The noise of the morning shift change intruded on Gonzalez’s fitful sleep, and he opened his eyes to find himself slumped over his desk. Ignoring his aching back, he began making calls, getting himself back in the loop on the case.
It was late in the morning when the State Attorney found Gonzalez, still at his desk, working the phones.
The State Attorney took a seat, wringing his hands while Gonzalez finished a call. Gonzalez took one look at the State Attorney’s face, and knew. “Henry?” Gonzalez asked, hoping that he had it wrong.
The State Attorney took a breath before replying, “We don’t know yet, but… a team checked out that location near Yeehaw Junction: it’s a commercial alligator farm. They found blood spatter on the pier, and it’s human. It’s a type match for George Alfred, though we don’t have DNA results yet. They cleared the pond and began dredging it, and they found… there’s no easy way to say this, they found a hand and arm. They checked the prints against George, no match. Then they checked them against the set Henry submitted for his investigator’s license. They got a ten-point match, there’s no doubt. It’s Henry Wesson’s arm. The coroner said it’s consistent with an alligator attack.”
Gonzalez clenched his eyes shut, saying a silent prayer for his friend. His voice shaking, he asked, “Tell me the rest. Was he alive when…”
The State Attorney swallowed once. “The coroner thinks it’s highly likely. They’ve shot most of the ‘gators, and are doing an analysis, but… they think they have tissue from two individuals. I’m very sorry, Mike,” the State Attorney said.
Gonzalez shuddered. “Henry hated alligators. Killing a guy is one thing, but to do this… this is inhuman. Please tell me that Jacobsen can be tried as an accessory to murder?”
The State Attorney hesitated before replying, “Probably, but that’ll be my successor’s call. I was the one who let Jacobsen in and had him handling the case details. The press is already buzzing about the Bellevue house going up and her – and your – reported deaths, and they got wind of an assistant State Attorney under arrest at the hospital. I was told in no uncertain terms that it was time for me to go, and I concur. The governor will be appointing someone to take my place in the next few days, and my resignation will take effect then.”
Gonzalez was too numb to react beyond a mumbled, “Sorry to hear that, sir.”
“It’s probably for the best; I’d have had to recuse myself from Jacobsen’s case anyway; you and I are the two witnesses against him. I wish I’d have known how to tape that call, but with two of us, plus the rest of the evidence, the bastard is going down.”
“I’ve given orders to let the word spread that my body was found in Bridget’s house. I gave my family a call to let ‘em know that I’m not actually dead in spite of what they might hear, but this should keep word of my survival from getting back to Bridget. I want her to think she’s got time.” Gonzalez took a breath, scratched his head, and then glanced at his watch. “I need to go down to Jensen Beach. I’ll keep in touch by phone, let me know if there’s anything new.”
“Will do. Ah, there is one other thing. How’d you know it was Jacobsen, not me, who was the mole? From what you’ve said about his story, we both looked dirty.”
Gonzalez paused, feeling the need to mourn, but also the need for distraction. “Thank Rachel Carlson for that. She called me a second time and ID’d George from a picture I sent. That proves he was involved with Rachel a decade ago, but you didn’t know that. Neither did Jacobsen, when he told me you’d introduced Bridget to George at a party a few years ago. You also signed off on letting Ainsworth and Carlson off the hook, which was contrary to Bridget’s interests. Another thing was that Jacobsen was the one chairing the meeting where we decided to press for grand jury indictments on Carlson and Ainsworth. The final thing is I trusted my gut, and I had to trust someone. What made me positive was Jacobsen was fine at the warehouse, then skittish as hell at Rob’s Marine. I never reported it, but Henry tried getting in there a few weeks ago, and nearly got nailed by guard dogs. Jacobsen acted as if he was afraid they were still there, but how did he know? Then, he set it up so it would be just him and me going into the Bellevue house. I played along, thinking it was the best hope to find Henry, plus nail Jacobsen.”
“It looks like Henry died just a few hours after he sent that text,” the State Attorney said quietly, before adding, “You’ve been in charge of cold cases for a while, and were doing well even before the Bellevue case. You were also sure that George wasn’t the only traitor on our side. Frankly, I didn’t agree, but I went with your read on it. You were right, as Jacobsen proved. You’ve got good instincts, Mike, and I think they’d be of better use in charge of the state’s interdepartmental corruption task force. The current head is taking early retirement in a few months, due in part to what’s been going on.”
