I never imagined when I stepped off the plane that my innocent trip would turn into the fiasco it did. All I had planned was to visit Jim, my son, and his wife and the two girls. The trip down to Hobart doesn’t take long but long enough.
On the plane over from Melbourne, I had spent the whole time talking to a very pleasant American, and his rather dowdy wife, about storage batteries for solar-powered electricity generators. They were on a short tour of Tassie before they returned to the US. He dropped some important names and seemed to know what he was on about. He was interesting; like those times back in a classroom when a boring subject suddenly makes sense.
The plane touched down on time but the car hire firm, that is well-known for its support of a Tour de France cycling team, didn’t like my bank card and I had to take a forty minute taxi trip to get a new card. I didn’t get on the road for about two hours. It’s very clear in the hiring contract that they are supposed to accept my card. However, the effect was to make me just a little bit short-tempered the rest of the time.
Because I was now reluctant to use the hire car, I started taking bus trips and that’s where the whole thing really started. I wanted to go over to Bellerive Yacht Club to look at a small house boat that was for sale and as we were going down Argyle Street I saw the American standing in a shop doorway conversing with three other fellows in a way that indicated all four were well-known to each other. So, I thought, you aren’t just a casual tourist filling in time before you get the plane back to America. And anyway, Hobart isn’t a big enough town to hide in so why tell me a lie. Put it out of your mind, I said to myself, you’ve got better things to do.
I made my way to the Yacht Club and asked to see the boat that I had my eye on, which, apart from being a bit of a jumbled metaphor, made me forget the Yank.
The Club Commodore pointed me in the right direction and told me to feel free to wander about and crawl all over the boat. I did. I really wanted to know how it would be actually living on it so I arranged to sleep on board the next night.
I went back to my son’s place and had a great time building on my relationship with the two girls and on the following day I wandered back to the boat and settled in with a book and a half a bottle of Sullivan’s Cove single malt. Because I’m now well past seventy I tend to wake up about an hour after midnight when I hear the call of nature. I staggered onto the deck and saw a couple of blokes about two or three boats away moving stuff up the jetty to a small truck. They were being very quiet so I was too. On their way back a third bloke joined them and even it the half-light I could see it was my brand new American friend. All three went below and all I heard from them was a low mumble of voices.
Now since I left the Army after all the trouble with the Bookie Robbery and unmarked Owen guns I have had nothing to do with naughty people; but these people were acting naughty. I gave the three a bit of time and then crept as silently as I could to their boat and listened but could still hear little. I heard a slight noise behind me and turned around and everything went black.
When I woke up my head hurt and I was back in my own boat. The Yank was sitting on the opposite bunk smoking one of my cigarettes and drinking a glass of my whisky.
“Sorry about the head,” he said. “And thanks for the drink. This is very nice hooch but I prefer Bourbon.” Anyone who prefers Bourbon to a really good Single Malt Whisky is a bit suspect in my mind and I was beginning to develop a certain feeling about Mr Whatever.
I tried to sit up but my body wouldn’t do what my brain told it. The Yank poured me a shot and I finally cleared enough to throw my legs off the bunk and sit up. My wallet was on the table and all my cards were spread out like a game of solitaire. But the ace was my old Army ID.
“My name is Steinfeld. And I’m pleased to meet you,” he said. “We didn’t introduce ourselves properly on the ‘plane.”
“You obviously know my name by now and I don’t think I like you very much.”
Steinfeld started talking and I sat and listened. Not because I didn’t have anything to say – I did – but my head hurt.
“I’m very sorry about the head, John,” he said. I was about to say that he was taking a bit of a liberty using my first name while introducing himself as Steinfeld but he short-circuited things. “My name is Hank but you can call me Henry.”
I didn’t want to call him anything. “So who hit me?”
“An associate of mine. If you sit back I’ll tell you why. You just stumbled onto a very involved case of international drug smuggling. And the interesting thing about the coincidence is that, according to an ID card I found in your wallet, you are an old retired snoop. Australian Army Retired. Or was it ASIO? It doesn’t matter much, which it is. What does matter is that I need to trust someone and you just drew four kings. I am here seconded to the Australian Federal Police. The AFP needed someone in deep cover in a group bringing cocaine into Australia from Colombia. The group was an American gang from LA and getting an Aussie into that group was too dangerous. That’s where I come in.”
