Author’s Note: Two-for-one special. Another double, and this one had to be; it just works better as one chapter. My team did an awesome job; twice the chapter length means twice the work for them.
(Here's alink to google maps, which can be zoomed and moved around, 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.)
The dawn came as with a thunder, a fitting omen for the day.
Fifteen miles east of Innisfail, the catamaran Ares, now named Kookaburra, bobbed in the light southeasterly chop.
Trevor, at Atlantis’s helm, glanced at Kookaburra, keeping station twenty yards off her port beam. Shane headed forward to lower the radar reflector and place it in the bilge, and then checked to make sure the AIS was off. Big cruising catamarans of Atlantis’s general design had long been beloved by smugglers due to having a minimal radar return; without a radar reflector and with the active-transponder-based AIS off, they were difficult to detect on most radars.
Everything had been arranged, and the poignant goodbyes already said. Rachel, at Kookaburra’s helm, tears streaming down her cheeks, raised her arm in farewell.
Trevor, with Shane by his side, called out, “We’ll see you at Christmas! Have a safe trip home!”
“Fair winds and a following sea,” Rachel called back, her hand lingering on the wheel, unwilling to do what she knew must be done.
Martin appeared by her side in the darkness. “They’ll be back, Rachel,” he said softly, taking her hand.
“I keep thinking of the day I took Ares out to sea, when I left Florida. It seems so long ago, and like just yesterday as well,” Rachel replied, her voice breaking and ragged. “I keep thinking ‘just a few more minutes’ but I suppose it’s time.” Rachel, squeezing Martin’s hand, used her other to spin the wheel, the action taking every ounce of her will.
For a lingering, eternal moment, Atlantis and Kookaburra sailed together, as if reluctant to part that final time. Then, with stately grace, Rachel’s rudder change took effect, Kookaburra beginning the slow turn to starboard that would put her on course for Innisfail, where she was due to arrive later that morning.
Trevor, heart aflutter, wiped away a tear as he watched Kookaburra recede.
Shane hugged him, saying softly in his ear, “We’ll see them again before you know it.”
His back stiffening with resolve, Trevor replied, “I know… it’s just so hard saying goodbye. I’ll be okay in a bit.” Trevor turned his attention to Atlantis, carefully adjusting course a few degrees to a heading for Townsville, and then engaging the engines to increase her speed under sail – a technique called motor-sailing, sometimes used in light winds when the skipper is in a hurry.
Eight miles astern, a loitering powerboat noted Kookaburra’s turn on radar. While the two yachts had been running in close formation, the man at the helm – one of Gray’s associates – had only one radar return on his scope. He still did; Atlantis, with her reflector down and AIS off, was at too great a range to be detectable with his radar set. Against the red glow of dawn above a dark sea, with her running lights off, he had not seen her go. He followed Kookaburra, keeping his distance.
Kookaburra made her slow approach to the mouth of the Johnstone River, entering the sinuous river on engines for the half-hour upstream run to Innisfail. Bluey and Bonzer, banished to the salon to keep them out of sight, posted themselves behind Kookaburra’s big, sloping forward windows to enjoy the ride.
As Kookaburra paraded past the tiny town of Coconuts at the river’s mouth, she was under the all-seeing eye of Kent Moorcroft’s camera. He snapped a few pictures for his story before jumping in his car and racing upriver to catch a few more. Kookaburra passed a hundred yards from his second vantage point, turning with the winding river. Through a stroke of good luck, the angle of the sun during this turn, combined with Moorcroft’s viewing angle, briefly illuminated part of Kookaburra’s salon for his camera’s eye. Briefly though with certainty, he saw two chiseled, sun-bronzed chests, which he assumed to be Trevor and Shane. “So, more games then?” he mumbled, racing off to continue the hunt.
Rachel docked Kookaburra to the sea wall in Innisfail’s heart. Leaving Bluey and Bonzer aboard with strict orders to stay out of sight, everyone else traipsed ashore to do a bit of shopping and looking around – though mainly to be seen.
From across the river, Moorcroft stood vigil on Kookaburra, though he didn’t catch sight of anyone aboard. He didn’t need to: he’d seen the ones going ashore, and knew that none of them could be the two very fit specimens he’d seen in the salon.
By noon, Rachel and the others felt that they had achieved their task and cast off, heading back downriver before turning southeast at the river’s mouth. Kent Moorcroft watched from shore, snapping a few photos which showed Kookaburra’s name clearly, along with the rest of her aft section.
Fifteen miles off the river mouth, Rachel checked the horizons and then the radar, seeing only one other boat, nine miles closer to shore. Tacking hard to port, she brought Kookaburra smartly northbound as she rigged for speed, making the best of the strong afternoon breeze for a sixteen-knot speed run through the shallow seas. The weather was nearly ideal, with only a few lonely cumulus clouds dotting the crystal-blue tropical skies. “Okay,” she told Bluey and Bonzer, who were now on deck. “You lot are about to earn your keep, starting first thing in the morning,” she quipped, giving the two lifesavers a warm smile, masking a heart still sad from parting.
Aboard Atlantis, Trevor carefully bent Atlantis’s course from south to south-southwest. He checked the navigation screen, seeing the Palm Island Group ahead.
“So we just do a close run by Townsville, then off for the land of nervous sheep?” Shane asked, evoking a laugh from Trevor.
“Sorta,” Trevor replied, hiding a smirk, his anticipation of what was to come already lifting his spirits. “Uncle Greg was very specific. We’re supposed to do a run through a narrow pass in the Palm Islands Group, which is inhabited, and then sweep south along the coast, as if we’re heading for Townsville. We’ll pass inshore of Magnetic Island, then do a slow run off Townsville’s beaches as it gets close to sunset. As soon as we’re clear, we break from the coast at high speed, and our next landfall will be New Zealand.”
Shane gave Trevor a puzzled look. “Why the run-in at Townsville?”
Trevor grinned. “I’m just about to put Kookaburra’s name on the transom. We need to be seen. It might or might not work; Uncle Greg and Kline just want to drop a bunch of clues, all pointing different ways. That’s why Kookaburra is going north, her own name on her transom, with Bluey and Bonzer pretending to be us.”
