(Here's a link to google maps, centered on the areas in the chapter, because I know some of you are like me, and love to follow along and see the areas they are in.)
Amidst ever-warming seas, Atlantis charged north, well offshore. Shortly before dawn, a groggy Trevor, bearing coffee, joined Shane in the cockpit.
Shane, who had been standing watch for four hours, took one of the mugs of coffee and, with a smile, reported. “G’day, Captain Bligh. We passed Point Danger three hours ago, we’re off Queensland!”
“Good morning, lowly mutinous crew,” Trevor replied, with a sleepy smile. He took several sips of his coffee before adding, “Ready for Brisbane?”
Shane nodded eagerly. “It’s been yonks since I was here – I last set foot in Queensland at Brisbane Station, when I was heading for Perth.”
“The land of banana-benders awaits,” Trevor quipped, using a derogatory term for Queenslanders.
“Cruel and abusive bastard!” Shane grumbled.
Trevor checked the navigation system. “We’re nearing Point Lookout, the northeast tip of South Stadbroke Island. We’ve got two choices, and seeing as these are sorta your home waters, you pick; we can keep going and round the north end of Moreton Island to take North Passage into Moreton Bay, or we can turn west at Point Lookout and take South Passage.” Trevor had decided, before getting some sleep, that a southern entrance to Moreton Bay, Jumpinpin Passage – formed by a typhoon in 1896 – was too complex and comprised too many miles of shifting channels.
Shane studied the navigation screen. “I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve only ever been aboard a boat in North Passage, but I know a lot of boats use South Passage, and South Passage is a lot shorter route to Brisbane.”
“South Passage it is,” Trevor said, taking the helm and altering course a few degrees, in order to pass closer to Point Lookout.
By the first light of dawn, Shane sighted land. “Queensland ho!” he bellowed, thrilled to see his home state again.
Atlantis, still under sail, transited South Passage, emerging into the wide expanse of Moreton bay, on the west side of which lay Brisbane.
As Atlantis approached Brisbane, Trevor and Shane lowered the sails, and Trevor proceeded on engines while Shane fixed a breakfast of sandwiches.
Trevor tensed, as he always did when entering confined, heavily-trafficked waters. With one hand always on the radio – his connection to harbor control – Trevor negotiated the busy Port of Brisbane, guiding Atlantis into the mouth of the Brisbane River.
Steering with care, Trevor kept to the right – even in countries that drive on the left, maritime traffic sails on the right – proceeding up the Brisbane River towards central Brisbane.
Trevor sounded Atlantis’s horn as they passed beneath the massive Gateway Bridge, which carried the M1 motorway far overhead.
Several powerboats turned to trail Atlantis, sounding their horns in salute. Trevor gave them a friendly wave, and remarked to Shane, “The one thing I hate about Jason Kline’s plan is it makes us look bad in the eye of people like these. They must think we’re just publicity hounds, because Kline is trying hard to make us look that way.”
Shane waved at several passing boats, which returned the salute with blasts of their horns. “These people don’t seem to much mind. I guess this means you won’t be selling autographs like Kline wants?”
“I just can’t,” Trevor replied, with a sad shake of his head. “I like making the press think bad of us, but I’d feel like scum charging for autographs.”
Shane nodded. “Yeah, that’s kinda tacky. I think you’re right not to.”
“Okay, free autographs when we get there,” Trevor replied, with a confident grin as he steered Atlantis ever further upstream.
Brisbane’s city center is ten miles inland, but the serpentine route of the Brisbane River was closer to fifteen.
The next bridge they came to was Story Bridge, which spanned the river from Kangaroo Point to the heart of Brisbane. Atlantis passed under it, her horn blasts echoing off the bridge, the floating riverwalk, and also the skyscrapers that lined the river’s northern side.
As arranged, they moored Atlantis to a vacant yacht mooring off the City Botanical Gardens, locked her up, and deployed the Zodiac. Soon, they were zooming up the river in the Zodiac, passing under the Captain Cook Bridge, which was the reason for mooring Atlantis where they had; it was far too low to allow her nearly eighty-foot mast to pass.
Their destination, per Kline’s arrangements, was the riverside walk. They found themselves accompanied by a small flotilla of powerboats and blaring horns, and over the next mile they passed under five more bridges. Just past the final one, the William Jolly Bridge, they tied up to the walkway railing in Regatta Park, where they were greeted by a crowd of fifty, plus two police officers and an associate of Kline’s.
Trevor and Shane, in jeans and T-shirts, bounded ashore, shaking hands and greeting people.
“Welcome to Brisbane,” one of the officers said. They’d been assigned to keep an eye out for Trevor and Shane, in case of further trouble.
The first meet-and-greet Kline had arranged was on the steps of Suncorp Stadium, just a five-hundred yard – though slightly uphill – walk away.
Surrounded by admirers and the curious, as well as their police escort, Trevor and Shane made their way to the big stadium. “I’ve always wanted to catch a rock concert here,” Shane said, as they approached.
“Too bad there isn’t one today,” Trevor replied, and then added, “Hey, we’ll be back one day so we’ll take in a concert then.”
They began signing autographs, taking the time to speak for a few moments with each person. Only one reporter made an appearance, and only briefly, a fact which pleased Trevor and Shane no end. Kline’s plan was working.
The other event scheduled was at the City Botanic Gardens, so they made their way back to the Zodiac and roared off, heading back downriver, where they moored at the foot of the river cliff, a low escarpment on the riverside edge of the botanic gardens, where a lone police officer was waiting. With Atlantis serenely moored in the background and apparently unmanned, they signed autographs, and then Trevor began telling of a few parts of his Indian Ocean crossing, while mentioning his coming book often.
Once the crowd was satisfied, Trevor and Shane made their way on foot across the gardens and into Brisbane’s commercial heart, to the Queen Street Mall, Brisbane’s central retail area. Their lone police officer kept a watchful eye on them, and a dozen people from the crowd at the botanic gardens tagged along at varying distances. What Trevor and Shane most noticed, though, was the absence of obvious reporters.
One member of the botanic gardens crowd had followed with purpose, hanging well back and keeping an eye open for an opportunity, which presented itself when Trevor and Shane were exiting a clothing store. “G’day, Trevor,” Kent Moorcroft said, with a friendly smile plastered on his face.
Trevor blinked as he recognized the face, and then it clicked. “You’re the guy who found us in Coral Bay.”
“One and the same, and welcome to Brisbane. I have to say, I’m quite surprised by the change in your behavior; before I found you, you were doing all you could to keep out of sight, but since then, you’ve been taking every opportunity to get your name in the press. Why the change?”
Trevor tried his best to smile. “I’ve got a book coming out. Thanks for the free PR, by the way.”
“So, it was all a PR stunt, was it?” Moorcroft asked.
“Kinda; we just weren’t ready for the PR tour, then,” Trevor replied.
Moorcroft well remembered how reluctant they’d been in Coral Bay, and knew their excuse didn’t fit. “Well, you certainly are now, though it must disappoint you that you’re getting far less press attention than you did before.”
Trevor shrugged. “Maybe it’ll pick up again.”
“Perhaps,” Moorcroft replied, eyeing Trevor and Shane closely. “I hear you’re heading for Cairns next, as part of a circumnavigation of Australia?”
