(Here's a link to google maps,centered on the areas in the chapter, which can be zoomed and moved around, because I know some of you are like me and love to follow along and see the areas on the story.)
Thank you for sticking with this story to the end. It’s been a long run, over a million words, and we’re finally at the end.
I would like to take this opertunity to thank my team; this story is theirs as much as mine.
October 23rd, 2007
The dawn came as with a thunder, a fitting omen for the day.
Seven miles south-southeast of NASA’s Launch Complex 39, Atlantis bobbed in the light chop. The passengers didn’t mind. Not one bit. Their attention was elsewhere: on a structure seven miles to their north, which was a collection of pipes and gantries, topped by a lightning rod and holding a large orange tank astride two white columns. At first glance, it looked like part of an oil refinery. It was, however, something far different: Launchpad 39A.
Watching through his binoculars, Captain Trevor Carlson told his passengers, “The orbiter access arm’s retracting. Won’t be long now; Discovery’s about seven minutes to launch, assuming they don’t scrub.”
Wiping a tear from her eye, Rachel remembered that day in 1997 where her own words, seared in her memory, had been so very similar.
Rachel tuned a portable radio to NASA’s PA channel, which called out the events leading up to the launch. At twenty seconds, they began calling out the countdown, and Rachel smiled at her son as all aboard held their collective breath. For Rachel, though it had occurred over ten years before, the last shuttle launch she’d seen was still a poignant memory – for it had been just days before she’d faked her own death, unleashing a chain of consequences that no one could have envisioned.
The voice on the radio began the final countdown, the announcer’s voice echoing from the speakers on Atlantis, “Eight... seven... We have main engine start....”, and a cloud of white roiled out as the shuttle’s three main engines surged to life. The exhaust clouds raced out, partially obscuring the view, as the countdown on the radio continued, “Three... two... one... zero... SRB ignition and we have liftoff, liftoff of Space Shuttle Discovery. Discovery has cleared the tower...”
Trevor watched the shuttle climbing out, arcing into the sky on twin columns of fire, and, thirty-five seconds later, he heard a gasp as the sound arrived; a great roaring crackle that he could feel as well as hear, like hammer blows in the air, as if the sky itself were being torn asunder. He’d seen many launches but never tired of the spectacle, the pure thrill of it.
Trevor held Atlantis on station, gradually swinging the bows around to starboard, keeping them pointed in the general direction of the ascending shuttle. Several of the passengers gasped as the shuttle’s exhaust plume dimmed, and then, trailing fiery plumes, the two spent solid rocket boosters peeled away. Within seconds, all that could be seen were three rapidly receding dots of blue light: Discovery’s main engines.
“That was bloody awesome,” Shane gasped, astounded by the spectacle of a shuttle launch – the first space shot he’d ever seen.
“Better than a day at Disneyworld?” Trevor asked, with a grin.
Shane pondered the choice for a few moments, before replying, “I don’t know. I think I’ll need a few more of each to make up my mind.”
Trevor swung Atlantis gently around to a heading of south-southeast, grinning at Shane. “We’ll head for Disneyworld again after we see Frank in Orlando next week, and spend a few days there.”
As the shuttle faded from sight, Trevor hauled up the mainsail and began trimming Atlantis for a dog-leg speed run past Cape Canaveral and then southwest to Port Canaveral, just ten miles away.
Joel watched Trevor at the helm, noticing the change in him. The pure joy he’d long evidenced while at the helm was fully back, no longer colored by the tension of the past year – though one change remained: an air of confidence that belied his years. With an easy smile, Joel stared up at Atlantis’s recently installed new sails and rig – they had been the final step of her refit in Ft. Pierce – and grinned. “I’ll bet your insurance company hates your guts and jacked up your rates,” he quipped.
Trevor shrugged. “It took a few legal letters from Jim before they’d cover the damage. They tried to say I caused it by going after Bridget, but Jim pointed out that we were already trapped between the cartel and Dean. There wasn’t anything Jim could do to stop them jacking up the rates though; that was due to having two claims in a year, so the premium went up five percent.”
Mike Gonzalez, beer in hand, raised it in Trevor’s direction. “I think you can afford it, skipper.”
