Kookaburra, her salon packed with heavy boxes, crates, and bundles of flooring that she’d picked up in Geraldton, cruised slowly north off Steep Point, on a course that would take her past Dirk Hartog Island and to the wide strait into Shark Bay.
It was a beautiful morning; the first glow of dawn colored the eastern horizon, the breeze was warm, and conspiracy was afoot. Joel had the helm, and Shane ambled sleepily out into the cockpit, to report that Trevor was still asleep.
“Good, ‘cause I want to talk to you,” Joel said.
Shane arched an eyebrow. “What about?”
“Mutiny. Keeping Trev away from Carnarvon, to be exact. Remember when we were joking around about marooning him on an island? What about that place you told me about; Rhys Lagoon? Drop him off at the entrance in the Zodiac, then head for Carnarvon to unload, and pick him up the next day. It’s him they’re after, so keeping him out of Carnarvon would be a good idea, I think,” Joel replied.
Shane nodded. “Yeah, I agree, but you know what he’s like. He won’t go for it.”
Joel gave Shane a wicked grin. “Yeah, unless you were going, with or without him. Load some camping gear in the Zodiac, then give him a choice; go with you, or stay aboard. Make sure he knows you’ll go anyway, and will be there all alone if he doesn’t go too.”
Shane blinked. “That’s manipulative, sneaky, and downright bloody underhanded… I like it!”
Joel grinned. “Then I’m taking Kookaburra into Shark Bay via South Passage; we’ll make the turn off Steep Point. Any surprises in there that the charts don’t cover?”
Shane shook his head and pointed at the navigation screen. “Just retrace Kookaburra’s stored route through it, and watch out for currents. I’ll go scout up the camping gear and load the Zodiac,” he said, as Joel began the turn into the narrow confines of South Passage.
Fifteen minutes later, Trevor walked out into the cockpit, glancing around. Even in the dawn light, he could see land on both sides, as well as ahead, where the channel turned to the north. He remembered the strait, which he’d been in before and was unique in the region. “We’re in South Passage,” he remarked, giving Joel a puzzled look.
“Yep, I took the scenic route,” Joel replied, with an innocent smile.
Trevor gave Joel a nod of approval, and then asked, “Where’s Shane?”
Joel took a deep breath. “Looking for some gear.”
Trevor was about to question that, when Shane appeared, backpacks in hand. “G’day, Trev!” he called out cheerily, heading for the Zodiac. “I’m going camping. I don’t want to go alone, as that can be dangerous and lonely, but I’m going. You can come with me, or stay aboard.”
Trevor’s eyes opened wide, and he glanced at Joel in confusion. Joel gave him a shrug. “It’s a good day for a mutiny. I can take Kookaburra in and out of Carnarvon, no problem. Go with Shane, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
It took Trevor a few moments, but he figured out what they were up to. “You guys want to keep me out of Carnarvon.”
“No arguing; I’m going and that’s that. I want you to come with me, but it’s your choice,” Shane announced.
Trevor smiled, and shrugged. “Okay, I see I’m outvoted. So, why don’t we call my uncle and see what he thinks? If he wants me to stay away, I’ll go. If he wants me to go to Carnarvon, we all go, then go camping later.”
Two blond heads whipped around to stare at Trevor, and then Shane said to Joel, “He knows something. It’s rare indeed for Trev to know much of anything, but him wanting to ask his uncle instead of arguing seems to be proof. So, rare that it is, he knows something.”
Trevor grinned. “Yep, Uncle Greg made it clear he wants me in Carnarvon. He won’t say why over the phone, but it’s important. Call him yourself and see. Actually, I’m supposed to call him when we enter Shark Bay, so I’ll call now, and you guys can talk to him too.”
Joel gave Trevor a suspicious look, and then sighed. “Mutiny postponed.”
By the time the call was over, they were eighty miles from Carnarvon, heading directly for Ned’s dock. As Trevor had known, Greg Fowler needed him.
It was just after one in the afternoon when Kookaburra approached Ned’s dock, where Fowler and Ned were waiting.
After mooring, Ned went aboard Kookaburra to inspect the cargo, while Fowler pulled Trevor, Shane, and Joel aside.“We’ve planned a bit of a surprise for that flying whatever-he-is. As it turns out, he’s the one who installed Ned’s security system. Ned and I set up some motion sensors, so we now have an independent means of keeping an eye on things. Yesterday, we had an expert from the Federal Police in, and he’s set it up so that we can play camera tapes and have it look like the live feed. The long and the short of it is, we want to get some tape of Trev working on Atlantis, and then play it over the monitoring service when we’re ready.”
