On Tuesday morning, Greg Fowler donned his uniform, even though it was his day off. He knew he had to do something, but had only a vague notion as to what.
After being delayed by a call from Officer Gonzalez, Fowler drove directly to Carnarvon’s small jail. He didn’t like what he was about to do, but could see no other options.
He signed in with the jailer, and made his simple request. “I want to talk to Jason Kline – alone.”
After a short chat with the jailor to confirm his requirement, Fowler took a seat, alone in the tiny interview room. A few minutes later, the jailer delivered Kline, seating him across a small bare table from Fowler, and shut the door on his way out. Fowler and Kline glared at each other for several moments.
“I’m not talking to you without my lawyer,” Kline said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms.
Fowler shrugged, and then drummed his fingers on the table’s old linoleum, a slow, steady sound, which was the only one in the room for several seconds. “I think you will, when you hear what I have to say. You’ll be out of here in few hours, we both know it. However, we’ve got you cold on fraud and criminal trespass, as I’m sure your lawyer has informed you. You’re looking at some hefty lawyer’s fees and fines, and some possible jail time. You’ll have the expense of having to return here for hearings, any trial, and sentencing. We’ll also be keeping your laptop and camera for a while, as evidence. Plus, the convictions will remain on your record. I’m here to offer you a way out.”
Kline gave Fowler an appraising look. “Interesting that it’s you and not the prosecutor, if you’re offering me a plea deal.”
Fowler smiled coldly. “He’s not aware that I’m here, though I’ll be informing him shortly. I’m here as one man offering a bargain with another. I arrange for the charges to be dismissed. In return, you leave Carnarvon and don’t come back, and leave Trevor Carlson alone.”
“No deal. That story is worth more to me than a couple of minor charges,” Kline replied. “However, I’m always willing to compromise. Mind telling me why you and the rest of the Customs Service are so interested in hiding the kid?”
“You know damn well why, or at least I think you must, seeing as how you know his name. I’m sure you’ve done a cursory search and know what the situation is in Florida, and that the pirate attack is the second time someone has tried to kill him. To state the obvious, we don’t want a third.”
Kline nodded. “Yes, I know about that, including that his father is charged with two murders, and an attempted murder of Trevor. The last I heard, he was still at large. However, my job is reporting, and what Trevor accomplished was an incredible feat, based on what little I know of it. Call it what you will; the public’s right to know, greed, whatever, but my job is to report. It’s what I do, and I’m freelance: if I don’t have stories, I don’t eat. I’ve already invested quite a bit of my time and money in this story and I won’t let it go, not just to escape some minor charges.”
Fowler clenched his fists, but replied calmly, “How about just delaying for a while, until he’s out of the area?”
Kline shook his head. “No can do. Now that the word is out thanks to the SOS message that was found, I have to go to press fast or lose the exclusive.”
“How can you condone putting a teenager’s life at risk?” Fowler demanded.
Kline shrugged. “I do my job and that’s that. It’s a moot point now anyway; the story is coming out, regardless of who breaks it. Doesn’t matter if it’s me or somebody else, but I intend to make sure it’s me.”
Fowler glared at Kline for a few long moments. Finally, he said in frustration, “But you know things they probably don’t: the name and description of the boat he’s currently on, and that his own boat is here. Revealing those things puts his life on the line, if any killers are still hunting him. Why the hell does reporting a story mean you have to put an innocent life at risk? Tell me that, and while you’re at it, explain it to your readers, because I’ll be asking that question loudly and often.”
“I’m just doing my job. It’s regrettable that this might put the kid at risk, but I have to go to press on this, and if not me, some other reporter will, guaranteed, now that word is out. I was here when you helped pull the wool over the eyes of the TV journos from Perth. Magnificent roll job, and I enjoyed seeing the TV air-heads made fools of, so thank you for that. They’ll be up here in a day or two if they aren’t already, and they aren’t getting my scoop. I already have enough to go to press, and I’m not working alone. I’d like more, but beggars can’t be choosers, and the bits about the boats are the only real exclusives I’ve got left. I have pictures of Atlantis – and so do people I’m working with – which no one else has. I need those things for the story, because without them, what I’ve got is thin.”
