Chapter 17 here ... Chapter 19 here
The day wore on and under full sail, they’d made excellent time.
Geneviève had insisted they thoroughly clean the boat inside out and air all the coats and bedding. The straw brush was hard at work and the thick leaves they used as plates doubled as dustpans and were then washed in the sea. Hugh didn’t want to tell her the sea was far from clean or about the microscopic creepy crawlies in it because Emma had scooped that water before and she'd reflect on it.
He also hadn’t told them about the squid and sharks.
The sun now beat down and it was line ball whether to soak it up or seek shade. Chores finished, the women got their bits and pieces for suntanning together and took up what had become their places - Emma on the port side of the forward cabin and Genie opposite on the starboard, closer to their hatch. Hugh was in the aft cabin and Jean-Claude was on the helm.
The breeze was light, the air warm, Jean-Claude fought the feeling and then succumbed. He tied the tiller and went forward, trying to find a reason to be up near the women and he didn't want to admit it but the one causing his libido the most trouble was Emma. If he'd rationalized it, he'd have realized that Genevieve and he were a bit more conservative but Hugh had encouraged Emma to be a bit outrageous in his eyes - and the way she was moving was like someone on heat - sharp movements, then sensual, then quick moves, raising her bottom, lowering it and so on.
Geneviève glanced back over her shoulder, saw him look away and kept her peace.
Emma, already topless, turned over on her back, lifted her haunches and slipped off her knickers, then lay, legs apart, placing the knickers over her eyes but she could see through the mesh. For his part, he was well aware no good could from this - Emma was showing signs of ramping it up each successive time.
In her own head, she couldn't stop wanting this. It was not true that she had put Hugh out of mind but it was true that she couldn't control this now. Sooner or later, this was going to end one way.
Geneviève suddenly sat up, Emma scrambled up, picking up her knickers, slipped them back on and almost ran to the aft cabin, Hugh looked up as she came below and fell to her knees in confession, every last detail.
His face was chagrined. 'I'll kill him.'
'Kill me. I need to be able to stop this, I don't want it. Help me stop.'
There was a noise of someone coming rapidly aft and the next moment, Geneviève appeared at the hatch and climbed down with purpose. He swung himself off the bed and went up on deck and Genie, below, was not mincing words - there was some ancient ground being gone over in that conversation.
He looked at Jean-Claude on the helm and the man looked away. This one would be dealt with later, maybe days later.
It was the following morning, about 10:00, that they saw them.
‘Look, look, over there,’ cried Emma, pointing over the port quarter.
They all looked and there were three dolphins cavorting along at boat speed, enjoying the wake. Jean-Claude pushed the helm one way - the dolphins followed, he pulled the other and they changed course.
Everyone was simply delighted. Emma was sitting right on the bow, legs over the side and Hugh didn’t know which was more beautiful – the frisky, diving and leaping poetry of the dolphins or the lady who was appreciating them.
Jean-Claude knew one thing – the scene was so moving he couldn’t find words for a time.
Then, as if on cue, the dolphins dived and were not seen again the whole day.
All of them felt let down. They looked at one another, sighed and the ladies went back to the sunbathing.
‘It’s a spiritual experience, you know,’ murmured Jean-Claude, not particularly to Hugh.
Jean-Claude wasn't taking the chance of commenting and waited for the other man's next move.
'Emma came below and told me all of it - what she did, how you looked at her. She was wet.'
The man was sweating but still didn't have anything to say.
'Jean-Claude, she is beautiful, they both are. Emma doesn't know how or when to stop. And you are a man.'
'I don't know what to say. I'm shocked that I looked. We had that night together and I saw her, even held her and she was not like this. I think Genie is speaking to her about it even now. I apologize to you, I'm truly sorry.'
'Yours is not the sin here.'
The day passed, the night saw no trouble again – they were clearly centred in a high pressure system but knew it had to end. What they didn’t want was for it to end near land.
The dolphins returned for another bout and everybody felt happy when they were there.
The day drew to an end; they fished and caught only twelve fish, twenty-four fillets. And all the time, the bow of the boat continued to slice the waves and the water whooshed past in that calming manner.
