Three days after their meeting in Nassau, Frank Tittle and Mike Gonzalez put their plan in motion.
Their main need was to get the DEA agent, Alan Sharpton, to a meeting place of their choosing, and make sure he was alone. That part had been the easiest; Gonzalez had phoned his new State Attorney, who in turn had called in a favor with the DEA; Sharpton would be summoned to an apparently routine meeting at the United States Embassy in Nassau.
The State Attorney had managed, barely, to avoid implying that Sharpton was suspected of anything; the excuse he’d given for the meeting was to ask Sharpton’s help in a very confidential setting.
Sharpton, they all hoped, would arrive none the wiser, for surprise was a key part of their plan.
The Coast Guard had provided an office for Gonzalez to use, and so Gonzalez, alone, waited in the embassy lobby for Sharpton to appear.
Sharpton, right on time, strolled in, heading for the main desk. Gonzalez intercepted him, and with a disarming smile, said, “Hello again, Sharpton. I’m afraid it’s me you’re here to meet. Your agency owes my boss a few favors, and you’re one of ‘em.”
“Gonzalez,” Sharpton replied, an irritated scowl spreading across his florid face. “I’m not inclined to be part of your fiasco.”
Gonzalez shrugged. “That’s between you and your agency, but… I’ll tell you what, I’ll make it your call; listen to what we have to say, then if you want out, fine, we’ll carry on without you.”
“We?” Sharpton inquired, arching an eyebrow.
“We,” Gonzalez confirmed, motioning for Sharpton to follow him.
“Who are we meeting?” Sharpton huffed, as he struggled to keep up with Gonzalez’s swift pace.
“You’re about to find out,” Gonzalez replied, opening the door to the Coast Guard office he’d arranged to use.
Sharpton ambled into the room, immediately spotting its sole occupant; a man in a suit, sitting at the meeting table, his arms crossed. “Sit down, Sharpton. Gonzalez, close the door and lock it.” He then locked eyes with Sharpton, giving him a menacing stare.
Sharpton slowly sat down before asking, in an irritated tone, “Who are you?”
“Special federal prosecutor Jason Johnson, and I’m here at the request of the deputy director of the FBI. We have an operation planned, and we need your assistance,” Frank Tittle said, while drumming his fingers on the table. “The thing is, we need your willing assistance. If we don’t get it, we’ll proceed on our own, and we won’t hold it against you.”
Sharpton nodded once, and then glanced briefly at Gonzalez, who had taken a seat next to him, before replying, “I’m listening.”
Frank regarded Sharpton with a predatory smile. “It’s a very simple operation, conceptually. We’re after this man,” he said, sliding a photograph across the table, face down. It was one of the shots Henry had taken at Bridget’s dock.
Sharpton flipped the photo over, and blinked. “Oh, him. Like I told Gonzalez, he’s just a messenger who hangs around Freeport.”
Frank nodded, and in a quiet, deadly tone, replied, “He’s our target. One of the reasons we called you away from Freeport is so we could put our operation into play; I have several agents asking around, with that picture, looking for leads. Oh, and I hope you don’t mind, but to help with the locals, they’re using your name as both a reference, and naming you as the source of the suspect’s moniker and details.”
Sharpton paled visibly, but maintained a steady, businesslike tone. “I don’t want my name used; you don’t understand the local dynamics here; this could undo much of my good work with the local –” Sharpton’s words were cut off by the sound of Frank’s knuckles cracking.
Frank leaned back, and in a neutral, offhand tone, continued, “The name they are giving out in Freeport, as we speak, is Sanchez, and they’re describing him as the head of a major cartel drug running and money laundering operation. He’s one of the cartel’s top people. Oh, and I ought to mention, they’re spreading the news that you’re up for a promotion thanks to cracking this case. I think you’ll find a whole new level of regard, once you return to Freeport.”
Sharpton trembled, and then replied, in a poor try at a businesslike tone, “I want my name kept out of this, I had nothing to do with–”
Frank’s fist slammed down onto the table with a sharp thud, the sound all the louder in the confined space. “I don’t give a flying fuck what you want,” he yelled, coming out of his seat and jabbing an accusing finger at Sharpton. “Let’s call this a test. If you really had no way of knowing who Sanchez is, then you’ll return to Freeport and get credit for something you didn’t do. If, on the other hand, Sanchez knows that you’ve known all along who he is, he’ll think you shopped him for a promotion, and maybe he won’t be too happy.” Frank stormed around the end of the table and leaned down, nose to nose with the seated Sharpton, and yelled, “One way or the other, we’ll find out, and that’s all I care about.”
