Lauren tied the gently bobbing boat off using the bow and stern cleats, throwing a couple of rubber bumpers over the side, making sure he didn’t damage the swim step extending two feet from the stern of the big yacht. The magnum revolver hung down a good eight feet over the side, its dental cord invisible to any but the most careful of observers. He climbed the wooden ladder, extending down from the hull, looking out over a glassy smooth sea created by the slowly moving ship. The wildly-engined Japanese speed boat hove into view, coming out of the rough water like a water buffalo bursting from a mud pool it’d been trapped in. Hiyashi could be seen heaving his guts out over the side while Yee stood in the stern with one hand tucked into his sport coat like some English admiral about to come ashore. Lauren smiled to himself, as he stepped onto the ship’s tightly main deck, made of perfectly sanded and polished teak wood.
Two men stood before him, both wearing blue uniforms with no markings, patches or other identifiers. They would have resembled children playing dress-up had they not both been well over six feet in height and heavily muscled. Lauren stopped before them holding his arms out. One of the men very carefully led him to a nearby white-painted bulkhead, perfectly clean and smooth to the touch in spite of its long ocean transit. Lauren leaned against the wall. The men searched him more carefully than he’d ever been searched outside a high-security facility. The BodyGuard stun gun was held out, examined with interest, and then confiscated, as Lauren had expected. Lauren’s cell phone went into the man’s other pocket.
One of the men pointed toward the stern when they were done, the one who’d pocketed his stuff. Lauren started out, feeling the man following close behind. The Japanese speed boat jockeyed below for some purchase against the ship’s steel hull, just in front of the Glacier Bay, trying to fit itself close enough so the men aboard could reach back for the ladder but far enough away to avoid smacking into either the ship’s hull or the Fool’s Gold.
Lauren reached the stern of the vessel. The fantail was a large deck with a deck above overhanging. The first of the cloned bodyguards pointed at a glass door set in the center of row upon row of deck-to-deck windows, the row running around the entire back of the aft portion of the ship. Lauren opened the door with effort, as it was much heavier than it appeared. He almost stopped to examine it closer but caught himself in time. He wasn’t aboard to solve strange little mysteries, no matter how interesting. He was involved in the greatest single and dangerous mystery of his life, and trying to figure it out demanded his full attention.
A man relaxed in a leather desk chair inside, not far from a mirrored bulkhead just ahead of which sat a huge wooden desk. The man behind the desk was old but not seemingly frail, although plastic tubes ran up into each of his nostrils. On each side of the desk, a man sat in a straight back chair, facing Lauren. Each of the two men was thin, white-haired and looking whipcord tough. The bodyguard placed Lauren’s stun gun and cell phone on the front leading edge of the desk. He then bowed and departed without saying anything. The door closed quietly behind Lauren’s back. Two chairs were placed about five feet before the ornate front panels of the desk.
Lauren moved forward until he was standing between the chairs. None of the three men said anything. Lauren wondered if he was experiencing one of those ‘sales closing’ events where the first one to speak was the loser.
Lauren leaned forward and tapped the desk with his right forefinger. “Resolute,” he murmured, softly. “H.M.S. Resolute.”
“Very good. Very good indeed,” the plastic tubed man said. “A wonderful replica of the desk sent to a U.S. president by the Queen of England for discovering that poor lost ship bearing the same name.”
“Hayes,” Lauren murmured.
“All glass,” Lauren swept his right arm up and around, taking in the full expanse of windows surrounding them all. “I should think you cared more for security.”
“Polycarbonate. Bulletproof. But you knew that. I watched you hesitate when you came in,” the man responded.
“You’re Shapiro, aren’t you?” Lauren stated, dropping his hand to his side. He made no move to recover the BodyGuard.
The trio he was in front of were predators. Lauren could sense it like a heavy aroma in the room. He was on a stage that was pre-set and no violent move was going to end in anything but his own terrible injury or death.
“Mind if I take my cell phone back?”
Shapiro nodded, “Sit, please. Can we have something brought for you? Kona coffee? Maybe some of that Molokai Peaberry you’re fond of?” he said, failing to answer Lauren’s question about his identity, and not needing to.
