PHOENIX Free Chapters from the thriller series
East of Lake Turkana, Kenya, Africa – 2028
Sweat dripped from the leader’s face as he looked back to the range of mountains behind them. The chasing group were hidden from his gaze.
The group of men wound their way in single file along the grassless and barren shores of Lake Turkana. Running in a northerly direction, they followed an old path that had been used by fishermen and herders for generations. Their pace was at a steady lope, like the jackal that once roamed the grasslands. There was a determined urgency in the men’s gait. Each man focused on the sandaled heels of his comrade in front of him, all of them following the lead of the tall, dreadlocked man who ran up front. The heavy and tattered backpacks they all carried swayed rhythmically in time with each footfall on the dusty red ground. Machine guns, pistols, axes and their trademark machetes added to their burden.
The leader glanced behind them again, scanning the mountainous horizon for any signs of movement. As the sun approached its zenith, Chilemba Wangai eventually slowed up his pace and came to rest under a lone acacia tree beside the dusty path. The long laboured breaths of his men showed him that they were grateful for the opportunity to rest and have a drink of water, which they all sipped cautiously from their water bags. Not a precious drop could be wasted.
‘Fellow warriors of the Njenga Mungiki gang. Gather around quickly for we can only rest for a few minutes,’ Chilemba said, breathing deeply as his men approached. With a casual flick, he tossed his dreadlocks over his lean muscled shoulder and wiped his brow with the back of his hand. His brown t-shirt was soaked through and stained from where the backpack had been in contact with his body.
The men squatted down on their haunches in front of him, as was their custom, glistening beads of sweat running down their faces and dripping down onto the parched soil. They all took long, deep breaths, cooling their bodies down as fast as they could. The shimmering heat haze that rose from the barren landscape closed in on them, oppressing any cooling breeze.
‘Dudu Njenga, our fallen father, would have been proud of this fierce pace, my warriors,’ he said, looking at the rag-tag bunch of men squatting around him who all wore different lengths of khaki pants, sleeveless shirts and tyre tread homemade sandals. Chilemba glanced up at the rocky escarpment they had just descended from. Still, nothing moved. He hoped his men didn’t notice his concern. He locked eyes with one of the runners sitting across from him. One who knew his soul as well as he did. One who knew the danger that followed them.
Chilemba looked around at the proud marauders he led, all of them staring intensely at him, waiting for their next instructions, waiting for him to take the lead again. He rubbed at the itching poultice that covered the grenade shrapnel wound on his forearm. The pain was intense, but he wouldn’t let it show.
‘Men, our two comrades who volunteered to wait behind to observe the mangy hyenas who chase us and want to send us to meet with our forefathers, should have caught up by now. I fear that they have perished,’ Chilemba said.
‘Jackson Bayo. Brother, do we wait for the others?’ Chilemba enquired of his second in command. The man squatting across from him was shorter than Chilemba but more muscular and wore the scars of battle across his face. He clenched his jaw out of habit while he thought.
‘Brother, the men tracking us are getting closer, and I agree, our cadres might have been killed. If we keep stopping, sooner or later we will be caught. It is your decision that we will listen to, and obey.’
‘We will head out and stop only once more today, and then we will assume that they have been captured or made their way to Ethiopia,’ Chilemba said.
One of the other Mungiki members said. ‘We agree with your decision, Chilemba. We will follow where you lead.’
‘Jackson, take the lead,’ Chilemba said, pointing north with his outstretched hand. All the men rose slowly, adjusted their backpacks and slipped their machine guns over their shoulders.
‘Forward,’ shouted Jackson. He jogged along the path, and in unison, all the men followed and slipped in behind one another. Within a few paces, they were in the perfect rhythm again, and Chilemba fell in at the rear of the group, smiling fondly at the thought of his ever serious friend up front.
With the monotony of the barren landscape continuing, Jackson eventually shouted from the front of the column, and the men rapidly came to halt. The rocky floor of the valley went on for as far as the eye could see and they were stood at a junction in the dusty path. Jackson turned to Chilemba.
‘Which way, brother?’ Jackson called.
