Ahead, a stark intrusion loomed on the horizon: a low, flat island, with little vegetation. Of more concern was the violent surf roaring against the shielding reefs. Trevor took the helm for the final approach, taking Kookaburra carefully past the reefs and into the shallow, placid blue waters between East and West Wallabi Islands.
Shane leaned in to study the navigation display for a moment. “Trev, I picked the spot off East Wallabi because the chart said it’s a good anchorage and a sandy bottom, but what do you think? It shows sand at the northwest side of West Wallabi. I know it’s real shallow in there, because people can wade between the islands at low tide.”
Trevor nodded, and pointed at the chart. “My best guess from this is the shallowest part is along the chain of islands between the two main ones that form the southern part of the bay.”
Joel leaned in for a look. “It warns of lots of coral heads in the bay, we’d better go in real slow.”
Shane studied the chart, and then glanced ahead and to starboard, seeing the lighter blue water that indicated a sandy bottom. “Could we anchor off that beach? It’d be easier being off West Wallabi as that’s where we’re going, and that’s a nice broad beach, great for a cookout tonight.”
Trevor grinned and nodded. “Yeah, we can do that, even if you won’t tell me what we’re here to see.”
“Nosy bastard! You’ll find out when we get to it, and not before,” Shane replied, with a cheeky grin.
Lisa strolled out into the cockpit, coffee in hand. She glanced at Joel, then Trevor, and finally Shane before nodding. “I like the swimsuits, guys,” she said, referring to their speedos, while adjusting the top of her two-piece suit.
Shane grinned. “Likewise, and G’day,” he said, before looking at Joel. “Still doing pancakes? Now would be a good time; I’m hungry! Get yourself to the galley!”
“You’re always hungry,” Trevor added, giving Shane a grin.
“Time for me to get cooking, you slave-driving bastard,” Joel said, looking at Trevor, and then stomping inside in a mock pout.
“Hey, how come I’m the slave-driver when Shane’s the one sending you to the galley?” Trevor said, to Joel’s retreating back.
Lisa giggled, and then shook her head. “Might as well face it, Trev; they’ve got you figured out.”
Shane cracked up, laughing hard for a moment before turning to head inside. “I’ll go help Joel; I want to learn how he makes those yank pancakes. That recipe is a bloody ripper!”
Trevor took care of anchoring Kookaburra, and then studied the islands for a moment. “Looks like we’ve got the place all to ourselves,” he declared, a grin growing on his face.
Soon, breakfast was served, and then the four friends made ready to go ashore. Shane reminded everyone of the need for putting on sunscreen and shoes.
After locking up Kookaburra, they roared off in the Zodiac for the short run to the beach. As they approached the shore, Trevor asked, “Any place in particular?”
“Probably, but I’m not sure exactly,” Shane replied, before picking a spot and pointing at it. “There should do.”
Trevor ran the Zodiac up on the beach in the indicated spot.
With Shane leading the way, they hiked inland on the uninhabited island, with Trevor strolling behind Shane. Every so often, Shane paused to study the lay of the land. The third time Shane paused, Trevor didn’t stop in time, and stumbled into Shane’s back.
“Oof,” Shane grunted, stumbling forward for a couple of steps before spinning around to look at Trevor. A broad grin spread across Shane’s face when he noticed Trevor’s embarrassed smile. “What’s got you so distracted, Trev?” Shane asked, a wicked grin belying his innocent tone.
“I’ll bet I know… I thought he was going to walk into a bulkhead earlier. I think he almost did,” Lisa offered helpfully.
Joel nodded. “Yep, Trev does seem to get distracted and walk into things, but only under certain circumstances.”
“Shut up,” Trevor mumbled, still smiling as his cheeks began to color.
Shane resumed the hike, and called back to Lisa and Joel, “He’s walked into a good many things since he arrived. Trees, the boom, his own feet, and even off a boardwalk. In fact, it was him walking into a tree in Carnarvon, the day after we met, that helped me figure him out. I was pulling my shirt off, and wham, straight into a tree he went. I could see through the shirt, so I saw what he was looking at: me. Then he made an excuse, blushing like he is now. Subtle he’s not, though he thinks he is,” Shane said, turning to grin at Trevor for a moment. “I’ve feared for the safety of the trees ever since.”
