It was a gritty little restaurant, set in a dusty, neglected parking lot just outside of Ft. Pierce. Henry Wesson had found it only with the help of his GPS, which was not high on the list of things a professional investigator liked to admit.
He looked up at the sign, which was faded and peeling. ‘Cabra Borracha’, it proclaimed, in all its faded glory, lit by the waning sunset. Henry heard mariachi music from inside, and glanced around the parking lot, noting that the place must be nearly full, which Henry found promising. ‘Gonzalez said it’s got good food, but I’ll send him a damn bill if I get food poisoning,’ Henry thought, heading inside through the slightly crooked door.
Inside, a faint tinge of stale cigarette smoke hung in the air, emanating from the noisy bar to Henry’s left. He turned right, entering the small restaurant section, where he spotted Gonzalez sitting in a booth.
Henry sat down on the cracked, duct-taped vinyl seat, and looked at Gonzalez across the equally decrepit linoleum table. “Interesting place you chose,” Henry remarked dryly, looking around and seeing that there were no empty tables.
Gonzalez chuckled. “What it lacks in other ways, it makes up for in food. Best Mexican place in the area, as far as I’m concerned. I’m on duty so I can’t have any alcohol, but they’ll bring drinks from the bar to the table if you’d like. It’s on me.”
Henry arched an eyebrow, correctly suspecting that he was being buttered up. “Okay, what’s up? When somebody offers to buy me dinner and drinks, I get nervous.”
Gonzalez took a sip of water before replying quietly, “So far, all we have for sure on George Alfred is he spends a lot of time – including overnight stays – with Bridget Bellevue. We have theories and suspicions of course, but not proof. I can make a circumstantial case that he’s leaked info to her and also affected an ongoing case in her favor, but I can’t prove it, and even if I could, he’d get a slap on the wrist at most. She’s not even an official suspect anymore, so the department would probably come down harder on me than on him, because my surveillance of her place borders on harassment, and she’s got the connections and influence to make sure I get raked over the coals for it.”
The two men had been taking turns watching George and Bridget’s homes, usually at night, and only once or twice a week. The stakeouts were lonely, boring affairs, and had gained them little of use so far. Both men had other cases to attend, so their operation was, perforce, somewhat piecemeal and inconstant.
The waitress came and took their orders, and as soon as she was gone, Henry replied quietly, “All we know for sure is they took off like a bat out of hell on that powerboat – a Sea Ray – that time. I’ve been looking into the place they keep it – Rob’s Marine Services – and I’ve seen Bridget take it out alone, once, but at a more sedate pace. I lost her after she entered the Intercoastal Waterway, southbound. It’s really strange that someone with a waterfront house with a dock would keep a boat elsewhere – if it’s hers – though maybe she just likes keeping it under shelter,” Henry said.
Gonzalez drummed his fingers on the cracked tabletop. “Yeah, I pulled the records on the boat, and it’s registered to Rob’s Marine.” Gonzalez had looked it up under the name ‘Lobster Pot’, which Sea Witch had been wearing at that time. The Sea Witch was registered under that and several other names, to various owners, though Gonzalez didn’t know that. “Maybe she rents the thing, or they lend it to her. It matches the description of one I saw near her dock, but that doesn’t prove a damn thing: half of Florida is into boating. The long and short of it is, we’re stalled, and need something hard.”
And with that, Henry knew the real reason for the meeting. “This is about my clients, isn’t it?”
Gonzalez nodded. “They have to know something, even if they don’t know they know it. We both know the bomb thing was a frame-up, and the charges against your clients benefited Bridget Bellevue, getting her forever off the hook as a suspect in her husband’s murder, barring new hard evidence. She’s behind the bombing, sure as hell. What I couldn’t figure out is the pirate attack. Either Trevor has the worst luck in the world, or it’s connected somehow. Had it worked, and Trevor had vanished without a trace, it would have been hard circumstantial evidence against your clients. And it almost worked.”
Both of Henry’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re not hedging your words: you’ve got something solid.”
