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|Chapter 42: Kaboom!|
Lake Timsah lay like a pool of ink purest black under the as-yet moonless night sky. A few lights from moored freighters glistened on the waters, and to the west, the lights of the buildings along the shore formed an inconstant band of golden light. The sultry desert night air hung heavy, with only the occasional faint breath of breeze offering momentary respite from the oppressive humidity.
At the Ismailia Yacht Club’s dock, lit by widely spaced bright lights, the fueling of the trimaran Outcast was nearing its conclusion, and Trevor found himself becoming ever more tempted by the prospect of buying some of the discounted fuel for Atlantis.
The lighting on the dock, provided by a row of pole-mounted sodium lamps, cast islands of tinted light along the dock, one of them serving to illuminate the Outcast, making her, and the people nearby, visible from offshore. One set of eyes, those of Ghassan, Trevor’s former pilot, studied the scene with great care.
Ghassan had been keeping a purposeful watch from a discrete distance, ever since boarding his pilot boat and leaving the immediate area of the yacht club.
Trevor chewed on his lip for a moment, deep in thought, glancing out into the darkness to where Atlantis was moored. His eyes narrowed as he noticed an unfamiliar addition to Atlantis’s silhouette. “I think I’ve got company: there’s a boat moored to the other side of Atlantis.” Trevor said, turning to race for his Zodiac.
Mohamed looked out at Atlantis, and then held up a hand to stop Trevor. “Wait, I can help. Do not go alone. I’ll get one of the guards from the shack. Act calmly, in case we are being watched,” Mohamed glanced pointedly at the overhead dockside lights. “If we can surprise them, maybe we can catch whoever is aboard.”
“I’ll walk to my Zodiac, it’s about thirty yards up the dock and it’s fast,” Trevor said, wanting any help he could get.
Mohamed walked towards the guard shack, and Tim said to Trevor, “Come on, I’ll go with you.”
Forty yards away, aboard Atlantis, Ghassan handed two jerry cans of gasoline to his driver on the pilot boat, and then glanced ashore again. He’d been keeping an eye on the dock, and particularly on Trevor.
Ghassan had been watching when Trevor had gone ashore, and that act by Trevor had made Atlantis Ghassan’s target, by virtue of the fact that she was moored offshore, and unlike the other offshore yachts, Ghassan knew that Trevor was sailing solo. As soon as darkness had fallen, Ghassan had ordered the pilot boat in...
Ghassan looked at the items already on the pilot boat, looted from Atlantis’s cockpit area. Ghassan had been conservative; he preferred to steal things whose absence would not be noticed right away, and so had avoided taking exposed items such as Atlantis’s helm instruments. Instead, he’d limited himself mainly to the accessible storage compartments.
Trevor’s return from Ismailia had been noted by Ghassan, who had decided that it would be better to cut their pillaging a little short rather than risk discovery. Grabbing one last item – a life jacket – he hopped board the pilot boat, telling its driver to pull away slowly and head directly out into the lake, keeping Atlantis between themselves and the dock.
As Trevor and Tim neared the Zodiac, Mohamed and one of the guards approached at a fast walk from the side. Trevor heard the rumble of the pilot boat’s engines, and jumped into his Zodiac, fumbling to unlock the bicycle chain as the others clambered aboard, with the guard taking a seat in the front and unlimbering his AK47.
Trevor started the engine, swinging away from the dock and opening the throttle wide.
The guard spoke to Mohamed in hurried Arabic, and Mohamed translated for Trevor, “You must go to your boat first, to see what has been done. Without proof that a crime has occurred, he can do nothing, but if anything has been stolen, he can use force to stop them if he has to. We can still catch them, if you hurry.”
As they neared Atlantis’s stern, Trevor could see the pilot boat, running with no lights, receding into the darkness beyond. He judged its speed to be about twelve knots, and thought he could still catch it at the Zodiac’s full speed of over twenty knots.
When they reached Atlantis, Trevor nosed hard into the swim-dive platform, and Tim took the Zodiac’s controls, holding it in place with the engine as Trevor raced aboard Atlantis.
Trevor jumped down into the cockpit and flicked on the cockpit lights. He had feared the worst, but his first brief impression was that everything was okay; the salon door was still locked, and his helm station instruments were still in place. He looked at the dive gear storage lockers, seeing that their locks were still in place. Then, he raced to check the under-seat lockers in the cockpit, some of which were not locked – he’d never considered them worth locking. First, he noticed that his jerry cans were gone, along with his propane tanks, and with that discovery, Trevor leaped out of the cockpit, onto the rear deck, yelling his findings to the men waiting in the Zodiac.
