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Authors: R. E. McDermott

Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Military, #Spies & Politics, #Assassinations, #Conspiracies, #Terrorism, #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Sea Adventures, #Thrillers, #pirate, #CIA, #tanker, #hostage, #sea story, #Espionage, #russia, #ransom, #maritime, #Suspense, #Somalia, #captives, #prisoner, #Somali, #Action, #MI5, #spy, #Spetsnaz, #Marine, #Adventure, #piracy, #London, #Political

Deadly Coast (10 page)

BOOK: Deadly Coast
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“Toothless or Traitor do most of the talking and then put the phone on speaker to prove I’m alive and kicking. Last time, before they could get it off speaker, the
’s captain asked for assurances there would be no more executions. I can’t remember his exact words, but I got the impression he wasn’t talking about our two guys. It was, I don’t know, like he was talking about something more recent.”

“You sure?” Milam asked.

She shook her head. “No, I’m not sure,” she said, her voice cracking. She struggled to compose herself. “Look, Jim. If anything happens to me …”

“Shut up, Lynda. Nothing’s going to happen to you.”

She grabbed his hand and squeezed, her eyes blazing. “Listen to me. I’ve been thinking about this, and how these assholes think. I don’t know how this is going to end, but I’m pretty sure there won’t be any negotiated deal. The US Navy’s going to be coming in here as soon as they can figure out a way to do it without killing too many of us. Politically, they can’t afford to do anything else. We both know that, and so do the pirates.” She shook her head. “What I can’t figure out is why they haven’t moved the crew ashore or split us up, at least me. Let’s face it, an American woman captain has to be a high-value hostage for them. Leaving us all here aboard the ship is keeping all their eggs in the same basket, so I figure that means they want all eyes on the basket.”

Milam nodded. “Makes sense, but so what? Where you going with this?”

“What happens when they finish whatever else they have going on?”

“I don’t know, I guess … oh shit!”

“That’s right,” Arnett said. “If the navy hasn’t rescued us by then, they may decide to spread out their eggs. We have to stop ignoring the elephant in the room. I’m the prize egg, and I suspect I’ll be the first moved.”

“So what’re you saying?”

“I’m saying, if and when that happens, don’t do something stupid and get yourself killed. Understood?”

Milam’s jaw clenched. “We can surround you—put you in the middle. We’re no good to them dead. They won’t risk killing—”

Arnett squeezed his hand again. “Yes. They. Will,” she said. “No heroics. OK?”

Milam looked unconvinced.

“Jim?” Arnett said. Milam didn’t respond. “That’s an order, Chief,” Arnett said.

“I’ll consider it,” Milam said at last, relieved she seemed to accept that.

“There’s something else,” Arnett said. “The crew looks up to you, and if anything happens to me, I want you in charge.”

“How the hell am I going to do that?” Milam asked. “If something happens to you, Jones becomes captain, and if something happens to him, it’s Joe Silva.”

“Yeah, technically,” Arnett said, “and Stan Jones may be acting chief mate, but he’s got five years’ experience to your thirty—and as far as poor Joe goes …” She looked across the room to where Joe Silva was coiled on a bare mattress in the fetal position. “All he ever wanted to be is third mate, and he’s practically catatonic since they murdered Gomez.”

Milam followed her gaze and nodded sadly. “Well, you’re right about Silva, poor bastard.” He turned to face her. “But Stan may view things differently.” Milam’s voice softened. “After all, Lynda, he may be green, but he’s got a year more sea time than you.”

“Jesus! Don’t you think I’ve thought of that? But I still don’t think—”

“I’m not saying I disagree,” Milam said. “But what do you expect me to do? Stage a mutiny and appoint myself captain?”

“Of course not. But … I don’t know … guide him … offer advice …”

Milam sighed. “Well, it won’t come to that, but if it does, I’ll do my best.” Milam turned around and smiled ruefully. “It’s not like there’ll be too many command decisions made here in the mess room.”

“Maybe not,” Arnett said, “but if there are, I’ll feel a lot better knowing you’re making them. Job one is getting as many of the crew home alive as you can.”

“Well, hopefully the cavalry will arrive soon.”