“And how am I supposed to believe that you aren’t just one of the gang?”
“Because, if I was, you’d be dead by now.”
“How did I get back into this boat?”
“We carried you back and in about an hour you’re supposed to sail away down river and this boat will blow up and you will blow up with it. Unless you do what I tell you.”
“Right,” I said. “So they are bad blokes. You are a good bloke and you are going to blow me to the top of Mt Wellington but because you are a good bloke you are going to save me. Is that right?”
“Yeah. Sort of. What you’re gonna do is be dead before the boat sails. I’m about to tie your legs and arms to the anchor and then knock you on the head again. Then the baddies will come and set a small bomb on the boat and I’ll sail it down the river. Then I will hop off onto the gang’s boat and leave you to die. But I wont tie the rope very well and you will escape. And before the boat blows you will slide very quietly over the side and swim to shore, safety and international glory.”
“Brilliant!” I said. “How do I know all this will work?”
“You don’t. But if you don’t trust me you’re as good as dead now.”
“Right. So supposing I go along with this stupid idea where does the ‘international glory’ bit come into it?”
“The ‘international glory’ bit works this way. My contact with the AFP has gone missing. I don’t think he’s dead but somehow our links have all broken. You are going to get to see the AFP and tell them what I’ve told you. And then the drug group will be blown to Hell and High Water and you’ll be a hero.”
“And why will the AFP believe me? I’m just an old bugger who jumped out of his boat when it burst into flames. It’s happened before.”
“I know all that but there are a few things I’ll tell you that’ll make ’em believe ya.”
He then told me a lot of fine detail about the operation and if I forgot half of it there’d still be enough for the least gullible Federal copper to work out that I was on the level. I wasn’t looking forward to another bonk on the scone but Henry said he would make it look dinkum but he wouldn’t hurt me much. Yeah! As if!
“Is there any of my whisky left?” I asked. A bloke has to get his priorities right, especially if there is a decent chance he might not wake up tomorrow.
I don’t know exactly what happened while I was unconscious but Hank had apparently been ‘wired’ the whole time and the conversation I missed has been copied from all the transcriptions of his that were collated in the end. It starts about the time I crawled up to their boat to have a squizz:
-Hey shut up. There’s someone outside.
-It’s probably Marken. He went to get coffee.
-No. Can’t be. It’d take longer.
Suddenly the there is the noise of a loud thump and the fourth man bursts in.
-What’s goin’ on Marken?
-I saw someone sneakin’ up to listen so I knocked him. One of you give us a hand to drag him in.
-No, leave him out there. It’d be easier to drag him down the jetty and slip him over the side.
-I saw him earlier. He’s from that boat down a bit. The “Lauren Bacal”. I’ve got an idea what we can do with him and it might come in handy.
This was Steinfeld talking. Then noises of grunting and heaving as, I assume, they dragged me back to my boat. I guess I can call it ‘my’ boat now. The tape continued:
-OK, so what’s y’ great idea?
-Well. We tie him up and knock him out again if he wakes up. Then we set his boat going and head it out down the river. We rig up a bomb with a delayed fuse and when it blows up he blows up with it and it’ll look like an accident.
-Bloody waste of time if y’ ask me. Why blow up a perfectly good boat just to kill one guy? Total waste of effort.
-Oh harken to Marken. said a new voice.
-Let me explain. We have to get our stuff out of Hobart and on the road to Devonport for the ferry. This is a small town and so it’s harder to disappear if the local police are looking around. I don’t think they have any reason to look but I want to be as careful as possible. Australia’s Maritime Border Police are a suspicious lot of bastards and I want them to look somewhere else for the next little while. Now a boat blowing up and a dead man with it would be like cheese in a mouse trap. While everyone is looking at the river we’ll be heading up the road. Home free.
-Okay. Fair enough. But why tie ‘im up? Why not put a slug in his head?
-Cos we don’t want them to get all the answers first up. We make it suspicious but not simple.
After that Steinfeld explained a little more.
“I was really stuck for an idea,” he said. “When I lost contact with the AFP bloke I thought the whole deal was going to blow up in our faces. Then you came along. When I saw you were an ex-copper I was thrilled.”
“I’m not an ex-copper. I’m just an ex Army bloke who found himself in the middle of some trouble.”
“Well whatever you were or are, I need you to help.”
