Lauren surfaced in the rolling roiling and broken waters of the Molokai Express, the powerful vessel above him allowing only the bright glow of reflected light to appear along under it’s rising and falling twin hulls. Both ends of the vessel, rising and falling slowing against the wave action, admitted more muted light, as the mostly submerged hulls suspended the ship and allowed it to race so quickly through the rough water and run right over where he floundered and struggled to stay afloat. He had no time to fully take the full experience of his condition in, as he was instantly grabbed by powerful hands and pulled out of the water, falling in a heap on his back against the aluminum barred frame deck of a Zodiac. Lauren turned his head to see Shapiro, also laying on his back, trying to get his breath only a few feet from where Lauren lay mid-way back from the bow. The Zodiac accelerated powerfully forward, forcing Lauren to grab two of the hanging straps attached to the insides of the agile craft’s fat rubber tubes, in order to keep from sliding dangerously, at high speed, toward the stern of the boat. The soft tubes that allowed Zodiac boats to be among the safest and easiest to handle of all surface watercraft ever made, were also notoriously difficult to stay upright in during travel through and over steep waves in rough seas, and Lauren was finding out about that the hard way.
Tuck, his name understandably taken from the portrayal of the Friar in Robin Hood, stood at the back of the boat, his legs spread, staring straight ahead as he held onto the giant outboard’s steering and control arm. Another man crouched at the stern near Tuck’s left leg, with one more on his right. All three men wore heavy waterproof slickers and black ‘reef slipper’ foot coverings.
“Give ‘em up,” Tuck motioned to the men. Both men removed their waterproof coats and crawled forward to cover first to Lauren, and then Shapiro. Tuck moved the tiller slightly as the boat came out from under the stern of the Navatek at speed, the ship once more underway. The Zodiac curved back along the accelerating starboard hull. It plunged out into the vicious open waters of the Molokai Express, the big outboard and three men at the stern making the craft’s bow leap high into the air as it struck and overcame one wave after another. There was no chance of any conversation with the huge Mercury two-fifty whining, the aluminum slats slamming up, down and against one another. The sound of the thudding fight of the boat’s hull overcame the deep snarl of the outboard at near full power. against the cold evaporating sea spray fell constantly over and into the craft, drenching everything, most of it flowing out through scuppers running intermittently along and under the big soft pontoons along its sides’
Lauren struggled into the overly large coat, thankful for the thoughtfulness of Tuck and his men, while Shapiro lay upon the aluminum with his own coat draped over him like a badly designed blanket. Lauren turned his head to watch Tuck when he finally had the rain garment on. The former Navy Seal’s name was properly derived from his build, Lauren noted. He was nearly as wide as he was tall and was obviously formed of almost pure muscle. His hair was cut short, but its length didn’t hide his perfectly round circle of bare skull framing the top of his otherwise short hair covered head. With a robe on the man would easily, indeed, have been able to play a healthier version of Friar Tuck from any of the Hollywood movies.
A bar of reddish-yellow light shot over the top of the boat followed by a roar that sounded like the engines of a low-flying high-powered fighter plane, except the sounds were louder and more ominous. The light bar disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Tuck dived the Zodiac into a trough between cross-breaking waves and backed off on the throttle of the big outboard.
“Are they crazy?” Tuck yelled. “What in the hell is this all about?” He drove the boat with a constant moving dexterity, as he guided it away from the higher waters, staying down inside the ever-changing and moving troughs.
Their progress was much slower, but the Zodiac’s movements were no longer as easily detectable, or if detected, as easy to target.
“What was that?” Lauren yelled toward the stern of the boat, cupping one hand to be heard over all the other conflicting sounds pounding in from everywhere around him.
“Phalanx. Twenty-millimeter close-in weapons system,” Tuck responded, yelling back openly, using both his hands and great muscle power to handle an outboard normally too large to be operated without transom control.
“They just fired over us,” he continued, “they won’t reach us now, but they may fire on the ship since they don’t seem to have much compunction about shooting at American citizens. Why’s the Navy after you, anyway?”
“Don’t really know. Not really,” Lauren yelled back. “Do we heave to or continue on. Shapiro needs oxygen. He can’t go much longer without it.”
