From the Publisher
“A first-class thriller.” Denver Post
“Swashbuckling…Thriller lovers will enjoy this one for its fast pace, colorful locale, and satisfying conclusion…Coonts takes us on a heck of a good ride.” Kirkus Reviews
“A stomach-clenching nail-biter that will leave readers exhausted and satisfied.” Publishers Weekly
“[With] a plot that's ripped straight out of the news…this is one for your must-read list.” Sunday Gazette-Mail
“Coonts details this ship hijacking and take-down as if he has firsthand experience with the SEAL Teams.” Howard Wasdin, author of Seal Team Six
“A realistic and frightening multilayered story...[that will] change the way you view pirates, cruise ships, and Washington forever.” Jim DeFelice, bestselling author of American Sniper and The Helios Conspiracy
“Coonts is a masterful storyteller--and Pirate Alley his most chilling thriller yet.” W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV, bestselling authors of Empire and Honor and The Last Witness
“Pirate Alley is full-steam-ahead, action-packed, chaotic, and final--but with black- cladded Navy SEALs in the mix, the fight is anything but fair.” Dalton Fury, New York Times bestselling author of Kill Bin Laden
“Fast-moving, scary, and realistic...Starting with a bang, it then gets even better. Steve gives us real pirates, not Johnny Depp with eye shadow.” Larry Bond, New York Times bestselling author of Exit Plan
“One hell of a read! A tale of modern-day swashbucklers whose leader is the most ruthless pirate since Blackbeard.” David Hagberg, author of Abyss
“Filled with the courage and smarts of Stephen Coonts's SEAL Team heroes.” Former Defense Secretary William Cohen
“The one-sit-read champion of the season, Stephen Coonts's Pirate Alley races through a maritime terrorist attack in the Gulf of Aden, creating a vivid cast of heroes, victims, and villains.” Stephen Hunter, New York Times bestselling author of I, Sniper
“Coonts carefully builds his plot using a wide cast of characters, from insider Iranian spies to cutting-edge aircraft pilots and government officials both high and low. Hardly a page passes without nerve-stretching tension or flat-out action. One can only hope the U.S. president, the head of the CIA, and the Israeli prime minister will have this book on their nightstands for easy reference in case fiction turns to reality, an all-too-real possibility as evidenced by recent headlines.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on THE DISCIPLE
“Exciting…. The action moves swiftly to its Hollywood ending.” Publishers Weekly on THE ASSASSIN
“Tommy has been the star of the last two Grafton books, and in The Assassin he matures and develops into a complex and compelling character that should provide Coonts with many new and refreshing plot opportunities...An abundance of intrigue and betrayals...This is the best thriller that Coonts has written in some time. However, all recent books featuring Carmellini are superb.” The Roanoke Times (Virginia) on THE ASSASSIN
“This book has more twists and turns than an old staircase…Coonts remains the master of the great techno-thriller.” James Myers on THE ASSASSIN, The Entertainment Critic Book Review
“An assured international thriller.” Publishers Weekly on THE TRAITOR
“The prevailing spook mode shifts from cloak to dagger, and suddenly the guys they thought were watching their backs are aiming at them.” Kirkus Reviews on THE TRAITOR
“The Traitor contains layer upon layer of deceit and deception...plenty of fistfights and explosions.... Coonts's trademark excitement keep[s] the pages turning to the book's ultimate conclusion.” Bookreporter.com on THE TRAITOR
“This book is vintage Coonts...plenty of action and intrigue, with the added benefit of a new lead character.” Dallas Morning News on LIARS AND THIEVES
“Coonts knows how to write and build suspense…this is the mark of a natural storyteller.” The New York Times Book Review on LIARS AND THIEVES
“Former Grafton sidekick Tommy Carmellini, ex-burglar and CIA operative, has been promoted to star in what's sure to be another excellent, long-lived series…Tommy is smart, brave, skilled, and possessed of enough self-deprecating, wise-cracking wit to endear him to readers…readers of the Jake Grafton series will easily make the leap to Tommy Carmellini, and new readers can be expected to sign up for this hipper hero.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on LIARS AND THIEVES
