Trevor and Shane got up early, taking the shuttle bus into Rockingham, and then trains into Perth and on to Ashfield station – the closest they could find to the domestic terminals of Perth International Airport. It was a three mile walk across the Swan river, into Redcliffe, and then into the airport. En route Trevor observed, “Joel will have luggage, plus he’ll be tired, so unless we can find a bus going the right way, we’ll probably have to take a taxi back to the train. Too bad the commuter train doesn’t go to the airport.”
Shane arched an eyebrow. “You? Take a taxi? You feeling okay? You’re usually much too cheap to even consider that.”
“So says the guy who owns two yachts,” Shane replied, snickering, even though he knew and understood Trevor’s need for thrift. It was just too good a dig to pass up, and they both knew it.
Laughing, they made their way to Perth’s domestic terminal and checked the arrivals board. “On time, landing in a few minutes,” Shane observed, and then glanced around, figuring out the layout of the terminal. They made their way past security, where they waited. Trevor kept checking his watch – the old damaged one of Joel’s which had saved Trevor’s life in the Southern Ocean – and began to pace.
With their attention fixed on the gate, neither guy noticed that not all was as it seemed. They were a dozen other people waiting, but three were paying discreet attention to Trevor and Shane. Two more were keeping a watchful eye on other people in the area, trying to discern anything amiss.
The passengers began deplaning, emerging from the jetway in a steady stream. Soon, Trevor was a shock of blond hair, and then Joel stepped out of the jetway. Trevor rushed forward, giving him a big hug, “Hey brother! I’m so glad to see you!”
Joel grinned, and said, “I got a surprise,” as Lisa, who had waited in the jetway, strolled through behind him.
Trevor blinked, astonished, and then rushed forward to give her a hug, “Lisa, whoa, you’re here!” Trevor gushed, thrilled to see his close friend of many years. Trevor pulled Lisa and Joel out of the busy walkway, and then he noticed that Shane was standing a couple of yards away, looking awkward. “Get over here,” Trevor told him, with a smile, and then wrapped his arms around both Lisa and Joel, “I’m so happy to see you guys, and wow… Lisa, I haven’t seen you since our birthday!” Trevor reached out for Shane and dragged him into the group hug. “This is Shane, my boyfriend!” Trevor said, with a broad, proud smile.
“G’day,” Shane said, awkwardly hugging two people he’d never met.
“He sure sounds Australian, even more in person than on the phone,” Lisa said, chuckling and looking at Shane. “Glad to meet you, Shane.”
“Same here,” Joel said, giving Shane a pat on the back.
“Wow,” Trevor said, beaming at Lisa and Joel, and then glancing towards the main part of the terminal, “I guess we better get your luggage.”
“Yeah, after what happened in Sydney, I don’t know if it’ll arrive.” Joel briefly explained about the drug search, as they made their way into the main concourse. None of them noticed the unusual ceiling, designed to evoke upturned boat hulls.
“Shit, not a fun way to arrive, glad they didn’t throw you in jail!” Trevor replied, in response to the news of the search in Sydney.
The made their way through the concourse, passing its huge glass oculus,
and then to the top of the escalator, barely noticing the terminal around them, or the three men tagging along at a discreet distance.
This time, the suitcases appeared with no problem, one at a time, in the stream of baggage, and Joel pulled them off the carousel.
Trevor noticed that Shane was acting somewhat reserved, so he asked quietly, out of Lisa and Joel’s earshot, “Are you okay?”
Shane gave him a smile and a nod, replying honestly, “Yeah, it just takes me a bit to get settled around new people.”
With a suitcase each to carry, Trevor faced the unavoidable, and sighed, “It’s a three mile walk to the train station, and I haven’t seen anything about buses, maybe we better get a taxi.”
Joel smirked, and asked Shane, “Is Trev feeling okay?”
Shane got it, and grinned. “I was thinking that as well. So, to save him from trauma, and to save you and Lisa from enduring changing trains, I’m springing for the taxi, all the way back to Perth’s main station, which will probably cost a dollar extra, which means Trev would have never considered it.”
