Above the Florida Straits between Florida and Bimini, Operation Wesson was in full swing as Sea Witch roared eastward, heading into the heart of the trap.
The forces deployed against Sea Witch were formidable: four Coast Guard cutters, four armed helicopters, and a Gulfstream radar surveillance plane.
The Gulfstream, which in government service was called a C47A instead of a Gulfstream V, was well suited to its role as a radar and visual observation platform. The smooth, calm sea conditions that morning made their task easier, and they soon had Sea Witch identified; nothing else was heading straight for Bimini from Miami at high speed. With guidance from the Gulfstream, which was still climbing but already over the Florida Straits, the three closest Coast Guard cutters soon had radar locks on Sea Witch as well.
USCG Mohawk launched her helicopter, while the two Miami-Dade Police helicopters raced over Biscayne Bay at over a hundred knots, heading for Sea Witch.
Against these, Sea Witch was alone, in broad daylight, racing east on a direct course for Bimini. The only weapons aboard were Bridget’s handgun, two 30-06 rifles, and the desperate mind of Bridget Bellevue.
Aboard Sea Witch, Bridget consulted her radar, which had been installed with similar situations in mind. A military-grade rig, it had several frequencies of operation, but its main feature was the ability to see other radars and display their source locations on screen. Bridget scowled as she studied the readout, tuning the display to exclude standard navigational radars used by merchant ships and pleasure craft.
“How bad is it?” Billy asked, glancing nervously at the display.
Bridget studied the display for a moment before calmly replying, “The situation may be described as quite challenging.” She tapped at the three blips fencing them in from the north, south, and east. “These are likely fast Coast Guard vessels, and this one,” she tapped at a fast moving blip rapidly approaching from the northwest, “is an airborne radar plane, obviously a jet because it is doing over three hundred knots.” Bridget could not yet detect the police helicopters, which did not have radar. She could only assume their presence. “The most immediate danger will be helicopters, assuming they follow their standard drug-interdiction practices. Now, I need to know; how good are you with a rifle?” she asked.
Billy swallowed once before replying, “Good, real good. I grew up in the sticks, been squirrel hunting since I was ten. I keep in practice. I mainly use a twenty-two, but I’ve shot heavy rifles a ton of times. I’ve never shot from a boat, though.”
Bridget smiled at the confirmation; she’d heard that Billy was good with guns, which is why she had chosen him. “Then you are likely a better shot than I. Shooting from a boat means you must allow for its motion. Steady yourself, and use the telescopic sights. Assume some windage to compensate for any apparent wind speed if shooting at a distant target, though that should not be an issue. Keep the rifles hidden until I give the order,” Bridget said, her knuckles white in spite of her apparent calm.
Roaring over the breakers at Miami Beach, the two police helicopters closed on the fleeing Sea Witch.
In Miami, a local TV station, informed of the offshore drama, diverted its traffic helicopter to follow the police helicopters out to sea.
At the helm of Sea Witch, Bridget surveyed her radar display, and then consulted her navigation screen. She then made a call to Sanchez. “I have a situation: I am outbound from Miami and under pursuit by the Coast Guard. I do not believe I can evade. I need a starburst.” Bridget went on to give Sanchez a brief description of her situation.
Sanchez glanced at a map. He had come up with the starburst concept three years ago, and it was something he’d used several times when trying to save a shipment. Bridget had asked that it be set up for her departure from Florida in case of need, though they had believed it would not be needed for another twenty-four hours. A further complication was that it could only help Bridget if she made it to the Bahamas. Until she did, there was nothing that Sanchez could do. “Understood. I think I can get it set up, but I’ll need as much time as you can give me. When and where?”
Knowing what would be required, Bridget already had a place in mind. “Five miles south of Freeport, as planned,” she said, referring to the largest town on Grand Bahama Island. That location was ninety miles northeast of Bridget’s current location off Miami, though over a hundred miles via the route she’d need to take.
“Hold on, I’ll check,” Sanchez said, reaching for a different phone to make a few calls. Freeport was a place he had many assets, and he’d laid much of the groundwork the day before. Soon, he was back on the line with Bridget. “It’s set, two and a half hours from now, and will be ready when you get there. I hope all goes well, keep me posted.”
“I shall see you soon. We still need to meet in person, alone, urgently: George’s perfidy poses a dire threat to you and I, one I have only just discovered. No one else must know.”
