Off Carnarvon, Atlantis was at sea, slicing through the glassy waters of Shark Bay with Greg Fowler at the helm, motoring north along the coast, her tracking beacon transmitting its siren song. Two other customs agents were aboard, along with a Federal Police officer, and Ned Kelly.
The exterior of Atlantis was pristine; she gleamed in the sun, and outwardly was completely refinished. However, she was still but a shell; her interior still gutted, most of her systems inoperable. A tremendous amount of work remained to be done. She could motor but not sail, and her communications gear was limited to the government radios and a satellite phone.
Atlantis was playing the role of bait to a degree; it was mainly a practice run, one of several they’d made during the preceding week. They expected some degree of warning if Basingstoke made his move.
At Fowler’s invite, Jason Kline was aboard Atlantis. He’d been promised an exclusive, and though he would not be along when they expected an attack, he was being given a ride to help him prepare his story. Kline had, in the preceding days, used his contacts to spread the word; Trevor was in Carnarvon, preparing to resume his circumnavigation of the Earth. A few minor news articles had reported this, all part of the net being cast for Basingstoke.
Kline sought out Ned, who was working in the salon, to commend him on his work. “You’re a right miracle worker, you are. She’s beautiful outside, and a dead ringer for Kookaburra, from what I understand.”
Fowler joined them, and seconded Kline’s compliments. Kline walked away and Fowler watched him go before turning to glance at Ned. He smiled, and asked, “One thing is puzzling me; why put in the pole-mounted radar?” He asked, feigning ignorance and in the mood for a little levity to ease the stress.
Ned chuckled, and gave part of his reason. “Atlantis had mast-mounted radar, but Kookaburra has pole mounted, aft port quarter, like I’ve done here. I’m setting up a temporary cable run from the port engine’s alternator to the radar, and putting the control box and a screen at the helm station. In a day or so, you should have operable radar when the engines are running, and it’s a good set.”
Fowler had known that, so he smiled, setting the hook. “Sounds like a good bit of gear, and may come in handy. I wonder how Trev will feel about it though? I remember him mentioning that he prefers mast-mounted radar, like he had before, due to less interference from the rigging.”
Ned broke eye contact, and then replied with a shrug, “Yes, and he wants Atlantis back like she was before in a great many ways. I’ll be ordering him a mast-mounted set if Atlantis survives; all that was left of his old one was the antenna.”
“So, he’ll have two radars when he’s done? I wonder how his insurance will feel about that, seeing as how he only had the one originally,” Fowler prodded. He thought the pole-mounted radar dome looked very familiar – just like one he’d seen gathering dust at Ned’s yard.
Ned began to fidget. He knew Fowler well enough to see what he was up to. “Greg, hold up, I’m just trying to do both you and Trevor a good turn.”
“By reporting that Atlantis had two radars, and charging full rate for both sets? Just how new is the one aboard? It’d have to be brand new for you to report it as such, right?”
“It’s nearly new, so I fudged, just a little,” Ned replied, seeing no point in denying it, since Fowler plainly knew. The pole-mounted radar was actually two years old, having come from a yacht Ned had remodeled the year before. “I’ve got to make a living, you know,” he added, in a petulant tone.
Fowler rolled his eyes. “You’re well named, Ned Kelly. The bushranger of the high seas is what you are,” Fowler quipped, and then added in a more serious tone, “I’m keeping an eye out, to make sure you don’t try that kind of a move on the Service.”
Ned held up his hands. “I won’t do anything to get you in hot water, that I promise,” he replied.
Trevor and Shane were still ensconced in Boat Haven Loop, just yards from the entrance to Rhys Lagoon. What had once been their idyll was beginning to chafe. Trevor knew that Atlantis was at sea, and he ached to be at her helm. However, all they could do was wait.