Gonzalez blinked. He liked the idea of investigating police corruption: rooting out people like George Alfred and Jacobsen. That task force was hated by many police officers, but that didn’t bother Gonzalez. “I’d like to work with them, but I can’t run it; I don’t have anywhere near the needed rank or time in service.”
“The Governor’s Office thinks otherwise. It’s yours if you want it, with the rank advance and pay to match. Think it over, there’s no hurry.”
Gonzalez hesitated, before replying, “Thank you, sir, I’m honored to accept, and I’m sorry about your resignation. You did nothing wrong.”
“It happened on my watch. Anyway, you’re the lead officer on the Bellevue case and you’re in charge, rank be damned. The Governor’s Office will back you up if you need anything. Take care, Mike, and I’ll talk to you later,” the State Attorney said, as he shuffled out of the cubicle. What he hadn’t told Gonzalez was that the backing of the Governor’s Office plus the offer of promotion had been the State Attorney’s price, in return for a quiet resignation instead of the public debacle of a dismissal. He’d done it because he believed that Gonzalez was the best for the job.
Numb, fighting grief, Gonzalez made the short drive down to Jensen Beach, where he joined the local police at the mall’s security office. “Anything?” he asked tersely, with a flash of his badge, before helping himself to coffee.
One of the uniformed officers briefed Gonzalez on what little they’d developed: a few possible identifications from the picture they’d shown around, though several were contradictory. They were currently reviewing the security camera footage, and the officer cued up the one they were most sure of. “We got a woman making a call near the food court. The time stamps match the call, and the location is pretty close, but we only see her from behind, and the hair looks wrong.”
Gonzalez glared at the black and white image. “I think that’s her. I’ve met her. Now, where’d she go, and who’s that with her?”
The officer shrugged. “Wish we knew. There are gaps in the camera coverage, so we lost her after about a hundred yards.”
Gonzalez stared at the screen for a few moments, and then had mall security officers play clips from various cameras while he peppered them with questions. It took nearly an hour, but then Gonzalez saw something. “There, replay that,” he said, easing closer to the screen’s grainy image. After three playbacks, he was sure. “Do a screen capture, that’s her. She’s changed her hair, but the blouse is the same. And look how she walks; like royalty, and the guy with her is trailing behind, one pace back, like an office worker taking a stroll with the CEO – a sign of deference. That’s Bridget Bellevue, I’m positive, and the guy with her might be the one she called ‘Billy’, though I can’t be sure from this angle.” Gonzalez checked a map of the mall, comparing it to the location of the video. “There’s one hair salon close,” he said, already on his way out the door.
It took only a few moments. One of the stylists recognized the picture Gonzalez had in hand. “Yeah, that’s her, pompous as hell and in a hurry. Paid cash, didn’t tip me.”
“What’s her hair color now?” Gonzalez asked.
After getting a few more details, Gonzalez put the word out on the law enforcement networks that their quarry had a new look, and included a capture from the mall camera, plus the news that her hair was now red.
Unknown to Bridget, Gonzalez was drawing the net ever tighter; she believed that her ruse with the fire at her house, and Gonzalez’s ‘death’ after apparently calling off the hunt for her, had bought her the time she needed. Instead, Gonzalez was playing that perception to his advantage, hoping that Bridget would remain unawares that she was the focus of an intense manhunt.
One of the officers who was privy to the plan asked, “How much longer until we have to go public?”
Gonzalez considered that for a few moments, before replying quietly, “If we don’t have her by four AM, we’ll bring the press in, ready for the morning news.”
Driving back from Jensen Beach on the Florida Turnpike, Gonzalez clutched the wheel, his knuckles white. He saw the exit for Ft. Pierce approaching; it was the one he planned to take, but as he reached for the turn signal, his hand, almost of its own accord, froze. With a sigh, Gonzalez watched as the exit passed, and he continued north. He knew he couldn’t spare the time, but he felt the need to see, and then, more wrenching yet, there was a visit he knew he had to make in person.
