The air hung heavy that morning, almost motionless, imposing an eerie stillness on Carnarvon as it baked in the Australian sun.
For Jason Kline, there were far less pleasant things on his mind than the weather. His story research was going well – a little too well in some regards – and his smile turned to a frown as at last, he admitted to himself that he needed help.
Freelance reporters such as Kline were sometimes regarded unkindly by their salaried brethren. However, both kinds of reporters shared a craving for a riveting story, which was always good for their career. One name rose to the surface of his thoughts, a man with the most suitable combination of skills, and more importantly in this case: the needed contacts.
Kline opened his phone, accessed his phonebook, and selected the entry for Barney Fitzroy, a reporter at a major newspaper, who he’d worked with on several past stories. It was an intermittent collaboration stretching back for more than twenty years.
The call went through almost instantly, and after a gruff ‘Hello”, from the other side, Kline said, in an affected cheerful tone, “G’day, it’s Jason. How’s the weather in Paris on the Yarra?” Kline smiled to himself; ‘Paris on the Yarra’ was a nickname that Kline used for Melbourne, where Barney lived and worked. It was also a phrase he knew Barney disliked.
“What do you want?” Barney replied, in a neutral tone.
Kline smiled; Barney hadn’t changed. “Short version: I’ve got a hot one. I’ll share the byline, but my name goes first and I have total executive control.”
A long, static-filled silence fell on the line. “What’s the catch? You’re not one to offer a free ride,” came the terse reply.
Jason’s jaw clenched for a moment. “Barney, that’s a little uncivil of you, don’t you think? You’re no more inclined to share than I am, at least not without reason.” Jason knew it was just a formality, but he had to pretend to mollify Barney. Both were professionals with a penchant for projecting a hardboiled personality, so the game had to be played.
Barney chuckled mirthlessly, the sound echoing over the line. “I’ve never claimed otherwise, and that’s why I’m suspicious. Tell me what you want.”
A down-to-business response, and that, Jason Kline could deal with. “Legwork, plus you working some of your contacts.”
“What’s it about?” Barney asked tersely.
Kline knew he had to give Barney a glimpse. “Have you heard about Carnarvon, and the TV mob racing up from Perth?”
Barney chuckled again, and this time, there was genuine humor behind the sound. “Yeah, I sure did. They tore off on a fool’s errand, raced north, and fell hook-line-and-sinker for a cash scam run by a couple of kids. That’s got everybody here at the paper laughing their arses off... and rumor has it that it wasn’t just TV reporters; you went up there too.”
“Yeah, I’m there now. The kids – two teenagers on a yacht – made like they were floating a fake story about pirates and one hell of a survival tale, and running a two-bit scam to make a few dollars. The yacht was supposedly shot up and stripped by pirates, and then the kid single-handed her all the way here. The town was buzzing about it when I got here, so I went for a look, and the kid scammed me for a couple hundred – and you keep that, and the rest, to your damn self. The long and the short of it is, they were running a scam alright, but not what it looked like. The story is at least mostly real, and it was a scam designed to keep it secret, by making it look like a common con-job. They doctored up another boat for the scam and then revealed it was just fine. At the least, we have one hell of a survival story here, plus the kicker that it’ll make the TV twits look like incompetent arseholes,” Kline said, spoonfeeding the story to Barney.
“Sounds to me like you’ve got hunches and theories, nothing hard,” Barney observed dryly.
Now it was Kline’s turn to chuckle. “At first, but I’ve tracked down the yacht – the real one – which is hidden in a boatyard here. I’ve been aboard: smashed bows, bullet holes, and stripped. Looks like she’s been to hell and back. I took pictures and got out of there without being seen. Now do you see why I need you?”
“Yeah, I think I do: you need my contacts.”
“Spot on, Barney. That and some legwork. You’re the best there is when it comes to anything involving government agencies. I’ll never forget that piece you did a few months ago on the fisheries management scandal that stirred up a hornet’s nest and forced a few resignations,” Kline said.
“You can’t roll me, Jason, so quit trying,” Barney replied with a soft laugh, recognizing the attempt to butter him up. “However, I’m interested in this offer of yours. My editor will skin me alive, but... I could use a major headline to my name even if it is second billing, and this sounds like it has potential. However, I’ll be asking a bit more than that from you; you get paid by the word, I don’t. I want a third.”
Kline had been willing to offer forty percent, so he replied cheerfully, “Thirty percent it is... that’s close enough to a third that you won’t quibble much, and I won’t go higher, so we have a deal then? I haven’t even told you the best part yet.”
“Fine, you’ve my word; we have a deal, and anything you tell me stays with me,” Barney replied.
Kline smiled, but there was just one more detail. “That includes your editor. He’s out of the loop too; everyone is, until we’re ready to print.”
After a few moments’ silence, Barney replied quietly. “He won’t like it, but... done.”
There was no love lost between the two men; they’d been competitors too many times in the past. However, they’d worked together on rare occasion, and from professional respect came trust. Kline didn’t like Barney Fitzroy, but he trusted him to keep his word, in part because if news got out that he’d broken it, no one would be inclined to ever work with him again. “The yacht’s name is Atlantis, and from what I’ve heard around town, the radio call from the customs patrol’s radio call said she’s a Lagoon 55. I looked that up, and that’s what she looks like. What really made me wonder is why they’re so damn intent on keeping what happened a secret, and why at least a few people – including some customs officers – are helping them,” Kline said.