Sanchez tightened his grip on the receiver as he realized the unspoken warning Bridget’s words entailed: he could soon be in danger from the cartel’s eleven other directors. “Understood. Proceed as planned after the starburst. I shall be waiting.”
In Ft Pierce, Gonzalez was keeping track of the operation, including monitoring updates on an electronic map. He was tense, even though he knew that now it was largely out of his hands.
Bridget ordered Billy to break out the binoculars and begin scanning the horizon. It didn’t take long until he saw what she suspected would be coming. “I see two dark helicopters, heading our way. They look like they’re maybe a thousand feet up and ten miles back, but it’s hard to tell,” Billy said, with a whiff of fear coloring his voice.
In a calm tone, Bridget replied, “No need to worry; I have been in situations such as this before. By this afternoon, we shall be imbibing cocktails on a Bahamian beach.” She had indeed had a few narrow escapes during her runs in years past, but never before had she faced such an array of forces, nor in daylight. The seas were an almost glassy calm; ideal conditions for speed, though Bridget knew that she could never hope to outrun helicopters.
“Billy, take a look forward. I see a new blip on radar, separating from a Coast Guard ship beyond the one ahead.”
Billy swung around, and after a few moments, replied, “Got it, it’s way off, looks like twenty miles, dead ahead, just a speck. Uh, how long until we hit Bahamas waters? They can’t chase us in there, right?”
“Actually, they can and will pursue. They have a hot pursuit agreement with the Bahamian Government, so they will pay no heed to the maritime border. Therefore, we must outwit them. We shall head first for Bimini, thirty-five miles ahead, and then break northeast,” Bridget said, as she disengaged the nitrous boost, feeling Sea Witch slow to thirty-one knots.
Billy blanched. “Those choppers will be on us long before that, and two of those ships are between us and there.”
“I am counting on it, and we must ensure that the police helicopters intercept us before the Coast Guard one arrives,” Bridget replied, with a reassuring smile, displaying a confidence that she did not feel. Her own estimate was that she stood at least a one in three chance of being dead within minutes. “Conceal one of the rifles under the center chair, then get below, keep out of sight, and make yourself and your rifle ready. Also, make certain that you can open the foredeck hatch,” Bridget said, as she checked the range and speed of the Coast Guard helicopter and the closest cutter ahead, and then throttled back some more, causing Sea Witch to slow to twenty-five knots.
The Coast Guard operational commander – USCG Mohawk’s captain –, after consulting with the Miami-Dade police, decided to let the police helicopters have the job of bringing the fleeing boat to a halt. The reason was simple; the Miami police had initiated the pursuit – and would thus be difficult to dissuade from taking a primary role – and they had two helicopters to his one in the immediate vicinity.
Aboard the police helicopters, there was little concern. Each carried a pilot and copilot, in addition to a rifle-armed officer in back. All were professionals with years of experience. This would not be their first try at capturing a fleeing speedboat, and usually, they were successful.
Fifteen miles from Miami Beach, the police helicopters began descending as they neared their target. One began to slow, closing on Sea Witch from astern, while the second helicopter raced on ahead, passing Sea Witch to port, before slewing sideways and taking station a hundred yards ahead, ninety feet over the water, flying sideways to hold station relative to Sea Witch.
The side doors of both helicopters opened, treating Bridget to the sight of rifles aimed in her direction from ahead and behind. She glanced at the companionway entrance, though Billy, who was crouched on the stairs, was out of her line of sight. “Get ready. I shall take care of the positioning. Fire at the engines. The engines or gearbox are your only targets. Ignore any shooters.”
“Uh, where are the engines and gearbox on those things?” Billy asked, as he laid the rifle on the stairs, using them to steady it as he flipped open the scope covers. He was concealed from the aft helicopter’s view by the slope of the stairs.
Bridget glanced at the helicopter ahead. “The engines will be in the top of the fuselage, aft of the main rotor shaft, behind the slats,” she replied, wrongly assuming that the helicopters had two engines, when in fact, they were Bell 206L LongRangers, a single-engine helicopter. “Make your shots count,” she added, knowing that she, alone at the helm, would be both exposed and the likely target of return fire.
Bridget glanced aft at the helicopter, which was slewing sideways, still flying towards her at almost thirty knots. Bridget saw the rifleman within, who was targeting her, andwaved in acknowledgment before easing back on the throttles and then raising one hand, needing her other for the helm.
Ahead, she could see the closest of the Island Class Coast Guard cutters closing in at nearly thirty knots from the east, five miles directly off her bow.