Gonzalez phoned in to his station, letting them know he’d be away for a few hours, though he could be reached by phone.
Soon, though it seemed like far longer, a crunch of gravel replaced the hum of the interstate. Many police cars, along with the coroner’s van and strings of yellow crime-scene tape, greeted Gonzalez as he pulled into the alligator farm. Feeling very much alone, Gonzalez held up his badge and walked past the officer standing guard, drawn to the hum of voices in the building and beyond.
A few billowing white clouds dotted the azure sky, sunlight glinting off the murky water. Gonzalez walked out onto the pier, surrounded by a sprawling visage of blood and gore; alligator carcasses, gutted and disemboweled, hanging from ropes along the rusty building. Uniformed officers stood guard over the pond, keeping watch as two men in a rowboat trawled the bottom with a net. Gonzalez’s gaze fell on the end of the short pier, where an old wheelbarrow, in stark solitude, stood askew near the edge. Gonzalez swallowed once, his hands clammy and clenched, and forced his unwilling legs to carry him forward, towards the officer in charge. His mouth dry, he fought to speak, finally forcing out the words, “I’m Mike Gonzalez, what can you tell me?”
A brief, clinical recount was his reply, detailing the likely course of events. George Alfred, shot at the end of the pier and then fed to the alligators, and then, days later, Henry, bound and dumped in. A mention from the coroner of rope burns on Henry’s wrist, and of finding his head in the stomach of an alligator. Gonzalez shuddered, his guts churning, trying to block out the onslaught of words, though two, ‘Eaten alive’, kept echoing through his mind.
Unbidden, a memory flashed to life; Henry, making an awkward joke after hearing that alligators are sometimes used in lieu of guard dogs, “I aspire to be many things, but lunch ain’t one of ‘em.’ Gonzalez, his brow awash in a cold sweat, felt his stomach heave. He took a few halting steps, making it to the side of the building, before the contents of his stomach came up in their wretched way.
The other officers, though they did not know Gonzalez, understood, keeping a respectful distance, trying to give the man a semblance of privacy. Some had experienced a similar reaction themselves, upon arriving at the grisly scene.
Gonzalez wanted to leave, though knew he couldn’t, not yet. The taste of bile still in his mouth, he walked the few paces to the wheelbarrow, seeing a few thin traces of blood, blood that he’d been told matched Henry’s type. For a moment, Gonzalez closed his eyes, envisioning Henry, bound and helpless, dumped into the pond to be eaten alive.
A tear escaped Gonzalez’s eyes, tracing down his cheek, as he opened his eyes, staring out across the pond. His jaw set, he gave his silent oath, ‘I’ll get her for this, Henry, no matter what it takes. I’ll get her and anyone who’s in it with her, if it’s the last thing I do. Farewell, my friend.’
Gonzalez took several deep breaths, regaining his composure before again speaking to the officer in charge.
When he reached Orlando, Gonzalez followed the directions of his GPS to a suburban office building he’d never been to before. He parked in the shade of a palm tree, and then made his way inside the upscale, modern single-story building. Inside, he found a lavish foyer, with a prim secretary seated behind an ostentatious desk.
“May I help you?” she asked, pointedly wrinkling her prim nose at Gonzalez’s disheveled appearance.
Gonzalez showed her his badge. “I’m here to see Frank Tittle, he knows me, but I don’t want to be announced. I need to just go in.”
“I’ll need to check,” the secretary replied, lifting her phone.
Gonzalez reached out, gently staying her hand. “No, I need to go in,” he said.
The secretary was about to protest, but one glance in Gonzalez’s reddened, tired, angry eyes dissuaded her. “Through the main door. He may be in his back office; it’s the door behind the big desk.”
“Thank you,” Gonzalez mumbled, already on his way.
He opened the huge double door, finding a massive office, immaculately kept, and decorated in a rich, old-world style: dark wood, ornaments of brass and gold, with furniture and a bookshelf to match. The desk was enormous; a sweeping curve of marble, bare save for a gold pen set, and behind it, an oversized leather desk chair, standing serenely empty.