The night came on and passed with an increase in wind strength, to the point where Hugh reefed to half sail on his watch. The swell had increased in height and in the early light, sometimes they were unable to see over the trough.
The rota had altered as a result of the incidents, with Genevieve and Hugh the main instigators - the official pairings were alternating but sooner or later, there had to be an Emma-Jean-Claude watch and of course, the other two.
Genevieve and Hugh went to the forward cabin to make tea and to chat. It was clear early that both wanted to give Jean-Claude and Emma rope to see what happened.
'You made her like this, Hugh.'
'I know, I know. What can be done?'
'We all have a problem. We're at the point where we could descend to beasts. I want you, you want me, Jean-Claude wants Emma and me and if we let this happen, I've seen the result too many times before. I've been there, remember. We should be happy we're so free, no complexes, to do it with anyone we want and no one unhappy.'
'But they are unhappy, there's always one upset.'
'It's more, it's what it does to the project, to the plans, to what we need to do to stay alive and it eats into our character. With Emma, she becomes uneasy, needing it, becoming worse and worse but also wanting to control it. She starts wanting someone else to help her control it. She loses respect for herself and thinks everyone else has too. Never let her get to that stage. Don't let her do that.’
The dolphins did not return the next morning and as if on cue, the skies clouded over a little. Things had made a shift towards the more serious. ‘We’re at the business end of our trip, folks,’ said Hugh. ‘We have to start planning our moves.’
‘Are we just going to abandon our boat?’ asked Geneviève.
‘No. We’re going to make friends with some sailors – we’ll go to the sailing club – and we’ll ask if there is anyone who would care to stock up the boat and they can have it for a while, providing they agree to finish up in Europe.’
‘Who’d do that?’ asked Jean-Claude. ‘They all have their own boats.’
‘Not all. Many join the club just to crew and Australians are a seafaring nation, like the British. Some damn good sailors don’t own their own boat. If we simply give it to them without a fee and they know we already have an ocean cruise under our belts, I think we’ll find some takers.’
‘Why would we need it in France?’
‘We might need to leave France quickly, by an unorthodox route.’
Jean-Claude thought on that and trimmed the rig, he being the one currently at the helm.
The sea settled down and the sun came out after lunchtime, when all had been washed and put away. Gradually the air heated up and the question of sunbathing arose once again. Jean-Claude was on duty with Emma and Hugh was sunbathing on the opposite side of the cabin to Genie but it was easy to talk from there.
They made a plan to stop the Jean-Claude and Emma curiosity to go any further. He feared Jean-Claude was right, that he wanted Genie more than Emma wanted Hugh.
No, said Genevieve, it wasn’t really that, it was sexual curiosity and it trumped other feelings at this moment, that was all. The way to stop it was for a resurrection of the Hugh- Genevieve connection. ‘Let’s both go to the front of the boat and sit down together.’
At the stern, both Emma was topless and now she squeezed in beside him, he clad in shorts and sandals but his eyes were on the front of the boat and not on Emma. She ‘accidentally’ brushed his shorts with her hand and he murmured, ‘Non.’
Emma quickly followed his gaze to the front and Mademoiselle had made the supreme sacrifice, in her terms – she’d removed her top and bottom – in fact she was naked. Worse now, she leaned into his shoulder and let her hair fall on Hugh’s shoulders.
The two at the back were both old stagers themselves and knew what this was all about, not thinking it would come to anything, even exchanging a grin but when the two at the front now made for the front cabin, it was time to move. Jean-Claude simply left the helm, Emma jumped onto the seat and took the tiller, Jean-Claude was at the front hatch and climbing into the cabin.
‘Jean-Claude,’ said Genevieve, now dressed in her big throw-over shirt, ‘we were bringing out the drinks. You want to have them in here?’
He looked at the bench and sure enough, four cups were out, plus the lime water, ready to pour. Each looked at the other and they were penetrating looks, Jean-Claude barely breathing evenly.
Finally, Genevieve spoke. ‘We have to stop Emma doing this, Jean-Claude. She wants you but if you say no to her, give her no way to come near you, if you look away when she’s naked, if I speak with her again, if Hugh does again and most importantly of all – if you do, Jean-Claude, she will have no choice but to settle down and it will die away. It has every time so far.
