YAKUZA

CHAPTER XI

The Navatek hatch to the main deck was just off the top of the gangway. Lauren guided Shapiro through it and into a huge flat cabin that extended fifty feet wide by sixty feet in length.  The single unsupported room took up more than half the deck space of the hundred and twenty-foot ship.  Tables were set up with six chairs each, throughout the length and breadth of the great expanse.  Even though the bulkheads supporting the deck were made of waist-high steel with thick glass panes above, the feeling was one of nearly complete openness and freedom. The feeling wasn’t like being aboard any normal boat or ship.  A small group of men took up one aft corner on the starboard side of the cabin. They filled one table, and all sat staring over at the newcomers.

Lauren noted the vibration of the ship’s propellers. He looked out into the harbor and saw movement.  Even though they had been aboard for only a few seconds, the ship was underway.  He continued to guide Shapiro along to the men already gathered, recognizing none of them.  Sharon moved to his side with Sergeant Yee not far behind.  Police officers in uniform, who’d followed them aboard, spread out behind them, taking up positions around the area but not closing in on the group.

A man wearing a white shirt and khaki pants strode out of a hidden stairwell just behind the table where the other men were seated.  He smiled and held out his hand.  Shapiro ignored the man, taking a seat at a nearby table.  Lauren extended his own hand, noting the man’s nametag.

“You’d be Mr. Prentice, the man who’s chartered our vessel, I would presume?”

Lauren hesitated only a fraction of a second; surprised the Navatek had been commissioned in his name.  Then it came to him.  A ship like the Navatek would cost many thousands of dollars to charter. Even though no money had changed hands, the bills were already beginning to accumulate, ready to be submitted just as soon as the money became real.  “Yes, he replied, and this is my wife, Sharon,” introducing her.

“I’m Captain Nelson,” the man with the nametag said to Sharon, who smiled slightly and then took a seat next to Shapiro at the nearby table.

Nelson acknowledged Sergeant Yee with a nod, before turning back to Lauren.

“We haven’t been informed of either our destination or the purpose of the charter if you would be so kind?  We’ll be out of the harbor in only a few minutes.”

“What will she do?” Lauren asked the affable-seeming captain.

“Do?  I presume you mean nautical performance?” Nelson responded.

Lauren waited.

“Ah, about twenty knots, or a bit more at flank, but usually we cruise at fifteen, or so,” the man answered.

“And in rough seas?” Lauren inquired.

“Doesn’t matter, unless you’re maybe talking about a typhoon,” the captain answered, “the submerged twin hulls extend down twenty feet and are about fifteen in diameter.  We can easily make maximum revolutions in a running sea of twenty or more feet.  It’s one of the great advantages of this kind of new construction, not that we ever get out in the open ocean to take advantage of that fact.”

“She’ll be going out into it today.  Set a course for Kalaupapa, Molokai and run at maximum, or flank, until I tell you otherwise,” Lauren ordered.

“That’ll add one hell of a fuel surcharge to the charter,” the captain replied, not moving until the making of his point was responded to.

“There will be no problem with the additional charges,” Lauren said, with a wry smile.  “In fact, you may inform the crew that there’ll be an additional fifty percent bonus over and above what they normally get when this day and cruise are done.”

“Very kind of you, I’ll be on the bridge,” Captain Nelson replied, his tone one of vague suspicion.  He looked around at all the silently attentive police officers, and then over at the suited men surrounding the corner table, before turning and retracing his steps to the stairway leading to the bridge.

Lauren walked over to the table of seated men. Lauren knew the only men who wore suits in Hawaii were politicians and lawyers.

“Gentlemen,” he said with a slight bow, “what have you put together?”

One man rose from the table and extended his chair out to Lauren.  When Lauren took the seat the man walked around the table to stand behind the oldest one of the men, who couldn’t have been more than thirty-five.

“United States Attorney, I presume,” Lauren said, speaking flatly across the table.

“Tom Trueson, yes, that would be me,” the young balding man said, making no move to shake hands.  He tossed a business card emblazoned with gold writing onto the glass surface of the stripped table.

“Well?” Lauren asked, making no move to pick up the man’s card, and wondering why everyone he had met of late had strange names.

