In Esperance, Western Australia, the crew of Antarctic Star gathered at a festive local pub. Their captain, as promised, paid for the first two rounds out of the money Barney Fitzroy had given him for the garlic crusher.
The captain, sipping his schooner of Swan Draught, made his way to a framed display, which was covered by glass. The size of a large painting, it was centered on a charred, melted piece of aluminum no larger than his thumb. Below it, in large type, was its story.
The captain read it with mild interest; it was a story everyone in Esperance knew, in one form or another.
Skylab, July 12th, 1979
NASA’s first space station, Skylab, was launched in May of 1973, and hosted three three-man crews over the next several years. Built by converting an upper stage from a Saturn 5 rocket to a workshop prior to launch, it was massive, weighing in at one hundred and seventy thousand pounds.
Skylab had no means of altering its orbit, and a more active than normal sun caused an expansion of the outer fringes of earth’s atmosphere, causing its orbit to decay faster than anticipated.
By early July 1979, the end was near. Skylab’s impending fall was a global media sensation.
By early on July 11th, it was certain that Skylab was coming down that day. The question was where. It circled the earth once every hour and a half at an orbital inclination of 51 degrees, so the potential impact area covered much of the globe. However, NASA had one last trick up its sleeve. If they commanded the station to tumble end over end, they believed they could extend its re-entry by over a thousand miles, and this was their intent, should it appear that Skylab’s debris footprint might impact a populated area.
As Skylab’s final orbit began, calculations indicated that its debris footprint might include north-eastern North America. The orbital path for that orbit took Skylab down the Atlantic, south of South Africa, and then into the Indian Ocean. The decision was made, and Skylab was tumbled.
Skylab did not begin to break up as anticipated. It passed over Ascension Island still intact, and re-entered later than planned, over the Indian Ocean. Its solar array was the first to go, then the fiery heat began to eat at Skylab’s aluminium skin, causing it to fail, and Skylab began breaking up.
In many places across south-western Western Australia, people were awakened by sonic booms and whirring sounds, as the debris tore through the night, lighting up the sky with thousands of fireballs.
The Shire of Esperance was the site of many of these impacts. For one local resident, the sound of a few pieces of debris hitting a shed in his garden would lead him to a major windfall. A San Francisco newspaper had offered a ten thousand dollar prize for the first authenticated piece of Skylab to be delivered to its office, so the seventeen-year-old beer-truck driver, Stan Thornton, gathered up a few pieces and caught the first flight he could find to San Francisco, to claim his prize.
Many large pieces fell in the Esperance area, some weighting hundreds of pounds, though fortunately, no one was hurt. Heavier pieces would have travelled further, so it is a certainty that even bigger chunks of Skylab remain to be discovered, far inland in the outback.
The Shire of Esperance fined NASA $400 for littering, but NASA never paid.
The captain of the Antarctic Star took another sip of his beer, enjoying the good cheer that a very different piece of flotsam from Florida had purchased, and then rejoined his men.
The fortuitous garlic crusher, though, was no longer in Esperance. It was in Perth, still safely nestled in Fitzroy’s package, rumbling through the mid-day traffic. It was just one of many packages and bags of mail in the back of the mail truck, destined to be delivered that day.
Jason Kline, in his Carnarvon motel room, completed a call with his agent. The media frenzy over Trevor was well underway, and Kline’s star was rising. His agent had booked him on two morning talk shows, furthering the publicity his story had generated. Better still, from Kline’s point of view, was that his name was becoming more widely known, always a profitable occurrence for a freelance journalist.
Kline made ready to check out, steeling himself for the grueling two-day drive back to his home in Perth. Then, as an afterthought, he called Barney Fitzroy’s cell.
“G’day, Barney. Jason here. Any sign of that package yet?” Kline asked, thinking that the garlic crusher and its mayday message would make a nice prop for his coming on-screen interviews.
Fitzroy had heard that Kline would be appearing, alone, on some talk shows. “It’s not arrived yet, but hopefully in the morning.”
“Can you arrange for me to pick it up? Things are certainly going well with the story, but there’s no point in you coming up here; I’m just about to leave. You might as well head home: no point in you running up a larger motel and feed bill. Fax me your receipts when you get home and we’ll settle up. I imagine there’s quite a bit of the funds I sent you remaining.”