As Sea Witch slowed, Bridget carefully kept the stern pointing at the aft helicopter. She looked back at the helicopter, and with one hand on the wheel, waved her free arm, keeping it raised to indicate surrender. “Ready, Billy,” she said, a moment before slamming Sea Witch into reverse and ramming the throttles to full.
Sea Witch slowed rapidly, her hull settling into the water as she ceased planing, and then surging backwards, taking her closer to the helicopter – which was still moving eastwards at nearly thirty knots – allowing Billy, unseen in the dark companionway, to see his target. He sighted in on the slats covering the engine, and applied steady pressure to the trigger, until the rifle fired with a resounding crack.
Billy’s first shot flew high and to the left, missing the helicopter by three feet. He knew he’d missed because of the view through the sights as he fired, so he worked the bolt, chambering another round to fire again.
Aboard the helicopter, the rifleman, targeted on Bridget, saw the flash from the companionway. He was unsure for a moment, before barking over the intercom, “I think I just saw a muzzle flash,” as he adjusted his aim to target the location of the flash.
Billy’s second shot got there first, the heavy armor-piercing round slamming through the thin grating and then blasting into the Allison turboshaft engine, passing through at an angle, hitting two of the compressor turbines and piercing an oil line before tearing out on the far side.
The rifleman felt the impact over his head, his instinctive flinch momentarily spoiling his aim.
In the cockpit, the pilot was confronted by flashing red warning lights, and he wheeled the helicopter away from Sea Witch as the dying engine began shaking and belching smoke. A single glance at the RPM gauge was all it took for him to be sure, and he radioed, “Mayday, Mayday, going in…” as he pulled back on both the cyclic and collective, trading rotor RPMs and forward speed for lift to slow the descent.
Bridget saw the smoke from the helicopter, and shouted to Billy, “One down, one to go. Get ready,” as she slammed Sea Witch to full ahead and full throttle.
Engines roaring, Sea Witch tore through the seas, accelerating rapidly – she could reach full speed in less than thirty seconds.
Aboard the second police helicopter, the pilot heard the mayday and saw the smoke from the first helicopter, instantly guessing the cause. “Target is hostile, open fire,” he shouted over the intercom. A moment later, a radio call from the doomed helicopter confirmed: the target was hostile.
The rifleman sighted in on the onrushing Sea Witch as she closed in, but he didn’t have a good shot; Bridget had ducked below the dashboard.
Bridget, crouched in her helm chair, steered to starboard, as if to pass aft of the helicopter, which pivoted to keep the open side door towards Sea Witch. As Sea Witch neared her point of closest approach, just seventy yards from the helicopter, Bridget shouted, “Hang on, Billy, you shall have your shot in a moment!”
Bridget slammed Sea Witch to full reverse and turned hard to starboard, slewing Sea Witch sideways to her direction of travel, bringing her to a violent near-standstill in a matter of moments, with her stern now pointing at the helicopter.
Bridget steadied Sea Witch and cut the throttles, to give Billy a more stable platform and less relative motion with his target.
Glancing up at the helicopter, Bridget saw the rifleman sighting in on her and instantly regretted not having Billy use the forward hatch as his shooting position for this helicopter. She’d considered it, but had felt it better to have him fire from the same position as before. Now however, she could see that he would not likely be able to fire fast enough to matter, and stood up, quickly raising her hands in a bid to buy time.
The rifleman, mindful of what had happened to the other helicopter, had taken careful aim at Bridget, and was already squeezing the trigger when Bridget’s hands went up. His M16, set for three-round bursts, fired, sending its rounds raining down on Sea Witch.
The first round slammed into the deck by Bridget’s feet, and the second hit beside it. The third round slammed into her calf, shredding flesh and filling her world with searing pain.
Bridget knew she’d been hit, though she tried to ignore the agony, and crouched to reach under the second seat, clumsily seeking the other rifle.
The positioning wasn’t as good as before, so Billy had to rise up slightly, tracking in on the helicopter, which was now accelerating. He led it, steadily increasing his pressure on the trigger, firing just as the rifleman aboard let loose another three-round burst.
The 5.56-millimeter rounds from the M16 again burned down on Sea Witch, one whizzing down the companionway and narrowly missing Billy, the other two slamming into the dashboard where Bridget had been just a moment before. She ignored them, sweeping up the rifle with a smooth motion of her arm, and then stumbling slightly as she turned to try to take a shot at the helicopter.