“The Seychelles cops found a hospitalized man, near death from infections that had gone untreated before he was dumped in an alley. The infections are from bullet wounds. They guessed where he’d got them, and when he regained consciousness, they started asking questions. I wasn’t told how, nor do I want to know, but they got answers. He’s a pirate, from the same crew that hit Atlantis. He was a lot more forthcoming than the other two; their captain was paid to kill anyone they found aboard, and destroy the boat. The captain was supposed to be paid in the Seychelles, and the crew was in for a cut. So, it was a hit on Trevor Carlson, again.”
Henry got it immediately. “Yeah, that fits... she needed the charges filed against my clients, and that happened, but after the pirate attack. My guess is that the second hit – the pirates – was arranged after the bomb failed, because they needed to be certain of an indictment. The good news is that means Trevor is probably safe now that the indictment has been filed. Okay, I’m with you so far, but I know there’s another shoe waiting to drop.”
The food arrived; they’d both ordered the enchilada plate. Gonzalez took a bite of his, and a few moments later, he said quietly, “I can send a request to the Seychelles for more information, plus some questions for them to ask, but I wanted to get your read and input on this first. I’m more convinced than ever that your clients know something, and before you assure me otherwise, I think they’re unaware of it. The short version is, I know they can’t be guilty of attacks on Trevor. I’m also pretty damn sure Dirk didn’t kill Arnold Bellevue. I think Jim Ainsworth is guilty mainly of lousy judgment, little more. I’m also sure that Dirk Carlson killed his wife with a bomb on her boat, and Bridget found out, which is why she used that method in the first try against Trevor.”
Henry shook his head. “I see your point, but you’re on the wrong track. Dirk didn’t kill Rachel.”
Gonzalez’s eyes narrowed. “You can’t possibly know that, because all you have to go on is what they’ve told you. You’ve been lied to, Henry.” Gonzalez raised his hand to wave off the protest Henry was about to make. “I know you can’t go against your clients’ interests, so don’t bother denying it; it makes no difference anyway. So, let me fill you in on what I’ve found: Dirk tried to change the insurance policy Rachel had, just a few weeks before she died. The paperwork was in process but hit a snag; the change to her original policy required her signature. When Dirk was notified of that, he canceled the request for the change.” Gonzalez saw no harm in sharing what he’d found; the prosecution would have to disclose it during the discovery phase of a trial anyway.
Henry already knew that, so he replied only with a noncommittal nod.
Gonzalez continued, “He did this just two days before he and Rachel filed the divorce paperwork. The existing coverage provided a death indemnity on Rachel of just two thousand, barely enough for her memorial service as it turned out. The boat’s insurance, which Dirk also unsuccessfully tried to increase, covered only depreciated value, and boat prices were far less back then. Nonetheless, his take would have been close to a quarter million, and people have been killed for a hell of a lot less. But here’s the kicker; the insurance company stalled because the boat was only missing. Dirk could have pressed the issue in court but he took their first offer: fifty thousand. That doesn’t fit unless he’s guilty and feared opening up the issue again. There’s also the child custody issue for additional motive. I have no doubt that Dirk killed Rachel; there’s far too much here for it to be coincidental, especially the timing. The only way I can see that he could have done it was with a bomb on Ares, because those kinds of boats can’t just sink, and she went down in perfect weather. I checked with the Coast Guard; if she’d been hit by a big ship like a freighter or a tanker, that could have done it, but that doesn’t explain why Dirk was playing games with insurance policies before the fact. Only him being the killer does. So, I know he did it. The problem is, I also need his help to get Bridget and George.”
“Would you be willing to offer a deal?” Henry asked, mainly to test the waters.
“Maybe. It’s not my call, and no one knows about this yet, but if Dirk helped us get Bridget and George, we can probably go with a plea of guilty to second-degree murder of his wife,” Gonzalez replied, stifling a wince. It bothered him deeply to even consider reducing a murder sentence that much.
Henry arched an eyebrow. “What about the other charges, and those against Jim Ainsworth?”
“Obviously, Carlson’s charges for the attempt on his son and the murder of Arnold Bellevue would be gone. As for Ainsworth, so far all I know for sure he’s done is evading arrest. No deal there; as far as I can determine, he didn’t know Dirk at the time of Rachel’s death and lived in another state. So, he probably knows nothing I can use,” Gonzalez replied icily, and then softened to add, “However, he wasn’t served official notice that he has a warrant, and given the likely involvement of a member of my department, he has justifiable grounds for failure to appear. Even at worst, he’s probably not looking at jail time, provided we can clear him of involvement in the bombing.”