The waiting proved harder than they’d imagined. As Trevor stalked Kookaburra’s decks, one question out of many came to the forefront of his mind. “Why? … I only met Bridget once, so if she’s behind it all, why? If it’s her, there’s got to be a reason. I see how using me to frame Dad was in her interests at first, but all that ended when she went on the run, so why that attempt at the Wallabi islands, if that’s what it was? It should be over, but I don’t think it is. It just doesn’t make sense, so we’re missing something. If we knew why, maybe we could do something to stop it.”
“If your uncle nabs this imposter/reporter/whatever-the-fuck-he-is, then we’ll know for sure,” Shane said, in a hopeful tone.
“If he talks, and that’s a big fucking if,” Trevor replied, in a tone as dark as his mood. He brightened slightly as he glanced at the navigation screen. “We’re ready to go as soon as Uncle Greg gives the word.” The issue of being trapped by the tides was their reason for anchoring outside the shallow pass to Rhys Lagoon.
“Sounds like a plan,” Shane replied, smiling at the improvement in Trevor’s mood.
It was a glorious day; perfect for flying. Listening to the drone of his engine, Basingstoke savored the view. He kept a careful watch on his simple autopilot; he usually hand flew, but in this case, he was letting the autopilot handle the route until he neared his destination. His course was northwest, heading in the general direction of Adelaide.
Basingstoke’s destination was a small private strip on a ranch northeast of Adelaide. The owners were connected to the Australian underworld, so privacy was not a significant concern.
The landing was tense, due to the unevenly graded dirt, which made for a bumpy rollout.
Basingstoke secured his plane and paused to chat briefly with the strip’s owner, and then, with grave reservations, he took the keys to the car he was borrowing, and set off for Adelaide and his rendezvous with Sanchez’s emissaries.
The appointed place was a hotel restaurant and, with trepidation, Basingstoke strolled in, his eyes sweeping the scene. The pre-planned recognition sign he’d been told to watch for was something he felt better suited to an old movie; a carnation in a lapel pin.
Basingstoke spotted two heavily muscled men in a booth, and studied them without looking in their direction. They fit his assumptions, though the carnation was singularly lacking.
“Excuse me, do you have the time?”
The unexpected voice from behind almost made Basingstoke jump. He turned, and forced himself to smile at the woman, his smile freezing in place when he saw the carnation pinned to her prim suit. That, coupled with her American accent, told Basingstoke what he needed to know. He glanced at his watch, and replied, “Two on the nose.”
“Precisely on time,” Bridget quietly replied, with a wan smile of her own. “I thought that perhaps it might be you, Charles. It’s been far too long, how have you been?” Bridget asked, taking his hands warmly in her own. “If you are free for coffee, perhaps you might join us?” Bridget said, nodding towards a booth, where an anxious-looking Billy sat.
“I’d be delighted, and it’s good to see you again,” Basingstoke replied, strolling with Bridget towards the booth.
There, they chatted over coffee, though they kept the conversation strictly innocuous, due to being in a public place. After their coffee, Bridget left Billy in the booth and accompanied Basingstoke to the parking lot, as if to say goodbye.
Once they were alone, Bridget gave him an appraising look and said, “It is well that we finally meet in person, Mr. Basingstoke. You may call me Ms. Margaret.” Bridget would not chance using her real name, which Basingstoke had never known.
“G’day, Ms. Margaret,” Basingstoke replied, miming the doffing of a hat. “I must say, you and your friend are not at all the pair of knuckle-draggers I was expecting.”
Bridget chuckled softly. “I should certainly hope not. Now, to business; we are here to help in any way you see fit, and then to take possession of the yacht. Regrettably, the gentleman known to you as Sanchez still requires his token: Trevor’s head.”
Basingstoke relaxed slightly. “That makes things harder, as it has from the start. I should be ready to make a move in a few days. I do have a way you can help, though I assume you want no part of the wet work.” Basingstoke was assuming that Bridget was as she appeared; a wealthy high-society woman, who now looked to be in late middle age, thanks to her face lift. He assumed that Billy was there for anything involving danger. “Is the bloke with you experienced?” he asked.
