He had retired, at the age of forty five, in 2006. He was offered the opportunity to live anywhere in the British Commonwealth which he might choose. He chose Australia. All immigration conditions were waived but in return Robert had been required to serve as an investigations agent for the Australia Commission for Border Security.
He was paid a generous retainer, attended meetings and offered technical advice. Now, however he had been asked to undertake a specific assignment in the area in which he lived, the Mornington Peninsula. The Peninsula is a narrow finger of paradise reaching into the southern ocean.
It is laced with roads which follow the ridges of hills, bisect the valleys between the hills or cling to serpentine cliffs above the ocean. The north western shore of the Peninsula fronts Port Phillip bay, a vast area of water separated from the ocean by a narrow inlet. The bay is for yachts and windsurfers.
The south eastern shore faces the southern ocean itself. It is for the athletes who thrive in giant surf.
In the centre of the peninsula are a multitude of golf courses and frequent informal horse races set amongst rolling hills, vineyards and the accompanying restaurants.
Since he had retired, Robert had carefully rebuilt his relationship with Fabienne. Now her visit conflicted with his new assignment. The assignment was concerned with preventing the massive quantities of cocaine which were finding their way into the Australian marketplace via Melbourne, which lay at the head of Port Phillip Bay.
It was not coming through the airports nor concealed in conventional shipments through Melbourne’s seaports. A lucky capture of a minor drug dealer had pin-pointed Martha Cove, a new luxury development of waterways and houses on the eastern side of the bay about 100 km south east of Melbourne, as the possible point of import. Martha Cove is at the heart of the Peninsula, very close to Robert’s own house. Importantly it has a back road entrance giving access to motorways direct to the city of Melbourne.
He had just rented a house in Martha Cove and was about to move there the very day Fabienne was due to arrive.
The purpose of his visit was to watch and learn. The pretext of his visit was that he was interested in purchasing one of the luxury houses and a berth on the waterway.
He was determined not to make the same mistake twice. He rationalised the situation by explaining to his controller that Fabienne’s presence gave him improved cover. He explained the background to his concern. ‘If necessary, can I tell her what my mission is?’
‘Hmm, what is her name? French citizen? Go find yourself a coffee. Come back in an hour.’ Robert was relieved but somewhat surprised that his proposal was accepted without argument. He rose to leave.
Oh !Robert. just one condition. If you do find it necessary to tell her what you are doing you must never let her out of your sight until the operation is complete.’
Robert nodded. He did not find that to be a problem.
Nevertheless his conscience pricked. The import of drugs was, he suspected, masterminded by Columbian drug lords or at least their licensees.
They were notorious for the brutality with which they removed opposition. Was he right in exposing Fabienne to the possible dangers?
Too late! She came through the arrival gates at the airport and strode towards Robert with her full length coat and the underlying skirt swinging from her hips. He took her in his arms and kissed her firmly.
‘You look magnificent’ he breathed in her ear. As he carried her case to the car he told her of his plans. ‘We are not going to my house in Mornington, it is too small, I have rented a holiday home in a marina. In fact I may move there but in the meantime 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 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 sea.
Robert had planned to take over the house at Martha Cove a week before the period in which some activity was expected. That week 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 and spent long evenings, sipping champagne, watching sunsets and gently caressing each other.
He discovered that Fabienne liked to make love in the afternoons. ‘Eet is something I have discovered over the years. ‘L’alcool does not mix well with faire une partie de jambes en l’air, particularly for les femmes.’
Robert chuckled but complied. Fabinne certainly liked a few glasses of wine with her evening meal and faire une partie de jambes en l’air which roughly translates into ‘make a game of legs in the air’ was much closer to Fabiennes preferences than the more mundane English term.
Fabienne had brought with her all her learning about Cathar ways of making love which she had learned from her visits to the Bibliotheque Nationale or perhaps, Robert wondered, somewhere else. An essential part of this learning was that the woman was always in charge. It was not, Robert reflected, really an imposition.
The first afternoon she asked Robert to stay in the lounge whilst she prepared herself. She reappeared in revealing nightware, simply beconing with a finger to tell him to follow her into the bedroom.
On the second day, when she reappeared, her naked body was covered with elaborate pattens of body make up.
On the third afternoon, when Robert was panting with anticipation, she led him into the bedroom but told him she wanted just to sleep. He tried to persuade her otherwise by caressing her as persuasively as he knew how, but she pushed him away, this time wagging her finger. ‘Non Roberre, cette apres midi we will sleep.’
The last thing Robert could do was sleep, He was aching with desire but he realised it was Fabienne’s way of keeping him under her control.
The following day she produced produced some gold anklets, bracelets and a gold choker necklet. They were all of a matching decorative design. She produced a small golden key with which she locked them in place.
‘Now Roberre, using the jewellery, you must constain me.’ She pulled some silken ropes from her bag in the wardrobe.
‘Maintenant, Roberre, aujourd’hui you are in charge. You may do anything…’ she fluttered her eyelashes. ‘ Que vous vouloir. There are several ways in which I can be constrained. I will leave you to decide.’
The next day she ran a bath for Robert. She donned an approximation to an traditional maids uniform, very short, wearing nothing undeneath and helped him wash; following up by giving him a full body massage . Robert could not help asking the question. ‘Where on Earth did you find that uniform.’ Fabienne smiled. ‘Roberre I have been planning carefully for you, c’est exactement ce que je cherchais. I have other uniforms which…’ she smiled coquettisly, ‘ you may or may not see.