He told me what vehicle they were using and he suggested that the local police find a spot half way up the road to Devonport and stop them in a ‘routine’ roadblock. Maybe checking for illegal fruit or maybe a ‘booze’ bus. Maybe around Deloraine. They would be a long way from Hobart and would drop their guard a bit. It was my job to survive a bomb. Survive a long swim. That’s if the boat ends up in a decent spot in the river. And most of all, my job is to convince the local fuzz to believe me and do what Steinfeld suggests.
I hope Steinfeld knows what he’s doing. I hope I do too. Then Steinfeld proceeded to tie me up.
“Not too tight, I trust, but tight enough to make sure the others don’t notice,” he said. Then he told me which end of the rope he had used to tie the knot that I could undo. It was a bit like tying your shoelaces. All I had to do, according to my newest very best friend, was to hook the end over a piece of a cupboard and pull back and my hands would come free. Then he wacked me across the head and rubbed something in both my eyes that stung a little but made my eyes swell up so I looked like he’d given me a real belting.
Then the three others came down, with Marken still grizzling about the waste of a good boat. They attached a small device that was supposed to set of a fire and at the same time launched a distress flare. I would hopefully be free and off the boat before that happened. Again it was Marken who asked the question that I would like to ask.
“What’s the idea of the flare? Why advertise?”
“Because, my sceptical friend, we want as many people looking in that direction when we want to head off North.”
“Can I at least put a bullet in his head now? To make sure.”
“No. It has to look like he died in the fire.” I was happy old Hank was concerned with my wellbeing.
Hank and two of the others left, Marken amongst them, thankfully. I trusted him less than I trusted any of the others. I don’t think he was a very nice crook.
The bloke they left on the boat started the motor and headed it out into the centre of the river. There was a small dinghy being towed behind and when everything was all set, he slipped over the stern and rowed back to the jetty.
I gave him a few minutes to get away and rolled over to the cupboard door and tried the loose shoelace trick. I had been skeptical about this part of the plan right from the start but as luck would have it good ole Hank baby was true to his word.
I slipped over the starboard side and watched the “Lauren Bacal” motor out of my life. And not too soon either because about a minute later she burst into flame, a rocket flared into the sky and I struck out for the shore. I really hoped to be picked up before too long because I am not a very strong swimmer and on top of that I’m getting too bloody old to be a hero.
A local fisherman pulled me out of the water after about three minutes and soon I was on board the Harbour Police launch.
“I want to see an AFP officer immediately,” I said. I wasn’t in the mood to be polite although if I had been I might have been looked after better.
“You can see the bloody Prime Minister, for all I care. But not until I finish with a few questions.” This guy was a pedantic bureaucrat who obviously wanted to do everything the correct way. You’d have thought that pulling an old bloke out of the water after an accidental fire would have made him treat me well but I suppose it was my fault. Then we both calmed down and I explained a little about the set up and he sent me back to shore in a rescue boat.
The AFP people were very interested in my story.
“Yeah. We wondered where that group had got to. Your Yankee mate stopped contact about two weeks ago. We know they left New Zealand then, but he told us they were headed for Queensland. Now you tell us they’re thousands of miles South. I don’t know why Steinfeld didn’t contact us when they got to Hobart.”
“He told me,” I said, “That he’d lost contact and didn’t know what to do. That’s why he set up this exploding boat caper so that I could let you know what’s up.”
Next thing I know, after I’d had a shower and a new set of clothes, the AFP fellows hopped in a chopper, with me, and we headed North to stop the cocaine just South of Devonport. There was a squad from the Devonport Police and a .05 Booze Bus started checking alcohol levels of everyone driving North. And they stayed there for the next two days, and nights, and nobody who looked anything like the three wise men came by.
And my gut started to churn and my hiatus hernia started to pain and my scepticism about my friend and acquaintance Mr Hank the Yank Steinfeld began to grow from a tiny seed into a bloody great lump. The question was, “Have we all been taken for a ride?” The answer is pretty bloody sure to be ‘YES’.
A week passed. The trail went cold.
Two weeks. Nothing. No vessel left Hobart without being searched. No plane flew off from Launceston Airport. No ferry left Devonport. The whole island of Tasmania was netted. Nothing got through.
The cops in Melbourne said there was no new cocaine on the streets. Hank and his three mates had gone. Vanished.
