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    C James
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Circumnavigation - 156. From Hell’s Heart

Chapter 156: From Hell’s Heart

 

(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.)

 

"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! And since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!"
- Moby Dick, Herman Melville

 

“Keep pumping, we need the bilges dry fast!” Trevor yelled from the navigation desk, as Atlantis responded sluggishly to his helm commands. He glanced at the radar, seeing the eye of Dean around them; they were almost in its center. He knew they didn’t have much time, and the slower than expected pace of the pumping was a grave danger; if Atlantis reached the rear half of the eye, the worsening seas would rob her of the ability to stay in the eye. If that happened, it would soon prove fatal for all aboard.

The very center of the eye is an area of chaotic swells but few breaking waves. This relatively calm area was the only place within the eye with sea conditions suitable for Atlantis to keep pace with Dean’s eighteen knot speed and, for that to be possible, she needed to be free of the weight of the seawater in her bilges that they had used for ballast during the storm.

Lisa glanced at Shane, who was sleeping, and blinked. “Trev, Shane went into the bilge to look for bullet holes and plug them. Did he?”

Now it was Trevor’s turn to blink. “I don’t know! Um…. I think he’d only been gone a few seconds when we took the lightning strike, so maybe not. If we’ve still got a bunch of holes… Joel, check for bullet holes and plug them with anything you can find!”

Joel, still wearing only Speedos and with a waterproof flashlight in hand, descended into the port bilge, where the pumps were slowly – too slowly – lowering the water level. For several frantic moments he tried to search visually, only to notice a faint current against his upper thigh. Thinking fast, he followed it by feeling with his hands to its source a few inches away; a bullet hole.

Joel snatched a rag from Trevor’s oil rag box, tearing off a strip and using it to plug the hole. Operating by feel, he found several more holes, plugging them in turn. By the time he neared the end of the bilge, he noticed that the water level had dropped considerably. “It’s working!” he yelled.

Trevor felt the change even before he glanced at the knotmeter. “Speed coming up, fourteen knots!”

A dripping Joel dashed through the salon on his way to the starboard bilge, where he found three more bullet holes to plug. He then returned to the port bilge, where he found that two more holes had been exposed by the falling water level.

Ten minutes later, as Atlantis neared the very center of the eye, Trevor announced, “Fifteen knots, and the bilges are almost dry. Shut off the auxiliary pump, we don’t need it now. Oh, one more thing: go turn on the freshwater shower aft – it drains overboard. Start the septic tank jettison too; we need to lighten ship, and that’ll get rid of about two hundred gallons from each.”

Lisa glanced at Trevor. “Should I go fill some bottles before all the fresh water is gone?”

Trevor shook his head. “We’ve got sodas and stuff, plus about twenty gallons of bottled water. We can run the water maker while the engines are running, but right now, we need every bit of speed we can get, so we’re jettisoning everything in the water and sewage tanks.”

The first blush of dawn lit the top of the eyewall, casting a rosy glow upon Atlantis as she raced west in chaotic though unbreaking swells, her bilges pumped dry and her daggerboards retracted. She was making fifteen knots through the water– which, combined with the storm-boosted current, gave her a speed-over-ground of eighteen knots. She was barely keeping pace with Dean, but the current helping her along was weakening slightly as Atlantis passed the western end of Jamaica. Trevor checked the handheld GPS speed readout, seeing that the indicated speed had dropped by a third of a knot. He glanced at Lisa and Joel to tell them quietly, “We need to play the swells for some added speed. I can’t do that as well from in here; I need a good view aft. I need to be in the cockpit.”

“You need rest, Trev,” Joel warned.

Trevor gave Joel a weak smile. “I can’t, we need the extra speed, but I can teach you, then you can take over while I catch a nap. But first, you’ve got to get me to the cockpit.” This was Trevor’s way of saying that he didn’t feel that he could get there on his own.

Joel understood and, with a reluctant nod at the bandages on Trevor’s side, carefully helped Trevor to his feet, and out into the cockpit.

At the cockpit’s port helm, Trevor settled into his chair with a wince and took the wheel. He glanced up, seeing empty sky where Atlantis’s cockpit canopy and boom should be, and then took a forlorn look at the stump that was all that remained of Atlantis’s mast. “We’re a mess,” he said, looking around at the horizons and the towering eyewall, “and we’re in a mess.”

Trevor began angling Atlantis to take maximum advantage of the swells, gaining almost a knot with ease. Joel went to the starboard helm, where he carefully studied Trevor’s actions, and Trevor began giving him pointers.

 

 

 

Shane was awake again, though still somewhat groggy. In deference to his condition, he had yet to be told of their predicament. He glanced around, his gaze falling on Lisa. “Where’s Trev?” he croaked.

Lisa gave Shane a drink of water before replying, “He’s in the cockpit with Joel.”

Shane tried to sit up, but the pain from his cracked ribs made him groan as he abandoned the attempt. “Help me get there,” he said.

Lisa gave Shane some more water. “You’re better off here. Moving might not be a good idea.”

Shane, who wanted to be with Trevor, was not so easily mollified. “It’s hot as the blazes in here, I need air.”

Due to the heat in the salon, Lisa finally relented to Shane’s pestering and agreed to help him into the cockpit. She called for Joel, and together they mostly carried him; he’d almost passed out when they’d stood him up. In addition to his cracked ribs, he also had a torn tendon in his calf. Arms linked, the three made their way out into the cockpit, where Shane looked up, seeing blue sky where the cockpit canopy had been. “Uh, fuck,” he muttered, and then, looking at Trevor with a weak and relieved smile, “You look like death warmed up.”

Trevor smiled, joy lighting up his eyes. “You too. How are you feeling?” he asked.

Shane was about to reply when he glanced around in awe, gasping from both the pain of his cracked rib and the shock of the sight. He looked around, seeing an unbroken smooth wall of cloud in every direction. His gaze drifted upwards along the cloudy ramparts, to a broad, almost perfect circle of blue high above. The morning sun was streaming in, washing the western wall of the eye in golden light. They were in the center of an enormous arena, a coliseum of cloud almost twenty miles wide.

Shane had never seen a picture taken from inside the eye of a hurricane, but the magnificent sight that, mere moments before, had filled him with awe now made his blood run cold. “This is Dean’s eye, isn’t it?” he asked, his voice shaking as he realized where they had to be.

“Yeah, but we’ll be okay. We can stay in the eye for a while. Dean’s gotta weaken sometime,” Trevor replied, somewhat groggily.

Joel gave Trevor a concerned glance and made his way to the helm. “Trev, you’re exhausted and you’ve lost a lot of blood. You need sleep, and that goes double for Shane. I can handle Atlantis; let me show you,” he said, prying Trevor’s fingers from the wheel. Joel soon proved his point by plying the swells well enough to gain the needed speed. He wasn’t as skilled as Trevor, but it was evident that, for the moment, he was skilled enough – he’d learned quickly. “Satisfied?” he asked, a minute later.

Trevor nodded. “Okay, but there’s something I have to do first.”

“What?” Joel asked, wondering if Trevor was stalling.

Trevor’s face took on a hard cast. “Totally destroy the cartel. Bridget and most of that fleet off Jamaica are dead, but there’s still all the rest of it. We’ve got to kill it all.”

Joel’s jaw dropped. “Trev, how? We’re stuck in the heart of a hurricane!”

With a look of steely resolve, Trevor glanced at Lisa. “Easy. Get me the satphone. This won’t take long.”

Trevor soon had Frank Tittle on the line, and quickly explained their predicament before adding, “Frank, we took out Bridget and most of her fleet, which looked like nearly a hundred speedboats. Except for a few ashore and a few boats that made it south in time, they’re dead or dying. I’m hoping that’s enough for you to do what you said.”

So far, Arnold Bellevue’s tape had been heard only by Bridget, the cartel fleet, Frank, the C-130, and some of the authorities in Florida. The press, and the rival cartels, had yet to hear it.

“I think it is,” Frank replied. “I’ve already put the pieces in place… the Jamaican resort hostage crisis is all over the news, and there are already a few sketchy reports of a battle in the hurricane and Bridget’s involvement. The press will eat this up. I’m thinking noon today, my time, would be good; that way it’ll be all over the media in time for the evening news.”

Trevor took a deep breath, casting his eyes skyward. There, glinting among the wispy cirrus tearing away from the cloudy ramparts of the eyewall, Trevor saw a C-130 as it emerged from a penetration run. For a long moment, he stared at it, knowing that although he could speak with the crew, they were powerless to help in any meaningful way. Bridget and the cartel had put them here, had hunted them around the world… but now, they were in a place where nobody, not even the cartel could reach. In his heart, Trevor knew that it was time to finish forever what Bridget had started. It was time to strike the final blow.

Trevor studied the surrounding eyewall for a few moments more; the very heart of nature’s most violent hellish wrath, the awe-inspiring beauty of it steeling his heart. A glance at Shane sundered any doubt, any hint of reluctance to deal Death on an industrial scale. It simply had to be, though even Trevor did not know the full measure of what he was about to unleash. Trevor’s hand absently touched his wounded side and, ignoring the pain this caused him, he ordered, “Release the tape.”

“Yes, sir,” Frank replied, wondering if Trevor would have given the order had he known the full toll of what he was about to unleash. Frank however, though knowing the full truth, had no qualms whatsoever. “Will do. I think we can make this work without more, but it’d help if they could interview you, and maybe get a few pictures. That’ll make certain that this is the lead story for days, and with that kind of publicity, the other cartels will have to act; to do otherwise would show weakness. I’ve already made a few contacts with the one Bridget was trying to frame with that attack on the restaurant; they’re out for blood, and I’m sure others will be too; they won’t want to be left out of the spoils.”

“I need some sleep first… I got shot in the battle. Shane’s hurt too; he got struck by lightning.” Those facts had been left out of Trevor’s brief summary of their situation.

“I know about some of that; Gonzalez told me after the Coast Guard told him. Is there anything I can do to get you some help?” Frank asked.

Trevor sighed. “Unless you know how to weaken a hurricane, I don’t know what. The Coast Guard doesn’t know either. Unless Dean weakens to cat three or less, they can’t get us out. We can get out ourselves, but that’d require Dean dropping to a strong cat one or less, maybe a weak cat two.”

“The press storm we’re about to launch might help with that; getting the four of you out of there will soon be the story of the moment, and that’ll put pressure on the powers that be – a LOT of pressure.” Frank was correct in that regard, though the facts remained unchanged; unless Dean weakened to category three or less, or slowed considerably, rescue was impossible – and Dean was not destined to weaken or slow, a fact that was becoming more apparent with every updated forecast. “Oh, one other thing,” Frank added, as if an afterthought, “It might be best if you didn’t mention what we plan to do to anyone until it’s done, and that goes double for Gonzalez. He’s a good guy, but if the authorities get involved we might get delayed and, for this, timing is critical.” Frank figured that half a truth was better than none.

“I won’t call him until after I’ve slept, so that’s not a problem,” Trevor replied. “Okay, I’ll call you later, or call us if you need us. Good luck, and thanks.”

“I’ll take care of this, Trevor. For you and Henry both. And thank you for ridding this world of his murderer,” Frank replied.

After the call, Trevor put the satellite phone on its charger as he explained what was going on to Lisa, Joel, and Shane, along with the warning not to mention it to anyone until after noon, Florida time.

Joel nodded. “Okay, but first things first; you and Shane need rest. It’s hot, and I don’t know if the air conditioner survived the strike-”

“No air conditioning,” Trevor warned, “It’s the same as in a car; the load increases fuel use, and we’re burning a lot of fuel at flank speed. We don’t know how long we need to ride the eye, so we can’t waste a drop.”

“Aye, aye, Captain Bligh, but you’re going to bed or you’ll have yet another mutiny on your hands. Okay, take over while Lisa and I get Shane to bed.” Joel didn’t wait for a reply; he stepped away from the helm, forcing Trevor to take over.

Lisa and Joel helped Shane to his feet and then to bed. They quickly returned to the cockpit, where Joel seized the helm and Lisa hauled Trevor off to join Shane.

“Sleep! We’ll wake you if we need you,” Lisa commanded, before shutting the door and leaving Trevor and Shane alone.

Both were lying on their backs, but Trevor’s hand found Shane’s. “We’re going to be okay,” he said, his eyes already heavy. Within minutes, they were sound asleep.

 

 

 

In the cockpit, Lisa gave Joel a worried glance. “Can we get out of this thing?” she asked, gesturing to the surrounding eye.

Joel, with one hand on the helm, put his other on Lisa’s shoulder. “I think so, if Dean weakens, or maybe the Coast Guard can figure out a way to rescue us.”

“If they do, we might have another problem: Trev. You know how he feels about Atlantis… do you think he’d leave?”

Joel nodded. “Yeah, he would because Shane won’t go without him. Plus, Trev’s crazy but he’s not stupid. Not usually anyway. He’s got to know that staying would mean death.”

“He wanted to go off and attack Bridget’s fleet alone, and even he had to know that he probably wouldn’t survive,” Lisa reminded him.

“He felt he had to, to save Shane – and us too. But he can’t save Atlantis by staying; he’d be crazy to think so…” Joel’s words trailed off, and he blinked. “Okay, good point. If we have to, we’ll ambush and hog tie him to get him off the boat.”

“I’ll get the rope. Um, maybe you better call the Coast Guard and see what’s going on? I’m surprised we haven’t heard from them by now.”