Shane didn’t quite see it coming, but Trevor’s evil grin let him know that something was up. “They’re playing us, but if we’re playing Kookaburra, who’s going to play them if anyone gets close to us off Townsville?” he asked.
“Take the helm,” said Trevor, dashing inside to retrieve a bag from one of the vacant cabins. He returned to the helm, thrusting the bag into Shane’s hands. “Hi, Mom!”
Shane looked in the bag, seeing the bright print of a woman’s sun dress, a wig, a flowery wide-brimmed hat, a bra, and a pair of big sunglasses. “You can’t be bloody serious!” he gasped.
“Uncle Greg’s orders. You’re playing Mom if anyone gets close.”
“Bollocks!” Shane roared.
“Yeah, better get rid of those too,” Trevor replied, snickering.
“You’ll be the one to regret it if you do. Anyway, if anyone gets real close, they’ll see I’m not your mum!” Shane objected.
“That’s why the timing is so important; if any boats get really close, we pull away, and it’ll be getting dark. And, even if it doesn’t work, they might think it’s us, heading south, which we aren’t. That’s one of the reasons we took the aft radome mount down; so anyone looking close would think they see a swap. According to Jason Kline, confusion works as well as misdirection.”
Shane stared in the bag for a moment. “Why me, not you?”
“I’ve gotta con Atlantis from the nav desk, inside and out of sight. There may be some fancy maneuvering to do if a boat gets too close, and I can’t be in two places at once. Besides, Uncle Greg told us to do it this way,” Trevor replied, hoping that Shane believed it. Fowler had actually said nothing about who needed to wear the disguise.
“Is there some reason you waited until now to tell me?” Shane grumbled.
“Yeah, to give you less time to complain or mutiny,” Trevor replied, starting to snicker again.
“Bastard!” Shane declared, and then, with a look of resignation, glanced into the bag. “When?”
“When we approach Magnetic Island,” Trevor replied, tapping at the navigation screen. “That’ll be a while. In the meantime, you can fix us lunch.”
Shane gave Trevor a mock glare. “Aye aye, Captain Bligh. I’d tell you to fix it yourself, ‘cept that’d be certain death for us both.”
Trevor checked the screen again, checking depths. “We’re going through between Palm Island,” he said, pointing ahead and to port at the huge, hilly, green island four miles ahead. “And Fantome Island,” he added, pointing at a smaller, more distant island ahead, to the right of their course. Trevor’s eyes narrowed as he said the name. “I wonder if it’s named after the Fantome? Wrong side of the world though, plus that wasn’t all that long ago.”
“What’s the Fantome?” Shane asked.
Trevor fixed his eyes on Fantome Island, as he began, “I’ve read a lot about her, and she’s famous in Florida. The Fantome was a ship built for the Duke of Windsor in 1927. She was awesome: two hundred and eighty feet long, with a steel hull. I’ve seen pictures; she was real eye candy for a sailor.
“She was refitted as a four-masted windjammer, and became the flagship of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises. They were a big thing in Florida and the Caribbean. Then in 1998 she sailed from Honduras with a full load of passengers, taking them out on a luxury voyage – kind of like what we do, just with a way bigger ship. She had about a hundred passengers aboard. They had some bands of intermittent rain to deal with, but that was nothing for a ship her size. The rain was from the outer bands of a distant storm, one the forecast said would change course.
“The storm didn’t change course, so Fantome made a dash for Belize in Central America, and they put the passengers ashore there. The crew focused on saving their ship; they knew that any ship is in danger if caught in a major storm in any anchorage. They did what they were trained to do; try to get out of the way by running north past Cancun and Cozumel to get clear of the storm’s projected track. They were trying to get out of a box; Fantome had the Yucatan peninsula to the north and west, Honduras to the south, and the storm coming in from the east. She didn’t make it,” Trevor said solemnly, as he continued the sobering tale. “She wasn’t fast enough, and when they saw they probably couldn’t escape into the Gulf of Mexico in time, they turned back. The forecast track kept changing, so they kept trying to dodge. Finally they turned south, trying to skirt around the storm that way. But the storm kept changing course too. Fantome was trapped; she couldn’t run fast enough to get out of the way. They were in touch with their headquarters by radio; they reported hundred-mile-an-hour winds and massive seas.”
“It didn’t end well, did it?” Shane asked, reading Trevor’s somber expression.
Trevor shook his head. “The storm was named ‘Mitch’. A category five hurricane. The core of the storm was sixty miles wide and Fantome couldn’t avoid it. Nothing could survive that. Fantome means ‘ghost’ in French, so her name fits. She’s a real ghost ship now. Some lifejackets were found at sea a week later, but that’s the only trace of her or her crew of over thirty that’s ever been found,” he solemnly intoned.
“Shit, that happened to the flagship of a cruise line? In 1998? That’s only nine years ago. You think of stuff like that happening back before modern communications and weather forecasts, not now.”
Trevor nodded. “It was a year after Mom vanished so I paid a lot of attention to sea stuff, plus it was in all the news. She was based in Miami, and a lot of the crew was from Florida. Florida is kinda like northern Australia in one way; what you call cyclones we call hurricanes. I’ve had to move Atlantis out of a forecast storm track before; the only safe way to deal with a hurricane is to be somewhere else. With Atlantis I’m not too worried; she’s fast enough to get out of the way. Fantome wasn’t.”
Shane nodded. “Northern Queensland gets hit sometimes. We even had a rugby team named the Cairns Cyclones a few years back. I remember a lot of alerts, and we’ve had a few hits, some dead on, like Cyclone Justin, in ‘97. The eye came ashore at Yorkey’s Knob, so it hit us hard. It was a category two, and I could feel the whole house shake. The town looked a wreck the next morning. It even destroyed part of the marina we were at. Cyclone Larry hit last year, right before I left. It came ashore at Innisfail as a category four. I saw the damage there on my way south: a bloody mess.” Shane gave Trevor a sideways glance. “What’s got you thinking about cyclones? Just the name of that island?”
Trevor shook his head. “I’m just worried about Mom and the family. I didn’t even know she was at sea, and she mentioned there’d been a cyclone up north.”