There were theories. One was that Hank’s cover had been blown and he was dead. Or one of the gang got greedy and killed all the others. Or they’d gone walk-a-bout up the Tamar valley or shacked up on Cradle Mountain.
I went back to Melbourne and tried to put it out of my mind. It wasn’t my war anyway. It had been an adventure. The adventure was over. Get on with your life. But deep down it irritated me like a corn on the ball of my foot. Every step I took there was this dull pain.
I had gone down to Tassie in the first place to see my granddaughters. They liked seeing me and I enjoyed seeing them and building a decent relationship. If I needed an excuse to go back I had one. But I didn’t need an excuse. So I started a habit. In my gut I felt Hank was alive and was still on the island. So I planned to visit every town and seaside village on the coast.
Every couple of weeks I went down to Hobart. I bought an old bomb and drove up the coast starting from Orford. Tasmania is an island for goodness sake. There was no way they had got off the island. The authorities had them locked in but I was going to find them. I’d drive into town and go down to the boats or the pub and start lounging around. An old guy in an old car with a cold glass of Boags draught in his hand is an easy guy to talk to. And I was an easy guy to talk to.
I built up a good yarn. My father had been a US Marine but mum was from Tassie. I had a brother and when mum died we went to live in Seattle with Dad’s family. When he was about thirty – all this was my story – my brother came back to live in Australia. All my life I’ve wanted to get back in touch with him. I reckon he’d be living on the coast because we’d lived on the coast in America. I faked a slight Yankee accent and said I wanted to buy a little boat. Did anyone know if there was anything for sale. Or a house maybe. But on the water. Then I’d leave and go on up the coast to the next town.
I spent maybe a week or five days and then go back to Hobart, say hello to the girls and leave for Melbourne. Then three weeks later I’d be back. I’d head up the coast, drop in on one or two of my new friends and then hit some more towns.
This went on for about six months and I was now up nearly as far as Launceston. Now every time I did my little trip I’d stop in at the Bicheno pub and stay the night. Terry the publican and I got to be on first name terms and this time he started like this;
“Funny thing the other day,” Terry started, “This bloke comes in with a couple of mates. They was pretty hush-hush. You know, kept to they-selfs. Didn’t talk with nobody just had a meal and a beer or two. But they was all Yanks. Didn’t like ‘em much. Not ‘cos they was Yanks. But you know. One of ‘em was or right but the other two were surly bastards. Didn’t like ‘em.”
Then this other bloke piped up. “Yeah, I saw ‘em too. They got this cabin out about two k on the Rosedale road. Johnnie Knifton’s old place. Poor old Johnnie. Y’ know he’s had to go inta Hobart to live with his daughter. Ever since he had that fall a way back. Done his hip the old bugger. Doc Williams told him he had ta.”
I left them talking and went back to Hobart. If Hank and his mates were living in ‘Johnnie Knifton’s old place’ then I wanted a few mates of my own. I wanted mates with guns and police badges and all that that entails. It had to be them. It was too much of a coincidence to be anyone else.
So I was right. They hadn’t left Tassie. But what happened to the third man?
The AFP people told me to go back to the pub at Bicheno and wait.
“Those three will turn up sooner or later,’ I was told.
“But what do I do if they turn up while I’m on my own? Hank won’t be able to help me and when they see me they’d know something fishy was going on.”
“We’ll have people around. You won’t know they’re there but they’ll make sure you’re OK.”
I’m not proud enough to say I wasn’t scared out of my tiny pink little mind. Why didn’t I stay in Melbourne while I had the chance! And what did I think I was, playing stupid hide and seek games with professional killers. Anyway there were only three of them and Hank was on my side and when it happened, and it certainly would happen, there would be Hank and me on one side and the other two against.
“When will your men get here?” I wanted to know.
“They’re coming in on Friday from Canberra. There’s only one man in Australia who knows Hank by sight and we don’t want to make any mistake if anyone starts firing bang bangs. Apart from his liaison bloke who went missing about a month ago. We think he was blown and someone might have put a bullet in his head.”
“And I’ll lay you odds I know who that’ll have been.”
It was Tuesday and it seemed I was to be on my own for three days. So I went back to the pub and kept pretty low. If anyone turned up before the boys from Canberra got here I was to keep out of sight. And it’s just as well that I did because that night, just about an hour after I got in from Hobart the three of them walked into the dining room, sat down and ordered a meal. The big surprise was that Marken wasn’t with them. I didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.I went up to my room and kept an eye out the window to wait for them to go.
