Next story ("episode") in the "Season 5" series. Now I know I post fast.
A mysterious discovery in the middle of the Arafura leads to an even greater mystery. It's up to the Hammersley crew to save the life of a child and prevent an international incident.
Jason Chong... Xiao Taiqiang
Rod Mullinar... Gareth Donaldson
Enjoy and please review.
After continuous operations for several days, Kate announced some well deserved R'n'R on the beach of a nameless isle just west of the Torres Strait. The Hammersley was floating a hundred yards off shore maintaining its imposing posture and a RHIB was patrolling the area where a few of the crew were swimming. She remained on the bridge with Swain while a majority of the others were enjoying the warm, tropical sun.
2Dads and Dutchy were skimming a tennis ball across the moving blue water, while Sharkey baked in the cancerous rays. Kate hoped that she'd put sunscreen on. Raffy was on the sand with a beach soccer ball at his feet. Round-ball football, the real sort of football, he told Kate, was the only code he played. Bird had joined him and the two of them were trying to keep the ball off the yellow grains. Apparently, the young seaman had spent much of her youth, or her childhood rather, on the soccer field.
Charge was a little way off with his fishing tackle in full swing. Nobody was sure what he expected to catch, but to each their own. After a while, he was joined by Dutchy and 2Dads.
"How long are you going to stay out here?" Dutchy asked. "You're almost out of bait."
"And you still haven't caught anything," 2Dads added with a smile.
"But I will." He was insistent and positive. And insanely naïve, the other two sailors wordlessly agreed.
2Dads scoffed. "I'll put twenty in that you don't catch anything before the boss toots the horn."
"If the Navy permitted a wager," Dutchy said, grinning.
Charge turned his back to him. "If I don't catch anything, I'm putting it to your negative energy, 2Dads. And if I run out of bait-"
"You can use him," Dutchy interrupted, his head titling in the younger sailor's direction.
"You two just watch," Charge continued, his eyes back on the settled deep blue sea. "Give it a few more minutes and-" He stopped suddenly, mid-sentence.
"And what?" Dutchy said, confused. He turned round to see the line unreeling at a frightening pace. Charge was clutching on to his new and expensive rod with an immovable grip.
2Dads launched forward and pulled the larger man back. He was tinkering on the edge of the rocky outcrops. But he was not losing this battle. He was going to catch this fish.
"Just let go," Dutchy ejected stressfully, as he pulled Charge back, his hands gripping tightly on to the man's waist.
"No," Charge shouted back, his face contorted in pain and strain.
Back on the Hammersley, Kate's eyes were shielded by the microscopic vision of her binoculars. "What on earth are they doing?"
Swain grabbed his binoculars and glanced in that direction. "Tug of war, ma'am?"
"A fish," Swain said with a shrug. "I think the fish is winning."
"PULL!" Dutchy shouted to 2Dads. His hands were slipping.
"I'm trying!" 2Dads returned. "Charge, mate, just let go!"
"I can't!" the Charge strained.
Dutchy gave one more giant pull and the 'fish' stopped struggling against them. Charge easily reeled it in, but could feel a constant bump and thump along the way.
"What kind of fish is this?" Dutchy wondered exasperatedly.
The end of the line slowly reeled in with a large rectangular package attached. "I don't think that's a fish, Dutchy," 2Dads said in awe.
An EPERB was strapped with rope and duct tape to a silicon case. Charge pulled it ashore as Dutchy called the others over. They removed the large mechanic object and pulled off the plastic skin. The package was watertight and translucent.
"Oh, this is so much better than a fish!" 2Dads shouted excitedly.
Through the unclear plastic, the papery-grey face of Benjamin Franklin was shining through. Actually, many faces were packed in tightly together.
"How much is there, Swain?" Raffy questioned as he entered the wardroom.
The crisp American banknotes were stacked neatly on the centre of the table. Dutchy and Bird were present both as witnesses and as assistants.
"Half a million," Swain said expressionlessly.
"Half? Half a million?" Raffy was gob smacked. That much was obvious.
"That's what we said too, sir," Bird told him.
"Any idea where…?" Raffy began.
Swain stepped in again. "RO copied the serial number off the EPERB and sent it to NAVCOM. They're checking for ownership now."