Shane grinned. “Now that I can help you with, mate. Cyclone season’s over at the end of the month, it’s already winding down. Plus, she’s one hell of a sailor – almost as good as you. She knows how to avoid a cyclone.”
“I just… I thought she was dead for so long, then I got her back. I guess saying goodbye today hit me harder than I thought.”
Shane did the only thing he could, he gave Trevor a hug. “We’ll see them again, Trev. No worries.”
With Fantome Island receding astern, Trevor stared at it, finding it a bit ominous. He wasn’t the only one; many locals felt the same, though due to its dark history, which included use as a leper colony, long ago.
En route to Magnetic Island, Trevor warily eyed a small rain shower above it. In the tropics, it’s typical to have isolated showers, and they sometimes form over islands in the afternoon, feeding on the rising thermals. They also form over the sea. “That’s the other thing that got me thinking of hurricanes; I got walloped by a squall off Bimini last year. It looked like that, just a rain shower, and all of a sudden I was in a sixty knot gale. It went from dead calm to force ten inside of five minutes. It scared the crap out of me and Julie.”
Trevor’s spirits improved as they neared the coast, largely due to Shane’s antics. Shane, true to form, was kicking up a huge fuss, complaining non-stop as he got dressed in his disguise. They lowered the sails as they approached Magnetic Island – so named by Captain Cook, due to the strange behavior of his ship’s compass as he passed it – and Shane, in his disguise as Trevor’s mother, took his place at the helm, still grumbling up a storm. Trevor retreated inside to the navigation desk, taking control from there.
A few minutes later, Shane blinked in realization. “Hold up, why do you have to be in there? You could be the one in the disguise, right here at the helm!”
Trevor couldn’t hold it in any longer, collapsing in a fit of laughter. “Took you long enough to figure that out. Too late now though; we’re closing on the shore.”
“Cruel and abusive bastard!” Shane bellowed, already plotting revenge.
Atlantis, with the name ‘Kookaburra’ on her transom, sailed into Cleveland Bay and past Townsville. A few took notice, though not many.
As the sun set over Townsville, Trevor retook the helm while Shane shucked off the disguise. “I will get you for this. You know that, right?” Shane grumbled, in mock anger.
Trevor decided to save his secret knowledge of Shane’s nickname for the near future, and instead replied in an innocent tone. “We were just following the plan. Had to be done.”
Shane glanced back, seeking a last look at Australia in the gathering dark. “A crazy, convoluted thing it was. All to confuse anyone still looking for us. Maybe it’s crazy enough to work, seeing as how it’s confused me – and I’m in on it.”
Trevor and Shane continued their banter, Trevor taking Atlantis a few miles down the coast on a southeast heading, and then bending her course to due east, laying in a course for a straight-line run of over a thousand miles – a close reach across the southeast trades.
Bluey and Bonzer, wearing just shorts, blond wigs, and sunglasses, took their posts in Kookaburra’s cockpit as she approached the coast near Port Douglas, a town thirty-five miles up the coast from Cairns. With Kookaburra under sail, she could not be fully controlled from the navigation desk inside – the controls there could operate, via the autopilot, the rudders and throttles, though not the lines that controlled the sails; those led only to the cockpit. However, barring a change in wind, it was no different from being at sea under autopilot, so Rachel relaxed with the others in the salon, keeping an eye on the controls even though she was letting Bonzer actually control the helm – most of the time.
Kookaburra, sailing at five knots, closed to within a quarter mile of the small town’s long, curving beach, paralleling it and blasting the horns. Rachel now had the helm from inside, letting Bluey and Bonzer concentrate on their jobs. Several times, people on the shore waved, and the two lifesavers enthusiastically waved back. Several were close enough to see the name ‘Kookaburra’ on her transom, even though Trevor and Shane were known to be aboard Atlantis. It was part of the plan to further dissuade the press – Kline had leaked, and Trevor had seemingly admitted on camera, that they played games with the names mainly for publicity. The reasoning was sound; if the press thought they were being played for publicity, they would not cooperate by giving any.
The one exception was Kent Moorcroft. He, having seen Trevor and Shane’s response to being found in Coral Bay, knew that angle was a lie. He now had his story almost ready, with the deadline for Sunday just a day away. He was very proud of one of his angles; he’d noticed the pole mounted radar on the pictures of Atlantis, and that there wasn’t one on Kookaburra when she’d arrived. His pictures from Innisfail however, clearly showed pole-mounted radar on Kookaburra. Now, as he stood on Port Douglas lookout, where he’d been waiting for hours for Atlantis’s announced visit, he was snapping pictures and could see that there was no pole-mounted radar. He also noticed that what appeared to be Trevor and Shane were on a boat with ‘Kookaburra’ on the transom. “Clever buggers,” he grumbled. ‘A fake within a fake, a double shuffle’, he thought, a cold smile appearing on his face.
Kookaburra, her run past Port Douglas done, pulled away from the coast, cruising north in the shallow waters between the main bulk of the Great Barrier Reef – in that area, averaging ten miles from shore and extending twenty more – and the shore. Rachel kept a wary eye on the depth gauge, not quite trusting her charts in the reef-strewn waters.
“Where to next?” Bluey asked, from his perch atop the cockpit roof.
Rachel grinned up at Bluey as Bonzer appeared by his side. “Cooktown, then after that, the Lizard Island Resort. After that we’ll do a straight-line run to the Torres Strait, as there’s not much else of any population until Thursday Island in the strait itself.” Rachel glanced at the weather display, and added, “You two can make yourselves useful up there. Keep an eye out ahead; there’s an area low moving in, with afternoon thunderstorms forecast for the next few days.” Rachel didn’t actually need their help, but she knew they loved to assist, and it could never hurt to have too many lookouts; being hit by an unexpected squall in difficult waters was something she fervently sought to avoid.
On Saturday morning, with Bluey and Bonzer again impersonating Trevor and Shane at the helms, Kookaburra approached the mouth of the Endeavour River, home to sleepy Cooktown. They paraded past the short waterfront, sounding their horns in salute before cruising back out to sea. Rachel’s intent was to anchor off one of the hundreds of sand cays in the area for the night; attempting to negotiate these waters at night was far beyond her comfort level.
