My cabin could only be described as non-descript but anything was better than rotting in slots. The AB had already unpacked my sea-bag. Two pairs of brown overalls, similar to Delphi’s had been neatly ironed, probably by the Able Seaman himself, and placed on my bunk with uniform socks, jocks and talcum powder.
“Take a shower and get changed.” Delphi handed me a walkie talkie. “It’s got a boom microphone so you can talk hands free.”
I placed it on my bunk. “Do all crew have walkie talkies?”
“Senior ranks do, but you me and Gunther are on a separate channel.”
All I could think about was her promise of food. Hadn’t eaten all day and the sun was about to set. “I thought we were dining.”
“I’ll be back in twenty minutes. Steak and eggs or bacon and eggs?”
“Nope. But it all comes with salad.”
“Steak and eggs.”
“Make good use of the talcum powder.” She opened the door and I enjoyed seeing her smile again. “There’s athlete’s foot going around. You’ve got enough wounds to worry about.”
A normal sea shower should only take ninety seconds; I couldn’t help but enjoy an extra couple of minutes under the tepid water. As I dried myself off, I heard Gunther’s voice on the walkie talkie. What did he want? I hadn’t forgotten his readiness to shoot me at the Angel Club. He was the one who got me into that predicament.
They needed a respectable front man for the body part transactions and as I’d naively involved myself in Sanchez’s murder plot they had weight on me. Gunther knew what card to play. For years, on those rare occasions when we were all together and socializing, he must have noticed how my face lit up whenever Delphi walked into the room. Now, I would tolerate him but we were no longer friends. I powered off the walkie talkie and made liberal use of the talcum powder. My bruising wasn’t bad, mostly on my forearms. Vera’s painkillers took care of that.
Delphi returned with the AB who placed our meals on the corner table. Two steaks with eggs and two cans of coke.
“Should I tip him?”
She didn’t crack a smile, just told the Able Seaman to go and gave me a look that ordered me to sit down. The sea outside was getting a bit lumpy and more than once I had to stabilize my plate and canned drink. Got the feeling Delphi didn’t want me to say anything—so I didn’t.
Then she began.
“You know, all the early information we accrued on the Vaslav Network came from the Angels.”
“They told you about their father’s activities.”
“Right. But I’m beginning to get a more general feeling for Vaslav and how they operate.” She scowled and quaintly removed a chunk of gristle from her mouth. “Tastes like plastic.”
“That it does.”
“How central is Wang to their operations?”
“He’s important but the key figure is David Ho. Their leader.”
The meal didn’t kill me. I settled back and opened my coke. Delphi did the same and then continued. “You know, it was a short-lived mutiny at sea on the Thiri Sanda that gave us our first set of organs to put up for sale. Wang snapped up the two livers. One didn’t survive the journey.”
A curious bit of backstory. “Why tell me that now?”
“Be careful of Gunther, is what I’m saying.”
That brought a smile to my face. “I’ve had to be careful of him for the last seventeen years.”
The gravy clearly came out of a can but I didn’t hold back in covering my steak with it. Anything to mask that taste of plastic.
“So Peterson, what do you think of the basic operational plan?”
I took my time answering that. Certainly a thorough plan had been formulating at the back of my mind, and I had to be sure stubborn little Delphi didn’t see my strategy as a threat to her leadership. “What is it that the Vaslav Network fear the most?”
I shook my head. “Not exactly, I mean, of course they don’t want exposing, but generally they’re probably confident they can use their contacts to cover up any revelations.”
She offered me a cigarette; I pushed my plate aside and accepted.
“Where does that leave us then, Professor Peterson?”
“The one phenomenon no organization can truly control is the media. Publicity.”
“Right, that’s exposure.”
“Not the threat of exposure by a single source. Exposure to the world.” I ashed my cigarette, stood and began to pace back and forth in the cabin. It’s how I do my best thinking.
“Who is your best computer guy? The Internet, Social Media and so on?”
She immediately replied, “P.O. Ellis up in the Communications Center.”
“We get him to prepare a media campaign. Articles that are about to go online. Most importantly we’ll need fake copies of the front page of an English newspaper with headlines and a lead story revealing who the Vaslav Network are.”
“You expect him to do all that onboard?”
“He’s got a computer, satellite and a printer?”
“Yes. But if we hit Vaslav with that they’d disappear the kids.”
Could feel myself getting a little impatient with her. I sat back down and stared into Delphi’s eyes. Her gorgeous eyes. “Darling we have to give the police an excuse to write off the joint suicide of the Vaslav men as having been committed in anticipation of being unmasked.”
“So run me through it.”
“Ellis creates a fake persona. A freelance journalist in the U.K. He’ll need a blog and a backstory but that shouldn’t be too difficult. Right now, this week, he makes contact with Ho and Wang to innocently enquire about their respectable businesses.”
“What if they don’t reply.”