Lisa and Joel began cracking up, while Trevor grumbled, “Hey, I’m not that cheap!”
“Yeah, right,” Joel replied, snickering, and then he gave Shane a grin. “Good one.”
They left the baggage area, under the watchful eye of five men, two of whom followed at a discreet distance.
As the group of friends approached the glass doors to the taxi rank, the two men split up, one doubling back to check for any sign of observation.
The five men were all plainclothes members of the customs service, tasked to keep an eye on Trevor and his friends. They saw nothing amiss, and watched as the four piled into a cab.
Lisa and Joel got their first close look at non-airport Australia from the taxi, as it wended its way downtown, to Perth’s main train station, where they would catch the train to Rockingham. Shane’s joking estimate of a dollar extra to go downtown, which was roughly three times further than the station they’d walked from, was off, though not by much. The total fare came to fifteen dollars, which Shane paid. Trevor didn’t object; he knew what Shane was up to: trying to make a good impression in Lisa and Joel.
Trevor and Shane had their own surprises in store. They’d agreed to say nothing about where Kookaburra was moored – to let it come as a surprise – or anything about Kookaburra being Ares or Trevor’s mother being alive. The plan was to leave that news until they were at sea the next day, due to the issue of jet lag and exhaustion.
The exhausting journey was already taking its toll on Lisa and Joel by the time the train arrived in Rockingham.
Trevor led the way to the shuttle bus stop, remarking offhandedly, “Almost there, the shuttle bus drops us off just a few yards from where we’re tied up.”
They waited almost an hour for the bus, chatting and catching up, and Trevor made sure Shane was included in the conversation. Shane, he could see, was becoming more at ease, and he and Joel seemed to be clicking well, but Trevor could see that Lisa wasn’t warming to Shane the way Joel was. Trevor decided to let the issue lie until tomorrow, already suspecting that he’d need to have a private talk with Lisa. He was nonetheless thrilled to see her, so he smiled and asked, “How the heck did you talk your father into letting you come?”
Lisa put her arm around Joel. “Joel worked a miracle, he set it all up. The bad news is Daddy wouldn’t let me stay the whole time; I’ve got to go to my grandmother’s house in New Jersey for New Year’s. I’ll need to be back in Perth in just over a week to fly home. Where are we going, anyway?”
“North, up the coast, and we’ve got a place to go for Christmas,” Trevor said.
“Did you find your family yet? We can help you look,” Lisa said.
“We’ve put that on hold for a couple of days,” Trevor replied, with a smile and a shrug.
Lisa gave Shane a suspicious glance that Trevor didn’t see, and then replied, “Okay, but–” Lisa’s words were cut off by the arrival of the shuttle bus.
Trevor picked up two cases and walked to the door, only to come to a halt when Joel pointed and said, “Trev, this says it’s military.”
“Civilians use it too, and it takes us across the bridge to where we’re moored,” Trevor replied, which was true; civilian contractors for the base used it quite often.
Trevor led them aboard, and discreetly showed his base pass to the driver. Once they were seated, and the shuttle bus was half-full, it pulled away. Everything seemed normal enough to Lisa and Joel, until the shuttle bus reached the checkpoint at the start of the causeway, to check passes. The guard had been told about Trevor and his expected guests, so after a cursory look at Trevor and Shane’s passes, he moved on down the aisle.
Lisa stared, and gave Trevor a puzzled look. “Where are we going?”
Trevor smirked, and shrugged. “To where we’re moored. This bus goes there.”
Joel, who was sitting on the left side of the bus, said, “I saw a sign that said Fleet Base West. It didn’t say anything else.”
A sailor who knew about Trevor was sitting behind Joel and guessed what Trevor was up to, so he said to Joel, “Fleet Base West is the largest naval base in the Southern Hemisphere, home to almost half of Australia’s surface fleet and our entire submarine force. You’ll see many warships ahead and a little to the right as we cross over the causeway bridge. The base is on the southern half of Garden Island; the northern half is civilian, and this causeway is the only road in.” He’d told the truth, only omitting the fact that civilian access to the northern part of the island was only via private boat or ferry.
