A soft rumble followed a faint hiss; the gentle murmur of waves lapping against the coral sands in ancient, stately rhythm. That sound, along with the rustle of palms and the scent of tropical flowers intermixed with the tang of salt air, wafted in through the French doors of Bridget’s island home.
“Your drink, ma’am,” Xavier said, arriving with a mint julep in a silver julep cup.
Bridget, who had been standing on her portico gazing out at the sea, turned and, with an air of majestic grace, took the silver cup, taking a genteel sip. “Excellent,” she pronounced, with an approving nod.
“This morning’s shipment from Freeport to Florida arrived with no problems,” Xavier reported. Bridget, unlike Sanchez, followed the details of her far-flung operations with care.
Bridget replied with a faint smile, and a nod. “It is indeed helpful to know what the other side is thinking and doing,” she remarked, turning again towards the sea. “It is well that so much of my Florida network survived.” Bridget paused for a moment before turning to fix her chief of security, who had also become her aide de camp, in her steely gaze. “You have a perspective that I lack; a detailed knowledge of our people’s morale under Sanchez. Give me your candid, unvarnished opinion as to the current state of affairs.”
Xavier blinked. This was not the first time that Bridget had issued that command, though this time it made him more nervous than most. He swallowed once before replying, “Morale continues to improve, as is to be expected. Our people very much like being paid so much more money, and they also like having less trouble with the authorities. They also… are very much appreciative that they no longer have to fear Sanchez’s capricious killings of them. Most feel that you saved us when you took over – which you did.”
Bridget noted Xavier’s hesitation, and smiled. “Unvarnished, please,” she reminded him.
Xavier swallowed again. “They are afraid of you, but not in the same way they were afraid of him. With you, there is respect. They see what you have done, how much better things are now for the operation, and for their own pockets. The senior people like that they can speak with you.” Bridget had made it a habit to visit her key people often. Xavier hesitated for a moment. “Even those that know your name do not use it. They use a nickname instead – for security,” he quickly added.
Bridget already knew this, though she was curious as to how Xavier would relate it. “What might that name be?” she asked, with a knowing smile.
“They call you… with respect, ma’am… The Bruja, or sometimes, The Bruja Del Mar.”
Bridget took a sip of mint julep, a slow, pleased smile spreading across her face. “The Witch, or The Witch of the Sea.”
Xavier blinked in surprise. “You know Spanish, Ma’am?” Many of Bridget’s personnel hailed from Colombia or elsewhere in Latin America, including Xavier himself.
With a soft chuckle, Bridget replied, “I have recently acquired a minor degree of skill in that regard, though you shall tell no one of that.”
Xavier understood at once. He’d seen several of her fellow cartel heads speak in Spanish about her while within her earshot. Knowing enough of the language to understand it, while keeping them ignorant of that fact, could be useful indeed when dealing with her fellow cartel heads, or Spanish-speakers in her employ. He also saw that she was trusting him with a secret. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Bridget had indeed grown to trust Xavier somewhat. She glanced out at the sea and said, in a quiet voice, “There may be trouble coming. My late husband was a brilliant man, though horribly disloyal. I had to kill him, though as it turned out, he was trying to kill me as well. He had created a few items to use against me. Years later, I found notes in his office files, intended for the police to find in the event of his demise. He had even crafted a safeguard – a means to exact revenge from beyond the grave. Part of what he planned to use against me was a list of my assets that he had prepared for a divorce filing. Another part was a video tape. I was also unable to locate his set of keys to a series of safe deposit boxes.”
“Are these things still a danger to you?” Xavier asked.
