Unlucky 13, p.19

Unlucky 13, page 19

 part  #13 of  Women's Murder Club Series

 

Unlucky 13


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  The young gunman scoffed at the idea of calling Jackhammer, saying, “Yeah, right. Go ahead. God, I was really hoping you were my relief.”

  “Sorry, man,” said Brady. “Hey. Put on your mask.”

  “Yeah. Sure.”

  Brady waited while the gunman masked up, then said to Lyle and Lazaroff, “Okay, you two. Down we go.”

  Brady prodded Lazaroff and Lyle with the barrel of his AK, and they started down the stairs, one ringing metal flight after another times three sets of footsteps. They passed signs to various decks and public rooms: the Casino, the Spa, and so on, until they saw the arrow marked OFFICERS QUARTERS.

  The arrow indicated a forty-five-degree turn to the right.

  Brady knew that the crew slept in narrow, windowless cabins no wider than four feet across, with single bunks hung on the walls. He wondered how many crewmen were still alive in those slim, airless cells.

  He and his team turned the corner and saw a brighter light at the end of this spur off the main corridor. The light came from a gas lantern on the floor next to a man in fatigues who was sitting in a folding chair, guarding the hatch door to the crew quarters.

  The guard got to his feet. He was holding his radio phone, and Brady thought the guy upstairs had probably given this one a heads-up.

  The guard said to Brady, “What’s up, brother? Who’ve you got there?”

  He pocketed his radio and held his AK-47 with both hands.

  CHAPTER 90

  BRADY KNEW WITH dead certainty that the guard positioned in front of the crew quarters would shoot without provocation. Shooting would be very, very bad. Gunfire inside this metal staircase would be like setting off a fire alarm.

  Jackhammer’s entire crew would be on them in about a second and he would be dead.

  Along with the AK-47 and the combat clothes, Brady had taken the dead gunman’s knife and belt, which he was wearing.

  As he and his two wingmen closed in on the guard at the door, Brady still had hope that he could talk the guy into opening the crew door. If not, he would be bringing a knife to a gun fight. And he’d have one chance to pull it off.

  Using Lazaroff and Lyle to shield him from the gunman’s view, Brady reached across his body, and gripped the knife handle in his fist so that the blade faced up.

  Ten feet from the guy, Brady said, “Jackhammer told you I was coming plus two, right? I was there when he called you.”

  This guard had a huskier voice and build and was older than the kid on the stairs. Brady thought he might be an actual soldier.

  He said, “Jackhammer called me? Because I don’t know nothing about this.”

  “Let’s not talk in front of these mutts,” said Brady as he closed in on the guard. “Do you mind? After I stow them, we can talk about it all you want.”

  The gunman hesitated.

  Then he said, “No fucking way. I’m calling the chief.”

  Brady said to the guard, “I’ll save you the call. Jackhammer is on the line with me right now.”

  The guard said, “Yeah?”

  Coming toward Brady to take the radio, he stretched out his hand. Brady grabbed his wrist with his left hand, jerked him forward, and slashed his throat, slicing through his carotid artery, larynx, and jugular.

  The gunman reached up but never got his hand to his neck before he dropped, blood pumping out of him, adrenaline speeding up the flow. He breathed in blood, coughed up more blood, and gurgled his last words as he tried to speak.

  Lazaroff got behind the dying man as the blood gushed and held him down until he no longer moved. Then he took the AK away from the dead man while Brady told Lyle to sit on the chair and put his head between his knees.

  Lazaroff got up, checked the corridor, and reported back, “All clear. Great job, Brady. They teach you how to do that in the police department?”

  “I picked up a few moves along the way.”

  He and Lazaroff each took one of the gunman’s arms and dragged him through the blood pool to the side of the corridor. Then Brady took off his mask and turned the wheel on the hatch door.

  The hinges squealed as the door to the officers’ quarters swung wide open.

  CHAPTER 91

  A GROUP OF officers stood in the narrow aisle between two rows of cabins. They were unshaven and rumpled and pale. They stood shifting on their feet and angry, what you’d expect of men who’d been imprisoned in their cabins belowdeck while their ship was under siege.

