Terrors of the High Seas
The weather was getting worse. Kerry held on to the edge of the door as she waited for the boat to steady, then continued on her path towards the couch. Dar was already sitting on it, her laptop in front of her and a stack of disorderly papers scattered over the table. Bob held several, his brow creased as he looked at them. “Anything?” Kerry asked, taking the spot right next to Dar on the couch.
“A lot of crap.” Dar sighed. She nudged the bit of wood Kerry had brought up with her knee. They had scraped off enough sea life to reveal three letters of a name, but the possible permutations of “RTE” in the middle of a word were… “This list is endless.” She handed it to Kerry. “Even parsing it down to marine related companies and terms.”
Kerry took the page. “It could even be an abbreviation for route.” She agreed mournfully. “This is worse than looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Dar sat back and let her hands fall to her thighs. “We’ve got pieces, but we’ve got no idea what the puzzle looks like.” She said. “We know one thing for sure. He wasn’t here fishing.”
“Okay, and if he had an assault rifle on board, he probably wasn’t running a sightseeing charter.” Kerry added. “He had supplies on board for a long trip, which makes sense since he was pretty far from home port.”
“Right.” Dar got up and paced, her body automatically compensating for the roll of the boat. Suddenly she stopped. “Ker, did you take any pictures inside the hold when we were down the first time?”
Kerry’s brow creased in thought. “It was pretty dim in there. I don’t think I would have.” She told her partner apologetically. “Besides, we were too busy trying to get underneath those…those… what were those metal things we found the eel behind anyway, Dar?”
Upside down and tilted sideways, the wreckage hadn’t been that intelligible to Dar either. Her mind drew a picture of the twisted metal, jumbled in a huge pile that she’d edged behind. She remembered reaching out to try and move it, and her hands had closed around something roundish, and relatively smooth….
“Cages.” The word came out of Dar’s mouth unexpectedly. “They were cages, with bars.”
Bob and Kerry both stared at her. “Cages?” Kerry repeated thoughtfully. “Wait… yeah, they were. One of the doors was open and I was lying on top of it.” She nodded. “The hinge was poking me in the ribs.” Her voice rose in excitement. “You’re right, Dar!”
“Cages?” Bob looked extremely puzzled. “For what? People?”
Dar slowly shook her head. “No. Too small.” Her brow contracted. “Must have been for animals. They were spread out all over the hold, just in pieces everywhere.”
Now Kerry looked slightly confused. “I don’t get it. Why would he be trying to get animals into the islands? Or.. “Her eyes widened. “No, he was trying to get them from here, wasn’t he!”
Dar nodded slowly, feeling a sense of mixed elation and disgust. “They’re a commodity.” She told Kerry bluntly. “In some places, the black market for them is huge.”
“Like for zoos?” Bob asked. “I thought they could pretty much breed their own.”
“No.” The tall, dark haired woman exhaled. “Well, yes, there are some places who’ll pay for exhibit animals, sure, but mostly the market is for.. ah…”
“Parts.” Kerry murmured. “Skin, fur..”
“Even more for traditional folk medicine.” Dar confirmed quietly. “It’s big money. Alastair did an analysis two years ago of emerging markets, and I think even he was shocked. One of our far eastern offices was contacted to provide database services and processing for a company that acts as a clearing house for the legal stuff.”
Kerry stared at Dar.
“He rejected the contract.” Dar gave a slight shrug of her shoulders. “He told me his mother would have spanked him raw if she’d ever heard he’d helped poachers.” She pulled the wood over and studied it. “Okay, now we’ve got something to go on. Ker, do a search on these letters, only hit veterinary databases instead of marine.”
“Right you are, boss.” Kerry assumed the laptop, and commenced typing. “They’re gonna faint at the cell bill this month.” She commented. “You’ll get another set of tickets to the Super Bowl from Bellsouth. Maybe we can go this year.”
Dar turned the wood over in her fingers, examining it carefully. It seemed likely it was from a supply crate. She could see the faint indentations where metal strapping might have held it in place.
“So I guess he really wasn’t nuts, huh?” Bob said suddenly.
“Crazy like a fox.” Dar murmured, tipping the wood to the light.
“Holy Jesus. That means we won. I gotta call Tanya.” The man stood up and ran a hand through his hair. “We really did it.”
“We?” Kerry said under her breath. “Not so fast. We haven’t proven anything. All we’ve got is a reasonable theory.” She added in a louder tone. “Oh. Dar, look.” Kerry pointed at the screen, which showed a list of responses to her request.
“Carter International.” Dar exhaled. “Zoological supplies. What’s the odds?” She tapped the wood on her knee. “All right. It’s a theory. We’ve got the M16, this bit of wood, our memories of the hold full of cages, and a fishing boat without any fishing gear on it.”
“And the cigar box.” Kerry reminded her. “Not that it’s relevant, or even able to be opened.” She pushed the laptop aside and got up, heading for the gear room. The boat rolled and she put her hand on the wall for balance, then continued on.
“Hey, Dar?” Charlie’s voice crackled through the radio.
Dar set the wood down and headed over to the console. “Yeah?” She keyed the mic and answered. “What’s up? I think we’ve got something here, Charlie.”
“Wall, I think we’ve got something here. You might want to come up a minute.” Charlie said. “We might have company.”
Crap. Dar leaned her head against the door jamb. “Okay. I’ll be right up.” She answered, tossing the mic down in a mild fit of frustration. “Damn it, can’t anything ever go like it’s supposed to?”
“What’s that?” Kerry returned, carrying her box. “What’s going on?”
Dar turned and faced her. “Charlie thinks someone’s following us. I’m gonna go check it out.” She waited while Kerry continued walking towards her, tilting her head as her partner ended up at her side. “Maybe it’s just someone out late doing some night fishing.”
“Maybe cats put on jackets and do the tango.” Kerry set the box down on the console and dusted her hands off. “I’ll go with you.”
“Me too.” Bob agreed.
Dar sighed. She picked up the box and examined it. “This’ll take time to pry open, Ker. It’s completely encrusted.” She glanced at Bob, who was peering curiously over her shoulder.
“It’s just an old cigar box.” He said, sounding disappointed.
Dar put the box down. “Yeah.” She opened the door, jerking a little as a gust of fitful wind puffed against her, blowing her hair back off her forehead. “Time for that later.” She edged outside, shading her eyes against the boat’s running lights and spotting the whitecaps riffling around them. “Damn.”
“Got nasty fast.” Kerry observed. “Is it that storm system?”
Dar pulled herself along the cabinet over to the ladder. “I don’t think it was moving that fast. Maybe this is just a thunderstorm.” She reached up and caught an upper rung, starting her climb upward. The pitching of the boat threw her from side to side slightly, but she got to the top and caught her balance. “Charlie.”
The big ex sailor turned from his seat at the controls. “Weather’s up.” He said. “Looks like a squall.”
“No kidding.” Dar grabbed the edge of the bridge railing and got behind the wheel. She felt Kerry thump against the back of the seat she was in, and the pressure of a hand on the back of her neck. “Where’s the signal?”
