For those who would like to follow the action on a map, here's a link to google maps, centered on Geraldton, which can also be moved and zoomed to show other areas mentioned.
Freetown, on Grand Bahama Island, was quiet; just a typical weekday afternoon. For Frank Tittle and Mike Gonzalez, it was anything but relaxing.
The meeting between Alan Sharpton, the corrupt DEA agent they had turned, and his contact had been arranged to occur in just under two hours. Gonzalez had just received word from Australia, and with Sharpton in a motel room under the watchful eye of a Coast Guard chief, Gonzalez raced down to Frank Tittle’s room. As soon as Frank opened the door, Gonzalez rushed in. “The customs guy in Carnarvon who’s minding Trevor just gave me a call; Bridget Bellevue has been seen in Australia, less than an hour ago. It was Rachel who spotted her, and maybe injured her. Apparently, there’s some sort of an operation going on; a new attack on Trevor. If she’s there, that means she’s not in the Bahamas.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Frank replied, grimacing as he saw all they’d worked for probably become moot. “Okay, will they get her?”
Gonzalez ignored Frank’s jab; he was used to them. “How the hell should I know? They hadn’t yet and, given her record, I’d put the odds in her favor, so let’s assume not.”
“Assumptions are dangerous things, though in this instance, I concur. However, it neatly torpedoes our plan to spook Sanchez into moving her. She’s obviously not still with him. So, what do we do with Sharpton?”
Gonzalez scratched his head. “Well, there has to be some good use to be made of him; we’ve got an opportunity to feed false info to the cartel. We can’t pass it up. The question is, now or later?”
Frank crossed his arms. “You’re asking me to weigh in on something when I don’t have all the facts. That’s bad for both of us. I need to know; what really happened to lead you to Sharpton? It’s a bit of a stretch that you just happened to head for Freeport and go fishing for him like you did. Don’t bother telling me it was just a lucky break; even you aren’t clumsy enough to just go bumbling around stirring up the locals without a reason.”
Gonzalez sighed, and sat down. In a very quiet voice, he replied, “I knew there had to be people like him here, though maybe Bahamian, not American. I started checking records to see who George liaised with, but it’s a long list. I checked for anonymous tips, and hit pay dirt at the FBI; they had a bunch, mostly junk, though a few seem legitimate. One mentioned George Alfred by name, and an American DEA agent in the Bahamas who worked with him. They didn’t name him, but I narrowed it down to two, and went fishing.”
Frank began to smile. “Clever ruse, blundering around like that with Sanchez’s picture. Very clever indeed; operating without backup while doing that sounds like a perfect way to become dead. However, to give the devil his due, it worked.”
Gonzalez ground his teeth for a moment before replying, “You are devious, sneaky, underhanded, and unethical. That’s why I need your advice on what to do with Sharpton now. I’d like to use him to hurt the cartel, but how?”
“Sneaky, devious, and underhanded are synonyms, and thus redundant,” Frank pointed out, and then shrugged. “But yes, you need me.” Frank sighed, and began pacing. “Perfect timing too; we’re locked into the damn meeting, and the clock is ticking. Okay, all Sharpton told his contact was that he had some vital info, right? Let’s use that to build his credibility so we can put something together later – something that we can use. Have him tip them off to a major Coast Guard operation, say an interdiction effort between the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Then have your Coast Guard buddies make some noise in the area.”
Gonzalez shook his head. “The Coast Guard is willing to help, but to run a major op as just a decoy? I don’t think so. Besides, that’s the kind of stuff he was already feeding them from time to time. Bad advice, lawyer.”
Frank paced some more, before smiling at Gonzalez. “Have Sharpton tell them that cops have the picture and the name, and are in the early stages of putting together a take-down operation. Sharpton can promise to keep them posted of any new developments, and give them early warning. Later, enhance it a bit, have Sharpton say he’s in a position to misdirect the operation. If they think they have early warning, they might get sloppy; tip them to an operation a week early, and keep an eye out to see what scurries out from under the rocks. That’s one way to use this, but there would be more. The question is what do you do with Sharpton in the meantime?”
Gonzalez scowled. “That’s a problem. He thinks he’s got a deal in return for cooperation. I can’t leave him in place.”
