Henry Wesson was a cautious private investigator, and one of his maxims was ‘avoid needless patterns’. It was a simple, though oft neglected, basic rule of fieldcraft. In this instance, the application of it was straightforward; pick a different location for every meeting with Gonzalez.
Henry had been about to suggest a new location, when Gonzalez had done so. For a few minutes after the call, Henry had puzzled over that. It was Henry who had called the meeting, to give Gonzalez some major news.
The restaurant Mike Gonzalez had chosen, La Libertad, was unfamiliar to Henry, who most often worked in the Orlando area of Central Florida. When Henry arrived, just after sundown, he parked nearby and walked past the small busy restaurant, looking for anything that seemed out of place. Finding nothing of concern, Henry entered, and spotted Gonzalez at the bar, drinking water.
Latin music was playing from the speakers. Gonzalez led Henry to a booth in the noisy main dining room; it was separated from the other booths and tables by the kitchen doorway. “This should be fairly private,” Gonzalez said.
Henry concurred, and then angled his head for a moment. “Okay, but why here?”
Gonzalez picked up a menu. “We had to meet somewhere, and the food here is superb. I recommend their ropa vieja.”
Henry, who spoke a little Spanish, raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Old clothes?”
Gonzalez chuckled. “You’re not used to Cuban food, I see. It’s meat – usually beef – that’s cooked, shredded, and cooked again in a sauce, usually with green olives and peppers, plus celery and other odds and ends. It’s my mother’s specialty.”
Henry paused thoughtfully, paying attention to Gonzalez’s unusually convivial demeanor more than the mention of the food. “Sounds good, I’ll try it.”
Gonzalez signaled for the waitress and placed their order in fluent Spanish. Then, in English, he added, “Gloria, I’m here on business.”
“I’ll keep the intrusions to a minimum, Mike. Just shout if you need anything,” the waitress replied, turning away and heading for the kitchen.
As soon as the waitress had gone, Gonzalez asked quietly, “You mentioned that you have some major news.”
Henry nodded. “I do. I’ve been keeping an eye on the Bellevue place a few times a week, as you know. I drove by the street side and saw that Bridget had a couple of extra vehicles parked in front, near her guesthouse. I went scouting, trying to find an observation point, when someone drove by, pulled into the driveway, and then into the garage. I saw him hold something in his hand, and to me it looked – from the timing – that he had a garage door opener. The door closed, so I returned to my car. A couple of minutes later, he drove out, with Bridget Bellevue in the passenger seat.”
“Did you get a plate?” Gonzalez asked, referring to a vehicle license plate.
Henry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Of course, and a few photos. They’re a little grainy, and the sun on the car windows didn’t help, but they are enough for an ID. I have a few contacts of my own, so I can run the plate, but I figured that, under the circumstances, I’d see you first.”
“You’re right. If it’s who I think, you’d have likely set off a few red flags.”
Henry drummed his fingers on the table for a moment. “I do need that info, one way or the other, and if it sets off some alarm bells, oh well.”
“You’ll have it before you leave here tonight, if the plate matches.”
Henry recited the six digits from memory, watching Gonzalez carefully. Gonzalez didn’t even blink, and replied calmly, “That’s a match. Did you bring the photos?”
“Just one, it’s the best of the lot for this,” Henry said, reaching into his notebook and extracting a photo, which he slid across the worn laminate tabletop. “Same person the car is registered to, I take it?”
Gonzalez studied the photo for a moment, scowling. “Detective George Alfred, of my department, and also a member of my task force for your client’s case. He has no official reason for going there, and plenty of reasons why he shouldn’t.”
“There’s more, something big, but I need something in return for it. I followed them; they were in one hell of a hurry.”
Gonzalez looked up, studying Henry for a moment. “Done. I’ll offer two things. One is that, two days ago, I caught a glimpse of Bridget Bellevue as she passed by a window at George’s house. I later observed her drive her car out of his garage. The second is something you’ll find very useful: the Egyptians found a full propane tank near the Suez bombsite. It’s one of the two taken from Atlantis. They did a chemical analysis on the propane; it was filled in the United States. If Joel Stiles is correct, that means the other tank – which has to be the one swapped for the bomb – in the propane storage bin was filled in Mykonos, Greece. I need to get Trevor to confirm, but this appears solid.”