  Brady saw knives and lengths of wood or pipe in their hands. He put out his hands to show that he wasn’t armed, then put his finger to his mouth in the universal signal to be quiet.

  He said, “I’m Jackson Brady. I’m a passenger, also a cop. We’re getting you guys out of here.”

  Men exhaled, sheathed their knives, and broke into tears. Some rushed forward to shake his hand.

  Brady told Lyle to get the lantern and then waved him and Lazaroff through the hatch door. He followed them in and introduced them to the ship’s officers.

  One of the officers, a balding older guy in his sixties, had on glasses and grubby whites with captain’s stripes on the shoulders. He held a pistol loosely in one hand and shook Brady’s hand with the other.

  “I’m Captain Berlinghoff,” he said. “George. Thanks very much…,” he said, choking back tears. “Mr. Brady. We haven’t seen light. We haven’t spoken with anyone. What’s happening to the ship?”

  Brady said, “The terrorists are in charge and executing passengers on the hour.”

  He briefed the captain on the terrorists’ demand for payment.

  “They’ve killed a lot of people,” Brady said. “I don’t see that they’ve got a viable exit plan whether they’re paid or not. At some point, they might realize that. There’s no telling what they’ll do.”

  “What are your thoughts?” the captain asked Brady.

  “Got to get control away from them. And that means arming as many people as possible. Are your guys trained on the weapons in your citadel?”

  “Who said we had a citadel?” the captain asked.

  “I did, sir,” Lyle said.

  “And who are you?”

  Brady put his arm around Lyle’s shoulders.

  “Lyle Davis. Our cabin steward and a very brave young man.”

  The captain said, “I don’t know what you’ve heard, Mr. Davis, but there’s no citadel. There’s a lockbox on the Sun Deck marked OPEN IN CASE OF FIRE.

  “We have a few handguns in there, some flares, and fire extinguishers. That’s it for our weaponry except for this thing,” he said, lifting his revolver by the trigger guard with a finger. It looked like a souvenir from the Korean War.

  “There’s one bullet in it. I’m saving it for Jackhammer. I’ve been waiting by this door since he took over my ship.”

  Brady nodded his head, then asked, “These stairs go to the Sun Deck?”

  He was thinking of the lockbox with some make-do weapons, the blond kid with the assault rifle sitting on the top landing, and then the pirates up on the track.

  They’d have to go past all of them.

  Berlinghoff said, “Mr. Brady. Tell us your plan.”

  CHAPTER 92

  BRADY CLIMBED THE crew’s stairs alone, catching his breath between flights. When he reached the veranda level, he called up to the gunman at the top landing.

  “Hey. Buddy. I need you to take a look at something for me.”

  Distract. Disarm.

  The ploy had worked before. Would it work again?

  He heard Kid Commando getting to his feet, the scraping of boots on metal stairs echoing up and down the dimly lit stairwell.

  The kid called down, “What’s the matter? What happened?”

  “The dude I relieved told me to pass something on to you,” Brady shouted back. “He didn’t want it going over the radio.”

  Brady was almost panting from walking up five flights. Too much desk duty had layered some fat over his frame. He shouldn’t have missed all those wo
rkouts.

  This was not good. Not good at all.

  Walking up the last flight, he got his breathing under control. He was going to need everything he had to neutralize this kid.

  “He wanted to keep something from Jackhammer?” the young man asked.

  Brady had the two-way radio in his hand. The time was counting down on the screen, telling him that in about three and a half minutes, Jackhammer was going to be looking for his eighteen guys to check in.

  Brady wasn’t sure of the answer code. The password. Or whatever the fuck these guys always said to let him know that they were at their posts and that all was well.

  He stood three steps down from the kid and said, “Can you just read this? Will you fucking just look at it?”

  The kid adjusted the eyeholes in his mask and walked down two steps and bent his head to look at the radio.

