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The angry red sun shone its light on the blue Atlantic, turning it a deep
shade of purple, as it sank farther into the water. Evening was descending
on Angela Kelly's first day of vacation. She thought what a beautiful sight
it was, viewed from the bow of the yacht that she and her two friends had
chartered for the next three days.
The unusual vacation had been Charlotte's idea, a good one for once. They all felt they needed a break from their mundane lives, maybe even a little adventure. The middle of the Atlantic ocean seemed like as good a place as any to find it.
Charlotte James had a lot of ideas, most of them belonging in some romance novel. But then, that's where her nose usually was, so that made sense. She was always talking about how to catch a man. Oh, not just any man, 'The Man', Prince Charming, Sir Galahad. She had such high expectations for the Captain of this yacht, thinking he might be 'The One'. It had been so funny watching her face when this scraggly, sea bum had jumped down from the yacht to help them aboard. The third member of their merry band, Ginny Raymond, had turned to her and whispered, "What do you think, is he Captain Wonderful?", then broken into giggles when Charlotte smacked her on the shoulder.
Mr. Chandler, that was the captain's name, wasn't so bad, he just didn't like shaving. He was somewhere in his mid?forties, too old to be a proper prince. Just your average, tired?of?the?rat?race, drop?out. He didn't say much as he showed them to their cabins, telling them to 'stow their gear below.' Angela thought that a quaint way to put it. Very sailorish. Charlotte had sighed, shrugged, and gone to check out her cabin. Next, she examined Ginny's home for the next three days, and finally, Angela's tiny room claimed her attention.
"Angie, yours is nicer, a little bigger, I think, but mine is up front, near the bow."
Charlotte looked smug, and Angela knew she was supposed to be impressed with her knowledge of ships. She decided to play along, make her friend happy.
"That's what the front of a ship is called."
"Oh. Do you have any idea when this boat is leaving?"
"Angie,” Char rolled her eyes, “this is a yacht, or a ship. A ‘boat’ is a submarine."
Angela smiled. Charlotte was so easy to please.
"Thank you for that bit of indispensable knowledge. Now, do you know how soon we will be out of this smelly harbor?"
"I'll go ask the captain."
"Char, I really don't think he's a captain. I think he just steers this thing. By the way, is there a crew? I didn't see anybody but him when we came aboard."
That ‘find-a-man’ gleam reappeared in Charlotte's eyes. Ginny, who had walked up behind Charlotte in the middle of the 'boat' speech, smiled at Angie and rolled her eyes. Charlotte looked down at her sailor?suit romper.
"Do you think this is too cutesy? I brought a barely-more-than-a-blouse sundress, but I thought I'd save it for nighttime. Maybe I should change."
Her look of indecision made Angela laugh. She walked between the two girls, making a forward motion with her finger.
"Let's go see what's happening on deck, shall we?"
They followed. When the three had met in college five years ago, Angela had just naturally become the leader. She could usually keep a level head, something the other two didn't always achieve. Charlotte tended to panic if things got too rocky and rush headlong in the wrong direction. Ginny resisted anything that she deemed too drastic. Angela kept an open mind most of the time. She would always weigh a decision carefully, but quickly, and when she had decided on a course of action, she was very difficult to sway.
The ship had a crew of four men, none of whom came up to Charlotte's rigid standards. “Too scruffy, too dirty, too...Ugh!” she declared with a dramatic shiver. They headed out to sea immediately. The girls quickly changed into their swimming suits and went on to the deck to catch some sun. After all, three days seemed a very short time to live a fantasy. They stayed under the protection of the big umbrellas placed around the deck. Laying out was no longer fashionable, what with wrinkles, skin cancer and all the other solar boogie men. But the sun was so wonderfully warm, they just wanted to bake a little while their tanning creme did its thing.
