The last of the clouds cleared, revealing a spectacular blue sky over Kalbarri.
The cricket oval appeared on their left, through the trees. “What do you know about cricket?” Shane asked.
Trevor shrugged. “Uh, apparently it’s played at something called a cricket oval, which looks oval in shape. I’ve heard it’s popular in Australia, and I think they play it with a bat of some kind. That’s it.”
“I’ll explain the rules to you; see the long rectangle in the middle? That’s the pitch. During a game there are a set of three posts sticking up from it at each end, called wickets. The guy with the ball stands at one, the guy with the bat at the other. The goal for the batter is to get a run. The guy with the ball – the bowler – is supposed to stop him. The bowler throws the ball and bounces it off the ground before it hits the batter, to warm them both up, then the bowler get the first throw, trying to hit the batter. The batter has the bat to defend himself, but it’s not easy at close range. The bowler keeps throwing balls, and the batter tries to run,” Shane continued, pointing at various bits of the cricket oval. “If the batter makes it to the edge of the cricket oval without being hit in the body, that’s a run and he survives that inning, which is what we call a ball dusting – usually shortened to bull dust,” Shane said, carefully softening the ‘U’ in bull to make it sound a bit like ‘ball’, and hoping that Trevor didn’t know that ‘bull dust’, in Australian, means ‘bullshit’. “There are at least twenty-two bull dusts in each game, because there are eleven members on each team.”
Trevor arched an uncertain eyebrow in Shane’s direction. “That sounds like it can get pretty painful.”
Shane nodded. “Sorta, but not too bad, because they wear pads and all that gear, even more than in American football,” Shane replied, looking away as he fought to keep from grinning.
“Strange sports you’ve got here,” Trevor said, suspecting a wind up, but with no way to be sure.
They continued past some recreational vehicle parks – called caravan parks in Australia – and then it was time to turn left.
The land was empty scrub, almost hiding the edge of town mere yards away. “Is this what the outback is like?” Trevor asked.
“No, and yes. All 'outback' means is open country, but it usually means a bit more than the edge of a town.
After another small T intersection, the street name changed, and Trevor glanced up at the street sign and frowned. “Smith Street. Damn it, why does mom’s family name have to be such a common one? Finding them would be so much easier if it was something less frequent. For all I know, this street was named after one of my relatives.”
Trevor was wrong in this case; Smith Street had been named, or rather misnamed, after Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, an Australian aviation pioneer who had also been active in creating transportation infrastructure in the region during the first decades of the 20th century. His surname was Kingsford Smith, not Smith, but this has not prevented many things in Australia being named “Smith” in his honor – though many others use his entire surname, such as Kingsford Smith International Airport in Sydney. Trevor and Shane had one link to Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, though it was not one they would have appreciated, had they known: Kingsford Smith had made an emergency landing in the north of Western Australia, on an uninhabited coast in the Kimberly region, during an attempted flight from Sydney to London. The search for him took two weeks, and two old friends of Kingsford Smith, Keith Vincent Anderson and Henry Smith 'Bobby' Hitchcock, en route to join the search in their single-engined Westland Widgeon monoplane, survived a forced landing in the Tanami Desert in Central Australia, where they eventually died of thirst. The name of their ill-fated aircraft was Kookaburra.
Shane looked at Trevor’s downcast expression. “No worries, mate; you’ve got Officer Fowler checking official records; he’ll find ‘em like he said, I’ve no doubts.”
Trevor looked at Shane and nodded, his frown fading away. One of the many things he loved about Shane was his bright and optimistic attitude, which almost never failed to lift Trevor’s spirits. Trevor looked ahead as they followed Smith Street, seeing that they were nearing an area of single story residential homes. “This looks… kinda like smaller places back home, except for the hills around it – Florida is basically flat. Kalbarri is different from what I was expecting: it’s almost normal.”
Shane gave Trevor a mock glare. “Are you implying that you were expecting an Aussie town to be abnormal?”
“Uh-huh,” Trevor replied, grinning.
“Insulting foreign bastard!” Shane replied, with a shake of his head.
After a few hundred yards in the residential street, Trevor noticed that something was missing, and it took him a few moments to realize what. “Where are the mailboxes?” he asked, glancing around in puzzlement.