“Here.” Charlie pointed to the radar. Amidst the clutter of the storm, a small, pulsing green blip emerged some distance away from them. “Could just be a false. Not getting much closer in the last bit.”
“Not with our luck.” Dar studied the dot. It didn’t seem to be moving quickly, just meandering after them keeping about an even distance from the Dixie. “You think it’s DeSalliers?”
“Too little.” Charlie shook his head.
“Pirates?” Kerry suggested
“Not in this weather. They ain’t that stupid.”
Kerry leaned in next to Dar. “Maybe they changed their minds about helping you out.”
Charlie snorted. “Anyhoo, we got three more hours of this before we get to the meet point. Weather’s getting worse. You want to pull in somewhere till it clears a little?”
Dar lifted her eyes and peered off into the darkness. The wind whipped her hair back, and a crack of far off lightning illuminated a bank of heavy clouds ahead of them. “You think it’ll clear?”
The big man shrugged. “Depends. Might just be a squall.” He said.
“Or an outer band.” Dar replied dryly. “How far are we from the spot?”
“Hour.” Charlie said. “Got a small atoll five, ten minutes from here we could anchor by. Give our snoopy friend a chance to get out of our hair.”
“All right.” Dar said. “You can take a look at what we found out. See if it makes any sense to you.”
Charlie nodded, and turned the boat into the wind, nudging the throttles forward as the waves rocked them from side to side.
Kerry wasn’t a happy person. She leaned her elbows on the counter and studied her hands, regarding the tiny lines on the back of her thumbs as she tried not to chuck her guts up. It wasn’t fair, she moaned silently. What was it about the Caribbean that brought on seasickness in her? She’d sailed in the Great Lakes in waves higher than this and it hadn’t bothered her a bit.
Kerry turned her head to find Dar standing next to her. “Um.” She held her breath as the boat rolled in the surf. “Sorta.”
“Sweetheart.” Dar affectionately ran her fingers through Kerry’s hair. “You’re greener than your eyes. Want something for that?”
“Do you have something?” Kerry asked hopefully. “It wasn’t so bad when we were moving.” They’d been at anchor for twenty minutes. Charlie was studying the clues they’d found, and Bob had retreated to the chair near the door.
“No, it wouldn’t be.” Dar fished up in the cabinet over the refrigerator. She retrieved a small box, leaning against the wall for balance as she ripped it open. “It’s the wallowing.”
Kerry closed her eyes. “Don’t say that word again.”
Dar popped open the foil on two of the tablets and set the box down, turning to retrieve a cup and fill it with water. “Here.” She handed Kerry the pills. “Dramamine.”
Kerry took the pills and the water and made quick work of swallowing them. She set the cup down and sighed. “Got anything else? Any old folk remedies you want to try?”
Dar cocked her head to one side, then with a tiny smirk, she leaned over and captured Kerry’s earlobe between her teeth, nibbling at it gently.
“Orf.. bu.. .Dar!” Kerry squeaked very softly, her eyes widening and lurching up towards their guests. The attention was causing tiny, interesting jolts to travel down her body, however, warring effectively against the panic.
“Yeees?” Dar murmured.
Kerry wondered if it was the Dramamine working that fast. Her nausea eased, and she felt her shoulders relax, despite the continued roll of the boat. “Wow. That works.” She whispered.
“Mmhm.” Dar agreed. “A little tough to do to yourself, though.” She put her arms around Kerry and pulled her back to lean against her body. Kerry clasped her hands around Dar’s and exhaled, seemingly very content.
As the meeting time got closer, Dar was getting more and more worried about it. The knowledge that Bud’s safety was resting on her shoulders weighed on her, and she knew they only had the slimmest number of facts on their side.
Dar rested her chin against Kerry’s hair. “Hm?”
“I’m going in there with you, to meet with DeSalliers.” Kerry stated. “Just in case you were thinking about asking me not to.”
Was she thinking that? Dar could feel Kerry’s breathing under her hands, a slow and steady motion. “To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it, Ker. Does it make sense to risk both of us, though?”
Kerry didn’t answer for a few minutes. Her hands stroked Dar’s, though, a gently comforting sensation. “I just want to be with you.” She finally said. “I want to be there.”
It seemed right, somehow, if not logical. “Okay.” Dar said. “I’m gonna need all the help I can get and you’re the best help I could hope for.”
She couldn’t see the grin on Kerry’s face, but she knew it was there from the change in her voice.
“Thanks.” Kerry rested her head against Dar’s collarbone. “So, what’s the plan?”
Very good question. “I figure we’ll meet with him.” Dar said. “Try to set some ground rules. I want to get the money straight first, because if he doesn’t go for that, we’ve got a real problem.” She kept her voice down out of Charlie’s hearing range.
“Get him to show us Bud, to make sure he’s on the boat.” Dar went on. “Then… I guess, we let out what we know a bit at a time. See what happens.”
“We don’t know much.”
“I know.” Dar said. “Hey, let’s see if we can get that box open.”
They walked across to the console and leaned over the box. Bob watched them curiously. Dar picked up a pocketknife and opened it, starting to pry gently at the barnacles covering the box as Kerry held it.
“You think anything’s in there?” Bob asked.
“Probably not.” Kerry admitted. “I think Dar and I are just antsy and bored, and we want the time to pass faster.”
Dar glanced at her, a trifle startled at having her inner thoughts expressed with such clarity. “Hey.” She pried off a bit of sea life. “That’s pretty good, Madame Fifi.”
Kerry smiled, and fiddled with a bit of the discarded shells.
“How’s your stomach?” Dar asked.
“Fine.” Kerry answered absently. “See if you can get that part off, Dar.”
Bob got up and wandered over to them, peering over their shoulder. Charlie remained poring over the pages of data on the table.
Dar paused to listen to the radio as a weather bulletin crackled to life.
“This is the National Weather Service special advisory number six, for the Eastern Caribbean islands and surrounding waters. A tropical depression has formed just south of the island of St. Croix. Minimum central pressure has been detected at 1008 millibars, and there is some indication of a developing circulation.”
“Son of a bitch.” Dar cursed with feeling.
“Marine interests in the area are advised to take precautions. Highest detected winds are 30 knots, with gusts to 35 knots. The storm is moving west northwest at approximately ten knots.”
Charlie had gotten up and limped over to them, his brow creasing in concern as he heard the radio. “Damn.” He looked worried. “We left everything open at home.”
“Tell you what. We’ll get Bud, and just head over there.” Dar told him with quiet confidence. “You’ll both be home tonight to take care of things.”
Charlie gave her a speculative look, and sighed.
A soft crack made them all jump, then everyone looked at Dar. She blinked at her own hands, which had of their own volition continued to work on the box. The coral around the lid had broken off under her knife and fallen to the counter.
She put the knife down and fit her fingers around the edge of the box, lifting it up and easing it past the last obstructing coral.
Everyone clustered around and peered inside.
“What is it?” Bob craned his head to see.
Dar tilted the box to the light. Inside, a slim metal case was nestled tightly, it’s surface corroded by contact with the sea. She put her penknife to good use again and inserted the tip between the edge of the box and the case and pried up.
