As dusk approached, Shane began carrying supplies to the beach. They’d anchored Kookaburra close inshore, barely grounded, and the receding tide had left her partially beached, in just three feet of water. That made getting ashore a simple matter of wading.
Both guys were still wearing just their blue running shorts, so Trevor had to concentrate to avoid getting distracted. He managed to avoid dropping anything as they carried the gear ashore.
Once ashore, they soon scrounged up enough dead branches for firewood and built a small rock-lined fire circle at the edge of the sand, with a battery-powered lantern ready nearby. Shane dug in the supply bag for the barbecue lighter – a butane lighter with a long tube at the end, part of Kookaburra’s beach cookout kit – and with the help of some scraps of paper and dry grass, lit the campfire. “Much easier than what you did with your gun on that floating log,” he quipped.
“I’d have used a lighter if I had one,” Trevor replied with a laugh, and then frowned. “I hope I get my gun back. It’s a good one, chrome-plated.” Trevor had already told Shane of his gun being found and confiscated.
Shane scowled. “It was a bit pushy of the customs blokes to go fossicking around in your boat like that, if you ask me... but they did you a good turn by not throwing you in jail. If they said you’ll be getting it back, you probably will... Okay, the fire should be ready soon and it’s getting dark, so we’ll need mosquito repellant and the esky. It’s not legal to leave a fire unattended, so could you make a run to Kookaburra? The mosquito stuff is in a bag next to the esky, you can’t miss it. I’ll scout up some extra firewood, in case we need it.”
Trevor remembered that ‘fossicking’ and ‘esky’ meant ‘searching’ and ‘ice chest’ in Australian, so he nodded, turning to wade out towards Kookaburra. Shane watched him go, and as soon as Trevor entered the salon, Shane grabbed a bag from the bundle of cooking supplies and sprinted inland.
When Trevor returned, Shane met him at the water’s edge and helped with the cooler. They applied mosquito spray, and as an added defense, Shane lit two mosquito-repellant coils, which Trevor thought smelled like citrus incense.
As the last glimmers of sunset faded to blackness, Shane stoked the fire and then sat back, waiting for it to die down a bit. Trevor grabbed a couple of cold beers from the cooler, opening both and handing one to Shane.
They sat on a log, side by side, a few yards back from the fire, listening to its muted crackling and enjoying their beers in the night air.
A few high clouds blocked out large sections of the sky, making the darkness beyond their campfire inky.
Shane retrieved the bottle of rum, taking a small sip of it and then passing it to Trevor, who managed not to flinch as the amber liquid burned his throat.
When the campfire was ready, Shane put the steaks on an iron grid, which he set across the rocks over the low flames and glowing embers. He opened the can of beans, leaving the lid loose on top, and with the aid of a stick, made a nest for it in the glowing embers. “Ever had steaks done over a fire before?” he asked, sitting back to let them begin to cook.
Trevor took another drink of beer before replying, “Yeah, we did that on charters sometimes, and they’re awesome. They were marinated for a few hours before – like you did these – but I think you did it differently. These smell even better than I remember...”
Shane used tongs to adjust the grid before replying, “Let me guess; Julie cooked?”
Trevor nodded and laughed. “Yeah, she used Italian dressing as a marinade, I think... but I took care of getting everything set up on the beach, including the fire.”
Shane nodded proudly at the steaks. “These were done with steak rub and soy sauce first, then some Tabasco and Vegemite. How do you like yours? I take mine well done.”
“Same here,” Trevor replied, licking his lips, enjoying the smell, and his buzz from the mix of rum and beer on an empty stomach.
“I knew it must have been Julie that did the cooking, otherwise you’d have starved to death,” Shane quipped.
“I did manage to feed myself all the way from Florida to here,” he shot back, knowing full well it wasn’t really true.
So did Shane. “I find that impossible to believe, mate. Oh, I know you managed to open tins and eat stuff cold as you crossed the Indian Ocean, but that’s not cooking.”
“Hey, I did grill some hot dogs on a stick when I built the fire on the log I hit.”
Shane nodded somberly. “I’ll give you that... one meal. I’ll also give you high props for figuring out how to make a campfire hundreds of kilometers from land. So, tell me what you ate between the Suez and the Seychelles,” Shane asked, with a knowing smirk.
Trevor shrugged. “Soups, canned stuff, sandwiches, and homemade lasagna. See? I’m not useless in the galley.”
Shane snorted. “I think you’re probably capable of opening a can of soup and heating it up, but... you’re either a liar, or somebody else made the lasagna. Which is it?”
“Joel made the lasagna and froze it in chunks so I could zap it... he’s a great cook,” Trevor admitted.
