On the Bonnie Jane, the intercom in Captain Dunn’s office beeped. Startled, Goodkin dropped his tablet PC. As he bent over to retrieve it, his glasses clattered to the deck. He cursed and slid out of his chair to gather both items.
“Bridge to Captain Dunn,” the intercom said.
Dunn turned in his chair and pushed a button on the wall next to the speaker. “Dunn here. Go ahead, bridge.”
“We’re almost there, captain. I’m slowing her down to keep our distance. Since they opened fire on the bird, I don’t want to get too close.”
“Wise move, bridge. I’ll be up. Dunn out.” He looked at Goodkin, who was kneeling on the floor. “You all right?”
Goodkin put his glasses on. “I’m fine.”
“I said I’m fine.”
“Follow me, then.” The captain started for the door and grabbed the handle, then paused and let his hand drop. “Actually, something is on my mind.”
“Is this urgent?” Goodkin asked, rising to his feet.
“I got the call for this task from as high up as my chain of command goes,” Dunn said. “I’m supposed to take care of you and give you anything you want. I’m a good sailor, so I’ll follow orders, but man to man, just between us, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“We’re short on time,” Goodkin said.
Dunn was blocking the door. He didn’t move. “Off the record, Mister Goodkin, it will only take a second.”
“Fine, then. What?” Goodkin bent over his tablet and began tapping the screen.
“No disrespect to your profession,” Dunn said, “but what is the point of talking to these barbarians? If someone was holding a gun to the head of my granddaughter, I wouldn’t talk to him. I’d just be thinking about whether to cut his throat left to right or right to left. These people we’re dealing with are savages. So why talk? I’ve seen enough drunken sailors to know some people don’t want to listen and you’re best off not trying. Sometimes you just have to kick their ass.”
Goodkin looked up from his screen. “It’s not for the hostage-taker that I do what I do, Captain. It’s for the hostages. If the belligerents didn’t have those human shields, I might agree with you, but that’s their strategy, to prevent an obvious assault. So we defeat them in a different way.”
“Everyone can be negotiated with. You just have to find out what matters to them and then threaten to take it away. It’s what they’re doing to us, it’s what I’ll do to them, if you ever let me out of here.”
“Hm. Put that way, you make talking sound like an act of war.”
“Exactly,” Goodkin said. He smiled thinly, lips closed. He reached past Dunn, striking the captain’s side as he grabbed the door handle.
“Now we need to go.”
When they emerged onto the deck, a section of the horizon was blocked by the bright white hull of the Sunset Mist. The cruise vessel towered over them, her decks and walkways empty as if she were completely abandoned.
From the lower perspective of the Bonnie Jane, they couldn’t see the top deck except for the flag mast. The upside-down and charred American flag flapped in the gentle breeze under the large green and black flag representing the Children of Kariqistan.
“Looks like a ghost ship,” Goodkin said.
He followed Captain Dunn up the cramped metal stairs along the outside of the cabin onto the second floor that housed the small glassed-in bridge.
The first mate was behind the wheel of the ship. Two other sailors were watching screens built into the metal console that surrounded the interior.
“Captain on bridge,” the first mate shouted when Dunn entered. The sailors straightened up and saluted.
Dunn waved them off. “As you were.”
“Captain,” Goodkin said, looking around at the other men. “Some privacy?”
“This is my bridge,” Dunn answered. “I will vouch for these men. They know-”
“Are they absolutely essential?” Goodkin interrupted.
“Everyone on my crew is essential.”
“I don’t agree.”
Dunn put his hand on the wheel of the ship. “First Mate Smith and crew,” he said, “you are relieved.”
“Aye, sir,” the crew responded.
“Keep everyone at the ready,” Dunn said, “but no one enters the bridge. Buzz me only if there’s an emergency. First Mate Smith, I’m counting on you to convey that order.”
“Aye, sir,” Smith said, exiting the bridge behind the other two sailors. The door’s spring-hinges pulled it shut.
Goodkin was examining the communications panel.
“This looks self-explanatory,” he said, lifting a red telephone handset and setting it down again. The ship’s intercom squealed and popped. “Whoops,” he said. He ran his fingers over the switches nearby.
“Careful there,” Dunn said. “What you see is what you get. You can broadcast through our ship’s intercom, from ship-to-ship with loudspeaker and from ship-to-ship on standard CB frequencies. You can also have the calls routed to the speakers and microphones in here so you don’t have to stay attached to the phone.”
“Perfect,” Goodkin said.
“That com-panel is all yours,” Dunn said. “I’m going to stay with the wheel as protocol dictates. I’ll make sure we don’t drift into our neighbor. I don’t want to drop anchor now in case we need to move fast.”
“You have any binoculars?”
“Top drawer in front of you.”
Goodkin fished them out and scanned the Sunset Mist. Dunn pulled open a drawer and used his own pair of binoculars, keeping one hand on the wheel.
Goodkin tapped his tablet screen and narrated what he saw. “From this angle, I can’t see the whole top deck. Looks like everyone is inside. I can barely catch some shadows moving about on their bridge, but that’s about it. No signs of violence.” He paused before adding, “Yet.”
He selected the video camera application and held his tablet before him, scanning sideways, filming a panoramic view of the quiet cruise ship.
“Transferring video imagery,” he said, tapping the screen. “Give it a second, signal out here is less than optimal.”
Dunn hung his binoculars around his neck and checked the dials and digital readouts on the wheel’s console. His attention was drawn away when he heard Goodkin mumbling to himself.
The negotiator had bowed his head and closed his eyes tightly. His arms were outstretched, the tablet still in his right hand, facing the sky. A droning noise resonated in his chest.
He breathed in and out loudly, ten times, then opened his eyes and rolled his shoulders, exhaling forcefully several times. The ritual reminded Dunn of the breathing exercises he and his wife did before their first daughter was born.
The captain shook his head.
Goodkin tapped the wired microphone bulb at his chin and said, “Implementing verbal contact. Audio recording and transfer on.” He flicked the switch on the console labeled “Outside Loudspeaker.” A popping noise bounced off the cruise ship. He lifted the Bonnie Jane’s handset and spoke slowly so his booming voice would not be distorted by the echo.
“To the people in control of the cruise ship Sunset Mist. This is Federal Agent Nelson Goodkin of the United States Department of Homeland Security. I am here to discuss your demands. Please contact me on the ship-to-ship CB frequency. Let’s work together so we can conclude this situation peacefully and in a way that is acceptable to everyone.”
He released the button and set the handset down. Another pop bounced between the ships.
Goodkin spoke into his tablet PC. “Contact initiated.”
He clipped the tablet to his belt, leaned against the communications panel and folded his arms, facing the cruise ship, his back to Captain Dunn.