Frank’s smile became decidedly evil. “Not a problem. I’m not a special prosecutor, so my offer of a ‘deal’ is not binding upon anyone. However, I’m sure Sharpton would retain counsel, and a good lawyer could probably get the confession tossed, but he won’t want that if the alternative is that the cartel wants him dead. Let him plead out, for a slightly reduced sentence and witness protection, in return for continuing as a double agent. However, to do that, it’d be better to get his hands truly dirty and have him pass false info to the cartel, like the idea I suggested.”
“That’s sneaky, devious, and underhanded, so I came to the right guy,” Gonzalez replied, with a smile of his own. “We’ll do it, and it’ll leave an open avenue in case the Aussies don’t get Bridget, and a means to make the cartel do things on our schedule. I also like the idea of Sharpton doing hard time when all this is done.”
Frank and Gonzalez discussed the matter for a while, and then Gonzalez returned to his room, where he temporarily dismissed the coast guard chief with a wink and a smile of thanks.
Sharpton sat in the corner, morose and dejected. “I don’t like this; they could kill me!” he objected, yet again.
“You should have thought of that before going on their payroll,” Gonzalez shot back.
“I keep telling you, I never worked directly for the cartel. I helped George Alfred and his people out a few times, and it was usually them who paid me,” Sharpton countered weakly.
Gonzalez rolled his eyes. “Shut up. You knew exactly what you were doing, and what was going on. I don’t care who usually paid you. Your only way out is to do just what we tell you; go to your meeting, and pass on the information. If not, we’re going with plan B: start flashing Sanchez’s picture around ourselves, citing you as the source.”
“You can’t… a special prosecutor can’t do that,” Sharpton replied, trying one last time.
Gonzalez waved his hand around the room. “Do you see anyone else here? I don’t. It’s just you and me, so what I say goes. I’ve got a free hand to do whatever I damn well please, and if that means setting you up for the cartel to take care of, it suits me fine.”
Sharpton shuddered, and lowered his head.
“You’ll be wearing a wire, just in case you get any ideas,” Gonzalez said, holding up a small transmitter that had originally belonged to Henry Wesson. “I have three men posted, watching through binoculars.”
Half an hour later, shoulders slumped like a man on the way to the gallows, Sharpton, with the transmitter taped to the small of his back, set out for the meeting he’d been forced to arrange. As soon as he’d gone, Gonzalez called Frank Tittle, letting him know to come to his room. They’d kept Frank out of Sharpton’s sight since the meeting in Nassau.
“Will the transmitter work?” Frank asked.
“Maybe, but the main purpose of it is to make Sharpton think we’re watching and listening,” Gonzalez replied, fiddling with the receiver, which was currently picking up a local radio station. The transmitter also had a micro-recorder attached, so they were confident of having a record of the conversation.
Sharpton met with his contact in an alleyway. The acrid smell of stale garbage hung in the air as he followed Gonzalez’s script. “I’ve learned something your boss, and his boss, need to know. The U.S. government knows a name, Sanchez, and has a picture,” he said, handing the man a photo.
The man glanced at the picture, his eyes opening wide, though he’d heard the rumors Gonzalez’s earlier efforts in Freeport had raised. “I do not know his face, but… This is most serious. You will be well paid for this, double what we paid you last time.”
Sharpton ignored the offer. “If that’s who I think it is, he needs to be warned that they now have a face to go with the name. They’re also working back some leads on the distribution net in Florida. They’re after him, and it’ll be a major operation. That’s all I know. I’ll be able to give a warning of any operation, though not by more than three days,” Sharpton said, before hurrying away before he could receive any reply.
Neither Gonzalez nor Frank Tittle had any idea who the anonymous tipster was who had led Gonzalez to Sharpton.
Billy slept well but Bridget, in pain and also deeply concerned, slept fitfully. She was already awake when Billy’s wristwatch began to beep, at five minutes before six.
Billy, still somewhat groggy, asked, “Where’s the rendezvous – the original one?”
