Higher Cause, Installment #21

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For a full list of chapters, see the table of contents.

In recent installments…

Mexico has positioned itself to nationalize the Island Project, and has indicted Petur for crimes against the state. But with their cruiser sunk, a British fleet on the way, and the demonstrated power of the Island’s new weapon, which destroyed Paradise 5, the Mexicans fled. Marcos took Harrigan and Elisa with him. With the Mexicans’ own weapon, Marcos intends to destroy Paradise 1 and the Island Council members who are tied up in Science Hall.

Chapter 55. Fraud and Force

“Jack Gaimey! Thank God. Hurry up and untie us!” Onbacher’s shout turned all eyes toward the elevator.

Jack Gaimey was beaming broadly as he hustled over toward Petur and began to unbind him. Petur had already wrested the base of his right thumb out from the tightly constricting duct tape, and Jack Gaimey had only to pull hard. The sticky tape released its bond with his skin — and the hair on the back of his hand — with reluctance, but it did release him, and within seconds he was digging at the frayed end of the section of tape that held his chest to the table behind him. Like two acrobats, Jack Gaimey and Petur worked to free the remainder of Petur’s bonds, each layer removed taking him precious seconds. Finally, he had two hands free to rip through the tape lashing his ankles. Jack Gaimey moved briskly toward Sophia. Petur was noticeably slower in his efforts to untie the others.

Petur freed Isaac next. Unlike Petur, Isaac seemed to recognize the urgency of this desperate situation and immediately ran toward Otto Wagner to release him. That task was not easy, for the Mexican soldiers had been particularly conscientious in binding the very large man. Isaac’s impatience was not helpful, for he found himself pulling at the tape haphazardly, which only served to curl in the edges and make the tape impossible to rip.

Sophia did not need to update the others that the violet laser beams from the observatory were now activated and targeting them directly. The crystalline structure of the roof served to refract the incoming rays throughout the interior, fracturing each beam into hundreds of delicate filaments that traversed the air inside like a three-dimensional spider web. The carefully crafted glass, which so easily turned simple light into glorious rainbows, was struggling to refract these lights likewise. But the lasers’ lights, tuned to one frequency precisely, could not be split. They remained violet.

“I think we’ve had it.” It was Otto Wagner speaking. His feet were still solidly bound, though his hands were free now and working feverishly at freeing the rest of him.

Joseph, working equally rapidly, added, “It would seem so.” And then, as if but a distant witness of the whole event, he asked, “Petur, what happened to Paradise 5? What’s about to happen to us?”

Petur replied, “Perhaps my sister can tell you how we could use lasers to destroy an island. She is the physicist, after all.”

Joseph and the others turned towards her. She could only shake her head and say, “I have absolutely no idea how it was done.”

Petur laughed, for just a moment. “Our best physicist has no idea how we did it.” He seemed to be almost carefree, oblivious of their impending demise. He sat down and put his feet up on a table. “So let me give everyone a little hint: we didn’t.”

The silence of the room was his only response. Petur’s face, toward which they all gazed, was bathed in the surrealistic hue of the brilliant violet that seemed to fill the sky. The whites of his eyes fluoresced softly. He remained silent for a moment longer.

From high up on the mountain, the white beam then came forth, perfectly centered in the midst of the violet lasers. Unlike the other frequency-specific rays, the white beam was a mixture of wavelengths, and on its impact the crystalline roof successfully split the light into its multiple components. Suddenly, bright colors splashed excitedly throughout the place in a tremendous and stunning display.

It was the white beam that had signaled the destruction of Paradise 5. The white beam was the end.

Petur laughed again. “Please enjoy the display everyone. This incredible light show of which we are in the midst is just that: a light show. It certainly has no power to destroy an island, and is completely harmless to us. Except, perhaps, for giving us a little suntan.”

Onbacher exhaled audibly, perhaps particularly so, because he had been holding his breath for over a minute. “You mean the whole thing was fake?”

“The apparatus up there on the observatory was the idea of one of the sixteen-year-old girls in the school. It was a science-fair project. She wanted to make a spectacular light show with some extra lasers we had around. It should be great entertainment up here in the future, don’t you think? It would have been nice for her to be able to enjoy it with us on its first deployment!”

“But those lasers are highly powerful! I could smell the ozone. That takes pretty high energy, Petur.” Sophia was thinking as a fully competent physicist again.

“You could smell the ozone the first time, when it was aimed at Paradise 5. You could even hear the thunder-like crack as the lasers cut through the air. But you cannot smell it now, can you. Or hear it.” He paused while the others sniffed the air for the characteristic sweet scent and listened intently. “If you look in the kitchen there, you will find a remote-controlled ozone generator with a connection to this room’s ventilation ducts. That, and some loudspeakers making sparking noises on the floor below. We needed it to complete the effect — for Juan Marcos, that is.”

Sophia nodded, and then queried, “The effect? What kind of effect were you seeking?”

“We had to have him believe we had an incredibly powerful weapon. So we threatened him with one, thus giving him an excuse to back out of this situation. He could save face if he could say to his buddies back home that an enormous new weapon was about to blow him out of the water. Of course, we were planning on threatening his warship. Its sinking put a hole in our plans, leaving little to threaten.”

“It certainly looks like he fell for it all.”

“So far.”

“So, is this episode behind us?” It was Wagner asking.

“Not for Elisa,” Isaac said solemnly.

“No, not for Elisa,” confirmed Petur. “And not for Evan Harrigan, I suspect.” Not one person in the room understood. “Professor Harrigan was the one who set up that laser-light show for our use. He had rigged a remote-control device, in case we needed it. Somehow, Juan Marcos must have gotten hold of that remote control, and I fear that along with it, he got hold of Professor Harrigan.”

