A big gruff looking man in full Navy uniform stepped between members of Delta Force gathered together at the top of the gantry.
“I guess your job, whatever the hell it was, is done here, captain. Why don’t you take your team and get back to the ship? Looks like you need to get a little work done at the infirmary too. What happened aboard this vessel before it ran aground?”
Lauren turned in surprise to look behind him. The Navy officer hadn’t been talking to him. From somewhere aboard, the captain, the same one who’d blown a hole in the ship’s stern, had resurrected himself from whatever hole he’d hidden out in since that event. The man strode forward, looking for all the world as a real ship’s captain. He moved past Lauren without commenting.
“I have my orders sir,” the captain said to the unintroduced Navy officer. This ship isn’t under your command. We’re staying to see this through. My injuries are minor, but I appreciate your sentiment.” The words came out of the captain one at a time like they were little candies being snapped out of a Pez dispenser. Another layer of tension was added to the scene, as everyone else on the bridge remained silent. The ship may be aground but it remains under my command, representing Mr. Prince, the ship’s owner. The captain turned to look back over his shoulder at Lauren.
Lauren shrugged, not knowing what to say. What difference did it make who was captain of a ship that bottomed out on the sands of Bellows Beach? The expense of getting the ship afloat again might even be greater than the worth of the thing.
“Carry on then. There is no sentiment involved in any of this, and your ship is aground, there is no “maybe” about it. You’re bleeding all over the place, so I was recommending that you see someone about that. If you have no medical personnel aboard then our Navy Corpsmen can come aboard and help out.
“I’d appreciate that most sincerely, sir,” the captain replied, no doubt having some knowledge of the hitman who’d passed himself off as the ship’s doctor.
The officer nodded to one of the tough-looking men he’d come aboard with. That man disappeared back down the gantry so swiftly and fluidly it was like he wasn’t a normal human being at all.
“We’re going to provide you with some assistance here but you need to stay out of our way, the officer stated, flatly,” this time staring straight into Lauren’s eyes.
"You’d be Mr. Prince I presume, the ship’s owner, so I want no more shooting or violence of any kind. Wherever your ‘team’ goes people have a habit of dying and I don’t want the Navy to have any part in it. In return, we’ll refloat and repair this tub. A special floating drydock is on the way from Pearl Harbor as I inform you of this. The repair will be done by the Navy at the Pearl shipyard at no cost to you.”
Lauren was once more too shocked to say anything, and then, in thinking as fast as he could, too smart to screw anything up by saying the wrong thing.
Three Marines in full combat garb came up the gantry ladder, with their weapons held at the ready position. Lauren noted the absence of blank-firing attachments near the tip of the barrels of their M-16s and presumed live ammunition had been substituted for the training blanks. There was no more room for the men to assemble so the entire group eased through the hatch, down the stairs and onto the deck of the Lido cabin where Hiyashi and Yee stood waiting with Sharon and Ashton still on the deck between them. Ashton was unconscious. Lauren looked at the now empty syringe, frowned, and then looked into Sharon’s eyes, hoping Ashton had not been deliberately and fatally overdosed.
“He was still in pain,” Sharon said very softly, meeting his gaze while getting to her feet. “He’s tough as an old rhinoceros and he’s doing fine. Breathing even, regular and clear. I wrapped his hands so he wouldn’t bleed out.”
“That’s Ashton, I presume, laying there on the deck?” the Navy officer asked, pointing at the prone man. When nobody answered immediately the man went on. “ I’m Commander Poolau, incidentally, commander of the Navy contingent of this joint Navy-Marine landing operation. “I’ve also been brought into the situation and story about what this is supposed to be all about, although in looking around aboard I think I have a lot more to learn.
Suddenly, a thick brutish looking man in field utility uniform broke through the group gathered at the top of the gangway. He elbowed his way roughly through the special forces men to stand beside the Navy commander.
“I’m Colonel Peterson, United States Marine Corps, and this is my beach you’ve landed on.”
“Well, colonel,” Lauren quickly replied, we’re not yet on your beach. “Technically, this ship is still at sea, no matter how things appear.”
The Colonel stared back at him as if he hadn’t said anything at all. He turned his head to look at the special operations team.
And what is the Army doing with Delta Force aboard?” the colonel went on. “How did they get here and why are they involved at all?”
“The captain’s bleeding out and Ashton’s in real trouble too,” Lauren said to change the subject.
There was no telling the depth Ashton had been able to dig into in order to interest every force and organization located on Oahu in what they were doing.
“They need medical attention,” Commander Poolau said. “There’s a doctor and corpsmen sitting outside the reef aboard the Chaffee. You men came aboard to get this man, I believe, Captain,” he said to the head of the Delta Force team. Take him and his men out to the ship on your Zodiac and get some care for yourself while you’re at it. If he’s still alive I want him kept that way. A lot of people have some explaining to do here and I want everyone around for the inquiry. This ship is under my command, as of this minute, or until I see other legal authority. “Any questions?”
“Why is this ship on my beach,” the Marine Colonel replied, surging forward to confront the disabled bleeding captain and Lauren. “This is a disaster. News helicopters are landing on my beach in the middle of an important training exercise. Who are you people? This ship isn’t sailing the seven seas. It’s mine until I decide otherwise.”
No one spoke for a few minutes as the Delta Force team gathered up Ashton, accompanied by his men, and led them back toward the gantry. As they eased him from the floor he regained consciousness.
“You haven’t heard the last of this, you colossal prick,” Ashton breathed to Lauren as he was dragged by.
