(Here's a link 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.)
Gray glanced out at the Melbourne skyline; so familiar, though now so threatening.
When the tracking signals from Atlantis had suddenly ceased, he’d informed Bridget, expressing the hope that it was simply an electrical glitch, perhaps temporary. The loss of the tracking signal had been disquieting, though not nearly so much as his recent discovery that the phone’s account had been taken over by what could only be the police.
This, coupled with his still-missing associates, was a loud and clear message which he knew he dare not fail to heed.
For the moment, he was somewhat safe. He’d taken care to stay hidden in his safe house, and avoided his usual contacts. He’d busied himself transferring the money he had been paid by Bridget into different accounts via a convoluted route, and he now felt that the money was secure. He allowed himself a smile at that thought; it allowed him options.
Always cautious, Gray had sequestered the papers for several clean identities, reserving them for emergency use. They were part of what he called his escape hatch – identities he planned to use once he had enough money to live on the rest of his life. The amount he now had, wisely invested, would allow him to live well, though not extravagantly. He also knew that he could supplement it with his computer skills. “Maybe it’s time,” he said to himself, taking one last, lingering look at the familiar skyline.
He had a meeting set up with an underling, a man who had served as his security at his bar and carrier of some of his phones for many years. Information had been promised, and information was what Gray most craved. Wearing a disguise, Gray set out at sunset, taking a circuitous route to a place he knew well.
Two hours later, as dusk deepened into night, Gray stood behind a tree in a riverfront park, not far from the Studley Park Boathouse. A familiar large silhouette approached, alone, and strolled out onto the footbridge. In the middle of the bridge, he paused, casually leaning on the railing and looking out at the Yarra River.
Gray watched for several minutes. He knew he was taking a risk, but he’d seen no signs of surveillance – and he’d picked the meeting place.
With nerves on edge, Gray slowly walked out onto the footbridge, pausing a few times before stopping, as if by chance, next to the man. Gray leaned against the railing, looking out at the river as it flowed past in the moonlight. “G’day, Ed,” he said quietly.
“They’re still looking for you. I’ve seen undercover types around the pub, and in it, since it was raided. I was very careful when I came here though,” Ed replied.
“I gathered as much. I had an operation go sour. You know the one.”
“I do, and that’s why I’m here. She’s still listed as missing, and they suspect a bomb. All the papers said there was a massive air-sea search for her during the first week.”
“I’ve been following the news,” Gray replied.
“That’s just it. There wasn’t a search at all, though the authorities have been claiming there was. I’ve confirmed that with two different contacts who don’t know each other.”
Gray blinked. He understood the implications of that all too well. If they weren’t really looking, it meant that Kookaburra may have survived. He well remembered that Bridget had initially hired him to deal with Basingstoke over a prior failure. “Thank you for that.” Gray reached into his pocket and handed Ed an envelope. “You’ve always done right by me over the years. Twenty grand, for you. I was thinking of going before, but I suppose this makes my decision for me.”
“What will you do?” Ed asked, though he did not expect much of an answer.
Gray smiled in the darkness. “Out of the game and off to the back o’ Bourke,” he said, using an Australian colloquialism meaning ‘an extremely remote place’. “Maybe the outback, spend a few years communing with the roos, maybe do some writing.” He paused for a moment, and then added with finality, “I don’t know yet and if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. But I’m gone – out of the game, all the way. Take care of yourself, Ed.”
“It’s been good knowing you. Look me up sometime, once the heat’s off,” Ed said, giving Gray a farewell nod before turning and walking away. Both men knew that they were unlikely ever to meet again.
Gray stood by the river for a few minutes, deep in thought. Finally, he glanced around to make sure he was alone, and withdrew his remaining cell phones from his pocket. One of them was the dedicated one for Bridget. One by one, he tossed them into the Yarra’s dark, muddy waters.
With a spring in his step, Gray walked away. And with that, Gray’s criminal career came to an end. Within two hours, he would be on a train, using one of his new identities, on his way to a new and very different life.
Bridget had just lost her connection to the Australian underworld.
Three days later, Bridget paced, ill at ease. The loss of contact with Gray was one issue on her mind, though far from her most dire concern. “What you discovered in Whakatane confirms the mention in the news story; Trevor, damn him, is attempting to get a tape copied, though apparently he is having difficulty due to it being in a different format. No matter, it is apparent that he has the tape we seek.”
Xavier pondered the issue. “Could he be paid for the tape and then killed later?”
Bridget sighed. “I wish it were so simple. As he is clearly aware, tapes can be copied. I therefore need more leverage than money can provide. Thankfully, I believe I know what might suffice. I learned several years ago that Trevor is gay, and he does appear quite close to the dashing young man he has with him. Taking him might provide the leverage we need, as well as setting things up to dispose of them both. Lisa and Joel would be an alternative for this role.” Bridget sat down to sip her coffee, thinking. “I think it best to hold the kidnapping option in reserve for the moment. If he has the tape, simply destroying the boat and all aboard is the neatest solution. Panama will suffice. However, to hedge our bets, I have a few other things in play.”
A brief scowl crossed Xavier’s face, caused by his ingrained dislike of gays.
With each day, the weather grew warmer. A week after her turn north, the horizon was no longer empty.
At dawn, Shane was at the helm, and could only mutter, ‘Wow,’ as the gathering light revealed the high mountains of the island. Shane took in the view, seeing the high rugged mountain palisades of the island’s interior and a few wisps of cloud clinging to their soaring green-shrouded spires.
