Crouched beside the powerboat untying the moorings, Corky glanced up just as the machine guns beneath the chopper erupted in a blaze of thunder. Corky lurched as if hit. Wildly, he scrambled over the gunwale and dove into the boat, sprawled himself on the floor for cover. The guns stopped. Tolland could see Corky crawling deeper into the powerboat. The lower part of his right leg was covered with blood. Crouched below the dash, Corky reached up and fumbled across the controls until his fingers found the key. The boat's 250 hp Mercury engine roared to life.
An instant later, a red laser beam appeared, emanating from the nose of the hovering chopper, targeting the powerboat with a missile.
Tolland reacted on instinct, aiming the only weapon he had.
The flare gun in his hand hissed when he pulled the trigger, and a blinding streak tore away on a horizontal trajectory beneath the ship, heading directly toward the chopper. Even so, Tolland sensed he had acted too late. As the streaking flare bore down on the helicopter's windshield, the rocket launcher beneath the chopper emitted its own flash of light. At the same exact instant that the missile launched, the aircraft veered sharply and pulled up out of sight to avoid the incoming flare.
"Look out!" Tolland yelled, yanking Rachel down onto the catwalk.
The missile sailed off course, just missing Corky, coming the length of the Goya and slamming into the base of the strut thirty feet beneath Rachel and Tolland.
The sound was apocalyptic. Water and flames erupted beneath them. Bits of twisted metal flew in the air and scattered the catwalk beneath them. Metal on metal ground together as the ship shifted, finding a new balance, slightly askew.
As the smoke cleared, Tolland could see that one of the Goya's four main struts had been severely damaged. Powerful currents tore past the pontoon, threatening to break it off. The spiral stairway descending to the lower deck looked to be hanging by a thread.
"Come on!" Tolland yelled, urging Rachel toward it. We've got to get down!
But they were too late. With a surrendering crack, the stairs peeled away from the damaged strut and crashed into the sea.
Over the ship, Delta-One grappled with the controls of the Kiowa helicopter and got it back under control. Momentarily blinded by the incoming flare, he had reflexively pulled up, causing the Hellfire missile to miss its mark. Cursing, he hovered now over the bow of the ship and prepared to drop back down and finish the job.
Eliminate all passengers. The controller's demands had been clear.
"Shit! Look!" Delta-Two yelled from the rear seat, pointing out the window. "Speedboat!"
Delta-One spun and saw a bullet-riddled Crestliner speedboat skimming away from the Goya into the darkness.
He had a decision to make.
Corky's bloody hands gripped the wheel of the Crestliner Phantom 2100 as it pounded out across the sea. He rammed the throttle all the way forward, trying to eke out maximum speed. It was not until this moment that he felt the searing pain. He looked down and saw his right leg spurting blood. He instantly felt dizzy.
Propping himself against the wheel, he turned and looked back at the Goya, willing the helicopter to follow him. With Tolland and Rachel trapped up on the catwalk, Corky had not been able to reach them. He'd been forced to make a snap decision.
Divide and conquer.
Corky knew if he could lure the chopper far enough away from the Goya, maybe Tolland and Rachel could radio for help. Unfortunately, as he looked over his shoulder at the illuminated ship, Corky could see the chopper still hovering there, as if undecided.
Come on, you bastards! Follow me!
But the helicopter did not follow. Instead it banked over the stern of the Goya, aligned itself, and dropped down, landing on the deck. No! Corky watched in horror, now realizing he'd left Tolland and Rachel behind to be killed.
Knowing it was now up to him to radio for help, Corky groped the dashboard and found the radio. He flicked the power switch. Nothing happened. No lights. No static. He turned the volume knob all the way up. Nothing. Come on! Letting go of the wheel, he knelt down for a look. His leg screamed in pain as he bent down. His eyes focused on the radio. He could not believe what he was looking at. The dashboard had been strafed by bullets, and the radio dial was shattered. Loose wires hung out the front. He stared, incredulous.
Of all the goddamned luck...
Weak-kneed, Corky stood back up, wondering how things could get any worse. As he looked back at the Goya, he got his answer. Two armed soldiers jumped out of the chopper onto the deck. Then the chopper lifted off again, turning in Corky's direction and coming after him at full speed.
Corky slumped. Divide and conquer. Apparently he was not the only one with that bright idea tonight.
As Delta-Three made his way across the deck and approached the grated ramp leading belowdecks, he heard a woman shouting somewhere beneath him. He turned and motioned to Delta-Two that he was going belowdecks to check it out. His partner nodded, remaining behind to cover the upper level. The two men could stay in contact via CrypTalk; the Kiowa's jamming system ingeniously left an obscure bandwidth open for their own communications.
Clutching his snub-nose machine gun, Delta-Three moved quietly toward the ramp that led belowdecks. With the vigilance of a trained killer, he began inching downward, gun leveled.
The incline provided limited visibility, and Delta-Three crouched low for a better view. He could hear the shouting more clearly now. He kept descending. Halfway down the stairs he could now make out the twisted maze of walkways attached to the underside of the Goya. The shouting grew louder.
Then he saw her. Midway across the traversing catwalk, Rachel Sexton was peering over a railing and calling desperately toward the water for Michael Tolland.
Did Tolland fall in? Perhaps in the blast?
If so, Delta-Three's job would be even easier than expected. He only needed to descend another couple of feet to have an open shot. Shooting fish in a barrel. His only vague concern was Rachel standing near an open equipment locker, which meant she might have a weapon-a speargun or a shark rifle-although neither would be any match for his machine gun. Confident he was in control of the situation, Delta-Three leveled his weapon and took another step down. Rachel Sexton was almost in perfect view now. He raised the gun.
One more step.
The flurry of movement came from beneath him, under the stairs. Delta-Three was more confused than frightened as he looked down and saw Michael Tolland thrusting an aluminum pole out toward his feet. Although Delta-Three had been tricked, he almost laughed at this lame attempt to trip him up.
Then he felt the tip of the stick connect with his heel.
A blast of white-hot pain shot through his body as his right foot exploded out from under him from a blistering impact. His balance gone, Delta-Three flailed, tumbling down the stairs. His machine gun clattered down the ramp and went overboard as he collapsed on the catwalk. In anguish, he curled up to grip his right foot, but it was no longer there.
Tolland was standing over his attacker immediately with his hands still clenching the smoking bang-stick-a five-foot Powerhead Shark-Control Device. The aluminum pole had been tipped with a pressure-sensitive, twelve-gauge shotgun shell and was intended for self-defense in the event of shark attack. Tolland had reloaded the bang-stick with another shell, and now held the jagged, smoldering point to his attacker's Adam's apple. The man lay on his back as if paralyzed, staring up at Tolland with an expression of astonished rage and agony.
Rachel came running up the catwalk. The plan was for her to take the man's machine gun, but unfortunately the weapon had gone over the edge of the catwalk into the ocean.