“Near Onslow, about five hundred miles north of here as the crow flies, in seventy-two hours. If Basingstoke is successful, we shall know by this afternoon at the latest. Per the plan, he was to remain hidden until just before dawn, take the boat, lower the radar reflector, turn north, and then persuade Trevor to send a few ‘all is well’ messages as if they were still heading south. He will run her on engines – he does not know how to sail, and the others aboard will be dead by then.” Bridget sighed, wincing from a twinge of pain from her rib. “However, that scenario is now quite problematic, made doubly so by what transpired. If Basingstoke succeeds, and at this juncture I believe he may, we must change the rendezvous. The plan once we joined him, so far as Basingstoke knows, was that we would all sail the boat to Indonesia, where we would weight her with rocks prior to using the final stick of dynamite to sink her in deep water, and then make our way home. Billy, I am telling you this so you are not taken by surprise; we need to acquire some tools, for once we take the boat, we must search her. If Basingstoke has taken her, destroying the boat is no longer sufficient.”
“Okay,” Billy replied, wondering just what he’d gotten himself into.
Bridget faced many problems. She had planned for numerous contingencies, though being recognized was not amongst them. She had several sets of identification and credit cards for both herself and Billy, but only the Cayman Islands identities, arranged by Sanchez, included a working passport and driver’s license able to withstand official scrutiny.
Aboard Kookaburra, Trevor, gun in hand, glanced at Shane, and with a sweep of his eyes let him know to accompany him into the salon, where they could still see the bound Basingstoke, but would be out of his earshot.
As soon as they were in the salon, Trevor whispered, “We need to talk before the patrol boat gets here. I just thought of something, and I’m probably being paranoid, but….” Trevor proceeded to share his concerns, and together, aided by Shane’s greater knowledge of Kookaburra’s gear, they came up with the outline of a plan.
Trevor spotted it first, a distant speck on the horizon, dead ahead. He checked via binoculars, and smiled as he told Shane, “There she is, coming on fast with a bone in her teeth.” Trevor lowered the sails and fired up Kookaburra’s engines, preparing for the rendezvous.He glanced up into the rigging, where the American ensign he’d raised fluttered above the Australian courtesy flag, and smiled. The ensign was part of Kookaburra’s flag kit, containing courtesy flags for major countries, along with the various signal flags she needed.
Shane studied the oncoming boat through the binoculars for a moment, before exclaiming, “That’s not a little patrol boat, that’s a warship!” Shane was right; the approaching, sleek, haze-gray vessel, racing in at twenty-five knots, was an Armidale class patrol boat, one hundred eighty six feet long, carrying a crew of twenty one.
The big patrol boat, at flank speed, made a close pass down Kookaburra’s starboard side. Trevor, at the helm, gave them a friendly wave. As soon as she’d passed, the patrol boat turned hard-a-starboard, to match Kookaburra’s course, and began deploying a rigid inflatable assault boat, with a squad of armed sailors aboard.
Trevor pulled back on the throttles, allowing Kookaburra to slow to steerageway.
With a roar of outboard engines, the rigid inflatable arrived at Kookaburra’s starboard stern, and Shane greeted the arriving sailors. “Welcome aboard. If you’re here to take out the trash, we’ve got it bundled up in the cockpit for you.”
The sailors, each armed with an assault rifle, raced forward, storming down into the cockpit to surround Basingstoke. One of them began checking him, while an officer, who had come aboard last, took Trevor aside. “Looks like you’ve got things all wrapped up here.” Trevor nodded, so the officer added, “I’m going to leave you four armed men, just to be safe. Follow us in at your best speed and maintain radio silence. We’ll see you ashore, but we need to get your, ah, prisoner some medical attention. What happened to his shoulder?”
“He was pointing a gun at me, so I got him with an anti-shark powerhead spear tip. It fires a .45 round, but it mainly works by blasting whatever it hits full of propellant gasses,” Trevor replied.
“I’ll be needing that firearm,” the officer said, and then after a glance at Basingstoke, said, “You said he had a gun? I’ll need that as well.” Trevor reached into the map pocket of the helm, but the officer stayed his hand. “Let me,” he said, and extracted the Makarov. He engaged the safety, and then popped the clip out before working the slide to eject the chambered round. “He had one up the spout, I see,” the officer observed, before sniffing at the barrel. “It’s been fired.”
Trevor pointed at a bullet hole in the deck. “Yeah, he fired right after I did. Then after I took it from him I fired it once in the air, to make sure it’d fire. I know revolvers, but ACPs, not so much.”
“I see,” the officer replied dryly, deftly placing the Makarov in a bag.
