it’s up to you, and I’d be happy either way.”
Shane shook his head. “Kookaburra isn’t mine, and you’ve rented her. I’ll take my chances mate, and I’d love to show you Shark Bay. As for the press, there’s no better place to hide: Shark Bay is vast and nearly uninhabited, with hundreds of miles of bays, inlets, islands, and reefs. No one would find us in there, so we’d be safe until the press clears off.”
Trevor looked around again, sorely tempted. “Okay, Shark Bay it is.”
“I’ve never had a chance to mutiny before,” Shane said, laughing and giving Trevor’s bare back a friendly pat.
“Great, just what I needed,” Trevor replied, with a laugh of his own, and then he gave Shane a puzzled look, and asked about something that had been nagging at him. “Back at the customs office, you called Ned a Pommie bastard... why?”
Shane shrugged. “He got under my skin. He’s tried to get the Blakes to fire me a few times, and he makes no secret of it.”
Trevor shook his head. “No, I mean, why ‘Pommie’? That means British, right?”
Shane’s head snapped around, a puzzled look on his face. “You’ve heard him talk... he’s a Brit; he came here when he was a kid.”
Trevor’s eyes glazed over for a moment, his mind racing, and then a faint smile appeared on his face. “You mean he sounds British to you, right? He sounds Australian to me.”
Shane blinked in surprise. “You can’t tell the difference between his accent and mine?”
“Not really, well sorta, to me it’s more like his accent isn’t as strong as yours,” Trevor replied.
Shane thought for a few moments. “I think I see what’s gone on... To me, an Australian doesn’t have an accent, so I hear Ned’s Pommie one, even though he probably talks more like an Aussie than a Pom, which is why he sounds Australian to you. What a revolting development; that bastard coming across an Aussie!”
Trevor smiled, but not at Shane’s jest. He’d just figured out an added touch for the plan, and spent the next couple of minutes explaining it to Shane. When he was done, Trevor glanced at a clock. “We better grab something to eat, then get to work; those reporters will probably be here by sometime in the morning, and we’ve got tons of stuff to do to be ready. It’s going to be a long and sleepless night.”
Shane angled his head, giving Trevor a quizzical look. “I just solved one of our problems, I think. I’ve got to make a run to the store. Could you spot me a ten?”
“Okay, but why?” Trevor asked, digging into his pocket.
“Trust me,” Shane said, with a sly grin.
The next morning, as the rising sun heralded a hot and sultry day, Jason Kline strode purposefully along the customs dock. A newspaper reporter who had recently turned freelance, he was a man on a mission. Television and newspapers competed for news, though with different goals: a TV reporter focused more on soundbites and catchy video footage, while a newspaper reporter preferred in-depth reporting, each gravitating to the strengths and weaknesses of their medium. A TV reporter would also be able to break a story first, something that occasionally worked to the advantage of the print media, garnering them free publicity for a major story, which they then covered in far greater detail. However, getting there first was a plum few reporters could resist. Jason Kline had scented money when the story had first reached his ears – and after a few phone calls, he had driven through the night, aiming to get there first. The lack of anyone around the catamaran told him that he might have succeeded. His struggling freelance career needed a major story, and he believed he might just have it.
Kline quickened his pace, walking across the customs dock towards the catamaran, taking note of her missing boom, and then the taped patches along her nearest hull. Her bows and stern were covered with tarps, and one of the tarps, on second glance, proved to be made largely from netting, bed sheets, and a few pieces of clothing. Kline knew a little about yachting, and he immediately noticed that the davits – where a skiff would normally be – hung empty. He also noticed that the catamaran had a severe list to port.
When Kline reached the yacht, he spotted a shirtless blond teen, who was wearing just tattered, holey shorts and leaning down through a deck hatch, where Kline correctly assumed an engine would be. A few toolboxes lay scattered around, and several electrical extension cords and other gear littered the decks. It was clear to Kline that something bad had happened to the yacht, and that fit with what he’d heard.
Taking care to appear casual, Kline said loudly, “Hello. Excuse me, I noticed your damage. What happened?”
Kline saw the blond head pop out of the engine compartment, and the teen stood up, sweaty, his hands darkened by grease, with a few dark stains on his chiseled, tan torso. Kline made sure to smile pleasantly, watching as the teen’s face flashed from surprised to wary as he approached the guard-wire railing, flicking his thumb at the large bandage on the side of his neck, and whispering hoarsely, “I can’t talk much... It was just a storm.”
