Wind whipped up waves the size of apartment blocks. The ferry tossed around like a cork in a bathtub. Suitcases and shoes skidded back and forth across the floor. Lightning flashes lit up the cabin. Gary’s stomach churned.
If this wasn’t the stormiest night in the history of Bass Strait crossings, it had to be damn close.
According to the official schedule, the ferry should now be about halfway between Melbourne and the northern Tasmanian town of Devonport. But in these conditions, surely it must only be a quarter of the way. Gary decided to hunker down and ride out the storm.
None of these passenger ferries had ever gone down before, right?
The boat clambered up another gigantic wave and plummeted down the back. Christ, maybe one had sunk.
It was hard to sit straight, let alone walk around. Gary braced himself with one hand on the edge of the bed. Like a kid with a new toy, he kept glancing at the ID documents strewn across the blanket. The Spirit of Tasmania, his own Noah’s Ark to a new life, wasn’t cooperating. The vessel rocked like an out-of-control amusement park ride, and he had no hope of reading the dancing words on the documents.
A half-eaten cafeteria pie and soggy chips jiggled on the bedside table. The storm turned serious an hour ago, and Gary’s appetite took a dive. He needed something to settle his stomach. From the bedside table, he grabbed a can of lukewarm Boag’s Draught and skolled the contents. The six-pack was reserved for emergencies. His stomach grumbled in appreciation as he stuffed the ID papers into a plastic sleeve and tucked them into his suitcase.
As he pulled the zip closed, the boat listed to starboard. Gary flew off the bed and crashed into the wall. The beer can launched into the air, somersaulted and smashed into the back of his head. He gingerly clambered back onto the bunk, rubbed the growing lump on his head and cursed the captain. He closed his eyes tight and mumbled a few words to the patron saint of seafarers; and, he hoped, ex used car salesmen and real estate agents. Couldn’t hurt. Dear St Nicholas, if you save me I promise to go straight. No more bullshit. Amen. He made the sign of the cross. Oh, yeah. He clamped his eyes shut again. And please save Tracey, too.
But would prayer be enough? Things could go the way of the Titanic. All hands and passengers down with the ship. A glorious and romantic death. He clung to his bed while the psychotic washing machine that was the Spirit of Tasmania continued its angry cycle for another half hour. The storm gradually subsided to rigorous spin mode – still rough, but nowhere near as frightening. Thank you, St Nicholas. You bloody beauty.
Now that Mother Nature stopped trying to kill everyone on board, Gary retrieved the treasured documents for another look. Tasmanian drivers licence. Shit photo. Those fucked-up ears are shockers. Gotta live with it mate. Medicare card. Stay healthy and you won’t be needing it in a hurry. Trust Bank of Australia transaction account and credit card. Be nicer with more zeros on the balance, but you can’t have everything. And, priceless, a beautiful, brand-new Australian passport. He kissed it for luck. It would get him over lots of hurdles, that little baby. A collection of precious papers and plastic cards. Name: Dylan Oscar Wagner. Address on the licence: Risdon Vale. Near the notorious Risdon Prison, apparently. Fucken hilarious, guys. Occupation: unemployed bogan. Reinvented as a downsized factory worker, unlikely to attract the attention of the authorities. Couldn’t they have made him a fancy-arse stockbroker living in a nice Hobart suburb, like Battery Point?
‘The detail in this stuff leaves a lot to be desired.’
Tracey looked up from the magazine she was flipping through. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers.’
‘That’s deep. Original.’
‘Whatever.’ Tracey laid her head on a pillow. ‘I need shut-eye.’
‘But I guess you’re right. In the grand scheme of things, as my old mate Foss used to say, these are minor irritations. “Concentrate on the big picture” he’d say. Gary Braswell is, after all, the Federal Police’s most wanted man.’
‘And I’ll be the most wanted woman if you don’t shut up.’
‘Have you seen the stuff online?’ Gary ploughed on as if talking to himself. ‘Rumours are running rife: I’ve had a sex change, I’m dead, murdered by vengeful Russian crims, fled the country.’
‘Does escaping to Tassie equate to fleeing the country?’
‘Almost. But you know what? Fuck the rumours. Even if these documents aren’t perfect, they’re still pretty damn good. That’s what Foss would say. Think positive.’
Tracey groaned. ‘I think you’ll find that’s pretty much what I’ve been saying the whole time.’
‘Yeah. But I can’t help having negative thoughts now and again. That’s only human, right?’
‘Like how so many things have gone tits up. Like with Maddie.’
‘Listen, mate.’ Tracey sat up on the bunk. ‘Crying over spilt blood is a waste of time; obsessing about it is plain stupid.’
‘Paying all that money to Abdul sure hurt the bottom line.’
‘Can you just stop it, please?’ She stretched her arms wide, stifled a yawn. ‘So what if their services cost a bundle? There are worse scenarios. Much worse. Jail, for example.’
‘I’d be a lot calmer if the Feds hadn’t offered that massive reward for my arrest. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the headline. Plenty would be tempted to turn me in for coin like that. You’d never dob me in, would you, Trace?’
He glanced at the rake-thin woman lying asleep next to him and smiled. The little vixen he picked up in a Kings Cross pub proved to be a life saver and, for that, she deserved love. Especially when they were rooting like rabbits. In the afterglow of sex, feelings took a back seat. He preferred extra meat on women to make post-coital embraces more enjoyable; with Tracey he could be cuddling a bag of spanners. But he reckoned it was a forgivable flaw; Tracey Southern, with her anachronistic pink punk haircut and goth makeup, was a prize asset in his quest to re-establish in Tasmania. Smart as a computer with an almost-completed university degree in economics or commerce or accounting; something to do with money, anyway. Plus a keen sense of… not sure what he’d call it. An uncanny ability to predict when trouble lurked around the corner and which direction to take to avoid it. With skills like that, it made sense to keep her on board for as long as possible.
Gary stood up delicately, knees still sore. He strode to the porthole, flipped open a metal cigarette case and extracted a dart. He lit it with a Gold Coast Titans souvenir lighter and inhaled deeply. Smoking was forbidden in the cabin. But he hadn’t had a nicotine hit in hours and arrival was going to be delayed in these rough seas. Passengers weren’t allowed on deck in shit weather, so he’d have to break the rules.
The other thing that hurt was the after-effects of backyard plastic surgery. New ears, lip implants. The procedure happened weeks ago. It felt like yesterday. The leering mug of Abdul Wadood loomed large in Gary’s memory as he took a drag on a cigarette, pursed his lips into a bum-hole ring and exhaled. He spotted a smoke detector and dropped the ciggie into the empty beer can, swished it around until it extinguished in the dregs. Dammit, he’d have to wait till Devonport after all.
Sleep came when the weather calmed. All strength had drained from his body, expended trying to stay upright during the storm. A dreamless sleep, only interrupted when a hand shook his shoulder. He looked up to see his panda-eyed companion, grinning like someone who’d won the pub meat-tray raffle with her last dollar.
‘Boat’s about to dock. Get your shit together.’
‘Fan-bloody-tastic,’ Gary groaned as the ferry’s horn sounded.