With a sad smile, Bridget replied, “Only that tape. You do not wish to know what is on it; knowledge of that would necessitate your death – not at just my order, but that of my fellows in Cali as well. That tape is the reason I have been seeking the Ares all these years. My late husband, may he rot, was diabolically clever. The clues he intended for the police to find pointed to several boats we formerly owned and which, by then, were largely scattered far and wide. He had also left a receipt for the supplies required to build a secret compartment. He knew that they could detain and search them all with ease, whereas I could not. His one mistake was to overestimate the authorities’ competence in regards to investigation. I now know that the yacht he chose was Ares. I relocated most of my assets, though I left a few minor things in place to act as telltales. However, regarding the Ares; she is one of two boats now in the possession of Trevor Carlson. Two regrettably identical boats. The Ares must be destroyed, for that tape must never be found. It is a threat to me, this operation, and to Cali as well. There is confusion as to which boat is which so, unless that can be cleared up, both must be destroyed. I have some things in play in Australia at the moment towards those ends. However, it is best to do things in a subdued manner if possible, to avoid needless publicity and official interest, and also we must not fail – better to wait for certainty. Therefore, the Australian operation is using an operational concept of target-of-opportunity – for now.”
“What do you need me to do?” Xavier asked, knowing that Bridget must have a reason for confiding in him.
“If we discern any hint that the tape has been found, we must strike at once, heedless of any consequences. In Australia, this would entail hiring a force of a dozen or so, who would simply swarm the boats and destroy them. Men will take many risks for great wealth. What I need you to do is select a few of our people to send along; ones who are experienced killers, to act as a backup for our Australian friends. If that tape is found, anyone aboard, or anyone else who even might have seen it, must die. Our friend at the head of Cali’s table,” she said, referring to the first amongst equals, “is preparing likewise, though most of his people do not speak English well enough. Our operation is far more fortunate in that regard. Do not contact the people you choose; merely make a list of selections. This is a contingency that I hope shall shortly prove superfluous, though one must be prepared for all things.”
“Is there any way we can know that it was found?” Xavier asked.
Bridget nodded, a cold smile appearing on her face. “There are several ways.” Though Bridget did not choose to elaborate, one of those ways was any sign that her asset list had been found.
The fax from Freeport, marked ‘urgent’, had arrived at the Ft. Pierce police department, where it had been delivered to Mike Gonzalez’s inbox. There it sat, exposed to the view of any passing officer or department staff, because the staff sergeant was unaware that Officer Gonzalez, as of two days prior, was no longer with the Ft. Pierce police department.
Gonzalez still had his desk and cubicle, though he’d begun moving into his new office in Miami, taking his position as the head of the corruption task force – the position won for him by the former State Attorney in return for the State Attorney quietly stepping down.
The fax had been sitting for two days before Gonzalez arrived to load the last of his possessions and files into his car for the drive to Miami. Out of habit, he glanced at his inbox, gnashing his teeth when he saw the ‘urgent’ tag. He knew the staff sergeant should have phoned him, but all thoughts of chewing the man out vanished as Gonzalez saw Bridget’s name on the subject line, and that it was from a DEA agent he’d met while in Freeport.
Gonzalez sat down to study the agent’s report, and then glanced at the flier. “Those idiots, they’ll get themselves killed,” he grumbled, picking up the phone to call the DEA agent, who had instantly recognized Bridget Bellevue’s picture on the flier.
The call connected, and Gonzalez got to the point. “The two teens you described are named Lisa Whitaker and Joel Stiles. They are not relatives of Bridget Bellevue; they are friends of Trevor Carlson. From the looks of it, they are trying to find her on their own. We don’t think she’s in the Bahamas, but we know the organization she’s connected to has a lot of people there. We’re not sure what’s going on; they might have killed her, but I think that was all a ruse. Either way, they might get very interested in anyone handing out her picture, so find those idiots and stop them before they get themselves killed. I’ve got half a mind to ask you to throw them in jail.” Gonzalez paused, his eyes narrowing. “Actually, do exactly that. Put them in a holding cell overnight and see what they have to say. I want to know why they chose Freeport.”
“Uh, there’s a problem. I don’t know where they’re staying. When I didn’t hear from you, I showed up at the restaurant and told them my neighbor wasn’t the woman in the poster,” the agent replied, and then quickly explained, “I didn’t know they were of any interest, I just saw Bellevue’s picture and figured that might be the important part.”
Gonzalez sighed. “Okay, I’ll call their parents and find out where they’re at. If you see them, throw them in a cell and call me immediately.” Gonzalez gave the agent his cell number and ended the call.