“That’s certainly interesting at many levels. What else have you found out?” Barney asked.
“Oh, a lot. She has five cabins – a little one forward is accessible only from the deck – and according to the manufacturer’s site, that’s a charter configuration. So, after a lot of fumbling with an Internet search on Google, Lexis-Nexis, plus a few others, I hit on ‘lagoon 55 Atlantis charter’ as a search, and viola! Have a look for yourself: the second hit was on a page named ‘Atlantis’ for Ocean Star Charters, complete with photos – it’s definitely the same boat – listing her owner/operator as a Trevor Carlson, and I’m pretty sure that’s our guy. Now for the really interesting bit: I searched on his name and found all kinds of hits in news stories; the kid’s father is the target of a major manhunt; he’s on the run from murder and attempted murder charges, and the ‘attempted’ is due to planting a bomb on that boat, to try to kill his own son. That, by the way, is the bomb that took out the freighter in the Suez a few months back.”
Barney let out a soft whistle. “This is a big one, and it was right under the nose of the TV newsies all along. They don’t come much sweeter than this. Okay, where do you want me to start? I’m thinking I should stop by a cafe next to Customs House for a few friendly lunchtime chats, to start laying the groundwork for some private conversations later.” Customs House, in the Melbourne Docklands, was the State of Victoria regional HQ for the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. It was a beat Barney knew well, and his inside contacts within the customs service were the main reason Kline had chosen him.
“Sounds good to me. See what you can shake loose from the government side. This is going to take a lot of time and work to put together. One thing I need to ask; do you have contacts of any kind in Florida?” Kline asked, hoping.
“Nope. I’ve dealt with a few reporters in New York, and that’s about it. If we need legwork in Florida though, I’d be willing, if you’re paying,” Barney replied, already sure of the answer.
Kline laughed. “I’m not made of money, so that’s out. We might need to hire someone, maybe a journalism student there, to do some legwork on the cheap. Keep ‘em in the dark and just say it’s about the legal case... we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. Anyway, I’llemail you a zip file with all I have so far, including some of the pictures of the boat. The password for the file will be your wife’s maiden name plus your lucky number, same as we did for the last story we worked on,” Kline said.
Barney chuckled. “That’ll work, though I’ve remarried since.”
“So what’s this? Your fifth marriage? I’m a slacker compared to you; I’m still on my second,” Kline replied, with an easy laugh.
“Sixth, but whose counting? It’s been interesting to hear from you again Jason, and I’m looking forward to putting this one together. Talk to you soon,” Barney said, and then hung up the phone; he wasn’t one to waste time.
During the drive to the chandlery, the reality of what they were about to attempt began to weigh on Joel. “I hope we can pull this off. He’s a private investigator: a pro. Trying to trick him won’t be easy.”
Lisa gave Joel a confident smile. “I think we can do it, and if we can’t, we’re no worse off than we are now. The main thing we want is stuff from the chandlery for Trev and then whatever we can find out. We also need to see if we can get him to set up a meeting with Trev’s father, so we can push him to draw up those emancipation papers he promised,” Lisa replied.
“We have to make sure to tell him Trev is in Tasmania, too,” Joel replied, feeling butterflies in his stomach.
“Yeah, and we’ll probably have to play it by ear and find out what he wants, so we can make stuff up to tell him later. I’ve got a few ideas for the meeting. We need to come off as not knowing too much, but in a position to find out. I think it’s important that we appear confident, but not too pushy. Maybe a little aloof, too,” Lisa said, while combing her hair in the visor mirror.
“I still think Jim got Atlantis’s transponder code when he intercepted us in Italy, and if so, he’s probably behind it all, or at least part of it. I just wish we had some idea why. I think we have to tell someone about that... I wanted to talk to Trev first but can’t until he calls. Maybe we should do something.” Joel turned left into the marina parking lot. “I’ll park a little way down, then we’ll walk up to meet him in front.”
“Sounds good. I hope he’s there,” Lisa replied.
Henry, waiting outside the chandlery, spotted Lisa and Joel walking purposefully towards him. He had seen them before, during his stakeouts, but he couldn’t let them know that. Henry took note of the fact that Lisa and Joel were approaching without any sign of trepidation.
When they reached him, Henry extended his hand, and with a smile on his face, said, “You must be Lisa and Joel. I’m Henry Wesson. Good to meet you,” he said, and as they shook hands, he noticed that while they both had strong, confident grips, Joel’s palm was slightly sweaty. “Let’s go inside,” Henry said, as he pushed the door open and walked to the counter, where he’d left a folder.
Lisa and Joel followed Henry inside. Lisa led off the conversation by saying, “I’ve known Trevor’s father for years, and so has Joel. We’re having a hard time believing the things he’s been accused of.”
Henry didn’t visibly react to what he considered an odd way to begin, so he nodded and smiled warmly. “You’re right, and my job is to prove he’s innocent.” Henry turned to look at Joel. “Joel, what you said about the bomb and fueling up in Mykonos helped, a lot. If we get confirmation from Trevor, that’ll be proof the bomb could not have been put aboard in Italy. This of course raises an even more important issue; if Dirk Carlson didn’t try to blow Trevor up, somebody else did. I’d like to find out who – in fact, that’s one of the things Dirk ordered me to do. Is there anything you can tell me that might help?”