Bridget understood at once. “Yes, he has killed before, if that is what you are enquiring.” Bridget paused for effect, and then, in a casual, offhand way, added, “Though I have far more experience at it than he.”
Basingstoke blinked. Bridget had surprised him, yet again. He would have taken her for many things, though not a killer. He thought for a moment, and finally concluded that there was no need to radically alter his plans. “Let’s take a walk, and I’ll give you the details,” he said, jauntily offering her his arm, which she took. “It’s a seat of the pants kind of thing, we’ll need to adapt based on what they do….”
They discussed the operation for half an hour while strolling in the park. Bridget made a few suggestions for improvements to Basingstoke’s plans, all of which he accepted. At the end of it, Bridget voiced no objections, though she made it clear that the final decision would be up to Sanchez.
With the details taken care of, Basingstoke altered course for his car, where he gave Bridget a small travel tote, and spent a moment explaining its contents. They included a tracker for the transmitter, and three of the cell phones that Gray had altered. He then revealed three objects, roughly the size and shape of road flares. “They’re safe, no worries,” he said, with a reassuring smile. “I’ll be seeing you soon,” he said, bidding her a temporary farewell. \
With nothing to do, Billy ordered coffee after coffee, which did little to help his nerves. When Bridget finally returned, he barely managed to keep his thoughts to himself until they were outside.
“What happens now?” he asked.
Bridget smiled, and nodded towards downtown Adelaide, a few blocks away. “We take one of the most highly regarded train rides on the planet,” she said.
Billy fidgeted, well aware that she was keeping him largely in the dark. “When I was by myself for the day, when we were on our way to Santiago, I kept thinking; what if something happened? I’ve got almost no money, and nowhere to go. Could you at least give me a way to get in touch with that Sanchez guy? It’s him I’ll be working for soon, right?”
Bridget gave Billy a condescending glance. “There is little I can do about that just yet, though soon. For now, I can tell you that we have open air tickets under our new names, from Perth to Auckland, New Zealand, then retracing our route via Santiago, back to the Dominican Republic. From there, you could find the hideaway in Haiti where we had the surgery, and they would take care of you. We shall be done here in a few days’ time. If all goes well, we shall be homeward bound within a week.”
“What will we do when we get where we’re going on the train?” Billy asked.
Bridget smiled. “Some sightseeing. The man we met will take care of most of the business we need done. Our role is mainly reconnaissance in the guise of sightseeing, and we shall do plenty of it; we must appear to be tourists, after all. We begin this evening; our train departs at six forty, for a two night journey. The train is called the Indian Pacific, and we shall be traveling Gold Kangaroo Class.” Bridget smiled at the irony; she knew that Kookaburra had worn the nameplate ‘Red Roo’, and Red Kangaroo Class was the Indian Pacific’s economy class. ‘Rather insulting of him to name my boat that,’ Bridget thought, chuckling softly at her private jest.
Basingstoke began his mission as he always did, with a struggle to calm his nerves. This time was worse, for the risks were greater than any he had ever knowingly faced. Now, he had to kill time; he would mostly remain at the small private airstrip until Bridget called. They had exchanged satellite phone numbers, and now, all Basingstoke could do was wait, and sweat. He found himself almost hoping that Bridget would fail.
In part to pass the time, he phoned around, and soon had another lesson scheduled. He hoped it would be enough.
In Carnarvon, Fowler returned after a day at sea on Atlantis, to find Grundig in the office. “Anything new?” Fowler asked.
Grundig nodded, and then glanced towards the phone. “The Federal Police want you to give ‘em a ring. They think they’ve got a bit of a lead; an informant, to be exact. The long and the short of it is, something’s due to go down in the next few days, and Carnarvon was mentioned. That’s about all they know, though they believe they’ll soon have more.”