Chilemba briefly looked down both dirt paths, and then said. ‘Head up into the mountains, the other path goes to Lake Chew Bahir. We can hope that they think we have gone south.’
The tired group of men started their slog up the winding path. The landscape resembled a plateau on an alien planet, the narrow dusty path winding through areas of large rounded boulders and splintered scree that littered the valley sides, forcing the men to stick to the stony path. They moved through the midday heat without stopping, as the path continued relentlessly upwards through the valleys. Legs and lungs burned from the strain of climbing towards the heights of Ethiopia.
The occasional dead acacia tree and clumps of small lifeless shrubs became more prevalent as they moved onto a higher plateau. Small dust devils whipped up in the gusting wind and Chilemba could not remember when last he had felt the refreshing sensation of raindrops washing down his skin.
Suddenly Jackson’s clenched fist shot up into the air, no order came from his lips. Everyone stopped immediately. Chilemba felt his gut tighten, and his hand dropped down to his machete. All of the men went down onto one knee, instinctively reaching down to slip the safeties off their machine guns. They waited in silence as Chilemba made his way to the front, he knelt beside Jackson, who pointed down to the floor of the valley.
Nestled amongst a clump of dead acacia trees was a small rural village. Eight huts were positioned in a semi-circle around a central fire and a much larger dwelling. All had blackened grass roofs that shimmered in the sun while traditional white painted patterns and markings adorned the mud-covered walls, which were instrumental in keeping the occupants cool in the scorching African sun.
‘Any movement down there?’ Chilemba asked.
Jackson shook his head, eyes trained on the nearby valley walls. ‘I see no movement anywhere, it seems deserted,’ he said.
‘The path takes us right through the middle of it. We cannot go around it either. We will lose too much time,’ Chilemba said.
Jackson nodded. ‘It will also be risky to go through the village because this narrow path will mean we cannot fan out or flank it from either side. We will be easy targets. It is very risky, my brother.’
Chilemba sat studying the small innocuous village. The livestock paddock was empty, so the men and boys could be out looking for grazing, and the woman might be fetching water or firewood. It would still have left the elders and young children, running around. There was no gentle spiral of smoke from the open fire, or puff of smoke from a hastily extinguished one either.
‘It is deserted, I can feel it,’ Chilemba said.
Jackson looked at his friend and nodded. ’I trust your instincts as my own, brother.’
As one person, they rose from their haunches, repositioned their weapons and made their way down into the silent valley.
With their senses heightened, they walked into the small village and spread out to walk between the small round huts. The smooth hardened floor around the blackened central fireplace and semi-circle of huts was baked solid by the sun, and would usually have been swept clean each day by the women. A layer of dust had been blown down from the valley wall, with small acacia leaves pushed up against the mud steps in front of the open doorways. The residents had long since left their homes and no personal possessions were left behind, indicating that the tribe had simply moved on to better things. Chilemba let off a short, sharp whistle and gestured to all the men to join him in front of the large main hut.
‘Sit, everyone. We’ll rest for fifteen minutes,’ Chilemba said. ‘We will wait this one final time and see if our scouts can catch up with news.’
‘Will the gang follow us into Ethiopia?’ one of the men asked.
‘If they are part of a bigger gang, they might give up and return home, but if it is only a small roving gang, then they will follow us across the border,’ Chilemba replied.
‘Should we not wait for them to catch up and settle this?’ asked Jackson.
‘This is not the place to stage an ambush, Jackson. If we can find such a place, we will fight. We don’t have enough ammunition for a frontal attack. We need to lie in ambush,’ Chilemba said.
‘Like the puff adder,’ one of the men replied.
Chilemba smiled. ‘Like the puff adder.’
‘Remember how we used to set ambushes for the hyenas that raided our goat herds at home? So we shall wait for the best opportunity to kill this chasing pack,’ Jackson said.
‘I remember with great fondness those youthful, carefree days we had shared before Dudu Njenga kidnapped us to serve in his army,’ Chilemba said.
‘We became men very quickly, brother,’ Jackson replied.
‘You became a man a long time before that, Jackson. The day you took your spear and ran it through the leopard that was on top of me, tearing at my flesh. The whole village hailed your coming of age.’