“Tommy is a self-deprecating and wise-cracking narrator who brings a welcome energy to the genre. And fans will be pleased to see a now retired Jake Grafton and his wife, Callie, make an appearance.” Library Journal on LIARS AND THIEVES
“Readers who have not previously treated themselves to a Coonts thriller should definitely pick up this one.” Bookreporter.com on LIARS AND THIEVES
“Fast-paced…reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen or even the master himself, Elmore Leonard.” Hintonnews.net on LIARS AND THIEVES
“Gripping…Coonts's naval background and his legal education bring considerable authority to the story, and the narrative is loaded with detailed information about terrorist networks, modern weaponry, and international intrigue…the action is slam-bang” Publishers Weekly on LIBERTY
“An action-packed thriller…[a] high-octane tale.” Midwest Book Review on LIBERTY
“Frighteningly realistic.” Maxim Magazine on LIBERTY
“This master of the techno-thriller spins a bone-chilling worst-case scenario…[Coonts] rivals Clancy for fiction-as-realism and Cussler for spirited action…[He] never lets up with heart-racing jet/missile combat, suspenseful submarine maneuvers, and doomsday scenarios that feel only too real.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on AMERICA
“Coonts's action and the techno-talk are as gripping as ever.” Kirkus Reviews on AMERICA
“Give a hearty ‘welcome back' to Admiral. Jake Grafton….Thrilling roller-coaster action.” The Philadelphia Inquirer on AMERICA
“High octane….[Coonts] skillfully captures the postmodern flavor of Hong Kong, where a cell phone is as apt as an AK-47 to be a revolutionary weapon.” USA Today on HONG KONG
“The author gives us superior suspense with a great cast of made-up characters…But the best thing about this book is Coonts's scenario for turning China into a democracy.” Liz Smith on HONG KONG, The New York Post
“Enough Tomahawk missiles, stealth bombers, and staccato action to satisfy [Coonts's] most demanding fans.” USA Today on CUBA
“Dramatic, diverting action…Coonts delivers!” Booklist on CUBA
“[Coonts is] a natural storyteller [with] a rare gift....Fortunes of War is crammed with action, suspense, and characters with more than the usual one dimension found in these books.” USA Today on FORTUNES OF WAR
“Steve Coonts is a masterful storyteller--and PIRATE ALLEY his most chilling thriller yet. Never will you see the duplicity of world politics--let alone cruise ships and Somali bandits--in the same light again.” W.E.B. Griffin & William E. Butterworth IV, bestselling authors of EMPIRE AND HONOR and THE LAST WITNESS
“Start with a band of ruthless Somali pirates in a story that has too often shown up on the front pages of the New York Times, add Jake Grafton and Tommy Carmellini, plus a heavy dose of SEALs on the hunt, and Stephen Coonts's new novel PRIATE ALLEY is one hell of a read! A tale of modern day swashbucklers whose leader is the most ruthless pirate since Blackbeard makes for a book you simply cannot put down. Hats off to Steve for another rip roaring story.” David Hagberg, author of Abyss
“A great, realistic read that could mirror current events. Coonts details this ship high-jacking and take-down as if he has first hand experience WITH the SEAL Teams. After reading this, you will want to postpone that cruise that goes anywhere near the Horn of Africa.” Howard Wadsin, author of Seal Team Six
“Stephen Coonts takes another master turn with Pirate Alley. . . . Coonts weaves a realistic and frightening multi-layered story. . . . The buildup and final denouement will cost more than a few readers a good night's sleep--and change the way you view pirates, cruise ships and Washington forever.” Jim DeFelice, best-selling author of American Sniper and The Helios Conspiracy
“Start Pirate Alley at your peril and then plan for a long night. You won't be able to put it down....Filled with the courage and smarts of Stephen Coonts' SEAL Team heroes.” Former Defense Secretary William Cohen
A first-class thriller.
[With] a plot that's ripped straight out of the news…this is one for your must-read list.
author of Seal Team Six Howard Wasdin
Coonts details this ship hijacking and take-down as if he has firsthand experience with the SEAL Teams.
bestselling author of American Sniper and The Heli Jim DeFelice
A realistic and frightening multilayered story...[that will] change the way you view pirates, cruise ships, and Washington forever.
bestselling authors of Empire and Honor and The La W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV
Coonts is a masterful storyteller--and Pirate Alley his most chilling thriller yet.
