It was a lovely evening for a walk through the bush, the moon was full and according to the weather man on the radio the closest it had been to earth for several years so it also appeared larger than usual. There was no cloud cover, which is not unusual up here especially after a warm day, and there was a million stars out clear and visible. There was also a fresh breeze coming up from the south east, straight up from the interior of the country where it was always warm, but the wind was not strong. It was the kind of night where wearing short sleeves was not an issue and the only reason to wear long sleeves was to remain as dark as possible.
In fact the only downside of the entire night was that we, Matthew and I, were wandering around out near the Gibb River Airport looking for Nick who was in trouble. We still didn’t know exactly what kind of trouble he was in but I had a feeling we weren’t far from finding out. There was no confirmation of small Cessna suspected of drug smuggling that Nick was sent to check up on either, but I suspected when we found out what kind of trouble Nick was in we’d also find out more about that plane.
Because light in the outback travels so far I had turned everything but my parking lights off about three kilometres out from the airport. The track we were on was one that Hall’s locals used if they needed to get to the airport, it was not a main road and not the road the boys from Fitzroy crossing would use. I knew the track well and the moon helped light our way but I still didn’t risk going more than twenty five kilometres per hour.
Several times along the track, from the bitumen actually, I saw signs of another vehicle using the track. It wasn’t positive confirmation of Nick, or any one else for that matter, but the occasional visible tyre track and the pieces of brush that were pushed back from the edge of the track and broken both told me a vehicle had been along the track in the same direction we were travelling and that it hadn’t returned. That was obviously not a good sign but it did add weight, and urgency to Nick’s message.
When we were about a kilometre out I stopped the Beast and switched off all lighting, I knew we still couldn’t be seen clearly from ground level at the airport but being seen from the long ago abandoned communications tower might have been possible.
Interesting side story here about the communications tower. The tower has stood since the airport was created some forty odd years ago. The airport was never permanently manned but it was equipped and as technology advanced it was equipped with radios and communication devices that could be used by anyone. It was agree to by governments, both state and federal, and surrounding communities that the tower would be maintained and used for both aircraft communication when needed, or fire spotting and reporting when needed. However even hundreds of kilometres into the Australian Outback we aren’t immune from the “fuck wit factor” as we call it, that small selection of the human race that seem to think it’s ok to damage, ruin and destroy anything that isn’t theirs. Because it was agreed that the upkeep on an unmanned tower was too expensive especially when those repairs were only because of vandalism the tower was decommissioned just after the turn of this century. It was never torn down but everything was removed and the thing was left as nothing but a shell. Even after that with what everyone thought was nothing left to damage some rotten blow hard still managed to damage the steps up to the tower.
Anyway back to the story at hand.
There was nothing to hide the Beast behind or under and her white body did stand out in the full moon but unless you were close you wouldn’t see it and I hoped whatever trouble Nick had found himself in was not that close.
Out of the Beast Matthew and I took a weapon each, he took the .22 and I took the 30.06. We also took a back pack each, the packs each contained a high powered torch, a small personal light, several boxes of ammunition for our weapons and a twenty eight centimetre hunting knife in its sheath. I also grabbed a few bottles of water out of the fridge and stuffed them in the bags before we set off on foot.
Conversation was at a minimum, neither of us were pretending to be commandos or secret service like we might have done when we were kids but we were keeping relatively low and I was leading Matthew away from the track and where we parked the Beast. I wasn’t trying to emulate some Hollywood blockbuster or even some award winning book with my moves but something told me that moving way from the Beast in case she was found was important.
My biggest problem was that while I knew the track into the airport relatively well I didn’t know the bush around the track and that meant our going was slow. The potential for holes made by wildlife like wombats or dingos was fairly high and in the dark, even with the moon they were neigh on impossible to see. About the only saving grace I could think of at that particular time was that Sam’s men would only just be leaving Fitzroy Crossing so whatever trouble Nick was in we were at least an hour, possibly more closer to helping him than they were.
Matthew and I crouched at the end of the runway and surveyed things before making any moves. From where we were, hidden by the darkness, and very little else other than a row of dry, barely growing bushes we could see an aeroplane on the dirt runway. There was no lights only the moon light so I had to assume it was the plane Sam said hadn’t been seen on any radar, after all why else would Nick be calling in a trouble situation.
The plane was parked roughly in line with the tower, it was hard to tell exactly from our angle. At the base of the tower I could also make out Nick’s cop truck, the reflective tape with the chequered pattern that ran down the side was a dead give away.
But perhaps the most disheartening thing we could see was the flicker of a flame, no doubt a candle or more likely a portable gas light, in the tower. We could also see the silhouette of two men standing up in the tower, I obviously couldn’t make out details but something in my mind just told me one of them wasn’t Nick.
Previous Outback story here.