(Here's a link to google maps,centered on the areas in the chapter, which can be zoomed and moved around, because I know some of you are like me and love to follow along and see the areas on the story.)
Passing Moorea to the north, Trevor and Shane were treated to the sight of its craggy peaks in the moonlight.
Shane nudged Trevor’s elbow. “I wish we really could stay a week. I know we can’t, but it’d be great. There’s so much to see here.”
“We’ll come back, I promise. I want to see the islands too.” Trevor sighed, watching Moorea, and then blurted, “Why don’t we? Not here but another island. One close enough that we can come back if we have to. Bora Bora would be great, except Julie suggested it. Maybe somewhere big, but a lot less well known… and, hopefully, we’ll need to make a call from a pay phone.” Trevor began to grin. “Remember the delivery guy in Whakatane? He mentioned an island that might be where Wairaka is from; Raiatea. I looked it up; it’s the second largest island, after Tahiti, in the Society Islands. We can be there by dawn. It’s got spectacular lagoons and mountains; a lot like Tahiti except not so built up. I want to stay within range of Tahiti until we know that tape has been sent. It could be a couple of days, depending on the mail.”
“Let’s go! We’ll be at sea, what, three weeks after we head south? We need a break, and if no one knows we’re there, we should be okay for a few hours; it’s better than nothing,” Shane replied, his grin matching Trevor’s.
After a moment’s hesitation, Trevor nodded, his grin fading. “Screwed over by Bridget one more time… but we’ll come back, I promise. Okay, we’ll pass Moorea westbound, head out about twenty miles, then go radar dark and turn south. Good thing we got groceries in Papeete, otherwise we’d be on canned stuff the whole way.
“You’d best call your uncle. I’m betting he goes nuts.”
“It’ll be hard, not being able to trust the phones. Let’s wait and be sure.” Trevor replied, though with little certainty. “He probably still thinks we’re a thousand miles to the south, eastbound.”
Trevor checked their satellite phone for text messages. “I sure hope this part is safe,” he said, as the prior two popped up on screen.
A week before, in the hours prior to turning north for Tahiti, Trevor had worked with the satellite phone tech to test that the tracker, now in its new enclosure, was still working. The tech, at Trevor’s request, had set the tracker’s account to send a copy of the text messages to Trevor’s satellite phone, though the text message was still going to the customs service as well. Both the tech and the customs service still believed that Trevor wanted to use the tracker as a floating decoy. In theory they could, in case of need, restore the account to its original configuration, once Atlantis was well away from the ‘decoy’. Mindful of the security issue with the phones, Trevor had given them no hint of his real plan.
After some very painstaking reassembly had been completed and the battery topped up, Trevor had powered up the tracker, letting it send a single location ping two hours later. Trevor had checked his phone, seen the success, and powered off the tracker. He had then left the battery out until just prior to going ashore in Tahiti.
Now, Trevor beamed as he looked at his phone’s display. “It’s working!” The text messages were very simple, just a set of coordinates, plus speed and heading. The latter two were both zero.
Trevor checked the first set against the navigation display. “It looks like the beach where we were hiding, or very close.” He looked up the later set, his grin broadening. “Faa’a International Airport. Maybe she’s sending it air mail?” Trevor paused, starting to scowl. “But the port’s right next to it. Could be surface mail. But either way, I think it’s on its way. If Bridget was just going to order it destroyed, I think it’d have been done by now.”
Two hours later, there was a third ping from the same location, showing no movement. Two hours after that, nothing at all. “It must be inside something metal… or it stopped working. Maybe somebody dropped it,” Trevor observed, with a worried look.
Ten hours later, Shane was on watch and enjoying the early morning sun when the satellite phone chimed, indicating a text message. Shane dashed inside to see, and then returned to the cockpit, where Trevor was curled up in the sleeping bag. Shane checked the coordinates from the text message, and then, with a delighted smile, he gently woke Trevor. “Hey, we got another ping, this time from Los Angeles airport,” he said, as soon as Trevor was half awake.
Trevor’s eyes flew open, and he leaped up, racing for the helm. “It’s going to work! We’ve got to get to a phone, fast,” he mumbled, checking the navigation display. “We’re five miles off the reef.”