“We need to be sure we’re not making things worse for Trev. We were warned to be careful, so we are. We do know some things though, and we’ll help you, if you’ll help Trev,” Lisa said, crossing her arms and giving Henry a suspicious scowl.
Henry found that reply odd, and perhaps scripted. He also noted that Lisa had replied, even though the question was addressed to Joel. “Your friend Bridget has been very helpful to you in all this, hasn’t she?” Henry asked, making sure to keep smiling.
Lisa shook her head. “No, we... can’t discuss this with her. We promised Trev we wouldn’t share anything with anyone who doesn’t need to know. Do you know Bridget?”
“Only by reputation; I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her,” Henry replied, wondering why Lisa would ask that.
Joel glanced at Lisa, deciding that it was time to deal with his own theory that Jim could have found Atlantis’s AIS code while in Italy. “You’re working for both Jim Ainsworth and Mr. Carlson, right?” Joel asked.
Henry nodded. “That’s correct.”
Joel took a deep breath. He knew he couldn’t tell Henry, not if he worked for Jim. “I saw a lot when I was on Atlantis. I think I know who’s doing this, or at least how it was done. I don’t know you, and I don’t know for sure who you’re working for – or with – but I do know Mr. Carlson. I’ll tell him, no one else. Atlantis had an active radar transponder, which sends out an ID code. Somebody got that code, and I know exactly how they did it. Trev was being tracked, and that’d explain how the pirates knew where to find him.”
Henry couldn’t help it; he blinked in surprise. That was a perfect fit with what Gonzalez had told him just minutes before; the Seychelles police had extracted that news from the wounded pirate: the pirate captain had found Atlantis via her AIS transponder code, after being tipped off by an accomplice in the Seychelles of her departure time and course. And here was Joel, offering up that same information, along with a claim that he knew how it had been obtained. ‘If it was Bridget or George, this’ll nail ‘em. But Joel won’t trust me... he knows I work with Gonzalez, so if he knows George is involved and a cop, he won’t trust Gonzalez or me,’ Henry thought. It was a reasonable conclusion; it just happened to be partially wrong.“Are you certain of that?” Henry asked.
Joel nodded. “Yeah, pretty much. I don’t know for a fact that that’s how the pirates got Trev, but I sure as hell know how somebody probably got Atlantis’s AIS code, and I know who they are. I know more than that, but I’ll only tell Mr. Carlson.”
“Joel, this is important, Trevor’s life could still be at risk. I need to know: how did you find this out, and who is doing it?” Henry asked.
Joel shook his head and crossed his arms. “The AIS stuff is gone, so he can’t do it again. I’ll tell Mr. Carlson – alone, no one else can be with him.”
Henry stifled his reaction. ‘He... that probably means George Alfred, and Joel likely does not know he’s working with Bridget.But how the hell would George get that code, and how would Joel know?’ Henry wondered. He was now almost certain: Lisa and Joel were not willing accomplices of Bridget, though they were likely under her influence and thus subject to her manipulations. That, Henry knew, meant that whatever he said to Lisa and Joel could well reach her ears, which put him in a nasty bind: it closed off a lot of questions he needed to ask. “I’ll do what I can to set up a meeting as soon as possible,” he replied, wishing there was some other way. After a moment’s thought, he added a warning, “Make sure you don’t tell anyone what you know, because you could well put your own lives at risk. Even if it’s someone you trust; say nothing, because you could well be putting your life in their hands, and even an accidental slip could spell disaster.”
Lisa arched an eyebrow. “Who do you think is doing this?” she asked.
Henry shook his head. “We have hunches, nothing more. I’m not at liberty to discuss any of that, but it would help a great deal if Joel would tell me what he knows.”
Joel chewed on his lip for a moment, and then said, “Mr. Carlson promised Trev that he’d emancipate him once he passed the halfway point in his circumnavigation. Australia is past the halfway point. So, we wanted to talk to him about that and some other stuff he needs to know – get him to bring the emancipation papers with him to the meeting.”
Henry was tempted to use that to bargain for Joel’s information, but he didn’t think Joel would go for it, so opted to build trust instead. He picked up the folder he’d left on the counter and handed it to Joel. “I can do a lot better than that. These are emancipation papers for Trevor, signed and dated. Dirk sent them to me, with a note asking me to give them to you. All we ask is for you to get them to Trevor. This way, you don’t need to share his location, just get him the papers. They make Trevor legally an adult.”
Joel opened the folder and looked, blinking in surprise. He handed the folder to Lisa and replied, “Uh, thanks. Does he need these right away, or can it wait? We’re going to meet him in Tasmania for Christmas. We could give them to him then.”
“That would be fine. However... for Trevor’s sake, you shouldn’t tell anyone – no exceptions – where he is or where he’ll be. Have you told anyone at all about Tasmania?” Henry asked, watching their expressions carefully.
“It just slipped out, but no, we haven’t told anyone else, no one at all. Trev made us promise not to,” Joel replied, pleased that his words were literally true.
Henry nodded. “Okay, just... be more careful.”
Lisa glanced pointedly around the chandlery. “Trevor needs a lot of things for his boat. That’s another reason why we need to see Mr. Carlson; so we can ask him for some things from here to take to Trev.”
