Authors: Peter Tonkin
Macavity broke in then. âYou can tell him yourself for all the good it'll do. He wants to see you and I said OK. He's in the mess.' Something about the word âmess' seemed to give Macavity grim amusement.
âWhat about all this?' Richard's expression and gesture took in the storm, the state of the bridge, the helm and the necessity of keeping it under control.
âVerrazzano here can take over,' insisted Macavity. âHe's a US-registered Able Seaman Unlimited. I can stand watch. There isn't much navigating to be done. And between us I guess we can keep just ahead of the following seas. That was your plan?'
âYes. You have the papers?' demanded Richard without thinking.
âI had my naval lieutenant's papers before I took the Ultimate Challenge,' said Macavity. âI served on the
. I was specially selected to come aboard and I personally selected the men who came with me. We know what we're doing, Captain. More than the
crew you brought with you! And now I have all the guns and you need to do what I fucking say, man.'
Richard hesitated for an instant. That settled the question of accent, he thought.
were fast-attack craft used in the South African navy.
, as far as he knew, was Afrikaans for âdumb pussy'. And only South African citizens were allowed to take the Ultimate Challenge and join the special forces. Very few passed the challenge and most of them were soldiers. That made Macavity either a liar or a superman. But this was not the moment to push matters further. Normally, in any vessel Richard actually commanded, he would briefly discuss with the officer relieving him on watch such matters as the ship's position, the set of the sea, weather and visibility, course and speed, compass heading and errors, if any, navigational equipment, communications and traffic in the immediate area. All of which, under the circumstances, were almost utterly redundant. âVery well, Lieutenant, you have the bridge,' he said formally.
And you're welcome to it
, he thought. He suddenly registered that he needed to empty some parts of himself quite urgently. And he needed to fill others â preferably with something substantial, hot and savoury. But apparently he had to see Rikki Sato first. It didn't occur to him to wonder why, which was a measure of how exhausted he was finally becoming. Leaving American-registered Able Seaman Verrazzano holding the helm and South African Naval Lieutenant Macavity in charge of the bridge, therefore, Richard walked carefully back across the drenched upper weather deck, crunching broken glass underfoot and registering for the first time that there was blood as well as water in pools among the sheets and shards.
If the upper weather deck was a mess, the companionway was a disaster and, as he walked down it, treading carefully on warped and twisted steps, holding on to slack and serpentine handrails, Richard began to register the scale of what must have happened here. He remembered the strange sensation of being alone on the bridge when he took the helm â how long ago was that? And then he began to try and recall how many other men had been on the bridge when the clearviews smashed in with several tons of water behind them. And to speculate what might have happened to the water, the glass and the men.
Richard walked thoughtfully back into the areas that the skeleton crew or harbour watch would occupy when they were on board. The largest of the rooms there was the mess, where Macavity said Rikki Sato was waiting for him. And the instant he walked through the door he understood Macavity's grim amusement. For a mess it was, thought Richard sadly. Half-a-dozen men in varying states of disrepair were laid out on the floor. Clearly someone had rifled the cabins on the decks above to get sheets for makeshift bandages and blankets to make up beds on the deck. There was some basic first aid equipment on show but no real medical equipment. Aleks's stores had been confiscated, clearly, as well as his guns, for there were pressure bandages and the sort of drips that had been used to tend to Kolchak after he had been shot in the shoulder. And Kolchak himself lay in a corner, comatose. But there was no sign of Aleks; there was hardly anyone who seemed familiar at all, in fact. Even the stony faces of the men working as medical orderlies were unfamiliar, though Richard felt he should have known some of them from Aleks's command.
Rikki Sato lay on the floor beneath a blanket that was piled worryingly high, as though the body beneath it was thickly bandaged, and suspiciously stained with what at first glance looked like melted chocolate. His face was bandaged but recognizable, even though his glasses were gone. As Richard walked in, his eyes seemed to light up and he began to writhe like a butterfly trying to escape from a chrysalis. Richard knelt beside the wounded computer programmer. âI'm sorry,' said Rikki earnestly. âI apologize. It was madness.
