New York Times
Without Remorseby Tom Clancy
Clancy shows how an ordinary man crossed the lines of justice and morality to become the CIA legend Mr. Clark.
New York Times
Read an Excerpt
“For sheer narrative punch and emotional impact,
Without Remorse is Mr. Clancy’s best.”
—The Dallas Morning News
“A nonstop emotional roller coaster.”
—The San Diego Union-Tribune
The epic bestseller in the Tom Clancy tradition. Its hero is a man very familiar to Clancy’s readers. His code name is Mr. Clark. And his work for the CIA is brilliant, cold-blooded and efficient…But who is he really?
In a harrowing tour de force, Tom Clancy shows how an ordinary man named John Kelly crossed the lines of justice and morality—to become the CIA legend, Mr. Clark.
It is an unforgettable journey into the heart of darkness. Without mercy. Without guilt. Without remorse.
—The Wall Street Journal
“Clancy’s writing is so strong that readers feel they are there, in the middle of the action…satisfying and engrossing.”
—Boston Sunday Herald
Novels by Tom Clancy
THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
RED STORM RISING
THE CARDINAL OF THE KREMLIN
CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS
DEBT OF HONOR
THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
THE TEETH OF THE TIGER
DEAD OR ALIVE
(written with Grant Blackwood)
SSN: STRATEGIES OF SUBMARINE WARFARE
SUBMARINE: A GUIDED TOUR INSIDE A NUCLEAR WARSHIP
ARMORED CAV: A GUIDED TOUR OF AN ARMORED CAVALRY REGIMENT
FIGHTER WING: A GUIDED TOUR OF AN AIR FORCE COMBAT WING
MARINE: A GUIDED TOUR OF A MARINE EXPEDITIONARY UNIT
AIRBORNE: A GUIDED TOUR OF AN AIRBORNE TASK FORCE
CARRIER: A GUIDED TOUR OF AN AIRCRAFT CARRIER
SPECIAL FORCES: A GUIDED TOUR OF U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES
INTO THE STORM: A STUDY IN COMMAND
(written with General Fred Franks, Jr., Ret., and Tony Koltz)
EVERY MAN A TIGER
(written with General Chuck Horner, Ret., and Tony Koltz)
SHADOW WARRIORS: INSIDE THE SPECIAL FORCES
(written with General Carl Stiner, Ret., and Tony Koltz)
(written with General Tony Zinni, Ret., and Tony Koltz)
TOM CLANCY’S HAWX
TOM CLANCY’S GHOST RECON
TOM CLANCY’S ENDWAR
TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL
Created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik
TOM CLANCY’S OP-CENTER
GAMES OF STATE
ACTS OF WAR
BALANCE OF POWER
STATE OF SIEGE
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
LINE OF CONTROL
MISSION OF HONOR
SEA OF FIRE
CALL TO TREASON
WAR OF EAGLES
TOM CLANCY’S NET FORCE
POINT OF IMPACT
STATE OF WAR
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
THE ARCHIMEDES EFFECT
Created by Tom Clancy and Martin Greenberg
TOM CLANCY’S POWER PLAYS
BERKLEY BOOKS, NEW YORK
It never happens without help:
Bill, Darrell, and Pat, for “professional” advice;
C.J., Craig, Curt, Gerry, and Steve, for more of the same;
Russell for unexpected expertise
And for some ex post facto help of the highest magnitude:
G.R. and Wayne, for finding it;
Shelly, for doing the work;
Craig, Curt, Gerry, Steve P., Steve R.,
and Victor, for helping me to understand:
Think where man’s glory most begins and ends.
And say my glory was I had such friends.
—William Butler Yeats
In loving memory of Kyle Haydock,
July 5, 1983-August 1, 1991
In the original hardcover edition of Without Remorse are the words of a poem which I found by accident and whose title and author I was unable to identify. I found in them the perfect remembrance for my “little buddy,” Kyle Haydock, who succumbed to cancer at the age of eight years and twenty-six days—to me, he will never really be gone.
Later, I learned that the title of this poem is “Ascension” and that the author, who penned these magnificent words, is Colleen Hitchcock, a poet of rare talent living in Minnesota. I wish to take this opportunity to commend her work to all students of the lyric phrase. As her words caught and excited my attention, I hope they will have the same effect on others.
And if I go,
while you’re still here…
Know that I live on,
vibrating to a different measure
-behind a thin veil you cannot see through.
You will not see me,
so you must have faith.
I wait for the time when we can soar together again,
-both aware of each other.
Until then, live your life to its fullest.
And when you need me,
Just whisper my name in your heart,
…I will be there.
© 1989 Colleen Corah Hitchcock
Spirit Art International, Inc.
P.O. Box 39082
Edina, Minnesota 55439
In earlier editions of Without Remorse, this poem inadvertently appeared without attribution to its author.
Arma virumque cano
—Publius Vergilius Maro
Beware the fury of a patient man
Table of Contents
Camille had either been the world’s most powerful hurricane or the largest tornado in history. Certainly it had done the job to this oil rig, Kelly thought, donning his tanks for his last dive into the Gulf. The superstructure was wrecked, and all four of the massive legs weakened—twisted like the ruined toy of a gigantic child. Everything that could safely be removed had already been torched off and lowered by crane onto the barge they were using as their dive base. What remained was a skeletal platform which would soon make a fine home for local game fish, he thought, entering the launch that would take him alongside. Two other divers would be working with him, but Kelly was in charge. They went over procedures on the way over while a safety boat circled nervously to keep the local fishermen away. It was foolish of them to be here—the fishing wouldn’t be very good for the next few hours—but events like this attracted the curious. And it would be quite a show. Kelly thought with a grin as he rolled backwards off the dive boat.
It was eerie underneath. It always was, but comfortable, too. The sunlight wavered under the rippled surface, making variable curtains of light that trained across the legs of the platform. It also made for good visibility. The C4 charges were already in place, each one a block about six inches square and three inches deep, wired tight against the steel and fused to blow inward. Kelly took his time, checking each one, starting with the first rank ten feet above the bottom. He did it quickly because he didn’t want to be down here that long, and neither did the others. The men behind him ran the prima-cord, wrapping it tight around the blocks. Both were local, experienced UDT men, trained almost as well as Kelly. He checked their work, and they checked his, for caution and thoroughness was the mark of such men. They finished the lower level in twenty minutes, and came up slowly to the upper rank, just ten feet below the surface, where the process was repeated, slowly and carefully. When you dealt with explosives, you didn’t rush and you didn’t take chances.
Colonel Robin Zacharias concentrated on the task at hand. There was an SA-2 site just over the next ridge. Already it had volleyed off three missiles, searching for the fighter-bombers he was here to protect. In the back seat of his F-105G Thunderchief was Jack Tait, his “bear,” a lieutenant colonel and an expert in the field of defense-suppression. The two men had helped invent the doctrine which they were now implementing. He drove the Wild Weasel fighter, showing himself, trying to draw a shot, then ducking under it, closing in on the rocket site. It was a deadly, vicious game, not of hunter and prey, but of hunter and hunter—one small, swift, and delicate, and the other massive, fixed, and fortified. This site had given fits to the men of his wing. The commander was just too good with his radar, knowing when to switch it on and when to switch it off. Whoever the little bastard was, he’d killed two Weasels under Robin’s command in the previous week, and so the colonel had drawn the mission for himself as soon as the frag order had gone up to hit this area again. It was his specialty: diagnosing, penetrating, and destroying air defenses—a vast, rapid, three-dimensional game in which the prize of winning was survival.
He was roaring low, never higher than five hundred feet, his fingers controlling the stick semiautomatically while Zacharias’s eyes watched the karsk hilltops and his ears listened to the talk from the back seat.
“He’s at our nine, Robin,” Jack told him. “Still sweeping, but he doesn’t have us. Spiraling in nicely.”
We’re not going to give him a Shrike, Zacharias thought. They tried that the last time and he spoofed it somehow. That error had cost him a major, a captain, and an aircraft…a fellow native of Salt Lake City, Al Wallace…friends for years….damn it! He shook the thought off, not even reproving himself for the lower-case profanity.
“Giving him another taste,” Zacharias said, pulling back on the stick. The Thud leaped upwards into the radar coverage of the site, hovering there, waiting. This site commander was probably Russian-trained. They weren’t sure how many aircraft the man had killed—only that it had been more than enough—but he had to be a proud one because of it, and pride was deadly in this business.
“Launch…two, two valid launches, Robin,” Tait warned from the back.
“Only two?” the pilot asked.
“Maybe he has to pay for them,” Tait suggested coolly. “I have them at nine. Time to do some pilot magic, Rob.”
“Like this?” Zacharias rolled left to keep them in view, pulling into them, and split-S-ing back down. He’d planned it well, ducking behind a ridge. He pulled out at a dangerous low altitude, but the SA-2 Guideline missiles went wild and dumb four thousand feet over his head.
“I think it’s time,” Tait said.
“I think you’re right.” Zacharias turned hard left, arming his cluster munitions. The F-105 skimmed over the ridge, dropping back down again while his eyes checked the next ridge, six miles and fifty seconds away.
“His radar is still up,” Tait reported. “He knows we’re coming.”
“But he’s only got one left.” Unless his reload crews are really hot today. Well, you can’t allow for everything.
“Some light flak at ten o’clock.” It was too far to be a matter of concern, though it did tell him which way out not to take. “There’s the plateau.”
Maybe they could see him, maybe not. Possibly he was just one moving blip amid a screen full of clutter that some radar operator was striving to understand. The Thud moved faster at low level than anything ever made, and the camouflage motif on the upper surfaces was effective. They were probably looking up. There was a wall of jamming there now, part of the plan he’d laid out for the other Weasel bird, and normal American tactics were for a medium-altitude approach and steep dive. But they’d done that twice and failed, and so Zacharias decided to change the technique. Low level, he’d Rockeye the place, then the other Weasel would finish things off. His job was killing the command van and the commander within. He jinked the Thud left and right, up and down, to deny a good shooting track to anybody on the ground. You still had to worry about guns, too.
“Got the star!” Robin said. The SA-6 manual, written in Russian, called for six launchers around a central control point. With all the connective paths, the typical Guideline site looked just like a Star of David, which seemed rather blasphemous to the Colonel, but the thought only hovered at the edge of his mind as he centered the command van on his bombsight pipper.
“Selecting Rockeye,” he said aloud, confirming the action to himself. For the last ten seconds, he held the aircraft rock steady. “Looking good…release…now!”
Four of the decidedly un-aerodynamic canisters fell free of the fighter’s ejector racks, splitting open in midair, scattering thousands of submunitions over the area. He was well beyond the site before the bomblets landed. He didn’t see people running for slit trenches, but he stayed low, reefing the Thud into a tight left turn, looking up to make sure he’d gotten the place once and for all. From three miles out his eyes caught an immense cloud of smoke in the center of the Star.
That’s for Al, he allowed himself to think. No victory roll, just a thought, as he leveled out and picked a likely spot to egress the area. The strike force could come in now, and that SAM battery was out of business. Okay. He selected a notch in the ridge, racing for it just under Mach-1, straight and level now that the threat was behind him. Home for Christmas.
The red tracers that erupted from the small pass startled him. That wasn’t supposed to be there. No deflection on them, just coming right in. He jinked up, as the gunner had thought he would, and the body of the aircraft passed right through the stream of fire. It shook violently and in the passage of a second good changed to evil.
“Robin!” a voice gasped over the intercom, but the main noise was from wailing alarms, and Zacharias knew in a fatal instant that his aircraft was doomed. It got worse almost before he could react. The engine died in flames, and then the Thud started a roll-yaw that told him the controls were gone. His reaction was automatic, a shout for ejection, but another gasp from the back made him turn just as he yanked the handles even though he knew the gesture was useless. His last sight of Jack Tait was blood that hung below the seat like a vapor trail, but by then his own back was wrenched with more pain than he’d ever known.
“Okay,” Kelly said and fired off a flare. Another boat started tossing small explosive charges into the water to drive the fish away from the area. He watched and waited for five minutes, then looked at the safety man.
“Fire in the hole,” Kelly said, repeating the mantra three times more. Then he twisted the handle on the detonator. The results were gratifying. The water around the legs turned to foam as the rig’s legs were chopped off bottom and top. The fall was surprisingly slow. The entire structure slid off in one direction. There was an immense splash as the platform hit, and for one incongruous moment it appeared as though steel might float. But it couldn’t. The see-through collection of light I-beams sank below sight, to rest right on the bottom, and another job was done.
Kelly disconnected the wires from the generator and tossed them over the side.
“Two weeks early. I guess you really wanted that bonus,” the executive said. A former Navy fighter pilot, he admired a job well and quickly done. The oil wasn’t going anywhere, after all. “Dutch was right about you.”
“The Admiral is a good guy. He’s done a lot for Tish and me.”
“Well, we flew together for two years. Bad-ass fighter jock. Good to know those nice things he said were true.” The executive liked working with people who’d had experiences like his own. He’d forgotten the terror of combat somehow. “What’s with that? I’ve been meaning to ask.” He pointed to the tattoo on Kelly’s arm, a red seal, sitting up on his hind flippers and grinning impudently.
“Something we all did in my unit,” Kelly explained as offhandedly as he could.
“What unit was that?”
“Can’t say.” Kelly added a grin to mute the refusal.
“I bet it’s something to do with how Sonny got out—but okay.” A former naval officer had to respect the rules. “Well, the check’ll be in your account by the end of the business day, Mr. Kelly. I’ll radio in so your wife can pick you up.”
Tish Kelly was glowing her me-too look at the women in The Stork Shop. Not even three months yet, she could wear anything she wanted—well, almost. Too soon to shop for anything special, but she had the free time and wanted to see what the options were. She thanked the clerk, deciding that she’d bring John here in the evening and help him pick something out for her because he liked doing that. Now it was time to pick him up. The Plymouth wagon they’d driven down from Maryland was parked right outside, and she’d learned to navigate the streets of the coastal town. It was a nice break from the cold autumn rain of their home, to be here on the Gulf Coast where the summer was never really gone for more than a few days. She brought the wagon onto the street, heading south for the oil company’shuge support yard. Even the traffic lights were in her favor. One changed to green in such a timely fashion that her foot didn’t even have to touch the brakes.
The truck driver frowned as the light changed to amber. He was late, and running a little too fast, but the end of his six-hundred-mile run from Oklahoma was in sight. He stepped on the clutch and brake pedals with a sigh that abruptly changed to a gasp of surprise as both pedals went all the way to the floor at the same speed. The road ahead was clear, and he kept going straight, downshifting to cut speed, and frantically blowing his diesel horn. Oh God, oh God, please don’t—
She never saw it coming. Her head rever turned. The station wagon just jumped right through the intersection, and the driver’s lingering memory would be of the young woman’s profile disappearing under the hood of his diesel tractor, and then the awful lurch and shuddering surge upwards as the truck crushed the wagon under his front wheels.