“Maybe,” Arnett replied, the doubt obvious in her voice, “but my gut tells me something’s up, and I wish I knew what it was.”

Chapter Ten

Drillship Ocean Goliath
Arabian Sea
120 miles from the coast of Oman

Mukhtar sat in the Zodiac in the inky darkness three hours before dawn, relieved the wait was over. It wouldn’t serve his purposes to capture the high-profile sheik and his American partners, and the two days of waiting for them to leave the drillship had seemed a lifetime. Finally, the helicopter lifted off the vessel and headed ashore, and his man aboard confirmed the sheik’s departure.

Both the hour of the attack and the initial assault craft had been chosen with care. The security detail would be less alert at this hour, and looking outward at the sea. His man onboard was good with a knife and could silence each of the unsuspecting sentries with ease. The small inflatable had a minimal radar return and would show poorly or not at all on the drillship radar, supposing it was even being monitored. He’d had his men stop the outboard some minutes before, and they now paddled through the darkness, awaiting the signal.

And there it was—three short blinks followed by a pause, then repeated. He called softly to the men and they bent to the paddles. In minutes they found the rope ladder down the side of the drillship, right where he’d ordered. Mukhtar rushed aboard with seven men, and within five minutes they captured the surprised crew on watch and took control of communications. With the threat of a warning eliminated, Mukhtar pointed a flashlight into the night and flashed another signal. He was rewarded by the sound of powerful outboards awakening in the distance, and smiled as the sound drew closer.

Within fifteen minutes the deck of the drillship was swarming with pirates. Within twenty the entire crew of the drillship had been subdued. He watched as the pirates, most of them new recruits drawn by the promise of money, cavorted around the huge piles of silver coins on deck. He would give it all to the fools, for he was after something of far greater value, and now he had the means to obtain it.

Mukhtar smiled at the man sitting in the chair in the control room. “Now, my friend,” he said, as he held the muzzle of his assault rifle inches from the man’s forehead, “we’re going to take a little trip. Not too far, just a few kilometers. Will you help, or do I need to retire you and find someone more helpful?”

“No. I mean, yes … I’ll help,” the tool pusher said. “But we can’t move in this condition. There’s too much pipe racked in the derrick. The stability is—”

Mukhtar jammed the muzzle of his weapon into the man’s mouth, breaking a tooth and stifling the protest. “Enough of your tricks, infidel! Move the vessel or die! Those are your options. Do you understand?”

The terrified tool pusher tried to nod, his head held almost immobile by Mukhtar’s weapon.

“Good,” Mukhtar said, and withdrew his rifle.

The man looked up, blood running from his mouth. “I … I have a family. D-don’t kill me. Please.”

Mukhtar nodded and smiled. “Cooperate, and you’ve nothing to fear.”

M/T Marie Floyd
Port Sultan Qaboos, Berth No. 1
Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

The three men stood on the main deck of the
Marie Floyd
, sweating in the noonday heat despite the shade of the bridge wing.

“I don’t like it, Dugan,” said the classification-society surveyor as he glared out at the deck, “not one little bit. This rust bucket was supposed to be headed to the Bangladesh breakers, and suddenly I get a call from Houston HQ telling me to get my ass down here from Dubai to expedite a
flag change
. Who changes the flag on a ship headed for the boneyard? And how the hell are you involved anyway? I thought you worked with Kairouz in London.”

Dugan opened his mouth to speak, but Captain Vince Blake beat him to it.

“We’re short superintendents,” Blake said. “Mr. Dugan is a consultant.”

The surveyor cocked an eyebrow. “So Hanley hires the
managing director
of a major competitor to babysit a flag change in the back of beyond?” The man turned and pointed across the open deck to where M/T
Pacific Endurance
floated at the next berth. “Where another of that major competitor’s ships just happens to be berthed.” He pointed down to the dock, where men unloaded steel plate, crates, and welding gear from a flatbed truck. “And I guess I’m not supposed to notice a newly arrived bunch of rednecks, looking suspiciously like a riding gang, loading material on both vessels. And I don’t even want to know how that bunch of Russians fits into things or what’s in those cases.” He sighed. “Why me?”

