Aboard Kookaburra, it was early Tuesday morning, not long after sunup, when Shane, who was sleeping lightly, felt Trevor begin to stir.
Trevor felt Shane’s arms around him as consciousness returned, and instinctively snuggled closer, feeling safe and secure in Shane’s embrace.
Sometimes, when a person awakes from a dream, the dream does not fade all at once, the disjointed reality of the dream lingering on for a few moments as wakefulness ends.
Trevor’s mind began to whirl as he remembered what he thought was a dream, and he trembled.
“Are you okay?” Shane asked softly, hugging Trevor to him.
Trevor, trying to make sense of his memories, glanced around the room, until his eyes fell on the conch shell, still wrapped in a bow, that Shane had placed on the side table. Trevor stared at it, his mind reeling as he understood that it wasn’t a dream – or he was still dreaming. “I think I don’t understand…” he mumbled, his eyes fixed on the seashell.
“You had a big shock, Trev. It brought on a panic attack. You went out cold after talking to Mrs. Blake for a while. I took you to bed and you’ve been out ever since.”
“So, it’s… all real? I feel like I’ve totally flipped out, like I’m dreaming and can’t wake up.”
Shane hugged Trevor tight, and then let go, to pick up the conch shell and place it gently on the pillow next to Trevor, who reached out to touch it. “Trev, I have no idea if what Mrs. Blake told you is true, but you weren’t hallucinating or dreaming what happened yesterday. And if you think she’s your mum, you’d be the one to know.”
“She is,” Trevor said numbly. “And everything I’ve believed for most of my life – isn’t real. Half of me thinks I’ve lost my mind, half of me thinks I died at sea and that’s why Mom’s here, and half of me feels… betrayed.”
Shane gave Trevor a reassuring hug. “Three halves? I guess that’s to be expected. You’re not dead, that much I know. And I saw what happened yesterday, so you weren’t hallucinating.”
Trevor glanced at the cabin door and chewed on his lip. “Is she still here?”
Shane shook his head. “No, Mrs. Blake left after you blacked out. She wants you to ring her though, and wants us to go to the farm for Christmas so you can meet your family.”
“Holy fuck,” Trevor mumbled, feeling a rush of conflicting emotions. “I don’t know how I feel. When I think of it, all the grief, and they did it. But if she’s telling the truth and had to leave, does that make it okay? And what about my Dad? He held me when I cried, and he knew. Everything has been a lie. I’m happy and furious… I don’t even know how I feel.”
Shane pulled Trevor to him, wrapping him in a tight hug. “Trev, there’s a lot to sort out, I know, but what have you got to lose by trying? You wanted to find your family and now you have, and at least you know now that your father didn’t kill your Mum. I can understand the anger, I really can, but I’d do anything to see my mum again.”
Trevor hugged Shane, holding him tight. “This must be hard for you too. Don’t worry, I’m not going to shut her out, I’m just trying to get my head sorted out. How the hell do I handle this?”
“I dunno, but… maybe just accept that she’s back, and try to get to know her and your family? Give it a bit and make up your mind later about how angry you are, and what you want to do about it.”
Trevor sighed. “I guess. If she’s telling the truth that she’d have gone to prison if she hadn’t done this, then maybe. But what did she do to get the government after her like that? It must’ve been bad – or maybe she was innocent.”
“One more thing to find out,” Shane said, hugging Trevor, and then glancing at a clock. “Want some brekkie? We’ve still got to go check out the shipping stuff, if you’re up to it. Or, I could go alone if you want.”
“The last thing I want is to be alone, and maybe having that to deal with would help clear my head. If that’s real at all. It was Mr. Blake who told us about this, maybe just to get us here – and there’s no way I want you going alone, not with your past here. It could be dangerous.”
“Then we’ll find out together,” Shane said, before giving Trevor another hug. “As for my past, I wouldn’t worry much. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone recognizes me and calls the police, but I’m clear with the police. Besides, the only thing I nicked here in Geraldton was some food, plus a dollar or so of loose change, so I doubt anyone will carry much of a grudge, assuming they even saw me here at all.”
