None of the men, sitting sprawled around the corner of the great cabin, said anything for almost a full minute following Ashton’s stunning comment and Yee’s accurate analysis of it. Lauren was the first to speak. He did so by whispering a seemingly innocent question.
“Is there a volume control on that thing?” he asked Yee, pointing at the man’s hand-held radio.
Yee turned a knob slightly, back and forth on the front of the technologically advanced looking device. “Your point would be?” the sergeant asked back, his voice lowered, but not to the kind of secretive whisper Lauren had used.
“Whoever is controlling that destroyer’s communications, probably Ashton, can’t communicate in the clear, over a regular radio. There’s no encryption capability on the Navatek or Ashton would simply have sent his previous message through the main radio channel right to the ship. If Ashton sends a message in the clear then every ship, boat, office or hobbyist who owns a radio will hear…and for some reason, he can’t have that. That’s both good and bad for us. Good that it means Ashton’s mission is covert as hell and doesn’t get regular military support, and bad because whatever nefarious objective he’s after is probably pretty bad for all of us.”
Lauren massaged his forehead in thought for a few seconds before going on.
“We want to decide what we’re going to do without the input of this ship’s captain, so we don’t want him to hear anything from your encrypted radio, either.”
Trueson pushed a thick pile of paper across the table toward Lauren. “Sign and we’ll put this whole thing to bed. You sign, Shapiro signs, and the government signs and then none of the rest of it is going to matter.”
Lauren sat back in the chair, took in a deep breath, and then laughed out loud.
“You’d never make it in the life insurance business, maybe not even in the used car business,” Lauren said. “The ‘assumed close,’ as if none of the stuff we discussed was really discussed. The ten million, the Letter of Marque, or any of it. I’m not signing until the concessions I asked for are in the deal, in writing. Then I’ll sign and I’ll be signing last…if we live that long.”
Trueson’s face began to turn red although no expression crossed his good-looking facial features. Two of his deputies literally leaned away from the obviously enraged United States Attorney. Sergeant Yee tried to cover the slow smile the crept across his face, by putting one hand over his mouth. Hiyashi wasn’t nearly as deferential, laughing out loud, with no show of sympathy or understanding at all. Trueson glanced at the head of the local Yakuza with venom in his eyes.
“One does not have to sell a product in the marketplace to negotiate an honest viable agreement,” Trueson said, his tone more of a hiss than anything else. “While you were up on the bridge Mr. Prince, we amended everything to meet your demands. This agreement is a set of written and signed promises, nothing more. We can’t get the signature of the head of the IRS out here any more than you and Shapiro can sign the bank documents without being there. We can call for a Letter of Marque, but probably not have one delivered by carrier pigeon before tomorrow. We are all going to sign these documents, and then keep our respective words or there is going to be hell to pay. Read the agreement through before you engage your smart mouth again.”
“Bank documents?” Shapiro’s weak voice asked into the momentary silence, as Lauren worked to read through the papers in front of him.
“What about them?” Trueson asked, turning to look at the fragile old man.
Shapiro didn’t answer. Instead, he slowly unbuttoned his aloha shirt to reveal a canvas belt. The belt was made of old brown canvas much larger than a money belt and bearing a “USN” designation in faded black across its rough surface. He unbuckled two small straps and pulled the belt from his body, before tossing it onto the table in front of him.
“Bank documents,” the old man repeated, breathing the statement out with difficulty, his tone one that seemed to indicate that there was no longer a bank document issue in question.
Sharon picked up the belt and carried it over to her husband. “Fax machine,” she whispered very quietly into Lauren’s ear as she leaned down. “There’s a fax machine in the hall over by the door to the bathrooms. For the Letter of Marque.”
Lauren pushed the canvas belt across the table to Trueson, and then went back to reading.
“You bring a notary?” he asked, without looking up.
“Of course,” Trueson replied instantly, “two of them. The agreements have to be notarized to be valid.”
Trueson pulled out another thick sheaf of documents from the old man’s belt, and then examined them for a few seconds before turning them over to his deputies. He looked back over at Shapiro.
“How’d you go about getting these?” he asked. “You came in on that big ship. You hadn’t been to Oahu for some time I was told, and you never made it to the bank while you were on the island. How could you have put all these documents together?”