The worst part of all was not feeling. Helen was her friend. Helen was dying, and Pam knew she should feel something, but she couldn’t. The body was gagged, but that didn’t stop all the sounds as Billy and Rick did what they were doing. Breath found its way out, and though her mouth couldn’t move, the sounds were those of a woman soon to leave her life behind, but the trip had a price which had to be paid first, and Rick and Billy and Burt and Henry were doing the collecting. She tried to tell herself that she was really in another place, but the awful choking sounds kept bringing her eyes and her consciousness back to what reality had become. Helen was bad. Helen had tried to run away, and they couldn’t have that. It had been explained to them all more than once, and was now being explained again in a way, Henry said, that they would be sure to remember. Pam felt where her ribs had once been broken, remembering her lesson. She knew there was nothing she could do as Helen’s eyes fixed on her face. She tried to convey sympathy with her eyes. She didn’t dare do morethan that, and presently Helen stopped making noise, and it was over, for now. Now she could close her eyes and wonder when it would be her turn.
The crew thought it was pretty funny. They had the American pilot tied up right outside their sandbagged emplacement so he could see the guns that had shot him down. Less funny was what their prisoner had done, and they’d expressed their displeasure for it with fists and boots. They had the other body, too, and they set it right next to him, enjoying the look of sorrow and despair on his face as he looked at his fellow bandit. The intelligence officer from Hanoi was here now, checking the man’s name against a list he’d brought along, bending down again to read off the name. It must have been something special, the gunners all thought, from the way he reacted to it, and the urgent phone call he’d made. After the prisoner passed out from his pain, the intelligence officer had swabbed some blood from the dead body and covered the live one’s face with it. Then he’d snapped a few photos. That puzzled the gun crew. It was almost as though he wanted the live one to look as dead as the body next to him. How very odd.
It wasn’t the first body he’d had to identify, but Kelly had thought that aspect of his life was a thing left far behind. Other people were there to support him, but not falling down wasn’t the same thing as surviving, and there was no consolation at a moment such as this. He walked out of the emergency room, people’s eyes on him, doctors and nurses. A priest had been called to perform his last duty, and had said a few things that he knew were unheard. A police officer explained that it hadn’t been the driver’s fault. The brakes had failed. Mechanical defect. Nobody’s fault, really. Just one of those things. All the things he’d said before, on other such occasions, trying to explain to some innocent person why the main part of his world had just ended, as though it mattered. This Mr. Kelly was a tough one, the officer saw, and all the more vulnerable because of it. His wife and unborn child, whom he might have protected against any hazard, were dead byan accident. Nobody to blame. The trucker, a family man himself, was in the hospital, under sedation after having gone under his rig in the hope of finding her alive. People Kelly had been working with sat with him, and would help him make arrangements. There was nothing else to be done for a man who would have accepted hell rather than this; because he’d seen hell. But there was more than one hell, and he hadn’t seen them all quite yet.
He’d never know why he stopped. Kelly pulled his Scout over to the shoulder without a conscious thought. She hadn’t had her hand out soliciting a ride. She’d just been standing at the side of the road, watching the cars speed past in a spray of highway grit and a wake of fumes. Her posture was that of a hitchhiker, one knee locked, the other bent. Her clothes were clearly well used and a backpack was loosely slung over one shoulder. Her tawny, shoulder-length hair moved about in the rush of air from the traffic. Her face showed nothing, but Kelly didn’t see that until he was already pressing his right foot on the brake pedal and angling onto the loose rock of the shoulder. He wondered if he should go back into the traffic, then decided that he was already committed, though to what he didn’t know, exactly. The girl’s eyes followed the car and, as he looked in his rearview mirror, she shrugged without any particular enthusiasm and walked towards him. The passenger window was down already, and in a few seconds she was there.
“Where you goin’?” she asked.
That surprised Kelly. He thought the first question—Need a ride?—was supposed to be his. He hesitated for a second or two, looking at her. Twenty-one, perhaps, but old for her years. Her face wasn’t dirty, but neither was it clean, perhaps from the wind and dust on the interstate. She wore a man’s cotton shirt that hadn’t been ironed in months, and her hair was knotted. But what surprised him most of all were her eyes. Fetchingly gray-green, they stared past Kelly into …what? He’d seen the look before often enough, but only on weary men. He’d had the look himself, Kelly remembered, but even then he’d never known what his eyes saw. It didn’t occur to him that he wore a look not so different now.
“Back to my boat,” he answered finally, not knowing what else to say. And that quickly, her eyes changed.
“You have a boat?” she asked. Her eyes lit up like a child’s, a smile started there and radiated down the remainder of her face, as though he’d just answered an important question. She had a cute gap between her front teeth, Kelly noticed.
“Forty-footer—she’s a diesel cruiser.” He waved to the back of the Scout, whose cargo area was completely filled with cartons of groceries. “You want to come along?” he asked, also without thinking.
“Sure!” Without hesitation she yanked open the door and tossed her backpack on the floor in front of the passenger seat.
Pulling back into traffic was dangerous. Short of wheel-base and short of power, the Scout wasn’t built for interstate-highway driving, and Kelly had to concentrate. The car wasn’t fast enough to go in any other lane than the right, and with people coming on and off at every interchange, he had to pay attention because the Scout wasn’t nimble enough to avoid all the idiots who were heading out to the ocean or wherever the hell people went on a three-day weekend.
You want to come along? he’d asked, and she’d said Sure, his mind reported to him. What the hell? Kelly frowned in frustration at the traffic because he didn’t know the answer, but then there were a lot of questions to which he hadn’t known the answers in the last six months. He told his mind to be quiet and watched the traffic, even though it kept up its inquiries in a nagging sort of background noise. One’s mind, after all, rarely obeys its own commands.
Memorial Day weekend, he thought. The cars around him were filled with people rushing home from work, or those who’d already made that trip and picked up their families. The faces of children stared out of the rear-seat windows. One or two waved at him, but Kelly pretended not to notice. It was hard not having a soul, most especially when you could remember having had one.
Kelly ran a hand across his jaw, feeling the sandpaper texture. The hand itself was dirty. No wonder they’d acted that way at the grocery warehouse. Letting yourself go, Kelly.
Well, who the hell cares?
He turned to look at his guest and realized that he didn’t know her name. He was taking her to his boat, and he didn’t know her name. Amazing. She was staring forward, her face serene. It was a pretty face in profile. She was thin—perhaps willowy was the right word, her hair halfway between blonde and brown. Her jeans were worn and torn in a few places, and had begun life at one of those stores where they charged you extra to sell jeans that were pre-faded—or whatever they did with them. Kelly didn’t know and cared less. One more thing not to care about.
Christ, how did you ever get this screwed up? his mind demanded of him. He knew the answer, but even that was not a full explanation. Different segments of the organism called John Terrence Kelly knew different parts of the whole story, but somehow they’d never all come together, leaving the separate fragments of what had once been a tough, smart, decisive man to blunder about in confusion—and despair? There was a happy thought.
He remembered what he’d once been. He remembered all the things that he had survived, amazed that he had done so. And perhaps the worst torment of all was that he didn’t understand what had gone wrong. Sure, he knew what had happened, but those things had all been on the outside, and somehow his understanding had gotten lost, leaving him alive and confused and without purpose. He was on autopilot. He knew that, but not where fate was taking him.
She didn’t try to talk, whoever she was, and that was just as well, Kelly told himself, though he sensed that there was something he ought to know. The realization came as a surprise. It was instinctual, and he’d always trusted his instincts, the warning chill on his neck and forearms. He looked around at the traffic and Kelly saw no particular danger other than cars with too much engine under the hood and not enough brains behind the wheel. His eyes scanned carefully and found nothing. But the warning didn’t go away, and Kelly found himself checking the mirror for no good reason, while his left hand wandered down between his legs and found the checkered grips of the Colt automatic that hung hidden under the seat. His hand was stroking the weapon before he realized it.
Now what the hell did you do that for? Kelly pulled his hand back and shook his head with a grimace of frustration. But he did keep checking the mirror—just the normal watch on traffic, he lied to himself for the next twenty minutes.
The boatyard was a swarm of activity. The three-day weekend, of course. Cars were zipping about too fast for the small and badly paved parking lot, each driver trying to evade the Friday rush that each was, of course, helping to create. At least here the Scout came into its own. The high ground clearance and visibility gave Kelly an advantage as he maneuvered to Springer’s transom, and he looped around to back up to the slip he’d left six hours before. It was a relief, to crank up the windows and lock the car. His adventure on the highways was over, and the safety of the trackless water beckoned.
Springer was a diesel-powered motor yacht, forty-one feet long, custom built but similar in her lines and internal arrangements to a Pacemaker Coho. She was not especially pretty, but she had two sizable cabins, and the midships salon could be converted easily into a third. Her diesels were large but not supercharged, because Kelly preferred a large comfortable engine to a small straining one. He had a high-quality marine radar, every sort of communications gear that he could legally use, and navigation aids normally reserved for offshore fishermen. The fiberglass hull was immaculate, and there was not a speck of rust on the chromed rails, though he had deliberately done without the topside varnish that most yacht-owners cherished because it wasn’t worth the maintenance time. Springer was a workboat, or was supposed to be.
Kelly and his guest alighted from the car. He opened the cargo door and started carrying the cartons aboard. The young lady, he saw, had the good sense to stay out of the way.
“Yo, Kelly!” a voice called from the flying bridge.
“Yeah, Ed. what was it?”
“Bad gauge. The generator brushes were a little worn, and I replaced them, but I think it was the gauge. Replaced that, too.” Ed Murdock, the yard’s chief mechanic, started down, and spotted the girl as he began to step off the ladder. Murdock tripped on the last step and nearly landed flat on his face in surprise. The mechanic’s face evaluated the girl quickly and approvingly.
“Anything else?” Kelly asked pointedly.
“Topped off the tanks. The engines are warm,” Murdock said, turning back to his customer. “It’s all on your bill.”
“Okay, thanks, Ed.”
“Oh, Chip told me to tell you, somebody else made an offer in case you ever want to sell—”
Kelly cut him off. “No chance, Ed.”
“She’s a jewel, Kelly,” Murdock said as he gathered his tools and walked away smiling, pleased with himself for the double entendre.
It took several seconds for Kelly to catch that one. It evoked a belated grunt of semi-amusement as he loaded the last of the groceries into the salon.
“What do I do?” the girl asked. She’d just been standing there, and Kelly had the impression that she was trembling a little and trying to hide it.
“Just take a seat topside,” Kelly said, pointing to the flying bridge. “It’ll take me a few minutes to get things started.”
“Okay.” She beamed a smile at him guaranteed to melt ice, as though she knew exactly what one of his needs was.
Kelly walked aft to his cabin, pleased at least that he kept his boat tidy. The master-cabin head was also neat, and he found himself staring into the mirror and asking, “Okay, now what the fuck are you going to do?”
There was no immediate answer, but common decency told him to wash up. Two minutes later he entered the salon. He checked to see that the grocery cartons were secure, then went topside.
“I, uh, forgot to ask you something—” he began.
“Pam,” she said, extending her hand. “What’s yours?”
“Kelly,” he replied, nonplussed yet again.
“Where we going, Mr. Kelly?”
“Just Kelly,” he corrected her, keeping his distance for the moment. Pam just nodded and smiled again.
“Okay, Kelly, where to?”
“I own a little island about thirty—”
“You own an island?” Her eyes went wide.
“That’s right.” Actually, he just leased it, and that had been a fact long enough that Kelly didn’t find it the least bit remarkable.
“Let’s go!” she said with enthusiasm, looking back at the shore.
Kelly laughed out loud. “Okay, let’s do that!”
He flipped on the bilge blowers. Springer had diesel engines, and he didn’t really have to worry about fumes building up, but for all his recently acquired slovenliness, Kelly was a seaman, and his life on the water followed a strict routine, which meant observing all the safety rules that had been written in the blood of less careful men. After the prescribed two minutes, he punched the button to start the portside, then the starboard-side diesel. Both of the big Detroit Diesel engines caught at once, rumbling to impressive life as Kelly checked the gauges. Everything looked fine.
He left the flying bridge to slip his mooring lines, then came back and eased the throttles forward to take his boat out of the slip, checking tide and wind—there was not much of either at the moment—and looking for other boats. Kelly advanced the port throttle a notch farther as he turned the wheel, allowing Springer to pivot all the more quickly in the narrow channel, and then he was pointed straight out. He advanced the starboard throttle next, bringing his cruiser to a mannerly five knots as he headed past the ranks of motor and sail yachts. Pam was looking around at the boats, too, mainly aft, and her eyes fixed on the parking lot for a long couple of seconds before she looked forward again, her body relaxing more as she did so.
“You know anything about boats?” Kelly asked.
“Not much,” she admitted, and for the first time he noticed her accent.
“Where you from?”
“Texas. How about you?”
“Indianapolis, originally, but it’s been a while.”
“What’s this?” she asked. Her hands reached out to touch the tattoo on his forearm.
“It’s from one of the places I’ve been,” he said. “Not a very nice place.”
“Oh, over there.” She understood.
“That’s the place.” Kelly nodded matter-of-factly. They were out of the yacht basin now, and he advanced the throttles yet again.
“What did you do there?”
“Nothing to talk to a lady about,” Kelly replied, looking around from a half-standing position.
“What makes you think I’m a lady?” she asked.
It caught him short, but he was getting used to it by now. He’d also found that talking to a girl, no matter what the subject, was something that he needed to do. For the first time he answered her smile with one of his own.
“Well, it wouldn’t be very nice of me if I assumed that you weren’t.”
“I wondered how long it would be before you smiled.” You have a very nice smile, her tone told him.
How’s six months grab you? he almost said. Instead he laughed, mainly at himself. That was something else he needed to do.
“I’m sorry. Guess I haven’t been very good company.” He turned to look at her again and saw understanding in her eyes. Just a quiet look, very human and feminine, but it shook Kelly. He could feel it happen, and ignored the part of his consciousness that told him that it was something he’d needed badly for months. That was something he didn’t need to hear, especially from himself. Loneliness was bad enough without reflection on its misery. Her hand reached out yet again, ostensibly to stroke the tattoo, but that wasn’t what it was all about. It was amazing how warm her touch was, even under a hot afternoon sun. Perhaps it was a measure of just how cold his life had become.
But he had a boat to navigate. There was a freighter about a thousand yards ahead. Kelly was now at full cruising power, and the trim tabs at the stern had automatically engaged, bringing the boat to an efficient planing angle as her speed came to eighteen knots. The ride was smooth until they got into the merchant ship’s wake. Then Springer started pitching, up and down three or four feet at the bow as Kelly maneuvered left to get around the worst of it. The freighter grew before them like a cliff as they overtook her.
“Is there someplace I can change?”
“My cabin is aft. You can move in forward if you want.”
“Oh, really?” She giggled. “Why would I do that?”
“Huh?” She’d done it to him again.