Gonzalez saw the doorway and took a breath as he opened the door and walked through into a strikingly different world of towering stacks of overstuffed file folders, overflowing wastepaper baskets, and the scent of stale hamburgers.
At a small desk, brimming with messy paperwork, Frank Tittle, dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, heard his door open and snapped his head around. “Gonzalez,” Frank mumbled, his eyes growing wide and round. “I, uh, I just got the news that you’re dead,” he mumbled, his eyes locked on Gonzalez. Frank’s words froze in his throat as he caught the pained look in Gonzalez’s face. “Uh, come in, have a seat,” he said, in a quiet, stunned tone, as he shoved some empty pizza boxes off the room’s sole vacant chair.
Gonzalez took the proffered seat, and then, in a voice barely above a whisper, said, “Henry told me that you and he were friends, so I wanted to see you first. I… Henry was my friend too, and I’m… There’s no easy way to say this, but Henry’s been murdered.”
Frank Tittle’s face drained of color, his expression a mix of shock and pain. “Murdered? Oh God, no… When, how? I was just talking to him, Christmas Day…”
Gonzalez shuddered for a moment. “Bridget Bellevue. She… it looks like she caught him, and what we do know is… he was tied up and dumped into an alligator pond. There’s not much left.”
“Eaten?” Frank gasped, his eyes wide, his face a mask of horror. “Oh fuck, no, he was a good guy, he can’t…” Frank winced, and he shook his head, as if to clear it. “Are you sure it’s him? And what about Bridget? I just heard she’s dead, in a fire… uh, along with you.”
“What I’m about to say stays between you and me until I say otherwise. We’re hunting for her and trying to keep it quiet, so we don’t spook her. She believes we think she’s dead, so the hope is it’ll make her overconfident. We’ll go public in the morning unless we catch her first.”
Frank leaned back, trembling slightly, his usual arrogant demeanor gone. “You’re sure it was her who did this to Henry?”
“Yeah, and she tried to kill me, too…” Gonzalez went on to explain what had happened. When he finished, he asked, “What would be needed for a conversation between you and me to be covered by attorney-client privilege?”
Frank stared for a moment, before replying, “Nothing other than a clear understanding by you that the relationship exists. However, due to our past dealings regarding the Carlson case, give me a dollar for a retainer fee and I’ll write you a receipt as well as log it. That creates a paper trail as proof of the relationship from this time on.”
“Just a dollar?” Gonzalez asked, handing over the banknote, genuinely surprised.
“I’m marking it paid in full for unlimited consultations. It’s a first for me, but Henry was not just my employee, he was my friend – my only close friend. I have a hunch why you want this, so I’ll tell you now; anything I can do to help you avenge Henry’s murder, and I mean anything, you have only to ask.”
Gonzalez accepted his copy of the receipt. “Okay, what I need to get is your perspective, as a defense attorney, on Bridget’s case. Is there any danger she’ll manage to get acquitted?”
Frank leaned back in his chair, eyes closed, thinking. After almost a minute, he said, “I need more information. Tell me what you think really happened.”
“In a nutshell, I think George got word that he and Bridget were under suspicion. Henry and I always feared that George would claim he was operating undercover and skate on criminal charges, so I’m sure he saw that angle too. He tried to set up Bridget, including planting drug traces – and maybe drugs as well – on Lisa and Joel. The listening device in the guesthouse was logged out by George, and the call to the Australian tip line was traced to his desk phone, so that fits. I think she found out somehow and turned the tables on him. She set him up, so it’d look like he was guilty and she was his dupe: just a good citizen trying to help the police. She set it up so that it’d look like he fled to South America. Even if we hadn’t bought it, that’d be reasonable doubt, all wrapped up in a neat little bow. We’d have probably never known the truth, except for the tracker Henry put inside a tire on George’s car. I think Henry stumbled into her operation that night, and tried to get too close. That threw a massive monkey wrench in her scheme. She did try to make the play that it was all George’s doing to me, but I wasn’t buying. I think she, at some point, cooked up the idea of burning down her house to make it look like George did it, but after Henry changed her plans, she decided to put a double for her in it so it’d look like she was dead, and also add me to the ashes. She has to know that ruse would only work for a few days, so I figure she’s preparing to flee the country, and she’s shown herself to be damn good at adapting her plans and playing all the angles.”
