Motoring down the Intracoastal Waterway, just barely under the speed limit, Bridget took the helm, clutching the wheel of the small boat, listening to the rumble of the engine. Her mind raced, battered by unaccustomed tumult, her thoughts an ephemeral froth, battered by warring feelings of hope and despair. She glanced back, a pained look upon her face, her hair blowing in the salt-scented wind, toward her beloved house, now forever out of sight.
A dozen other difficulties and dangers loomed in her mind, battling for her attention, until her iron will asserted itself, forcing order from chaos. ‘I shall prevail, I always do,’ she assured herself, her back straightening with steely resolve.
Bridget glanced at Billy, lounging in the passenger seat, weighing his suitability. He had worked for her, directly and indirectly, for many years. She knew him to be loyal, though of limited intellect. She finally decided that he would have to do. “We have some business to take care of. Then, we must leave for a while.”
A slow, gap-toothed smile spread across Billy’s face. “Cool. I’m looking forward to the Bahamas.”
“You have well proven your worth in recent days,” Bridget stated.
Bridget faced many dilemmas, though the greatest was that Sanchez’s surprise visit to her home shortly after George’s demise had occurred before she was ready. However, upon reflection, she felt confident that she could turn it to her advantage and still defuse the threat to her life that Ares posed. She’d already set the stage, via her e-mail to Sanchez, warning him that George’s perfidy was deeper than they’d believed. She had, in the truest sense, just raised the stakes in the most dangerous game of all.
The smell and sound of frying food pervaded the Kalbarri restaurant for a few long moments, as Trevor’s gaze flicked between his garlic crusher and Basingstoke, before finally settling on the latter. “Uh, thanks, but I really don’t want to be involved with the press anymore.”
With a disarming smile, Basingstoke replied, “Actually, as I was saying, the story I’m working isn’t about you. It’s about Somali pirates, and how they’ve extended their reach. You have been aboard one of their vessels – one far from their home waters – so that makes you very valuable to me. Also, you were part of a convoy before you reached the Seychelles, so that’s a good first-hand perspective as well. I’m well aware of your need and desire for privacy, so your involvement in my story can be anonymous if you prefer. In return, I’d be happy to help you keep out of sight of the rest of the press. I’d also pay you.”
Trevor arched an eyebrow. “How can you keep the press away?”
Basingstoke chuckled, and then took another bite of his chicken roll before replying, “For a start, mate, I can tell you what you’re doing right, and what you’re doing wrong. For example, how did I know you were here? I have contacts all along this coast – I grew up here – so when an American matching your description was seen about Kalbarri, I took a gamble. I heard more once I’d arrived, so I knew you had to be around here somewhere. Those contacts can be of use for keeping you hidden just as easily as finding you.” Basingstoke smiled, having given the most plausible and useful excuse he’d been able to think of. “Now, do I have your interest?”
Trevor glanced at Shane, then Lisa and Joel, looking for an answer. Finding only concern, he finally nodded. “Yeah. And thanks. Uh, you mentioned pay?”
“Okay, mate, down to the brass tacks it is. I’m offering five thousand, no haggling. That’s in return for about three hours of your time, then a one-hour follow-up later. I’d need a way to contact you, such as a phone number. Work with me, and I’ll do my level best to keep the press away from you. All I want in return is to be able to interview you on deep background about the pirates. No one need ever know it’s you, and the story isn’t about you. I also need privacy myself; I don’t want anyone knowing I’m working this story, or they might scoop me. So, do we have a deal, mate?” Basingstoke asked, with a charming smile.
Shane gave Basingstoke a suspicious look. “How do we know you’re telling the truth?”
Basingstoke chuckled. “You’re sharp, I like that. Basically, you don’t.” Basingstoke returned his attention to Trevor, “However, if I was a reporter after a story on you, or worse, a paparazzo, you’d already be front-page news again. I’ve already heard of a huge catamaran that’s hidden far up the Murchison. So, what do you have to lose by trusting me? I already know what you want to keep secret, and the fact is I want to keep it secret too.”
The news that Kookaburra had been found did not sit well with Trevor, nor did the fact that someone he believed to be a reporter knew so much. Basingstoke’s sales pitch was having its desired effect. “Okay, how exactly would this work?” he asked.
