04:00 (01:00 GMT)
Dressed in all black, Blake retrieved a suppressed Glock that he checked was loaded before holstering. He had called ahead to the U.S. Embassy and arranged a car to be left for him at the airport.
“Where are we going?” Adriana asked.
Blake chuckled. “We, are not going anywhere. You are staying on the plane. I’ll be back just as soon as I can. The pilots can order a restock of the plane and you can fix yourself something to eat. Just relax and wait patiently.”
“Based on how you’re dressed, I think I’ll do just that. Are you expecting trouble?”
“I always expect trouble. I am, however, going to try and avoid it if I can. I just want to find out if al Hamwi is here. If he is, then I can come back, regroup and plan out a course of action. This is simply reconnaissance.”
The plane rolled to a stop beside a black Chevy Suburban.
He turned to Adriana and said, “I’ll be back shortly.”
“Okay, be careful.”
It amused Blake that they sounded like a married couple. The sound of her voice telling him to be careful danced happily on his soul.
Blake drove towards the port. When within a few hundred meters of the port it was impossible for Blake to not notice the police lights reflecting off the nearby buildings.
“Oh… no, what is this shit?”
With his lights off, he drove to the end of the block that dead ended at the dock. There was an eight foot tall chain link fence. He raised his binoculars. Police were everywhere. An ambulance appeared from behind the ship that was backed into its slip.
Blake turned on the night vision capabilities of his binoculars and searched for the stern of the ship. Just below the rear deck, he saw the name. Angel van de zee.
Gotcha. So… what in the hell happened? Were you careless? Is this mission already over or is it about to get even stranger. Shit. Time to get wet.
Blake turned the truck around and drove it two blocks away and parked it facing the direction he was going to leave. The area was mostly a warehouse district, there were no street lights, but there were a few lights dotted on the tops of some of the buildings. Blake found the darkest spot.
He changed into his wet suit and stayed in the shadows as he crept back to the fence that separated the street from the docks. He constantly scanned down the dock for movement. The last thing he needed was a wandering police officer stumbling onto him. It wouldn’t be the first time.
The multi-tool made quick work of the fence. Moments later he was on the dock, staying low to avoid detection. There was a ladder that led down to the water.
A thin coating of Liquipel protected all of Blake’s gear. He slowly climbed down the ladder while keeping an eye on all of the activity down the dock to his left. A tingling sensation hit his body as he slipped into the water. It was warm and he could feel the pressure as it rose up his suite. The smell of diesel filled his nostrils close to the surface.
It was easily two hundred meters to the ship. The swim took longer than usual; an unfortunate result from swimming slow to prevent water movement and noise.
The ship was moored with the starboard side next to the dock, so Blake swam around to the front of the ship, the furthest point away from the police. A ladder on the end made it easy for him to climb up to the dock. Staying low, he crept over to the bows mooring line and shimmied his way up to the front of the ship. Distractions to his right forced him to stop several times while he hung from the line. He was glad for all the upper body workouts. Most people would not be able to hang on this long. Several people shuffled up and down the gangplank as they carried out their investigation.
Finally on deck, he was relieved to see a life raft to use as cover. A quick glance at his watch told him he had between thirty and forty minutes before sunrise. He was even more upset with himself that the swim took so long. Now he was under pressure to find something of value and get out before he lost the cover of darkness.
The lights of the dock illuminated the starboard side of the ship. Blake lurked around and found an open doorway on the opposite side.
The most likely spot someone would make a mistake and leave behind some kind of clue was the crew’s quarters, so that was his destination.
He stepped gingerly down the halls, his shoes squishing ever so slightly. Voices and footsteps came toward him and his senses went to high alert. He ducked into a room, closed the door and waited for the police to pass. A map of the ship mounted to the wall captured his attention. He pulled it off and studied it.
I’m guessing you took the Captain’s quarters.
