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Please ignore the broken images. They will be fixed when the author or site staff has the time to do.
Circumnavigation - 154. Doomsday
Chapter 154: Doomsday
(Here's a link to google maps, centered on the areas in the chapter, which can be zoomed and moved around, because I know some of you are like me and love to follow along and see the areas on the story.)
“Prepare to seize the resort,” the first amongst equals ordered, “Begin in ten minutes and make sure there’s some gunfire. Leave the guests trapped in their rooms, and make sure their phones aren’t interrupted.” They wanted a spectacle, a show of power, and letting some of the guests communicate their predicament fit that goal. However, what they did not wish to provoke was utter outrage, so he added a reminder, “Treat the guests well; be respectful of them, see to their needs, and apologize for the inconvenience.”
Bridget phoned Xavier. “You and I shall deal with Lisa and Joel. Atlantis is in our trap, so we no longer need them alive,” she said, pulling her revolver from her purse.
Striding with purpose, Bridget made her way to the door of Lisa and Joel’s suite. She stood aside while Xavier reared back to deliver a powerful kick, splintering the doorframe near the lock. Xavier, with his AK-47 at the ready, charged in, making a beeline for the balcony, where he believed them to be. The TV was still on, though the rumble of the hot tub was clearly audible over it. Bridget entered the suite, her own gun at the ready, intending to kill Lisa and Joel quickly.
Xavier came in off the balcony with a puzzled look on his face, and with a shake of his head, indicated that no one was there. He immediately checked under the bed, while Bridget checked the wardrobes and bathroom – the only remaining places large enough to hide in. Bridget fixed Xavier in her gaze. “Where are they?” she demanded.
Xavier wasn’t used to being the target of Bridget’s ire, and felt a wave of fear. “I do not know… I heard them say they were going to the hot tub. They have not come out through the door; I would have heard them.”
Bridget stalked to the door, where she spent a moment examining it. “It was bolted, and the chain was on. You cannot do that from the outside,” she said, glancing towards the balcony. “How long since you last heard them for certain?”
Xavier swallowed once. “About three hours, but that is not unusual for them.”
Bridget glowered. “Three hours? Did you think to have anyone keep an eye on the balcony?”
“No, ma’am,” Xavier replied.
Bridget’s finger briefly tensed on the trigger, though she resisted the sudden urge. “Find them. Find them at once! Take as many men as you need, and infrared headsets as well; you will need them – though they are somewhat limited in this weather.” Bridget began glancing around the room. She noticed the luggage, and spent a few moments looking through it. Then, her gaze fell on the room’s single wastepaper basket, which was almost full with wadded balls of yellow notepaper: the notes Lisa and Joel had been passing when they had grown concerned over possible bugs. Bridget unfurled one, and soon another. “It seems that those meddling twerps noticed that something was going on here, and apparently they either found the bugs or recalled that I have used such measures in the past. What you have been hearing was intentional deception.”
An icy silence descended as Bridget kept reading. Finally, her anger ebbing, she said, “It appears that they warned Trevor, yet he is still on his way instead of returning to Guantanamo. We are fortunate that he is a fool – Lisa and Joel could have ruined everything. If you find them and you see them before they see you, do nothing other than call me. I believe you will find them on the shore somewhere east of here – Atlantis is approaching from the east, and is no doubt aware of our boats offshore. Focus your search on the shore areas between here and Lover’s Leap.”
The takeover of the resort, led by the first amongst equals, launched while Bridget and Xavier were in Lisa and Joel’s suite.
Leaving forty men in the main lobby complex, fifteen heavily armed two-man teams spread out, and a few bursts of gunfire shook the night air, loudly announcing to the fifteen remaining guests – many had left due to the approaching hurricane – that trouble was afoot. Confirmation came in the form of the armed men shouting at each door that the resort had been taken over, though they were not the targets and would be treated well and soon would be free to go. They were ordered not to leave their rooms – and were invited to call room service for their meals, which would then be delivered by cartel troops. Per their orders, the armed men made no attempt to confiscate cell phones, though the resort’s switchboard no longer allowed outbound or inbound calls on its room lines. As Bridget had anticipated, many of the guests called their friends and families, and word reached the media’s ears within half an hour. The press circus which Bridget desired was soon underway.
It wasn’t long before an enterprising journalist called the resort’s front desk, where the manager, with a little prompting from the armed men standing over him, read off a prepared statement, confirming that the resort had been taken over by a ‘massive force with heavy weapons’ and the remaining guests and staff were being well-treated. The reason he gave for the takeover had been penned by Bridget days before. “We regret the inconvenience to the guests and staff; they will not be harmed. We take this action out of necessity, in order to foil a plot against us by the Florida police, working in concert with the Norte Cartel and others, to defame us via forged evidence. The staff and guests will be released unharmed within forty-eight hours. Any attempt by the authorities to interfere will be met by massive force.”
Bridget was rather pleased with the hurricane, for it was adding additional drama to the event; it was not lost on the press that the resort could well be destroyed by the storm well before the deadline expired.
The Jamaican authorities reacted quickly, dispatching a small detachment of their national police to the scene – all they could spare, due to the approaching storm. The massive traffic jams of vehicles heading inland to flee the imminent arrival of Hurricane Dean clogged the roads, delaying their arrival. However, once in place, they soon spotted the RPGs and machine guns that Bridget had ordered to be visibly deployed. Those, coupled with the hostages, ruled out an attack on the resort, so the authorities took the only course available to them: they called to begin negotiations, only to be rebuffed. Xavier told them that hostages would be released, two at a time, over the coming hours, out of concern for their safety. He went on to say, “All will be released in time to be taken to shelter before the worst of Dean hits. However, there will be no negotiations, for you have nothing we desire and you cannot intervene.”
Under graying skies, Shane had the helm while Trevor was sleeping. He glanced at the sky, the blue now replaced with high bands of cirrus clouds, tinged an angry gray. It was their first direct sign of Dean. Shane kept a very close eye on the forecast feed from the National Weather Service, and when the next one was posted, it took Shane less than a minute to skim it and race to wake Trevor.
ZCZC MIATCPAT4 ALL TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM
HURRICANE DEAN ADVISORY NUMBER 25
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL042007
500 AM EDT SUN AUG 19 2007
...DEAN CONTINUES HEADING FOR JAMAICA...
A HURRICANE WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR THE SOUTHWESTERN PENINSULA
OF HAITI FROM WEST OF THE HAITI-DOMINICAN BORDER TO PORT-AU-PRINCE.
A HURRICANE WARNING IS ALSO IN EFFECT FOR JAMAICA AND THE CAYMAN
ISLANDS. A HURRICANE WARNING MEANS THAT HURRICANE CONDITIONS ARE
EXPECTED WITHIN THE WARNING AREA WITHIN THE NEXT 24 HOURS.
PREPARATIONS TO PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY SHOULD BE RUSHED TO
A TROPICAL STORM WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR THE COAST OF HAITI NORTH
OF PORT-AU-PRINCE TO THE NORTHERN HAITI-DOMINICAN REPUBLIC BORDER.
A TROPICAL STORM WARNING IS ALSO IN EFFECT FOR PORTIONS OF EASTERN
CUBA...FROM THE PROVINCE OF CAMAGUEY EASTWARD TO THE PROVINCE OF
GUANTANAMO. A TROPICAL STORM WARNING MEANS THAT TROPICAL STORM
CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED WITHIN THE WARNING AREA WITHIN THE NEXT 24
AT 500 AM EDT...0900Z...THE CENTER OF HURRICANE DEAN WAS LOCATED
NEAR LATITUDE 16.6 NORTH...LONGITUDE 73.4 WEST OR ABOUT 245 MILES...
395 KM...EAST-SOUTHEAST OF KINGSTON JAMAICA AND ABOUT 155 MILES...
250 KM...SOUTH-SOUTHWEST OF PORT AU PRINCE HAITI.
DEAN IS MOVING TOWARD THE WEST-NORTHWEST NEAR 18 MPH...30 KM/HR...
AND THIS GENERAL MOTION IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE FOR THE NEXT 24
HOURS. ON THIS TRACK THE CORE OF THE HURRICANE WILL PASS JUST
SOUTH OF THE SOUTHWESTERN PENINSULA OF HAITI DURING THE NEXT FEW
HOURS AND WILL BE NEAR JAMAICA LATER TODAY.
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS ARE NEAR 145 MPH...230 KM/HR...WITH HIGHER
GUSTS. DEAN IS A CATEGORY FOUR HURRICANE ON THE SAFFIR-SIMPSON
SCALE. SOME FLUCTUATIONS IN INTENSITY ARE POSSIBLE DURING THE NEXT
24 HOURS. DEAN WILL LIKELY GO THROUGH EYEWALL REPLACEMENT CYCLES DURING THE NEXT FEW DAYS RESULTING IN FLUCTUATIONS IN INTENSITY. HOWEVER...THE PEAK
INTENSITY IS EXPECTED TO OCCUR IN THE NORTHWESTERN CARIBBEAN
BETWEEN THE CAYMAN ISLANDS AND YUCATAN WHERE THE OCEAN HEAT CONTENT
IS VERY HIGH. DEAN COULD BECOME A CATEGORY FIVE AT ANY TIME BEFORE
IT REACHES YUCATAN.
HURRICANE FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 60 MILES...95 KM...FROM
THE CENTER...AND TROPICAL STORM FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 205
ESTIMATED MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE IS 921 MB...27.20 INCHES.
COASTAL STORM SURGE FLOODING OF 7 TO 9 FEET ABOVE NORMAL TIDE
LEVELS...ALONG WITH LARGE AND DANGEROUS BATTERING WAVES...IS
POSSIBLE NEAR THE CENTER OF DEAN WITHIN THE HURRICANE WARNING AREA.
STORM TOTAL RAINFALL AMOUNTS OF 5 TO 10 INCHES CAN BE EXPECTED OVER
JAMAICA...WITH MAXIMUM AMOUNTS OF UP TO 20 INCHES. AMOUNTS OF 4 TO
8 INCHES WITH MAXIMUM AMOUNTS OF 12 INCHES ARE EXPECTED OVER THE
CAYMAN ISLANDS. AMOUNTS OF 4 TO 6 INCHES ARE POSSIBLE OVER
SOUTHERN HISPANIOLA WITH MAXIMUM TOTALS OF 10 INCHES. THE
REMAINDER OF HISPANIOLA AND EASTERN CUBA COULD RECEIVE 2 TO 4
INCHES OF RAIN...WITH MAXIMUM AMOUNTS UP TO 7 INCHES. THESE RAINS
COULD CAUSE LIFE-THREATENING FLASH FLOODS AND MUDSLIDES.