They anchored just before dusk at a lonely, nameless, ephemeral cay, its above-water area less than half an acre. Bluey and Bonzer looked longingly at the water, craving a swim, though the sight of a distant jellyfish in the crystal waters deterred them. “Fucking stingers,” Bluey mumbled, resigned to doing without a swim, while wondering if he could talk Rachel into heaving to so they could swim in the deep open waters ahead, where jellyfish were far less plentiful.
With the coming of dawn, Rachel got underway for Lizard Island, thirty miles to the north. Fifteen minutes later, Martin joined her at the helm, coffees in hand. “G’day, love,” he said, cheerfully handing her a mug.
Rachel gratefully accepted it, taking a drink before glancing at her radar scope. “Martin, I think we might have an issue. When we anchored last night, a boat passed us, then came to a stop about eight kilometers ahead. She doesn’t show on AIS so I’m only guessing she’s the same boat, but the positions and behavior are right. Now she’s paralleling us, about nine kilometers off our starboard forward quarter. She had to detour around some shoals, but then came back to the same course and distance from us. To do that, she had to increase speed during the detour.” Rachel had noticed a boat the day before; it was hardly uncommon to have two boats going in roughly the same direction, but this one was behaving in what Rachel thought was an incongruous way.
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Martin replied, already reaching for the binoculars. He clambered atop the salon roof, focusing in on the bearing Rachel had given. “Got her. No sails or mast, so a powerboat of some sort. Looks like a fair-sized one, but she’s a boat, not a ship.”
Rachel stared at the speck on the horizon for a moment. “Let’s find out what she’s up to,” she said, firing up the engines to motor-sail in the light winds. Kookaburra, engines rumbling, accelerated to ten knots.
For over half an hour, Kookaburra outpaced the powerboat on her parallel track. Martin, observing both through binoculars and on radar, commented, “We’re past her, opening the range, so our friend out there is probably nothing to worry about, just somebody going in the same direction as us.”
The rumbling engines awoke the rest of the passengers. Greg Fowler was the first to appear. “In a hurry?” he asked with a smile. His smile soon vanished as Rachel explained their concerns. He checked the radar plot, seeing that the range had opened further. “See what happens, though I think you’re right. Just a coincidence – but I don’t like bloody coincidences.”
All was well for five more minutes. Martin saw it first. “She’s sped up; same base course. She’s gaining slightly.”
Fowler’s head snapped around. “I don’t like that. Rachel, keep our speed and course steady, then in…” his voice trailed off as he studied the navigation display, “about ten minutes, we need to change course to avoid a shoal. Go around it to the east, but as you skirt it, cut our speed by a third.”
Martin looked on in concern. “Could it be reporters?”
Fowler stroked his chin for a moment before replying. “Possible. Very possible. I’ll call Jason Kline in a bit and see if he’s heard anything and to see what he thinks. It might be some fans of Trev’s, but I don’t see that sort needing to be sneaky about it. Okay, keep a close watch on our guest. If she does anything too suspicious, we sure as hell can’t outrun her, but we can duck into Lizard Island and start squawking for help. Let’s proceed with the Lizard Island run-by as planned. How long?”
Rachel glanced ahead. “About an hour, if the weather holds. The forecast calls for scattered showers plus a few squalls, and I can see a few building cumulus clouds.”
“Good,” Fowler replied absently.
Just after breakfast, Bluey and Bonzer resumed their role as stand-ins for Trevor and Shane while everyone else retreated to the salon. There, at the navigation desk, Fowler kept a close eye on the following boat – still on a parallel course, and now having closed to within five miles of Kookaburra’s aft starboard quarter.
Kookaburra made her pass down the west side of Lizard Island, coming within a hundred yards of the resort and its yacht anchorage. Bluey and Bonzer were now somewhat subdued due to the concerns about the following boat – accentuated by them having noticed that Fowler was now wearing his sidearm. They did their best; shouting, hollering, and waving at the few people they saw on moored boats and ashore.
Fowler, intent on the following boat, reported, “I lost ‘em when the bulk of the island blocked them from sight. Maybe they’re just heading for the anchorage here. I’ve spoken to Kline; he doesn’t think reporters would be quite so shy about tailing us, though he thinks it’s possible. The wind’s picked up; what kind of speed can Kookaburra make?”
Rachel didn’t need to think. “Fifteen knots, in these conditions.”
Fowler nodded. “Do it.”
“We’ll probably have to detour a bit, due to squalls,” Rachel said, pointing to a few solitary rain showers on the northern horizon. Their course was due north, towards a line of reefs.
“Powerboat about five kilometers astern; she’s nearing the anchorage,” Bonzer called down from his lookout post atop the salon. “I don’t know if it’s the same powerboat, though it looks like her.”
“Pretty much has to be her, or we’d have had more on radar,” Rachel replied, feeling far better.
Fowler climbed up for a look through the binoculars. “I’m not sure either. Similar size and color, but she’s white; pretty common. Let’s see what her base course is, then we’ll see if she’s following us. I’ve already rung the service; they’ve nothing closer than a patrol boat the other side of the Torres Strait. Wait, she’s turned; heading into the anchorage,” he said, a note of relief creeping into his voice.
Their sense of well-being lasted just fifteen more minutes. “That powerboat just pulled out again, I think she was just refueling. She’s coming in our direction,” Bonzer reported.
Rachel glanced at the navigation screen, which showed Lizard Island astern, to the south. “One bit of good news; the outer edge of the Barrier Reef swings east here, and once we’re through the pass eight klicks ahead, the seabed drops off sharply; we’ll have over two thousand meters under the keels and no worries about reefs or shoals until we reach the Torres Strait. We can do a speed run, even at night. Or, I can come about and take us back to the resort at Lizard Island.”
Fowler made the decision. “Proceed north.”