Henry drummed his fingers on the table, wondering how to proceed. His primary duty was to buy time until the remaining statutes of limitations on Dirk’s actual crimes expired. However, he also saw an opportunity to take another threat off the table. “Okay, but just to be clear... According to Frank Tittle, they can’t be convicted of evading arrest without some proof they actually knew the police were there to arrest them, so that’s a moot point. What you didn’t mention at all is unlawful flight to avoid prosecution or giving testimony; that’s a felony and makes them fugitives from justice. They aren’t currently charged with it, and you have evidence issues – you can’t prove they knew they were leaving to avoid prosecution or testimony, or even know of it now, and without provable intent, you don’t have a case – but it’s a concern. Also, if they let you interview them, they open themselves up to the risk that you’ll tell them they have warrants for their arrest, which would then make a solid case against them that they are fugitives from justice from that moment on. They don’t want that hanging over them, to be resurrected at a prosecutor’s whim. They’ll do all that they can to help you against Bridget and George, but they’re not willing to put their necks on the block to do it. So, in return, the one thing they – and their attorney – will be insisting on is that charge, or any claim that they were fugitives from justice, is gone permanently, and they need that in writing. Also, to be clear, I’ve already helped you out with Bridget and George and will continue to do so. My time is being paid for by my clients, so anything I give you counts in their favor.”
Henry’s play was a necessary one; if Dirk was legally determined to be a fugitive from justice, it stopped the clock on all statues of limitations for him – most had expired before he went on the run, but a few remained. That issue was in Frank Tittle’s opinion the gravest risk, and taking it off the table was thus a prime goal. As things stood, the prosecution would have to prove intent on Dirk’s part, which would entail proving that he knew of the case against him and the warrant for his arrest. The prosecution’s case would not be solid, but it was a risk, and Frank Tittle wanted to defeat it. With it gone, Dirk would be forever immune from prosecution for his crimes by December 16th. It would also remove the main legal threat to Jim. Therefore, Frank had briefed Henry on how to approach the issue, if the opportunity presented itself. Henry hoped that Gonzalez and the prosecutor accepted the reasoning he’d given.
Gonzalez scowled. He hated making deals, especially when he had no choice, and in this case, he needed Henry. “I don’t have the authority to do that and you know it... but okay, given the murder-two rap, plus the likelihood that they were framed for some charges in part by a member of my department – which would give them a damn good necessity defense for flight – I might be able to get the State Attorney to sign off on that. I’ll get it done as soon as I bring him into the loop on all this, but I don’t want to do that until we have Trevor’s confirmation on the propane tanks. Without that, all we have are theories and some procedural violations by George. With Trevor’s testimony on the propane tanks, I think that would be enough to get the State Attorney to play ball.”
“My clients are traveling. I have no reliable means of contact; it’s intermittent and occasional. They are aware of your prior request for an interview, and have agreed. It would be via videoconferencing over the internet. However, it’ll take a couple of weeks until they can pick up the gear I’ve sent. The interview will be before Christmas at the latest; I’ll pick you up, take you to where I’ll set up my end of the link and you can talk to them for as long as you like, no restrictions. This is assuming they get that official sign-off on the fugitive issue; otherwise, no interview. In return, they want a guarantee that, if they are captured or surrender at some point, they will be turned over to state or federal authorities and not to Ft. Pierce police, or anywhere that George Alfred – or anyone associated with him – can get to them, and that’s absolutely non-negotiable,” Henry said.
Gonzalez sighed. He hated the stain on his department, but he knew it was a well-founded fear. “Done. I’d have insisted on that anyway. Now, regarding our surveillance of Bridget Bellevue and George; I’d really like to know more about where they go and what they do, but there’s not a chance in hell I can get a warrant to put a tracking device or phone tap on them.”
Henry arched an eyebrow. “Oh? You had a warrant to put a tracker on Dirk’s car?”