But I’m also telling both of you this – if you don’t do this, Jean-Claude, that’s your choice but I will use my choice and join Hugh in his life. Then you can have Emma all you want. Any sexual contact with her and I’m going to Hugh.
He obviously thought it a bluff and turned to Hugh. ‘Yes,’ said Hugh, ‘if you won’t stop, if she won’t, then what’s the point? Where are the vows, the promises, the hopes, the plans? You’d leave me no choice and remember that Genie and I were the original plan.’
Jean-Claude turned on his heel and climbed the steps, moving quickly to the back of the boat. Hugh looked at her and she said, ‘Don’t go out there, don’t look. Make them guess.’
‘Good. So, Hugh, you just made a statement. Lie of course, to fool Jean-Claude?’
‘No, Genie, you know it’s not. It would take little for us to come together now. I’m right on the edge of it.’
‘As am I.’
There was an intake of breath outside the hatch and a pattering of feet to the stern. He looked at her, she at him. ‘We’ll just have to see how it happens now, Hugh. And Hugh?’
He squeezed her hand. They poured the drinks and carried two each through the hatch and to the stern, where Jean-Claude had taken over. Of Emma, there was no sign, meaning she had to be below.
Hugh took her drink below, she came out of her curled up position on the bed, sat up and accepted the drink with a thank you. They sipped, looking at one another.
‘You were ready to leave me?’
‘Only if something sexual occurred, same with Genie. She asked me how serious that was, what we’d said? We agreed- very serious if it had gone on with you and Jean-Claude. You couldn’t stop but Jean-Claude could because he’s always been after Genie – you know that. That’s why it was so serious. If he’d not stopped with you, she would have seen he could never be trusted, his libido would have been stronger than his love for her, in her eyes.’
‘In mine too, Hugh. I know what I did, something kept driving me on but if he’s said no or even if he hadn’t, I would have stopped. I think I would have touched his thing and that would satisfy the curiosity. But that might make him impossible to stop. I was thinking of all these things.’
‘But not of me.’
She looked down and clasped her hands between her knees. ‘I’m having to learn things, you were part of those things. He was more immediate because I’d already – well –’
‘Conquered me? Had me on a string?’
She looked at him, words formed, she dropped them, new words formed. Then she said, ‘Yes.’
‘I’ve always loved your honesty about yourself.’
‘Doesn’t help me though, does it?’
‘What do you want? To fuck him? To be his? What do you want?’
‘I’m not in a very good position with you, I know that but I’m going to ask you not to use that word with me – not from you. Don’t say sorry as I’m the one who needs to be sorry but stay good, don’t descend.’ She gathered her words. ‘I want you more than anyone, I’ve waited, I’ve hoped, I never wanted that for Nikki, please believe me – I loved her too you know – and just now, to find out I could still lose you – I didn’t like that.’
‘I’ve told you it would only have been if you’d made it clear he was your sexual partner - that’s exactly the same for Genie. She and I are where we always were after I went to Nikki – it might happen, it probably wouldn’t. The key was you two.’
‘Sometimes I never know when you’re really very serious and when you’re not. When you’re very serious, warn me. I’m not good at reading those sorts of signs. I can read anyone else’s signs like that – but not always yours. I feel cold inside, chilled. I need your arms, can you hold me or is that not possible?’
‘Come over here.’
They couldn’t actually see the sun for the swell.
Seagulls did appear in the distance and a couple of the larger birds, which suggested they were near an island; the shallow draft meant they might not run aground but the poor visibility was a factor.
Now they seemed to be facing another danger more immediate.
Hugh warned everyone to be on the alert and not to walk around unattached. Geneviève and Jean-Claude took that literally and tied themselves in to a berth. Emma did likewise. It was Geneviève’s turn for the helm but nobody seriously expected her to at this point.
Then Hugh caught sight of it – it was land and might have been an island but he couldn’t tell. He estimated about ten kilometres away. What he needed to do was get the boat to the leeward side of the island, which meant tacking south-east into the wind for some time, a tough job in these conditions and one they’d managed to largely avoid so far. The downside of ports too was that they often had narrow approach strips of water and buoys they had to keep between. Tricky in a wind and big seas.
Jean-Claude eventually came out to take over the helm and saw the land, possibly twelve kilometres away to starboard. ‘Do you know it?’