“He didn’t want you to starve, then?” Shane quipped.
Trevor laughed and shook his head. “Yeah, that’s exactly what he said.” Trevor gave Shane a thoughtful look and added, “You two are going to get along great; you’re a lot alike.”
“That’s if you’re still here so he can come,” Shane said, a little sourly, but then he brightened. “You’ll love Rhys Lagoon. It’s my favorite place in all of Shark Bay. We can use it as a base and go off exploring in the Zodiac and on foot.”
“I’m having a blast being here,” Trevor replied, taking another drink of beer.
Shane took care of flipping the steaks. They chatted, bantering back and forth next to the campfire, while the steaks cooked. When he judged them ready, Shane served up dinner, and as he’d promised, it was delicious, a fact Trevor proclaimed more than once.
After dinner, Trevor took the dishes and cooking utensils back to Kookaburra and then returned to the campfire, to share a few more rum shots and beers with Shane.
The campfire, now little more than embers, cast a faint glow as Shane listened to the night. He elbowed Trevor, chuckling. “You’ve got a pretty good buzz going... I sure do. I’m not used to liquor.” Shane did have a slight buzz, though he’d been very careful to drink less than Trevor had.
“Yeah, I’m feeling good,” Trevor replied, gazing off into the darkness, listening to the unfamiliar sounds of the Australian night. One sound in particular, from fairly close by, caught his attention: a muffled chuff, and then a tut-tut-tut, followed by an almost identical response from a few yards further away. “What’s that?” he asked.
“Just a bird; we’ve tons of them about, all sorts,” Shane replied, hurriedly reaching for paper in the side of the gear bag as he kept talking, “Lots of stuff here is more active at night, so the night is noisier than the daytime. Hey, speaking of... take a look at this: it was one of my first tries at writing non-fiction,” he said, handing Trevor the piece of paper.
“I can’t read in the dark,” Trevor pointed out, snickering.
Shane picked up the lantern, which had a spotlight at one end and a fluorescent tube on the side. Turning on the fluorescent tube – which cast a soft, diffuse light – he held it over Trevor’s head and aimed at his lap, so that Trevor could read. “See what you think... it’s about what happened to a town about two hundred clicks north of here.
Trevor nodded, took another swig of rum and a drink of beer, and felt Shane’s arm, which was holding the lantern, resting on his shoulder, a very distracting sensation in Trevor’s drunken state.
Forcing himself to focus, Trevor began to read,
The Night of the Mob
By Shane Rhys
They move by night; a glimmer in the dark, a shimmer in the pale moonlight the only signs of their passing. Questing forth for their hapless victims, spurred ever onward by their insatiable appetite, they pause only to listen, and look.
The outback holds terrors all its own, unlike any other.
Massive, powerful, ancient creatures, so long the bane of these desolate lands. Their deadly scimitar claws, glistening in the moonlight, bespoke their power. Nature’s perfect killing machines; they have no enemies, save for others of their kind.
Moving by echelon, the group, over ninety strong, a mob of death on the fold, stalked through the low, arid hills, fearing nothing.
Intent on their hunt, they pressed on, their large ears sweeping the night. A large male, even bigger and more ferocious than the rest, led them. At the crest of a low rise, he paused, scanning the night, scouting the way ahead.
Below, in the shadows, the big male could see the small, unsuspecting town of Cossack. With a twitch of his ears, he focused his attention on it, moving forward, his mob following in obedience to their leader.
Cossack was remote, far from any possible help. It was on its own, facing the onslaught. Any cry for help would go unheeded – and it was already far too late.
They were the largest of Australia’s entire lethal array of land animals: the Red Kangaroo. Red, the colour of blood... Ever ravenous, they sensed food, and with that, the town’s fate was sealed.
With great powerful bounds they tore though the night, shaking the very earth beneath their feet, heading for the defenceless, unprepared town.
The mob... onwards it came, thundering through the darkness, descending on the hapless, innocent settlement...
At long last, after a night of untold horror, dawn came, revealing a dead and ruined town; shattered buildings, lifeless streets, windows gaping empty upon the desolation like a myriad of eye sockets in a graveyard of dusty grey skulls. But still the killing went on, as the mob converged on the ruined centre of town.
When at last the mob was done, there was no human life remaining in the hapless town. Cossack was dead.
By morning, the mob – its appetite temporarily sated – moved on in its relentless pursuit of new prey, leaving in its wake only ruins – and ghosts.
As Trevor reached the end of the story, he felt goosebumps on his arms in spite of the sultry night air. “Spooky, really spooky, and you write great, but... Kangaroos don’t wipe out whole towns, and you said this is non-fiction?” Trevor asked, slurring a little.