Trevor raced to the Zodiac, leaping aboard and taking over the controls. He advanced to full throttle before yelling over the roar of the engine, “They took stuff from the lockers, including some jerry cans of gasoline and some other gear.”
Mohamed translated, and the guard made a phone call before replying to Mohamed, who translated for Trevor, “See if you can catch up to the boat. We just have to keep it in sight; the police have a launch in the canal to our south, so they might be able to intercept.”
Trevor squinted into the darkness, wishing he’d had time to grab his night vision scope from his cabin. The lights of distant buildings and ships glinted off the dark lake waters, but Trevor could no longer see the escaping pilot boat. Taking his best guess, he continued southeast across Lake Timsah. Trevor fumed, wondering how much else had been taken, and craving the return of his stolen gear.
Ghassan had seen the men board the Zodiac and race out to Atlantis. He had watched, concern turning to dread as he saw the Zodiac, visible due to the lights of the yacht club behind it, leave Atlantis and turn in pursuit. Ghassan knew that he could not outrun the Zodiac, but he thought he could evade it.
Using his intimate knowledge of the area, Ghassan ordered a course change of twenty degrees to port, placing the pilot boat – from the perspective of the Zodiac – in the blackness formed by the southern channel to the canal.
The Zodiac raced along in a straight line, its course diverging from the pilot boat but still closing the gap, but Ghassan had chosen his own course with care, and knew that he needed to remain unobserved for just a few more seconds....
Ghassan spat out a series of instructions to his driver, ordering him to pass forward of the bow of an anchored freighter and then turn sharply, to put its bulk between them and their pursuers. As soon as they were concealed, he had the driver cut the engines.
Aboard the Zodiac, Trevor had concerns of his own. He knew they should have come close enough to the fleeing boat to see it, but he could discern no sign of it. He shut off the outboard, listening for the sound of engines as the Zodiac burbled to a near halt.
On the pilot boat, Ghassan gave the items he’d stolen a nervous glance, knowing that the Canal Authority was willing to tolerate some things, but not the outright looting of passing yachts. The stolen items, if discovered by the authorities, could get him in trouble, costing him a considerable sum in bribes in order to retain his job. He also knew the Zodiac was out there somewhere, searching for him. He was also fairly sure that one of the men he’d seen board it was a yacht club guard, which made him an off-duty Ismailia police officer. All those factors, taken together, were enough to make Ghassan reluctantly decide that the items he’d stolen were not worth the risk. With a grumble of frustration, he began lifting them gently over the side, one by one.
The life jackets floated easily, but propane tanks and jerry cans were only barely light enough to float, drifting mostly concealed beneath the dark waters. A movement on the freighter caught Ghassan’s eye, and he noticed the silhouettes of two crewmen at the freighter’s rail.
A pilot boat would not arouse any suspicion, but Ghassan was reluctant to linger in proximity to the jettisoned stolen goods. With a last glance at his lost loot, Ghassan told the boat’s driver to pull away at low speed and head for the canal’s main channel.
The Zodiac drifted in the darkness, but Trevor was unable to hear the pilot boat, half a mile to the southeast on the far side of the freighter, motoring gently ever further away.
“I can’t hear anything,” Trevor said resignedly, angered by the knowledge that the chase was lost. For a few moments, he wondered if the delay to check Atlantis had been an intentional ploy to slow him down. Trevor soon dismissed the notion, realizing that the guard could easily have delayed him longer, and that the need to know if a crime had actually been committed was a rational one.
Mohamed and the guard conversed in whispered Arabic, and then Mohamed said, “This man,” he pointed at the guard, “is also a police officer, and he says he will report this theft, but unless you have some way of identifying the boat, there may be little he can do.”
Trevor sighed, and restarted the engine, turning to motor back to the dock at a more sedate pace. “I just saw an outline of its superstructure.”
“I caught a glimpse when we reached Atlantis; it looked like a canal pilot boat to me,” Tim said.
The guard and Mohamed conversed in Arabic, and then Mohamed said, “He thinks the same, but there are many in these waters. He wants to return to your boat, so you can determine exactly what was taken, and he will report it and do what he can. He said he can give you a copy of the report, for your insurance company.”
Tim nodded knowingly. “The canal transit insurance won’t cover this, but your own insurance might. However, be careful. If you report it, there’s your deductible to consider, plus any rate hikes it might cause. Got any idea on a value?”