As the sun dipped into the west, one of the crew, an unkempt dishwater blonde named Bert, came on deck, leering, and said that dinner would be served on deck in an hour. He grinning wink in Ginny’s direction earned him a glare that could have melted steel. He just chuckled, shrugged and went about his duties.
Giggling at Ginny’s “as if, in a thousand lifetimes, if he were the last man on Earth” grumblings, the three girls went to their cabins to change for dinner, then returned to the deck. A somewhat ratty, checkered tablecloth had been laid over one of the sun tables, and it was set for the evening meal. They were starting to seat themselves when men appeared from nowhere to help. Every one of the crew took part in serving the ladies, gawking and leering at regular intervals. The dinner itself, baked fish and vegetables, was actually pretty good. The girls sat on deck, drinking wine and watching the sun set, while the crew cleaned up below deck.
As Angela enjoyed the panoramic view of the ocean, she noticed several tiny specks on the horizon that seemed to grow as she watched. Joining her friends’ conversation - about men, of course - she didn’t give the specks much thought. When she looked back, there were only two specks, but they were close enough to identify them as small powerboats, ‘cigarette boats’, she had heard them called on 'Miami Vice'. They seemed to be headed straight for their yacht.
Angela felt a small thrill of excitement at the unexplained crafts' appearance, then smiled a little self?consciously. All her life, she had wanted to do something spontaneous, a little dangerous. She realized that now she had done it, she was trying to make it more exciting than reality warranted. The boats probably held weekend fisherman.
Charlotte caught sight of the approaching boats. She sounded somewhat excited.
"I wonder who they are."
Angela grinned at Charlotte.
"Think they're drug runners, come to rape us and steal the ship?"
Charlotte gave her a sarcastic smirk.
"If they are, I hope they're cuter than the men on this heap. Did you see the cook? He's got a leer on him that would make a hooker blush. And I think Bert's got a crush on you, Ginny."
"He keeps looking at you."
"Yeah, like he wants to eat me. I wouldn't touch him with...what's the matter, Angie?"
Angela suddenly stood, causing the others to stop their conversation and follow her surprised stare. A man was coming over the side of the ship. He was something right out of a pirate movie. Long black hair fought to free itself from the red silk bandanna tied around his head to keep the unruly mass out of his face. A large, wicked knife clasped between his teeth made him look as though he were smiling widely. He had a small machine gun, the Mac?10 Angela had seen in a million Bruce Willis movies, slung on a leather strap around his neck.
As he gained the deck of the yacht, he gave them a very brief up?and?down glance, then turned his attention to the door that led below deck. Smoothly pulling the knife from between his lips, he slipped it into his waistband behind his back. Then he raised his finger to his pursed lips, whispered "shh", and started toward the door.
Angela was not one to be shushed. The gall of the man! Besides, she couldn't quiet the fear raging inside her stomach, and whenever Angela got scared, she had to do something. She would figure out what was going on, fight, whatever was necessary. But she would definitely not shh! She took a step forward, bringing her one step nearer the strange and frightening man. Charlotte gasped, reaching out to try to stop her. But it was too late.
"Who are you and what are you doing on our boat?"
The pirate turned a look of menace on Angela that she wouldn't forget if she lived to be a hundred. His chocolate eyes, which had sparkled with something akin to mischief just seconds before, were now aflame with black anger. He snarled and made a slicing motion across his throat with his hand. Angela was further incensed.
"Don't keep telling me to be quiet! We chartered this boat and we have every right...oh!"
With lightning speed, he had his arm around her waist, pulling her hard against his muscular body. His knife, which had miraculously reappeared in his hand, was pressed flat side against her throat hard enough to make her choke. He put his mouth next to her ear, his breath tickling her tender earlobe. When he spoke, Angela shivered slightly. His voice was a mere whisper, no louder than the wind on a cool summer night, but the menace was as unmistakable as a cobra’s quiet hiss.
"Unless you want a blood bath here tonight, keep your mouth shut."