Trevor arrived with coffees, pausing to take in the sight. “Hello, Tahiti,” he said, his voice pained.
“Where’s she at?” Shane asked.
“A resort on the west side. We’ve got to go into Papeete first to clear customs, but after that we’ll be less than two hours from her. It should be safe because no one knows we’re coming. I just hope she’s working today,” Trevor said, pausing to glance at the island before heading inside to connect the battery for Gray’s tracker to a charger.
After clearing customs, Trevor and Shane availed themselves of a nearby grocery store to restock before casting off. Trevor took Atlantis west, past Tahiti’s Faa’a International Airport and its waterfront runway, skirting the reef which formed an almost continuous barrier on that side of the island.
It was noon when Trevor took Atlantis in through Talpari Pass on Tahiti’s western shore and then south into the placid waters of the lagoon. To their left were the verdant green mountains cascading down to palm-fringed beaches and, on their right, half a mile from the beach, the white line of ever-breaking surf on the protective coral reef’s seaward edge. They proceeded south, gliding through the shallow waters and their brilliant coral-sand bottom. The shore consisted of beaches, with countless homes, hotels, and resorts along the water. Behind them, the soaring mountains rose to the clouds. The scenery was spectacular, though Trevor and Shane were far too tense to fully appreciate it.
Trevor spotted an acceptable area ashore and checked the navigation plot. “We’re about a mile north of her resort. Let’s anchor here and go the rest of the way in the Zodiac.”
They anchored four hundred yards off the beach, in six feet of water with her port side facing the beach. Tahiti is in a tidal node area, or amphidromic point. The tidal range is thus mainly solar-driven, not lunar, and as a result averages about a foot. Inside the lagoon, the average range is in inches.
Their first stop was the crew cabin, portside forward. After connecting a battery, Trevor closed up and climbed the ladder out, with Shane leading the way. Once on deck with Shane, Trevor glanced back at the cabin’s access hatch in the deck. “Think we should lock it?” he asked, and then hesitated for a moment before answering his own question, “I guess we probably should.”
Wearing their best shirts, shorts, and shoes, Trevor and Shane, along with a small tote bag, sped south along the shore in the Zodiac. With great trepidation, Trevor motored to the exclusive resort’s public dock, where they tied up and asked where they might find Julie.
“She should be at the dive excursion desk; she just got in from a dive run. I’ll page her for you, sir,” one of the resort’s staff replied.
“No need, I’d like to go to the desk. Uh, where is it?” Trevor asked.
“In the main lobby, sir, just follow the signs. It’ll be on your right as you enter.”
They made their way through the palm-shaded grounds, past spectacular pools, and into the resort’s grand lobby; a massive Polynesian-style building of faux bamboo with an over-thatched roof. “She’s there,” Trevor said, as they approached the counter that separated the lobby from a small office area. It had a gaudy sign over it, complete with a mannequin dressed as a scuba diver hanging from the high ceiling.
Trevor and Shane stepped up to the desk, and waited until the grey-haired, tan woman looked up. She froze for a moment, her mouth opening in shock, her eyes wide. “Trev!”
“Surprise! Hi, Julie,” Trevor called out, trying his best to smile.
Julie stood up and hurried to the counter. “Kiddo, what are you doing here?”
“We came to see you, of course,” Trevor replied, still smiling. “We wanted to surprise you.”
“That you most certainly did,” Julie replied, leaning over the counter to give Trevor an awkward hug. “You should have let me know you were coming; it’s only been, what, a week since your last e-mail; you should have said something. I’m in and out a lot – you might well have missed me.”
“We’re here for a week so not much chance of that,” Trevor replied.
“I’ve always wanted to see Tahiti,” Shane added.
“You’ve been through such a lot. I never thought you’d show up here though,” Julie replied, and then gave Trevor another hug. “But I’m so glad to see you!”
“We were on our way from New Zealand to Panama, but I had to see you again. I want you to meet Shane, Atlantis’s new first mate. He’s Australian,” Trevor said, giving Shane a smile.
“Pleased to meet you, Shane,” Julie said, sticking out her hand, which Shane shook. “I had you pegged as an Aussie the second you spoke up.”
“Trev’s told me a lot about you,” Shane replied, with an uneasy smile.
Julie arched an eyebrow in Trevor’s direction. “Tahiti is not where I’d choose to stop if I was sailing from New Zealand to Panama. Going the other way, sure, but eastbound… that can be an awful prospect once you leave here. You could be beating and bashing or running on engines for thousands of miles.”
Trevor took a deep breath, glancing towards some other people in the lobby before lowering his voice to say, “I’ll get into one of the reasons later, in private. Uh, we’re thinking of staying ashore. Are there any good places that are good for… guys? Guy couples?”
Julie grinned, giving Shane a wink. “I should have guessed. Left to his own devices, Trev would never leave Atlantis.” She returned her attention to Trevor to reply, “There’s one just up the coast, about a mile and a half. You’ll love it. In the meantime though, I’ll go sign out for lunch.”
Julie took Trevor and Shane – with Trevor still clutching the small tote bag – directly out of the resort and on a short walk up the coast road, to a corner with two small restaurants. “Pick one, they’re both good,” Julie said.
Trevor looked at Shane, who pointed at one. It was traditional in style; grass thatch roof, with seating on a covered patio overlooking the sea.
As soon as they were seated on the nearly empty patio, Trevor knew it was time to broach a subject he’d been dreading. “Julie… you’ve heard that Bridget Bellevue is behind a lot of what’s happened, right?”