Fowler eased back in his chair, studying Kline. “Regrettable. That’s not the word I’d choose for putting an innocent life in the crosshairs. So tell me, if you could have your story, but do so without putting Trevor in danger, would you?”
Kline angled his head, genuinely surprised. “Of course, I’m a reporter, not a psychopath, but it’s a moot point: the word is out that the kid is alive and in Australia, and he’s been seen in Carnarvon.”
Fowler was silent for a few moments, thinking of how best to play the few cards he had. “Okay, let’s say I believe you on that. The story you’re after is the pirate attack and the voyage here, right? What if you could have that, all of it – and it’s one hell of a tale, far more than you know – but nothing about Trevor’s whereabouts or where he’ll be? Would you make that trade?”
“One thing I can’t do is lie to my readers. However… yes, I have, on occasion, left a few minor facts out when it’s in the interests of getting the story, such as information about a source. My job is to report the story and do what’s needed to get it.”
Fowler gave Kline a single slight nod. “So, what if I could get you the whole story, via an interview with Trevor? However, in return, you help by keeping his current whereabouts and future whereabouts secret, and help us send the other reporters that are on their way off on a wild goose chase or two. You’d be helping to save a life, and you’d get a story your readers won’t soon forget. I’ll give you a freebie; you’ve seen his boat, so you know she’s a wreck. Shot up and stripped. They got the sails, too. Trevor was under jury rig, made from bed sheets, wood, whatever he could cobble together. I’m betting you don’t know how far he got before he was rescued, right?” Kline replied with a puzzled nod, and Fowler added, “Carnarvon, as good as. He made it all the way up from the Southern Ocean, and got himself into Shark Bay unassisted. He was intercepted by a customs patrol boat about forty kilometers from Carnarvon. On the course he was on, he’d have ended up on a safe shore within a few miles of Carnarvon, if not the town itself. So, he made it on his own, all the way from near the Seychelles to here. There’s a ton you don’t know, like how he got into Shark Bay, which is a hell of a thing in itself.”
Kline knew that Fowler was tying to hook him, but he didn’t much care; the bait was just too alluring. “Give me what you say, and I’ve no reason to disclose things that might put him at risk, and plenty not to. Let me be clear; I won’t lie in my story. I can’t: if word got out that I had lied in a story, my career would be over. However, if Trevor tells me he’s going to be in some port, and I report it as a quote, that’s not a lie, assuming I don’t know for an absolute fact that it’s false. The name of the boat he’s on, Kookaburra, is not something I’d feel compelled to report, under these circumstances.”
Fowler was feeling optimistic but cautious. He also realized that he didn’t know how to proceed. “So, if we cut a deal, how can I trust you to keep your end?” Fowler asked.
Kline smiled. “That’s the easy part; you trust me to act in my own self-interest. Give me what you say and I don’t need the parts of the story you object to. Were I to put them in anyway, you’d be in a position to embarrass me professionally. However, what it boils down to is, I get a lot more working with you than against you. It’s a big win for me, and there’d be no upside in crossing you.”
Fowler was suspicious, but he could see Kline’s point. “I like having some guarantees. When I get my car fixed, I don’t settle the bill until it’s done. That’s my guarantee. So in this case, if I can put this together, you’ll have what you want, but we can leave a few juicy bits out for a later follow-up. For example, how about an interview with the customs crew who intercepted Atlantis off Carnarvon, and the details of how he knew to be there? That’d make a good follow-up, for a few weeks later.”
“Think they’d talk to me?” Kline asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Oh, that much I can guarantee,” Fowler said, with a cold smile.
“That confirms it was you, as I’ve heard. Sounds good to me, all of it, though I’d need the follow-up no later than a week after the main story breaks, so it’s not gone cold. If you can put this together, you have a deal. Now, I’ve a request of my own; I’d very much like to report the story of how two kids made fools of that bunch from Perth. If I can make that part of keeping them off Trevor’s tail, are you willing?” Kline asked.