“Yeah, plus an autograph signing,” Trevor replied. Moorcroft was making him feel very uneasy, though he did his best to avoid showing it.
Moorcroft glanced at the police officer, who was standing close by. “You’re under protection, I see. Is there a reason for concern?”
Trevor shrugged again. “Not that I know of, but after Geraldton, we’re sure glad to have him around,” Trevor said, turning to give the policeman a smile and a nod.
“Would you be willing to do an interview with me?” Moorcroft asked, testing his theory.
“Sure, as long as I can pitch my book,” Trevor replied, with feigned eagerness.
“I’ll be in touch soon then, and enjoy your stay in Brisbane,” Moorcroft replied with a smile, before turning and walking away. By the time he’d gone a dozen paces, a delighted smile was spreading across his face.
Trevor and Shane spent the rest of the day in central Brisbane. Shane, finding himself in the hometown of his favorite beer, purchased several cases of XXXX, pronounced four-ex, as insurance against having to drink American beer in Florida. Then, waving to a few hangers-on, they cast off, heading downriver.
Near the top of Brisbane’s tallest building, the Aurora Tower, a man was sitting on the balcony of a rented apartment, enjoying his dinner as he watched Atlantis sail by, far below.
Gray took a final bite of his filet mignon, savoring the flavor as he watched Atlantis motor under the first of several bridges. He then remarked to his associate, “Step inside for a bit, I’ve got to ring our customer.” As soon as the man had gone, Gray, with a smile, flipped open his phone to call Bridget. He explained the events of the day, and then added, in a slightly less-pleased tone, “We’re still looking for Kookaburra. Had a possible sighting, though haven’t got confirmation yet. I’ve got a lot of people looking; we’ll have her soon.”
Walking at a hurried pace, Moorcroft returned to his office, making a beeline for his managing editor’s desk. Without preamble, he said, “I’ve got the story. It’s a big one. You know Jason Kline down in Sydney, right?” The editor nodded; as Moorcroft had known he would. “So do I, though mainly by reputation. Now, tell me; does he seem like the type who’d bungle an attempt to get publicity?”
The editor arched an eyebrow. “No, though that’s not his normal trade. He’s been in this business as long as I have.”
Moorcroft smiled in a very predatory way. “He’s a pro, and he occasionally does act as a press agent for clients. And he’s damn good. Yet the way he’s handling this Carlson kid is burning his bridges; he went too far, and now the press is backing away from what looks like a PR blitz. However, the Carlson kid and his friend are acting way the hell different to how they did in Coral Bay. There, they ran like scared rabbits, and today, they had a cop in tow. Jason Kline is too much of a pro to screw up to this extent, and if you take that, plus how those two acted in Coral Bay, plus the cops around, and now they’re acting like publicity hounds all of a sudden, what does it spell?”
The editor was being led to a conclusion, knew it, but said it anyway. “Maybe this blown PR tour was supposed to fail?
“Exactly. But there’s more. They sent that asset list and keys off to Florida. I’ve had a guy on the ground do some digging there, and with what he’s given me, plus my own suspicions, I’d say that whatever the Carlson kid had is why Bridget Bellevue has been trying to kill him. However, that’s secondary,” Moorcroft said, as he set the bait, “The bigger story is here; Kline and Carlson have been manipulating the press to get the press to leave ‘em alone. The cops being around… that indicates to me that they might think somebody is still after him – mainly Bridget Bellevue, which would mean she’s alive.”
The editor arched an eyebrow. “Okay, that’s big.”
Moorcroft knew he had his editor now. “What’s even bigger is it makes our competitors look like bloody idiots. I need more to do this right though, and I’d need to include the asset list and photos of the keys as well.”
“What else do you need?” the editor asked.
“I need to hire one more guy in Florida, to run down a few things, plus check out a few places that are on that list – including two in the Bahamas.”
The editor, ever cautious with company funds, replied, “Approved for the one in Florida, but contract a Bahamian freelancer for the Bahamas; no point in paying travel expenses.”
“I’ll need some travel money for myself; I need to go to Cairns, to see what’s up when they get there,” Moorcroft said.
“Done, but nothing extravagant. Okay, run with it.”
“I’ll have it ready for next Sunday’s paper, a headline piece. Bridget Bellevue is still big news here; that’s our hook. The fact our competitors have been made fools of is the icing on the cake,” Moorcroft promised. Just fifteen minutes later, he finished booking his flight, motel, and car in Cairns. Then, he turned his attention to his next step; sending an investigator to two more sites in Florida, and two in the Bahamas.
Twenty miles north of Brisbane, an opportunity that Fowler had hoped for and helped arrange occurred. A southbound Australian destroyer changed course slightly, aiming for a close port-to-port pass by the northbound Atlantis. “Okay, Weps, see if they’re emitting on any frequency.”
Trevor, who’d just been alerted by phone to the planned emissions check, had powered down the AIS and radars, as well as shut off the phones – phones in standby mode are radio emitters. “Let’s hope we’re clean this time,” he said, remembering the day in Perth when the Australian Navy had found the tracking device.
During the pass, the weapons officer and his team watched their screens – waterfall displays – trying to isolate any incongruous emissions. With a smile, he reported his findings to the captain, who gave Atlantis three blasts of the ship’s whistle – the pre-arranged signal for all-clear.
Trevor replied with a delighted wave and a blast of Atlantis’s horns, and then told Shane, “That’s a relief.”
Timing, as they say, is everything. Had the pass occurred half an hour earlier, Trevor would not have been nearly so pleased.
Atlantis voyaged north, passing Fraser Island and entering the southern fringes of Australia’s vast Great Barrier Reef region.
Three days after leaving Brisbane, dawn found them off the town of Mackay. Trevor studied the navigation display, taking great care in the reef-strewn waters. “Hey, lowly, mutinous crew; you know these waters; pick a route.”
“Cruel and abusive bastard!” Shane grumbled, before grinning and looking at the display. “I’ve done the inshore run through the Whitsundays before. Awesome, and it’ll be shorter than going around to seaward.”
Shane plotted their approach course to the main channel and laid it in. “This’ll take us inshore of the main islands through Whitsunday Passage. Many of the islands are uninhabited but great to visit, and we’ll see loads of ‘em. If we had time, this’d be a perfect place to spend some time, plus it’s great for chartering and diving.”
“We can spare a few hours,” Trevor said, glancing at the screen. “Pick one and we’ll take lunch ashore.”
Shane studied the screen, and then tapped it. “This pair, before the main passage. I’ve been there before; the channel between ‘em is shallow and sandy, but Atlantis should be fine. It’s a sheltered anchorage, and both islands have thick jungle and kick-ass beaches. One has a resort on it, the other is totally uninhabited.”
“Uninhabited it is,” Trevor replied with a grin. He conned Atlantis into the channel’s south entrance, entering the narrow pass between the two mountainous islands. “Let’s beach her,” he said, after a fast glance at the charts and tide tables, which showed a rising tide.
With practiced ease, Trevor grounded Atlantis’s bows just feet from the beach. Shane leapt ashore to secure a line to a palm, and then they splashed ashore, lunch in hand, to spend a few hours enjoying the sun, sand, and jungle of Carlisle Island. “I think I like the Whitsundays,” Trevor said, with a delighted grin.