Joel made the call.

 

 

 

In Homestead Air Force Base’s operations room, Captain Voorhees was in conference with Jim, Dirk, and Officer Gonzalez when Joel’s call came in, and he added Joel to the conversation via a speakerphone.

A meteorologist had just finished briefing them on the latest forecast; Dean was expected to maintain course and speed, and not weaken prior to landfall, which was currently expected to be in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

“There has to be something you can do?” Dirk asked, looking at Voorhees, his eyes pleading.

Captain Voorhees adjusted his glasses and shook his head. “We’re trying, but… so far no one has come up with a viable rescue plan. Unless Dean weakens a lot, nothing that can hover could get through the eyewall or fly high enough to get over it, and the swells rule out a seaplane. No surface ship could survive a cat five, so that leaves us with a submarine. A nuclear submarine would be both fast enough and deep diving enough to perform a rescue, but unfortunately, the nearest available is a 688,” he said, referring to a Los Angeles Class attack submarine, “that was doing workups at AUTEC just east of Andros Island, in the Bahamas.” AUTEC, the U. S. Navy’s Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center, is an advanced – and in part classified – highly instrumented, underwater test range for all aspects of undersea warfare, including sonar and noise emissions testing. “The Navy has ordered her to head for the Yucatan via the Florida Straits and the Gulf at flank speed, but even at thirty-six knots, she’s still twenty-three hours out. It’s just bad luck we had nothing closer – we usually do.”

Dirk misunderstood. “So they can make the rescue?”

The meteorologist, feeling decidedly uncomfortable, cleared his throat. “The current computer models are in close agreement; Dean is expected to make landfall at around three AM tomorrow morning, our time: just under eighteen hours from now.”

Jim locked his eyes on Captain Voorhees. “What about another country’s subs?”

Voorhees, who had just realized that he’d inadvertently mentioned a number exceedingly close to the 688’s classified sustained top speed – the Pentagon only admitted to twenty-three knots – replied cautiously, “If the Russians had a sub in the area, we’d know.” He wasn’t about to mention the SOSUS sensor network; the specific coverage areas and capabilities were highly classified. There had also been a couple of cases where the Russians had run a missile sub in the Gulf of Mexico undetected; SOSUS wasn’t omnipotent. It was a moot point anyway; he was correct, the 688 en route was the closest nuclear sub of any kind.

“What about non-nuclear subs? Don’t some of the Caribbean countries have some?” Jim asked.

Captain Voorhees shook his head. “Just Colombia and Cuba, but as for the Colombian ones, even if they put to sea at once they’d never catch up with Dean. All the Cubans have operational are a few midget subs, and those don’t have the range even if they were in position and their government was willing. Sorry, but you need a nuke for this, and there just aren’t any closer.”

The meteorologist shifted his feet, deciding to broach a few of his own ideas. He was a specialist in hurricanes, and as such he had a solid grounding in oceanography. “What about a DSRV? Those are air-mobile. Could one be dropped in the eye?” A DSRV is a Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle, used amongst other things for rescuing crew from downed submarines.

Voorhees rolled his eyes, wishing that the meteorologist would stick to his own area of expertise. “They are air mobile, not air droppable. Drop one out of a cargo plane and you’ll have a dead DSRV and crew. So far, the best thing we’ve come up with for a rescue plan is self-rescue. If they can ride the eye to shore, maybe they can run like hell and make it to some form of shelter before the backside of the storm hits.”

Succumbing to frustration, Dirk glared for a moment. “Try to keep in mind that my son and Shane are wounded: they probably can’t run.”

The meteorologist adjusted his glasses. “There are further complications and ramifications to consider. We cannot know precisely where they will come ashore, though it appears that it will be somewhere on the Yucatan coast. Much of that coast is low lying and will thus be inundated by storm surge. What they need is a masonry building, and I would suggest being on the third floor; anything below may well be entirely submerged. There is a further issue; there are offshore reefs in several areas. However, it is too early to assume that they will arrive in Yucatan; a category five hurricane often experiences eye contraction, forming what we call a pinhole eye just a few miles wide. In such a case, there is insufficient distance between the eyewall and the center to allow for non-breaking seas in the center. In such an eventuality, the boat would no longer be able to sustain sufficient speed to remain in the eye. In my opinion, getting them out of there is exceedingly urgent; they may not survive for much longer.”

Captain Voorhees took a deep breath. “I am well aware of that, but we can’t do what we can’t do. We’re trying to think of a way… but right now, unless Dean slows down or weakens, we’re out of options.”

 

 

 

 

Gonzalez, after a few words with Jim and Dirk, excused himself to respond to the incessant vibration of his cell phone. The call was from the FBI liaison – though he was relaying concerns from a different agency – and evoked only an “I’ll look into it,” from Gonzalez, who ended the call to dial his office. He then called Frank Tittle’s cell. “Frank, you’re home, right?”

“No. I’m southbound from Miami, about five miles from Homestead Air Force Base. I’m meeting Jim and Dirk there,” Frank replied, though he knew exactly where Gonzalez was.

Gonzalez rolled his eyes. “Okay, I’ll see you when you get here. See me first, it’s urgent.” Gonzalez turned to sprint to the parking lot.

Gonzalez managed to make his way past the press by going out a side door, intent on meeting Frank in the parking lot.

“Hi Mike!” Frank called out, as Gonzalez approached his car door.

“Hi Frank. What brings you down here?” Gonzalez asked, wondering if the FBI had it right.

Frank checked his watch. “Just lawyer stuff, and I wanted to see Jim and Dirk. I need to talk to them alone.”

“From what I hear, you’ve been talking to some interesting people,” Gonzalez dryly observed.

Frank smiled, and confirmed with a nod. “Wonderful things, phones. Do you have somebody specific in mind?”

 

Gonzalez’s eyes narrowed, more in reaction to Frank’s demeanor than his words. “Yes. Norte Cartel members, to be exact. It seems you’ve been speaking to at least one of them.”

Frank smiled as he shrugged. “As you’re so very fond of pointing out, I’m a criminal lawyer. And as you very well know, that means I speak to all sorts of people, including criminals. It was my contacts that got us the ID on Sanchez, remember? You didn’t seem to mind then. I defend people like that in court – it’s what I do.”

“What’s going on, Frank?” Gonzalez asked.

Frank shrugged again, giving Gonzalez an innocent look. “Going on? Whatever do you mean?”

“The FBI is concerned that you might be involved with, and possibly feeding information to, the Norte Cartel.”

Frank huffed. “Don’t be preposterous! Of course I am!”

Gonzalez blinked, his mouth opening, though no words came out.

With a chuckle, Frank continued, “Close your mouth, Mike, you look silly. Of course I’m giving some info to a couple of Norte Cartel members. They’re clients. It’s what I do. I’m not sharing anything I get from you, so quit looking at me like that. I’m doing nothing illegal. I have, however, shared info from them with you, so you got the better end of the deal.”

Gonzalez got to the point – or tried to. “The FBI is concerned. They’ve picked up a few indicators that the Norte Cartel is spinning up to make a move on what’s left of Bridget’s cartel. Are you feeding them anything on the Bellevue or Carlson cases?”

Frank crossed his arms. “Lawyer-client confidentiality applies, so I will not be answering that. All I’ll say is that I’ve shared nothing I’ve gotten directly or indirectly from you.”

Gonzalez scowled. Though he considered Frank a friend, he’d never been comfortable with what Frank did for a living; defending the people Gonzalez worked so hard to get off the street. “What about from your other clients, Frank? Such as Dirk Carlson?”

“I have not breeched confidentiality with any of my clients. And that, by the way, includes you – you’re my client as well.” Frank made sure to sound slightly offended. So far, he’d told the truth, though far from all of it. He had indeed shared information from Dirk and Trevor with the Norte Cartel, though it wasn’t a breech of confidentiality because he had their permission.

Gonzalez sighed, and was silent for a moment before replying, “Okay. I figure you’re up to something because you’ve gotten all lawyerly on me. I also know that I’ll get no further, so… let’s get to something else. I hear that you’ve been setting up media interviews with Trevor. What exactly are they going to talk to Trevor about?”

Frank checked his watch again. “Several stations are sharing the interview, seeing as how Atlantis has just the one working phone. They’re big news, you know… and about to get a lot bigger. They’re stuck in the eye of a hurricane; you know how reporters just love drama. Besides, look at it this way; publicity might help the Coast Guard or the Navy get creative to get them the hell out of there.”

“Frank, is Trevor going to play them that tape?” Gonzalez asked, well aware that Frank had dodged his question.

Frank feigned surprise. “I can say absolutely, positively, that he’s probably more likely not to, though I guess he might, and in any case it won’t be for a few hours yet; he needs some sleep.”

Gonzalez rolled his eyes. “In other words a definite maybe. Frank, I’ve been asked to keep that tape from public release, and the FBI said they’d heard that some reporters are going to talk to Trevor about it.”

“Last time I checked, the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech doesn’t have an exception for people trapped in the eye of a hurricane, so what Trevor says is up to him. It’s none of the State Department’s fucking business,” Frank said, mentioning the agency that he knew was behind Gonzalez’s orders. He looked past Gonzalez. “I need to speak with Jim and Dirk. Let’s go inside. Or, if you’d rather, I could have a few words with the reporters first,” he said, glancing pointedly back at the main gate and the gaggle of press.

Gonzalez rolled his eyes, the hint of a smile appearing on his face as he replied, “Blackmail is unbecoming, even for a lawyer. Follow me.” As they began walking, he continued, “All I know is that the Feds don’t want the tape released until they decide to do it. It has ‘major ramifications and consequences, so the decision has to be made by the appropriate authorities,’ or so they say.”

Frank made a point of checking his watch again as they entered the building. “I need a word with Jim and Dirk. I also need a TV. And don’t worry – the decision has been made by the appropriate people.”

“Why the TV?” Gonzalez asked, wondering if his hunch was correct.

“I like reruns of Police Academy. It helps me understand you cops better,” Frank replied, suppressing the urge to snicker.

Gonzalez gritted his teeth; he knew that Frank was yanking his chain. He brought Frank to a halt with a hand on his shoulder. “Very funny. Look, if you’ve done something… I’m supposed to stop you. There could also be major consequences for you if you do this on your own hook.”

“Threats, Mike?” Frank asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Not from me, but… I’m supposed to stop you.”

“Stop me? From carrying out my client’s lawful instructions?” Frank looked to his left, spotted Dirk, and waved to get his attention. He then looked Gonzalez in the eye. “I am going to carry out my client’s wishes, which are lawful.”

“Dirk ordered you to release the tape,” Gonzalez stated, fairly sure that he had it right.

Frank grinned. “Close but no cigar, Mike. It was Trevor. He’s my client too.” As Jim and Dirk walked up, Frank reached out to shake hands. “Hi. I was just telling Mike that I have orders from Trevor to release the tape to the press.”

Gonzalez’s eyes narrowed. “Frank, did you or did you not tell Trevor what all the consequences of that would be? Specifically, that the cartel war that would ignite would result in the deaths of not just cartel members, but also workers, family members –”

Frank cut Gonzalez off with a dismissive wave. “I didn’t consider it relevant, and we were pressed for time. He’s wounded, as you know. Look, if we don’t release, some of the cartel might well survive. They still want Trevor’s head – literally. The timing is critical; we can’t wait for the State Department to dither or, worse, decide not to release. I don’t like the fact that there will be civilian deaths, but it’d cost more in the long run if we don’t wipe out this cartel. Also, from a personal point of view, Trevor has no other viable option; if he doesn’t do this, he and Shane at the very least will be in perpetual danger. If you’re still vacillating on the issue, might I direct you to your own dire assessment of their chances for survival from just a few weeks ago? There’s also another angle; I’d already begun setting this up when I spoke with Trevor. Had he not given me the order, I’d have done it anyway.”

Dirk had been listening and entered the conversation to say, “If it makes it any easier, I’m paying Frank, and I’m ordering it. Frank, release that tape.”

Frank gave Gonzalez a smile, and then turned to tell Dirk. “Thanks, but it’s far better that the order comes from Trevor, and we make that fact public. The cartels have a strange code of conduct; somebody does them a favor, and they tend to remember. Having Trevor in the good graces of the new order has no downside and plenty of possible upside. As for Bridget’s bunch, they were trying to kill him anyway, so there’s no downside there.” Frank returned his gaze to Gonzalez. “What, exactly, do you think you can do to stop me? And do you really want to?”

By now, Gonzalez was fairly certain that he didn’t have the ability to do it. He’d noticed Frank’s frequent time checks, and he was also deeply conflicted as to whether or not he should even try. Still, he knew he could not ignore the issue. “This could hurt innocent civilians here in Florida; some might get hit by stray bullets. Those are people I’m supposed to protect; it’s not just Trevor.”

Frank nodded, a pained look appearing on his face. “I know. I also firmly believe that this will result in fewer of those deaths overall than doing nothing. I know you hate what I do for a living, but know this; I lose a lot of sleep over murderers that I’ve helped to beat the rap who have gone on to kill again.”

“Then why the hell do you do it?” Gonzalez asked. This was something he’d never really understood.