Henry understood immediately. “That means Jim could not have planted it in Italy, because Atlantis stopped in Greece after that. Thank you.”
Gonzalez shrugged. “It would have come out in the discovery phase of the trial anyway, but I thought you’d like to know.”
Henry nodded. It was now his turn. “I followed the car to a marine service and storage yard, Rob’s Marine...” Henry described the layout, before continuing, “They drove right into a boat shed and roared out in a powerboat, heading for the intercoastal waterway like a bat out of hell. I didn’t get a good look at the boat, not enough for a make, but I did get a name; ‘Lobster Pot.’” Sea Witch had been wearing that name at the time. Henry waited while Gonzalez finished writing, and then added, “I took a guess which way they were heading, and raced for a bridge. I spotted them, still going like hell, heading for the Fort Pierce inlet. I lost ‘em after that.”
The two plates of ropa vieja arrived, which put the conversation on hold for a few moments. After taking a bite, Gonzalez said, “I’ll find out what I can. Here’s another fact for your file; we were working up to an arrest of your clients when they ran. What allowed them to get away was a procedural change by the surveillance units, which came from George Alfred. It was just a warning that they had attempted to run before, which the surveillance up in Cocoa Beach already knew, but... it was right before they ran, and I don’t like coincidences. Compounding that is the fact that this is my task force, and I should have been told. I wasn’t. I also don’t know how your clients knew to run. I know they found the tracking devices, but that alone makes no sense. One theory I have is that they were intentionally spooked into running, and the surveillance was alerted in order to set your clients up for some kind of fatal confrontation. If they were dead, the case would be closed.”
Henry knew he was on dangerous ground, but Gonzalez was giving him gold. After a few moments thought, Henry replied, “I’m right on the edge here... maybe I’m over it, but... I know what caused them to run, and it wasn’t something that could have come from George Alfred. Interesting on the timing though.”
Gonzalez took another few bites before replying, “I’m now of the opinion that George is up to his damn eyebrows in this, and this goes way beyond what I originally suspected, which was just a leak. I believe he’s actively conspiring to frame your clients for the bombing, and the murder of Arnold Bellevue. I also believe he had an active role in the bombing. That alarm bypass code... it’s one the department has access to, and George has used it before; he’s on our drug enforcement task force.”
Henry was shocked by the lack of qualifiers. “You haven’t even checked to see if I’m recording this. I’m not, but...”
Gonzales smiled humorlessly. “If this comes to a trial, subpoena me. I’ll say exactly what I just did. At the very least, this taints every piece of evidence against your clients on the bombing and the Bellevue murder, and the Egyptian data looks like it’s going to provide exonerating evidence on the bombing. I will not see innocent men convicted, not if I can help it. I’ll even go as far as saying that, based on what I now know – a police officer conspiring against them – I understand their choice to run.” Gonzalez hesitated, and then added, “I’ll even recommend that, until we know how deep this runs, they keep running. We don’t know if George is the only officer involved... and I do have one indicator that there’s another. I’ll keep you posted on that.”
Henry blinked. “If it ever comes out that you said what you just said...”
“I’m probably done as a cop,” Gonzalez said, completing Henry’s thought. Gonzalez took another bite of his meal, and asked offhandedly, “How’s your food?”
Henry looked down at his almost untouched plate in confusion. He took a bite, and then replied, “Uh, this is pretty damn good, actually.”
Gonzalez smiled. “I picked this place for another reason; to show you where I come from, and who I am. My parents are from Cuba, a place I have never seen but have heard about all my life. I’ve studied it, too. I hope to see it someday, when the day comes that it is free. My parents escaped with their lives, barely. It is a beautiful land, of rich heritage, crushed under the heel of a brutal dictatorship, its people held as little more than chattel. In Cuba, Mr. Wesson, the law is what the dictator’s whim prefers. It is merely a tool of control, of political expedience. There is no justice there. What there is, is fear.”
Henry nodded. He knew that Gonzalez was saying something important, but Henry didn’t understand – yet.