They ate and began exploring, though Trevor’s mood suddenly soured as thoughts of the recent past entered his mind. “That stuff with the driver in Melbourne keeps bugging me, and it got me to thinking; why? They haven’t been able to find him yet, but how long does it take to check those kinds of businesses? There can’t be all that many there. So if he wasn’t a real driver, what was he and what did he want? This makes me think… it’s not over.”
“That driver and the scare about Atlantis got to me too. After we sail from Cairns, let’s see what we can figure out. We’ll have yonks.”
Trevor nodded, and then shook his head in irritation. “Bridget. I only met her once, but ever since then, it’s been one bad thing after another. Okay, while we’re at sea, we’ll see what we can figure out. Maybe a way to bait her so she can be caught.”
“Has everything that’s happened since you met Bridget been bad?” Shane asked, with a coy smirk while casually flexing his bare pecs.
Trevor pulled Shane into a deep and sudden kiss. When they came up for air, he said, “Hell no, I should probably write her a thank-you letter,” before pulling Shane in for another kiss.
Two hours later, with a thunder of engines, they pulled away, leaving Carlisle and Brampton Islands behind as they made their way through the Whitsunday Passage, taking in the wondrous scenery of one of Australia’s premier vacation destinations.
It had been a welcome break; their journey from Brisbane to Cairns – nearly a thousand miles by Atlantis’s route – was a challenging one due to the reefs and islands strewn about Queensland’s coast. Twice they were beset by unfavorable winds, slowing their progress further. However, five days after leaving Brisbane, dawn found them thirty miles east of Cairns, just two hours behind schedule.
The Great Barrier Reef is not a continuous barrier; there are countless passes, large and small, between the reefs. Trevor, carefully studying the navigation screen, consulted with Shane about the safest way through. Shane tapped the screen. “This strait, south of Green Island, is a few kilometers wide and takes us straight in.”
With Trevor at the helm, Atlantis voyaged west, past Green Island, through the azure waters, riding the tropical breeze. Soon, the rugged mountains of False Cape were in full view to port, and Trevor looked at Shane, who was beaming with delight. Shane turned, and in an uncharacteristic, slightly bashful tone, asked Trevor, “Hey, ah, do you think I’d be okay to take her in? I know the port pretty well, though I’ve never taken a yacht in before.”
Trevor grinned with delight. “Hell yeah, you’ve got the con. You’ll want the starboard helm; the marina will be a starboard approach. How come the sudden desire to take the wheel?”
Shane’s cheeks colored slightly, though masked by his golden tan. “When I left… some of my mates gave me some stick about never amounting to anything. I’m sure some of ‘em have seen my name in the press, so they know Atlantis is coming in and I’m on her. I just wanted ‘em to see me at the helm.”
Trevor gave Shane a pat on the back. “Don’t forget to tell them that you’re a partner in a business that owns her, and another just like her. Uh, what’s the situation about us? Do you want to tell ‘em, or not?”
Shane chuckled. “They know I’m bi, so they’ll catch on pretty quick. Some didn’t take it too well when they found out, others were fine, but that’s old news. I’m worried about this crazy plan of Kline’s; would coming out help or hurt? My guess is it won’t help when we do the book for real, so my preference is say nothing and tell ‘em to mind their own bloody business – though knowing the ones I plan to look up, that won’t get us far. I’m happy either way though, so whatever floats your boat,” Shane said, with a wicked grin. He turned serious and somber for a moment to add, “One exception; my aunt. I don’t care if we tell her or not, but only after I get my stuff from her garage. Not before. She’s got many issues, and that’s one of ‘em.”
Trevor nodded in understanding, and then sat on the cockpit bench for what, for him, was a somewhat rare experience; entering port without being at the helm. There were a few times when he began to fidget, but mainly, he sat back and enjoyed the ride.
As Atlantis approached Trinity Inlet, the city of Cairns was ahead and to the right, nestled amidst rugged mountains, cloaked in verdant green. To their left was the fifteen hundred foot Mt. Nisbet, towering over the Trinity Inlet from two miles away. They had a perfect view of it – and it, of them.
On Mt. Nisbet’s ridge crest, Gray, still winded from his hike, checked his watch before raising his binoculars to his eyes. It took him only moments to find her, right where he expected her to be. “Hello, Atlantis,” he said under his breath, as he sat down to watch and see where she went, though he didn’t, strictly speaking, need to. His reason for hiking up the mountain had been to observe from afar, and also because he enjoyed being able to stretch his legs after his long drive north. He’d have preferred to fly, though the need to take explosives with him had precluded that option.
Soon, he knew he’d guessed right when picking his hotel; a resort overlooking Cairns’ largest marina.
“It’s like Hawaii… well, pictures I’ve seen of Hawaii, anyway. I like it better than Florida; Florida is flat,” Trevor said, as Shane carefully negotiated the marina’s entrance.
“Queensland is Australia’s best state, and Cairns is the best place in Queensland,” Shane proudly replied, grinning in delight as he negotiated the familiar marina of his hometown.
Several dozen spectators lined the resort’s seawall. A faint cheer went up as Shane, on his second try, maneuvered Atlantis alongside the dock, and Trevor leapt ashore to handle the lines.
“Welcome to Cairns,” an arriving customs officer declared. He leaned close to Trevor to ensure privacy before adding quietly, “We’ve been told you’re departing Australia from here – and we also know that’s confidential; as far as anyone’s to know, you’re off on a leisurely voyage to Darwin, then back to Carnarvon. We’ll have your gun, as well as the passport for Mr. Rhys, ready for you a week from today.”
“A week?” Trevor replied, in mild confusion. “Uh, we’re supposed to sail in three days.”
The customs officer hid a smile as he shook his head. “Sorry, but there’s no way we can speed things up at this late date. You should be safe here though.”
Trevor and Shane soon made their way to the crowd of greeters, thrilled that the press seemed absent, save for a reporter from the local paper.
When that was done, it was time, and they both knew where Shane needed to go first. “I want you with me,” he said quietly, heading off Trevor’s question as to whether he’d prefer to go alone.
The late afternoon sea breeze rustled the palms as Trevor and Shane entered the somber grounds. Tombstones, laid out in neat rows, bore silent remembrances, dates and sayings evoking lives past.
Shane pointed at a massive tree, which dwarfed the others, standing sentinel in a rear corner of the graveyard. In a hushed tone, he said, “That’s an illawarra flame tree. Around Christmas, it’s a mass of red flowers.” Shane glanced at the small bouquet in his hand, star child flowers and baby’s breath, purchased a few minutes before. “These were Mum’s favorites, but she loved the flame tree too. We had one in our back garden.”
Trevor looked around the cemetery, feeling a shiver in spite of the tropical warmth. “This is the first time I’ve been in a cemetery since Dad had an empty casket buried. Mom still has a tombstone there – or she did when I left. Shane… I wish things were different, and you and your mom…” Trevor’s voice trailed off, words failing, though his thoughts were evident in his pained eyes.
With a sad smile, Shane took Trevor’s hand. “Thanks… I wish that too, almost every day, but in my case, there’s no doubt, I saw her… Mum…” Shane’s voice broke, remembering the day his mother had died. “It wasn’t far from here.”