Fitzroy replied calmly, “Not really, Jason. Short-notice airfares burned through a lot. Then there’s been hotels, boat hire, car rentals, meals, the two hundred dollars for the crew of Antarctic Star, postage, and the like. You can deduct my share – thirty percent – of the additional expenses, but I expect you to settle up quickly on that.” Fitzroy had only paid a hundred for the garlic crusher, but he thought it highly unlikely that Kline would find that out. It was the one thing he wouldn’t have to show a receipt for.
“I sent two bloody thousand, Barney! It can’t be gone already.”
“Perth is an expensive city, as is Esperance. My room here is two hundred and fifty a night,” Fitzroy replied.
“Two fifty a night! Bloody hell, where are you staying, the fucking Hilton?” Kline exclaimed.
“Actually, yes, it’s convenient to the office where that package is going,” Fitzroy replied.
“That’s daylight robbery, Barney. I never said I’d foot the bill for luxury digs,” Kline snarled. “Anything past last night is totally on your own hook.”
“Now Jason, don’t be a cheap bastard. I need to get that package, right? I suppose I could ask the office to forward it to you, but they’re not the most organized lot. How about I wait for the afternoon mail, then whether it shows or not, I’ll fly home tomorrow,” Fitzroy said.
“Just tell them I’ll pick it up, and get yourself home. And not bloody business class, either. When you get home, fax me the damn receipts and we’ll square up. You’ll have your check for the story by next Wednesday.”
“I thought you said there would be a follow-up, so what of the income from that?”
“That follow-up is mine, Barney.”
“I think you mean we get a follow-up,” Fitzroy said.
“A deal is a deal, Barney, and I promised you that you’d share the by-line of Trevor’s story, plus get thirty percent of my take. However, the follow-up isn’t with Trevor; it’s with the people who intercepted him off the coast, and that makes it a separate story: mine.”
“That ain’t fucking separate, and I know it was the coasties who saved him, so no way did you get them to agree to a fucking interview; they’ve been trying to keep this quiet,” Fitzroy replied, loudly.
“I got it all, Barney. It was the coast guard that took me out to meet him, and this is after they had me arrested. I got it because I know how to cut a deal.”
“Skate on a deal, you mean. You owe me a piece of that coming interview, you fucking crook,” Fitzroy snarled.
At that point, Kline realized that he had a problem; Fitzroy had something he needed, and wasn’t likely to hand it over. “Look, Barney, perhaps I’ve been hasty. Let’s see what happens; unless there is a ton of new material developed solely by me, I’ll consider the follow-up part of our deal; you’ll share the by-line. That should make your employers happy.”
Fitzroy saw through Kline’s offer; he’d left himself a way out, plus he’d omitted any mention of the take. “I’ll hold you to that, Jason.”
“Make arrangements so I can pick up that package, and you fly home. Have yourself a good lunch on me, too.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Fitzroy replied, while twirling the garlic crusher around in his free hand. “I’ll let my office know to keep an eye out for the package, and to hand it over to you when it comes in.”
“Talk to you soon, Jason. G’day,” Fitzroy replied, and then hung up.
Fitzroy stood the garlic crusher on the table and stared at it for a few moments, wondering if he could sell it on e-bay or to a collector, due to its role in a major story.
Then, his thoughts turned to the follow-up story, which he very much wanted a piece of. He knew that if he generated some original content, Kline would let him have a share, so he began making phone calls to Melbourne, working his customs service and dockland contacts, to see if he could pull together any new information. While doing so, he mentioned his role in securing the garlic crusher to several people, trying to get a line on one or more collectors of nautical memorabilia. Fitzroy had long ago discovered that when you need something, it often pays to ask as many people as possible.
In Carnarvon, Basingstoke was going door to door along Robinson Street, demonstrating his security wares for any business owners who expressed interest, and along the way picking up the latest gossip about Trevor, who was, thanks to the story, again the talk of the town. The most tantalizing piece of information Basingstoke had gleaned so far was the rumor, picked up in the hardware store, that the local charter yacht Kookaburra had disappeared from Carnarvon right around the time the con on the press had been pulled – with a red-hulled catamaran. Basingstoke had seen the picture of Trevor on Star Child, and knew she was a monohull, not a catamaran, but Kookaburra’s continuing absence from Carnarvon made her of interest to him. He stopped by the local tourist information bureau, browsed the brochures, and found one for Kookaburra’s charters. Throughout were pictures of Kookaburra, along with shots of the wonders of Shark Bay. Basingstoke smiled as he slipped the brochure into his pocket.