Kline nodded, and smiled sympathetically. “I think I may be able to help. You’re the sailor who was hit by pirates, and made his way here under jury rig. That’s a magnificent achievement.”
Shane tapped at his bandaged throat again. “Pirates? Never heard of ‘em. I can’t talk and I have work to do, what do you want?” Shane asked, still using a hoarse whisper. He was careful to speak slowly, pronouncing every syllable. His altered voice might not have fooled an American ear, but the hope was that it would suffice to hide his nationality from Australians and let him pass for an American.
Kline gave Shane his best smile. “I’m Jason Kline, freelance reporter, and I hear you’ve pulled off an incredible voyage. That’s something to be very proud of, and I’d like to tell your story, to make sure you get the credit you deserve for such a feat,” he said, trying his best to flatter.
Shane shrugged. “Not interested,” he said, turning away and stooping to open a nearby hatch, as if to resume work.
The reporter noticed the tear in the seat of the shorts, and that Shane wasn’t wearing any underwear. Kline cleared his throat and looked away, towards the bows. “That may be, but your story will be told, one way or the other. This is your chance to tell it your way.” The reporter raised a camera and snapped a half-aimed shot of Kookaburra’s covered bows, mainly to make a point.
Shane glared at the reporter. “Get lost, asshole. This is my boat and I don’t want you taking pictures,” Shane said, in a loud, angry whisper, while wincing in feigned pain.
Kline shook his head. “Not much you can do about it, as this is a public dock and I’m within my rights to be here. However, I’ll respect your wishes and do nothing without your approval,” he said, making a show of putting the camera’s lens cap on. “You won’t be so lucky with the others, though. They’ll be along shortly; a bunch of us came up from Perth. Your story is out, there’s no stopping it. Me, I’ll tell it your way and make you look good. The rest? A lot are tabloid hacks, and they’ll say any damn thing to make a dollar.”
Shane froze for a moment at the mention of money. Casting a wary glance towards the customs shack, he stood up moved to the deck edge, looked down at the reporter, and crossed his arms. “I need to make a few bucks myself; the repairs to my boat will cost a shitload. Look, I already have someone I’m working with David Miller,” Shane said, emphasizing the name of a well-known Australian media manager, “told me to tell anyone who comes around to talk to him. I need the money, so I’m taking his advice.”
Kline’s eyebrows went up slightly at the mention of the publicist’s name. He knew that retaining him as an agent meant that there must be a significant story at hand. “If you’re working with him, you can still talk to anyone you please. If he told you not to, watch out. Besides, that tells me that you’re exactly what I’ve heard. Look, I have a job to do–”
Kline’s eyes narrowed. He rarely partook of checkbook journalism, but from what he’d heard, half of Carnarvon was buzzing about the American who had been attacked by pirates and had somehow managed to cross the Indian Ocean alone, under jury rig. It was the kind of story the media loved, and would sell well, making a good byline for whoever got it first. The fact that the blond teen was very photogenic and apparently injured would be major plusses. Kline smiled disarmingly. “I respect that you need funds to fix your boat, and I’ve not come here empty-handed. Setting you up with someone like me is what your David Miller will be doing, if he does his job. So, why not cut out the middleman, just this once, and take the whole fee yourself? It’s your story, after all.”
Shane hesitated, and then turned around. “How much?”
Kline pulled out his checkbook. “I’ll make it an even hundred.”
Shane snorted. “It hurts to talk. Cash only, two hundred, take it or leave it, and you get it first.” Kline hesitated, so Shane pointed down, at the row of tape patches, “Those are bullet holes, from machine gun fire. It hurts too much to talk, but I can give you what I wrote for Miller.”
Kline pulled out two hundred dollars, and holding it in his hand, said, “Half now, half when I’ve had a look at the story.”
Shane nodded, leaning over the guard-wire to take the proffered hundred dollars. “Deal, but Mr. Miller never finds out I spoke to you.” Shane padded into the salon, returning with a single sheet of paper – one of twenty he’d typed up and printed out.