Trevor knew exactly what Shane meant; the intersection where the crash that had killed his mother – and almost Shane as well – had occurred. He held Shane’s hand tight, feeling him tremble, wishing that he could ease Shane’s grief.
Shane led the way, his mind awhirl, memories good and bad flooding back. “Here,” he said, not needing to look at the tombstone. The grave, neatly tended, the edging so precise, his mother’s final resting place. A few mottles of sunlight falling through the high branches of the flame tree, the light playing upon the polished granite so far below. Shane glanced again at the headstone standing somber sentinel – an eternal reminder of all that he had lost. “My aunt’s been here. It looks too neat for it to be just the groundskeepers,” he said, reaching out to touch the cool granite. “I’m back, Mum,” he said, his voice a ragged whisper, tears coursing down his cheeks.
Trevor too felt tears on his cheeks, Shane’s grief causing him to cry at the grave of a woman he had never known. In silence, they sat down on the grass, hand in hand, and Shane placed his bouquet in front of the headstone.
For many long minutes, they sat in silence under the shade of the towering flame tree. Then, with a sigh and a single, muffled sob, Shane again touched his mother’s headstone, feeling anew the pain of loss. “I miss you, Mum,” he whispered, “I always will.”
Trevor looked at the inscription on the tombstone, ‘Elizabeth Rhys. There can be no greater tribute than to remember the way she lived her life.’ A grief-stricken Shane had penned those words himself, just days after his mother’s death.
The only thing Trevor could think to do was hold Shane’s hand and be there for him. It was all that could be done, for only time can ease grief, and even so it is an imperfect salve for the wounds of the soul. The death of Shane’s mother had crushed him, wracking him with a burning grief and guilt that had forever etched his heart, though those selfsame flames had served to forge the man he had become.
Shane took a breath, and then another, steeling himself, his back straightening as he wiped away his tears. With a voice now almost normal, he said, “Mum, this is Trev, the other half of my heart.”
After a minute more, Trevor and Shane stood up, bowing their heads in silent prayer. Shane turned, glancing up at the towering flame tree. “Trev, I’d like to come back… Mum loved the stars and the sky; we’d sometimes sit in the back garden, looking at the constellations. She wanted to see an eclipse, and looked them up. She found a total eclipse, for right here in Cairns. She said we’d watch it together. It’s November 14th, 2012.”
“We’ll be here, for sure. We can come back a lot before that though – that’s over five years away, and the Great Barrier Reef would be a super place to run some charters – if you wanted.”
Shane glanced down at his mother’s grave. “I’d like that. Mum’s grave is my only real tie to Cairns, but I do have some mates here as well, at least I think I still do. I’m surprised none of ‘em showed up at the marina. The rest is the past – including my family. You’ll see when we meet my aunt – she still blames me for Mum’s death.”
“We’ll come back here on Kookaburra when we fly back for Christmas, but no matter what, we’ll make sure we’re back for the eclipse. Right here, the three of us,” Trevor replied, giving Shane’s hand a squeeze as he looked down at the grave.
After they left the cemetery, they walked for a while, passing through parts of suburban Cairns. Trevor glanced at Shane, and then nodded at a house to their left. “Nice house, but why have we passed it twice?”
With a wry shake of his head, followed by a sad smile, Shane replied, “Because I’m acting like a prat and bloody stalling. I don’t want to see my aunt, but I know I have to. I rang her a few days ago and left a message on her machine that we’d be coming by this afternoon, and I do want my things, so I guess… okay, might as well get it done… we’ll turn left ahead, it’s only about a block from here.”
As they turned the corner, Shane said, “You might want to wait on the street. She still blames me for Mum’s death. It’s probably going to be somewhere between awkward and nasty.”
“We’re in this together,” Trevor replied, though he too was dreading the visit. In order to change the subject, he asked, “How much stuff do you have? If it’s more than we can carry, we’ll need a taxi.”
Shane shook his head. “Just a couple of boxes, plus an old surfboard. We can probably manage – long enough to get away from the house, at any rate.”
They walked down the street, Shane’s pace slowing a bit. “Lots of cars about her place,” he said, noticing the unusual number of parked vehicles outside her house, though due to the angle he was unable to see the house itself. Shane stopped for a moment, his eyes opening wide as he pointed at a panel van. “That’s Bonzer’s old heap, I’d know it anywhere – no one else in Cairns has a wood door on the back of a van, not a purple one anyway. What the fuck is he doing here? Aunt Marilyn hates Bonzer, even worse than she did most of my other mates.”
Shane resumed walking, though he went just six more paces before stopping in his tracks again. “What’s going on?” he mumbled, staring at the end of a yellow banner that was draped above the front door.
Trevor, two paces ahead of Shane, turned toward him with a delighted grin. “You can see it from here, come on.”
Shane walked forward, his mouth falling open as he was at last able to read the big, hand-lettered banner: ‘Welcome Home Shane!’
“Maybe you’re not in for as hostile a welcome as you thought,” Trevor said, grinning with delight.
Shane reached the front walkway and stopped, turning to look at the vehicles in the street. “That’s Bluey’s ute,,” he said, pointing at a pickup truck. “And that one with the horns is Steve’s car… we put ‘em on and christened it the evilmobile, and he kept ‘em. Why would my mates be here?”
“One way to find out,” Trevor replied, though he already had a very good guess.
Shane wasn’t given time to wonder. A muffled voice from the house called out, “He’s here!”
The front door swung open, creaking ever so faintly. A matronly woman, her hair the same shade of blond as Shane’s, stepped out, her face unreadable, though only for a moment. “Shane, it’s so good to see you,” his aunt said, trying her best to smile and wipe away a tear at the same time.
Shane blinked. “Aunt Marilyn,” he said, in a stunned tone. “It’s good to see you too,” he added awkwardly.
She took a few steps forward before sweeping Shane into a hug. “I’ve had a lot of time to think since you left. All I can say is I’m sorry, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me someday.”
Shane, stunned, hugged his aunt. “I… you don’t blame me anymore?”
Marilyn held Shane tight. “I understand now, Shane. Your mum meant the world to me, and when she died… I think I just aimed my grief at the nearest target. I was a fool; you’re all I have left of her, and I turned my back on you when I should have been there. Even if the accident had been your fault, I was wrong, and your mum would have boxed my ears had she ever caught me acting that way to anyone, let alone her son.”
Tears came for both of them, old wounds beginning to heal. “Thanks…” Shane mumbled, lost for words.
Marilyn, still hugging Shane as Trevor stood awkwardly aside, told Shane softly, “A few of your mates are inside, no doubt chomping at the bit to see you. I had to threaten them to make them stay put so I could talk to you alone…” her voice trailed off as she glanced at Trevor.
Trevor took the unsubtle hint. “I’ll go for a walk around the block,” he said, already turning to go.
“Trevor, wait, I didn’t mean that. Go inside and meet Shane’s mates, we’ll only be a minute,” Marilyn said, her hand already on Trevor’s shoulder.
Delighted for Shane, though feeling somewhat out of place, Trevor walked to the front door and let himself in. He entered the living room, finding it filled with a loud conversation that came to a sudden and total halt as soon as he appeared. He glanced around, seeing a dozen people staring at him.
