Kookaburra, once Ares though now wearing the name ‘Red Roo’, churned south, riding the early morning winds offshore of Fremantle. Trevor was at the helm, glancing at the navigation display, when Shane asked, “What do you want to do when we get there? We were going to search for your family; not a lot of point in that now.”
Trevor smiled and shrugged. “See Perth, I guess.”
Shane grinned. “I saw a bit of it when I was here for the competition: I arrived a few days early.”
“Cool, it’ll be good to see it, and take my mind off stuff,” Trevor said, putting his arm over Shane’s bare shoulders and pulling him closer. “Thanks for helping me get through this. I love you,” Trevor said quietly, pulling Shane into a gentle embrace.
“I love you too, and I know what’s happened has got to be messing with your head. Not that there’s much in there, but I don’t want to see it hurt,” Shane said, giving Trevor a warm, gentle hug.
Trevor chuckled pulling Shane close. “I think I’ll be okay. I’m just shell-shocked, I think. I feel better today. I… it’s just that everything I thought my life was changed in an instant.” Trevor looked into Shane’s eyes, and added with a warm smile, “Except the best part of it. You.”
They hugged again, and Shane, in a rare serious mood, bared his heart, “Same for me. I was more of a mess than I knew, before you came along. Actually, according to Mrs. Blake, you saved me before we even met; me reminding her of you is why they took me in. We’re good for each other, and I love you.”
Trevor had to take one hand away to adjust the wheel, but then he embraced Shane again, feeling warmth that was more than physical. “I’m just wondering; what happens now? All our plans… the race back to Florida to search for Ares, all of it… do we go back soon, or not?”
Shane gave Trevor’s back a reassuring pat. “I think the best thought, for now, is to wait and see. You’ve just had your life all shook up; let it settle down a bit. Besides, it’s easier now; no need to race back for a deadline, so we can wait for Atlantis to be fixed.” Shane looked Trevor in the eyes and smiled. “At least you’ve no further worries about the Blakes kicking you off Kookaburra; Mrs. Blake obviously wants you on her boat. You’re in thick with the owner, so no more worries.”
Shane’s comment reminded Trevor that he hadn’t yet broached that subject with Shane. “Actually, she mentioned something about that, which I forgot in all the other stuff. Mom said Kookaburra isn’t hers. She said she signed her over to Ocean Star Charters before she left Florida.”
Shane blinked. “But that’s what you were running Atlantis under… oh! So Kookaburra is yours then?”
“Ours. We’re going to run Atlantis together, so Kookaburra is part of that now,” Trevor said, giving Shane another hug, but then Trevor glanced at the navigation display again. “We’re about to enter restricted waters. I hope they really are expecting us.”
As Kookaburra approached Careening Bay, Trevor and Shane pulled on shirts when they spotted a small skiff racing out. It turned smartly across Kookaburra’s bows, signaling for her to follow, and then led Kookaburra into the heart of Fleet Base West, where she was dwarfed by the looming grey warships of the Royal Australian Navy.
Shane pointed past one of the frigates. “There’s something I’ve not seen before: submarines!” he said, grinning, and trying to count them before they were blocked from his view.
On engines, Kookaburra motored past the rows of massive warships, to a set of docks containing skiffs and launches. Feeling oddly calm in spite of the strange circumstances, Trevor docked beside two waiting midshipmen, who helped with the mooring, and then one of them glanced at Trevor, then Shane, then back again, and decided to address both of them. “G’day, Mr. Carlson. The base commander sends his regards, and welcomes you as our guest.”
“Thanks,” Trevor replied, and then asked, “Uh, what happens now?”
“If you’d like to go to the mainland, there’s a shuttle bus that stops on the main road, just a dozen meters or so west of here. It goes over the causeway into Rockingham, stopping at the town center and then the train station. From the station, you can get to Perth and connect to the underground. Do be advised though; the Garden Island Causeway, which connects the island to the mainland, was built to be usable in all weather, so of course it isn’t; high surf forces us to close it a few days a year. Nothing in the forecast for a day or two, but best to be aware of it. You’ll need to ring either the MP’s or the border patrol people – they’ve two of their big long-range patrol craft stationed here – before going anywhere on the base other than to the shuttle bus stop.” The midshipman handed over two plastic cards and a slip of paper. “Those are visitor passes, to get you back on base past the checkpoints. I understand that you’ll be having a guest fly in, just be with them when you reach the checkpoint. The paper has the phone numbers you may need during your stay.” The midshipman shuffled his feet, and asked quietly, “You’ve been in the news a lot, and, well, we in the Navy are very interested in the sea, and seamanship, so what you did in the Southern Ocean to get here, well, it’s been talked about a lot. A lot of us would like to meet you and talk to you about it, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Trevor blinked. “Sure, but… I was just saving my own ass. But if anybody wants to stop by to talk, that’s fine. I’ll even offer ‘em a beer, if that’s not against your rules. Just please stop calling me ‘sir’.”