Pam went below, careful to hold on to the rails as she carried her backpack. She hadn’t been wearing much. She reappeared in a few minutes wearing even less, short-shorts and a halter, no shoes, and perceptibly more relaxed. She had dancer’s legs, Kelly noticed, slim and very feminine. Also very pale, which surprised him. The halter was loose on her, and frayed at the edges. Perhaps she’d recently lost weight, or maybe she’d deliberately bought it overlarge. Whatever the reason, it showed quite a bit of her chest. Kelly caught himself shifting his eyes, and chastised himself for ogling the girl. But Pam made it hard not to. Now she grasped his upper arm and sat up against him. Looking over, he could see right down the halter just as far as he wanted.
“You like them?” she asked.
Kelly’s brain and mouth went into lock. He made a few embarrassed sounds, and before he could decide to say anything she was laughing. But not at him. She was waving at the crew of the freighter, who waved back. It was an Italian ship, and one of the half dozen or so men hanging over the rail at the stern blew Pam a kiss. She did the same in return.
It made Kelly jealous.
He turned the wheel to port again, taking his boat across the bow wave of the freighter, and as he passed the vessel’s bridge he tooted his horn. It was the correct thing to do, though few small boaters ever bothered. By this time, a watch officer had his glasses on Kelly—actually Pam, of course. He turned and shouted something to the wheelhouse. A moment later the freighter’s enormous “whistle” sounded its own bass note, nearly causing the girl to leap from her seat.
Kelly laughed, and so did she, and then she wrapped her arms tightly around his bicep. He could feel a finger tracing its way around the tattoo.
“It doesn’t feel like—”
Kelly nodded. “I know. Most people expect it to feel like paint or something.”
“—I get it? Everybody in the outfit did. Even the officers. It was something to do, I guess. Pretty dumb, really.”
“I think it’s cute.”
“Well, I think you’re pretty cute.”
“You say the nicest things.” She moved slightly, rubbing her breast against his upper arm.
Kelly settled down to a steady cruising speed of eighteen knots as he worked his way out of Baltimore harbor. The Italian freighter was the only merchant ship in view, and the seas were flat, with one-foot ripples. He kept to the main shipping channel all the way out into the Chesapeake Bay.
“You thirsty?” she asked as they turned south.
“Yeah. There’s a fridge in the kitchenette—it’s in the—”
“I saw it. What do you want?”
“Get two of anything.”
“Okay,” she replied brightly. When she stood, the soft feeling worked its way straight up his arm, finally departing at the shoulder.
“What’s that?” she asked on returning. Kelly turned and winced. He’d been so content with the girl on his arm that he’d neglected to pay attention to the weather. “That” was a thunderstorm, a towering mass of cumulonimbus clouds that reached eight or ten miles skyward.
“Looks like we’re going to get some rain,” he told her as he took the beer from her hand.
“When I was a little girl, that meant a tornado.”
“Well, not here, it doesn’t,” Kelly replied, looking around the boat to make sure that there was no loose gear. Below, he knew, everything was in its proper place, because it always was, ennui or not. Then he switched on his marine radio. He caught a weather forecast at once, one that ended with the usual warning.
“Is this a small craft?” Pam asked.
“Technically it is, but you can relax. I know what I’m doing. I used to be a chief bosun’s mate.”
“A sailor. In the Navy, that is. Besides, this is a pretty big boat. The ride might get a little bumpy, is all. If you’re worried, there are life jackets under the seat you’re on.”
“Are you worried?” Pam asked. Kelly smiled and shook his head. “Okay.” She resumed her previous position, her chest against his arm, her head on his shoulder, a dreamy expression in her eyes, as though anticipating something that was to be, storm or no storm.
Kelly wasn’t worried—at least not about the storm—but he wasn’t casual about things either. Passing Bodkin Point, he continued east across the shipping channel. He didn’t turn south until he was in water he knew to be too shallow for anything large enough to run him down. Every few minutes he turned to keep an eye on the storm, which was charging right in at twenty knots or so. It had already blotted out the sun. A fast-moving storm most often meant a violent one, and his new southerly course meant that he wasn’t outrunning it any longer. Kelly finished off his beer and decided against another. Visibility would drop fast. He pulled out a plastic-coated chart and fixed it in place on the table to the right of the instrument panel, marked his position with a grease pencil, and then checked to make sure that his course didn’t take him into shallows—Springer drew four and a half feet of water, and for Kelly anything less than eight feet constituted shallow water. Satisfied, he set his compass course and relaxed again. His training was his buffer against both danger and complacency.
“Won’t be long now,” Pam observed, just a trace of unease in her voice as she held on to him.
“You can head below if you want,” Kelly said. “It’s gonna get rainy and windy. And bumpy.”
“But not dangerous.”
“No, unless I do something really dumb. I’ll try not to,” he promised.
“Can I stay here and see what it’s like?” she asked, clearly unwilling to leave his side, though Kelly did not know why.
“It’s going to get wet,” he warned her again.
“That’s okay.” She smiled brightly, fixing even more tightly to his arm.
Kelly throttled back some, taking the boat down off plane. There was no reason to hurry. With the throttles eased back, there was no longer a need for two hands on the controls either. He wrapped his arm around the girl, her head came automatically down on his shoulder again, and despite the approaching storm everything was suddenly right with the world. Or that’s what Kelly’s emotions told him. His reason said something else, and the two views would not reconcile themselves. His reason reminded him that the girl at his side was—what? He didn’t know. His emotions told him that it didn’t matter a damn. She was what he needed. But Kelly was not a man ruled by emotions, and the conflict made him glower at the horizon.
“Something wrong?” Pam asked.
Kelly started to say something, then stopped, and reminded himself that he was alone on his yacht with a pretty girl. He let emotion win this round for a change.
“I’m a little confused, but, no, nothing is wrong that I know about.”
“I can tell that you—”
Kelly shook his head. “Don’t bother. Whatever it is, it can wait. Just relax and enjoy the ride.”
The first gust of wind arrived a moment later, heeling the boat a few degrees to port. Kelly adjusted his rudder to compensate. The rain arrived quickly. The first few warning sprinkles were rapidly followed by solid sheets that marched like curtains across the surface of the Chesapeake Bay. Within a minute visibility was down to only a few hundred yards, and the sky was as dark as late twilight. Kelly made sure his running lights were on. The waves started kicking up in earnest, driven by what felt like thirty knots of wind. Weather and seas were directly on the beam. He decided that he could keep going, but he was in a good anchoring place now, and wouldn’t be in another for five hours. Kelly took another look at the chart, then switched on his radar to verify his position. Ten feet of water, a sand bottom that the chart called HRD and was therefore good holding ground. He brought Springer into the wind and eased the throttles until the propellers were providing just enough thrust to overcome the driving force of the wind.
“Take the wheel,” he told Pam.
“But I don’t know what to do!”
“It’s all right. Just hold her steady and steer the way I tell you to. I have to go forward to set the anchors. ’Kay?”
“You be careful!” she shouted over the gusting wind. The waves were about five feet now, and the bow of the boat was leaping up and down. Kelly gave her shoulder a squeeze and went forward.
He had to watch himself, of course, but his shoes had no-skid soles, and Kelly knew his business. He kept his hands on the grab rail all the way around the superstructure, and in a minute he was on the foredeck. Two anchors were clipped to the deck, a Danforth and a CQR plow-type, both slightly oversized. He tossed the Danforth over first, then signaled for Pam to ease the wheel to port. When the boat had moved perhaps fifty feet south, he dropped the CQR over the side as well. Both ropes were already set to the proper lengths, and after checking that all was secure, Kelly made his way back to the flying bridge.
Pam looked nervous until the moment that he sat back down on the vinyl bench—everything was covered with water now, and their clothes were soaked through. Kelly eased the throttles to idle, allowing the wind to push Springer back nearly a hundred feet. By that time both anchors had dug into the bottom. Kelly frowned at their placement. He ought to have set them farther apart. But only one anchor was really necessary. The second was just insurance. Satisfied, he switched off the diesels.
“I could fight the storm all the way down, but I’d prefer not to,” he explained.
“So we park here for the night?”
“That’s right. You can go down to your cabin and—”
“You want me to go away?”
“No—I mean, if you don’t like it here—” Her hand came up to his face. He barely caught her words through the wind and rain.
“I like it here.” Somehow it didn’t seem like a contradiction at all.
A moment later Kelly asked himself why it had taken so long. All the signals had been there. There was another brief discussion between emotion and reason, and reason lost again. There was nothing to be afraid of here, just a person as lonely as he. It was so easy to forget. Loneliness didn’t tell you what you had lost, only that something was massing. It took something like this to define that emptiness. Her skin was soft, dripping with rain, but warm. It was so different from the rented passion that he’d tried twice in the past month, each time coming away disgusted with himself.
But this was something else. This was real. Reason cried out one last time that it couldn’t be, that he’d picked her up at the side of the road and had known her for only a brief span of hours. Emotion said that it didn’t matter. As though observing the conflict in his mind, Pam pulled the halter over her head. Emotion won.
“They look just fine to me,” Kelly said. His hand moved to them, touching delicately. They felt just fine, too. Pam hung the halter on the steering wheel and pressed her face against his, her hands pulling him forward, taking charge in a very feminine way. Somehow her passion wasn’t animalistic. Something made it different. Kelly didn’t know what it was, but didn’t search for the reason, not now.
Both rose to their feet. Pam nearly slipped, but Kelly caught her, dropping to his knees to help remove her shorts. Then it was her turn to unbutton his shirt after placing his hands on her breasts. His shirt remained in place for a long moment because neither wanted his hands to move, but then it was done, one arm at a time, and his jeans went next. Kelly slipped out of his shoes as the rest came off. Both stood for the next embrace, weaving as the boat pitched and rocked beneath them, the rain and wind pelting them. Pam took his hand and led him just aft of the driver’s console, guiding him down to a supine position on the deck. She mounted him at once. Kelly tried to sit up, but she didn’t let him, instead leaning forward while her hips moved with gentle violence. Kelly was as unready for that as he’d been for everything else this afternoon, and his shout seemed to outscream the thunder. When his eyes opened, her face was inches from him, and the smile was like that on a stone angel in a church.
“I’m sorry, Pam, I—”
She stopped his apology with a giggle. “Are you always this good?”
Long minutes later, Kelly’s arms were wrapped around her thin form, and so they stayed until the storm passed. Kelly was afraid to let go, afraid of the possibility that this was as unreal as it had to be. Then the wind acquired a chill, and they went below. Kelly got some towels and they dried each other off. He tried to smile at her, but the hurt was back, all the more powerful from the joy of the previous hour, and it was Pam’s turn to be surprised. She sat beside him on the deck of the salon, and when she pulled his face down to her chest, he was the one who wept, until her chest was wet again. She didn’t ask. She was smart enough for that. Instead she held him tightly until he was done and his breathing came back to normal.
“I’m sorry,” he said after a while. Kelly tried to move but she wouldn’t let him.
“You don’t have to explain. But I’d like to help,” she said, knowing that she already had. She’d seen it from almost the first moment in the car: a strong man, badly hurt. So different from the others she had known. When he finally spoke, she could feel his words on her breast.
“It’s been nearly seven months. Down in Mississippi on a job. She was pregnant, we just found out. She went to the store, and—it was a truck, a big tractor-trailer rig. The linkage broke.” He couldn’t make himself say more, and he didn’t have to.
“What was her name?”
“How long were you—”
“Year and a half. Then she was just …gone. I never expected it. I mean, I put my time in, did some dangerous stuff, but that’s all over, and that was me, not her. I never thought—” His voice cracked again. looked down at him in the muted light of the salon, seeing the scars she’d missed before and wondering what their story was. It didn’t matter. She brought her cheek down to the top of his head. He should have been a father right about now. Should have been a lot of things.
“You never let it out, did you?”
“And why now?”
“I don’t know,” he whispered.
“Thank you.” Kelly looked up in surprise. “That’s the nicest thing a man has ever done to me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes, you do,” Pam replied. “And Tish understands, too. You let me take her place. Or maybe she did. She loved you, John. She must have loved you a lot. And she still does. Thank you for letting me help.”
He started crying again, and Pam brought his head back down, cradling him like a small child. It lasted ten minutes, though neither looked at a clock. When he was done, he kissed her in gratitude that rapidly turned to renewed passion. Pam lay back, letting him take charge as he needed to do now that he was again a man in spirit. Her reward was in keeping with the magnitude of what she had done for him, and this time it was her cries that canceled out the thunder. Later, he fell asleep at her side, and she kissed his unshaven cheek. That was when her own tears began at the wonder of what the day had brought after the terror with which it had begun.
Kelly awoke at his accustomed time, thirty minutes before sunrise, to the mewing of gulls and saw the first dull glow on the eastern horizon. At first he was confused to find a slender arm across his chest, but other feelings and memories explained things in a few seconds. He extricated himself from her side and moved the blanket to cover her from the morning chill. It was time for ship’s business.
Kelly got the drip coffee machine going, then he pulled on a pair of swim trunks and headed topside. He hadn’t forgotten to set the anchor light, he was gratified to see. The sky had cleared off, and the air was cool after the thunderstorms of the previous night. He went forward and was surprised to see that one of his anchors had dragged somewhat. Kelly reproached himself for that, even though nothing had actually gone wrong. The water was a flat, oily calm and the breeze gentle. The pink-orange glow of first light decorated the tree-spotted coastline to the east. All in all, it seemed as fine a morning as he could remember. Then he remembered that what had changed had nothing at all to do with the weather.
“Damn,” he whispered to the dawn not yet broken. Kelly was stiff, and did some stretching exercises to get the kinks out, slow to realize how fine he felt without the usual hangover. Slower still to recall how long it had been. Nine hours of sleep? he wondered. That much? No wonder he felt so good. The next part of the morning routine was to get a squeegee to dispose of the water that had pooled on the fiberglass deck.
His head turned at the low, muted rumble of marine diesels. Kelly looked west to spot it, but there was a little mist that way, being pushed his way by the breeze, and he couldn’t make anything out. He went to the control station on the flying bridge and got out his glasses, just in time to have a twelve-inch spotlight blaze through the marine 7 x 50s. Kelly was dazzled by the lights, which just as suddenly switched off, and a loud-hailer called across the water.
“Sorry, Kelly. Didn’t know it was you.” Two minutes later the familiar shape of a Coast Guard forty-one-foot patrol boat eased alongside Springer. Kelly scrambled along the portside to deploy his rubber fenders.
“You trying to kill me or something?” Kelly said in a conversational voice.
“Sorry.” Quartermaster First Class Manuel “Portagee” Oreza stepped from one gun’l to the other with practiced ease. He gestured to the fenders. “Wanna hurt my feelings?”
“Bad sea manners, too,” Kelly went on as he walked towards his visitor.
“I spoke to the young lad about that already,” Oreza assured him. He held out his hand. “Morning, Kelly.”
The outstretched hand had a Styrofoam cup filled with coffee. Kelly took it and laughed.
“Apology accepted, sir.” Oreza was famous for his coffee.
“Long night. We’re all tired, and it’s a young crew,” the coastguardsman explained wearily. Oreza was nearly twenty-eight himself, and by far the oldest man of his boat crew.
“Trouble?” Kelly asked.
Oreza nodded, looking around at the water. “Kinda. Some damned fool in a little day-sailer turned up missing after that little rainstorm we had last night, and we’ve been looking all over bejazzus for him.”