Now that he’d visited enough stores to confirm his cover, Basingstoke allowed himself to visit the yacht club. At first, he was rudely dismissed by the clerk, who insisted that he had no authority to buy anything. Basingstoke smiled; he knew what to do, and reached into his briefcase. “I can understand that, mate. I’m just here to make my presence known,” he said, holding up a large click pen, which he clicked twice. The pen’s lower barrel lit up, with a warm blue light. “It’s an LED light, for writing in the dark. Great for the car, or most anywhere, as it’s as bright as a keychain light.”
The clerk shook his head. “I told you, I’m not authorized to buy anything for the yacht club.”
Basingstoke grinned. He knew that people loved gadgets, especially if they were free. “No worries mate. This is for you, a gift, no strings attached. Here, have a few, they really are handy. All I ask in return is a few moments of your time, to see if you can steer me in the direction of anyone who might be interested in my services. Seems like I’ve picked a bad time to come into town; everyone seems focused on that sailor who came in, after being hit by pirates. Seems as if he’s a local hero, now he’s gone.”
“Oh, him,” the clerk snorted. “Came in looking like a damn castaway, though I suppose that’s understandable. He made a few calls from here and that was that. He saw fit to give our address for some packages as well.”
Feigning mild disinterest, Basingstoke replied, “That was pushy of him. Has he picked them up yet, or did he leave you stuck with ‘em?”
“A customs officer came in and picked them up. I heard nothing more about it.”
Basingstoke smiled expansively, and leaned closer. “So, can you put me right as to who here at the yacht club I should see? Or any other likely customers in town?”
The clerk pocketed the light pens and then shrugged. “You might try the general manager; he’s usually about on weekends. As for anyone else, I’ve no idea.”
“Cheers mate,” Basingstoke replied, turning for the door.
Once outside, Basingstoke glanced around, and with a spring in his step, walked towards his next target; Ned’s marine.
He found Ned in his office, mumbling at paperwork.
“G’day, sir. My name is Archibald Somerset, and I’m a security services consultant,” Basingstoke said, setting his briefcase on a table and flipping it open with a flourish, having already pegged Ned as the owner. “I specialize in most everything, such as surveillance systems, entry control, alarms, monitoring packages, and personal security items.”
Ned would have normally made short work of sending a salesman on his way, but the recent experience of having Kline sneak in and photograph Atlantis still burned, and the trouble they were expecting for Atlantis was an even bigger factor. “I might be interested, but I’m on a budget. What’ve you got that’d help secure my grounds?” Ned asked.
With a proud smile, Basingstoke pulled out a small black video camera, and then an infrared motion sensor. “This camera, as you can see, is small enough to be mounted inconspicuously, and it’s wireless, so no expensive wiring to install. We set you up with a monitoring station, and the feed can also be linked into a monitoring service over a broadband internet connection. I have other models, some remotely controllable, and they can all be linked in with motion sensors, for a first-rate system at a very low cost. Also, this system will likely pay for itself, because your insurance company probably gives a discount for having monitored security installed. What I can do for you is get an idea of what you need and want, and then work up the exact details and make you a detailed proposal. There is, of course, no charge or obligation for the design work, it’s free to you.” Basingstoke produced some brochures, and launched into his patter about monitoring options and the types of systems available.
“Okay, what I’d like is something to keep the place safe and secure. I have a large property, docks, workshops, and a lot of boats around. The property line has chain link fence, and there’s a gate that can lock, but I’ve had trespassers more than once. They can get over or under the fence easy enough, or come in by water. I like the idea of a system that includes motion sensors and video,” Ned said, before adding judiciously, “Provided the cost pencils out.”
Basingstoke nodded, and gave Ned an understanding look. “I can see how that might be quite the problem, but it’s nothing I can’t deal with, and I’ll wager that the price will pleasantly surprise you. Modern electronics have made security systems both better and cheaper than they have ever been. If you could show me around, I’ll take notes, and come up with some design options for you.”