New York Times bestselling author of Kill Bin Lade Dalton Fury
Pirate Alley is full-steam-ahead, action-packed, chaotic, and final--but with black- cladded Navy SEALs in the mix, the fight is anything but fair.
New York Times bestselling author of Exit Plan Larry Bond
Fast-moving, scary, and realistic...Starting with a bang, it then gets even better. Steve gives us real pirates, not Johnny Depp with eye shadow.
author of Abyss David Hagberg
Start with a band of ruthless Somali pirates in a story that has too often shown up on the front pages of the New York Times, add Jake Grafton and Tommy Carmellini, plus a heavy dose of SEALs on the hunt, and Stephen Coonts's new novel PRIATE ALLEY is one hell of a read! A tale of modern day swashbucklers whose leader is the most ruthless pirate since Blackbeard makes for a book you simply cannot put down. Hats off to Steve for another rip roaring story.
Former Defense Secretary William Cohen
Start Pirate Alley at your peril and then plan for a long night. You won't be able to put it down....Filled with the courage and smarts of Stephen Coonts' SEAL Team heroes.
The one-sit-read champion of the season, Stephen Coonts's Pirate Alley races through a maritime terrorist attack in the Gulf of Aden, creating a vivid cast of heroes, victims, and villains.
The Roanoke Times (Virginia) on THE ASSASSIN
Tommy has been the star of the last two Grafton books, and in The Assassin he matures and develops into a complex and compelling character that should provide Coonts with many new and refreshing plot opportunities...An abundance of intrigue and betrayals...This is the best thriller that Coonts has written in some time. However, all recent books featuring Carmellini are superb.
The Entertainment Critic Book Review - James Myers on THE ASSASSIN
This book has more twists and turns than an old staircase…Coonts remains the master of the great techno-thriller.
Bookreporter.com on THE TRAITOR
The Traitor contains layer upon layer of deceit and deception...plenty of fistfights and explosions.... Coonts's trademark excitement keep[s] the pages turning to the book's ultimate conclusion.
Dallas Morning News on LIARS AND THIEVES
This book is vintage Coonts...plenty of action and intrigue, with the added benefit of a new lead character.
The New York Times Book Review on LIARS AND THIEVES
Coonts knows how to write and build suspense…this is the mark of a natural storyteller.
Bookreporter.com on LIARS AND THIEVES
Readers who have not previously treated themselves to a Coonts thriller should definitely pick up this one.
Hintonnews.net on LIARS AND THIEVES
Fast-paced…reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen or even the master himself, Elmore Leonard.
Midwest Book Review on LIBERTY
An action-packed thriller…[a] high-octane tale.
Maxim Magazine on LIBERTY
The Philadelphia Inquirer on AMERICA
Give a hearty 'welcome back' to Admiral. Jake Grafton….Thrilling roller-coaster action.
USA Today on HONG KONG
High octane….[Coonts] skillfully captures the postmodern flavor of Hong Kong, where a cell phone is as apt as an AK-47 to be a revolutionary weapon.
The New York Post - Liz Smith on HONG KONG
The author gives us superior suspense with a great cast of made-up characters…But the best thing about this book is Coonts's scenario for turning China into a democracy.
USA Today on CUBA
Enough Tomahawk missiles, stealth bombers, and staccato action to satisfy [Coonts's] most demanding fans.
Booklist on CUBA
Dramatic, diverting action…Coonts delivers!
USA Today on FORTUNES OF WAR
[Coonts is] a natural storyteller [with] a rare gift....Fortunes of War is crammed with action, suspense, and characters with more than the usual one dimension found in these books.