“I don’t see why not, but I won’t agree until I know all the details. Now, as for the charges against you: they’ll disappear in a few weeks, but only if you keep your part of the bargain. You’ll need to plead not guilty at your arraignment for that to work, of course.”
Kline grinned. “Sounds fair to me. So, when do I meet Trevor?”
Fowler shook his head. “He’s not in Carnarvon and I have to get him to agree to this. I think he will, but I can’t speak for him. It’ll take me a couple of days to put this all together.”
“Hold up, that probably won’t work. If somebody else reports some of this first, I’m screwed: a follow-up to an already-reported story won’t sell nearly as well as an exclusive. I can’t take that chance.”
Fowler studied Kline for a moment before replying, “Maybe I can put it together for tomorrow, including showing you something offshore you’ll want to see, but no sooner, it’s just not possible.”
“I’ll wait for tomorrow, but no longer,” Kline replied.
“I’ll give you a call,” Fowler said, getting up out of the chair.
“How? You’ve confiscated my bloody phone,” Kline grumbled.
Fowler shrugged. “Then I’d suggest you wait in your motel room once you’re out. I’ll call you there, within a few hours. I’ll be in touch, and I think we’ve got a deal,” Fowler said, before buzzing for the jailer.
Fowler’s next stop was to see Constable White, whose cooperation he’d need. The two men had known each other for years, so Fowler hoped that the normally straight-laced Constable White would go along. It took some explaining and some soothing, but White warmed to the idea.
After conferring with the police prosecutor, Fowler went to see Ned. After a brief planning session, Fowler called Kookaburra’s satellite phone.
Aboard Kookaburra, Trevor and Shane were enjoying themselves, sitting in the cockpit, Trevor at the helm, as Kookaburra sailed southwest across Shark Bay at twelve knots, heading for the open sea.
Their reverie was interrupted by Fowler’s call. His first question was, “Where are you now?”
“Forty miles southwest of Carnarvon, five miles east of the southern tip of Dorre Island, on course to Cape Inscription,” Trevor replied, concerned by Fowler’s urgent tone. He waved for Shane to listen in.
“I think we might have a way out of the press problem…” Fowler said, going on to explain the plan in detail. It took ten minutes and a few exchanges of questions.
After Fowler finished, Trevor and Shane shared a look. Trevor put his hand over the phone and whispered to Shane, “What do you think?”
Share shrugged. “What I don’t see is how it could make it worse, and it might actually work, so I think you should go for it.”
Trevor took a deep breath, and told Fowler, “Sounds good to us. Thanks for setting this up, I know it must’ve been hard.”
“No worries. It’s a first for me; I’ve never made a deal with the devil before. Okay, keep your sat phone on in case we need to get in touch. Looks like we’re a go for ten in the morning, so anchor Kookaburra close in at White Cove. Dorre Island is long and skinny, but about a third of the way up from the south end it forms a wasp’s waist, and that’s the cove. White Beach is on it, you can’t miss it; it’s a big white sand beach, the only one in the area. Anchor as far into the cove as you can; the red cliffs along that shore will help conceal Kookaburra. In the morning, go in the Zodiac. Take the sat phone with you, just in case. Meet Ned at Disaster Cove – which is just a few dozen meters south of the strait you came through on Atlantis – by nine, and we’ll meet you there. I’ve checked the forecast; there should be no issues with the weather.”
“Okay, see you then, unless we hear from you first. Thanks,” Trevor said.
After the call, Trevor studied the navigational display. “We might as well head for the anchorage now; there’s not much point going anywhere else first.”
“Sounds good to me. I just wish the rendezvous wasn’t where it is. Disaster Cove isn’t the most promising omen for a plan,” Shane said, looking at the navigation display.
