Authors: R.E. McDermott
Tags: #UK, #Adventure, #spy, #Marine, #Singapore, #sea story, #MI5, #China, #Ship, #technothriller, #Suspense, #Iran, #maritime, #russia, #terror, #choke point, #Spetnaz, #London, #tanker, #Action, #Venezuela, #Espionage, #Political
A Thriller By
R. E. McDermott
Copyright © 2011 by R.E. McDermott
DEADLY STRAITS is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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Every author’s work benefits from the review of others, and mine was no exception. I am greatly indebted to the following people who helped make
a better book. First and foremost, my wife Andrea, who patiently read countless revisions and was always there as my sounding board. Dennis Wright, my best friend of fifty years, who gamely read and commented upon the early “not ready for primetime” drafts I inflicted upon him. Our sons Chris and Andy, and our daughter-in-law Jennifer, were also early readers who provided comment and encouragement. Longtime friends and colleagues from the marine industry helped me translate the sometimes arcane terminology of ships and shipping. I owe thanks in that area to Theo Mandopoulos and Paul Hagstrom, Captain USCG (retired). Ed Hoffman provided (and continues to provide) tremendous help and support both via thoughtful comments and his efforts to ‘spread the word.’ Both are appreciated more than I can say. Ed’s wife Suzanne provided input critical in helping me strengthen several characters in the story, and Pamela Ksenak, SSgt. USMC (retired) was my Glock expert. And last, but far from least, Brian Carlson MD, physician, friend, and writer, kept me from having my characters do the medically impossible. Any mistakes I’ve made, despite all this excellent counsel, are mine alone.
Thank you for taking a chance on a new author. I sincerely hope you enjoy Deadly Straits. If you do, please consider the links to the other books in the Tom Dugan series listed at the end of this ebook. And if you'd like to be notified when I release a new book, please consider signing up for my
“Whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; Whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.”
—Sir Walter Raleigh, October 1618
Offices of Phoenix Shipping
Alex Kairouz turned from the screen and swiveled in his chair to bend over his wastebasket, barely in time. He vomited as his nausea crested, then slumped head down and sobbing over the basket. A hand appeared, holding a tissue.
“Wipe your bloody face, Kairouz,” Braun said.
Alex did as ordered.
“Mr. Farley, please be good enough to refocus our pupil on the task at hand.”
Alex tensed against the pain as he was jerked upright by his thick hair and spun around to once again face the computer screen. He closed his eyes to blot out the horrific sight and tried to put his hands to his ears to escape the tortured screams from the speakers, but Farley was quicker, grabbing his wrists from behind and forcing them down.
“Open your bloody eyes and cooperate, Kairouz,” said Braun, “unless you want a ringside seat at a live performance.”
Alex looked not at the screen but at Braun.
“Why are you doing this? What do you want? If it’s money— ”
Braun moved his face inches from Alex’s.
“In due time, Kairouz, all in due time.” Braun lowered his voice to a whisper. “But for now, you need to finish our little lesson. I assure you, it gets much, much more amusing.”
M/T Western Star
Eastern Holding Anchorage
Dugan moved through the humid darkness of the ship’s ballast tank, avoiding pockets of mud. At the ladder he wiped his face on a damp sleeve and turned at muttered Russian curses to shine his flashlight on the corpulent chief mate struggling through an access hole. The man’s coveralls, like Dugan’s own, were sweat soaked and rust streaked. The Russian pulled through the access hole with a grunt and joined Dugan at the ladder. Sweat rolled down his stubbled cheeks as he fixed Dugan with a hopeful look.
“We go up?” he asked.
Dugan nodded and the Russian started up the long ladder, intent on escaping the tank before Dugan had a change of heart. Dugan played his flashlight over wasted steel one last time, grimacing at the predictable result of poor maintenance, then followed the Russian up the ladder.
He emerged on the main deck at the tail end of a tropical thundershower so common to Singapore. His coveralls were already plastered to his skin by sweat, and the cool rain felt good. But the relief wouldn’t last. The rain was slackening, and steam from the deck showed the negligible effect of the brief shower on the hot steel. Two Filipino seamen stood nearby in yellow slickers, looking like small boys dressed in their fathers’ clothing. One handed Dugan a wad of rags as the second held open a garbage bag. Dugan wiped his boots and tossed the rags in the bag, then started aft for the deckhouse.
He showered and changed before heading for the gangway, stopping along the way to slip the steward a few dollars for cleaning his room. The grateful Filipino tried to carry his bag, and, when waved away, ran in front, holding doors as an embarrassed Dugan made his way to the main deck. Overtipped again, thought Dugan, making his way down the sloping accommodation ladder to the launch.
He ducked into the launch’s cabin and settled in for the ride ashore. Three dogs in six weeks. He didn’t look forward to telling Alex Kairouz he’d wasted his money inspecting another rust bucket.
An hour later, Dugan settled into an easy chair in his hotel room. He opened an overpriced beer from the minibar, then checked the time. Start of business in London. May as well give Alex a bit of time to get his day started before breaking the bad news. Dugan picked up the remote and thumbed on the television to Sky News. The screen filled with images of a raging refinery fire in Bandar Abbas, Iran. Must be a big one to make international news, he thought.
Alex Kairouz sat at his desk, trembling, his eyes squeezed shut and face buried in his hands. He shuddered and shook his head, as if trying to physically cast out the images burned into his brain. Finally he opened his eyes to stare at a photo of his younger self — black hair and eyes in an olive face, and white even teeth, set in a smile of pure joy as he gazed at a pink bundle in the arms of a beautiful woman. He jerked at the buzz of the intercom, then struggled to compose himself.
“Yes, Mrs. Coutts?” he said into the intercom.
