At the Ft. Pierce police impound, Joel labored to get Trevor’s car started. Finally, it wheezed to life and Joel coaxed it onto the street, where Lisa pulled in behind him in his Camaro. Joel slowly pulled away, belching a cloud of blue-black smoke. At the next light, already sweating in the hot car, Joel tugged off his shirt.
Fifteen minutes later, Joel wiped his brow and turned off the key, listening as the ancient Honda’s engine backfired twice and coughed to a hissing halt.
Eager to get out of the hot car, Joel shouldered the door until it creaked open, and then quickly stepped out onto Bridget’s driveway as Lisa joined him. “Trev’s car sorta suits the place,” she said, scowling at the ruins of Bridget’s house. The city had demolished the burned-out shell for safety reasons, and had taken away much of the debris, leaving only the garage still standing and mostly intact. Beyond where the house had been, they could see Bridget’s formal gardens, now in disarray from neglect. The dock was still intact, as was the guesthouse, a fact they’d discovered many weeks before.
Lisa studied Trevor’s car for a moment. “I think leaving it on the driveway will draw attention,” Lisa said, and then paused before reminding Joel, “We’ve been very careful with the guesthouse so far. If we get caught using it…”
Joel shrugged. “What can anybody do? Bridget gave us keys and she never actually said we had to stop using it, so I don’t think it’s really trespassing.”
“I’m more worried about my father, actually. He knows Trev’s car, he knows where Bridget’s house is, and he knows she was seen at Geraldton. He’d go absolutely ape if he even thinks we’re still using the guesthouse,” Lisa said.
“Good point, but then what do we do with Trev’s car,” Joel asked, a moment before his eyes fell on the garage doors. “Hey, let’s just put it inside.”
Bridget’s three-car garage, which had been a single-story wing of her home, had shared only one common wall with the house, so had survived somewhat intact. The police had removed Bridget’s cars along with Trevor’s, so now, so far as Lisa and Joel knew, the garage was empty.
“We have keys to the guesthouse but they probably won’t fit the garage,” Lisa said.
Joel walked to the garage’s car doors, where he found no keyholes of any sort. The garage’s sole remaining door, which had once led from the garage to the house, was situated amidst rubble. Stepping gingerly, Joel made his way there. He examined the door for a moment, and then turned to grin at Lisa. “When a door between a house and a garage locks, which side does it lock on?”
Lisa blinked. “The house side.”
Joel, still grinning, turned the deadbolt, and was rewarded with a thunk. “Okay, it’s unlocked, but it opens towards me and the rubble blocks it.”
For the next few minutes, Joel shifted burned beams, pipes, and roof tiles, until he could pry the door open by a foot. He squeezed in, and then turned to hold it for Lisa. Inside, they found a largely ruined structure; much of the plasterboard from the ceiling had fallen in due to water damage, and some parts of the wall showed direct fire damage, as did the shallow attic above – now revealed by the fallen plasterboard. Around the perimeter of the garage, the plasterboard lay smashed; the police had been very thorough in their search. Little remained untouched save for the concrete slab itself.
The garage still smelled strongly of smoke. Lisa glanced up, wrinkling her nose at the smell, and seeing a few spots of daylight through the damaged roof. “It’s even worse than I thought, and look at those holes. This place is going to get bats in it once the smell goes away.”
Joel nodded. “Yeah, but Trev’s had bats in his belfry for, like, forever, so he can’t mind a few in his car.”
“Are you really going to try to fix that awful thing?” Lisa asked.
“The transmission, at least. It barely moves like it is. Trev said that all that’s needed to make the engine run better is to take out the sparkplugs and clean the oil off ‘em – and clean the oil out of the air intake, too.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “Joel, the sparkplugs and air intakes aren’t supposed to have oil in them! I think that means the rings are going.”
“Yeah, but I want to give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen?” Joel asked, casting a glance around Bridget’s garage.
Lisa began counting off reasons on her fingers. “First, we could get in trouble for being in here. Second, there’s no electrical power. Third, the neighbors might notice and call the police, getting us in even more trouble. Fourth, that might lead to my father finding out that we’re using the guesthouse. Fifth, you might actually fix the awful thing and Trev would keep it.”