Trevor responded with a proud smile and then a nod towards the salon, where his newly-minted captain’s license had been hung just three days before. “It’s great to be able to work under my own name, and we’ve had no shortage of bookings. Lisa, Joel, Shane, and I are heading out tomorrow on a week-long charter to the Keys.”
Gonzalez laughed. “I know; I oversaw the background checks of your clients. I also know you’re charging nearly ten times the going rate.”
Frank Tittle arched an eyebrow. “He’s just charging what the market will bear; Atlantis and her crew are famous, so they might as well make as much money as they can, while they can. Auctioning the first charters off to the highest bidders was a brilliant idea.”
Gonzalez chuckled. “Your modesty leaves me underwhelmed, but yes, it was a good idea that you had, and to my surprise, it was even legal and ethical. Shocking.”
Frank ignored the good-natured jab, and attended to a bit of business. “Any news on the remains of the cartel, especially in regard to any ongoing threats?”
Gonzalez broke into a broad smile. “We’re growing increasingly confident that it’s over. Hell, yesterday, a half-dozen members of Bridget’s Florida operation turned themselves in, to get away from the Norte Cartel hit teams. My best read is that the last vestiges of the cartel effectively ceased to exist once we got a DNA match for Bridget to that body that washed up last month. We’ve had news from Colombia that the last of the surviving cartel leaders was killed eight days ago – he’d been hiding in a shack.” Gonzalez’s information was slightly incorrect; the cartel had effectively ceased to exist as an entity within hours of the battle off Jamaica. What had been left were fragments, and those had not lasted long. The threat was finally over.
Martin Blake emerged from the salon to bring Rachel a beer, taking a seat beside her. Gonzalez regarded them with a curious smile – he’d met them for the first time a month before. He raised his beer to theirs. “I hope you have a safe trip home and the flight isn’t too brutal. It’s sure a long one, from the sound of it.”
Rachel nodded, giving Gonzalez a warm smile. “Thank you again for making it possible for me to be here.” Rachel’s legal situation had been problematic; though the statute of limitations shielded her from prosecution, she would have been unlikely to be granted entry into the United States had Gonzalez not intervened.
“I needed your testimony on the cartel operation,” Gonzalez said, though that was a slight overstatement. Rachel’s testimony had been a real, though very minor, help in the prosecution of two of Bridget’s Florida operatives – she’d met them while making runs for Bridget shortly before faking her death.
Joel emerged from the salon, beer in hand, with Lisa in tow.
Gonzalez cast a pointed glance at Joel’s beer, and then at Shane’s. “You’re both under twenty-one, so you can’t legally drink in Florida. In other words, finish those and get rid of them before we enter the marina, okay?”
Joel smiled, putting his arm around Lisa as he replied to Gonzalez, “Will do. Uh, any news on Bridget’s guest house?”
“No, you can’t go there; it’s currently owned by Bridget’s estate, and you’d be trespassing.” Gonzalez paused to let that sink in before adding with a smile, “Ask Jim Ainsworth about it, he’s got some news.”
Atlantis, cutting through the azure waters at sixteen knots, began her approach to the Port Canaveral marina, just a few miles north of Cocoa Beach.
Dirk and Jim, who had just arrived from watching the launch at Jim’s home in Cocoa Beach, stood on the dock as Atlantis docked smoothly. Dirk’s susceptibility to motion sickness had precluded their going out on Atlantis to watch the launch.
Dirk smiled, turning to tell Jim, “Trev looks so at home at the helm. He’s changed a lot in the last year and a half. He was a boy when he left… now he’s a man, and acts the part.”
“Does having a grown-up son make you feel old, Dirk?” Jim asked, grinning as he nudged his lover’s shoulder.
Dirk winced as he smiled; the jest had cut closer than he liked to admit. “It’s just been good to see him again – and to get to know Shane. I’ll miss them both when they leave.”
“I will as well,” Jim replied with a nod. “But they’ll only be in Australia a few months and then they’ll fly back. I think it’s a great setup for them, run charters on Kookaburra in the Australian season, then do it here on Atlantis in our season.”
Jim and Dirk made their way aboard to a warm greeting, and soon joined in the festive atmosphere. Jim had news, though he managed to keep it to himself for a while.