Lisa and Joel laughed aloud, while Trevor remained silent, his cheeks showing crimson even through his tan.
“So, how did you two meet, anyway?” Lisa asked.
“Shane tried to kill me,” Trevor replied, deadpan.
“Cruel and abusive lying bastard!” Shane replied, coming to a halt and shaking his head. Then, giving his best hurt-puppy look, he said, “I was only trying to defend Kookaburra from a vile trespasser. We got into it, and the cruel and abusive bastard gave me a black eye and a sore jaw, along with a few other bruises.”
Lisa shared a glance with Joel, and laughed. “Come on, Trevor didn’t do that! How did you really meet?”
Trevor gave Lisa a bashful look. “Uh, that’s how we met. We fought – we both got bruised up a bit – then later, when he learned I wasn’t the thief he thought I was, Shane came by Atlantis to apologize.”
“Trevor Carlson! Shame on you for hurting Shane! I’m surprised he forgave you,” Lisa said, wagging a finger at Trevor before laughing. “Okay, for real, is that how you two met?”
Trevor and Shane nodded, and Shane offered, “I heard a noise on deck that woke me up, and I can be grouchy and groggy when I first wake. I came out into the cockpit to find a trespasser, and his very first words to me were ‘You’re Australian!’ plus what I thought was a look of shock at finding an Australian in Australia. Pitiful, really: he’s been walking into things ever since.”
“Am I ever going to live that down?” Trevor asked, rolling his eyes.
“No,” three voices answered as one, before dissolving into laughter.
Shane, with a grin and a shrug, continued, “My job was to look after Kookaburra for her owners, and Trev was telling what I thought were tall tales about pirates and having a Lagoon 55. When he came back, I was sure he was casing the yachts to rip them off, so I figured him for a thief. I shoved him, and we had a dust up.”
Joel began to snicker. “So, you were protecting the boat for her owners, from the guy who actually owns her, and thought he was a boat burglar – which he’s never been, but you have. Gotta love the irony there.”
“Bastard!” Shane grumbled, before nodding and looking back, grinning. “That about sums it up.” Shane paused, and then pointed ahead and to his left, at what looked to be a low, dry-stacked rock wall. “There it is!”
“There’s what?” Trevor asked, looking at it, and noticing an information placard standing near it.
“The first European building in Australia, the Webbie Hayes Fort,” Shane declared.
Lisa wrinkled her brow. “I thought the first European colony in Australia was near Sydney?”
“It was, and Australia Day celebrates First Fleet arriving at Sydney Cove to found the first colony, but this fort is over a hundred years older. It was built by survivors of the Batavia, a Dutch East India Company ship that wrecked on these islands. The ship’s skiff survived the wreck, so the captain and a few of the crew sailed off in it, heading for a Dutch outpost in Indonesia, Batavia – that’s now called Jakarta – to get help. After they left, the soldiers, led by Webbie Hayes, were put ashore here to look for water, though the idea was that they’d not find any and die. They found it on the other island, East Wallabi, which you can wade to from here. They signaled their find, but heard from survivors that a bunch of mutineers had taken over the main group and were massacring people. They killed over a hundred. The soldiers ended up building this fort, and were still fighting off the mutineers when the captain returned with a rescue ship. He ended up hanging a bunch of the mutineers. The story of the Batavia wreck, the mutiny, the massacre, and this fort is something I learnt in case the Blakes brought a charter here, though we never did,” Shane said, reaching the placard and beginning to read. “It was in 1629.”
In somber silence, they read the placard, which held a far more detailed account of the wreck of the Batavia and its famous mutiny.