“Simple. We stay in touch by phone. I’ve only recently begun my pirate story, so I don’t know all of what I need yet. I’ll sometimes need to ask you questions, and in return for your help and confidentiality, I’ll be your ear in the press, keeping you one step ahead of them. As for the money, you get it at the second interview.”
Joel could see a problem with that, so he asked, “Would this mean Trev has to let you know where he is and where he’s heading?”
“Not at all, no need for it,” Basingstoke replied. “I’ll just be passing on what I hear; if it’s a false rumor – and there have been several already – then ignore it. If, say, you’re heading for a port and I say they are waiting, it’s up to Trevor what to do.”
Trevor glanced around the restaurant, which had only two other customers, seated at the far end, deeply involved in their own conversation. The offer sounded good, and he could see no harm in taking it, so he asked, “Could you give us a minute alone?”
Basingstoke nodded, getting up, leaving the last of his chicken roll uneaten. “I’ll be outside the door.”
As soon as Basingstoke left, Trevor asked, “Okay, so what do you guys think? Take the deal or not? He’s not asking for anything we don’t want to give, and he already has us cold. And… I kinda like the idea of having help against the press.”
Lisa glanced at the door, a scowl on her face. “He seems… kinda creepy.”
Shane nodded. “Struck me that way as well, but so did the reporters we used Kookaburra to fool when Trev got here. The way I see it, tell him you’ll give it a burl regardless of whether you will or not. It’d be risky saying no until we’re out of here; he might rat you out.”
Joel glanced at the door. “Weird how he found you, but… I agree with Shane; tell the dude ‘yes’ then make up your mind at sea.”
Trevor drummed his fingers on the table. “Yeah, good plan. Let’s finish up, tell what’s-his-face ‘yes’, then sail as fast as we can,” Trevor said, taking the last bite of his burger. He then glared at his garlic crusher before snatching it open and extracting the jar with his mayday message inside. “I wonder how he got this? I thought Kline’s people had it,” Trevor pondered, and then shrugged as he resealed the garlic crusher and stood up, setting that issue aside.
Basingstoke had heard through his Melbourne dockland connections that the garlic crusher was for sale, and had purchased it, via a go-between, from Barney Fitzroy. One of his reasons for wanting it had been so he could use it to identify which one was Trevor, and thus ship the correct head to Sanchez.
Trevor led the way out the door, where they found Basingstoke waiting, leaning against a stunted palm tree.
Trevor approached, garlic crusher in hand. “Hi, we talked it over, and I’ll help you with your story, Mr.…?”
Basingstoke took the cue. “Clark, Butch Clark, of the Sydney Morning Herald, though I’m working this story freelance for a magazine piece. Call me Butch.”
Trevor hesitated, glancing at Shane for support before saying, “So, how do we do this, Butch?”
Basingstoke gave Trevor a warm smile. “Just give me a way to get in touch with you. I’ll be your ear in the press, and also let you know when I need to do the interview. Call me if you have any questions, at any time.” Basingstoke handed Trevor two business cards he’d printed, along with a pen.
Trevor wrote his satellite phone number on one of the cards. Handing it back to Basingstoke, Trevor said, “We keep this one on most of the time, it’s a satellite phone.”
“Excellent, thank you, and you’ll be seeing me soon,” Basingstoke said, glancing toward the mouth of the Murchison River.
Trevor nodded, and walked away with Shane, Lisa, and Joel. As soon as he was out of Basingstoke’s earshot, he said, “Let’s head out to sea. If one can find us, others can.”
They returned to Kookaburra by way of the Zodiac, and then made fast work of casting off.
After the difficult voyage down the Murchison, they passed the Kalbarri shore.
Basingstoke stood watching from Chinaman’s Point as Kookaburra threaded the bar and raised sail before reaching directly out to sea. He had a rare true smile on his face, and once again began to whistle ‘Waltzing Matilda’as he returned to his motel room. There, he would consult his tracking device to learn whether Kookaburra had turned north, or south, before he set out to do a little shopping.
Gonzalez waited until he heard Bridget’s boat pulling away, and then he glanced at the courier, who had taken a seat, though she still had a gun casually trained on him, her hands still trembling. “Hi, my name’s Mike, and it’s just the two of us now,” Gonzalez said, nodding, and then adding, “I think we both need help, right away. Help me get out of here, or we’ll both die.”