Fowler’s next stop was Kline’s motel room. Fowler knocked once, then again, getting no answer. He was about to call the courthouse when Kline appeared around the corner. “I just stopped off for a meal, to celebrate my freedom. So, any news?” Kline asked, as he approached the door.
They went inside before Fowler answered. “We’ve got a deal. We’ll keep our end if – and only if – you keep yours. We need to meet at eight thirty in the morning.”
“You’re bringing Trevor here?”
“No, I’m taking you to him. He’s agreed. We’re meeting him well offshore, near part of the story you need to see. Meet me at the customs dock and I’ll take you out on the patrol boat. Bring your camera, you’ll want it,” Fowler said.
Kline nodded eagerly, enthralled by what he sensed would make his story a blockbuster.
Fowler got up and headed for the door. “I’ll see you in the morning. Don’t be late.”
“Thanks,” Kline said, as Fowler exited and shut the door behind him. Kline began to make notes. He was so eager for the story that it took over ten minutes for him to remember that his camera was still in evidence lock-up. Kline dashed out, heading for the stores on Robinson Street to find a new one.
At eight on Wednesday morning, Fowler arrived at the customs shack, to find that Grundig had already opened up. “Morning, Craig,” Fowler said, walking in the door. He knew he had some explaining to do, so he sat down and began to tell Grundig what he’d cooked up.
When Fowler finished, Grundig let out a low whistle. “That’s a new one. Anything you want me to do?”
Fowler shook his head. “Thanks, but I’d prefer to take him out alone. I’d like to keep you out of this, as much as possible. Craig… I know you’ve guessed, or at least suspect, that there’s a lot I haven’t told you. It’s… complicated. There are some things I recently learnt that… I can’t say more at the moment, but I will soon.”
Grundig gave Fowler a respectful nod of acknowledgment. “I’ll do my best to keep my curiosity at bay. If you need my help, just ask.”
An awkward silence descended for a while, but soon the two officers, who had been friends and partners for many years, resumed their usual banter, talking about anything other than the issue at hand.
For Trevor and Shane, it was an uneasy morning. They dressed in T-shirts, shorts, and sunglasses, and checked the anchors – they’d anchored Kookaburra by her bows and sterns with four anchors in the poorly sheltered anchorage – and then locked up. They cast off in the Zodiac, Trevor at the helm, heading north at high speed, paralleling the coast of Dorre Island, en route to Disaster Cove at twenty-five knots.
Eight hundred miles southeast of Carnarvon, Barney Fitzroy finished the final bites of a sumptuous breakfast. On Monday, he’d received a single brief message from Jason Kline’s lawyer, letting him know that Kline had been arrested and would soon be released. Fitzroy was not overly concerned; Kline’s transfer of the money had occurred as promised, enacted by phone shortly before his arrest.
Fitzroy had hired a car upon arriving. The one other thing he’d done had been to hire a local boater to take him out to meet Antarctic Star at sea.
With breakfast concluded, he drove to the Bandy Creek Marina, just a couple of miles east of his hotel. The boat he’d hired was a twenty-six foot sport fishing boat, named Marlin, and her owner was not at all averse to some extra cash to help in her upkeep. Fitzroy had sealed the deal the day before, courtesy of a hundred-dollar down payment. When Fitzroy arrived at the berth, the owner, Marty, waved him aboard. “G’day, ready to cast off?” he asked.
Fitzroy nodded. He’d told Marty he was a reporter, working on a story about the fishing fleet, and wanted to meet an inbound fishing boat at sea. “I checked this morning; the Antarctic Star is on schedule. She should approach Charnley and Gull islands from the southwest, pass just south, then round the tip of Gull Island and take the channel north into Esperance. If we take that route in the opposite direction, we should see her.”
Marty didn’t much care if they found her or not; he was being paid two hundred for a morning’s run. He fired up Marlin’s engines, and though they coughed a bit, they were soon purring, and he cast off, taking the channel out of the marina and into Esperance Bay.