W.E.B. Griffin & William E. Butterworth IV
Steve Coonts is a masterful storyteller--and PIRATE ALLEY his most chilling thriller yet. Never will you see the duplicity of world politics--let alone cruise ships and Somali bandits--in the same light again.
author of Seal Team Six Howard Wadsin
A great, realistic read that could mirror current events. Coonts details this ship high-jacking and take-down as if he has first hand experience WITH the SEAL Teams. After reading this, you will want to postpone that cruise that goes anywhere near the Horn of Africa.
best-selling author of American Sniper and The Hel Jim DeFelice
Stephen Coonts takes another master turn with Pirate Alley. . . . Coonts weaves a realistic and frightening multi-layered story. . . . The buildup and final denouement will cost more than a few readers a good night's sleep--and change the way you view pirates, cruise ships and Washington forever.
Naval aviator Jake Grafton joins forces with CIA operative Tommy Carmellini, the hero of his own series (The Disciple, etc.), in bestseller Coonts’s 11th Jake Grafton thriller (after 2003’s Liberty), a can’t-put-it-down plunge into the fast-growing Somali pirates subgenre. A team of pirates, led by ruthless, brutal Mustafa al-Said, who works for warlord Sheikh Ragnar, seizes the 850-passenger cruise ship Sultan of the Seas after a hard chase. American forces under the command of Adm. Toad Tarkington aboard Chosin Reservoir, an amphibious assault ship, are ready to intervene, but they operate under constraints. Politicians far away control the action and may in the end pay the pirates’ ransom. After the liner is taken to the port of Eyl, Somalia, and the passengers are locked up in an old fortress, Grafton and Carmellini put boots on the ground and face down the bad guys with the help of SEALs, Force Recon, and other military units. This is a stomach-clenching nail-biter that will leave readers exhausted and satisfied that justice—very rough justice—has been served. Agent: Deborah C. Grosvenor, Grosvenor Literary Agency. (May)
A swashbuckling thriller from Coonts. The Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa sees heavy commercial traffic as ships ply their way to the Suez Canal. Given the great poverty on the continent, some men take to piracy—they commandeer a cruise ship or freighter and hold cargo, passengers and crew for ransom. One such victim is the Sultan of the Seas, a luxury liner with almost 900 souls aboard. Sailing the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, it catches the attention of Muslim pirates operating out of Mogadishu, Somalia. Once they board the unarmed vessel, they kill a few infidels to frighten the rest, then issue their demand to the world: $200 million, or everyone dies. Meanwhile, passenger Mike Rosen secretly sends emails to his employer about deteriorating conditions on the ship, and his messages become worldwide news. The CIA and Navy SEALs get involved, since the U.S. thinks the pirates may intend to kill everyone onboard regardless of whether they get the ransom. Former Navy pilot Coonts expertly builds the tension as plans develop to take back the ship, conflicts brew between pirate factions, copious blood flows and an old coastal fortress turns into a potential bomb. Coonts' fans will welcome back series characters Jake Grafton and Tommy Carmellini, who see to it that readers have fun while lots of bad guys take the express route to Paradise. Meanwhile, readers considering an Indian Ocean cruise might want to pick something less adventurous. Thriller lovers will enjoy this one for its fast pace, colorful locale and satisfying conclusion. There's never a doubt as to which side will win, of course, but Coonts takes us on a heck of a good ride.
Read an Excerpt
By Stephen Coonts
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2013 Stephen Coonts
All rights reserved.
Gulf of Aden, November 9
At dawn the sea was moderate, with a four-foot swell with a nice distance between the crests. The rising wind occasionally ripped spindrift from the tops. The boat rode well, topping the crests and shipping just a little water over the gunwales that collected at the bottom.
Mustafa had two men with cans bailing as water accumulated in the boat. There wasn't much of it, so all it really did was soak clothes and weapons. There were a dozen men, so they took turns bailing. The activity helped keep them warm and alert.
They had left the island of Abd Al Kuri off the coast of Somalia in the middle of the night. Above them was a high overcast layer that hid the stars. Mustafa used a compass to hold a northerly course. It was in the hour or so before dawn that Mustafa first saw stars. The wind freshened.
The handheld radio in his pocket came to life. Mustafa held it to his ear. "She is doing thirteen knots, at coordinates —" and the voice read them off. Mustafa wrote the numbers down, then repeated them.
Yes, he had them right. He typed the numbers into his GPS, a little rectangular thing not much bigger than his hand, and watched the numbers light up. Now he had a course and distance. Only forty miles. Three-three-zero degrees.