Gonzalez scowled. “No I didn’t, and you know it. It wasn’t legally required; he was an active prime suspect in an attempted murder of his son. Under department rules and Florida law, that gave us leeway. The same is not true of Bridget. There’s also the problem that any official request I make might reach George’s ears: I have no way of knowing what kind of a network he has in the department. We need hard evidence, or something that will lead us to it. I can’t go to the state or the feds with what we have so far. We need more,” Gonzalez said, hoping that Henry would read between the lines.
“In other words, you can’t do it so you’re asking me to break the law,” Henry said, in a neutral tone.
“I haven’t asked,” Gonzalez replied, fussing with his food.
“No, you didn’t, so you’re in the clear, but you got the message through just fine. If I set foot on Bridget’s property, that’s trespassing. If I go inside, that’s breaking and entering. Here’s a newsflash for you; most private investigators don’t break the law, because if we do, we lose our licenses.” It was a standard claim, and often it was true. Henry had broken laws before, but only in cases of dire need. Henry already knew he’d probably have to make one of his rare exceptions for this case.
Gonzalez hesitated for a few moments, and then sighed. “Okay, point taken. What I’m asking you, for now, is we both keep up the surveillance when we can, and if the opportunity presents itself – without breaking the law – plant a tracker on her car or that boat. That’s not actually illegal, if the vehicle is in a public place and isn’t harmed. I’m prohibited from doing so by department policy because the case on her is closed, but you’re not. I can’t even check surveillance gear out from the department without leaving a record, but I suspect you’re well equipped in that area.”
Henry was pleased by the response, and softened. “My gear is as good as or better than what you use. I’ll do what I can. It might take a while; Bridget keeps her car in the garage, and that boat is also on private property. I’ll try tailing her when she goes shopping and plant something on her car in the parking lot. What about George Alfred?”
Gonzalez nodded. “Just be real careful. Don’t go near when he’s around, or even might be. He could shoot you and claim line-of-duty, and unless there were witnesses, he’d probably get away with it. Dirty cops are often very dangerous. Don’t take chances.”
Henry nodded, acknowledging both the point and the concern, and then ended the subject by remarking on the food. “This place is pretty good. I’m surprised. When I pulled up outside, I thought it would give me food poisoning. I guess cops do know more than just donut places. What’s with the hokey decor, though?”
Gonzalez chuckled and pointed at the garish picture on the menu’s plastic cover. “It’s a play on the name: Cabra Borracha. That’s why the goat theme: Cabra Borracha means ‘the drunken goat’”.
“That explains why the goat is wearing sunglasses,” Henry replied, looking at the menu cover and laughing. “He’s probably hung over.”
Friday’s dawn found Kookaburra at anchor off the small resort on the Peron Peninsula called Monkey Mia. That late November day – late spring, in the Southern Hemisphere – was already warm, with just a faint hint of moving air, enough to trace cat’s-paws on the warm, glassy water.
After breakfast, Trevor asked, “So, what’s the plan?”
Shane grinned. “The tour leaves at eleven, so I was thinking we’d head ashore in about an hour. We can tie the Zodiac up at the jetty.”
Trevor nodded, and then glanced towards the nav desk. “I’d like to make a fast call home, to let Lisa and Joel know I’m still breathing and see if there’s any news.”
“Go for it... it’s in the top drawer.”
Trevor sat down on the salon sofa after dialing, and Shane bounded down into the galley. As soon as Joel answered, Trevor said, “G’day, Joel!”
Joel sat up in bed, smiling and shoving his homework aside. “Trev! If that’s supposed to be an Australian accent, you suck at it! How are ya?” he said, relieved to hear Trevor’s voice again.
“I’m fine now... but I can’t use this phone for long; it’s a satellite phone and it belongs to the owner of the boat I’m on. They cost a ton... using my old one too much is why Dad took it away. Anyway, I should have the cell you sent in a few days, when I get back to Carnarvon, if not sooner.”
“You’re on a boat? Where, and why?” Joel asked, a note of concern in his voice.
“Yeah, cruising in Shark Bay – which is south of Carnarvon – for a few days to hide out from the press. My insurance is footing the bill. Hey, any news?” Trevor asked.
“Not much, just minor everyday stuff, like Officer Gonzalez calling Lisa and me into your dad’s chandlery to tell us that you died,” Joel replied, deadpan.