‘This is true. Those were terrible wounds, my brother.’
‘All have long healed thanks to you and the kind missionaries who helped raise us. I still owe you a life debt.’
‘Which you will settle when you get the chance, brother.’
‘That I will. Maybe when we are clear of this dry place, I will find you a nice fat wife to tend your fire and your bed,’ Chilemba said.
The group sat on their haunches in front of the scraped-out fireplace and ate dried fish and wild cabbage out of a small plastic container. The gusting wind had died down in the village, and there was silence on the valley floor.
One of the other men nearest to Chilemba asked. ‘From Lake Chew Bahir, are we to progress straight to Addis Ababa? What happens when we get there? I hear that it is a difficult city to live and work in.’
Chilemba was silent for a while before turning to Jackson, who answered for him. ‘We have been running for nearly nine years now and have nothing to show for it, our families are most likely murdered, our country is no longer able to provide for her children, our future is dark and dangerous.’ All the men looked down at the dry soil beneath their feet, nodding in silent acknowledgement.
‘After Dudu was killed, Chilemba and I started talking about leaving our beloved Africa for the shores of the abundant Europe. The white missionaries told us so much about it. A place where fields are green, rain falls in abundance every day, and a man can raise and feed many cattle. A great place to raise a family.’
The sound of scree and falling rocks broke the reverie, and they all swung their weapons in the direction of the path that led into the village. Stumbling towards them were two figures. One of the men, who had his bloodied arm around the taller man’s shoulder, had blood stains all over the front his green shirt, and he dragged his left foot, using his AK47 as a walking stick.
‘Help them,’ Chilemba shouted.
Two of Chilemba’s men ran out to meet the men and helped carry the wounded man into the village. His face was a mask of pain, and he winced every time one of the helping men moved in the slightest. Blood dripped down the front of his shirt and his eyes rolled back in their sockets.
‘Lay him against that hut and get him something for a pillow,’ Chilemba ordered. ‘Get him water, Jackson.’
‘No, brother, do not waste your water on me, my time has come. Water will not help me now,’ the wounded man replied.
Chilemba knelt beside the wounded man and took his hand. ‘Speak, young Chambonda.’
‘There are around thirty men tracking us including three of those mangy London Boys. They are heavily armed and about five kilometres behind us. They were tracking easily on the dusty path,’ he struggled to say, his breathing laboured and the pain evident on his face.
‘How long until they reach us?’ Chilemba asked.
‘About an hour. Leave me ammunition and a grenade and I will hold them off as long as I am able. I cannot travel anymore and will be pleased to take them with me to meet my ancestors,’ he said, grabbing Chilemba’s hand.
Chilemba swallowed hard, and he looked deep into his comrade’s eyes. He unclipped a grenade from his military webbing and pressed it into the man’s bloody hand. ‘Your sacrifice will not be forgotten, brother.’
Chilemba walked away from his men towards the edge of the village, looking up at the spot where their pursuers would come over the ridge. He turned to look at his small group of men.
‘You two! Carry our brother into that hut over there. Make sure he can see the incoming path and has a good view of the filthy hyenas when they fall to his bullets. The rest of you, pack up,’ Chilemba said. ‘We will not waste the time that Chambonda will buy for us.’
Quickly and well-drilled, the men packed without saying a word then moved to the furthest edge of the village. Slipping into running mode, they moved up the other side of the valley, driven by a welcome rest and a new urgency. To make the time count.
The sun had started to throw long shadows across their path, and Chilemba felt the tiredness in his legs. The terrain had thankfully softened, and the narrow path had all but vanished, giving way to large whistling thorn acacias and small shrubs on either side of them. A fine carpet of green grass shoots covered the floor in between the trees, and they sensed that they were through the bad terrain for a while. One of his men shouted something from the back of the group.
He pointed to a grassy area in a thicket of small trees to their right. Hidden by large bushes, was a donkey. Excitement broke out at the sight of a possible meal.
As the group of men slowly approached the little brown animal, it looked up at them with shaggy brown hair covering its eyes, and then carried on eating. When they got near, Chilemba raised his AK47, and a second donkey calmly walked into his line of sight, followed by a few more. Two of them had crude hessian halters on them.