A guy two years older than Trevor, with flaming red hair, began to smile. “And here’s the famous Trevor Carlson, pirate killer. Pleased ta meet ya, my name’s Bluey,” he said, standing up and giving Trevor a friendly punch in the arm. “This lout over here is Bonzer,” he said, indicating another lifesaver who raised his coke in greeting. “And over here is Steveo, though most everyone calls him Steevil, ‘cause everyone named Steve is evil. And on the far side of the room, we’ve got two more of Shane’s mates, Davo and Rake. The rest are his cousins and such, though I haven’t a clue what their names are so I’ll let ‘em introduce themselves.”
Trevor made his way around the room, meeting Shane’s friends and cousins. Along the way, he learned that Shane’s aunt had gone to quite an effort to contact Bluey after Shane’s call, and had asked him to find some of Shane’s other friends to join a partial family get-together.
Outside on the walkway, Marilyn stood back and ruffled Shane’s hair. “I’ve missed you so. Once I figured things out, I didn’t know where to find you. Shane, I should never have blamed you, even had you been at fault in the crash as I was told. It was an accident, no matter what. Now, it’s no excuse on my part, but I was told you’d pulled out in front of that truck. You didn’t, I know that now thanks to seeing the report, but even before then, I knew I’d been horribly wrong to treat you as I had.”
Shane stiffened. “You didn’t know… who said I pulled out in front of the truck? We were at a stop sign, we weren’t moving…”
Marilyn pulled Shane into another hug. “That was your stepfather. I was a fool to believe him; I’ve never liked him. He’s a man who believes what he wants to believe, facts be damned. Your mum, God rest her soul, was a wonderful woman, her one flaw being an atrocious taste in men. Though even had your stepfather been right, it shouldn’t have mattered; it was an accident.”
“I don’t blame you for blaming me… for a long time, I blamed myself,” Shane replied, his voice breaking as the tears flowed.
“I know that too, honey, and I’m truly sorry. I’ve wanted to find you for months, but didn’t know how to get a hold of you, and then the officer called. I… I was afraid, so I decided to wait.”
“What officer?” Shane asked, instantly concerned as to whether or not it was a real police officer, or more trouble.
“One from Carnarvon, Officer Fowler, called after some papers for you, and needing the name of the hospital where you were born. We talked a while, including about you and your past here. He asked me to take the papers to the local customs office. When I got there, I was given a folder; the police report on the accident. One of the customs officers had me read the summary sheet while he stood there, except for the bit about the car not moving when hit, which he had me read twice. He said the cause was some oil on the road, combined with the wet and the truck driver going too fast. He then made me read the part where it said you’d had less than a second to respond; even had you done so instantly, there was no chance. There just wasn’t time. I broke down and cried. Shane… I… I think I wanted to blame you to avoid blaming myself; I’d asked her to run some errands for me because my car was in the shop. That’s why you were out that day. I hope… someday you can forgive me for how I’ve been.”
Shane hugged his aunt tightly. “Sometimes life just sucks. I guess I understand… and I forgive you,” Shane said, from the heart.
Inside, Trevor had felt ill at ease with Shane’s relatives, some of whom gave him odd looks so, looking for a brief respite from the awkward situation, he ducked into the kitchen in search of a glass of water. Bluey and Bonzer followed right behind.
Trevor spotted the ice-filled cooler filled with cokes, and was reaching for one when Bluey said from behind, “Thief! The mucking great gall! One of the guests of honor thinks he can sneak in here to help himself to a bloody cola.”
Trevor turned, coke in hand, answering Bluey’s grin with one of his own. “I can tell that you guys are Shane’s friends.”
“We’ve missed the thick lout,” Bluey admitted, and then added in a less self-sure tone, “Some of us, at any rate. Shane’s a true mate. So, how’d he end up sailing around on the fancy yacht of a pirate-killer?”
Trevor chuckled. “I didn’t kill ‘em… I just sabotaged their boat in the hopes it’d wreck them, and it did. As for me and Shane… when we first met, we tried to beat the crap out of each other. He thought I was trying to rip off the boat he was protecting, but once that was cleared up, we became friends and he ended up saving my ass.”
Bluey and Bonzer exchanged a glance, and then Bonzer asked, “So it’s true then; you really snuck aboard a pirate ship doing the Full Monty and wrecked their engines?”
Trevor knew that ‘Full Monty’ meant ‘naked’. He smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I did. I was really after an EPIRB – an emergency radio beacon – but I found the valve-grinding kit and figured I’d leave the fuckers a present.”
Bluey and Bonzer shared another look, and then Bluey arched an eyebrow. “And then you crossed the ocean on a wrecked boat. Bonzer’s crewed on yachts, so he’s told me that that’s a fucking hell of a thing. Then you bagged an armed killer on your boat off Geraldton.”
“That was both Shane and me. We both got him.”
“And chucked his arse overboard until he’d had a chat with you, if the newsies have it right,” Bluey said, and then his grin took on a decidedly twisted cast, and he lowered his voice. “So, has Shane asked you to reenact your raid on the pirate ship yet? In accurate wardrobe, of course.”
Trevor, halfway through taking a drink of his coke, nearly choked. He lowered his coke to find Bluey hopping on one leg, glaring at Bonzer, who had just stomped on his foot.
The two lifesavers stared at each other for a moment, and then Bonzer turned to look at Trevor. “Bluey had a rough go of it a few years back; went into hospital to have his tonsils out, but they mixed up the charts and took out his brain instead. Anyway, Trevor, good to meet ya. Ah, is it ‘Trevor’ you go by, or is there something else Shane calls you?”
‘Subtle as a load of bricks,’ Trevor thought, with wry amusement. “Most everyone calls me Trev, but Shane usually calls me ‘Cruel and abusive bastard!’”
Bluey and Bonzer exchanged an amused glance, and then Bluey, who by now was awkwardly massaging his foot, said, “That’s Shane. So, you and him nabbed a killer. Cool. You must make a good team. How’s he doing on your yacht? Does he have his own cabin?” Bluey glanced nervously at Bonzer, making sure he was out of foot-stomping range.
‘Yeah, real subtle,’ Trevor thought, deciding to have some fun. “Actually, it’s his yacht too, plus we’re writing a book.” Trevor heard Shane chatting excitedly in the living room with his relatives, and smiled.
“Shane’s shout for beach beer!” Bluey declared, with a delighted grin. He then glanced warily at Bonzer before adding, “So how’d he end up part owner of a yacht? Are you two–” Bluey’s question was cut off by a gasp of pain, due to Bonzer having just kicked him in the shin.
“He might not know,” Bonzer hissed quietly at Bluey, only to realize that Trevor had heard him as well. With an awkward smile, Bonzer asked Trevor, “So you know Shane pretty well, seeing as how you’ve been through a lot together?”
Trevor gave the two lifesavers a pleasant, innocent smile. “Yeah. We’re a team. There’s a lot that hasn’t been in the press. Like that killer we took down off Geraldton. He didn’t really get killed in prison,” Trevor said, taking a casual step closer to the two lifesavers.
“What happened to him? He’s not dead?” Bonzer asked, blinking in surprise.