Fowler thought for a moment, and then checked the tide table. “Let’s get Kookaburra moving. There’s ample time apparently, but sooner is better. Can you handle that, while I speak to the federal blokes?”
Grundig reached for the phone, and then hesitated. “Does Trevor know where to go? Might be best if I didn’t say it on the phone… especially as I haven’t a bloody clue.”
Fowler chuckled at Grundig’s pointed reminder. “Sorry Craig, I guess I haven’t let you in on the details yet. An unintentional oversight, honestly. Trevor knows, so no need to mention it. Just tell him to get underway as planned. He’s heading for Geraldton, then Fleet Base West, but he’ll take it slow and stay well offshore; I figure he’s safer well out to sea. Hopefully, by the time he gets near Geraldton, we’ll have this creep in the bag and it’ll all be over. We’ve arranged for him to have company, so he should be safe for a bit. Fleet Base West would be the safest place; the only drawback is that if he’s sighted there, it ruins our trap here. So, he’s been told to wait well offshore at Geraldton – but close enough to dash in if the situation demands it – if he gets there and things are still up in the air.” Fowler winced at his own unintended pun.
Grundig smiled. “You’ve been busier than a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition lately, Greg, and doing much of this on the fly. I just hope we haven’t forgotten anything.”
Fowler sighed as he picked up the phone. “Probably have, but it’ll work or it won’t. If that bastard makes a play for Atlantis, he’ll get a surprise he will never forget.”
When Trevor got the word, he was more than ready to get underway – to be doing anything other than waiting. With a mix of relief and trepidation, Trevor told Shane, “Let’s raise anchor; we’re heading out, real slow, just like we planned.”
By the following dawn, Kookaburra had passed Steep Point, and was fifty miles to seaward of the Zuytdorp cliffs, heading south at a sedate three knots.
Shortly after checking in with Trevor that morning, Fowler received a call from his headquarters, who were in charge of the operation. The caller was one of the senior officers, a man who outranked him. After discussing some of the details, the officer shared the biggest news, “The Federal Police have developed more for us; according to their informant, it’s looking like an attack on a boat from the air. That fits; my guess is he may try to fly in, drop a bomb, then fly out.”
Fowler clutched at the phone, wishing that he could yell. Instead, he calmly replied, “Sir, one of my interests is naval history, and I can say for a fact that hitting a boat – any small target, let alone a moving one – from a plane is a very hard task, even for a trained bombardier with proper equipment. They’d need a guided bomb of some sort, and that’s some very advanced tech. Fitting it to a civilian small plane would be a monumental task, if it was possible at all. I don’t see any way he could attack the boat from the air with any reasonable hope for success.”
“Fair point, but the information does say an attack from the air. Maybe they got it partially wrong.”
Fowler weighed his options. “Just to be safe, Atlantis will be well offshore and unmanned when we know he’s near – if he gets this far. I’ll keep some men not too far from the boat, in case he tries to get aboard.”
“Could he dive the plane at the boat, and bail out?” the officer asked. He was a man who knew boats, and had almost no knowledge of planes.
“Impossible; bailing out would take too long, and autopilot wouldn’t work for something like that; it’s not made to impact a target. Unless… that transponder he put aboard. Maybe that could be used as some sort of a homing beacon for a weapon. I’ll ring the air force guys at Jindalee; they’d be the ones to ask about homing weapons.”
“Keep me posted, and I’ll do the same,” the officer replied.
Fowler made the call, and during a twenty minute discussion, the air force officer floated a few ideas on the possible threat from the air. He judged the idea of homing in on the beacon with an unmanned plane unlikely. The idea the officer proposed that both he and Fowler found the most troubling was napalm; pump jellied gasoline through a very simple nozzle, to lay a wide stream of fire on the target during a low pass. The jellied gasoline would stick to anything it hit, immolating it.
“How hard is it to get napalm?” Fowler asked, dreading the answer.