Of course, she was heading northeast, along the coast of Yemen, so he would point a little more to the east to intercept.
Another voice, distinctive. "Mine is at —" and he read off the coordinates. "They will pass each other in two hours and ten minutes."
There were three other boats in sight in the early light, before the sun rose. They had followed the little light on the masthead. Mustafa turned it off.
The dawn revealed a clear sky and a restless, empty sea. There was a freighter to the east, but Mustafa ignored it and held his course. They were in the sea lanes that ran into and out of the Bab al Mandeb, the asshole of the Red Sea. Only twenty miles wide, that strait handled all the traffic headed to and from the Suez Canal, twenty- three thousand ships a year, almost two thousand a month, an average of sixty-three ships a day. The narrow Gulf of Suez, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden were a maritime superhighway, perhaps the busiest on the planet — and it was infested with pirates. Pirate Alley, some people called it, and for good reason. Still, ships had to go through these waters to get to the Suez Canal, or else they had to transit all the way around the continent of Africa, down around the Cape of Good Hope, a place that Mustafa had never been but had heard about. Mustafa had never actually seen a world globe, but he had been told all this and had looked at rough sketches in the dirt, and like many illiterates, he had a good memory.
Mustafa al-Said was good at his job and made a fine living working at it. No other job in Somalia paid as well as being a pirate captain, except of course being the pirate sheikh, a warlord, and having a dozen or so captains with their own boats working for you. Pirating was dangerous work, but so was fishing on the open ocean, and pirating paid so much better.
Better to die at sea than starve to death, Mustafa thought.
So here they were, under a cloudless sky, on a wide, empty, restless ocean. The men were looking around in every direction, searching the horizon for a mast, a wisp of smoke, anything. The weather was far from ideal for a pirate ship: Every minute they were here increased the chances that a patrol plane would fly over to check them out. Or that the mast peeking over the horizon would turn out to be a warship.
Mustafa didn't know how radar worked, but he knew the warships could see through night and fog and his chances of spending the day here at sea undiscovered were slim. Further, he knew the warships could easily outrun his skiff, which normally had a top speed of perhaps twenty knots in a calm sea. In this swell, with ten men and weapons aboard, something less. However, for this mission the boat sported a new engine, one that pushed it at thirty knots when run flat out. The other two boats following him to the left and right were similarly equipped.
Mustafa listened to the steady throb of the engine and smiled. German. For this victim they would need the extra speed.
The men sensed their precarious position, and they were restless, even though they said nothing to Mustafa, in whom they had confidence. He had earned it. He had been to sea fifteen times in the past year and had taken six vessels, which had put plenty of money in the pockets of the men who sailed with him. The men knew his reputation and vied to crew for him. Sixty men had volunteered for this voyage, and he had picked his crew from among them. Some of them had sailed with him before, and he trusted them to obey orders. The others were recommended by powerful men in the village and on the coast, warlords, so he had taken them to preserve his relationships.
He was thinking of relationships now, of the political riptides that ruled the villages along the coast, of the money to be earned, of the protection he needed when ashore to ensure no one stole his money or killed him to take it. He needed a warlord and the warlord needed him.
He also needed the warlord's organization to ransom the ships and crews he captured. He, Mustafa al-Said, couldn't demand ransom from shipping and insurance companies spread around the globe, but a warlord could. His was Sheikh Ragnar, and he had the contacts Mustafa lacked. Without a warlord, Mustafa was merely a poor bandit with a boat. With Ragnar, he was a successful pirate, with money and women and a future.
He kept the skiff heading northwest for another hour. He got another call on the radio, from a different fishing boat. His victim had been sighted again. Mustafa updated his GPS.
"They will pass each other in an hour and twenty-two minutes."
Mustafa looked at his watch, then at his GPS. He throttled back a few hundred RPM.
The boat rode better taking the swells at an angle. Mustafa wished he could increase his speed. The faster he went, the less chance he would be intercepted by warships. Still, today he didn't want to arrive early. Timing would be the key to this capture.
