Petty Officer William McDonald was not a man prone to clubbing, partying and drinking, but on this rare occasion, he found himself doing all three. His ship; the USS Ronald Reagan had berthed in Brisbane, Australia, and for once he allowed himself to be convinced by his friends to head into the city and visit one of the many nightclubs that operated in the Valley – the heart of Brisbane's nightclub district.
Having never set foot on foreign soil before, he had gazed about in wonder at the welcoming, bustling city. The streets were wide, the people were friendly and the nightlife was fantastic. As the night wore on, he concluded to himself and anyone within his drunken-proclaiming distance that as far as he was concerned, Australian women were the best looking girls in the world. His statement, along with his smart uniform which he still wore earned him several approving glances from the females in the near vicinity, and his face flushed with excitement and drunken happiness.
William McDonald had not been born into a happy family. His father was a cruel and abusive man; a drunk who beat his wife every night, a man who never had a kind word to say to his son and always left William with a black eye or worse for his regular attempts to protect his mother. But William possessed an inner strength that many looked over. He refused to let such an experience change his life. He swore to himself that he would never allow such evil to take his own soul. And so it was that he joined the United States Navy on his twenty-fourth birthday, three years after his mother had been killed in a car accident, two years after his father had run his own car into a ravine in a drunken accident.
As William looked around the crowded room, his eyes fell upon a brunette standing at the bar, trying desperately to be served by the bar-staff, but every time she tried to place an order, one of his fellow sailors drunkenly, unaware of her presence, pushed in front and rattled off another order for a dozen beers.
Estelle Batellin was a young girl of Italian descent who had lived in Brisbane all her life. She had studied hard at school and had been rewarded with a medical degree that she was just a few short months shy of completing. After the completion of a particularly difficult exam, she had decided to go out with friends to celebrate.
She was just about to give up on her attempt to buy a drink when a quiet, and rather handsome US Sailor presented himself alongside her, and in a loud voice, hailed one of the bartenders and said, "Ma'am, I believe this woman has been waiting some time to get herself a drink." The harried bartender gave Estelle an apologetic smile, quickly took her order and within seconds, Estelle was finally able to soothe her thirst with a little sip of the Corona she'd ordered.
Turning to the sailor, she had given him a warm smile that lit up her beautiful features, and opened her mouth to thank him.
At that precise moment, the car bomb outside detonated.
It wasn't Hollywood – it wasn't an ever-growing fireball but rather a massive orange flash and then a wave of shrapnel which pierced through every nightclub in a block radius, cutting through partygoers like a scythe. People merely shredded into piles of bloodied clothing and unrecognizable lumps of flesh. And then there was silence, for a few seconds at least. Then the screaming started. Shortly after the sirens were heard over the hellish scene but they would serve as little comfort to those who already lay in the wreckage, dead or dying. Even to the living; trapped in the rubble, the sirens would offer little hope of rescue as emergency crews were simply overwhelmed. Around Brisbane City five separate car bombs had detonated, killing hundreds and wounding scores more.
Terrorism had finally come to Australia and with it, the innocence of the quiet city of Brisbane had disappeared in a cloud of growing smoke and debris.
Special Agent Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo was not a man unfamiliar with the sound of his work cellphone ringing at 1pm on a Saturday afternoon. Nor was he unfamiliar with the tired NCIS despatcher on the other end of the line. But the news he received was so unexpected that it took him five minutes to fully comprehend the situation.
A terrorist attack in an east-coast city of Australia had killed hundreds of civilians, possibly thousands, and among them were a large number of US Navy personnel from the USS. Ronald Reagan. One hundred and sixty-eight sailors and officers were unaccounted for, but personnel lists were still being compiled and he expected the figure to either rise or lower as the counts became more accurate and the roll-taking was started.
NCIS had, as an agency with no jurisdiction inside Australian borders, offered any assistance required, including the option of sending an investigative team over along with experts in victim identification and bomb data technicians. And the Australian Government had, unlike every other government in similar situations, accepted the offer unconditionally and in record time. DiNozzo didn't know and wasn't willing to guess as to whether the Aussies simply hated red tape like he did, or whether they were in desperate need of assistance, it could have been both, either or neither. All that he knew was that in three hours from now, he and the entire team; Abby included would be on a Qantas Airways flight to Brisbane, Australia to see the scene firsthand.
Author's Note: more to come...