It resisted briefly, then popped free. Kerry reached inside as Dar levered the edge up an grasped the case, lifting it free of it’s wooden casket and setting it on the cabinet top. “There’s a catch.” She touched the front side. “Like an old fashioned compact or something.”
Bob leaned closer. “Are those initials in the top?” He reached timidly over and scraped a bit of debris off the container. “I think they are!”
“Wharton’s?” Kerry picked up a rag tucked underneath the shelf and rubbed the case top. Faint indications of a monogram appeared, thinly traced lines that were difficult to interpret. “Could be.”
Dar gently picked at the rust around the catch. She set the knife down and curled her fingertips around the front of the case, pushing down firmly on it. It didn’t budge, and she felt the metal digging into her skin. She tensed her hand and put more pressure on the catch, forcing it in with a soft, sodden crack.
Water spilled from the edges as she set the case down, along with grains of fine sand from the bottom. Dar lifted the top and laid it fully open on the cabinet, exposing it’s contents to the light.
Not unexpectedly, the inside was full of sea bottom. A layer of sand covered something tucked inside. Kerry cleared away the sand with her fingers and removed the contents, which felt hard and slick under her touch.
“What is it?” Bob asked eagerly.
Kerry pulled it free and unfolded it. “Something plastic.” She opened it completely and laid it on the shelf. It was a notebook sized sheet, layered in stiff laminate heavily creased where it had obviously been folded many times.
The writing on it was tiny. Even Kerry, whose vision was darn near perfect, had to squint at it. Dar didn’t even try. Instead she angled the light closer and turned, heading back towards the living area. “I’ll get a magnifying glass.”
“It’s been reduced.” Kerry said. “It’s a bunch of pages, laid out.”
Bob pointed. “Is that a will?” He asked, in excitement. “That cover page looks like the one that got tossed out!”
Charlie grunted. “That’s a fisherman.” He said. “Knew what he was about in keeping that stuff. Bud ‘n I have our important stuff done the same way, cept we got it full sized.”
Dar returned with a small handheld magnifier. She handed it to Kerry, who focused it on the first square of bitty lettering.
Everyone waited while the blond woman read.
“It’s a trust.” Kerry murmured. “This part, and yeah, that section’s a will.” She pointed at a third set of pages. “That’s the documents of ownership for the boat… it’s all legal papers.” She looked up at Dar. “And this here at the bottom looks like his float plan for the Caribbean.”
Dar exhaled. “Proof he wasn’t nuts.” She said. “and that he was here for a reason.”
“Yes! Yes!!!” Bob yelled in elation. “There it is! We got him! We got the damn bastard!!!”
Dar held the slim, metal case in one hand, and stared at it, her head shaking back and forth in patent disbelief. “I can’t believe we’ve had this damn thing the whole freaking time.” She cursed, lifting the top of the case again and shutting it.
“Damn.” Charlie exhaled. “Damn, damn damn.” He looked profoundly relieved.
“I'm damn glad to see this." Dar sighed. "At least we've got something to work with now"
"What?" Bob said. "Give it to me. This is Tanya's!"
Kerry covered the sheet with both hands and blocked his hasty grab. "Hey!'
Dar clamped her fingers down on his wrist. "Leave it. That’s our only real bargaining chip."
"You can't give that to him! No!" Bob wrenched his arm free from Dar's grip and lunged for the sheet. He yanked at Kerry's shoulder, avoiding Charlie's outstretched fingers.
Dar reacted instinctively. She shifted and her left hand whipped up, tangling with his arm as she threw her weight against him. "Get away from her." Dar warned him, aware suddenly of Kerry’s gently bemused look.
Charlie stepped in between them and forced Bob back, shoving him against the wall. "Don't give me no excuses, you gutless git." He told Bob. “I don’t give a damn about no money or what you’re gonna get out of this. That there’s the key to me getting my partner back.”
“You can’t take it!” Bob panted. “You don’t understand what’s at stake here!”
Kerry slipped from between them and carried the sheet with her over to the couch. “No.” She advised Bob. “You don’t understand what’s at stake here, or what’s worse, you don’t care. Someone’s life is in danger. How can you even think about keeping this?” With a disgusted shake of her head, Kerry used a cloth to pat the sheet dry. “Dar, I can’t even scan this. It won’t pick up these letters, even as a hi res graphic.”
“I won’t let you give that to him.” Bob warned. “I won’t. I won’t, I.. urp.” His eyes bugged out as Charlie got a big hand around his throat and started to squeeze.
“Shut the hell up fore I toss you overboard.” The ex sailor lost his patience.
Bob glared at all of them, , but subsided. Charlie released his throat, staying close by just in case. “You can’t.” He muttered. “You can’t.”
“We will.” Kerry replied steadily. ‘And if you try to interfere, you’re going to get hurt.”
“Damn straight.” Charlie agreed.
“Dar?” Kerry tied the laces on her sneaker. “I have a question.” They were in the bedroom changing, with only the dim bedside lamp on. It was quiet, and cool, and presented a last moment of peace before they went to do battle with the weather and DeSalliers.
“Mm?” Dar was fastening the top button on her jeans.
“How are we going to get to DeSalliers’ boat?”
Dar’s hands paused, and she looked up. “He’s got a skiff, I think. I saw it hanging off a winch when we were onboard.”
Kerry gazed seriously at her. “What if we need to get back in a hurry? I hate to be at his mercy like that.”
The boat pitched, making them both grab for balance. After it steadied, Dar put her hands on her hips and frowned thoughtfully. “We could swim.” She said. “But in this weather, damn, I hope we don’t have to.”
Kerry stepped closer, and slid her fingertips inside Dar’s waistband. “You think we should dress accordingly just in case? Not that I don’t love you in jeans, sweetie, because I do, but they’re a bitch to swim in.” She gave the waistband a tug. “Eve if they are loose like these.”
“You’ve got a point.” Dar acknowledged, studying Kerry’s own outfit of a T-shirt tucked into shorts. “I could just go in my bathing suit with a pair of gym shorts over it.” She said. “You have a suit on under that?”
“Yes I do, so that would be perfect.” Kerry agreed. She watched quietly as her partner changed, sliding out of the jeans and folding them neatly before she donned her bathing suit. “Dar?” In the relatively dim light, she could still see the reflections off Dar’s eyes as she looked at her. “Are you scared?”
Dar adjusted the shoulder strap on her solid black suit. “Of doing this?”
“A little.” The dark haired woman sighed. “Scared something else will happen and someone, us maybe, or Bud, will get hurt. Sure I’m scared.”
“I feel a lot better now, that we have this.” Kerry touched the plastic coated sheet on the dresser. “It’s not just a bluff anymore.”
“Shame he gets to win, though.” Kerry admitted. “Kind of frustrating, really. We get the answers at last, and now it’s for nothing. Wharton wins anyway.”
“I’ve got a theory about that.” Dar pulled a light, cotton short sleeved shirt on over her suit, leaving it unbuttoned. “What goes around, comes around. He’ll get his one day.” She carefully stored her precious pocket watch in a drawer, tucking it into a fold of one of her spare shirts.