Gonzalez took another bite and continued, “My parents came here for many reasons, but first amongst them was to be free. And being free means, in large part, the freedom from fear. I still see that fear, when they talk about their homeland. For as long as I can remember, I have seen it, and that is why I became a police officer; so I never have to see that fear someday in my own child’s eyes. Justice has to be worked for, and maintained. I took an oath to uphold the law, one I take very seriously. As part of that, I will do all in my power to prevent an innocent man or woman from being convicted, especially in a clear case of corruption and wrongful prosecution. In this case, that means I have two goals; to see your clients exonerated for the bombing and the Bellevue case, and to see George Alfred prosecuted for every law he has broken. However, I need more before I move on him. Right now, all we can prove is that he associates with Bridget Bellevue, a violation of department rules. Everything else is circumstantial or conjecture. As it is, the only hard fact I can produce is that he knew something Bellevue told me, which I hadn’t transcribed from my notes yet, and that’s not illegal.”
Henry nodded, and looked into Gonzalez’s eyes. “I’ll help you however I can, but my first duty is to my clients. It looks like we’re on the same side on two of the issues... but what about the Rachel Carlson case?”
Gonzalez’s eyes hardened. “Dirk Carlson has consistently refused to be interviewed, even now, when doing so could help clear him – if he was innocent. I think he has reasons: he attempted to increase his wife’s insurance coverage mere days before the divorce filing. He profited considerably from her death. He has also shown a propensity for sabotaging boats, such as his own son’s engines. Then there’s the mysterious manner of death; lost at sea in good weather without a trace, except for a radio call – one we don’t know for sure came from her or Ares at all. The original investigation considered a bomb as the cause, because little else could destroy a boat of that type under those conditions – they don’t sink when holed.”
Henry held up a hand. “Wait, you just told me that you don’t think Dirk planted the bomb on Atlantis...”
“I don’t, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t get rid of his wife that way. In fact, I think it could mean the opposite. If he did kill his wife with a bomb, and Bridget Bellevue or George Alfred knew of it, then that could be a reason they chose to plant a bomb on Atlantis – a better frame-up. However, what I’m saying is that Dirk Carlson will get no help from me on that charge, even though I’m willing to help on the others. I can also arrange for your clients to be kept in another county – or even Federal custody – for their safety, if they turn themselves in. I’d advise that they turn themselves in to either the State cops or the Feds, because we don’t know how badly compromised my department is.”
Henry took another bite of his meal, using the time to think. “I can live with that, and thank you, for doing the right thing. I’ll give you all that I can – within the limits of my fiduciary obligations to my clients. Now, there’s something else; have you had any word from Trevor? I’ve been asked to find out if he’s safe. I don’t need to know where, just that he’s okay.”
Gonzalez shook his head. “Nothing firm. The last word I received was from his friend Joel, who told me that Trevor had sailed for Australia and would arrive as late as mid-November. I’m getting concerned. There’s also been a development. It may be nothing, but I don’t like it. A couple of days ago, an enquiry came into my department from a police station in the Seychelles. They’d found an emergency beacon, which they suspect was stolen, and wanted to check to see if we could ascertain the whereabouts of the owner, to make sure he’s okay. It got filed under missing persons for some reason, until one of the clerks spotted the name: Dirk Carlson. I got it a couple of hours ago. I’ve been able to find out just one thing more; it’s an EPIRB beacon and it was registered to Dirk Carlson, but the boat’s name on the registry is Atlantis. It was found in a street market in the Seychelles. He was there for a while, so I’m hoping it was just petty theft from his boat, or part of what was taken in the Suez – though he didn’t report it there. The locals in the Seychelles are concerned that it might be piracy. I’ve set up a teleconference with them, and I’ll know more by tomorrow.”
“Oh shit... That sounds bad. I need to interview Joel and Lisa anyway. Do you have any objections if I bring this up?”
“Not really... actually, I’d prefer to be there and ask them myself. I can’t ethically set up a meeting between you and them, but what I can do is tell them who you are, who you represent, and that you’d like to meet with them. I’ll tell them they are free to refuse, or to have me there if they wish, and I’ll suggest that they do so,” Gonzalez said.
“That makes my job easier. Done,” Henry replied.