Now they approached their first buoy and as it went past, they noted it was written on in English. Lord Howe Island. OK, so that was that. He’d never been there but imagined there’d have to be a reasonable harbour. Also, they’d have been picked up on screen now by the coastguard.
It looked like it might have been the right decision to go below the island and now they approached a rocky point, feeling that if they stayed three kilometres or so to sea of it, they should be all right.
However, seas were coming in from around the point and lumping up the ocean where they met the swell – this was not unlike getting caught in a washing machine and the good ship Sophie-Fleury did not enjoy it.
The bow was burying into breaking waves ahead, even whilst they surfed down their own wave, the ama digging in and seas piling onto their deck, attempting to sweep everything away, including Jean-Claude and Hugh.
Jean-Claude saw it first – a mongrel of a wave from the port side, which was not only coming from the wrong direction but now reared up to maybe ten metres over them, sucking them down into a trough. Even before it broke, Hugh knew they were gone and shouted for everyone to hang on tight.
It crashed onto the bow and the cabin roof, staving the latter in. At the same time, another wave from the starboard quarter caught underneath the stern; the stern stood up on end and their own swell had them stern over bow, the boat was upside down; both Hugh and Jean-Claude were caught underneath.
They pulled themselves along the cockpit into the aft cabin, the women helped them in and now they took stock. Water was up to their stomachs but no further, as the amas were supporting them, things were actually calmer upside down, despite the howling and crashing outside, many waves dashing against the keel but doing no damage.
They had no way of knowing how long they’d remained like that but they got the impression that things were now much calmer.
The waterline was pretty well at the lower side of the berth but it was manageable. They'd designed it this way. Hugh decided to swim out and see what was happening.
He exited into the cockpit and swam to the stern, through the gap and up onto the keel. It was calm, they were drifting near land and he was amazed how long it had taken anyone to detect them or for anyone on the beach to give the alarm. Maybe the lack of radio, the lack of flares and the colour of the undersides had fooled people for a long time.
However, he could make out people in little groups pointing to them and boats were making their way out.
The first got close and someone called out, ‘Youse all right there? Anyone hurt?’
‘Nah, she’s apples.’
The man spoke to his mate, then asked, ‘You an Aussie?’
‘What youse lot doin out there? There was a bloody storm, mate.’
‘Yeah, we got caught in it. We were coming from New Zealand.’
‘Shit! That’s a bit of a sail. Whad'ya want us to do?’
‘Can you throw us a line? If we attach it, can you try to pull us back up?’
‘Dunno mate. We’ll give it a burl.’ He motored round to the other side.
Jean-Claude now appeared and Hugh asked him not to talk to them. Two lines were thrown, each took one and passed it across the vaka. They swam across to the ama, attached the line to the point designed for that and tied it with half hitches and slip knots.
Hugh skipped over to where the ladies were below and shouted to them to hang on because they were going to turn downside up in a minute. They shouted back that they’d heard.
He gave the thumbs up and skipped over to the ama. The motor boat was put into gear – it had twin Mercs – the slack was taken up, the lines went taut and slowly, slowly, the ama came up into the air. Hugh and Jean-Claude climbed up over it.
Still the motorboat pulled them, then in a rush, the whole thing went crash – right side up. The boat shuddered and sloshed in the water but they were now fine. The two men detached the lines, which were now hauled back in by the motorboat people.
The first man called out – did they need to be towed? No thanks, they’d sail into the beach now and thanks a lot.
‘Watch it when you get near that buoy over there, mate. It’s a bit shallow there with your keel. You’ll need to go between the buoys.’
‘She's apps. See you onshore.’
All the cockpit water had now self-drained but the cabin was awash. Jean-Claude and the women bucketed water out; Hugh set sail and headed for the shore. About ten metres from land, they grounded and that was all they could do. This beach was not designed for keelboats to land, even if it was a shoal keel.
Hugh jumped off first, taking the anchor with him and Jean-Claude played out the line. Digging it in on the beach, he now came back to lift the ladies to shore but they needed no lifting; they’d already jumped ship and were wading to the beach.
A largish crowd now gathered, Hugh greeted them and answered their questions. Their ‘friends’ who had rescued them now came over and shook hands.
