The captain ran across the deck to meet them as they stumbled out of the helicopter.
“Mister Addison, I got your message,” he said. “I’ve calculated the nautical miles distant from where we think it’s safest to drop the sub and kept our speed at-”
“Just give me an E.T.A.”
“About a half-hour until we get there.”
“A half-hour? Our client isn’t supposed to be kept waiting.”
The captain took a step backwards as if slapped. “I just let you land on my boat without stopping. Do you know how insane that is? There’s no way we could do better.”
“Well, then, I have to be honest. Your best sucks.”
“Are you kidding me? Who’s the client? The damn president?”
“Think richer and more powerful.”
“Well, you said this was top secret, so fine, I don’t want to know. I’m just trying to tell you that thanks to your landing stunt that we’re close enough that if the Coasties have a bird in the air, they probably saw you coming.”
“Their chopper is grounded.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do. Besides, I’m counting on them being preoccupied and not caring once we turn around.”
“What about the micro-sub?”
“Too small to notice on radar.”
“You’ve got an answer for everything.”
“I’m sure if you keep asking questions you’ll find one I don’t.”
“Fine. This is your show.”
“Damn right,” Addison said. “Now where’s the micro-sub?”
“Right this way, your highness.”
“That’s better,” Addison said as he walked next to the captain. Jeffers, Holland and North followed.
“I feel better,” North said, “now that I see Addison’s a jerk to everyone, and not just us. I won’t take it so personally.”
“I don’t think that’s accurate,” Jeffers mumbled. “He’s not a jerk. He’s an asshole.”
“Maybe so,” Holland said, “but assholes get results. If you were this rich guy Sinclair, wouldn’t you want someone like Addison working your account?”
“If I was rich as Sinclair, I would have bought my own yacht,” North said.
“Maybe he’s a rich man because he cuts so many corners,” Holland said.
“Then I would have paid for someone to protect me.”
“He did. Us.”
“You’ve got an answer for everything. Just like Addison,” North said. “Let’s hope that’s all you have in common.”
Holland didn’t reply.
The captain led them to the front of the ship, where a crane held the micro-sub aloft. The small craft was shaped like a dull grey bullet twelve feet long and six feet in diameter. Its rounded tip was a thick hemispherical window secured to the main body with hexagonal bolts two inches wide. Four portholes lined its middle for viewing up, down, starboard and port. The porthole on top was larger than the others to double as exit and entry. The back of the sub tapered off to an exposed propeller engine between four stabilizer fins.
Jeffers slid his hand over the sub’s smooth metal surface.
“Very nice,” he said.
“If a torpedo and a short bus ever mated,” Addison said, “this would be their first child. North would be their second.”
North didn’t react.
“I think I’m in love,” Jeffers said, still stroking the micro-sub.
“Should we leave you two alone?” Holland asked.
“Let me show you how it works,” the captain said. He flipped open a latch that was flush with the sub’s body, exposing a small recessed wheel. With both hands he spun the wheel, releasing the top porthole. He climbed a ladder and dropped into the sub, Jeffers following. From outside, looking through the bulbous window at the fore, the others could see them hunched over the pilot’s controls.
North and Holland peered through the mid-section portholes.
“Looks cramped,” she said.
“Seats four and only four,” Addison said.
“No markings?” Holland looked down the length of the sub.
“No markings. I don’t know you and neither does anyone else.”
“We are the insurance plan,” Holland said.
“At least one of you listens to me,” Addison answered, glancing sideways at North.
The captain and Jeffers emerged from the sub. Jeffers rubbed his hands together.
“Can’t wait to try her out. When do we leave?”
The captain started to answer but Addison cut him off. “Fifteen minutes. Captain, I need some time alone with my team, and I don’t want to be disturbed.”
“My pleasure.” The captain walked away.
“All right, kids,” Addison said, “this is your final briefing. Find Danforth Percy Sinclair and get him off the boat. Stick him in your sub, come back to this vicinity, and we’ll find you. Jeffers, the captain gave you the rendezvous coordinates?”
“All right, here’s your earpieces and microphones. I take it you all know how to use a throat mic? It’s not secure, so keep the chatter light.”
Addison held out his hand, palm up. Holland, Jeffers, and North each took an earpiece and fitted it into their right ear, then snapped the throat microphones around their necks.
