Author's note: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all, and Happy New Year!
Due to a lag in writing on my part due to work, I've run behind again. I sincerely aplogize, but this means a two week gap until the next chapter, instead of the usual one week. This chapter, and especially the preceeding one, have been close to double sized, because I wanted to have the story Christmas and our Christmas on the same day. Anyway, best wishes to one and all, and enjoy the chapter.
Christmas at the Farm
Trevor’s head snapped around at the sound of the dropped beer, and he, along with Shane and Joel, stared for a moment at the bottle as it toppled, beginning to roll on the wooden deck, the hollow, echoing noise so loud in the sudden silence. Then, they all looked up, to see Lisa’s pallid face.
Her mouth opened and closed, and then, in a shaky voice, Lisa said, “Trev, after you called from Carnarvon and told us what happened… Joel and I figured out that the day we got engaged was the day the pirates got you. I remembered, because on that day I was looking at the mariner’s clock you gave me, and I got a weird cold chill. I… Trev, nobody knew anything was wrong, not until you got to Carnarvon. But…”
Joel got it first, his eyes opening wide. “Shit… She wouldn’t worry about being caught in a lie, if she thought we’d never talk to Trev again.”
Lisa began to shake, and Joel pulled her into a protective embrace. “Oh fuck,” Lisa gasped. “The only way that could be was if she knew about the pirate attack, and thought Trev was… and she… nobody could know that, except the pirates…”
“Them, and whoever sent ‘em,” Trevor said, standing tall, his eyes narrowing. “There’s them, and the bomb. Did Bridget know when I was going through Suez?” Trevor asked.
Joel shook his head, and then froze for a moment, his eyes opening wide. “No, we never told her that, but… we used to use her phone line for calls sometimes, remember?” Joel gave Lisa a hug, and asked softly, “Do you remember if we were on Bridget’s phone when we were tracking Trev through the canal? We did that in the guesthouse, and I know we used her phone line a few times, but I can’t remember what we said on it.”
“Oh, shit,” Shane mumbled, his eyes opening wide. “Any idea why, if it’s her?”
Joel nodded. “Maybe. She was a suspect in her husband’s murder, and Trev’s dad getting indicted for it got her off the hook. I think the bomb on Atlantis was to make that happen, and maybe the pirates, too.”
“Or maybe she was after Atlantis, not me,” Trevor said darkly, fury in his eyes. “The pirates stripped Atlantis, so maybe they were looking for something. Maybe they even found it. I think I need to talk to Officer Gonzalez, and my dad, and Jim.”
“Add Henry Wesson to that list; he’s the one who got me the Coast Guard file on Ares,” Joel said.
“Oh my God, I can’t… How could Bridget…” Lisa gasped, shaking, holding Joel close. “Trev, I’m so sorry, all you went through…”
With a caring touch on Lisa’s shoulder, Trevor replied, “Don’t worry about it. You had no way to know. If we’re right, you were played by Bridget. We all were.”
“Bridget who?” Rachel said, walking out, staring at Lisa, who was obviously distraught.
“Bridget Bellevue,” Joel replied, watching as Rachel’s eyes opened wide. “Lisa and I know her pretty well.”
“Stay away from her!” Rachel snapped, her blood running cold. “She’s bad news, and is not what she appears to be.”
Greg Fowler heard the raised voices, and walked outside in time to hear Rachel say, “Bridget is a smuggler of some kind, I think, and had her fingers in all sorts of things when I knew her. From what Officer Gonzalez asked, I think he suspects her as well.”
“Smuggling?” Fowler asked, casting a glance at Lisa and Joel. “Just before coming down here, I learnt that you two had a run-in with customs in Sydney, and I was going to ask you aboutI it.” Turning to Rachel, he asked, “What sort of smuggling? Drugs?”
Rachel shook her head, and answered truthfully, “Not that I know of, but Gonzalez asked that same question.”
Joel’s eyes opened wide, and in a numb tone, he said, “We had a surprise for Trev; we sold his car, and were bringing him the cash. We got the cash from Bridget, and the drug dog went nuts on my money belt… Most of what’s in there is from her, so maybe it’s hers that –”
Fowler interrupted to say, “I think I’ll be needing that for a few tests. I hope you haven’t exchanged it yet?”
Joel shook his head. “No, not yet. It’s back in the room.”
“Don’t touch it, the less handling, the better. You should have it back in a few days. How much are we talking?” Fowler asked.
“Six thousand dollars,” Joel replied.
“Six grand, for my car?” Trevor gasped. “It’s worth a grand, tops.”
Joel nodded. “More like five hundred, if that, but she said it was for charity, plus a Christmas present for the three of us. She’s rich, so we figured she was just being nice, but I guess not.”
“She’s one mean bitch, at least when I knew her, so she’d never do something like that, not unless it suited her purposes,” Rachel said, in a dark tone.
Fowler paced for a moment, his feet thudding on the wooden deck. “Something is going on, that’s bloody obvious. The reason for the issue at customs was someone – it was noted that the caller sounded male and American – phoned in an anonymous tip, naming Lisa and Joel and claiming they were smuggling cocaine. Then a trace is picked up, possibly coming from cash from a suspected smuggler. I hope you can figure out which bills came from her?” Fowler asked.
Joel shrugged. “That’s easy. Everything from her is in hundreds, but my own cash is twenties.”
“I smell a setup,” Fowler said, seeing the possible how, though not the why.