“On the houses, usually… or sometimes when there’s a fence, the mailbox goes there. Back home in Cairns, they put a lot on posts, but look like here they are either on the garden walls or near the door,” Shane said, pointing out a few boxes.
“That’s different. Ours all have to be near the curb, so they can be reached from the seat of the mail delivery truck. We use right-hand drive trucks, so the postman can reach without going the wrong way in traffic,” Trevor said, and then he paused as he noticed something else he found odd. “Yours don’t have flip-up flags on the sides.”
Shane blinked. “Why would they need flags on the sides? To show you’ve got mail?”
“Yeah, to show the postman there’s mail to pick up. If you don’t put the flag up, they just leave whatever’s in there,” Trevor replied.
It took Shane a moment to grasp the implication. “You send mail from your house?”
Trevor nodded. “Can’t you?”
Shane shook his head. “Nope, we have postboxes around town for that. We’re not lazy like you Yanks.”
Trevor shook his head and laughed. “That’s one way of looking at it.” He gave Shane a sideways apprising glance. “You’re worried about us being spotted, I can tell.”
Shane gave Trevor a puzzled look. “Yeah, a little. How’d you know?”
Trevor grinned wickedly. “Easy. You’re trying to be inconspicuous: it’s a hot day and you’ve still got a shirt on. So, seeing as how you’re an exhibitionist – even your boss says so – I knew there had to be a reason.”
“Cruel and abusive bastard!” Shane grumbled, and then began to chuckle. “I’m just trying to protect Kalbarri’s trees by keeping you from walking into ‘em.”
They reached Auger Street and turned left, walking down the gentle grade, with the Murchison River ahead in the distance. After two blocks, they reached Grey Street, with the beach on the opposite side. On the corner to their right was the small supermarket, which had, to Trevor’s surprise, two gas pumps just a few feet from the door. It was modern and smaller than the supermarket they’d shopped at in Carnarvon, but not by much.
They grabbed a cart, heading inside the almost deserted store and into the welcome cool of the air conditioning. “We should look at hair coloring stuff first, we’re supposed to change yours,” Shane said, looking for a store directory. When they found the hair color section, and Shane made his suggestions, “Blue, green, or we could go with stripes of both. Or maybe purple.”
Trevor rolled his eyes. “Yeah, just what I need to be inconspicuous. Okay, I think I’m better off going back to blond as long as we’re not in Carnarvon.”
Shane nodded. “I agree, and besides, I like you blond. It’s a good color for you – very hot – and better still it means I can make blond jokes.”
“But you’re blond too, so you can’t,” Trevor pointed out.
“Trying to imply hypocrisy on my part is sexual harassment!” Shane replied in a whisper, glancing at the color kits and then eyeing the light blond roots of Trevor’s hair, which had grown since the dye job. While Trevor wasn’t looking, Shane reached up and yanked out a few strands.
“Oww, what did you do that for?” Trevor asked, rubbing his head and looking at Shane.
“I’m helping you, that’s what: I needed some of your original shade to get the closest match; here ya go,” Shane said, snickering as he picked out the shade and tossed the box in the cart.
“Couldn’t you have done that with my hair still on my head?” Trevor complained.
Shane wagged a finger. “It’s always best to be sure, and no pain, no gain,” he replied, before starting to crack up.
“Asshole,” Trevor shot back, and then began to chuckle.
Shane paused to read the hair color box, checking the directions and determining that they’d also need some peroxide, which he picked up. “Okay, now food!” he declared, heading for the canned aisles.
They stocked up on a variety of canned food, and then cereals and other dry goods. Trevor spotted some lime juice, and licked his lips. “Hey, think you can make a key lime pie?” he asked.
“I said I can, and I will,” Shane replied, snatching up the lime juice and tossing it into the cart. “I might have to ask Officer Fowler to get the recipe from his wife, though. Hers are awesome!”
“Shelly Fowler,” Trevor mumbled, with a melancholy expression.
Shane angled his head. “Something’s bothering you, you look sad,” he said, in a gentle tone.
Trevor shrugged off his mood and smiled. “I’ve always liked the name ‘Shelly’, because it reminds me of my mom; it was her middle name. Dad called her that sometimes, and it’s what he had put on her tombstone: Shelly Carlson. So when I hear it, I get kinda mopey sometimes. It passes quick though.”