Slowly, Frank began to smile. “Mike, I’ve waited a long time for you to ask me that. I do it because I’m like you; I believe in Justice. Oh, I love the money and I love winning, but I also know that without people like me, the system couldn’t work. There would be no Justice. Why? Because not everyone charged with a crime is guilty, and because sometimes the police or prosecutors don’t follow the law themselves. That’s why the old adage is true; better a hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man is convicted. People like me make it hard for people like you, but if we didn’t, we’d have a lot more innocent people in jail. That’s one thing I left out, the thing I love most of all; winning a case when the accused is innocent. Take Jim and Dirk here for example; set up by a conspiracy of a corrupt cop, a murderer, and a prosecutor. The system needs checks and balances, and that’s why I do what I do. Well, that, and I like getting richer.”

After a glance at Jim and Dirk, Gonzalez sighed. “Okay, you make a good case. You’re also being even more long-winded than normal and you aren’t hiding the fact that you keep checking your watch. You have to know that I could probably get a restraining order on grounds of public safety, so I’m guessing that you’re running out the clock.”

“Actually, it was pretty much too late to stop me when I got here. Right now, you’ve got about thirty seconds to get your order and try to use it to stop six different TV stations from airing the tape. I made them agree to wait until noon, and that’s why I want a TV,” Frank said, giving Gonzalez a smile and a pat on the back.

“You got that damn tape from me,” Gonzalez pointed out.

Frank looked his friend in the eye and lied, “Mike, if it makes you feel any better, I swapped tapes with Trevor.” His lie was for Gonzalez’s own good; he didn’t want him to get in any trouble.

A TV was found and turned to a cable news station, where a reporter, backdropped by a photo of Trevor from Australia, began giving a summary of the story so far, interspersed with promises of an astounding revelation. After several minutes, he described the tape and its provenance, and then his image was replaced by that of Arnold Bellevue.

The conjunction of the release of the tape, combined with the drastically weakened state of the cartel, could have but one result: open war.

The Norte Cartel, alerted by Frank, was ready, and launched several attacks. Other cartels, seeing the feeding frenzy, would join in before the day was out, seeking both to settle scores and to carve out a chunk of the fallen cartel for themselves.

For the cartel, a storm of their own making was upon them. A fury of revenge, spiked with greed and nurtured by opportunity. Throughout their falling empire, now beset by attacks and wholesale defections, the flames of war consumed what little was left.

What had taken so long to set up and achieve would not take long to finish. The remnants of the cartel found themselves the hunted, dead or on the run.

At the Jamaican resort, the end of the storm proved the end in another way as well; the cartel forces, their boats smashed by Dean, had no means of escape when the Jamaican police at last made their move. Outnumbered and outgunned, the last great strength of the cartel went out with more of a whimper than a roar, meekly surrendering themselves to the Jamaican authorities.

In the Bahamas, it would take many days, but the remnants – those that still lived – of Bridget’s operation would find themselves, as she had been fond of saying, ‘under new management’.

Thus the cartel died as it had lived, by blood and violence.

 

 

 

Aboard Atlantis, Joel was growing fearful; Dean’s eye was contracting, and already the seas on their relatively calm patch in the center of the eye were roughening. Worse still, Dean was holding steady at seventeen and a half knots. The effects were, as yet, slight, though they were of dire portent; Atlantis was losing ground. Try as Joel might, Atlantis was now a quarter of a knot slower than Dean, effectively inching towards the rear of the eye and the rough seas that would doom her to the eyewall. “Lisa, I need Trev… he’ll know what to do,” Joel said, more in hope than in conviction.

Lisa made her way into Trevor and Shane’s cabin, finding them slumbering side by side. Gently, she shook Trevor’s shoulder, stirring him.

“Ugh?” Trevor mumbled, as his eyes cracked open. He tried to sit up, only to groan from the pain in his side. “Oww… huh?” he muttered, fixing his bleary eyes on Lisa.

Lisa put her finger to her lips to shush Trevor before pointing at Shane’s sleeping form. Carefully, she helped Trevor out of bed, waiting until they had reached the galley to tell him quietly, “Joel needs you at the helm.”

When Trevor arrived at the helm, Joel turned the wheel over to him as he launched into a rapid explanation of their situation, ending with the question, “What do we do?”

“Coffee,” Trevor mumbled, trying to clear his foggy head. Lisa dashed off to attend the urgent need, soon returning with a cup of instant that she’d made with a full scoop of coffee. Trevor took sip and winced. “Thanks, I needed that.”

“What do we do?” Joel asked again. “Could we lighten ship some more?”

Trevor, glancing at the speed readouts and eyeing the swells, steered for maximum effect, though he was barely better at it than Joel by now. “No point. We’re going about as fast as we can, and there’s not much weight left to toss over the side. Not enough to help, even if we rip out the galley. I think I can keep us even with Dean, but not for long; as we approach Yucatan, we’ll lose the current that’s giving us a knot and a half of our present speed. Any news from the Coast Guard on getting us out of here?”

“They keep saying there’s nothing that can reach us in time. There’s a submarine coming, but it’d only make it to us before landfall if Dean slows a lot. Their advice right now is we stay in the eye until landfall and then find shelter ashore – only they don’t know where that’ll be, exactly, but it’ll probably be flat land and flooded by the storm surge.”

“That’s just fucking great,” Trevor grumbled, wincing from the pain in his side as he took another drink of coffee. “Any news on Dean weakening?”

Joel shook his head. “The latest says cat five at landfall. Total devastation.”

Trevor summed it up succinctly. “Fuck!”

“Trev, maybe that’s the best chance we have; abandon Atlantis on the beach and try to find some kind of shelter,” Lisa offered.

Trevor took a breath, letting it out with a sigh. “Shelter against cat 5 conditions? That’s not going to be easy to find, and we wouldn’t have long, even if we get that far.”

“And you and Shane can’t run. Shane for sure. Come on Trev, you’ve got to have an idea, you always do,” Lisa replied, taking Joel’s hand.

“Give the coffee some time to kick in,” Trevor said, taking another drink. At a loss for ideas, he gave his newlywed friends a smile. “I guess this isn’t exactly what you thought your honeymoon would be.”

Lisa rolled her eyes. “Oh, you mean the gunmen at the resort, the battle at sea, and being stuck in a monster hurricane? For some reason, I was thinking white sandy beaches, not this.”

Trevor managed to smile. “I’ll bet you still don’t know where we were going to take you – and still will, I hope.”

Welcoming the distraction, Lisa fixed Trevor in a mock glare. “Where?”

“I can’t tell you. Shane and I voted that Joel had to be the one to tell you.”

Lisa gave her husband a puzzled glance. “Where?”

Joel shrugged. “I don’t know, they haven’t told me yet.”

They both turned to look at Trevor, who said with a smile, “Shane wants to be the one to tell Joel, so I’m not going to.”

Lisa glared. “Spill it, Trev.”

Trevor, for the first time in days, grinned. “I’ve got phone calls to make,” he said, picking up the satellite phone to call the Coast Guard, who had nothing new for him. Trevor’s next call was to Frank Tittle, who did.

“Hello, Trevor. It’s going great here; the press is all over this, you’re the lead story,” Frank said.

“Good, but what about getting us out of here?” Trevor asked.

“That’s already a big part of the story; they’ve already had several experts on TV giving ideas. Nothing workable yet, but they are trying. Call some of the reporters and let them interview you; that’ll help keep the pressure on, plus drive the publicity the tape is getting.” Frank read off several phone numbers.

“Okay, I’ll start now. What’s your read on the cartel situation?” Trevor asked.

“By the end of the week, they’ll all be dead or in hiding. Probably sooner.”

“Are we still in danger from them?” Trevor asked.

“Unlikely, but possible. If they had somebody handy, they might make a move, but it’d have to be soon. They’re already under attack and, within a day or two even the most hardcore of their killers will know it’s over. They’ll be too interested in saving their own skins to worry about orders from their dead leaders. As for the other cartels, having your name attached to the release like we’ve done means not only aren’t they your enemies, they owe you one. So, my read… give it seventy two hours, and this is over forever.”

“Thanks… now, all we have to do is find a way to deal with Dean.”

“Make the calls, Trevor,” Frank prompted, believing that was the best hope of finding a way out.

Trevor spent the next two hours talking with reporters, giving his story over and over before enduring a barrage of questions that oft ranged from uninformed to downright callous. Twice he was asked why he didn’t just turn around to get out of the hurricane, and once he was even asked what it felt like to face death at such a young age. It was only the thought that he might be helping their situation that gave Trevor the will to keep talking.

Finally, weary and exasperated, Trevor glanced at the late afternoon sun falling on the eyewall high above and ended his last interview of the day, wondering if they would ever see the dawn. He gave Lisa and Joel a forlorn look. “So far, nobody has any workable ideas that can be done in time, and according to the Coast Guard, we’re looking at landfall at about three in the morning.”

“Can you keep us in the eye even that long?” Joel asked.

“I can try… but…” Trevor let his voice trail off. He glanced at Lisa and asked, “Could you check on Shane for me?” Lisa and Joel had been looking in on him frequently, but Trevor was worried.

Several minutes later, Lisa returned with a smile on her face. “He’s awake and wanted water. I got him some, and he said he’d be out in a bit, on his own. His leg is still painful to move – he’s pretty sure he’s got a torn muscle or snapped tendon – and his chest still hurts, but he said he doesn’t feel too bad for somebody who was dead as a maggot yesterday. I told him what’s going on. He’s still got memory problems; he only remembers little bits of what happened after you picked us up, but he seems to remember everything since he revived okay.”

“The Coast Guard doc I spoke to said that’s not unusual for a lightning victim,” Trevor replied, and then asked, “Any sign of any other injuries? They told me to check.”

Lisa shook her head, and then nodded. “Uh, sorta. He winced when he took the glass of water – he’s got a few small blisters and some redness on his hand.”

“I saw those yesterday. That could be from the lightning. That’s what the doc thinks anyway. I wish we could get him to a doctor, because the Coast Guard one said there could be complications,” Trevor said, with a worried look.

A thud came from the salon, soon followed by Shane, who was using a telescopic whisker pole – normally used to stabilize a jib sail - as an improvised walking stick to keep the weight off his injured leg.

Lisa and Joel rushed to Shane’s sides, helping him to a bench seat. “It’s bloody hot,” Shane grumbled, settling into the seat and sprawling out, a sheen of sweat covering his bare chest due to the heat, which was affecting him more than anyone else aboard.

Trevor gave Shane a smile. “You’re looking better.”

Shane smiled back. “I’m feeling better, I think. You look better too… have you changed that bandage yet?”

Trevor grimaced at the thought of what he knew would be a very painful experience. “Not yet.”

Shane glanced at Joel. “Take the helm, mate. The captain needs some first aid.” He turned to ask Lisa, “Do me a favor and get the first aid kit.”

As gently as he could, Shane removed the wraps and bandages, cleaned Trevor’s wound, and applied triple-antibiotic ointment before covering the wound with clean bandages. “It’s healing a little, but I don’t like the way it’s getting swollen. You might have an infection. If we were ashore, I’d be taking you to hospital.”

“I’m okay,” Trevor protested.

Shane cut Trevor off with a pained look. “Bollocks. One way to check for an infection is to take your temperature,” he said, withdrawing an oral thermometer from the first aid kit, shaking it out, and then slipping it into Trevor’s mouth. “That’ll at least shut him up for a bit,” Shane remarked, with a tired smile.

Shane made Trevor wait for seven minutes. “Okay, looks like ninety-nine point five. I know normal is thirty seven Celsius, but what is it in Fahrenheit?”

Lisa knew that one. “Ninety-eight point six.”

Shane gave Trevor a suspicious look. “You’re a bit high. Call that doc and tell him what’s up. Ask him if you should start on antibiotics.” Atlantis’s first aid kit contained a bottle of the oral antibiotic cephalosporin.

Trevor shook his head. “Not for a few hours. I can’t risk anything making me sick right now, and the infection probably won’t bother me between now and when we make landfall.”

“Just ask, then you can decide,” Shane prompted.

Trevor nodded, and then replied, “You’re the one sweating; take your own temperature.” For once, Shane didn’t argue. He shook out the thermometer and stuck it in his mouth.

“Ah, seven minutes until you can talk,” Trevor observed with a snicker and a smile, as his gaze fell on Joel, who was standing helm. “I’ll be okay at the helm,” he offered. Joel gave him a skeptical glance, to which Trevor replied, “I’m fine, and we’ve got to keep pace with Dean.”

Once Trevor was back in place at the helm, he began using his skills with swells to wring every possible jot of speed from Atlantis. With concern, he glanced at the engine temperature gauges, and then the fuel tank gauges – Atlantis’s engines had been running at maximum throttle since she’d entered the eye. ‘We’ve got about eleven hours of fuel at max throttle, and the engine temps are slightly high,’ he thought, though he said nothing, seeing no point in sharing worrying news about which they could do nothing. The fuel was enough to last until the predicted landfall, but at that moment, Trevor had his doubts that they could stay in the eye even that long.

Shane removed the thermometer, and read it. “Ninety-eight point eight. Almost normal.”

Trevor smiled with relief. “That’s got to be the only time you’ve ever been normal in anything,” he quipped.

It was almost like old times. Almost. All of them were eager for distraction; anything that allowed them, even briefly, to ignore the raging monster around them, and the fact that their time was fast running out.

Shane was about to reply when Lisa interrupted, fixing Shane in her gaze. “Trevor is making me wait for you to tell me where we’re going for the rest of my honeymoon. Spill it, Aussie boy.”

Shane shook his head. “No way. I said I’d tell Joel. Trev and I voted that Joel gets to tell you.”

