(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.)
Trevor froze, his blood running cold as he recognized Bridget’s distinctive voice and diction; he’d spoken to her in person, as well as by phone while in the Mediterranean. He had no doubt as to who was on the other end of the line. His eyes widening in shock and fear, he mumbled around a mouth half full with food, “I think you’ve got the wrong number.”
Bridget chuckled. “Why Trevor, you’ve never been a good liar, so why start now? I recognize your voice and I know that this is your phone. If I intended to harm you, I would have used it to find you, not call you. You may therefore wish to do yourself a favor and hear me out. You may find this hard to believe, but I mean you no harm. The horrific attempts on your life were enacted by a drug lord named Sanchez, not I. He is dead now. My little encounter with your mother in Geraldton was regrettable, though my target was not you. I freely admit to being no angel, though I am to a large degree utterly misunderstood, as well as being wrongly accused of some things. So you see, I am very much a victim of awkward circumstance, just as you are. That being the case, I believe that we are in a position to help one another.”
“You… You tried to–” Trevor managed to suppress his fury enough to cut himself off.
“Trevor, listen to me. I am not your enemy, though I know who is. I can end these threats to you forever. You have a tape which belongs to some very powerful people. If you do not turn it over, you and your boyfriend – congratulations, by the way – will die. The alternative for you is to give it to me. Do so, and not only can I end the threat to you both, I shall split the finder’s fee with you; your share would be one million. Wouldn’t you like this to all be over?” Bridget asked, in a pleasant, convivial tone. Trevor froze, mind racing, the phone still at his ear.
Shane stared at Trevor in concern, watching as the color drained from his face. “Trev, what’s wrong? Who is it?” Shane whispered, just loud enough to be heard by Trevor over the many voices in the restaurant.
“Bridget,” Trevor mouthed, mind racing.
It was Shane’s turn to gape in shock. “Hang up!” he gasped.
Trevor returned his attention to the phone. “I need time to think. Give me your number and I’ll call you back real soon,” he said, in a numb tone.
After a long pause, Bridget replied, “Very well, though do not delay overly long. You have twenty-four hours – after that, I cannot guarantee your safety. Check your caller ID screen, the number should be there.”
Trevor looked. “It is.”
Bridget paused again. “Very well. Please enjoy your supper, and do give my kindest regards to Shane. I shall expect your call,” Bridget primly replied, leaving the line open.
Trevor ended the call and for good measure, removed the phone’s battery. “Oh shit,” he gasped, reaching for his wallet and dropping a twenty-dollar bill on the table – though Argentina had stopped using the U.S. dollar as currency in 2002, it was still very widely accepted, as a fast pre-arrival check on the Internet had informed him, and the waitress had mentioned when taking their order. “Let’s get out of here,” he hissed, motioning towards the door.
With extreme haste, Trevor and Shane bolted out the door, to the puzzlement of the restaurant’s patrons and staff.
As soon as they were on the snowy street, Trevor dashed north at a full run, hesitating only to make sure that Shane was keeping up. After a block they rounded a corner, where Trevor skidded almost to a halt, slowing to a fast walk. “I think Bridget might know where we are, she told me to enjoy my meal!” Trevor said, in a quiet voice tainted by fear.
“Hold up; you were talking with your mouth full, and it sounded like a restaurant in there. It wouldn’t take much to guess, and if she had people here and knew where we were, would she call to alert us like that? I think we’d be dead already. Maybe she’s trying to spook us into running,” Shane said, remembering the bombs on Kookaburra.
“Okay, good point. But then why the fuck is she calling us? Why not just wait until we sail? And how the fuck did she get our number?” he asked, as they turned another corner.
“Julie?” Shane suggested.
“I didn’t give her our satellite number, and I dialed star-six-seven before calling her; that’s supposed to block caller ID,” Trevor replied. He was right, to a degree; that code works on most phones in the U.S., but when using a satellite phone or a cell phone on international roaming, it is up to the local carrier to determine what code, if any, blocks caller ID on an outbound call. For Trevor’s call to Julie, the attempt to block the caller ID had failed and Julie’s phone had received Trevor’s number, which had later been retrieved by Bridget.