Addison kept talking. “If the area around the rendezvous point isn’t clear, get somewhere close and we’ll pick up your signal. There’s a tracker on the sub, but it’s encoded so only I can read it. You’ve all got your weapons and gear, so any final remarks? This is the last time we’ll talk until you get back.”
Holland, Jeffers, and North looked at each other. No one spoke.
“Excellent,” Addison said. “Don’t screw up.”
He turned and walked toward the bridge.
The sub slid beneath the surface, the interior darkening except for the faint green glow from the instrument panel.
“I love this thing,” Jeffers said, hunched over the controls. “This guy has got to be loaded for Redfire to dispatch prime hardware like this.”
The hull creaked as the sub dived.
North and Holland were practically forced to embrace in the sub’s cramped interior. They were sitting on square benches, facing each other and looking out the portholes opposite. North’s left shoulder was crammed against the back of Jeffers’ chair.
“We’re supposed to get a fourth guy in this can?” North asked. “The three of us can barely fit.”
Jeffers laughed. “Us old guys don’t take up much room. Just fold him up. Continuing dive.”
The sub descended further. North looked up through the hatch window above him. The sun shrank from a disc to a point.
“How deep are we going?” Holland asked.
“You always ask the men in your life that?” Jeffers said.
“Sure do. But today I’m making an exception. I’m asking you.”
Jeffers guffawed. “We’re going deep enough,” he said. “So if anyone looks down from the cruise ship, they won’t see us.”
Holland shifted and accidentally knocked her head against North’s.
“Damn it,” she said. “We sit any closer we’ll have to get married.”
“No thanks,” North said. “Never again.”
“Aw, did some girl break your heart?”
“I don’t blame you,” Jeffers cut in, “I can’t stand arguing. When my girl starts yelling, I just want to go back to the field. I’d even rather face live fire. Anything other than endless nagging any day.”
“Damn,” Holland said, “if I knew this was going to be girls’ night out, I would have worn my dress.”
They all chuckled and fell quiet a moment, listening to the engine whir. The only evidence they were moving were the bubbles floating by the portholes.
North looked through the hatch above. The sun was a small hazy blur. “Seems like we should wait until dark,” he said.
“That defeats the purpose of a Katrina Contract,” Holland said. “Besides, who cares? It’s hit and run. Emphasis on run. Grab the package and get the hell out.”
North laughed. “You sound like a guy I know. He works for Redfire, too.”
“Yeah? What’s his name?”
“Guy Barra. Every hear of him?”
“Big guy? Kind of an oaf?”
“Sounds about right.”
“Don’t know him. That describes almost everyone I work with. Male and goofy. Present company included. I swear Redfire should skip the private contracts and start selling sausage.”
“You sound like him,” North chuckled, “that’s all. Have a similar who-cares attitude. We were in the same unit back when I was military. Then we both went private and joined Redfire.”
“So, what’s your history, Holland?” Jeffers said. “What’s a not-so-nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, North and I have talked a little, what’s the deal with you?”
“Deal with me?”
“I’m just trying to be social. I just met you a few hours ago. If it’s going to be this tough then forget it. I was just wondering what service you did before Redfire.”
“I’ve worked in the private sector my whole career.”
“Doing what?” North said.
“It’s private,” she said.
“I thought you said you were in psy-ops.”
“I never said that.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time doing the things you military types want done, but don’t want to do, because some politician is afraid he’ll get caught. That’s what I like about the private sector. Fewer rules.”
“They’re called laws,” North said.
“So are you going to share anything about yourself? You know, build camaraderie?” North asked.
“Nope,” Holland said. “Knowledge is power.”
Jeffers laughed. “Well, chalk that up to another one of my failed attempts to be conversational.”
Holland was gently knocking her knees against North’s. “Hey, wake up, grandpa. Other grandpa says we’re almost there.”
“You ready, North?” Jeffers asked. “You were really out.”
“I’m good,” North said, rubbing his eyes.
“You sure, old man?”
North didn’t answer.
“All right, game time,” Jeffers said. “We’re under and alongside the cruise ship right now. Call me when you’re onboard and then again when you’ve got our guy. No communication unless there’s an emergency. Ready?”
North tapped the pistol on his right thigh and knife on his left. He touched his earpiece and throat microphone. “I’ve got all I need.”
She tapped herself exactly as North had done. “I’m good.”
“Let’s rock and roll,” Jeffers said. “Surfacing now.”