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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 (9 page)

BOOK: Deadly Coast
12.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“You’re sure the whore can’t get out?” asked Diriyi, his speech slurred a bit from the effects of his own wad of khat.

“Relax,” Gaal said. “The doors are secured from outside, and the windows don’t open. And even if they did, it’s a twenty-meter drop to the main deck.”

Diriyi nodded, then looked at his watch. He sat up straight, preparing to stand. “Come,” he said. “She should be clean by now. I think it’s time I kept my promise.”

Gaal shrugged and made no move to rise. “If you think that wise.”

Diriyi’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, the woman’s face is already bruised, and now she has an ugly cut on her forehead from my teeth. She’s had some training, and won’t be easy to rape. I think it’ll take more than you and I to hold her down, and we’ll have to beat her into submission.”

“What of it?” Diriyi asked.

“Think, Diriyi,” Gaal said. “At some point the Americans will demand proof the crew’s alive. They’ll be insistent on seeing the woman, given their foolish tendency to place women in these positions and then agonize over what happens to them. Don’t forget, I know how they think. Abuse of the woman will accelerate any rescue attempt.” Gaal fixed Diriyi with a meaningful look. “And I think the idea’s to delay that as long as possible, right?”

Diriyi tensed. “And what do you know of our plan, American?”

“I know your demands are impossible on their face and have no chance of being fulfilled,” Gaal said. “I know Mukhtar has disappeared with all of the faithful and the cream of the crop of new recruits, leaving you and me here with this mob of rejects. I know you are promising these men an insane amount of money when the mission is over, and I suspect that’s because you expect none to be alive to collect it.” Gaal smiled. “Don’t mistake me for one of these idiots, Diriyi.”

Diriyi relaxed a bit and sank back on the sofa, studying Gaal.

“Perhaps I misjudged you, Gaal,” he said at last. “What do you suggest?”

“Put the woman with the others. They’ll all take comfort at being together, and each can confirm the safety of the others.” Gaal paused, as if in thought. “When negotiations with the Americans get tense, let them talk to the woman if necessary. Perhaps at that point we can fit a few crew with collars and link the existing well-being of the crew with the immediate danger of their death, should we be attacked. That might buy a few days, or a week.”

“You forget one thing,” said Diriyi. “The men expect me to rape her then turn her over to them.”

Gaal smiled. “But then you opened her legs in your cabin and found her diseased. The men will believe that, especially when I confirm it.”

Diriyi returned his smile. “You’re a clever fellow, Gaal. We’ll do as you suggest.” Then the smile faded, and his voice took on a hard edge. “But make no mistake. Before this is over I’ll take her.” He tongued the gap in his teeth. “And then I’ll kill her.”

Chapter Nine

M/T Luther Hurd
At anchor
Harardheere, Somalia

Gaal walked the length of the A-deck passageway, an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, stepping around a pirate squatting on the deck with thumbs flying as he sent a text message. Al-Shabaab had originally confiscated all phones, but with Mukhtar and the others safely away for over a week and the motley crew of bored pirates growing increasingly restless, Diriyi returned the phones to placate the men. Gaal smiled as he looked along the passageway and saw several other pirates engrossed with their phones. It was something he would never understand. Most of the country didn’t even have running water or basic sanitation, yet every Somali seemed to have a cell phone and be addicted to using it.

The man he stepped around looked up and smiled, and Gaal returned the smile with a nod. He was accepted as second-in-command now; in fact, the pirates seemed to respect him more than they did Diriyi, a legacy perhaps of Diriyi’s missing teeth and the manner of their extraction. But Gaal was careful not to encourage that, and had developed a wary rapport with Diriyi. The man didn’t trust him, but Gaal had proven his worth in managing the unruly mob of pirates.

He glanced through the open door of the officers’ mess room. The deck was littered with mattresses, on which several men were sprawled. The woman captain and several officers sat at a table, playing cards to pass the time before the next meal of goat meat and rice. The hijackers had concentrated the hostages for ease of surveillance, but at Gaal’s suggestion they’d separated the officers. The unlicensed crew had similar communal arrangements in the crew mess room.

The days had a sameness, stitched together by routine. The hostages spent their days in languid monotony, punctuated by periods of terror and speculation when the pirates would fit crewmen with explosive collars and drag the captain out to speak on the phone. The pirates spent their days chewing khat, texting, and squabbling amongst themselves, watched over by Gaal.

Gaal watched the woman. Her cuts and bruises were healing, and she was looking increasingly attractive and obviously healthy. Soon it might be difficult to keep the men at bay, even with the story he’d spread that she was a petri dish of STDs. As if she felt his eyes, she looked up and glared. He smiled and moved down the passageway. She was a pain in the ass.