The sounds of the night changed slightly, some growing closer, prompting Shane to reply quickly as he clicked off the lantern, “It’s non-fiction, and it’s all true. You’re thinking of normal kangaroos – like the eastern grey – which are smaller and a lot more mellow. Those are the ones the tourists see. But what hit Cossack was red kangaroos. They’re the biggest there are, and when they come, it’s not just one; they travel in mobs, sometimes of a hundred or more. One way to think of it... you’ve got bears back in Yankeeland, right? Black bears, which are small and not too dangerous–”
“We have those in Florida and all across America... they do kill people, but not very often – maybe a few a year,” Trevor said, slurring his words slightly.
Shane listened for a moment, and then continued, “Then think of the eastern grey roos as being like your black bears, so that makes the red kangaroos like your grizzlies... except grizzlies don’t travel in huge packs of a hundred ferocious bears, do they?”
Trevor shook his head, drunkenly wondering if Shane was winding him up. A sudden snap of a twig in the darkness made Trevor jump.
“Just the wind,” Shane said in a cheery, quiet voice, which faded away into the motionless night air. Then, in a whisper, he added, “Something like what happened to Cossack isn’t common, and that was long ago, but the red roos are not to be taken lightly. They’re mainly only in the outback so they don’t kill many people in an average year, but when you’re in red roo country, it’s best to be very wary... sort of like being around lots of grizzly bears, I guess.”
Trevor shuddered, his mind flashing back to news stories he’d seen, about grizzlies pulling campers from their tents and eating them. He took another long drink of beer and asked, “I thought kangaroos are vegetarians?”
Shane gave Trevor a friendly pat on the back. “Our tourist board does like to push that image... but grizzly bears are mostly vegetarian too, right?”
“Uh, yeah, omi- omi something; they eat berries and leaves and stuff,” Trevor replied, unable, in his drunken state, to remember the word ‘omnivores’.
“So do red kangaroos,” Shane said, huddling closer to Trevor in the darkness.
For a few long moments, they sat, side by side, with Trevor looking at the faint glowing embers, which were all that remained of their campfire.
Shane put the story away and whispered, “I love the sounds of the night, listening and trying to figure out the noises. The birds here even make calls at night, and some of them are really strange.” They fell silent, Trevor now focusing not on the alien sounds of the Australian night, but on the sensation of his shoulder against Shane’s, and how Shane was so close when he leaned in to whisper that Trevor could feel his warm breath.
A few distant birdcalls sounded, almost drowned out by the chirping crickets and the buzz of tree frogs.
Trevor took another drink of beer, trying to shake off his intense distraction. “It’s... strange here. Some of the sounds are similar to back home, but others aren’t.”
Shane was silent for a moment, and then replied very quietly, “Yeah, same for me... this is different from Queensland. Back in Cairns, we didn’t have to worry about red roos, just saltwater crocs and the like. No salties here though, they’re not in this region.”
Then, a tut-tut-tut came from close by, followed by a grunt, and what could have almost been a sigh.
“Do your birds grunt?” Trevor asked, in a very quiet whisper.
“I guess they must,” Shane replied, just as softly, while jostling Trevor slightly with his shoulder.
Trevor, still heavily buzzed and now concerned, listened intently, hearing the tut-tuts from all around, some close, some much further away. Then came a sound which made his blood turn to ice: a grating, rhythmic, crunching noise. It wasn’t loud, but it was close.
“That’s something chewing, something big,” Trevor said, in a barely audible but urgent whisper.
“I think it’s just a bird...” Shane replied, as the noises around them grew louder.
After a few seconds of silence, Trevor heard a single deep thud, and then another tut-tut. “That’s no bird! It’s gotta be huge!” Trevor whispered.
“Uh, yeah... I... this probably isn’t a good time to tell you this, but we’re in red kangaroo country.”
Trevor again suspected a wind up, and that Shane was somehow the source of the noises. He turned to look at Shane, whose face was visible in the faint glow of the fire’s embers, when the chewing sound returned, close by, only to be joined be several others in different directions. It wasn’t Shane.
Shane put a steadying hand on Trevor’s shoulder and whispered. “No worries mate, let’s have a look. It’s probably just the night playing with our heads.”
Shane picked up the lantern, held it high, and clicked fluorescent light, sweeping it rapidly around, revealing that they were not alone. Several massive shapes moved at the edge of the darkness as a few heads rose high, turning to look, and Trevor saw a half-dozen sets of glowing eyes, the nearest just twenty yards away.
“Shit!” Shane hissed, clicking off the light. “Did you see ‘em?”