The conversation rambled on, mainly running through details, as the situation became clearer to everyone but Rachel, who had slipped away, heading for the study, where she calmed her breathing before calling Officer Gonzalez. As soon as he answered, she told him what had happened, answering a few questions from him before taking a deep breath, and saying, in a quiet, shaky tone, “It’s her, I know it is. There was something I held back from you, Officer, but now I know, I can’t…” and with that, Rachel at last began to tell the full extent of her dealings with Bridget Bellevue.
After many minutes of taking notes and asking questions, Gonzalez said, “I’m going to need you to make a video deposition. That should be enough for the grand jury, but you’ll probably need to come to Florida for the trial. Are you willing to do so?”
Rachel took a deep breath. “Yes,” she replied, surprised at how easily the answer came.
Several hours later, on Christmas Eve, a bemused Henry, who had been about to head home to Orlando before receiving Gonzalez’s urgent request that they meet, let Gonzalez into the motel room.
“Henry,” Gonzalez beamed, “Sorry to bug you on Christmas Eve, but this is gold. Rachel called me again. Seems Lisa, Joel, and Trevor started talking, and they noticed some very screwy things…” Gonzalez went on to explain, including a critical detail Rachel had been unaware of until he’d questioned her in depth, and e-mailed her a photo of George Alfred.
Henry took a few moments to digest that news. “I’m pretty sure Dirk never knew of this part, either. I sure as hell didn’t. So… George was around Bridget, a decade ago. That torpedoes any risk that he can claim that he was doing this undercover, it’s just too damn long ago. Interesting that Rachel admitted to knowingly smuggling yachts out of the U.S. for Bridget. And Rachel knew Bridget was intensely interested in Ares, and that’s part of why she swapped the names for a while: hoping to sell at a high price, at least until she discovered she had to leave. That meshes nicely with our theory that the anonymous IRS tip-off came from Bridget, to force Rachel to sell. One thing though… where the hell is George? Any word yet?”
Gonzalez shook his head. “He missed the breakfast meeting with the rest of my team, and hasn’t called in sick. No answer at his house and his cell isn’t on.”
Henry pointed at the tracking log on his computer. “I’ve been trying to figure this out. He went up to the Yeehaw Junction area, then down to Miami, then the tracker went off the air. I figured it was the battery, but just before you got here I looked up the exact coordinates of the last feed, on Google Earth. It’s short-term parking at Miami International Airport. The parking structure would block the signal. If the tracker is still working, the car hasn’t left yet.”
Gonzalez paled slightly. “If he’s flown the coop, we could be shit out of luck. I know he sometimes goes off unannounced and usually comes back with a big drug bust, but… this smells.”
Henry drummed his fingers on the table, and nodded. “Yeah. Okay… if he flew out, no hurry getting down there. How long can he get away with just disappearing?”
Gonzalez knew what Henry meant: how long until Gonzalez could make inquiries without tipping off anyone at the department who might be working with George. “Give it… until his next shift, which is the day after Christmas. Then I can go to his supervisor without it looking odd.”
“Okay, I’ve got a hunch, and I do like to play my hunches. That speedboat showing up at Bridget’s, and George’s car being at the airport… what if he’s flown out and will be bringing a boatload of something back? I’m scrapping my Christmas plans – not that I had much going – and I’ll be keeping up the stakeout across the channel from Bridget’s house.”
Gonzalez smiled and nodded, leaning back in his chair. “I wish I could help, but I’ve got family commitments Christmas Day. After that though, count me in. You’re not the only one with a feeling that something’s going down.”
While Trevor was busy with his grandparents, Shane chatted to Martin for a while, and then went outside, looking for Lisa and Joel. Instead, he almost walked into Ned, who was alone on the porch. “Oh, it’s you,” Ned observed dryly.
“Yep, I usually am,” Shane replied, with a contemptuous shrug.
Ned scowled, and then gave a long, slow sigh. “Well, I hope all this puts to rest one thing: you bad-mouthing my workmanship to all and sundry. I never put old filters on Kookaburra; those were her originals. You’ve been slandering me.”
Shane’s eyes narrowed, but he kept a civil tone. “How was I to know Kookaburra was older? Besides, you were always trying to get me sacked.”
Ned shrugged. “Part of the reason is I didn’t want you on Kookaburra. If you were sharp enough to spot the filters, you might spot something else. I wanted you gone.”
“That’s what it was all about? So, does this mean you don’t actually hate me?” Shane asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow.
Ned shrugged, and then, with a faint bemused smile, replied, “The other part I mentioned is I figure you for a low-life thieving scumbag who’s freeloading off the Blakes. So, no worries there; I still hate your guts.”
Shane considered that for a moment, before replying, “Glad to hear it; likewise, and it’s good to have some consistency in life.”
Ned rolled his eyes, a trace of an amused smile on his face, and then he raised his beer towards Shane, “For the sake of the others, I’ll hold to the truce – for a while at any rate – but hate has its place, I always say. Merry Christmas, you bogan scum.”
Shane clinked his beer with Ned’s. “Merry Christmas, you crooked Pommy bastard,” Shane said, and then, with a bemused shake of his head, sauntered back inside, somewhat relieved that one constant in his life hadn’t changed.
Wyatt, with Ned’s children in hot pursuit, came crashing into the kitchen, interrupting a private talk between Rachael and Trevor. “Hi, cousin Trev,” Wyatt yelled, while darting behind Trevor’s chair to escape the clutches of the Kelly kids.
“Hi, Wyatt,” Trevor replied, chuckling at Wyatt’s antics, before the roles reversed and Wyatt gave chase to the escaping Kelly kids.
