Tannum Friday : Operation Hawk
6 November 2017 @ EDST 3pm Location: Northern Western Australia
“Geezuz. Who’s that?” Detective Sergeant Tannum Friday grabbed at the window as the dark shape shaved the air space between them and hurtled on ahead.
“Company. And they’re coming back.” The R22 mustering helicopter bumped in the midair turbulence. “Guaranteed.”
“How can you be sure?” she asked, watching as it turned in a tight arc.
“We’re getting close to Mungi Mungi.”
“The welcoming party.” Tannum grinned facing the pilot. “Well now Cowboy, they told me you’re the best this side of Longreach. Guess I’m about to find out for myself.”
Cowboy didn’t answer. Beneath the dusty cap and dark aviators, Tannum knew the challenge registered in eyes as clear as a western sky.
They dipped into the dead man zone, flying low and at speed skimming the vegetated plains of a dirty red outback landscape.
“We’ll never outrun him.” Cowboy explained. “So, today we outsmart him. Hope you’ve the stomach for it Detective.”
He swerved around the base of a small rise as the arse dropped out of the red earth world and they descended into a maze of aqua and gold. Cocooned within the scaling heights of ancient cliffs, the vastness of the West Australian desert closed tightly around her.
Tannum swallowed down the anxiety as they raced towards a solid, rock-lined funnel. She glanced sideways at Cowboy, who unperturbed by the task, winked broadly for her benefit.
Below, the chopper flirted with a watery channel. Teal depths dared Cowboy to glide the landing skids across placid skin. Tannum looked down through the glass bubble encasing them and all but lifted her feet off the floor.
Ahead their world narrowed. At speed. The detective held her breath as they squeezed through the last ravine and the landscape opened again to endless wonder.
“My God!” She breathed into the headset mike, filling her memory. “I’ve never seen such beauty! The colours! And the contrast! Those reds, that sky! Takes your breath away. Where are we?”
“Locals call it Karijini. Currently we’re about 50km north of the Mungi’s western boundary. Too populated with tourists to attract a lot of attention. In any case it offers the best places to hide. And deceive.”
“You think they don’t know that?” she responded as the twin engine rose vertically from behind an escarpment to face them. The Detective snapped a quick photograph of the pilot. Three hundred and fifty kilometers away in the air-conditioned comfort of a Karratha motel Mackenzie Knight’s phone pipped with an attached image.
Checking her co-ordinates, the detective posted another to Justice Walter.
A girl always needed a plan B.
“Like I said. Agility is our ace.” The cowboy dipped again and as Tannum closed her eyes, they dived under the larger reconnaissance chopper and skirted around a small ridge.
Plunging into another tight gorge of heavily contoured red rock and eucalyptus green, the detective smiled.
“Nice move.” She breathed out. “I like your style. How close can you get me to that boundary?”
“Yeah well, don’t count your chickens yet.” Cowboy responded, focused as the AW109 played a deadly game of cat and mouse. It hovered, easily tracking from above and dropping steadily. Testing their nerve in the confined spaces, Company forced the muster chopper deeper within the ravine and towards a rock face hooped with silver and burnt orange layers of iron ore.
Cowboy accelerated boldly out of the dead end, veering sharply as the machine vibrated in the heat filled updraft from the ancient cliff face. He turned away from them and sinking into another picturesque scene, dived suddenly into Dales Gorge.
“My plan is to put you at the designated zone, inside the fence, then disappear. But for now, it’s all about…” he paused, landing the chopper near the waterhole. “Deception. Fancy a swim?”
“No better place. Shall we?”
Already out of the small aircraft, Cowboy waved happily to a small group of surprised tourists. Company watched and waited.
Tannum checked a cheeky smile as her pilot glanced skyward when Company disappeared.
“Thanks for the tour.” Tannum met him at the milky waters edge. “Appreciate it.” And at the invitation, the detective stripped down and stepped into the rocky depths.
Underside of the small escarpment a deep cave provided shelter and shade from the oppressive western heat. The detective scrambled to the back, out of sight and preparing for the night ahead as the chopper circled again on patrol. There would be three more flyovers following her arrival in the drop zone. Company was nervous.
Thirty-five photographs of the most amazing sunset later, Tannum abseiled down the cliff face and in the silence at the sandy bottom, released the lead rope. Ahead, a short ten-kilometre hike to the first of a series of outbuildings and the station homestead was acerbated by tricky terrain and the ever-present danger of discovery.
Between them a complex series of steel yards, wide-eyed cattle and a growing line of road trains waited out the night. The muster, weeks overdue, was finishing this afternoon. Plumes of dust filtered the setting sun as the last of the mob settled. Such a quintessential scene required a national geographic classic.
Tannum sighed. Missed photographic opportunities and a camp of ringers and station hands were the least of her problems.
Tucking night vision goggles into the outer pocket, she shrugged into the daypack. In the last light, the detective checked her compass and picked a steady south, southeast pathway through the scrubby terrain.
Her solitude ended as she joined the access road leading directly to the yards. Sounds and smell of cattle mingled with the few remaining voices around the camp precinct. The campfire burned steadily and lonesome strands of a harmonica added a cliché touch to the calm desert evening. Tannum took the long way, skirting rounds of stock feed and avoiding the working dogs.
When dust gave way to irrigated lawn, the detective stopped momentarily. Within her hiking boots, every toe curled as the urge to run barefoot in the softness almost overcame her.
Instead a steady walk towards the homestead stalled at the back door entrance. The detective waited. A creaky hinge would echo for miles in this silence.
“What the fuck do you want?”
In the darkness, her heart accelerated. The detective stilled as the security light beamed across the dirt runway she’d crossed two minutes before. It projected outwards from the closest open bay shed, towards the back lawn of the homestead.
The voice continued angrily. “You can’t be serious. I’m in the middle of fucking muster.” He disappeared into one of the bays followed by two others.
At that moment, beside her, the screen door swung wide open. Paused at the threshold, a young girl, no more than 6 years old peered directly ahead.
“Daddy?” The girl called in the darkness.
Tannum pressed against the homestead’s outer wall. No movement, no breath.
“Daddy? Where are you?” the girl called again walking steadily across the lawn towards the open bays of the shed.
“Damn it!” Tannum breathed quietly. She had no choice but to follow.
“I don’t have the capacity to do it now. I’m in the middle of muster.” Henry Baxter waved his arms in a wide circle to indicate the amount of activity.
“We have a deal.”
“The deal I made was to let you use my place and you agreed to fund my research. End of story.” Henry Baxter squared off against the other. “Now if you will excuse me it’s been a very long day and I have to be up at sparrows fart to do health checks over this mob before we load.”
Baxter angled to push past the pair.
“I don’t think you quite understand Mr. Baxter. I have a deadline to meet.”
“And I don’t think you understand Mr. Richardson. I always receive after muster. The university and the department heavily scrutinize the program. It’s a controlled test. That means there can be no variations in process.”
He continued by way of explanation. “The application of this drug is very much in the experimental stages. In fact, I have a special license because it’s illegal in WA to have these quantities in one site.” Baxter paused momentarily. “The dosage and chemical mix is tailor made to suit the lab results from the test cattle. Every millilitre is accounted for.”
“We’re testing next month. If I change my tune now, they’ll want to know why. I thought Ben explained all this during the initial tour.” Henry Baxter reasoned, adding, “Look I agreed that you could come and go and use my place as your base. Maybe you should have a chat to Ben. There’s obviously been a miscommunication somewhere.”
The first grabbed at Henry’s shirtfront, shoving him loudly into the back wall of the shed.
“Whilst we’ve enjoyed your hospitality immensely Mr. Baxter, we’ve no wish to return in a month to oversee another transport. It has to be loaded on the truck with your skinny cows this week.”
The girl walked in, gasped loudly, and promptly turned towards the house. Tannum watched as the pilot grabbed her by the hair and dragged her back to her father.
“Lucy! What the hell are you doing out of bed? ” Henry Baxter turned to the pilot. “You will let her go!” He threatened.
“And so we have a deal.” The other concluded. Assessing the little girl he made another decision. “Our men love new toys. Fresh meat all the way from Australia will go a long way to smoothing out this infraction in our agreement.”
Baxter frothed. “I said, let her go. You’ll have the drug by the end of the week.”
One swift flex and the trail bike kicked over a clattery roar in the night stillness. Tannum launched straight at them from the darkness, at speed, and the shock registered momentarily as the pilot instinctively reacted with his handgun. Broadsiding the back wheel on the loose floor, Tannum slammed the bulk of him heavily into the steel wheel arch of a John Deere tractor.
He collapsed in a scream on the ground, his right arm angled in a series of horrible directions at the elbow and wrist.
Scooping the young girl into her arms, Tannum tucked the lightweight in, disappearing into the darkness and the confusion that was the middle of the ringer’s camp. Depositing the girl in the arms of a surprised station hand, she headed for the yards.
Spooked at the sudden movement and clamour, the cattle moaned noisily, pushing for an escape. Tannum unlatched the gate to a round yard. A sizeable frightened mob surged through the opening and towards Company that was firing up near the homestead lawn.
At the deafening whine, the weaners separated, stampeding blindly across the dirt runway towards the house or the paddocks beyond.
Confusion reined the darkness. Tannum raced ahead, Company in her sights.
The shot came from behind her. The detective instinctively ducked and headed for the darkness of the paddocks. Another shot sounded and Tannum leapt from the bike, landing heavily in the dust.
Doubling back and taking a wide berth of the security lit outbuildings, the detective sought refuge in the darkness of the rocky landscape. A cubbyhole was what she needed. An old shed or water tank …somewhere to wait out until first light. Her toes connected with the base as her shin scraped along the brickwork and Tannum tumbled headfirst into a man made hole, coming to rest on a grid like platform. Suspended mid air almost a metre below level ground would do nicely thank you very much.
Tannum looked down into the pit, listening intently at the distant chaos. She picked off a small stone and dropped it between the RIO squares. The stone bounced off tin and skipped across the rocky bottom. A second sound a short while later made the Detective curious.
The shouting moved in the direction of the homestead.
Shining a dim light into the well revealed a large hole in the rock surface. Underneath, it opened to an underground cave. Just thinking about caving in confined spaces made her nauseous. Instead, in the chaotic silence, the detective lifted herself carefully from the well.
Company was airborne, its searchlight scouring the small settlement. Tannum headed for the safety of indoors, precisely, the cab of the first road train and settled in under the dashboard for the remainder.
“Enjoying your western tour?”
“What’s not to enjoy?” Tannum ducked her head under the streaming shower rose, rinsing the second wash of red dust from her hair and let the tepid water surround her.
Peering at her through the glass cubicle, Mackenzie Wright leant casually against the bathroom wall.
“Is there a problem?” she asked.
He shrugged, letting his eyes rake her lithe form before settling on her arse when she turned her back to him again.
“We know RETO is using the property as a base. They want this new drug. I saved a little girl from child prostitution.” She responded in a matter of fact tone. “The Russians run a complex outfit. It’s going to take time. I’ve done my bit this week. Now it’s up to you. And TAG.” The detective said referring to the organised crime syndicate they both worked for.
“Thanks for the summary.” He commented drily.
“I don’t know what the problem is. Seriously Mac. What would you have done? I couldn’t let them hurt that little girl. Henry Baxter is no terrorist. He’s incredibly stupid and naive.”
Tannum turned to face him, letting the water bounce off the top of her head. “Richardson, however, is another story. He has terror organisation and all round scumbag written all over him. You need to keep an eye on him.”
He gave her a sarcastic look. “Really. That’s your advice.”
“Well?” Tannum exasperated. “You’re the boss. You tell me. I don’t understand this agitation you have with me. I had to call in the cops. I thought TAG would be happy. With someone else cleaning up the shit, it gives TAG breathing space. And I maintain my status in the Organised Crime Unit with my team. Ultimately we want the same outcome – to shut down RETO. Isn’t it?”
Tannum turned the water off.
“Make yourself useful. Hand me that cotton robe.” She let the waffle weave absorb the drips, wrapping it tightly around her as the fabric became instantly transparent.
Mac tensed at the innocent tease joined with the lethal combination of her increasing temper towards him.
“Well? Isn’t it?” she repeated. “Fuck me Mac. You’re so frustrating sometimes. What else do you want?”
“Let me back to you.” Mac asked the statement quietly. “I need you Tannum.”
Tannum sighed and shook her head. This is what it was about. “I can’t. I’m not ready.” She sulked.
He nodded and walked away.
“I’ve found something to cheer you up.” Tannum announced entering the small apartment that was their Karratha base. Dark hair shone with vitality and her skin gleamed against the faded peach coloured shift. “I have real coffee and these amazing donuts that taste like,” she paused, “cake. What the hell?”
From the centre of the suite, Mac wordlessly watched her step into the small lounge area. Tannum felt the nozzle press into the back of her head.
“That’s very kind of you Detective. But I don’t drink that shit.” The intruder threw it from her hands across the carpeted room.
“Charming … Mr. Richardson. As luck would have it I’m all out of six year old girls today, so ….” The detective responded, to which she received a warning look from Mac and a stinging slap across the face as he jerked her around to face him. Tannum stood defiantly as tears sprung to her eyes.
“Quite the little smart arse, aren’t you.” And the detective fell heavily to the floor as his fist connected with her jaw.
Tannum woke to pin pricks of light shining through a dark loose hessian covering and a throbbing head. Painfully juggernauting she bounced aimlessly across a corrugated road. Her knees, wrists and ankles were bound and locked together. Bare feet pressed against the leg of another. Warm hands wrapped around her toes as she flexed them tentatively into the body. Mac.
At the next corrugation she moved again. Squinting through the fabric she made out the shape of another, sitting against the sidewall facing them. His head rolled forward and to the side, as he dozed in the unrelenting heat. A handgun rested across his leg, held loosely in place as his hands relaxed in sleep.
Her bed was the back tray of the utility. A canvas canopy stretched across a frame covering the whole back area and the gauzy windows on each side allowed some airflow. The setting sun shone directly into the side panel, through the opening and into her face. They were heading north. And had been for some time.
Mac sat upright facing the guy. He gently touched her toes again and she responded. He tapped out one. Two. Three. She responded. The truck slowed. Mac countered with three taps. As the driver took the wash out culvert too fast, Mac rammed into the drowsy guard, cracking the back of his head hard against the steel support of the canopy and simultaneously breaking his neck.
The pistol hit the floor and bounced off Tannum’s knees. The detective scratched around and finding the weapon, shoved it under her thigh. Next she twisted the ties to release her wrists and pulled the cover from her head.
She turned to Mac.
“I don’t want to meet our destination.” She whispered as he crouched to cut the ties on her legs and knees.
“You’re not at least a little curious?” her handler teased.
“Not without the odds in my favour.” The detective responded smartly.
“I agree. At the next culvert we bail.” He unzipped the flap slightly. “That would be now. Ready?”
The ute slowed again and Tannum climbed out, dropping as the tail gate dipped and started to roll forward again. Mac dropped ahead of her, half way up the dry creek bed. They lay pressed and still in the dust until the vehicle continued on out of sound and sight.
Mac looked back at her and smiled. “Nice night for a walk.”
“Yeah.” And at that moment Detective Tannum Friday instigated Plan B.
“I’ve been thinking.” In the eerie silence of the western desert night, Tannum’s voice hung on the gentle stillness.
“That’s always dangerous.”
Tannum ignored his smart response. “It’s hard to believe that Baxter is the only farmer that RETO has targeted promising finance. Are people really that gullible? It smells like organised crime.”
Mac nodded in the dark. In a makeshift camp off the highway, with views across the valley, they waited out the night.
“How do you think they met anyway?” the detective asked.
“Baxter’s wife. Her father worked in the British Foreign Office. Had a lot to do with Russia during the Cold War.”
“Right. So Baxter couldn’t get funding from traditional lenders for his project?”
“I would suggest finance was the softener.” Mac responded not wanting to give too much away. “The location of the property is the key. We came across Baxter by chance. I was following up on a dead end lead from an unreliable informant. I think your buddies would call it good old fashioned detective work.” He teased, referring to her counter organised crime team based in Sydney.
Tannum laughed. “Yeah right.” She pulled the length of her hair from the tight ponytail and smoothed it into a loose side braid. Long fingers gently massaged the tender spot where her head had connected repeatedly with the aluminium floor of the tray back. Tannum pulled at the braid. If only she could shave her head. Tied up or out, it irritated her either way as the weight sensitized the bruise.
At her discomfort, Mac pulled her to him, twisting her hair loosely and cradling the back of the head. Tannum leaned into his warm chest, resting her head on his shoulder. “Thank you. Better.” She responded quietly.
He placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head. “A pleasure.” He mumbled.
“Always trust your instinct. Isn’t that what you taught me Mac?” she asked, peering up at his handsome face.
Wispy greys peppered the sides of his dark cropped hair. Her eyes glazed over as always when she was this close to him. A bubble of anticipation burst in her chest. She pushed it down.
Mac looked at her brow furrowed in concentrated determination. “I know that look. State your business.”
“I want to go back – to Mungi Mungi. But first I want to find a map. A map of the under ground systems and their relationship with that old mine outside of Karijini.”
“We’ve already checked that place, on the first reconnaissance. There’s nothing there, a pile of old equipment and junk. No one’s been there for years. Besides the mining companies have that area plotted and planned within an inch of its life.”
“Did I tell you about the well I found?” Mac shook his head at her query. “I think it’s linked to an underground system. One that we haven’t explored.”
“You’re on the wrong tangent Agent Friday. Our focus is the ports. How do you explain Richardson’s urgency to load and go?” Mac asked.
“I think part of the processing is being done here. Somehow. After every muster, the cattle are transported by road to the abattoir. Right? After every muster the experimental drug is on site. If Richardson can bully Baxter into making sure the drug is on hand at the time of muster, it’s one movement. RETO backed drivers make a designated drop along the way – experimental drugs and whatever else they have going on out here. And it’s being transported by cattle truck.”
Tannum looked at Mac in the moonlight, searching his face for confirmation of a theory she’d barely put together herself.
“I think RETO is ramping up. Russia’s doorstep is turning sour. Quickly. Increased war activity is putting pressure on their finances. I think they need more cash.” The detective concluded simply.
“And you think they are sending black market cash and goods back to their Russian operatives via West Australian ports on European bound ships. As well as manufacturing somewhere here in the Pilbara.”
“Yeah. I just need to work out how. I’m thinking they are working in a cycle, almost like a perpetual windmill in motion. I reckon more than one of those trucks was loaded before they even arrived at Mungi Mungi. Delays in the muster at the Baxter’s put pressure on Richardson’s deadline.” Tannum paused. “That’s what happens when you throw a spoke in a turning wheel. Everything comes to a grinding stop.”
“And you’ve come to this conclusion how?”
“Because that well I fell into was in use. Recent use. The grid was a trapdoor to a rocky base that had been partially blasted away. And a steel internal ladder lead from the base to a floor below. Now I couldn’t see too much obviously, but I’m willing to bet there is another access to that hole in the ground or in the very least its being used for more than a rubbish tip. We need to determine which.”
Mac scanned for headlights on any approach and nodded in agreement. “When do you think they realised we’d bailed out of the truck?” Mac suddenly chuckled in the dark, drawing her into his warmth as she shivered slightly. Snuggling in, her lips pressed against his neck.
“God knows.” She said, immersing herself fully into his hold. “But I hope its sometime after dawn. I’ve no wish to come across Company tonight. I have a feeling we won’t be so lucky next time.”
“Are you coming?” Mac called from the bottom. Tannum stood at the edge looking down into the tiny space between the boulders. Did she really want to do this?
“Come on Tannum. We don’t have all day. Imagine it’s a vast space.” He yelled impatiently again from the base.
“I think I’ve made a mistake. How about you climb back up. There’s a nice tree over there. We can lay under it and have mad sex.” Tannum offered. “Take our time. Take all day.” She wasn’t joking and looked longingly at the tree. Her body could go a round or three with him.
“Friday! Get your arse down here now!” he yelled in frustration.
Tannum grasped her fear of confined spaces in her hands and abseiled into the crack between red rocks. Mac met her at the bottom. Tannum looked beyond him investigating the space as he unhooked her from ropes and harness. The cavern was surprisingly open. The detective nodded in self-satisfaction at her decision. She was right to insist they check this place out.
In the strings of daylight Mac stepped forward, his body catching her against the rock wall. Cupping the back of her head in his palm, the handler opened her mouth tentatively with his. The kiss finished as quickly as it had begun. He held his ground.
“That do you?” he asked, watching as her lips opened in a smile that reached her pretty eyes.
“Mac.” The detective breathed happily, lost in him. “Again?”
His passion exploded ending months of pent up tension. Emotional healing charged through them both. Tannum responded, dragging his shirt from powerful shoulders. Her hands sought the familiarity of bare skin and chest.
“God, I’ve missed you.” Tannum found his lips again, wrapping herself tightly around him. “Make love to me.”
Abruptly he pushed her to the ground.
“Don’t play with me lover.” Mac warned. “Ever. Say what you mean. There’s no room for another, brother or no. I’ll not be three.” He stepped away, turning his back to her.
Shocked by his sudden anger, Tannum stared at the floor, her cheeks stinging with the proverbial slap. He was referring to Robbie L. The detective had made her choice. It wasn’t hard. The fatal relationship with the Ares OMCG President ended weeks within its start. Her heart belonged to Mac. It always would.
“I’m not teasing.” The detective responded quietly. “I miss you. A lot.” Her voice went wobbly.
Her handler swore under his breath. He circled her warily and swore again. Glaring at her he turned away, pacing the confines of the cavern. Tannum remained still, watching as he mentally sorted emotion from instinct.
Stepping into her arms, he lifted her chin and she met his silent assessment. Tannum looked directly at him and felt the explosion within her heart exhale softly and cloud her beautiful eyes.
It was the confirmation he needed. She would never say it. She didn’t need to. Her body almost always betrayed her heart. At his own stupidity, Mac had lost her once. It wouldn’t happen again. He took what he needed and gave his girl every reason to stay.
“It’s a dead end.” Mac’s head torch shone back into her expectant face. “Any other smart ideas?”
Tannum crawled out of the hole and sat on the rock floor. She peeled the map from her pocket and spread it in front of her.
“That’s the last. Are you sure we came down the right crevice?” Her stomach growled in protest.
Mac crawled out, stretching out his contorted body on the ground beside her. “You’re kidding right? I’m absolutely sure.” He retorted cracking his shoulders and back.
Tannum’s stomach growled loudly again and she ignored it, absorbed in the process of elimination. “Do you think the map’s correct?”
Mac laughed. “You’re incredible. You just can’t stand to be wrong. Admit it. You’re theory has no substance.”
“I’m not wrong. I know what I saw. Granted it was dark. But I’m not imagining it. Oh will you shut the fuck up!” the detective slapped her stomach in agitation.
“Maybe we should eat. It’s after 3pm … been a long time since breakfast.” Mac suggested, starting the climb to their base camp on the edge of a secluded pool. “Coming?”
“Yeah. You know I am. I’m a chicken in these tiny spaces. Hey, don’t go too fast. Mac, wait!”
Mac stopped short of the entrance, squinting in the sunlight as his eyes adjusted to the glare. As a slight movement ahead caught his attention the agent stalled, motioning at Tannum who was tucked in behind him like a trailer.
He waited, still, in the shadows, scanning every vantage point and assessing the risk of discovery.
Sunlight reflected onto the cave wall, an unusual shape and Mac twisted his head to the side to assess it. A noise came from the camp. It whistled a tuneless song and was accompanied by a steady plop, plop, plopping sound of rocks skipping off water.
Tannum peered from behind Mac’s shoulder. “Stay here.” She whispered and burst forth.
“Fuck me Cowboy. You give a girl a fucking heart attack!” she shouted across the pool. “What the hell are you doing here? In fact how did you know how to find me?”
“You may be the detective, but fair dinkum. If you don’t want to be found, best turn your locator off. Wasn’t hard. Boss said you needed a hand.”
Tannum skirted around the rocky platform steps that formed the base of the crevice.
“As a matter of fact I do.” She said. “Did you bring transport?”
“Don’t leave home without her. Old faithful is up top. Where do you want to go?”
“Back to Mungi Mungi. But first,” she reached into the backpack on the ground. “I need food.” And grabbed an apple, some biscuits and a bottle of water. “Let’s go.”
Cowboy went to collect the bag.
“Ah. Don’t worry about it. When I’m done I’ll get you to drop me back if that’s ok. Might camp out tonight.
Their voices echoed around the chamber.
“Hey Cowboy, any places like this that aren’t drawn on the map?”
“Shit yeah. Heaps. Aboriginal sacred sites,” he said by way of explanation. “Can’t go in there I’m afraid sister. Not without an escort and permission from the elders.”
“Really.” Tannum said curiously. “Any that you know of on Mungi Mungi?”
“Yeah a couple. Like I said. Lose my license if I take you there. Strictly off the cards. Sorry.”
“Know someone you can trust to get permission? I don’t want it broadcast. You know what I mean.” She pressured.
Cowboy thought for a minute. “Yeah. Might know someone.”
“Great, can you take me to him?” She paused, “as in right now?”
“Let me make a call. What are you looking for anyway?”
They were almost at the top of the ravine. “Well now Cowboy,” the detective said. “If I told you I’d have to shoot you and that would be messy and I don’t like paperwork.”
“Copy.” He said, breaching the top and pulling her up the last step.
Mac leaned against the cave’s iron ore striped wall. “I hate it when she’s right.” He mumbled grumpily. “I’ll never hear the end of it if she finds a fucking drug lab buried under this god forsaken place.”
“Let’s co-ordinate the pickup.” Tannum faced Cowboy as they neared the drop zone. “Meet you back here in twelve hours.”
The detective looked at him sternly. “If I’m not here I want you to alert Walter. Immediately. He’ll instigate an alternate plan. And that may be you swinging by on the hour. Just so you know.”
“If shots are fired. At you. Or the situation is not safe. For you. You’re out. Again, get onto Walter. Do you understand?”
“I mean it. You’re out. You’re no good to me dead. We can co-ordinate an alternate pick up. Particularly if Company is airborne.”
He glanced at her serious expression as she surveyed the landscape and sky ahead, preparing for the quick drop and go.
Entering the hollowed out cave, meters below the landing zone, Tannum found Mac settled at the back. “Any trouble?” she asked immediately.
“Nope. All quiet on the western front.” His voice echoed slightly around them.
“Not even Company?” she asked.
“Nothing. Like I said, they’ve probably moved on to the ports by now and we’ve missed our opportunity.” He responded grumpily.
“You could be right.” She sighed settling beside him and wrapping his arm around her. She kissed him quickly on the cheek. “Unlikely.” She teased at his dour expression. “You could have gone on to check it out. I’m quite capable of looking after myself.”
“Perhaps.” He said as instinct again warned him to stay.
“The most amazing sunrise is beginning to light up the sky behind us. We move in about 30 minutes.” Tannum unzipped the small backpack and locating the webbing, strapped herself in the shoulder holster and secured her glock pistol.
She checked the concealed knife sheathed in its leather case at her calf. Two sturdy extendable rods sleeved on the outside of the backpack were examined next.
Mac silently watched as Tannum prepared for combat.
The girl stood, saluting the sun before silently stepping through the motions of stick fighting. Movements of controlled force captured in graceful fluidity. Stepping in rhythmic time, she blocked and struck, as an internal metronome ticked in her focus. The continual action mesmerized him. It was the sexiest thing he’d ever seen. At the finish she bowed respectfully to the sun again.
The detective broke the spell. Almost. Silently reaching out to Mac she pulled him to his feet and led him to the caves edge. With her harness strapped to the line, Tannum abseiled down the rock face. Patiently she waited for Mac and when she spoke, her voice was clear and calm.
Mac nodded. “Tannum.” He spoke hoarsely, grabbing her hand. She turned to face him, her features serene in the morning sunlight. “I love you.” He said simply, holding her to him. This girl was the most precious on earth and he kissed her with all the gentleness his killer instinct could muster.
Tannum smiled up tenderly at his ragged sexy features highlighted in the soft glow. Her heart skipped a beat. “You’re timing sucks, Mackenzie Knight. You best hold that thought until I can get you back to safety and we can disappear for a few days.” She teased quietly as her eyes sparkled with pleasure. “Then I’ll let you show me. Promise.”
At the entry to the sacred place, Tannum paused, silently addressing the spirits and thanking them for passage. It was indeed a magical setting in a desert surround. A tiny oasis of pastel coloured water and life set amongst red boulders. In the shelter of an overhanging rock, the detective pulled a mud map from her pocket.
Mac stood behind her, glancing over her shoulder. His finger marked their location and as he scoured the space to get his bearings, they heard Company.
Twenty seconds. That’s all it took for the chopper to reach them and by then, the detective and her agent had taken cover under the strappy grasses, pressed against the earth and rock. “Don’t move.” Mac advised.
Tannum felt the familiar surge of adrenaline through her body. Combat. Risk. Endurance. She licked her lips slowly in anticipation. Finally it was game day.
Company lapped overhead again. They waited a moment longer.
Scrambling into a tight opening marking the hidden entrance to a vast cave network, Tannum subconsciously tapped her body, checking her kit again. She crawled ahead of Mac into a cavernous hole opening up around them. Checking the map again she led them to another small opening. Always moving forward, negotiating pockets of artesian water and the tricky confined spaces the pair silently followed the underground pathway.
Sound and light ahead caught Tannum by surprise and she glanced questioningly Mac. He’d seen it too. They crawled forward.
It was no drug lab. More, a dispatch and collection point. Cash. Counterfeit cash. Stacked and banded together on a small table beside a printer, connected to a laptop.
Tannum pointed to the steel ladder that stretched seemingly into the rock at the far end of the oblong room. From here the noise of boots on steel could be heard climbing upwards.
“What do you want to do?” she whispered.
“I’m going to document it and then we’re getting out.” Mac responded. Tannum stepped soundlessly around him and shot into the space.
“Tannum!” he whispered loudly.
At the small table she found the labelling template and ships manifest printed, signed and ready for collection. It sat atop a hearty pile of US currency. Tannum took a couple of photographs in situ, cautiously stepping towards the ladder. She glanced upwards and then at Mac’s furious face, two steps behind her, which she promptly ignored.
Taking a picture of the stairwell she whispered, “Let’s go. I want to head them off up the road.”
At a commotion above, they both looked skywards. Someone was descending rapidly, swearing and cursing. He lost his footing in the rush, collecting his shin on the steel step. Tannum almost burst into laughter and jammed her mouth shut at another round of profanity. The descent promptly continued.
With no time to return to their entry point, the agents hid out the intrusion, squashed in a small dark hole adjacent the steps.
Richardson stepped into the room, limping. Tannum squeezed Mac’s arm as she felt his intent rush through them both. They watched the dealer circle the room. He stopped. Assessing the space. It was instinctive. Someone else was there too.
He walked to the table and stood. Tannum held her breath in the silence. Richardson turned around. He glanced past them and around the room. Wandering to the passage they’d used as an entry point he paused.
As he turned to face the interior, Richardson blindly shot in every dark crevice in rapid succession.
From the edge of the dark cubbyhole, Tannum shot out the single overhead light bulb and the room descended into darkness.
Pulling night goggles down, she rushed at Richardson, drawing her fighting sticks from behind her, snapping them out rapidly and doubling their length. The gun flew from his hands as it connected with the carbon steel, and he swung blindly in the darkness.
Tannum stepped around him, each blow connecting strategically and painfully with his body. Miraculously he found purchase with her wrist and grasped firmly in a Chinese burn. In the darkness the detective felt his internal relief and arrogance at her perceived capture.
Calmly Tannum flicked the stick to trap is hand, pulling his face hard into her bent knee. At the connection she felt his nose split and she finished him off with another quick jab as he collapsed unconscious on the floor.
Above them, another started the descent down the stairwell. As Tannum turned to fight, Mac grabbed her hand, pulling her towards the opening and they scrambled along the rocky floor towards the sacred entrance.
Outside, they kept moving. With Company on patrol in a matter of moments they needed to track a way to safety, and immediately headed towards the homestead outbuildings.
“That’s him. It’s not the vehicle but it’s our guy.”
From his vantage point aboard the Gypsy Nemesis, Mackenzie Knight intercepted the closed radio call between the AFP operatives and Detective Sergeant Tannum Friday. His small luxury craft drifted at the edge of a flotilla beyond the bulk carrier, and Mac watched from the top deck, as Richardson arrived at the drop off point.
“Confirming visual. Offender wearing dark coloured cap. Dark short sleeve t-shirt. Visible tattoo on right neck in image of tail and remainder of snake body extending around bicep to its head at the forearm.” The one with his nose spread across his face, Tannum so wanted to add.
“Copy. Team wait. Detective wait.”
The offender stepped from a registered vehicle, checked his surrounds casually and entered the wharf office adjacent the freight berthing docks. Ten minutes later, he returned to the vehicle and looked directly at the undercover cops on the dock. Folding the paperwork, he shoved it in his back pocket and climbed into the sports utility.
Unexpectedly, he took a left out of the car park towards the stockpiles of iron ore and the bucket reclaimers filling the line.
“Fuck.” Tannum swore into the mouthpiece. “He’s onto us. Fuck it.”
“Hold your position detective. Let’s see what he’s up to.”
Like fuck I will, thought Tannum. She switched frequency. “Do you read me?” she asked.
“Loud and clear.” Mac responded. “He’s bolting.”
“Give me direction.”
“He’s picked up the train. I’ve lost him on the other side.”
Tannum motioned upwards and the tiny muster chopper lifted into the air. “See that train? Put me down over there.”
Cowboy nodded. Gathering speed he headed directly towards the outbound train, detouring suddenly to swerve around the bucket crane. He dipped again between the iron ore piles.
“This is no time for a joyride Cowboy.” Tannum responded at the sudden change of direction as she lost sight of Richardson.
“We’ve got Company.” He said pointing at the menacing approach of the larger craft.
“Company portside.” Mac alerted in her earpiece. “They’re armed.”
“Copy.” Tannum looked at Cowboy. “They’re armed. You should get out.”
“Are you shitting me detective? I’m not missing this.”
Tannum nodded. “Just so you know. Your reps intact if you bail.”
“I’m in. What’s the plan?”
“Richardson. We take Richardson. He’ll be coordinating a pick up. He needs space for Company to land.” Tannum thought quickly.
Richardson was chasing, running alongside the empty iron ore train rumbling eastwards towards the mine. Away from the stockpiles and cranes a chopper could all but land on the top of one of those bins, enough to through a line and winch Richardson to freedom
“First we need to lose our friend. Head out to the harbour.” To Mac, the detective asked. “Feel like some Company?”
Tannum pointed to the luxury cruiser marking time. “Get me close to that guy.” She said isolating the boat. “Steady Cowboy. Keep her tight. We want just enough room for Company to get close.”
Like a leashed dog, Company followed on their tail.
“They’re all yours.” She said as the muster chopper dipped aside, and Mac standing on the top deck fired a snappy round off into the face and side of the bigger craft.
Company faulted and circled back. Mac reloaded.
“Oh no you don’t.” Cowboy zipped in pulling the larger chopper with him, running the length of the harbour.
“Nice.” Tannum said. “You should come and work for me sometime. I like people with initiative.”
Cowboy steered them back out to the harbour towards Mac.
“Righto. One last flyby over the boat and then get me to that train.” Tannum commanded. “We can’t keep this up and I can’t outgun them from the air.”
“Copy.” Cowboy responded, dragging them on across the bow.
“Incoming.” She said to Mac.
Behind them Company took another round or ten.
“Beautiful. Thanks Cowboy. You best get the hell out for a bit. Don’t want you getting into trouble on my behalf.” Tannum winked and exited the muster chopper, climbing onto the top of the shipping container indicating the last caboose.
A two-kilometre treacherous scramble to reach the engines began. Latching a small grappling hook to a metal lip at the edge of the box, she eased down the rope to meet the coupling.
Slowly clamoring around the empty iron ore bins, Tannum closed in on Richardson who was waiting out Company’s arrival on the second engine’s roof.
At the handrail to climb the engine Tannum paused.
“Well are you coming up or not, Detective Friday?” Richardson taunted from above. “I could have picked you off 15 minutes ago, you stupid wench.”
“Well why didn’t you?” she replied, swinging gracefully onto the deck and facing him.
“Why ruin a perfect moment?” he faced her, legs spread to balance the motion of movement.
“Oh?” she looked at his splattered nose and inwardly grinned.
“I’ve figured you out. You like the fight. Hand on hand. I’ve got time to kill; so to speak. It’s such an irresistible opportunity. To teach you a lesson.” Richardson gloated.
“It’s not about the result for you. It’s about the challenge. Don’t think you’re thug boyfriend is into it as much as you. He’s a results kind of guy. Although he’s not strictly on the up now is he, Detective?”
Tannum ignored his rant, assessing his arrogant stance and found a weakness.
“Pity about your mate Cowboy. Those mustering choppers. Not a very reliable kind of machine. Never know when they’ll fall out of the sky.”
The taunt didn’t registered in her face.
“My, you are a cold bitch.” Richardson responded to her composed silence.
“And you’ve made a critical error.” Tannum responded as she stepped lithely into and out of his reach as he lunged towards her. He stumbled across the top of the moving train engine favouring his weakened leg.
‘Yep,’ Tannum thought. ‘Still soft on the right side.’
Impatiently he leapt towards her. The detective blocked Richardson’s wayward strike and quickly followed with a swift jab and upward thrust to the nose and fractured sternum. A sidekick rammed into his bruised shin. He went down, howling like an alley cat.
Tannum stepped out of reach, preparing for the next altercation. Steady on the balls of her feet, her hands relaxed and defensive at her chest. Her boxing stance challenged and Richardson frothed in anger from the floor. She watched and waited as he considered his next move.
The engines shunted unexpectedly. Stepping forward to regain her balance, Tannum knew she was too close. Instantly Richardson grabbed her leg, pulling her down heavily onto the roof. The breath left her chest. Gasping at the thin air, the detective lay on her back staring into his furious expression.
“You fucking little bitch.” He yelled, standing above and aiming his pistol at her head. Tannum stilled.
“Yeah, that’s right.” He menaced. “I’m gonna blow your fucking brains out.”
Behind her Company announced its approach. Richardson glanced momentarily upwards, cracking a threatening smile as the chopper performed a flyby.
“My lift’s here.” He taunted, “and your luck’s just run out.”
Tannum smiled dangerously. “Is that right. Remember Cowboy?”
A swift leg sweep took out his knee. Garnering his momentum she pulled him forwards, headfirst beside her. Richardson flipped and rolled across the top of the engine.
Springing to her feet, Tannum kicked his gun from the roof.
The detective walked steadily towards him. Richardson’s disbelief met her fixed stare. He scrambled backwards. Advancing a slow intimidating pace, her standard issue glock targeted his chest.
He was running out of room. As the engine roof sloped away behind him, Richardson panicked, lost control and slid onto the tracks. Detective Tannum Friday watched him go and sat on the roof to wait out her ride.
“I don’t feel so good.”
“You just killed a guy. You’re supposed to feel that way.” Mac responded pragmatically, chartering his way through the milky aqua and deep blue tones of the headlands to isolation beyond.
“It was me or him.” Tannum drained her glass and poured another whiskey.
“So there you go.”
“It still wasn’t right.” She sulked, trying to box the guilt and remorse in her head.
“So go to confession or something. Tannum. Come on. He was about to drop you, no second thoughts.”
“I know.” She slid off the small table beside him. “I could have handled it differently. I shouldn’t have taunted him. What I should have done was take him down and cuff him to the top of that train. Called the local boys and they would’ve taken care of it.”
“What, so he could get away again? You tried that once before remember.”
She nodded. “He just pissed me off with his arrogance and big commentary. I lost control of the situation.”
“So, learn a lesson. Honey, he was scum. Remember that little girl, Lucy Baxter. If you hadn’t have stepped in, you can bet he would have softened her up for those other bastards. Forget about him love. In the end he got what he deserved.”
“Yeah, I know.” Tannum moved to the bow and let the wind blow through her hollow heart. “It’s still not right. I know better.”