Joel gave Lisa his best puppy dog eyes. “I don’t think we can get into trouble for being in here – but if it’ll make you feel any better, we can ask Jim; we’ll be seeing him and Mr. Carlson in a few days. I really want to do this, Lisa. I’d learn a lot, and it’d be a nice ‘welcome home’ surprise for Trev.”
Lisa looked into Joel’s eyes, her resistance melting. “How about getting him something nicer than his car, like a case of the bubonic plague? Stop giving me that look, you know I can’t…” Lisa sighed, and then added, “Okay, okay, if Jim doesn’t think we’ll get into trouble, I won’t object – much.”
Joel brightened. “And if he does think working on it here is a bad idea, we can just leave it closed up in here until Trev gets back. We gotta put it somewhere.”
“I can think of other options, such as at the bottom of a canal, but yeah… uh, how do we get it in here? The garage doors are electric and there’s no power at the guesthouse, so this must be cut off as well.”
Joel looked up at the garage door openers. “My dad has a jump-starter with a rectifier on it, so you can plug stuff into it. We could plug one of these into it… but they look like they got messed up by the water so might not work anyway. I remember my dad opening our garage once, during a blackout…” Joel soon found what he was looking for. “Here it is – the track release handle.” He gave it a few tugs to disengage the opener, only to find that the door wouldn’t move more than a few inches.
Bridget’s three-car garage had two doors; one double and one single. The door Joel had attempted to move was the double. After studying the situation, Joel spotted the problem. “Looks like the track is gunked up and jammed. Let’s try the small door.” Joel disconnected that door’s opener, and with a mighty heave, shoved the door up. “Okay, let’s get Trev’s car inside.”
Joel hopped in, flipping the ignition key in an attempt to start the car. After a series of whining groans that only deepened in tone, the engine backfired twice, only to rumble and cough to a halt. “Uh, Lisa, could you steer and do the brakes while I push?” Joel asked.
Five minutes later, a sweating Joel hauled the garage door down, with Trevor’s car safely inside.
With that done, Lisa tugged Joel to the guesthouse, with other activities in mind.
An hour later, Joel rolled over, stretching, his tan skin highlighted by the white bed sheets.
Lisa, hugging him from the side, sighed. “That was awesome, but… it still bothers me being here. I keep remembering that Bridget and God knows who else was listening every time.”
Joel rolled on his side, cuddling with Lisa. “Yeah, that gets to me too, but we know the bugs are gone.” Joel had good reason to feel confident; the police had closely examined the guesthouse after finding the listening devices George Alfred had planted, and they had removed everything at that time.
Lisa frowned. “I know, but… it still creeps me out – I trusted her, Joel, and she betrayed us in every possible way – and used us to try to kill Trev.”
Joel pulled Lisa closer, hugging her as he said quietly, “And if there’s any way we can get her, we will. It’s just a week until we’re in the Bahamas, and thanks to that asset list and those computer records of your father’s you dug up, we have some good ideas where to look. It’s a long shot, but who knows? We might get lucky.”
As they got out of bed, they began gathering up the sheets so that they could take them to a laundromat on the way home. Lisa paused, a thoughtful look crossing her face. “We’d better be careful how we go about doing that – she’s ruthless and cunning. Just asking around might tip her off. We need a way to do this that won’t let her know we’re getting close.”
At West Wallabi Island, dawn was just a glimmer on the eastern horizon when Trevor phoned Fowler to check to see if everything was ready in Geraldton.
“Well, sort of. Jason Kline thinks it would be best to announce your circumnavigation of Australia there,” Fowler said.
“Okay, I can do that, but… Atlantis’s disguise absolutely won’t last until Melbourne.”
“It won’t need too. You’ll take it off right after Perth,” Fowler said, and then went on to discuss some details with Trevor.
After the call, Trevor and Shane set sail, Trevor again at Atlantis’s helm and Shane at Kookaburra’s. Their destination was Geraldton, sixty miles away. Trevor kept a careful eye on Shane and Kookaburra as they trimmed for speed.
Late that morning, with Trevor in the lead, the two big catamarans sailed into Geraldton’s yacht basin, tying up side by side at moorings near the breakwater. The guys had neatened up Ned’s temporary color scheme on Atlantis by applying some tape at West Wallabi that morning.
