The .410 bird shot load blasted out of the revolver barrel at a thousand feet per second, sending most of its tiny shotgun load into Ashton’s right foot. The man screamed before going down in a heap to the deck, both hands moving defensively to clutch the damaged remains of the top of his right foot. Lauren knew the wound was more show than go, but still the whole top of the man’s foot almost instantly blossomed to look like a flowing red and brown omelet.
Everyone in the cabin froze in place, the shock of the explosion in confined space had been deafening. Its shocking silence penetrated by Ashton’s single crying scream. More smoke came from the small gun than would have erupted if Lauren had been using a regular hardball or hollow-point round, which some ammunition manufacturers had begun producing for the ‘small load’ type of home defense weapons. The little ‘Taurus,’ by Smith and Wesson, took regular forty-five automatic ammo, or even the long Colt rounds if the possessor of the weapon was so supplied and chose to load them. It was best, however, to load the first round with the .410 birdshot, so that if a mistake was made in placing a round too critically, or in the identity of the subject being shot then there could a life-saving trip to the emergency room instead of attending an inquest at a later date.
Fuentes rushed into the cabin behind Shapiro, who was being held up by Tuck and Duncan. Lauren stared the captain in the eyes while being careful to keep all of Ashton’s men in his range of vision. Fuentes looked more guilty than shocked.
“Where were you?” Lauren asked the captain, waving the gun in the man’s general direction.
Fuentes ducked behind the three men in front of him, only his head sticking up over Shapiro’s left shoulder. “We need to get off this ship pretty quick,” he answered.
“You low life cretin,” Lauren whispered, more to himself than the cowardly captain. “You set the charge off, didn’t you?”
“You’re through. It’s over. You’re going to prison for life, if not more,”
Ashton’s anguished voice rose up from his position on the deck. He pointed at Lauren’s chest with his bloody left hand, his right spasmodically clutching his damaged foot.
Lauren quickly brought Smith and Wesson down and squeezed the double-action trigger. A second explosion filled the cabin and Ashton screamed again, even louder than before.
“That’s for touching my wife,” Lauren said, although it was unlikely Ashton heard him through the pain and shock from the gun going off so close to his left ear. “You can heal up with your elbow damaged friend if any of us get off this tub, which happens to be sinking thanks to this pitiful version of a captain here.”
“No more shooting,” Trueson said, coming to his feet with both hands extended outward.
“Okay, fine,” Lauren answered, “Tuck, take out your gun and cover everyone before I shoot this scum bag.” Lauren shoved the revolver into the canvas belt still attached to his waist inside his shirt.
Tuck pulled out his own magnum but didn’t point it at anyone.
Alarms started going off. They were so loud they could be heard right through the bulkhead leading to the bridge.
“I think that’s a fire alarm,” Lauren observed. “Am I not right Captain Jesus?”
Fuentes continued to cower behind the three men, not answering.
“Shapiro, let’s get to the bridge and see what we can do,” Lauren ordered. Fuentes, you stand down. You’re relieved. Duncan, take your man down to the infirmary and have him patched up. The birdshot isn’t going to kill him although I’ll bet it will hurt like hell for a very long time. Trueson, you might as well come along. That Navy captain has an itchy finger and we don’t need any more pyrotechnics.”
“No,” Ashton whimpered when Duncan tried to help him along toward the stairs. “He’s not a real doctor or a physician’s assistant. Don’t send me down there. Just leave me be.”
“Send him down,” Shapiro said, his voice carrying throughout the cabin, the rage in it overpowering and radiating out in spite of his apparent weakened physical state.
“It’s okay,” Sharon said, her voice sympathetic and low, “I’ll help him as best I can with first aid. He’s not going to bleed out from getting shot in the foot. There’s got to be some towels up here, and maybe some soap, water, and bandages, or at least rags.”
Lauren crossed to where Shapiro stood shakily alone. He supported him by putting one arm around his shoulders and grabbing the oxygen ‘pony’ bottle with his free hand. Lauren guided him toward the hatch leading to the bridge.
“That asshole was going to kill me,” Shapiro breathed out. “Just like that. The lying cold-hearted asshole deserves some of his own medicine,” Shapiro went on before running out of air.