A few minutes later, Trevor and Shane watched with wry satisfaction as Basingstoke was bundled aboard the inflatable and taken to the patrol boat.
Ten minutes after she’d arrived, the patrol boat gunned her engines, pulling away, giving Kookaburra a saluting blast with her ship’s whistle.
Shane glanced at their four new crewmates, who were awkwardly clustered near the salon door. “Welcome aboard, we’ll have you back in port just as soon as we can. You might as well relax and enjoy the ride; we already took care of the threat. If you’re hungry, I’m about to fix lunch.”
“Shane’s a great cook,” Trevor assured them, as he raised sail. Soon, Kookaburra was churning towards Fleet Base West at fourteen knots.
Trevor took Kookaburra in at speed, smoothly docking her where she’d been before. A staccato blast from HMAS Perth’s whistle made him jump, and as Shane secured the lines, Trevor turned to see the big warship maneuvering on thrusters, leaving her dock and heading their way.
“We’re mooring her off the small boat marina, to help shield you from view,” announced a voice from the dock.
Trevor turned, seeing a man in a naval officer’s uniform, one that showed a good deal of gold. Trevor was unfamiliar with naval ranks, and had no clue how to read the insignia. “Hi, I’m Trevor Carlson,” he said, somewhat lamely.
The officer, a captain, chuckled. “I know very well who you are. Welcome back to Fleet Base West. We’re taking extra precautions this time; the bombings in Geraldton have stirred up a press firestorm; it’s the top news story at the moment, and we need to keep your role – and your prisoner – out of the news for a bit. In the meantime, these men,” he gestured abruptly towards three armed Australian Federal Police officers by his side, “will be coming aboard. They want to interrogate you, because they have said they want to get a better understanding of exactly what you did out there.”
Trevor read between the lines, receiving the warning loud and clear, though he and Shane had already been concerned that such a thing might occur.
The three federal officers boarded Kookaburra while the four armed seamen left. “Please sit down,” the senior man ordered, gesturing for Trevor and Shane to take a seat on the cockpit bench. “The prisoner has said some rather disturbing things, and we need to get your side of events.”
“He was after my head, literally. Has he told you that?” Trevor asked.
“We need to understand what happened first,” the officer said. He motioned for one of his men, and then looked at Shane. “This officer will take you ashore; we’ll be questioning you separately.”
Trevor could see that his prior concerns were well grounded, so he shook his head. “Not much point, because we’ll be happy to talk with you, right after we’ve talked to a lawyer. Until then, I’m not saying anything.”
Shane glanced at Trevor and smiled, before adding, “Same goes for me.”
“We just need to understand what happened out there,” the officer repeated, and then added, “It’d be better for you if you talked to us now.”
“Lawyer first, but you might want to make it quick if you want to catch the Geraldton bombers,” Trevor replied, crossing his arms.
It took half an hour. A handsome middle-aged woman, with a mop of curly red hair and a spray of wrinkles around her eyes, arrived at the dock. Resplendent in her full uniform, epaulets glittering in the sun, she came aboard Kookaburra, pointedly ignoring the federal officers. She looked at Trevor and Shane, and gave them a warm smile. “G’day. I’m Commander Abigail Sinclair, and I’m a Royal Australian Naval Reserve lawyer. The base commander rang me, and asked me to come and see you. I can represent you, if you consent.”
“Pleased to meet you, ma’am, and I do,” Trevor replied, with a weak smile.
“Same here,” Shane said, with a hopeful look.
Commander Sinclair turned her attention to the federal police officers. “I need to confer with my clients, alone. Unless you’ve placed them under arrest, please leave the boat at once. I’ll notify you when I’m done.”
“They need to stay aboard, sir, ah, ma’am,” one of the federal officers mentioned, before following his brethren ashore, blushing slightly at having momentarily forgotten that you don’t call a female officer ‘sir’.
Commander Sinclair watched them go, and then said, “Some people have odd priorities,” before taking a seat at the cockpit table. As Trevor and Shane joined her, she said, “The issue is that the person you apprehended is claiming that you tortured him; shot him without provocation, threw him overboard, and then wouldn’t pick him up unless he answered your questions. He’s claiming he was a stowaway, nothing more, though no one believes him on that part of it. There are, however, serious questions about the rest, especially how he came to be in the water.”