The midshipman, who was several years older than Trevor, gave Trevor an odd look, and then smiled. “Thank you, sir, but… I think such an offer might be inadvisable. You’re likely to have several hundred of us show up. Your boat would sink.”
“I’d prefer to avoid sinking, especially tied up alongside,” Trevor replied, cracking a smile, feeling more at ease.
A customs officer approached, and the midshipman said, “I’ll leave you to it then. Enjoy your stay, sir.”
The customs officer came aboard and introduced himself as the commander of one of the customs patrol boats, and then said, “Just give me a ring if you need anything. If you go into Perth, try to keep a low profile, and if you’re recognized, head back here. No one can follow you in here.”
Trevor thought for a moment, and then asked, “Some of the cadets want to meet me. Is that okay? What about doing it dockside here?”
The customs officer smiled. “Let’s keep that until immediately prior to your departure, I think they already have something in mind. In the meantime, enjoy Perth, but be careful.”
After the customs officer left, a bemused Trevor looked at Shane. “Joel is going to flip. Us in a military base… then we get to tell him about Mom and Ares. It’ll blow his mind if we just spring it on him, no warning.”
A sly smile spread across Shane’s face. “Then that’s what you’re planning, right?”
“Of course,” Trevor replied, with an evil grin.
A few hours later, Basingstoke, at fifteen thousand feet over Rockingham, was perplexed. Kookaburra’s transmitter had reported her position accurately, but seeing was believing. She was in a place he could not go.
Basingstoke knew he had time; what he had planned had to wait a couple of days, but if Kookaburra did not leave the naval base, his plan became impossible. Still, he knew she’d leave at some point, and time, he mused, was indeed on his side.
Basingstoke turned north, to land at Perth’s Jandakot airport; Perth’s large general aviation airfield, ten miles south of Perth’s city center and the same distance southwest of Perth International Airport.
After landing and tying down his plane, Basingstoke took a taxi to Fremantle, where he checked into a hotel near the beach, taking care to get a room on the top floor of the three-story building, to ensure that he could receive the signal from Kookaburra.
As Basingstoke relaxed in his room, he checked his e-mail, finding an update from Bridget, which included an increase in his already lucrative fee.
On Tuesday morning, Joel was stiff and sore from the long hours of yard work the day before, but he was on his way, heading for Lisa’s house.
When he arrived, he helped Lisa load the new suitcases into his car, and they were off, all smiles.
“Does Trev know you’re coming early?” Lisa asked, stifling a chuckle.
Joel shook his head. “No, we better call him right now. He’s supposed to be in Perth looking for his family by now, but we better be sure.”
Lisa grinned, pushing her hair back. “My dad wanted me to confirm he’d be there to meet us, so we called, but Daddy knows about the surprise so he didn’t let on about me, and basically had me make sure Trev knew to pick you up. Trev sounded kinda rattled, but he wouldn’t say much.”
“Maybe we got ‘em out of bed, like Trev has done to us a bunch of times. I hope he’s okay,” Joel said, and then nodded towards the back of the car. “New suitcases?”
Lisa sighed. “Bridget did it. She said ours probably wouldn’t stand up to the trip. She’s probably right: I was trying to figure out how to keep all the tortilla chips from getting squished. Joel, I really hope we’re wrong about her. She seems so nice and caring and she’s been awesome to us.”
“I know, I hope we’re wrong too. I wish we’d been able to find out more before going, but I guess this’ll give us something to do when we get home… except I’ll still be grounded. Damn.”
“How long are you grounded for?”
Joel winced. “According to my mom, until I have gray hair.”
“Ouch. I hope they calm down. Hey, are we still on the same flight route? We were supposed to leave late in the afternoon before, right?”