Sharpton had few doubts as to the form Sanchez’s displeasure would take. He swallowed once, and replied, “I, uh, I’m not going back to Freeport.”
Gonzalez casually put his arm across Sharpton’s shoulders. “Actually, yeah, you are. The Coast Guard has a boat standing by; they’re taking you directly to Freeport. I’ve made damn sure you can’t leave once you’re there. So, our people in Freeport will keep a very close eye on you, just to see what happens. Maybe you could call Sanchez and let him know this is all a setup? I’ll even let you use my phone, right now; it’ll be every bit as private as anything you’ll be able to do from Freeport, which is not at all.”
“You can’t do this,” Sharpton blurted.
Gonzalez smiled, cold and deadly. “Oh, we are doing it. I’ll throw you on the damn boat if I have to, but you’re going. You’ll be fine if you’re innocent, but we both know you’re not. I wonder how they’ll do it. They fed Henry Wesson to alligators, and Henry was a good friend of mine. I wouldn’t mind seeing you go the same way, but there aren’t any alligators in the Bahamas. I’m sure they’ll come up with something equally imaginative.”
“You can’t, you’d be a party to murder!” Sharpton said, his voice shaking.
“Only if you’re guilty, and who can blame me for assuming you’re innocent?” Gonzalez replied.
Frank glared at Sharpton. “This is my call; I’m in charge, and I say you’re going. Your death won’t trouble me at all, you traitorous sack of shit.” Frank glanced at Gonzalez, and said, “Enough of this; take him to the boat.”
“Wait,” Sharpton gasped, as Gonzalez hauled him to his feet. “What do you want, a confession?”
Frank shook his head. “Understand this; I’m after bigger fish, and using you as bait serves my purposes on several levels, so I don’t give a fuck if you confess; what’s about to happen to you is worse than anything I could do in court. However, I’ll offer you a deal, good only until you leave this room; you tell us everything you know, and then help us get Sanchez and Bellevue, and I’ll let you walk after a couple of years. However, if you lie or leave anything out, or I even think you do, it’s off to Freeport you go, and I’ll let the cartel take care of the problem.”
Sharpton, sweating profusely, nodded, and then stammered, “Okay, okay, but… I want to walk after we’re done, no jail time.”
Gonzalez yanked Sharpton’s arm and yelled, “You’re not getting off that easy, you corrupt sack of –”
Frank held up his hand. “My call, Gonzalez, I’m in charge here.” Turning his attention to Sharpton, Frank said, in a careful, solemn tone, “If, and only if, you help us get what we’re after, and we do get ‘em, I’ll grant you full immunity for anything that you disclose to me. On that, you have my word as a special prosecutor of the United States of America.”
All it took was one tug from Gonzalez towards the door, and Sharpton blurted, “Okay, I’ll take it, just keep me out of Freeport and get me out of the Bahamas; they’ll kill me!”
Frank nodded, and sat down. “Very well. What you’re going to do now is tell us everything,” Frank said, pulling a recorder from his pocket and setting it down. “Speak clearly, and leave nothing out.” Frank glanced at Gonzales. “Have a seat, officer, but… let the Coast Guard know to keep the boat ready, just in case former agent Sharpton has second thoughts.”
Frank began the interview, which took over two hours. By the end of it, they’d learned that Sharpton had coordinated with George a few times, alerting him to drug interdiction operations. Sharpton also detailed how he served as a cartel ear in the DEA’s local operations. Sharpton was holding nothing back.
Finally, Frank was able to ask the question he’d been waiting for. “Tell us everything about Sanchez, starting with where he is.”
Sharpton sighed. “I don’t know, I swear. The cartel is very compartmentalized. I’ve only ever met Sanchez once, two years ago. All I know beyond that is rumors; he’s got a base of operations somewhere else in the islands, but he doesn’t run product through there. He’s got guards, weapons, and he has to have the connivance of the local authorities wherever he’s at, to at least turn a blind eye to him.”
