PETER BLINKED AND SCRUBBED his gritty face with his hands. The scream of the turbos caromed inside his skull, glittering sea strobing as Nereid churned closer to the islands. He felt like hell.
He shot another look down through the forward hatch. His new client stirred in the bunk, frowning a pretty little frown in her sleep, blond halo gleaming. He shook his head. When those two hours had brought her back to the boat past midnight with her recording gear, to roust him out of his bunk, he’d almost told her the deal was off. But he could use the gold. He just hoped she wasn’t planning more fun and games, because once was enough for educational purposes.
“Damn!” Off in the distance, a sharp flash. Reflection off glass or chrome?
He grabbed his binoculars. There. Throwing up a good-sized wake, bearing on his course.
“Shit.” Still nothing but static on radar. He swung off course in a steep tilting curve, past a rock reef, got a larger islet between him and the approaching boat. He idled down, drifting. Standing on the pilot seat, he could just sight over the rock. Still couldn’t make a flag, but it looked like a fast patrol boat.
“Just what I need. . . .” He checked his chart, decided to chance it, hit the throttles and swung around tight starboard, raced across open water toward a larger, steep islet. Rounding it, he squinted, desperately scanning. There. Almost missed it, cut the throttles back, with a port thrust eased in close to the sheer inward-curving cliff, rocking on his own wake. He peered down side to side, watching for shallows, hoping to hell the chart wasn’t obsolete already, but these islets didn’t show signs of recent volcanics or quake uplift. And with the rising sea level, he figured he had a margin of error.
“All right.” Dead ahead, looking at first like just an outcurved part of the islet, a jagged fang of rock nestled close, maybe a 30-foot wide channel between them. “Easy now, baby. . . .”
Chugging along as close as he could to the surge lapping the cliff, he craned from side to side over the bridge. Thanked God and the mermaids the Aegean was so crystal clear he could see every sharp boulder etched below in cool blue. He held his breath as he eased Nereid in.
He put her into idle, jumped down to throw out the twin anchor lines, bow and stern, Greek custom a necessity here in this narrow cubbyhole. He killed the engines, stood staring out the skinny slot past stone walls, straining to hear.
Grinding engine noise, closer. He grabbed his assault rifle, gripped it in his sweaty mitts. Eyed the launcher disguised under a tarp and fishnet, his two wire-guided missiles pretty well useless in the constricted space, obsoleted Navy weapons so pricey on the black market they were only last ditch anyway. Out there, the engines sounded closer still, but no appreciable change in speed or bearing.
He sat up top, sweating it, ready for a scramble to cut the lines and shoot out the other side, speed his best defense. The distant boat rumbled closer. Pirates? That aggressive new Mediterranean League “nation” taking over shipping ports? Should have his head examined for taking this run.
Etse k’etse. A Greek shrug.
The approaching engine noise got louder. Then started to recede. Peter sagged and let out a breath. He took his rifle down to the wheelhouse.
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