The next stop was the beer aisle. “We’re just about out of four-ex,” Shane said, as he scanned the choices, only to add in despair, “Which they haven’t got!”
“I’m sure one of these has to be good,” Trevor said, browsing some of the odd-sounding names.
“I’ve had these before, they’re a bit pricey, but good,” Shane said, pointing at a case of stubbies.
Trevor leaned in to read the label. “Mountain Goat Beer, bottled but not tamed, surefoot stout,” he said, and then turned his head to give Shane a puzzled look.
“It’s pretty good, even though it’s from down near Melbourne. If it was a Queensland beer, I’d consider it as highly rated as Four-ex. It’s stout ale – black in color – so it’s a lot different from what you’ve been having.”
“Let’s give it a try,” Trevor said, heaving the case into their cart.
They hit the dairy aisle, and then picked up eggs and a large supply of snack foods, saving the meat and frozen foods for last. “We better watch the weight; we’ve already got armfuls, and we can come back tomorrow,” Trevor said, envisioning trying to get what would be many heavy bags of food to the water’s edge.
At the register, Shane insisted on paying for the beer and Trevor’s hair coloring and peroxide. Shane then used the card that Martin Blake had given him for the rest, which was a brimming cartful. They bagged the groceries and staggered out the door, with five or six bags in each hand. They crossed the street, then the grass, emerging onto a spectacular sandy beach. When they reached the river, they set their bags down a few feet back from the water. “I’ll run it, and be back with the Zodiac in a few minutes,” Trevor said.
“You mean I’ve got to sit here and wait? That’s cruel, I’ll get bored,” Shane said in a mock gripe, as he lay down and stretched out on the sand.
“Okay, have it your way – I’ll stay, you go,” Trevor replied, grinning.
“Cruel and abusive slave-driving bastard!” Shane declared, getting up and brushing the sand off.
“Hey, it was your idea,” Trevor replied, sitting down on the sand and adjusting his sunglasses before snickering.
Shane pulled his shirt off, and as he broke into a sprint, hurled it at Trevor. “Don’t run into any trees, and try not to eat this beach,” Shane said, dashing away, following the waterline in the direction of the Zodiac.
Trevor wadded up Shane’s shirt, along with his own, and used them as a pillow as he stretched out on the beach, enjoying both the sun, and the thought he’d gotten one up on Shane. He hadn’t. Shane had wanted to be the one to do the run all along, due to his concerns that Trevor might be recognized.
Shane soon arrived in the Zodiac, and within the hour they were back on Kookaburra and stowing their groceries.
Shane took care of returning Trevor’s hair to blond, and then it was time for their dinner of steak and beer. Trevor took a few tentative sips, and nodded. “This is really different. I think I like it.”
“I’m a very good judge of grog!” Shane replied, grinning.
The next morning, Trevor and Shane took the GPS along and returned to Kalbarri, making their way to the police station. As they approached, they noticed a large, dusty pickup truck, with a tow bar attached to its trailer hitch. Attached to the tow bar was a Jeep CJ7, a two seater soft top that was a very capable 4x4.
“That’s Mr. Blake’s truck,” Shane declared, pointing at the pickup.
Trevor glanced at the Jeep, correctly guessing it to be an early 1980s model.
“G’day, Trevor and Shane,” Martin said, strolling out of the police station. “Let’s get you set up with your wheels.”
Working together, they unhooked the Jeep and stowed the tow bar in the pickup’s bed. “The Jeep looks well used, and it is, but it’s mechanically sound. I use it on my farm, and in wet weather it’s the only way to get to some parts. This way, we’ve no worries about getting a rental, and you’ll be needing four wheel drive.”
A grinning Trevor replied, “It looks great to me, thanks! Uh, where will we need the four wheel drive?” Trevor asked.