Frank considered that, and then asked, “Tell us everything you’ve heard, starting with a location – and don’t leave out any details.”
Sharpton shrugged, and shook his head. “I wish I knew… That’s all I have.”
“We’ll talk again later, Sharpton. In the meantime, you’ll be occupying the brig of the Coast Guard cutter that’s in port,” Frank said.
Gonzalez took the cue, and opened the door. Two Coast Guard seamen walked in, and stood at parade rest. Gonzalez had made arrangements with the Coast Guard to hold Sharpton, and putting him in the brig was the best way he knew to cut off any chance he might have of getting a message out.
Frank waved his hand, signaling the Coast Guard seamen to take Sharpton away.
As soon as they’d gone, Gonzalez gave Frank an approving nod, and chuckled. “Like I was saying – lawyers and con artists; two sides of the same coin.”
Frank smiled. “I’ll ignore the insult – this time. That went well, but he doesn’t know what we need,” he said, raising his hand to scratch under his hairpiece, which had been itching. He’d worn it due to the slight risk that Sharpton might have seen him on TV.
Gonzalez smiled back. “Yeah, actually, he does, he just doesn’t know it yet. He told us how he makes contact; via one of Sanchez’s people in Freeport. Let’s keep him on ice for a couple of days so we can plan this out and get the timing right, then I’ll take him to Freeport, to make contact one last time.”
What they’d told Sharpton about agents in Freeport was a lie, but Sharpton didn’t know that, so Frank asked, “Think he’ll do it?”
Gonzalez smiled, though there was anger in his eyes. “Yeah, he’ll do it, if we do it right.”
All things must end, and so it was with Joel’s sojourn down under.
The final day had dawned, and at Fowler’s insistence, Kookaburra was moored in Oyster Creek, south of Carnarvon. Fowler would have preferred that Trevor stay away, but in the end he’d acquiesced; Trevor would accompany Joel to Carnarvon’s airport, where he would take a commuter flight to Perth.Shane had said his goodbyes on Kookaburra; he wanted to let the two old friends have some time to themselves.
Upon arriving at the airport, Fowler had checked the tiny terminal – not much bigger than the living room of an average home – and then discreetly stood outside the door, to allow the two friends some privacy to say their goodbyes.
“I’m going to miss you, a lot,” Trevor said, giving Joel a baleful look.
Joel gave Trevor a hug, and then a pat on the back. “I’ve had an awesome time, and I’m going to miss you too. You should still be home in a few months though, right?”
“Yeah. Once Atlantis is ready, we’ll head home. We’ll take the direct route across the Pacific to the Panama Canal. We should be home by mid summer, if not sooner. I just hope they get this guy who’s after me. Uncle Greg is pretty confident though.”
“I hope that’s the end of it,” Joel said.
Trevor sighed, and then shrugged. “With Bridget on the run, and him caught, maybe. I hope so.”
“If they catch him, maybe they can use what he knows to catch Bridget. She’s gotta be somewhere.”
“I’d prefer it if she was nowhere,” Trevor said, in an attempt at humor that fell resoundingly flat. In a darker tone, he added, “How would they get him to talk? Offer him some kind of deal maybe, but… I guess I’ll just try to keep from worrying about it, and see what happens when they get him.”
“Don’t forget, you aren’t alone in this; you’ve got me and Lisa, your father and Jim, and now you’ve got family here in Australia. And you’ve got Shane, who I happen to like a lot,” Joel said, giving Trevor a light punch in the arm.
The flight was called, and with six passengers to board, there was no waiting. Trevor locked hands with Joel, and looked him in the eye. “Have a safe trip, brother. We’ll see you soon.”
The hand clasp lingered, and then, with reluctance, Joel pulled away, and with a final wave of farewell, turned to walk out the door.
Joel took just a single step beyond the door when he saw Fowler between himself and the plane. Joel smiled, and as he approached, said, “Thanks for all you’ve done, and I hope I’ll see you again in a few months.”
Fowler gave Joel a pleasant nod, and then thrust a wad of American banknotes into Joel’s hand, forcing it closed around them. “These are yours; the lab guys are done with ‘em.”
Joel looked at the cash in his hand, momentarily confused, until he remembered the cash Bridget had given them for Trevor’s car. “This is Trev’s, it’s for his car.”