Trevor shrugged. “I’ll need to check to see if anything else was taken, but the life jackets were the most expensive things missing; they run about fifty bucks each. The jerry cans and the gasoline... maybe fifty bucks total. Same for the propane tanks. So around two hundred, which is less than my deductible.”
They stopped at Atlantis, and Trevor conducted a more thorough check, adding just a flashlight and a small tool kit to the list of stolen items.
When they returned to the dock, Trevor thanked the guard, who returned to his duty post, and then he thanked Mohamed.
Trevor walked back to Outcast with Tim and Mohamed, where Mohamed resumed the interrupted fueling operation. Trevor glanced at Mohamed’s car and tanker trailer, and then asked, “Do you have any jerry cans you’d like to sell?”
“Need some diesel too, Trev? Carla can anchor Outcast offshore so you can moor here, and I’ll keep an eye on your boat,” Tim offered.
Trevor thought it over for a moment, and then asked Mohamed, “How much for a hundred and fifty gallons of diesel, two propane tanks, plus two jerry cans of gasoline, and one empty one?”
“One hundred and eighty dollars, but no propane tanks, for I have none.” Mohamed replied.
Trevor glanced at Tim, who looked at the ground. Trevor took the hint: offer lower. “One hundred forty,” Trevor offered.
“Yes, if you take care of the guards,” Mohamed replied.
Trevor looked apprehensively towards the guard shack, which was hidden by some buildings.
“Just like I did, two tens in your passport,” Tim said.
Trevor hesitated, and Mohamed chuckled. “I know them well: there is no danger, but if you wish, just give me the money for them when we reach the gate and I will do it.”
With an embarrassed smile, the tension from the chase easing, Trevor agreed.
When the fueling was done, Tim and Carla said goodbye to Mohamed, telling him that they’d see him again in a few weeks. Trevor dashed for his Zodiac, racing out to Atlantis and raising her anchors.
He waited until Outcast pulled clear, and then moored at the dock. Before locking up, he activated his fuel transfer pump, sending diesel from his starboard tank to his port tank. It was a sensible precaution: though he would test the fuel with his own test kit, the transfer would leave him with one full tank of proven fuel, just in case there were problems with what he was purchasing. It was a habit he’d learned in the Bahamas, after getting a load of contaminated diesel from an old fuel dock.
Trevor left with Mohamed for the run to the filling station and back, and when they approached the guard shack with their load of fuel, Trevor handed Mohamed his passport and a twenty-dollar bill.
“No, not this, two tens,” Mohamed said, returning the twenty to Trevor.
Trevor pulled out two tens, handing them to Mohamed, who handed them to the guard who was at the window. It was the same guard who had accompanied them on the chase, and he gave Trevor a friendly wave.
As soon as they were waved through, Mohamed laughed. “Never give them a single bill to split, or they will squabble like old women.”
Trevor tested the fuel with his kit, finding it free of microbes or particulates. They fueled Atlantis, topping up her tank, replacing the fuel used since Trevor had left Florida.
When they were done, he paid Mohamed, who wished him a safe voyage. Trevor hesitated for a moment: he’d been half expecting a demand for baksheesh. Thinking of the hundreds of dollars he’d just saved, Trevor said, “Hang on a second, I have something for you.”
Trevor came back with a carton of cigarettes. “These are for you, and thanks.” Trevor was happy to do it, feeling that he’d much rather give them to someone who had helped him instead of in extortion to the pilots and other canal officials. He still had one carton remaining, and figured that would be enough.
Mohamed took the cigarettes, thanked Trevor, and turned to go. Once he was in his car, he leaned out the window and said, “Be careful of the pilots and other canal authority people. A few are righteous but most are thieves. For pilots, ten dollars and two packs of cigarettes, no more. They will demand more, but they do that anyway. Just refuse. For the boat drivers, one pack, nothing more. And, as you saw tonight, beware of leaving your boat unattended. If you must do so, have someone watch it.” With a friendly wave, Mohamed pulled away.
Trevor, deep in thought, watched him go. He felt deeply moved, and the money he’d saved had nothing to do with it.
Officer Mike Gonzalez stared out of his office window, watching as the palm trees whipped around in the wind and driving rain. A sharp crack of thunder made the building shake, as the summer thunderstorm rolled eastward.