“Agreements.  The paperwork is all here.  You sign and you get immunity from prosecution for everything, past and present, including your little escapade involving the shooting down of a United States owned helicopter, and abusing its crew.”

“Gee, how nice of you guys, and I didn’t abuse the crew,” Lauren answered.

When Trueson didn’t respond or change expression, he went on, “What about the money?”

“That’s the sticky part.  You get immunity from taxation, signed by the head of the IRS himself, as well as a guarantee that you will not be targeted in the future.  Four payments of a billion dollars each will be automatically transferred from your new account to the United States Treasury to be held in trust for the use by the Executive Branch of the U.S. government. The locals here get ten million to split between them.”  Tom splayed out his hands flat on the table as if saying that was all there was to it.

“What about my wife?  What about me?  What about my family?  What of all of us?  Seems like you’ve left something out here,” Lauren said, leaning back in his chair. “I’m not signing a damn thing without our financial welfare being considered.

“I thought you understood,” Trueson responded. “You get the boat.”

“The boat?” Lauren exclaimed loudly.  “The boat; the dinky Glacier Bay with a dinged propeller.  That’s what we get?”

“No,” the U.S. attorney answered.  “The big boat.  Out there,” his arm swept toward the channel of the Molokai Express.  “And the house.”

Lauren winced in shock. The huge yacht had to be worth at least fifty million dollars and the home half that.  He was a very wealthy poor man.

“How can I keep them without cash?” Lauren asked. “I’ve less than a hundred dollars in the bank.  I can’t even pay for this cruise that I’ve supposedly chartered.  We can’t make it without cash.”

All the men at the table started to talk at once. Lauren sat back and tried to take it in. Evidently, the subject was no stranger to the deputy attorneys, nor was it likely that the subject had been accidentally omitted.

He let them talk for five full minutes before he got up to join Sharon at the adjoining table.

“You hear all that?” he whispered into her left ear.

“Ask for ten million,” she whispered back.

“Where is that supposed to come from?” Lauren asked.

“You don’t care, and what about the spook Ashton. Did he just float away in all this, or what?  Do they have the power to stop him?”

Lauren thought about what Sharon said as he made his way back to his seat at the decision-making table.  The discussion was still heated among all of the men. They were passing slips of paper to one another as if they were participating in some grade school classroom game. Lauren didn’t take his seat.  Instead, he headed toward the hatch and stairway leading up to the bridge.

“Where are you going? a voice behind him asked, but Lauren paid no attention.

“Captain Nelson?” he inquired, stepping into the narrow rectangular cabin that ran the full width of the ship.  Windows were on every side but they were so darkened it was hard to see any of the advanced state-of-the-art electronics mounted below. “Radar.  You’ve got radar, I know.”

Nelson stepped to his side, coming from the back corner of the bridge, his uniform making him nearly invisible in the reduced light.

“You can’t see much of anything after awhile if you don’t have these light shields,” he said.

“Radar. Yes, Raytheon with terrific resolution out to nearly a hundred miles.”

“What are you looking for?”

Lauren noted the movement of the ship under him. They were in the Molokai Channel and the jumbled mass of breaking waves was running at about ten feet.  The Navatek was almost as steady as it had been in the harbor but making four times the speed.

“How fast are we going?” he asked Nelson, who was fiddling with a gimbaled viewing screen.

“Twenty-four knots, faster than she’s gone since tryouts.   Here’s the radar screen. What resolution should we be looking at?” the captain inquired.

“Pearl.  How far is Pearl from our position now?” Lauren stared at the green-lit screen, the ever-turning radar return line moving around like a very fast second hand.

“Thirty miles, or so,” the captain responded. “What is this?” he asked, more to himself than to Lauren.

“What is what?” Lauren asked, staring at a moving point under the captain’s index finger, a sense of deep-seated dread coming over him.

“That’s a ship.  It’s going about thirty-three knots, coming out of Pearl, about destroyer size.  That’s flank speed for an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.  I think we’re going to have company very soon.”

“Why would a Navy destroyer be departing Pearl Harbor at high speed and apparently headed in our direction?” Nelson asked, more to himself than the captain.