As they crested the main span of the causeway’s bridge, Lisa and Joel got a good look at the vast naval base. They were still looking a mile later when the bus came to a halt. “This is our stop,” Trevor said, and then turned to give the sailor who’d spoken a friendly nod.
Joel glanced around. “We’re still on the base,” he said.
“This is our stop,” Trevor repeated, carrying two suitcases off the bus. Shane followed with the other two, with a perplexed Lisa and Joel bringing up the rear.
Lisa looked at the superstructure of a warship, and asked, “Why did we get off in the middle of the base? You’re going to get us in trouble.”
“This way to Kookaburra, just a few more yards,” Trevor said, leading the way.
After just a few steps, Kookaburra came into view between the buildings, and Trevor said, “There she is.”
“You’re moored in the middle of a naval base?” Lisa exclaimed in surprise, and then shot Trevor a mock glare. “And you kept it a secret just to mess with our heads, didn’t you?”
“Uh huh,” Trevor confirmed, and then chuckled. “The customs service is looking out for me. They set this up, which kind of blew our minds too.”
As they approached Kookaburra, Lisa grinned. “She’s red! She’s beautiful,” she said, with an approving nod.
“Lisa likes red,” Trevor explained to Shane.
They boarded, and Trevor showed Lisa and Joel around, beaming. “She’s really beautiful. Atlantis will look a lot like this, when she’s fixed.”
Trevor led Lisa and Joel to the port forward cabin. “Here ya go. I’ll bet you two are exhausted. Want something to eat, or some sleep first?”
“Food, then sleep. I can barely keep my eyes open, and Joel looks like he’s about to pass out,”Lisa said, and then added, “Food sounds good, as long as you’re not cooking, Trev. I can do without food poisoning.”
“Hey, I’m not that bad,” Trevor replied, only to receive three replies of ‘oh yes you are’. Trevor laughed and shrugged. “Shane is a super cook, he’s made us a casserole.”
They ate, and Joel had his first taste of Australian beer, which he loved. As a result, Shane taught him to say “Ripper!”
George was still asleep when his cell – his prepaid one – rang. Groggily, he answered it, and heard Bridget’s voice, with road noise in the background. “We have an emergency. That person you mentioned to me, he has paid me a visit. I dealt with him, and I think we need to find out how much more he knows. He’s quite aware of you, in detail. We can brook no delays. I urgently need a new handbag.” The phones were anonymous and digital, but Bridget believed in caution.
“You’ve got W–” George mumbled, still half asleep, catching himself before saying the rest of Henry’s surname.
“I need a handbag, understood?” Bridget said.
It took George a moment to remember what that meant. “Okay, gotcha, when?”
“I am en route,” Bridget replied, and then hung up.
George raced to get dressed, and then drove off, heading for Yeehaw Junction as fast as he felt he dared. He got onto the Florida Turnpike, heading north towards the tiny town, which was the closest exit to the place he and Bridget called ‘the farm’. The farm was a place they’d long planned to use, should a body need disposing of, and had most recently discussed as an option for Lisa and Joel. It was also, George reflected, an ideal place to encourage someone to talk.
Forty-five minutes after leaving Ft. Pierce, George was off the turnpike and driving on a poorly maintained gravel road through the dense vegetation of the swampy area. Soon, he reached the farm’s razor-wire unmarked fence and turned through the farm’s open chain link gate, driving through to park next to Bridget’s Mercedes. As soon as he opened his car door, the stench hit him, but he ignored it, and got out to glance around. A few yards away, a man in shabby overalls was sitting in the cab of a new pickup truck. George made eye contact, recognizing the man as the farm’s on-paper owner – Bridget was a silent partner in the farm. The man called out, “They’re on the pier. I don’t want to be around for this,” he said, as he started the truck and drove off in a hurry, raising a cloud of dust on the gravel road.
George jogged to the farm’s decrepit main building, little more than rusting corrugated tin. He found the door open. Walking in, he glanced through the dirty window ahead, seeing Bridget at the end of a short, high pier that led out over the water. It was where he’d expected she’d be, so he walked out, heading for her. She was facing away from him, her gun out, trained on a man who was hunched down, kneeling, facing the water at the end of the pier.
