Donovan Pike felt the wind from the bullet as it zipped past by his ear. He hunkered down and increased the throttle. The Zodiac leapt across the uneasy waves.
“They don’t seem inclined to let us leave peacefully.” The speaker crouched down in the big rubber boat. A battered leather satchel was clasped tightly by liver-spotted hands.
Pike smiled. With his free hand he wiped a trickle of blood from his lower lip. The wind whipped his black hair. He stood well over six feet all and had to squat down to make a smaller target for their pursuers. He was thankful the moon was hidden by the clouds. At least that was in their favor.
“Professor, when we reach the Triton, it won’t matter,” Pike said. “Hang on to that bag and keep your head down.”
As if to punctuate Pike’s words, more gunfire sounded in the distance. Something shattered on the Zodiac’s instrument panel, and Pike responded by pulling the wheel hard to starboard. After a moment he turned back to port, continuing a weaving motion that he hoped would increase their odds. The night was dark and he wanted to make it difficult for the men who followed them to take aim.
The Triton, Pike’s personal yacht, was waiting less than a mile into the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Somalia. That was the plan, and Pike never doubted that Pug and his crew would be ready.
Pike yanked a small radio from a mount next to the wheel. The device didn’t have a tremendous range, but the Triton should be close enough to hear him.
“Pug, we’re coming in and we’ve brought some friends. I need you and the boys up top to give us some cover.”
Pike waited a few seconds for a response. When none came, he keyed the radio a second time.
“Pug? You read?”
The only answer was another bullet flying overhead.
“Donovan, is there a problem with your ship?” Professor Jefferson Chapin’s voice was relaxed, even though he squatted in a wet boat while bullets zipped past him. Pike knew if there was more light, his old mentor would look tired and ill.
“We’ll see in a minute,” Pike said. He was committed to protecting Professor Chapin, even though the man would be dead in a matter of months, if not weeks. When he asked Pike to accompany him to Somalia, Chapin had disclosed his illness and his prognosis.
Chapin had been an anchor for Pike several years ago when the younger man had been lost and without purpose. The two bonded over a mutual love for Chapin’s areas of expertise: history and archeology. Chapin’s passion had always been the early Somali civilization, one of the oldest in the world. Somalia had an ancient written language that had never been deciphered. But that was about to change. Professor Chapin had been contacted by a source within the country who claimed to have what had been a mere rumor for decades, a Rosetta stone for the ancient Somali language. Like the original stone discovered in the 19th century, this artifact was said to be inscribed with a dedication written in not only the ancient Somali language but also in Greek and Egyptian, two cultures the early Somalis regularly traded with.
Chapin’s contact couldn’t leave the country. But he would be happy to meet Chapin and turn over the artifact for a reasonable consideration in the form of gold.
Pike and Chapin landed on Somalia’s northeastern shore at night and easily found Chapin’s contact, a small wiry man with the nervous demeanor of a drug addict. The transaction went smoothly until the following night, when it was time to depart. Chapin’s contact apparently shared the news of his recent good fortune, and the local warlord wanted his share.
Pike and Chapin were ambushed as they approached the hidden Zodiac. The attackers were four in number. Pike dispatched two with his favorite weapon, the reliable M1911 automatic, before the gun was knocked from his hand and lost in the darkness. Pike had to subdue the remaining two thugs with his fists before he and Chapin could put out to sea. Pike ended up with sore knuckles, but was filled with the exhilaration he always got when faced with physical danger.
“Donovan, I fear our ‘friends’ are growing closer,” Professor Chapin said.
Pike risked a glance behind him. Less than a hundred yards away, their pursuers were in a cigarette boat, that favorite of drug runners back in the Miami Vice era. Ordinarily, the fiberglass go-fast boat would easily catch the Zodiac. Pike suspected this particular craft had been poorly maintained. And the Zodiac was faster than the standard model, thanks to some engine modifications by Pug.
Despite the gloom, Pike was pretty sure the cigarette boat only carried two men. Two armed men. From their silhouettes, he suspected the Somalis had a couple of old bolt action rifles. Old but reliable. Those .22 caliber rounds weren’t fancy, but they would get the job done if they hit the right spot.
“Sit tight, Professor. Our salvation is dead ahead.”
The Triton’s running lights were visible just just off the Zodiac's bow. Even if the radio was dead – which seemed unlikely – Pug and the others should be on deck watching for him.