“I’ll see what I can do. When are you leaving for Australia?”
“December 22nd,” Lisa replied. It was actually the 21st, but she wasn’t comfortable being that precise with Henry.
“I’ll see what I can do to set it up before then,” Henry said, wondering if he should. He decided to go as far as he dared with warning Lisa and Joel. “The best way you can help Trevor, for now, is by keeping everything, and I do mean everything, about his present and future location a secret. Anyone you tell might gossip, and word might get to the wrong ears, so telling anyone puts his life at risk.” Henry wasn’t happy with the way the meeting was going. He was now certain that they weren’t willing accomplices of Bridget’s, but he was sure they trusted Bridget more than they trusted him. He needed to find a way to break their trust in her, but that, he knew, would take time. He wished he could fish for information on George, but he judged the risk too high.
Lisa and Joel nodded, and Lisa replied, “We’re being very careful.”
“Can I call you in a few days, when I have things set up?” Henry asked casually.
“I’ll write down my number,” Joel said, and quickly wrote his cell number on a scrap of paper, which he handed to Henry.
“Thanks for meeting with me, and I’ll do what I can,” Henry said, letting Lisa and Joel out the door.
They walked in silence for nearly a hundred feet, and then Joel glanced back at the chandlery. “That was weird. It didn’t go at all like I’d thought.”
“Yeah, and we didn’t get much of anything out of him that’ll help us investigate,” Lisa replied, frowning.
“He sure didn’t want to say much, but he did want to know what we know. Then he just up and handed us the emancipation papers, didn’t even ask for a trade. He’s working for both Trev’s dad and Jim Ainsworth, so we can’t trust him. I don’t know what to think anymore; could Trev’s dad be involved? We’ve got guesses and a few facts, but we don’t really know. I think... we have to go through with the meeting and let Trev’s dad know that Jim probably got the AIS code. We’ve got to tell somebody... and maybe telling Trev’s dad will tell us whether he’s involved.”
Lisa gave Joel a thoughtful look. “You mean watch his reaction? Yeah... that could work. If he gets suspicious of Jim, that’d be normal if he doesn’t really know. I just wish we could have gotten more. We still don’t have any idea why a lawyer would want to kill Trev. This isn’t going at all like I’d thought; I’d hoped it would be easier. Okay, next question: if we do get a meeting with Trev’s dad and figure out he’s guilty, then what?”
Joel shrugged. “I don’t know... go to Officer Gonzalez maybe, or better yet some other cop. Tell him what we know about Jim and the AIS and let him sort it out... or maybe not; I’d want to talk to Trev first.”
Lisa glanced in the folder she was carrying. “At least we got this... huh, it’s post-dated: December 17th.”
Joel glanced at the emancipation documents. “That’s strange, but maybe that’s how it’s done? Let’s go back to the guesthouse; we can look these over and do some Internet searches.”
As soon as the chandlery door closed, Henry unlocked the storage room door and said, “They’re gone.” When Officer Gonzalez came out, Henry added, “That was sure as hell interesting. Who, besides you, knows what the Seychelles cops found out about the AIS?”
Gonzalez shook his head. “No one, unless they’ve got a source in the Seychelles, and I asked the cops there to keep it under wraps. I haven’t had a chance to write it up yet, either. I don’t see how Joel could have found out, so my read on this is he knows something. Joel is pretty observant; he remembered enough to help us on the propane tank issue. So yeah, I can believe he knows something, and that something has to do with George Alfred. If we can tie him to the AIS code, we’ve got the bastard.”
“I agree. I also think Bridget has Lisa and Joel under her spell, at least to a degree. I don’t think they’re intentionally doing her bidding, but we can’t trust them to keep things from her. I just hope they take my advice and don’t tell her about the AIS, because that could put them in grave danger,” Henry said.
Gonzalez nodded. “I screwed up the other day, when I let slip that I’d told you about the attack on the Carlson kid. They don’t trust me and they don’t trust you. They may, or may not, still trust Bridget. I’m guessing the latter. You’ve never met her, but I have; she is as crafty and manipulative as hell. I’ll bet they don’t know that she and George are working together, and she probably has them mistrusting every cop in the state. We need to know what Joel knows, and the sooner, the better.”
“Could he have gone to the Mediterranean while Joel was there?” Henry asked.
“I called in a few favors when I started looking into him. There’s no record of him being out of the country at all, but he could be traveling on a false passport, I guess. There are plenty of gaps in his schedule that are long enough for him to make a fast trip to Europe. So it’s possible, but I’ve seen no hint that he did. If he did and Joel saw him, we’ve got the bastard stone cold,” Gonzalez replied.
“And that would defeat most of the charges against my clients. We’ve got to get that info from Joel.”
“So, are you going to set up a meeting with Dirk?” Gonzalez asked, with a sly smile.
“Assuming I can get in touch with him... maybe. It’d take a while to make it happen though, because it’ll have to wait until he comes back from his trip,” Henry said, still needing to conceal the fact that Jim and Dirk had never left the state.
“What about my videoconferencing interview with them... got a firm date for that yet?” Gonzalez asked.
Henry nodded. “Yeah, but first there’s the issue of that agreement, granting immunity from any form of evading arrest or being a fugitive. And that has to be in writing.”