“Doesn’t matter. They just have to think he exists.”
And so I laid out the whole plan. She liked it.
“One way or another, Delphi, there’s no getting around one single bare fact.”
“On Jonathon’s birthday we’ll be hitting the temple hard. We go in heavy or not at all.”
“I appreciate that.” She frowned, not knowing what it was I was trying to say exactly.
“Delphi, Gunther is—”
“Too old and fat.”
“You took the words right out of my mouth.”
She held out her hands. “Well? What is it? What are you trying to say?”
“Look, Jonathon could get scared and run away. We can only be sure of scooping him up if you’re there. So you expect to come with us, right?”
“Right you are Mr. Peterson.”
“Wrong. I don’t want you getting hurt. You’ll have to give me a message for him.”
“Bad luck for you. I’m coming on that mission.” She rose, picked up her cigarettes and made her way to the door. “See you in the morning.”
I’d completely killed the soft atmosphere with my desperate attempt to keep her out of harm’s way but I didn’t regret trying. “Delphi?”
“You manage the overall operation. Gunther’s captain of this ship. But I have to have full command of the mission. Tactical command; I give the order to shoot—everything.”
“Sure Peterson. For one night only.”
As I closed the cabin door behind her I could not help but crave having her stay. To touch her. To caress her. I wanted to unbutton her overalls, slip them off and completely absorb the vision of her wearing nothing but bra and panties. I needed to gently slip off her under garments, lay her down and kiss every inch of her soft body. It did no good to dwell on it so I lit up another cigarette, gazed through the porthole and tried to push the image of Delphi wearing nothing but a gorgeous smile from my mind.
Nothing worked and she invaded my dreams all night, every night.
For one whole next week of our voyage, I taught the Angels the A to Z of firearms while Gunther and the QM transitioned my shooting skillset from competition to hostile. The Angel’s target, Henderson Wang—their father, was always armed as were his two lethal bodyguards who accompanied him everywhere. Two more would be at the temple. The Angels were determined to go into a shoot-out with their father and his gang—and win. Wang gave his bodyguards free access to his four daughters and any other girls he kept in a secret location.
I had the impression Vera was a little daunted at the prospect of a shoot-out but hatred for her father kept her determined and on track. Delphi had no such reservation—she wanted the Vaslav Network dead but bullets and blood were only stock and trade for Gunther and not the rest of us.
After we passed through the Suez Canal, Delphi told me to let two of the Angels do their own preparations. She wanted me to start building my rapport with the Angel they called Kaia. Aged nineteen, she was the youngest of the four sisters and would pose as my captive. I was a senior hospital administrator from Brighton, England, operating out of Baltimore. If David Ho enquired as to how I got hooked up with Kaia the story was to revolve around my meeting her when I volunteered as an administrator for Doctors without Borders in the west of China. I should present Kaia as a fourteen-year-old orphan. Ho would be offered a night of fun with her. One way or another, me or Kaia had to get confirmation that Jonathon Sanchez’s birthday party was taking place on August the first.
Day twenty found us off the coast of Somalia. Kaia and I had lunch together and she opened up about life with their father Henderson Wang. She was eight when his friends would come over and share her around. When Vera turned ten she and her father lived together as man and wife and he didn’t bother so much with Kaia or the other three. The bodyguards, however, both had a taste for Kaia. She disconnected from the entire experience. I had the impression she’d been left with no real connection to humanity other than her sisters. The four of them only gave the appearance of being completely at ease when they were together.
After sunset Delphi and I were training with Gunther in a space by the engine room. The Weaver stance, as opposed to Isosceles involves keeping your right leg slightly back, like a boxer. This meant that if I ran out of ammo for my pistol and had no chance to reload, the stance was perfect for switching to Muay Thai kicks and elbow strikes. Gunther had to stay with the ship and wouldn’t be with us when we hit Vaslav at the temple and he wanted us to anticipate every possible scenario, including shooting or fighting our way out of a tight spot.
“It’s getting dark. You’re improving Peterson.” He slapped me on the back; the QM called him up on his walkie talkie and he excused himself. “Needed up on the bridge. Keep practicing.”
Delphi sat down on the deck and gestured for me to sit down beside her.
“Alright but give me your firearm.” She handed it over. I secured the weaponry, put it all back in the case and sat beside her with my back to the bulkhead. The hot vibrations from the engine ran through me; it’s motorized roar droned on and on.
And there sitting side by side in the yellowish ambiance of the ship’s lights, our moment arrived. I turned to kiss her, she moved for me—a voice on my walkie talkie crackled. We both straightened up. Gunther. He needed us both on the bridge quick smart. Damn it, I could have punched the sky but the impatience in Gunther’s voice told me not to waste time.
We marched through the corridor and up the companion ladder. Delphi wore a deadpan expression.
“Don’t you ever try to kiss me again.”