As the day progressed, Trevor felt more at ease as he got to know his family – and he was coming to feel a part of them, as well. Issues remained, but for now, Trevor was willing to put them aside. Shane noticed the change, and when he finally had a chance to talk to Trevor alone, asked, “You’ve had some more shocks from home. Are you doing okay?”
Trevor nodded. “Yeah… I think I am, better than I thought. It’s… hard to explain, but if we’re right about Bridget Bellevue, then I know who my enemy is, which is better than not knowing. Not knowing sucks. And… family stuff has been strange to get used to, but it’s all pretty cool, I think. Except for it being Christmas in summer – that’s just plain weird,” Trevor said, giving Shane a grin, partly to let him know he was okay.
Christmas Eve gave way to Christmas Day, and, at the main house, it was time to exchange gifts.
“Prezzies!” Shane whispered with glee, approaching the tree with Trevor.
For Trevor, it was both happy and awkward; he’d had little chance to shop – just some brief time in Perth, then in Kalbarri – so had only bought modest gifts. He was also busy trying to get to know his grandparents, who he found somewhat formal and a touch aloof, though he felt they were slowly warming to him.
The three young children went first, tearing into their parcels as the adults stood aside. Trevor’s grandparents stepped in to calm the kiddies down and interrupt a developing tug of war, while Rachel served champagne.
Soon, the adults exchanged their gifts, some already tagged under the tree, others not. Trevor’s grandfather, with a smile and a flourish, settled a bush hat on Trevor’s head; a stereotypical outback hat, with corks dangling from strings all around the rim, to help ward off the flies. “It’s good to finally meet you, Grandson.”
There were many other gifts, and one that Trevor would most remember were a new watch from Shane: a multi-sensor waterproof timepiece, with thermometer, altimeter, and digital compass.
From Lisa and Joel, there was a new iPod with a waterproof case, and a matching set for Shane. Joel gave an awkward shrug and a smile, nodding towards Fowler as he told Trevor, “The cash from your car was part of it too, but your uncle said he’d get it to you.”
From Rachel, there were some new clothes, along with a small envelope, which Trevor read with confusion that soon transformed to delight. “A surfboard?” he said, his face lighting up.
Rachel smiled, hugging her son. “Shane came up with the idea when I asked him; a custom board. There’s a shaper’s shop down in Geraldton, so all you have to do is let them know what you want.”
Trevor gave Lisa and Joel some Australian souvenirs, and then matching tiger’s eye pendants, a regional specialty.
Trevor had struggled to find a gift for his mother, eventually selecting, from a small shop in Kalbarri, a modern art piece; two nested alabaster crescents on a black base, entitled ‘Mother and Son’. When she saw it, Rachel began to cry, smiling and hugging Trevor to her.
For Shane, Trevor had two necklaces, a gourmet spice rack, and a gold tiger’s eye ring. “We may have to get the ring sized, I just guessed,” Trevor said, as Shane tried it on, eventually finding that it fit on his right ring finger.
“Awesome, I love it,” Shane declared, wanting very much to hug Trevor, though believing he could not.
Trevor, glancing over Shane’s shoulder, saw his grandmother watching them, her lips curled down in a slight frown. Trevor glanced to his left, where Lisa was hugging Joel in delight, clutching the boomerang he’d just given her. Trevor took a breath, holding his head high, and reached out, pulling a surprised Shane into a warm hug, “Merry Christmas, Shane,” he said, before letting go. It could have been a warm hug between close friends, or it could be seen as more, but Trevor had made his choice; they could think what they wished, that was not his concern.
Soon, Martin and Rachel took Trevor and Shane aside for a private talk. Martin smiled at Shane, giving him a nod. “Trevor’s insurance is paying for Kookaburra until Atlantis is ready, so you’re still on the payroll and will be for a while yet. This should be a good start on it,” he said, handing Shane an envelope with three thousand dollars in it.
“Thanks, Mr. Blake,” Shane said, not opening the envelope but able to feel that it probably contained a sizable sum.
Rachel gave Trevor a card, which he glanced at, seeing that it was a bank card. She smiled, glanced at Martin, and then told Trevor quietly, “The charter money your insurance is paying for Kookaburra should, by rights, go to her owner. That’s you, and we did check; this is legal. We set up a deposit account for the funds, and that card links to it.”
Trevor stared at the card, and blinked. “Wow, thanks-”
“Not so fast,” Martin said, holding up his hand. “There’s a bit of a condition. We’re both concerned over what’s been going on, especially now that we think this Bridget person is involved. We’d like the two of you out of here for a while, and we want you to take that suggestion I made earlier: a circumnavigation of Australia. Being on the move is a good defense, and your Uncle Greg has offered to arrange for you to berth at customs docks in the major ports –that offer is good until the customs service is convinced that the danger is over. So, will you do it?”
Trevor glanced at Shane, and seeing the answer in his smile, nodded. “Yeah. I do want to have a look at Atlantis first, and get the gear for her up from Geraldton – Ned said it should be arriving soon – but after that, we can drop Joel off in Perth and then keep going.”
Lisa, taking a walk with Joel, spotted some distant kangaroos and smiled as she pointed them out, though her smile faded as quickly as it had appeared. “Joel,” she said quietly, glancing back toward the house, “What do you think of Trevor’s mother?”