REPEATING THE 500 AM EDT POSITION...16.6 N...73.4 W. MOVEMENT
TOWARD...WEST-NORTHWEST NEAR 18 MPH. MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...145
MPH. MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...921 MB.
AN INTERMEDIATE ADVISORY WILL BE ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL HURRICANE
CENTER AT 800 AM EDT FOLLOWED BY THE NEXT COMPLETE ADVISORY AT 1100
“Cat four and coming fast. Oh fuck!” Trevor exclaimed, his tone a mix of awe and fear. “It’s heading for Jamaica’s south coast, or a real close pass of it, and could hit as a category five. Holy fucking shit. I was hoping it’d veer north a bit.”
“We’ve got a monster on our tail,” Shane replied, glancing astern at the heavy swells.
“And we’ve got to use the outer bands for cover.” Trevor gave Shane a baleful look. “I still think my plan is better. The three of you would be safer ashore – even if we get away, we’re going to be cutting it pretty damn close to get out of Dean’s way. The hurricane-force core is about a hundred and twenty miles across, so that’s how far south we’ve got to run. And… this might be our last chance to end this thing with Bridget. We could both die if I don’t.”
Shane glared. “Trev, for the last time, no fucking way! I’m not going. And you’re going to make the pickup, not me, because I don’t trust you not to take off and go after Bridget. We don’t even know for sure she’s there and even if she is…” Shane shuddered. “Just no, no way in hell! You’d die!”
“This is mutiny,” Trevor observed, not for the first time.
“Yes it is, so suck it up and deal,” Shane replied, crossing his arms.
Three hours later, Trevor glanced up through the falling rain at the looming cliffs of Lover’s Leap. The sound of the massive surf crashing against the rocks filled his ears like thunder; loud enough to drown out the throb of Atlantis’s engines. “Okay, we’re as close as we dare get in these seas. Try to hold her here, or a bit to seaward if you need to. Watch out for wind gusts,” Trevor said.
“I’ll be okay, just get back fast,” Shane replied, taking his station at the helm.
Trevor lowered the Zodiac, peeled off his shirt in deference to the warm rain, and then strapped on a backpack. In it were a GPS and a VHF radio. “I’ll be back as fast as I can,” he said.
Shane watched with bated breath as Trevor roared off into the rain, following the shore west to the rendezvous.
Five miles to the east, unseen, were the two speedboats that Bridget had detailed to tail Atlantis. Due to shore clutter, Shane could not have seen them on Atlantis’s radar, which he was turning on for a brief sweep every ten minutes. During his first such sweep, something else caught his attention; an occasional brief set of blips, twenty miles to the south.
Trevor roared west, managing to make twenty knots in spite of the rough seas. With the aid of the handheld GPS, he soon arrived at the cove, which faced southeast, directly into the massive swells generated by Dean. The roaring surf formed a barrier, though a transitory one. Trevor waited for a minute, timing the waves, and then gunned the engine to follow a breaker in, staying well ahead of the one behind. He ran the Zodiac onto the seemingly deserted beach, and leaped out, Makarov pistol in hand. “Lisa! Joel!” he bellowed, glancing around in the gloom.
“Over here,” Joel replied, emerging from a thicket of trees with Lisa and dashing across the sand at a full run. When they reached the Zodiac, they grabbed it to help Trevor shove it back into the water. “They’ve got people looking for us, we saw some of ‘em a while back. We’ve got to get out of here fast!” Lisa blurted.
With frantic haste, they all piled in. Trevor motored slowly out, studying the massive waves at the cove’s entrance. “Hang on, this is gonna be bad,” he warned, as he gunned the engine, heading straight for a wall of white water.
A quarter of a mile away, one of Xavier’s best men watched from cover, phoning in to report that the expected pickup had occurred.
When the Zodiac’s bow hit the white water, the bow violently bucked up, the motion nearly hurling Lisa and Joel, who were seated on the floor forward, overboard. Trevor didn’t wait, he firewalled the throttle, charging out of the cove as the following swell built to a crest, racing to reach it before it broke. At the last moment, just before hitting the base of the steepening wave, he slewed the Zodiac, taking the face at an angle, racing for the sky. With a shudder, the Zodiac crested, leaving the water entirely for several moments before landing with a splash. “We’re out,” Trevor announced, smiling for the first time that day.
“Where’s Atlantis?” Joel asked.
“Tight in at the base of Lover’s Leap, about five miles east of here. We gotta hurry; Shane was kinda struggling to hold her in these seas so close in.”
Lisa arched a wet eyebrow. “So how come you came in the Zodiac?”
Trevor frowned, and then, with a shake of his head, replied, “Shane mutinied. He wouldn’t leave Atlantis, so I had to do the run in to pick you up.”
Joel studied Trevor’s face for a moment. “Why’d he do that?”
Trevor sighed. “Long story… but I wanted him to pick you two up and take you to a town west of here, and catch a ride to Kingston. I was going to get the speedboats to chase me so you could get away.”
Lisa glared. “You idiot! No wonder Shane wouldn’t do it; you’d have gotten your stupid self killed!”
Trevor ignored the rebuke, and turned on the VHF radio to say, “Mr. Christian, we have the bananas. Five of them. Over.” That was the code Trevor had come up with; Shane was Mr. Christian: the leader of the mutineers on HMS Bounty. ‘Bananas’ meant Lisa and Joel, and the number meant minutes.
“I copy. Hurry, our pizza might be coming early,” Shane replied. This was improvised, though the message was clear: trouble.
“Shit,” Trevor swore, advancing the throttle to ease the Zodiac up to twenty knots; well under her top speed, though dangerously fast in the swells and whitecaps they were taking in the teeth.
Twice, the Zodiac nearly flipped after careening off a wave, but they arrived at Atlantis in one piece, barely. Trevor hitched the Zodiac to the port stern and scrambled aboard, to find Shane in the cockpit, glowering at the radar display, which was off. He flicked it on. “I’ve only been taking a look once every ten minutes, like we said.”
“I’m getting transient hits on nearly-stationary targets, about ten miles south. They keep recurring, looks like four boats, nearly stationary, right at the edge of our detection range,” Shane reported. Trevor saw one radar return and, still mindful of the risk that Atlantis’s radar transmissions could be seen, shut off the radar.
The recurring positions told Trevor that it wasn’t wave reflections. “Gotta be a few of Bridget’s boats. Nothing else would be hanging around offshore with a hurricane coming. That means we have to go east and hope like hell we can round Jamaica’s eastern tip and run north before Dean smashes us…” Trevor checked the weather radar, as well as the weather report and navigation system. “Fuck! There isn’t time… Dean’s core will get there first, even if we make a speed run. The best we can do is run east for a bit and hope those bastards break off.” Trevor glanced at Lisa and Joel, who had joined them in the cockpit. “You guys should take off in the Zodiac. Get to shore and head inland. Take Shane with you. I’ll draw Bridget’s boats off.”
“I’ll say it again, I’m not bloody going!” Shane yelled.
Joel glanced towards the crashing waves. “Trev, we’re at the foot of a cliff. That means either going back where we were, or east to Alligator Pond. Bridget had people out looking for us ashore – we saw ‘em. I think we’re safer here.”
Lisa’s nod of agreement let Trevor know that no one would be leaving. He sighed and, after a glance at the navigation screen, said, “Okay, we’ll try to sneak east, staying hard up against the coast. Leave the radar off. Those offshore boats will have to break away sooner or later, and that could give us a chance to run south and get out of the way of the hurricane in time. Get the guns ready, just in case,” Trevor said, turning Atlantis east.
High above, on the western edge of Lover’s Leap, Bridget’s lookout peered through the light rain with his binoculars, and then phoned in to report, “They are all aboard. They’re moving east, close inshore, slowly.”
“Excellent,” Bridget replied, climbing aboard Sea Witch and ending the call as a smile spread across her face. She patted the helm of Sea Witch before turning to one of her henchmen to say, “Cast off.” She glanced at the first amongst equals as he climbed aboard, and said, “Time to settle matters.”
Bridget took a moment to look around; her fleet of speedboats littered the waters from near the resort all the way to Billy Bay, a mile to the west. She turned the key, feeling Sea Witch’s powerful diesels rumble to life. She advanced the throttles, reveling in the powerful, familiar roar of Sea Witch’s engines as she smoothly accelerated to twenty-five knots. That was the signal, and sixty-seven speedboats powered up to follow, roaring southeast to follow their leaders, fanning out to form a broad, loose formation. The speedboats to the east and south of Atlantis were Bridget’s stalking horses. Her main fleet was the anvil. Bridget phoned the lead of the two boats to Atlantis’s east – her key units had satellite phones – and ordered, “Let them see you. Herd them this way if you can, but if they do not reverse course, kill them.”
Atlantis, motoring at three knots, moved east, still sheltering against the massive cliffs of Lover’s Leap. The weather was rapidly worsening, though the cliffs sheltered Atlantis from the southbound winds of Dean’s western outer bands.
As Atlantis moved east, Trevor was peering out into the rain ahead. It fell in an uneven pattern due to the wind coming from shore and cascading over the cliffs, and also due to the rain in this part of the storm forming bands. As a result, every so often, they had passable visibility ahead.
Trevor was playing for time, hoping to slip away in the edges of the storm in time to avoid its deadly hundred-twenty-mile wide core.
It was not to be.
Trevor’s eyes widened as he peered east along the shore. He rammed the starboard throttle to full ahead, and pulled the port throttle to full reverse, while spinning the wheel hard to port. Atlantis, already perilously close to the roaring waves at the base of the cliff, began turning towards them.
“What did you see?” Shane asked, as Atlantis completed the tight turn, just yards from disaster.
“Two speedboats, just past the next promontory. Looks like they’re trying to hide behind it. They’re observing us somehow, sure as hell. We’re trapped, and we’re going to have speedboats coming at us any time now,” Trevor replied, his voice shaking as he pointed at the Zodiac. “Launch, now! All three of you. My plan is the only one we’ve got left. Go!”
“For the last fucking time, I’m not bloody going!” Shane roared. He glared at Trevor for a moment, and then added, “Your chances are better if you’re not alone, and even if they’re not… I’m staying, Trev.”
Lisa and Joel exchanged a worried glance, and after a fast, whispered conversation, Lisa spoke for them both. “You two are here because of us, and… they’re looking for us ashore. We barely got away. Those two speedboats are parked on the route we’d need to go, too. We’re staying.”
Shane gave Lisa and Joel a nod. “I’m staying, but you two should go. You could try climbing the cliffs. I can’t, I can’t deal with heights, but you might make it. I know some of what Trev’s got in mind… the chances here aren’t good.”