Shane, who was wearing shorts, eyed Trevor at the helm. He suppressed a chuckle and casually asked, “Anything you want me to get you, while you take us in?”
A sleepy-eyed Trevor – he’d been asleep less than two hours – nodded. “Coffee, please. Make it thick,” he said, his usual term for very strong.
“Thick is appropriate,” Shane replied. He dashed into the galley, threw the switch on the already-prepared coffeemaker, and then raced back to the cockpit. He found Trevor studying the navigation display intently. “Anything amiss?” Shane asked.
“Just making sure of which way to turn once we’re through the pass.”
Shane nodded, beginning to chuckle. “There are other things you might want to do before taking us in.”
At last Trevor’s situation began to register, in the form of feeling a breeze in unaccustomed places. He glanced down, smiling. “Oops, good thing you said something before we went in,” he said. He and Shane had spent an hour in the sleeping bag together overnight, and Trevor was still naked.
After pulling on a pair of shorts and then drinking a mug of coffee, Trevor was feeling almost human again, as they began motoring through a pass in the massive reef southeast of Uturoa, the largest town on the island of Raiatea.
Raiatea and the nearby smaller island of Taha’a three miles to the north are surrounded by a single, massive, almost unbroken barrier reef. Both islands, which together have a land area close to that of Tahiti, are similarly mountainous. However, they are a world apart from Tahiti in many ways, including having less than one tenth of Tahiti’s population and vastly less tourism.
Inside the lagoon, Trevor took Atlantis northwest, towards the town.
“What’s the plan? Hide Atlantis?” Shane asked.
Trevor shrugged. “I could argue that both ways. We should be safe here for a while. We could find a secluded anchorage then go in on the Zodiac, but our biggest worry is somebody putting something aboard. Or, we can be blatant and fast; moor at the town, then sail right after. I’m thinking the second one, but then maybe one of us should stay aboard?”
“I could go ashore, you could stay here,” Shane pointed out. “I’m a lot less well-known than you.”
Trevor smiled. He knew that Shane was trying to protect him. “Two problems with that. One; Officer Gonzalez knows me – by voice, anyway. He doesn’t know you. Secondly, if the guidebook is right, there are way less English-speakers here and you don’t speak French.”
Shane arched an eyebrow. “And since when do you speak French?”
Trevor grinned. “Téléphone à pièces. That means ‘payphone’. I looked it up in the guidebook.”
“That’s the only French you know, isn’t it?”
“I guess so, but it’s the one thing we need,” Trevor replied. That thought prompted another, and he added, “I have some franc change left over from Tahiti, I’ll need that too. Any idea where it went?” French Polynesia’s currency is the CFP franc.
Shane scratched his head. “I put it in the navigation desk’s lower drawer. Good thing you remembered you’d need that.”
Trevor chuckled. “Yeah, it pays to plan ahead and take coins for a payphone.” Neither Trevor nor Shane had ever been in French territory prior to arriving in Tahiti.
As soon as Atlantis was moored at Uturoa’s quay, Trevor tugged on his shoes, loaded his pocket with euro change and the cell phone, and dashed ashore, jogging inland to some likely-looking buildings. A few uses of his French phrase and some friendly pointing later, he found himself outside a small hotel, staring in consternation at a payphone and seeing only a card slot. French payphones don’t take coins, and those in French Polynesia were no exception.
Trevor noticed a faded MasterCard logo and spent several minutes figuring out how to use it in the payphone – the instructions were in French. However, after several tries, he managed to get through to Officer Gonzalez, hoping in vain that it was a landline.
As soon as Gonzalez answered, Trevor said, “Hi, I haven’t spoken to you for a while, but we’ve talked before. If you’re on a cell, please don’t say my name.”
“I’m on a cell, and I remember you,” Gonzalez replied.
“I’ve got something important to tell you but not over a cell. Trust me, you’ll want this,” Trevor replied.
Gonzalez was in his new office, and gave Trevor the number to his private line, which Trevor wrote down, and then used to call Gonzalez back. “Hi, Officer Gonzalez. We’re being very careful with any wireless phones.”