“If you’re our lawyer, that means anything we tell you is private, right?” Trevor asked.
“Yes, unless you consent to its release,” Commander Sinclair confirmed, and then gave Trevor and Shane a sympathetic smile before adding, ““I’m aware of the events prior to today, as is the customs service, and the base commander – who briefed me a few minutes ago. However, serious allegations have been made by the prisoner – his version is markedly different in some aspects – so the Federal Police have to do their jobs and investigate. So, now would be a good time to tell me what really happened out there.”
Trevor sighed, took a deep breath, and then explained, starting from Shane’s shout of warning when Basingstoke appeared. He carried on, with some help from Shane, until reaching the point where they’d first subdued Basingstoke. “He made us think he wasn’t alone, so I figured the safest, fastest thing to do was throw him overboard so we could both search. We checked the boat, then went back for him; I’d marked the position on the nav system, with the man-overboard button. I told him I’d bring him back aboard if he told me what was going on. As far as I’m concerned, it wasn’t safe to do otherwise. Do you know about me? This is the fourth time somebody’s tried to kill me; a bomb in the Suez, pirates off the Seychelles, and this guy at East Wallabi Island and now again. He wanted to behead me.” Trevor then went on to detail what had happened during his interrogation of Basingstoke.
Commander Sinclair arched both eyebrows. “Admitting all of what you did to anyone but me would be inadvisable at this juncture – tossing him overboard and then questioning him as a condition for rescue is an illegal act as it may constitute assault and reckless endangerment, though there are apparently some very compelling mitigating circumstances. The federal police have jurisdiction, per the Criminal Code Act of 1995. As things stand now, it’s the word of the two of you against your prisoner. He’s claiming that whatever you said he said are lies, and he’s asking for a lawyer. He refuses to speak with the police, other than to make allegations against the two of you.”
“We recorded him without letting him know, but haven’t told anyone because we’re worried about the legal stuff,” Trevor said.
“I need to hear that, right away,” Commander Sinclair replied.
Shane retrieved the laptop, and played the recording. The audio quality was a bit lacking due to engine noise and a microphone not designed for use at a distance, but upping the volume made Basingstoke’s words comprehensible.
When the recording concluded, Commander Sinclair listened to it again, and then said, “This may be problematic, unless we handle it carefully. The prisoner is wildly exaggerating some parts of what happened out there, and unfortunately some aspects of the tape play into his version, such as his claim that he asked for the police to be called. That’s on the tape. The federal police could make a case against you with this, and though the mitigating circumstances would probably defeat it, at least to a large degree, you could have a very rough go of it for a while.”
Trevor nodded, and then glanced around before saying, “I don’t know much about law, especially Australian law, but I do know a lot about the rules of the sea. I’d better explain about Kookaburra….” He then spent the next ten minutes outlining how she’d come to be in Australia. Finally, he added, “I don’t want to disclose anything to the officials about how she was registered in Australia: that might get my mom and maybe my uncle in hot water.”
Commander Sinclair summed it up, “Okay, I see what you’re getting at, and the difficulties. Her American registration as Ares would probably be ruled to take precedence for these purposes, due to never having been transferred by anyone with signatory authority over her owner, Ocean Star Charters, which is owned by you, who are also her skipper and an American. However, the point is moot I’m afraid; when a boat is in our waters, Australian federal law applies.”
Trevor began to smile. “Did they tell you what our position was when this happened?”
Commander Sinclair, whose specialty was maritime law, understood at once. “They told me you were just a couple of miles offshore. Exactly how far out were you?”
“Forty nautical miles, give or take a mile or two,” Trevor replied, with a smile. He then pointed at the navigation console. “The route track is in there, plus the marker I set when I tossed him overboard.”
After a few more questions and a look at the navigation system, Commander Sinclair called the base commander, who confirmed Kookaburra’s course via Jindalee’s radar track. At the end of it, Commander Sinclair was smiling too, and after a quick discussion with Trevor and Shane, she had a plan of her own. “We can do this without having to actually overturn this boat’s Australian registration, if we play the right angles,” she said, and then explained before calling for the return of the federal police.