Joel snorted. “Some of your stuff, and a couple of pirates, were found in the Seychelles. Sounds like they said what they did to you. Gonzalez was told about it and decided you were dead to tell us. Freaked the hell out of Lisa and me until Gonzalez told us when it happened. I’m sure fucking glad that was after your call the other day... oh, and get this, not only did he tell us he was sure you’re dead, but he’d already told your dad’s private investigator. We talked to the PI right after, and he knew by then you’re not dead, so Gonzalez seems to be talking to him a lot. That’s fucking weird – for a cop to give that kind of stuff to a guy working for your dad, who’s on the run charged with trying to kill you. Lisa and I don’t trust Gonzalez at all, and Bridget thinks he’s, in her words, an incompetent troglodyte.” Joel was already smiling in anticipation of telling Trevor the good news; that most of the pirates were dead.
“Shit, I can see why,” Trevor replied, trying to figure out what to make of the news.
“There’s more... He wants to talk to you right away, and told me to tell you to call him on his cell. I told him you’re somewhere in Australia, but not where. No one but me and Lisa know that, and we’re planning on saying ‘Tasmania’ if we need to name somewhere,” Joel said, brushing his hair from his eyes and sitting up a little straighter, wondering whether he should wait until they had more time to tell Trevor about the upcoming meeting with Henry Wesson.
“When I was in the Seychelles, Gonzalez was trying to order me to come home for a while, for police interviews and stuff, so I bet that’s what he’s after,” Trevor replied.
“Yeah, that’d fit... what will you do if he does?” Joel asked, the change in focus causing Joel to forget to mention what had happened to the rest of the pirates.
Trevor sighed. “The fuck if I know. This stuff about him working with Dad’s investigator is weird. I won’t come home and help them prosecute Dad unless I feel he’s guilty, and right now, I don’t know, especially about killing Mom. I don’t see what I know that could be of any use anyway, and if somebody is after me, going home is dumb. I’ll need to talk to Dad first... and I wouldn’t want to leave for long.”
“There’s something going on about the propane tanks, and the bomb. He’s probably going to ask you some stuff about filling up the tanks in Mykonos, because they found a full one in the Suez, tested it, and it was filled here. So, if you only filled one and both of the ones in the cockpit storage were stolen, that means the one with the bomb in it had to be swapped after Mykonos, and couldn’t have been done by Jim in Italy,” Joel replied.
“Whoa... then it can’t be him and Dad, because I did fill up just the one in Mykonos, and yeah, the other was filled in Fort Pierce after a charter a few months before I left. Okay, maybe this is starting to make sense, and Dad is innocent – of that, anyway. I’ll come home to testify to that if I need to... unless that’s not what they’re after. I’ll talk to Gonzalez and see, I just don’t know right now,” Trevor said.
“Yeah, this is a mess. I’d love to see you, but I will in a few weeks anyway. Uh, if you do come home, you better not stay at your house if your dad is still on the loose... you can stay here but if it’s over Christmas, my brother Steve will be home from college. I don’t know if he knows about you or not, but he went to our high school and he’ll sure as hell hear when he’s been here a few days. You’re talked about a lot, thanks to the murder stuff.”
They both knew that Joel’s older brother, Steve, was somewhat homophobic, and Trevor wasn’t keen on the idea of sowing any discord in Joel’s home for the holidays. “Thanks man, but that could be a headache, he’s–” Trevor stopped talking, suddenly remembering that Shane was in the galley and could hear every word he said.
“Kind of an asshole, as well as homophobic?” Joel offered, pausing for a moment before adding, “Hey, I’ve got the perfect place: Bridget’s guesthouse. I’m sure she’d say yes, nobody would know to look for you there, and you wouldn’t have to put up with my brother.”
“That’d work, thanks... I’ll talk to Gonzalez when the cell phone gets here, and let you know right away if I’ll be heading home. I’d love to come home to see you and Lisa, but... I just don’t know what to do, and that might make a mess of your trip here. Maybe we could both come back together, if I have to be there soon.”
“I know this must be eating at you, sorry to lay it on you like this, bro. There’s a lot more, but it’ll keep until you can talk longer. Are you doing okay?” Joel asked, getting up to pad across the room in his boxers, heading for his desk, where he dug Gonzalez’s card from his wallet.