“This is my front office, and I have a messier one in back. Follow me, Mr.…?”
“Somerset, Archibald Somerset, but please call me Archie. And are you the owner?”
Ned nodded proudly. “Ned Kelly, just call me Ned.” Ned gave Basingstoke a quick tour, pointing out workshops, the docks, the main entry gate, and other areas of concern.
Basingstoke took notes, playing his role as a salesman. The real observations he was making did not go on paper, and one of the first was of a huge tarp – equipped with a big ventilation fan – next to Ned’s office, which he judged to be of ample size to hold a big oceangoing catamaran. He noticed that there were other boats hauled out, but no others that were covered by tarps had ventilation fans, a sign that the boat was being kept undercover while work was being done. Therefore, Basingstoke correctly surmised that he was looking at the hiding place of Atlantis, and that she might be under repair. He knew she had to be somewhere in Ned’s yard, as his was the only boatyard in town. He wanted to get a look at her, to see if she was under repair, which would be a clue that Trevor might return. He also wanted to see what other clues he could find aboard. However, what he was mainly after was information, and Ned, he knew, probably had it. “Ned, this is a fine yard you’ve got here. It’s too easy to get into though, so a security system can help. I’m thinking a motion sensor net, to pick up intruders – we can set the sensors so they ignore things that are smaller than humans. Then, a set of panable cameras, pole-mounted and in black spherical housing, which can cover the entire yard. As for the workshops, you’ll need sensors in there as well, and fixed cameras. Power will be an issue: the cameras and sensors have a wireless model, but they’d need mains power if so. I’m assuming the workshops have it, but what about the tarps? I’m guessing that the tarps cover boats. Would you want them protected as well? If so, a further option would be a solar-battery combo for those locations.”
Ned looked around, thinking. “Okay, I think I’d be okay for some of the tarps, but… you’ve a point, someone could hide in them. Is there an economical way to have something that could be placed where needed?”
Basingstoke smiled and nodded. “Yes, there most likely is. Let me have a look inside one, and I’ll know for sure. The internal layout is the key, usually.”
Ned led Basingstoke past Atlantis’s tarp, to another one, fifty yards further on. He ushered Basingstoke under the tarp. “This is pretty typical; the boat is up on blocks, with the tarp over the top. Generally, I do this for long-term storage.”
Basingstoke looked around, and then bent down to look underneath. “The open area below makes this easy. A single cheap motion sensor could cover it well, and it could be solar; just stick the panel in the ground outside, and run the wire under the tarp. We’ll set you up with clamp mounts, so you could just clamp a sensor in place as needed. They’d automatically sync to your security network, so they’d only take a moment to set up each time, whenever and wherever needed. The same goes for any boats on your dock; you could put a sensor inside.”
The tour continued, and Basingstoke was well aware of the buying signs he was seeing in Ned. Basingstoke decided to play the long game, for he was a patient man. He was also not one to pass up an opportunity. “I’ll have some proposals for you tomorrow, Ned.”
“I need to keep the costs down, but I’d also like it soon. Any ideas how fast it could be up and running?” Ned asked.
“Usually within two weeks, but if you’re willing to pay just a little extra – solely for the express shipping – we could ship it overnight express from a suppler in Melbourne, and it’d be here one or two business days. I’d stay and do the installation myself, within a day of the gear arriving. I’ll quote it both ways. Also, I need to know if you have broadband internet, and a computer you’d like to use. Using your own computer for viewing the cameras will save quite a bit. ”
Ned led Basingstoke back to his office. “Yes, I have two laptops and this desktop, all running Windows XP, and usually have one laptop here and one at home. I have ADSL both places; I do a lot of ordering and searching online. Can I monitor the cameras and stuff at the yard from my house, too?”
“You can, all it takes is installing the software on the computers. I’d do that for free, as long as you have all the PCs here that day. You’d save a ton by not having to have dedicated monitors,” Basingstoke replied.
“I’ll be here all day tomorrow, starting around nine, so stop by and show me what you come up with, but it’ll have to be economical; my budget is very tight,” Ned said.