“Let’s put this on hold until after the teleconference with the Seychelles officers, and then I’ll set up a meeting with Joel and Lisa. I’ll call you and give you a general area and time, if they agree.”
Henry shrugged. “For now, the thing I most need from them is a yes or no on whether Trevor is okay. Not a location, nothing else, just that. There are a few questions I’d like to ask, but I have no problem with you being there for that,” Henry said, deciding that the emancipation offer could wait.
Gonzalez arched an eyebrow. “Interesting. I’ll see what I can do.”
Henry nodded his agreement, and the business side of the conversation concluded. They continued their meal, chatting about sports. When they were done, Henry pulled out his wallet and said, “This was really good. Best food I’ve had in a long time.”
Gonzales waved him off. “No, not here... there’s no charge.”
Henry angled his head in mild surprise, and Gonzalez grinned, getting to his feet. “That tells me you haven’t looked into my background. I told you that ropa vieja is my mother’s specialty. She’s the cook, but only three days a week now. She and my father started with a street cart and worked their way up to a restaurant by the time I was in grade school. My brother works here too, and so does his wife, Gloria.” Gonzalez took two paces to the counter and leaned over, shouting into the kitchen, “Thanks, Mama, I’ll see you Saturday.”
When Henry reached his car, he glanced back at the restaurant, still amazed that Gonzalez would take him to his family’s business. Then it clicked: Gonzalez was showing openness and trust, and in part trying to counter the shame he must feel about George Alfred.
Henry thought he understood how much George’s apparent betrayal of the department must gall Gonzalez, but even so, he didn’t know the half of it.
Trevor and Shane arrived at the beginning of the main street, where it reached the sea. Shane pointed inland along it. “This is Carnarvon’s main street, Robinson Street. We’ll take it up to Woolies, which is at the other end of the main town, about three hundred meters from here. After that, there’s nothing really until you get to East Carnarvon in a few kilometers, and there isn’t much there except a motel and a few houses. A little to the right is the airport, and on the other side of that is the Satellite Earth Station, a huge radio dish that has something to do with your NASA. That’s about all there is for hundreds of kilometers in any direction. Carnarvon is right in the middle of nowhere.”
Trevor stared down the broad tree-lined divided avenue, which had palm trees festooning its wide center divider. He looked down the street, seeing only a few people around.
“This reminds me of some small towns in Florida, and some in the Bahamas,” Trevor said, looking around at the sleepy town.
“I envy you that, mate. I’ve never been overseas,” Shane said, and then added in a thoughtful tone, “Don’t think that all of Australia is like here. We’ve got everything, from massive cities like Brisbane and Perth, to mountains and forests, all sorts... and the best beaches on the planet.”
A sudden flash of white and pink in Trevor’s peripheral vision caught his attention, and he turned his head to track a gaudy, exotic bird as it landed on the grass, just a few yards away. He studied it for a moment, smiling as it turned to look at him, its white crest rising. “You sure do have some colorful birds,” Trevor said, as the bird began to preen its snowy white wings, which were a brilliant contrast to its vivid pink body.
“That’s a galah, a kind of cockatoo. They’re all over Australia,” Shane said, and then added in a serious tone, “Trev, you need an Aussie nickname while you’re here. It’s a tradition to choose one from the first wildlife you see, so from now on, your official Aussie nickname is Galah.”
Trevor arched a suspicious eyebrow in Shane’s direction. “So, what’s your nickname?”
Shane shook his head sadly. “I haven’t got one; I’m Australian. You only get ‘em if you’re arriving here.”
Trevor nodded sympathetically. “Sucks that you get left out... That’s just not right. You can have mine, so now you’re Galah. That’s what friends do, right?” Trevor said, with an open, pleasant smile.
Shane chewed on his lip, studying Trevor’s face very closely for a moment.
Trevor turned away, hiding a smile, and pointed to something he’d been curious about. “About half the cars have heavy bars on the front. What are they for?”
“Those are roo bars. They’re to protect the car if it hits a kangaroo. Roos are big, and if you hit one at speed, it can crunch up your car or come right through the windscreen and then you’re as dead as a maggot.”
“I hope I see a kangaroo while I’m here. I’ve never seen one, even at a zoo,” Trevor said.