A few minutes later, they were in the galley. While Shane cooked, Trevor began looking around, really studying Kookaburra. Shane noticed, and said, “You’re trying to remember something you can check with, aren’t you?”
“Yeah… if she’s really Ares, then that makes all this more… real. But she’s been totally redone, and I can’t remember – wait! I think I do. I remember Mom cussing up a storm one day, in the starboard forward storage compartment. She’d spilled paint. The can lid popped off and the paint went all up in the corner,” Trevor said, dashing into the starboard forward cabin and starting to remove the paneling that covered the hatch to the only walk-in storage area aboard.
Shane, standing behind him, said, “I don’t remember any paint spills in there.”
The sun was streaming through the Plexiglas of the deck access hatch overhead, giving Trevor plenty of light as he scrambled in to look. He studied the corner he remembered, seeing no sign of paint. “Nothing,” he said, and then as an afterthought looked to his left, at the other corner. “Wait! I see some in a join, maybe I just misremembered where it was.” Trevor came out, scratching his head. “Okay, maybe that’s proof, or maybe it just means there’s paint on a boat.”
Shane opened his mouth, and then froze for a moment. “Wait… I just remembered something weird. When I first started living aboard, I had to get some filter elements, and noticed the main fuel filter bodies are old ones. I checked the model number to be sure to get the right filter parts, and found that the ones aboard are older than Kookaburra. I went to see Ned and ask about that – this was before he was such an arsehole to me – and asked to be sure, but he got his back up about it. I thought he was just covering up some rip-off. That’s why I warned you to make sure he didn’t try putting old parts from his yard on Atlantis. But, Ares was older than Kookaburra is supposed to be, so maybe he just didn’t replace ‘em?”
Trevor dashed for the starboard bilge access hatch. After a few minutes of looking at the filter, he said, “Yeah, this is one of the old style ones. I don’t remember what was on Ares though. I don’t remember being in her bilges more than a few times. I… it’s been so long. Hey… wait, she said Kookaburra had a cooked up registration. I remember seeing something in those Lagoon brochures Ned gave us.” Trevor dashed into the salon, to begin rummaging through the big pile of catalogs. After several minutes, he found what he was looking for. “Ah ha! All the Lagoon 55s and 57s were built at the Jeanneau Techniques Avancées yard. When they switched over to the 570, which has the vertical forward windows, they were built by Construction Navale Bordeaux, a different yard in France.”
Trevor raced out through the salon door, heading for the aft edge of the cockpit. He scrambled over the rail and down to look at Kookaburra’s brass registration plaque. “This one says ‘Jeanneau Techniques Avancées’ for the builder, which is right for a 55 or a 57, but…” Trevor looked at the serial, FR-CNB5703D996. “I was wrong before, I didn’t think… Atlantis’s serial starts with FR-JTA, because she was built by the Jeanneau Techniques Avancées yard. A 57 should start the same way, JTA, but this says CNB. That doesn’t match the builder on the plaque – which is supposed to be original, right from the yard – and if the brochure is right it’d be for a 570, which Kookaburra definitely isn’t.” Trevor said, climbing back into the cockpit.
“So I guess this means… she’s Ares, like Mrs. Blake said?” Shane asked.
Trevor sighed. “She’s got a cooked up registration, for sure. The bow change… yeah, that’d fool me, because the bows are how you tell the difference. And… there’s no doubt at all that that’s my mom, and Ares was hers, so I guess it all fits.” Trevor reached out, absently caressing a bulkhead. “We’re on Ares,” he said numbly. “It’s just so fucking weird… Everything I’ve been so sure of since I was a kid, it wasn’t real. All those searches off Bimini, all the grief, all that thinking my dad might have killed Mom… it’s like I’m dreaming and can’t stop.”
Shane gave Trevor a hug. “I don’t know how I’d deal with something like this. You’re not dreaming though, unless I am as well.”
Trevor hugged Shane, and said softly, “There’s no way I could cope with this without you.”
Together they returned to the salon, and Shane said, “Look at the bright side; this makes our quest to find Ares slightly easier.”
Trevor stopped and gaped. “Slightly?” After a few seconds, Shane’s outrageous understatement had its desired effect and Trevor began to laugh, as well as feel a bit closer to reality.