“Okay, we’ll figure that out later. Tell me exactly what she said,” Shane asked, as they kept walking on the quiet street.
After Trevor had recounted the call to the best of his ability, Shane’s eyes narrowed. “The bit about ‘congratulations’ and mentioning your meal sounds like she’s trying to rattle our cage. As for her offer, I think it’s a trap. It’s gotta be; we know damn well that the tape is aimed at her.”
Trevor glanced warily around the almost-deserted streets, seeking any sign of trouble. “Yeah, I know it has to be a trap of some kind. She’s not exactly high on my list of people I trust. The thing is, did the call let her know where we’re at, maybe by tracing it somehow? And what do we do now? The first thing I want to do is call Officer Gonzalez, let him know what happened, and give him her number. Uncle Greg too, but after that, what?”
Shane scratched his head. “I don’t know. I don’t think she’d have called if she knew where we are, but we can’t be sure… so let’s be somewhere else, like at sea. I can’t see a good reason not to be – once we’re sure there’s no bomb aboard.”
Trevor nodded eagerly. “Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s head back to Atlantis. One thing about this snow; we’ll easily see if anyone has been aboard. I’ll call Officer Gonzalez and Uncle Greg to let them know what happened.”
Trevor made the calls, quickly filling in Gonzalez, and then Fowler, on what had happened, though he refrained from mentioning his location. Their advice was the same: get the hell out of there. Fowler then added, “Check under the hulls, then make for the next port, the one I know about. There will be a package waiting for you there. I’ll see what I can find out from my end. Take evasive measures, and watch your backs. Get moving and I’ll call you as soon as I learn anything.”
“It’s unanimous; we’re getting the fuck out of here,” Trevor reported, while slipping the phone and its again-removed battery into his pocket.
When they arrived at the dock, Trevor and Shane checked for footprints other than their own near Atlantis, and then, with difficulty, used a pole with a dive light taped to the end to check both hulls for any sign of unwanted additions.
With the bomb check completed to their satisfaction – the snow on deck and in the cockpit serving to rule out any above-water intrusions – they made a beeline for the customs office. There, they explained to the lone customs officer on duty – the same officious one who had given them permission to go ashore – that they had to leave immediately due to a weather window. The customs officer bristled, and replying with a glare delivered over his gold-rimmed glasses, said, “That does not matter. As I told you, you must complete your entry procedures for Argentina. You cannot leave until you do. This is a Sunday and you arrived late so the Prefectura office is closed, but it is required that everyone aboard your boat go to the Prefectura with passports and all the boat’s documents to register. You will require an agent and to pay a commercial fee if your yacht is commercial in any way. You must make your declarations, list your prior ports and coming destinations, await the return of your passports, pass a safety inspection from the armada, pay your exit fees, and then await permission to depart.” The Prefectura Naval Argentina is a branch of Argentina’s ministry of the interior: in essence, their coast guard as well as an internal police agency.
It took all of Trevor’s self-control to appear calm. “Okay, where do we get the paperwork, and who do we pay? And while we wait, do we have to stay in Ushuaia, or can we explore the area? We really want to see it. There’s Puerto Williams right across the channel, and we were also thinking about renting a car here in town.” Puerto Williams is in Chile.
“You may only leave Ushuaia – either you or your yacht – after registering with the Prefectura and with my permission, and only then to go to other Argentine areas in this region, and you will give a detailed itinerary before departing and check in twice a day with a position and status report. You may provide your daily position report by radio or, if you are equipped, e-mail. You will pay some of your fees here, to me. The harbormaster also charges a fee – you must see him immediately after you have been to the Prefectura. You may not leave Argentine waters until permission is obtained,” he declared, shoving a stack of papers at Trevor. “You must remain in Argentine waters and not venture into those claimed by Chile for any reason. To do so will result in the seizure of your yacht and a large fine.”
Argentine formalities with regards to visiting foreign-flag yachts had long been notoriously changeable. At various times, they could be downright draconian. One reason for this was a problem that had bedeviled Argentina for years: foreign yachts illegally running charters in Argentine waters. As a result, any yacht that looked like it might be a charter vessel was often suspect – and Trevor, unawares, had on his customs forms upon arrival unwisely been honest and had listed his occupation as ‘charter boat owner’. Shane had listed himself as crew – which was precisely how most illegal charter boats had their paying passengers identify themselves on such forms. This had been more than enough to trigger an even greater degree of official suspicion regarding Atlantis.