Gonzalez nodded. “I’m almost ready to bring the State Attorney into the loop on this, and I’ll do what I can on the immunity when I do, and I think I’ll get it. Anyway, I’ll go see him as soon as I hear from Trevor. Without his verification on the bomb stuff, what we have is probably too weak to ask for much. I’ll give the State Attorney everything we have. I was hoping we’d get something from Lisa and Joel, and it sounded like maybe we did. I do need to know the approximate date for the interview; I can’t ask for anything open-ended.”
“December 17th,” Henry replied.
Gonzalez nodded in acknowledgment, mildly surprised that Henry would give him an exact date. “We need hard evidence against Bridget and George and we need it soon.”
Henry grunted, trying to make up his mind. “We need to know what Joel knows, and we need it fast. He doesn’t have to answer my questions, but he does yours. Maybe if you leaned on him a bit?”
Gonzalez scratched his chin, taking a moment to think. “Yeah, but he’s damn near as stubborn as his girlfriend so we might get nothing, and trying that might push him into doing something stupid. Let’s hold that option in reserve for right now... ah, maybe there’s a way: they’re going to Australia. I’ll bet they’d hate it if anything put their trip at risk. That’s leverage I can probably use. He tells us what he knows or the trip is canceled via a subpoena. Or... if it’s just us and my department Joel doesn’t trust, I could take him with me to see the State Attorney and have them meet in private. Joel would have no good reason not to tell him, and even a shred of evidence against George would help convince the State Attorney that we’re onto something solid.”
Henry thought the idea through for a few moments. “Yeah... that could work. I’ll help any way I can,” he said, and then moved on to address another topic. “In the meantime, I think we need to find out about Bridget’s activities. I have a few ideas on that, and hope to get trackers, and maybe more, on Bridget’s car and that boat in the next few days. Don’t ask how.”
Gonzalez chewed on his lip. “Good, that’ll help. I just wish we could plant one on George as well, but that’s riskier.”
Henry smirked. “Oh, I don’t know about that. What about getting a rim and tire to match the ones on his car, and putting a tracker inside the tire. Then, just act like I’m changing a tire while he’s parked somewhere.”
Gonzalez shook his head. “Too dangerous. He keeps it garaged when he’s home so finding a place you could pull that off would be hard: it’d look too much like you were just stealing rims–” Gonzalez stopped talking when he noticed that Henry was grinning.
“Yeah, but who would be nuts enough to rip off a car in the police department parking lot? I got the tire and rim specs Wednesday, picked up a matching rim and used tire, and did the swap this morning, smooth as silk. I was in and out in a couple of minutes, and the tracker is working,” Henry said, with a confident smile.
Gonzalez laughed and rolled his eyes. “Good thinking, just be damn careful. I hope nobody saw you. And by the way, you’re trusting me to have a bad memory; technically, you just admitted to theft.”
Henry chuckled and shrugged. “What theft? I was just being a Good Samaritan and fixing the flat tire George was about to have. And, as far as I know, I wasn’t noticed. It’s good gear too; GPS is passive, so there’s no transmissions from that. The tracker logs the vehicle track and only transmits – in a high-speed burst – when it receives a coded interrogation signal. A bug sweep won’t pick it up unless it’s sending, and it only does that for about two seconds. The battery should last about a month; I built it for putting inside tires, so a motion sensor keeps the GPS power off unless the vehicle is moving. I even put a small weight on the opposite side, so his tire is well-balanced,” Henry said, feeling proud of his handiwork.
Gonzalez nodded approvingly. “That’s a lot better gear than the department has.”
“I’m available for hire,” Henry replied, unable to resist the dig.
Gonzalez chuckled. “I’m sure we’ll keep that in mind.”
It was a spectacular day on Denham Sound; almost windless – an unusual condition for the region, and a fact Trevor would have hated, except for the fact that they wouldn’t be using the sails at all that day.
Kookaburra was anchored off the entrance to Boat Haven Loop; a long, north-south series of winding narrow channels in uninhabited country, renowned for its beaches, snorkeling, diving, and wildlife.
The plan called for them to reach the shallowest points just before that afternoon’s high tide, but they’d decided to start early and take their time.
It was ten in the morning, and Trevor was feeling fine after another of Shane’s great breakfasts. “Hey, we’ll be running on engines so this would be a great time to do laundry,” Trevor suggested. On Kookaburra, like Atlantis, the washing machine drew too many amps to run without a generator or the engines to provide electrical power.
“This means me doing the laundry, doesn’t it?” Shane replied, with a mock scowl.
Trevor snickered and shrugged. “Suit yourself... the other way is I do the laundry and you con Kookaburra through the narrow channels.”
Shane shook his head; they both knew he couldn’t handle her when precision was required. “I guess I’ll do the laundry, you slave-driving bastard. Get your stuff together. If we’ve any whites, I’ll have to do them in a separate load; even the towels are colored.”
Trevor stopped to think. “I don’t think I do. I don’t have much anyway; just the shorts and T’s I got in Carnarvon.”
Shane nodded. “Mainly I’ve got boardies and cutoffs, but I need to wash my T and my polo shirt, plus my Levis,” Shane said, heading for his cabin.