“Like my father did?” Kerry asked quietly.
Dar paused, and looked at her. “You could say that.” She agreed slowly. “It catches up to you.” Her eyes dropped thoughtfully. “Like it did to me.”
Kerry moved closer. “You’re not seriously comparing yourself to either Wharton or my father, are you?” Her voice rose.
“No, not exactly.” Her partner replied.
“Good.” Kerry bumped against her. “Then what are you talking about?”
Dar circled Kerry’s neck with her arms and rested her forehead against her partner’s. “I’m not really sure. Ask me again later.” She said.
The boat swayed, and they both swayed with it. Kerry took hold of Dar’s waist and leaned in to kiss her. “Time to get going.” She said. “I’ll be glad when this is over.”
Dar rubbed noses with her. “Me too.” She admitted. “Because when it is, I’m gonna kick everyone off this damn boat and put a do not disturb sign on the railing.”
“Right there with you.” Kerry agreed.
Dar tucked the plastic sheet into her back pocket and zipped it, then put her arm around Kerry’s shoulders and steered her towards the bedroom door. “Know what I was just thinking? The old man was a bastard. Maybe it’s poetic justice the kid took everything.”
Kerry sighed. “That thought had occurred to me.”
They opened the door and walked out into the boat’s living area. “I’m going to go start up the engines.” Dar told Charlie, who was keeping a dour eye on the still glowering Bob. She picked up her rain slicker off the counter and slipped into it, fastening the catches. “Might as well get moving.”
“I’ll go up on there with you.” Charlie got up carefully, getting his balance over his artificial leg.
“Thanks guys.” Kerry sent telepathically to them, as they hastened to leave her with the furious Bob. “I’m going to make a pot of soup, Dar. We missed dinner.”
Soup. Dar’s stomach suddenly rumbled loudly. “Great idea.” She gave her partner an appreciative look. “Thanks.”
“Mm.” Kerry let her eyes rest on Bob, then met Dar’s. Her pale eyebrow quirked.
Dar returned a mildly sheepish look, and a shrug. “Call me when it’s ready. I’ll come get you.” She said. “I mean, get it.”
“I liked the first one better.” Kerry mouthed, before she turned and made her way into the galley.
Dar navigated carefully through the storm, edging closer and closer to the meet point. It was so dark she could barely see past the bow of the boat, and she was relying only on her radar and her depth finder to keep her out of trouble.
The rain lashed hard against them, moving almost sideways in it’s intensity. Charlie was huddled in the seat next to her, also staring out into the darkness. “Nasty.” Dar murmured.
“Yeah.” The ex sailor replied softly. “Listen, Dar – I’m sorry about that mix up before.”
Dar glanced at him. “It’s all right.” She said. “It’s too much stress for all of us right now. I know you’re worried about Bud. So am I.” She watched the radar. “Looks like our friend abandoned us.” She pointed at the screen. “One less complication.”
Charlie nodded. “Saw that.” He said. “I feel a damn sight better now about the whole thing, since you found that paperwork.” He added. “Ain’t that I didn’t trust you to do the right thing, Dar, but…”
“But it’s a hell of a lot easier when you’ve got something to bargain with.” Dar finished for him. “I wasn’t feeling any too comfortable either. There’s just so much bullshit I can dish out before I run out of cards.” She made a slight adjustment to their course. “I’ll be glad to give him that damn paper, get Bud, and get the hell out of this god damned storm.”
“Doesn’t bother you that the bad guys win?” Charlie asked, watching her face.
“Bad guy’s a relative term in this viper’s nest.” Dar muttered, turning as she heard someone coming up the ladder. “Ah.” A smile crossed her face as she recognized the sturdy form in its rain slicker. Kerry had a thermos jug hanging around her neck by a lanyard, and was using both hands to pull herself up the ladder this time. “Told you I’d come and get you!” Dar called out.
Kerry steadied her balance, and made her way across the pitching bridge. “Let’s just say there’s so much petulant whininess I can take in one sitting, okay?” She thumped down into the third seat, on the other side of Dar. “Stupid little wuss bag. I almost put him through a porthole.” Her voice sounded exasperated. “We almost there?”
“Almost.” Dar nodded.
A crack of thunder made them jump, and the entire sky lit with lightning, brushing the heaving waves with silver incandescence for a brief instant.
“Wow.” Kerry exhaled. “This is getting pretty bad. What if he doesn’t show?”
No one answered, or looked at each other.
“He’d better.” Dar finally said. “If he doesn’t, we’ll go find him.”
Lightning flashed again, and Kerry started, grabbing Dar’s arm. “Dar!” She pointed off the bow. “There’s something out there!” She shouted. “Someone! I saw a person!”
“What?” Dar barked, incredulous. Immediately, she cut the throttles, slowing the big boat into a wallowing idle. “Where?”
Charlie half stood and peered. “Can’t be, Kerry. Not in these waters.”
Kerry strained her eyes. “There was.” She said, with utter certainty. “I swear it.”
Dar checked the time, then looked at Kerry’s face. “Get the spotlight.” She said. “I’ll circle.”
Kerry jumped up and started for the ladder, when she froze as a light from the darkness of the waves seemed to ignite, pinning *them* with its brilliance. “Oh.. !”
“What the hell..” Dar felt the world going out of balance. “Now what?”
“Dar.” Charlie’s face had a strange expression. “That there’s a Navy underwater lamp.”
Naval light? Dar felt a sudden possibility make her heart jump. As she idled the engines, she heard the faint echo of a much smaller one nearby. “Kerry, stay up here.” She held on to the railing as she edged around her partner. “I think we’re okay.”
Kerry held onto the rail for dear life as she watched Dar scamper down the ladder. “I hope she’s right.”
Thunder rolled ominously overhead.
This close to the water, Dar could see the outline against the waves. It was a low riding boat, with a single occupant. The light swept across her and blinded her for a moment, then went out. She opened her eyes and blinked. “Dad!”
“Hey there, Dardar.” Andrew Robert’s voice boomed back. “Toss me one of them lines.”
With a feeling of relief so profound it almost made her dizzy, Dar lifted one of their dock lines and tossed it over, aiming accurately at the shadowy figure. She felt it go taut. “Keep it steady, Ker!” She yelled up to her partner. “It’s Dad!”
“Yes!” Kerry hopped up and down a few times. “Something goes right at last!!!!”
Dar smiled as she caught the words. She leaned over the railing and watched as her father lashed the black, rubber boat to the rope. “Want me to let the ladder down?”
“Yes, ma’am, I would like that.” Andrew shouted back, tying off a second line to his waist, then making a neat dive over the side of the craft into the water.
Dar scrambled across the deck and got to the back ladder, hanging on as the boat pitched wildly in the worsening seas. She unlatched the diving hatch and booted it open, then unhooked the diving ladder and let it down into the sea.
It was only there, it seemed for a brief moment before its shine was engulfed by a large, dark figure that rose dripping up out of the water and invaded the deck. Andrew held his balance easily despite the boat’s rocking and removed his neoprene headgear. “Lo, there.”