Joel was the first to notice Shane’s hand, pointing out a section on the captain’s voyage to get help. Joel glanced at Trevor before saying softly, “The Batavia’s captain and a few crew sailed the longboat – a thirty-foot open boat – all the way to Jakarta, in what this says was an ‘Epic example of seamanship’, a voyage of one and a half thousand miles, if I’ve got the metric stuff right. Wow, can you imagine that, having to go that far in a poorly equipped boat, with just a few crew?” Joel glanced at Shane, with a knowing smile spreading across his face.
Trevor’s mouth opened, and then closed, and as the light dawned, he felt Shane’s hand settle on his shoulder.
Shane looked Trevor in the eyes, giving him a warm, proud smile. “That was mainly in coastal waters, too. I wonder what the writers of that plaque would have said about crossing the entire Indian Ocean alone, in a stripped boat with a sail of bed sheets and netting, without any navigational instruments? I think I know,” Shane said, before pulling Trevor into a hug. “You were even okay going out to sea again. I remember when we sailed from Carnarvon in Kookaburra; I was so worried you’d hate the sea, due to what you’d been through. But you did great, you always do, and that’s how you survived your trip here.”
“I was just saving my ass,” Trevor objected, hugging Shane.
Shane gave the seat of Trevor’s speedos a couple of pats. “I’m glad you did, as it’s a very fine arse,” he said, chuckling.
Trevor was about to reply, but then he caught sight of Lisa and Joel, both with pained looks on their faces.
Trevor let go of Shane to face Lisa and Joel, and wagged a finger in their direction. “I know that look. Enough already. No more feeling bad, okay? Even if it was Bridget, you guys met her via me, and I trusted her too. And besides… Joel, if you hadn’t come to see me in the Mediterranean, I wouldn’t have survived. You took me grocery shopping in Gibraltar, where I got the hot dogs I lived on, and it was your watch that saved my ass in the Southern Ocean; without it, I’d have had no way to figure longitude. And another thing; if the pirate attack didn’t happen, I’d have never met Shane,” Trevor said, his hand taking Shane’s.
Lisa frowned. “Uh, yeah, you would have, ‘cause he was working on the boat that turned out to be yours.”
“Buzz-kill,” Trevor grumbled, giving Lisa a reassuring smile. “Look, it’s over, okay? Feeling bad about it just makes it worse. Please stop, both of you.”
Lisa and Joel shared a look, and then they stepped forward, pulling both Trevor and Shane into a four-way hug.
A hot, inconstant wind blew, just a few faint gusts, hardly enough to relieve the oppressive morning heat at Kalbarri airport. Basingstoke began to sweat as he drew fuel samples from under the wings of his plane, carefully holding them up to the light in a little clear sampler cup to check for any sign of water. He was always meticulous about his pre-flight checks, though especially so for over-water flights. As an added measure, he checked his inflatable life raft and emergency kit.
After completing the checks, Basingstoke removed the wheel chocks and climbed in to his sweltering cockpit, eager to reach the cool air far above.
He checked his rear passenger seats, where the box containing the shark jaws was strapped. Below the box, still in a hardware store bag, were two lengths of strong wire, two crowbars, and a rubber mallet.
He taxied out, and within minutes he was in the air, heading south, climbing towards the cool air he craved.
Basingstoke checked the tracker for Kookaburra, finding that he already had a good, clear signal. The tracker could only give him a bearing to his target, not a distance, but finding her location was simple: Basingstoke recorded the bearing of two hundred fifteen degrees, along with his current location, and then continued south for forty miles. He checked the bearing to Kookaburra again, finding her at two hundred fifty eight degrees true, and again logged his position. He reached for a paper aviation chart, and with the aid of a ruler and protractor, traced the two bearing lines on the chart with his finger, finding that they intersected between East and West Wallabi islands, and at that distance, he felt confident that he was accurate to within a mile. He studied the chart for a moment, delighted by the opportunity fate had presented him, and reefed the Debonair into a tight right-hand turn, delighted that, if all went well, he could finish his contract a few days sooner than he’d planned. ‘Perfect, and I don’t even need to rent a boat,’ he thought. A smile spread across his face as he rolled out on a south-southwest course for East Wallabi Island, which he could already see in the distance.