“I bet he wants Harrigan to build one for him,” Joseph commented. “So he probably won’t kill him. But all he will get in the end is a big light show. Harrigan will have the last laugh.”

“But then, Marcos will kill him. We have to do something!”

Finally, Otto Wagner was completely free and was able to stand. His voice dominated the room. “Damn right we do. And not just for Harrigan and Elisa, but perhaps for us as well. That laser show may have been just a big trick, but look out there.” He pointed to where Paradise 5 used to be.

Jack Gaimey said, “The island is gone. That was not a trick.”

Looking at Petur, Wagner stated, “Tell me if I’m right. Harrigan is indeed in possession of some incredible technology knowledge that could serve Marcos.”

Petur nodded. With everyone now free, he led the way to the elevator, speaking over his shoulder. “Otto, you are absolutely right. The laser system is a complete farce. But, on the other hand, Paradise 5 clearly is gone. Harrigan did that, and he is the only person who knows how to do it. And just how he did it may well be the most important piece of information in the entire world.”

Join the Club

Marcos looked astern of his luxury yacht, back toward the white clouds that hovered above the Paradise chain. He pressed the button again. He watched astern. Nothing happened at all.

There should have been an enormous blast of spray and fog, towering up to the level of those clouds. Paradise 1 should be gone, and in its place a large hole, rimmed by water, filled with emptiness. But there was no evidence that the blast had occurred. He pressed the button once more, but no longer waited in anticipation.

Angrily, he turned to Harrigan, who was standing nearby, looking forward. The professor must have known there would be no effect of pushing that button. “Professor!” he bellowed. “Activate the weapon, Activate this immediately!”

Harrigan turned and looked at the man sternly. “It did activate. You saw it yourself on the television screen. It was on and aimed at Science Hall.”

“But it did nothing. Are we out of range? Is this thing broken? What are you trying to do, Professor? Are you tempting me? If you do not finish this job, right here and now…” He could not finish the warning. His face was bright red, and he began coughing violently.

Harrigan simply replied, “It did work. It has done exactly what it was programmed to do.”

“But it did nothing!”

“It has served its purpose well.”

“You have deceived me. And now you will finish the task.” The command was direct, impassioned.

Harrigan shook his head slowly. “I am tired of your threats, Governor. You have the power to take my life — that is clear. It is also clear that you would not hesitate to kill me. But I have no desire to assist you in enhancing your already excessive power. Expect no help from me.”

“Well, then, Professor, you will sacrifice this fine young lady as well.” He paused, wavering. “I will give you time to consider. In one hour, you agree to help destroy Paradise 1 and build me a similar device — or, quite simply, both you and Maria will die. One hour. No more.” He pointed to two soldiers who were standing quietly nearby. One of them was the man with incredibly prominent jowls. “Lock them up together. Make sure they are secure. And have Sergeant Gonzales come back up here!”

The yacht was sleekly designed, white-painted steel with swept-back darkened windows. From the outside it could have been mistaken for the vessel of a Hollywood actor or a Saudi sheik, or perhaps the tax write-off of a major corporation. One would expect to see scantily clad women doing aerobics on the sloping bow. Companionways below decks led to facilities no less luxurious than the surrounding hull. Ivory carpeting lined the passageways. Doors were appointed with brightly shining brass latches and hinges. Staterooms, bedecked with silk curtains and four-poster beds, were fit for royalty. Harrigan and Elisa were escorted past these luxuries and shoved roughly into a rope locker below the waterline, far forward in the boat. It had a heavy, metal, watertight door that slammed shut behind them.

The small room was not tall enough for either captive to stand. It smelled of musty rope, mildew, and salt, combined with traces of oil. Not a trickle of light entered their tiny tomb.

“Professor Harrigan, do you have any ideas?” Elisa was working the door latch and examining the hinges with her hands.

“Not a one, I’m afraid. But I sure as hell hope he hangs for this.”

“I was proud of you for not assisting that man. I thought you were really going to blow up Petur and everyone else on the island.”

“I couldn’t have even had I wanted to. The whole contraption in the observatory is just a science-fair project of a teenager. It was designed to be a decorative light source for Gustav’s restaurant. I just hijacked it for a time and built this remote.”

“You mean the whole thing with Paradise 5 was a scam?”

“No, Paradise 5 is no longer there. That is a fact and certainly no scam. But the device on the observatory has absolutely nothing to do with it.”

“A decoy.”

“That’s right. Petur wanted to threaten Marcos, but not let him get hold of any technology.”

“He got hold of you,” Elisa observed.

“That was certainly not in the plans.” He considered only for a moment. “At least, not in my plans. I foolishly was responding to a call of nature.”

There was silence for a time, except the sounds of Elisa exploring their small prison. “We are right in the bow of the boat,” she said. “Somewhere below the waterline, judging by the sound of water rushing past, wouldn’t you say?”

“I guess so. I don’t think there is a way out, besides this one.” Harrigan’s expression went unseen in the darkness as he tapped on the heavy steel door. It made a discouragingly deep thud, like a heavy, but muffled, bell.

The woman sat back, having given up on identifying a hidden egress. It was not a large enough area for each person to have their own private space, and so her legs rested on his. “You know, Professor, Juan Marcos will not kill you today.”

“From what I can tell, we both have about forty-five minutes left.”

“No. I have forty-five minutes left. You have potentially much more.”

“How do you mean?”

“Professor, you can tell him you will build the machine for him, but refuse to use the one on the island to kill your friends. He will back off his threat if he expects you will cooperate later.”

“No. He will use you to threaten me. He’ll say he will have you killed if I do not immediately cooperate.”