The stormy weather was a good match for Gonzalez’s mood. His cold case investigations were stalled, every one of them. He’d eased off the investigation into Dirk Carlson on his own initiative, proffering to spend his time on more promising cases. One of those was the Bellevue case, but he’d found no new leads so far. He was tempted to curtail that one as well, but Bridget Bellevue’s arrogance had infuriated him more than once, and his gut feel was that she was guilty as hell of her husband’s murder and perhaps that of Rachel Carlson as well. Officer Gonzalez loathed the thought of anyone getting away with murder, so he began to plan out his coming moves in the case. He knew it would be a long, slow process, requiring a lot of good old-fashioned legwork, but Mike Gonzalez knew it would be worth it in the end.
One glaring gap in the Bellevue case file was a direct interview with Dirk Carlson, so Gonzalez fired off another e-mail to Jim, letting him know that he would not wait much longer before forcing the issue.
The burning sun rose above the desolate Sinai desert, painting Ismailia in a golden glow and portending another stifling, searing day.
With a buzz and a roar, the pilots began arriving by boat, a few at a time. When a boat received its pilot, it would proceed southeast, crossing Lake Timsah, heading for the main channel of the canal, where the convoy assembled for its passage to Suez
The new pilot, Akmehd, was an enigma to Trevor. He was outwardly devout – whereas his prior one had not been – and his first request was to use the forward deck for his morning prayers.
The canal transit began, with the yachts proceeding single-file. Trevor conned Atlantis from the port helm, and Akmhed spent most of the transit yelling into the VHF radio in Arabic. The replies he received were similarly loud, and Trevor’s correct guess was that Akmehd was passing the time by bickering with his fellow yacht pilots.
Just south of Lake Timsah, Trevor began seeing the detritus of war; burned-out tanks and APCs, bombed-out fortifications and other signs of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, which had seen Egyptian forces making eastbound assault crossings of the canal in the early days, followed by an Israeli westbound counter-offensive later in the war. The battles had been fierce, and as Trevor could see, their scars remained.
The breeze created by Atlantis’s forward motion provided only a slight respite from the sweltering heat. Trevor wiped his brow, looking out at the now-monotonous scenery. Advertising billboards and war memorials dotted the banks, providing occasional moments of interest, and Trevor wished that he’d thought to get a guidebook.
Early Saturday morning, Bridget checked the AIS radar site on George’s computer, only to find it useless for her purposes; it showed nothing south of Ismailia. She waited for a while, pacing in George’s family room. Finally, her face brightening, she said, “We can see ships in the canal north of Ismailia, and they wouldn’t be there if a warship was transiting. Therefore, I surmise that Trevor is either in transit or waiting to depart due to some delay. Either way, he will be aboard Atlantis and will likely be so for several hours. It is early afternoon there... I think it is time to do what must be done.”
George gave Bridget a sympathetic smile. “I’ll be back after the call.”
It took George only a few minutes to drive to the payphone he’d picked out near the chandlery. He parked a few yards away, and as he walked to the payphone, he looked around, checking again for any sign of security cameras.
George pulled out a pre-paid phone card that he’d purchased for cash two weeks before, and used it to pay for the call. He listened as the call went through, waiting for the other end to pick up so he could enter the detonation code. The line clicked a few times, and an obviously recorded voice came on, speaking in Arabic. George tensed up in response to the unexpected development; he didn’t speak Arabic, so he had no idea if the voice was a recording on the phone, or something else which would mean the call had not gone through. Clenching his teeth, he keyed in the three digit detonation code, only to hear the voice repeat itself. He tried the call again, receiving the same result.
What George had heard was a message from the cellular service provider Bes had used, announcing that the phone was either not on or not within a service area. There was no way for George to know the bomb was floating almost completely submerged, with its antenna facing down, depriving it of a signal.
Chewing his lip in frustration, George slammed down the phone and returned to his car. It took every ounce of his self-control to remain within the speed limit as he returned to his house.
As soon as he walked in the door, he told Bridget, “Bad news; I got a recording of some kind, in a foreign language. I don’t think the call went through.”
Bridget scowled. “This would not be occurring if they had followed our plan and used the phone’s satellite mode. No matter: triggering the bomb from here would have helped implicate Dirk and Jim, but it is not needful. I’ll let Sanchez know the problem and let his people in Egypt handle it, assuming that they are able to do so.”
Bridget composed an encrypted e-mail, and after sending it phoned a contact number, and via a code phrase let Sanchez know that he had an emergency communication waiting for him.
Each step in the process took time, and it was over an hour later that Bes received a message from Sanchez, informing him of the problem and ordering him to detonate the bomb immediately, before Atlantis reached the southern end of the canal.