“It could be purely coincidental,” Lauren replied, knowing that his answer was too weak to pass any muster at all, but giving him time to think.  The ship’s speed was the telltale sign the combat vessel’s mission was very likely the interdiction of the Navatek.  The destroyer would never leave the heavily traveled and traffic-controlled waters of Pearl Harbor at such speed unless it was war motivated or specially cleared and directed.  It simply would never be allowed.

“What’s radio traffic like?  Is the Navy requesting anything of us?” he continued to Nelson and the two men crewing the bridge.

“I’ll be right back,” Lauren quickly added, when Nelson didn’t answer, knowing he had very little time before the captain’s suspicions and good sense would overrule any excuse he might be able to offer in evading pursuit.  He headed straight for Trueson’s table.

“You’re needed on the bridge,” he said, pointing back at the ladder he’d descended and then turning and moving back toward it. He was relieved to hear the U.S. Attorney following him.

“What are you talking about?  What’s going on up there that might affect me?” the man asked, dropping back as Lauren took the steps three at a time in haste.

The Navatek was still underway at full speed. It was vital that they remained as far from the destroyer for as long as possible if his suspicions were correct. Shapiro’s ship, no matter what papers Lauren signed before the U.S. attorney, could be taken as a foreign vessel posing a threat to the U.S. Homeland by the Navy.  Getting it back out of the bureaucratic mess of that kind of forfeiture could take years, and a fortune and even that might only allow for the return of an irreparably damaged craft.

“There’s nothing direct,” Nelson reported when Lauren returned, “only the Chafee indicating its departure and course…which happens to be directed toward our own position.  The Navy’s not transmitting anything to us or anyone else.  We haven’t been requested or ordered to heave to, although I’m going to do exactly that if I don’t have an explanation allowing me a good enough reason to continue wherever the hell it is we’re continuing out here.”

“This is Deputy District Attorney Trueson,” Lauren introduced as the man stepped through the bridge hatch behind him. “Show the captain your credentials, and then tell him why it’s important we continue on until we finish our business.”

Trueson complied by bringing out his identification wallet and flipping it open to show an impressive looking gold badge enclosed under the cover.  He also displayed his duty Smith and Wesson Model 459, although he made no move to brandish or take it out of its cross-carry holster.

“Go ahead and follow the man’s instructions unless something changes,” Trueson ordered.  “We’ve got some business to finish on the deck below. If the Navy or any other authority orders you to stop then do so.  How long do we have before the destroyer arrives?”

“At its current close speed about an hour and a half,” Nelson responded, “but the Chaffee has two Black Hawk helicopters, Harpoon missiles, plus a deck gun that shoots almost sixty miles. They could take us out from their dock in Pearl if they’d wanted to.  For some reason, they’re running hard and fast in a naval pursuit without going public anywhere.”

“I’ll be down in a second,” Lauren informed the U.S. Attorney noting the man’s frown.

Being abused by suspects or even shot at might be expected as part of the job for a powerful prosecutor, but being chased at sea by a Navy destroyer was probably well out of the man’s ability to comprehend or make sense of. Lauren knew he needed to act fairly quickly if his participation in the Shapiro plan was to come to any kind of successful conclusion.  Sharon was also aboard and her safety had to be considered.

Trueson retreated down the slanted stair covered ladder, throwing a look of doubt over his shoulder.  As soon as he was gone Lauren pointed at the blinking radar screen next to the captain’s right arm.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Captain Nelson bent over the bright screen. “It’s a ship.  About two hundred feet in length lying about ten miles from here,” he said, touching the blinking dot as he’d done when pointing out the Chaffee’s track.

“It’s directly between Molokai and our position,” Lauren said, running his own finger on the line between the center of the screen and the blinking target.

“It would appear so,” the captain responded, removing his hand as if any physical contact with Lauren was to be avoided.

“Look at the position of the Chaffee moving toward us… or at least seemingly moving toward us,” Lauren added.  “Either that ship’s on an unusual training mission or it’s headed in a coincidental direction.  We might just happen to be between the destroyer and that ship.  I think it might explain why the Chaffee isn’t talking.”