“Why me?” Lauren said, sitting in the right chair because he was right-handed to give him even the tiniest advantage over the player seated to his right, resenting the man’s display of special knowledge about him. He placed the cell phone back in his left front shirt pocket.”
“Why you, doesn’t matter, really,” Shapiro replied, the sound of his oxygen generator making his sound a bit like Darth Vader when he spoke. “The point is that it is you. I’m Shapiro and I’m sure you want to know what this is all about. Tom Ford to my right and Aaron Morgan to my left,” he said, introducing his two companions.
The two men did not move or change expression.
Except for the tubes running up into Shapiro’s nose, Lauren thought all three men looked to be in pretty good health.
“You’re the guy they’ve wanted for years,” Lauren began, “killing your own men to take the Yamashita treasure. Why are they letting you back in, not that you haven’t been coming to Hawaii for years?” Lauren finished, having figured out it didn’t seem to matter what he said to anybody. He was playing a stacked deck, not of his own making, with most of the cards invisible to him.
Then man to Lauren’s right spoke. “Mr. ‘S’ didn’t kill anybody. We all threw in with him to get the gold, but our own government had other ideas. There was a fight. Both sides lost a lot of men. Tom and I were part of the winning team. The U.S. government knows all this, which is why Mr. ‘S’ is being allowed to come home…to rest.”
Lauren thought about what the man said. It made a lot more sense than any of the other stories he’d heard. If Shapiro had really killed all those sailors on his own, an unlikely undertaking in a war zone, then he’d never be allowed to live out his final days in peace anywhere. America simply didn’t have that kind of forgiving culture, no matter what payments might be made.
“And, my role? What in the hell do you want with me? Any of you, or them?” Lauren waved one arm toward the port side of the ship where he’d tied the boat, although neither Hiyashi or Yee had yet appeared on deck. “And why are all these people involved? Maybe I could do better if I knew more?”
The questions popped out of Lauren unbidden. He had many more but decided to stop and wait for answers to what he’d already asked.
“You’re it,” Shapiro responded. “Just the way it is. You’re living in my house because you can’t afford one for yourself and your family. You’re piloting my boat. You have a decent job because of me. And those things can continue for as long as you want them to do, with a substantial bonus.”
“Bonus?” Lauren frowned in question. “What kind of a bonus?”
“What kind of bonus you could never dream of. I needed an American. A tough guy but smart. I found you. I’m giving control of my accounts for disbursement to you. It’s dangerous. If you get yourself killed then it passes to your family, who in turn could lose their lives. Everything would revert to the federal government, in such a case. Those people you call “they” all want a cut of the action, and in truth, deserve something. How you handle them is up to you but they’re a dangerous lot. Some of them are going to think you’re better off dead, which is part of the price you have to deal with. I can’t. I’m sick. I’m dying. I made a deal with the government but I don’t trust them so I’m paying them in installments. You’re going to do that for me or everyone will be after you…if they aren’t already.”
Lauren sat glued to his chair. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Apparently, Shapiro was going to trust him with billions of dollars. And they’d just met.
“I don’t get it. What if I don’t do what I’m supposed to? What if I screw it up? What if I just take the money and run?” he said, in exasperation.
“You’ll never live to spend a dime and I think you know that. I picked you because you have the honor and you’ve come through some really tough stuff. You may have enough life experience to get through this and do the right thing. I don’t know. Think about your family. And, think of your limited choices.”
Lauren considered. His situation was precarious. A fortune, or at least part of a fortune, plus a palace of a home, a wonderful boat and more were being extended to him, but the price was total uncertainty except for the likelihood of violence. Quite possibly terminal violence. The prospects for success were mixed and violence was something Lauren excelled at although so much of it depended on violence that it was foolish to depend on that element for long-term success. And then there was the risk to his family.
“Can I call my wife?” Lauren asked.
All three men laughed out loud. Shapiro shook his head ruefully.
“They said you weren’t normal or predictable. Yes, you can call your wife. I’ll fill in the others as to what we’re doing. Go into the restroom behind the mirror there. It should be soundproof enough for your necessarily confidential conversation. The ship has its own cell repeater so you’ll likely get through.
