by JACK DEY
A compelling novel of mystery and exotic intrigue set in northern, tropical Australia and loosely based on historical fact. Things are not always what they seem.
The faded blue paintwork of the converted trawler Annemarie made him wince. He could not afford to paint her again. She was a sixty foot, forty year old fishing boat and in her heyday she was the fastest and tidiest vessel in the northern fleet. Since the government had cracked down on the fishing industry and developed great allotments of marine park in the lucrative fishing grounds of the greater north eastern coast and Torres Strait, Damon and most of the other vessel owners had fallen on hard times. His misfortunes continued, until he had to sell his fishing licence just to keep his beloved Annemarie.
He peppered his disdain for his demise, with large toxic amounts of alcohol, that should have killed any other man. In the morning, he was clear headed again and at the helm. Damon was known amongst his peers as a tough, no nonsense skipper. He prided himself on his skill and ability to conquer and tame the sea in any of her moods. His crew did what he said without question, otherwise it was a long way to swim, as some of his past crew had found out. He was a tall, dark haired man, built on solid muscle, with a face worn hard by continuing battle with the sea. He looked a lot older than his thirty eight years. He had a knack for sniffing out trouble and on more than one occasion had to use his fists to clear his nostrils.
Below decks, Annemarie had a good sized galley; sizeable cabins along the port and starboard sides, fitted out with bunk beds; a common toilet and bathroom; and plenty of room undercover. All in all, she could comfortably accommodate ten people. Her hull was a deep vee, all steel. And she cut through the water like a well sharpened knife. Perfectly at home in the roughest of seas. Damon was reduced to running Annemarie on joyrides into the Torres Strait for rich tourists. It pricked his pride and irked him to have rich boys climbing all over his boat. Still, it was money, even if he had to play along with these snot noses. They paid to keep his vessel in the water.
Today was a strange charter. A young woman had hired his boat and his crew to take her to Bathurst Bay, on some secret mission. She had paid cash up front. There was a mythology amongst the fisherman of the Torres Strait. To anchor in Bathurst Bay, was considered bad luck. It all stemmed back to some cyclone that had snuck up on the pearling fleet in Bathurst Bay, a hundred and fifty years ago and wiped out the fleet anchored there. Legend has it, at night when the south east gales come, you can hear the souls of the lost, crying out for help in the pitch darkness. Damon shook the thought from his mind and wiped his mouth, immediately accepting the young woman’s cash. He had not seen so much money in cash for a long time. The destination would remain concealed from the crew, for the moment. He did not want them getting spooked and abandoning ship. After all, if he didn’t take the charter, someone else would.
The woman was covered head to toe. Khaki, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, hat and sunglasses. He wasn’t any good at guessing women’s ages, but if he had to take a stab, he would say twenty five.
“Mister,” she said.
“Damon,” he replied.
“Damon, let me get something up front, straight away. I am chartering your boat for a specific purpose. I will not tolerate any interference in my business. I expect you to keep to your business. Are we agreed?”
Damon’s hackles went up, but he swallowed them back down. After all, she had paid good money for the charter. “Whatever you say, Miss….?”
“Elishia. Elishia will do fine.”
He helped her onboard, had one of the crew show her to her cabin, while the others stowed her gear.
It was nearing mid morning when Damon eased Annemarie from her berth on Thursday Island. It was close to high tide, so there was plenty of water in the south eastern channel. If he was delayed a couple of hours, the tide would be too low and he would have to take the western channel. That would add nearly a hundred nautical miles to his journey. He had taken on fuel, food and water the day before, in anticipation of the voyage. The crystal clear, emerald green waters of the Torres Strait, still took his breath away, even after twenty years. He was doing what he loved and that was all that mattered.
Horn Island was to starboard. He had been involved in a lot of fights there, usually at the local bar, sitting minding his own business. A drunk local would recognise him and want to settle a score. It was a rough place where the dregs of the earth seemed to inevitably find a home. He did not care for the uncivilized rough-necks that hung around, looking for trouble. Thursday Island, however, just twenty minutes across the harbour by boat from Horn, was civilized and comfortable, with a family feel to it.
A contrast that he did not understand.
The other islands surrounding Thursday Island were primitive and sparsely inhabited. Usually by people looking to escape something, or someone. The harbour at Thursday Island was a naturally occurring safe haven, protected by Hammond Island to the North; Palilug Island to the North-West; Gialug to the South-West; Muralug to the South; and Horn to the South-West. Several tidal channels allowed shipping to enter and leave the harbour safely at high water. Annemarie’s engine, just above idle, pushed the sixty foot vessel slowly through the calm waters of the harbour. Damon steered her into the South East channel and pushed her throttle forward to wide open. Annemarie dug her stern in and the bow lifted, like a racehorse given its head, unlocked from its stall.
Elishia was standing against the railing at the bow, just staring into the expanse of emerald water. Her long, auburn hair danced crazily behind her in the wind. She was directly in front of Damon’s view, as he skilfully orchestrated the vessel’s controls. He found himself staring at her form and there was no doubt, she was a stunner.
Annemarie burst out of the South East channel and was now in open water, the swell gently rocking the vessel, like a mother lulling a child to sleep. Damon pushed the buttons on the chart plotter: 14 degrees 25 minutes South, 144 degrees 23 minutes East, set, enter. The apparatus beeped, as it accepted the instruction. Set auto pilot, enter. Another beep. Annemarie was acting on her own now, which left Damon to attend to other things. The voyage would take 12 hours. Damon opened the wheelhouse door that led to the forward deck, where Elishia was standing. He startled her when he spoke and brought her back to herself. She had been a long way away and judging by her facial reaction, he was intruding on some sacred moment.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? The sea, I mean.”
“I don’t mean to intrude, but you…..”
“Damon!” she interrupted, in a low voice that he had to struggle to hear, ”I thought we had this discussion before we left T.I.”
His dark eyes narrowed, as he met hers. Fury burned and he turned and stalked away.
RELEASED 25 NOVEMBER 2013
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