Shane turned towards the galley stairs, “I better get back to the galley, or what we’ll have for brekkie is a fire,” he said, dashing off to save the omelet.
They ate, and Trevor glanced at the clock. “Did… Mom say when I should call?” he asked, starting to tense up.
“Anytime, anytime at all,” Shane replied.
Trevor finished the last of his breakfast, and clenched his eyes shut. “I should call her. Stay with me, okay? And could you make the call?”
Shane nodded, and dialed Trevor’s cell phone. Martin answered, and Shane said hesitantly, “Hi, Mr. Blake. Are, uh, is Mrs. Blake about? Trev wants to talk to –”
“Yes, Shane, hang on a sec, I’ll put her on.”
Trevor chewed on his lip as Shane handed him the phone, and when he heard his mother’s voice, he said, “Hi… mom.”
For a few minutes, they talked, and to the surprise of both, neither wanted to mention the past. Instead, they spoke of Christmas, and then Trevor’s trip to Perth. Trevor felt a sense of growing ease, as his mind took its first disjointed steps towards accepting Trevor’s new reality.
The conversation rambled on, until Rachel suddenly offered, “Trev, it’s less than an hour from here to Geraldton. Would you like to… have lunch?”
Trevor found the answer both easy and hard. “Yes, I’d like that a lot.”
As soon as the call ended, Trevor let go of Shane’s hand, which he’d been holding through the call. Shane asked quietly, “How are you feeling?”
Trevor took a deep breath. “I’m not really sure. Confused as hell, I guess.”
In Carnarvon, Greg Fowler fussed with his morning coffee. “Ah, Craig, I can tell you what’s been going on now.”
Grundig arched an eyebrow. “You mean your family matter with Trevor?”
Fowler’s head snapped around. “You know? How?”
Grundig chuckled. “I know you’re related, or at least I do now and was pretty sure before. Remember that yacht we quarantined a few years back, the one with all the bugs and rats aboard? You said something about the first mate’s last name, Smith, along the lines of being damn glad such a hopeless case wasn’t one of your distant in-laws, and you said that’s Shelly’s maiden name. I figured out later what was up when you put the hammer on that reporter when he said his name was Smith and that he was related to Trevor. You did it instantly, so I knew you knew he was an imposter, and there’s only one way you could be so certain so quick: you know your own in-laws. You knew Kline wasn’t related to Trevor, because you are.”
“You don’t miss much, do you?” Fowler said, with a wry, nervous smile. “Trevor is my nephew. He’s Shelly’s sister’s son. Shelly told me who Trevor is not long after he showed up. I never knew of him before.”
Grundig blinked in surprise. “Sarah Blake is Trevor’s mum? But Trevor’s mum died ten years back when her yacht went down. We looked up the news stories when he got here… oh. Bloody hell, Greg, this is a lot more messy than I thought, isn’t it?”
Fowler sighed. “That it is. I still don’t know quite all of it. Long ago, Shelly told me her sister was in trouble with the American tax agency and needed her help. So far as I knew she’d broken no Aussie laws, so I kept my nose mainly out of the particulars. Kookaburra is the yacht she came in on, what used to be Ares. Ned cooked up a registration for her, and I did turn a blind eye on that, for the import paperwork. Yacht registration is mainly a tax matter, and the way it was done they do pay applicable duties and fees, actually slightly more than if they’d given her true age and type. Since Shelly told me about Trevor, I’ve been doing a bit extra to look out for him. His mum needed to keep quiet until now, though I avoided asking exactly why. As far as I know, I’ve kept within the law and Service rules about Trevor, except I didn’t disclose we’re related to headquarters, and I gave him a break on the gun. So, now you know. I’ll leave it up to you, and if you feel the need to report me, I’ll understand.”
Grundig snorted. “Report you? Blood is thicker than water, Greg, so I can’t fault you for what you’ve done. As for Trevor, you’ve helped the victim of a pirate attack who washed up on our shores, and I can’t see as how you did anything wrong there. As for the rest… who’s the victim? The Western Australia government, because it’s getting a bit more in registry taxes on Kookaburra than it ought to? I know you cut Trevor a break when you took his gun away, but I’d have done the same after what he’d been though. As for that deal you cut with the reporter… was it illegal?”
