Dirty Bop to Blighty: part 3

Illustration: Liz Argall

Illustration: Liz Argall

fiction by Diana Deverell

Except, Dawna retorted, “your clumsy agenda-changing tactic gave you away. Vladimir and Boris aren’t sitting around, waiting for you to arrest them. No, they’re scheming—”

A businesslike male voice interrupted her, speaking Danish over the public address system. He sounded to Dawna as though he was announcing the start of a scheduled cultural event.

Hotfooting to her side, Bo set her straight. “Emergency code. Captain wants all officers on the bridge right now.”

“Get me and Alek up there,” Dawna muttered to Bo.

She grabbed Keedy’s wrist again. “You come, too. Hear what fiasco you triggered. Alek’s Russian skills will be vital.”

“Luckily,” Alek added, “I have much experience negotiating in hostile situations.”

Bo led them unerringly up a maze of internal stairs and past the officer staterooms to the bridge, a dumbbell-shaped enclosure offering unbroken sea views through waist-to-ceiling windows along the front and sides.

Dawna noted a control panel and wheel centered in the bow.

The lone computer screen looked out of place among the switches and dials, as though the ’80s technology was giving only grudging room to the digital age. Even the special-looking red telephone adjacent to the usual gray commo equipment seemed like a throwback to the Cold War era.

The strong odors of brass polish and window cleaner didn’t banish the reek of engine oil.

Dawna had met tall, lean Captain Jensen the night before and she recognized him at the center of the array, his pale face taut with the effort to control the anger she read in his eyes.

He was flanked by two men in officer uniforms and a third in a filthier and smellier version of Bo’s jumpsuit.

Jensen’s right hand rested on the red phone. He glared at Keedy.

“Two of your people. Russians, I think. They forced their way into the machinery space that houses the four engines. They tried to drag this unfortunate crewman in with them as hostage, but he managed to escape. They closed the watertight doors and will allow no one to enter.”

He tapped the red receiver. “We can hear their voices through this, but we don’t understand what they are saying.”

Dawna pointed to Alek, who was already reaching for the phone. “Detective Superintendent Talatinian is a Russian speaker and knows the men.”

Captain Jensen passed the receiver to Alek, who said his name and listened for 30 seconds before asking a series of questions. Finally, he cradled the phone.

“They claim they are armed with a nuclear device capable of destroying the ship. They demand you alter course to Murmansk where they will voluntarily surrender to Russian authorities. Unless I guarantee compliance with this demand, they will blow up the ship at precisely 8:30 p.m.”

He stared at Dawna. “Could they have a nuclear device?”

She turned to Keedy. “You said they had access?”

“As expeditors, not handlers.”

Keedy’s arrogant confidence was negated by the muscle twitching in his cheek.

“We’ve intercepted messages implicating them in selling nuclear material to a terrorist group,” he added in a stronger voice. “Nothing suggests they’re transporting the stuff themselves.”

“Except that when you invited them to this conference, you gave them the perfect opportunity,” Dawna pointed out.

“They boarded last night, bypassing the security screening. No one was there to scan their luggage. We don’t know what they brought on board. Did your people search their cabin?”

“Didn’t want to risk tipping them off that we were interested,” Keedy admitted.

“But there’s not a chance in a thousand they have a device here. They’re bluffing.”

He turned to Captain Jensen. “Luckily, I have a SWAT team on board. I’ll lead them in retaking your engine room.”

“SWAT team,” Captain Jensen repeated, his body quivering. “On my ship.”

He muttered something more that sounded to Dawna like American cowboys.

An estimate of Homeland Security that Dawna shared. And didn’t try to hide when she spoke to Keedy.

“You really believed you could smuggle 12 undercover agents on board without these cops spotting them?”

Keedy’s eyes widened, confirming that Dawna had counted his ringers correctly.

She shook her head. “You’re supposed to evacuate the civilians before you send in a SWAT team.”

“We’ll use lifeboats,” he muttered.

“We can’t put 1,500 people adrift in the North Sea,” she said. “A paramilitary operation is not a solution. If the Russians do have a device, they’ll detonate it before your team gets the door open. If they don’t, you’ll murder unarmed men. Bad outcome, either way.”

She paused, mentally flipping through her data about the Queen. Turning to Bo, she asked, “How do you put out a fire in the engine room?”

Before he could answer, Keedy snorted. “Oh, right, turning on the sprinklers is bound to cool off the Russkies.”