‘There are seven of them,’ Jackson exclaimed. ‘Scout around and see if there is an owner sitting under a tree somewhere.’
The men split up and calmly canvassed the area, and a few minutes later one of the men came running back to Chilemba. ‘We have found the old man. He is dead. It looks like old age took him.’
‘Okay then, leave him where he fell. We will take the animals and use them as a diversion,’ Chilemba said.
‘What do you have in mind, brother?’ Jackson asked.
‘The path has opened up for us because of the open terrain, and the ground is a lot softer, so we can start to anti-track. These animals can help us to create confusion and buy us more time,’ Chilemba said. ‘Tie them up in pairs. Leave the little one to run loose, and hurry, my brothers. The hyenas are near.
‘Jackson, take three men and the donkeys and head west,’ he gestured. ‘Stay on the valley floor for about two kilometres and make as much spoor as possible. Then you must anti-track and head to the top of that west ridge. We will anti-track in an easterly direction from here, and then head up to the East Ridge. Both groups can then turn north, and move onto Chew Bahir.’
Jackson nodded and smiled. ‘We will meet in Chew Bahir, then.’
‘Until then,’ Chilemba replied.
Chilemba turned and headed east, feeling revived to be doing something to thwart the pursuing men. They all followed each other, taking care to walk in one another’s footprints. The two men at the back then masterfully walked backwards and brushed away any sign of the spoor using clumps of local foliage. They didn’t have time to do it properly, and a real seasoned tracker would, on closer inspection, notice the deception, but it would slow them down.
Thirty minutes later, Chilemba walked up to an old barbed wire fence that ran in a northerly direction. He climbed onto it and slowly made his way, hand over hand, foot over foot, along the length of the fence. Although it was rusty, it could still carry a man’s weight, so his men waited their turn and one by one they followed him. Blood wetted their hands from the occasion nick of the old barbs, but they soaked up the pain. Two hundred metres along, Chilemba climbed off, and they started up the side of the valley wall again. He felt the pressure of the day release from his shoulders.
They pressed hard one final time, and as dusk turned to darkness, they crossed the border into Ethiopia.
The prison ship, ICARUS III – cell tank C – 2028
A fresh breeze flicked past the tall, athletic figure of Kyle Gibbs as he eased himself through the half open cell door and quickly climbed the iron stairs at the furthest wall of the cell block. His lungs expanded as he took a large breath and filled them with fresh virgin air.
The old rusty metal walkway led up to another locked metal door, where he paused, pressing his ear to the door to listen for the occasional scrape of the prison screws’ boots as the guards patrolled on the other side of the door. Nothing moved.
A quick look over his shoulder told him that the coast was still clear behind him. No alarm had been raised, only dark silence across the twenty-five internal prison cells that had been installed in the hull of the ship. He looked down towards the two other human forms huddled against the ship’s hull, waiting for his signal. He glanced at his wristwatch. The guard was late. Years of experience as an SAS unit leader had taught him that any plan could go wrong.
Gibbs tapped the steel door with the crude shank he had made from a piece of sheet metal. He tapped again and waited. A loud screech shattered the silence as the large corroded door bolts were slid back on the other side of the door. The oppressive heat inside the hull clawed at the skin, and he wiped his brow with his sleeve. Two muffled taps, scarcely audible, came from the outside. Gibbs crouched low and gently pushed the heavy steel door open with his shoulder, as waves of pristine air swept in and washed over him.
He lifted his right hand and signalled to the two men waiting below. They rose from the shadows and came up the walkway behind him. Without a word, they followed him through the doorway.
The service passage was dark, grimy and stacked with wooden crates and boxes of tinned goods for the galley. The three figures crept along the passage wall when suddenly the prison ship listed slightly, causing its great hull to creak and groan under the strain of its moorings. They had to pause for a second as a crate slid across in front of them, hitting the floor and shattering the silence. They froze for a few seconds then moved off until they reached the end of the passage. Gibbs stopped and listened for any approaching guards. He glanced around the corner in either direction. The long dark metal corridor was empty.