Three quarters of an hour later they left and I went down to the bar for a beer.
I’d had about three and then someone said, “Two more beers, will ya barman.”
I turned and looked straight into the face of Marken.
“Well, well, well. Look who’s just risen from his watery grave. If it’s not the old geezer that Hank wouldn’t let me knock.”
I can’t remember when I have felt so sure my time was up. His hand went to his left armpit and I was unable to move.
“You can’t kill me now. Not in here.”
“I’m not going to kill you here or anywhere else you silly old bugger. Look at this,” he said and handed me a card. It was an ID. Marken was DEA.
“What’s DEA?” I asked.
“Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). We used to be Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Commonly known as Narcs.
“Then who the hell is Hank?” I said.
“Hank is DEA as well. Same as me. But with one tiny little point of difference. One of us is crooked murdering scum and I’m not. Hank doesn’t know who I am. He thinks I’m part of the gang. That’s why I had to make such a big thing about wanting to off you. Hank wanted you to get away so you could get the police looking for us up the main highway and I wanted you to get away because I didn’t want to see another man killed. Hank killed the liaison bloke when he started to suspect something and that left me on my own hoping to work up something.”
“Then how come you’re on your own?”
“Well, the drugs are still with us and someone has to keep an eye on them so while they come in for a meal and supplies I stay behind. Hank doesn’t trust the other two and he trusts me. A bit ironic that.”
“So if you don’t know Hank and he doesn’t know you how come both of you got stuck in the same operation?’
“This is the second time Hank has come into Oz on a trip like this. And that time the bad boys got away with it and Hank turned up with a lump on the back of his head and a story that a couple of the top boys in DEA thought was a bit thin on facts. So I went in to find out what was going on. All I really wanted was to prove that Hank was clean. But Hank ain’t clean. He’s as dirty as.”
“How do you know he’s bad?”
“Because I saw him kill the AFP liaison bloke. The Aussie bloke didn’t know I was DEA and Hank told me to kill him. I refused and Hank did it himself. He trusts me but he doesn’t like me and I think he’d kill me too if he got the chance.”
“Well who is your contact with? AFP or DEA?”
“It was s’posed to be the same guy but until you turned up I thought I’d be on my own.”
I told Marken about the people coming in from Canberra on Friday. I told him there was one person who knew Hank by sight and I wondered if he knew Marken as well. But one way or the other I had to let them know that Marken was clean and Hank was dirty. So I left and went back to Hobart to fill in a few gaps. Marken now had the job of making sure the gang didn’t move away from Bicheno before everyone was in position.
The next day or two didn’t do the pain in my tummy much good. The acid build-up had me drinking vanilla milkshakes instead of Boag’s Draught or Sullivans Cove single malt. This was the culinary low point of my geriatric years. I really don’t trust any police officer or organisation that is happy to leave an old codger like me playing funny buggers with naughty people. And I still didn’t know who were the good guys and who were the bad. I was tending toward Marken as a good guy. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was just that he didn’t kill me when he had the chance.
I sat on the beach at Bicheno and watched the sea roll in from the Pacific Ocean. It was a bit of a surprise that the weather was so warm and one old fisherman started waffling on about The East Coast Current sending warm eddies of water right down the coast of Tassie from way up north. I couldn’t enjoy it and ducked across the road to the chemist to get a refill of some antacid that he’d given me.
I don’t know what I was expecting but I did think something would happen. But nothing happened. The group hiding away in Johnnie Knifton’s place didn’t show up in town. Marken didn’t show and neither did anybody from Canberra. I know they said they’d be low profile but you’d have thought some kind of contact could be made. By Monday I reckon I’d given everybody enough time so I decided to go home. It was their drug bust not mine. I’d was just an innocent bystander.
I packed my gear paid my account at the hotel and headed north. The Tassie ferry left in the afternoon about sundown and I planned to be on it.