Gonzalez’s first call was to Robert Whitaker, who was far less then pleased to find out what Lisa and Joel had been doing. Robert then gave Gonzalez the names of the hotels Lisa and Joel would be staying at in Nassau and Andros Island, along with the fact that they would be arriving at their Nassau hotel that afternoon.
Though he’d planned to drive to Miami and spend the rest of the day apartment hunting, Gonzalez’s next call was to Jim Ainsworth, to let him know he’d be coming by.
Amidst the subdued jazz and a soft cacophony of conversations, an undertone of tension suffused the modest pub in Melbourne’s Dockside area – for a few of its denizens, at least.
A slightly tarnished, silver-plated serving tray arrived, bearing three beers from Gray’s private reserve. The server noticed that the murmured conversation at the table ceased upon his approach, and he knew enough about the three men seated at the isolated table to beat a hasty retreat, almost stumbling into a glowering bodyguard a few yards away. The waiter was used to the presence of the underworld in the bar – though familiarity did not translate into ease.
The man who had convened the meeting reached for the closest of the bottles, hoisting the Mountain Goat Surefoot Stout – a seasonal brew from a local microbrewery – clinking it against the raised identical bottles of his two associates. “I’ve never had a contract like this. It’s an odd one, but worth our trouble, I think,” Gray said, with an air of studied understatement. He’d offered the two men a hundred thousand apiece for their role, a small part of the million and a half he’d been offered himself – though they had no need to know of that part.
“I’d bloody well like to know more before I commit,” one of the two said, giving Gray a wary glance.
Gray, with an affected nonchalant demeanor, took a sip of beer. “I can’t share what I haven’t got yet. I’m working on it – as are quite a few of my contacts – and I hope to have the locations within a few days.”
“What are they, bloody battleships? That hundred kilos of high explosive you want would flatten a city block,” one of the associates whispered.
Gray shook his head. “Catamaran yachts. Don’t bother asking why; I don’t know. I don’t particularly care, either. They are to be blown up in deep water – whether we put them over deep water or their passengers do is a matter of situational expedience, though the latter would make things neater.”
The other associate fidgeted with his beer, trying to decide which he feared most; antagonizing the oft-prickly Gray, or going into a high-risk operation without knowing all the particulars and risks. His operational concerns won out and, with trepidation, he played his hunch. “This sounds a great deal like what happened in Geraldton, when somebody was after a big catamaran. Basingstoke got himself taken by the targets, and then he was suddenly dead as a maggot, killed in a prison hospital. I knew Bassy, he wasn’t careless. I also know that he didn’t have the skill set to rig his plane to fly itself, and probably didn’t know how to make bombs. And, I know that punching somebody’s ticket inside a prison takes a very well connected person. The long and the short of it is, I’m not eager to follow in Bassy’s footsteps.” He let the implication that Gray had been involved hang in the air.
Gray gave the man a withering glance, and then shrugged. “All I can say is Bassy talked too bloody much, and did it to the wrong people. If he hadn’t let them put the bag on him, he’d be rich and retired. If he hadn’t talked, he’d still be breathing. I trust I’ve made my point?” he asked, arching an eyebrow.
The threat was taken as intended. Both associates quickly nodded. “I’d just like to know what’s expected of me,” the man replied.
A momentary faint, amused smile crossed Gray’s face. “Nothing too daring – for the moment. What we need is information to give the client, and also to be prepared to act when a window of opportunity arises. I generally work alone, though I’ve yet to master the art of being in two places at once.”
The raucous cries of gulls wheeling overhead went unnoticed by Gonzalez, distracted as he was by a plethora of things on his mind.
With a sigh, he strolled into the chandlery, where Dirk was busy with a customer. Jim caught Gonzalez’s eye. “Good to see you, Mike. Let’s go in back.” They entered the chandlery’s large back room, where Jim added, “Dirk wants to join us, but that’s a major customer who just dropped by so he might be a few minutes. What’s up?”
“It’s about Lisa and Joel. Seems they have a new hobby; handing out fliers in the Bahamas with Bridget’s photo on them, describing her as Joel’s grandmother and having Alzheimer’s.” Gonzalez handed Jim a copy of the flier.
