Mandelieu, Napoule France, Friday, September 2nd, 2005…stroke of midnight
He had to admit, François and that jackass Sandy Lucci had done a first rate job prepping the single speed boat. Team Heckle and Jeckle had been cut in half in the recent change of plans. He and Sandy had scuttled Heckle twelve miles off the coast of
to erase any link to Pat's band of misfit pirates. The remaining namesake magpie, Jeckle, was ship-shape and ready for action, like an old west gunfighter's Colt .44, she was cocked and ready to fire! Jack sat topside in the pilot's chair listening to the boat's powerful twin engines idle steadily. Randy Patel was below deck finishing his diagnostics checks before engaging the cloaking system and the anti-radar countermeasures. As soon as he was through bringing those gizmos on-line the countdown for tonight's shake-down run would start. Marseilles
A dark horizon stared back at Jack silently, the cloudless and near moonless night making the sea appear calmer than it was. Save for a faint glimmer from distant constellations the night sky was an inky black. Soft, slow rolling swells without white caps were the cherries on the cake of Jack's day. He couldn't have asked for better conditions, they were perfect for what was planned, which was basically their standard assault in reverse. Jack dubbed it the "end around" play. Exactly thirty minutes from now a French coast patrol ship, the "Sérieux" would appear on the very horizon that he was watching so carefully. The A69 vessel was somewhat equivalent to a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, slightly larger, with a ship's compliment of perhaps 43 sailors. Midnight patrols along the French coastline had become routine since the "New Russians" began trafficking narcotics, principally heroin, from
by way of some rather convoluted and complex routes. Afghanistan
Unprocessed poppy travelled in bulk from
Afghanistan to where it was refined. Then in a series of hand-offs and misdirection that would make a spy novelist like John LeCarre proud, the product made its way across the Mediterranean to Sicily. There the "New Russian's" and their Mafioso partners dispatched shipments into the soft underbelly of Turkey Europe by air, land and sea. Some by way of Italy, some through Bosnia and Serbia, and some landed ashore via France and . The routes, all chosen at random, and at the last minute required a rather sophisticated communications network. Not a problem for the resourceful Russians who had in their ranks trained remnants of the Soviet military as well as a few former operatives on the KGB. With access to orbiting satellites via state of the art equipment the organization could easily stay a step or two ahead of whichever government or law enforcement agency tasked to stop them. Spain
It was a pretty slick operation and more than capable of holding their own in the cat and mouse game. Jack admired these guys and had put them on his short list of future clients for his cloaking technology, a venture he planned to pursue once daddy dearest was out of the way and he had control of the Peck Empire. And of course once he shed himself of Pat Bouchard and his rabble as well. He was actually looking forward to dismantling G.A.W.D. and reclaiming the loot that he'd helped steal. Pity he couldn't just let them be, but they'd be a liability in his plans and he didn't need a do-good foundation like G.A.W.D. attaching itself to his interests like a pilot fish, sucking the profits out of the misery business with their good intensions and bleeding hearts. People die, that's a rule. And nobody wants to die, that's an axiom. And Jack intended to provide as much hope as the sickly rubes could afford, that's opportunity knocking. If that seems cold hearted and unconscionable it's only because it is. A sociopath is incapable of feeling remorse or compassion. That was Jackson Peck.
"Into every life a little rain must fall," Jack murmured quoting Longfellow as Randy came up from below.
"What'd you say?" Randy asked, plopping down in the seat beside Jack.
"Uh, nothing, I was just talking to myself," he answered sheepishly.
"I see. Huh, I didn't take you for the type that did that? You know they have places with padded walls for people like you," Randy teased, zipping up his jacket against the cool night air.
"Yeah, well how'd it go down there junior, everything checks out?"
"We're good to go man. How much time do we have anyway?"
Jack glanced at his Rolex, "about twenty minutes, go ahead and send Pat's dad the alls clear text and ditch then chuck the cell phone over the side," he answered.
"Aye aye Captain Jack," Randy said smiling.
"Don't call me that, this isn't a Disney flick! When you finish go ahead and cast off. I'll be right back, I left something in my rack," Jack said, scolding his smart-ass accomplice as he slid down the short ladder leading to the salon below.