Joel, his eyes still on the grazing kangaroos, thought for a moment before replying, “I don’t know. I think what she did was totally fucked up, and we both know how much Trev hurt, especially every May. Part of me thinks she made some mistakes and a bad way out was the only way. I see her point; the IRS would have wiped them all out as well as put her in prison. But she set herself up for it, and Trev sure as hell has a point; she kept hidden even after he got here, and had his family hide from him. Then there was that deal with putting us in the old house. Kinda strange, but what’s stranger is the way she got rattled, then dashed off because she said she didn’t want to burn dinner. Trev told me what she said about that, but… this is all so weird. I don’t know what to think about her – not yet.”
Lisa glared at the house. “I know what I think about her, and I’m fucking pissed. She screwed over her son – even worse than what my mother did to me.” Lisa’s harsh tone softened, and she added, “I guess people make stupid choices sometimes, things that hurt others they’d never want to hurt, like me trusting Bridget and almost getting Trev killed,” Lisa said, her voice beginning to break, as she clutched Joel to her.
Joel held Lisa in his arms, rocking her gently. “You were played, Lisa, we both were. By a… I don’t even have the words. At least we know now, if we’re right.”
Lisa glanced at the house again, her voice barely above a strained whisper as she said, “If it wasn’t for what we think Bridget has done, and how… I’d hate Rachel’s guts for what she did to Trev, but… maybe she’s changed. She did give Trev Kookaburra, and she seems genuine... for Trev’s sake, I hope she is.”
Joel let out a sigh. “I hope so too.”
“I know Trev wants her back in his life, but he’s got doubts. I hope it works out for him. I like the rest of his family though,” Lisa said.
“Me too,” Joel replied, and then he asked in an offhand way, “What about Shane?”
Lisa chuckled. “I didn’t like him at first. Trev didn’t act too surprised when I walked out of the jetway, so I figured Shane had told him and spoiled the surprise, which pissed me off, plus I didn’t know Shane. Now I know Trev has had surprise after surprise so he was kinda numb to one more. Plus, I grilled Shane on the Zodiac so I know he cares about Trev a lot. I like him now, but yeah, I was skeptical at first.”
Joel breathed a silent sigh of relief, and together, they turned to head back to the house.
Late that evening, the entire family and all the guests gathered in the living room where white snowflakes swirled on screen as they watched classic Christmas movies, a tradition Rachel had begun with Dirk, the year Trevor had been born.
A raucous clatter from the hallway’s oaken floor pervaded the scene, accompanied by shrill squeals and shrieks, as the children played with toys they’d received. The tinkle of breaking glass caused Ned to get up for a look, and they heard him shout, “Rachel, Martin, I owe you a lamp.”
Fowler, sitting beside Trevor, chuckled. “Glad it was one of his that did it this time. Wyatt always goes a bit nuts around Ned’s kids.”
Trevor smiled, and as the uproar from the hallway began anew, he glanced at the Christmas tree, feeling a little more at home.
That night, as they settled into bed, Trevor told Shane, “It’s been strange, but I want to get to know my family better, all of them. How would you feel about a little long-distance commuting: running charters in Florida and the Bahamas part of the year on Atlantis, then flying back here for a few months to do charters on Kookaburra in Shark Bay? That way, I’d have a chance to get to know my family, and you wouldn’t be leaving Australia for so long.”
Shane chuckled, pulling Trevor close, their naked bodies intertwining. “I’d be happy anywhere with you, but that sounds ripper! I’d been wondering what you’d do with two boats, but that’d be a good use.”
Trevor began rubbing Shane’s back, only to pause and play with the puka shell necklace he’d given Shane for Christmas, loving the contrast of its white on Shane's golden skin. “I’ve been thinking a lot… about the future. It’s your future too, so that makes it your decision as well as mine. It’s about Kookaburra…” Trevor went on to explain, and then added, “The only roadblock might be Lisa.”
“I think that’s a bloody awesome plan, I’m all for it. Maybe sound Joel out alone, but before Lisa leaves,” Shane said, teasing Trevor’s nipple with his thumb.
“Yeah,” Trevor replied, his thoughts now focused on Shane, pulling him into a kiss as their hands roamed.
Henry smiled to himself, his pulse racing, as he watched Bridget enter the warehouse a few dozen yards down the dirty street. He believed that this was what he’d been waiting for, in every way.
After several cold hours in the vacant lot across the waterway from her home, Henry had given up for the night, only to decide, on a whim, to have a look at her guesthouse. He’d parked half a block away and had been approaching on foot when the rumble of Bridget’s garage door had reached his ears. He’d raced for his car as she backed out and had managed to catch up with her, tailing her at a discreet distance as she drove sedately to a warehouse a few blocks from Rob’s Marine.
It was just after sunset, only an afterglow remaining, as Henry proceeded on foot, nerves jangling. As he neared the disheveled warehouse, he darted onto the property, keeping to cover, creeping forward in the dying light of a distant streetlight, working his way towards the rear of the rusting steel building.
A stiff breeze was blowing ashore, scenting of the sea, rustling the palms and cypress trees surrounding the old building’s lot. Henry hoped the noise of the wind would give him added cover.
Henry tried listening through the walls, and though he could hear the murmur of voices, he could not discern the words. Fretting at himself for the risk he was about to take, he found a door, locked by a simple latch, which was easily freed by a credit card inserted into the jamb. Carefully, he eased the door open an inch at a time, fearing a creak from the hinges that never came. He slipped in, glancing around in the dim light filtering past the stacked rows of boxes and racks of parts in front of him, and eased the door closed, letting the latch engage. Such cloak-and-dagger escapades were far from his forte, and – fiction to the contrary – were rare for his profession, but he felt confident. Something was going on, he could feel it.