“Will do, and in the meantime, you might want to give your insurance carrier a ring, and ask what a monitored security system with video and motion sensors would do to your insurance premium. Make sure to mention ‘monitored’, because that makes a big difference with most commercial coverage,” Basingstoke said, and then gave Ned some light-up pens.
Basingstoke left with a smile on his face, and this time, it wasn’t an act. He now had a mental map of Ned’s yard, which would make things easier. He went back to his hotel, to get ready for the night. On his way, he stopped by his plane to pick up some gear, part of his array of demo items – or so they appeared.
Pacing in his motel room, Basingstoke had many concerns. The first amongst these was Trevor’s newfound fame. It was glaringly obvious to Basingstoke that killing someone who was currently in the news was highly problematic; the police would surely devote even more time and manpower to finding the killer, especially when the killing was sensational in nature: beheading. Such scrutiny presented a danger, and Basingstoke had survived for so long only by virtue of carefully mitigating risks.
Trevor’s case was problematic, and after careful consideration, Basingstoke decided that the best approach was multifold; have several different independent plans for the kill, just as he now had multiple separate methods for finding Trevor, instead of merely relying on his aircraft and Kookaburra’s pictures. Making Trevor’s death appear to be suicide, by natural causes, or accidental were the obvious choices, but the need to take his head precluded the first two and complicated the third. Another option was to frame someone else for the killing, though that rarely worked if they remained around to protest their innocence. Basingstoke, over a cup of Earl Grey tea, mulled his options, thinking the variants through much like a champion chess player looked at the board, envisioning future sequences of moves and weighing their outcomes. At last, Basingstoke smiled, certain that he had two sound, independent plans for the kill, and turned his attention to the far more immediate need of finding Trevor.
Basingstoke waited until ten that night. It was a good time; still a few people about, but most would be home. He dressed carefully; a dark checkered button-down shirt over off-the-rack dark camouflage cargo pants, over black sneakers and socks. Basingstoke, who had recently turned forty, was a little old for that particular look, but not unusually so.
Television and movies often portray flat black as the best camouflage color for night operations, but in this, as in so much else, they are quite wrong. Only in a total absence of light would black blend in perfect, but under those conditions so would any other color. Under typical nighttime conditions, there is some light, even if only starlight, and black clothing shows up as a silhouette. For that reason, the military preferred an irregular pattern of dark grays or dark blues for nighttime camouflage.
Tonight, the moon was just past full, though obscured behind overcast.
Basingstoke continued his preparations, further altering his appearance by changing his hair to black, to match a black toupee. He applied makeup, turning his exposed skin a dark olive tan.
He checked the items from his plane: infrared night vision goggles, a digital camera, and a can of spray lubricant.
Basingstoke slipped the gear into his pockets. He gargled with a shot of vodka, and then, weaving slightly to mimic the gait of a man who’d been drinking and thus blend in better with the few people likely to be out on the street that night, he set off down Robinson Street, heading towards Ned’s boatyard – which lay a few blocks past the end of the street – via a circuitous route.
Basingstoke approached from the shore of the Fascine, and when he neared the fence, in near total darkness, he put on his night vision goggles, waiting for them to power up.
For several long minutes, he studied what he could see of Ned’s yard and docks. His goggles were infrared, so he saw the glows of residual heat from the upper surfaces of boats and roofs glowing more brightly. To a very limited extent, he could see through the thin walls of lightly-built structures, discerning the shape of heat sources within. Tarps were even easier, and a quick glance in Atlantis’s direction revealed the shape of her hulls, glowing ochre through the outline of the tarp.
Basingstoke could have easily scaled the fence, but there was an easier way; the fence halted at the water’s edge, so by the simple expedient of wading, Basingstoke entered Ned’s property, listening carefully in the calm, humid air for any signs of trouble. Once inside, he pulled on a pair of black gloves.
Basingstoke followed the fence away from the water, moving slow and stealthily through the dark, keeping a constant, sweeping watch with his night-vision goggles.
Craig Grundig had the watch that shift, and he was relaxing in the salon of a small monohull yacht, Shark Soup, carefully positioned on Ned’s dock so that the companionway hatch pointed towards Atlantis. Every so often, he checked the view through the tripod-mounted light-amplification binoculars. The need to keep the lights off limited his options, but he found the time relaxing, and made all the better by the fact he was getting overtime for it.