“Yeah, I’m doing great now; I’ll tell you all about it when my cell gets here. I’m really looking forward to seeing you, whether it’s here, or in Florida... Say ‘hi’ to Lisa for me, and I’ll call you both when I get the phone.” Trevor said.
Joel read off Gonzalez’s cell number for Trevor, and then added, “I can’t wait to see you, no matter where. Take care, bro, and I’ll talk at you soon.”
“Thanks... you’re the best brother I’ve ever had,” Trevor replied.
Joel sat down at his desk, laughing. “Yeah, seeing as how I’m the only one. Bye, Trev.” With the call over, Joel fired up his computer, and spent the next half hour looking at Shark Bay on Google Earth, exploring its many waterways trying to imagine what Trevor was seeing, and hoping that he was safe and having a good time. It was only then that he realized he’d forgotten to tell Trevor that most of the pirates were dead, and made a mental note to be sure to do so next time.
When he was done with Google Earth, Joel was about to shut his computer down, but he stopped, and opened a document instead. Bathed in the glow of the computer screen, Joel began reviewing the notes he’d worked up with Lisa, which began with their plan to manipulate the private investigator when they met with him on Friday. The notes went on to sketch out some ideas they’d had for how to proceed with their own investigation into who was really behind the bombing in the Suez Canal, and why Officer Gonzalez seemed so chummy with the private investigator, Henry Wesson.
Trevor returned the phone, along with the scrap of paper he’d scrawled Gonzalez’s number on, to the nav desk drawer, setting them beside an air horn: a can of compressed air with a horn on top. He was just closing the drawer when Shane returned from the galley.
“I heard some of what you said... you have to fly home?” Shane asked, frowning.
“I don’t know... The cops will probably want me to, but last time I talked to them, back in the Seychelles, they also wanted me to go to Egypt to be interviewed about the bombing. Somebody tried to blow Atlantis and me to bits there. No way in hell will I go back to Egypt, and I don’t give a fuck what the cops say about it. So, I took off early from the Seychelles when they told me that. I’ll call that cop in a couple of days and see what he says, but for now, I just want to forget about that mess,” Trevor said, his mind awhirl.
“If you need to talk, I’m here, but I’ll leave it to you,” Shane said, with a sad smile.
“Thanks Shane... All that’s really new is something that might clear my dad; it looks like the bomb couldn’t have been planted in Italy, and would have had to have been done after Mykonos, Greece. Oh, and a couple of pirates turned up in the Seychelles with some of my stuff, which somehow ended up with the cop telling Lisa and Joel I was dead. Other than that, there’s not much to say that you don’t already know, not until I talk with the cop. I’ll probably need an ear to bend after that, though.”
“I’ve got one and a spare,” Shane replied with a grin.
“What should I take ashore? All I have for ID is my passport, will I need it?” Trevor asked, eager to change the subject to more pleasant things and not have to think about home, or pirates, anymore. Even during the call with Joel, Trevor had uncharacteristically avoided asking about his belongings recovered in the Seychelles, or the pirates. It was his mind’s subconscious defense against the trauma he’d endured, and still relived almost nightly.
“No need, they won’t be asking for ID, and you won’t need money. You’ll be fine in boardies and shoes, no need to take stuff in your pockets, it’d only get wet. We’ll be in the sun a lot so sunscreen’s a must,” Shane warned.
Trevor watched as Shane, in shoes and faded boardshorts, retrieved a bottle of sunscreen from behind the salon bar and began applying to his chest, a sight Trevor found very distracting.
“Tomorrow, we’ll make the run around the peninsula to Denham, the only real town in the region. It’s a lot smaller than Carnarvon, but it has a grocery store. Mr. Blake told me to find out what you like to eat,” Shane said, handing the sunscreen to Trevor.
Trevor began applying the lotion to his shoulders and chest before replying, “Food.”
Shane rolled his eyes. “I sort of figured that, mate. I was thinking a little more specific.”
Trevor smirked. “Food that isn’t canned hot dogs.”
“Fat lot of help you are,” Shane said, chuckling. “We’ll be going there together anyway, so just try to think up some ideas. Remember, I can cook pretty much anything you can think of – if it’s not something I already know, there are a few cookbooks aboard – so just come up with some ideas. In the meantime, make yourself useful for once and get my back,” Shane said, turning away from Trevor.