Billy’s shot was low, entering the helicopter through the open side door, passing inches from the rifleman’s head before slamming harmlessly through the fuselage on its way out. The near miss, however, was enough to spoil the rifleman’s aim, and his third burst went wild, churning up the sea just ahead of Sea Witch.
Bridget pulled the trigger as the helicopter filled her sights, only to be rewarded by a dull click, which let her know that a round hadn’t been chambered. Swearing under her breath, she worked the bolt, and then began lining up her shot.
Billy’s next shot, aimed at the engine, was fired just a moment too soon to hit the engine, slamming into the gearbox forward of it instead. This time, there were no immediate warning lights, but the pilot felt the sudden change in vibration and slammed the controls over to veer away, just as the damaged gearing began tearing itself apart.
Bridget fired at the turning helicopter, her bullet passing just inches from its vulnerable tail rotor. By the time she had chambered another round, she could see that it wasn’t needed.
It had taken only seconds, and both helicopters were still in the air, but the engagement was over. Bridget lurched to the helm and rammed the throttles forward, turning to resume her course for Bimini as the two struggling police helicopters moved away in opposite directions. The rifleman on the first helicopter, in a rage, leaned out in his harness to fire off every remaining round in his magazine, but with the range having opened to five hundred yards, his shots served only to stir the sea. He was about to reload when the pilot shouted over the intercom, “Brace for impact!”
Aboard the second helicopter, the rifleman swore as the turn blocked his view of Sea Witch. He too leaned out, awkwardly extending his M16 to clear the tail empennage, but buffeted by the downwash, he had no chance. He was still intent on trying, but the wounded helicopter slewed, blocking even an awkward shot.
The first helicopter, belching smoke, entered ground effect, the downwash from its slowing rotor enough to reduce its downward velocity to near zero, allowing the pilot to settle the helicopter into the water upright. It half submerged before tipping over, its rotor blade slamming into the sea to kick up an enormous splash. The crew and rifleman scrambled out of their harnesses, fighting to get out of the downed helicopter before it sank.
Aboard the second helicopter, the vibration increased, letting the pilot know that gearbox failure was imminent. He knew that gearbox failure at high RPM would likely shower the passenger compartment with high velocity shrapnel, so he reduced throttle and descended, using the collective to trade RPMs for lift. He had time to broadcast a mayday, which included another warning that the target was hostile.
Five miles to the east, aboard the approaching Coast Guard helicopter, one thousand feet over the water, the stunned pilot worked his radio as he watched one, then the other, police helicopter hit the water, and saw Sea Witch speeding away, eastbound.
With six police officers in the downed helicopters, the Coast Guard pilot’s priorities changed in an instant. “Ready, rescue swimmer,” he barked over the intercom, before radioing Mohawk to report that he was now engaged in a rescue operation.
Aboard Sea Witch, Bridget steadied her boat on an eastbound course as Billy emerged from the companionway. The first thing he noticed was the blood. “You’re hit,” he said, staring at the blood streaming from Bridget’s leg.
“I’d fucking noticed,” she gasped, the agony and adrenalin having temporarily shattered her long-practiced air of formality, causing her to revert to the poor, hardscrabble Georgia farm girl she’d been born. “How bad?” she asked, through teeth clenched in pain.
“Looks like a through shot, back of the calf, tore it up pretty bad, too,” Billy replied, already looking around for a first-aid kit.
“There’s a kit under the helm seat,” Bridget gasped, fighting the pain as she looked around, her eyes seeking damage and seeing the bullet holes in the deck. She glanced down, gauging her blood loss. “I’ll keep for a bit, check below for damage to the engines!” she ordered, with a trace of the Georgia accent she’d kept hidden for forty years.
Billy dashed below, and soon returned to report, “I don’t see anything except a couple of holes in the deck.”
Sea Witch had come through largely unscathed; the 5.56 rounds from the M16 were far smaller and lighter than the heavy rounds of the 30-06, and so had far less ability to penetrate.
Her formal demeanor returning, Bridget replied in a pained voice, “Then let us address the holes in me. There should be bandages in the kit. Apply one and wrap it tightly.”
While Billy opened the kit, Bridget studied the radar, assessing their situation, which proved to be exceedingly perilous. Three miles ahead, due east of Sea Witch and between her and Bimini, was an oncoming Coast Guard cutter, charging in at twenty-nine knots. Sea Witch had only a five-knot speed advantage, but attempting to cut north or south of the cutter to get around it would result in the cutter turning to block, paralleling her north or southbound course, thus herding Sea Witch right down the throats of the cutters boring in from the north and south. Sea Witch was still boxed in, and no matter what she did, she could not long remain outside of the cutters’ lethal range.