Due to the bombings in their town, many residents of Geraldton had taken note that Trevor was the likely target, and they knew, via the photos the reporter in Coral Bay had taken, what Kookaburra looked like. A few onlookers had already appeared at the dock when Trevor and Shane, in Atlantis’s Zodiac, motored to the dock, where Greg Fowler along with Martin and Rachel Blake were waiting.
Trevor, again decked out in his best shorts and T, smiled at the onlookers and, accompanied by Fowler, went over to say hello while Shane and Martin loaded two suitcases, a long duffel bag, and several boxes aboard the Zodiac.
“It’s great to be back in Geraldton, I just hope there are no bombs this time,” Trevor said a bit awkwardly, and then added, “I’m just glad no one was seriously hurt.”
One of the onlookers asked Trevor if he’d be in town long, to which he replied, “Nah, I can’t, I’m doing a circumnavigation of Australia.”
Fowler was irked; the reporter he’d called an hour before had yet to show up. A set of screeching tires announced what Fowler hoped was the reporter’s tardy arrival, so he stalled for time. “My name is Greg Fowler, of Customs and Border Patrol. There’s no threat to the town this time, though even so, we’re being cautious.”
Trevor knew that a reporter was supposed to be there, but the absence of one left him unsure of what to say next. He shook hands with a few of the onlookers and signed a few autographs, and then sighed in relief when he heard Fowler say that the reporter had arrived.
The local reporter, who had been delayed by traffic, arrived at a run. Fowler took care of the introductions, and then the reporter began asking questions.
Trevor did as he’d been told and stared blankly for a second, and then replied, “I’m sailing in about an hour. I’m doing a circumnavigation of Australia and I’ll be making TV appearances in Sydney as part of my book publicity stuff. I’m really excited about the book. It’s all about my trip and my crossing of the Indian Ocean.”
The reporter asked a few more questions, and Trevor answered most of them, though every answer included a plug for the book. Finally, the somewhat irritated reporter asked, “Will you be making any stops on the way to Sydney?”
Trevor nodded. “Probably, but it depends on what my publicist says.”
Shane, who had ferried the Blakes and their cargo to Atlantis, returned alone in the Zodiac, pulling up just a few feet from Trevor, who suppressed a sigh of relief. He gave the crowd a friendly wave as he said, “Gotta go before the tide changes. Thanks!”
Trevor hurriedly signed some more autographs before following Fowler into the Zodiac and taking the helm. There, Trevor gunned the engine, waving as he roared away towards Atlantis.
Trevor, followed by Fowler and Shane, boarded Atlantis and entered the salon, where Martin and Rachel were waiting. Trevor dashed up to his mother, giving her a gentle hug. “How are you?” he asked.
“Better, just about fully healed,” she said, referring to the injuries she’d suffered in Geraldton. She leaned on her cane and glanced at her previously-injured knee. “The leg’s no better though. I don’t think I can cope with being on Kookaburra for more than a few weeks, so we’ll see about any charters. In the meantime though, I’m looking forward to this vacation.”
“Where are you taking her?” Trevor asked, giving his mother another hug.
Rachel smiled. “Carnarvon first, to drop off your uncle and let Kookaburra be seen, then we’re off for a few weeks to Christmas Island, then Cocos Island,” she said, referring to two far-flung Australian islands in the Indian Ocean, known as prime yachting destinations.
Fowler grinned at Shane, and then told Trevor, “You’ll need to stop somewhere tomorrow near Perth by two in the afternoon, to make sure that you and Atlantis are seen – check to make sure her fake color scheme isn’t falling off first, though. Kookaburra will be motoring into Carnarvon at the same time. I’ve made sure that Kookaburra will be seen and photographed. As for where you’ll stop, it was Shane who gave me the idea – how he came to be here, to be exact.”
Shane blinked, and then began to grin. “The annual Surf Lifesaver carnival! Ripper!”
Trevor turned to look at Shane, smiling as he remembered that it was Shane’s one-way trip to a surf lifesaver competition that had resulted in him ending up in Carnarvon. Trevor turned to Fowler, and asked, “What do you want us to do?”