“Mr. Dugan on line one, sir.”
Thomas! Panic gripped him. Thomas knew him too well. He might sense something wrong, and Braun said if anyone knew—
“Mr. Kairouz, are you there?”
“Yes, yes, Mrs. Coutts. Thank you.”
Alex steeled himself and mashed the flashing button.
“Thomas,” he said with forced cheerfulness, “how’s the ship?”
“What’d you expect, Alex? Good tonnage is making money. Anything for sale now is garbage. You know how it works. You built your own fleet at rock-bottom prices in down markets.”
Alex sighed. “I know, but I need more ships and I keep hoping. Oh well, send me an invoice.” He paused, more focused now, as he glanced at a notepad on his desk. “And Thomas, I need a favor.”
is due into the shipyard there in two days, and McGinty was hospitalized yesterday with appendicitis. Can you cover the ship until I can get another superintendent out to relieve you?”
“Ten days, two weeks max,” Alex said.
Dugan sighed. “Yeah, all right. But I may have to break away for a day. I got a call from Military Sealift Command this morning. They want me to inspect a little coaster for them sometime in the next few days. I can’t ignore my other clients, even though sometimes it seems I’m on your payroll full-time—”
“Since you brought that up—”
“Christ, Alex. Not again.”
“Look, Thomas, we’re all getting older. I mean, you’re what, fifty now—”
“Forty-seven my next birthday.”
“OK, forty-seven. But you can’t crawl through ships forever. And it’s a waste of talent. Plenty of fellows can identify problems. I need someone here to solve them.”
“OK, OK. I’ll think about it. How’s that sound?”
“Like what you always say to shut me up.”
“Is it working?” Dugan asked.
“All right, Thomas. I give up. For now. But we’ll talk again.”
Dugan changed the subject.
“Ah … she’s …”
“What’s wrong?” asked Dugan.
“Sorry, my mind was just wandering a bit, I’m afraid. Cassie’s fine, just fine. Looking more like her mother every day. And Mrs. Farnsworth says she’s making remarkable progress, considering.”
“And how is the Dragon Lady?” Dugan asked.
“Really, Thomas, I think you two would get on if you gave it a chance.”
“I don’t think I’m the one who needs that advice, Alex.”
“Well, if you were around more and Mrs. Farnsworth got to know you, I’m sure she would warm to you,” Alex said.
Dugan laughed. “Yeah, like that’s going to happen.”
Alex sighed. “You’re probably right. At any rate, I’ll have Mrs. Coutts e-mail you the repair specifications for
straightaway. Can you get up to the yard in Sembawang tomorrow morning and begin preparations for her arrival?”
“Will do, pal,” Dugan said. “I’ll call you after she arrives and I get things started.”
Alex thanked Dugan and hung up. He’d maintained a good front with Dugan, and, for that matter, everyone else. But it was draining. The everyday minutia of running his company he’d so enjoyed just a few days ago seemed pointless now — there’d likely be no Phoenix Shipping when this bastard Braun was finished. But that didn’t matter. Only Cassie’s safety mattered. His eyes went back to the photo of his once-complete family, and he shuddered anew as the images from Braun’s video flashed through his memory.
Ali Reza Motaki, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, stood at the window, gazing out at the well-manicured grounds. He tensed as his back spasmed. Even in the comfort of the presidential jet, the long flight from Tehran to Caracas had taken its toll. He massaged his lower back and stretched to his full five foot five.
“And is this Kairouz controllable?” asked a voice behind him.
Motaki turned to the speaker, President Hector Diaz Rodriguez of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
“He is devoted to his daughter,” replied Motaki. “He will do anything to keep her from harm. Don’t worry my friend, Braun has it well in hand.”
Rodriguez smiled. “And what do you think of Braun? Is he not everything I promised?”
“He seems … competent.”
Rodriguez’s smile faded. “You seem less than enthusiastic.”
“I am cautious, as you should be. Acting against the Great Satan is one thing. Duping China and Russia simultaneously is another. We cannot afford mistakes,” Motaki said.
“But what choice do we have?” Rodriguez asked. “For all their fine words of friendship, neither the Russians nor the Chinese have acceded to our requests. If we must maneuver them into doing the right thing, so be it.”
Motaki shrugged. “I doubt the Russians and Chinese would view it as mere maneuvering.”
Rodriguez nodded as Motaki moved from the window to settle down in an easy chair across from the Venezuelan.
“And now it is even more critical that we succeed,” Motaki continued. “The damage at the Bandar Abbas refinery is worse than reported in the media. Iran will have to import even more of our domestic fuel requirements, just as the Americans are pressing the UN for tighter sanctions. It is strangling our economy, just as your own lack of access to Asian markets for Venezuelan crude cripples your own.”
“That’s true,” Rodriguez said. “And to be honest, I am concerned we’re using only one company. We are putting all our eggs in one basket, as the
Motaki shook his head. “No, Braun is right about that. With widely separated attacks, the plan is complicated. Braun’s selection of Phoenix was astute — a single company with ships trading worldwide, controlled by one man without outside directors. Control Kairouz, control Phoenix, no questions asked.”
Rodriguez nodded. “So we proceed. When will Braun confirm the strike date?”
“I got an encrypted message this morning through the usual channels,” Motaki said. “July fourth looks promising. Perhaps we can, as they say, rain on the Americans’ parade.”
“Excellent.” Rodriguez rubbed his hands together. “That will allow me to include some sympathetic remarks in my speech on our own Independence Day on July fifth. Perhaps I can even get an early start in laying these terrible deeds at the feet of the Americans.”
Motaki smiled and nodded. And, perhaps in so doing, become the sacrificial lamb should things go awry, he thought.