“Hi, Daddy.” Dar felt the words emerge before she could really censor them. Andrew’s grizzled eyebrows both lifted in mild surprise, but he acknowledged them by stepping forward and clasping Dar in a brief hug. “What’s a nice guy like you doing out in a storm like this?”
Andrew chuckled. “Don’t you go there, Paladar.” He warned, releasing her just in time to be assaulted by a smaller figure bolting across the rolling deck. “You probly don’t know it, but a storm like this here one’s the reason you’re standing out in it.”
Kerry threw her arms around her father in law without a moment’s hesitation. “Whoo!” She gurgled. “Hi, Dad!”
Andy’s voice gentled perceptibly. “Hey there, Kerry.” He said. “Ah do thank you for keeping them letters coming.”
Dar’s ears pricked. “Letters?”
Kerry peeked at her. “I’ve been emailing him all the stuff that’s been happening.” She told her lover with a touch of apology in her tone.
“You knew he was coming out here?” Dar asked.
“Naw.” Andrew put a big arm around his daughter. “Just decided that this here morning. Let’s go topside, and have us a chat and get out of these here damn swells.” He looked up. “That Charlie up there?”
“Yeah.” Dar said.
“Got us a regular boatload of trouble, don’t we?” Andy commented.
“Where’s mom?” Kerry asked, as they started towards the ladder.
“Painting that there dog of yours.” Andrew replied, pausing as the cabin door opened and Bob looked out at him. “This here that feller that ran out on Bud and Chuck?”
Bob’s eyes widened at the growl, and he hastily closed the door again.
“Yes.” Kerry answered, distracted. “Dad, she’s painting a *picture* of Chino, right?”
Andrew peered at her, then chuckled. “Yeap.”
“Phew. Just checking.” Kerry started up the ladder first. “I like her cream.”
That even got Dar to smile. Andrew turned to her as they waited for Kerry to ascend. “Your mamma knows them people, up in Boston.” He said, in a serious tone. “And I will tell you she does not have good words to tell about the lot of em.”
“Gee. What a surprise.” Dar gestured upward. “G’wan. I just want to get this damn thing over with.”
Andrew started up the ladder. The door to the cabin opened and Bob peeked out again.
“Who is that?” He hissed at Dar. “Where did he come from?” He added. “What’s he doing here?”
Dar rested her elbow on the step. “That’s my father.” She told him. “Do yourself a favor and just stay in there, and out of our way.”
A flash of anger crossed Bob’s face, but he retreated and closed the door. Dar let her hands rest on the ladder for a moment, then started her climb to the top.
Andrew emerged onto the flying deck, which now seemed very cramped. “Lo, Charles.” He greeted the deck’s other occupant casually, as he followed Kerry over to the controls.
“Hey, Andy.” Charlie murmured. “Nice surprise.” His eyes stayed on the console, unaware of Kerry’s attention on him. “Glad they got the paperwork wrong on you.”
“Yeap.” Andrew replied easily, settling into one of the seats. “All right now. You got us a plan, kumquat?”
“Dar does.” Kerry waited as her partner joined them. Dar took the center seat and revved the engines up, starting them forward. The boat’s motion slowly counteracted the swells, and Kerry relaxed as her stomach settled down again somewhat. It was hardly the time to ask Dar for another dose of her ear medicine. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you, dad, we found something concrete, finally.”
“Did you now?” Andrew studied the controls.
“Yes.” Kerry fished inside Dar’s back pocket and removed the folded sheet, leaning past Dar’s shoulder to hand it to him. “It’s all kinds of legal stuff.”
Andrew studied it, cocking his grizzled head to one side. “Well, lookit that.” He murmured. “You fixing to give this up as part of your trade off?”
“For Bud.” Charlie blurted suddenly. “Yeah.”
Andrew rested his jaw on his fist. “Mah wife says that feller is one right scumboat.” He said. “He’s using all them dollars to fix up folks the same kind as your pappa was, Kerry.”
Kerry stiffened, then frowned. “He’s a conservative, you mean.” She said. “There’s no law against that, is there?” Her hands were resting on Dar’s shoulders for balance, and she leaned in a little against her.
“No, ma’am, there surely is not.” Andy agreed. “But seems they’ve taken a right dislike to folks who ain’t just like them.” He hesitated uncharacteristically.
Dar spoke up finally. “You mean he’s funding hate groups?” She asked. “I know there’s a couple up there that think people like Kerry and I… “Her eyes went to Charlie. “And Bud and Charlie should be euthanised.” She added bluntly. “Is that what you mean, dad?”
Andrew released a breath. “Your momma does think that, Dar.” He acknowledged quietly. “And I do believe she’s right.”
“Son of a bitch.” Charlie whispered.
They all looked at the sheet resting in Andrew’s big hand. The rain drove harder against the console Plexiglas, making a sound like rapid gunfire.
The situation had changed, Kerry realized. Andrews arrival and the information he brought threw a whole new facet into the mix, and now there was a question of what they should do, and she wasn’t sure who exactly was going to make that decision.
There could only be, Dar had once told her, one captain of the boat.
“Well.” Dar broke the silence after a long period. “Regardless, we have to get Bud out of there.” She focused on the problem at hand. “There’s always going to be assholes out there who want to take over the world. We have to deal with the critical issue first, and that issue’s a friend in trouble.”
It was a quietly strange moment, and Kerry felt the oddness. Dar had, she realized, simply moved forward and taken on the leadership of the situation, making the decision and accepting it’s consequences in a completely natural way. Both Andrew and Charlie were watching her intently, and Kerry held her breath as she waited to see what their reaction would be.
“So, we’re going to continue with our plan the way it is.” Dar went on. “If something develops that lets us come back around and nail Wharton, great. But we get Bud out first.” Her voice was quiet and steady.
“Right.” Andrew nodded in acceptance. “I figured I could get up there on that boat and see if I could rock it while you had them there people distracted.”
Dar thought about it. “I’m sure they have him belowdecks.” She said. “I’m going to try and force them to bring him up before I start dealing, but I don’t know how far I can push.” She edged the throttles forward a bit. “It would make me feel a lot better just to know you were there. In case.”
A tiny smile appeared on her father’s face. “I jest bet it would.” He drawled. “Though it seems like you done got most your bases covered already.” His eyes watched his daughter with silent pride.
Dar accepted the compliment with a slight nod. “We tried. But I like having a card up my sleeve. Makes the game a lot easier.”
“You can say that again.” Kerry held on as the boat cut through what appeared to her to be twenty foot waves. “Now let’s just hope they show.” She felt the muscles in Dar’s neck relax under her hands, and felt her own follow, glad that her partner was comfortable in taking the lead and that the two ex sailors were willing to accept that.
It had been a tough moment for Dar, she knew. Her lover was a natural born leader, but just as naturally, she loved and worshipped her father who was also, Kerry knew, a natural born leader. Dar could have deferred to Andrew, and yet she’d chosen to trust her instincts, and do otherwise.
Time would have to prove those instincts true or not.
