In the sequel to PROFILE THREE, find out what Susan Carter and newly-trained agent Jack Pymble get tangled up in when they take on their next assignment.
The world of heroin trafficking seethes with money and sadism. Penetrating that scene with the intent of breaking open just a small part of it is a difficult, frightening, dangerous job. It’s also astonishingly complicated. Discover just how complicated it can be as an operation across the Top End of Northern Australia slowly develops.
(Cover art by Jinger Heaston.)
One of Second Endeavour’s sister ships, Wessex Castle, was hauling up her fishing gear for the fourth time that day, to the west of Cape Wessel. All eyes were on the equipment streaming behind the vessel as it surfaced into the low sea, otter boards to port and starboard stretching the wings and mouth of the cone-shaped net wide. Gulls milled angrily, hungrily behind the trawler, eager to snatch up food as it was discarded.
“Looks like we got a lot of shit in there again.” The skipper wasn’t too happy with the success of this cruise, which seemed to be dogged by problems. It was hard to make a quid when the product you were after—prawns—was fouled up with tonnes of jellyfish, sponges, loose weed. And highly poisonous and extremely annoyed sea snakes. Angelo Scharsti wasn’t especially religious, but he was superstitious, and had a bad feeling about this trip.
His companion in the wheelhouse appeared similarly troubled, which was hardly surprising, because he, Roberto, was Angelo’s younger brother. Both men were swarthy, being classic southern Italians by descent if not by nationality, and both had the hard, healthy patina of regular exposure to sea and sun.
“Okay, I’ll get ’er in.” He made off to the after deck to make sure the gear came in cleanly, just in time to hear one of the crew yell out.
“We just picked up summin’. A yellow crate, sort of. In the net.”
Roberto shrugged his shoulders. It wasn’t uncommon to collect surface stuff. Just another piece of shit to ditch.
Hydraulics whined their low, haunting drone as the cables were drawn in and eventually the huge blue net was suspended over the after deck. There was always an air of expectancy at this point, as a crewman stepped forward and pulled sharply at the cod end line with a sharp snap of his wrist. The rearmost part of the net, known as the cod end, is tied in a manner mysterious to the landman, such that it can be crammed with whatever’s collected and not burst, yet be rendered asunder by a simple twitch at a line. The crewman stepped back as a twitching, wet pile of material cascaded onto the sorting table. It was a fairly standard collection of catch, with rays flapping helplessly and magnificent fish curling and flicking in an attempt to escape. Brown sponges dominated the collection, while here and there the important animal—prawns—curled and uncurled valiantly as they sought to avoid the dinner table.
Four crewmen stepped forward to sort the mess, flinging rubbish catch into the sea or onto the deck as they worked through the mound. Another shout as the package became obvious. Two of the deck hands grabbed at the blue strapping with gloved hands and dragged the cube out of the way.
“’Asn’t been in the water long—there’s fuck-all growth on it,” muttered one, known by his mates as ‘Spots’—he was covered in them. They pushed it to one side, driven by the imperative to reset the net and sort the catch. Prawn boats are expensive beasts to run, and the only money made is that from which the net brings in. So, the net gets worked.
Angelo Scharsti eyed the package uneasily, peering through the after window of the wheelhouse. Like Spots, he recognised an object well-packaged and not long in the sea. After a moment he decided to have the intruding object carried away and stashed below decks. Out of sight, out of mind.
“Roberto, shift that thing off the deck. We’ll check it out later. Probably slipped off a yacht—you know what those amateurs are like.”
His brother nodded. He didn’t have much time for yachties either, although he had observed a few yachtie’s women, often topless and sometimes bollock-naked, he could have made time for if the opportunity arose. He trotted down to the after deck and grabbed the package, rolling it over to get a purchase. It was oddly balanced and the weight was naturally at one corner as he hefted it and moved off towards a dogged-open hatch leading below decks. As soon as he stepped inside, away from the brilliant sunshine, he saw the red LED flashing on the beacon. Roberto struggled awkwardly down the ladder into the tiny hold area and set his load down. He was surrounded by folded-down cardboard containers designed to be filled with prawns. The red LED was brilliant in the gloomy space, illuminated only by the faint light from the hatch. He eyed the little instrument, taking in the diminutive aerial. Thirty seconds later he turned off the switch, extinguishing the LED. And four minutes after that, he had the intriguing find concealed behind folded prawn containers.