“Another glaring lack. I’ll see what I can do,” Shane replied, grinning.
Shane made several stops to hand off his resume and apply for jobs. Trevor waited outside for most of them, enjoying his look around town.
At one small store, which sold tools and hardware, Trevor accompanied Shane inside. While Shane filled in an application, Trevor asked a few questions about gas lanterns, thinking about getting one to use on Atlantis. He eventually decided to make do with his flashlight. The shopkeeper, a middle-aged man, guessed Trevor’s identity during the checkout, but wasn’t pushy, allowing Trevor to make a graceful exit.
“Is there a barber shop in town?” Trevor asked, as soon as he and Shane were outside.
Shane nodded. “A few blocks up, but it’s a boutique and they’re expensive. Unless you’re looking for something fancy, I could do it. An ex-girlfriend of mine was a hair stylist and I learnt a bit. I do my own.”
Trevor looked at Shane’s cut. “You look good, so I’ll take you up on that, thanks. I just want a few inches off, so it’s not down to my shoulders anymore.”
Shane gave Trevor an apprising glance. “I think I can do that, though stretching your neck by a few inches might be an easier way.”
Trevor blinked, and then gave Shane a smile, a raised middle finger, and a shake of his head. “Yeah, but I think I’ll go the haircut route, for some reason.”
“I can’t imagine why?” Shane replied, with a smirk. Shane pointed at an approaching store. “That’s a discount shop, and one of the things they sell is sunglasses. If you wore sunnies after your haircut, it might help you keep from being recognized so much. That, and keep your big Yank mouth shut,” Shane said, grinning.
“I could just say G’day, and offer to throw another shrimp on the barbie,” Trevor said, in his best attempt at an Australian accent, which came out sounding like an unholy mix of Texan drawl and Australian.
Shane rolled his eyes. “Try that, and they’ll clutch their ears in pain, and it’s fake as hell; only a Yank would say ‘Put a shrimp on the barbie’, because an Aussie would have the sense to know they’re too fucking small and would fall through the grid,” Shane said, chuckling as he opened the door to the shop.
Trevor found a pair of sunglasses he liked and a package of socks for five dollars apiece. Shane tried to apply for a job, only to be told tersely, “Don’t bother.”
The next stop was the swimwear store. Nodding at the door, Shane said, “I bought some togs here last month when my old ones wore out; they’ve a good selection, and the prices are better than the sport shop. You’ll need a swimsuit, because I’m going to teach you some surf lifesaving games, starting with beach flags. I also want to race you, because I’m not convinced that Yanks can swim.”
Due to having his prior purchases occupying his hands, Trevor was prevented from making the appropriate reply, so he just gave Shane a mock glare as he shouldered open the door.
When they entered the shop, they set their bags down by the door. Shane tended to his job application, and Trevor made a beeline for the swimsuits. He thumbed through a rack, picking out some blue speedos, and then flame-print boardshorts and a cotton T from an adjoining markdown rack as Shane joined him.
“Good choices,” Shane said, with an approving nod.
Trevor hadn’t found any underwear at any of the stores so far, and he glanced back at the swimwear racks. ‘Speedos will work for that, and I need a few suits anyway,’ he thought, returning to the racks. He thumbed through the selection, looking at the price tags first, and picked out two more, one black and orange, and the other red. Then he looked at the next display, and snatched up a set of goggles on his way to the register. To Trevor’s relief, the clerk showed no sign of recognizing him.
Once they were outside, Shane glanced at Trevor’s watch and asked, “What time is it?”
Trevor looked at Joel’s damaged watch, holding it at an angle and squinting to read the digits through the scratched face. “It’s still set to Greece... looks like one o’clock, if I’m counting right.”
“Here’s the shoe store,” Shane said, pointing ahead.
Trevor found a wide selection in the store, along with high prices for most of what he was interested in. He settled for a pair of rubber-soled canvass deck shoes, which were the cheapest he could find.
After paying, Trevor waited outside while Shane finished filling in an application. When Shane came out, Trevor said, “I’ll leave my watch set how it is for now. I looked at a clock in the store and the watch is only a couple of minutes off, if the clock’s right. I’m still trying to figure out why I kept calculating my position as inland.”