Elisa smiled, unseen. “Yes, he likely will say that — which is why I have forty-five minutes left, for you can no more destroy Paradise 1 than I can. When you fail, or when your control box fails, Marcos will kill me. He does not need any further justification, I assure you.”

There was silence in the dark rope locker for several minutes. Elisa shuffled her feet to get more comfortable, and Harrigan noted the pleasant scent of her skin beating back the salty and musty odor of the coiled rope upon which they were sitting.

“I can tell him the truth,” he said. “I can tell him the laser system is a phony.”

“I doubt he will believe you. Paradise 5 is gone. And if he did believe you, he would just kill us both. I do not recommend risking it.”

Harrigan had no interest in dying. Marcos was right about him in several respects, perhaps most importantly in that he wanted some recognition. He wished to be able to write the dean, his old boss, a letter, and include a copy of his Nobel Prize in Physics. He would get the Nobel, if he lived. He was quite sure of that.

On the other hand, he had to do something to prevent Elisa from being killed. Some sort of bold, brave, and heroic move.

“Please don’t even try, Professor.”

There was little further conversation in the rope locker. The ropes were not particularly comfortable to sit on, and the air in the tightly sealed locker grew progressively more stale, in spite of the pleasant scents of his companion. The time passed quickly nonetheless.

Elisa once again tried to identify something that might be of use to them. The room was full of rope — large in caliber, and too long to be hidden on their person or to be used as a weapon. There were no knives, no tools of any kind. And the complete darkness persisted. It was a perfect little prison cell. She soon gave up, and sat back, waiting for the inevitable.

Harrigan dreaded the moment when that door would open. He was beginning to like the security of their little cell, and the pain in his injured face was beginning to wane. As far as he was concerned, he would rather spend eternity in this blackened locker than go back out on the deck to be beaten further. But it was not to be.

There was scratching of metal on metal as the handle was thrown back, and a whine of protest as the hinges strained under the weight of the opening door. Light poured in, so insultingly bright that both the prisoners within had to shield their eyes. Standing in the doorway was a dark figure, the outline of an automatic weapon casually resting in his hands. Light surrounded him like a halo. Neither Elisa nor Harrigan moved when the man motioned for them to come out.

“What are you waiting for, you two?” The man said in perfect English. “Do you want a written notification before you’re rescued next time?”

Elisa, the light painfully assaulting her eyes, still couldn’t make out the figure, although the man in the door could certainly see her. “Who are you?” she asked.

“My name is Jeff Baddori. I work with Petur Bjarnasson.” There was a brief pause. The man was examining her with eyes that could not be seen. In a moment, he added, “And I believe, young lady, that you and I have already met.”

Chapter 56. Observe and Report

The elevator, designed for speed and efficiency, seemed slow and plodding now. Petur pushed at the buttons, impatiently and without the desired effect. They were at the bottom soon, but it felt like an eternity for those riding it. Isaac seemed particularly restless. After getting off the elevator, Petur moved quickly to a small room nearby. He shuffled around for a moment, emerging from within holding several small two-way radios. He spread them around the group, and then walked toward the door.

Isaac joined Petur at the front and spoke quietly.

“Do you have any plan to free Elisa and Evan?”

“Isaac, how could I possibly have a plan for that? Harrigan was supposed to lie low. Obviously, he didn’t. And I had no idea Elisa would be kidnapped. Heck, I had no idea that she knew Marcos. It seems there is a lot I don’t know.”

Isaac said, “Well, there is apparently a lot that others of us don’t know either, such as what happened to Paradise 5. Have you been keeping secrets from me?”

“I’m sorry, old friend,” Petur said, sincerely. He paused for a second as the automatic door in front of him opened to allow his exit from the building.

After Isaac had come through, he told Petur, “I have a notion what happened anyway.”

“You certainly should! After all, you were the one who recruited Harrigan. You knew the potential of his research.”

“Yes, but I didn’t think it was that close to an actual application.”

“Well, neither did I. He wasn’t telling anybody. He kept himself locked away in his deep hole in the ground most of the time, only coming out for those incongruous Hashes he loves so much. He didn’t write anything about his work, and I never pressured him, of course.”

“So, when did he tell you?”

“He didn’t. I figured it out for myself, with a little help from Joseph Onbacher.”

Isaac threw a glance over his shoulder. “Joseph knew also? He didn’t seem to, back there.”

“No. Joseph only provided me with a critical piece of information.”

They were all outside the building now. Several golf carts were waiting for riders, and Petur pointed to them.

“Sophia, please go to the communications shack and see if you can figure out how to raise that British squadron Marcos mentioned. And try to contact the British Admiralty while you are at it. Let’s see where we stand. Also, if you can figure the radar out, take a look to the Northeast and tell me if you can see any sign of Marcos’s boat.”

Onbacher interjected. “Mind if I go with her? I’ve got a message to send.”

Petur just nodded. Then, he gazed at the remainder of his personnel. “Thomas,” he said to the doctor, “can you make arrangements for dealing with a thousand Mexican seamen and soldiers who have been shipwrecked over on Paradise 4?”

Standall shook his head in amusement, “You always give me the easy jobs.”

The pilot asked, “Mind if I go take a look at my plane? It’s possible they missed the important parts when they filled it with bullet holes.”

“Do what you can. We could use a plane. Glad you got out okay.”

“I’m glad they thought Joseph was the pilot.”

Petur turned toward the giant German. “Otto, do you think you can rustle up some marine transportation? I think it might be a good idea to have any ill or injured sailors come over here. We can put them up in the infirmary or the resort.”

Otto Wagner laughed his deep laugh. “Formerly an invasion force, now our welcome guests.”