Soon after they cleared the breakwater, Marlin began to pitch in the heavy base swell. Fitzroy instantly began to regret that he hadn’t thought of that. “Got any seasickness pills or patches aboard?” he asked.
Marty laughed, shaking his head. “Nope. Just make sure your head’s over the side if you lose it, or I’ll charge you a cleanup fee you won’t soon forget.”
Barney Fitzroy could only nod and grit his teeth, as Marlin plowed through the swells, following the course he’d outlined.
Seven miles out, they rounded the southeast tip of Gull Island and turned southwest, churning along at fifteen knots, as Barney Fitzroy lost his breakfast over the stern.
“Is that her?” Marty asked, pointing at a large boat three miles ahead, as they passed south of Gull Island.
“I think so,” a decidedly green Fitzroy replied.
The two vessels, approaching roughly bow-on, closed the gap rapidly, and soon Fitzroy could see the name ‘Antarctic Star’ on the vessel’s bow. “Bring us around and close to her port side,” he said, reaching for his wallet and then heading for Marlin’s bow.
Marty matched course at six knots, bringing Marlin to within thirty feet of Antarctic Star. From the bow, Fitzroy waved, yelling, “Ahoy, Antarctic Star. I’m Barney Fitzroy, can I come aboard? Your captain knows who I am.”
The captain had watched the powerboat’s arrival from the bridge, and stepped out on deck to reply, “When we spoke, you said you were meeting us dockside.”
“No time for that, unfortunately. There’s a TV crew from Perth waiting at your dock, and I couldn’t risk them seeing this; the sailor, Trevor, needs this kept quiet,” Fitzroy shouted back.
“I’m not launching a boat to get you, not in these seas,” the captain replied.
The flaw in Fitzroy’s plan was the sea state, which made it impossible to bring Marlin alongside. “Captain, I have to do it this way, otherwise we’re risking exposing Trevor’s story to the press, which might put him at risk,” Fitzroy replied.
The captain had managed to confirm, via the satellite phone, that Trevor Carlson was, as Fitzroy had claimed, the victim in at least one other attempt on his life. Therefore, the captain had decided to hand over the SOS message to Fitzroy, having fallen for his lies. There was, however, the matter of what the crew had been promised. “What of that round of drinks you said you’d stand for my crew?” the captain yelled.
Fitzroy opened his wallet and pulled out several fives and twenties, and then held them up in his fist, careful to keep the reddish Australian twenties to the front, where they partially covered the captain’s view of the dull gray fives.
“We’ll cut engines and turn to starboard, you come up close on our lee. We’ll toss you a messenger line, use it to send the cash. Then, we’ll toss you what you’ve come for.”
Fitzroy wasn’t happy; turning over the money first was a big risk, but the sickening seas gave him little choice.
Antarctic Star turned to Starboard, putting her sideways to the seas as she slowed to one knot. Marlin cut throttle, holding station just thirty feet off Antarctic Star’s port side. “That’s as close as I’m getting; she’d crush us like an egg if a swell pushed us together,” Marty said.
The captain decided to handle the matter himself, and took Trevor’s garlic crusher to the port rail. There, he removed the salt jar, to which he’d returned Trevor’s mayday and brief log. He tied one end of a lightweight line to the garlic crusher with a double hitch, and then with a practiced motion whirled it around his head before sending it arcing over to Marlin. It was a near perfect throw, and Fitzroy grabbed the line as it fell across the deck. He quickly reeled in the dripping garlic crusher, and looked at it, not understanding what it was.
The captain shouted, “Pop the end cap off, it’s hollow inside. Put the drink money in and I’ll pull it back.”
Fitzroy nodded, gritting his teeth as he opened the garlic crusher, which was the size of a can of bug spray and hollow for most of its length: a chamber at one end intended to store garlic for the mill at the opposite end. Reluctantly, he stuffed in the fistful of fives, which totaled sixty dollars, and then added two twenties, knowing he was in no position to bicker. He put the cap back on, and held the garlic crusher over the side.