Frank peppered Gonzalez with a few more questions, and then sighed. “Under other circumstances, I’d have liked to have been her lawyer. Right now, you have nothing hard tying her to the murders of George Alfred or Henry. Further, your best evidence is the phone call to the State Attorney, but it wasn’t recorded; only heard by the State Attorney. You have your own eyewitness account, but even that isn’t definitive. She never admitted to harming Henry or kidnapping him, or George for that matter. Indeed, under the circumstances – with you held at gunpoint – your testimony, if accurate, helps her, because she had little obvious incentive to lie if she intended killing you. As for capturing you, she said ‘Now, Billy,’ but she could easily claim you misheard, and it was ‘No, Billy’. She can also claim that she thought you were working with George and thus a danger to her. She did order you tied up, but no one saw her set the firebomb.” Frank paused, nodding to himself as he ran the scenarios through his mind. “Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have much hope, but she can afford the best defense team money can buy, and she has an ace up her sleeve: a corrupt officer in your department, and a corrupt Assistant District Attorney. Lacking any hard evidence, her defense will call into question the veracity of any testimony you or the State Attorney give. She can claim it was all part of the setup, and from what you say, she does have some evidence that points to her being set up by George Alfred. A crack defense team could certainly create reasonable doubt from all this on charges such as murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, and arson. My guess, a jury would likely acquit on the major charges but might be unwilling to let her totally off the hook, so she might go down for evading arrest or some minor charge. At most, she’d serve a few months, and I doubt even that.” Frank scowled, pausing before adding, “This is just speculation based on things as they stand and barring new evidence. Juries can be unpredictable, but if I had to give odds, I’d say she has at least a seventy percent chance of acquittal on the major charges. I’d say a RICO charge on money laundering is the strongest case against her, and that does carry jail time, but she’d be out after a few years, at most. However, her legal team might be able to use a claim that George was manipulating her under the guise of color of law to create reasonable doubt on that as well. My first suggestion is to sequester her assets under RICO to take away her ability to hire a top-notch team, but that’d only work if she doesn’t have hidden assets, which I think it’s a safe bet she does.”
“That’s what I needed to know,” Gonzalez said, in a quiet, deadly tone.
Frank nodded at the implied confirmation of his suspicions, and then said, “Good hunting. By the way, I meant what I said; I’ll help in any way I can, no restrictions. There’s one thing I do need to ask though; is there any danger that Jacobsen knew where Jim and Dirk’s safe house is?”
Gonzalez shook his head. “I was worried about that too, but the State Attorney said the protective detail didn’t even tell him, and I confirmed that. Uh, one other thing, I need to notify Henry’s next of kin, and anyone close to him.”
Frank rubbed his temples. “Henry’s parents died years ago, and so far as I know, he’s not close to any remaining family.He had a girlfriend for a while, but they broke up last summer. He was friendly with some of his neighbors, but that’s it. I did a will for him two years ago, and he designated that his estate go to several charities he was fond of. As for close friends, as far as I know, I’m it, though he did spend quite a bit of time with Jim and Dirk, and I think he considered them friends. I know they think highly of Henry.”
“Would you like to tell them, or want me to?” Gonzalez asked.
“I’d have liked us both to, but under the circumstances, I’d prefer that you spend your time nailing that Bellevue bitch.”
Gonzalez nodded, and then asked, “What’s your read; will she try to flee the country, or stay and fight it out in court?”
Frank shook his head. “That one’s out of my league; I’ve never met her, and that’s more of a personal decision. We now know she must have connections to one of the drug cartels, and they could easily provide her with a new identity. I’d say you’re in a better position to judge this than I am; how willing do you think she’d be to stay and submit to judgment? She’d have to turn herself in fairly soon to go that route, and run the risk of being held without bail due to her current attempt to flee.”
Gonzalez stared at a blank spot on the wall for a few moments, before replying, “My guess is that before Henry wrecked her plans, she was planning on the legal angle, and would have had a far better shot at it. I don’t think she’d have tried to kill me if she was staying, so my gut read is she’ll try to run, and if cornered, fight. My guess is she’ll try to go by boat, across the Florida Straits to the Bahamas, because our hope is she doesn’t know we’re onto her yet.”