“Ashton’s getting first aid from my wife,” Lauren informed him. “You missed a few things that happened while you were on your way up. He might actually have a better chance of living if he went down and begged mercy from the hitman in the infirmary. Sharon can quite a handful when she’s riled up.”
As Lauren spoke, the thought of the dangerous man below and that gave him pause.
“Tuck, if that scum bag from the infirmary shows his face up from his bilge deck, then put a round into it.”
“It’s called the Orlop deck,” Shapiro murmured.
The big Navy Seal smiled but said nothing, his stare never leaving the remaining clump of Ashton’s men who had gravitated in a single clump to stand near the fireplace.
“What about us?” Yee asked. Yee and Hiyashi moved toward Lauren together from the couches, while Sharon searched through the many drawers located under the cabinets along the insides of the external bulkheads.
“Go get their guns,” Lauren said. “ Maybe they still have yours. Provide security along with Tuck if you want to protect your investment. Fuentes set off a thermite device somewhere below. If we do nothing this ship’s going down and I’m not sure who might care to rescue us if it does. See if you can get him to show you the damage. It might not be terminal.”
Lauren watched Fuentes, with nobody left to protect him, stare at Hiyashi and cringe. The Yakusa leader looked like the spitting image of Odd Job, the evil oriental character from the movie Gold Finger, and his expression was as just as cruel.
Lauren helped Shapiro hobble through the cabin door. The starboard hatch to the bridge was wide open and there was nobody there. Radio traffic was pouring out of the speakers while multiple alarms made the space almost unbearable to remain in without covering your ears.
“How do we shut them off?” Lauren yelled over the din.
“Push every button that’s blinking. I’ll get the radio,” Shapiro responded, crouching over an advanced piece of electronics.
Lauren pushed button after button until the alarms quieted.
“What now?” he asked the old man.
“You’ve got to talk to the destroyer captain,” Shapiro said. “Tell him what you can. We have a chance to save the ship, but only a chance and our time is running out.”
Shapiro handed the radio handset to Lauren, as he moved to the board where all the lights had been blinking “Amidships”
“The board tells me he set the thing not far from the main turbine shaft. I’m closing the watertight doors but the shaft itself might be affected and we need that to make our run.”
“What run?” Lauren asked.
“Key the Mic,” Shapiro shot back. “We need that captain to back off before we can do anything.” He went back to working over the panel hitting switches and pushing different buttons.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” Lauren began, feeling like an ancient pilot in some old black and white movie.
“This is the United States Destroyer standing off your starboard bow. Prepare to be boarded,” a deep professional, voice said in return.
“I need the six actual,” Lauren instructed.
“The captain is on the deck,” the voice said. “He’s within range of this transmission. State what it is that you have to say. You have our terms or to take fire,” the voice said back, quickly and crisply.
“I’m holding a Letter of Marque, signed this day by the United States Secretary of the Navy. I have possession of this vessel and am entitled to take it into the nearest American port and claim it, which I intend to do immediately. In fact, as a United States warship, it is your duty to escort us,” Lauren said, and then waited breathlessly after taking his finger off the transmit button.
Agonizing second after agonizing second passed with no response.
“I think the fire’s burned out,” Shapiro said into the silence. “The temperature sensors are coming down in all three compartments very rapidly. I’ve shut down the sprinklers and Halon dispenser.”
“It was thermite,” Lauren responded. “The fires out because the device burned right through the stern of the hull. It’s probably burning on its way down to the bottom of the Molokai trench. Thermite burns at over 4,000 degrees and needs no eternal source of oxygen or air. The temperature’s going down fast because of sea water’s pouring in.”
“Shit. Thermite. Who in hell would have brought that aboard?” Shapiro asked, “and how did it get ignited?”
“Children’s sparkler,” Lauren answered only the last question, his voice tone going a bit sheepish.
“This is the captain,” came out of the bridge speakers. “You are ordered to stand down and prepare to receive a boarding team, as you were ordered.”
