To Catch a Mirage
To Catch a Mirage
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In 1996, I was visited by a man I had come to call the Chameleon and three of his dark-suited companions. I recognized Danny Moran, the Chameleon's personal bodyguard; however, the other faces were new to me. After introductions to Murray and the Dutchman, the Chameleon began his explanation for his visit. Did I know of a drug that would stun a man without any long-term effects such as killing him? Could I keep safe a sufferer of emphysema on a long flight in a military jet? Having failed to complete a medical degree some twenty-five years earlier, I could not even spell emphysema. However, I was intrigued by the reference to it and flying and guards who needed to be sedated. Over the next hour or so, the details were revealed to me of a plot being financed by the Australian government and a television network to kidnap the financial refugee Christopher Skase from his Mediterranean hideaway and bring him home to answer criminal charges. I have related the story of the kidnap attempt as I saw it unfold and as the Chameleon's team revealed the details to me. If I have recorded some aspects wrongly, then I am amiss. Where I was not able to ascertain the facts or to check their accuracy, I admit I used my imagination to fill in. If I have misrepresented anyone in so doing, then I am truly contrite. But it has, I hope you agree, made for a pretty good yarn.
Chameleon looked back at the patrol boat bouncing along behind them, its spotlight bobbing and heaving as it crashed through the swell. ‘Don't worry about him.' Paco reassured them. ‘We can outrun him, it is the one out there that we need to worry about.' He indicated the second boat ahead of them, running in the same direction parallel to the Spanish coast. They were in international waters now and would have to run past it far enough to double back into Spanish waters and retrace their path back to the cove where Gus was waiting. The alternative was to dive between them and run the gauntlet straight to the shoreline. The bandit slowed the boat, trying to gauge his chances of darting between the police vessels. From behind, the searchlight once more trapped and held them in a shimmering silver pool of light. ‘Once we reach Spanish waters we will be safe. They will not dare to follow us.' ‘Thank God for political rivalry,' said Chameleon. Skase looked back towards the patrol boat that was closing the gap. He saw his freedom dissolving once again. Paco saw that the boat ahead had slowed and was turning. It was now or never. The loud hailer barked across the water. ‘Heave to. Heave to, or we will be forced to fire on you.' Chameleon was not too concerned. ‘They won't do that, will they, Paco?' ‘On rare occasions the Gibraltar Police may fire warning shots at us smugglers. The Spanish Gardia Civil certainly will. They sometimes try to spear us with the landing gear on their helicopters, but they are sloppy bastards and we have brought a few of them down by throwing oars at the blades.' ‘Christ, Paco! Now you tell us. If they know who we have on board, and I suspect they do, the Brits may resort to warning shots.' The ‘rat-tat-tat' of the heavy machine gun provided the answer. They heard splashes ahead and beside them as the bullets came dangerously close. ‘Heave to at once.' The voice on the loud hailer had barely died when from over the horizon to the west behind the patrol boat, which was now within easy range, two lights appeared in the sky. ‘Choppers!' said The Dutchman instantly. ‘Shit!' said Moran. ‘They will be Spanish. They will fire at us – not warning shots, either.' The persistent ‘thwack-thwack-thwack' of the helicopters grew louder. Paco increased the speed to keep ahead of the tailing boat. Ahead, the other was charging back towards them with its searchlight playing about them. ‘We are running out of time,' he urged Chameleon. My contract does not include getting caught by either the Gibraltar Police Marine Section or the Gardia Civil. Those helicopters will have us soon. I must make a run for the Spanish coast.' ‘Dutchy,' Chameleon's voice was calm. ‘Kill those searchlights. Paco, cut the power just long enough to give Dutchy a shot at that light.' Paco cut the power and the snub nose of the RIB immediately settled into the water. At the back of the boat the Dutchman raised his rifle and drew a bead the searchlights. He waited as the stern of the boat rose with the swell, slowly drawing a breath as it rose. Once it reached its highest point he held his half-drawn breath and gently caressed the trigger. The search light exploded, showering glass into the wind, from a single perfectly aimed shot. He swung to face the other boat and as the swell rose again its searchlight suffered the same fate and the welcome darkness enveloped them. ‘Lose the choppers, Paco.' The helicopters were almost on them, crisscrossing overhead now, but Paco had already pushed the powerful motor to full throttle again and the boat lurched forward leaving an arc of white foam in its wake. Paco was well aware that the lights on the sweeping choppers would pick up the wake but his years of successfully running contraband were due to well-learned survival strategies. He soon cut the motor and swung hard to port. The boat glided silently through the water at right angles to the wake that had died as he turned and was soon several metres astern. The choppers had located the wake and had followed it until it faded and now started a fruitless grid search for the boat that had been swallowed up by the darkness. Careful not to leave a trail of wake, the smuggler gradually applied the power until the choppers with their searchlights flickering across the water were left far behind like two dragonflies chasing fireflies over a distant pond. Freed from the searchlights, Paco made a beeline for the coast. They had been forced along the coast well to the east from the cove where the plane was moored and so would have to track back along the coastline for quite a long way, however, they were close to the Spanish coast now and the British coastguard would not follow any further. They began to relax as the realization that they had escaped the Gardia dawned on them. They cheered wildly and clapped and patted each other on the back. Only Chameleon remained somber. ‘Save the celebrations until we are safely back on that plane,' he said. He was calculating how much time they had lost, knowing that it would be impossible to make it up. He was also concerned that all the activity might have attracted some attention from the local Spanish authorities who may at that very moment be planning a warm reception for them at the pier. The choppers were still searching the open water but it would not be long before they transferred their attention to the coastline. If they spotted the plane or if the Spanish aviation controllers noted their take-off and became suspicious, they could yet be hounded by the Spanish authorities. ‘Get us back to the plane as fast as you can.' Paco opened the throttle fully. The ride was exhilarating.
John Knights has drawn on wide and varied experiences to bring his stories to life. He is a proud graduate of OTU and member of the Duntroon Society. As an officer, he served in the Signals Corps and was placed in charge when, in December 1967, the then prime minister Harold Holt disappeared in the sea near the School of Signals where John was posted. He studied medicine unsuccessfully but, at the age of forty, gained an IT degree at USQ and later a postgraduate qualification in adult education. John has been a teacher, tutor, lecturer, corporate trainer, computer programmer, and proofreader and has written a series of self-help books. As a student, his need for funds cast him as a nude model for art students, taxi driver, waiter, car park attendant, and first-aid attendant on a railroad construction site. He has been a door-to-door salesman and a real estate agent and has delivered milk with a horse and cart. John's passion is Aussie rules, which he played for the University of Queensland twice, serving as club president. He has followed the Geelong Cats for over sixty years. In 1974, John started Queensland's first pet cemetery and has an interest in Faithful Friends Pet Crematorium. John has travelled to several countries, including the United States. Along the way, he has found time to start a chemical company, to manage a restaurant at a Cairns resort, and is currently studying for a postgraduate law degree.

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