The two men passed the room. Blake waited about thirty seconds and listened carefully. When he was sure it was clear, he cracked the door and peered down the corridor. He made his way down to the crew’s quarters. They were around the next corner but he was stopped again by voices. He peeked around the corner and saw two policemen in the hallway, just outside several of the cabins. Not knowing Slovenian, but by judging their body language, he could tell they were going to be there for a while. Panic started to set in as he glanced at his watch again.
Another officer came to the door of one of the cabins. He gestured for the other two policemen to come in.
He was running out of time. Blake focused on the map of the ship again and decided to head directly to the Captain’s quarters.
The trek to the Captain’s quarters was lengthy. Blake had to duck in and out of rooms to avoid detection. He finally reached the area but was stopped again by the sound of voices emanating from the cabin.
Blake slipped into a room and cracked the door. He saw shadows in the Captain’s cabin. There were at least two men. The radio squawked on one of the men. They exchanged a few words and then both men exited the quarters.
He took a deep breath. Now or never.
He hurried down the hall. The inside of the Captain’s stateroom was sparse, but he could tell someone had stayed there recently. Along with the unmade bunk, there was a plate of unfinished food, a half full coffee mug on the desk and some trash on the floor. Blake opened the various closets and storage compartments in the cabin but found nothing. There were papers taped to the wall, but they were mostly schedules for maintenance and crew shifts. Blake sifted through the trash to see if there was anything of value on any of it. Most of it was junk, but one piece that he unwrapped had something hand written on it. Hieraniony. Old castle site. 30th 23:00. Blake folded it up and put it in his waterproof pouch.
“Stop! Who are you?” The officer said in Slovenian.
Blake’s head jerked up and found himself staring face to face with a policeman in the doorway. Busted.
“Well, I…” Blake charged him and delivered a powerful blow to the man’s sternum. The officer gasped for air. No holding back. He slammed him in the jaw with an upper cut from his right elbow. Blake grabbed the officer’s arm and flipped him over his shoulder, onto the floor. Blake knew the noise would get attention. He rushed out of the room and turned left down the hall. Seconds later, the blaring of a whistle and shouts for help filled the ships narrow halls.
Blake bolted down the corridor but was stopped by two policemen coming at him. Instinctively, he reached for some pipes on the ceiling, pulled up and kicked both of the men as they came through the doorway. A complete one-eighty, he ran back toward the captain’s quarters. The officer he’d previously leveled, stumbled out of al Hamwi’s former cabin. Blake elbowed him in the forehead as he passed by and knocked him back to the floor.
The rhythmic thumping of feet across the metal deck increased. He turned to his left and went down a steep set of stairs to another deck. One more level to go and he would be on the main deck. He took a right and ran down the corridor. As he passed a hallway, an arm extended out, catching him in the neck. His head jerked backward as his body continued forward. Eventually, all of him met the steel floor.
Anger and adrenaline pumped through him. He hopped up and charged his assailant. Like a defensive end rushing for the ball, he tackled the officer and slammed him into the adjacent wall and buried his head into the officer’s gut. Blake rushed up hard and slammed the top of his head into the bottom of the man’s jaw.
The man drew his pistol and pointed it at him. Blake grabbed his arm with his left hand and elbowed his assailant in the gut. He pulled the man’s arm up over his own shoulder with the man’s elbow facing the floor. Blake pulled down hard. The loud crack, the agonizing scream. He could see the broken bone poking through the skin. The officer yelled in agony. Blake turned back to face him. He pulled a fire extinguisher off the wall and slammed it into the man’s withering face.
Blake breathed heavily, dropped the extinguisher and ran. The throbbing in his neck and pain in his back encouraged him to go faster. The next set of stairs led to the main deck. Sliding down the stairs was a welcoming door out to the main deck. Somehow, he got turned around and when he exited, he found himself on the starboard side of the ship that faced the docks. Oh shit. Wrong side.
Three men below pointed and blew their whistles. Small arms fire found its way to Blake’s position. Automatic weapons followed.