The three officers filed aboard, and Commander Sinclair smiled at them. “Gentleman, even if we hypothetically accept the events that the prisoner recounts as factual – which they are not – the point is moot on several levels. Firstly, a good case can be made to justify temporarily tossing him overboard. Secondly, a good case can be made for reluctance to bring a killer back aboard. Thirdly, there is the prior history of both the victims and your prisoner, who has tried to gain the boat before. Fourthly, and this is unimpeachable, this vessel was in international waters at the time, far beyond our twelve nautical mile territorial limit, a fact of which there is ample proof. Australian law thus does not apply.”
“But ma’am, this is an Australian boat, so it’s within our jurisdiction no matter where it-”
“That little detail is rather important to your case against our flying contract killer, isn’t it?” Commander Sinclair observed, with a wicked grin. “Look up, gentleman,” she ordered. The three officers looked skyward, following the commander’s outstretched arm. “This vessel is owned by Trevor’s company, Ocean Star Charters, an American firm. That, gentleman, is an American flag. She’s registered here as Kookaburra, though she is also registered in the United States as Ares, a registration that predates the Australian one, and due to a paperwork oversight a decade ago, there has been no actual transfer of ownership; she has been continuously owned by Trevor Carlson’s business, Ocean Star Charters, since before her registry as Kookaburra. What is relevant here is that, should the owner of the boat seek to challenge her Australian registration due to it being done without his consent, he would succeed – just as would the owner of a car that had been reregistered using forged documents. As the boat’s owner, he has standing to challenge her registration – though no one else does. Were the owner to do this – and I can cite Admiralty Court precedents on this matter – her Australian registry becomes invalid, and her American one would thus apply.”
The federal police exchanged a few uncomfortable glances, until the senior officer coughed, and then said, “Commander, accusations were made against these two, and we have to follow procedure.”
Commander Sinclair smiled, in a very predatory way. “I’ll not get into all the details with you for security reasons – as you are aware, there is a clear and ongoing threat – though I do stand ready to disclose details as needed to a judge in chambers, at any time. The long and the short of it, gentlemen, is that I can provide absolute proof that this vessel is, should her owner wish to make a legal point of it, rightly flying the American flag, and thus when in international waters she’s American sovereign territory. Now, if you’ll pardon some unsolicited advice, I’ll suggest that you consider what forcing him to do so might do to some of your case against the killer? I’m sure your superiors would be less than delighted to see such a high profile case partially lost in that manner. It would indeed be such a shame – a scandal, really – if the owner of this boat, one of the intended victims, was left with no option but to overturn his boat’s Australian registration in order to render your case against him moot.”
The declaration of a lawyer while representing a client carried no actual legal weight, but it was not lost on the federal officers that the base commander had personally called in this high ranking naval lawyer, and they did in fact want very badly to prosecute Basingstoke. However, the law was the law, so the officer pointed at Shane and said, “Serious accusations have been made against both of these men, so we have to follow procedure.”
“Yes, yes, of course, high and mighty procedure. Very well, get on with it,” Commander Sinclair said, in a dismissive air. “What specific accusations were leveled against Mr.Rhys?” she asked, with a smile in Shane’s direction.
“He was aboard, and refused to bring the, uh, prisoner aboard after Mr. Carlson tossed him overboard. He’s an Australian national, so out of our waters or not, some of our laws apply to him.”
“You don’t even know the killer’s name yet, do you?” Commander Sinclair asked rhetorically, with a sad shake of her head. “I have that, and more. As for Mr. Rhys, he is a crewman on this boat and thus under her captain’s orders. Would one of those laws you’re referring to be mutiny? Because that’s what he’d have been guilty of, had he acted against orders. Gentleman, last time I looked, doing nothing is not against the law. Now, please continue.”
The Federal Police officer fidgeted for a moment. “Ma’am, we do need to know what really happened out there.”
“I fully concur, and this matter is causing a reckless delay in putting critical evidence in your hands. Evidence that you, and the base commander, urgently need. If this matter regarding accusations against my clients is put to rest, right now, you’ll leave here with a recorded confession by your prisoner. He’s a contract killer, and partly responsible for the bombings in Geraldton. So, for the record, is this matter closed, and will nothing my clients say or provide, including the recording they wish to give you, be used against them?”