Julie gave Trevor a pained look. “Yes, and I’m so very sorry for introducing you to her. It’s just that Bridget was the one person I could think of who might be in a position to help or advise you. I hadn’t seen much of her in years – we were only close in college – and I had no idea that she was… what she’s turned out to be.”
Trevor smiled, pressing on. “I understand. I also know that it looks like she was already out to frame Dad, so what you did probably made no difference. Julie, she knew I’m into guys, and she didn’t get that from Joel or Lisa. I’m trying to figure out how.”
Julie looked up from her menu. “Kiddo, I’m so sorry, but she learned that from me. It was why you and your father were on the outs so I told her, hoping she might see an angle. I’m sorry.”
Trevor nodded in acknowledgment. “She fooled everyone, me included, so no need to feel bad. I’m just trying to figure stuff out, we all are. The other question that came up with the police was; did Bridget have anything to do with you after you came here, or about Tahiti at all?”
The menu in Julie’s hands began to tremble, though just for a moment. She set it down before replying, “No, well, yes… sort of. She dropped a few hints. She knew I’d always wanted to see French Polynesia, and she knew I love diving. She suggested I add resorts here to the list I was sending résumés to, but I already had. That was a long time before I got this offer… it was before I started working for you. I didn’t have any idea that she was a criminal until I heard about her run from Florida. Bridget was always so straight-laced and proper. So far as I know, she had nothing to do with me getting work here.”
Trevor nodded. “I didn’t think she had. I remember that you often talked about going to Polynesia someday. I always kinda worried you’d find a way to go, and I was both sad for me and happy for you when you did.”
“Trev, this job here, it’s my dream job. I love Tahiti and, though they don’t pay me a lot, this lets me live and dive here. You know I could never have afforded to come here, even for a vacation, on my own. Remember how much even splitting a hundred in tips with you meant to me? I’m very sorry I had to go when I did, though I had no idea then how bad things would get for you. I’m also truly sorry that I took you to see Bridget.”
Trevor gave Julie a wan smile. “I know, I remember. And I know how convincing Bridget can be. I trusted her too, and Lisa and Joel sure did. They were really tight with her for a long time. Okay, now it’s my turn to be honest with you: I need your help. I found stuff hidden on Kookaburra – that’s what Ares is called now – and I think that’s what Bridget is really after. There was an asset list, safe deposit box keys, and a video tape. Oh, and a recipe for haggis, too. The keys and asset list are back in Florida already, plus the list was published in an Aussie paper. I thought Bridget was after the keys and asset list, but she’s probably not; she was trying to destroy Kookaburra, and probably did.”
“I heard. I’m sorry, Kiddo. I hope your mother and everyone aboard survived this time too,” Julie said, reaching out to place a comforting hand on Trevor’s arm.
“I hope so… But I think Bridget wanted the tape destroyed. That’s the only thing that fits. I tried to play it but can’t; I’ve only got an Australian VCR. My best guess is the tape is in an American format, or maybe it’s got data, not video. If she’s afraid of that tape, it might be the only way to hit back at her. I wanted to make copies and send a few to the police in Australia and back home, but I haven’t been able to yet. I’m not going to hand it over to anyone until I have a copy. We need an American VCR to play it and another to copy it. One of the reasons I came here is I was hoping that you still have yours.”
Julie nodded slowly, and smiled. “I do have one, in storage in Papeete. However, there are quite a few other American expats here, so I can probably dig up a second one in a couple of days.”
“Cool. We can at least look at the tape with yours and see if it’s worth copying, and we’ve been dying to find out what’s on it,” Trevor replied.
Julie nodded. “Let’s get that done. I’ll go get it. Do you have the tape with you?”
Trevor shook his head. “It’s on Atlantis.”
“Okay, let’s finish our lunches and I’ll go get my VCR. I’ll have to wait until after work though, so you’ve got several hours. Go check into the resort I told you about, it’s only a mile up the road from here; you’ll both love it. Give my cell a call around seven.” Julie paused, and then added quietly, “I hope you have it safe and Atlantis locked up; we’ve had some trouble with burglars going after yachts.”
“It’s very safe and locked up,” Trevor assured her, with a confident smile that did not reflect his feelings.
They made pleasant conversation, catching up, for the rest of their lunch. Trevor and Shane had ordered pomelo, and were in for a treat; the Tahitian-grown variety of the citrus fruit, similar to a grapefruit only light green in color, are the best in the world and have a delicate, sweet, honey-tinged flavor. Unfortunately, they were not in the mood to fully enjoy it.
When the check arrived, Trevor snatched it up. “Lunch is on me. I know how tight things are for you,” he said, before heading inside to pay.
Julie gave Shane a warm smile. “You’ve certainly changed him for the better. Trev picking up a check is a sight I thought I’d never live to see.” Julie leaned in closer, adding quietly, “You’re a lucky boy, and so is Trev. He’s a fine catch, and you seem quite fine yourself. I love your accent.”
Shane gave Julie a bashful look. “Thanks. He’s the best.”
“How’s Atlantis doing? Trev said the pirates gutted her.” Julie gave Shane a worried look and casually asked, “Honey, you guys did lock up, didn’t you? In a safe area? And that tape is safe? That tape might be very important and, as I say, we’ve had a spate of burglaries.”