“If you stay, you’ll probably die,” Trevor bluntly warned.
“I think that’s true if we left, too,” Joel replied, his hand finding Lisa’s.
Trevor sighed. “Okay, okay… but if you’re not going, I’m going to make use of the Zodiac. Get the radar reflector out of the bilge and tape it upright in the Zodiac. Get some mooring line, tie some clothes at one end, and hurry, I might need it super fast,” he said, as he angled away from the coast, bearing southwest toward Pedro point; the sole promontory shielding Atlantis from the view of Bridget’s main fleet, which was to Atlantis’s west and coming fast.
Joel glanced at Trevor, and then at Shane; Trevor was wearing just boardshorts. That told Joel where most of the needed clothes were coming from, and he shucked off his shirt, and then his jeans. “These enough?” he asked, once down to his speedos and already knotting his shirt into the end of a mooring line.
Trevor glanced at the mooring line. “Yeah, but add Shane’s shirt, and a towel or two. That should be enough drag. Hurry,” he said, hoping that the last-moment addition to his plan might help their odds. He turned to look at Shane, who had just shed his shirt. “Get that audio patch cord; the one we got in the Falklands. The main VHF radio has an input port that’s the same size as the one on the phone, I checked. Then cue up a copy of the tape.” Trevor looked at Lisa, and said, “Go to the nav desk and get on the satellite phone. Call Gonzalez and let him know what’s going on. I don’t think he can help, I don’t think anyone can, but call him.”
As soon as Joel had finished knotting the clothes and towel into the end of the mooring line, Trevor said, “Tie the other end to the Zodiac’s stern, take the spare gas tank off, then start the engine.”
Trevor checked the weather plot and the navigation screen. He took a deep breath, and clicked on the radar. As he’d feared, he saw the speedboats to the south and east inbound, just a few miles away. He shut off the radar and pulled the throttles back to idle, playing for time.
Shane returned to tell Trevor, “The cable wasn’t long enough so I moved the VCR. It’s all set up; I tested it.” The first gusts of wind along with sheets of driving rain began buffeting Atlantis as she moved further from the sheltering cliffs.
Joel returned, pulse racing, and asked, “Now what?”
Trevor checked his watch, and then advanced the throttles. “Stand by to raise sail. Get ready on the guns: pistols only. Once we start broadcasting, I’ll go to full throttle and head for Bridget’s main fleet.”
“With two pistols, against at least fifty armed speedboats? Trev, they’re armed to the teeth! Any one of them could blast us to bits, and they’re faster than us. That’s insane!” Joel gasped.
Shane chuckled. “You haven’t even heard the best part yet.”
Trevor had a look on his face that Shane and Joel had never seen before: cold, determined, and angry. “It’s time to end this. We can’t run, they’d just run us down, so we’re going after Bridget. Once we launch the Zodiac, there’s no turning back for you three. I still think you should go, but… one way or another, this thing with Bridget is ending today.”
Shane nodded. “Trev’s utterly insane, we know that, but I think it’s catching because I think this is the best shot we’ve got.”
Joel’s eyes opened wide. “How? You can’t possibly hope to take her on with just a few guns, and she’s not stupid enough to stay in the path of the hurricane.”
In that moment, Trevor felt a pang of doubt. ‘What if Frank is wrong about her?’ he thought, as he powered up Atlantis’s main radar. The doubt proved ephemeral, chased away by the thought, ‘It’s the only chance we’ve got. If he’s wrong, none of us will live to regret it.’ With cold steel in his eyes, Trevor replied, “Frank Tittle told us a lot of stuff, including what he thinks Bridget is really like. That’s why the first thing we’ve got to do is really piss her off. Then she’ll come at us with everything she’s got.”
Aboard Sea Witch, nearing Pedro Bluff from the west, Bridget, soaked by the driving rain and spray, had the helm, and was staring at her radar screen. Although Atlantis was out of her line of sight, Sea Witch’s military-grade radar could pick up Atlantis’s radar emissions and had done so during Trevor’s most recent breif radar scan. It was only a vague location, an indication that Atlantis was beyond the intervening promontory, but it confirmed what her spotter had reported. “They are coming this way. How very convenient. Order three of the other RPG-armed boats to follow us, and ready our own RPG.” Xavier used the radio, giving the orders in the open – though all of Bridget’s boats had encrypted VHF as an option, the speedboats from other cartel chairs did not have compatible systems. This was one of the drawbacks of a combined operation.
Twenty miles south of Bridget’s fleet, a U.S. Air Force Reserve C-130 was flying a lazy figure-8 patrol pattern at thirty-five thousand feet. Half an hour before, it had flown a penetration mission into Dean. It was a hurricane hunter. It was also the sole material result of Gonzalez’s frantic requests for help. The unarmed plane was now far above the storm’s outer bands, using its radio suite to listen in. They picked up the transmissions from Bridget’s fleet and, via triangulation, determined the approximate locations of the sources. This, they relayed to Homestead Air Force Base, where Gonzalez had just arrived.
Gonzalez’s reaction to the news was a question, which he addressed to everyone in the base’s office. “Is there anything we can do?”
A two-star Air Force general, the ranking officer on scene, fielded the answer. “Even if I was given the authority to engage, there’s nothing we can do, not in time. If I could get an AC-130 in theater, that’d do the trick.” The AC-130 is the attack version of the C-130: a flying gunship. “However, I can’t send one into a hurricane; they couldn’t do much of anything with no visibility, and the closest one is at least four hours away. I’m having it sent to Gitmo so it’ll be closer, but there’s nothing it can do until the storm moves out.”
“What about the Navy?” Gonzalez asked, in desperation.
“Their closest combat assets were in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, but they moved everything afloat north, due to the hurricane. Even if their ships and planes were still there, it’s a time-and-distance problem, plus the issue of speedboats being very hard to target. Even without the storm, we couldn’t have responded in time, but I’ll do what I can,” the general replied, feeling just as frustrated as everyone else in the room.
“A submarine, for rescue?” Gonzalez asked, though he was already fairly sure of the answer he’d get.
The naval liaison officer answered that question. “We don’t have any in the Caribbean.”
And with that, Gonzalez knew what he’d been dreading was true; Atlantis was on her own, trapped, with the full might of the cartel arrayed against her.
“Lisa; call Frank Tittle and tell him what’s going on. The number is on a pad on the desk,” Trevor shouted.
Shane glanced at the navigation screen and asked, “Trev, what kind of range do those rocket-propelled grenade things have?”
The shoulder-fired rocket propelled grenade launchers that Joel had spotted at the resort had been a grave concern of Trevor’s since he’d first heard about them. He blinked. “I don’t know… and we need to know that.” Trevor spied Joel emerging from the salon. “Hey, got any idea what the range is on an RPG?” Trevor asked.
Joel blinked. “Uh, no.”
“Go tell Lisa to ask Frank. Maybe he can find out. We need to know that,” Trevor said, mentally kicking himself for not thinking of that very important detail sooner.
Frank Tittle had the internet at his fingertips. Unfortunately, he availed himself of it, and a minute later reported, “Two hundred yards.” Lisa relayed the information to the cockpit.
Atlantis neared Pedro Bluff and Trevor angled south, going just far enough to pick up the edge of Bridget’s fleet, which was spread out in an arc a mile wide to the west, supported by speedboats to both the south and east of Atlantis. “Range, four miles. I hope she’s got her ears on. Shane, get ready.” Trevor took a breath, selected VHF 9 – the designated VHF hailing frequency – turned it up to full gain, and keyed the microphone. “Sailing Vessel Atlantis calling Bridget Bellevue. Sailing Vessel Atlantis calling Bridget Bellevue. This is Trevor Carlson. I know you’re here, Bridget. It’s okay to answer; I’m not going to hurt you so you don’t need to hide, over.” Trevor began repeating the hail.
The swells were radiating from the east – from Dean’s core – while the chop was driven by the wind from the north. The result was a chaotic sea, which imparted a lurching, violent motion to Sea Witch and the other speedboats. Aboard Sea Witch, the first amongst equals was in the head, throwing up and cursing the sea. Even his scopolamine patch had proven inadequate against the sickening motion of Sea Witch as she charged through the choppy, chaotic seas and swells.
Xavier was in charge of the radio and scanner. When he heard Trevor’s hail through his earphones, his face paled. Hands trembling, he whipped off his earphones, offering them to Bridget. “Ma’am, it’s for you, it’s Atlantis,” he said, fearing her fury.
With a confident smirk, Bridget refused the headset and clicked on the speakers, just in time to hear the start of Trevor’s second hail. Her smirk faded as she realized that every boat in her fleet could hear him as well, and being openly ridiculed was something that she could not allow. Her fury rising, she keyed the microphone. “Atlantis, Sea Witch copies. I am here, Trevor. Why not stop running? You cannot escape.” She saw no harm in using her boat’s informal name over the radio.
Aboard Atlantis, Trevor watched his radar screen for a moment, and then keyed his microphone as he forced himself to laugh. “There’s something you don’t know, Bridget; I know all about you, and what a craven coward you are inside. Did you know that Stacy’s doll was aboard Kookaburra, along with that tape you’ve been fumbling after for months? Kookaburra used to be Ares, and they’ve been there all along. We found them, and they’re proof that you had somebody kill your daughter with a drug overdose. What kind of a coward does that? I guess you do. So, now you want to kill me like you killed your daughter? Oh, that’s right, you had somebody else kill your daughter, just like you’ve always had somebody else come after me. Why are you so afraid, Bridget? And in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not running from you, I’m coming right at you. It’s time to settle this – if you’ve got the guts, but I doubt you do.” Trevor advanced the throttles to maximum, still on course for a head-on encounter with Bridget’s fleet. He clicked off the microphone and said, “Four miles.”
Bridget’s hand gripped the wheel with painful force. Trevor’s words shook her, evoking blinding fury coupled with an emotion she had not felt in years; shame. Her careful veil of formality snapped, torn asunder by visceral emotion. “You fuckin’ little liar, I’ll burn ya alive for that,” she snarled into the microphone, her voice now rich with the rural Georgia accent she’d had as a child. Bridget’s expression alone was enough to make Xavier fear for his life, though her fury was clearly directed at Trevor.
Again Trevor laughed into his microphone. “I’m not the liar, you are. You’re also a pathetic little coward. Are you afraid yet, Bridget? Maybe you’d like to hear it from somebody who knew you better than anyone,” Trevor said, keying off his microphone and yelling, “Shane, now!”