Trevor went to his own cabin, where he snatched up his towels and laundry bag. He glanced down at the shorts he was wearing – he’d rinsed them out, but it was still the third time he’d worn them – and wished he had something clean to wear so they could be washed as well. He did have speedos and toyed with that idea for a moment, before remembering the running shorts he’d bought in Denham. He quickly changed and tossed his boardies into the laundry bag.
Trevor padded out into the galley, to find Shane already stuffing clothes into the washing machine, wearing just the blue running shorts from Denham. Trevor froze in his tracks, taking in the sight, which he found intensely distracting. Belatedly, he looked up to find Shane looking back at him.
“Don’t just stand there gaping, toss your gear in,” Shane said, snickering. He pointed at Trevor’s running shorts and laughed. “This is either a case of great minds think alike, or fools never differ,” he added, and then turned to get the detergent bottle out of the cabinet.
“Yeah, might as well get everything that’s dirty clean,” Trevor replied, trying to think of some excuse for being caught staring. Nothing came to mind, so he got to work loading his clothes in the washing machine. “This is a combined washer-dryer, like I had on Atlantis. This one looks a lot newer, though.”
Shane watched as Trevor loaded the washer. “Yeah, probably got it in the refit,” Shane said absently, setting the unopened detergent bottle down on the galley counter.
Trevor padded out to the cockpit, raised the daggerboards – standard practice when running in shallow waters – and fired up the engines, while Shane started the washer and then dashed to the bows. Trevor let out the stern anchor line and advanced the throttles slightly, moving Kookaburra a few yards forward so Shane could bring in the anchors. Trevor, who had donned his sunglasses, relaxed at the helm, very much enjoying watching Shane’s rippling torso and legs as he raised the forward anchors. ‘Damn, he looks hot in those blue shorts,’ Trevor thought, while neglecting what he was supposed to be doing.
When Shane returned to the cockpit, he glanced astern, and then at Trevor, who was standing at the port helm. “Ready to get underway?” he asked, giving Trevor an amused look.
Shaking himself out of his Shane-induced distraction, Trevor nodded and advanced the throttles to their lowest setting, intending to motor over the shallow sill at the mouth of Boat Haven Loop at three knots. It took Trevor a few moments to notice that Kookaburra wasn’t moving.
“Are you forgetting something, or are you intending to drag the bottom of Denham Sound into Boat Haven Loop?” Shane asked, pointing at the stern anchor lines and laughing.
“Shit,” Trevor mumbled, reversing the engines and backing Kookaburra down so he could pull in the stern anchors.
Shane nodded somberly while Trevor hoisted the anchor. “I’m worried about you. It’s not normal to be so distracted and clumsy,” Shane said, shaking his head slowly. “Maybe you need to see a doctor?” he added, carefully keeping his expression neutral.
“I’m fine, I just forgot,” Trevor replied, his cheeks burning, and feeling very ill at ease. ‘Even if he’ll be okay with me liking guys, he sure as hell won’t like it if he finds out why I’ve been such a damn klutz.’ Trevor thought, chiding himself again.
“A menace on the high seas, that’s what you are!” Shane quipped, moving to stand next to Trevor at the helm. Shane pointed ahead, “After the sill, you’ll be in a broad channel through the shallows. It’s about two hundred meters wide.”
Trevor pointed ahead at a darker area of water. “I see it. The water is clear, so we’ll have no problem following it.”
“Yeah, until you get distracted by something again,” Shane quipped, giving Trevor a playful nudge in the ribs with his elbow. “The channel winds about a good bit, like a river. It sort of is; it’s cut by tidal flows. Stay in the main channel for about seven kilometers. After that, it opens out into a broader area of deep water called Carrarang Inlet.”
Trevor adjusted the throttles, holding Kookaburra at four knots in the broad channel.
Trevor and Shane bantered back and forth as Kookaburra cruised south, with Shane pointing out various islands and beaches along the way.
Trevor nodded at the wheel in his hands. “Want to have a go conning her? It’s pretty easy here; the channel is wide and the current isn’t too strong.”
Shane shook his head. “Only if you want a break. I’m fine with her in open water, but conning Kookaburra in a place like this isn’t high on my list of things to try.”
Trevor gave Shane a curious look. “That’s one way you and Joel are really different; he loves being at the helm whenever he can. I’m pretty much the same way; I love being at the helm.”
Shane shrugged and chuckled. “Steering something the size of a building just isn’t my thing. I can manage a small powerboat just fine, but Kookaburra? Nope... you can’t just react; you’ve got to think ahead, especially in confined waters like where we’re heading. Mr. Blake had me have a go a few times so I can do it in an emergency, but it’s not something I’d do for fun. I love crewing, but I prefer to leave the captaining to those who like it.”
Even though Shane’s preferences were alien to Trevor, he could understand them. He smiled and nodded, and then asked, “How about taking over for a couple of minutes, while I use the head and get us some coffee?”
“That I can do, no problem,” Shane replied, taking the wheel. “See? We haven’t crashed yet!” he added, half a second later.
On his way back from his cabin head, Trevor walked into the galley, passing the washing machine on his way to that most critical of shipboard devices: the coffeemaker. He poured two mugs, added milk and sugar, and then turned to check on the washing machine, which was well into its cycle. Absently, Trevor glanced at the bottle of detergent on the counter, noticing something odd: the seal on the bottle was unbroken. Trevor blinked, and then a sly smile crept into his face.