The guns of the Somali thugs grew silent. They, too, had spotted the Triton, and were likely waiting to see what kind of response was coming from the yacht.
“Professor,” Pike said, “when I come to a stop, lay flat and put that satchel with the artifact over your head. Don’t move until I say it’s okay.”
“Whatever you say.”
The running lights provided enough illumination for Pike to get a fair idea of the location of the Triton’s ladder. He jerked the wheel and threw the engine intro reverse. In one motion, he put the Zodiac into neutral, then launched himself at the ladder.
He was only off by a few inches. He grabbed the right side of the ladder with his left hand, swung his body over and scampered up the rungs. Within seconds he was on the main deck. It was empty.
He would have to worry about the crew later. Pike flipped up the seat of a bench and removed two objects.
The first was an HK417 assault rifle, capable of firing 600 round per minute. Pike didn’t plan to waste that much ammo on his pursuers. He stood quietly for a few seconds. The Somali pilot killed his engine. In the stillness of the night Pike heard the water lapping against the fiberglass hull of the smaller boat and the furtive whispers of two men.
He fired a short burst across what he hoped was the bow of the boat, then fell to the deck and rolled to his left. He popped up six feet away and peeked over the rail in time to see the muzzle flashes as the Somalis returned fire. Bullets smacked against the Triton’s superstructure very close to where Pike had been standing.
Now that he knew the position of his enemy Pike lifted the other object he had removed from the bench. The RKG-3 anti-tank hand grenade wasn’t a very sophisticated weapon but it was brutally effective.
Pike raised the cylindrical device to his mouth, grasped the pin between his teeth and pulled. He hurled the Russian-made grenade into a high arc, where it was instantly lost in the darkness. He knew from experience that the tiny four-panel parachute had opened and the RKG-3 was drifting down toward the cigarette boat. Pike dropped to the deck again.
Within seconds the night was ablaze with a spectacular light, followed almost instantly by the hollow thump of an explosion. Small pieces of debris slapped against the Triton’s hull.
Pike ran back to the bench. He removed two flares, ignited them and tossed them over the rail.
The Zodiac appeared to be untouched. Beyond it, the water’s surface was covered with the wreckage of the cigarette boat.
“Professor! You okay?” he called.
“As well as can be expected,” Chapin answered. “Permission to come aboard?”
“Not just yet,” Pike said. “Hang tight.”
Pike retrieved the assault rifle. He carefully stepped through the aft entrance to the salon. The large room was empty. He moved to the next door and entered the galley.
The Triton’s galley was open and comfortable. When Pike had the yacht built, he knew he would be spending most of his time here with a small crew, and he wanted that time to be enjoyable. The galley was outfitted with a state of the art kitchen, a massive oak dining table and large, study chairs.
Tied into four of those chairs were his crew. Short, barrel-chested Pug Benson, the Maynard twins and Andre Romanov, the ship’s chef, were gagged with duct tape. Their arms had been secured behind them to the back of the chair by the type of plastic ties used by law enforcement.
“Easy with that gun, boy,” a gruff voice said.
Four figures stepped forward. They had been huddled together in a dark corner of the room. Dressed all in black, each man’s tunic was adorned with an insignia, the silhouette of a black bird in flight over a scarlet, stylized letter R.
The speaker was older than Pike. His steel-gray hair was worn in a crewcut. He had a scar beneath his left eye.
Pike knew him well.
“Thank God it’s you, Drake,” Pike said. “From the smell in here, I thought Andre let the meat spoil.”
Drake smiled. “We came to take you home, Donny.”
“No thanks,” Pike said.
“The boss is very insistent.”
“When you get back you can tell her to go to hell.”
“She said we couldn’t mess you up,” Drake said. “She didn’t say anything about your playmates.” He removed a handgun from his holster and placed it against Pug’s head.
Drake’s other men produced their own guns, which they used to cover the other three members of the Triton’s crew.
Pike's pulse throbbed in his neck. This was his boat, and he was strongly tempted to unleash hell with a gentle squeeze of the trigger. Damn the consequences.
He drew in a breath before lowering the assault rifle to the deck.
“Okay, I’ll go,” he said. “But I owe you a serious ass-kicking.”
To Be Continued
© 2010 Mark Justice