The officer knew he was on shaky ground no matter what he chose. His senior position did include a limited ability to make deals in return for evidence, but this was far outside both his experience and purview. Therefore, he prevaricated. “Ma’am, I think I can only do that contingent upon this being, as you say, a foreign vessel – if the owner chooses – and thus out of our jurisdiction, and pertaining only to things admitted to, or on the tape, that occurred outside of our jurisdiction.”
“So stipulated,” Commander Sinclair replied, raising an inquiring eyebrow.
“Then you have my word; we have a deal in place,” he said, glancing at Trevor and Shane. Commander Sinclair had him put it in writing, waiting until it was done to give Trevor and Shane a nod and a smile.
Trevor, with some help from Shane, explained the actual events – though implying that Basingstoke had still been resisting when he’d gone overboard – and then Shane handed over the laptop – though not the CD copy he’d made, now hidden in a movie case.
Commander Sinclair observed, “The killer’s confession won’t stand in court, due to being obtained under duress. However, if the other evidence pans out, you won’t need it for a conviction.”
After a nod from Commander Sinclair, Trevor said, “That hit man is supposed to call Bridget in five hours, to confirm the rendezvous at Onslow. He’s supposed to use my phone. He didn’t bring his with him due to coming aboard from underwater.”
The federal police departed, laptop in hand, after making a request that Trevor haul down the American ensign, which he did. Commander Sinclair gave Trevor her card, and then cautioned him and Shane, “I’d suggest not being overly forthcoming to others regarding the details of tossing that bastard overboard. Just keep doing like you’ve been; implying he was still resisting a bit. If they press for specifics, have them call me. I think we’re on very firm grounds regarding the jurisdictional issue, but that would take a lot of court time to fully establish, and could be very messy. Best not to tempt fate. Give me a ring if they give you any further difficulties, though I doubt they will – we’ve put them in a position where, if they go after you, they lose a far bigger fish.”
“What’s going to happen to the hit man? He’s not going to be released, is he?” Shane asked.
The commander grinned. “Not a hope of it. There’s the matter of sending an unpiloted plane, with incendiary devices aboard, flying at a town. They found his parachute – along with some DNA, they think – outside of Geraldton, which should also serve to help connect him with the bombings independent of your tape. He was seen taking off in the plane from Ayers Rock Airport, so that means we have him cold on some of this. Furthermore, he came aboard your boat with lethal intent in Geraldton, so there’s no jurisdictional barrier there. From the sound of it, those killings he told you about should make for good cases as well, provided they can run down independent evidence. I think he’ll be held without bail.”
Trevor and Shane thanked her profusely for all she’d done, and settled in to wait. They soon had a return visit from the federal police, though this time, they focused on digging the bullet out of the deck, and what questions they had were asked in a far more congenial manner.
Basingstoke was being uncooperative, and refused to provide Bridget’s number – he had denied any knowledge of events in Geraldton, and was now refusing to speak until his lawyer arrived. The lawyer he was asking for was a Melbourne one, which presented the authorities with even more delays and complications. However, they knew from Basingstoke’s confession to Trevor that Bridget had a satellite phone. They also knew that satellite phones were somewhat rare in the region due to their high cost, so the authorities had been delving into phone records, as they’d done with Basingstoke’s phone number after his visit to the Wallabi Islands. That had proven fruitless; Basingstoke had simply changed out the phone’s SIM card, effectively making it a different phone. Bridget too had a spare SIM for her satellite phone, though she had yet to swap it out.
The satellite company had provided what they could, presenting the authorities with an unusual occurrence; satellite phones in Western Australia calling one another even when likely within cellular coverage areas. That stood out as noteworthy, because satellite phones, unless specifically set not to do so, usually defaulted to local cellular networks when available – the airtime costs were far less. After a great deal of data sifting, the police had narrowed down the list to two likely candidates for Bridget’s number. They then checked the phone records of the pilot of Bridget’s chartered jet, and found that the call he’d received in Geraldton had come from one of those numbers. However, they still did not exclude the other number, and kept checking it as well.
With those two phone numbers in hand, they were able to ask the company for the records and current location. Many satellite phones have a GPS chip – as do many cellular phones. However, both Basingstoke and Bridget had disabled that feature on all their phones by the simple expedient of cutting the wire to the internal GPS antenna. Still, the police had to try, and try they did.