“Forty knots of wind. Fair blow, Portagee,” Kelly pointed out. “Came in right fast, too.”
“Yeah, well, we rescued six boats already, just this one still missing. You see anything unusual last night?”
“No. Came outa Baltimore around …oh, sixteen hundred, I suppose. Two and a half hours to get here. Anchored right after the storm hit. Visibility was pretty bad, didn’t see much of anything before we went below.”
“We,” Oreza observed, stretching. He walked over to the wheel, picked up the rain-soaked halter, and tossed it to Kelly. The look on his face was neutral, but there was interest behind the eyes. He hoped his friend had found someone. Life hadn’t been especially fair to the man.
Kelly handed the cup back with a similarly neutral expression.
“There was one freighter coming out behind us,” he went on. “Italian flag, container boat about half full, must have been knocking down fifteen knots. Anybody else clear the harbor?”
“Yeah.” Oreza nodded and spoke with professional irritation. “I’m worried about that. Fuckin’ merchies plowing out at full speed, not paying attention.”
“Well, hell, you stand outside the wheelhouse, you might get wet. Besides, sea-and-anchor detail might violate some union rule, right? Maybe your guy got run down,” Kelly noted darkly. It wouldn’t have been the first time, even on a body of water as civilized as the Chesapeake.
“Maybe,” Oreza said, surveying the horizon. He frowned, not believing the suggestion and too tired to hide it. “Anyway, you see a little day-sailer with an orange-and-white candystripe sail, you want to give me a call?”
Oreza looked forward and turned back. “Two anchors for that little puff o’ wind we had? They’re not far enough apart. Thought you knew better.”
“Chief Bosun’s Mate,” Kelly reminded him. “Since when does a bookkeeper get that snotty with a real seaman?” It was only a joke. Kelly knew Portagee was the better man in a small boat. Though not by much of a margin, and both knew that, too.
Oreza grinned on his way back to the cutter. After jumping back aboard, he pointed to the halter in Kelly’s hand. “Don’t forget to put your shirt on. Boats! Looks like it oughta fit just fine.” A laughing Oreza disappeared inside the wheelhouse before Kelly could come up with a rejoinder. There appeared to be someone inside who was not in uniform, which surprised Kelly. A moment later, the cutter’s engines rumbled anew and the forty-one-boat moved northwest.
“Good mornin’.” It was Pam. “What was that?”
Kelly turned. She wasn’t wearing any more now than when he’d put the blanket on her, but Kelly instantly decided that the only time she’d surprise him again would be when she did something predictable. Her hair was a medusalike mass of tangles, and her eyes were unfocused, as though she’d not slept well at all.
“Coast Guard. They’re looking for a missing boat. How’d you sleep?”
“Just fine.” She came over to him. Her eyes had a soft, dreamlike quality that seemed strange so early in the morning, but could not have been more attractive to the wide-awake sailor.
“Good morning.” A kiss. A hug. Pam held her arms aloft and executed something like a pirouette. Kelly grabbed her slender waist and hoisted her aloft.
“What do you want for breakfast?” he asked.
“I don’t eat breakfast,” Pam replied, reaching down for him.
“Oh.” Kelly smiled. “Okay.”
She changed her mind about an hour later. Kelly fixed eggs and bacon on the galley stove, and Pam wolfed it down so speedily that he fixed seconds despite her protests. On further inspection, the girl wasn’t merely thin, some of her ribs were visible. She was undernourished, an observation that prompted yet another unasked question. But whatever the cause, he could remedy it. Once she’d consumed four eggs, eight slices of bacon, and five pieces of toast, roughly double Kelly’s normal morning intake, it was time for the day to begin properly. He showed her how to work the galley appliances while he saw to recovering the anchors.
They got back under way just shy of a lazy eight o’clock. It promised to be a hot, sunny Saturday. Kelly donned his sunglasses and relaxed in his chair, keeping himself alert with the odd sip from his mug. He maneuvered west, tracing down the edge of the main ship channel to avoid the hundreds of fishing boats he fully expected to sortie from their various harbors today in pursuit of rock-fish.
“What are those things?” Pam asked, pointing to the floats decorating the water to port.
“Floats for crab pots. They’re really more like cages. Crabs get in and can’t get out. You leave floats so you know where they are.” Kelly handed Pam his glasses and pointed to a bay-build workboat about three miles to the east.
“They trap the poor things?” Kelly laughed.
“Pam, the bacon you had for breakfast? The hog didn’t commit suicide, did he?”
She gave him an impish look. “Well, no.”
“Don’t get too excited. A crab is just a big aquatic spider, even though it tastes good.”
Kelly altered course to starboard to clear a red nunbuoy.
“Seems kinda cruel, though.”
“Life can be that way,” Kelly said too quickly and then regretted it.
Pam’s response was as heartfelt as Kelly’s. “Yeah, I know.”
Kelly didn’t turn to look at her, only because he stopped himself. There’d been emotional content in her reply, something to remind him that she, too, had demons. The moment passed quickly, however. She leaned back into the capacious conning chair, leaning against him and making things right again. One last time Kelly’s senses warned him that something was not right at all. But there were no demons out here, were there?
“You’d better go below.”
“Sun’s going to be hot today. There’s some lotion in the medicine cabinet, main head.”
“Why is everything different on a boat?”
Kelly laughed. “That’s so sailors can be the boss out here. Now, shoo! Go get that stuff and put a lot on or you’ll look like a french fry before lunch.”
Pam made a face. “I need a shower, too. Is that okay?”
“Good idea,” Kelly answered without looking. “No sense scaring the fish away.”
“You!” She swatted him on the arm and headed below.
“Vanished, just plain vanished,” Oreza growled. He was hunched over a chart table at the Thomas Point Coast Guard Station.
“We shoulda got some air cover, helicopter or something,” the civilian observed.
“Wouldn’t have mattered, not last night. Hell, the gulls rode that blow out.”
“But where’d he go?”
“Beats me, maybe the storm sank his ass.” Oreza glowered at the chart. “You said he was northbound. We covered all these ports and Max took the western shore. You sure the description of the boat was correct?”
“Sure? Hell, we did everything but buy the goddamned boat for ’em!” The civilian was as short-tempered as twenty-eight hours of caffeine-induced wakefulness could explain, even worse for having been ill on the patrol boat, much to the amusement of the enlisted crew. His stomach felt like it was coated with steel wool. “Maybe it did sink,” he concluded gruffly, not believing it for a moment.
“Wouldn’t that solve your problem?” His attempt at levity earned him a growl, and Quartermaster First Class Manuel Oreza caught a warning look from the Station commander, a gray-haired warrant officer named Paul English.
“You know,” the man said in a state of exhaustion, “I don’t think anything is going to solve this problem, but it’s my job to try.”
“Sir, we’ve all had a long night. My crew is racked out, and unless you have a really good reason to stay up, I suggest you find a bunk and get a few Zs, sir.”
The civilian looked up with a tired smile to mute his earlier words. “Petty Officer Oreza, smart as you are, you ought to be an officer.”
“If I’m so smart, how come we missed our friend last night?”
“That guy we saw around dawn?”
“Kelly? Ex-Navy chief, solid guy.”
“Kinda young for a chief, isn’t he?” English asked, looking at a not very good photo the spotlight had made possible. He was new at the station.
“It came along with a Navy Cross,” Oreza explained.
The civilian looked up. “So, you wouldn’t think—”
“Not a chance in hell.”
The civilian shook his head. He paused for a moment, then headed off to the bunk room. They’d be going out again before sunset, and he’d need the sack time.
“So how was it?” English asked after the man left the room.
“That guy is shipping a lot of gear, Cap’n.” As a station commander, English was entitled to the title, all the more so that he let Portagee run his boat his way. “Sure as hell he doesn’t sleep much.”
“He’s going to be with us for a while, on and off, and I want you to handle it.”
Oreza tapped the chart with a pencil. “I still say this would be a perfect place to keep watch from, and I know we can trust the guy.”
“The man says no.”
“The man ain’t no seaman, Mr. English. I don’t mind when the guy tells me what to do, but he don’t know enough to tell me how to do it.” Oreza circled the spot on the chart.
• • •
“I don’t like this.”
“You don’t have to like it,” the taller man said. He unfolded his pocket knife and slit the heavy paper to reveal a plastic container of white powder. “A few hours’ work and we turn three hundred thousand. Something wrong with that, or am I missin’ something?”
“And this is just the start,” the third man said.
“What do we do with the boat?” asked the man with the scruples.
The tall one looked up from what he was doing. “You get rid of that sail?”
“Well, we can stash the boat …but probably smarter to scuttle. Yeah, that’s what we’ll do.”
“And Angelo?” All three looked over to where the man was lying, unconscious still, and bleeding.
“I guess we scuttle him, too,” the tall one observed without much in the way of emotion. “Right here ought to be fine.”
“Maybe two weeks, there won’t be nothin’ left. Lots of critters out there.” The third one waved outside at the tidal wetlands.
“See how easy it is? No boat, no Angelo, no risk, and three hundred thousand bucks. I mean, how much more do you expect, Eddie?”
“His friends still ain’t gonna like it.” The comment came more from a contrarian disposition than moral conviction.
“What friends?” Tony asked without looking. “He ratted, didn’t he? How many friends does a rat have?”
Eddie bent to the logic of the situation and walked over to Angelo’s unconscious form. The blood was still pumping out of the many abrasions, and the chest was moving slowly as he tried to breathe. It was time to put an end to that. Eddie knew it; he’d merely been trying to delay the inevitable. He pulled a small .22 automatic from his pocket, placed it to the back of Angelo’s skull, and fired once. The body spasmed, then went slack. Eddie set his gun aside and dragged the body outside, leaving Henry and his friend to do the important stuff. They’d brought some fish netting, which he wrapped around the body before dumping it in the water behind their small motorboat. A cautious man, Eddie looked around, but there wasn’t much danger of intruders here. He motored off until he found a likely spot a few hundred yards off, then stopped and drifted while he lifted a few concrete blocks from the boat and tied them to the netting. Six were enough to sink Angelo about eight feet to the bottom. The water was pretty clear here, and that worried Eddie a little until he saw all the crabs. Angelo would be gone in less than two weeks. It was a great improvement over the way they usually did business, something to remember for the future. Disposing of the little sailboat would be harder. He’d have to find a deeper spot, but he had all day to think about it.
Kelly altered course to starboard to avoid a gaggle of sports craft. The island was visible now, about five miles ahead. Not much to look at, just a low bump on the horizon, not even a tree, but it was his and it was as private as a man could wish. About the only bad news was the miserable TV reception.
Battery Island had a long and undistinguished history. Its current name, more ironic than appropriate, had come in the early nineteenth century, when some enterprising militiaman had decided to place a small gun battery there to guard a narrow spot in the Chesapeake Bay against the British, who were sailing towards Washington, D.C., to punish the new nation that had been so ill-advised as to challenge the power of the world’s foremost navy. One British squadron commander had taken note of a few harmless puffs of smoke on the island, and, probably with more amusement than malice, had taken one ship within gun range and let loose a few salvos from the long guns on his lower deck. The citizen soldiers manning the battery hadn’t needed much encouragement to make a run for their rowboats and hustle to the mainland, and shortly thereafter a landing party of Jack Tars and a few Royal Marines had rowed ashore in a pinnace to drive nails into the touch holes, which was what “spiking guns” meant. After this brief diversion, the British had continued their leisurely sail up the Patuxent River, from which their army had walked to Washington and back, having forced Dolley Madison to evacuate the White House. The British campaign had next headed to Baltimore, where a somewhat different outcome resulted.
Battery Island, under reluctant federal ownership, became an embarrassing footnote to a singularly useless war. Without so much as a caretaker to look after the earthen emplacements, weeds overtook the island, and so things had remained for nearly a hundred years.
With 1917 came America’s first real foreign war, and America’s navy, suddenly faced with the U-boat menace, needed a sheltered place to test its guns. Battery Island seemed ideal, only a few steaming hours from Norfolk, and so for several months in the fall of that year, 12-and 14-inch battleship rifles had crashed and thundered, blasting nearly a third of the island below mean low water and greatly annoying the migratory birds, who’d long since realized that no hunters ever shot at them from the place. About the only new thing that happened was the scuttling of over a hundred World War I—built cargo ships a few miles to the south, and these, soon overgrown with weeds, rapidly took on the appearance of islands themselves.
A new war and new weapons had brought the sleepy island back to life. The nearby naval air station needed a place for pilots to test weapons. The happy coincidence of the location of Battery Island and the scuttled ships from World War I had made for an instant bombing range. As a result, three massive concrete observation bunkers were built, from which officers could observe TBFs and SB2C bombers practicing runs on targets that looked like ship-shaped islands—and pulverizing quite a few of them until one bomb hung on the rack just long enough to obliterate one of the bunkers, thankfully empty. The site of the destroyed bunker had been cleared in the name of tidiness, and the island converted to a rescue station, from which a crashboat might respond to an aircraft accident. That had required building a concrete quay and boathouse and refurbishment of the two remaining bunkers. All in all, the island had served the local economy, if not the federal budget, well, until the advent of helicopters made crashboats unnecessary, and the island had been declared surplus. And so the island remained unnoticed on a register of unwanted federal property until Kelly had managed to acquire a lease.
Pam leaned back on her blanket as they approached, basting in the warm sun beneath a thick coating of suntan lotion. She didn’t have a swimsuit, and wore only a bra and panties. It didn’t offend Kelly, but the impropriety of it was vaguely disturbing for no reason that stood up to logical analysis. In any case, his current job was driving his boat. Further contemplation of her body could wait, he told himself about every minute, when his eyes darted that way to make sure she was still there.
He eased the wheel farther to the right to pass well clear of a large fishing yacht. He gave Pam another look. She’d slipped the straps of her bra down off her shoulders for a more even tan. Kelly approved.
The sound startled both of them, rapid short blasts on the fishing boat’s diesel horns. Kelly’s head scanned all the way around, then centered on the boat that lay two hundred yards to port. It was the only thing close enough to be of concern, and also seemed to be the source of the noise. On the flying bridge a man was waving at him. Kelly turned to port to approach. He took his time bringing Springer alongside. Whoever this guy was, he wasn’t much of a boat handler, and when he brought his craft to a halt, twenty feet away, he kept his hand on the throttles.
“What’s the problem?” Kelly called over the loud-hailer.
“Lost our props!” a swarthy man hollered back. “What do we do?”
Row, Kelly almost replied, but that wasn’t very neighborly. He brought his boat closer in to survey the situation. It was a medium-sized fishing cruiser, a fairly recent Hatteras. The man on the bridge was about five-eight, fiftyish, and bare-chested except for a mat of dark hair. A woman was also visible, also rather downcast.
“No screws at all?” Kelly asked when they were closer.
“I think we hit a sandbar,” the man explained. “About half a mile that way.” He pointed to a place Kelly kept clear of.
“Sure enough, there’s one that way. I can give you a tow if you want. You have good enough line for it?”
“Yes!” the man replied immediately. He went forward to his rope locker. The woman aboard continued to look embarrassed.