A murmur of distant voices echoed through the building, as Henry listened to the ongoing conversations. The first he discerned was Bridget’s stiff and formal tone, “… within the parameters I have outlined. All care must be taken; we can afford no errors, not at this juncture. The two fishing boats sail tomorrow so fill their holds, every spare inch, with the Italian sunglasses and then, with what room remains, load as much as you can of the shoes.”
Henry glanced at the pocket recorder in his hand, smiling to himself. With Bridget’s own words, he now had a hard lead on proof that her money laundering operations were ongoing. The sunglasses and the shoes would soon be re-imported, allowing their full value to be sent out of the country for the ‘purchase’. Just like that, he had what they needed to break the case, and his pulse quickened.
Bridget’s voice returned, and Henry listened as she said, “Rob, are the modifications to my boat complete?”
“Just about. I’ll be finishing the install tomorrow, then running some tests,” came the reply from Rob, in a distinct New Jersey brogue.
Bridget gave Rob a glare to convey that she would brook no delays. “Very well. Now, for another matter: I need two strong men and one observer to aid in a job tonight, at George’s residence. It cannot be anyone who normally participates in the runs, as it entails someone being seen, by design. No actual product – other than what I have already placed there – will be involved, and the authorities do not know that George is dead. The cargo will be powdered sugar packaged to appear to be cocaine, so there is no legal danger. The job is a simple one; argue loudly to attract some attention while transferring the blocks from the back of the house and into a car, to ensure that the neighbors observe the activity. Once I have confirmation that that has occurred, I shall give a signal, and at that point, fire three shots at the house with the starter’s pistol I shall provide, and then leave in the car as obtrusively as possible, tires squealing. I have the means to give early warning of any action by the police, if needed.”
Bridget’s intent was to complete the painting of the picture of George; a cop gone bad, who had fled the country. The drugs in his house – most of the same cocaine he’d intended for Lisa and Joel – would, along with several other staged clues, including the use of George’s credit card in Argentina, paint what Bridget hoped would be a convincing picture. It was far from a perfect plan, but under the circumstances, she believed it to be her best hope.
Henry’s eyes opened wide at the news of George’s death. In that moment, everything changed. Focused on his task and the conversation going on in front of him, he fished his cell phone from his pocket and began typing a text message to Gonzalez, ‘George dead. His house being staged as drug scene right now. Get there. Will call soon. Got the goods on Bridget.’
Henry smiled to himself as he sent the message, only to freeze as he heard the distinctive click-thunk of a shotgun round chambering, directly behind him.
It was December 26th in Australia, though still late Christmas Day in Florida, and it was time to go. Under a scorching blue morning sky, Trevor gave his mother a hug. “I’ll see you soon, Mom,” he said, hanging on for a long moment, the rift beginning to heal.
They set out, and for Trevor, it was a mix of sadness and relief; in a way, he was ready to go, but as he drove through the quiet streets of Northampton, he knew that he wanted to return.
While en route, Trevor told Lisa and Joel, “You guys should keep that money from my car. My mom and my dad are both helping me now, and I’m fine.” He went on to explain, and then to stifle the objections they began to raise, added, “Use it on the wedding. Living well is the best revenge, right?”
They returned to Kookaburra, finding her apparently undisturbed. Trevor checked the tide charts, and with a glance at the weather display, said, “We can take the Jeep back to the station, look around Kalbarri for a bit, and then sail late this afternoon. I know a place that makes great burgers,” he said, turning to give Shane a secret wink, happily setting Lisa and Joel up to experience a burger with the lot.
“Move and you’re hamburger,” Billy said, in a very loud voice, before shouting, “Hey, I got somebody back here!”
Henry’s eyes opened wide in shock, and then he felt his guts churn as the cold, pervasive hand of fear descended.
A moment’s cacophony of racing feet heralded the arrival of Rob and two other men, revolvers drawn. Bridget followed a moment later, her own gun out, to tersely order, “Check him, and then bring him into the light.”
Two of the men seized Henry, slamming him down face-first to the filthy concrete floor, causing him to gasp in pain, as well as taste the coppery tang of his own blood.
The two men searched Henry, roughly relieving him of the contents of his pockets before dragging him out into the brightly lit main area of the warehouse.
Bridget rifled through Henry’s wallet, and then, with a gracious nod of her head, said, “Mr. Wesson, we meet at last.”
“The police know I’m here,” Henry replied, well aware that his life was in dire peril.
“Tie him up,” Bridget commanded, as she studied the recorder and then Henry’s cell phone. After some help from Rob, she retrieved the sent text massage, which evoked a scowl, followed by an order, “Get my men away from George’s home at once.” She then examined the recorder, playing a few seconds from the beginning of the tape. “It appears, Mr. Wesson, that you have heard things I should prefer to keep to myself. You have thus given me an unwelcome dilemma.” She turned to Rob, who she knew was the most knowledgeable amongst them regarding electronics. “Is there a way to cancel or erase that message?”
Rob, hands trembling, shook his head. “Not that I know of.”
“Can the location he sent the message from be traced?” Bridget asked.
Rob nodded. “I think so – maybe. I know they can be homed in on due to the GPS stuff built in, but I’m not sure the cops could look back and trace a send location after the fact. My guess is they can, at least to some degree, because the cell tower used, plus the bearing to the phone, is definitely available from the logs.”
Bridget arched an eyebrow. “Could they be tracking in on it now, even with it off?”
