She came through the arrival gates at the airport and strode towards Robert, her full-length coat swinging from her hips. He took her in his arms, lifted her feet clear of the floor, spun around and kissed her firmly on the lips.
‘You look magnificent’ he breathed in her ear.
As he carried her case to the car he told her of his plans. , I have rented a house in a marina. It will be a good base for our holiday.’
She folded both her arms around his free arm pulled herself in close to him. “Whatever you say Roberre. All I desire eez you.
He chose the beach road for the drive south out of Melbourne and was delighted to see how enthusiastic she was about her new surroundings. As they left Mount Martha village, Robert pushed his foot hard down. The red convertible responded well. There was a low throaty growl and the car reached for the island at the top of the hill. Robert glanced sideways at Fabienne. She showed no anxiety, only excitement at the sudden acceleration. She clearly enjoyed the turns and twists in the road and the precipitous views of the waters of Port Phillip Bay.
The week that followed exceeded all his expectations. They lay on the terrace until late in the morning, ate at vinyards, played in the surf, walked through the national park, made love in the late afternoon and spent long evenings, sipping champagne, watching sunsets and gently caressing each other.
Robert had to remind himself that he was here for a specific purpose, not simply to enjoy redeveloping his relationship with Fabienne.
He occasionally broke away from Fabienne, entering the boat registration numbers of every boat he found moored in the marina on a plan he obtained from a local estate agent. The moorings were in themselves expensive so he quickly developed a particular interest in the ones where there were no boats. He visited the marina management and revisited the local estate agents to find out if any of the empty moorings were for sale. He ended up with a list of only four moorings which were, in his mind, suspect; permanently empty and not for sale.
Over dinner, on the sixth day’ Fabienne suddenly asked about his activities.’We are not on ‘oliday are we?’ she asked sweetly.
‘Yes, of course we are.’ Robert replied .
Fabienne smiled. “ Roberre, I have watched you, suddenly you have an interest in every boat which passes up and down this waterway or is moored in the marina.”
Robert tried to interrupt but Fabienne brushed him aside. ‘We are here together. Please tell me why we are here.’
He dropped his head and remained silent.
She did not relent. ‘Dites-moi.’
Robert finally looked up. ‘It has been wonderful but I think you should leave now. I do not want to expose you to any danger.’
Her eyes flickered. ‘So we are in the danger, yes?’
Robert responded. ‘Well, if what I suspect is correct.’ He hesitated ‘Yes we are.’
Fabienne closed one eye completely and lifted the other eyebrow. ‘Tell me more.’
Robert sighed but decided she deserved an explanation.
‘Our marriage foundered because I worked for the Britsh Secret Service. I was frequently absent but could not satisfactorily explain where I had been. I pleaded with you. If you had come back to me, I would have resigned there and then…but…you did not return.
‘ You are still a spy?’ she asked.
‘Yes Fabienne, I still am a spy… well sort of. I now work as a consultant to the Australian Border Control Service. We are here because I am hoping to gather information about drug smugglers.’
He stood up. ‘We have two pieces of information. The first is the movement of shipping through the bay and the second is the cycles of marketing of drugs in the Australian market. The cycles vary in response to availability. This points to one specific shipping line Adventuras Atrato.
Fabiennes face was grim and her jaw hardened ‘Cocaine?’
‘Yes certainly cocaine, but also heroine. The next Atrato vessel arrives tomorrow. The ships are thoroughly searched when they reach the port. They are clean. The dogs taken on board can smell nothing.’
‘So how are they doing this?’
‘We believe that out there in the bay.’ He nodded over his shoulder, ‘A package containing the drugs is somehow transferred to a pleasure cruiser. We did break one of the supply chains and are certain the supply route lies through this marina, Martha Cove.
It is a puzzle. How does the transfer take place? Without the ship slowing down? There is a pilot on every boat. The pilots have been interviewed. They have seen nothing. We have made sure that the pilots are changed for successive visits by ships of the Adventuras Atrato line. None of them has seen anything.’
‘And how will your observations help?’
‘We need a third piece of Information. If we can correlate the movement of boats through the waterways of Martha Cove with the movement of Atrato ships we should be able to pin-point who, if anyone, within this cove is handling the drugs. Then when we are sure when the next Atrato ship arrives we will be able to catch them and their trading network red handed.’
Fabienne raised her eyebrows. ‘But Robert, to get a reliable correlation you will need two perhaps three instances of Atrato passages. Surely we could do more to catch them now, this time.’
Robert shook his head. ‘No it is not the way we work. When the information has been checked and double checked, well-manned raids can be made in many different locations at the same time. In this way, a whole network can be destroyed”
Fabienne snorted annoyance. ‘And in the meantime, thousands of people will be ensnared by the ready availability of drugs.