“You’ll be released, she said so,” the courier replied, the stress evident in her voice.
Gonzalez glanced at Bridget’s grandfather clock, and then replied, “Think this through. You look a bit like Bridget. I can see the two diamond rings on your fingers; those are worth a lot. I know Bridget gave them to you; I’ve seen her wear them. There’s a reason; you’re supposed to die with me. That bit about the alarm makes no sense; it’s a bomb, it must be. We die, and your body is mistaken for Bridget, for a few days anyway. That’s how she buys herself the time. That’s why she gave you her rings. You’ve never been involved in anything like this before, right? Why else would she bring you in now? And why pay you so much? Those rings alone have gotta be worth a hundred grand.”
The courier’s hands began shaking even more. She glanced at the rings, and then, in a halting tone, she replied, “Shut up. Don’t talk anymore. You’re lying, like she said you would.”
Gonzalez took a deep breath, tensing against his bonds. “If you go upstairs and look very carefully, you’ll find it, unless there’s a booby trap and you set it off by opening a door. It might be connected to the alarm as well, so opening a door might trigger it. You want to be sure? Leave my hands tied but let me up, then take me into the back yard. Even if it goes off when we open the door, we’d have time to get out. We’ll be safe there, and you’ve got me covered with the gun, so if there’s no big fire, you bring me back inside.”
Gonzalez had many concerns, not the least of which was that Bridget had used the alarm system as one trigger, so that opening an outside door or window would set off the fire. That had indeed been part of her original plan, but the sudden schedule change had put an end to it: neither Bridget nor Billy had any idea how to hook the alarm system up as a second trigger.
“You’re trying to trick me, to get loose. Shut up or I’ll gag you.”
Gonzalez sighed. “There’s a bomb, probably a firebomb. Can’t you smell the gasoline? Unless we are out of here in a couple of minutes, we’re both dead, we need help,” Gonzalez said, glancing towards the front door.
The courier studied the diamonds on her fingers for a moment, her breathing quickening. “No, she wouldn’t…”
“Jacobsen took off like a shot, remember? He knows. He’ll spin some tale to the police when our charred bodies are found. Come on, get up off that damn sofa or you’ll die there. It’s just you and me here,” Gonzalez blurted, beads of sweat beginning to appear on his forehead.
Gonzalez caught sight of a faint change in the light coming through the frosted front door sidelights, and shouted at the courier, “Hey, I’m loose!”
The courier blinked in fearful surprise, her attention focused on Gonzalez, when from the front door came a resounding crash, then another, until the door flew open with a final protesting pop and a groan. The courier, hearing the sounds, began to turn, training her gun around towards the noise.
A deafening report echoed through Bridget's house, the round slamming into the courier’s chest. Her eyes opened wide in horror, in the brief moment before a second shot ended her life.
“We have to get out of here!” Gonzalez shouted, as the State Attorney stumbled into the foyer, his gun still covering the dead courier, and a heavy tire iron dangling from his other hand. He’d used it as a crowbar, to aid in opening the door.
The State Attorney dropped to his knees, attacking Gonzalez’s bonds with his penknife, freeing him from the column, and then slicing the ropes that bound his ankles before hauling Gonzalez to his feet.
Hands still bound, Gonzalez, aided by the State Attorney, raced awkwardly for the front door, heading towards the street as fast as their legs could carry them. They reached the curb, over two hundred feet from the house, coming to a stumbling halt. “Anything on Henry?” Gonzalez asked, as the State Attorney cut Gonzalez’s hands free.
“The Vero Beach police are en route to the golf course now.”
Gonzalez looked back at Bridget’s house, and sighed. “I think Bridget was lying, damn her.”
The State Attorney replied, “The fire department is on the way. Are you sure about the bomb upstairs?”
“Pretty sure; it’s the only thing that makes any sense, and I caught a strong whiff of gasoline from Bridget when she came downstairs. She wanted two charred bodies; mine, and one that seems to be hers,” Gonzalez said, as they climbed into the State Attorney’s car, their attention still fixed on the house. Gonzalez glanced at the neighboring properties and added, “The houses are spaced pretty far apart, so the neighbors are probably safer inside than if we tried to get them out. I think it’s an incendiary device, not an explosive, so they’ll probably be okay. If I wasn’t worried she might have booby trapped it, I’d see if I could disarm it,” Gonzalez said, just as the timer ran out.