George took a fast look around, seeing a scene that could be Florida of a bygone era; the old, weather-eaten wood of the pier, the huge pond, and all around, the sights and smells of the swamp; giant cypress trees bedecked in trailing beards of Spanish moss, a sight George had always found somewhat eerie. The sounds of the swamp added to the sinister aura of the place – the incessant buzzing of tree frogs and crickets mingled with the chirping and calls of countless birds, while overhead the soft murmur of the morning breeze in the highest branches. Those were not the only sounds, for there were others, more dreaded still – the occasional hiss and splash, and the intermittent low rumbling, akin to the snoring sounds of many sleeping men.
“I’m here,” George called out, not wanting to startle Bridget. He walked uneasily on the feeding pier, feeling its old wooden planking bend. He could hear them below, splashing and hissing. George hated the place: it was an alligator farm; a large fenced pond where alligators were raised for their hides. The feeding pier, six feet above the water, was used for feeding the voracious creatures – there were over two hundred of them in the pond – as well as for monitoring the water conditions. There were safety railings on the pier, though the rusty railings at the end had been removed. Knowing what was below made George dread every step on the old creaking boards.
As he approached Bridget, who was ten feet back from the man at the brink, said, “Henry knows all of it. He won’t say if Gonzalez does.”
George came up close behind him, and said, “It’s talk or swim, Wesson, and those gators sound mighty hungry.”
The kneeling man suddenly stood up, giving George a leering, gap-toothed smile.
George took a step back, blinking in surprise. “You’re not Wesson,” he blurted, starting to reach for his gun.
“Stop!” Bridget commanded, and then George heard the familiar click of a revolver’s hammer being pulled back, before Bridget added in a quieter tone, “Don’t move. Billy is going to disarm you, and then we need to talk, just you and I.”
George moved only his head, glancing at Bridget, seeing that she had her revolver trained on his chest. “Bridget, what…” his voice trailed off, as Billy took George’s service revolver, and then, at Bridget’s direction, the backup gun he carried on his left calf, followed by the contents of his pockets, including his car keys.
“That will be all, Billy,” Bridget said, dismissing one of her long-time employees. With a smile and a nod, Billy hurried off. George could only stare in shock, trying to ward off a growing sense of fear.
They stared at each other in silence for a few long moments, until they heard the engine of George’s car start, followed by the crunch of gravel as Billy drove away. Bridget took a deep breath, fixing George in a baleful stare. “Let us dispense with the nonsense, George. I am – contrary to what you apparently believe – not an imbecile. The idea to frame Lisa and Joel with drugs was horse feathers: it would have left a connection between myself and drugs. The same is true for your ploy with Trevor’s car. It makes poor sense, unless you wished a way out to save your own skin. Then, and only then, does it fit.”
George shook his head. “Bridget, no, I wouldn’t… that’d implicate me, too.”
Bridget glared, tightening her finger on the trigger. “Another lie. I am aware of how you operate with the department: do you really suppose that you are the only officer I have business with? Your role could be easily explained as an undercover sting with me as the target, especially if I did not survive to contradict your story. I am not a fool, George. The same, however, cannot be said for you. You have not discerned, not in all these years, that my operation extends to far more than the runs in the boat. As a result, I am far more important to the cartel than I let on. Sanchez is well aware of this, of course. Do you recall my lament that Sea Witch had not been out of the shed in a week? And my words about betrayal? That was my way of giving you your final chance. The security at the boatyard is loyal to me, not us, and I asked them to keep me informed. Then, I received a note from Sanchez, telling me of your treachery: your visit with him and your offer to take over my operation. An operation of which you are largely unaware and would thus be quite unable to run, even if Sanchez had the ability to turn it over to you.”
George’s blood ran cold. He heard the hiss of the alligators crowded below, and shook his head. “Bridget, please, let me explain. It was a backup plan, nothing more, in case things went bad.”