Trevor glanced at the bottle of sunscreen in his hand, and then at Shane’s waiting back, and smiled. Cautiously at first, but then becoming more at ease, he applied the lotion with swirling motions, very much enjoying the feel of Shane’s warm, smooth skin and the muscles beneath. As he reluctantly finished up, he turned quickly away towards the bar, compelled by an urgent need to hide a problem that was starting to come up.
“You need to give me this,” Shane said, laughing and snatching the sunscreen out of Trevor’s hand, “before I can do your back, you ignorant Yank!”
Trevor laughed, and leaned against the bar as Shane began working the lotion into his back, enjoying the feel, but struggling to will his problem to subside. “Ignorant Yank, huh? Should I quote you to your boss, so he knows how his banana bender crew is abusing the customers?” Trevor said, looking back over his shoulder with a smirk.
Shane gave Trevor’s back a hard slap. “Blackmailing bastard! Now I know what to buy at the market: gruel, by the bucketful!”
“More quotes for me to remember,” Trevor quipped, smiling as he remembered threatening to feed Joel gruel in the Mediterranean.
Shane finished applying the lotion, and jabbed a finger into Trevor’s back. “The Southern Cross I drew on you is almost gone, but still noticeable if you look. I’m tempted to redo it, but it’d be better if it’s gone when we get back to Carnarvon, in case you go into town and the reporters are still about. You’ll need a new hair color too; this brown dye job I did has got to go, but it’s too soon for you to risk going back to blond. I’m thinking either purple or blue, to keep you inconspicuous.”
Trevor laughed, making no move to step away from the bar. “Yeah, those colors are real subtle, I’d never be noticed.”
Trevor’s problem subsided just in time, and he walked into the cockpit while Shane locked up. With that done, they motored off in the Zodiac for the short run to the pier.
First, they – along with over a dozen other tourists – lined up on the beach, knee deep in the warm water, for the morning dolphin encounter. The dolphins, which were used to the routine, showed up right away, circling offshore, and then coming up to the beach for treats – fish – from the resort staff. As the feeding progressed, the dolphins came right up to the tourists, even bumping a few in the leg. It was a daily event at Monkey Mia, and free for the visitors.
Next came their eagerly awaited parasailing.
Shane paid at a small stand at the beach, and they were led onto the sand and a few hundred yards up the beach to the waiting gear.
It didn’t take long to get them into their harnesses and lifejackets, and then strapped side-by-side into the tandem parasail – essentially a large parachute that would be raised into the air by towing.
The attendant was fast and professional; he checked the gear, then the windsock, before signaling the waiting towboat with a walkie-talkie. Then he led Trevor and Shane to the parasail, and after hooking them in and making sure the parasail was properly spread out behind them, gave them a brief set of instructions, concluding with, “The heavy line goes out to the towboat. When it starts off, use your legs to keep upright but let the towline do the work of pulling you along; try to hold back against it a little. You should be airborne after a few steps. If you need to come down early for some reason, cross your arms above your head. When it’s time to land, they’ll try to set you down in waist deep water, just off the beach. Okay, ready?” he asked, as he attached the well-worn towline.
Trevor and Shane nodded eagerly, so the attendant grabbed one side of the sail, an assistant picked up the other, and with the raise of an arm, the attendant signaled the powerboat to make its launch run. The towboat – a large powerboat – motored out from its offshore mooring, slowly heading into the wind, taking up the slack in the three hundred foot towline.
As soon as the line was taut, the attendant said, “Okay, you’re off!” and with another wave, signaled the towboat to make the launch run.
Trevor heard the sound of the boat’s engines, and saw the plume of whitewater at its stern, while feeling the line start to pull.
Trevor and Shane took a step forward as the attendant and his assistant lifted the parasail’s edge up to catch the air. The big parasail billowed out as Trevor and Shane took another few steps forward, and then with a ruffle and a slight thud, the parasail filled fully, catching the wind and yanking them off their feet, sending them skyward in an exhilarating rush.
“Holy shit!” Shane gasped, clutching at the harness risers as they sailed out over the water, ascending into the clear sky.