“She’s locked and anchored off the beach a couple of kilometers from here; we came in on the Zodiac. The tape’s safe; he’s got it in a secret hiding place that not even the pirates found,” Shane assured her. “As for Atlantis, she was totally gutted when he got to Carnarvon, but now she’s just beautiful. Totally redone, and she’s got an awesome chili-red paint job on the lower part of her hulls. She’s so beautiful. Trev says she’s way better than she was before. You should come check her out.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Julie replied, and then gave Shane a warm smile. “I can tell you’re into boats like he is. Is that how you two met?”
Shane nodded, giving Julie a smile. “Yeah, we met not long after he got to Australia.”
Trevor had taken his time and, when he returned, he found Julie and Shane talking about Australia. Julie glanced at her watch, thanked Trevor for her lunch, and led them outside to the road. She pointed north. “You can’t miss the resort; it’ll be on your left. Go check in, then call me around seven.” Trevor glanced at Shane, who was looking away, idly scratching his neck.
With a friendly wave, Julie set off for her resort, walking south at a brisk pace.
“So, how’d it go?” Shane asked.
Trevor turned and began slowly walking north. “Okay, maybe. I saw the neck scratch; she asked, right?” That had been their pre-arranged signal.
“Yeah, I told her it’s in your secret hiding place that not even the pirates found.”
“Thanks… it would have been more obvious if I had to – she knows that I know she knows where it is.”
Shane glanced up the coast road. They were walking on the left – directly into the oncoming light traffic. “This is weird. I’ll need to watch I don’t look the wrong way.” It was the first time Shane had experienced cars driving on the right.
“Make sure you do; I almost got hit when I arrived in Australia, until I learned to look both ways.” Trevor glanced over his shoulder. “She’s out of sight, let’s head for the beach.” Breaking into a run, they dashed down a beach access path and turned north, running hard on the coral sand.
They raced up the beach until they were within a few hundred feet of the stretch closest to Atlantis. Trevor spotted a hiding place; a large bush in brilliant bloom. He dashed towards it, scrambling up over an old stone wall.
“Bougainvillea, spiky as hell,” Shane warned, tugging off his shirt.
“Oops, thanks,” Trevor replied. He’d been about to shove his way in, though now he spotted the inch-long thorns. “That would have hurt,” he said as he tugged off his shirt, sweating more from nerves than the run and the tropical humidity.
“Let’s just hide behind it.”
The bush, along with others, formed an inconstant divider between sand and grass, separating some currently vacant land from the beach. Their hiding place offered a degree of concealment so they sat down, expecting Julie to appear at any second.
Trevor had selected the area when they’d sailed in; he wanted somewhere they could watch Atlantis from concealment. The vacant swath of land had appealed, and he’d anchored Atlantis well out in the lagoon – the better to keep an eye on her from anywhere along that shore, and also to make her easy for Julie to spot.
Their hiding place, though they did not know it, had a history. That land had once been the home of the legendary Tahiti Village Hotel, famous in its heyday during the golden age of travel. The main area, housing the lobby and restaurant, had been open-walled with soaring thatched roofs, while the guest accommodations had been thatched bungalows in the surrounding park-like setting. The hotel, demolished in 1983, had served as a model for later resorts, many of which were heavily influenced by its design and atmosphere.
From their concealed spot, Trevor and Shane kept watch on Atlantis.
And they waited, and waited, for what seemed to them to be forever. Fifteen minutes after arriving, Trevor said, in a hopeful tone, “Maybe I’m wrong.”
“I don’t think so. Let’s wait and see. Might as well,” Shane replied.
Trevor wiped the sweat from his brow, sighing. “I’ve been going over it in my head ever since Mom mentioned a woman and her husband who used to work for Bridget. Mom knew her by a different name, but the description fits Julie. The other thing is college. Julie told me Bridget was a college friend… but that’s the only time Julie ever mentioned college at all. She had to fill in some hire forms for my insurance when she worked for me as Atlantis’s official captain, and she didn’t list any degrees or college years.”
“I think you’ve got it figured right, Trev; from what you’ve said, there are just too many things. Her working right down from your father’s chandlery, coming to work for you for very low pay just when you needed someone, then leaving when things were going bad.”
“Yeah, and it was Julie who just happened to bump into Dad when I was off Bimini searching for Ares, letting him know I wasn’t on a charter like I’d said. And the day after that fight, she tells me she’s leaving for Tahiti. A few days after that, she introduced me to Bridget and, like she said, she’s the one who told Bridget I’m into guys. Bridget never mentioned that to me when she was giving me advice. And… Julie put Lisa and Joel in contact with Bridget, too. There’s no one thing that proves anything, just a lot of small stuff pointing in one direction. She was one of my closest friends, Shane… I want this plan to work so we can stop Bridget… but inside, I’m really hoping I’m wrong about Julie.”
Shane did the only thing he could; he gave Trevor a hug.
Julie drove up into the hills to the home she rented, which overlooked the coast. Hands shaking, she walked to her huge expanse of floor-to-ceiling windows, picked up a set of binoculars, and scanned the waters of the lagoon, soon spotting Atlantis. Then, nerves a jangle, she sat down in her elegant living room to wait for the call she knew was coming in response to the one she’d made from her car.
While Julie waited, she stared out to the northwest at the island of Moorea, fifteen miles distant, though her mind was much further away.
The ringing of her phone made Julie jump, even though she was expecting it. “Julie,” she answered.
“I received your message that you have urgent news,” Bridget replied.