“Good thinking. How have you been?”
“Great, I’m at a payphone in French Polynesia, and long story short…” Trevor went on to explain briefly what they’d done, including that they would forward copies of the text messages as soon as they came in. Gonzalez then began peppering him with questions. What Trevor had thought would be a short call lasted for a quarter of an hour.
After the call to Gonzalez had ended, Trevor realized that, while it was afternoon in Florida, it was about three in the morning in Carnarvon. He decided to wait; he knew that Grundig’s line forwarded to a cell when he was off duty.
With that job done, Trevor raced back to Atlantis and cast off. He then motored north through the lagoon, crossing to the island of Taha’a and following its coastline north.
At the north end of Taha’a, the barrier reef is far offshore. Along its outer fringe are a row of tiny islets; coral sand built up by storms. Most of the islets, thickly covered by palms and lush undergrowth, are uninhabited. Trevor and Shane had decided that one of them would make an ideal hideaway for a day ashore.
Trevor need not have worried about waking Grundig: he was already awake, alerted by a customs service communications tech who had noticed something with the satellite phone account they were investigating: it was sending text messages again. The texts were going out only to them and Trevor’s phone, but they’d thought it worth waking Grundig to let him know that something very odd was going on, and copied him in on the text messages.
Grundig copied the first set of coordinates into Google Earth, and then watched as an island shaped like an hourglass filled his screen. “What the bloody hell?” he muttered, as the screen zoomed in on western Tahiti. After a few more cut-and-pastes, Los Angeles International Airport appeared.
He then sent an encrypted e-mail to Fowler, followed by a call to let him know to check his inbox.
Two hours later, anchored off a pristine islet, Trevor paced the deck. “I’ve got to let him know what’s going on without saying it,” he said, not quite sure how to do that.
Trevor picked up the satellite phone and dialed the one on Kookaburra. When his uncle answered, Trevor said, “Hi, we think we’ve got good news. I’m trying to figure out a safe way to tell you though.”
Fowler replied testily, “Actually, I’m quite aware of something via a partner, so say no more on that until we can communicate securely, at which point I’ll need an explanation regarding what’s going on. Now about our communication issues; we’ve been working on that and testing out a few ideas. One should work soon; you can send and receive e-mail, so we’ll just encrypt it. We found a program to do it, it’s very simple to use; we tested it yesterday. You encrypt with a phrase and decrypt with it. I’ll e-mail the program to you as an attachment in a few minutes. Now, for the pass phrase, get a pencil and paper ready.” None of them were aware of public-key encryption, which would have avoided the need for such circumlocutions. “First two words, the monument to Shane’s ego. Third word, the full name of that big thing we talked about when I took you to the doctor. I’d like one more, let me think.”
Trevor gave Shane an evil grin, and asked his uncle, “Are Bluey and Bonzer still there?”
“Yes, though they’re set to fly home the day after tomorrow.”
“Let’s use Shane’s nickname for the fourth word. They know it,” Trevor suggested.
“Good thinking. Hang on while I ask, and also figure out how to send that file. And one other thing; make sure to get the capitalization right, it needs to be.”
Shane, who had been listening in, scowled in mock fury. “The monument to my ego again? And now my nickname? You’re cruel and abusive, you and your uncle both.”
Trevor snickered as he wrote down what he understood to be the pass phrase, ‘Rhys Lagoon HMAS Sidney Brickbrain’. “Hey, I’m only doing what my uncle asked, and he said it, not me. It was Officer Grundig last time, not me.”
“I’m just worried that Ned will learn my nickname,” Shane groused, and then arched an eyebrow at what Trevor had written. “The ship is spelt the same as the city, S-y-d-n-e-y. It has to be: they’re named after cities.”
Trevor made the correction, and smiled. “You just told me how to let him know where we’re going.”
As soon as Fowler came back on the line, he said, “The file will be in your e-mail within minutes, and I have the nickname. One word, no spaces. Now the other part of this is for the phones; we have a set of encryption gadgets. We’ve tested them, they work fine. I need to get one to you. You’re still heading where you said, right? I could send it for pickup at the port.” Fowler was referring to Panama.