. All those lies â¦ All this damage â¦ I never meant â¦ Tell Yukio â¦ Tell Yukio â¦'
But the effort of movement and speaking seemed to tear something deep within him. Halfway through what he was saying, he began to cough and choke. His mouth filled with blood and his eyes rolled up. Richard stood up and stepped back, shocked and distressed. One of the orderlies crossed to him and shook his head, gesturing to him to back off as he knelt beside the choking man. Feeling oddly as though he was trapped inside some hospital drama, Richard straightened again. âI'll come back later,' he said.
âMaybe you'll get the full skinny then â if he's in any condition to give it.' Richard turned and found Dom DiVito standing at his shoulder.
âWhat happened?' asked Richard as they left the sick bay. That question seemed at the moment to be more important than any other â and more likely to get answered truthfully.
âGlass from the clearview cut him open and then the water washed him down three flights of stairs,' said Dom. âHis guts are held in with duct tape and his neck is probably broken. Yukio is his daughter.'
âI remember that much, even without my laptop records,' said Richard, his eyes narrowing and mind racing as he formulated the questions he was burning to ask the supercilious young Canadian traitor.
âOK,' temporized Dom. There was a short silence. âSo what next?'
âFood and the head,' said Richard. âI need something to eat and somewhere to piss. It's been a long day. Then I have some questions.'
âRight this way,' said Dom, and led him out into the crew's quarters. âFood and facilities I can supply. But don't count on getting any answers from me.' The heads were at the end of a long corridor whose lights, like a good number of others, Richard now registered, were not working properly. Dom stood back and let him walk urgently alone down the corridor to the door marked FACILITIES in big, bold letters. âSee you up in the new mess,' he said and walked away. Richard pushed open the door and stepped into a surprisingly large room, thinking that Dom could afford to be so apparently overconfident. Richard was in no position to insist on confessions. And he sure as hell wasn't going to escape. Where in God's name would he go? Three stainless-steel urinals were suspended waist high along one wall. Two cubicles stood open beside them on the left. A sizeable shower stall stood at an angle on the right, its curtain closed and opaque because the light in the shower was another one out of commission for the moment. Between the urinals and the shower there was a pair of moulded steel basins with soap dispensers above them, paper towel dispensers beside them and bevel-edged mirrors screwed to the wall above them.
Richard crossed to a urinal and made copious use of it. Then he turned to the basins and began to wash his hands. As he did so, there was a strange whispering sound behind him and to his right. He looked up into the mirror and saw a square face reflecting over his shoulder; a broad forehead topped with short-cropped blonde hair. Straight, honey-coloured eyebrows that almost met in the middle above the blade-straight thrust of nose. Cold blue eyes a shade or two darker than his own and clouded like opals regarded him expressionlessly. âHello, Angela,' he said, secure in the knowledge that he was one of the few men alive who could call Angela van der Piet, the Pitman, by her given name. âWelcome aboard
. And how is Harriet?'
arry's fine,' answered the Pitman. âBut what about you? You look like shit.'
âA bit tired, maybe. And a bit stressed,' Richard admitted.
âI'm not surprised,' snapped the Pitman. âEither the computer programme has screwed up big time because of this typhoon or there's been some total asshole driving the boat for the last couple of hours. What do you think?'
âI'd go with the asshole driving,' admitted Richard. âBut didn't the computers all go down when the windows came in and the power went off?'
âWindows came in, hunh? That would short out a shitload of stuff.' The Pitman shrugged. âAll I know is that everything on board shut off all of a sudden, then all the computer programmes went back to the equivalent of factory settings as the power began to come back on and an emergency file was sent out thanks to the black box. Harry went into the programmes like a pig into a truffle mine. I know some things came back online at midnight when we got full power on for the first time. There was a distress beacon. They've shut it down now, though. But you need to talk to Harry about all that.'