The current clicked on, the sudden surge of electricity snapping open the former dishwasher valves, causing a violent rush of propane to blast into the room. The electric igniter was slower, taking over a second to begin to glow, first dull red, and then rapidly changing to yellow, which was hot enough to ignite the gasoline vapors and gasoline-soaked paper. The first flames flickered, flashing out, a small fireball rising towards the ceiling, where it encountered the rapidly growing cloud of propane and air.
Gonzalez saw only the brief flicker of flames in a window, and then a flash of blue. In an instant, a massive blast sundered the early morning calm, blowing out windows throughout the upper floor. The blast wave was strong enough to rock the car, as the two men watched a billowing fireball erupt from an upstairs window, hellfire roiling into the dawn skies.
The blast shattered the floorboards, driving the remaining gasoline and paint thinner down into the foyer, immolating it, the flames dancing through the front door’s shattered sidelights.
“Holy fuck,” the State Attorney mumbled, as the flames began consuming the stately home.
“Yeah,” Gonzalez muttered, knowing how close he’d come to being in the growing inferno.
The belated sound of sirens from the approaching fire trucks joined the melee of sounds. The State Attorney got out of his car to speak briefly to one of the arriving firemen, and then returned, climbing in and giving Gonzalez an appraising look. “I’m trying to decide if you’re insane, brave, or both,” the State Attorney pondered, arching an eyebrow and holding up his still-open phone.
Gonzalez pulled his own phone out of his shoulder holster, where he’d put it upon arriving at the scene with Jacobsen. He ended the call with the press of a button, before sighing softly. “I pegged Jacobsen as probably connected. He spun me a bullshit yarn about Bridget’s lawyers showing up at his house, with stuff implicating George Alfred. He tried arguing that Bridget might have been set up, then told me that you had been at a party with Bridget and George, and that you were refusing permission for us to get into her house. So, I wanted hard evidence on him, and to find what I could on Henry. I knew it was a risk, and I thought it was going well, until that second gunman gave me a nasty surprise.”
Gonzalez had taken a massive gamble. He’d called the State Attorney from Rob’s Marine, just moments before getting in the car with Jacobsen. All he’d had time for was a quick confirmation, before pocketing the phone with the line still open. “Towards the end, I got scared that the call had dropped,” he mused.
The State Attorney gave Gonzalez a pat on the back. “I’m leaning towards ‘crazy’. Gutsy move; I hope it pays off. We both forgot one thing; I don’t have a police radio in my car, and I’ve only got one cell. I dashed out the door after your call before I realized that, and had to stop at a gas station to phone dispatch. By the time I got here, you were already tied up. I was hoping for backup but when you started talking about the bomb, I figured I’d better intercede. That’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that or shot anybody,” the State Attorney said, glancing down at his trembling hands.
“Any news on intercepting Bridget’s boat? It sounded like a single engine, that’s all I know,” Gonzalez asked.
“We’ve made calls, but nothing yet. The St. Lucie department is getting its chopper up, but without even a make on the boat, it’s a long shot.”
“What about Jacobsen?” Gonzalez asked, his tone turning deadly.
“He was gone when I got here. I haven’t given any orders about him – yet. There hasn’t been time,” the State Attorney replied. After a few moments’ thought, he added, “Let’s leave him alone for a bit, in case whatever he’s going to try to do gives us some info.”
Gonzalez nodded, still staring at the flames as the firemen’s efforts to douse the blaze began. “Sounds good to me. One thing though: when the time comes, I want to be the one to take that bastard down.”
Billy nodded, glancing towards the glowing sky and towering column of smoke. “That might help us; it should get a lot of attention.”
“I am counting on it,” Bridget replied, and then phoned Rob to tersely order, “I will need my boat, fully fueled and operational, in eighteen hours, no more.”
“Uh, she’s almost ready now, I figured sooner would be better. I’ll be giving her a checkout run in a few hours, to be sure. Where do you want me to take her?”
Bridget smiled. “Remember the beach, where we were when I ordered the work? One mile offshore of there, at promptly nine o’clock this evening.”
“I’ll be there.”
“Excellent, I shall see you then,” Bridget replied.