‘Clear,’ he whispered.
He glanced across at the stocky frame of Fraser ‘Shredder’ Byrne, his friend and cellmate, who had moved up beside him and nodded. ‘Two minutes to chaos,’ Gibbs whispered.
Shredder smiled and nodded. ‘Make chaos while the sun shines then.’
‘Damn, the air smells good up here,’ Malcolm ‘Killey’ Kilfoyle said, coming up alongside them. ‘Give him hell, boss.’
‘See you upstairs,’ Gibbs replied and went off to the left.
He came to a metal staircase and continued slowly up to the prison admin deck above their level. Straight across from him was the door to the infirmary, the faded old sign with the traditional Red Cross insignia on it, the only indication that this was the room where all manner of ailments and wounds of the twelve hundred inmates of the ICARUS were treated.
Slipping the shank into the left sleeve of his prison overalls, he knocked twice and entered. The room was well lit and had the distinctive hospital smell of disinfectant, mixed with the faint odour of cheap tobacco and sweat. Glass-fronted metal cabinets full of bandages, medicine and other medical supplies lined two of the light blue walls, with a dirty examination bed against the third.
‘You took your bloody time,’ barked a voice from across the room.
Sitting behind the metal desk at the back of the room was a large overweight man with a shaved head, wearing the standard prison service uniform. He was leaning forward on his elbows with a lit cigarette in his left hand, his right hand flicked through what Gibbs could safely assume was a gay porn magazine.
‘I had to be sure that nobody spotted me sneaking out,’ Gibbs replied.
‘Who the hell would see you, I organised you safe passage as was agreed,’ Clarke replied. ‘People listen to me on this ship, you know. How many baggies do you want?’
‘Four,’ replied Gibbs.
‘Four what, Gibbs?’ Clarke snapped.
‘Four bags, boss.’
‘My, my, business is booming. I will have to up my prices in the future,’ he said.
Gibbs stared at the pink scar that ran from the top of the man’s lip to the base of his nose. The scar he had given Clarke a few months earlier.
Warden Clarke lifted his hand to mask his mouth. ‘I still bloody owe you for this, Gibbs,’ he threatened.
‘I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in you. Try it on with me again and the result will be the same,’ Gibbs replied.
Boss Clarke stared at Gibbs for a little while. ‘So what do you want, convict? I have anti-freeze, Capital H and flea powder.’
‘Two C H, two flea powder, boss,’ Gibbs replied.
Clarke sorted out four cellophane baggies from the open desk drawer to his left and slid them across the desk to Gibbs. ‘Fifty pounds cash.’
Gibbs slowly withdrew a wad of notes from his trouser pocket and tossed them on the desk. ‘Better check that, boss, you know us cons.’
Clarke ripped off the rubber band and fiddled with the notes. Gibbs glanced down to Clarke’s waist at the holstered Glock 17 pistol. The idiot hadn’t holstered it properly and the small leather retaining strap was unclipped.
Gibbs’s movements were a blur as he lunged at Clarke, letting the shank slide into his left hand from inside his sleeve. At the same time, he drove a sledgehammer right hook into the meaty face of the startled prison warden, whose lip exploded in a bloody red mess. With a third swift movement, Gibbs slipped the shank up under his chin, applying a little upward pressure.
‘Scream or move too quickly, you die. Fart without my permission, you die. You get the picture, fat boy?’
The bleeding warden looked up at Gibbs with a mixture of panic and hatred.
Gibbs walked around the desk, keeping the pressure on the thick throat of the prison warden.
‘I’ll take these,’ he said, as he relieved the warden of his pistol and two magazines. His trained hand judged the weight of the Glock. It was fully loaded. Thirty-four rounds were more than enough.
A loud shrill alarm rang out through the ship. Gibbs flicked a glance towards the door. Clarke quickly reached up for the shank at his throat and tried to pull it away. Gibbs swung his gun arm and smashed the Glock into Clarke’s temple, with a force that toppled the big man and the chair over onto its side. Gibbs stood motionless over the warden’s unconscious body, adrenaline coursing through his veins.