Bo corrected him. “No sprinklers down there. We snuff a fire by releasing 20 canisters of CO2.”

“Thought I’d read that in the ship’s specs.” Dawna made eye contact with Jensen. “Sir, you do have a way to neutralize the threat.”

Flooding the engine room with carbon dioxide would instantly kill anyone inside, which was why more recently built ships had abandoned the method.

Dawna added, “But it’s a harsh solution if the men are bluffing.”

“Their threat justifies the action.” A large brass key appeared in Jensen’s dead-white fingers. “Though I’m sure we’d all prefer to end this without fatalities.”

“Agreed,” Dawna said. “And the Russians’ demand to go to Murmansk tells us they don’t want to die. They might be willing to give up now. Why don’t we offer them that chance?”

“Right,” Keedy interjected in a take-charge voice. “The death threat gives us leverage. I’ll convince them to surrender to me.”

He extended a hand toward the phone.

Dawna slapped it away and blocked him with her body.

“Those idiots are my guys.” She turned to enlist Jensen’s backing. “Sir, I would like first crack at them.”

“And I think you should have it,” the Captain replied. “It is now 20:20 hours. Ten minutes until their deadline.”

Dawna frowned, computing. “I should be able to do it in five,” she said.

“I will give you three,” Jensen corrected. “I will put the phone in loud-speaker mode so I can hear the Russians and gauge their stability. If I feel the situation has become unmanageable, I will release the canisters.”

Dawna drew her chin down in a sharp nod of agreement.

“Ready?” she asked Alek.

He gave her a thumbs-up and the captain reestablished the phone connection. When Dawna heard the Slavic equivalent of hello, she spoke in her most soothing voice, pausing every two sentences for Alek to repeat her words in Russian.

“This is Dawna Shepherd. I offer you a way out of this situation alive. I will accept your surrender. In Newcastle, I will hand you over personally to Scotland Yard. My offer expires in 60 seconds. At that point, another party will take over this conversation.”

She winked at Alek, giving him the go-ahead to translate the last two sentences as he thought best.

“You wasted the opportunity,” Keedy growled at her under cover of Alek’s voice.

“You should have hit them with the CO2 option. Told them they were dead meat. It’s your only bargaining chip.”

“Really?” Dawna drawled. She heard Alek making use of the Russians’ nasty nickname for Keedy. Not likely he’d recognize it if he heard, but why take the chance?

To distract him, she quickly asked, “How would you have done that?”

As he geared up his lecture, Alek stopped speaking. Dawna hushed Keedy to hear the Russian response.

The voice from below barked out a guttural reply. And the phone went dead.

Jensen aimed his key at the control panel.

“No!” Alek shouted. “They’re considering Dawna’s offer.”

The key remained poised as Jensen focused on his watch. “Nine seconds,” he said. “Eight. Seven. Six. Fi—”

A noise from the phone interrupted. A string of Russian followed.

“They accept,” Alek crowed, his adrenalin rush of relief triggering an exuberant bounce. “They will surrender to Dawna. No one else.”

“Tell ’em to sit tight until you and I reach them.” Dawna turned to Jensen. “You have a lockup we can use?”

“The brig is two levels below the car deck.”

He gestured toward Bo. “I can release this sailor to assist you with their incarceration. But you must find your own people to handle guard duty. My crew will be employed locating and disarming the men on this ship from the unauthorized SWAT team and making them comfortable in the conference center until we reach Newcastle.”

“Good plan,” Dawna said. She noted that the two uniformed officers had moved to stand on each side of Keedy.

Keedy glanced at his escorts. He pointed an angry hand at Alek.

“Superman there, the great medic and negotiator, warned those Russians that if they didn’t surrender to you, I’d be taking over. You’re damn lucky his gamble worked.”

“Not much of a gamble.” Dawna grinned. “After all, they preferred a Russian prison to being abducted by Homeland Security. Falling into your hands was a risk they couldn’t take.”

“C’mon,” she said to Bo and Alek. “Let’s round up Boris and Vladimir. I bet they’re as eager as I am to see what a real brig looks like.”

“Dirty Bop to Blighty” was originally published in the September 2010 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. A native Oregonian, Diana Deverell was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer and served in Washington, D.C., San Salvador, and Warsaw, before she moved to rural Denmark to write full-time. Visit www.dianadeverell.com for more about her.

This article also appeared in the Aug. 26, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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