Doone holds up the edge cutters. 'So we grill him then kill him. Right?'
I say, 'Copy that.' Because Doone's my squad leader and war's the workplace.
The waves are on the starboard quarter. The ship shudders as they hit. As each liquid mountain surges past, we pitch into the next trough.
He hands me the cuffs and the soldering iron. 'Plug that in. Canna have him bleeding to death before he sings. And the shite'll be packing something so we play good buddies up front.'
We're on a research bucket called the Arundel. British registered. Three thousand tonnes. Crammed with meteorologists and steaming north in the Norwegian Sea.
A ship on a weather survey. Innocent enough.
Except for the strange arrays on the superstructure.
Except for the attitude of the crew.
Except for the no-go sections near the engine room.
Except that it's hired our armed squad.
And we know it's about to be attacked.
Our makeshift armoury's below waterline on C deck. Down here near the machinery spaces the engine throb comes through our boots and the hull-frames groan as the Atlantic tries to stave in the plates.
Doone pulls a 9mm Glock from his battle jacket and parks it out of sight on a top rack next to the box of cell phones. Before we sailed, to preserve security, we made everyone hand in their mobiles.
The metal door opens, lets in the stink of diesel oil—and the Russian. A thick-set type called Yuri—low furrowed brow, moon-crater skin. First time he's been in here. Thinks he's getting the grand tour.
He beams at the weapons and ammo. 'Chrise. Got enough heat.' He opens a long case and lifts out an M3. It's a steel liner, basically, for launching HE to frag. He drops to his left knee and fits his shoulder behind the pad as if he's more used to fiddling with his dick than anti-tank. He squints through the sight at Doone.
'Don't point the bugger at me.' Doone's cartoon eyebrows dance.
The guy shoves the thing back in its foam moulding, tucks in the blast goggles, re-clips the lid. He eyes the tripod of a .50 cal. machine gun, touches the flash guard of an RPG. 'Got the lot.'
'Aye.' Doone grins. 'Should give 'em the trots right enough.'
The man's eyes flicker, showing what he really thinks.
The ship creaks into the next roll. Somewhere a bulkhead door slams.
Doone grabs the top rack as if steadying himself. Then the Glock's in his hairy mitt and aimed at the Russian's belly. 'Spread.'
The guy bares his teeth like an animal, then does a curious thing. He grabs the lanyard around his neck and kisses the large jewelled crucifix attached.
I don't like it. Something doesn't square.
Next, his right hand strays to his neck.
'Arms out,' Doone roars, 'or you lose a knee.'
He does it.
I kick his legs wider, frisk him. Find the knife in the scabbard down his back. And a dinky 9mm Norinco in a plastic ankle holster. As I shove them out of range. Doone's aim droops to the guy's balls. 'Back up.'
The Russian knows he's out of options. Because Doone's ex-special forces with a heart that pumps radiator coolant. And he's a man-mountain, which makes his nickname, Lorna, droll. I'm big, too, and don't go down fast.
He slowly backs into the rack.
I plasticuff his arms around an upright and kick away his legs.
As he bumps onto the deck, his arms, snared by the bottom shelf, are jerked high behind him—forcing his head down toward his crotch in the excruciating position favoured by the Cong.
Doone pulls off the guy's boots and socks, releasing a puff of antifungal talc.
The man's eyes flash hatred. 'Why you do this?'
'Because we found your fooking transmitter.' He holds up the edge-cutters. 'Party time, shite. Who'd you tip off?'
'You crazy. I talk to family.'
'With an underwater multi-channel? Like your family lives in a sub? What's the code for the WT?' He clamps the guy's foot against his massive thigh, then positions the cutter's jaws around the base of the bugger's little toe.
In fifteen years as a mercenary I've seen plenty of shit go down. And losing a pinky's a fleabite compared to what a bullet's shockwave does. And I think, screw the bastard. Because he's sold us out. He's a mole. And his tip-off to God knows who could take out everyone on board.
'No. No. I tell,' he whines.
'Five seconds. Five. Four. Three...'