She hesitated, her breasts heaving. ‘My own brother died of a drug overdose.’ She continued. ‘We really could and should do more. An alternative is to go out tomorrow and watch the next Atrato vessel. We will hire a boat. No one will suspect anything. There are dozens of boats out there every day. Who knows what we might discover.’
Robert could see that she was determined. He nodded assent reasoning that it could do no harm.
Early the next morning, they travelled north to Patterson Lakes to hire a boat.
‘Roberre, louer celui-là’. She pointed at a cruiser with an elevated sun deck in front of the central cabin. ‘ I will take un bain de soleil’…without closes, on the forward deck and if anyone approaches us I will scramble slowly to the cabin. They will be too busy watching me to suspect any ulterior motives.”
She blinked slowly twice and then lowered her eyes feigning shyness.
‘Of course, this does mean you will spend a large part of the day watching me lying entirely naked immediately in front of you, but I am sure you will be able to endure that!’ Another coy smile. ‘I will try hard not to distract you.’
Robert made a quick call to confirm the timing of the next ship.
‘We must leave immediately. It is called Rio D’Or. He pointed at a map, ‘ We must intercept it as soon as possible after it enters the Bay. ‘
As they powered towards the shipping lines in the middle of the bay Fabienne steered the boat. Robert leaned on the side of the cabin. It would have been so easy to forget the purpose of the trip. The low landscape of sand-dunes surrounded them as they moved south past the more substantial bulks of Mt. Eliza, Mt Martha and Arthurs Seat. At a distance, they passed the tiny towns of Sorrento and Portsea, clusters of hard man-made structures against the soft background. Wonderful contrasts, magical to the eye. The azure water glistened in the sun and for a couple of kilometres, dolphins played at the bow of the boat.
‘ We are getting close’ Robert warned Fabienne.
He took the wheel whilst Yvonne clambered round to the foredeck. She removed her clothes very slowly, exaggerating every movement.
‘Viola. Le striptease.’
Not for the first time, Robert reflected that there were still many things he did not know about Fabienne. Her style as a striptease artist was impeccable.
Robert crossed the shipping channel so that the sun would be behind them. Then they saw it. Coming through the entrance to the bay was the Rio D’Or.
Robert stayed well clear but as the ship passed by he crisscrossed the channel behind it pretending he was trying to jump the wake. He kept at a respectful distance. He saw the reflection of glasses on the upper deck. ‘You are being watched Fabienne.’
Fabienne stood up and waved at the ship. ‘Good that is what was intended.’ Almost immediately the number of reflections multiplied. She performed a graceful pirouette and then walked back towards the cabin scooping up her clothes as she did so. She clambered into the cabin but then pulled up short, pointing back towards the entrance to the bay. ‘Roberre, what do you think it eez?’
Robert glanced over his shoulder. ‘ A whale I think, they are not uncommon in the bay, hmm, let’s take a closer link, it will only take five minutes. Take the binoculars and keep an eye on the Rio d’Or. Hold on.’ He opened up the throttles and steered in a tight arc.
‘It’s not a whale.’
‘What is it then.’
‘I really don’ t know.’
He approached the object with great caution. ‘ It is a big plastic bag… inflatable.’
It was not fully inflated; it was soft, wobbly in the water. In the centre was a much smaller bag which was fully inflated. Even as they watched a small beacon ripped its way out of the central bag. In the centre of the beacon was a glistening container, a metre and a half high by perhaps a meter in diameter.
Fabienne had run back to the front of the boat and was leaning over the bowsprit. ‘So that is how it is done,’ she yelled back to Robert. ‘Before inflation, this could be a small package. It could be pushed out of a refuse chute and then sink until the inflation was activated. The pilot and the majority of the crew would no nothing about it.’
Just then the beacon burst into life and an antenna rose into the air. Robert glanced around. ‘ Get your clothes on quickly and get back into the cabin, vite, vite.’
He told Fabienne his worst fears. “The inflation is not triggered from the ship, but from the pick-up vessel. The package would lie on the bottom of the channel until the pick-up boat is close.”
‘And here they come.’ A dot quickly grew into a boat, travelling fast, very fast, as it homed in on the beacon.
‘I think it is time we were not here. They will not be pleased someone has discovered their secret. Look how fast that boat is moving. We will run for Sorrento.
He gave her a set of binoculars and a mobile telephone. He barked instructions “We will pass across the bows of the boat. Get the boat’s number and use the pre-programmed number on this phone. It is under ABS. You will get direct contact with the duty response officer. My password for today is “Jaguar”. Tell them what we have found and the number of the boat. Tell them to organise a response team in position at Martha Cove. Pity but I do not know the exact house to watch, they will have to improvise. Oh! And ask them to pick us up in Sorrento.” He pushed the throttles forward for both engines and wheeled the boat over. Robert ran closer to the coast than he might otherwise have done to avoid passing too close to their antagonists.