“She’ll still have the legal defense as a fallback option if she’s caught. What you need is hard evidence, and maybe get an accomplice to flip on her too.”
“She’s been seen with that Billy guy since she left her house, so if we get him with her and cut him a deal, would that be enough?” Gonzalez asked.
“I like it when the only witness against a client is testifying because they got a deal; I can rip their credibility to shreds by pointing out that they have a huge motive to say what the prosecution wants. Without corroborating hard evidence in this case, going with just an accomplice is hard. Any sign at all that she was at the alligator farm?”
Gonzalez shook his head. “Not a trace so far. They’ve recovered some bullet fragments, but they are too distorted to match to a specific gun, even if we had the gun, which we don’t. We don’t even have any idea if it was her, or one of her accomplices, who pulled the trigger. The only hint we have so far is a fleck of gravel from her tire treads that matches the gravel on the road nearby, but it’d match a ton of other places too. Nothing else so far from forensics on her cars. There’s one other thing; Trevor’s car was in her garage. It has George’s fingerprints on the wheel and gear stick, and there’s the title, neatly sealed in a plastic bag, with Joel’s signature, George’s fingerprints, and, we think, his DNA as well.”
Frank scowled. “Damn, that’s great evidence for her side, to build the case that George set her up. She doesn’t need to prove it, just make it sound mildly plausible. If you’d perished in that fire, and hadn’t had that cell on, I’d say she had one hell of a good case, and would be in little legal peril.”
“Yeah, she’d say that George Alfred set the firebomb, then fled the country. The hole in that theory is that it’d be her best option unless she knew we’d find the bodies at the alligator farm.”
Frank shuddered. “Henry knew about the alligator farm location, right? Faced with a death like that, what wouldn’t he have told ‘em? I’d have spilled my guts, anything to avoid that…” Frank said, a cold sweat appearing on his brow.
“And I’ll bet she asked, and lied to him; she lied to me, even though she thought I was about to die. I’m going to see Justice done, no matter what it takes,” Gonzalez declared. He much preferred to get hard evidence and put Bridget in prison, but failing that, he was now fully willing to do whatever was needed, even break laws, if that’s what Justice demanded.
“If at any point you need defending in court for anything, I’m the best, and you’re paid in full,” Frank offered, and then added, “We’ve both lost a good friend.”
Gonzalez leaned back in his chair, staring at Frank for a moment. “You’re not like I thought. To be blunt, I hated you after that meeting with the State Attorney, and I thought you were an asshole. I no longer do.”
Frank sighed. “Then you’re wrong, because I am. Always have been, always will be, and I’ve never made any bones about it. Hell, Henry and I are-” Frank interrupted himself, as he realized that he’d used the present tense, and then continued, “were friends, and he said that about me all the time. It’s just who I am, and it’s served me well. However, for Henry’s sake, you’ve got me on your side.”
“Thanks. I’ll be in touch soon. I’m giving it until the early hours of tomorrow morning, then we’re going public with the manhunt for Bridget, plus giving the press a lot of details to ensure wide coverage. One of the things we plan to announce is that she set up Jim and Dirk, with the aid of Jacobsen, to get herself off the hook for her husband’s murder. Any objections?” Gonzalez asked.
“Not from me, either as their attorney, or yours. I have contacts in the media; give me an hour’s notice, no matter what time of day, and I’ll help get the story out. A media frenzy would sure as hell help the manhunt-” Frank’s eyes glazed over for a moment, as he realized another goal, and he added, “Either leading to eyewitness tips to get her, or forcing her to make her break by sea on your schedule. Very clever. And, if you don’t mind, I’d like to use the media storm to get Jim and Dirk their lives back; the public still thinks of them as murderers due to the publicity during the hunt for them, and this can clear them in the public’s eye.”
“Sounds good to me,” Gonzalez said, standing up to leave. “See you soon, Frank. Expect a call from me around four tomorrow morning, if we haven’t bagged Bridget by then.”