“Yeah, but Dad had to put us on an earlier flight out of Orlando to Los Angeles, where we’ll have about a six hour layover. The rest is the same though, Los Angeles to Sydney, then Sydney to Perth, still arriving at eleven-forty. That’ll be Thursday morning, Perth time.”
They arrived at Orlando International just before nine, parked Joel’s car in the long-term parking, and checked in before ten for their flight at one. They checked the three suitcases – Joel had a small one of his own – passed through security, and went to find food. They ate breakfast, picked up some take-outs for the flight, and soon, their flight was called.
When they arrived in Los Angeles, they took a walk outside to pass the time, then after passing through security, they again ate, and again picked up takeouts for the next leg of their journey; the fifteen-hour flight to Sydney. “We’re supposed to get meals on the plane, and I’ve heard Qantas is pretty good, but I’ve never been on a flight where they feed you enough,” Joel declared.
In his home in Perth’s eastern suburbs, Jason Kline phoned Barney Fitzroy, in Melbourne. “G’day, Barney. Just wanted to let you know I’ve sent you a check for your part of the story. I rounded it up to three thousand for you,” Kline said.
“I see you’ve cut me out of the follow up with the customs officer, about intercepting Trevor at sea. It’s your by-line, I’m not in it,” Fitzroy sourly observed.
“That part of the story was mine, my own doing. Sorry, Barney, these things happen. If there are more developments and you play a role, I’ll count you in, of course. Speaking of which, I’m thinking of one about that garlic crusher SOS, with a tie-in to other message-in-a-bottle type distress messages. One local event would fit well: In 1887, the French bark Tamaris was wrecked off Île des Cochons, in the Crozet Islands, in the Southern Ocean about halfway between Madagascar and Antarctica. They wrote a note on a piece of tin and put it around the neck of an albatross, which turned up on Trigg Beach, just north of Fremantle, seven months later. The French sent a rescue ship, which found the shipwrecked sailors’ shelter and notes, but they’d decided to try to reach a nearby island just a few weeks before and had left for it. They were never found. I figured this story might make a nice tie-in, and thought you might know of similar historical tales.”
Barney sighed. “I suppose. I’ll see what I can dig up.”
“Speaking of that garlic crusher, I’d like to have it. Drop it in the mail when you have a chance.”
After a few seconds, Barney replied, “There’s a problem there, Jason. It’s not yet arrived in Perth, where I sent it from Esperance. I’ve asked the staff there to give me a shout if it shows up though.”
“WHAT?” Kline exploded, “Why the hell didn’t you say so before? I spent a mint to send you after that damn thing!”
“Sorry, Jason, these things happen,” Fitzroy replied, absently touching his pocket, which contained an envelope stuffed with cash. “Not my fault that the post gets lost. Bad luck happens to the best of us.”
The echo of his own words served to make Kline both suspicious and angry, but he didn’t want to openly accuse Fitzroy – yet. “Okay, see what you can do, and let me know,” he said, before hanging up.
In Ft. Pierce, George Alfred picked up his office phone, dialed nine for an outside line, and began dialing the number he’d written down. It took the call several long seconds to go through, and then an Australian-accented voice answered, “G’day, Crime Stoppers tip line.”
“Hello, I need to report a drug smuggling attempt in progress. Two Americans, carrying large quantities of cocaine in their checked luggage, will be landing in Australia on Thursday, with a final destination of Perth. Their names are Lisa Whitaker and Joel Stiles. They are traveling together, under their own names, on American passports.”
“Thank you. May I ask, how do you know this?”
“They’ve been bragging about how much money they’ll make. This is an anonymous tip, but please make note of the codeword ‘Brutus’ in case I need to identify myself to you in the future. Have a nice day.”
George hung up and turned his attention to another pressing matter: the file on his desk. “Henry Wesson, private investigator, working for Frank Tittle, attorney at law,” George mumbled to himself, knowing full well that Frank was involved in the Carlson case as the attorney of record, and George had long been aware, due to the bugged guesthouse, that Joel and Lisa had met with Henry. What concerned George greatly was why Gonzalez would be meeting with Henry, and then not sharing the information with the rest of the Carlson case task force. There was only one reason George could think of for that.