“Anchor off the beach, very prominently, and go ashore. You’ll be recognized, so make yourself known, attract some attention, have some fun, then sail at nightfall.”
For the next hour, Trevor spent time with his mother. Then it was time, and Rachel said, “Trev, you’d best be off before that reporter goes away.”
Trevor gave his mother a hug, saying softly, his voice breaking with emotion, “It’s been awesome seeing you again… I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too Trev, and I’m so sorry for all I put you through,” Rachel replied, her eyes tearing up.
“We’re flying back for Christmas, and we’ll be here a while and run some charters,” Trevor promised.
Trevor and Shane remained on Atlantis while the others made their way aboard Kookaburra. Fowler glanced ashore, relieved to see that the photographer was still there, snapping pictures.
After a round of goodbyes and well-wishes, it was time to go. First Atlantis, and then Kookaburra, got underway, motoring down the channel to the open sea. Once clear of the breakwater, they both raised sail, heading due west.
Two miles off Geraldton, Trevor, at Atlantis’s helm, sounded the horn, raising his hand in a farewell wave as he began a tack to port.
Rachel, at Kookaburra’s helm, returned the blast, and with tears in her eyes spun the wheel to starboard.
For a brief moment, Kookaburra and Atlantis sailed in parallel, a hundred yards apart, sails flying, their bows cutting through the swells with ease. Then the rudder inputs had their effect, and the two, so long apart and recently reunited, began their respective turns towards the north and south, gracefully pulling away.
As Kookaburra faded from view astern, Shane sat next to Trevor in the beanbag. “We’re coming back for Christmas, so we’ll see them soon,” he said, trying to lift Trevor’s mood.
Trevor glanced back at Kookaburra before replying, “I know… it’s just hard. I keep remembering when Mom left Florida… but yeah, enough of being sad: we’ve got an awesome trip ahead!”
Bridget leaned back in her chair, caressing her mahogany desk. That desk had once been Sanchez’s, but she had grown quite fond of it. A faint tap at her office door caught her attention, and she smiled in recognition of the familiar sound. “Come in, Xavier,” she called out to her chief of security, who had also become her aide-de-camp.
Xavier entered, clipboard in hand. He presented the clipboard to Bridget, and then took a seat in front of her desk. “Those are the latest shipment totals. Our best week ever. The new run utilizing a tourist excursion boat is working out well, as are our standard runs.”
Bridget glanced at the figures for a moment, beginning to smile as she handed the clipboard back to Xavier for its contents’ destruction – all such paperwork was shredded, at her express command. “Superb. Now, regarding the other matter I asked you to look into. Any news?”
Xavier nodded. “I asked two of our Florida people to check on the situation. Jim Ainsworth, on behalf of himself and Dirk Carlson, co-joined by parties named Joel Stiles and Lisa Whitaker who he is representing, is suing your estate. He filed papers last week, and a lien on your property pending the outcome of the case was recorded. He is also suing the office of the local State Attorney for wrongful prosecution.”
Bridget leaned back in her chair. “I believe he will win both cases handily, especially in light of the fact that I shall not seek to engage representation to defend my estate. The only assets readily available to him are the ruins of my home, hardly worth quibbling over.”
“One thing, ma’am; the two I asked to look into this checked on your former home. They reported that the garage and the guesthouse survived, and that the guesthouse is in occasional use.”
Bridget arched an eyebrow. “So my cars – and Trevor’s – survived. Now, as for the guesthouse, by whom is it in use?”
Xavier gave an apologetic shrug. “They do not know, only a description. A young couple, both blond. They were seen arriving in a black sports car, and then at another time in a large pickup truck. I’ve asked our people to find out who–”
Bridget interrupted with a chuckle, and a wave of her hand. “Spare them the trouble; I know exactly who that is: Joel and Lisa. I should have expected as much; they do so like to spend time in bed together. No matter, they are of no further concern to us. I am however highly interested in the lawsuit. If any additional assets are liened, please let me know at once.”
