Jack slumped into the pilot’s seat. “Oh, yeah, no doubt about it.”

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17

Change of Course

August 7, 5:30 A.M.

Off the east coast of Nahkapw Island, Micronesia

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Half an hour before sunrise, Jack swam through dark water. He checked the glowing dial on his dive watch. So far he was on schedule. He had left the stern deck of the Deep Fathom ten minutes ago. Outfitted in a Body Glove neoprene wet suit, fins, tanks, and buoyancy compensator, he had long ago worked out of his aches and pains. He swam steadily, kicking his fins slowly but deeply, sweeping rapidly along the seabed. He swerved cleanly around another stone column that loomed out of the darkness. Equipped with Robert’s night-dive gear—a small ultraviolet flashlight strapped to each wrist and a night vision mask—he had no difficulty seeing.

He glanced at his compass, maintaining his pace toward where Spangler’s police cutter floated. An hour before dawn, both men’s ships had arrived on the eastern coast of Nahkapw Island. Each party maintained a cautious half nautical mile between them, awaiting dawn.

But Jack was already in the water before his ship had even come to a stop. His plan required speed, stealth, and the cover of predawn. Earlier he had been faxed the layout of the Pohnpeian police cutter and the code to the cipher lock of this particular ship’s brig. If Karen was held anywhere, it was there. Or so he hoped.

Another stone column appeared, then another. Jack slowed. Ahead, walls and crumbled buildings appeared, all thickly coated with coral and waving fronds of kelp. Jack lifted his wrist lights. More structures and facades stretched into the distance.

Here was the sunken stone village of Kahnihnw Namkhet.

Karen had described the place yesterday on the way to Nan Madol. It was the reason he had chosen this spot. The police cutters were outfitted with sonar, and Jack needed as much cover as possible to swim up on Spangler’s ship undetected.

He dove along the bottom, sticking close to the columns, walls, and buildings. He wanted to cast as little sonar signature as possible. As he approached within an eighth of a mile of his target, he began winding in a circuitous path, attempting to keep stone walls between him and the ship.

Overhead, he saw the cutter’s searchlights basking over the waters. Through his night vision mask, the place was lit up like a Christmas tree.

He continued even more cautiously, pausing and waiting in alcoves and behind piles of tumbled stone.

Finally, he found himself directly under the keel of the ship. It floated thirty-five feet above. He checked his watch. He was now a few minutes behind schedule. The sun would soon be up.

Emptying his buoyancy compensator, Jack settled to the sea bottom, forty feet under the cutter’s keel. He hid in the shadow of a thick-walled fortification. Wriggling, he wormed out of his tanks, kicked off his fins, and dropped his weights. He kept a bite on the air regulator as he did, taking a few good breaths for the swim up. Bent over, he unstrapped the second, smaller reserve tank from his hip. The thermos-size pony tank was for Karen. He placed it beside his own gear. All was in order.

Straightening, he patted his belt and double-checked that the two waterproof plastic bags were still in place. Satisfied, he switched off his UV lights. Darkness closed around him.

Ready, Jack spit out the regulator and shot toward the surface, kicking to aim for the stern. As he raced upward, he slowly exhaled, compensating for the change in pressure. He was rising too fast for safety, but could not risk being exposed for too long.

Within a few seconds his palm touched the smooth underside of the hull. He worked toward the rear, careful of the idling prop. In the shadow of the stern, he surfaced and pushed back his mask. He had painted his face and hands with engine grease to limit any reflection.

He spotted one of Spangler’s men leaning on the rail. A cigarette hung from his lips. Jack listened. He heard no others, but couldn’t take any chances. Sliding to the starboard side, he pulled out a mirror attached to a telescoping pole from his belt and extended it toward the rail. In the mirror’s reflection, he surveyed the stern deck. There was only the single guard. Good, he thought. With the cutter’s bow pointing toward the Fathom, they had posted little security at the rear. He twisted the pole, searched the ship’s forward section and spotted movement. Two men. Maybe more.

Jack quickly lowered and secured the mirror, then sidled back to the stern ladder. He tested it with a hand. The safety ladder was permanent, secured with bolts, so it shouldn’t rattle.

From his belt, he removed one of the clear plastic bags. His hand settled around the grip of the pistol inside. Raising it above the water, he poked his finger through the thin plastic to rest a finger on the trigger. The safety was already off. He waited for an opportunity.

As he did, his eyes flicked to his watch. The eastern horizon was already beginning to glow with the approach of dawn. C’mon, damn you…

Overhead, the guard flicked his cigarette into the sea. The glowing butt arced over Jack’s head and hit the water with a sizzle. Yawning, the guard turned and leaned his back against the rail. Fishing in a pocket, the man pulled out a pack of Winstons. He tapped it, trying to free one of the cigarettes.

