'Then we kill him,' Doone says. 'Okay?'
I say, 'Copy that.' Because the bastard's earned his life-bypass. He's a mole and, thanks to him, a torpedo could drill through the hull. So I'm happy to waste him - if less happy with what goes down first. But Doone's my squad commander 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 following trough.
We're in a makeshift armoury 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.
'Bluidy rough,' Doone says.
'One way to see Bergen and Reykjavik.'
'If you don't drown first. So he'll be here in two shakes. Let's do it.' He pulls a 9mm Glock from his battle jacket, stashes it out of sight on a top rack then tosses me the plasticuffs.
I shove them in my pocket.
He kicks the plastic basin out of sight. It holds an edge cutter and a sponge.
'Remember, the shite'll be packing something so we play good buddies up front.' He hands me the soldering iron and extension cord. 'Plug it in. Canna have him bleeding to death before he sings.'
Doone's set the guy up for a pedicure.
Yes, the means don't justify the end but we're here to protect the ship and grilling him could save fifty lives. 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.
So I plug in the iron.
A bang on the metal door.
Doone throws the inner bolt, lets in the stink of diesel oil and the Russian.
He's a thick-set type called Yuri - low furrowed brow, moon-crater skin. He hasn't been in here before and thinks he's getting the grand tour.
He beams at the weapons and ammo. 'Chrise. We got enough heat.' He's trained to damage his fellow man so he's like a kid in a toyshop.
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. Then he squints through the sight at Doone.
'Don't point the bugger at me!' Doone's cartoon eyebrows dance.
Yuri fits the cylinder back into the foam moulding of its case, tucks in the blast goggles, re-clips the lid.
The ship creaks into the next roll. Somewhere a bulkhead door slams. I shove the case inside the cargo net. Not because I'm tidy. Ordnance can take most things but you don't want it banging around. And I kick the steaming iron out of sight behind a rack.
Yuri's still drooling over gear. He slides his hand along the tripod of a .50 cal. M2HB heavy machine gun, touches the gleaming flash guard of a CG40 grenade launcher. 'You order these?'
'Aye.' Doone gives a half-mouth grin. 'If we set those up on deck, should give 'em the trots right enough.'
The man's eyes flicker, showing what he really thinks.
Doone waits for the next roll, 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 he does a funny thing. He grabs the lanyard around his neck and kisses the large jewelled crucifix attached to it.
I don't like it. Something doesn't square. But I can't work out what it is.
Next, his right hand strays to his neck.
Doone roars, 'Arms out or you lose a knee.'
The man reluctantly obeys.
I kick his legs wider and frisk him.
I find a throwing knife in a scabbard behind his neck. And a dinky 9mm Norinco in a plastic ankle holster. As I plant them out of range, Doone's aim droops to the guy's balls.
The Russian's still looking for an angle but knows there's nothing he can pull without damage. Because Doone's ex-special forces with a heart that pumps radiator coolant. He's also a man-mountain, which makes his nickname, Lorna, droll. I'm big, too, and don't go down fast.
So he's flat out of options.
He backs into the rack.
I cuff his arms around an upright and kick his legs away.
As he bumps onto the deck, his arms, snared by the bottom shelf, are jerked high behind him - forcing his head down facing his crotch in the excruciating position favoured by the Cong.
I get the iron.
Doone kneels, removes 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 transmitter.' Doone holds up the edge-cutters. 'Party time, shite. Who did 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 gets the cutter's jaws around the base of the little toe.
'No. No. I tell.'
'Five seconds. Five. Four. Three...'
'I tell... you are... fucking bastard.'
The cutters click through bone.
The Russian bellows and there's blood for blocks.
'Who are you working for? Spetsnaz?'
The guy raves in his native language.
Doone cauterizes the stump but it just brings more unintelligible howls.
It smells like Afghanistan. A chopper that went down. The same shrieks, sizzle, reek of cooking flesh. And I think, screw the bastard. Because he's probably killed everyone on board.
Doone's moved the cutters to the first joint of the next toe, his face as friendly as a chain saw. '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, the 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 all over my fatigues. Not that they're new to it.
'The code!' Doone fries the wound.
The man raves and writhes. Then his noise chokes to a gurgle and he slumps.
Doone says, 'Fuck! Get him back.'
I feel his neck. 'Checked out.'
'Fucking bluidy hell!' He looks puzzled.
Then I figure the crucifix ploy. There's now a hole in the middle of the cross as if a stone has come out of its setting.
I show it to Doone. 'Check out pill. He stored it in his cheek when he pretended to kiss the thing.'