Robert had to remind himself that he was here for a specific purpose, not simply to enjoy his developing relationship with Fabienne.
He occassionally broke away from Fabienne, producing a plan of all the moorings in the marina and the boat registration numbers of every boat he found moored there. The moorings were in themselves expensive so he was particularly interested in the ones where there were no boats. He visited the marina management and the local estate 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.”
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.’
Yvonne closed one eye completely and lifted the other eyebrow. ‘Tell me more.’
Robert sighed, but remembering what had happened to their marriage, decided she deserved an explanation.
‘After you left me I told you about my activities for the Britsh Secret Service. 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. 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 from here, Martha Cove. It is a puzzle. How do they this without the pilot noticing?’ Without the ship slowing down? The pilots have been interviewed. They have seen nothing. We have made sure that the pilots are changed for successive visits. None of them have 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. In Paris a car crash nearly killed me. It was because of the heroin. My brother was the high profile fashion designer who was addicted. He was driving the car. He was killed. I loved him.’
She hesitated, her breasts heaving. She continued. ‘We really could do more. An alternative is that we can go out 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.’
Robert could see that she was determined. He nodded assent reasoning that it could do no harm. The next morning at Robert’s insistence, they travelled north to Patterson Lakes to hire the boat.
While Robert negotiated some of the formalities such as his possesion of a boat licence, Fabienne looked at the selection available in the Marina.
‘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 nude 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.’
Just outside of the marina they found a small cafe which allowed Robert to use a land line to get the latest information on the next Atrato vessel. ‘It is called the Rio D’Or and it will pass into the bay around five this evening. The pilot has already left to guide it through the narrow entrance to the bay. We must leave immediately. He pointed at a map, our target is here, latitude 38.18 .’
As they cruised 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 her.
He took the wheel whilst Yvonne clambered round to the foredeck. She removed her clothes very slowly exaggurating every movement.
‘Viola. Le strip- tease.’
Not for the first time Robert reflected that there were still many things he did not know about Fabienne. Her style was impeccable.
A large container ship passed across their bow, ploughing its huge bulk to Melbourne through the clearly defined shipping channel. From the deck of their small cruiser the ship looked enormous, threatening even. Robert stayed well away but saw the glistening reflection of binoculars from the upperdeck. He shouted to Fabienne.
“You are being watched”
She rolled on to her back so that she faced him. She smiled broadly.
‘That is what was intended.’
Robert crossed the shipping channel so that the sun would be behind them and then they saw it. Coming through the entrance to the bay was the Rio D’Or.
Again Robert stayed well clear but as the ship passed by he criscrossed the channel behind it pretending he was trying to jump the wake. He kept at a respectful distance. Again he saw the reflection of glasses on the upper deck. Fabienne stood up and waved at the ship. and almost immediately the numer of reflections multiplied. Fabienne was certainly getting attention. She performed a graceful pirouette and then walked back towards towards the cabin scopoping up her clothes as she did so. “I will go below. I think that would be the more usual reaction for a woman who believed she was being watched, she clambered into the cabin but then pulled up short, pointing back towards the entry to the bay. ‘Robert what do you think it is?’
Robert glanced over his shoulder. ‘ A whale I think, they are not uncommon in the bay, let’s take a closer link it will only take ten 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 full inflated. even as they watched a small beacon emerged from the central bag. In the center 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 shute and then sink until the inflation was activated.. The Pilot and the majority of the crew would no nothing about it.’
Just then a rotating beacon at the top of the tower 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 boats number and use the pre-programmed number on this phone. It is under ABS. You will get a 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 before heading directly for Sorrento. Robert actually ran closer to the coast than he might 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 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 hand gun 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 boats petrol tank. Run, run.’ They scrambled up the cliff path, which wassurrounded by dense scrub. Glancing back Robert could see their pursuers circling just off the beach, obviously wondering 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 had worked. Robert pointed to a tiny button buried in his belt buckle. He quickly took his belt of and tossed it out of the car window, not sure wither the drug dealers would be able to pick up the signal. ‘Better safe than sorry, ‘ he muttered to himself.
They rushed into the house in Martha Cove. Robert did something he had never done on any other assignment. He broke open a bottle of champagne. He reasoned that he had no further part to play, so relaxation was permissible. They tucked themselves into an inconspicuous corner and watched the drama unfold.
Robert looked at Fabienne with amazment. She hadn’t even broken into a sweat. As she sipped her champagne she looked flushed, exited but showed no sign of fear, or even anxiety.
‘If only I had been able to give them a specific mooring a specific address’ Robert grumbled.
Fabienne reached out and held his hand. ‘ Well, rightly or wrongly, I did.’
‘Well when I realised this was not exactly a holidy I did my own survey. A million dollar house with an overgrown garden and ugly dirty sheets over the windows. An equally ugly badly constructed pergola and a concrete covered garden running under the 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.
‘Do you think they will come or will we have scared them off.’
‘ They didn’t look scared to me.’
The sun had set when the boat finally arrived.
Robert gave out a sigh of relief. ‘It is definitely the same boat but they have changed 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 saw 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 walked 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!