Bes swore under his breath, wondering what had gone wrong. He picked up a prepaid cell phone from his inventory and drove for a few miles, before trying the bomb’s number. He too heard the recording, but in his case he understood it: the phone was not receiving calls, for whatever reason. Bes’s suspicion was that the bomb had been placed improperly, such as inside a metal locker, but he did not wish to risk speaking with Mufid about it by phone; he knew that in Egypt, the government security services often listened. So, seeing no other recourse, he phoned Mufid and arranged a meeting, and then raced for the canal.
Lisa and Joel had plans of their own. They met for breakfast, and after a run on the beach, laughing in the sun, drove to Bridget’s guesthouse, planning to spend the rest of the day there.
When they entered, Joel checked his cell phone, ensuring that it was on. “Trev said he’d call in a couple of hours,” he said, glancing at a clock.
Lisa chuckled, leading Joel to the bedroom. “He has a knack of calling while we’re having sex, so he’ll probably be early.”
The bomb, secure in its watertight propane tank, bobbed in the gentle waters. During the night it had drifted with the current, eventually coming to rest against the hull of the anchored freighter. There it had remained, but now the afternoon breeze was roiling the lake’s waters slightly. That, coupled with the small wake of passing ships, created a light chop across the water’s surface. This had the effect of causing the bomb to bump lightly against the steel hull of the freighter every few seconds.
Inside the bomb, the droplets of nitroglycerin clinging to the dynamite reacted to the repeated slight jarring. Over time, a few merged, growing larger, forming into a droplet. The oily drop, less than a gram in weight, trickled down and then fell free, falling a few inches to splatter against the metal of the tank.
Liquid nitroglycerin is a contact explosive, and the splattering was enough to detonate it. The initial explosion was tiny, roughly equivalent to a medium sized firecracker. The shockwave from the small explosion, though, was more than sufficient to trigger the tiny drops of nitroglycerin still clinging to the dynamite sticks. The resulting pressure waves traveled through the dynamite, causing all eight sticks to detonate.
The resulting blast shattered the propane tank, slamming the hull of the freighter with massive force, rupturing it instantly and blowing a hole ten feet in diameter at the waterline. The sea was already surging into the hull before the massive, roiling fireball cleared the freighter’s superstructure, rising into the clear sky with smoke and thunder.
The freighter’s crew, lounging in their break room two hundred feet from the blast, felt and heard a deep and powerful whump as the floor heaved beneath their feet. The captain dashed out onto the deck, seeing the column of thick and oily smoke bellowing up from the side of his mortally wounded ship. He sounded the master alarm, and immediately began calling mayday.
Tons of brackish water flooded into the freighter’s hull, inundating the forward cargo compartments. The ship began to settle by the bow, sinking lower in the water. Had she been at sea, she would have sunk, but in the shallow waters of Lake Timsah, she only had eight feet of water under her keel.
Ten minutes after the blast, she settled on the muddy bottom, still upright, with the top of the jagged hole created by the blast still visible, just above the water’s surface.
The mayday call brought help in the form of a fireboat, and the jagged hole, with its inward-bent shards, announced clearly that the culprit was a bomb, detonated against the exterior of the hull. Egypt had a long and troubled history with fanatics and terror, and the canal was the government’s leading source of revenue. A serious threat to its shipping was a danger to Egypt’s national interest, so the reaction of the government was swift and twofold; military police and investigators were dispatched from Cairo, and all traffic on the canal was immediately suspended: the ships ordered to anchor in place.
Orders went out to the local police; interview any witnesses and detain any plausible suspects. By late afternoon, Lake Timsah was swarming with police and investigators. As part of this, they declared a two mile exclusion zone around the freighter, even before the first team of divers went to work, scouring the lake bed under the hole with metal detectors.
For Trevor, who had been much too far away to hear or see the blast, the first sign of the explosion was his pilot telling him that the canal traffic had been halted, and the boats must anchor in place. Trevor asked why, but the pilot, Akmhed, had only been told that there had been an explosion somewhere on the canal. Trevor received the news with a little skepticism, wondering if it was true, or yet another manipulation for baksheesh on the part of the canal authorities.
After an hour, further word came; the delay would be hours at least, and possibly longer.
Trevor glanced at his watch, and phoned Joel’s cell.
Lisa answered, and upon hearing Trevor’s voice, she said with a laugh, “Hi Trev, we’re both here. We’ll call you back on Bridget’s line.”