The customs officer handed over more forms. “You will present yourselves, your passports, and the boat’s papers at the Prefectura when they open at eight in the morning. All items on your yacht must be listed by make, type, and serial number. This includes radios of all types, computers, and phones. Once you have been cleared for entry by the Prefectura, the armada – the navy – will schedule a safety inspection, for which there will be a fee. Also, when you make your final port call in Argentina, there is a fifty dollar per person exit fee. If all goes well and no violations of any sort are found, you may be cleared to leave Ushuaia in two days, and to leave Argentina shortly after that.”
In her Bahamian office, Bridget glanced at her computer screen, which was currently in use as a secure video conference call with Xavier, who was still in Panama. She looked out at the sea and smiled, listening absently as Xavier played the recording of Trevor’s side of the call for the third time. The trigger for their call to Trevor had been Atlantis being several days overdue for the transit reservation at the Panama Canal. “Opinion?” she asked, as soon as the recording ended.
Xavier had, at first, listened to the full recording of the call. However, due to the way it had been recorded, Xavier also had a copy of just Trevor’s end of the call, and he’d boosted the volume. It was this that he’d listened to with great care. Thus, when Trevor wasn’t speaking, Xavier was able to hear the background voices with some degree of clarity. In so doing, Xavier, a native Spanish-speaker originally from Colombia, had gleaned much from the recording. “He did not react much, or say much. We cannot know from this whether he has played the tape. As to the real purpose of the call, we do not yet know if it succeeded, though catching him on land with background conversations may be very lucky. The background voices and the words I could pick up have noticeable accents – they are in Spanish of course, but with an Italian flavor. Only one country speaks Spanish with an Italian accent, and that’s Argentina.”
Bridget arched an eyebrow. “Are you certain?”
Xavier smiled. “Almost positive. You are American, so you have an ear for regional dialects in America. If you were to go into a restaurant in the American Deep South, would you not be able to hear the accent and identify it? I spent several years in Argentina. I know it well.”
Bridget’s eyes narrowed, and she began to nod slowly. “Indeed. I would likely be able to discern the state in some cases, not merely the region.”
“I could probably do the same in Argentina, but not from this recording. In general, the accent is stronger in the north – around Buenos Aries. As you go south, it gets less. I heard the mention of cold weather outside in one of the conversations so I suspect somewhere in the southern two thirds of the country. The north is warm year-round.”
Bridget rose gracefully and strode over to her globe. She glanced at the southern tip of South America, and then at Tahiti. She turned her computer towards her to say, “We can narrow this down via an exercise of time and distance. We know when he departed Tahiti – or at least when he was last certainly there. We use that as the starting point. We know Atlantis’s general abilities – she cannot have changed greatly since I had her – and we can find out the weather conditions during recent weeks. If Trevor is in Argentina, he must have chosen to round Cape Horn or go via one of the nearby straits – utter madness in winter. The distance between Cape Horn and Tahiti is well over four thousand miles, therefore we ought, with weather data, to be able to determine how far past Cape Horn he could be. My hunch, based on the timing and a general speed of advance, is that he may have recently arrived. Tell me, could you be certain that the accents you heard were not in a Chilean port, such as Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan?”
“I am fairly sure, though not certain. The Chilean accent is different, though I have never been to the far south of either country.”
Bridget scrutinized her globe for a few moments more. “Argentina has one likely major port for a vessel rounding the cape, and that is Ushuaia. Another possibility large enough to have restaurants looks to be Rio Gallegos, well north of the Strait of Magellan. I will find better information on the computer, along with recent weather and wind data. This call is proving far more potentially beneficial than I believed. Xavier, find yourself and your men some warm clothes; you may be heading south very shortly.”
“Do you think he will take your offer?” Xavier asked.