Bridget had known since shortly after her late husband’s death that he had hidden an asset list with the tape she so feared. Over the years she had taken care of shifting most of her then-known assets, leaving very few as they had been. Some of those few she rightfully regarded as already forfeit; she was aware of the work of the forensic accountant working with Officer Gonzalez. However, if any of her remaining hidden Florida or Bahamas assets were attached, she would know that she had a problem. None of the remainder was valuable enough to be of financial consequence; a small vacant lot in one location, a hidden equity stake in a small air conditioner service business in another, a small stock portfolio under an assumed name, etcetera. She had left them as tripwires; were any discovered or investigated, it would signal her that her asset list, and thus likely the tape, had been uncovered.
“Xavier, please let our friends in Cali know that we will be arriving on Friday.”
Xavier left to make the arrangements and, once alone, Bridget ran a quick search of Australia’s online news, keying in on Trevor’s name. She read the latest developments with mild interest, smiling faintly. Then, she glanced at a clock, pausing only to calculate the effect of the fifteen-hours-ahead time difference before picking up a phone and dialing the now-familiar number.
Two miles off Perth’s Scarborough Beach, Shane began getting out of his safety harness as he joined Trevor in the cockpit to report, “I patched up the cellophane as best I could, but you might want to anchor with the starboard side to seaward.”
“Will do,” Trevor replied, and then he took a breath and glanced at the beach ahead. “Wow, lots of people.”
“Surf lifesaving is a very big thing, and this is the national championships. I’m going to wear my red lifesaver’s shorts and my bronze medallion when we go ashore.”
They made fast work of the approach, anchoring Atlantis two hundred yards past the breakers, just a few yards north of the closed area reserved for the competition.
Shane, in his red lifeguard shorts and with his bronze medallion around his neck, helped Trevor lock up. As soon as they were done, he leapt overboard, barely waiting for Trevor to splash into the water before pulling hard for the beach.
When they waded ashore, Trevor was dismayed, though not surprised, to find a few people already waiting to meet him. His angst vanished after a few handshakes, and he willingly began posing for pictures with several people who asked. After three photos, he spied Shane watching from the sidelines and grinning. With a grin of his own, Trevor pulled Shane into the next photo, though Shane was hardly unwilling. He carefully positioned his bronze medallion and puffed out his bare chest, very much enjoying the attention, as well as the chance to discuss his medallion with anyone who asked.
After a few minutes, Trevor and Shane, their new entourage in tow, made their way towards the events. It was a spectacular day, sunny and warm, the sea breeze – locally called the Fremantle Doctor – keeping the temperatures bearable.
When they arrived at the spectators’ area, Trevor was hoping to blend into the crowd and watch the events, though he soon discovered that was not to be; three reporters – arranged by Jason Kline – descended on Trevor, photographers at their sides. Trevor found himself posing for more pictures while fielding questions from reporters and trying to appear as if he wanted the attention.
The growing crowd, along with the press presence, attracted the notice of a few of the event organizers, who arrived to find Trevor trying to speak with three different reporters. The event organizers however were not interested solely in Trevor. Their eyes fell on Shane’s bronze medallion and lifeguard shorts, and one of them began to smile. Shane’s role in capturing Basingstoke was known, but the fact that he was a surf lifesaver was something that sparked their interest: he was one of their own.
Moments later, Shane was surprised to hear his name and Trevor’s announced over the event bullhorns, along with the fact that he was a surf lifesaver. Elated, Shane readily agreed to say a few words to the spectators and competitors.
“G’day,” he roared, using the bullhorn he’d just appropriated, striding past the spectator’s area and onto the beach flags course. “I’m only here as a spectator today, but I’m having a blast – and it’s a good job for you lot that I’m not competing, because you’ve now at least a chance of winning! Shane’s wisecrack was greeted with a mixture of laughs and groans – the groans mainly from his fellow lifesavers, who were never reluctant to give some static – exactly what Shane was doing to them. Shane’s grin broadened, and he pointed to a few of the Queenslanders he recognized. “Try to remember, our motto is ‘Vigilance and Service’ – not ‘cocking it up’ !”
The good-natured ribbing between Shane and some of the competitors went on for several minutes, much to the amusement of the audience – and Trevor.
