Engines roaring, the wind in her hair, Bridget stared at the oncoming Coast Guard cutter, now looming large dead ahead. Beside her, Billy, too scared to speak, flinched and shut his eyes as Sea Witch roared across the remaining few yards.
Due to the danger they posed, Bridget had for many years kept abreast of Coast Guard cutters, their armaments, and procedures. It was obvious, even from a picture, that they could not fire directly over their bows. However, she also knew that they carried twin fifty-caliber machine guns high amidships, with fields of fire to the sides and aft.
Bridget’s left hand was on the fuel dump pump control, and this was the moment she’d been waiting for; with a turn of a valve, she diverted half of the dumping diesel into another line, which ended in Sea Witch’s red-hot exhaust manifolds. The result was a billowing cloud of thick black smoke, which roiled in Sea Witch’s wake.
At the last possible moment, Bridget slewed Sea Witch to starboard, barely avoiding a collision and racing past the cutter’s hull, clearing her by less than five feet. The closeness of the pass put Sea Witch below the maximum safe depression of the fifty-caliber mount on that side of the cutter; it could not fire without the risk of hitting the cutter’s own decks.
As Sea Witch cleared the cutter’s stern and raced away, she was no longer protected, and both seamen manning the fifty-calibers on USCG Chandeleur swiveled their guns aft, only to be confronted by the cloud of smoke billowing from Sea Witch’s exhausts. The seaman on the port side gun opened fire, sending a stream of bullets lancing into the cloud, missing Sea Witch by twenty feet. He fired again, but Sea Witch was weaving slightly, obscured by the smoke cloud, and his shots missed by an even wider margin.
The Chandeleur’s captain reacted instantly to the close pass, shouting, “Full ahead, hard-a-port, bring the Bushmaster to bear, fire for effect, traverse the target!”
The Bushmaster had a maximum range of just under three thousand yards – one point seven miles – and his order would traverse the smoke-obscured fleeing vessel in a hail of fire. It would however take time; the cutter had been at full astern in preparation for the expected impact, and had come almost to a standstill, and it would take precious seconds for her to resume forward speed and commence the turn.
Bridget was waiting for his move; her radar was good enough to pick up Chandeleur’s turn, and seeing that she was turning to port, Bridget did the same, keeping the fleeing Sea Witch almost directly astern of the cutter and out of the Bushmaster’s field of fire for a few more seconds, with every second taking her twenty yards further from the cutter.
The cutter heeled over to starboard, turning sharply to port, finally unmasking the Bushmaster with Sea Witch now speeding directly away, five hundred yards distant and fleeing fast. The Bushmaster opened up, slowly walking a stream of fire through the smoke cloud, the rounds seeking Sea Witch, as the Chandeleur’s captain wished, not for the first time, that his ship had the ability to use her radar to directly target her main gun. As it was, the best he could do was guess how close his rounds were coming to the target he could see on his scope.
Aboard Sea Witch, Bridget both saw and felt the rounds passing close, and swerved away, fighting for distance. All she could do now, she knew, was hope for luck – and perhaps, help herself. She glanced at the radar console, making note of the cutter’s radar’s frequency, set her own to match, and cranked up the output to maximum, hoping to jam the cutter’s radar.
It would have worked against civilian radar, but though Bridget’s radar was military grade, it had been obsolete for over twenty years by military standards. The radar on Chandeleur, an AN/SPS-64V F-band, had the ability to focus its output and increase its power on the bearing to a target. The cutter also had vastly more power and a far larger antenna. As soon as his screen became cluttered, the radar operator switched to narrow-beam and boosted the gain, foiling Bridget’s jamming attempt in under two seconds. The AN/SPS-64V also had the same ability as Bridget’s set to see and analyze the source of radars.
The radar operator studied his screens, checking the bearing to Sea Witch. “Target bearing eighty-three degrees, heading niner-zero, range one thousand, speed thirty-four knots,” he reported, which helped the Bushmaster operator know just where to shoot. The cutter had a top speed of twenty-nine knots, and though the turn had slowed her, she was accelerating rapidly. The captain knew he couldn’t catch his fleeing target, but with only a five-knot speed disadvantage – effectively increased to seven knots, due to the need to zigzag slightly to avoid masking the Bushmaster with the bow – he could keep the target within range of his Bushmaster for long enough, he hoped.