In Florida, organized chaos reigned. Frank Tittle had been to see Jim and Dirk, informing them of Henry’s death. The news provoked shock, grief, and then, soon after, fury. “If there’s anything I can do to help, anything, count me in,” Dirk had pronounced, with Jim in full agreement. Then, Frank had shared the plan, and explained Bridget’s likely fate in the Florida Straits.
“I hope she’s in the mood to resist,” Dirk replied, in cold anger.
“She deserves it, or worse,” Jim said.
Frank nodded once. “She sure as hell does. Okay, now for the two of you, you’ll be free to return to your lives as soon as the press conference is over and Bridget is either arrested or killed. What I’ll do on TV should take care of any community resentment or fear of the two of you. For your own safety, wait until we get confirmation on Bridget – I don’t think you’re in danger from her, but there’s no point in taking chances – then go home. Dirk, you’ll be fine re-opening the chandlery, and Jim, you’ll be all set to go back to your practice.”
Jim shook his head. “I’ve already tendered my resignation. I’m moving in with Dirk, and I did have a position lined up with a law firm in Ft. Pierce before all this blew up, but now… I’m going to be working a case on my own. I’m sure you can guess which one.”
Frank had been expecting that. “Yeah, you’re a civil attorney who’s been a victim, along with his partner, of a gross miscarriage of justice; framed for crimes you didn’t commit by a corrupt cop and a corrupt ADA. I think you’ll be fully occupied for a while, to say the least. All my records are at your disposal.”
Bridget was having an exhausting day, which had included visits to many banks to retrieve the contents of safe deposit boxes, all held under names other than her own. She had also, accompanied by two members of the cartel who were loyal to Sanchez, visited a dozen businesses to turn over control, a task that cut her to the core.
By Bridget’s reckoning, she’d needed two full days, but she’d accomplished most of what she needed in that one hectic day. She had just a few more stops to make the following day, and planned to leave Florida shortly after tomorrow’s sunset.
One more task remained for her that evening: reclaiming Sea Witch, her thirty-eight foot Sea Ray powerboat, recently modified to carry extra fuel.
Shortly after nightfall, Bridget and Billy set out on the small single-engine boat they’d been using, heading for the rendezvous with Rob. Bridget was in a pensive mood, and Billy, by now, knew her moods well enough to keep quiet.
Billy was twenty-five and, though naïve in some ways, he was more perceptive than Bridget gave him credit for. His role in recent days concerned him, but he saw working directly with Bridget as a way to reach the big money he’d always craved. Lithe and trim, he was a farm boy from the Florida backcountry who’d entered Bridget’s world by working for one of her many businesses, his job slowly changing from a repairman’s assistant to a drug courier. He’d never seen a man die before he’d helped Bridget kill George, though now he knew he’d gone too far to turn back.
Promptly at nine, Bridget approached the rendezvous from the south, spotting Sea Witch’s running lights ahead. “Billy, ready a rifle and be alert. If Rob is alone, I have no concerns. Jump aboard as I pull alongside and check below.”
Bridget kept her bow towards Sea Witch, approaching her from astern. As she neared, she saw a shadowy figure in her cockpit, who gave her a wave. She returned the gesture, pulling alongside with caution, only to breathe a sigh of relief when she recognized Rob.
Rob deployed a few bumpers over the starboard side, and then secured the smaller boat with a single line. Billy leaped onto Sea Witch, rifle at the ready, sweeping the cockpit, and then heading below. He soon emerged to announce, “All Clear, Mrs. B.”
Bridget gave Rob a shrug. “My apologies, but one cannot be too careful.”
“I understand,” Rob replied, helping Bridget aboard Sea Witch. “She’s fueled up, and I’ve checked her out fully, including the radars and the nitrous engine-boost,” he said, his New Jersey accent still strong, even after a few years in Florida.