“Hard to buy, I’d guess, but I know it’s supremely easy to make – at least something close to military grade. Anyone could do it.Dissolve some polystyrene foam – or just use some polystyrene based resin – in ordinary car petrol, add a bit of benzene, and you’ve got one kind. There are other equally easy mixtures, including using liquid soap. Dispense it from dump tanks like a crop duster uses, and ignite it at the nozzle with a road flare lowered on a pole from a hole in the cockpit floor. Or, just hit the target with it unignited, flip a one-eighty, then hit it with a flare gun. That’s just off the top of my head, though I’m sure there are other methods. I’ll ring you if I think of any more,” the officer said.
Basingstoke, waiting impatiently, received his expected call from Gray. “G’day, switch on,” Gray said, thus instructing Basingstoke to switch to encryption. As soon as their call was secure, Gray said, “You were right to be suspicious, Bassy. I’ve been going over the security camera tapes as you asked, new and old alike.”
Basingstoke sighed in relief. “I was hoping for that, but I couldn’t see a thing. What was it that clued you in?”
Gray chuckled. “You can see the light, and an occasional shadow, through that tarp the boat is under. They did take care to keep to daylight and nighttime as appropriate, but the shadows are wrong for the time of day in a couple of shots. There’s been a few repeats as well, though only when no one is in the frame. The camera feed is still showing the boat under the tarp.”
“Thanks for the confirmation, and for your sharp eyes,” Basingstoke replied, his mood much improved.
The journey on the Indian Pacific was proving every bit as enchanting as Bridget had envisioned.
Darkness had fallen a couple of hours into the journey, and the following dawn revealed the stark and surreal desolation of the Nullarbor Plain. There, the track became straight for just shy of three hundred miles across the flat, treeless plain. It was the longest stretch of straight track in the world.
Bridget’s satellite phone rang, and as she answered it, Sanchez told her tersely, “Switch on your encryption.”
Bridget did so, and said pleasantly, “Hello, my dear Sanchez.”
Sanchez was in no mood for small talk, so he quizzed Bridget on Basingstoke’s plans, and asked for her assessment of him. After mulling the information for a few moments, Sanchez replied, “I don’t see a better option for cleaning up this mess. Now, I need to make something very clear; if we succeed this time, all is well. However, if Basingstoke fails… I cannot have another failed attempt connected to me. You are aware of the difficulties the failure in the Suez, and then the pirates, caused me. There must be no word of any failure, understood?”
“I shall ensure that there is not,” Bridget replied, chafing at Sanchez’s tone. Then, assuming a slightly subservient tone, she said, “I am concerned regarding the requirements. What we must do is difficult enough; the desire for Trevor’s head is an added complexity, and thus a risk. We face a daunting task, and so much depends on the target, and the authorities, reacting as we predict. There are so many inherent variables that the plan, as it stands, is fraught with peril. Therefore it would be preferable, I think, to focus on the boat, which is our real objective. If Trevor is not aboard at the time, he can be dealt with later, should you still wish it. His death should suffice for your needs, without the added risks of taking and shipping a head.”
“I am well aware of the difficulties; I’ve already spoken to Basingstoke and given him approval. I need that head, not merely his death.” Sanchez felt that he had to have Trevor’s head, to literally display on a platter, as a means of defusing the implied weakness the two failed attempts his men knew of had caused. A display of brutality, coupled with long reach and persistence, was what Sanchez judged to be a critical requirement. It was not an uncommon practice within the cartels. He knew that Bridget understood his situation, and so her apparent lack of fortitude irked him. Sanchez was not accustomed to changing his mind, and saw no need to explain himself again. He tersely ended the call with an order. “Call me when you have news. If it’s bad news, especially of failure, make certain that I am alone before mentioning it,” he said, and then hung up before Bridget could reply.
Twenty minutes later, a mid-morning stop in the remote town of Cook, South Australia, provided Bridget a chance to leave her cabin and go for a stroll. In a rare cheerful and convivial mood, she tapped on Billy’s door, to invite him to go along.