Trevor tensed in the darkness. “Yeah, there’s a lot, all around us. They’re huge!” Some of them stood over six feet tall and weighed nearly three hundred pounds, but the lighting had made them look even bigger to Trevor, who thought they were closer to nine feet tall.
“They’ve got us surrounded,” Shane whispered, in a panicky tone. “They’re red roos, sure as hell. Nothing else is that fucking big!”
Trevor swayed a little, the alcohol impairing his thoughts and reactions. “What do we do? Make a run for it?” he asked, his hands reaching out, questing in the dark for a stick or a rock, trying to find some means of defense.
“No man alive can outrun a kangaroo,” Shane whispered, paused a few moments for effect, and then added, “They’re getting closer. I daren’t use the light again. If I do, they’ll find us for sure.”
Trevor found a branch – a small one, that had been part of their firewood but hadn’t made it into the fire – and stuck it into the glowing embers. “The fuckers can’t like fire,” he said, breathing hard as the adrenalin battled the alcohol in his system. “Find another branch so we’ll have burning clubs... and gimme that lighter; I’ll toss it in the fire just before we run: it should make a big flash and a bang... toss the supply bags in too, anything that’ll burn, hurry!” Trevor hissed, frantically fumbling in the dark.
Shane heard Trevor’s hard breathing, and when Trevor’s shoulder touched his own, he felt Trevor shuddering. Shane suddenly remembered the traumas Trevor had so recently endured, and decided instantly that the prank had gone too far. He put his hand gently on Trevor’s shoulder, knowing that the touch would calm him, and in a quiet voice, said, “Relax, Trev, I’ve been winding you up. Roos are pretty much harmless. I got ‘em to come here; I’ve seen this mob plenty of times.”
Shane clicked the light on again, on a brighter setting, and set it down. The kangaroos – over a dozen of them were visible in the light, the nearest just fifteen yards away – looked at the light, their ears flicking. After a few moments, they began ignoring the light, dropping their heads to resume eating, and Trevor heard the chewing sound again. “You got me good, you ass,” he whispered, elbowing Shane in the ribs. “First the story, then this. How the fuck did you pull it off?”
Shane grinned. “Remember the carrots? This is what they’re for – I hate eating the bloody things. Roos love carrots, and I know this mob lives in the area; we see ‘em every time we come here. So, I learnt to scatter carrots about to bring the roos in close for the charter customers. When I sent you off to get the esky, I dashed inland. I hurled carrots as far inland as I could, to get the mob to hang about. Then when you took the dishes back to Kookaburra, I tossed some around in the brush all around our campsite, twenty to thirty meters out, and then chucked a few inland to make a trail to lead ‘em in. I wasn’t sure it would work at night, but it did. I heard ‘em, which is when I got you to read that story.”
“You sneaky fucking asshole... That’s why you kept feeding me rum, too...” Trevor whispered, and then faintly chuckled, trying to keep quiet so as not to spook the kangaroos. “Are these really red kangaroos, or was that more windup?” he asked, mesmerized by the magnificent sight of the large and spectacularly graceful creatures.
“They’re reds, honest. You’ll see that when you see ‘em in daylight. Kind of a rust color is more like it... Oh, and every word in that story you read is true, I swear.”
Trevor watched the kangaroos eating, listening to the crunch of the carrots. Every so often, he heard a soft tut-tut-tut. “I never knew they made sounds... uh, how the hell can that story of yours be true? If they wiped out a whole town, you wouldn’t like being here with ‘em,” Trevor said, watching one of the closest kangaroos as it moved casually forward, using a tripedal gait that utilized its tail as almost a third leg.
“Misdirection, mate, misdirection. It’s a sneaky writer’s trick: let the reader’s own assumptions carry them astray. It’s true that there was no one alive when the roos left Cossack... but what I deliberately didn’t mention was there was no one alive when they got there, either: it’s a ghost town. The prey the roos were after is plants; they’re vegetarians. I don’t know for a fact that a mob ever paid the town a visit, but it’s a near certainty; red roos are all over this region, in enormous numbers.”
“When did you write that?” Trevor asked.
“A few weeks ago as a writing exercise, but when I found out there’s gaps in your knowledge of Australia, I thought of a good way to put it to use: on you,” Shane replied, still whispering.
“So you had me scared that we were about to be eaten by vegetarians? There will be payback, man... count on it... but I gotta admit, this was one hell of a setup, and I’ve always wanted to see kangaroos.”
“You’ll be seeing a lot more of ‘em... They tend to hang around this spot a lot. That’s why I wanted to do the cookout tonight, ‘cause I knew you’d likely see them tomorrow. They like swimming in the lagoon sometimes too; it’s salty enough that the sharks don’t come in that often. We’ve still got some carrots aboard, too. Just don’t try to hand feed or pet ‘em; they’re wild, and can sometimes get aggressive, especially the big males, which are called boomers. They can grapple with you and rip you open with their rear claws. That’s very rare, but it’s best not to risk it. This mob is pretty easygoing and they do like the beach.”