After a few deep breaths, he walked over and smashed the glass cabinet doors with the handle of the Glock, reaching in for a few rolls of strong adhesive bandage.
He taped the warden’s mouth shut then rolled him onto his stomach and hogtied him where he lay. Gibbs reached down and felt Clarke’s pulse, faint but there.
He crossed to one of the portholes, conscious of the time he had spent since the alarm had been triggered. Gibbs flicked open the two brass clasps that sealed the porthole and swung open the heavy round window. Cold sea air blasted through, cooling his face.
Easing his head through the porthole, he glanced up at the guardhouse that had been built as a lookout tower, overlooking the green deck of the old converted supertanker. The rifle barrel sticking out of the window meant that there was a guard on duty. Gibbs pulled himself through the porthole onto the icy wet ladder rungs. Adjacent to the guardhouse was another open porthole, which was his next target.
Gibbs pulled the Glock pistol out of his belt when he reached the rungs just below the eye line of the guard. He could hear panicked voices blaring out from the man’s radio and smiled.
In one fluid motion, he pulled himself up, with his gun hand leading the way. The man in the guardhouse paused with a quizzical look on his face before trying to swing his rifle up to meet Gibbs. Two quick rounds to the chest put paid to any chances of retaliation and the guard slumped to his knees in the small confines of the tower, draped over his sniper’s rifle.
Gibbs swung across to the porthole and quickly glanced in. In the dull light of the crew’s cabin, he could see that his men had trapped a group of the wardens in the room. They all stood with their backs facing the porthole, weapons pointing away from him, and aimed at the door on the other side of the cabin. The Glock recoiled in his hand as he fired four warning shots through the porthole into the wood-panelled ceiling, sending splinters down onto the men, who all dived to the floor.
‘Drop your weapons,’ Gibbs shouted.
‘Don’t shoot, please don’t kill us,’ one of the men shouted.
‘Everyone on your feet,’ Shredder snarled from the doorway where they were hunkered down. The eight prison guards all got to their feet and placed their hands on their heads.
Gibbs swung in through the open porthole into the dark room. ‘Do what we tell you and no one will get hurt.’
Shredder, Killey and three others walked in through the opposite doorway.
‘Complications?’ Gibbs asked.
‘We ran into a little trouble in the stairwell. One of their boys was having a smoke, saw us and tripped the bloody alarm too early. We got him in the end, but these cretins obviously knew something was up and hunkered down in here.’
‘Good thing my part of the plan went well. We could have been at this for hours,’ Gibbs said.
‘Ain’t that the truth,’ Shredder said.
‘Jones, tie them up and collect all their weapons,’ Gibbs said. ‘Killey, take one of their radios and find out if there is any chatter on the line,’ he ordered.
‘Aye, sir,’ Killey replied, grabbing one of the handsets and headed towards the main door.
‘Shredder, where’s the ship’s chief officer?’ Gibbs said.
‘Still, in his quarters, we have a man on the door now,’ he replied.
‘Well, let’s go and talk to him then, we will need his help on the bridge,’ Gibbs said.
‘I’ll stay here with this lot and make sure they don’t escape,’ Shredder said.
‘Okay then, but don’t stay too long. The boys on the bridge will be a little panicked by now,’ Gibbs said.
‘Any news on the radio, Killey?’
‘Just got onto their frequency, no major chatter, someone on the bridge is chatting to the prison service on the mainland. It seems the alarm is linked to prison service HQ, so they are aware something is up. They think that someone has gone overboard again. You’ll have more news when I get it, boss,’ Killey replied.
‘Good man,’ Gibbs said. ‘Stay here and help Shredder tie these men up. No more bruising than is necessary.’
‘Yes, boss, no punching, I promise.’
Gibbs left the crew’s living quarters and headed down a wooden clad walkway to where he could see Smithy sitting outside a closed door. Smithy nodded his head towards the closed door as Gibbs approached. ‘He is not a happy man.’
Gibbs smiled. ‘Would you be?’
Gibbs knocked on the door and walked into the chief officer’s quarters. ‘Good evening, Chief. Sorry to have to take control of your ship like this.’