Aboard Kookaburra, southbound and out of sight of land, Trevor, lounging in the helm beanbag in his boxers, had taken over from Shane at four AM for the watch. Mainly, this meant keeping an eye on Kookaburra’s autopilot, radar, and the horizon. The sunrise, an hour before, had been spectacular: the dawn of a hot and breezy day, ideal for sun and sail, and Trevor was looking forward to having company: he knew the others would be up soon.
Trevor caught a tan motion out of the corner of his eye, and turned to see Joel padding out into the cockpit.
Trevor nodded a greeting, and then gave Joel’s swimsuit a pointed glance. “I very much approve of you in red speedos,” he said quietly, out of deference to those still sleeping, before grinning.
“Sexual harassment so early in the morning?” Joel grumbled, his voice barely above a whisper, padding over to stand behind the wheel. “Can I steer?” he asked, a smile of anticipation spreading across his face.
“Sure, anytime, you know how to disengage the autopilot,” Trevor replied, with a warm smile of his own. “I’ve missed you a lot, Joel,” Trevor added, in a quiet, serious tone.
Joel gave Trevor a glance and a smile. “I’ve missed you too, Trev, and been worried as hell about you.” A sad look crossed Joel’s face, and he added, “And I’m really sorry if it’s true that Bridget had anything to do with-”
Trevor interrupted Joel by reaching out and giving Joel’s butt a firm slap. “Shut up already, or I’ll… I don’t know what, but I’ll do something you won’t like. I trusted her too, remember?”
“Leave my ass alone, you sexually abusive bastard,” Joel replied, with a grin and a nod, before adding, “Thanks, brother.”
Trevor smiled, and then arched an eyebrow. “You were going to call home while you had the watch last night, but I was asleep. Any news from home?”
Joel shook his head. “I tried calling Henry first, got his voicemail once, and then couldn’t get a call through the next time I tried. I think the reception was really bad or something. I decided to wait on calling my parents; once I tell them I spent Christmas with your back-from-the-dead mother, they’re going to want to hear everything, so that’ll be a long-ass call. I’ll call on the cell instead, as soon as we close on Fremantle.”
“Thanks, but feel free if you want to call sooner. I’ve got to call Uncle Greg and make sure we’re set for the navy base; I’ll do that in a couple of hours, and catch him at work. I also need to let him know about that reporter in Kalbarri.”
Joel tapped at the navigation display. “It looks like we’re about four hours from that island Shane suggested having a look at, in that chain I can’t pronounce,” he said, looking at the name on the chart: the Houtman Abrolhos Archipelago.
Trevor chuckled. “Don’t assume Shane pronounces it right; knowing him, he’d just wing it if he couldn’t.”
“What’s there, anyway?” Joel asked.
Trevor shrugged. “Shane wouldn’t say, even when I asked him in bed last night. All I got was, ‘West Wallabi Island is a must-see, even for history-ignorant Yanks’.”
Joel laughed, and with a shake of his head, replied, “I guess we’ll find out.”
Trevor grinned, and stood up by Joel’s side. “So, brother mine, how’s your plans for college in Tallahassee going?”
Joel gave Trevor an embarrassed shrug. “Lisa and I kind of let it slide, for now. The drive there and back gets old pretty fast, and our families and friends are in Ft. Pierce. I want a business degree, and Lisa is undecided – she’s split between law and marine biology at the moment. The tuition is sky high at Florida State, and so are places to rent near campus, so we talked it over on the flight here… We’re looking at other options, closer to home. One that looks pretty good is Florida Atlantic University, which has a branch campus – you know, the one that’s co-located with Indian River Community College in Port St. Lucie. So, we’d do two years at community college, then two years at the university, and save a ton on tuition, plus rent is cheaper, and it wouldn’t mean living in a big city. We’ll look for a place over the summer, but that depends on whether I can find a job when I get home.”
Trevor arched an eyebrow. “Don’t forget your half of the Greek charter – don’t even think of arguing, that’s rightfully yours anyway – plus some of that money for my car. You should take all of it, and shut your mouth; I want you to have it. I’m going to be okay now – I already told you that Mom and Martin are giving me the charter money for Kookaburra, which is plenty.”
“Thanks,” Joel replied, with a bashful grin.