At the navigation desk, Shane hit ‘play’ on the VCR, and the copy of Arnold Bellevue’s tape began to play through the VHF radio. “My name is Arnold J. Bellevue, and I intend this tape as my insurance policy. If this tape has been found by the authorities and I am deceased, you will almost certainly find that my wife, Bridget Bellevue, is behind my death. If this tape has been found by someone else, please ensure that it reaches the FBI immediately…”
As the tape carried on, Bridget paled. Though she’d never known Arnold’s exact words, she had a very good idea what was coming. Also, she knew it would expose the lies she’d told the cartel. The latter did not greatly concern her; she was now powerful enough that none within the cartel would dare challenge her. It was the ridicule that she could not, would not, face – for that not only struck at her heart, but threatened her power as well. She snapped her head around to shout at Xavier, “Jammers, now! Get Atlantis off the air!”
Sea Witch’s radar had a jamming mode, though it was meant for use against other radars, and didn’t operate at VHF wavelengths. Sea Witch also had a radio jammer – simply a higher powered radio that could be set to emit noise on a frequency. However, there was a problem. With a helpless expression, Xavier replied, “We can’t, not at this range. His set’s too powerful. The other boats would still hear it.”
“Do it as soon as we’re close enough,” Bridget commanded, edging the throttles forward, though Sea Witch was already moving as fast as was prudent in the roughening seas.
The words of Bridget’s long-dead husband went on, “I left a few false trails for her to follow, some leading to other boats we owned, and one leading to a doll in the bow of Ares; a doll which was once the most prized childhood possession of our daughter, Stacy. I would like to think that Bridget might find it, though I doubt even that could pierce her frigid heart. Bridget is responsible for our daughter’s death…”
“Release the Zodiac,” Trevor ordered.
Joel set it free, while Trevor turned Atlantis sharply to starboard and shut off her radar.
The Zodiac motored away at quarter throttle, slapping across the waves at twelve knots. The heavy mooring line, which Joel had tied to the Zodiac’s stern davit loop, was trailing astern with the knotted clothes on the far end, providing drag, along with constant tugs on the Zodiac’s stern, to keep it roughly on a course of west by southwest toward Bridget’s fleet.
Trevor watched as the Zodiac disappeared into the rain as he reefed Atlantis around in an easy turn to starboard, which carried her north of her base track before the continuing turn pointed her towards the southeast, her new heading. “I think the closest of that big mass of boats is Bridget’s. If this works, her radar will see the radar reflector in the Zodiac, and our course will keep it between us and her for a bit. That’ll buy us some time, but not much. Okay, raise sail, time to go fast!”
Shane and Joel worked the winches, hoisting Atlantis’s massive sails, which caught the almost gale-force southbound wind, speeding Atlantis southeast. Trevor eased back on the engine throttles as Atlantis charged ahead, cutting through the rough seas as she accelerated to a perilous nineteen knots. Trevor left the engines running, though at idle.
Aboard Sea Witch, Bridget fumed, racing in from the west on an intercept course for the southbound blip on her radar, drawing ever closer. Trevor had guessed right; Bridget’s radar was picking up the radar reflector, and for the moment ignoring the weaker blip that was still close behind it, though partially shrouded by the distant shore clutter from Portland Head.
Bridget craved to get close enough to jam the radio, which was still broadcasting Arnold Bellevue’s tape. She ached to turn it off, to somehow spare herself from those hateful words of betrayal, but though her hand twice reached for the speaker switch, she stayed it, knowing that she had to know what the rest of the fleet was hearing. Rage consumed her, a deep and visceral craving for vengeance filling her bitter heart. “One mile, turn on the jammer!” she yelled, easing back the throttles to slow Sea Witch.
The speakers on Sea Witch began to howl as the white noise drowned out Atlantis’s transmission. Xavier used a satellite phone to call one of the other boats, which was just one mile to the south. The news chilled him, and he reported to Bridget, “They’re still picking it up.”
With a snarl of primal fury, Bridget shut off the jammer, and the words of her late husband again returned to torment her. “Burn in hell, Arnold,” she muttered, advancing the throttles as she bore down on the Zodiac at twenty-five knots. By now, Atlantis was visible as a faint blip, but Bridget was fixated on the stronger, closer return. “Four hundred yards. Prepare to fire the RPG,” she yelled, chopping the throttles to give the RPG gunner a more stable platform. Sea Witch was carrying a single RPG launcher, as were eight of her other boats. All had two or more soldiers armed with AK-47 rifles or similar. Several boats, including Sea Witch, had heavy rifles aboard.
Like a wraith, the Zodiac appeared out of the rain. For a moment, Bridget stared at it, and then glanced at her radar screen as understanding dawned. “You sneaky bastard,” she hissed, edging her throttles forward to close in the Zodiac. She glared at one of the rifle-armed gunners. “Destroy it!” Sea Witch made a close pass, the gunner lacing it with bursts from his AK-47. Bridget watched as its outboard engine began smoking. She rammed the throttles forward, keying her microphone to transmit to her fleet on VHF 13, “Target is bearing east southeast, pursue and destroy.” She clicked over to VHF 9 to say, “Trevor, you’re trying to run. What happened to settling this? Are you afraid?”
Trevor heard her, and interrupted the tape to reply, “I’m just choosing the ground. If you don’t like it, feel free to run away. You’re good at that; you ran like a little girl after my mom kicked your ass on that beach in Australia. I’m not running, you can see right where I am.” To make his point, Trevor turned on both of Atlantis’s radars, and for good measure, her AIS transponder as well. He then released the microphone, leaving the frequency for Arnold’s tape, which Shane had rewound and restarted.
Atlantis’s radar was, like many high-end marine radars, a MARPA enabled set. MARPA stands for Mini Automatic Radar Plotting Aid, and is used for target tracking and collision avoidance. The target must be selected on the display, though once that is done, the system displays the target’s speed, bearing, heading, and distance.
Trevor glanced at Joel, and said, “She sounds really pissed. So far, this is working – but I’d hoped for less of a lead. She’s three miles back, doing twenty-four knots – that’s about as fast as she can go in these seas, I think. We’re doing eighteen. We might have to slow down.”
The math was easy to do in his head, and Joel blurted in surprise. “She’ll be on top of us in thirty minutes, and you want her here sooner?”
Trevor smiled coldly as he glanced to the west. “Yeah, I need her close. Unless we take her and her fleet all the way out, we lose, even if we escape. I’ll explain later if there’s time. First, we’ve got to deal with those two speedboats to the east. The first will be here in a few minutes and we can’t dodge it. We’re lucky they’re coming in one at a time.” Luck had little to do with it. The two speedboats had responded to Bridget’s orders to herd Atlantis to her by running abreast near the shore, with one a mile farther out than the other. Atlantis’s break to the southeast had thus placed one of them closer, as Trevor had intended.
“The rifle?” Joel asked, referring to the 30-06.
Trevor shook his head. “Keep that hidden except as a last resort. You and Lisa take the pistols. Shane will have the spear gun and the bottles; I’ll have the two flare guns. I’ll set up for a port-to-port close pass. Hold fire until I give the word, then let ‘em have it.”
“What if they use RPGs? We’ve got no clue which boats have them – maybe they all do?” Joel asked.
“If we’re hit by one of those, we’re finished,” Trevor admitted. That was part of why he’d tried so hard to get Shane, Lisa, and Joel to leave. “Frank said those have a two–hundred-yard range, but the 30-06 has a lot longer reach. So if we see a boat with an RPG, we’ll have to use the rifle.”
The first of the two speedboats coming in from the northeast didn’t have an RPG. The second one, however, did.
Trevor checked the weather radar, seeing the massive curve ahead; the oncoming core of Dean, and he was heading right for it. He knew that Atlantis could handle category one winds, and maybe even a weak category two, but much beyond that, he knew, would be fatal for Atlantis and all aboard. And Dean was currently a strong category four, which made its inner core a zone of certain death on the open sea.
The current forecast called for Dean to maintain a course of west northwest at seventeen knots, and make a very close pass along the south coast of Jamaica. Dean was already blasting Portland head, only twenty-five miles northeast of Atlantis, with category two winds, which would soon grow to category four as Dean’s center approached within twenty miles of shore to lash the coast with the full fury of the inner core’s category four winds, though this would not weaken Dean.
High overhead, the Air National Guard C-130 was doing all that it could to help. Xavier’s in-the-clear orders to the fleet were proving very useful; they were allowing the C-130 to triangulate their source and cross-reference it with their sea-search radar. The results were clear; the transmissions were emanating from the lead boat of the large eastbound formation. The C-130 could also detect the signal from satellite phones, though they could not listen in. This information was relayed to Homestead Air Force Base, where Gonzalez was still trying to put together something, anything, which might help.
Gonzalez made a fast call to Atlantis, letting them know what the C-130 had found, in the hopes that Trevor could use it to stay away from Bridget.
Trevor decided not to tell him that he had the opposite in mind, and though he’d been fairly sure before, now he knew that the closest of the large formation roaring in from the west was Sea Witch.
A more immediate threat had to be dealt with first. One of the speedboats that had been stalking Atlantis from the east appeared out of the howling mists, heading for Atlantis’s port side. Trevor gauged the range, and at two hundred yards, spun the wheel to turn to port. Atlantis reacted to the sharp turn, combined with the heavy load on her sails, by listing to starboard as her port hull rose high in the water.
With sweating palms, the crew of Atlantis steeled themselves. For Lisa and Joel, this was especially hard; they’d never faced any form of combat before.
Neither had the crew of the oncoming speedboat.
The more-maneuverable speedboat angled to avoid the head-on crash, jostling the two men on deck, who were pulling the triggers on their AK-47s – the same type of guns the pirates had used to hole Atlantis’s hulls. The first shots were high and wild, but the gunmen corrected, and began pumping aimed single-shot fire at Atlantis’s port forward quarter. The tumbling bullets, hitting Atlantis’s Kevlar-toughened fiberglass at an angle, were prone to ricochet instead of penetrate. As a result, only five of the bullets buried themselves in Atlantis, and all but one were above the waterline. Trevor ducked, but held course. With the speedboat just seconds from a close pass, he yelled, “Now!”
Shane popped the crew cabin hatch open and, braving the incoming fire, stuck his head and arms out to hurl a beer bottle filled with gasoline at the speedboat. It was a difficult throw, though his aim was true and the bottle struck the speedboat’s forward deck before bouncing harmlessly off into the sea. “Uh oh,” he mumbled, ducking back into the crew cabin as a bullet whizzed past.
Lisa and Joel, shielded by the slope of the decks and by virtue of the cockpit’s recessed floor, opened up with the pistols as the speedboat roared past, just thirty feet away. They were firing almost blind, with little hope of hitting anyone – and didn’t. However, two of their rounds slapped into the deck at the two gunmen’s feet, sending them rolling for cover.