"Well, our orders are to remain put," the X told them. "Repackage it exactly the same way. We may need to put it back in the water."
"Why, sir?" Bird questioned. "All that money…"
"Because we want to know how all that money got all the way out here," Raffy told her, "and why."
"What do you think this is about?" Dutchy asked.
"Illegal trafficking of some sort," Raffy replied. "Drugs, weapons, people. I don't know." Then he turned to Swain as his feet made steps towards the door. "Make sure the money's in there and secured."
He left the room and made his way down the empty corridor to the CO's cabin. It was lunch, and most sailors were on watch or eating in the mess'. Knocking once, he waited for permission to enter Kate's room.
She was on the phone. He suspected with NAVCOM and possibly Commander Flynn.
"Mike, just hold on a sec," Kate said and Raffy inwardly cheered at his correct assumption. "The X just walked in and I want to brief him."
She put the phone down and did not hang up, and turned to her Executive Officer.
"What's going on?" Raffy asked interestedly.
"They've traced the EPERB to a cluster purchased by the Chinese company, Chinamin," Kate told him.
"I know it. It's a huge, state-run aluminium company. But what could they possibly want with EPERB's?"
"They only purchased them two days ago," Kate replied. "And we don't know why."
Mike's voice was shouting on the phone in an attempt to get Kate's attention.
"Yes, Commander?" she asked, picking up the phone.
"I have to go," he told her. "I am speaking to the Chinamin CEO via video conference in five minutes. I will call you later."
"Yep, bye." And she hung up the phone.
Mike, on the other end in Cairns, dropped the phone onto his desk. His MacBook Pro was set up and readied for the upcoming conference call. He knew that he would not accuse such a wealthy and influential man of such a serious and reputation-damaging crime, but if he could illicit any information it would be advantageous to their investigation.
The Skype icon on his Mac was lighting up now. Xiao Taiqiang was early. But Mike was prepared. He answered and the calm face of a stern and professional Chinese man in his mid-thirties enveloped the screen.
"Mr. Xiao," Mike said at once. "Thank you for responding so fast. I hope that you'll be able to assist us in our enquiries." It sounded so police-like. Technically, this was a job that should've been left to the AFP, but Mike was the better diplomat in such a politically sensitive case.
"Thank you, Commander Flynn." He spoke English perfectly but with a noticeable accent. "I was hoping that you would be able to help me."
"I don't know what you mean, sir," Mike said immediately.
"Continue, please, with what you had to tell me."
Mike did so. There would be time for the other question later. "Your company purchased EPERB's two days ago."
"My company purchases a lot of things, Commander."
"But this one was found in the Arafura Sea with 500 thousand US dollars attached," Mike told him bluntly.
"You need to put that money back where you found it."
Mike was confounded, but he didn't show it. "Sir, apart from this being a serious breach of Australian customs law, we are talking about a highly suspicious package."
"And you want to know what it is doing there?"
"With respect, sir, yes," Mike answered in the same blunt tone. "You obviously seem to have some knowledge."
"Yes…" Xiao muttered slowly. "That is my money."
Mike didn't choose the attack position. So far, Xiao had been truthful with him. The man's disposition was evidence that he needed to keep that trust if wanted to know anything. "Sir. Why...?"
"I will need to tell you quickly," Xiao said. "But first, I need to know if I can trust you. And I want your word that you'll put it back."
"What makes you think that you can't trust me?"
"Because the Australian government and Australian constituents are responsible for this," Xiao told him firmly.
Mike didn't know what he was talking about in the slightest, but he could bet that it had something to do with Xiao's first statement and the money. He was curious. "If you haven't done anything wrong, sir, then I will help you. But until then…"
"This is a very serious matter."
"I know," Mike ejected with elevated exasperation. "It's five hundred thousand dollars, but I can't help you if I don't know the story." He was getting frustrated and trying hard not to show it.
"And now you have it in your possession, am I correct?" He sounded disappointed, and almost downtrodden, especially when Mike's nod came. "Then I have very little choice but to reveal the truth to you. I want to say very clearly that I did not bring this upon my family."
"Mr. Xiao… what is going on?"
He drew in a deep breath and spelled out a phrase that rocked Mike to the core. "Your countrymen have taken my son."