“Are they completely insane? They know what she’s capable of. If they did manage to find her, it would not end well,” Jim said, shaking his head in near disbelief.
“My thoughts exactly, so I’m putting a stop to it. I’ve already found out, via Lisa’s father, where they are going. That brings me to another issue; that asset list you shared with me. It mentions stuff on Andros Island, and that’s where they are planning to go after Nassau. They’re going to be staying in one of the small towns, Nicholls Town,” Gonzalez remarked offhandedly, while raising an enquiring eyebrow.
Jim’s eyes opened wide as he understood the implication: Nicholls Town was the location of a small marine repair shop, mentioned on Bridget’s asset list. “I did not give them a copy of the list,” Jim said, in reply to the unspoken question.
“I didn’t think you had, but I had to ask. Now, here’s my problem; Freeport and Andros are on the asset list but Nassau isn’t, and that’s where they are off to next. Why? I’m assuming they got the asset list from Trevor, but why Nassau? Any ideas?”
Jim shook his head. “Not a clue.”
“Has he sent anything else since the asset list and keys?” Gonzalez asked.
“No, I’d have let you know if he had,” Jim replied.
Gonzalez smiled. “I figured you would, but I’ve been hard to find lately. I’m in the middle of moving to Miami.”
Jim knew of Gonzalez’s new job as head of the corruption task force, and asked, “Who’s taking over the Bellevue case?”
“Nobody,” Gonzalez quickly replied. “I was clear to them about that; I’m keeping that case. They didn’t give me any arguments, mainly because they bought into that boat-of-the-dead thing, hook, line, and sinker. They think she’s dead.”
“And you still don’t,” Jim observed.
“All I’ve got is a strong gut feeling, but yeah, I’m pretty sure. Maybe she was wounded on board, or maybe she’s their prisoner, but I think she’s still breathing. If Lisa and Joel have some clues that we don’t, I want them. I also want those two the hell out of the Bahamas.”
“Any particular reason to think the Bahamas are dangerous? The reason I ask is Trevor and Shane are moving there, due to Shane’s immigration issues,” Jim asked.
Gonzalez shook his head. “So far as I know, Bridget is no longer after them, and the Bahamas aren’t any more dangerous than anywhere else – but I’m not saying it’s safe. We simply don’t know. What could be very dangerous is rattling the bushes trying to find her, which is what Lisa and Joel have been doing. That could provoke a reaction if she’s got the means, so that’s what I think is dangerous. I just want Lisa and Joel out of there, just in case they’ve drawn attention from Bridget or the cartel. If Bridget is on the run from the cartel, they’d be very interested in any sign of her – or might even assume that they are connected to Bridget.”
“Knowing those two… I’d say ordering them home would be a waste of breath. Maybe if their parents did it–”
“Way ahead of you, counselor. I’ve already made my plans; I’ll be paying them a visit in Nassau this evening. I’ll find out what they’ve got, and then I’ll put them on a plane in the morning. If they give me any grief over it, I’ve got enough pull with the locals to have them booted out of the country.”
Jim chuckled. “I’ll bet they won’t be pleased to see you. If I can be of any help, let me know. I’d also like to know if you turn up anything interesting over there.”
“I’ll let you know what I can, but yeah, I’ll spend some time nosing around,” Gonzalez replied. He checked his watch, and added, “Say hello to Dirk for me, but I’ve got to run.”
Jim let Gonzalez out the back door just moments before Dirk, free of his customer at last, dashed in. Jim glanced at him, and with a bemused look on his face, handed him the copy of the flier. “You’ll never guess what Lisa and Joel have been up to,” Jim said, before going on to explain.
In one of Melbourne’s quiet southern suburbs, the morning calm riven by the repeated labored chugging of a car’s starter motor, the sound becoming gradually lower in tone as the swearing driver tried, again and again, to get his car to start. It was a futile task; the car’s distributor cap was missing.
At Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport, a just-arrived Lisa and Joel exited the terminal, bags in hand. Joel glanced at his watch. “We’ve got a few hours before check-in time. Want to do some sightseeing? Or maybe see if we can turn up any leads with Bridget’s picture at the marina?” he asked.