Trevor scratched his chin. “I’m going to need to see an accountant about taxes when I get home. After what happened with Mom and the trouble she got herself in, I think I’d better be careful.”
“Yeah, probably a good idea,” Joel replied.
Trevor heard footsteps, and glanced at the cockpit door, smiling as he saw Shane, and then bursting into a grin as Shane padded out in the light blue speedos Trevor thought Shane looked best of all in. “I very much approve of you in blue speedos,” Trevor told Shane.
“Sexual harassment, that’s what this is,” Shane grumbled, catching sight of Joel’s red suit and giving him an approving nod. “Good day for some sun, and the island we’re heading for has some good swimming and snorkeling, or so I’ve heard,” he added, giving Trevor’s boxers a disapproving glance, followed by a shake of his head.
Trevor crossed his arms, giving Shane a mock glare. “Are you implying that I should go get changed, you cruel and abusive bastard?”
Shane shook his head. “That only works when Joel or I do it, and no, I’m not implying, I’m saying: go get your ass suited up. And, on your way back, bring us coffee, Captain Bligh, because depriving us of coffee is surely sexual harassment of some kind.”
Trevor arched an eyebrow, and then looked at Joel for support. “He’s demanding coffee, and I’m Captain Bligh?”
“Works for me,” Joel replied, with a nod and a grin in Shane’s direction.
Trevor rolled his eyes and turned to head inside. “What is this, a mutiny?”
“Good place for it,” Shane replied with a snicker.
Trevor soon returned, wearing black speedos and carrying three cups of coffee. “Maybe I should cook breakfast too?” he asked, while handing out the mugs.
Two blond heads shook in unison. “No bloody way, we don’t want poisoning,” Shane quipped.
“I’ll get started on pancakes as soon as Lisa wakes up,” Joel promised.
“And I’ll make some sandwiches ready for lunch,” Shane said, and then adjusted the navigational display. “We’ll want to head for the bay between East and West Wallabi Islands. There should be a good spot to anchor or beach on East Wallabi, and from there we can take the Zodiac across the shallows – you can wade between the islands at low tide – to West Wallabi’s beach, and from there it’s just a short hike, maybe two hundred meters.”
“What is?” Trevor asked.
“You’ll see when we get there,” Shane replied, hoping they’d like it.
In Kalbarri, Basingstoke strolled down Grey Street, casually looking in stores, heading at a leisurely pace towards the surf shop he’d been in the day before. It was a beautiful day, and he was humming to himself, enjoying the scenery, and relaxing. He paused for a cup of coffee at a cafe, and then continued his seemingly idle browsing.
An hour into his stroll, Basingstoke entered the surf shop, pausing to look at the display of surfboards, before moving on to the souvenir section, where an item of interest had caught his eye the day before. There, he browsed for a few minutes, before turning his attention to the wall, where a heavy circle of white bone studded with razor teeth hung: the jawbones of a large shark. Basingstoke reached out to touch the bone, and then a tooth, before asking the clerk, “How big was this one?”
The clerk smiled. “Three meters, maybe a bit more. It was caught off the bar two years back.”
Basingstoke nodded. “A great white?” he asked, wondering what response he’d receive.
The clerk shook his head, which caused his long, shaggy hair to flop down, partially obscuring his eyes. “No, a bull shark. A white pointer would be a lot bigger, with a jaw span of well over a meter, I think. I’ve seen pictures of a person standing in a big set,” the clerk replied, while absently sweeping his hair back out of his eyes.
Basingstoke gazed thoughtfully at the jaws, which formed a toothy near-circle nineteen inches across. “I like the fact it was locally caught. How much?”
“Two hundred twenty,” the clerk replied, which was high for bull shark jaws.
Basingstoke gave the appearance of dithering. “They won’t get brittle and crumble after a couple of years, will they?” he asked, reaching out to feel the sturdy bone.
“No sir, they’re impregnated with some kind of resin to preserve them. They should last forever.”
“Make it two hundred, cash, and wrap it up,” Basingstoke replied, smiling as he reached for his wallet.
The clerk smiled as he lifted it off the wall. “I have a surfboard shipping box that I think will fit, if I cut the box down a bit.”
“Sounds good to me,” Basingstoke replied.
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 . :)