Fowler shook his head. “Trev told me to do this; he said he wants you to have it, but he couldn’t do it himself because you’d argue.”
Joel began to understand, and his eyes narrowed. “Trev set this all up, I know he did.”
Fowler snickered and then glanced back towards the tiny terminal. “Yep, that he did. Now, get on your plane, they’re waiting on you.”
Joel hesitated, and then, after a wave at the terminal, where Trevor stood unseen behind the window, Joel said, “Tell him… Tell him thanks.” Feeling his eyes begin to tear up, Joel turned for the plane, adding over his shoulder, “Please keep him safe.”
“Count on it,” Fowler replied, as Joel climbed the stairs to the plane’s door.
As Joel’s flight climbed out, it began a gradual turn to the south over Shark Bay, giving Joel one last glimpse of Kookaburra, before the plane entered the scattered white clouds.
Trevor was returned to Kookaburra, where he and Shane set course for Boat Haven Loop.
In Haiti, Bridget and Billy were eating a sumptuous lunch on a patio. She glanced at him; his nose was still swollen, as were his cheeks, but the swelling was abating, as was her own. “We are healing nicely,” she said, in a pleasant, convivial tone, before taking another dainty bite of her omelet.
“I hope I look okay,” Billy replied, the concern evident in his voice.
With a dismissive wave, Bridget replied, “The swelling is quite normal, and it is rapidly subsiding. We shall both look very good indeed.”
“What happens now?” Billy asked.
Bridget hesitated for a moment, before replying, “In about three days, we shall have photographs taken of us, for our Caymans passports and driver’s licenses. After we receive them, we will be driven across the border to the Dominican Republic for a flight. We need to avoid American territory and airports that cooperate closely with the U.S. authorities, so our route will be a bit odd, but we will be in Santiago, Chile, a week from today.”
Billy began to smile. “I’ve always wanted to see South America,” he said, his mood much improved. “Is it a long flight?”
“Indeed, the journey shall be most trying; we change planes three times, and arrive in Santiago two days after leaving here,” she replied.
In Florida, Lisa had met Joel’s flight at the airport, and driven him directly to the State Attorney’s office, where two investigators had spent an hour peppering him with questions, and then they interviewed Lisa. It was just procedure, but it had left them both rattled, in more ways than one.
Two days after the interview, they were adapting to the new semester at school, but many of the things Bridget had done still rankled. One of them in particular, which had been divulged by the police at the interview, was fresh in their minds.
Lisa had driven them both that day, so after school, as soon as they left the parking lot, Lisa blurted out, “I fucking hate her… of all the sick and disgusting things, she… she let us have the guesthouse for sex, and bugged it! She was listening, her and that crooked cop, every damn time we… I hate her! She did all that, pretended to be our friend, all so she could kill Trev to frame his father – if that’s even why. I should have known. She was just too damn nice to us. How did I not see it?”
Joel put his arm across Lisa’s shoulders. “I didn’t see it either. It’s easy to see stuff in hindsight, not so easy at the time.”
“Bullshit,” Lisa replied succinctly. “You suspected her way before I did, and I was defending her. I totally screwed up, and I should have listened.”
Joel gave Lisa a one-armed hug. “You did listen, sort of. All I had were hunches. Lisa, I know why you were so defensive of Bridget; she’d become like a mother to you, and thanks to your real mom rejecting you like she did, you were vulnerable. I’m sure Bridget knew that, and used it.”
Lisa clutched the wheel hard enough to turn her knuckles white. “It was easy to not think of it while we were away, but ever since I’ve been back, it’s been eating at me. And… what Trev went through, and is still going through… and what she did to Henry. I liked Henry. That fucking homicidal bitch!”
“Remember that old saying; don’t get mad, get even?” Joel asked.
“Yeah,” Lisa said, her brow furrowing. “But how? She’s gone, probably out of the country, and she’d be insane to come back.”
Joel glanced out at the street, and after thinking for a moment, replied, “I’m not sure. I think the cops will get her eventually; some of the questions they asked me sounded more like preparing for a prosecution than trying to find her. The thing is, we’re not in this alone, so maybe we can figure something out with a little help. How about heading for the chandlery?”
Lisa chewed on her lip. “I’d like to see Mr. Carlson, it’s just...”