Henry, meanwhile, had been rather busy. He lived in Kissimmee, a suburb just south of Orlando, a two-hour drive each way from Ft. Pierce. Therefore, he often stayed overnight in Ft. Pierce at a motel, while working on the Carlson case – Like Officer Gonzalez, Henry had several other cases to attend to. However, with all the new activity in the case due to Jim and Dirk’s disclosures, Henry had scheduled four days in Ft. Pierce that week, and his focus now was on finding a way to move the case forward. He had several avenues of attack, which included getting a tracker – preferably with a microphone – aboard Sea Witch. As he sat at his motel table, fiddling with a tracker and a microphone, his phone rang.
“Hi Henry, we need to meet,” Gonzalez said.
“I’ve got some gear to show you… I’m in the motel I usually use, room thirty.”
“I’ll be there in ten,” Gonzalez said, and ended the call.
When Gonzalez arrived, Henry ushered him inside, to a seat at the little table, which was littered with gadgets.
Gonzalez grinned. “Henry, you hit gold. I did like you said and checked to see what George has checked out, and bingo, a listening system. It’s hardwired, has three microphones, and it’s what we’d normally use to bug a hotel room or similar, when we have access to an adjoining room. It has a voice-activated recorder, with the ability to listen in real time. It also has radio capability from the recorder. If he’s been monitoring the guesthouse, that’d explain one hell of a lot. If the recorder-monitor part is set up in Bridget’s house, we got him.”
Henry smiled and nodded. “Yeah, and all we’d need to do is trace the wires. This is great news,” Henry said, but then his smile faded. “Uh, one problem, Mike. What if the recorder is in the guesthouse and it’s monitored by radio?”
“We’d need to find out where it’s being monitored from, it doesn’t have much range. A chicken or the egg scenario: we can’t get a warrant to search Bridget’s house without proof, which is hard if the proof is in her house. Could you trace the signal?”
Henry shook his head. “Not a chance; the transmitter would be omnidirectional, and the receiver wouldn’t transmit.” Henry paused remembering another pressing issue. “That tracker in George’s car: its batteries won’t last a lot longer. I’ve got a second tracker set, plus his old tire and rim. I could do the same trick again, in the department parking lot, and just swap the rims. It’d only take a couple of minutes.”
“Kinda risky… and I’d much prefer something with audio capability, like you put in Joel’s car. How about I schedule a meeting of the Carlson task force, somewhere where he’d have to park on the street?”
Henry considered that for a few moments. “I like it. The problem is that bug in Joel’s car – I removed it, by the way – would be super easy to detect. Joel wouldn’t have the ability, but George or Bridget might, and would be far more likely to be wary. I’ll go with cellular, but timed compressed broadcasts so it doesn’t emit signals often. Now, where to put it… up inside his dash would be best; plenty of power wires so we wouldn’t need to depend on batteries, and nice thin plastic so a solid surface mike can be planted behind it, nothing showing. That’s the system I had in mind for Bridget’s car, but I haven’t had an opportunity to plant it. I only ordered one, so I’ll use that one.”
“Sounds good… okay, where would a good place for the meeting be? Somewhere where we’d have… actually, Henry, we want anything we get to be admissible, and what we found out about the bugging system he has checked out gives us cause, so let me run this through the State Attorney and see if we can make it legit. We’d still need you to plant the thing – your gear is better than ours – but you’d be doing it under our auspices. That means I could help. I’ll see what we can cook up.”
George’s tip made its way to the Customs and Border Patrol offices, and a fast check of inbound passenger lists confirmed that a Joel Stiles and a Lisa Whitaker would be landing in Sydney, clearing customs, and then going on to Perth. It did not take the customs service bureaucracy many hours to deduce that these were very likely the same Joel Stiles and Lisa Whitaker they’d been asked to keep an eye on, during their arrival in Perth.
A tip was a tip, so an alert went out to Sydney; their luggage was to be searched thoroughly when they were in customs, as drugs were suspected.
Officer Gonzalez checked his watch, and then dialed Fowler’s cell phone number. He told Fowler that Lisa and Joel would be arriving early, and then explained to Fowler what had occurred with Dirk and Jim, and their disclosures.
Fowler listened patiently, with real interest, as much of what had happened in Florida was news to him.