By the time the cutter reached twenty-nine knots, Sea Witch had opened the range to two thousand yards, still within the reach of the Bushmaster, which was firing three-round bursts into the smoke – the cutter could not sustain a high rate of fire for more than a few seconds due to limited ammunition. Twice, the shells came perilously close, slamming into the sea and exploding, showering Sea Witch with salt water.
Billy, clearly terrified, had paused in his bandaging of Bridget’s leg, so she said, in a voice colored by pain, “We are almost clear. Finish my leg please.”
Bridget carefully angled Sea Witch a few degrees to port, steering towards the impact point of the latest burst from the Bushmaster, in the hope that the gunner was correcting his aim with each burst. Sea Witch was highly maneuverable and thus could have presented a much more difficult target, but every change of course cost yards that she could have been gaining on the cutter.
Far overhead, the orbiting Gulfstream had both a clear radar lock and a good visual track on Sea Witch. The pilot began descending for a better view, while the copilot radioed the cutter, “Your target is making smoke and weaving slightly, on a direct bearing for Bimini. We can also see an iridescent trail; looks like they’re losing fuel.”
“Cease fire, secure from general quarters,” the captain of USCG Chandeleur ordered, as his radar plot showed Sea Witch passing out of range. He then conferred with the captain of USCG Mohawk, the only remaining cutter between Sea Witch and Bimini. The tactical situation was problematic; the helicopter Mohawk had launched was still busy rescuing the police officers from the two downed helicopters, and though a call for reinforcements from ashore would soon have help arriving, it would take time he didn’t think they had. Sea Witch could outrun the Mohawk – though not the fast Zodiac-type skiffs she carried, which could match Sea Witch’s speed. The problem was that Sea Witch had demonstrated the ability to engage with heavy rifle fire, which would render the skiffs very vulnerable once out of the cover of the cutter’s machine guns: Sea Witch would have the advantage in any engagement with the skiffs alone, due to being a more stable shooting platform, with better-protected engines.
With few other options, the Coast Guard switched to a backup plan: try to block the fleeing boat with Mohawk, and failing that, track the target to Bimini and let DEA agents, working in conjunction with the local police on the islands, take care of the crew when they came ashore. They had every reason to be confident; Sea Witch could outrun ships, but she couldn’t outrun radios or the Gulfstream jet above. Eventually she’d run out of fuel, and the supposed fuel leak made it look like it would be sooner rather than later – exactly as Bridget had intended.
Aboard Sea Witch, Bridget cut off the smoke, and after a careful check of her fuel gauges she continued pumping – though at a lower rate – diesel overboard to maintain the trailing oil slick. Then, she phoned Sanchez. “Bimini, fifteen minutes,” she reported, and then turned her attention to Mohawk, which was now six miles ahead. She could see that it was large – a medium endurance cutter, larger and slower than the one now astern.
It was simple geometry; the cutter ahead, Mohawk, was now due east of Sea Witch and on a head-on intercept course at nineteen knots – the maximum speed for that class of cutter. Mohawk was far slower than her smaller brethren, but Bridget knew that the armament aboard vastly outclassed what she’d been up against. As if in confirmation of that thought, the sea erupted a dozen yards to Sea Witch’s starboard, as Mohawk’s OTO Melara Mk 75 76 mm gun commenced firing.
The OTO Melara Mk 75 has a range of ten nautical miles, and Sea Witch was already well within its engagement envelope. It could fire up to eighty rounds a minute, but against a small, fast, maneuvering target it had the drawback of all long-range guns; the flight time of the shell, which at eight miles was over twenty seconds due to a ballistic trajectory. Sea Witch’s erratic course made accurate fire impossible, but the gun’s high rate evened the odds. Mohawk needed just one lucky shot, while Sea Witch needed to avoid them all.
Several close hits showered Sea Witch with seawater, drenching Bridget. The salt seeping through her bandages into her raw wound caused her searing pain, but she endured it, mostly suppressing it and focusing on getting Sea Witch past Mohawk.