Lisa shook her head. “Let’s go check out that air conditioning place that was in my dad’s records,” she said, glancing around before adding, “And get something to eat. I’m starved!”
“Me too,” Joel replied, glancing around. “Hey, there’s the bus stop,” he said, beginning to jog in that direction.
Twenty minutes later, with a rumble and a screech of brakes, their bus came to a gentle halt in downtown Nassau.
The bus disgorged its passengers, amongst them Lisa and Joel, who checked their map. “The air conditioning place is about five blocks away, and from there it’s just a half mile to our hotel,” Lisa said, as they began walking, relaxing and taking in the sights of the city and its colorful buildings.
They soon arrived at the decrepit air conditioning repair business, which occupied a tiny storefront in a side street. To their delight, they spotted a small restaurant on the street corner, which was within easy sight of their target.
“So, we’re supposed to be seen today,” Trevor grumbled.
“I hope Kline and your uncle know what they’re doing – though I suppose there weren’t any good options once the press found us,” Shane replied, as he helped Trevor lock up Atlantis.
They’d asked the yacht club to arrange for a car and driver, and thus were unsurprised to find a man waiting by a sedan in the parking lot.
The sedan’s driver looked at Trevor and Shane for a confused moment, unable to tell them apart due to the sunglasses and baseball caps they were wearing. “Uh, hello, Mr. Carlson and Mr. Rhys,” the driver said.
Trevor smiled. “I’m Trev, and this is Shane. Do we pay you now, or later?”
“Later, it’s by the hour,” the driver replied, feeling more at ease. “They didn’t tell me where you’re going, or what you want to do,” he prompted, as he quickly opened the car’s rear doors for his passengers.
Once they were inside, the driver, clearly in a hurry, pulled out of the parking lot, and Trevor replied, “We’re looking for ideas – maybe a wildlife park or something. We just need to end up in Melbourne this afternoon, at a big shopping center or something like that.”
“I’ve just the place: Healesville Animal Sanctuary. It’s one of our finest wildlife parks; you’ll love it. It’s about an hour from here,” the driver assured them.
Trevor and Shane sat back to enjoy the ride, taking in the sights as the driver made his way east.
Shane leaned forward to reply, “Trev keeps telling me that he wants to pet a salty croc, and I think he should have the chance.”
The driver chuckled. “Anyone trying to pet one of Australia’s salt water crocodiles would soon end up minus a limb, or as lunch.” He paused for a moment, and then added, in a friendly tone, “I’ve been following you two in the press. You, Trev, have had quite a rough go of it even before arriving in Australia. And then the two of you did bloody well putting the bag on the killer off Geraldton. I have to say, I’m impressed, and I’m a man who doesn’t impress easily. So what’s the situation now? Are they still after you?”
“As far as we know, no, but we’re playing it safe anyway,” Trevor replied.
“That’s always wise; one can never be too sure. I do hope you told no one where you’re off to today?” the driver asked.
“Nah, we’re careful about that. One thing you should know though; we’re supposed to get recognized today. It’s part of what we’re doing for some public appearances in Sydney,” Trevor replied.
The driver finished entering the Healesville Sanctuary into his GPS, and replied, “That sounds a bit risky. Won’t that clue the press in as to the whereabouts of that beautiful catamaran of yours?”
Trevor chuckled. “That’s sort of the idea, for a few days anyway.”
“Does this mean I’ll be needing to deal with press and photographers?” the driver asked.
“It shouldn’t. We’re planning on doing it by walking around in Melbourne and getting recognized before taking the train back to Sandringham.”
“All’s well with the world then,” the driver replied, flashing Trevor and Shane a friendly smile in the mirror. “I’ve never had celebrity guests before; this is all quite new to me. Just give me a shout if there’s anything you need.”
Shane chuckled. “It’s bloody new to us as well.”
“Then we’ll muddle through together,” the driver replied.