Astern, the police patrol boat was closing in, and it too could cut the corner and close in if she attempted to run to the north or south, and either of those directions would take her right down the throat of an approaching Coast Guard cutter. The police patrol boat was not as deadly a menace, and Bridget felt that she could probably evade it if she ran back towards the coast. However, doing so would take Sea Witch back into the hornet’s nest; other Coast Guard ships would likely be in the Miami area, and more police helicopters and patrol boats – their officers eager to even the score – would surely be as well. Bridget gave her radar display another bitter glance. She could not linger, nor head towards the Florida coast, nor head in any direction without coming within lethal range of one or more Coast Guard cutters, and she suspected that now, they’d fire first.
Bridget focused her attention on the oncoming Coast Guard cutter, now three miles ahead. She sighed, steeling her nerve as she reached for the fuel-jettison pump switch. One of the reasons she’d had the pump added was to dump the excess fuel weight in case she needed extra speed, but now she had another purpose in mind. She flicked it on, sending diesel spurting out of the dump line astern, raising a thin oil slick in her wake.
While Billy tended her leg, Bridget looked again at the onrushing cutter dead ahead, studying it as the range dwindled to two miles. One last glance at her radar display confirmed that she had no way of keeping out of range of it and the other converging vessels, so, her hand trembling slightly, she flicked on the nitrous boost, accelerating to thirty-four knots as she steered Sea Witch to meet the cutter head-on. With the combined speeds of the two vessels creating a closing speed of over seventy miles an hour, Bridget clutched the wheel, aiming straight at the onrushing cutter’s bow.
Aboard the oncoming cutter, USCG Chandeleur, the helmsman blinked at the unexpected move. “They’re coming right at us, sir,” he said, watching the distance narrow.
The captain studied the oncoming speedboat for a moment. “Helm, ten degrees to starboard. Weapons, ready on the Bushmaster. One warning burst, and if they don’t cut their engines immediately, fire for effect, weapons free: FIRE!” he ordered over the intercom, commanding his ship’s main armament, a 25 millimeter round chain-fed auto-cannon, into action. He knew that, with its rate of fire of a hundred eighty rounds per minute, it could reduce the oncoming speedboat to kindling in seconds.
The Bushmaster was mounted on the foredeck, about a third of the way astern from the bow, just forward of the superstructure. This gave it a wide field of fire, blocked only by the superstructure aft, and forward, where it was only obstructed for ten degrees of arc by the raised bow with its jackstaff light – the inability to fire directly over the bow is a common limitation on many types of naval vessels. The slight turn to starboard had been intended to unmask the gun from the obstructing bow.
The helmsman blanched slightly as Sea Witch made a slight course change to remain directly in the cutter’s path, and then, six hundred yards out, resumed her course to meet the cutter head-on. “They’re staying in the bow shadow and coming right down our throats, sir!” he reported.
“Still masked by the bow, sir,” the weapons officer added.
Chandeleur had settled on her new course, and as the captain watched Sea Witch resume her head-on track, he barked, “Twenty degrees to starboard! Fire, close as you can,” he snapped, his eyes opening wide as Sea Witch closed the range, though dodging north to remain in the shadow of his bow.
With a sound like the sky tearing, the Bushmaster opened up, sending a two second burst five degrees off target, which was as close to Chandeleur’s bow as possible without shredding it. The rounds tore into the sea a dozen yards south of Sea Witch, exploding on impact and churning up a roiling column of water.
The captain’s knuckles turned white as Sea Witch closed in, and he slammed his hand down on the klaxon button to sound the collision alarm. He could not turn his ship; like any competent ship’s captain, he knew that a ship was far more likely to survive a head-on impact than a strike on her vulnerable sides, which could breech several watertight compartments and doom her. He gave the only command he could: “Engines full astern, brace for impact!”
For Trevor, Shane, Lisa, and Joel, it was a time of carefree exploring on West Wallabi Island. They examined the dusty remains of the little fort – nothing more than low rock walls sitting in lonely desolation.
Lisa glanced out at the brush, her eyes opening wide as she raised her hand and pointed, and in a loud, urgent whisper, said, “Look!”
The guys turned to look, and Shane spotted it first, drawn to the movement of its twitching ears. “That’s a wallaby,” Shane said quietly, watching the creature – essentially a small kangaroo – looking back at them.