What greeted them as they stepped off the train was blazing heat, in a setting of red dust. Cook, once an important railway town near the center of the Nullarbor Plain, was now almost a ghost town, with a population in the low single digits. What remained was a store, open only when the Indian Pacific was making a stop, and a few railway services, mainly a fuel depot. The remainder of the town, as Bridget and Billy discovered on their stroll, consisted of red dirt streets, bedecked with a few abandoned buildings. The buildings were in moderately good condition, for Cook had been relegated to the ghosts less than ten years before.
The hot wind blew, rolling in from the endless treeless plain, the dust swirling at their heels. Bridget took it all in and, with a wry smile on her newly healed face, turned to ask Billy, “So, what do you think? From what I understand, you’ve traveled very little in your life.”
Billy absently touched his new nose, and then stared out at the Nullarbor. “I’ve sure made up for it lately. We’ve spent a shitload of time on planes these past few days, but we did have a day in Cali and two days in Santiago. That flight from Santiago to Sydney was so long I thought it would never end.”
Bridget adroitly directed the conversation in another direction. “Billy, look around; this is the barren heart of Australia, one of the most remote places on Earth. Revel in it, experience it to its utmost, for it is unlikely that we shall pass this way again. That is a good parable for life in general, though now in particular. We shall soon be in Western Australia, and our mission awaits. There may be little time for learning then, so I must assure myself that you have the needed skills.”
Billy sighed. He’d suspected that this was coming. “I can kill, if that’s what’s needed. I don’t like it – what we did to that detective guy still gives me nightmares – but I’ll do it. I’d prefer a gun, but I know how to use a knife.”
Bridget gave Billy a friendly pat on the back. “Thank you, but it is my hope that nothing of the kind shall be required of you. The weapon I need you to wield is neither knife nor gun,” she said, snapping open her purse and reaching in, and then depositing an object in Billy’s hands.
Billy looked down at it and blinked. He held it closer, turning it over, and then he gave Bridget a puzzled glance. “It looks like a digital camera.”
With a stately nod and a warm smile, Bridget replied, “That is precisely what it is. Now, I need you to learn how to use it. It is quite simple; press the power button to turn it on and extend the lens, point, and shoot. The trigger is next to the power button and zoom. Take some pictures of the scenery, for practice.”
For a few minutes, with Bridget coaching him, Billy took photos of the town, learning how to use the zoom and other simple controls. “This is all you need me to do, take pictures?” he asked.
“No. All being well, there will be a few other tasks, though mostly mundane.”
That evening, the Indian Pacific made its second stop; the mining city of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Born amidst the hectic days of Western Australia’s gold rush, Kalgoorlie endured on the twin pillars of mining and tourism. The scenic town’s grand historic buildings stood in stark contrast to its somewhat hardscrabble present, reminding Billy of pictures he’d seen of mining towns in the American west. The grand hotels astride Hannan Street provided rich fodder for Billy’s lens.
The next day, their train journey ended in Perth. There, they took a taxi to a shopping mall, and then to the regional airport, where Bridget had a charter waiting; one of her enhancements to Basingstoke’s plan.
Bridget inspected the plane, and then she took the pilot and copilot aside. “Gentlemen,” she said, with an air of great sorrow. “I am afraid I was perforce deceptive when I made my reservation. I had little choice, for privacy is essential. I am in search of the love of my life, though more likely his remains. His yacht was last seen in a storm off Madagascar, two years ago. According to the experts I’ve consulted, the hull may have remained afloat, and would likely have drifted with the currents to this region, arriving approximately this month. The boat had foam flotation chambers; therefore it is likely that the hulk should remain afloat. I have been warned that I may be on a fool’s errand, but we were together for over a decade, and I owe it to him to try. Finding the wreckage of his boat – a trimaran – or some debris from her, would at least make his fate clear, and allow his children to inherit his estate.”