Lisa crossed her arms. “Did Joel even get a vote?”

“Nah, and he’d have been outvoted anyway,” Shane replied, crooking a finger in Joel’s direction.

Joel approached, and Shane whispered in his ear. Joel froze for a moment, pulled away, and blurted, “Bullshit!”

Shane grinned, and in a normal voice, replied, “That’s where Trev and I were before we came to Florida for the wedding. Gonzalez set it up for us. Gotta admit, it’s a safe place.”

Befuddled, Joel turned to stare slack-jawed at Trevor, who grinned. “It’s true. We flew in and out of Homestead Air Force Base for the wedding.”

“Tell me!” Lisa demanded.

Joel blinked again, and asked Trevor, “You… you decided that I had to tell Lisa?”

“It was totally democratic. Shane and I took a vote. It was unanimous,” Trevor replied.

“Joel, tell me!” Lisa said, even more insistently.

“Uh… Shane said it’s Guantanamo Bay,” Joel replied.

“Trevor Carlson!” Lisa roared, stalking in his direction, stopping at the helm and then saying in the quiet, gentle tone that Trevor knew to fear, “You knew how I’d react, so you and Shane decided to foist off telling me on Joel?”

“Uh huh,” Trevor replied quietly, before adding hurriedly, “It’s actually a really cool place. Great beaches. Shane and I even went surfing and shooting. They’ve even got a yacht club. Plus it’s super safe, and look what happened at the resort.”

Lisa crossed her arms and glared for several moments. “I’m sure it’s fine, it’s just you two making my husband squirm that I figured needed some payback.” She broke into a smile.

Trevor grinned at Joel. “Hey, it was a fair election. Besides, remember where you asked us to take…” Trevor’s voice trailed off, his eyes opening wide as he stared at Joel.

Joel, still standing beside Shane, misunderstood Trevor’s reaction, thinking that Trevor was clowning around. In mock horror, Joel, who had been wearing nothing but Speedos since just after coming aboard, glanced down his front. “I’m almost naked… Stop staring at me! This is Sexual Harassment!” he roared.

“Utah,” Trevor mumbled. “You… you wanted us to take you to Utah on Atlantis. That’s the answer!”

Shane began to smile. “I know that look. He’s had an idea – a way to get us out of this.”

Trevor began to nod slowly. “Utah…” he said again, blinking rapidly. “It’s not my idea, it’s Joel’s. His idea… when we were in the Med… Joel, remember? You wanted to go to Switzerland.”

Joel shook his head in confusion. “Trev, you’re making even less sense than usual. How can we get to Utah or Switzerland?”

Trevor began to babble. “Don’t you see? We can’t. Not on Atlantis. Because you can’t get there by boat. And palm trees!” Trevor took a breath, his grin spreading. “We probably can’t get to shelter if we make landfall, it’d be a long shot. And Atlantis sure as hell can’t take a cat five at sea. And… so we’re taking Atlantis overland. If she’s on land and lashed down fore and aft really well, she could shelter us from the hurricane! And Joel had the answer all along.”

Shane thought he understood part of it. “Okay, but we won’t have much time. How do we get Atlantis out of the sea and onto land?” Then it was Shane’s turn to blink, just before blurting, “Storm surge!”

Trevor nodded. “Storm surge is like a tide coming in fast that keeps coming in. The forecast says twenty or so feet when Dean hits. We’ll have less than that in the eye, but some. If we hang a bit to the right side of the eye, we’ll have more. Maybe… ten feet. That’s plenty. I’ve seen a lot of pictures of the Yucatan coast; they’ve got palm trees everywhere. We sail in over the beach, get in amongst some big palms, use every anchor line we’ve got to lash Atlantis to the trunks at the bows and sterns, and flood the bilges. Palms are strong, and they flex. The storm surge should fade out not long after the eye passes, but anchored like that… we should make it for a bit, and once the surge is gone we’ll be tied and ballasted on dry land.”

“I’ve never been so glad that you’re insane,” Shane whooped, wishing that he could give Trevor a hug.

“How are we going to do all this in the dark?” Lisa asked, injecting a note of practicality into the reverie.

Trevor shrugged. “We’ll give it our best shot. Use spotlights as we approach, and slow down too – we’ll have a little time to spare, maybe. I wish we could do this in daylight, but this way at least we’ve got a shot.” Trevor’s smile faded as he glanced skyward, seeing the fading light from sunset casting a purple hue on the clouds of the eyewall. “I better call the Coast Guard and let them know what we’re planning; we’re running out of time.”

 

 

 

At the command post in Homestead Air Force Base ten minutes after Trevor’s call, Captain Voorhees convened a conference to discuss Trevor’s plan. He started it off by saying, “I think this is just crazy enough to work. I want ideas on what we can do to help, and to make it work.”

A National Guard officer glanced at the meteorologist and saw him fidgeting, so the officer went first. “They’ll be making landfall in the early hours of the morning, so they’d be unable to see much at a time when they most need to. That’s a major risk, though one we don’t have to worry about. I’ve already given the loading orders; daylight is on its way.” The guardsman went on, keeping his explanation quick and simple, though mindful of the meteorologist and Gonzales not being military, he went into greater detail than he normally would have.

Voorhees smiled. “That’s one problem solved.”

The meteorologist shuffled his papers. “Ah, we may have a further… issue. Dean’s track looks to be shifting slightly west of our forecast, and the latest GFL model run takes the eye directly over Banco Chinchorro. That’s a reef formation – basically an enormous atoll – about twenty miles off the Yucatan. It’s roughly an oval shape, with the long axis thirty miles across. The forecast calls for Dean’s eye to be between fifteen and twenty miles wide at that point. They cannot leave the center of the eye, but even if they had the use of all of it, if the track holds… they cannot get around Banco Chinchorro.”

Voorhees’s eyes narrowed. “What about the storm surge? Can they just go over it?”

The meteorologist adjusted his glasses. “Well… the reefs are essentially at sea level, and the storm surge will be somewhat diminished by virtue of being so far from a confining coast, thus in all likelihood, the storm surge it will prove insufficient. The primary reason is that they will be in heavy swells, which will mean massive breakers on east-facing reefs. They would be destroyed. However… if I remember correctly, there are one or more passes in the reef. If they can use one to get past the seaward side, the heightened level in the lagoon area – which has cays and minor reef outcroppings – might be sufficient. I need charts. They have an inoperable navigation system on Atlantis, so they will be approaching while navigationally blind at high speed. If we can determine a suitable route, perhaps you can give them a series of coordinates for waypoints for their handheld GPS.”

The guardsman leaned in to interject, “The C-130 can help them with nav fixes – if you can come up with a route.”

Voorhees nodded. “Both of you get to work on this part of the problem – get a Navy navigator in the loop as well.”

 

 

 

Aboard Atlantis, it was time for dinner – prepared by Shane and Joel – and talk of what they’d need to do. Save for readying the anchor lines, there was little they could do but wait, all the while fighting to stay within the eye – Atlantis was beginning to lose ground as the current faded.

All aboard Atlantis were painfully aware that the coming hours held tremendous peril. They took turns using the phone, reaching out to friends and family. During the calls, they tried above all else to avoid any hint of the calls’ true nature; that this might be their final goodbye.

A phone call from Gonzalez added a new issue. “Trevor, the Yucatan is in Mexico, and that’s a huge problem; the Mexican laws regarding bringing guns in are downright psychotic when it comes to guns or ammunition of any kind. They have no exceptions for emergency arrivals. You’re going to need to throw every weapon overboard before you make landfall or you could very well end up in a Mexican prison for a few years.”

Trevor was appalled. “What? But Frank said it’s possible that there could still be cartel people around, and maybe in the Yucatan. After all we’ve been through, I really don’t like the idea of ending up there unprotected. We’ve already been told that there won’t be any police around; the government there is evacuating that whole stretch of coast.”

“They’ve put people in prison for driving across the border with a single round of ammo forgotten under a car’s floorboards. They’re absolutely draconian on this issue, Trevor, so you’d be taking an enormous risk.”

Trevor gnashed his teeth in frustration. “Once the storm is over we’ll be stuck on land and defenseless, and if the news media is covering this like they say, everybody’s going to know it – and that includes anyone who wants us dead. Remember what happened to us in Australia when they confiscated my gun? After all we’ve been through, one thing I’ve learned the hard way is if somebody’s trying to fucking kill you, don’t give up your gun.”

As someone who felt naked without a gun, Gonzalez sympathized, though he still judged the Mexican government to be a greater threat than the remnants of the cartel. “It’s all over the news that you were in a shootout at sea against the cartel, so it’s known that you’re well armed.”

“Shit,” Trevor grumbled, seeing the danger. “So it’s either disarm again with hit men maybe closing in for the kill, or risk being thrown into a hell hole just for trying to defend ourselves. Fucking great.” Trevor took a few breaths to calm down, and asked, “Any chance we could get some police there early, like once the worst of the storm is over? I’d feel safer if I knew that the local police would be there real soon.”

“I’ve already asked. No chance. The roads won’t be passable for days, so… I wouldn’t count on them getting there fast. They’ll also have emergencies to deal with, so…” Gonzalez’s voice trailed off. A helicopter would be the only option, and the Mexican authorities would initially need the few available for search and rescue operations.

Trevor summed it up. “So we’ll be sitting ducks for a while, again, thanks to a stupid law, and maybe get killed for following it. I really hate that idea.”

Gonzalez was beginning to understand Trevor, and could see where this was going: Trevor would refuse. There was also the fact that Trevor was right. “If you’re thinking alone the lines of doing something devious, underhanded, and sneaky, let me call Frank Tittle. He’s the go-to guy for that particular batch of synonyms.”

As soon as the call ended, Trevor realized that if there was one person who might have good insight into such things, it was a customs officer. He made the call, delighted when the familiar voice picked up. “Hi Uncle Greg. A lot has happened since Shane and I headed for Jamaica,” Trevor said, referring to the last time he’d spoken with Fowler, “A lot has happened. Have you heard?”

“It’d be hard not to; you and Atlantis are all over the news – even the Aussie news. And speaking of things down under, your press agent asked me to remind you that he’s still waiting for an update on the book. I told him that you have far more pressing issues at the moment.”

“Yeah, we sure do… but if he calls again, let him know we’re almost done.” Trevor got to the point of his call and explained the situation regarding Mexico before asking, “I don’t want us stuck there helpless. It was bad enough off Geraldton.” Trevor chatted with Fowler for a while to discuss a few ideas, and then he called Frank Tittle, who was fresh off a call with the Navy.

After the calls, Trevor phoned one of the reporters he’d spoken with earlier to tell him of their plans for landfall. He also launched into a tirade about Mexican gun laws, letting the reporter listen to the splash as he said, “There goes the best damn rifle I ever owned.”

Trevor called two other reporters to fill them in on the landfall plan and then grouse about the Mexican laws that had forced him to throw his guns overboard. “If you have any ideas on getting them to send the police to us early, let me know,” Trevor asked in conclusion.

Atlantis had become the story of the moment; first the battle off Jamaica as an adjunct to the hostage crisis at the resort, until the involvement of Bridget Bellevue and other emerging details had shifted the focus squarely on Atlantis’s role. Many reporters had spent time on camera explaining, with the aid of charts and graphics, how Atlantis, trapped by an overwhelming force, had turned to attack. As one famous news anchor had phrased it, “In an act of courageous desperation, Atlantis and her crew attacked against impossible odds, going for the throat of the drug cartel’s leaders. Somehow, they managed to grab the drug cartel force by the nose and hold on long enough for Hurricane Dean to deliver the knockout blow.” This was set against the absolute spectacle of the four teens trapped in the eye of a hurricane on a doomed voyage to near-certain death. A further aspect was that, like so many of the human interest stories that become media sensations, the principals were very photogenic; thus, photos of Trevor, Shane, Lisa, and Joel accompanied every report. Frank Tittle’s stoking of the media was working even better than he’d dared hope.

Frank made use of the media firestorm. He agreed to be interviewed on the air, where he spent some of his time lambasting the Mexican government for having forced his clients to disarm while they still faced a deadly threat from the cartel.

 

 

 

Trevor had been informed of the situation with Banco Chinchorro, along with the solution. At the helm of Atlantis, he pensively watched the eerie staccato flashes of lightning illuminating the surrounding eyewall – which was now closer astern than ahead. “We’re still losing ground, but I think we’ll make it – as long as we don’t lose any time,” he said, as Joel came out, bearing two mugs of coffee. “Shane doing okay?” he asked, taking a mug.

Joel nodded. “Yeah, he seems okay. He even insisted on helping Lisa clean and oil the guns. Trev… I’m kinda worried; what’s going on? Are we really still in danger? And if so, why are we broadcasting to the world that we’re unarmed?”

“Having me whine in an interview about having to dump the guns over the side was Frank’s idea: so the Mexican government will think we actually did it. I think it works well for another reason; if anyone is coming after us, I’d like them to think we’re unarmed so they won’t be as careful. That way, we can get them. Frank thinks it’s unlikely but not impossible that the cartel has someone in Yucatan still willing to go after us, and after all we’ve been through, unlikely ain’t good enough.”

Trevor’s voice had a cold edge to it, one that bothered Joel. “I’m worried about you, bro. You’re talking about setting a trap and killing someone as casually as you talk about changing engine oil – and you don’t seem to give a damn that if you did shoot some cartel guy who was coming after us, then the Mexican cops would put you in jail. Don’t let all this shit change you, Trev. This isn’t you,” Joel said, placing his hand on Trevor’s shoulder.