He had sufficient fuel to run all day at this speed, then turn back for the Somali coast this evening and make the village on the island with a comfortable margin.
One of the men pointed out a plane running high, merely a speck against the blue sky. The dawn was here, and in minutes the sun would be rising.
Mustafa checked the engine RPMs, oil pressure, temperature and the boat's heading. He glanced at the GPS. Soon, he thought. Soon.
"Allah akbar," he shouted, God is great, and the men responded. One fired his weapon into the air. The reports were flat, lost in the vastness of this wilderness of sea and water. Still, all the men cheered. They were confident and ready. They drank water and ate and stared into the distance, looking for a smudge of smoke, a mast, some telltale mark upon the horizon.
If only they could find that ship ...
Soon, Mustafa thought.
* * *
The captain of Sultan of the Seas was a Brit — all the officers were British, Australian or South African. His name was Arch Penney. In addition to his professional qualifications, which were absolutely top-notch, he had another trait that fueled his rise to the top in the cruise ship business: He had an uncanny ability to remember faces and names. He knew — and used — the names of every officer and man and woman in the crew, and he was quickly memorizing the passengers on this voyage. This morning as the sun peeped over the eastern horizon he was walking the deck, saying hello to early risers. He called most of them by name.
Captain Penney was a few years over forty, looked eight or so years younger and was about five feet eight inches tall. He was tanned from years of standing on open bridge wings and wore his hair short so the sea winds wouldn't mess it up or put it in his eyes. His looks were only average, but his personality made him unforgettable. His smile lit up his face, and he used it often because he was a genuinely nice guy who liked people. His officers liked to speculate about when he was going to retire from the cruise line and go into politics, where his charisma, personality and phenomenal ability to put faces and names together would undoubtedly be richly rewarded.
What his officers didn't know was that he had been offered the rank of senior officer of the cruise line, in charge of the operations of all five of its ships, and he had turned down the post. He liked what he did, and he liked having his own ship.
Whenever possible, his wife and children accompanied him on his various cruises. Arch Penney was that rarity, a truly happy man.
Last night, leaving his officers to complete the transit of the Bab al Mandeb, he walked about the passenger lounges murmuring names. "Mr. Bass, Mrs. Bass." He shook hands, smiled, asked the routine questions about how were they enjoying the cruise, were their accommodations adequate, and how was the service?
A German who still used the old "von" was aboard, Von Platen. He was accompanied by three men who apparently were his lieutenants in a car manufacturing company, Juergen Hoff, a man named Schaffler, and a young man with an unruly mop of hair, Boltz. There were some Italians, an Irish construction mogul named Enda Clancy who was apparently out of the house-building business after the housing market collapse, a retinue of British dowagers and the usual mob of Americans, which comprised about half the passenger list.
Last night he greeted the sisters, Irene and Suzanne, by name, and the Denver radio talk-show host, Mike Rosen, a genial, intelligent man with the demeanor of a college professor in mufti. The Americans liked to be called by their first names, so Arch Penney obliged. "Keith, Dilma, Ari, Buck, Chad, Chuck, Betty, Toby, Obed ..."
Then there was Meyer Brown, a sixty-something retiree on the make, if Arch's instincts were right. What he didn't know was that Irene and Suzanne called Brown "Putty," since he had made a remark at the bar last night that set them giggling. "I'm just putty in a woman's hands, although everything I have isn't all putty."
Brown apparently had an American woman, Nora, in his sights. Nora's daughter was nowhere to be seen. Brown was hovering over Nora, trying to keep his eyes off the striking cleavage, and entertaining her with stories of his many adventures.
The North African, Mohammed Atom, was reading something and studiously avoiding his fellow passengers, so Arch passed him with only a head nod, which Atom didn't return. Penney knew Atom's reputation, that he was an arms dealer to rebels all over the Middle East, including al Qaeda, although no one had yet caught him with enough evidence to prosecute.
This was, Arch Penney thought, a typical passenger list for this time of year. Almost no children and many gray heads.
This morning there were only three exercise nuts on the upper deck, jogging to burn off alcohol and last night's gourmet feast. Penney completed his circuit, greeting the crewmen he met by name, running his eye over everything, and headed for the bridge, where he found his first officer had things well in hand, just as Penney knew he would. The chief officer was Harry Zopp, from South Africa. It was, Penney thought, just a matter of time before Zopp got his own ship.