Gonzalez got to the issue of verification, and then asked, “If Rachel Carlson is in your area, could you do me a favor and check her out, to make sure she’s who she says she is? I can send a fingerprint card –”
“No need on that. I can go you one better. I know who she is, quite well in fact. She’s my sister-in-law, and so I’m Trevor’s uncle, as I’ve recently found out. I wasn’t aware of all the Florida circumstances of her departure until your call, though I can certainly verify that she’s Trevor’s mother, and she’s very much alive. I’m sure Trevor can confirm this; she’s been to see him, and it was quite a shock for him. She’ll be ringing you herself shortly, sometime in the next couple of hours. She asked Trevor and me to let her contact you first.”
“She’s your sister-in-law?” Gonzalez sputtered, wishing he’d had that bit of information sooner. He brushed off that thought and asked, “Okay, so why the delay? Why doesn’t she call me? I need to ask her some questions, which might help get the people who are trying to kill her son.”
“Do you have any reason to believe that Trevor, not Atlantis, is the target? If so, I need to know, though Trevor is in a very safe place far from Atlantis,” Fowler asked.
“Nothing definite yet. We’re still leaning toward it being Atlantis, but don’t take any chances. And, it could be vital that I speak to Rachel, especially if we’re wrong about it being the boat.”
“I’ll ring her right now. I think she was just waiting for it to be office hours there. You’re at your regular number, right?” Fowler asked.
“Yes, my cell, call it anytime,” Gonzalez replied, wondering if Fowler was telling the truth.
“I’ll ring her now, G’day, Officer,” Fowler said, hanging up to call Rachel.
In the safe house, Jim and Dirk heard the cell phone ring, and Dirk answered it.
A long pause ensued, before Rachel said, “Dirk, it’s so good to hear your voice again.”
“Rachel… hi, how are you?” Dirk answered, at a loss for what else to say to a woman who was still legally his wife, who he hadn’t spoken with for nearly a decade.
“Relieved that it’s just about over. I decided not to wait for Christmas, or Trev’s friend’s arrival. I’ve seen Trev, twice now. The first time triggered a panic attack, I’m afraid, but he seems a bit better now, though very badly rattled. Shane is with him – they are quite close, so that’s a help. Trev is coming here to the farm for Christmas. I’m hopeful that giving him a few days to adapt will help.”
“Rachel… does he hate me?” Dirk asked.
“I don’t think so. He did get angry for a bit – he seems to have inherited my temper – but he seems better. He even asked that I help you with the charges, so he can’t be too angry. Dirk, I need to talk to you more, but for now I must hurry; an Officer Gonzalez is awaiting my call and the message sounds urgent. I need to know the legal situation, and how I can help.”
“Let me hand you over to my boyfriend, Jim, he’s a lawyer,” Dirk replied.
Jim took the phone and gave Rachel a fast rundown of their agreement with the State Attorney. He concluded with, “Basically, it’s ironclad; it covers you and Dirk both, for everything he told them, so you’re free and clear. If you have more legal questions, please bear in mind that I’m a civil attorney, not a criminal one. I’ll give you Frank Tittle’s number, he’s the criminal one,” Jim said, smiling to himself, and then read off the number.
“Thank you, and I’ll call again soon. I’ll have Trevor call at Christmas, as well. Welcome to the family, Jim,” Rachel said.
As soon as Rachel hung up, Jim looked at Dirk and said, “You introduced me as your boyfriend, and she didn’t seem surprised.”
Dirk smiled and shrugged. “She’s always known I’m bi, so I figured she’d be happy for me, and I think she is. She told me about her and Martin in an e-mail a few years ago – he’s the one she bought the farm with – so… Jim, she’s my wife in name only now, anything but friendship between us ended before she left.”
Jim sat down beside Dirk. “I wasn’t worried. I was just thinking; if she doesn’t have issues about gays, maybe she could help us with Trevor, to get him to accept you’re in a relationship with a guy? Either her, or Lisa and Joel… they seemed totally okay with it, once they scraped their jaws up off the table. They were also sure that Trevor doesn’t know, which can’t be. I could have sworn Trevor told me that Joel knew when we were in Italy, but Lisa and Joel seemed genuinely surprised. And they were adamant that Trevor wouldn’t have an issue with it. Something here just don’t add up,” Jim said, arching an eyebrow.
Dirk scratched his head. “Maybe Trev never told Lisa or Joel all of why he left… I don’t know. But Jim, Rachel said he asked her to help me. That’s the best news I’ve had in a very long time,” he said, breaking into a smile and giving Jim a hug.