Trevor was silent for many moments, his emotions warring. Finally, in a quiet, shaky voice, he said, “I know… but I had to change or we’d all be dead. They keep coming, Joel… Suez, then off the Seychelles, off Geraldton, then they nearly blew my family up… they even ruined your wedding and honeymoon. I kept waiting for the police or somebody to make it stop, but it wouldn’t fucking stop. I’m fucking sick of this shit.”

Joel did the only thing he could and pulled Trevor into a hug, being careful to avoid touching his wounded side. “Trev… I know man, I know, and I get it. If somebody from the cartel does come after us and I see ‘em first, I’ll pull the trigger, no problem, but… it bothers me to think about it. You sounded calm, like it doesn’t worry you at all. I can understand that, but… all I’m saying is, this’ll soon be over, so don’t let it change you. If you do, then Bridget won.”

The mention of Bridget rocked Trevor, and he hugged Joel to him. “Frank said the cartel’s finished within a week, so once they’re gone, yeah, I want the old me back too. I’m not going to let that dead bitch change me.” Trevor eased away, only to put his arm across Joel’s shoulder. “Okay, what do you think I should do? Dump the guns over the side?” he asked.

Joel chuckled. “Hell no, I’m not stupid. I just want you to think about the problem; if you, or any of us, have to shoot a cartel killer in Mexico, we’re looking at jail. That’s better than being a murder victim, but nowhere near as good as not going to a Mexican prison. So, put that insane mind of yours to work.”

Trevor stared out at the distant lightning for a few moments, deep in thought. “I guess what we could do would depend on the circumstances. We’ll probably be alone in a storm-devastated area, so everything will be all torn up. I hope we’re worried for nothing, but if it happens, we should have time to think it through and deal with it.” Trevor began to grin and added, “You were worried I’d changed, so you decided to get me thinking about how to get rid of a body?”

Joel smiled, but his smile faded fast. “Uh… yeah, sorta. I guess this shit changed me too…” Then he smiled again. “But okay, in a few days, I promise, I’ll stop getting you to plan post-killing cleanups if you stop planning killings.”

“Deal,” Trevor replied with a smile of his own, looking forward to the end of their troubles, now so close that he could taste it. He turned his head to look out to sea, his mind returning to the dangers ahead. His smile gone, he said quietly, “Nobody is going to come after us during the storm, they can’t. It’ll be after it eases, but that’s also when the Mexican authorities might show up. I’ve got a few ideas on that. If those don’t work out, I’ll get the guns into the fake beam fast. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t find it; it’s one hell of a hiding place.”

Without knowing it, their concerns regarding a cartel hit were somewhat exaggerated. The cartel did have three operatives left in the Yucatan. They had received no orders – what remained of the cartel’s leadership was too busy trying to save their own necks – but they were aware of the bounty on Trevor’s head. However, they were also well aware that their organization was doomed, which meant they would be quite unlikely to be paid. They also had a far larger concern, Dean, and were currently sheltering in the city of Merida, in Yucatan’s northwest corner. While there, they would present themselves to the local Los Zetas Cartel capo, asking for work, for they were presently unemployed. Their interest in Atlantis and her crew was precisely zero.

 

 

 

As Atlantis neared Banco Chinchorro, Trevor made use of the laptop computer, using it to access the internet via the satellite phone. His first stop was the National Hurricane Center for the latest advisory, which he wanted to see in its entirety.

 

ZCZC MIATCPAT4 ALL TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM BULLETIN

HURRICANE DEAN ADVISORY NUMBER 32

NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL042007

1100 PM EDT MON AUG 20 2007

...EYE OF POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC HURRICANE DEAN JUST A FEW HOURS

FROM LANDFALL ALONG THE EAST COAST OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA...

AT 11 PM EDT...0300 UTC...THE GOVERNMENT OF MEXICO HAS EXTENDED THE

HURRICANE WARNING WESTWARD FROM CIUDAD DE CARMEN TO CHILITEPEC. A

HURRICANE WARNING IS NOW IN EFFECT FOR THE ENTIRE COASTLINE OF

BELIZE...ALONG THE EAST COAST OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA OF MEXICO

FROM THE BELIZE/MEXICO BORDER NORTHWARD TO CANCUN...AND ALONG THE

WEST COAST OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA FROM SOUTH OF PROGRESSO

SOUTHWARD TO CHILITEPEC. PREPARATIONS TO PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY

ALONG THE EAST COAST OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA SHOULD HAVE ALREADY

BEEN COMPLETED. PREPARATIONS ELSEWHERE IN THE HURRICANE WARNING

AREA SHOULD BE RUSHED TO COMPLETION.

AT 11 PM EDT...THE GOVERNMENT OF MEXICO HAS ISSUED A TROPICAL STORM

WARNING AND A HURRICANE WATCH FROM WEST OF CHILITEPEC WESTWARD TO

VERACRUZ MEXICO...AND A HURRICANE WATCH HAS ALSO BEEN ISSUED FROM

VERACRUZ TO TAMPICO. A HURRICANE WATCH MEANS THAT HURRICANE

CONDITIONS ARE POSSIBLE WITHIN THE WATCH AREA...GENERALLY WITHIN 36

HOURS. A TROPICAL STORM WARNING MEANS THAT TROPICAL STORM

CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED WITHIN THE WARNING AREA WITHIN THE NEXT 24

HOURS.

A TROPICAL STORM WARNING IS ALSO IN EFFECT ALONG THE NORTHERN COAST

OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA FROM NORTH OF CANCUN TO PROGRESSO.

A TROPICAL STORM WATCH ALSO REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR THE FOLLOWING

PROVINCES OF CUBA...PINAR DEL RIO...LA HABANA...AND ISLA DE LA

JUVENTUD.

INTERESTS ELSEWHERE IN THE SOUTHERN GULF OF MEXICO SHOULD CLOSELY

MONITOR THE PROGRESS OF DEAN.

FOR STORM INFORMATION SPECIFIC TO YOUR AREA...INCLUDING POSSIBLE

INLAND WATCHES AND WARNINGS...PLEASE MONITOR PRODUCTS ISSUED

BY YOUR LOCAL WEATHER OFFICE.

AT 1100 PM EDT...0300Z...THE CENTER OF HURRICANE DEAN WAS LOCATED

NEAR LATITUDE 18.4 NORTH...LONGITUDE 86.0 WEST OR ABOUT 150 MILES...

245 KM...EAST OF CHETUMAL MEXICO AND ABOUT 310 MILES...500 KM...

EAST-SOUTHEAST OF CAMPECHE MEXICO.

DEAN IS MOVING TOWARD THE WEST NEAR 20 MPH...32 KM/HR...AND THIS

MOTION IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE TONIGHT AND TUESDAY. ON THE FORECAST

TRACK...THE EYE OF DEAN WILL MAKE LANDFALL ALONG THE EAST COAST OF

THE YUCATAN PENINSULA VERY EARLY TUESDAY MORNING. DEAN WILL CROSS

THE YUCATAN PENINSULA DURING THE DAY ON TUESDAY AND LIKELY REACH

THE BAY OF CAMPECHE TUESDAY NIGHT.

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS ARE NEAR 160 MPH...260 KM/HR...WITH HIGHER

GUSTS. DEAN IS A POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC CATEGORY FIVE HURRICANE

ON THE SAFFIR-SIMPSON HURRICANE SCALE. LITTLE CHANGE IN STRENGTH

IS EXPECTED PRIOR TO LANDFALL ON THE EAST COAST OF THE YUCATAN

PENINSULA. ALTHOUGH SOME WEAKENING IS FORECAST AS DEAN CROSSES THE

YUCATAN PENINSULA...DEAN IS EXPECTED TO MAINTAIN HURRICANE STRENGTH

THROUGHOUT THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

HURRICANE FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 60 MILES...95 KM...FROM

THE CENTER...AND TROPICAL STORM FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 175

MILES...280 KM.

THE MOST RECENT MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE MEASURED BY AN AIR FORCE

RESERVE RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT WAS 914 MB...26.99 INCHES.

DEAN IS EXPECTED TO PRODUCE STORM TOTAL RAINFALL OF 5 TO 10 INCHES

OVER THE ISTHMUS OF TEHUANTEPEC AND YUCATAN PENINSULA OF

MEXICO...BELIZE...GUATEMALA...AND NORTHERN HONDURAS...WITH MAXIMUM

AMOUNTS OF UP TO 20 INCHES. THESE RAINS COULD CAUSE

LIFE-THREATENING FLASH FLOODS AND MUD SLIDES.

STORM SURGE FLOODING OF 12 TO 18 FEET ABOVE NORMAL TIDE LEVELS IS

POSSIBLE NEAR AND TO THE NORTH OF WHERE DEAN MAKES LANDFALL ALONG

THE EAST COAST OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA.

REPEATING THE 1100 PM EDT POSITION...18.4 N...86.0 W. MOVEMENT

TOWARD...WEST NEAR 20 MPH. MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...160 MPH.

MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...914 MB.

AN INTERMEDIATE ADVISORY WILL BE ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL HURRICANE

CENTER AT 200 AM EDT FOLLOWED BY THE NEXT COMPLETE ADVISORY AT 500

AM EDT.

FORECASTER KNABB/ROBERTS NNNN

The next thing Trevor looked up were some maps of the Yucatan coast and Banco Chinchorro. He kept them on screen even after shutting off the internet link.

Just after midnight, Atlantis was as ready as she’d ever be. Trevor stood at the helm, while Joel took position at the rail, armed with the handheld spotlight. Lisa had the satellite phone with Captain Voorhees on the other end of the line, and Shane had a handheld VHF radio, with the orbiting C-130 checking in frequently.

Shane relayed the latest from the C-130, “They say we’re still on course for the pass, and should be in it in a thousand yards. They said they’ll turn the sun on when we’re about two hundred yards out.”

“I still can’t see anything,” Trevor replied, peering ahead into the blackness. “Wait… I see white, backlit by the lightning. That’s the surf line… and it’s fucking huge if it’s that big this far away. Make sure your harnesses are on tight; this might be bad.”

Lisa glanced pensively ahead. “How bad?” she asked, only to be answered by the sea as the shallowing water caused the incoming swells rocking Atlantis to steepen suddenly.

“Hang on,” Trevor warned, having spotted white water in the pass dead ahead. He glanced back, seeing the lights of the C-130, and told Shane, “Tell ‘em now would be good.”

The swells were coming mainly from astern, and Atlantis began pitching up at the sterns as the next swell, which had built to forty feet, reached her. Trevor held course as the swell surged beneath Atlantis, as the C-130 Hercules hurricane hunter turned sharply, matching course with Atlantis before roaring over her at two thousand feet. In her cargo bay, two pallet-mounted flare dispensers were ready. Inside were racks of thirty-pound canisters – LLU-2 parachute magnesium flares – normally used for battlefield illumination, each one capable of putting out one point eight million candlepower for five minutes. Sunrise would be coming rather early, albeit temporarily, that day.

The C-130’s cargo ramp was already down, and the first of the flare dispensers was armed. With a push of the loadmaster’s button, it began to chuff out the thirty pound flares, sending the canisters tumbling into the darkness.

Aboard Atlantis, Trevor flinched as the first of the flares triggered, its orange-tinted light blazing forth like a small sun, only to be joined by several more as night turned into day. This gave Trevor his first good look at the pass ahead. “Oh shit,” he gasped, seeing the churning cauldron. “Hang on!”

Atlantis surged ahead into the chaotic maelstrom, a nightmare of massive swells funneled by a narrow pass. Shane relayed a radio call, “They said go ten degrees to port, it looks calmer there,” he said, yelling to be heard above the sea’s thundering roar.

Trevor spun the wheel, seeing nothing but white water and the peaks of reflected waves ahead. A roar from starboard caused him to turn his head, just in time to see a wall of water mere yards away. There was no time to shout before it was upon them, crashing across the decks to surge into the cockpit, throwing Atlantis into a wild turn to port.

Holding tight to the wheel, Trevor fought for control, so focused on his task that he didn’t even notice the knee-deep water sloshing in the cockpit. Slowly, Atlantis’s bows came around and she returned to course, cleaving the whitewater at sixteen knots, and no longer pitching fore and aft. Trevor held his breath, glancing around in fear for several moments until he was sure. “We’re through,” he said, sighing in relief as he saw the lines of raging surf on both sides passing astern.

A minute later, with the flares still burning overhead, Trevor glanced at the depth meter. “Okay, we’re in the lagoon, and it looks like we’ve got a good twenty five feet under the keels.” The sea wasn’t calm, though the swells were small and manageable; most of their fury had been spent on the reef.

Lisa relayed the good news from Voorhees, “Trev, ten miles to go to deep water, but he said we should be fine; the storm surge should be covering all the shoals ahead to at least seven feet.”

Trevor was happy to hear that, but he had other concerns. “The knotmeter matches the GPS for speed, so there’s no more current. We’re making sixteen knots. Shane, ask the C-130 what Dean’s speed is.”

They all listened to the reply, “Atlantis, we make Dean’s current speed to be steady at seventeen and a half knots. Eye diameter is fifteen miles nautical, and you have the eyewall about five miles nautical off your stern. You are about twenty-five miles nautical from the mainland shore.”