Petur added briskly, “The concept of turning the other cheek has a great deal of merit. Did you know that turning the other cheek doesn’t mean to go accept another beating, as so many people have been led to believe? Really it means to stand up to your oppressor as an equal. Everyone, please stay in touch with your radios.”

“What are you up to, Petur?” Joseph asked before departing.

“Isaac and I are going to try to keep an eye on Elisa and Professor Harrigan.”

The group divided and headed their separate ways. The first two went to the communications shack, a small but very modern building that housed a technicopoeia of modern communication equipment, including satellite audio, video, and Internet connections. Also within were the standard radio-frequency transceivers, which could come in handy in the attempt to contact the British Navy. By way of thick fiber-optic cables, it was intimately tied into the array of antennas and satellite disks at the top of the mountain.

Standall, Onbacher, and Wagner went off toward the infirmary, and Isaac, Jack Gaimey, and Petur climbed aboard a third golf cart. They drove up the airport road toward the observatory on the mountain peak, on the way dropping off the pilot next to his moth-eaten and obviously seriously damaged plane.

“So, what sort of plan do you have to help Elisa?” Isaac asked. There was desperation in his tone.

“Well first, I want to check out the observatory. Let’s see if Harrigan is there, dead or alive. Then, regardless of what we find, let’s just watch. There is a great view from up this peak.”

“You mean you just want to stand idly by while Marcos sails away with her?”

“Yes Isaac, that is all we can do.”

“That’s not much of a plan! We have to do something more than that, Petur. We have to!”

Petur eyed his longtime friend curiously. There was no trace of his usually jovial persona, his usually light-hearted nature. Isaac had never been far from his sense of humor. In fact, he used his gift of humor even more extensively when facing stressful situations. Since Marcos had left with Elisa, Isaac had not made a single quip. Not one. This was entirely out of character, especially given the stress of the current situation.

“What is it, Isaac? What are you not telling me?”

Isaac was silent. The cart was making progress up the side of the mountain. In just a few minutes they would be at the observatory.

“What critical information?” Isaac asked.

“Hmmm?” Petur asked in return. He was taken aback by the non sequitur.

“What critical information did Joseph give you that made you think Harrigan was about to be successful in his experiments?”

“While we were off failing to find the Bounty with all that high-tech gear on the Elijah Lewis, I hopped a ride back home with an engineer who claimed to be off a merchant vessel. He’d rented one of the boats from the resort and had been out exploring Paradise 5. Seemed rather strange, though. There was no ship in port at the time. Later, Joseph told me that he had seen that same man chatting with Harrigan in some hidden grog hole on the wharf.”

“A grog hole?”

“Yeah. It’s like a Hellhole with beer. It turns out that one of our enterprising citizens has been running a black-market pub on the pier.” He turned the cart up a tight hairpin curve. “Anyhow, Harrigan and this fellow named Clemons were plotting something in that bar. Onbacher overheard parts of the conversation, which sounded mighty suspicious to him, like Harrigan was trying to do something that would be frowned upon, or perhaps dangerous. Joseph talked to me, which got my ass in gear to check out this Clemons fellow. You helped me with that, remember? He’s the guy that used to work in the same university that Harrigan did. An engineer, yes, but not in the merchant marines. Seems that he got in some trouble with the law, providing alcohol to the college kids, running poker tables. Nothing serious. But he got fired and that’s the last thing you could find out. Then he shows up here.”

“I remember, a bit. What did Harrigan say about this guy?”

“He made no apologies for recruiting him. But then he told me everything, including why he had hired Clemons. Clemons was setting up the experimental equipment on Paradise 5, as far away from people as he could. You see, Harrigan didn’t know exactly how big the effect would be. It was as simple as that.”

The cart had made it fully up the mountain now, and Petur parked it haphazardly near the entrance to the observatory. He jumped out, Isaac more slowly following.

Running through the several buildings revealed no bodies, no sign of Harrigan, dead or alive. The two men called his name as they moved into the domed building which held the largest telescope. The giant reflector was still aimed down at Science Hall. Lasers were taped, screwed, and glued onto the circumference of the mirror, with wires and tubes tossed loosely about. It was a slipshod job, but then, it was all put together in a couple of days. Harrigan had done great work creating this work of fiction.

“He must be on Marcos’s yacht,” Petur said, panting from the exertion of moving about the place so rapidly.

Petur led the way to a smaller domed building. Within it was a smaller, fifty-centimeter reflecting telescope that Petur had used from time to time to peer around the horizon. He removed the plastic caps that protected the optics, and aligned the smaller finder scope with his first target, changing to the big scope when he was roughly in the right position.

Paradise 4 was cluttered with people. The shore was lined with men, most sitting on their haunches awaiting others to rescue them, some taking things into their own hands and building shelters. Several small shanties had already been constructed and more were under development. Smoke rolled up from a dozen fires. Petur hoped that nobody on the island lay injured.

Next, he turned the telescope 180 degrees, scanning to the northeast. The horizon from this altitude was about 100 kilometers distant. Petur should be able to find the yacht, but the telescope was too powerful for scanning, and finding nothing on his initial pass, he pulled away from the eyepiece and examined the water with his naked eye. There was indeed a small speck out there in the distance, occasionally catching and reflecting sunlight.

Using the attached finder scope, it was still difficult to get a bead on the yacht, but finally he succeeded. It was clearly Marcos’s yacht, sailing away from them. There was hardly any wake, however, so Petur doubted they were making much headway. Changing to the larger telescope, which required some difficult adjustments, Petur was able to get a closer look at the goings-on on the vessel. Nobody was visible on the stern deck. They must all be on the bridge and down below, he thought.

“What are you seeing, Petur?”