“The captain was just kidding about taking him back to the ship,” Lauren said to the leader of the Delta Force Team. “It’s actually quite alright to kill him. I would.”
“No doubt,” the Delta Team Leader answered. Lauren was complimented by the man’s departing smile.
“Let’s find out who everyone is and what you’re all doing here,” Colonel Peterson ordered.
Trueson introduced himself first.
“A United States Attorney?” the Colonel replied, exasperation in his voice. “Here, on my beach. I don’t understand any of this. What would a U.S. attorney want aboard such a yacht in these waters?
“Produce your document, Prince,” Trueson said without looking at Lauren.
Lauren went into his canvas belt and then eased the Letter of Marque from within it.
“I believe you gentlemen might want to read this,” he said, holding the document out to both the Navy Commander and the Marine Colonel.
Poolau reached out and grabbed the ornate paper before Peterson could get his hands on it. He held it out in front of him, unrolling it like a Papyrus Scroll in Egyptian times. He concentrated hard and read for over a full minute.
“This is insane. A Letter of Marque?” he concluded. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. It’s signed by the Secretary of the Navy. How do I know it’s valid and true? We’re not living in the seventeen hundreds here. There’ve been no such documents issued for hundreds of years, not to my knowledge, anyway. Is this U.S. law or maritime law, and are we truly considered to be on land or is this ship still legally at sea?” he asked Trueson.
“My off the cuff analysis would conclude that this ship is still at sea, although no buoyant. The Letter of Marque is U.S. law, although a law written near the end of the revolutionary war. It was ratified after the war ended, however, giving it full stature through the ages.
“I don’t believe it,” Commander Poolau breathed out.
“You have a cell phone?” Trueson said, making to offer his own phone. “If you don’t you can borrow mine. Go ahead, make the call to the Secretary of the Navy’s phone. I’m sure his office will verify the document is legitimate but I’m not sure the Secretary himself would be at all interested in hearing from you with respect to what’s really happening here.
“What’s a Letter of Marque?” the Marine colonel asked.
“The letter determines who owns this boat, what’s on it, and who’s in command here, basically,” Trueson stated, taking the document from Poolau’s hand and holding it out to the Colonel for his own examination. “I guess if you have a problem with it you can call the Commandant’s office and probably command his full attention if he actually comes on the line.
Colonel Peterson fumed silently for a few seconds. “So who the hell is in charge here? It’s my area. My beach. My Marines. And this wreck of a ship is an interloper and I want it gone.”
He handed the letter back to Trueson by pushing it into his chest.
“It’s his ship,” Trueson said, handing the Letter of Marque back to Lauren.
“As far as I’m concerned, regarding federal legality, Mr. Prince here is in charge of what happens. In fact, in spite of your assumed control of the beach and sea area around it, you have no authority aboard this vessel.”
The Marine Colonel seemed to swell up before breathing deeply several times and getting control of himself.
“Alright then, Lauren, or Mr. Prince, what exactly are your orders?”
Lauren was too shocked to answer. It was like he’d been watching a game of some sort with the important players all making moves while he stood on the sidelines. He wasn’t ready to make any decisions. “I’d like a few minutes to talk to my wife,” he asked.
The group looked at him as if he was a zoo specimen.
“I mean, to make sure she’s alright before we move on,” he added.
There was no way the macho assortment of combat men in front of him was going to accept the simple fact that Lauren didn’t know what to do and was consulting with Sharon in hopes that she would think of something bright and clever to order.
“Take her up to the bridge,” Trueson said, pointing at the stairs they’d all recently come down. “Make it quick. I’ll fill everyone in on what they need to know about this whole affair while you’re gone.”
Lauren climbed the stairs with Sharon at his side, neither saying a word until they reached the bridge. Lauren dogged the hatch while gently laughing to himself.
“What’s so funny?” Sharon asked.
“Trueson,” Lauren laughed out. “He’s going to clue everyone in while we're gone. Are we supposed to stay away a week, or even more? We’ve been a part of this whole thing since the beginning and I still can’t really explain what is going on or what we might get out of it, other than a boat with no bottom sitting on the bottom of the sea.”
“What do you think?” he asked her, hoping she’d have something to say in return.
“You’ve won some vital ground, as long as you don’t blow it,” Sharon replied. “Go back in there and tell them what to do to the best of your ability. They don’t know what to do. Everything is done and signed. Shapiro never intended any of this to happen this way but he doesn’t seem to care about any of it either. He just wants to go home. Make that happen. That the Navy has agreed to pull the ship and repair it is a huge triumph in of itself. This thing has to be worth millions alone.
“What about us?” Lauren asked her, “and I don’t know what to order them to do.”
“Us?” Sharon replied, with a snort. "There will always be an us and we seem to be looking at a better future than we’ve ever had before. Order them off the ship, all of them. They can come back aboard when the special drydock ship arrives to pull this thing up.”
“Why get them all off the ship?” Lauren asked, his forehead wrinkled.
“So we can search the thing,” Sharon replied. “We didn’t get the Letter of Marque in order to secure the boat. We got it to secure what’s on it, no matter what’s in the bank. We keep only Shapiro aboard to help us. Nobody’s been truthful in this whole affair, including him, but maybe, at this near-ending point, and with his desire to go home, we’ll finally get some real advice and help from him.”
The remaining chapters of this novel will appear in
December and January issues of the Geneva Shore Report printed version,
following the presentation of the paper’s traditional holiday stories