Rachel called Frank Tittle, to find out what she could say. Frank listened to her talk for a while, asked a few questions, and then replied, “The statute of limitations for money laundering is five years, so you’re safe. Dirk didn’t know, so no conspiracy, and even so, the statute of limitations is up. I’d also strongly recommend telling Officer Gonzalez about all this; it could be very important.”
Gonzalez was sure he wasn’t going to get a call; right up until his phone rang.
“G’day, this is Rachel Carlson, or at least I used to be. I understand that the legal charges are at an end. I can prove my identity in any way that you choose.”
Gonzalez wasn’t willing to accept Fowler’s overly convenient say-so, so he replied, “Hello, Mrs. Carlson. I will need you, sometime soon, to go into the nearest major police station, or the American consulate in Perth, for a fingerprint match. However, my immediate need is for information related to the attacks on Trevor.”
“I wish I could help in that, but I’m afraid I don’t know anything aside from what Trevor and the news have told me.”
Gonzalez got right to the point. “I need to know what you know about George Alfred.”
“The name isn’t familiar to me,” Rachel honestly replied. She’d never met or heard of him.
“What about Bridget Bellevue?” Gonzalez asked offhandedly.
“Oh, her,” Rachel replied, in a sour tone. “Yes, I knew her, wish I hadn’t.” Rachel briefly explained about purchasing Ares, then Atlantis, with Gonzalez occasionally interrupting to ask for details. Rachel concluded with, “Bridget is a nasty piece of work. How is she tied up in this?”
Gonzalez carefully replied, “That’s what I’m trying to figure out. What I need to know first is, did she make any attempt to get Atlantis or Ares back?”
“Yes. A year or two before I left, Bridget hinted a few times that I should sell Ares, and then not long after said she felt badly that Arnold hadn’t alerted us to the Jones Act, and offered to buy Ares back for more than we’d paid. It was a generous offer – for Ares only, not Atlantis – but I declined. I declined again, years later, when a friend of hers offered to purchase both boats. I was making a superb income from the boats and I had no wish to see it end. Shortly thereafter, Bridget ceased sending me business.”
“What kind of business had she been sending?” Gonzalez asked.
Rachel hesitated, and then forged ahead. “Charters at first, mainly. Sometimes passenger charters – people wanting a one-way to the Bahamas. Not that often though, just a few. Sometimes, it was bare-boat charters – basically hiring out the boat. I especially liked those because they were not illegal under the Jones Act, and I was able to handle them above-board as normal business proceeds, which helped give the business legitimacy.”
Gonzalez questioned Rachel for another half hour, touching on all manner of things, but he kept coming back to Bridget. Then he asked, “Did you ever know of, or suspect, any illegal activity on her part, or by Arnold Bellevue?”
Rachel chewed on her lip, and then replied carefully, “I believe so, especially for Bridget. There were things that made me suspicious about her activities in the Bahamas. Nothing definite, just a strong feeling, that she was shipping things out of the U.S. in secret. I know for a fact that she was shipping things out by highly unconventional means.”
“What about into the U.S.?” Gonzalez asked.
“Not that I was aware of,” Rachel answered honestly.
“What made you suspicious that she was sending stuff out? Any idea what kind of stuff?”
Rachel knew it was time to come mostly clean. “What I’m about to say, I kept secret from Dirk. He’d have never approved, and as events have proven, he’d have been right. The items I knew of were yachts, and things like air conditioners, engines, that sort of thing, and people as well. Not by her directly, but by people I knew she knew and was involved with. Like with the charters for me: she’d have someone else contact me, but I knew they came from her because, a few days before, Bridget would ask if I was available. The daily rate I was paid was usually twenty-five thousand a day, which is vastly more than the normal rate for a charter would have been – I’d have been lucky to get that much in three weeks for a charter back then. At other times, I’d deliver yachts to the Bahamas for people she knew, such as her brother’s yacht business, and sometimes those passenger charters I mentioned, and also the bare-boat charters, which could last weeks. The passengers would be two or three men who spoke little to no English, and they carried huge duffel bags with them every moment. On other occasions, I used Ares or Atlantis to ship cargo, such as air conditioners for her brother’s air conditioner business, or computers, alligator hides, engines, artwork, all manner of things for all sorts of businesses. I… I was aware that I was mixed up in something illegal. It had to have been, for no one would ship industrial cargoes via charter yacht at insanely high prices, or pay the sort of fees I was paid. Bridget took care to distance herself from these things, but she was up to something illegal, I’m fairly certain of it. My guess for the passengers with duffel bags was money laundering. For the rest, I don’t know.”