“Maui,” the old man breathed out. “Stopped in Lahaina at a local branch. These are modern times. They had a bunch of notaries laying around doing nothing, just like your boys here.”
“You couldn’t possibly have known or predicted what was going to happen when you got here though,” Trueson asked, his tone not attacking so much as it was filled with real curiosity.
“Only the players are different,” the old man replied, slowly. “The game had to play out this way or I wasn’t going to be alive anyway.”
“The Letter of Marque,” Lauren interrupted, looking up from the papers into Trueson’s eyes. “It all hinges on the Letter of Marque. I’ll buy into your word about the IRS. Presuming the bank documents meet your team’s requirements, we only have so much time to get the letter from the Secretary of the Navy. It’s getting late in D.C. and that destroyer is flying at us. I think we’ll make the ship before it gets here but we have no idea about what, if anything, Ashton is going to pull. But I’m not doing anything until that ship is under our control, and I’ve got full approval to bring it into port without anybody killing me, or us. Ashton might do something stupid and violent, but he’s got real blue water Navy officers standing all around him and they’re not going to risk their careers for some treasure hunt or Treasure of the Sierra Madre gold rip off.”
“We don’t have the capability of getting hard copy aboard this thing,” Trueson replied. “You’ll just have to take my word for things. I’ll make the call now.”
“Tell him, Sharon,” Lauren responded.
“Fax machine in the hall over by the restrooms,” she said, pointing.
“Shit,” Trueson responded, looking at his team of deputies. “A woman has to point that fact out. Real observant of you guys.”
“I don’t think it was the woman part of her,” Lauren said flatly. “I think it was the intellect, or maybe the schooling, or even quite possibly, it had nothing to do with her. Maybe it was just a good solid lack of potty training among your adolescent staff.”
The deputies on each side of the U.S. Attorney stood up at the same time.
“Oh please, drop the macho crap,” Trueson ordered. “He’s not worth it. He has a smart mouth, and that’s about it.”
Trueson paused, looking over at Sharon, “And an intelligent woman whom he was lucky enough to marry. Get your butts over there and see if that machine’s active, and then bring back a valid phone and fax number. I’ve got to make a call.”
He stood up and walked to the far side of the cabin, drawing his cell phone from his front shirt pocket as he went. Lauren, Sharon, Shapiro, Yee, and Hiyashi were left by themselves for the first time.
“Here’s the deal,” Lauren said, leaning forward and lowering his voice to just above a whisper, “we’re the private beneficiaries here. All of us. Trueson, his minions, and even Ashton are not real players in this. We are. What’s good for one of us is good for all of us. Shapiro, sign the papers now. I’ll wait until I have the Letter of Marque in my hand. Yee, you and your men provide security for us to get aboard the ship and then, hopefully, convince the officers, using the Letter of Marque, that they must obey us. Hiyashi, you find a place to make a call to your guys. Once we’re underway aboard Shapiro’s ship I want a flotilla of your whacked-out speed-boats escorting us into Honolulu Harbor. I want people aboard those boats, and I want them meeting us as far out to sea as possible. We need witnesses. I don’t trust anybody outside of us. The Navy could blow these ships to hell once we’re aboard and drop us into the ocean, and who’d know anything? The government types will have their financial deal out of this but we don’t know what Ashton’s deal is, or with whom. I’ll instruct the Navatek to escort us into port, as well. That crew will love another big fat bonus. Hiyashi, you stay aboard with Sharon, out of direct harm’s way, and both of you make certain the Navatek stays between us and that damned destroyer all the way in. Any questions?”
“Jesus,” Yee whispered, covering his mouth with one hand, his eyes on the U.S. Attorney pacing back and forth fifty feet away while talking on his cell phone, “do you do this for a living?” he asked, but then went right on, “this whole thing has been a corrupted mess from beginning to end and here you are, all of a sudden, pulling everything together like you’re some sort of CIA; super spook working through a coordinated mission. I’m impressed, to say the least.”