Lauren didn’t know whether to feel more comfortable or less comfortable with respect to the obvious fact that Tuck wasn’t particularly concerned about either being the subject of a naval warship firing on them or why they might have done so without regard to whom Lauren might be accompanied by.
“Your call boss,” Tuck replied, “but I’d like to get out of these waters and over to the ship if its all the same to you. We’re pretty damned naked out here, since nothing in these waters is any match for a naval warship, and we don’t want to lose the old man. I presume there’s going to be some kind of combat bonus for this?”
“Twenty thousand each,” Lauren said. For some reason, his mind having settled on that amount as a more than fair motivating amount. It’d worked with the captain of the Navatek before and had had a similar effect on Shapiro’s, and now his own men. The three men smiled as one, ignoring the noise, spray and acting like there was no Navy destroyer bearing down on them while firing advanced weaponry.
“The ship it is,” Tuck said, varying the speed of the Zodiac as he fought to keep it from rising high enough to be found by the destroyer’s surveillance gear. Nothing was going to penetrate the huge heaving waves, but the Phalanx scanning “look down shoot down” radar would instantly ‘paint’ them with its detecting rays if they rose up to the top of any of them, and stayed there for any length of time at all.
Minutes passed without incident, and then everything changed. A huge red object flew over the Zodiac, passing fifty feet above the boat, instantly pressing the boat down with a passing wave of air pressure rushing from its spinning blades.
“Chopper. They sent over a chopper boss. I think we’re screwed. I can see the ship but we can’t outrun a helicopter,” Tuck said, as he throttled the big Mercury further down.
“No, stay at speed. Make for the ship,” Lauren ordered, once the chopper was far enough away to be heard over the sounds of the violent raging sea. “That chopper’s a French Dauphin. Only the Coast Guard flies that helicopter model, and in that color. The cavalry has arrived! The Navy can’t fire anything without having some real objective witnesses around to observe them. They’ve already overstepped normal legal bounds by a mile.”
Lauren turned his head back to face the bow of the Zodiac. The big helicopter reappeared ahead of the Zodiac, swinging around sharply to stop, hovering, at what seemed to be about fifty feet above the bouncing blown waves. The water under the chopper smoothed out as the whirling blades pushed masses of air downward to hold the helicopter still in place above it. The ship sat bobbing on the surface in the distance, less than a quarter-mile behind where the chopper sat waiting.
“Heave to,” a metallic voice stated, easily overpowering all other sounds on the water or in the boat. “This is the United States Coast Guard and we are ordering you come to a halt and await the arrival of a Naval vessel.”
“Boss?” Tuck said, making no move to slow or stop the boat.
“The Navy can’t shoot anymore with the Coast Guard on the scene,” Lauren said, “The Coast Guard’s not going to fire on us. They can’t. The only armed Dauphin’s are down in Florida, and they’re only used for hunting down drug boats. Open the throttle and run for the boat. We ought to be there in seconds.”
“Yeah,” Tuck replied, not responding to the order, “and then we’ll be arrested and thrown in Halawa Jail for resisting arrest or at least not following orders.”
“Thirty Thousand,” Lauren replied, once more cupping his hands to get his words across the short but noisy deck.
Tucks hand twisted and the boat leaped ahead again, accelerating right through and flattening on plane, right through the down blasted area of the chopper’s rotor induced mini-hurricane.
“OooouuRahhhh,” Tuck hollered over the cacophony of conflicting mechanical sounds pouring across the sea and over them.
Lauren watched the helicopter turn and track them as they went under it the chopper made no move to change its position. It continued to hover unmoving fifty feet above the sea, like a giant predatory bird trying to decide what it was going to do with prey that refused to cooperate and act like frightened prey.
The Zodiac closed on the port side of the ship at high speed, pulling up to the bottom of the lowered gantry in seconds. Tuck’s two men leaped to the little flat landing at the bottom of the gantry and tied off the boat. Tuck and Lauren helped the weakened Shapiro access the landing, working to time the passing of the old man’s body across with the violent rise and fall of the sea. Once off the Zodiac they slowly worked up the steps of the hull-mounted ladder. When they got to the main deck other crewmen came forward to help carry the old man. Lauren stared over at the hovering helicopter hovering a few hundred yards off the port side of the vessel.