“Yes, Mrs. Bellevue, I do. You asked me to let you know when I received any word from Atlantis, and I have been forwarding the e-mails as asked. However, Trevor and his boyfriend are here with Atlantis, right now. They surprised me with a visit. They mentioned having found an asset list, safe deposit box keys, a recipe for haggis, and a video tape on Ares. You never told me what it was you were interested in on Ares, but I’m guessing it’s the tape that’s important. I hope so, because they’ve sent the keys and asset list to Florida. They think you bombed Ares to destroy the tape, so Trev is trying to get it copied so he can send it to the police in Australia and Florida; he came here asking for my help.”
Bridget’s hand clenched a pencil so hard that her knuckles turned white. “As you know, your position there depends on me, and I must have that tape. If you can solve this issue for me, I shall make it well worth your while – two million dollars. I need you to get the tape, send it, and then kill Trevor and his friend.”
Julie took a deep breath. “I can’t kill anyone. I’m not a killer and even if I was, I don’t have weapons. Look, I can probably get you the tape, but why do Trev and Shane need to die? I was okay with keeping an eye on him and then bringing him to you so you could advise him to get rid of Atlantis, but killing was never something I signed on for.”
It was Bridget who had suggested adding the Tahitian resort to Julie’s résumé mailing list, though not as long ago as Julie had claimed. Julie had once worked for Bridget as a boat driver, and Bridget had later used her to keep an eye on Trevor and Atlantis – particularly Trevor’s quest off Bimini – while Julie had served as Atlantis’s captain for charters. Julie’s sudden and fortuitous job offer had come as a result of Bridget wanting to force Trevor – in part due to depriving him of a legal captain – to give up Atlantis and thus his quest to find Ares. At the time, Bridget, like Trevor, had believed Ares to lie on the sea floor off Bimini.
Bridget chose her words with care. “Julie, I would not normally explain myself. However, for you I shall make an exception. Simply put, anyone who has seen that tape must die. That includes you, so do not view it. These are not my orders alone, they are the cartel’s. Now, listen and understand; I need you to do this – and the cartel demands it.”
Julie took another breath. “Mrs. Bellevue, the fact of the matter is that I can’t. I just don’t have the ability to kill two strong men. As for the tape, he said they can’t view it. He thinks it’s either American format – or maybe a data tape – and he has an Australian VCR. That’s why he said he’s here; hoping I still have an American one. Trevor said he’s dying to see that tape. If he hasn’t seen it, why kill him?”
Bridget considered the matter. It did not take long: the destruction of the tape was her primary need, anything else was secondary. “If that tape has been played within recent months, an expert in my employ will be able to discern it via something to do with the state of the oxides.” Bridget had consulted an expert several weeks before regarding a way to determine whether the tape had been played. She’d needed to have the ability in order to know whether to kill Xavier if he had recovered it for her. Anyone who might have seen the tape would be marked for death, no matter their loyalty to her. A further need was so that she could verify that it was actually her late husband’s tape before destroying it herself. “If indeed Trevor and his friend have not viewed the tape, then they are of no concern to the cartel and thus there is no reason to harm them. All we need is the tape. Two million, as soon as I have it, for the tape alone. If it has not been played, Trevor and his friend have nothing to fear – they shall not be harmed,” Bridget said.
“I’ll get you that tape. What should I do with it when I have it?” Julie asked, already envisioning what she could do with that much money.
“Call me at once. I shall provide an address in Nassau where you will send it via express mail. Once I have it and have confirmed that it is what I seek, I shall send you the funds immediately. When this job is done, I shall never call on you again for any task or reason; you can retire in leisure,” Bridget said, and then, after a pause, added in an offhand way, “Though do bear in mind, Julie, that the cartel leadership is personally involved. Any attempt at crossing them will result in your death.” With that threat, Bridget was further insuring herself against the risk that Julie might try to use the tape herself, for blackmail.
Julie’s eyes opened wide. “I’ll do exactly as you say.”
“One caveat,” Bridget cautioned. “In case you have been lied to regarding the tape – something I cannot be certain of until it is examined – I must know of Trevor’s plans.”
“He said he’s staying a week and then presumably still heading for Panama. It’s not as if he has any other options at this time of year, but I’ll see what I can dig up to confirm that. I should have news in a few hours.”
Aside from Julie, Bridget had no operatives in Tahiti. She briefly considered asking the first amongst equals if anyone in the cartel did, but instantly decided against it; the risk that he might obtain and view the tape was too high. “Call me at once.” Bridget read off the number that would relay to one of her personal phones, and had Julie read it back to her. “I shall be waiting,” Bridget said, and then ended the call.
Julie hung up, her hands shaking, and walked to her audio-video center where she began rummaging through her video tape collection. She selected several likely candidates, including some blank cassettes.
For Trevor and Shane, choosing the vacant site of the former hotel had been fortuitous, for the land – its entrance from the road was small and unmarked – was often used by locals for parking and beach access. Julie had been there before.
After half an hour of interminable waiting and watching, they heard the distinctive roar of a Maserati’s engine, accompanied by a crunch of gravel, as it pulled into the vacant land. Trevor and Shane edged up for a peek, seeing Julie get out.
“That’s some ride she’s got,” Shane whispered, as Julie locked her shiny gold Maserati roadster.
“Yeah, she’s just scraping by, for sure,” Trevor grumbled, as they ducked back down, edging around so they could peek out at the beach itself.
Julie emerged onto the beach in a swimsuit, with fins and a clear watertight bag in hand. In it, they could see several VHS cassettes.