Bridget’s anger rose another notch. “Perhaps you are forgetting: you put the cocaine in the suitcases and said you phoned in the anonymous tip. Judas! You were setting me up, George. Irregardless of whether you would have decided to follow through, you were creating the opportunity, and your visit to Sanchez confirms that you had decided to act. You are a fool to underestimate me; I have let you proceed with your plan, for it occurred to me that I could make use of it.”
Bridget was correct; George’s call to the Australian tip line had been placed from his office phone with careful intent; to create a record of him making the call. His selection of an identifying phrase, ‘Brutus’, had been both a further means of identifying himself as the tipster, and also an expression of his wit, for ‘Brutus’, more properly known as Marcus Junius Brutus, was the best-known leader of the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar.
George broke into a cold, clammy sweat. “Bridget… you need me to get out of this. Without me on the force to misdirect, Lisa and Joel’s bust comes right back at you,” George said, trying to see an opening. He was standing an arm’s length from the end of the pier, with Bridget to his left and directly inshore of him, but eight feet away – too far for him to rush her before she could fire.
Hands at shoulder level, palms out, George slowly began to turn towards Bridget, only to be told, “Do not move or I shall end this now, no further warning. As for Lisa and Joel’s arrival in Australia, Lisa was very appreciative of the new suitcases I gave her, to replace the ones you prepared. The issue is over, George, and I am not one to tolerate betrayal, as Arnold learned.”
George’s mind raced, and to try to keep Bridget talking, he blurted out, “Wait, you’re right, but you don’t know it all. I told Sanchez everything as part of my offer, including about what Arnold had on Ares. Sanchez knows it’s not just the asset list now, he knows you lied. We’re in this together, Bridget. I’m sorry for what I did, I really am, I was scared and it got to me, but we need each other if we’re going to survive this.”
That was what Bridget had been waiting for. Her fear had been that he’d set up a way for the information to reach Sanchez if George disappeared. It would have been a far better bargaining chip than what he’d said. She breathed a sigh of relief, knowing George had lied. “Perhaps you were right to think me a fool, for a fool I was to trust you with that. However, had you told Sanchez, he would have dispatched you at once. No, you have just confirmed for me what I needed to know, so it is time for a parting of the ways. Turn around and step to the edge, or I shall kill you where you stand.”
George, trembling in fear, turned towards the end of the pier, but took no step. “Bridget, please, don’t do this!”
“Your only choice, George, is to jump in, or take a bullet first. You have three seconds before I fire,” Bridget said, her voice cold and resolute.
George looked out at the pond, seeing the alligators, waiting. In that long, brief moment, he smelled them, heard them, could almost feel them… fear intertwined with panic, and preferring a bullet to being eaten alive, he gasped, “Please, I can’t –”
“Enjoy breakfast, George,” Bridget said, lowering her aim and pulling the trigger. With a sharp crack, the gun fired.
Bridget’s aim was true, sending the bullet smashing into the back of George’s right knee, shattering his bones. George felt the impact, first like a kick, then a deep, searing pain, his leg collapsing as his hands flew to it, and in agony, he doubled up, teetering towards the edge. He cried out in anguish, listening to the hiss of the alligators below.
Agony mixed with terror, and George Alfred let out a moan. He had time for nothing else, as Bridget fired again, her aim slightly askew, causing her bullet to clip his other knee, passing through his flesh without fully shattering the bone.
In profound agony, George collapsed onto the pier, close to the edge, where just below, over forty large alligators, the smallest ten feet long, were waiting, anticipating their overdue normal meal of cattle parts left over from the slaughterhouse.
George tried to use his arm to shove himself away from the edge, but it was already far too late. Bridget stomped forward, in a rage, to deliver a furious kick to his back, sending him pitching forward, flailing, over the edge.
George, wracked by excruciating pain, felt himself tumbling, and then the splash of cool water as he slammed into the alligator pond. In a few eternal moments, he felt the first impact, as an alligator surged in and locked its massive jaws on his arm, followed moments later by another seizing his leg, and then in a frenzy, yet more locked on.
The waters roiled, churning from the force of the powerful reptiles beginning to shake and twist, rolling, tearing George apart. The pain overwhelmed him, and even though underwater, he screamed, adding the sensation of choking on the putrid water to the pure horror of being eaten alive, his final seconds becoming hell, incarnate.