Thoughts of Adriana waiting for him on the plane and him not returning entered his mind. A new sense of urgency renewed his aching muscles. He ran over to the other side of the ship. Bullets plinked off the steel walls behind him. The side rail was only a few meters in front of him. Blake dove over the side of the ship and into the water.
As soon as he hit the water, he dove down and turned back toward the ship. Bullets ripped through the water. Their trails looked like a shower of meteoroids in the night sky.
Blake felt for the ship’s hull. Rough barnacles attached to steel never felt so good. He slowly surfaced and kept close and out of sight.
Revving engines cut through the air. Tires squealed and headlights appeared near the rear of the ship. Blake slid under the surface and swam as fast as he could toward the stern. When he surfaced, a spotlight shone on the back of the ship and quickly dipped toward the waterline. Quickly, Blake took a deep breath and ducked back under water. He raced toward the dock, just under where the cars were parked and people were gathered.
When he surfaced, he was under the pier that hung out over the water. He glanced out toward the rear of the ship. The area was flooded with light. Voices continued to speak, but he didn’t know what they said, although he was sure it was about him. He submerged again and kept his hand against the wall as a guide. Sore, stiff and out of breath, he finally made it to the ladder. While keeping an eye towards the police, he slipped up the ladder and ran crouched across the dock and back through the hole in the fence.
The shadow of the Suburban was a welcome sight. He pulled out his phone and called his pilots.
“Start dinner. I’m coming, and I’m in a hurry.”
“Hot or cold?” Randy asked.
“Cold, but that could change.”
Ten minutes later, Blake pulled up next to the plane. Holding his ribs, he gingerly stepped up the stairs into the plane.
“You’re all wet! What happened?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you later.” Blake ducked into the cockpit. “Okay, let’s get outta here.”
“Destination?” Chuck asked.
“Hieraniony. Have you ever heard of that?”
“Can you look up where that is?” Randy asked.
Blake pulled out his phone and did a quick search.
“Here it is. It says that Hieraniony is the site of an old castle located in the Northwest corner of Belarus.” Blake cocked his head and said, “Belarus. That matches what someone in Afghanistan told me. Who could he be meeting there?”
Chuck shrugged and said, “Don’t know, that’s your job to find out.”
“It’s just a few klicks inside the border from Lithuania,” Blake said.
“We can be over it in about two and a half hours,” said Chuck.
“Yeah. There isn’t an airport nearby, and because of diplomatic relations, or the lack thereof, that the U.S. has with Belarus, we probably couldn’t land there even if there was one. So—you know what that means?”
Blake nodded, “Yep.”
“I don’t. I don’t know what that means,” Adriana proclaimed.
Blake hadn’t noticed that she had slipped in behind him and was eavesdropping on the conversation. He turned around, placed his hands on the side of her shoulders and said. “You need to sit down and not butt into my conversations.”
He turned back to the pilots. “You’ve got your destination. Time to take-off.”
The engines whined as the plane started to move.
“Sit down and buckle up,” Blake said.
“Are you going to tell me what you meant?”
Blake sighed. “All it means is that I have to jump.”
“Jump? Are you crazy? What about me?”
“Look, it’s easy; I do it all the time. Besides, you’re not coming. I’m having the guys fly you to Rammstein Air Base in Germany.”
“Germany? I don’t want to go to Germany. I came along to help you.”
“Adriana, that is helping me. You’d be out of my way and safe.” Blake then lied to her. “As soon as I need you, I’ll have them bring you to me, Okay?”
“Isn’t there another airpo…”
“Wait a minute, Adriana. I think we’ve got another chute in here you could use. I want to let you know that this will be a pretty scary jump for your first time.”
Adriana’s eyes got wide. “What? Me jump? Forget…” her eyes narrowed and lips scrunched. “I know what you’re doing. Fine. We’ll do it your way.”
Blake smiled. “That’s the only way.”