Trevor glanced at Shane, and then took a deep breath. “Uh, no. We’ve had a change, due to the recent… events. There’s only one place I know for sure we’ll be.”
“You could put it in e-mail,” Fowler suggested.
“I think we can do it safer now. That thing we talk about… use its first two letters for the last two letters. The first letter… there’s another thing, the same kind only far newer. The name furthest west, first letter. That thing helped us get something that you got.” Australian capital ships are named after Australia’s state and territorial capital cities, so the furthest one west meant HMAS Perth, which had found Basingstoke's tracking device, which Fowler had later received and used.
Fowler now had the means to figure out the three letters of an IATA airport code, something he and Trevor had agreed upon as a port designator in Cairns.
“I’ll need to look that up, but okay – you’ll have a package waiting,” Fowler replied, blissfully oblivious as to the shock waiting for him when he looked up the airport code ‘PSY’ on the Internet.
Several hours later, Fowler sent Trevor a brief encrypted e-mail: ‘It’s winter! Are you completely bloody insane?’
Trevor’s encrypted answer: ‘Yes, but we can do it anyway.’ He then went on to explain about the tape they’d found on Kookaburra, gave a description of what was on it, and also why he’d kept it secret. He then explained what they were trying to do to Bridget. At the end, he promised to send a copy of the tape as soon as he had one.
For Officer Gonzalez, this was a golden opportunity. With relish, he set to work, first contacting the Australian customs service – as Trevor had suggested – to make certain he was given the hits from the tracker as soon as they came in. Then, he called the FBI to let them know he might soon have a location on Bridget Bellevue.
Then came hours of anxious waiting until another ping came in, this time from Miami, just ten miles from his desk. Gonzalez, though guessing he would be too late, raced to the scene, where he discovered a Fed-Ex warehouse. Until that point, he hadn’t known how the tracker was traveling and had guessed a courier. Now though, he was able to ask them to find information on packages shipped from Tahiti, via Los Angles, to Miami. The search was handled quickly, and they were able to inform him that only one such package had arrived that day – bound for Nassau, and with that information came a delivery address. The only problem was that by the time Gonzalez had the address, the package’s flight was touching down in Nassau.
Gonzalez had an option; try to delay the delivery. However, he knew that such a move might have risks of its own – the customer had already been alerted to the pickup time – so he did the only thing he could; he phoned the DEA, who he knew had agents in Nassau.
At such short notice, it was only through great effort that the DEA managed to have an agent in position when the package reached its destination: a mail office.
Bridget had detailed three of her trusted henchmen to retrieve the package from the small Nassau mail office. The lone DEA agent lingering in the building watched them make the pickup, feeling helpless and exposed – he’d asked for, and been denied, help from the local police.
The DEA agent did his best to follow the three henchmen, but they followed Bridget’s orders and took a circuitous route through heavy traffic. He lost them after less then a mile.
However, they still had the tracker, which was now less than an hour from a ping.
Bridget met her three henchmen at their pre-planned rendezvous; the back office of a hardware store in Nassau – one of her many holdings.
Bridget reached out, clutching at the package. When it was finally in her hands, she held it to her, cradling it, hoping that the threat of so many years was finally at an end.
She left it unopened until she arrived at the video expert’s offices. His primary occupation was copying commercial video tapes – he was a video pirate. He had also long been in the employ of Bridget’s money-laundering operation; specialized high-speed video dubbing gear was one of many things that Bridget illicitly exported and then openly imported in order to disguise the flow of drug money out of the U.S. This was the first time they had met, though they had occasionally spoken by phone.
“Good to meet you,” Bridget said, as she entered the building with her henchmen in tow.
“Good to meet you too, ah… boss,” the video expert, Jasper, replied, stumbling over his words because he had never known her name.
“Call me Bruja, most do. I trust all is at the ready, as I specified?” Bridget asked.
“Yes, Bruja, in the back room.”
Bridget glanced around the cluttered workshop, littered with all manner of cables, monitors, and racks of video machines – including many DVD recorders, due to Jasper’s ongoing conversion to that market. “Do you need to examine the tape first, or can I play part of it to ensure its veracity?”