“A beach party with kangaroos. Cool, even if you did scare the hell out of me,” Trevor replied, chuckling softly and jostling Shane in the ribs with his elbow.
Shane gave Trevor a gentle pat on the back. “I’ll make it up to you in the morning; I’m going to set you up with a genuine drover’s breakfast.”
“This is awesome,” Trevor whispered, as he and Shane fell silent, watching the kangaroos together for over an hour before the lantern’s rechargeable battery began to fade and they made their way back to Kookaburra.
The next morning, Shane awoke before Trevor. A few minutes later, at the end of his morning routine, he pulled on a swimsuit and crept into the galley, where he fired up the coffee maker and set a few things out, ready to make breakfast. Trying to avoid making noise near Trevor’s door, he carried a dozen eggs – still in their carton – and a bowl to the salon. There, working almost silently in the light of the breaking dawn, Shane started cracking eggs for an omelet.
Shane had been more cautious than needed regarding noise; Trevor was sleeping deeply, his sleep having been interrupted again by nightmares of pirates and drowning. Still, he was used to waking up early, and padded out an hour later in his running shorts from the day before, to make himself a cup of coffee.
After taking a few gulps of coffee and refilling his mug, Trevor looked around, seeing no sign of Shane. At the forward end of the galley, the door to Shane’s cabin was open, but a glance confirmed that the cabin was empty.
Trevor, his mind still clouded by sleep and a slight hangover, headed up the galley steps to the salon, where he heard a faint clatter from the cockpit and turned to head out the salon door. A few steps before he reached it, he caught sight of Shane, who was crouched down, his head toward Trevor, packing a small tote bag on the cockpit deck. Shane looked up, spotted Trevor, “I’m packing us some stuff for ashore,” he said, standing up and grinning.
Trevor’s half-open eyes opened wide as he got a good look at Shane, and what he was wearing: a slightly faded light blue Speedo. It was the first time Trevor had ever seen Shane in anything less than shorts or a bath towel. Trevor swallowed once, concentrating on closing his mouth and making his face impassive. He kept going, intending to walk out the open salon door. It was not to be.
The salon door, which opened by sliding – the same as the one on Atlantis – had tracks top and bottom, much like a sliding glass door on a house. For Trevor, though he had stepped over such door tracks countless times, his distracted state got the better of him, and he caught it with his foot, just a glancing blow, sending him stumbling into the cockpit, wincing in pain from his stubbed toe. His arms flew out for balance, sending his coffee cup flying in Shane’s general direction before clattering to the deck.
Trevor recovered his footing after two ungainly steps, coming to a stop a few feet from Shane, who looked down at the spilled coffee, and the mug now lying by his foot. Shane looked back up at Trevor, shaking his head sadly. “G’day, Trev. Now I know why the Blakes have plastic coffee mugs; they must have known you were coming.”
Mentally cursing his own clumsiness, Trevor looked down at the deck, at the spilled coffee. “I’m still half asleep, I guess,” Trevor said, his cheeks beginning to burn. He bent down, turning away to massage his stubbed toe.
“I guess,” Shane replied, turning away from Trevor and then rolling his eyes. “I’m getting kinda worried about you; we’ve had a lot of charter guests who’ve never been on a yacht before, but I’ve yet to see anyone trip over that door track, until now. You walked into a tree, tripped over the boom, ate a chunk of beach, and now this. Mate, you had a busted eardrum and the inner ear controls balance, right? That makes me think there’s a reason for your extreme clumsiness. I know you can’t be this way all the time or you’d be all scarred up. Mr. Blake did tell me to call him if you had any problems, so I better give him a ring and arrange for a doctor to have a look at you,” Shane said, turning back to face Trevor.
Trevor looked at Shane and blinked, imagining trying to explain himself to a doctor. “Uh, I’m fine, really. Fire up the saltwater pump and I’ll hose off the cockpit deck so the coffee won’t stain.”
Shane shook his head. “I’ll do it... I think you might fall over and get hurt again. Trev, is there something wrong with you, or are you always this klutzy?” Shane asked, crossing his arms and looking at Trevor, struggling to keep a serious expression on his face.
“I’m fine, I just stumbled,” Trevor replied, his cheeks still flushed, trying to think of some way of changing the subject.
“Once, maybe... but this makes a slew of times in a week. That’s just not normal, mate. I’m worried about your ear... let me have a look. Which one was it?”