Bridget shrugged. “I have no idea, though if he does so it will make things simpler for us. However, it changes nothing in one regard; even if he gives us the tape and it has not been played, I wish the death of him and his boyfriend to be as unpleasant as you can conveniently arrange.” Bridget was still furious regarding the tracking device that Trevor had sent. If there was one thing Bridget knew how to do, it was hold a grudge. Also, as a purely practical matter, she considered Trevor and Shane, even without the tape, ‘loose ends’ best disposed of. There was also the fact that, in the culture of the cartel, letting them live would be seen as a weakness.
Xavier glanced at his watch. “I think we have let our software expert have enough time. She told me to call fifteen minutes after the attempt.”
“Do it now, and link me in via a three-way call,” Bridget commanded.
Xavier lifted the phone and dialed a number in Nassau. The woman he was calling was a college student who was highly skilled at hacking some kinds of systems. One of her specialties was phone operating systems. Bridget’s call to Trevor had been routed through a phone line controlled by the hacker and shunted to another line – the number that had shown up on Trevor’s caller ID. “Was the attempt successful?” Xavier asked, without preamble.
The hacker sighed. “I don’t think so. I saw it was in dual mode so I initiated a swap-out insert on the A-GPS data stream, which is processed by the phone’s main CPU and not the radio chipset. If it worked, I should have received a response from the phone’s GPS processor, including its location. There are a lot of possibilities here; the phone doesn’t have A-GPS, or GPS, or it’s a different OS or chipset than I think. I told you this would be hard if we don’t know the specific model, chipset, and OS version.”
“Repeat that so a non-expert can understand,” Xavier ordered, his voice carrying a note of irritation.
“It didn’t work, probably because the phone isn’t one of the ones this particular hack works on. Like I said, I never tried this on a satellite phone. It was in dual mode – it was using a cellular network, not a satellite. Most satphones are dual-mode – they use cell networks when available, because they are a lot cheaper. For the cellular function, they often use the chipsets from standard cellular phones. That opens the door to an A-GPS – assisted GPS – hack; many cell phones use assisted GPS data off the cell network, in addition to GPS satellite data. They do this because cell phones are often in places with an obstructed GPS signal. A-GPS data is delivered over an unsecure internet link to the phone, so swapping out the data and replacing it with CPU instruction sets is pretty easy – but you need to know the CPU and chipset to get the instruction set right. Also, it won’t work on all phones. I sent five different instruction sets but got nothing back.”
Xavier still didn’t understand the technical details, so he asked, “Do you think you can make it work if we try again?”
The hacker paused for a moment; she knew the type of person she was dealing with. However, the money offered had assuaged her fears somewhat. “Maybe. My best guess is it doesn’t use A-GPS, so we’ll need to try a different method to access the operating system. The other problem is not all satphones have a GPS function, and if it doesn’t have one, we can’t use it.”
“He will probably be calling the number you are using, sometime within the next twenty-four hours, to speak with Bruja. Be ready. If he does not, we will try calling him again tomorrow and will alert you in advance,” Xavier replied, and then ended the call. He glanced at his computer screen to look Bridget in the eye. “Unfortunately, it seems that our primary goal has not yet been met.”
Bridget looked at Xavier’s image on her laptop, smiling. “I did some rough checking while the hacker was speaking. It appears that fortune may have favored us irregardless; Trevor’s fortuitous presence ashore, combined with your wise ears, may have given us what we sought: his location. If my initial calculations are accurate, only by making very good time could he have yet arrived in the vicinity of Cape Horn. It is difficult to imagine that he could have made it any further than that, given the time and distance. Argentina has no coastline on the Pacific, so he must therefore have rounded the cape or transited one of the straits. Argentina presents some interesting opportunities – we have some contacts there. For now, I will pull up detailed weather data for the past few weeks and double-check my rate-of-advance figures to be certain, though I think we have Atlantis localized to the southern tip of Argentina.”
“Do we have people in the Argentine government that can help us?” Xavier asked.
“I do not know, though I shall make some calls on that matter. However, their customs procedures are very detailed. We likely have sufficient time, though we must waste not a moment.”
As soon as her video call was over, Bridget checked the weather data, finding that only if Atlantis had made excellent time for the conditions could she be in Argentina, and the only port that fit was Ushuaia. Bridget picked up her phone to call the travel agency in Nassau that she owned. There, she made reservations for Xavier and his team. She was delighted to learn that she would have them arriving at Ushuaia’s airport in just under twenty-four hours. A few minutes later, after a conversation with one of her people, Bridget was pleased to learn that she did indeed have contacts within the Argentine government – mainly, its customs service.
