I woke up sore and alone, the thin mattress did not do my sore back any good. Grabbing my phone, I saw it was four in the afternoon. “No wonder I’m alone,” I said. I swung my legs over and hopped down from the upper bunk, then went to the small bathroom to get ready. I dressed in cargo shorts and a T-shirt, mindful of the hot weather that would be there after leaving the air-conditioned comfort of the bunk room. When I came out, Mark was just coming in.
“Sleeping Beauty is up,” he teased as he grabbed a towel and went past me to the bathroom.
“Who’s driving,” I asked, ignoring the jibe.
“Ben’s got it,” he said. “I had a sandwich, if you guys want dinner either you or James is going to have to do it. I’m going to get some shuteye, I’ll be taking over the helm starting at midnight.”
I hadn’t done anything else, so cooking wouldn’t be a chore. Heading up on deck, the smell and humidity hit me like a train. “Why did you let me sleep so long,” I asked James, who was sitting in the shade next to the pilothouse.
“You needed your sleep,” he said.
“Where are we?”
“About forty miles west of Khark Island,” he said. He pulled up a chart on his iPad and showed me. “The Iranian waters push out well into the northern Gulf because of it, that’s why the Iranian Navy put their test area here. The inverted L-shape of their waters and the lack of shipping traffic on this side of the Gulf make it perfect for their work.”
“Where are we going to operate?”
“Here.” He pointed to a spot about fifteen miles south of the island, just outside the twelve-mile limit. “There is an abandoned oil rig a few miles west, our cover story is that we are inspecting the pipeline in hopes it might be reactivated. We have forged paperwork from the Iranian Oil Ministry. It will pass a cursory inspection, but the story won’t last long if they call and check. Ben is timing our journey so we arrive just before dark.”
“And the spots we are investigating?”
He zoomed in on the area and pointed at two spots about two and a half miles east of where the boat would be. “It’s just over a mile inside their waters, depth of about two hundred and eighty feet. There are five potentials we’ve identified for the torpedo location. I’m hoping with your submarine we can get one or two a night.”
“It can,” I said. “Do you want me to make food or do you want to?”
“You make it and I’ll help? If you need to make military MRE’s taste better I know all the tricks, but your cooking was amazing.”
“Thanks. Come on, let’s go see what’s in the galley.” He followed me down, and we had a good time preparing the dinner while getting to know each other. We traded divorce stories, which ended up being similar. He had been married shortly after getting out of SEAL training, and she left him while he was deployed for her boss. I told him about finding my husband in bed with my best friend when I finished my job early and wanted to surprise him. “He was surprised, and pretty soon he was running out my front door with her naked as I chased them with my shotgun. I locked the door behind me and went back to our bedroom, watching them try to get into their locked cars. I eventually took pity on him and opened his car doors before the cops arrived. Then I tossed all his clothes and crap onto the lawn from our bedroom window. The poor neighbors, two naked people in the bushes and a crazed Cajun woman cussing up a storm.”
He moved closer to me, our hips touching. “How did you get past it?”
“I divorced his ass and worked my own off. He ended up getting alimony because I’d built up my family business while he had a dead-end job. Luckily, he knocked my best friend up and they got married six months later.” I stopped chopping celery for a moment. “The day he broke my heart I gave up on men.”
“We’re not all that way,” he said. “And I’ll see your ex and raise you. My wife thought that she hit the Lotto when she found a SEAL. She had no idea that I’d be gone for a year at a time, or that my job would come before her.” He was finished with the pepper, so I gave him an onion to work on. If he was going to cry over his ex, he had an excuse now. “When you deploy, you have to give your wife a power of attorney so they can handle any affairs that come up. A month into my third deployment in four years, she decided she didn’t need me. She wanted a guy who made money and had a future, and she had been having an affair with her married boss since my second deployment. She sold our house, my car, my motorcycle and had a garage sale to get rid of my stuff. She took out credit cards in my name and did cash advances on them. By the time word got to me in Afghanistan, it was too late, and she wouldn’t take my phone calls. Two days later I got the divorce papers in the mail.”
“Fuck, that’s one cold bitch,” I said.
“Yeah. The divorce took a year, and even though the court saw what she did, they basically said that the debts had to be split and with no kids it was over. I wasn’t making a lot of money at the time, and I ended up having to declare bankruptcy. That pretty much ended my SEAL career; you can’t be a credit risk and keep a security clearance. I got a transfer from the Team to a dive unit in Norfolk. The CIA saw a chance, and they offered me a job I couldn’t refuse. Now I’m here.”
“Cooking jambalaya in the Persian Gulf with a crazy Cajun chick,” I said as I nudged his hip with mine.
“Yeah, I’m a lucky one.” I stopped stirring the pot. “Really. I know what you said about not messing around on company time, and for what it’s worth I agree with you. I don’t want to screw anything up. In a week or two, this will be done, and you’ll be going home. If you don’t think I’ll be showing up at your door to take you out as soon as I’m back, you haven’t learned a damn thing about me.” He raised his chopping board and I scraped it into the pot, my hands shaking a little. “I know what I want, Charlotte, and I think you want the same thing. All I want is a chance.”