For Gonzalez, the morning brought a confusing jumble of activity and information. Nothing was found at the Vero Beach Golf Club, and no sign of Henry’s whereabouts turned up. The only new development was a call from the State Attorney.
“I think you can take Jacobsen down now. He’s made his play; he started making calls right after the house blew. He claims he last saw you at the Bellevue house, where you were talking to Bridget alone for a while, and then turned your gun on him. His spin is you, George and Bridget were in it together, and you were trying to kill Bridget to keep her quiet. He said he thinks you rigged the firebomb but it went off too early. You and Bridget are dead in the rubble,” the State Attorney said, in a numb tone. He was silent for a moment, and then added, “My best guess is if it had worked, we’d have called off the hunt for Bridget thinking she was dead – until the lab guys figured out it wasn’t her. That’d take two to three days, so that’s what she was trying to buy herself. As for Jacobsen, I have a couple of officers keeping a discreet eye on him; he’s in his office. They’ll back you up when you get there. Go take that son of a bitch down.”
“My pleasure, sir,” Gonzalez said, already making plans as to how.
Gonzalez raced downtown, heading for Jacobsen’s office, where he rendezvoused with the two officers waiting in the building’s lobby. “Okay, I’m taking him down, and he might be our only chance to find a kidnapped civilian. I’ll need to go in alone.”
The two officers shared a wary glance. They knew Gonzalez, but they were also aware of what he’d been through. However, orders were orders. “The State Attorney and the Chief both said you’re in charge, so just tell us where you want us.”
“Right outside his door, but don’t let him see you,” Gonzalez replied, leading the way.
A flash of badges and a threatening glance was enough to make Jacobsen’s secretary leave, which cleared the way. Gonzalez walked down the short hallway, towards the oversized gold lettering that demarked Jacobsen’s open door. As he neared, he paused to listen, and hearing nothing, he stepped through the door, gun drawn, gripped in both hands.
Jacobsen glanced up from his paperwork, seeing Gonzalez’s gun first, and then Gonzalez. Jacobsen’s eyes opened wide, and he gaped in disbelief. For over a second, he stared, and then, he grabbed clumsily for his gun.
Gonzalez, just eight feet away, saw the move, and reacted by taking careful aim before pulling the trigger, sending a round slamming into Jacobsen’s right shoulder.
As the gunshot echoed through the building, Jacobsen clutched his shoulder, his hand centered on the spreading pool of blood soaking into his finely-pressed shirt. Jacobsen, moaning in agony, slumped sideways as Gonzalez rushed in to relieve him of his gun.
The two officers in the hallway dashed in, guns drawn. Gonzalez glanced at Jacobsen, and then told the officers, “I need to talk to him – alone.”
The two officers reluctantly left the room, allowing Gonzalez to focus on a writhing Jacobsen. Gonzalez leaned in close, his voice laced with deadly menace as he said, “You set me up to burn alive, so the only way you’re getting out of this is by telling me what I want to know. Otherwise, the ambulance won’t make it in time. Tell me what I need, and I’ll call for one. Now, I want to know one thing: where is Henry Wesson?”
His face contorted in agony, Jacobsen gasped, “I don’t know. I didn’t even know for sure she had him until we got there.”
Gonzalez leaned back, grunting in anger as he delivered a kick to Jacobsen’s side.
Jacobsen half fell, half tumbled out of his chair, crying out in agony as he bounced off the wall. “I don’t know, I swear,” he gasped.
Gonzalez, driven by rage and need, aimed his gun at Jacobsen’s head. “Not good enough. Give me what I need, or you’re done.”
Jacobsen winced, and wracked by pain, he gasped, “Okay, I can give you Bellevue, but I don’t know any more than you do about Wesson, I swear.”
Gonzalez watched intently for a moment, and with a sinking feeling, realized that Jacobsen was probably telling the truth. “Okay, give me Bellevue and I’ll call you an ambulance.”
Jacobsen shuddered, and then, through gritted teeth, replied, “I’ll do it, but only if it’s not used against me. Anything you claim about what happened last night is your word against mine.”
Judging that belief to be useful, Gonzalez replied, “What I want is to save Henry Wesson’s life. Getting Bellevue is my best chance. If you walk, you walk, I don’t give a fuck.”