Joel knew what she meant. “Same here; we treated him like the enemy for a long time. Still, he’s Bridget’s victim too, and it’d be good to see him again.”
Lisa considered that for a moment. “Okay, you’re right,” she said, pulling into a U-turn lane to head for the chandlery.
When Lisa and Joel approached the chandlery’s door, it was with some trepidation. Lisa took a deep breath, and opened the door, going in first. She spotted Dirk behind the counter, and gave him an awkward smile. “Hi, Mr. Carlson,” she said, with a sheepishly smiling Joel beside her.
“Well hello,” Dirk replied, waving them further inside. “It’s good to see you again, and at least this time, I’m not in a damn dress.”
Joel chuckled. “Yeah, or on the run from the cops,” he said, and then in a serious tone, added, “Our main reason for coming was we want to say we’re sorry for thinking what we did.”
Dirk was eager to put the past behind him in that regard, and nodded. “Apology accepted, but I’m well aware that you weren’t alone in what you thought; the whole damn state thought I was some kind of serial killer.”
“And homophobic,” Joel offered.
A voice from the storage room intruded. “I accuse him of that myself, from time to time,” Jim Ainsworth said, strolling out onto the shop floor. “And I have, ever since we started dating.”
The four chatted for a while, mainly about Australia and how Trevor was doing, and then Jim changed the topic by saying, “I’d like to talk with the two of you, and this is business. Dirk and I are suing the police department and Bridget too; we’re going after her under the civil side of the RICO act. I’ll be representing Trevor too, and if we hit pay dirt, we’re going to set up a memorial charity fund in Henry Wesson’s name. However, you’re amongst her victims too; I know about the bugs in the guesthouse. That is absolutely tortable against her because it’s illegal as hell. So, I’d be happy to take the case, pro bono – which means free.”
Lisa and Joel shared a confused glance, and Joel replied, “Uh, sounds good, but does she have much left? We saw her house… what used to be her house. It’s a rubble pile.”
Jim grinned, in a very predatory way. “The house was free and clear; no mortgage. It was also insured, though the insurance likely won’t cover the damage she caused herself. There is, however, a very large liability rider. She has other assets, well hidden, but some will probably be unearthed eventually. Her two Mercedes survived the fire, as did Trev’s car. All three are in police impound, and will be for a while, but her cars are assets. The property where her house was is quite valuable itself, and the guest house is intact. You’ll both be over eighteen before anything comes of this, but it’ll be worth it. We’re still in the initial phases and I’ll know more soon. I do need to tell you that you would be well advised to consult another lawyer, to make sure we’re giving you a fair shake.”
Lisa and Joel nodded, and Lisa replied, “Sounds great, thanks, but… we’re kind of hoping to find a way to hurt her more than financially.”
Jim sighed. “Same here, and I wish I knew a way. The best thing I can think of is to let the police handle it; maybe she’ll be found overseas and extradited. I don’t see her coming back willingly; she’d be insane to try.”
Lisa arched an eyebrow. “So, we’re safe from her, then?”
“I don’t think she was ever after the two of you; she could have gotten you at any time you were in the guesthouse if she was.”
Lisa angled her head, thinking for a moment, before asking offhandedly, “What if we were able to figure out where she is, and turn her in?”
Jim gave Lisa a puzzled look, and then replied, “She’s got the police, the Feds, and Interpol trying to find her. How could you two do anything they couldn’t?”
Lisa gave Jim a pleasant smile, and a shrug. “Good point.”
Dirk broached a subject he was curious about. “You two were getting married at Bridget’s house, but that plan kind of went up in smoke. Given any thought to alternatives?”
Joel shrugged. “Not really. Maybe my parents’ house.”
Dirk smiled. “The restaurant two doors down sometimes does wedding receptions and other private events. According to Trev, you two are holding the reception first, then getting married on Atlantis and casting off for the honeymoon cruise as soon as you’ve taken your vows. So, how about the restaurant? It’s adjacent to the dock, and if we do it outside of their opening hours, it’d be easy. Joel, you adopted Trev, so I’ll make this my treat, seeing as how you’re family now,” Dirk said, feeling grateful for the help and support Joel had given his son in time of need.”
Lisa and Joel shared a glance, and then Lisa replied for them both, “That sounds great, but that’d cost you a lot. We looked into that stuff before Bridget made her offer.”