“We’re near the famous Kalbarri National Park. Part of it is the Murchison Gorge, where the river has carved itself a deep and spectacular canyon. All the roads in that part of the park are dirt, though the main ones are well maintained and passable by car when dry. There are all sorts of hiking areas and things to see. Greg Fowler and I were thinking that, given the current problems, spending a few days inland on a four-wheeling safari might be just the thing. I’d have advised it even without the other issues; it’s well worth doing while you’re in the area. You’ll need to add a few things from Kookaburra. Take all the food and water you think you’ll need, plus some extra; there are no facilities in the park.”
“What about Kookaburra? Will she be okay where she’s at, with nobody on her?” Trevor asked.
Martin nodded. “Just lock her up and all’s well. Constable Kaminski has said he’ll be adding her to the river patrol route, so an eye will be kept on her. He said he saw you come in but didn’t know it; that you’d reconfigured the lights to look like a smaller boat, and that conditions were bloody awful.”
Trevor was about to reply, but Shane jumped in to say, “It was a rough go at the mouth, then very hard going up the river in the rain and dark. Trev did great, he’s a real pro.”
Martin smiled and nodded. “Speaking of that… Constable Kaminski tells me you’re far past Goat Island?”
Trevor nodded. “Yeah, I was worried the mast would be seen above the trees if we stopped there, so we kept going past it. We hid her in a side channel behind Stork Island.”
Martin was silent for a few moments. “Bloody hell. That’s further than I’d have thought possible, good job! You’ll get an occasional kayaker coming by, but she should be just fine for a few days. How the blazes did you get her there, especially at night in a storm? The local powerboat rentals won’t even let their rentals go that far, and they draw half what Kookaburra does. What did you do, stop at Goat Island and take her further up after daybreak?”
Trevor shook his head. “I kept going, feeling our way. I had some trouble at Goat Island, and–”
Before Trevor could say another word, Shane, with a wicked grin, said, “He ran aground.”
“Mutinous crew!” Trevor grumbled.
“Did you by any chance happen to run aground?” Martin asked, in a gentle tone, while trying – and failing – to hide a grin.
Trevor was silent for a few moments, and then replied, “Uh, yeah. We hit a sandbar at Goat Island, at three knots. We scraped sand a couple of times later, going even slower. The hard grounding was a bow hit; we still had a few feet under the hulls amidships. We just backed off and felt our way past. I checked out the bows in the daylight, looking for scratches. No damage that I can see. We stopped by that sandbar in the Zodiac too; it’s fine, soft sand. No pebbles.”
Martin chuckled. “A trailing sandbar on the downstream point, I’ll bet. I’ve hit that one myself, in a small powerboat in daylight. Goat Island can be a treacherous place, due to shifting sands and such. As I said, I’m not worried about scratches so don’t you be. I’m also well aware that taking her up there wasn’t your idea; you were doing as asked, including by me. I’d have been bloody furious though, had you not run aground; Shane would have never let me forget it, and he wouldn’t have been the only one.”
Trevor chuckled, feeling relieved. “Yeah, he said a bunch of times that he’s looking forward to telling you that I ran aground.”
“Trev ran aground!” Shane said, snickering.
“I’d have considered it a bloody personal insult if he hadn’t,” Martin replied, shaking his head and smiling at Shane’s antics. “Still, I’m miffed he didn’t do it again. I know the channel well, and I’d not want to try it in daylight past Goat Island.”
Trevor blushed slightly, and replied, “If it helps, she’s aground now; we have her on the shore of Stork Island, with both anchors and landlines, so when the tide is out, she’s aground.”
“I’ve got to see this and take a picture, or no one will believe me,” Martin said, chuckling and shaking his head. “How about we take a drive out there so you can get a feel for the Jeep and I can show you how it works, plus show you the road route.”
Trevor climbed into the driver’s seat and buckled in, taking a deep breath. “The clutch is on the left, like I’m used to, but I’ve never tried to shift with my left hand before,” he said, feeling a bit strange to be sitting on the right-hand side with a steering wheel in front of him, and then glancing down at the stick shifts. “I’ve never seen two stick shifts before, either. Which one changes gears?”
Martin climbed into the passenger seat, and Shane scrambled into the cargo area under the roll bar, behind the seats. Martin handed Trevor the keys. “The shifter on the left changes gears, the one on the right selects low range – a lower set of gearing than first gear. Practice shifting a few times before you start the motor, just to get the hang of it. I taped a gear pattern to the dash that might help.”