‘You were bloody lucky, you know. That was a bad ’un and there’s another on the way tomorrow. Steve Minchin.’
‘Hugh Jensen and these are John, Jenny and Emma.’
They all shook hands. ‘Right, so youse lot’ll be wanting something to eat, most like. Will you join us up at the cabin?’
‘That’s much appreciated,’ said Hugh.
‘You’ve got a nice boat there, you know.’
‘You don’t know how nice. It’s been great for us. This is our second storm in a few days.’
‘Yeah, the weather can get a bit tricky up this way. Your boat’ll be all right here; it’s not going anywhere but I’d take any valuables with you.’
Jean-Claude looked at Hugh, who wasn’t worried. The weapons were mainly locked in the ama and the UMP could be put in there, they’d leave the vaka open to satisfy curiosity. The beachgoers couldn’t do much harm.
They went back to the cabin and took footwear, then followed their hosts up the beach, the kids clearing a path for them. Steve’s cabin was set near the edge of the grassy area abutting the beach and he seemed to be either the ranger or someone of note. Hugh asked him.
‘Yeah, we look after the foreshore here, we take it in turns, Bob Mackenzie and me. Here’s my wife Michelle and that’s Justin over there. We have another, Kelly, who’s four, but she’s with friends up the beach.’
Michelle put on a cuppa for starters and then out came some salad. ‘Fancy some snags, Hugh?’
Jean-Claude looked at him and Hugh said, ‘Sausages.’
‘You’re not all Aussies then?’
‘Nah, just me. These three are French.’ The French smiled sweetly.
‘Well, bugger me. What are you doing with the French here? Blowing up the Rainbow Warrior or something?’ He liked his own joke and Hugh hoped that the other three knew nothing of that little incident.
‘You guys speak English?’
They all indicated that they did and lunch was a happy occasion. It might not have been Jean-Claude’s and Geneviève’s cuisine but they wolfed it down all the same.
Steve was a bit puzzled. ‘Hugh, you’ve got the lingo all right but your accent – it sounds Pommie.’
‘My early life was spent there. They say my accent is Aussie.’
He thought a moment. ‘Nah, definitely Pommie.’
‘Story of my life.’
‘Well, we’ll have to get some things signed, I suppose. You have any ship’s papers or anything?’
‘Just my passport. We lost everything else in the storm. We’re on our way to Australia.’
‘Geez, you won’t get in there with just one passport. Illegal immigrants, you know. These three -’
‘Steve, have you ever heard of French illegal immigrants?’
‘Well no, now you come to mention it. Still, it’s not going to look too good.’
‘Well, we didn’t plan our boat to turn over either. It just happened.’
‘Yeah but still. Look, we’ll get this thing down on paper and then you’d probably want to go shopping – there’s just a kiosk here but there’s a general store just down Lagoon Road there, about a quarter of a mile. I suppose you’ll be staying on board overnight - you picked the best bay.’
‘We thought we'd sleep on board.’
‘Anyway, you have your passport with you?’
‘Yep.’ He handed it over.
‘This says you’re a Pom.’
‘I’ve been living there – these are my friends I met over there.’
‘Each to their own, I suppose. Right.’ He copied down the details, looked the passport over and handed it back. ‘I suppose the police sergeant would want to see you but he’s not on the island today. He’ll get back in the morning, most like.’
‘Steve, you say another storm is coming tomorrow.’
‘According to the forecast, yeah.’
‘What d’you make of that lot?’ Steve asked his wife when the four of them had departed with thanks.
‘Nice enough but I don’t believe ’em. There’s a lot they didn’t say.’
‘Yeah, my thoughts too. We’ll stay friendly with ’em, like and see what Don Richards makes of ’em. They might be OK. I think his story checks out about being half-Pommy but why would he be with those three characters? Also, look at those two birds – he has to be a randy bugger, doesn’t he?’
‘Do you have any Australian money, Hugh?’ asked Jean-Claude.
‘Some – also pounds, euros, dollars and roubles. Let’s go shopping. We’re going to need a lot of food and we’ll need to get water too.’
‘There was a tap near the beach,’ said Emma.
‘Good. I have a feeling that, storm or no storm, we need to head off tonight.’