Kelly maneuvered clear for a moment, observing the other “captain,” a term his mind applied ironically. He couldn’t read charts. He didn’t know the proper way of attracting another boat’s attention. He didn’t even know how to call the Coast Guard. All he’d managed to do was buy a Hatteras yacht, and while that spoke well of his judgment, Kelly figured it had more likely come from a smart salesman. But then the man surprised Kelly. He handled his lines with skill and waved Springer in.
Kelly maneuvered his stern in close, then went aft to his well deck to take the towing line, which he secured to the big cleat on the transom. Pam was up and watching now. Kelly hustled back to the fly bridge and coaxed his throttle a crack.
“Get on your radio,” he told the Hatteras owner. “Leave your rudder amidships till I tell you different. Okay?”
“Hope so,” Kelly whispered to himself, pushing the throttle levers until the towing line came taut.
“What happened to him?” Pam asked.
“People forget there’s a bottom under this water. You hit it hard enough and you break things.” He paused. “You might want to put some more clothes on.”
Pam giggled and went below. Kelly increased speed carefully to about four knots before starting the turn south. He’d done this all before, and grumbled that if he did it one more time he’d have special stationery printed up for the bills.
Kelly brought Springer alongside very slowly, mindful of the boat he was towing. He scurried off the bridge to drop his fenders, then jumped ashore to tie off a pair of spring lines before heading towards the Hatteras. The owner already had his mooring lines set up, and tossed them to Kelly on the quay while he set his fenders. Hauling the boat in a few feet was a good chance to show his muscles to Pam. It only took five minutes to get her snugged in, after which Kelly did the same with Springer.
“This is yours?”
“Sure enough,” Kelly replied. “Welcome to my sandbar.”
“Sam Rosen,” the man said, holding his hand out. He’d pulled a shirt on, and while he had a strong grip, Kelly noted that his hands were so soft as to be dainty.
“My wife, Sarah.”
Kelly laughed. “You must be the navigator.”
Sarah was short, overweight, and her brown eyes wavered between amusement and embarrassment. “Somebody needs to thank you for your help,” she observed in a New York accent.
“A law of the sea, ma’am. What went wrong?”
“The chart shows six feet where we struck. This boat only takes four! And low tide was five hours ago!” the lady snapped. She wasn’t angry at Kelly, but he was the closest target, and her husband had already heard what she thought.
“Sandbar, it’s been building there from the storms we had last winter, but my charts show less than that. Besides, it’s a soft bottom.”
Pam came up just then, wearing clothing that was nearly respectable, and Kelly realized he didn’t know her last name.
“Hi, I’m Pam.”
“Y’all want to freshen up? We have all day to look at the problem.” There was general agreement on that point, and Kelly led them off to his home.
“What the hell is that?” Sam Rosen asked. “That” was one of the bunkers that had been built in 1943, two thousand square feet, with a roof fully three feet thick. The entire structure was reinforced concrete and was almost as sturdy as it looked. A second, smaller bunker lay beside it.
“This place used to belong to the Navy,” Kelly explained, “but I lease it now.”
“Nice dock they built for you,” Rosen noted.
“Not bad at all,” Kelly agreed. “Mind if I ask what you do?”
“Surgeon,” Rosen replied.
“Oh, yeah?” That explained the hands.
“Professor of surgery,” Sarah corrected. “But he can’t drive a boat worth a damn!”
“The goddamned charts were off!” the professor grumbled as Kelly led them inside. “Didn’t you hear?”
“People, that’s history now, and lunch and a beer will allow us to consider it in comfort.” Kelly surprised himself with his words. Just then his ears caught a sharp crack coming across the water from somewhere to the south. It was funny how sound carried across the water.
“What was that?” Sam Rosen had sharp ears, too.
“Probably some kid taking a muskrat with his .22,” Kelly judged. “It’s a pretty quiet neighborhood, except for that. In the fall it can get a little noisy around dawn—ducks and geese.”
“I can see the blinds. You hunt?”
“Not anymore,” Kelly replied.
Rosen looked at him with understanding, and Kelly decided to reevaluate him for a second time.
“Long enough. How’d you know?”
“Right after I finished residency, I made it to Iwo and Okinawa. Hospital ship.”
“Hmm, kamikaze time?”
Rosen nodded. “Yeah, lots of fun. What were you on?”
“Usually my belly,” Kelly answered with a grin.
“UDT? You look like a frogman,” Rosen said. “I had to fix a few of those.”
“Pretty much the same thing, but dumber.” Kelly dialed the combination lock and pulled the heavy steel door open.
The inside of the bunker surprised the visitors. When Kelly had taken possession of the place, it had been divided into three large, bare rooms by stout concrete walls, but now it looked almost like a house, with painted drywall and rugs. Even the ceiling was covered. The narrow view-slits were the only reminder of what it had once been. The furniture and rugs showed the influence of Patricia, but the current state of semiarray was evidence that only a man lived here now. Everything was neatly arranged, but not as a woman would do things. The Rosens also noted that it was the man of the house who led them to the “galley” and got things out of the old-fashioned refrigerator box while Pam wandered around a little wide-eyed.
“Nice and cool,” Sarah observed. “Damp in the winter, I bet.”
“Not as bad as you think.” Kelly pointed to the radiators around the perimeter of the room. “Steam heat. This place was built to government specifications. Everything works and everything cost too much.”
“How do you get a place like this?” Sam asked.
“A friend helped me get the lease. Surplus government property.”
“He must be some friend,” Sarah said, admiring the built-in refrigerator.
“Yes, he is.”
Vice Admiral Winslow Holland Maxwell, USN, had his office on the E-Ring of the Pentagon. It was an outside office, allowing him a fine view of Washington—and the demonstrators, he noted angrily to himself. Baby Killers! one placard read. There was even a North Vietnamese flag. The chanting, this Saturday morning, was distorted by the thick window glass. He could hear the cadence but not the words, and the former fighter pilot couldn’t decide which was more enraging.
“That isn’t good for you, Dutch.”
“Don’t I know it!” Maxwell grumbled.
“The freedom to do that is one of the things we defend,” Rear Admiral Casimir Podulski pointed out, not quite making that leap of faith despite his words. It was just a little too much. His son had died over Haiphong in an A-4 strike-fighter. The event had made the papers because of the young aviator’s parentage, and fully eleven anonymous telephone calls had come in the following week, some just laughing, some asking his tormented wife where the blotter was supposed to be shipped. “All those nice, peaceful, sensitive young people.”
“So why are you in such a great mood, Cas?”
“This one goes in the wall safe, Dutch.” Podulski handed over a heavy folder. Its edges were bordered in red-and-white-striped tape, and it bore the coded designator BOXWOOD GREEN.
“They’re going to let us play with it?” That was a surprise.
“It took me till oh-three-thirty, but yes. Just a few of us, though. We have authorization for a complete feasibility study.” Admiral Podulski settled into a deep leather chair and lit up a cigarette. His face was thinner since the death of his son, but the crystal-blue eyes burned as bright as ever.
“They’re going to let us go ahead and do the planning?” Maxwell and Podulski had worked towards that end for several months, never in any real expectation that they’d be allowed to pursue it.
“Who’d ever suspect us?” the Polish-born Admiral asked with an ironic look. “They want us to keep it off the books.”
“Jim Greer, too?” Dutch asked.
“Best intel guy I know, unless you’re hiding one somewhere.”
“He just started at CIA, I heard last week,” Maxwell warned.
“Good. We need a good spy, and his suit’s still blue, last time I checked.”
“We’re going to make enemies doing this, lots of ’em.”
Podulski gestured at the window and the noise. He hadn’t changed all that much since 1944 and USS Essex. “With all those a hundred feet away from us, what’ll a few more matter?”
“How long have you had the boat?” Kelly asked about halfway through his second beer. Lunch was rudimentary,cold cuts and bread supplemented by bottled beer.
“We bought it last October, but we’ve only been running it two months,” the doctor admitted. “But I took the Power Squadron courses, finished top in my class.” He was the sort who finished number one in nearly everything, Kelly figured.
“You’re a pretty good line-handler,” he observed, mainly to make the man feel better.
“Surgeons are pretty good with knots, too.”
“You a doc, too, ma’am?” Kelly asked Sarah.
“Pharmacologist. I also teach at Hopkins.”
“How long have you and your wife lived here?” Sam asked, and the conversation ground to an awkward halt.
“Oh, we just met,” Pam told them artlessly. Naturally enough it was Kelly who was the most embarrassed. The two physicians merely accepted the news as a matter of course, but Kelly worried that they’d see him as a man taking advantage of a young girl. The thoughts associated with his behavior seemed to race in circles around the inside of his skull until he realized that no one else seemed to care all that much.
“Let’s take a look at that propeller.” Kelly stood. “Come on.”
Rosen followed him out the door. The heat was building outside, and it was best to get things done quickly. The secondary bunker on the island housed Kelly’s workshop. He selected a couple of wrenches and wheeled a portable air compressor towards the door.
Two minutes later he had it sitting next to the doctor’s Hatteras and buckled a pair of weight belts around his waist.
“Anything I have to do?” Rosen asked.
Kelly shook his head as he stripped off his shirt. “Not really. If the compressor quits, I’ll know pretty quick, and I’ll only be down five feet or so.”
“I’ve never done that.” Rosen turned his surgeon’s eyes to Kelly’s torso, spotting three separate scars that a really good surgeon might have been skillful enough to conceal. Then he remembered that a combat surgeon didn’t always have the time for cosmetic work.
“I have, here and there,” Kelly told him on the way to the ladder.
“I believe it,” Rosen said quietly to himself.
Four minutes later, by Rosen’s watch, Kelly was climbing back up the ladder.
“Found your problem.” He set the remains of both props on the concrete dock.
“God! What did we hit?”
Kelly sat down for a moment to strip off the weights. It was all he could do not to laugh. “Water, doc, just water.”
“Did you have the boat surveyed before you bought it?”
“Sure, the insurance company made me do that. I got the best buy around, he charged me a hundred bucks.”
“Oh, yeah? What deficiencies did he give you?” Kelly stood back up and switched the compressor off.
“Practically nothing. He said there was something wrong with the sinks, and I had a plumber check it, but they were fine. I guess he had to say something for his money, right?”
“That’s what he told me over the phone. I have the written survey somewhere, but I took the information over the phone.”
“Zincs,” Kelly said, laughing. “Not sinks.”
“What?” Rosen was angry at not getting the joke.
“What destroyed your props was electrolysis. Galvanic reaction. It’s caused by having more than one kind of metal in saltwater, corrodes the metal. All the sandbar did was to scuff them off. They were already wrecked. Didn’t the Power Squadron tell you about that?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“But—you just learned something, Doctor Rosen.” Kelly held up the remains of the screw. The metal had the flaked consistency of a soda cracker. “This used to be bronze.”
“Damn!” The surgeon took the wreckage in his hand and picked off a waferlike fragment.
“The surveyor meant for you to replace the zinc anodes on the strut. What they do is to absorb the galvanic energy. You replace them every couple of years, and that protects the screws and rudder by remote control, like. I don’t know all the science of it, but I do know the effects, okay? Your rudder needs replacement, too, but it’s not an emergency. Sure as hell, you need two new screws.”
Rosen looked out at the water and swore. “Idiot.”
Kelly allowed himself a sympathetic laugh. “Doc, if that’s the biggest mistake you make this year, you’re a lucky man.”
“So what do I do now?”
“I make a phone call and order you a couple of props. I’ll call a guy I know over in Solomons, and he’ll have somebody run them down here, probably tomorrow.” Kelly gestured. “It’s not that big a deal, okay? I want to see your charts, too.”
Sure enough, when he checked their dates, they were five years old. “You need new ones every year, doc.”
“Damn!” Rosen said.
“Helpful hint?” Kelly asked with another smile. “Don’t take it so seriously. Best kind of lesson. It hurts a little but not much. You learn and you get on with it.”
The doctor relaxed, finally, allowing himself a smile. “I suppose you’re right, but Sarah’ll never let me forget it.”
“Blame the charts,” Kelly suggested.
“Will you back me up?”
Kelly grinned. “Men have to stick together at times like this.”
“I think I’m going to like you, Mr. Kelly.”
“So where the fuck is she?” Billy demanded.
“How the hell should I know?” Rick replied, equally angry—and fearful of what Henry would say when he got back. Both their eyes turned to the woman in the room.
“You’re her friend,” Billy said.
Doris was trembling already, wishing she could run from the room, but there was no safety in that. Her hands were shaking as Billy took the three steps to her, and she flinched but didn’t evade the slap that landed her on the floor.
“Bitch. You better tell me what you know!”
“I don’t know anything!” she screamed up at him, feeling the burning spot on her face where she’d been hit. She looked over to Rick for sympathy, but saw no emotion at all on his face.
“You know something—and you better tell me right now,” Billy said. He reached down to unbutton her shorts, then removed the belt from his pants. “Get the rest in here,” he told Rick.
Doris stood without waiting for the order, nude from the waist down, crying silently, her body shaking with sobs for the pain soon to come, afraid even to cower, knowing she couldn’t run. There was no safety for her. The other girls came in slowly, not looking in her direction. She’d known that Pam was going to run, but that was all, and her only satisfaction as she heard the belt whistle through the air was that she would reveal nothing that could hurt her friend. As searing as the pain was, Pam had escaped.
After replacing all the diving gear in the machine shop, Kelly took a two-wheel hand truck out onto the quay to handle the groceries. Rosen insisted on helping. His new screws would arrive by boat the next day, and the surgeon didn’t seem in any hurry to take his boat back out.
“So,” Kelly said, “you teach surgery?”
“Eight years now, yeah.” Rosen evened up the boxes on the two-wheeler.
“You don’t look like a surgeon.”
Rosen took the compliment with grace. “We’re not all violinists. My father was a bricklayer.”
“Mine was a fireman.” Kelly started wheeling the groceries towards the bunker.
“Speaking of surgeons…” Rosen pointed at Kelly’s chest. “Some good ones worked on you. That one looks like it was nasty.”
Kelly nearly stopped. “Yeah, I got real careless that time. Not as bad as it looks, though, just grazed the lung.”
Rosen grunted. “So I see. Must have missed your heart by nearly two inches. No big deal.”
Kelly moved the boxes into the pantry. “Nice to talk to somebody who understands, doc,” he noted, wincing inwardly at the thought, remembering the feel of the bullet when it had spun him around. “Like I said—careless.”
“How long were you over there?”
“Total? Maybe eighteen months. Depends on if you count the hospital time.”
“That’s a Navy Cross you have hanging on the wall. Is that what it’s for?”
Kelly shook his head. “That was something else. I had to go up north to retrieve somebody, A-6 pilot. I didn’t get hurt, but I got sicker ’n’ hell. I had some scratches—you know—from thorns and stuff. They got infected as hell from the river water, would you believe? Three weeks in the hospital from that. It was worse’n being shot.”
“Not a very nice place is it?” Rosen asked as they came back for the last load.
“They say there’s a hundred different kinds of snake there. Ninety-nine are poisonous.”