“No, I was careful there, and headquarters okayed it, as did the local prosecutor. I kept you out of it in case it blew up. Same for the story I gave Kline on us intercepting Atlantis when she arrived. I didn’t want you taking any heat if things went sour, and that’s why I’ve kept you in the dark until now.”
“Thanks Greg,” Grundig said, with a grateful nod. “I have to ask though, how the hell did Trevor have the luck to end up far off course and be intercepted by his uncle? Was that set up somehow?”
Fowler shook his head and smiled. “No, not so far as I know, I had no idea who he is until Shelly told me, but when she did that was a shock to me as well. Part of it is explainable…” Fowler went on to talk about the Equation of Time and prevailing winds, and reminded Grundig that the reason they had been out looking that day was the Jindalee radar had alerted them to Atlantis’s approach. “This stretch of coast was about the only area he could have arrived, though still it’s a hell of a thing. Had his track been just a few miles further east, he’d have reached our coast along the Zuytdorp Cliffs and likely not survived. I think I like Shelly’s theory the best; it was fate that brought him here.”
“I’ll wager Trevor is having a hard time dealing with all this. Having his mum turn up alive is probably a mind-bender.”
Fowler stirred his coffee, thinking. “That’s a likely understatement if ever there was one. Martin said it triggered a panic attack, poor kid. Shelly was worried about that, which is why she kept out of his sight – she and her sister look a lot alike, and we were worried Trevor might see the resemblance, then find out her maiden name was Smith. We had a mess with that anyway; Wyatt heard us talking about Trevor and burst into the room, thrilled to bits to learn he has a cousin. I told him he had to keep away from him for now, but he threw a right wobbly, cried his eyes out. I’ve been afraid he’d show up at the dock if Trevor came back.”
Grundig smiled. “How old is Wyatt now? Nine?” he asked. He’d met Fowler’s son several times, but couldn’t recall his age.
Fowler grinned. “Eight, and he wants to meet his cousin very badly. He’s looking forward to seeing him at Christmas at the Blake’s farm, though I’m not looking forward to explaining it to him if he learns of his Auntie Sarah’s past. I’ll probably make him wait until he’s a little older… maybe thirty.”
“I hope that reporter, Kline, isn’t still nosing about? If he catches wind of this, do you think your deal will hold?”
“Good news there, Craig. Kline returned to Perth right after I gave him the second interview. He’s still helping; sending some of the rest of the press on wild goose chases up north, out of sheer bloody-mindedness. But, if he gets wind of this… yeah, not good at all. Let’s hope he doesn’t.”
The visit to the freight office and the conference call there with Ned passed in a blur for Trevor. He felt like an observer of his own life, detached, going through the motions. It was only Shane’s presence that kept him calm and partially coherent.
The arrangements were made for temporary storage at the yard, so that all of the large items could be gathered as they came in and then transported on Kookaburra in one voyage. It helped Trevor by getting him to focus on one of the pillars of his life that hadn’t changed: Atlantis.
By the time Trevor and Shane returned to Kookaburra, Trevor was feeling well enough to accept Shane’s suggestion that Trevor go alone to meet with his mother.
She picked him up at dockside, under the watchful eye of a Geraldton police cruiser that was keeping watch on Kookaburra, and drove him to a restaurant she knew, just a few blocks away.
Again, by mutual unspoken consent, they kept their conversation to the present and future. Trevor, still feeling a sense of unreality, was beginning to come to terms with a new and very different reality to the one he’d known for most of his life.
As they returned to Rachel’s car, Trevor screwed up his nerve to ask a question he both dreaded and craved the answer for; “Mom, what happened? Why were they after you?”