‘You heard him, Hugh. There’s another storm coming.’
‘Let’s buy a paper and find out.’
They found the shop and it was a bit limited in supplies but they filled the cloth bags and bought some confectionery. Jean-Claude saw a French wine cask but Hugh stopped him. ‘This is table wine the French wouldn’t drink, Jean-Claude. Look at the appellation.’
Hugh, I need wine with my meal, all right?’
‘All right but don’t say you weren’t warned.’
The women looked around and checked out all that was on offer, then nodded, paid and left.
‘We’ll need another trip to that shop,’ said Hugh. ‘If we all go back now, it will look strange to those on shore so we’ll go just after dusk, right?’
Back at the boat, they had to chase some kids off but nothing seemed to have been taken, for the very good reason that there wasn’t anything to take. Emma spoke. ‘Did you see that cooking apparatus on sale?’
‘Over on the far wall. Maybe we can buy it.’
‘That’s propane and I’m not sure about having it on board. The gas bottle needs to be new and this is not the city.’
Geneviève stepped in. ‘I need cooked food at least once a day. We all do.’
‘Right, right. We’ll get it. Anything else?’
Geneviève now smiled. ‘Oh, we have quite a list.’
For the rest of the afternoon, they relaxed on the beach, soaking up the sunshine, sipping on cool drinks and enjoying it all. Maddening to think of the contrast between early morning and now.
Dusk was approaching, so they gathered the bags and returned to the shop, just thirty minutes before the woman closed. When she saw the number of bags they’d brought, she saw the chance of a fair killing and asked them to take their time. Hell, she wasn’t going to shut up shop on this lot.
It took so long to struggle back with all the bags, even downhill but no one complained in the least, not if they could have even half these supplies onboard. From a primus light, to torches, to feminine necessities, it was starting to look almost homely now.
Hugh said, ‘It’s a good place, Australia. You can get most things you need.’
‘Is that where we’re going?’
‘No. We’re going north, as far away from Anglo-Saxons as we can get.’
‘Haven’t a clue. We bought a world map though – let’s look at it tomorrow, on the move.’
They set everything out to their satisfaction and ate the roast chicken, burgers and chips they’d also bought, keeping some back for the next morning. It wouldn’t go off before then.
There was a shout from the shore. ‘Oy, Hugh? JJ and E?
Hugh looked across at Jean-Claude in the light of the primus lamp and decided to go out. He climbed to the bow, lowered himself into the water which was now only ankle deep and walked to the shore.
‘These are our two here. Say hello to Hugh.’ The kids did. ‘Well, you should be all right overnight – no rough weather till late tomorrow they say. You’d like to see the island tomorrow with us?’
‘Hey, that would be great. What time are you talking?’
‘We’re up fairly early but we’ll head off about 11:00, I think. That OK with you?’
‘I’ll tell the others but can’t see why not.’
‘You got enough to see you through tonight? Food, anything?’
‘We went to the shop twice.’
‘Yeah, I know. Wendy told me. Said you’d bought half the shop. Can’t say you don’t contribute to the local economy.’ He laughed at that one too.
Hugh grinned. ‘Well, we have to get to Oz somehow and the ladies weren’t too happy with dried food the whole time.’
Michelle could hold it back no longer. ‘I don’t know how those girls stand it. All that time cooped up on that boat. Nice boat, don’t get me wrong, Hugh but ladies are ladies.’
He laughed. ‘Right, Michelle. They were just saying that too.’
‘Tell you what, why don’t those two come up and stay with us overnight and you two he-men can mind the boat?’
Hugh was quick. ‘Let me ask them, OK?’
He waded back to the boat, went below and whispered to Emma, ‘They want you to stay with them overnight but we have to leave at midnight. Go out to the cockpit and call out to them that it’s very kind but you have your bed made up and you’re going to sleep now. Then thank them again.’
Emma went out and did just that. Michelle called back, ‘What about the other lady?’
Geneviève had the idea and she now not only went out but waded to the shore to speak with them. The moment she reached them, Michelle asked, in a low voice, ‘Look, honey, are you really all right in there? You can tell us if there’s a problem.’
‘No problem at all. John is my husband and Hugh is Emma’s husband.’