“He’s an idiot savant,” Sharon said. “Usually more idiot than savant, but I’ll agree on this one, except for one thing. Ashton seems to be a loose cannon. But, I can’t see him going off-reservation and running a rogue operation. There doesn’t seem to be enough of anything in it for him, and we don’t know who’s running him. We’ve got to flush him out some way. Of everyone, he’s holding real face cards when it comes to the potential of using firepower here.”
“We need to know how much time we have,” Lauren replied. “I’ll get up to the bridge and see if Nelson can give me an estimate. The USS Chaffee is breathing down our neck and we’ve got to beat it to the ship. If they get to the ship first they may either destroy it because they won’t have read our Letter of Marque. Hell, they might not acknowledge knowing about it at all, unless we can back it up with secure communications with Washington, and that will take time. Barring that, however, and to avoid the whole issue, they may simply deny us the ability to get aboard. Shapiro needs oxygen. We need to take possession of that vessel and hold it.”
“I don’t think so, though,” Sharon said. “They won’t know about the Letter of Marque, nor of its power or universal application. And, it’s not likely that Washington is communicating with the destroyer, or that thing wouldn’t be out here hunting us down right now.”
No one said anything, each of them looking from one to the other. Lauren stood and walked quickly toward the ladder up to the bridge. It took him only a short time, in partial discussion with the Navatek captain, to discover that the captain held some of the same concerns he did. The violent potential of the Navy ship was not to be discounted, and the fact that it had apparently maintained radio silence did nothing to lessen the tension or the lower the level of fear it was establishing and building in almost everyone’s mind.
“Twenty-two minutes,” Lauren said, ambling down the stairs to report back to the group he’d recently left. “We’re going to get there at least fifteen minutes ahead of the Chaffee, it would appear.”
Trueson gathered with his men in the alcove that contained the fax machine. It was an older generation two machine. Lauren watched one of the men whack it on the side, as it whirred and clicked away.
Suddenly, Lauren had an idea. He turned to Shapiro. “Can they launch a boat in these conditions from your big ship? If they can, then we can cut the time when we can get off real-time and get over to it. The Navy has good gear but they probably won’t be able to spot a small boat crossing between the Navatek and your ship in this kind of sea.”
“Yeah,” Shapiro responded. “They’ve got Zodiacs aboard and some great crewmen. We hire ex-Seal and British SAS personnel. They love that sort of thing, although they don’t get to do it much.”
Lauren handed Shapiro his cell phone. “Make the call. Get them launched. We’ll jump down or simply throw your ass into the water from up here. But you’ll be alive and you’ll have your oxygen.”
Shapiro made the call. It took only a couple of minutes. He handed the cell phone back to Lauren without being asked to. “It’s done. They’re launching right this minute. Probably be here in just a few. They can see us coming off their port bow. They can see the damned Arleigh Burke destroyer in the distance too.”
“Shit,” Lauren breathed. The destroyer had to be making a few more knots than its advertised thirty-three if they could see it from sea level. They didn’t have as much time as he’d hoped.
“Here is your God blessed letter,” Trueson said. “Beautiful thing. Sign the documents,” The man slapped a wad of papers down in front of Lauren.
Trueson was right about the beauty of the document, Lauren realized. The Letter of Marque was printed to resemble a heavily decorated and finely colored stationary. It was beautiful. And it was signed by the current Secretary of the Navy. The name of the ship it was signed to was left blank.
He smiled, folded the Letter of Marque and placed it into the empty canvas belt Shapiro had worn. He turned to the document pile and began signing papers. When he was finished Trueson’s deputies took over with their own signatures and stamps.
“Holy Christ,” Sergeant Yee said, holding out his radio for all of them to hear. Ashton’s voice, no longer strident or emotional, poured out of the little speaker, imparting a level of flat analytical presence that communicated menace better than any emotional threat might have.
“On the authority of the President of the United States, from whom I am holding federal warrant number three eight, eight, nine, seven, I order your ship, the Navatek in specific, to heave to. If you fail to comply with the President’s order your lives will be placed in terminal risk, as United States Naval action is taken to accomplish the president’s bidding.”
“No wonder he has the power to commandeer a United States Ship of the Line,” Lauren said into the shocked silence that followed. “I would presume that few men on the face of the planet ever carry the President’s full written authority.”
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