Arabian Sea
120 miles from the coast of Oman

The Yemini fishing boat bobbed in the gentle swell as it chugged along at six knots, one of the scores of fishing boats ubiquitous to the area, a threat to no one. That was an image Mukhtar very much wanted to project, and he’d strolled the crowded wharf in Aden until he found just the right vessel.

The grateful captain hadn’t asked questions when Mukhtar offered to charter his boat for several times the going rate, implying with a wink and a nod there may be a bit of smuggling involved. The poor man realized his mistake five miles outside the breakwater, when fast boats converged on his vessel and he was overrun by pirates. He’d little time to regret his action before Mukhtar shot him and his three-man crew and dumped their bodies over the side.

Mukhtar had no qualms about his actions. The fishing-boat captain was not one of the Faithful, or he wouldn’t have accepted such an exorbitant sum nor been so eager to participate in illegal activity. And the crewmen were equally guilty, for what man would serve such a corrupt master if he weren’t corrupt himself?

He raised the binoculars and studied the vessel in the distance. The tower of the drillship pointed to the heavens, like a great skeletal finger, and faint sounds of machinery and the ring of steel on steel carried across the water. Mukhtar forced himself to be patient.

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

The tool pusher stood on the centerline of the ship, staring down through the moon pool into the clear water, straining to catch a glimpse of the huge hydraulic grab. He cursed under his breath as the ascent of the drill pipe slowed, then stopped, and he heard the clang of steel on steel on the drill floor above. In his mind’s eye, he envisioned the slips being placed and the tongs at work, unthreading a long stand of pipe to be moved aside so another could be lifted to bring the grab that much closer to the surface.

A roundtrip to the bottom—over eight thousand feet below—and back took hours. A pity the weight of the treasure and limited carrying capacity of the ROV forced them into this time-consuming process. But the remotely operated vehicle had proven its worth in other ways. Steering the little submersible to depths beyond the capacity of any human, the operator on the drillship had expertly placed explosive charges around the hull of the SS
John Barry
, ripping the old Liberty ship open and exposing her treasure for the first time in over sixty years.

The tool pusher fidgeted and shot a squirt of tobacco juice into the clear waters below.
was still over eight thousand feet from
. He glanced at the immobile pipe. It was ingenious, really, the idea of turning a drillship into a giant version of the coin-operated claw arcade game. Of course, they expected their claw to pull up a hell of a lot more than a stuffed bunny.

He flinched at a sudden sound, then realized it was the massive thrusters kicking in, directed by the dynamic positioning system to keep the drillship precisely located over her target. He glanced once more at the unmoving pipe, checked his watch, and turned to head up to the drill floor to chew somebody’s ass, just as there was a clank and a groan, and the pipe resumed its measured ascent.

When the massive hydraulic grab broke the surface an hour later, the moon pool was surrounded by crewmen and the excitement was palpable. Next to the tool pusher stood Sheik Mustafa and his American partners and the documentary film crew with their cameras at the ready. A hush fell over the crowd as the grab reached deck level and was maneuvered to its resting place. A hush broken by the tool pusher’s gravelly voice.

“All right, all right! Get your thumbs out of your asses, and let’s get her open.”

At his command, crewman jumped to hit the releases, and hydraulic cylinders groaned as they jacked open massive jaws to disgorge their contents. There was a rattle of metal on metal, not unlike a giant slot machine, as thousands of large silver coins hit the deck, mixed with mud and sand and bits of wooden packing crate. The rattle was replaced by cheers and screams of delight, and a grin was plastered on every face as the men thumped each other’s backs in congratulation. But celebration soon yielded to practicality.

“There’s more where that came from,” the tool pusher yelled over the tumult. “Let’s get her cleaned out and back in the water.” He clapped his hands to get the attention of a few still celebrating. “Come on, come on, move it! Y’all can count your money later.”

He smiled. He was already counting his.

M/T Phoenix Lynx
At anchor
Harardheere, Somalia

Zahra stood on the bridge wing of
Phoenix Lynx
and looked at the
Luther Hurd
in the distance, then turned his gaze seaward to the flotilla of naval vessels.

“So why’s our friend Mukhtar so interested in this drilling vessel?” he asked, still looking seaward.

Beside him, Omar shrugged. “It’s unclear. He’s confiding in no one aboard the fishing boat. But I can’t believe he intends to capture a drilling vessel so far from our waters.”

Zahra nodded. “They’re slow and conspicuous. Even the reduced naval forces would surround him long before he got to safe anchorage here. And if he meets Russians or Indians or South Koreans, he can’t count on being handled with kid gloves. No, he wants something
the ship, and it’s important enough to risk hijacking an American ship as a diversion.” He shook his head. “I don’t have a good feeling about this. We’ve had nothing but problems since the fanatics inserted themselves in our business.”