Trevor, hands shaking, lined up with the flare gun. He hadn’t seen Shane’s thrown bottle bounce off, and was hoping to ignite gasoline that wasn’t actually there. To Trevor’s consternation, the speedboat was past before he could get off a shot. He swept up the rifle, assuming that he’d have to use it.
To the amazement of everyone on Atlantis, the speedboat, having tasted gunfire, kept going, its skipper intending to join up with Bridget’s force, leaving Atlantis – which was far larger than his own thirty-five foot cruising powerboat – to the oncoming RPG-armed boat coming in from the northeast, and to Bridget’s fleet.
Bridget’s fury at the speedboat’s captain was heard by every boat in her fleet.
Trevor glanced at the radar. “Incoming boat, half a mile off our bows, coming in fast,” he yelled.
Out of the rain, lit only by the fading gloom of that stormy dusk, the second speedboat appeared, cutting her throttles as soon as Atlantis was visible, at a distance of two hundred sixty yards. The reason for slowing was to give her man with the RPG a more stable firing platform.
The RPG gunner, crouching in the cockpit, hefted the steel tube to his shoulder and cocked the firing hammer. He glanced back to make sure his backblast would not damage the speedboat, and then peered through the magnified sight. In the near darkness and rain, he found he could not see Atlantis through the sight – he’d never fired an RPG before, though he’d memorized the manual. Cursing the driving rain and the pitching boat, he looked over the sights, seeing Atlantis coming head-on. At that range, it would have to be a slight lob shot, so he decided to ignore the sights. He elevated the end of the barrel to fifteen degrees and, as Atlantis closed to two hundred twenty yards, he pulled the trigger of the RPGs’ mechanical ignition.
Trevor rammed the throttles forward, using engines to increase Atlantis’s speed, though she was under sail at seventeen knots. He steered straight at the speedboat, and was about to reach for the rifle when he saw a brilliant orange flash and then a streak in the sky; the lobbed shot by the RPG.
There was no further warning. With a thunderous roar, the sea erupted twenty yards ahead of Atlantis, raising a thundering column of water, some of which rained down on her decks.
“Oh fuck!” Trevor gasped, reaching for the rifle and snatching it up to his shoulder. He looked for the speedboat, finding that it was obscured by the thick smoke of the launch. ‘If we can’t see them, they can’t see us,’ he thought, while also hoping that they were not studying their radar at that particular moment. He bore straight in, closing the gap at what felt like an agonizingly slow rate: ten yards per second – nineteen knots.
Aboard the speedboat, the RPG gunner fumbled, struggling to reload. He knew it could be done in fourteen seconds, but the manual had nothing to say about doing it on a pitching deck. The speedboat’s captain rammed the throttles forward, accelerating to twenty knots in order both to get closer and to clear the launch smoke. He was also blinking rapidly, his eyes still dazzled by the blinding launch flash of the RPG.
“Shane, take the helm, ten degrees to starboard,” Trevor ordered, as the speedboat emerged from the smoke and darkness, roaring towards them. Trevor swept up the rifle, dropping to one knee and raising it as he flipped open the covers of its telescopic sight. He’d practiced with the rifle, though never in near-darkness, and found the same thing the RPG gunner had; he couldn’t see a thing through the magnified sights. “Fuck! It’s too dark,” he exclaimed, fear gripping him.
Shane tensed at the helm, but then his gaze fell on the cockpit bench seat. “What about the spotlight?” he asked.
“That’ll make us one hell of a target, but… Joel, get it and light ‘em up!” Trevor replied.
Joel flipped up the seat and fumbled for a moment, struggling to find the spotlight. He found it, a black, heavy one with a handgrip. He raced to the side, aimed forward, and pulled the trigger. The powerful spotlight blazed forth, illuminating the speedboat, now just forty yards away, with one million candlepower.
Atlantis was a great deal more stable than the speedboat and thus a better shooting platform. However, in those rough seas, there was still plenty of motion to deal with, and Trevor found himself struggling to line up the shot, which was at a far closer range than he’d anticipated. He saw the RPG gunner raising the tube, and with his heart in his throat, pulled the trigger.
With a roar, Trevor’s shot flew towards the gunner, missing his head by mere inches to slam into the cockpit railing and then the sea beyond. The gunner heard it and ducked, spoiling his own shot only moments before he’d have pulled the trigger. He quickly rose up again, trying to line up, only to see that Atlantis was just yards away. He glanced through the sight, only to cry out in pain as the magnified light seared his eye; Joel was still shining the spotlight, now from just a few yards away, the two boats roaring past each other in a close port-to-port pass. The RPG gunner began to turn, intending to blast Atlantis as she moved away aft.
Lisa, with the flare gun in her sweaty, shaking hands, chewed on her lip and fired, filling the air with burning orange light as the flare arced towards the speedboat’s cockpit. It hit the leading edge of the windshield, bouncing off and tumbling to the cockpit floor, where it rolled aft, settling against the first of the three remaining RPG rounds.
The ammunition for the RPG7 is designed to be very robust, and both the warhead and rocket motor are well protected. The warhead itself is fused for a minimum as well as maximum flight time, so the flare burning against it was of comparatively little immediate danger. It would have taken several seconds to do anything.
The RPG gunner didn’t know that, certainly not at an instinctive level. He reacted to the sight of the flare against the warhead by spinning around to kick it away.
His finger was still on the trigger, and a moment after he successfully kicked the flare away, his tightening grip exceeded the trigger’s pull weight, causing the RPG to fire. It was pointing aft and upwards, so the round arced harmlessly into the rainy sky, passing far above and to port of Atlantis. The rocket’s backblast went the opposite way; at a down angle into the forward end of the cockpit, where the captain was standing at the helm.
The fiery blast hit the captain in the legs, giving him instant third-degree burns and knocking him off his feet. It also ruptured and ignited the speedboat’s reserve fuel, stored in a plastic jerry can.
A fireball erupted, climbing into the sky as the out of control speedboat raced away. Burning diesel fuel ran aft, engulfing the RPG rounds in flames. The RPG gunner blanched, turning to leap over the stern.
The speedboat roared on for twenty seconds more, until the flames heated the warhead of one of the RPG rounds enough, causing its fuse to fire.
In a flash, the speedboat vanished in a ball of flame as the RPG warhead tore it apart and ignited its main fuel tanks.
A wave of heat passed over Atlantis, and then the thundering roar. Trevor whooped, and rose to pat Lisa on the back. “You got ‘em! It was the flare, had to be!”
Lisa, her hands still clutching the flare gun with it aimed towards the fire that was still rising skyward, began to breathe again. “Good, ‘cause that didn’t go where I was aiming. I’ve never fired one of these before.”
Trevor grew thoughtful for a moment, and then said. “We’re probably the only ones who know what happened.” He returned to the helm and keyed the microphone. “Hey, Bridget, if you haven’t run away yet, you might want to stop and pick up the crew of that speedboat you sent after us. You’ll be needing tweezers, ‘cause there ain’t much left: we just blew them to hell.”
A furious Bridget, her temper beyond frayed by Trevor’s constant taunting and his playing of the tape, shot back, “Crow all you like. You killed one boat, but I have over seventy with me. You will be the next to burn.”
Trevor laughed for effect, and replied, “They went up like a 4th of July fireworks display. It was awesome. Anyway, I’ll play that tape some more for you; I know you must like it, silly bitch that you are. Or maybe some music to run away by? What’s your call sign, Chicken of the Sea?”
Bridget was far beyond merely furious.
The first amongst equals finally staggered into the cockpit, though his empty stomach was still heaving. He’d heard most of the broadcasts, including the tape. He set that issue aside to address the immediate problem. “He’s goading you. Don’t let him get to you; that’s what he wants. He’s trying to lure you into a one-on-one duel.”
Bridget, though livid at what had been occurring, tried to calm herself. She knew that the first amongst equals had a better feel for the dynamics of the cartel, and asked, “What will this ridicule do to me?”
The first amongst equals shrugged. “No one would think less of you for refusing a one-on-one engagement. That would be foolish. None of us would accept such an offer from an enemy, but you cannot run from him. Be a part of destroying him. Use every boat we have, but be a part of it. If he and his friends escape, that would be… very unfortunate for us. That, combined with past events, would be a humiliation. It would make your position at the table weaker, though not fatally so. Only by running could you destroy yourself. Running from the storm while letting the others destroy him is sensible, but in the face of these taunts, it would be taken for what it is not.”
Bridget’s eyes narrowed. “Running is the last thing on my mind. I wish to kill him myself.”
With a shake of his head, the first amongst equals replied, “That is a pointless risk to us. If one of the other boats gets him, this is over. No one expects you to engage him personally. Your actions against the U.S. Coast Guard when you escaped from Florida are well known; no one doubts you. If that yacht survives long enough for our main force to engage, let the others take any risks, just do not be too far away. I wish I could advise you otherwise; I would give anything to race for land.” With a hurried turn, he dashed for the head as his stomach’s heaving began anew.
Bridget glanced at Xavier, and ordered, “Have the boats accompanying us form up, line abreast. I wish an advancing line a mile wide. Some boats are not as adept in rough seas; allow some to fall back if they cannot keep up.” Sea Witch took a wave face just a little too fast, momentarily leaving the water before slamming back down. Bridget reluctantly yielded to reality by reducing throttle slightly, slowing Sea Witch to twenty-two knots. “As conditions worsen, our boats lose their speed advantage. Atlantis is likewise affected, though not to so great a degree. I believe I know what Trevor has in mind; run toward the hurricane until the seas are so rough that we lose our speed advantage over Atlantis. He will then attempt to break south to avoid the storm’s core. Therefore, dispatch ten boats to the southeast, just in case he does manage to elude us. We will turn his own strategy against him; he cannot remain in the path of the storm, for once the seas worsen enough that Atlantis can no longer outrun the storm, she is doomed.”
Sea Witch raced on, a thousand yards ahead of the closest of her accompanying boats, slowly closing the gap with Atlantis.
Trevor grinned at his radar display, and then at the VFH radio. “That’s her, just over a mile back. She’s using VHF 13 to talk to her boats. Start playing the tape on it. Listen in, in case she broadcasts a channel change. Follow her if she does. She won’t jam the channel she’s using, though if she does, great.”
Shane dashed into the salon, and soon Bridget was again serenaded with the tape, as was the rest of her fleet.
Bridget’s fist slammed down on the helm console. “Jam him!”
Xavier hesitated. “We’ll jam our own comms, too.”