“His yacht is out there, steaming away from us rather slowly.”

“How far out are they?”

“I have no idea. I’m pretty lousy at gauging distances. When they get the radar online, we’ll get a precise figure.”

“Can you see any activity?”

“None. Seems quiet…Wait one moment.” Petur adjusted the telescope’s equatorial mount and frowned, concentrating. “The boat is turning.”

Isaac said, “Uh-oh.”

“Are you worried?”

“Well, Marcos will probably be pretty pissed off that he was unable to destroy us completely. I bet he’s figured he still has a few hours before the Brits make their appearance. He probably is turning around to come finish us off.”

“He will have difficulty with that task for two reasons.” Petur was still looking through the telescope. “First, we aren’t tied up anymore. If we need to go into hiding in the jungle, we can. Second, I don’t think Marcos is in command of that boat anymore.”

“What do you mean?”

As the boat turned to port, Petur had gained a view of the forward deck. Perhaps two-dozen figures were kneeling on the foredeck, hands behind their heads. Two tall men with large weapons were moving among them, although the telescope was not of sufficient power to get a clearer image of what they were doing.

“It would seem that someone has taken over.”

“Who would have done that?”

“Isaac, even though I hadn’t planned on anyone being kidnapped, I did consider that things might not go according to plan. And they indeed did not. Anyhow, I kept a little something in reserve.”

Isaac asked, “And, what, my friend, was that?”

“Jeff Baddori.”

Chapter 57. Mexican Standoff

Outside the door of the rope locker, Harrigan and Elisa were able to stand vertically and stretch, and they took the momentary luxury to do so while they evaluated the scene. There were two unconscious soldiers, tied in ropes and duct tape, lying uncomfortably in two heaps on the floor. A fair bit of blood had been splattered on the white painted wall above the man with the prominent jowls. Baddori smiled sheepishly and said offhandedly, “Messy business, this is.”

Harrigan spoke up quickly. “Is Petur on board the boat?”

“No,” Baddori replied. “I got on board before you all did. I’m sorry, Professor, that I couldn’t stop Marcos from hitting you so hard. I couldn’t see much of what was happening, I’m afraid.”

“How about now? What’s the position now?” It was Elisa speaking.

“We’re in a great deal of a better position by now, I think.” He held a tiny radio in his hand, and pressed a button. In a moment a quiet, heavily accented voice came through.

“The vessel is secure.” The accent was German.

“Yes. A great deal of a better position.” Jeff indicated that they should move on out into the passageway, and as they did so, he spoke to Elisa. “And now, my lady, would you be so kind as to tell me who you really are? Juan Marcos calls you Maria. Petur calls you Elisa.”

Elisa interrupted. “And you…?”

“I remember you as ‘Tanya.’ I owe you for saving my life in Moscow. I feel good that I can now return the favor. But I would love to know what you are up to, my highly aliased friend.”

“All in good time, Jeff. But if Petur is not here, then he still may be tied up in the restaurant of Science Hall. He and the others will be getting uncomfortable by now. We need to get back to them.”

Jeff nodded in agreement, and led the way up the several companionways, which soon brought them onto the deck. Eyes now accustomed to light once again, the two former prisoners were met with a welcome sight. Sitting on the foredeck, lashed tightly, was the entire complement of Mexican sailors and soldiers. Two tall men with closely cropped hair, German engineers who worked for Otto Wagner, were guarding them. Elisa looked up at the bridge. Another of the German engineers stood there with a menacing Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun held tightly in one of his hands. He was in the process of taping and incapacitating a short balding Mexican soldier, while keeping a careful eye on two others. The other two were Juan Marcos, who appeared very tired, and the skipper of the boat.

Jeff moved quickly toward the bridge while the German engineer finished his task, shoving his bound captive to the floor, while indicating that Marcos should sit in a corner. Jeff climbed the narrow steps two at a time, and entered the bridge just as Marcos edged himself to the floor and sat down. Jeff stood above him.

“Well Juan Marcos, it is good to see you again.”

The regional governor looked upward into the face he knew all too well. “You! You again!” Marcos tried to rise, but a gun was soon at his temple. He settled back down, but spit out, “How can you possibly be here?” Then he added, “I will kill you!”

“You will kill nobody today, Juan Marcos. No, instead you will be indicted and tried for the murders you have already committed over your career.” And with that, Jeff turned to the German engineer who held the pistol. “Wilhelm, you will find a rope locker in the bow, on the lowest deck. It will be a tight fit to get him through the door, but I think it would be a very nice place to stow this extra ballast.” He was pointing to Marcos.

“It will be my pleasure to accompany him.”

Jeff added, “You’ll find two more of his henchmen incapacitated there as well. If they’re conscious, search them again for weapons, and put them in with Marcos.”

“Again, it would be my pleasure.”

Finally, Jeff added, “And keep an eye out for others. Some may be hiding.”

Marcos sneered at Jeff as he rose to his feet. “This time, you will not win. I will see you die, Baddori. And it will indeed be my pleasure.” Marcos was shoved harshly out the door, and downward toward his new dark and musty accommodations.

Jeff turned to Captain Zamrano. “You are under no obligation to assist us; however, given that you have been working for Juan Marcos — a man soon to be convicted in international court of innumerable crimes — I would recommend that you consider it. It would be a help to us if you could steer us back to Paradise 1.”

The captain did not hesitate, turning the wheel and swinging the boat to head southwestward, back toward the Paradise chain.

“And now, Professor, let’s get you comfortable. Your face is not particularly photogenic right now. That must really hurt.”

Harrigan smiled, slightly and painfully. There was a shining chrome cover that surrounded part of a large compass on the bridge. He leaned toward it. The convex shape served to distort his face even more than it already was, and the image returned from it was of a purplish-green monster with bloodied teeth and nostrils. “Oh my,” was all that he said.