Atlantis was slipping in the race to keep ahead of Dean, and Trevor didn’t like the news. “So we’re about an hour and a half from landfall, but we’re losing ground at two miles an hour, and will lose it faster if we get in rough seas. At best, we won’t have long once we cross the shore.” They all knew what would happen if they didn’t stay in the eye until landfall.

At Homestead Air Force Base, the bad news was still coming, this time in the form of the latest – and final pre-landfall – update from the National Hurricane Center.

ZCZC MIATCPAT4 ALL TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM BULLETIN

HURRICANE DEAN INTERMEDIATE ADVISORY NUMBER 32A

NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL042007

200 AM EDT TUE AUG 21 2007

...POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC HURRICANE DEAN BEARING DOWN ON THE EAST

COAST OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA...

A HURRICANE WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR THE ENTIRE COASTLINE OF BELIZE

AND ALONG THE EAST COAST OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA OF MEXICO

FROM THE BELIZE/MEXICO BORDER NORTHWARD TO CANCUN. A HURRICANE

WARNING IS ALSO IN EFFECT ALONG THE WEST COAST OF THE YUCATAN

PENINSULA FROM SOUTH OF PROGRESSO SOUTHWARD TO CHILITEPEC.

PREPARATIONS TO PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY ALONG THE EAST COAST OF

THE YUCATAN PENINSULA SHOULD HAVE ALREADY BEEN COMPLETED.

PREPARATIONS ELSEWHERE IN THE HURRICANE WARNING AREA SHOULD BE

RUSHED TO COMPLETION.

AT 200 AM EDT...0600Z...THE EYE OF HURRICANE DEAN WAS LOCATED BY AN

AIR FORCE HURRICANE HUNTER PLANE NEAR LATITUDE 18.5 NORTH...

LONGITUDE 86.8 WEST OR ABOUT 100 MILES...160 KM...EAST OF CHETUMAL

MEXICO AND ABOUT 260 MILES...420 KM...EAST-SOUTHEAST OF CAMPECHE

MEXICO.

DEAN IS MOVING TOWARD THE WEST NEAR 20 MPH...32 KM/HR...AND THIS

MOTION IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE TODAY AND TONIGHT. ON THE FORECAST

TRACK...THE EYE OF DEAN WILL MAKE LANDFALL ALONG THE EAST COAST OF

THE YUCATAN PENINSULA IN A FEW HOURS. DEAN WILL CROSS THE YUCATAN

PENINSULA LATER TODAY AND LIKELY REACH THE SOUTHERN BAY OF CAMPECHE

TONIGHT.

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS ARE NEAR 160 MPH...260 KM/HR...WITH HIGHER

GUSTS. DEAN IS A POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC CATEGORY FIVE HURRICANE

ON THE SAFFIR-SIMPSON HURRICANE SCALE. LITTLE CHANGE IN STRENGTH

IS EXPECTED PRIOR TO LANDFALL. ALTHOUGH SOME WEAKENING IS FORECAST

AS DEAN CROSSES THE YUCATAN PENINSULA...DEAN IS EXPECTED TO

MAINTAIN HURRICANE STRENGTH THROUGHOUT THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

HURRICANE FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 60 MILES...95 KM...FROM

THE CENTER...AND TROPICAL STORM FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 175

MILES...280 KM.

THE MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE ESTIMATED FROM THE AIRCRAFT DATA IS

911 MB...26.90 INCHES.

DEAN IS EXPECTED TO PRODUCE STORM TOTAL RAINFALL OF 5 TO 10 INCHES

OVER THE ISTHMUS OF TEHUANTEPEC AND YUCATAN PENINSULA OF MEXICO...

BELIZE...GUATEMALA...AND NORTHERN HONDURAS...WITH MAXIMUM AMOUNTS

OF UP TO 20 INCHES. THESE RAINS COULD CAUSE LIFE-THREATENING FLASH

FLOODS AND MUD SLIDES.

STORM SURGE FLOODING OF 12 TO 18 FEET ABOVE NORMAL TIDE LEVELS ALONG

WITH LARGE AND DANGEROUS BATTERING WAVES IS POSSIBLE NEAR AND TO

THE NORTH OF WHERE DEAN MAKES LANDFALL ALONG THE EAST COAST OF THE

YUCATAN PENINSULA.

REPEATING THE 200 AM EDT POSITION...18.5 N...86.8 W. MOVEMENT

TOWARD...WEST NEAR 20 MPH. MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...160 MPH.

MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...911 MB.

THE NEXT ADVISORY WILL BE ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER AT

500 AM EDT.

FORECASTER PASCH/BROWN NNNN

 

Captain Voorhees glanced at Gonzalez, and then at the meteorologist, arching an eyebrow to elicit a comment.

The meteorologist, normally a dour and very unemotional man, adjusted his glasses before saying quietly, “No doubt about it now. Strong category five at landfall. They don’t come any worse than that. God help them.”

 

 

The open seas between Banco Chinchorro and the Yucatan coast proved both a blessing and a curse. For most of the way, the sheltering effects of the massive bank ensured a sea state of small chaotic swells within the eye, but when the rear of the eyewall had crossed Banco Chinchorro, the swells from astern picked up, allowing Trevor once again to use them to gain a knot of speed. The respite proved temporary as Atlantis approached within five miles of the coast, and began being pummeled by waves from the north that were reflecting off the coast.

“Fourteen knots,” Trevor said, glancing nervously astern at the lightning that now appeared perilously close.

The radio crackled again. “Atlantis, we’re looking at the coast in infrared… about a mile and a half north of your current landfall target, there’s a tiny cruise port, Costa Maya. Some of the beachside buildings are still standing. Repeat, some of the beachside buildings are still standing. There is flooding from the surge, but the buildings project above it. I suggest altering course… your bearing would be twenty degrees to starboard.”

That news presented Trevor with a conundrum. “Okay, those buildings survived half a cat five so maybe we’ve got shelter there. We can probably sail right up to them – if we get there in time. But the storm surge is mainly on the right side of the storm, so we’d be taking a strong southbound shore current right in the teeth.” The others looked to Trevor for a decision, so he took his best guess, bringing Atlantis thirty degrees to starboard. “We’ll try, but the current will be strongest at the shore, so we’ll dogleg in and do the last leg straight in.”

Several tense minutes later, the C-130 radioed, “Atlantis, you are two miles nautical from the beach – or where it was. You are three miles from Costa Maya. You are also just over two miles nautical ahead of the rear eyewall.”

Two miles, at Dean’s speed of advance, meant they’d have at most six minutes between landfall and category five conditions, though only if they lost no more ground – an impossible hope. “The current we’re fighting is too strong, we won’t make Costa Maya; we’re heading for the beach at max throttle,” Trevor announced.

 

“Negative, Atlantis. There is heavy surf in the tree line. It’s calmer closer in to Costa Maya; it’s in the lee of the massive cruise ship pier. Get as close as you can.”

“Shit,” Trevor gasped, glancing astern at the lightning-lit clouds of the eyewall, which now seemed much closer than two miles. “Okay, we’ll try.”

“We’re making the flare run now. We can do a final one as needed. First light in… fifteen seconds,” the C-130 replied.

The flares, dropped in a line over where the beach had been, blazed to life, sundering the darkness, and giving Trevor his first view of the trees protruding through the heavy surf. He glanced astern, seeing the eyewall. A glance at the handheld GPS told him that Atlantis’s actual speed was now down to ten knots due to the strong head current. Then, he spotted the pier ahead, protruding a third of a mile out to sea. It only took him a moment to realize what that meant, and he spun the wheel, bringing Atlantis sharply onto a direct run towards shore. “The current is stronger closer to shore, but not with that pier in the way,” he explained, as Atlantis charged shoreward. “We’ll get in its lee then cut a bit north. That’ll get us there faster.”

Costa Maya was little more than the massive concrete cruise ship pier with a shopping and entertainment complex at the shoreward end, built in a faux Mayan style. The land facilities were hemmed in on the seaward side by a spectacular beach, and surrounded to landward mainly by the region’s endemic forest.

Now, Costa Maya lay largely in ruins.

The coast in that part of the Yucatan runs mainly north to south, but there is a small protrusion north of Costa Maya, so the cruise port was situated in a shallow embayment. Half a mile down the coast from the cruise pier, Trevor spotted a cluster of palm tree trunks – the tops had been sheared off by Dean – and then glanced astern, seeing the orange light of the flares reflecting off the eyewall, which was now so close that the curvature was barely perceptible, making it look like an infinitely high wall moving in their direction. “We’re not going to make it to the buildings,” Trevor shouted, swinging Atlantis to port, aiming her at the cluster of palm trunks protruding from the choppy sea – palms that, just hours before, had been a hundred feet inland. The storm surge now covered their bases with seven feet of water. “Ready on the anchor lines! Open the seacocks!” Shane, who had, at the cost of much pain, stationed himself in the bilge in which he’d been electrocuted, whipped open the seacocks, while Lisa did the same in the other bilge.

Joel, in just Speedos, took his position on the port bow, the heavy line at the ready.

Heart in his mouth, Trevor took Atlantis in over the submerged beach at sixteen knots, heading straight for the stand of palms. He spotted a gap in them, aimed for it, and, as Atlantis surged to within a hundred feet of the nearest trunk, Trevor spun the wheel hard to port and rammed the port engine back to full reverse, snapping Atlantis into a violent, tight turn. She was settling due to the inrushing seawater, though only slightly as yet.

When her sterns were almost pointing at the gap, Trevor centered the wheel. With both engines now at full astern, Atlantis charged into the gap at seven knots. “Hang on!” Trevor warned, ramming the throttles forward to bring her to a stop, her port bow just feet from a tree trunk.

The storm surge was almost at its height, much akin to the peak of a high tide. As a result, there was no fierce flow for Atlantis to contend with – yet.

Joel jumped into the choppy, surging, debris-laden sea, struggling to tow the line around that trunk, and then, letting the current propel him, around one off the starboard bow. With the line in his teeth, he then pulled hard for Atlantis’s side and scrambled aboard to tie off the anchor line to a bollard, having left plenty of slack. “Bows moored with one line,” he shouted, as he raced aft.

Trevor shoved the throttles to half astern, causing Atlantis to move aft until the anchor lines from her bows tightened. Twenty feet behind her, and just a little to port, were two palm trunks. Again Joel dove over the side, pulling hard to swim the line out and back.

Lisa was busy with her own tasks amidships, using a method she’d devised herself: a light leader line secured to Trevor’s cylindrical garlic crusher. She whirled it over her head in ever larger circles before letting the garlic crusher whip around a palm trunk ten feet away, its momentum carrying it back towards Atlantis, where it landed in the water alongside. Lisa used a boat hook to retrieve it, and then made fast work of pulling on the leader line to haul a heavy rope around the palm and secure it to a cleat. She then dashed to the port side to repeat her task there.

When Joel returned via the port aft stern, he again secured the line, this time taking up as much slack as he could. “Moored. Cut the engines,” he called out, racing forward, where he dove overboard with another anchor line, using the first one to haul himself along. With that done, Atlantis now had two heavy loops holding her bows, a heavy line on each side amidships, and a single one holding her sterns. The lines were not tied to the palms, only looped around them to allow them to slip downwards as Atlantis’s bilges flooded.

Joel raced back to the cockpit, where Lisa’s eyes opened wide. “You’re bleeding,” she said, rushing to his side.

Joel glanced down at the blood trailing down his arm. “I hit some debris. I’ll be okay. We can rig a few more lines,” he said, already reaching into the rope locker.

The distant roar of wind grew louder and Trevor looked to seaward, seeing a sold wall of cloud and rain just a few hundred yards away, still lit by the blazing flares, several of which were being pulled into the approaching maelstrom. The wall of cloud had a slight unevenness to it, which showed as slightly darker patches racing east at a seemingly impossible speed. “No time, inside, now!” he shouted, herding Lisa and Joel through the salon door, which he slammed and dogged behind him.

Shane, who had managed to struggle out of the bilge, was lying on the deck. He glanced up at them, and then out the salon windows as the roar grew, punctuated by crashing thunder, as Atlantis began to tremble. “Dean’s here.” In the space of twenty seconds, the air outside went from lightly breezy to gale force.

Trevor snatched up the radio. “Teal, we’re moored as planned, bows to seaward, and we’re inside.”

“Copy, Atlantis. We have you visual. Be advised, the eyewall is coming ashore. We’re orbiting inland in the eye, beginning to climb out for a return to base. We’ll lose contact shortly. Godspeed, Atlantis. Teal, out.” Once Atlantis was no longer in the eye, the C-130 could not stay over her.

Trevor reached for the satellite phone to call Captain Voorhees, but Dean got there first. The shrieking wind was already at sixty miles per hour, its pitch falling as Atlantis shook, the wind doubling in just moments, slamming Atlantis with sheets of rain moving at a hundred twenty miles per hour. It was like being inside of a drum.

It was only the start; one minute later, Atlantis bucked as a hundred-eighty mile an hour gust slammed her from her starboard forward quarter, and waves driven in off the sea slammed into her salon windows. “Let’s get into the aft port cabin; it’s the most sheltered!” Trevor said, shouting above the thundering roar as he made his way to the master breaker panel to shut off Atlantis’s electrical power.

With Lisa and Joel helping Shane, they dashed in, locking the door behind them.