Trevor nodded. “Sounds good. I guess the camera covering this area is off right now?” he asked.
Fowler shook his head. “No, it’s going out live, and don’t look at the cameras, just ignore them. I got a package from Fleet Base West today; a copy of that tracking device they removed from Kookaburra, which they’ve turned off. It’s installed in the yacht you’re moored next to. The experts said it’s got a range of, at most, two hundred sixty kilometers, and that’s if the receiver is in an aircraft at high altitude. We think our target is in the Melbourne area right now, so he can’t pick up the signal unless he comes back. We can’t rule out him having accomplices though, so we have to behave as if he’s here.”
“What do I need to do?” Trevor asked.
Fowler smiled. “We’re set up at Atlantis to do some taping. We’re going to make it look like you’re working on her. We’ll do some today and some tomorrow. Shane can be in some of the shots, but Joel can’t; it may be known that he’s heading home soon. Oh, by the way, we’ll be taking some shots of you working dockside on Kookaburra; Ned will put up some work tarps and such.”
Shane grinned. “So that’s why Ned wants to paint Atlantis like Kookaburra; so you can pull a switch. It’ll look like Trevor is working on Atlantis, not Kookaburra.”
“Got it in one, Shane,” Fowler confirmed, though leaving out the rest of the plan due to knowing that Trevor might object.
Trevor snickered. “Mom used to swap the boats, so I guess it runs in the family,” he said, and then grinned at his uncle.
Fowler laughed. “I hadn’t thought of it like that. Oh, and by the way, seeing as how we’re family and all, I took the liberty of making you an appointment for tomorrow morning with Dr. Babcott. You seem to have forgotten to call her like you’re supposed to.”
Trevor cringed. “I, uh, with so much going on, I blew it off. I’m okay, really. I can’t really talk to her anyway; I told her my mom was dead, and it was Mom showing up in Geraldton that triggered a panic attack, the last one I’ve had. Just how the hell would I explain that?” Trevor asked.
Fowler smiled. “I’m sure you’ll think of something. And by the way, it’s your mother who pressed me to do this, so if I were you, I’d give her a ring and let her know the problem.”
Trevor took the unsubtle hint. “I’ll call her tonight. Okay, what do we need to do now?”
Fowler nodded at Kookaburra. “Ned should be done checking the shipment soon, so you and Shane go gather up some work clothes, as many as you can, whatever you’d wear if you were really working on Atlantis. A couple of different pairs of shoes would be good, too. You’ll need to change a few times, to make it look like different days. Bring them in a suitcase or bag.”
Joel hung back to talk to Fowler while Trevor and Shane walked back towards Kookaburra. They’d only gone a few yards when Shane’s brow furrowed. “Maybe you best pack for me; even someone as dense as Ned might figure it out if he sees we’re sharing a cabin, and we do need Ned’s help, for a while.”
Trevor sighed. “Good point… Except I think you’ve got it backwards. You pack for both of us, while I go talk to Ned. It’s either that, or you get to talk to Ned.”
Shane nodded. “Yeah, that would not be good. I was going to just sit in my old cabin for a while, but you probably need to talk to Ned anyway.”
They found Ned in the salon, notebook in hand, carefully inspecting Atlantis’s new stove. “So far, so good,” he said, as Trevor joined him. Ned glanced at Shane as he walked past, glaring at him for a moment, and then returning his attention to Trevor. “I see the boxes have been opened; I’m hoping you did that, and they didn’t come that way.”
Trevor nodded. “Yeah, we wanted to make sure everything was okay, so we had a look. The radar is missing a cable that’s on its parts list, but that’s all we’ve found wrong.”
“You’re thorough, I like that,” Ned said, with an approving nod.
“I’ll let Shane know you approve; it was his idea, and he noticed the missing cable,” Trevor said, with an innocent smile. In truth, they’d both thought of it, but Trevor couldn’t resist the dig.
Ned snorted. “Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day,” he said, as Shane walked past, with one of Joel’s empty suitcases in hand, heading first for his former cabin to pretend to pack some clothes.