“Maybe you were inland and just didn’t notice,” Shane suggested helpfully, and then grinned.
Trevor laughed, shaking his head, as they continued on to the Woolworths supermarket. They each grabbed a hand basket, and Trevor said, “I think I can help us both out. Eating out costs a lot, but I don’t have a working galley. So, I’ll buy if you’ll cook.”
Shane grinned. “Thanks mate. Okay, you scout around for what you’d like, and I’ll fill in a job app. I’ll eat almost anything, so no worries.”
Trevor picked out some steaks and then browsed through the frozen food section, picking out a few dinners and frozen vegetables. Shane joined him, and Trevor said, “I don’t know what to look for here, so anything you want, toss it in. The only thing I know for sure is I want some oranges, orange juice, and tortilla chips.”
“I’ve seen corn chips here, I think... I’ve never had tortilla chips, though,” Shane replied, leading the way to the snack foods section. On the way, Shane picked out a package of ground meat.
“Never had tortilla chips? Talk about a glaring lack! You’re in for a treat... if they’re anything like the ones at home, anyway.” Trevor lowered his voice to whisper and asked, “Your drinking age is eighteen, right? Tortilla chips go great with beer.”
Shane nodded, giving Trevor a puzzled look, wondering why he was whispering. “Yeah, but I’m broke until payday.”
Still whispering, Trevor said, “I’ve got the opposite problem; I can afford to buy but I’m not old enough, and I think we’d both like some beer.”
Shane looked at Trevor and grinned. “If that’s an offer, you’re on. But why the whispers, mate?”
Trevor glanced around before replying, “I’m not eighteen yet, remember?”
Shane stared blankly for a few moments, then rolled his eyes and laughed. “I guess all those TV shows are true then – Yanks really are crazy when it comes to teens buying alcohol. It’s no big deal here, Trev. Just hand me the cash before we get to the till, and I’ll give you the change as soon as we’re away. Four-ex okay?”
“Sounds great, I like your X-rated beer.”
“Four-ex is Queensland’s finest product, other than myself, of course,” Shane said, repeating one of his favorite sayings, as they reached the snack foods. Shane pointed at a shelf full of Doritos, and announced, “Here’s the corn chips.”
Trevor grabbed three bags of Doritos. “We call these tortilla chips, and they’re fine, but they’re not the ones I really like, which are made with blue corn and jalapeño peppers. They’re blue, and the good ones are awesome.”
“Blue corn chips? You’re even stranger than I figured,” Shane replied, snickering.
They found the giant walk-in refrigerator where the beer was kept, and walked in. Trevor shivered as the cold air caressed his bare skin.
Shane glanced around. “I had the six-pack for my birthday, but that’s cans. Stubbies,” Shane said, using an Australian term for glass bottles, “are better, and if you’re thinking of a few nights, it’s cheaper to get a slab.” A slab is twenty-four bottles or cans.
Trevor eagerly agreed, and handed Shane thirty dollars.
They headed for the registers, and as soon as they were outside, Shane handed Trevor the change: a handful of coins. Trevor glanced at them, hefting them in his hand. “I don’t like your dollar coins too much; they weigh a lot more than banknotes would.”
“We haven’t had ones in notes for yonks, I can’t remember the last time I saw one,” Shane said, and then leaned in close to poke around at the coins in Trevor’s hand. “Most of our coins have our wildlife on the back. The smallest coin we still use is the five cent, and that’s got an echidna on it. That’s a platypus on the twenty cent, and kangaroos on the dollar. Australia is big on its wildlife, but we have a lot of trouble with wildlife smugglers. You said the customs blokes mentioned that you were heading for Doree Island, a wildlife sanctuary, and they probably thought that’s what you were up to. Smugglers take our animals – usually birds, but other things too – overseas to sell. That’s a big problem on this coast, and some of the smugglers can be downright vicious. They’ve been taking a lot of budgies lately,” Shane said, with a sad shake of his head, before looking Trevor in the eye and adding, “Now there’s a story you should ask Ned Kelly about: he single-handedly busted a pair of those crooks. It’s a great story, but he tells it best – you just have to ask him nice – about the time he busted a pair of budgie smugglers, right here on the main street of Carnarvon,” Shane said, glancing away and looking down the street.