Twenty three kilometers north of Bicheno the road splits in two. Straight ahead goes along the coast and left would take me through St Mary’s and down the South Esk Valley to the main north road to Launceston and the ferry. I turned left. Just before I got into Fingal some road workers were patching the bitumen and I had to stop for a while. A couple of cars pulled up behind me. I sat back and looked at the scenery. Then the guy with the stop-go sign turned it around, I put the clutch in, the passenger door was pulled open and Marken hopped in. I stopped dead but the cars behind started honking. Marken grinned and said, “Are you goin’ my way mate? Can I hitch a lift?”
I don’t think I had a choice.
“Glad ya’ stopped when ya’ did. Gave us a chance to catch up.”
“What the hell’s going on?” I asked. “Where did you come from?”
“A Council of War meeting decided that it was time we got to Melbourne but we thought we might use your help. Hank was in town, saw you packing and came back an’ told us. So we left straight away. Didn’t know about this side road but saw you turn left when we were a ways behind you. Lucky we saw you. Actually it’s been very lucky all day for us.”
“Yeah, well I’m going to stop up the top of this hill and you can get out,” I said. “I’ve had enough of this whole bloody affair. I don’t care what happens to the drugs. I don’t know if you’re dirty or Hank’s dirty. As far as I’m concerned you can all go to hell.”
I hope I sounded as angry as I felt. And I hope I sounded a bloody darn sight braver than I was. In reality I was scared stiff.
“I’m sorry you feel like that old man. But to put you straight. I’m not getting out. The car behind us has our three friends in it and you and I and Hank and the two others are all going to get on the Ferry tonight and we are all going to get off the Ferry tomorrow morning in Melbourne and you will help us get through without a hold up and then you can go back to your boring old retirement and enjoy your grandchildren. So don’t think of stopping at the top. Capisce?”
I don’t think Marken is Italian but he was sounding a lot like some comic strip New York hoodlum. I didn’t know what to say. I did not stop at the top of the hill. I kept driving and I kept glancing to the left to see if I could read Marken. I couldn’t.
“Is there any chance you could tell me what’s going on? I don’t think I trust any of you now.”
“Now don’t go all soft, Old Man.”
“And stop calling me ‘Old Man’. Is Hank really as bad as you said?”
“Don’t be so naive you old fool. Hank and I are mates. Have been since High School and College. We were mates right through ‘Nam. Being both in DEA means we get all the good jobs. We’ve been running this thing for a while now. This is our third time to Oz and it won’t be our last. And don’t worry about yourself. No one will believe anything you say so we’re safe. And a dead body would only bring attention to anyone who’s been seen with you. So shut up, say nothing, do what we say and you’ll end up enjoying your grandchildren and your old man retirement.”
I shut up. I now knew that I could trust none of them. Hank and Marken were both crooked and unless I was very lucky I wasn’t going to get out of this.
We got to the top of the hill and pulled into a lay-by. Hank and the other two pulled in behind. Then Knight pulled out my spare tyre, took the tube out and and filled the tyre with cocaine. Then he put the spare back in the well along with a lot of other packets disguised as fishmeal and we all got back in our cars and continued on to Devonport.
I didn’t know what to do. I had effectively been kidnapped by a bunch of drug smugglers. They wanted me to take all the risk of getting the drugs onto the Ferry and when we got to Melbourne get them off again . I was working furiously to decide what my options were. I think I’d be a fool to trust Knight or Steinfeld. But if I managed to escape before we got on the ferry they would find me and kill me. So I needed to get my car, loaded with their cocaine, onto the ferry. Then if I could escape there was a chance that I could get to the ferry security guys. Also there were supposed to be some AFP officers on the ferry waiting. I certainly hope so.
When everyone lines up to get on the Spirit of Tasmania there are plenty of security/customs officers and they check every car. My experience has been that they are pretty efficient. If they take my spare tyre out and drop it on the ground, as I’ve seen them do, it should bounce. I don’t know if Hank and his idiot mates know that. If my tyre is dropped it will land with a thump and the game will be over. I will be blamed. Hank & Co will just disappear to try again. So I must make sure they don’t touch my spare.
I kept thinking all the way up the Highway and was still thinking as we approached the check-in point. You know how magicians always fool their audience, don’t you. They use ‘misdirection’. They make you look at the wrong object or they distract you with their patter. I will need to make sure the customs people get distracted at the right time. I will need help from someone and I hope someone turns up.