A dishevelled grey-haired man looked up from where he was sitting on the edge of his unmade bed and snarled. ‘Just how many of my men have you bastards killed?’
Gibbs sat down in front of the chief, on the only chair in the cluttered room.
‘Chief, we can get through this painlessly if you let us have access to the bridge. We only have one demand…’
‘You want to get off this ship,’ interrupted the chief. ‘Well, that’s not going to happen, as I am sure you realise by the bloody alarm, everyone knows what you are up to.’
‘Chief, we have been listening to the chatter on the radio and your paymasters seem to think that it’s just another poor escape attempt by someone going overboard. They probably believe that the snipers will have picked off that person by now, sending all the evidence to the depths.’
‘Sonny, there is no way they will let you get off this ship. Those are the cold hard facts. They have by now positioned men along the shore with high-powered rifles trained on this vessel.’
The two men stared at each other for a few seconds until Gibbs broke the silence. ‘Who said we want to go onshore? It was never a consideration. Why do you think we want to get on the bridge? We want to head out to sea and out of these bleeding waters.’
The chief burst out laughing. ‘Okay then, sonny, we’ll head out with only one working engine and nearly no fuel on board. Just how far do you think we’ll get, ten, twelve miles? Then what?’
‘And you expect me to believe that, do you? We can take the bridge without you, but then I cannot guarantee the safety of your men,’ he said, before getting to his feet.
Gibbs made his way back to the crew’s quarters and ducked through the doorway. The gagged and bound prison guards nervously followed his movements, their eyes filled with fear. Silver duct tape had been used to tie them up, and Gibbs sensed they would all cooperate. The man nearest to the door let out a low moan as the silver tape was ripped from across his mouth.
‘Who is the chief engineer of this ship? Point him out to me and don’t dick me around or I’ll fucking throw you overboard,’ Gibbs said.
‘The chief engineer is on duty on the bridge tonight. The second engineer is the guy on the end, near the wall.’
Gibbs nodded and stuck the tape back over the guard’s mouth.
‘You the second engineer?’ he asked. The man nodded. Gibbs ripped the tape from his mouth, causing the man to wince with pain.
‘How many engines does this tug have and what condition are they in?’ Gibbs asked, taking a seat on the bed opposite the second engineer. He slipped the Glock out from his belt and placed it on the bed next to him.
‘The ship was decommissioned a year ago. The Icarus is not meant to go anywhere.’
‘I’ll ask you one more time,’ Gibbs said, picking up the Glock. ‘How many engines?’
‘Two engines, sir. One is unserviceable, and the other is passed its service date, but it will still run,’ he replied, glancing at the pistol.
‘What range of fuel do we have left in the tanks?’ Gibbs asked.
‘Ten or twenty nautical miles max, sir,’ he replied.
‘Arrrgh…’ someone screamed from the door. Gibbs looked up to see Killey, face red with anger as he left the room.
Gibbs found Killey half way down the walkway, both hands up against the wall, taking a few deep breaths. He looked up at Gibbs. ‘Bloody morons, couldn’t even look after this ship.’
Gibbs stood next to him. ‘Calm down, mate, we have been in worse scrapes than this and have always managed to think of something.’
‘Our plan has just gone down with this bleeding ship, and you know it,’ he retorted.
‘That it has. What do we do when the plan gets shot to pieces, we come up with another,’ Gibbs said.
Killey sighed, forcing a grin. ‘Well, we had better come up with another plan soon as I’m sure the cavalry will be here soon.’
Gibbs leant back against the walkway wall and was silent for a while. He reached around to his back pocket and felt the cool metal of the two iron keys that Warden Clarke had given to him a few months before. Keys that had allowed them to leave their cell. He took them out and looked down at them in his hand. ‘Let them come. We can use the crew as leverage to negotiate our position. I was given these two keys to help get us out of here, so someone higher up the food chain, than Clarke, has other plans for us.’
‘Yes, boss, but who?’ Killey asked.
‘I guess a senior figure in the Billionaires Club wants us back in London for one reason or another. And we want to find out which one of those buggers was responsible for locking us up in the first place. I say we oblige them by getting out of here.’
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