That morning, the first half of Kent Moorcroft’s story was the headline piece for his paper’s Sunday edition, published both in print and on the paper’s website. The headline read simply ‘Bellevue Lives and She’s Not Giving Up!’ Below, a picture of Trevor and Shane on Atlantis led the story, a fairly well researched, in-depth piece detailing how Trevor and Shane had been found in Coral Bay, and how they, with reporter Jason Kline as their ‘agent’, were trying to deceive the press that they were on a book publicity tour. The picture showed Atlantis in Sydney Harbour, and her pole-mounted radar was circled. Below, three smaller pictures, taken during the sailing from Cairns, Kookaburra’s visit to Innisfail, and then her pass off Port Douglas, served to demonstrate the visible difference between the two boats, and declared that the boat now heading up the coast with Trevor and Shane ostensibly aboard was actually Atlantis. The claim was that the two crews had swapped boats as part of an ongoing effort to obfuscate.
In the article, Moorcroft stated that the ongoing attempts at deception, combined with his own research in Florida, indicated that the threat to them, seen so publicly in Geraldton, was still extant. He went on to speculate that this probably meant that Bridget was alive and still after something. His guess was that she wanted something aboard one of the boats. The story was, in part, a teaser; it mentioned throughout that an even bigger story was coming next week, exposing what Trevor was really doing when found in Coral Bay, and promising major revelations on several fronts. It had been Moorcroft’s editor’s decision, taken over Moorcroft’s objections, to split the piece to get more mileage out of it. The second half, slated to appear the following Sunday, was in large part an exposition of the keys and asset list, including pictures of the keys and the full text of the asset list.
It took exactly three hours for one of the people Bridget had keeping an eye on the Internet for news to come upon the story. Ten minutes after that, Bridget, awoken from a sound sleep, turned on her computer and checked the URL she’d been given. She skimmed through the story, paying special attention to the pictures of the boats and the claims they seemed to support. “No,” she mumbled, slamming her fist on her desk in fury. Moments later, she was dialing Gray’s number.
Gray, who was still in Cairns, answered the dedicated cell phone in a cheery tone. “G’day,” he said, as soon as he’d engaged the encryption. “I’m alone, and I think I’ll have good news for you within a couple of hours – Kookaburra is entering deep water now.”
“We have an issue. Are you absolutely certain that you rigged the correct boat?” Bridget asked, and then went on to mention the article and what it claimed.
Gray paled slightly. “I’m turning on my laptop now.” He waited while it booted, and then carefully typed in the URL as Bridget read it off. “Okay, it’s loading, give me a minute for a read,” he said, his pulse racing. “Bloody hell,” he grumbled, as he neared the article’s end. “I’m not certain – though maybe I am. The tracker is on Atlantis, put aboard when she was in the Brisbane River. The last ping is an hour old; she’s east of Townsville, eastbound, a few hundred kilometers off the coast. So if she’s there, the one up by Lizard Island has to be Kookaburra.”
“And assuming, of course, that the exchange was not made prior to Atlantis’s arrival in Brisbane. They were obviously attempting a deception of some kind. Are you absolutely certain that this may not be the case?” Bridget asked.
The issue, plus the convoluted phrasing of the question, caused Gray to pause, his mind awhirl. “Ah, well, no, not at this point...”
“When can you be?” Bridget demanded.
“I’m not sure. Soon. I wasn’t the one who went aboard in Brisbane so I don’t know all the details. I’ll need to call the blokes who did the job. They were given a set of the keys we copied in Melbourne so they could get inside in Brisbane with no fuss, but one of them can pick locks, a bit at least. I need to ring them and see if they used the keys. If so, then that was Atlantis at that point: the same boat we saw that had the new bottom and gear in Melbourne.”
The slight sticking of some of the locks that Trevor had noticed on Atlantis had been due to the locks having been very roughly used. One of the officers who had gone aboard in Melbourne – the one with some knowledge of forensics – had made impressions of the borrowed keys, and the copies had been cut from those. As a result, the fit was less than perfect, and had required a good deal of jiggling and forcing in Brisbane.
“Unless, of course, both boats are commonly keyed,” Bridget pointed out.
“The locks on Atlantis were brand new, and hadn’t been re-keyed,” Gray replied, and then paused for a moment before adding, “The bloke who looked abovedecks in Melbourne knows his stuff and explained it to me in detail when we were determining which boat that was; he said you need to take the cylinder and tumblers apart to do that, and that’d leave marks he’d have noticed. He was sure the keys were the factory originals, too. I’ll ring them. I’ll also ring the one who put the bombs on; he was under Atlantis in Melbourne, so I’ll ask if he’s certain it wasn’t the same boat. I’m pretty sure we got the right one, but they were docked right next to each other. If they were swapped in the night, maybe… I’ll ring right away, though that bloke doesn’t often carry a mobile so it may take a bit.”
“Very well, find out! Now, regarding Kookaburra; we cannot risk blowing the wrong boat – that could tip our hand – though we cannot let her escape, either.”
Gray explained the situation, and added, “We’ve probably got a day until she leaves deep water – unless she radically changes course.”
Bridget considered that for a moment before making her decision. “Tell your people following her to refrain from triggering the bomb yet, though they are to do so if Kookaburra is in danger of leaving deep water, or of escaping. Do all that you can to find out for certain, but if you cannot, destroy Kookaburra – assuming she is the one with the bomb aboard. Keep me informed of any developments, even if seemingly trivial.”
Gray called his two associates on the powerboat at once to relay the order, and then asked the one who had been aboard Atlantis in Melbourne, “Did you get inside her with the keys?”
“Uh, yeah, took some rough doing though, plus I had to open a couple of different places while I was looking for a suitable spot.”
With that, Gray had half his puzzle put together. “Okay, I should be able to give the go-ahead pretty soon, but for now, don’t blow her unless she looks like she’s about to leave deep water or get away.”
As soon as the call was over, one of the men turned to the other. “I wonder what all that’s about? Too bad, we’d be done by now,” he said, returning the trigger to the helm’s small glove box.
Gray’s next call was to the associate who had planted the bombs aboard Kookaburra in Cairns. As Gray had expected, he was reduced to leaving a voicemail message – the man had found solace at the bottom of a bottle.
Aboard Kookaburra, now ten miles out into the Coral Sea Deep, Rachel glanced warily at a few large rain showers ahead. “We’ll need to angle east a bit to go around that; it’s squalling up a bit.”