He pulled her sideways and leaned his head back to look into her eyes. His words had had the desired effect. When he saw the fear in her eyes, the arrogant twinkle returned to his. With one curt nod, he pushed her back down into her chair, where she landed hard, and turned back to his mission.
Fear, an unfamiliar emotion, began creeping up Angela's spine. She considered crying, something she did rarely, but immediately cast that notion aside. Charlotte and Ginny were staring, wide?eyed, from their respective places at the table. If she gave in now, she would be letting them down. Later, when this was over, she would have a good cry in private. But right now her friends were counting on her to do something, preferably the right thing, and she had to have all her faculties about her if she were to make a good decision on their next move. First, they had to figure out just what exactly was going on. She took a deep, calming breath and stood up.
"Ginny,” Angie pointed starboard, “go look over that side of the boat and see what's down there. Charlotte, you go towards the bow, see what you can find. I doubt this guy's alone."
Charlotte looked about to bolt.
"What's going on, Angie? Who...?"
"Char, I came into this movie the same time you did. I'm not sure, but I think this may be a hijacking."
Angela frowned, continuing to search for answers.
"But that doesn't make sense, there isn't anything here to make it worth their time."
An idea suddenly struck her. She brightened and spoke excitedly, thinking she might have it figured out.
"Unless there's some cargo on this boat that we don't know about. Drugs, maybe. Or Cuban cigars. Something illegal. Yeah, that's it. They'll find it and they'll leave. The less we see of them, and them of us, the better. We should go to our cabins and lock ourselves in. No, let's not separate. We'll go to my cabin."
She gave Charlotte a little reassuring smile.
"Mine's bigger anyway."
Angela sprang into action, heading for the stairs that led to their cabins, then paused as she realized that they would have to follow the same path that that man had taken. She took another deep breath and ran down the stairs, her friends following on her heels. There was no sign of him as they slipped into her cabin, closing and locking the door behind them. They all sat on the little bunk, seeking comfort in closeness, as only good friends can. It was so quiet, they could hear each other breathing.
Impetuously, Angela threw an arm over her friends' shoulders, pulling them closer to her. She forced a light tone, keeping her voice soft. Referring to one of their more notorious acts of mischief, she said, "Come on, we're gonna be okay. This is no worse than the Dean's office, and we got out of that."
Their second year of college, Angela's boyfriend had suggested what a kick it would be to make out in the Dean's office. The three couples had sneaked into the office after dark and gotten comfortable. As things were getting hot and heavy, Ginny, who was sitting on her boyfriend's lap in the Dean's desk chair at the time, had looked up to see the Dean coming into the outer office. They had all scrambled into the coat closet, a very tight fit, trying to keep quiet and pull their clothes back into place at the same time. Seems the Dean had the same idea about getting romantic in his office. However, the young, scantily clad lady he was with was one of their classmates, not his wife!
The six of them had sat scrunched in that closet for what seemed like hours, trying to keep quiet, while the Dean got his trailer hitch dechromed. The guys were getting so hard just listening to the two going at it outside, that they almost lost it in their pants. They had all laughed about it later, but at the time the girls had been certain their time at that school had expired.
On the imperiled yacht, the three friends subdued laughter over the memory helped ease the tension of the moment, making them feel more secure about their chances for uninjured survival.
Then the yelling started. It seemed to erupt from all around them at once, the yacht coming alive with noise. There was the sound of running footsteps over their heads, on the stairs. An automatic weapon opened fire somewhere on deck and there was a scream, a man's scream.
Charlotte jumped up, looking around as though she had lost something. Her eyes wild with fear. Angela stood and grabbed hold of her shoulders.
"Where are you going, Char?"
"We've got to hide! They're killing people!"
Angela gave her a little shake.
"Be quiet! We don't know that anyone is killing anyone, ok? Even if they are, there's no better place to hide, Char. Our best bet is to keep quiet and stay out of sight."
She led Charlotte back to the bunk, resumed her place between her friends, and waited.