“She needed time, three days. I think she intends to leave the state after that. I don’t know where she is, but I know she’ll call me later today. I have a second cell, in my jacket pocket. That’s the one she calls me on. Now call me an ambulance!”
Gonzalez smiled as he confiscated the cell phone, and replied, “Okay, you’re an ambulance.” He paused, and then shrugged. “One thing that might interest you; I made a call on my cell right before we left Rob’s Marine. I left the line open, so the State Attorney heard and recorded everything. That’s why I’m alive.” Gonzalez was, in part, lying: the State Attorney had not been able to tape the call, but letting Jacobsen think he had was, in Gonzalez’s view, useful.
Jacobsen blinked. “But… the courier checked you… and you can’t just let me bleed to death!”
“She didn’t have any reason to look in my shoulder holster, due to already having my guns.” Gonzalez turned to go, pausing at the door to turn and give Jacobsen a cold smile, as the distant sound of an approaching siren signaled that medical help was on the way, as he’d known all along. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for you, being a former prosecutor in prison. I’m sure that the other prisoners will be delighted to make your acquaintance.”
By the time Bridget called, the police techs Gonzalez had given the cell to were set up and ready. Gonzalez had decided to be the one to answer. He’d considered cutting a deal with Jacobsen, but the risk of a code phrase to tip off Bridget was one he felt too high.
Gonzalez answered on the third ring, in a gravely voice. “I can barely talk. I’m in the hospital, not too private. Got smoke inhalation last night. I should be out in a few hours.”
“I need to know the situation,” Bridget ordered.
“Went as planned, except I had to return to get things going; that’s when the wind shifted and I got a few lungfuls. So far, they’ve found Gonzalez’s body first, then the other one.” Gonzalez lowered his voice to a whisper. “They think you’re dead, Gonzalez was in your pay, and there was an argument, then the fire lit off too early. That’ll hold for maybe three days, but after that, they’ll get the tests back on the bodies. Look, things are getting heated for me; I stuck my neck out a long, long way. I need to know; does Henry Wesson know about me? If he does, I need to make plans to get out.”
Bridget scowled. The voice change had made her suspicious, but the question about Henry bothered her. She’d watched Henry die, though as far as she knew, Jacobsen was unaware of Henry’s death. However, she felt it incongruous that Jacobsen would assume she’d leave him alive. Unsure, she replied, “If you need to leave, I can be of assistance. As for Mr. Wesson, he does not know about you. When he is released, he can do you no harm. Is there anything else?”
Gonzalez knew that he had to keep her talking as long as possible. “Yes, there’s a meeting, a big one, in two hours. That’ll let me know what strategies they’re using, and how they are proceeding. Let me call you, or you call me. Is there some way I can reach you?”
“Afraid not,” Bridget replied, and then added tersely, “I shall call you when practicable,” before ending the call.
Bridget looked at the phone in her hand with suspicion, took a glance around, and then removed the battery. “I fear Jacobsen may be compromised, if indeed that was him, so we must make haste,” Bridget said, as she led Billy towards one of the shopping mall’s exits, past the hair salon she’d been at before the call. Bridget absently reached up to fuss with her new hairdo; she had literally let her hair down, and for good measure, had it dyed red. It was the best that she felt she could do to change her appearance quickly.
Three minutes after the call ended, a tech rushed in to tell Gonzalez, “Treasure Coast Mall, Jensen Beach. The local department has four units en route, but…”
“Yeah, a long shot,” Gonzalez said, knowing that finding Bridget in the crowds of shoppers at a vast mall would be like finding a needle in a haystack. “Send the units around with photos anyway, just in case. Keep an eye on the parking lot exits as well,” he said, knowing that it was likely futile.
Bridget had a busy day ahead, and she loathed it. She met with two cartel operatives, and then took them to meet with her erstwhile partners in the many shell business ventures she’d set up over the years. At each meeting, her orders to her former associates were clear; you are under new management. She was turning her operation over, piece by piece, to the cartel, and with every transfer, she felt her old life slipping away.
The business transfers had to be done in person, not via a phone call. Bridget had set that rule long ago, out of fear of impersonation or coercion. The other reason Bridget could not yet leave was the need to empty many safe deposit boxes, which contained large sums of cash, jewels, gold, and negotiable securities. It was close to thirty million dollars' worth, and she had no intention of leaving it behind. The problem she faced was that her safe deposit boxes and businesses were scattered up and down the Florida seaboard, and getting to them all would take time.
