Concealed in Destiny

Concealed in Destiny

by Ken Coats


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781462083336
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/17/2012
Pages: 300
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.63(d)

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By Ken Coats

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Ken Coats
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4620-8333-6

Chapter One

Night came early, and it was ugly. Rain, which was wind-whipped into stinging pellets, raked the ship's bow as it plowed through tall, rolling waves agitated from their quiet undulations three hours earlier. Rick Scanlon stared through the wall of water cascading down the windows of the pilothouse. The winter storm had caught up with his freighter just as a dim line of lights appeared across the eastern horizon ahead, marking the coastline of San Francisco. There were some unusual lines in his dark features when he looked up at the ship's clock. The time was 1830 hours.

His ship, a bulk carrier named Raleigh, moved through the water at quarter speed while it was rendezvousing with the pilot boat, which contained the current harbor pilot on duty. The launch was just now pulling in close to the leeward side of the freighter. Illuminated by large searchlights on the small boat, the Raleigh and the launch paced each other side-by-side, over and through the tall, undulating waves while Rick watched two of his deckhands drop a Jacob's ladder over the side.

The rope ladder with wooden slats for rungs unwound down the side of the Raleigh while it careened against its slippery hull. As he stood on an elevated platform attached to the side of the station boat and the boat nudged the Raleigh's hull, the pilot stepped off onto the ladder while he timed his departure to coincide with the crest of a twenty-foot wave.

Turbulence begets technique, Rick thought. Only harbor pilots who were skilled in their profession could make such a risky transfer so easily.

On the bridge ten minutes later, after he was escorted by Charley Gibson, one of the deckhands, the pilot introduced himself as Hugh Langton while he hung up his weather gear. A slender man who appeared to be in his fifties, Langton first checked the Raleigh's papers and took enough time for a general knowledge of the ship's tonnage and engine power before he ordered, "Four degrees to starboard!"

"Four degrees to starboard!" Helmsman Bob Greely responded.

Fifteen seconds later when the cargo ship's rudder reached its new position, Greely repeated, "Four degrees to starboard!"

The maneuver was only for Langton to get a feel for the vessel under the current conditions. When the Raleigh finally turned to the new heading, Langton was satisfied with the feel of the vessel under the current conditions of the ocean.

"Can you keep her in the lane tonight?" Rick asked, nodding toward the two rows of lit buoys, which marked a wide channel ahead of his ship.

"The storm is making the steering a bit sluggish, but we still should be docking at Oakland to give you and your crew plenty of shore time this evening," Langton replied.

"That's what I like to hear," Rick said and then moved on to the back of the wheelhouse, where Gibson was drinking coffee. He stood by the cup storage locker, which was nothing more than rows of individual niches in the bulkhead.

"I'd hand you one poured, captain, but I can't reach your cup," Gibson said, nodding upward to the lone cup on the top row just as the ship's first mate, Jess Williams, entered the pilothouse. Water spilled down his yellow slicker into small pools tracing his footsteps across the deck.

As he looked over at the pilot, Jess said, "Glad to see you got her heading for the gate." His voice echoed inside the darkened bridge. "As you know, there's bound to be quite a swell running just outside the channel in the shoal water."

"No problem. I've checked the Raleigh's steering with your helmsman," Langton replied, nodding toward Bob Greely. Then with a half-smile, he added, "Just another day at the office."

"Good! Let's get this old bucket into port! I'm ready for a drink!" Jess said. He left the pilot and Greely at the wheel and moved on back to join Rick and Gibson. As he hung up his slicker, he found his own cup from the bulkhead niche. When he turned to the young deckhand, he asked, "Ready for some dry land, Gib?"

"Yeah, I was thinking about what you told me earlier today. A trip to Big Irene's should fix me up, right?"

"One way or the other," Jess said. His smile revealed a missing tooth when he looked over at Rick. "Coming with us, skipper? Irene was asking about you the last time I was there."

"Got other plans tonight," Rick said. Then, as if he was testing his own memory, he added, "I haven't been to her place since I got back from Desert Storm, and that's been a while. She still got her upstairs business?"

"Yeah, and Irene tells me you used to keep her girls up there pretty happy."

"Well, I'll probably go back again when I'm gray-haired and have trouble getting it up."

"Ah, go to hell," Jess snorted.

Each man balanced himself against the Raleigh's motion by holding onto the bulkhead's bracing structure. The talking continued between Jess and Gib, but Rick only half-listened to the conversation. His thoughts were on his ship's overdue mortgage payment. The bank had sent him three e-mail notices during their homeward voyage from Japan. With the bank's gluttony for their money, he thought to himself, the income from this recent cargo delivery will slip through my hands as quickly as the fish a zookeeper feeds to a sea lion.