Rachel clutched the wheel of the unmoving car, and after several moments, she replied in a shaky tone, “My own greed.” She then explained the trouble they’d encountered when purchasing Ares, and she added, “I was greedy. I could have stopped after the first few charters, but the money… We tried every way we could think of to make the charters legal, but the law at the time made it impossible. And… the charters were just part of it, but there was more – things I hid even from your father. Between those runs and real charters, the money was coming in like we’d only dreamt of. It was more than I could have ever made, even with legal charters. I was foolish and greedy – I should have just stopped, but I kept going. Then the IRS started hounding us… and our attorney told me that I was facing ten years in prison, maybe more. I had to leave; there was no other way. That’s what I ran from, Trev, because I didn’t have any other choice.”
Trevor felt betrayed, but then he wondered what he would have done in her shoes. After a long silence, he took his mother’s hand. “I’m still angry, but I’m… starting to understand, sort of.”
Rachel brushed her hair back, and with tears on her face, she turned to look at Trevor. “I went much too far, too many times. Don’t think I got away with it, because I didn’t. I destroyed my marriage to your father, and now I’ve missed out on most of your life, while looking over my shoulder in fear all these years. I’ve wished a million times I’d never done the things I did, and I’m so sorry for what I put you through. You were the one victim in all this. Your father and I love you very much, and part of why we did this was to protect you; the IRS would have stolen everything, and your father would have been a broken man with debts he’d never be able to repay, ruined by what I’d done. You’d have lost Atlantis, too. We left her in your name to try to protect you from that, but that wouldn’t have stopped the IRS.”
Trevor gave his mother a hug, and held her tight. “I’m glad you’re okay,” he said, and then asked, “What happens now?”
“I’d prefer that you leave port; it’s probably not safe for you to be docked in public for long, and we still have to be wary of whatever the threat is looming over you, assuming there is one. We’re trying, and hope to have it solved soon, but for now, you need to keep hidden. Your Uncle Greg has some things going, so keep your fingers crossed, and hopefully this will all be over soon.”
“Can I still go to Perth? I… was going to ask Mr. Blake, then you once I knew, but… you said Kookaburra isn’t yours anymore? Is she Mr. Blakes’?”
Rachel pulled partially away and ruffled Trevor’s hair. “He wants you to call him Martin, but no, Kookaburra isn’t his, nor is she mine anymore. She’s registered here in Australia to us as Kookaburra, but she’s Ares, and Ares is owned by Ocean Star Charters, which is yours.”
Trevor blinked. “Ares is… mine?”
“It’s best if we keep calling her Kookaburra, but yes. It would be very difficult to sell her, due to all the complications of her registry, but she’s all yours. I suppose that won’t be fully true for a bit because you’re still a minor, but your birthday is only a few months away.”
That jarred Trevor into remembering his father, and he blurted out, “Dad emancipated me… it went into effect… yesterday. I guess I know why he picked that day now, but Mom, Dad is on the run from the law! He’s wanted on murder charges, one of them yours! And for trying to blow up Atlantis, but he didn’t do that… Mom, we’ve got to help him.”
Rachel nodded. “Greg, and then later the news stories, told me of that. I really don’t know what’s gone on, but yes, of course I’m going to help him. He already has a way to prove I didn’t die, so I can only guess that your father is trying to run out the clock. The only way I have of contacting him is via Shelly’s e-mail, which he knows to use. I’ve been afraid to try, in case I wreck whatever he’s trying to do. I’ve asked Shelly to try to get hold of his lawyer, but carefully, in case Dirk hasn’t told him everything. No worries though, I’ll do whatever needs to be done. Your father is still very dear to me, and always will be.”
Trevor was both relieved and confused, but he assumed his mother and his Uncle Greg were in the best position to help. “Okay, let’s hope he e-mails soon. If not, I might be able to help get a message through,” he said, thinking of Joel and the private investigator.
“We’ll put our heads together in a couple of days. For now though, head for Perth – and call your Uncle Greg once you’re at sea,” Rachel said, and handed Trevor a slip of folded paper. “This is from Greg; don’t forget to call him.”
Rachel drove Trevor to the marina, and after a teary hug, Trevor said softly, “I’m still kinda messed up dealing with all this, but no matter what, I’m very glad you’re alive…Mom. I’ve missed you so much.”
Trevor hurried back to Kookaburra, where he found Shane waiting in the salon. Without a word, Trevor hugged him, and held on tight.
“Are you doing okay?” Shane asked.