“And the other one?”
Kelly handed a carton over to the doctor. “That one eats your ass whole.” He laughed. “No, I didn’t like it there much. But that was the job, and I got that pilot out, and the Admiral made me a chief and got me a medal. Come on, I’ll show you my baby.” Kelly waved Rosen aboard. The tour took five minutes, with the doctor taking note of all the differences. The amenities were there, but not glitzed up. This guy, he saw, was all business, and his charts were all brand new. Kelly fished out another beer from his cooler for the doctor and another for himself.
“What was Okinawa like?” Kelly asked with a smile, each man sizing up the other, each liking what he saw.
Rosen shrugged and grunted eloquently. “Tense. We had a lot of work, and the kamikazes seemed to think the red cross on the ship made a hell of a nice target.”
“You were working while they were coming in at you?”
“Injured people can’t wait, Kelly.”
Kelly finished his beer. “I’d rather be shooting back. Let me get Pam’s stuff and we can get back in the air conditioning.” He headed aft and picked up her backpack. Rosen was already on the quay, and Kelly tossed the backpack across. Rosen looked too late, missed the catch, and the pack landed on the concrete. Some contents spilled out, and from twenty feet away, Kelly immediately saw what was wrong even before the doctor’s head turned to look at him.
There was a large brown plastic prescription bottle, but without a label. The top had been loose, and from it had spilled a couple of capsules.
Some things are instantly clear. Kelly stepped slowly off the boat to the quay. Rosen picked up the container and placed the spilled capsules back in it before snapping down the white plastic top. Then he handed it to Kelly.
“I know they’re not yours, John.”
“What are they, Sam?”
His voice could not have been more dispassionate. “The trade name is Quaalude. Methaqualone. It’s a barbiturate, a sedative. A sleeping pill. We use it to get people off into dreamland. Pretty powerful. A little too powerful, in fact. A lot of people think it ought to be taken off the market. No label. It’s not a prescription.”
Kelly suddenly felt tired and old. And betrayed somehow. “Yeah.”
“You didn’t know?”
“Sam, we only met—not even twenty-four hours ago. I don’t know anything about her.”
Rosen stretched and looked around the horizon for a moment. “Okay, now I’m going to start being a doctor, okay? Have you ever done drugs?”
“No! I hate the goddamned stuff. People die because of it!” Kelly’s anger was immediate and vicious, but it wasn’t aimed at Sam Rosen.
The professor took the outburst calmly. It was his turn to be businesslike. “Settle down. People get hooked on these things. How doesn’t matter. Getting excited doesn’t help. Take a deep breath, let it out slow.”
Kelly did, and managed a smile at the incongruity of the moment. “You sound just like my dad.”
“Firemen are smart.” He paused. “Okay, your lady friend may have a problem. But she seems like a nice girl, and you seem like a mensch. So do we try and solve the problem or not?”
“I guess that’s up to her,” Kelly observed, bitterness creeping into his voice. He felt betrayed. He’d started giving his heart away again, and now he had to face the fact that he might have been giving it to drugs, or what drugs had made of what ought to have been a person. It might all have been a waste of time.
Rosen became a little stern. “That’s right, it is up to her, but it might be up to you, too, a little, and if you act like an idiot, you won’t help her very much.”
Kelly was amazed by how rational the man sounded under the circumstances. “You must be a pretty good doc.”
“I’m one hell of a good doc,” Rosen announced. “This isn’t my field, but Sarah is damned good. It may be you’re both lucky. She’s not a bad girl, John. Something’s bothering her. She’s nervous about something, in case you didn’t notice.”
“Well, yes, but—” And some part of Kelly’s brain said, See!
“But you mainly noticed she’s pretty. I was in my twenties once myself, John. Come on, we may have a little work ahead.” He stopped and peered at Kelly. “I’m missing something here. What is it?”
“I lost a wife less than a year ago.” Kelly explained on for a minute or two.
“And you thought that maybe she—”
“Yeah, I guess so. Stupid, isn’t it?” Kelly wondered why he was opening up this way. Why not just let Pam do whatever she wanted? But that wasn’t an answer. If he did that, he would just be using her for his selfish needs, discarding her when the bloom came off the rose. For all the reverses his life had taken in the past year, he knew that he couldn’t do that, couldn’t be one of those men. He caught Rosen looking fixedly at him.
Rosen shook his head judiciously. “We all have vulner-abilities. You have training and experience to deal with your problems. She doesn’t. Come on, we have work to do.” Rosen took the hand truck in his large, soft hands and wheeled it towards the bunker.
The cool air inside was a surprisingly harsh blast of reality. Pam was trying to entertain Sarah, but not succeeding. Perhaps Sarah had written it off to the awkward social situation, but physicians’ minds are always at work, and she was starting to apply a professional eye to the person in front of her. When Sam entered the living room, Sarah turned and gave him a look that Kelly was able to understand.
“And so, well, I left home when I was sixteen,” Pam was saying, rattling on in a monotonal voice that exposed more than she knew. Her eyes turned, too, and focused on the backpack Kelly held in his hands. Her voice had a surprisingly brittle character that he’d not noticed before.
“Oh, great. I need some of that stuff.” She came over and took the pack from his hands, then headed towards the master bedroom. Kelly and Rosen watched her leave, then Sam handed his wife the plastic container. She needed only one look.
“I didn’t know,” Kelly said, feeling the need to defend himself. “I didn’t see her take anything.” He thought back, trying to remember times when she had not been in his sight, and concluded that she might have taken pills two or perhaps three times, then realizing what her dreamy eyes had really been after all.
“Sarah?” Sam asked.
“Three-hundred-milligram. It ought not to be a severe case, but she does need assistance.”
Pam came back into the room a few seconds later, telling Kelly that she’d left something on the boat. Her hands weren’t trembling, but only because she was holding them together to keep them still. It was so clear, once you knew what to look for. She was trying to control herself, and almost succeeding, but Pam wasn’t an actress.
“Is this it?” Kelly asked. He held the bottle in his hands. His reward for the harsh question was like a well-earned knife in the heart.
Pam didn’t reply for a few seconds. Her eyes fixed on the brown plastic container, and the first thing Kelly saw was a sudden, hungry expression as though her thoughts were already reaching for the bottle, already picking one or more of the tablets out, already anticipating whatever it was that she got from the damned things, not caring, not even noting that there were others in the room. Then the shame hit her, the realization that whatever image she had tried to convey to the others was rapidly diminishing. But worst of all, after her eyes swept over Sam and Sarah, they settled on Kelly again, oscillating between his hand and his face. At first hunger vied with shame, but shame won, and when her eyes locked on his, the expression on her face began as that of a child caught misbehaving, but it and she matured into something else, as she saw that something which might have grown into love was changing over an interval of heartbeats into contempt and disgust. Her breathing changed in a moment, becoming rapid, then irregular as the sobs began, and she realized that the greatest disgust was within her own mind, for even a drug addict must look inward, and doing so through the eyes of others merely added a cruel edge.
“I’m s-s-s-orry, Kel-el-y. I di-didn’t tel-el…” she tried to say, her body collapsing into itself. Pam seemed to shrink before their eyes as she saw what might have been a chance evaporate, and beyond that dissipating cloud was only despair. Pam turned away, sobbing, unable to face the man she’d begun to love.
It was decision time for John Terrence Kelly. He could feel betrayed, or he could show the same compassion to her that she had shown to him less than twenty hours before. More than anything else, what decided it was her look to him, the shame so manifest on her face. He could not just stand there. He had to do something, else his own very proud image of himself would dissolve as surely and rapidly as hers.
Kelly’s eyes filled with tears as well. He went to her and wrapped his arms around her to keep her from falling, cradling her like a child, pulling her head back against his chest, because it was now his time to be strong for her, to set whatever thoughts he had aside for a while, and even the dissonant part of his mind refused to cackle its I told you so at this moment, because there was someone hurt in his arms, and this wasn’t the time for that. They stood together for a few minutes while the others watched with a mixture of personal unease and professional detachment.
“I’ve been trying,” she said presently, “I really have—but I was so scared.”
“It’s okay,” Kelly told her, not quite catching what she had just said. “You were there for me, and now it’s my turn to be here for you.”
“But—” She started sobbing again, and it took a minute or so before she got it out. “I’m not what you think I am.”
Kelly let a smile creep into his voice as he missed the second warning. “You don’t know what I think, Pammy. It’s okay. Really.” He’d concentrated so hard on the girl in his arms that he hadn’t noticed Sarah Rosen at his side.
“Pam, how about we take a little walk?” Pam nodded agreement, and Sarah led her outside, leaving Kelly to look at Sam.
“You are a mensch,” Rosen announced with satisfaction at his earlier diagnosis of the man’s character. “Kelly, how close is the nearest town with a pharmacy?”
“Solomons, I guess. Shouldn’t she be in a hospital?”
“I’ll let Sarah make the call on that, but I suspect it’s not necessary.”
Kelly looked at the bottle still in his hand. “Well, I’m going to deep-six these damned things.”
“No!” Rosen snapped. “I’ll take them. They all carry lot numbers. The police can identify the shipment that was diverted. I’ll lock them up on my boat.”
“So what do we do now?”
“We wait a little while.”
Sarah and Pam came back in twenty minutes later, holding hands like mother and daughter. Pam’s head was up now, though her eyes were still watery.
“We got a winner here, folks,” Sarah told them. “She’s been trying for a month all by herself.”
“She says it isn’t hard,” Pam said.
“We can make it a lot easier,” Sarah assured her. She handed a list to her husband. “Find a drugstore. John, get your boat moving. Now.”
“What happens?” Kelly asked thirty minutes and five miles later. Solomons was already a tan-green line on the northwestern horizon.
“The treatment regime is pretty simple, really. We support her with barbiturates and ease her off.”
“You give her drugs to get her off drugs?”
“Yep.” Rosen nodded. “That’s how it’s done. It takes time for the body to flush out all the residual material in her tissues. The body becomes dependent on the stuff, and if you try to wean them off too rapidly, you can get some adverse effects, convulsions, that sort of thing. Occasionally people die from it.”
“What?” said Kelly, alarmed. “I don’t know anything about this, Sam.”
“Why should you? That’s our job, Kelly. Sarah doesn’t think that’s a problem in this case. Relax, John. You give”—Rosen took the list from his pocket—“yeah, I thought so, phenobarb, you give that to attenuate the withdrawal symptoms. Look, you know how to drive a boat, right?”
“Yep,” Kelly said, turning, knowing what came next.
“Let us do our job. Okay?”
The man didn’t feel much like sleep, the coastguardsmen saw, much to their own displeasure. Before they’d had the chance to recover from the previous day’s adventures, he was up again, drinking coffee in the operations room, looking over the charts yet again, using his hand to make circles, which he compared with the memorized course track of the forty-one-boat.
“How fast is a sailboat?” he asked an annoyed and irritable Quartermaster First Class Manuel Oreza.
“That one? Not very, with a fair breeze and calm seas, maybe five knots, a little more if the skipper is smart and experienced. Rule of thumb is, one point three times the square root waterline length is your hull speed, so for that one, five or six knots.” And he hoped the civilian was duly impressed with that bit of nautical trivia.
“It was windy last night,” the official noted crossly.
“A small boat doesn’t go faster on choppy seas, it goes slower. That’s because it spends a lot of time going up and down instead of forward.”
“So how did he get away from you?”
“He didn’t get away from me, okay?” Oreza wasn’t clear on who this guy was or how senior a position he actually held, but he wouldn’t have taken this sort of abuse from a real officer—but a real officer would not have harassed him this way; a real officer would have listened and understood. The petty officer took a deep breath, wishing for once that there was an officer here to explain things. Civilians listened to officers, which said a lot about the intelligence of civilians. “Look, sir, you told me to lay back, didn’t you? I told you that we’d lose him in the clutter from the storm, and we did. Those old radars we use aren’t worth a damn in bad weather, least not for a dinky little target like a day-sailer.”
“You already said that.”
And I’ll keep saying it until you figure it out, Oreza managed not to say, catching a warning look from Mr. English. Portagee took a deep breath and looked down at the chart.
“So where do you think he is?”
“Hell, the Bay ain’t that wide, so’s you have two coastlines to worry about. Most houses have their own little docks, you have all these creeks. If it was me, I’d head up a creek. Better place to hide than a dock, right?”
“You’re telling me he’s gone,” the civilian observed darkly.
“Sure as hell,” Oreza agreed.
“Three months of work went into that!”
“I can’t help that, sir.” The coastguardsman paused. “Look, he probably went east rather than west, okay? Better to run before the wind than tack into it. That’s the good news. Problem is, a little boat like that you can haul it out, put it on a trailer. Hell, it could be in Massachusetts by now.”
He looked up from the chart. “Oh, that’s just what I wanted to hear!”
“Sir, you want me to lie to you?”
He just couldn’t let go, Oreza and English thought at the same time. You had to learn how to do that. Sometimes the sea took something, and you did your best looking and searching, and mostly you found it, but not always, and when you failed, the time came when you had to let the sea claim the prize. Neither man had ever grown to like it, but that was the way things were.
“Maybe you can whistle up some helicopter support. The Navy has a bunch of stuff at Pax River,” Warrant Officer English pointed out. It would also get the guy out of his station, an objective worthy of considerable effort for all the disruption he was causing to English and his men.
“Trying to get rid of me?” the man asked with an odd smile.
“Excuse me, sir?” English responded innocently. A pity, the warrant officer thought, that the man wasn’t a total fool.
Kelly tied back up at his quay after seven. He let Sam take the medications ashore while he snapped various covers over his instrument panels and settled his boat down for the night. It had been a quiet return trip from Solomons. Sam Rosen was a good man at explaining things, and Kelly a good questioner. What he’d needed to learn he’d picked up on the way out, and for most of the return trip he’d been alone with his thoughts, wondering what he would do, how he should act. Those were questions without easy answers, and attending to ship’s business didn’t help, much as he’d hoped that it would. He took even more time than was necessary checking the mooring lines, doing the same for the surgéon’s boat as well before heading inside.
The Lockheed DC-130E Hercules cruised well above the low cloud deck, riding smoothly and solidly as it had done for 2,354 hours of logged flight time since leaving the Lockheed plant at Marietta, Georgia, several years earlier. Everything had the appearance of a pleasant flying day. In the roomy front office, the flight crew of four watched the clear air and various instruments, as their duties required. The four turboprop engines hummed along with their accustomed reliability, giving the aircraft a steady high-pitched vibration that transmitted itself through the comfortable high-backed seats and created standing circular ripples in their Styrofoam coffee cups. All in all, the atmosphere was one of total normality. But anyone seeing the exterior of the aircraft could tell different. This aircraft belonged to the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron.