The main radar on Sea Witch was something Bridget had acquired and had installed months before: an obsolete military-grade system, capable of passively identifying other radars by type and location even if not emitting itself. She’d first used it on the runs with George, and it had proven useful in helping to avoid search radars. Bridget hadn’t asked Rob to check that it was operational, though she was pleased that he had. She smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Rob. Now, for you: it is not safe for you to remain in Florida. I do not believe your real surname to be compromised – it was never in the documentation for Rob’s Marine – so leaving the state should suffice to keep you safe. I realize that you had much time invested in your business, therefore this is yours,” she said, reaching into her purse, and then withdrawing a small paper bag, containing bundles of hundred-dollar bills. “One hundred thousand, for now. I shall be in touch soon. My suggestion is to take the powerboat I’ve been using and head north. If anyone should ask, you and I have never met.”
Rob took the money, and nodded. “Thanks. I’ll be back in Jersey in a few days; you know how to reach me.” Rob replied.
Bridget, with a display of nimbleness that surprised Rob, leaped back to the smaller boat, and picked up a large duffel bag – the contents of the safe deposit boxes she’d visited. Rob used a boat hook to pull the boat close alongside, allowing Bridget to step aboard Sea Witch with the bulky duffel, before stowing it below.
Bridget returned to the cockpit, where Billy was now standing next to Rob. “Time for me to be off,” Bridget announced, with a smile and a gracious nod. “Thank you for all you have done, Rob. Have a safe journey,” she said, with a stately air.
Rob placed the sack of money in his small suitcase and leaped aboard the smaller boat, suitcase in hand. “Good luck, and I’ll wait to hear from you,” Rob called out, as Bridget released the mooring line.
Bridget gave Rob a wave as he advanced the throttle, pulling away at a sedate pace, already northbound. She wasted no time in taking her place behind the helm of Sea Witch, advancing the throttles and turning smartly to starboard until she was southbound. “Billy, we shall make the run to the Bahamas tomorrow night. I have some business in Miami tomorrow, and then we are done here.”
Bridget had Billy take the helm while she applied one of Sea Witch’s several nameplates to the stern, replacing the name of ‘Lobster Pot’ she’d been wearing with one reading ‘Exodus II’, which she felt appropriate for the circumstances. She then made the needed change to the registration number.
Bridget considered sleeping aboard – Sea Witch had a cabin – but decided against it, feeling that she would be safer ashore and with Sea Witch in a private berth rather than moored. She then made a call, booking herself into a suite at a Miami Beach resort under an assumed name, having chosen the resort because it had its own private dock with slips for visiting boats. She still believed that the authorities thought her dead, and with that belief came a confidence that her planned escape to the Bahamas would come before her ruse was discovered.
Once they’d checked in to the resort, Bridget went to bed early, intent on getting a good night’s sleep.
As four AM approached, Gonzalez was at his desk, coordinating with the State authorities, who were handling the liaisons with the local police departments along the Florida coast. Gonzalez was also coordinating with the Coast Guard, who had moved a cutter and two patrol boats into position. They also had a reconnaissance plane – a modified Gulfstream business jet – on runway alert. The trap was set.
Gonzalez’s plan was to alert the media to Bridget’s crimes and the manhunt for her, trusting that they would broadcast her image and description. That, he believed, would provoke her to flight. He believed she would flee by sea, though he’d hedged his bets by alerting the Transportation Security Administration to be on the lookout, as well as detailing officers to strategic tollbooths on the Florida highways.
Gonzalez had given several TV stations a few hours’ notice that a major story would be unveiled, and the State Attorney, in his last official act, would be handling the press conference. All Gonzalez could do as the hour arrived was watch on TV as two local stations covered the event live.
The State Attorney gave his presentation, beginning with the security camera shot of Bridget, which had been colorized to show her red hair. A few older photos from society events were added to show her face, as the State Attorney described the murders she was wanted for, and the two suspected attempts on Trevor’s life, which were already major news stories in their own right. He went on, describing in general terms how she had manipulated his department into filing charges against Jim and Dirk.
To Gonzalez’s delight, a national cable news channel picked up the feed, taking it live before the news conference was half over.