One thing they could do was home in on the signal, but a portable detector has limited range; roughly line of sight. The satellite company itself could localize a signal with an accuracy ranging from sixty to one hundred miles – dependent upon the number of satellites within line of sight – via triangulation from the satellite constellation, and they agreed to do so when the phones became active.
The call attempt would be made from Kookaburra, in case Bridget attempted to verify by asking questions about the surroundings.
A warrant officer, chosen because his voice sounded similar to Basingstoke, would make the call and impersonate Basingstoke. They also needed someone who could recognize Bridget’s voice, and they only had two good candidates; Rachel and Trevor. Of the two, Trevor was both handy and conscious, so they ushered him into Kookaburra’s salon, where they’d set up a speaker, and explained what they were about to try. A customs officer stayed with Trevor. In the cockpit, the chosen warrant officer, palms sweating, dialed Trevor’s satellite phone.
“Hello?” Bridget answered. She had been pacing anxiously beside the car.
“I’ve got the boat, heading north as planned,” the warrant officer said.
“Very well. I have had difficulties, though I have eluded pursuit and can make the rendezvous,” Bridget tersely replied.
In the salon, Trevor, eyes shut, listened to the voice, and shuddered. “That’s her, I’m sure,” he said.
The warrant officer, trying to keep the call brief, replied to Bridget, “I’ll be there on time.”
“Were there any difficulties?” Bridget asked.
“No, I took care of the situation, as planned.”
Bridget had spoken to Basingstoke several times by phone, and was growing somewhat suspicious. “Precisely where do you wish us to be? There seem to be two places with the same name.”
That much, the warrant officer knew, and he’d also checked the map and had seen a likely reason for confusion. “There are two Onslow town sites. The old one is abandoned, and it’s at the mouth of the Ashburton River. I’ll ring as planned, one hour before.”
“Can we drive to the beach? I incurred a broken leg. It is splinted and quite swollen, so I cannot move very well.”
“You can drive right to the edge of the sand, then I can help get you aboard.”
“Thank you. I am looking forward to seeing you again,” Bridget replied, and ended the call.
Fifteen minutes later, the satellite company called with their report; Bridget was somewhere within eighty miles of Geraldton.
Bridget glared at the satellite phone – the one left to her by Basingstoke – and then removed its battery, and then the one in her own phone. “Billy, I do not believe that was Basingstoke – his manner of speaking has changed. More to the point, there was silence in the background. Basingstoke does not know how to sail, a matter we discussed at length. He was to run the boat on engines until we were aboard. I suspect that was a police officer, who knows a very great deal, including our planned rendezvous. We must assume the worst; that everything Basingstoke knew is in the hands of the authorities, and plan accordingly. We must act promptly; we need to drive southeast until we encounter the Great Northern Highway at Wubin.”
They began at once; it would have normally been a two hour drive, but Bridget’s insistence on strict adherence to the speed limits and taking side roads where available nearly doubled it.
As they approached Wubin, Bridget said, “Find a gas station or truck stop on the main road. I believe this type of phone can be tracked even when on standby, though only to a general area.”
Billy drove into the town, and Bridget directed him to pass the first gas station he found. “I’m looking for a large truck, preferably with exposed cargo,” she explained.
A minute later, Bridget pointed. “Park near that one,” she said, directing Billy to enter a rest area on the west side of the road. Across the highway was a truck stop.
Bridget climbed out, and casually walked past the enormous lumber truck, its diesel engine rumbling. It had two trailers, loaded down with massive logs. Bridget strolled back to the rear trailer, where she deposited the satellite phone in a gap between the logs. She returned to the car, and told Billy, “Head south, towards Perth. I shall figure out a back road route for us as we go.”
Billy smiled, and took a glance in the rearview mirror. “That truck was parked heading north. You’re sending them on a wild goose chase.”
“Indeed, or so I hope. There are few main roads northbound – and from here, only the one we came in on and the Great Northern Highway – so with any luck, that truck will go several hundred miles. I wish to make them think we are heading for the rendezvous. Even if they are not or cannot track the phone, they may still believe that we are heading north. That was just hedging our bets – one must always play all of one’s pieces, after all, even if the other side does not know the game is on,” Bridget said, with a faint smile on her face.
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