Jim chuckled. “Don’t worry about that. It won’t cost much if they don’t have to miss their regular hours; they do like to stay on their landlord’s good side,” he said, angling his head toward Dirk. The restaurant occupied one of the marina buildings he owned.
Lisa and Joel’s eyes met, and a smile passed between them. “We’d like that a lot, thank you,” Joel replied, breaking into a happy grin.
Half an hour later, Lisa and Joel left the chandlery. As they walked away, Joel said, “You’ve got an idea, I know you do. About getting Bridget, I mean.”
Lisa smiled. “Kinda, probably a wild goose chase, but it’d feel good to be doing something to get her. We’ve got one advantage on the cops; we know her, they don’t. We know what she likes; tennis, fine restaurants, fancy stuff of all kinds, and yachts. And she likes anything formal and stuffy. Maybe… Maybe there’s a way. Let’s take a walk and let me think a bit.”
As the week came to an end, Basingstoke viewed, and then replayed, one of his downloads from the security camera feed. Several times, he saw a clear view of Trevor’s face, and watched with interest. Satisfied, Basingstoke closed that window, and then checked his e-mail, where he found an encrypted one from Sanchez. A quick read of the decrypted text was enough to make Basingstoke scowl; Sanchez wanted him to meet his people the day after they arrived, in Sydney.
The thought of taking an unnecessary trip to Sydney while a wanted man infuriated Basingstoke, though only for the moment it took him to realize that Sanchez had no way of knowing where he was, or that Basingstoke was on the authorities’ radar, with a general description known. Basingstoke’s skill at altering his appearance would help, but he could not change it completely.Basingstoke sent Sanchez a reply, asking if the meeting point could be changed to Adelaide.
Ten minutes later, with Basingstoke just about to leave for his afternoon lesson, Sanchez’s reply came in; his people would fly to Adelaide, and check into a hotel the day prior to the meeting, which Basingstoke was asked to arrange.
Running late, Basingstoke hurriedly replied with confirmation, and thanks.
In Carnarvon, it had been a hectic few days. Ned, along with some hired help, had worked non-stop to paint Atlantis, and do it well. Ned was in a hurry, but he would not countenance cutting corners.
It had taken five coats in all; primer/undercoat, first top coat, second top coat, first antifouling, and second antifouling. The antifouling paint – Ned had used the best – was applied only below the waterline on Atlantis’s hulls. Between each coat, the paint had to dry. The drying time had to be calculated, based on the paint type and temperature. For some of the coats, the paint had to be applied within a specified temperature range, which was often exceeded in the afternoon summer heat.
Finally though, Atlantis was ready, and under cover of darkness, they had returned her to the sea, mooring her where Kookaburra had been, at Ned’s dock. The mast and rigging had been restored, so outwardly, she was nearly identical to Kookaburra. Ned carefully installed the copied tracking transmitter in the anchor locker, exactly as it had been on Kookaburra. A quick check with a VHF radio confirmed that it was operational. The final piece of the subterfuge was placing the ‘Red Roo’ nameplate that Kookaburra had worn on Atlantis’s transom.
Her interior still required months of work, but Atlantis was afloat.
Ned, exhausted, stood with Fowler at dockside as dawn began to color the eastern sky. Ned yawned, and muttered, “I’m going to sleep all day, then probably be up all bloody night. It’ll take me a day or two to get back on a normal schedule.”
“Same here, except I’m on duty in three hours,” Fowler said, stifling a yawn of his own.
Ned scratched his head, and asked, “Seeing as how I’ll likely be up tonight and you won’t, is there anything on the inside you’d like done first?”
“What about the engines? I’ll need her moving under her own power.”
“I did the engines before Christmas; total rebuild, and put in new saildrives, better than the originals, which were marginal for that much horsepower. She’s better than she was before. She’ll be mobile under her own power as soon as I finish hooking up the seawater cooling lines and exhaust stacks… and I’ll scrounge up a couple of temporary wheels for the helms. There’s no autopilot yet, of course, but she’ll be able to motor under manual control from the cockpit helms.”
Fowler grunted, and gave in to a yawn. “Good. Okay, if you’ve time, one thing that’d be handy; make a couple of the cabins and one of the toilets usable. Just some mattresses on the floor will do.”