The State Attorney punctuated the announcements by adding that of his own coming resignation, followed by mention of Assistant State Attorney Jacobsen’s arrest. Then, he began fielding questions from the media.
In Orlando, Frank Tittle, blinking in the glare of camera lights, held his own arranged news conference, beginning shortly after the State Attorney completed his statements. Frank, with practiced ease, projected an air of quiet outrage at the injustice done to his clients, calling them by their full names many times as he pronounced this proof of their innocence. He too included pictures of Bridget Bellevue.
Upon completing his statements, Frank began drawing on his gift for oration, talking about Henry Wesson, explaining briefly what had befallen him before continuing, ‘This man, my employee and my closest friend, a good, loyal, caring soul, unoffending, innocent, and dedicated to the truth, fell victim to one of the most vicious and horrific crimes ever perpetrated in this state.
“Yet, he died in the cause of Justice and truth. A noble death, for higher cause, his agony a sacrament to Justice, his death an abomination to that selfsame Justice. His death must not go unavenged: Bridget Bellevue must not remain free.”
Frank gave out the number for the tip line, and then began taking questions.
As Gonzalez had planned, the sensational story was playing on many channels, and then began the endless looping on the news networks: the same clips being played repeatedly. Millions would see the story, and know Bridget’s face on sight. Already, the phone bank he’d set up for the tip line calls he was expecting was becoming busy, and his hope was that, as millions of Floridians saw the news on their TVs as they prepared for the workday, they would soon have information on Bridget’s whereabouts, or she would attempt to flee into his net.
With that thought in mind, he made a call, confirming that the offshore operation he’d insisted bear the code-name ‘Wesson’ was in full swing. He smiled coldly as he heard the confirmation, and gently set his phone back in its cradle. Bridget, he was sure, would not meekly surrender, and thus Operation Wesson would be the means by which Justice was served.
In her deluxe suite at the resort, Bridget slept soundly, snug in the down-topped bed. She’d set an alarm for five-thirty and had ordered Billy to do the same, intending to get an early start on the day.
The melodic chimes of the expensive alarm clock, gradually increasing in volume, intruded on Bridget’s slumber. It took her a few moments to recall where she was, and the events that had led her to this place. She sighed resignedly at the thought of her lost operation, and then, full of steely resolve, she got up and began to get ready for her day.
In the suite’s other bedroom, Billy woke up to the sounds of the alarm, lazily swatting at it as he rolled out of bed. He glanced at the clock, and then tugged on his clothes from the day before. His stomach growled, and with thoughts of breakfast, he stuck his head out the door, only to hear Bridget’s shower running. He sat back down on the bed, idly flipping through the room service guide until he found the breakfast menu, his eyes lighting up in anticipatory delight. He’d never stayed in anything better than a motel before, and was delighted by the prospect of gourmet room service.
Billy’s stomach growled again, so he set down the menu, and to take his mind off food he flicked on the TV and began channel surfing to pass the time. It did not take long before he saw Bridget’s face staring back at him from the morning news. It took him a few moments to comprehend what he was seeing, and then his eyes grew wide as he muttered, “Uh oh.”
Ten miles away, in her Miami condominium, the desk clerk who had checked Bridget into the resort the night before blinked at her TV, staring at Bridget’s face on the screen. She knew she’d seen her, but it took a moment to realize where. She dashed for the phone to call the resort’s front desk, and as soon as a familiar voice picked up, she said, “Chris, this is Molly. Put the news on, any news channel; there’s a big manhunt on for a killer named Bridget Bellevue, and I’m pretty sure I checked her in to a suite last night, around eleven, under the name of Fransworth, or something like that.”
“Uh, I haven’t seen the news – are you sure?” Chris asked.
“Like ninety percent sure, maybe more,” Molly replied, nodding to herself as she waited for Bridget’s picture to reappear. “Yeah, I’m positive, that’s her.”
Chris ducked into the back office, turned on the TV, and soon had it on a news channel. “Okay, I see the news, and I’m checking the records for last night… okay, the only suite you booked was for a Mrs. Victoria Farnsworth. I’ll call security right now, thanks Molly.”