Later, as steaks sizzled on the grill for dinner, Jim and Dirk pulled Trevor and Shane aside for a quiet chat. Jim, with a broad grin lighting his face, winked at Shane. “The first bit of good news is about you; your immigration problems are over.” Jim went on to explain that Shane’s arrival in the United States had been under the visa waiver program, limiting him to a ninety-day stay. As Jim had previously explained in detail, Shane had to leave the United States within ninety days of arrival – a time limit which could not be extended – or he’d become an illegal alien, a crime which would render him permanently ineligible for any sort of visa, or even a return visit. “You’re leaving for Australia before your ninety days under the visa waiver program are up, so that avoids the visa-overstay issue. The other issue is that you’re prohibited from working in the U.S. and doing so would be a crime, making you an illegal alien and thus ineligible for any future visa. That makes you going out on charters problematic. That was the first issue we needed to solve, and we’ve done so; as a co-owner of Ocean Star Charters, you’re allowed to participate in the running of the business. That takes care of things until you get back from Australia.” Jim smiled, intentionally leaving Shane hanging.
Trevor grinned. “I remember a conversation we had two weeks ago. That’s the solution, right?”
“Sort of. I was originally thinking of an H1-B non-immigrant work visa, which Ocean Star Charters could apply for as his employer. However, there’s a better way. When you two get to Australia, you’re going to go to a U.S. consulate, where Shane will apply for an EB-1(A) visa. It’s an immigration visa listed as being for aliens of extraordinary abilities in one of several fields. You and Shane are quite famous which helps a great deal.”
Trevor thought he knew the answer. “The book, right? Shane’s an author, so we publish it-”
Jim shook his head to interrupt. “I’ve been giving that book a lot of thought, and I just don’t think it’s a good idea right now. A non-fiction work under your own names could prove… highly problematic. For example, you’d be admitting, in writing, to tax evasion issues… and other laws broken, such as in Australia, that sort of thing. There’s also the issue of the cartels. Bridget’s is gone, but other involved cartels might not be eager for the exposure. I’m afraid I have to tell you that, at this juncture, I think publishing the book would be a bad idea.”
Trevor and Shane were not overly surprised; Jim had previously mentioned a few concerns on that issue. “At this juncture? So, maybe later?” Trevor asked.
“My suggestion would be to wait a few years, change a few names and minor details, and then release it without overtly claiming it yourselves. Maybe have someone release it under their name as a novel… is ‘ghostwriter’ the right term for that?”
Shane shook his head. “A ghostwriter writes it for somebody else. It’s already written so it sounds like we’d need the opposite… whatever that’s called.”
Trevor chuckled, glancing at their writing folder and remembering the drawing he’d made when crossing the Indian Ocean, inspired by the Tropic of Capricorn: a goat’s head. “That’d be a writer scapegoat, not a ghostwriter… more of a… goatwriter. Uh, okay, so Shane’s not going to be an author – not publicly anyway – so what’s the answer for Shane’s immigration? What’s the exceptional skill?”
Jim grinned. “Shane is a certified Aussie Lifesaver, and a famous one at that. It’s the famous part that’s the most useful. However, as a backup, he’ll concurrently file for an EB-5, which is a foreign investor’s visa. As a co-owner of Ocean Star Charters, the business assets should be enough. The net worth of Ocean Star Charters is plenty, thanks to the fact that the two yachts are only a small part of it. The far greater value is in the exorbitant rates you two are now charging due to your fame, and the charters you’re doing in the next few weeks amply prove it.”
Shane blinked. “Uh, Atlantis is already here, and registered here. So is Ocean Star Charters. So how can that work?”
Jim grinned. “That’s easy – Trev’s made you part owner so your share counts as a foreign asset because you’re an alien. There’s also a further qualifier; you, like Trev, Lisa, Joel, and Dirk, will soon be the owner of a lien against some of Bridget’s remaining U.S. assets, due to the lawsuit against her estate under the RICO – Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization – act’s civil side. That counts as an expected asset for these purposes.” He lowered his voice to add, “There’s more, unofficially. Gonzalez made a few inquiries, and he told me to tell you that one or the other of the visas will be approved. They want your testimony at the trials of some of the cartel members arrested here in Florida. You didn’t witness anything specifically with them, but you sure did as victims of their organization, so that counts.”