“Easily done, though that’ll take another day, so… three days at the outside, and she’ll be ready to go.” Ned glanced at Atlantis, and added, “That’s the biggest bloody piece of cheese I’ve ever seen.”
Fowler smiled coldly. “That she is, and with a trap to match. Now all we need is for the rat to come a-calling.”
A week after their meeting in the bar, Gray arranged to meet Basingstoke at his hangar. Basingstoke was waiting when Gray arrived, and after a brief greeting, Basingstoke asked, “How goes the project?”
“Done,” Gray replied, setting a laptop computer on a work table. “I’ve tested it in my car, by setting it for my location and then driving west. I hooked twelve-volt lights and a power source to the relays; it turned off one light and turned on the others, just like it’s supposed to. I kept it as simple as I could, because it can’t be fully tested and it has to work the first time.”
Gray connected a cable to the laptop’s parallel port – most often used for attaching printers – as he explained how the system worked. The concept was simple; the software Gray had written accessed a GPS card, and compared the longitude with two user-set variables. When the longitude became less than the thresholds set, the software triggered the appropriate subroutine. The purpose of the subroutines was to directly control some of the port’s control lines by sending commands to the port’s hexadecimal base address. Gray had cut a printer cable and connected those specific wires to the switch poles of the relays – electrically operated switches. In so doing, what Gray had created was a parallel port/relay interface.
The installation was neatly done; the relays were housed in a plastic case not much bigger than a deck of cards, which had once been home to a set of drill bits. The concept was simple; the subroutines would energize the wires, causing one relay to open – breaking one circuit – while the other two would have the opposite effect – closing their respective circuits. The two user-entered longitude presets would trigger different subroutines.
Basingstoke poked at the exposed terminals. “Interesting concept; simpler than what I had in mind, but it will do just as well. I’d like to install it and test it.”
Gray nodded towards Basingstoke’s plane. “I’ll be happy to help, but I’m keeping my feet on the ground.”
Basingstoke chuckled. “I can’t imagine why… but be that as it may, what about the other item?”
Gray pulled a cell phone from his pocket. It had a lump the size of a deck of cards taped to the back, concealed behind several layers of duct tape. Protruding from the tape were two wires, their ends stripped. “I’ve tested it as well. When it rings, it closes the relay.”
“Close enough for government work,” Basingstoke said, with a nod of approval. He handed over the remainder of Gray’s fee, and this time Gray didn’t count it.
Gray pocketed the cash, and gave Basingstoke a concerned glance. “So, are the druggies still sending some thugs to help you? Are you going to wait that long? No need to answer if you don’t want, I’m just curious. I’ve never worked with that lot.”
Basingstoke sighed. “Yes, they’re still coming, and as for the rest… I’m in two minds. I’d prefer to get this done on my own; a couple of knuckle-draggers will be more hindrance than help. However, a contract is a contract, and they are the client. But, as of right now, I might go ahead on my own and not wait for ‘em. They can’t complain so long as they get everything they want, right?”
Gray pondered that for a moment. “Bassy, you’re in a bad place either way. That lot are not always rational, so one can’t assume that they will be. On the flip side, having them help is a recipe for trouble. Maybe you should meet them first, then see what you think?”
Basingstoke scratched his chin, and sighed. “I’ve got a bit of a problem; time. The tracker I put on the catamaran runs on a battery; I’m not sure how long it’ll last, but it’s got to be getting near the end, if not dead already. I never expected it to have to last this long. Right now, thanks to the security cameras, I know where my target is, though that could change.”
Gray stared at the floor, thinking for several long moments, before replying, “That’s a spot of bother, but perhaps I can help. If you know the amp-hours of the battery and the draw of the transmitter, I can give you a rough guess as to the time it’d last.”
With a sad shake of his head, Basingstoke replied, “I did that already; I don’t know the radio’s draw for certain, but a rough guess gave me a range, and that tells me it could fail any day now.” The transmitter was no longer aboard Kookaburra, but Basingstoke had no way of knowing that.
“A rough go of it, no matter what you decide. I’m glad of one thing; that I’m not you,” Gray replied, and then fell silent, listening to the hum of the wind against the hangar. “Let’s get the install done,” he added, turning to pick up his tools.
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