Jack looked over his shoulder to make sure that Randy hadn't followed him down and then went aft to the small head beyond the galley. He looked back once more before entering the little bathroom, closing the door behind him. He ran the water for a moment just in case the walls had ears and then fished for the Swiss Army knife front pocket of his cargo pants. Careful not to make any more noise than he had to he slid the blade under the small sink counter. The thin marble slab popped up easily and Jack propped it into an upright position with a mini flashlight from the same pocket. You can fit a lot of stuff in a pair of cargo pants, must be why they're called cargo pants? He reached under the marble and felt for a box the size of a bar of soap. When he found it, he slid the switch on top of it from left to right. A soft green light emanated from under the sink now, indicating that the device had been armed. Beneath the box were several bundles of C4 plastic explosive, enough to obliterate Jeckle and all aboard or nearby her. Jack smiled; this was going to be one helluva display when it went off, way better than the pissant fireworks the cruise ship shot off every night at 9pm, just like
Disneyland back home.
Working quickly now in reverse, he put the bathroom back together and turned off the overhead light to make sure that green glow from the timer didn't bleed out into the open for anyone to notice. Satisfied that all was well he headed back up to the bridge to get this shake down under way. Randy had just tossed in the bow line and was stepping back on board as Jack reached the pilot's chair.
"What took you so long, I thought you fell in or something," Randy said sarcastically.
"Hey, ya gotta go, you gotta go, am I right?"
"If you say so I guess? Anyway I sent François the text and chucked the cell phone into the drink like you said. Do you really think that they'll fly back to the States? Frankly I don't see it happening, François didn't seem to keen with any of this new plan. It wouldn't surprise me at all if they showed up at the Princess Grace to check up on us."
Jack thought about that for a second then eased the throttle forward and steered the boat away from the dock slowly, "I'll deal with that when and if it happens," he said as Jeckle knifed through the flat surface of the marina and headed for the channel leading to the open sea.
"You mean we'll deal with it if and when it happens, right?" Randy asked as he sat beside Jack at the helm.
"Yeah, right, we'll deal with it," he replied, easing the throttle forward a notch and picking up speed.
In fifteen minutes they would be out to sea and thirty minutes after that they would be in the shipping lanes. If Jack's calculations were accurate that would put them 3 nautical miles behind the "Sérieux" and the start of the test. The plan was simple but dicey. They would sneak up on the slower vessel under the protection of the cloaking system and then shut it down long enough to buzz by the unsuspecting ship and its crew, like a show-off fighter pilot might do to an aircraft carrier ala Tom Cruise in "Top Gun." The idea was to get noticed and coax the patrol ship to give chase. That's when they would re-engage the cloaking system, switch on radar jamming countermeasures and sprint away from the pursuing French, literally disappearing right in front of their very eyes. The only trace would be a swiftly diminishing wake as they sped away. That was the simple part.
The dicey part was that the "Sérieux" was a converted warship that still carried an impressive compliment of rather nasty ordinance which included a Phalanx CIWS; a
made anti-ship missile defense system used for close in combat. In a nutshell it was a radar-guided 20mm Gatling gun mounted forward on a swivel platform that was wicked accurate once locked onto a moving target. Randy Patel's radar jamming countermeasure was going get a baptism of fire tonight. One accurate burst from that weapon and all of Jack's grand plans would go up in a spectacular fireball driven light show courtesy the C4 under the sink in the head below deck. It was a big risk, even for Jack, but it was a calculated risk. Jack had reviewed the science and it was sound. Randy was a gifted engineer and his math model was flawless. His design was excellent, it could work; all of the data supported that. Still, it was a crap shoot, especially when you factored in a random element, like a lucky shot. Jack shook off the thought and brought out the night vision binoculars and handed them to Randy. US
"Make sure you engage all systems as soon we're in the sweet spot," Jack said, referring to the shipping lanes dead ahead.
"Alright, then what?"
"Then I'm gonna haul ass and catch up with that French tub, that's what! Use those as soon as we come about."
"As soon as I turn left and start running parallel with the coastline Einstein. You've been on at least a dozen ocean raids, haven't you learned any nautical terms?"
"Guess not," Randy replied as he pulled the lanyard attached to the binoculars over his head.