Bridget watched from the pier as the alligators shredded what was left of George, and then began to feed on his remains, the largest of them swallowing one arm whole, while two fought over a severed leg. One alligator surfaced for a moment, yards away from the frenzy, with George’s severed head in its jaws, giving Bridget one last view of her longtime lover’s face, still wearing the look of terror and twisted grimace with which he’d met his end.
Bridget stood watching for a few moments more, the alligators making fast work of George’s disparate parts, as she’d known they would – she’d ordered their feeding halted a week before. Bridget turned away as they began a frenzied tug-of-war over George’s headless torso, and then, she stood tall, putting her gun back into her purse with dainty care, and walked away. When she reached her car, she spared one glance back towards the alligator pond. “I loved you, you treacherous backstabbing bastard,” she said, and then climbed into her car. For several long moments, Bridget sat, allowing her head to slump forward to touch the wheel. After a moment, she sat up straight, her stately demeanor returning, as she attended to combing her hair and checking her makeup.
Bridget turned the ignition key, listening to the engine purr, and turned on the radio, letting the music soothe her, as she pulled away, for the lonely ride home.
Upon reaching her home, she sent Sanchez the e-mail he’d been expecting. Just three words: ‘problem disposed of.’
It was only then, alone with the ticking of her stately grandfather clock, that she allowed a few bitter tears of pain and loss to come.
Six hours later, Bridget, sitting in her kitchen, was enjoying some hot tea and reading her newspaper when her phone rang. She picked it up, and before she could say anything, she heard an accented voice say, “Hello, are you alone?”
Bridget recognized Sanchez’s voice at once, and replied, “Yes.”
“Excellent, looking forward to seeing you,” Sanchez replied, and then ended the call.
Bridget had only a few moments to be puzzled. A rumble of engines approaching her dock alerted her, and she hurried out. To her astonishment, she saw Sanchez, apparently alone, at the helm of a large speedboat. She walked out to meet him and help with the mooring, saying cheerfully, “This is a surprise.”
With the long speedboat moored, Sanchez paused at the companionway hatch and said quietly to the three men below, “Remain out of sight.”
Sanchez stepped ashore, and to Bridget’s surprise, he gave her a chaste hug. It took her a moment to realize why: to show her that he was unarmed. “May I offer you a drink in my parlor?” Bridget asked.
“By all means,” Sanchez said, with a smile. As they walked to the house, he said quietly, “I have three men in the boat, all well-armed, if we need them.”
Bridget was well aware that Sanchez almost never set foot on American soil. Though he had several identities with documents to match, and no one, not even Bridget, knew his real name, it was always a risk, one he avoided when possible.
As soon as they were inside, Bridget said, “I am somewhat surprised to see you here, my dear Sanchez.”
“I thought it best to come, given the circumstances. I know how fond you were of George, so I know this must have been unpleasant for you, as it was with Arnold.”
Surprised by the display of compassion, for Sanchez was usually rather emotionless, Bridget gave him a gracious nod. “I so despise betrayal, and George’s was profound. I was furious, even while he was being eaten, but on the drive home, I did find myself missing his company.”
“It is time, as you Americans say, to lay my cards on the table. There are some things I need to tell you. The first is that I have been consolidating my position. The failed hits on your young sailor were a professional embarrassment to me, which compounded a few unrelated ones, and the results were to be expected: two of my underlings sensed weakness and entertained notions of killing me, as I did my predecessor. One talked too much, and the other made entreaties to the cartel’s inner circle regarding taking over my operation. I have eliminated them both, and in so doing sent a clear message to any others with similar notions.”
“I am gratified to hear this,” Bridget said, handing Sanchez a cognac, and pouring one for herself.
“Thank you. The other thing I shall tell you is how I found out about the second of the two. I found out from one of my fellow circle members.”
Bridget blinked in surprise. She hadn’t suspected that; being one of the twelve meant that Sanchez was one of the leaders of the cartel, a higher position than she’d believed he’d held. “I take it congratulations are in order?”