“Awesome!” Lisa exclaimed quietly, not daring to move lest she spook the wallaby. “I’ve seen kangaroos, all kinds of outrageous birds, and now a wallaby. I love Australia.”
“The name wallabi is Dutch for wallaby. The Dutch named these islands after the wallabies, because they provided food,” Shane said, as he watched the wallaby take a nibble from a bush.
“It doesn’t seem afraid at all. Cool,” Joel said, a moment before the wallaby bounded off.
They spent an hour exploring the island, but the sun, rising ever higher in the sky, drove them back to the Zodiac. “Lisa, are you okay taking the Zodiac back to Kookaburra? It’s about a quarter of a mile, which I think would make a good race,” Trevor said, eying Shane and Joel.
“I’ll trail along behind and harass the slowest,” Lisa replied.
Shane began pulling off his shoes, and Lisa, arms akimbo, turned to face Trevor. “So I’ve got to haul stinky shoes back with me too? You guys better swim fast – very fast!”
At Shane’s suggestion, they decided to race from the beach, which prompted Trevor to stage whisper to Joel, “He’s a beach lifesaver, so he’s fast as hell at beach sprints.”
“And Trev cheats,” Shane replied, smirking as he began to stretch.
Lisa, idling just offshore, shouted over the rumble of the Zodiac’s engine, “Okay, on the count of three… one, two, three!”
The three guys raced down to the water’s edge, surging into the shallow water at a full spring, kicking up a glittering spray.
Shane had a four-yard lead by the time he dove forward, pulling into a furious crawl. Joel was second, with Trevor just behind him.
A hundred feet into the swim, Joel had closed on Shane, while Trevor held back, drafting behind Joel.
Joel was in better practice than Trevor or Shane, but he was the least experienced of the three in open-water swimming, though he well knew Trevor’s techniques. Trevor, playing a long-race strategy, drafted close behind Joel, knowing that Joel would soon make his move to take the lead.
Joel slowly closed the gap, waiting until they were fifty yards from Kookaburra to make his move. He pulled hard, gaining the lead, waiting for Trevor to begin his sprint.
Trevor saw his opening and, the most rested of the three, began his sprint, trying to pass Joel on the right. However, Joel angled to the right, forcing Trevor to shift rightwards, slightly away from Kookaburra. Trevor swerved left, placing him between Shane and Joel, as the final sprint began.
Shane touched first, Joel second, and Trevor third, with only a second between first and last.
“I win!” Shane declared, hauling himself onto the port aft swim-dive platform, and then standing tall, muscles rippling, raising his fists in triumph, as Lisa motored to Kookaburra’s stern.
“Drafting again, Trev?” Joel replied, snickering as he pulled himself aboard.
“Asshole,” Trevor muttered, smiling and shaking his head, knowing full well that Joel’s move to block him had cost both him and Joel the race.
Lisa motored up to Kookaburra, and Shane dashed for the cockpit to hook the Zodiac up and winch it aboard. Trevor gave Joel a light punch in the arm. “I’ll get you next time. If I’d have been ready for your block, I could have cut the corner and won.”
Shane left Lisa in the cockpit and walked back towards Trevor and Joel. “Good race, mates. So, anyone up for some snorkeling while we’re here? These waters are great for it, from the look of it,” he asked, loud enough to attract Lisa’s attention from a distant small plane she had started to watch.
“Sounds great!” Lisa replied, with a grin and a nod.
“Sounds great to me too, but I’d better call Uncle Greg first,” Trevor said, leaning back against the railing to dry off in the sun. A few minutes later, he retrieved the satellite phone from the salon and made his call.
Two thousand feet above East Wallabi Island, Basingstoke turned his attention from Kookaburra to the island below, and studied the dirt runway. He could easily land on dirt, even if it was a bit rough, but this airstrip – the only one in the archipelago – was on an uninhabited island, a fact that made Basingstoke nervous. The airstrip was there mainly to serve the rock-lobster fishery camp on tiny Pigeon Island, less than a mile south of East Wallabi, though tourist charters sometimes made use of it as well. According to Basingstoke’s pilot guide, which listed information on regional airports, the fishermen were only in residence during rock lobster season, which ran from March to June. What that meant for Basingstoke was that the airstrip was unattended, and thus may have been unmaintained for weeks or months.