The captain hauled in the line, dragging the garlic crusher aboard. He opened the garlic crusher, and began counting. It was less than he’d hoped for, but more than enough to buy his six-man crew a round, with enough left over to buy himself another book on seabirds for his collection. With a shrug, he returned the salt jar to its place in the garlic crusher, resealed it, and tossed it back.
Fitzroy reeled the garlic crusher in, darkly suspecting that the captain wanted more cash in it.
“Just untie the line, that’s yours now, that’s what the papers were in. They’re inside, just as we found them. Give our regards to Trevor Carlson and let him know that we were happy to help. Don’t forget to let us know how this turns out,” the captain yelled.
Barney struggled with the knot, managing to loosen it enough to free the garlic crusher. He quickly looked inside, tipping the salt jar out to see that it contained papers. Due to the wind, he felt he didn’t dare open it on the exposed bow, so he sealed it in the garlic crusher again, and then tossed the line overboard. “Thanks, Captain! You’ve done a sailor a good turn. G’day,” Barney said, giving Antarctic Star a farewell wave and then returning to Marlin’s cockpit, where he told Marty, “Best speed back to the marina, please.”
Marty looked at him askance, and then stared pointedly at the garlic crusher. “Nothing illegal was part of the deal. That hadn’t better be contraband,” he warned.
Fitzroy smiled, and opened his prize to show Marty the salt jar, with its contents plainly visible through the glass. “Just papers, nothing more. A log of a sailor at sea, for my story.”
Marty nodded his assent, and shoved the throttles forward, accelerating to twenty knots in the following seas, retracing their course from the marina.
Antarctic Star, with her captain back at the helm, resumed her course at a sedate six knots.
As Marlin rounded the tip of Gull Island, Marty spotted the orange hull of the local customs boat, sitting almost motionless off the Esperance docks in calm water. At that range it was just an orange speck, but its presence and distinctive color proved to Fitzroy that meeting Antarctic Star well offshore had been worth the ordeal.
Marlin’s greater speed had her back on the marina before Antarctic Star neared the customs boat, but Fitzroy was taking no chances. He paid Marty the remaining fee while still in the channel and bounded onto the dock as soon as Marlin touched it. He walked fast to his rental car and drove off, eager to be elsewhere before the customs agents found out they were too late.
Fitzroy drove north, towards the airport, which was ten miles out of town. Halfway, he stopped under the shade of a copse of trees and at last examined his prize. He knew there was always a chance that the customs officers would guess his route and have someone at the airport. Taking care, he opened the papers, taking a few minutes to read them. Then, he used his phone’s camera to photograph them, hoping they came out readable. He took a few photos of the garlic crusher too, and e-mailed them all to himself. With that done, he resealed everything and placed the garlic crusher in a box he’d brought along for the purpose. He packed some crumpled up newspaper around the garlic crusher and taped the box shut. He then addressed it to his newspaper’s bureau desk in Perth.
With that task done, he drove north, past the airport, and kept going for a few more miles until he reached the little town of Gibson, which he’d confirmed the day before as having a small post office desk in one of its stores.
Once he had mailed his box, Fitzroy drove to the airport and turned in his car, and then got himself a meal while he waited for his flight to Perth. Two hours later, to both his relief and annoyance, he took off without any interference.
The Customs and Border Protection Service officers in Esperance discovered that they were too late just minutes after boarding Antarctic Star. They soon found out Fitzroy’s name, but they had no legal grounds to put out a warrant for his arrest; as far as they knew, he hadn’t done anything illegal. Still, after a discussion with their headquarters, one officer began calling the city’s few hotels, thinking that if they found Fitzroy, they could seize the garlic crusher and its contents as contraband, because it had come into the country without clearing customs. They found his hotel, and that he’d checked out that morning. By the time someone who knew how to get passenger data called the airline, Fitzroy’s small commuter flight was already approaching the gate at Perth’s Terminal 3.