It was quiet again. When there hadn't been a sound for several minutes, Angela stood.
"Maybe they've taken what they came for and left. I'm going out to take a look. You two stay here."
Both started to protest, Ginny standing to better make her point. Angela motioned toward the bunk.
"Sit! Ginny, I know what I'm doing," she hoped God would forgive her that little lie. "I'm...there's less chance of one of us being noticed than all three of us. I'll be right back."
Angela said the last with more force than she had intended and wondered who she was trying to convince. She opened the door a crack, looked down the passageway. Nothing moved. She turned and whispered, "There's no one out there now. I'm going to go up on deck."
She opened the door, stepped out and closed it in one fluid motion. When she turned toward the stairs, she was looking into smirking brown eyes.
"You forgot to tell them to lock the door behind you."
Angela took a step back, intending to retreat into the room, but that man’s hand closing tightly on the bodice of her sundress froze her in tracks. He pulled her roughly toward him, twisted his body and, letting go of her dress, pushed her up the stairs ahead of him. Startled and frightened, she nonetheless kept quiet to avoid bringing her well-meaning friends to her rescue.
When she reached the deck, she saw one of the crew sprawled on his face just beyond the top of the stairs, several bloody holes across his back. She stopped, inhaling sharply through her clenched teeth. That was a mistake. The stench of gunpowder and blood filled her nostrils, making her cough and seriously consider being sick. A hand in the small of her back shoved her forward, forcing her to step over the dead man or fall headlong on top of him. She jumped over the body, then turned to face her tormentor. Eyes flashing sapphire fire, her blonde hair whipped over her shoulder by the force of her angry turn, she had no idea what a stunning portrait of female outrage she presented to her captor.
Caught in a maelstrom of confusion and fear, Angela threw caution to the wind. “Who the hell do you think you are?!"
Mr Red Bandanna planted his feet on either side of the dead man's body and crossed bulging arms over a massively muscled chest. Angela couldn't help notice the raw masculine grace in every move. He had the physique of a body?builder and the smirk of a street?gang punk. How she wanted to smack that arrogant look right off his face!
When he spoke, his voice was soft, the timbre deep.
"You better chill out, girl."
Menace dripped from each syllable of his softly spoken words. He lowered his eyelids to half?mast, bringing his chin up an inch. Angela continued to glare at him, her fists clenched at her side further evidence of her anger.
"And you had better take yourself off of this ship before the authorities respond to our distress signal!"
He threw his head back and laughed, a loud, sarcastic 'Ha!'. When others joined in his laughter, Angela looked around to see several disreputable looking men lounging around the deck. She gave them each a glare, just to let it be known that she wasn't afraid of any of them. She counted 15 in all.
"Good bluff, but I doubt you have any idea what a distress signal is, let alone if one was sent. Which, by the way, it wasn't."
His look was somewhat contemptuous.
"We been at this a while, girl, don't you think we're smart enough to keep 'em from getting a signal off?"
"From the look of you, you're not smart enough to tie your own shoes!"
She glanced at his feet. Black boots jutted from beneath black jeans. She smiled sweetly into his face, one eyebrow raised in pert punctuation.
"I rest my case."
He narrowed his eyes, was about to say something else when a voice from behind him startled them both.
"Hey, Rafe, look...wait!"
The bandanna-ed one whipped around to face the intruder, pulling his fist back menacingly.
"You know better than to sneak up on me like that! What the hell's the matter with you, boy?"
His fist remained in the air, and Angela wasn't sure if he were going to strike or not. She could see a man standing on the stairs, looking up at the obvious leader of what she had come to fear were pirates. His wide eyes staring at that menacing fist showed that he wasn't sure either.
Rafe - Angela assumed that was the pirate's name - pulled his fist to his chest, then flexed his hand and dropped his arm to his side. Suddenly, his hand came back up, finger jabbing at the man on the stairs' chest.