The pilot and copilot offered their condolences, and then the pilot asked, “We’ll do all we can. May I ask why the need for privacy? Perhaps taking this public would result in some beachcomber ringing in with a find.”
Bridget gave the pilot a chagrined smile. “I am afraid that I must insist upon privacy and absolute discretion. You see,” she paused, turning away, daintily dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief, the diamonds on her rings glinting in the sun, before adding quietly, “his wife never knew of our relationship, and I do not wish to tarnish his memory.”
The pilot and copilot shared an awkward yet understanding glance, and then the pilot replied, “We’ll do all we can.”
“Then I shall see you in the morning. Oh, and before I forget, I wish to give you each a little something, for your understanding in this delicate matter,” Bridget said, reaching into her handbag and extracting two unsealed envelopes, and then handing the men one each. The pilot opened his and blinked at the thick wad of cash, which he did not count, though he correctly guessed it to be five thousand dollars. “Thank you,” he said, thrilled by the unexpected bonus.
As the pilot and copilot walked away, the pilot said, in a hushed, warning tone, “The boss doesn’t need to know about any of this.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” the copilot replied, patting his own fat envelope, now secured in his pocket. Their employer had a policy of considering all tips to be the property of the company, a measure which his pilots detested, to the point where one had anonymously grumbled about it online. The missive had named the company, and had turned up during Bridget’s research. It was in part for that reason that Bridget had made that particular charter agency her first choice.
Bridget had always believed in leverage, and in hedging her bets.
From her vantage point in the chartered Lear business jet, Bridget thanked her luck that the sky was clear that day; too late, they had realized that a persistent haze, such as sometimes occurred in the region during the summer months, would have been a perhaps-insurmountable difficulty.The weather was cooperating; as the pilot had announced, conditions were CAVU – Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited.
A soft hum pervaded the plane’s narrow cabin. The interior décor was, in the main, white leather with black highlights, a combination which Bridget found gauche.
Bridget, though, had little time to regard the interior. She was sitting on the starboard side, furthest seat aft, gazing out the window at the sea, twenty thousand feet below – the plane was well below its normal cruising altitude. A set of Zeiss binoculars aided in her task. Billy, seated on the opposite side of the cabin, peered through another pair of binoculars.
The plane was paralleling the shoreline, twenty miles out to sea, heading north. They were, in a way, seeking a needle in a haystack, but Bridget and Basingstoke had stacked the deck somewhat in their favor. Bridget knew that Kookaburra would likely be at sea, for it was Basingstoke who had arranged for the Federal Police’s informant.
Their plan was to search the coast and the sea. Bridget spared a harried glance toward the cockpit’s closed door. One remaining issue was Shark Bay, and Bridget took care of that with a call on the intercom. “Pilot, for the sake of my young companion, we should like to do some sightseeing when we reach Shark Bay. Perhaps a few zigzags so he may see the region, once we are in the vicinity? We can then resume our search of the sea.”
The pilot confirmed, and Bridget went back to her task, sweeping the sea with her binoculars, as the jet sped past Kalbarri.From their high vantage point, the horizon was one-hundred seventy-three miles away, but the limits of optics and atmospheric clarity limited their effective spotting range of a boat the size of Kookaburra to around forty miles – or less, when she might be lost amidst the shore clutter. The plan was to refuel in Exmouth, and then resume the search by flying a southbound leg fifty miles further out to sea.
“I think I see something,” Billy called out, pointing out the window. It was his fourth sighting so far.
Bridget joined him at his window, and after a quick look at the boat off Kalbarri, replied, “That is not her. Too small a catamaran, and not red.”
The next sighting was Bridget’s, a mere speck in the distance, far offshore. She thumbed the intercom to tell the pilot, “Please turn eighty degrees to port, I think I see something.”