Lauren followed Shapiro’s directions, hearing one last order before he closed himself into the cabins head.
“Bring them in,” Shapiro ordered.
Lauren connected to Sharon on the third ring. He gave her a summation of what had occurred and his situation aboard the yacht.
“Where do you sign? This is our only chance and it’s a good one if you can get off that thing and back to shore without getting yourself killed. Is Shapiro coming back with you? If he is then I’ve got to prepare the house.”
“Hell, I don’t know,” Lauren answered her. “I’ll call from along the way.”
He hung up, wondering about the nesting quality of women. She had to prepare the house for a guest as if they were having some important relative over for brunch.
Lauren stepped back into the main cabin, as Hiyashi, green-tinged and shaky entered through the main glass door. He was followed by Sergeant Yee, and then Ashton.
“Where do I sign?” Lauren whispered as he walked by Shapiro, trying to ignore the look on Ashton’s face.
“You don’t have to sign anything here. It’s all arranged. All you have to do is walk into the Bank of Hawaii main branch with me and it’s done.”
Four of Shapiro’s strangely uniformed goons with big muscles filed into the cabin and spread out along the windowed wall. No one moved forward to put any confiscated equipment atop the big desk. Lauren wondered about that but didn’t have long to consider.
Ashton stood several feet from Lauren, his expression one of dark anger.
Shapiro explained how things were going to work. Yee, Hiyashi, and Ashton came alive with verbal complaints. Each thought they were going to be the chosen one to ‘assist’ Shapiro in adjusting to his return. Shapiro raised his hands into the air to bring some order but no one took notice.
“You scum bag!” Ashton shouted, leaping forward and turning into Lauren’s left side. He reached across the desk, grabbed the stun gun and whipped it up into the side of Lauren’s neck. “Here, take a little of your own medicine,” he screamed, turning the weapon on and squeezing the button.
Lauren had no chance to pull back from the stun gun Ashton forcefully plunged into the side of his neck. He felt the machine discharge its three million volts when Ashton pressed the spring-loaded button, but no paralysis, loss of consciousness or pain coursed through his body. Ashton wasn’t so lucky. The re-wiring Lauren had so laboriously performed in the basement of Shapiro’s Portlock home proved effective, although not in any way he could have predicted. The seven wires he’d soldered in, redirecting the points of discharge from the original tiny prongs, modified the effectiveness of the device. Electricity exploded into Ashton’s arm up through his clutching hand. He didn’t get a full three million volts but the charge was enough.
Ashton screamed, his right arm jerking back from Lauren’s neck to convulse in front of his own face. Helplessly, the man’s fingers kept crushing the discharge button. Every few seconds he screamed again. Pandemonium filled the cabin, as Ashton pulled a nine-millimeter automatic from inside his coat using his left hand, raising it high, as he careened in circles in front of Shapiro’s desk, and then began firing it uncontrollably into the deck above. Shot after shot rang out, deafening everyone in the cabin. The bodyguards rushed in to surround Shapiro while Sergeant Yee tried to grab hold of Ashton’s whirling thrashing body. Hiyashi brought out his own weapon.
“You’re a dead man, you’re a dead man,” Ashton’s contorted voice shouted out between discharges from his gun.
Lauren raced for the armored door. Once through it, he ran from the fantail forward toward the bow on the starboard side. The twin-hulled Fool’s Gold was tethered to the port side if it was still there. Waves smashed into the starboard hull with such ferocity that running on the deck was like running in a mild rainstorm. Lauren realized that the ship was still moving sideways under the propulsion of its bow and stern thrusters. It was not making any headway at all. He stopped, looked overboard into the maelstrom of the wildly alive Molokai Express, and made a decision. He sat down on the ship’s deck, removed his sandals, trousers, and aloha shirt until he was stripped to his jockey shorts. Without any delay he raised up, moved away from the rail until his back was against the cold painted bulkhead, and then plunged forward, diving up and over the rail.
He plunged deep, enjoying the crisp cool feel of the wildly moving seawater. Rising swiftly, he bobbed about in the mess of rough breaking chop. The ship came at him slowly but relentlessly; it’s thrusters providing a constant inevitable-seeming force against the ocean itself.