"Don't do it again."
Although his voice had raised with his fist, the last was spoken very softly, almost a whisper. The pirate who had had the misfortune to startle Rafe heaved a very audible sigh of relief. He smiled as he remembered what he had found, held out a box of Twinkies. Rafe laughed and stepped aside so he could pass. As he did so, Rafe good?naturedly slapped him on the back hard enough to make him stumble.
Rafe looked toward Angela again, true laughter lighting his face. His eyes crinkled at the corners, his fine lips parted over perfect white teeth. His laugh was soft, like his normal speaking voice, and melodious.
The man who had dared to sneak up on Rafe continued walking, concentrating on the task of opening the box of Twinkies. He looked up just before he would have run into Angela. Surprised, he stopped and held out the Twinkie box, which he had succeeded in mangling open.
"Hi, I'm Rat. Want one?"
His smile was engagingly genuine. She gave him a questioning smile in return.
"Yeah, short for Packrat. I find things."
He gave a little shrug, then frowned in concentration. He was trying to hold the box and open one of the plastic packages at the same time. He reminded Angela of a monkey trying to open a banana with only one hand. His face brightened with a thought. He put the top of the package between his front teeth, took hold of the seam and pulled. The plastic tore suddenly, all the way to the bottom. The yellow cake flew into the air and would have hit the ground if a dark hand hadn't come from behind Rat to catch it. Rafe stepped to Rat's side, an indulgent smile softening his face. He handed the cake to his blushing friend, who spit the plastic onto the deck.
"Thanks. She's pretty. We gonna keep her?"
Rafe's expression changed. His eyes became hooded, his smile that of a shark sighting prey. He surveyed the deck, then gave Angela an appraising look that made her burn with renewed anger, and some other foolish emotion she didn't choose to look at too closely right now. Rafe's tone was thoughtful.
His smile once again made Angela want to slap him. He turned and his voice boomed as he called out orders.
"Blade, go below, first cabin starboard. Get the two chicks and their stuff. Carefully. Take them to my boat. Mike, make a last check, see that we didn't miss anything. Bear, you and Moose bring up the stiff from the galley. Toss it and this one," he kicked the body at his feet, "overboard. Where's the skipper?"
One of the men pulled Mr. Chandler from a deck chair. Angela hadn't noticed him there before because Rafe had been blocking her view. The yacht captain's nose was bloody, his wrists bound in front of him with what looked like a plastic twist tie. He was pushed, stumbling, toward Rafe, who pulled him by his shirtfront to stand in front of him. With his face almost touching that of his prisoner, Rafe demanded in his soft voice, "How many men crew this yacht? And how many passengers are on board?"
"You bastard, why should I tell you anything, you're gonna kill me anyway!"
Rafe flashed a Death's Head grin in the man's face.
"Yeah, but there are easy ways to die, and there are hard ways to die. Tell me what I want to know and you go easy, give me grief... "
His arched eyebrow and a slight tilt of his head completed the sentence. Mr. Chandler hawked and spit right in his arrogant face. When Rafe took a surprised step backwards, the captain raised his bound fists to strike. He never got the chance. Rafe's knee rammed into his groin, sending him crumbling to the deck, moaning and grasping the injured area.
Angela gasped and started to kneel beside the retching captain. Steely fingers twined in her hair, yanked her up and tossed her across the deck, where she landed in the deck chair that Mr Chandler had occupied just moments earlier. She looked up to see Rafe glaring down at his victim as he wiped his face with his hand. He leaned down and cleaned his hand on Mr. Chandler's shirt. When Rafe straightened, the look on his face made her certain that demons roamed the earth and Mr. Chandler had just run afoul of one.
She started to stand and the pirate leader turned that glare toward her. His voice was so soft, she had to strain to hear his words.
"If you dare to interfere again, I'll take you right here on deck, then give you to my men. You got that?"