Beyond the outer engines on each wing of the Hercules hung additional aircraft. Each of these was a Model-147SC drone. Originally designed to be high-speed targets with the designation Firebee-II, now they bore the informal name “Buffalo Hunter.” In the rear cargo area of the DC-130E was a second crew which was now powering up both of the miniature aircraft, having already programmed them for a mission sufficiently secret that none of them actually knew what it was all about. They didn’t have to. It was merely a matter of telling the drones what to do and when to do it. The chief technician, a thirty-year-old sergeant, was working a bird code-named Cody-193. His crew station allowed him to turn and look out a small porthole to inspect his bird visually, which he did even though there was no real reason to do so. The sergeant loved the things as a child will love a particularly entertaining toy. He’d worked with the drone program for ten years, and this particular one he had flown sixty-one times. That was a record for the area.
Cody-193 had a distinguished ancestry. Its manufacturers, Teledyne-Ryan of San Diego, California, had built Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, but the company had never quite managed to cash in on that bit of aviation history. Struggling from one small contract to another, it had finally achieved financial stability by making targets. Fighter aircraft had to practice shooting at something. The Firebee drone had begun life as just that, a miniature jet aircraft whose mission was to die gloriously at the hands of a fighter pilot—except that the sergeant had never quite seen things that way. He was a drone controller, and his job, he thought, was to teach those strutting eagles a lesson by flying “his” bird in such a way as to make their missiles hit nothing more substantial than air. In fact, fighter pilots had learned to curse his name, though Air Force etiquette also required them to buy him a bottle of booze for every miss. Then a few years earlier someone had noted that if a Firebee drone was hard for our people to hit, the same might be true of others who fired at aircraft for more serious purposes than the annual William Tell competition. It was also a hell of a lot easier on the crews of low-level reconnaissance aircraft.
Cody-193’s engine was turning at full power, hanging from its pylon and actually giving the mother aircraft a few knots of free airspeed. The sergeant gave it a final look before turning back to his instruments. Sixty-one small parachute symbols were painted on the left side just forward of the wing, and with luck, in a few days he would paint a sixty-second. Though he was not clear on the precise nature of this mission, merely beating the competition was reason enough to take the utmost care in preparing his personal toy for the current game.
“Be careful, baby,” the sergeant breathed as it dropped free. Cody-193 was on its own.
Sarah had a light dinner cooking. Kelly smelled it even before opening the door. Kelly came inside to see Rosen sitting in the living room.
“We gave her some medication,” Sam answered. “She ought to be sleeping now.”
“She is,” Sarah confirmed, passing through the room on the way to the kitchen. “I just checked. Poor thing, she’s exhausted, she’s been doing without sleep for some time. It’s catching up with her.”
“But if she’s been taking sleeping pills—”
“John, your body reacts strangely to the things,” Sam explained. “It fights them off, or tries to, at the same time it becomes dependent on them. Sleep will be her big problem for a while.”
“There’s something else,” Sarah reported. “She’s very frightened of something, but she wouldn’t say what it was.” She paused, then decided that Kelly ought to know. “She’s been abused, John. I didn’t ask about it—one thing at a time—but somebody’s given her a rough time.”
“Oh?” Kelly looked up from the sofa. “What do you mean?”
“I mean she’s been sexually assaulted,” Sarah said in a calm, professional voice that belied her personal feelings.
“You mean raped?” Kelly asked in a low voice while the muscles of his arms tensed.
Sarah nodded, unable now to hide her distaste. “Almost certainly. Probably more than once. There is also evidence of physical abuse on her back and buttocks.”
“I didn’t notice.”
“You’re not a doctor,” Sarah pointed out. “How did you meet?”
Kelly told her, remembering the look in Pam’s eyes and knowing now what it must have been from. Why hadn’t he noticed it? Why hadn’t he noticed a lot of things? Kelly raged.
“So she was trying to escape.… I wonder if the same man got her on the barbiturates?” Sarah asked. “Nice guy, whoever it was.”
“You mean that somebody’s been working her over, and got her on drugs?” Kelly said. “But why?”
“Kelly, please don’t take this wrong… but she might have been a prostitute. Pimps control girls that way.” Sarah Rosen hated herself for saying that, but this was business and Kelly had to know. “She’s young, pretty, a runaway from a dysfunctional family. The physical abuse, the undernourishment, it all fits the pattern.”
Kelly was looking down at the floor. “But she’s not like that. I don’t understand.” But in some ways he did, he told himself, thinking back. The ways in which she’d clung to him and drawn him to her. How much was simply skill, and how much real human feelings? It was a question he had no desire to face. What was the right thing to do? Follow your mind? Follow your heart? And where might they lead?
“She’s fighting back, John. She’s got guts.” Sarah sat across from Kelly. “She’s been on the road for over four years, doing God knows what, but something in her won’t quit. But she can’t do it alone. She needs you. Now I have a question.” Sarah looked hard at him. “Will you be there to help her?”
Kelly looked up, his blue eyes the color of ice as he searched for what he really felt. “You guys are really worked up about this, aren’t you?”
Sarah sipped from a drink she’d made for herself. She was rather a dumpy woman, short and overweight. Her black hair hadn’t seen a stylist in months. All in all she looked like the sort of woman who, behind the wheel of a car, attracts the hatred of male drivers. But she spoke with focused passion, and her intelligence was already very clear to her host. “Do you have any idea how bad it’s getting? Ten years ago, drug abuse was so rare that I hardly had to bother with it. Oh, sure, I knew about it, read the articles from Lexington, and every so often we’d get a heroin case. Not very many. Just a black problem, people thought. Nobody really gave much of a damn. We’re paying for that mistake now. In case you didn’t notice, that’s all changed—and it happened practically overnight. Except for the project I’m working on, I’m nearly full-time on kids with drug problems. I wasn’t trained for this. I’m a scientist, an expert on adverse interactions, chemical structures, how we can design new drugs to do special things—but now I have to spend nearly all of my time in clinical work, trying to keep children alive who should be just learning how to drink a beer but instead have their systems full of chemical shit that never should have made it outside a goddamned laboratory!”
“And it’s going to get worse,” Sam noted gloomily.
Sarah nodded. “Oh yeah, the next big one is cocaine. She needs you, John,” Sarah said again, leaning forward. It was as though she had surrounded herself with her own storm cloud of electrical energy. “You’d damned well better be there for her, boy. You be there for her! Somebody dealt her a really shitty hand, but she’s fighting. There’s a person in there.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Kelly said humbly. He looked up and smiled, no longer confused. “In case you were worried, I decided that a while back.”
“Good.” Sarah nodded curtly.
“What do I do first?”
“More than anything else, she needs rest, she needs good food, and she needs time to flush the barbiturates out of her system. We’ll support her with phenobarb, just in case we have withdrawal problems—I don’t expect that. I examined her while you two were gone. Her physical problem is not so much addiction as exhaustion and undernourishment. She ought to be ten pounds heavier than she is. She ought to tolerate withdrawal rather well if we support her in other ways.”
“Me, you mean?” Kelly asked.
“That’s a lot of it.” She looked over towards the open bedroom door and sighed, the tension going out of her. “Well, given her underlying condition, that phenobarb will probably have her out for the rest of the night. Tomorrow we start feeding her and exercising her. For now,” Sarah announced, “we can feed ourselves.”
Dinner talk focused deliberately on other subjects, and Kelly found himself delivering a lengthy discourse on the bottom contours of the Chesapeake Bay, segueing into what he knew about good fishing spots. It was soon decided that his visitors would stay until Monday evening. Time over the dinner table lengthened, and it was nearly ten before they rose. Kelly cleaned up, then quietly entered his bedroom to hear Pam’s quiet breathing.
Only thirteen feet long, and a scant three thousand sixty-five pounds of mass—nearly half of that fuel—the Buffalo Hunter angled towards the ground as it accelerated to an initial cruising speed of over five hundred knots. Already its navigational computer, made by Lear-Siegler, was monitoring time and altitude in a very limited way. The drone was programmed to follow a specific flight path and altitude, all painstakingly predetermined for systems that were by later standards absurdly primitive. For all that, Cody-193 was a sporty-looking beast. Its profile was remarkably like that of a blue shark with a protruding nose and underslung air intake for a mouth—stateside it was often painted with aggressive rows of teeth. In this particular case, an experimental paint scheme—flat white beneath and mottled brown and green atop—was supposed to make it harder to spot from the ground—and the air. It was also stealthy—a term not yet invented. Blankets of RAM—radar-absorbing material—were integral with the wing surfaces, and the air intake was screened to attenuate the radar return off the whirling engine blades.
Cody-193 crossed the border between Laos and North Vietnam at 11:41:38 local time. Still descending, it leveled out for the first time at five hundred feet above ground level, turning northeast, somewhat slower now in the thicker air this close to the ground. The low altitude and small size of the speeding drone made it a difficult target, but by no means an impossible one, and outlying gun positions of the dense and sophisticated North Vietnamese air-defense network spotted it. The drone flew directly towards a recently sited 37mm twin gun mount whose alert crew got their mount slued around quickly enough to loose twenty quick rounds, three of which passed within feet of the diminutive shape but missed. Cody-193 took no note of this, and neither jinked nor evaded the fire. Without a brain, without eyes, it continued along on its flight path rather like a toy train around a Christmas tree while its new owner ate breakfast in the kitchen. In fact it was being watched. A distant EC-121 Warning Star tracked -193 by means of a coded radar transponder located atop the drone’s vertical fin.
“Keep going, baby,” a major whispered to himself, watching his scope. He knew of the mission, how important it was, and why nobody else could be allowed to know. Next to him was a small segment from a topographical map. The drone turned north at the right place, dropping down to three hundred feet as it found the right valley, following a small tributary river. At least the guys who programmed it knew their stuff, the major thought.
-193 had burned a third of its fuel by now and was consuming the remaining amount very rapidly at low level, flying below the crests of the unseen hills to the left and right. The programmers had done their best, but there was one chillingly close call when a puff of wind forced it to the right before the autopilot could correct, and -193 missed an unusually tall tree by a scant seventy feet. Two militiamen were on that crest and fired off their rifles at it, and again the rounds missed. One of them started down the hill towards a telephone, but his companion called for him to stop as -193 flew blindly on. By the time a call was made and received, the enemy aircraft would be long gone, and besides, they’d done their duty in shooting at it. He worried about where their bullets had landed, but it was too late for that.
Colonel Robin Zacharias, USAF, was walking across the dirt of what might in other times and circumstances be called a parade ground, but there were no parades here. A prisoner for over six months, he faced every day as a struggle, contemplating misery more deep and dark than anything he’d been able to imagine. Shot down on his eighty-ninth mission, within sight of rotation home, a completely successful mission brought to a bloody end by nothing more significant than bad luck. Worse, his “bear” was dead. And he was probably the lucky one, the Colonel thought as he was led across the compound by two small, unfriendly men with rifles. His arms were tied behind him, and his ankles were hobbled because they were afraid of him despite their guns, and even with all that he was also being watched by men in the guard towers. I must really look scary to the little bastards, the fighter pilot told himself.
Zacharias didn’t feel very dangerous. His back was still injured from the ejection. He’d hit the ground severely crippled, and his effort to evade capture had been little more than a token gesture, a whole hundred yards of movement over a period of five minutes, right into the arms of the gun crew which had shredded his aircraft.
The abuse had begun there. Paraded through three separate villages, stoned and spat upon, he’d finally ended up here. Wherever here was. There were sea birds. Perhaps he was close to the sea, the Colonel speculated. But the memorial in Salt Lake City, several blocks from his boyhood home, reminded him that gulls were not merely creatures of the sea. In the preceding months he had been subjected to all sorts of physical abuse, but it had strangely slackened off in the past few weeks. Perhaps they’d become tired of hurting him, Zacharias told himself. And maybe there really was a Santa Claus, too, he thought, his head looking down at the dirt. There was little consolation to be had here. There were other prisoners, but his attempts at communicating with them had all failed. His cell had no windows. He’d seen two faces, neither of which he had recognized. On both occasions he’d started to call out a greeting only to be clubbed to the ground by one of his guards. Both men had seen him but made no sound. In both cases he’d seen a smile and a nod, the best that they could do. Both men were of his age, and, he supposed, about his rank, but that was all he knew. What was most frightening to a man who had much to be frightened about was that this was not what he had been briefed to expect. It wasn’t the Hanoi Hilton, where all the POWs were supposed to have been congregated. Beyond that he knew virtually nothing, and the unknown can be the most frightening thing of all, especially to a man accustomed over a period of twenty years to being absolute master of his fate. His only consolation, he thought, was that things were as bad as they could be. On that, he was wrong.
“Good morning, Colonel Zacharias,” a voice called across the compound. He looked up to see a man taller than himself, Caucasian, and wearing a uniform very different from that of his guards. He strode towards the prisoner with a smile. “Very different from Omaha, isn’t it?”
That was when he heard a noise, a thin screeching whine, approaching from the southwest. He turned on instinct—an aviator must always look to see an aircraft, no matter where he might be. It appeared in an instant, before the guards had a chance to react.
Buffalo Hunter, Zacharias thought, standing erect, turning to watch it pass, staring at it, holding his head up, seeing the black rectangle of the camera window, whispering a prayer that the device was operating. When the guards realized what he was doing, a gun butt in the kidneys dropped the Colonel to the ground. Suppressing a curse, he tried to deal with the pain as a pair of boots came into his restricted field of vision.
“Do not get overly excited,” the other man said. “It’s heading to Haiphong to count the ships. Now, my friend, we need to become acquainted.”
Cody-193 continued northeast, holding a nearly constant speed and altitude as it entered the dense air-defense belt surrounding North Vietnam’s only major port. The cameras in the Buffalo Hunter recorded several triple-A batteries, observation points, and more than a few people with AK-47s, all of whom made at least a token shot at the drone. The only thing -193 had going for it was its small size. Otherwise it flew on a straight and level course while its cameras snapped away, recording the images on 2.25-inch film. About the only thing not shot at it were surface-to-air missiles: -193 was too low for that.
“Go, baby, go!” the Major said, two hundred miles away. Outside, the four piston engines of the Warning Star were straining to maintain the altitude necessary for him to watch the drone’s progress. His eyes were locked on the flat glass screen, following the blinking blip of the radar transponder. Other controllers monitored the location of other American aircraft also visiting the enemy country, in constant communication with RED CROWN, the Navy ship that managed air operations from the seaward side. “Turn east, baby—now!”
Right on schedule, Cody-193 banked hard to the right, coming a touch lower and screaming over the Haiphong docks at 500 knots, a hundred tracer rounds in its wake. Longshoremen and sailors from various ships looked up in curiosity and irritation, and not a little fear for all the steel flying in the sky over their heads.
“Yes!” the Major shouted, loudly enough that the sergeant-controller to his left looked up in irritation. You were supposed to keep things quiet here. He keyed his mike to speak to Red Crown. “Cody-one-niner-three is bingo.”
“Roger, copy bingo on one-niner-three,” the acknowledgment came back. It was a false use of the “bingo” code word, which ordinarily meant an aircraft with a low fuel state, but it was a term so commonly used that it made a more than adequate disguise. The Navy enlisted man on the other end of the circuit then told an orbiting helicopter crew to wake up.