“True,” Omar said. “But at least the diversion is working in our favor as well. All the groups have men at sea or preparing to go, and this morning Wahid’s group brought another captive to the anchorage at Garacad.”

Zahra snorted. “Yes, I heard. An oceangoing tug with a four-man crew and no tow. Let’s hope that the other groups bring home more worthy prizes. What of the negotiations?”

“Nothing,” Omar said. “All the groups are reporting negotiations stalled.”

Zahra sighed. “Very well. I suppose we can’t delay without appearing weak. I’ll call the other leaders and we’ll start regular executions.”

Omar hesitated, looking toward the naval vessels. “Are you sure, Zahra? Won’t that invite attack?”

“That’s why we’ll start in the other ports with no naval presence. And the executions will be measured—shocking, but not wholesale slaughter. We’ll release video on the Internet. An execution every few days should be enough, I think.”

Omar nodded. “When should we start?”

Zahra pulled out his phone. “No time like the present.”

USS Carney (DDG-64)
Harardheere, Somalia

Commander Frank Lorenzo, USN, Captain of the USS
, stood on the bridge and looked down at the group of sailors walking up the deck, led by Culinary Specialist 3 Jerry Harkness. The cook carried a pail full of meat scraps and other garbage, and was trailed by a half dozen off-watch sailors, all carrying cameras. Harkness waited for the would-be photographers to line the rail, then transferred the bail of the bucket to his left hand and put his right beneath the bottom to heave the contents overboard.

Nothing happened for a moment, and then the water boiled with heavy gray bodies and large triangular fins, as the cheering photographers snapped away.

Carcarinus Zambenzensis
, more commonly known as the Zambezi River Shark,” the man beside Lorenzo said. “The most dangerous and aggressive of the shark family. They’ll eat anything or anyone, and frequently do.”

Lorenzo turned. “I didn’t know you were a shark specialist, Lieutenant.”

The man smiled. “I try to know a little about all the creatures I share the water with,” he said. “Seals and sharks are old enemies.” The smile faded. “But seriously, this is one of the worst areas in the world for those beasts. You won’t find people frolicking in the surf in Somalia.”

“I bet that’s right,” said Lorenzo. “I sure as hell—”

“Excuse me, Captain,” the officer of the watch said from the opposite side of the bridge. “There’s movement on the
Luther Hurd
. Looks like they’re swapping out the hostage on display.”

Ten minutes later, Lorenzo lowered his binoculars and watched the lieutenant note the date and time in a three-ring binder, right beside a picture of Jim Milam.

“OK, that’s Jergens, the chief steward, up there now, and Milam, the chief engineer they just took down, right?” asked Lorenzo, continuing without awaiting an answer. “That’s all the crew accounted for?”

The young SEAL looked up. “Affirmative, sir,” he said. “They’re rotating all the hostages on top of the wheelhouse. That’s for our benefit. They want us to see the hostages are unharmed, but that any threatening move on our part will result in immediate deaths.”

“But when the hell are we going to
something about it?” Lorenzo asked. “Every time I talk to that captain, I feel more helpless. I’m a sailor, not a hostage negotiator. Someone from your team should be handling this.”

“Negative, sir,” the SEAL said. “You’re doing fine. You’ve been here from the beginning and have a rapport. We
them to get comfortable, because comfortable equals sloppy. Our whole mission is intelligence gathering to support planning and training. They’re building a mockup back in Virginia, and our guys are training on possible scenarios. My orders are to go early only if the hostages are in immediate danger and there’s no option.”

Lorenzo nodded, and turned to stare across the water at
Luther Hurd

M/T Luther Hurd
At anchor
Harardheere, Somalia

Milam sat next to Arnett in a corner of the officers’ mess room, watching Traitor fit a collar on Chief Mate Stan Jones. Jones tried to smile as he was led out to take his turn as the display hostage, but managed only a sickly grimace.

“I hate all of them,” Arnett said under her breath. “But I hate that friggin’ Traitor the worst.”

“I can’t argue with that,” Milam replied. “Every time I hear that American voice coming out of his pie hole, I want to kill him. I think his name’s Gaal, by the way, or something like that. Anyway, that’s what these other assholes call him.”

“Well, they’ll be calling the bastard dead if I have my way,” Arnett said.

Milam nodded as he looked around the room.

The pirates had him secure the air conditioning days before to conserve fuel, and the room was stifling. The sour smell of body odor and sweat-soaked mattresses assailed his nostrils, and out in the passageway he could hear Somali voices raised in anger. Probably an argument over khat. Such arguments were increasingly frequent now, and all the pirates were on a hair trigger. They ogled Arnett with undisguised lust, and for the life of him, Milam couldn’t figure how she’d avoided gang rape. He turned back to Arnett, speaking softly.

“These assholes are getting restless. You picking up anything from your little chats with

BOOK: Deadly Coast
12.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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