Chris hung up, and then fumbled for a number before giving up and dashing the thirty feet to the resort’s security office, where he blurted, “Uh, I think we may have a problem with one of the guests….”
A fast conversation followed, and after calling Molly for confirmation, the security guard called the police.
Bridget had just finished getting dressed in a prim business suit, one of the few things she’d had time to pack before leaving home. She checked her large duffel bag, ensuring that is was secure before resealing it. She disliked the thought of leaving it in Sea Witch unguarded all day – it contained over twenty-five million dollars in cash, jewels, gold, and negotiable securities. However, Sea Witch had numerous secret compartments, which she hoped would be immune to a casual thief.
Billy’s soft but urgent knocking on her door interrupted Bridget’s thoughts, and in a testy tone, she loudly asked, “What is it?”
“We got trouble, Mrs. B. Turn the news on, you’re all over it,” Billy said, through the closed door.
Bridget’s blood ran cold, and she dashed to open her door, seeing Billy’s worried, scruffy face. Her gaze followed his pointing hand to the TV in his room, and she stared at her own visage for several moments, listening to the voiceover before changing stations. She soon saw another news item on her, before turning to tell Billy. “This necessitates a change in plans. We must leave at once.”
Bridget raced for her purse and duffel bag, and then transferred her pistol to her suit pocket. “You carry the duffel, I may need my hands free,” she said, already heading for the door, and regretting that they had left the rifles aboard Sea Witch.
Bridget led the way to the elevator, wishing she knew some way out of the resort other than via the lobby. From there, it was a three hundred yard walk to the marina.
Feeling very exposed, Bridget stepped out of the elevator, heading for the doors that faced the marina. Her course took her close to the check-in desk.
Chris, who had resumed his post behind the counter, saw a guest with red hair approaching, his eyes opening wide with shock as he recognized Bridget from her pictures. He knew that the police were on the way, so he pressed the silent alarm to alert the security guard, and then, thinking to stall Bridget, called out, “Excuse me, Mrs. Bellevue, but there was an error with your check-in last night, and we undercharged you; the boat slip isn’t included at the rate we charged.” The instant the words left his mouth, Chris realized that he’d called her ‘Bellevue’, not ‘Farnsworth’.
Bridget didn’t break her stride, though she had caught the issue with her name. “I am checking out; call me a taxi,” she snapped, increasing her pace towards the rear doors, which were on the opposite side of the lobby from the street entrance.
As soon as Bridget was out the door, she broke into a fast jog, thankful that she wasn’t in high heels. Billy kept pace, glancing nervously back at the resort.
In the resort’s lobby, the security guard approached the check-in desk from behind, and told Chris, “I saw what happened. I think it’s her, too.”
“You going after her?” Chris asked, eyeing the gun on the security guard’s hip.
“Hell no, my mamma didn’t raise no fool, she’s a killer. Besides, the police should be here any minute now,” he said, before lifting a phone to let the police know that Bridget had left the building and was heading towards the resort’s dock, where she had a boat berthed.
The police, in the form of three cruisers from the Miami-Dade Police Department, were nearing the resort, sirens wailing. They shut off the sirens for the last few hundred yards.
Running into the marina grounds, Bridget heard the approaching sirens cease, and knew she was almost out of time. She was still a hundred yards from Sea Witch, and the intervening distance, to her in that moment, looked like miles.
Her breath failing her, Bridget raced onto the dock as Billy drew even with her and then pulled ahead, the clatter of their shoes on the boards interrupted by a shout from the pursuing police officers. Knowing that every second counted, Bridget resisted the urge to look back, as she labored to run the final yards to Sea Witch.
Billy, a few paces ahead of Bridget and carrying the duffel, reached their goal first, leaping aboard Sea Witch and racing for the helm, only to realize that he didn’t have the keys.
Bridget scrambled aboard, her stomach churning as, for a long moment, she could not recall where she’d put the keys. She felt in her pockets, and then dumped her handbag out on deck, sighing with relief as she found them. “Cast off,” she ordered, as she jammed the key in and fired up the engines, bringing them thundering to life.