"Captain," Zopp said respectfully.
"Harry. How goes it?"
"We're smack in the middle of the northern eastbound traffic lane. We're five miles behind an empty tanker, matching his speed, which is thirteen knots. Six other ships on the radar, closest point of approach will be four thousand yards."
"How are the engineers coming on repairing that evaporator?"
"Expect to be finished by noon, sir."
"Where and when do you expect to pass this tanker that's ahead of us?" The Sultan couldn't remain on schedule if she loafed along at thirteen knots for more than a few hours.
Zopp told him, referring to the chart and the radar screen.
Arch Penney nodded his approval.
Zopp handed the captain three sheets of paper stapled together. Today's Somali Pirate Update from the NATO shipping center. The captain took the time to read every word.
"November 15, Somali Basin. Latitude 07 01 S, Longitude 041 22 E. Alert Number 165/2011. Warning — Warning — Warning — At 0403 UTC November 15 a merchant vessel is currently under attack by pirates in the above position.
"Alert Number 164/2011." The position followed. "A Pirate Action Group consisting of 2 x skiff with 5 POB, weapons and ladders reported in the above position."
There was more, two pages of it. Arch Penney read every entry, taking the time to refer to the chart to check the various positions.
"The murdering bastards are busier than they were last month," Zopp remarked. "The international task force has a chopper patrolling this sea lane this morning. He went over about twenty minutes ago, heading northeast, probably to check out the Stella Maris." The Stella Maris was another cruise ship, one that had sailed from Doha and was on its way to the Suez Canal, backtracking the route just traveled by the Sultan. They were scheduled to pass each other this morning.
Penney nodded and handed the report back without comment. He went out onto the open wing of the bridge to catch a few moments of peace before the passengers all woke up and the day really got under way. There was a high overcast and a nice breeze from the west. This time of year the wind wasn't warm, but it was very dry.
Novembers had wonderful reputations for perfect weather in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The summer monsoon was over, and the heat of the deserts to both sides was beginning to dissipate. Truly, the Red Sea was something special. Without a river running into it carrying silt and debris, it was the cleanest ocean on earth, with clear water and hundreds of coral reefs.
The Gulf of Aden, however, was another matter. This was merely an arm of the Indian Ocean. Windy and choppy this morning.
Captain Penney drew in a deep breath of the wind off the Arabian Peninsula. Clean and dry. "Pure," the Arabs liked to say, "like Islam." Penney thought the desert wind smelled empty, like nothing at all. As he stood there, he watched a freighter with rusty sides pass his ship to port on its way into the Red Sea.
Arch finally walked inside the bridge and took a careful look at the radar picture. He spent a few minutes discussing traffic with his first officer.
The radar was always full of contacts; avoiding collisions required the most careful diligence. Harry Zopp was up to the task, Penney knew. He trusted him. Still, he was the captain, legally, morally and ethically responsible for this ship and the lives of everyone aboard her, so he monitored the bridge team in narrow waters, mentally weighing every decision, every order.
Fortunately they were out of the Bab al Mandeb, so the Sultan had more room to maneuver. Not only did the bridge team need to avoid other ships and fishing boats, they needed to be able to outrun and outmaneuver pirate skiffs.
When Harry Zopp had passed the tanker ahead of them and the Sultan was steaming northeastward at nineteen knots, paralleling the coast of Yemen, Arch Penney went below to have breakfast with his wife.
* * *
"She's up to nineteen knots now," the voice on Mustafa's radio said. "Should meet the other ship in forty-one minutes."
Mustafa typed the new coordinates into his GPS. The speed increase meant he was going to be a few minutes late. Just a little. He jammed the throttles forward and adjusted his course.
The men heard the change in the engine's song and felt the prop bite deeper into the sea. They hung on tightly and ignored the spray coming over the bow when the boat nosed into a swell. Their eyes were on the horizon. Soon.
Excerpted from Pirate Alley by Stephen Coonts. Copyright © 2013 Stephen Coonts. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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