Trevor shrugged, and took another drink of his coke before replying gently, “Oh, he’s dead, but I did it, not long after we’d captured him.” Trevor smoothly lied, taking another step forward, and from an arm’s length away, glanced down at the now-empty coke can in his hand as he began to squeeze, raising a crinkling sound as the can was slowly crushed. Trevor glanced up at the two stunned lifesavers, and added, in a matter-of-fact tone, while doing his best to make his eyes look wild and a touch deranged, “I didn’t have much choice. He knew too much – he asked too many questions.”
Bluey and Bonzer, trapped against the counter, exchanged a glance, a momentary flash of fear on their faces. Bonzer got it first, and began laughing, throwing a friendly arm across Trevor’s shoulders. “Good one.”
“You didn’t really kill him, did you?” Bluey asked, still not quite sure, until Trevor began to laugh. Bluey smiled, took a fast sidestep away from Bonzer, and asked, “So, do you know about Shane, then?”
“Know what about me?” Shane asked, bounding into the kitchen, all smiles. He paused, and then pounced, sweeping his arms around his old mates. “Bonzer! Bluey! I’ve missed the fuck out of you!”
A fierce round of backslapping greetings were exchanged between the three, and then Shane, a grin on his face, turned to Trevor and asked, “So, have these two nutters been giving you a rough go?”
Bonzer chuckled. “He can hold his own, this one. He gave us a right wind-up; had us thinking he’d really killed that hit man you two nabbed, ‘cause he asked too many questions.”
Shane gave Trevor a look of deep concern. “I thought you said to keep that a secret?”
The sudden, horrified looks on Bluey and Bonzer’s faces were just too much. Trevor doubled over, cracking up, his laughter filling the room.
Shane chuckled, turning to grin at Bluey and Bonzer. “I’m still the master of the wind-up,” he said, and then angled his head at Trevor. “And Trev’s learnt from the best. He’s even got me a few times.” Shane’s grin faded. “So, where’s the rest of our crew? What’s going on with them? Before today, I hadn’t talked with anyone since I left.”
Bluey and Bonzer shared a pained look, and then Bluey replied, “Sorry mate, Chris and them… they’ve, ah, still… got some agro…” his voice trailed off, and he asked, “Does Trev know about you? That you’re, ah, you know, sometimes do and sometimes don’t get real close with, uh, people who are guys.”
“You’re smooth as always, Bluey,” Shane replied, with a laugh. “I think a tree stump could have figured out I’m bi from that. And yeah, Trev is my boyfriend.”
Bluey spun, turning on Bonzer and smashing his foot down where Bonzer’s had been a moment before. “You bloody great bastard, stomping on my feet! I told you they were probably together.”
“Even a broken clock is right twice a day,” Bonzer shot back, managing to avoid another attempt at foot-stomping.
Trevor laughed, and looked at Shane. “They’re almost as crazy as you are.”
Bluey chuckled. “Yeah, we made a good team.”
“Too bad the others don’t think that way,” Shane said, a touch of sadness in his voice.
Bonzer glanced at Trevor and, seeing his concerned look, explained. “A few of our mates didn’t take it too well when they found out Shane’s bi. That’s why they didn’t come here today.”
Shane smiled at Bluey and Bonzer, and then at Trevor. “The ones in this house were always my best mates, even before they learnt about me. I didn’t expect the others to be happy to see me; I had a ton of scraps with ‘em before I left. Except for Brandon anyway. I thought he was fine with me, but he’s not here.”
Bluey laughed. “Brando moved to Canberra a few months back, that’s why he’s not here. He’s got no issues with you. Same for Joey; he’s in Bali right now, on holiday. He still thinks you’re fucking nuts, but that’s got nothing to do with you liking guys.”
Shane grinned. “Ripper! I’m not the outcast I thought I was,” he said, turning to glance back towards the living room. “I’ve got some of my family back too. This has been an awesome day. Come on, let’s head on out the back; Aunt Marilyn’s barbecuing steaks!”
As they left the kitchen to rejoin the get-together, Bluey said, “When it’s time to go, I can give you and your stuff a lift back to the boat.”
Bonzer jumped in to argue, “I’ve got a van, I can do it as well as you!” The two lifesavers began bickering.
Shane gave Trevor a grin. “Some things never change.”
The golden glow of streetlights lit the road. The engine sputtered, prompting a mumble from Bonzer. “Time to clean the plugs again. Maybe next week.”
“Thanks for the lift, man,” Shane said, glancing in back at his stuff, and then peeking in the rearview mirror to try to catch sight of Trevor and Bluey, seeing Bluey turn off, as he’d half expected. To stop the two Cairns lifesavers from arguing, Shane had suggested they both give them a ride back to Atlantis – it was only a few miles, and both wanted to see her.
“No worries mate,” Bonzer replied, and then asked, “How long are you staying?”
“A week, then we have to be off – but we’ll probably be back within a year. We’re going to run a few dive charters on the reefs,” Shane replied.
“Got any plans for Sunday?” Bonzer asked.
“Nothing much, though before then I want to show Trev around Cairns Lagoon and the front. We’ve got to do some grocery shopping too, but we can get that done anytime – we could really use a lift for that,” Shane replied.
“You got it. Anyway, we were thinking of getting together for a beach day at the north end of Ellis Beach on Sunday. We took a vote and it’s unanimous; your shout for the beer.”
Shane laughed, shaking his head. “I guess I don’t get a vote? Okay, let me check with Trev, but sounds like it’s a go for Sunday.”
Bluey and Trevor left the house right behind Bonzer’s colorful panel van, but Bluey didn’t take the same route. He turned after a few blocks, though Trevor, unfamiliar with the area, didn’t notice the significance of the turn.
Trevor and Bluey were talking about surfing when Bluey pulled over at a suburban T intersection. It was dark, so Trevor looked around in surprise. “What’s up?”
“This is where it happened,” Bluey said quietly, opening his door and getting out. Trevor understood at once.
Trevor emerged, following Bluey to the corner. “I figured you should see it. I know Shane would never show you, because when someone’s giving him a lift, he makes them detour around it. He almost died here, in more ways than one,” Bluey said, absently scuffing at the ground with his foot. He pointed at the dashed white line separating the side road from the main road. “They were right there. The truck was on the highway, heading that way, slipped in the wet on the curve, and went right into ‘em. I don’t buy Shane’s Aunt’s riff about being lied to over who was at fault. It was even in the paper that the car wasn’t moving. Hell, it couldn’t have been, I saw the tire marks myself. The car was stopped right where it’s supposed to, it wasn’t pulling out like Shane’s steprat was sayin’. The paper said he wasn’t in the main road, the cops said he wasn’t in the main road, and the skid marks said it too.”
“You think Shane’s aunt is lying?” Trevor asked.
Bluey shrugged. “Yes and no. I think she wanted somebody to blame and Shane’s steprat gave her an excuse, so she shut out everything else. I know she was told the truth back then, but she just ignored it. Maybe having him around reminded her of her sister, I dunno. Now about Shane’s steprat… he was weird. Nasty bugger, he didn’t want much to do with Shane before the crash, then was worse after. He was a drunk, though drunk or sober he was a cold bastard. He moved away a while back, good riddance to bad rubbish I say. Anyhow, I think Shane’s aunt had a change of heart – and about bloody time.”