The pilot obliged, and then used his own binoculars for a look as they drew near. “It’s under sail, not a wreck, and it’s a single hull, not a trimaran,” the pilot reported, though Bridget had already discerned that. “My mistake; I am not used to how things look from up here,” Bridget replied, and then asked the pilot to resume course.
As the plane banked to starboard, Billy’s eyes opened wide, and he swung his binoculars to his eyes. “Mrs. B, look!” he gasped a moment later, pointing almost straight down. “Two red hulls, white decks.”
Bridget dashed to that side of the plane, almost falling in her haste. She studied the boat for several long moments, and then she was sure. “Well hello again, old girl, it has been a very long time,” Bridget said, her face breaking into a smile. She held her handheld GPS to the window to get a signal, and then wrote down the coordinates, along with Kookaburra’s estimated course and speed, which the lack of a wake made apparent.
Quickly, Bridget thumbed the intercom. “Pilot, could you please come closer to shore? My companion thinks he’s seen some debris at the base of the cliffs, to starboard of our course,” she said.
The plane, which had been heading towards the shore, turned to starboard to head southwest, five miles off the Zuytdorp Cliffs, which gave Bridget, who had returned to her seat, a leisurely look at Kookaburra.
With a relaxed smile, Bridget hit the intercom. “False alarm. Please resume course north. We’ll keep searching as far as the entrance to Shark Bay, then please take us for our look at the bay. We shall continue our search in the morning.”
After a sightseeing run above Shark Bay, Bridget requested an overflight of Carnarvon. During it, she consulted the tracking device Basingstoke had given her, and picked up the signal from Atlantis, loud and clear. Billy even caught a glimpse of her, tied up alongside Ned’s dock.
They spent the night in Exmouth, which allowed Bridget time to check in with Basingstoke.
The next morning, Basingstoke pre-flighted his plane and, with nerves on edge, took to the skies, climbing in the calm morning air, and then turning to a course of northwest.
It was lunchtime before his day’s journey ended. Ahead, in the far distance, Basingstoke could see the large runway, standing starkly outlined against the light red ground. He began his descent to pattern altitude, and then, nine miles from the airport, he glanced down at a sight he’d seen many times before from this perspective; the massive, rusty red monolith of Ayers Rock, the most famous landmark of Australia’s interior, located close to the geographic center of the continent.
Ayers Rock Airport, though it often took planes as large as a 737 on scheduled air service, lacked a control tower. Basingstoke radioed his intentions over the Unicom frequency, and minutes later, he was on the ground, securing his plane to a tie-down. He took only a backpack – with one of his Makarov pistols hidden inside – and briefly considered walking the three miles to Yulara, where he had booked a room. The temperature, well over one hundred degrees, dissuaded him, and he took a hotel shuttle instead. He had booked the room for a week, though as yet he had no idea how long he’d be staying.
Bridget and Billy took off from Exmouth to resume their ostensible search, flying southbound this time. Bridget knew, based on Kookaburra’s course and speed, roughly where she could be expected to be. After a few tense minutes in the expected area, Billy spotted her; fifty miles out, and on course for Geraldton. This confirmed that Kookaburra’s lethargic pace was intentional, and Bridget smiled; her quarry was within her grasp.Taking a guess based on her course, and knowing that they could now easily find her again if need be, Bridget continued the charade of a search for another hour, and then directed the pilot to land in Geraldton. The excuse she gave was concise; they believed they had spotted a speck of orange – perhaps a life jacket – at the base of the Zuytdorp Cliffs, and intended to rent a boat to check it out.The pilots had no objection; they would be paid whether they flew or not. A day standing by in Geraldton – they were free to leave the airport – was to them a paid vacation day.
Late that afternoon, Bridget sent Billy on some vital errands while she made her way to the tip of Point Moore, and after a brief search with her binoculars, again conferred with Basingstoke.
By the following dawn, Bridget breathed a sigh of relief; Kookaburra was in view, seven miles out to sea, lazily loitering in the morning breeze. She instantly phoned Basingstoke to relay the good news.
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