Lauren breathed in and out deeply, building an oxygen debt throughout the muscles of his body. After his fifteenth deep inhalation, with the ship’s hull only feet away, he dived down. He didn’t try to swim under the ship. He simply went down to a depth where his ears had to be cleared for the second time. He knew he was then at about one atmosphere. Thirty-some odd feet under the surface. He cleared his mind and relaxed his body to wait. The ship was moving above him, casting a shadow beneath it as dark as the night. Lauren waited, counting. He was at fifty seconds when the water around him lit up as if illuminated by a soft-lit room lamp. Lauren let himself rise slowly. There was no need to exhale along the way because he only possessed and compressed the air he’d taken down with him.
Coming up he saw the shapes of the two boats tucked close into the ship’s hull, and was relieved. If the boats had been cut loose there would be no escape. Swimming ten miles in the vicious waters of the Express would be impossible, even for a world-class swimmer, which Lauren was not.
The ‘swim-step’ strung along the lower stern of the Fool’s Gold was high and without any steps. The twin hulls used a tunnel effect when running at high speed to escape some of the energy-sapping friction of passing water. The ‘tunnel effect would have been severely reduced by a swim-step running low between the hulls.
It took minutes to finally work his body between the lowered platform at the bottom of the gangway and the boat, without getting injured. Completely out of breath and nearly exhausted he slithered down onto the back of the boat’s main deck. Crawling to the center console he spotted the braided dental rope and gently retrieved the big revolver from the sea. He didn’t bother to attempt to clean or dry it. Simple moisture would not impede the weapon’s ability to operate. Its construction of stainless steel assured that there would be no rusting issues either, later on, if there was to be a later on.
As Lauren went forward toward the bow cleat he sensed a commotion from above. The bodyguards were hauling Shapiro down the stairs as if he was a side of beef. They reached the bottom platform as Lauren cast the bow line off. The three huge men didn’t hesitate, they tossed Shapiro onto the Fool’s Gold’s aft cushions, where he bounced once and then ended up in a curled mess on the bare deck behind the fiberglass console. The old man looked white as a sheet, Lauren noted, as he threw off the stern line, hit the start buttons for the two Mercury’s and jerked back on the transmission lever. The Fool’s Gold began to move away from the ship, bumping into, and then running down the side, of the Japanese boat.
He looked down at Shapiro’s seemingly lifeless body, noting that there were no tubes or oxygen bottle anywhere in evidence. The man wasn’t dead because he smiled as if he was on some childish adventure. Lauren shook his head in surprise, but also in admiration. The old coot was tough as a desert vulture. Another commotion arose from the ship. A shot rang out. Lauren saw Ashton struggling with the bodyguards, with Yee right behind them. He moved the transmission lever to the forward position before driving the dual throttles to their maximum stops. The Fool’s Gold took off like a scared rabbit, coming instantly up to plane and then accelerating across the smooth water for the rougher waters beyond. No shots followed.
Lauren headed the boat back toward the harbor, making a decent speed by weaving between, and quartering over, the larger waves until machine gun fire went up and over their heads. Tracers.
“Machine gun,” Shapiro yelled, needlessly, as he tried and failed to climb into a sitting position.
“No shit,” Lauren yelled back, “Seven-point-six-two, is my guess. Government. One of those big inflatables.”
“We gotta stop,” Shapiro said, still working to gain a handhold on the side of the slick console.
“Stay the hell down there. We aren’t stopping. That gun is pintle-mounted. No way they can control that thing in these waters but we can’t run into the smooth waters of the harbor. That’s for sure, and we can’t slow down.” Lauren careened the boat between two advancing swells heading away from Hawaii Kai toward Makapuu. He brought the motors up to maximum speed. The Fool’s Gold responded instantly, leaping up to the top of two more advancing waves.
“I’ve got to run along the top of these swells. It’s going to be rough as hell. That inflatable has an aluminum single mono-hull underneath. There’s no way it can run at any creditable speed in this stuff.”
The boat began to jerk and heave as Lauren guided it up to, and then across the top of the swells. The speedometer read sixty-five when it evened out.
