Pat Ruger: Caribbean Shuffle

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Chapter 22

I left Leta in the cabin with a warning to stay put and left for the bridge. Fosse was there, fiddling with one of the controls.

“Try your cell now.”

I opened the phone. “Nope, still no signal.”

He kept fiddling. The captain was sitting, obviously affected from the ordeal. From that vantage point, I could see both the U.S. Naval vessel and the Venezuelan battleship. Both were eerily sitting still. Then I noticed that while the U.S. guns were pointed at the Venezuelan ship, the Venezuelan’s were pointed at us.

“Dammit …”

The captain stood up to see what I was looking at. “What?”

“I think we’re hostages.”

He groped for his field glasses and peered through them, first at one ship, then the other. “You may be right. What would do you recommend?”

“Captain, the passengers and crew have been through a lot. Why don’t you get the dining room and kitchen going and get a meal started. We’re well past lunch but I’ll bet most haven’t eaten today.”

“Already on it,” he replied. “Dinner in an hour or so.”

“You should get on the speakers and let them know.”

“Then what?”

“I need to think …” I looked at my phone and found a signal. I immediately dialed Amanda. I hoped she would answer, and she did.

“Pat, is that you?”

“Yeah, I’m here and everyone’s okay, except for the victim and her killer. And I don’t think Junior is doing very well, either.”

“Jimmy and Erin?”

“Yeah, both okay, I think.” I hadn’t really heard from Jimmy yet but assumed she was fine. “What do you know?”

“From our side it looks like a cartel hired the Venezuelan Navy to stop your cruise ship. Sounds like they did that, but we’re not sure why.”

“They chased off the pirates, too, so it wasn’t all bad.”

“Pirates? What’s been happening?”

“It’s a long story … I’ll fill you in later. Here, the U.S. and Venezuelan ships seemed to be in a stand-off. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know yet. It appears there’s a security breech on the U.S. ship and they’re under radio silence … Just a sec …” There was some typing in the background before Amanda came back on the line. “Yes, the code for radio silence was transmitted about an hour ago.”

“Something’s happening. The Venezuelan guns are pointed at us. I’m guessing we’re hostages at this point.”

“I’ll see what I can find out and call you back.”

I turned back to Captain Haagensen and asked, “The U.S. Navy is on radio silence. Can you communicate with them?”

“Doubtful. If they have their radios off, they’re only listening. It would be a one-way communication.”

“Cell phone?”

“No, that would be shut down, too. Even satellite phones would be off.”

Jimmy entered the bridge looking relieved. “Let’s get this show on the road! Why aren’t we moving?”

“How’s Erin. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, she’s fine. You know her … she was more angry than scared.”

“That’s Erin, all right. Well, it seems we are part of a Venezuelan standoff. They have their cannons pointed at us and the U.S. Navy won’t fire on them as long as they do.”

“Why don’t we just leave?”

Haagensen answered, “Out of the question. I can’t put these lives at risk.”

“Call the Navy and have them run interference.” Jimmy sounded frustrated.

“No go — radio silence, for some reason.”

“What? Why?”

“Don’t know … a ‘security breach’ of some kind. We have to figure out how to get in touch with them.” My stomach growled loudly, reminding me that we hadn’t eaten.

“Ladies and gentleman,” Fosse said over the loudspeakers. “We know that you haven’t eaten in a while. We will serve dinner in one hour, at approximately 4:00. We will be serving everyone buffet-style, so you don’t have to wait for seating schedules. Please be patient and be orderly. Thank you from your cruise staff.” In another moment, he added, “All crew, please report to your stations.”

I sat down in a lounge chair reserved, I supposed, for the captain. “Go get Erin and eat,” I told my partner. “I need to think.”

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