The driver did his best to engage Trevor and Shane in chit-chat for the rest of the drive to Healesville. When they arrived, he parked in the shade of one of the many enormous eucalyptus trees that surrounded the gravel parking lot. “Mind if I tag along with you? I’ve been driving people here for years, though I’ve yet to actually go inside,” the driver asked.
Trevor and Shane had enjoyed the friendly chat with the driver and, seeing no harm, they readily invited him along.
Trevor and Shane donned baseball caps and sunglasses before exiting the car, and then the three made their way to the entrance to pay their entry fees.
They set out along the sanctuary’s serpentine, shaded paths. The sanctuary was arranged in a natural setting along the banks of Badger Creek, with lush natural foliage forming a high-canopy of towering eucalyptus trees, sheltering the verdant ferns, bushes, and vines of a thicker lower undergrowth. The paths of the sanctuary wound through the forest, passing by large enclosures containing species native to Australia. Each enclosure was designed to simulate that species’ natural environment.
They’d had the good luck to arrive on a relatively quiet day, so only a few other visitors were in sight. It made for a pleasant quiet setting, punctuated by the gentle murmur of a small creek.
The first display was of emus, a sight Trevor and Shane had seen before. After looking for a few moments, they and their driver turned right, following the main trail through the park. The next up were the dingoes, which evoked a smile from Trevor. “They look kind of like the coyotes back home,” he said.
Soon they came to a large enclosure, and Shane darted forward, grinning in recognition. “Kookaburras!”
“One of these used to wake me every morning,” the driver said, with a fond smile. “Oh, that’s right, Kookaburra is the name of the boat you were on – or are still on, right?”
“Spot on,” Shane replied distractedly, moving closer to the aviary’s wire. “We had Kookaburras back home in Cairns. I love their call – it sounds just like Trev,” he said, and was soon followed by the raucous cry of a kookaburra, which can be best described as a shrill, loud, avian version of hysterical human laughter.
Trevor pretended not to hear, and casually remarked to the driver, “Ever since arriving in Australia, right from the very first day, I’ve been amazed by the strange and bizarre creatures you have here,” he said, while turning to stare pointedly at Shane.
“Cruel and abusive bastard!” Shane grumbled, giving Trevor a playful punch on the arm.
Their driver chuckled, and then stage-whispered to Trevor, “Seems to me that the native wildlife can be a mite temperamental at times.”
With an eager nod, Trevor replied, “Yeah, he can be, but he’s almost housebroken – so he’s making some progress.”
“The Aussie larrikin is indeed a strange creature,” the driver dryly remarked, with a merry smirk on his face.
Shane blinked at the driver, and then began to grin. “Sod off, curly,” he said, crossing his arms and pushing his baseball cap back just a bit. “So it’s a conspiracy against me, is it?” he grumbled, with a mock glare at Trevor and the driver as they shared a laugh. “Right. Bloody evil, that’s what this is,” he said, turning to stalk off in mock dudgeon, which lasted only until the next enclosure.
The playful banter continued, with the driver usually taking Trevor’s side, while they went on with their tour, stopping along the way to see parrots, snakes, and all manner of wildlife. In one enclosure – a walk-in aviary – they had the good luck to arrive at the beginning of one of the sanctuary’s many daily events. This one was the feeding of the lorikeets – brilliantly colored parrots. One of the sanctuary’s policies was to try to involve guests directly when possible, so to Trevor’s delight, he found himself invited to participate, and was soon standing very still, with half a dozen lorikeets perched on his outstretched arms, one of them scampering up onto his shoulder to nibble playfully at his ear.
They came to the set of enclosures furthest from the entrance, and Trevor rushed forward, eagerly reading the signs. “Tasmanian devils,” he said quietly, approaching the viewing area with trepidation. He glanced in, his expression turning from apprehension to delight. “They’re not like I thought. I was expecting some big, mean-looking thing, but they aren’t big, and they’re kinda… cute. Why do they have such a fierce reputation?” he asked, only to have his question answered by the devil himself; a devil yawned, its vicious jaws opening massively wide, and then it let out a blood-curdling scream as it approached another of its kind. “I hope this enclosure is stronger than it looks,” Trevor said, giving the wire a concerned glance. “I remember a news report back home, about a mountain lion getting loose in a zoo.”