Elisa took him in hand, and guided him off the bridge. The master stateroom was just a bit aft, down one flight, and she led him there. The door to the room was unlocked and opened with a slight squeak. The bed was inviting, and Harrigan quickly moved toward it.

Elisa stepped into the head. On this vessel, grand as it was, it was probably acceptable to call it a lavatory. A soft white cotton towel hung on a rack. As it was perfect for her task, she grabbed it and soaked it in cool water from the sink. She found two others that she took back with her to Harrigan. After some delicate cleansing of his shattered face, the wet towel had been stained with profuse blood but the professor looked somewhat better. Soon thereafter, exhausted emotionally and physically, he fell asleep. Elisa stayed at his side for a few minutes. Satisfied to see that he was breathing steadily and easily, she stood and walked toward the stateroom door. She opened it and stood face to face with Enrico Marcos.

Enrico’s face was fixed with hatred. Aimed directly at her chest was a small pistol, which Elisa recognized, for she owned one. It was a Glock 19 9mm subcompact pistol, a weapon that despite its diminutive size had adequate firepower to cause major damage when the trigger was pulled. He ushered her back inside the stateroom, closing and locking the door behind them.

He spoke in Spanish. “Maria, you and I have some unfinished business. Unfortunately, there is no time for that now, although I am sure we can find time later. Now, who has taken over this boat? How many are there?”

Elisa chuckled, and spoke back in English, “Right. Let me tell you everything!” The sarcasm was thick. True to form, Enrico responded with violence, swinging his free hand toward her face. Prepared, she sidestepped the blow, and he struck only air. Unfortunately, he had full control of the weapon, and gave her no opportunity to escape. The gun was now firmly planted against her forehead.

“I doubt you will cooperate to save your own life, Maria. So I will not bother to threaten it. However, you seem rather fond of the professor here.” He moved to the bedside and shook the man’s shoulder. Harrigan stirred, then awoke with a start, sitting bolt upright, looking into the face of the man who had beaten him at the observatory.

Enrico smiled at him — an evil smile. “Hello again, Professor. I am happy to see you looking so well.” He paused as he considered his next statement. “Which knee would you like me to put a bullet in, Professor? Or should I ask Maria, here, since she is in control of this situation?” He looked back toward her, inquiring.

“You are filth,” Elisa spat out.

“Dirt, grime, mud. But I get the job done. I am very good at that.” He took a pillow from the head of the bed, and placed it on Harrigan’s right knee. Then he drove the barrel of the pistol down into the pillow so that it would serve to muffle the gun’s report. “I will count to three, after which, he loses the knee. Are you going to cooperate?” His voice was steady, intent. “One…Two…” He tightened his grip on the gun.

“Stop! I will tell you what you need to know.” Elisa was shaking her head.

Enrico did not change his position, and maintained the grip on the pistol. “I will not count further. If you do not completely cooperate, I will pull this trigger. I already know quite a bit about what has happened. If I catch you in a lie, I will pull the trigger. Is this completely and entirely clear? To you both?” He looked piercingly into Harrigan’s eyes.

“A man who works for Petur Bjarnasson was already on board the boat when we boarded. He was concealed somewhere, I suppose. He has some men with him. I am not certain of the number.”

Enrico looked at her and pushed the pistol farther into the pillow, tighter against Harrigan’s kneecap. The visual warning was effective.

“I have seen three others.”

“I have only counted three. So, there is at least one more. You are doing well, Maria. The men I saw all have German accents. Now, who is the leader? Be careful of your answer, Maria.”

Elisa considered for a moment. He could know much more about who was on board, or he could be bluffing. “The other man does not have a German accent. He may be the leader.” Then she lied. “I don’t know his name.”

“What does this man look like?”

“Dark hair and green eyes. He might be Hispanic, maybe Arabic. Heck, he could be Japanese. I have no idea. Why don’t you go up on deck and see for yourself? I will stay here with Evan.”

“The only way you will stay here with Evan,” Enrico replied, “is if you are both dead.” He continued immediately, “Now, tell me where my father is being held.” The pistol, momentarily relaxed, shoved harshly into Harrigan’s knee once more.

“Cut with the pistol thing, Enrico. I don’t know where your father is.”

“How about you, Professor? Do you know?”

Harrigan replied, his voice shaky, “I have no idea. Maybe they threw him overboard. The boat seems to be sitting higher in the water now.”

Enrico laughed loudly. “My father would kill you where you lie for mocking him in that way. I may tell him what you said when I find him.”

“I would be careful,” Harrigan retorted. “Sometimes the messenger is the one who gets shot.”

“Enough of this. I think I know where he is. Why don’t we all go?” Enrico motioned to the professor. “Get up, Harrigan. We are going for a walk.”

Elisa studied Enrico as Harrigan slowly climbed his way out of bed. He was dressed in white shorts and a buttoned Hawaiian-style shirt, sockless with boat shoes. He looked like he should be sipping cocktails on a porch at a yacht club.

As they stepped out of the stateroom, Enrico turned them aft, away from the bridge. He guided the pair down into the bowels of the boat, encountering nobody on the way, and then turned back through the engine room to the bow. In less than a minute, they were back at the heavy metal door of the rope locker.

“Open it,” Enrico commanded Harrigan. Harrigan looked at Elisa, who nodded in acquiescence. There was no choice in the matter.

The door pulled open with some effort. Out the door came Jowls and the other Mexican soldier, both of whom had been untied in the dark by Juan Marcos, who, in turn, emerged subsequently. It was with some difficulty that he exited the locker, for the size of the door was not generous.