âWill do,' nodded Richard. âBut â¦' he hesitated, swaying thoughtfully as the hull pitched lazily up and down while she calmly overtook a storm wave. The watch and the helm were doing well, he thought.
âBut what?' demanded the Pitman impatiently, sounding very much like Macavity up on the bridge.
âWell, thanks for rescuing me and all,' said Richard, âbut I'm not sure I should vanish quite yet. I could do more good staying where I am. There are things I still want to find out, and under the current circumstances I'm in a pretty good position to do some detective work. And the storm's still pretty dangerous. I feel responsible for the people I brought aboard.'
âUp to you.' The Pitman shrugged her broad shoulders again. âBut don't flatter yourself. I wasn't after you. I was trying to liberate Doctor Sato. Harry wants to talk to him. Something about the programmes.'
âIt would be,' nodded Richard. âBut you're too late to talk to Rikki Sato, I'm afraid. He was chopped up pretty badly when the windows came in and may have broken his neck when he was washed down the companionway.'
âThat's a bummer.' The Pitman frowned, looking worried for the first time. âHarry'll be pissed if she doesn't get her own way.'
âWell, I'd better get back, I suppose,' said Richard. âI really don't want them to come looking for me and find you hiding in the shower.'
âNo skin off my nose whether they come or not,' said the Pitman easily. She didn't need to stroke the Heckler and Koch G36C short-barrelled rifle she had cradled across her breast, nor to ease the nine-millimetre Sig in her holster or even to fondle the Fairbairn and Sykes black-bladed special forces knife she carried strapped to her thigh. Richard got the message.
âNo, I know,' he said. âBut let's leave the mayhem for later, shall we? Until I've worked out precisely what's going on.'
âYou know it's the 'Ndrangheta, right? Ivan's brought a shitload of stuff on organized crime from the FSB.'
Ivan's on board?'
âCouldn't keep him away.' The Pitman shrugged. But her eyes sparkled a little and there was the ghost of a smile at the corners of her mouth. She didn't dislike Ivan, thought Richard. High praise indeed. âHis father the federal prosecutor and some other high-ups gave him an external hard drive with about a terabyte of information on it. He's got your computer too, which is compatible with the drive by some kind of miracle â¦'
âWhere is he?' asked Richard. âIs he close enough for me to have a quick word and still get back before they notice?'
âWell, I guess so. If they thought you were doing a little more than popping it out then zipping it up â¦' She nodded to the cubicle, then frowned. âOr if they're not too worried about keeping a close eye. What's so important all of a sudden?'
âYukio,' he answered.
âWell, fuck,' said the Pitman, her voice dripping with irony. âThat explains
! Let's go, big fella.'
As they crept down the corridor, Richard breathed, âAngela, do you know where they've put the new mess?'
âOne deck up, then follow your nose.'
âGood. I'll have a quick word with Ivan, check something on my computer, then go there. It was where I was going next. They might think I â¦ ah â¦
, washed up and went straight up for something to eat.'
âIf they're tired or seasick enough it might work. Or if whoever you're trying to convince is easy to fool.'
Richard, Aleks and the rest had had no real opportunity to explore the decks in and immediately below the bridge house itself, and he was surprised by how many unexpected little stock cupboards and store rooms there were down there. Harry Newbold and Angela had obviously set up camp in one of those least likely to be visited, and had given a little extra room to Ivan Yagula as well. It was an electrical equipment storeroom, doubling as some kind of back-up to at least part of the computer system. On one side of the room there were piles of cardboard boxes that Ivan had arranged into a makeshift work bench. By the look of the labels on the side they contained wiring, relays, hoses, manifolds, cooling banks, air-conditioning spares and back-ups. On the opposite wall stood tall banks of old-fashioned-looking computers. There were flat screens with touch controls, serial ports and all sorts of stuff Richard didn't recognize. Harry was going through it. She had her laptop plugged into one of the ports and had taken the front off one of the other machines nearby.