Billy released the lines and Bridget applied full reverse throttle, roaring away from the dock as she glanced at the approaching police, less than fifty feet away with guns drawn, though they could not fire at a fleeing suspect who had taken no hostile actions.
A quick spin of the wheel swung the bow around, and as soon as it was clear, Bridget rammed the throttles forward to the stops, the twin engines roaring in response as Sea Witch accelerated, racing into Biscayne Bay.
Bridget had been moored on the inland side of Miami Beach, so she was now on Biscayne Bay, heading south with Miami to starboard. She shouted to Billy over the roar of the engines, “Ready both rifles but keep them out of sight; we are two miles from the sea channel, and I suspect we shall have company,” she said, while engaging the nitrous-oxide boost for the engines, which increased Sea Witch’s speed from thirty to thirty-four knots. Then, Bridget turned her attention to the radar, and powered it up as she raced under the causeway and past Belle Isle, taking the shortest route to the channel to the open sea.
A small harbor patrol boat of the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Special Patrol Bureau – commonly referred to as the harbor police – had taken station astride the channel, under the General Douglas MacArthur Causeway Bridge. The warning that Bridget was on her way had reached them only moments before, and then they spotted Sea Witch approaching at high speed, far above the channel’s speed limit. They turned on their flashing blue lights and siren, moving into the channel to intercept.
Bridget saw the move to block, and calmly steered as if to cut across the patrol boat’s bow. At the last moment, she swerved hard to starboard, blasting by the patrol boat’s stern as she raced out from under the bridge. She glanced back at the bridge recalling whom it was named for, and his most famous phrase: ‘I shall return’. A slow smile spread across Bridget’s face, her back stiffening with resolve. “I shall survive, I always do,” Bridget said, so quietly that only she could hear her words above the roaring engines.
Aboard the patrol boat, the senior of the two startled officers rammed the throttle forward, turning to give chase, while the other took care of their primary task, radioing, “Target vessel, looks like a Sea Ray, named Exodus II, heading out the channel, looks like she’s doing thirty knots or more. Let the Coast Guard know she’s on her way.”
The patrol boat accelerated to her maximum speed of over twenty knots, in spite of having no hope of catching the faster Sea Witch. They also knew they didn’t need to.
Gonzalez hadn’t known where Bridget would be when she decided to flee, so he’d consulted with the Coast Guard. At Gonzalez’s insistence, the Coast Guard had deployed more assets than they believed they’d need. Now, six ships waited, well offshore along Florida’s eastern seaboard, from Key Largo in the south to Cocoa Beach in the north. Three ships were in range for a Miami area intercept; USCG Mohawk, a two-hundred-seventy foot medium endurance cutter out of Key West, was ten miles west of Bimini, which put her astride the direct route from Miami. She wasn’t fast, but the armed helicopter temporarily occupying her helipad more than made up for her lack of speed. She was not alone. Another Coast Guard cutter, a one-hundred-ten foot Island-class cutter, was both closer in to Miami and faster: USCG Chandeleur, which had sortied from Miami just three hours before, was twenty miles east of Miami, directly on Bridget’s likely course.
Two other fast Island-class cutters, one from off Key Largo and the other from off Ft. Lauderdale, began converging on the scene from the north and south, blocking those avenues of escape.
In Clearwater, Florida, two hundred miles from Miami on Florida’s Gulf coast, a massive Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter thundered aloft. Fast and powerful, with a long cruising range, the heavily armed helicopter raced southeast at one hundred eighty knots. She’d been left at her station until the target had been confirmed, because she was the only Jayhawk the Coast Guard had operational in Florida that day, and her primary mission was search-and-rescue in the Gulf of Mexico.
The helicopter aboard USCG Mohawk began spooling up, and would soon take to the skies.
The net of Operation Wesson had closed, and the remaining pieces were put into play: the modified Gulfstream business jet – an airborne radar and surveillance platform – was already roaring skyward, as were two armed police helicopters out of Miami.
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