French Patrol Ship Sérieux, Friday, September 2nd, 2005…0100 hrs…
The faces of the crew on duty inside the bridge and CIC of the Sérieux were bathed in a soft red glow from the battle station lighting. That was SOP for these midnight patrols. No use giving the smugglers any warning that they were about to be stopped and boarded. These were precautions made necessary by the ruthlessness of the Sicilian Mafia's new partners. The Russians were a different breed, direct and singularly focused on business. They pulled no punches and expected none to be pulled in return. Smaller and lesser prepared French and Spanish coastal patrols had paid dearly for underestimating this new enemy, hence the deployment of this more formidable class of warship, and the resolve of the European Union to declare war on these pirates.
"Range?" inquired Captain DeSalle of the seaman manning the surface radar equipment in the CIC (combat information center).
"Three hundred fifty meters sir, they appeared out of nowhere!" exclaimed the flabbergasted sailor.
"Very well," replied the Captain calmly.
"How do you explain such a sudden appearance?"
"I can't sir, but they are closing fast, two hundred fifty meters sir," continued the excited young man.
"Mr. Duval, sound general Quarters," ordered the Captain of his Executive Officer.
"Aye sir, General Quarters," replied Mr. Duval as he pressed the red switch on the console over his head at his station. With the clanging alarm sounding the Captain delivered his instructions.
"Helm, evasive action, hard to port, bearing 3-1-0," Captain DeSalle ordered sternly.
"Aye sir, 3-1-0," answered back the helmsman.
The Sérieux turned as sharply as a vessel that size could, sharp enough to cause the bridge crew to lean with the ship's momentum. Captain DeSalle stepped over to the starboard bank of storm glass and peered out into the black night. He could see no evidence of an assault on his ship. The sea was relatively calm beyond the wake his vessel was cutting through the surface. He looked back toward CIC.
"Seaman Pare, status!" barked the Captain.
"One hundred meters sir, contact in five, four, three…"
"THERE CAPTAIN, near the bow wake, starboard side!" shouted the Executive Officer.
The Captain turned in time to see a speeding assault craft painted a dull gray scream past the Sérieux and position itself directly in front of his ship. It was a foolishly dangerous maneuver and he had to assume that the craft was hostile. Turning back to the helmsman he calmly gave his battle orders, "Helm, hard a starboard. Weapons officer, engage Phalanx and lock onto that bastard and sink him, it may be a bomb!"
The Sérieux turned sharply back to starboard causing the deck to pitch and the crew to noticeably adjust their stances. The Phalanx was mounted directly in front of the bridge about fifty meters from the glass. The 20mm cannon came to life as the weapon spun quickly to where the target was supposed to be. In a nanosecond the first two bursts went out over the portside rails to a point about one hundred meters off of where the bow had been only a moment ago. Two brilliant flashes of light produced a halo effect around the muzzle of the cannon as it delivered several hundred rounds to its target. There should have been an explosion but there was none.
"Seaman Pare, status!" barked Captain DeSalle.
"Its gone sir, the screen is blank," replied the confused radar operator.
"What do you mean gone? Mr. Duval, engage bow search lights and sweep the perimeter!"
"Aye sir, bow lights engaged," answered the Exec.
The Sérieux's powerful lights swept the surface with beams of light that turned night into day. There were no signs of debris and no visible wakes to speak of that would indicate that the speeding boat they all saw was ever really there. That just wasn't possible. Captain DeSalle walked over to CIC to look at the radar equipment himself. Seaman Pare got up from his chair and gave way. The perplexed Captain leaned over the console and fiddled with a couple of knobs making adjustments that he knew instinctively would be useless. Satisfied that the equipment was not malfunctioning he decided to plot a course based on the boogie's last known position and steam after it.
"Mr. Duval, radio Command Ops and inform them that we are in pursuit of an unknown subject."
"Helm, come about to course 3-4-0, all ahead full, make your speed 24 knots."
"Aye sir," answered the helmsman.
"Seaman Pare, keep your eyes glued to that screen and shout out the instant anything appears."
"Aye sir," replied an embarrassed and confused radar operator.
"I don't know who you are but I will find you," Captain DeSalle muttered as he stared out over the bow of the Sérieux.
"I will find you…"
Several miles ahead of the steaming French patrol ship Jeckle was cutting through the calm
Mediterranean Sea at a breakneck pace, putting more miles and time between them. The shake down was a complete success and if you happened to be strolling along the beach on this clear calm night you might actually hear a techno-geek and his sociopath mentor's rebel yell, "wooooooooooooo hooooooooooooo!!!!!"