Fowler studied it; a large, towering cumulus cloud with heavy rain below it, one of several within sight decorating the otherwise largely clear skies. “Your call skipper, but I’d prefer you go right into it, nice and fast, sails up until we’re in.”
Kookaburra charged on ahead, closing in on the squall.
Aboard the powerboat, the man at the helm watched with irritation as Kookaburra entered the squall, fading from view. “Bloody hell, why’d they do that? Now what?” he asked.
The other man glanced at the radar. “Still got her, both on radar and AIS. Skirt around to the east as fast as you can; we’ll resume trailing her on the far side. That squall looks like it’s a bit of a blow; I don’t fancy running through it.”
“I don’t want to get wet any more than you do,” the other one replied, ramming the throttle forward and turning towards the northeast. Both men had driven powerboats before, though neither were experienced boaters, nor did they understand the finer points of how radar can be used – and how it can’t.
The powerboat raced on at twenty-eight knots, skirting around the localized storm, whose winds were kicking up a light chop. Fifteen minutes later, with the storm to their west, they angled onto a northwest course. “She’s still in there. Not moving much,” the man at the radar said, and then ordered his shipmate to reduce throttle to steerageway. “Let’s see what she does.”
Aboard Kookaburra, the rain lashed down in gusty, ragged sheets. Fowler, at the navigation desk, stared at the radar display. “She raced around at high speed, then slowed almost to a stop on the far side. That means she’s after us, no doubt about it. The question is why.”
Kookaburra, blasted by a sudden gust, began drifting sideways, wallowing in the heavy downpour.
On the powerboat, the two men waited, one of them watching their radar. “We’ve still got an active paint and AIS as well. She’s in there, basically motionless, about six kilometers southwest of us,” he said, irked by a few raindrops; they were at the edge of the storm, which was growing on the afternoon thermals. He glanced apprehensively to the southwest; less than half a mile from their position the rain formed a grey veil, one they did not wish to enter.
“I wonder if the storm wrecked her?” the other wondered. “She’s deep in it, and it looks like a heavy one.”
“Let’s wait and see what happens when the storm moves off… maybe we’d best call the boss and check in.”
They were intent on their radar screen, their engine masking the sound of another as, wraithlike, a small form appeared in the rain to their west, bursting out of the downpour at twenty-five knots, boring straight in.
Fowler, in uniform and soaked to the skin, looked back at Martin, who was at the Zodiac’s helm. “Get us on her stern, as fast as you can,” he said, pulling a sodden blanket closer around his shoulders to hide his uniform. He then turned to the Zodiac’s other occupant, Bonzer, “Ready on the fire extinguisher!”
Fowler turned to study their target, now just two hundred yards away. “I don’t think they’ve seen us yet; close in from her stern quarter. Bonzer, start yelling as soon as we’re about to touch. Remember, stay out of the water unless you hear me say my name like this – Fowler,” he said, pronouncing it ‘foul-her’ instead of his more usual ‛foul-ah’.
The young lifesaver, wearing only his red lifesaver shorts, nodded, clutching at the fire extinguisher with one hand, holding on for dear life with the other as the Zodiac tore across the choppy water. “This is bloody bonkers,” he muttered to himself, glancing at the chain he was supposed to use on the powerboat’s propeller if the order was given.
Aboard the powerboat, the roar of the Zodiac’s engine grew loud enough to be heard over that of the boat’s own engine. The two men turned to look, seeing the Zodiac as it neared their stern, its engine roaring as Martin waited until the last moment before slewing the boat sideways to its direction of travel, bringing it to a crash stop.
The Zodiac bumped the stern hard, Bonzer standing up to yell in apparent panic at the two startled men, “Fire, fire aboard, help us!” just before pulling the trigger, blasting the fire extinguisher in the direction of the powerboat’s occupants and playing it back and forth for several seconds.
The two men staggered back, trying to avoid the worst of the blasting white cloud. As the cloud cleared, they noticed a shape, gaping as it took the form of Greg Fowler, standing on their deck. “G’day, gentlemen,” he said, pulling his borrowed swim goggles off, though it was his gun that held their attention: it was already trained on them.
“What?” one of the men blurted.
“I’m Greg Fowler,” he said, careful not to pronounce it the way he had for Bonzer. “Of the Customs and Border Protection Service. You’ve been following us, and now you’re going to tell me why.”
“We’re just out for some boating, I don’t know what you’re on about,” one of the men said, easing back towards the helm station, where the bomb trigger now resided in the glove box.
“Don’t move,” Fowler ordered. Without taking his eyes off his quarry, he said, “Martin, Bonzer, get aboard now.”
Martin secured the Zodiac’s line to the powerboat, and then he, followed by Bonzer, clambered aboard.
Fowler glared at the two captives. “Turn around and put your hands all the way up. Martin is going to pat you down, then we’ll have a chat and find out who you are.”
“We’re just boaters, officer,” one of the two protested.
Fowler was now certain that they were anything but. He’d considered it possible that they might be reporters, though reporters, he was fairly sure, would identify themselves as such when faced with an armed officer demanding that they do so.
Fowler hadn’t taken handcuffs with him on the trip, so he had Bonzer tie the two men’s hands with rope. Then, Fowler re-checked their pockets. “No wallets. No ID. Interesting,” he muttered, clicking off the ignition key and pocketing it. He then began asking questions of the two, who refused to say much other than that they were just boaters.
“We’re just out for a day on the sea, looking for where they’re biting,” one of the men protested, implying that they were on a fishing trip.
While Fowler was interviewing the suspects, Martin and Bonzer, per the plan, began looking around the boat, starting belowdecks. They found little of obvious interest; a cooler with sandwiches and soft drinks, some maps and charts, a duffel bag containing clothes, cell phones, a satellite phone, and the boat’s rental paperwork, along with a spare key with the boat-rental agency’s tag on it. Martin glanced at them, muttering, “Townsville. She’s come a bloody long ways for a casual boat trip.”
When Martin could, he paused to whisper the findings in Fowler’s ear.