  He said, “I don’t see what the prob—”

  Brady stepped up, putting his weight on his left leg, and reached his left hand around the kid’s neck and pulled down hard. The kid yelled, “Hey,” striking out and wind-milling with his arms, but he couldn’t regain his balance.

  The kid’s feet shot out from under him, and as he slid down the steps on his ass, Brady got behind him and got his neck in the vise he made with his right biceps and forearm.

  The kid cried out and Brady tightened his neck hold, his forearm pressing against the kid’s carotid.

  The kid tried to reach behind him, and Brady applied pressure, not enough for the kid to black out but enough for things to start to go fuzzy.

  Then he let up just a bit.

  The kid said, “What the fuck are you doing? What the fuck is wrong with you, man?”

  Brady asked himself the same question. Thinking that over the past half hour, he had crossed some defining line. Was this really the person he had become? Or would any man if pushed this far do the same damned things?

  Brady said, “You want to breathe? Lie still. What’s your name?”

  “Brian.”

  “What’s Jackhammer’s name, Brian?”

  The kid got it now. He was going to die.

  He said, “Don’t do it, man. Please don’t hurt me.” Brady applied some pressure and the kid grabbed futilely at his bulked-up arms. This kid was either a murderer or he was complicit in the many murders aboard this ship. But there would be no by-the-book interrogation for Brian. No Miranda rights.

  Brady relaxed the hold and gave the kid a little blood to his brain, a little air.

  He asked again, “What’s Jackhammer’s name?”

  “I don’t know. I don’t know anyone. None of us do.”

  “So why did you do this? Why did you take this job? You wanted to kill people? Ruin people’s lives? Why?”

  The kid was exasperated as well as frightened.

  “I don’t even understand your question. Look. Let me up. You’ve got the wrong guy.”

  There was no way around this kid. None. Brady said, “I’m sorry, Brian. There’s no other way.”

  He squeezed the kid’s neck in the V of his arm, pressing his left hand to his right wrist to double the pressure. The kid passed out a few seconds later, but Brady held on until a couple of minutes passed and the kid stopped twitching.

  He could think about this later. But not now. There was no time to do it now.

  CHAPTER 93

  BRADY DRAGGED BRIAN’S body off to the side of the landing and turned his mind to the Sun Deck layout, where more shit was waiting for him and there was less than a fifty-fifty chance that he’d survive the next ten minutes.

  He’d been up to the Sun Deck a couple of times.

  Before it had turned into a shooting platform.

  There was teakwood decking fore and aft, lined out with lounge chairs. At the middle of the deck was an eight-foot-wide running track, rectangular in shape, a hundred yards long by fifty wide and hollow at the center so that the sun could shine through to the Pool Deck below.

  A railing ran around the inside perimeter of the track, making it a perfect catwalk and doubling with a first-class gun rest for sighting the captives directly below. Like prison guards looking down from the walls over inmates in a prison yard.

  And now footsteps clanged against metal as the ship’s officers climbed toward him on the inside stairs. When they reached him, Brady, said, “I’m going out there first. After that, you all know what to do, regardless.”

  The captain said, “Good luck to you, Mr. Brady.”

  “And to you, sir. Everyone.”

  Brady’s assault rifle hung from the strap over his right shoulder, and he had a loaded pistol on his hip. He said a quick prayer and pulled the knitted mask down over his face. Then he turned the wheel that opened the lock and pushed open the door to the Sun Deck. He closed it behind him.

  Squinting through the mask, Brady tried to see everything at once.

  The rising sun was streaking the horizon with pink bands, backlighting mountains in the distance and glinting on the railings at the bow.

  There were three men on the track, two on the far, short side of the rectangle, the third guy standing by himself on a long side, fifty feet away.

  Brady called out to that one, “Bro. Got a second?”

  Without waiting for an answer, he set out along the composite rubber track toward the guard.

  “I hope you brought me the beef taco,” the man said. “I already had the chicken. Beef is better if there’s any left.”

  Brady had considered using the knife, but he wasn’t that good or that fast. So he pulled the gun.

  “I don’t know anything about the chow,” Brady said.