In blind rage, Bridget glanced at the radar. “One mile. We have twenty RPG rounds aboard. Use a few at max range: give him something to fucking think about.” She edged the throttles forward, pushing Sea Witch to her absolute limit in the chaotic seas, trading safety for speed.
“One mile,” Trevor called out above the roar of the rising wind. “That’s her in the lead. The rough seas aren’t slowing her as much as I thought. We’re at eighteen knots; it’s slowing us too. She’s at twenty-three, and that huge mass of boats with her is at about twenty-one with a few stragglers. Unless she, or one of the others, closes to two hundred yards, we’re okay – for now. We might need to slow down to let her get closer.” Trevor checked the weather radar and altered course by a few degrees, aiming straight for Dean’s deadly heart. “We’re closing on the outer core; it’s about a hundred and twenty miles wide. The outer fringes should be at category one strength. In those conditions – heavy seas and winds – Atlantis should be a bit faster than those speedboats; their planing hulls suck in heavy seas. It’ll slow us some, but it’ll slow them even more.”
Joel, standing by Trevor’s side, looked ahead into the rain swept darkness, which was lit only by the occasional flicker of distant lightning refracting through the clouds and rain. “And that’s how we escape, right? We break south, faster then they can follow, and dodge out of Dean’s way,” he asked, a hopeful tone in his voice.
Shane rolled his eyes. “That’s what I thought he had in mind. Now you get to hear the crazy part.”
Joel blinked. “Playing chicken with a monster hurricane isn’t the crazy part?”
Trevor shook his head. “I want Bridget to think we’re trying to do like you said. I think she does,” he pointed at a cluster of southeastbound dots on the radar screen. “That’s why she’s sending them that way. If we did run like you said, they’ll cut the corner and be all over us as soon as we were in calmer seas. Dean’s speed of advance is eighteen knots; once we’re slowed below that, we can’t run west; Dean would overtake us and the central core would destroy us. Bridget knows that. So, what we’re going to do is go into the edge of Dean, just deep enough that we’ve got a speed advantage on Bridget. That way, she can’t get away from us when we attack.”
“Attack?” Joel gasped, staring at the dozens of radar returns near what they knew to be Sea Witch.
Trevor smiled and nodded. “Yeah, she’ll never be expecting us to attack her and her fleet.”
Trevor eased off on the sheet, slowing Atlantis slightly in order to spare her some of the fierce pounding she was taking, confident that Bridget would soon need to slow down. “The Witch of the Sea has slowed down. Twenty-two knots and she’s still over half a mile – one thousand yards – back,” he said, as Atlantis was lit by the flicker of lightning far ahead.
Trevor’s confident smile lasted half a second more. Another flash, this time dead aft and orange, lit the rain. “What the hell?” Trevor muttered, just in time to have his question answered in the form of the incoming RPG, which detonated with a thundering roar fifty yards to port and eighty yards above the sea. It was a long-range lob shot.
Frank Tittle knew almost nothing about military weapons. In his rush to help, he’d seen ‘effective range’ and assumed that it meant maximum range. It didn’t. The RPG7 has a maximum range for its lighter rounds of just over a thousand yards, though that was for inaccurate lob shots. Against its usual targets – tanks and other armored vehicles – the effective range was the maximum for a sight-aimed shot to have a reasonable chance of hitting. And even so, some of the anti-tank rounds had a better effective range than others. The internet page had been largely wrong, and Frank had further compounded the problem by misunderstanding the meaning of the term ‘effective range’.
Trevor glanced at the radar, seeing nothing closer than Sea Witch. “Oh, shit!” he gasped, as he realized that Sea Witch was firing from a much longer range than he’d thought possible. With his heart in his throat, he rammed the throttles forward while also winching in the main sheet, causing Atlantis to surge ahead, accelerating through twenty-one knots, far faster than would normally be safe in those seas.
Another orange flash and then the agonizing wait for the blast of the RPG warhead, this time to starboard. Trevor adjusted course as Atlantis passed twenty-two knots. “She’s at twenty-one, we’re pulling ahead,” he said.
In that dark, stormy, rain-swept night, neither boat could yet see the other except on radar – the warm rain, falling in heavy sheets and driven by the raging wind, had rendered Bridget’s infrared gear almost useless. Trevor shut off Atlantis’s radars and AIS, altering course by five degrees to starboard.
Bridget saw Atlantis’s radar return dim, though at that range, Sea Witch’s radar was powerful enough to discern Atlantis in spite of the heavy seas. It was an inconstant return, but it was more than enough. Bridget altered course five degrees to starboard, advancing the throttles slightly, accelerating to twenty-three knots. It was perilous in the extreme in those seas, but Bridget wanted blood.
Another close RPG round, this time to port, let Trevor know that Bridget could see Atlantis. With nothing to lose and in need of information, he powered up her radar to see that Sea Witch – he knew it had to be Sea Witch – had edged closer. He glanced at the anemometer readout, and swallowed. “Wind’s at gale force. She can’t be going that fast in these seas… but she is. Hang on,” he yelled, winching in the main sheet and then letting the reefs out of the mainsail, loading Atlantis’s mast with a force beyond what it had been designed to bear. “Twenty-three knots. Hull coming up,” he yelled, as Atlantis’s port hull inched higher, coming completely out of the water. Trevor pulled the port throttle back to idle, leaving the starboard engine at maximum, desperate for every ounce of thrust.
Flying a hull was a risky move even in ideal conditions, such as Atlantis had used off Carnarvon to fly a hull during her shakedown. Now, in rough seas and a gale from the port side, it was far more dangerous. Taking a wave in the wrong way could snap her mast, or break her wing – the structure connecting her hulls, which included the salon. The only thing saving Atlantis, for the moment, from destruction was the fact that the wind, coming from the shore now ten miles to port, was causing a chaotic chop instead of the deep breakers a gale on the open sea would raise. That didn’t make what Trevor was doing safe, it only made it barely, and briefly, possible.
“Twenty-four knots,” Trevor croaked, more afraid than he’d ever been at the helm of Atlantis.
It was a race, with Dean’s deadly heart as the final finish line, and Atlantis began to inch further ahead.
Bridget stared at her radar display in shock. She read the speed estimate three times to be sure. It kept changing, for it was an estimate based on Sea Witch’s own speed relative to Atlantis, and like so much else, the seas were playing havoc with her knotmeter. “I’m reading twenty-three to twenty-five knots on the target. He’s opening the range slightly, so he must… but he can’t! Atlantis can’t possibly move that fast, not even in perfect conditions!” Bridget yelled, easing the throttles forward. Sea Witch accelerated to twenty-five knots, with only Bridget’s skilled hand at the helm keeping her from taking a wave at the wrong angle and flipping.
Xavier, though not a skilled boatman, was well aware that Bridget was pushing Sea Witch beyond her limits. “Maybe it’s a trick of some kind,” he offered.
“How? We know it’s not her Zodiac, we destroyed that, and she only carries one. Even a Zodiac couldn’t move that fast in these seas!”
“Twenty-six knots,” Trevor hissed, his knuckles white on the wheel. He focused on the seas ahead, though he could barely see them. By chance, by luck, and with all the skill he had, he kept Atlantis somewhat stable, her port hull flying seven feet out of the water, her starboard hull, aided by Trevor’s skilled helm commands, occasionally surfing down the face of a swell. Only the greater camber of her ’57 bows allowed her, for the moment, to avoid digging in by the starboard bow and initiating a fatal crash jibe. Trevor had never had Atlantis so fast before, and had their lives not depended on it, he would have never attempted what was now their only hope; pull further ahead of Sea Witch in order to keep out of her RPG range.
It was a gamble born of desperation; Trevor was pushing Atlantis far past her structural limits. He transmitted on VHF 13, “Bridget, nobody’s going to believe that you can’t catch a sailing yacht with a powerboat. Why don’t you just call it a day and run away? Is taking potshots with an RPG really the best you can manage? And why are you so slow?”
Bridget snatched up her microphone to reply, “Just come here, Trevor. You’ve run long enough.”
Sea Witch’s RPG gunner could not aim his shots, for he could not see Atlantis; he was dependent upon the range and bearing reports Bridget was shouting. He was firing blind. But Bridget knew that they did not need a direct hit; merely shredding Atlantis’s sails would slow her enough for the kill.
Atlantis was shaking violently, every brutal slap of the sea magnified by her breakneck speed. Shane, Lisa, and Joel remained silent, almost afraid to even breathe lest they shake Trevor’s concentration. Shane glanced up, seeing the mast backlit by a flash of lightning to their east. The sight chilled him; the mast was no longer straight, but arced slightly to starboard by the massive strain. Atlantis was far beyond her limits. All aboard knew it, though there was no other way, not with Death itself nipping at their heels.
Another blast from an RPG warhead shook Atlantis, though this time it was high and astern. “I think we’re pulling away,” Trevor gasped.
Sea Witch slammed into the face of a wave, bounding skyward to land at a list to port. Bridget steered into the list, snapping Sea Witch upright with a force that sent everyone aboard – except Bridget, who was buckled into her command chair – slamming into the deck. Most had grabbed for a handhold when Sea Witch had left the water, though the first amongst equals had already been gripping the rim of the toilet. The sudden G force of the impact sent his head careening down to slam against the edge of the toilet, stunning him enough that he slipped sideways, falling to the deck, pinned between the toilet and the bulkhead, face down in a pool of his own vomit.
Astern of Sea Witch, the fastest of Bridget’s main force had slowed to eighteen knots in the worsening seas, falling ever farther behind.
Distant flashes of lightning to the east lit the night, coming every few seconds. A temporary pause in the rain allowed Bridget just enough visibility to see Atlantis silhouetted against the horizon. Her eyes opened wide in surprise. “He’s flying a hull! RPG, fire!”
The RPG gunner knew that Atlantis was beyond his maximum range, though he preferred to waste a round rather than risk Bridget’s ire. Aided by the brief glimpse of Atlantis, he fired, sending a round lobbing in her direction, only to see it detonate in the sea well astern of his now-vanished target.
Bridget pressed on, forcing Sea Witch up to twenty-four knots, though her radar let her know that it wasn’t enough; Atlantis was still pulling ahead at a speed she could not match.
Bridget studied her radar display for a few moments. “We can see him and he can see us. Time to blind him,” Bridget said, as she engaged her radar’s jamming mode, which sent timed pulses on Atlantis’s frequency in her direction.
The aft third of Atlantis’s radar screen filled with static. Trevor saw it and guessed the cause. “She’s jamming us.” He keyed his microphone to say, “Hi Bridget. That jamming won’t help; I still know where to find you.” He clicked off the microphone and turned to tell Shane. “Ready on the pole-mounted radar, but don’t turn it on yet. We’ll see if she can jam two frequencies at once.”