As he stretched, he said, “Good work, Enrico. What is our situation?”

“You are looking at our assets: the four of us, one weapon, these two hostages. On the other hand, I think they have only four men.”

“They may have four men, but two are occupied keeping an eye on the rest of the crew. We have little time before they realize these two are missing.” He indicated Elisa and Harrigan. Juan Marcos was decisive. “We go to the bridge, directly. That’s where Baddori will be!”

“Baddori!” Enrico was aghast. “Baddori is here?”

“He is the one who took over the ship, you fool. He works for Bjarnasson now.”

“Devious bastard.” Enrico exhaled loudly. “I cannot believe he is on board our boat!”

“He will not be for long.”

Enrico led the little band back the way they had come, stopping on the way to check storage bins for weapons, but finding that all had been found and removed. Through the engine room and up the back companionway they traveled, with only one — briefly and bloodily addressed — challenge. Soon they were in the passageway attached to the master stateroom. It was a few meters up the companionway to the entrance to the bridge. Upon arrival, Harrigan was shoved through the bridge door roughly, attracting the attention of Jeff, who spun and pulled his pistol out of his belt loop, aiming it at the door.

Harrigan’s agonized face immediately revealed to Jeff that something had gone afoul. The next face that appeared around the corner of the door was Elisa, likewise appearing dismayed, with a gun held at her head. The man carrying the gun came into view: Enrico Marcos.

Jeff swore loudly. A moment later the bridge had become crowded, as two more Mexicans, both rather bloodied, and then Juan Marcos, entered. Juan Marcos carried an automatic assault weapon, one that looked too familiar to Jeff. Enrico’s gun was still pointed at Elisa’s head. Jeff’s expert hand was shifting his gun back and forth between the two Marcos men. It was a standoff of sorts, but not one that Jeff was likely to win, and he recognized it immediately.

He flashed a glance at the foredeck below, at two of the German engineers guarding the Mexican soldiers. They were oblivious to what was going on above them.

“As you try to make your decision as to what to do next, Baddori, let me give you one more piece of information. The man who you had take me to my little prison in the bow is now quite dead. We ran into him on the way back. He kindly donated his weapon to our cause.” Marcos held up the German-made MP5 assault rifle. “You are left with little. Now, drop your weapon so we can all avoid further unpleasantness.”

The two Mexicans whom Jeff had incapacitated outside the rope locker each gave Jeff a withering stare, angered at having been tricked and beaten by the man. Then they moved to the far side of the bridge, where Jowls began unbinding his uniformed colleague who lay on the floor, while the other stood watch out the port bridgewing.

“Someone always gets hurt when you are involved, Marcos,” Jeff responded. “Nonetheless, you do have me at a disadvantage.” But he held his gun tight, still moving it back and forth between the men.

“Two guns to one, Baddori. We have you soundly beat.”

“I’m sorry, but you need to recount, Governor Marcos.” The voice, with a thick German accent, came from the small communications room attached to the bridge. Heinrich Poll stepped out, with his HK MP5 leveled at the Mexicans. “It seems we are all miscounting today.”

Juan Marcos looked over his left shoulder toward the man holding the weapon. He was tall and tan, well muscled, and with a shaven head. The figure, with a grim line to his thin lips, was intimidating. The situation was uncertain. Enrico had his small pistol against the girl’s temple, Baddori’s was moving throughout the room, and both Juan Marcos and this new interloper were prepared to pan through the whole place.

“We seem to be in the midst of an awkward situation.” Jeff looked at each person there: the two Marcos men, the Mexican soldiers, Captain Zamrano, Harrigan, Poll. He was calm, calculating, carefully speaking to everyone on the bridge. “Bullets are about to fly. People will certainly die when that happens. Which people? Could be any of us. But Elisa — I’m sorry, Maria — would clearly be one.” He looked at the gun Enrico held to her head. “And what a shame that would be. Of course, Governor Marcos is a hard target to miss. He would almost assuredly succumb. As to the rest, all of us or none of us could die.”

At least one of the Mexicans seemed to be paying heed, for the balding fellow, the one who had just been unbound on the bridge, started edging across the room. The man sought quiet approval from Marcos, Jeff, and finally Heinrich Poll, all of whom nodded. He then moved a bit more confidently, close enough to speak in a whisper with Juan Marcos.

Poll spoke up, leveling his weapons now directly at Marcos. “It is good for us all to talk about this, but you must make yourself heard to the rest of us, please. We do not want any plotting.”

The balding Mexican said nothing more, but Juan Marcos replied. “I am sorry, I have just been reminded by my bodyguard that I am not a very good shot with a gun.” He then proceeded to hand his weapon to the other man. No one had time to react or intervene. The newly armed soldier, confidently and without showing fear of any kind, then proceeded without warning to walk abruptly across the small bridge toward Baddori. Jeff had not expected this move, and suddenly found the barrel of the man’s gun firmly planted against his forehead.

Poll had his weapon aimed directly at the man, but knowing that one shot would set off a massacre, hesitated to act. The newly armed Mexican, who, it had just become clear, was not one to be trifled with, had clearly counted on this hesitation.

His stature was not impressive, nor was his overall appearance, but his voice was deep and dominant. “Your little speech was eloquent, but, now, Baddori, the people who will certainly die when bullets fly includes you. So I ask you, how brave are you? Are you ready to die? For you most definitely will if you even blink.”

No one breathed during the next thirty seconds. All eyes were on Jeff Baddori. A bead of sweat formed on his forehead, and then another and another. His eyes looked first at those of the man holding the weapon to his head, then at Poll, and finally at Elisa. With overpowering shame, Jeff lowered his pistol to his side.