Angela swallowed hard, nodded and sank back into the chair. She watched in horror as he pulled his knife from behind his back, certain that he was going to cut Mr. Chandler to shreds. Instead, he strode to where the pirates he had ordered to get rid of the bodies were about to toss their burdens into the sea. Without a word, he pulled a body from one of the big men's shoulders and dropped it so that it lay bent backwards over the rail. He thrust the knife into the dead man's abdomen, pulled up to his sternum. Angela looked away, not willing to lose her dinner over this display of savagery. When she heard a splash, she thought it might be safe to look, though ‘safe’ was not a word easily applied to anything happening to her at the moment. Both bodies were gone, and several of the pirates, including Rafe, were looking off the side of the yacht at the ocean below.
Angela nearly jumped out of her skin as the relative quiet was shattered by a shriek of feminine joy. Charlotte was barreling across the deck, Ginny right behind her.
"Angie, you're all right! I thought they'd killed you. Oh, God, what's happening?!"
Angela stood just in time to have two pairs of arms thrown around her, both of her friends wanting to reassure themselves that she was indeed still in one piece. Charlotte was crying, rather loudly, and Angela turned her attention to quieting her down before she could annoy anyone with her sobs.
"Char, I'm ok. Please stop crying, I can't hear myself think. You sound like a drowning cow!"
Charlotte gave her a frown, snorted and wiped her hand across her eyes. Her irritation at her friend's unflattering description of her emotional display shut down the plumbing for the moment.
Angela spoke softly, though she doubted that anyone was paying the least bit of attention to them at this moment.
"I'm not sure what's happening. I think these guys are modern day pirates, but I have no idea what they're after. Their leader is a total son?of?a?bitch! That's him, the one with the knife."
As she pointed Rafe out to her friends, he stuck his knife back in his pants and began tying a piece of rope around Mr. Chandler's wrists. When the captain started to struggle, Rafe kicked him, lightly, in the groin. He went limp. Rafe tied the other end of the rope to the rail. He put his hands under his victim's arms, hoisted him over the ship's rail and let him fall.
Rafe must have felt Angela's eyes on him then because he turned and looked directly at her. She shivered. He was enjoying what he was doing, his eyes glowing with evil delight. He stalked slowly toward her.
"He's bad news with a capital bad."
Trust Ginny to be so succinct. Angela stepped protectively in front of her friends. He barely seemed to notice, a slight raising of one eyebrow his only acknowledgment of the other women even being there. He grabbed Angela's arm, pulled her to the rail.
"Now, watch what happens to people who fuck with me!"
Against her better judgement, she followed his gaze over the rail. The captain hung against the side of the yacht, his legs dangling in the water. Rafe pulled his knife again and she stepped back, eyes wide. He gave her a contemptuous smile, then ran the blade quickly over his own palm. He held his bleeding hand out over the water, squeezing and releasing his fist so that drops of blood fell to the ocean below. There was a ripple in the water, then a fin appeared.
Sudden, horrible understanding came to Angela. She grasped the rail, wanting to stop this terrible thing from happening, knowing she was powerless to do more than watch. And realizing that she was, for the first time in her life, unadulteratedly terrified. Her knuckles turned white as the first huge shark came up out of the water, trying in vain to capture Rafe's fist in its mouth. Rafe retreated a step, narrowing his eyes and smiling wickedly.
As another less aggressive shark brushed past his legs in the water, Mr. Chandler screamed, a sound none of the three women now standing at the rail of the yacht witnessing this sick drama would ever forget. Rafe grabbed the rope, blood from his cut palm smearing the dirty hemp, and pulled so that the captain came completely out of the water. The pirate's muscles bulged with the effort, his upper body expanding before their eyes. As if on cue, gaping jaws sliced the water, surrounding the lower half of the dangling body. With a vicious jerk, the rope snapped and the great fish dropped back into the ocean, taking Mr. Chandler to his watery grave.
"The hard way, you stupid bastard!"
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