Trevor glanced out at the canal, and then replied, “Okay, but do me a favor and check the internet for any news about the Suez Canal. We’ve been told there was some kind of explosion and all shipping has been halted in place. I’m anchored in the canal about twenty five miles north of Suez. They’re saying we could be here for a while. I tried phoning my agent but all I get is a busy signal.”
Joel, who was listening in, said, “Hi Trev, I’ve got my laptop with me, so I’ll check right away.”
Lisa and Joel called back almost immediately, and Trevor talked with Lisa for a few minutes as Joel surfed for news.
It had been over two hours since the explosion, but nothing had made it online yet, at least not that Joel could find. After a few minutes he said, “Sorry Trev, I can’t see anything, but I don’t know if I’m looking in the right places.”
Lisa’s face suddenly brightened, and as she began pulling on her clothes, she told Trevor and Joel, “I think I know who might: Bridget. I’ll go knock on her door.”
Joel nodded, and then glanced down. “Uh, I think I better put some clothes on, in case she comes back with you.”
“She’ll probably just pick up her line in the house, but yeah, coming in and finding you naked might be kind of awkward,” Lisa said, tossing Joel his shorts.
“And just why exactly is Joel naked?” Trevor asked, snickering.
“As if you didn’t know,” Lisa replied with a laugh, and then headed for the door.
“This qualifies as sexual harassment,” Joel said, standing up and struggling to pull his shorts on one-handed.
“You say that about everything I say,” Trevor replied.
“True, that,” Joel replied with a chuckle, as he sat down at the computer again. “Hey, I almost forgot to tell you; Lisa and I have an appointment at the university’s archeology department next Wednesday. I talked to them by phone a few days ago, and they’re interested in your underwater archeology idea for finding Ares.”
“I’ll have my sat phone by then, let me know how it goes, or call me while you’re there with them if you want. Thanks, man.”
“No problem, that’s what
brothers are for, dude. I told you we’ll find Ares, no matter
what,” Joel replied, as he tried yet another fruitless web
search for news.
Lisa rang Bridget’s doorbell again, and then knocked. Hearing no reply, she pulled out her cell phone, and on her way back to the guesthouse, dialed Bridget’s cell.
Bridget was in a sour and agitated mood. She was sitting next to George at his computer, looking at the AIS display for Suez, when she noticed something that instantly brightened her mood. “George, look... the ships in the canal channel; they’re all reporting zero knots as their speed. All of them. It looks like they’ve been told to halt in place,” she said, hoping that her hunch as to the reason was correct.
George looked and smiled. “Yeah, they’d lock down all traffic if a ship blew up, sure as hell. This might be our first confirmation that the bomb worked.”
Bridget smiled with relief, studying the display, when her cell rang. She glanced at the caller ID, seeing that it was Lisa, and wondering if Lisa could be calling with news of some kind, Bridget answered.
“Hi, it’s Lisa... Do you know any good news sources for the Suez Canal? There’s been some kind of an explosion–”
“An explosion, you say?” Bridget said for George’s benefit, leaning closer so that he could hear too. “Is Trevor all right?” Bridget asked, a wistful, knowing smile spreading across her face.
“He’s fine, he said he didn’t hear or see anything, but he’s had to anchor in the canal. They’ve shut down all traffic, and he says he could be stuck there for days. He called trying to find news, but Joel can’t see any.”
Bridget frowned, glancing at George in concern before replying, “My, that is disquieting. Where are you?”
“I’m in your guesthouse with Joel, and Trevor is on your landline,” Lisa replied.
“I shall be home within a few minutes. Perhaps I can think of something on the way,” Bridget said, and then ended the call. She frowned as she turned to tell George, “This bodes ill. An explosion on the canal would explain the traffic stoppage, but Trevor and his boat are fine. I do not believe in coincidences, so we need to assume that the bomb went off in the wrong location. I will see what I can find out from Trevor, both now and when I review the tapes from the guesthouse.”
When Bridget arrived at her guesthouse, she helped Joel search for news. The passage of additional time was enough for the news to hit the wire services, and Bridget had to struggle to show no outward sign of her fury when she read the first brief reports of a bomb attack on a freighter in Lake Timsah. She was certain that it was her bomb; the timing was just too close to be a coincidence.
Bridget spoke to Trevor, but he had nothing new to share. Bridget excused herself, claiming that she had an appointment, but asking Trevor, Joel, and Lisa to call her cell if they heard anything at all, and promising to call them if she leaned anything herself.
Bridget immediately returned to George’s house, where she immediately began composing an e-mail for Sanchez. As she did so, she told George what she’d learned, and then grumbled, “Such ineptitude. How could they possibly mistake a freighter for a catamaran?”