Kline read the page, which began,
Dear Mr. Miller,
My name is Trevor Carlsbad, from Virginia. I was attacked by pirates near the Seychelles. They came at me in two speedboats, guns a-blazing, and shot the shit out of my boat. One of the bullets put a gash in my throat. When they boarded, they robbed me, then the boat. They took my mainsail, radios, the works. When they left, I set course for Australia under jury rig, and it was one hum-dinger of a trip....
The tale continued; a direct-route crossing of the Indian Ocean, ending with hitting a reef north of Carnarvon, and then being towed in by the customs patrol. The story was a general fit to what was known around Carnarvon.
Kline was suspicious; and asked some questions about the attack, but Shane shook his head, pointed at his throat, and held out his hand for the remaining money. Kline found the whole thing more than a little incredulous, but he’d spoken to several locals, who seemed to believe the story. Kline reluctantly handed over the remaining hundred, and began taking a few pictures of the boat, along with one of Shane, which earned him a glare. When he tried to come aboard, Shane stopped him. “No one comes aboard. The customs dudes said so.”
“It’s okay, I’m a reporter, they don’t mean me,” Kline countered, but Shane would not stand aside.
After some bickering back and forth, Shane ended the interview by saying, “Come back this afternoon, maybe I can let you aboard then. Right now, I need to go lie down. Have a nice day,” Shane croaked, and then made his way into the salon and shut the door.
Kline took a few more photos from dockside and reluctantly left, becoming ever more suspicious.
Within the hour, a TV reporter and camera crew from Perth arrived, and Shane gave them the same spiel. As he did so, others reporters pulled up, and a few locals joined the crowd as the small media circus began. Shane tried, but he was unable to sell the story for as much as he had to Kline, and settled for fifty dollars a copy, plus a hundred for a very brief interview for the TV cameras. As soon as the interview ended, a few still cameras began clicking away, and Shane responded by shielding his face with his arm and croaking, “Photographs are a sawbuck apiece, so start handing over twenties!” he said, remembering to use American slang.
Shane had three takers, and stood with the sea behind him, shorts sagged low, and made a point of slightly tensing his six-pack and chest as he posed for the shots.
Fowler, who was standing by the window, replied, a little sourly, “He’s taking money from them and I think that’s making them suspicious. He looks like he’s spreading it on pretty damn thick, and hamming it up.”
Ned, who was sitting next to Trevor, rolled his eyes but kept his thoughts to himself.
Fowler stared out the window. “From the look of the way some of the crew are talking among themselves and poking around, I don’t think they’re buying the story. I think it’s about time,” Fowler said, glancing at Trevor.
Trevor took a deep breath and nodded his agreement, glancing towards the customs shack’s back door.
Shane was standing at the deck edge, pointing at the tattered, holey shorts he was wearing, “This is all they left me with. I was lucky to escape with my life...” Shane whispered, and then stopped, staring wide-eyed at the approaching Officer Fowler.
“I’ll have to ask you all to leave. This yacht is under customs seal, and this is the customs dock. This is not public property, so you’ll need to stay clear,” Fowler demanded.
Several of the reporters began bombarding Fowler with questions. Fowler listened for a moment, and then glared at Shane. “What exactly have you been telling them?”
After a few moments of confusion, plus some back-and forth with the reporters, Fowler got ahold of one of Shane’s printouts and read it. He looked up at Shane, and said, “This ends, now! I won’t have you running scams on my dock.” Officer Fowler turned to the assembled reporters. “There’s not a lot I can say; it’s against policy to for me to speak of an ongoing case in detail. All I can say is that this yacht is under seal until I’m satisfied on a tax issue. She’s not a foreign yacht, and as for a pirate attack, I can assure you that nothing of the kind happened to her.” Fowler stepped up to Kookaburra and ripped off a patch of tape, revealing pristine hull beneath. He then ripped off a few more. “There are no bullet holes in this boat. I’ve heard the rumors flying around town, and now I think I’m getting it,” he glared at Shane, “Let me tell you all something: this guy,” Fowler flicked a thumb in Shane’s direction and turned to face the press, “happens to be Australian, not American. I can’t give his name as this is an ongoing case, but I can say it’s not what’s on this paper. I can also say that he didn’t cross the Indian Ocean, solo or otherwise. I’m right at the limit of what I can say... but I can add that we’re about to have a chat with his mate, regarding a tax matter.” Fowler nodded towards the customs shack.
On cue, Officer Grundig appeared, coming around the corner of the customs shack, pulling along a teen with dark brown hair, who was shirtless, wearing Levis and shoes, and had his hands cuffed in front of him.
