Ben Farthi’s POV
“What a crock of shit,” the Deputy Director said. “Really? Angels? Garden of Eden?”
I looked at him, if you didn’t want to believe you weren’t going to believe. “It’s a possibility given the evidence, sir, not a conclusion.”
“Yes sir, we only have a few frames and the enhancement of the video leaves some things open to interpretation,” one of his men said. “There may be a dozen other things it could be.”
“In the end, it doesn’t matter, does it,” Mark said. As the Naval Intelligence attache’ to us, his interest was in what we originally went there for. “The video shows no evidence the torpedo we are seeking to recover was there. I think we need to put aside this video pending further analysis, maybe bring in a biblical archaeologist. It could be a statue or something.”
“True, we should focus on our objective. Right now, we’re out a fifty-million-dollar spy ship and we’ve lost an agent, and we still don’t have the torpedo. Mark, Ben, tell me how we’re going to get it back.”
I stood up and started my presentation. “We don’t want to go big this time, we’re going to go just enough to get done what we need to do. After discussing the difficulties presented by the depth and location of the remaining targets. What we concluded was that dive gear isn’t the way to go, we need to use an underwater remote operated vehicle.”
“The biggest issue we have is the standoff distance required,” Mark said. “We’ve located a design that has enough power and endurance to do what we need it to do.” He walked up to the television and showed the lines for where the remaining potential sites were and the territorial waters line. “We operate from this area near the abandoned drilling rig. The base ship will look like a maintenance vessel for the oil industry, there are several of these around and they won’t raise suspicions. We keep the RPV hidden and launch at night. The controls are twofold; a long, thin fiber optic line attached to ¼” stainless aircraft cable relays video back to us, while commands and steering are sent to it. The vessel has two remote controlled hands, and is capable of attaching a line with a buoy to float the torpedo off the bottom.”
“That line will be miles long, won’t it get caught and broken?”
“The cable and fiber optic line is very thin, and it has floats every fifty meters to keep it off the bottom. The cable reel can hold over five miles of line, plenty for our needs. It has a failsafe as well; if the minisub loses communication, it has an autonomous program and GPS capability. We would program it to detach the cable, ascend to fifty feet and head due west. Once outside their waters, it would surface and we would pick it up again.”
“And when you hook to the torpedo?”
“We pull both of them back with a winch. We can move, skirting the line as we recover it. We operate from sunset to sunrise, charging and refueling the RPV during the day. We can do this with a crew of four.”
We played a video we had gotten from the designers of the vehicle, who were using it for inspecting and repairing undersea pipelines and cables. “Who is going to run this thing?”
Mark looked at them. “It takes a lot of experience to pilot one of these and do the delicate operations with the remote arms needed to do this job. My recommendation is that we contract out the operation of this to an expert, a person who has been doing this for two years.” He put a photo up on the screen. It was a woman in her thirties, wavy brown hair, wearing diving gear and tanks. “Her name is Charlotte Courtois, she’s the lead underwater repair technician for Deepwater Repair Solutions out of Houston. Her father started the company and she’s brought it into the modern age. It was her that worked with the engineers to adapt the design, and it’s her we want to bring in to help on this.”
“She a US citizen?”
“Yes sir, she’s Cajun. She grew up with the oil industry.”
“Has she ever done work with the Company,” someone asked.
“No, but she has worked all over the world, and has the perfect cover story for work in the Northern Gulf. We don’t have to make up anything but a fake contract to inspect pipelines or something.”
“You want to contract everything on a job like this,” one of the men asked.
I nodded. “Why not? I don’t see another choice, our Navy doesn’t have this kind of capability, and we can’t risk them being involved. Not only is she an experienced operator of this vehicle, she’s qualified at deepwater diving and salvage. If need be, she and James Woodley can be an emergency dive team.”
“I like it,” the Director said. “Less visibility and risk than our last job. Ben, you’re running point on this one. Put a team together, get the clearances and contracts you need, and we’ll get the equipment there. I want weekly status updates. And Ben?”
“Ben, I want this op up and running in three weeks. Four weeks from now they start another set of war games.”
“Yes sir.” I started to gather my materials as the men left. “Mr. Deschand?” The Director stopped at the door, pushing the last of the other men out. He closed the door. “Sir, your instructions were to go to the other locations and get the torpedo. I understand that, but I have to ask. What about the place where Tim was killed?”
He stared me down. “Ben, I’ve looked into this myself and officially, this entire operation is to recover the torpedo. However, IF you recover it and turn it over to the Navy and still have time, I’d like to know what is going on at that site. I need to know if it’s some kind of weapon, and if so, what it’s protecting. Do what you can, but don’t get killed over it.”
The next morning, Mark and I exited the airport in Houston and got into the rental car. A drive of an hour later, we pulled up to a dock/warehouse area and parked in the visitor’s area for Deepwater Repair Solutions. “Damn, it’s hot here,” Mark said as he got out of the car.
“At least the humidity is bad,” I replied. We walked through the door into the small office area, where an older woman looked up from her computer at us. “We’re here to meet with Charlotte, please tell her Ben is here,” I said.
“Just a moment.” She placed a call, and a minute later a woman came out of the shop area, wiping the grease off her hands.