The customs officers at the airport were stationed at Terminal 1, the international terminal, which is on the opposite side of the airport. By the time one could arrive, Barney Fitzroy, who had no checked baggage, was already getting into a taxi, bound for Perth. Even had they managed to intercept him, it would have made no difference; the garlic crusher was in the mail, and had left the post office in Gibson on the daily delivery to Esperance, where it would be put on a truck to Perth.
Fowler saw Kline approaching, and walked out to meet him beside the customs boat. “G’day,” Fowler said, giving Kline a curt nod.
Kline, new camera in hand, returned the nod. “G’day, Officer Fowler. I trust everything is still set?”
Fowler nodded. “It is. Climb aboard.”
Kline took a seat next to the helm while Fowler cast off. Fowler fired up the engines and motored out into the channel at eight knots, with the diesel engines rumbling. “Your phone is in the customs office. I’ll return that to you when we return, if all goes well. Your computer should be at the local police station by the time we get back, and if things go well, you’ll have it as well.”
“Thanks. I do want this to go well. I hope to have the story ready for editing tonight.”
“I want to see it before you send it in. I meant what I said: no information that’ll put Trevor’s life at risk. That means nothing accurate on future whereabouts, and nothing about his current boat,” Fowler said, as they reached the end of the channel and he rammed the throttles forward, sending the boat surging forward, planing over the calm waters at thirty knots, and he turned south by southwest, on a bearing for Denham.
“Sounds fine to me. I meant what I said; my job is getting the story for my readers, and that means the story of the Seychelles to here in this case. I’ll honor my end of the deal; it’s in my best interests to do so.”
“That’s more true than you know,” Fowler said darkly, giving Kline a withering glance.
Kline ignored the implied threat, and asked, “Where are we going, anyway?”
“You’ll see when we get there, in just under an hour,” Fowler replied. Once they were out of sight of Carnarvon, Fowler altered course to due west. The reason for the dogleg was to deceive anyone who had watched their departure.
“Delta-Zulu-Uniform turning downwind-to-base, Newman Field,” Basingstoke radioed, while reefing his Beechcraft through a ninety-degree right-hand turn in the turbulent air. Newman airfield didn’t have a control tower, so a common frequency, 126.7, was used; pilots were required to announce intentions and position. Basingstoke reached out to the center of his control panel, throwing a switch that, for ease, had as its toggle a model of a small aircraft wheel. With a hum and a clunk, the three wheels of the landing gear came down and locked.
After turning base to final – the turn from the base leg of the landing pattern to final approach – he rolled out of his turn, lining up on the runway for final approach, Basingstoke added a second notch of flaps and pulled back on the throttle, keeping the nose on the horizon to reduce his airspeed. He kept on the glide path, crabbing the aircraft slightly with the rudder to compensate for a mild crosswind. The thermals from the hot desert made for some moderate turbulence, forcing Basingstoke to continually adjust his ailerons to keep the wings level.
The wheels chirped as Basingstoke greased his plane into a perfect landing, right on the numbers, which brought a rare smile to his face.
Ten minutes later, Basingstoke parked his plane at the airport’s FBO – Fixed Base Operator – and went inside to arrange for fuel and to make a much-needed restroom visit. He’d been in the air for many hours, and small planes don’t have bathrooms.
The airport had a small canteen, where Basingstoke had lunch. He’d spent the night in Halls Creek, and estimated two and a half more hours in the air to reach his destination.
He returned to his plane just as the small fuel bowser – a tank mounted in the bed of a pickup truck – pulled away.
Always methodical, Basingstoke began his pre-flight checks, starting by bleeding some fuel from each of his tanks to check for any sign of water.
Just before starting up, he programmed his navigation system. It was GPS based, but as a backup, he entered 113 MHz into his radio navigation instruments: the frequency for the Carnarvon VOR/DME beacon.