Half an hour later, they arrived at the tent over Atlantis and Trevor rushed in to see his beloved boat. What he saw shocked him; at first glance, from his position near the stern, she looked worse than before; her hulls sanded to fiberglass in places. She was bedecked with electrical cords, and her decks were littered with tools, tarps, and all manner of equipment.
“She looks worse than she is,” Ned said, having read Trevor’s look. “The new wiring is in; a whole new wiring harness. Every inch of wire has been replaced, and all the plumbing as well. The hulls are ready for a new paint job, just as soon as I finish the bows installation.”
Trevor walked forward, instantly spotting the new bows. He walked to the join, where he stood for a moment, running his hand over the sanded section of hull. “Looks good, I can’t feel where the new pieces meet. That was fast; I figured it would take you a while to make the new ones.”
Ned fidgeted for a moment. “I, ah, I already had the molds set up and prepped before we spoke. I figured you’d want the 57 bows. The ones I made are every bit as good as what comes from the factory. Actually, they’re better; I used extra Kevlar cloth, plus I reinforced the prow edge; there’s stainless steel mesh in there. The bows each weigh about six kilos more than a factory one, but they’re stronger, too.”
“I love ‘em – thanks,” Trevor said, caressing the port bow.
Joel, who had climbed aboard, stumbled into the salon. “Holy fuck!” he exclaimed, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Trev, the inside is gutted.”
Trevor scrambled up and joined Joel in the salon. “I forgot you hadn’t seen her. She looks better than when I got here. The fucking pirates stripped her, and what they didn’t take, I had to; I used flooring and roofing for sails, wiring for rigging, anything I could get my hands on. I had to patch up the bullet holes with tape; she was one hell of a mess.”
“Jesus…” Joel muttered, looking around. “You told me about it, but seeing her… shit. And then you had to cross an ocean. Damn.”
Ned walked in to join them, and led the way to the galley. “Not just any ocean; he was in the Southern Ocean much of the way. I want to show you two something,” Ned said, as he reached up and opened a Plexiglas hatch. “I had to replace the seals on all the windows and hatches; most of them were damaged. I rang a friend of mine who’s an engineer, and he said that for this kind of seal to be blown in like it was, you’d have had to have around ten or more meters of water above it.”
Trevor shuddered, remembering the wave. “I probably did.”
Joel stared up at the hatch and blanched. “How could you have that much water over the boat?”
“I was in a massive storm in the Southern Ocean and got hit by a rogue wave. I didn’t see it, but I heard it coming. Atlantis was a submarine for a few seconds.”
Ned nodded. “She got you here though, she’s a good boat, and she’ll be better than she ever was when I’m done.”
Eager to change the subject away from the Southern Ocean, Trevor returned to the salon, where he inspected the new main windows. “These look good, Ned,” he said.
“Aye, and they’re stronger than the originals, and I reinforced the frames in places.”
Joel leaned in for a look. “They’re thicker than they were. Almost like bulletproof glass.”
Ned smiled. “They are bulletproof; they’re polycarbonate, and this thickness is what they make bulletproof glass out of.”
The tour for Trevor and Joel went on, with Ned showing what he was doing in every section of the boat.
Shane, by his own volition, had remained with Fowler, just outside the tent. He fidgeted for a moment, glancing around that section of Ned’s yard, which was littered with all manner of boat parts. “How does Ned keep from being overrun by rats? It can’t be easy; they do seek their own kind.”
Fowler rolled his eyes. “Don’t you dare say that within Ned’s earshot.” Fowler glanced at the tent, and said quietly, “Keeping your distance from Ned? Or do you just miss my company?”
Shane chuckled. “Keeping my distance. You know how it is between me and Ned.”
Fowler nodded. “Wise choice, though I don’t think he’d say much around Trev; Trev’s his customer, and I know Trev has told him to lay off more than once.”
Shane shrugged. “That’s what I’m trying to avoid. I don’t want to get in the way of Atlantis being repaired. I just hope Ned doesn’t cause trouble while we’re shooting the videos; you said I should be in some of them, right?”
Fowler lowered his voice. “Yes, though not as many as Trev. We just need to make it look like you two are part of the refit process, and I felt it’d look best if both of you are about. If Ned causes any grief, just ignore him for a second and let me deal with him. I’ll be right there the whole time.”
“Thanks,” Shane said, giving Fowler a smile.
