It was nearly 8pm when Nick and I finally left town. By the time both of us had organised our stuff, not that I had much to organise because most of my stuff was already in the truck, it was dinner time and it made more sense to eat before hitting the road. Given the request from Nick came in as late as it did I was always going to be driving in the dark it was just a matter of how long we’d drive for.
Looking at the maps, we still rely a lot on paper maps out here purely because in some areas they are more accurate than GPS data, while we cooked some snags on the barbie for dinner we plotted the course we would take. I probably knew the area where we were headed a bit better than Nick but even I still wanted to confirm things before we headed there, especially in the dark.
I estimated that we had at least six hours of driving ahead of us, it would have been substantially less if we were doing it in the daylight but I understood Nick’s need to leave when we did and his need to be doing it with someone like me rather than a few greenhorns from the city. Nick knew that on tracks where we’d normally be driving at 60kph night driving would have us down below 40 and he was fine with that.
“Are you going to be ok driving for that long?” He has asked as we planned out the trip and times. “I know you only came in from the Merriweather rescue this afternoon.”
I assumed he was referring to the people he took the call from about the rescue because Merriweather was not the name I had on my invoice. From the few previous trips we’d done together I knew he wouldn’t drive The Beast for me, it wasn’t that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t if needed, he had just convinced himself that The Beast was mine and I was the only one who could drive her properly. It’s hard to disagree with common sense.
Our plan was fairly simple, we’d be on the bitumen for about 140 kilometres then we’d head in a south westerly direction on a few unnamed tracks for about 80ks, it was that 80 kilometres that was going to take us longer than the entire stint on the bitumen. If things all went ok we’d be stopped and catching some shut eye by about 2am, we’d catch a few hours of sleep then not long after day break we’d get moving again. We didn’t want to hunt for this guy in the dark, not only would he know where we were before we knew where he was but in the dark it was too easy to hide.
Because sound can travel so far in the dessert, especially with the right wind, our intention was not to try and sneak up on the man we were looking for but find him as a part of our travels. The sign writing on the side of The Beast was difficult to hide but it would also be our cover story and with Nick in casual clothes and not his uniform we’d just be a rescue vehicle looking for someone broken down in the scrub.
More times than I can count we were reminded why night driving in the bush is so dangerous, kangaroos, wombats, all manner of wildlife blinded by the lights. There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of, ‘like a deer caught in the headlights’, well nearly all animals are like that, when they see bright lights piercing the darkness it’s like they are put in some kind of trance and they have to stand dead still. We came close a few times to hitting kangaroos, even at our slow speed, but nothing bounced off The Beast and we didn’t need to get out and put all animals out of their misery.
We pulled The Beast up just after 1:30am stars glittered in the night sky, we’d made reasonable time but it was still slow going in some areas. Although I had The Beast set up with camping equipment including awnings and swags they were not something I used often, if I was doing overnighter I usually just propped myself up in the cabin. Sometimes I’d lie across the bench seat other times I’d simply swivel the drivers seat and prop my feet up and nod off. Nick was happy to do the later and not long after I threw him a spare swag he was quietly snoring in his sleep. It took me a few minutes longer to fall sleep but I was so buggered after more than 20 hours awake, and on the road for most of that time, that Nick’s snoring didn’t stop me.
We were awake, fed and on the road, well track, again by 7am the following morning, I’m not one for sleeping much past daybreak and because Nick and I were both in the cabin neither was he. Although I can make a fire with two sticks, as can Nick, we didn’t bother trying to make one just to cook breakfast, it as quicker and easier to use the gas cook top and hotplate on the pull out rails under The Beast’s tray. Eggs, bacon and baked beans, the breakfast of champions, and those in a hurry eating in the bush!
You have probably heard the saying “like trying to find a needle in a haystack”, and you might think that finding a single bloke trying to hide in the vast Aussie outback would be a similar task, well it’s true to some degree. If we had absolutely no idea where the guy was it would be difficult to find him and it would probably take as much luck as skill to find him. However most people, especially city people, leave a trail that can be seen from the moon without a telescope if you know what to look for. We’d be looking for that trail, but that was made easier by several reliable witnesses who gave very detailed descriptions of who they saw and where they saw him. Between us we were quietly confident that we’d have this guy under our control by lunchtime.
We did better than both of us initially thought, it was 10:35am when we first spotted the suspect’s camp. He was still burning a camp fire, probably for his breakfast, when we spotted him through the binoculars from atop of one of the hills.
“How do you want to handle this?” I asked as we leant against the truck taking time for a quick cold drink and a snack.
“Same as we planned, go down there, pose as a rescue team, ask him if he’s seen a black Land Rover, make sure he’s calm and then when the time is right I’ll take him down. All I need you to do is stay safe.”
“Will you be my protection Mr Police Man?” I asked with a smirk
“Shuddup! I know you can protect yourself, probably better than me, but you gotta remember I’m the cop and you’re the civilian. You’re not even suppose to be here.”
“Guess the city boys will know you’ve gone without them by now.” I said changing the subject a little bit knowing full well we’d run through the plan again before we reached the guys camp.
‘Yeah well fuck ‘em. We wouldn’t be here watching the guy if I’d waited for them. What’s more I’d still rather be facing this guy with you beside me that some city boy!”
“So are we going to go straight down to him? With this wind even at the speeds we are doing he’ll hear us well before we get to him.” I didn’t really need to remind Nick of this fact but I wanted to make sure we were both reading from the same page. “We don’t want to spook the guy into running.”
“If he runs he’s not going to get far, once we’re down there tracking him’s going to be easy. I say we don’t go direct just in case he’s seen us up here, but we also don’t go too far out of our way so we can keep the net tight.”
I agreed, we finished our drinks and got mobile again. Down through the dunes and through the bush we made our way slowly towards our target. Less than 30 minutes later we were pulling up 20 metres from the suspect’s camp. He’d obviously heard us coming but chosen not to run.
“This guy’s either cocky enough to think he’s got anyone covered or he’s cocky enough to think no is looking for him out here.” Nick said surveying the area before we got out of the truck.
“So what you’re saying is the guy is cocky?”
“Just be careful and stay alert,” Nick said as we climbed down from The Beast.
The suspect was walking towards us.
Previous episode here.