I didn’t know what to say. “You make it really hard to give up on men,” I told him as I went back to stirring.
“And you make it very hard to keep a vow to never get married again.” I kept looking at the pot, afraid that if I looked at him, my carefully constructed walls would crumble. We didn’t say anything for a bit. “What else do you need?”
“You in my bed,” my inner voice said, but I managed not to say that. “Shrimp, there’s a bag in the freezer.” He let up on the talk, and I taught him how my Mom taught me to make jambalaya. It was a good dish to have, nice and hot to match the weather, and easy to heat in the microwave later. It wasn’t my preferred breakfast, but I’d slept so long the others weren’t on breakfast anymore.
We bowled up three servings and put the rest into the fridge for later. “Take this up to Ben,” I said as I went to start dishes. It only took a few minutes, and when I brought my bowl up on deck they were both in the pilothouse.
“I wish I could afford to keep you around just for your cooking, Charlotte,” Ben said. “This is great stuff.”
“Thanks, but my rate is all-inclusive.” I moved between the two men, looking out over the Gulf waters. We were ten miles from our operating area. The sun was at our back, and there wasn’t much boat traffic around.
We ate and talked over the plans for the night. Soon we would be at risk of being captured, tortured and killed. It was my gear, everyone was depending on me to do this right, and now I had another big reason to get home safe.
When we were done eating, I took James out and we started to do the pre-dive checks on the remotely piloted submarine. By the time we arrived, we had the winch cable attached and I had moved the controls to the pilothouse. In addition to the normal gear, we had four buoyancy bags with a CO2 cartridges to attach to the torpedo if we found it. “Any concerns with getting it in the water?”
“No nearby traffic, and no Iranian patrols nearby,” he said. The sun was at the horizon. “Put in in the water, Charlotte. Let’s find it tonight.”
“I’ve got the first two dive points programmed and we’re ready to go. Just keep up in this location and drive casual,” I said with a laugh.
Mark was going to keep sleeping, so James worked the gaff pole while I did the winch. We lifted the sub over the rails and James detached the hook. The big cable reel was ready to go and we gave the sub some slack. “Keep the lines clear, I’m going to the controls.”
“On it,” he said.
I went in to where I had the controls on a table which faced the windows looking aft. I had programmed in the GPS coordinates of the first dive spot, and engaged the autopilot to get there. The submarine stayed just below the waves, the GPS receiver sticking up a few feet. Normally there would be a strobe flasher, but we were running dark tonight. The screens and pilothouse were rigged with red lights to preserve our night vision, and James was working with a red flashlight. The system relayed the GPS locations it found as it drove east. Thirty minutes later we crossed into Iranian waters.
It was almost midnight when we reached the first dive site. The submarine stopped, the thrusters fighting the drag of the cables and the tide. James came in from tending the reel, I wanted him to be with me so he could watch me dive on actual targets and learn. “The nice thing about these thrusters is that we can change buoyancy and drop vertically,” I told him. “As we drop, the sub tends to get pulled back towards us by the drag and weight of the line attached. Without a point of reference, I can’t maintain position easily.”
He watched as the submarine started to sink into the depths; she turned the lights on when it was twenty feet under the surface and ships wouldn’t see it. The visibility was typical for this part of the gulf, maybe twenty feet. In open water like this, you had nothing to go on. “How do you compensate for that?”
“I guesstimate,” I said as I put the thrusters to a slow forward position. “I know this thrust will be less than needed to stay vertical, but enough so we aren’t as far off when we reach the bottom. That way, we have the best shot of finding the target as we drive forward upon reaching the bottom.” It took twenty minutes to descend until the lights found the bottom. The submarine had a pair of sonar probes, commercial fishfinders modified for her use. One was used to monitor depth to the bottom and showed up on the side of the display; another looked forward and could be used to scan for larger objects. The floor of the Gulf was silted mud. I took a few minutes to adjust buoyancy, then rotated the sub side to side before setting it back on its original course through the onboard gyroscope. “See this line,” she said. “Slightly to port, eighty feet we’ve got something.”
“Let’s go check it out,” Ben said. He’d been watching, there wasn’t much for him to do, just using the motors to stay in roughly the same place.
I moved forward, the lights illuminating the seabed until we came on the object. “Trash,” James said as it came into view. “Fifty-five-gallon drum.”
“Not surprising, lots of crap gets dumped overboard out here,” Ben said. “Move on to the second target.”
“James, take over for me,” I said. He moved in front, his hands going to the controls. “Next target is bearing 331 at four hundred eighty-seven yards. Take the barrel down the starboard side so the cable doesn’t hook on it.”
“Maintaining ten feet above the bottom,” he asked as he rotated the sub to the new course.
“Yes, it’s close enough to see bottom but high enough to not stir up silt. Ben, you keep an eye on the reel as we move.”
“You got it, Charlotte.” He went out of the pilothouse while James engaged the thrusters. He quickly got the feel of it, maintaining his elevation as we watched the desolate landscape pass below.
“There,” I said as I pointed at the forward-mounted sonar. “Dead ahead, one hundred twenty feet.” He slowed the thrusters as we approached, and it came into view.
A torpedo, nose-down into the muck at a seventy-degree angle.
We’d found it.