Hoping that Shane would satisfy himself and let the subject drop, Trevor walked over to him. “My right,” he said, turning so that side of his head was towards Shane.
Shane moved in close, taking Trevor’s head in his hands and angling it a few degrees in various directions, looking intently from a few inches away. After examining Trevor’s ear for a few seconds, Shane said, “I was right. I see the problem!”
“What?” Trevor asked.
“Daylight, from the other side,” Shane replied, stepping back and snickering.
Trevor relaxed slightly, hoping that the wisecrack meant Shane wasn’t serious about calling Martin Blake. “Just what I need first thing in the morning, one of your windups,” Trevor grumbled, a relieved grin spreading across his face.
Shane laughed, shaking his head. “There’s sure as hell something wrong between your ears,” he quipped, and then turned away before adding in a serious tone, “I still think there’s a problem, so we’ll see how you go. I’ll hold off on telling Mr. Blake – for now. There’s just got to be a reason for your hopeless clumsiness... maybe you just suddenly go all lightheaded for some peculiarreason?” Shane said, snickering as he opened a storage locker and grabbed a bucket.
“Uh, I think I just need breakfast,” Trevor mumbled awkwardly, trying to change the subject.
“But you’ve already had it,” Shane said, turning around to face Trevor, a sight which did nothing to help Trevor’s concentration.
“Huh?” Trevor replied, blinking in surprise.
“I promised you a drover’s breakfast, remember?” Shane asked, the corners of his mouth beginning to twitch. Then he lost the battle and doubled over laughing. Finally, he gasped, “A drover’s breakfast is nothing more than getting up and having a bloody big look around at stuff.”
Trevor shook his head and laughed hard, flipping Shane off. “You got me again.” Trevor said, watching as Shane trotted to the port stern to fill the bucket.
As Shane returned, he snickered. “You don’t know the half of it, do ya, mate?” Shane said, in a happy, offhand tone. “Make yourself useful and move the bag, if you’re presently capable of such a complicated move without endangering yourself.”
Confused and a little rattled, his mind both distracted and racing, Trevor looked away and saw the tote bag on the deck. He moved it to a seat and stepped back as Shane hurled the bucket full of seawater onto the spilled coffee.
“There, that’ll take care of that, let’s eat, and I don’t mean a drover’s breakfast,” Shane said, putting the bucket away and leading the way to the galley. “Mind the stairs,” Shane said, bounding down them. Trevor followed, finding the sight distracting, but taking special care not to fall down the galley stairs.
Shane fired up a burner on the range, and tossed lumps of cheddar cheese into the waiting frying pan. “I’m making cheese omelets,” he declared.
“With no eggs, just cheese?” Trevor asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Watch closely and learn,” Shane replied, focusing on the frying pan as the cheese began to melt.
Trevor leaned against the galley counter a few feet from Shane. Trevor felt a slight pang of guilt, but he wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to watch intently, though his interest had nothing to do with food. With Shane’s attention on the frying pan, Trevor let his eyes roam, seeing Shane from the side, a sight that made his pulse quicken. Shane, tanned and toned, his blond hair tousled, wearing speedos that clung to him, just so, was a visage that Trevor found mesmerizing.
“Asparagus in yours?” Shane asked, startling Trevor, who glanced up at Shane’s face to see him looking back at him.
It took Trevor a moment to reply, “Yeah, sounds great.”
Shane smirked and nodded towards the frying pan. “I know cooking is alien to you, but try to keep up. I’ve just melted the cheese, so now we add the eggs,” Shane said, turning to get the bowl of eggs he’d beaten from the refrigerator. He ladled a fourth of them into the pan, quickly adding some black pepper and a dash of salt. He opened a can of asparagus, placing it next to the frying pan. “Now, we cook it on a medium flame, until the eggs are just about done. Most people put the cheese in the middle, but I think its better this way. You’ll see,” Shane said, smiling proudly.
“I’ve never had an omelet like that before,” Trevor replied, making himself look at the omelet.
“Yet another glaring lack you’re about to have corrected,” Shane replied, using the can’s lid to drain the asparagus before dumping it on a plate and tossing it in the microwave. “It’s better if the asparagus is hot,” he explained, and then glanced warily at the toaster. “I’ve sliced the bread ready, but I should probably handle toasting it, knowing you,” he declared, pulling out a plate of newly-sliced bread.
“Gimme that,” Trevor said, laughing and taking the plate. He started the first rounds of toast, taking care to check the settings on toaster, knowing that Shane would never let him live it down if he goofed.
Shane laid a few spears of steaming asparagus together in the middle of the pan. “Watch carefully,” he said, as he sprinkled the asparagus with pepper sauce and, with a deft flick of the spatula, folded the omelet over. “Get a plate, this one’s yours, I’ll make mine next,” he said, and then glanced warily at the toaster.