Grundig paused at the front door, letting his captive enter first, slowly, to give the reporters long enough to get a good look at the large Southern Cross inked on the captive’s back, which from a distance looked very much like a tattoo.
Shane darted into Kookaburra’s salon and closed the door behind him. Fowler shook his head, looking at the customs shack. “These two... I’ve got to say, this scheme of theirs is over the top, even for them.”
The reporters began barraging Fowler with questions, including about the damage to the yacht. Fowler shrugged, and pulled back a tarp enough to show Kookaburra’s intact starboard bow. “I do know that the boom is in the boat’s main cabin. Looks to me like you’ve all fallen for a hoax.” Fowler was pleased that he was telling the absolute truth, and it suited him just fine if the press misinterpreted it.
There were angry protests, including a few accusations of fraud over the charging for the story. In response, Fowler boarded Kookaburra, pounded on the salon door until Shane let him in, and then entered. Once inside, Fowler crossed his arms and glared at Shane for real, asking quietly, “What’s this business with you taking money off them?”
Shane gave Fowler his best innocent look, and an open-handed shrug. “It’s an idea I had a few hours ago, and Trev liked it. It seems like a good way to help this work. We didn’t tell you, because we didn’t want to put you in a bad position.”
Fowler scowled. “It’s still a scam, for money.”
Shane gave Fowler an awkward smile. “Not exactly... I’m selling a story I wrote myself, and saying it’s written by me. I’m also charging them to take pictures of me. Besides, it’s in a very good cause.”
Fowler rolled his eyes. “I suppose it’ll help...all I can say is, you’re damn lucky I’m in an agreeable mood,” he said, turning to exit the salon and almost tripping over the furling boom, which was on the floor.
When he emerged back on deck, shaking his head, Fowler addressed the reporters. “You can’t claim fraud, unfortunately, because he offered to sell you a story, and you accepted. The same is true of the photographs; he asked for money to let you take photos of him, and you handed it over and took the pictures.” The sound of Shane slamming and locking the door added emphasis, and Fowler chuckled before continuing, “You lot seriously paid him for this tall tale? Here’s a hint for you; a direct course from the Seychelles to here would mean sailing almost directly upwind all the way. I can also assure you that this boat has been in local waters for months, at least. I’ve said all I can, and I’ve other duties to attend. G’day,” Fowler said, motioning for the press to leave.
Shane came out, gave a friendly wave and obnoxious smirk to the angry press, and turned to tell Fowler, in a normal – and very Australian – voice, “I think we’ll be clearing off ourselves. I’ve got the money for the taxes.”
Fowler rolled his eyes. “Oh, I’m not done with you –yet.”
Shane blinked, and with a panicked look on his face, returned to the salon and locked the door behind him.
There was a considerable amount of grumbling, plus a few muttered curses, from the press. Fowler ignored any further questions, reminded them again that they needed to leave, and made his way to the customs shack.
The camera crew was all smiles, enjoying seeing the oft-obnoxious reporters taken down a notch. It helped that the camera crews were paid by the hour and were drawing overtime.
Once inside, Fowler shut the door and said, “You can take the handcuffs off Trevor now, Craig. I think it worked.”
Trevor grinned, extending his hands to let Grundig remove the cuffs. “Thank you both so much for this,” Trevor said.
“First things first,” Fowler said, opening his desk drawer and removing a single piece of paper. “You need to sign the declaration form.”
Trevor took a seat on the opposite side of the desk and glanced at the paper, which was a standard declaration-of-cash form, for the money he’d brought into Australia, due to it being over the ten-thousand limit. With a flourish, Trevor signed and dated the document.
Smiling, Fowler returned the document to his drawer. “With the tax issue taken care of, I now hereby release the yacht you’ve rented from customs seal.”
Grundig laughed, and pointed at Trevor’s newly brown hair. “That was a clever touch you came up with.”
Trevor ran his fingers through his hair, which was also far shorter than it had been; it was now just four inches long. “This was Shane’s idea. He went to the store to get the dye, then gave me the haircut and dye job after we got back from hauling Atlantis out at Ned’s.”
“The fake Southern Cross tat on your back helped, I think,” Ned said, smiling proudly at one of his own additions to the scheme.