“Fuck, I was right… and she’s after the tape,” Trevor said, his whispered voice a mix of fury and pain.
“At least we came all this way for a reason – and it could permanently solve our Bridget problem,” Shane replied.
As they watched, Julie waded out and then finned the rest of the way to Atlantis. Once aboard, she dashed past the empty Zodiac davits on her way to the salon door. She knocked a few times before testing the locked door, and then hurried to the crew cabin access hatch, portside forward.
Trevor winced as she pulled out a dive knife, using it to force the hatch lock. “Damn her,” he muttered, seething both the likely damage and the long-running betrayal. While Julie was inside, Trevor fretted. “What if she plants a bomb or another tracker? Or starts a fire?”
“Let’s keep an eye on where she goes. We can get there pretty quick if we have to. I doubt she had any gear handy; no one knew we were coming. If she has anything besides those tapes, it’d have to be small, and it doesn’t look like she’s interested in anything but the crew cabin. It’s not as if she can get into the main areas from there without coming outside where we can see her,” Shane said, placing a reassuring hand on Trevor’s shoulder.
Soon, Julie emerged, taking a cautious glance around before closing the hatch and diving overboard. Trevor and Shane kept out of sight until she was ashore and they’d heard the Maserati’s engine and a screech of tires as Julie pulled away, roaring south.
“Okay, let’s stash our stuff under the bush,” Trevor said, shucking off his shorts as Shane did the same. They hid their shorts, shoes, and tote bag under the bush. Trevor tied Atlantis’s keys to his speedo’s drawstring. After a fast look around, they dashed across the sand and raced into the sea, diving in when it was waist-deep and pulling hard through the warm, placid waters towards Atlantis.
Once aboard, they raced forward to the crew cabin access hatch. “Lock’s totally busted, damn it,” Trevor grumbled, heaving the hatch open.
Trevor, with Shane in tow, jumped in, closed the hatch, and made a beeline for his secret compartment in the cabin head. He made fast work of opening it – Julie was one of the few people who knew how though, to make it easier for her, Trevor had temporarily disabled Ned’s improvements to the mechanism.
Inside the secret compartment were some important-looking papers, a few hundred dollars in cash, and his chrome-plated revolver. Under them was a VHS cassette tape in a movie sleeve, protected by a zip-lock bag. It had been placed almost exactly as Trevor had left it, with the haggis recipe on top and inside the bag. Trevor had used a couple of his own hairs for telltales. “It’s been messed with, sure as hell.”
Trevor reached for the bag, only to have Shane stay his arm. “Hold up, Trev. That bag and tape probably have fingerprints on them.”
“Thanks. I’ll be super careful,” Trevor replied, holding the clear bag deftly by a corner as he lifted it to the light. He studied it for a few moments. “It’s not the same: it’s a full tape. She switched it. I figured she’d just steal everything, seeing as how she warned us about thieves. I thought she’d take the gun and cash too.”
“We had to make it look real. I’m just glad she gave me a chance to let slip where it was so you didn’t have to,” Shane replied, placing the unloaded revolver – Trevor had moved all the ammunition – back in the hiding place. “So now what? Do we go through with meeting her again? She’s had time to round up help, so we could be in danger.”
Trevor shook his head. “If we just take off, it might tip her off that something’s going on. I’ve got to go back. Shane, I need you to stay and protect Atlantis. Let me go alone. It’d look better that way.”
“Bollocks. You’re just trying to keep me safe. I’m going. I’ll keep out of sight with the mobile in hand, just in case. Stay in public places.”
“What if she comes back to Atlantis?” Trevor asked.
“I don’t care what you say; you’re not going back alone. I’m going with you. Consider this a mutiny, but this is our fight – not just yours.”
Trevor sighed. “Okay, but don’t take any risks. Please.”
Working fast, they checked the few areas of the head and crew cabin where anything could have been hidden.
Together, they dove overboard to swim back to the beach. They retrieved their clothes and bag, and, still in just speedos, strolled southwards, drying in the sun. They passed a few beachgoers, and, once out of earshot, Trevor said quietly, “I guess just call her like she said, it’s about two hours to go now.”
“Ring her early, throw off her plans in case she’s setting something nasty up,” Shane suggested.
They found a fallen palm trunk and sat down on it, staring out at the surfline on the distant reef, occasionally glancing north, at Atlantis. “Okay, good idea. We’ll have to play it by ear. You’ll have the bag,” Trevor said, handing Shane the bag, which contained a towel, cell phone and, in an internal pocket, the Makarov pistol they’d liberated from Basingstoke. Trevor tugged on his shorts and shoes, adding, “Might as well see if we can call her now.”
Shane finished pulling on his own shorts and shoes, and eyed Trevor’s cargo shorts. “You should carry the gun; you know how to use it better than me and I might be too far away to help.”
Trevor nodded and, after glancing up and down the beach to ensure privacy, stooped down by the bag, using the palm trunk for shelter as he smoothly transferred the Makarov to his pocket. “Okay, done. I wish we could just leave, but that might tip her off.”
Trevor used the cell to call the number Julie had given him, and was relieved to hear her pick up right away.
As soon as Trevor had identified himself, Julie said, “Hi Kiddo. I’m off early, just heading for my storage unit now. Can I meet you at your resort?”
Relieved, Trevor replied, “Yeah, how about in the bar?”
“Okay, give me an hour. Don’t drink too much, you’re too young to be legal here; the drinking age is twenty-one,” Julie replied, over the hum of her car’s engine.