Officer Gonzalez, who was feeling the heavy hand of lack of sleep, paced in the empty meeting room, trying to think of his next move. He was drawing a blank, so he called the forensic accountant and explained the situation, looking for ideas. The forensic accountant replied quickly, “Yes, that fits. She’s taking care of business before fleeing. I’ve seen this pattern before. She’ll be rounding up what assets she can.”
“Any chance she’ll go to any of the businesses we know about?” Gonzalez asked.
“The only person I’ve given specifics to is you, so she’d be unaware of which businesses we’re aware of.”
“Call the dispatch desk and give them what you’ve got. They’ll be waiting for your call, and they’ll send people to keep an eye out,” Gonzalez said, knowing that it was a long shot. What he didn’t know was that, via Henry, Bridget was already aware of which of her businesses were compromised.
The day wore on, and for Gonzalez, it was a flurry of meetings, orders, false leads, and false hopes.
A call came in from Miami; George Alfred’s car had been found in the long-term parking at Miami International Airport. A search had turned up little of interest except, between the seats and lodged beside the center console, a dog-eared receipt from a bookstore, showing a purchase of two novels, and a travel guide for Argentina.
A check of George’s credit card had turned up a charge at a restaurant in Buenos Aires, and then a maximum cash advance at that city’s main Bank of America branch, by a cartel operative who bore a resemblance to George, using George’s ID and credit card.
The convenient receipt, plus the credit card info, spelled ‘setup’ to Gonzalez, but he had nothing more than a hunch. However, the thought of George’s car reminded Gonzalez of something else Henry had mentioned about the tracking data. Gonzalez, growing desperate, raced home to access his own computer, which Henry had been forwarding the tracking data to. Gonzalez soon found what he was looking for: the location of the stop George’s car had made, near Yeehaw Junction.
Gonzalez copied down the coordinates and then phoned the State Attorney, requesting that a local police unit be sent. Gonzalez gave the coordinates, and added, “Have them keep their eyes open for anything odd, and have them report anything they find there, however innocuous.”
After the call, Gonzalez sped to Henry’s motel room, where he looked through his belongings, though finding nothing of use.
Gonzalez’s next stop was the remains of Bridget’s house. There, he found one fireman, posted to keep an eye out for flare-ups. Smoke still curled from a few spots in the rubble, and Gonzalez shuddered at the sight, remembering how close he’d come to being part of that charred debris.
The fireman accompanied Gonzalez to where the front door had been, and together they stopped to stare. Of the roof, only a charred skeleton remained. That was true as well for much of the upper floor, and much of the lower floor on the street side. “It was a hard one to put out,” the fireman remarked, kicking a lump of charcoal with his toe.
“I’d like to go in, if it’s safe,” Gonzalez said.
The fireman shook his head. “Not a good move. The remains of the roof could come down at any time. Besides, a team’s been in to get the body out, and the cause is pretty damn obvious – a gasoline incendiary device, plus propane tanks. The fire department’s arson team is going to examine the place in a couple of hours, after the embers have died out and we’ve pulled down a few of the roof supports.”
Gonzalez glanced at what had once been the foyer, and nodded. “Okay, what parts can I see?”
“The garage is pretty much intact except for smoke and water damage. The drywall from the ceiling is falling in a few places, but that isn’t dangerous. The kitchen and conservatory on the waterfront side are partially intact, but the floor above ‘em doesn’t look safe to me.”
Gonzalez made a call to ensure that forensic experts would accompany the arson team to examine the property as soon as it was safe to do so, and then began his own search. He began with the intact, undamaged guesthouse, where he found little of interest, until, on a hunch, he pried up a baseboard, which revealed the wiring from the bugs. With that confirmed, he eventually made his way to the garage, where he let himself in via the side door with the aid of a crowbar. Inside the drenched structure, he found three cars. Two were Mercedes, and a quick check of his notes confirmed that they were registered to Bridget. The third car was one that looked very out of place. A quick check of the plate, followed by a radio call, confirmed that it was Trevor’s ancient Honda Civic. Gonzalez narrowed his eyes. ‘Now, why did she keep you?’ he pondered. He’d already learned, via Rachel, that Bridget had paid six thousand dollars for the car – in cocaine tainted cash, and cocaine had been found at George’s house. Gonzalez remembered the claims regarding George planting cocaine in Lisa’s suitcase, and his eyes narrowed. He made another radio call, this time to ensure that the forensic team took a very close look at Trevor’s car.