Shane breathed a sigh of relief. “Bloody confusing, and I’m sure glad you’re a lawyer. Thanks mate!”
Trevor arched an eyebrow. “Would it be any better to apply now instead of waiting until we get down under?”
With an adamant shake of his head, Jim replied, “No. That’s actually the worst way of doing it. Coming here and then applying here is a huge red flag; that method has been abused far too often. Better to do this the right way and apply from Shane’s home country. Just make very sure you’re both on the plane before his ninety days run out.”
Trevor smiled, giving Shane a nod. “We’ve got charters booked for Kookaburra, so we have to leave just before that’s up anyway. As soon as we go, Lisa and Joel are taking Atlantis to the Keys for a honeymoon – their first one wasn’t exactly what they had in mind. Uh, one more thing; any ideas about the gold?”
Jim nodded. “Yeah, keep it. Think of it as a great retirement plan. It’s a superb investment, and admitting to having it now would be bad on several levels, including taxes. When the time comes to sell it, do it in bits, over time, as bullion. I can think of several places in the Caribbean where that would not raise any problems. You won’t be needing the money anytime soon, thanks to Bridget.” Jim couldn’t help but grin at that particular irony.
Dirk glanced aft, spotting Joel and catching his eye. He motioned for him and Lisa to join them. Dirk nodded in Jim’s direction, “We’ve got news on the lawsuit.”
Jim broke into a broad grin. “The filings and opening motions on the RICO suit for the four of you, Dirk, and Henry Wesson’s estate against Bridget’s estate are done. We’ve got a case that really couldn’t be stronger. For a RICO civil case with a private plaintiff to succeed, the plaintiffs must show criminal activity on the part of the defendant, such as major repeated violations of state or federal law. On the federal side, the applicable statutes in our case are obstruction of justice, obstruction of a criminal investigation, and witness tampering or retaliation. There are also state and federal violations such as attempted murder, murder, kidnapping, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, and dealing in a controlled substance. Bridget clearly committed all of them – with the five of you as victims in various ways, and Henry Wesson specifically as a victim of murder and kidnapping. The facts are not in contest, so all we really have to prove is that Bridget’s cartel was a criminal enterprise, and that’s a walk in the park.”
Lisa angled her head, her eyes narrowing. “Can we prove that to a court, and who’s representing Bridget’s estate in this?”
Frank Tittle had been listening, and walked over to join them. “Jim and I are acting as co-councils due to this involving both criminal and civil law. To answer your first question, proving that the cartel was a criminal enterprise is supremely easy; we just show the paperwork where the feds declared it one years ago, and add in recent supporting facts. There’s even a particularly apt and useful precedent that I took great joy in using; in 1984, the entire Key West Police Department was declared a criminal enterprise under the Federal RICO statutes, due to several high-ranking officers running a protection racket for drug smugglers. That leads into the second part of your question: who is representing the Bellevue estate. Bridget had no surviving close family, and died intestate – without a will – so the doctrine of escheat applies; the state inherits. Therefore, the State of Florida is representing the Bellevue estate in court. And that is a very pleasant circumstance indeed: I cited the Key West Police department case for a reason, a sort of legal shot across the bow. They are quite desirous that I do not carry out my threat of a motion to have the Ft. Pierce Police Department and the State Attorney’s Office declared criminal enterprises as defined by RICO, due to actions of their various members in coordination with Bridget in drug smuggling, murder, and the wrongful criminal prosecution of Dirk and Jim – a motion we would stand a good chance of winning, but even the filing of it would be very bad publicity for them. Thus, they are already making entreaties about settling the case. Jim and I intend to wring every penny we can out of them, plus a few concessions. One of those regards immediate transfer of occupancy of Bridget’s home. Lisa, Joel, that means you can move into the guesthouse, provided you begin clearing away the remaining debris of the house, and funds will be provided for that.” Bridget’s house had been destroyed by the firebomb she’d set, but the guesthouse, garage, dock, and garden remained. “I’m also acting as the representative for Henry Wesson’s estate. His share will go to fund a college scholarship in his name.”