“I can’t test any part you play to see if it’s been played recently. I can test somewhere on the rest though, so maybe play just a few minutes of the recorded part.”
“Very well,” Bridget said, hurrying to the indicated room alone. She shut the door and turned her attention to the workbench. There, as she’d specified, sat a VHS deck, a TV, and a set of headphones. Bridget checked to make certain that the only video cable was the one between the deck and the TV. Satisfied, she used a knife from her purse to open the sealed shipping box, paring away the outer covering. With a relieved sigh, she unwrapped the tape, extracted it from its cover, cradling it lovingly in her hands. “Arnold, you vile traitor, as cunning as you were, I have won at long last,” she mumbled, before silently cursing his memory as she slipped the tape into the machine.
That VHS deck was not a standard VCR. It was an advanced deck capable of the high-speed playback best suited for mass copying. It was also, unlike most American VCRs, multi-format.
Bridget hit ‘play’ and watched as the TV screen began to flicker – the machine was detecting the format. It took less than a second for the deck’s front panel to display ‘PAL/625/25’ and for the TV screen to clear. PAL is not used in the United States, which uses NTSC.
For a moment the screen was black, before fading in to a shot of a young boy in a white shirt plucking a leaf off a bush and holding it to his mouth.
As Bridget watched in growing confusion, the scene shifted to a close-up of a kangaroo standing in tall grass and then bounding across the countryside, as a word appeared in large white letters, ‘Skippy’.
Through the headphones, Bridget heard banjos, leading into the lyrics, ‘Skippy, Skippy, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo…”
Her hand beginning to tremble, Bridget fast-forwarded the tape, watching the episode race by at high speed. “No,” she gasped, her fury growing. She let the tape continue racing ahead, hoping against hope until, with a resounding clunk, it stopped – with only twenty minutes on the tape’s counter. Trevor had reduced the tape’s length in order to make room inside the cassette.
Her teeth clenched, Bridget ejected the tape, seeing that it had indeed reached its end, though the amount of tape visible through the cassette’s windows was far less than average. In a raging fury, murder in her eyes, Bridget shoved the video player onto the floor before whipping the cassette against the table, shattering its carefully-reassembled casing. She then leaned back, massaging her throbbing temples as she tried to calm down.
After a morose minute, Bridget checked her watch; Xavier was still in transit to Tahiti and could not be reached.
Bridget stood to leave, her gaze falling first upon the shattered tape, and then on the tiny broken circuit board protruding so incongruously from it. It took Bridget a moment to realize that something was very wrong indeed. She picked the remains up with care, poking at them, causing the hexagonal antenna that had been glued inside the case to fall free.
Bridget blinked in recognition; she had seen satellite phone extension antennas before. In that moment of fury, it clicked; the tracker Gray had placed aboard Atlantis, which had ceased reporting while at sea. “Trevor, you fuckin’ little bastard, I’ll make you pay dearly for this,” Bridget snarled in rage, her voice slipping into the broad Georgia twang and dialect she’d had as a child.
Installing the tracker in the cassette case had been a fairly simple task. The tracking device’s external antenna – a small hexagonal plate less than two inches across – had made it very easy. The internal parts of a small satellite phone are about the same size as those of a small cell phone; most of the bulk is the case, keyboard, and display, which the tracking device didn’t have.
The technically exacting work had been done by Gray when he had converted some of the components of a satellite phone to a tracking device. For Trevor and Shane, the job had been straightforward; disassemble the VHS cassette, get rid of about half the tape to make room, and paste the hexagonal antenna to the top between the spools. They had then placed the circuit board below on the bottom of the case. The battery had been installed at the rear wall of the cassette. They’d secured the three components with silicone sealant and then covered the circuit board with black electrical tape.
Mindful that she might be in danger, Bridget smashed the already-broken circuit board, making certain that it could never work again. With care, she placed the remains of the tape and tracker into her purse and picked up the shipping box, discarding the Tahitian mask which had shipped with the tape. Hurrying, she exited the room.
Bridget glanced at Jasper. “No further work required, though we may have another similar case soon,” she said, handing him an envelope containing ten thousand dollars. She was already hurrying for the door, her three henchmen in tow. As soon as they were outside, she said, “Drive fast and evasively, weapons at the ready; we may come under attack.” With a resolute air, Bridget withdrew her pistol from her purse, placing it in her lap as her car sped away.