‘Oh, sorry,’ said Steve. ‘You see he didn’t mention that earlier and when he did all the talking, well …’
Geneviève had charm and she laid it on now. ‘It’s very kind of you, it really is but we decided to go for a cruise. We’d got to New Zealand and then thought it would be nice on your island. I enjoyed it.’
Her use of the past simple made them wonder. Did she mean they had enjoyed it or that they were enjoying it? Geneviève was not aware of the faux pas.
‘Are you leaving then?’
‘In a few days, yes.’
‘Ah, because I thought you said …’ To her blank look, he tumbled to the thought that she probably didn’t know English all that well. ‘OK, love. Well, if you need anything, you know where we are,’ and he nodded to their cabin.
‘Yes and thank you again.’
She went through the conversation with Hugh and asked where she’d gone wrong. When they got to the ‘enjoyed’, he was thoughtful.
‘Did I say it wrongly, Hugh?’
‘Mmmm? No, no Genie, you were fine. But he’s going to be very suspicious of us, that’s all.’ He explained what past simple conveys and she saw it.
‘So,’ concluded Hugh, ‘if we don’t go, we run into trouble with the law tomorrow. If we do go, we run into trouble on the sea, plus a storm. It will look very bad us sailing off like this.’
‘They have GPS and they’ll send out a plane,’ Jean-Claude reminded him.
‘True but that’s positioning us, not intercepting us. On water, they still have to do the kilometres and it will be a mainland coast guard or a naval vessel they’ll send.’
‘Hugh, they can shoot us out of the water. Once the word gets through from Europe, we’re isolated and no one’s going to either hear us or care for us when we die. The public will accept what they’re told – that the gallant and heroic security services have once again protected the people from terrorists like us.’
‘Perhaps we have to start trusting people at some point, otherwise we’ll find ourselves completely unprotected,’ Jean-Claude added. 'Maybe this could be the start of our fightback tonight. Maybe we can get people supporting us again.’
Emma concurred. ‘Let’s go up to them and tell them.’
They took some chocolates and biscuits with them and the shock on the faces of Steve and Michelle was a sight to behold.
She quickly recovered and put the kettle on. Steve pulled out some beers and offered them but only the men took them. Jean-Claude leant forward, hands on knees and said, ‘We have to tell you what’s happening, who we really are.’
‘Ah, I felt there was something, John. Let me check on the kids and then we’ll talk.’
When he returned, they began with their actions in Europe. Geneviève apologized for lying and then showed her passport. So did the other two. Steve nodded and appreciated that they’d come clean. He knew there’d be more.
Geneviève now showed her security pass, Jean-Claude showed his police badge and Emma showed her pass. Hugh could only produce his university pass.
‘So youse are on some kind of mission?’ Steve was in awe.
They looked to Hugh. ‘Steve, these people are a security section in Paris, an anti-corruption squad. They save women and girls who are taken into prostitution and other things. They work undercover. I see you have the internet there. May I google this?’
‘Sure, sure.’ Steve switched it on and after it warmed up, Hugh googled Sophie-Fleury. Up came a German internet report on them. He knew it and felt it gave the fairest summation to date. Steve read to Michelle from the screen.
At the end, he was in awe. ‘I’d heard of you guys before but never in a million years did I ever think I’d meet you. I’m really sorry about the Rainbow Warrior crack now. Geez, that’s you guys?’
Hugh nodded. ‘Now here’s the other side, Steve.’ He clicked on the official EU report on them. Steve read this out as well, then said, ‘If I hadn’t read the first one, I’d have thought you were going to kill us tonight.’
‘We have weapons and not much ammunition in the boat, locked in the main ama. We want you to know the lot. It got so hot in Europe with these people that we were forced out of there. Do you know they hit our safehouses with missiles, killed Genie’s husband and Jean-Claude’s wife, plus my wife, together with an entire family? Wiped them out. In that family, Steve, Michelle, was a girl, Francesca, nearly eighteen and she was soon to be married to her young man. They killed her.’
‘But that’s so … so … I don’t know what to say. You poor people.’
‘We went to an island near Fiji and built this boat. We tried to make New Zealand but were caught in a storm, then we saw a flotilla waiting for us; we turned around and made for here. We’re on the run, Steve and have no friends.’