Trevor, standing at the counter, took his first bite of omelet, and instantly pronounced it delicious. The cheese on the outside, grilled golden brown, had a lightly crunchy surface, and Trevor nodded in eager approval. “This is awesome. You might not be good for much, but you’re a hell of a cook,” Trevor quipped.
“Thanks, ya clumsy bastard. You made the toast and it looks edible. I’m not the bigoted sort, so I’ll admit it; for you, that’s impressive. I didn’t think you could do it without some helpful prodding,” Shane replied, arching an eyebrow in Trevor’s direction.
Trevor was spreading vegemite on his toast and paused to look at the roughly even slice. “Hey, I’m not that bad. I’ve made hamburgers before, and I’ve even cooked steaks on Atlantis’s barbecue.”
“Were they edible?” Shane asked, arching an eyebrow.
“The hamburgers were pretty good, and the steaks weren’t bad,” Trevor replied, knowing full well that Shane wouldn’t let him get away with it.
“Which means the steaks were inedible,” Shane quipped, shaking his head sadly. “At least you admit to that much. A menace on the high seas, that’s what you are.”
The playful bantering went on all through breakfast. When they were done, Shane stood up and stretched, which gave Trevor a spectacular view. Smiling, Shane said offhandedly, “Today, I aim to find out if you can actually swim. You said you wanted to do some workouts, so we can do some races as well. After that, the beach; I packed some things in the tote bag; it’s time you learnt to play beach flags; a lifesaver’s game and training exercise.”
Trevor collected his thoughts enough to reply by nodding approvingly. “Sounds good, and you’re right, I do want a workout...”
“So go get your togs on and let’s race, you lazy soft sod,” Shane said, glancing pointedly at Trevor’s boardshorts and snickering.
“Prepare to eat my wake,” Trevor shot back, getting up and heading for his cabin.
As soon as he closed the door, Trevor chewed on his lip as he opened a drawer and pulled out one of his racing suits. ‘Wearing speedos around Shane is not a good idea,’ Trevor thought, as he kicked off his running shorts and pulled the speedos on. He took several deep breaths, trying to clear his head. ‘If I get even slightly hard, it’s visible as hell,’ Trevor fretted. ‘Guys get hard for no reason. I’ve seen it happen a ton of times on the swim team. We usually just ignore it... but Shane would give me hell and even if he’s only kidding around, he’d probably ask a question I’m not ready to answer – and sure as hell not if it happened like that. Even if he’s okay with me being into guys, admitting it while standing there half hard in speedos is a recipe for disaster.’
Trevor checked himself in the mirror and then reached for the door handle, but he hesitated. ‘He’s never said anything homophobic. Maybe he’ll be cool about it now that he knows me. He’ll find out sooner or later anyway, and he’d probably be worse about it because I didn’t tell him.’ Trevor took a long, slow breath, making up his mind. ‘I’ve got to tell Shane. I’ll sound him out, then unless he’d a rabid bigot or something, I’ll tell him, and I’ll do it today,’ Trevor resolved, his jaw clenching in determination.
Trevor touched the door handle, hesitating again. He was relieved that his decision was made, but that didn’t solve his immediate problem. He glanced down at his speedos, wondering how he’d get through the day with an almost-naked Shane without getting even partially hard. In a bitter flash of realization, he knew. ‘Pirates... I’ll have to think of the pirates if I start to get turned on,’ Trevor thought, wincing in anticipation of reliving that horror by day – as he was almost every night – unaware of what that could do to him.
His mind made up, Trevor opened the door.
Walking along an endless ribbon of sand, watching the few other beachgoers at play, Joel and Lisa were enjoying their walk together. It was a beach they visited often, on the barrier islands offshore of Ft. Pierce. They’d just come from a tennis match with Bridget, and it was the perfect spot for a long, intimate stroll, just enjoying one another’s company in the Florida sun.
Something had been bothering Lisa. She wasn’t sure what, and had tried to put it out of her mind.
In that relaxing moment, she finally understood. “Bridget has been so good to us, and we’ll be away for the holidays. I wanted to get her something, but what do you buy for someone who’s rich? I think I just got it... she’s into charities and stuff, so we could help her raise some money,” Lisa said, beaming with anticipation and putting her arms around Joel’s bare torso.
Joel grinned, angling his head a little to give Lisa a questioning look. “Okay, but how do we do that?”
Lisa’s grinned proudly. “Oh, that’s easy. Do you think we’re the only ones at school who’d love to see Trev’s car smashed to bits? What about all the people you and I know? Most of them know Trev, and so does the entire swim team, most of the water polo and track teams... and if they know Trev, they know his horrible car!”