Rob glanced at the phone, a similar model to his own. “Yeah, I know they can do that. Maybe we better take the battery out.”
“Do it,” Bridget ordered, and then glared at Henry before asking Rob, “We need to be away from here, at once. Is there a boat available?”
Rob shook his head. “Only a couple of skiffs and a motorboat. We could use one of the fishing boats, but they’d take a few hours to get up here.”
Bridget glanced at Henry for a moment, and then shrugged. “We shall have to keep him silent, until we are ready. Billy, bring a sedan into the building – anything with a large trunk. Ensure that Mr. Wesson is well bound, then gag him.”
With some haste, Henry was further trussed up, the ropes so tight they hurt. Billy, with a gap-toothed smirk on his face, hopped on one foot to pull off a shoe and remove a sock. With a leer, he brutally jammed the sweaty sock into Henry’s mouth, the vile stench making Henry’s bile rise. Billy secured the gag with duct tape and then roughly deposited Henry into the trunk of the sedan, where Henry had to fight the need to throw up, knowing that doing so would only cause him to choke on his own wretched vomit.
Bridget took her men aside. She glanced at their faces, each in turn, seeing a trace of fear on many. And fear, she knew, could spell disaster. “Gentlemen, this can be contained,” she said, with far more certainty than she felt. “At the moment, all they have is a text message. None of you are implicated in any way. I shall be in touch shortly. For now, cancel the run with the fishing boats and complete the preparation of Sea Witch, we may need her. We are in this together.” Bridget glanced at their faces, seeing that her words had helped, though not enough. She made her choice. “Billy, get in the car. Rob, take my Mercedes to my home, and then go attend to my boat. The rest of you, leave at once: this location is likely compromised.”
Bridget, with intentional nonchalance, made her way to the sedan, started it up, and pulled away.
Officer Gonzalez acted as soon as he’d received Henry’s text. Twenty minutes after Henry had hit ‘send’, three unmarked state police cars approached George’s house. They were far too late, and a search turned up only the planted traces of cocaine, plus one half-kilo package, hidden in his bedroom, which would later test out as having George’s DNA and fingerprints inside.
During the search, Gonzalez attempted to phone Henry several times, only to have Henry’s voicemail pick up.
For Henry, bound and helpless, the drive seemed to last forever: just the hum of the tires, the purr of the engine, and the sound of pop music playing loudly on the sedan’s tinny radio. Henry’s stomach churned, and he took solace in Bridget’s words that he would be held for a few days. He latched onto it, as a way to ward off the gnawing dread and fear that Bridget had something far more final in mind.
Alone in the dark, Henry struggled in vain against his bonds, feeling them cut into his wrists in response, all while wondering if he’d ever see the light of day again. He could feel the motion of the car well enough to know that it was maintaining high speed, which indicated a freeway. In that part of Florida, that meant they had to be going either north or south. A slow, gradual turn to the left narrowed the possibilities down, and Henry was sure; it was a route he drove often from his home in the Orlando area to Ft. Pierce: the Florida Turnpike, and it had to be northbound.
After forever, feeling more alone than he ever had before, Henry felt the car’s motion change, first a stop, then a turn, the road becoming rougher, then later, turning to the unmistakable crunch of gravel as the car bounced along. Henry committed the turns and approximate times to memory, as he had been doing since leaving the warehouse, in the hope that, if he was freed, he could retrace the journey. It gave him something to do, something with which to avoid thinking of the ominous fact that no one had tried to shield their faces from his sight.
After what felt to Henry to be eternity, the sedan ground to a halt, the sudden silence profound.
With a protesting creak, the trunk lid flew open, the bright glare of Bridget’s flashlight making Henry blink.
Billy reached in to haul Henry out, dumping him into a rusty old wheelbarrow. Henry glanced around in the darkness, smelling a musty, putrid odor, and seeing the silhouettes of ghostly cypress trees.
Bridget, still seeking to reassure Henry, said in an offhand tone, “Mr. Wesson, your actions this evening have been most inconvenient for me. However, if you cooperate, you shall be released in a short time. If you do not cooperate, it will not end well for you. For now, we need to talk, and I suggest you hold nothing back.”
Henry, bound and gagged, could do nothing as he was wheeled across gravel, through a wretched, dimly lit building, and out onto the old wooden planking of the pier.
A few dim lights on the side of the old building provided what little light there was, and to Henry, it was like a scene from a horror movie; cypress trees bedecked in trailing beards of Spanish moss, the chirping of countless crickets, and the buzzing of tree frogs. A few scudding clouds partially obscuring the starry sky added to the malevolence, though all those things were soon forgotten as Henry heard another sound: a sonorous rumbling, waxing and waning in the night. It was a sound he’d heard before, though never so many. And with that sound, Henry felt fear as he’d never known before.
They reached the end of the short pier, where Billy set the wheelbarrow down with a thump, right at the edge.
“Remove his gag,” Bridget ordered.
Billy seized the end of the duct tape and pulled, ripping it from Henry’s face.
Henry spat out the revolting sock that had been his gag, his eyes fixed on the inky darkness, which was broken only by many glowing amber pairs of eyes, some on the move, coming ever closer.
Henry had always feared alligators.
“Mr. Wesson, I have no doubt that you are quite aware of your situation. I shall make this brief; I need to know what Gonzalez and those he works with know. Hold nothing back, Mr. Wesson, for there will be no second chances. Cooperate, and you will be locked in a building here for no more than three days, then released, for I shall be out of the country by then,” Bridget said.