“I think so… I’m still really shook up. I feel better now though, with you.”
Shane held Trevor tight, feeling him tremble slightly. “You’re supposed to call your doctor soon, right? Maybe she could help.”
“I guess… but how? What would I say? I had another panic attack and I’m messed up in the head because my Mom stopped by to give me a seashell and then take me to lunch, but she’s been dead for ten years? Dr. Bennet would have me put in a straight jacket,” Trevor said, and then eased back to look Shane in the eyes. “What I really need is you. I’m okay when I’m with you.”
“And I’m not going anywhere,” Shane said, holding Trevor tightly.
Trevor gave Shane’s bare back a pat. “Actually, we both are. We need to put to sea and head for Perth. Mom’s worried about us being docked here.”
“Me as well, let’s head out,” Shane said, pulling free to take care of the mooring lines.
They motored out, hoisting sail as Kookaburra reached the open sea. Shane glanced back at Geraldton, and asked, “Did you find out what she was running from? Was it anything to do with whoever was after you?”
Trevor sighed. “She was running from the IRS, because they’d have put her in prison for tax crimes and taken everything, from my dad as well, plus Atlantis and Ares. This whole thing was cooked up by her and my dad, and I guess it worked. I can kinda see why she had to, but part of me is still angry about all the lies. She has no idea why anyone would want to kill me, though.” Trevor went on to explain what he’d found out, and then mentioned the need to call Fowler.
Shane put a reassuring arm around Trevor. “It’ll be okay, Trev. So, gotta ring your Uncle Greg, hey?” Shane said, in a cheerful tone that lifted Trevor’s spirits.
“Yeah… I got an uncle,” Trevor said, breaking into a hesitant smile.
Trevor dialed his cell, and when Officer Grundig answered, Trevor said awkwardly, “Hi, this is Trev, could I speak with, ah,”
“I’ll put him on,” Grundig said.
“Hi Trevor,” Fowler said, a few moments later.
“Hi… Uncle Greg,” Trevor said, his voice shaking a little.
Fowler hesitated for a few moments. “G’day, nephew,” he finally said, and then added, “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before, but I hope your mum explained why we couldn’t. Your Auntie Shelly is looking forward to meeting you, and so is your cousin Wyatt. We’ll be in Northampton for Christmas.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Trevor said, his stress easing. “Mom told me to call you when we put to sea. I don’t actually know where we’re going, other than it’s… near that place I’m meeting Joel.”
“Good, remember to be cautious on the phone or radio. Now, did your mum give you some coordinates?”
Trevor fished the paper out of his pocket. “Yeah, but I haven’t looked ‘em up yet.”
Fowler chuckled. “Do it now, but don’t say anything identifying.”
Trevor zoomed out the navigation display, and then zoomed in on the coast near Perth, looking further south until he reached thirty-two degrees, fourteen minutes south, and then adjusting the display to one-hundred fifteen degrees, forty-two seconds east. “I’ve got it,” he said, looking at the bay, and then noticing the restricted waters warnings. “Ah, but –”
Fowler chuckled. “Remember what I told you about when I picked you up at Oyster Creek?” Fowler asked, referring to HMAS Sydney. “That’d fit, right?”
“Uh huh,” Trevor said numbly, staring at the screen.
“You can arrive anytime. You’re expected. They’ll explain what’s up when you get there, but that’s where you can moor for a few days. Have a safe journey,” Fowler said.
As soon as the call ended, Trevor glanced at Shane, who had been sharing the phone. “What the hell is going on?”
Shane didn’t get it right away, and stared at the display. “Careening Bay, Garden Island. Restricted waters, Royal Australian Navy… oh bloody hell, that’s gotta be Fleet Base West!”
Trevor checked the navigation screen one more time. “Yeah, it’s a navy base, for sure, according to the chart.”
“Can’t get much safer than that for a place to stay,” Shane said.
“So, what’s Fleet Base West? Sounds important,” Trevor asked.
Shane shrugged. “All I know is the name, and that it’s a mucking great navy base near Perth. I heard it mentioned when I was at the lifesavers competition there; some of the locals said you could often see the Navy ships come and go.”