“Perfect!” Joel whooped, swinging Lisa around. “Yeah, a lot would pay for that, especially for a good cause... Trev’s car is kinda notorious. That’s brilliant! Let’s ask around at school to be sure, then we can surprise Bridget with the good news; lots of extra people for her charity event. She’ll love it!”
Lisa hugged Joel, holding him tight. “We know roughly when it is – between Christmas and New Year’s. We also know it’s somewhere in the Orlando area. We don’t know how much they charge to swing the sledgehammer or if there’s a smaller fee for just watching, but we can find that out later. We won’t be here, but we can arrange carpools and stuff, get a bunch of people amped up to go... I can’t wait to see Bridget’s face when we tell her,” Lisa gushed, thrilled with her idea.
They continued their walk, happy with their plan. A few minutes later, Joel looked out across the water, his mood becoming more serious. “We’ve got a ton of stuff to do before we go. We’ve got to work on the case, meet with Trev’s dad, and see what we can take from the chandlery. We’ll have to be super careful; our parents – especially your father – would flip if they find out we’re trying to meet with Mr. Carlson. Then we have finals the last week before we go, so we won’t have a lot of time then. Another thing we have to do is call that professor on Monday, to see if he knows yet exactly when he needs Atlantis for the sonar search. From the sound if it, Atlantis will be in the boatyard for a while and then Trev still has to get back here. The last time frame we heard for the sonar search is March or April, but he was still unsure, and now the timing might make a big difference.”
“Yeah, that’s a problem. Could Trev fly home and use his insurance to rent a similar boat?” Lisa asked.
Joel shook his head. “Nope... Trev put me on his insurance policy, so I called and checked when I got home yesterday after I realized there might be a problem: he accepted that one in Australia as the rental-replacement, which means they don’t have to let him have one elsewhere, so they won’t.”
“Why not? What difference does it make where the boat is?” Lisa asked.
Joel shrugged. “I guess it’s that they can get out of a rental fee, so they do. But it’s too late now; he closed out that option when he signed for that Australian boat. I’ll bet he doesn’t know it, either.”
“Could we rent him one, or rent it for us? You can drive Atlantis just fine, so what about a rental boat?” Lisa asked.
Joel chuckled and shook his head. “We’d need somebody over eighteen to sign for it.”
“I’ll bet Bridget would... and hey, after December 17th, Trev can too; those emancipation papers mean he’ll be legally an adult,” Lisa said.
Joel nodded. “Good thinking... but we’re still screwed; that professor needed Atlantis because she’s a catamaran – she rides smooth and level, with plenty of deck space – and has unusually powerful engines for a cruising cat. A big catamaran powerboat would work too, but one of those, or one like Atlantis if we can find one with big engines, would cost a ton to rent. For a two-week search... ten thousand a week, at least. Where could we get that kind of cash? The best hope is that the professor will wait until Trev brings Atlantis home.”
Lisa brightened slightly. “Maybe he’ll be willing to wait just a bit. How long would it take Trev to get back here, once Atlantis is ready?”
Joel sighed, looking at the sea. “I don’t know that stuff too well, but I can guess. He’s past the halfway point, so he’d keep going. There’s only two ways home: cross the Pacific and go through the Panama Canal, or go around Cape Horn at the tip of South America then up the Atlantic. The Cape Horn way is a bit longer but the winds would be better. The problem is those are some really nasty waters all the way to Cape Horn and around it, so Trev would be fucking insane to go that way. That means the Panama Canal, and if he’s lucky on winds and uses the engines a bit when there’s no wind... maybe three months, if he doesn’t stop anywhere.”
Lisa turned to look at Joel, her eyes narrowing and brow creasing. “Cape Horn is faster, but he’d have to be crazy to try it? Joel! We both know that Trev is crazy!”
Joel smiled, nodding his head. “I’m only guessing it’s faster, but to try it, he wouldn’t need to be crazy; he’d have to be totally fucking batshit insane. It’s not just the cape; it’s over seven thousand miles in the Southern Ocean – an ocean that almost killed him a few weeks ago. No way in hell would he even think of doing that.”
Lisa nodded and sighed, taking another step along the beach. Suddenly, her eyes opened wider and she stopped. Turning to look at Joel with a worried look on her face, she asked quietly, “Joel, what if it’s the only way he could get back in time? You know how obsessed he is with finding Ares.”
“Oh, fuck...” Joel muttered, looking out at the placid sea, which now seemed so menacing. Returning his gaze to Lisa, he said in a hushed tone, “I hope he doesn’t ever have to make that choice.”
Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent.
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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.