“I’m glad she did. Today… it’s been great for Shane, both because of her, and seeing you guys again.”
“Yeah. I knew Shane pretty well before the wreck. That’s why I brung you here; he changed a lot after it happened. He was a happy guy before and a real agro case after. Today he was more like his old self. Anyway, we’d best be off or they’ll figure out we stopped somewhere. I just wanted you to see the place.” He paused for a moment. “I was near the marina to watch you guys come in. Bonzer wouldn’t let me go see you ‘cause he knew I’d blab about what Shane’s aunt had planned, but I wanted to watch. I saw Shane at the wheel. Surprised the hell out of me; when he left he’d have died before taking the wheel of a boat or car unless he was alone. It was a good thing to see,” he said, as they got back into his pickup.
Back at Atlantis, Trevor and Shane gave Bluey and Bonzer a tour, and then made plans to meet up on Saturday for some shopping. As soon as Bluey and Bonzer had left, Shane turned to Trevor and asked, “Bluey took you to the place, didn’t he?” They both knew exactly where Shane meant.
Trevor nodded. “Yeah, he did. He thought I should see it. I like him; he sounds like a good friend.”
Shane smiled. “I figured he’d do that. Bluey and Bonzer are my best mates here. Them and Gazza, before he moved away. I don’t think I’d have made it without ‘em. Bluey and Bonzer take some getting used to though.”
“Subtle as a kick in the head, especially Bluey,” Trevor replied, laughing softly before explaining, “Bluey was trying to find out if we were together. Bonzer too, but Bluey –”
Shane laughed hard, his eyes twinkling. “Yeah, he’s like that with most everybody, about absolutely everything. Nosy bloody bastard. Bonzer usually stomps on his feet when he does, but Bonzer’s almost as bad himself.”
Trevor chuckled. “What’s the deal with those two? They even finish each other’s sentences. Are they a couple?”
Shane blinked. “Them? They’ve always been like that… and they do date girls. At least they both were when I left. They gave me a right slagging way back, when they found out I was dating a guy, but all my mates who were okay with it did – the ones who weren’t didn’t say much, they just didn’t want me around anymore. Anyway, I’m gobsmacked, especially about my aunt.”
“It’s been a great day,” Trevor said, feeling truly happy for Shane.
Shane gave Trevor a smile before pulling him into a hug. “Great doesn’t even start to cover it. I need to ring your uncle soon and thank him; he’s the one who got my aunt straightened out. He gave me my family back, Trev.”
“We both got our families back; me first, then you,” Trevor replied, his eyes tearing up from joy; his own, as well as Shane’s.
The next morning, Shane decided that it was time to show Trevor some of Cairns’ beachfront. Over breakfast, he said, “The lagoon is just a couple hundred meters from here. It’s well worth a look; it’s like a huge triangular saltwater swimming pool, with fountains and such, right on the waterfront.”
“Sounds great!” Trevor replied.
Five minutes later, they were standing in the cockpit in just boardies, and Trevor finished locking up Atlantis. While checking the forward hatches by turning the key, he noticed that they were sticking a bit. “Remind me to put some graphite powder in the locks while we’re at sea,” he said; sea days were always a good time to catch up on the never-ending maintenance a yacht requires.
“Okay, Cairns awaits,” Shane said, bounding down to the dock.
They walked past the resort, to a stretch of palm-shaded grass, with the sea to their right. Shane suddenly dashed a few paces ahead, and stood pointing. “There it is, Cairns Lagoon. You don’t know how many times I’ve wondered if I’d ever see it again. And here it is!” Shane gushed.
With Shane acting like a little kid on Christmas morning, Trevor could only grin and vicariously share in his joy.
They made their way to the edge of the lagoon, striding into the warm salt water and then diving in, swimming hard towards five stainless-steel columns. Amidst the bases, near a spraying fountain, they stopped and stood in the chest-deep water, surrounded by small streams of water falling from high above. Shane raised his arm, pointing at the huge stainless-steel angelfish that topped each column. From several of the fishes’ fins streams of water jetted out, splashing into the azure lagoon. This has become a kind of landmark for Cairns, it’s on a lot of the postcards,” Shane explained.
The lagoon was fairly busy that day, nearly a hundred people in and around it, but due to its size there was plenty of room for swimming. Shane led the way, swimming from point to point, showing Trevor around.
After their swim, they strolled around the adjoining shopping area, making a few purchases before heading back to Atlantis.
The extended stay in Cairns allowed Shane to spend time with his aunt and, as Trevor had with Rachel, begin to heal the wounds of the past.
For Trevor, Shane’s family visits – he rarely went along – meant several instances of a few hours alone, so he made use of the time by exploring downtown Cairns. On his second foray, a video store caught his eye. Seizing the chance, Trevor walked in and asked if they could copy an American-format video tape. After being told that they couldn’t, Trevor asked if there was anyone else in town that could, and ended up leaving the store with a list of two other possibilities, both within a few blocks.
Trevor did his best, but no one he encountered knew how to make the copy – the stores were primarily video rental and sale, not specialists in the finer points of copying foreign-format tapes. After his second letdown, Trevor roamed around the store, turning his attention to the used VHS movies for sale. After a few minutes of browsing, which included sliding the movies out of their covers, he smiled at the one in his hand and glanced at the title, seeing that it was the first half of the second season of a classic Australian TV show: Skippy, the bush kangaroo. With a determined look on his face, he made the purchase, and then bought a few blank cassettes as well.
On Saturday, with Bluey and Bonzer in Bonzer’s van, Trevor and Shane did their grocery shopping, stocking Atlantis for the long voyage ahead.
Sunday came, and with it a day at the beach with Shane’s friends. As they got ready, Shane told Trevor, “Wear speedos under your shorts. You’ll be needing ‘em.” Trevor asked Shane what they’d be doing, but Shane only smiled. When prodded, he replied, “You’ll see, but trust me, you’ll have a blast.”
Bonzer supplied the transportation, and it was a tight fit; five members of Shane’s old surf lifesaving club, plus Trevor and Shane.
Bonzer’s van rumbled north up the coast, past Yorkey’s Knob and the other northern suburbs of Cairns, to the miles-long stretch of sand called Ellis Beach, where the van crunched to a halt on a shaded gravel parking lot, unleashing a pandemonium of lifesavers grabbing towels, ice chests – one full of beer, courtesy of Shane – and sunscreen.
They made their way through the trees toward the beach. Bluey fell into place beside Trevor, and said, “Don’t go in the water; it’s stinger season.”
“What’s a stinger?” Trevor asked.
“Jellyfish. Irukandji and box, mostly, but on days like today we get men o’ war too. They’re all worse along the beach when the wind is out of the east, like it’s been for the last few days.” Bluey peeled off his tank top and turned partially sideways to show his back to Trevor.
Trevor saw it instantly; a slightly raised reddish line, the wound of a fading jellyfish sting. Bluey’s tan partially masked it, but it was still prominent. “Ouch.”
“Yeah, it bloody hurt. I got it while rescuing a swimmer off Yorkey’s Knob a while back; it got her bad, way worse than me, which was why she was drowning.”