Trevor and Shane returned to the audience to watch the first beach flags event, and as the golden Speedo-clad lifesavers lined up, Trevor found himself subject to a new reporter, who caused Trevor to miss seeing the race. “Trevor, good to see you here today. We’ve a camera crew just down the beach covering the event, and we’d like to do an on-camera interview with you for our nightly news. We’d prefer to have your boat in the background, or we can do it where they’re set up – your choice.”
It was not lost on Trevor that declining was not mentioned amongst his choices, so he gave the reporter a weak smile. “Okay, but not for the next twenty minutes; Shane and I came to see the events, and he’s a surf lifesaver. If the schedule is right there’ll be a break then, and yeah, I’d like to do this with my boat in the background; my publicist told me to be seen as much as I can, which is why I’m here.”
The reporter nodded. “Thanks. Okay, we’ll get the cameras, mikes, and chairs moved over there.”
Trevor pulled away from the reporter, rejoining Shane in time to see the next race.
As the break in the competition arrived, Trevor looked toward the chairs, platform, and cameras the TV crew had set up. “I’m going to be on TV,” he said quietly to Shane, with all the enthusiasm of someone preparing to attend a funeral.
“Yes you are, and something has not occurred to that thick head of yours,” Shane said, chuckling.
“What?” Trevor asked, arching an eyebrow.
Shane gave Trevor an evil grin, leaning close to whisper, “Just that you’ve been attracting a great deal of female attention while you’ve been here. I think you’ll end up on pin-up posters all over Oz if you go on TV shirtless – maybe from some of those photos the press took earlier.”
Trevor blinked and glanced down at his bare chest. “Uh, good point, I totally spaced that.”
“You’re spacey, of that there can be no doubt,” Shane replied, snickering for a moment before adding, “Fortunately, I know my way around surf lifesaving events, so there’s an easier answer than going to the boat, plus it’ll make the event organizers happier than pigs in slop. I’ll be right back.”
Two minutes later, Shane returned from the t-shirt stand he’d dashed off to. He was wearing a souvenir T for the event, and had a second one in hand. He found Trevor surrounded by autograph seekers and reporters, though he managed to shoulder his way in to hand Trevor the T, which Trevor tugged on before making his way towards the TV cameras, where he subjected himself to an interview – which he made sure included Shane. During the interview, Trevor took care to make frequent references to the book.
After the interview, Trevor and Shane did their best to escape into the crowds, and managed to enjoy the rest of the afternoon, watching the events and fending off frequent interruptions.
After watching the final event of the day – an ocean swim – Shane whispered to Trevor, “Time to make our break for it.” They took off at a jog, heading for Atlantis, returning friendly waves as they went. At the waterline, shirts still on, they raced into the surf.
As soon as they were aboard, Shane raced forward to begin raising the anchors. Trevor, mindful of the cameras trained on Atlantis, left his shirt on as they got underway, motoring out to sea.
As they pulled clear of the shore, Shane poked at Trevor’s wet shirt, and while shucking off his own, said, “You can take that off now; we’re far enough out.”
Trevor peeled off the shirt, and then with a wary glance back at the distant beach, said, “That was great to see, but I’d have preferred it if we weren’t pestered all the time. I just hope Kline’s plan works.”
Shane chuckled. “I think it’s a clever scheme; act like you want the attention in order to plug the book, so the press gets sick of you.”
“Yeah, if it works,” Trevor replied, before adding, “Okay, next stop, Melbourne, in about ten days. That means that in the morning, we’ll turn Atlantis into the wind and one of us takes the Zodiac to remove the cellophane and stuff. You can either do that, or take the helm.”
“Slave driving bastard,” Shane grumbled, giving Trevor a mock scowl. “I don’t see why you can’t do both at the same time.”
The journey was a tiring one; a sea plane to Exuma Island, and then a private jet to Cali, Colombia, via the Caymans. A dark sedan met the jet at the airport, to whisk Bridget and Xavier to the Cartel’s usual meeting place.
For the third time since taking Sanchez’s chair, Bridget, alone, walked up the wooden stairs. At the top, a guard, with a deferential nod, let her into the spartan meeting room.
Bridget strolled in, diamonds glittering, making her usual grand entrance, head held high. She walked with purpose to the bare wooden chair she so loved, taking her seat before glancing around the table at her fellow leaders of the cartel. With a nod to the first amongst equals, she said, “It is good to see all of you again.”