As soon as they left the customs office, Trevor glanced warily behind him before saying, “This whole thing smells like a setup: first Bridget calls, and then we get slammed with a shitload of red tape that’s worse than anything I’ve ever seen or heard of, anywhere.” Trevor paused under a light and began leafing through the paperwork, until he came to the first of the departure forms. “Maybe it’s not Bridget. This form makes us check a box if we’ll be going to the Islas Malvinas – that’s what they call the Falklands – and from where. Oh fuck – even if we weren’t going there, they want us to list our last five ports of call and our next four, plus expected arrival and departure dates, even if they aren’t in Argentina. This is totally screwed up! Where we go after leaving Argentina is none of their fucking business, and in our case we sure as hell can’t do it. We’d be stupid to let anyone know where we’ll be.”
“What happens if we refuse?” Shane asked.
“My guess is they’d probably steal Atlantis. I don’t want to try refusing them – you saw what that customs guy was like. We can just lie about where we’re heading next, but… the other problem is this inspection stuff – we’re supposed to declare all firearms, and we didn’t. What if they find ‘em? Or the gold? We’ve got to turn in our passports too, which means we’d be stuck here for as long as they want.”
“What about asking Officer Gonzalez or your uncle to contact them officially, explain the danger we’re in, and ask them to let us go right away?” Shane asked.
Trevor’s face momentarily brightened, only to revert to a scowl. “Maybe, but Uncle Greg warned me that his agency has basically zero leverage overseas. I guess it’d depend on what the Argentine officials are really like, and if the one we’ve met is any clue, that’s not going to be good. Maybe they’d sell us out to Bridget in return for a boatload of money. I don’t know, and I don’t want to risk it. Let’s hit the guides and the ‘net to see if this is the real procedure, or something Bridget arranged for us,” Trevor said, hurrying towards Atlantis.
Trevor and Shane’s troubles in Argentina had many causes, going well beyond the issue with illegal charters. Without knowing it, they had sailed into the echoes of past conflicts, some more than a century in the making.
The Beagle Conflict between Chile and Argentina was one of these. It had simmered, and occasionally flared into open conflict, for over a century. Its roots lay in the border disputes between the two nations – even to this day, part of their border is hotly disputed.
The Beagle Conflict centers on the eastern half of the Beagle Channel. There, the channel forms the border between Chile and Argentina. This border was formalized in the boundary treaty of 1881, specifying the border as running north to south in Tierra del Fuego until it intersected the Beagle Channel, and from that point following its centerline east to the Atlantic, with all islands south of it belonging to Chile. The matter was presumed settled for the following six years, until Argentina reneged on the terms of the treaty it had largely authored. Indeed, even the chief of the Argentine exploring and survey commission, writing to the British ambassador in 1918, declared that, “I can't understand why the Argentine Government claims sovereignty over the islands of Picton, Nueva, Lennox, etc., basing its arguments on the 1881 Treaty and the 1893 protocol, when the first one invalidates its claim and the second one has nothing to do with the demarcation of the Beagle Channel.”
The reason was fairly simple; Argentina claimed the islands because it wanted them. The actual basis of the claims were thus constructs that served this end rather than holding any actual merit based in history or right.
For decades the dispute simmered, with Argentina playing a slow and steady game of applying pressure on Chile. This took the form of occasional armed incursions on various islands, the destruction of lighthouses, and the harassment of shipping.
In 1971, Chile and Argentina submitted the dispute to binding arbitration by a neutral third party – a court formed under British auspices. In May of 1977, the court ruled that the islands and all adjacent formations belonged to Chile. Although both parties had agreed to binding arbitration, Argentina reacted to the ruling against it by reneging on the agreement, rejecting the ruling in January of 1978. They did not stop there; they pursued their claims via military provocations designed to test Chile’s will and ability to defend its territory, and also to coerce it into capitulating to Argentina’s latest set of demands. This culminated, in December of that year, in Argentina’s initiation of Operation Soberanía: a full scale invasion of Chile.