When Sanchez received the e-mail, he had the same exact thought, and composed an e-mail of his own to Bes, demanding both an explanation and a refund. Sanchez was furious... he’d personally accepted the contract, and a botched job reflected badly on him. “A temporary setback, though a bad one,” he grumbled, as he too began searching the internet for news from Suez.
By nightfall, the authorities reopened the canal, seeing no sign of a continued threat. Trevor received word that the convoy would proceed to the Suez Canal Yacht Club in Suez, where they would be met by police investigators.
They docked well after dark, mooring to the dockside at the yacht club. The massive police presence served to quell the solicitations for services and baksheesh, and Trevor was astounded when Akmehd, glancing nervously ashore at the waiting police, accepted the offered four packs of cigarettes and ten dollars with thanks, and made no attempt to argue for more. Trevor watched him go, and then turned his attention to the two police investigators who were coming aboard.
They sat with Trevor in Atlantis’s salon, asking the standard name-and-address questions, and then quizzing Trevor on his experiences in the canal.
The interview appeared routine to the officers, until Trevor mentioned the theft and the pursuit. They checked via radio, finding that a report had indeed been filed. At that point, the questioning became more intense, making Trevor a little nervous.
“When you pursued the unknown boat, which way did it go?” The older of the two men asked.
“It was heading roughly southeast across Lake Timsah when we lost it,” Trevor replied. He did not yet know that the explosion had been a bomb, and had occurred in Lake Timsah.
“Was this near another boat, maybe one moored in the lake?” The officer asked, in a deliberately offhand way.
Trevor struggled to remember. “I’m not sure. There were some moored ships... big ones, but I didn’t notice what kind. We weren’t within a half mile of any of them, though.”
The officer nodded. Petty thefts were commonplace on the canal, and Trevor had been accompanied by a police officer, so the investigator saw no reason to be suspicious of Trevor. “Have you had any threats against yourself or your boat?” he asked. It was standard procedure.
Trevor’s stomach began to tighten as he remembered the bomb scare in the Strait of Messina. He decided to omit that, reasoning that it had just been paranoia on his part. He also did not want to have to tell his entire story to the officer. “No, nothing like that... the only thing so far has been that theft. Uh, can I ask what happened? With the explosion, I mean. Where was it, and what caused it?”
The investigator considered the question for a few moments, and then decided that telling what was already becoming public knowledge could do no harm. “There was a bomb or suicide boat attack on a freighter in Lake Timsah. That is all that is known at the moment. Think carefully; did you see or hear anything that you think could be related, or just out of the ordinary?”
Trevor answered honestly, “Not that I can think of... I guess I should mention that one of the guys with me on the chase thought the boat we were after looked like a canal pilot boat, the kind that pick up and drop off the ship pilots.”
The investigator made a note of that, but he had many others to interview, and he did not believe that Trevor had anything further to contribute. He thanked Trevor for his cooperation, and the two police officers moved on to the next yacht on their list.
Other aspects of the investigation were already underway, including a thorough search of the waters and shores of Lake Timsah.
The investigation into the bombing would be professional and methodical. Every care would be taken, starting with the crime scene itself, where a small airlift – an air-driven dredge – was being assembled and would soon be put to work, dredging the bottom in search of bomb fragments.
Freed from the need to wait, Trevor bounded ashore, hoping that the yacht club offices would still be open.
Trevor had to ask at the dock, and then again inside the building, but finally he was directed to the proper office, where he paid the twenty dollar fee, plus ten dollars baksheesh, for his waiting package.
With his prize in hand, Trevor raced back to Atlantis. As soon as he was in the salon, he began ripping the package open, grinning as he spotted the bags of tortilla chips, and then blinking in surprise as he saw the box of a new satellite phone, instead of his old one, which he’d been expecting. “Thanks, Dad,” he mumbled through a mouthful of tortilla chips, beaming as he hefted the box, and began opening it.
Trevor carefully dug in the box, pulling out the instructions and the activation card, and then the charger. Finally, he lifted out the cardboard separating the top compartment from the phone’s compartment, and glanced inside, where he saw, nestled in bubble wrap, a large pink rock. “What the fuck...” he mumbled, picking up the rock, and then glancing again into the now-empty box.
Trevor stared incredulously at the rock for a few moments, and then set it down, crestfallen and stunned. After a few moments, he flipped open his cell phone, speed-dialing Joel’s number. When Joel answered, Trevor said, “I’ve got all kinds of news, and a mess. Is Lisa there too?”