The procedure was simple enough; Officer Grundig was ensconced in Ned’s office, along with a technical expert from the Federal Police. There, they would make tapes of the camera feed from the camera aimed at Atlantis, and, while doing so play a looped tape of the tent they’d made earlier in the day over the feed to the monitoring company.
With some help from Trevor, Shane, and Joel, to load a forklift, Ned ran several loads of decking material from Kookaburra, placing it beside the main opening to Atlantis’s tent.
Ned handed Trevor and Shane each a tool belt. “Okay, carry some of the flooring bundles aboard, then make like you’re working inside; the camera can’t see any of the boat’s interior spaces.”
Trevor and Shane, in shorts, shirts, shoes and tool belts, each took an end of the first heavy flooring bundle, and manhandled it aboard, placing it in the salon. They did a second one, and then Ned, who was standing inside but out of the camera’s sight, said, “Okay. Go out and get changed, then Trevor, you and I will do a bundle, then make like we’re messing with the engines via the deck hatches.”
“Anything useful I can do?” Shane asked without thinking, realizing too late that he’d just set himself up for some vitriol from Ned.
“You? Useful? That’d be a first. If you really want to help, go soak your damn head.”
Trevor’s mouth began to open as he whipped his head around to glare at Ned, but Fowler’s booming voice pierced the tent wall first. “Ned, enough of that. Shane is helping with a government investigation, and that makes him my responsibility. He asked a civil question, so give him a civil answer.”
“Fine,” Ned muttered, and then in a pleasant voice accompanied by a hateful glance, said, “Just get changed ready, Shane, we’ll need you again soon.”
“Will do,” Shane replied, in a cheerful tone, while climbing down and exiting the tent.
As soon as he was outside with Fowler and Joel, Shane mouthed a silent, “Thank you,” to Fowler, who smiled in acknowledgment.
Shane opened the two suitcases, and then quickly stripped to his boxers as he asked, “Anything in particular I should wear?”
Fowler shook his head, and then shrugged. “Just whatever you’d wear to do the actual work. Mix and match a lot; we’re going to edit the tapes to make it look like a few hours of work a day on the boat’s interior. ”
Shane nodded, pulling on a pair of denim shorts and then the tool belt. “It’s warm weather, so I’ll skip a shirt sometimes.”
“Good, but sometimes wear one then take it off. Comb your hair sometimes, then comb it differently others, then muss it up while inside the boat. Oh, and here,” Fowler said, handing Shane a spray bottle of water. “Take this in with you, then use it before exiting sometimes, to make it look like you’ve worked up a sweat.”
Trevor emerged from the tent, and said, “Ned said to send Shane in for some shots of just the two of you while I change.” Trevor smiled at Shane, who headed inside, and then Trevor stripped to his boxers before pulling on boardies and the tool belt. “I’ve been thinking…”
“Uh oh, that’s both rare and bad,” Joel quipped, giving Trevor a grin.
“Shut up,” Trevor replied, with a grin of his own, before continuing to Fowler, “We want to make it look like we’re working on Atlantis, so one way to do that would be to actually do it; do some real work on the outside of the boat. We could do it over a few days, going in and out so it could be made to look like we’re working inside and out.”
Fowler shook his head. “Sorry Trev, but having you around that long is a risk; the whole idea is to get the flying imposter to come snooping around. We think he’ll disarm the alarm so he can come in unhindered, not knowing we’ve got a backup system in place. That’ll let the police nab him. However, if you’re really here, it’s too much of a risk.”
Joel arched an eyebrow. “You’d be putting Shane at risk too,” he said, knowing that by pointing that out, it would dissuade Trevor.
Trevor scowled, and then with a sigh, replied, “Okay, bad idea. I guess I just hate not being here; I want to help rebuild Atlantis. Still though… what if we worked just an hour or two on the hull, in short bits?”
Fowler thought about it for a moment, and then used his cell to call the technical expert in Ned’s office, to run the idea past him. When he was done with the call, Fowler announced, “He likes it, so sounds good to me.”
In the tropical hills of Haiti, Bridget was in a pensive mood. Her face was still bandaged, and the tightening of her skin from the facelift and the swelling was hindering her ability to speak, resulting in her voice sounding slightly slurred.
It took concentration and effort to overcome the pain and the temporary impairment to her speech, but she persevered. Suffering from the heat, she walked the compound’s grounds, talking on her cell phone for hours on end.