Bridget need not have worried; the tracking device’s final ping had come on the way out of the delivery office. Even had it not, her clout with some of the local authorities meant that she had little to fear.
An hour later, satisfied that she was safe, Bridget and several of her henchmen boarded Sea Witch and two other boats, heading out to sea one by one. Three miles offshore, they scattered in order to foil any pursuit.
Her tactics had not, however, prevented observation; the lone DEA agent, after losing the henchman, had played a hunch and headed for a building overlooking the port. With the aid of binoculars, he’d caught a brief glimpse of Bridget in the company of the obviously-deferential henchman.
Gonzalez took the news with stoic resolve. Knowing that he needed a consultation, he began the long drive north to Orlando.
Arriving unannounced at Frank Tittle’s large lakefront home at nine that night, Gonzalez rang the bell. He was ringing it for a second time when Frank, in loud shorts and a grimy T-shirt, answered the door, with a bag of potato chips in hand.
“Gonzalez, you look like hell,” Frank said, opening the door wider so Gonzalez could enter.
“I haven’t slept in two days. Nice to see you too, Tittle,” Gonzalez grumbled, as Frank led him through the large, ornate, and scrupulously tidy living room, through a cluttered kitchen, and into a small and very messy study. Frank moved some empty pizza boxes from one of the room’s two chairs so that Gonzalez could sit down. “You didn’t come all this way for the fun of it, so what’s going on?”
“Something major has happened, and I’ve got qualms about taking this to the FBI or the local police. It’s about Bridget, and I think you’re the guy to talk to. This is absolutely confidential, right?”
“You’re officially my client, so yes. She killed Henry, so make that hell yes.”
“The long and the short of it is, we now know what Bridget has been after. It’s a video tape that was on Ares, made by her late husband. Trevor found it, and he tricked her into having somebody steal what she thought was it, but was actually a tracker inside a tape.”
Frank arched both eyebrows. “Where is she? Did you get her?”
Gonzalez shook his head. “That’s the other issue. I got a heads-up a while back that the person who killed Sanchez and took over the cartel’s Bahamas operation goes by ‘Bruja’. That means ‘witch’ in Spanish.”
The normally unflappable Frank wheezed. “I’ve defended a few of their people and they’ve told me things – like the one who helped me put a name to Sanchez’s face for you. The cartel top brass are very macho, so unless ‘witch’ is gender neutral in Spanish, it’s not a guy. Please tell me it’s not who I think…”
“It is. I only had a good guess before, but the tracker confirmed it. Three very tough-looking guys picked it up in Nassau – it was sent Fed-Ex from Tahiti. I was only able to get one agent there in time. He lost ‘em, but spotted them later with Bridget, acting very deferential to her, and then she left with several escorting boats. She’s Bruja, sure as hell. Now for the bad news –”
“How could it get any worse?” Frank asked, in a morose tone.
“They’ve co-opted a lot of people in the Bahamian government, like the Norman’s Cay group did in the 80’s, only more so. She’s pretty much untouchable there.” Gonzalez spent a few minutes recapping and filling in the details, and then added, “We think she has a headquarters in the Bahamas, but we don’t have any idea where it is. We don’t even know if that’s where she spends most of her time. Even if we do locate her, there’s not much we can do.”
“She’s ruthless and smart, and now she’s got almost unlimited power plus a safe base. So, what’s your plan?” Frank asked.
Gonzalez sighed. “I don’t have one. I was hoping that you might have some ideas.”
It was Frank’s turn to sigh. “Aside from the obvious – hope she sets foot in the U.S. or somewhere that she can’t bribe her way out of being extradited – not really. And now I see why you are worried about the FBI and Florida police; that kind of an operation has agents in all sorts of places, like the DEA one we grabbed. I’m also more worried about Trevor than I was before; from what you say, she’s got to know for sure he’s got the tape she’s after. As for that tape… Tell me exactly what’s on it. If Bridget has been after it for so long, it must be important.”