Trevor snickered. “Yeah, but when he was done drawing it on me, Shane said he used indelible ink, so I’ll be stuck with it for a few days.”
Fowler laughed, shaking his head. “Well, it does fit your disguise. It’s not a tat an American would be thought to have. As for the other bit that Shane did... I’m not thrilled that he was charging money, but I have to admit, it looks like it worked – those reporters looked furious, and I think they believe this was all a moneymaking scam run by you two.”
Trevor sobered slightly. “What happens now?”
Fowler glanced out the window. “They seem to be leaving, wounded pride and all. I’ll get word if they check out of the motel. We’ve run a good game on them; I think there’s a chance it might hold. You’d best go ahead and clear off for a few days, at least.”
Two hundred yards down the dock, Jason Kline smiled as he watched a TV reporter angrily barking orders at his camera crew, who were loading their gear into their van. Kline smirked, enjoying the sight of his rival’s discomfiture.
Trevor, Ned, and the two customs officers waited in the customs shack, with Fowler keeping an eye out the window on the departing press. “That was the last of ‘em, that I can see anyway,” Fowler reported, with a tired sigh.
The morning’s events with the reporters had been preceded by a very long and busy night for them all....
At two o’clock in the morning, Trevor and Shane had cast off from the marina in Kookaburra, and Trevor had taken her out into the Fascine, motoring around the point to the customs dock, to moor her behind Atlantis. Working fast, they had transferred the netting sail, Trevor’s purchases from Carnarvon, his few remaining possessions, along with some loose debris, to Kookaburra. With Ned’s help, they had dismounted Kookaburra’s furling boom and stowed it in the salon.
Ned had used a freshwater hose to begin filling Kookaburra’s port bilge to give her a list, while Officer Craig Grundig had taken the helm of the customs patrol boat, using it – with Trevor at Atlantis’s helm – to tow Atlantis to Ned’s boat ramp.
Fowler, Shane, and Ned met them at the dock, where they’d secured Atlantis to one of Ned’s haul-out platforms. Working quietly, without lights, they had used Ned’s tractor to haul the wheeled platform, with Atlantis aboard, up the ramp.
Working hard, and following Ned’s orders and instructions, they had used Ned’s small crane to remove Atlantis’s mast, carefully laying it on cushions beside her on the platform. It would have needed to be done at some point in the repairs anyway, so the mast could be checked out, due to the furious pounding Atlantis had taken in the Southern Ocean.
At that point, Trevor and Shane had returned to Kookaburra to put the final touches on her, and themselves. Finally, an hour before dawn, Trevor had motored away in Kookaburra’s Zodiac, returning to Ned’s yard. As dawn neared, Ned had driven Trevor to the customs shack, where they had awaited the coming onslaught of reporters....
Now that the reporters had apparently departed, Trevor began to relax somewhat, and his thoughts turned to the two officers and Ned, all of whom had given him such tremendous help. “Can I use the phone? I want to order us some pizza.”
Officer Grundig glanced warily at Fowler, and they both shook their heads. “Thanks, but let’s play it safe; it might look a bit off to have a pizza delivery during what’s supposed to look like an official interview. I don’t think they open until lunchtime in any case,” Grundig said.
“I need to get Trevor to my yard. Any ideas on that?” Ned asked.
Fowler grinned. “Just in case someone is watching, I’ll go shout up Shane and make like I’m giving him a good earbashing. Keep Trevor low in your car, and drive past your yard and into town a bit, to make sure you’re not being followed. I think we’re safe for now, but it can’t hurt to take precautions.”
Fowler stalked out to Kookaburra, while Craig Grundig kept watch out the back. Seeing no sign of observation, Grundig opened the door for Trevor and Ned’s exit.
In their private thoughts, they all wondered if the ruse they’d crafted and presented would hold. There was no way to know, only time would tell... but at a minimum, they had bought Trevor time, delaying his exposure by the press, and thus, by extension, to a man none of them knew, or even knew of: Sanchez.
From his vantage point two hundred yards away, Jason Kline glanced at the Kookaburra, seeing the splash of water from the electric bilge pumps as Shane pumped out the port hull – Ned had used a dockside hose to add hundreds of gallons of fresh water to the port bilge, in order to give Kookaburra the list.
“Well played,” Kline muttered, glancing at the printed story Shane had given him. “A little too well played,” he added, flipping open his notebook and beginning to write.