“Don’t tell me you’re a nervous flyer,” Trevor said, laughing and feeling the thrill of the ride, as they soared past one hundred feet and the view of Shark Bay spread out before them.
“I don’t know, I’ve never flown before, in anything,” Shane replied, still clutching at the harness risers. The harnesses they wore included small flexible seats, very much like a child’s swing, and though Shane found it comforting to hold onto the risers, his grip was so hard that his knuckles were turning white.
“You’ve never been on an airliner?” Trevor exclaimed in surprise, toying with the idea of making Shane nervous, but then he began to realize that Shane was scared. “Relax, kick back, and enjoy the view. We’re safe; even if the towline breaks, we’re under a parachute,” Trevor said.
“The things I get myself into,” Shane mumbled, looking down past his feet at the water, now nearly two hundred feet below, but looking much further.
“Don’t look down, look around; it’s a kick-ass view!” Trevor replied, pointing at the horizon, trying to put Shane at ease.
Shane looked forward, seeing the flat expanse of Faure Island ahead, and around it, the shallow, light blue waters of the Faure Sill. Relaxing a little, he said, “It sure looks different from up here.”
The towboat began a slow turn to the left, angling downwind, which increased the parasail’s groundspeed. The boat settled in on a course of northeast, paralleling the coast north of Monkey Mia, on their usual run for the forty-minute ride.
Shane was on Trevor’s left, which put Shane on the coastward side. His breathing slowly became more even, and finally, he relaxed enough to let go of the harness with his left hand and point to the shore. “That’s the Peron Peninsula. We need to go around that tomorrow; Denham is on the far side.”
Trevor already knew that due to looking at the nav displays on Kookaburra, but he was glad that Shane seemed to be calming down. “Man, this is fun! You gotta admit, the view is great.”
“I’ve been up a few tall buildings, and this is kinda like that... just without the building,” Shane said, glancing down past his feet and then quickly looking at the horizon again.
Trevor looked ahead, at the changing colors of the water they were approaching: an area where shallow shoals gave way to deep channels. He spotted a shape in the water ahead, near the towboat’s track and swimming quickly away from the boat. “Hey, that’s a big one! Looks like it’s a twenty footer, easy,” he said, as they grew closer.
Shane looked down at the great white shark swimming just below the water’s surface. “Looks like a white pointer. Pretty much has to be, to be that size and shape,” Shane said, as his feet obscured the view of the shark and he quickly returned his eyes to the horizon.
“I see three more,” Trevor said, pointing, and then added, “And a few smaller sharks on the edge of the shallows.”
“It’s called Shark Bay for a reason, mate,” Shane said, chuckling as he returned to his usual demeanor. “Shark Bay has the greatest numbers and variety of sharks on the planet, in all shapes and sizes. I’ve even seen sharks here that are around thirteen meters.”
Trevor blinked as he did the math in his head, and then he got it. “That’s about forty feet, so it has to be a whale shark. I’ve never seen one.”
“If we spot a whale shark on this trip, we can break out the snorkeling gear and have a swim with it. I’ve done that once, on our last charter, and it was a blast,” Shane said, looking down at yet another great white shark.
“Cool!” Trevor declared, hoping that they’d get the chance. It was a natural reaction: as both guys knew that whale sharks – though the largest sharks on earth – ate only plankton and were safe to be around.
Shane glanced down at an even larger great white. “We learn a lot about sharks in surf lifesaving. The white pointer has a bad rep, but the bull shark is probably responsible for more attacks, and even takes to fresh water. One even attacked a racehorse in the Brisbane River back in Queensland not too long before I left. Still, people make too much of sharks; most only attack in cases of mistaken identity, which is why we get so many attacks in the cloudy waters of the surf line.”
“Yeah, but I’d still rather not be dropped in with that bunch,” Trevor said, pointing to a massive school of hammerhead sharks to their right, which he guessed numbered close to a hundred, and had many sharks exceeding fifteen feet in length.
“Sharks are beautiful creatures,” Shane said quietly, looking past Trevor at the school of hammerheads.
Trevor agreed, but what he thought was even better was the way Shane pronounced ‘sharks’, with barely a hint of the ‘r’ and drawing out the ‘a’.
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Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice. Any remaining errors are mine alone.