Trevor looked, and was relieved to find that the shift pattern was the same as he was used to, and not inverted. First gear was upper left, just like normal, so he started there and worked his way though the gears. He then fired up the six-cylinder engine, which rumbled smoothly to life.
“Shane, did you bring the GPS?” Martin asked. Shane nodded, and handed it over. “Okay, you’re clear both ways, back out, then east up Grey Street,” Martin said, as he powered up the GPS.
Carefully, Trevor eased off the clutch, backing out and then putting the Jeep in first gear. He gradually accelerated on the traffic-free street for a few yards, only to have Martin and Shane say at the same time, “You’re on the wrong side of the road!”
“Oops,” Trevor mumbled, as he eased the Jeep over to the left side of the road. “This feels kinda strange.”
“You’ll get the hang of it. Turn right anywhere; we’ll go around a few blocks to get you used to turning,” Martin said.
Chewing on his lip and concentrating, Trevor made a right-hand turn across the opposing lane, being careful to stay on the left side of the street. It was challenging at first; he hadn’t driven in almost half a year, and he had never driven a Jeep or anything other than a car. He made a few more turns in quiet neighborhoods, and soon the strangeness faded. Finally, he grinned. “I think I’m getting the hang of it.”
“You’re doing fine. From what I’ve been told, it takes a bit of getting used to, and it’s easier to forget and go onto the wrong side after a turn if there’s no traffic about. Okay, now we’ve seen how you’ve gone on side streets, take us back to Grey Street, then keep going the way we were, upriver.”
When they returned to Grey Street, they had to wait for a few cars to pass before turning, and Trevor did find it slightly easier to remember to stay on the left. He found himself looking both ways at every turn, because he could no longer rely on his instincts to tell him which way to look for traffic.
They continued up Grey Street, past the supermarket and the yacht anchorage, where Grey Street turned from pavement to dirt. “Okay, time to show you how to get into four wheel drive. Pull over, set the parking brake, and leave her in neutral,” Martin said. As soon as that was done, he said, “Okay guys, hop out.”
Martin led them to the front wheels. “You need to lock the front hubs to the drive axles.” Martin pointed at the center of the left front wheel. “It’s marked ‘4x2’ and ‘4x4’, so turn it to ‘4x4’.”
Trevor turned the selector – essentially a large dial switch at the center of the hub – a quarter turn to the right, while Shane did the same on the other front wheel.
Martin grinned. “Okay, that locks the hubs. Now hop back in and I’ll show you how to get into and out of four wheel drive.” Once they were back in the Jeep, Martin said, “Okay, you now have a choice of four high or four low. Four low is useful on sand or in mud, or when on really rough ground, all places where you need a lot of torque. On this road here it’s smooth dirt and you don’t really need four wheel drive at all, but if using it in conditions like this, choose four high. Low range would be like driving around in first gear all the time: not a good idea at speed. All you need to do now is select four high, and you’re in four-wheel drive. And, before I forget, you’ll need to get out of four wheel drive to drive on pavement for very far, and there’s a trick to it. You put it in neutral, then unlock the hubs, but before driving off back up for about five meters. That makes sure the drive splines disengage.”
Trevor eased the Jeep into gear and gently accelerated, finding that it felt almost the same as when the Jeep had been just rear wheel drive.
“Okay, keep going about four and a half kilometers, then hang a left,” Martin said, and then he and Trevor talked about the details of the voyage up the river.
Martin pointed out the approaching left turn, and Trevor took it, following the slightly rougher dirt road to the bank of the Murchison River, where they turned right on a rough dirt track that paralleled the river, just a few yards back from the water’s edge. The track grew rougher, with washouts and exposed rocks, which was challenging for Trevor, who had never been four wheeling before. The trail grew worse, disappearing in places, and Martin had Trevor shift into low range. “Normally this trail is a lot better, but the shore here was under water in the floods a few months back. That’s good news from our perspective; it means a lot fewer people will be venturing out this far, not with it being this rough out here,” Martin said.
“I can see why,” Trevor replied, as he churned through the sand and over a washout.
After a few miles, Martin stared out the windshield. “There’s the mast,” he said, with a bemused look on his face. “Seeing is believing, I suppose. Keep going until we’re about opposite her.”