No firearms were found, for there were none to find. Gray’s two associates had chosen to take none aboard, as their mission did not call for them. A further factor in their decision was that, in Australia, casual boating with a collection of guns aboard could often be seen as a cause for suspicion.
“So, out fishing for the day? Kind of hard without any fishing gear,” Fowler observed dryly, which his captives ignored.
Bonzer rifled through the helm map pocket, finding only another chart. He then popped open the glove box, finding the boat’s registration papers and manual. Then, he turned his attention to what looked very much like a large remote control for a garage door opener. It had a lone, black, recessed button on it. “What’s this?” he said, turning it over in his hand and then touching the button with his finger.
Fowler blinked. “Don’t mess with it! Give it to me,” he said to Bonzer, who had been about to press the button. Fowler took the device, examining it for a moment. “What’s this?” he demanded of his prisoners, paying careful attention to their eyes, noting their unease. Suddenly, Fowler’s blood ran cold, though he made sure not to show it. With fear in his heart, he played his hunch and, still watching their eyes, he said, “Okay, we’ll take you back to the boat and I’ll figure this box out there.” The sudden, brief flash of fear in their eyes told him all he needed to know.
Fowler swallowed once, trying to remain calm. He turned to look at Martin and said, “Maybe we’d best have the police pick these two up. I’ll go back to Kookaburra and radio in.” Martin got the message; he knew Fowler had a VHF radio stowed on the Zodiac and could have contacted Kookaburra with it, or he could have used the VHF on the powerboat. “As for the prisoners, let’s blindfold them for now. If they try anything, anything at all, use the fire extinguisher to make them stop.”
“I think it’s almost empty,” Bonzer pointed out.
Fowler shook his head. “I meant use it to bash them over the head.”
Once the prisoners were blindfolded, Fowler silently handed the powerboat’s key and his pistol to Martin, and then took the cell and satellite phones they’d found aboard. He made his way to the Zodiac and, once aboard, motioned for Martin to come close. As Martin leaned over the railing, Fowler whispered in his ear, “I’ll be back as soon as I can, though it might be a bit. Don’t use any radios unless it’s an emergency.”
Martin nodded, and then released the Zodiac’s line, watching for a moment as Fowler motored away into the rain, which was now falling lightly on the powerboat.
“Now what?” Bonzer asked.
Martin pointed at the captives, his hand shaking. He had a good guess what kind of concern would prompt Fowler to give the orders he had. “We watch these two, and if they make any sort of move, it’s the last thing they ever do,” he said, glaring at their seated, blindfolded captives, meaning every word.
Greg Fowler was in trouble and he knew it. The plan had been to radio Kookaburra and have her emerge from the storm, but now he felt that any sort of radio transmission might be far too dangerous. He faced a difficult task; finding her in the pouring rain. Using a compass, he followed a straight line course back to her approximate position, and then began to zigzag. Luck was with him, and he soon spotted a darker patch to his right, steering for it and then, moments later, sighing in relief as Kookaburra took form from the grey veil of rain.
He motored up, mooring at her port stern and racing aboard.
“Where are they?” Rachel asked, looking up from the helm.
“They’re still aboard, guarding the prisoners. We got the boat, and it’s trouble. Don’t make any radio calls, and don’t power up anything that isn’t already. I’ve got a phone call to make,” he said, dashing inside, in such a hurry that he brushed right past his wife and son.
In the salon, he used Kookaburra’s satellite phone, cringing as he turned it on. He knew he had no choice but to take that risk. He called his headquarters, reported the situation, and then requested the specialized help he needed. While Fowler was on the call, the satellite phone confiscated from the powerboat began to ring, prompting Fowler to click the ringer switch off.
The incoming call was from Gray, who had finally roused his bomb-planting associate, and received an assurance that the boat the bomb was on was not the one he’d been under in Melbourne.
Fowler’s frantic discussions continued, and, by now, everyone aboard was gathered around him. Within five minutes, a member of the bomb squad was on the line. Fowler described the transmitter – for that’s what he was now sure it was – and asked for advice. The bomb tech had already been told of Kookaburra’s location and the situation.
“The first thing to do is see if you can find a bomb aboard – and don’t press the transmitter’s button,” the bomb disposal technician said.
‘For that, I need an expert?’ Fowler thought bitterly, frustrated that there seemed no fast way to end the danger.
“No worries mate; you’ve got the transmitter and the bad guys, and you’re far from land,” the tech said, in a chipper tone. Part of his training was to keep people calm, and though he was coming off as irreverent and casual, he was in fact following procedure. “They were close, so it’s probably line-of-sight. If there’s a bomb, it probably won’t go off, though it’s probably best to see if there is one, or just abandon ship,” the bomb tech helpfully suggested. “Ah, I ought to mention, if the people on the boat you captured planted a bomb, it might be best not to assume there’s nothing nasty on that powerboat.”
Fowler knew that help, in the form of a patrol boat, was already en route, but it could not arrive for a full day. That left Fowler with an agonizing choice; evacuate all but himself to the Zodiac, or use the eyes of all aboard to find any danger faster. After one hellish moment of thought, he chose the latter and raced to the cockpit. “Start looking around; we’re looking for a device or box that doesn’t belong, anything that doesn’t belong. It could be a bomb, so don’t touch it if you find it! We’re probably okay – I’ve got the trigger – but we need to find it, if there is one.”
It took a few moments to get everyone calmed down and looking. Fowler had a moment of pride; his young son seemed the calmest of all aboard. Fowler resumed chatting with the bomb tech as he searched, seeking ideas and suggestions. At one point, Fowler asked about underwater as a possibility, only to be given the reply, “Unlikely; radio wouldn’t work too well with an underwater receiver unless the antenna is above water. You might want to take a look for any wires coming up from below and ending above water though.”
Fowler, with some help from Rachel, began looking over the sides, trying to spot any wires coming up from underwater. Rachel, in spite of the agony it caused her bad leg, squeezed into the bilges to continue the search.
Something in Fowler’s mind went click, and he remembered the tracking device Basingstoke had placed on Atlantis, and how it had used the mast as an aerial. “Rachel, is there any way to use the mast or anything metal from underwater? As a radio receiver I mean, a… is there any way to hook something like that up?” he blurted, his words a jumble.