As Basingstoke neared Atlantis, the change in angle gave him a clear view into Shark Soup’s companionway. He saw a motion, and the outline of a human form, and froze.
Grundig’s light amplification gear was ill-suited for detecting a non-moving object, so he was unable to notice the motionless Basingstoke. He peered through the binoculars for a few moments, and then sat back.
Basingstoke saw the movement, and could see that Grundig’s head was no longer at the tripod-mounted device. Basingstoke realized that Atlantis was under observation, a fact that largely excluded any possibility that she was merely a hulk destined for the scrapheap. Basingstoke wondered if Trevor might be aboard Atlantis, inside, where his goggles might not pick him up. He judged that unlikely, but he needed to get aboard anyway.
Basingstoke remained motionless for almost a quarter of an hour, studying Grundig, watching for patterns in his movements, especially related to what Basingstoke knew had to be a night-vision system. The problem was that he had no idea what kind. It was a critical piece of information to have, in order to decide how to proceed. He reached into his pocket and extracted what looked like, and indeed was, a small flashlight. The difference was that it had no conventional bulb, and instead contained infrared diodes, of the same type as found in TV remote controls. They emitted infrared light, and to an infrared night vision set would work like a very bright flashlight, which was the purpose Basingstoke intended it for. However, now, he had another purpose in mind.
First, Basingstoke checked for other observation posts, but discerned nothing. That didn’t mean there weren’t any, but it made it unlikely that any were close.
Basingstoke used Grundig’s pattern of looking and then sitting back as part of his plan. He waited until Grundig was looking, and then flicked the infrared flashlight on, just for a moment, while pointing it at Ned’s offices. In his own goggles, he saw the buildings flare brightly, and then studied Grundig for a few minutes, seeing no discernible change in pattern. That told him that Grundig’s system was most likely visible light amplification, not infrared. Basingstoke smiled, for that, he could defeat.
The method was simple; move while Grundig wasn’t looking, and reach the area on the far side of Atlantis’s tarp from Grundig. A fast, silent dash took care of that, and then Basingstoke scanned with his goggles before slowly squirming under Atlantis’s tarp. Once inside, Basingstoke looked carefully for any heat sources, which an electronic alarm would generate. Satisfied, he crept to the ladder. What he could not see was a single taught strand of fishing line, an inch above the ground, below the ladder. When climbing up, he stepped onto the ladder from half an arm’s length away, exactly as Ned had guessed that an intruder on the way in would do. The alarm was simple, just the fishing line, connected to pull pin that closed an electrical contact, completing a circuit that was connected, via a fine wire, to a small twelve-volt light bulb on top of the tarp. Basingstoke, for all his skill and familiarity with electronic security systems, had been unable to detect Ned’s simple kludge, even after triggering it.
Once aboard, he walked into the salon, stepping carefully over the exposed crossmembers of the floor. Once there, he used the infrared flashlight to illuminate the scene fully, seeing the work underway. A quick check of the cabins revealed no sign of current habitation, but it was evident that the boat was under repair. That fit with the information he’d received from Sanchez, which meant the news story was partially a ruse, or just inaccurate. Basingstoke thus felt moderately confident that Trevor might well return to his boat at some point, as he’d hoped. It was in Basingstoke’s nature to have all bases covered, and what he planned would be a backup, in case he could not find Trevor directly. Always have a backup plan.
Ned’s interest in a security system, combined with a few things Ned had said, indicated that the photos of Atlantis in the press had been obtained by a snooping reporter. Even if not, it was evident that the surveillance was there in anticipation of trouble of some kind. With that in mind, Basingstoke began rummaging around, disturbing tools and equipment, as if searching for something. His main intent was simple: show them that they needed better security. His secondary purpose was to keep an eye out for anything that might lead him to Trevor.
After a few minutes, Basingstoke was done. He crept back to the ground, intending to make his exit unseen and unobserved. It was then that he glanced up and noticed a point heat source shining brightly through the thin tarp, and he knew it had not been there before. Moving quickly, he eased up the tarp and looked at Shark Soup, where he saw Grundig, peering through the binoculars, with something against his ear. “Bloody shit,” Basingstoke mumbled, correctly guessing that it was a phone.