Chapter Two

The storm was causing the commuter plane, a thirty-seat, turbo-jet plane, to be late in arriving at the Oakland International Airport. Despite the erratic motion of the plane, the young female flight attendant was doing her best to comfort her passengers. She had just retrieved a pillow from the aisle for one of them when a pamphlet landed at her feet. The attendant picked it up and then noticed a blonde woman several seats forward raise her hand. With effort, the attendant moved up the aisle and handed the pamphlet to the passenger.

Dr. Patricia Kendall accepted the medical journal with a sincere thank-you accompanied by a smile. She started reading the journal again, but the print zigzagging from the plane's motion discouraged her. She tossed the pamphlet in the vacant seat beside her on top of the Reno Gazette-Journal. A small headline in the newspaper proclaiming Presidents' Day weekend peeked out from under the pamphlet.

Two hours ago on the way to the airport in Reno, her parents had tried to persuade her to leave the following morning, but she had insisted on making this 6:00 p.m. flight. Tomorrow, she would have a first- period lecture at the university followed by two knee arthroscopies at the hospital. Relying on an early morning flight to meet the day's work schedule was too uncertain.

The weather could have made this brief holiday a lot more enjoyable, she told herself while she watched the rain hit the window of the regional jet. It had rained the entire three days she had been home. Being the youngest and only single member of a five-sibling family, she felt it was her duty to visit her aging parents as often as possible.

The incessant raindrops against the plane's window formed continual pools of water. She glanced again at the words written on the back of the seat in front of her: "Use seat bottom cushion for flotation." The message, which was not only beneficial for the present conditions, brought memories of her career as a flight attendant. After college, her desire for travel had trumped her medical aspirations, which had been simmering in her mind since childhood. But after two years as a flight attendant, the constant travel and hectic schedules had become more than she had bargained for.

Or maybe it had been Larry. She hadn't thought about him for a long time. He was a handsome pilot who had been ten years older than her and every girl's dream. When their relationship grew serious, the rumors started about his dalliances. Most of the gossip came from other flight attendants who were probably jealous of her. Then on a flight together, he told her that the woman who was meeting him when they landed in Miami was his sister, but after landing, she noticed the greeting between Larry and his so-called sibling was not like brother and sister. She learned later it had been his wife.

The betrayal had hurt deeply and made her extremely wary of future relationships, of which she had had several, but none serious. The deceit, now that she thought about it, had helped her make the career change. She knew she was fortunate in graduating early from both high school and college. The flight attendant experience had not been much of a detriment in prolonging the start of her medical practice. Now thirty- two years old, she had been an orthopedist for three years.

The pilot's voice over the PA system interrupted her thoughts. "We will start our approach to Oakland International Airport in about eight minutes." There was a pause. "Sorry the weather isn't more cooperative. Mother Nature's not in one of her better moods tonight."

Three rows behind Pat, Hokusai Utamaro looked up at the overhead compartment, where he had stuffed his bag and hiking boots. The door was ajar. One of his boots had begun to make its appearance due to the motion of the buffeting plane. His condition prevented him from immediately attending to the door. The hot dog he had eaten just before he had boarded the plane was churning his insides. When the flight attendant got up to recover a pillow form the aisle, Hok started to signal her but changed his mind.

Wearily, he started to unbuckle his own seat belt when the pilot's voice stopped him. Instead, his attention focused on a white paper bag. It was barely visible in the expandable pocket on the back of the seat in front of him.

As Hok reached for the bag to have it close at hand, he looked around at the other passengers in the cabin. There were probably twenty men plus an attractive blonde woman and the flight attendant, a pretty brunette who reminded him of his girlfriend, Kara. He had spent the holiday weekend with her and her parents at the family home in Virginia City. Kara, a college classmate at Stanford, was one of the reasons he had remained in America after graduation instead of returning to his home in Hong Kong. The other reason was his job with an import firm in San Francisco, doing business in the Far East. His thoughts were interrupted by another jolt of the plane. In desperation, Hok buried his face in the bag.

After he announced the approach time, Captain Jeff Dunniger studied the fuel gage on the instrument panel. The fifty-knot headwind plus the extensive vectoring had taken their toll on his fuel supply.

The blond features of the copilot, Arnold Wilcox, were set in a perpetual frown. His white-knuckled hand rested firmly on the yoke control while the rain-soaked gale pitched the small jet about like a steel ball seesawing through bumper pins.

Dunniger contemplated the remaining fuel before he glanced again at his radio frequency selector. When air traffic control notified him that he would be delayed in heavy traffic on his approach, he didn't wait any longer to declare a fuel emergency.

"Metro 469," the crisp voice of approach control responded. "You are number four on the approach. Plan the ILS Runway 11 approach!"

"Roger," Dunniger acknowledged and then listened to the ATC sequence, specifically a B-737 onto short final followed by an A-320 and then a B-767 as they were switched over to the tower controller.

