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Come as You Are
By AMY J. FETZER
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Amy J. Fetzer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneInternational waters Northwest of Jamaica
It was supposed to be an easy retrieval. Pickup and delivery.
Now they were FedEx with assault rifles and hauling ass.
The door of the speeding chopper thrown open, Logan hung onto the oh shit strap and sighted through high-powered binoculars on a ship, that up until eight minutes ago, was dead in the water.
With no answering hail or a distress signal, the luxurious 140-foot killing machine at top speed was rudderless, cutting through the surf and kicking up boiling waves. Effectively thwarting any asinine attempt to board her. That would be me, Logan thought, holding on as he glanced at the radar. Closing in on Cuban waters.
"I thought this thing could do over a hundred?" Wind battered his face, nearly knocking off his headphones.
"We'd use up too much fuel," Sebastian said. "It's a long way back to land."
Logan threw him a look and words died.
"Christ. Hold on," Sebastian warned. "Going postal."
Logan gripped the strap as Sebastian pushed the chopper to its limits, the force slamming him against the interior. I really need to learn how to fly, he thought, bringing the binoculars into position again.
"We've got bad guys," Logan said as two figures appeared in the passageway, then moved to the stern. "With scuba tanks." Logan quickly zoomed in on their faces as one man looked up, his smile vicious, seconds before he pulled on his mask and executed the backward fall into the sea. He had something in his hand.
Below the chopper, a 43-foot turbine Scarab speedboat slowed long enough for an Interpol agent suited in minimal dive gear to drop into the water and search. It was useless, the targets already deep, their bubbles churning with the waves. Logan focused on the yacht closing in on Cuban waters.
"No sign of the divers," Max said, watching out the opposite side. "No pickup boat near enough, either. A hundred miles out in shark-infested waters?"
"He's got help." Anchored under the ocean had to be a propulsion torpedo. Or worse, a submarine. What any of it had to do with a privately owned yacht wasn't a concern. Their job was to find it and bring it back to port-but not from inside Cuban territory.
That bad taste in his mouth was quickly going sour, and Logan turned away from the open door, reaching for the harness.
"What do-? You can't be serious, man," Max said. "It's got to be going 40 knots."
"I don't see we have much choice." Logan slipped into the harness. "If anyone's got a flash, clue me in now." Strapped and locked in, he clipped the cable, then pulled on a helmet.
"It's suicide," Sebastian said with resigned calm. "The wind speed alone will push you back fifty feet."
"Then drop me on the bow."
"Let Interpol blow it out of the water before we get near Cuba," Sebastian said. "They take protecting their waters very seriously."
Logan didn't look up as he snapped his gun into the holster. "We aren't being paid to destroy it, or do you have this month's payments handy?"
"I'm on welfare," Max groused, and reluctantly manned the winch. "You really think anyone's still alive?"
Logan leaned out as Sebastian shifted the chopper to the right and ahead. He knew what he'd find. Nothing. Seven people were onboard the yacht when it left a Miami port. Five crew including the captain, and only two passengers.
Logan shifted to the edge of the chopper, his feet braced on the door treads. The wind snapped at his jumpsuit, loosening his footing.
"I can't get any closer, the yacht's too erratic," Sebastian said. "We have more company." To his right, a black screen screamed the demarcation of international waters and blips coming toward it. "A Cuban Navy ship and it just launched four attack boats." They couldn't be seen on the horizon yet, but they were moving fast.
"Interpol is ready to fire!" Max yelled, launching between the seats and grabbing the radio.
The Scarab wasn't manned with rockets, but while one boat circled for the attackers, on the other, an agent stood at the prow and lifted a shoulder-mounted stinger into position. Logan could see Riley aboard the Scarab, his weapon drawn on the agent to stop him.
Max called frantically over the radio, then looked back at Logan. "Not yet, not yet!"
But Logan was already sliding over the side.
Max hit the winch, lowering him. "He's got a death wish, I swear," he muttered, then into the radio repeated, "Interpol, stand down! Cuban forces approaching."
Sebastian angled the chopper to the left, swinging Logan like a pendulum and putting him within a few yards of the yacht, but the sea and the boat's erratic speed hampered him. Dropping Logan on a boat that was already going nearly 50 miles an hour covered a lot of distance. By the time Logan reached the yacht, it would already have gone past. Sebastian had to get in low, and avoid the antenna and satellite dish on top that would hit the chopper skids or impale Logan before he landed.
Then they didn't have to worry about it.
The yacht took its direction from the current and Logan saw his chance evaporating. He hit the clip release and dropped on the roof of the bridge, the impact sending him tumbling down the sloped surface, across the windshield. He grabbed for anything to stop himself. The satellite dish broke off in his hand seconds before he crashed into some deck chairs. Man, I really don't want to bounce. The force snatched the choice. He was airborne, smacking into the bow railing. The rail broke away on impact, and he scrambled to grip the flagpole and latched on. For a couple seconds, he stopped, then the pole bent, and he went over the side like wet fish.