They found their spot in the ocean. The wind had risen, driving the waves against the boat, but Dar had anchored them into it, and the bow rose and fell with steady regularity instead of rocking side to side. Andrew had tethered his boat to the back of the Dixie, and now they were simply waiting.
“Kerry was worried about trusting DeSalliers to carry us over there. I think she’s right.” Dar commented to her father. “Better if you drop us off.” They were standing side by side in the stern, protected from most of the wind by the craft’s cabin.
“Hell yes.” Andrew agreed. “I’ll park that thing tween us, then go off. Wont’ even realize it.”
Dar eyed him curiously. “It’s a pretty high bow.” She said. “You planning on roping up it?”
Andrew gave her a mildly smug look and fished in one of the belt packs he was wearing over his black neoprene dive suit. “Nope.” He held out something. It had a cup like surface of what seemed to be soft rubber, and a sturdy hard rubber handle of some kind. “Put that there up on that fiberglas, and twist this piece. Makes you a handle.”
Dar took it and fit her hand in it, then activated the suction. “Hmph.” She murmured. “Pretty cool.”
“Dar!” Kerry called down from the bridge. “Radar just picked up something.”
Dar handed her father back his toy. “About damned time.” She felt tension grip her guts, wanting the confrontation to be long over and done with.
“Heck of a vacation there, Dardar.” Her father commented wryly. “Maybe next time ya’ll should go find you some little farm somewhere and just do you a picnic or something.”
Dar shook her head. “I should have guessed. Even when we spent a couple days up at the lake, Kerry’s horse got bee bit, she fell off, we almost capsized, and we managed to out ourselves on a family hay wagon ride.”
Andrew ruffled her hair. “You always did get into the damndest things. You remember that time we done went up to that ranch and you rode up on that bull?”
Dar covered her eyes. “Don’t mention that to Kerry, please?”
“Mention what to me?” Kerry appeared at her elbow, peering out through the rain. “Any sign of them yet? Charlie’s going to stay up at the controls. It’s tough for him to get up and down the ladder.” And it gave him something very useful to do, Kerry reasoned, since no one was willing to trust Bob with the boat.
“Couldn’t hardly see nothing yet in this spit.” Andy said. “You two ready?”
Kerry patted her rain slicker. “About as ready as I’m going to get. Dar?”
Dar had her hood down, and the wind was whipping her dark hair relentlessly. “I’m ready.” She lifted her chin. “Lights.”
They looked. Sure enough, very faintly through the storm a moving speck could be seen. Kerry flexed her hands nervously, her heart rate increasing now that things were happening. She wasn’t stupid enough to ignore the fact that she was scared, any reasonable person would be in her place.
She trusted Dar, and she certainly trusted Andy. However, she didn’t trust DeSalliers and part of her worried that logic didn’t have a lot to do with his planned actions. She worried about Bud, trapped in the man’s hands, and she worried about what they would find over on the other boat.
The cabin door opened, and Bob stuck his head out. “I think he’s on the radio.” He said, just as Charlie also called down from the bridge with the same news.
Dar squared her shoulders and walked over to the door. Bob backed out of her way as she went for the radio console inside, Kerry and Andy at her back.
“Roberts? One more chance at answering, then I slit this piece of shit’s throat.” DeSalliers voice cut through the static.
Andy’s eyes narrowed. “Ah already do not like this man.”
Dar picked up the mic. “I’m here.” She answered shortly. “About time you showed up.”
“You have what I asked for?”
“I have what you need.” Dar replied. “So let’s get this over with.”
DeSalliers laughed. “You don’t like not being in control, do you, Roberts? Well, that’s too bad. You just sit there. I’ll tell you when I’m ready.”
The radio cut off. Dar dropped the mic on the console as though it were a dead rat. “I’ve encountered more appealing things than that six days dead on the roadside up to Marathon.” She commented. “What an asshole.”
“Yeah, well, he’s going to get what he wants, isn’t he?” Bob asked, bitterly. “To hell with the rest of us.” He stomped over to the chair and flung himself down in it. “Fuck you all.”
Andrew folded his arms over his broad chest. “This here situation’s just chock full of jackasses, ain’t it?”
“Yeah, isn’t it?” Bob shot back at him.
“You know something?” Kerry addressed him before either Dar or Andrew could answer. “I’m really starting to regret risking my life for you, and I hate that. So cut it out and grow up before I have to do something about it.”
Bob subsided into a sullen silence, his eyes fixed firmly on the floor.
Kerry expelled a breath in disgust, and gave herself a tiny shake. She pushed her hood back, revealing damp and tangled blond hair that she ran her hands through in agitation. “Jesus.”
Dar put an arm around her and pulled her close. “Hold steady here, Charlie.” She hit the intercom. “Let’s wait to see what this bastard has in mind.”
“Ain’t no good, whatever.” Charlie replied glumly. “Sons of bitches.”
“Mah gosh, listen to this here language.” Andrew drawled. “Ah aught to spank the lot of you.”
The comment relaxed some of the tension, and drew a smile from both Dar and Kerry. “I hate waiting.” Dar admitted. “And he’s right. I hate not being in control.” She released Kerry and turned, choosing a path and pacing it across the living area.
Kerry leaned against the radio console and watched her, resigning herself to the knowledge that all they could really do is wait.
Dar paced. Andrew merely leaned back against the door frame and relaxed.
DeSalliers boat approached them, circling their position twice before they were contacted again. Dar’s nerves had escalated almost to the breaking point. She’d stopped pacing, and ended up back out on the stern in the rain, counting to several thousand under her breath in a vain attempt to relax.
“Dar.” Kerry stuck her head out of the cabin. “He’s on.”
Dar stalked to the door and ducked inside. She could feel her breathing coming fast, and she took a second to inhale, hold it, then exhale before she picked up the mic. “Yeah?” She unkeyed, and waited. The sudden warmth of Kerry’s hand on her side almost made her jump, but after a second she relaxed a little, calming as Kerry’s thumb idly rubbed her skin.
“I see you’ve got a canoe back there.” DeSalliers said. “Get in it, and get over here. No bullshit, no smart talk, or I’ll gun the engines and run your sorry ass over.”
“Make sure you hit me the first time.” Dar growled back. “Or you’ll end up upside down talking to crabs.” She keyed off and dropped the mic, then headed for the door. “C’mon.”
Andrew held the door and waited for them to go ahead of him. He turned as they did, facing Bob. “You mess with anything while them girls are over there, I will kill you.”
Bob stared at him.
“That is not a bluff.” Andrew said quietly. He turned and closed the door after him.
Dar made her way down the ladder and into the solid black water craft her father had come in. It was a familiar sight, two incredibly tough rubber pontoons and a flexible but stiff inner structure and engines that could probably propel a jet. It had hooks and catches everywhere intended for military use, not surprising since it’s primary purpose was to carry Navy SEALS into battle.
She didn’t ask how Andrew had gotten it.
Dar turned and took hold of Kerry as she climbed down, keeping her steady as she joined her in the bottom of the craft. They were both in dark rain slickers, and Andrew was almost invisible as he made his way into the boat, causing it to rock under his weight.