The Argentine dictatorship’s goal was no longer just the disputed islands. Their ambitions had grown; the goal was nothing less than the conquest of Chile. The Argentine plan called for the initial fighting to be in the far south in order to draw Chilean forces to that theater, but their main land deployments and plans were for a land attack through the Andes on Santiago, Chile’s capital, over a thousand miles north of the disputed islands. A further land attack, several hundred miles south of Santiago, was designed to reach the Pacific at Puerto Montt, thus cutting Chile into three segments.
The Chileans became aware of the Argentine plans and reacted accordingly, mining passes, deploying their fleet, and mobilizing their forces.
The Argentine plan called for amphibious operations, backed up by an aircraft carrier task force, to seize the disputed islands and many others, including the island of Cape Horn itself. A land offensive from Patagonia would seize Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan, a prelude to the conquest of the entire region. Once the Chileans reacted and moved forces southwards, the main drive on their capital would begin.
The Argentine D-day of December 21st, 1978, dawned stormy in the area of the Beagle Channel. The invasion was postponed for a day, but the weather did not improve. This, along with growing Argentine concerns that the war would prove costly and coupled to a last-minute intervention by the Pope, persuaded the Argentines to call off the assault within minutes of the commencement of hostilities. A further factor was the growing realization within the Argentine dictatorship that the Chilean navy was superior to their own and was poised to interdict the landings.
The Pope’s offer to mediate was accepted by both parties, though when the Pope ruled in favor of Chile, Argentina again reneged and rejected the settlement, opting instead to return to military coercion.
In April of 1981, Argentina repudiated another treaty with Chile, and also closed the border. Argentina’s dictatorship, a military junta, was growing ever more unpopular at home, spurring them to provoke a war they thought they could win as a means of shoring up their domestic support via stoking nationalistic fervor. Throughout 1981 and early 1982, they kept upping the pressure on Chile.
In early 1982, the Argentine junta faced a dilemma; Chile had withstood their pressure, and was clearly willing and able to fight to protect its land. The Argentine dictatorship, beset with rising opposition and economic collapse at home, decided that it urgently needed a major victory of some sort to stoke nationalistic fervor and thus domestic support. Therefore, the Argentine junta picked another target, turning its ambitions, for the time being, to Operation Rosario, the military conquest of the Falkland Islands – yet another area to which Argentina had long concocted vacuous territorial claims.
The people of Argentina had been subjected to a barrage of sloganeering government claims regarding the Falklands for many years. In many cases, the sheer repetition caused them to believe them, thus making the islands a viable means of shoring up support for the desperate, faltering dictatorship.
Argentina invaded the Falklands on April 2nd, 1982. Their move was based on the assumption that Britain would never respond militarily to the seizure of its islands. This assumption was based on precedents: in 1976, Argentina had landed fifty troops on uninhabited Thule Island, the southernmost island of the British South Sandwich Islands, one thousand four hundred miles southeast of the nearest Argentine territory. There, they had established a base, intending it as a test of Britain’s willingness to defend its territory. Britain, upon discovering the base, had protested diplomatically but had made no move to forcibly remove the invaders. The only military reaction by Britain was Operation Journeyman: a small task force sent in 1977 to deter the suspected invasion of the Falklands that Argentina was then planning for later in that year. The task force made no attempt to clear the invaders from Thule.
On March 19th, 1982, several dozen Argentine troops posing as scrap metal salvagers, carried by a ship of the Argentine navy, landed on the British island of South Georgia at an abandoned whaling station and hoisted the Argentine flag. Britain sent a ship with twenty-two Royal Marines to the area, but out of a fear of exacerbating the incident, they were ordered to do nothing except observe. Britain limited its response to diplomatic protests. On April 1st, with the British still observing, more troops in the form of uniformed Argentine commandos arrived.
These lacks of response went a long way towards convincing the Argentine dictatorship that it could succeed in conquering the Falklands without provoking war with Great Britain. They believed that once they had seized the islands, Britain would limit its response to diplomatic protests. Thus, a failure to correctly respond to aggression had helped set the stage for far greater aggression.
Operation Rosario landed in the Falklands the day after the commandos had landed in South Georgia. A small British garrison in Port Stanly resisted, surrendering after a firefight.
