CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

Running At Full Plane

I didn’t expect any problems with the two drivers. Not for another thousand dollars each. Loading Dutch and Don into the Jeep posed no big hurdle, as both men had overcome their initial shock at being struck by a bullet. Dutch was still dizzy at times, but I didn’t think Morphine would make much of a difference, and I had only one more adult dose left.

The ship was located across town at the dock, but the gulf between my charges and me, with respect to getting aboard, was immense. The Jeep driver pulled out with his usual wild élan, taking the first corner on two wheels. All I could hope was that both Dutch and Don would be able to get aboard the ship without incident if they lived through this joyride to the dock. The doctor, in spite of his poor vision, was a bright caring man, who would do his best for them. I watched the tail of the Jeep disappear around a corner. Don’s last words echoed through me.

“If I don’t see you again, it was one hell of a ride, Indy.”

He could not shake my hand due to the pain of his injury. I wondered to myself how Botany Bay might feel if he knew that I had deliberately placed him directly between the potential incoming fire, and the rest of us aboard the Tundra Cat. I also wondered if the ship was still there. Our problems were just beginning, and probably fatal if it had already put to sea.

“They don’t allow tracked vehicles within the city limits,” the Cat driver announced, while counting his hundreds, carefully. “Except for the tanks, and those sorts of things, I mean.”

I just looked at him and waited. Together, he and his friend had killed an entire bottle of the Black Label. They had had so much that neither man recalled that there were more bottles stored under the passenger seat. Somehow, both remained functional, if not fully rational. It was unlikely that we would be encountered by anyone trying to stop our vehicle; no matter what city streets we traversed.

I depended upon booze and money to further numb the driver about what might happen later on after we were gone. He finally decided that a trip to the cemetery would not harm the old concrete of the cracked and weathered streets. Slowly, we made our way across town, attracting attention, but not as much as I thought. The Tundra Cat’s tracks were metal. They made horridly loud clanking and squealing noises as we moved. Most residents neither came out of their buildings nor stood and gawked, which surprised me.

I pulled Hathoot’s passport out of the bag. I mentally inventoried our supplies. We had several more thousand-dollar packets, two belts of Kruggerrands, one shot of morphine, one syringe, and a couple stray nuggets of gold from the island vein. That was it. I opened Hathoot’s passport, memorized the data, and then shut it. I prepared to return it to him before my mind hesitated.

“Alphonso Angelique Hathoot.” I almost lost control of my bladder.

“How did you ever get the name, Angelique?” I could not resist asking.

Hathoot grabbed the blue document and then stuffed it down into the pants pocket on the side of his good leg. He pouted, looked away, and refused to answer me. I smiled all the way to the cemetery.

The American boy was almost as weak as Hathoot. He was barely able to walk. I saw the Khromov boy raise his head over the top of the craggy edge of the cliff, right where we had left him. I motioned him to come to me. The Tundra Cat took off, the driver never saying a word. Once we were marginally clear he clanked away, back the way he had come. Struggling, we arrived near the area above the cave in a moving clump. But it was enough. I immediately looked to the wharf for the M/S World Discoverer’s masts. They were well visible, just where they were supposed to be. The end of the dock area was also visible. I was staggered to see it filled with people. They were all dancing about and waving.

“Of course,” I said out loud.

“Of course, what?” Hathoot replied, again holding his painful thigh.

“The bar. We had an open bar all morning. A “Happy Morning.” Free booze. The whole population of Providenyia is down there on the dock. No wonder we didn’t see anyone aboard the Tundra Cat. They’re all drunk. And they’re all seeing the 'Lindy' off. If we can just get down to the dock, we might get aboard.”

“Not much chance of that,” Hathoot said, wearily.

I looked down at his semi-prone form.

“Not enough fight left in you?” I asked, hoping to renew his vigor.

Hathoot just lifted his head.

“Take a look at the masts of the ship, real carefully,” he instructed, his right arm reaching out to point toward World Discoverer’s mooring place.

I stared in the direction he was pointing. It took no time at all to see it. The masts were moving, very slowly, against the background. The ship was easing away from its berth, using its front and rear thrusters. The ship was sailing without us. I prayed that Dutch and Don had made it aboard. But I could not spend any more time dwelling on them. We were in very deep trouble.

“Down,” I commanded, “We’ve got to get down to the water as quickly as we can.”

I directed the Russian boy to help Hathoot. It was going to be a difficult climb down over more than a hundred feet of rough stone and rock.

“Filipe and the Zodiac aren’t there, but maybe they will be. We won’t have much time if he shows up. We’ve got to be ready if he does.”

I put one arm around the O’Donelly boy’s shoulders, ignoring his awful stench.

No longer did I think of the vicuna coat as mine. Like the mission itself, it was probably unsalvageable.