Basingstoke knew he needed a close look, so he lined up to the right of the centerline from a mile to the south, and with his landing gear still up, descended towards the runway. He flew low, thirty feet over the flat scrub, paralleling the runway fifty feet to the right of it, studying it intently, on the lookout for any obstructions. He then made a second pass, which satisfied him that the runway was usable. He climbed out over the ocean to eight hundred feet, turning back towards the runway before lowering his gear and lining up on the runway for a southbound landing.
Twenty minutes later, in Carnarvon, Greg Fowler returned his phone to its cradle, a scowl appearing on his face. He glanced up as Craig Grundig walked in. “Craig, I talked to Trevor a bit ago, and something stinks. Jason Kline told me that his partner had Trevor’s garlic crusher and mayday note, but another reporter found Trevor in Kalbarri, and he gave it to Trevor.”
Craig Grundig glanced out the door of the customs office, before replying quietly, “That doesn’t sound good. Maybe Kline’s not keeping up his end of the deal? Where is Kookaburra now?”
“West Wallabi Island. Been to see the fort, I imagine. Anyway, there’s more, a lot of it. That call I was just on was from Gonzalez, in Florida. It appears as if what I mentioned from Christmas is right; the woman that cocaine-tainted money came from, Bridget Bellevue, looks to be the one behind the attacks. I’ve also been told that she murdered a private investigator over the holidays, and tried to kill Gonzalez as well. She’s on the run now but Gonzalez said they should have her dead or in custody in a few minutes. I’m probably just being paranoid, but with all that going on, I want Trevor and his friends in Fleet Base West sooner rather than later. I think I’ll give Jason Kline a ring and see what he’s about, and if he had any role in this Kalbarri business,” Fowler said, clicking his speakerphone on so Grundig could listen in.
As soon as the call connected, Fowler told Kline that a reporter had found Trevor in Kalbarri, and then asked Kline how Trevor’s garlic crusher had come to be there.
After a few muttered curses, Kline replied, “I’ve no idea, but what I do know is that it was last in the possession of Barney Fitzroy, who claimed it vanished en route to him from Esperance. Any chance you could find out the name of the reporter who had it? I’d like to ask him how the fuck he came to have that thing.”
Fowler rubbed his chin, thinking for a moment, before deciding to trust Kline somewhat. “I already have it, and I’d also like to know what he’s really working on. His name is Butch Clark of the Sydney Morning Herald, supposedly doing a freelance article on pirates. Do you know if that’s his beat? I did look up the name, and he does have a few articles on the Middle East, but nothing on piracy that I can see.”
Kline coughed, and then replied, “Are you sure of the name and that Trevor said it’s a guy?”
“He gave Trevor his card,” Fowler replied, and then gave Kline the physical description Trevor had recounted.
“I’ve only met Butch Clark a couple of times, though we’ve talked by phone fairly often. A piece on pirates would fit, though I’m quite certain that either that wasn’t Butch Clark in Kalbarri on Boxing Day, or Trevor needs glasses: Butch is her nickname, though she goes by it professionally, and she has legs that go right up and make an ass out of themselves. She sure as hell doesn’t have a mustache or receding hair, nor would anyone mistake her for a guy. If you want my guess, your Kalbarri interloper just looked up Butch’s name and stories and made the wrong assumption as to her gender, or didn’t care. You’ve got an imposter on your hands.”
Fowler’s jaw clenched. “Do me a favor; keep this to yourself for a bit. I need to get the bastard. One other thing; I’ll be wanting to send some officers around to interview Barney Fitzroy about what happened.”
“Please do, and please make sure they’re not kind about it. I think that bastard might have ripped me off. I’ll be happy to help out in any way that I can… and once it’s done, I’d like to have an inside track on reporting it.”
“Done,” Fowler replied.
Kline gave Fowler Barney Fitzroy’s home and office addresses, plus contact phone numbers, and then added, “Keep Trevor out of sight. I’ve got a bad feeling about this; I don’t think any kind of a reporter would be trying to impersonate another reporter, not under these circumstances.”
“My hunch is that it’s someone after the boat, or maybe Trevor himself. I’ll make sure he’s warned and safe, and I’ll be in touch with you soon,” Fowler said, and then cut the connection.
“Bloody hell, this isn’t good,” Grundig exclaimed, scratching his head in consternation.
“First things first. I’ll ring Trevor; I want him heading for Fleet Base West right away,” Fowler said, reaching for the phone.
Two hundred fifty miles away, aboard Kookaburra, Fowler’s call caused the phone to ring, but it could not be answered. The two couples were already in the water, snorkeling over the shallow reefs.