Trevor nodded dumbly for a moment, staring down the street with a blank look on his face, the corners of his mouth beginning to twitch. Then he put his arm around Shane, pulling him close until their shoulders brushed. With a wicked grin, Trevor looked Shane in the face. “Today is a first for me, being set up by a banana bender,” Trevor emphasized the term, which was a derogatory Australian nickname for Queenslanders, “trying to take the piss. And oh by the way, did I forget to mention that my mom was Australian?” Trevor said, giving Shane a friendly pat on the back and then pulling away, snickering.
“Fuck! I thought I had you and ‘ole Ned in one go.” Shane replied, laughing.
“Nice try, but I learned some things from Mom and I’ve had an interest in Australia for a long time. So, I know some of your slang, enough to catch on that you tried to hang a nickname on me that means ‘loudmouthed idiot’, and you wanted me to ask Ned about busting a pair of speedos in the center of town... did he?” Trevor asked.
Shane shrugged. “If he did, I’d rather not know of it...” Shane shook his head, still chuckling. “So why didn’t you say so before?” he asked.
Trevor gave Shane a wicked grin. “Because it was a lot more fun this way,” he replied.
“Bastard!” Shane grumbled, with a wry smile. A thoughtful look crossed his face, and he asked, “Have you ever been to Australia before?”
“No, but I have relatives here and I’m going to try to find them. All I know is my mother’s maiden name was Smith, and she was from Northam, inland from Perth. I might have some more info coming from back home, too.”
“Sounds like a tall order, mate. I’ll help if I can,” Shane said.
As they made their way down the broad, tree-lined avenue, Shane stopped at two more stores to fill in job applications. When he emerged from the last one, he took the beer and some of the bags from Trevor and fell into pace by his side.
Shane glanced back at the shop. “That was my last application for today; I’m out of résumés. I’ll print more tonight. I’m probably wasting my time; nobody seems to be hiring around here – not me, at any rate – but I have to try,” Shane said, transferring his entire load to his left hand, and then reaching back with his right to grab the back of his shirt, tugging it upwards, obscuring his face as he worked the shirt up. Trevor turned to watch the display, taking the opportunity to have a good look without being obvious, watching Shane’s muscles ripple as he slowly tugged off the snug knit polo shirt. Trevor was far too intrigued by the sight to notice what was ahead of him, as he continued walking down the tree-lined street, straight into a palm tree.
As the hem of Shane’s shirt cleared his eyes, he heard a thud, and turned his head to see Trevor land on his ass with a thump.
Shane froze, and then bent down by Trevor’s side as Trevor sat rubbing the side of his jaw. “Are you okay, mate? What happened?” Shane asked, shucking his right arm out of his shirt and offering Trevor a hand.
Trevor felt his cheeks beginning to burn, and took Shane’s offered hand. He got up off the grass, turning away quickly to gather up his bags. “I wasn’t watching where I was going and I hit the tree,” Trevor said, avoiding eye contact with Shane.
Shane grinned, switched his load from one hand to the other, and let his shirt slide down his left arm, catching it with his left hand and tucking it into the back pocket of his jeans. “Came to a sudden arboreal stop, did you?” With a sad shake of his head, Shane added, “Trev, they probably do things different back where you’re from, but here in Australia, trees have the right of way: pedestrians are supposed to go around them.”
“Shut up,” Trevor grumbled, his cheeks beginning to burn, and an embarrassed smile on his face.
Author’s note: Shane’s use of the words “came to a sudden arboreal stop” was inspired by the American TV series ‘West Wing’. That phrase became a common riff for someone hitting a tree after its use in the pilot episode, which aired in Australia in 2001, and was rerun thereafter. (In the TV show, it was used in reference to president Bartlet hitting a tree while riding a bicycle.) I’m not usually one for “pop culture” references in my stories, but the phrasing of that one just fit perfectly (though it took me a while to remember where I heard it) and given the high likelihood that Shane would be familiar with it, I figured he’d use it, under the circumstances. I’d normally work it into the narration or dialog instead of explaining it with an author’s note, but in this case, my attempts to do so merely cluttered up the scene, so I decided against that route.