Rachel emerged from the bilge, and began shaking her head, only to stop. “Yes. The main zinc. It’s grounded to the mast.”
It was only a hunch, one of several, but Fowler turned to Bluey. “Grab a mask and get over the side. Check under the boat, all over, starting at the main zinc.”
“The what?” Bluey asked, blinking in puzzlement.
Rachel, stumbling on her bad leg, dashed into the cockpit to grab a snorkeling mask for Bluey. She thrust it at him, quickly describing where the main zinc would be, and what it looked like.
Bluey, who had been wearing just shorts all day, raced for the side as Fowler warned again, “Don’t touch anything, just look!”
With a graceful dive, Bluey plunged into the water. Fowler forced himself to wait, and forty long seconds later, Bluey surfaced. “What I think is the zinc, a metal-looking thing, has a wire screwed to the outside of it. It goes to a long, narrow bulge just up from the keel. Is that anything?” Bluey asked, treading water.
“Oh fuck,” Rachel muttered, turning to Fowler with a look of both fear and anger. “There are no bulges on the hulls – or there weren’t. No wires out of the zinc to the outside, either.”
Fowler checked in with the bomb tech, who had been listening. And then it was Fowler’s turn to listen.
Two and a half hours after he’d left, Fowler, alone in the Zodiac, returned to the powerboat, emerging again from the squall.
Martin, with a look of relief, stood in the gentle rain to help him aboard. “What’s the situation?”
Fowler glanced at the two blindfolded captives, mouthed the word ‘bomb’ to Martin, and then, for the benefit of the captives, said, “The situation is a bloody mess. There’s a patrol boat on the way, but it’ll be a few hours. The rain caused an electrical fire aboard Kookaburra, but we got it out, we think. The main battery pack is shorted open though, it’s sparking like mad; the whole electrical system is fried. I’m going to have you two start ferrying people over to this boat, just in case. I don’t want to take this one into the storm in case she shorts out as well; looks like we might be needing her. A right bloody balls up, that’s what this is. Now, as for you two bastards,” he said, stooping to yell at the captives. “Don’t think this is your lucky day. I’ve got your fucking keys, so even if you get loose, you’re stuck until we get back.”
Fowler silently returned the cell phones, satellite phone, and key to where they’d been found, and then, after carefully checking and adjusting the captive’s bound hands and feet, said, “If I were you, I’d be thankful I’m not throwing you to the sharks – yet.”
With that, Fowler followed Bonzer and Martin into the Zodiac, and cast off. As soon as they were racing away into the rain, he said, “I hope those boneheads get loose.”
“You didn’t want me to foul her prop?” a puzzled Bonzer asked.
Fowler grinned. “I only wanted you to chain the prop if it was press aboard. Those guys aren’t press. We’ve been kinda busy on Kookaburra….” he said, and began to explain.
Aboard the powerboat, the two men struggled to get free, eventually turning back to back to work on each other’s bound hands. It took fifteen minutes, but one got a hand free, and soon the ropes and blindfolds were off. “What now?” he asked, glancing at the helm.
“I left the other key with the paperwork,” the other man said, rubbing his wrists and dashing below. “Good news! The bastards didn’t get it. Our phones either,” he declared, grinning in relief. “I thought for sure we’d have to hot wire her.” He inserted the key and fired up the engine, smiling as it rumbled to life, and then he advanced the throttle slightly.
His shipmate, still massaging his wrists, checked the radar. “Got her, but only on the active set. No AIS, but their electrical trouble would explain that. She’s just west of us, inside the storm, not moving. Turn east and hit the throttle!”
On Kookaburra, Rachel, wincing from the sudden sunlight, studied her radar screens. “She’s moving, and AIS just received a ping.”
The two men on the powerboat didn’t have long to ponder their good fortune. A sudden, brilliant flash lit the rain astern. Three seconds later, a booming roar slammed the boat, sending the two men stumbling as the pressure wave unleashed by the massive explosion hit. “Bloody hell, the stupid bastards scored an own-goal!” the man at the helm exclaimed, even before the rumbles had died out.
The other man checked the radar. “Nothin’, not on active, not on AIS. She’s gone.”
“We’d best ring the boss,” the other replied, and then paused before asking, “What are we going to tell him?”
“Let’s forget about us getting caught; the only ones who know are probably dead, and what the boss don’t know won’t hurt us.”
They phoned Gray, who asked at once, “What’s the situation? I’ve been trying to ring you for hours! Is the target in deep water?”
It never occurred to the man to wonder why he hadn’t heard it ringing. “Sorry, the phone has been acting wonky. Uh, it’s about three thousand meters deep here, should we–”
“Destroy the target!” Gray ordered.
The two men shared a glance, and then one replied, as convincingly as he could manage, “It worked! There’s a bloody great column of water where she was… Crikey, she’s done and gone!”
“Good,” Gray replied, sighing as his tension ebbed. “Clear the area as fast as you can. Weight the trigger and toss it overboard. See you back home,” he said, referring to his Melbourne pub, before ending the call.
Gray called Bridget to report, “Kookaburra is completely destroyed. She’s gone. Deep water, just like you said. My guys saw her blow.”
“Excellent, and thank you. I shall transfer half the remainder of your payment as soon as the bank opens,” Bridget replied, sighing in relief as her tension ebbed. For the first time in over a decade, the threat posed by the tape no longer ached at the back of her mind.
High over the Coral Sea, a Royal Australian Navy AP-3C Orion arrived, taking up station to keep a distant but precise eye on the powerboat. The plan was to keep watch on her, giving the men aboard the chance to use their phones, whose electronic IDs Fowler had called in well before the explosion.
The powerboat was not the only vessel within the Orion’s radar range. One was a much fainter return due to her current lack of a radar reflector. The Orion’s military radar could see her, though the powerboat’s civilian one could not. From twenty thousand feet, even with sails flying, she was little more than a speck. The Orion’s crew was expecting her, and confirmed her identity the only way they could; by looking with binoculars, seeing the big catamaran’s twin red hulls and vast sails shining against the sunny sea as she raced west, unscathed, keeping the storm between herself and the powerboat as she opened the range.
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