Trevor, who by now was sweating from the stress, pulled the Jeep to a halt when they reached the designated spot. They were close to the water’s edge, separated from it by only a line of trees. Martin grabbed his camera, and led the way to the water’s edge. He looked out, across the tip of a small island close to shore, at Kookaburra’s bare mast, two hundred yards away. Kookaburra herself was hidden from view by the trees on long and narrow Stork Island. “It’s a superb hiding spot. Okay, you two, stand at the water’s edge, and I’ll take a shot of you with the mast in the background.”
Trevor and Shane stood side by side, grinning and with their arms on each other’s shoulders, while Martin snapped a few shots. He then reviewed them, making sure they had come out.
Martin carefully put away the camera and got the GPS from Shane. “Okay, it recorded the route from Kalbarri to here, and I’ll create a few place marks for good things to see in Kalbarri National Park. There are maps in the Jeep, too. If you drive me back to town now, you can get whatever supplies you need, come back here to pack up, then hit the road in the morning. It’s not legal to camp in the park, so I’ve made reservations for you for a cottage at Murchison Station, which is a working sheep and cattle station on the river, and has accommodations. They also lead four-wheeling excursions on both sides of the river.”
Trevor’s eyes opened wide, beaming with sheer delight. “A real station in the outback? Awesome!”
Martin chuckled. “I guess that would be something very new for you.”
Trevor laughed and nodded. “Yeah, and how. I guess it’s kind of everyday stuff for you – your kangaroo farm must be a lot like a sheep or cattle station, right?”
Martin’s face froze for a few moments. “My WHAT farm?” Martin roared, glancing around until his eyes found Shane, who was edging away and trying to look inconspicuous. “Oh Shane, could you come here, please?” Martin asked in a very pleasant voice, which was anything but. He then turned to ask Trevor, “Why, pray tell, are you under the impression that I actually farm those bloody pests that are nothing but miserable two-legged eating machines?”
Trevor blinked, and then began to crack up. Between gales of laughter, he gasped, “I mentioned your kangaroo farm to Ned, and he told me to be sure to ask you about it the next time I saw you in person, because you love talking about it.”
“Oh he did, did he? I’ll put that pommy bastard right the next time I see him. Now, what first gave you the idea that I have a kangaroo farm? As if I can’t guess,” Martin said, casting a mock glare in Shane’s direction.
Shane gave Martin an innocent, open-handed shrug. “Well, it’s a farm, and there are kangaroos on it, right?”
Martin laughed and shook his head. “Trev, you see what I’ve got to put up with? I mainly raise sheep, but I also raise a few cattle and goats, plus grow some feed for ‘em. The damn roos are a bloody pest that do nothing but eat day and night, and I’m forever running the damn things off with rock salt loads in my shotgun. I hate roos, which both Ned and Shane very well know.”
“I’ve been wound up again,” Trevor said, eying Shane and planning payback.
Shane tried – and failed – to look innocent. “I didn’t know Ned told you to ask… was that before, or after, he blasted you with the fire extinguisher?”
“Before, when I was at his yard after my doctor’s appointment,” Trevor replied, chuckling.
“Why, exactly, did Ned blast you with a fire extinguisher?” Martin asked, his smile fading.
Shane fielded the answer. “He was trying to get me and Trev got in the way. He’d been trying to get my wind up, so I made a remark I probably shouldn’t have. It was right after the reporter left, when we were on that big monohull. The good news is he’s agreed to a truce between me and him, for Trev’s sake.”
Trevor jumped in to add, “It wasn’t Shane’s fault. Ned was being a total dick to him the whole time. I’m just glad Ned agreed to a truce.”
Martin cracked a smile. “I’ll bet he’d have agreed to damn near anything after he realized that he’d just blasted a major customer. Keep that in mind, Trev; you’re his customer, and an important one at that. Ned’s a good sort by and large, and a good friend of mine for many years, but he likes to get his own way, and has… a very strong dislike for Shane, and it’s mutual. I’m glad to hear of the truce, let’s hope it’s kept on both sides,” Martin said, casting a warning glance at Shane. Then, he grinned and added, “Shane, keep this up and I’ll give you a roo for Christmas.”