“Amazing,” Lauren yelled out to the passing spray-driven air. “This thing runs better at top speed than anywhere else.”
They ran quickly by Makapuu, then Sandy Beach, and were coming around outside Waimanalo Beach when a great black bug rose up in front of the boat. It grew larger by the second, coming at them at a furious rate. Lauren puzzled for only a few seconds before recognizing the genus of the aerial beast. It was a helicopter. Specifically, a Hughes Five Hundred. Only the government could afford such a multi-million dollar toy packed into such a tiny deadly package.
The chopper seemed to stop in mid-air before them. The Fool’s Gold speedometer read seventy-two miles per hour.
“That guy’s going backward. He’s good. You can’t even tell, except he’s got to keep the nose up,” Lauren said, aiming his words down to the sprawled Shapiro.
The chopper closed to within thirty feet of the boat’s flying bow, effortlessly holding their exact speed at an altitude no more than ten feet above the waves.
“Yeah, he’s really good. Probably an old Nam guy.” Lauren whispered the last, as his mind worked overtime.
They couldn’t beat a chopper and no doubt there were a couple of gunners aboard the machine just waiting to take a few shots.
“The turbine for that thing is behind the back seats, almost shoulder high for a seated man,” he said into the wind. Without hesitation, Lauren reached down and picked up the Magnum. He couldn’t let go of the wheel, not in those waters or at that speed. He worked to free the revolver’s cylinder mechanism, finally breaking it free. He moved the cylinder two places and then clicked it shut. “First round a shotshell, just in case. Second round a hollow point for serious business. Third round depleted uranium penetrator for the tough guys.”
The Fool’s Gold was a stable platform atop the running chop. The helicopter was so well piloted that it sat before the boat as if motionless.
Lauren brought the Magnum up, aimed between the two front seats, with their indistinguishable aviators inside, and squeezed the trigger. He didn’t see the effect of the shot. He dropped the revolver and ran his hand up to clear his eyes. The muzzle blast had been huge, yellow and with a quick super hot shot of air. Lauren shook his head. He couldn’t hear a thing. His right hand was also too painful to fully grasp the wheel.
“What was that?” Shapiro yelled. “My ears hurt,” the old man cried.
Lauren barely heard him, his own hearing only just starting to return. The Hughes chopper was gone. He craned his head around to see if the pilot had taken the craft up to a higher altitude behind them, but it was nowhere in sight. “What the hell?” he said to himself, his ears still ringing. Finally, he saw the chopper. Or part of it. A black bubble bobbed off to one side of their speeding boat, quickly falling behind. The shot had penetrated the turbine, Lauren figured. The loss of the chopper would not be taken lightly, which would be as nothing if the crewmen hadn’t gotten out safely.
“Screw them, we’re not stopping,” Lauren yelled down to Shapiro’s prone figure, enjoying the man’s return smile of approval. Finally, able to use and feel his damaged right hand, Lauren exercised his fingers. He needed his cell phone but had had to leave that on the deck of the ship.
“Cell phone? Do you have a cell phone on you?” Lauren yelled down through the wind, leaning but still watching the heaving sea in front of them closely.
“Of course,” the old man said, but it was obvious there was no way he could get to it. Life was running out of him. He’d been white when they dumped him into the boat but his color had gone to ashen. He needed oxygen and he needed it fast.
Lauren pulled back on the throttles. The cat responded instantly. The boat stopped dead in the water and then began to bob like a cork, all stability gone. Lauren knelt and went through the old man’s pockets until he found the phone. It was wet, but maybe it would work. Shapiro’s life depended on it.
Lauren dialed his wife. Sharon answered on the first ring. “We’re off the ship, package in tow, headed for Lanikai. Get the car. Drive there but stop at the drug store and buy a bottle of oxygen with the delivery system. The old man’s out of air. And bring me some clothes. I’m in my jockey shorts.
Lauren tossed the phone into the console’s incidentals slot and accelerated the Fool’s Gold back up to top speed. They rounded Rabbit Island. The sea smoothed out magically as the boat moved from the Molokai Express into the North Shore swells. Lauren wondered how any of Shapiro’s plans could work and how many felonies he’d committed since he’d left the house only an hour earlier