He caught the twisted metal with one hand, the sudden stop nearly tearing his arm from the socket. He dangled for a moment, beaten like a banner against the side of the yacht. He could hear Max through the radio in his helmet but couldn't understand anything beyond the noise of splitting waves. If he fell, he'd be crushed under the ship or chewed by the propellers.
He strained his muscles to pull his legs up to the deck, but the metal started to tear. He risked drawing his gun and fired two shots at the Plexiglas portal, then jammed his foot in the rim, pushed up for a better grip and hoisted himself over the side. He fell to the wet wood floor. The chopper hovered.
"The Commies are coming, and the Scarabs are approaching from your east, armed till that yacht reaches the marker, then we're all fair game," Sebastian said into his helmet radio. "Gitmo Bay went on alert and Cuba is not answering our hail."
Guantanamo Bay Marine base. Well, crap. Start a pissing contest with the Cuban Navy over this? He pushed off the floor and hurried to the bridge, throwing open the door. The collision sirens blared in the empty bridge as he rushed to the wheel. The throttle controls were smashed and at full speed. He pulled them back, knowing it was useless, then hit the emergency engine stop. No response.
Oh, you knew what you were doing, you bastard. He didn't look up, didn't want to see the attack boats speeding toward him, and rushed around to the computer console, typing. Nothing responded. The ship was still traveling at incredible speeds and she had full tanks. Logan dropped to the floor and rolled under the console, pulling wires.
"Cutter, come in, come in."
"I'm here," Logan said and then gave them a rundown. "I'm trying to get into the computers and stop the engines."
"You're half a mile from a marker. ETA less than four minutes."
Great, nothing like a little more pressure.
Logan disabled one computer. Whoever did this had destroyed the steering controls but not the engine operations. Logan disconnected the computer from the main console, then leapt to his feet, tapping keys again. The engines roared high and he smelled burning oil. It's going to explode, he thought, and take anything within five hundred yards down with it.
He cut the circuits to the engineering and emptied the fuel into the sea. Not environmentally correct, but let the tree huggers deal with that. He went to the wheel and tried turning it, but the craft refused to budge. The engines weren't cutting off, too much fuel in the system still, and he raced back to the computer and blew the ballast on the right side. The ship listed dangerously, and started turning away from the marker and Cuban ship, but only slightly. They'd still collide.
The steering was gone, the throttle high and damaged-he couldn't stop it. There was no connection between the operating computers and the engines.
He left the bridge and ran down the curved stairwell to the belly of the ship. The LCD panels were lit up, the horn blaring a warning of the oncoming collision. Yet the entire access panel was smashed and smoking. He followed the computer wires from the panels to the electronic console, then yanked a handful of wires. Nothing.
"Well, shit," he muttered and went to the electrical panel, flipped it open and reached to switch off circuits and found them smashed and melted in the ON position. "Gimme a break here!" Rushing topside and back to the bridge, Logan's view filled with the Cuban naval ships, as big as the yacht but faster and heavily armed. While the Cuban ship recognized the oncoming collision and made to turn, a few thousand tons of steel didn't skip on the water. He blew more ballast, nearly capsizing the yacht as it tipped sharply to the side.
"Cutter, get off that thing!" Sebastian shouted in his ear mic.
"It's too late."
Logan braced himself. Impact in five ... four ... three ... two ... The gray steel hull of the ship filled the windshield as the stern hull impacted with the prow, scraping its sides. The megaton ship pushed the yacht aside like a bath toy, throwing Logan across the bridge as the yacht rocked violently, nearly on its side, and took on water.
"Oh, hell no. You're not sinking with me aboard!"
Hanging onto the door, Logan struggled to reach the ballast door's switch, using shelves and cabinet doors to pull himself toward his target. He slammed his fist down on the switch, unloading the left side. He couldn't tell if it worked, the impact still propelling the rudderless yacht sideways.
The vessel shuddered violently, engines choked. "Come on, you steel bastard, just die!" The fuel finally spent from the engine's chambers, the craft started to slow and almost righted itself. She still had a drunken tilt to her, yet was seaworthy. Oily smoke curled up from below decks into the pilothouse. The ship bobbed on the waves.
"Cutter, Cutter!" Sebastian shouted his call sign over the frequencies.
"I'm here." Logan yanked at his helmet strap, then winced when Max whistled.
"Jesus, you're lucky," Max said. "The Cubans are standing down. Guantanamo Bay must have gotten through. The other ship is banged but above the waterline."