Shane turned away chuckling. “I was just trying to help.”
Martin laughed and turned towards the Jeep. “I’ve got to be getting back, otherwise I’d have you help by sweeping the road clean between here and Kalbarri. Okay, Trev, drive us back to my truck, please,” Martin said, hopping into the Jeep.
They retraced their route to town, laughing and joking, and Trevor found himself feeling very much at ease with Martin Blake, a man he’d only met once before.
When they neared the pavement on Grey Street, Trevor successfully took the Jeep out of four-wheel drive, earning a nod of approval from Martin. From there, it was only a few blocks back to the police station, and Trevor found himself getting used to driving on the left-hand side of the road.
After getting out at the police station, Martin said, “Okay, you two, have a good time. I’ve set the GPS to take you to Murchison Station; it’s only about an hour run from here in town. There’s a trail from where we were along the river, but it’s a tough go at the best of times and probably impassible now. Best to start from here in the morning. Shane, could you run inside and see if it’s okay to leave the Jeep here overnight and the Zodiac at the boat ramp while you’re away?”
Shane nodded, and headed into the police station. As soon as he’d gone, Martin asked, “I just wanted to be sure; is everything all right?”
Trevor smiled and nodded. “I’m having a blast, and Shane is great.”
“Good. Ah, one thing; it’s okay for Shane to drive the Jeep, but he probably won’t want to unless there’s a strong need, not with a passenger, but he’d probably be happy to run errands alone.”
“He told me about what happened with his mother and how she died,” Trevor said, feeling a cold chill in spite of the heat. “I won’t ask him to do anything he isn’t comfortable with, and I’m fine with driving.”
“He thinks very highly of you if he told you of that, and… that wreck hurt him in a lot of ways, made even worse by his misbegotten excuse for a family treating him as they did. I… he doesn’t know, but I looked into the matter; he wasn’t at fault in any way – they weren’t even moving, but at least some of them blamed him, and I think he blames himself sometimes. I’m glad he’s found a good friend in you; he’s not had an easy go of life, and he’s not one to make close friends easily. I’ve never seen him so happy.”
“He’s been great to me, including helping me with my stress disorder. Even my doctor said he’s been great medicine, and he’s a true friend.” Trevor wished he could say more, but instead, he glanced towards the boat ramp, and added, “Are you sure leaving the Zodiac there while we’re gone is a good idea? I was thinking of leaving it locked to the davits on Kookaburra. It’d also make her look more like someone’s aboard. I want to leave a light on in the salon, too.”
Martin shook his head. “I agree, except for one thing; Kookaburra is moored on the wrong side of the river. You’ve got to leave the Zodiac somewhere.”
Trevor grinned. “Shane and I are both swimmers; we could swim the river, easy. Shane could take the Zodiac back and I could drive, then we could leave from Kookaburra in the morning in the Jeep. It’d mean showing our faces in town less, too.”
Martin paused, and then nodded. “Okay, if you’re sure. Sounds like a plan.”
Trevor glanced towards the door Shane had gone in, and with a conspiratorial grin, said, “Shane got me good with that kangaroo farm stuff, and it’s not the first time. I think he needs some payback.”
Martin grinned and chuckled. “I couldn’t agree more. Got a plan?”
Trevor nodded, and spent a few moments explaining. When he was done, Martin laughed. “You’re learning the art of the wind-up.”
Shane returned a few moments later. “We’re set for parking and mooring,” he reported.
Martin shook his head. “Moot point now; Trev had an idea that solves any worries, so he’ll be taking the Jeep back to where we parked, and you’ll be taking the Zodiac.”
Shane nodded, and cast a puzzled glance in Trevor’s direction.
“We’re going to swim the river,” Trevor said, in answer to Shane’s unspoken question.
“Ripper!” Shane replied, with an enthusiastic nod.
Martin glanced at the police station. “Before you head off, let ‘em know what you plan, so they aren’t concerned. As for me, I’m heading back; I’ll see you two soon. Take the satellite phone with you and call anytime.” Martin turned for his truck, and then hesitated, turning to give Shane a worried look, “Is everything all right with you, Shane?”