By altering her base course to the southeast, Bridget came within five miles of Mohawk at the point of closest approach, before resuming her course for Bimini and reengaging the smoke screen once Mohawk was astern. Mohawk gave chase, her deck gun belching fire, though only a dozen times a minute to conserve ammunition.
The Coast Guard’s MH-60J/T Jayhawk, inbound from Clearwater, raced past the shore, its radar already tracking Sea Witch. The Jayhawk, a twenty-one thousand pound twin-engine helicopter similar to the Army’s Blackhawk, changed course slightly to head for Bimini at one hundred seventy knots. Its current orders were to track but not engage; like any helicopter, even a military one, it was vulnerable to the armor-piercing rounds of a large rifle, though less so than a civilian one. One option for the Coast Guard operation commander – Mohawk’s captain – was to pursue the target to a standstill or force it ashore. If the former, the cutters could engage, if the latter, two armed Coast Guard servicemen on the Jayhawk would be in position to cover the takedown of the target’s crew ashore, or if need be, handle the matter themselves.
However, the Jayhawk was far more capable than the two police helicopters that had been downed. It had dual engines, but the greatest difference was in armaments; where the police helicopters had each carried an officer with an M16, the Jayhawk carried two shooters; one with a fifty-caliber laser-sighted rifle – an even more capable long-range weapon than Bridget’s 30-06s – and a second crewman manning a mounted M240 7.62mm machine gun. Before, Bridget had held the advantage of range and firepower. This time, the helicopter would have that advantage, along with its far superior speed and maneuverability.
The captain, aware that Mohawk was unlikely to sink the target, ordered the Jayhawk to attack, and to fire first, with no warning shots.
As Sea Witch approached the Bimini Islands, Bridget disengaged her nitrous boost; the nitrous oxide tanks were already three-quarters empty. Sea Witch slowed to thirty-two knots, and Bridget cut off the fuel dump and smoke screen. Sea Witch had gained another knot of speed due to lightening her load.
Bridget studied her radar display, seeing the incoming Jayhawk, as well as the cutters, which were now eastbound. She could also detect the Gulfstream high above, and knew that the Coast Guard’s radar detection abilities would vastly exceed her own. Reluctantly, for it meant partially blinding herself, Bridget shut off the radar’s transmitter, out of concern that the Coast Guard could use its signature to positively identify Sea Witch. Now, Sea Witch’s upgraded radar was in passive mode – just a receiver – capable of plotting radar transmissions.
Between North and South Bimini islands, there is only a single narrow channel. This was Bridget’s target. She again called Sanchez, shouting, “Inbound to the channel, four minutes,” as Mohawk’s final shot tore into the sea a hundred yards off Sea Witch’s starboard side. Mohawk could not risk long-range naval gunfire any closer to Bimini.
“They are ready, but only one,” Sanchez replied.
Bridget spotted the other boat as soon as she entered the channel. It was a similar boat to Sea Witch, slightly shorter, with two men aboard. As soon as Bridget approached, the other boat went to full throttle, matching course and coming close. Bridget eased back on her throttles slightly, as she began to weave Sea Witch, passing close astern of the other boat and pulling ahead, then slowing while it weaved around her. Six times they passed one another, swapping courses, and then, with a wave of thanks, Bridget rammed her throttles forward and turned north-northeast for Freeport, while the other boat roared off to the southwest, with one of the two men aboard heading below to keep out of sight. The maneuver, one the drug runners had used several times before, was designed to confuse pursuers, who now could not be sure which boat was their target. Without such certainty, the rules of engagement changed; they were no longer free to shoot first. However, Mohawk’s captain was not overly concerned; he had the assets in the air to follow both targets, and set up to do so by detailing the Gulfstream to track both, a task that it could easily accomplish. However, he only had one helicopter immediately available, the Jayhawk, which was nearing Bimini. They could only send it after one of the fleeing boats. It was a fifty-fifty chance, so the captain tossed a coin. Luck was with him, and he sent the Jayhawk after Sea Witch. Bridget’s Bimini deception had partially failed.