Three minutes later, Dunniger called again. "This is Metro 469 on ten-mile final. Are we cleared for the approach?"

"Metro 469," ATC answered, "fly heading 080. You are two from PLAZA. Maintain 1,800 until established and cleared for the ILS 11 approach."

Deep furrows lined Dunniger's face as he studied his instrument panel. When satisfied with his position, he stared out at the black night while he called the tower. "Cleared the ILS 11 approach ... and thanks for the help."

Dunniger felt air filling his lungs, but there was little time to relax. He and Wilcox fought a whipsawed aircraft, trying to keep it coupled with the instrument landing system. As he realized he needed to keep his passengers as calm as possible, Dunniger kept his composure with effort when he announced over the loudspeaker, "We are starting our approach to Oakland International Airport." His brief message left a hollow echo inside the cabin.

At that instant, the pilot of the B-767 was rolling out on the runway and reported gains and losses of twenty knots on final. "Damn!" the controller swore silently. There was a significant wind shear in the path of the approaching airplanes.

"We are a dot low!" Wilcox said loud enough to be heard above the sound of the rain pounding the cockpit windows.

His remark was just ahead of the tower's notification: "Metro 469! The B-767 ahead of you just reported gains and losses of twenty knots on final!"

Before Dunniger could acknowledge the call, his aircraft dropped like an overloaded elevator. Instinctively, he shouted, "What the hell!"

Jolted by the sudden movement, Wilcox yelled, "Bring it up!"

* * *

The airport's Doppler radar failed to detect a layered slice of air in the path of the approaching aircraft. The easterly gale wind had quickly accelerated to a speed of eighty knots.

Pat heard a gagging cough behind her. A seat belt unsnapped and was followed by quick footsteps. Pat had already pulled her own seat belt tighter when the pilot's voice had announced the start of the approach to landing.

Then the plane fell abruptly. It dropped as if attracted by a magnet. On impulse, Pat glanced out the window. Are those lights down there? The thought flashed across her mind just as a sudden jolt of the plane jerked her forward with a blinding force.

Chapter Three

The Raleigh steamed under the Golden Gate Bridge and on past Alcatraz and then Treasure Island, and now it was about to clear the Bay Bridge. It had not been an easy trip. Sweat beads glistened on Bob Greely's brow, and not from physical exertion. The storm's intensity had kept him more alert than the job had usually needed.

At the front of the bridge with Greely and Langton, Rick stared at the rain slamming against the windows in sporadic sheets of water. "This is the first time I've entered port here during a heavy storm," he said, turning to Langton. "I'm surprised. I thought we would have more protection from the storm inside the harbor."

"Some of these storms out of the north will sweep right down the bay's channel from the Marin headlands to San Mateo," answered the harbor pilot.

"Like this mother," Greely injected dryly.

"Yes, this one is a good example," Langton continued. "But the storm has kept the traffic in the bay light, and that is in our favor. However, we will anchor tonight near your designated docking area and take the Raleigh dockside tomorrow when the storm has hopefully abated."

When Lee Holman, a steward from the galley, brought in a fresh container of coffee, Rick moved to the back of the bridge for a refill. "Are you seeing your fashion model tonight, captain?" the tow-headed steward asked while he set the hot container on a bulkhead shelf.

"Yeah, I guess so," Rick answered absently before he realized what he had said. "How the hell did you know about her?"

"Me and Gib saw you one night. Remember, Gib?" Holman said, glancing at Gibson, who was still on the bridge near Jess. "You and a brunette were in one of them big limos," Holman continued. "The next day, we saw her picture on a magazine cover."

"That's right, captain," Gib confirmed. "Wow! When I get to be a shipmaster, that's the way I want to live!"

"You're right, boy! The only merchant sailor who can afford to live like that is the captain," Jess added dryly.

"Wait a minute, you beetle-brained assholes," Rick snapped. "It's none of your damn business, but that limo belonged—" A sound outside the wheelhouse cut him off.

It started with a loud hum vibrating the bridge's windows and then accelerated into a whirring roar. Suddenly, it appeared off the port side, a flying shadow with widely spaced eyes. It skimmed the bow, creating tiny runners of sparks, and then ploughed a long, deep furrow in the water off the starboard bow before it disappeared into the blustery night.

"What the hell's going on up there?" The Raleigh's chief engineer, Swede Sorenson, yelled over the ship's PA system.

"Not sure, Swede!" Rick shouted into the ship's microphone near the wheel. "We've been hit! It was an airplane, I think! Stand by!"

When he turned back to Langton, Rick asked quickly, "Are we clear to maneuver?"


Excerpted from CONCEALED IN DESTINY by Ken Coats Copyright © 2012 by Ken Coats. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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