'I tell... you are... fucking bastard.'
The cutters click through bone.
The deadshit bellows and there's blood for blocks.
'Who you working for? Spetsnaz?'
He raves in Russian.
Doone cauterises the stump with the soldering iron. It reminds me of Afghanistan. The reek of cooking flesh.
Doone, face friendly as a chain saw, moves the cutters to the first joint of the next toe. 'We can take this slowly. And when did you tell them to attack?'
The Russian swears, fighting the cuffs.
'Speak English, shite. More you fuck with us, longer it hurts. After your tootsies it's fing-fings, ears, nose, dick. We're not mooking around. I want the code. Five. Four. Three...'
'I tell nozzing.'
The top of the next toe hits the deck.
The man thrashes like a bullock caught in a barbed-wire fence.
There's blood on my fatigues. Not that they're new to it.
'The code!' Doone fries the wound.
The man raves, writhes. Then his noise chokes to a gurgle and he slumps.
Doone says, 'Fuck! Get him back.'
I feel his neck. 'Checked out.'
' Bluidy hell!' He looks puzzled.
Then I figure it. There's a hole in the middle of the crucifix, as if the setting's lost a stone. I show it to Doone. 'Check-out pill. Must've stashed it in his cheek when he pretended to kiss the thing.'
Doone roars, 'Bluidy Ivans! All this shite for sweet fuck all.'
I cut the body loose, jam the boots back on, yank out the plug of the iron. 'So where do we file him? Cool room?'
'No bluidy way. Haul him topside. Fish food. What are you looking for?'
'Something to weight him.'
'Dinna fash yerself. Lots of North Sea.'
To confirm it, the ship rolls almost on its beam-ends. We grab for handholds. Its ribs groan.
When the deck decides it's not a wall, Doone smears up the worst of the blood with the socks and stuffs them in the man's jacket with the cutters. I add the Chinese popgun and knife. He shoulders the carcass in a fireman's lift. With luck, we'll get to the weather-deck unseen.
I padlock the armoury door behind us. The air in the alleyway stinks of cabbage.
Doone sways ahead to the companionway, his huge frame filling the space. The non-slip's damp from wet boots and the metal walls sweat. As the sea slams the hull plates again, he braces against the railing.
On the next deck up a second engineer edges past us. He takes in the Russian's fixed doll-eyes and the blood on our fatigues.
'Nice night for it,' I say.
His deadpan face doesn't flicker. He hates having hardarse grunts on his vessel. Doesn't want to know.
We step out into a howling gale that's blowing straight off Greenland. The sleet stings my eyes and giant waves fling spume against the hull. I come from a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains. And these ball-freezing latitudes aren't my idea of a good time.
Doone waits till a trough exposes the red lead of the hull and dumps the carcass over the rail.
Drenched and frozen, we struggle back inside.
Doone says, 'Hot shower. Change of gear. Then hair of dog and de-brief in my cabin in fifteen.'
The showers on this bucket run hot seawater. Lathering up sandpapers your skin. By the time I get to Doone's berth, he's outside his first Scotch.
He pours me one. 'Bluidy business. Fook the shite.'
I gulp the liquor to blur the last hour. 'Could Sparks make any sense of the transmitter?'
'Nah. Looks a scaled down Russian knock-off of a French TUUM. And if you got in without the code it'd probably take your face off.'
'Well if the bastard was FSB there could be a Russian sub around.'
'Nah. We'd be sunk by now. Unless they're after something on board.'
'Someone you mean?'
'Good point. Anyway they can't play pirates in this chop. Which leaves us with our eyes peeping out our arseholes. Because we know they'll come. But not how, who, when or how many.' The cabin tilts again. 'That's if we don't sink first.'
I brace my arm against the bulkhead. Doone mightn't like the weather but I don't get seasick and enjoy things that bump around. 'Sea's on the beam again.'
'Because they bluidy keep changing the heading. What the hell are they up to now?'
He knows as well as I do.
They're trying to reach the centre of the storm.
A ship that chases abnormal weather.
It's the clue.
And the reason I'm here.