When she was finally done for the day, she stopped by to see Billy, who had emerged from his surgery just a few hours before. The two of them, along with the surgeon and a housekeeper, plus several armed guards, were the compound’s only occupants.
“What happens now?” Billy asked.
“We heal. When we are passable to have our photos taken for our new documents, that will be done, and then we travel. Afterwards, you shall have a very rewarding position with Sanchez’s operation in the Bahamas,” Bridget said, with her usual haughty air.
After she left Billy, Bridget returned to her rooms. She glanced out at the verdant hills, thinking of the millions of dollars she’d had to leave behind in Florida safe deposit boxes, now forever lost to her. For the first time in days, and in spite of the pain it caused her, she began to smile.
Trevor’s appointment with Dr. Babcott was surreal for him in many ways. He had called his mother the night before, and she had given her blessing to disclosing the truth to the doctor.
Trevor, fidgeting in a chair, had given his account of his most recent panic attack, triggered by his mother’s arrival dockside in Geraldton.
When Trevor finished, Dr. Babcott gave him the strangest of looks. “Trevor, to be quite honest, I don’t blame you for doubting your sanity at that point. Had I not been warned by Officer Fowler – who also mentioned that he’s your uncle – that you may well say something I’d have a hard time believing, I’d be very doubtful of your veracity. You were in a very fragile state of mind, and the last thing you needed was a shock of that magnitude. I… the sudden arrival of your supposedly long-dead mother, especially as your trauma involved almost dying at sea, which you believed is what killed her, I… I’m not often at a loss for words. I suppose it may have been cathartic in a way, but a dreadful shock nonetheless. Now, I must ask, how have you been since? Any other panic attack onset symptoms? Any high-stress situations?”
“I don’t remember any symptoms, but I didn’t even think of it when we had a problem…” Trevor went on to explain about the imposter reporter and the encounter off East Wallabi, and the suspicion that he was a hired killer.
“Oh my,” Dr. Babcott said, her face pallid. “I suppose… I suppose it’s a good sign that you had no onset symptoms. I do advise avoiding stress as much as possible, as such events are, well, difficult to deal with.”
Trevor noted Dr. Babcott’s stumbling words, and nodded. “I think you’ve got a good idea how this makes me feel.”
Dr. Babcott regained her composure, and began a standard discussion therapy session with Trevor. In the end, she could only offer a repeat of her opinion; that Trevor needed to avoid severe stress. She did however acknowledge that Trevor’s lack of symptoms at East Wallabi was a strong sign of improvement.
While Trevor was at his doctor’s appointment, Shane and Joel, shirtless in the hot sun, walked to the supermarket. En route, Shane showed Joel Robinson Street – the divided road that was Carnarvon’s main street and heart – and some of the sights of Carnarvon, including pointing out the tree Trevor had walked into.
When they reached the supermarket, Joel’s first stop was the beer aisle, where he stocked up – they’d run out the night before Lisa’s flight.
Next, they shopped for food, and soon ended up in the fresh produce section. Shane picked out some onions and other vegetables, and then, as casually as he could manage, tossed two large bunches of fresh carrots into a bag and placed it into the cart.
Joel arched an eyebrow. “Um, carrots? Just so you know, neither Trev or I like ‘em.”
Shane chuckled. “Trev likes what I do with them, trust me. See what you think, and if you like them, I’ll give you the recipe. I call it ‘carrot surprise’. And speaking of, I need some whiskey for it, just for flavor. Do you like drinking whiskey? If so, I’ll get more than one small bottle. We had to delay our New Year’s Eve party due to being at sea, so I figure we’ve got some catching up to do once we’re at Rhys Lagoon.”
Joel shrugged. “Beer is my favorite, but I’ll drink whiskey and coke. Whiskey and carrots? Now I’m really curious. What’s in it?”
“You’ll see,” Shane promised, and then diverted Joel’s attention to the frozen food section.
“Before we get the frozen stuff, let’s get some Vegemite. I’ve gotten to like it while I’ve been here, and you’ve shown me that it’s great for cooking, too. I’ve never seen it back home, so I want to take a few jars.”
A dry wind blew, rustling the palm fronds, green against the haze-blue sky over Grand Bahama Island. Gonzalez glanced out at the sea, its placid blue tainted by the haze. For a long moment, he contemplated the scene, feeling that a car stuck in the mud would be a perfect metaphor for his existence at that particular moment in time.