Trevor ended the call, and gave Shane a relieved smile. “Let’s head for that resort. I’m glad she wants to meet in a public place.”
“Me too, but it’s the place she recommended we go,” Shane pointed out.
“Crap, you’re right.”
“Uh, maybe we should move the Zodiac. It’s at her resort. We wouldn’t want her planting any surprises in it,” Shane said.
“I don’t think she would, that’s where she works, but… yeah, let’s get it and run it up to the gay one. We can keep an eye on Atlantis for a bit too,” Trevor replied, breaking into a jog.
They arrived at Julie’s resort, where they found the Zodiac as they’d left it. They motored out while Shane quickly checked the few places anything could be hidden on a Zodiac, save for one. “Trev, come to a stop, I need to check underneath,” he said, once they were well away from the resort. Shane stripped off his shorts and dove overboard, soon returning to report, “All clear.”
They motored north, passing close to Atlantis. “The water’s so clear, we could see anyone under her,” Trevor observed, with a note of relief.
Feeling somewhat reassured, they made their way to the beach of the gay-friendly resort, which was the first resort to the north of Julie’s. There, they locked the Zodiac to a palm tree, and Shane tugged on his shorts, shirt, and shoes.
Trevor checked his watch. “Fifteen minutes to go, if she’s on time. Okay, we’ll hang out in their parking lot and follow her in,” Trevor said.
Shane arched an eyebrow and, to help ease the tension, quipped, “While we wait to go into the lion’s den, you can tell me again how stupid Lisa and Joel were to go after Bridget with those fliers.”
Trevor chuckled, starting to pull on his shirt. “Okay, Brickbrain, I’ll do that, and also remind you that you thought doing this was a great idea.”
Shane snickered. “You’re forgetting; I never take my opinions seriously when it’d stand in the way of ridiculing yours.” Shane turned serious, and asked, “What do you think the chances of this working are?”
“Fifty-fifty if we’re lucky, but that’s a lot better than before we got here.”
They began walking away from the Zodiac when Trevor, shirt half on, paused and tugged it off. “Let’s see if this place really has gay guests or if that’s one of her lies. If it is, it’s more likely this is a trap.”
Shane nodded, already pulling off his shirt.
Julie, per Bridget’s orders, stopped at a souvenir stand to buy whatever bulky memento was handy. She selected a carved wooden mask; any; a large souvenir would have done. She had it packed for shipping, and then, once in her car, she added the purloined tape, now ensconced in a movie sleeve and sealed in cellophane. She sealed up the box, addressed it, and then made her way to a parcel office, where she sent it Fed-Ex next-flight express to the name and address in Nassau that Bridget had provided.
As soon as Julie was on the road again, she called Bridget to report that the delivery was underway and give her the estimated delivery time, as well as the tracking number.
Bridget hung up and summoned Xavier. “We may have excellent news. If all is well, our problem will soon be solved. Fuel and service Sea Witch; we are heading for Nassau. As a precaution, you and your strike team will be flying from there to French Polynesia tomorrow.”
“What will we need to do?” Xavier asked.
“If the tape passes the tests I shall have run on it, you will need to deliver a bank draft to a local diver.” Bridget paused to write down Julie’s name, phone number, and her work address. “As for Atlantis, merely locate her and keep her under observation until the matter of the tape is resolved. If all is well, she and her crew will be of no pressing concern to us so do precisely nothing; we can take care of that loose end better in Panama. If, however, the tape proves to have been played, you will need to dispose of the two on Atlantis and Julie as well.”
Trevor and Shane, still shirtless, sat near the edge of the gay-friendly resort’s parking lot. Shane noticed a few admiring glances cast in their direction from passing male guests, and said, “Looks like she was honest in one way; I think this is a gay-friendly place.”
“Yeah, but her resort’s web page says it’s gay-friendly, too. But she wanted us to stay here.”
“This one does seem to have more gay or bi guests – some of the guys walking by aren’t shy about checking us out. Maybe one guy in three. I didn’t notice any there, and unlike you I’ve got a halfway working gaydar.”
Trevor gave Shane a wan smile. “Yeah, even I figured some of ‘em out. It was my idea to take our shirts off to see, remember?” Trevor carefully transferred his shirt from his hand to the waistband of his shorts so that it hung from his right hip, helping conceal the slight bulge in his pocket. “I’m going to head for the desk and make us a reservation for a few days from now. Julie should be here soon.”
Shane fidgeted. “I’m coming in with you, not hanging back. She’d see me in the lobby anyway. I don’t think she’d try anything in public, even if she brings help. Let’s not eat or drink anything.”
“Get the cell dialed ready, so you can just hit the ‘send’ button. Remember, the emergency number here is seventeen.”
Shane set it up, only to hesitate before putting it in his pocket. “Think it’d look odd if I kept it in my hand?”
“Yeah, unfortunately,” Trevor replied, his gaze on one of the swimsuit-clad passing male guests, who was looking their way. Trevor turned to look at Shane. “I just had an idea… It’d be a good idea to make sure a lot of eyes are on us, plus the reason it’d look weird for you to keep the phone in your hand is you’ve got pockets. So get rid of ‘em; put your shorts in the bag. In just speedos, you can keep the phone in your hand and it won’t seem strange at all.”
“I hope you know this is sexual harassment,” Shane whispered, trying to lighten Trevor’s mood as he casually shucked off his shorts.
Shane’s words managed to evoke a smile from the highly-stressed Trevor. “I’d do it too, except for what’s in my pocket,” he replied quietly.