I didn’t reply but my heart sank. But I’d win her over. I’d get her boy back for her and she’d be mine.
“On the starboard side, check that out.” Gunther handed me the binoculars.
The motorized fishing boat had no lights on but there was no mistaking it, and they were displaying way too much interest in us to be simply fishing. Without tearing my eyes from it, I handed the binoculars to Delphi. “Looks like we’ve got company, bossgirl.”
I nodded. “They’re maintaining a parallel tact.”
Behind us the young voice of a Leading Seaman reported, “Still no mother ship coming up on the radar, Captain. Looks like it’s a bunch of lone cowboys.”
“Maintain radio silence.” Gunther placed a hand on the burly Chief Petty Officer’s shoulder. “In five minutes bring the pitch to zero. Gently cruise to stop in about a thousand yards. That should only need a couple of minutes. If you beer make sure you beer to the starboard side.”
“Come with me.” Gunther led us in quick-time towards the stern of the ship. On open deck we ducked from cover to cover passing a dozen crew who lined the entire starboard side of the deck, prone position, AK 47s in hand. The determination on their faces, the steadiness of hand; every one of them gave the impression of having done this before. Once at the deckhouse armory the three of us took up positions alongside Vera and the other Angels who had AR-15s at the ready and their backs to the bulkhead.
An AB reported from the darkness, “Captain Gunther, they’re on us at the stern.”
Gunther flipped the deckhouse door open. “The Angels are standing guard over Midships.” He dropped a 40mm warhead into my pocket, pulled out an RPG-7 and handed it to me. “It’s ready to fire. We’re at the stern. We’ll engage the men. When you get a chance you hit their boat and hit it hard.”
Before taking the weapon I instinctively grabbed Delphi, shoved her in the deckhouse and bolted the door. She hadn’t expected that and pounded away, but I was on the move.
The crew were in position. I stood about three yards back from the stern rail.
The ship slowed to nothing. Stationary. Still in the water. For a few seconds everything was quiet but for the smooth, slick swell sloshing against the hull.
We knew the drill. I’d no sooner flipped up the iron sights on the RPG than Gunther fired the first shot and rest of the crew unloaded. The pirates returned fire. Bullets whizzed overhead, spent cartridges bounced off the deck. For a second I froze, slapped my hands over my ears as my head burst in the orgy of thunder. The chaotic cry and haze of battle seemed to go on forever.
Get it together, Goddamit.
I sprung up, advanced to the edge got the boat in my sights and hit it. A section of the gunwale shattered into bits but I didn’t stop to savor my work. Hit the deck again.
A pause in the shoot-out.
That sharp gunpowder smell wafted through the air.
I rocked another warhead into place.
Again, the men fired, the pirates hit us back. I rose, got the boat in my sights below, two separate gunmen onboard targeted me, their long guns flashing fire from the barrels, I pulled the trigger then dropped to the deck. The size and sound of the explosion sent a shiver right through me; it shook the night sky. I must have hit a fuel tank or got lucky some other way because the boat was reduced to a ball of flames reaching for the stars.
Gunther, still kneeling with his weapon at the ready, held up a hand.
All shooting ceased.
The two of us made eye contact and in that second I knew the bond between us had been restored. He nodded his head slightly then ranted into his walkie talkie. Beneath the deck the engines chugged into gear. Slowly I rose, wiped the film of sweat from my face and gazed at the blazing wreck. The agonized scream of pirates adrift in the water devolved into isolated groans then withered into silence swallowed by the rumbling sea. The crew continually scanned the waters and stern of the ship with their weapons. One by one they announced, “Clear,” and turned to Gunther for instruction.
“I got a bad feeling—that was too easy,” said Gunther. “I want the whole deck scanned. Move!”
“Over here. Now!” From Midships, Vera howled in desperation.
I ordered two ABs to remain at the stern while the rest of us raced to her.
Two angels lay dead beside the bodies of a pair of greasy pirates. Both men were of African appearance. They carried Chiappa revolvers with suppressors and suffered multiple head wounds. Their bodies too were torn apart—the Angels clearly treated them to a full clip. Vera and Kaia cradled their sisters’ limp bodies in their arms. Both had entry wounds above their breasts and in the forehead. Taken out assassin style. The sight of those two girls, lifeless and helpless, who I’d started to grow close to over the voyage, made me numb all over but I kept it together and ordered the crew to secure the rest of the ship. Gunther made his way back to the bridge. Vera and Kaia wept profusely. Over the port side a sling hook and rope revealed how the invaders had boarded the ship.
I released the hook and dropped it into the water.
A young seaman consoling Vera said, “The girls’ weapons haven’t been fired.”
Almost to myself, I posed the question, “So who shot the pirates?”
“I did.” Behind me, Delphi fixed me with a cold stare. She locked and loaded her AK-47 and strolled away without another word.
I ran an eye over the deckhouse armory door. She’d shot her way out.