His caution was well founded. There was a crack, and then a whizzing sound. ‘They are seriously trying to stop us, that was a bullet.’
Fabienne was still talking on the phone and was talking to response officer. ‘ We are under fire,’ she told him.
Even though their boat seemed to be jumping from wave tip to wave tip it could not compare with the speed of the pursuing boat. It became clear that they could not make Sorrento. Robert swerved the boat from side to side, to make them a more difficult target. There was then a sharp smack.
Robert winced. ‘ You OK Fabienne? That shot hit the boat. I didn’t only hear it. I felt it.’
They were now speeding past a coastline of low cliffs with exclusive residences on the cliff top. Many of the houses had steps running down the cliff to their own private jetty. There were dozens of the jetty’s protruding up to 30 metres from the cliff face. The pursuing boat was closing fast. Robert made a decision.
‘We are going ashore here, brace yourself, grab my bag, I have a handgun in there and I think we might need it.’ There was no way he could slow down to turn between the jetties, so he attempted to go underneath, heading directly for a beach at the bottom of one of the cliff paths. Fabienne braced herself against the cabin wall. The boat hit one of the pier supports which happened to be metal. Sparks flew everywhere. The boat skidded sideways taking out the supports at the other side of the pier. At this point there was a small storage hut on the pier, now immediately above them. It toppled over but then exploded bringing burning debris raining down on the rear of the boat. They were protected by the cabin but Robert swore and Fabienne screamed. They were now hidden from their pursuers by smoke and flame. The boat was still travelling fast but sideways as it slammed into a rocky outcrop at the foot of the cliff.
‘Jump’ yelled Robert. He was always amazed how high from the ground is the deck of a boat. Nevertheless, they both safely made the jump into soft sand and in seconds were on the cliff path. At that instant, their boat exploded. They could not help looking back. It looked like a war movie with smoke and flame everywhere.
‘Did we do that,’ asked Fabienne with a note of awe in her voice.
‘We did have a little bit of help, if you can call it that. A bullet must have hit a fuel tank on the pier. I suspect the earlier bullet must have hit the boat’s petrol tank. Run, run.’ They scrambled up the cliff path, which was surrounded by dense scrub. Glancing back Robert could see their pursuers circling just off the beach, obviously wondering about the fate of their prey and waiting for the smoke to clear.
‘They will come in to check on what has happened’ Robert told her, ‘ then they will return to pick up their package and sink the inflatable to keep their secret safe, that will give us time.” They ran through the grounds of the house. Out on the road, they started running towards Sorrento. A dull green car screamed towards them and performed a handbrake turn.
The driver looked anxious. ‘Jump in’ he said and then as the car sped off ‘Not very precise are you, I was told Sorrento harbour.’
‘Oh! Well. Something worked.’ Robert pointed to a tiny button buried in his belt buckle. He quickly removed his belt and tossed it out of the car window, not sure wither the drug dealers would be able to pick up the signal.
Robert sighed. ‘Better safe than sorry. I think they will return to the Marina. If only I had been able to give the response officer a specific mooring, a specific address’.
Fabienne reached out and held his hand. ‘ Well, rightly or wrongly, I did. Just now, on the phone.’
‘Well, when I realised this was not exactly a holiday I did my own survey. What did I find? A million dollar house with an overgrown garden and dirty sheets over the windows. The Whole of the garden was covered with concrete running under an ugly covered pergola which could only be a loading bay Fabienne grinned. ‘It looks like… it probably is… a warehouse’
She grinned again. ‘ Je regrette, Roberre, nothing to do with les boat numbers or berthing facilities.
They were on their balcony in Martha Cove, once again watching the sunset, when the boat finally arrived.
Robert gave out a sigh of relief. ‘It is definitely the same boat but they have somehow managed to change the number.’
There was no move from the response team until the cylinder had been removed from the boat and laboriously carried into the house. Then they came in waves from every direction. It was obviously successful and soon there were flashing lights up and down the waterway and in the roads behind the waterfront houses as the cleanup operation commenced.
Robert excused himself and used a small tender to cross the waterway. He satisfied himself that there were no outstanding items which he had to address and was returning to the tender when he he nearly bumped into a man standing on the boardwalk speaking softly into a mobile telephone. The man spoke in English with the slightest French accent.
‘Highly satisfactory, commander, evereething we could have wanted.’
The mystery man closed his mobile phone and hurried away along the boardwalk towards the beach carpark. Robert looked around, Across the waterway on the balcony, he could see Fabienne also using a mobile phone. At the very instant the mystery man hung up Fabienne closed her own phone and retreated from the balcony. Robert stared into the darkness his mind in a whirl. Commander? Fabienne? He laughed nervously and then relaxed. No, it was just not possible!