Jim summed it all up. “It might take a year or more, but we’re looking at a very substantial award. Now, on to other matters. Lisa, Joel, you’ll be running a few charters on Atlantis while in college. That means Joel needs to get his captain’s license, but going out on the coming charters will go a long way towards that. You’ll be limited partners in Ocean Star Charters with Trev as the general partner; Trev’s already signed the paperwork. Okay, that pretty much takes care of business.”
“Not so fast,” Gonzalez said, walking up to join them. “There does remain one more pressing legal matter; the disposition of a certain Honda Civic, currently residing in pieces in the Ft. Pierce Police impound, and owned, per the title, by a Mr. Trevor Carlson. Bridget apparently never reregistered it, so it’s still yours, Trevor, and that is a serious problem.” Gonzalez paused for effect before breaking into a smile. “Because the impound yard wants it gone. You’re not liable for any fees, but you have a choice; get it out of there, or it’s heading for the scrap yard.”
Trevor, who had fallen for Gonzalez’s initial serious tone, smiled in relief. “How bad is it?”
Gonzalez rolled his eyes. “In my professional opinion, it was utterly unroadworthy long before it was taken from the restaurant. It was then whipsawed at the end of a tow line, flipping over before slamming into various things, and then its axle was torn out. It is currently a contorted rusting mess residing in a discombobulated heap.”
“Not much of a change then – that was basically how I described it last summer,” Lisa quipped.
Joel jumped into the conversation. “Trev, we can put it in Bridget’s garage. It’d be a perfect car for Shane – he hates driving.”
“Bastard!” Shane declared, grinning at Joel.
Trevor struck a thoughtful pose. “I think that’s a great idea.”
Lisa turned to face Trevor, addressing him in the sweet voice he knew to fear. “Trevor Carlson, you must want to get divorced before you even get married!”
Gonzalez was the only person present who was unaware of the engagement. “Married?” he asked, arching an eyebrow.
Trevor nodded, and with a smile shared by Shane, replied, “Yep. We haven’t set a date or a place yet – we need to find somewhere where it’s legal – but we’re getting married.”
“Congratulations,” Gonzalez boomed, before adding quietly, “I really do need a decision on the car.”
Trevor sighed. “Okay, I guess if there’s no chance of fixing it, send it to the junkyard. When we get back from Australia, I’ll get an Auto Trader so Shane and I can start car shopping.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “Trevor Carlson, you are impossible. This might come as a shock to you, but there’s such a thing as a new car, and you can certainly afford it. So help me, if you buy some hunk of junk that’s older than you are –”
Trevor raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay, I’ll let Shane pick it out… uh, maybe that’s not a good idea.” He lowered his voice to a stage whisper. “He’s Australian, so he’d want a right-hand drive car that drives upside down.”
The steaks were soon ready, and dinner was served. As they all sat down to dig in, Joel grinned, his expression slowly shifting from joyful to mischievous. “Jim, you’re a civil attorney, right? And this partnership sorta makes Trev my boss, right? So I gotta ask – do you handle sexual harassment lawsuits against employers?”
Jim was well aware of the running banter on that issue and, struggling to keep a straight face, he nodded before solemnly intoning, “I do indeed, Joel, I do indeed. Do you have a particular case in mind?”
Trevor, nearly choking on his dinner, cringed. “Joel!” he hissed, beginning to blush, well aware that not everyone there was aware of the joke.
A grinning Joel looked at Trevor. “Trev, why are you assuming it’s you? It is, of course… and maybe I can get Shane to join the suit. Shane, what do you think?”
Rachel rolled her eyes, chuckling, and then asked, “Shane, Trev, how close are you to finishing the book?”
Shane’s grin took on an aspect of pride. “It’s pretty much done. It just needs a final go through and editing.”
Trevor nodded. “Shane wrote it in Australian; it’ll need translating into English so normal people can understand it.”
“Cruel and abusive bastard!” Shane grumbled, giving Trevor’s elbow another playful jostle.
“I second that!” Rachel rejoined, ruffling her son’s hair.
“You also need a title,” Lisa reminded, not for the first time.
Trevor and Shane shared a glance, and they knew it was at last time to announce that final detail. “We’ve got one. The only thing it can be called.” Shane let the question hang in the air for several long moments, before he and Trevor answered as one.
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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. Thanks also to Low Flyer, for zeta reading. Special thanks to RickMD and Kim, for some major advice and help. Any remaining errors are mine alone.