“What are they doing?” Tuck asked. No sooner had he spoken than another Zodiac was seen to be working through the waves in the far distance, closer to the unmoving Navatek then to the ship.
“It appears they’re waiting for company,” Lauren observed. “I’d say we better get ready to be boarded by the Navy, or whoever’s telling the Navy what to do. Which way to the bridge?”
They climbed the ladders mounted on the superstructure. When Lauren stepped through the open hatch he was stunned. Externally, the yacht appeared beautiful, stately and elegant. Inside, however, the bridge was filled with a maze of computer screen driven high technology equipment. The narrow, but ship-wide cabin gave every appearance of being that of being a state-of-the-art military combat vessel.
“Lauren Prentice, I presume, otherwise known as The Prince?” a man in a white uniform asked, walking toward them, his handheld extended out. “I’m captain Fuentes, I’ve heard about the change of ownership, and I await your orders.”
Lauren shook the man’s hand while trying to take in the amount and kind of equipment that was mounted all over around him.
“This looks like the bridge of the destroyer chasing us might look,” he said, moving to the obvious control center located at the exact center of the bridge structure. Bolster chairs mounted atop steel pylons protruding up out of the deck dotting the surface the area like floor-mounted stools along the counter of some New York diner. The bolsters looked like they might be more applicable found in some cigarette racing boat rather than aboard a big luxury yacht.
“I’ll explain as best I can when we have time,” Fuentes said, walking to the console and standing directly in front of it. “Actually, this is state of the art. The Arleigh Burke out there is generation three, one generation behind this improvement, I mean as far as some equipment is concerned. That Navy Zodiac is going to be here in about seventeen minutes and I presume we are going to allow the personnel to board when it arrives.”
“I guess so,” Lauren answered. “I don’t think we can hold the entire Navy off, or even one armored destroyer in this case.”
“Wise decision. Here’s a packet of papers. These are called Coast Guard Documentation Records. The ship is registered with the U.S. Government and you’ve been designated the new owner. You and the ship are entitled to be protected by the very same Navy that fired those shots.”
Lauren accepted the packet of papers, rested them on a counter next to the console, and then pulled his canvas belt open and worked the Letter of Marque free from its plastic bag. He made sure to leave the four-ten shotgun revolver stuck in his belt under his shirt. He handed the document to the captain.
“Ah, I’ve heard of these but never seen one in real life,” Fuentes said, real surprise evident in the tone of his voice. “The captain of the Navy ship may be a bit surprised. I don’t think he can do a damned thing with this ship. But then, you’re not part of the ship, and neither is the crew, and I’m not sure about whether a Letter of Marque applies to the people aboard the ship carrying it.”
“Do I have to sign anything?” Lauren asked.
“No, everything’s been taken care of,” Fuentes stated. “Shapiro took care of all the planning and all operations before he left. Only your identity was unknown.”
“Before Shapiro left? We just brought him aboard. Left from where? When? Lauren asked, his brow furrowing.
“Shapiro? No, that’s Wells. Shapiro’s been gone for months. He’s with his relatives in the states. No way he was going to risk this all falling apart.”
“But he signed the papers for the deal!” Lauren said, his voice reduced to a questioning whisper.
Shock was beginning to race up and down his spine, with a good bit of fear. Everything involved with whatever it was he was truly involved with was a lie.
“Yeah, Well’s been signing Shapiro’s junk for years,” Fuentes replied, his voice matter-of-fact as if the information was about as surprising as ordering white toast at a restaurant and instead getting whole wheat. “Nobody knows,” he went on, “if you have enough money in most parts of the world you can be anybody you want.”
Tuck stepped onto the bridge. “They’re pulling up and there’s a passel of people crammed into that Zodiac,” he said. Tuck’s two men appeared beside him. Lauren noted that all three men wore holstered sidearms.
“Are those necessary?” Lauren asked, pointing at the big man’s .45 Colt.
“Don’t know,” Tuck replied, with a big smile. “Do you? And we can’t just let them let go of our own Zodiac or steal it. We ride for the brand.”
Lauren didn’t know what to say. The reference to ranching seemed no more out of place, for metaphorically representing nautical loyalty than anything else he was experiencing.
“Let’s go meet them,” he said, wishing the lack of confidence in his voice was not there or so likely to be obvious to the men in front of him.
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