“Yeah, she’s with me, we’re at the beach. What’s up?” Joel asked.
“Hi Trev, did you get your phone yet?” Lisa said, pulling close to Joel to share the phone.
Trevor sighed. “Hi Lisa... That’s why I’m calling. Joel, did your dad open the phone’s box up and check it? I’m trying to figure out when it was taken. The phone isn’t in the box.”
Lisa handled the answer. “Trev, I was with him when we picked it up at the chandlery – Joel has already chewed me out for going, but I didn’t go inside. Anyway, we took the box straight to the shipping place, and we both sealed it up. We didn’t open it... he was running late. Was anything at all in the parcel?”
“I’m betting I have you to thank for the tortilla chips. Thanks... they’re here, so are the box for the phone and all the accessories, but all there was in the compartment for the phone was a rock.”
“A rock? Is your dad screwing with you?” Joel asked, in a dark tone.
Trevor looked at the rock for a few seconds. “I don’t know. Dude, I’ve been ripped off every few seconds in the canal... demands for bribes and worse. Hell, yesterday I was in my Zodiac, along with a cop with an AK-47, chasing somebody who robbed Atlantis. The people that aren’t part of the canal seem pretty cool, but the canal itself is a thieves’ paradise.”
Lisa and Joel shared a shocked glance, and Joel said, “What the fuck? Atlantis was robbed, and you were chasing them? What happened?”
For the next few minutes, Trevor told the story, and when he was done, Lisa said, “Trev, that’s awful. You’re lucky you weren’t hurt, and that they didn’t get more.”
“What about the propane tanks and life jackets? You need to replace those, right?” Joel asked.
“I’ve still got a bunch of life jackets aboard, but I do need the propane for my galley and barbecue. The tank for the galley is down to half, and the one for the barbecue is about the same. I can probably buy new tanks here at the yacht club tomorrow, so no big deal. I’m just glad to be through the canal.”
“But you still need a satellite phone. Can you stay where you’re at a few days? I can go see your dad today and get one, if he’ll give me one... but my dad said his visit to yours didn’t go down too well. I could just go buy one if I have to...” Joel said, trying to think it through.
“Your dad went to see mine? When, and what happened?” Trevor asked in surprise.
Lisa chuckled, and handled the answer. “I figured the swim team would chicken out, so I showed up. So did Joel’s dad. He went into the chandlery and got the phone, and he had some kind of argument with your father. Lisa glared at her boyfriend and added, “Oh, and Joel... if I’m not supposed to go there, why can you?”
“We could both go,” Joel offered, well aware that he’d just inadvertently pushed one of Lisa’s buttons. “But you’re right; maybe we should round up some friends first... maybe ask my dad to join us?”
Trevor jumped in to end the discussion. “Whoa, hold on. First off, we don’t know if the phone was stolen here, or if he’s playing games. The rock looks one hell of a lot like the landscaping rock in front of my house; it’s layered shale, the same weird pink shade. He did sabotage my engines... Look... I’m going to have to call him. I don’t want to, but I have to. We’ve got time; I can’t wait here or I’ll probably get robbed blind. I’m sailing out in the morning, and I’ll ask around and see if anyone has any ideas where on my route a phone could be sent, but at this point I’m thinking Joel will end up bringing it to me in Australia. I also don’t want either of you going to see him. Lisa, he did do that drive by of your house.”
“Okay, we’ll wait to hear from you before we do anything,” Lisa said.
“Hey, at least you got to the end of the canal and aren’t still stuck in the channel,” Joel added.
Trevor snorted. “Yeah, another joy of the Suez Canal... That explosion? According to the Egyptian cop who interviewed me a few minutes ago, it was a bomb, and it blew up a freighter near where I was anchored in Ismailia.”
“Oh fuck... Trev, getting out of there sounds like a good idea. Where will you go from there?” Lisa asked.
Trevor sighed. “I’m not exactly sure. I’ve signed up for a convoy that’ll get us past Somalia, but it’s a couple of weeks before we rendezvous at the other end of the Red Sea. I’ll ask around, and probably stop somewhere on the Egyptian coast with some of the other yachters.”
The comment about Somalia and the convoy sparked questions from Lisa and Joel, so Trevor explained the plan in detail.
After the call ended, Trevor glanced at the canal. He did not want to have to go through it again, so he took a deep breath and whispered into the darkness, recommitting himself to his plan. “I’ve passed the point of no return. No matter what, I’m circumnavigating, all the way.”
© 2010 C James
Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.
Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading.
A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.