The winds were out of the south, and Atlantis was facing southeast, allowing her to take Dean’s brutal battering close to head on. The swept-back angle of her polycarbonate salon windows and her streamlined hull helped ease the massive force of the blast, and she was settling as her bilges filled, presenting an ever lower profile to the elements. Were it not for the strong lines holding them, she would have risen by the bows to be hurled end over end, such was the brutal fury of Dean.

The noise was beyond anything they had ever experienced. Part of it was a rumbling roar, as if a thousand freight trains were racing past at once, accompanied by the scream of low-flying fighters on full afterburner. It was felt as much as heard, vibrating Atlantis as the storm’s fury tore at her. It was a thousand tones fusing into one overarching, awful wail so loud that it was painful – as if all the demons of hell had taken voice at once.

Dean raged, the minutes passing as if hours. They could not even speak, for even the loudest yell could be barely heard from mere inches away.

The storm surge, carried mostly on Dean’s right side relative to its motion, began abating as soon as the eye had passed. At first, the change was minor, though within minutes a strong current developed as the sea retreated from the land. Atlantis bucked at her moorings, fighting both the tornadic winds from off her bows and the surging current from astern.

The anchor lines, heavy though they were, had never been designed for such abuse, and began fraying and stretching. The first of the bow lines parted with a crack like a rifle shot, though it went unheard over the fury of the storm. Atlantis now hung by the sole remaining bow line, it and it alone standing between her and near instant destruction.

Trevor felt it first; a change in Atlantis’s motions, a slowing of her movement. “We just grounded,” he shouted, hugging Shane as the lightning roared anew.

The receding surge had allowed Atlantis’s keels to touch the sandy mud, and now the weight in her flooded bilges was acting as an additional anchor. Trevor knew that their lives may well depend on that weight staying, so he shouted, “I’m going to close the seacocks.” He knew that if he didn’t, the seawater ballast they’d let in would soon drain away, making Atlantis more vulnerable to flipping by the winds.

“Not alone you’re not,” Joel shouted back, following Trevor out of the cabin.

With Atlantis aground, the strain on her bow line was greatly reduced.

In the salon, the unearthly roar was even louder. Rivulets of water driven in by tons of wind pressure trickled across the deck as Atlantis shook like a terrified dog. Joel took the port bilge, Trevor the starboard, braving the flooded bilges to close the seacocks.

Once out of the bilges, they raided the galley for armloads of food and drinks before making their way back to the cabin.

They were in for a long wait filled with fear and fury; Dean’s category five conditions extended for thirty miles from the eye; taking an hour and a half to pass over at twenty miles per hour. For over an hour, Dean’s full fury raged, each occasional slight lull followed by renewed ferocity.

As the winds striking Atlantis weakened to one hundred fifty miles per hour, Shane was the first to notice the difference. He waited a few minutes to be sure before shouting, “It’s less than it was a few minutes ago.”

Half an hour later, with the winds having diminished to a hundred miles per hour, Trevor took advantage of the diminished noise to call Homestead Air Force Base. “This is Atlantis. I think we’re going to make it.”

It was the first sign the outside world had of Atlantis since the eyewall had consumed her, and the operations center erupted in bedlam.

The meteorologist cracked a supremely rare smile. “They’re through the worst of it.”

Captain Voorhees shouted for attention. “Everyone, this is good news – but remember, no leaks, or we could be putting lives in danger.”

Gonzalez glanced at Frank Tittle, who said, “Except for the false one I’m about to make.” He flipped open his phone to dial a waiting reporter. “This is Tittle. We have confirmation that Atlantis did not make it to Costa Maya. The last sighting of Atlantis was five miles south of Costa Maya, just before the eyewall engulfed her and she was hit by the full force of a category five. We have seen no sign of them since. We’re hoping for the best, but…” he let his voice trail off, and then added, “I’ll call you when we know more. Maybe they made it to the beach, but five miles south of Costa Maya, there’s no shelter.” Frank’s lie had two purposes; to create news reports of the destruction of Atlantis and the deaths of all aboard, and also to conceal her true location; seven hundred yards from the ruins of the cruise port shopping complex in Costa Maya.

“ETA on the rescue?” Dirk asked.

Voorhees smiled. “They’ll be on station in about four hours, and they’re burning a lot of neutrons to do it. However, no information about that is to go beyond this room.”

 

 

   

Aboard Atlantis, the day dawned gray and stormy, washing her and the devastated coast in a gray light as the storm’s fury continued to abate. Dean was passing, and the winds had dropped to fifty miles per hour. Trevor was pacing, and could contain himself no more. Before anyone could object, he dashed from the cabin to check Atlantis’s interior. Aside from some intruding rainwater, he found little interior damage; even the crack from the structural failure seemed to have grown no worse.

Heart in his throat, Trevor opened the salon door and stepped into the cockpit, which was covered by an ankle deep layer of muddy sand. With his hand on his wounded side, he walked Atlantis’s decks, seeing countless abrasions from the hurricane debris, though no lethal damage. Finally, he looked over the side, seeing Atlantis’s hulls resting in the muck, which came almost as high as the normal waterline.

Forced inside by the wind and driving rain, he returned to the cockpit, where he found Lisa, Joel, and Shane. “We came through pretty good, I think. It’ll be a big job refloating her, but for now we’re fine. I saw the buildings at Costa Maya just a few hundred yards away; a lot are still standing. One of ‘em is a square tower of some kind, looks like an observation platform. If one of us got up there with a radio, they could see all over and we’d have warning of anyone coming.”

Trevor and Joel returned to the cockpit, where they peered through the rain. “How soon?” Joel asked. He knew he’d need to be the one to go.

“Not yet; we don’t need to worry until the storm’s over. It’ll be a hard slog; there’s a thick later of sand everywhere, plus loads of debris.” Trevor took a breath, studying the low-lying brush that had survived the storm. “If you do the tower, I’ll take the other two guns and find a hiding place. If anyone who looks like trouble comes, we’ll be in a good position to ambush their asses. If it looks like Mexican authorities, we’ll ditch the guns in the muck and debris.”

Half an hour later, with the wind having dropped to thirty knots and the rain having largely ended, Joel pulled on jeans, a shirt, and shoes. With the revolver safely tucked in his waistband and a radio in hand, he set out, slogging through the cloying, loose, wet sand, picking his way through the debris towards the buildings. When he reached them, he was astounded; many were in better condition than he’d expected, especially the ones with masonry walls; they’d been partially shielded from the worst of the storm by the storm surge.

What had once been elegant pools with fountains were now filled with muddy sand, so Joel skirted them, making his way toward the square concrete tower. As he neared it, he found himself facing a broad concrete staircase that scaled the single-story row of stores. He climbed it, struggling through the palm fronds and other debris littering it, to the base of the tower. Inside, he found the metal stairs undamaged, and quickly made his way up to the fourth floor’s observation deck, which was largely enclosed. Peering out at the devastation, he smiled – it was the perfect observation point. He stepped over to the southwest side, eying several worrisome cracks – he had no way to know that they’d been there before the storm. Leaning out the window, he waved several times at Atlantis, and saw Lisa’s answering wave. He then glanced to the east at the ruined pier, a massive concrete structure that had been largely destroyed by Dean. The sight of such damage to a massive, heavy construction evoked a low whistle from Joel’s lips.

 

While Joel settled in to watch, Trevor made ready to take the Makarov and the 30-06 rifle into the brush, but Lisa stopped him. “Trev, you know I can shoot. You’re hurt; you should be here with Shane and working on getting us out of here. I’m going with the guns.”

Trevor knew there was no point in arguing, so he let Lisa go, taking the guns and one of the radios with her. He then began a more careful survey of Atlantis and, with trepidation, turned the main breakers back on.

 

With power to her remaining working systems restored, Trevor turned on the bilge pumps, the soft thrub of them sounding, to him, like a heartbeat.

Trevor joined Shane in the salon, giving him a hug. “We made it. We’re going to be okay.”

 

Shane smiled, glancing around. “I never doubted it. Okay, what now? Can we get her off the beach?”

Trevor shook his head. “She’s stuck fast. It’ll take a lot of digging, both to free her hulls and make a drag path over the beach. If we tried to winch her off with her hulls buried, we’d just damage her.”

 

 

 

An hour later, Dean had fully passed; the stormy dawn had turned into a tropical morning, the sky littered with ragged scudding clouds and a few scattered squalls. Joel, keeping a careful eye out from his vantage point, heard a faint familiar rumble. Dashing to look south, he raised his binoculars, focusing in on a beach a mile south of Atlantis, where the village of Majahual had once stood. It was now little more than rubble, though a flash of yellow indicated that at least one person had remained, and they had something that Joel was certain Trevor would be interested in. He itched to use the radio to let him know, but they’d agreed that it was best to keep radio chatter to a minimum.

Joel studied the backhoe for a minute more, and then took a quick scan around. A movement on the choppy sea caught his eye, and he swung the binoculars up to look. A moment later, he shouted into the radio, “We’ve got a boat inbound, heading right for you. It’s a raft with an outboard, six guys in it. I’m guessing five minutes. Get moving!” This was something they’d discussed; in case of an attack by a large group, they’d hide in the underbrush well away from Atlantis.

Trevor radioed back, “Get out of there, fast!”

“They’re heading for you, not me. I’ll keep an eye on them. Wait…” Joel squinted through the binoculars, following the boat’s wake back, his eyes opening wide as he found the boat’s point of origin. “They’re friendly!” he shouted, forgetting to key the microphone in his excitement. A moment later, he realized what he’d done, and transmitted, “They’re friendly! They’re the Navy. Our Navy!” He grinned, staring for a moment more at the sleek sail and diving planes of a surfaced Los Angeles Class nuclear attack submarine as it paralleled the coast, three miles offshore, with the number ‘705’ emblazoned on the sail. Joel lowered the binoculars and began racing back to Atlantis, whooping with joy.

When Joel arrived, he found Trevor, Shane, and Lisa talking with the six Navy crewmen. One of the crewmen stuck out his hand to give Joel a shake. “We’re from the USS Corpus Christi, pleased to meet you.”

Trevor, with a broad grin on his face, turned to tell Joel, “They want to take Shane to their sick bay.”

The ensign in charge coughed. “Uh, sorry, Mr. Carlson, but my orders are to evacuate the wounded, along with anyone else aboard who wishes to come. And that means all the wounded, such as anyone who’s been shot,” he said, glancing pointedly at Trevor’s bandaged side. He’d been briefed, and the Navy, in part due to the media’s intense interest, was taking no chances.

“I can’t go, I’ve got to look after Atlantis,” Trevor protested.

“We’ll be leaving two men to keep an eye on her, and we’ll be in the area a few days to help with rescue and relief efforts. We’ll be providing fresh water – that’s often a huge need after a disaster – plus some manpower, up in Tulum, a city about eighty miles up the coast.” Tulum, in the state of Quintana Roo, is situated about a mile inland, and takes its name from the pre-Columbian Mayan walled city, built atop a low coastal cliff nearby.

 

Trevor’s nautical curiosity got the better of him. “How much fresh water can a submarine carry?”

The crewman chuckled. “Not a lot, that’s why we make it. We’ve got a desalinator aboard, and plenty of nuclear power to run it. We can put out quite a bit and just run a hose over the side to distribute it. What we probably can’t do is refloat your boat; we don’t have the gear. She should be okay though. Now, what you and your friend need is some attention from our medic.” The medic was actually among the landing party, but the ensign felt it best not to mention that detail; his orders were to get the injured to his ship’s infirmary. There was also the matter of time. “We need to hurry; the ship has to get to Tulum, people will be needing water.”

Joel could see that Trevor was going to keep arguing, so he crossed his arms. “Trev, go with Shane. Lisa and I will stay.”

The mention of Shane, plus the fact that the submarine would be leaving, was all it took for Trevor to relent, and he was soon on his way with Shane and four crewmen to the submarine. When they arrived, Shane looked around at the rubber-tiled deck and sail – anechoic tiles, to absorb sound – before quipping, “I guess it’s really true; they don’t have screen doors!”

 

 

 

On the beach, Lisa and Joel stowed the guns in the false beams and then stood with the two crewmen, looking south along the devastated shore, listening to the distant rumbling of the backhoe. “I’ve got an idea,” he said, glancing at Atlantis with a smile. He’d actually had the idea as soon as he’d spotted the backhoe.

Joel’s next stop was Trevor’s secret compartment in the crew cabin, where he helped himself to a thick wad of cash, which he added to the contents of Lisa’s purse – where they had all their honeymoon cash.

After clearing the plan with the submarine’s captain, one crewman stayed at Atlantis, while the other accompanied Lisa and Joel down the beach, heading for the sound of the backhoe.

They found it surrounded by ruined houses, methodically clearing debris from a road. Not everyone had evacuated the area; a few had stayed behind. The backhoe’s driver, a local contractor with a solidly built house, had been one of the few who had ridden out the storm. Now, he was clearing the road, doing the only thing he could think of to help his community begin the process of rebuilding. He spotted Lisa, Joel, and the crewman waving at him, and with a smile he shut off the engine and jumped down. “Hola, amigos,” he called out, using the Spanish words for “Hello, friends.”

“Hi!” Joel replied, with a big smile of his own, reaching out to shake the driver’s hand. “We’d like to hire you and your bulldozer for a fast job.” Joel, unfamiliar with construction equipment, had assumed that the backhoe’s large front-mounted blade made it a bulldozer.

