The Katrina Contract

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Chapter 9

Dunn and Goodkin looked up as they heard the clear cracking sound of gunfire. Out on deck, the Bonnie Jane’s crew dove into cover, hiding behind the ship’s equipment.

“Who’s shooting?” Goodkin yelled.

Keeping his right hand on the wheel, Dunn snatched up his binoculars with his left and scanned the Sunset Mist.

“I don’t see anyone on the cruise ship, and it sure isn’t coming from my boat. Not without my order,” he said.

The red ship-to-ship phone rang. Goodkin answered it by switching on the bridge speakers.

Hussein’s metallic voice rattled over the intercom.

“So, Goodkin! This is how you deal with us? This is how you establish trust? You bring men with guns? You open fire? You must want these hostages to die!”

“No! Stop! Hussein!” Goodkin yelled back. He paused to lower his tone. “I don’t know where those shots are coming from. I did not give the order.”

“You bastard dog liar!”

“There!” Dunn called out, pointing.

Goodkin turned. Another boat was rounding the fore of the cruise ship. The new vessel was smaller and bulkier than the Bonnie Jane. She was colored the uniform gray of a Navy ship, a drab contrast to the white and orange of the Coast Guard vessel and the pastel colors of the Sunset Mist. Men on the deck of the newcomer had their rifles trained up at the walkways of the cruise ship.

“What the hell?” Goodkin said. “Who is that?”

Dunn scanned the ship’s hull markings. “Looks like the U.S. Navy. If I had to guess, I’d say the SEALs are here.”

“I didn’t appeal for military support,” Goodkin yelled. “They’ll just make the situation more volatile. Why were they shooting? Why didn’t they announce their approach?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m not talking to you,” Goodkin said, “I’m talking to them.” He pointed at his tablet.

“Oh, sorry,” Dunn said.

“What do you mean you didn’t know? Well, find out!”

Goodkin turned to Captain Dunn. “Captain, tell them to stop immediately.”

“I’ll try, but they don’t take orders from me.”

“Tell them I said so.”

Dunn hesitated. “Well, all right,” he said. “Let’s see if that works.”

Captain Dunn grabbed the ship-to-ship com. It looked exactly like a CB handset. He pressed a button on the side. “U.S. Navy vessel G.F.9.5., this is Captain Edgar Dunn of the U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat Bonnie Jane. Request that you cease all fire immediately.”

“Don’t request. Demand,” Goodkin said to Dunn. “Why didn’t you give me a heads up? I should have been told they were coming.”

“You expelled my entire crew from the bridge. I can’t watch all the instruments.”

“Didn’t your crew think it was important enough to let you know?”

“I’ll find out,” Dunn flicked a switch on the console. “First Mate Smith,” he barked. “Report to bridge. Now.”

Goodkin tapped his tablet and spoke. “I am. Gathering unexpected situational data now. I expect you to do the same. Yes. Do that. All of it. Stand by.”

The first mate was on the bridge in seconds.

“Aye, Captain Dunn,” Smith said. “You wanted to see-”

“Why didn’t you tell me another ship was coming?” Goodkin yelled. “People could have been killed. This whole situation is delicate. And who are they?” He flailed his hand in the direction of the Navy ship as it drifted closer.

The first mate kept his eyes on Captain Dunn as if Goodkin wasn’t even there.

“First mate,” Dunn said, keeping his voice low. “Explain.”

“Aye, sir. The naval vessel radioed ahead to let us know they would be providing support. Bridge proceedings were not interrupted, since it was not an emergency. As ordered.” Smith slid his eyes toward Goodkin, then back to Dunn. “Sir.”

Goodkin stepped up to the first mate, the tip of his nose grazing Smith’s ear.

“My situational awareness is your top priority,” Goodkin said. “I need to know everything. Every. Thing. If a bird craps on the deck, someone better tell me, understand? Now I know that might require some thinking, but you need to adapt.”

Smith didn’t react.

Dunn removed his cap and scratched his bald head vigorously. His scalp was flushed deep red. He replaced his cap and spoke calmly to First Mate Smith.

“Keep us posted, sailor. Dismissed.”

“Aye, sir.” The first mate saluted and quickly stepped off the bridge.

An unfamiliar voice spoke over the intercom. “This is Captain Robert Burnett of the United States Navy Special Forces vessel Gunfish 95. Say again, who is giving me orders on this frequency?”

Captain Dunn reached for the handset but Goodkin waved him off and flicked a switch, activating the bridge speaker phone.

“This is federal negotiator Nelson Goodkin from the Department of Homeland Security. We have a hostage situation here. Cease all small arms fire immediately.”

“We already have,” Burnett answered.

“Great. Now proceed to vacate the area.”

“I want to make it clear,” Burnett said. “We have not stopped shooting because of you, Goodkin. The targets we had acquired simply moved out of sight.”

“Targets?”

“My spotters said they saw two bandits along the walkway on the opposite side of that cruise ship. They had no hostages with them, but they were armed and wearing masks, so I gave the order to open fire. You almost had two less bad guys.”

Goodkin pressed his fists against the sides of his head and squeezed his eyes shut. “You idiot!” he roared. “They’ve promised to kill dozens of hostages in retaliation if any of their team is harmed. I demand you stop all shooting unless I give the okay! Is that understood?”

“We are responding to the Sunset Mist distress call as appropriate.”

“You are to follow the orders of the Incident Area Commander as designated by Multi-Agency Emergency Management and Response Protocol.”

“Now, son, I have no idea what you just said.”

“I’ll make it simple then, Burnett. You listen to me.”

“I take orders from the American people, not bureaucrats. This whole thing could be over in an hour. I’ve got a squad of Navy SEALs here and they’d just love to-”

“Captain Burnett, this is Captain Dunn,” Dunn interrupted. “This is not a secure channel. Our friends on the Sunset Mist can hear everything we say. Why don’t you come on board my boat and we’ll discuss this?”

“On my way.”

Goodkin shut off the bridge mic. “Who the hell is this cowboy?” he said.

“No idea,” Dunn said.

Goodkin tapped his tablet. “I wasn’t talking to you.”

Dunn shook his head and watched as the Navy ship moved closer, turning to align herself side-to-side with the Bonnie Jane. He activated the intercom. “Crew, this is Captain Dunn. We’re going to have guests from our friends in the Navy. Play nice and be respectful as you would with any other group of ladies, all right?”

The Navy vessel Gunfish 95 swerved as the two crews dropped rubber barriers between the ships and threw lines to their counterparts.

In minutes, the boats were tethered together.

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