There are not many restrictions on what can or cannot go from Tassie to Melbourne. The things they are most concerned with is travelling with volatile fluids. They can go but the checkers-in what to make sure that everything is turned off and sitting upright and they will open the boot(trunk) to make sure. Also guns and ammunition are OK but there are a few conditions you have to comply with and guns aren’t my problem and I don’t care what happens with Hank and his cronies.
In the end I shouldn’t have worried. I didn’t have any guns, I didn’t have any gas bottles and they didn’t ask me if I was carrying illegal drugs. They gave me a boarding pass and I drove on up the ramp. I hadn’t booked a bed cabin as I intended to stay up and sleep in one of the Recliner chairs. I had a vague idea of a plan and I wanted to be able to wander around a bit at night.
I went to the lounge, bought a whisky and waited for my travelling companions. I was sure they would find me. While I waited I put my mind to my next plan. I hadn’t needed the first plan that I’d wasted my time on but I definitely needed one now.
They turned up.
I ordered another drink. After my second whisky an idea started to make sense. Now, whenever I come up with a good idea I usually try to include a lady in it. Preferably one who is easy to look at and has a sense of humour. The trouble is that most ideas I have had, that include a lady who is easy to look at and who has a sense of humour, have usually ended in disaster. But I think that this time, what with my life being at risk of imminent termination, I might just have to be a little careful.
I gave Knight a ‘cooee’. “Come here will you.” I said. “I’ve had an idea. Instead of getting up every time I need a whisky I think I would like you to go to the Duty Free shop and get me a half bottle of Whisky-not-Bourbon.”
“And why do you think that’s a good idea?”
“Because you don’t want me strolling around talking to the wrong people. And because you know very well that you owe me. And also because when I drink whisky I usually become incoherent and fall asleep.”
He actually agreed to do as I asked and turned up with a half bottle of reasonable Whisky-not-Bourbon.
Part one of plan accomplished.
Now for Part two.
I will cease and desist from consuming any more alcohol tonight. But I am the only one who knows about Part two. I go to the little boys room. Hank sends one of the others to babysit me but he has the decency to stand outside the door and won’t let any stranger come in. I pour three quarters of the whisky down the sink and refill the bottle. I chose the whisky for the brown coloured bottle and not for the taste. I now had a Whisky bottle full of mostly water and not-Bourbon.
Part two of plan accomplished.
Part three. Find an accomplice.
I start to weave and bump around and talk loudly until Hank tells me to go and sit at an empty table and to stop annoying him. I do this for a while and then suddenly a couple of strangers ask if they can sit with me as there are no other spare seats. Hank looks at me and gives me a stern warning with his eyes. “Don’t try anything stupid.” I nod an understanding of meekness and obedience.
The gods have smiled upon me, and about time. Not only have I an accomplice. I have two. They don’t know that yet but they will.
We get to talking. My accomplices have names – Henry and Maria. They are Danish. They are very astute and I think I might just have found two very helpful friends. We talk of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax. Of cabbages and kings.
I very gently turn the conversation around – just a little. We talk about family – theirs and mine. I explain that I am starting to show the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. It isn’t too bad and I am still quite aware. But the people at the next table are my relatives. My son and three nephews. They want to get their hands on my estate and they watch me like hawks. I don’t want to be going to Melbourne but they have put pressure on me. Maria and Henry commiserate and make suggestions. Would Henry and Maria like to help me, I ask. If only I could have just a little bit of freedom and even perhaps a way of getting clear of them.
And my two newest very best friends agree.
It will take quite a few hours to develop but the plan is very simple. I will start to become obnoxious. Not at first but subtly until by about half past midnight when Maria and Henry want to go to their cabin and my brown whisky bottle is lying empty upon the carpet I become more and more annoying. Henry and Maria are having fun with the play-acting. I become more and more obnoxious.
Steinfeld gets up to intervene and I strike him ineffectively and he goes to have a swing at me, but Henry jumps in between us. Knight and the other two have gone to their cabin and I start to annoy Maria by acting like an uncouth slob.
She calls the purser and asks for me to be taken away from her. I object and the purser calls for some help from two burly seamen. I am about to be taken to the security cabin and Hank insists on coming but Henry gets in between again, insisting there is nothing to be upset about and the Purser takes me to the bridge, or somewhere, and am interviewed by the second officer.
As soon as I am behind a locked door I very quickly become sober and explain that it was necessary to see the Captain. It takes a bit of talking but I am finally taken before the Master.