Aboard Shark Soup, Grundig clenched his jaw in frustration; watching a crime and doing nothing went against his nature, and it grated. However, Fowler’s voice in his ear was adamant. “No, stay put, don’t go after him alone,” Fowler told Grundig. “I’m almost there, and two Carnarvon police are approaching from the land side on foot.”
Grundig clutched at the phone, staring through the night vision gear, wishing he had some way to turn off the light above the tarp, which was dazzling the receptors. He adjusted them, which restored partial vision, enough to detect movement again.
Basingstoke bolted out from under the rear of the tarp – which put the tarp between him and Shark Soup – heading for Ned’s front gate at a run. He was nearly there when he stopped in his tracks, having spotted the shapes of the two Carnarvon officers, guns drawn, waiting just outside, showing no lights, and no sign of their car. Instantly, Basingstoke doubled back, running past Atlantis and into full view of Grundig, heading out the way he’d come in, no longer bothering to conceal himself so carefully. Grundig called it in, directing Fowler to that side of the fence, while checking that the safety was off his own gun.
Basingstoke saw Fowler’s car roll up, its engine glowing brightly in the unearthly light of his goggles. Basingstoke, who wasn’t carrying a gun, was trapped. He had the advantage of being able to see his opponents, but his escape routes were blocked, and he could not be certain that he had detected all of the arriving officers.
A feeling of cold dread raised goosebumps on Basingstoke’s arms. If caught, he believed the fake ID he was carrying would hold up for a while, but the night vision goggles would mark him as something far more than an ordinary burglar or paparazzo – the sole purpose of the camera in his pocket was so that he could claim the latter. It was also obvious to him that he’d walked into a trap. Basingstoke valued his own life and freedom greatly, and now it was in peril. For a moment, he shivered, but then a familiar resolve came upon him, and he began to plan.
A fast attempt to run to the west was a viable option, but Basingstoke knew that doing so would expose him to Grundig’s low-light gear again. He knew he had one good option, though it could destroy his chances for his grander plans. He had to blind Grundig’s low-light gear while creating a major distraction. He cursed the fact that the only tarped boat close to him was Atlantis, but what had to be, had to be. Better to destroy her and lose her possible help in finding Trevor than to lose his freedom.
Slowly, Basingstoke pulled a disposable cigarette lighter from his pocket, followed by a can of WD-40, a light, penetrating, and volatile lubricant, in a pressurized can with a straw attachment. It could squirt a concentrated stream over a dozen feet. Basingstoke deployed the straw and aimed the can at the front of the tarp, on the side facing Grundig, and began squirting the solvent, moving the stream around over an area a few feet wide.
When he judged the can to be two-thirds empty, Basingstoke looked around, scanning for his opponents. He then resumed squirting, but this time, he lit his lighter and held it under the stream.
The night erupted in a cascade of yellow light, as liquid fire erupted, filling the air with a soft roar as the can’s stream became a miniature flamethrower, blasting the pre-soaked tarp with gouts of fire.
A sheet of fire and smoke spread across the face of the soaked tarp, sending a small fireball roiling into the sky as the volatile naphtha petroleum that made up most of the liquid flash-burned. Basingstoke tossed the can and his lighter into the base of the fire, and turned to run.
Blinded by the small inferno, Grundig didn’t see Basingstoke.
Basingstoke, already at a fast run, raced back the way he’d come, keeping a careful watch for any opposition.
Flames licked at the can and the lighter, rapidly raising their internal temperatures and pressures past what they could contain. The WD-40 can, and then the lighter moments later, erupted, belching small fireballs into the growing blaze, filling the air with a cacophony of loud, hissing, whistling noise.
Flames licked upwards as the conflagration spread, consuming more of the tarp.
Grundig, with his low light gear, knew the two officers had been very close to what looked very much like an explosion, so he abandoned the dazzled gear, and seeing the flames, had the presence of mind to snatch up the fire extinguisher as he raced towards the growing inferno and the possibly downed men.
Fowler was out of position to intercept Basingstoke, even had he been able to see him. Fowler dashed around the end of the fence, slipping on a wet rock in the dark, and then raced towards the flames. In doing so, he unknowingly came within little more than an arm’s length of Basingstoke.