Gonzalez felt his pulse quicken. He was onto something, he could feel it. He began asking questions, seeking details. Then he asked, “Did you ever meet Bridget’s brother?”
“No, I never did. It was always done via go-betweens. I believe she had more than one brother, but I’m not certain. I do know that Bridget had business interests in many things.”
Gonzalez asked more questions, and then finished with, “Is there anything, anything at all, that you can think of that would be a reason why Bridget would want to get her hands on Ares or Atlantis?”
“No… Maybe… Maybe if there was something amiss with the initial sales?” Rachel guessed.
“Could she believe that Ares and Atlantis were swapped? They’re nearly identical, from what I understand,” Gonzalez asked.
“I don’t know. As far as I’m aware she knew nothing at all of the plans for my disappearance,” Rachel replied, and then paused before adding, “Wait, she might possibly have believed them swapped, because I did that to an associate of hers once. Ares was my first boat and I was more particular about her than I was about Atlantis, and Atlantis was the only one whose insurance covered bare boat charters. So, I prefered to send Atlantis out on those. When the person I knew was linked to Bridget requested Ares, I sent them Atlantis. At that time, I did not have the names painted on the hulls, so I swapped the nameplates and license for a while, then switched them back later. As for Atlantis, sometimes she’d be bare-boat chartered for long periods under her own name, and I noticed that they put a lot of wear and tear on her engines and gear.”
“What became of Ares?” Gonzalez asked.
“I kept her; she’s now the boat Trevor is on, disguised via some changes as a Lagoon 57.”
Again, Gonzalez led Rachel through detailed recounts, asking many questions, often coming at issues from different directions than he had before. At the end of it, Gonzalez decided he’d have to share some of his suspicions. “The indicators I have point to something being on Atlantis, something that someone wants destroyed. Bridget’s interest in Ares makes me wonder… but why go after Atlantis, or Trevor, if Ares was the one she’s interested in? Unless she noticed the switch you did, and thinks it was permanent. She did know Ares very well, before Arnold sold it. Do me a favor and think it over, and let me know if anything comes to mind, anything at all. I’ll need to talk to you again soon, how can I reach you?”
Rachel gave him her phone number, and with that, the call was over. Gonzalez reviewed his notes, and then made some new notes in preparation for his next call, which would be to the forensic accountant.
It was a long, grueling flight. They slept most of the way, but breakfast found them beginning the decent into Sydney.
Final approach was over historic Botany Bay, the scene of First Fleet’s arrival in Australia, the anniversary of which was now celebrated as Australia Day. Lisa, with Joel looking over her shoulder, her face pressed to the window, looked out at the vast, sprawling suburbs of Sydney, eagerly anticipating her stay in Australia.
The Qantas flight delivered them to terminal one, and they cleared passport control with no apparent problem. Then it was on to baggage claim, where they waited for their bags. And waited. They did not notice a customs officer standing nearby, whose job it was to keep an inconspicuous eye on Lisa and Joel, and who had been following them since passport control.
Their luggage had been taken away before reaching the baggage carousels, going instead directly to an inspection room. There, two drug-sniffing dogs were introduced to it, only to ignore it, after a cursory sniff.
The next step was a scanner, which showed little amiss.
“Open ‘em up,” the supervisor ordered. He knew there were ways to foil the dogs and the scanners. The cases were opened, and their contents removed piece by piece. The bags of tortilla chips were examined in detail, only the clear windows on the front preventing them from being opened. The clothes were next, even though the tip specified the baggage itself. They saved the cases for last, and began their examinations.
Lisa and Joel, seeing no sign of their cases as the luggage stopped emerging, began looking around, and Joel said, “We’re at the right carousel, so… I see a Qantas baggage desk, let’s go check with them.”
Before Lisa and Joel had gone more than a few paces, the customs officer pulled along side, and asked, “Mr. Stiles? Ms. Whitaker? Could you come with me please? There’s been a minor issue with your baggage.”