He smoothed his ruffled hair, quickening his pace along the pitted concrete path, heading for his rendezvous. For Gonzalez, the trip to the Bahamas had been discomforting on many levels, not the least of which was his current attire; shorts and a polo shirt, for he’d been advised that wearing his accustomed suits would make him stand out like a sore thumb in the Bahamas. Instead, he dressed to fit his guise of a tourist.
Gonzalez had never worked undercover. Ostensibly, his trip to the Bahamas was a fool’s errand; three days of flashing cash and asking questions around Freeport while showing the pictures Henry had taken of Sanchez during his visit to Bridget in Florida and asking pointed questions about the corruption of the local police force, had yielded precisely nothing, save for the enmity of the local police, who had soon figured out what Gonzalez was.
The fact that his cover was an open secret had been forcefully pounded home to him just three hours before, when a DEA agent, working openly with the Bahamian government, had left a message containing his actual name and position at Gonzalez’s hotel, using Gonzalez’s real name rather than his cover, and requested a meeting.
With reluctance, Gonzalez approached the rendezvous; a torrid little cafe, on a decrepit street a block back from the sea. The main room, sweltering and crowded, opened out onto a dingy patio, bedecked with frayed and faded umbrellas. There, the air was at least pleasant, though it was quite alone in that regard.
“Gonzalez,” a voice called out, and, as Gonzalez turned, he saw an overweight, red-haired, perspiring man, with worn wire-rimmed glasses framing a cherubic though slightly sinister face. The man waved, beckoning for Gonzalez to join him. They had that side of the patio to themselves, aside from the flies.
Gonzalez took a seat, and the man offered his hand. “I’m Alan Sharpton, DEA liaison. I’d been told that the Florida guys were sending an undercover officer. You should have worked via me; all you’ve managed to do, as far as I can see, is piss off the local police by slinking around and asking questions, some of which imply that you suspect them. They don’t take kindly to snoops, and your cover is a poor one, especially as you saw fit to pay for your room with your real credit card, and when you arrived at the airport, you were traveling under your real passport. The locals were going to bring you in for questioning; I only managed to head that off by telling them who you really are, and that you’re going to be working with me. You can’t just go charging around the island like a bull in a china shop, Gonzalez; these people insult very easily. I can also tell you that you’re barking up the wrong tree; the only thing you’d find on this island would be the low level operatives, not the big bosses.”
Gonzalez pondered the man for a moment, before asking quietly, “Do you know what I’m looking for?”
The cherubic man snorted, and took a slow drink before replying, “Me, and everybody else. You were even on TV a time or two, so it’s well known you’re leading the Bellevue case, and that she fled to the Bahamas. It’s glaringly obvious that you’re after her, and are trying to run down leads to the cartel to lead you to them, and thus her. However, the way you’re going about it, it’ll be a race to see who turns on you first; the local police or the cartel. I’m guessing the former, because you aren’t even warm on the latter. That photo you’ve been flashing is a low-level guy who runs messages for whoever pays him. I’ve been here for six years, Gonzalez. I know the ground. I also know that the cartel has its tentacles into a lot of things, including some aspects of the Bahamian government. I don’t know where Bellevue is, but I do know this; you won’t find her blundering around like you are.”
“I’m open to suggestions,” Gonzalez said.
“My advice is to go home. Failing that, try Bimini. However, I know of two past cases where the cartel had to deal with a hunted fugitive, and sent them on to other areas; in one case Jamaica, in the other, the Dominican Republic. They have networks in both places. Very well-connected networks; they have the local authorities in their pockets. If I were you, I’d let Interpol and the Feds handle it, but if not, at least wait for a lead.”
Gonzalez glanced around the seedy patio. “Maybe I like it here. I need a vacation.”
“Yeah, right. Suit yourself, and I’ll help in any way I can. Just… quit asking the locals about connections between the local authorities and the drug runners. That’s really pissing off the local cops, and that makes my job harder.”
Gonzalez glanced around; he’d already noted that the nearby tables had been kept empty. He’d also noticed a man inside, seated beside a window, who glanced away every time Gonzalez looked. “You picked our meeting spot so the local cops wouldn’t know, right?”