Her brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, she was wearing coveralls and she had a streak of grease on her cheek, but she was undeniably beautiful. Tall, tanned and built like a swimmer with strong shoulders and legs, she would turn heads anywhere. She finished wiping her hands and held one out. “I’m Charlotte, which one of you is Ben?”
“I am, pleasure to meet you finally,” I said as I shook her hand. “May I have your rag for a second?” She handed it to me, and I wiped the grease off her cheek. “This is my associate, Mark.” The tall Navy man shook her hand firmly.
“I understand you’re in need of my remote piloted submarine,” she said.
“We are. I’d like to speak in private, could we do this on your boat? That way we can look over the equipment while we talk.”
“Sure,” she said as she walked past them. They followed her outside and down to the docks, where a thirty-five-foot boat was tied up. “This boat has a unique design,” she said as she crossed the walkway and jumped down onto the deck. “The stern can drop down, forming a shallow ramp. The overhead davit is supported on both sides, with the winch it can launch and retrieve the vehicle even in high seas.” She walked over to where the RPV was tied down and covered with a tarp. She pulled the tarp off and spent ten minutes going over its capabilities. “The one thing you haven’t mentioned is what exactly you need me to dive on, and the one thing you haven’t asked about is the cost. Both make me a little nervous.”
“Good,” I said. “This conversation is best done over lunch and a beer or two. If you know a good place, I’d be happy to take you there.”
She looked at her watch. “I hope you’re not wasting my time.”
“Neither of us have time to waste,” Mark said. She accepted, letting her secretary know where she was going. Ten minutes later, we were at a seafood restaurant, where I tipped the hostess to give us a booth in a room that wasn’t opened yet. She ordered a pitcher of beer and a seafood sampler for four, then got down to business. “I’m Commander Mark Walters, US Navy, and Ben and I are involved in a salvage project. There is a spent torpedo that we wish to recover, it’s located in about three hundred feet of water.”
“That’s no problem, your dive teams are very capable of working at those depths and greater.” We just looked at her, she waited for a moment, then she figured it out. “I’m guessing you can’t get into the waters where it’s located.”
“That’s correct, it’s a across a line we can’t cross, at least on the surface,” I said. “We were able to identify a half-dozen potential locations of the object using magnetic sensing technology. Once found, we need the RPV to attach a cable and a float, then pull it back to the boat and secure both on board. All of this will have to be done at night, at a distance of two to three nautical miles from where the boat is able to operate.”
“That’s a hell of an offset,” she said. “The distance will take hours to cover with this submarine, plus the search. The cable will add hundreds of pounds, plus the farther away you are, the greater the drag and the current on the submarine.”
“Can it be done,” I asked.
“Anything can be done if you have the patience,” she said. “I’d need to get a much larger cable reel installed to handle the distance. Ideally, I’d use a Kevlar cable instead of the aircraft cable, it’s slightly buoyant and much lighter in weight, just more expensive. What I’d really like is a way to tow the RPV near the dive area at a faster speed. Once we have attached to the torpedo, inflating a bladder is a simple matter, then we can use the RPV thrusters and the winch to get them back.”
“How much time would you need to remove and pack all the gear you’d need to place it on a similar boat? We don’t have the time to ship a boat this size to the operating area, so we would buy a boat locally with similar capabilities.”
“That depends on how much you’re willing to spend. The reel is a standard item, but a three-mile-long Kevlar cable with fiber optics attached is a more difficult task. You’re going to want at least two of them, preferably three, just in case one of them gets stuck on the bottom and we have to cut it loose. My controllers are modular, the chargers and other support equipment can be removed and pack up easily. I designed everything that way just for this reason, that I might have to operate off rented or other equipment.”
“I’ll find you the Kevlar cable, you start working on the reels. Get me a list of anything else you need, and I’ll get it. I’d like to be ready to ship out you and your gear in a week,” I said.
“Wait a minute, we haven’t even talked fees, or whether I would even take this job! I run a legal operation here, I have contracts all over the Gulf and the world. I’m not going to risk them or my company over you.”
“The operation we would be contracting you for is not strictly legal, but you don’t have contracts with the people that would be affected by it. It is a covert operation under US sanction,” I said.
“Who is it,” she asked. “Whose waters are we going to be violating.”
Ben looked at Mark, who nodded. “Iran. It’s in the northern Gulf.”
Her eyes got wide. “They don’t play around, they like to shoot first and ask questions later. If we get caught, we’re dead.”
I nodded. “I’m fully aware of the danger, I’ve been working in that region for decades. Mark and I will be with you, both of us are capable of operating the boat and assisting in the work. We will be joined by an associate who is a former Navy SEAL and experienced deepwater diver.”
“Why not just buy the equipment and do it yourself? Why me?”
Mark refilled her beer and then ours. “We don’t have a lot of time to do this, and we can’t screw it up. Look, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t need your help. We’ll triple your normal daily rate to cover the risk, and ship you and your gear there and back at our expense. If it is lost, we’ll pay for it. If it works, we’ll pay you a hundred thousand dollars in cash as a bonus. What we need is your help, then your silence. When we’re done, you come home and never speak of what happened to anyone, ever.”
She picked up her phone and texted a number. “I have to speak to my father about this, it is still his company and I’m still his daughter.” A response came up. “He’ll be here in ten minutes.”
Our food arrived. “Better order another pitcher of beer then,” I said.
An hour later, after bumping the bonus up by fifty thousand, we had a deal.