Henry listened to the alligators below, his heart racing, his breath coming in short, ragged gasps. In what was left of the rational part of his mind, he tried to decide whether Bridget intended to kill him no matter what, but primal fear drove him to grasp at the proffered straw, and he allowed himself to believe. “Okay, anything you want. Anything. I’m just the hired help; I’ll work for anybody…” Henry, in short, fractured sentences, told Bridget of his work with Gonzalez and for Dirk and Jim, what they suspected, and some of what they knew. Henry’s fear was profound and overwhelming; in the clutches of a murderer, faced with a horrific death, he held only a little back.
Bridget prompted Henry with several questions, her mood darkening as she realized that her peril was greater than she’d believed. Bridget’s questioning, enhanced by Billy inching the wheelbarrow closer to the edge, encouraged Henry to tell what he and Gonzalez knew of Bridget’s money laundering operations, and the involvement of a forensic accountant.
With those words, Bridget’s heart sank. She closed her eyes for a moment, envisioning herself on some tropical beach, drink in hand, her long career over, destined to perpetual exile, though one of great wealth. She let out a soft sigh, seeing no way to save herself from that fate; in that moment, she knew that, baring a miracle, she would have to leave Florida, for the noose was drawing even tighter than she’d feared. That left one other concern, the greatest one of all. “Mr. Wesson, is there any interest amongst the authorities in finding the Ares?”
Henry clenched his eyes shut, trying to block the sounds of the alligators from his mind, desperate to keep Bridget talking, anything to avoid what awaited below. “No… no, because she never sank.”
Bridget nodded to herself at the confirmation. “Explain that please – at once,” she commanded.
Henry hesitated, until Billy began raising his end of the wheelbarrow, and Henry blurted, “Rachel isn’t dead, she faked her death. She’s in Australia, so is Ares…” Henry explained in brief, panicky phrases about what Rachel and Dirk had done, and then added, “I don’t know where Ares is, but I know who does. I know you want her, and I can help.”
Bridget chuckled softly: a wry, humorless sound. “Rachel was smarter than I gave her credit for, I’ll give her that. As for you, Mr. Wesson, you have confirmed that you are telling the truth, at least. However, seeing as how I already know precisely where Kookaburra is, I shall decline your offer.” Henry had never mentioned the name ‘Kookaburra’ to Bridget.
For long moments, a silence broken only by the sounds of the swamp and the alligators below settled on the scene. Henry, shaking in the grip of all-consuming fear, dared not even struggle against his bonds for fear of sliding out of the inclined wheelbarrow. Every moment an eternity, Henry tried to calm himself enough to think, questing to find some way to save his life.
In Ft. Pierce, Gonzalez paced in George’s living room, calling Henry again, and again receiving the out-of-service recording. His stomach churned, a cold feeling of dread growing, eating at him. He barked a few orders and raced to his car, taking off at high speed towards Henry’s motel. En route, casting security concerns aside, he phoned his department head, asking for an emergency trace on Henry’s phone’s location data.
After what seemed like forever, though in truth it was a mere score of seconds, Bridget said, “Tell me who knows of this. Leave no one out.”
“Dirk, Jim, Gonzalez, the State Attorney, Frank Tittle, Rachel, them for sure. I don’t know if Trevor does, or anyone else in Australia,” Henry gasped, and then, breathing hard, added, “I can get you Ares.”
“Thank you, Mr. Wesson. Now, how do you propose to do this? The particulars, please. I would need the boat for a considerable time at a minimum, for what I seek is hidden very well indeed.” Bridget silently cursed her luck. She’d had Ares searched by a professional burglar when she’d merely suspected what might be aboard, only finding absolute proof in Arnold’s files shortly before Rachel’s disappearance. What Bridget didn’t know was that Rachel’s subterfuge of temporarily swapping the boat names, while it would not have fooled her, was more than sufficient to fool the burglar. The boat that had actually been searched was Atlantis, not Ares.
“Give me a second to think,” Henry gasped, struggling to overcome his terror. Finally, he added, “Okay, I could phone Trevor, I have his number. I can get Rachel’s number, too. I can help you… I know that whatever is on Ares is what you need to keep lost. I know that’s what you’ve been trying to do: stop Trevor from looking for Ares. Nobody but you wants it, but they do want the attacks to stop. Let me set it up; you get what you want from Ares, and in return the attacks stop and I go free. That’d make everybody happy, right?”
Bridget, for a moment, considered Henry’s proposal. What he’d said had a momentary appeal; with the threat Ares posed over, she would have no reason to fear Sanchez and the cartel, nor any further motive for ending the lives of Trevor, Lisa, and Joel. The idea of a grand bargain was appealing, but Bridget quickly judged it impossible; even if those involved went along with it, she could not imagine Gonzalez or some of the other law enforcement officers letting the matter drop, and a further complication was George’s demise. There were too many practical obstacles to Henry’s proposal, so with a resigned sigh, Bridget said, “Thank you, Mr. Wesson, though I am afraid that is impractical on several levels. Billy, it is time.”
Billy grunted as he began heaving up on the wheelbarrow’s handles, causing Henry’s world to tilt towards impending death below. In sheer terror, Henry gasped out his final card, “George was here, we already know it!”
“WAIT!” Bridget commanded, causing Billy to reverse his motion at the last possible moment, with Henry’s legs dangling over the edge of the wheelbarrow. “Mr. Wesson, explain and I shall let you live.”
His chest heaving, Henry gasped, “There’s a tracker in George’s car, inside the right rear wheel. I know his car was here. I didn’t know why until I got here. It went right from here to the airport. I looked at this place on a map. We’re east of Yeehaw Junction.”