Coffees in hand, Trevor headed for the cockpit, where he handed Shane a mug.
“You’ve got her,” Shane replied, turning over the helm to Trevor. “I pulled the throttles back to minimum to slow us down. I think we’re picking up a following current from the rising tide; the speed readout from the GPS doesn’t match the boat’s knotmeter... and I felt safer going slower.”
Trevor advanced the throttles slightly. “Yeah, the current is picking up. Looks like about three knots’ worth.” Trevor tried to keep from smiling as he asked offhandedly, “I’m curious about that detergent you used in the washing machine; how’d you manage to get it out of the bottle without breaking the seal?”
Shane’s face went blank for a moment. “Oh for fuck sake!” he muttered, setting his coffee down and dashing inside.
A few minutes later, Shane reappeared, looking bashful. “I restarted it.”
It was payback time. Trevor nodded somberly at Shane. “I’m worried about you. It’s not normal to be so distracted and clumsy,” Trevor said, echoing Shane’s words from earlier and shaking his head slowly. “Maybe you need to see a doctor?” he added, and then began to snicker.
“Bloody wiseass bastard!” Shane muttered, and then chuckled before adding, “I did remember to add the detergent this time. At least our stuff will be very clean.”
“A menace on the high seas, that’s what you are!” Trevor quipped, just as Shane had done to him.
Shane laughed and flipped Trevor off. “We’ll be entering Carrarang Inlet soon. In the main season there are usually a few boats about, but I don’t expect any this time of year.”
They took their time motoring through the broad reach of Carrarang Inlet. Halfway through, Trevor angled for shallower waters near shore, keeping an eye on the depth gauge and then dashing to the side to visually check the depth. He returned to the helm and returned Kookaburra to deeper waters. “I was trying to get a feel for the depth gauge. Atlantis’s sonar pucks are mounted well forward under the bows and calibrated to the bottom of the hull, so her depth gauge reads the depth under the deepest point of the hulls, which is a foot and a half deeper than under the bows. Looks like Kookaburra’s does the same. Any idea how accurate it is?”
“Not a clue, mate. All I can tell you is that Mr. Blake curses at it every time he runs aground.”
“Happens a lot, does it?” Trevor said, chuckling.
Shane grinned and shrugged. “A few times. Don’t tell him I told you that; he’s a little sensitive about it.”
“There are two kinds of captains; those that have run aground, and those who won’t admit it,” Trevor quipped.
The banter went on as they cruised southwards, and then angled southeast.
As Kookaburra approached the southern end of Carrarang Inlet, he scanned the waters ahead, seeing a distant waterway: the continuation of Boat Haven Loop. He checked the time. “We’re about an hour short of high tide, but it still looks pretty damn shallow ahead,” he said.
Shane looked ahead, and then glanced around for landmarks. “I think we’re close to a channel. There’s a sill here, but, if you head south over it, you’ll find a narrow channel in about half a klick.”
Trevor nodded, easing Kookaburra into the shallows at three knots. Every so often, he dashed to the side to look down. “We’re in about seven feet of water with a sandy bottom. That gives us three feet under the hulls. We’ll go through at three knots, unless it gets shallower.”
Kookaburra motored south, with Trevor keeping a close eye on the color of the water ahead; lighter shades of blue meant shallower water.
They reached the channel Shane had mentioned, and Trevor said, “This is a lot narrower, about sixty feet. Looks like we’ve got fifteen feet of water in the channel and about five feet out of it, but in places it’s a lot shallower than that,” he said, pointing to a streak or very light blue water to starboard: a barely-submerged sandbar.
Shane nodded. “Yeah, but the channel will open out a little as we go. It’s also going to zigzag a lot as we get close to the islands ahead; it’s only about three hundred meters from shore to shore, but in there the channel is nearly that wide itself so it should be easy. We’ll pass a large island on the left, and then there will be a little one on the right. As we pass that, look to the right and you’ll see a narrow entrance to what looks like a big lake. It’s a saltwater lagoon, a big one. It’s called ‘Rhys Lagoon’ and it’s where we often take charters. If there’s other boats there, I know a ton of other spots to go, but usually we’ve had the lagoon all to ourselves. We can hang out there for a few days; it has some awesome beaches, great snorkeling, and the water is always warm.”
“Sounds perfect,” Trevor replied, arching a suspicious brow and looking at Shane. “It’s called Rhys Lagoon?”
Shane smirked and tapped at it on the nav screen. “I’ve never seen it named on a chart or map, and it’s such a great place, I figured it needs a great name.”
“So you gave it your last name,” Trevor said, rolling his eyes and laughing. “Does anyone but you call it that?”
“Not yet, though it’s not been for want of trying on my part – I think I’m getting close with Mr. Blake, though,” Shane replied, chuckling.
When they reached the small island, Shane said, “There it is, you have to leave the channel here. Turn right.”
Trevor looked askance at the shallow waters, and then checked the time. “We’re about half an hour before the peak of the tide. I want to go through while it’s still rising. How is it further in?” he asked, already angling to starboard.
Shane pointed ahead. “See the narrows? That’s the mouth proper. Once we get there, it’s a bit deeper on the north side, but the sandbars shift around a lot so maybe not. Past the narrows it gets deeper for a few hundred meters, and then we’re in deep water; the central area of Rhys Lagoon is ten meters or more.”