Shane blinked, and gave Trevor an inquiring glance, which was answered only by a puzzled shrug. Shane looked at Martin and replied, “I’m fine, Mr. Blake, never better. Why?”
Martin shrugged, and turned to open his door. “It’s a warm day and you’re wearing a shirt. You normally only manage to overcome your aversion to shirts when you’re stressed or have no choice, so I thought I’d ask.”
Shane spun to glare at Trevor, but Trevor protested his innocence with an open-handed shrug, a shake of his head, and a chuckle.
“Uh, I, uh, I didn’t want to attract any extra attention to Trev, and we had to come to the police station, and I, uh–”
Martin shrugged. “I knew there had to be a reason. Okay, have a good time, you two,” Martin said, as he started the engine. He gave them both a wave as he backed away and drove off.
Shane glared at Trevor again. “You put him up to that, I know it! Bastard!”
“I would have if I could have, after that kangaroo farm prank. I thought he was going to blow a gasket! I didn’t have time though; you were only gone a few seconds, and I had to talk to him about leaving the Zodiac on Kookaburra,” Trevor said, trying his best to be convincing. He then added, “Don’t forget, he made a comment to me that you wearing a shirt was strange, back at Hamelin Pool. And oh man, does he have you pegged – ‘aversion to clothes’.” Trevor laughed, long and hard, as Shane glanced in the direction Martin had gone, scratching his head.
Shane gave Trevor a suspicious look. “He said, ‘aversion to shirts,’ and you must’ve had something to do with it.”
Trevor shook his head. “If I had, I’d have mentioned that you’re wearing one of my shirts, because you have so few. And shirts are clothes, aren’t they? So, aversion to clothes… yup, that sure fits.”
Shane chewed on his lip. “You’re never going to let me forget this, are you?”
“Not a chance in hell,” Trevor confirmed, and then he glanced at the police station. “Let’s go tell ‘em we’ll be leaving the Zodiac on Kookaburra, then leaving in the morning.” With a perplexed Shane in tow, Trevor went inside, wondering how long he could keep the wind-up going.
Alone in the dark, Bridget felt the warm caress of the sea breeze, coupled with the soft murmur of the wavelets lapping against coral sands. The placid waters of the inlet spread out before her, sparkling in the starlight.
Bridget angled her head, listening to the sound of unseen footsteps approaching. With practiced care, she adjusted her hand, which rested on the butt of a Smith & Wesson Ladysmith revolver, cradled in her jacket pocket.
“Is that you?” came a soft, hesitant, though familiar voice.
“I very much hope so,” Bridget replied, with a wry chuckle. She released her gun and withdrew her hand from her pocket, stepping forward to greet the man. “Thank you for coming, Rob.”
She had known him for many years, on and off, though he was far younger than she. Bridget was his silent partner in the boatyard, Rob’s Marine, having provided most of the cash for its purchase, in return for half ownership. Bridget also provided the guards, who stood watch over Sea Witch, Bridget’s current boat.
Rob cleared his throat. “Why here and not the boatyard?”
“Privacy and caution,” Bridget replied. “I am concerned regarding that intruder you had some time back. I am also fretful that this may have broader implications. Therefor, I shall be tightening security as well as taking additional precautions. Now regarding the boat, I wish some modifications: provisions for auxiliary fuel to increase her range to at least six hundred miles. Please keep me informed.”
They spoke for a few more minutes, and then Bridget returned home.
Leaving from Kalbarri, Shane took the Zodiac back to Kookaburra alone while Trevor drove the Jeep. Shane arrived first, and was waiting at the shore, sans shirt, where they’d had their picture taken.
Trevor parked the Jeep and bounded out, and as Shane walked up to him, Shane said, “We’d better put the top up, in case it rains.”
Trevor blinked and nodded. “Yeah, good point,” he said, giving Shane an admiring glance before pulling his own shirt off.
“Exhibitionist!” Shane declared, pointing at Trevor.
“Shut up; you’re shirtless too, and it’s you your boss said has an aversion to clothes.”
“I keep telling you; implying hypocrisy on my part is sexual harassment,” Shane replied, grinning as he helped Trevor with the Jeep’s top.
Once the Jeep was locked up, they motored back to Kookaburra and began packing a bag with supplies for their morning departure, blissfully unawares.