A sudden, sickening crack shook Atlantis, the noise echoing out from the salon, causing Trevor to pale. Hoping that he was wrong, he shouted, “Joel, check inside, around the galley stairs. Fast!” Trevor began struggling to play out the main sheet and ease Atlantis’s mainsail, but he found the winch jammed from the force. With Shane’s help, he freed it, and Atlantis’s port hull settled into the raging seas.
Joel, with the aid of a flashlight, saw it almost instantly; a jagged gap in the decking. “A crack, big one,” he cried out.
Trevor adjusted the sails again, lessening their thrust, allowing Atlantis to slow to seventeen knots. He turned the helm over to Joel and dashed inside for a look. He returned to the cockpit a minute later to say in a downcast tone, “Partial structural failure between the starboard hull and the wing. I think we’ve snapped one of the stringers. We’re going to have to go easy on her or she’ll break up.”
Even under the reduced load, Atlantis’s mast and rigging were still carrying a force well beyond their design strength; the hull was not the only potential source of fatal failure.
Bridget’s radar was still tracking Atlantis, and she watched as Atlantis slowed to twenty knots. Her hand hesitated at the throttle, craving to ram it forward, but the punishment Sea Witch was taking from the pounding seas dissuaded her. With no other choice, she slowed to twenty-two knots. “You can’t get away,” she growled, studying her weather plot.
As Bridget closed in, she saw Atlantis’s speed suddenly drop to four knots, her radar return weakening as her active radar shut down. She smiled as she told Xavier, “I think he just lost his rig.”
Xavier arched an eyebrow. “Does that mean his mast?”
Bridget nodded, blood in her eye. “Yes, and thus his sails and boom as well, along with his radar. With the mast and boom in the water, he can’t move until he frees them. Even if he has the means to cut the steel shrouds, without his rig he is limited to just engines and thus far slower – much too slow to have any hope of escaping the oncoming hurricane, even if he did not have our boats to deal with. He and his crew are probably struggling to cut away the rig, which gives us our chance.” She glanced forward at the RPG gunner to shout, “Hold fire until you have a good shot.”
The first amongst equals had crawled into the cockpit, his head bleeding. “Let them go and turn back! They cannot survive, you said so yourself. The storm will destroy us as well unless you break off.”
“Horse feathers,” Bridget replied, a note of disdain in her voice. “The hurricane is coming from the east. So long as we can make twenty knots, we can survive by running south southwest in the winds and seas of the leading edge. Atlantis is within our sights.”
The first amongst equals shuddered, his stomach heaving. “Our men at the resort need some of the boats, and not all are as capable as yours. Send them back, and turn us back as well! I order it!”
“I command at sea,” Bridget snarled, unwilling and unable to leave Atlantis to the storm, not when she was so very close.
Sea Witch’s radar readout showed the diminishing distance to the nearly stationary target, and then the target split, forming two distinct returns, the stronger one moving away to the south at eight knots. Bridget cycled her radar to detection mode, which let her see emissions. “The southbound return is stronger, and is transmitting. That is Atlantis, attempting to dodge away south, apparently without her rig. The smaller return may be her rig.” With a cold smile, Bridget altered course, racing in at twenty knots. At two hundred yards, she eased back on the throttles. “Ready on the RPG,” she bellowed, scanning the dark ahead, straining to pick out Atlantis against the intermittent flashes of lightning. To the first amongst equals, she said, in a more conciliatory tone, “This will be over in less than a minute, then we turn back.”
Ahead in the rain, Bridget saw a light flickering. At seven knots, she steered for it. “Target in sight!”
The RPG gunner saw it too, right in his sights; a flickering light in the driving rain, sometimes obscured by towering waves. At a range of one hundred yards, he fired.
Aboard Atlantis, Trevor lay prone in the starboard bow, drenched by blowing spindrift and peering ahead into the darkness. An orange flash lit the sky: the brilliant launch plume of an RPG, which lit Sea Witch as if she’d been transfixed by a massive spotlight. Trevor, his 30-06 at the ready, saw Sea Witch’s port side filling his sights and pulled the trigger, feeling the rifle kick against his bare wet shoulder. He slammed the bolt back and then forward to chamber another round, though the launch light had faded. It was soon replaced by something far brighter; the detonation of the RPG as it tore Atlantis’s life raft to shreds, and along with it, the can of gasoline it had contained.
A fireball rose into the sky, illuminating Sea Witch while Trevor blasted away at the slowly moving boat from three hundred yards. As the fireball faded, he snapped off one more shot and yelled, “Take us in!” It was the final part of Trevor’s plan.
The life raft had contained a box stuffed with wadded tinfoil, to create a strong radar return. It had also contained a VHF handheld radio with its transmit switch taped down, and one of Atlantis’s EPIRBS, triggered and transmitting. Adrift in the howling winds, the life raft’s conical cover had acted as a sail, propelling the raft south. Trevor had motored Atlantis around to point her bows at Sea Witch’s estimated position. Sea Witch’s course to the life raft had placed Atlantis between Sea Witch and the distant cliffs of Portland Head, adding shore clutter to Bridget’s scope, further obscuring the already small head-on radar cross section of Atlantis. Having done all that he could, Trevor had turned over the helm to Shane before racing forward with the 30-06 to await the hoped-for chance he’d tried so hard to create.
Aboard Sea Witch, the glare of the RPG shot at the life raft dazzled Bridget, and its roar hid the sound of Trevor’s first shot.
Trevor’s following shots slammed through Sea Witch, blasting through her cabin and head. His final went high, right through the cockpit, tearing a large hole in a chair and a smaller one in the first amongst equals, who gripped his shattered leg, howling in pain.
In the raging storm, Bridget was momentarily unsure where the bullets were coming from. Ignoring the danger to herself, she remained at the helm, focusing her attention on the radar. The target she’d been chasing was gone, obliterated by the RPG. That left one, a faint one, to the northeast. “Three hundred yards, RPG ready, rifles ready,” she barked, knowing that she’d been tricked. She rammed the throttles forward, turning towards Atlantis and taking the wind driven waves almost head on. As she did, she saw her radar display change, indicating that Atlantis’s main radar had gone active. She glanced at her controls to be sure that her set was still jamming.
Shane was helming Atlantis from her navigation desk as Atlantis began her attack run, accelerating through fifteen knots, her engines roaring and sails furled. “Still jamming us,” Shane said, flipping on Atlantis’s second radar – the pole-mounted one aft, which operated on a different frequency than the main mast-mounted radar. The hope was that Bridget couldn’t jam two at once – at least not fast enough to matter. Shane watched as the radar display flickered on. “Got her, coming dead on. One hundred and fifty yards,” he yelled, flipping on Atlantis’s mast-mounted spotlight, which was permanently mounted pointing ahead and slightly down. With one last switch throw, Shane engaged the autopilot to hold Atlantis on the prepared course – a slight curve to port – as he raced to the cockpit, diving into place beside Lisa and Joel, who were crouched, peering out over the starboard deck edge, pistols at the ready. “Try not to hit Bridget!” he reminded them, as Sea Witch closed in.
Bridget saw the blazing light and turned her head away, yanking the throttles back and counting to three before yelling, “RPG, fire!”
As Sea Witch settled and slowed, the RPG gunner aimed.
So did Trevor, who had a clear view of the gunner on Sea Witch’s forward deck. Atlantis was heading southwest, with the wind and rain coming out of the north; Bridget’s gunners would have to contend with taking the driving rain and salt spray almost full in the face, which made aiming a gun or RPG far more difficult. For those on Atlantis, the rain was at their backs. Trevor fired from ninety yards, his bullet catching the RPG gunner square in the torso, putting a neat hole in the center of his chest and blowing an exit wound the size of a bowling ball in his back.
Slammed by the fatal shot, the RPG gunner, already dead, toppled backwards, his finger still on the trigger as he slammed into the deck.
Xavier opened up on Atlantis with an AK47 on full auto, raking her with poorly aimed fire. At his side, another gunman blazed away with a heavy single-shot rifle, sending slugs smashing through Atlantis, blasting holes in fiberglass, metal, the starboard freshwater storage, and Trevor.
Bridget slewed slightly to port, ramming the throttles forward as her gaze fell on the RPG, which was still on the forward deck. “Xavier, get the RPG!” she yelled, as Sea Witch roared ahead, just a dozen yards from Atlantis’s starboard side.
Trevor, gasping from the pain in his side, aimed ahead of Sea Witch, leading her, and fired, the heavy bullet missing Bridget by mere inches and slamming through the cockpit and deck, missing the engines he’d been hoping to hit by just a few feet.
Lisa and Joel opened up with the pistols, firing as fast as they could pull the triggers, peppering Sea Witch with a few hits – including one to the stomach of the rifleman.
Shane braved the incoming gunfire to stand and snap off a shot with the spear gun. The powerhead struck Sea Witch’s aft rail at an angle, not quite enough to detonate, and clattered off to fall into the sea.
Shane watched as Sea Witch roared away into the darkness aft. “Fuck, it didn’t work,” he said, giving Lisa and Joel a look that was a mix of crestfallen and terrified.
Bridget began turning Sea Witch gradually to port, intending to pull away to RPG range. “Ready on the RPG,” she yelled at Xavier, who was on all fours, chasing the skittering tube across the exposed deck. He lunged for it, his fingers briefly connecting, only to slip off the wet tube as it toppled into the sea.
Trevor, clutching at his burning side, yelled towards the distant cockpit, “Break east, twenty knots! Go dark, she’s coming back!” Trevor hadn’t seen the RPG fall into the sea.
Shane snapped off the spotlight and whipped the helm hard to port while Lisa and Joel cranked the winches for all they were worth, raising Atlantis’s sails in the furious winds. Atlantis, already at fifteen knots, surged ahead as she accelerated, and Shane yelled to Trevor, whom he could not see. “Trev, I can’t handle her in these conditions! Get back here!”
When Trevor didn’t answer, Shane and Joel shared a worried look. With Atlantis accelerating through nineteen knots, Joel raced forward, struggling to hold on to the rail.
When Joel arrived at the bow, he couldn’t see Trevor as anything more than a faint shadow against the deck, but the fact that Trevor wasn’t moving made Joel’s blood run cold.
“I’m hit,” Trevor gasped, his side aflame with pain.
Joel turned to yell for Lisa to help, his words freezing in his throat as he heard Trevor groan. “How bad, Trev?” Joel asked in the darkness.
“Bad. I got my hand on it, on my side. Hurts,” Trevor gasped, through teeth clenched in pain.