“Relax,” the driver replied, with a dismissive wave. “Tasmanian devils are good at escaping, though when they do, they are usually satisfied with eating just one person – generally the closest one,” he said, glancing pointedly at Trevor, who was standing nearest the wire.
Shane joined in to ask, “Uh, why is there a hole in the fence?”
Trevor knew that he was being teased, and grinned. “I’m not even going to look,” he said, while turning his attention to an informative sign. There, he saw, as he now expected, that the Tasmanian devils were not generally a danger to people. “They sure do sound like devils though,” he said, smiling with delight as he watched two of the devils start noisily squabbling, raising a cacophony of shrieks, screams, and growls.
“You should know, seeing as how you’re from Hell yourself,” Shane quipped, with an innocent, angelic smile on his handsome face.
The banter continued as they carried on, building a friendly rapport as the three took in the sights. Soon, they came to the wombat exhibit, where Trevor and Shane had their first look at the enigmatic creature. They were fortunate; the wombat is nocturnal, so on most days they’d see only a slumbering furry lump, if anything at all. On this day however, a handler was in the enclosure, and one of the wombats was awake.
“They dig like the blazes,” the driver remarked, shaking his head. “They’re native to this area so I’ve seen a few, plus I witnessed first-hand what they did to my neighbor’s garden a few years back.”
“Were your neighbors growing carrots, by any chance?” the handler asked, with a friendly smile. “Wombats just love carrots – it’s what we give ours as a treat, though it’s not their normal diet.”
“I think it was carrots,” the driver replied, before standing back to let Trevor and Shane pepper the handler with wildlife questions.
Almost two hours into their visit, they came to the duck billed platypus enclosure, though the residents were nowhere to be seen, due to being largely nocturnal. The driver chuckled, glanced around to make sure no one was within earshot, and said offhandedly, “You two have a lot in common with the platypus; good at staying out of sight. According to the papers, you two were seen in Perth, and also at Carnarvon, on the same afternoon. I’ve yet to master the art of being in two places at once, so I was wondering, just how did you pull that off? I’ve figured out that there must be two boats, with different color schemes, but the one you’re on here looks more like the pictures in the paper from Carnarvon on the same day as you were in Perth.”
Trevor chuckled. “Colored cellophane and some upholstery material, which is off now. Yeah, there are two.” It was an admission he saw no harm in making, given their plans for sailing through The Rip in broad daylight after being ‘discovered’ by the local press.
“Ah, that makes sense. So, are they both in the area now?” the driver asked.
“Nah, the other one is staying out of sight off the west coast for now. We’ve got something planned for Sydney, to get the damn press off our backs,” Trevor replied.
The driver smiled. “Clever. Must be rather handy, having two yachts. One must be the one you arrived on – Atlantis, wasn’t it? And the other one Kookaburra? Yet the one you’re on now is called Phoenix.”
“We’ve been using removable names, to keep the press guessing,” Trevor replied.
Shane chuckled. “We’ve done it so many times I’m not even sure which is which anymore. Worth it though, to give the bloody reporters a headache.”
“I’ll bet. They’ve certainly given you two a rough go of it,” the driver replied.
Their tour continued, with them taking in views of kangaroos and then koalas, the latter napping blissfully, high in the eucalyptus trees.
As the main trail neared the entrance area, they came to an enclosure, one separated from the viewing area only by a wood-framed, low, wire-mesh fence. The enclosures contained a biome of lush native brush, interspersed with grassy open areas and scattered with a variety of logs and rocks. “They look like a cross between hedgehogs and possums,” Trevor said, smiling in delight.
One of the roaming volunteers, whose job it was to interact with guests, stopped by with a smile. “They’re echidnas, the only mammal besides the platypus that lays eggs. They’re found throughout most of Australia, though there are five different subspecies, each with its own range, with some overlapping.”
“They have them in Queensland too; I’ve seen echidnas around the Cairns area pretty often. What do they eat?”
