It was 2 am, the ideal time to assemble a team that would be clandestinely boarding a vessel.
Dark and moonless, it was fortuitous rather than planned, and, dressed in black from head to toe, it was hard to see the others in the inky darkness. At least something was on our side.
Up until this point, we’d had nothing but bad luck, though I was more of the opinion we had a traitor in our midst because some of the events could not have any other explanation.
It had caused me to be far more selective in who I gave details of the mission to.
Each of the four team members had arrived and let themselves into the shed. It was not far from the ocean, and a small pier where there was a landing craft waiting. From there, it would be a half-hour trip out to the ship in question, where, if we got close enough, we would either have to go over the side and swim, or pull alongside, but either way we’d have to go up a rope.
A lot depended on the crew member we had recruited getting a rope overboard, and given the luck we had so far, if there was a flaw in the plan, that was it.
Aside from the four people sitting in front of me, there were only three others privy to what was about to happen. Now, with recent events, it was hard to imagine that one of them could betray us. That’s why I hadn’t completely told them what they were about to do, just that they needed to be prepared to get wet.
“I’m sure, now we’re here, you can tell us what’s going on.” Robert was the most trusted of my team and my best friend.
“And why all the hush-hush,” Linda added. She had been amused at the secrecy and my explanation.
I was never very good at spinning a story. She knew that but had not questioned why.
“It’s been touch and go for the last week. It’s why we’ve all been on standby, with this last-minute call out. We’ve been waiting for a particular ship to leave port, and now it has. So, without further ado, let’s get to it. A boat ride, just enough time to gather the courage to the sticking point, and then with any luck we won’t have to go into the water and swim, but a short shimmy up a rope. I hope you’ve all been working out.”
The boat ride was in silence. I’d worked with this group before and they were not big on talking. Aside from the fact that noise traveled over water, and since we had a specially silenced motor on the boat, there was not going to be any unnecessary conversation.
We could see the ship once we reached the headland, and aside from it’s running lights, there were lights where I presumed the bridge was, and several in the crew quarters. Closer again, I got the impression it was not moving, or if it was, it was very slow. It was hard to tell in the darkness. That same darkness aided our approach.
When we were within several hundred yards I could see that the ship was not moving, and, in fact, had the anchor out.
That was not expected. Were they waiting for us? Had they discovered the cream member who was working with us? We’d know soon enough if there was no rope in the designated point, not far forward of the stern, a spot where we could maneuver the boat under the hull curvature.
The driver piloted the boat slowly to the designated point and the rope was there. He would stay with the boat and wait. The four of us would go up and collect what we came for.
I watched the three go up the rope before me, waiting for the last to stop at the top and then go over the side onto the deck. It took nearly a minute before I got the signal it was clear to follow.
It had been too easy.
I went up the rope slowly, slower than the others, something else other than the object of the exercise on my mind. Not three days before I had a conversation with my boss, telling him that I’d been doing the job too long and that it was time to retire. Approaching forty wasn’t exactly retirement age, but in this job, lasting that long was almost a miracle. The places I’d been, the sights I’d seen, and the people I’d met. And how many lives I’d used up.
It was a dangerous thing, thinking about anything other than the job when you’re on the job.
I reached the top and pulled myself over the railing and onto the deck. A little off balance it took a moment to stand. By then it was too late.
Two of the three other members of the team were sitting by the superstructure, heads on their heads, two members of the crew were watching them, guns at the ready, and Linda had one pointing at me.
“I can’t imagine how MacIntyre thought he was going to convince Petra to defect. Or how this charade of a rescue attempt was ever going to work.”
I put my hands up. Not entirely unexpected. “It was not the mission objective.”
I was surprised that she had made her move so early. If it was my operation, I would wait until we were well into the superstructure, heading to the cabin where Petra would be waiting, and then make the move.
Three seconds, three shots, two guards taken out, and Linda incapacitated. She would not be moving or fighting back any time soon. The Petra came out of the shadows, and I collected Linda’s gun and stood near her, just in case Petra missed the target.
Petra cut the two other’s bindings, and said, “get to the side and jump now.”
Linda looked up at me. “What now?”
I shrugged. “Time for us to leave.” I gave Petra a nod, and she went over to the side, took one look back at Linda, shook her head, then jumped.
“You’re just going to leave me here?”
“If it were up to me, I’d shoot you, but MacIntire is getting a little soft in his old age. But yes, I’m leaving you here. Now, I really must go.”
I took a last look at Linda, who realized that if she moved it would only worsen her injury, and jumped, not exactly my preferred way of leaving the ship.
The boat came up alongside me and two hands dragged me on board, at the same time we could hear the sound of the anchor chain being pulled up, and the propellers creating a wash as the ship started moving.
Job done, and not one that pleased me. “Let’s go home,” I told the driver, “it’s past my bedtime.”
© Charles Heath 2020-2021