The other Coast Guard helicopter, which now had the downed police officers aboard, had just become available, but the necessity of hovering while the rescue swimmer deployed, and then winching up one at a time the six downed police officers and the rescue swimmer, had partially depleted the helicopter’s fuel, an issue now compounded by the added weight aboard. The helicopter would need to stop at Mohawk to drop off the police officers and refuel before resuming the chase. It would be detailed to the second of the fleeing boats.
Bridget checked in with Sanchez, giving him an update on her estimated arrival time off Freeport: one hour and twelve minutes. She was past North Bimini, tearing across the shallow waters towards Freeport, using the last of her nitrous to run flat-out at thirty-five knots across the glassy water. An hour, she knew, would seem like forever, due to holding tremendous peril. She could see the Gulfstream on her radar, and also the Jayhawk helicopter closing in at high speed, and she judged that it would reach her in less than twenty minutes. She again called Sanchez, “Can we move the starburst south southwest? I need it as soon as possible.”
Sanchez checked a map, and then made the calls. He came back on the line with Bridget to say, “They are en route for a new rendezvous twenty miles south southwest of the old one. That is the best they can do; they are not as fast as you.”
“Thank you, my friend. I shall see you soon,” Bridget replied, breathing a sigh of relief. The new rendezvous was just twenty-two miles ahead, and though the helicopter would reach her first, she hoped that, due to the Bimini deception, they would not engage right away. “Ready the rifles, Billy, and make certain they have a round chambered,” she said, giving him a reassuring smile before adding, mainly for his benefit, “though I suspect we shall not need to make use of them. Put them out of sight below, then come back and I’ll make certain you can handle the helm; I need to remain hidden once the helicopter is in view.”
Bridget considered another ploy; casting Billy overboard as the helicopter neared, in the hope that the helicopter would attempt to save him instead of pursuing her. After a few moments, she dismissed the notion, deciding that his rifle skills and other uses were of greater value. She also knew that her wound, and especially the pain it caused, were impacting her ability to think clearly, so that, she begrudgingly admitted to herself, was a further reason for keeping Billy aboard.
The Jayhawk, now closing in from Sea Witch’s aft port quarter, had a one-hundred-forty-knot speed advantage on her. However, they did not know for certain that the boat they were following was their target, thus they could not fire first. This change to their rules of engagement had been the other purpose of the deception at Bimini. A further complication was that they were in Bahamian territory and though in hot pursuit, they could only press the issue so far. They needed a positive ID on the target, which the confusion at Bimini had deprived them of.
As the pursuing Jayhawk closed to within ten miles, Bridget suddenly remembered the name on Sea Witch’s transom, ‘Exodus II’. She ordered Billy aft to remove it, in order to prevent the Coast Guard from seeing it and thus removing any doubt as to which boat they were pursuing. Billy acted quickly, and within moments, Sea Witch wore the name ‘Lobster Pot’. As an afterthought, she had Billy retrieve a fishing rod from below and mount it in a stern holder, and then, her gaze falling on her blood on the deck, she had Billy clean it up.
In Ft. Pierce, Gonzalez had been joined by the Chief of Police, and together, they watched Operation Wesson, now out of their hands, unfold. Their main source of information, perversely, had turned out to be the live coverage from the news helicopter, which had filmed the attempt by the police helicopters to stop Bridget. The loop of the two police helicopters crashing into the sea was in almost continuous play on several stations, but Gonzalez saw one silver lining in the stream of bad news. “It’s not a good video due to the long range, but that’s clearly Bridget picking up a gun and firing at the second police helicopter. Any hope she ever had of beating the charges in court via reasonable doubt just died.”
The chief nodded. “Yeah, that’ll help – if we can catch her. I think we will; she can’t keep running for as long as we can keep planes in the air: she can’t lose ‘em.”
“I know, but I’ll bet she knows that too, and she’s been one step ahead so far,” Gonzalez said, scowling at the screen.
Bridget glanced at her navigational display. A cold smile of recognition crossed her face, as she noticed that she was passing close to the position reported by Rachel’s Ares mayday, all those years ago. That was one more issue she planned to address that day, but survival was her immediate concern. Then, she glanced ahead, a warm smile appearing on her face as she saw, on the horizon, several specks, which she knew to be the boats of the starburst, racing towards her.
The orbiting Gulfstream could see them too. “Mohawk, Mohawk, this is Eyeball; we have seven high-speed boats inbound from the north, on an apparent intercept course for Target Two.”
Aboard USCG Mohawk, the captain scowled as he looked at the downlink from the Gulfstream. He turned to his first officer, and muttered a single word, “Pinwheel.”
“Looks like it, sir,” the first officer replied. It was a tactic they’d seen before, though very rarely. “Send the Jayhawk in?” he mused aloud.
The captain pondered the situation for a moment. “Affirmative. Close to two hundred yards, and fire at the first sign of hostile intent or positive ID on the target.”
The Jayhawk received its orders, and in response tilted forward, racing to close the distance to Sea Witch at maximum speed. “Weapons hot, fire at any hint of hostile intent,” the pilot commanded, as they closed to within five miles.
Bridget, deep in the companionway and with a rifle in her hands, listened as Billy, at the helm, called out the range on the approaching helicopter. “Billy, remove your shirt and toss it down to me,” she called out, having remembered that detail just barely in time.
Aboard the Jayhawk, which had closed to within two miles, the copilot studied Sea Witch through high-powered binoculars. As they drew closer, he was able to report, “The name on the transom looks like ‘Lobster Pot.’ One subject visible, shirtless male, brown hair… there’s a fishing rod at the stern, and no sign of any oil slick.”
The pilot glanced at the fleeing vessel. “He’s doing over thirty knots, so maybe he’s trawling for big-engined fish,” he grumbled, suspecting a ruse. “Fire up the FLIR pod,” he commanded, referring to the Forward Looking Infra Red scanner: a thermal imager. It was primarily used in night operations, though in ideal circumstances it could detect the body heat of a person within a structure or vessel.
With the Jayhawk now less than a mile away and closing in from the port stern quarter, Bridget called up to Billy, “When they come close, give them a friendly wave and a big smile. Reply to any gestures from them with a friendly wave, and then pick up the radio’s microphone and pretend to be using it, as if you are trying to call them. They will not shoot you; they can no longer know for certain that we are the vessel they seek, and they must obey their own rules of engagement.”
“Will do, Mrs. B,” Billy called out, hoping that she knew what she was doing.
As the helicopter pulled abeam, flying on a parallel course three hundred yards to port to make a slow pass with the FLIR, Billy smiled and waved.
The copilot studied the FLIR screen, and reported, “Sir, there’s a lot of heat on the decks due to the sun. I’m seeing the engines, but nothing else too clear internally otherwise. There’s a faint heat source inside, amidships, that might be a person, but I can’t be sure. It’s not moving around, that’s all I can tell.”
“We still don’t have a positive ID. Try the loudspeakers; tell him to cut his engines,” the pilot replied, glancing ahead at the oncoming loose formation of boats, now just four miles ahead.
The copilot picked up a microphone, and used the helicopter’s powerful external loudspeakers to order, “Cut your engines, cut your engines and bring your vessel to a halt!”
Billy, following Bridget’s continual barrage of directions, pointed at his ear, shook his head, and smiled at the helicopter as he picked up a microphone and pretended to adjust his VHF radio’s dials while mouthing words into the microphone.
“Subject appears to be using the radio, but I’m not seeing any RF emissions,” the copilot reported.
“Damn, we still can’t fire,” the pilot replied, tipping the helicopter forward to take station ahead of Sea Witch. “We’ll try hovering just over the water, right on his course. As we approach, I want a long burst from the M240 across the target’s bow, make it close, then use the loudspeakers again.”
A few moments passed, and as the Jayhawk pulled ahead of Sea Witch, the M240 opened up, sending a long burst of 7.62mm rounds lancing into the sea, just feet from Sea Witch’s bow.
The Jayhawk wheeled, slowing to hover thirty feet over the water, its thundering downwash whipping the sea as its loudspeakers blasted out another command to stop.
Even though he could have passed under it, Billy helmed Sea Witch to port to clear the Jayhawk, and on Bridget’s command, broadcast on VHF 16, “Mayday, Mayday, Bahamas motorboat Lobster Pot, north of Bimini, being attacked by an unknown helicopter. Mayday, Mayday, Lobster Pot is under attack! Mayday! Somebody help me!”
Aboard the Jayhawk, which wore the red and white livery of the United States Coast Guard, the copilot heard the call, and replied on the same channel, “Lobster Pot, this is the United States Coast Guard helicopter above you. Cut your engines!” The order was punctuated by another blast of machine gun fire, which stitched the water a dozen feet ahead of Sea Witch.
At Bridget’s direction, Billy haltingly replied, “How the fuck do I know y’all are what you say you are? You don’t look like no Coast Guard chopper, and we’re in the Bahamas. There’s druggies in these waters, dude. I’m heading for the police station in Freeport; if y’all are for real, meet me there. If not, MAYDAY! MAYDAY, Lobster Pot under attack from drug runners! Mayday!”
A new voice cracked over the radio. “Lobster Pot, this is Fandango, copy your mayday, and we see the chopper. Chopper is not, repeat not, Coast Guard, the color is all wrong, looks like a fake. We’re a mile north of you with a few friends, coming at full speed, and we’ll relay your mayday by phone to the Bahamian police, then escort you into Freeport.” That call, made by one of Sanchez’s people, was from a Sea Ray 36, one of seven vessels converging from the northeast.
The pilot chewed on his lip, and then grumbled, “Bullshit, but we can’t fire at him unless he does something. Climbing to one hundred feet; we’ll stay on him until he stops.” The Jayhawk had a range of over seven hundred miles.
Aboard the Coast Guard helicopter, frustration reigned. They could not fire first under the circumstances, and the radio calls were complicating matters when time was of the essence. They could only await orders and watch as the seven boats from the north turned about, matching course with Sea Witch, and then converging on her.
Billy, still at the helm, followed Bridget’s orders and cut the nitrous boost, and then reduced throttle, slowing to twenty-four knots to allow the rendezvousing vessels to join up – some were much slower than Sea Witch. They proceeded north in a tight gaggle, the boats weaving around each other, crossing courses.
The copilot kept his eyes focused on Sea Witch. “Still got her,” he reported.
A Bahamian patrol boat sortied from Freeport, heading south, but long before she could reach the little flotilla, they did what they had come there to do. The boats formed a circle a hundred yards across, chasing each other’s sterns at twenty knots. Four were Sea Rays, which looked nearly identical to Sea Witch. The other three were similar styles, and each, per the plan, had just one person visible. Three of the visible people were slender women in baseball caps. More would have been better, but this was the best Sanchez had been able to come up with on the suddenly advanced schedule. As it was, three of the boats were rentals.
“Smoke, now,” Bridget ordered, and Billy hit the switch, causing Sea Witch to trail a thick cloud of smoke. Two of the other boats were similarly equipped, and did the same, engulfing the circle of boats in a thick cloud of roiling smoke.
Bridget, who had changed below into slacks and a white blouse, had her hair – the red dye job now concealed by hastily applied brown shoe polish – tucked under a baseball cap, emerged on deck, limping aft to again change Sea Witch’s name, to Fandango, and then tossed the fishing pole overboard. She then took the helm, sent Billy below, cut the smoke, and with three clicks of her microphone, signaled the maneuver she and Sanchez called starburst; the boats in the circle all turned sharply to starboard, racing in to almost collide in the center, but then continuing on straight courses, directly away from each other at high speed. The Coast Guard now had eight targets, all diverging.
“Pinwheel!” the copilot radioed, glancing from boat to boat with his binoculars. “None of ‘em say ‘Lobster Pot’. None have a shirtless guy in view. The fishing rod is in the water. Best guess from hull form – the target is one of four: one heading southeast, one southwest, one east, and one north.
The Gulfstream had all eight both visually and on radar, but they could not tell one from another. All were proceeding at twenty-six knots. At this point, the Coast Guard knew how it would play out; they could bring one or two of the boats to heel, and a search would turn up nothing. They would then have to release them because, except for the hot pursuit of their original target, the Coast Guard was out of its jurisdiction. The boats had broken no Bahamian laws, which ruled out any action by the Bahamian authorities.
“Pick one,” the pilot of the Jayhawk ordered, reasoning that a one in eight chance was better than none at all.