One-handed, Jack pulled himself up on the ladder, planted his feet—then pointed his gun and fired. He covered the dull sound of the pistol’s silencer with an inconspicuous cough. Gore splattered the white deck. Jack reached out and grabbed the man’s body as it fell. Using the man’s dead weight for leverage, he clambered over the rail, then lowered the limp body to the deck.

In a crouch, he ran to the cutter’s external reserve fuel tank, freed the second plastic bag and pressed a red button. Swallowing hard, he checked his watch, then tucked the package beside the steel barrel.

He twisted around and darted to the door leading to the lower deck stairs. Gun pointed forward, he peeked around the open door. No one was there. Swinging it wide, he raced down the dimly lit stairs to the lower deck. At the end of the passageway lay a stainless steel door with a single tiny window.

Jack entered the passage cautiously. Crates and rolls of tarpaulin were stored in the lower passage, creating potential hiding places. He continued carefully, gun pointed ahead of him, searching corners and blind spots. No one was about. Reaching the far door, he glanced through the tiny window and bit back a sigh of relief. Karen was tied to the thin bed inside.

Jack quickly tapped in the code to the electronic cipher lock and heard the telltale click of the lock releasing. He grabbed the door and yanked it open. Taking no chances, he rolled into the room, ready for an ambush. He spun, weapon ready. No guards.

Karen struggled in her bonds, eyes wide with surprise. “Jack!” As he stepped toward her, Jack realized that it was not surprise in her voice—but fear.

He heard a rustling behind him, from the doorway, and turned around. In the hall, David stood with a gun pointing at his chest. The crumpled tarpaulin he’d been hiding under was now a cape about his shoulders.

“Drop your weapon, Kirkland.”

Jack hesitated, then lowered his weapon and placed it on the floor.

David shrugged off the tarpaulin. “Kick your gun here.”

Hands raised, scowling, Jack did as he’d been ordered.

“You are so predictable, Jack. Always the hero.” David moved into the room. “With the right bait, I knew I could lure you here. But I must say you haven’t lost your training. You got past my own men without alerting any of them.” He lifted the pistol. “Luckily, I trust no one but myself.”

“You never were a team player, Spangler. That’s why I was promoted over you.” As his opponent’s face reddened with anger, Jack spoke more slowly. “That’s what’s really got a corn cob up your ass about me, isn’t it? It’s not your sister. It’s not Jennifer’s death. You couldn’t stand a commoner like me beating a purebred Aryan stud like yourself, could you?”

David took an angry step toward him, leveling the gun at his head. “Don’t ever speak Jennifer’s name again.”

Jack risked a glance at his watch. Fifteen seconds. He had to keep David angry and close. “Quit the act, Spangler. Your sister and I had long talks about you. I know about you and your father.”

Sputtering, David pointed the gun. His face was almost purple. “What did she tell you…whatever it was, it was all lies. He never touched me.”

Jack crinkled his brow. Long ago, Jennifer had mentioned that David had been physically abused by his father. But had it gone further? Jack lowered his voice conspiratorially. “That’s not the way I heard it.”

David stepped nearer. “Shut the fuck up!”

Five seconds…

Jack braced his legs. His hands formed fists.

Spittle flew from David’s lips in rage. “He never touched me!”

One…

Jack swung a fist as the explosion roared through the ship. The deck bucked underfoot. His fist glanced off David’s jaw, knocking him aside.

The pistol went off, a wild shot. The bullet dug into the wall behind Jack. He spun and kicked the gun from David’s hand. It went flying across the floor.

David lunged. Jack instinctively dodged to the side, and as he swung back around realized the mistake. His reflexes had betrayed him. David might have been an asshole, but he was a keen killer. He landed near Jack’s discarded pistol, which had been his intent, and David rolled toward the weapon.

Karen yelled from the bed, “Run, Jack!”

He froze. “He’ll kill you—”

“No! His superiors want me alive! Go!”

Jack paused. David reached to the gun.

“Run!” Karen screamed.

Swearing, Jack darted through the door, slamming it behind him. Ahead, smoke filled the hall. Flames danced at the top of the stairs. Jack tore into a neighboring cabin. The bomb, primed with a small bit of C-4 from David’s own bomb, had been meant as a distraction so he and Karen could escape.

Jack crossed the cabin and tugged down the folded emergency ladder. Cinching down his diving mask, he mounted the ladder and twisted the release to the aft deck’s hatch.

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