“Look, it’s just a flag change,” Blake said. “The coast guard has no issue with it, so I don’t see why it should be a problem for you.”

“Why the hell
our USCG friends have heartburn?” the surveyor asked. “She’s leaving US flag, and not their problem anymore. The only thing I got from my USCG counterpart was an email to the effect of ‘be a pal and pull the Certificate of Inspection when you leave.’ They’re not even sending anyone to our little party. Which leaves me out on a limb all by myself, getting the bum’s rush from HQ to do all the acceptance inspections on behalf of Liberia. But it’s
signature that’ll be on the new certificates and reports, and
ass on the line if whatever you screwballs are planning goes south and this bucket sinks.”

Dugan stroked his chin. “Maybe we can keep everyone happy.”

“That’d be a nice trick. How?” asked the surveyor.

“Your marching orders are to expedite the flag change, right?”


“So do the flag change today with interim certificates. Defer all major inspections for a week and throw in as many ‘outstanding recommendations to be cleared before leaving ports’ as you want. Go back to Dubai on the afternoon flight, and come back next week before we sail to finish up the inspections and make sure everything is OK. That way you’ve expedited the flag change and covered your own ass at the same time.” Dugan paused for emphasis. “Everybody’s happy, and no very important people will be calling Houston to bitch about you.”

The surveyor hesitated. “I guess that’ll work, but I still don’t like it!”

Blake took advantage of the opening. “Let’s go up to my office. I’ll pull the certificates for you,” he said, leading the man into the deckhouse.

Ten minutes later Dugan stood at the rail, watching activity on the dock below. He turned at the sound of Blake’s footsteps.

“He happy?” Dugan asked.

“Well, cooperative at least,” Blake replied. “He’s up to his neck in certificates and muttering to himself, but I think we’ll officially be Liberian when he leaves. But what’s this about sailing next week? I thought we were leaving tonight.”

“He doesn’t have to know that,” Dugan said. “As long as we’re officially Liberian, we’re golden. All those outstanding recommendations he’s going to saddle us with are meaningless since we don’t intend to trade the ship, but they’ll cover his ass and get him out of our hair.”

Both men turned at the sound of a load being landed on the deck amidships by the ship’s crane. Dugan noticed Blake wince at the sudden movement.

He fixed Blake with an appraising stare. “Pushing the envelope a bit on recovery time, aren’t you?”

“Don’t worry about me. It was laparoscopic surgery. I get a twinge now and then is all.” His voice hardened. “And besides,
Luther Hurd
is my ship and those are my people. I may not be able to do anything for them, but I can do this.”

“When we sail we can’t turn back,” Dugan said. “If there’s any doubt—”

“I said I’m fine, Dugan. Drop it, OK?”

Dugan hesitated, then nodded and changed the subject. “Ever think you’d end up doing something like this?”

Blake grinned. “Can’t say as I did. Maybe I should get an eye patch and a parrot to sit on my shoulder.”

Dugan laughed. “Nah. He’d just crap down the back of your shirt.”

His laughter was interrupted by angry voices, a distinctive Texas accent countered by another speaking—or rather, shouting—Russian-accented English.

“Crap,” Dugan muttered, looking down at the dock. “Looks like there’s a bit of friction between elements of our little band of swashbucklers.” He started for the gangway, with Blake on his heels.

Dugan arrived on the dock to find two men toe to toe. The Texan was slender and of medium height. He was older, but appeared fit, and the well-muscled arm below the sleeve of his tee shirt was graced by a faded tattoo that read
. His Russian adversary was a head taller and decades younger, and neither was showing the slightest signs of backing down. A dozen men moved up in support of the Texan, as a similar number closed ranks behind the Russian, including a blond giant who towered above the others.

“Now hear this, Boris,” said the Texan. “I don’t give a damn who you are or what’s in your little boxes.” He punctuated his sentence by squirting tobacco juice on a stack of fiberglass cases. “I don’t take orders from you. I got my own stuff to load, and when I finish, I’ll load your crap if—and I do mean if—my boss tells me to. Got that?”

“My name is not Boris, little man. It is Andrei Borgdanov—
Andrei Borgdanov. But you can call me
. And if my equipment is not loaded on ship in—”

“All right, knock it off, both of you,” said Dugan.