The Argentine plan was to quickly capture the entirety of the Falklands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands. They planned to leave a garrison in the Falklands to oversee the forced deportation – a form of ethnic cleansing – of most or all Falkland islanders, and then hold a vote of the soon-to-arrive Argentine settlers and Argentine garrison to ‘formalize’ Argentina’s annexation of the islands. The Argentine junta believed that the Falklands issue would be resolved within days on the military side, thus freeing up their forces to proceed with their planned conquest of Chilean territory.
They miscalculated; Britain launched Operation Corporate, a daring improvised operation centered on a naval task force, which succeeded in liberating the Falklands and the captive islanders from the invaders. The Falklands War was a very near-run thing; Britain was fighting at the end of the world’s longest supply line, using naval forces that were primarily designed for North Atlantic anti-submarine work. Britain suffered many ships sunk or damaged by Argentine air attacks, and would have lost many more had the Argentines not been using the wrong fuses in some of their bombs, causing close to three quarters of them to fail to detonate.
During the fighting, Britain inflicted devastating losses on the Argentine Air Force, as well as sinking several ships – including the second largest – of the Argentine Navy. These losses helped reduce Argentina’s ability to invade Chile, thus ushering in a period of lowered Argentine provocations in the region. However, tensions between Argentina and Chile did not subside until a democratic government replaced the dictatorship in Argentina in 1983.
The fall of the dictatorship was a direct result of its defeat in the Falklands. Argentina was at last free of a regime that had exercised state terror, killing or ‘disappearing’ between ten and thirty thousand of its own citizens in what came to be known as The Dirty War.
The following year saw the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1984 between Chile and Argentina.
On the day of the signing of the treaty, just hours after it went into effect, Argentine forces near Ushuaia shelled a Chilean lighthouse east of Puerto Williams, Chile, on the far side of the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia. The new era of ‘peace’ was not off to an auspicious start.
By the time of Atlantis’s arrival in June of 2007, relations between Argentina and Chile had largely eased, though tensions flared from time to time. The Beagle Channel area was often the locus of these tensions, and they, as with Argentina’s ongoing desire to subjugate the Falklands, often manifested themselves in ways ranging from bureaucratic intransigence to various forms of harassment, up to and including open violations of international law.
On the Chilean side, there was often suspicion, along with mistrust, regarding Argentina. For several generations Argentina had been the wolf at their door, and such a history is not quickly forgotten.
On the British side, the Falklands’ defenses were reinforced via building a large military ground and air base at Mt. Pleasant to protect against further Argentine aggression. Britain no longer had the naval assets needed to free the Falklands if they were again conquered, so the British strategy became, by virtue of necessity, one of proactive defense and reinforcement. The wartime two-hundred-mile total exclusion zone, which had applied to the ships of all nations, was never lifted regarding Argentine ships and aircraft.
It was into these old and Byzantine military and diplomatic quagmires that Atlantis had unknowingly sailed.
As soon as they were aboard Atlantis, Trevor told Shane, “Get the guns out and ready, just in case we get visitors. I’ll check some stuff online.” The guns – two handguns and the 30-06 rifle – had been hidden in the false bilge beams prior to making port in Ushuaia.
It took fifteen minutes of checking to be sure, but at the end, Trevor said, “It looks like this customs stuff is pretty much normal for here, sort of. Reports from yachters say the Argentine red tape can be a nightmare and that their government has a stick up its ass regarding the Falkland Islands. The procedures are always changing; sometimes it’s okay, sometimes it’s best to stay away from Argentina. Some say they had no problems, others say Argentina is full of corruption and they went through hell. They warn about government fraud too, like officials sometimes levying fines and fees for doing just about anything. One month everything might be just fine, the next it can be hell. One yachter bought fuel without permission and got slammed for a fine of one percent of the value of his yacht. Another got stung for a twenty grand fine for hiring someone to fix his engine. They say most of the people are very nice and friendly, but there’s some that aren’t, especially in the government. Plus, small remote places are worse. This is not looking good. I’d be freaked out by some of this crap even without Bridget’s call. I sure as fuck wish I’d looked into this before we got here – we could have gone to Puerto Williams instead and stayed the hell out of Argentina. If it wasn’t for Bridget’s call, maybe we could figure a way out of this, but…”
“We gotta get out of here, fast,” Shane said, giving voice to both of their thoughts.