Bonzer joined them, jumping in to say, “Vinegar is the best first-aid for jellyfish – though don’t use it if stung by a man o’ war; anything mildly alkaline helps for them or even seawater. We always carry some vinegar with us, even if we’re not planning on going in the water,” he said, pulling a bottle of it partially out of a bag to show Trevor.
“We’ve got some on Atlantis for that; we get jellyfish back home, but not this bad,” Trevor said.
Bonzer grinned. “Aussie wildlife takes some getting used to.”
They emerged onto the spectacular beach, the nearest other visitors hundreds of yards to the south. The few who were still wearing shirts shed them, and Bluey pounced on the cooler. “Can’t let Shane’s beer get warm – that’s alcohol abuse!” He tossed Bonzer, who didn’t drink, a coke, and then availed himself of a cold XXXX.
They sat down in a rough line on the sand, watching the water and drinking, shooting the breeze and catching up. Trevor glanced to the south, seeing the distant visitors, and then to the north, seeing nothing but a vast expanse of sand littered with a couple of what he thought looked like large logs.
Shane followed Trevor’s glance, and said, “This is one of my favorite beaches. Great spot.” Shane turned to glance at his friends and wink. “Hey, Trev hasn’t seen the sights at the creek, which is just north of us.”
It didn’t occur to Trevor that everyone there except him already knew exactly where the creek was.
As one, they all stood up and walked north on the hot sands, beers in hand. “How far to the creek, and what’s there?” Trevor asked.
“You’ll see. It’s near those logs ahead,” Shane replied, hiding a smirk.
Assumptions are powerful things, and so Trevor didn’t give the ‘log’ they were approaching much attention. The closest was huge, twenty feet long and weighing several tons. They’d approached within fifty feet before Trevor froze in his tracks, gaping as the ‘log’ yawned. “That’s no fucking log!”
“Got it in one, mate,” Bonzer said, between gales of laugher. “He’s one of the other reasons the water can be dangerous. That’s a salty croc; they’re common along the shore and also inland – they live in freshwater too. They’re deadly – they kill a few people every year. I’ve even seen one kill and eat a big bull shark.”
Trevor stared at the massive saltwater crocodile as it basked in the sun. “We have saltwater crocodiles back home, but not many. Tons of alligators, but they’re not that big. Man, that’s enormous!”
Shane nodded. “They’re fast, too, and not just in the water. They can outrun a person on land, and they’re bloody aggressive this time of year.”
Trevor knew that rule about alligators too. “How far can they run?”
“About thirty meters, then they have to stop.”
Trevor mentally measured the distance. “Um, aren’t we closer than that now?”
Bluey chuckled. “Yeah mate, we are, but not by a lot. We’d be able to keep well clear if he charged. Plus, he’s basking; they don’t tend to charge as much when they are.”
Trevor, who would have thought nothing of being within twenty feet of a basking alligator, stared at the enormous crocodile. “What if somebody tripped and fell?”
Bonzer answered that. “Then they get to become one with the croc.”
Shane pointed inland, through the thick trees. “There’s a billabong back there, which is why the crocs are here. There’s often several on this stretch of beach. That’s one of the reasons we come here; the crocs keep the tourists away.”
Trevor nodded numbly. “Yeah, I can see how you’d prefer sharing the beach with gigantic prehistoric killing machines instead of a few tourists. Makes perfect sense. Uh huh.”
Shane laughed, and was joined by a few of his friends. “They aren’t that bad, not if you know their habits. Walking along the waterline here would be a bad idea; they lurk and then strike by surprise.”
Turning and leaving the crocs behind, they returned to their things. The lifesavers quickly set up a beach flags course, one of their favorite competition sports – one especially beloved by Shane.
Quickly shedding their shorts – speedos were the normal attire for beach flags – they began playing, with a loud clap substituting for a starter’s pistol.
During a beer break – their second and last beer each – Bluey said, “Hey, how about a footrace?”
“How far?” Bonzer asked, already knowing the answer.
Bluey pointed up the beach. “Let’s use the croc as the finish line.”
It was an old joke, one they’d often shared, so Shane joined in with the punch line. “Loser buys lunch, winner is lunch.”
For the briefest of moments, Trevor and Shane shared a glance, their joyous looks turning to revulsion as they both remembered Henry Wesson, a man they had never met, and his fate at Bridget’s hands. However, they both let the thought pass, unwilling to dwell on it, or to spoil the fun of their friends.
A race was arranged, though to the south, and was soon followed by more rounds of beach flags, and then a leisurely game of Frisbee.
As the afternoon drew to a close, Trevor felt that he’d made new friends; the lifesavers had done their best to make him feel welcome, softening what could have been the awkward experience of being the only newcomer in a group of old friends.
“You two still leaving soon?” Rake, the tallest of the lifesavers, asked.
“Yeah, we have to, but we’ll try to come back after Christmas,” Trevor said, already mentally plotting the course he’d take Kookaburra on from Carnarvon, past Broome and Darwin in Australia’s north, then through the Torres Strait and down to Cairns.
Phone numbers and addresses were exchanged. When they were done, Trevor asked Bluey, “What’s the deal with the names? You’ve almost all got Aussie nicknames – except Shane.”
Bluey glanced towards Shane to make sure he was out of earshot, and began to explain. “He does, we just don’t dare use it much. He got it in his agro days – when he fights, he likes to head-butt, and he’s bloody good at it. He got Chriso, one of our teammates who turned against him, so good he needed stitches.”
Trevor nodded, remembering Carnarvon. “Yeah, when we first met and fought, he got me pretty good with that. So, what’s his nickname? He tried to hang ‘gallah’ on me.”
“Just don’t let on that you know it until you’re far away, or he’ll probably kill me,” Bluey said, with grin of utter delight.
In Cairns, Gray spent the afternoon making a series of phone calls, growing frustrated that, in spite of all his connections, he’d yet to be able to track down his primary target. He was dreading making his report to Bridget, who had been growing testier by the day.
Relaxing after a final round of beach flags, Trevor, out of habit, glanced at the horizon, sweeping it as he did while at sea. Over the course of the day he’d spotted a couple of powerboats, but now, to the north, he saw the high sails of a big yacht, still hull-down on the horizon. A few minutes later, he glanced again, seeing that it was a catamaran, heading south at high speed. “Shane, look,” Trevor said, nodding to the north, his eyes widening, not quite believing what he thought he was seeing.
Shane looked, his eyes zeroing in on a very familiar color scheme and set of sails. “Kookaburra! Heading for Cairns, gotta be. It’s about an hour’s sail to the marina from here. I think I know why the customs blokes had that delay with our paperwork.”
Bonzer’s van got them back just in time to race onto the dock to see Kookaburra, Rachel at her helm, dock next to Atlantis.
Whooping and hollering, Trevor, with Shane following, ran towards Kookaburra, and as he approached he had yet another surprise; Martin, and then Greg Fowler, followed by his wife Shelly and their young son, appeared on Kookaburra’s railing, waving in greeting, smiling in the sun on that bright and glorious day.
Several people along the resort’s promenade, plus a few from their ocean-view rooms, stood watching, two with far more interest than most. “So this is where she was going,” Gray said, a delighted smile appearing on his face.
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