Bridget’s blood ran cold; she glanced out at the dark waters, knowing that a thorough search would likely turn up some trace of George, though, she mused, there was little to be done about it now.
It was one more peril, one more obstacle. Now, Bridget could no longer harbor even a trace of hope that she could keep her operation. “I’ve always hated Christmas,” she muttered to herself, staring out at the darkness. With a frown, she knew that her foremost need now was to buy herself enough time to arrange her departure. “Unless…” Bridget muttered under her breath, and then, after a brief thought of Rachel, Bridget nodded to herself, and made a call, waiting until the call connected to say, “A slight change of plans. Get Gonzalez and meet me at my house when I call again. Alive would be preferable, but no bullet holes.” Bridget listened to the reply, and then added tersely, “Use your initiative and your title, which is, after all, what I pay you for.”
In that bitter moment, Henry knew that Gonzalez was in dire peril, and the fact he’d been allowed to overhear the call could mean only…
Bridget snapped shut her phone, and with a sad, forlorn air, she returned her attention to the terrified Henry. “You have been party to the impending destruction of all I hold dear, Mr. Wesson, so I do this with no regrets,” Bridget said, with a hard edge to her voice, one that made Henry tremble.
Time froze for Henry, an eternity in every heartbeat. His mind raced, franticly questing for the words, for any means to delay or avoid…
With a resolute expression on her face, Bridget held up her hand in the near blackness, extending a single bony digit towards the waiting alligators. Billy understood, and muscles flexing, grunting, he heaved, upending the old wheelbarrow.
Henry felt himself begin to slide, and then pitch forward, towards the inky void, an anguished cry of terror wrenched from his lips as he began to slip from the wheelbarrow, towards the waiting alligators below…
In Kalbarri, Lisa, Joel, Trevor, and Shane made their way to the little restaurant where Trevor and Shane had eaten on their first visit. “I’ll bet you’ve never had a burger with the lot,” Trevor said, giving Lisa and Joel a smirk as he opened the door and ushered them inside.
“So, what happens now,” Joel asked, as Shane went to place the orders.
Leading Lisa and Joel to a booth, Trevor replied, “After we eat, we’ll go back to Kookaburra and head out. We’ll head down the coast, stop at a few places, do some sightseeing, and then get Lisa to Perth. You guys pick out where you’d like to go; it’s your trip.”
“Ayers Rock!” Joel declared, referring to the giant rock in the heart of Australia’s outback. “After where you hid Kookaburra, you’re obviously getting past your reliance on water for sailing.”
“I do need some water to sail on,” Trevor replied, chuckling and rolling his eyes.
“I guess Captain Bligh here isn’t as good a sailor as we thought,” Joel quipped, receiving a nod of agreement from Shane.
Lisa grinned, though her expression soon faded to a scowl. “I wish I didn’t have to go home so soon.”
“Me too,” Trevor replied, feeling the coming pang of parting. “But we’ll be home in a few months.”
“You better be,” Lisa said, and then added softly, “I’ve missed you a lot. I’ve even missed the tub.”
“Atlantis is not a tub!” Trevor replied, chuckling.
Soon, the burgers were ready, and Shane took care of bringing them to the table. Lisa and Joel stared, wide eyed, at the concoctions, as Shane described the ingredients. “Australia makes the best burgers in the world. A big beef burger patty, lettuce, sliced beetroot, bacon, a big slice of fresh pineapple, sliced tomato, a fried egg, cheese, onion, tomato sauce, and barbecue sauce. It’s an Aussie classic.”
“Now I know I’m in a mad place,” Lisa said, chuckling, and then taking a nibble. She glanced at Trevor, to see him setting aside the beetroot and pineapple, and did the same. Joel, however, took a taste, and left his burger whole, which earned him an approving nod from Shane.
The door chime sounded as a customer entered, heading for the counter to place an order, package in hand.
The four friends, enjoying their lunch, paid no attention as the newcomer waited at the counter and then received the chicken roll with chips he’d ordered. Plate in hand, he walked past their booth, turned, and with a look of recognition, smiled. “Well, hello,” he beamed, grabbing a chair, scooting it to the end of their table, and plunking himself down. “G’day, I hope you don’t mind if I join you? My name’s Clark, Butch Clark, with the Sydney Morning Herald.”
“You’re a reporter,” Shane said, darkly. “This is a private lunch, so sod off.”
“It’s a public place,” the unwelcome guest replied with a smile, taking a bite of his chicken roll before adding, with his mouth full, “I’m aware of the need for discretion. You’re better off meeting me halfway here; I do know how to keep a source – and their location – confidential. I’m doing a story about Somali pirates. All I need is a bit of background, talk over the details, that sort of thing.”
Joel glared at the newcomer. “I think you guys have caused enough trouble already. Why don’t you just go?”
Taking note of Joel’s American accent, the intruder replied, with a disarming shrug, “I know you’ve had a rough go of it, sorry to say. You’ve no worries with me though; I might even be able to help. Besides, as a gesture of good faith, I didn’t come empty-handed.” With a smile and a flourish, he set his paper-wrapped package on the table, before pulling the paper away, revealing a red and stainless cylinder.
Trevor’s eyes shot open in recognition, staring at the hated object. “My garlic crusher,” he hissed through gritted teeth, before glancing up in confusion at the intruder’s cold, gray eyes.
“Well hello, Trevor,” Basingstoke quietly replied, a smile creeping across his face.
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 . :)