After parking his plane, Basingstoke mulled his options. His plan was to get close to Kookaburra, and when noticed say he had the cash for the interview and also a warning that the press would be arriving in the morning, and if need be disclose the tracking device aboard, though blaming it on the press. Basingstoke knew he’d only need to fool them for a few moments, just long enough to get close.
That plan, he knew, had many potential difficulties, but Basingstoke was adept at adapting on the fly. The core of his plan was, he believed, still sound, and his needs remained unaltered. He still had an overarching desire to make the deaths appear accidental, due to wishing to avoid the risks of a massive investigation. Basingstoke well knew that, given sufficient manpower, an investigation could pose a serious threat to him. It was a risk, and like any risk, he preferred to mitigate it. Thus, he intended to make their deaths appear accidental, including Trevor’s decapitation.
Only Trevor, Lisa, and Joel were covered by his contract, but Basingstoke could afford to leave no witnesses, and assumed he’d need to make four kills. Working quickly, he loaded a backpack with the contents of the hardware store bag: a rubber mallet, two lengths of sturdy wire, and two short crowbars. Basingstoke tossed in two cans of mace and a bathrobe sash, along with a few other miscellaneous items, such as binoculars. He then added a Taser stun gun, which, along with the mace, he planned to use to briefly incapacitate his victims. Once that was done, his plan for Shane, Lisa, and Joel was to use the open shark jaws, swinging them like a club, to inflict fatal wounds and also, he hoped, have their blood attract real sharks as they bled to death.
In the small of Basingstoke’s back, concealed by his loose shirt, was his Makarov pistol. If anything went badly wrong, his backup plan was to shoot his victims and then escape with Trevor’s head, though he knew that doing so would cause the massive investigation and manhunt that he sought to avoid.
For Trevor’s death, he needed a different method than the others, so he planned to carefully bind him with the bathrobe sash – which would not leave suspicious rope marks – and then, once the others were disposed of, use the shark jaws as a vise to remove Trevor’s head.
He knew he’d have to proceed with care; he believed that Trevor would need to be alive for that; otherwise, the bite might look odd to any careful forensic examination. Basingstoke saw this as a plus, because it solved another concern; the ‘bite’ would be far slower than a normal shark bite. Basingstoke’s planned method was to use the two lengths of wire to connect the upper and lower halves of the hinged jaws, then use the crowbars to twist the wires, thus shortening them and imparting closing pressure on the jaws. The rubber mallet could then help the cutting process along via striking the outer side of the jaws. Basingstoke’s concern was that the slowness would leave incongruous marks, but he reasoned that with Trevor was conscious, his struggles combined with the effects of the sea on his corpse would make for a better forensic match with a real shark bite. The thoughts of a slow decapitation almost made Basingstoke cringe; he took no joy in killing – his only interest in it was the money – and this would be the most grisly kill, so far, of his career.
Basingstoke took a deep breath, thought of the money, and finished packing the backpack. His final additions were two lighters, a small bag of barbecue charcoal briquettes, and some lighter fluid. An apparent emergency on Kookaburra, such as a barbecue fire that had spread, would serve to provide an explanation why the four teens were in the water and perhaps bleeding. He had read that a propane gas explosion from propane settling in the bilges was a common cause of boating disaster, and knew that such an explosion and fire would cover up most of the evidence aboard. He’d need to rinse any blood off the deck, but he felt that the fire would serve him well, if needed.
Basingstoke then removed his self-inflating emergency life raft, and locked his plane up. He put on the backpack, and with the boxed shark jaws in one hand and the bundle that was his life raft and paddles in the other, he set off westward, towards Kookaburra.
For Basingstoke, the minutes before a kill were always a time of trepidation, and this time was different only by its greater degree. Always, before a kill, he had moments of self-doubt and concerns over his plan. As he hiked, Basingstoke felt his stomach churn in apprehension. His plan was overly complex for his liking, but he felt confident in his ability to adapt on the fly. Basingstoke was also counting on some trust and familiarity to allow him to get close to his targets, which was another reason he’d met with them in Kalbarri.
Across the rough, scattered, low scrub, he could see the beach, just a quarter mile ahead, and three quarters of a mile beyond it, the mast of Kookaburra, which lay at anchor in the sheltered bay between East and West Wallabi Islands. He walked to the last of the bushes before the beach, where he sat down to study Kookaburra through his binoculars. He calmed his breathing, steadying his nerves by force of will, as he always did when closing in for the kill.
Click here for an interactive map of East and West Wallabi Islands, which shows the airport and other aspects.
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