“Firstly tell me who you are.”
I show him my ID card- the ex-Army Officer type card.
“I believe you have a story to tell me.”
“Yes Sir.” I say. “There are four men on board who are smuggling cocaine into Victoria via Tasmania from Colombia. Two of the men are operatives of the American Drug Enforcement Agency. Both of them, however, are bent. They have placed the drugs in the spare tyre of my car and in parcels of garden fertilisers.”
I told him how I had become involved.
I told him that there were supposed to have been AFP officers involved but they did not turn up on time and that I had left early only to be caught by the group.
“Thank you,” he said. “That confirms what I have been told. There are two AFP men on board and there is a squad of them waiting in Melbourne. They do not want to be identified. I am going to make it known that you are not well and that you have been arrested and placed in a secure cabin on this deck to which no members of the public have access. We will apologise to your friends and assure them that you will be released in the morning.
So thank you and you can now get some well earned sleep.”
It was well after one o’clock and all I needed was a chance to sleep. I was safe from Hank and Knight and the two goons. I took my shirt and trousers off and crawled into bed. My first thought as I closed my eyes was that tomorrow I would like to have a chance to thank my two Danish friends. They deserve to be told the full story.
The knock on the door woke me and I looked at my watch. It was five minutes after I’d closed my eyes. I opened the door with a few words of apology already prepared for the lady. But the ugly great brute at the door was not pleasant to look at and he didn’t seem to have a sense of humour.
“Sorry to disturb you, Sir. I wonder if we could have a few words?”
I looked behind him and another brute of equal physical charm and humour pushed into the room and sat on the bunk opposite me. They flashed IDs at me but didn’t really give me a chance to read them. I assumed it was because of their caring attitude towards the difficulty I had in finding my glasses.
“We are the Australian Federal Police that you have been expecting.”
I didn’t give them a chance to continue.
“Where the hell have you been? You were s’posed to be here on Sunday.”
“Yes Sir. We arrived early on Sunday but did not introduce ourselves. I believe that you were told that we would be laying low.” I think that’s ‘lying’ low but I didn’t say so. I’ve had enough of people not telling the truth.
“Maybe, but you could have given me an idea. I’ve been scared witless worrying if I was going to be killed at any moment.”
“Sorry about that, but we couldn’t risk blowing our cover. Anyway we have been keeping an eye on you all the time.”
“Now let’s get down to business,” said the second brute. “We assumed the drugs were all transferred into your car.”
“How did you know we stopped?”
“Because we followed you ever since the roadblock.”
“When the Road Board workers stopped you up in the Esk Valley.”
“How do you know about that?”
“It was our road block. We didn’t want to run the risk of losing either you or the others so we arranged for you to be stopped. Do you recall a road worker slapping a hand on your car when it was OK to move? That was when we planted a GPS bug on the roof. It fits neatly into the join between the roof and the back window. That’s on your car. The bug on their car was placed under the back mudguard on their SUV. And it meant that we could follow you all the way to the ferry. And it also means we can follow their car all the way to where they are going in Melbourne.”
“But the drugs are in my car.”
“That’s true but I think you’ll find that the drugs will be moved back into their car tonight sometime. And by the way where are your keys?”
“Knight has probably got them. Now I know why he kept them. And if they all leave in their own car how will I get my keys back?”
“You are going to be kept here until everyone has gone. We don’t want there to be any chance for one of the four to get to you. The purser is going to tell your ‘friends’ that you are being charged with assault and will not be released until the local Police have had a chance to interview you. We will suggested that your ‘son’ gives the car keys to the purser so that you can drive home after the Police have finished.”
“So I don’t get a chance to say goodbye. That’s a crying shame.”
In the end it all worked out rather neatly. Hank, Knight and the two others did rendezvous with some other members of their gang. The Federal Police organized for the US nationals to be deported to America where they were immediately arrested and charged with about a hundred and twenty million offences. There were three Australians who were in the Melbourne end and they were arrested and charged as well.
I didn’t get a chance to apologise to the two Danish tourists, which was a shame.
About six months later I received a very nice invitation and a plane ticket to go to Canberra and the AFP top brass slapped me on the back and said stupid things like, “Well done old man,” and “Thanks for your help,” and “We couldn’t have done it without you.”
And my old friend the Colonel was there but only smiled quietly while all the others were shaking my hand.