Mark Abernethy

Second Strike


Mark Abernethy

CHAPTER 1

<p>Mark Abernethy</p> <br /> <p>CHAPTER 1</p>

Flores, Indonesia, 12 October 2002

They sat like surfers waiting for a wave, the four of them dressed in thin black wetsuits facing south-west into the Indian Ocean. Huge blue-black and purple cloud formations loomed above as if declaring an end to the dry season and signalling the start of the monsoons.

The swell lapped into Mac’s rebreather harness as his eyes scanned the horizon for signs of the target through the salty humidity. Behind him the sounds of bird life and monkeys occasionally drifted from the remote southern shores of Flores.

Alan McQueen looked at his G-Shock: just past 2.07 pm. Thirty-seven minutes past schedule for the start of Operation Handmaiden, and the crew were getting restless.

‘Anything, Maddo?’ asked Mac softly.

The man to his left shook his head, not taking his eyes off the horizon. ‘Want me to call it in?’ he mumbled, lips hardly moving.

‘No,’ said Mac. ‘Sosa knows what he’s doing. If the target’s there, then we’ll know about it.’ Mac didn’t mind incoming calls, but he wanted to avoid the potential locating beacon you put up every time you keyed the mic on a radio.

The Combat Diver Team providing Mac’s escort was known as Team 4. All of them navy special forces based out of Western Australia, they’d fl own in two days ago to perform a frogman snatch at sea. It was the most diffi cult naval commando mission, which suited Team 4 just fi ne. They sat astride a partially submerged infl atable vessel known in the Royal Australian Navy as a sled and as a skimmer by the British, each man strapped into his own seat. When the sled was fully submerged it became a battery-powered diver-propulsion vehicle capable of carrying fi ve combat divers for about thirty kilometres, though there were only three combat divers with Mac on this job.

In the bow of the sled was a blond guy, Smithee, and to Mac’s right was a huge Aussie-Leb they called Pharaoh, one of the largest combat divers Mac had ever seen. The divers were usually built like gymnasts or boxers, but Pharaoh looked more like The World’s Strongest Man, as if he should be lifting balls of stone onto oil barrels. There was a large V-shaped object on Pharaoh’s back, strapped over his rebreather pack and pointing over the level of his head.

Sitting in front of Mac was the team leader, Doug Madden, known simply as Maddo. He was a medium-height, dark-haired Kalgoorlie boy who, like most special forces blokes, conserved his energy until sudden outbursts of critical violence were required.

The spare seat was for a bloke named Ahmed al Akbar. A Saudi banker and accountant, Akbar used a legitimate trade fi nance program in South-East Asia to oversee Osama bin Laden’s investments in Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Following the September 11 bombings in New York and Washington, the Americans had hit back with an Allied invasion of Afghanistan that had broken the Taliban. But the invasion had also created a diaspora of senior al-Qaeda and Taliban fi gures who’d fl ed the al Farouq camp outside Kandahar and spread out through South-East Asia. Now, intelligence agencies like Israel’s Mossad, MI6 and Mac’s employer – the Australian Secret Intelligence Service – were focusing on what were known as deceptions and provocations. That is, getting the bad guys to go after one another, with a little help from your friendly neighbourhood spook.

Akbar was making his monthly tour of terror camps, and intelligence had him using a regular sea route that started in Surabaya, hooked under Bali and Flores before heading north for Sulawesi and then Mindanao. The point of Operation Handmaiden was to snatch the fi nancier from the vessel he was in and feed a rumour back to the tango community that he’d fl ed his Jemaah Islamiyah minders and cut a deal where he ratted out the Moro separatists. There were few organisations in the world that were game enough to go after OBL, but the Muslim gangs of the southern Philippines were up there with the White House, Downing Street and the PLA generals, as outfi ts with the stones to try and hit Osama where he lived. It was a simple plan that hinged on snatching Akbar without signs of a struggle.

Mac checked his gear for the twenty-third time: face mask, hoses, harness, handgun, knife, duct tape, a bag fi lled with goodies, a hard plastic syringe case and a foil of Xanax. Breathing deep, pain fl ared in his chest. He’d joined the combat divers only a day before, straight from the Bali Sevens, a seven-a-side rugby tournament held each year at Kuta Beach. In one of the group matches he’d been tackled ball-and-all by a big Yaapie mining foreman playing for a Malaysian team and could barely breathe after the hit. He’d backed up for another match against the Darwin Dreadnoughts an hour later, playing in agony. He suspected a cracked or bruised sternum but hadn’t gone to Denpasar Hospital because his team, the Manila Marauders, had a no-piker policy: that is, you played and drank, played and drank for the whole week – no pikers.

The RAN rebreather rigs required deep and regular breathing by the divers, and Mac had no idea how he’d manage or how he might justify failure to Joe Imbruglia, the ASIS station chief in Manila who’d wanted Mac to fl ag the sevens and do the snatch. Well, mate, at least I didn’t pike on the boys, eh? wasn’t likely to go down too well.

The call came from Sosa at 2.11 pm saying he now had eyes on the target from his recon point on the headland. Maddo relayed the update to Team 4 and they fell silent as they waited for the ship.

Mac used the rising adrenaline to run through every last detail of the Akbar snatch in his mind. He visualised it, breaking it into pieces like scenes in a movie. He forced himself to imagine three different disaster scenarios and his exact response to each. The third contingency was a white fl ag – abandon the snatch and pull an ‘escape and evade’, an E amp;E, to a predetermined point.

This last option wasn’t defeatist. During Mac’s stint in the Royal Marines Commandos the chief instructor, Banger Jordan, had told them there was no such thing as a mission without an exit.

‘In a professional outfi t there’re no heroes and no cowards, only alive guys and dead guys,’ Banger had growled. ‘The alive guy knows where the exits are.’

‘Macca, your eleven o’clock,’ called Smithee.

Mac saw it immediately. A faint plume of diesel exhaust signalled the arrival of their quarry. By the look of it, the small ship would be on them in fi ve minutes. Mac looked at the others – the boys were ready.

‘Your call Maddo,’ said Mac. ‘I’m good.’

Smithee locked in on the target and Pharaoh pulled his face mask up, winking at Mac. There was a small pause as they all breathed out and in and then Maddo called the mission.

Seating their masks, they twisted their regulators to the settings Maddo called and did three tests on the mixture from the bottles on their backs. Mac tasted rubber, triggering a fl eeting memory of using a rebreather for the fi rst time, his heart going crazy, freaking out at the icy English water near Devon.

Maddo tested the comms and all three of them did thumbs-up.

When Maddo was set he gave thumbs-up to Smithee. A whining sound accompanied the slow sinking of the sled as the motors sucked water ballast into the infl atable skin, using the weight of the batteries along the keel to pull it under. Mac controlled his breathing and felt the sea water fi lling up his kit, muting all sounds except for the rasp of his own breathing.

Settling at four metres under the surface, Maddo gave Smithee a heading. The whining sound began again and a pair of enclosed props started spinning on either end of the bar that ran across the width of the sled’s bow. Pharaoh and Mac lay down on their stomachs in the rear part of the sled, while Smithee knelt behind the driving controls at the front. Kneeling behind Smithee, Maddo called the heading from a compass built into the sled. The props angled slightly to the right

– and upwards, to stabilise the running depth – and the sled built to its top speed of ten knots.

Mac concentrated on breathing solid and long, taking his rhythm from the sound of Maddo’s breathing over the comms. Panters couldn’t be trusted with rebreathing rigs because they couldn’t properly utilise the carbon-dioxide scrubbers that gave you the four-and six-hour durations with a good military rig.

As they moved through the warm Flores waters, Maddo muttered at Smithee from time to time. Mac fought the panic urge – he hated full face masks and the sense of enclosure – and the pain building in his chest with every breath. After a few minutes of running Maddo whispered, ‘Thar she blows, boys.’

Turning, Mac saw Penang Princess moving past them, looking like a whale, its darkness ominous in the tropical waters. About one hundred metres to their left, its single prop glinted in the refl ected marine light, a trail of champagne bubbles spewing out behind it.

Mac was glad he was working with Maddo’s boys on this mission; the slightest miscalculation, a bit of bad driving, and that spinning brass disc would create what the naval world referred to as Prop Suey.

‘Bring her round, Smithee,’ said Maddo.

The sled tilted over into a big left-hand turn, the electric motors whining to keep the speed up as they came astern of the two-hundred-foot ship which was moving about eight knots faster. They held their course, waiting. If the arrangements they’d made were being followed, an Indonesian Navy patrol boat had motored out from Endeh and was about to RV with Penang Princess.

Mac had suggested the sharing deal between the fi rm and the Indonesian military intelligence organisation, BAIS. The boys from BAIS would provide the offi cial decoy, the Service would do the snatch; BAIS could detain Ahmed al Akbar, but the Aussies would join the debrief – or interrogation, if Ahmed felt the warrior stir in him.

They followed and waited, the four frogmen’s breathing now synchronised. The ship slowed visibly and Mac felt the sled lose power and then shut down. They were now drifting behind Penang Princess.

The single screw suddenly stopped and was still for three seconds.

Mac watched it sitting there with water foaming past it. Then it started turning again, in reverse, slowly at fi rst and then faster as the Indonesian Navy asked Penang Princess to stand-to.

The sled’s power came up slightly and went off again and they closed further on Penang Princess, before Penang Princess ‘s prop stopped altogether.

Adrenaline always hit Mac doubly hard when frogging and he tried to keep his breaths long and deep as they neared the ship. Pharaoh’s voice came over the radio system, breaking into his concentration.

‘Macca, watch for the loggie, mate.’

Mac was so focused on the ship, and doing what he had to do, that he didn’t quite get it on the fi rst go.

‘Repeat?’ he asked, looking over at Pharaoh, who was pointing at him, his eyes wide behind the glass plate of the mask.

Suddenly Mac sensed something and swivelled to his right to fi nd a huge black eye in his face, a massive mouth opened at him.

‘ Fuck! ‘ he yelped, whipping away from the thing, freaking at the safety belt holding him in place. He put his arms up to shield his head as a one-hundred-kilo loggerhead sea turtle – a lump of meat and shell the size of a dining room table – bore into his mask before diving down at his webbing. Mac fl ailed about, heart pounding, as the massive creature tore off one of his gear pockets with a whip of the head, and then swam away.

The sound of men in hysterics pealed through Mac’s earpiece like church bells.

‘Shit, Macca,’ choked out Maddo, crying with laughter. ‘She liked you, mate!’

‘I thought she was going for a hug,’ cried Pharaoh, ‘then she tries to get the tongue in.’

As the elite of Australia’s naval special forces shrieked with laughter, Mac tried to get his breathing back to regular – you couldn’t stuff around with rebreathers.

The laughter died as Maddo spoke again.

‘Target stationary, boys,’ said the team leader over the radio system as they closed on the ship. ‘Let’s earn our money.’


CHAPTER 2

<p>CHAPTER 2</p>

After fi ve minutes of waiting beneath the starboard stern, Maddo whispered ‘Smithee,’ and jerked a thumb upwards. The sled rose through the clear water, Pharaoh and Maddo standing as it emerged into the light. Putting their gloved hands up on the grey sides of Penang Princess, they eased the sled into place.

‘That’s enough, mate,’ murmured Maddo, and Smithee killed the pumps but left the props turning over to keep the vessel in place.

Mac pulled his mask down, slid out of his fi ns, then released the central buckle on the rebreather unit before wriggling out of it, strapping the whole kit on to his seat with the sled’s Velcro-fastener seatbelt. Looking up at the rust-streaked sides of the vessel – a classic Indonesian coastal donkey – he tried to calm his nerves. All it would take was one tango to look over the side and they’d be blown. He hoped the Indon Navy boys knew what they were doing. It was crucial to the mission that the whole crew were assembled on Penang Princess ‘s deck for at least ten minutes.

Mac checked his weapon: a Heckler amp; Koch P9S with a suppressor.

The Heckler was unfashionable because it only used a seven-round mag and its four-inch barrel was considered inaccurate over more than twenty metres, but Mac liked the fl atness of the German handgun and the fact that it was possibly the most robust pistol ever made.

Beside Mac, Maddo had freed himself of his diving kit, knee-deep in water, while drawing his marinised SIG Sauer handgun from his webbing holster and checking it for load, mag and safety.

Behind Mac, Pharaoh swung the grappling hook on the end of a black ten-mil rope and got the bottom railing on the fi rst go. It was only ten, eleven metres away. He put his weight on it and pulled, bringing the sled closer in to the side of the small freighter.

Maddo pointed at Pharaoh with one thick fi nger, then at Mac with two fi ngers and indicated himself with three fi ngers against his own chest. Pharaoh grabbed the rope with both hands and swung to the steel side, which was curved at the stern. He got to the top of his climb with ridiculous ease for a man of his size, paused briefl y and then grabbed the white railings and pulled himself over onto Penang Princess, his enormous arms rippling through the soaked wetsuit as he fl exed for the side vault.

Maddo’s hand slapped on Mac’s back and he was up. Swinging to the ship’s side, he got a good purchase with his rubberised frogman slippers, pushed out against the rope to get the best grip and walked himself hand over hand up the ship, making the top in quick time.

He gasped with the pain in his sternum as he hauled himself over the railings onto hot teak decking. Then he scuttled across the rear poop deck to where Pharaoh was pointing and crouched in the shadow of a large venting horn, water pouring out of his wetsuit.

Maddo vaulted smoothly over the railing and made straight for Mac. They caught their breaths in the shadow of the vent and refl exively checked their guns.

Next came the part they’d walked through several times back in Jakarta. Using naval architect’s drawings of this kind of coastal freighter, Maddo and Pharaoh had put together a scenario of where a special guest would be bunked, and how they’d get there and extract him.

From the other side of the wheelhouse they could hear the shouts and commands from the Indonesian Navy. Mac’s Bahasa was pretty basic but he knew enough to pick up that the navy guys were demanding all hands on deck. Mac could envisage lots of sarungs and plastic sandals and theatrical shrugs: No more, boss – we all here, boss.

Maddo led them around the back of the wheelhouse and straight through a spring-loaded door into a dim passageway. It was hot and musty inside as Maddo led them down the steep companionway and along the low-ceilinged passage. They moved past storerooms, a sick bay and the fi rst mate’s offi ce, all the rooms tiny, steel-walled rat-holes. At the end of the passage was a companionway that led up, and one that dropped down. Maddo headed into the downwards companionway with Mac and then Pharaoh following close behind, all of them moving with one hand on the railings and the other on their handguns.

When they hit the next level down it was like walking into a steam room. Maddo signalled a three-way split to search down the passageway. This was where you’d fi nd the cabins on ninety-nine per cent of these coastal tubs and it was where Maddo and Mac expected to fi nd Akbar, probably hiding in a robe or cowering under a bunk.

Mac felt the sweat running freely under his wetsuit as he took the three cabins that Maddo had assigned him. He pushed the fi rst cabin door inwards and shouldered against the bulkhead. Slowly sticking his head around, he scanned the room: there were two double bunks against opposite bulkheads, a small gap between them with a mangy old tobacco-stained porthole. Each bed had a bare mattress with a sheet of Indian cotton on it and there were small piles of clothes and washcloths at the end of each bunk. Holding his breath to avoid the rancid smell of working men in the tropics, Mac crouched but there was nothing to look under: the bunks had two drawers in the base of the bottom bed.

Nowhere for Akbar to hide.

The second cabin was much the same, but someone was also sleeping on the fl oor, judging by the rolled-up mattress against the wall with a few folded clothes and a book – probably a Koran

– wrapped in a white crocheted cloth. There were exposed wires and a dangerous-looking jerry-built electrical plug that probably powered a fan when it got really hot.

Again, no Akbar.

The sweat rolled off Mac’s forehead as he came back into the cramped passageway, gulping for air, and saw Maddo at the other end. They shrugged at one another, the faint sound of sailors shouting echoing down to them before getting swallowed in the throb of the idling diesels.

Creeping into the last of his assigned rooms, Mac immediately realised he was in the guest’s cabin. It smelled of aftershave rather than BO, there were a couple of cot beds rather than double bunks and the portholes were open.

But still no Akbar.

Mac looked around, opened a wardrobe and found a couple of nice business shirts and a navy blue blazer hanging inside. He was speed-breathing again, an old reaction to nerves that fourteen months in the British military had been unable to beat out of him. Consciously deepening his breathing, Mac brought his Heckler up level with his chest, slowly gripped the door and pulled it back. No Akbar, although there was an expensive leather hold-all on the fl oor. He poked around the edges, trying to see if there were any wires or pressure pads before he opened the thing. It was clean and organised, a bunch of clothes and what looked like diaries. Mac pushed the far side up and found the letters AA stamped into the leather in gold. Ahmed al Akbar clearly liked the good things in life.

Leaning into the passageway Mac motioned Pharaoh over. Overhead the shouts of the navy boys and the replies of the Princess hands continued. As Pharaoh got to the cabin, Maddo fi nished his search and joined them. Looking down at his G-Shock, Mac realised they were running out of time.

‘This is Akbar’s cabin,’ he whispered to Maddo. ‘But he’s not here.’

Maddo gulped, his square face reddening in the oven-like atmosphere. ‘On deck?’

‘Nah – too risky,’ said Mac. ‘He’s down here somewhere. Three minutes, I reckon, then it’s time for Harold.’

‘Got that,’ said Maddo. ‘Any ideas?’

Mac shook his head. ‘You?’

The three men looked at each other. This wasn’t going well.

‘That smell?’ whispered Pharaoh. ‘That aftershave?’

‘Aramis, I reckon,’ said Mac.

Pharaoh jerked a thumb over his shoulder. ‘I smelled it back here.’

While Pharaoh led Maddo down the passageway, Mac stayed in Akbar’s cabin. Taking a Ziploc plastic bag out of his rebreather webbing, he pulled out the battered and folded letters he’d prepared at the embassy in Manila and slipped them into Akbar’s main diary in the leather hold-all. Written in Arabic, they purported to be from an assistant attache with the US Embassy in Jakarta, spelling out that should matters prove ‘overwhelmingly diffi cult’ in regards to his cover, his sponsors had an emergency extraction timed for 11 October from Endeh, on the southern side of Flores. All fi nancial arrangements would be honoured in any event, said one of the letters, with funds continuing to be transferred to his nominated accounts in Singapore.

Though it might seem like an obvious ruse, Mac had set up several numbered accounts at DBS in Singers with the same serials recorded in the letters. He’d even dumped some money in them. Al-Qaeda was a bourgeois organisation, and the fi rst thing they’d authenticate would be the banking details.

Maddo and Pharaoh stood outside what looked like a cool room or pantry door, with a big cantilevered chrome handle sitting horizontal over the latch and a huge long-shank padlock holding the handle in place. Mac slid around in the sweat that was building inside his rubber slippers as he got to the pantry door.

‘Think he’s right, Macca,’ whispered Maddo, pointing at the door.

‘Smell that?’

Mac smelled it immediately. It must have been broiling inside that locked box and the Aramis was wafting off whoever was wearing it like incense.

‘Good call, Pharaoh,’ whispered Mac, then asked him to tell Akbar that the Indonesian Navy were boarding and they needed to get him to safety.

Pharaoh aimed a torrent of Arabic at the pantry door, his tone friendly and fi rm, like a cop. A faint voice came back through the door and they looked at Pharaoh to see what had been said.

‘Says, Get me the fuck out of this oven,’ said Pharaoh. ‘Bloke’s ready for Harold.’

Sizing up the padlock, Mac slapped at a webbing pocket for his lock jiggers, but felt nothing. Fuck! The loggerhead turtle had taken off the webbing pocket with his jiggers and computer code-runners.

‘No jiggers, boys,’ whispered Mac, embarrassed. ‘New girlfriend’s got ‘em.’

Pharaoh put both hands up behind his neck, pulled at the A-frame on his back. Out off the backpack and over his head came the largest set of bolt-cutters Mac had ever seen. They stood as tall as a medium-height girl.

‘You taking the piss?’ asked Mac, realising what they were for.

Maddo shook his head, the sweat pouring down his face. Bringing the bolt-cutters down level, Pharaoh stepped up to the latch. As he did Mac thought he heard something, but no one had noticed. Probably nothing.

Pharaoh nuzzled the seven-inch jaws of the bolt-cutters up to the thick padlock shanks and jimmied his hands down the levers of the thing to the black rubber handles. Mac couldn’t believe it would work – the padlock looked enormous and was a German brand that special forces usually jigged or blew with a cone-shaped charge of C4.

Mac’s G-Shock indicated they had one hundred and fi ve seconds till the Indonesian Navy skedaddled. It was getting too fi ne. Then he heard the noise again as Pharaoh braced his legs and torso and got ready to try and clip the padlock. It was the sound of a vibration, something more than the idling diesels in the engine room.

‘Shit!’ hissed Mac. ‘They’re pulling out early.’

He and Maddo held their breaths as they heard the cavitating sound of another set of props increase their thumping against the hull of Penang Princess. It was unmistakable; the TNI Navy vessel was throttling in reverse. They were pulling away.

‘Fuck!’ spat Maddo, his hand going to the earpiece of his comms gear. ‘Black Ace, Black Ace. Stand by for extraction,’ he whispered.

Maddo turned back to the door. ‘Let’s do it, mate,’ he said, nodding at Pharaoh.

The big man got his elbows in line and squeezed like he was pushing on a Bullworker. The bolt-cutter jaws didn’t make a dent.

Voices sounded above, coming down a level into the ship. Mac stood back from the door and pointed his Heckler at the passageway while Maddo mouthed encouragement at Pharaoh. ‘Come on, mate – it’s like fucking butter, you’re going through it like butter.’

There were more thumps and the sounds of excited chatter coming closer. The diesels dropped revs, meaning Penang Princess ‘s prop was being engaged, and Mac moved away from the combat divers to get a better line of sight.

As the chattering voices came lower through the ship, Mac glanced back and saw Pharaoh go for another squeeze, his face puffi ng up with exertion and the handles of the bolt-cutters fl exing slightly as his muscles strained through his wetsuit. He was built like a professional wrestler, but the shank held.

Human sounds echoed down the iron stairs, now just fi ve metres above. Mac gulped, sweat dripping down his face, praying that whatever checks were being made on Akbar, the sailors would only come down one of the companionways. He didn’t want to die like a rat in a basement.

Aiming up, he watched a pair of plastic-sandalled feet pause on the top of the companionway stairs – more talking, friendly, expressing relief that the navy didn’t want to board. Mac’s heart thumped in his head and he concentrated on what he could contro his breathing and his aim. Glancing over his shoulder again, he saw Pharaoh’s face turning purple as he puffed like a weightlifter, spittle fl ying off his white lips, arms rippling like there were champagne bottles moving beneath his wetsuit.

Finally a tinkling sound rang out as Pharaoh almost collapsed over the bolt-cutters. He’d done it.

Mac back-pedalled to his navy escort, keeping his eyes on the feet at the head of the companionway. Pharaoh caught his breath while Maddo twisted and removed the padlock from the handle. Then the combat diver pulled a small plastic bag from his webbing and removed a wet rag that quickly fi lled the enclosed space with a smell of solvent.

As Maddo pulled open the pantry door, Mac and Pharaoh aimed their guns into the dark. Inside, a well-dressed middle-aged Arabic man lay on a bench at hip-height, looking at them with an expression that fl ickered from relief to fear. Maddo moved straight at Akbar, grabbed him by the collar, pulled him back into his stomach and forced the rag over his mouth and nose, the bloke’s little hands scrabbling at the Australian’s arms until the solvent kicked in. They were lucky Akbar hadn’t made a sound.

Mac pulled the foil out of his webbing, handed it to Pharaoh and moved towards the companionway and those sandalled feet.

As Pharaoh busted the Xanax caps and poured them into Akbar’s mouth, Mac stealthed beneath the companionway stairs and waited for the feet to move, his lungs and heart going crazy, sweat pouring off his face. The feet shifted and the other person moved away as the feet started coming down the stairs, revealing a mid-twenties Indon sailor in sarung and white singlet. As the bloke hit the passageway and turned down to check on Akbar, Mac brought the Heckler up and shot him behind the ear. It was a very quiet weapon and the sound of the bloke dropping to the old black nylon carpet was greater than the mechanical thump of the round detonating. Mac pulled the body back behind the stairs, the bloke’s ankles still warm in his hands. This was the part of his job he didn’t like.

He turned to Maddo and Pharaoh, who were moving towards the companionway at the opposite end of the hall. Akbar lay limp over Pharaoh’s shoulder and the big diver had to duck to get both of them under some of the pipes that hung from the ceiling. As Mac moved over to shut the pantry door, his eyes briefl y caught something. He checked again, thinking his eyes were playing tricks on him.

They burst into the sunlight, panting with the heat and adrenaline.

Pharaoh was fi rst over the side of Penang Princess, one hand on the railing, the other holding Akbar tight against his chest. Maddo joined him and, leaning over the railing, wrapped the climb-rope around Akbar’s ankles, fl ipped him over and lowered him towards Smithee’s outspread arms. Smithee wound off the ankles and, as the rope swung free, Maddo, Mac and then Pharaoh came down the rope in silence.

Mac could sense the tension as Smithee pulled the mask over Akbar’s face, the banker coming up from the solvent and immediately trying to struggle. The mask was joined to a standard SCUBA set since you couldn’t put a drugged-up, inexperienced man in a rebreather, unless you wanted him panicking so bad you had to surface. Mac sized up the bloke’s anxiety, which was greater than the fear of simply being snatched. Maybe the bloke wasn’t a swimmer – many Arabs weren’t. Pulling the syringe of pure Valium out of his webbing, he got behind Akbar and jabbed him in the bum with the shortened needle, plunging the entire contents as fast as he could. Akbar yelped slightly, but after ten seconds he stopped struggling and after twenty he was as fl oppy as a doll.

Smithee strapped Akbar to Maddo’s seat and Maddo kitted up and lay on him. You needed an experienced diver to make sure the snatchee didn’t stop breathing. Pharaoh and Mac put on their rebreathers and gave Maddo the okay through the comms, all of them looking up at the railing, expecting a bunch of faces and a hedgerow of AK-47s to emerge at any minute.

The whine started and the sled slipped below the surface. Mac felt the warm waters envelop him and was happy for the cover, if not the entrapped feeling of the full face mask.

The sled got to fi ve metres submerged and they made for the RV.

Forcing his breathing into the long rhythms needed for the rebreathers, Mac went over the op in his mind. He didn’t like killing another person and usually he had to work hard to keep it from swamping his thoughts. But this time he was preoccupied with something else entirely – he had seen something in that pantry as he shut the door.

It was a pair of human eyes, staring out of a refi ned Indonesian face.

Mac didn’t like taking guesses at what he saw and heard, but he was eighty per cent certain he’d locked eyes with Jemaah Islamiyah general Abu Samir.


CHAPTER 3

<p>CHAPTER 3</p>

They RV’d with Sosa on a deserted beach two kilometres east of Aimere on the Flores south coast. An old-fashioned BAIS hard-head, Sosa was a short, thickly muscled Javanese, about forty. As Mac unharnessed Akbar from the SCUBA, Sosa waded into the water, soaking his tan chinos to the knee, and beckoned for Akbar to come to him. Still groggy, Akbar hesitated. But when Sosa pulled a black SIG Sauer handgun from beneath his white trop shirt, Akbar slipped over the side of the sled into the tropical water. Sosa grabbed him by the arm and walked him to where a taller Indon waited at the opened rear doors of a white Mercedes van.

Mac removed his rebreather and strapped it to his seat. The air was wall-to-wall screeching birds, clattering insects and hollering monkeys. Some of the remotest parts of Indonesia were louder than George Street on a Monday morning.

‘Thanks, boys,’ said Mac, turning.

Maddo shook his hand, told him to take it easy.

When Pharaoh put his paw out, Mac said, ‘Nice work on the padlock, mate.’

‘Sweet as,’ Pharaoh said, winking.

‘Cheers, Macca,’ Smithee called as he started the outboard. The sled, which had been pumped dry and was an infl atable boat again, turned south and accelerated away across the swell in a blast of two-stroke fumes and small frog-leaps. Mac smiled. Team 4 were a bunch of cowboys. Very dangerous cowboys.

Mac and Sosa sat in the front seats of the van as they drove west through the Flores countryside with farm vehicles, old Hino trucks and Honda motor scooters. To the left Mac caught glimpses of the sapphire Savu Sea and the green of Sumba Island, which rose out of the water like a croc waiting for prey. On either side of them were market gardens, candlenut orchards and forests. But mostly it was subsistence farms, grandparents with young children tending roadside fruit stalls with three or four items for sale.

Sosa’s offsider, Charles, sat in the back with Akbar, who was chained to the inside of the van, a blood pressure strap around his bicep and a drip in his forearm. Mac had changed into a black T-shirt and a pair of blue boardies and, letting the adrenaline come down, made small talk with Sosa about politics and the Chinese – the one nationality that united most nations in South-East Asia.

‘They change date for their Olympics,’ sneered Sosa, lighting a smoke. ‘Told stupid Anglo it all about weather pattern.’

A Hino truck came at them, trying to come down the Indonesian

‘third lane’, and Sosa pulled onto the dirt shoulder to let it through the middle.

‘Oh well, champ,’ said Mac, his heart rate now at normal, ‘maybe all those eights will be lucky for everyone in the region, huh?’

Sosa wasn’t buying it. The Chinese had held back the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics till the eighth of August – two weeks after the date designated in the IOC’s contract. The new start date of 8.8.08 gave the Chinese three ‘eights’, which augured most auspiciously in feng shui. Most Australians thought it was funny, but other nations in Asia hated that sort of Chinese arrogance.

Mac swigged from a big bottle of Vittel and felt a sharp pain in his sternum. He had planned two days of R amp;R on a small island off Flores and then it was back to Manila to do a handover to his replacement before joining the Land of the Long Lunch for the next twelve months.

Mac had been seconded to United Nations headquarters in New York, where he’d be liaising between New York and Canberra and paying close attention to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacifi c in Bangers. He’d been doing his briefi ngs with diplomats and ASIS operatives at the UN for the past two months, getting to know the people who were fl eecing the ESCAP aid programs, and those at CNTBTO who wanted to shut down Australia’s uranium exports. He had good form for CNTBTO because of former rotations.

In Mac’s world the UN was a joke for its wastage, corruption and its lack of action on the things it should act on. For spy organisations the UN was a famous point of intelligence leakage. It had become a global grease trap for malcontents and runners-up – politicians who couldn’t keep their pants on, majors who couldn’t become colonels, diplomats lost to the grog and technically excellent bureaucrats without the leadership credentials to take them to the top of a government department. People long on hubris and short on achievement who would vie for Top Dog status in every conversation by proving greater insider knowledge than the next guy. Those people were dangerous to the national interest, which was why the UN and its agencies were overrun with spies posing as UN hacks, listening in as big-noters showed off their knowledge of where the radar arrays were really hidden, which Saddam companies were still operating in California, and how much gold was being stockpiled by a country’s central bank long after the offi cial change to a fl oated currency.

Mac blocked his concerns about Akbar and Samir by focusing on the UN gig. It was what Mac had been trained for, what he had dreamed of when he joined ASIS from the University of Queensland with an honours degree in history. That is, high-level espionage where you got to wear a suit and not carry a sidearm. Instead, Mac had been earmarked for paramilitary training on entering ASIS and he was sent to the UK to undergo the Royal Marines Commando training at Devon and intel sections at Chicksands. He’d found it a little insulting at the time, since he had an excellent degree, but the suits in Canberra had taken one look at him and seen only a boy from Rockhampton with a footballer’s build.

Once in the Royal Marines he’d become competitive and was selected to do the Swimmer-Canoeist program with the Special Boat Service, culminating in a survival run in the jungles of Brunei – an event that had pushed Mac right to the edge, to the point where he thought he might be going mad.

And that had been that. After Mac’s intake, ASIS had switched tack and tried to train selected Aussie SAS soldiers for intel duties. Neither way was entirely successful because the soldier and the spy, in the end, were complementary yet disparate professions. They had to work together but they weren’t the same thing. Mac was now thirty-two and he’d spent the past decade either in the boonies of South-East Asia or in war zones like Timor, Iraq and Bosnia. There hadn’t been much in the way of canasta and beautiful girls in ball gowns. He hoped the UN and New York would change that.

They got to the airfi eld outside Reo in a shade under two hours. There was an Indonesian plainclothes aircrew waiting at a briefi ng table in the hangar and an old twin-engine Fokker Friendship waiting outside.

Sosa drove into the World War II-era hangar, sprang from the van and barked an order. The BAIS guys dragged Akbar from the van and Mac noticed there was a gurney with an IV pole beside the table. Akbar was walking – disoriented but walking – and they led him to the Fokker, which sat in the thirty-six-degree heat.

Sosa moved to a small offi ce area, unlocked the door, and retrieved Mac’s backpack. Then he waved towards the van. ‘Charles can take you where you want, or you can come with us, McQueen.’

Mac took the pack, jerked his thumb at the van. ‘Might stick with Charles. No offence – just like his aftershave.’

Sosa smirked, put out his hand. ‘Been a pleasure, maate.’

Indonesians could never quite get the Aussie drawl going on mate, but Mac appreciated the effort. Returning the shake, he started towards the van, then stopped. ‘Know something, Sosey?’ he asked, trying to keep it casual.

Sosa shrugged, sucked on his cigarette.

‘I can’t remember what happened to Samir. Abu Samir…’

‘Yeah, yeah, McQueen. I know who he is.’

‘He still in Malaysia?’ asked Mac.

Sosa gave a big Javanese shrug. ‘Why, what you got?’

Mac hadn’t wanted the conversation to go like this. ‘Nothing, mate. Just that we’re snatching Akbar and we’ve still got someone like Samir running around the shop, see what I mean?’

‘Samir’s the Malaysians’ problem – they’re all over him, what I know,’ said Sosa.

Mac nodded slow, slugged the last of the Vittel, threw the empty bottle at a rubbish bin. It hit the lip, bounced on the old concrete fl oor. Mac looked for wood to touch.

‘Like I said, McQueen – what you got?’

Mac shook his head. ‘Nothing, mate, just thought I overheard those sailors mentioning Samir.’

Mac didn’t want BAIS boarding Penang Princess and turning it over looking for someone he might have been imagining. He guarded his missions jealously, and the key to actions like Operation Handmaiden was Moro outfi ts like Abu Sayyaf believing an al-Qaeda operative was ratting them out. A full-on raid by BAIS and the Indon Navy would scuttle that.

‘Just so long as he’s still in Malaysia,’ mumbled Sosa, looking over Mac’s shoulder at the Fokker. ‘Because if he’s moving around, we got trouble.’

Mac stood at the kerb in his black baseball cap and sunnies, watching Charles drive away. He’d been dropped two blocks from his hotel in Labuan Bajo. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Charles, it was just that it was none of BAIS’s business where he was going. Mac moved south along the waterfront, savouring the late afternoon tropical breeze on his chest. Across the strait was the famous Komodo Islands where the giant monitor – the Komodo Dragon – created a cash fl ow for Indonesia’s tourism industry. Walking slowly like a tourist he looked for eyes, for pursed mouths and creased foreheads and non-leisure activities like reading a newspaper.

After going round the block, passing all the non-offi cial tourism operators’ booths, nasi goreng stalls, restaurants setting up for the evening trade and T-shirt emporia, he came back around to the Bajo Hotel on Harbour Street. British backpackers milled in the lime-washed lobby, conspicuous in their lobster-red suntans and Bintang T-shirts. Moving through them to the front desk, Mac caught the eye of the young concierge, Davie.

‘Hello, Mr Richard, are you with us tonight?’ asked the smiling Indonesian.

‘Yep – same room,’ said Mac, forking over some rupiah as Davie got his board and pencil out.

‘And, mate, what’s the name of that bloke on the waterfront?

Does the private boat charters?’ added Mac.

Davie lit up. Indonesians loved being helpful to outsiders. ‘Rayah

– he has the red cutter beside the Komodo Tours ship. Rayah my friend. You tell him and he give you good price.’

Mac chuckled at that and fl icked Davie a handful of rupiah for his troubles, then he headed for the stairs that wound around the liftwell.

Davie was now attending to a Scottish girl who wanted a doctor, so Mac passed the foot of the stairs and went straight through a side exit, down a corridor and out into a service lane. He doubled behind the Bajo Hotel and down to the port, found Rayah on the fi rst loop and cased him: watched for signs that he was expecting someone. Was he looking up and down the wharf? At his watch or mobile phone?

Circling back to a payphone bolted against a chandler’s store, Mac put his TI card in the slot and phoned a mate of his called Philip who owned the beach cottages at Seraya Island – so close to Komodo yet so overlooked by European experience-seekers. He booked a cottage, circled back to a bar on the wharf and bought a case of Tiger. The price of the beers was exorbitant but not as bad as the prices charged on Seraya for Bintang. As the sun got close to the horizon, Mac walked up to Rayah and asked him how much to Seraya. Rayah threw out bunches of ten fi ngers several times, till Mac said, ‘Davie sent me.’ The bloke slumped and Mac handed him the beers, but kept his backpack.

Mac lay on his back in the gentle swell off Seraya Beach as the orange of the Flores sunset slowly gave way to the diamond-studded velvet of the evening sky. He heard the generator start and the lights go on in the restaurant block. Letting his head dip under the water, Mac spouted sea water through his mouth; despite an evening meal of ginger chicken and beer, he could still taste the rubber of the rebreather mouthpiece.

Relaxing his entire body he thought about the UN, thought about Ahmed Akbar. Thought about all the things he’d got slightly wrong on Penang Princess and how they might come back to haunt him. Images from that pantry fl ickered through his mind. Was it really the face of Abu Samir, the JI mastermind behind the Jakarta Stock Exchange bombing? He couldn’t be sure. He’d been so focused on getting Akbar out in one piece that the fl ash he’d had of a face in the dark could really have been anyone.

Abu Samir did not have the same profi le on the FBI and CIA computers as Hambali or Mohammad Noordin Top – both of them JI operatives who hid out in Malaysia while Suharto went on a turkey shoot of Jihadists in the late 1990s. But if you asked any military intel or special forces person about the tangos they wanted to put away, Samir outranked everyone except Abu Sabaya. Samir was similar to Sabaya in that he didn’t think like some Baader-Meinhof dickhead trying to outrage Daddy. He thought like a guerrilla genera how to cause the utmost pain and injury to the enemy. How to demoralise.

Mac emerged from the tepid water and walked up the beach, trying to breathe shallow to protect his aching chest, the white sand squeaking under his feet.

What looked like Sri Lankan newlyweds wandered towards him hand-in-hand. They said hi, and Mac smiled, nodded.

Outside his cottage Mac fi lled a white plastic pail with water from an outdoor tap and poured it through his hair and over his body.

There were only ten cottages on Seraya Beach, and because they had outdoor concrete lavs that had to be fl ushed manually, and you could only get fresh water when they turned on the pumps between six and nine pm, ninety-nine per cent of the Anglo world avoided them.

Which was fi ne with Mac.

He drank half a beer, and felt fatigue take over. Hitting the hay shortly after nine, he thought about the UN and then about Jenny Toohey, his casual-yet-serious girlfriend who worked with the Australian Federal Police in Jakarta. Manila felt far enough away from Jen and he wondered how far New York would feel. What did she really think about him going and would she try to join him? He fell asleep thinking about shooting that sailor on Penang Princess and mumbling a prayer that the face he had seen wasn’t Abu Samir’s.


CHAPTER 4

<p>CHAPTER 4</p>

The door rattled, jolting Mac out of a deep sleep. Grabbing his pack, he threw himself off the bed, rolled across the bare teak fl oor, pulled the Heckler from the pack and aimed it. It was dark, no moon, and the breeze wafted through the windowless frames, fl apping the white curtains over Mac’s head as he steadied himself and got his breathing under control.

He sat naked on the fl oor like that for eight seconds, his heart pounding in his head. Then he heard it again; a rattling at the bamboo door. And then, ‘Mr Richard, please, sorry, sir. Mr Richard, please…’

It was Philip.

Mac took a deep breath and winced as his sternum fl ared, making lights appear at the edges of his vision.

‘What is it?’ said Mac, looking at his G-Shock: 3.12 am local.

‘I have phone for you, Mr Richard.’

Moving to the bamboo wall, Mac peered out the side window.

‘You alone, mate?’ Mac rasped.

‘Yes, I alone, Mr Richard. It the phone for you, sir.’

Mac leaned against the front wall of the cottage, looked around the corner and cased the beach. It was deserted. He pulled on a pair of undies and put one foot through the windowless space and then the other.

‘Be right with you, champ!’ he yelled, throwing himself to the sand twelve feet below. He doubled around the front of the raised cottage in cup-and-saucer mode, and up the side path to the back door. Holding his breath, he levelled the Heckler as he peeked around the corner, expecting to fi nd Philip with a gun to his head. But Philip was alone.

‘Nice this time of evening, eh?’ said Mac, having slipped his gun into the back of his undies.

Philip jumped out of his skin, yelped slightly, and Mac regretted surprising him. A few years older than Mac, Philip was a former high school teacher. He and his wife had taken over Seraya Beach from her father and uncles a few years earlier.

Mac and Philip chatted as they strolled back to the offi ce at the southern end of the beach.

‘I thought you were a ghost,’ laughed Philip.

‘Indonesian ghosts are white?’

‘Sure,’ said Philip. ‘But often they friendly,’ he added quickly, realising he may have caused offence.

The phone handpiece sat on the front desk of the offi ce area – really just a porch at the entry to Philip’s house. Philip pointed at it and Mac picked it up and said, ‘Davis.’

‘Fuck’s sake,’ yelled the unmistakable voice of Joe Imbruglia, ASIS station chief in Manila, ‘where the fuck are you?’

‘Up early, Joe. You shit the bed?’

A hiss of breath came through the phone. Joe had been one of the fi rm’s best-ever operatives in Beijing, with a special talent for East Asian languages and a good feel for the weird political and cultural problems between Japan, Korea and China. But now he was a reluctant offi ce guy expected to run Mac, and while they respected one another they also clashed.

‘Don’t give me grief, McQueen. I need you in Denpasar, now!’

‘What, Garvey’s in the cells again? Just tell them to hose him down – he’ll come right.’

‘Don’t get smart, McQueen. We’ve got a multiple IED incident in Kuta, Garvey’s gone down there as a declared but we need a covert.

Understand?’

Mac massaged his temples with his left hand. ‘Well, if Garvey’s running it…’

‘Don’t argue with me, mate. I’ve got reports of hundreds dead – most of them Aussies. Those JI fuckers bombed a couple of nightclubs.

In Kuta! Eleven o’clock at night! You believe these people?’

Mac could hear the emotion coming up in Joe’s voice. ‘So, my role is what?’

‘The fucking Feds have a forward command post already on the move, okay? Your job is to keep an eye on things, make sure the story doesn’t get too out of shape.’

Mac nodded. Joe was worried about the Australian Federal Police taking control and doing naive things like telling the media precisely what was going on. Mac would need to tailor the story, stop any Boy Scout behaviour.

‘My cover?’

‘Embassy – your usual shit. If DFAT get to run the show, then you’ll have veto on the media releases. You’re public affairs, okay?’

‘Got it.’

Joe told him there was an Australian Navy Sea King helo on its way. ‘And McQueen?’

‘Yes, Joe?’

‘They’re on your side. None of that survivalist bullshit, okay?’

Mac walked slowly back to the cottage wondering what the real story might be in Kuta. His UN gig was in jeopardy – Mac could feel it. But there was a deeper worry in Joe’s voice, like the world had just changed forever.

The Sea King landed on Seraya Beach just before four am. Mac took the loadmaster’s arm-grip and jumped on with his pack. The helo rose, turned and headed west towards Bali. Mac cadged a pair of overalls to ward off the draught, strapped himself into the awkward hammock seat and tried to think through what this was all about.

The Australian Secret Intelligence Service was a spy agency but it was part of DFAT – the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

So it was part of the same set-up as the diplomats and the trade commissioners. When ASIS offi cers were posted to an embassy, they were either a ‘declared’ intelligence operative or they had a cover. The cover would normally be something like a second trade attache or a diplomatic mid-ranker with vaguely defi ned public affairs duties.

The way embassies worked – which really annoyed Australians who worked abroad for their country – was that ASIS spent as much time spying on their own people as they did trying to gain information advantages over other nationalities. To preserve that internal security capacity, ASIS offi cers working within a cover in the embassy were not usually declared to other Australians in the embassy. The ambassador might know and the ASIS station chief would know, but there wouldn’t be many outside that circle.

Now Joe Imbruglia was sending in Mac under embassy cover, and doing so from Manila rather than Jakarta, further complicating the situation. Mac had about forty-fi ve minutes to work up his cover, get himself back into his normal role, which at most Australian embassies in South-East Asia was assistant third secretary – political, a position that conveniently had partial oversight of the public affairs and media functions. The ASIS cover role had once been assistant counsellor public affairs, but the public affairs section of the Australian diplomatic mission was being gutted and dismantled because some genius in Canberra had decided it wasn’t a specialist discipline. Mac had a view on that: if the Americans and the Chinese said public propaganda was a specialist diplomatic discipline then that’s precisely what it was.

They landed in the military section behind Denpasar Airport at quarter to fi ve. A young woman from the embassy in Jakarta met Mac and led him to a white Holden Commodore. Julie had honey-blonde hair pulled back and a gold chain-and-bar necklace. Mac had her as a landed Queensland girl who’d gone to a Protestant boarding school and then UQ.

On the front passenger seat was Mac’s overnight bag from his locker at the Jakarta embassy. Always packed, it contained two sets of chinos, two polo shirts, undies, socks, a tropical sports jacket, a pair of overalls, and two pairs of Hi-Tecs and boat shoes. A set of IDs and Nokias were in the side pocket.

They drove past the civilian terminal of Ngurah Rai Airport, better known to Westerners as Bali International Airport, where what looked like the entire tourist population of the island was trying to get into the terminal. Buses and taxis stood in long queues on the apron under the shimmering orange fl oodlights as worried-looking Anglos tried to push through the doors into the crowded terminal.

They accelerated past a long line of traffi c and a phalanx of traffi c cops as they headed towards Kuta Beach. Mac was still trying to adjust to his rude awakening ninety minutes before and he could feel a hunger stirring.

‘So what happened here?’ he asked, yawning, as Julie sped past thousands of locals and tourists walking around in a daze.

‘Two bomb blasts outside a couple of nightclubs at Kuta, down on Legian Street,’ said Julie mechanically. ‘Aussie tourist places. There’s a lot of dead – maybe in the hundreds. US Consulate had a small one go off too.’

An ambulance screamed past in the opposite direction as they got closer to the beach. Soon after, they hit a roadblock manned by POLRI and some plainclothes, and Julie stopped, handed over her ID. Mac went for the bag between his legs and immediately felt guns coming up. He raised his hands, opened the door and let the POLRI guy with the M16 see what he was doing with his hands. Mac reached down, pulled his diplomatic passport from the pocket in the black Cordura bag and handed to it the POLRI with the German shepherd.

The plainclothes came around to Mac’s side, eyeballed him, took the passport and smirked.

‘Bit early for you, eh McQueen? You’d be sleeping off the booze this time of the morning, wouldn’t you?’

‘Bloke’s not a camel, Bongo, you know how it is.’

Bongo Sitepu, a peer of Mac’s from Indonesian intelligence, snorted, fl icked the passport to the dog-handler without looking at it and walked off.

Julie spoke with the uniform POLRI. She spoke good Bahasa and Mac picked up that she was saying they were Australian Embassy staff, going straight to the Hard Rock Hotel. They were waved through as Mac watched the police carbines being lifted and aimed at an old pale blue HiAce van pulling up behind them.

They hit another roadblock forty metres from the Hard Rock.

Concrete sleds were arranged in an overlap, with a dozen riot squad POLRI inside and outside the perimeter to the hotel. Julie showed the ID and a POLRI bloke with a bum-fl uff mo fl ashed a torch in Mac’s face and then waved them through to the hotel.

As Mac got out and stretched he was hit by the noise: trucks, fi re appliances, generators powering fl oodies, shouts from panicked men.

He could see the lights originating from three blocks away. Buses fi lled with locals in white overalls fi led past; morgue trucks and cranes, police rescue, fi re rescue, ambulances – hundreds of people, running around with injured locals, yelling at one another. As he pulled his overnight bag from the Commodore, Julie came round the front and handed Mac a white envelope.

‘Room key – and you’re sharing, till all the paying guests are gone.’

Mac wanted to argue about the sharing thing but Julie was already back in the car, putting it in gear. She made to go then stopped, leaned out the window. ‘By the way, Joe wants you to call him as soon as you check in. Indons have shut down the cellular system so you’ll have to fi nd a payphone.’

Closing her window, Julie squealed out of the forecourt as a couple of Anglos wandered out of the lobby.

‘Hi, darling. Hard day?’ came a voice near Mac.

Turning, Mac came face to face with Anton Garvey, who’d been in Mac’s ASIS intake in 1990. More heavily set than he once was and a chrome-dome to boot, Garvs was going to be the declared Service operative in the AFP-led operation.

‘Garvs,’ said Mac, shaking hands as he tried to place the tallish, skinny bloke next to him.

‘Macca, this is Chez Delaney – Foreign Affairs, Jakarta.’

Mac shook the bloke’s hand, uneasy at the fl oppy fi sh effect. Mac didn’t like his cricket club tie either.

‘Actually, Mr McQueen, it’s Chester,’ said the bloke through mean lips.

‘Actually, Chez, it’s Macca,’ smiled Mac, ‘but you can call me sir.’

They walked the blocks to Bemo Corner, turned left and walked north up Legian Street to the site of the fi rst blast outside Paddy’s nightclub.

It felt ominous, bathed in the temporary fl oodlights. On their right were hundreds of locals carrying bodies, parts of bodies, shoes and clothes, and directing cranes and other heavy lifting equipment to pieces of roofi ng, walls, rubble. Mac smelled acrid, scorched material as if bamboo or wood had been torched with gasoline.

Mac didn’t want to be a bystander – he wanted to get in there and help. But he didn’t have the shoes or clothing to go into the mess that had once been Paddy’s Bar, a place he’d been very drunk in only a week ago during the Bali Sevens. They kept moving and it suddenly occurred to Mac that some of the Manila Marauders he’d played with might have been caught up in it.

They were challenged by POLRI as they tried to move across the street towards where the Sari Club had once stood. Garvs fl ashed ID and babbled something in Bahasa, and then the three of them stopped spontaneously, shocked. The Sari Club had been completely annihilated, and a number of buildings around it were fl attened and still smouldering. Firefi ghters were pumping water over torn-apart buildings behind where the Sari had been, and forty or fi fty police and fi refi ghters crawled over the site, trying to get cranes and front-end loaders over to move slabs of concrete and debris. Voices moaned and screamed above the generators and fi re pumps, and Mac’s knees went rubbery for a split second, nausea rising at the sight of total carnage.

In front of them was a crater in the road that looked to be six or seven feet deep and about twenty, maybe twenty-fi ve feet across.

‘What’s that?’ asked Mac, quite aware what it was but not expressing himself clearly. He was so tired.

‘Ground zero,’ said Garvey, but he said it like a question.

‘What’s the early mail?’ said Mac.

Chester piped up, with a high-pitched squeak, ‘Terror bombing

– a lot of Australians, I’m afraid.’

‘Few locals as well, eh Chez?’ muttered Mac.

Chester sobered up fast as he realised what he’d said. ‘Well, yes.

Umm, yep, you’re right.’

The fi rst tendrils of dawn were just starting to ease into the darkness when they got back to the Hard Rock. Mac had heard that Chester was waiting on fi nal confi rmation from Canberra that DFAT would have overall carriage of the Australian effort. The Prime Minister felt comfortable with the Australian Federal Police in general and the commissioner in particular, and a number of arguments were being mounted to ensure that the AFP didn’t actually end up running the show – an outcome considered unthinkable by Foreign Affairs. Mac’s cop girlfriend, Jenny, had always suspected this was the way people like Chester operated, and Mac had never had the heart to tell her she was damned right.

Garvs smiled as he pulled his buzzing Nokia from his pocket.

‘Network’s up again,’ he said and then turned away, took the call.

Mac walked into the lobby where American, British, New Zealand and Australian accents were all vying with each other. Phones were ringing, voices arguing. An American touched his chest with both hands and then pushed them away at an Australian, saying, ‘No, you see, I have to get the okay from your guys before I get the okay from my guys. Okay?’

Mac grabbed his overnight bag from the porter’s trolley and moved to the lift banks with Chester. He needed a shower and some nosebag and then he’d be into the day. Taking the lift to the third fl oor, he made small talk with Chez. It wasn’t till he got to his door that the two of them realised they were room-mates. They looked at each other, cleared their throats, then both looked at the folders holding their security cards, willing the numbers to change. Neither knew quite how to articulate his annoyance, so Mac pushed into the room, threw his bag on the bed closest to the window, kicked off his shoes and made for the bathroom.

‘It’ll be fi ne, Chezza,’ Mac yelled as he turned on the shower.

‘I only snore when I’m drunk. Really, really drunk.’


CHAPTER 5

<p>CHAPTER 5</p>

Mac slept till after nine, nightmares of craters and exploding buildings disturbing his sleep. When he woke to a background of sirens and helicopters Chester wasn’t around. He checked his bag for signs of entry, checked his phone for dialled calls, then changed into his blue overalls and Hi-Tec boots.

The hotel restaurant was packed with people shouting at each other, shouting into phones, yelling at people like Julie who were circulating with clipboards, shoving phones into people’s faces, getting signatures and waiting for the okay to go and do what they had to do. Watching Julie, Mac mused that if the Commonwealth ever ran out of bright young female organisers like her to get the lunchers into formation, the wheels would fall off the whole show.

Grabbing scrambled eggs, tomatoes and sausages, Mac poured a cup of coffee and walked over to Garvey’s table.

‘How’s it going, boys?’ asked Mac as he sat.

Chester looked him up and down very quickly, his long face and thin brown hair making him look like a Puritan.

Garvey gave Mac a quick look, sipped on his tea. ‘Job interview, mate?’

Mac poured milk into his coffee, refusing to be baited by the swipe at his clothes. ‘Thought I’d get amongst it.’

Garvey shook his head. He’d always been the more bureaucratically astute of the two of them. ‘I don’t know what your brief is, Macca, but they didn’t bring you in from Manila to shift rubble. Know what I mean, sport?’

Mac knew precisely what he meant, but before the Aussie cavalry arrived from Darwin he wanted to examine the bomb sites more closely. And he wanted to keep his media dickhead clothes clean.

‘Morning, gentlemen,’ Julie said, arriving at the table.

They murmured greetings back.

‘Mr Delaney, Jakarta,’ she said, handing Chester a Nokia, two more phones on her right hip.

As Chester put his left index fi nger in his left ear and leaned away from the table, Garvey looked at Mac and said, ‘So what is your role, champ?’

‘Public affairs for DFAT,’ said Mac, trying to eavesdrop on Chester.

‘Quality control – that shit.’

Mac stood on the edge of the crater in front of the Sari Club on Legian Street, one of the main streets of Kuta. Around him, the job of fi nding the injured was still going at fever pitch, even as the Indonesians bagged and tagged body parts, gently placing them in refrigerated trucks that had been backed into the blast sites. The smell was strengthening with the rising temperature and soon they’d have a rat problem.

A POLRI offi cer in pale blue overalls approached Mac, right hand on his holster. Mac held out the plastic-sheathed ID Julie had given him before he ventured out and the cop nodded and walked on.

Mac looked into the crater. Muddy water sat at the bottom and there was gravel up the steep sides. He took in what lay behind: a fl attened Sari Club. The Sari had been a large, three-storey structure occupying virtually an entire corner site. It wasn’t some fl imsy shack.

The buildings behind the Sari had the strangest damage: concrete had been blasted off the load-bearing beams, leaving nothing but the reinforcing steel which was twisted and bent.

Mac turned one-eighty degrees and saw Paddy’s Bar, which was still largely intact, the buildings beside it fi re-damaged but still standing. Even to the untrained eye, the thing that had fl attened the Sari was clearly different to whatever had hit Paddy’s.

Pulling his CoolPix from the chest pocket of his overalls, Mac took a few snaps. Intel people generally relied on newspaper archives and magazine stories to remind them of what they’d seen, but Mac liked to have his own records, liked to review pictures he’d taken himself.

Finding the non-pattern was easier when you’d been standing in the very spot from where the photo was taken.

He took two shots of Paddy’s and then moved in an arc, taking what would be a panorama of images when he played it back as a slide show on a computer. He was halfway through his arc when he heard a crunch of gravel to his right.

‘I’ll get you a postcard, if you ask nice.’

Mac took his eye from the camera, turned to Freddi Gardjito and smiled.

‘How’s it going, champ?’ said Mac, shaking Freddi’s hand.

They talked a while, affable enough for a couple of spooks who might be acting contrary to each other’s interests. Freddi was Mac’s age and had a similar history: good degree from a university, in his case the University of Surabaya, then army offi cer training which had seen him operating with Kopassus and spending time in the notorious Group 4 – the Kopassus plainclothes intel outfi t. From there it was into BAIS, Indonesian military intelligence.

Under Suharto BAIS had been the most violent intel and secret service outfi t in South-East Asia. Before the Americans had got into trouble for rendering terror suspects to Egypt and Pakistan, the CIA had used BAIS when it needed to get to the bottom of a memory problem. In the post-Suharto world, BAIS had more constitutional fetters on its behaviour, but somehow the mystique prevailed: high-level cops and politicians steered clear of BAIS.

‘Like the view?’ asked Freddi, hands on his hips. For a Javanese he was tallish – fi ve-eleven – and built strong enough to strain at the dark blue shirt and fi ll out his trousers. It didn’t matter what nationality you were, special forces required a certain build.

‘What happened here?’ asked Mac.

‘That’s what you’re here to tell us, eh Mac?’

They stared at each other – both deadpanning, eyes hidden behind dark sunnies, Freddi chewing on gum.

‘Gimme a chance, Freddi,’ grinned Mac. ‘Only got in a few hours ago.’

‘Well we’ve got three blast sites. This one, that one,’ he said, jigging his thumb over his shoulder, ‘and one outside the American consulate in Denpasar. The embassy one was a shit-bomb.’

‘A what?’ asked Mac.

Freddi waved him away. ‘Forget about it.’

‘Any suspects?’

Freddi shrugged. ‘Guess that’s why we need the Aussies, eh?’

‘Told you, mate: I just got here.’

‘You know what I mean.’

‘Do I, Freddi?’ said Mac, pulling a bottle of Evian from his pack and slugging at it. He offered it to Freddi, who shook his head.

‘Sure, Mac. It’ll be, “The terrible Muslims, the violent Asians who think life is so cheap, have bombed themselves again. ‘Cos that’s what these Asiatics do – they blow themselves up, and take others with them.”’

Freddi shifted his weight. ‘Something like that, eh Mac?’

Garvey wouldn’t have taken that shit, not from an Indon. But Mac liked to get the local perspective, liked to see it from their angle. He nodded slightly, enough so as not to give Freddi any confl ict to go on with.

‘So what’s with the hole?’ Mac pointed into the crater, perplexed by the size and the depth of the thing. ‘What made that?’

Freddi moved forward to the edge of it and looked down. ‘Well, whatever it was, it wasn’t no local IED.’

‘Reckon?’ said Mac, who had already decided that if JI was running around with a couple of improvised explosive devices, they’d be big enough to do the Paddy’s blast, but not this: not concrete blasted off its reo rods fi fty or sixty feet away.

‘Yep,’ said Freddi, putting his hand out for the water after all. ‘I’m betting there were two crews on this – the pros and the patsies.’

When Mac’s phone went off, Freddi raised his hand and walked away with the water. Mac looked at the phone screen, which said Scare Me – Mac’s code for SCM, or Service Chief Manila.

‘G’day, Joe,’ said Mac.

‘Red setter thirty,’ replied Joe Imbruglia, and then hung up.

Mac stared at the phone. He was too tired for this shit so early in the day. He was expecting plane loads of federal cops, DFAT and Australian military to descend on the place in a few hours and most of them would be trying to prove they were better investigators than the next guy. Each Commonwealth agency would be travelling with its own public affairs fl ak and it would be down to Mac to control what they released and what messages they gave to reporters. And now his station chief was going all cloak and dagger on him.

Mac moved south down Legian Street and saw a Wartel store on the right. There were hardly any TI phones in Kuta so visitors used private phone agents who sold you phone cards that only worked in their phones. Mac bought a pre-paid mobile phone and SIM card set and headed for Poppies Restaurant.

He turned right on to Poppies Gang, a secondary road that ran west from Legian Street to the ocean at Kuta Bay. There was an attractive woman outside the restaurant spruiking for customers. The blasts had cleared out the foreign tourists and the watering holes were empty. Mac walked on, doubled back, cased the place and looked for eyes. He hated the feeling of being trapped in a restaurant or bar. He liked exits.

Finally walking up to the woman, he asked if they were open. She almost hugged him, then virtually dragged him into the cool of the place. He asked to sit down the back, near the fan, as the heat built to what Mac reckoned was going to be thirty-seven degrees. After ordering green tea, rotis and nasi goreng, he tore open the mobile phone and put in the battery and the SIM. Once the girl had walked into the kitchen Mac reached behind him, unplugged the fan and plugged in the phone to get some charge. When the plain silver Nokia had some juice it worked without dramas, and he texted in the codes from the SIM and then input another code to activate the extra credit he’d bought.

Mac waited in the cool for the girl to come back with his stuff.

His watch said it was twenty-one minutes since Joe’s call. He ate then sipped the tea, and when his G-Shock said it was 10.34 am local he called the pay phone that looked out over the back gardens at the Manila Hotel.

After ringing once, a man’s voice said, ‘Red Setter.’

‘Albion,’ said Mac.

Joe read out a new mobile number and hung up. Then Mac rang the mobile number with a Philippines prefi x and was through.

‘Christ, Joe – what’s this about?’ snapped Mac as the connection was made.

‘Mate, you know what Commonwealth phones are like,’ said Joe.

Mac snorted. One of the fi rst things he had learned at ASIS craft school was how to run a phone surveillance, and his fi rst sit-ins were listening in on Commonwealth employees – the ones who were having affairs, trying to buy drugs, that sort of thing. ‘Yeah, of course, but what’s up?’

‘We need to get your brief straight,’ said Joe.

‘So shoot.’

‘There’s going to be some pressure down there to, umm, widen things.’

‘Widen? It hasn’t started yet, has it?’ asked Mac.

‘Ah, yeah. The Indons might have a broader view of what went down, right?’ said Joe, sounding embarrassed.

‘Well they’re talking about three blasts – guess any cop is going to want to start with them as separate events,’ said Mac.

‘Well, umm…’

‘Yes, Joe?’

‘Our job is to keep it sensible,’ said Joe.

Mac felt bile rising. He was trained for this, it was what he did. But he was the son of a police detective and he knew how investigations got twisted and bent by higher authorities with all sorts of different motives.

‘Sensible?’ asked Mac.

‘Yeah, mate. There’s no point in letting this get beyond what it obviously is, eh?’ chuckled Joe with false bonhomie.

‘Obviously?’

‘McQueen, don’t give me that tone…’

‘What, the you’re full of shit tone?’

Joe let out a long breath. ‘Mate, let’s keep it simple: this is an investigation into Indonesian jihadists carrying out an IED attack on Australians and other Anglos, right?’

‘Just your good old anfo light show. Ammoniuum nitrate and fuel oil strikes again?’ said Mac, trying not to sound snide.

‘Well, you know how the Indons get – all those conspiracy theories about the Christians and the Jews trying to discredit the poor Muslims.’

‘You been down here?’

‘McQueen, this is JI carrying out their threats. It’s pretty clear, right?’

‘Oh really?’

‘Fuck’s sake, McQueen. You want that UN gig? Well get with the program!’

Mac couldn’t believe the threat. He’d earned the right to New York.

Joe sighed. ‘Mate, sorry ‘bout that. I just need you to make this happen, okay? That’s what you’re being paid to do down there. I told them I’d send my best guy.’

Mac watched a group of Aussies come into the restaurant. Two young men were supporting a middle-aged woman who was beyond distraught. It looked like her legs were going to give out before they got a chair under her. Tears poured down her face.

The hairs went up on the back of Mac’s neck. ‘ Them? Who’s them, Joe?’

There was a pause while Joe thought of the right offi ce guy words.

‘You know, Canberra.’

‘DFAT?’

Mac heard Joe swallow. ‘No, McQueen – we’re working for PMC on this one, okay?’


CHAPTER 6

<p>CHAPTER 6</p>

Cover-within-cover had become second nature for Mac. As an S2 intelligence offi cer who undertook paramilitary operations, he was completely beneath the radar of most embassy types, as well as the majority of ASIS personnel. Holding an S2 status from the Minister for Foreign Affairs meant you had the right to carry and use fi rearms.

Only the Minister, the Director-General of ASIS and Mac’s controller on the particular job knew what was really happening.

Over the years he’d acclimatised to the fact that there were American soldiers, Indonesian spies and British diplomats who knew more about his real occupation than some of the Aussies he had lunch with once a week. That was cover-within-cover, the Russian Doll effect. It meant deceiving co-workers in a casual way, but now Joe was dragging him into a whole new level of internal deceit. Mac’s employer was DFAT, but for this operation he’d be taking orders from PMC, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

PMC was the super-department in Canberra, the place where the truly power-obsessed bureaucrats, soldiers, spies and economic advisers wanted to be. It was the card that trumped everything else, even DFAT, Treasury and Defence. PMC was the only department in the Australian government where all initiatives and policies trickled down from one politician – the Prime Minister. Every other department’s senior bureaucrats worked on the ‘capture and control’ method of bending a new minister to their will. PMC was the one department where you didn’t have to justify your expenses claim or be concerned about staying in some four-star hovel. You fl ew in the front of the plane, you stayed in hotel rooms that were more than one room.

Mac fi nished his green tea, trying to get to the bottom of his nagging paranoia. He didn’t like high-ranking politicians meddling in the operations side of things. And he didn’t like it being the politicians who wanted him to lie to his colleagues. If he wanted to deceive someone, he’d make that call. The fact that Joe was using a new pre-paid mobile meant he was already operating clandestinely in the Manila embassy too, trying to defeat the ASIS listening posts. Joe and Mac had become a Loop of Two, the second easiest asset to deny, after the Loop of One.

Leaving some money on the table, Mac unplugged the Nokia and made for the front doors.

One of the Aussies who had been supporting the grieving woman looked up as he passed and Mac stopped.

‘Need anything?’ asked Mac.

‘Sister,’ said the bloke, shaking his head, tears welling in bloodshot eyes. ‘Gone, mate. Bronnie. Fucking gone!’

The woman – Mac guessed the mother – started wailing again and put her face in her hands, her back heaving with the sobs. Mac saw that the two blokes, both mid-twenties, were covered in dirt, blood and grazes. Their sneakers were cut up and there was dust and dirt through their hair. They’d been up all night, guessed Mac, searching through rubble.

Mac put his hand out. ‘Alan McQueen – Foreign Affairs.’

‘Dave,’ the young man replied. ‘David Bruce. This is my brother-in-law Gavin Taylor – Bron’s husband. And my mum.’

The mum looked at him, bereft, but Gavin looked away, clearly one of those blokes who didn’t like to cry. Mac took it in: an Aussie family on a cheapie holiday and suddenly they’re minus a daughter, down one sister, missing a wife.

‘Bron’s eight months pregnant. It’ll be the fi rst grandchild on either side,’ added Dave.

Mac said he’d do what he could and gave them a card. Then he wrote David’s hotel number on the back of another card. As he did so he had a fl ash of the man who trained him at induction: Rod Scott.

Scotty had once told him, over eight or nine beers in Basrah, that spooks grew cynical because they gave their loyalty to an idea for too long at the expense of loyalty to their people. The penny fi nally dropped, right there, looking at this mother and her grief. Something shifted and Mac realised that PMC only trumped other ideas, it didn’t trump human beings.

Bronnie! Shit, every Australian knew a Bronnie.

Mac saw his tail the moment he left Poppies. Close-cropped sandy hair, big build that fi lled out a black trop shirt, Levis and well-worn black Hanwags – the European version of Hi-Tecs. Mac had him as intel or military. He stood amongst a bunch of locals and tourists against the roadblock barriers on Legian Street. As soon as Mac made him, the bloke turned away slightly.

Moving across the street until he was at the bloke’s six o’clock, Mac started walking towards the tail really fast. If the bloke was a pro he’d look away from Mac for at least eight seconds before taking another butcher’s, and when he did Mac would be right there. Mac wasn’t trying to be dramatic. The bloke had a black pouch around his waist similar to that which Jenny wore when off-duty in Jakkers or Manila. To ninety-nine out of a hundred people it looked like a tourist’s bumbag, but Mac knew it as a disguised handgun holster and he would rather face that head-on than have the bloke behind him for the rest of the morning.

As he speed-walked up behind the tail, Mac shifted to his four o’clock to get further into his blind spot. Three, two, one… Mac didn’t slow, walked at speed to his tail’s two o’clock as the heavyset man turned to his left to case Mac again. The guy’s torso tensed and he craned his neck slightly – all people did that when they expected to see something and didn’t.

‘Gotta watch that, mate,’ said Mac.

The tail snapped back, eyes wide through his sunnies, his hands dropping straight to the pouch.

‘Lotta thieves round here, champ – good money for a handgun,’ added Mac.

They looked into one another’s eyes through their sunnies. The tail was Mac’s height but had another fi ve kilos on Mac’s one-oh-fi ve. He was a front rower to Mac’s centre. Mac glimpsed a POLRI on the other side of the barrier and looked back at the tail. The bloke’s eyes darted to the POLRI, and then Mac saw the tension run out of that thick neck as he smiled, showing lots of small teeth and a ton of gum.

‘Ah, Australian!’ said the bloke with a thick Russian accent.

‘Einstein, right?’

The Russian threw his head back, laughed at the sky. ‘You weren’t supposed to be seeing me, fuck the mother!’

They sat at the window table of a bar on Legian Street, Ari – the Russian – with a Tiger beer, Mac with a glass of Pellegrino and a chunk of lime.

‘So, Ari, you’re a little out of your way?’

Ari chewed on gum, looked out at the diminished tourist fl ow on Legian, did one of those Russian shrugs that Mac always took to be the start of a fi b. The Russian intelligence services had an enormous presence in East Asia and the subcontinent, but their activities out of Jakarta were usually confi ned to countering the Chinese, Japanese and Indians along with shadowing the Americans and British. Mac and his peers from Indonesian intelligence and the CIA knew that the Ruskies were around but weren’t used to confronting them.

‘Indonesia is such an interesting country, don’t you fi nd, McQueen?’

Ari had used his real name but Mac let it go, since for this investigation he was operating under Alan McQueen, his card the standard DFAT goods with the gold bunting and the south Jakarta address of the Australian Embassy. In the general run of things, intelligence people honoured each other’s aliases and to use their real name unbidden could be seen as aggression.

‘Bali got very interesting last night,’ said Mac. ‘Is that what you’re trying to tell me?’

Ari paused, allowed the translation to sink in, then laughed. ‘I see, I see.’

Mac fl inched as Ari reached for the holster-bag so the Russian slowed his hand, turned his fi ngers into a pincer and pulled the side fl ap open. Mac saw a packet of cigarettes and Ari pulled them out along with a cheap red plastic lighter.

‘Guess what I’m saying, Ari, is that you’re here for the bombing.

And since it looks like my country is going to be in a joint investigation with the Indons, I’m going to be getting a lot of information you’d like to get your hands on.’

Ari nodded as he took his fi rst draw and then held the cigarette upright between his thumb and index fi nger. He had a wide face with big slabs of cheekbone and a surprisingly childish mouth that moved constantly into new emotions. His eyes were ice-pale and he had a medium-sized gold crucifi x dangling beneath his trop shirt on a tanned hairless chest. Mac saw the crucifi x had the Orthodox Church titulus of INBI across the portion where the short plank crossed the upright. On a Catholic cross it would be INRI.

‘We might have to be talking, yes?’ said Ari, smoke drifting out of his nose. ‘You are scratching my back and I then am scratching your back, yes?’

Mac hesitated, and then put his hand out. They shook and swapped mobile phone numbers before Mac got up to leave.

‘If you’re working with the Indonesian police,’ said Ari, ‘perhaps you can tell me: are they checking passports?’

Mac was about to say, Why the hell would they be checking passports? But he just shrugged, said he’d fi nd out.

Walking into the heat, Mac buzzed with what he’d just found out.

The Russians didn’t believe the bombers were locals either.


CHAPTER 7

<p>CHAPTER 7</p>

After changing into clean civvies, Mac headed downstairs and Julie grabbed him as he walked into the hotel lobby. For someone who never seemed to rest, she had a clean, fresh look. Her dark drill skirt was pressed and her white short-sleeved blouse was free of the dust that everyone else picked up in Kuta.

‘Chester needs you, Mr McQueen,’ said Julie as Mac stopped, ‘for signing the Memorandum of Understanding with the Indon National Police.’

She didn’t wait for an answer, just turned and walked.

Mac followed. ‘By the way, Julie…’

She looked over her shoulder.

‘Call me Mac, huh? All this “Mister” stuff will just get everyone confused.’

She smiled, got to a dark door and leaned on it. ‘Okay, Mac. The big one in the suit is from the Indonesian President’s offi ce and the one with the fruit salad is Indonesian National Police. It’s now a joint op and DFAT has carriage from the Aussie side.’

‘And the MOU?’ asked Mac.

‘Joint AFP and INP. We’re doing forensics and DVI; the Indons are doing the investigation.’

Mac smiled. ‘Good thinking. That Chester’s not just a pretty face, huh?’

She laughed. ‘It gets better. The MOU precludes any foreign investigations and the INP will write the fi nal report. Non-negotiable, no dissenting opinions.’

One of Julie’s phones rang and she stepped away from the door, motioning for Mac to go through. There were fi fteen people in a small business centre. The ones with any clout sat around the oval wooden treaty table while the lawyers leaned down and pointed at documents with silver Parkers and black Montblancs.

Chester rose and introduced Mac and the Indonesians at the table all smiled and did their little bows at him. Despite being a bit of a dick, Chester was in his element in a diplomatic forum.

‘Alan, just to bring you up to speed,’ he said, with genial authority,

‘we now have an MOU with the Republic of Indonesia to run the investigation and associated logistics as a joint operation.’

Mac saw that one group at the table, the AFP representatives, were conspicuously not smiling and wondered what kind of arguments had erupted in the back rooms before the cops conceded it was now a DFAT show.

‘Mr McQueen will have overall sign-off on the public affairs side,’ said Chester, smiling like he was ingratiating a boyfriend with someone’s father. ‘I think we’re all in agreement on the need for a single interaction point with the media, yes?’

Afterwards Mac lunched with Chester in the main restaurant. They ate quickly and moved across the basics. The AFP would do all the heavy lifting, with the support of the Australian Defence Force. The cops would build the forward command post, and Defence would organise the chow tents, sleeping quarters, toilets and showers for the two hundred Aussies expected to descend on Bali in the next few days.

Of most signifi cance to Mac was the fact that the Indonesian National Police would write the only report. If Mac knew Indonesia even half as well as he thought he did that report would never be released to the Indonesian media and perhaps not even to their parliament. The INP answered directly to the Indonesian President’s offi ce, and that’s where the report would disappear.

‘Doesn’t leave much for us, mate,’ quipped Mac.

Chester smiled with the superiority of the diplomat as he chewed on his tuna. ‘I see our role as more the project manager – thought-leadership, if you will.’

Mac gagged slightly on his veal. If Jenny was here she’d be in the bloke’s face for that sort of comment. She had no time for men and their endless extra layers of management.

‘You okay, McQueen?’ asked Chester as Mac drank iced water and thumped himself in his still-tender sternum.

‘Good as gold, thanks,’ Mac spluttered.

As he put his glass down Mac saw John Morris, the AFP’s senior counter-terrorism bloke, patting his chest pocket like he was going for a ciggie as he ducked out of the restaurant. Mac got up to go, but turned back to Chester. ‘By the way, mate, I’ll need an assistant.’

‘Sure,’ said Chester. ‘Pick anyone… except Julie.’

Mac smiled. ‘I’ll take Julie.’

Chester stopped chewing and they stared at one another.

‘Perhaps we could get Canberra to decide?’ asked Mac.

‘That won’t be necessary, McQueen. She’s yours. For now.’

Mac checked his voicemail as he made for the hotel’s side exit. Most were from Julie or Chester. The one from Jenny said she wouldn’t be able to catch up with him before he left for New York because she was being rotated into Kuta immediately for the bombing. He wondered what his relationship with the cops would turn into once Jenny started stirring things up.

Outside, Mac found John Morris with another cop in the side garden area.

‘Well, look what the cat dragged in,’ Morris sneered, his dark cop moustache rising up like a living thing.

‘Boys,’ said Mac, offering his hand to the bloke he didn’t know – a tall, athletic Anglo with a tanned, shaved head. ‘Alan McQueen, DFAT.’

‘Jason Cutler, Federal Police.’

John Morris cut into the pleasantries. ‘Jase, if you wouldn’t mind giving us a second,’ he snapped, impatient.

Jason fl icked his butt into the shrubs and left without saying another word.

Six foot tall, short dark hair, squarish face and built like a front-rower, John Morris was about ten years older than Mac. His pale blue business shirts were always perfectly pressed and he wore a tie regardless of the temperature. Even in fi eld operations, Morris never wore overalls like most other AFP cops did.

‘Came to gloat, did ya, Macca?’

‘Mate, I’m supposed to be getting packed for the UN gig in New York. I didn’t want this,’ sighed Mac.

‘An outside agency running the media side? That’s bad enough.

But shit, Macca – DFAT is coordinating the whole show? I don’t even know where to start with that.’ Morris fl icked his butt, fi shed immediately for another smoke. ‘These incidents are what we train for. Since when did the Australian Federal Police need babysitting?’

Mac didn’t want to get into it. He had a girlfriend who had laid it all out for him on many occasions with a great deal more force than Morris was giving it.

‘John, I don’t think it’s like that.’

‘Oh, really, Macca? So why’d they bring in a spook from Manila to run the media side? Afraid we might tell the truth?’

‘Mate, do you mind?’ said Mac, eyes darting around the garden.

‘I got no problem with intel, you’ve got a job to do. But that, out there,’ said Morris, pointing with his slightly shaking cigarette hand,

‘that is a fucking mess, right? My guys are telling me a hundred and fi fty, maybe two hundred dead. We’ve got hospitals where the burns victims are lying in storage rooms, screaming their lungs out ‘cos there’s no morphine! We’ve got two blast sites fi lled with burnt body parts, Macca.’

‘Look, John -‘

‘Don’t fucking look me, McQueen!’ Morris cut in, his voice starting to tremble. ‘Our fi rst job is to build a comms centre and victim database that can handle the incoming. Those are real families with real pain, mate, and most of them are Aussies. Okay?!’

Morris’s eyes were wet now and Mac did the Aussie male thing, looked away for a few seconds. Morris was right: it was a fucking mess out there. As Mac looked back, Morris was dabbing his left eye with the back of his hand.

‘Fucking pollen,’ said Mac, shoving his hands in the pockets of his overalls and waiting as Morris collected himself.

‘Macca, I don’t care how much spooky, high-level shit you’re trying to juggle here – in fact, I don’t want to know. But here’s the dea if you know anything that has any bearing on this investigation, then I want to know, okay? You hold out and you and me, mate, we’ll be going at it like cat and dog. Okay?’

Mac thought that sounded fair enough, nodded, and then said,

‘The Russians are in town. GRU, I think.’

‘That intel?’

Mac nodded. ‘Military. Answers to the general staff. I spoke with one of them this morning.’

‘And?’

‘And he wanted to know if we were checking passports,’ said Mac after looking around. Another group had huddled for a smoke but they were fi fteen metres away.

Morris shook his head slowly and looked into the sky. The job had just got larger.

‘And BAIS thinks there were two crews,’ continued Mac. ‘The pros did Sari and the patsies did Paddy’s.’

‘Great. So we have the world’s most porous borders and a foreign outfi t responsible for the big blast,’ snarled Morris, fl icking his butt.

‘But they’re long gone, right, so we arrest the patsies, fi t them up for the whole thing, and then it’s “the Muslims did it”. That the DFAT script, eh Macca?’

Mac shrugged. ‘Your investigation, John.’

Morris’s eyes fl ashed with anger. ‘Fuck the pricks,’ he said as he left.

Mac stayed in the garden for a while, thinking about cops and spies. There’d been one afternoon in Jakarta when Jenny and her transnational sexual slavery crew had been on the tail of a container load of kids. They’d been working on it for two days, no sleep, and had cornered a bunch of businessmen. They had them cold: emails, bank records, trucking documentation and, the clincher, a purchase order for hundreds of kids’ pyjamas, clothes and soft toys.

The plan was to arrest and heavy the business guys, fi nd where the children were being kept, save the kids and bust the slaving racket.

They were on the verge of doing just that – had the forensic guys from Scotland Yard and a Kopassus unit to do the storming. Then someone in the POLRI team snitched, and the word quickly went higher and higher. It soon reached way up into the shitosphere of the political zone and at six minutes before ‘go’ they were stood down. Just like that. It’s how the slave trade worked – more often than not it was protected from above.

By the time Jenny got to the embassy after the op was cancelled, the men who’d stood her down had sensibly vacated. She tracked down the counsellor-political at the Jakarta Golf Club where he was drinking with other Foreign Affairs brass. According to a mate of Mac’s who’d been there, Jenny had stomped up to the table, yelled something about how if it was white, middle-aged men who were being raped for money, the slavers would be shut down immediately.

When the boozed-up Foreign Affairs bloke stood to put a conciliatory hand on her shoulders, she’d pushed him in the chest so hard he’d fallen across the table and into the arms of another Foreign Affairs luncher.

That was Jenny and that was the tension between cops and the apparatus Mac was a part of. So Mac knew where Morris was coming from. He was leading a crew that had to sift through body parts and dental records; ask victims’ relatives the hard questions about whether there was ever a broken bone in their loved one’s right-hand femur; reconstruct and deconstruct and then catch the bastards who did it.

And they had to do it with grieving rellies and an angry public baying for answers. The last thing they needed was a bunch of diplomats over the top of them. Every cop at every level knew where that would lead: you get a bunch of smarties like Chester and Mac in to massage the message and inevitably the tail starts wagging the dog.

Mac headed back to the hotel wondering if that was really Abu Samir on the ship. There was all that and something much bigger weighing on his mind. Freddi’s idea about the pros and the patsies was gnawing away at him. It wasn’t such a far-fetched theory for the pros to operate in the shadow of the more obvious amateurs.

In fact, it was standard operating procedure for most intelligence outfi ts.


CHAPTER 8

<p>CHAPTER 8</p>

Garvs brought two Tigers back from the bar, boogying slightly to Powderfi nger’s ‘My Happiness’, and went straight back into his theories about why the Roosters had got over the Warriors in the rugby league grand fi nal.

Early in their careers Garvs and Mac had become a sort of Laurel and Hardy of the Australian intelligence community: Anton Garvey, the bull-like corporate guy who was lairish on the booze yet very much a man with an offi cial career path; Alan McQueen, more of a solo act and the buddy who made the peace when Garvs got into a blue. Which was often. They’d both been boarders at St Joseph’s schools – Garvs in Sydney and Mac at Nudgee in Brisbane – and talking footy was a highly clinical exercise, like politics or religion was to others.

‘Just goes to show you, Macca,’ said Garvs, his big tanned face serious, ‘that an organised defence beats enthusiastic attack every time.’ Relaxing a bit, he looked around the virtually empty room of an Aussie bar called Tubes, and pondered on where all the sorts had gone.

‘They heard you were coming, Garvs,’ said Mac.

Garvs yeah, yeah ed and wandered over to the bar, looking for nuts.

They’d already had their debrief chat: Mac had told Garvs about Ari and Freddi, the Indon and the Russian viewpoints. Garvs had been more circumspect about what he was working on. The declared ASIS crew down from Jakkers had an image problem: they should have caught the chatter about a bombing and they’d even staged a simulated terror attack in Kuta a year earlier – with AFP and Australian Defence Force involvement – such was the likelihood of an attack on Bali. Mac had been in Afghanistan at the time of the Bali simulation, so Garvs was indoctrinated to the defensiveness and Mac wasn’t.

Garvs shared Mac’s discomfort with the Sari Club’s crater. ‘When I was doing my IED rotation at Holsworthy, we could make a crater with anfo but Christ, we needed a shitload of the stuff,’ said Garvs, shaking his head at the thought of how much of the terrorists’ favoured bomb fuel would be required. ‘And mate, we’d tamp it – it was fl ush with the ground. So these bombers needed, what, a container of anfo and it had to be sitting fl at on Legian Street? Without anyone noticing?’

Legian was a busy street in October. It ran north-south parallel to Kuta Beach, its shops, restaurants and cafes coming right up to the footpaths, which were narrow. Humanity crowded onto and along Legian and neither Mac nor Garvs could imagine how such a large blast would have been managed, let alone clandestinely.

The sunset fl ooded through the windows and Mac fi elded a call from Julie, who was setting up the media centre. Then he got a call from Joe on his new pre-paid Nokia. Still in Manila, Joe wanted to know if there were any dramas. Mac joked that the Prime Minister had turned up for a surprise visit and everyone was drunk. Then he said, ‘Gotcha, Joe,’ and hung up.

He was still waiting for Garvs to return when he suddenly became aware of a shape he knew well. Jenny Toohey was standing on the street outside, her dark brown hair pinned at the sides and pulled into a French plait at the back. She had her clipboard, two mobile phones on one hip and her weight on her other hip, and was using a pen to make a point to a couple of AFP blokes.

Mac groaned. He’d tried to tell Jen that some males took exception to a woman standing like that, telling them how it had to be. She’d assumed he was joking at fi rst, couldn’t understand what he was talking about. In her line of work you had to move quickly and make all the right decisions, and some people just needed to be directed.

What to her was a comfortable posture to many men looked bossy.

The shorter of the federal cops Jen was talking to had averted his eyes from her. Within a week there’d be groups of male cops on the booze, with conversation openers like, That Jenny Toohey is such a piece of work.

Mac toyed with the idea of skipping out the back way and pretending not to have seen his girlfriend. But Garvs came back to the table and did one of his lair’s wolf-whistles. Jenny looked over her shoulder, irritated. Seeing them, she got rid of the blokes and came into the bar. ‘Well, Garvs – how could a girl say no to an opening like that?’

Garvs laughed and they hugged.

‘You’re such a charmer, mate. I’m always amazed you don’t have a string of girls on your arm,’ said Jen, disentangling herself.

Then, moving over to the table, she put her hand on Mac’s shoulder and gave him a dry kiss on the cheek. ‘Hello, you.’

Garvs asked her if she wanted a beer, to which Jenny patted the black Glock on her right hip and said, ‘No thanks, I’m carrying.’

‘So what brings you down, Jen?’ asked Garvs, all smiles and blushing.

He’d had a crush on Jenny for as long as Mac could remember.

‘Situations like this bring out the scumbags. They snatch the kids who can’t fi nd their families. Thought I’d come down, ruin their day.’

Jen had barely taken her eyes off Mac and he sensed he was in trouble. Garvs cottoned on and said he had to use the gents.

As Garvs left, Jenny put the clipboard on the table, put her hands on her hips. ‘See you’ve been making yourself popular with the troops.’

‘Jen!’

‘What, Macca? There’s a problem?’

‘Mate, it’s a job. I didn’t ask for it.’

‘Not what they’re saying.’

Mac sniggered. Bad move.

‘Something funny, McQueen?’

Mac hated it when cops used a surname to put a person in their place.

‘Look, I was getting ready for New York and the next thing I’m being fl own into Kuta. Into this mess – I mean, Jesus!’

Jenny crossed her arms, her ring fi ngers running up her biceps.

‘Well I only got in ninety minutes ago and all I’ve heard is that Delaney and McQueen are running the show. So a couple of DFAT boys are calling the shots for a hundred or so federal cops.’

Mac went to grab his beer, but didn’t drink – he’d lost his thirst.

‘We’re not calling the shots, it’s more like -‘

‘Don’t tell me, Macca. Project management, right?’ she said sneering as she made quote marks with her fi ngers.

‘No! Not at all. Umm, it’s more like a coordination role.’

Jenny did a three-second blink – female for you are so full of shit.

‘You and Chester know anything about the work that you’re managing ? Sorry, coordinating?’

‘Jen…’ said Mac appeasingly, wanting to be out of that gaze.

‘Well, do you? Know what a DVI is, Macca?’

Mac tried to recall. ‘I dunno. Something, something, Investigation?’

‘No, Macca, it’s a Deceased Victim Identifi cation program. Rotating crews are going to be working twenty-four hours a day for as long as it takes, and they’re going to be bagging and tagging bits of human body, storing them and adding them to a massive database. And they’re going to double-check and triple-check every bit of person they add to the database so that when they’re one hundred per cent certain of the ID, they can notify the next of kin. That’s when they get to hand over a plastic bag of body parts. And that’ll be considered a good day.’

Mac looked out the window, exhaling.

‘And you know what, Macca? Our guys are going to be upset and the families are going to be upset and it’s going to be a very emotional experience for everyone involved. And around all this is going to be a criminal investigation and a CT project and a logistics program to repatriate injured people. There’s even going to be a crew to round up the orphaned kids before the slavers get to them. And all my guys want to know is that they can do their jobs without a bunch of smartarses from Foreign Affairs trying to predetermine the conclusions. They can’t work like that Macca, understand?’

It was twilight in the street outside Tubes when they left. Jenny play-punched Mac on the left shoulder, said, ‘Take it easy,’ and walked over to a white Holden Commodore wagon with two male cops sitting on the hood, the tall one talking into a radio.

Mac’s phone rang and as he answered he noticed the short male cop bumping his mate in the arm and both of them jumping off the front of the Commodore, running their hands through their hair.

It was Ari, wanting to talk. Mac said he’d see him in fi ve.

Ari was sitting in a blue Toyota Camry sedan, about two-thirds along Poppies Gang. It was dark and Mac walked the north side of the street fi rst, getting eyes on Ari, seeing his stance, looking for clues.

Anxious? Alone? Nondescript van nearby? Mac came back on the south side of the street.

There were few people around, locals mostly. Most of the Aussies and Kiwis were at Bali International Airport in Denpasar where AFP, Foreign Affairs and ASIS were debriefi ng and processing every one of them before they could get on a plane. According to Jenny they had thirty AFP agents with computer servers and a massive internet connection doing nothing but downloading pictures and video from the tourists’ cameras before they made immigration.

Unarmed and cagey, Mac walked towards Ari’s car and then walked past, looking for anyone who might be hiding. He kept going, stopped behind a palm tree, cased the area and walked to the Toyota, opened the rear door and got in.

‘Kuta Puri,’ said Ari without preamble, nodding his head across the road. ‘You might be interested.’

Mac smelled stale cigarettes and saw a six-pack of large Evian bottles on the fl oor behind the reclined driver’s seat. It was a stake-out car. Mac had been there, done that. He looked across the road to where the Kuta Puri Bungalows sat dispersed among stands of palms and frangipani trees. There were strategic lights in the bushes and he could see some citronella fl ares burning further into the compound in what Mac knew to be the pool and communal barbecue area.

‘What are we looking for, mate?’

‘Hassan,’ mumbled Ari, not taking his eyes off the Kuta Puri.

‘Hassan Ali – Pakistani intelligence.’

Mac looked at him, trying to recall Hassan. He’d never worked in the subcontinent and some of the names weren’t familiar.

‘This Hassan,’ said Ari, ‘he’s in here with the – how you say? – the crew.’

Mac looked through the side window to the Puri, but couldn’t see anything except trees refl ecting a purple sunset. ‘Pakistani intelligence.

So you mean ISI?’

‘Nah, nah, nah,’ said Ari, nodding. ‘He was, and then no more.’

Mac felt a creeping sensation up his neck and spun sideways to see where Ari’s backup was coming from. ‘Where’s your backup, Ari?’ asked Mac, grabbing the door handle.

‘He’s following these other crews,’ shrugged the Russian. ‘In Java, yes?’

Mac paused, intrigued. He wanted the story before he did the Harold. ‘Ari, why were you following me this morning?’

Ari shrugged, grabbed his smokes.

‘Okay, let me put it this way,’ said Mac. ‘Why did you stand out there like a beacon, wanting to get made?’

‘Because,’ said Ari, putting a cigarette between his teeth, ‘I wanted to stay close.’

‘Why me?’

Ari exhaled a plume of blue smoke, picked something off his tongue. ‘Because the very small bird tells me you were coming in from Manila. I thought we could cooperate.’

Mac could feel his adrenaline rising. ‘Don’t screw with me, mate -

I’m only a second away from going,’ he said, pulling the door handle up.

Ari put up a hand. ‘Okay, okay.’

‘Spill. Now,’ snapped Mac, at the end of his fuse.

Ari sighed. ‘My controller told me you were the IAEA. The coincidence was too great, yes?’

Mac’s mind raced. A couple of years ago, he’d done a rotation at the International Atomic Energy Agency – a UN-backed authority that controlled the use and misuse of fi ssionable material, including enriched uranium and plutonium. Mac’s rotation had occurred at a time when two things were attracting major interest from the IAEA: fi rstly, Japan had developed a uranium-enrichment facility and ICBM technology, and had signed on to the US-Australian Theatre Missile Defence system. At the same time, the infamous Doctor A.Q. Khan

– the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist – had been busted selling uranium-enrichment technologies and nuclear bomb designs to Libya, North Korea and Iran. Meantime, Australia had dropped its reticence about selling yellowcake uranium to the world and Aussie mining companies were actively seeking long-term supply contracts with India and China, among others.

So the late 1990s had been an interesting time at the IAEA, with lots of spies and special forces, but Mac still wasn’t putting the whole scenario together.

‘Coincidence?’ said Mac, very slowly.

‘With this bombings, and Hassan is here, and they send in McQueen,’ started Ari, before movement near the Kuta Puri caught his attention.

Three men emerged from the palms of Kuta Puri. They were dark-skinned, dressed in chinos and trop shirts which, by the look of them, covered handguns carried on the hip. They were built and moved like pros and Mac ducked down as the crew reached a silver Suzuki Vitara, looked for eyes and got in. The driver had a big helmet of black hair, a heavily muscled physique and moved with his hips, like a gorilla. Mac stayed low, his heart racing, feeling naked without a fi rearm.

When the Vitara had gone past them in the opposite direction, towards Legian Street, Ari sprung upright and started the Camry.

Mac should have got out, gone back to the forward command post, supervised a bunch of press releases, tried to make peace with Jen.

Instead, he crawled through the space between the front seats and belted himself in as Ari swung the Camry into a U-turn, pulled the car around to face east and hit the gas.

‘Mate, I need something, yeah?’ said Mac as the transmission screamed through second gear.

Ari gestured towards the glove box, all concentration on the road ahead. Mac fi shed out a black holster-bag and extracted a big, black Russian P9 handgun. Checking mechanically for load, mag and safety, he put it back in the bag between his thighs, where Ari also had his, and fi xed his eyes on the Vitara.

They moved fi fty metres behind the Vitara and kept contact.

Suddenly the Vitara signalled a right-hander and before Mac could fi nish saying ‘Square the triangle’, Ari had already turned right and taken the Camry down a side alley. The Russian was an excellent driver, knew his craft. Dodging rubbish bins and stray cats, they came out on another street, looked to their left, saw a fl ash of the Vitara and then accelerated across the intersection.

They made another parallel route and when they got to the end, there was no more dirt alley. Ari turned left and then right and got behind the Vitara again. Most pros being tailed used counter-surveillance for a couple of minutes before they assumed they were clear. It wasn’t lazy, it was human nature.

They settled in behind the Suzuki and backed off to between eighty and a hundred metres as they headed for Denpasar. Fed up with the cloak and dagger, Mac decided to rile Ari. ‘Mate, I’m in this now. You want to tell me who this Hassan prick is?’

‘Maybe he made the Sari bombing,’ said Ari, eyes on the road ahead.

‘A Pakistani?’ scoffed Mac. ‘Come on, mate!’

‘No, no,’ insisted Ari. ‘How do I say rightly? Hassan is the one who is working for the Dr Khan.’

‘ Khan?!’ said Mac, shrieking slightly.

‘Yes, he sells the atomic bomb, fuck his mother.’


CHAPTER 9

<p>CHAPTER 9</p>

They followed the Vitara east towards the river. As they got to the Denpasar side of the bridge, the Vitara slowed. Ari hit the brakes as they saw tail-lights glow. The Vitara’s silver paintwork fl ashed white as it turned left and was caught by the glare of headlights.

‘Okay, to the river,’ mumbled Ari as cars sounded their horns at his cautious speed. Mac liked that – didn’t want to go jaunting into an ambush. The Vitara’s red lights headed through an area of warehouses and loading bays down to the piers on the river. Ari headed into the same dark street, then stopped and killed the lights. Pulling their P9s from their holster-bags, they checked and cocked them. Neither said a word as they went through their drills, steadied their breathing, psyched themselves, Mac trying to envisage a successful outcome.

The Dr Khan connection had come as a shock. After Khan was stung by the Yanks and Israelis, his operation had been partially shut down. But questions had remained within the IAEA, including the identity of Khan’s intermediaries. Who in the Pakistani military was protecting Khan and were there really elements in the ISI who worked for the Khan set-up? It was a time when Pakistan was being protected by the Americans, and the British were bringing Colonel Gaddafi in from the cold. Western intelligence was supposed to play along, but the Russians, Indians and Israelis despised the deal. They wanted Khan’s apparatus shut down, not just a few guys at the top paraded for the media.

So what was the story now? Mac wondered. The Sari bombing was a nuke? That’s how they got that crater? There was something so strange about the idea that he just couldn’t digest it.

Ari coasted the Camry down the gentle rise between single-level warehouses and parked trucks and vans. As it got darker, Mac’s heart rate increased and his senses became heightened. He could smell Ari’s aftershave, smell the nicotine in his sweat. Up ahead, the Vitara swung right and disappeared. As Ari put his foot down they were overtaken by the squealing of engines. Mac fl inched and turned his gun at the driver’s side window. Ari shouted and swung the Camry to the kerb, raising his gun.

They both winced, waiting for the hail of lead, but it didn’t come.

Two black LandCruisers, with what sounded like souped-up engines, screamed past with the high-pitched wailing of transmissions and drive shafts. Mac gasped for air and looked through the rear winds creen. Nothing. Ari took his foot off the brake and followed the LandCruisers.

Mac didn’t like it. ‘Mate, let’s hang back.’

‘We’re here now, McQueen, yes?’ Ari fi red back.

They accelerated and, turning the right-hander, came to a waterfront street. A gunfi ght was underway between the men around the two black LandCruisers and the Hassan crew behind the Vitara, which was another fi fty metres away. It was assault weapons on full-auto, tracer rounds fi lling the air, lead whistling and splatting against concrete warehouse walls. One round shattered a LandCruiser’s windscreen and Ari fl oored the accelerator to get behind the LandCruisers, which were parked in an arrowhead.

Leaping from the Camry, Mac ran doubled over to where Freddi Gardjito was shouting into a hand-held radio. Protected in a blue Kevlar vest, Freddi was crouching behind the hood of the left-side Cruiser, an M4 carbine assault rifl e standing on its butt beside him.

BAIS used LandCruisers with tricked V8s and armour plates in the doors and fl oor pans and Mac was glad of the extra cover.

From the right-side Cruiser the BAIS operators returned fi re at the Vitara, their M4s spewing brass cases, the static yell of voices sounding over the radio system. The fi re came back at the LandCruisers like hail, before slowing.

Putting his head up, Mac saw the Vitara’s tyres had been blown out and Hassan’s crew were running for the piers behind.

Freddi gabbled into the radio and the BAIS team stood and assessed the ground. The throb of what sounded like a helo grew closer and Ari bolted for the Camry.

‘Ari, what’s up?’ yelled Mac as the BAIS operators fi led around the Cruisers and moved across the ground and down to the pier. Ari didn’t respond, just opened the boot of the Camry, put his hands in, and then walked towards Mac with a large black assault rifl e in each hand, a Kevlar vest hooked over each barrel.

Handing one of the vest/gun sets to Mac, Ari threw on his own black vest. Mac’s weapon looked like an American M16 but heavier, and with a grenade launcher under the main barrel.

‘Safety is off,’ said Ari, fastening his vest. ‘Just cock and fi re.’

Mac put on the vest, slid the rifl e’s cocking lever back and followed Ari, who was jogging behind Freddi towards the pier. Temples pounding, Mac wondered fl eetingly how a little message-tweaking for DFAT could have turned into this.

A helo came into sight over the river, its searchlight scanning the piers along the bank. A shot sounded, the searchlight went dead, and bits of glowing lamp cascaded over the water. There was a sudden whooshing sound, then a missile sailed through the night, gaining speed on the helo. The shooters on both sides seemed to hold their breaths and Mac winced as what he assumed was an SA-7 missile fl ew into the helo. Mac gasped – couldn’t help it – but there was no explosion, only a loud clanking sound and the missile turned and powered into the water at top speed. Its tail had probably hit the undercarriage and simply defl ected.

A yelled series of messages sounded out of Freddi’s radio as he stopped in front of Mac. The Indonesian nodded and signed off and the helo rose up and away, the pilot clearly wanting to stand off.

They kept running and, as the BAIS team rounded a corner of a warehouse, the fi ring started up again, this time with more force.

Some of the Indonesians came running back the other way to get behind the warehouse as chunks fl ew from the concrete wall, a different thumping sound now accompanying the shooting.

‘Fifty-cal,’ said Freddi as the concrete dust fl ew like a sandstorm.

‘Where did that come from?’

One of the BAIS guys rabbited something to Freddi. Mac craned his neck around the corner and then saw the problem. Hassan’s crew had a large black powerboat – big enough to be a navy patrol boat

– with a crew of fi ve or six and a bow-mounted, box-fed machine gun that was hammering out loads in their direction.

The boat’s engines throbbed as they pulled away from the pier.

When two of the BAIS operators opened fi re again, the incoming from the. 50-cal came back twice as hard and they all leaned back for safety. As soon as the fi re rate died Ari said, ‘Cover, please,’ and ran to a hip-high brick wall appended to another small building about twenty metres away. Mac and Freddi laid down fi re and return fi re came back as the boat left the pier and surged up onto a plane. Ari knelt, marksman style, and emptied his magazine at the departing boat, his head steady and focused. One of the Hassan guys dropped his rifl e and sagged to the rear decks as the boat roared into the night.

Another SA-7 missile sailed upriver, forcing the Indonesian helo to back off even further. Freddi worked the radio in what Mac assumed was a call for the navy, given that the boat was heading towards the river mouth and the sea.

Mac tried to breathe deeply, to get on top of the shakes before they set in. He didn’t like gunfi ghts – he’d gone through the Royal Marines Commandos and the SBS selection, but fi rearms were something he used as a threat, a way of controlling people. He didn’t like the way soldiers used them. Didn’t like incoming, didn’t even like paintball.

Mac made to go to Ari, who was sitting against the wall, but Freddi grabbed him fi rst. ‘Next time we’re looking at the same person, maybe we should swap notes, eh McQueen?’

‘Mate, didn’t know about Hassan till twenty minutes ago.

Honest.’

Freddi cocked his head to the radio then turned back to Mac.

‘Why don’t we stay in a loop for the next stages? Okay, McQueen? No point being at a crossroad.’

‘Cross-purposes, and you’re right, Freddi. Sweet as.’

‘Your man got one of them, I think,’ said Freddi, before one of his guys asked him something in Bahasa.

Dismissed, Mac went over to Ari, who was still sitting. ‘How you doing?’ asked Mac.

The Russian pointed to his Levis, which now had a rectangular hole down the side of the calf and blood pouring over his boot into the dirt. ‘I put on the vest but it is shooting me in the leg, eh McQueen?

I am getting angry with these sons of a fucking camel.’

Mac sat with Ari in a corridor at Kasih Ibu Hospital in west Denpasar

– the closest medical facility to where they’d been. Quickly cutting off the leg of Ari’s jeans, the nurse swabbed the big bullet graze, which glistened and ran steadily with blood. The top layers of muscle tissue had been torn open yet although the Russian grimaced at being touched there, he didn’t say a word.

The hospital was packed: people with burns, people blinded, people having amputations, kids lying on gurneys in the corridors, female burns victims having breasts removed, people wandering around with hastily printed pictures of friends, kids, spouses. Everywhere smelled of death and hope.

Having seen her white AFP Commodore in the car park, Mac assumed Jenny was about and went for a look while the nurse started on Ari’s stitches. The second fl oor was less crowded and Mac moved past the private rooms, some of them two-bed, some three, all of them occupied. He wondered why there were so many women in the place. Neither the Sari nor Paddy’s had been particularly female drinking holes.

Unable to fi nd Jenny, Mac returned as Ari got the last of his stitches.

Looking down, Mac noticed a clipboard on the nurse’s station with Bronwyn in the name box. Below was the Bahasa word Australi, then a box that said ‘2-6’ and some clinical notes. Mac asked the sister where room two-six was, and she pointed upstairs. ‘Number six.’

Mac sprinted up the stairs and tapped on the door of suite six.

A local nurse opened it and Mac introduced himself, pulled his DFAT lanyard from under his overalls and said he was looking for a girl called Bronnie, or Bronwyn.

The nurse smiled, nodded and opened the door wider for him.

‘She just woken up, Mr Alan.’

Inside was a woman lying supine on a bed, bandaged like a mummy, wires holding her hands up in muslin slings. Her face seemed fi ne but there was a lot of bandaging and cotton netting around her head which suggested bad burning. Mac sensed from the profi le of the bandages that she’d lost her left ear.

‘Bronwyn Bruce?’ asked Mac.

The girl nodded, whispered, ‘Yes.’

‘I’m Alan McQueen, Australian Foreign Affairs.’

‘Hello,’ came the whispered reply.

‘I met your brother and husband and mum this morning – they were looking for you. They thought the worst, so I’m going to tell them you’re here, okay, Bronwyn?’

She nodded, and Mac let himself out into the hallway, fi shed for the card in his breast pocket, found David Bruce’s hotel number and called. The desk guy put the phone down and three minutes later David came on the line. He sounded empty, fl at.

When Mac told him the news, he started crying.

‘Thank you, thank you, Mr McQueen,’ he managed when he got his breath back. ‘Thank you so much. Is everything fi ne? I mean -‘

Mac told him as much as he knew, told him the suite number and let himself back into the room. ‘They’re on their way,’ said Mac.

Bronwyn nodded slowly and Mac was going to let her get some rest but noticed her hands were moving about on the wires, trying to touch her belly. Then Bronwyn’s eyes darted down to her stomach and they went wide, like she’d been slapped. ‘My baby,’ she whispered, her bandaged hands straining to reach her belly. ‘My baby’s gone.

My baby!’

Mac didn’t understand and looked at the nurse.

‘Bronwyn come in with baby,’ said the nurse, making a shape of a pregnant woman.

Mac looked down at Bronwyn’s abdomen, which was fl at, and the nurse gave him a look that said more than a million words.

‘ My baby, my baby, my baby, where’s my baby? ‘ Bronnie’s face was screwed up in anguish, her voice getting louder. ‘ I want my baby, oh God, God, oh my God, my baby, I want my baby! ‘

Mac stood there feeling as sad and useless as he’d ever felt.

He couldn’t do anything for the woman – couldn’t even hold her bandaged hands for fear of hurting her, and he couldn’t say anything.

What was there to say? It’s okay? It’s going to be all right? It wasn’t okay and it wasn’t all right. She’d been fi re-bombed and lost her baby. It was all wrong.

Bronwyn’s voice was becoming hysterical, building and building like a storm. Soon she was screaming for God, for her mother, for her baby, then demanding she be allowed to die. Her screams were so loud and disturbing that a doctor and nurse ran in to see what the commotion was about, by which time Bronwyn’s face was purple and she was trying to pull off her bandages.

Mac backed out of the room into the corridor, where staff were gathering. Other patients emerged into the corridor, worried by the cries that signalled pain well beyond the physical. Mac saw Jenny approaching down the hall and told her what was going on. She walked into the room and a few seconds later Bronwyn’s screams had subsided into loud sobbing. As the noise level got lower Mac heard Bronnie crying, I can’t, and Jenny saying, Yes you can.

Mac couldn’t get enough air and, fi nding a rubbish bin, vomited into it through mouth and nose. His knees were weak so he sat on the lino fl oor and prayed for that girl. From inside the room, he heard Bronnie beg to be allowed to die.

The nurses cleared the corridor and Mac was about to check on Ari when the Russian limped up to Mac’s end of the hallway, ashen-faced. When Mac told him what was happening, Ari shook his head at Bronnie and Jen’s conversation, which seemed to echo through the wards. ‘It is not right to make the womens sound like this,’ he said, looking up at the ceiling.

Just then Mac saw Bronwyn’s mother, husband and brother at the end of the hall. He stood in a hurry, opened the door to the room and motioned Jenny over. Bronnie’s lips were swollen – she didn’t take her bloodshot eyes off Jenny.

‘What is it?’ said Jenny as she stepped outside.

Mac tilted his head. ‘This is the husband, mother and brother.’

Jenny nodded. ‘Which one’s the husband?’

‘The taller one, Gavin.’

Jenny walked up to the party and gave her AFP title. ‘Bronwyn is doing well but Gavin, I’m going to have to ask you a favour.’

‘Yes,’ he said, laden with fl owers but his mood switching to fear.

‘I’m going to need you to be strong for your wife, okay? This is a time for Bronnie, not for the rest of us. Can you do that for her?’

Mac moved away, grabbed Ari and left. As he went through the swinging exit doors at the end of the ward, he looked back and saw Gavin sagging, David and Jenny holding him up by his armpits.

Flowers spilled on the lino.


CHAPTER 10

<p>CHAPTER 10</p>

Ari stopped outside the hotel and Mac started to get out then paused and looked back at the Russian – one leg of his Levis looking like shorts, the other like jeans.

‘So, what have we got, mate?’ asked Mac.

Ari shrugged, chewed his gum.

‘We’re chasing Hassan, who apparently works for Khan,’ said Mac.

‘And Khan makes nukes and sells them to terrorists, right?’

Ari frowned. ‘Maybe.’

‘So, these bombings are nukes?’

‘Perhaps,’ said Ari, seemingly unconvinced.

‘Come on, mate,’ snapped Mac. ‘I’m in this now.’

Ari looked at Mac, looked away slightly, looked back.

‘This big explosion, with hole under road. This is very large bomb, or -‘

‘So they’d need a foreign group for that, right?’ said Mac.

‘You need person who can get bomb, person who can use bomb, and also way of bringing this bomb into Bali, yes? I am not thinking that young man with sarung and big smile is doing this, yes?’

Mac nodded. ‘So tell me about Hassan Ali.’

‘Not much to say,’ said Ari. ‘We was watching Hassan and his peoples for two weeks, fi rst in Java and then in Bali, yes?’

Mac nodded, impatient.

‘So on morning of the bombings, Hassan group split. My colleague follow one group back to Java and I stay here, watching the Puri. Then

– ‘ Ari made an explosion gesture with his hands.

Mac had a hundred things on his mind, what with the role he’d been assigned to with the bombings, now called Operation Alliance.

He couldn’t get his mind around all the facts, and he was tired.

With the terror of the gunfi ght and the emotional scenes they’d just witnessed at the hospital, his mind was a blur. He swung his legs out of the car, but stopped as he suddenly remembered that face in the gloom, at the back of the pantry on Penang Princess.

‘Was Abu Samir in the Java crew?’ asked Mac.

Ari fl inched, his grey eyes squinting and glowing like pack-ice.

‘What is it you know about Samir?’ he spat aggressively. Just as quickly the Russian recovered, exhaled and thumped his right palm on the Camry steering wheel.

‘Sorry, McQueen,’ he said, grabbing his smokes from the centre console and sparking one. Looking in the rear-view mirror, Ari’s expression suddenly changed. ‘It is the fucking BAIS again.’

Mac turned and saw a black LandCruiser parked behind the Camry.

Freddi was probably waiting for Mac to get out.

Mac faced Ari again. ‘So?’

Ari stared through the windscreen and sighed. Intel people hated giving too much away, even if it could help them in the medium term. ‘You say and then I say, yes?’ He wound down his window, fl icked an ash.

‘We had eyes on Samir, off Flores yesterday afternoon,’ said Mac, not much to hide. ‘On a JI freighter.’

‘Local eyes?’ asked Ari.

‘It’s confi rmed. It was Samir,’ replied Mac.

Both men sat pondering, getting the timeline right. It seemed like Abu Samir had left for Java on the morning of the bombing and boarded Penang Princess. If the alignment was as it seemed, they could have both Hassan and Samir for the Kuta bombing – the ‘pro’ crew Freddi Gardjito had warned Mac about.

‘Your turn,’ said Mac. ‘That look you gave me when I mentioned Samir?’

Ari stared at Mac, his face grave. ‘I have lost contact with my colleague. Not for a day have I heard from him – I am thinking he is dead,’ he said, then took a huge drag on his ciggie before fl icking it through the window. ‘I am betting this Samir has killed him, fuck his mother.’

Mac got out, watched the Camry drive away and walked to the rear passenger door of the black LandCruiser, slid across to the centre of the seat and leaned forward.

Freddi turned to look at him from the front passenger seat.

‘Getting along very well with Ari,’ he said, big round face impassive.

Mac shrugged, looked at the driver – a thin-faced twenty-eight-year-old Javanese – who stared straight back at him. The Cruiser smelled of Juicy Fruit gum and cordite. ‘Just talking,’ said Mac.

‘Just talking outside the Puri and then just talking while following Hassan to the docks? Lot of talking, McQueen,’ said Freddi. ‘But not much when the shooting started, huh?’

The luggage area at the back of the Cruiser was fi lled with guns, radio sets and Kevlar vests, and Mac saw that Freddi and his driver were still in their black combat pants. The boys from BAIS liked to roll.

‘Your guys catch Hassan?’ asked Mac, trying to make this about the Indonesians.

‘Not yet. But you are disappointing me, McQueen. You know this?’

Mac sighed. ‘Mate!’

‘Given how many Aussies died in the bombings, we were going to be in a loop, remember? Mate? ‘

‘Ari wanted a chat – I had no idea who was in the Puri. Honest,’ said Mac.

Freddi snorted.

‘Honest, Freddi,’ Mac repeated. ‘I’m down here to run the media side of the joint investigation. I’m not even armed.’

‘Joint investigation, eh McQueen?’ said Freddi. ‘Your federal police are telling everyone that it’s their – how you say it – show. Yes, it’s an AFP show.’

‘They did not, Freddi!’

Freddi gave him the old Mona Lisa, and Mac felt himself groaning.

He was hating the public affairs gig before it had even properly started.

Perceptions were such an organic thing that trying to control or alter them seemed futile.

‘By the way,’ said Freddi, changing his tone, ‘I had a call from a friend of mine thirty minutes ago. You know Sosa?’

‘Yep,’ said Mac, quite aware that Freddi already knew the answer to that question.

‘He wanted to get a message to you. Professional courtesy.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Akbar was busted out early this evening.’

Mac’s heart skipped. ‘What? Busted out?! Where did they have him?’

‘Can’t tell you that, McQueen, but I can tell you it was all over pretty quickly.’

Mac felt the bottom falling out of his week. The UN gig seemed to be slipping ever further from his grasp. ‘And don’t tell me, Freddi, it was a pro job, right?’

‘No, no, McQueen,’ said the Indonesian, sarcastic. ‘We have all these Muslim fi shermen and farmers running around who know about shaped charges and how to disable a Swiss security system -‘

Mac started to say that there were Indonesians who knew exactly how to do that, but Freddi leapt back in. ‘And have a chopper waiting for the exfi l.’

‘Fuck’s sake,’ Mac muttered, getting out of the LandCruiser. He’d heard enough.

‘Don’t be a stranger, McQueen,’ said Freddi as the motor started.

‘I think there’s something there we can work on.’

The Cruiser squealed into the darkness.

Mac got out of the shower, dried off and changed into casual clothes and boat shoes. He combed his thin blond hair back from his face and stared back into his pale eyes in the mirror. Jenny said he didn’t look thirty-two, but sometimes he felt ten years older.

He wondered what he was going to do about Freddi Gardjito.

Freddi knew Mac had done the Akbar snatch and now Freddi was trying to lure him into a BAIS operation. His ears were still ringing from all the gunfi re and he’d stood far too long in the shower, trying to get the shakes out of his system. In the past two days there had been that kid he’d had to drop on Penang Princess, Ari shooting the Hassan soldier on the back of the patrol boat and Bronwyn in the hospital screaming to die. It was too much, one on top of the other, and he was jangled. It was weird how Jenny could be staunch about the very things that turned him to water. Maybe it was a character defect.

Chester wasn’t around, but his laptop was beside his bed, jammed into a briefcase. Mac thought about having a nosey-poke but fl agged it. Instead he sat on his bed, which had been made, and called Garvs. Mac had come into Kuta without his laptop and with no clean computer. He didn’t like jumping on hotel putes with public networks and dipping into the ASIS secure intranet.

‘Garvs, you old tart,’ started Mac as Garvs came on the line. ‘Mate, can I get something off the databases on Hassan Ali?’ Mac spelled the name. ‘I just need a pic and bio.’

‘What’s this for?’ asked Garvs, his gum-chewing clearly audible down the phone.

‘You know – usual shit.’

There was a pause, then Garvs said, ‘Thought you were running the media side of it?’

‘Just crossing something off the list. It’s nothing,’ said Mac, nonchalant.

‘Okay, I’ll send someone over, but just tell me you’re not being drawn into all that Indon conspiracy shit.’

‘Nah, mate. Nothing like that.’

‘Because Hassan is Dr Khan’s head-kicker,’ said Garvs, voice lowering. ‘That the Hassan Ali we’re talking about?’

‘Mate -‘

‘Just asking,’ said Garvs. ‘I mean, you’re not down here to give me grief, right Macca?’

‘I need his known associates too,’ said Mac, weary.

‘Jesus, mate!’ said Garvs, pissed off.

Mac rang off, grabbed a Tiger from the mini-bar and opened a white A4 envelope that had been slipped under the door. A post-it on the envelope from Julie asked Mac to okay the fi rst draft press releases.

He sat on the bed and fl ipped through them, impressed. She was smart and fast. The writing was tight and on-message, no cliches, no wanker jargon and very narrow in scope. One was about the historic MOU with Indonesia for a joint investigation, which was now called Operation Alliance. One concerned the forward command post, and there was a housekeeping release that covered the DVI program and details of how rellies could make inquiries and how the survivors could assist by disclosing their whereabouts on a central number. If the AFP’s database was to be comprehensive, it had to include the three hundred people unaccounted for, many of whom may have travelled back to Java, Malaysia or Australia itself.

She was good, this Julie, which made Mac’s next move all the easier.

Julie and Simon from the AFP were talking softly in the side garden when Mac came out with three cold Tigers. He also brought the one-pager he’d typed and printed in the business centre, which was a copy of the one he’d left on Chester’s bed. Mac joined them at one of the outdoor tables, the stench of old cigarette butts competing with the frangipani perfume of a balmy evening.

Mac got to the point. ‘Guys, I wasn’t entirely sure what the story was going to be down here when they asked me to come.’

Simon sat back in his chair, crossing his arms defensively. He was in his late twenties, a man whose looks suited his receding dark hair.

‘But now I realise that having some Foreign Affairs bloke trying to control the AFP’s public affairs program is not the best way to approach this. At the same time, there are wider Commonwealth concerns with government-to-government agreements, repatriation and fi nancial arrangements. And these are best handled by Foreign Affairs.’

Julie and Simon sipped their beers, watching Mac closely. They were both early career public servants on the verge of becoming mid-career public servants. They were looking for a break, a chance to break away from the pack.

‘A lot of the AFP stuff is highly technical,’ continued Mac, ‘and if I’m too hands-on with it the chance of error becomes high. I mean, I don’t even know what a DVI is, right? I mean, what is that – a fucking Drunken Vehicle Incident or something?’

Simon and Julie laughed, and the tension was defused, like someone had popped a cork.

‘Shit!’ said Simon, laughing at the night sky. ‘Drunken Vehicle Incident – I love it. Can I use that?’

‘Better than that, champ, I need you and Julie to run this show, okay?’

Julie did a small victory clench with her left fi st while Simon eyed Mac.

‘Julie has fi nal veto via me, but that’s not her fault – that’s my call.

But you are now running the media for the policing and investigation side, okay?’

Simon sat forward, a little stunned. ‘Sure, that’s great.’

‘And you,’ said Mac, looking at Julie, ‘the last thing you need is another luncher trying to put his oar in, right?’

‘Well,’ she said, embarrassed, ‘I wouldn’t put it exactly like that.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Mac. ‘I deal with that every day. It never goes away, believe me.’

‘What about Chester?’ asked Julie, looking at the table but addressing Mac.

It was a fair question. Julie had a career to think of, and Chester was still technically her boss.

‘Don’t worry about Chester. Chester is my headache,’ replied Mac, suddenly feeling very hungry. ‘For now, here’s the dea the two of you are co-directing the public affairs side of Operation Alliance. Simon’s doing the police side, Julie’s doing the rest. My one stipulation is that there be no open-mic interviews with the cops. And I mean any cops.

A reporter or producer wants answers, they put the questions through you and you write the responses with attribution, okay? – If Mick Keelty turns up and wants to do a touchy-feely session with some journos, we say no. If he wants to walk amongst his people, do the loaves and fi shes, the answer is no.’

The two media operatives laughed at that.

‘I’m serious, guys – that staged media shit feels good for a few hours but it puts too much pressure on the cops who are here day-in, day-out. They need to be working on the op, not doing security detail for the commissioner.’

Julie and Simon looked at each other and nodded.

‘I want all the cops and forensics types in a bubble,’ said Mac.

‘I want these people totally able to get on with it. They’re already feeling the weight of expectation, they don’t need the media pouncing on the smallest mis-speak and holding them to it. You guys can create the space they need. Fair enough?’

Two women with clipboards came into the garden and did a sotto voce conference, obviously strategising how to get around a dickhead with power.

Mac turned back to his new crew, signed his printed page and handed it to Julie. As she read, Mac said, ‘Have a look at point number fi ve and memorise it. These people are going to bust a gut out there and they have every right to relax on their day off, and if they want to sit around the pool and drink, that’s their good luck. So let’s get it in our heads: No Media and No Cameras Inside the Pool Area. That’s a media-free zone – got it?’

They nodded again.

‘You’re a couple of young smarties – so get out there and prove it,’ said Mac, raising his bottle at them before heading off.


CHAPTER 11

<p>CHAPTER 11</p>

An orange glow soaked through Mac’s eyelids, jerking him awake from deep REM sleep. He gasped a little at the pain in his sternum and, shaking his head, wondered where he was in the darkness. Chester must be a curtain-closer, thought Mac, looking over at his slumbering room-mate.

Mac’s Nokia glowed bright orange in the pitch black of the room.

Reaching over he looked at the screen. Scare Me.

‘Hey, champ,’ he croaked into the old Service Nokia.

‘Mac,’ came Joe Imbruglia’s voice. ‘Sorry about the time but something’s come up.’

‘Yep?’ said Mac, reaching for his G-Shock on the bedside table. It was 1.58 am.

‘The Indons want an extension on the Handmaiden project. Seems it’s not yet completed.’

‘ What?’ exclaimed Mac. ‘Fuck’s sakes, Joe!’

In the other bed, Chester mumbled to himself, out to it.

‘Not my fi rst choice either, mate,’ said Joe. ‘But there you have it.’

‘I thought Canberra wanted me in Kuta for the investigation?’ said Mac, trying for a whisper but too peeved to manage it.

Joe chuckled. ‘Well you did yourself out of that, didn’t you?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Delegated it to those youngsters. Chester’s been hitting the bloody roof.’

Mac moved to the bathroom, shut the door quietly and sat on the closed toilet seat in the dark, his heart thumping in his temples. ‘How do you know about that?’

‘Chester called me, about eleven o’clock. Said you’d taken his best girl and then reassigned her to a joint public affairs effort with the AFP without consulting him. He’s ropeable.’

‘Mate, I just put the best team in there. They still answer to me, unless you want me riding a keyboard all day.’

‘I told him yours was always meant to be an oversight role, that you were never going to actually write the cops’ press releases for them.’

‘Am I in the shit?’

‘Nah,’ said Joe. ‘It’s just Chester going off. I mean, you ever heard him swear?’

‘No. Why?’

‘I asked him if he’d taken his complaints up with you yet, and he said, “No, Joe.” And when I asked him why not, he said, “Because he’s lying on his back snoring like a fucking bear!”’

Mac laughed weakly and rubbed his face, trying to wake up. His brain buzzed with fatigue. ‘Okay, mate, so Handmaiden, what’s the drum?’

‘Same secondment to the Indons, through BAIS. Same op.’

Mac felt the UN dream receding. ‘New York’s not going to happen, is it, Joe? I mean, Handmaiden is one of those things that could drag on for years.’

‘So get out there, mate, do your thing,’ said Joe, sounding genuinely conciliatory. ‘If anyone can bring in that little Akbar weasel, it’s you.’

Mac sulked in the back seat of the black LandCruiser, mulling over his career as they sped for the military air base behind Bali International.

Freddi and his driver, Purni, were silent in front and were probably knackered too.

Mac felt like writing a memo to someone saying it wasn’t fair, that he’d already planned Operation Handmaiden and successfully executed the fi rst and most diffi cult stage: acquiring Ahmed al Akbar without signs of a struggle and exfi ltrating him covertly. That was the Australian end, a daring and dangerous snatch that had been carried out almost perfectly by Team 4 and ASIS. It wasn’t right that the Indons had lost the bloke and were now calling him back to fi nd him again. Mac would love to see how Maddo and his boys at Team 4 would react if they were copied in on this latest development. Mac was also annoyed with himself that he hadn’t followed up on the face he’d seen in the pantry when he was doing the snatch. It now looked as though the person had been Samir. And if Samir was working with Hassan, it would explain why Akbar had been sprung so fast.

Freddi turned in his seat. ‘Okay for food, McQueen? Water?’

Mac shrugged, petulant. Couldn’t help it.

‘If I was you, McQueen, I’d be annoyed too.’

‘Oh yeah?’ said Mac.

‘Yeah. I’d be thinking that I went out, caught that little bomber, now the army gone and lost him.’ Freddi shook his head, like it was the most serious thing in the world.

‘Freddi, I’m here so I’m already enlisted, okay?’ said Mac, annoyed.

‘You can stop with the charm offensive.’

Freddi turned back to the windscreen. ‘Breakfast at the base, then we’ll move. Gonna be a long day, okay?’

Mac rubbed his hands down the legs of his overalls, turning it into a stretch. ‘Sure, Freddi – let’s roll.’

They pulled in behind the commercial airport buildings six minutes later, drove down a cleared driveway lined with weeds, and slowed for the base police checkpoint. Purni snapped something at Freddi while looking in his side mirror and they stopped thirty metres short of the pillbox.

‘Your boyfriend’s here,’ said Freddi, leaning down to look at his own side mirror, his hand reaching for the black SIG Sauer on his right hip.

Ari walked along the passenger side of the LandCruiser, hands up, keeping a good distance from Freddi’s door. The Russian lifted his trop shirt to show a bare belly and no holster-bag. Smart guy, thought Mac. Been in South-East Asia long enough to learn some manners.

Freddi released his gun and smiled out of his open window. ‘Ari!

What can I do for you?’

‘I am needing to speak with McQueen, please,’ he said, pointing at Mac’s door.

Freddi turned to Mac. ‘Want to speak? Don’t have to.’

Mac lifted the door latch and joined Ari. They shook and the Russian moved further from the Cruiser.

‘You ever sleep, Ari?’ asked Mac.

‘Only when I am with woman,’ Ari chuckled. ‘Timing no good.’

‘Heard anything on Hassan?’

Ari did the Russian shrug, a less dramatic version than the Javanese but more dismissive. ‘I am leaving tonight, but I feel we must stay

– how you say it – in the touch.’

‘I told you, Ari, I’ve never been on Hassan – not my end.’

‘Yes, but still you were with Atomic Energy Agency when this Khan was stopped, yes?’ said Ari. ‘And the Indonesians are using you, so this is now Samir as well, yes?’

Mac gave him the look and raised his eyebrow.

‘Okay, okay,’ said Ari, knowing he was pushing the friendship too far. ‘But too many of the secrets when we are working for same thing?

Not so good, yes?’

‘Where are you headed, Ari?’

The Russian shrugged.

‘Come on, mate, too many secrets, yes?’

Ari put his hands on his hips, looked over Mac’s shoulder, nodded slightly, and then looked back. ‘Okay. Sumatra.’

‘Not Java?’

‘No, McQueen. Sumatra.’

‘Where in Sumatra? It’s a big place.’

‘I can’t say this, you know that.’

‘Heard anything more about your colleague?’ asked Mac, thinking Ari looked a little washed out.

‘No – he is dead or he is being, umm, held,’ said Ari, slumping a little. In the spy game it was unusual for anyone to use the word torture, in the same way soldiers didn’t like directly referring to death, but Mac saw the stress in the Russian’s eyes and knew what he was saying.

Deciding if he relinquished some information it might bring some other revelations back his way, Mac said, ‘Okay, Ari. We had eyes on Samir, yesterday.’

Ari nodded.

‘It was me – I saw him,’ said Mac.

‘You were there?’ said Ari, tensing. ‘On this JI ship?’

‘Yeah, mate. Thing is, Ahmed al Akbar was with him.’

Ari went completely still for a couple of seconds, looked Mac in the eye. ‘These people are al-Qaeda, yes? And you are letting these fuckers go?’

‘Mate, I’ve said too much. Your turn.’

As Ari tried to fi nd the right words and correct level of illumination, Mac turned and saw Freddi tap his G-Shock.

‘I let him go now, Freddi – Tuhan memberkati,’ said Ari.

Freddi looked away. If you wished God’s blessings on a Javanese, it wasn’t good manners for him to reply with grumpiness.

‘I think we are looking for the same crew, yes?’ said Ari. ‘Hassan and Samir.’

Mac was getting irritated. ‘Hassan and Samir, yes. But Akbar?

Akbar is Osama’s bagman -‘

The words fell off the end of his sentence as Mac realised what he was saying.

‘You see,’ said Ari, ‘why Samir and Akbar are on same ship?’

Mac nodded, things becoming clearer.

‘It very expensive,’ said Ari, ‘for nuclear device.’


CHAPTER 12

<p>CHAPTER 12</p>

It was a clear night as the Indonesian Huey chugged north-west. The host military had a choice whether to tell their foreign intelligence partners where they were going, and the Indon navy had decided not to.

Mac, Freddi and Purni all tried to sleep in the throbbing racket of the Huey, a Vietnam-era helo now made under licence in Indonesia.

The reliability record of the air frame and the familiar thromp of the turbo-shaft were reassuring to Mac, but it was still the loudest and most uncomfortable way to get around, even with the doors shut fast and all the high-tech damping materials they were lined with. After twenty minutes aloft Mac gave up on sleeping and saw the telltale sign of the Madura Strait, crowded with humanity on both sides, narrowing down to the huge city.

At Surabaya Naval Base an operator in pale-blue overalls and an aviator helmet escorted them across the tarmac to a white LandCruiser Prado. They were then driven across the runway to a hangar on the other side of the air wing apron, all wincing as they shot into the glare of the internal fl oodies which illuminated an air force F28. Mac’s G-Shock said it was 3.37 am.

They walked to the stairs and Freddi excused himself to go to the gents, so Purni and Mac climbed into the plane and grabbed the seats that faced each other at the front. There was a faint whining sound and the smell of avgas and institutional air freshener. The decor looked like 1986 was never going to go away and Mac briefl y worried about all those incidents in the early 1980s when Garuda seemed to kill so many people in F28s. He told himself he’d fl own safely in F28s on Ansett Airlines, and that seemed to balance the paranoia.

‘So, Purn,’ said Mac, yawning. ‘Can we talk about a destination now?’

Purni gave him a blank look and shook his head. He was well-dressed, and Mac knew from Freddi that he’d been educated at Monash University in Melbourne. Wherever you went in the world, the spy agencies were crammed with educated middle-class men trapped between the ride of their lives and the drudgery of procedure; between the fl ash of adrenaline and The Rules.

Mac fi shed in his pack and turned off both of his mobiles. If he wasn’t allowed to know where he was going then no other bastard was going to fi nd out vicariously. Freddi bounced up the stairs and sat next to Purni so that the two BAIS boys were rear-facing while Mac looked forward.

Mac settled into his seat as a loud shaking sound rattled around the cabin. Then a couple of soldiers in red berets appeared at the cabin door and waited while someone thumped up the aluminium trolley stairs behind them. Another soldier appeared holding a chain in his hand. Turning, the soldier pulled on the chain and two men in black hoods and grey pyjamas jerked in behind him, the fi rst prisoner chained to the second. The soldier leading the prisoners started down the aircraft pulling the hooded men behind him. The second prisoner had blood splashed down the front of his pyjama legs. It looked fresh and Mac thought immediately of Ari’s colleague.

The other two soldiers moved towards where Mac’s party was seated, their distinctive triangle patches with the vertical red dagger indicating they were Kopassus, Indonesian Army Special Forces.

Kopassus was one of the most-mentioned government agencies in any Amnesty International fi le-search.

Freddi smiled and chatted to the soldiers, then gestured at Mac.

‘McQueen – this is Major Benni Sudarto. We’re on his fl ight this morning.’

Mac put out his hand. ‘Thanks for the ride, Major,’ he said, all smiles.

Surdarto hesitated briefl y and then shook Mac’s hand. ‘I know you?’ he asked in mechanical English. He had a face that looked like it had been put together out of brown Lego, rectangular slabs of fl esh and bone composed his cheekbones, jaw and forehead.

Mac shrugged, looked out the window at the hangar. Benni Sudarto hadn’t changed. He was still built like a brick shithouse, was still suspicious and ill-mannered like he’d been back in ‘99, in East Timor.

Sudarto barked an order down the plane then took a pew in the facing seats on the other side of the aisle. ‘I do, don’t I?’ said Sudarto, not giving up.

There was a certain kind of Indonesian man made of muscle and bone and nothing else, and Benni Sudarto was such a bloke. It looked like if you punched him you’d break your hand. His neck started under his ears and the rolled-up sleeves of his camo shirt revealed enormous arms.

Mac shrugged. ‘Nah, Major. Anglos, mate – we all look alike.’

Sudarto forced a laugh, then looked away.

Mac caught Freddi’s eye; the other man’s expression said, Be careful. Mac was going to be very, very careful. When he’d last seen Benni Sudarto, the Indonesian was a captain in Group 4, the Kopassus plainclothes hit squad. Back then Mac was an elusive Aussie spy in East Timor, known to the Indonesians as Kakatua, the Indon name for Timor’s cockatoo. Sudarto had hunted and Mac had evaded.

Careful didn’t get close.

They took off seven minutes later. Soon after, the crew dimmed the cabin lights and Mac eased back his seat, fl icked on his overhead reading light, reached into his pack and pulled out the stapled printouts that Garvs had organised for him. It was a ‘brief’ fi le on Hassan Ali. The covering photo showed a handsome man with intelligent, smiling eyes. The caption said Hassan was twenty-fi ve when the photo was taken in 1986.

Mac fl ipped to the second sheet of paper: Hassan was born in 1960 in Islamabad, father a lawyer, mother from a local moneyed family.

Educated in Islamabad, he’d done his master’s at the London School of Economics before returning home to Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the ISI. Hassan had started at the political rather than military level and had postings in Washington, New Delhi, Canberra and Paris.

He’d made his name in scientifi c espionage and covert procurement.

Then, after a secondment to KRL – A.Q. Khan’s nuclear laboratory – in 1997, the fi le noted that he’d fallen off the offi cial spy map.

After ‘97 Hassan was suspected of being a full-time covert operative for KRL. A note added to the bottom of the bio mentioned that the Israeli government had been building a case for the Americans to stop protecting Pakistan and Khan because Hassan Ali had been forging friendships with terror outfi ts, including those linked with Libya and Iran.

Putting the fi le back in his pack, Mac tried to put the nuke puzzle together in a way that relied on facts rather than speculation. The nuclear connections Ari had been insisting on weren’t concrete enough for Mac to accept lightly.

In the late 1990s, Mac had spent two months in the UN’s Iraq Nuclear Verifi cation Offi ce. INVO was supposed to verify a nuclear program in Iraq but it was really a bunch of MI6 and CIA true-believers bullying the nuclear engineers into verifying that old tractor parts were really part of a clandestine enrichment centrifuge.

INVO was a mess, but it had shown Mac how easily a situation could be distorted by intelligence offi cers.

Still, it had to be said that there was something compelling about Ari’s theories. The Israelis and Russians knew that Dr Khan was selling enriched uranium and centrifuge cascades; Hassan Ali was a Khan lieutenant and one of the blokes the Indian intelligence services wanted shut down. Also, Ari was putting Hassan, Akbar and Samir together in Bali on the eve of the Sari and Paddy’s bombings. Which connected a rogue nuclear program with JI and al-Qaeda.

Ari was right about one thing, thought Mac as he felt sleep coming on: a bunch of farm labourers in sarungs may have needed a general like Samir to plan a conventional bombing, but they wouldn’t need a nuclear weapons broker from Pakistan or an al-Qaeda bagman.

He wondered where they were now heading. Something told him it was right behind Ari.


CHAPTER 13

<p>CHAPTER 13</p>

Shouts woke Mac and as he came to he felt the F28 descending.

Outside, the fi rst light of dawn was poking through the smoky blue haze of Sumatra. Glancing to his left he saw Benni Sudarto laughing with the two other soldiers. They were looking down the aisle to where someone was crying out. Mac guessed one of the prisoners had woken from a drug-induced sleep to fi nd himself hooded, and was panicking about where he was.

Sudarto’s face darkened as he yelled something down the plane.

The crying immediately dropped to a whimper. Mac looked at Freddi, who whispered, ‘The major just say to the guy, “If I have to plug your mouth I’ll do it with a size-eleven lace-up.”’

Sudarto rattled off more Bahasa, which Freddi interpreted for Mac. ‘A free service from Indonesian Army.’

The Kopassus guys slapped their thighs and Mac caught Benni Sudarto’s eye. The major winked.

Looking out the window again, Mac reckoned they were landing in Pekanbaru, which was on the east coast of Sumatra and closer to Singapore and Malaysia than to Jakarta. The haze had suggested the east coast of Sumatra but it was the F-5E Tiger fi ghter jets with the forward-sweeping wings that sealed it; Pekanbaru was the only military base on Sumatra with Tiger jets.

Freddi gestured for Mac to remain seated as the Kopassus soldiers and their prisoners disembarked and made for a large blue van.

While the F28 was being refuelled, Purni and Mac watched Freddi remonstrate with Benni Sudarto on the tarmac. After a few minutes, Freddi peeled away and came back to the F28, talking excitedly into his phone. Running to the top of the stairs, he knocked on the pilot door and barked an order. A reply came back in Bahasa, but it was a universal, Yeah, yeah.

One of the fl ight crew pulled the cabin door shut, locked it in place and asked the three of them to fasten their seatbelts as he slipped back into the cockpit. Almost immediately the revs came up and they started moving forward.

‘So, Freddi, what’s up?’ asked Mac.

‘Police from Medan chased off a plane trying to land at an old Jap airfi eld, inland from Binjai up near the national park,’ said Freddi, eyes already mad for the chase. ‘A party of eight or nine were on the ground before the landing was aborted. Now they’re on the run – two vehicles, lots of fi repower.’

The F28’s rear engines screamed and it raced down the runway as Freddi got on the phone again. Medan suited Mac – it was where his friend, Johnny Hukapa, was based.

They fl ew for twenty-fi ve minutes, talking things through on the way. It looked as if the Hassan-Akbar team was travelling as a single unit. And although the Medan POLRI had lost them, they’d done the next best thing and stopped them leaving the country. For now, anyway, they were trapped in the wild west of Sumatra.

‘When you say fi repower, Freddi, what are we looking at?’ asked Mac.

‘Police reckon American assault rifl es, look like M16 A2s, maybe M4s. One offi cer thought there was a fi fty-cal in there somewhere, but it’s not confi rmed.’

‘Any licence plates?’

‘Yep – we’ve got all that.’

‘Positive IDs?’ asked Mac. ‘I mean, are we sure it’s them?’

‘Hundred per cent on Samir, eighty per cent on Akbar. No one recognised Hassan – they wouldn’t know who he was, but the police guys said it was a Pakistani crew.’

‘That obvious?’

Freddi smiled. ‘Around here it is. Besides, their military guy already has a nickname and it’s the same as the one we had for him in Kuta.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah, they call him Gorilla. He walks like an ape, you remember the guy?’

Mac nodded as he remembered ducking down in Ari’s car outside the Puri. The last thing he’d seen was that helmet hair on a big wide man with a big wide gait.

‘We’re trying to get a name on him, but we think he’s Hassan’s tough guy. Former Pakistani special forces, something like that.’

Mac thought about it. ‘Any other airfi elds they might use? A Plan B?’

Freddi shook his head, smiled. ‘This is Sumatra, McQueen – we got old airfi elds like we got trees.’

A black LandCruiser was waiting at the airport when they landed and Purni took the wheel. They left Medan behind and swept inland at a hundred and fi fty K an hour, locals pulling off on to the shoulder of the narrow roads as the Cruiser approached.

Freddi sat in the front with a police radio and Mac sat in the rear, his Oakley pack beside him. He hoped there was a spare assault rifl e in the weapons bags stowed behind him. The thought of a shoot-out with Gorilla’s boys, armed only with the Heckler, was not comforting.

The terrain undulated through lots of green, the heat and the haze giving the country a haunted feel. The radio crackled constantly and Freddi spoke into it while looking at a plastic-covered map on his lap. Occasionally he’d make an entry in a small detective’s notebook, turning around sometimes to confi rm a landmark called from a helo team. Mac didn’t know how you’d fi nd a landmark in that country with its miles of green scrub, palm-oil plantations, market gardens and small farms, punctuated by stands of jungle that looked like they’d been allowed to remain around the creeks and rivers.

A Huey painted in army camo colours buzzed the Cruiser and Freddi looked up through the sunroof at the ID numbers, then yelled something into the radio. The excitement almost reached screaming levels from the radio speakers as Freddi tapped Purni on the left arm and pointed, then tapped him again, Mac’s adrenaline squirting as they screeched into a four-wheel hand-brake stop.

Purni brought the revs up again and gunned the Cruiser into a hard-right turn as they aimed into an impossibly narrow jungle track and fl ew into it like a train into a tunnel. In seconds the bright light of the open Sumatran country was replaced with a darker, dappled drive down a trail close enough for the trees to brush and bang the sides of the Cruiser. Mac reached for his seatbelt as he looked over Purni’s shoulder and saw the speedo nudge one-seventy, the spring-mounted aerials whiplashing around the vehicle.

They screamed through the tunnel of green at breakneck speed, Mac suddenly feeling very seasick. Without warning they were travelling uphill, Purni struggling to keep the Cruiser on the track as it bucked and whined against the rough ground, the overworked engine screaming every time all four wheels got airborne. As the terrain got even steeper Mac grabbed the handrail in the ceiling and heard himself say, Oh shit, as the Cruiser hit the crest of the blind rise at one sixty-fi ve and leapt into the air.

They sailed for four seconds and when they descended they had run out of track and the LandCruiser was about ten metres into the jungle. Mac yelled as they bounced, small trees falling like bowling pins and thumping the undercarriage of the vehicle as Purni kept his foot on the gas. Then – as they hit a stump large enough to upend most vehicles – they were dropping nose down into a small river.

Mac leaned back and prayed as the LandCruiser buried its grille into the shallow water at such a speed that water and mud rose over the vehicle like a wave. Purni kept the revs going as the Cruiser, barely losing momentum, lurched across the twenty-metre-wide creek, muddy water pouring across the bonnet. Grabbing onto the gentler slope of the opposite bank, Purni slowly got enough purchase to start bowling trees again. Mac put his feet up on the back of Freddi’s seat as the engine screamed in pain. They got their speed up again so that the thumpa-thumpa of the jungle under and above the vehicle quickly reached a drum-like rhythm. With one fi nal lurch they were out of the jungle and back onto the track, bouncing up and down like a ball.

Sweat poured off Mac’s forehead. He’d seen lots of bad driving in his life, mostly teenagers in Rockie who’d save every penny for their fi rst ute and then see whether the rear tyres or the clutch-plate would burn out fi rst if you took it to seven grand and dropped the clutch.

But Purni was a whole new league. He was sober, for starters.

Purni gunned the accelerator again and the souped V8 screamed into line and raised a cloud of dust as the Cruiser’s speedo climbed back into three digits. Freddi worked the radio and then looked back.

‘Almost there, McQueen. Need some vests.’

The incoming radio was a choir of adrenaline and screaming. Then they all heard the unmistakable pop of automatic weapons bursting out of the radio’s speaker. Mac swivelled around and pulled two blue Kevlar vests from the rear compartment, passed them forward, then grabbed one for himself, fastening it across his overalls. Freddi asked for weapons and Mac passed him two M4s and a pistol-grip pumpy that Freddi wanted.

They had a spare M4 and Mac grabbed it, glad for the fi repower.

Freddi took a fi nal call and told Purni to pull over. They found a small natural culvert and Purni reversed the Cruiser into it. They were gasping fast and shallow as Freddi and Mac kicked their doors to get them open against the undergrowth.

They stood at the front of the Cruiser and, as the big V8 dinked, Freddi gave them the drum. Two carloads of bad guys had broken through and were heading their way, all heavily armed. The Kopassus helo had a fi re in the tail-rotor and the other BAIS operators who’d been giving chase in their LandCruiser had had to stand off given the numerical disadvantage. Another helo was hours away so it was down to Freddi, Mac and Purni.

Purni and Mac stayed on the side of the track where the Cruiser was hidden while Freddi crossed to the other side, stealthing forward and listening, his dark combat fatigue pants blending in with his HiTecs and vest. He had an M4 rifl e on one arm and the matt-black pumpy on the other. Mac noticed he didn’t take his sunnies off as he established his hide in the bushes.

‘Three on one, okay? And don’t go past your three o’clock,’ said Freddi.

Meaning: all three weapons on each vehicle as it came through, and don’t shoot directly across the road.

Eight seconds later, the fi rst sounds of a vehicle rose over the birds and monkeys. There was a faint scream and a thud and the wailing sounds of a 4x4 being driven hard.

‘Let’s go to work,’ said Freddi.

Mac checked for safety and load for the third time since he’d got out of the Cruiser. Taking a couple of deep breaths, he got into his hide and took a standing marksman stance, shouldered the M4 and made a brief ranging scan of the road and his expected fi eld of fi re. He visualised the whole thing, saw the target, then the narrow reaction window and saw himself fi ring with total steadiness.

Purni took a kneeling marksman pose fi fteen metres further down the road.

The mechanical screams got louder and suddenly there was a white Ford pick-up truck powering towards them, doing at least one-thirty klicks. Mac aimed up and as the Ford came into his pre-set range he squeezed on the trigger, letting a blaze of full-auto go at the windscreen of the F350 crew cab.

The Ford’s windscreen fell apart as the air fi lled with lead from both sides of the road. A shooter leaning over the Ford’s crew cab fi red at Freddi. As the truck passed Mac, he saw shooters in the well side, one over the cab and the other leaning on the rear rollbar. Mac ducked back into the culvert as the rear shooter let loose, shots fi ring through the trees above him. But the damage was done and the F350 was sliding off the track like a train derailing. There was a loud crash and the sound of rending steel and breaking trees as the Ford – obviously with a dead-man’s foot – kept the revs up deep into the jungle.

Mac got up and checked Purni and Freddi. They were both okay.

Freddi held his hand up to say no to chasing the shot-up Ford. Mac’s heart pounded in his temples as the sound of another vehicle got louder and they settled back in their hides. It came into view and they let their rifl es drop as they saw the other BAIS LandCruiser.

Freddi stood, put a hand up, and the black Cruiser locked up and slid for sixty metres.

‘We’re missing one truck,’ said Freddi.

Mac and Purni joined him in the middle of the track, checking their rifl es and peering ahead to see if there was another vehicle coming. The Cruiser’s white reversing lights came on and whoever was driving it gave it full revs as it backed up to the three of them and slid to a halt. Freddi jogged to the front passenger door and had a hurried conference with his colleague. Freddi pointed, held up one fi nger, pointed back in the opposite direction, pointed at the ground and shook his head. It seemed he wanted the other LandCruiser to wait until Freddi’s crew had dealt with the fi rst Ford and then both of them could go after the missing truck.

Freddi looked like he’d come to the same conclusion about the second truck as Mac. That they’d sent the B-team on ahead, and the pros were elsewhere, laying a trap. But they were under time pressures and having paused for a few seconds, Freddi relented and allowed the other BAIS crew to double-back and locate Hassan’s gang.


CHAPTER 14

<p>CHAPTER 14</p>

The Ford had cleared an obvious path into the jungle but the three of them stuck to the margins, staying slow, keeping cover as they moved deeper into the thick undergrowth. Whoever these people were, they’d already busted Akbar out of a BAIS detention facility, downed a Kopassus helo and – as best they could fi gure it – created enormous devastation in Kuta. Whatever else might be said about them, they appeared to know what they were doing.

The F350 had ended up in a dry creek bed, its nose jammed deep into dirt, steam rising out of the hissing engine. The well side was empty and they surrounded it very carefully, looked under it and moved up to the cab from a reverse angle. The driver – Pakistani with a shiny helmet of hair – slumped across the centre console with two bullets in his face. The front passenger was younger, maybe just out of his teens but also Pakistani, and he had a bullet hole high on his chest, the blood oozing through his shirt. Mac reckoned that left three unaccounted for: two in the well side and the one face he saw in the rear seats of the crew cab.

The air was heavy with jungle humidity and a cacophony of birds and monkeys but Freddi heard something above it. He put his fi nger up and turned slowly to the front of the truck and then looked beyond, suddenly grabbing Mac’s forearm and pointing up into the trees, where one of the shooters from the well side was jammed in a fork of branches about fi ve metres off the ground. He was unarmed and groaning, his arms and legs twisted in directions they shouldn’t have been in. The F350 must have hit the creek bed with enough speed that the bloke had got airborne, the very reason Mac’s mother had always warned him not to ride in the back of utes.

They moved past the shooter in the tree and Purni picked up a trail, crouched down and had a look, then looked back at Freddi and held up two fi ngers. Freddi lifted his M4 into the ready position and they moved on, fanning out. The heat pushed in on Mac, adding to the nervous sweat under his Kevlar vest. He stealthed carefully through scrubby undergrowth and was suddenly facing a Pakistani bloke on the other side of the clearing, twenty metres away. Pointing his rifl e, the Pakistani fi red several three-shot bursts at him. Mac dropped and rolled to his right through scrub and into a shallow depression, then aimed up as greenery shredded around him. Freddi and Purni opened up on the shooter and he scarpered into the bushes.

Getting to his feet, Mac looked at Freddi, who gave the shoot-and-move sign that had Mac moving fi rst, Freddi second and Purni third while the others laid down support fi re across the clearing.

Mac’s heart raced and his hands slipped on his M4. Panting, he set his eyes on a shady hollow and, when the other two fi red across the clearing, he sprinted and dived for the hollow. Supporting himself on his elbows, he started shooting into the bushes as Freddi made his run across open ground. Freddi didn’t stop running, kept fi ring and went into the bushes after the shooter. Purni and Mac went in after him and found another larger clearing beyond the bushes. They watched two men run across the open space: the shooter closest to them, Akbar beside him.

Freddi, Purni and Mac started after the fugitives, mindful of the need to take Akbar alive and get to the bottom of the Kuta bombings, maybe crack open a wider security threat.

Racing into the large clearing they saw the shooter stop, swivel and assess his pursuers, his chest heaving against sweat-soaked khakis.

Then he turned back to Akbar – ten metres in front of him – and fi red three fast shots into the middle of Akbar’s back.

‘Holy shit!’ screamed Mac.

‘Come on,’ shouted Freddi as they sprinted for the shooter, who put the muzzle of the M4 in his mouth, knelt and leaned on the trigger with his thumb.

While Purni doubled back to look for any other passengers from the F350, Mac helped Freddi with ratting the corpses. Pulling on thick latex gloves, Freddi got down to business. Akbar had no wallet and no mobile phone and his shoes and labels were internationally bland.

He was scrubbed and toned, like any banker of any race anywhere in the world.

The shooter was somewhere between thirty and forty, heavyset, no tats. He had a black-face Seiko 5 watch, no jewellery, a basic Nokia.

His clothes were mainly made in China but his underwear sported a label in Arabic in green lettering. Freddi showed Mac the label and then pulled up the shooter’s shirt, revealing a heavy-duty corset of the kind worn by long-time military personnel.

‘What’s it telling us, Fred?’ asked Mac.

‘The underwear’s made in Pakistan,’ said Freddi, pensive, ‘and the corset means this guy’s done some roping, jumped off a lot of walls.’

Freddi walked forward in a crouch and carefully pulled the shooter’s jaws apart with his fi ngertips so as not to have viscera fall into the oral cavity. Freddi had a look, grunted something and stood, then wiped his gloved hands on his Kevlar vest. He pulled a Ziploc plastic bag from his side pocket, pulled it inside out and put his hand inside it. Then he reached down and picked up the shooter’s Nokia with the bag, folded it back, sealed it and put it in his side pocket.

In the intel and CT world, you are who you phone. When Jenny was apprehending someone or arresting them, her fi rst task was to ensure the bad guy’s hands were nowhere near his mobile phone.

It was like a road map of a criminal enterprise. Mac noticed Freddi was not doing his own nosey-poke in that phone, because tangos no longer just booby-trapped cars. They put small plastique charges in phones that they wanted soldiers or cops to pick up.

‘What’s with the teeth?’ asked Mac, as they saw Purni moving back into the clearing and give the thumbs-up.

‘Middle class,’ shrugged Freddi as they moved back the way they had come. ‘His teeth have been done properly.’

Mac nodded, ‘Not some trooper, huh?’

‘He’s intel or he’s an offi cer,’ said Freddi. ‘Either way, I don’t like this.’

They couldn’t get the wounded shooter out of the tree so Freddi jumped up, pulled all his weight down on the branch the shooter was snagged in, and the bloke dropped to earth like a sandbag. His screaming drowned every bird and monkey in the place as Freddi grabbed him by the collar and dragged him along until the bloke agreed to stand on his good leg and hop to the LandCruiser.

Setting off, they drove increasingly slowly as they neared the turn-off that the other BAIS team had gone to check on. Freddi couldn’t raise the other BAIS team on the radio and the closest helo support was an hour away, so they rounded every corner at a snail’s pace and kept a paranoid watch on what was in front of them. The mood was not good – the longer the other team didn’t respond to Freddi’s calls, the more likely it was they’d been bushwhacked.

Mac sat in the back of the Cruiser, his M4 resting on the lowered window. Behind him, in the rear luggage area, the moans from the wounded shooter came low and constant. Mac knew Indonesian intel would move fast and brutally on the guy despite his injuries.

Slugging on his second bottle of Vittel, Mac tried to get the taste of vomit out of his mouth, having barfed heavily back at the clearing.

He’d never seen a person take their own life and it was an image he was having problems burying.

They crawled on through the green cathedral of the Sumatran jungle, tense, nervous about what was around each corner.

When they fi nally found the other Cruiser, in the middle of a more open stretch of road, they took half an hour to actually close on it. Getting out, they recce’d it, surrounded it from all angles, crawled along on their bellies looking for trip lines. They searched exhaustively for signs of landmines and tree-mounted Claymores, taking so long that, while they searched, a buzzard landed on the Cruiser’s roof, stuck its head down and into the vehicle, its bald neck looking like a garden hose fi lled with earthworms.

Up close the BAIS vehicle had been cut to ribbons, hole by hole, the rear almost unrecognisable. Mac fi gured that a decoy bunch of shooters at the corner sixty metres up the track would probably have made the BAIS operators slow, and then the crew with the. 50-cal gun would have emerged from behind the LandCruiser and done the damage Mac was staring at.

Purni pulled out a small black tool kit and ran an IED check on the Cruiser, taking up another half-hour. There were seventy or eighty ways to booby trap a vehicle and you needed to let one guy do the whole thing to ensure a proper job. Purni couldn’t give a ‘clear’ call on the Cruiser – he suspected there was something jammed in the locking device of the rear right door and it had some kind of circuit in it. So Freddi carefully put his hand up to a rear-door pillar and dug out an object with his penknife. He brought it over and as they looked at the small dark-grey projectile, Freddi shook his head thoughtfully and tutted. ‘A fi fty-cal with tungsten loads. Armour-piercing.’

Mac forced himself to look at the blood and hair-splattered interior of the Cruiser, the pools of dark dried blood in the dirt below. The fl ies were swarming and now it was Purni’s turn to vomit, which he did quietly at the side of the track, hands on his knees, legs straight.

Freddi ignored him. ‘Who has tungsten loads in their fi fty-cal, McQueen?’

Mac shook his head. ‘Military, intel…’

Freddi nodded vaguely, his mind somewhere else. ‘I was right about the pro crew,’ he mused, looking up at the buzzards, ‘but they might be a lot more pro than I thought.’


CHAPTER 15

<p>CHAPTER 15</p>

Freddi walked Mac to the desk of the Polonia Hotel in the Medan business district, gave the desk staff the nod and left to see some people about a certain piece of human cargo whose memory was malfunctioning. Mac checked in courtesy of the Indonesian Republic but when the woman gave him the door card he took one look at the cardboard sleeve and smiled, shook his head.

‘Mr Freddi never books me in a room with a nine,’ he said, shrugging like it was a misunderstanding. ‘I must be in the other one

– must have got them switched.’

The woman got fl ustered, touched her nose and then called the manager. He was a local with the name-tag of MASON, his face going stony as the girl babbled something in his ear. All Mac heard was Gardjito.

‘This sometimes happens, eh Mason?’ said Mac.

Mason couldn’t come up with anything plausible, so he spluttered,

‘I am sorry Mr McQueen, but 509 was defi nitely booked as your room.’

Mac kept smiling but insisted that his room must have been 510, and to sort it out he should call Freddi. Mason called Freddi and then handed over the phone, his forehead creased like corrugated iron.

‘Fred! You don’t phone, you don’t write,’ said Mac with a grin as he took the phone.

‘McQueen, you are lending yourself!’ snapped Freddi.

‘What can I say, mate, you know how I am with nines.’

Three minutes later Mac was throwing himself on the king-size bed of 510, happy to be in a room without listening posts.

He plugged in his Nokias for more charge, did fi fty push-ups, a hundred crunches and some basic shadow-boxing, up on his toes, making his breath rasp and his glutes burn. Then he had a quick shower and paced the large, neo-Baroque room with a cold Bintang, trying to get really clear on what was going on. First, he’d snatched Akbar from the Penang Princess as his last bit of paramilitary work before heading for New York and the Land of the Long Lunch. Then he was called into Kuta to organise public affairs in the aftermath of the Kuta bombings, only to fi nd the Feds bristling at that. Then he’d been rotated out again and back into Operation Handmaiden because Akbar had been sprung from one of Indonesia’s secret detention facilities, apparently by serious pros. Akbar may have been one of Osama bin Laden’s bagmen but it was the people he was fi nancing who were the real focus. Abu Samir and Hassan Ali, both of them incredibly dangerous in their chosen professions and both with a timing overlap for the bombings.

The weird twist was Akbar being sprung from detention only to be shot by one of his minders rather than letting him be caught by BAIS. Now why would you have to drop the bagman if the operation was already complete?

Mac sat on the bed and looked out the window as fatigue settled on him. He was so tired and he had the mildest of shakes in his hands and face. He looked at his G-Shock: 10.18 am, yet it felt like the middle of the night. He pulled the curtains, depowered the Nokias and hit the hay. Sleep crept up fast and he let it come.

The light on the bedside phone was blinking red when Mac came to.

Lifting his head so he could see the clock-radio, he groaned at the time: 12.43. Less than two and a half hours since he’d fallen asleep.

Rolling out of bed, he checked the hotel message system. Freddi was at the BAIS interrogation into the tree-bound shooter and wanted Mac to check in. Mac dressed in clean civvies but kept his sweaty Hi-Tecs. Detouring into the business centre, he spent fi ve minutes on one of the computers setting up an email account, then did some quick counter-surveillance on the lobby.

There was a light breeze taking the edge off the thirty-seven-degree heat as Mac walked out of the lobby and into the glare, feeling woozy, like he was jet-lagged. He pulled his sunnies down and powered up the Nokias as he walked north through the business district of Medan, a city of 1.5 million, many of whom regarded themselves as Malays rather than Indons. The clean Nokia had no messages but the Service handset did and he dialled in as he checked for eyes, swapped street sides, stopped to look in the abundant mirror glass of Medan’s CBD to check for tails and doubled back on people who happened to be walking behind him. Medan was the Dallas of Indonesia, and as soon as the Black Gold started fl owing, the newly wealthy liked nothing more than a ton of mirrors around the burg.

The message was from Ari: short of breath, panicking and wanting to talk. Mac called him as he found the street mentioned in the Polonia’s brochure as having several rental car yards. Ari’s phone went straight to voicemail, so Mac left a short message with no specifi cs. Just one rotation at the telecoms end of counter-espionage was enough to never again leave a detailed voice mail on a cellular service. It was like nailing your intentions to a lamp-post.

The big-brand rental-car companies were out of four-wheel drives. ‘You should book in advance, at least one week,’ said one of the clerks.

He wasn’t game to hire a people-mover or a sedan given the state of some of the roads in the interior of Sumatra, so he kept walking, down to the Deli River, the largest of three that ran through the city.

There was a riverside coffee shack on a boardwalk and Mac dipped in out of the sun and ordered a coffee. In Indonesia, it didn’t matter what kind of coffee you ordered – latte, espresso, short, long – they’d just bring it black, strong and hot along with a glass of water so you could adjust it to the strength you wanted it.

The shack had both river and side frontage and Mac positioned himself where he could see people approaching from both the boardwalk and the street. The ambush scene on that jungle road was haunting him. Those kinds of set-ups were only dreamed up by people who knew exactly what they were doing and those kind of people were usually special forces. These were serious people, operating with an intel component. If Mac wanted to take the conspiracy theory to its logical extreme, he would conclude there was government-level participation in Hassan’s work.

A middle-aged local woman with a happy round face brought the coffee and Mac ordered three fi sh skewers with a curry sauce.

One of the things that irritated Westerners about Indonesia was the frequency with which restaurants and cafes were all out of certain foods. But Mac liked that, because the Indons only served fi sh from the morning’s catch, and when it was gone, it was gone.

He took a few sips of the coffee and when he was calm he hit redial on the clean Nokia and waited.

Joe picked up on the fourth ring.

‘Can’t talk now,’ whispered Joe. ‘Call back, okay?’ and he hung up.

Putting the clean phone on the table, Mac picked up the Service Nokia and was about to dial when he changed his mind, grabbed the clean Nokia and called KL directory. The call-centre person connected him direct to the George Institute, a government-funded research facility in George Town, Penang.

The George Institute was supposed to do medical-related work on radiological medicine, and sometimes did, but it was better known as a nuclear weapons skunk works that did a lot of contract trials and tests on behalf of the US Department of Defense. Three months after the September 11 attacks, the Bush White House had launched its Nuclear Posture Review, which changed US nuclear policy from

‘pre-emptive nuclear war’ based on incontrovertible evidence to

‘preventative nuclear war’ based on a belief that such a strike might be necessary. The Yanks had started the nuclear arms race again and a lot of countries and companies were making billions from the technology upgrade from the 1980s.

Mac asked for the extension and the phone was picked up on the second ring.

‘Hello, who is this?’ came the slightly paranoid voice Mac remembered from his Ukrainian engineer friend in Iraq.

‘Vikkie!’ yelled Mac. ‘How the hell are ya?’

There was a pause and then Viktor clicked. ‘McQueen! You mad Orssie!’

Mac asked how Vik and his new family were going.

‘Still kicking and screaming,’ announced Vik with confi dence.

When Mac and the Ukrainian engineer both realised they were being moved on from INVO for failure to stick with the lies they were supposed to be telling, they’d had a huge night on the piss after Mac told Viktor that in Australia a sacking had to be endured with a certain vigour. ‘Gotta go out kicking and screaming, right, Vikkie?’

Viktor had never heard that piece of Strine and was fascinated with how it sounded. People who had grown up under the Commies were astounded there was even a term for that kind of defi ance, let alone that it was a proud character trait. It had become part of Vik’s lexicon that night in Basra and Mac smiled to think he was still using it.

After the catch-up chit-chat, Mac got down to business. ‘Mate, I’ve set up a gmail account in the name of that bloke who poked you in the chest that night in the hotel car park. Only I’ve put the names in reverse order, okay?’

Vik listened, focusing in on the Pommie spy who tried to make him change an inspection report one night to ensure that a tractor part was recorded as a centrifuge arm.

‘The password is VIK7979,’ said Mac. ‘Open the fi rst message, and when you’ve read it, delete it, okay Vik?’

‘Sure, McQueen.’

‘And, mate, if you have a computer outside the Institute -‘

‘I get this,’ said Viktor, long enough under the Soviets to know what was going on.

They rang off, with Vik promising to respond within the hour.

The curry fi sh arrived and, as he ate, Mac’s clean Nokia rang.

He took the call and didn’t stuff about. ‘Joe – Akbar’s dead,’ he whispered.

There was a pause, two seconds of dead air.

‘You there?’ asked Mac.

‘Yeah, mate, yeah,’ came Joe’s voice.

‘So, Akbar -‘

‘Yeah, look Macca,’ said Joe, searching for a tone. ‘Yeah – Akbar.’

It was uncharacteristic for Joe to stumble. Before being restreamed into ASIS management and becoming a controller, he’d been a top-notch fi eld guy out of Beijing. Joe was fl uent in Cantonese and Mandarin at a time when Foreign Affairs had Australians who generally only spoke one or the other. He used to joke that, because he grew up in a house with a Calabrian mother and a Roman father, he had to balance peasant Italian with the highfalutin language of the metropole. He saw the same distinction between China’s two main languages – he didn’t see a drama. After Joe got married he’d pulled back a bit and then when the fi rst of his three kids arrived, he asked for a desk job – Wife’s Orders.

‘So, you saw it – I mean Akbar?’ asked Joe.

‘Confi rmed,’ said Mac, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice. ‘Had eyes.’

‘Fuck!’

‘What I said.’

Joe heaved a breath. ‘Who?’

‘One of Hassan’s crew. Shot him in the back rather than let him be taken by the BAIS team.’

‘Jesus!’ Joe spat, a cross between amazed and disgusted.

‘So you know about Hassan?’ asked Mac, trying to get Joe to connect the dots.

‘Yep.’

‘Know he’s one of Doctor Khan’s operators?’

Joe sighed. ‘Look…’ he started, then trailed off.

‘Joe, we’re talking about people who sell enriched uranium.’

‘McQueen -‘

‘Abu Samir is part of the crew. Did you know that, mate? He’s JI, case you were wondering.’

‘Okay, so look -‘ Joe started again.

‘- we’ve got an atomic weapons dealer running around with Jemaah Islamiyah and they’ve already bombed Kuta, killed a carload of BAIS guys and assassinated an Osama bagman -‘

‘Macca -‘

‘So what the fuck’s going on?’ snapped Mac.

‘Mate, some people have just joined me, I’ll get back ASAP.’

‘What’s the mission, now?’ asked Mac.

‘Stay put, help BAIS fi nd the other -‘

‘Other?’ asked Mac.

But Joe had hung up.


CHAPTER 16

<p>CHAPTER 16</p>

Mac had a friend in Medan by the name of Johnny Hukapa, who owned a tour company with his father. To the public, the owners of Sunshine Tours were your friendly guides to Lake Toba and Gunung Leuser National Park. To Mac, Johnny Hukapa was a former SAS soldier whose main source of income now came from bodyguarding the gold and gem merchants who made their trips into the subcontinent, Sumatra and Kalimantan to get their materials wholesale. He was conspicuous in Sumatra for his size and presence, but Mac needed to make a quick trip into the hills and Johnny Hukapa had precisely what he needed: highly secure jungle transport.

The bell dinged as Mac walked into Sunshine Tours, located in an old Dutch-built freestanding house set back from the road. The woman behind the counter was a thin, short, middled-aged local with a weathered face and a big genuine smile.

‘Hello, mister,’ she said.

Mac asked for John Hukapa and the woman said, ‘Okay, you come now,’ dragging him by the hand through a curtain of multicoloured plastic ribbons and into an offi ce. A large Maori man in military shorts and a black T-shirt stood up from an armchair and came towards Mac.

‘Macca! Long time, bro!’ said the man with a smile.

‘Johnny – how you going?’ said Mac, shaking the proffered hand.

Mac had met John Hukapa in Iraq in the late 1990s, when Hukapa had been doing clandestine patrols with the Aussie SAS around Iraq’s borders with Jordan. Mac’s assignments were concerned with the Jordan stevedoring and trucking companies and the extent to which they were really Saddam’s corporate fronts. John and Mac had become friends, especially when they worked out that their fathers had been in the Vietnam War together.

John brewed tea and they chatted about the old days. As they relaxed, a very large middle-aged Maori man walked into the offi ce and looked through Mac like he was a pane of glass.

‘Dad, this is Alan McQueen,’ said Johnny.

The big man put his paw out, his eyes steady on Mac’s. ‘You Frank’s boy?’

Mac nodded, shook the man’s hand. ‘Sure am.’

‘Name’s Tom, but my friends call me Huck.’

‘People call me Macca.’

‘So Macca – what’s up?’ asked Tom, as he sat behind his desk.

Mac spelled it out as best he could. There was an old airfi eld somewhere inland from Binjai but before the actual Sumatran highlands.

‘The Palau fi eld,’ said Tom, with a nod. ‘What are we doing up there?’

‘Just having a nosey-poke.’

Tom looked at his son. Johnny raised his eyebrows slightly, and Tom looked back at Mac. ‘So let’s go.’

They got to the airfi eld at half past two, the red Sunshine Tours LandCruiser bursting out of the dimness of a Sumatran jungle track and onto an open space that was almost a mile long. It ran north-south and, as they drove across it towards some dilapidated buildings on the far side, Mac realised they were driving on slabs of concrete.

‘Japs built this in ‘41 and ‘42,’ said Tom. ‘There’re fi elds like this all over Sumatra and Java – they were supposed to form a defence of the new territories. Guess it didn’t work.’

The area was huge and Mac was quietly amazed at such a piece of infrastructure going to waste. ‘So it’s not used – I mean for anything ?’

Tom chuckled. ‘Mate, Sumatra has a pretty basic economy. If you can’t grow rice on it, fi sh in it, or graze livestock on it, then it’s useless, right?’

Mac wasn’t sure what he was looking for but there’d been something odd about the night and morning’s events. The Indonesian military had deterred a plane coming in to exfi ltrate the Hassan-Samir team, but as far as Mac could gauge, the Hassan-Samir team seemed to be doubling back. Maybe they’d left something at the airfi eld, something worth going back for, worth killing for.

They stopped in front of the old buildings and Johnny pulled a couple of M16 assault rifl es from the luggage compartment of the Cruiser. Johnny was a slightly smaller, more athletic version of his father, about six-one, one hundred and ten kilos, very built and yet strangely careful on his feet – the one unifying hallmark of special forces operators.

They started with the main building, a medium-sized Quonset-style hangar. Some of the curved iron roofi ng had fallen in under the weight of vines and creepers over the years, but the frame was intact. Inside, it was fi lled with foliage and clearly no one had been in there for years.

The next building was a two-storey wooden barracks that sagged in the middle. Johnny crouched down at the entrance and inspected it for pressure pads, trip wires, hooks and any other booby traps. There wasn’t much in the barracks either except vines and the smell of bird shit.

They came out into the heat of the afternoon and Mac regretted having worn his civvie clothes. He was already sweating through them heavily.

‘Seeing anything, Mac?’ asked Tom.

Shaking his head, Mac admitted there wasn’t much to see but now he was smelling something. ‘What’s that smell?’

‘Burnt wood,’ said Johnny. ‘This way.’

They walked north along the edges of the runway, the wreck of a once-operational military air base now lost to the jungle. There were water towers, fuel storage tanks, an ablutions block and assorted dilapidated buildings which Mac guessed were the offi cers’ club, air-traffi c control tower and chow sheds. Halfway up the side of the runway, between other rundown structures, was a patch of scorched, still-smoking ground about twenty metres square. It was freshly burned, whatever it had been, and amidst the heat and tendrils of blue smoke Mac caught a distinct whiff of gasoline.

Johnny got them to stand back as he inspected the place for booby traps and IEDs. After giving the ‘clear’ sign, they moved into the area.

Apart from a few struts and beams that were still recognisable, the rest had been burned to the ground. Mac’s mind was going through all the possibilities but he couldn’t think what the Hassan team would fi nd so important that they would risk capture to circle back and do this. The fi re must have been set no more than two hours ago, judging by the smell and lingering heat of it.

‘Want to search it?’ asked Johnny, already scanning.

‘Just looking for anything out of the pattern,’ said Mac.

They fanned out and walked back and forth over the fi re ground.

It was still hot and there was nothing to see. Mac was about to fl ag it away when he saw Tom and Johnny conferring.

‘There’s a steel door in the ashes at the back,’ said Tom, turning to Mac. ‘Might be worth a look.’

Mac and Johnny pulled off their tops and put them on either side of the door that was lying fl at in the ashes, then lifted it away. The door must have been one of the fi rst parts of the building to drop, suggesting it had been on or near the seat of the fi re. It had fallen on some papers, the destruction of which was probably one of the purposes of the blaze. Mac imagined a bunch of soldiers in a rush, not knowing what to take or leave, so they’d just doused the place in petrol and thrown a match on it.

A small pile of A4 sheets had survived the fi re with some blackening. Mac picked up what looked like scientifi c papers: some in Arabic, others in English. It didn’t mean much to him but he rolled them carefully and was about to put them in his back pocket when he saw a handwritten note in blue ballpoint just below the burn-line on one of the pieces of paper.

Mac inspected it: the scrawl looked as if it said N W. He showed the other two. Was it just referring to north-west or did N W mean something special in Sumatra? Johnny and Tom didn’t think so, but said they’d ask around.

They walked the rest of the runway perimeter until they were back at the LandCruiser. Johnny lined himself up at the north end of the runway, knelt down, and by looking down the weeds and grasses that had grown through the concrete over the years determined that no aircraft had recently landed on this fi eld.

They left just after four o’clock and Mac asked how long before they were in cellular range; he wanted to speak with Joe again and Viktor would be calling back.

Moving back into the green tube of the track, Mac felt a little sheepish about coming so far out on a whim for nothing. Johnny drove and his father opened a sports bag, doling out sandwiches and small local oranges that were almost red.

Mac knew from his experience with his own father to steer clear of war-talk with Tom. He and Johnny wanted to know what their fathers had done in Vietnam but Johnny had confi rmed that, like Frank, Tom got annoyed when asked. Very annoyed. So they spoke about the guiding business and the intensity of the industry. When the gold and gem merchants made their buying trips into some very dangerous places they needed hired muscle and Sunshine provided that.

‘You know, these guys are middle-aged dudes, grand-daddies.

They’re totally hard-case,’ laughed Johnny. ‘I thought some of my old regiment mates were tough, but the merchants…’ He whistled low, shaking his head. ‘They trust no one and we’re taking them into places where there is no law. Pakistan’s north-west, Hindu Kush, inland Kalimantan – no places for a jeweller, mate, but they still go, eh Dad?’

Tom grimaced. ‘Yeah, they’re crazy but at least they know where there’s risk. Some of these oil guys we escort around Sumatra have no idea what’s out there; no concept of a teenage bandit who’d kill for a watch.’

Coming around a tight corner, there were two young boys walking on the road, carrying a jungle pig between them. Johnny swerved to avoid them, the LandCruiser slid to the other side of the track and, before he could correct it, the heavy vehicle had dropped into the rocky culvert and come to a smashing halt.

It took fi fty-fi ve minutes to get the stricken Cruiser out of the ditch and Mac could feel his momentum evaporating with the lowering sun.

They got the LandCruiser started but fi fteen metres down the track Mac realised the day was gone: the gearbox had taken a hammering and Johnny couldn’t get higher than second gear.

‘Sorry, bro,’ said Johnny, slipping an old Elvis tape into the stereo.

‘No dramas,’ sighed Mac and settled back to the hissing and crackling sounds of the King.


CHAPTER 17

<p>CHAPTER 17</p>

The Cruiser was overheating by the time they could see the lights of Medan so Tom asked Mac if they could stop at the family compound rather than continue to the Sunshine Tours depot in the city.

Mac said, ‘Sure, why not?’

‘There’s a feed in it for you,’ Tom said with a smile as they pulled through farm gates and crawled up a long drive to a series of houses and sheds.

While Tom and Johnny went into the house, Mac lingered outside, made his calls. Joe Imbruglia wasn’t answering so Mac tried Ari, who picked up on the fi rst ring.

‘McQueen, where are you?’ said the Russian.

‘Nice to hear your voice again too, mate. Where are you?’ Mac replied.

‘Look, we have to talk, yes?’ said Ari. ‘I’ll be in Medan tomorrow morning.’

‘So call me then.’

‘First thing,’ said Ari.

Mac hung up and checked his clean phone for messages. There was one from Viktor, saying he was calling from a payphone as Mac had asked, but was leaving a cell phone as an after-hours number.

Mac wasn’t going to use that number – all nuclear scientists and engineers were constantly under surveillance from their governments or their employers. It was a simple rule, and what he needed to ask Viktor could be the kind of thing that brought heat from the friendlies.

Mac decided to let it go until morning and start all over again.

The Hukapas’ cook had made fi sh curry stew, with rice and rotis. Mac washed up and when he came back to the family table there was a tall Maori girl, mid-twenties, walking back from the fridge with several bottles of Tiger arranged between her fi ngers.

Johnny grabbed one of the beers from her and beckoned Mac over.

‘Macca, this is my sister, Mari. Don’t think you guys have met.’

Mac shook her hand, which was wet from holding the beers, and said, ‘G’day. Alan McQueen.’

‘Well, Mr McQueen,’ said Mari smiling as they sat down to eat,

‘not one of our little Elmer Fudds are you?’

‘I’m sorry?’ asked Mac.

‘Watch it mate, she’s a vet,’ said Johnny, teasing.

‘You know, Macca,’ continued Mari. ‘Shoot a rare animal, go back to the suburbs and tell all the boys at the golf club what a man you are? That great white hunter crap -‘

‘Marama!’ snapped Tom. ‘Cut it out. This is Frank McQueen’s boy.’

‘I don’t shoot animals,’ said Mac calmly.

‘Well that would be a fi rst for a white man.’

‘I said cut it out, girl,’ growled Tom, his presence now fi lling the room. ‘Mac’s got nothing to do with the hunting rackets, so don’t blame him for it.’

Taking his fi rst mouthful of fi sh, Mac felt better and took a slug on the Tiger. ‘Rackets?’ he asked, not wanting to divide this family.

‘Don’t get her started, mate. She’s the Mad Vet of Medan,’ chuckled Johnny, and got a backhand punch on the biceps from Mari for his trouble.

‘Well, since you asked,’ Mari began.

‘No you don’t, girl,’ Tom interrupted. ‘Not while I’m eating.’

‘I’ll show you later, Macca,’ said Mari quietly. ‘If you’re up for it.’

‘Okay,’ said Mac, shovelling his food.

‘Okay,’ said Mari, while Johnny smiled and shook his head at Mac.

‘Sorry about before, I assumed you were a hunter,’ said Mari as she opened the door of the large shed adjacent to the house. Animal noises erupted as they entered. ‘This is the surgery.’ She nodded at a series of cages at the back and a surgery table and dispensary in front of them.

She was calmer now than she had been in the house. ‘Look, you don’t have to see her,’ she said. ‘I get upset and make people witness this stuff, but it’s not fair really – it’s not your problem.’

Mac shrugged. ‘Well I’m here now – let’s have a look.’

Following Mari down an avenue of cages, he saw all sorts of monkeys, a Siamang, a couple of orang-utans and a large dark creature lying in a stall near the back. ‘Sumatran rhino,’ said Mari, noticing Mac’s interest.

They stopped at a large wire-sided cage lined with dark straw. It was a stunning sight: an adult tigress lying on her side sleeping with two cubs buried in her teats. One of the cubs looked up at the visitors, yawned and then repositioned itself back in the mother’s tummy.

There was something wrong with the tigress’s back legs, which were heavily bandaged. From what Mac could see, there were hip-to-ankle splints under the bandages.

‘Hunting rackets,’ said Mari. ‘They catch a tiger, bust their back legs so they can’t run, and then some dickhead from Germany or the States is taken on a safari through the Sumatran jungle.’

‘What?’ said Mac, slightly confused. ‘They shoot the tiger? When she’s in this state?’

‘Of course – they pay ten thousand American dollars to do it. The locals can’t resist.’

‘That’s crazy,’ mumbled Mac, embarrassed.

‘They call it hunting.’

They sat in the large cool area at the front of the vet surgery, sipping on cold beers from the fridge and swapping stories. Mari had grown up in Perth, gone to the University of Western Australia and had been planning to work in a vet surgery before clubbing in with some other people to buy their own practice and do the whole huge-mortgage, husband-and-two-kids trip. She’d come to visit Tom and Johnny in Sumatra one Christmas and become involved with a group, Vets Without Borders, who rescued tigers and orang-utans and other distressed wildlife.

‘I never really left,’ she shrugged. ‘It sort of became my life. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll turn into the crazy animal spinster of Sumatra.’

Mac was supposed to say that he doubted that would be the case with such a pretty and smart woman, but he didn’t. ‘Yep – that could easily be it.’

She fl ashed him a nasty look and he winked, laughed.

She laughed too, reluctantly, and leaned forward on the table.

‘I really like you, Macca,’ she smiled. ‘But I’m not going to sleep with you, okay?’

Mari found Mac a camp bed and a loose Indian cotton sheet and Mac slept very deeply in the vet surgery, the whimpering of the tiger and her cubs echoing into his dreams.


CHAPTER 18

<p>CHAPTER 18</p>

Ari called at seven am and Mac gave him directions to the Hukapa compound. Then, swinging his feet out of the camp stretcher, he stood up, got dressed and went in search of the food that he could smell cooking.

The door that Mari had disappeared through the night before was locked, a sign on it reading Dilarang masuk – no admittance. Mac assumed that didn’t apply to him and pushed on the door, but it didn’t give. He peered through the porthole, trying to work out the secret handshake, and saw an open area with fi ve or six picnic-style tables and bench seats crammed with kids, all eating. Mac got the attention of one of the young women who was supervising and she waved his way and went into what he assumed was the kitchen.

He wandered around the clinic area, checking on the tigress, who snarled and hissed at him as her cubs burrowed into her full belly.

Turning back, he heard the sound of kids yelling as the door swung open and then shut. Mari greeted him with a tray of fresh fruit, toast and a mug of what he prayed was coffee.

‘Morning,’ she said. She was quite tall and had the sort of athletic frame Mac liked, but he was happy she’d set him right the night before.

They sat at the table chatting as Mac buttered his toast, before noticing a bowl of what looked like dark red maple syrup.

‘Sumatran wild honey,’ said Mari, following his gaze. ‘Bunch of us buy it from the Batak people if they agree to stop burning the forest, killing the tigers.’

‘And it’s working?’ asked Mac.

‘Sure, but it’s the female economy,’ she said with a wry smile. ‘It’s the blokes who can’t resist Westerners coming in with all this money and wanting to shoot a tiger, grab an orang-utan.’

The honey was beautiful, sweet but also smoky.

‘So, what’s with the kids?’ asked Mac.

‘Some are orphans. Some have been rescued from the – you know

– the sex rackets.’

‘Shit!’ said Mac, sipping on the coffee. ‘So you keep the door locked in case they run away?’

‘No,’ said Mari, her face stony. ‘It’s to keep men out. No males are allowed in that area.’

‘Bit harsh, isn’t it?’

Mari shook her head. ‘Men have been the problem for those kids, not the solution.’

They talked and Mac gave her Jenny’s number in Jakarta; told her what Jenny did with the transnational sexual-servitude taskforce and how the key to Jenny’s work was intelligence gathering and intelligence networks. She needed people like Mari.

‘She sounds great. I’ll defi nitely contact her,’ said Mari, dropping the tough-chick act.

‘Sure is. You two would get on,’ said Mac.

‘Really?’ she said. ‘Why’s that?’

‘Because you’re both quite, umm, assertive about the difference between right and wrong,’ Mac replied, winking.

Mari laughed. ‘Beautifully put, Mr McQueen. Ten out of ten for diplomacy.’

There was a banging at the door and Mari went to it while Mac fi nished his coffee and looked around for his boots. ‘That’ll be Ari

– he’s picking me up. He’s a friendly.’

Mari opened the door and let Ari in. The Russian nodded at her and padded across the concrete slab, casing the place, walking like a bad guy in a Western movie. He was in Levis and a dark blue trop shirt. His holster-bag hung around his middle and his sunnies sat up on his thin sandy hair. Shaking Mac’s hand, he took a seat and helped himself to the fruit.

‘Okay there, champ?’ said Mac.

‘Okay if not so hungry,’ said Ari, not getting it.

‘This is Mari,’ said Mac as he grabbed his Hi-Tecs, got a sock on.

‘She’s a vet, from Australia. This is her set-up.’

‘Nice,’ said Ari, looking around. ‘Good location for the little animals.’

‘Thanks,’ said Mari.

‘And not such little animals,’ said Mac. ‘Mari’s got a tiger.’

Ari arced up, totally interested. ‘Tiger! I love the tigers.’

‘I’m just checking on her now,’ said Mari. ‘You can come and help me if you want.’

Ari got to his feet and they disappeared down the line of cages while Mac found his Heckler and checked the phones. Then he wandered down to the tiger cage and stopped as he saw Mari put her arm around Ari’s shoulder and whisper in his ear. He was about to say something smart when he saw Ari’s back heaving.

While Ari drove the silver Nissan Patrol to the Polonia, Mac fronted him with a simple choice. Pulling out the folded papers he’d grabbed from the Pulau airfi eld, he waved them in the Russian’s face. ‘Mate, these are yours to read, maybe copy – but we’ll have a quick chat fi rst, okay?’

Ari looked at him, looked at the bunch of papers. ‘Chat?’

‘Yeah,’ said Mac. ‘I don’t have the full picture. I don’t even know what I’m doing here, and some bastard is going to start with the explanations.’

‘Me?’

‘No one else in the room.’

Ari looked resigned. ‘What are these papers? Where did you get them?’

‘Know that airfi eld where Hassan’s team tried to land yesterday?’

‘And the Kopassus chased them off?’

‘Yep – I went out there and checked it out,’ said Mac. ‘These are the only papers remaining from a building that had been deliberately destroyed by fi re. And, Ari, I reckon the arsonists came back after they were chased off by Kopassus.’

‘So important, yes?’ said Ari, clearly interested.

‘Important enough so that someone tells me what the fuck’s going on.’

‘Okay,’ said Ari, fl ustered. ‘Ask me, but maybe I cannot say, yes?’

Mac started simple. ‘Was that a nuclear device in Kuta?’

‘I don’t know, McQueen. These JI camel-fuckers have been trying to increase their – how you say – their fi re strength…’

‘Firepower,’ said Mac.

‘Yes, increase their fi repower. They’ve been trying for a year. So they have this moneys from the al-Qaeda fuckers and they are speaking to many organisation. One of these organisation is the Dr Khan, and his chief of operations is Hassan.’

‘So, Kuta?’

‘You see, McQueen,’ said Ari, weighing his words, ‘Hassan has the access to many military application, including – how they say?

– CBRNE. You know this?’

Mac’s skin crawled. An acronym for weapons of mass destruction, CBRNE stood for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and enhanced Explosive. ‘Yes, Ari, I’ve heard of it.’

Ari shrugged as he stopped at a red light and lit a cigarette. ‘So what we know is that Hassan crew was in Kuta with the JI team of Abu Samir. Akbar was there too, but sailed before the bombings. What was it did they detonate? I was tailing you to understand this, yes?’

‘Sure.’

‘You and I both think that Paddy’s Bar was local terror bomb, perhaps ammonium nitrate or potassium chlorate, yes?’ said Ari.

Mac nodded.

‘But Sari Club – too big, too much destruction, hole in road much too big for fertiliser bomb. Hassan has access to enhanced military explosive, and he also has access to mini-nuke. What exploded in Kuta? That’s what I wanted you to help me fi nd out.’

Mac tried something else. ‘What are the Pakistanis doing in Indonesia?’

Ari wound down his window, letting in warm air, and fl icked his ash. ‘The Pakistanis are dangerous. Their military and their intelligence created the Taliban as a way of controlling Afghani opium production, you know this, yes?’

‘Yep. It’s not good.’

‘It is commercial business,’ said Ari. ‘The al-Qaeda have the money and the JI want the bombs. So Hassan gives bomb to JI and get moneys from Osama. Or, they give guns and power to Taliban, take money from Americans for the opium.’

Ari fl icked the ciggie as he pulled into the Polonia. ‘The Americans and the British think they are so smart allowing Pakistan to do this, but Russia will eventually have politicians who will not take this shit from the Pakistanis. It is in the history.’

Mac stood in the shower, thought about what Ari had said. It fi lled in some but not all of the holes. He dried off and got dressed while Ari copied the documents with his mini-scanner – a device the size of a highlighter. Mac had withheld the page with the blue ballpoint N W scrawl. Didn’t know why. Just a habit for secrets, perhaps.

Mac’s Service Nokia went off. Freddi Gardjito would be pulling up outside in fi fteen minutes. As Mac signed off, the clean Nokia trilled and he walked into the kitchenette area and answered.

‘Hi Joe,’ he said, then brought the other man up to speed: the soldier in the tree, the fact that Sumatra was shut down, the documents and the arson at the airfi eld. ‘Akbar’s dead,’ said Mac, ‘but Hassan and Samir are still on the run.’

‘So what’s next, mate?’

‘Joining BAIS in a few minutes. Something’s cooking.’

‘Be careful, McQueen, okay? It’s enough to observe and report.’

Mac made the usual noises, but they both knew what was expected of him. There were times when observation wasn’t enough and you needed to snatch a bloke, bring him in, get him talking. Or you needed to turn a person, get them working the other side of the road.

Joe knew all about that. He’d turned and run a very high-level offi cer in the Japanese nuclear program of the mid-1990s.

The Japanese had been building ICBMs and space-control/re-entry systems, and telling their neighbours they were developing their M-5 and J-1 rockets to launch satellites. At the same time their enrichment activities included a fast-breeder reactor that produced weapons-grade plutonium. When Japan signed an MOU in 1999 committing itself to the American exo-atmospheric Theatre Missile Defense system, the penny fi nally dropped in the East Asian neighbourhood and North Korea had every excuse it needed to develop its own nukes.

So Joe Imbruglia had ensured that Australia knew about Japan’s intentions before anyone else in Asia, and with that knowledge made sure that Australia was dealt into the Theatre Missile Defense system or TMD – and all the joint-development contracts with the Americans that went with it. Joe Imbruglia had become integral to Australian intelligence’s Nuke Desk and he was a star.

Joe was winding it up when something fl ashed into Mac’s mind, a piece of the puzzle that was trying to come to light, a thread that connected Joe to Kuta and to Hassan. The Japanese fast-breeder was notable in intelligence circles because the plutonium it produced was perfect for weapons miniaturisation. Essentially, a plutonium core the size of a tennis ball could be surrounded by a compact detonation system and the whole device could fi t inside a military backpack. It was also known as a mini-nuke.

Joe’s running of Mac started to make sense. He’d let Mac build a fantasy scenario about leaking word to the tango community that Akbar had turned traitor, but was Joe really running a nuclear counter-espionage operation?

Mac controlled his voice, and decided to give it a go. ‘Joe – why me?’

Joe sighed. ‘ McQueen! ‘

‘Come on, Joe.’

‘You’re taping this, aren’t you?’

‘This is the clean Nokia. And you called me.’

‘Look, mate, this is turning into a shit-fi ght – best you can do is help the Indonesians put these people away, okay?’ said Joe, sounding frazzled.

‘I need more,’ Mac insisted.

‘Like?’

‘Like, I haven’t been a part of the Nuke Desk since the INVO shit

– but I’m chasing Hassan.’

‘Jesus, mate. You honestly think Canberra would send their pipe-biters after Hassan and Samir?’

Mac laughed. The Nuke Desk was overloaded with highly educated theorists, a couple of whom liked to munch on non-loaded, unlit briar pipes while they held forth.

‘But why me? You guys have Jamieson in New Delhi and that bloke, what’s his name – Morrison – at the IAEA.’

‘I told you, I’m using my best guy for Indonesia.’

‘I need more, Joe. People are shooting at me.’

Mac heard Joe fi nding a new way to hold his chin.

‘Okay,’ conceded Joe. ‘Since late last year, the Americans have been raiding unsecured nuclear labs and enrichment facilities in the former Soviet Union, okay? The southern states, the central Asian republics.’

‘Who’s been doing it?’

‘Special forces under the Twentieth Support Command, US Army.

Know these guys? DIA operation, basically.’

Mac said, ‘Yep.’ The Twentieth was a global CBRNE strike force with its own Presidential fi nding, which meant it could do just about anything it wanted. Invading countries and stealing their unsecured plutonium cores sounded pretty much like the Twentieth at work.

‘Suddenly we have Hassan selling devices to terrorist organisations,’ said Joe, ‘and the Russians are saying the Americans supplied them to the Pakistanis. Now we have some of these players together in Indonesia and it’s time to move on them.’

Mac could hear Ari moving about in the next room but before he signed off he remembered something he wanted to ask Joe.

‘Mate, who was that other tango you were referring to on the phone yesterday? Might be useful.’

There was a pause. ‘Sure this is clean?’

‘Scouts,’ said Mac.

‘It’s not a person, McQueen.’

‘No?’

‘One version of events says Hassan landed in Indonesia with two devices.’


CHAPTER 19

<p>CHAPTER 19</p>

They were halfway to Belawan – the port city of Medan – when Mac’s clean Nokia rang. ‘Yeah,’ he murmured, keeping his eyes on Purni and Freddi to see if they were listening.

It was Viktor, ready to talk.

Mac didn’t like sharing too much with other spooks but under the circumstances it didn’t look like he’d be adding to BAIS’s knowledge about Hassan and what his crew had detonated in Kuta. He tried the normal etiquette among spies and made a long umm, yeah sound.

Freddi leaned forward, turned on the radio – Indonesia’s answer to Britney Spears – and gave it some volume.

‘Vik, mini-nukes,’ whispered Mac, jimmying down as low as he could into the back seat of the LandCruiser and cupping his hand over his face. ‘Tell me about them.’

‘We are talking about Kuta, yes, Mac?’

‘Shit, Viktor!’

‘Well,’ said the Ukrainian, rolling the word into three syllables,

‘we watch the CNN and there is this hole in road.’

‘Mate, I was hoping you’d tell me it’s rubbish,’ said Mac, wanting an expert to quash the nuke thing quick-smart. He wanted a reason not to believe it.

‘Well, maybe and maybe no, yes?’

‘What are the engineers saying?’

‘They are looking at image and wondering what device make this.’

Mac felt squeezed. He was being shot at way too often and now he found himself seconded to Indonesian BAIS again, while being tailed by the Russians. The confi rmation that the Sari Club might be a nuke was too much.

‘What would be the give-away?’ asked Mac. ‘What would tell the investigators in Kuta that the Sari explosion was a mini-nuke?’

There was a pause while Viktor thought, then, ‘Okay, so there would be very small traces of a material called tritium. This is easily removed with water, but then it becomes triated water.’

‘No radiation?’

‘This depends,’ said Viktor. ‘The Israelis and the Americans have a mini-nuclear device called MRR or Minimal Residual Radioactivity.

This is basically a clean explosion.’

‘Really?’

‘Fission reactions have different results. Big A-bomb releases many radiations; small plutonium cores, for local area blasts, not so dirty.’

‘So, an American or Israeli mini-nuke has no radiation?’

‘No. It has some, but very low levels.’

‘So, Vik,’ Mac breathed out, ‘could a mini-nuke make that hole in front of the Sari?’

‘I do not know.’

‘Shit, mate. Help me here.’

Viktor’s voice jumped an octave. ‘I am telling truth, McQueen.’

Through the windscreen, the security gates of the Belawan Port Authority loomed. It was Indonesia’s largest port outside of Java and was the originating point for much of the world’s rubber, coffee and palm oil, so it was heavily guarded.

‘Viktor, how do you think we got that crater in Kuta?’

‘Either very powerful device tamped on road, or under road.’

‘But not anfo?’

‘Anfo probably not powerful enough, unless there was whole truck. But anfo leaves traces that are easy to read so forensic tell us soon, yes?’


***

The Port Authority Prado led them across the concrete apron to a section of warehouses. They spilled out of the LandCruiser at a pale blue building with the huge painted letters, SUNDA LOGISTICS 31 across the loading bays. Two of the loading bays were in use, with large trucks offl oading containers, fl ashing orange lights everywhere and sirens beeping every time a forklift backed up.

It was in the high thirties but a breeze off the Malacca Strait provided some relief. Next to Mac, Freddi pointed to the far end of the large building, where the loading bays were locked up, and said to the Port Authority guy, ‘Let’s start down there.’

As they walked down the apron, Mac got in Freddi’s ear. ‘I thought we were working together on this, Fred – joint op, all that shit?’

‘Well it looked like you were working with Ari,’ said Freddi, inscrutable behind dark sunnies.

‘Oh, come on, Fred!’ Mac couldn’t believe the way spooks got with each other sometimes. ‘He’s down one guy – Samir’s people whacked his partner in Java the other night. And he’s on our side, right? I’m talking about BAIS failing to reveal that Hassan is probably in possession of a second device,’ said Mac.

Freddi stopped, gestured for Purni and the PA guy to walk ahead, then fronted Mac. ‘Can I get you a loudspeaker? Could you tell the whole world?’

‘Sorry, Fred,’ said Mac, scratching the back of his head. ‘I’m a little tired, confused. I can’t get my head around this thing.’

‘For a record,’ said Freddi, ‘the Samir shooter – that guy in the tree? – he started spilling this morning, about fi ve am.’

‘He talked?’

‘He screamed. That’s the fi rst time I could confi rm a second device, but yes, I suspected that yesterday.’

‘Are we chasing a nuke?’

Freddi laughed, white teeth fl ashing at the sky. ‘You been in this country too long, McQueen – you even started thinking like us.’

‘Well?’

‘It’s a possibility but it could be experimental explosive.’

‘CIA?’

Freddi stared. ‘I don’t want that getting around, understand?’

‘Orders?’

‘No, McQueen. I don’t want my guys making up stories about the Big Bad Yankee – that won’t help me.’

They watched Purni and the PA guy get to the inset door on the front of one of the loading bays. The PA guy used a master key and they went in.

‘So,’ said Mac, ‘is Hassan travelling with the second device, or is it stored?’

Freddi pointed at the warehouse. ‘Tree Guy says there were two large pale-green security cases in that storage a week ago. They delivered one three days ago, but they didn’t meet the buyers.’

‘Cellular?’

‘Totally,’ said Freddi. ‘The soldiers are separate links in the chain.

They don’t know the full picture or the whole set-up.’

‘Figures,’ said Mac.

‘Yeah,’ said Freddi, ‘that’s why they shot Akbar – he knew all the links.’

They were making for the warehouse when Purni sped out the door and jogged towards them. ‘You gotta smell this,’ he yelled.

‘Anfo fumes.’

Freddi lifted his radio handset but Purni put out a hand before Mac could. Radio waves and microwaves from a mobile phone could trigger unstable explosive vapours. The next step was to shut down the apron and get the army and fi re services to deal with it.

The PA bloke stepped out of the building and even from one hundred metres away the three of them all heard his mobile ring.

They screamed at him not to take the call, in different languages, but almost in slow motion his hand went to his hip, picked up the phone and pressed a button – the knee-jerk of modern life. As he put the phone to his ear the steel-clad walls of the warehouse bulged and split before expanding outward in a rush of air that sent the PA guy across the apron in pieces.

Freddi, Purni and Mac dropped to the ground as the shock wave swept along the container port, taking pieces of building and port worker with it. Mac got his head down, covered his ears and head, and prayed. The blast boomed, and then roared, the air shaking along with the concrete apron. Then came the tinkling, banging, scraping and smashing of thousands of pieces of material coming to earth and hitting other buildings, like the devil’s rain.

They lay like that for thirty seconds, lifting their heads only as the noise of shouts and sirens took over from where the explosion’s roar left off. When Mac sat up, he spat something that felt like hair from his lip and ran his hands over his head, checking for injuries.

Freddi stood, hitting at dust from his pants and looking around like a marooned man trying to work out where he’d landed. Purni sat with his arms on his knees, shaking his head between his legs and coughing at something stuck in his throat.

Dust and paper circulated like a confetti parade. Dead birds fell like a biblical curse.

Mac and Freddi stared at where the southern end of Sunda Logistics had stood thirty seconds ago. It now looked like a skeleton, like an industrial version of a carcass in an elephant graveyard. Blue-black smoke drifted upwards on the breeze and the smell of fuel and ammonia was strong enough to settle on Mac’s lips.

Mac saw something move. ‘Fred, over here.’

They started towards what looked like a body about fi fty metres away from the blast site. As they got closer it looked less hopeful.

Walking the fi nal few metres, Mac gagged on fi nding the PA guy, who was missing both legs and most of the bladder and bowel areas. With his one remaining arm he was trying to hold his entrails in while looking at the sky and mouthing something.

‘ Ambulan! Ambulan! Sekerang-sekerang! Ambulan! ‘ cried Freddi, screaming himself hoarse as he waved his arms at the rescue people wandering onto the apron.

Finally a port worker started their way, and Freddi screamed at him to get over to them, now!

When the worker arrived he visibly freaked at the sight of his co-worker. Freddi slapped the bloke, made him look into his eyes, gave him some orders. And when the worker tried to make a call on his mobile, Freddi grabbed it and threw it away, grabbed the worker by the shirt and remonstrated with him.

The bloke ran off, yelling something at other workers coming into the blast area, some of whom already had mobile phones to their ears.


CHAPTER 20

<p>CHAPTER 20</p>

Freddi gave a statement to the Criminal Investigations offi cers while Purni, Mac and Ari waited by the emergency vehicles inside the port security gates. Ari chain-smoked and stared at the ground, chewing on his gum, gingerly trying to keep his weight off the leg with the bullet wound. Purni was green and Mac slurped on bottled water, still feeling stunned.

The medics wheeled the Port Authority guy past on a gurney and Mac noticed they’d found a leg and some bits that might have been an arm, which they’d placed on the end of the gurney. There was a dark blanket over the guy’s face. Freddi went over and said something to the ambulance guys, who shook their heads – the international sign for The guy didn’t make it.

Mac noticed that on the salvaged leg was a pair of red brief underwear, same as his own.

‘Shit,’ he muttered, looking skywards. When he looked down again he instinctively crossed himself and said a little prayer. Beside him, Freddi – who was Catholic – did the same thing, then Ari joined them.

Unable to believe what he’d just seen, Mac’s facial muscles froze into a mask of anger. Then he got a fl ash of red in his brain, like he was back at Nudgee College, in the dorms, blueing with the Lenihan brothers. Hissing through gritted teeth he stepped up to Ari, threw a left-hook body-rip to the bloke’s right kidney and then followed it with a left hook to his right jaw.

Ari fell sideways, his legs buckling at the knees as he tried for balance, a spray of pink saliva squirting from the other side of his mouth. The Indonesian cops and Port Authority people reacted by going for their guns but Mac didn’t care. Standing over Ari he lifted his polo shirt and rested his hand on his Heckler. Ari pushed himself onto his left elbow and shook his head gingerly, trying to focus his eyes. He looked up at Mac, confused as a child. ‘I got it wrong?’

Mac nodded, his nostrils fl aring. ‘Don’t tell me, all Christians look the same, right? Just some dumb shit about making a cross – how hard can it be?’

Ari nodded, gently touching his right jaw. ‘I get it wrong sometimes,’ he shrugged. ‘Which one this time?’

‘You’re wearing an Orthodox crucifi x, so you cross yourself with three fi ngers,’ growled Mac as Freddi came over.

‘Everything okay, McQueen?’ asked Freddi.

‘Bloke pretends to be an Orthodox, then crosses himself with an open hand, touches his left shoulder fi rst,’ he spat, kicking at Ari’s boot. ‘That’s the Catholic way, you fucking ponce!’

‘Sorry, McQueen,’ said Ari.

Mac breathed out long and hard, tried for some composure. ‘So what are you?’

Ari looked away, spat blood out of his mouth.

‘He’s Israeli,’ said Freddi, sounding a bit confused. ‘He didn’t tell you this?’

‘No. I thought he was Russian.’

Freddi chuckled. ‘He is – he was. But now he’s Ari Scharansky, our local Mossad guy.’

Mac sulked in the front seat of the BAIS LandCruiser, humiliated, furious with Ari, angry with himself for his outburst, annoyed with Freddi for letting the issue just drift along.

‘Could happen to anyone, McQueen,’ smiled Freddi, driving instead of Purni.

‘Oh, this is funny?’

‘Well,’ said Freddi, ‘just a bit.’

‘If I pulled that on you in Australia, it would be all about the uppity Anglos and their superiority complex, Freddi. We’d never hear the end of it.’

‘Sorry, maate. We just get used to our foreign spooks and their covers. You know what Jakarta’s like.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

‘I honestly didn’t think to tell you. In fact, I thought you guys knew each other.’

Burning with adolescent rage, Mac shot him a look that could kill and Freddi spluttered, turned away laughing.

Collecting himself, Freddi got serious. ‘Anyway, McQueen, that was nice work on the Orthodox thing. Gonna tell my guys that one.’

Mac relaxed a little. It actually was funny and he’d be loading on the jokes with a shovel if it had happened to someone else. When you fi rst started in the fi rm, the overarching rule was: Assumption is the gateway to disaster. It sounded plodding when you were young and had huge faith in your own infallibility. But it was great advice. Mac had made a huge assumption about Ari, probably because he’d been tired and in shock at the state of Kuta when he’d fi rst arrived. But in the spy game, all assumptions had to be discarded on meeting someone new. Just because it looked like a duck and sounded like a duck, didn’t mean it wasn’t a goose.

Israeli intelligence had always had problems getting traction in Indonesia; not just because it wasn’t possible to enter the Republic on an Israeli passport, but because there were severe cultural differences between the Indons and the Israelis that made it hard for Israeli-born Mossad agents to blend in. They were too intense, for starters. The Javanese used a lot of humour in their communications, which made it easy for Australians to get along in the Archipelago, but Israelis tended to stare too long and too seriously into another man’s eyes, which instantly triggered the Javanese social defences. The Israelis also had a basic personality clash in the region. Even when a Javanese wanted to say no, he would nod, smile, make a joke, slap you on the back, equivocate – do whatever had to be done to say no without actually saying the word. The Israelis – in Mac’s experience – saw this face-saving mechanism as weakness or uncertainty, and even the most highly trained of them found it hard not to press their advantage. They just didn’t get it. Mac had tried to point this out to Mossad agents he’d known in the past but mostly they argued with his assessment, so he’d smile, slap them on the back, buy them a drink.

For these reasons, Israel’s intelligence services tended to use their Russian-born-and-bred operators in Indonesia and Malaysia.

And in the absence of an Israeli embassy or consulate, they ran front companies in shipping, telecoms and import-export which helped them to raise intelligence on the world’s largest Muslim nation.

Mac knew all this and should have at least countered Ari, fi gured him out better. He’d been tired and rushed and had fallen into assumptions. It was his fault.

‘Think I overreacted, Fred?’

‘Sure,’ said Freddi, smiling. ‘But we’re all on edge, yeah?’

Mac keyed his Nokia, got through to Ari in the tailing car. ‘Sorry about that, mate. Had a brain-snap.’

‘You hit like boxer – all Australians punch like this?’

‘All Russians have iron heads like this?’ said Mac shaking his left hand out the window.

Ari boomed laughter into the phone.

‘Listen, Ari,’ said Mac. ‘I’ve got a bunch of US dollars – can I buy you all lunch?’ He looked around and Freddi and Purni nodded.

‘Too the fucking right, mite,’ shouted Ari.

There was a riverside fi sh stand on the road back inland from Belawan to Medan. Freddi, Ari and Purni sat at the table, talking about Hassan and Gorilla, while Mac tried to fi nd some beers. The woman behind the stand pulled a green curtain aside and opened a dark blue esky on the fl oor behind it, pulling three Tigers from the ice. In northern Sumatra the conservative Muslims were not insulted by alcohol consumption so long as it wasn’t prominently displayed at the counter. A big glass fridge of booze might be construed as tempting the believers.

Mac put the beers on the table, with Purni the only one not to reach for a bottle.

‘That wasn’t the other device – no way,’ Freddi was saying to Ari.

‘You are right,’ said Ari, gulping at the cold beer. ‘Not enough blast, no incendiary phase.’

Mac wanted more on the Port Authority blast. ‘So what happened back there?’

‘Stored anfo,’ said Freddi. ‘That’s my guess. Microwaves can spark the fumes, we all know that.’

‘So Hassan’s still got the other device?’

Ari and Freddi were silent, naturally cagey.

‘Or it’s stored, yes?’ asked Ari. ‘And Hassan and his camel-fuckers are trying to get off this island.’

While Mac wolfed down the grilled fi sh chunks, he thought about how he was going to get either Ari or Freddi to come clean on what had destroyed the Sari Club.

‘So, one of you two going to tell me what this other device is?’

They both did their shrugs, the Javanese and Russian versions almost a parody of each other.

‘Well?’ asked Mac.

‘Nothing to say, McQueen,’ said Freddi, washing his food down with beer. ‘It’s small, it has a huge yield, it was brought in by the Pakistanis. And we are ninety-nine per cent sure they brought in two of them.’

A thromp sounded in the distance and as it got louder Freddi stood with his portable radio handset and walked out of the courtyard into the sun. Looking over, Mac saw three Indonesian Army Hueys about half a mile away, heading north up the coast at full speed.

Keying the radio, Freddi demanded something, and after a few seconds an adrenaline-charged voice yelled down the airwaves in raucous outbursts. Mac recognised the shortness of breath and the nervous excitement – it was the way he’d felt for the last three days.

Freddi barked into the radio as he strode back towards the fi sh shack. Mac noticed a change in the noise of the helos and that one of the Hueys had doubled back towards them.

‘Only room for two,’ snapped Freddi, then pointed at Purni and rattled an order.

‘It’s still Handmaiden, McQueen. Okay?’ said Freddi as Purni ran out to the Cruiser.

Mac’s heart sank. He just wanted to eat and sleep properly and go to New York.

Ari stood beside Mac, annoyed. ‘So where is this? Where are we going?’

Freddi looked back at them, smiling. ‘This could be it.’

As they walked outside, the Huey was landing in the grassed forecourt area putting up a blanket of dust, leaves and insects. The traffi c on the road to Medan slowed to a crawl as Purni brought over two M4s, two vests and a black Cordura bag fi lled with what Mac assumed were spare magazines, replacement radio handsets and the interrogation kit Indonesian intelligence operatives travelled around with. Mac threw his Oakley backpack over his left shoulder and took the Cordura bag, a vest and an M4. The dust drove past Mac’s sunnies and into his eyes as they moved towards where the loadmaster had his arm extended out of the army helo. Mac got into the cabin, took a hammock seat, then looked out and saw Freddi yelling something into Purni’s ear and giving him the radio, before jogging to the Huey with his vest and assault rifl e. Freddi got in and sat beside Mac, facing forward with his back against the rear bulkhead.

The revs came up and the loadmaster slid home the side door.

As the helo rose Mac noticed two things simultaneously: the person sitting beside the pilot was Major Benni Sudarto. And outside on the grass apron, Purni was looking at the rising helo… but Ari was looking at Purni with a look Mac couldn’t quite decipher.


CHAPTER 21

<p>CHAPTER 21</p>

They landed about ten miles north of a pirate town called Idi, on the Malaccan coast. Deplaning onto the dirt pan of a coastal airfi eld, Mac let two of the Kopassus troopers go in front of him as the dust fl ew in the mid-afternoon heat haze of northern Sumatra. Sudarto’s intel had the Hassan gang planning to use this long-abandoned airfi eld, and from Freddi’s comments Mac guessed that Kopassus and BAIS were intercepting signals. The Indonesian military, police and intelligence agencies were confi dent they had shut down Northern Sumatra and were about to trap the Kuta bombers.

Sudarto led the boys to the edges of the dirt pan where palms and wild pineapples created a natural cover. Then the helos powered up and got airborne, their loadmasters setting up. 50-cal door-mounted guns for possible air support. Mac wore a borrowed Kevlar special forces helmet but he’d missed out on a headset. He wouldn’t have been able to follow the Bahasa anyway, but he’d have liked to stay connected with Freddi.

Sudarto split them into three groups. Two went opposite ways around the perimeter of the airfi eld. Their job was to fl ush out any tangos who might be hiding, and if they couldn’t fi nd any, to dig in, create a hide and wait for orders. Sudarto was taking Freddi, Mac and three Kopassus troopers to check the array of old buildings that sat behind the concrete control tower, its black-and-white chequered paint job telling Mac that this had been a military installation at some point, probably during Konfrontasi – a dispute from the early 1960s when Indonesia tried to stop the creation of the modern Malaysia by making military incursions into the new country.

They jogged along together, Mac’s vest weighing on his shoulders.

He was glad he’d swapped his boat shoes for the Hi-Tecs when they took a shortcut through a stand of palms with wild pineapples spread like a carpet through the undergrowth. They were young plants that would have cut his feet apart in anything less than his boots. Pausing at the edge of the undergrowth, they looked out over a derelict square that would once have been the administration and barracks area of a military post. There was no one there now – no vehicles, no planes, no sign of life.

They knelt in the shade and Sudarto whispered with his sergeant.

Then Sudarto looked back and snapped something at Freddi, the only part of which Mac understood to be terowong. Mac hoped he’d got the translation wrong. Then Freddi turned to him with a shit happens look and Mac knew there was a tunnel complex around somewhere and Sudarto wanted to check it out.

‘Fuck, Freddi,’ hissed Mac, his hands sliding all over the M4 in the heat of the afternoon. ‘It’s gonna be an ambush – swear to God.’

Freddi yelled something at Sudarto and the major replied with a huge grin and, smiling at Mac, said, ‘We’re just going to check the entrances, McQueen. That okay with you?’

As the soldiers laughed, Mac said, ‘Cheers, thanks, Major.’

Mac had an internal tension between bravery and caution. He could make himself do things he didn’t want to do, but he wasn’t gung-ho. Back in the Royal Marines, he’d once asked Banger Jordan why he’d been put up for the SBS Swimmer-Canoeist course. ‘You know I can’t stand frogging in muddy water,’ he’d said. ‘You’ve seen the state of me before a night jump.’

Banger had laughed at him. ‘The thing about the best special forces guys is that they feel fear and make themselves overcome it.’

Now they were looking for Hassan, Samir and Gorilla in a deserted military base which stood over what Mac assumed was a bunker system. Mac didn’t like it and he didn’t believe they were just going to check for anything. Kopassus were many things, but they weren’t inspectors.

Mac moved second to last in a duck line, a trooper doing the sweep behind him as they moved across the edges of an old parade ground. Some of the buildings had been destroyed, some had been picked up off their foundations and moved to other bases, others were sagging.

They stayed in the shadows and the duck line stretched out. Mac looked for trip wires, pressure pads, tyre marks, boot prints – anything to get a sense of where the enemy might be. They moved beyond the parade ground and further into the foliage that had encroached on the base over the years. Sweat ran down Mac’s back, swimming under the vest and soaking down the back of his pants.

They got to a shape in the bushes that rose to the height of a man and was covered in vines and other greenery. Sudarto sent a trooper forward to look for booby traps while the rest of them fanned out around the structure and stood guard. Once Mac got into position he could see the shape in the foliage was a concrete entranceway that framed an iron door. The trooper called for Sudarto to come over and the major moved to the door, looked at it, pushed vines away with his M4 and shook his head. No one had gone in that entrance.

The minutes ticked by, the afternoon temp building to what Mac reckoned was thirty-nine degrees. It would have been bearable half a mile away on the beach, but in the palms, pineapples and rainforest it was soaking-humid and Mac had left his backpack and water on the helo. They checked the other three bunker entrances, which were arranged in a rectangle in which the long sides were fi fty metres apart and the short sides about twenty metres.

They found a hide in behind one of the runway buildings that had a large vine overhang, but with sight lines to the airfi eld. Sudarto got the water distributed and moved off to a private area where he worked a Harris fi eld radio from a trooper’s pack, looking far from happy.

Freddi and Mac stood where they could see over the airfi eld.

‘What’s up?’ asked Mac, slugging at the water.

‘Major’s annoyed with the SIGINT,’ said Freddi, looking over at Sudarto as if he didn’t want the soldier to hear him. ‘Maybe he thinks this is set-up?’

Freddi took off his helmet, poured some water into his hand and wiped it back through his hair. Mac did the same; it felt good.

‘So, what’s the set-up?’ asked Mac, knowing that SIGINT – or signals intelligence – was not always as scientifi c as it sounded.

Freddi shrugged. ‘If Hassan knows we’re intercepting his pilots, he could tell them to make false signals, and we wait in wrong place while he is doing exfi l.’

‘Or,’ said Mac, who was paranoid about such things, ‘we’re in the right place but we’ve been lured into an ambush?’

Freddi slugged water without taking his eyes off Mac. ‘Well, McQueen,’ he said evenly, ‘that would require that Hassan’s crew knew where we were an hour ago, because ambushes have a timing component, right?’

‘Don’t look at me like that, Fred,’ snapped Mac, way too on edge for polite chit-chat. ‘I was dropped into this – I want these fuckers on a pole, believe me.’

‘Wasn’t pointing at you. What about our Mossad friend?’

‘Ari?’ Mac was surprised at that. ‘He wants these blokes too.

Samir’s people killed his partner in Java two nights ago.’

Mac let it rest for a few seconds, then realised what Freddi was actually saying. ‘You mean, Ari’s part of this crew?’ he said, jigging his thumb over his shoulder.

‘Not saying anything, McQueen – just that the major is nervous about the SIGINT that got us here. And he’s a good soldier.’

Mac needed a slash so he crabbed along the building and moved quickly across a short open area and into more vines and undergrowth.

Looking around nervously, he tried to get his senses together amid the din of insects and birds. He thought about Sudarto’s anxiety – special forces paranoia was a security device, not a mental health problem.

But something troubled Mac. If the SIGINT was really contaminated then Purni was a more logical candidate for being a double agent than Ari. Purni had been left behind with the radio set. Purni could listen in. Purni, now unsupervised, could be in unlimited communications with Hassan or Gorilla.

As he shook off, Mac thought he heard a sound. Picking up his M4, he moved slowly forward, wishing he still had his helmet. Peeking through a curtain of vines, he saw a couple of local kids playing in a clearing. The girl and boy, about ten and nine, were teasing a young macaque in a tree with a bunch of green and purple fi gs on a long branch. The macaque was trying to get lower to grab the fi gs but the kids kept pulling them away. Mac watched as the macaque worked out what was going on and pretended to look away, as if uninterested, before lunging at the fruit. Mac had seen kids entertain themselves like this for hours in the Archipelago, child and macaque each sure they would outsmart the other.

The macaque turned its back on the kids and made to climb the tree, so the kids touched its back with the fi gs. The macaque suddenly spun and grabbed at the fi gs, but lost its balance in the process and fell out of the tree, scaring the kids into running off screaming.

Frightened, the macaque skedaddled straight back up the tree. The kids ran towards the vine curtain Mac was hiding behind, recoiling when they saw him. They stood and took him in, their eyes huge and mouths turned down.

Mac threw the M4 away into the vines, hoping they hadn’t seen it.

‘Hey gang,’ he smiled. ‘Catchee monkey?’

The girl smiled, and Mac saw she was the older of the two. ‘No catchee, mister. Monkey smart today.’

Mac nodded with understanding. Sometimes those darned macaques were too good at the old triple-bluff, double-reverse logic thing. A girl needed to be on her game.

‘I’m Mac,’ he pointed at his chest. ‘What’s your name?’

The girl just stared at him, so Mac smiled, pretended to be shy.

‘Merpati,’ she said, ‘and Santo – Santoso.’

‘Brother?’

Merpati nodded. ‘Santo, brother.’

Mac thought about it, and said, ‘Merpati, I’m with my friends, at airfi eld, yes?’

The girl nodded.

‘But there might be big trouble, so you should go back to beach, yes?’ He pointed away from the airfi eld towards the coast which was about a kilometre east.

Merpati shook her head like a teacher’s pet. ‘The men there.’

Mac’s breath caught. ‘Men, on beach?’

‘In trees, at beach, yes,’ she said, nodding.

Hot air steamed in Mac’s throat as he tried to keep his breathing regular.

‘Trouble there too,’ she added.

‘Man?’ asked Mac, pretending to be calm. ‘Man like me?’

The girl shook her head, big eyes serious, then wiped her hand down her face, which in Indonesia meant normal looks like mine, not like yours.

‘Men tall?’ asked Mac.

Merpati pointed at Mac. Then she remembered something and her face lit up. ‘Man like, like… gorilla?’

Mac gulped and sensed movement through the leaves. A monkey yelled and a hornbill jumped off a branch as his brain screamed fucking ambush. Reaching for the kids’ hands to drag them out of the fi ring zone, he tried to pull them back towards the airfi eld with him, but Santo panicked and wriggled out of Mac’s grip and ran back into the clearing where they’d been playing with the monkey.

‘Stay here!’ Mac snapped at Merpati, and ran after the boy.

As he reached the clearing, Mac saw that Santo had already crossed the open space and was heading back towards Hassan’s people. Mac put on a sprint, trying to stay quiet, tackling the boy about ten metres past the clearing and slapping his hand over the kid’s mouth.

The jungle had turned so quiet they could hear the macaque muttering to itself in the tree. Santo’s little heart raced against Mac’s arm and tiny twig-breaks and footfalls were obvious now that Mac had his ear on the jungle fl oor. He pulled Santo under a log, the boy’s hair swishing forward and revealing a triangular birthmark that ran up behind his left ear and under his hair. Turning Santo over to face him, Mac pointed ahead, put a hush-hush fi nger to his lips and pleaded with his eyes. The boy seemed to get it. He was scared but he trusted Mac.

Mac felt a huge burden of responsibility and made a quick pact with God: If this boy does everything I say, can you let him live?


CHAPTER 22

<p>CHAPTER 22</p>

Putting his head up very slowly, Mac took a look over the parapet of the log. There was no movement, but the small noise he’d heard had come from an area at about a forty-fi ve degree angle to their hide.

Mac needed to get back to his M4 and Merpati, and get the two kids the hell out of there. Looking at Santo, he made a crawling motion with his fi ngers in the direction of Merpati. Santo nodded, scared but brave.

Mac and Santo lay on their stomachs and crawled, Mac’s left hand grasping the back of the boy’s T-shirt so there’d no more runners. The ground behind the log dipped slightly, hiding them from sight, and they moved quickly on their bellies into the clearing with the monkey tree. Behind the tree, Mac stood in a crouch, his heart going crazy.

He looked back and waited, wanting to locate the Hassan soldiers.

Stealthing across the clearing to where Merpati’s legs were visible, they all crouched behind the vine. Mac collected the M4, his eyes darting around in the eerie quiet of the jungle.

Mac wanted to move the kids but he didn’t want to lead Hassan’s people to Freddi and the Kopassus soldiers, which would benefi t no one.

He turned the kids, and aimed them on an angle forty-fi ve degrees away from where the last footfalls had come from. As they started to move, there was a solid click of steel and an eerie pause. Then the air tore open with the sound of automatic weapons.

Diving for the ground, a child under each arm, Mac felt the air shake as bullets whistled and smashed through the foliage. Male voices yelled in excitement from both sides and then there was the thumpa-thumpa of a. 50-cal started up, turning the rainforest into a mist of splinters.

Glancing over his shoulder, Mac realised the Hassan attack had come from further south and the closest shooter was maybe thirty metres south of where he was with the kids. It created a greater danger: that Freddi and the Kopassus unit might mistake Mac and the kids for a hostile target. The three of them crawled sideways out of the blizzard of lead, the kids staying amazingly quiet given the terrifying situation. They slid down a dry creek bed, then Mac knelt and looked back. Still no one had made them, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a fl anking shooter hooking around from the north. He wasn’t sure whether to break cover and get the kids to run for it or fi nd a hide and let them sit it out.

Moving north along the creek bed, Mac found what he was looking for. A large tree had fallen down in the creek bed some years before, and vines had cascaded onto it. Pulling up the vine curtain, Mac kicked away a couple of spiders and helped Merpati and Santo under the tree.

‘If you stay here and stay quiet, you should be safe, okay?’ he whispered miming it at the same time. They nodded at him, big dark eyes scared but trusting.

Letting the vine fall back, Mac jogged back along the creek bed, looking for Freddi and the Kopassus guys.

The noise of gunfi re had subsided into a tactical exchange of three-shot bursts and the enemy fi re seemed to be coming from just south of where the kids had taunted the macaque. Mac crept slowly in that direction, his M4 shouldered as he looked down its sights.

Pausing behind a tree, he looked ahead intently for twenty seconds and fi nally saw something through the undergrowth.

There was a two-man team on a. 50-cal gun, mounted on a tripod: Pakistanis in khaki cams. They sent off a burst and fi re came back, so Mac elbow-crawled to a slight rise which gave him an elevation over the. 50-cal team. He shouldered the M4, brought his eye down to the sights and squeezed two bursts of three-shot. The fi rst burst dropped the gunner and the second burst hit the observer in the chest, making him stagger back on his knees. A third man, standing behind the . 50-cal team, fi red back towards Mac’s position, though he didn’t know exactly where he was shooting. Mac ducked behind the small ridge and then came up to take more shots but the shooter was retreating with a strange running gait.

Mac stood still, waiting.

‘That you, McQueen?’ came Freddi’s voice from a point south of Mac.

‘Roger that,’ yelled Mac.

‘That’s the last of them, I think,’ called Freddi.

Mac moved quickly down the small ridge in a crouch and ran towards the runway. Breaking into the open, Mac saw Freddi and the Kopassus soldiers to his left and helos roaring overhead. Sudarto was yelling into the radio, his fi nger in one ear. The Hueys fanned out and the door gunners started their stuff. Two Kopassus bodies sprawled dead behind the building and there were some massive holes in the side of the structure, obviously caused by the. 50-cal.

Mac stooped over and ran towards Freddi, pointed up at the helos.

‘The Hassan team has SAMs, remember?’

Freddi nodded and gestured to Benni Sudarto, who turned away.

As he did, there was a boom and a fl ash of orange over the jungle.

A torrent of pilots yelling blasted from the radio and Sudarto yelled back. More Kopassus guys arrived from the other side of the runway, then formed up for a push through the jungle.

‘Hassan’s got a boat at the beach with SAMs on the back,’ said Freddi. ‘Major’s pulling the helos back.’

‘No rockets?’ asked Mac.

‘Can’t get the range, and there’s fi shing boats out there. Hassan’s people have the big calibre guns too, and the major doesn’t want to lose more helos. Wants them able to track these guys out to sea till we can get some air power in.’

The helos appeared back over the runway area, forming an observation platform. Sudarto gestured at his sergeant, who gave the orders, then the Indonesian special forces moved back into the jungle at a jog. Mac and Freddi got in behind with the major. The Kopassus soldiers mopped up the remaining three Hassan shooters, taking twenty minutes to reach the beach, where they took their positions behind palm trees and waited for the major.

When Freddi and Mac got to the beach, the Hassan boat – similar to one they used in Denpasar – was already a mile into the Malacca Strait.

‘Any further and they’ll be in Malaysian waters,’ muttered Freddi.

Down the beach, a charred lump of smoking steel was all that remained of the downed Indonesian Huey. As Kopassus soldiers walked out onto the beach and down to the water, another SAM launched from the rear deck of the Hassan boat, skidding through the air like an airborne shark attack. Crossing them from right to left, the Huey it was aimed at pulled up as the missile fl ew under it.

Sudarto frantically gestured the radio guy over and yelled something into his mouthpiece. The helos fanned further out. A new voice came on the radio, sounding like an offi ce guy. Sudarto cocked an ear and made a face. Looked straight up at the sky, took a breath.

‘Jakarta, telling him, No fi ghters today,’ said Freddi. ‘Not going to risk an incident with the Malaysians.’

As they watched the Hassan gang make their getaway, Mac heard a squealing sound coming from behind them. Swivelling, he and Freddi saw a white Bombardier Challenger private jet coming in fl aps-up to land on the runway. Sudarto yelled into the radio but it was too late.

The helos were two miles out to sea and the Bombardier had a top speed of almost four times a Huey. Fifty seconds after disappearing behind the stand of jungle to make its landing, the Bombardier was in the air again, in a steep climb, powering up to full speed. The two Hueys chugged like tractors and were not even over the Kopassus ground position on the beach as the Bombardier vanished into the sun.

As soldiers jogged to the helo wreck, Mac looked at Major Benni Sudarto’s crestfallen face. No doubt he was contemplating his future.

He’d been outwitted and outgunned by a foreign crew: ambushed on his own patch and then decoyed into letting the enemy get away. It didn’t look good. Still, Mac had other things to attend to. Hassan and Gorilla might well have passed Merpati and Santo’s hiding place when they’d run to the airfi eld. He had asked those kids to stay put and do it his way, and then he’d run off. If they’d stayed where Mac had left them, they might have been discovered.

Mac started sprinting, leaving Freddi staring after him in confusion.

Undergrowth slapping his face, roots tripping him, he stumbled on as fast as he could through the jungle. He found the dry creek bed, fell down it, and in a total babbling panic sprinted up it, muttering to himself please, please, hoping that just because someone was a terrorist and a nuclear broker and a bomber, it didn’t mean they would hurt children.

He saw the tree and lunged at it, pulling away the vine curtain and looking in. Merpati lay crumpled on the ground, eyes staring at the tree. As Mac went to touch her she turned and, fl inching, shook her head. Mac saw why as he leaned over. She’d been shot in the shoulder and blood had soaked down her right side, leaving her entire arm and upper body in a total mess.

Mumbling prayers to himself, Mac tried to lift her out but Merpati screamed and fainted. He pulled her into his arms, whipped off his vest and tore off his polo shirt to staunch the bleeding in her upper arm. The whole shoulder was mangled, the bones shattered, her arm hanging by a few tendons. Mac screamed for help, his yells echoing eerily in his own head.

Merpati was stirred back to consciousness by Mac’s screaming, her lips pale and her eyes sleepy.

‘Shit, I’m so sorry,’ he whispered, wiping her brow. ‘Merpati, I’m so sorry.’

He heard voices and yelled again, hysteria creeping into his voice.

He felt like a stranger in his own body.

‘Where’s Santo?’ he said to Merpati. ‘Come on, darling, where’s your brother?’

She shook her head very slightly. ‘They take him, Mr Mac.’

‘Take him?! What do you mean, they took him?’

‘Take Santo,’ she cried, tears rolling out of her eyes.

The Kopassus guys ran up.

‘Who took Santo?’ Mac asked Merpati. He felt almost at the end of his tether, his voice sounding like it was coming from a tinny transistor radio three miles away.

Merpati’s bottom lip quivered. ‘Gorilla and tall one, they took Santo,’ she wailed, then fainted again.

One of the Kopassus troopers tore his medico pack off his webbing, the one behind him radioing with a screaming urgency. Then Freddi jogged up, out of breath, as the soldiers gently dragged the little girl off Mac’s lap, trying to keep her arm in place but not succeeding.

‘McQueen, what happened?’ Freddi panted, hands on knees.

Mac sagged back on the carpet of leaves, close to collapse – guilt and fatigue and stress making his brain feel like it was shutting down.

‘Shot the girl, took the boy,’ he mumbled.

‘Shit!’ said Freddi.

Mac nodded. ‘Fucking Purni!’


CHAPTER 23

<p>CHAPTER 23</p>

Six years later

Johnny Hukapa came in hard, leading with a right roundhouse kick at Mac’s left thigh. Mac lifted his left leg slightly and covered up his face, drifting beyond the big Maori’s left hooks. Shifting his weight to the left foot, Mac left-jabbed twice at Johnny’s jaw and followed with a straight right, connecting fl ush with Johnny’s mouth, before skipping away.

‘Fuck!’ yelled Johnny through his mouthguard, annoyed at being tagged for the third time. He was slightly bigger than Mac but his strengths were in hand-to-hand combat and ground fi ghting, perfected in the Aussie SAS.

Watching Johnny’s face and eyes through the headgear, Mac threw out a few lefts and followed with a stamp kick into Johnny’s groin protector. Johnny tucked his chin down and came straight at Mac with a fl urry of punches to the headgear, pushing Mac backwards into the ropes of the Gold Coast PCYC boxing ring. Mac covered up and put in a short uppercut to Johnny’s chin, ducked and bobbed and came up on Johnny’s right, threw a cheeky left hook into the side of Johnny’s face before fading to his left and watching Johnny fall into the ropes where Mac had just been.

‘Shit!’ spat Johnny as the timer tinged.


***

After showering, Mac and Johnny walked down Monaco Street towards Gold Coast Highway, the early December sun hot on their backs and heating up their baseball caps. Johnny had been working in Sumatra but when his girlfriend became pregnant and put the hard word on him, the result was marriage and a move back to Australia.

Now Johnny had a fourteen-month-old son called James, while Mac’s nine-month-old, Rachel, was at home with Jenny.

‘So,’ said Mac, trying not to pry, ‘you said no again, huh? Boss’s orders?’

Johnny shrugged, put a piece of Juicy Fruit in his mouth and offered the pack to Mac. ‘Nah, mate, Arti’s cool. I’m just not ready for that shit again, know what I mean?’

Mac did know what Johnny meant. The mercenary outfi ts made the work in Iraq and Afghanistan sound great with your basic US$180,000 for a twelve-month contract, plus full medical and a whacking great life insurance policy. But once you were a parent and you’d been out of the action for a few years, it was hard to just switch on your instincts and appetite for that life all over again. Johnny had been approached three times in as many months for his old SAS expertise of infrastructure security. Some of the contracts out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Brunei and even Peru were too good to totally ignore.

‘You know how it is, mate,’ said Johnny, who had always made assumptions about Mac’s past, ‘you put yourself in a gunfi ght and you need to be in the zone. I mean, totally in the zone. I went up there now? I’d freak out or maybe I’d have no instincts. Either way, mate, I’d take a bullet and I’m too old for that.’

Mac listened intently. They were both in their late thirties, fi rst-time dads who had left dangerous professional lives behind them to go straight and forge futures without the physical risk. Mac was lecturing and tutoring two days a week at the University of Sydney. Johnny had a long-term contract with Movie World Studios, bodyguarding visiting actors – a gig whose chief danger was getting shot by the paparazzi.

But while Johnny found it easy to send the private army guys packing, for the past month Mac had been talking with one of his mentors from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service. Mac had realised Tony Davidson, now semi-retired, was trying to enlist him as soon as he played that fi rst voicemail on his mobile phone, but he’d called him back anyway. Davidson was the former director of operations for an ASIS jurisdiction stretching from India to Japan and down to Indonesia. He was the last genuine fi eld guy in the Service to have risen to any prominence. These days all the top jobs went to people who boasted about their time at INSEAD or Harvard rather than what they did to get Imelda to open the secret exit behind the mirror in her shoe-room.

Davidson wanted Mac back in. The former chief of spies was putting together an ‘outer circle’ of intel professionals to pick up a lot of the fi nance and trade espionage that had been overlooked as Australia focused almost exclusively on counter-terrorism. The result of Canberra’s de-prioritising of economic counter-espionage in favour of following the Yanks was a wholesale infl ux of Chinese money into Indonesia via legitimate-looking and commercial-acting companies backed either by the rich power bases of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff or the Chinese Ministry of State Security, a counterpart of the KGB.

Mac had been following it vaguely, especially the quite brazen economic infi ltration of East Timor and West Irian by MSS front companies. There was also the fi nancial blandishments being offered by PLA General Staff companies in Aceh province, where they were fl attening Sumatra and putting in palm-oil plantations, the largest the world had ever seen. Palm oil was the best and cheapest feedstock for bio-diesel, an industry the Chinese would basically own in the west Pacifi c within twenty years.

These were only a few of the issues that Davidson was worried about. There were Russian gangsters on the Gold Coast, Khmer Rouge gangs in regional slavery rackets and the Burmese Junta engaging in quite conspicuous heroin production and distribution.

They got to Gold Coast Highway and Johnny peeled right to walk towards Mermaid.

‘Take it easy, brother,’ said Johnny, slapping a big thumb handshake on Mac, who was heading on to Broadbeach. ‘And next week we’re on the mats, mate. See if you’re so cheeky then.’

‘Don’t know, Johnny. It’s me knee, mate – playing up again,’ laughed Mac, hamming a knee injury.

‘Monday, one o’clock, bro,’ said Johnny as his crossing light went green. ‘No excuses.’

Mac groaned. Johnny liked to warm up with a few rounds of Greco-Roman, followed by some Judo forms, followed by a half-hour of sparring. And when Johnny Hukapa sparred, it wasn’t hugging. The PCYC judo room would resound to a strange banging sound as Mac consistently tapped out, unable to deal with the power and technique of the bloke.

Mac stood and watched Johnny go, his gear bag held at his side in a huge paw. His hair was still thick and in a military cut, and he walked like he was marching to a C-130 for another secret rotation.

Mac turned to his own crossing, hit the pedestrian button and pondered what Johnny had said about anxiety and instincts: Either way, I’d take a bullet…

There was nothing wrong with Johnny’s reasoning. But still Mac had decided to say yes to Davidson and was meeting him the following afternoon.

He felt very nervous. He was back in… and he hadn’t told Jenny yet.


CHAPTER 24

<p>CHAPTER 24</p>

Mac and Jenny walked the fi ve blocks north to the Surfers Paradise Surf Club. It was a balmy evening with a light salty breeze coming off the Pacifi c, the setting sun making the ocean look like a purple carpet.

The transformation in Jenny once she’d left the stress of her AFP role in Jakarta had been remarkable. They’d been lovers on and off since meeting in Manila seven or eight years before. During a period in ‘05, Mac had been in Sydney while Jen was in Jakarta, and Mac had become besotted with an English girl, Diane. But Diane wasn’t all she pretended to be and Mac had found his way back to his true love, Jen, and since they’d married and had Rachel, Mac had fallen for her all over again. He’d always admired her resilience and toughness in the face of people smugglers and the sex-slavers, but she had the strength to be a wife and mother too.

At thirty-seven, Jenny could pass for someone ten years younger with her long dark hair and athletic body, and Mac always enjoyed the way she held his hand in public and leaned into him when she spoke.

They got the stand-up table next to the window overlooking the sea and Mac brought over a couple of Crown Lagers. Tradies and real-estate hawkers sank beers in the sprawling bar while plasma screens carried news about what someone had said to someone else in Canberra. The surf club was a tourist-free zone and drinkers spoke in Queensland mumbles.

They chit-chatted and then Jenny cornered Mac about getting his will done at the solicitors. Jenny had had one drawn up when she fi rst joined the Feds and had it altered after they got married in ‘07 and again when Rachel was born. She couldn’t understand how someone could get to be almost forty and not have a will.

‘You’re a dad, mate,’ she chided gently. ‘Now you get to sit in front of a lawyer, tell her whether it’s burial or cremation.’

Mac did the yeah, yeah – I’ll do it, and Jenny said that was just as well because she’d already made an appointment to see Sian next Tuesday at ten o’clock.

Mac groaned. Sian Elliot was a former federal cop who was now in general practice in Southport. As a rule, Mac steered clear of people who asked too many of the right questions.

‘So, Mr Macca,’ said Jenny, giving him the look that told him she knew something was eating him, ‘what’s up?’

Mac had spent the year commuting down to Sydney to do his classes at the University of Sydney. He’d had them scheduled on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and by putting everything on the rewards card it had become viable. The fact that his mate Scotty from the Service had arranged a Commonwealth apartment in Pyrmont for him had pushed the idea into profi t. As a family they’d got used to it, even though Mac sometimes ached to see Jen and Rachel. Now things were changing.

‘I’m not going back,’ Mac said quickly. ‘I’m marking assignments but that’s me, I’m done.’

Jenny gave him the patient look. ‘Not going back where?’

‘Uni. Lecturing. That shit.’ He couldn’t look at her, fi ddled with the bottle.

‘Oh, that shit?’ smiled Jen.

Mac felt himself getting nervous. There were two women in the world who could get him on the back foot. The other one was his mother.

‘Look, Jen -‘ he started, before running out of words. He’d done his best with civvie life and he liked teaching South-East Asian politics to postgrad students. But the academic world had moved on since he was at UQ and it was no longer enough to put themes to students, get them to do the reading and then insist that they formulate their own arguments in essay form. Modern students had been trained to adopt the right pose rather than construct arguments, and what he did felt more like preaching than teaching to Mac. The fact he couldn’t do it made him feel like a failure.

Finally he looked up at Jen, who was still smiling.

He smiled back, surprised. ‘Not angry?’

Jenny laughed, stood up against him, held both his hands. ‘Angry?!

Christ, Macca, I’m amazed you’ve lasted as long as you have.’ She roughed his hair, kissed him on the cheek. ‘You’ve been very brave about it.’

Slightly boozed, they walked along the Esplanade to the Umi restaurant where Mac had a reservation for seven-thirty. He told Jen what she needed to know and left everything else vague: there was some freelance work for the government and he’d technically keep his gig at the uni as one layer of cover. He’d go onto half wages, paid by the Commonwealth, and be paid per diem for any contract work they gave him. Mac didn’t want to lie to Jenny, but there were good reasons to keep things non-specifi c. You didn’t want the wrong people making links back to your family.

The maitre d’ came over with two menus, spun on his heel and led the way through a narrow bottleneck near the bar.

Mac almost ran into the back of Jen as she suddenly stopped. He felt her tense through her upper back and he looked down to see a pair of legs and expensive cowboy boots in her path. They belonged to an Italian-looking bloke with lead-guitarist hair and a black Tex-Mex ensemble.

Mac pushed alongside Jenny but she jammed her arm back to stop him coming too close.

The bloke looked her up and down and, nudging the heavyweight Thai thug sitting beside him, said, ‘Well, well, well. If it isn’t little Miss Toohey.’ He smiled, fl ashy but lopsided. ‘Oink, fucking, oink!’

‘G’day, George,’ said Jenny conversationally. ‘Free at last and the fi rst thing you do is audition for The Three Amigos. Nice.’

Seeing violence fl ash in the bloke’s dark eyes, Mac pushed through in front of Jen and tapped George’s leg with his foot. ‘Coming through, champ, if you don’t mind.’

George kept his legs where they were and the Thai eyeballed Mac.

Mac looked straight back at him, wondering why Thais wore their gold chains on the outside of their T-shirts. There was a brief moment of bristling silence during which Mac decided the fi rst one to stand up got a straight right in the teeth.

George broke the deadlock and, pulling his feet back, motioned them through like a courtier, saying, ‘Have a nice night, folks.’

Mac grabbed Jen by the hand and pulled her into the dining area.

Nine months had passed since Rachel was born and this was the fi rst time they’d gone out without her. Mac’s folks, Frank and Patricia, had been coming down every second weekend, but Jenny hadn’t wanted to use their in-law babysitting credits to go drinking. Mac said he didn’t understand that, and Jenny had replied that she wasn’t asking him to.

They moved to wine, drank steadily, let the tension out. The altercation with George got Jenny talking about the old days, when she was working the narcotics detail out of Brisbane, and George Bartolo and his cousins were satisfying the Gold Coast’s endless desire for cocaine.

Two penniless brothers – George’s father and uncle – had migrated from Sicily in the early 1960s, worked the concrete gangs in Sydney, bought their own truck, won the contracts for the big construction pours and then headed to Surfers Paradise to build their own dreams. By the 1980s they had a publicly listed development-construction-management company which owned hotels, apartment buildings and shopping centres across Australia and into Malaysia.

Now they hobnobbed with politicians, campaigned winning horses at the Magic Millions and had built – as a gift to the city of the Gold Coast – a security compound for battered women and their kids.

And between them, these two Aussie icons had fathered fi ve sons with nothing on their minds but easy money, fast cars and stupid women.

Jenny had been part of the team that put away George, Christian and Luca Bartolo for the importation of twenty-three kilograms of cocaine. They’d fi ngered the mule – a Portuguese-Australian fi shing-boat owner – and sequestered him for three and a half days at his Southport unit, ignoring phone calls and early morning drive-bys and taking it in turns to keep the mule quiet. When a messenger masquerading as a pizza boy was sent over to pay a visit, the cops ordered the fi sherman not to open the door.

The Bartolos held out almost until day four, but fi nally the lure of $18 million worth of drugs proved too much. They stormed the apartment, demanded the drugs, threatened the mule with handguns and almost hugged the twenty-three plastic packets that were sitting in a black Puma sports bag on the kitchen bench. Which was when Jenny’s crew stepped into view and arrested all three, the whole thing on tape and a Crown witness who stank of fi sh.

‘Surprised to see him here again?’ asked Mac, as the latest round of dishes arrived.

Jenny shrugged. ‘He got nine years, six non-parole. Must’ve behaved himself.’

Mac poured the last of the Wither Hills sauvignon blanc, dead-soldiered it in the ice bucket and nodded to the waiter for another.

There was a candle in a red glass between them, the dying light of day fl ickered on the Pacifi c. Around them were fl ash women in big hairdos, pearls and high-rise heels, but looking at Jen in her Levis Mac reckoned he was ahead on points.

Jen’s face had changed slightly since Rachel was born, a little less plump but with a lot more laugh lines. She was still very pretty. She was on twelve months’ maternity leave from the Feds, the end of which was eleven weeks away. Every bone in Mac’s new-father body wanted his wife to stay at home with Rachel, but he knew Jen was ready for that fi ght; ready like he was never going to be.

‘Sorry about uni,’ mumbled Mac. ‘And the freelance stuff – it’s routine work. Nothing to worry about.’

Jenny smiled, sipped the wine. ‘It’s me you’re worried about, isn’t it, Macca?’

He looked out over the sea and exhaled. Part of him wanted to tell her that he didn’t want her going back to being a frontline cop, not against the scumbags she dealt with. He’d grown up in a cop household and it was bad enough being a boy with a detective dad.

He didn’t want Rachel having to wear all the crap that went with it.

Mac could have done that whole song and dance – he’d sure rehearsed it enough. But he could also own up to who he’d married.

He remembered the night he’d realised that his own family was not the neat patriarchy projected to Rockhampton. His mother Patricia had just gone back to Rockhampton Base Hospital where she was a senior nursing sister. Mac was ten and his sister, Virginia, eight and there’d been some mix-up one afternoon about who was supposed to pick up Ginny from her swimming squad. Frank had made sure the argument was all about his wife going back to work and Mac remembered lying in bed, hearing his mother say, ‘Well that’s who you married, mate. Why don’t we start with that?’

Mac looked back from the window, they locked eyes and Jen smiled. Mac smiled back, raised his glass and felt a sigh rush between his teeth.

‘A toast,’ said Mac, raising his glass. ‘To mothers, wives and cops.’

They clinked and drank, then Jenny got out of her chair, came around the table, kissed Mac on the left ear, put both arms around his neck and snuggled in. ‘I love you, Mr Macca,’ she whispered into his ear. ‘You’re a beautiful man.’

They staggered slightly as they walked south on the Esplanade. Jenny’s right arm was across Mac’s shoulderblade and she leaned into his neck, the warm breeze off the beach blowing her scented hair and wine breath into his face. Jen was incredibly strong – she’d gone back to the pool when Rachel was one month old and was already swimming for an hour at a pace that Mac couldn’t hit for two laps.

They made into the dark of Hedges Avenue, the beachfront road where the millionaires lived, when they both heard something and stopped as Jen put her hand up. Below the breeze they could hear a girl’s voice, pleading, sobbing. It was almost ten-thirty pm as they stared into the dark driveway of an apartment block under construction. Mac followed Jen as she started walking down the driveway. The sobbing came up again, this time with a yelp.

‘Hello,’ yelled Jenny. ‘Are you okay?’

A plaintive, late-teens voice called, ‘Help me!’

Jenny sprinted into the dark, heading towards a small light behind the builders’ dumpsters at the end of the alley. Mac followed, breathing shallow, body and brain on high alert, his instincts wanting to tell Jenny not to go in there. Further into the dark, and then under a small service lamp at the end of the alley, they rounded the dumpster and stopped. George Bartolo smiled back at them from where he was crouched beside the bin, holding a young blonde woman by the hair.

Jenny shaped up to him as George stood and threw the girl aside, who almost fell over in her heels, the night breeze blowing her purple baby-doll dress up to her ribs.

The girl looked at Mac, sniffed. ‘Sorry – it wasn’t my idea.’

‘You shut your fucking mouth!’ yelled George as Jenny moved closer, her fi sts clenched.

Mac was putting his hand out to pull Jenny back when he felt cold, hard steel behind his left ear. Then there were three small clicks that could only come from one source. Slowly putting his hands out, Mac turned slightly to his left and saw the Thai at the other end of what looked like a silenced 9 mm handgun.

‘Jen,’ he shouted, but she didn’t hear him.

‘I’m sorry,’ cried the fl oozy – manic-eyed with fucked sinuses

– who was now panicking at the appearance of a gun.

‘ Jenny! ‘ yelled Mac.

She turned, froze and stared at Mac, who gave her the look, but she didn’t run as he’d hoped.

George moved in and stood too close to Jenny, hands on his hips.

She turned back to face him while he made a show of looking down her muslin shirt and letting his fat tongue run along his bottom lip.

‘Well, well, well,’ he said. ‘It’s our little oinker.’

As Jenny stood her ground, staring George in the eye, something welled in Mac. Pride and fear.

‘George is it?’ said Mac, keeping his hands where the Thai could see them, though he felt the silencer go in harder behind his ear.

‘What’s it to you, pig-lover?’ snarled George, not taking his eyes off Jenny.

‘Forget him, George. This is you and me,’ said Jen.

The cocaine skank muttered something and her hand went to her face. Blood fl owed freely down her wrist.

‘Those Dunns or Lamas?’ continued Mac, nodding down at George’s silver-tipped, red and black boots.

George fl inched for a split second, wanting to get vain about his fancy footwear but quickly snapping back to the hard-man.

‘Are you relating to me, eh, cop-fucker?’ George shifted his gaze to Mac, his bottom lip full and wet like a spoiled child’s. ‘Fuck’s sake, mate, I spent six years in fucking Woodford being related to every day

– now you’re a fucking shrink too?’

‘Leave him out of this, George,’ said Jen, but Mac wanted eye contact, wanted to goad George into a comment that would make his wife snap. It wasn’t entirely risk-free, but a simple diversion was all he had to work with.

‘Sorry,’ said Mac. ‘Didn’t mean to insult you with the Charlie Dunn thing. They’re Tony Lama, right? Couldn’t be anything else.’

George took his eyes off Jenny again, shifted his weight around her and eyeballed Mac. The drug lord’s eyes had that extreme paranoia that too much cocaine produces; he loved that someone had noticed his fi ve-thousand-dollar boots, but he suspected there was a piss-take in progress.

In slow motion, Mac watched George reach into his pants, coming out with a large stainless-steel clasp knife.

‘You think I’m a joke, eh, pig-fucker?’ said George, opening the knife.

‘Leave him, George,’ said Jenny fi rmly as the knife came round to her heaving chest.

‘Nah mate,’ winked Mac. ‘Just spotting the boots. Or maybe they’re those Korean knock-offs. Been to the Penang Markets lately?’

George’s eyes narrowed as Mac leaned forward slightly, hoping the Thai would lean with him, get him off-balance.

The Thai leaned.

‘So, oinker,’ George said to Jenny, his eyes now homicidal. ‘This must be little Rachel’s dad? Cheeky cunt, isn’t -‘

That’s all George got out before Jenny hit him in the mouth with a fast right hand. Mac swung up with his left hand, spun and pulled the Thai’s right gun-hand down, twisted it anti-clockwise. Whisking his right hand down, Mac grabbed the silencer and wrenched the handgun back on the Thai’s forearm as fast as he could, breaking the Thai’s fi nger and tearing his wrist tendons. The Thai dropped to his knees and, twisting the Thai’s gun-hand, Mac pushed the silencer right down past the forearm, put all his weight into it, breaking the Thai’s wrist joint and another fi nger as he went. The whole manoeuvre was over in two seconds and the Thai fell sideways, in shock.

Mac threw the gun over the rear fence and turned to see the clasp knife spinning through the air, Jenny throwing a side kick at George’s left knee joint and the knee collapsing inwards as Jen followed through with a right elbow across the bridge of George’s nose. Blood sprayed everywhere as George went down, Jenny kicking him in the balls before he hit the ground. As Mac reached her, Jen kicked the drug dealer’s chin, snapping it back. Jenny was going for another kick when Mac grabbed her around the waist, lifting her as her foot snapped out at a point two inches short of shattering George’s jaw.

‘That’s enough, mate,’ said Mac as he pulled her away, her arms and legs still fl ailing.

‘Fucking let go of me!’ she screeched. ‘Let go!’

Mac put her down as she swung a reverse-elbow at his head and turned on him. Eyes ablaze, nostrils fl aring, Jen tried to get around him to have another shot at George.

‘It’s over, Jen. Let’s move,’ he rasped, heaving for air.

Jenny looked into him as her breath came ragged and hoarse like a cornered animal. ‘Can’t threaten a girl’s family, Macca. Not how it works,’ she said, then turned and stomped into the night.

Mac surveyed the scene as he caught his breath. His training had different imperatives to Jen’s, like: don’t leave a trail, don’t get caught, don’t draw the cops, don’t give a government anything to go on.

He looked at the coke skank, blood smeared around her mouth and chin. She looked back at him with drugged blue eyes, shaking all over despite the warmth of the night.

Mac looked down at George, who was unconscious, and the Thai, who was weeping and writhing on his knees, his right arm mangled.

The girl pulled a weird narcotic smile. ‘Shit, man – that your wife?’

Mac shrugged, wondering if he should fi nd that gun and wipe it.

‘Fucking awesome,’ nodded the skank.

Mac walked the babysitter home, only half listening as she chattered on about which senior cert subjects she was taking, the uni entrance marks she needed, which university she wanted an offer from and what career she was hoping to follow – all the stuff they loaded onto seventeen-year-olds these days. At her door Mac slipped the girl two twenty-dollar notes, thanked her and went in search of the nearest bottle-o.

When he got back to their townhouse, Jenny was on the back balcony, slugging on a VB, staring out over the trees that fronted the roaring sea. ‘I spoke with Frank. He’s sorting it,’ she said softly, looking at him.

Mac nodded, not quite understanding how it worked between cops. All he knew was that Frank had contacts in the Queensland Police and if he’d told Jen to sit tight and let him do the running, then that was probably the way to go.

Jenny said she had to step out, get some things, but Mac had beaten her to it. He threw the smokes and the lighter on the balcony table. Jenny mouthed the word thanks but didn’t look at him.

‘More beers in the fridge,’ he said, the adrenaline still washing out of him.

Jen tore open the soft pack, pulled a cigarette out of the ragged silver paper and lit it. When Jenny was stressed or unhappy, she smoked and drank. And she did it alone. Mac didn’t want her walking around in this state – all it would take would be one young stud getting fresh with the darlin’ or sweetheart and next thing Mac’d be getting a call from the cops.

‘You okay?’ asked Mac.

‘Right as rain,’ said Jenny, staring into the distance.

‘Sure?’

‘Girl’s gotta do, Macca,’ she said, blowing a plume of smoke straight up into the night air. ‘Girl’s gotta do.’


CHAPTER 25

<p>CHAPTER 25</p>

It was 4.48 am when Mac was woken by Rachel’s burblings, her signal that she was ready for a new day. The fi rst hint of dawn streaked the sky over the Pacifi c as Mac lifted her out of the cot and walked her through to the kitchen, changed her nappy and put her in the highchair. Giving his daughter the warmed-through bottle of formula, Mac ate a banana and they watched Fox News together.

Rachel drained the bottle with enthusiasm and when she’d discarded it and her little legs were starting to kick with impatience, Mac switched the menu to a small bowl of mashed pears he’d heated up.

The news anchor said there were problems in Pakistan which were spilling into Afghanistan, and the White House seemed to be distancing itself from General Musharraf, Pakistan’s president. Mac snorted and Rachel stopped chewing and stared at him, big dark eyes trying to work out where Dad was at.

Mac smiled at her and thought about how the Indians, Russians and Israelis – not to mention a few Australian diplomats and spooks

– had been trying for years to get the Americans to stop treating Pakistan like a protected species. Pakistan’s intelligence service had created and funded the Taliban in the early 1980s with the approval of the CIA, ostensibly to create an anti-Soviet counter-invasion force.

But the Taliban, its Pakistani masters and some of the CIA handlers had evolved into what could only be described as a massive heroin syndicate.

Mac had watched some very smart, totally committed men and women walk away from a career in the Agency as it slipped from bad to worse. People didn’t get a fancy degree and choose government service over private wealth to become facilitators to drug dealers, slavers and arms barons. You didn’t go into the spook life to be a guardian angel to the Pinochets, Noriegas and Saddams.

And now that the wheels were falling off Pakistan’s openly corrupt system, the CIA was walking away with a supercilious smile on its face, attentions now focused on getting the State Department to start bringing Burma in from the cold and inoculate its junta against criminal investigations for heroin traffi cking. Mac reckoned within two months there’d be a concerted push via global media outlets to rehabilitate the junta as a necessary ally in the War on Terror. You could forget Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s accurate portrayal of Rangoon being one of the worst regimes in the world, because by the time those speechwriters and ghosters from Langley were fi nished, Burma’s fruit-salad brigade would look like a cross between Clark Kent and Sister Immaculata.

Mac turned off the TV, put a John Fogarty CD in the stereo and started cleaning up while Rachel banged her spoon on her highchair table to the beat of ‘Centerfi eld’. Starting with the outside decking, he emptied Jenny’s ashtray and brought her empties inside before putting the garbage out the front. Then he packed the dishwasher, wiped the benches and did a quick clean of the kitchen and breakfast/dining area lino fl oors. Jenny was many things, but houseproud was not one of them, and since Mac was raised by a working mother, he took cleaning, cooking and laundry as a given. Jenny never mentioned their housework arrangement to anyone, even as a compliment to Mac. Aussie girls seemed to have an instinctive grasp of how the male ego worked.

There was a blue current-model Ford Falcon sitting by the kerb as Mac walked to his silver AirTrain Connect car. The driver was waiting but Mac kept his black leather document satchel rather than handing it over.

‘Morning, Mr Davis,’ said the driver, smiling as he opened the passenger door to the Holden Calais. ‘Getting an early start?’

Mac gave him a wink as he slid in, then held his hand up as the bloke went to shut the door. ‘Just a tick, mate.’

Mac got out and walked to the Falcon, knocked on the driver’s window and waited as the glass came down. There were two male cops in the front seats, in dark suits. The driver was late thirties, had a round face, full head of black hair and a dark cop moustache.

‘Help you, sir?’ he said.

‘Watching out for her?’ said Mac, nodding at the townhouse which looked uninhabited in the dark of early morning.

‘And you’d be Mr McQueen…’ He said it slow, wanting to assert his authority.

‘Correct,’ said Mac, putting out a hand.

The cop looked him up and down and decided to take Mac’s hand. ‘Doug Fletcher. Just keeping an eye on Jen, you know, with that Bartolo prick causing dramas.’

‘Good stuff. What’s their go?’

‘Laying a complaint against the AFP,’ the cop shrugged. ‘Usual shit.’

‘All these brutish women wandering around -‘

‘- streets aren’t safe for hard-working criminals.’

Mac nodded. ‘Who’s the Thai?’

‘He’s Cambodian,’ said Doug, ‘and he’s trouble, that’s who he is.’

The AirTrain Connect car dropped Mac at Robina station and he walked straight onto a carriage containing one person – a middle-aged woman with a large green suitcase in the luggage enclosure. He sat three seats behind her, his back against a bulkhead. On his right the sun was nudging over the Pacifi c, a sight Mac never tired of.

Back in Rockie as a teenager, Mac and his mates would head out for Great Keppel Island during the holidays, sleep on the beach and spend all day snorkelling and spearing fi sh. Waking up at six am as the sun crested the Pacifi c was something you never forgot, and Mac allowed that sun to warm him again as the train stopped at Nerang and a bunch of rowdy Pommie travellers staggered on, drunk. There must have been a win to a footy club overnight because they were talking about a goal, and when one of them grabbed a bloke’s cap and started throwing it to their mates, there was a wrestling match with the bloke who wanted his hat back.

Mac saw the woman in front of him fl inch. He got up, sat beside her, started talking. Her name was Minnie and she was fl ying to London to see her daughter, who’d married a Scottish lawyer and was eight months pregnant. The Poms saw Mac’s move and calmed down. Mac smiled to himself. In about twelve hours’ time they’d just be coming in to land at Changi, wishing to God they’d got some sleep the night before.

Mac got off the train at the domestic airport terminal in Brisbane and paused at the head of the stairs that went down to the terminal entrance. He pretended to check his phone, wanting everyone on that train to be in front of him. When they’d fi led past, he lowered the phone and used the elevation to recce his approach to the airport building. The action was just starting to warm up at the set-down area, with all the business and government types being dropped off for the morning shuttle to Sydney, Canberra and Cairns. Everything looked okay and he strolled down from the raised station and went into the concourse.

Tony Davidson was exactly where he’d said he’d be: in the Qantas Club lounge on the fi rst fl oor of the building. Mac fl ashed his Qantas membership card to the concierge, grabbed a cup of coffee and a crois sant and moved over to where the windows looked out on the tarmac.

When Mac sat down, Davidson barely looked up. ‘Macca,’ he said through a mouthful of bacon and eggs.

‘Tony. Good fl ight?’

Davidson sat back, wiped his mouth and lifted his cup of tea for a sip. ‘Can’t complain – slept most of the time.’

Davidson had semi-retired to the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane, but coming back to ASIS had meant reconnecting with his old corporate cover in Perth, on the other side of the continent. His four-and-a-half-hour morning fl ight from Perth to Brissie left Perth at half past midnight and got in to Brisbane just before six am. And now Davidson was going to be on a fl ight to Canberra in forty minutes.

You needed a sense of humour when you travelled around Australia.

They made small talk for a couple of minutes, most of which Mac had gathered from their phone calls. Davidson was back in – he’d never really left – and was building an economic operations team. Mac clocked the charcoal suit, the plain blue tie and white shirt – nothing to catch the eye or set him apart. His late-fi fties face had jowls and the full head of salt ‘n’ pepper hair was cut like you’d expect from a former representative cricketer and career spy. Again, nothing to make anyone look twice. Mac’s dark chinos, pale blue polo shirt and boat shoes completed a pattern of anonymity. There was no reason to look at either of them: no tats, no piercings, no jewellery, no hairdo, no iPod, no message T-shirt, no need to differentiate.

If you became a banker, a lawyer or a political adviser – as most of Mac’s university peers had – you spent your early career as a young man attempting to build a projection of self-importance. You had to be noticed, even if people thought you were a wanker. But in the spy trade, you took smart blokes with good degrees and showed them how to fade into a crowd, to have people forget what they looked like, to be the man who wasn’t there. Which was why Mac sat still, his hands on his lap, as he spoke with Davidson. Anyone trying to observe them wouldn’t even have body language or mannerisms to decipher.

‘Happy with the terms?’ asked Davidson.

‘Sure, Tony – ten a week and expenses is fair,’ said Mac, who liked that his former boss was straight-up about money and expenses.

‘Not bad, really,’ mused Davidson.

‘And no wet work – I can live with that,’ said Mac, happy that he wouldn’t have to be pulling the Heckler out of mothballs. ‘So what’s up?’

‘EFIC has a situation.’

Mac nodded. EFIC was the Commonwealth’s Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, essentially a government instrumentality for ensuring that large exports of Australian goods and services to volatile countries would have payment guaranteed. Most developed nations had their version of EFIC. The US one was called Ex-Im Bank and had funded Saddam’s military program in the late 1980s, before George Bush launched Desert Storm in 1991 and destroyed all the hardware.

When Saddam had started his post-war rebuilding he relied once again on the loan guarantees of the American taxpayer to rebuild the weapons of mass destruction that the Americans would later claim was their reason for going back in and destroying it all again.

‘What’s the problem?’ asked Mac.

Davidson poured more tea. ‘Bennelong Systems – heard of them?’

‘Vaguely,’ said Mac. ‘They do power station control systems.

That them?’

‘And?’

Mac looked out on the tarmac where three Qantas 767s were being loaded and refuelled in the early morning light. ‘Let’s see, didn’t they emerge out of an earlier company that made C and C systems for the navy? They had something to do with over-the-horizon, right?’

‘That’s them,’ said Davidson, looking up at a businessman walking past and allowing the bloke fi ve steps before he continued. ‘Bennelong is on the verge of signing on to a very large project with a private power-generation consortium in Indonesia.’

‘How big?’

‘Consortium’s talking about total construction of five billion US.

Could be a drink of between three hundred and fi ve hundred million for Bennelong.’

‘How nice for them,’ said Mac.

‘Yes, but there’s some issues in there.’

Mac waited, sipped his coffee.

‘The EFIC guys turned this down as a loan guarantee,’ continued Davidson. ‘In fact, they sent it back three times. They don’t want to write it.’

‘Why not?’

‘Initially, they didn’t like the end-user certifi cation. And when the deal boomeranged the fi rst time, they made an inquiry with the Organisation,’ said Davidson, referring to ASIO. ‘And it got handed around the community, and what with one thing and another, the chaps saw it and asked EFIC not to write the guarantee.’

Mac raised an eyebrow. The ‘chaps’ referred to people like Mac and Davidson who worked at ASIS. If they’d asked EFIC not to do the guarantee, there was probably a good reason.

‘It was a lucky catch,’ said Davidson. ‘Someone in Jakkers saw Bennelong mentioned as part of a power-generation trade show, realised that the consortium was about to announce Bennelong as a full technology partner – on an equity basis – and they got on to the Tech Desk in Canberra.’

Australia’s SIS head offi ce had a Technology Desk that tracked harmful and helpful technology and the various incarnations of the companies it existed in as they were merged, acquired and moved offshore. The idea was to track the technologies, not the corporate packaging they moved around in.

‘And what was there?’ asked Mac, interest triggered. This was what he was trained for.

‘Well the guys threw it around and it turned out that Bennelong was called Thomas Technology back in the early 1990s. Before that, they’d been subject to a management buy-out of a specialist division of a small outfi t called Betnell Corporation. Heard of them?’

Mac had. Betnell was to the eighties and early nineties what Halliburton was to the 2000s: a massive contractor to the US

Department of Defense and a global builder of large-scale public infrastructure projects.

‘What did Betnell’s specialist division do?’ asked Mac, his antennae now fully alert.

‘They built the control software for hydro power stations and coal-fi red power stations -‘

‘Yes.’

‘- and nuclear power stations.’

Mac sipped on his coffee. ‘Okay.’

‘Yes, okay. But what we think Thomas Technology ended up with as a legacy item after the MBO was all the sequence code for a reactor called the Type-3.’

‘And what was that, Tony?’

‘The Type-3 was Betnell’s reactor that enabled uranium enrichment.’

A pause opened between them and Mac let his eyes drift to a man reading the Australian Financial Review three tables away. ‘That’s a serious reactor.’

‘Yeah, but at the time, Betnell was being investigated by the audit offi ce in Washington for some commercial irregularities.’

Mac chuckled; commercial irregularities in the Washington context were when you defrauded the United States government.

‘And besides,’ said Davidson, ‘GE Corporation apparently had a cheaper, better enrichment reactor and it could be built in half the time. So Ex-Im Bank were writing loan guarantees for the GE reactors like they were going out of fashion. And don’t forget that the French and Russians were building these reactors for clients too.’

‘So the Type-3 withers on the vine, GE steals the market, but the code is still there?’ said Mac.

‘Forgotten, unloved,’ said Davidson. ‘But quite usable.’

‘The code?’

‘Yeah – had a chat to the Tech Desk and it seems that these sequence codes for enrichment reactors are so complex that the code written twenty years ago is still being used. There was no point in reinventing the wheel at every upgrade in reactor types, so the original sequence code still works on modern enrichment reactors.’

Mac was now totally enlisted.

‘So, fi fteen or twenty years later,’ said Davidson, ‘we have a private power consortium in Indonesia bringing in Bennelong not simply as a contractor but as an equity participant, and there is a difference.’

‘You think this consortium is after the uranium-enrichment code?’

‘I’d like to cross it off my list.’

‘So, the fi rm had a word in the shell-like with EFIC, and they spiked it?’ asked Mac, slightly confused.

‘Yep, EFIC understood.’

‘So?’

‘We got overruled,’ said Davidson, shaking his head.

‘Politicians?’

‘Who else? It was sent back to EFIC four days later as NIA.’

If the accountants, bankers and lawyers at EFIC didn’t want to write a loan guarantee, the National Interest Account was an override device from the Prime Minister’s offi ce, which held that the deal in question was in the national interest.

‘So someone’s got a friend in cabinet?’ asked Mac.

‘Damned right. But anyway,’ said Davidson, leaning back and visibly relaxing, ‘before the chaps could grab hold of Urquhart and kick up a stink at PMC I mentioned that we might let the horse run, see where it leads us, eh? Have a peek into who these people are and what they want. With me, Macca?’

Mac nodded. ‘With you.’

‘How’re Jen and Rachel, by the way?’ asked Davidson with an avuncular smile as the Qantas Club steward took his plates away.

Mac warmed to the new conversation. Tony Davidson and his wife, Violet, had never had children and they doted on the kids of the younger intel offi cers. ‘They’re great, thanks, Tony,’ said Mac.

‘Jen’s okay about all this?’

‘Yeah, good as gold,’ said Mac, avoiding the point that he was the one who wasn’t necessarily okay with going back in the fi eld and being away from his girls for extended periods.

‘She’s okay about a bit of travel?’

‘Yeah,’ croaked Mac, not liking where this was going.

‘Good,’ said Davidson. ‘Because this power consortium is meeting with Bennelong in Jakkers, Friday arvo.’

Mac winced. It was Thursday morning.


CHAPTER 26

<p>CHAPTER 26</p>

Finding himself a rear bulkhead seat on the southbound AirTrain, Mac pulled out the fi le that Davidson had slipped into his document satchel in the Qantas lounge. The operation was called Mainstreet and his cover would be Richard Davis, his old textbook salesman identity, only this time he’d be spruiking himself as a former EFIC operative who could make things happen in Canberra.

Mac fl ipped through the business cards. His fi rm was Davis Associates and the landline routed to the ASIS front of Southern Scholastic Books in Sydney, while the mobile number went directly to the Commonwealth secure SIM that Davidson had included in his starter pack. There was a new Commonwealth Bank Visa credit card issued in Richard Davis’s name, a printout confi rming his booking at the Shangri-La and a folder of business-class tickets for Emirates, the eight pm fl ight that night. The tickets suggested Davidson had intended to apply time pressure, not give him time to equivocate, and, more importantly, not allow Jen to kick up a fuss.

There were people at the end of his carriage but no one was interested in him, so Mac pulled out the dossiers and had a quick look. The Bennelong folder had a brief history of the fi rm. As Davidson had said, it had grown out of Melbourne defence contractor Thomas Technology, changing its name to Bennelong Systems in 1999 when it shifted to Sydney.

The two principals of Bennelong were Alex Grant, a former engineer in the RAAF who had done business studies at MIT Sloan, gone to work for Betnell’s Australian arm and then been part of the management buy-out in 1992. Partnering him was Michael Vitogiannis, a former head of sales and marketing at IBM Australia and the owner of a venture capital fi rm called Vitogiannis Partners.

Vitogiannis had bought into Grant’s fi rm, they’d renamed it Bennelong and marketed it as a builder and manager of industrial control systems, especially for the power-generation industry. They had been successful in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Malaysia as one of the technology partners in various consortia.

It looked like a classic technology company: one guy the genius with the nuts and bolts, the other partner is the schmoozer, door-opener and fi nance guy. The pics confi rmed the story. Alex Grant was in his early sixties, conservative, looked like a Presbyterian elder and had an open, intelligent smile. About fi fteen years younger, Vitogiannis was sleek, tanned, with the eyes of a rule-breaker.

Clipped to the dossier was a glossy colour brochure for the Powering Asia trade fair and conference in Jakarta. On page four it listed Michael Vitogiannis from Bennelong Systems as one of the panel on ‘Technology and Power Generation’. Mac noticed a small ballpoint mark next to the Vitogiannis listing. He’d have to have a word with Davidson about that; intelligence professionals should never mark a document – it made the workload for people like Mac that much easier. At the back of the brochure Mac found the ‘pick your package’ section for delegates wanting to stay at the offi cial conference hotel, the Jakarta Shangri-La.

Another dossier named the power-station builders as NIME

Energy and listed the three principals: the managing director, the company secretary and chief engineer. The names meant nothing to Mac. They looked like a bunch of Jakarta lawyers recruited to pose for a meaningless corporate photo. NIME hadn’t actually built a power station, didn’t own one and seemed to have few credentials.

Clippings from Tempo and AsiaWeek quoted the managing director, Ramsi Numberi, as claiming that NIME had options on seven power-station sites in Indonesia and Malaysia, but Mac saw there were no solid commitments to build and no timelines. A decent-sized coal-burning, base-load power station took up to seven years to build from scratch, and you wouldn’t get much change out of AUD$1 billion.

It wasn’t an enterprise for amateurs. The reporter from Tempo surmised that NIME was a front for Golkar’s way of doing business and that the President’s fi ght against KKN – corruption, collusion, nepotism

– was being scuttled by consortia backed by banks and private-equity funds.

Davidson had left it to Mac to do it his way, though in his basic outline he’d suggested that Mac not try to infi ltrate NIME directly.

Instead, he’d recommended getting close to Bennelong to see what they were hoping to achieve and what they knew about NIME. Use Bennelong as the Trojan Horse for NIME.

In order to make the arrival of Richard Davis a serendipitous event, Mac had suggested to Davidson that word be passed informally to Bennelong’s people that the NIA application was not going to be straightforward and would probably need some massaging. Davidson had smiled at that, since it was a ploy he’d already instigated.

As Davidson’s fl ight was called, and Mac stood to go, his old boss had made one fi nal point. ‘Oh, and Macca – this Vitogiannis is a ladies’ man, right?’

Mac shrugged. ‘Sure.’

‘So I thought we’d put a soft edge on it, okay?’

Mac had waited. A soft edge was an informal or social prop that an intelligence operative used to make a target more relaxed, to get their guard down and make the intel guy seem more human, more empathetic. Humanising yourself with a family or by using a humanitarian cover were the common ones.

‘Yeah,’ said Davidson, ‘so I want you to do this Fred-and-Wilma, right? It’s a conference, and blokes take their wives to conferences, fair enough?’

The AirTrain slowed as it approached Robina station. It had been a long time since Mac had worked in a husband-and-wife intel team, but he seemed to remember that when it worked, it worked very well.

He had no problem with it, but he knew someone who might.


***

Mac wiped the knives and forks before he put them in the cutlery drawer, humming to ‘Let it Be’ on the radio. Afternoon sun was streaming into the kitchen and the house had an eerie quiet to it now that Rachel was sleeping.

Jenny walked in and switched off the radio, put her weight onto her right hip and crossed her arms. Never a good sign.

‘So, Macca, what did he say?’

‘Gig up north, routine stuff,’ said Mac, trying to keep the tension out of his voice. Jen had never asked him for the full rundown on what he did for money and he’d repaid her by never mentioning it. There was no reason to tell anyone, let alone a cop, what Davidson had been talking about. Cops gossiped worse than any other profession Mac could think of.

Jenny pushed her hip up against the kitchen bench, fi xed him with a steady look. ‘Anything I should know?’

Mac kept wiping and stowing cutlery, sensing that this might not end well. ‘Nah, mate, no worries.’

‘How long?’

‘Two weeks, max.’

‘Anyone have an excuse to shoot at you?’

‘ Jen! ‘ he spluttered, dropping the handful of knives in the drawer, and reaching out to touch the wooden chopping board three times.

‘Just asking,’ said Jen.

He looked out the window, exhaling through his teeth, thinking about that job at the University of Sydney and whether the travelling had really been so bad. He could have stuck it out, eased himself into the civvie world and disappeared from his former life. He was thirty-eight, he loved Jen and Rachel, but he couldn’t retire from his profession any more than Davidson could. Now he was going back into the fi eld. He was strangely emotional about the whole thing, and he didn’t like feeling that way before a job – he liked to be cold, focused.

‘Look,’ said Mac. ‘Say the word and I’ll pull out.’

‘No, I’m sweet, if you are. And we could do with the money,’ she said, raising an eyebrow and cocking her head.

‘Ten thousand a week and expenses,’ said Mac.

‘Happy with that?’

‘It’s a start.’

Jenny smiled, moved to him, put her forearms around his neck.

‘Happy with the crew?’

Mac shrugged.

‘Know them?’ asked Jenny.

‘There’s one, and no, I don’t.’

‘Trust him?’

The old Macca could have batted that one away in his sleep. But he didn’t. ‘Actually, she’s a she,’ he said, looking into Jenny’s dark eyes.

Mac had spent all of his career trying to read voices, bodies, clothes and faces. He noticed how people answered the phone, how they said ‘thank you’ and how quickly the sides of their mouths dropped after they’d stopped smiling. It all helped. He’d even found that taking a few minutes to have a nosey-poke through a person’s bookshelf or iPod was a nice access point to who a person really was. If you found JJ Cale, they smoked pot; if you found Marilyn French, they had a disappointment problem; anything by Marcel Proust signifi ed someone who wanted to be seen as ten times smarter than they actually were.

But eyes and women went together like guns and ammo. Even the most poker-faced women found it hard to stop the primal responses being projected through their eyes. Things like suspicion and desire and anger.

Mac watched as Jenny’s eyes fl ashed to super-dark, like an iron curtain had dropped behind the pupils. He tried to rescue it. ‘Listen, Jen -‘

‘Oh, I’m listening, Macca. Don’t worry yourself about that,’ she said, giving him a basic cop stare of the type Mac remembered from his father.

‘Look – it’s nothing,’ said Mac. ‘Just the way they want to run it.’

Jen’s forearms tensed at the sides of Mac’s neck and she nodded facetiously, breath streaming out of her nostrils. ‘Of course it’s not as if it’s the old husband-and-wife cover, right?’

‘Jen -‘

‘So it’s not as if you thought you could slip out and spend two weeks in a hotel room with another bird, and not tell me, right? That wasn’t how it was?’

‘ Jen -‘

‘She married?’

‘Don’t know,’ said Mac.

‘How old?’

‘ Jen! ‘

‘She better looking than me?’

‘Look, I don’t even know who she is -‘

‘Is. She. Better. Looking. Than. Me?’

‘No,’ smiled Mac. ‘She’ll be a dog.’

‘Really?’

‘Totally. She won’t be in the hotel – got a kennel lined up.’

Jenny smiled, softened a bit. Mac put his hands down to her hips.

‘This is what I like, right here,’ he said, grabbing her arse.

Jenny moved in to him and, looking into his eyes, said, ‘You’re a worry, know that, Macca?’

She put her hands behind his head and kissed him. Jenny may have been hard in many respects but she was a nice soft kisser.

‘You’re a beautiful girl,’ murmured Mac as Jenny pressed in closer, kissed him again. It had been a while, what with Rachel and the broken sleep, and Mac felt himself reacting to Jenny’s body. She felt him reacting too, and reached down, squeezed him gently.

Mac moved his hips. Jenny looked into his eyes and said, ‘It’s not as if I don’t trust you.’

‘No,’ mumbled Mac, his mind elsewhere.

‘So just keep thinking with the big head, huh Macca?’

‘Sure,’ said Mac, chuckling.

And then Jen squeezed him way too hard. Mac gasped, doubled over in pain and watched his wife walk away, ponytail swishing.


CHAPTER 27

<p>CHAPTER 27</p>

Mac pulled up his pants slightly too fast and gasped as they hit the head he wasn’t supposed to think with. He tried again, more gingerly, and padded awkwardly back to his reclined seat, which in the Emirates A340 business class were the generous twenty-four-inch models. The eight pm fl ight would get into Singers around fi ve am and then he’d connect with a fl ight into Jakarta that would land shortly after eight am local time.

The lights were down and it was a chance to rest. Tucking back under the blanket, he dozed, thought about Jen and whether she’d been justifi ed in pinching him like that. She had a diffi cult personality at times and could get a bit cranky when she was hungover. Mac suspected she had cabin fever – wanted to get back into cop work, do what she loved.

Like many tough women there was a vulnerable side to her too.

When Mac had fi rst started seeing Jen, he’d been surprised at the fact that she often cried in bed at night, which was completely at odds with her daytime persona as the ice queen of the AFP. Initially he’d wanted to do a runner; criers, generally speaking, gave a bloke the excuse to make like the coyote and do what you had to do. But with Jenny it didn’t scare him and he hung around. They liked each other, but they also liked each other. In those early days, she didn’t want the tears discussed: I don’t cry, understand?

Jenny’s job was technically as intelligence liaison between the Australian Federal Police and other law enforcement, intelligence and military organisations in the countries to Australia’s near north, but the real impact of intelligence liaison was in her specialist detail, transnational sexual servitude – the enslavement of children and young women for the sexual enjoyment of blokes. It was a confronting detail and, like all of the women working in that area, Jenny went off sex from time to time and had had to get counselling when things got too much.

The hostess wandered by and Mac asked for a bottle of water. She brought him a Vittel and he sipped on it.

He’d often wondered how Jenny maintained her strength and good humour. Growing up on an orchard in western Victoria, her father had been a violent drunk, and while Jenny’s mother and younger sister went along with the program, Jenny couldn’t bow to it. From a young age, Jen made herself the target of her father’s violence, and she’d get the beatings and spend nights out in the barn, keeping out of harm’s way.

‘When he drank, he wanted respect,’ shrugged Jenny the fi rst time she told Mac about it, ‘but there was no way I could give him that.’

‘You couldn’t just play along?’ Mac had asked.

‘That’s what Mum wanted, but I’d say, “Why – to stop my own father punching me? Threatening me? Calling me a piece of shit?”’

That’s how Jenny had learned to see the world and the men who wandered around in it. Respect wasn’t a default setting for Jen. She’d spent long hours at the local swim club and water polo squad, staying away from the Old Man. Then one night, when she got home from swimming, her younger sister, Petra, came running out of the house in tears, her father close behind yelling something about his dinner.

Jenny had always been tall and willowy but in her fi rst year of high school, and with all the swimming, she’d become stronger in the shoulders, arms and legs. Something made her stand in front of Petra as her father charged after her.

‘Leave her alone,’ Jenny had yelled at him. ‘Pick on someone your own size!’

He’d walked up and punched Jenny fl ush on the jaw, sent her sprawling. When she told Mac this story, Jenny’s eyes took on a faraway look, as if she couldn’t quite explain how things went from bad to worse that night.

‘I was on my knees, shaking my head, probably concussed – he wasn’t a small guy – and I put my hands down to steady myself and my right hand went straight around a wrecking bar, nice big one too.’

The Old Man had come over to go on with it and Jenny swung the wrecking bar with two hands, like a baseball bat, and hit her father on the left kneecap. She’d recalled, ‘There was total silence for two seconds. He opened his mouth but no sound came out and he fell over like a tree going down.’

Jenny had cracked his patella.

‘He was moaning and groaning, and I stood up, threw the bar away and started walking down the driveway to the barn. I had a sleeping bag down there and everything.’

As she was walking, her sister screamed out, ‘Jenny!’ and when she turned she saw the fi rst fl ash from her Old Man’s rifl e and heard the slug pinging off the Massey-Ferguson. She ran across the home paddock and into the cherry orchards and kept running as the shots came out of the darkness.

The court acquitted her father and Jenny was sent to boarding school as an offi cial problem child. She’d barely talked to her family again and when her father died of cancer while she was studying at Monash University, she didn’t attend the funeral. One day Jenny had bumped into Petra in Brisbane, when they were both adults, and Petra still seemed to think that if Jen had kept her mouth shut and played along with their dad, everything would have been fi ne.

Jenny had grown through all that and Mac didn’t get much of the fallout from her childhood – with one exception: she was the only woman other than his mother ever to hit him. It was just after he’d fi nished a gig with Garvs in Jakarta back in ‘02. He’d had a few drinks after an operation, and then turned up to see Jen. But he’d forgotten to remove his Heckler from his belt and Jenny hit him on the head for that.

She put up with a lot from Mac but she wouldn’t tolerate a drunk with a fi rearm. And now she’d made it clear that she also had no tolerance for Mac having a second wife, even if it was in the line of duty.


***

The small whiteboard sign above the arrivals crowds simply said DAVIS and Mac made for it with his double suit bag and wheelie cabin luggage.

‘Edwin, how you doing, champ?’ said Mac, handing the suit bag to the Shangri-La driver, a well-groomed Filipino in a black chauffeur’s uniform and an Errol Flynn mo.

‘Good, thanks, Mr Richard – and how are you?’

‘Fit as a fox, thanks, mate.’

They made small talk as Edwin – something of an institution at the Shangri-La – navigated the black Mercedes-Benz S-class through the morning traffi c crush and fi lled him in on Indonesian politics.

‘SBY is good for country, but poor person don’t understand why it good,’ admitted Edwin. ‘Easy for, how you say, popular politician to promise anything to poor people.’

Mac gave a wry chuckle. Indonesia was in its fi rst full cycle of democratic government and they were realising that a reforming leader like Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono might be good in the medium term, but such a president made himself vulnerable to populist demagogues. ‘Sounds like Australia, mate. No difference.’

They took over an hour to get to the Lar, where Edwin took them around the back, into the hotel garage, allowing Mac to enter from the porter’s entrance.

The vast lobby and lounge area was busy with Malaysian businessmen, American oil guys and Aussie miners. Phones trilled, front desk people slapped thirteen-page bills on the counter, and Hong Kong bankers’ wives wandered behind porters’ trolleys laden with pink alligator-hide luggage sets.

Edwin hooked the Cutler suit bag on a porter’s trolley and Mac fl icked him some greenbacks, smiled and said, ‘Take it easy, mate.’

Edwin had once been a cop in Manila and was very useful to have on your side in a place like Jakkers.

‘Cheers,’ replied Edwin, trying to get his best Strine accent into the delivery.

Mac cased the lobby, looking for eyes, clothes and gaits that didn’t belong. There was a large easel alongside the massive front desk advertising the Powering Asia conference and welcoming delegates.

He waited for the senior manager guy and moved forward, clocked the name-tag and gave him a wink.

‘How’s it going, Steve?’

‘Good morning, sir.’

‘Davis,’ he said, sliding his passport and Visa card across the black marble top. ‘I’ll check in now for my wife as well, though she’s not here yet.’

Steve opened the passport, looked at his screen and smiled.

‘Welcome, Mr Davis. Mrs Davis checked in twenty minutes ago so we won’t require your passport.’

Mac baulked for a split second, then recovered. ‘Bloody women, eh Steve? The one time they’re not late it’s because they’re early.’

Steve laughed, handed him a cardboard folder with a door card in it. ‘You’re in suite fi fteen-oh-eight, fi fteenth fl oor. One of the porters will take you up,’ he said, and clicked his fi ngers.

Mac stood outside the room, took the Cutler suit bag, and paid off the porter, saying he wanted to surprise his wife. Taking a couple of deep breaths, he got himself into character. He hadn’t been on an op for almost two years, and he hadn’t done the Fred-and-Wilma for six or seven. All he knew about his ‘wife’ was that she was a former pro who was now also freelancing. That, and the fact that her code name was Primrose.

The porter rattled away to the elevator bank and, as soon as he was out of sight, Mac knocked three times, then leaned on the door so his hand was over the spy hole.

A female voice from behind the door said, ‘Sentinel,’ and Mac replied, ‘Primrose.’

The door swung away from Mac, revealing the new Mrs Davis.

She wasn’t a dog and she wasn’t a primrose. She was a product of MI6 and her name was Diane Ellison.


CHAPTER 28

<p>CHAPTER 28</p>

Silence strained between them. It felt like forever.

She was still beautiful, blonde, lightly tanned, with amazing sapphire eyes and a classic oval face.

Diane broke the stand-off, diving into character with a Daaarling, how are you? as she moved forward into a hug and a kiss. She smelled of expensive body wash and German toothpaste and when she grabbed him by the hand and pulled him into the suite she looked at him in a way that spelled trouble.

Mac kept walking while Diane checked the hallway and then shut the door. He threw his suit bag across the sofa, put the wheelie against the wall and turned as Diane approached him with a smile, her white tank top accentuating her pale eyes. As ever, there was hardly any make-up on Diane’s face and she could still look at him as if she clocked every rude thought he’d ever had and some he hadn’t even thought of yet.

She pointed at the plasma screen TV on the wall and they moved into the bedroom, which had already been female-colonised with a large overnight bag, its contents sprawled across the bed.

‘Hi, darling, gee it’s so good to see you,’ he said with enthusiasm as he looked up at the ceiling.

‘God, Richard, don’t leave me alone again, you hear?’ she said in that plummy, spoiled English-rose accent that Mac had once fallen for.

He pointed to the bed, made a face. Diane smirked, nodded. Then she gave a little squeal. ‘Ouch! Shit, what is wrong with this fucking bed?! Oh my God! It’s a fucking cockroach!’

‘How dare they?’ said Mac, then made a fuss of going into the bathroom. He got the shower running and then made silently for the main door, holding up three fi ngers at Diane. He whisked down the fi re stairs two at a time and came out around the corner from the elevator banks in the retail sub-level of the hotel. Walking to the end of the bars and restaurants, he moved quickly up the guests’ stairs and into the large lobby lounge from the end opposite to the front desk. There was a stack of Asian Wall Street Journal s and, grabbing one, he sat in a club chair that gave him a narrow view through a couple of square marble pillars to the front desk.

Mac checked his civvie watch. He’d given Diane three minutes before she started her prima donna dramatics, and he watched as Steve took a call and winced, nodded a lot and fi nally crooked his fi nger at a junior manager. Diane could be highly persuasive when she wanted something, like a new room.

Mac waited, looking for signs of surveillance. That sign came after Steve was close to putting the phone down. A local man in a suit, about forty, leaned out of the back office and asked Steve something, probably along the lines of, ‘You didn’t give them a new room did you?’

Steve shrugged and the guy in the suit moved out into full view and nodded reluctantly before Steve and the junior manager moved to the elevators with a couple of porter trolleys. Solidly built, the bloke in the suit was Freddi Gardjito. He put his hands on his hips, pissed off, and when his eyes landed on Mac, he smiled thinly, shook his head and headed over to where Mac was sitting.

‘Freddi! How are things, old horse?’ said Mac, standing and shaking hands with Freddi, his old sparring partner from Indonesian intelligence.

‘Shit, McQueen – I thought you were out?’

‘I am.’

Freddi snorted. ‘You’re lending yourself, mite.’

‘Honest, Freddi,’ smiled Mac. ‘Just up for some R amp;R.’

‘In Jakarta?’

‘It’s the clean air, the unhurried atmosphere -‘

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ said Freddi. ‘Just promise me – no cop and robber, yeah? We’re too old for that now.’

‘Well,’ said Mac, looking around at some of the Powering Asia delegates networking in the lounge, ‘we could start with a room with a bit of privacy, huh Fred?’

‘Not what we got at APEC, McQueen.’

‘Oh, come on, Freddi,’ laughed Mac, knowing what ASIO and ASIS had got up to at the Sydney summit a year earlier. ‘That’s the whole point of APEC, isn’t it?’

Freddi gave him the ‘Don’t bullshit me ‘ look, with the same slow Javanese blink his President couldn’t help but give to condescending foreign leaders. ‘You got a clean room now, okay mite?’

‘Thanks, Fred,’ he said, slapping the other man’s bicep. ‘So what’s the gig for you guys?’

Freddi shrugged, non-committal. ‘You know – UN shit.’

Mac vaguely recalled something in the brochure about the UN.

‘Which one?’

‘UN DESA, the infrastructure guys. They’re funding this conference.’

‘DESA’s a problem?’

‘Well, someone comes in with UN credentials and our government people start talking because they think it’s okay.’ Freddi gave a big shrug, opened his hands at Mac. ‘But maybe not UN. Maybe they our friends, yeah?’

In spy circles, our friends referred to other professionals in the fi eld.

‘At least you’ll have fun following them, eh Fred?’

‘Don’t remind me,’ he said, looking pained. ‘A tour of Jakarta brothels – Meena gonna love that one.’

Mac laughed at the reference to Freddi’s wife. It had been six years since their failed operation in Sumatra and in a strange way he had wanted to debrief with Freddi about the whole affair, get a few things off his chest. Freddi might want to do that too, but it probably wouldn’t happen. The rule amongst male spooks was simple: you erected a wall around your true feelings and you kept it there with smart-alec humour, gee-ups and mind games. Intelligence agencies didn’t recruit people with confessional personalities.

‘Thanks for the room, mate,’ said Mac. ‘Couldn’t send up a comp bottle of wine or something could you? Keep the little lady happy?’

Freddi shook his head and started to walk away. ‘Later, brother.’

‘Thanks, Fred.’

Freddi suddenly stopped and turned. ‘And by the way, McQueen?’

‘Yep?’

‘If you want a clean room, don’t check into the Lar with MI6 agent. Not how it working,’ he said, then stalked off, mumbling into his suit lapel as he moved across the lobby.

They walked along the Ciliwung River, under palms and in front of some of the restaurants that lined Jakarta’s artery in the south and central districts of the city. The further north you walked, the more the Ciliwung turned into a sewer lined with kampungs – the scavenger communities – rather than the nice boardwalks and greenery of the wealthy south. By the time the Ciliwung disgorged into the Java Sea it was black.

Diane was more comfortable with the silences that opened up between them than Mac was. They had been very close two years earlier and Mac had even bought a ring. He had planned to propose to her and everything, in spite of the social gulf between them. Mac was a Rockhampton Catholic boy with a cop dad and a nurse mother.

Diane grew up in British diplomatic residences and had a walk-up entry into Cambridge. The fact that she was an MI6 spy hadn’t been the big revelation; it was the fact she’d been sleeping with a rogue CIA operative called Peter Garrison while she was supposed to be in love with Mac. Garrison had been trying to kill Mac during this overlap, a detail that had gutted Mac at the time. He wondered if Davidson knew about Diane and him.

They found a park bench overlooking the river and under the shade of a palm. Diane crossed her legs and wiggled the red toenails poking out of her dark blue Birkenstock health sandals.

‘Shall we get the crap out of the way fi rst, darling?’ she asked, her eyes hidden behind tortoiseshell Ray-Ban Wayfarers. ‘The conference starts in a few hours.’

Mac sighed. He wanted to recriminate, tell her off, make her feel terrible. But the truth was he was very happy with Jenny, loved Rachel.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘what happened, happened, right?’

‘Right.’

‘But I don’t hate you. In fact I think we can both count ourselves lucky to have got out from under that wacko boyfriend of yours without getting killed,’ he said, smiling.

Diane laughed. ‘Christ, he was wacko, wasn’t he!’

‘Lunatic.’

‘A complete nutter,’ she giggled. ‘Thought he was the world’s greatest lover.’

‘Just ask him – he’ll tell you.’

‘He did enough of that,’ she smiled, then turned to him, getting serious. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t have to be.’

‘I know, but I am sorry,’ she said, looking him in the eye.

They were close enough to kiss and for a split second Mac thought she was going to try it on.

‘Accepted, Wilma, now let’s -‘

‘ Wilma? ‘

‘Yeah – Fred and Wilma.’

Diane was blank.

‘You know, The Flintstones? On TV? Fred and Wilma Flintstone?’

Diane shrugged.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Mac. ‘Let’s work up an approach.’

They went through the basics: Vitogiannis was the pants man and Grant the techie bloke. Mac saw it as a double action. Diane would appeal to Vitogiannis’s vanity, especially his narcissistic vision of himself as a man who could take a wife off a husband. If Mac’s knowledge of that personality type was accurate, Diane could get him big-noting himself without even having to get him into bed.

‘We’re looking for an escalation with this guy. The more you’re impressed by the small shit – like the fact he has a company doing business with NIME – the more he’ll tell you.’

‘What are we looking for?’ asked Diane.

Mac thought about that. ‘Either Vitogiannis has engineered this as a way to legitimately sell that enrichment code to a foreign consortium or he’s being gulled by NIME. I just want to know how much he knows, okay?’

‘Sounds fair,’ said Diane. ‘What about Grant? What’s his key?’

‘He’s an engineer, trained in the RAAF, did his MBA at MIT Sloan,’ said Mac. ‘He’s really thorough and I reckon he’s done some probity work on these NIME guys.’

‘Got a lure?’

‘Canberra has held up the loan guarantee,’ said Mac. ‘And by now the two of them should have got word that the NIA needs some tweaking.’

‘NIA?’

‘National Interest Account. It’s when the politicians override our bureaucrats because they have a businessman they want to look after.’

‘Okay.’

‘Well, yeah. My cover can get them that tweaking.’

‘A lobbyist, right?’

‘That’s it. I think I might persuade Mr Grant to write a bullshit end-user description, so the certifi cate on the eventual loan guarantee looks really strong.’

‘Not a real end-user?’

‘Funny thing about telling lies to governments,’ said Mac. ‘You have to establish where the truth is before you navigate around it.’

Diane smiled, put her chin in her hand. ‘That’s very manipulative for a Rockhampton footballer.’

‘I do my best.’


CHAPTER 29

<p>CHAPTER 29</p>

The plan was to get inside the Bennelong Systems cordon as fast as possible and then work out the way into NIME. Mac wanted to make this a fast gig, fi nd out who was behind the power-station consortium, write his report, get back to the Gold Coast and forget that the Fred-and-Wilma thing ever happened. He catalogued old pain as he worked the shampoo out of his hair, fi nding his injuries and telling himself he was healed now. It was a showering routine that allowed him to calm his thoughts and get his body relaxed.

There was an old problem in his right wrist, a cracked sternum, a broken nose from high school rugby and some chipped teeth on the right top from a fi ght Garvs had started in a Manila bar, which Mac had had to end.

And there was also his most recent injury. He hadn’t been as forceful as he might have with Jenny; hadn’t pointed out that being married to a female cop meant constantly having to trust her on long jobs and drinking sessions with male colleagues. All that time alone in cars – not every bloke would go along with it. But he hadn’t had the chance to say his piece because someone had tried to crush his urethra. Now it hurt to take a piss and it hurt to pull up his pants. It would probably also hurt to be aroused, which was what Jenny might have been thinking.

Through the glass sides he saw the door open and Diane walk into the steamed-up bathroom. Mac went to say something but she cut him off. ‘Sorry, just getting a fl annel,’ she said in a singsong voice, as if the real problem was his uptightness.

She was irritating him. He had let her go fi rst in the bath, gave her a good hour at it, so he could then move in and do his thing, come out to a ‘wife’ who was basically ready to go. But she was still walking around with a towel around her middle and another around her head.

Diane had done many more husband-and-wife ops than he had

– it was one of the reasons for having female spies – and she was a natural at keeping up the patter of married couples. It would really pay off when they got into public with their ease and momentum, but Mac felt she was playing with him. And playing with men was something she was very, very good at.

After Mac’s debacle with Garrison – a supposed VX nerve agent attack that had really been a massive gold heist – Joe Imbruglia had told him a story about Diane. During a stint in Thailand in the early 1990s, she’d apparently sparked a strange bit of ethnic cleansing. She’d been posing as a journalist and had joined a plutey Bangkok tennis club to get close to a general in the government. She’d done a little too well, the bloke had fallen for her and the wife had gone mental – so mad that she’d talked the tennis club into passing a by-law limiting the number of pale-eyed members. The wife had delivered the letter of expulsion to Diane personally, or so the story went. Diane had just smiled at her and said, ‘You can have him back now – I’ve had my turn.’ The members had still been trying to restrain the screaming wife as Diane drove her Audi out of the club’s car park.

Mac’s suit, dark blue and single-breasted, was draped on the sofa when he got into the living area of the suite. Diane had also polished his shoes, there was a new pair of socks that he recognised from the incredibly expensive men’s store underneath the lobby and his blue shirt was hanging off the curtain rail with the hotel’s iron cooling on the table beside the window. She’d ironed his shirt.

He felt grateful, touched; this wasn’t the service he got in Broadbeach. Then he could hear Jenny saying, She’s playing you, Macca, you great big goose!

Mac walked to the windows and watched the city lights going on outside as Jakarta fell into one of its plush tropical twilights. Moving over to the huge mirror he looked into pale blue eyes and a rugged face that was wide at the top and tapered in to a solid jaw. He still had all of his blond hair although it was thin, and he brushed it back straight off his face. His belly was still reasonably fl at and he had shoulders and arms.

He pulled on a clean pair of undies, pulled on the new socks and then slipped into the ironed shirt. He thought things through, allowing each piece of clothing to put another layer of cover on him.

When he was fully dressed, he was no longer Alan McQueen from Rockie; he was Richard Davis, professional fi xer for anyone trying to fi nd their way through the maze of EFIC and the land of taxpayer-backed export loan guarantees.

He was happy with the look and was glad for the advice that his ASIS mentor, Scotty, had given him when he fi rst started. Scotty had recommended Mac get a ‘real’ suit as soon as he could afford one. ‘In the world you’re going into,’ the intel veteran had told him, ‘you have no idea how far a good suit will take you. Trust me on this.’

When Mac had some spare coin, he’d gone down to a well-known tailor in Sydney and ordered their most conservative suit: dark blue, single-breasted, with spare pants. It had cost twice as much as the next cheapest, but he was still wearing it twelve years later and it allowed him to circulate among senior bureaucrats, bankers, barristers and wealthy businessmen without giving off a whiff of the pretender.

After shooting his cuffs, he fastened his dress watch. He felt cold and on edge – he wanted a fast turnaround.

They grabbed their name plates at the desk as they entered the Shangri-La’s ballroom on level two for the opening-night reception. It was huge and noisy, perhaps two thousand people yelling above the jazz quartet. Waiters in white tunics and black pants or skirts circulated with silver trays of booze and food, navigating between the crowds of animated Malaysians, Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians, Chinese, Australians, Thais, Japanese, Americans and Koreans.

Diane and Mac kept to the edges, moving slowly, fi nding the topography of the reception, scanning faces for the Bennelong duo and perhaps the NIME principals. It was classic Asian networking, where politicians, bankers, businesspeople, bureaucrats and military came together to see who could spread infl uence, and for whom.

When guidebooks for foreign business travellers said Asia was all about protocol and formality, they were only half right. Tomorrow at the sessions there’d be a lot of bowing, card-swapping deference and people using full titles. But tonight it was about booze and making jokes, jockeying for popularity and establishing social connections. As he looked around him Mac knew there’d be an unfortunate karaoke bar in Jakarta tonight where a bunch of drunk Koreans and Chinese would insist on each doing their own version of ‘My Way’. He’d been there, sung that. It was Seoul ‘01, with bottles of Chivas Regal, a Korean Air Force grandee, a Taiwanese shipping magnate and a bunch of hangers-on. By the time it was Mac’s turn to sing the Sinatra standard he was so drunk that he sang the whole thing with a Korean accent, right down to too few to rention. His hosts had almost died laughing.

He sensed Diane beside him, not looking too hard yet seeing everything. She was very good. Eyes fell on her as they strolled even though she’d dressed to play down her looks, wearing a simple white linen dress and blue and white sandals. She wore no jewellery and held a small silk clasp that was so discreet it was almost hidden by her left hand.

Eventually they paused and two waiters converged on them at once. Mac grabbed a beer and Diane asked for a glass of champagne, which both of the blokes wanted to get for her.

‘At my ten o’clock,’ smiled Diane, grabbing Mac’s beer and taking a sip. ‘The Bennelong boys, and no wives,’ she said, giving the beer back.

Mac turned slowly, making it look like a scan of the room. They were fi fteen metres away and surrounded by yelling Malaysian and Thai men and their wives. Vitogiannis had his back to them but Mac could see he was a man who took pride in his appearance. Their conversation looked intense and Grant was pointing at his partner, poking the air.

Diane’s champagne fl ute arrived and Mac gave her a wink. ‘The pants-man cometh.’

Alex Grant looked up as Mac virtually walked into him. Mac feigned surprise. ‘Alex Grant,’ he said, as if sifting through his memory. ‘Not the Thomas Technology Alex Grant? The controls guru?’

Grant peered at him for a split second and then burst into a modest smile. ‘That’s me, although I don’t know about the guru bit, er, Mr…?’ He looked at Mac’s name plate ‘… Davis. Pleased to meet you, Richard.’

‘G’day, Alex – meet my wife, Diane,’ said Mac, bringing Diane into the circle between Vitogiannis and himself. As they greeted each other Mac sized it up. Grant was tall and lean, in an off-the-rack suit and cheap shoes. His skin was pinkish and his teeth au naturel. He had come up in the world but in his heart he was still an air force engineer.

It wasn’t hard to separate Grant from his business partner because Vitogianni had leapt straight into the Diane web. About fi ve-ten and fi t-looking, Vitogiannis was well-dressed. His silky black hair was swept back off his face and his teeth were expensively maintained.

‘So, Richard,’ asked Grant, grabbing a new beer from a waiter,

‘what does Davis Associates do?’

‘A bit of lobbying,’ said Mac. ‘Facilitation, making ends come together.’

‘Sounds like a broad brief,’ said Grant.

Mac went for modesty. ‘Well, I guess facilitation sounds a bit grand.’

‘What do you facilitate?’

‘Technology transfers, cross-border JVs,’ said Mac, swinging his beer bottle in a casual arc, ‘you know, big projects up here that need a little shoehorning from the Canberra end.’

‘Shoehorning?’

‘Well, yeah – blokes in Canberra hate that term, but you know, the Ministers are busy, the bureaucrats are busy. I just put the case for a deal, for jobs, balance of payments. You know, that shit.’

Grant looked around him and moved closer to Mac. ‘Well,’ he smiled, ‘tell me more.’

‘Such as?’

‘Well, how does… What kind of background would someone like you have?’

Mac shrugged. He wanted this fi rst meeting to be a teaser, and was projecting reluctance. ‘Well, I suppose my previous lives seemed fairly boring at the time, but it seems Aussie companies need a guide through the exporting labyrinth, huh? And you know, Alex, not all exports are simple. Some are services and often they’re strategic services. It’s complex, mate, and that usually means some shoehorning.’

Mac grabbed a spring roll, keeping the napkin for wiping his fi ngers. He looked away, looked back. ‘But this is all probably boring for you -‘

‘So, you were a diplomat?’

‘No, no,’ laughed Mac. Grant was hooked – the tease had only taken ten seconds and he was about to lift his skirt. ‘Actually I used to work in a place called EFIC, heard of it?’

Grant’s eyes went wide and he nodded. Mac continued. ‘Terrible name, but interesting work. I was on the risk side and then on the deals side – due diligence, debt pricing, that sort of stuff.’

‘Really?’ asked Alex Grant, transfi xed.

‘Yeah, it was great, fascinating. But I ended up in Canberra as a specialist adviser to the Minister for Trade.’

‘Advising on what?’ asked Grant, looking Mac up and down.

‘Oh, well, you probably wouldn’t have heard of it,’ said Mac, looking away.

‘Try me.’

‘Deals that come under a system called NIA – it’s not well known but they can be really big, really complex deals.’

Grant stared at him like he’d seen a ghost.

Mac went on, ‘That’s National Interest -‘

‘Yeah, yeah. I know what it is,’ snapped Grant. He looked around him, obviously frazzled. ‘Tell me, Richard, is that what you facilitate?

NIA?’

‘Well, yeah – that’s most of it actually. If the loan guarantees are written by Sydney, then it’s all fi ne, right? You’re in.’

Grant nodded.

‘But it’s when it’s knocked back and you’re lucky enough to get a second chance with NIA – that’s when the fun starts,’ chuckled Mac,

‘because then it’s going political.’

‘Shit!’ said Grant, looking at the ceiling.

The bloke was hooked and Mac affected a chortle. ‘I perhaps shouldn’t tell you this, Alex, but once it gets into a minister’s offi ce, if you’ve got no one to walk you through it, you’re fucked, mate.’

Grant turned sullen. ‘Don’t need you to tell me that.’

‘Shit, Alex. Sorry mate,’ said Mac, feigning disappointment in himself. ‘I had no idea – I shouldn’t have said any of that. I take it back.’

‘No, no, it’s okay,’ sighed Grant. ‘That’s the fi rst honest thing I’ve heard anyone say about this entire fucking process.’

Mac waited, something catching his eye in the background.

‘I have breakfast at seven,’ said Alex Grant. ‘Can we meet?’

‘Sounds like a plan,’ said Mac, handing over his card before his attention was taken by a waiter on the other side of the ballroom.


CHAPTER 30

<p>CHAPTER 30</p>

The lights of Jakarta seemed to sprawl forever as Mac stood in front of the vista window at the end of the living area, briefi ng Tony Davidson from his Nokia. It was 9.16 pm local, which meant it was 11.16 pm in Perth, where Davidson worked from his corporate front offi ces.

Once an op was underway, Davidson and Mac totally lived it and were considered Old School in that regard. If getting it right meant taking calls when you were lying in bed or drinking with your wife, that’s what you did.

Intelligence outfi ts often ran themselves low on good fi eld guys, not because the recruits didn’t have the smarts but because they didn’t have the stamina for an infi ltration operation that could last two days or two months. Those people were routinely reassigned to a desk, to management or SIGINT analysis – something with a forty-hour week.

People like Mac and Davidson weren’t the world’s smartest people, but they had the ticker for getting immersed in something for months at a time.

‘That’s great, mate,’ said Davidson after Mac fi nished his briefi ng on the Alex Grant meeting. ‘Bloke can almost smell the money – a bit of greed goes a long way.’

‘I’m meeting him tomorrow morning, but I don’t think I’ll crunch him – he’s already coming along,’ said Mac.

‘Your call, Macca,’ said Davidson. ‘But remember: the old ways are the old ways because they work.’

‘Yeah, you’re right,’ said Mac.

Under the old ways, Mac would not have allowed Alex Grant to name the meeting time and place. If you wanted to draw a person closer and eventually own them, you always changed the meeting slightly. Mac should have told Grant he’d meet him in the lobby lounge at seven before they went in for breakfast, saying, I have something I want you to see, or some bullshit like that. But Bennelong was really the Trojan Horse for NIME, and if Bennelong was going to come across with a tease and a fl irt, then Mac was inclined to go with that.

‘Another thing,’ said Mac, not quite knowing how to raise it.

‘I clocked some surveillance tonight, at the reception. Primrose saw it too.’

‘Friends of ours?’

‘None of the usual,’ said Mac, ruling out spies from BAIS, BIN, CIA, MI6 and the Philippines’ NICA. ‘I’m not sure they’re locals – bit too intense.’

‘How many?’

‘Two – that we saw. Males; Malay, Indian perhaps.’

‘Who was the subject? You or Bennelong?’

‘Can’t be sure. We weren’t tailed into the lobby or up to our room so I’m thinking that Bennelong has some minders?’

‘Sounds right,’ said Davidson. ‘If NIME are doing what we think they’re doing, then they’ll be keeping tabs, see who’s sniffi ng around.’

‘That’s why I don’t want to crunch the bloke. He thinks I can help him and I’m going to play to that.’

‘It would help to know who these watchers are.’

‘Well, yeah. I need something more on NIME,’ said Mac. ‘Those profi les in the fi le were fronts, I’m sure of it.’

‘Reckon?’ said Davidson.

‘Yeah, and I’ve only got library-level access on the fi rm’s intranet

– can you get me something more?’

‘I’ll try,’ said Davidson.

As Mac put down the phone he saw Diane take a bottle of wine from the mini-bar and head for her room.

Looking out over the sprawling mass of west Jakarta, Mac thought about that waiter he’d seen. He’d been athletically built and moved like a soldier, although he’d tried to conceal it with a baggy hotel tunic. It wasn’t just that the bloke was watching Mac and Grant with a different intensity to the waiter scanning a room for a raised glass. No, there was something strangely familiar about that waiter. He couldn’t put his fi nger on it. The face? The hair? Or was it the gait?

Faces, eyes and hair could trigger connections but it was gait that really formed code deep in the brain. Scientists at the Shin Bet academy in Tel Aviv had concluded that humans were reliant on gait analysis to identify friend and foe because before the advent of language, anthropologically very recent, that’s all they had to go on. Even from a distance the human brain could pick up if someone was a warrior, injured, tired, aggressive, male or female, strong or weak.

Mac knew that waiter’s walk, but couldn’t place it.

Behind him the sofa squeaked slightly. ‘Pay extra for the view,’ said Diane, who wasn’t a great fan of Jakarta’s vistas.

Mac turned, took her in and struggled to keep it tight. She was sitting on the edge of the sofa in white bra and panties, rubbing lotion into her tanned legs. Looking up, her sapphire orbs sparkled like she was taking the piss. She knew he was married but she couldn’t help herself. Mac hated that and, in spite of himself, he felt his jaw clench, searching for the best way to tell an ex-lover that her charms were still working but he was no longer a buyer.

‘Look, Diane -‘

‘Yes, Richard?’

Diane was an extraordinarily manipulative person. To offset her own betrayal of Mac with Peter Garrison, she was highlighting that even when he was on the verge of proposing marriage to her, he let her call him Richard rather than coming clean. She was daring him to take the high moral ground, an unstable place for a couple of pros.

‘Got some more info on the NIME guys – the real principals,’ said Mac, trying to take his eyes off her.

‘Want to talk about Michael?’ she said, knowing that it would irritate him to hear Vitogiannis referred to by his fi rst name.

‘Sure – did he hit on you?’ said Mac.

She chuckled. ‘Of course not, darling. He saw how devoted I was to my husband.’

Without taking her eyes off him, she started with the lotion on her belly.

‘So that’s it?’ he asked.

‘No, Michael’s very excited about the deal. He says Australia has the right technology and expertise for Asia during an infrastructure build-out, and he thinks NIME is an exciting partner.’

‘So, he’s legit?’

Diane looked at him. ‘He said something about how the Australian government weren’t coming to the party, or something like that?’

Nodding, Mac pushed. ‘So he was open about it all?’

‘He didn’t lie, except for when he said partner and partnership. Why would he lie about that?’

‘Because he’s got no interest in a partnership with anybody. He’s a venture capitalist – he wants to exit, wants to be bought out.’

Mac was getting really annoyed, uncomfortable. Then he smelled the liquid she was rubbing, and he lost it. Before he knew what was going on, he was in front of the elevator banks, breathing shallow, gulping, banging on the ‘down’ arrow and muttering to himself.

He got to the bar by the lagoon and settled into a bar chair where he could scan the comings and goings out of the hotel lobby. Positioning himself so he wasn’t looking straight into the security camera above the top shelf single malts, Mac looked for eyes, but could only see animated businessmen. Exhaling, he let the tension run out of him.

‘Evening, Mr Davis,’ said the barman.

Mac smiled, realised he still had his name-tag on. He unclasped it, slid it across the bar and, looking at the bloke’s name-tag, asked for a beer, and Bundy on a rock.

The beer arrived and Mac said, ‘Thanks, Clyde,’ then drank from the long neck and felt its coolness rush down his throat. He remembered the days when he was dating Diane between Sydney and Jakarta. It had been early summer in Sydney, and on a beautiful Saturday morning the woman he’d fallen in love with had wanted to go swimming at a beach. Mac had suggested Bondi or Manly, something with a bit of oomph, something to put the willies up a Pommie girl. But Diane wanted to go to Camp Cove, a harbour beach in Sydney’s east with no waves and a lot of fl oating rubbish.

Mac remembered carrying a big seagrass bag behind Diane, who was dressed in a see-through pink sarong that revealed she was topless. He tried to be sophisticated and not too Rockhampton about the topless thing. He was trying to impress this bird.

They had walked up the Camp Cove beach and continued under the trees and around the point. He wanted to tell her they’d gone too far but they’d kept walking around the point and gone down a cliff path at the next beach. He’d followed her to a position in the middle of the sand where a lot of tanned bodies lay around like seals, and as Diane was fi nishing off a story about a nympho secretary at the British High Commission in Islamabad, she unfurled her mat on the sand and removed her sarong. And then took off her undies.

He could remember it like it was yesterday. He’d turned slowly to see what reaction the crowded beach was going to have to this dramatic nude form and then the penny dropped: it was a nude beach.

Everyone was starkers.

Mac had been running full speed to try to stay with her, to downplay the provincial Queensland thing and make it about his education, his worldliness. But when Diane had said, ‘Come on, get those shorts off – it’s good for you,’ Mac had run headlong into who he really was, which was a Mick footballer from Rockhampton who had never been on a nudist beach in his life and had no intention of removing his shorts now he’d found himself on one.

He’d stood there humiliated and embarrassed as Diane lay down on her mat, pulled her Evian and then her squirty bottle of carotene oil from the seagrass bag. He’d tried to leave that nudist beach quick-smart but Diane wouldn’t go, just lay there laughing at him from behind her Ray-Bans. ‘You silly old thing,’ she’d taunted with her plummy English accent. ‘No one’s looking. You are so funny, Richard.’

He’d broken the deadlock that day by dropping his daks and lying down on the damned towel, clenching his bum like he was trying to crack a walnut, praying to God that no one from HMAS Watson up on the cliff could recognise him. His enduring image of that day was the smell of carotene and the vision of a tanned woman who was waxed all over. An enigma of a woman who had left him for dust.

Now, sitting in the pool bar at the Shangri-La, Mac felt physically relieved not to be standing on the beach at Lady Bay. Clyde put a glass on the bar, dropped in one large rock and poured a double of Bundy rum over it. Jenny said it was a hick’s drink but the Queensland rum was comforting for Mac. He gulped a mouthful and, opening his mouth slightly, felt the fumes evaporate into his mouth and sinuses.

An Anglo male, fortyish, with an IBM salesman haircut, sat down at one of the tables near the pool and, leaning back, read the Economist .

The Economist at nine-thirty in the pm? Spies always carried a prop such as a magazine or newspaper into a public place, but to Mac’s brief glance the bloke didn’t seem like a dire unfriendly. Maybe a Canadian or Kiwi embassy intelligence designate, just merging into a conference and seeing if Mac was up for a chat. It’s how the vast majority of human intelligence was conducted: with a smile, over a beer.

He smelled her before he saw her, and then Diane’s arm was over his shoulder and she was kissing his ear.

‘Hello Mr Grumpy Pants,’ she whispered. ‘Still sulking?’

Before he could reply, she ordered her own drink. ‘I’m having what he’s having, thank you, Mr Clyde.’

She had changed into white tennis shorts, navy tank top, fl at espadrilles and lots of tan. She looked stunning and as she folded her arms and cleared her throat, Mac found her a barstool, dragged it over and Diane sat down as her Tiger arrived. She clinked glass with Mac and drank from the bottle.

Diane had been annoying with the whole bra-and-panties act, but they made up over a few drinks, and attempted to bore Mr Economist into leaving with a louder-than-necessary marital conversation about mortgage rates and mobile phone plans.

At 11.43, Mr Economist left without looking at anyone. He’d been made and was hitting the hay.

Mac had forgotten how funny Diane could be when she drank.

She kept trying to order more Bundys and he made the mistake of asking her if she was trying to get him drunk.

‘I’m trying to loosen you up, Richard,’ she said, prodding him in the chest. ‘Emotionally, you’re like a fucking oyster.’

Clyde kept the drinks fresh and Mac and Diane agreed to take turns having their whinge about events of the past, and then never mention it again. Diane wanted him to start, but Mac said, ‘Ladies fi rst.’ She rolled her eyes so Mac suggested they fl ip a coin to which she said, so the whole poolside area could hear her, ‘You are such a child!’

‘Keep it down,’ mumbled Mac into her ear, and Diane whispered that this was perfect husband-and-wife cover – a drunken dis-agreement about something petty.

‘Rock, paper, scissors?’ asked Mac.

‘Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ said Diane and grabbed a coin from Clyde.

She lost the toss and went fi rst, reminding him of a night in Jakarta when they’d got drunk at the old harbour, and they’d slept in Diane’s cottage in the British residential compound.

‘You remember?’ she asked. Mac nodded, looking into his beer and hoping she wasn’t playing him.

‘You said you had been going to ask me to marry you, when we were at that restaurant in Sydney, a few days before,’ she said.

‘Yep,’ said Mac. ‘I remember.’

‘And I said, “ Really? ”, and you said, “ Yes “?’

Mac nodded, a little unsettled by the memory.

‘Do you realise, Richard, that I lay there in the dark, waiting for you to ask me? I thought that was the point of the fucking conversation,’ she said in a low, hissing tone of anger and hurt that only women can do.

Mac stared into his Tiger, thinking, and when he turned to face her she was looking into his eyes.

‘Look, Diane, I was scared. You were very new, very different.’

‘It could have changed our lives, if you’d asked me,’ she whispered.

‘What?’ he laughed. ‘You’d have said yes?’

The hardness came back into her face. ‘You’ll never know that, will you, Richard?’


CHAPTER 31

<p>CHAPTER 31</p>

Mac sat against the far wall of the breakfast restaurant. He’d been taught in craft school always to arrive early when courting an asset, and to sit where there is the greatest vision available to you and the least to the other bastard. Wincing through his headache, he asked for a cooked breakfast and a pot of coffee.

Mac counted three black goldfi sh bowls in the ceiling and he had a quick look at the Asian Wall Street Journal, taking the opportunity to scan for eyes, see if a bit of counter-surveillance was called for. Around him were tables of networking, jabbering business types who were in town for the conference but were really hoping to be introduced to the type of person who could make them a lot of money. Waiters and fl oor staff wafted about and by the time the waitress came back with the coffee Mac had found no reappearance of the surveillance team from the previous evening, and no encore from Mr Economist.

Alex Grant came in with Michael Vitogiannis at 7.04, greeted Mac and they all headed for the bain-maries.

Back at the table, Mac poured coffee all around and let Grant drive the discussion to where he wanted it to go. One of the reasons Mac was a relative natural at what he did was that he was a good listener.

People who talked more than they listened made terrible spies, and there were a lot of them.

‘So, I brought Michael up to speed on our discussion,’ said Grant, wearing offi cial leisure clothes that looked new. ‘You know, from last night?’

Mac nodded, and Grant cleared his throat. ‘And I suppose we’ve agreed that we’d like to have a chat about your services, Mr Davis, with a view to… umm… bearing in mind…’

‘We have to move quickly,’ said Vitogiannis, leaping in with certainty but not arrogance. ‘These deals are like vapour – you think it’s all go, and then poof -‘ he opened his hands as he widened his eyes,

‘it’s gone. Up here the game moves fast.’

Taking a long draught on the coffee, Mac thought about what he was going to say. He wanted to keep the discussion away from the sensitivity of the uranium-enrichment code, or even the secret provisions of the deal with NIME. The way to steer around that issue was to make the entire discussion about Mac and the money. If he could do that then Bennelong Systems might do all the hard work for him.

‘So, you’ve checked me out?’ asked Mac, friendly, nothing to hide.

‘Well, actually, Richard, that’s why we were late down here – making some calls,’ said Vitogiannis.

‘Gotta do it, guys – mad if you don’t,’ said Mac.

Vitogiannis shrugged at Grant as if to say I told you, and looked back at Mac. ‘Your accounts person was helpful about how we might initiate an agreement. It sounds like a solid set-up.’

Mac gave Terri – the accountant at the Southern Scholastic offi ce in Sydney – an inward high-fi ve. Depending on which line was used into the switchboard, it would trigger a computer screen with all the details of that operative and his commercial cover. The Davis Associates cover had been set up only recently and Terri had brought herself up to speed nice and fast, probably set Vitogiannis back on his heels with a few basic credit inquiries of her own. To most business people, a grumpy fi nancial controller was the mark of a good operation.

‘Well, Michael,’ said Mac, laughing, ‘may I start by revealing how comfortable I am with a man who starts at the most important point

– and that is how I’m going to get paid!’

Vitogiannis hooted and slapped his leg while Grant smiled, probably amazed that someone could be so forthright. It was an old spy technique: be disarmingly honest about something people were furtive about – like The Money – and people would tend towards trusting you. The Bennelong guys had the Australian Commonwealth chewing on one ear and a bunch of Indonesian businessmen on the other. They needed someone to trust.

‘So, how do we play this?’ asked Grant.

‘We decide whether I’m on retainer and expenses, or if you prefer to pay me on capital raised,’ said Mac. ‘The capital-raising rate is one and a half per cent of the agreed value of the deal, with overages of travel outside of Sydney or Canberra. Straight charge-back on hotels, cars and fl ights – no per diems. Sound fair?’

‘I like the second option,’ said Vitogiannis, looking at Grant, who was nodding back. ‘One and a half per cent is fair.’

‘And the transaction? What are we talking about here?’ asked Mac, keeping it light yet professional. ‘I mean, so I can work out if it’s worth it for me.’

‘The initial phase is a thirty-million-dollar supply contract – that’s what we wanted EFIC for,’ said Vitogiannis, measuring every word.

‘Okay,’ said Mac, pulling a bunch of papers from his document satchel, ‘let’s do the MOU and we’ll get started.’

‘Hang on a minute,’ said Vitogiannis, raising his hand. ‘This is going a bit fast, isn’t it? I mean, you don’t even know what’s required.’

Mac looked at him. ‘Michael, I made some calls this morning too, and I think I’ve found your problem, and maybe also a way through.’

Vitogiannis leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. His body language said, This bloke is a hard case. He looked at Grant. ‘You hear that, Alex? Mr Davis thinks he’s found a way through.’

‘I heard,’ said Grant, glancing at his watch. ‘Let’s get to work. We have a lunch meeting with our partners and I need some good news.’

They worked out of Grant’s Horizon Club suite on the twenty-second fl oor, looking north over Jakarta and out to the Java Sea. It had its own fax machine and executive desk, so Mac sent the engagement MOU on the machine while Vitogiannis pulled out fi les and Grant fi red up a black Apple laptop.

Taking a seat in front of the desk, Mac laid it out for the Bennelong team. ‘My discussions were brief this morning, guys, but the person I spoke with basically summed it up.’

‘Yes?’ asked Grant, plugging the internet cable into the back of the machine and leaning back from the laptop.

‘You see, Alex, government loan guarantees are knocked back for basic reasons: either the customer is in a nation or market considered viable for a bank or other commercial fi nancier, so the deal doesn’t need Johnny Taxpayer reaching into his pocket.

‘Or the deal itself makes a couple of the principals very rich but has got fuck-all to do with jobs or encouraging innovation or building national competitive advantage. With me?’

‘Sure,’ said Grant, nodding, ‘but I think we qualify under those two and I believe we’re also a company with a trading track record, if that’s something else you were going to mention.’

Holding up three fi ngers, Mac smiled. ‘That’s three pluses for Bennelong. But my person – and he was risking his job just to give me this small piece – he tells me that the weak link is the end-user certifi cate.’

‘What?!’ burst out Grant, a frustrated man. ‘We make control systems for power stations and public water companies! Shit! ‘

‘You know,’ said Mac, drawing it out, ‘the candidate always thinks that the end-user certifi cate is about him. But when you think about it, it’s really about -‘

‘The end user,’ said Vitogiannis. ‘I agree, Richard – but I thought we’d provided a full dossier on NIME? Certainly everything we had.’

Mac put his fi ngers into cathedral position, pushed his nose into the gap. ‘My guy tells me that there’s worries about the – what did you call it?’

‘NIME,’ said Vitogiannis. ‘It’s an acronym, in Bahasa. Basically means something like national electricity consortium of Indonesia.’

‘Yeah, that’s it, NIME,’ Mac continued. ‘He says the principals look like rent-a-directors – you know, fronts, accountants, lawyers. Faces to put on the prospectus. But they have nothing to do with the equity.’

Vitogiannis nodded, swapped a look with Grant. ‘Okay, so…?’

Mac decided to pull back. ‘Look, guys, it’s not my deal, I know nothing about this. But if we have an NIA logjam around an end-user certifi cate, then either you tell me who these people are so I can resell it, or the minister’s own people are going to be in his ear about these people, right?’

‘Yeah,’ said Grant. ‘It’s perhaps not so simple.’

‘Okay,’ said Mac. ‘The other part of the end-user certifi cate is something to do with defence? Nuclear research?’ said Mac, shrugging at Grant, asking him to take it from there.

‘Okay, that makes sense,’ said Grant, relieved not to have to talk about NIME. ‘When we did the buy-out from Betnell, fi fteen years ago, we inherited algorithms for uranium enrichment, for their Type-3 reactors. The management buy-out was for the control systems, but when it came to settlement they had listed these algorithms in the acquisition manifest. Our real aim was to get the naval C and C systems and the public utility control systems, but we got this bonus that, frankly, has turned into a curse.’

‘You knew what they were?’

‘Only in the broadest sense – they’re part of the control systems for a Type-3 reactor which is not even built anymore. I have no idea how valuable they are. I only know they still work because a few years ago I had a visit from CSIRO,’ said Grant, referring to the Commonwealth’s peak science body. ‘But I always suspected they were ASIO because they asked more about my new partner, Michael, and our future plans than they did about the algorithms.’

‘Well, that’s part of the logjam right there,’ said Mac, quietly impressed with Australian intelligence for doing the footwork. ‘If we can take that out of the deal – make it transparent for Canberra

– then all we have to do is get a better picture of the end user, and I’ll massage it from there. As long as they’re not crooks or terrorists, we can probably get you over the line.’

‘Actually,’ said Grant, looking pleased with himself, ‘we’re spinning all those enrichment algorithms – and all the navy C and C codes – into a separate company. We’ll be a cleanskin by the time we do the NIME deal.’

Mac’s ears pricked up. ‘Spinning off? You mean, selling the code?’

‘Well, a staged buy-out, really,’ said Vitogiannis. ‘Naveed has a deal -‘

Grant and Vitogiannis stared at one another. Grant broke the stare, threw his pen on the desk, looked at the ceiling. ‘Okay, Mr Davis, we signed a non-disclosure agreement with the guy representing the NIME group. He didn’t want his identity revealed, but I guess that really means to the banks and the government, right?’

‘So, who’s Naveed?’ said Mac, expressionless.

‘He acts for NIME, and put the deal together for the code,’ said Grant.

‘Really?’

‘Yeah,’ said Alex Grant. ‘It’s fortuitous, I mean the timing and everything.’

‘Timing?’

‘Yeah – we’re signing all the code stuff over at lunch. It’ll clear the way for the main NIME deal, right?’

Stunned, Mac fought for composure. ‘It might clear the way, guys, but we still have the end-user issue. Tell me something about Naveed.’

‘Not much to say,’ said Grant, looking at his watch. ‘He’s a former banker who manages an infrastructure fund.’

‘So he’s connected with the Indonesian government?’ probed Mac.

‘No,’ smiled Grant. ‘He’s a foreigner. Pakistani, I think.’


CHAPTER 32

<p>CHAPTER 32</p>

Mac rang Davidson as soon as he got away from the meeting and they tossed around several spellings for ‘Naveed’. Davidson said he’d make some inquiries and get back on the Naveed connection, but he didn’t want Mac trying to intercept either of the NIME deals.

‘I know what your instincts are, mate,’ drawled Davidson. ‘But the gig is surveillance, right? Mainstreet is about who’s behind NIME.

That’s all you need to do, okay?’

‘Okay,’ said Mac. ‘But just so you know what’s happening up here.’

‘Roger that.’

Mac signed off and turned to Diane, who sat cross-legged on the sofa reading an in-hotel magazine.

‘I need more on Vitogiannis – sorry, I mean Michael,’ he said.

‘Really, Richard?’

‘Yeah, he looks sporty. You might like to lure him into some ten nis perhaps? Maybe nine holes of golf? I’ll even let you win; that might fascinate him.’

‘It’ll have to be tennis. I haven’t played golf for eighteen months because of my shoulder.’

‘He’s having a lunch meeting with NIME right about now,’ said Mac, checking the time. ‘And I said I’d catch up with them for pre-dinners at the lagoon bar.’

‘So I’m doing the afternoon shift?’

‘Pre-dinners too, if that’s how it’s heading,’ said Mac, smiling.

‘What do we want from him?’ asked Diane.

Mac thought about it. ‘Dreams and ambitions. I’m interested to know where he sees himself in fi ve years’ time.’

‘Dreams, huh? The man or the money?’

‘With blokes, it’s the same thing.’

They rode in the back of the S-class, taking a stop-start journey into downtown. The traffi c went from bad to worse in Jakarta and Edwin held forth about it.

‘When I come from Manila ten year ago, Jakarta is mad and crazy, but still you can get around. But now -‘ He held his hands up in the Asian shrug as they came to another stop.

‘What about the BusWay, Edwin?’ asked Mac, referring to the Jakarta bus system where buses had their own lane – the idea being that if the buses had an express lane and priority at intersections, it would encourage car owners into public transport.

‘It good idea,’ said Edwin, ‘but this is Jakarta. People see empty bus lane and they drive in it.’

Diane and Mac laughed. Jakarta was like that.

‘Yesterday, I am driving hotel guest and other driver has tried to get over the kerb, into bus lane! But he get car stuck on concrete divider and so no bus can get down BusWay lane! And there traffi c jam in his car lane!’

Diane giggled.

‘So two POLRI come, scratch head. Ten POLRI come, scratching head. Not knowing. So I get out of this car,’ he said, gesturing to the dashboard, ‘and I yelling, Push the car off the divider! And fi nally, they pushing it off, and by now there twelve bus waiting to go through.’

Edwin shook his head, sighed. ‘Jakarta is like diffi cult woman.’

They dropped Diane outside one of the huge shopping emporia and took off. Mac hadn’t wanted her walking around Jakarta on her own while they were doing an op, but she showed him the little chromed Colt Defender she had in her clutch bag and it made him feel better. Besides, Mac had an appointment with someone he didn’t want Diane knowing about.

They continued into a district with wide boulevards and trees in south Jakarta, turned off into one of the dusty but stately side streets and stopped at the corner. Mac hefted the backpack containing his laptop and asked Edwin to meet him at that same corner in one hour.

He walked up the street, taking basic counter-surveillance precautions.

Crossing the road, he ducked into a fruit shop and waited, bought a mandarin. There was no tail, no eyes and no cars with magazine-readers, so he continued up the street and went into a place called Konstelasi Komputer – Constellation Computers.

Pushing into the cool dimness, a brass bell rang as Mac clocked computers, servers and laptops arranged down the sides of the store, some of them running. A young local with a Metallica T-shirt slouched behind a glass cashier desk, reading a PlayStation magazine.

‘Richard Davis here for Charlie, thanks,’ said Mac, giving the bloke a wink.

Stretching, the youth walked to the beaded curtain and yelled something at it. By the time someone had yelled back at him, the youth was slumped back on his stool, investigating SmackDown! vs Raw.

A face appeared behind the beaded curtain, paused for a second and then pushed through. He was in his late thirties, round-faced and had all his hair, with a pair of sunnies pushed up into it. Glancing over Mac’s shoulder, he jerked his head sideways.

‘Macca, how you doing?’ asked Charlie, giving Mac a palm-grip handshake after they’d passed through the curtain.

‘Can’t complain, Charlie, you know how it is.’

‘Hungry?’

‘Sure,’ smiled Mac. Charlie was big on food and any invitation to dine with him was an experience.

‘We’re sitting down for lunch,’ said Charlie, easing into a torrent of Bahasa and then a bow. The Javanese were ritualistic about inviting people to eat in their home and offi cially inviting a guest was a part of the process.

They ate in the backyard, under a thin tarp, Charlie on the barbecue cooking a special octopus recipe from his mum in east Java. Charlie’s wife, Marika, rolled her eyes as she poured tea for Mac. ‘Charlie think his mum makes best cooking,’ she said to Mac conspiratorially, ‘so I say, Fine – go and live with Mum, but if you live in Marika house, you get what Marika cook! ‘

‘Don’t listen to her,’ yelled Charlie from the barbecue as he waved smoke away. ‘She don’t cook anyhow.’

Charlie had been a whiz-kid at BAIS and one of the fi rst intelligence people Mac knew of who had tried countering the Chinese in cyberspace. At a time when the Aussies, Poms and Yanks thought the internet was for war-gamers and propeller-heads, Charlie had found what the Chinese were using the internet for and was taking the ball up to them. He was so far ahead of the curve that when he pulled a stunt of opening a couple of dam gates on the Yangtze River hydro system, the Yanks took notice and seconded him into Langley.

Like many spooks, Charlie had walked away when he’d had kids.

But he still did a lot of contract work for the Indonesian intelligence services, which was what Mac was after when they adjourned to Charlie’s offi ce after lunch.

‘What’s up, Mr Mac?’ he asked, leaning back in his leather executive chair.

‘Need to defeat a password key. What are you charging these days?’

‘What have you got?’ asked Charlie, lighting a smoke.

Pulling out his cash, Mac made a quick calculation of what he had in his hand. ‘Four fi fty, fi ve hundred US?’ he said, putting the cash on the desk.

‘Sounds fair,’ said Charlie, exhaling smoke at the open window that looked over the backyard.

Mac told Charlie about the Apple laptop on Grant’s desk at the Lar, and how much he wanted to get in there, have a nosey-poke.

He handed over Alex Grant’s business card and Charlie looked at it, turned it over and made a face. Then he put it on his desk, turned forty-fi ve degrees to his keyboard and screen, and tapped a key. The screen lit up and he looked back at the business card.

‘So, what have we got here? A website – a dot com, that’s always a good start. And an email address, a business domain address.’

‘That good?’ asked Mac.

‘It’s not good that this person is staying at the Lar. They have a government-level VPN – a virtual private network – and people sweeping it, looking for people like me.’

‘So it’s not just marketing?’

‘No – Shangri-La hotels are owned by the Kwok family and they use the same contractors that embassies and politicians use. Very paranoid. But fortunately, I know how to defeat most VPN walls,’ added Charlie, pointing to lines of white code on a black screen. ‘See, here are some rooms – ports – that are open and connected, and others are not.’

Mac leaned over, saw the code with the room number down the left-hand side of the list. ‘Where is this?’

‘Systems. We’re in the server that runs the hotel’s backbone and VPN. It’s the heart.’

‘Okay, let me think,’ said Mac, shutting his eyes for two seconds.

‘Room twenty-two-oh-two.’

Charlie scrolled down the lines of code and shook his head. ‘He’s not connected, not much we can do.’

‘Can’t you wake up his computer or something?’

‘Not in this hotel. You’re thinking about the old American phone network that let you do that. Besides, I don’t think our target is even plugged in.’

Mac nodded. ‘You’re right, he unplugs his computer when he fi nishes.’

Standing, Mac made to go. Investigating Naveed and the true ownership of NIME was going to have to happen the hard way.

‘I can’t take this, Mac,’ said Charlie, nodding at the cash.

‘Have it,’ said Mac, his mind now elsewhere.

Charlie dragged on the last of the cigarette, stubbed it in the ashtray and leaned forward with enthusiasm. ‘You say this Mr Grant has an Apple, right?’

‘Yep,’ said Mac.

Charlie typed on the keyboard as he looked at the business card.

‘What’s up, Charlie?’

‘Had an idea.’

Walking around the desk, Mac looked over Charlie’s shoulder.

‘There’s another way?’

‘If he’s got a Mac, then he might have a. mac account for his personal email, and his business mail might be linked to it when he travels.’

Charlie clicked on the browser and found a website that searched for email addresses. A whole list came back and he scrolled down through the various incarnations before he got to one that said alex. grant@mac. com and then Sydney, NSW, Australia.

‘Is that our guy?’ asked Charlie, jiggling his leg.

‘Looks like it,’ said Mac. ‘Is that good or bad?’

‘If he has a. mac email address then he probably has an iDisk account.’

‘What’s an iDisk account?’ asked Mac, watching as Charlie downloaded an application called iDisk Utility for Windows.

‘It’s Apple’s backup servers in California,’ said Charlie. ‘You subscribe to the service and you can back up into those servers from anywhere in the world and only you can access it. Your target might be backing up emails and documents to iDisk, especially when he travelling in Indonesia, yeah?’

When it was downloaded, Charlie double-clicked on iDisk Utility and input alex. grant into the username fi eld.

‘Now comes fun part,’ smiled Charlie, pulling out a drawer by his right thigh, withdrawing a black steel object the size of a cigar box, and plugging it into a USB port. A pale blue box came up on screen and Charlie typed some words into the boxes which were arranged in a list.

‘What’s this?’ asked Mac.

‘Password defeat,’ said Charlie, lighting a cigarette and slamming the lighter on the desk. ‘We put in what we know. You know his date of birth?’

Squinting, Mac tried to remember the fi le on Alex Grant. ‘He was born 1953 and I think it was November. Yep, November 1953, but I can’t remember the day.’

‘Kids? Pets? Wife? Phone number? Street address?’ asked Charlie.

‘You won’t believe this, but that’s what most passwords come down to.’

He couldn’t remember any other numbers associated with Grant, so he just added what he could. ‘Put in Bennelong and Thomas and Systems and Technology, okay?’

Charlie did, asking if there was anything more. Mac shook his head and Charlie clicked on the ‘run’ box to the right of the boxes where he’d typed in the information. A wheel spun in the middle of the pale blue box, stopping after just seven seconds when a red box sprang up with the white letters b e n n e l o n g arrayed along it, and the words defeat successful blinking above.

They were in. Alex Grant’s iDisk was a listing of about thirty folders and Mac asked Charlie to scroll the list. In the ‘N’ section they found one labelled NIME and another labelled NAVEED.

Mac’s heart rate escalated as he turned to Charlie. ‘That’s it? He uses Bennelong as his password?’

‘Yep. Remember it and you’ve got open access to Alex Grant’s iDisk.’


CHAPTER 33

<p>CHAPTER 33</p>

The Shangri-La’s room service guy brought a tennis racquet to the door and Mac tipped him, just as Diane emerged in her tennis shorts and blue tank.

He wanted her out fast so he could check on the Grant iDisk before seeing the Bennelong team at the lagoon bar at fi ve, but he sensed that she needed something from him, and he hoped that it was just friendship. There was a haughtiness and hardness to Diane, but vulnerability showed itself in small fl ashes. Beautiful women were pigeonholed at an early age and they had to fi ght to be taken seriously.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘I don’t think any less of you for doing the charm offensive on Vitogiannis.’

‘You don’t?’ she sparked up.

‘No, mate. Any more than you think I’m a sleazy little weasel for sneaking into people’s lives.’

She rolled her eyes. ‘Hmm, now you mention it, that is pretty sleazy.’

They both laughed, and an uneasy silence hung between them.

Mac had been so focused on his own hurt after Diane betrayed him with Peter Garrison – the CIA rogue – that he had missed the whole marriage thing. It wasn’t until the previous night that he’d seen how it must have been for her to have a man lying in her bed telling her how he had been about to propose marriage, but had decided not to.

He didn’t hate her. ‘Diane, it takes more than looks to do this job.’

‘You think?’

‘I -‘ he started.

‘Yes? Come on,’ she interrupted, moving closer, crossing her arms.

‘Well, there were always good sorts hanging around, but with you it was really about the laughs and the company, you know?’

Her expression eased, the hardness draining from her eyes. She looked at her feet, mouthed the words thank you and moved towards the door.

The fi rst thing Mac got from the Grant iDisk was Naveed’s name: Syed Ali Naveed, better known as S.A. Naveed.

Then he found a fax that Alex Grant had scanned into a PDF. It named Naveed’s organisation as Ocean Technologies Company, which had a Kuala Lumpur address. The fax referred to agreements and verifi ed the meeting in Jakarta on 13 December 2008. A Saturday

– today: the lunch meeting that was making Grant and Vitogiannis so antsy.

The top of the scanned document caught Mac’s attention. It was a fax number, stamped along with the date. Squinting at it, he deciphered the prefi x numbers, +971 4: Naveed was sending his faxes from the United Arab Emirates, Dubai to be exact. There was something else beside the number, but the scanning to PDF had taken defi nition out of it. Enlarging the document, the fax stamp came alive.

It said Gulf Precision Metals.

He gulped. Gulf Precision Metals was one of the front companies under the umbrella of Gulf Technical Industries, a Dubai company used right up till 2004 to ship electrical cabinets and voltage regulators from Turkey, hi-tech furnaces from Italy, vacuums from Germany, but particularly P-2 centrifuges, uranium hexafl uoride and other enrichment technologies from Pakistan. Their ultimate destination?

Libya, Iran and North Korea, to help create clandestine nuclear weapons programs for those countries.

Gulf Technical Industries was used by Dr A.Q. Khan to run his network of illicit uranium-enrichment technologies. Khan’s government-funded organisation, KRL, made the centrifuges that enriched uranium to weapons-grade. Khan sold the centrifuges, thousands at a time, to places like Iraq and Libya, and Khan had even sold the stolen plans of a Chinese nuclear bomb to North Korea.

Mac rocked back in his seat, a little freaked. The scariest thing about the A.Q. Khan network was the support it had received not only from the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus, but also from the United States. Even after the 9-11 massacre in 2001 and the Bali bombings a year later, the US State Department had refused to issue sanctions against the Pakistanis for the illegal nuclear trade. When American spy satellites had discovered Pakistani planes loading missile components into cargo planes outside Pyongyang – widely thought to be in exchange for their latest shipment of Pakistani enrichment centrifuges – the US administration had refused to act.

By December 2001, while the World Trade Center was still cooling, Khan’s business partner, B.S.A. Tahir, signed an order from Malaysian company SCOPE for $13 million worth of aluminium centrifuge components. Hidden as oil and gas drilling parts, they were shipped to Dubai and then to Libya via the various mini-fronts under Gulf Technical Industries, of which Gulf Precision Metals was one.

Moving down Grant’s documents, Mac found one fi lled with Track Changes. It was the acquisition manifest and sale document for Bennelong’s sale of the naval C and C systems and the Type-3 enrichment algorithms not to NIME, but a Dubai company called Desert Enterprises. The manifest had all the technology in it and the fi nal sale document increased the price from US$8 million to US$60 million, provided Bennelong sold the whole parcel to Desert Enterprises.

The sale document mentioned today’s ‘physical handover’.

Grant and Vitogiannis had folded immediately when faced with so much money. This wasn’t a joint venture spin-off, it was a buy-out of enrichment algorithms, probably signed off hours ago. Mac assumed the enrichment code was now gone – probably burned on CD – and it would become an international tracking exercise to see where it ended up. It was one thing to have the centrifuges for uranium enrichment, but it was the computer systems that ran the ‘cascades’ of centrifuges. The cascades in Libya and Iran had ten thousand centrifuges operating in union and you needed serious systems to make them work properly. The Pakistanis had just bought such a system, from Australia. It made Mac sick.

There was too much in the iDisk for Mac to investigate on his own but he knew who would make sense of it, so he plugged in a USB hard drive and downloaded all of the relevant folders straight into it.

After closing the iDisk Utility, Mac entered the ASIS intranet to send a secure email to Davidson. He was fairly confi dent of its security

– Australia had led the world into government PKI, or public key infrastructure, which essentially created concentric bands of access to departmental information via websites. The ASIS one required two layers of ID, the fi rst of which was as long as a credit card number.

He made the message short: told Davidson that the company behind NIME was Malaysia-based Ocean Technologies Company, and the principal was Syed Ali Naveed, who appeared to be operating from two A.Q. Khan front companies in Dubai: Desert Enterprises and Gulf Precision Metals. He noted that the concerns shown in Canberra about what was happening to Bennelong Systems’ Type-3 enrichment algorithms was probably correct because it was highly likely their sale had been fi nalised earlier that afternoon at the Shangri-La Hotel. Mac concluded with a note about how to get into the Grant iDisk and sent it, then got on the phone to get more info on Naveed from Davidson.

The call rang out and Mac left a voicemail message telling Davidson to check his email. Trying another number, Mac got through to an ASIS landline in Perth that was answered, ‘Good afternoon, Albany Trading Asia – how may I help you?’ and asked for Davidson by his cover name. Davidson wasn’t in his corporate offi ce, so Mac left a voicemail message there too.

Stowing his laptop in his backpack, Mac left the room. With Davidson not responding, he was getting into the paranoia zone and he wanted to fi nd Freddi Gardjito and run the Naveed name by him.

Mac would bet Sydney to a six-pack that the name Hassan Ali was on Naveed’s list of known associates.

He made for the elevator bank but changed his mind at the last minute, and went for the fi re stairs. As he bounded down two at a time, he wasn’t thinking about Alex Grant or Michael Vitogiannis or NIME. He was thinking about old scores and new information, a boy stolen, a girl shot and left for dead. He was thinking about Sumatra

‘02, about Hassan Ali and Gorilla, and how Naveed was going to lead him to them.


CHAPTER 34

<p>CHAPTER 34</p>

The lobby was quiet as Mac came around from the side and cased it for eyes, his instincts on full alert. The Naveed-Khan connections had spooked him. What had started as Mac’s return to the game in an economic team was spiralling upwards.

Fronting the desk, Mac asked for Freddi. The girl said she’d never heard of the bloke, so Mac started talking loudly about the intelligence guy from BAIS. Freddi still didn’t appear, so Mac assumed he was in one of the plenary sessions, checking out who was fl irting on the edges of Indonesia’s burgeoning public infrastructure scene.

‘Look,’ said Mac. ‘Can you tell him that Richard Davis, from room nine-oh-two, needs to talk to him urgently, but I’ve had to duck out for a couple of hours?’ he said, handing over his card.

The girl typed a message into the system, then looked up, perplexed. ‘The room service you order just going up, Mr Richard.’

‘Must be a different guy,’ said Mac, preoccupied.

The girl looked at the screen, then called something over her shoulder. The male desk guy moved beside her and looked at the screen. ‘Yes, Mr Davis,’ he said. ‘I just saw the room service porter and I ask him and he say he going to room nine-oh-two – Davis.’

Mac’s neck crawled with fear. Something was wrong. He turned from the desk without another word and rushed across the enormous marble lobby, aiming for a side door and shooting out to where the lagoons and palms formed a sort of oasis.

Sprinting around the pools, he searched for the tennis courts, praying that Diane was safe. As he raced past the picnic tables on the far side of the lagoon pool, he heard two shots, then screams and then several more shots, one after the other. He sped across the lawns, through the palm trees and then took some steps three at a time to the tennis court complex.

The screams got louder and he saw a hotel employee coming out of her offi ce in the tennis pagoda, her hands up to her face. Mac sprinted past a middle-aged Anglo couple in tennis whites who were clinging together, shouting, ‘Get down, both of you!’

The screaming hotel employee was standing over the face-down form of Alex Grant, blood pooling around his face. A pitcher of water, some glasses and a silver tray were scattered around him, his white legs a pathetic tangle.

‘Get in the offi ce, call security,’ said Mac to the hysterical woman.

‘And hurry!’

Removing his backpack, Mac carefully surveyed the scene. He hadn’t seen anyone leaving the area and they could still be around.

He assumed there’d been at least two shooters by the sounds and their frequency. It was very hard to put so many single shots together so quickly when you had to aim and move about at the same time.

He moved past the clubhouse cottage and looked around the corner, head out, head in. At the end of the fi rst tennis court – where Grant, Vitogiannis and probably Diane had been playing – he could see a collapsed male body.

‘Fuck!’ he hissed to himself as he realised it was Vitogiannis. Mac wasn’t armed and it looked like he was dealing with at least two hit men.

Stealthing onto the tennis court, Mac’s heart lurched as he saw Diane lying on her side, her white shorts bloody. Taking another look around for shooters, Mac ran across the court, ducking down on the other side as he got to Diane. She was slumped on her right hip and Mac gently pulled her over to face him. She was alive, saliva running out of her mouth.

‘Diane, Diane!’ he breathed, sitting down so he could get his knees under her and hold her up straight. ‘Shit! Fuck!’ he muttered as he scanned for threats, then checked her wrist for a pulse. There was a weak one. She groaned, her head lolling. A dark stain soaked her tank top.

‘It’s going to be okay, Diane. I’m here. We’re going to get you to hospital, you’re strong, you’re going to make it.’

He pulled up her tank top and saw a hole in her stomach oozing blood at a rate that would see her dead within fi fteen minutes. There was another gory mess in her right shoulder. Her eyes rolled back and her hands gripped him momentarily, then she went limp.

‘Where’s that fucking ambulance? Ambulan! Mari! ‘ he screamed.

Scanning refl exively for the shooters, Mac saw Diane’s chromed Colt Defender on the court surface behind her. Palming it, he checked the spout and the mag and shoved it into his belt at the small of his back. Standing, he pulled Diane up into a fi reman’s lift and started across the tennis court for the hotel. Employees were running across the grassed area around the lagoon pools and the girl from the tennis clubhouse watched mutely as he jogged past the middle-aged couple.

‘Can we do anything?’ asked the bloke in a reedy American accent.

‘Pray,’ mumbled Mac.

During his time in the British military they had to do their two-up drills at least once a week. Most of the guys hated them, never saw the point. Now he was tabbing two-up and wondering if there were enough minutes left to let Diane survive. Wasn’t supposed to be how it worked.

He raced to the side entrance of the hotel as the conference goers moved tentatively out into the sun, eyes agog as he ran at them.

‘Freddi!’ yelled Mac, his voice verging on the hysterical. ‘Freddi Gardjito! Freddi!’ he screamed, the crowds parting in front of him.

Then suddenly Freddi was there, SIG Sauer in his right hand.

‘McQueen, what happened?’

‘Two shot, dead. We’ve got to get this one to the hospital. Please, mate – please! ‘

Freddi spun around and led them through the lobby into the hotel’s underground car park, yelling into his lapel. Another BAIS guy appeared and Freddi issued an order before the bloke ran off.

Mac sat in the back of the LandCruiser with Diane, laying her down to stop the blood pumping out and talking her through it as her eyes rolled back in her head and her lips turned white.

‘It’s okay, mate. You’re going to make it, Diane,’ said Mac, cradling her head on his lap.

In front of them a POLRI Jeep Cherokee and a POLRI motorcycle led them to MMC, the big Western hospital on Rasuma Said, next to the Aussie Embassy.

The emergency crew at the ambulance dock seized on Diane immediately, dragging her onto a gurney and slapping a breathing mask on her even before the LandCruiser had fully stopped. Freddi and Mac jogged behind the gurney as it was taken through to the emergency ward and into an operating theatre.

Sitting outside with Freddi, Mac looked down at his feet, things suddenly seeming hopeless. The tears came and he put his hands over his face, embarrassed. Freddi’s hand touched his right shoulder and Mac took his hands from his face.

‘ Shit, Freddi,’ he said through his tears. ‘I mean – shit.’ He sniffl ed and felt Freddi’s hand grip him harder, give him a shake.

‘I know, mite. I know.’

It was 9.21 pm when the nurse came out of the recovery room and said, ‘The patient would like to see Mr Richard.’

Mac got up like he had three tonnes on his shoulders and turned to Freddi, who just shrugged. ‘I’ll be here, McQueen. Take as long as you want.’

Mac walked like a robot behind the nurse and stood at the end of Diane’s bed. Her face was so pale it had fl ushed out her tan, a tube went into her nose, a machine bellowed in and out beside her and another tube was connected to her arm.

After a while, her eyes fl uttered open and Mac went to her left side. She saw him, and her face screwed up as she started crying.

She put her hand out and Mac held it as he perched on the edge of the bed and felt her weak sobs. Her grip was strong and desperate and she pulled him down to her.

‘Thank you,’ she whispered, tears running down her cheeks. ‘Love you.’

‘Yeah, I love you too, mate,’ Mac whispered. ‘You got a shot at the bastards?’

Diane nodded. ‘Out-fucking-standing,’ said Mac.

‘Handbag from the hotel,’ she rasped, really faint. ‘Bring Filofax, need to talk.’

Mac nodded, glad he was all cried out. He wanted to at least appear strong for her. ‘Will you be okay?’

‘Just bring it.’

Nodding, he stood. ‘Back soon, Diane. You’ve been so brave but please rest now?’

She nodded, her eyes closing again as Mac left.

Mac and Freddi talked through the scenario in the LandCruiser on the way back to the Lar. Mac didn’t want to hand over everything he knew, but Freddi had a personal stake in this thing too – he’d also been badly affected by what’d happened out at that old airfi eld in Sumatra all those years ago. Freddi had taken administration duties at BAIS for six months afterwards and Mac had gone back to Manila with a lot of pain inside. He had blamed himself for Merpati being shot to pieces and her brother, Santo, being snatched. He had promised them safety if they just did what he said. They were good kids, they did as they were asked, but they’d been let down badly.

Mac had hit the booze back in the Philippines, but after a six-week binge he sobered up and did something he’d vowed never to do in his life. He found a shrink in Mataki, off the beaten track for expats and embassy colony types, and went twice a week for eleven weeks. Her name was Lydia Weiss, a Canadian psychotherapist who was about ten years older than Mac and bore a striking resemblance to Barbra Streisand. She was smart and funny and on their fi rst meeting Mac, who was a bit vague with the world, had called her Barbra by mistake.

She laughed and asked him if he’d like singing as part of the service.

‘As long as I can be Barry Gibb,’ he’d said.

She asked him to start with what set him apart as a person, what made him different. And he didn’t know what to say, so he said, ‘I’m not an atheist.’

She smiled and said, ‘At last, a live one!’

They got along well and she got him talking about a lot of things.

He wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do or how honest he was supposed to be. His main criterion was that she was discreet. Jen had used counselling from time to time, when she felt she needed it, but she was a woman and it was expected among female cops. Amongst male spooks, they’d prefer you were on the piss, depressed and going brothel-hopping every night than openly seeing a shrink. You were either admitting you couldn’t handle it, or you were breaking open the entire psychological secret of covert fi eldwork – the secret being that no one could really handle it as well as they pretended, and all it took was a shock of violence or pain caused to a child or some other innocent party and you were in emotional la-la land.

Lydia had been quite clear about that. ‘Richard, if you knew how many cops, spies and soldiers I see in these rooms, you might relax a bit. It’s okay to need to talk,’ she’d said.

That was fi ne with Mac, but he still used a cover and paid in cash.

At the last session, she’d asked him to sum up a few things for himself. He hadn’t understood, so Lydia asked him to describe as honestly as he could what he was feeling when he sat there in the Sumatran jungle with a broken, bleeding girl in his arms.

Mac had shrugged.

‘Let’s try that another way,’ smiled Lydia. ‘You didn’t cry, did you.

Why not?’

They had sat in silence for three or four minutes.

‘Because,’ he said, like he was in a dream, ‘I was scared. And that made me ashamed.’

Mac collected Diane’s girlie things from the bathroom – the combs and brushes and little bottles. He looked under the bed and found knickers and a sock, checked the bedside table, the bathroom and her suitcase. He found two mobile phones in her handbag, but no Filofax.

Stripping, Mac threw his bloody clothes into the corner and had a long shower. He had the shakes in his hands and in his facial muscles.

Freddi was waiting in the living area of the suite, which made him feel safe, but there were things coming to the surface he thought he’d beaten.

Getting out of the shower, he grabbed some clean clothes from his bag and got dressed in Diane’s room. As he made to leave, he looked in one last place – under her pillow. It was there: a dark blue twenty-year-old Filofax diary. He opened it to make sure it was all there, and found that all the entries were in acronyms or about grocery lists, that sort of thing. He was snapping it shut, about to throw it in her leather handbag, when something caught his eye. In the front inside sleeve, a corner of something poked out. He pulled at it and out slid a photo. It showed Diane smiling at the camera, looking a little tired, in hospital blues and holding a baby to her breast.

‘Shit,’ he mumbled.

He turned it over and in Diane’s hand, in black ballpoint, was written Sarah, one day old.

He turned it back over and looked at the picture again. You could see from the foreground of the bed that the nurse or doctor had put down their clipboard on the bed in front of Diane before taking the photo. Mac put the Filofax in the handbag and found a duty-free carry bag and put Diane’s clean undies, bras and socks into it – she might appreciate them as she recovered.

As he moved through to the living area, Freddi looked up.

‘Thanks for that, Fred,’ he smiled. ‘Mate, you wouldn’t have an imaging guy downstairs would you?’

‘Of course.’

Images were a big deal at conferences. You spent all your time grabbing pictures of people, running them through the software to enhance them and run matches in the databases. They ducked into the back offi ce of the front desk and Freddi introduced Fanshaw, the junior intel guy, to Mac.

‘Cheers,’ said Mac. ‘Just want to check what this clipboard says in the photo.’

The bloke put the pic in a scanner, pulled it up on his laptop screen, used the cursor to defi ne an area and then double-clicked several times. He made adjustments in an enhancement box at the side of the screen, repixelating the image digitally, and within thirty seconds the German software had brought the top of that clipboard alive. Fanshaw pointed and Mac leaned in.

The girl’s surname was ELLISON. But it was her fi rst names, in smaller text, that shocked Mac to the core. Sarah McQueen.


CHAPTER 35

<p>CHAPTER 35</p>

Freddi peeled away to the gents as they closed on Diane’s room. Mac came around a corner, his mind racing, trying to get the timeline right for Diane’s – their – daughter, and walked into two men loitering outside the door.

One was the heavily muscled shape of a soldier Mac recognised from two years ago in Jakarta. Carl had been present when Mac and Diane had gone out for their last dinner together. He hadn’t changed much: his usual Levis and Hi-Tecs, a black leather holster-bag around his middle that Mac knew contained a SIG Sauer 9 mm and probably a fancy military micro-radio.

Beside Carl was a tall dark-haired MI6 operative by the name of Danny Fitzgibbon. Danny seemed out of place in the fi eld. In an early rotation in Singapore, Mac, Dave Urquhart and Danny were all stationed together. Urquhart and Danny had become friends whose conversation centred on the ministerial end of the job. Urquhart now worked liaison with the Prime Minister’s offi ce and Mac had assumed Danny was doing something similar in London.

‘Danny,’ he said, nodding.

Then, winking at the soldier, Mac said, ‘How’s it going, Carl?’

Carl smiled and nodded but Danny put his hands on his hips and made no attempt to get out of the way. ‘I was hoping you’d turn up, McQueen.’

‘It’s nice to be loved, Danny.’

‘Still a smartarse, I see,’ Danny sneered. ‘But that didn’t help her, did it?’ he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

‘Mate, I’m tired, okay?’ said Mac, not wanting this. ‘I’ve got some things Diane asked for -‘

‘Like what?’ Danny challenged, his beady eyes dropping to the handbag.

Mac turned to Carl, smiled. ‘You’ll come for the looks, stay for the personality, eh Carl?’

Carl tried to suppress a laugh, but couldn’t. The British diplomat bodyguards were smart, experienced guys plucked out of special forces and the metro police. They could be just as confused by the wankers from Six as anyone.

‘Don’t worry about him, McQueen,’ snarled Danny, moving forward and trying to get all the height he could out of his lanky frame. ‘The main game’s over here, mate.’

‘Okay, Danny, nice talking to you, I’ll be going in now.’ He moved half a step and Danny fronted him, did it so they touched chests, did it in such a way that if he was in Mount Isa or Kalgoorlie he’d be crawling around on the fl oor by now, looking for his teeth.

‘Where you think you’re going, McQueen?’

‘I’m sorry?’ asked Mac, wondering where he could hit him and not be reprimanded by the fi rm.

‘I asked you what’s in the bag.’

‘Just a few selected pictures of me with your mother.’

Danny’s pupils dilated and his lips went white as Carl expelled a snort of laughter. Mac was prepared to take one shot so he could give fi fteen and still claim in his report that he’d been attacked. Danny tensed and a voice came from behind Mac.

‘What’s up, Fitzgibbon?’

Danny’s nostrils fl ared as he stared into Mac’s eyes, his gaze fl ickering over Mac’s shoulder. ‘Freddi – how’s things?’ Danny croaked, his throat striated with wire-like tendons.

Freddi moved up to Mac’s left shoulder and got in close to Danny.

‘Like I said, Fitzgibbon, what’s up?’

Mac sensed a new coldness in Freddi’s voice.

‘Lass is the daughter of one of ours, mate,’ said Danny, fl icking his head. ‘He’s fl ying in from Ottawa but for now she’s under our protection.’

‘Oh, really?’ said Freddi.

‘Carl’s diplomatic. I’m just down here to ask McQueen what happened.’

‘POLRI will ask him that, Fitzgibbon. For now, he’s seeing the girl.’

Danny didn’t move, so Freddi moved closer, did his own fronting.

‘Tell you what, Fitzgibbon, if I’m ever in London, you can tell me what door I can walk through, okay? But in my town you get out of my way.’

‘The girl’s diplomatic too, Freddi. Don’t want an incident, do we?’ said Danny.

‘You’re lending yourself – girl’s working for the Aussies,’ snarled Freddi. ‘So move!’

Danny stood back from the door, raised his hands in mock surrender. ‘Wouldn’t want to cause offence, Fred.’

Freddi moved to the door and Carl cleared his throat. ‘Mr McQueen, sir,’ he said, pointing at Diane’s bags. ‘Wouldn’t mind, would you, sir?’

Mac gave him the large leather handbag and Carl knelt down on the fl oor and went through it expertly, then quickly dealt with the duty-free bag containing Diane’s clothes. After he’d fi nished Carl stood and returned the bags and Mac pulled the Defender from his belt, gave it to him. Carl looked sheepish so Mac said, ‘Come on, mate

– get it over with,’ and Carl patted him for concealeds.

Inside the room, Carl and Freddi stood at the back while Mac moved to Diane’s side. She was sleeping, her breaths slow and shallow.

Mac watched her and decided he’d pick things up in the morning. But as he stood to go, she opened her eyes and he sat again.

‘The photo?’ she whispered.

Mac just nodded, too choked up to say anything.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I wanted to tell you but when I went to see you – on the Gold Coast – you were… It was all gone, I’d lost you and I couldn’t see -‘ She started crying again and Mac pulled blue tissues from a box, wiped her cheeks.

‘So, she’d be?’

‘Almost eighteen months,’ Diane smiled. ‘And beautiful.’

‘So she looks like you?’

‘No – she’s a McQueen. Very stubborn.’

‘So, she’s running around?’

Diane nodded, gulped. ‘Dad says she’ll be a famous sports star

– she loves to swing her little racquet.’

As they talked about Sarah, Mac felt that old cold feeling come back – the one he got before he went into the fi eld. It was like an old friend, whispering in his ear, saying, Get these bastards.

His eyes must have been hardening because Diane suddenly stopped herself.

‘Need to know about the shooters?’

Mac nodded.

It was almost two am when Freddi pulled up in front of the Shangri-La. They walked through into the BAIS operations post behind the front desk, the images bloke, Fanshaw, leaping up as he saw them.

Freddi said something in Bahasa to Fanshaw and the bloke sat down and rolled the chair up closer to the keyboard. They stood over his shoulder, looked at what he had.

‘This is waiter on opening reception,’ said Fanshaw, pushing his glasses up his nose as a black and white image resolved, giving proper defi nition to a blown-up still from a surveillance camera. The person in the photo was early thirties, Javanese or Malay – or perhaps something else. He knew he’d be on a camera and had worn large owlish spectacles and kept his face pointing down, the mark of a pro.

In the photo they looked at, he was bending into a wheeled cabinet with the fi nger foods.

‘Can I see one of him moving?’ asked Mac.

Fanshaw played a segment with the waiter walking past the bottom third of the frame. Mac saw that strange bum-out walk he had noticed on the fi rst night.

‘This is footage of the tennis courts,’ said Fanshaw, then played what was a horror story. The camera was a medium fi sh-eye mounted on the top of the rear fence, looking down on the fi rst and second courts, so that the clubhouse was in the middle of the frame.

They watched transfi xed as Michael Vitogiannis stood with hands on hips, hamming it up for someone on the side of the court: Diane.

Then out of the clubhouse came Alex Grant in whites carrying a tray with a glass jug and three glasses on it. He turned with a smile to the other two as a uniformed waiter walked past him, in a hurry. Alex looked to his right to see why the employee was walking onto their court, and then the waiter pulled a handgun from under his tunic, aimed up, and shot Michael Vitogiannis what looked like three times, judging by the recoils and puffs of blue smoke.

Before the fi rst shooter fi nished, another waiter ran up behind Alex Grant with a handgun and dropped him with one shot behind the ear. Alex went down, dead. The fi rst waiter jogged back to the second and then suddenly he staggered, hit by a shot to the thigh. The second shooter aimed up and shot at an unseen target: Diane. Then they turned and ran across the other tennis court, the fi rst shooter limping and the second shooter moving with that distinctive gait

– bum sticking out slightly, hips moving freely.

Freddi asked Fanshaw something, and a bad-quality security video came up on the large computer screen. The time code said it was from

‘02 and Fanshaw identifi ed it as security video from the Kuta Puri during the time the Hassan and Samir crew were in Kuta. Fanshaw ran some footage of a group of men walking down a path that connected the street with the bungalows area of the Kuta Puri. They were all looking down and the video, which had been shot at night, was bad enough that they looked like they were walking on the moon. In spite of the bad quality, two people stood out: one for his walk, the other because he was built like a gorilla. The one with the distinctive walk was the waiter Mac had spotted at the opening reception, the one who gunned down Alex Grant and Diane.

Mac looked at Freddi, wide-eyed. The whole operation to buy the enrichment algorithms from Bennelong Systems and then dispose of the vendors had been carried out by the Hassan crew. It was the same crew that had been in Kuta on the night of the Bali bombings; the same crew that ran the clandestine nuclear weapons network for Pakistan’s national hero and supplier of enriched uranium to Libya, North Korea and Iran, Dr A.Q. Khan. It was the same people who had shot a girl and snatched a boy while escaping from the jungles of Sumatra, an incident that had seen Freddi moved out of the fi eld for a while and Mac off to see a shrink.

The years peeled back and Mac was once again in that jungle on the coast of Northern Sumatra, shooting those two blokes on the . 50-cal gun, missing the one who’d been standing behind them.

The one with that strange walk which turned into a strange run. The same one who’d been watching them at the reception dinner at the Shangri-La, before shooting Diane.

‘Who is he?’ asked Mac.

‘Lempo,’ said Freddi. ‘Father is Sri Lankan, mother is Malay. He’s an associate of Hassan, based in Dubai.’

Mac nodded, the pieces coming together.

‘What’s in Dubai?’ asked Mac, knowing already.

‘Khan’s operation,’ said Freddi, almost whispering. ‘The nuclear network.’


CHAPTER 36

<p>CHAPTER 36</p>

Exhaustion had crept up on Mac and was taking hold. His vision blurred at the sides and he had that buzzing in his temples, usually a sign for him to call it quits for a few hours. Diane was safe. Carl knew what he was doing and he’d have no problem dropping a bad guy when the time came.

It was more his own safety Mac needed to worry about. Someone on the inside had employed Lempo and his sidekick, got them rostered on to the conference and let them do their surveillance and the hit.

There was also Hassan’s core of actual businesspeople and lawyers present at the signing over of the enrichment codes and navy C and C systems. That’s why Grant and Vitogiannis were so edgy at the evening function and then in their morning meeting: they had the physical CDs or USB plugs, a part of the deal that Mac had seen as a letter in Alex Grant’s iDisk. As soon as Hassan signalled he had everything from the Bennelong transaction, Lempo came in and did the chop.

Diane probably wasn’t supposed to be part of it. But they knew about Mac – they’d sent someone up to look after him and they knew he was in his room.

Before he went to sleep Mac needed to know about the hotel. ‘Fred, can we get any footage on the shooter who went to my room?’

Freddi asked Fanshaw, who shook his head. ‘Waiter wore a black cap and walked backwards down to your room,’ said Freddi, tired too.

‘He knocks on door, no one answer and he give up. Nothing there.’

Mac looked into Freddi’s eyes. They had shared a lot in Sumatra but they were still members of rival intelligence outfi ts. Mac wanted more. ‘Fred, someone in this hotel was working for Hassan on the inside.’

‘You get some sleep, McQueen – leave that to us.’

‘Mate, my colleague is in a hospital bed under guard. And I can’t stay at this hotel until I know there’s no one coming for me.’

Freddi chewed his gum slowly.

‘Besides, Fred,’ said Mac, lowering his voice, ‘I’m not going to hang around getting in your way – I’m going out to fi nd these pricks, understand?’

Freddi sighed, resigned. ‘Okay, McQueen. But I do all the talking, okay?’

The elevator opened at B2 and Mac walked behind Freddi down a green lino-clad corridor with bad fl uorescent lighting. From somewhere they could hear yells and thumps, as if there was a volleyball game in progress. They pushed through a swing door and walked into a smoky room with three BAIS guys in it, all staring through glass at an unconscious man in another room, tied to a bolted-down chair, his shirt missing and layers of dried and wet blood down his face and chest.

Mac recognised one of the BAIS guys: Ishi Yusgiantoro, one of the top domestic operations people in Indonesian intelligence and a former commander in Kopassus’s Group 4. Ishi had done some nasty work in East Timor in ‘99. Now in his mid-fi fties, he looked as tired as Mac felt. Ishi listened to Freddi explain what Mac was doing down in the heart of BAIS, then slowly turned to Mac, eyes sceptical.

‘McQueen?’ he asked.

‘Alan McQueen,’ Mac answered, hand extended. ‘ Apa kabar? ‘

There was a two-second silence, then Ishi shook Mac’s hand, smiled and they all started laughing, even Mac. It wasn’t every day that an Anglo working in Indonesia bothered to say g’day in the local tongue.

As the laughter died, a BAIS guy sitting on the bench table said something to Freddi, and they laughed again.

Mac gave Freddi a look.

‘He say, It true – he crazy,’ said Freddi.

Ishi pulled a pack of smokes from his pants pocket and pointed through the glass. ‘He work at Lar – okay?’

‘The inside guy?’ asked Mac, staring at the man in the interrogation room.

Ishi nodded as he lit up and took his fi rst drag. ‘He say he only feed information for money. Don’t know who they are. We check phone log – pre-pay phone.’

‘How did he get paid?’ asked Mac.

‘Cash, US dollar,’ said Ishi, dragging on his smoke. ‘He met at river three time; fi rst two, just young businessman.’

Ishi clicked his fi ngers and the man on the table brought a fi le over.

‘This is Lempo,’ said Ishi, handing over the black and white surveillance photo. ‘Taken in Cairo fi ve month ago.’

Lempo was a good-looking citizen of the world, sitting in a cafe in his white shirt and aviator sunnies. A middle-class hit man.

‘He in ISI, then he not. Then he in Pakistan army, then he not. Then he working for Khan, then Khan is stopped,’ said Ishi and shrugged.

‘What’s he doing now?’ asked Mac, the fatigue pulsing behind his eyeballs.

‘Khan been stopped,’ speculated Ishi, sucking on the smoke, ‘and Lempo and Hassan building own nuclear market now, yeah? Master retire, student now boss.’

Mac nodded. ‘What about the third meeting?’

Ishi pulled out another surveillance pic: a computer-enhanced black and white still from a security video. It showed a thick-set Pakistani man standing at a counter, his enormous shoulders and neck crowned by a big helmet of black hair. Mac’s skin crawled.

‘Mohammad Ali Shareef,’ said Ishi.

‘Gorilla,’ Mac mumbled.

‘ Benar,’ said Ishi, before adjusting back to English. ‘Yes, you’re right. Our man in there say he got Lempo and the other one their waiter jobs, but he don’t want to feed desk information. So they send Gorilla, and our man change mind.’

‘Where were they staying?’

Ishi looked at him, then yelled something at his crew. A man with his feet on the table leapt up and walked out a door on the left side of the room. Through the glass Mac saw the BAIS operative approach the unconscious hotel worker and kick him hard in the right kneecap.

The hotel guy woke up screaming, his voice squawking out through the speaker system. The sounds bounced back and forth, the hotel guy crying and begging while the BAIS guy hectored, slapped and threatened to punch.

After two minutes the sounds died away and Freddi turned to Mac. ‘Good call, McQueen.’

‘Why?’

‘One of Lempo’s gang dropped a matchbox when he lighting cigarette,’ said Freddi. ‘Our man pick it up – they were staying at the Galaxy Hotel.’

It took a little less than an hour for the Indonesian counter-terrorist police – D-88 – to clear the Galaxy Hotel for booby traps, trip lines and pressure pads. Mac stood with Freddi and Ishi behind the BAIS

LandCruiser while the guests milled around on the street, a side-feeder to the boulevard of Diponegoro. It was 3.06 am and Mac yawned as the D-88 captain approached Ishi, the visor on his black helmet pushed up. They swapped words and Ishi moved towards the Galaxy, Freddi and Mac following in his wake.

The D-88 captain, who smelled of stress and Old Spice, said nothing on their ride to the seventh fl oor. Getting out, they moved down a narrow corridor with walls that needed new wallpaper before stopping at a room with the door open. Inside were two single beds, a door to the toilet/shower area and a window looking over the night lights of Jakkers. Some of the carpet had been pulled up and inexpertly put back; there were gouges in the plasterboard under the light switches where the D-88 debuggers had checked for any nasties that might be lurking. The intensity of the IED-driven confl icts in Afghanistan and Iraq had bred paranoia in the Americans. And given that D-88 was American-trained and equipped, Mac wasn’t surprised that this was how they treated a terrorist lair.

They wandered around the room, which looked clean. Mac did the fi rst thing he always did and went straight for the rubbish bin, picking up and checking the dark green metal container. They stripped the beds, fl ipped over the mattresses, went through every drawer, lifted the cistern lid on the lav and had a nosey-poke behind the TV.

They looked at one another, shrugged.

They had similar luck in the next three rooms. They’d already been cleaned out, by people who knew to hide the same things that Mac and Freddi were looking for.

Mac was close to calling it a night. The shooting was now a police matter. Hassan’s gang had their pictures all over the POLRI, customs and port authority systems – and Mac couldn’t do much more. If tomorrow brought more information, then people like Freddi and Mac were more likely to be anticipating Hassan’s next move than catching him. Mac also had the feeling that Davidson was about to pull him out – Mac’s assignment was economic and contracted and the ASIS hard-heads in Jakkers would probably take over.

In the last room they checked, Mac noticed one of the beds – it didn’t look right. He slid it away from the wall, sending a cockroach scurrying up the wall. Searching around the bedhead Mac found a small white notepad from the Danau Toba International hotel. Freddi snapped on a latex glove and picked it up by the corner. There was nothing written on it but Freddi turned it into the light and it seemed likely the BAIS techies would fi nd latent writing on the pages.

‘I’ll get this down to the guys,’ said Freddi. ‘Might be useful.’

Mac nodded, but his mind was spinning back into the past, into a place of terror. The Danau Toba was in Medan, northern Sumatra.


CHAPTER 37

<p>CHAPTER 37</p>

Edwin was waiting out the front of the Shangri-La in the black S-class when Mac got down there at 8.11 am. They sped south through the heat and traffi c while Mac got on the phone to Saba, the owner of an expat bar called Bavaria Lagerhaus in the embassy district of south Jakarta. Saba said he’d have his bodyguard waiting in the rear lane in ten minutes.

Edwin parked half a block away and Mac got out, walked the opposite side of the road looking for eyes. He ducked into a neighbouring park for some triangulated counter-surveillance, and then crossed back and nipped into the rear lane, his empty backpack over one shoulder. Saba’s bodyguard was waiting. A heavyset Javanese sporting a gold watch, he patted down Mac’s pants and shirt then fl icked his head slightly, indicating it was okay to enter. Closing and bolting the door behind them, the bodyguard walked past Mac, past the stacked boxes of Tiger beer and Beefeater London Dry, into a storeroom. After fl icking the lights, he walked to the end of the room, his chromed Desert Eagle handgun now obvious beneath the trop shirt.

The left wall of the room was lined with large black locker boxes used by intelligence people working in Jakarta. A former spy himself, Saba allowed other spooks to keep their undeclared belongings in this room. The bodyguard stood by Mac’s locker – number 9 – selected a key from a retractable chain. Pulling out his own keyring, Mac joined the bodyguard. They inserted at the same time and turned their keys.

The front of the locker folded down to create its own little picnic table, and Mac pulled the steel drawer out onto it. There were three cushion-sized clear plastic Ziploc bags fi lled with cash in denominations of US dollars, rupiah, Singapore dollars and one bag with a mix of yen, Aussie dollars and pounds sterling. There were also several packs of passports, drivers’ licences and credit cards, held together with rubber bands. He picked up the pack in the name of Brandon Collier, his unoffi cial cover – the one that ASIS didn’t know about – and put it in his pack, along with a black vinyl toilet bag with a full disguise kit.

At the rear of the drawer were three guns and boxes of ammo.

You weren’t allowed to touch fi rearms in Saba’s joint, so Mac pointed at the Heckler amp; Koch P9S handgun in the dark blue nylon hip rig and one box of. 45 loads. The bodyguard picked them up, put them in Mac’s pack. Then Mac took out the bag of mixed currency and a handful of US dollars, about $5000 worth.

Mac paused as he returned the cash bag. Lying along the bottom of the drawer was a yellow A4 envelope, unmarked. He’d forgotten all about it but it came back to him now. After the Kuta bombings, Mac had written a report on the pursuit of Hassan Ali’s gang and its terrible conclusion in northern Sumatra. He’d technically been seconded to BAIS under Operation Handmaiden so the debriefi ng to his controller, Joe Imbruglia, had been short and dense, and the bits and pieces he’d copied and kept in this yellow envelope were probably looked over quickly by Joe and just as quickly forgotten.

The cries from Canberra after Kuta had been deafening and Joe and Mac had moved on quickly into a series of more urgent operations assisting the Australian Federal Police and Indonesian National Police track down the local bombers, the ones that BAIS called ‘the patsies’.

In those days ASIS had so much egg on its face for missing the signs of an attack on a popular Australian holiday destination that they’d all worked like mules for the next six months, an era when some of ASIS’s best young talent walked away, unwilling to work around the clock for seven days a week.

Mac had fi led his report, stashed his mementos, and plunged into the fi eld to chase down tangos in the jungles of South-East Asia. He was part of the crew that nabbed one of bomber Amrozi’s associates. They knew from monitoring mobile phone traffi c between numbers in Amrozi’s phone that one of the bombers was hiding out in a village in central Java. There had been a bunch of Aussies and Indons in plainclothes but it wasn’t until they got there that they realised that no one had seen a picture of the bloke. So Mac had told one of the POLRI guys to pounce on the next bloke who answered his phone. They were in the main market square of the village when Mac dialled the number and a young Indon in a Pepsi-Cola T-shirt had answered his phone. Gotcha.

Mac zipped his pack and made for the back door of Saba’s. The bodyguard closed the locker and let him out into the back lane, and as Mac turned to say thanks the steel reinforced door shut in his face.

The mango was good and the coffee was great, but another twenty hours of sleep would have been even better. Mac took his time and tried to think through his day. Around him the energy of the Powering Asia conference had evaporated with the shootings of the previous arvo and only stragglers from think tanks and die-hards from the UN made up the numbers.

He tried to get straight what he was chasing and what he actually wanted to do about it. The Hassan crew seemed to have stepped into the old Dr A.Q. Khan networks and taken them on another tangent.

Did Mac want revenge on these people? Was it about his pride? Or was there a greater danger to Australia that presented itself out of the whole mess? Was there unfi nished business with these people? Could he claim to Davidson that he still hadn’t got to the bottom of NIME?

If Canberra really wanted to know the end-user of Bennelong’s enrichment codes, then Mac only had the shell of that answer. He believed he had enough to say that the end-user was the A.Q. Khan illegal nuclear network. Khan himself was out of commission – apparently – having been put under house arrest for a few days in

‘04 only to be pardoned. It seemed that making an estimated US$200 million from selling uranium-enrichment equipment to Libya, Iraq and North Korea was all a misunderstanding.

Khan had started back in the 1970s when, fresh out of university, he had joined an engineering fi rm in the Netherlands. He’d been tailed by Dutch intelligence after he had made too many inquiries at UCN, an engineering company that built high-speed centrifuges that enriched uranium.

Khan had suddenly left the Netherlands in 1975 and landed back in his home country with blueprints of the German P-1 centrifuge, stolen from UCN. The Pakistani government built the Engineering Research Laboratory for Khan, and by 1978 ERL had built a P-1 centrifuge and enriched its own uranium.

Pakistan became the Americans’ new best friend after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and so during the 1980s Khan’s ERL sold its centrifuges to Iran and Iraq, all the while developing a P-2 centrifuge that could enrich uranium in half the time of the P-1.

In the 1990s Khan changed his company to KRL – Khan Engineering Laboratory – after beating charges laid in the Netherlands for nuclear espionage. He entered a joint weapons-development program with North Korea in which Pakistan would get its own version of the No Dong Korean missile delivery systems and North Korea would get its own weapons-grade uranium facility. He also formed a partnership with several businessmen who would do the sales and shipping of Khan’s goods. One of them was B.A.S. Tahir, the Sri Lankan who by late 2000 was operating out of a British-owned Dubai company called Gulf Technical Industries. Indonesian intelligence believed that another Khan operative was Hassan Ali, whose main client in South-East Asia was Jemaah Islamiyah.

Australia’s interest in this development was compounded by Khan’s use of a Malaysian hi-tech engineering company called SCOPE to build the gas centrifuges, magnet baffl es, vacuum devices and centrifuge casings that were being shipped to Libya and Iraq as drilling parts for the oil and gas industries.

Khan’s network pursued enormous, brazen contracts during the 1990s. In one deal to supply more than ten thousand enrichment centrifuges to Libya, Indian intelligence – which had been onto Khan from day one – estimated the transaction to be worth in excess of US$100 million.

In the early 2000s, when Mac was largely posted in Indonesia and the Philippines, the attitude of spooks from Japan and India had hardened towards the Americans because of their protection of the Khan networks. It reached an all-time low in 2003, when the Indian government took their complaints to the US State Department and the Americans refused to pull the plug on Khan, citing ‘insuffi cient evidence’ of illegal nuclear transactions.

Mac looked around the large breakfast area and wondered how the Israelis and Indonesians had picked up on Hassan’s connection to Khan while the Aussies and Yanks had missed it. He thought back to those fi rst awful hours after the bombings in Kuta. Both Ari Scharansky and Freddi Gardjito had known there was a pro crew who’d done the Sari Club, and both Mossad and BAIS had the Hassan gang under surveillance at the Kuta Puri hotel. Hassan was to South-East Asia what Tahir was to the Middle East – Khan’s operations manager. Trouble was, after A.Q. Khan had confessed to his dealings live on Pakistani TV in 2004, Tahir was questioned and Gulf Technical Industries was exposed, none of that attention had fallen on Hassan Ali. He was still operating and in the business of building uranium-enrichment capacity for his clients, possibly Burma, Taiwan and Yemen. Maybe a disgruntled former Soviet republic in central Asia.

There was one fi nal problem that Mac was trying to get his fi nger on. In the early months of 2004, the Americans had told Khan to shut down his network. At the same time they’d got Khan’s biggest client – Libya – to swear off its nuclear weapons program in exchange for a massive injection of cash from the US taxpayer into Gaddafi ‘s conventional military. Those two events had crystallised in February

‘04, but in March a ship called China entered Tripoli. When the CIA and Atomic Energy Agency inspectors boarded the ship, they found only one container of centrifuges – which was very bad news for the world’s intelligence agencies, since Libya had paid for more than fi fty containers of the enrichment machines.

Mac’s breathing caught slightly. If you had forty-nine containers of centrifuges, they’d be useless without the algorithms and control systems that ran them. Mac breathed out. He wasn’t looking for a few shooters, he was looking for an illegal nuclear weapons program, and it seemed it was right on Australia’s doorstep.


CHAPTER 38

<p>CHAPTER 38</p>

Mac fumed as he pocketed his phone. Davidson still wasn’t answering and, while it wasn’t totally unusual to have a controller off the air for a day, it was annoying. Davidson was in start-up mode for his new economic operation team and he might be touring the world, thought Mac, trying to get new assets in place and contracts organised. Mac had probably been the easy tasking, but other agents wouldn’t be so easy to bring back from civvie life.

Mac left another message on Davidson’s voicemail – no details, but a request to get back to him. Mac didn’t trust even the ‘secure’ voicemail used by ASIS. It was just a piece of digital code sitting on a server somewhere.

Next, Mac called Joe Imbruglia, now ASIS station chief in Kuala Lumpur and as cranky as always.

‘Yep,’ he answered.

‘It’s me,’ said Mac.

‘Shit, McQueen – how are you?’

‘Not bad for an old bloke.’

‘Not too old to be back in the fi eld.’

‘You heard?’ asked Mac.

‘Spies, mate – we’re a nosey bunch.’

They chatted briefl y. Word of Diane’s shooting had made the rounds very quickly – the Western intelligence circuit in South-East Asia was actually quite small – and Mac assured him he was staying out of trouble, that it was a freak thing.

As the banter died away Mac decided to give it a shot.

‘Joe, remember Handmaiden?’ He tried to make it casual. ‘I fi led that report from ‘02? We got Akbar but then his own people shot him, and we had him pegged as part of the Hassan gang?’

‘Sure, I remember,’ said Joe.

‘So, was Hassan ever put on an active watch?’

Joe met the query with silence.

‘I mean, have we got people on him?’ Mac pushed. ‘Our friends?’

‘Mate!’ laughed Joe. ‘Then I’d have to kill ya.’

‘Look,’ said Mac, ‘I just need to know where he was last seen, known residences, corporate fronts, regular travel routes – usual shit.’

Joe let out a breath, perhaps expecting this call. ‘Shit, mate, this isn’t the OK Corral.’

‘It’s not like that -‘

‘Sounds like it to me, mate.’ Joe didn’t sound angry, just sad.

‘I’m back in, mate,’ said Mac, unsure of his exact status if he wasn’t dealing through Davidson.

‘Hang on a minute,’ said Joe. ‘Let me -‘

Mac could hear Joe mumbling his encouragement for the right fi les to come up.

‘Well holy shit,’ said Joe. ‘McQueen, Alan Francis. They’ve got you as an IO, a mid-rank.’

‘And they are never wrong, eh Joe?’ It was a long-held joke between Joe and Mac that whoever they were, they were mighty smart to be, at the same time, Jewish-Zionists, illuminati WASPs and Vatican bankers.

‘Okay, mate,’ said Joe, sounding conciliatory. ‘Gimme half an hour to get this stuff off my desk and I’ll get back to you on Hassan, okay?’

‘You’re a champion, Joe.’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ said Joe Imbruglia, and he hung up.

Mac grabbed a bottle of Vittel from the mini-bar fridge and sat back at the table, looking out over the city. He was stuck in Jakarta and couldn’t even contact his station chief at the embassy. He thought about the last time he’d seen Martin Atkins, Joe’s counterpart in Jakkers.

Blue-blood, protestant Atkins – the Glory Boy from Geelong Grammar

– who had called Mac a ‘cowboy’, and Mac had responded that at least he rode the horse, not the other way around. The argument had erupted at the nineteenth hole after an inter-embassy golf day with the Americans, and Atkins had to be restrained after Mac’s comment.

The thing that had stunned Mac that afternoon was Garvs taking Atkins’ side, even suggesting Mac should call it a night. Garvs had become the ASIS deputy to Atkins shortly after the incident and Mac knew that Jakarta station was no longer his people. It worked like that in intelligence, and Mac knew cops and soldiers who claimed that it worked exactly that way in their professions too.

The process had worked in reverse for Joe and Mac. Joe had come in from the fi eld at a time when Mac was bristling at bureaucracy and had decided to cop an attitude with his new controller in Manila.

Having worked corporate and embassy covers in Beijing, Taipei, Seoul and Tokyo, Joe wasn’t about to be cowed by some smartarse from Queensland, and they’d clashed on a daily basis. That had changed on Christmas Eve ‘06. The embassy crowd in that city had become sneeringly atheist, and when Joe’s wife had gone back to Sydney with the kids for Christmas, Joe didn’t want to be the only God Botherer going off to mass. So Mac had asked Joe if he wanted to share a jeepny to the service. They’d gone out for dinner and then gone drinking in Angeles after the mass, telling each other far too much about themselves – so much that they couldn’t be anything but friends afterwards.

Joe’s stories were hilarious: Japanese watchers putting eight guys on a detail just to follow you to the toilet; the Koreans couldn’t be got with fl attery, but paranoia worked wonders; how the Chinese MSS always softened up a bloke with a pretty girl and a lot of booze. I swear to God, mate – if she’s really sexy and wants to drink whisky all night, you’ve been made!

Mac’s abiding memory of that night was standing in the stinking hot cathedral, everyone in white trop shirts, fans going in front of faces like a fl ock of birds, and the congregation singing ‘Silent Night’ in Tagalog. That night Mac had become aware of how Italians could cry, but with a smile on their face.

Mac slugged on the cold fl uid and composed himself, then called Jenny. Her mobile went straight to voicemail and he breathed out. He had promised himself that if he took Davidson’s offer and went back into the game, he’d do everything he could to shield Jenny and Rachel from any fear or danger that he might be feeling. The unwritten rule of marrying cops was that you became their safety zone, the calm centre of the maelstrom. That was Mac’s role and he knew Jenny would have problems going back into her job if she felt her husband couldn’t do a simple bit of due diligence on a loan guarantee without people getting shot.

There was also Sarah. He was going to acknowledge his daughter, be a dad to her. And he was going to tell Jen. It wasn’t the conversation that husbands wanted to have with their wives, but Sarah wasn’t going to be swept under a rug – she was entitled to be a proud member of the McQueen family. Mac just didn’t know if he could do it now, in Jakkers, while Diane was lying in a hospital bed and he was trying to work out what to do about it.

Deciding to check on Diane, he called down to the desk and booked Edwin. The car would be available at midday, which gave him thirty-nine minutes to check the contents of the yellow envelope sitting on the desk in front of him.

As he picked up the envelope, he promised himself not to do anything stupid. There were ASIS, AFP and ADF guys in Jakarta, trained and tasked to take on people like Hassan Ali and his gang of psychos.

Upending the envelope, he carefully shook its contents onto the wooden desk. He sorted through his copies of the papers that Mac, Johnny and Huck had found in the burnt building on an old airfi eld in Sumatra. Freddi had taken the originals and given Mac a bunch of photocopies. The seven sheets of paper were in Urdu and Farsi and Bahasa and they meant nothing to Mac. They were grids and tables and paragraphs broken into numbered sequences.

He leafed through to a piece of white A4 paper with some words and numbers that Toni Lucas had scribbled on it in black ink. Toni Lucas had been in the AFP’s forward command post in Kuta and he remembered how she almost threw the paper at him and told him to leave her the fuck alone. A CSIRO scientist, she’d been seconded to the AFP for the Kuta investigation – Operation Alliance – and she’d grown tired of Mac’s questions and constant prodding for more information.

She was running double-check analysis of all the swabs being run through the mobile bomb lab by the investigations teams. Toni had been overworked and distressed at the scenario – the smell of Kuta was becoming strong, and even with face masks and burning incense it was disturbing.

Mac had got back from northern Sumatra with more questions than answers about the Kuta bomb blasts and he’d clumsily used his position with Foreign Affairs to go poking into areas he really shouldn’t have. He’d lasted three days in Kuta before someone had realised that he was pursuing a parallel investigation, at which point calls were made and Joe Imbruglia was giving him the hook. He’d never confi rmed it but he always suspected that it was his old mate Garvs who decided to get Mac out of there. Garvs had become part of the program very quickly in ASIS. He didn’t have the same fi eld talents as Mac but he was excellent at sensing what higher-ups expected of him. As far as spy organisations went, Mac and Garvs were both known as ‘reliables’. It was just that they were reliable in two totally different ways.

Written on the piece of paper in an educated cursive script was: 15/10 water, Sari Crater3.53+-17

15/10 water, Denpasar roof tank‹0.13

There was nothing else on the page. But he remembered the question he had pestered Toni about, a question he only got away with because she was so busy and he kept making her laugh. The question had been, What are the tritium levels for the Legian blasts?

He’d remembered Viktor telling him how tritium was one of the few things left behind in a plutonium mini-nuke explosion; the plutonium used in a mini-nuclear device wouldn’t leave radiation of the type detected with a Geiger counter but it would leave triated water, tritium returning to its preferred water-borne state.

Mac thought back to that day and remembered how Toni would not release any of her printouts. The MOU with the Indonesians had specifi cally precluded any ‘wider linkages’ than those sanctioned, and the scientists stuck to tests for anfo, C4 and potassium chlorate, the bomb materials of choice for Asian bombers.

Toni’s analysis had revealed signifi cantly raised levels of triated water in the Sari Club crater, compared with the ‘control’ water of a house water tank in Denpasar.

He set Toni’s paper aside and looked at the last one, a partially burnt piece of A4 that he had never shown Freddi. He could still smell that airfi eld with its whiffs of ash and fi re, and he stared at it as he slugged on the Vittel. The handwritten note said N W, which could have meant anything. It might have had nothing to do with the Hassan crew or the Kuta bombings. He’d asked around about it

– asked Indons, Americans, Aussies, Malaysians – anyone who might have even a faint idea. The only thing that came back was that if you had Pakistanis involved, and N W, then it probably referred to the North-West Frontier. Which hadn’t helped Mac at all.

Mac and Edwin were fi ve minutes away from MMC Hospital when Jenny phoned back. It was good to hear her voice but when she put her Nokia down for Rachel to say her bit, his daughter went silent. All he could hear was Jen whispering, ‘ Say hi to Daddy, say hi.’

‘So Mr Macca,’ said Jenny, sounding cheerful as she got back on the line, ‘that wasn’t you in Jakkers, right?’

‘Wasn’t me what?’ asked Mac, confused.

‘You didn’t get my voicemails?’

‘No, actually, I -‘

‘There was a shooting up there yesterday, remember?’ said Jen.

Mac groaned inwardly. ‘Umm, yeah – but it’s, you know -‘ He wasn’t going to discuss it, hadn’t even had a chance to digest it properly himself.

‘Can’t talk?’

‘Umm, yeah, Jen -‘ he said, glancing at a box of chocolates and bunch of fl owers sitting in the back seat.

Jen was inquisitive and not always in a good way. ‘I’m hearing there’re two Australians dead and a British national in hospital,’ she said in a tone that made Mac cringe.

‘Yeah, mate,’ he said, going for casual. ‘I’m on my way out to MMC right now.’

‘The Brit is a female, right?’

Mac felt like one of her suspects and he was about to tell her who it was but she stole the moment. ‘It’s Diane, right? Diane Ellison?’

Mac breathed out. ‘Yeah – she took two bullets.’

‘Okay,’ said Jenny, in that way that women say okay when it’s not okay. ‘So don’t tell me, she was the wife, right?’

‘Jen, I can’t discuss -‘

‘ Fuck, Macca!’

‘Okay. Yes, she was my partner -‘

‘Oh that’s great, Macca. Partner, yeah, right!’

‘Jen, look I need -‘

‘Macca, I have a partner, okay?’ she snapped. ‘But that doesn’t involve me in the same bed, or running around pretending to be his wife.’

‘I wasn’t in the bed with -‘

‘Oh whatever!’

He tried to think of something to say but there wasn’t much point. Jenny had hung up.


CHAPTER 39

<p>CHAPTER 39</p>

Carl wasn’t guarding Diane’s room and there was no sign of Danny Fitzgibbon, so Mac pushed at the door to Diane’s room with one arm, keeping the chocolates and the fl owers hidden behind his body.

Peeking around the door he saw an elderly Indon woman sleeping on her back. Pulling back out into the hallway Mac looked around, wondering what the hell was going on. It was a new shift and nurses and orderlies rushed past him like he wasn’t there. Down at the nursing sister’s station, the supervisor didn’t know who he was and didn’t want to give out any information about a patient to a non-family member. Tired and confused, Mac turned from the station to fi nd a younger nurse approaching him. ‘Hello mister. You Mr Richard?’ she asked.

He nodded.

‘Miss Diane give me this,’ she smiled, pulling something from the pocket of her tunic. It was a piece of folded paper of newsprint quality. Bloody Diane had torn a page out of her Gideon’s.

Written in dark blue biro was the message, Dad wants me in the compound. Sorry. Beneath were an address and phone number with the Sydney 02 prefi x and the words Sarah + Felicity.

He thanked the girl, and asked her when Diane had left.

‘Hour go, mister,’ she said.

On the way out Mac saw a young woman with a shaven head, gaunt face and sunken eyes. She was being pushed the other way in a wheelchair.

‘G’day,’ he said, smiling.

‘Well, hello,’ she gushed with a big American smile that lit up the corridor. Mac had her as northern California.

Mac presented her with the fl owers and chocolates. ‘Don’t eat them all at once. Might get fat,’ he said with a wink.

She was still laughing as he got into the lift.

The Nokia trilled as they stopped and started through the Jakarta traffi c.

Snapping out of his reverie about Diane and Hassan, Mac looked at his phone. ‘Hi, Jen,’ he mumbled, wary of another attack.

‘Sorry about before. I forgot to ask – how are you, darl?’

‘I’m fi ne, really,’ he said.

‘You sure?’ she pushed. ‘Is the gig over?’

Mac wiped his face as if the harder he pushed the more he’d drive away the fatigue. ‘Some loose ends. Another two days, max,’ he said.

There was a long pause, then Jenny spoke. ‘I’m sorry about Diane.

I mean, you know, is she okay?’

‘Yeah, she got one in the shoulder but it was the one in the stomach that was tricky.’

‘Ouch!’

‘Yeah, there’s a lot of internal bleeding and they had to operate on the intestine – took three inches out of it, apparently. She’s in a lot of pain but the liver’s only grazed and can heal by itself.’

‘Shit, Macca!’

‘Yeah, I know,’ he said, trying to stay strong despite his fatigue.

‘So, the shooters got away?’

‘For now, but she hit one in the leg -‘

‘Good girl.’

‘And we know who they are.’

Silence stretched between them.

‘ We? ‘

‘Well, you know, the guys.’

‘Chrissakes, Macca. What happened to due diligence and a bit of low-risk corporate cover?’

‘Jen…’

‘Don’t Jen me! When we went out the other night you said it’s like being a lawyer or an accountant, only not using your real name.’

‘Well, look…’

‘You said it wouldn’t be like the old days.’

Mac slumped in the Mercedes’ dark leather seat, knowing he had said exactly that.

‘So, what’s the latest with George and the Cambodian?’

‘Gone to ground – the Cambodian, anyway. George has an alibi, doesn’t want to press charges.’

‘ Charges?!’

‘Yeah – his lawyer said his client was prepared to let it go.’

Mac humphed. Here they were, the cop and the spy, thousands of miles apart, and each scared of the danger their spouse was in.

‘Oh, by the way,’ said Jenny, changing her tone to conversational.

‘We have a guest.’

‘Yeah?’ asked Mac.

‘Yeah, young Thai boy. They found him wandering around out the back of here, in the middle of the night, virtually naked.’

‘What’s his name?’

‘Ke – but we’re not sure. He got handed to the AFP as a foreign national and they asked us to take him while they talk to DFAT and Immigration.’

‘He getting along with Rachel?’

‘ She likes him, but he doesn’t talk at all.’

‘No?’

‘No. He’s very scared of something.’

Mac’s breathing started getting shallow on the third unsuccessful call to Tony Davidson. In his profession, when something potentially random happened three times in sequence, it was never a coincidence.

Spies who believed in mere coincidence and synchronicity either got shot or outsmarted. More worrying than the three strikes, Davidson’s voicemail was no longer activating. The phone was just ringing out. In the Commonwealth’s secure phones, you had to input your security PIN to clear voicemail. If you tried to tap into one of those voicemail accounts without the PIN, the system would shut itself off automatically and the phone would ring out.

So there were two scenarios: someone had stolen Davidson’s phone and was trying to access his voicemail. Or an unfriendly was hacking into the ASIS voicemail servers, trying to have a nosey-poke but closing the system in the process.

Nervous, he dialled and waited. Joe Imbruglia’s mobile went straight to voicemail, so he left a message and then rang the embassy in KL. He was put through to Joe’s offi ce but the assistant said he wasn’t around. She was probably lying, but Mac let it go and left a message.

He needed to widen his cell but his instincts told him not to call Garvs or Atkins. In the Royal Marines they’d told the lads that the best soldiers balance instinct with training, self-preservation with teamwork. Mac never got to be the best soldier but he had learned to move with his instincts rather than against them.

‘Everything okay, Mr Davis?’ asked Edwin, coming out of chauffeur mode, his inner-cop emerging.

‘Yeah, mate.’ Mac exhaled, looking out his side window.

Edwin looked at him, questioning.

‘Actually, no, Edwin – it’s not,’ said Mac.

Edwin looked back at the boulevard. ‘Just checking, Mr Davis, ‘cos we got us a tail.’

‘How many and for how long?’ asked Mac, as he pulled the Heckler from his backpack, checked for safety, checked the mag, checked for load and held it low.

‘One car, two people,’ said Edwin, very calm. ‘White Toyota, three cars back. They been with us since before the hospital, now they back.’

‘Pro?’ asked Mac, not turning.

‘Yes,’ said Edwin, looking in the rear-vision mirror.

‘Can you give me a mirror, mate?’

Edwin adjusted the passenger-side mirror until Mac said, ‘That’s it.’ The two men tailing them were in a Camry and Mac made a mental note of the numberplate as they came to a red light on Sundiraman.

Mac asked Edwin to fi nd the worst traffi c snarl in Jakarta and make no attempt to lose the tail. They moved off, drifted left into Bonjol, and moved into traffi c that worsened as they went south.

‘We’re looking for a blind corner, mate,’ said Mac and then pointed at a left turn that was particularly congested, probably people lining up to get into one of the fi nance district parking buildings. There was a big bank on the near corner, and if the traffi c moved as expected, they’d lose the tail pretty fast.

Looking in the side mirror Mac saw that the Toyota had slipped back to fi ve cars behind and the lane further out. It was a typical pro choice to change distance and angle, and it aided what Edwin and Mac were about to do.

Grabbing one of the cushions Edwin kept in the back seat, Mac held it ready. As they got to the left turn into the side street, there was a break and Mac said ‘Now!’ Edwin didn’t hesitate, driving smoothly into the inside-most lane and hitting the indicator to go left when the traffi c started moving: everything legit, nothing rushed. The Toyota now had two lanes to cross and fi ve cars to close on if they wanted to keep eyes, and they’d be the ones drawing the attention, not the Mercedes. Keeping it smooth, Edwin took the Merc casually with the traffi c into the side street, where the height of the buildings on both sides made the space dim.

They were into the street when they heard the Toyota’s horn blaring as the driver tried to cross the lanes.

‘Can you give me an hour?’ asked Mac, his breath raspy.

Edwin nodded, kept his eyes in the mirror as Mac took off his seatbelt, turned to his headrest and jammed the cushion in to simulate a head. The traffi c stopped totally and Edwin smiled. ‘Good time to go, Mr Davis.’

Mac thanked him as he leapt sideways out of the black Mercedes with his backpack and made straight for the kerb and into the side entrance of the bank building. The glass doors and windows of the bank were very dark and Mac surveyed the street from behind an internal pillar. It took forty seconds for the Toyota to draw level with the bank and neither of the men even looked sideways. They were hunched over, totally intent on the Mercedes, which was going about its business as if nothing was amiss.

Mac got his breath back, and released the Heckler before taking his sweaty hand out of the backpack. He looked around, smiled wanly at a security goon. The adrenaline rushing through him felt harsh, almost foreign – he’d been out of the fi eld for too long. Needing to move before he got the shakes, he exited through the front doors into the heat and humidity of early afternoon, wondering if there was a backup car and whether he’d been made. It hardly mattered now, and as he walked up the vast leafy boulevard of Bonjol he tried to process what he’d seen in that Toyota.

Operation Mainstreet was now under surveillance by a couple of Anglos, and one of them was Anton Garvey.


CHAPTER 40

<p>CHAPTER 40</p>

Mac stopped three cabs and got in the fourth, which took six minutes to get to the Australian Embassy. He left a tip as he got out then walked towards the security gates. The local bull didn’t know who Mac was, so he made a call and soon an Australian Protective Service bloke called Ollie came down the drive to collect Mac and walk him up to the embassy building.

‘Been looking for you, know that Macca?’ said Ollie in low tones as he issued a temporary security pass.

‘Yeah, mate,’ lied Mac, no idea what he was talking about. ‘Just ducking in to see Atkins.’

After Ollie gave him the pass, he gestured to the walk-through scanner. Mac opened his pack, handed Ollie the Heckler and walked through the scanner.

Using the stairs, Mac came out on the fi fth fl oor, the intelligence section and home to ASIS in Jakarta. Padding down the chocolate carpet he walked past closed offi ces and open cube farm areas – where Mac was housed when he had to work in the section. There were admin people on the inside of the walkway and IOs on the outer, enjoying the natural light that passed through the blast-proofi ng and the bullet-hardened windows.

Most fi eld guys rarely worked at the embassy. If you were working a corporate cover you operated behind a facade for Southern Scholastic Books or Goanna Forestry Consulting. A lot of the time you’d be lunching, ‘viewing’, ‘inspecting’ and having as many revealing discussions with as many businesspeople and government offi cials as possible. Most guys working cover – and they were still all male – wouldn’t come near an embassy for months, perhaps for their entire rotation in-country. But it was from here that they were

‘controlled’, and to most fi eld guys who worked intel in Jakarta this fl oor was simply known as ‘the section’.

The teak door to the offi ce Mac intended visiting was open and he could see a tallish young woman with dark shoulder-length hair remonstrating with someone he couldn’t see. He ducked into the coffee area, grabbed a white mug with KPMG stamped on it, and made himself a cup of tea. Leaning back, he checked the offi ce again, then looked at his watch. He had another half-hour at least before Garvs realised Mac wasn’t in the Shangri-La Mercedes. When Mac dealt with offi ce guys, he liked to do it one-on-one. When there were two of them in a room, they encouraged the worst in each other.

A sign on the wall said: Adults clean up their own mess! Mac chuckled

– bloody secretaries! He fl ipped the Lipton bag into the rubbish bin under the counter and wiped up the milk dribble on the formica.

The woman he glimpsed in the offi ce looked like she was leaving so Mac headed straight into the offi ce, stood beside her and looked down on Martin Atkins, whose eyes expanded like saucers.

‘I have just one thing to add,’ said Mac, taking a slug of his tea.

‘Either put Isla Dunford in the fi eld, or I’m quitting – that’s it, I’m out of here.’

Isla fl ashed a big grin at Mac, and looked back at Atkins. ‘See Martin? If McQueen says I’m ready, then it’s time to give me a turn.’

Atkins froze, unsure of his next move. ‘Ah, yeah,’ he said, leaning forward mechanically and putting both hands on the Australian hardwood desk. ‘I heard the endorsement, Isla, but it’s more than just having a turn -‘

‘Sure is,’ said Mac. ‘They gave us three when I started.’

‘Well actually -‘ spluttered Atkins.

‘They said, If you don’t fuck up, you’re in the fi eld – if you’re hopeless you can drive a desk. How it worked back then.’

Atkins was standing now, hands up in a gesture of I’ve heard enough.

Isla got the message and turned, smirking at Mac as she did.

Mac looked her up and down, gave her a wink. ‘I’ll get this sussed, Dunford,’ he said, returning her smile. ‘How does Bangers sound?’

When Mac looked back at Atkins he was reclining in his leather swivel chair, one foot on the desk ledge, hands clasped across his shirt-and-tie-bound stomach.

‘Have a seat, McQueen,’ he said, fl icking his eyes at the door.

After closing the door, Mac took a seat and waited.

‘You serious about Dunford?’ asked Atkins absently.

‘Sure, Marty. She was in a craft session I was doing in Canberra four years ago.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah,’ said Mac, nodding. ‘She did a couple of things better than any of the blokes. Great vision, she saw the wood and the trees. And she’s a very good listener. Unbelievable recall and comprehension.’

‘Still, it’s not everything, is it?’

‘Near as dammit,’ said Mac. ‘It’s about eyes and ears – that’s what we do.’

Atkins made a face, looked out the window. He was forty-two, thinning sandy hair, a handsome rectangular face and piercing grey-blue eyes.

‘So, Marty,’ said Mac, changing the tone. ‘You wanted to see me?’

Atkins levelled his gaze at Mac. ‘Who told you that?’

‘Oh, I dunno, Marty, could be the heavyset bald bloke. He was sitting in the front seat of this car, tailing me to compromising locations such as the fl ower markets and the hospital.’

‘Shit,’ said Atkins, rubbing his temples.

‘What I said, exactly,’ smiled Mac. ‘Here I am at MMC, trying to visit a girl who was gunned down doing a job for the Australian Commonwealth, and I’ve got the fi rm following me around.’

‘Okay, McQueen.’

‘And I’m thinking to myself, This can’t be right; surely the organisation that missed two Bali bombings, an embassy bombing and a hotel bombing can’t now be wasting resources tailing one of their own

…’

‘I said okay!’ snapped Atkins.

Mac took an extra-loud slurp of tea, hoping to make Atkins wince, which he did.

Atkins put his foot down from the desk and sat upright. ‘Where’s Garvs?’

‘Chasing dandelions.’

‘I mean, he’s okay?’

‘Sure,’ shrugged Mac, ‘but you should be more careful. This is Jakarta. You follow the wrong guy in this town and you end up in the dentist’s chair, maybe a surprise visit from Captain Crocodile Clips.’

They stared at each other, Atkins looking away fi rst. ‘Look, McQueen, fact is they’ve pulled the plug. Canberra wants you on the next available.’

Mac’s heart sank: that’s why Joe and Davidson weren’t talking. The word had gone out and the Service was doing what it so often did to its own people.

‘Why?’

‘I just took the call,’ Atkins said, palms turning up. ‘You know how it is.’

‘Do I?’ said Mac, face icy. Atkins would almost certainly have made the call to Canberra himself, demanding the authority to have Mac recalled. The whole thing had been hatched from Jakarta, and the way these things worked, it could be a case of ASIS being asked to back off by the Americans, the Indonesians or the British.

Mac stole a look at the time: eighteen minutes til Garvs put in a call, did some heavy breathing.

‘So,’ said Mac, ‘who are we protecting today? Musharraf? Khan?

Hassan?’

Atkins’ eyes fl ickered at the mention of Hassan, but he recovered quickly and laughed. ‘That’s quite a collection, McQueen.’

‘Well?’

Atkins stood, looked at this own watch. ‘There’s that eight o’clock fl ight into Perth, right? Then a connecting to Sydney.’

‘Make that Brisbane.’

‘Sure – make it anything you want, McQueen. As long as you’re going out to Hatta this arvo, we don’t have a problem, okay?’

Mac stood and affected body language that said, I get it – I’m no longer a threat.

‘And by the way,’ said Atkins, softening. ‘That thing about, you know, cowboy? I didn’t mean that. Just the booze talking, eh?’

Mac wondered if Atkins had been in counselling too.

‘Yeah,’ said Mac as he opened the door. ‘That stuff about Dunford deserving a shot? I meant every word.’

They pulled in behind a superette in Central and Mac fl icked the driver a wad of rupiah to get him two pre-paid phones, six cards of recharge, a TI card and a car recharger for a Nokia. Once the driver had scrammed, Mac called Garuda on his Nokia and booked the eight o’clock fl ight to Perth, used Richard Davis, the Davis passport number and the Richard Davis Visa card from the Commonwealth Bank. They confi rmed him and he even asked for his seat in the business-class section of the Garuda Airbus. Then he took a last check of the numbers he needed – Davidson, Joe and Freddi – before switching the profi le to ‘silent’. Ringing his own number he heard the voicemail kick in, then pulled down the rear centre armrest of the Nissan Maxima, put his Nokia up the back of the cavity and returned the armrest to the up position. Intelligence organisations bugged their own mobile phones for voice and position and Mac was going to allow ASIS – and whoever else was getting nosey – to think he was still in Jakarta.

The driver came out with a white plastic bag of phone goodies and tried to give Mac the change. Mac waved away the money and asked to be driven into downtown. They pulled up at a commercial mail centre and Mac asked the driver to keep the motor running and, putting his Heckler in the white plastic bag, he walked inside, gave the bag to the owner – Georgie – and asked him to stow it in Mac’s locked mail box.

They pulled up to a huge mall at 2.09 pm and after Mac paid the guy he shot into the vast, glass-domed space, his backpack over one shoulder. At a newsstand near the entrance, he picked up a Jakarta Post and waited for fi ve minutes. Seeing no eyes, he paid for the paper, turned and strolled down the mall concourse and out the other entrance into the heat and haze of downtown. Walking north he used both sides of the street, stopping suddenly as if taken by a window display. Striking left into the local rent-a-car alley, he walked past the Avis, Hertz and Europcar franchises and walked into the courtyard of Hadi Rentcar.

The Americans, British and Australians had good data feeds for rental-car outlets and the credit cards used with them. So Mac always went with the rental company least familiar to someone like Isla, sitting at her desk in the section, scanning for aliases and credit cards.

After navigating the Kijang Innova onto the Trans-Java Highway, Mac got the anonymous two-litre people-mover into the rhythm of the freeway – a two-lane carriageway to Surabaya at the far east of the island. As the new pre-paid phone sat charging next to him on the passenger seat, he sipped on water and munched on small Javanese oranges to keep his energy up. He was aiming for a six-thirty pm fl ight into Singers. Allowing for only half an hour of delays, he should make it. He had called SIA and made a fl ight inquiry but hadn’t booked. If anyone was getting really smart and knew he had a card in the name of Brandon Collier, then at the very least he wanted them scrambling in Singapore, not waiting outside the terminal at Juanda.

Mac pulled off the freeway into a Pertamina gas station in Mojokerto. Inside, he bought some green tea and a tray of chicken salad, took a seat at the window and had a good long look at the layout: one CCTV camera aimed at the service counter, but he couldn’t see any more. It wasn’t busy and he waited until there were no cars in the forecourt and just one bloke in the eatery. Then, letting himself out, he grabbed the black toilet bag from the Kijang and made for the restrooms. There seemed to be no surveillance cameras either outside the door or in the lavs, but he still made double sure before going into a cubicle and shutting the door. Opening the toilet bag and placing it fl at on the cistern, Mac pulled out the poncho of clear plastic, stretched it out and put the yoke over his head. Digging his fi ngers into one of the small jars, he rubbed the creamy contents into his hair until it was slick all over, then combed it through. Inside one of the smaller plastic packets, he found a black moustache. He treated it gently with his fi ngertips – a wonky mo was worse than useless – and, squirting clear theatrical glue from a tiny tube onto the back of the mo, he carefully put it on his upper lip. Next, pulling out two rupiah coins, he put one under his heel in each shoe. Finally, everything went back in the toilet bag, which went into the pack, and Mac emerged cautiously to check himself in the mirror.

His black mo really suited his new black hair.


CHAPTER 41

<p>CHAPTER 41</p>

The fl ight was on time and Mac made it through immigration with no problems. Because Singers was one hour behind Surabaya, Mac was walking along the Changi concourse at much the same time as he’d left Indonesia. He felt tired but okay. Having adjusted to being back in the fi eld, he’d replaced emotions with the coldness he liked when he worked.

Emerging into the early evening heat of Singapore, he stood in line for a cab, acting casual but looking for eyes. Along the arrivals apron he saw Bruce Thorn, the friendly Canadian IT executive he’d sat next to on the fl ight, walking behind a chauffeur to a navy blue 7-series. Bruce waved as he dipped down into the BMW and Mac waved back. Mac was pleased to have the SIA computer-generated boarding pass Bruce had left in the pocket in front of his seat. Mac had taken it for later use.

After seven minutes in the taxi queue, Mac got a cab and asked the driver, a guy called Ravi, to take him to the Riau Hotel, a private colonial joint tucked away in Little India.

They got talking and it turned out Ravi was a Tamil. ‘Where you coming from, sah?’ he asked, in a singsong voice.

‘Sydney,’ said Mac.

Ravi wanted to know if Mac knew any of his family, many of whom lived in Sydney. ‘You might be knowing them,’ he insisted, rattling off fi fteen or twenty names.

Mac laughed and went for a soft spot. ‘So, that’s a lot of family to have in another country, mate.’

‘Yes, I am knowing this. It is why for this,’ said Ravi, widening his eyes at the steering wheel. ‘But working, working, and then we can afford.’

‘We?’ asked Mac, interested.

‘Yes, sah. My wife and our two sons and her mother. Working, working -‘

They pulled into a Shell service station and Mac laid it out for Ravi. ‘Champion, would you mind getting me a SingTel pre-paid SIM card?’

‘Hmm,’ said Ravi. ‘But you are needing to register for card, yes sah?’

Flicking him a Singaporean hundred-dollar note, Mac asked nice.

‘You know how it is with foreigners trying to get pre-paid cards these days, Ravi?’

Ravi nodded.

‘I’m only here for two days and I don’t need the hassle.’

It was clear Ravi just wanted to get it done, get driving, get his fare, go do another one. So Mac pulled out his wad of US dollars, peeled off a few and gave them to Ravi. ‘How much is there, mate?’

Wide-eyed, the cabbie counted the notes. ‘There is being fi ve hundred dollars here, sah.’

Mac was using an old spy trick for turning a person, known as

‘white-grey-black’. It entailed starting at white by leading someone in with a legitimate transaction – such as getting a pre-paid. You then introduced them to something semi-legitimate or clandestine, such as getting the pre-paid under a false name, which moved them into the grey zone. And then you tried to move them to black, in this case with a wad of cash for doing something clandestinely. If you’ve committed them to white and grey, they’re likely to go to black.

‘Tell you what, Ravi. Get me a hundred-dollar SingTel pre-paid and we’ll go to the Riau, huh?’

There was a trick to offering money: never promise or suggest an inducement, just put it in their hand or on their desk or in their pocket and allow them to make the decision.

Ravi had a slender, thoughtful face and after briefl y considering what Mac was saying, he lit up like a fl uorescent tube. The money had already found a pocket before he got out of the cab.

Miss Rasmi personally supervised Mac’s welcome at the Riau, taking him to his room on the third fl oor, overlooking the rear tropical garden. Once the porter had done all the work, Miss Rasmi dismissed him and stood there waiting for her tip. A short, wide middle-aged Indian woman, Miss Rasmi ruled the Riau with loud commands that erupted from her lips in a manner reminiscent of a boy pretending to shoot a machine gun.

She got US$300 out of Mac, which had nothing to do with the luggage and everything to do with the fact that he’d checked in as Bruce Thorn and listed his passport number straight off the Canadian’s boarding pass – one of the joys of modern international travel. Miss Rasmi preferred cash payments and she was prepared to log passport numbers rather than make a copy of the actual document. That part was worth two hundred. The other tonne was for Miss Rasmi pretending not to notice Mac’s disguise.

Waiting for her to leave, Mac wandered onto the small stone balcony overlooking the gardens. He input a number on his new SingTel service, pressed the green button, then waited and waited.

Davidson’s phone was ringing out and Mac was very uncomfortable with what that might mean.

He tried another number and after the third ring a man with a smoker’s throat said, ‘Yeah?’

‘Benny!’ said Mac, looking out over Singapore as the sunset dimmed and crickets raised the roof. ‘Are you okay? I’ve been checking hospitals, phoning railway stations -‘

A cackle came from the other end. ‘Christ – fucking McQueen!’

‘I’m in town and I’m thirsty.’

‘Oh man,’ laughed Benny Haskell, ‘you’re still a mad bastard.’

Sipping on a bottle of Carlsberg, Mac surveyed the offi ce – a restored colonial building now housing Benny’s fi rm of accountants and solicitors. It was an enormous space – about the size of fi ve or six standard corporate offi ces – with four ceiling fans high up, old silk rugs on the polished teak fl oors and a desk that looked like something J.P. Morgan would have owned.

Benny peered at his laptop screen over half glasses, his mane of grey hair pushed back like a mad professor’s. Making notes on a legal pad, he alternated between a square terminal to his right and the laptop, into which he’d downloaded Mac’s hard drive of the Alex Grant iDisk.

Now in his mid-fi fties, Benny Haskell was a legend of fi nancial espionage and countering. He was former ASIO, former ASIS and the former head of the Treasury’s special investigations unit. Mac had met Benny in Canberra in the early 1990s, when a bunch of ASIS, ASIO and AFP newbies were being shown the basics of how money laundering worked. It was a fascinating two weeks and Benny quickly became a sort of hero to them. A chartered accountant by trade, he was one of the architects of the AUSTRAC neural net that could track funds transfers between Australia and pretty much anywhere in the world. Now he had a lucrative offshore banking practice in Singapore, creating the kind of banking and fi nancial reporting trails that passed the smell-test with the Australian Taxation Offi ce.

Getting up, Benny wandered over to the French doors and looked out on the Port of Singapore. ‘Can we talk about this, mate?’

Mac tweaked to his tone and sat up in the leather armchair. ‘Ah, yeah. Sure.’

‘So, what’s the background?’ said Benny, sipping on his beer.

Sitting back, Mac went through what he knew: the Bennelong enrichment code, the approach from NIME, the knock-back from EFIC and the fact that the Bennelong deal might have been resurrected under the NIA.

‘That’s where I came in,’ said Mac, thinking about it as he spoke.

‘It was a bit of due diligence, checking end-users – covert but soft.’

‘Okay,’ said Benny. ‘But let’s agree to something, all right?’

Mac nodded.

‘Anything I tell you – anything – stays in this room unless you clear it with me fi rst, okay?’

Mac was silent. That was a big promise.

‘I’m serious, Macca. I don’t need some heavy-breather from the AFP thinking there’s any glory in pinging this little black duck.’

‘Okay – you got it,’ said Mac.

Benny paused, collecting himself. ‘You’re on the right track with Naveed and these companies, Ocean, Desert and Gulf. This is big Paki money and it basically owns NIME. Now it owns the material that these people -‘ He waved his hand around.

‘Bennelong.’

‘Yeah – Bennelong – have sold them. Looking at some of the connections and transfers, it’s Naveed’s old fronts and banks – we see this all the time. Naveed is putting up the money, same as he used to with Khan.’

‘A.Q. Khan?’

‘Any other?’ said Benny, reaching into his pants pocket for his smokes. ‘Naveed has been the banker to the Paki military and ISI for fi fteen, twenty years. Khan’s people used him to fi nance all the nuclear equipment they were on-selling to the North Koreans and Libyans.’

‘Makes sense,’ said Mac.

‘You’d always read about Khan’s hundred-million-dollar deals with Libya or Iraq, but it was Naveed making most of the dough. It’s always the bankers,’ said Benny, lighting the cigarette.

‘So where do I connect Naveed?’ asked Mac.

‘Hmm,’ said Benny, clearly reluctant to get into it. ‘You heard of a bloke called Hassan Ali?’

Mac almost choked on his beer. ‘Yeah, mate – um, that’s why I’m here,’ he spluttered, the acrid suds going up the back of his nose.

‘Really?’ asked Benny, eyes narrowing. ‘Might have told me that, mate.’

‘Sorry, Ben,’ said Mac, shifting his weight. ‘Maybe I didn’t explain properly. My due-diligence partner was shot by the Hassan crew. That’s why I’m a little beyond my initial brief. I’m, um, this is not -‘

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, mate. Soon as I saw the hair and the mo I fi gured you’d gone off-road,’ said Benny, blowing out smoke and moving towards the balcony. There was an ashtray on an outside table but he hesitated before he put his head out, casing the buildings beside the colonial building. ‘Weren’t followed, were you, Macca?’

‘Nah, mate.’

‘I’m serious,’ snapped Benny, stubbing his smoke. ‘Were you followed?”

Mac shook his head. ‘No.’

‘Because we got a little problem here, mate,’ said Benny, grabbing at another smoke and lighting it. ‘Not wired?’

Mac shook his head, took a shallow sip of the Carlsberg. ‘What’s up, Benny?’

‘Mate, six years ago I was asked to do some basic fi nancial sleuthing for Malaysian military intelligence, right?’

Mac nodded.

‘They’re on top of this JI wanker, Abu Samir, and there’s been some chatter – one of their informers is saying that something’s up.

Something big is about to happen.’

‘Six years ago?’ asked Mac. ‘You mean October ‘02?’

‘That’s the one. We did a few searches, found some medium-sized but regular transfers coming from an al-Qaeda front company in Dubai called Headlight Industry and going into a couple of JI accounts at the Dominion.’

Mac thought it through: in the early 2000s, the major Jemaah Islamiyah bombers – Samir, Top and Hambali – were living in Malaysia, lying low after Suharto’s people declared war on Islamic extremists. But they were still on the drip-feed from OBL via accounts at Dominion Bank of Singapore.

‘Anyway,’ said Benny, ‘I told the Malaysians this and we managed to trace back the JI company accounts and fi nd some of the bankers and businessmen who were the fronts for Samir, Top and Hambali.’

Benny paused. ‘But I was nosey. A lot of people trying to move money around the world – you remember I told you this in Canberra?

– will create several company names that are almost, but not exactly, the same and with sequential account ID numbers. They create shadows.’

‘So that,’ Mac picked up the thread, ‘when investigators run searches looking for a match on an account number or account name, the computer might list the shadows, but when a human eye is looking down thousands of lines of names or numbers, it subconsciously discards the ones that aren’t quite right. I remember you said that as far as computers go, the human brain is almost too good.’

‘Correct,’ said Benny. ‘So I went back over my lists and looked for shadow Headlight accounts and numbers.’

‘And?’ Mac fi nished his beer.

‘I found a Headlight Industrie – with an ie, not a y – and the same account number but one digit changed.’

‘So, this was al-Qaeda?’

‘Sure was, except they were paying a lot more money than the Samir transactions.’

‘How much?’

‘Ten million US.’

Mac whistled.

‘Yeah,’ said Benny, ‘and it was landing in a Cook Islands bank account for a mob called Desert Enterprises.’

‘Naveed?’

‘Well, from what you brought me tonight, I think we can say that Desert is a joint venture between Naveed and Hassan.’

‘The money guy and the ops guy.’

‘That’s it. The thing about that ten million back in ‘02? It landed exactly ten days before the Sari and Paddy’s were bombed.’

‘Shit,’ said Mac, his pulse starting to race.

‘Yeah – I’ll never forget it. We had – the Malaysians had – the information but didn’t know what to do with it. Too much of that Konfrontasi bullshit, if you ask me.’

Mac nodded, aware of the enmity between the Malaysian and Indonesian intelligence services. ‘So, NIME?’

‘Oh, sorry,’ said Benny fl icking his cigarette out the window. ‘That channel between Headlight Industrie and Desert was only ever used once. For the ten mill.’

‘Okay.’

‘Until last night.’

Mac stared at him, a hammer knocking in his temples.

‘How much?’ asked Mac.

‘Thirteen million US. I’d call that an infl ation dividend,’ mused Benny.

‘Which means?’

‘Which means whatever Hassan sold the rag-heads last time, he’s probably done it again.’


CHAPTER 42

<p>CHAPTER 42</p>

The soap scum Mac had put under the door handle was intact and he barged into the room, his feet giving him hell from the coins.

There was a porcelain pitcher of water on the sideboard and, pouring a glass, he walked onto the balcony. It was just after nine pm and he could hear the jazz band from the courtyard of the Raffl es Hotel across the still, humid night. Glugging down water, he pondered his options. Atkins wanted Mac out of Jakarta, so his next moves had to be made carefully. The last thing he needed was an Australian Protective Service crew manhandling him onto a Qantas fl ight. That wasn’t how he wanted to be met at Brissie by Jenny and Rachel.

Contacting Joe Imbruglia was out of the question. He’d be required to report any contact and Mac didn’t want to put him in that position. If Mac pursued that avenue now, the trust would be broken and Joe would see him as a liability.

There were four people he could call; one was recovering from bullet wounds, the other’s voicemail seemed to have been tampered with. Number three would be Martin Atkins, but there was a chance of blowback, no matter how strong his appeal to Atkins about Hassan’s latest actions.

That left the fourth – Freddi Gardjito. Freddi had been more affected by Diane’s shooting than he admitted. When Mac had been talking with Diane about Sarah in that hospital room, Mac had glanced across and seen Freddi looking out the window with a thousand-yard stare, his right hand trying to rub his chin but shaking like a leaf.

Mac took a deep breath and decided to call Martin Atkins. The phone made ten rings and Mac was about to hit the red button when Atkins picked up.

‘Hi there – I’m home!’ said Mac.

‘Shit,’ Atkins mumbled. ‘McQueen?’

‘Last time I checked.’

There was a pause and Mac assumed Atkins was mouthing something at whoever was in his offi ce, probably Garvs. ‘So, where are you?’

Mac kept it conversational, wanting Atkins to play the aggressor.

‘In KL – took the MAS fl ight. Wanted to pick up a few things before going south.’

‘Oh really?’ said Atkins, forcing a chuckle. ‘I thought we’d talked about the eight o’clock into Perth. That would be a Garuda fl ight.’

‘Sure, Marty, didn’t quite get the eight o’clock thing. I actually got out of town earlier than you asked.’

Atkins exhaled, gave up. ‘Good stuff, mate. So have a good fl ight and we’ll see you on the next gig, eh?’

‘Marty, there’s something I needed to bring you in on,’ said Mac.

‘Me? Davidson’s your controller.’

‘Yeah, but Tony’s not answering his phone. Besides, this isn’t about end-users – any of that crap.’

‘No?’

Mac heard shiftiness in there somewhere.

‘Look, you’ve heard of Hassan Ali, right?’

Atkins paused then gave a facetious yes.

‘Mate, I have reason to believe he’s active in the area again and is primed to do what he did in Kuta in ‘02.’

‘Kuta?’ said Atkins. ‘That was Amrozi and Muchlas and Ali Amron

– all of those guys, McQueen. Where did you get Hassan from? Isn’t he the Dr Khan bloke?’

‘Yeah, but he was in Kuta the night of the bombings. Mossad and BAIS were on him. Didn’t you read my report?’

‘Oh, Macca!’ said Atkins, as if he was talking to a puppy that wasn’t properly house-trained.

‘What?’

‘When you say your report, do you mean the debrief you had to rewrite twice?’

There was a difference between a report and debrief. A report was a defi nitive version of events, whereas a debrief was merely a short summary of what a bloke had been doing with his time. And Joe had asked Mac to resubmit that debrief twice – he didn’t want Mac being ridiculed, not after the word had got around that McQueen was asking about nuclear stuff at the AFP’s Kuta forward command post.

‘Yep,’ said Mac, ‘that one. I think he’s back and planning the same thing he did last time.’

‘Which was?’

Mac paused; he didn’t know if he had the time to stuff around and he didn’t know if Atkins was having the call traced. International mobile calls were hard to track, but someone could be put on it.

‘Which was, Marty, the Sari Club blast.’

‘That was JI, McQueen,’ hissed Atkins.

‘That was a six-foot crater, twenty-three feet across.’

‘Shit, mate,’ said Atkins, derisive. ‘Your reasoning works like this: Hassan has worked for a rogue nukes guy. Hassan is in Kuta on the night of the bombings. Ergo, Hassan did the Sari Club with a nuke. It doesn’t work as an argument, mate, and the forensics don’t support your theory.’

‘Forensic said there was tritium.’

‘No, McQueen, forensic said it was a potassium chlorate bomb.

A thousand kilos, actually. I can read!’

‘Okay, so it was a shade over one US ton,’ conceded Mac, not wanting to get into the minute difference between the tonne and the ton. ‘But let’s talk about the explosive: fi rst it was anfo, then it was RDX, then it was potassium chlorate and then it was all in a report that went to the Indonesian government but that we can’t see. I mean, did you see the fi nal report to the Indonesians?’

‘Whatever, McQueen,’ Atkins sighed.

‘It’s worth getting this right, Marty. A twenty-three-foot hole needs one ton of TNT – that’s what the bomb engineers say, right?

Even if we knew it was a potassium chlorate bomb, a one-tonner is half the power of TNT.’

‘Really? Where did you get that from, McQueen?’

‘Demo section at Holsworthy,’ said Mac, hoping Atkins would drop it. The only thing Mac had ever got out of the demolition section at Holsworthy army base was shaky hands and a dislike of sudden noise.

‘Bullshit!’ said Atkins. ‘I’ve done Holsworthy twice and I never heard that!’

The air crackled between them. Mac could envisage the embassy’s intel section at night, overworked ASIS people squinting at screens, washed out by the fl uorescent lighting, craving a hot shower and a cold beer, pondering the fact that just because your salary was now called a package, it didn’t mean your pay went any further.

‘I’m just saying that it was a big hole for an IED. Oklahoma City had the same size crater from four and half tons of anfo.’

‘So?’ snarled Atkins.

‘Well, think about it. If Sari Club only involved one ton, why did it make a hole the same size as four and half tons? And remembering, Marty, that anfo is a lot more powerful than potassium chlorate.’

There was a pause and Mac wondered if Atkins was reading a note from Garvs.

‘McQueen, there was no mini-nuke, there was no pro crew, Hassan Ali did not dupe a whole contingent of Aussie cops, soldiers and intel guys – not to mention forensics – so just drop it.’

Mac didn’t have many other shots. ‘So what were BAIS and Mossad chasing?’ he asked, still unsure why his counterparts were so certain.

‘I don’t know, mate,’ whined Atkins. ‘You know what the Indons and the Jews are like: they’ll chase a conspiracy like a dog chases its tail.’

Mac signed off quickly and hung up. He thought about Atkins’ comment. That was exactly how Mossad and BAIS did not operate.

Freddi’s phone went straight to voicemail and Mac didn’t leave a message. It was almost nine-thirty which meant ten-thirty in Jakkers, and Freddi was getting some shut-eye. Mac felt stressed but not exhausted and he could do with a couple of beers to send him to sleep. Benny had asked him down to the Raffl es for a drink with him and an employee, which now sounded like a plan.

He removed the moustache and carefully stored it back in its case. As he wiped his face down, he thought about how Atkins had been both sarcastic and condescending. In the ongoing war between the fi eld guys and the bench-warmers, condescension and fl ip dismissals were the preferred weapons of the offi ce dwellers. It gave them credibility with other offi ce guys while undermining people like Mac. But the cult of management was a dangerous game: in the wash-up of 9/11, the US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence recommended the CIA stop its habit of reallocating operations funding into more management, which had been happening for more than twenty years. By the time the US invaded Iraq in ‘03, the CIA had only eleven Arabic-speaking fi eld people, while back at Langley they had so many managers that they had to fi nd more space to house them.

His face now clean, Mac eyeballed himself in the mirror. Atkins had used the word conspiracy, which in itself was an admission of ignorance. Way back in 1957, the old Joint Intelligence Service – forerunner of ASIO and ASIS – had commissioned one of its analysts to assess the probability of nuclear terrorism. That report, The Likelihood of Clandestine Introduction of Nuclear Weapons into Australia, was the world’s fi rst discussion of a terror campaign using a nuclear device, and the device it named was ‘a plutonium device the size of a cricket ball’.

A mini-nuke. Atkins and his ilk had taken the wrong turn by putting the idea of a mini-nuke in the crazy department – it was very real.

Mac understood why Atkins didn’t want to deal with it. If you were born in the 1960s, and grew up with the Cold War, you wanted to think that the chance of a nuclear nightmare had ended when the Berlin Wall came down. But Israel’s entire nuclear weapons program at the Dimona facility was about developing mini-nukes – devices that could be carried in a backpack. In the same year that Israel’s IDF bombed the Iraqi fast-breeder reactor at Osirak, they tested a joint-venture mini-nuke in the Indian Ocean. It was 1979 and the partner was South Africa.

So Mac wasn’t going mad – not yet, anyway. And Atkins’ own words had confi rmed it. He’d mistakenly admitted that Hassan was in Kuta before and during the bomb blasts, a fact that the Atkins lobby had previously contested. It wasn’t ringing alarm bells, but it was starting to niggle. Why did the fi rm want him out of Jakarta?

Eight minutes later, Mac walked into the courtyard bar of the Raffl es. The air was alive with soft jazz and raucous crickets and he saw Benny at a glass-topped table beside the fountain, drinking with a pretty Chinese woman in a pale blue blouse and navy blue Andrews Sisters skirt.

Benny introduced Suzi and ordered a round of drinks, a Tiger for Mac.

‘Mr McQueen is just up from Australia,’ Benny told Suzi. ‘Very smart fellow.’

‘What do you do?’ she asked in smooth English.

‘Due diligence for the government,’ shrugged Mac, wanting to get on to something else.

‘Due diligence on what?’ asked Suzi, her demeanour disproving the theory that intellect is in inverse proportion to looks.

‘Well, exporters.’

She sat forward, wanting more.

‘Okay,’ said Mac, ‘someone wants to export to Singapore and get the taxpayer to underwrite payment? The government might be prepared to guarantee payment, but they want to know who the parties are and what the deal actually is.’

‘Sounds interesting.’

Later, when Suzi went to the ladies, Benny leaned over to Mac.

‘By the way, champ, got so tied up in those documents of yours that I forgot to pass something on.’

‘Yeah?’ said Mac, taking a swig of his beer.

‘This is a free gift to Jen, right? Just so she knows there’re no hard feelings, and then we’re square, okay?’

‘Okay,’ said Mac, smiling.

At their wedding reception at the Jakarta Golf Club Jenny had cornered Benny and told him off for constructing and maintaining the kind of secret banking and business linkages – grey networks – that allowed the sex-slavers and human traffi ckers to get away with it. Jenny had had a skinful that night and her FBI friend, Milinda, had had to drag her away from what could have turned ugly.

‘Last week I was doing some work for a client and I got to see something I shouldn’t have seen,’ whispered Benny, scanning the courtyard for eyes.

‘Okay,’ said Mac, letting his body get lower to hear.

‘Well it seems our old friends from the Khmer Rouge are back in business, and there’s a lot of funds coming back into Singers right now.’

‘Where from?’ asked Mac.

‘South-east Queensland, judging by some of the numbers.’

‘Who?’

Benny eyed him and smiled. ‘Come on, mate, I’ve said too much.

Let’s just say that after years doing their thing in Indo and Thailand, the KRs have moved to where the real money is.’

After Suzi came back, the talk got more general. Benny was a great host as always and Suzi was a smart young lawyer fresh out of the University of Sydney Law School, doing her clerking with the legal side of Benny’s practice. Mac liked the tough but open character of middle-class Singaporeans. It was a similar trait to the Israelis. Both countries raised their kids with the knowledge that everything they took for granted could be snatched away tomorrow, so they should enjoy it – and fi ght for it. Both countries sat in the midst of an Islamic tide, both had been created by the West as Anglo-leaning capitalist democracies, and both had built the kind of national wealth that engendered nothing but resentment from those around them.

Suzi was appalled by the jihadists and their methods, in contrast to some of the students Mac had tutored at Sydney Uni, who thought the bombers had a point. There was a softness in younger Australians and an appetite for received wisdom that Mac found disturbing.

He told Suzi how in one tutorial discussion, a woman in her early thirties had upbraided Mac for talking about Indonesian aggression during Konfrontasi in the mid-1960s. She claimed Konfrontasi had been an attempt by Sukarno to stop an ‘imperialist land-grab in Borneo’ and that everyone knew this. Of course, in 1963 alone the Indonesian military had carried out more than thirty bombings in Singapore, many of them on civilian targets such as cafes and buses, and Mac had asked his student how this stopped Sarawak and Sabah becoming part of the Malay Federation? The woman had stormed out, calling him a

‘Bush-lover’.

‘I know – it’s true!’ Suzi said, wide-eyed. ‘Other students were saying to me Oooh, but the poor Muslims have a point, and I’m like, Naaahhh -‘ she said it with a theatrically downturned mouth and big smiling eyes, ‘ let them hang! ‘

Benny and Mac laughed, couldn’t help themselves. The Singaporean Chinese had no sense of why you’d make excuses for people who bombed cafes.

‘I’m like, to my Aussie friends,’ continued Suzi, ‘ When you live in Singapore, you know that you are Mantiqi One – lucky to be fi rst on their list.’

Mac met her eye as he tried to recall. ‘Mantiqi One – that’s…’

Suzi sipped her wine. ‘JI’s fi rst bombing zone. Singapore and Malaysia.’

‘Nice of them,’ growled Benny.

‘Yeah,’ said Suzi. ‘And if you’re in Western Indonesia, you’re Mantiqi Two. Mantiqi Three covers Sabah, Mindanao and Sulawesi, I think.’

‘Gee, what have they got for this – a spreadsheet?’ asked Mac.

Suzi giggled. ‘Don’t think you get off lightly. Guess where the bombs go off in Mantiqi Four?’

Mac shrugged. ‘What’s left? Flores?’

‘No, silly – Mantiqi Four is Australia.’

‘Really?’ said Mac, the humour draining from his face.

‘Yeah – Mantiqi Four. You know, the Fourth Brigade.’


CHAPTER 43

<p>CHAPTER 43</p>

Mac was woken shortly before six am by the sound of a female voice hissing. Going out to his balcony, he looked down to the rear garden where Miss Rasmi was muttering insults and waving a broom at a koel bird in the tree. After a brief shower he reapplied his mo and walked around the corner to the Raffl es for some brekkie. Businesspeople sat around the restaurant, reading the Straits and texting on their BlackBerries.

Seeing a table by the rear wall, Mac dropped his phone and wallet on it and walked to the maitre d’ station, ordered the full cooked breakfast and a pot of coffee, managing to not blanch at the bill.

The coffee came quickly, in a large silver pot, and he surveyed the room for a tail while he poured. He clocked an early thirties Anglo or Euro male with short light brown hair and an athletic frame in expensive but anonymous clothes. The guy looked around the room for a fraction too long as he waited for the maitre d’, and then sat two tables away.

Mac gave him a wink. ‘How’s it going?’

Smiling, the bloke played it cool and turned back to his Straits Times. Mac decided he might have to fl ush the bird into the open rather than going stumbling into the bush. Firing up the Nokia, he redialled Freddi’s number. It rang twice before Freddi answered. ‘ Alo .’

‘Fred, it’s McQueen,’ said Mac, pushing his right hand onto his ear to block out the sound of the restaurant.

‘How are you?’ asked Freddi.

‘Bad time?’

‘If I say yes, you hang up?’

Mac laughed. He could hear a child talking in the background.

‘Mate, I’ll call back in thirty minutes.’

‘Okay.’

‘Thanks, mate – bye,’ he said and hit the red button, took a slug of surprisingly good coffee and made for the bain-maries.

As he sat with the bacon and eggs Mac made a show of looking at his watch, then sighed and stood up, grabbed his phone and wallet and walked out of the restaurant.

‘Back in a tick,’ he said, smiling at the head waitress as he headed out. Walking through the lobby at a brisk pace, he looked for eyes, although he didn’t expect to fi nd them in the lobby. There’d be someone outside and they’d have a prop: reading a newspaper, standing at a parking meter, sitting on a park bench with a phone to their ear.

Mac saw her as he was halfway down the Raffl es front steps. The other tail was a late-twenties Anglo or Euro brunette in a burgundy skirt suit, standing next to a car pretending to be on the phone. Mac continued down the steps and paused at the forecourt, looked directly at the girl and feigned surprise at being made. Running around the side of the building, through the gardens, he strode into the courtyard where he’d been with Suzi and Benny the night before and then let himself into the side alcove of the Raffl es lobby. Moving forward quietly, behind a porter’s trolley, Mac scanned the vast area, thankful for the air-con. To his left he could see the retreating form of the male tail, the large wood and glass doors swishing behind him.

Taking a deep breath, Mac walked across the lobby and into the restaurant, smiled at the maitre d’ and resumed his seat.

The eggs and bacon were still hot.

Freddi picked up on the fi rst ring when he redialled.

‘How are the kids?’ asked Mac.

‘They’re great – it’s their dad who get annoy.’

Mac chuckled.

‘So, where are you, McQueen?’ asked Freddi.

‘Surabaya.’

‘Just seen it on the Weather Channel – is it true, what they say?’

‘Okay, okay,’ said Mac, amused that Freddi was such a good operator. ‘A little west of there. So, mate – what’s up?’

‘Thought you might tell me.’

‘Maybe we should tell each other, eh Fred?’

‘Sure, so where are you?’ asked Freddi, not giving up.

Mac sighed. ‘On the Peninsula. But I wanted to know about the object, from the hotel?’

‘Yeah – nice call. We got a number.’

‘Anything from it?’

‘Got an interview.’

‘And?’ said Mac.

‘Going to have a look.’

‘Where?’ spat Mac, not able to hide his interest.

‘In Archipelago, yeah?’

‘ Shit, Freddi!’

‘Yeah, McQueen?’

‘Okay, I’m in Singers.’

‘Behaving yourself?’

‘Got a tail but they’re standing off.’

‘Who?’

‘Look Euro but probably Americans, judging by the girl’s make-up.’

‘What do they want?’

Mac shrugged, looked around the restaurant. ‘Beats me. So, we still chasing Hassan?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Where we going?’

‘Don’t know about we.’

‘Come on, mate. You might be interested in what I’m on to.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah,’ said Mac, wanting to be back on the trail.

‘Guys might not want it like that.’

‘But Fred, the guys don’t know what I bring to this, right?’

‘What do you bring?’

Mac had one eye on the restaurant entrance, his mind racing. ‘Can you get me on board?’

‘I can try.’

‘Second me? You guys have done it before.’

‘Maybe, McQueen, but I don’t decide that.’

‘I know, but you can sell it.’

‘Okay – I try.’

Mac ran through the conversation with Benny but referred to Hassan as ‘our guest’ and JI as ‘the associates’. He ended with the bit about the previous transaction between the al-Qaeda account and Hassan’s account happening ten days before the Bali bombings, and the current one – only the second ever – occurring two days ago.

‘You’ve got the fi les?’ asked Freddi, now on high alert.

‘Yeah, whole hard drive of them.’

‘And you can get to them?’

‘In my pocket, Freddi.’

‘Okay,’ said Freddi, ‘hang on and I get back.’

They hung up and Mac poured more coffee. The double team hadn’t reappeared, which meant they were handing over to another crew or they were waiting outside and would simply walk up and ask to have a chat.

The phone trilled, Mac picking up before the fi rst ring had ended.

‘Can’t detour to Singapore,’ said Freddi immediately.

‘Can we meet up?’

‘About one o’clock, your time,’ said Freddi.

‘Where?’

‘The place.’

‘The place?’

‘Yeah, you know, McQueen – that place.’

Ari was waiting in the foyer of the Riau when Mac got back from meeting with Benny. He looked the same in the face but was now dressed more like a controller. But when he stood up, smiled and offered his hand, Mac saw that Ari Scharansky still had that bull neck and big arms; still a little mad, still a very dangerous individual.

‘Ari! How’s it going?’

‘Morning, McQueen,’ said Ari with a fond smile as they shook.

‘Should have shouted me breakfast, mate. Would have saved me fi fty bucks.’

Ari winced. ‘Shit! Breakfast at the Raffl es? You must have well-trained accountants in offi ce, yes?’

Mac laughed. He’d never had a single expenses claim in his career that hadn’t had at least one item queried or denied. ‘So, Ari. How did you fi nd…?’ Mac’s question petered out as his eyes took in Miss Rasmi’s front desk, with the security grille down and Closed sign on it. Shaking his head, Mac looked back at his mate from Mossad.

‘Know what the trouble is with a hotelier who can be bought off, Ari?’

Ari smirked, shook his head.

‘They can be bought off.’

Ari laughed and they wandered out into the heat of Singapore and strolled towards the bay.

Ari gave his mobile number and Mac input it into his Nokia.

They talked about Kuta, had a few laughs about the old days, and Ari admitted he was now a controller, running fi eld people. That explained Mac’s mild confusion with the tail team. They looked Euro but the woman had that Israeli habit of heavy American make-up

– the whole liquid foundation and full gloss lipstick effect.

They stopped by a fountain in the park – a good place to defeat long-range listening devices – and Ari pulled out his smokes, lit one, looking serious.

‘So, McQueen, what is happening?’

‘Great weather we’re having.’

Ari laughed, his big-boned face lighting up.

‘Mate,’ said Mac. ‘You’re after something, right?’

Ari nodded, clearly eager to get on with the job.

‘So just ask it and I’ll tell you if I can help,’ said Mac.

‘Okay – what did you think about these documents?’ asked Ari.

Mac deadpanned him.

‘You know,’ said Ari. ‘These Bennelong fi les. In iDisk.’

Mac smiled. The Israelis weren’t too bad when they got going. It’s just that they weren’t as good as Benny – didn’t know what to do with those sale documents and acquisition manifests.

‘We might have to swap some information, yeah Ari?’ said Mac, raising the expected quid pro quo at the heart of all inter-agency cooperation.

‘Sure,’ said Ari, fl icking his ciggie as he looked around for eyes. An old Chinese lady in a black tracksuit was doing tai chi poses under a tree and Ari stared at her as he torched another smoke.

‘I’ll tell you what I made of those documents, mate,’ smiled Mac.

‘But I need to know something from you that is in the past. Can’t hurt you now.’

Ari shrugged, chewed his gum. His sandy hair was still cut the way it had been in the Soviet and then Russian military. Mac had searched the fi les on Ari and found that before he moved to Israel and Mossad he had been GRU Spetsnaz – a special forces operator within the Russian military intelligence organisation. GRU Spetsnaz infi ltrated their own people into President Amin’s bodyguard before they invaded Afghanistan in 1979. GRU Spetsnaz operators were crafty, dangerous people and Mac had to remind himself of that even when Ari was horsing around.

‘Remember Kuta in ‘02, how you knew that Hassan had brought a mini-nuke to town? You were certain it had been used in the Sari Club, right?’

Ari shrugged and looked away in the international sign for yes.

Mac thought about his next question. ‘So how did you know that Hassan had a second device?’

Ari sucked on his smoke. ‘Okay, but then we talking about iDisk, yeah?’

‘Sure,’ said Mac.

‘We know the fucking Pakistanis had two mini-nuke,’ he snarled, fl icking his smoke into the fountain, ‘because maybe they are thieves, fuck their mothers.’

Mac stared at him, astonished. ‘Hassan stole two nukes from Israel?!’

Ari kicked a stone that wasn’t there.

‘Fuck’s sake, Ari,’ said Mac.

‘I know,’ sneered Ari, the smoke slowly drifting out of his mouth.

‘I am saying this same words exact.’


CHAPTER 44

<p>CHAPTER 44</p>

The Piper Navajo hugged the Malaysian coastline as they fl ew north.

Benny had arranged to get Mac to Idi, and Mac was using the down time to think through what was going on. Ari’s revelations had made sense but they still came as a shock to Mac. It was now clear why Ari had been so adamant back in ‘02 that there was another device somewhere in Indonesia. He also now had a better understanding of why Ari – working for the most paranoid and uncooperative intelligence organisation outside of the Chinese MSS – had been so keen to work with Mac. Ari had needed to stay close to the BAIS pursuit of Hassan, but the Israelis couldn’t operate in Indonesia or Malaysia, and consequently they had no in-country intelligence cooperation agreements in those countries. ASIS did, though, and that’s where Ari had successfully tried to pitch himself, riding on Mac’s Aussie back.

Mac thought through the wider ramifi cations. The Pakistanis, led by Hassan – a former ISI spook – had heisted two Dimona mini-nukes? It was hugely audacious stuff and explained why Mossad hadn’t simply put hits on the Pakistanis. Killing Hassan and Gorilla wouldn’t lead them to the second device. It had to be a search and seizure, almost like a police action. There might have been something else at play. Was Mossad treading carefully because the Pakistanis were still being protected by US intelligence? If the CIA had any hand in this it was going to end in tears. It always did when the Yanks played God.

Ari’s admission had increased Mac’s paranoia but it had also vindicated him in front of someone like Atkins. Not only were mini-nukes real, but starting in the mid-1960s they’d seen action as

US military SADMs, or Special Atomic Demolition Munitions, all the way through till the end of the Cold War. The SADM was a seventy-two kilogram cylinder, not much different to a mid-sized fi re extinguisher bottle, and while the full yield was slightly less than one kiloton, it could be dialled down to 0.01.

Far from being the stuff of conspiracy theories, mini-nukes were actually highly practical weapons that had been developed so soldiers and frogmen could deploy them with little training. They had code-keys on them and an anti-tamper protocol called a Limited Try Lock.

But as long as you had a code, anyone who could operate a Nokia phone could deploy a mini-nuke. They were so useful that the Israeli Dimona facility had been producing plutonium ‘pits’ since the 1980s and had stockpiled about four hundred of their own mini-nukes.

One of the things playing on Mac’s mind since establishing there was defi nitely a second device was the devastation it could wreak.

A mini-nuke was so portable, so easy to deploy and so powerful that there were few places it couldn’t be used. Kuta in ‘02 may have been a proof-of-concept – the real attack could be on Jakarta, KL or Singapore.

Or a city in Australia. As Suzi had said, Australia was already on JI’s hit list, under the auspices of Mantiqi Four.

The scientists at Dimona made standard plutonium pits for their mini-nukes but used differing sizes and mixes of the booster fuel. This allowed a special forces frogman to dial up to a full three-kiloton yield, or dial down to a localised blast that would fl atten a small building. The booster fuel was a mix of tritium and deuterium which allowed a very small amount of Plutonium 239 to be rendered incredibly powerful and ‘clean’ by nuclear standards. In one round of declassifi cations, the US Department of Defense admitted to developing an MRR, or a Minimal Residual Radiation weapon, which left almost no trace of the radiation that shows up on Geiger counters.

Looking down on the Malacca Straits from the Piper, Mac saw the shadow of the plane on the green sea, and thought how a shadow was exactly what Mossad had become to BAIS. The Israelis and Indonesians both wanted to fi nd that second mini-nuke, but for very different reasons. The Indonesians just wanted the damned thing, after what happened at Kuta. And the Israelis? Mac chuckled darkly. The last thing they wanted was the world’s largest Muslim nation getting hold of a mini-nuke, especially one made in the Negev Desert.

Mac pondered how far Ari would go to stop that happening.

They fl ew north for half an hour and then the pilot, a Malay bloke in his twenties called Samson, pointed to a fl at shape sticking out into the water to their left.

‘Penang,’ he shouted over the noise of the two props.

They turned westward and were soon hugging the south coast of Penang Island, the terracotta roofs of old George Town visible in the distance. After a few minutes they veered to the north in a steep bank as they lost altitude and seemed to be aiming for the palms. Mac tensed – Penang had an international airport, and this wasn’t it.

Samson sensed his discomfort and smiled. ‘It okay – there is room!’

They dropped like a stone as the revs came on and off, and then the wing fl aps came up. As they got down to the tree tops Mac realised there was a private airfi eld in the midst of a palm-oil plantation.

The landing was surprisingly good and as they decelerated along the strip Mac was glad to have taken this option, courtesy of Benny Haskell. They turned and taxied back to a mid-size steel hangar, where a local man in red board shorts stood leaning against an old white Land Rover.

The sea breeze made Mac’s overalls fl ap as he got out onto the sandy soil. Mac thanked Samson and walked up to John, the Land Rover guy. He was portly, about forty and impassive – possibly annoyed at Benny for pulling him away from something important? Either that or he was a spy.

They drove for fi ve minutes down the narrow plantation tracks, palm oil trees swaying above, while Mac tried to keep his two bags steady between his ankles. Then they went over a small rise and Mac’s breath was momentarily taken away. They were in a spectacular bay on the west coast of Penang Island, a jetty sticking into the sky-blue water and fi shing boats moored against the jetty or run onto the beach. It was idyllic, but Mac had to remind himself that this area was the oldest continuously active piracy region on the planet.

John walked Mac along the jetty, stopping halfway up. On Mac’s right was a closed-deck speedboat, painted black. At least forty feet long, it had a small open cockpit near the back and a long deck to the bow. Two large inboard props stuck menacingly from the stern and Mac could see no name or ID on the vessel. In the United States they were called sports cruisers, but in Italy and Greece they were known as cigarette boats because they were the favoured transport of smugglers. Mac put this black beauty in the second category. There were two large cargo hatches on the bow decking and he just knew there weren’t any beds or gin palaces below deck. This was a stripped-down, high-speed working boat.

‘Here is Mano,’ said John nervously, keen to get off the jetty.

Mac fl icked him fi fty US and smiled. ‘Thanks, champ.’

Mano put one Cat boot on the gunwale of the black beauty and leapt up onto the jetty. Mac’s height, Mano was built in the arms, chest and legs. He had a webbing holster at forty-fi ve degrees across his chest, which contained what Mac guessed was a Browning Hi-Power. The angle told him Mano was right-handed. In all cultures and without even speaking to him, Mano was instantly identifi able as a mercenary.

‘G’day,’ said Mac.

Mano raised his chin slightly, appraising the situation through aviator shades. ‘Going to Idi?’

Mac nodded and Mano offered his hand. After doing a palm shake, Mano leapt into the boat and stood with his arms open. Mac threw his pack and then the plastic shopping bag, warning, ‘This one’s heavy.’

Mano caught it by bending at the knees and then put both bags under the rear seats. Mac noticed that he moved with complete effi ciency and certainty – reminiscent of Maori and Tongan soldiers Mac had known.

Mac landed on the cockpit decks as the engines fi red in a deep, rough growl. There were pops and splutters and an incredible vibration through the fl oorboards as the engines roared to full song.

Mano saw Mac’s reaction, and smiled. ‘V12s. Can take a while to warm up,’ he said, then bowed down, gripped his fi ngers under a handle fl ush with the decking and pulled up a trapdoor. ‘You travel with Mano, you travel with the best.’

Looking down, Mac saw two large engines with alloy-coloured manifolds leading to six pipes on either side. Along the manifolds were the BMW rondels and a sign that said M-POWER.

‘Six litres, each one,’ smiled Mano. ‘Not fucking around here.’

They cruised at around eighty knots as they headed due west for Idi on the east coast of northern Sumatra, a place Mac had hoped he’d never return to. He could have fl own in but Benny had warned him against it – Indonesian coast guard would see a private plane, put in a call and, next thing, Mac’s lack of immigration papers and the presence of the Glock handgun he’d borrowed from Benny might put him in the cells. On a good day, a simple bribe might work. On a bad day, there’d be beatings, maybe the German shepherds would have some fun.

The speed of the craft was giving Mac’s body a battering and he wondered what he’d feel like if Mano hadn’t insisted that he put on the kidney belt. The Malacca Strait was not only one of the world’s busiest waterways for container shipping, it was also the main source for the fi sh markets from Medan, Penang and KL to Singapore, Riau and Kelang. There were fi shing vessels everywhere, some of them too small to be out so far in the channel. The container ships sounded their foghorns for minutes at a time as they steamed through clusters of boats carrying on with impunity. In the Malacca, locals ruled and they weren’t going home for some dickhead in white shorts and a funny cap. Through all of this Mano kept the speed up, occasionally slowing down for a bunch of boats.

In the middle of the Straits, the size of the swell meant they had to back off to fi fty knots. Mano and Mac didn’t speak because of the noise, but as they approached a bunch of eight small vessels, a red speedboat peeled away from the bunch and headed in their direction, a big rooster-tail of spray pouring out the back. Mano wasn’t happy with the deal and stood up to face the rear.

‘Shit,’ said Mano.

Mac turned and saw a white speedboat a quarter of a mile behind them, motoring at high speed by the look of the spray and the attitude of the vessel.

‘Drive,’ Mano told Mac, and went to the rear of the boat where he opened one of the white plastic seat-lockers.

The revs dropped and as Mac took the wheel he saw why: the boat had a dead-man’s brake in the footrest. Mac stepped on it and the revs came up again. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Mano heft and check an M4 assault rifl e of the kind used by special forces.

Bringing his eyes back forward of the black beauty, Mac saw the red speedboat gunwale-dancing in from their two o’clock, clearly heading straight for them.

Suddenly, a tapdance of three-shot rifl e bursts came from behind and Mac smelled cordite. Acid rose in his throat, mixing with the fuel fumes and exhaust. He felt sick. The red boat at their two o’clock was closing quickly, now just eighty metres away. Mac could see three locals crammed at the windscreen, one of them holding a rifl e.

The gunfi re continued from behind and as Mac looked back the white boat was fi fty metres away and closing. As Mac tried to steer away from the red boat’s trajectory, a star of shattered glass appeared in the windscreen in front of him, shards spinning out like gossamer in the sunlight. His fi rst instinct was to duck down, which initiated the dead-man’s brake again and the revs cut to an idle.

‘Fuck,’ said Mano as he came forward and clambered onto the bow decking. ‘When I say it, you hit the throttle, okay? Give it everything.’

Mac came to his feet in a crouch. ‘Sure.’

Mano made to kneel on the decking – diffi cult as the black beauty rode the swell – but before he could get a shot off, his right leg sagged and a puff of meat bounced out the side of his shorts. Mano took all his weight onto his left leg, tried to get his balance but the shock to his leg was too great and he collapsed sideways off the deck and into the Malacca Straits.

Swivelling around, Mac saw the speedboats were almost on him and he shut down the throttles, swore to every sea god he could think of and prepared for the boarding. He could have grabbed the Glock from his backpack under the transom seats and involved himself in a shoot-out, but he wasn’t in the hero mood. Mano was out there somewhere and Mac had to get to Idi, had to make that meeting with Freddi.

The white boat got to him fi rst and two young locals clambered on board, the taller one with a battered AK-47, the other one with what looked like a Soviet Makarov handgun. The third guy stayed at the helm of the white boat, letting the big black Mercury outboard idle.

Mac held his hands up but the pirates basically ignored him, the short one moving straight to the tiller and taking control while training his Makarov on Mac. The taller one pulled open the hatchway between the pilot’s and passenger seats, and disappeared into the boat’s long below-decks. He seemed to know exactly where he was going. A strange smell wafted up from the hatch door – sweet but musty.

‘How’s it going?’ said Mac, hands held high as he smiled at the gunman.

The red boat pulled up in what North Americans call a ‘hockey stop’ and two thugs in sarungs, plastic sandals and T-shirts leapt onto the black beauty and started yelling at Mac. One walked up and barrel-whipped him across the left side of his forehead with an AK. Mac staggered back but stayed on his feet. As the blood gushed down his face, Mac watched a small Malay man get out of his white Naugahyde seat, jump across to the black boat, and walk up to Mac.

‘G’day, how’s it going?’ said Mac, blood dripping off his left jaw and onto his overalls.

The little man smiled – full lips like a woman and beautiful but crooked teeth.

‘Ah, oop-oop!’ he said with a smile.

They all laughed. In South-East Asia, oop-oop meant an Aussie, thanks to what an Asian thought a kangaroo might sound like as it hopped.

‘Yeah, cheers,’ smiled Mac. ‘Sweet as.’

The little man looked him up and down, though thanks to the height differential it was more up than down. Then he pointed his thumb at his chest and said, ‘Anwar,’ and said it as though he might have been saying President and CEO of Ford Motor Company.

Mac exhaled and smiled. ‘Mac,’ he said, pointing his thumb at his own chest.

Anwar turned his mouth down in an attempt at dignity. ‘Anwar

– the boss.’

‘Sure, boss,’ said Mac, his blood now splashing on the wooden decking.

Anwar smiled and looked at his gang for vindication, and pretty soon they were laughing again, Anwar pointing a thumb at his chest and saying, ‘The boss!’

The tall pirate stuck his head out of the cargo hatch between the front seats and yelled something to Anwar.

The boss turned to face Mac slowly, shaking his head with theatrical sadness. ‘No ganja today, eh Mr Mac?’ He looked down at his feet, then looked Mac in the eye. ‘Which mean… you got cash, yeah?’

Mac shrugged, smiled wanly.

Anwar shook his head, pursed his lips. ‘No money – no ganja.

That no good for the boss.’

Mac cursed more sea gods. Benny had booked him on a frigging drug boat.


CHAPTER 45

<p>CHAPTER 45</p>

The pirates soon found the large shopping bag full of things that Benny had insisted Mac buy before he left. Following instructions to the letter, Mac had lugged the thing onto planes, Land Rovers and drug boats. Now, as the boss and his pirates pulled bottles of Johnnie Walker and cartons of Marlboros from the bag, Mac fi nally got it.

As the tall sidekick made to strip the seal from one of the bottles of Red Label, Mac used the opportunity to score some points. ‘That for the boss,’ he said, winking at Anwar.

Anwar screamed and the tall one put the whisky back in the bag, snatching his hands away like the thing had got hot. Anwar took a seat in the front passenger seat and another sidekick pulled out a Marlboro and lit it for the boss.

Ducking his head into a sleeve of his overalls, Mac tried to stem his bleeding. The mix of blood and briny humidity was a potent smell. There was some fear in there too, and Mac didn’t want the boss smelling it.

Anwar took a huge hit on the smoke and pointed at Mac with his cigarette hand. ‘So, Mr Mac, where you going?’

‘Sumatra,’ said Mac, too freaked to bullshit the bloke.

‘What in Sumatera?’ said Anwar, a thick cloud of smoke fl owing from his mouth and nostrils.

Mac shrugged, not wanting to provoke. ‘Meeting a friend.’

Anwar nodded, serious. ‘Where in Sumatera?’

‘Idi. I’m going to Idi,’ said Mac, looking Anwar in the eye.

Like a line manager listening to some lame excuse for low production outputs, Anwar made a point of thinking through what Mac was telling him. In this part of the world, every social interaction was theatre; people played their parts and participants had to walk away with some kind of respect, even if only small or token. Anwar had demanded to be the boss and because Mac had instantly given him that respect, he was now attempting to show that he was worthy and could return it, as a professional boss of pirates should.

‘Okay, Mr Mac – I tell you what,’ said Anwar, sucking on his ciggie like it was Mum’s own breakfast of champions. ‘I gonna look for the cash, right?’

Mac nodded, wiped his forehead again, feeling the blood smear back into his hairline. His legs were getting sore standing in the one place – at least that was his excuse for why his left thigh had the shakes.

‘If there no cash on boat, you go Idi, the boss keep boat, right?’

‘Okay,’ said Mac, breathing out slow, trying to control the fear.

‘If I fi nd cash, you swimming, right?’

Mac gulped and nodded. Benny Haskell had just made his top-ten list of People Who Must Get Slapped.

Anwar’s crew spent ten minutes going over every inch of the cockpit area and the engine bays, while Mac shook with nerves, wondering if he’d ever see Rachel or Jenny again. He tried not to feel sorry for himself, but he pondered the cruelty of discovering a daughter, but never getting to meet her.

Mac watched the thorough approach to the search and Anwar’s management of his crew. It was a team of professionals. When they got to Mac’s backpack, jammed under the transom seats, the tall pirate with the blue sarung smiled with victory as he found something.

In went this hand and out came Mac’s folder with the relics of the Kuta bombing and the Hassan chase. And then the folder was fl ying casually over the bloke’s shoulder, the contents fanning out and slowly fl oating to the oily surface of the water.

‘Shit!’ muttered Mac and then saw the source of the excitement: the Glock he’d borrowed from Benny.

Mac thought quickly. ‘Hey, boss?’

Anwar turned, sucked on a smoke.

‘Take the gun, but I need my phone, yeah?’

Anwar rattled off something and the tall pirate just shrugged, dropped the backpack and showed off his new Glock to the others.

‘No cash on boat, Mr Mac,’ said Anwar.

Mac nodded, trying to quell the shakes.

‘So, I leave you two guy, yeah?’ said Anwar. ‘Take you Idi, okay?’

Mac breathed out long. ‘Okay, boss, thanks.’

Anwar yelled at the pirates. The driver waiting in the white boat hit the throttle and raced away into the distance. One of the pirates clambered into the red boat with the boss and there was a screaming of outboard motors as the craft surged up out of the water, fl ooding Mac and the remaining pirates with the pungent smell of Evinrude exhaust.

Anwar’s boat quickly became a speck on the horizon and the tall pirate moved to the front passenger seat, took the boss’s seat.

An offsider who looked like Anwar’s brother walked straight to the driver’s chair and stepped on the dead-man’s brake.

‘Wait a minute,’ said Mac, pointing at where several sheets of white paper fl oated on the slick swell. ‘I need my fi les.’

‘ Oop oop swim?’ asked the tall pirate with a sneer, and Anwar’s brother joined the giggling. Mac looked at the fl oating paper, realised he probably had two or three minutes before they were ruined. ‘Sure,’ he smiled, just some crazy Anglo who’d been in the sun too long.

The tall one shrugged, and as he did so his head moved sideways in a whiplash movement, his hair fl ying up at an angle, bits of fl esh and bone fl ying at the shattered windscreen, before he sagged to the dashboard. A bullet had been fi red. Instinctively ducking, Mac heard two more shots which hit Anwar’s brother in the face and then in the throat. Blood and skin fl ew and Mac jumped back slightly as the pirate fell into him and hit the teak deck like a bag of cement.

Hearing a noise, Mac spun around to see Mano climbing over the transom with the Browning Hi-Power in his right hand. He was soaked and blood ran heavily from his right thigh into his Cat boot. Mano looked at Mac with an odd expression. ‘Thought they’d never leave,’ he said, confused, and then his eyes rolled back and he collapsed.


***

The last fi le – the burnt piece of paper with N W on it – was thirty metres from the boat by the time Mac got to it. He carefully folded it into eighths and put it between his teeth with some other papers, and turned for the boat which was now drifting in the current.

Pulling himself over the transom, Mac hit the deck dressed only in his undies and felt the heat of the dark wood cook his feet. Mano was alive and in shock, lying on his back in the cockpit with a rescue blanket over him, shivering in the middle of the day just one hundred miles north of the Equator.

There was a green cross on a fold-down door in the cockpit bulkhead. Mac opened it and pulled out the fi rst-aid kit, fumbling slightly from the pumping adrenaline. He pulled out gauze bandages and two packs of QuikClots, one of fi eld dressings and the other of wound sponges. Looking sideways, Mac saw Mano’s lips going white, mumbling something.

‘Hold on, mate,’ Mac muttered, tearing at the sponge pack with his teeth. ‘We’re gonna make it.’

Pulling up the grey blanket, Mac used the fi rst-aid scissors to tear away the right leg of Mano’s shorts. The bullet had gone straight through the outside thigh muscle and missed the bone. But the blood was fl owing freely. He squirted the sterile water on the wound, noticing how the skin around the entry hole had already turned dark. He wiped the wound with the blanket and pushed the fl at QuikClot sponge onto and into the hole as blood started to run again. Mano tensed and shrieked as Mac applied pressure.

‘Sorry, mate,’ said Mac, his throat thick with stress and the taste of plasma. He didn’t smell blood – he tasted it, way back in his throat.

He repeated the exercise in the exit hole, which was even bigger than the entry. Pushing two QuikClot sponges into the hole, he put a big dressing across the top of it. Then he bandaged the thigh as lightly as he could to keep the sponges and dressings in place without jamming an artery. He didn’t want Mano to lose a leg to some bad triage.

Making sure the mercenary was comfortable, Mac gave him a bottle of water from his backpack and then spread his rescued papers on the deck, holding them down with bits and pieces from the fi rst-aid kit. He took the helm, stepped on the brake and brought the revs up to a moderate level and they motored at a comfortable thirty-fi ve knots, Mano giving him landmarks to look for through his chat tering teeth.

He’d sold the idea of reaching Idi, rather than turning back, on the basis of not wanting Anwar to wonder why they were going the wrong way. But it was simpler than that: Mac wanted to join with Freddi and get in front of Hassan Ali.

The eastern Sumatran coastline was essentially hundreds of miles of beaches and palms, making every section of coast look the same as the next. But landmarks became clearer after twenty minutes and Mano mumbled about the long jetty off the point. Mac saw it, lying low in the humid sea haze, and aimed for it, glancing over his shoulder every thirty seconds to see if Anwar had picked up their trail.

They pulled in to the Idi jetty at 1.18 pm and Mac hoped it wasn’t so far beyond the appointed hour that Freddi and the BAIS team had pulled out. The jetty was almost a kilometre long and Mac found a mooring close to the beach. He checked on Mano again, made sure he was drinking water, then fi shed his Nokia from the backpack. Holding it up, he checked if he had a signal. The signal was good, impossible as that seemed, and he wondered if he was connected to a TI tower in Sumatra or to another cellular network from across the Straits.

Freddi’s phone rang twice before it was picked up. ‘Yeah?’

‘Freddi,’ rasped Mac, still a little scared and not entirely sure of what he was doing. ‘Mac here, mate.’

‘McQueen, you late.’

Gulping, he tried to shift the conversation. ‘Mate, I’ve got a bloke critically injured. Gunshot to the leg.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Come on, Fred,’ said Mac, rubbing his temple and feeling a cast of dried blood. ‘He’s my driver; he got shot trying to protect me.’

‘Where are you?’

‘Jetty.’

Mac heard muffl ed conversations, and then Freddi was back. ‘Stay there, McQueen. Be with you in fi ve.’

‘Did you fi nd the stuff?’ said Mac, hoping that the Indonesians had moved fast enough to get the mini-nuke from wherever it was stored.

Freddi paused, then said again, ‘See you in fi ve.’


CHAPTER 46

<p>CHAPTER 46</p>

Freddi walked away from the old parade ground at the Idi airfi eld.

Mac followed, slugging on a large bottle of water, while Mano got medical attention from a soldier in one of the Hueys.

It was humid and hot among the jungle scrub as they strode to the same bunker system they’d checked out fi ve years ago. Birds and monkeys screeched and the insects laid a humming foundation to the whole din. They got to the fi rst concrete pillar box, which had been stripped of its vines and the doors blasted off. Freddi led the way down the tractor ramp, pushing his sunnies into his hair and turning on his Maglite as they descended into the gloom. The Japanese had built underground storage bunkers at their forward military bases during the Pacifi c War, to keep their gasoline and food supplies out of the sun and inconspicuous to aerial surveillance.

Freddi was in a foul mood, and when they stopped in the middle of the large bunker, and he swung the Maglite around him, it became obvious that not only was there nothing down here, but there hadn’t been anything down here more recently than 1944, maybe the mid-1960s if you assumed the Indonesian military used it during the Konfrontasi paratrooper incursions into Malaya. It was fi lled with dust and sand, but no mini-nuke.

‘So, McQueen,’ said Freddi as Mac followed the torch beam around the bunker. ‘That what we got, right?’

‘Nothing.’

Humphing, Freddi turned off the Maglite and walked back towards the light of the tractor ramp. They came up outside, walking into a wall of humidity and bird noise. Mac was a little hungover from the night with Benny and Suzi, and the early start and the hit on the head hadn’t helped either. He had a buzzing sensation in his head and estimated the temperature at thirty-nine or forty degrees as he walked briskly to keep up with Freddi.

Mac sped up, and asked if they could talk. Freddi stopped in the shade of a palm and put his hands on his hips, tense in the shoulders and neck. ‘Okay, so?’

‘Mate, before we get back to all the listeners, thought we might have a chat,’ said Mac, slugging at a bottle of water.

‘Okay,’ nodded Freddi, but looking away.

‘So,’ said Mac, ‘the hotel pad had latents, a phone number?’

‘Yep.’

‘And you ran it, found the owner?’ Sweat mingled with Mac’s head wound, stinging beneath the dressing the soldiers had given him.

‘Yep.’ Freddi reached for the water.

‘Who was he?’ asked Mac.

Freddi returned the water, moved his left toe in a fi gure of eight in the sand. Embarrassed.

‘What’s up, mate?’

Freddi changed his stance, shook his head and looked everywhere but Mac. ‘Can’t talk about that, McQueen.’

‘Why not?’

‘You know why,’ he said.

‘Your guys in on this, Freddi?’ Mac pushed, and the next thing he knew there was a hand around his throat, perfectly poised on his carotid pressure points. Then the hand wasn’t there and Mac’s own hands were in the surrender pose and Freddi was looking at the sky, chest heaving with adrenaline and stress.

‘I’m sorry, mate,’ said Mac, rubbing at his throat. He hadn’t wanted to smear BAIS but he was tired and confused.

‘No, McQueen – I’m sorry,’ said Freddi, trying to deepen and lengthen his breaths as he stood in front of Mac. ‘I am so sorry.’

Mac took a gamble. ‘Purni?’

Freddi sagged, his shoulders dropping and his hands turning up, as if asking why? ‘You were right, McQueen and I am very ashamed.’

‘Mate, don’t be -‘

‘No, I am ashamed,’ he insisted. ‘After that ambush here in ‘02, I could only see the Jew and the Australian – that’s what went in my report, McQueen, but I knew. I knew and I ignored it to show hate for foreigners. I took the easy way, the wrong way.’

‘Look, it happens, Fred -‘

‘No, McQueen, because you knew about Purni. You warned me, remember?’

Mac nodded, looked away.

‘And later, back in Jakarta, I realise it must be Purni. Who has military radio? Who can tell Hassan and Gorilla where we are and what we doing? After we do latents, we ran the number and pick up Purnoto. Purni want to talk, he so scared – he ashamed of that girl being shot and the boy. You know. He want it to be over.’

‘What did you get out of him?’

‘Ha!’ snorted Freddi, shaking his head with a bitter smile.

‘What happened?’

‘We get Purni down in the basement and he talking, right?’

‘Yeah?’

‘And we were just talking, talking, trying to fi nd where second device, right?’ said Freddi, getting worked up again.

‘And you did – this is it.’

Freddi nodded. ‘He told us it was stored at this air base, in the underground magazine. But we only talking to him twenty minutes, and he scared, McQueen – I mean real scared. All of us guys was thinking this could be a session where we solve many secret, yeah?’

‘Yeah, and?’

‘And down come deputy director of operation, not even eight o’clock in morning,’ said Freddi, disgusted.

‘Shit, Freddi – you worked through that entire night?’

Freddi nodded.

‘And down comes the brass?’

‘Yeah, and take him,’ said Freddi.

‘What, away?’ Mac couldn’t believe it.

Freddi nodded. ‘This is problem for Indonesi. It not American fault, it not fault of Jew or Australian or Chinese.’

‘Why was Hassan calling him?’

‘Purni say they want inside help, protection from BAIS, because you and me in same hotel – they smell the rat.’

‘Oh shit, Freddi!’

‘What I said. Purni say he want to be left alone, he in love with a girl now. But these are scary people, and Purni want to tell me.’

They were silent while they thought it through. Mac, frowning, was fi rst to raise the obvious. ‘So where are we now?’

‘Don’t look at me like that, McQueen,’ said Freddi, angry again.

‘There are bad people in your intelligence and army too.’

Mac nodded agreement. Freddi was right. There were ASIS people in Jakarta right now trying to work out how to stop him taking the Hassan matter any further. He half expected his own director of operations to appear at any moment. But he had to push things forward. ‘So, Freddi, I can work with you?’

Freddi looked away. ‘There are people in this country who want bombings, to bring more money from America and Australia and Saudi Arabia and Egypt,’ he said, fuming. ‘It make them rich. But that is not for me, or any of those guy you see in basement yesterday morning. Do we look rich?!’

Shaking his head, Mac remembered that the former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid had told journalists that he feared the Bali bombings had been paid for by elements of the Indonesian police and military who wanted to keep the money fl owing from the Americans for the War on Terror.

He sighed. ‘Look, sorry mate, okay? I’m trying to work this out myself and after the shootings at the Lar…’ he trailed off.

Freddi nodded but he was clearly struggling to stay calm. ‘Now we have the new problem.’

‘Second device?’

‘Yep,’ said Freddi. ‘It had nothing to do with Purni – he was surprised to get call fi ve year later.’

‘So it’s… what?’

‘So it Hassan and nuke device,’ said Freddi, numbering the points off his left hand. ‘And it for other client.’

‘Client?’ asked Mac.

Shrugging, Freddi nodded. ‘This Hassan is not jihadi or com-munist, right? He all business.’

Mac got that. ‘And so we’ve lucked out here, right?’

‘Right,’ said Freddi grimly. ‘And no more Purni to ask.’

They turned to go back to the Kopassus troops and the Hueys, where Mac wanted to check on Mano and get him back to Penang.

But Freddi stopped him.

‘Um, McQueen? When I found you with that girl over there, remember?’

Mac nodded.

‘You were empty, like body is here but man is not.’

Mac looked at the sand.

‘Well, mite, that girl and her brother are Indonesian and I was responsible for them,’ said Freddi, his chest heaving. ‘And that girl got her arm shot away and a boy was taken, I think about this every day of my life and sometimes when I see my own kids being happy, I feel like crying.’

Mac nodded, head down, not wanting to look at the bloke.

‘So please do not be the judge of me, okay?’

A monkey screeched and Mac mouthed sorry as Freddi walked away.


CHAPTER 47

<p>CHAPTER 47</p>

Mano was sitting up, pale and slack in the face but drinking water, when Mac got back to the Hueys.

‘That was a long piss,’ Mano quipped as Mac got to the side of the helo.

‘You’re feeling better, I see,’ said Mac. He liked Mano even if he didn’t like what he did for a living.

‘Checking out the old avgas bunkers, yeah?’ said Mano.

‘Yeah,’ smiled Mac, making to get onboard the helo. ‘Just seeing what’s left in the magazine.’

Freddi was getting Malaysian permission to fl y Mano into Penang and if that wasn’t allowed then Freddi was going to drop him at Gleneagles Hospital in Medan.

Mano looked at Mac strangely. ‘That’s not the magazine,’ he said, pointing towards where Mac had just been with Freddi. ‘Magazine’s up this way.’ He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, indicating the bush north of the airfi eld, where Merpati had been shot.

Confused, Mac looked out of the helo he’d just clambered into.

‘We were just down there, mate. It’s an underground bunker, right?’

‘Yeah, but there’s one north too. It’s deeper and has a secret entrance,’ said Mano.

‘Another one?’

‘Well, would you store the gasoline with the munitions, if this was your base?’

‘No. No I wouldn’t,’ said Mac, trying to stay clear through his fatigue. ‘You’re saying that there’s two underground storage areas?’

Mano nodded. ‘Japs were thorough.’

‘And the one just over here is for fuel, but the one north of the fi eld is the magazine?’

‘Yeah, sure. About a hundred metres north of these buildings, on the ocean side,’ said Mano.

Mac slid off the helo deck, muttering darkly. There was nothing better than local knowledge, except a smuggler’s local knowledge.

‘It’s well hidden, low to the ground,’ added Mano, ‘and it had a big military warning on it – a TNI seal.’

‘I bet it did,’ growled Mac as he walked away.

The magazine entrance was almost hidden in the undergrowth, but when they found it, Mac and Freddi both realised why Santo was kidnapped and Merpati putatively executed. The entrance to the magazine was just fi fty metres away from where Mac had stashed the kids under that fallen tree. Looking at the landscape, Mac wondered if after the Hassan thugs had secured the device and made their escape, they’d seen Merpati and one of them had shot her, maybe by mistake.

Then, when Santo had made a run for it, they would have seen he was just a kid and snatched him rather than make a scene with more gunfi re.

Someone had decided Merpati was dead. Which she almost was.

Freddi stood in front of the ramp that went down into the magazine. The big iron swing doors were open and the red and white skull and crossbones TNI seal – a diagonal crossing of locking bars that declared this the property of the Indonesian generals – was discarded in the thick undergrowth. Freddi muttered an order at four of the soldiers and they walked down slowly, looking for booby traps. The soldiers found two plastique charges and then Freddi turned on his Maglite and led them down the ramp into the gloom.

A series of chambers branched off the main underground avenue, one of which had a new fi re door that had been left open. Freddi and the soldiers shone their torches into the chamber, illuminating four chains hanging from the ceiling with a table suspended on the end of them. It had been designed to keep something dry and Mac guessed it had survived the Boxing Day tsunami that had devastated the region in ‘04, judging by the lack of water damage in the chamber.

‘That it, guys. Nothing,’ muttered Freddi, walking out.

Mac and Freddi found a trail around the entrance – about six men, in boots, fi ve to seven hours old, depending on what the morning dew had been like. They walked the footpad and it terminated at the north end of the dirt runway in a swirl of boot tracks and aircraft tyres. Mac and Freddi agreed on a scenario: the plane had taxied to the north head of the runway, turned to face the south, maybe not even bothering to depower. The Hassan crew had retrieved the device from its hide, boobied the magazine, walked back to the plane and fl own away.

Crouching, Mac had a closer look. The boots were mostly Hi-Tecs and one US Army desert issue. The aircraft had tricycle landing gear, single tyre at the nose and double tyres at the two underwing points, suggesting a plane the size of a King Air 200 – a twin-engine, twelve-seater.

‘King Air 200,’ mumbled Mac. ‘Get fi fteen-hundred miles out of the right one, with the right tank set-up.’

‘Could go north to Thailand, east to Singapore, west to Sri Lanka,’ mused Freddi. And then, shrugging facetiously, ‘Could maybe get to Darwin.’

Mac’s pulse banged so hard in his head that it felt like his wound was going to split open. Then everything became clear.

‘Oh shit,’ said Mac, breaking into a run. ‘ Fuck! ‘

He hit full pace as he scythed through the bush, through the palms and the undergrowth and the dry creek beds that he’d walked through years ago. He retraced them now, but at a headlong sprint.

He leapt over trees, elbowed low-hanging branches and muttered to himself – a sure sign that he was in danger of doing something from his emotions rather than his brain.

Behind him he could hear Freddi shouting McQueen, McQueen, but he kept sprinting, fi nally bursting out onto the beach and stopping, his legs like jelly, his mouth dry and rasping for breath. He jogged for the jetty, his lungs wheezing as he struggled for oxygen. Behind him, Freddi burst out onto the beach too.

‘McQueen,’ he shouted weakly. ‘Where are we going?’

Mac didn’t turn, just waved at Freddi to follow him, before racing down the jetty, his back a wall of wet fabric. The dressing was peeling from his forehead wound with all the exertion and he whipped it off, chucking it into the water. As he got to the black beauty, three kites squawked into the air. He stopped, heart thumping, resting against a post as he looked down at the pirates’ bodies lying together by the transom. Along the rest of the cockpit decking there was a lot of smeared blood and seven pieces of paper, drying in the sun. The bandage tins and mosquito sprays and tins of Savlon had held the rescued papers in place.

Freddi got alongside him and doubled over, hands on his knees.

‘Too old for this, McQueen,’ he gasped.

‘I hope I’m wrong, Freddi,’ Mac panted, leaping on to the deck of the speedboat and reaching down to pick up the last piece of paper he’d rescued out there in the Malacca. It was now dry and the effect of the water had made the blue ballpoint ink run away from the original lines, leaving those lines thinner and more accurate, perhaps closer to what the writer wanted to express.

‘See this?’ he asked, as Freddi lowered himself into the boat.

‘I found this in that other airfi eld, behind Medan, up behind Binjai.’

Freddi took it, looked at the one thing written on it. ‘Thanks for telling us, McQueen.’

‘You got everything else, mate, remember? Didn’t think this was important,’ Mac shrugged, telling a small lie. ‘I found it in a burned-down building.’

‘Burned? Don’t think we saw a burned building.’

‘No, it had been done after the Kopassus chased them off. I just went up later to have a nosey-poke and I found this charred building, still smoking.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, so whatever they were burning was worth the risk of doubling back while there was Kopassus and BAIS in the area. You with me?’

‘Wish you’d told me earlier.’

‘Thing is, Fred, I kept this because someone had written on it, right? See how the bottom is burned away so that we don’t get the full context of N W because whatever’s below it is gone.’

Freddi nodded. ‘No context.’

‘I spent years wondering about that N W. I asked all our desks, all the analysts, I asked the Indians, Americans, Japs, I asked army guys and diplomats. The only thing I could come up with was the North-West, as in the North-West Frontier of Pakistan.’

‘Pretty broad,’ said Freddi.

‘But, mate, what if it’s got nothing to do with the context?’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Freddi.

‘Freddi, in our game we talk about context until we make it religion, but sometimes things are simple.’

‘Yeah?’

‘So what if it’s just the wrong way up?’

Freddi and Mac looked down at the piece of paper as Fred slowly turned it around.

‘Okay, Fred, now what does it say?’ said Mac.

The washed-out blue ballpoint writing now said M IV.

Freddi chewed his bottom lip and looked into Mac’s eyes. ‘Well, it say “M 4”, McQueen, but I guess that not the American assault rifl e?’

‘Let’s get back to context, Freddi,’ said Mac. ‘You’ve got Abu Samir and Hassan Ali, risking their necks to double back and destroy a bunch of documents.’

Freddi’s eyes widened. ‘It say M4 – Mantiqi Four,’ he said very slowly, looking back from the paper to Mac, hardly believing what he was seeing.

‘The part that’s been burned away – I bet – said Operasi or Operation,’ said Mac. ‘I think this was a cover sheet for a plan of their next attack.’

‘But Mantiqi Four is -‘

‘Yeah, I know,’ said Mac, looking back towards the beach. ‘Their Fourth Brigade. The second device is on its way to Australia.’


CHAPTER 48

<p>CHAPTER 48</p>

The meeting with Atkins did not go well. They arm-wrestled about a mini-nuke bound for Australia, a concept Atkins completely dismissed.

When Mac showed Atkins the paper with M IV written on it, the Jakarta operations chief for ASIS actually scoffed.

‘That could be anything, McQueen – I mean, shit,’ he muttered, almost throwing it back.

Mac wasn’t ready to back down and demanded that the embassy’s military attache sit in. Atkins refused and did what all good offi ce guys do: pulled in the troops. Jill Watson, an analyst on the Indonesia Desk who specialised in JI, crept into Atkins’ offi ce, sheepish at the raised voices that had been echoing out.

‘What’s that mean?’ asked Atkins, pointing at Mac’s piece of paper.

She looked at the paper and then looked at Atkins, waiting for her cue. Atkins sneered, asked, ‘I mean, does that tell us that whoever wrote it is about to nuke Australia?’

It was an unfair question but it told Watson what her role was.

‘No,’ she said, with the confi dence of the true weakling. ‘It could mean Mantiqi Four, is that what you’re saying, Alan?’

Mac looked down at her, saw the plain face, the boxy ankles and the look of one-dimensional intellect in her eye and realised it wasn’t her fault that she was like this. If every promotion you ever saw in DFAT was predicated on toadying abilities, then that became the currency.

‘You’re willing to make that call, not knowing anything except what he wants to hear?’ asked Mac, pointing at Atkins.

‘No, not at all,’ she said, fl ustered, looking at Atkins for support.

Atkins looked away – a true offi ce guy, abandoning a person who couldn’t hurt him. ‘It’s just that, um -‘

‘Yes?’ asked Mac,

‘Well, Mantiqi Four is also Papua,’ said Watson.

‘Oh Papua? You mean that famous target of jihadi rhetoric, that mythical land of Anglo pornographers and alcoholics?’ said Mac.

‘Okay,’ she blushed, realising her Alpha Dog had cut her loose and was now leaning back in his chair, pretending to look at his email. ‘It says M4, but so what?’

‘You’re the analyst, Jill. Why aren’t you asking me about the context?’

‘Well -‘

‘Because I’ll tell you something, mate, I’ve been with this fi rm for seventeen years and this is the fi rst time I’ve ever stood in this section and claimed that someone might be trying to nuke Australia, okay?

That’s context one.’

‘Okay,’ she said, wide-eyed.

‘Context two, I’ve got Hassan Ali back in Indonesia, I’ve got confi rmation that Mossad is here chasing him because Hassan’s crew heisted two mini-nukes from Dimona six years ago, but they only used one. And I have a payment of thirteen million US taking place between two accounts that have only been used once before – and that was ten days before the Kuta bombings. That same channel was used again two days ago.’

‘I see,’ said Watson.

‘Do you?’ asked Mac, his voice shrill. He hadn’t had enough sleep in the past week and he was sick of being patronised by his colleagues.

‘Okay, okay!’ snapped Atkins. ‘Time out.’

‘What? There’s a difference for you?’ asked Mac.

Watson looked at the carpet, trying to subdue a smile.

‘Know something, McQueen?’ asked Atkins.

‘I’m sure you’ll tell me.’

‘The last eighteen months, two years, have been so peaceful up here in our little section.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah. And some of us were wondering what would happen to that when they decided to send the old bull back into the china shop.’

Mac smiled at the ceiling, refusing to be baited.

‘And over the past few days, McQueen, I’ve been seeing this whole chip on the shoulder thing about – what do you call it? – offi ce guys.’

‘Nine-eleven Commission said it too, Marty.’

‘Oh, really?’ said Atkins, sarcastic.

‘What, you didn’t read it, Marty?’

Atkins just stared at him, so Mac turned to Watson, asked her too.

‘Shit,’ said Mac, shaking his head. ‘I thought I was the cowboy.’

Atkins and Watson looked at each other.

‘Well,’ said Mac, ‘for those who can’t be bothered reading one of the seminal commentaries on their own profession, allow me to paraphrase: the fi eld guys from the Agency and Bureau called it in, and the offi ce guys went to lunch.’

Atkins threw his pen on the desk. ‘Screw you, McQueen.’

‘What it said.’

‘Well let me tell you it from the offi ce guy’s perspective, okay McQueen? Field operators to us mean sloppy reports, shonky expense claims, secret stashes of money, unauthorised identities and fake passports that they get from God knows where.’

Mac shrugged. Guilty, Your Honour.

‘Oh, and the weird conspiracy theories that they dredge up from their own paranoia. And through all this it’s my job to ensure they remain safe. Not just you, McQueen, but all of you.’ Atkins was shouting now, red in the face.

Watson moved her weight around in her chair, uncomfortable with the exchanges.

‘Then, when you guys have undermined the system as far as you can take it, you turn around and want the system to work for you,’ said Atkins.

‘Okay,’ nodded Mac.

‘No – not okay, McQueen. Yesterday we had what I thought was an adult chat. When you left I trusted you to get out to Hatta and get on that frigging eight o’clock to Perth. You said yes and you lied to me.’

‘So what about this mini-nuke?’

‘We’ll handle it from here, McQueen.’

‘ No way! ‘

‘No way? Shit, mate, you only came back on board four days ago, as a fi nance guy. You’re being run out of Australia, by Davidson, remember that?’

Mac nodded. Davidson’s whereabouts had become a riddle in itself: was there actually a problem with his controller being off the air for two days? Or was Mac being overly sensitive about the way his voicemail had locked out?

‘Anyone heard from Davidson?’ asked Mac, looking for a reaction.

‘Anyone?’ asked Atkins. ‘Should we go and ask everyone in the section?’

‘Okay, have you heard from him?’

‘When, McQueen? I mean, come on! Yesterday? Last week?’

‘I can’t get him on his mobile, voicemail’s locking out.’

Atkins looked genuinely confused and frustrated with the diversion. ‘Okay, okay, I’ll try to raise him, see what’s going on. But back to this other matter – I’m only talking to you because of your track record, but get this straight, McQueen: you’re economic and fi nance. The CT stuff has moved on, okay?’

‘So who will handle it, Marty?’

‘Feds, maybe. It’s a police matter, counter-terrorism, right?’

‘Who’ll brief the Feds if I’m on a plane?’

Something moved in Atkins’ eyes, and when Mac clicked he couldn’t help a nasty laugh. Garvs had once been a good friend but he wasn’t a person you’d put up against Hassan. He wouldn’t trust Garvs to make the cops focus down on the various trails.

‘Shit, Marty, not him,’ said Mac.

Atkins steeled himself. ‘Bray will put you on the fl ight, but I expect you to debrief and do handover with Garvs before you leave.’

Mac got up, trying to suppress his fury.

‘And McQueen? No funny stuff – full handover brief, right?’

‘You okay, Macca?’ asked Barry ‘Boo’ Bray as they headed for Soekarno-Hatta Airport. Mac had showered, washed a load of product through his dark hair and changed his dressing at the hotel before scarpering.

‘Um, yeah, thanks,’ said Mac, distracted and feeling a jumble of emotions. The handover with Garvs had been a disaster. It was a fob-off, a pro forma debrief in which Garvs showed very little interest in what Mac was saying. It was true that Mac was no longer in the inner sanctum of the fi rm’s ct work out of Jakarta, but whatever they were really up to, he was too exhausted to fi ght anymore.

‘You, know,’ said Boo, his small blue eyes beaming out of a big ruddy face that featured blond mutton-chops. ‘I used to run into the shit all the time in the navy.’ He chuckled. ‘All shades of it.’

‘Yeah?’ asked Mac. ‘Thought you were military police?’

‘I was, mate!’ he laughed. Boo Bray was a big, stroppy former navy MP who now ran what was known as the I-Team, a fl ying squad of cops from the Australian Protective Service who removed badly behaving Australians from embassies, army bases and trade missions all over the world. ‘But, shit, Macca – there was always a captain’s favourite, an admiral’s nephew, a politician’s son. Mate, you know how it is.’

Sniggering, Mac looked out on the Java Sea as they fl ashed up the freeway. It was late afternoon and he was being escorted to the 8.15 pm SIA fl ight to Singers and then Brissie. ‘Yeah, Boo – I know how it is.’

He got a three-pack of wine for Jenny and a Singapore souvenir T-shirt for Rachel. Then he got a bigger T-shirt too, for Sarah. They gave him his requested seat – 11A – on the Boeing 777 and the fl ight took off out of Changi at the scheduled time of 11.45 pm. He ate the meal and drank two glasses of red, and when he ducked into the lav he transferred his numbers from ‘phone’ to ‘SIM’, pocketed the SIM and chucked his Nokia in the bin. The hosties made up the airbed and he kicked his shoes and pants off and curled up under the sheet and blanket.

He’d made a call to Diane on his way from Halim Air Base to the embassy and they’d talked for twenty minutes. She was getting better although her father was a wreck, blamed himself and the diplomatic upbringing for getting her into the life. And because of the environment, he didn’t want Diane’s mother or Sarah in Jakarta.

Mac wondered if he’d played it right with Diane. He’d thanked her for her mum’s phone number in Sydney and then asked if he was allowed to be called Dad. Diane had hesitated, and Mac thought he’d blown it. Then he realised she was crying.

‘Yes, of course that’s okay,’ she sniffed. ‘She’ll need that – I need that.’

The lights were down in the cabin and as Mac dozed he thought intermittently about Freddi and Purni, Atkins and Garvs, and people like Danny Fitzgibbon, the MI6 stooge. He wondered why he couldn’t just take the easy way, as Garvs had.

The problem between the fi eld and the offi ce was one of focus: if you existed in an offi ce environment, your daily rationale became the accumulation of brownie points. It was a normal human response and good, smart people got sucked into it every bit as much as the born toadies. But when you worked in the fi eld, success had nothing to do with simply creating impressions. You got it wrong in the fi eld, you could die. You got it wrong in an offi ce, you had emails and memos to prove it was someone else’s fault.

Mac didn’t see himself as a bull in a china shop but he was stubborn and that formed part of his stamina. Blokes like Mac, Davidson, Freddi and Ari had the heart to keep on going through all the pain, tears and disappointments. It was stubbornness – and Hassan Ali and his crew were about to feel what genuine Queensland stubbornness was all about. Yes, he’d called Diane, but he hadn’t called ahead to Jen – because when he landed in Brissie, he wasn’t going home.

Not yet.


CHAPTER 49

<p>CHAPTER 49</p>

The Toyota Aurion was new and the air-con worked well. Mac headed north on Highway 1, his backpack next to him on the seat as he slugged water and thought about his next moves. The Tony Davidson puzzle had now turned into a serious headache. With all the other things on his mind, getting hold of the guy hadn’t been his biggest concern. But a controller of Davidson’s experience didn’t simply go off the air, even if he was travelling in Europe or North America, getting more operators on board. Davidson was a believer, and once the wheels started turning he wouldn’t just switch his phone off for three days and he wouldn’t duck a voicemail from an operator who was active, as Mac had been in Jakkers. There was also the voicemail locking out. Mac couldn’t believe it would have stayed that way for three days, not if all Davidson had done was forget his PIN. If he was having phone dramas, his corporate front in Perth would have known and they would have been briefed to deal with Mac.

Having checked the Perth corporate front and Davidson’s mobile when he’d landed in Brisbane, Mac was now going to check out something for himself before he went home. Not a lot of people knew that Davidson had bought a place with his wife, Violet, in Noosa.

For some reason, old spooks from all over the world bought their retirement homes in Noosa, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, about two hours’ drive north of Brisbane. There were blokes from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore. Not to mention a lot of Poms. Mac had no idea of the Davidsons’ address, so he would have to extemporise.

The second task was to catch Hassan on his way into Australia, or, if Hassan was already in Australia, fi nd him. He needed more than he had, which was nothing. If his own colleagues in Jakkers wouldn’t come across, then the chances of getting the AFP or Queensland cops interested were very low. Perhaps nil. In fact, Atkins’ decision to fl ick-pass the Hassan project to the Feds seemed strange given there were lots of trails you might follow as an intel guy that would not look at all promising to a cop. It wasn’t a refl ection on policing, it was just that cops had to have a case, and a person to prosecute. Cops had to appeal to lawyers. For an intelligence offi cer, it was more likely to be a situation that was developing, a set of conditions reaching a critical point. Passing intelligence to the AFP or the military was quite normal, mused Mac, what was strange was that Mac hadn’t been asked to write a report that would go to either of those organisations, and he had been excised from the loop, so he wouldn’t be briefi ng anyone.

Which meant it would fall between the cracks. Probably had already.

The turn-off sign for Mooloolaba loomed in green and Mac kept to the left lane. He had an idea for getting more info on Hassan, but it was his third task that was troubling him: telling Jenny about Sarah and integrating her into their lives.

Mac’s pie was hot and greasy and went down nicely as he monitored the shop across the street, a phone dealership specialising in several mobile carriers. Through the shopfront Mac watched the manager, a porky Australian who looked nosey, maybe even familiar.

Just along from Porky’s shop was a Vodafone outlet. Mac could see a blonde beach girl mucking around on the store computer and chewing gum. It was only 10.41 am and this clearly wasn’t rush hour.

Pushing into the Vodafone store, Mac smiled. ‘Hi… Melanie,’ he read off the name-tag, ‘just need a pre-paid starter pack, thanks.’

Waving her hand over her shoulder, Melanie rattled off the cap plans for the phones that were on the wall behind her.

‘That hundred-and-twenty-nine-dollar one, thanks,’ he said, with a wink and a smile.

Melanie rolled her eyes ever so slightly and bent down to the cupboard behind her, slid the door back and came up with a red box.

‘Know how to start it up?’ she asked, chewing furiously.

‘Yeah, sure. Thanks.’

‘That’s a hundred and twenty-nine dollars.’

Mac fi shed out a slab of notes and put down three fi fties and three twenties.

Melanie turned to the laptop on the counter, switched from Solitaire to the customer-ware, looked out on the street and said,

‘Name.’

‘Thorn – Bruce Thorn, no e. ‘

She typed it in and without looking up said, ‘ID?’

Slapping his pockets, he looked behind him, and turned back.

‘Shit, sorry, I think my wife grabbed my wallet to go and get some things…’

He slapped again. ‘Actually, we’ve just got off a fl ight from Singapore and I have a boarding pass with my passport number.’

He put down the boarding pass and pointed to the name and the passport number beside it. ‘That should do it. They just need a register of who I am, right?’

Unfortunately, Melanie wasn’t thick. ‘That’s not ID. You could have picked that up off any plane,’ she said. ‘People leave their boarding passes in those seat pockets all the time.’

The other phone shop was run by Spiro, who was sweating and smiling when Mac walked in from the heat. Mac selected the same pre-paid phone, pulled out the same amount of cash and did the same spiel with his boarding pass. Spiro didn’t fl inch, writing him up and getting him on the phone to the activation call centre right there in his shop. Mac had a new phone within three minutes, a receipt in his new name and, as a reward for good service, Mac also bought two-hundred-dollars worth of pre-paid credit and a car charger for the Nokia.

Capitalism worked best in the owner-operator model.


***

He took the Marcoola road, amazing views of the South Pacifi c on his right, the sprawl of new housing cutting into the rainforest on his left. These days holiday houses had three toilets, three-car garages and things called media rooms, where people watched third-rate television in fi ve-star luxury.

In the old days, Frank and Pat would take the kids up the coast to Five Rocks at Byfi eld National Park, with a tent and a surfboard, snorkelling masks, fi shing gear, a crate of beer and a few casks of wine.

They’d stay for ten days and never hear a phone or a television. The adults around the camping site would get on the drink and the kids would stay out in the vast sand-dune systems that lined the coast.

Jenny often told Mac to grow up and get with the modern world, but when he saw the look-alike suburban houses they were building on the Queensland coast he wondered how it had become so expensive to enjoy the sea.

Mac took it easy along the coast road, keeping his water intake up and letting the Nokia charge beside him on the passenger seat.

He drove through Coolum, Marcus and then Sunshine Beach, fi nally coming around the point and descending into Noosa. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and Noosa was a beautiful sight: beach on the right, lagoon over on the far left and national park to the north.

He drove down the main drag of Hastings Street and found a park. Crossing the road, he walked into a luxury apartment building at the south end of Hastings and booked a room as Brandon Collier.

The manager, Janice, took his passport and photocopied it but didn’t check the photo. She left him to fi ll in his own details on the register, so he changed his passport number to a 1800 booking number he could see on the desk blotter. Janice wished him a happy stay as she passed the key and told him where he could park the car.

Inside he cracked a VB from the mini-bar, put on some shorts and sat on the patio overlooking Noosa Beach. In a few days the Christmas holidays rush would be on and there’d be no rooms in Noosa for any kind of money. Grabbing a pad from the courtesy writing desk, he wrote a list of names, and then put his old SIM into the new Nokia, transferred the numbers to ‘phone’, before inserting his new Vodafone SIM. Then he went down the list, ringing one number after the other. There was Lloyd at Trade, Jonesy at EFIC, Pete Dury at DFAT and another call to Albany Trading Asia, Davidson’s corporate identity in Perth. No one knew where Davidson was, none had heard from him. Mac made his last two calls to ASIS head offi ce in Canberra and Southern Scholastic Books in Sydney, impersonating Martin Atkins to the receptionists. Nothing. Tony Davidson – ASIS’s former head of operations for the Asia-Pacifi c region – had fallen off the map.

Looking at his G-Shock, Mac decided to call Freddi. Mac had a new, clean phone so if there was any surveillance it would be at Freddi’s end, where BAIS had pretty good security. Freddi answered on the second ring.

‘Hey Freddi – Mac.’

‘What up?’

‘What I wanted to know. How did yesterday pan out in your fi rm?’

‘Just hear back from Australian side – saying no to in-country cooperation on Hassan. So I cleaning up the untidy ends up here, yeah, but no pursuing into Australia.’

‘Any ends you can tell me about Fred? I’m still on this.’

‘Nothing to interest you. I showed you the latents, from Galaxy Hotel pad, yeah?’

‘Um, there was more than one?’

‘Yeah, there was other one, but it bad quality. Techs say only sixty per cent. I’ll send it if you want.’

Reading the apartment company’s fax number from the footer on the writing pad, Mac asked him to address it to Brandon Collier and spelled it for him. ‘Can you let me know when it’s coming, Freddi?’

‘I’ll do it now.’

‘Thanks, Fred. By the way,’ he said as an afterthought, ‘any updates on the plane they were using?’

‘Yeah, POLRI talk to local in Idi and they say white plane with two engine come in from Peninsula at daybreak.’

‘What size?’

‘Five or six circle window down side.’

‘Sounds like a King Air 200.’

‘Think you’re right, McQueen. The local say plane then went back same way twenty minute later.’

‘Back to Malaysia?’ asked Mac.

‘Sure.’

‘What did Malaysian intel or police have to say?’

‘Still waiting to hear. Asked them to check KL and Penang airports too. Especially freight interchanges.’

Mac tried to understand Freddi’s thinking. ‘Airports?’

‘Well it airplane, McQueen. And it got cargo. So it has to land sometime. And if it going onto a truck or into a van or into shipping container, then it go into the freight interchange.’

‘Confi dent?’

‘Yeah, the Malaysians are good. May take a day, but they should tell us something. They know it a device, so they motivated.’

Breathing out, Mac reached for his beer, looked out over the gentle waves hissing on the beach. Whenever Jenny got upset about some of the human-traffi cking intercepts she was trying to effect, it was always the myriad transport options that the traffi ckers and the slavers could use that drove her nuts. Mac had known her to work three days with a total of four hours’ sleep. It was maddening and he was getting a headache just thinking about how many different ways a device the size of a backpack could be brought into Australia, if Australia was even where it was coming.

‘Freddi,’ said Mac, watching a woman with a bathing cap try to bodysurf, ‘looking forward to that latent, and you’ve got my number now, mate, so please keep me in the loop?’

‘Always do, mite, always do.’

The air went quiet between them and Mac broke the awkwardness.

‘Mate, about what you said?’

‘Yeah?’

‘You’re right, it’s not for me to judge you. I’m sorry.’

‘Thanks, Mac,’ said Freddi, putting the harsh Javanese vowel sound into it.

‘Thanks, mate.’

Mac’s last call rang-out and he was about to hang up when a male voice picked up. ‘Yes?’

‘Ari! Fancy a quick polka, you old tart?’

‘McQueen – such nice surprise!’ said Ari.

They talked and Mac fi lled him in as much as he could. Over the past twenty-four hours Mac’s natural reluctance to spill to rival fi rms had ebbed away as his own mob indicated they didn’t want to know.

If the Israelis and Indons were the only ones interested, then Mac wasn’t going to cut them out just to boost his ego. Besides, he needed to stay close to them and that meant showing he had information they needed.

‘Ari, all those years ago I showed you those papers I rescued from the burning building, remember?’

‘Sure,’ said Ari.

‘Well I held one piece of paper back – it had some handwritten scrawls on it. Yesterday I realised the scrawl was shorthand for Mantiqi Four, which is -‘

‘The JI cell for Australia, yes, McQueen? This Fourth Brigade?’

‘That’s it, mate. We think they lifted the device yesterday morning from Idi in Sumatra and fl ew it into Malaysia. If you have any lines into -‘

‘We do, yes. Let me -‘ said Ari, and Mac heard him ask for a pen.

Mac told Ari all he could.

‘You got my number now, Ari, so please let me know what’s going on. I’m down here in Australia and if you hear anything, let me know so I can catch this end, huh?’

‘Sure, and you do same for us, yes?’

Mac agreed and they signed off. Mac fi nished the VB in one slug.

It was time to fi nd Davidson.


CHAPTER 50

<p>CHAPTER 50</p>

Mac had a fairly strong picture of who could help him. He would be a retired spy – one of the many around Noosa – and he’d be a part of the broader fabric of the Noosa intelligence community. When spies retired they often found it hard to relax with civvies and inevitably they’d be drawn into the networks of old cops, diplomats, soldiers and spooks.

He found what he was looking for at a sidewalk cafe called the Sierra. The menu board looked okay and, stopping, Mac looked over it and cased his man: he was in his late-fi fties or early sixties, with calm but alert eyes and wearing clean leisure clothes. He was sitting along the side wall of the cafe, where his view of proceedings was panoramic while giving no one a view of himself. He had eyes that didn’t miss a thing and a face trained not to show it.

Taking the table next to his mark, Mac saw the man’s Business Review Weekly magazine dip slightly.

Ordering a Perrier and a seafood salad, Mac looked around casually and caught the bloke’s eye.

‘G’day, gee, you guys turned on the weather,’ said Mac, like a mug but with enough confi dence to get Mr ex-Spook interested.

‘Yes, it’s nice right about now,’ drawled the man through his nose, too Anglo for Jo’burg and not posh enough for Cape Town. Mac had him as Durban. ‘You’re up from Sydney?’

‘Brissie, actually,’ said Mac cheerily. ‘On a bit of a mission.’

‘Oh yes, um -‘

‘Alan. Alan McQueen.’

‘So what’s the mission?’

‘Well, actually, ah…’

‘Ted,’ said the South African, leaning across to shake.

‘I’m looking for a controller.’

Ted froze momentarily, his eyes sweeping the cafe and the street in an instinctive search for backup. Just as quickly, he regained his humour. ‘Well, PlayStation fan are we?’ said Ted, smiling.

They both laughed falsely, Ted sliding his hands slowly off the table. He looked like an auditor but with hands that could hurt.

‘I’m not armed, Ted,’ said Mac. ‘And I just told you my real name.’

Ted stared at him.

Mac leapt into the silence. ‘Give me sixty seconds and if you want, I’ll walk away, okay?’

Ted’s shoulders relaxed. ‘Okay,’ he said, reaching for his tea. ‘Sixty seconds, but keep your hands on the table, okay?’

‘Ted, I’ve come down from Indonesia overnight. My operation ended with my partner being shot, and now my controller hasn’t answered the phone for three days. His name’s Tony Davidson, and I’m worried about him. He’s never off the air for three days. We go a long way back, and I owe him to at least check. He’d do the same for me.’

Ted was silent, thinking. At an outside table a bunch of lunching ladies shrieked at a piece of gossip.

‘Alan McQueen, down from Indonesia?’ said Ted, like he was savouring a wine.

‘I can wait,’ said Mac, taking off his sunnies. ‘I don’t need to see his place. Just need to know he’s okay. That’s it, Ted.’

‘Let’s walk,’ said Ted, standing.

Mac left a fi fty-dollar note on the table and they walked north, Ted casing the streets and doing a series of perfect counter-surveillance patterns. When they got to the public park at the end of Hastings Street, he asked Mac to stay in one place, in the open, and then moved off.

Twenty minutes later, Ted approached him from behind and held out his hand. ‘Sorry about that, Alan,’ he said. ‘Can’t be too careful.’

They got into Ted’s fi ve-year-old BMW 3-series and drove back along Hastings, around the point and along Sunshine Beach, before veering right and into the suburb behind the famous beach. Mac fi nally asked Ted who he’d checked with.

Ted smiled, and Mac said, ‘Forget I asked.’

‘Since you did ask – Joe.’

‘Did he carpet me?’

‘He said if McQueen’s trying to pick up men in seaside cafes, he’s either desperate or lonely.’

Mac laughed.

‘No,’ said Ted. ‘He said you’re a good operator, that you’d have your reasons.’

At the end of a quiet cul-de-sac about six streets back from the beach, Ted stopped the car and pointed at a cute cottage nestled among wattles and frangipanis. As he got out, Ted pulled something from the glove box and shoved it in the small of his back, then walked towards the cottage. Mac noticed there was no letterbox, no street number.

Along with Tony not being in the phone book or the electoral roll

– and having a false address on his driver’s licence, he’d bet – the old guy had kept all of the habits used by the gainfully employed spy.

‘I was at Tony and Vi’s anniversary dinner last week,’ said Ted. ‘But they had it at a restaurant in town. Only know about this address because my wife and Vi do fundraising for the children’s hospital.’

The property seemed quiet as they walked to the cottage and none of the curtains were pulled. Moving around to the front, Mac noticed an inside light was switched on and, as they stepped onto the veranda, Ted pointed down at a stainless-steel bowl of peas and a plastic bag of pea pods beside it. The peas had cracked dry and the pods were yellowing, misting up the bag with condensation. The fl y screen was shut but the door behind it was open.

The quiet of the day was eerie. Ted pulled a Colt Defender from the small of his back and expertly pulled back the slide. Mac pulled a heavy cricket stump from an old canvas cricket bag on the veranda.

Stalking to the door, Ted leaned into the jamb and slowly pulled the screen door open. It was cooler inside but the smell hit them at the same time and they looked at one another in the gloom. They both knew that smell.

‘Trip wires,’ mouthed Mac, his adrenaline starting to pump in his temples. Then he followed Ted down the hallway, the Saffa holding the Colt in cup-and-saucer.

They slowly cased the house, the smell becoming stronger as they proceeded, although the place seemed to be clean of booby traps.

They found Vi Davidson in the kitchen, lying face down, a pretty fl oral-print dress hiking up her athletic legs. The fl ies rose in a furious buzzing as they walked towards her. Blood had poured from her head and spread to the edge of the fl oor and under the refrigerator. Now it was congealed, fl at. Kneeling down, they saw a small hole behind her right ear.

Mac had always liked Vi. She was a very friendly, very smart woman, born to wheat money but who gave her life to charity, mainly working with intellectually handicapped kids.

Ted looked up at the ceiling, breathed in and out, put his hand up and rubbed his face into it.

Before leaving the kitchen, Mac used the sharp end of the stump to pull down Vi’s dress, give her some modesty. Vi would have laughed at that gesture – shrieked at the silliness of it.

There was nothing in the living areas or bedrooms. Ted checked in the bathroom. Nothing. As an afterthought he pushed open the door to the toilet. Mac yelped as a swarm of fl ies fl ew out and a tide of cockroaches scattered along the fl oor. Tony Davidson was slumped against the cistern and the green tiled wall. His face was almost unrecognisable and the entire back wall of the toilet was covered in blood, viscera and bits of bone and matted hair. His pants were around his ankles.

They headed out into the sun again, both of them paranoid though they needn’t have been. The hit had been done two or three days ago, around the time when Mac and Diane had attended the opening reception at the Lar, and Mac had phoned through what he had on NIME and Bennelong, Grant and Vitogiannis. Someone had known, someone had ordered that not only Vitogiannis and Grant be taken out, but that Davidson and Mac had to go too. They were the four people – outside of the Hassan gang – who knew what NIME really was and what the real deal was for the enrichment codes. Diane would make a fi fth person, but it wasn’t clear that she was supposed to be whacked by the room-service shooter. She was only shot at the tennis courts when she opened fi re.

But someone had to have known that Mac was talking to Davidson, that he was putting it together. Who?

Ted and Mac stood still, not talking for a while.

‘I’m – I’m sorry about this, Ted, I -‘

‘Don’t be, mate,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘This is the game. Tony knew that.’

‘No such thing as retiring, huh?’

Ted fi xed him with a look. ‘Know a way to tell your wife that?’

Ted said he’d take this one, since Mac was still in the fi eld. The last thing intel guys wanted was to get involved in a detective’s quest for the truth. It wasn’t that Mac had anything to hide, but once the questions started – Name? Age? Address? Occupation? How long did you know the deceased? Why were you here? – the lies would just start piling up and Mac would confuse their investigation. They’d end up trying to build a case out of Ted and Mac: Excuse me, Mr McQueen. Did you say you got off the plane from Singapore, went to Hastings Street and trawled the cafes for an ex-spy who could lead you to the deceased?

Mac gave Ted his new mobile number then walked away from Tony and Vi’s house, leaving Ted to ring it in.

He walked along the beach track back to his apartment, fi ghting the nausea, trying to get the taste of Tony and Vi’s house out his mouth.

Pausing near a stand of shrubs on the side of the path, he dropped to all fours and vomited, tears running down his face as the dribble hung from his bottom lip. He breathed in and out as deeply as he could then, rolling around to sit on his bum in the sand, he looked out on the Pacifi c. A middle-aged woman with a German shepherd and a purposeful stride walked towards him with a look of concern.

Before she could say anything, Mac raised his hand in the sign of, I’m okay, thanks.

Getting to his feet, he felt overcome by a pain way beyond the body and deeper than the mind. Putting one foot in front of the other, he made himself walk on, his whole body shaking.

Janice handed him Freddi’s fax as he came into the lobby. His voice sounded ten miles away as he said, Thank you.

Sitting on the edge of the bed in his undies, he stared at the fax.

Freddi was right – the other latent was gibberish. He let it fall to the ground and fell back on the bed. For an age he looked at the ceiling, feeling empty, useless and scared. Someone who knew what Mac was uncovering, who somehow had been able to fi nd out where Davidson lived, had moved to shut down Operation Mainstreet. The sellers, the spooks, the controller. Clean slate, no blowback.

Someone knew. Someone on the inside.


CHAPTER 51

<p>CHAPTER 51</p>

A slight beep sounded and Mac woke with a start, immediately on alert. The Nokia’s screen projected an eerie orange light onto the ceiling, and Mac fought a pins-and-needled left arm to roll over and pick it up. The text message read, Dinner? Ted.

Looking at his G-Shock, Mac saw it was 6.09 pm. He texted back to say ‘yes’ to dinner and get the venue and time. Then he had a quick shower, dressed and sat at the writing table, fumbling the numbers into his phone. The non-identifying, non-committal answers came thick and fast until Mac was fi nally put through to Pru, Greg Tobin’s PA.

‘I need him for thirty seconds, Pru,’ pleaded Mac. ‘I mean – no games, okay?’

Greg Tobin – the head of operations for the entire Asia-Pacifi c region, and Tony Davidson’s successor – picked up less than thirty seconds later. ‘Macca! Nice surprise!’

‘Greg, he’s dead,’ managed Mac.

‘Who? What’s going on? Mate, are you okay?’

‘And Vi too.’

‘Vi? Shit, you mean, as in Tony and Vi? What -‘

‘Dead, shot – both of them. Professional hits.’

‘Where are you, mate? You at Noosa?’

Mac nodded, face in his hand.

‘Macca? You there? Are you in Noosa?’

‘Yes!’ he snapped.

‘We need to bring you in. Who else knows about this?’

‘Local cops,’ said Mac.

Mac heard Tobin speaking to someone in urgent tones before coming back on the line. ‘Six am at the airport, okay Macca?’

‘Okay.’

‘And Macca?’

‘Yep?’

‘Stay out of trouble.’

The last of the Queensland continental light was turning the Pacifi c purple as Mac took a refi ll of chardonnay from Ted’s wife, Ellie. Ted was lighting the citronella fl ares around the large sloping lawn and Ellie said her goodnights. Mac thanked her for a beautiful meal and sat beside Ted on a restored park bench overlooking Sunshine Beach.

‘Does Ellie know?’ asked Mac.

Ted shook his head, looked into his wine. ‘That can wait. I have to be careful, she may want to move on and, well -‘ He gestured at the view. ‘This is me, mate. They’ll bury me in Noosa.’

‘Nice up here, Ted. You did well.’

‘Lost nine kilos, lost ten years,’ he smiled. ‘So what about you, mate?’

‘I was out for a while, you know, when my daughter was born.

Been living down on the Gold Coast.’

‘Sure.’

‘But Tony was running this new economic team, and I came in to work with him. I was up in Jakkers for this new job. It was my fi rst time there in a long time and -‘ he raised his eyebrows.

Ted sighed, shook his head.

‘Thing was,’ said Mac, ‘the gig was working. The infi l was successful, we were getting the intelligence, it was nice and soft, and then wham.’

‘Is there anything we can talk about? I mean, are you supported?’ said Ted.

Mac laughed at the sky. ‘That obvious, eh Ted?’

‘Mate, it happens to any good operator at least once in his career.

It’s not you, okay?’ said Ted.

Mac weighed his options. He couldn’t rely on Canberra or the section in Jakarta, so instead he was trying to claw cooperation out of Mossad and BAIS. Davidson had trusted Ted, liked him, invited him to his anniversary. And the thing about old timers is that they always knew something that could change your thinking: the new machines and cameras were great, but you could never discount sheer experience.

‘Okay,’ Mac exhaled, ‘the two Aussie business people we were infi ltrating in Jakkers were doing a deal with an Indon power generation consortium, right?’

Ted nodded.

‘So Canberra wanted to know who was behind the deal and confi rm exactly what was involved before they wrote a loan guarantee for this big export of control systems to this consortium. A political safety check, really.’

‘And what were the Aussies really selling?’

‘Uranium-enrichment codes, for running the centrifuge cascades and the camera fl ashes and vacuum processes.’

‘Heart and soul of a nuclear weapons program, right?’

‘A South African would know,’ said Mac, smiling.

‘Don’t get cheeky, mate! So what happened?’ said Ted.

‘The two Aussie businessmen were executed on the Shangri-La tennis courts, and my partner on the op – who was playing tennis with them – was shot twice. She’s now recovering under guard at the British compound.’

‘Shit!’ said Ted, looking out to sea.

‘And for good measure they had a hit man posing as a room-service guy who came up to see me – and probably her. He missed me by twenty seconds. It was a fl uke. Dumb luck.’

‘And you think Tony – and Vi – were killed the same afternoon?’

‘Almost certain. Wipe the slate clean.’

Silence sat between them. Ted wanted to know and Mac was too embarrassed to say.

‘So, you’re down here -‘ Ted began.

‘My people ordered me out of Jakarta.’

‘Why?’

Looking at him in the glow of the fl ares, Mac thought very hard about what he was going to say next. It was against every instinct to tell anything to someone from another intelligence agency, even if they had retired. ‘Because they think I’m peddling conspiracy theories, told me I’ve been hanging around with the boys from BAIS and Mossad for too long.’

‘What’s the theory?’

‘Six years ago, two mini-nukes were stolen from the Israelis. One was -‘

‘Used in Kuta?’

Mac stared at Ted, shocked. ‘You know this?’

‘We jointly developed the mini-nuke with Israel. Did joint testing in the Indian Ocean in the late seventies.’

‘So?’

‘Well, I’m not sure -‘

‘Come on, Ted, I’ve spilled.’

‘It’s complex.’

‘I need to know, Ted,’ Mac insisted. ‘I think that second nuke is on its way to Australia.’

Ted sat up at that. ‘Australia?!’

Nodding, Mac kept it simple. ‘It disappeared from its storage place yesterday and we’re pretty sure it’s being peddled to JI’s Mantiqi Four, the JI cell responsible for bombing down here.’

‘Holy shit,’ said Ted, his eyes focusing downward.

‘So where does South Africa fi t in?’ asked Mac.

‘Well, it’s embarrassing.’

‘So blush – I just need to know.’

Clearing his throat, Ted fi ddled with his wineglass. ‘You heard of a person called Hassan Ali?’

Mac nodded, unable to speak.

‘Well, a bunch of old brothers -‘

‘You mean, white guys from MID?’ said Mac, referring to the old South African Military Intelligence Division.

‘Let’s not name names, eh Alan?’

Mac nodded and drank.

‘The brothers were being kept around by the new regime, but with no tenure. We were being used and then dumped and then re-employed. One day you could be standing in front of some tribunal, being accused of genocide. Next thing you know, you’re in the new Air Marshal’s offi ce designing a covert action against Mugabe. It’s been a shit-fi ght, mate.’

‘Yeah?’

‘In the late 1990s, the new regime found out that a number of the old nukes jointly tested by Israel and South Africa were being stored by the Israelis,’ said Ted, shaking his head, as if annoyed with himself.

‘Anyway, the new regime wanted them back. They were safely stored in the Negev, no threat to anyone, but these Marxist politicians in the new regime demanded their return. It was a point of African pride, they said. They wanted a nuclear military.’

‘What did the Israelis say?’

‘Weren’t keen. All but said that deal had been with another government. But then the new regime started stirring the White House, which under Clinton couldn’t be seen to be discriminatory to the new regime in South Africa.’

Mac picked up. ‘So they warn the Israelis, Just give the South Africans their goddamn nukes or we’ll stop sending our cheques?’

‘That’s it.’

‘What happened then?’

Ted exhaled, face regretful. ‘A bunch of us did something very stupid.’

‘What?’

‘We contracted Hassan, who at this stage was a well-known handler and transporter of nukes for Dr Khan.’

‘Fuck’s sake,’ said Mac, everything becoming clearer. ‘You didn’t -‘

‘Yes, Alan – we did.’

‘Not Hassan!’

‘He was the best – he was deniable,’ said Ted.

‘He’s a psycho.’

‘Thanks for the tip.’

Pretty much the full story came out of Ted over the next hour. How a bunch of old MID stagers raided the last of their corporate fronts’ bank accounts from the old days, bought Hassan’s services with the intention of having the nukes stolen and then destroyed. There were nine nukes that the South African government laid claim to – all of the sub-5-kiloton variety – and the Israelis had declared seven of them either inoperable or unstable. So they shipped two.

Hassan’s team had swooped on the six-thousand-container Aden Lady as she steamed out of the Gulf of Suez and into the Red Sea in February 2001. They had jumped off from Al Wajh in Saudi Arabia, seized the two mini-nukes and fl own off into the dark.

The brothers never saw their nukes.

‘It sounds too easy,’ mused Mac.

‘Yeah, well,’ said Ted, with rheumy eyes. ‘You know how it goes.’

‘Do I?’ asked Mac.

Ted looked away. ‘Jesus, as soon as you sat down in the Sierra I knew you were trouble.’

‘Just saying -‘

‘Okay, Alan, but only because I’m old and ashamed, not to mention a little drunk.’

‘And you see a chance to get the bastards who killed Tony and Vi?’

‘And that too,’ he said. ‘You’re right, it was too easy: fi nding the right container, at night, on a fully laden container ship? That’s hard, mate. But turning the whole op around in eleven minutes? That’s impossible.’

‘So, insiders? The Israelis were in on it?’

‘Half right. There were security mercenaries on board, but they were all shot. Hassan sent a frogman team on fi rst to soften it up. They knew where the security was.’

‘So, why not the Israelis?’

‘Because they weren’t doing the shipping.’

‘Who was?’

‘The Israelis didn’t trust the new regime in Pretoria and Pretoria didn’t trust the Israelis. So Tel Aviv organised a neutral intelligence outfi t to broker the hand-back. I always thought it was those guys who were the insiders.’

‘Who?’ asked Mac.

‘Our friends in London,’ snorted Ted.


CHAPTER 52

<p>CHAPTER 52</p>

The RAAF Hawker Falcon corporate jet collected Mac at Marcoola airport on the Sunshine Coast at six am and brought him straight to Sydney. Easing back in the light brown leather seat, Mac looked out on the tarmac of the government annexe of the airport as a silver Ford Fairlane was driven to the stationary plane.

He’d used the trip to have another look at Freddi’s second latent from the Galaxy Hotel pad. There were a few lines, if you looked closely, and there were what looked like Hebrew or Arabic scrawls.

Perhaps not useless, but not obvious. It was disappointing.

A clanging of aluminium steps presaged the arrival of the Brass and suddenly the small cabin was fi lled with suits. Leading them was Greg Tobin, the ever-bouncy, glamour-prince of Aussie intelligence who, at the age of forty, had got the job most of his predecessors had not been offered till they’d been at least fi ve years older.

‘G’day, Macca,’ said Tobin, putting out his hand. Tobin sat in the facing seat, crossed his legs, peered out the window and shot his expensive cuffs. He was a good-looking, athletic man with a habit of speaking in short grabs, which irritated the serious thinkers of intelligence.

Mac looked up and saw a face he knew from the Nudgee dorms: Dave Urquhart. ‘Hi mate,’ said Urquhart. ‘Been in the wars, huh?’

Urquhart took the rear-facing seat on the other side of the aisle.

An APS bodyguard in a cheap blue suit walked back to the cabin door and stood lookout.

‘So, we’ve been talking with the Queensland cops – nasty business, eh?’ Tobin started.

Mac nodded.

‘So, Macca,’ said Tobin, discomfi ted. ‘What were you doing there?’

‘In Noosa?’ asked Mac.

‘Yeah – thought you were going home?’

Holding his temper in check, Mac went with it. ‘I was, but I had to check on Tony. He hadn’t answered his phone for almost three days and his voicemail was locked out, which means -‘

‘Yes, yes, of course,’ said Tobin. ‘So how did you fi nd him?’

‘Tony?’

‘No one at the fi rm knew his address.’

‘I found out, fi eld work… Look, Greg. We have some bigger things to talk about here.’

‘Hmm?’

‘I mean, there are circumstances around this -‘

‘Yes, mate,’ said Tobin.

Looking around him, Mac felt a sudden burst of fury. The talk he wanted to have couldn’t take place in extended company.

‘You can talk, Macca,’ said Tobin.

‘Okay. I need a guard on Jenny and Rachel.’

‘Got it.’

‘And one on… um, another girl and her grandmother -‘

‘Yes?’ asked Tobin, confused. He looked across at an ASIS employee called Sandra, who was taking the notes.

‘In Sydney…’

‘Well, sure,’ said Tobin. ‘And these people would be?’

‘Look,’ Mac began. Then turning to the wide-eyed faces of Urquhart and Sandra, suddenly lost it. ‘Guys, please – time to go, eh?

I just have to talk with Greg.’

‘Come on, Macca,’ said Urquhart, his smooth voice dripping with condescension.

‘ GET OUT! ‘ Mac screamed, lunging at Urquhart, who recoiled.

‘ NOW! ‘ shouted Mac, pointing at the cabin door.

Mac sat back, head in his hands, until the rumbling of the aluminium stairs stopped. Sitting up, his eyeballs itchy with stress and fear, he looked at Tobin.

‘Sorry, Greg.’

‘It’s okay. So let’s talk.’

‘The girl in Sydney is my daughter – Sarah.’

‘Okay,’ said Tobin, deciding not to push with the questions. ‘Got an address?’

Mac handed over the piece of paper he’d prepared on the way down. Then he told Tobin the story, from the NIME investigation through to the shootings and the fact that Mossad were looking for a second device. He left out Ted’s story. He needed more time to work out what the MI6 involvement might mean. But he ended on the point that meant the others could not be present.

‘Greg, someone has been operating from within -‘

‘Mac -‘

Mac held his hand up to stop him. ‘Mate, I’m not saying it’s anyone in the fi rm. It could be someone in a friendly agency, a friendly country. Someone with enough access -‘

‘That’s a big call, mate,’ said Tobin, his mood darkening.

‘I’m saying what I know, Greg. A simple verifi cation of an NIA has pushed all the way back to an address that not even you or I knew. It was a straight line, okay?’

Tobin thought about it. ‘There’s a whole network of old spooks around Noosa. The address was hardly a secret.’

‘Those old boys are tight,’ said Mac. ‘Few people outside the inner circle would have known where he lived, and those who found out by fl uke wouldn’t have known what he did for a living. Tony Davidson was just a Perth businessman to most civvies.’

Tobin cocked an eye, looked out the cabin window. ‘Okay, so a straight line?’

‘Yeah. A new outer circle of economic operatives is hardly a blip on a terrorist’s radar,’ said Mac. ‘Davidson’s team was new, it was our fi rst gig.’

‘So why was there a shooter ready for Tony?’

‘Precisely,’ snarled Mac, happy that Tobin at least saw what he was talking about, even if he went back to Canberra to cover everyone’s arses. ‘The Hassan crew knew there’d be due diligence, and when the enrichment code was handed over, Davidson was going down. Then, Hassan’s people got nervous that it was me doing the investigation.’

‘You’re saying that an operator like Hassan would have learned of your involvement and assumed you’d be on to something?’

‘Correct – he would have at least heard the name, connected me with all sorts of stuff that had nothing to do with lawyers and accountants.’

‘But he wanted the enrichment codes fi rst?’

‘Yes. He didn’t want Canberra getting spooked and shutting the thing down. The hit was timed for post-settlement, post-handover because by then Hassan knew what we’d found out. He must have had an intercept on my phone or the email, and I reckon that required some inside help. Diane and I weren’t supposed to live – she’s under guard in Jakarta with two bullets in her.’

‘I’ll put the security in place this morning. What else do you need?’ said Tobin.

‘I need to be back, on full grade. And we’ll need military support.’

Tobin stared at him. ‘Military? Not AFP?’

‘AFP too,’ said Mac, ‘and they’ll need to do their ct coordinations with state police and ASIO. But this is a nuke and Hassan’s gang are all soldiers. If we fi nd them, there won’t be many arrests, I can promise you.’

‘Got it,’ said Tobin. ‘Not my call, but I think I can sell it.’

‘Not going to tell me it’s a conspiracy theory?’ asked Mac, still wary.

‘The dots join. Well, they join enough to at least check our borders, see if Hassan is in the country with this thing.’

‘So I’m back?’

Tobin nodded.

‘I can answer to you?’ Mac pushed.

Tobin hesitated, looked away and looked back. ‘Yes, McQueen, but you’re still economic, okay? Once I sell this upstairs then the whole CT apparatus kicks in and then it’s out of my hands and it’s defi nitely out of yours. Deal?’

‘So I’m an economic guy?’

‘Yeah, and no empire-creep with the counter-terrorism guys, all right? You know how they get. Besides, with Tony gone I’m going to need a controller for the economic team. Think about it.’

Tobin made to stand, impatient to get things underway, but Mac didn’t budge.

‘That everything?’ asked Tobin, hunching slightly in the small cabin.

‘No, Greg, there’s something else,’ said Mac. ‘Atkins tell you why he wanted me out of Jakarta?’

‘Yeah, sure,’ said Tobin.

‘It wasn’t true.’

‘You weren’t treading on a CT operation?’

Mac fl inched. He’d trapped Atkins in a straight-out lie. ‘No, mate, I was doing my job.’

Tobin clanged down the stairs, instructions pouring from his mouth. As the voices faded across the tarmac, Mac mulled a conclusion: in order to get Tobin focused he’d deliberately said that the insiders needn’t be from ASIS, they could also be friendly agencies or friendly countries. There was something in that. Maybe MI6’s involvement with Hassan and the mini-nukes hadn’t stopped with the Red Sea heist? The British might still be active in the Hassan fi asco. And if they were there was a good chance they were pulling some Australians along for the ride.


CHAPTER 53

<p>CHAPTER 53</p>

The Falcon landed at Coolangatta at 7.38 am and taxied around the side entrance. Grabbing his suit bag, overnighter wheelie and backpack, Mac headed down the alloy stairs to where a large man from the Australian Protective Service stood in front of a white Holden Commodore. Sliding into the back seat, Mac asked if they could go the Gold Coast Highway route and the driver said, ‘No worries.’

They made good time north to Broadbeach and Mac thought over the conversation with Tobin. He didn’t particularly like the bloke but he had no reason to mistrust him. Tobin had listened to Mac and he’d acted, in stark contrast to Atkins’ and Garvs’s responses. Even sadder was the revelation that Atkins had lied about Mac’s recall by Canberra, the fact he hadn’t asked Mac for a report effectively sidelining him.

Mac was slightly hungover from drinking with Ted and his mind spun with what he could or should be doing about Hassan. A clear way forward wasn’t obvious. He’d told Tobin and from there it should become a case for the counter-terrorism machinery, of which Mac was not a part. If a situation presented itself, Mac would leap in. But for now he was focused on his family’s security.

As they went through Burleigh Heads, with the Norfolk pines towering overhead and the morning walkers doing their thing along the beach, Mac keyed in Rod Scott’s number in Canberra and hit the green button. Scotty liked to be at his desk at eight am and he picked up on the second ring.

‘Yeah?’

‘Scotty, it’s Mac.’

They joked around a bit. Scotty had been Mac’s fi rst mentor in the fi rm, way back when Mac was straight out of the Royal Marines and into the tail-end and clean-up of the fi rst Gulf War. Scotty had shown him not just how to be cool in a war zone, but how to be safe in a post-war zone – a much more dangerous place in some respects.

Scotty never strove for great heights in his career – there were other things he got off on – and he was ASIS’s odd-jobs man. He could tail, entrap, interrogate, induce and fi x up other people’s mistakes with some clever craft tricks. He was Old School, with an elephantine memory and a gift for deceptions and provocations. Mac often turned to him when offi cial channels were fruitless.

‘So you’re back in, eh Macca?’

‘How’d you know?’ asked Mac.

‘Phone call from Tobin an hour ago – war room stuff. Got a meeting with the Feds and Defence in a few minutes and Customs and Immigration are already on alert. Then Tobin and Urquhart are going to sell the action plan to the PM.’

‘Nice.’

‘What’s this about a fucking mini-nuke?’

‘Mate, I’ll let you get back to it – I’ve got my security, how are we with the Sydney end?’

‘Yeah mate – Feds’ Sydney offi ces are on it.’

‘I needed to talk,’ said Mac.

‘So talk, Macca.’

Mac heard a ciggie being lit and the fi rst inhale, meaning Scotty was standing outside.

‘Remind me about Dave Urquhart.’

‘Me? He’s your old uni mate.’

‘Yeah, but as soon as we joined the fi rm, I went off to Iraq and Urquhart burrowed into the political end.’

‘Gee, that was a short book. What are you getting at, mate?’

‘I’m clutching at air, that’s what I’m doing.’

‘Gimme a clue.’

Scotty was a good bloke and Mac didn’t want to use him or hurt him professionally, but if anyone could turn over the stones right now it was him. Besides, Scotty was one of the internal watchers of Australian intelligence. He surveilled people from ASIO, ASIS, Foreign Affairs, the military, Trade, Customs and the Feds, Treasury and PMC.

And he did so in Australia and all over the world. The job was his because he knew every damned trick in the double-agent’s manual.

Mac took a breath, ‘Okay – long shot, right?’

‘Go,’ said Scotty.

‘Mate, on the way to Sydney I remembered you telling me about a spot check you were doing of Commonwealth employees in the United States, maybe ten years ago?’

‘Sounds like me.’

‘There was a navy bloke in New York, at the UN. Word was he was on the piss and you thought the Chinese had hooks in him.’

‘Yeah, but it turned out he was actually depressed. And the Chinese wasn’t PRC – she was Singapore. Good sort, too.’

‘You told me once that you ended up taking a lot more notice of a Pommie bloke. He was MI6, but posing as UN.’

‘Yeah. Tall bloke, slick dresser.’

‘And it annoyed you because you had better things to do than wonder if some wanker from Six was cultivating one of ours.’

Scotty laughed. ‘Shit, you’re good. Yeah, what was that wanker’s name?’

They tossed it around and it fi nally dropped for Scotty. ‘Fitzgerald, Fitzsimons… ‘ he mumbled. ‘That’s it! Fitzgibbon. Danny Fitzgibbon.

Shit, what a tosser! Swear to God.’

The APS car fl ashed past Miami High School’s sports grounds and Mac felt the excitement come up. ‘Mate, I have to know. Was the person he was cultivating Dave Urquhart?’

‘Nah, mate,’ said Scotty. ‘Dave was out of New York by then.’

‘So who, Scotty?’

‘That smarmy prick who’s in Jakkers now. Martin Atkins. Didn’t warm to him much either.’

There were two Ford Falcons parked in the street outside Mac’s townhouse when he got out of the car. One of the federal cops in blue overalls and a Kevlar vest made straight for him, hand on his Glock handgun.

Mac put his hands out.

‘Agent Hamilton, Australian Federal Police – sorry, sir, but this is a restricted area right now.’

The APS guy introduced himself, introduced Mac, and handed over to Agent Hamilton before getting back in his car and speeding away.

There was a mix-up with Mac’s ID – he wasn’t carrying any Alan McQueen collateral – and so another cop knocked on the townhouse door while Hamilton kept an eye on Mac. Jenny opened the door, Rachel on her hip, both of them breaking into smiles as they saw him.

Jenny ID’d him for the cops and they kissed as he kicked the door back. Mac tried to pull back but she pushed in on him as he dropped his bags, pinning him to the wall. Whatever other problems Mac had with his wife, she was a fantastic kisser. Rachel smiled and waved her red plastic spoon at him excitedly when he came up for air, and Jenny passed her over.

Jenny looked at Mac closely, ran her fi ngers up to the gash on his left forehead and into his hairline. When she looked into his eyes, he didn’t want her to see his pain and fear, so he turned to Rachel and tried to kiss her but she whacked him on the nose with the red spoon, her little legs going crazy in the sleepsuit as she said da da over and over. He looked into her big dark eyes, full of love and hope, and he smelled her unique smell and he wondered why he couldn’t just be a standard loving dad.

They lay on the sofa watching Rachel do her thing on the rug with her plastic boxes and abacuses. She was now dressed in nappies and the yellow Singapore T-shirt with the red dragon on it. Ke, the Thai boy Jenny had told Mac about, sat at the kitchen table with a colouring book. He looked at them occasionally, his face solemn, not talking.

Jenny shrugged. ‘He’ll start talking soon. He’s a kid, he won’t be able to help himself.’

Mac kept his conversation vague about the Diane shooting and Jenny let him tell it his way.

‘I didn’t sleep with her, okay?’ he said and she nodded. ‘I didn’t kiss her and I didn’t want to. Whatever happened in the past, it’s more like she’s a sister now.’

They looked into each other’s eyes, Mac happy he had nothing to hide. ‘Please believe me.’

Jenny smiled. ‘I do.’

‘And what about you? asked Mac, pleased for a diversion. ‘Have George and that Cambodian been behaving themselves?’

Jenny smiled the way cops do when they’re discussing criminal dickheads. ‘They’ve gone to ground – haven’t turned up here, if that’s what you mean.’

Then came the tough part of the conversation. Tony and Vi Davidson had been at their wedding reception at the Jakarta Golf Club and Vi had insisted on using her family money to pay the booze bill for the function. Then she’d given Jen some hilarious advice on how to stay sane around people like Mac and Tony, most of it centring around dishing up wide-eyed female fl attery at every chance. Vi had been a unique Aussie character and a favourite of the embassy community.

Tears fl owing, Jenny put her arms around him.

‘You okay?’ she asked.

Mac shook his head, looked over her shoulder, out the ranch-sliders to an apartment complex with a swimming pool. ‘People spend their whole lives trying to stay off the radar, never really able to retire.

In some ways he would have been expecting it.’

Jenny’s expression changed with the reality of what Mac was saying. She sniffl ed.

‘By the way,’ said Mac, ‘before I forget – Benny has a tip for you.’

‘Oh yeah?’ she said, sceptical.

‘He says there’s KR money coming out of south-east Queensland.

Seems to be new channels but the front companies in Singers are old and it’s all Khmer Rouge.’

Jenny sat upright. In her world, the Khmer Rouge was synonymous with the slaving rackets. ‘When did the funds start fl owing?’ she asked.

‘A month or two ago, I think,’ said Mac. ‘Don’t quote me – I’ll give you Benny’s number.’

‘You do that,’ she said.


***

Mac tried to have a normal family day, but the federal cops who strolled along behind them reminded them of the lives they had chosen. They had a few beers with their seafood lunch in Cavill Avenue and then went Christmas shopping. They ended up at the Southport swimming pool and Jenny sat in the baby pool with Rachel and Ke, Mac’s daughter shrieking with joy and her mother all strength and kindness. Ke even managed a smile at Rachel’s antics. Mac sat in the water, taking it in, savouring every second.

Later they lay in bed, listening to the early evening rain making a tapping sound over the hiss of the air-con unit. Jenny felt good in his arms: muscular but also curvy. She snuggled in and put her hand up to Mac’s ear and fondled it. Jenny had not been happy with the news that Mac had another daughter and had grilled Mac about Sarah’s exact age and the timing of the Diane affair. She swung between calling him a bounder and telling him how he’d better pay child support. Although Jen did give him full marks for speaking to Diane’s mother, Felicity, and inviting her and Sarah up to the Gold Coast for Christmas.

She pulled his face into hers, only an inch away. She smelled of toothpaste and he could see her big dark eyes.

‘You’re in luck, Mr Macca,’ she whispered. ‘You married someone with a horrible father.’

Mac gulped.

‘I could never begrudge a girl having a father as wonderful as you.’

‘Thanks,’ said Mac.

‘But here’s the deal. Sarah’s your daughter, but Jenny’s your wife, okay?’

Mac fell asleep like that. In bed with his wife – arms around his best friend.


CHAPTER 54

<p>CHAPTER 54</p>

The Christmas crowds were building by mid-morning and Mac felt relaxed wheeling Rachel through the outdoors area of the Pacifi c Fair shopping mall in Broadbeach.

A female plainclothes AFP agent walked behind them and Ke walked alongside Mac, not saying a word. He looked intelligent and sad, about eight or nine, thought Mac, and had obviously been traumatised by something. Mac wasn’t a great fan of Jenny taking on kids, but the Department of Immigration’s facility for illegals was over-capacity and they did not take on unaccompanied minors over an agreed ratio of offi cers to children. So occasionally they farmed them out to a federal cop – someone who they knew would say yes

– and Mac was giving her a few hours off while she took care of some things.

Walking through the enormous Coles supermarket, Ke’s eyes nearly popped out of his head as Mac did the basic shopping amidst all the Christmas bunting and the piped carols. They stopped by a Santa Claus doing juggling and balloon shapes and Mac got Rachel out of the pram and let her yell and carry on at the show, her little legs kicking. He looked down and saw Ke smiling too and he decided he’d take them for a bite.

Finding a child-friendly cafe, Mac ordered a babyccino and a biscuit for Rachel, and a Coke and a chocolate brownie for Ke. While Rachel put biscuit all over her jumpsuit, Mac tried to get Ke talking.

He was at least engaging Mac with his eyes, which was a start. When Mac asked Ke where he was from, the boy seemed to understand.

Mac said ‘Thailand’, and Ke smiled and put a fi nger up: sign for wait a second. He walked over to a window for a travel agent where there was a big airline promotional poster for Thailand – Phuket, Koh Samui and Bangers. Mac nodded but Ke shook his head, and pointed to the country immediately to the east of northern Thailand. He was pointing at Cambodia.

Checking for tails and eyes, Mac cleared his PO box at the outdoor section of the post offi ce. This was his postal address for Richard Davis, and all of the mail came with the yellow redirect stickers on them.

The way it worked with most postal addresses for a corporate front was that you listed one PO box but had it constantly redirected. It wasn’t foolproof but it eliminated the opportunists who might hang around a post offi ce for a few weeks waiting for a show. He stashed the fi ve bits of mail in the shelf under Rachel’s pram and they all walked home.

With Rachel having her mid-morning sleep, and Ke honing his soccer skills with a baby’s ball on the back patio, Mac sorted the mail, chucking it all out except the car insurance renewal notice and the letter from the Shangri-La, which contained a bill with Paid in full printed on it. He hadn’t offi cially checked out but they’d closed the account and taken it off the Davis Visa card. Looking down the bill, he found the charge for the tennis racquet Diane had used and they’d also invoked the three-hundred-dollar security deposit. Cheeky buggers.

He put it aside – another chance to go to war with DFAT accounts.

Having mopped the fl oor, vacuumed the bedrooms and put on a load of washing, Mac kicked the soccer ball with Ke and got the little bloke laughing about the big Anglo’s clumsiness. He seemed like a nice kid, though Mac was mindful of not becoming too attached since he’d be gone in a few days. Then he made a cup of tea and, letting Ke watch TV, sat out on the rear patio and called Ted.

‘How’s it going?’ said Mac as the old brother picked up.

‘Surviving, mate,’ said Ted.

They talked about Tony and Vi. The cops had made it fairly routine and Ted had helped them with their inquiries.

‘A lot of the old boys are upset,’ said Ted, referring to the retired spies and diplomats at Noosa. ‘The old Brownings and Colts are back out of the mothballs, I can tell you. But anyway – how are you doing on the chase of our associates and their device?’

‘Mate, I’ve been taken off it. It’s in the hands of the CT guys now.’

Ted understood – if you went to a border-protection footing you couldn’t have every Commonwealth employee trying to get involved.

‘I was thinking about that,’ mused Ted. ‘Aussies know what they’re doing, but I hope they’re putting some thinking into concealment strategies.’

‘What do you mean? asked Mac, sipping his tea.

‘Well, you know what the freighting systems are like into this country now, right?’

‘Sure,’ said Mac, knowing that they were pre-cleared and scanned and sniffed and inspected and otherwise seriously worked over.

Milinda, Jen’s FBI friend in Jakarta, had once told him that Australia had a better forward-protection barrier for incoming freight than even the United States.

‘So the way to bring a device in without it being detected would be as a concealment, maybe on your person, right?’

‘I suppose it’s portable. That what you saying?’ said Mac.

‘For sure. Those Israeli-South African devices were about fi fty kilograms and fi tted in a pack.’

‘Or maybe not a concealment.’

‘Absolutely,’ agreed Ted. ‘Could even be open about it, tell them that it’s actually something else. Remember, it’s a simple alloy cylinder, a ubiquitous shape.’

‘You’d need a distraction,’ said Mac.

‘A human distraction,’ said Ted.

With Ke still in front of the telly, and Rachel sleeping, Mac thought he’d have a quick search on the internet, follow a small snippet that Ted had mentioned. Ubiquitous alloy canisters and human distractions.

It might be worth a look.

Firing up the computer in the spare room, he searched under canisters, Australia, imports. He looked through all the industrial suppliers of waterproof, dust-proof, anti-magnetic and self-sealing canisters. Some were for cigars while others were moved in semi-trailers. After twenty minutes, it was a canister world and Mac closed the internet browser before he sent himself mad.

He looked over at Ke as he emerged from the spare room and wondered why Jenny had had to duck out. Ke wasn’t Thai, as Jenny had claimed over the phone; he was Cambodian and Mac had a strange fear that his wife was poking around in places that could get her hurt.

Jenny would have misled him knowing that any connection between a homeless young boy and Cambodia would have someone like Mac thinking about the Khmer Rouge’s slavery business.

Emptying the dishwasher, Mac thought about the other point Ted had made, about the human distraction. As young recruits, spies were taught how to create distractions – or, at least, how to dilute themselves out of a person’s vision or thinking. And the best way to do that was by numbers: have a wife, travel with an assistant, blend in with a team, move with the crowd, attend a conference, move with a celebrity…

Putting the last of the cutlery in the drawer, Mac walked back into the spare room, sat at the computer screen and opened the internet browser again. If it was too hard to bring a mini-nuke in by air or sea, could it be done by walking a ubiquitous canister through Customs with a human distraction? A sports team? Someone well-known?

The search under ‘sports team December 2008’ wasn’t encouraging. Swim teams from California, a schoolboy cricket squad from Bangladesh. No chance of camoufl age there. He tried a search under ‘conferences December 2008’, but it was a fl ood of junk, mostly sites advertising logistics and catering and venues.

About to shut the browser down again, Mac tried one more thing and put ‘international’ in front of the conference search and made it an Australian search.

The third entry was headlined as Darwin 2008 – Water and Rights: New approaches to public water supply. Darwin, Australia’s gateway to Asia and the fi rst place in Australia Freddi Gardjito had thought of when they were surmising where a long-range King Air 200 could get to from northern Sumatra. Clicking on the search link, Mac was taken into the Asia Development Bank website; the Asian Development Fund division of the organisation was running the water conference.

He scrolled down through the site, reading it as a future controller of an economic team might, looking for matters of interest, names that made a pattern, companies that broke a pattern. It was all water, power, hospitals, swamp drainage, roads. He ran his eyes down the line-up and saw that Darwin’s conference was starting tomorrow, a one-dayer.

He felt his breath quickening. The keynote speaker was a Canadian engineering academic named Dr Hamish Gough, whom Mac had read about in Time and the East Asia Economic Review. A lecturer at the University of Malaya, Gough was well-known in Asia for his brilliant and practical public infrastructure solutions and he was the subject of a breakout box in the conference program.

Mac read the caption: apparently Dr Gough had designed and manufactured reverse-osmosis scrubbing canisters that created potable water from sea water. The break-through with his design was that the membranes in his canisters worked under natural water pressure so a village could store sea water in a tank and drop it into a canister which would slowly turn the sea water to drinking water and would do so without the massive power usage associated with typical desalination plants. The story said Gough had developed hand-winched tanks that dropped down slipways into the sea; when they were fi lled with sea water, they were then winched up to a stand and hooked up to the hoses that fell straight into the canisters. If you wanted more potable water and faster, you just used more canisters, more hoses. Now Dr Gough wanted the world’s corporations to contribute to a fund that would manufacture these things and give them away to rural villages in the developing world. He didn’t want to make a profi t, he said, but multinationals had to accept that if their enormous water consumption took the precious resource from subsistence villagers – which was still one-half of the world’s population – then they should furnish them with a way of getting potable water from the sea and other brackish water supplies.

But the part of the story Mac fi xed on was the photo. Dr Hamish Gough was pictured standing beside a green-grey alloy cylinder which stood upright on a table beside him. It was about twenty inches tall and fi ve inches across. It was one of those things that could pass for something else.

What had Ted said? Tell them that it’s actually something else.

Calling directory assistance, Mac asked to be put through to the Skycity casino and hotel in Darwin. Reception answered and Mac asked for Dr Gough.

The call went through to a room and a small singsong voice answered on six. ‘Hello?’

‘Dr Gough, Richard Davis here, from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra. Welcome to Australia. It’s a pleasure to have you, sir.’

‘Well, thank you, Mr Davis,’ said Dr Gough. ‘Perhaps you could help me?’

‘Certainly, sir, what can I help you with?’

‘My water purifi er. I brought it to the hotel this morning from the airport and now it’s gone.’

‘You’ve told the hotel?’ asked Mac, alert.

‘Oh yes, and the police are here too,’ replied the Canadian.

‘What happened?’ asked Mac, pretty sure he knew the whole scenario.

‘The Development Fund person came to my room and said he was setting up the conference for my speech, and wanted to pick up the canister. When I got down to the conference centre half an hour ago, the canister was not there,’ said Dr Gough, exasperated. ‘I only brought one from Kuala Lumpur – now what am I going to show the delegates?’

Mac breathed out, rubbed his temples and asked a question he already knew the answer to. ‘The Asia Development Fund guy, why did you trust him?’

‘He was assigned to me in Kuala Lumpur,’ said Dr Gough, annoyed.

‘He even packed the water purifi er. He was a nice young Indian fellow, very helpful.’

‘What was the purifi er packed in, sir?’ asked Mac.

‘Oh, it’s a big plastic carry case. Like a really big power-drill case, and it’s green.’

As Mac rang off he was ninety-nine per cent sure that Australia’s fi rst nuclear terror incident had started with a mini-nuke coming through Darwin Customs as a water purifi er.


CHAPTER 55

<p>CHAPTER 55</p>

As soon as Scotty answered the phone in Canberra, Mac asked him to get Tobin.

‘What’s it about, Macca? Tobin’s in a meeting.’

‘I think the device is already here,’ said Mac.

‘Shit,’ said Scotty. ‘I’ll see if I can get him out, but it may be beyond him now.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘We took it up to the PM’s offi ce, sold it, and they gave it to the AFP. They’re coordinating. We’re not starters.’

‘Fuck!’ said Mac. ‘Can I talk with Tobin for thirty seconds? Swear to God, Scotty.’

Mac’s brain raced with the possibilities as the line went into muzak limbo: Hassan, Lempo and Gorilla, loose with a mini-nuke, in Australia. Three men, one bomb and an entire continent to hide in until they handed over to Mantiqi Four.

‘McQueen?’ whispered Greg Tobin, and Mac guessed he was still in the meeting.

‘Greg, I need a tasking in Darwin.’

‘Economic?’

‘Yep. Water technologies.’

‘Can’t this wait?’ snapped Tobin.

‘It’s starting this arvo.’

‘Okay. Do it.’

‘Another thing, Greg.’

‘Thirty seconds, mate.’

‘I need the Falcon.’

There was a pause as Mac heard Tobin tell the meeting that he’d have to take this in his offi ce, but he’d be back in one minute.

Tobin started talking before his mouth was anywhere near his offi ce phone. ‘The Falcon? Fuck’s sake, McQueen – come clean right now or the answer to everything is no.’

‘Greg, I don’t take corporate jet rides for fun, okay?’

‘There’re no fl ights to Darwin? Qantas hasn’t discovered this place yet?’

‘I think the device we discussed came into Darwin this morning on a fl ight out of KL, for the conference on water.’

‘What the fuck are you talking about, McQueen?’ gasped Tobin.

‘It came through in a case that would normally hold a desalination canister, a portable water purifi er. It went missing this morning from the hotel.’

‘How do you know?’

‘I just got off the phone with the engineer who brought it in. He was used as a mule. They switched his water purifi er for the mini-nuke. They’d be about the same size and weight.’

‘You just got off the phone?! Shit, McQueen, the AFP is running a code-red border-protection program and you’re sneaking around with a private investigation?’

‘Fuck’s sake, mate,’ barked Mac, pissed off that the corporate niceties were getting in the way at such a critical time. ‘I can’t manage the Federal Police from here. Even if Morris would take my calls, which he wouldn’t, can you imagine the Feds or Customs chasing up every idea I have?’

‘No – they’d tell you to get rooted, and that’s what I’m doing too, right this second,’ said Tobin.

‘I’ll also need a ready-reaction team,’ said Mac, trying to keep his temper down. ‘Four RAR Commandos are a good bunch, worked with them in Timor.’

Tobin made a sound that could have been dark laughter or crying.

‘Shit, mate, you want to take the cavalry with you? You are too much, you know that?’

‘Look, it’s not going to tread on any AFP toes because I’m economic, right? I’m also Schedule Two. I have the right to carry and use fi rearms.’

‘I don’t think fi rearm means a bunch of special forces guys.’

‘Well, you know, Greg, after the shootings in Jakarta we’re just taking precautions. It’s an OH and S issue, right? Your human resource is your most important asset, world’s best practice.’

Tobin sighed. ‘For someone who hates offi ce guys, you sure know how to think like one.’

As the Hawker Falcon sped over the outback, Mac briefed Jason Robertson on the new tasking they were heading towards, called Limelight. Robbo and the three other soldiers onboard were from 4RAR Commando, the Australian special forces unit that comprised the Tactical Assault Group (East), based out of Holsworthy barracks in outer Sydney. Their speciality was jungle warfare, demolitions and CBRNE – Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, Nuclear and enhanced Explosives. Mac had worked with the commandos in East Timor in an operation that had made his name in the intelligence community.

It had been a long, dangerous series of engagements with a ruthless enemy and Mac had drawn close to the boys. Robbo was a veteran of that confl ict. A private during the East Timor campaigns, he was now commanding the troop.

‘So, Macca,’ said Robbo, eyeballing him. ‘That’s all we have?’

Mac nodded. He’d briefed Robbo as far as he could, but it wasn’t much. ‘We’ll start in Darwin, mate, pick up the trail, take it from there.’

Robbo was silent. Soldiers developed a sixth sense for people who didn’t entirely know what they were doing, and Mac was getting that look now. ‘Okay, Macca, your call.’

Mac pulled several fi les from his backpack and handed them over.

‘Get the boys looking at those. That’s Hassan, Lempo and Shareef – a bloke they call Gorilla,’ said Mac. ‘This is who we’re dealing with. They’re very organised, very pro and they have a mini-nuclear device.’

Robbo took the fi les and eyed Mac again, with eyes an even paler blue than Mac’s. He was about six-foot, blond hair in an army cut and strongly built in the arms, legs and back. Mac had seen him in combat and seen him in a fi st fi ght, and he was glad he was on Robbo’s side in both.

‘There’s only three?’ asked Robbo.

‘That’s the core, but there’s a local JI cell out there too. Mantiqi Four.’

‘The Pakistanis – are they tooled up?’ Robbo asked, passing the fi les to the three other Commandos.

‘They came in on a commercial fl ight, but I’d assume they know how to arm themselves.’

‘How much head start are we giving them?’

Mac looked at his G-Shock. It was 1.43 pm. ‘Better part of fi ve hours.’

Robbo gazed at the outback. ‘It’s a big place, Macca,’ he said, nodding at the scenery of red dirt and spinifex. ‘We might be better served thinking where they’re heading.’

‘Agreed. The AFP have got the state and territory cops searching road and rail traffi c and there’s a wide alert out for these guys at the airports.’

‘That’s a start.’

‘We might get a sighting, or something strange comes up. Might even get lucky and one or all of them get detained.’

‘But while we fl y to Darwin, maybe the bombers are aiming for, I dunno, Centrepoint Tower, Sydney Opera House,’ said Robbo. ‘Christ, Macca, it’s Christmas in a few days. The bars are full, the malls are packed…’

‘I know, mate,’ said Mac, whose list of targets had been growing as he realised how decadent Australia must seem to jihadists. ‘But we have to start with Darwin.’

Robbo nodded and stretched out. The other troopers included a big Aboriginal bloke called Didge, so named on account of the sounds he could make into his cupped hands when the boys had been on the drink. Mac watched him with the two others – Jacko and Bluey – as they pored over the fi les and the photos of Hassan’s team.

One of the less-exciting aspects of special forces soldiering that you didn’t see in the movies was the amount of looking and learning a bloke had to do. Every day featured some kind of exercise when you had to memorise a phone number, a rego plate, an aircraft tail number, a bank account, hotel room, map coordinates and RV time. Then you had to learn how to memorise faces and bodies, in different disguises and with different body weights and facial hair components. The special forces guys were tough blokes, but if they couldn’t commit basic operational information to memory then they were useless to the military.

In one of Mac’s sections in the Royal Marines Commandos they’d had a gruelling three-day fi eld session involving compass work, cross-country tabbing and RVs. Banger Jordan had challenged Mac about one of his RV points and Mac had been so exhausted he’d said, ‘Hill fi ve-fi fty at zero six-twenty hours, or whatever.’

Banger had stopped the whole section and had a go at Mac in front of the boys. ‘Whatever? Did you say to me, McQueen, whatever?!

Let me tell you what-fucking-ever! You get it wrong between hill six-twenty at zero fi ve-fi fty hours or hill fi ve-fi fty at zero six-twenty hours, and you are in the shit, mate. You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, and your extraction team won’t know where you are and your commanding offi cers won’t know where you are and the men under your own command could be walking up a hill that the enemy is camped on. So don’t tell me whatever, you stupid fucking tit!’

The Falcon jet started its descent thirteen minutes later and they all buckled in. A minivan was waiting on the tarmac at RAAF Base Darwin and they were at Skycity Casino within twenty minutes.

Federal cops were obvious in the foyer of the hotel and conference section of the complex as they walked in. Mac recognised some faces and saw the code-red lanyards and the police radios. A heavyset cop in a charcoal suit and blue shirt broke from his pack and moved towards Mac as they entered.

‘John,’ said Mac, hoping it would be a fast conversation.

‘Macca,’ said John Morris, the AFP’s ranking counter-terrorism expert. ‘Wasn’t expecting you up here.’

‘Just the economic team, you know.’

Morris looked over Mac’s shoulder and clocked the soldiers trying to look inconspicuous in their civvies. ‘Economic team, with a bunch of SAS?’

‘Commandos, John – Four RAR. SAS are the ugly ones, right? So, what have we got?’

‘I wouldn’t worry yourself.’

Mac laughed. ‘Given that I called in the water purifi er theft, John, a thank you would be nice.’

Morris chewed his gum, making his black moustache move up and down on his round face. Mac guessed the bloke was dying for a ciggie.

‘That was you?’ said Morris.

‘Sure. So what does the security footage show us?’ asked Mac.

‘Nothing,’ said Morris.

‘I might take a look,’ smiled Mac. ‘What about Dr Gough? He been debriefed?’

Morris breathed out and looked at the fl oor. He looked beaten – these details were almost impossible. ‘He’s been interviewed, McQueen, if that’s what you mean.’

‘Which one was it?’

Morris shook his head, irritated and confused. ‘What does that mean?’

‘The person who collected the water canister – Lempo, Shareef or Hassan?’

‘I don’t think we have an ID yet,’ said Morris, looking away.

The AFP techie ran the hotel security tape back and forward of a man in a dark blazer and chinos getting out of the elevator on the fourth fl oor – Dr Gough’s fl oor – and making for a room. The man was clearly Lempo, with that same feminine, bum-out walk Mac remembered from Sumatra and the Shangri-La. There was also good footage of Lempo walking across the Skycity car park with a large hard case in one hand and then getting into a white HiAce van. The van had been parked far enough from the security cameras that there was no rego plate evident.

‘That’s it?’ asked Mac.

‘That’s it,’ said Morris, who Mac now suspected was chewing Nicorettes.

‘So what now? We wait for the wide-area alert?’ asked Mac, impatient for action.

‘Shit, McQueen,’ said Morris, looking pale. ‘Give me a break?

I have ten tons of brass breathing down my neck on this, okay? The next level after code red is civilian evacuations, and that’s the last thing the politicians want. So believe me, we’re doing everything we can.’

Mac walked out and saw the 4RAR boys lounging in the lobby chairs. Moving through into the ballroom where the conference was set up, he recognised the man he’d seen on the website. Dr Gough was sitting alone near the stage while a bunch of AFP men and women talked among themselves, ignoring the engineer.

‘G’day, Hamish,’ said Mac, holding out his hand. ‘Richard, Richard Davis – we spoke this morning?’

‘Ah, yes. I remember,’ he said, standing and shaking Mac’s hand.

‘First things fi rst. Are you okay, mate? Not hurt?’

‘No, no. I’m fi ne, but my pride took a beating.’

‘Happens to all of us, mate,’ laughed Mac. ‘These people are professionals.’

‘Well, hopefully not too professional, Mr Davis,’ said Dr Gough.

‘I’m sorry?’ said Mac.

‘I was just thinking about the case.’

‘That you carry the water purifi er canister in?’

‘Yes. A few years ago I was playing around with security labels, you know for travellers and what have you?’

‘Yes?’

‘I invented a luggage name-tag that has a GSM transmitter in it,’ he shrugged.

Mac smiled. ‘A transmitter?’

‘It never caught on – but it might be useful now?’


CHAPTER 56

<p>CHAPTER 56</p>

Walking from the private mail centre on Daly Street, Mac felt reassured by the weight of the Heckler he’d just grabbed from his stash box. He jumped back into the HiAce as his phone sounded.

‘Yep,’ he answered.

‘Hi, Mr Macca. Won’t hold you up.’

‘Jen.’

‘I’ve lost Johnny Hukapa’s mobile number and he’s not at home.’

‘Okay, I’ll text it to you,’ said Mac, as the van lurched into the traffi c, bound for RAAF Base Darwin. ‘So what’s the deal? Why do you need Johnny?’

‘Oh, you know. Just thought I’d check out a few leads for getting Ke back. Routine stuff.’

Covering his mouth with his hand, Mac tried to stay cool. ‘You’re not back in for a few weeks, Jen. We talked about this, remember?

I wanted to make sure I can schedule it so I’m on the Gold Coast while you’re rostered on.’

‘I just want to have a bit of a chinwag,’ said Jenny, too casual.

‘You need an SAS guy for a cuppa and a chat? What’s up?’

‘Ke’s started talking, and -‘

‘Shit, Jen! Can’t the Feds or Immigration handle this?’

‘Sure, but, you know, they’re overworked and… it may be nothing.’

‘ Mate,’ he said, exasperated. ‘If you’ve put Benny and Ke together and come up with KR, then forget it, okay? I want you out of that.’

It had occurred to Mac not to pass on Benny’s information precisely because of the likelihood of this happening.

And then it clicked: ‘Jen, did that AFP bloke, Doug, tell you about George Bartolo’s friend? Is that it?’

‘He might have said something…’ said Jenny, after a pause.

‘Shit, Jen! This is the Khmer Rouge, they’re slavers and killers.

They don’t give a shit and this is not a good time for both of us to be -‘

But Jenny wasn’t backing down and he couldn’t argue this long-distance, over the phone. They signed off and as the HiAce swung onto the freeway out of Darwin, Mac phoned Johnny on his mobile.

‘Yep,’ said Johnny Hukapa.

‘Mate, it’s Mac. Jen’s going to call you, she wants to check out something to do with that boy Ke.’

‘Yeah, sweet as,’ said Johnny.

‘No, mate. It’s not sweet. She’s getting into stuff with Khmer Rouge gangsters and the Bartolos, and I’m not happy about it.’

‘She’s been doing this stuff for a long time, bro. Jen knows what she’s doing.’

‘ Johnny! ‘

‘Okay, okay. So I’ll tell her I won’t ride along.’

Sighing, Mac realised it was beyond that. ‘Mate, the way she’s talking, I’d prefer it if you did ride along. With me?’

‘No worries,’ said Johnny.

Then Mac texted the number to his wife and tried to get his focus back on Hassan and the mini-nuke.

As they rolled to the base security gate, a military guard with a German shepherd walked down the passenger side of the van, while another came out of the glass box and asked for IDs and weapons. The 4RAR boys were cleared for their bags of guns and ammo sitting in the back but the MP with the dog took Mac’s Heckler and followed them across the steaming-hot tarmac to a large hangar, giving it back once they were handed over.

There were some USAF planes sitting around, including a huge C5 Galaxy hunched over like a drab olive monster. Inside the hangar, Mac was greeted by a bloke in a white trop shirt whom Mac knew only as Don.

After shaking hands, Don pulled Mac into an offi ce where a tech sat at a series of screens. Don was DIA, US Defense Intelligence Agency, and had once been tasked to the US Army Twentieth Support Command, the world’s policeman for illegal use and possession of CBRNE weapons. Now he was the DIA’s liaison guy for the American spy assets in northern Australia and Mac was confi dent he could help.

‘So what are we after?’ asked Don, cheery but focused.

‘See that van out there? There’s an exact same model and colour driving around the Northern Territory with at least three mercenaries in it. I need to fi nd that van.’

Don laughed. ‘The NT’s a huge place, McQueen, case you haven’t noticed.’

‘Yeah, massive,’ Mac replied. ‘That’s why I came to the best.’

‘Shit, man. Most Americans wouldn’t have the guts to come asking for this.’

‘Well?’

Don looked at the techie, who shrugged. ‘Looks like a standard Toyota HiAce,’ said the tech guy, an adult with dental braces. ‘Must be thousands on the roads up here, especially when you consider they convert them to campers.’

Calling Robbo over, Mac eyeballed Don. ‘Mate, it’s not the van, it’s what they’ve got in it.’

Robbo gave Don the radio frequencies for the mission and the American humphed, said they’d try. They’d take a top-down image of the Toyota HiAce, make a diagram model of it and feed it into the NSA’s ground systems in Maryland. Then they’d use their satellite surveillance network to take millions of photos of the Northern Territory which would be instantaneously matched or discarded by the computer banks. Within forty minutes, virtually every white Toyota HiAce on NT roads would be photographed, identifi ed and logged for exact location. And once Don and his team had a lock on all of them, Mac was going to ring the luggage label transmitter, at which point the Federal Police would be waiting and monitoring with their cellular tower intercepts. If things worked properly, they might get an ID of the van without the Hassan crew even knowing they’d been made.

‘Cheers, mate,’ said Mac, and peeled away.

‘No worries, buddy,’ said Don. ‘So what’s in the van?’

‘It’s one of the CBRNEs.’

‘Which one?’ Don shouted as Mac walked across the hangar.

‘Put it this way – if you guys’d used it on Hanoi, you wouldn’t have needed Guam.’

At a hangar further north an Australian Army Black Hawk had been wheeled onto the tarmac and a crew sat in the cockpit going over the switches. Didge parked the HiAce in the hangar and they pulled the black gear bags from the rear door of the van as an army bloke in dress greens approached with a clipboard.

Robbo handed Mac a Kevlar vest and a helmet, and an M4 assault rifl e. Mac took it, checked for safety and load then, attaching his Heckler holster, asked Robbo to give the Feds a radio update.

The call came through on Robbo’s radio once they’d been fl ying south for twenty-fi ve minutes: the Yanks were ready to go. They had seventy-one vans outside the Darwin area and ninety-six on the roads of the Northern Territory. Flying for another eight minutes, they landed at Three Ways junction just north of Tennant Creek, where travellers coming south from Darwin could choose to continue south for Alice Springs or turn east for Mt Isa in western Queensland.

Geographically, Three Ways was almost the centre of northern Australia and had the densest non-Darwin population of white Toyota HiAces, according to the NSA computers.

Mac asked for the radio and patched into the AFP command post in Darwin, telling the techie he was about to call the luggage tag number. The techie said, ‘Standing by’. The Hawk depowered, red dust settling like talc around the helo. Mac selected the number he’d input and hit the green button. There was a good chance it wouldn’t even work, since Dr Gough had been confused about whether the luggage tag transmitter was on global roam. Mac listened to the calling tone while Robbo held his radio set to his ear, shaking his head. They held on for forty seconds and the AFP wasn’t detecting a pick-up. Then Robbo suddenly gave the thumbs-up and was tracing his pen across the plastic covering on the map on his lap. Mac watched as Robbo said yes and yes and then out-fucking-standing, his pen circling an area on the map cover. Radioing Don in Darwin, Robbo gave the coordinates for the luggage tag and asked where the vans were in that area. His face turned into a smile a few seconds later, his pen poised on a point about fi ve miles south of Three Ways.

Robbo whooped and Jacko – the sandy-haired bloke who liked cracking jokes – said, ‘Let’s get hunting.’


CHAPTER 57

<p>CHAPTER 57</p>

As they got closer to the point identifi ed on the map, the Hawk’s pilot banked outwards slightly and circled around the white HiAce parked in the scrub about six hundred metres off the Stuart Highway. It was parked on the side of a landing strip, seemingly abandoned.

They set down in front of a battered shed and hangar with the faded words WAUCHOPE AERIAL SERVICES painted in large letters on plain corrugated iron. The red dust rose as they touched down and Mac and Robbo stepped out and ran doubled over to the hangar, M4s held across the body. It was dark and hot inside, and Mac wiped his face on his shirt sleeve but only succeeded in smearing red ochre across his face. To their left were several old Cessna single engines, two of which had been cannibalised to support the third, an old ‘58 model.

The hangar turned into a dustbowl as the helo depowered and, turning to his right, Robbo acknowledged someone. Mac followed his gaze and saw an elderly man in white overalls, white hair and a can of XXXX in his hand, leaning on the mechanic’s counter staring at them.

‘How youse going?’

‘Not bad,’ said Mac. ‘Looking for some people.’

‘They come in about forty minutes ago,’ the old guy estimated,

‘and then this white Skymaster come in, bought some gas from me, paid in cash and then they all fucked off.’ He burped, looking down into his beer. ‘Bunch of fruitcakes, if you ask me.’

Mac felt the sweat making his back wet under the vest. ‘You meet the people in the van?’

‘Nah, mate,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘There were four of them, right? And they sat in that fucking van down there till the Skymaster come in.’

‘What did they look like?’

‘Asian, curry-munchers maybe.’

‘Indian, Pakistani?’ asked Mac.

‘Yeah, mate.’ He burped again. ‘All that. They run across and got in the plane, and they looked like oil and gas guys. White overalls, work boots, nice haircuts and this big case -‘

‘Case?’ asked Mac.

‘Yeah. Light green – the size of a suitcase, maybe fatter, but it didn’t look too heavy.’

‘What was the ID on the plane?’

‘Let’s see,’ he said, swirling his beer can. ‘VH-CWB? That sound right?’

‘Who was the pilot – ever seen him before?’

‘Nah. Never been around here, mate. I reckon WA, that’s what I reckoned.’

‘Why?’ asked Mac.

‘The dust on the undercarriage, mate,’ said the bloke, chucking his beer can in an overfl owing Castrol pail. ‘It was caked on, you know, lumpy an’ that? They’ve been having rain over that way, see?’

When outback dirt got wet, it set like plaster of Paris. ‘Which way did they fl y out?’ asked Mac, impatient.

The oldie pointed east. ‘By the way he was going, I’d say Winton, Longie, Hughenden – that gear. Maybe push through to Barkie?’ he said.

‘Barcaldine,’ said Robbo.

‘With the fuel and fi ve people, what’s the range?’ asked Mac.

The bloke stooped to an old bar fridge, pulled out another XXXX and cracked it with a one-hand technique. ‘With fi ve-up, and the revs they were carrying, I’d say no more than eight, nine hundred mile.

You’d feel safe with Barkie, Aramac, Blackall. See what I’m saying?’


***

There was nothing in the van except the smell of the new David Beckham cologne. Mac knew that smell because Johnny had got a bottle as a birthday present from his wife Arti, and Mac had ribbed him about it being a little femme for a Hukapa.

The HiAce had been rented, driven and cleaned by pros and Mac wasn’t going to fi nd anything.

Robbo phoned in their position and situation to Morris in Darwin, who said he was sending local Queensland cops out to the airfi elds in Barcaldine, Aramac and Blackall. It wasn’t entirely scientifi c – they could veer south to Charleville if they had enough gas, and there was nothing to say they didn’t. The trouble with a forty-minute head start was that it would barely give enough time for the local cops to get out to the airfi elds, let alone to stop someone. And with the amount of small aircraft traffi c in the outback, a white Cessna Skymaster – one of the most popular planes in rural Australia – was hardly going to attract attention.

The other thing was that the Hawk was a thirsty bird and they were going to have to stop in Longreach.

It was past three pm when Mac and the 4RAR boys reached Longreach airport and went into the terminal for some nosebag while the aircrew supervised the refi lling. Mac looked out over the brown grass of the world’s original long-haul terminus: in 1921 Qantas started regular fl ights around the outback from Longreach and the fi rst hangar was still in use.

Robbo wanted to know what was next.

‘Wait for an update from the Feds,’ said Mac, trying to think like Hassan. Queensland was more than twice the size of Texas and every town had its own airfi eld. Operation Limelight was a pursuit, and the pursued were in control.

The radio squelched and Robbo picked up. Shouts barked from the earpiece and Robbo looked at Mac. ‘Local police are holding a pilot at Cooladdi airfi eld, west of Charleville.’

‘We’re there,’ said Mac, as he gulped the bottled water and grabbed a pie for the run across the tarmac.


***

The white twin-engine Skymaster was parked in an unmown fi eld in front of a BP tender, on the side of the Cooladdi airfi eld. A police Nissan Patrol was parked beside the plane and the VH-CWB marking was clear on the tail section.

When they got to the pilot Mac felt immediately that he was straight. He was tall, thin and nerdy with a small chin and mousy hair.

While Robbo led the commandos into the Skymaster for a quick search, the police allowed Mac to take Dave – from Fremantle – for a quick stroll.

‘You know who these people were?’ asked Mac, as they got to the shade of a stand of trees behind the air club hangar.

‘It was booked as Michael Smith, a month ago, and they forwarded a money order as down payment,’ said the bloke, fi shing for a smoke from his polyester blue shorts.

‘Look like Michael Smith to you?’

Dave shrugged again, shook his head. ‘Mate, I didn’t meet them till I picked them up this morning in the Territory. Why, what’s up?’ he asked, eyes darting around under the sunnies.

‘Never mind. What happened here? Where are they?’

‘Left the money in an envelope, got out and walked straight across the airfi eld.’ He pointed, his skinny arms sticking out of his white short-sleeved pilot’s shirt. ‘They got into the trees and into a car or a LandCruiser, or something.’

‘Did you see it, Dave?’

Sucking on the smoke, Dave sneered. ‘What was your name again?’

‘Don’t worry. I’m not confused. Tell me about the car.’

Dave smiled at the sky. ‘What, you a spy or something?’

It happened so fast it even surprised Mac. Dave was suddenly on his knees in the brown grass, his right wrist bent under itself in a Korean wrist-lock. ‘Fuck, please, you’re breaking it,’ he gasped.

Mac kept the pressure on while Dave cried and tried to gulp down the pain. ‘Look at me, Dave.’

‘Yes,’ he whined, looking up.

‘The car.’

‘It was – ouch – it was white, LandCruiser. Please, mate – it was a late model, GXL.’

‘All four got in?’

Dave winced with pain. ‘No, only two.’

Mac eased up and let the bloke go. Dave collapsed in the grass, sobbing and holding his arm out like the further he could get it away from his body the less it would hurt.

‘Two?’

‘Yes,’ he nodded. ‘I was going to tell you -‘

‘So tell me, Dave.’

‘We dropped the other two in Betoota. It’s in my log, YBEO.’

‘What happened?’

‘They got on another plane – white Cherokee.’

‘Did they take anything with them?’ snapped Mac, at the end of his rope.

‘Yeah,’ moaned Dave. ‘They took a green plastic case.’


CHAPTER 58

<p>CHAPTER 58</p>

Dave ID’d Hassan and Lempo from Mac’s fi les as the two who switched planes in Betoota, a dot on the map consisting of two gas pumps in the middle of a rock fi eld on the road to Birdsville. Dave fi ngered the photo of Gorilla, identifi ed him as the one who stayed on the plane and got into the LandCruiser in Cooladdi.

Dave tried to describe the man who travelled with Gorilla; he was a fi ner looking bloke, the pilot said, and might have been Indonesian.

Mac had a sudden fl ash of intuition – he now knew why Freddi had been so defensive at the Idi airfi eld. That fi ner-featured Indonesian would have to be Freddi’s underling, Purni. Purni, who had gone to Monash University. Purni, with his beautiful English and knowledge of Australia, was probably Hassan’s Australian scout. And if Purni was being protected in Jakarta, the whole smell of this thing went higher than Mac had fi rst suspected.

Dave and Mac got back to the local cop, who told Dave to get in the back of the Patrol.

‘What do you reckon?’ the cop asked Mac, waving fl ies from his face as if he was born doing it.

‘I’d like to be able to stay in touch with him,’ said Mac. ‘But other than that, he’s a friendly.’

The cop read out Dave’s mobile number from his notes and Mac input it into his phone.

‘Where would a fugitive go from here?’ asked Mac.

The cop smiled. ‘It’s a crossroads, mate. You could go in any direction and get yourself lost.’

Exhaling, Mac asked him to radio it out there – white LandCruiser, two Asian men – knowing, as he said it, that they could be anywhere.

They touched down at Amberley Base on the outskirts of Brisbane, Mac having spent most of the journey on the radio to John Morris in Darwin. He’d given the bloke everything, knowing that the search was about to go to a level in which live sightings by people like Mac and Robbo would become rare. Once you lost touch you relied on the public reporting strange things or you hoped the fugitives would go through an airport or a railway station or be reported by a hotel receptionist or a parking building operator. With Christmas coming up, there might even be a chance of picking up something from a random breath test.

Mac felt overwhelmed by the size of what was happening but Morris wasn’t annoyed with him, which was a nice step forward.

‘You took a shot, mate,’ said Morris, ‘and at least you’ve chased the bastards east.’

Morris had said that there was a Piper Cherokee logged in a 16.21 landing at Nebo, outside of Mackay. The fi eld wasn’t manned or under surveillance and a plane-spotter called it in.

‘We’re pretty sure this is in Queensland now,’ Morris had said. ‘It’s looking like a Christmas hit.’

The Hassan crew had split and they were well organised. And they’d managed to lose Mac, the Feds, Customs and the 4RAR Commandos.

For now. The whole purpose of JI had been to create outrages and Mac was leaning towards the John Morris view of Hassan’s crew. They were going to crop up in a place where their risk of capture was higher than in the Territory or western Queensland. There were going to be crowds and there was going to be decadence, at least as far as the jihadists saw it.

The new accommodation suites at Amberley had come way up in the world since Mac had last stayed there, but he wanted to get back to Jen and Rachel. A fl ight lieutenant from the transport pool was sent over and he grabbed his pack, thanked the 4RAR boys, wrote down his mobile number, and did the Harold.

The drive south was smooth and they listened to the ABC Radio news: Australian Federal P olice had confi rmed they were chasing several known terror suspects of Pakistani origin. They were last seen heading towards the east coast of Queensland and anyone with anything strange to report should do so on the AFP hotline. The report cut to a grab-style interview with John Morris, whose grumpiness translated perfectly for radio:

‘We’re looking for three men in their thirties and forties, of South Asian appearance.

One of these men has a noticeably heavy build. We believe they are travelling with a man, in his twenties, of Indonesian appearance. They were last sighted out of Mackay and we understand they are heading south. I make a serious request to the public: please do not approach these people, they are considered to be very dangerous and are heavily armed. Just call your local police command and please follow their instructions -‘

‘Sir, can you confi rm the rumour that these fugitives brought a bomb device into Darwin this morning?’

‘I repeat: do not approach these people, please let your local police…’

The RAAF girl dropped him two blocks south of the townhouse at Broadbeach. He thanked her and walked slowly, his pack over his shoulder. The lights were on in the house and he waved to the AFP duty agents as he opened the door. There was a noise from behind and he swung away, reaching into his pack for the Heckler. As he hit the deck and aimed up, he looked into a set of eyes he knew too well.

He froze, lowered the Heckler and breathed out.

‘ Fuck’s sake, Ari!’

The Russian-Israeli had his hands up, standing in the fading light of evening, in Levis and a blue trop shirt.

‘Sorry, McQueen – there’s no easy way, yes?’

Gulping as the AFP moved in with guns raised, Mac smiled and said it was okay.

‘I know this lunatic,’ he said to the closest AFP cop. ‘He’s taking his meds.’

Decocking the Heckler, Mac let Ari help him to his feet.

‘It’s not a question of if, mate,’ he muttered at Ari as he turned the key. ‘One of these days someone will shoot you for that.’

Inside, Mac instantly sensed something different. The smell was wrong, the cooking wasn’t burnt. He raised the Heckler and signalled to Ari, who fell quietly into step behind him. Moving slowly down the hallway, Mac checked the fi rst room, then the second, where Rachel snored in her cot.

A yell came from another room. ‘Is that you, Macca?’

Recognising the voice, he breathed easy again, got the gun out of the way before she could see it.

‘Hi, Mari,’ he said as Mari Hukapa came into the hallway and gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. He’d totally forgotten she was going to be on the Gold Coast for Christmas. She and Jenny had become very close after he’d introduced them in ‘02. Mac extricated himself from her grasp and said, ‘Mari, do you remember Ari?’

The two looked at each other and burst out laughing.

‘It is rhyming, yes?’ said the Russian, a huge grin across his big slab-like face. ‘I think this is good omen.’

Mari vaguely remembered meeting the Russian at the Hukapa compound six years ago in Sumatra. Ari couldn’t take the smile off his face. ‘I remember I embarrass myself. The tiger, she was so much in pain.’

They moved into the lounge room where Ke was watching TV.

Mari explained she was minding the kids while Johnny and Jen looked at some warehouse.

‘They say when they’re due back?’ asked Mac.

‘Seven-thirty, I think Johnny said.’

Looking at his watch, Mac pulled his Nokia out of the pack and rang Jen’s number, which went straight to voicemail. He tried Johnny’s and it picked up on the fi rst ring.

‘Just about to call you, brother.’ Johnny sounded breathless.

‘What’s up?’

‘Jen’s missing,’ rasped Johnny.

‘Missing? Shit, Johnny!’

‘I know. We were just having a poke around and she went down one side of the building and I went down the other and I can’t fi nd her.’

‘Where are you?’ asked Mac, adrenaline pumping again.

Johnny gave the address of a warehouse only ten blocks away. Mac grabbed the car keys and fl ipped the Beretta in the hall table to Ari.

‘Let’s go,’ he said, already dialling the Queensland cops.

They screamed through one set of lights and up to the second set

– which were on red – on Gold Coast Highway. After a quick check he gunned the Commodore through the red lights and sped past Pacifi c Fair, the V6 screaming.

‘Couldn’t use those cops outside your house?’ asked Ari, made nervous by Mac’s driving style.

‘They’re there for my daughter,’ Mac said as he took the wrong side of the road going across Rio Vista and fl ashed across Bermuda before screeching into the old mixed section out the back of Broadbeach Waters, where a small warehouse estate sat amidst housing.

Decelerating, they turned a hard left into a side street and quietly slid to a halt where Johnny was sitting in his silver Falcon.

‘Where did she go?’ asked Mac, in a low tone, checking his Heckler.

‘Down here on the side,’ whispered Johnny as they stealthed down. ‘There’s no doors unlocked, there’s no handles on the doors.

It’s a freaky place – and there’s some strange sounds in there.’

‘Like what?’

‘Like – like it’s a chicken farm or something – lots of rustling like a barn.’

They checked the doors and Ari shone a small Maglite on the entrances. ‘No entry here. Maybe none from inside too, yes?’

Stepping back, Mac saw a long ventilation roof running along the roofl ine.

‘You two,’ he gestured, pointing upwards. They pushed an industrial dumpster over and stood on the lid of it. Mac put the Heckler in the band of his pants and put a hand on either of their shoulders.

Then, stepping into the platform of their hands, he muttered Three, two, one, go! and they catapulted him up. Mac just managed to catch the lip of the building, and he swung there for a couple of seconds on the heavy-duty guttering. Then he got a good swing happening, higher and higher, until he swung his left leg up and grabbed the guttering with his foot and rolled onto the gentle slope of the iron roof.

Mac was panting hard as he leaned back over the guttering.

Johnny catapulted off Ari’s hands and then shoulder and grabbed Mac’s forearm with one hand and the guttering with the other. He swung himself up and joined Mac on the roof.

Staying silent, they moved up the sloped iron to the ventilation roof which stood three feet over the real apex and was clad in glass slat windows. Looking down, they saw a dimly lit warehouse space crowded with children and young women pushed together like battery hens, with sewing machines, tables and overhead spindles forming virtual cages. It looked like a United Nations of Asian women and kids: Cambodians, Thais, Indonesians, Malays and Laotians. There were at least two thousand of them, and by the look of the set-up they all slept and ate there too.

‘Holy shit,’ Johnny mouthed beside him. ‘What the fuck?’

‘Sweatshop,’ said Mac.

‘That’s a sweatshop?’ whispered Johnny.

Mac nodded. ‘When you buy these cheap pants? Comes from a place like this, courtesy of the Khmer Rouge.’

As Johnny muttered homicidal solutions, Mac’s heart leapt up in his throat as he watched an Indo-Chinese thug pushing Jenny along in front of him on the shop fl oor below. The pulse raced in his temples as Mac clocked the thug’s face: it was George Bartolo’s Cambodian mate. The thug had a handgun jammed into the back of Jen’s T-shirt and his right forearm was in a cast from elbow to knuckles.

Grabbing the glass slats in front of them, Johnny pulled back and the whole thing swivelled upwards on a horizontal axle. Pushing their heads through, they looked down at a drop of two storeys to the concrete fl oor, or what you had to do to get your wings in the Regiment and the Royal Marines Commandos.

Johnny crawled through and quietly got his feet over the axle and onto a tiny inside ledge beside the window. Then, as the Cambodian walked past below with Jenny in front of him, Johnny muttered a countdown and simply dropped like a stone, accelerating through the air until his feet connected with the back of the Cambodian’s neck. Both men hit the ground and Johnny rolled away. Mac watched Jenny pick up the Cambodian’s handgun and then check on the fallen thug. Dead.

Johnny pointed to the ventilation roof and Jenny quickly looked up to Mac.

The children who had been sleeping under desks and chairs were waking up while other kids and young women were standing, wondering what was happening. The sound started and grew into a crescendo as the crowded sea of humanity, in appalling states of dress and health, started to ask what the hell was going on.

Mac kept his eyes on a mezzanine offi ce that looked over the sweatshop fl oor. He didn’t want a crossfi re set up that endangered the kids and he trained the Heckler on the window. But he was looking in the wrong direction. A shooter came out of a side door and instantly reached for a gun under his shirt. Mac shot twice, missing on the fi rst then hitting him in the left thigh. The shooter went down as Jen and Johnny ducked in behind a huge box of white fi nished shirts.

Two shooters came to the mezzanine offi ce window, slid it back and started shooting. The children screamed and threw themselves down as Mac tried to even it up. His Heckler was too small to get the range but it forced the shooters back from the window.

In the distance Mac could hear sirens but they were going to be too late, so he stuck his head out and yelled, ‘Ari!’

Mac had two shots left. The shooters came back to the offi ce window and this time Johnny was ready and put one of the blokes on the ground. The other shooter took fl ight down the stairs. At the foot of the offi ce stairs the thug with a bullet in his leg fi red at Jenny, and when she fi red back the thug was joined by a shooter from the offi ce and another from the side entrance. As bullets fl ew through the shirt boxes, Jenny popped up and dropped the shooter still in the offi ce as a thumping sound came from one of the sealed doors until it caved in.

Ari moved into the warehouse, tiptoeing over prone children without looking down with a perfect cup-and-saucer stance and keeping his sight line down the barrel of the Beretta. When the last of the standing shooters saw him and aimed up, Ari dropped him with two shots to the throat. The injured thug on the ground threw down the gun and put his hands up as Jen moved forward, shouting, ‘Hold your fi re! Police!’

As she did, a boy of about thirteen or fourteen, in a black T-shirt and yellow boardies, leapt from behind a stack of cloth bolts, grabbed Jenny around the throat and put a gun to her head. Johnny and Ari moved in slowly but stopped when they saw the youngster was upset.

Teenagers could do anything when they were excited. Mac’s mind raced, wondering how he could distract the kid and let Johnny or Ari drop him, but Jenny took the initiative, dropping her gun and letting herself be taken out the side entrance. As the boy turned his face momentarily, Mac noticed a triangular birthmark that moved from the left shoulder and up into the boy’s hair.

Sprinting across the iron roofi ng, Mac slid the last few metres, off the roof, through the air and onto the ground, where he rolled and came to his feet.

The teenager stopped on the clay and grass siding and pushed his gun further into Jenny’s head. Her lips were white, though she looked determined rather than scared.

‘I kill her!’ screamed the kid.

Mac dropped the Heckler and put his hands out to the side, showing the boy his wrists.

‘You the boss now, Santo.’

‘How you know my name?’ challenged the boy.

‘I know Merpati too,’ said Mac, short of breath.

‘You lie! You lie!’ the boy screamed, and shot at Mac’s feet. ‘Merpati is dead! I see!’

‘I not lie, Santo,’ Mac panted. ‘Merpati is alive. I found her and took her to hospital. She’s alive and she misses you, Santo.’

Tears ran off the boy’s face and for a second it was six years ago and Mac was holding the nine-year-old boy down, trying to keep them both alive, his face buried in that birthmark.

Then Santo hardened again. ‘Who send you?’

‘I followed my wife,’ he said, pointing at Jenny, ‘and we have a daughter. A beautiful daughter.’

Santo’s face now ran with tears, his head moving back and forth in denial as he gripped Jen’s throat. ‘I do this job now – I look after business.’

‘No, Santo,’ said Mac gently. ‘You were made to do this by evil men. You are a good boy, mate, and I want to take you back to Merpati and to your mum and dad, okay?’

‘Cannot go back,’ Santo bawled.

‘Yes you can, Santo! Remember I told you that if you did what I asked you, that you’d live?’

Santo’s eyes went wide and he stopped crying. Speaking like he was in a trance he said, ‘And I was quiet, Mr Mac – I did what you say.’

He pushed Jenny away and put the handgun in his mouth, Mac screaming No, Santo! as he pulled the trigger.

They froze in that position as the cop cars fi nally screeched around the corner. Cops fl ew out, radios barking.

Santo sagged to the ground, but there was no detonation – only a click.

Mac walked up to the boy, took the jammed Beretta out of his mouth.

‘You okay?’ he asked Jenny, as she moved in for a hug.

‘Doing better than him,’ she said softly, looking down.

Santo trembled like a leaf, but he was alive.

The police interviews went smoothly for Mac and Johnny, but the Broadbeach Ds weren’t buying Ari’s cover of a salesman. Jenny smoothed that over but the detectives wanted to charge Santo with something, even when Jenny insisted she didn’t want to make a complaint against the boy.

While it was being sorted at the Broadbeach station, Jenny got on the phone to get the infrastructure in place for the slaves, or what some American newspapers had tried to rebadge as involuntary labour.

The detectives had to take Santo into custody, so Mac had watched the boy go, promising him that he’d take him back to Idi.

‘I knew you’d come, Mr Mac,’ said Santo.

Mac roughed his hair and told him to cooperate with the police.


CHAPTER 59

<p>CHAPTER 59</p>

The taxi driver outside Canberra Airport looked at Mac too hard, so he walked to the next cab, asked for St John’s Church.

It was a scorching morning and the well-wishers stood in the old gardens around the colonial church on Constitution Avenue, looking out over Lake Burley Griffi n. Mac strolled to the church, clocking several APS lookouts with handguns on their hips, and then saw Scotty, fagging by the wooden gate to the main path.

‘Macca,’ said Scotty, putting out his hand.

‘How’s it going, mate?’ replied Mac.

Silence sat between them for a couple of seconds, both of them affected by the deaths of Tony and Vi, and neither very good at expressing it. The funerals would be in Perth two days before Christmas, but this was a memorial for the intelligence and diplomatic world.

‘Get the bastards?’ asked Scotty, his roundish face red in the heat.

‘Not yet, mate,’ said Mac, looking away.

The name Hassan Ali had worked deeply into his life. Now, thanks to Hassan, he was standing in a churchyard about to farewell a couple of people who had been very dear to him. In the intelligence game there were careerists and employees and all the rest of them, just like in any organisation. And then there were the brothers, the thousand-per centers – people like Davidson and Scotty and Ted, people you could develop more trust with in one hour than you could with an Atkins or an Urquhart in a lifetime.

Mac tried to calm his fury and collect himself. He wanted this to be a memorial service where he thought about Tony’s toughness and Vi’s humour and charity. Neither of them had been much into pity. But when Mac walked into the beautiful old sandstone church, he saw the garlands, saw the photographs on the easels and heard the soft organ music. And as he sat in the pew he had a momentary problem with the pollen.

The parishioners put on a tea party in the gardens of St John’s afterwards, and Mac stood under the awning talking with various wives and intel types he’d met over the years. There were British and American spooks and a Japanese diplomat. As the party wound down, Greg Tobin touched him on the elbow and led him out from under the awning and over to the graveyard.

‘So, how are we doing with Limelight?’

‘I was right about the water-purifi cation canister,’ he said, making sure no one was behind him, ‘but they lost us in the outback.’

‘They?’

‘Hassan, Shareef, a hit man called Lempo. And we might have an Indonesian in there too – intel bloke.’ Mac kicked at grass. ‘So, Greg, any progress on Tony and Vi?’

‘Not the cops, mate,’ said Tobin.

‘No, I mean, given any thought to how they were tracked down?’

‘Look, mate, we’re all a little upset -‘

‘I just want to tick it off,’ snapped Mac. ‘Call it housekeeping.’

Tobin sighed. ‘I’m waiting for the Queensland cops to do their paperwork, then – if it looks bad from the fi rm’s perspective – I’m sure the DG will want an internal inquiry.’

‘Screw the DG, Greg. I mean, really! You’re a director of operations and we look after our own. We should know who leaked Vi’s maiden name because I reckon that’s how they were found,’ he said.

Tobin looked into his iced water. ‘You’re right. By the way, I was circularised this morning. Limelight’s being joined by a bunch of Americans.’

‘Really?’ asked Mac.

‘Called the Twentieth, something something -‘

‘Twentieth Support Command,’ said Mac. ‘CBRNE experts from the US Army.’

Tobin crinkled his forehead. ‘Whole bunch of them landed at Amberley about two this morning. Chinooks, Hawks, spooks in overalls. There’s a bloke running them, calls himself Don.’

The one o’clock fl ight was late and then was delayed in Sydney, which was even hotter than Canberra – the TV said thirty-nine degrees. Mac sat in the Qantas lounge, glad to be in the air-con. The waitress cleared his table and he wandered to the bar, grabbed a beer, saw his tail as he walked back. He was a dark-haired Anglo male, medium height and build, in business clothes. He was bland and his complexion told Mac the guy spent more time indoors than out.

The Nokia sounded as he resumed his seat. It was Ari, wanting an update.

‘Mate, I could ask you the same thing,’ said Mac as he sipped on the Crown Lager. ‘Chased them from Darwin into Queensland and lost them. How’d you go with the cops?’

‘Well, my friend, I am salesman, from Russia, and my credentials are good.’

‘Don’t tell me – they rang a number in Moscow, right? All a big misunderstanding.’

Ari laughed. ‘So I am now thinking we looking at where Hassan is heading, yes?’

‘That’s the idea, mate. How about the east coast of Australia?’

‘That’s a large place.’

‘True.’

‘So,’ said Ari, a little wheedling. ‘No more intel, nothing we can work on?’

‘Not that I can think of, mate.’

‘What about this latents?’

‘BAIS took two latents from a notepad at the Galaxy hotel. The fi rst was a phone number that led them to a traitor. The second one -‘

‘I have here.’

‘What?!’

‘Well, yes, McQueen,’ he said. ‘You know how it is.’

Mac couldn’t believe Mossad had a tap on a BAIS phone line. ‘So what do you make of it?’

‘I am not knowing, McQueen – I need to sit down, have chat about this.’

Mac rubbed his face. He’d wanted to spend some time with Jenny and Rachel and he had the Sarah situation to cover, and then Frank and Pat were in town too.

‘Okay, mate.’ He looked at his watch. ‘Let’s say six o’clock in the Iluka?’

‘Okay, McQueen. Be careful, yes?’

‘More than most, mate.’

He called John Morris, who sounded upbeat. The AFP had a sighting at the Isis River BP station just out of Maryborough. Two South Asian men in a white Nissan Patro both well dressed, one in his forties, the other early thirties. The pump attendant was suspicious because they looked too classy to be running around at two am and then they paid in cash and didn’t want the receipt. The bloke got the fi rst part of the rego – GU. And there was now a wide alert with the local cops.

‘We looking at Queensland as the target, John?’ asked Mac, feeling the sense of confusion fi nally getting down to a sharper point.

‘Too early to say, mate.’

‘Yeah, I know,’ said Mac, annoyed at the whole cautious cop routine. ‘But now we’d have to be concluding Brissie, Gold Coast, right?’

‘It’s the only conclusion, mate. We don’t have a choice.’

Mac was being shut out of it. The cops had narrowed the threat into something they could manage – and hopefully defeat – and Mac was happy he’d at least helped get them to this stage.

‘And McQueen?’

‘Yeah, mate?’

‘Nice work with the luggage tags and satellites. You did good.’

After ringing off, Mac slugged back his beer, stood and walked past the tail, keeping his pace normal. He went down the escalators to the ground level, found the gents and eased into a toilet cubicle. Putting his backpack on the cistern, he lowered the seat, sat and waited. As people came and went, he acclimatised to the sounds and waited for the right gait. Men didn’t creep into a toilet, they stormed it. So Mac waited for the slow squeak of the door and a lack of footfalls as his tail cased the place. He waited eleven minutes, until there was one other bloke, with a histrionic style, and no one else.

He was right on the verge of suggesting the other cubicle occupant went easier on the processed meats when the door made a light squeal and the concourse noise fl ooded in for slightly too long.

Someone had paused at the door. Mac held his feet up and waited for the footfalls to come close and then he fl ung open the cubicle door.

The tail was right in front of the cubicle, his face betraying him. Mac lunged but the tail was ready and attempted a stamp kick. Rushing him, Mac knocked the tail off-balance and pushed him up off his feet into the wall, holding him in a half nelson.

The tail struggled and clawed at Mac’s face but after a few seconds Mac’s pressure on the carotids worked their magic and the tail faded into unconsciousness.

Mac dragged the bloke into his cubicle, sat him on the lowered seat, leaned him back, shut the door and ratted him. He had about two minutes before the bloke woke up fully and he tried the suit pockets and came up with boarding passes in the name of Short, John James; one Sydney to Coolangatta and the other one a Singapore Airlines fl ight from Singers to Brisbane. Same fl ight as Mac had taken.

Checking the other jacket pocket, Mac came up with a Nokia phone while the tail snored. Pulling out his own phone, Mac put the tail’s SIM card into his own Nokia and transferred the contacts to

‘phone’. Then went to ‘calls made’ and saved the top one and went to calls received and saved the top one. He put the SIM back in John Short’s phone and put the phone and wallet back where they came from. As the bloke snorted for breath Mac undid the tail’s belt and pulled his pants and undies off, checking the undies label as he did so: T.M. Lewin boxer shorts, in the same colour as his cotton Oxford.

Putting the pants and undies in his pack, Mac walked out.

There was a middle-aged security guard in front of Mac as he came out. The bloke looked to be a proper sort of Aussie bloke, so Mac, acting concerned, leaned in.

‘Mate, this is embarrassing – but there’s a drunk in there asking men for sex.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, champ. It’s not like I’m homophobic or anything, but I am a Catholic. Understand?’

The guard understood perfectly and Mac walked towards his boarding gate.

The last call John Short had made had been to a local mobile number, but the last call he’d received had the Jakarta prefi x, 6221, in front of a landline number Mac vaguely recognised. He couldn’t place it so as his cab made north for Broadbeach from Coolangatta Mac thought what the fuck and pressed the green button. It connected into TI and made those strange ringing sounds with a big gap between them. An English female voice answered and said, Coastal Trading Company, may I help you?

Mac hung up, breathed out as he sank into the back seat of the cab and saved John Short’s ‘contacts’ list from ‘phone’ to ‘SIM’.

Danny, he thought, tapping his teeth with the Nokia. Danny fucking Fitzgibbon.


CHAPTER 60

<p>CHAPTER 60</p>

The AFP guards greeted Mac as he ran up the steps. Letting himself into the townhouse, he saw Jen was on the phone and Rachel was sitting on the fl oor banging a green plastic cube with a plastic ball.

Pulling a VB from the fridge, he raised an inquiring eyebrow at Jenny and she nodded. He opened another bottle for her and sat down on the fl oor with Rachel. Jenny moved out onto the patio and sat at the table, making lots of hmm noises, which usually meant she thought someone was bullshitting her. She nodded, sipped on the beer and signed off. Mac gave Rachel a kiss on the forehead and walked out to the patio and kissed his wife.

‘What’s happening?’ he asked, easing back in the plastic outdoor chair, the thromp of helos evident in the distance.

‘Those people in the sweatshop are from all over South-East, even Burma,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘Going to take ages to repatriate them.’

‘Not your problem yet, is it?’ he asked.

Jenny gave him The Look and Mac said, ‘Fair enough. So what about Santo?’

‘They’ve charged him.’

Mac frowned and sighed. ‘Shit.’

‘No one holds a gun to a cop’s head and then walks,’ said Jen. ‘PA are strong about that up here – not how it works.’

Mac was going to say something smart about the Police Association

– the cops’ trade union – but decided against it. They weren’t always there for Frank in the old days.

‘But anyway,’ she said, ‘Ke is back with his sisters and they’re all applying for residency, so fi ngers crossed.’

Mac wondered if he shouldn’t have tried harder with Ke, got him out of the immigration tangle. He decided to leave it.

‘I’m having a beer with Ari at six, but I won’t be late.’

‘Ari, huh?’ she smiled.

‘What?’

‘Oh, nothing.’

‘Well say it!’

‘You know.’

‘Do I?’ asked Mac, a little lost in the whole female obtuse thing.

‘Yeah, you know – Ari and Mari, up a tree?’

Laughing, Mac asked her if she was kidding.

‘No. They like each other, didn’t you see?’

Mac hadn’t seen.

‘So, maybe -‘

Mac got it. ‘Okay, we’ll be at the Iluka bar. If she meets us there at six-thirty, I’ll do the handover, okay?’

Jenny smiled widely and picked up the cordless phone, started dialling.

‘Then I could be in the mood for a sexy brunette with a great arse,’ said Mac with a wink.

Ari and Mac compared their faxes of the latents that BAIS had taken from the Galaxy.

‘I think these are the Araby words, yes?’ asked Ari, pointing to three symbols that were faint but clearly meant something. Each one was at a slightly different angle and seemed to sit around a bunch of lines, some that were parallel, others at an angle with what looked like a dotted or broken line through the whole set-up. Superimposed was a list of numbers and numerals that were easily recognisable as fl ight times from Singers to Darwin.

Ari, who had obviously looked at it harder than Mac, suggested that they read this latent as possibly a combination of two, and that the Arabic symbols and the lines might have been beneath the fl ight times.

They looked at it and started with the symbols. The fi rst one, bounded by two straight vertical lines, started with what could be a ‘V’ and faded into several lines and curves. To its left was a longer series – done by the same hand – and positioned beside a circle. Mac and Ari could discern a crucifi x or a ‘T’ in the jumble but it didn’t appear to relate to the scrawls around it. To the right, and lower than the other words – and also bound within its own lines – was a short collection of curves. The lines suggested a map or blueprint, with accompanying codes. But even with Mossad’s extraordinary attempts to bring the latent writing to life, it was indistinct to Ari and Mac.

‘I am worried about this circle here, McQueen,’ said Ari, grimacing and sipping his beer, and looking around the bar before going back to the latent. ‘Lines here, symbols here,’ he gestured, ‘but this circle in middle – like tower or building?’

‘I guess if we’re saying this is a map,’ said Mac, ‘then the question is, what of? A circuit board? A bugging set-up in a house? An


IT

<p>IT</p>

network? Are these electrical symbols?’

Ari sat back in the cane chair. ‘We have Hassan in Australia, with device. He could be anywhere and this is the only clues we have. I was thinking it must have local relevance – that it would mean something to you.’

Shaking his head, Mac turned the paper on its side and upside down. But there was still nothing.

‘I was desperate, so I tried this too,’ said Ari, slightly embarrassed.

Pulling another piece of A4 fax paper from the chest pocket of his red trop shirt, he unfolded it. ‘I had some people take out the fl ight times and do enhancement, yes?’

He laid down the page and now it looked like a map. The lines

– when enhanced by the techs at Mossad – ran into one another so the map could perhaps be of a street, an airport runway, a container port. But the words were still a problem, not helped by the fact that whoever had written them on a pad in the Galaxy hadn’t been intending for his work to be held as an archive. It was a quick sketch and the writing was shorthand.

‘The Federal Police have sightings of these guys heading south down the Queensland coast – Maryborough was the latest. So I’ve been thinking about Brisbane airport,’ said Mac, drinking his XXXX.

‘Australian airports are crowded this time of year. Or it could be one of the big shopping malls: the last few days of shopping before Christmas. Then it’s Christmas on the Thursday this year.’

‘And Federal Police has this, yes?’ asked Ari.

‘Yep. So do ASIS and ASIO and the state cops. But they have a live search going on for a nuclear device. You can imagine that your average cop is not exactly relaxed about that, right?’

Someone cleared their throat behind Mac, and Ari looked up, blushed as he smiled. Mari greeted Mac with a hug and shook hands with Ari as he stood, a smile fi xed on his face like Howdy Doody. She looked stunning, her long hair pulled up in a loose bun, showing off her graceful neck.

‘Mari. That is such beautiful name,’ said Ari. If he’d had a cap it would have been mangled in his hands.

‘Thanks, Ari – it’s short for Marama.’

‘ Mar -rar-mar,’ he drawled slowly, putting the Russian ‘r’ sounds into it. ‘I like that.’

They drank and joked, Mari saying that she might stay in Queensland this trip – could be time to join the real world and make some money with her fancy vet’s degree. They joked about her father, Huck, coming to town for Chrissie and how the big man went to pieces whenever he saw his grandson, James.

‘Dad’s a big sook,’ laughed Mari. ‘At least, with his family he is.’

Mac left them to it and walked south along the beach, watching the Pacifi c turn purple and the lights going on in the apartments along the beach. People were lighting citronella fl ares and fi ring up barbecues on their patios.

When he came into the house, the lights were down and some candles were burning on the outside table, Ricki Lee Jones was on the stereo – the fi rst album. Jenny came through and they met in the living room. She sipped from her wine, put the glass down, grabbed his wrists and pulled his hands around to her bum as she snuggled in with a smile. He noticed she’d put on lipstick.

‘What was that about brunettes?’ she teased.

‘Oh that?’ smiled Mac. ‘I’ll need to authenticate fi rst.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, I might have to do some close-range surveillance, check that you are who you say you are.’

‘Some undercover work, huh?’ she giggled.

‘Might even do a taste test,’ he murmured, kissing her neck. ‘Have to do these things properly.’

‘Invade my privacy,’ she purred, now grinding her hips into him. She put her hands up to his face and they kissed and Mac felt everything else pushed out of his mind. He felt the warmth of his wife’s arousal on his cheek as she kissed him and pushed him back to the kitchen bar. She squeezed her body onto him in undulating waves and as he lifted his right hand to her breast and felt her heart beating through her tank top, Jenny dropped her mouth to the nape of his neck and dropped her hand to his pants. He leaned back on the kitchen bar, letting her kiss him in a place that he had always guarded.

Jenny was the only person allowed to touch his neck.

She kissed him up the side of his face and came eye to eye with him. ‘Take me to bed,’ she said in a hoarse whisper. As she kissed him again he caught a glimpse of them in the mirror on the other side of the room, noticing that the tag on her tank was out. For a split second he wondered what Esprit would be backwards and then just as quickly he adjusted that thought to the fact that when people spelled words backwards they never accounted for the letters turning backwards too and creating whole new meanings, other languages…

Jenny disengaged and looked at his face as he tensed, then sighed as she realised she’d lost him.

He slapped at the pockets of his jeans until he found what he was looking for in his back pocket. Unfurling the enhanced latent from Mossad, with the fl ight times taken out, he looked at it again. Then he turned it around and pointed it at the mirror, adrenaline pumping through his temples. The reason the latent from that pad in the Galaxy was so confused was because the writer had initially written fl ight times, probably from a phone call. Then, at a subsequent time, when the pad was grabbed and opened randomly and the piece of paper also grabbed randomly – the diagram was now being pressed down on the back of the piece of paper that had received the fl ight times latent. So it was reversed.

The latent Mac held was now clearly identifi able as an ad hoc street map: a main road ran up and down the page with a branch road running off to the left. Written on that branch road was Orch, and on the main trunk was Cav. Ari had been half right about the circle being a tower. It was a tower that went into the ground, a stormwater drain indicated by the word storm, and Mac could envisage exactly where it was. Someone in Hassan’s crew – perhaps Hassan himself – had drawn a street map of the intersection of Cavill Avenue and Orchid Avenue, the main streets of Surfers Paradise, and the most crowded outdoor area in Queensland – perhaps Australia – in the nights leading up to Christmas. Mac thought about his conversation with Ari. He’d been worried about Christmas shopping crowds, but the crowds were just as big for drinking and carousing. And it was Saturday night – the last Saturday before Christmas.


CHAPTER 61

<p>CHAPTER 61</p>

His phone cut in and out as Mac ran the two kilometres north to the heart of Surfers Paradise, where Cavill Avenue hit the Esplanade. He went over the latent fax with John Morris, the cop also short of breath as Mac asked him to hold it up to a mirror.

‘Got it,’ said Morris, now at AFP headquarters in Brisbane. And then, ‘Oh shit.’

Morris said he was going to send the AFP and Queensland cops straight into the Cavill Mall area. Mac thought about how on any Saturday night the area was rocking, but on the last Saturday before Christmas it would be absolutely chockers. Every teenager, every uni student and tourism worker from around the Gold Coast and Brisbane would be on the strip that started at Surfers Paradise Beach, ran west down Cavill Avenue and then hooked north into Orchid Avenue. It was wall-to-wall bars, nightclubs and restaurants, with thousands of people on the streets. If you were trying to make a point about Aussie decadence, then a bunch of drunken young men and girls in short skirts was an easy target, and the parallels between Surfers and Kuta in their high seasons were frightening.

As Mac panted his way up Northcliffe Terrace on the beachfront, the Heckler chafi ng in his waistband, he argued with Morris about clearing the place. ‘What if Hassan’s people are in visual contact, like they were for Kuta?’ gasped Mac, as he waited for traffi c on Clifford, kids parking to smoke drugs and fool around. ‘What if they say, Let’s blow it and get out of town?’

‘I can’t make that call, McQueen,’ said Morris. ‘Those lives aren’t mine to toy with. I want them out of there till we’ve swept it for devices.’

Mac sprinted on, coming onto the Esplanade where he could look along the main road on the beachfront and see all the pubs, bars and restaurants lit up like a garish parody of Gold Coast glitz. ‘Can’t we at least get the jammers in here fi rst, John?’ he panted. ‘If we can jam the signal then they can’t trigger the device, right?’

‘No time,’ said Morris. ‘The jammers we have access to are in Sydney and Darwin.’

‘Have you spoken with Don yet?’ asked Mac. ‘They’ve got jammers, they’ve got the lot.’

‘Yes, McQueen, I spoke to Don.’

‘Well? Are they on their way?’

‘They sent a Chinook and a Hawk down the coast from Amberley about half an hour ago. Don’t know who tipped them off.’

‘Why not send in the evacuation teams?’ Mac panted. ‘Have them primed but standing off and waiting for those signals to be jammed?’

‘Okay, McQueen.’

‘Mate, I need Don to call me, quick-smart,’ yelled Mac, giving Morris his number as he jogged past the Surfers Paradise Surf Club bar then hung up and stopped at the junction of Cavill Mall. It was crowded with families, youngsters, oldies and tourists from all parts of Australia, Asia and beyond. Christmas lanterns hung suspended across the mall area between buildings and the sound of Surfers – the ocean, the drinkers, the music – created a roar of the Good Life, the very thing JI wanted destroyed.

The phone trilled. Mac pushed the green button, saying, ‘Don?’

‘Okay, McQueen. So you think the device is under the road?’

‘It’s what the latent says – well, it suggests it. I think we have to jam the airwaves before we evacuate.’

‘I agree,’ snapped Don, the thromp of helo motors and rotors in the background. ‘Do we have contact with the perpetrators?’

‘No, mate. I’m about to go wandering, have a nosey-poke. I reckon there’s a radio or cellular trigger on the thing and they’ll be doing a recce before they blow it,’ said Mac.

‘Many people about?’

‘Thousands already and it’s only…’ he stopped, looked at his watch. ‘Seven-fi fteen. There’ll be double that by nine o’clock.’

The pedestrian light went green and he ran across the road to the Iluka.

‘We’re three minutes away,’ said the American spook. ‘We just fl ew over the – what’s it called – the Sea Drome?’

‘SeaWorld. You got a lock on my phone?’

‘Pope Catholic?’

Patrons and bouncers alike stared at Mac like he might be dangerous as he gesticulated at Ari and Mari. They came out, met him on the pavement.

‘Everything okay, Macca?’ Mari asked.

‘Yeah, sweet,’ he gulped, still short of breath. ‘But I need you to grab Johnny and go and see Jenny. Get James and Arti over there too, okay?’ He held her left shoulder as he spoke.

‘But -‘ she started, then changed tack as she looked into his eyes.

‘Okay – you guys be careful, okay?’ She kissed Mac on the cheek, Ari on the lips, and fl ed.

Mac raced back across the Esplanade with Ari so they were on the ocean side. Down the vast beach to the north known as Main Beach they saw the powerful landing lights of the Chinooks and the red fl ying lights of the Black Hawk out the front as the helos raced south to their position. Mac briefed Ari on his latest understanding of the mini-nuke, as he called Don. ‘Mate, can you get Morris to send in the troops before you jam the airwaves?’

‘Roger that,’ said Don. ‘We have your position. We’ll land on the beach but we’re going to shut down now, okay?’

‘Okay, mate. We’re at the top of the stairs to the beach.’

He didn’t need to hang up because the line went dead as the US

Army’s signals-jamming came on. The Twentieth Support Command’s Chinook helos – the enormous twin-rotor aircraft that had become famous in Vietnam for their lifting capacity – carried a comms and signals-defeat capability equivalent to many militaries, and all on a single helo. When the Twentieth went chasing bad guys and their bio or chemical or nuclear nasties, the fi rst thing they did was shut down all radio and cellular signals in a defi ned area around the threat. It at least prevented a remote triggering.

‘What’s the plan?’ asked Ari, dipping into his holster-bag to check on his weapon.

‘Remember that night in Kuta?’ asked Mac, his voice cracking with stress. ‘The night of the bombing?’

‘Yes, for sure.’

‘You told me that you’d been tailing Hassan and Abu Samir, and that they’d been on Legian Street an hour before the blasts?’

‘Yes.’

‘I think Gorilla and Lempo, maybe even Hassan, are in there right now,’ said Mac, pointing down through the surge of humanity in Cavill Mall. ‘I think it might be their MO.’

‘I think you are right,’ said Ari, squinting at the crowds.

Three helos laid up and dropped to the sand on Surfers Paradise Beach just as two police cars pulled up behind Mac and Ari. Next, a large police truck came to a halt and a couple of policewomen pulled roadblock equipment from the rear.

The noise was deafening, and sand and rubbish was thrown into the air, as the US Army landed. Mac noticed something strange about the second Black Hawk, realising what it was as soldiers emerged and ran up the beach towards Mac in camo fatigues, Kevlar vests and helmets.

The guys from the Hawk were Australians, 4RAR Commandos.

One of the Chinooks, distinctive with their massive rear-engine turrets, disgorged four men in various shades of overalls, black baseball caps and M4 assault rifl es. They looked like DIA and one of them was carrying a dark canvas bag in his large paw.

The joint team mounted the stairs and the fi rst to reach Mac and Ari was Robbo. They did a palm shake and the DIA operators came up behind, Don walking straight up to Mac. The rubber-neckers with their beers in their hands circled for a look and a teenage girl with braces complained that she couldn’t send a text.

Mac introduced Ari to the Aussies and the American as, behind them, another police car squealed to a stop on the Esplanade and an older man with grey hair and a dress cap got out and started yelling into a radio set. He turned, saw the DIA and Commandos, and came over.

Don introduced himself and the cop said, ‘Superintendent Bob Row, Queensland Police. We’ve got a call to evacuate the area.’

‘Can we coordinate?’ asked Don, pointing at Row’s radio. ‘We may need to talk.’

‘Who are you?’ asked the cop, looking Don up and down.

‘It’s okay. Your Minister for Foreign Affairs knows. We can call him if you like?’

‘Anyone here speak English?’ asked Bob Row, turning to Mac.

‘He’s US Department of Defense – Twentieth Support Command.’

‘That’s CBRNE,’ said Bob. ‘My guys aren’t suited up for that shit.’

‘Won’t matter if this thing blows,’ said Mac, then wished he hadn’t.

Bob Row stared at him with all-seeing brown eyes. ‘Great, so we’ve got a nuke in fucking Cavill Mall,’ he spat, then peeled away, yelling into his radio, ‘ Jimbo, Delia – I need everyone out, in a four-block radius of Cavill – repeat, four blocks, hotels, roads – everything. Shut it down! ‘

Mac ran over to a large Gold Coast City Council truck which had pulled up and was idling. There were two men in the front cab and one in the crew cab behind. The bloke in the passenger seat jumped down, wearing blue overalls and a yellow hard hat. ‘Some Yank called?

That you?’

‘No, mate,’ said Mac. ‘He’s over here. Have you got the stormwater and sewer gear?’

‘What gear?’ asked the bloke.

‘You know, to pull up the stormwater covers, so we can get down there.’

‘Well, of course we do – we’re the council, mate. Sandy’s the name, by the way,’ he said, shaking Mac’s hand.

As the police began clearing people out of Cavill Mall – puzzled men and women emerging from restaurants, bars and hotels – Mac, Don and the soldiers followed the council truck down the emptying mall. The original plan had been to keep the punters quiet and not panic them, but the sight of the Commandos and the tooled-up DIA boys was making the stragglers nervous. Some of the public had started running and women were raising their voices at their kids.

The orange light fl ashed on the roof of the council truck as they got to the stormwater drain at the corner of Cavill and Orchid. Sandy pulled on his gloves, turned on a spotlight and aimed it at the large ventilated iron cover on the drain, then waited for the two workers to come around with their pinch bars. They each took a side and, on the signal, leaned back on the levers and lifted the cover out of its hole, sliding it along the paving stones on the mall.

Don and Mac stepped up to the stormwater drain and peered over the edge. The light from the council’s spotlight bounced down ten metres into the drain, refl ecting on two things: a grey-green steel canister and a Pakistani male’s face.

‘ Fuck! ‘ yelped Don as the Pakistani’s gun came up and the fi rst shot was fi red.


CHAPTER 62

<p>CHAPTER 62</p>

As Mac fell backwards onto his arse he saw Don clutch at his left trapezoid muscle before passing out. Robbo and Didge moved to the edge of the manhole and laid down some three-burst fi re, which panicked the remaining Cavill Mall crowds into a stampede.

Didge gave a ‘clear’ sign and two DIA operators, one carrying the canvas bag, put on plastic welder’s masks and prepared to go down the manhole and secure the device.

‘Everyone back, and sorry about your cell phones,’ said the taller of the two.

A loud buzzing sound erupted from the stormwater drain for two seconds. It stopped and a strange smell leached out.

‘Mini-nukes detonation are all circuit boards,’ said Ari, nodding.

‘Burn circuit board and no one triggers bomb, yes?’

Mac realised their mobile phones had just been zapped too.

Ari helped Mac to his feet, Mac still reeling from the sight of that face. ‘Ari, it’s Shareef – you know, Gorilla.’

‘Time to catchee monkey,’ said Ari, his eyes wild for the chase as he, Didge and Robbo dropped down the internal ladder.

‘It goes to the river, mate,’ barked Mac. ‘We’ll meet you there.’

‘Get Don an ambulance,’ said Mac to Sandy, as two cops raced up and a police helo hovered above.

Running west down Cavill Avenue, Mac went straight across the Gold Coast Highway in front of the Hard Rock without stopping. The road had been blocked by the police and he sprinted west for the river with Jacko and Bluey behind him. The road sloped downhill as they neared the Nerang River. They dodged cars across Ferry Avenue and then stormed to the end of Cavill and through some trees onto the river bank. They looked up and down the river for the stormwater outlet, gasping for air in the balminess of early evening.

‘There,’ said Bluey, pointing.

Mac followed his arm into the fading light, thirty metres downriver, where a speedboat sat idling next to a large concrete fortress sticking into the Nerang. As they started moving down the river bank to the speedboat, more shooting broke out. A man in dark overalls clambered into the boat and two others start shooting into the stormwater outlet as the speedboat took off. Bluey dropped to his knee in a kneeling marksman pose and put bursts of three-shot into the boat as it accelerated past them in a surge of foam and exhaust fumes. One of the bombers in the back of the boat started shooting, saw Mac and then paused. As he did so he took a barrage in the chest and fell backwards out of the boat. His colleagues fi red back, spraying the Aussies with gunfi re. Mac ducked down and muttered a quick prayer for Purni as splinters exploded out of the trees.

Jacko let off a stream of full auto at the speedboat but it was too far away and speeding upriver. Jacko and Bluey were reloading mags as Mac looked back to the stormwater outlet. All three of the guys came out and Mac gave the thumbs-up as he gasped for breath. He’d been trained for paramilitary but he hated being fi red at.

‘We’re in luck,’ said Bluey, pointing to a pontoon jetty with a Nerang Jet tourist boat tied up to it. They moved towards it as a couple of men in shorts and company polo shirts came out of the offi ce on the river bank. ‘Fuck’s sake,’ said the younger one. ‘What the fuck was that?’

‘Keys in here?’ asked Mac, pointing down at the jet boat.

‘Who the fuck are you?’ asked the bloke, looking Mac up and down.

Leaping into the boat, Mac said, ‘Tell ‘im, Bluey.’

Bluey put his M4 in the bloke’s face and Mr Nerang Jet put his hands up and said, ‘In the ignition.’

The others piled in as Ari and the other 4RAR boys ran up the jetty.

‘Mate, they’ve got a car,’ said Mac, pointing to a blue ute with NERANG JET on the side. ‘Why not shadow us up the river?’

Didge put his big hand out to the other Nerang Jet guy and the bloke shrugged and handed over the keys while Robbo and Ari got in the ute.

Mac turned the ignition and the boat roared to life. The accelerator was on the fl oor but he couldn’t work out where the gearshift was to engage the drive. Looking over he gestured for the Nerang Jet bloke to come over as the ute squealed away from the car park, Didge behind the wheel.

‘What’s your name, champ?’

‘Gary,’ said the owner of the jet boat.

‘You’re driving,’ said Mac. ‘Let’s go.’

The boat – the Crazy Lady – leapt like a salmon and was on a plane within seconds as the V8 screamed its lungs out. They surged forward with an impetus that made Mac’s face peel back. He held on beside Gary, telling him what they were looking for: a white medium-length speedboat with a single large Mercury outboard on it. As they powered up around the hook of the river, they caught a glimpse of the fugitives’ boat. Mac pointed and Gary nodded, gave the Crazy Lady even more gas, and the thumps on the hull of the vessel made it sound like hundreds of people were knocking on a door.

Bluey got up alongside Mac, struggling for balance as he raised his M4. ‘Not yet,’ said Mac. ‘Too many houses.’

In front of them the white speedboat veered to its left and shot under the Monaco Street bridge into a narrow canal that serviced Florida Gardens.

‘We’ve got ‘em now,’ screamed Gary over the engine. ‘They can’t take this corner.’

The white boat slowed as they went through a tight hairpin turn that almost doubled back on itself. The jet boat had no problem with it and was suddenly almost on the white boat’s transom. This time Bluey just opened up and hit the outboard motor. One of the three bombers left in the back of the white boat shot straight back from a protected position, shattering the small windscreen and making Mac and Bluey duck for cover. Then the white boat was veering to starboard, smoke pouring out of the Mercury, before running straight up the muddy banks of Broadbeach Park, a family picnic area. The three bombers leapt onto land, two of them racing ahead while the other knelt behind the grounded boat and opened fi re with a special forces machine pistol. It was now almost certain that they were chasing Gorilla and Lempo. Mac guessed from the way he moved that the third bloke in the dark overalls was a soldier.

So Hassan wasn’t with them.

As Jacko and Bluey fi red back, Mac ducked slightly and yelled for Gary to turn for the shore. They kept going straight, losing power suddenly, and Mac looked to his right where Gary was slumped in his seat, half his face missing, blood and viscera running down over the hand controls on the inside of the gunwale.

Pulling him off the seat, Mac groaned, ‘Oh shit – oh fuck,’ his guilt like a block of ice in his stomach, vying for space with the intensity of the fear. He got into the driver’s seat, put his foot on the accelerator and turned for the shore.

Bluey led them across the park where barbecuing families were hiding behind trees, protecting their kids, as Mac ran through the picnic area with the 4RAR Commandos. The bombers were about fi fty metres in front of them and just leaving the park to cross Gold Coast Highway.

When Mac and the soldiers got to the road, the three northbound lanes of traffi c on the highway were almost stationary. Heaving for oxygen, Bluey saw them fi rst. The bombers were on the other side of the highway, where the lanes were almost deserted. They busted through the traffi c, keeping an eye on where the bombers were going, Bluey bolting to the front of the pack as they got to the median strip.

The bombers turned into Second Avenue and were thirty metres ahead as they all ran towards the beach. One of the bombers dropped his machine pistol and used both arms to help him run.

Mac could hardly believe it. The bombers were heading for his house.


CHAPTER 63

<p>CHAPTER 63</p>

The bombers split at Surf Parade, Gorilla heading right, down Surf, while the other two kept going straight for the beach.

‘I’ve got Gorilla,’ gasped Mac, accelerating with the blast of fear.

He ran right into Surf – past confused people standing in the street

– closing on the bomber. But Mac knew it was too late, knew that the big Pakistani’s next move was going to be a left into Armrick and a few complexes along he was going to duck into Mac and Jenny’s home.

Trying to level the Heckler as he ran, Mac loosed two shots. But the Heckler wasn’t accurate over those distances even when you were standing still.

Gorilla turned left and went down Armrick, Mac rounding the same corner a few seconds later, almost bowling over a rubber-necker and his wife as he sprinted to the townhouse. He slowed as he got near and, gasping for breath as he stopped, took it in: two federal cops, dead. One in the front seat of the car with a bullet between the eyes, the other sprawled between the car and the entry to the townhouse – which was now hanging open. Mac hadn’t heard the shots and he had the feeling the hits had been done earlier.

His breath rasped and whistled in his lungs as he checked the Heckler: four rounds left and no spares. He stepped over the body nearest the entrance, the bullet wounds suggesting the cops had trusted their assailant.

The four steps to the door seemed to take forever and Mac’s heart banged in his head. Reaching the top, he sneaked in behind the doorjamb and looked down the hallway. It seemed deserted and he slowly moved over the threshold, using his right hand to push the door back to check for anyone secreted behind it. The door whiplashed back in his face, so fast it caught his left foot between the door and jamb, knocking the Heckler out of his hand. He screamed in agony and doubled over, pain pulsing in his left foot as the door swung back to reveal Gorilla.

Mac raised a hand as Gorilla’s fi rst kick came in and caught him in the bottom teeth, just above the point of the chin. His face lurched back, a tooth bending into the gum. The second strike came from a fi st, accompanied by a heavy grunt. Mac blocked it with his right hand, stood up straight and threw a left elbow into the Pakistani’s face.

Gorilla reeled back, and Mac used the momentum to throw a straight right into the bloke’s face, breaking the Pakistani’s nose and making him stagger down the hall. This time Gorilla caught his balance and stamp-kicked at Mac, hitting him in the groin. As Mac bent over from the strike, Gorilla was on him in a half nelson.

Losing his centre of balance, Mac was shoved backwards at speed until he hit the wall and mirror above the hall table, Gorilla’s huge arms locked perfectly across his throat, putting pressure on his carotids and lifting him off his feet as mirror glass shattered on the tile fl oor. Mac knew he only had seven or eight seconds before he fell asleep. He pushed his hand down, took an industrial grip on Gorilla’s modest testicles and twisted like he was opening a jar lid. The Pakistani’s eyes went wide and his grip slackened just long enough for Mac to wriggle downwards and to the side, ducking as the big man lunged again. Getting under the attempted bear hug, Mac hit the bloke on the left cheekbone with a fast, hard right hand that opened up the bloke’s face and made Gorilla raise his left hand. So Mac hit him in the kidneys and then the right side of the face with a low-high left-hook combination that made blood and snot fl y out the left side of Gorilla’s face.

The Pakistani staggered for balance and threw a hand out, grabbing Mac’s face with a single paw and digging in with his huge fi ngers.

As Mac’s hands went up to get the fi ngernails out of his eyes, the bomber moved in for a bear hug – an assured killer for anyone with the weight and power advantage that Gorilla had on Mac. As Gorilla squeezed the hold into place, the only thing Mac had going for him was his body position – with one shoulder over the hold and one arm pointing down Gorilla’s body. He looked into the Pakistani’s eyes, seeing yellowish orbs of evil.

‘Ready to die, McQueen?’ said Gorilla, as he squeezed and dug his fi st into the small of Mac’s back, making it almost impossible to breathe. Mac felt the warmth of the bloke’s bulging pectorals against his sideways-turned face, and he had an idea. Gorilla’s shirt had fallen open with the fi ght and Mac turned his face slightly into the big hairy chest and saw the nipple. Biting down into the generous areola, Mac clamped his jaws shut like a vice. The bear hug slackened as the Pakistani screamed like a woman in a horror movie. Mac kept his choppers going until blood was pouring into his mouth. The screaming became worse and Gorilla tried to push away but Mac twisted his face until his opposite teeth met and then he pulled back and tore off the Pakistani’s nipple, which hung out of his mouth like a hairy piece of sushi.

The two men stared at each other, Gorilla’s face changing from terror to anger as he charged. As he did he was knocked sideways when Didge appeared, a blade fl ashing. The Aussie grabbed a handful of the Pakistani’s hair with his left hand and brought the blade down across the Pakistani’s throat with the other. Gorilla stopped moving, his eyes staring at the ceiling.

‘Thanks, mate,’ said Mac, spitting chest hairs out of his mouth and wiping his chin.

Didge looked him up and down, chewing gum as he wiped his blade. ‘Didn’t know your mob were cannibals.’

They searched the rest of the townhouse but there was no one there.

Limping out onto the street, Mac asked where Lempo had gone.

‘Your Russian friend got Lempo, but he was shot in the leg for his troubles. The wound’s pretty bad.’

‘And Hassan?’ asked Mac, his mind spinning.

‘Don’t know.’

Mac heaved for breath and thought it through. Someone had taken off with his family, someone who could fake it long enough to get close enough to kill the Federal cops. Probably the same someone who’d worked out how to wheedle Vi’s maiden name out of an ASIS or ASIO operative; someone who had connections that were good enough to track down Mac’s family home.

Someone charged with retrieving two stolen nukes from Hassan Ali, but who couldn’t say no to the money and ended up in league with him.

Someone from MI6.

Didge worked on Mac’s face with Dettol and a wet fl annel. Mac’s left eye was already closing up and his mouth was bleeding.

Eying Jenny’s mobile phone on the living-room table, Mac picked it up and tried Johnny.

‘Where are you, Macca?’

‘At the house,’ said Mac, almost weeping. ‘Jenny and Rachel are gone.’

‘Mate, Mari came here but we couldn’t get over to Broadbeach

– they’d closed the road.’

‘I think Hassan’s got them. We have to fi nd them.’

‘I’m coming over,’ said Johnny, and hung up.

Panting with stress, Mac took the SIM out of his zapped phone, loaded it into Jenny’s phone and tried it. He opened the ‘contacts’ fi le which was now fi lled with the contacts from John Short’s phone, and found a landline number with a 75 prefi x, meaning the Gold Coast.

He wrote it down, and then dialled a number in Canberra. The female operator answered and Mac said, ‘Sentinel.’

He was asked another question, and said, ‘Limelight.’

Mac asked for an address search and he gave her the number from Short’s phone. She got back to him twenty seconds later, the whirring of the listening posts and security measures creating a weird time/ space disequilibrium.

He wrote down the address and his adrenaline surged back in buckets. He knew the Surf Largo Apartments – they were just around the corner.

The address he’d been supplied with was the fi rst fl oor of the Surf Largo and there was a stairwell at each end. They split up – Mac with the two-shot Heckler and Didge carrying the spare Beretta from the hall table.

Mac was feeling better now. Didge hadn’t just cleaned him up

– he’d also lifted him back into the game, made him think that these bastards were there for the taking.

His heart pounding in his head and his left eye closed up, Mac pushed into the stairwell, which was empty and well lit. He took his time up the steps, crowding in on each switchback to give himself the best angle, and his enemy the worst.

At the fi rst-fl oor landing, Mac eyed the spring-loaded fi re door that pulled back towards him. There was no safe way to go through it, he just had to take a breath and step through, hoping he’d create more surprise for the other guy. He breathed in, breathed out, then pulled the door back and stepped into the hallway. It was carpeted in chocolate brown, the walls were taupe. The hall was empty and he moved down it, looking for number fi fteen.

Mac watched as the fi re door at the far end of the hallway opened and Didge stepped in with the Beretta. Mac jogged towards him and as the commando looked up from under his helmet, a handgun extended out of the door closest to Didge. The handgun popped and lifted, fl inging the Aussie commando against the wall, blood spraying up the taupe paint.

Yelling, ‘ No! ‘, Mac ran for the shooter, who’d stepped into the hall. Surprised by Mac’s presence, the shooter turned. Mac stopped and shot twice, missing with the fi rst but hitting the bloke in the face with the second, from fi fteen metres away. The shooter’s head sprang back and the man Mac knew as John Short was dead before he hit the ground. Mac was now out of rounds. Hearing a sound, he looked up and saw Jen, with Rachel in her arms. Relief fl ooding his body, Mac stood and made for them, but he froze as a man’s face stared over Jenny’s shoulder with a smile, a SIG Sauer resting in her ear.

‘Come in, eh McQueen?’

‘Sure,’ said Mac, looking into the sneering face of Danny Fitzgibbon.


CHAPTER 64

<p>CHAPTER 64</p>

Jen and Danny walked backwards very slowly and Mac followed them, forcing himself to stay calm, focused, alert. The door sprang closed behind them and they stood in the living area of a two-bedroom apartment. Danny pushed Jenny and Rachel towards Mac and he held both of them. Rachel’s eyes were huge and dark and Mac made himself give her a smile. If they had to go down they’d do it as a family, like Australians, telling the bad guys to go fuck themselves while the water rose around their ankles.

‘Well, let me see, Fitzgibbon,’ said Mac. ‘Gave up on the spying game and started picking on women and children, huh?’

‘Spare me the snide asides, McQueen.’

‘I guess it’s much easier than having to deal with people like me or Freddi or Ari, right? I guess water always fi nds its own level.’

A shot whistled past Mac’s head and buried itself in the plasterboard.

‘So what do you want, Danny?’ asked Mac.

‘Well,’ sniggered the tall Pom, ‘I’m glad you asked that, old man.’

Mac looked him in the eye, felt Jenny move in closer with Rachel.

‘You see, this has all worked out rather badly, thanks to you.’

‘Me?’

‘Yes – fuck you!’ snapped Danny, momentarily losing his composure before collecting himself. ‘Why?’

‘Why what, Danny?’ asked Mac, trying to keep him talking. The guy was upset and might just make a mistake.

‘I don’t understand the Australians. They sideline their best spy, and then, when they bring him back into the game, he’s a due diligence guy for their export fi nance program?’ said Danny, shaking his head.

‘I couldn’t believe it when you turned up, McQueen. As soon as I knew you were at the Shangri-La, I’m thinking, This is going to turn to shit – McQueen just won’t let this go.’

‘Well,’ said Mac, ‘that was the gig. There were questions.’

‘It was an NIA, for God’s sake!’ screamed Fitzgibbon. ‘It’s a lay-down – the politicians want it and the fi eld guys are supposed to sign off. That was your role.’

‘It was a handover of uranium-enrichment codes -‘

‘Oh shut up! I mean, for Christ’s sake, McQueen. Sumatra? Singapore? Noosa? Are you out of your mind?’

‘What was I supposed to do, Danny?’

‘You were supposed to spend two weeks at the Lar, making ten or fi fteen thousand a week – whatever they were paying you – and put everything back on expenses. No one would ever have asked about it, and we wouldn’t be here.’

‘There’d still be a blast in Surfers, killing thousands of people.’

‘Oh dear, you’re breaking my heart.’

‘Where’s Hassan?’ asked Mac, expecting the ringleader to be there.

‘Getting the transport, old chap. That’s why we camped across from the park,’ he said, nodding at the foreshore grassed area just behind the Broadbeach sand dunes. ‘Just keeping some insurance, make sure I’m allowed to get my taxi, know what I mean?’

Shaking his head at what a dickhead this bloke was, Mac asked,

‘So what about Diane?’

‘Ha!’ laughed Fitzgibbon cruelly. ‘Oh boy – when I found out it was one of our own doing the wife role, I had a small chat with our English Rose.’

Mac felt his pulse rising. ‘And?’

‘I thought she might want to stay out of prison, given her role in the Golden Serpent affair, stealing all that gold from the Chinese.’

‘Yeah, so?’

‘And she told me to fuck off.’

Mac laughed at that and Jenny pushed closer to him.

‘She said,’ continued Danny, in a cruel mimic of how English women of a certain class speak, ‘ I’d rather go to prison than owe you anything. ‘

‘She had to die for that?’ asked Mac.

‘But she didn’t, did she? That afternoon at the hospital? She kicked me out after you left. Told Carl to keep me away and then her old man arrived from Ottawa – and, well, you know how the toffs are, right, McQueen? They’ve had her locked up tight in the compound ever since.’

‘You like that feeling, Danny? You like that you had two women shot?’

‘Well, it would have suited me if Vi hadn’t been there, but -‘ he did the shit happens shrug, ‘what can you do?’

‘You can start by not being a traitor for a bunch of bombers.’

‘You know, McQueen – it started off the other way.’ He turned slightly to the window behind him, looking for a helo, and then turned back. ‘We helped Hassan’s crew heist the bombs bound for South Africa to stop them falling into the hands of those Marxists, right? I mean, shit, can you imagine a bunch of Bantus running around with their own nuclear capability?’

‘But?’

‘But it became so lucrative to keep the Pakistanis out of trouble, I mean how can you say no to all that money, right? So one thing led to -‘

‘Money?!’ challenged Jenny, now turning to Fitzgibbon. ‘Tony and Vi were our friends, they were top people. And you had them killed for money? Screw you, mate!’

‘Hey, watch it, squaw!’

‘ Watch it? You’re nothing better than a corrupt cop, that’s what you are. A person who’s no good at his job so he takes the easy money to undermine the whole show. Screw you!’

Fitzgibbon lost his jauntiness, raised the SIG at Jenny while Rachel looked at Mac. ‘Well, well, McQueen, you had a bird like Diane on a string, and you go for this – what do Australians call it? – this piece of work?’

‘Like she said, Danny.’ He put his arm around Jenny.

‘How do you think that happened, eh Jenny?’ laughed Danny. ‘He walks away from Diane and gets you?’

‘He got lucky!’ snarled Jenny.

‘So,’ said Mac, still wanting more. ‘How did you fi nd us?’

Fitzgibbon laughed. ‘That would be telling, eh, old man? Let’s just say that all bureaucracies leak simple information -‘

‘You already knew Jen’s maiden name.’

‘Yes,’ sniggered the Englishman, ‘but it took someone with a brain to let me know that Jenny’s old cop friend now had a law fi rm on the Gold Coast.’

Mac sighed. The family trust that owned their home had Sian’s fi rm as the registered address.

‘Atkins?’ asked Mac, almost not wanting to hear the answer.

Fitzgibbon laughed. ‘Yep, you can thank Marty, but he was unwitting. Poor fellow had no idea what was going on.’

There was a tapping on the window and the Englishman turned to see a shape against the night sky. Mac grabbed Jenny and Rachel and pulled them down and to the side as the window exploded inwards, glass shards bouncing off his back. When he raised his head, the window was gone and Danny Fitzgibbon was a lump of meat on the rapidly discolouring carpet, part of his head now missing.

Sitting up, the glass fell off Mac as he looked out the jagged window frame, where the large form of Johnny Hukapa hung upside down like a bat, a sawn-off shottie in his hand.

‘Gizza lift, willya, bro?’

Getting to his feet, Mac lifted Jen and Rachel up from the ground, shielding them from the sight of Danny Fitzgibbon as they moved to Johnny, whose right ankle was strapped to the railings of the apartment above.

‘How’d you fi nd us?’ asked Jenny.

‘There was an address on your kitchen table. That was for me, wasn’t it?’

Didge had lost his left ear, a chunk of his neck and a lot of blood.

Johnny and Mac got him onto one of the beds in the apartment and wrapped his head in a sheet, laid him down and hoped he’d regain consciousness. Jenny hit the phone and persuaded the air ambulance to come. When it landed in the park three and a half minutes later, Johnny and Mac carried Didge out to the helo on a litter made of a bedspread. Jenny wanted to be with Mac before she went back into the house, so Johnny said he’d accompany Didge on the fl ight.

They said goodbye and Mac felt so embarrassed that when he tried to thank his friend, no words came out.

‘Take it easy, bro,’ said Johnny, giving him a thumb shake and then touching chests. ‘You’re a warrior, mate.’

And then he climbed into the helo.


CHAPTER 65

<p>CHAPTER 65</p>

Sarah worked in well with her cousins and her sister, and Johnny’s son James. There was a TV and a DVD player in the Chevron Island house, and Pat and Felicity took turns bringing the kids cordial drinks and biscuits while they watched The Wiggles. There was a real Christmas tree in the corner with presents under it, and Mac was busy wrapping up more in the spare bedroom with Pat McQueen.

‘You’re lucky with Jenny,’ said his mother quietly, not looking at him. ‘She’s going to be fi ne with Sarah.’

‘I know, Mum. She’s amazing.’

‘So are you, darling,’ she said, smiling at him. ‘I’m proud of you.’

‘Why?’ he asked.

‘A girl needs a dad. And Sarah and Rachel are going to enjoy having each other in their lives.’

‘Thanks, Mum,’ said Mac.

They fi nished the last present – Mac doing the wrapping, Pat tying the ribbon – put them all under the tree and walked outside to where the extended clan was sitting down to eat in the back garden under the frangipani trees. Mac took a seat between Jenny and Pat and marvelled at the set-up. An old cop buddy of Frank’s called Bobby Seavers had inherited a house on Chevron Island behind Surfers Paradise but never used it. On hearing that Frank’s kids were living in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Bobby had put out an open invitation to his old friends to use it.

Frank came over from the barbecue with the plate of meat. He’d hardly changed since Mac was a kid in Rockie. Still wore a short-sleeved button-up shirt with a pair of teal slacks. Still had those boxy wrists and piercing pale blue eyes that missed nothing. The receding, thinning blond hair was greying and swept back straight off the face, and Mac could see what he’d look like himself in twenty-fi ve years.

‘Get your laughing gear round that lot,’ Frank drawled as he put the chops, steaks and bangers on the table.

‘Oh, Frank! Please!’ said Pat. ‘What will Felicity think of us?’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ he muttered as he headed back to the barbie to take his apron off and grab his beer.

Pat made a face at Felicity and they both giggled.

Frank stood at the head of the table, the citronella wafting over them, and raised his glass. On Christmas Eve the McQueens took the opportunity to make their toasts and Frank started with his usua ‘To all the angels who made it and the devils who didn’t.’

Jenny toasted Johnny and Tony and Vi, Mari toasted Jenny for busting the slave sweatshop, and Pat asked them all not to forget Sarah’s mum and Felicity’s daughter, who was still recovering in Jakarta. Mac raised his glass to Gary – who hadn’t made it – and Didge, who was alive but in Southport Hospital for Christmas Eve and probably a long time beyond. Frank reminded them that it was Queensland cops who, in the end, had bagged Hassan Ali in a stolen car somewhere up north on the Burnett Highway. Huck raised his beer, pointed at Ari, and said, ‘Here’s to Ari – the fi rst boyfriend Marama’s had who doesn’t stutter when he meets me.’

Johnny and Ari laughed at one another and Mari pouted. ‘ Dad! ‘

They dug in and one of Virginia’s boys, Charlie, wandered out, complaining that someone wouldn’t let him watch something. So his father, Graham – Mac’s brother-in-law – told him that if he had to come in there and sort it out, the whole thing was going off. Charles scarpered, problem solved.

They got louder as they drank and Ari, who’d been regaling the table with tales of how different the Israeli desert was to the Moscow ice, asked Huck how he had met Frank. The table went silent, the rest of them knowing that Huck didn’t talk about the war.

The two old soldiers stared at each other, and Frank shook his head, ‘Nah, Huck doesn’t want to tell that.’

‘Oh come on, Dad!’ said Mari. ‘I’ve been waiting years for this.’

Huck fi nally smiled, sipped on his beer, and told them how the Kiwi and Aussie SAS were doing the LURP patrols out of the Nui Dat base in South Vietnam during the late 1960s. ‘I knew Frank to say hello but we hadn’t done any patrols together by then.’

‘Hang on, Huck. Dad, you never told me you were SAS,’ said Mac.

‘Yeah, well you’ve spent fi fteen years telling me you’re a fl amin’ textbook salesman!’

The whole table went up in a roar of laughter and Mac sat there and wore it, Johnny slapping Ari with a high fi ve. As the laughter died, Mari said, ‘Go on, Dad.’

‘Well I’d been having a few problems with this Texan bloke, red-headed special forces fella.’

‘Trouble?’ asked Jenny. ‘Weren’t you all on the same side?’

‘Yeah, but in those days – 1968 – a bloke like me couldn’t hit a white fella.’

‘Why not?’ asked Mari.

‘Because that’s how it was. The Yanks didn’t even have an integrated special forces.’

‘So the Texan?’ asked Jenny.

‘Well, yeah. He was winding me up and I was ignoring it. It was a big base and the Aussies and Kiwi SAS generally kept to themselves, pretty much. Anyway, one afternoon the Texan had been drinking and he did something which was supposed to get me fi ghting. I didn’t want to. A white man would’ve just been told off, but I’d have to spend time in the stockade and lose my leave privileges. I was going to let it go, but Frank here -‘ he smiled and Frank raised his glass, ‘was this wild-eyed Queensland boy and he took the fi ght for me.’

‘Kick his arse, Frank?’ asked Mari, fi ring up.

‘Nah, mate,’ smiled Frank, shaking his head.

‘This Texan was the barracks bully,’ said Huck. ‘He’d been a Golden Gloves heavyweight back in Dallas but Frank just walked up and got into it. They fought for ten minutes and the whole base came out for it – the MPs stood off for a while and then broke it up and marched both of them down to the stockade. I think they spent a week emptying the latrines.’

‘Go, Frank!’ said Mari. ‘Kick his arse!’

They laughed and then Ari piped up. ‘For what did the Texan say that make Frank fi ght?’

Huck turned to him, and they held stares. ‘Fella called me a nigger.

Frank wouldn’t let it go.’

They arrived at Southport’s Guardian Angels church in two minivan cabs and muscled some room for the whole gang about halfway down and on the left. They were going to the nine o’clock mass and, although the church was large and had high ceilings, it was still Queensland in the middle of summer, so it was hot. Mac wondered at his father’s enthusiasm for mass. An atheist since Vietnam, he’d once told Mac that during the war he’d lost his childhood faith and couldn’t get it back. But he liked the family togetherness of Christmas mass.

Mac ended up between Frank and Ari, so he stood between the atheist and the Jew and they all sang the hymns, and when Mac leaned back he saw that Ari was holding Marama’s hand and further along Rachel was asleep over Jenny’s shoulder. Sarah – his other daughter

– was standing in the pew trying to sing along to ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. Mac caught her eye and winked, and she was bashful, buried her head in her grandmother’s hip. Then she turned back and smiled at him.

He thought back to a midnight mass in Manila, when he wondered how Joe Imbruglia could smile and cry at the same time. And Mac looked at Sarah and smiled, and it all made sense.


EPILOGUE

<p>EPILOGUE</p>

Mac left the car running at the kerb and dashed into the 7-Eleven on Surf Avenue, the one just across the highway from Jupiters Casino.

He grabbed a litre of milk, a bag of nappies, some wet wipes, tissues, and Stayfrees and moved to the counter. A woman beat him to it and he stood in line, craning his neck towards the window to see if any parking police were going to ping him for the illegal park. The kids were in the back seat and Johnny sat in the front passenger side, face hidden behind wrap-around shades, boogying to the Black Eyed Peas.

Mac forced himself to be patient. The woman in front of him had two toddlers in a stroller – twins – and the white cotton gloves she was wearing meant she was having trouble getting cash out of her purse. She was done up in a long-sleeved rugby jumper, a wide-brimmed sun hat and some kind of turtle-neck skivvy. Mac knew it was a good idea to keep out of the Queensland sun, but this bird seemed a little over the top. She fi nally paid while Mac made funny faces at her toddlers.

Mac bought the gear, paid with an EFTPOS card. Then he bolted for the car with his plastic bag of goodies. As he left the store, the woman blocked his way. He wondered if he’d dropped something, probably one of Jen’s lists.

‘Sorry to bother you,’ said the woman from behind her huge sunnies, and he noticed how her scarf wrapped down around her jaw and up under the hat. ‘You wouldn’t be Mr McQueen, would you?’

Mac froze. Looked around, looked for eyes, for a van. He looked for aerials and men reading magazines, touching their ears.

He felt exposed, ambushed.

‘Nah, love,’ he mumbled, trying to move past her. ‘Got the wrong guy.’

He went around the back of the Commodore doing some basic counter-surveillance up and down the street, but it was just people pushing shopping trolleys from the supermarket and gangs of kids with boogie boards. One of his recurring nightmares was that his profession could somehow blow back into his private life, hurt his wife, his children, his friends.

He stole a look at the woman as he went for the door handle.

‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I thought I remembered you from the hospital.’

Mac paused.

‘You know, in Denpasar?’ she prompted.

He felt the breath race out of him as the past whistled through his mind like wind through trees.

‘Yeah, I’m the guy,’ he said, wandering slowly back to the footpath like he was sleepwalking.

As the woman smiled, Mac saw scar tissue crease like plastic up the side of her face, over the ear he had once guessed wasn’t there.

‘Bronwyn, remember? Bronnie Bruce?’ she said.

Nodding, he took her in. The gloves, the hat, the scarf, the long sleeves on a thirty-eight-degree day. His knees were rubbery as he realised that the woman he’d known for a terrible ten minutes of his life had once been beautiful.

‘How’s it going?’ he asked, and he was back in that ward, feeling the air shake with a person so broken with pain and sadness that she’d rather die.

‘Well, I’m living here now, married again. Life’s good,’ she said, smiling.

‘Great. So what happened to, umm…?’

‘Gavin? Yeah, he couldn’t handle it. I mean, my injuries and that.’

She shook her head slowly, like she was sorry for Gavin rather than herself. ‘He hit the drink something bad. I got my divorce in Royal Brisbane.’

‘I’m sorry.’

Bronnie laughed. ‘I’m not. Look at what I got out of it,’ she said, pointing at the twins.

She looked back at Mac, as if anticipating the question. ‘His name’s Sean, in the burns unit, too. Rebuilt our bodies together and decided to rebuild our lives while we were at it.’

‘Wow,’ said Mac.

‘Yeah, you spend fourteen, fi fteen months with a bunch of people who are going through what you’re going through, and, well…’ She shrugged. ‘The weird thing was how Sean and I came to be in that whole thing; he was bringing some cash back to his brother at the Hard Rock. He was just walking in front of Paddy’s, wasn’t even in there.’

Mac never stopped being amazed at the stories that came out of Bali.

‘With us, Gavin and I’d come down from Surabaya where we were living – Gavin had a big electrical engineering contract up there.

Mum and Dave wanted to see me before I had the baby because they’d be in Oz for Chrissie. We’d all gone back to the hotel after our meal and I remembered this T-shirt I wanted to get for Dad, who was back in Brisbane. So I just nipped back down Legian to buy it, and…’ She made a gesture with her gloved hands.

‘I’m glad you made it,’ said Mac, overwhelmed.

‘Umm, yeah,’ she said, kicking distractedly at something that wasn’t there. ‘Look, I don’t suppose you remember a woman, Federal Police? Her name was Jenny.’

Mac laughed. ‘Well, actually, she’s my wife.’

‘ No,’ said Bronnie, putting her left gloved hand on Mac’s forearm.

‘Ah, yes – about two years ago; we have a little girl, a year old.’

Mac pointed at the Commodore where three sets of eyes were focused on them. ‘She’s the one on the far side, Rachel.’

Bronnie peered into the car and the kids stared back. ‘She’s gorgeous,’ said Bronnie.

‘Thanks,’ said Mac.

‘So Jenny’s here?’ said Bronnie, the grip tightening on Mac’s arm.

‘I mean, on the Gold Coast?’

‘Yeah, sure,’ said Mac reluctantly.

Bronnie let him go and looked up at the sky, a little fl ustered or overcome. ‘I have to, I need to… um, Mr McQueen…’

‘Alan. Call me Alan.’

‘Jenny saved my life,’ she blurted out. She shook her head, as if arguing with something in the sky. ‘I’ve spent every day since that night thinking about her, wondering how I could thank her.’

With that she started crying, tears running down her face. Mac reached into the 7-Eleven bag, tore open the Kleenex box and pulled out a handful of tissues. Bronnie reached for them as three schoolgirls walked past, looking Mac up and down like he was a pervert. The car door opened, Mac looked over. ‘Everything cool, bro?’ asked Johnny.

Mac mouthed yeah, and gave a thumbs-up. Johnny shut the door.

Bronnie’s chest heaved with sobs and Mac got closer to her, put a hand gently on her right arm. Her two boys looked up at him with big dark eyes. She sniffl ed, dabbed at the tears, attempted a smile through puffy lips. ‘You know, your wife got me through the worst night of my life,’ she said. ‘Did she tell you that?’

‘She said you got through together.’

‘I wanted to die that night. Mum was useless, Gavin couldn’t deal with it. And Dave – my beautiful brother – stayed with me but couldn’t talk. He was in shock.’

She took a deep breath, composed herself. ‘But your wife – that angel – stayed with me all night and she was taking all these calls, and other cops were coming into the room and she was ordering them around and signing forms. But she stayed with me, kept me talking, let me cry.’

Bronnie dabbed under her sunnies.

‘And then, at dawn, she pulled back the curtains, and you know what she told me?’

Mac shook his head.

‘She said, You can let the bastards ruin your day, but not your life.’

Mac laughed. It sounded like Jenny all over.

‘When I was in Royal Brisbane we had to keep rehab diaries.

They’re supposed to make you think in terms of recovery, not loss.

And the Salvation Army helpers would do my writing because of my hands, and I kept getting them to write what Jenny had told me,’ she chuckled. ‘And they didn’t want to write bastard. And I’d say, Don’t worry about it, I’ll tell God it was my idea.’

Mac laughed. They spoke for a few more minutes and swapped phone numbers. Then Bronnie gave him a hug and as Mac turned to go she said, ‘So tell me: how did you and Jenny get together?’

Mac smiled. ‘I got lucky.’