  Continuing to walk toward the guard, he said, “There’s been a slight change in the rotation.”

  The man was only a few feet away.

  He said, “Don’t tell me I’ve got to go another watch. I’m dead on my feet, already.”

  The guard sensed something wrong in Brady’s posture or demeanor, or maybe he was close enough to see the gun.

  He backed up, saying, “Let me see your hands, man,” while shouldering his rifle.

  Brady aimed, squeezed the trigger, and fired twice, hitting the guard in the throat and chest.

  Immediately shouts came from the men on the far side of the track.

  Brady dropped his handgun, gripped the automatic rifle, and fired across the open track. The bullets made the gun’s signature pop-br-br-br-br-br report, hitting the gunmen who were running toward him like cartoon commandos in a video game.

  The men flailed and then dropped.

  Brady heard the tinny voice of a radio in the shirt pocket of the man lying near his feet.

  “Pool deck four to track one.”

  Brady picked up the radio and, what the hell, said into the dangling mouthpiece, “Yeah, track one. All secure.” Then he went to the hatch door and tapped on it.

  The door swung in, and Brett Lazaroff, George Berlinghoff, and three of his officers, including the hotel manager, dashed out onto the track.

  Berlinghoff went directly to the locker with the small lot of weapons. He shot off the lock and his officers emptied the box, then pocketed what they could as others collected guns from the dead gunmen before returning, as planned, to the crew staircase.

  Brady was standing with Brett Lazaroff on the track when gunfire exploded upward through the center of it. They propped their AKs on the railing, aimed at the muzzle flare, and returned fire. Then there was a break in the shooting.

  Brady said, “Lazaroff. You ready to roll?”

  CHAPTER 94

  YUKI WAS SCRUNCHED up against the overturned wet bar outside the Spa when gunfire opened up from the track deck. There had been shooting before, sporadic blasts of automatic-weapon fire meant to scare the prisoners who had already become zombies from unrelenting, paralyzing fear.

  The spate of gunfire was worse now, more sustained. Purposeful. There was a spray of gunfire and a gunman near the pool grabbed at his neck and went down, toppling ha
lf into the pool.

  What was happening?

  Were they being rescued? Where was Brady?

  Music was blasting from the speakers across the deck.

  Bullets rained down from the track. Passengers screamed, scattered, and tried to hide under lounge chairs. Gunmen took cover and fired back.

  Yuki moved aside as three passengers converged on the wet bar, looking for protection from the gunfire.

  “We’re going to storm the Spa,” one of the passengers said to her. He grabbed her hand, briefly and said, “Good luck.”

  Then he was gone.

  There were shouts and the sound of breaking glass. Everything was happening fast.

  Automatic weapons fired from the bow sent people running toward the stern, where Yuki was crouched near the barricade. Then a movement on the staircase over the Spa caught her eye.

  A guard jogged down the steps from the Sun Deck. He stopped outside the Spa’s shattered doors and pulled off his mask. White-blond hair spilled onto his shoulders.

  Brady. Oh, my God, it was Brady.

  He’d been shot. Blood ran down the side of his face and the shirt he was wearing was dripping red. He didn’t see her.

  Brady shouted, “Passengers. I’m a passenger, too. The crew is now armed. Lie flat. Keep your head down.”

  The double doors opened out from the Spa and the Luna Grill at the same time.

  Men in whites ran out and took positions where they could find them. They were ordinary men, pot-bellied, gray-haired, and some of them were holding rifles, others handguns. Yuki recognized them as ships’ officers.

  Looking around, she saw six men in fatigues, all of them finding cover. There was shooting, and people yelled and cursed. Glass shattered. Bottles flew through the air. Yuki squatted behind the bar, hands over her ears when Becky grabbed her arm.

  “Yuki. Come with us. Run!”

  Yuki said, “That’s Brady. My husband.”

  But Becky was already heading for the Luna Grill, her arm around her ten-year-old son, her husband corralling them from behind. A blast of gunfire came from a gunman kneeling beside the bandstand outside the Grill, and Becky’s husband went down.

 
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