‘What of the people in Europe? You were pretty popular over there.’
‘Steve, look at these pages.’ Hugh clicked on two more and Steve read them.
‘But these say you guys are heroes. Why are they trying to kill you?’
‘The people themselves aren’t. The authorities who have taken over are - because we expose them. We name the names of the people at the highest level who are corrupt and they’ve vowed to eliminate us. They control governments. Your own government has to listen to Europe because it is the only information coming out of there on the grid.’
‘Geez, you guys are crazy. You’re on a hiding to nothing doing this. Why would you do it?’
‘May I tell them, Genie?’ She nodded. ‘Geneviève and one of the dead women was raped repeatedly by these people in their orgies. That dead woman was my wife and they killed her some months back.’
‘Sheesh,’ said Michelle.
‘There’s a girl they’re holding now and we’re going back to rescue her. They take teenage girls and do things to them. They’re animals. We're not going to rest till we’ve nailed them.’
‘Yeah but how?’
Jean-Claude spoke. ‘Across Europe, people give us shelter and comfort; they hide us and get us away. The power of the state is a sledgehammer, cracking the little nut, which is us. We hit back and they hit back harder. They kill our families and then put on the evening news that known terrorists were executed today in a precision military operation.’ Months, years of frustration were boiling over now in his words. ‘There were no terrorists, Steven. Our friends were murdered in cold blood. These people are murdering the common people, the common people know this and they support us.’
‘Not all of them though,’ said Hugh. ‘They offer big rewards and in this economic climate, many people prefer the money. There are those who would turn us in.’
‘This is pure Ned Kelly.’
Jean-Claude looked puzzled but Hugh said he’d tell him about Ned later. He pointed Steve to another page about them, an Australian site. He read it. ‘Your sergeant might be on the level, Steve but he might also be under orders from above. He’d have no choice but to turn us over.
In Sydney or wherever, other people would take us over and we’d be extradited right into the hands of their agents. They’d walk in one night and that would be that. We wouldn’t just be shot. We’d be tortured with electricity and other things like that.’
‘You can claim asylum.’
‘How? The people who run the governments are the ones killing us. The ordinary people – you, me – we have no say, no rights.’
Michelle had been silent but now she spoke. ‘We’ll get you on your way, guys and we’ll sort out Don Richards. Once he knows, he’ll be onside, whatever his orders. He’s not the greatest fan of Canberra. I don’t know what we can do but we’ll do it. Now, guys, are you going to let your women stay here tonight or not? Aren’t you going to let them have a shower and a nice bed?’
About an hour later, the two men wandered back down to the boat, feeling the right thing had been done.
'Fear, Jean-Claude. That's all it was with me - fearing we needed to keep going and going, to escape the enemy. Have we mistreated our women?'
'I think Genevieve would have said something if you’d insisted on leaving. Your Emma can take this sort of life but Genie ...'
‘Hugh, we need to make a strategic plan, a long range plan of what we hope to achieve. It may be that we can achieve nothing, that the reality is that we are on the run forever but my training says that one always needs a strategic plan and that gives a person at least a chance.’
‘We’ll speak with the ladies. I don’t think we can stay here. Even with the goodwill of this don Richards, it’s putting pressure on him if we stayed.’
‘D’accord. Our place is in Europe and we have some funds left, three of us. We can do some damage and maybe rescue the girl. My experience in my work was that things present themselves. Much police work is putting yourself in an area, hoping something would happen, it doesn’t and so you do it again. And again, and again. Then there’s a break and the plan suggests itself. But one has to be in the right place for that to happen.’
‘Yep, that’s clear. Europe it is then. We’ll go under South Africa. The winds are such that it will be OK for the first part, until we approach there, then comes one of the most notorious stretches of water in the world and we’ll need to know the forecast and local weather. We’re going to need a radio but neither of us have a licence for a proper ship’s two-way. So we’re going to have to buy a powerful battery radio and listen to their weather channel. We’ll need to buy more from the shop.’
‘We can go there tomorrow. It’s a difficult task we’ve given ourselves but let’s keep les femmes happy and let them buy what they need.’
‘Absolutely. They were happy up there this evening.’