“Next stop, Fleet Base West,” Trevor said, feeling surreal as he laid in a course. It was just one more strangeness in a very strange day.
Feeling very nervous, Joel drove towards school. He was supposed to meet Lisa at the guesthouse – a fact he hadn’t mentioned to his parents, out of fear that mentioning the guesthouse at all would get him in further hot water.
Joel dashed through the guesthouse’s open door to find Lisa packing. “You’re late,” she said, with a smile and a chuckle.
“Your phone’s still off, I tried to call,” he said, glancing around at the suitcases. “I’ll explain it all at first break, but we were seen meeting with Mr. Carlson, and my parents hit the roof. I’m grounded, and they want us out of town; we’re leaving tomorrow!”
“Oh crap… if my father finds out –”
Joel shook his head. “You get to tell him we’re going early. I’ll talk to you at lunch, but I gotta get out of here; I’m not supposed to be here, or anywhere but school. And about school, don’t tell anyone we’re leaving early.”
Lisa nodded, and glanced at the suitcases. “I’m just about done packing. I’ll finish after school.”
“I’ve got one for me at home, that’ll work. I gotta run,” Joel said, giving Lisa a quick kiss and then turning for the door.
“Right behind you,” Lisa said, locking the guesthouse and then dashing for her truck.
“Interesting,” George said, pausing the tape and arching an eyebrow in Bridget’s direction. “They met with Dirk Carlson. Maybe he’s not out of state like the department thinks. And they’re leaving early? Damn good thing we found out in time.”
Bridget nodded. “Indeed, both fortuitous and perplexing. Why would they be meeting with him? This does not bode well. So, do we proceed as planned?”
George nodded. “Yeah, just move things up. I’ll get busy prepping the suitcases and putting in the coke.”
“So be it,” Bridget said, with a nod and a resolute air.
That afternoon, Lisa pulled her truck up next to the guesthouse, and was on her way to the guesthouse door when Bridget, at a fast walk, hailed her and gave her a friendly wave. “Hi Lisa,” Bridget said, with a broad smile as she approached.
“Hi Bridget,” Lisa said, with a smile of her own.
Bridget nodded towards the guesthouse and frowned. “Lisa, I took a little liberty. I was in cleaning the other day, and I could not help but take note of your suitcases. They are rather lightly built and have seen quite some wear, and that is most unwise for a trip such as the one you are undertaking, especially for fragile contents. They are likely to arrive mangled, if at all. Come, let me show you what I have done,” Bridget said, as she opened the guesthouse door.
They entered, and Bridget proudly pointed to two new Samsonite cases. “I have more luggage than I could possibly use, and these are far more durable than what you have. These are semi hard-sided,” she said, flipping one open, “and have interior partitions, ideal for keeping the tortilla chips in place and protected. I put the clothes on one side, and the tortilla chips in the other, in both. I hope you don’t mind, but I refolded the clothes; I rolled them, for otherwise they arrive wrinkled. It took me years to learn of that trick, you might want to make note of it,” Bridget said, with a proud smile.
“Wow, thanks,” Lisa said, examining the suitcase, which had, like its twin, a thin hard plastic shell backed up by inner reinforcement beneath the liner. “And thanks on the packing too. Uh, our plans got changed; we’re leaving in the morning. I was going to stop by and let you know.”
“Have a wonderful trip, my dear. I hope it goes very well, and please give my regards to Trevor.”
“We will,” Lisa said, giving Bridget a warm smile and adding, “Joel wanted to stop by to wish you a happy holidays, and see what we could figure out about the charity event, but with us leaving early he can’t come by. He told me to wish you Merry Christmas.”
Bridget gave Lisa a hug. “Merry Christmas, both of you. It is a pity it will not be a white Christmas, as there is nothing like snow at Christmas – though I suppose you shall see snow in New Jersey for the New Year,” Bridget said, giving Lisa a warm smile. “As for the charity event, we’ve hit a bit of a snag, so there has been a delay. We’ll have time to discuss it upon your return.”
Bridget gave Lisa the keys to the new suitcases, and helped her load them into Lisa’s truck.