We descended one rock at a time. I thanked God several times that the jumbled mass of stones was comprised of huge broken boulders. There was no risk of landslide, and the sharp edges made for natural hand and footholds. It took us almost an hour to reach water’s edge. Hathoot was so spent that he laid out flat on the rough-cut surface of a large rock. The O’Donelly boy huddled in his coat, his mouth still biting on part of one collar.

The World Discoverer was now in full view out in the harbor, preparing to get underway. I looked north, along the edge of the water. At our new level, it was possible to see the entire dock. And the tank. The Proviwas on the dock. Its crew was working feverishly, taking things out of its top hatch. I looked at Ivan.

“How did you disable the tank’s main gun?” I asked him, ominously.

He pointed while he replied.

“We filled the barrel up with small rocks. They can’t even load a round. We filled up the chamber too.” He puffed up at his adolescent brilliance.

Grimly, I watched the crew unloading rocks onto the pier, one laborious load after another.

“Here comes the boat,” the Khromov boy whispered, gesturing seaward.

I spotted the Zodiac rounding the slow-moving bow of the ship. It was under full power at a full plane. It could go almost fifty miles per hour at top speed in a calm sea. It was maxed out. I scanned the tank, then the Zodiac, then the tank. It was going to be a close thing. Unless, of course, the tank had orders to fire on the ship itself. If that were to happen, then the entire mission blew up into a mega-international incident. I did not think the Russians were that dumb, but I had little experience with them. I had seen some awfully dumb things done over the course of my career.

Blowing up a Zodiac was well within tolerable limits, however. There was probably a dead Commissar lying in that hellish gulag. Perhaps, even more, bodies were in attendance. That carnage would well justify firing on a small boat. Filipe coasted to a perfect touch against the rocks near us. I threw the starving O’Donelly over the front gunnel of the rubber bulkhead. Ivan and I hefted Hathoot up and over the fat tube, his shouts of misery ignored by us. We clambered aboard. Filipe backed up. Once clear he gave the outboard full ahead. We surged back on the plane. I pointed at the tank. Filipe merely shrugged. He was right, there was nothing in the world we could do except getting to the ship as fast as we could.

Our trip across the harbor seemed to take forever. The tank crew was no longer unloading rocks. I could see them messing with the depressed muzzle of the big gun.

“They’re cleaning out the barrel,” I said, under my breath.

I had plenty of experience with artillery. The barrel and the chamber had to be totally free of any particulate. That meant swabbing the barrel out. That took time, especially on a tank gun, which had one end of the gun enclosed inside a turret. All cleaning had to be done from the other open end of the barrel.

The World Discoverer should have been moving at about eight to ten miles per hour. There were speed limits in all harbors around the world. Wake damage had to be contained. The expedition ship, however, was making at least twenty miles per hour, and her speed seemed to be accelerating.

“Jesus Christ,” I yelled at Filipe.

We could never get aboard the ship at any speed above a few miles per hour. It simply wasn’t possible. No sooner did I consider that problem when, suddenly, my worries compounded. Waterspouts shot up fifty feet from our starboard side. I looked back toward the dock. There were barely visible men standing there. We were being fired on by small arms. Like before, when we had been in the Tundra Cat, the plunging fire could not really hurt us too bad, unless it hit something sensitive, like the rubber tubing our boat was made of.

I crawled to the back of the speeding boat. The outboard was protesting at maximum RPM. I cupped my hands up to Filipe’s erect figure.

“Get in the lee of the ship. Go around the stern.” I hollered.

He nodded and then swerved sharply to port. I hugged the boy closely, grabbing inside ropes on both sides of him. We hit the first waves of 'Lindy’s' starboard wake and jumped. Our landing was a sickening thud. With a thrashing shudder, we went airborne again, jumping the port side wake. There were no more waterspouts. After we arrived in the lee of the ship, the Zodiac settled onto a flat level plane again.

Up the fantail deck of the ship Marlys, Benito, Gloria and Günter stared down at us. I moved to rearrange the canvas piles folded up against the Port rubber tube.

“Get down and under the cover,” I ordered the two boys.

I realized we had only seconds. Right now, we were invisible to the bridge, but that would not last. I concealed both boys with the canvas, further instructing them not to move. I pulled Hathoot around to brace him against their bodies. I did not cover him, as the crew was well aware of who was aboard.

Hathoot looked much too pale. He was in tremendous pain from all the recent movement. If that continued, he would go into shock. I loaded a syringe with the last of the morphine. It was about twelve milligrams. A little more than I would have liked, but it would do, I guess. I undid his shirt, easing the liquid into his pectoral muscle. His eyes fluttered in thanks. In only seconds his labored breathing stabilized. I tossed the final syringe overboard and then crept back to Filipe’s feet.

“What now, Filipe?” I asked him.

The outboard was running at about sixty percent throttle, so hearing was no longer a problem. “I don’t know. We run with the ship and wait,” he declared. There was no change in the Discoverer’s velocity unless it was to add a little more speed. There was no need to induce Captain Kessler to run Providence Bay at his ship’s maximum speed.

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