“Trev, get back here, fast! The mainsheet’s jammed!” Shane yelled from the cockpit, as Atlantis surged past twenty knots, her hulls shuddering from the fierce pounding.
“Tell him we’re coming, and to keep going as fast as he thinks Atlantis can. Don’t tell him about me,” Trevor said, biting back the pain. Joel relayed Trevor’s orders, and then felt Trevor’s hand in his own. “Get me to the cockpit, fast,” Trevor gasped, handing the rifle to Joel, who slung it over his shoulder.
Cringing at the pain he knew he must be causing, Joel supported Trevor as they stumbled aft. As they neared the salon’s forward windows, they fell, Trevor almost rolling under the guard wire, but Joel grabbed him just in time.
Trevor and Joel stumbled down the cockpit stairs, and in the blackness, Joel eased Trevor into the port helm chair.
Shane, unaware of Trevor’s condition, cried out, “I can’t get the mainsheet free; I can’t let off the sail!”
Joel dashed to help Lisa and Shane with the jammed winch, while Trevor, with his one free hand, angled Atlantis further south to reduce the wind’s angle on the sails.
As soon as the mainsheet was free, Shane played it out. A sudden, blazing flash of blue lit Atlantis, followed half a second later by booming thunder. They were in Dean’s fringe. Trevor, though in pain, understood the peril. “Shane, go to the master electrical panel and throw the breakers on every circuit we don’t absolutely need. Joel, get an EPIRB, a VHF, satphone, a pillow, the GPS handheld, and put them in the microwave – unplug it first!”
Lightning was a grave risk to any boat, but especially a sailboat with its towering metal mast. Placing sensitive electronics in a microwave oven when lightning threatened was a common practice; the microwave’s metal construction could serve as a Faraday cage, protecting its contents. The pillow was to stop them from banging around.
Aboard Sea Witch, Bridget itched to ram the throttles forward, but Sea Witch’s wild bouncing left no room for doubt; any faster would be fatal. She was at nineteen knots, already perilously fast for the conditions. Then, on her radar screen, Bridget saw Atlantis slow, and then turn towards her, coming on fast.” Fuming, Bridget held Sea Witch on course, yelling, “RPG, fire! Keep firing as fast as you can!”
Xavier blanched, steeling himself to yell, “I can’t, it’s overboard.”
Now it was Bridget’s turn to blanch. “Ready on the rifle and AK.” The loss of the RPG had changed the equation; Atlantis was far larger than Sea Witch and more stable as well. And now, they were close in firepower, and in these seas, Atlantis had a speed advantage. Atlantis had the edge.
Her fury ebbing, she ordered Xavier to tend the first amongst equals’ leg, and turned southwest to flee the path of Dean.
In agony, the first amongst equals begged Bridget to turn back, but she wasn’t in a mood to listen. Instead, she barked orders to her fleet, ordering all except the ten boats she’d dispatched to the southeast to hold position and advance no further east. She had Atlantis trapped and knew it. However, Atlantis’s five knot current speed advantage was something she knew she could not overcome.
The first amongst equals again asked Bridget to turn back, his voice both weak and plaintive. This time too, Bridget ignored him as she chased after Atlantis, slowly falling further behind.
A glance at her instruments made Bridget’s blood run cold; Sea Witch’s port engine was running hot, already at redline and rising.
With a shout of primal rage Bridget gave up the chase, knowing that either the storm or her ten speedboats to the south would finish off Atlantis.
Bridget had taken fire, and was secure in the knowledge that in so doing, she’d undone the ridicule Trevor had heaped upon her. With difficulty, she held Sea Witch at twenty knots, which her weather plot told her would be barely fast enough. “Xavier, check the engine compartment,” Bridget yelled.
Aboard Atlantis, running east with radars off, they had no way of knowing that Sea Witch had turned to race away. Lightning arced across the sky, the flash illuminating the cockpit for an instant. It was just long enough for Lisa to see blood. “You’re bleeding,” she cried out, rushing to join Joel by Trevor’s side.
“I’ll be okay,” Trevor lied, as Shane turned to dash towards him.
Shane turned to yell, “Get me a light!”
“No lights, too dangerous,” Trevor said, but Joel ignored him and handed Shane a small flashlight.
Trevor gasped, struggling to steer one-handed as Atlantis blasted through the raging seas, her hulls and rig straining far beyond their limits.
Shane flicked on the light, and saw Trevor’s side covered in blood.
Shane’s lifesaver training kicked in and he reached for a first aid kit. “Let me see, Trev,” he said, as the sky erupted, a bolt of lighting striking the sea a hundred yards ahead of Atlantis. Shane never even noticed, so focused was he on tending Trevor’s wounds.
Trevor cried out in pain as Shane applied a pressure bandage. “Hold that in place. You’ve lost a lot of blood. I can’t tell for sure how deep it is, but it looks like a big gash in your side.”
“It burns,” Trevor gasped.
“That’s the salt water, I hope… Trev, you need to lie down and let me wrap you up; you can’t lose any more blood.”
“No time,” Trevor replied, his gaze falling on the instrument panel. “The bilge pumps are on, and Atlantis feels kinda sluggish. We’re taking on water. Check the bilges. I’ll be okay for a bit. Go.”
Shane’s hand gave Trevor’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “I love you, Trev,” he said, turning to dash away. He raced in through the salon, heading for the starboard bilge access hatch. Inside, he flicked on the light, his eyes opening wide as he saw two feet of water sloshing in the bilge bottom, with more pouring in through bullet holes. He jumped in, crouching to wade aft for a closer look at the damage.
Trevor glanced at the weather plot before turning to tell Lisa and Joel, “Put two reefs in the mainsail, then prep the storm jib. We have to turn and do a speed run southwest or we’re dead – with these seas, we’re barely fast enough now, and if we go any further into Dean’s edge we’ll be too slow to get out of the way in time.” Trevor was counting on using the sails to do the needed twenty knots, and though the prospect of doing so with structural damage terrified him, he knew of no other way to survive.
Atlantis was within the edge of the core, already in category one conditions; the wind blasting at eighty knots. Trevor well knew the structure of a major hurricane; the core, a circular area turning counter-clockwise like the rest of the hurricane, was one hundred twenty miles wide in Dean’s case, and had category one conditions at the outer edges. Further in, the core gets progressively worse. Only in the inner core – fifty miles wide in Dean’s case – do you get the full power of the storm. That deadliest part, the inner core, was coming at Atlantis dead on out of the east southeast. The quickly worsening sea conditions would further slow Atlantis; if she did not break away for a speed run now, she never would. As Trevor knew all too well, even if Atlantis could somehow survive the land-mitigated furious seas of the first half of the storm, the back side, with its massive waves – up to one hundred feet in height, driven from the open sea and its far greater fetch to the south by the northbound winds on that side of the storm – was something that Atlantis could never survive.
Trevor, in that moment of clarity, knew that he had to tell someone what to do, in case he passed out – or worse. “Joel, lay in a course. South southwest. We’ll need to do twenty knots minimum for the first hour, eighteen minimum for the next three. You’ll need to be very careful of the rig. If we’re dismasted or the mainsail shreds, we’re dead – we’re too slow on just engines to have any chance.”
Joel knew at once why Trevor was telling him that, and put his hand on Trevor’s shoulder. “Trev, you gotta hang in there. We need you… and I don’t want to lose a brother.”
Twenty miles from the nearest land, Atlantis began the turn she would never finish. Unearthly screams of the blasting wind covered the sounds of thunder, leaving only violent flashes of blue lightning in the nightmare cauldron of that raging night.
Again the sky erupted, a bolt of lighting striking Atlantis’s mast top to set a blinding shower of sparks adrift on the blasting wind, the bolt lacing its way down the mast and stays. Much of the charge tore through the grounding line and into the sea, though by no means all, leaving some of the massive power of the bolt to spew fury through Atlantis’s structures and hulls, electrifying every exposed conductive surface – and in that driving rain, that included almost all of Atlantis’s exposed decks and hulls. A crack, a flash, a sizzle, and it was over – though the damage was done, to flesh and metal both.
The port forestay, a steel cable that had been nicked by shrapnel and was near failure from being under tension greater than it had been designed to bear, took the energy of some of the massive bolt, sending it down to the steel base plate where it flashed water into steam, further heating it to thousands of degrees. The resulting explosion, as powerful as a hand grenade, blasted the baseplate apart, sending white-hot fragments whizzing through the air. With its destruction, Atlantis lost the strength of the cable that was keeping her overloaded mast upright. In less than a second, the enormous pressure of the wind on Atlantis’s sails fell on the mast alone.
For one bare moment, Atlantis’s straining mast held, only to succumb to the intense force and snapping like a twig just above the deck.
Lit by raging flashes of blue, the mast crumbled, toppling towards the churning seas, taking all of Atlantis’s sails and rigging with it, striking with a roar and leaving them trailing over the side. Wounded, weighed down by the drag on one side, Atlantis swerved to starboard, coming to a halt and presenting her vulnerable sterns to the raging twenty-foot seas.
Lisa saw and felt the thunder of the falling rig, and the sickening lurch of Atlantis as the brutal wind suddenly rose another twenty knots.
The core of the storm was not yet upon Atlantis, though now there was no further doubt. Even with Atlantis whole, she could not have outrun Dean in those winds and seas; it was too late. Now, with only her engines, there was no hope at all of evading the storm’s core, or of even reaching land before she was destroyed. There was no way out.
Gone in that blinding flash and scream of tearing metal were any hopes of rescue or of evading the storm. As Trevor had known, the rear sector of the storm was carrying massive seas, far beyond Atlantis’s ability to endure. That part of the storm was sure and certain death for Atlantis and all aboard.
The wall of the core kept up its inexorable approach; nothing would stay it from its course. Atlantis, crippled and adrift, tossing in the raging seas, shuddered. Trembling as the fury around her rose, she wallowed as the edge of the core engulfed her, shrouding her in a deadly veil, the winds, already blasting at a hundred twenty miles per hour, shattering the divide between sea and sky. As yet, Atlantis had felt only the fringes, the barest beginnings of a journey through the storm that she, and those aboard her, could not possibly complete alive.
Hanging on the edge of forever, Atlantis, tugged inexorably ever further into the raging heart of the beast that she could not avoid, carrying with her into that seething maelstrom four brave souls – and three beating hearts.
A Discussion thread for this chapter is in my forum, please have a look and join in. Direct thread link here.
Atlantis' Page (see what Atlantis looks like)
Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent.
Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.
Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading.
A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice.
Thanks also to Low Flyer, for zeta reading.
Special thanks to RickMD, for some major advice and help.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.
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