There were dozens of electronic instruments on the bridge of the modern luxury yacht: radar, sonar, satellite navigation, LORAN, computerized stabilizers, and more. There was invariably heard a pleading monotone beeping, as one of the instruments seemed always to be demanding attention. But now, at this highly tense moment, even the electronics maintained a reverent silence.

“Heinrich. Please lower your weapon,” Jeff commanded, and then turned to Juan Marcos. “Governor, we are at your mercy.”

Poll hesitated to obey, but then slowly did so, allowing the muzzle of his powerful weapon to aim at the floor. Juan Marcos smiled broadly, sensing victory. Enrico, the muscles in his arm burning from holding his gun at Elisa’s head, relaxed his grip on his pistol. He slowly stepped back, targeting her now from his hip.

Juan Marcos spoke. “I think things seem a bit more sane now. Tensions are easing.”

The metal of the weapon against Jeff’s head was cold, and he felt strangely relieved that the barrel was moved from between his eyebrows to the back of his head as the short man moved behind him. The gun was now in the position used for ritual assassination, where the bullet enters straight into the base of the skull.

“Get on your knees.” Slowly, Jeff did so. “Now, tell your man to obey me.” The voice holding the weapon at Jeff’s head was in complete charge now.

“Heinrich,” Jeff said, “please do precisely as this man says.”

The man holding all the power now looked first at the two Mexican soldiers, then at the boat’s captain, and then at Juan Marcos. Clearly having made a quick decision, the man looked at Poll and said, “Place your weapon on the floor, and kick it across to Governor Marcos.”

Heinrich looked at Jeff, who nodded his approval. Poll did as he was told, the questioning look of concern not leaving his eyes.

Juan Marcos bent over to pick up the weapon, which he then aimed at Heinrich Poll. He said, “And now, Mr. Baddori, it would seem that the balance of power has shifted to us. Please place your own weapon on the floor.”

Jeff did not move for a moment.

“I said, drop your weapon.” Marcos’s voice was firm, unwavering, and impatient. He moved the muzzle of his newly acquired weapon to the floor behind him, upon which Evan Harrigan lay. “Or I shoot this man where he lies.”

Again, silence permeated the bridge, and no one breathed. What happened next came as a complete surprise to almost everyone. Jeff, instead of dropping his gun to the floor, raised it up suddenly and fired one carefully planned shot. The move was so fast that those watching were not even sure that it had happened. The 9-mm bullet, propelled by the explosive force of two grams of high-grade powder, hit Enrico Marcos square in the ear, blowing out the far side of his head. He was dead before he even heard the report.

Juan Marcos stood there in shock, not believing what he had just seen. His son lay on the deck, bleeding profusely from his fatal wound. How could this have just happened? Anger surged within him, his face reddened with rage. He closed his eyes and shouted in Spanish to the man whose weapon was still pressed solidly against Jeff’s head. “Diego, blow his head off!”

The mildly stout, unimpressive man named Diego did nothing of the sort. Instead this man, present on the boat solely for the purpose of protecting Juan Marcos, just laughed.

Juan Marcos at first did not know what to make of Diego’s reaction. Was the man going insane? Was this how he acted when he was about to kill a man? Or was Diego laughing at him? Thoughts raced through his head. Diego had been in his organization for years, and had become a highly trusted comrade and advisor, as well as frequently performing unsavory tasks from time-to-time. Diego had always been independent — never really an employee, more like a colleague, but always trusted.

He stated firmly, “Diego, kill him! Now!”

The response from the man was far from what Juan Marcos had hoped. Diego gave him a sardonic smile, and shook his head, as if pitying the man. Somehow, some way, Baddori had gotten to him.

Marcos raised his gun away from Harrigan, turning it towards Baddori and Diego. His mind was consumed with fury. Fury at being tricked again. Fury at the treasonous behavior of a trusted ally. He began to tighten his grip, squeezing the trigger with the index finger of his right hand. Jeff, his weapon still at the ready, fired once again, another carefully aimed and executed shot. Marcos’s hand erupted in a mass of blood and tissue fragments as the bullet tore through bones and tendons. His heavy weapon crashed to the floor and he howled in pain.

Jowls, braver than he was smart, dove for the discarded weapon. Diego quickly reacted, moving his gun away from Jeff’s head and firing several rounds into the Mexican soldier, who was instantly stopped by the bullets. Jowls lay dying on the deck, his blood mixing quickly with that of Enrico Marcos. The other soldier stayed quiet and behaved, as did Captain Zamrano.

Juan Marcos sat down slowly on the deck, looking at his bloodied hand. Elisa had picked up the weapon, fouled with crimson-stained fragments torn from the governor’s flesh. She helped Harrigan to his feet. One of the German engineers who had been serving as a guard on the deck below was running through the door, responding to the sounds of gunfire. He entered the bridge and trained his weapon on the remaining Mexican soldier and the boat captain.

Jeff surveyed the situation as he tucked his pistol back into his belt. He was alive, and unwounded. Elisa was unharmed. Evan Harrigan, injured as he was, would heal. He tossed his pistol to Poll, and said, “I apologize for the ruse, everybody.” Then he threw his arm around Diego, the man who had a moment before been holding a gun to his head, a man who had lost much of his hair in the several years since they had last been together. With a wave of his free arm, Jeff made a short announcement to the small crowd of bewildered observers.

“Allow me to introduce my brother.”

Preview

In the next and final installment of Higher Cause (Chapter 58: Treasure Ship; Chapter 59: Hope Lost; Chapter 60: Look Up; Epilogue), Petur and Onbacher seek the real resting place of the Bounty and the sphere that defies gravity. And the world learns what happened to Paradise 5.