The drone cleared the coast right on schedule, keeping low for a few more miles before going into its final climb, down to its last hundred pounds of fuel as it reached its preprogrammed point thirty miles offshore and began circling. Now another transponder came on, one tuned to the search radars of U.S. Navy picket ships. One of these, the destroyer Henry B. Wilson, took note of the expected target at the expected time and place. Her missile technicians used the opportunity to run a practice intercept problem, but had to switch off their illumination radars after a few seconds. It made the airedales nervous.
Circling at five thousand feet, Cody-193 finally ran out of fuel and became a glider. When the airspeed fell to the right number, explosive bolts blew a hatch cover off the top, deploying a parachute. The Navy helicopter was already on station, and the white ’chute made for a fine target. The drone’s weight was a scant fifteen hundred pounds now, barely that of eight men. Wind and visibility cooperated this day. The ’chute was snagged on their first attempt, and the helicopter turned at once, heading for the carrier USS Constellation, where the drone was carefully lowered into a cradle, ending its sixty-second combat mission. Before the helicopter could find its own spot on the flight deck, a technician was already unfastening the cover plate on the photo compartment and yanking the heavy film cassette from its slot. He took it below at once, and handed it over to another technician in the ship’s elaborate photo lab. Processing required a brief six minutes, and the still-damp film was wiped clean and handed over yet again to an intelligence officer. It was better than good. The film was run from one spool to another over a flat glass plate under which was a pair of fluorescent lights.
“Well, Lieutenant?” a captain asked tensely.
“Okay, sir, wait one…” Turning the spool, he pointed to the third image. “There’s our first reference point… there’s number two, she was right on course… okay, here’s the IP… down the valley, over the hill—there, sir! We have two, three frames! Good ones, the sun was just right, clear day—you know why they call these babies Buffalo Hunters? It’s—”
“Let me see!” The Captain nearly shoved the junior officer out of the way. There was a man there, an American, with two guards, and a fourth man—but it was the American he wanted to see.
“Here, sir.” The Lieutenant handed over a magnifying glass. “We might get a good face off of this, and we can play with the negative some more if you give us a little time. Like I said, the cameras can tell the difference between a male and a female—”
“Mmmmm.” The face was black, meaning a white man on the negative. But— “Damn, I can’t tell.”
“Cap’n, that’s our job, okay?” He was an intelligence officer. The Captain was not. “Let us do our job, sir.”
“He’s one of ours!”
“Sure as hell, sir, and this guy isn’t. Let me take these back to the lab for positive prints and blowups. The air wing will want a look at the port shots, too.”
“They can wait.”
“No, sir, they can’t,” the Lieutenant pointed out. But he took a pair of scissors and removed the relevant shots. The remainder of the roll was handed to a chief petty officer, while the Lieutenant and the Captain went back to the photo lab. Fully two months of work had gone into the flight of Cody-193, and the Captain lusted for the information he knew to be on those three two-and-a-quarter-inch frames.
An hour later he had it. An hour after that, he boarded a flight to Danang. Another hour and he was on a flight to Cubi Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines, followed by a puddle-jumper to Clark Air Force Base, and a KC-135 that would fly directly to California. Despite the time and rigors of the next twenty hours of flying, the Captain slept briefly and fitfully, having solved a mystery whose answer just might change the policy of his government.
Kelly slept nearly eight hours, again arising at the sound of the gulls to find that Pam wasn’t there. He went outside and saw her standing on the quay, looking out over the water, still weary, still robbed of the ability to get the rest she needed. The Bay had its usual morning calm, the glassy surface punctuated by the circular ripples of bluefish chasing after insects. Conditions like this seemed so fitting to the start of a day; a gentle westerly breeze in his face, and the odd silence that allowed one to hear the rumble of a boat’s motor from so far away that the boat could not be seen. It was the sort of time that allowed you to be alone with nature, but he knew that Pam merely felt alone. Kelly walked out to her as quietly as he could and touched her waist with both his hands.
“Good morning.” She didn’t answer for a long time, and Kelly stood still, holding her lightly, just enough that she could feel his touch. She was wearing one of his shirts, and he didn’t want his touch to be sexual, only protective. He was afraid to press himself on a woman who’d suffered that kind of abuse, and could not predict where the invisible line might be.
“So now you know,” she said, just loudly enough to be heard over the silence, unable to turn and face him.
“Yes,” Kelly answered, equally quiet.
“What do you think?” Her voice was a painful whisper.
“I’m not sure what you mean, Pam.” Kelly felt the trembling start, and he had to resist the urge to hold her tighter.
“About you?” He allowed himself to get a little closer, altering his hold until his arms wrapped around her waist, but not tightly. “I think you’re beautiful. I think I’m real glad we met.”
“I do drugs.”
“The docs say you’re trying to quit. That’s good enough for me.”
“It’s worse than that, I’ve done things—” Kelly cut her off.
“I don’t care about that, Pam. I’ve done things, too. And one thing you did, for me was very nice. You gave me something to care about, and I didn’t ever expect that to happen.” Kelly pulled her tighter. “The things you did before we met don’t matter. You’re not alone, Pam. I’m here to help if you want me to.”
“When you find out…” she warned.
“I’ll take my chances. I think I know the important parts already. I love you, Pam.” Kelly surprised himself with those words. He’d been too afraid to voice the thought even to himself. It was too irrational, but again emotion won out over reason, and reason, for once, found itself approving.
“How can you say that?” Pam asked. Kelly gently turned her around and smiled.
“Damned if I know! Maybe it’s your tangled hair—or your runny nose.” He touched her chest through the shirt. “No, I think it’s your heart. No matter what’s behind you, your heart is just fine.”
“You mean that, don’t you?” she asked, looking at his chest. There was a long moment, then Pam smiled up at him, and that, too, was like a dawn. The orange-yellow glow of the rising sun lit up her face and highlighted her fair hair.
Kelly wiped the tears from her face, and the wet feel of her cheeks eliminated whatever doubts he might have had. “We’re going to have to get you some clothes. This is no way for a lady to dress.”
“Who says I’m a lady?”
“I’m so scared!”
Kelly pulled her against his chest. “It’s okay to be scared. I was scared all the time. The important part is to know that you’re going to do it.” His hands rubbed up and down her back. He hadn’t intended to make this a sexual encounter, but he found himself becoming aroused until he realized that his hands were rubbing over scars made by men with whips or ropes or belts or other odious things. Then his eyes looked straight out over the water, and it was just as well that she couldn’t see his face.
“You must be hungry,” he said, stepping away from her, holding on to her hands.
She nodded. “Starving.”
“That I can fix.” Kelly led her by the hand back to the bunker. Already he loved her touch. They met Sam and Sarah coming from the other side of the island after a morning’s walk and stretch.
“How are our two lovebirds?” Sarah asked with a beaming smile, because she’d already seen the answer, watching from two hundred yards away.
“Hungry!” Pam replied.
“And we’re getting a couple of screws today,” Kelly added with a wink.
“What?” Pam asked.
“Propellers,” Kelly explained. “For Sam’s boat.”
“Sailor talk, trust me.” He grinned at her, and she wasn’t sure if she could believe it or not.
“That took long enough,” Tony observed, sipping coffee from a paper cup.
“Where’s mine?” Eddie demanded, irritable from lack of sleep.
“You told me to put the fucking heater outside, remember? Get your own.”
“You think I want all that smoke and shit in here? You can die from that monoxide shit,” Eddie Morello said irritably.
Tony was tired as well. Too tired to argue with this loudmouth. “Okay, man, well, the coffeepot’s outside. Cups are there too.”
Eddie grumbled and went outside. Henry, the third man, was bagging the product and kept out of the argument. It had actually worked out a little better than he’d planned. They’d even bought his story about Angelo, thus eliminating one potential partner and problem. There was at least three hundred thousand dollars’ worth of finished drugs now being weighed and sealed in plastic bags for sale to dealers. Things hadn’t gone quite as planned. The expected “few hours” of work had lingered into an all-night marathon as the three had discovered that what they paid for others to do wasn’t quite as easy as it looked. The three bottles of bourbon they’d brought along hadn’t helped either. Still and all, over three hundred thousand dollars of profit from sixteen hours of work wasn’t all that bad. And this was just the beginning. Tucker was just giving them a taste.
Eddie was still worried about the repercussions of Angelo’s demise. But there was no turning back, not after the killing, and he’d been forced into backing Tony’s play. He grimaced as he looked out of a vacant porthole towards an island north of what had once been a ship. Sunlight was reflecting off the windows of what was probably a nice, large power cruiser. Wouldn’t it be nice to get one of those? Eddie Morello liked to fish, and maybe he could take his kids out sometime. It would be a good cover activity, wouldn’t it?
Or maybe crab, he told himself. After all, he knew what crabs ate. The thought evoked a quiet bark of a laugh, followed by a brief shudder. Was he safe, linked up with these men? They—he—had just killed Angelo Vorano, not twenty-four hours earlier. But Angelo wasn’t part of the outfit, and Tony Piaggi was. He was their legitimacy, their pipeline to the street, and that made him safe—for a while. As long as Eddie stayed smart and alert.
“What room do you suppose this was?” Tucker asked Piaggi, just to make conversation.
“What do you mean?”
“When this was a ship, looks like it was a cabin or something,” he said, sealing the last envelope and placing it inside the beer cooler. “I never thought about that.” Which was actually true.
“Captain’s cabin, you think?” Tony wondered. It was something to pass the time, and he was thoroughly sick of what they’d done all night.
Meet the Author
Tom Clancy is the bestselling author of The Hunt for Red October, Red Storm Rising, Patriot Games, Rainbow Six, and more.
- Huntingtown, Maryland
- Date of Birth:
- April 12, 1947
- Date of Death:
- October 1, 2013
- Place of Birth:
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Loyola High School in Towson, Maryland, 1965; B.A. in English, Loyola College, 1969
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This is my favorite Clancy book. It is gripping, emotional and downright thrilling! I have 4 copies of it now and have read it about 10 times. Each time finding more and more I missed the previous time through. Do not let the length deter you and skip all the professional readers out there who don't like it. They just don't get it. This is the beginning and without this book and the pain in Clark's past we would not be fully involved in the future books. This book is powerful and I fully agree with what Clark does and who he does it to. This is a must add to every Clancy collection.
I have not read any of the other Tom Clancy books before reading this one and I was pleasantly surprised. The story moved along quickly and I had a hard time putting it down. I will not go into the plot since other reviewers have already done that. The story had me guessing what was going to happen next only to find out there was some kind of twist and what I thought would happen didn't happen at all. The ending was unexpected and I wondered while reading the last couple of chapters how it would work out since I knew the main character is in the later books in the series by the author. When I read the end I wanted to shout for joy but everyone was in bed so I left it to just a smile and put the book on my shelf by the next book in the series, Patriot Games. Yes, I did pick up all of the books in the series prior to reading Without Remorse and am glad that I did. This is a terrific read and would recommend it to anyone that doesn't mind the language and detail in the book.
I read this first in the Jack Ryan series of books. It does a good job of introducing a main character that continues to have a prime place throughout the series. Mr. Kelly (later Clark) is a conplex person with a unique sense of morality. Troubled by a personal tragedy with a need to save himself and others, Mr. Kelly deals a decisive blow against the bad guys. This book is well written and stays interesting from beginning to conclusion.
In reading the professional critic's reviews, I was struck at how insulated from reality they are. They complain, whine, and moan about how immoral the actions are of the protagonist in this story. Yet, they give scant consideration to the types of individuals he is killing. The pro-critics like come from the place that insists that justice comes from only law enforcement and never the private citizen. What if law enforcement did not care? What if some part of law enforcement were in on the problem. This is the case in this book. What is a private citizen to do? Is he to simply let things continue? John Kelly, a navy seal, is living a solitary life as he grieves for the loss of his pregnant wife. He has disconnected from society. On the way back to his boat after a supply run, he impulsively picks up a pretty young hitcher by the name of Pam. He takes her back to his boat where out of sheer need and lonliness, they become lovers and fall in love in the process. Pam has a secret. She is a prostitute and a drug addicted drug mule. She is running from that life after witnessing one of her associates murdered for the sadistic pleasure of her pimp/drug lord. After chance encounter with a couple that also happen to be doctors, the story all comes out. Rather than abandon Pam, John helps her beat her addictions. She wants to help those girls she left behind. A bad bit of timing and a slight underestimation by Kelly leads to Pam being murdered and left in a fountain for all to see. It also leads to Kelly being left for dead. Kelly's doctor friends help patch him back up. He decides to take down the operation and the operators responsible for Pam's death. Complicating this aim is an operation to rescue POWs in veitnam. Kelly is reactivated and plans and ultimately is point man on the rescue. He is also now killing pimps and drug lords between his military related trips. The prostitution and drug ring has a cop on the inside. This cop is getting ever closer to Kelly. Will Kelly get the POWs out? What becomes of his quest to eliminate the operation that killed Pam? Will his admiration and care for the nurse that is his reluctant helper turn into more? This is a good book for those that realize that sometimes violence has to be the answer when all other options fail. This is for those that, under the right circumstances, can kill without remorse.
Tom Clancy's Jonh Clark is born in one of Clancy's best. John Kelly, a former Navy SEAL, loses his wife in a tragic traffic accident. After some time, Kelly picks up a female hitchhiker. He takes her to his island, falls in love with her, and learns of her past as a prostitute. After he learns the story of her life, he takes her with him as he recons the location the people who harmed her. He is spotted, shot in the back on the head with a shotgun, lucky for him, the window slowed the bullet, and his girlfriend is viciously murdered. Kelly goes on a roaring rampage of revenge as he kills drug dealer after drug dealer without remorse. A very human story that ultimately results in the death of a certain John Kelly and his rebirth as John Clark. Tom Clancy's portrayal of this human story is so wonderfully well-done that it surpasses even, im opinion, The Hunt for Red October in eloquence and wonder. After reading this book, you will look forward to the movie in 07.
Unlike most Clancy novels, this one takes off from the beginning. When John Kelly's pregnant wife is killed in a car crash, it seems his life is over. But when he meets another woman(an abused prostitute who has run away) and falls in love with her he tries to help her with her recover from her drug addiction. But when she is killed by her former pimp, Kelly looks for revenge. Meanwhile, Kelly's new career with the CIA is beginning to form. An excellent book about one of Clancy's main characters.
This is a great prequel to the Rainbow Six book, and really helps you get to know the John Kelly/Clark character. I highly recommend it
One of my favorite Tom Chancy books. It will have you engrossed in the story in no time!
Great emotional, thrilling, edge-of-your-seat roller coaster. But the way the eBook was created has many typos. The actual book doesn't because I've read it before. Several times through each chapter, some commas will be periods. Sometimes there will be spaces between different sections, sometimes not. Two people talking in the same paragraph. A sentence that ends abruptly and a little farther down it will pick up with an indentation like that phrase sprouted a sudden new paragraph. Anyway, great book, 5 stars no doubt. But the eBook version does need to be cleaned up. Nevertheless, the dozens and dozens of typos won't distract your reading, or at least not me.
Probably the best in the Ryan series.
We are introduced to John Clark in this novel. We also are emersed in the writing style on Tom Clancy. While this wasn't his first book, I believe, it sets the stage for his very great series of stories that are both plausable and fast paced. It made me want more.