With a wave, Lisa drove away, feeling guilty for suspecting Bridget, but unable to dismiss the gnawing doubt from her mind.
Gonzalez set up a meeting with Henry at the chandlery, feeling that he was getting closer to wrapping up the case.
Henry arrived first, and Gonzalez joined him via the back door. “Good news, Henry, the State Attorney just told me that Ainsworth and Carlson are in a safe house in Orlando.”
Henry chuckled. “Dirk called me to let me know, and also to give approval for the speedboat. He also said that he’d sent the e-mail to his sister-in-law from the hotel here, and should have Internet there soon. Frank lives in Orlando, same as me, so he’s going to give them a cellular wireless card as soon as he can find one.”
“Good. I’ll give the Australian customs guy, Fowler, a heads up the next time I talk to him. And by the way, Lisa and Joel are flying out tomorrow…” Gonzalez went on to explain how he’d accomplished that, which caused Henry to laugh.
Henry’s mood became serious and he sat down, taking a moment to think. “It’s good that Lisa and Joel are leaving tomorrow, but it does hamstring us a little. First we thought they were accomplices, then dupes. However, something Joel said while meeting with Jim and Dirk has been bothering me. It was about the AIS transponder on Atlantis. I’ve looked into how those work, and you can watch ships transit the Suez online with it, like he said. Their code is usually their name, but… I wonder where Lisa and Joel were when they watched Atlantis transit? We’ve wondered why Bridget would let them use the guesthouse. Maybe…”
Gonzalez closed his eyes in thought. “Yeah, what if they were in the guesthouse? And Bridget had a way of listening in? Damn, I think we really need to question Lisa and Joel, but until we know for sure how word is getting back to Bridget and George, we can’t take the risk.”
“Good point, Mike, but maybe we’re thinking backwards? If we could find out for sure the how, then we’ll probably be able to find a way to interview Lisa and Joel with little risk. Maybe by phone once they get to Australia. If it’s the guesthouse, I think I can get in there to do a look-see pretty easy, because it does not appear to be connected to the house security system.”
“That’d be illegal, and beyond that, anything you find would be inadmissible. Hell, anything it leads to might be as well; the fruit of the poisonous tree and all that. It also risks a tip-off if you’re seen. Sorry Henry.”
Henry wasn’t willing to give up on that avenue so easily, but he set it aside for the time being and scratched his head. “Okay, but… when we were talking about using some tracking gear, you mentioned you didn’t want to get it from the department, because George might find out. Is there any chance he could be unaware of that risk and have done it himself?”
Gonzalez blinked. “Maybe… but if he has, and it’s in the guesthouse, we might have him – damn, maybe not, he could claim it’s part of an investigation. He often works alone, and due to his record, no one questions him. I’ve been wondering about that: his collars are almost all drug busts or drug related, and he’s taken down a lot of major operators. Doing something like bugging the guesthouse on his own hook would be against the rules, but it’d be useless for getting him on criminal charges. Unless… where do you suppose it’s monitored from? If it’s from the house and he gave Bridget access, we’ve got his ass cold, there’s no way he could excuse that. I’ll snoop around in the sign-outs. I’m not too hopeful, because this would be pretty damn stupid of him when he could just go buy gear, but everyone makes mistakes. They get overconfident, and that’s when they screw up.” Neither man stopped to consider that the same applied to them. Their first meetings had been in restaurants or other random places, but gradually they’d taken to using the chandlery or Gonzalez’s home.
“We’re due for a break. Okay, let me know how that pans out. As for me, I’ve got a powerboat lesson tomorrow. Dirk approved renting the boat when we need it, so we’re good to go,” Henry said.
The two men stood up, shook hands, and Gonzalez exited via the back door while Henry set the alarm. He also set his own telltales, which was his way of detecting any surreptitious visits to the chandlery. He locked up, and walked to his car.
Just across the parking lot, a man in sunglasses sat at an outdoor table, relaxing after his walk to the café, ostensibly reading a newspaper. His purpose had been to see if Dirk showed up, but Gonzalez’s meeting with an unknown person certainly had George Alfred’s interest. He watched as Henry drove away, and then made a note of the license plate on Henry’s car.
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