He was dressed in full length black neoprene, with a canvas vest buckled over it holding all sorts of things including one waterproof case Dar knew usually had a sidearm in it. Andrew took a seat at the controls, and started the powerful engines up. “Want to let us loose, Dardar?”
“Sure.” Dar untied the craft, and tossed the end of the rope up onto the Dixie. The waves were pitching up and down severely, but apparently she’d gotten used to them because they didn’t disturb her that much. Kerry, however, sat down on one of the hard seats and wrapped her arms and legs around the stanchions.
“Here we go.” Andrew aimed the boat towards DeSalliers craft, visible as a brightly lit outline against the rain.
Dar held on with one hand, and put her free hand on Kerry’s shoulder. She leaned close to her ear. “Scared?”
Kerry turned, and Dar knew she was looking up at her even though the darkness made her features invisible. “Yes.”
“Me too.” Dar told her. “My knees are shaking so bad I don’t want to sit down in case I can’t get up again.”
Kerry laughed faintly. “Are you trying to make me feel better?” She squeezed Dar’s hand. “If you are, it’s working.”
Dar pressed her cheek against Kerry’s. “I love you.” She said.
Kerry smiled, a motion Dar could feel against her skin. “That works even better.” She admitted. “I love you too.”
“We’re gonna be fine.” Dar went on. “But if you want to stay in the boat with Dad, it’s okay, Ker. I’m not joking. I know this is scary as hell, and it’s no reflection on you if you want to stay here.”
It was so tempting. The thought of staying at Andrew’s very, very safe side was so enticing, Kerry could almost feel the agreement tickling the back of her throat. However, the image of her waiting in the darkness, while Dar went into danger alone was far more horrific. “Thanks for the offer.” She turned her head and kissed Dar. “But where you go, I go. I’d croak from anxiety if you left me here.”
Dar nodded, as though fully expecting Kerry’s answer. “Okay.” They watched the boat grow larger and larger in front of them. “I need to play tough with him, because of the twenty five thousand.”
Kerry nodded. “I know.”
“So, if I sound like I don’t give a damn about Bud, it’s for a reason.”
Kerry patted her hand. “Honey, I know that. If you didn’t give a crap about Bud, you wouldn’t be here.” She said. “I’ll back you up, whatever you do or say. I trust you.”
“Even if I walk out?”
Kerry drew in a breath. “I’m with you, no matter what.”
Dar straightened up, as the motor slowed it’s rhythm. DeSalliers boat swam in her vision, armed men visible on the stern deck..
“Paladar, those fellers have rifles.” Andrew said suddenly.
“I know, Dad.” Dar acknowledged. “We’ll be careful.”
“Ah do not like this.”
“We’ll be okay.” Kerry stood up as they neared the back of the boat, which was pitching up and down nauseatingly. “We’ll keep their attention, Dad. See if you can cause them some trouble while we do, okay?”
“Ah will give them trouble.” Andrew muttered, pulling the boat even with the deck and holding his position. “Ah will blow that god damned thing up and out if this here ocean if that feller so much as tweaks any of your toenails.”
Dar took a deep breath. ‘Here we go.”
“Paladar Katherine, you be careful.” Her father spoke suddenly. “Please.”
Dar felt a little warmth spread in her guts. “I will, dad.” She reached for the ladder hanging down from the huge boat’s stern, ignoring the armed men watching her from above. Now that it was happening, she felt some of her nervousness drop away, as adrenaline replaced it. Her nerves steadied, and she felt her heartrate slow down as she climbed up to the pitching deck.
She put her hands on the top railing and pressed her body over in a swift, easy motion, forcing the guards to move back or else be slammed into. Dar took a step forward, her body blocking access to the ladder in order to give Kerry time to climb on board.
“Only one of you.” The man nearest her said suddenly. “Tell the other one to get lost.”
Dar turned as Kerry’s head emerged over the top of the ladder. She offered Kerry a hand over, ignoring the guard completely.
“Shut up.” Dar pinned him with a hard stare. “Either we both come, or we both leave. You choose.” She watched him hesitate. “Pick!” She added in a loud bark.
He backed up a step. Kerry climbed down and joined Dar on the deck, brushing off her rain slicker. Dar took a breath. “All right.” She caught her balance on the heaving stern. “Let’s go.”
The guards looked over the side, as the engines on the watercraft gunned and it backed away from the yacht. “Who is that?” The guard captain regained his attitude.
“My canoe paddler.” Dar told him. “Now. Are we going inside, or should I just call him back?”
The guard gazed at her. “I didn’t forget you from last time, bitch. You’ll pay for that before you leave.” He pointed with the gun barrel towards the door to the yacht’s cabin. “If you do.”
Dar and Kerry walked past him. Three guards fell in behind them, guns held at the ready.
It was now too late to turn back.
Andrew ran the watercraft back to the Dixie, and fastened it to the line he’d left in the water for that purpose. He slipped his slim line tank on, adjusted his mask, and entered the water in barely the time it took to think about it.
Under the waves, the situation was a lot easier. He could feel the pull of the waves above him, but they didn’t impede his progress, and he finned quickly towards the other boat.
The sound of the hull breeching the water guided him, his light left unlit on his belt. No sense in advertising.
He could sense the boat near him, and he went vertical, pulling out his new gadgets and fitting them to his hands. Carefully, he approached the hull of the boat and extended one arm, feeling the jolt as it contacted the fiberglass. “Gotcha.”
He triggered the lock, and hung on as the boat nearly heaved him out of the water. “Hell.” Andrew got his other hand up quickly and latched on, hanging from both hands as the boat rolled. He waited for the hull to dip back down into the water, then released his first hand and stretched higher, moving up the surface like an extremely large spider.
Dar paused inside the door to the cabin, ignoring the prod from the guard behind her. She checked out the room first, then walked inside, keeping a light hand on Kerry’s back. DeSalliers was standing near the bar, and three men were stationed around the room, holding guns.
Dar’s lips twitched into a feral smile. “Six guys with rifles?” She glanced between herself and Kerry. “I’m flattered.”
“I feel so dangerous.” Kerry added, folding her arms over her chest. “And I’m not even wearing my brown belt.”
“Shut up.” DeSalliers waved the other three guards out. “You’re empty handed, Roberts. I thought you were smarter than that, but then, on second thought, I should have realized you aren’t.”
Dar deliberately turned her back on him, strolling across the cabin’s interior as she studied one of the maps on the wall. “I’m not empty handed. You’re empty headed.” She looked over her shoulder at him. “Here’s my deal. You show me Bud.”
“This is not your deal.” DeSalliers interrupted her. “Now you just shut up and listen to me.”
“NO.” Dar turned and walked right past the gun barrel of one of the guards. “You listen to me, you scumbag.” She felt her temper come up, and a rush of energy filled her body. “You want the information I have? Do you? Otherwise, I’ll just walk out of here and sell it to the highest bidder.”
“You don’t have shit.”
“Don’t I?” Dar smiled. “ You’re wrong about that. I know about the poaching.” She ticked off one of her fingers. “I know he cut a deal with the locals.” She paused and waited. DeSalliers now watched her with lethal, bitter silence. “I know about the will. So, you jackass – if you want what I’ve got, then you do what I say and it’s yours.”