“All Trevor said was that the tape was made by Arnold Bellevue, and that he lists names. Trevor remembered a few, one of which is still in place and now under observation. I told Trevor I wanted the tape and he’s agreed to send it. However, he won’t send it unless he’s got a copy, but he promised he’d get that done at his next port of call – which is something else he wouldn’t discuss.”
Frank leaned back, deep in thought. After a few long moments, he said, “That could be wise; from the sound of it, that tape might somehow be a danger to Bridget. If so, it might be the only way to get her, so we sure wouldn’t want the thing getting lost in the damn mail. Incidentally, if you happen to discover or figure out where Trevor is heading, don’t tell anyone – even me – because if my hunch is right, they’re going to go after him with both barrels, far harder than they have in the past.”
“He didn’t tell me, so at least he’s playing it safe.”
Bridget flipped open a cell phone and dialed Xavier, catching him between planes at Los Angles International Airport. As soon as they’d both encrypted, she said, “When you arrive in Tahiti, detain all three. Use whatever means necessary to determine if Julie was aware that she sent me a tracking device. As for the two on the boat… take them out to sea. Break their kneecaps to prevent them from causing trouble and to get their attention. Torture them in front of each other, as slowly and painfully as you can devise. Be imaginative. A few hours of that ought to loosen their tongues enough to be certain they are truthful. Get the tape. No matter what you have to do, get the tape. Once you have it, dispose of them – preferably very painfully, but make absolutely certain that they are dead. Bury them at sea and burn their boat. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Xavier replied, as he glanced at his team of six in the airport lounge. One of them, he knew, had considerable experience in extracting information via torture. “We’ll get it done.” There had once been a time when such orders would have curdled Xavier’s stomach, though now they bothered him very little. Out of a mix of fear and gratitude – Bridget treated him, as well as paid him, far better than he’d ever dreamed possible under Sanchez – Xavier was willing to do whatever Bridget asked.
After ending the call, Bridget said to herself, “If you wish a job done right…” She made another call, this time to her travel agency, for air tickets under one of her cover identities from Exuma International to Tahiti via South America.
After a day on the beach on their deserted islet, Trevor and Shane weighed anchor and motored out through a pass in the reef, heading northeast.
Trevor, hands shaking slightly with nerves, called Julie on the satellite phone, and explained that, due to a brief weather window opening, he and Shane were on their way to Panama via the direct route. He’d checked: his claim was reasonable, based on the forecast.
After some fond farewells, the call ended and Trevor sighed. The sun had set an hour before, and they were now out of sight of land. “Haul down the radar reflector while I kill the running lights and radars; we’re going dark,” Trevor said, as he spun the wheel, bringing Atlantis to a course of due south.
Shane returned to the cockpit. “I’m sure glad we bought the cold weather gear; we’re going to need it,” he said, suppressing a shiver in the tropical heat. “How long until it gets bad?”
Trevor checked the navigation plot. “A couple of weeks, then a week of hell. We’ll head due south until about thirty-five degrees south when we pick up the westerlies. From there, we’ll go southeast. It’ll start to get bad once we pass forty-five south, and we’re heading for fifty-five south.”
“You were below fifty south in the Southern Ocean on your way to Australia. How bad was it?” Shane asked.
“Bad, and that wasn’t winter,” Trevor allowed, “But this time, Atlantis is whole and has weather data. We’ll need it.”
They both stared out at the starry sky, apprehensive about what lay ahead. After several minutes, Shane said, “You’re right on one thing; no one would ever guess our route, especially in the Austral winter. It’s insane, just like you – though I think it’s the best one for that very reason. It’s sort of appropriate too; Charles Darwin leads the way and we’ve got a monkey in command.”
Trevor chuckled at the wisecrack. “At least we don’t have to round Cape Horn itself, assuming we’re not caught in a storm and can make the entrance,” Trevor said, and then added with a weak smile, “It’s a good thing for us that Panama or rounding the cape aren’t the only ways between the Pacific and the Atlantic. The Strait of Magellan is one, but it’s too open and unsheltered; it’s torn by hurricane-force winds in winter.” Trevor studied the navigation plot for a few moments. “Over five thousand miles to our next landfall,” he reported, with a shiver of his own. Trevor thought he knew what to expect.