The flames, licking up the plasticized cloth tarp shrouding Atlantis, slowly grew, eating at the tarp and producing noxious smoke.
Fowler and Grundig arrived at the scene almost at once. Fowler dashed to the two Carnarvon officers, to confirm that they were unharmed.
With a whoosh and a roar, Grundig turned the extinguisher on the flames, playing the powdery blast at the base of the flames and working his way upwards. He managed to douse the blaze and save Atlantis, but it had been close. There were still smoldering remnants, and Grundig’s extinguisher was empty.
The two Carnarvon officers, at Fowler’s direction, began searching the yard with flashlights. “Craig, stay here until fire department arrives. I’m going after that bastard,” Fowler said, glancing around the darkened yard, realizing that he had no idea where the intruder had gone. “I’ll get the low light gear and have a look about,” he amended, heading towards Shark Soup.
Ned soon arrived, along with two firemen, sirens off per Fowler’s command. A second extinguisher was brought to bear, putting out the remaining embers.
Basingstoke, now past the fence, worked his way along the shoreline, heading for Robinson Street. When he judged that he had evaded immediate pursuit, he hurled his night-vision gear far out into the Fascine, where it landed with a soft plop before sinking to the muddy bottom. Then, he scaled the shallow embankment and walked along the Fascine-side footpath, maintaining a casual pace. There were a few streetlights, and as he came near on, Basingstoke glanced down, confirming that the damp cuffs of his dark camouflage pants were not noticeable. For all intents and purposes, he was just another tourist, out for a stroll after a visit to the pub.
For a while, confusion reigned at Ned’s yard, but it was soon, after a search, established that the intruder was no longer there. By that time, Basingstoke had long since returned to his motel room.
They found the charred, burst remains of the WD-40 can; little remained, but they bagged it up for analysis. Ned looked at the big hole that had been burned in the tarp. “The bloody bastard was trying to burn her, sure as hell. The fire was right next to one of the fuel cans we planted.”
“Maybe,” Fowler replied, scratching at his chin in thought. “Or it could have been a diversion, if you take into account the headgear – likely low-light gear – Craig thinks he saw, and that makes this a professional job of some sort, though I don’t think we can yet be sure whether he was looking for something, or trying to destroy Atlantis, or both.”
“But it does show we were right: they were after the boat, not Trevor, probably,” Ned said, scowling at the damage to the tarp.
“Maybe, though one doesn’t exclude the other. We’d best assume there may still be a threat to him,” Fowler said, and then went aboard Atlantis with Ned, where they saw that things had been moved. “Looking for something, by the look of it,” Fowler said, scratching his chin as he thought for a moment. “They appear to think there’s something aboard, and there well might be, but… what if it’s not that.” Fowler lowered his voice to a whisper. “What if it’s identifying numbers, or something to do with her registry, because something was crooked when she was sold?”
Ned nodded. “I’ll give her a good looking-at and let you know,” Ned whispered.
The investigation dragged on into the night, and Ned made a decision. “Greg, we need to keep a closer eye on Atlantis, because they’ll probably be back. I’ve been thinking of adding some security to the yard for a while, but earlier today I had a visit from a security salesman. I’m probably going to go ahead and get a system with video monitoring and motion detectors installed. It would’ve been very handy to have tonight, I think.”
Fowler arched an eyebrow. “He just showed up on your doorstep, then we had the intruder? Did you show him around?”
Ned nodded, “I did, but nothing to do with Atlantis.”
“Give me his card; I’ll have him checked out. I’m not fond of coincidences,” Fowler said.
Fowler knew that a police officer would be better at running a check, so he gave the card to Constable White, and in the morning, White began checking. He confirmed that an Archibald Somerset was indeed listed as the licensed proprietor of a security consulting business, and had active contracts with several large hardware providers. Records indicated sales all over Australia, and a little legwork around town confirmed that the salesman had made numerous sales visits prior to stopping at Ned’s. He appeared legitimate in every way, so Constable White relayed the good news to Ned.
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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. And special thanks to Low Flyer, Benji, and MartyS for alerting me to typos in this and prior chapters, allowing me to fix them.