Roberto instinctively knew he’d found something valuable. Now, he wondered, how to get the crew to forget about the find?
* * * *
“No markings at all,” Angelo ruminated aloud as he examined the container. The off-shift crew, apart from his brother, were soaking up a new pornographic video, vying to provide blow-by-blow commentaries as the somewhat predictable action progressed.
Roberto, silent, watched as his brother considered his next move.
Angelo turned to Roberto:
“It’s good you turned it off. Let’s look inside.”
Roberto nodded, and Angelo made a careful incision through the soft plastic, deftly working his extremely sharp knife with the skill of a professional fisherman. It didn’t take long to produce three slashes partially along three edges of the container, meeting at one top corner. Roberto peeled back two flaps while Angelo opened the third and felt inside.
“It’s packed solidly with…buoyancy foam.” He pulled out a slab of the stuff. The two looked at each other, each quite aware that there had to be more to the mysterious cube than the flotation material. Angelo extended the slashes to make the investigation easier, and pulled out more foam, dropping it onto the hold floor. After a few minutes he grunted;
“Something different here…”
He dragged out a package. A tight-packed polythene parcel about the same size as a kilogram of rice. Filled with light brown powder. Both brothers guessed what it was at the same time, and both made the same exclamation:
Angelo recovered first.
“Check the hatch door’s barred properly! And find something to put this stuff in!”
Roberto perfunctorily checked the door—he knew it was dogged down—then quickly made up a series of prawn containers from the folded supply in the hold. Angelo dug into the yellow cube, rapidly extracting and packing the heroin. He babbled as he worked:
“Can’t have the crew tangled up with this. It’s gotta be H, or maybe coke. We’ll hide it. Work out what to do with it later.”
“But…” Roberto didn’t understand, “Why not just chuck it back in, or dump it? How many people know we picked it up? And it’s obviously been opened.”
Angelo stopped packing for a moment and eyed his brother. Then dragged out more bags as he explained,
“There’s a fortune in this hold if we can get rid of the shit to the right people. All the crew know is we picked up a floating object. We’ll refill the cube and throw it back—they’ll see it’s worthless. We can tell ’em it’s a marker buoy.”
Roberto didn’t like it.
“Someone’s sure to be searching for the thing,” he protested, “And they’re gonna track it to us.”
Angelo paused again, thoughtful. Then,
“The beacon’s been turned off for a few hours now and we’ve covered around thirty miles since we picked the parcel up. We can smash the beacon so it looks like accidental damage. Chances are the thing won’t be found anyway, let alone connected with us. And we’ll change course after we’ve dropped it. Tell you what, we’ll work our way back towards Karumba, be out of the area altogether in a few days.”
Roberto thought it through. It should work, he figured. The crew would see the thing being dumped, be told a story about it. Why should they care? The beacon wouldn’t be working and the thing would probably sink anyway. He shrugged his shoulders as Angelo dropped some lead sinkers into the box and hurriedly pushed the foam blocks back in. Roberto grabbed some heavy-duty tape and patched up the slashes at the top corner of the container. Definitely sink, he guessed, with this rudimentary repair job. Probably.
Angelo considered the beacon for a while. Perhaps he should cut off the antenna. No—too obvious. He looked around the hold for inspiration. Two new shovels lay under a low shelf, destined to rust away to nothing once they went into regular use to push bycatch from the prawner’s deck. He grabbed one, reversed it to use the handle as a club.
Roberto stood back obediently. Angelo switched on the beacon, and immediately the red LED began to flash. Quickly, he slammed the shovel handle into the transmitter. The LED stopped flashing instantly. Angelo flung the shovel to one side and bowed towards his brother:
“The mark of a craftsman,” he grinned, “Now let’s get it over the side before the blokes get too nosey.”
The two carried the yellow box out to the after deck and unceremoniously pitched it over the stern, watching it oscillate wildly in the trawler’s wake.
“Okay,” said Angelo, “Now we’ll tell ’em we found a scientific marker buoy. I’ll do all the talking. Okay?”
Roberto nodded. Okay.
Neither of them had any idea of just how naive they were. Of how their story was seamed with holes. Of the horror they’d call down upon themselves.
Or that, while the red LED was quite definitely destroyed, the beacon was still transmitting.
* * * *