The salty tang of sea spray cut the air around the luxury cruiser, its forty foot bulk leisurely carving through the calm, azure waters. The pilot sat at the helm, using the joystick controls to ensure a smooth journey as he casually gazed around, his mirrored sunglasses reflecting a scene of true, tropical beauty.
To his left, the seamless expanse of the Pacific Ocean stretched to the horizon, its shimmering blue surface melding with the deep cyan of the cloudless sky. To his right, the jewel in the crown of Australia’s premier island chain, Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, glided past. Eucalypt green bush land tumbled down from the island’s low peaks to the blinding white sand of the fringing beach, which in turn slipped into the shallow turquoise waters that gradually deepened and darkened offshore to complete the flawless vista.
The pilot then traced his gaze further to the south and smiled. Tourist season was in full force and even from his distant position, he could see the throng of yachts and pleasure-craft anchored in front of the shoreline, the vessels’ occupants scattered across the unblemished beach like ants in a sand pit. To add to the scene, just offshore a parasail was being towed along behind a speedboat, the gaudy multicoloured parachute ballooning against the clear palette of blue sky.
‘Have the masses come out to play?’ called a voice from behind the pilot.
‘Sure have, Mister Knight!’ he called back, turning to face a man emerging from below deck.
The newcomer straightened to his full six feet and slipped on a pair of blue-tinged sunglasses before stepping up onto the helm to join the pilot. The man’s deeply tanned skin contrasted strongly against his navy shorts and loosely buttoned up white shirt, while his generous mop of sandy, sun-bleached hair tousled in the salty wind. Turning to survey the beach, he flipped his sunglasses up onto the top of his head and then lifted to his eyes the set of binoculars that hung round his neck. ‘Wow. Full house today. Someone’s making some serious money,’ he said in a mixed accent of Australian twang over a vague British undertone.
‘Not as much as you though probably, Mister Knight,’ the pilot replied.
’Ditch the Mister Knight thing, ok?’ the man replied. ‘It’s Atreus or Trey. I don’t pay you to call me anything else.’
‘I can’t do that, Mister…’
Atreus abruptly turned to face the pilot and lowered the binoculars to glower at him. ‘Ditch it,’ he said. ‘Just because I’m rich it doesn’t mean I’m a snob.’
’Ok, Trey,’ the pilot said holding a hand up. ‘You win.’
‘Cool because I hate losing,’ Atreus said smiling as he moved to the swivel seat adjacent to the pilot’s. ‘Now how far from home are we?’
‘About another thirty minutes to Lindeman Island. Unless you want to stop and hang out with all the other tourists?’ the pilot replied, waving towards the beach.
‘No thanks. Got work to do.’
‘Take a break, Mister…’ the pilot started.
Atreus’ hand shot up, his forefinger pointing straight up.’
‘Sorry,’ the pilot resumed. ‘Take a break, Trey. You can afford to. Geez, I don’t know why you even bother? If I was you I’d be on a permanent holiday, tripping the world.’
‘I trip the world plenty already, mate,’ Atreus replied, gazing out over the silvery blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean, ’and as for not needing to work? Well, let’s just say I have to. What I do is in the genes, so I’ve got my DNA to blame for that. I couldn’t not do what I do, even if I wanted to…if that makes sense?’
‘No, it doesn’t make any sense to me. For a bloke with more money than I can imagine, you work too hard. What are you worth, if you don’t mind me asking? Four? Five hundred million?’
‘Nah, more than that,’ Atreus replied, waving his hand. ‘I actually tried working it out the other day. Figured I do it the easy way and count it up in billions, but gave up when I ran out of fingers and toes.’
‘You’re worth more than twenty billion dollars?’ the pilot said very slowly.
‘Yeah, but the twenty billion was just the easy stuff. I didn’t even start on shares or properties, let alone corporate assets. I have no clue what all that stuff is worth and besides, who cares? Other people look after that stuff for me, so I can keep doing what I do, which today, does not include lying on a beach with a thousand other bludgers. Home we go.’
‘Right you are, Mister…’
Atreus suddenly straightened in his seat, glaring at the pilot.
‘Whoops, sorry,’ the pilot said. ‘Right you are, Trey.’
Still Atreus remained ramrod straight, except now he began craning his neck to see past the pilot and out over the starboard side rail.
‘What’s wrong,’ the pilot said, swivelling in his seat to follow Atreus’.
‘Trouble on the parasail,’ Atreus said, sharply pulling his sunglasses off and replacing them with the binoculars.
About fifty metres distant off the starboard side of their boat and travelling in a parallel direction closer to the beach, the speedboat towing the parasail cruised along. Through the double lenses of the binoculars, Atreus studied the driver of the speedboat and confirmed his fears. The man was suffering from what looked like a convulsion of some sort. He had doubled over the wheel and was clutching at his chest. Then suddenly, he stumbled backwards and tottered ungainly towards the back of the boat, finally crashing into the winch system controlling the rope attached to the parasail.
‘Oh dear,’ Atreus whispered.
‘What do you mean, oh, dear,’ the pilot asked more urgently now. ‘What’s going on?’
‘I think the driver’s had a heart attack and…’ Atreus started then paused.
‘And what?’ the pilot pushed.
Atreus studied the winch more closely and then cursed. ‘Bugger! He’s accidently hit the redraw on the winch and is pulling the sail in,’ Atreus answered, panning the view through the binoculars up to the parasail, where he saw a young lady, probably no more than seventeen or eighteen, suspended in a harness below the billowing canopy. She was totally unaware of her driver’s problems as she gazed serenely around.
The pilot followed Atreus’ gaze up to the parachute and grimaced.
Atreus then lowered the binoculars and looked dead ahead. ‘And that’s not going to help,’ he added.
‘What?’ the pilot quizzed.
Atreus pointed a finger directly ahead of them through the windscreen towards a narrow neck of water just separating the southern end of Whitsunday Island from its neighbour Haselwood Island. ‘They’re heading straight for Solway Passage. At the speed they’re going, they’ll need to thread themselves through the eye of the needle and with no one at the wheel, that’s not going to happen,’ he said. ‘If they don’t smash into the rocks on the western side, they’ll shred themselves on the reef on the other side.’
The pilot’s face drained of colour. ‘So, what do we do?’
Atreus flicked his gaze back to the adjacent, driverless speedboat and paused, studying it. ‘Right,’ he suddenly said as he swivelled in his seat and reached into the glove box to fish out a pocket-knife. Then, jumping to his feet, he jammed the knife into his trousers pocket and said, ‘Come with me.’
The pilot stared as Atreus leapt off the helm and down to the main deck below at the rear of the boat. Running to a row of hatches along the inside of the port side of the rail, Atreus opened one of the doors and pulled out a long rope with a handle on one end. Standing up, he looked around and then looked back up at the helm. ‘What are you doing still up there?’ he called up to the pilot. ‘Get down here and help me get out the back.’
The pilot shook his head. ‘No way! That’s blood madness!’
’Get down here now! If you don’t get me out the back they’re both going to die!’ Atreus shouted back, gesturing across to the parasail.
‘No…’ the pilot started.
The pilot closed his eyes and screwed up his face. He knew Atreus’ words to be true and that if anyone could pull this lunatic idea off it was him, but that didn’t stop it from being insane.
‘Right, I’m letting myself out!’ sounded Atreus’ voice from below.
This forced the pilot’s eyes to snap open and sure enough, Atreus was making his way down to the very back of the boat, uncoiling the rope as he went.
The pilot rolled his eyes, ensured the vessel was running dead straight and then eased back on the throttle. He then switched it to autopilot and spun away to jump down onto the main deck. By now Atreus had attached the rope to a fixture at the back of the boat and was extracting from the aft hold in the deck what looked like a surfboard with foot straps.
‘You are bloody nuts, Trey!’ the pilot shouted at his boss as he helped him haul the surfboard clear of the hold. ‘You’re going to kill yourself!’
‘I doubt it, but let’s find out!’ Atreus shouted back as he straightened up and began checking the board over quickly to confirm a suitable condition. ‘All good, now let’s get on with it!’
The pilot watched lamely as Atreus stripped off his shirt to reveal a lean, tanned physique that was not huge in stature, but well toned all over. Atreus then turned and carried the handle end of the rope and the surfboard to the back of the deck to step over the rail and onto the duckboard at the very stern of the boat. Atreus placed the board on the floor and slipped his feet into the twin foot straps, his right foot at the front. After jamming his feet in as hard and as deep as they would go, he grabbed the handle in both hands and looked up at the still mute pilot. ‘All set! Let’s go!’
The pilot looked away and held firm, his final attempt at defiance.
‘Ok! I’m off then!’ Atreus shouted.
This snapped the pilot back to the present. ‘Ok! Alright, I’m coming!’ he shouted back as he dashed forward and grabbed up the rope. Giving Atreus a little bit of slack, he looped the mid section of rope once around another fixture and held the mid section tight to get ready to ease Atreus out the back into the water.
‘Good man!’ Atreus called out.
‘Just come back alive!’ the pilot returned.
‘I always do! You ready?’
The pilot grimaced, set his feet firmly on the deck and then nodded. Atreus noted the gesture and nodded back.
‘Go!’ the pilot shouted.
Atreus bent his knees and hopped backwards off the duckboard and into the air. While airborne, he pushed his back foot down and lifted his front foot slightly, tipping the nose of the surfboard up and the rear fins down. An instant later, he hit the water.
Spray bloomed up all around as the board skittered beneath him. Gripping the handle firmly in both hands, Atreus pulled his weight forward to reposition his centre of gravity and stabilise himself. The spray from his board skipped up on both sides of him like twin rooster trails, the gleaming surface of the water skimming past like a silken sheet.
Looking up, Atreus found himself about six feet behind the stern of the boat. Shifting his gaze to the pilot, Atreus bobbed the handle in his hands as a signal to let him further out. The pilot nodded in reply and steadily began letting the rope out while using the friction against the fixture to control the pull. Atreus slipped further and further behind the boat.
With the clear blue, sky overhead, the warm heat of the day all around and the glassy blue ocean beneath his feet, Atreus ordinarily would have loved this. This is what he loved most about life, being actively immersed in it. The faster and the more risky the better. Water skiing was genuine beginner’s stuff for him, but then he glanced up at the parasail and his mood changed. This was not time for play.
The cable connecting the speedboat to the parasail was halfway retracted and the girl in the harness had realised all was not good. Judging by her frantic movements, she was well and truly panicked and probably even screaming, but Atreus couldn’t hear her above the sound of the wind whistling all around him.
Atreus looked back to the pilot to find him scrambling back up the ladder to the helm. He had let the rope out all the way, positioning Atreus about twenty metres behind the boat and free to manoeuvre as much as he needed. Atreus then felt himself speed up as the pilot apparently pushed forward on the throttle. Digging his back foot in a bit harder to maintain control, Atreus considered his predicament. He had no idea how fast they were going, but did know that even the slightest slip in his control of the board could result in serious injury if not something worse. He also still had no idea of exactly what he was going to do if he managed to board the speedboat. Oh, well, he’d just have to do what he usually does in situations like these. Make it up as he went along. Setting his jaw firm, he turned to fix his gaze on the adjacent speedboat.
Gently shifting his weight, Atreus gradually dug the right hand rail of the board into the water to angle himself out to the right towards the other boat. With his own boat no longer in the way, Atreus could look dead ahead to see where they were going. There lay Solway Passage, its narrow waters frothing with the churning seawater in between the western headland and the eastern fringing reef. Already they were too close and they were just getting closer every second.
Holding the right hand rail in the water, Atreus continued to arc himself out towards the speedboat. Only metres now. The hull of the smaller craft bounced on the smooth surface of the water, but every now again, it would crash through a small piece of chop and the spray would kick up and block Atreus’ sight.
Squinting upwards, he found the incoming parasail was much closer too and he could just make out the screams for help from the dangling passenger. Another few seconds and he would be there. He was within arm’s reach now, but threatening to slip behind the back of the speedboat. He turned back to the pilot of his own boat and motioned with his head for more speed. The pilot acknowledged and inched his throttle forward. Atreus felt the response and shifted slightly backwards on the board to compensate. Turning back to the speedboat, Atreus was now alongside the port side rail of the speeding craft. The easy part was over. Now all he had to do was get on it.
Firming his stance, Atreus fixed his gaze on the hand rail on the speedboat. Then, taking a deep breath, he released his right hand from the handle on the rope and reached sideways. Atreus grunted as his left arm instantly knotted up all the way through his shoulder and down his back. With the pain ripping through the left side of his torso, Atreus’ outstretched hand grabbed the hand rail on the speedboat, which he immediately used to steady himself. His awkward stance now shot overwhelming tension through his entire body. His back ached. His knees trembled and even his neck was strung as tight as steel cord, but he had to hold it or else disaster would prevail.
With his right hand firmly gripped on the handrail, it was time to make a move. Bending his knees a little further, Atreus steeled himself and then sprang upwards, at the same time pulling on the handrail with his right hand to haul himself sidewards over the edge of the speedboat.
As Atreus tumbled over the rail and onto the deck, his surfboard dislodged off his feet and fell back to the water. At first it clattered and skittered on the water’s surface, but then it shattered, completely, smashing itself to pieces on the streaming surface. Lying on his back with his head towards the rear of the boat, Atreus looked up and found his vision filled with the billowing shape of the incoming parachute. He had made it onboard, but what now?
A horn blared. Scrambling to his feet, Atreus popped his head up over the rail and looked across at his own boat, finding the pilot waving and pointing frantically ahead. Sticking his head out and looking forward of the speedboat, Atreus’ eyes grew wide. Doom lay dead ahead. They were aiming directly for the fringing reef on the eastern side of the passage and at their current speed there was not enough time to slow down or steer clear.
Atreus turned and dashed back to the rear where he found the driver of the boat lying curled up on the deck. He was no doctor, but he knew the poor man was dead. A mask of inconceivable pain had screwed up his face, while his curled fingers morbidly clawed at his still chest.
‘Rest in peace, mate,’ Atreus whispered.
‘Help me!’ sounded a shrill scream.
Atreus turned and found the parasail had now been fully wound in with the young girl still confined in the harness. Behind and above her, the canopy billowed in the whistling wind.
‘Help!’ she screamed again.
The horn blared again. Beyond the rail of the boat, Atreus noted the colour of the water change from dark blue to a lighter shade. A black shape zipped past beneath the surface. A rock. The horn blared a third time and this time did not stop. Two more rocks flashed past. It was time to go.
‘Get me out of here!’ the girl screamed again.
‘You got it,’ Atreus mumbled.
Jamming his hand into his shorts pocket, Atreus pulled out the pocket knife and flicked the blade open. Then spinning around, he dashed towards the back of the boat, the cries of the girl and the blaring of the horn filling his senses. The colour of the water was now rapidly changing to a sandy white.
Using his two last steps, Atreus stepped up onto an over turned crate and launched himself forward to grab the rope line connecting the winch to the parasail. Latching onto it just below the girl’s dangling feet and in the same airborne motion, he raised the pocket knife high, its blade glinting momentarily in the sun. Then slashing downwards, he brought the knife’s razor sharp edge across the rope just below his left hand.
Instantly, the line severed and Atreus felt himself violently pulled upwards and clear of the boat. His left arm was again jolted right through his shoulder and down his back, but his grip held. The parasail immediately ruffled upwards as the boat’s momentum filled it with air, leaving Atreus dangling beneath the harness and the now hysterical young girl.
Looking down past his legs, Atreus’ wide eyes noted just how close they had come to oblivion. The hurtling speedboat barrelled through the shallow, rock strewn water for a few seconds more until it hit the reef. At first, it simply careened across the black patch of water, scraping over the rocks as it went, but then suddenly, it slammed into an exposed rock, shredding the hull in a shower of debris. The cloud of broken steel and fibreglass ploughed forwards, raining over the surface of the frothing water. The last thing to splash to a halt amid the carnage was the outboard engine, the propeller coming loose and whipping and slicing away through the air to land in the frothing waters of the passage itself.
Atreus looked away from the destruction and flicked the pocketknife closed before sliding it carefully back into his pocket. He then reached up with his spare hand and reaffirmed his grip on the rope. Cheering sounded from below.
Looking behind them, Atreus found the length of Whitehaven Beach thronged with people. Boats were blasting their horns and even backing off the beach to head towards them. It was pandemonium. He smiled.
‘Thank you,’ sounded a fragile voice from above him.
Atreus turned his gaze upwards to look into the tear streaked and still terrified face of the young girl. ‘No worries,’ he replied pleasantly, holding his smile. ‘Happy to help.’
‘You saved my life didn’t you?’ she stammered through deep sobs.
Atreus nodded. ‘Yeah, I guess I did,’ he said mater of factly. ‘Saved my own too, which is pretty good.’
‘Thank you,’ the girl said again.
‘You’ve already said that.’
‘I won’t ever stop saying that.’
‘Well, don’t thank me anymore because we haven’t come down yet and the island’s starting to get a long way behind us,’ Atreus replied, watching Whitsunday Island slowly diminish as they drifted away.
The girl caught on to Atreus’ words and started to panic all over again. Then Atreus spotted a frothing white wake, arcing through Solway Passage that slowly bent round to come towards them. At the head of the wake was his boat, his pilot in pursuit of them.
‘Relax!’ he shouted up to the girl. ‘The cavalry’s coming!’
’Who’s coming?’ she shouted back.
Atreus smiled and laughed. ‘A man I apparently pay too much and this time he’s really going to hate me!’
‘Why? Why is he going to hate you?’ the girl shouted back, her face scrunched up.
‘Because I’m giving him a bonus!’