Sanchez chuckled. “Five years too late, but that is entirely my own doing. I find it advantageous that very few know. In your case, I needed to tell you now so that you can understand what I have to say. I, along with the other eleven, are gravely concerned by recent developments. Your operation is very important to us, as you know. That asset list your late husband prepared would compromise parts of the operation along with you, so in brief, I come to offer a deal: if your legal problems get bad enough that you need to run, we want to take over your operation. In return, we will help you relocate overseas with a new identity, and pay you well for your operation. Twenty million, if it is somewhat intact.”
The idea for the businesses to act as money-laundering conduits had been conceived by Bridget and set up by Arnold Bellevue, when Bridget’s operation had been limited to drug running. It was Arnold who had come up with the legal structures, and although Bridget’s operation had expanded in the years since she’d killed him, the asset list he’d drawn up was something to be feared, for it could unravel part of the operation and implicate her. Bridget had spent considerable time and funds to divest from most of the businesses she’d had when Arnold was alive, but the trail would still be there. For that reason, Sanchez had been willing to do whatever was necessary to aid Bridget in ensuring that Ares was never found. Now, with George’s death, only Bridget knew what else Arnold had put aboard – something far more deadly.
Bridget took a sip of cognac while weighing the offer. It was a generous one; the alternative to turning the operation over to the cartel under those circumstances would be attempting to run the surviving parts from afar, a difficult-to-impossible task. The amount of the offer was less than half of what Bridget reckoned it was worth, but money was not a concern; she’d sequestered more than that overseas on her own over the years. Sanchez had left unsaid what would happen if she refused, but Bridget suspected that the men on the boat were there for more than one reason. “Sanchez, I would hate to leave the business. It is my life, I need it. However, under such circumstances, I would have no option. The cartel’s offer is generous indeed. I graciously accept, with my profound thanks.”
Sanchez held up his brandy snifter, swirling the amber liquid, and then clinked it against Bridget’s, in toast. “A deal, then. Make no mistake; we prefer that you remain where you are, in charge of your operation. This is merely a fallback position. On our side, we will help in any way we can, you have but to ask.”
Bridget gave Sanchez a warm smile, well aware that with those words, combined with his disclosure of his real rank, he’d just committed the resources of the entire cartel to her aid. “You have already helped tremendously, via Basingstoke. I have taken the liberty of raising your generous offer to him, to include Lisa and Joel. With them and Trevor out of the way, no one will be searching for the wreck of Ares, thus placing the threat to my position at an end.”
“Excellent – however, I must insist on paying for it myself. A contract is a contract, after all.”
“My dear Sanchez, you have been most generous already. This is my problem, so I have no objection at all to any added costs – I can, after all, well afford it.”
Sanchez smiled. “I was not being altruistic. I actually need to be seen as handling this matter myself. Failing to do so makes me appear weak, and that is a fatal condition in my position. It is primarily for that reason I need to get Trevor’s head; as a grotesque but needed show that I do what I set out to do. The difficulty involved in that, in fact, is the reason I offered Basingstoke so much. He does come highly recommended; four kills in the last six years – that I know of.”
“Of course, just know that my offer stands, should you desire it at any time. I stand ready to assist in any way I can. I have already done so, by confirming to Basingstoke that Trevor is indeed having Atlantis repaired, though his security system there is hopefully superfluous now that he can track the catamaran Trevor is presently on – Kookaburra or Red Roo, whichever nameplate she’s wearing – this should all be over soon. What do you think of Basingstoke’s plan to make the deaths appear accidental?” Bridget asked.
Sanchez was copied in on the encrypted mails, so he knew the plan. “Clever, and quite workable. I was wondering how he’d manage that, especially in light of Trevor’s newfound fame. Ingenious of him to turn an obstacle into an advantage.”
The conversation soon turned to pleasantries, as the two long-time associates enjoyed a friendly chat that stretched well into the afternoon. Then Sanchez glanced at his watch and took his leave, returning to his boat and casting off in the last rays of the setting sun, before motoring back to the Bahamas.
In the bushes of the vacant lot across the waterway, Henry Wesson checked his camera, wondering what it was that he’d just seen and photographed.
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 . :)