Sydney - January 14th, 1997
Carol sat on the front passenger seat of the Customs Department’s black Ford Falcon, watching the lanes of traffic sweep past the grey-tinted windows. Elsewhere along the route, two other vehicles, with police and Custom’s officers, waited for the call to action.
Conversation was sporadic. From the back seat a man said, ‘I’m bloody starving. There’s a snack bar down the road.’ No one answered him and he relapsed into silence.
The minutes crawled slowly by. The traffic on Botany Road was heavy and constant; occasionally the car was shaken by one of the massive rigs hauling containers from the Port Botany docks to the city.
The radio crackled into life. ‘All units Operation Jade Lift, it’s a goer. Shipment leaving the wharf now. Unit one, lorry should be with you any time.’
All eyes were on the traffic stream. The driver said, ‘Got it,’ waited until the lorry was safely ahead of them, and pulled out of the emergency stopping bay to slip neatly into position several cars behind.
Carol felt her stomach tighten as they drove through the suburbs. The driver reported their route to his base.
The radio answered tersely, ‘Target has arrived at the warehouse.’ Then, in another voice, ‘Good-oh, unit two, keep your eyes peeled. Expect company.’
There was a long silence then unit two came on the air again. ‘Company has arrived. Target and company in warehouse.’
‘Where are we?’ Carol asked.
‘Just coming into Alexandria now.’ The driver, a burly man with a capable, intelligent face, glanced at her. ‘I hear this is down to you.’
‘Mostly to a special task force inspector in Hong Kong.’
‘It’s a slick operation,’ observed one of the grey-suited back seat trio. ‘We knew something was going on but couldn’t catch them at it.’
‘Beers all round on you, Col, if we pull it off,’ The driver swung the wheel to follow the lorry to the outside lane.
‘We’ll pull it off, no worries.’ Col checked the holster under his coat.
The driver said into his handset, ‘Quarry turning off Botany, heading for warehouse.’
‘Maintain radio silence until I give the word,’ the radio ordered. ‘Keep alert, people, let’s not stuff it up.’
The lorry rounded another corner and turned through the high metal security gates of a warehouse complex. It stopped outside a large building with a wide roller door where two cars were already parked. The door rolled up.
The Falcon slid to a halt in the street outside. A similar black Ford drew in behind it; the driver signalled “thumbs up”.
‘Unit three’s around the back,’ remarked one of Carol’s companions.
The lorry drove into the warehouse and the door rattled down. There was an anxious shifting as the team readied themselves. Col repeated under his breath, ‘Come on, come on, come on.’
The radio said, ‘All units, this is it, go, go, go!’
With the ease of long practice, the team swung into action. The cars powered into the yard and slid to a halt with a soft squeal of tyres. Doors were thrust open, police and Customs’ men sprang out, already running. Carol sprinted with them to the warehouse door. Two of them lifted it inch by inch until there was enough room to pass under it at a crouch.
In the warehouse several crates stood on the concrete floor. One had been levered open and four men were examining the contents. As the Customs’ team entered, the men looked up. Two of them grabbed for their weapons to find themselves already covered.
‘Hold it right there,’ Col snapped.
A tall, blond man froze. His hands clutched a semi-automatic rifle.
‘Drop it!’ Col lifted his own weapon. ‘Now!’
The man hesitated, then shrugged and placed the rifle on the crate. ‘It isn’t loaded.’ His eyes flickered past the man.
Carol stepped forward. ‘Hello, Jon,’ she said.
Jonathan Price let out his breath in a deep sigh and nodded with sudden understanding.
Carol turned on her heel and walked out into the sunshine.