Trevor looked ahead at the narrows, which he judged to be about a thousand feet wide. It was the area before there that concerned him, as he turned Kookaburra to starboard.
“Is this the route Mr. Blake takes?” Trevor asked, while making sure the nav system was logging the route.
Shane looked around at the low, brown hills bordering the waterway. “I think so. Right about now is when he starts sweating and cursing.”
Trevor rolled his eyes and chuckled. “Now you tell me.” In a more serious tone he added, “It looks even shallower dead ahead. Do me a favor and stand on the starboard bow. You’ll be able to look down and see how much the bows are clearing the bottom–”
Shane interrupted Trevor to say, “Yeah, Mr. Blake had me do that before. I can give hand signals for left or right to guide you.” Shane dashed for the bow. When he reached it, he called back, “Looks like you’ve about eighty centimeters under the bows.”
“Any chance you could call it out in inches or feet?” Trevor asked.
Shane turned towards Trevor and shook his head, shouting, “Sorry mate, I don’t know ‘em well enough to gauge it right: I’d probably be off by a lot. I can try if you need me to, though.”
Trevor shook his head. “Thanks, but I’ll manage.”
“When you run us aground it’ll be easier, because then the depth under the hull is zero in both systems,” Shane replied.
Trevor chuckled and shook his head. He was used to working with numbers, but had to think about the measurements. He had a knowledge of the Metric system, but it wasn’t something he used often enough to give him the ability to visualize a distance in centimeters, much the same as Shane couldn’t in feet or inches. ‘Meters are easy; they’re about three inches over three feet, so a meter is a yard and a bit. A hundred centimeters in a meter, and there are just over two and a half centimeters to an inch... so eighty centimeters would be... half of eighty is forty, then knock off a fourth... so maybe thirty inches under the bows, which gives us a foot under the central hulls,’ Trevor thought, dashing to the side to look down and confirm it. Another rule of thumb he knew was that sixty centimeters is roughly two feet. Trevor’s methods of estimating weren’t all that accurate a way to convert distances but it was close enough and fast, which made it ideal under the circumstances.
Trevor studied the water ahead and began pulsing the engines – cycling them from idle to minimum throttle – to reduce speed to just under two knots. As Kookaburra neared the narrows, the current began to increase. Trevor pulled the throttles back to idle and began pulsing the engines individually when he needed to change heading.
At the mouth of the narrows, Shane suddenly waved and pointed to starboard. “Go right, sandbar ahead!”
Trevor advanced the port throttle, turning Kookaburra and calling out, “How much under the bows?”
“Sixty to seventy centimeters, but there’s ridges and bumps in the sand,” Shane replied.
Trevor clenched his jaw slightly as he did his mental conversion. ‘Six inches under the lowest point of the hulls, maybe,’ he thought, again dashing to the side and leaned over, only to see the rippled white sandy bottom passing about five inches under the port hull.
Trevor wasn’t too concerned. Grounding at slow speed on a soft sand bottom was not likely to be a problem, especially with the tide still having a few inches to rise. However, he didn’t want to risk getting stuck at the peak of the high tide, so time was still a factor.
After a few minutes, they were in the narrows. Shane’s guidance had them close to the northern shore, and the water ahead was slightly darker.
“At least a meter under the bows, and I think we’re past the worst of the shallows if you keep heading northwest,” Shane called out. A couple of minutes later, they were sure, and Shane returned to the cockpit.
Trevor advanced both throttles to minimum, causing Kookaburra to accelerate to three knots. “I wouldn’t want to try that at the peak of the tide; get stuck fast then and there’s no higher water coming to get you off,” Trevor said, looking around at the spectacular lagoon.
Shane chuckled. “Yeah, not being able to get off would be bad. That’s the first time in a while that Kookaburra’s gone through without brushing the bottom,” Shane said, and then pointed ahead at the middle of the lagoon’s western shore. “There’s a bar off that point, but closer in there’s deeper water. We can anchor just a few yards from the beach.”
Trevor nodded, looking ahead at the pristine beaches shining in the sun. “This is an awesome place.”
“Now you can see why I named it after me,” Shane said, smirking. “Take a cruise around the shores, check it out.”
Trevor kept well offshore to remain in deep water, and they followed the shore around Rhys Lagoon. The lagoon was roughly oval; a mile and a half long from north to south, and three-quarters of a mile wide. Ringed almost entirely by low hills, it was an island of sea in an ocean of land. It was, Trevor agreed, an ideal spot, and they had it all to themselves.
As the sun neared the horizon, they anchored Kookaburra off the point – which Shane had named Rhys Point. It was time to get the laundry out and folded, which went quickly due to the small amount.
Shane glanced at the beach, seeing white sand and a few spindly, gnarled trees beyond. “Tonight, how about a real Aussie beach cookout, over a campfire?” Shane asked, opening the refrigerator and then the freezer, searching for some meat they’d bought in Denham. He found it in the refrigerator, which meant no need to defrost it. Smiling to himself, he glanced at the two bunches of carrots as he pulled the meat out so he could marinate it.
“Sounds great!” Trevor declared. With Kookaburra safely at anchor, Trevor took advantage of the open refrigerator to grab them an ice-cold beer each.
Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent.
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Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice.