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|Chapter 59: Threading the Needle|
SPECIAL NOTICE: THIS STORY IS MOVING!
It was nine o’clock at night, and Henry was beginning his first surveillance of the Bellevue residence, mainly to scout the terrain and plan his observation points. He soon determined that the best location was across the waterway from the house, and eased his way through the overgrown weeds on the vacant lot opposite Bridget’s empty dock.
As Henry neared the water’s edge, a whisper from the darkness behind him made his blood turn to ice. “Turn around slowly.”
Henry eased his hands up, and shuffled around, seeing only the silhouette of a man’s head and shoulders in the starlight, eight feet away. A brief flicker of green lit the man’s face, and then he whispered, “Hello, Mr. Wesson. I’ve been expecting you.”
Henry let out a sigh of relief. “Hello, Officer Gonzalez. You darn near gave me a heart attack,” Henry whispered, making his way to Gonzalez before adding, “I see we’re of one mind on some things.”
“I’m off duty, just enjoying the night air,” Gonzalez replied, taking another look through his night-vision goggles at the Bellevue house. “I don’t think anyone is home, but it can’t hurt to look.” The two men sat down in the tall weeds, and Gonzalez asked, “Are you planning on doing this often? If you are, I’d like to match schedules with you; there’s no point in both of us watching from the same place.”
Henry thought it over. “That’d only work for me if you’ll tell me what you see.”
“I’m doing this off-duty, so I can agree to reciprocal information-sharing.”
“Interesting that you’re doing this on your own time,” Henry observed, hoping for a response which was not forthcoming, so he added, “You have yourself a deal. I was planning on two nights a week unless I see something... Say, Tuesdays and Thursdays?” Both men understood that if Henry found out anything that would harm his clients, he would not share it.
“Works for me... By the fact that you’re here, I’m guessing you’ve already checked the street side?” Gonzalez asked.
“Yeah. Bad setup for a stakeout on that side. I’d have to stay in my car or trespass on a neighbor’s place, and the house is pretty well blocked from the street anyway. It’s a lot more open to the water, and there’s a view into the windows, from the look of it,” Henry said, pulling a night vision monocular scope from his pocket and turning it on.
Gonzalez was silent for a few moments, and then asked, “What about that meeting with your clients that I asked for? In case you haven’t figured it out, what I’m after is related to what we’re both looking for here tonight, and would clear many of the charges against them.”
Henry hesitated, and then replied, “I’ve passed the request to Frank Tittle, but neither of us has a contact scheduled with our clients for a while. I’ll need a little more time.” It was a lie, but Henry had no other choice.
“Tell them to stop stalling. I meant what I told you the other day; I’ll give them something that will clear them of the bombing; hard proof that Jim Ainsworth did not plant the bomb,” Gonzalez offered.
“If you have proof, it has to come out in the discovery phase of the trial anyway; you know that as well as I do. Also, if you know they didn’t do it, why not lift the warrants?” Henry asked, for the sake of appearances.
“I can’t lift anything on my own, you know that... and as for your clients, let me tell you what I think; I know they didn’t do this bombing. I also believe that Ainsworth is unconnected to the murder of Rachel Carlson, but I think Bridget Bellevue somehow knows that Dirk is responsible for the destruction of the Ares, with a bomb, and that’s why she chose this method to try to kill Dirk’s son. That’s why I want to interview Dirk, because I think he knows details that he himself may be unaware of. It could be anything, a memory of something seemingly inconsequential... but enough of this. Yes, I think he’s guilty of murdering his wife. I’ll see him in prison for that, but if he cooperates, I’ll do what I can to get him some sentencing leniency, such as incarceration in a federal prison and better conditions, and maybe a reduced sentence. Also, if he cares about his son, point out to him that this is the best way to protect him. We have no way of knowing that Bridget won’t try again,” Gonzalez said.
“I’ll pass that on when I see them.”
“I’ll leave you to it then, Mr. Wesson. Thanks to your clients’ run, I’ve been far too busy looking for them to give this project the attention it deserves. You might mention that aspect to them, because we’re working towards a similar goal here, and they’re only harming their case by remaining fugitives,” Officer Gonzalez said, getting up to leave.
“Wait,” Henry said, and then asked, “Anything in particular you’d suggest I keep an eye out for?”
Gonzalez hesitated. “Anything and everything, Mr. Wesson. Does that night vision scope of yours have digital image capture ability?” Henry nodded, so Gonzalez continued, “Take images of anyone you see, other than Bridget Bellevue. Also, keep an eye out for any kind of boat traffic to that dock.”
“Will do,” Henry replied.
“Be careful; they’re armed, and very dangerous,” Gonzalez said, and then made his way carefully to his car. Fifteen minutes later, he eased himself into the weeds of a vacant lot, across the street from George Alfred’s house.
Trevor looked at the glaring white sand, listened to the music wafting on the breeze... a somber melody, one he knew well. The sounds took clearer form, becoming the lyrics to the song,
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing
A muted, deep, thunderous roar caught Trevor's attention, as the earth began to tremble and rock. Trevor looked towards the sound of the thundering roar, seeing a multi-lane highway filled with hundreds of kangaroos, bounding and leaping, but keeping to their lanes.
Looking up into the bizarre trees that were now suddenly overhead, noticing for the first time that they were filled with all manner of strange creatures, from koala bears to giant crocodiles. Trevor paused, listening to the sound filling the land,
Down came a jumbuck to drink at
“I made it, I’m in Australia,” Trevor mumbled, his mouth not responding right, feeling almost numb. He saw a squadron of kangaroos peel off the kangaroo expressway and bound to a halt, turning to stare at him with baleful, hungry eyes as they sang, in a deep baritone, the chorus,
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing
The music grew louder, refrain after refrain, echoing from every hill and tree, from every creature great and small, reaching a crescendo on the final chorus,
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing
A sudden, profound silence descended, tainted only by the whispers of the sea, and then the song began again, the opening bars sung by a single kookaburra bird, with more joining in,
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda...
Trevor stood looking, seeing the profusion of strange, exotic creatures. A motion caught his eye, and he looked to see a great writhing mass of snakes coming towards him, rolling across the land like a tide. He turned, trying to run, but his legs felt as if they were mired in molasses. Unable to make much headway, Trevor glanced back, trying to see the snakes, but then, from his side, he saw that it was too late; the koala bears were coming for him...
Trevor’s eyes fluttered open as he awoke from his dream, the refrains of Waltzing Matilda still sounding in his mind, fading, merging into the murmur of the sea burbling past Atlantis’s mangled bows.
Shaking his head to clear it, Trevor sat up in the cockpit, the dream’s vivid details fading from his mind.
Trevor stood up, stretched, and began scanning the dark, empty, starlit horizon.
Looking towards the east, Trevor said into the darkness, “I know I’m close. I can feel it, I’m even dreaming about it... I should see something any time now... Please let it be there.”
The night, however, offered only endless seas...
Bridget adjusted her sunglasses, looking out across the sparking Bahamian beach at the azure seas. She took a sip of her martini, and then smiled warmly at George, “Sanchez certainly seemed pleased with himself, as well he should be. This has also made for a rather pleasant little vacation for us, has it not?” Bridget said, clinking her glass to George’s.
George took a sip of his piña colada. “I’ve never seen Sanchez seem happy before, but I can understand him... We were sure before, but seeing that photo of Atlantis’s nameplate was nice confirmation. I think Sanchez is glad this one is behind him; he’s not a man who takes failure well. I’m still impressed with his reach... a hit in the middle of the ocean on the opposite side of the world.”
Bridget nodded, her smile fading into a worried frown. “Yes, he was able to marshal the full resources of the Cartel and its connections with phenomenal alacrity. There were no apparent delays regarding checking with superiors... I’ve long suspected that Sanchez’s position in the Cartel is far higher than he pretends, and I believe we’ve now seen proof of this. That makes him a more powerful ally, and, more troublingly, an even more deadly potential threat. If the Ares is ever found, and Sanchez learns of what I believe Arnold did in addition to the asset list, would there be anywhere we could run?”
George thought for a few moments. “No. We’d have him and his Cartel after us, and the U.S. government as well. We’d be better off going somewhere where we’d only have to worry about the Cartel, but there’s nowhere in the Americas that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S.”
“Even Cuba, and the central South American countries?” Bridget asked, in surprise.
George nodded. “I’ve had to deal with a few extradition issues over the years, so I’ve looked into this, including recently for us, just in case. Yeah, the Cuba one is still on the books from before the Castro dictatorship, though they probably wouldn’t honor it. The rest of the Americas, every inch, have active treaties; the US made a big push in the 80s and 90s to sign up the few remaining counties, and in any case, Central and South America are Sanchez’s home turf. Right now, about the only major places I can think of that don’t have extradition with the U.S. are Russia, China, Indonesia, and most of Africa.... That’d only solve our American problem, because as we’ve seen, Sanchez has a hell of a reach. If things go bad, I think Indonesia might be our best bet: plenty of places to lose ourselves in. We’d need a way of getting there, and Sea Witch only has about a three hundred mile range, even with the extra tankage.”
Bridget stared out to sea for a few moments. “We could just buy a boat for cash somewhere in the area... but we would then be hiding and living in fear for all our lives, and that is if we were lucky. Far better to ensure that what is aboard Ares never sees the light of day. To that end, I have been thinking... perhaps it would be worthwhile to take over Joel’s deal with the professor and back the sonar search ourselves. Once we have a location, we could search the wreck ourselves. However, given that we do not know where aboard her Arnold built his hiding place, we may need to simply destroy the wreck entirely. The people I purchased the radar through have access to high explosives... were we to use a large amount, I believe it would destroy Ares entirely, and certainly render anything aboard unrecoverable.”
George took another sip of his drink. “That could raise a hell of a lot of interest that we don’t want... including from the professor. Ares has been lost all these years... I’m thinking that with Trevor dead and Joel and Lisa in prison, we’d be safe from anyone finding her. So unless that professor has his heart set on finding Ares, we should be okay.”
Bridget nodded. “I think you’re right. That leaves Lisa and Joel... the more they talk to that professor, the greater the risk that he will fix his mind on Ares. Better, I believe, to send them to prison sooner rather than later. Next week is Thanksgiving, so I shall politely inform them that I have relatives coming for a visit over the holidays and therefore I have need of the guesthouse for a few weeks. Once they have been out for a week or two, we can plant the cocaine and finish this.”
George smiled. “That’ll work. We need to remember to get some DNA... a few hairs from the guesthouse will do.”
Bridget raised her martini glass. “It is good to at last see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, putting the issue aside for the remainder of their weekend getaway.
Napping lightly in the cockpit after his dream, Trevor roused himself a couple of times an hour to scan the seas, keeping an eye out for ships or any sign of the coast.
Just after three in the morning, Trevor awoke and scanned the horizon ahead. Seeing nothing, he began to turn away, only to see a sudden, faint, pinpoint flash in his peripheral vision. He stared at that spot, and was rewarded by seeing a point of light appear, grow brighter, flare to a strong white flash, and then fade. For fifteen eternal seconds, Trevor stared at the darkness, and then, another flash, followed by two more, two seconds apart. Fifteen seconds later, the group of three flashes repeated, and Trevor was certain: it was a lighthouse, and he guessed it to be fifteen miles to his northeast. “Australia!” he yelled, pumping his fist in the air and jumping up and down, exalted and relieved. Until that moment, he had harbored a nagging fear; that he was hundreds of miles farther west than he believed.
Trevor adjusted the rudders, angling Atlantis fifteen degrees to the right of the wind track, which would take her closer to the lighthouse, which Trevor thought was somewhere on the mainland shore west of Shark Bay, and might be Steep Point, the westernmost point of the Australian mainland, which he assumed would have a lighthouse. He was partially correct; Steep Point did have a lighthouse. A nautical chart would show it as being a fairly weak beacon, a single flash that repeated every ten seconds. Most lighthouses have patterns of flashes and timing, so they can be identified. The one he was seeing was no exception: if he’d had a chart, he would have been able, from its sequence, to determine exactly where it was.
What Trevor had sighted was the lighthouse on Cape Inscription, at the northern point of Dirk Hartog Island, forty-seven miles north-northwest of Steep Point.
Trevor considered lowering his sail and riding adrift, but he decided against it, knowing that it would soon be dawn, and that hopefully he’d see the coast. His plan, based on the assumption that the lighthouse was on Steep Point, was to proceed north, coming close to Cape Inscription, and then ride the changing winds – or re-rig his netting sail to go crosswind – and round the cape to enter Shark Bay.
Sailing more than a few degrees off the wind with Atlantis’s current rig required constant helm adjustments, so Trevor remained at the helm, pushing his course as far east as he could, barely twenty degrees off the wind’s course.
Trevor had seen the prior day’s moonrise, so he knew that the Moon would be coming up a few hours before dawn – moonrise is always a little less than an hour later with each passing day.
A faint silvery glow on the horizon preceded the moonrise, and Trevor stared at the backlit eastern horizon, hoping in vain for his first glimpse of land.
By the time the crescent moon peeked above the horizon, Trevor had lost sight of the lighthouse, which was now to his southeast.
To Trevor’s relief, the light of dawn began lighting the horizon, the golden glow of a new and mostly clear day. The sunrise itself was enough to confirm to him that during the night, the wind had shifted again, and was now coming out of the southwest and pushing Atlantis northeast. Trevor’s heart sank as the sunrise lit up an empty sea, with no sign of the coast he’d been expecting.
Trevor studied the horizon to his east, seeing only a gray line on the horizon: a light haze, which cut his eastward visibility to a few miles.
Trevor guided Atlantis northeast, believing that he was about to intercept the coast north of Steep Point at a shallow angle, and that he’d be able to follow it north to Cape Inscription, which now was actually to his southeast. As midday approached, Trevor grew ever more concerned that he’d had no further sight of land, though he still held hope that it was hidden in the haze. He remained in the cockpit, keeping a close eye on the horizon. The wind began shifting rapidly, within just a few minuets, increasing in speed and bearing more to the east, sending Atlantis on a course of east-northeast. Trevor guessed that what he was experiencing was the wind bending eastward around Cape Inscription. He was almost right; that was part of the effect, and the other was the thermal onshore winds that often develop as midday approaches, heating the land and making the air rise, causing an onshore sea breeze.
Then, wheeling in the sky, he saw a seagull and smiled; he knew that gulls seldom venture far from land. He was close, he could feel it, and his fingers tensed with anticipation as he scanned the horizon ahead, peering through the miles of faint haze.
Slowed by her damaged bows, Atlantis churned through the sea, pitching and yawing in the deep, powerful ground swell from the southwest. Trevor dashed inside to pump ou the bilges, and returned covered in sweat, and climbed into the salon roof, where he stood, holding the mast, peering ahead. The rising breeze – now gusting to sixteen knots – was thinning the haze ahead, eroding it in places. After what seemed like forever, Trevor thought he could see an unevenness in the gray haze to his southeast. Another ten minutes, and he was sure, letting loose a whoop of sheer joy. “Land!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, reveling in his first sight of it in nearly two months, feeling a flood of relief, which was soon followed by worry. ‘Where the hell am I?”
His elation ebbed as he began to discern the form of the coast, which was roughly a mile ahead; instead of the wide strait he’d been expecting, he was seeing a line of rocky bluffs running completely across his course. A glance at the late morning sun gave Trevor a good feel to where east was, so the angle of the coastline confounded him; it did not match the approach to Cape Inscription.
Trevor dashed to the cockpit and changed course as much as he could to port, angling twenty degrees to the north of the wind’s track, bringing Atlantis onto a northeast heading almost parallel to the looming coast, her course closing in on it at only a shallow angle. Trevor kept watching the approaching coastline, and he was soon able to discern that it was a relatively straight coast; a long, low rocky bluff pounded by the long swells from the Indian Ocean. Trevor felt himself shudder; grounding on that uninviting coast in heavy surf would be certain destruction for Atlantis.
Trevor looked ahead along Atlantis’s course, and judged that he would only get closer to the desolate, threatening shore. Trevor lowered his sail and tossed out his cabinet sea anchor, bringing Atlantis to a slow crawl, though she was still being driven by wind, wave, and current towards shore at just over a knot.
As Trevor studied the shore, the wind shifted again, rising slightly and heading directly for the rocky shore.
Trevor considered re-rigging his netting sail to run crosswind, but he felt that it could already be too late; that rig, at best, would let him run across the wind, slipping downwind slightly. He again peered at the uninviting coast, seeing it fade into the distance to both the north and the south. Without knowing where he was, he had no idea of the lay of the coast, or which direction to try.
With the wind blowing in his hair, Trevor stood at the helm, feeling the hot sun on his bare torso and Atlantis’s deck moving beneath his feet. ‘We didn’t come this far to wreck, I’ll find a way, somehow,’ he thought.
Trevor desperately scanned the approaching shore for any sheltered beach or cove. Then, from a mile and a half out, he thought he could see one, just to the south of his course. What he could see was a break in the bluffs and a lack of a shore, nothing more.
He knew that the closer he got to shore, the less range of choice he’d have, so seeing no better option, Trevor retrieved his sea anchor and raised his netting sail, and as Atlantis got underway again, running before the strong eastbound wind, he turned her jury-rigged rudders, angling for what he thought was a deep cove or river mouth.
Atlantis surged towards the desolate coast at four knots, and Trevor could hear the roar of surf ahead, seeing it breaking on the jagged rocks and bluffs. A few small beaches were in view, but they too were pounded by the heavy surf, which would be fatal to Atlantis. Trevor could easily swim ashore through the beach surf, but the idea of abandoning Atlantis and letting her be destroyed was not one he was willing to consider.
From half a mile out, staring intently, Trevor could see absence of surf in parts of the gap ahead. That, he knew, was no sure thing; the water could easily hide jagged rocks just below its surface. Studying the gap, Trevor could now see an open expanse of sea beyond, stretching to the eastern horizon, confirming his growing suspicion that what he was seeing was a short narrow strait.
Nearing the mouth of the strait, Trevor angled for its north side, which appeared calmer – a sign of deeper water. The gap between the crashing surf of the churning shore breaks was just five hundred feet wide, and he felt Atlantis’s speed increase as she entered the narrow, shallow strait, beset by its fierce eastbound tidal current, pulling her into its grip, adding five knots to her speed as she surged through the strait’s entrance.
The swells steepened as the water shallowed, and Trevor felt Atlantis pitching as she hurtled into the confined waters. Struggling at his makeshift wheel, Trevor fought the wind and swirling tide, steering Atlantis through the tiny strait, peering ahead for any sign of a submerged rock or reef.
The wind, corralled by the bluffs, increased in speed, driving Atlantis faster through the narrow, perilous channel. Trevor scrambled to the edge of the starboard deck and looked down, seeing dark, jagged rocks racing by less than ten feet below the surface.
Trevor bolted back to the wheel, where be began continually adjusting the rudders to counter the swirling eddies and crosscurrents trying to pull Atlantis off course.
Trevor chewed on his lip, his practiced eye studying the waters ahead, looking for the telltale signs of breaking waves or reflected swells that would warn of dangerous shallows. One rock loomed ahead, and Trevor struggled with his improvised wheel, fighting to turn Atlantis to starboard.
The strait was only two hundred yards long, but to Trevor, it seemed more like a thousand miles. As suddenly as it began, it was over. Breathing a sigh of relief and wiping the sweat from his brow, Trevor sailed into the open waters beyond, Atlantis gradually slowing as the current and wind eased. He glanced to his sides, seeing the long shores of the land he’d passed through receding into the distance to the north and south. ‘Okay, that was a long, narrow strip of land with a narrow pass through it. But where, and why can’t I see land ahead? Where the fuck am I?’
Another glance over the side gave Trevor a clear view of the bottom, which had turned mainly to light sand and had begun to shallow. Nervously, Trevor looked ahead, watching the swells that had passed through the strait fanning out ahead. For a few tense minutes, he held Atlantis on course, and then the water began to deepen again, and Atlantis slowed further, to four knots, as she continued east.
Trevor sailed on as the barren land receded astern, the horizon ahead still empty for miles before fading into the slight gray sea haze.
The water was deepening quickly, and Trevor, with no obstacle in sight ahead, padded into the salon, intent on checking his compass and map. He didn’t think to look back one more time at the receding land.
Trevor lay on the floor of the salon, studying his map, trying to find a long and narrow belt of land, like some enormous breakwater, somewhere along the coast. ‘Could it be one of the islands off Geraldton? They’re about thirty miles offshore, and if so, I’m heading for somewhere near Geraldton,’ Trevor thought, and then shook his head, confused by the fact that the shapes on the map did not fit what he had seen. It was an impossible task; Trevor’s map was not detailed enough to show him what he needed – the tiny pass he’d just come through. He also had no way of knowing whether the land he’d seen was all island, or part mainland. He cast a suspicious eye on what appeared to be a single long, narrow island north of Cape Inscription, but the lack of a pass through it caused him doubts.
He tried to reason it out, dismissing the idea of Geraldton when he remembered the fierce current in the strait. He knew that generally only an entrance to a partially enclosed body of water created tidal currents of the force he’d encountered. ‘That doesn’t fit for the islands off Geraldton,’ he thought, glancing again at Shark Bay.
Trevor studied the map for a few moments more, trying to find a fit with what he’d seen. “Where the fuck am I?” he said aloud, as he walked back out to the cockpit and glanced north, intent on taking a sun reading at noon, which he judged to be less than fifteen minutes away.
The deep, raucous, brassy tone of an air horn from behind him startled Trevor, causing him to jump and then spin to look to starboard, at the source of the blaring, nerve-jangling racket. His eyes focused on the dull orange shape, taking a moment to understand that he was seeing a boat head-on and coming fast, just two hundred yards away.
For a moment, he thought they were going to collide, but then the onrushing boat changed course, paralleling his own and slowing down.
Trevor blinked and looked again at the orange powerboat, and fluttering above it, was an Australian flag. Emblazoned on the boat’s side were the words ‘Australian Customs and Border Protection Service’.
Trevor stared in shock for a few moments, unable to believe his eyes, and then he saw a man emerge onto the boat’s deck, now just a hundred and fifty feet away, with a bullhorn in hand. The man raised the bullhorn in Atlantis’s direction, and Trevor heard the accented, amplified voice boom out, “We copy your victor flag: that you need assistance. Can you transmit?”
Trevor shook his head slowly, in an exaggerated motion, and slowly waved his arms over his head, crossing and uncrossing them – a signal for distress. The boat drew closer as the Australian officer replied, “We’re coming alongside. Maintain your course and speed.”
All Trevor could do was grin and wave as the Australian boat angled closer. It came to a relative rest, matching his course and speed, just twenty feet from Atlantis’s starboard side, and the man, who Trevor could now see wore a uniform shirt and khaki shorts, put down the bullhorn and asked, “Can you lower your sail or come about?”
Trevor nodded and replied, “Yes, I need to get the sail bindings free. I can turn without doing that, but she’d just fall off and resume course after losing headway.”
The man looked at Atlantis’s improvised sail, and then at her stern, before replying, “Turn to port and let her fall off if she will, or ride ahull. We’ll come alongside.”
Trevor nodded and spun his improvised wheel, turning to port, away from the powerboat. Atlantis turned through forty degrees, as the makeshift sail began to flap and luff. Trevor dashed forward and released the support lines, letting the netting sail fall to the deck. Atlantis slowed, her mangled bows now pointing north.
The Australian powerboat, a thirty footer with two men aboard, turned with Atlantis, angling ever closer to her starboard hull. Trevor heard the thud, then another, as the powerboat’s bumpers hit Atlantis’s hull with a few glancing blows, and then Trevor saw a mustachioed head appear over the edge of the deck, as his rescuer scrambled aboard and secured two mooring lines before saying, “Officer Greg Fowler, of the Australian Customs Vessel Gnaraloo.”
“Trevor Carlson... of the Atlantis, and you have no idea how... glad I am to see you,” Trevor said, so overcome with joy that his voice was shaky. He also realized that he was having trouble talking, due to being out of practice for so long, giving him a halting, hesitant manner of speech.
Officer Fowler followed Trevor to the cockpit, seeing the damage, and then looking into the salon before replying to a very disheveled Trevor, “I’ll bloody bet you are. What happened here, and how many are aboard?”
“I’m alone... and I got hit by pirates. They stripped my boat and tried to kill me,” Trevor said, as he felt his knees weaken, forcing him grab the wheel housing for support, feeling safe for the first time in what seemed like forever.
Officer Fowler’s eyes widened, and then he looked around again before asking Trevor in a slightly suspicious tone, “There’ve been no reports of attacks anywhere near these waters, so unless you’ve come from up north, near Indonesia...”
Trevor shook his head. “I was five hundred miles south of the Seychelles when they got me.”
Officer Fowler’s jaw dropped, and he glanced forward, at Atlantis’s tattered sail, and then said in a very quiet voice, “But that’s over six thousand kilometers from here.”
Trevor nodded. “That’s a straight line course. I tried for Réunion and missed... my rig limited me to a close-to-downwind track, so I had to come the long way, through the Southern Ocean. It’s taken me nearly two months.”
“Bloody fucking hell,” Officer Fowler said in an incredulous tone, and then he said into his handheld radio, “Craig, one aboard, looks okay for the moment, but the boat’s been right gutted; she’s even worse inside than out, and get this, he says he’s crossed the entire Indian Ocean after a pirate attack, and took a detour into the Southern Ocean for good measure.”
The crackling radio replied, “Yeah, I’ve been looking at that line of tape patches you spotted. I pulled a couple of the higher ones back: they’re covering bullet holes. I think they all are.”
Officer Fowler nodded, glancing around again. “Copy, I guess that fits, sort of, and so does his tracked course.” Returning the radio to his belt, Officer Fowler glanced at the netting sail, and said in a subdued tone, “I’m not exactly convinced that the jury rig you were flying could have survived a hard sneeze, let alone the Southern Ocean.”
Trevor was in too euphoric a mood to mind the slight to his honesty. “The pirates didn’t take the paneling and flooring, that was me; I rigged a sail with it for part of the trip but lost it in a big storm in the Roaring Forties. I put the netting one back up, and I’ve been barely keeping it together ever since, but the weather has been a lot better since I started the run to the northeast.”
Greg Fowler swallowed once. “Okay... that fits. We know you came in from the southwest. I was a little doubtful, except those bullet holes seem to back you up and so does the state of your boat and your approach course.”
“I was aiming for Western Australia, around Cape Leeuwin, but my navigation was off... We got... caught in northbound winds. I thought I was rounding Cape Inscription into Shark Bay, but my nav plots have shown me as being inland for the last few days; the last one about a hundred miles inland from Shark Bay. Where am I?” Trevor asked.