Soon, he was back in the air again, climbing out to the southwest. It was then that the second-guessing began. He grew to doubt the initial decision he made back in Darwin; to eschew following the results of the coin he’d tossed to determine which Carnarvon to investigate first. The decision had been easy to justify at the time. Basingstoke had worked his contacts in Hobart’s docklands, asking around for any information he could gather. It hadn’t taken him long to catch word of the alert that had gone out from the Hobart headquarters of the Australian Antarctic Division, in response to Antarctic Star’s find.
Basingstoke most often called Melbourne home, though his work for Australia’s largest organized crime family took him all over the vast country. Melbourne, along with Sydney, were the two loci of organized crime in Australia – though Darwin was frequently on his list, due to its role as a drug smuggling nexus from nearby Indonesia, just across the Timor Sea. Basingstoke had access to all the resources of Melbourne’s underworld – for a price. Information did not come cheap, but in this case, flush with Sanchez’s deposit, Basingstoke could easily afford it. His decision made, he had sent out his requests, which caused feelers to be put out all over Melbourne and Sydney, including their docklands.
Basingstoke’s occupation was not limited to killing; he was, in essence, an enforcer. Sometimes, he was able to resolve disputes with less than lethal means, but in recent years his number of contract kills had increased. He was careful, and when possible made the kills look accidental, or appear as suicide. That, he knew, would not be possible on his current job: with a faint smile, he mused that it was hard to portray a body with a missing head as anything beside murder. Therefore, he decided, disposing of the body would be a primary factor in the dynamics of this kill. Vanishings, after all, generate far less official attention than murders.
Tasmania was too cool and damp for his tastes, and his reasoning had been that his contacts could cover the Carnarvon Bay area in Tasmania. He had no contacts in Carnarvon, Western Australia, so he’d determined to handle looking there himself.
Now though, as he overflew the red deserts of Western Australia, he was beginning to wonder whether his choice had been made in haste. He had very little to go on. All he knew was that his target was likely on a boat of some kind, and that there might be a catamaran named Atlantis under repair nearby.
Basingstoke had never been to Carnarvon, so he checked his airport guide and smiled, seeing that the airport was almost central to the town, which was arrayed around its western edge. The heart of the town was less than five hundred yards from the airport’s tie-down area. Basingstoke decided that he’d land, walk into town, and spend a day looking and listening for anything regarding a young American sailor and a badly damaged catamaran. If he found nothing, he could then be on his way to Perth.
In Florida, George Alfred walked into Bridget’s parlor with a big grin. “Good news, Bridget! I touched lucky today. I have to avoid using the computers at the station for some stuff, because I think they’re logged to their user's accounts. I can’t risk me looking for stuff that could be seen as suspicious, like drivers’ license files for people I have no good reason to be snooping around. However, sometimes, luck hands you an opening on a silver platter, and today somebody violated procedure and left their terminal open when they took a coffee break, so I slipped in and had a look at Trevor’s government records, looking for recent activity. The great news is, he ordered a new drivers’ license, and it was mailed to him, care of the Carnarvon Yacht Club, in Carnarvon, Western Australia.”
A warm smile appeared on Bridget’s face. “That is indeed news to brighten the day,” she said, getting up to give George a hug. “That should make him far easier to find. Unless, of course, he has departed the area. Still, we now know he was there for a while, at the very least. First we need to get word to Sanchez, and then have a cognac to celebrate,” Bridget said, sitting down at her desk to prepare an e-mail for Sanchez. She rapidly typed it up, encrypted it, and sent it off.
“This should help, a lot. When the department is tracking a fugitive, knowing where they’ve recently been is usually critical to picking up their trail. Now, we know he’s either there or has been recently, and that’s what we call a hot lead. We also know he’ll either be meeting Lisa and Joel at the airport in a couple of weeks, or they’ll go to him. From the sound of it, my guess is he’ll be there to meet them. So we know where he’s been and probably where he’s going. When we have that kind of a lead on a fugitive, we usually bag them pretty quick,” George said.
Bridget and George sat down to enjoy a fine cognac, savoring its rich, smooth flavor. Five minutes later, they received an encrypted note from Sanchez, confirming that he’d received the e-mail and would pass the information on.
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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.