The copilot sighed. “I’ll guess the one heading southwest, back towards Bimini; it’s the least likely choice for an escape route.”
And with that, the helicopter wheeled southwest, in pursuit of the fleeing Sea Ray 36.
Bridget, at the helm of Sea Witch, carefully kept her speed at twenty-nine knots, to avoid having Sea Witch stand out due to her speed. She glanced at her radar – still in passive mode – in frustration. Now it was only a receiver, though it still allowed her to see the Gulfstream high above, and the Coast Guard helicopter heading towards Bimini. What she couldn’t see was the Bahamian patrol boat out of Freeport she’d been warned of via the phone, though she knew it was out there somewhere. In agony, she could only watch and wait, maintaining her course of east northeast, heading for Great Abaco Island, one hundred miles ahead. Her course was roughly parallel to the southern shore of Grand Bahama Island, and would take her very close to its eastern tip in less than thirty miles.
A call to Sanchez confirmed the plan; she would turn north as she neared the tip of Grand Bahama Island, heading for a small wharf at McLean’s Town, where several cars would be waiting, one of which would bring a new crew for Sea Witch. Bridget and Billy would be driven to a beach on the northern shore, where Sanchez’s Cigarette speedboat was waiting to take her and Billy to Sanchez’s lair in the Exuma Cays, two hundred miles to the southeast. Bridget smiled; she knew that for Sanchez to risk bringing her to his hideout so soon after the chase meant that he had taken her warning very seriously. Another burst of burning agony served to remind her that she was about to take the greatest gamble of her life while both physically and mentally impaired by her wound.
The transfer went as planned; two of Sanchez’s men took Sea Witch east, then south, and after a refueling stop, cruised at a sedate pace, via a roundabout route, towards Haiti’s northern coast, over five hundred miles away.
The Coast Guard Gulfstream was still attempting to track targets, but most of those were now lost amidst the countless pleasure craft plying Bahamian waters.
Operation Wesson had failed.
In the crystal clear waters of the bay between East and West Wallabi, it was a time of wonder, idyllic and serene. Trevor, Shane, Lisa, and Joel were finning along, mesmerized by the myriad of colorful reef life as they enjoyed their snorkeling expedition.
All four were wearing dive knifes on their legs, though Trevor and Shane were also carrying spear guns, their spears tipped with powerheads - a holder with a firing pin for .45 caliber rounds. The reason was sharks. It hadn’t taken them long to see one, cruising along the reef edge a hundred yards away, but they were a common sight, so the four carried on, though keeping a wary eye on the distant shark.
They were halfway to East Wallabi when a second shark, a tiger shark and much larger than the first shark, hove into view, coming within a dozen yards in the clear waters, looking far larger than its fifteen-foot length. Lisa glared at it and, after watching it move off and then turn to parallel their course fifty yards away, decided that two sharks was two too many. She jabbed her finger towards it, and then, after making sure she had everyone’s attention, raised her head above water.
As soon as the three guys had raised their heads, Lisa said, “How much farther are we going? That shark seems pretty interested in us, and it’s bigger than the first one. What if more come?”
Trevor nodded. “We could head for East Wallabi and wait ‘em out… but that might mean waiting until after dark. Okay, let’s head back towards Kookaburra so we’ll be close, just in case.”
They reversed course, finning sedately back towards Kookaburra, oblivious to the above-water world, trying to enjoy the spectacular reef and ignore the sharks. The tiger shark was still in view, though now two hundred yards away.
They reached Kookaburra with little concern, though their exit from the water was speedier than it would have otherwise been.
“That was awesome, but I could have done without the sharks,” Lisa said.
Trevor shrugged. “They rarely bother snorkelers unless they’re spear fishing, but that tiger shark did seem kinda curious. Sharks aren’t as dangerous as most people think; as long as there’s no blood in the water, you’re probably safe.”
“Blood in the water? Did any of you guys stop to think that this might be my time of the month?” Three blank looks confirmed that they hadn’t. Lisa rolled her eyes. “Boys,” she said, with a sad shake of her head, as they headed for Kookaburra’s deck shower to wash off the salt.
Click here for an interactive map of the Bahamas, which can be panned, zoomed, etc.
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