“I picked this place for our meeting for the food, believe it or not. Best local fare in the area, and cheap as hell.” He lowered his voice to a whisper, and added, “One of the guys seated inside is a local cop. He tailed me here, even though I know the guy and spotted him in an instant. That kind of action is one of their ways of showing they’re pissed.”
Gonzalez hesitated for a moment, and then said quietly, “You know George Alfred was tied up with the cartel, right? He was on the drug task force, and I worked under him for a while. Mind telling me why you didn’t report that you worked with George?” Gonzalez was lying; he’d never worked under George Alfred, nor had George ever mentioned meeting anyone in the Bahamas to Gonzalez.
Sharpton sighed. “Why do you think, Gonzalez? We had lunch a couple of times, and we talked shop; I thought we were on the same team. Would you like to be under suspicion? Anyone who dealt with him is now, you know that. He wouldn’t have mentioned me to you if I was in league with him, now would he? But, that taint would never go away, because there’s no way to prove a negative. Of course I didn’t fucking report it!”
Gonzalez looked at Sharpton’s clenched hands for a moment, before replying, “Yeah, that much we know. You’re worried for nothing; no one has even questioned you, right? I just needed to know why, and yeah, I wouldn’t have volunteered that either. However, there’s something else you should know about; we’re keeping this very quiet, but before Bridget killed George, she tortured him. She used a blowtorch, took her time about it. She knew he was trying to double cross her. The long and the short of it is, I think we’ll be able to find her once she starts settling scores here; just follow the bodies. She’s a serial killer, and I don’t see her changing. She’ll try to take out everyone in George’s old network. We’re pretty sure she had an undercover cop killed right after she left.”
“So she does our job for us? That’d suit me just fine,” Sharpton replied.
Gonzalez glanced at Sharpton’s hands again, seeing that his knuckles were paler. “Let me know if bodies start turning up; that’ll be our clue.” Gonzalez sighed, and then, in a dejected tone, added, “The thing is, I’m worried about innocents being killed. The undercover guy I mentioned wasn’t working with George; he was investigating him while pretending to be on the take. Anyone who knew George, even those like you who weren’t involved with him in anything, might be in danger. So, call me if you hear anything.”
“Do you really think she has operatives here in the islands?” Sharpton asked.
Gonzalez glanced around, as if to check for listeners, before whispering, “I know she does. We found stuff… I can’t say much, but, yeah, she’s got people here. That’s why I’m here.”
The two exchanged numbers, and Gonzalez returned to his hotel. It was all he could do not to smile.
In his home outside of Melbourne, Basingstoke read, and then re-read, his changed instructions from Sanchez. He had always worked alone, and were Sanchez not paying such a huge fee, Basingstoke would have flatly refused. As it was, part of the instructions was to wait until Sanchez’s people arrived.
Basingstoke idly wondered why Sanchez now wanted the boat as well, but put the issue aside; he had a mission to plan. The operational parameters had changed, especially due to the failed attempt at East Wallabi. The target was now alerted. Basingstoke believed they’d seen his plane, and that the authorities had likely been notified.
What Basingstoke needed was information. One of the reasons he’d returned to Melbourne was his extensive contacts with both of the major local crime syndicates; he now had need of their networks of informants. With their help, he believed he would soon have his fears confirmed; his cover as a flying salesman was blown.
Basingstoke pondered the issue, looking for an angle to turn an obstacle into an advantage. He was on his third glass of Shiraz before he saw the means in his mind’s eye.
The afternoon passed in a flurry of taping in Atlantis’s tent, along with some shots of Trevor apparently working on Kookaburra dockside.
After the filming, Trevor took Fowler aside, and voiced his concerns. “Uncle Greg, I really appreciate what you’re trying to do, but please don’t take any chances. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Fowler smiled, and nodded. “Thanks Trev, but I won’t be doing this alone by any means. I’ll be working with two Federal Police officers, four customs agents, plus the local police. If it makes you feel any better, I’m not doing this because you’re my nephew; I’m doing this because I’m an officer of the law.”
“You think he’s a professional killer, don’t you?” Trevor asked, amazed at how easily he’d given voice to the words.
Fowler sighed, taking a moment to decide what he should say. In the end, he decided that Trevor had a right to know their concerns. “Maybe. We don’t know, but we think it’s a possibility. That’s why there’s so much official interest in catching him. The other possibility is he’s after your boat for some reason, which the security cameras he set up seem to indicate. We don’t know which boat though, Atlantis or Kookaburra, and we don’t know why. They searched Kookaburra carefully after finding that transmitter, and Ned has examined Atlantis, but we’ve turned up nothing. It might be a case of somebody thinking something is aboard that isn’t. Or, you may well be the target, which would also fit. We just don’t know, so we have to assume both cases and prepare accordingly.”
Trevor took a deep breath. “Would we be safer off Kookaburra? We could stay on the farm, or go camping somewhere, or maybe take a train trip.”
“That’s been discussed, and there are conflicting opinions. The farm is out; it’s a known location that’s connected to you. Having you out and about in public is dangerous, due to you being famous. It’d be too easy for someone to recognize you, and without knowing they were putting you at risk, blab about it on the internet or wherever. So, staying on Kookaburra for the moment isn’t a bad option; it keeps you mobile. We know the type of plane our suspect flies, a Beechcraft Debonair. We’ve got eyes out for it, and we’ll hear if any are traveling anywhere in Western Australia; there aren’t all that many airfields with fuel between the east and west coasts, and we’re pretty sure the suspect is in the Melbourne area. If he comes back, we should have warning.”
Trevor gave Fowler a weak smile. “Thanks. It’s just… even if you get this guy, will this ever end? Or will somebody else come after me?”
“That’s one of the reasons we want to get him; to find out who sent him, why, and what he’s after.”
“What if he won’t tell you?” Trevor asked.
Fowler sighed. “If he’s killed before, we can’t very well offer him much of a deal in return for information. We have some good interrogators though, so I think there’s a good chance that between interrogations and whatever we find on him, we can figure this out, and then we’ll know what to do. Hopefully, this will be over soon,” Fowler said, with more conviction than he felt.
“Did that money Joel had turn up anything?” Trevor asked.
“Traces of cocaine, as we thought. They are keeping the bills as evidence for the time being, just in case, but they are reimbursing for the amount.”
Trevor shook his head. “How about just depositing it to Joel’s account? Lisa and Joel need that more than I do.”
“They’d need the account details, and I don’t know how that would work with a foreign account. It might be easier to deposit it to yours here, and then you give Joel cash.”
“He’ll argue, but okay,” Trevor replied.
“It should be in well before you take Joel to Perth. Are you and Shane still going to circumnavigate Australia after that?” Fowler asked.
Trevor shrugged. “That’s up to you. I’m nervous staying, but I’m also nervous about going.”
“What I’d prefer is for you to keep in Shark Bay for a few days, until Atlantis is painted and afloat, and looking like Kookaburra. We need to keep you out of sight until we nail this suspect, so delay starting your route until then. If that prevents you from taking Joel to Perth, I’ve checked; there’s a flight from Carnarvon down to Perth that he could take, it’d put him there two hours before his flight home.”
Trevor scowled. He felt hunted, and knew he would no matter where he went. “He found us before; I’m worried he can do it again. What I’d really like is to have my gun back,” Trevor said.
Fowler shook his head. “Sorry, that’s out of my hands. I sent it to the customs office in Sydney after confiscating it, as you can’t legally have it back until you’re about to leave your last Australian port of call.”
“Gee, I hope hit men here obey your gun laws too,” Trevor said, in a sarcastic tone. The loss of his gun still stung him; as he saw it, it was absurd that he was expected to be unarmed while a killer was likely stalking him. However, he saw the hurt look on his uncle’s face, and quickly added, “Sorry, I know it’s not your fault. It’s just… They’ve tried to kill me twice already, and whatever went down at East Wallabi might have been the third try. I’ve got Shane and Joel to worry about too. Joel is leaving soon, and I tried to send Shane away, but he won’t go.”
Fowler blinked. He knew what Shane meant to Trevor, and also that Trevor was safer if not alone. It was obvious that Trevor had been trying to trade his own safety to protect Shane. “I want you safe as well, Trev. We’ll get this… whatever the hell he is. That’s the best way. The Jindalee radar covers this area very well, and they’re watching for any unusual air activity. There are only a couple of places he can refuel along the southern coast route; we’ve got people watching all of them, and we’re setting a trap here. We’ll get him, one way or another.”
Trevor looked out at the sea, dark blue under an azure sky. The day was bright, yet Trevor saw only the darkness of the water. He wondered, yet again, if he’d missed his chance at East Wallabi.
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