“What’s the ship out there?  What has it to do with us if anything?” Nelson asked, his expression indicating he was beginning to understand something he’d missed.

“One of the guys down on the second deck owns it. He’s part of the deal with the U.S. Attorney,” Lauren filled him in, although giving no hint his own conclusion was totally based on personal conjecture.  He changed the subject to try to satisfy a nagging concern forming in the back of his mind.  “Shapiro needs oxygen to survive.  I only brought aboard a ‘pony’ bottle and it won’t last that much longer.  Do we have oxygen aboard?”

“This isn’t an international airliner,” Captain Nelson replied.  “We’re almost never more than fifteen minutes from help.  Normally we don’t get more than four or five miles offshore.  We have a defibrillator but no oxygen.”

Lauren thought for a moment about his multi-pronged predicament before answering.

“Then set a course for that ship.  It’ll have everything we need to meet Shapiro’s medical needs.  We’ll let the U.S. Attorney deal with the Navy and all of it out there.”

He stopped talking and waited while the captain stared ahead at the pounding chop that would have slowed any normal ship to a slower heaving and uncomfortable speed.  The Navy destroyer wouldn’t have to slow, as it was over five hundred feet long, possessed of such a highly technologically advanced hull designed to take such waters, and displaced ten times the tonnage of the Navatek.  It would move through those waters with considerably less comfort for the crew, but then the U.S. Navy was not an organization overly mindful of the comfort of its ships’ crews.

Lauren waited for the enigmatically analytical captain to make his decision.  His thoughts turned to the nine-millimeter duty piece Trueson displayed when he’d produced his credentials minutes earlier.  That weapon was more than likely the easiest to acquire if forcing the captain to proceed onward with a threat of violence might become required.

“I don’t like this,” Captain Nelson finally said. “I don’t like this one bit, but presently, given the fact that there is nothing overtly illegal about this cruise, I will proceed as you’ve instructed.  If that situation changes, and I don’t care if we have a Deputy U.S. Attorney aboard or not, then this cruise is over.”

The captain didn’t turn to face Lauren or seem to expect a response in any way so Lauren turned, momentarily relieved, and headed down the ladder to join the men gathered below.  While he’d waited for Nelson to make his decision an idea had occurred to him. The information imparted to him years before from an ex-CIA agent was about to become vitally important in giving the Shapiro deal, and quite possibly in assuring his family’s good health and even continued life if the information proved to be true.

He took his place at the table in the same empty chair he’d sat in before going up on the bridge.

“Letter of Marque,” he said, planting his elbows onto the tabletop in front of him.

Through clenched fingers, he spoke directly to Trueson without blinking his eyes.  “I want a Letter of Marque with Reprisal,” and I want ten million dollars to keep my part of this bargain functional.”

“Letter of Marque?” Truesome asked, in a wondering whisper.  “What in the hell is a Letter of Marque?”

One of his young assistants answered before Lauren could comment. “A Letter of Marque” is a document issued early in American history allowing American Privateers to take foreign vessels for cause, bring them into an American port and sell them for a profit.  (Article one, Section eight of the Constitution).  They’re only issued under congressional authority.  Last issued during the Civil War.”

“What?” was all Trueson stated when his assistant was finished.  ‘

“A Letter of Marque will let me keep Shapiro’s boat, as you call it,” Lauren said, smiling at Tureson’s assistant in acknowledgment.  “He’s wrong about two things, though.  They can be issued by the president’s authority, like the Secretary of the Navy, and they’ve been confidentially issued over the past thirty years for use on pirates or drug runners.  Call the Secretary of the Navy, who has that designated authority, and get one or there’ll be no transfer of any funds.”

Sergeant Yee’s radio crackled into life at the adjoining table.  “Yee, I know you can hear me.  This is Ashton, and if you know what’s good for you, and the rest of you, then you’ll answer.  I’m aboard the Chaffee coming right up your ass and if you don’t do exactly as I say you’ll be swimming the rest of the way to wherever you think you’re going.”

“How did he get on the police channel and how did he get control of a Navy destroyer?” Yee asked, holding his radio out at arm’s length and looking at it like it was an alien artifact.

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