“And you, Bridget,” the first amongst equals said, giving her a faint smile of greeting. “How are things progressing regarding the tape?”
Bridget had briefed them on her prior visit, so she replied, “Approximately as expected. Our target has been seen by the press, and thus I expect an opportunity to present itself shortly. The boat he was on is the renamed Ares, though it appears that his own boat, Atlantis, has been refurbished. I expect that he will soon set sail on one of them, destined for Florida. I think Atlantis will be his somewhat more likely choice, leaving Ares behind. That would make her destruction a matter of trivial difficulty. I have several things in play to those ends.”
One of the younger members glared. He was envious of Bridget’s sudden rise to prominence – she was already, by virtue of the size and profitability of her operation, seen as one of the five most powerful members at the table – and he still detested the idea of her, or any woman, having a seat at the table. In broken, heavily accented English, he said, “That tape is a knife at our hearts. We and our families are at risk while it exists. What if it is found before you act? We cannot wait.”
Bridget gave him a patient smile. “Perhaps you are unaware of all the reasons I chose to retire Sanchez? To be specific, he failed to inform you of the threat, and further, he was recalcitrant in dealing with it. I am not. If there is even a hint that the tape has been found, I shall give orders to move at once, publicity and finesse be damned. However, it has remained hidden all these years, so the risk is faint. I believe I have the contingencies covered, for I have several things in play in Australia and elsewhere. Multifaceted, adaptable plans are the best for issues such as this – a fact Sanchez was incapable of grasping.” Bridget, mindful of security, had been vague regarding some of the details, sharing them only with the first amongst equals.
The younger member was not done. “What if he sails back on the boat we are after?”
Bridget chuckled. “That would be a most fortuitous development – for us. If indeed it proves to be Ares that is bound for Panama, so much the better; we simply destroy her and all aboard. In that eventuality, we would merely need to use a sufficient amount and type of explosives to ensure the complete destruction of everything, including a protected tape – as we plan to do with her in Australia.”
“Why do you think he will go through Panama?” another member, Vasquez, asked, though he was careful to smile, to indicate that he meant no offense. He had long since decided that he did not want to make an enemy of Bridget. He also wished to highlight his own role in Panama.
Bridget gave him a friendly smile. “An excellent question. The two relatively direct routes to Florida lie via the Suez in one direction and Panama in the other. We can rule out Suez; it would require a passage by Somalia and its pirates, and I doubt he wishes to encounter them again. The Panama route is actually shorter and as far as he knows, safer. The other two routes are far longer and impractically perilous; one is via the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, and the other is via Cape Horn at the tip of South America. Furthermore, two of his friends are marrying in August in Florida, so he will wish to be home by then. That would mean rounding one of the capes in the teeth of the austral winter – utter madness. No, irrespective of which boat he is on, he will come via Panama – our veritable backyard – where he will need to give notice to the canal authorities well in advance – a notice we will receive as well,” she said, giving a nod of acknowledgment to Vasquez, whose main area of operations was Panama. His people had contacts within the canal authority.
The first amongst equals gave a single approving nod of his head. “What size force would you need for that?” he asked, though Bridget had already told him the answer. The reason for his question was to place his own implicit seal of approval on Bridget’s plans.
Bridget smiled. “Twenty of my best, armed and trained, along with a matching force from Vasquez, who will also be providing the explosives as well as the RPGs we would have for backup,” she said, with a nod towards Vasquez, before continuing. “Overkill, though better to have more than one needs than to run the risk of having too little. We also have ample contacts within the local authorities, who would thus be quite slow to respond. However, if all goes well, the matter will be dealt with long before that, thus rendering the Panama contingencies moot.”
Another member cleared his throat, and asked, “If the press is to be believed, they have been using false nameplates. With two identical boats, how can we be totally certain which is which?”
Bridget leaned back in her chair, giving the man a steely stare. “I have anticipated that possibility, and if there is any doubt whatsoever, the answer is simplicity itself.” Pausing for effect, her eyes still locked on her questioner’s, Bridget eased her chair back, slowly standing up as the sound of its legs dragging across the rough old floor echoed in the expectant silence. “I shall destroy both.”
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