“Excuses, excuses, you just want to torture me; you know how shy I am,” Shane said, puffing out his chest as they strolled towards the lobby.
“Yeah, shy, that’s you,” Trevor replied with a smile, his stress ebbing as intended.
Shane found a place to stand, just inside the resort’s main entrance, while Trevor made the reservation for later in the week, mentioning that they were going to Moorea first. He then rejoined Shane in time to spot Julie entering the parking lot on foot. “Keeping her fancy car out of sight,” Trevor grumbled.
“Hi Kiddo, Shane,” Julie said, smiling as she joined them. She gave Shane a long glance. “Looking good. Want to go inside, or out here?” she asked, angling her head towards one of the resort’s tables and chairs on the poolside lanai, on the far side of the lobby.
Trevor glanced towards the busy pool. “Looks good to me.”
When they arrived at the table, Shane made sure to take a chair that was sideways to the pool, turning the chair to face it and thus the busy bar on the far side of it, drawing eyes as intended.
As soon as he and Julie sat down, Trevor asked, “Uh, what about the VCR? We can go get the tape; Atlantis isn’t far.”
Julie frowned. “Sorry Kiddo. The storage unit I have in Papeete is just a tin-roofed one, really cheap. The rain’s gotten in and soaked most of my things. I tried the VCR when I got back to the little room I rent; all it did was spit sparks and blow a breaker. I’m going to ask around to try and find a visiting yacht with one for you, though that’ll probably take a few days. Keep it safe until then. Have you checked in yet?”
“We were going to – this place looks awesome – but then we heard about Moorea. We’re going to take Atlantis over there for a few days, then come back; we’ve already got reservations here, starting Sunday,” Trevor replied.
Julie smiled. “Moorea is beautiful, you’ll love it. After you leave Tahiti, you should look around French Polynesia a bit. There’s an island about a hundred and fifty miles northwest of us, Bora Bora, that’s one of the most spectacular places on Earth. I’d love to go with you, but I can’t get time off work.”
“Bora Bora sounds great. I’ve heard of it, a real paradise. We could do it, and maybe leave from there… I’ll have to check the charts and forecast.”
“What’s your sail plan after Tahiti?” Julie asked, in an offhand way.
Trevor glanced at the pool as he replied, “I’m still trying to figure that out. The direct route to Panama is about five thousand miles. We can do about a thousand of it as a northeast reach across the southeast trades, but then we’ll be in the intertropical convergence zone. The long range plots and also historical data show a frequent band of northbound winds centered at around five degrees north, and it runs almost all the way to Panama, so if that held we could make it running crosswind. Atlantis could do most of it on engines if we take it slow, so we don’t have to worry about getting becalmed. The other way is to head back down to about thirty-five south, pick up the westerlies, and ride them to about a thousand miles off South America before turning. That’s a long detour but more reliable winds. The direct route is a couple of thousand shorter, but with less-reliable winds. I guess we’ll try the direct route – if the forecast holds.”
“Be careful of thunderstorms in the intertropical,” Julie warned.
“Will do. So, how do you like the reefs here? They look spectacular,” Trevor asked.
Julie smiled, glancing out towards the sea and the spectacular sunset. “They are. This is heaven for me. I get to go diving several times a week. Hey, if you’re around for my day off, I’ll take you both out.” She turned to ask Shane, “Are you a certified diver?”
Shane shook his head. “No, I’m not. Trev plans on teaching me though.”
“We both can. Where we’re going is a very shallow dive; twenty feet at most, in protected waters. A great place to learn,” Julie replied, with a charming smile.
“Sounds like a plan,” Trevor said, with a broad grin that he hoped looked sincere.
They talked for a while about diving, and then Trevor said, “We’d better be getting back to Atlantis. We’re going to sail to Moorea tonight, then come back here Sunday for a few days. I’ve also got to show you what Atlantis looks like now, you won’t recognize her. She’s awesome.”
They all got up, and Julie gave Shane a quick hug before reaching out to Trevor, who stepped into the hug, careful to keep his right hip, still partially cushioned by his dangling shirt, from touching her. Julie gave Trevor a warm hug, and then two light pats on his bare back before pulling away. “It’s so great to see you again. I’ve missed you, Kiddo.”
“I’ve missed you too,” Trevor said.
Julie paused to tell Shane, “Good to meet you, Shane, I hope you both have fun in Moorea. See you Sunday.” With that, and a wave, Julie turned and walked away. She paused, turning to glance back at Trevor one final time, a fond smile on her face, remembering the good times they’d had in Florida. She knew that if all went well, she’d never see him again. Her hope was to leave the island as soon as she had the money, and then begin a new life under a new name in Rarotonga.
Trevor and Shane made their way back to Atlantis, where they checked Atlantis’s hulls, and then rechecked the crew cabin and head, seeking anything Julie – or anyone else – might have left behind. As soon as they were satisfied, they motored to the pass in the reef, standing out to sea in the general direction of Moorea.
“Now what?” Shane asked.
“I think we can keep to the plan. I just hope that Bridget gets the tape and it works. You know what’d be super sweet? If the last thing Bridget sees before they close in on her is that tape. I hope she likes kangaroos,” Trevor said, with a confident, evil smile.
“Me as well mate, me as well. It’s a shame to lose such a classic piece of Australian culture, though we can always buy another one,” Shane replied, putting his arms gently around Trevor as they sailed away into the tropical afterglow.
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