“Mainly insects; ants, termites, beetles, moths, caterpillars, that sort of thing,” the volunteer said, as Shane, Trevor, and the driver turned to look at two of the spiny creatures, just thirty feet away. “Their formal name is tachyglossus aculeatus, more commonly known as the short-beaked echidna, though this,” the volunteer pointed to an echidna that was gamboling in their direction, “is one of the staff’s favorites, and we just call him Graeme.”
The driver’s eyes opened a bit wider, a brief look of concern appearing unnoticed on his face. He turned to glance at the sanctuary volunteer, and with a smile, said, “It must be interesting work.”
“Yeah, I’m doing an internship – it’s ripper!” the young volunteer replied, with a happy grin.
After seeing the remaining exhibits, they made their way back towards the entrance area. Trevor glanced at his watch, seeing that it was early in the afternoon, a time confirmed by a rumble from his stomach. He glanced towards the sanctuary’s restaurant and said, “We should grab some lunch here.”
The driver chuckled. “Nah, the food at places like this’ll kill ya. I know a pub on the way to Melbourne, just down the road, that does a great cut lunch.”
And with that, they took their leave of the Healesville Sanctuary.
The driver was as good as his word, and twenty minutes later Trevor and Shane found themselves in a suburban bar, which had a modern, relaxed theme. There, at the driver’s suggestion, they all ordered cut lunches – chicken sandwiches with a side of potato chips. The driver smiled. “How about something to wash it down with? They’ve a good selection of local wines and beers. I’m driving so I can’t join you, but that’s no reason you can’t enjoy yourselves.”
Neither Trevor nor Shane was fond of wine so, after a glance between them, Trevor replied, “Beer sounds great.” Trevor felt slightly uncomfortable; he and Shane were the only people in the bar wearing sunglasses, though he knew they dare not take the caps and glasses off for fear of being recognized too soon.
The driver smiled again. “Any preferences? My shout,” he said, indicating that he was buying.
“Anything local,” Trevor replied.
The driver caught a waitress’s eye. “Have you any Surefoot Stout?” he asked.
“Only in season, sir,” she replied, with an apologetic smile.
After a quick discussion with the waitress, the driver ordered a pitcher of another local brew, a dark ale. “Two glasses, please, and a coffee for me,” he added.
Over lunch – and for Trevor and Shane, several beers apiece – they chatted about the Melbourne area.
“I’ve had a lot of fun here, I wish we had longer,” Trevor, who was feeling happy and somewhat buzzed, said.
“Same here,” Shane added.
“Then why not stay a while?” the driver asked, with a careful smile.
Trevor shook his head. “We can’t. We have to get to Sydney, then a couple more stops and we leave Australia. My two best friends back home are getting married in August, and we have to be there.”
“Quite the fast boat you’ve got then,” the driver replied, and then asked, “What’s your route from Australia? I imagine it’s difficult, having to figure on the winds and all.”
“We’ll leave from Cairns – Shane’s hometown – and cross the Pacific to the Panama Canal. Where we stop… it’ll depend on the weather forecast and how much time we have, but we’ll have to swing south to catch the westerlies, then cut northeast across the trades,” Trevor replied.
“Will you be taking both boats, or just the one?” the driver asked.
“Just one,” Trevor replied.
“Which one?” the driver asked, with a pleasant smile.
“The one we’re on,” Trevor answered as the waitress returned, bearing the bill.
“Allow me,” the driver said, snatching it up. “How about another beer first though?”
Trevor glanced at Shane, and then Shane looked at his watch and replied, “We’ve got to get to Melbourne pretty soon, do some looking around, and then get recognized by walking around a shopping center without caps or sunglasses.”
The driver reluctantly nodded. “Okay, we’ll be off then,” he said, slipping a few banknotes into the bill’s folder, and leaving it on the table.
As soon as they’d pulled away, Shane asked, “Any places in Melbourne you’d suggest?”
The driver smiled. “You’re taking the train back to Sandringham, right? The place to catch that one is Spencer Street Station – though it’s called Southern Cross these days. There’s a shopping district nearby, Chapel Street, and for nautical types such as yourselves, I recommend the Docklands, immediately west of the station…
The driver, Gray, began describing the Docklands, which he knew very well indeed.
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