“You just shot the pass between Bernier and Doree islands. You’re in Shark Bay, about sixty kilometers north of Cape Inscription. We were out looking for you; the shore-based radar net got a few hits on you a thousand klicks – that’s kilometers – out, faint, no transponder, coming in from the southwest, and then paralleling the coast. A Navy P3-C Orion out of Exmouth was going to have a look at you tomorrow, but then this morning you turned east, looking like you were heading for Doree Island, which is a preserve: no visitors allowed. We’ve had smugglers up north use similar tactics; using a sudden course change to get into the shore clutter. Border Protection Command ordered us to give you a look, so we headed out and were lying doggo near the south point of Doree island, about thirty klicks south of the pass you came through. The idea was to stay out of sight and intercept you as you came past – we figured you’d come through the strait between there and Cape Inscription – but then the shore station tells us you’re heading for the pass. That looked like a definite evasive route; there’s no good reason to take it and it’s hazardous. It’s strewn with rocks and at its deepest it’s less than four meters. So, we headed north, ready to nab us a smuggling ship. We pulled into an embayment about ten klicks down the coast and waited, and then you came barreling on through. We took one look and knew you needed help.”
“I guess my... radar reflector I made worked. Uh, a thousand kilometers... that’s over six hundred miles. What kind of radar can reach out that far?” Trevor asked.
Fowler smiled, with a touch of pride. “The Jinadlee over-the-horizon-backscatter system. It bounces its signal off the ionosphere. Australia is guarded by several big stations, all a ways inland, and they can see ships, planes, and even sea conditions, out even further than you were. You entered the coverage at roughly the latitude of Cape Leeuwin.” The Jinadlee radar system had cost billions, and had been developed over decades. It is one of the world’s foremost defense radar systems and a point of pride in the Australian services.
Trevor grinned and nodded. “The wind shifted and I was running east, and then I saw land ahead and spotted the pass. Much further north or south and I’d have piled up on that coast. The pirates got everything, including all the nav gear. I’ve been going by sun angles and a watch ever since...” Trevor took a deep breath and explained his route, the storms, and the collision that had mangled Atlantis’s bows.
As Trevor’s brief recount ended, Officer Fowler said again, “Bloody hell,” but this time, it was in an almost reverent tone. He looked around once more and added, “That sounds like one hell of a tale, and I’d love to hear the whole thing, but we’d best get underway first. We’re going to take you under tow. I’ll give you your choice of any place with a marina within four hundred kilometers of here. It’s a short list; Carnarvon, and it’s where we operate out of. It’s about forty klicks northeast of here. We can have you in port in about six hours, and I’ll stay aboard with you. Is there anything I can get you before Craig casts off?”
Trevor nodded, feeling suddenly exhausted. “Yeah, maybe some food... and something besides water to drink.”
“We don’t usually stay out overnight so we don’t have a stocked galley, but I’ll see what I can scrounge. I know we have some soft drinks aboard. Follow me over and we’ll see what we can find, then I’ll make sure you’re properly fed once we get to port.”
Trevor followed Officer Fowler over the side, jumping onto the patrol boat’s deck, where he was led to the wheel housing and introduced to the other, younger, officer, Craig Grundig. Trevor noticed the he, like Fowler, had a mustache. As soon as the introductions were over, Officer Grundig scrambled aboard Atlantis, heading forward with the end of a heavy towline in hand.
Officer Fowler gave Trevor a concerned glance. “Are you feeling up to a few more hours? All we have aboard is a first-aid kit, but I could radio ahead and consult with a doctor, and there’s a bunk forward–”
Trevor shook his head. “I’m okay... just hungry.”
Officer Fowler led Trevor below to the tiny galley, where he handed him a couple of chilled Pepsis, and then glanced in the miniature refrigerator again before saying, “Looks like we’ve got something a Yank should like: hot dogs.”
Officer Fowler would never fully understand Trevor’s wince and cringe.
© 2010 C James
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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.
Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to
Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and