“Yeah, Uncle Greg said that too, but how? He said he’d call back when he’d checked with a phone expert to see if Bridget could trace the call, but I don’t think we can wait for him,” Trevor replied, glancing warily in the direction of a seventy-foot armed patrol boat docked just under two hundred feet down the pier.
At that very moment, Fowler was desperately trying to call. In all the excitement, Trevor had neglected a small though important detail: the fact that he’d removed the battery from the satellite phone.
Trevor studied the big Argentine patrol boat for a few moments. “That warship is a lot faster than Atlantis, it’s gotta be; it’s got a planing hull. It’ll do thirty knots easy, and that’s what they’d come after us in.” Then he paused, his eyes glazing over for a moment. “If she’s unmanned, we could probably pull abeam of her berth, take out her engines with the 30-06, and then run like hell… but that’s really asking for it. They’d come after us with everything they’ve got for a stunt like that, and they’ve got military bases in the area.” Trevor frowned, scratching his head. At last, he brightened slightly. “Maybe it doesn’t matter that she’s faster if we play this right…” he added, his voice trailing off as he began another internet search.
Ten minutes later, well aware that every passing moment could be one too many, Trevor’s back straightened and with an air of firm resolve, he began by asking Shane, “Do we still have potatoes in the galley?”
A few minutes later, bundled up against the dark and freezing Ushuaia night, Trevor and Shane tramped through the lightly-falling snow to the customs office. “Will you give us permission to make a short sightseeing trip?” Trevor asked, in as offhand a way as he could manage.
Shane jumped in to add, “We want to see penguins, lots of penguins. Is there somewhere nearby in Argentine waters that you’d suggest?”
The customs officer gave them a cold smile. “I was just about to go home, but I will answer your question. Isla de Pinquinera is superb. Penguins everywhere, even at this time of year. It is fifty kilometers to the east, on the north side of the Beagle.”
Trevor and Shane managed to smile. “Thanks. How can we get permission to go?” Trevor asked.
The customs officer smiled again, leaning forward to say, “I can get approval for your penguin trip in a day or two, assuming that the appropriate fees are paid. It is a nature reserve so there are visitor’s permits to obtain, along with navigational clearances. The fee is two hundred American dollars, cash. I will take it and handle the matter for you. Otherwise, the delay could be lengthy.”
Trevor’s lip quivered, but he reached for his wallet and counted out the amount. Trevor managed to smile as he handed over what all of them knew to be a bribe. “Thanks, this will make waiting a lot better for us.”
“Do not forget: you must report to the Prefectura at eight in the morning. Until they clear you, you cannot leave the dock. Assuming that they do so, you may leave to see the penguins in the morning of the day after tomorrow. Go directly to the island and return within forty-eight hours. You will stay in Argentine waters at all times,” the customs officer replied, casually slipping the money into his shirt pocket and making no effort to disguise that fact.
Trevor and Shane beat a slow retreat towards Atlantis, their route again taking them close to the blacked-out Argentine patrol boat. They kept walking, studying the boat as they passed. “Machine guns – big ones – plus radars,” Shane mumbled, shuddering as they slowly made their way back to Atlantis.
Fifteen minutes later, Trevor and Shane were sitting in Atlantis’s freezing cockpit, looking out at the patrol boat, which was silhouetted by the twinkling lights of Ushuaia. Trevor stood up, took a deep breath, and stooped to pull a potato out of the bag he’d earlier moved from the galley to the corner of the cockpit.
Shane stood at his side, glancing with bemusement and not a little worry at the potato. In a hushed tone, he said, “You’re utterly bloody insane. You know that, right?”
“Has there ever been any doubt?” Trevor replied, while glancing casually around before hurling the potato at the Argentine patrol boat, where it hit the aft superstructure with a satisfying thunk.
“No, none whatsoever, it’s just not every day that you come up with a plan that starts with bribing a government official and then attacking a warship with potatoes,” Shane replied quietly, just before winding up and hurling his own spud, which struck the big patrol boat’s cabin housing with a bang.
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