The Texan shot Dugan an irritated look, but brightened when he saw Blake.

“Cap’n,” he said to Blake. “I was loading the gear like we agreed when this commie shows up and starts throwin’ his weight—”

Borgdanov reddened. “I am Russian but not communist. Perhaps you should come into twenty-first century,

yourself, Ivan. You’re all commies as far as I can tell.”

“Cool it, Woody,” Blake said.

The Texan nodded but seemed to think better of it, and sent another squirt of tobacco juice through the air to land inches from Borgdanov’s foot. The big Russian got even redder and clenched massive fists. Dugan saw a smile flicker at the corners of Woody’s mouth, as the smaller man clenched his own fists and set himself to take the Russian’s charge.

“Enough!” Dugan yelled, as he stepped between them, facing Borgdanov as he pushed him back a step. “Captain Blake,” Dugan said over his shoulder, “why don’t you take Woody up the dock a ways and have a chat, while I discuss international cooperation with the major here.”

No one moved at first, then Woody shot another squirt of tobacco juice onto the dock, well away from the Russian this time. He turned to the men behind him, as if seeing them for the first time. “What are y’all doing standing around!” he yelled. “Git back to work! This gear ain’t gonna load itself.”

Woody’s men sprang back into action, as he watched a moment, then nodded to Blake. The two men walked off up the dock without looking back.

Borgdanov stared after them.

“OK, Andrei,” Dugan said. “What’s going on here?”

The major jerked his head in the direction of the retreating Texan. “This foreman is big pain in the ass,” he said. “We wait here in sun two hours, and I order him
times”—the Russian held up three fingers for emphasis—”to load gear on ship so we can begin stowing properly. Two times, he ignores me, so last time I grab his arm to get attention.” Borgdanov shrugged. “Then we have argument. I think maybe better you let me finish argument, then maybe he is no longer big pain is ass,

“I think the
part is the problem,” Dugan said.

,” the Russian protested, “in Russia—”

Dugan reddened. “God damn it, Borgdanov, we’re not in Russia! And I told you to stop calling me gramps!”

Despite the tension, the Russian grinned, as did the blond giant beside him.

“But Dugan,” Borgdanov said, nodding toward his companion, Sergeant Ilya Denosovich, “as Ilya and I keep telling you,
is term of great respect.”

“Yeah,” Dugan said. “I can tell that by grin on the sergeant’s face every time he hears it.”

Both Russians laughed, the tension broken. Sensing the new dynamic, the other Russians moved away. Dugan lowered his voice.

“But understand you can’t go ordering these guys around,” Dugan said. “Woody and his boys have priority for the moment. Until they get the mods done, we can’t proceed. Your work comes later.” Dugan glanced at the other Russians. “For now, we need to cool things down a bit on all fronts. Why don’t you leave a couple of guys to watch your gear and let the others wait in the crew mess? It’s a lot cooler in the air conditioning.”

Borgdanov considered that a moment. “
,” he said at last, before turning to the sergeant and spitting out a stream of Russian. The sergeant nodded and set about organizing the men, as Dugan and Borgdanov moved away a few steps and continued talking.

“But why do we even need these workers,
?” Borgdanov asked. “Is easier to just make pirates disappear,

“Don’t call me … oh, to hell with it,” Dugan said, knowing from experience he’d never win that contest. “We’ve been over this. We need the pirates alive.”

The Russian shrugged. “OK, but seems a complicated plan. In Russia—”

Dugan sighed. “But we’re not in Russia.”

Borgdanov held up his hands, palms outward. “Yes, yes, I know. We are not in Russia. This you tell me many times,” he smiled ruefully. “Not that I need you to tell me this. Anyway, since Istanbul, things have not been so wonderful for me in Russia.”

Dugan paused, considering his next words. “You did everything you could in Istanbul, and saved thousands of lives. You should’ve been promoted.”

“You do not get promoted when you lose eleven of thirteen men in operation,
.” Borgdanov looked away, and spoke almost as if speaking to himself. “Good men.
. The best,” he said. He glanced over to where the blond sergeant was organizing the men, then turned back to Dugan.

BOOK: Deadly Coast
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