Barney sat in the Gove Airport terminal, watching the planes come and go, unloading passengers then reloading another mass of humanity.
He had been told that Léana would arrive a couple of days after the phone call. On the day of her expected arrival, he received a call from the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service in Perth. They advised that some precautions were being taken in regards to Ms Stirling. He had asked what it was they were holding her for, but she refused to say.
A week had passed. With Léana in mind, he decided to get in contact with all his team mates during that time. He checked in with Kumara first, knowing he had also been in contact with the Venusian diamonds.
“Barnaby! It’s good to hear from you. How did your drop-offs go?”
Barney smiled at the warm reception. “They were good for the most part. The two blokes I dealt in Geneva and Bangui were top-notch, as you’d expect from anyone associated to Claudio.”
“Absolutely. It’s a pity Claudio does double shifts on Venus, but that’s why he could afford his own small island in Greece if he wanted one.”
“How were your contacts in New York City and Brasilia, Kumara?”
“Nothing special, really. They accepted the packages, but seemed reluctant to discuss it with me. They struck me as conniving and greedy, but you’re bound to find some like that in the international diamond industry.”
“Ain’t that the truth. Enough of work. How did your big meet-up in Oklahoma go?”
The enthusiasm from Kumar was evident. “It was fantastic. All the tribes showed up, and we all had a big celebration with our tribal ceremonies.”
The pair discussed their returns home for a time, both showing just how happy they were to be back on their native soils. Barney mentioned Woody, and Kumar said they had caught up a couple of times, even heading up to Kansas City to see the Chiefs play the Dallas Cowboys at Arrowhead Stadium.
A couple of days after that, he checked in with Carolina and Juan. The pair had remained in Spain after the completion of the international soccer friendlies between Spain and Argentina, since the South American country was only beginning to come out of its winter weather.
Juan spoke with Barney. “Some girls have all the luck. Carolina isn’t back on Earth three days, yet she spent all her time by a pool, and already has a to-die-for tan. It’s no wonder the boys are throwing themselves at her.” A thud was over the phone line, and a feeble protest from Juan. “Quit beating me up, woman. Bruises scare off the ladies.”
A scuffle was heard, and Carolina’s voice carried down the line. “Don’t listen to him, Barney. He’s been trying to score with the ladies since we landed in Barcelona, and has had no luck. I have a gift; the guys are attracted to me. He’s just jealous that I make finding an attractive partner easy.”
Barney laughed at their sparring verbal jabs. “Why don’t you try and hook him up with someone then? I am sure it will save you the torture of listening to his complaining. One of the guys you meet is sure to have a friend with some lady friends.”
Juan’s voice was heard in the background. “I’m not a charity case, Barney.”
Carolina’s lyrical laughter carried down the phone line. “Then stop acting like one, Helldog. You bring your nickname into disrepute.”
The pair were always good for a laugh. Their banter was always light-hearted, and showed they did care for each other underneath the bickering. Everyone was surprised that there was not more to their relationship, considering their mutual likes and seeming compatibility.
Barney was thinking back over the calls. He realised that, in spite of his happiness at being home in Nhulunbuy, he did miss his work mates. Maybe he would organise to fly over to see them sometime before heading back to Berlin and the freighter back to Venus.
A voice came across the terminal speaker system. “Ladies and gentlemen, please be advised that the Qantas flight from Darwin will be delayed by around ten minutes. We apologise for any inconvenience.”
A sudden flurry of activity on the airport tarmac brought him out of his thoughts. A smaller airplane was approaching, which Barney saw was an expensive private jet when it landed. It rolled to a place on the tarmac indicated by the ground crew. The door opened, and a man in a bodyguard-style suit stepped out. He strode confidently to the passenger entry door, opening it and stepping to the nearby desk. He bent down, and a click was heard over the speaker system.
“Could a Mister Barnaby Puyngu please come to the departure desk? I repeat, Mister Barney Puyngu.”
Finding this highly unusual, Barney rose form his chair and walked to the desk.
“I am Barney Puyngu.”
“Please come with me.”
The man turned and opened the door onto the tarmac. Barney followed him back to the jet, and the man gestured for him to enter. He stepped inside, and saw that the interior was decked out extravagantly. A figure sat near the end of the passenger area, dressed in a full-length jacket, with a headscarf and wide-frame sunglasses.
Barney turned back to the man. “What is going here?”
“The company asked us to hire a private jet to escort Ms Stirling here. Quarantine was not comfortable allowing her on a commercial flight, despite medical documentation from her doctor in Athlone saying she was not contagious.”
Not sure what he was hearing, Barney turned back to the passenger section. The figure had risen and approached while he was talking to the man.
“Hello, Barney.” The voice was unmistakable.
He could not believe what he was seeing. “Léana? Is that you?”
She removed her headscarf and glasses. The tell-tale fiery red hair was as he remembered it, as were her pale blue eyes. But she was different.
Her formerly pale, freckled skin was now as black as that of Barney’s contact in Bangui.
– X –