Lisa and Joel, confused and jetlagged, though not yet concerned, were escorted out a side door, into the inspection room, which looked stark and foreboding. They noticed with growing unease that their luggage open and unpacked, sitting under the watchful eye of three officers. The supervisor smiled, and said, “G’day, there’s been a bit of an issue. I’m afraid one of our drug dogs found your cases very interesting. Is there any reason that you can think of for this?”
“Yeah, if they like tortilla chips,” Joel said, nodding at the several bags of them, stacked beside the cases.
“They’re usually not sensitive to food items. I’m afraid we’ll need to run the dogs past your flight bags and persons.”
Growing concerned, Lisa and Joel watched as their flight bags were opened, and two dogs were encouraged to sniff around. Then an officer began inspecting the contents by hand, while the officer with the dogs led them to Lisa and Joel. “They don’t bite,” he said reassuringly, as they sniffed around.
One of the dogs eagerly nudged Joel’s crotch a couple of times, before turning to look at its handler, which was the ‘alert’ signal the dogs were trained to show. Another officer gave Joel a pat down, and then asked, “Are you wearing a money belt?” He’d felt one, but it was procedure to ask.
Joel gave Lisa a worried look, and then replied, “Yeah, do you need to see it?”
“I’m afraid so. I can take you to a private room if you prefer.”
Joel shook his head, pulled up his shirt, tugged his money belt up above his jeans, and then unbuckled its elastic strap before handing it over, and saying hurriedly, “I’ve got cash in there, but it’s less than I’d have to declare, I checked.”
The dog handler had the sniffer dog check Joel again, getting no response, while the officer with Joel’s money belt opened it, looked, and presented it to the dog, which sniffed, then shoved its nose in, tail wagging. The officer extracted the cash, looked it over, and presented it to the dog, which reacted again, though it now showed little interest in the money belt. The officer glanced at the supervisor, and then shrugged. “Tainted cash, again.”
“What do you mean, tainted?” Joel asked.
The supervisor turned to Joel and Lisa. “It’s quite common, unfortunately. Cash, especially paper currency, holds drug traces easily, and a dog can pick up the faintest traces, even if it’s been years. However, this does mean we’ll need to run the two of you through a scanner. It’s procedure, whenever we pick up a trace, to make sure no one has anything inside.”
It took Joel a few seconds to remember how drugs were sometimes smuggled by people via swallowing them in balloons or condoms, and then he said angrily, “We’re not drug mules!”
The supervisor smiled disarmingly. “Sorry, it’s just procedure. It’s only a walk-in scanner, only take a moment.”
Joel exchanged a glance with Lisa, and then shrugged. “Okay, I guess.”
Quickly, they were escorted to a scanner and walked though. Upon their return – the scanner operator had paid careful attention to Lisa and Joel’s body language, which was an even better indicator than the machine – the supervisor said, “No problems inside, but that doesn’t explain the interest the dogs had in your baggage. I’m afraid I’m going to have to inspect under the liners. That’ll mean a tiny hole or two, but nothing harmful.” The dogs hadn’t actually alerted on the baggage, but he needed to check anyway, due to the tip.
He stooped to his task, and as Lisa and Joel watched, their concern growing, the supervisor inspected the empty suitcases, probing, looking, and finally cutting a tiny hole in the liner and inserting a fiber-optic scope to visually inspect the case walls. He found nothing due to there being nothing to find, so after another trip through the baggage scanner and past the dogs, Lisa and Joel were allowed to repack, and then sent on their way with an apology. “False alarm, from the look of it. Sorry for the delay. I’ll have an officer escort you over to the domestic terminal, for your flight to Perth. Welcome to Australia.”
“Uh, thanks, but what should I do about the cash? Run it through a washing machine?” Joel asked.
“I wouldn’t worry about it; a trace is far too little to be harmful, and we encounter this quite often.”
As soon as Lisa and Joel were ushered away, the supervisor said, “I’ll ring Perth and let them know what occurred and that these two are on their way. Odd that we received a false drug tip about them, then picked up a faint trace. Very odd indeed.”
A Discussion thread for this chapter is in my forum, please have a look and join in. direct link here. The forum enables conversations so in many cases it's a far easier to use format than the "leave a comment" section on this page, so I suggest having a look, but use whichever (or both) you are more comfortable with . :)