Doone roars, 'Bluidy Ivans! Just their style. All this shite for sweet fuck all.' He attacks the deck with the sponge.
I cut the body loose, jam the boots back on, yank out the iron. 'So where do we file him? Cool room?'
'And get buried in paperwork? No bluidy way. We haul him topside, feed him to the fish. What are you looking for?'
'Dinna fash yerself. Lots of North Sea.'
To confirm it, the ship rolls on its beam-ends. We grab for handholds as its ribs crack and groan.
When the deck decides it's not a wall, Doone smears up the last of the blood with the socks and drops them in the basin with the cutters. I add the Chinese popgun and knife. Then he shoulders the carcass in a fireman's lift.
I follow with the rest.
It's late and, with luck, we'll get to the weather-deck unseen.
The air in the alleyway stinks of diesel oil and cabbage. I shut the armoury door behind us and secure the padlocks.
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 looks at the Russian's fixed doll-eyes, at the blood on our gear, the mess in the basin. His deadpan face doesn't flicker.
I say, 'Nice night for it.'
He doesn't reply or look back. Most people, confronted by enormity, don't want to know.
We step out into a howling gale that's coming 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. I cling to the railing and pitch the basin into the void.
Doone waits till a trough exposes the red lead of the underhull and launches the body over the rail, trying not to follow it. Drenched and frozen, we struggle back inside.
Doone says, 'Hot shower. Change of gear. Then some hair of the dog. De-brief in my cabin in fifteen.'
It's an order.
The showers on this bucket run seawater. Lathering up sandpapers your skin. By the time I get to Doone's cabin, he's well outside his first Scotch.
He pours me one. 'Bluidy business. Fuck the shite.'
I gulp half of 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 an Akula sniffing around.'
'Nah. We'd be sunk by now. Unless they're after something on board.'
'Something? Or someone?'
'Good point. Anyway they can't play pirates in this. Which leaves us with our eyes peering out our arseholes. Because we know they'll come. But not how, who, when or how many.' The cabin starts to tilt again. 'That's if we stay afloat.'
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.
The ship's a research vessel. The Arundel. British registered. Three thousand tonnes. It's crammed with scientists, met equipment and it's 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 heavily armed squad.
And it's about to be attacked.
A ship that chases abnormal weather. That's the clue. And the reason I'm here.
Doone pours himself another. 'So how come you signed up for this?' His narrowed eyes show he's suspecting everyone now.
'Long story.' I trot out my standard version of the truth. 'I originally booked on a freighter from Algeria to Morocco. Cargo stops in Israel, Egypt Italy, Tunisia... Slow boat to nowhere.'
'Bluidy cranes rattling all night. Not my idea of fun. Why Morocco?'
'My dad's dead but one of his old flames has this luxury pad in Marrakech. She's got papers of his I want to see.'
'Uh-huh! And what cocked up?'
'Ship did a thrust bearing, stuffing box or something. Then I was told about this bunfight. Of course, the moment I signed on with you lot, the other ship was cleared to sail.'
'Yes. And I don't like convenient coincidences. Don't suppose you can shed any light?'
'News to me, laddie. But speaking as a man with long experience in the tactics of Special Forces, I'd say someone wanted you bad.'
'Thanks a lot.' I gulp the last of the Scotch.
'One thing's bluidy sure. Nothing here stacks up.' He scratches his arse for emphasis. 'They hire the toughest mongrels in the racket. Then welsh on the steel plates. Dozy buggers.'
'Right.' It tells me he's bought my story which, after all, wasn't a lie, and that I've steered him back to safe ground - to something we agree on.
Before we sailed, we advised the captain to weld steel plates over the wheelhouse doors and the external access points to the engine room - the areas pirates target. He wouldn't buy it. Odd. As if he was scared to stack the cards too much one way.
Doone shakes his head. 'So either we're lions led by donkeys or Yuri, of recent memory, isn't the only one in on this caper.'
'Right. Always imagine the worst and you'll never be ambushed. So do we fill in the skipper on our man overboard?'
'That bluidy officious git? No way. We leave the headcount till after the attack.'
He taps his ugly skull. 'So we're both thinking. Right?'
'Right.' As he seems to have accepted me as his 2IC, the least I can do is play up to it.
The ship rolls and creaks again. Everything slides and rattles.
He clings to the bunk-head with disgust. 'Could use some shut-eye. You?'
'Yup. Thanks for the drink.'
I leave his cabin and head for the main deck.
I doubt Doone's a plant because he seems as puzzled and wary as I am. But what do I know? I wouldn't have picked the Russian as a mole.
Sufficient unto the day.
I climb the main steps to the saloon, hoping Emma will be there.