Gonzalez returned to his cubicle at the station, where he, utterly exhausted, kept making calls to push the case, before eventually succumbing to sleep.
Aboard Kookaburra, Trevor had the helm, reaching out to sea at fifteen knots. He lacked one thing: a destination. “Lisa, I’ll feel better as soon as we’re out of sight of land. You’ve only got a few more days before we have to get you to the airport; any idea where you’d like to go?”
Lisa glanced at Joel, and received a nod. “How about Perth? It’s a huge city – tons of stuff to see – and you can moor at that navy base without having to worry about reporters.”
Trevor glanced at Shane, and then Joel, before replying, “Sounds like a plan. I’ll turn south as soon as we’re over the horizon from the coast. We can still make stops on the way, but… that reporter showing up… I didn’t like that. I don’t have a problem with what he says he’s after, but I don’t like the way he found us. He just flew in on a hunch? And then he finds me and doesn’t ask a single thing about the pirates? I don’t buy it. Okay, next stop, Fleet Base West. I’ll make a call to Uncle Greg and let him know. After we get there, I’ll call Ned and see what’s up with the gear for Atlantis.”
Joel looked at the navigation display, and then zoomed it out to show a wider area. “I’ve been thinking; if the stuff is ready, we could pick it up in Geraldton after Lisa flies home, then take it to Carnarvon. Trev, it’s you they are after, so what if Shane and I make the delivery run? We could drop you off on some deserted island in Shark Bay, then maybe pick you up later.”
Trevor rolled his eyes. “Maybe pick me up?”
Joel nodded. “Yeah, after a week or two.”
“Why so soon?” Shane asked, with a pout on his face.
Lisa looked at Trevor and chuckled. “They’re trying to turn you into a castaway.”
Trevor laughed, and then nodded. “Yeah, they are. Okay, except for the leaving me on a deserted island bit, that could work. I’ll just keep out of sight. We could dock at Ned’s yard late at night, it wouldn’t take long, and nobody would know we were there until we’d gone. Hey, if we time this right, we might be spending New Year’s Eve at Rhys Lagoon.”
“Rhys Lagoon?” Lisa asked, arching an eyebrow in Shane’s direction.
A broad grin spread across Trevor’s face. “Yeah, an awesome lagoon off one of the side branches of Shark Bay. It didn’t have a name on the maps, so Shane, modest guy that he isn’t, named it after himself.”
“Cruel and abusive bastard! An awesome place deserves an awesome name,” Shane replied, making a mental note to be sure to stock up on carrots.
Trevor turned Kookaburra south and turned the helm over to Joel. Lisa, a frown growing on her face, joined Joel at the helm. The two shared a knowing glance, and then Lisa turned to tell Trevor, in a quiet tone, “Trev, I’m really sorry about the stuff with Bridget, if she’s involved in what’s happened. I… I don’t want to believe it, but too much points at her, and maybe she was listening in on her phone line. I’m really, really sorry if what I-”
“We,” Joel interjected, with a sad look on his face.
“Whoa, stop!” Trevor said, looking at Lisa and Joel’s uncharacteristically sad, contrite faces. “Come on, you didn’t know. You were both trying to help me, and don’t forget, I was the first of us to turn to Bridget for help. Another thing to remember; this looks like it’s something to do with the scam my parents did ten years ago, so you guys got caught up in it, just like I did. So no more stress, okay?”
Joel shared a long look with Lisa, and gave her a hug. “Thanks, Trev. One thing though, we do need to find out what’s really going on. We know your mom talked to Gonzalez again, but we’ve heard nothing back since. Maybe we should call? We could try Henry first, to see if he’s heard anything, and… I better call my parents again, too. And maybe Gonzalez as well.”
Trevor smiled. “Sounds like a plan. It’s about three in the morning in Florida so it might be good to wait until tonight, or your parents will ground you some more – and you’re already grounded for life as it is.”
Joel finally, as Trevor had hoped, cracked a smile, though Lisa still looked unsettled.
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