DeSalliers entire face twitched.
“You’ve only got two days before your loans default.” Kerry broke in. “If I were you, I’d just salvage what I could out of this.”
The man stared at her. “You don’t know shit.”
“Sure I do.” Kerry kept an even, almost kind tone. “It’s all in a database somewhere. You realized that, didn’t you? Public debt filings.”
DeSalliers snorted softly. “Yeah. That’s how you ruined your old man, isn’t it? Killed him, didn’t it?”
It was like taking a spear in the gut. Kerry only just got a clamp down on her emotions, and somehow managed to keep her expression unchanged. “Yes, it is.” She answered. “I’d gladly do the same to you.”
Dar dealt with the realization that if she’d had a gun in her hand at that moment, she would have shot DeSalliers without a moment’s regret. “So here’s the deal.” She repeated. “You show me Bud. You give me a transfer account, and I’ll transfer your skunk money. Then I give you your smoking gun and you let Bud go.”
DeSalliers watched her from narrowed eyes. He remained silent for a minute, then very, very slowly, he nodded in agreement. “How do I know you’ve got a smoking gun?”
“Because I say I do.” Dar told him. “You’re not worth lying to, and Wharton’s not worth lying for.”
Their host pointed at one of the guards. “Bring the piece of scum up here.”
Kerry released her held breath and wished she had a glass of water. Her insides were churning so badly she felt like a washing machine. She forced herself to move slowly and casually, wandering back across the cabin to end up next to Dar again. Her eyes met her partners, and for a brief moment Dar’s mask dropped and she saw sympathy and regret in the pale blue eyes watching her.
Kerry tensed her lips in acceptance, and patted Dar’s hip as she came to halt beside her. So far, she decided, the plan seemed to be working.
She prayed to God it stayed that way.
Andrew slowly lifted his head above the edge of the hull and peered across it. It was empty. The guards had clustered on the stern, out of the storm, exactly what he’d been hoping for. With a light sniff, he released one of his grips and removed it, sticking it in it’s pouch and transferring his hand to the railing. He repeated the motion with the other one, then pulled himself up and over onto the deck.
He lay there a moment, listening and catching his breath. “Ahm too damn old to be doing this.” He muttered to himself. The deck remained silent, so he lifted himself up and snaked across the top of it to the two prominent hatches set in it’s center. Then he laid back down and examined the hatches.
With a soft grunt, he fished in a vest pocket and drew out a slim tool. He slipped the edge of it under the hatch and pried gently upward near the hinge, working the fiberglass cover back and forward. With a soft crack, the hinge broke. Andy left it as it was and eased to the other side of the hatch, working on the next hinge point.
A soft creak warned him. He pressed his body against the hull and listened. Someone was coming along the railing towards the bow. Andrew cursed silently but remained very still, tensing his muscles as he watched the space between the cabin and the railing.
A man wandered through it and leaned on the rail, watching the waves. He didn’t seem inclined to move on, even after a few minutes.
Andrew put his hands on the surface of the hull and pushed himself upward, getting silently to his feet and rising to his full height behind the man. He paced forward even with the roll of the boat until he was just behind his target.
The man had a rifle slung over his shoulders. Andrew studied him for a brief moment, then balled his hand into a fist and slugged the man in the back of the neck. With a soft choking sound, the man’s knees buckled. Andrew stripped the rifle off and dropped it into the water, then debated throwing the man after it.
Wouldn’t have been the first time, by any measure.
With a faint sigh, he dragged the man over to the edge of the bow instead, and laid him down on the curve. Then he went back to the hatch and dropped back down next to it, easing the edge up and peering underneath.
The guards dragged Bud up and held him in her view at the edge of the steps that led to the boat’s cabins. Bud’s eyes were swollen shut, and his face was covered in bruises. He didn’t appear to be conscious of what was going on around him.
“You’re a nice host.” Kerry kept her voice even.
DeSalliers laughed. “He probably enjoyed it. He’s the type.” He motioned to the guard. “Put him back till I call you again.” He seemed to be in a slightly better humor now. “Here’s the numbers.” He handed Dar a slip of paper.
Dar was still gazing at the doorway, seeing the beaten form in her mind’s eye. She took the paper and stared at it. “Blood money.” She took out her cell phone and accessed it’s web features.
DeSalliers watched her. “Must be killing you.” He taunted Dar. “Loser.”
Pale blue eyes fastened on him. Dar handed the paper back. “It’s done. It’ll process when the banks open tomorrow.”
“You expect me to believe you?”
Dar shrugged. “DeSalliers, it’s pocket change.” She said. “It’s just a mean bit more of your crap I have to clean off my shoes.”
The guard returned, and leaned against the door, watching Dar and Kerry with scornful eyes.
DeSalliers crumpled the paper up and tossed it. “Enough bullshit. Hand it over.” He held out a hand towards Dar. “You’re polluting my boat, and I want you off it with your disgusting faggot friend.”
Dar reached behind her and unzipped her pocket. She withdrew the folded piece of plastic and almost casually tossed it at DeSalliers, zinging it across the cabin and hitting him in the chest with it. “There.” She said. “Now get Bud up here, and we’ll be more than glad to vacate this shit hole.”
DeSalliers unfolded the plastic and leaned over to read it, bringing it to the light. “You can’t think I’d go for th…” He stopped speaking for a moment. Then he slowly looked up at Dar. “Well.” He seemed a bit incredulous. “Imagine that. You told the truth.”
Dar felt extremely tired, and she wanted nothing more than to get Kerry, herself, Bud, and presumably her father off the damn boat and out of that patch of water. “Yeah. So give me what I want, and you can go crack a bottle of bad champagne over it.”
Their host folded the paper and put it into his pocket, patting it with one hand. Then he removed his cell and dialed a number. “When I’m ready.” He smirked at Dar. “I want a chance to savor beating you.”
Kerry let her hand rest against Dar’s back. It was almost over. The tension had given her a migraine to compete with her already upset stomach, and she felt like walking over and kicking DeSalliers right in the shins.
“Wharton? DeSalliers here.” The man spoke briskly into the phone. “I’ve got your proof. Right in my hand.” His eyes lifted and regarded Dar. “No, I got it out of her. No problem.”
Dar felt a burn start at the back of her neck.
“What?” DeSalliers said. “That wasn’t part of the deal.” He listened again. “Now, look…” He was cut off, and they could hear an angry voice though not the full words. The sound cut off, and he was left looking at the phone with an expressionless face. After a moment, he lifted his eyes and stared at them coldly. “Well, it wasn’t something I didn’t really want to do anyway.” He said.
“He double cross you?” Dar asked, though a sudden dread filled her gut.
“No. You.” DeSalliers said, remotely. “Gregos?” He turned to look at the guard near the door. “Kill them.” He stepped back through a small doorway nearby. “I guess the pirates will get blamed for yet something else.”
“Yes, sir.” The guard lifted his gun and pointed it. “My pleasure.”