He was wrong.
Two days later in Tahiti, Bridget relaxed, staring out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the spectacular view of Moorea.
“Car entering the driveway,” Xavier reported in a hushed tone as he darted into the kitchen.
Bridget shrank down in her chair.
Julie, unawares – Bridget had postponed Xavier’s contacting her – entered through her front door, her mind on Rarotonga and her planned wealthy retirement. She closed and locked her front door, turning to enter her spacious living room.
Bridget casually turned the swiveling armchair, smiling at a stunned Julie. “It has been a while, Julie. Too long, I think.”
Julie gaped, and only then became aware of two men emerging from her kitchen to stand between her and the front door. “Hello, Mrs. Bellevue. I’m… surprised to see you,” Julie blurted.
“Not as surprised as I was to receive that tape. Did you play it?” Bridget asked, while folding her fingers primly together.
“No, I didn’t. You told me not to.”
“Xavier, please make Julie comfortable,” Bridget ordered.
Xavier stepped forward, slamming his fist into Julie’s stomach. Doubling over in pain, wracked by fear, Julie struggled in vain as she was bound to a chair. A few more vicious blows rained down, leaving Julie tasting the coppery tang of her own blood.
Bridget, with a relaxed air, stood and walked to Julie’s entertainment center. After studying it for a moment, she turned on the stereo and inserted a country CD from Julie’s extensive collection. Bridget, well aware of what was coming, turned up the volume before returning to her chair.
The member of Xavier’s team skilled in interrogation-by-torture pummeled Julie with measured blows designed to cause pain rather than impairment. When he was done, he told Julie, “This can go on for days.” Almost casually, he swung a tire iron at Julie’s kneecap, shattering it and leaving her screaming in agony, her anguished cries sufficiently masked by the loud music and the large size of the home’s lot. When Julie finally stopped screaming, he observed with a nonchalant air, “That was just one bone. You have hundreds.” He then gave her shattered knee a light tap with the tire iron, evoking another barrage of anguished cries from Julie.
Satisfied that Julie had been sufficiently prepared for the first stage, the interrogator nodded to Bridget, signaling her that she could now proceed with the questioning.
Bridget repeated the same series of questions many times, with each answer being followed by more blows from the interrogator. Always the same: question, answer, and then pain. The goal was to break her utterly.
Wracked by the excruciating agony, Julie pleaded, answered, and begged – all to no avail. Finally, the interrogator was satisfied that Julie was ready and again nodded at Bridget, who continued with her questioning, though now taking note of every anguished word.
Broken, blubbering for mercy through a mouth filled with blood and broken teeth, Julie at last convinced Bridget of her veracity: she had not known of the tracker or the tape’s contents, and that Trevor had told her repeatedly that he was heading for Panama.
“Please don’t hurt me anymore,” Julie sobbed.
Bridget acknowledged with a nod. “Thank you, Julie. I regret the need for what has occurred here today. I shall therefore make this as pleasant for you as I can.” She glanced at the man with the tire iron. “Now.”
With a vicious, powerful blow, the man swung the tire iron, sending it smashing into Julie’s skull from behind.
Bridget regarded Julie’s corpse with a pleasant smile. “She loved this island. Bury her in the mountains so that she may forever be part of it.” Bridget stooped to pick up Julie’s purse, rummaging through it until she found what she sought. She turned on the cell phone, studied it for a moment, only to begin scowling slightly as she navigated its menus to the caller ID screen. When she was done, she was smiling.
Within five hours, Bridget would be winging her way to South America.
Trevor and Shane’s plan had been an elegant play; use Julie to send Bridget a tape with a tracking device, which they’d hoped would lead the authorities to Bridget. The fatal flaw was that, unbeknownst to them, Bridget was immune from arrest in the Bahamas.
Much was now forever changed. Trevor and Shane’s possession of the tape was now known to Bridget, making them a far more imminent threat to her. However, that was far from the most significant change: until receiving the tracking device, Bridget’s motives for going after Trevor had been purely ones of expedience and need. It hadn’t been personal. Now however, it had become very personal indeed.
The gloves were coming off.
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