“I understand Captain,” Lauren replied, keeping his voice steady as he could while staring over the bow into the barrel of the destroyer’s cannon aimed directly at him. “I’ve informed you of the Letter of Marque and I have the United States Attorney for the State of Hawaii standing nearby if you want to discuss the legality of this right here and right now.” He glanced toward the hatch leading to the Lido deck where Trueson had taken up a position as far from Shapiro and Lauren as he could get and still be in the space.
“Well?” Lauren said, looking over at the man.
“I’m in if needed,” Trueson said, his tone and body language indicating that being ‘in’ was the last place on earth he wanted to be.
“I need to communicate with Mr. Ashton before we can come to an accommodation,” the destroyer captain said.
“Ashton’s indisposed,” Lauren keyed back.
“I’m sorry I can’t accept that,” the captain replied, going on, “indisposed in what way?”
“He’s been shot.,” Lauren replied,” twice. “He’s in the infirmary. How much more of this do you want to be transmitted in the clear, captain?”
Lauren asked the man, but only got another silence in return This radio isn’t encrypted and we are close enough for at least two islands in the Hawaiian chain to pick up every word we are saying in the clear.”
“What’s our plan, Shapiro?” Lauren asked, after letting up on the radio handset’s transmit button. “What’s the ‘run’ you mentioned?”
“Turbine,” Shapiro answered, pushing down a large chrome lever after releasing a holding strap buttoned over it. He flicked another switch. A low whine began to come from somewhere aft and down from the rear of the bridge. The whine slowly began to build in volume and tone, sounding hugely powerful and ominous. “LM 2500 gas turbine engine. Forty-three thousand horsepower running through a Kamewa water pump that’ll push out about two hundred thousand gallons a second of seawater under full power. We could normally do about forty-five knots but I don’t know, what with the bow down a bit. I’ve never had the thing spooled up to more than a couple of thousand rounds per minute but it’ll do thirty-six hundred at maximum. I can only hope to pump or push out so much water from the stern compartments though. If we can still start the diesels that are further back, then together with the turbine in this rough water we might get up on plane, which would elevate the bow and let the water pour right out, and really let the ship fly. Or maybe not.”
“Unless they decide to shoot our stern off,” Lauren concluded.
“They can shoot a full third of it off,” Shapiro laughed, “The pump is mounted way forward. You can hear the turbine because it’s right below us. They’d only take out the diesel props and we only need those to get up on plane with the big single, and protected pump.”
“Where are we going?” Lauren asked, truly mystified. They couldn’t run into Honolulu Harbor at sixty to eighty miles per hour, or Pearl Harbor, for that matter. He watched the Coast Guard helicopter creep up along the ship’s starboard bow. Another helicopter appeared behind the destroyer but Lauren couldn’t tell what or whom it’s markings might indicate where or what it was.
“Hearing no answer, let’s make our first move,” Shapiro said, flicking two more switches and then began pulling another chrome lever back while pushing on two toggle sticks.
The ship began to turn without moving either forward or in reverse. “Bow and stern thrusters. Cost about a million for each setup. Worth it though, huh?”
“What is your intent?” the voice from the speakers asked, no longer that of the captain.
“Let’s find out what an Arleigh Burke destroyer can really do?” Shapiro asked, rhetorically, with weak broken laughing coming up from his throat.
When the ship was presenting its full port broadside to the destroyer Shapiro pulled the biggest lever all the way down while hitting another switch, and then two smaller ones mounted to each side of it.
“Turbine transmission and diesels. We have all three.”
The ship surged forward so violently that Lauren was forced to move backward to keep his balance. He finally stopped when he stood against the steel bridge bulkhead. It was hard to believe an object so big could surge forward with such acceleration. Shapiro’s oxygen tank slid along with Lauren, leaving two long plastic tubes still connected, as the old man hung onto bridge stanchions with all his decaying strength.
“We intend to fire on your vessel unless you come to a full stop immediately,” the speaker’s said.
“Fire when ready, Gridley…” Shapiro answered, his voice barely above a whisper. He grasped the ship’s wheel as the ship’s speed began to build, looking like he was on some upper drug. The ship surged forward faster and faster, the stern sinking down, just as Shapiro had hoped it might, and their wild flight across the pounding waves of the Molokai Trench began.
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