"They'll probably bill us." Logan didn't exhale a breath before the engines blew, bearings ricocheting inside the hull like a pinball machine. Exploding parts hit the floor under his feet. He tried dropping anchor but even that failed. At least it was clear of the other ships, he thought, as he removed his helmet and pushed his fingers through his hair before he fixed the transmitter in his ear and adjusted the mic.
Then he smelled it. The familiar scent of death. He looked around the bridge, just noticing the blood splatters. Everywhere. "Max, get down here. Tell Interpol we'll need a video camera."
It wasn't until he left the bridge on the leeward side that he realized it wasn't water that made it slippery, but blood.
The ocean's depth squeezed on his lungs, yet his air flowed freely as the propulsion torpedo dragged him through the water. He felt the pitch of the sea, the jolt of ships colliding, and smiled around his regulator. The impact shuddered through the water, scattering sea life in all directions, but he experienced only a ripple. He held tight to the torpedo as it pulled him toward the fishing boat anchored two miles away.
The agents and whoever was in the chopper wouldn't find anything he didn't want them to find. He'd made sure of it. His orders were clear.
No evidence to follow.
He checked his watch, the digital readout counting down.
Drawing his weapon, Logan moved forward. The evidence of someone being dragged was obvious. A victim's handprints, like claw marks to keep from going over the side, smeared the passageway and rails. The chopper hovered overhead as Max lowered to the vessel, dropped and rolled. He hurried to Logan as Interpol's Scarab pulled alongside. Logan let down the emergency rope ladder and agents boarded.
The two agents, Brewer and Medina from the South American offices, were chasing sea pirates when Dragon One asked for assistance. Three vessels had been attacked recently, so they were more than happy to lend a hand.
"I'm past the fail-safe mark," Sebastian said over the radio. "I've got to return for fuel."
Logan waved and Sebastian rocked the chopper before he headed toward land.
"We'll take belowdecks. Crews' quarters," Medina said, handing a compact video camera to Max, then sighting through another, he made a general sweep of the area. After synchronizing radio frequencies, they moved off.
"It's slippery, so watch it," Logan said. "I didn't notice blood belowdecks, but then, I wasn't looking for it."
Brewer nodded, his expression grim and angry.
In the aft of the ship were the staterooms, galley and dining/living room. Logan and Max circled the deck, sections of polished wood still gleaming with fresh wax, others stained red with blood. A massacre.
They entered the main stateroom. Long, wide doors were open to the elements, and Logan kicked aside towels and lotion bottles, ignoring the padded chaises about to topple into the sea. The sun brightened across the deep maroon sofas, the wood tables and a wet bar. In inclement weather, the doors would slide closed and seal the passengers in a warm cocoon. Not this time.
Logan and Max passed through the main cabin and headed toward the private staterooms as the agents scoured the belly of the craft into the engine rooms. Logan could hear them tearing open anything suspicious, the destruction rising through the dying ship. Max trailed him with a small video camera, his weapon drawn. But Logan knew there was no threat. No reason to hope. They cleared each cabin and were outside the main stateroom when the agents joined them.
"There's no one here. They put up a fight. There's a lot of that." Medina gestured to the blood splatters.
Logan recognized the pattern. Point-blank range in the head. An execution. He nodded and entered the main cabin. His aim faltered, something inside him crushing his lungs when he saw the wedding gown hung on the door.
"Oh man." His gaze snapped around the cabin. A bride's frothy veil and a pair of man's shoes and jacket lay tossed in the corner. The cabin was a shambles, yet like most ships, everything with weight was bolted down, including the bed, wide-screen TV and its components. The bed linens were tangled, body depressions still visible, a bottle of champagne upended into a silver bucket now tipped on its side on the floor.
"There's still ice in it." Max nudged the bucket, and watery ice melted into the carpet.
"The TV is still on," Logan said. "I couldn't cut the electricity."
"They run on battery," Max explained. "Separate from the engines." He stepped to go look, but Medina stopped him.
"I'll cut the power," Medina said as Brewer spoke into the radio to his home base.
Logan scowled at him.
"It's international waters, and now a mass murder."
Logan nodded and moved around the large stateroom, searching for identification, careful not to disturb more than was necessary. Max picked up the TV remote and pushed PLAY, the screen blinked on, the video from the wedding playing. Logan heard him groan with sympathy and glanced briefly. The wedding videographer was going from table to table and recording best wishes from the guests. He looked away, his gaze traveling over the cabin. Why? Was there anything of value other than the ship itself?
"If it was pirates," Logan said, "then why not keep the vessel? Why kill them all and crash the ship?"
"A cover-up?" Max asked, still watching the video. "Yachts aren't built for speed, and you know how I like a good conspiracy theory."
"Turn that off," Logan snapped as he hunted for the passports.
"Not yet, look at this. I'd swear that was your dad."
Excerpted from Come as You Are by AMY J. FETZER Copyright © 2007 by Amy J. Fetzer. Excerpted by permission.
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