“Eh? No Inglés,” the driver replied, with a confused shrug. He didn’t speak any English.

“Uh,” Joel replied, giving Lisa a confused look. Neither of them spoke any Spanish. All three glanced at the crewman, who could only shrug empty-handedly in reply, as he didn’t either. The one Spanish speaker who had come ashore in the boat had been one of the men who had taken Trevor and Shane back to the submarine, which was now submerged and en route towards Tulum.

Joel stooped to pick up a stick, and began drawing in the sand. First, he drew the outline of a monohull sailboat, and sketched in a few trees before pointing up the beach. He then pointed at the sketched boat, and then out to sea, and then at the backhoe. The driver blinked at Joel’s sketching – which looked to the driver nothing like a boat, especially as Joel had drawn it upside down – and nodded slowly, only to point at his village and shake his head, assuming that Joel was asking for help with something at the cruise port, though he had no idea what, or that his backhoe was needed – Joel hadn’t put that in his drawing.

Joel understood part of it; the man wanted to help his village. He withdrew a thick wad of hundred-dollar bills from his pocket, showed them to the driver, and pointed at the ruined village. The driver understood the offer at once, and nodded; the money would help far more than his road clearing would. However, he still had no idea what was being asked of him.

Joel began to mime, only adding to the confusion.

“Joel, stop. We need someone who speaks Spanish. Officer Gonzalez’s family is from Cuba, so I’ll bet he does,” Lisa said.

“Good idea. I’ll run back for the satphone.”

As Joel turned to go, Lisa reached into her pocket and handed him the phone. “I figured we might need it,” she said with a grin.

Joel soon had Officer Gonzalez on the line and, after confirming that he did indeed speak Spanish, Joel explained the situation, and then handed the phone to the driver.

Five minutes later, the backhoe was trundling north up the beach, with Lisa, Joel, and the crewman clinging to the sides.

When they arrived, the driver’s experienced contractor’s eye told him what needed to be done. This wasn’t the first grounded boat he’d had to help; a yacht had gone aground just the year before, and that had been a monohull, its keel making the refloating a more difficult proposition. Ignoring Joel, who was trying to supervise, the driver used the backhoe’s front blade to dig a four foot deep trench in the sand, thirty-five feet wide and leading from Atlantis’s bows into the sea. That took fifteen minutes, and when he was done, he added two deep trenches in the sand, leading from Atlantis’s bows to the cleared path. He then, with care, excavated trenches directly along the hulls, partially freeing them from the morass.

Gonzalez, still on the phone with Joel, reassured him, “That man is a contractor and he’s saved grounded boats before. He knows what he’s doing, so do yourself a favor and let him do it.”

It proved easier than Joel had imagined. With the trenching ahead of Atlantis done, the driver released the lines that had bound her to the trees and used them to attach her bows to his backhoe. He gradually applied power, tugging on the lines, until Atlantis began inching forward. He then extended the backhoe to slack the line, trundled forward a few feet, and repeated, dragging Atlantis a few more feet over the soft, wet sand. It only took ten minutes for Atlantis to reach the water’s edge.

Unwilling to risk his backhoe in more than a few inches of water, the driver unhooked and drove to Atlantis’s stern. There, with his backhoe cushioned by pillows, he shoved against her transom, easing her back into the waiting sea.

Joel, who was aboard for the final push, raced to drop anchor, whooping with joy. He then waded ashore, grinning as he handed the driver a few more hundreds – he and Lisa had decided to give him some more of their honeymoon money, in order to help others hit by Dean. “Thank you!” he said, pausing for a moment before adding, “graceas,” while shaking the man’s hand. The driver, who was eager to get back to his work, made ready to leave, so Joel turned to Lisa with a smile, pointing at Atlantis. “That’ll make Trev’s day when he comes back.”

Lisa studied Atlantis for a moment. “Why let him come back? He’d be better off on the submarine and so would Shane. Why can’t we get Atlantis home ourselves?”

Joel knew at once. “Fuel. We’re almost out of fuel.” Joel glanced at the driver, who was climbing aboard his backhoe. He raced over, shouting over his shoulder at Lisa, “Get Gonzalez back, ask him the Spanish word for diesel.”

The driver heard this, and with a sad shake of his head, said, “No diesel.” The word was the same in Spanish as English, and the only diesel he possessed was in his backhoe’s tank. He wasn’t willing to part with it.

One of the crewmen grinned. As the backhoe trundled away with a roar, he said, “Diesel we can help you with.”

“You’ve got diesel on a nuclear sub?” Joel asked in surprise.

“Yep. For the auxiliary engine. We have one, just in case anything goes wrong with the teapot,” he said, using naval slang for a nuclear reactor. “Got enough fuel to get us to the sub?”

“Yeah, we can make it,” Joel confirmed.

“Let’s go,” the crewman replied, turning to begin wading out to Atlantis.

It wasn’t quite that easy. Joel began scrambling around, checking out Atlantis, trying to see if she was seaworthy. From the outside, she didn’t look it; her main windows had been blasted to near opacity and she bore the scars of countless debris strikes.

“Uh, Joel, do you think the propellers survived being dragged across the beach?” Lisa asked, suddenly worried.

Joel, his eyes opening wide in concern and surprise, answered by stripping down to his Speedos, grabbing a face mask, and diving over the side. There, he learned one of the reasons why Trevor preferred folding propellers, which opened only while in use; they had not been damaged during the drag across the beach.

The engines started up with ease and, with trepidation, Joel began motoring Atlantis north at seven knots.

 

 

 

It was dark by the time Atlantis moored next to the nuclear sub, giving Trevor a joyous surprise. Once his initial elation was over, he told Lisa and Joel, “They want to keep Shane under observation for a few days. Me too; I’ve got stitches in, and they gave me antibiotic shots. They’ll be here for a few days, at least until the local fresh water supply is up and running, then they’re heading for Key West. I want Shane to go with ‘em; it’d get him to a hospital faster and they aren’t totally sure he’s okay.”

Lisa shook her head. “And guess what? You’re going with Shane, because he’ll probably need a translator if there aren’t any other Australians aboard.” Lisa grinned for a moment before fixing Trevor in a serious gaze. “Joel and I can get Atlantis to Key West.” Key West, Florida, was just over four hundred miles from Tulum. “I for one don’t want to spend the remainder of my honeymoon worrying about your wounds, so you’re going home under nuclear power – and don’t bother arguing.”

And for once, Trevor didn’t argue – he knew that if he stayed, so would Shane, and he wanted Shane under a doctor’s care. “Have a safe trip, we’ll see you either in Key West or home. I’ll need to grab some clothes for me and Shane… and remember to keep an eye on the weather. Take it easy, and avoid any rough seas; Atlantis is pretty badly hurt, and-”

Joel cut Trevor off by snapping him a salute. “Aye aye, Captain Bligh. And we’ll be calling home for advice, so don’t worry. Just enjoy the trip, protect the Navy from Shane, and get well soon.”

After partially refueling from the submarine, and also getting a once-over from both Trevor and the ship’s engineer, Atlantis, with Joel at the helm, motored out to begin her slow journey to Key West.

 

 

 

 

Several days later, after the local water supply had been restored and the road to Cancun opened, it was time to go.

Trevor and Shane had been confined in the infirmary during the dash north to Tulum, so it was a pleasant surprise when they were ushered into the control room and seated at the active sonar station, along with strict, though polite, orders to touch nothing. Captain McNally gave them a smile. “We’re about to dive. Please buckle your seatbelts.” The fact that there were seatbelts on a submarine was just the first of many surprises in store for them.

McNally picked up his microphone. “This is the captain speaking. Prepare to dive.” Five seconds later, he gave the order. “Dive.”

At the main induction control board, an ensign opened the valves for the main ballast tanks. A soft whoosh of air was the only immediate perceptible effect as the escaping air allowed seawater into the tanks. Seen from the surface, two columns of air and spray shot into the sky, a sight very much evocative of a whale clearing its blowhole.

“Twenty degrees down planes, make turns for twenty knots, level out at five hundred feet,” McNally ordered, causing the helmsman to press forward on the main control yoke, which looked very much like the kind found in commercial aircraft.

Trevor felt the deck cant down as the submarine’s bow dropped, and she slipped beneath the waves.

“I always thought that sinking was something ships were supposed to avoid,” Shane quietly remarked, which drew a few smiles and chuckles.

“Set course for Key West,” Captain McNally ordered.

Several minutes later, Trevor and Shane were escorted out of the control room, and Captain McNally glanced at the covers over the mechanical depth gauges. “Take off the blinders,” he ordered. The covers, kept aboard for just this purpose, hid the gauges – and their classified indications of maximum depth – while visitors were aboard. The main control board was digital so was of no concern, but the mechanical gauges, kept mainly as a backup, had to be hidden.

 

 

 

Trevor and Shane, treated as honored guests, would enjoy the hospitality of the United States Navy for another day, before arriving in Key West several days before Atlantis. There, after a tumultuous welcome from waiting crowds and a few words with the press, they were hustled off to a local hospital. Trevor was cleared for release the next day, but Shane’s sensitivity to heat had been an effect of the lightning strike; an electrolyte imbalance caused by the mild tissue damage he’d suffered. He spent the next two days hooked up to an IV and an electrocardiogram, with Trevor, at his own insistence, remaining with him.

On the morning after Shane’s release – he’d suffered no permanent damage – Trevor and Shane strolled out onto their hotel room’s balcony, where they stood for fifteen minutes, anxiously waiting. At last, Trevor spotted Atlantis – her identity confirmed via a fast call to Joel – just a speck on the horizon, as she slowly motored towards Key West, with crowds of well-wishers already waiting at the dock under stunning blue skies. “They made it, no worries, and no more fucking cartel,” Shane said, breaking into a grin.

Together, they watched for several minutes as Atlantis drew nearer. Trevor smiled softly, taking Shane’s hand in his own. “It’s finally over.”

      

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~
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)
    feedback.gifPlease 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 and Kim, for some major advice and help.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.

Copyright © 2013 C James; All Rights Reserved.

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As usual the detail involved in this chapter is unequaled. You created an entirely plausible and believable solution to the dire situation in which our characters found themselves. The epilogue still remains, but a hearty slap on the back, and a resounding "Well done!", CJ.

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Thank you for such a captivating story with a very satisfying ending.

Cant wait for the epiloge... Then I'll start reading it from the begining all over again. : D

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The time, the cliff hangers, what little hair I haven't pulled out all water under the bridge. A great ending to an epic story. Thanks CJ.

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OK Mr James... you have redeemed yourself (after that 4 souls 3 beating hearts palava a couple of chapters ago). Now, does anyone know if it is possible to have a cliffhanger in an Epilogue?

 

Stephen

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I do hope that there will be an epilogue to finish this truly epic story :2thumbs: After all 156 chapters surely one more small chapter to finish??????? PLEASE!!! :yes:

But whatever happens now Thank you for a great read :worship:

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Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I know there is an epilogue coming but what about a sequel starting sometime later in their lives? I'm not ready to lose my friends yet!!

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Other than adding my thanks to CJ and his magnificent team that have spent a few years giving us Circumnavigation, what else is there to say but "wow"!

...and of course, very sad that this tale is essentially over - sniff...

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You have done extremely well with this one

Definitely no Cliff Hanger Here

Congratulation on a well researched and written novel CJ

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AWESOME!!! Truly a very very excellent novel. Probably one of the best I

have ever read. Thank you so much CJ. We'll look forward for the epilogue to keep our nail-biting going for Trevor & Shane.

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Thank you for taking the time to write this wonderful story. It was well thought out and planned. You kept the story action packed.

 

Looking forward to the epilogue.

 

Well done CJ!!! :worship:

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The best part was the last chapter when Bridget got it. I am exhausted after reading chapter 156. It was a great ride and a great story. Look forward to more in the future

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What a GREAT ride. I can not thank you enough. One very well told story from the first chapter till the last, quite a ride. Trust that your next book is a thrilling and informative s this one. THANK YOU CJ.verry well executed.

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I am so glad i have followed this story from the very beginning a well written story with believable characters.

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CJ,

Thanks for an awesome story. There were many twists and turns, but over it easily makes it to the top of my favorite stories list. I believe you are one of the best authors on here. While this story shows some of your best work I still love Let the Music Play. The reasons you are a great author is because:

  • The stories show your passion in there development from your extensive research (or experience). Few authors would explain how a ship runs and how a hurricane is navigated.
  • Your characters and events are ralatable and enticing. While I love the main couples I have a preference for Bridgette. She is a villain you love to hate.
  • Your plea for feedback shows how important you view the audience in the development of the story and yourself as a writer. Some authors rarely take feedback into account.

Overall great work. I am hoping for an epilogue. Mainly to verify that Trevor and Shane continue on and the they are safe. I also see epilogues as a gift to readers. Authors do not have to write them, but it makes the ending so much more enjoyable.

Thanks,

Kody

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Great story, I felt like I was with them in there journey from the very beginning. It is so sad to see it end. Keep up

the great stories.

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I have been following this story for a wee while now and I have to say that I loved it so much that I registered just to say thank you, so, Thank you for this edge of the seat and brilliantly written story.

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Superbly done a long story with twists turns and a roller coaster ride. A kid leaves on an impromptu flight because of misunderstandings and jumped conclusions. Survives everything that mother nature and man can throw at him and comes full circle a man. Beautifully written and thought out I know I will probably reread this story to catch everything I missed the first time. Masterfully done C James.

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