The pirates were dead, all three of them.
Matt Christopher had been hired to provide armed security for the ship’s wealthy charter guests, and he did the job. His rapid response had ended the lives of the marauders before they were able to lay a finger on the luxury yacht floating quietly in the Gulf of Thailand.
“They really screwed up. Picked a calm, moonlit night to try to come aboard,” Matt told the vessel’s captain, Billy Worsley, as the ship’s exterior lights went to full bright.
Worsley had spent his life at sea. The years of salt water, high winds, and punishing sunlight had weathered him, but armed encounters with pirates were new to him.
“Kill those, please,” Matt added, his words more of a command than a request. “If there’s more out there, I need the moon to light them up. Your floods will only blind me and illuminate us as a target.”
Responding to the American’s request, the captain of the one hundred and sixty-foot pearl-white motor yacht directed his number-one to douse the spotlights and notify the authorities.
“Belay that notification, please, captain,” Matt said in a softer tone. “I’m not supposed to be here with the small arsenal we brought aboard. If the authorities get involved, we’ll both have more explaining and red tape to cut through than the chum in the water is worth.”
Both men stepped to the silver rail and looked down into the sea. The ship’s lights, glowing from their hull mountings a foot below the waterline, were meant to illuminate the tropical waters and reveal the wondrous creatures that swam through the night. Instead, they spotlighted three men, floating face down as the sea around them turned red.
“We at least have to retrieve their remains,” Worsley insisted, putting his hands on his hips. “It’s required by the law here.”
Matt let a dry laugh escape and stepped around the captain to greet the primary charter guest. Nigel Anderson was a wealthy industrialist with holdings in Asia and the United Kingdom. Tall, fit and tanned, the man had come up on deck wearing boxer shorts that resembled his country’s own red, white, and blue flag—the Union Jack.
“Everything’s okay, Nigel,” Matt reassured his client. “I saw them from my spot up above the bridge.”
“What happened?” Nigel looked around the deck as if expecting to see bodies.
“They didn’t make it very far,” Matt explained. “I lit the laser sight on my rifle and washed it across their boat, but they kept coming.” The M4A1 assault weapon was his go-to, the same one used by the SEALs back when they had trained him, back before they had uncovered his Achilles’ heel and washed him out.
“When I waved it across their faces as a warning, they still didn’t stop. They sped up. I made my way down to the stern where they were headed. They were within five feet of the boat, and one of them threw that at me.”
Matt turned and pointed to an assault-style knife—scalpel-sharp edge on one side, serrated on the other—now on the deck after having missed its intended target. It had, however, left a mean mark on the ship’s beautiful teak trim.
“Thank God you weren’t hurt,” Nigel said. “I guess this wasn’t a negotiation?” He eyed the assault rifle with the night scope, laser pointer, and sound=suppressed barrel hanging from Matt’s right shoulder.
“Yep. The second that knife left his hand, it was game over.” Matt led Nigel to the railing and pointed toward the water where the pirates’ Zodiac barely floated.
“Who would have thought that when I called you asking if you could recommend a security team that you’d be here, in Thailand, with some time to kill,” Nigel said as he patted Matt on the back. Both men slowly shook their heads at the comment.
“Your night crew is still on watch as I directed?” Matt asked the captain. “There could be more out there, although I doubt it. Better to be safe than tied up down below with your throat slit.”
The captain appeared still shaken by the incident.
“Never thought this would ever happen to me, to my ship,” Worsley said. “I was totally against your coming aboard, but I’m grateful you were here for this.”
The captain shook each man’s hand, then went back to the rail and looked down. “We still need to retrieve the bodies. They need to be identified. Their families, if they have them, should know.” He paused. “What if they had children? They need to know.”
Matt considered the captain’s concerns but shook his head slowly. “Life’s a bitch,” he said in a softened tone, saddened by the thought.
“They stay in the water,” Nigel said emphatically. “We’re in international waters, and those assholes could have killed us all.” He looked at Matt. “I’d just as soon leave them to the fish. Circle of life and all that; nothing but shark shit before morning.”
Matt smiled grimly. “Can’t say I disagree.” He turned his attention back to the Gulf. “Bull sharks and tigers swim in these waters,” he said. “Attacks are rare, but those boys are floating with all that blood in the water. I expect that will attract the attention of a hungry few, and those bodies disappear in no time. I told the captain they needed to stay in the water, and I’m glad to hear you feel the same way.”
The captain shifted on his feet and looked away, as if considering how wise it was to overrule the man with the gun and the charter guest who might demand a full refund and, on top of that, withhold the typical $20,000 tip most luxury charter guests paid at the end of their journey.
“Let’s compromise, Mr. Christopher,” he suggested. “If the bodies are still there at sunrise, we’ll fish them out. Otherwise, we’ll leave them to the sea to reclaim them.”
Hours later, the blinding sun, heat, and humidity of the season greeted the rest of the charter guests as they arose to begin their last scheduled day on the water. Aside from Anderson, they were unaware of just how close they came to being robbed, or worse.
Matt finally left his post at the stern of the ship. There was nothing else in sight on the water. The bodies were long gone. The inflatable that the pirates had arrived on had finally sunk, thanks to the half-dozen shots Matt had fired into it as part of his rapid response to the failed incursion. A spent shell casing that one of the crew had scooped as a souvenir was collected and thrown overboard with the rest of the evidence.
Soon, word about what had happened during the night had made it to everyone aboard. Some took it in stride, while others bypassed morning coffee and opted for a Bloody Mary, extra spicy, or a screwdriver, heavy on the vodka. Matt had already stowed his assault weapon in a secure space at the back of the ship, but he kept his holstered 9 mm Glock with an extra clip on his belt. His floral designed shirt lay over the bulge on his right hip.
Anyone who had been against having armed security on the ship at the onset was now an appreciative supporter. Nigel Anderson’s wife wrapped her arms around Matt and squeezed but then stepped back. He tensed as she pressed his shirt hard against his sweat and bumped the gun underneath, neither of which he appreciated. She didn’t speak a word. She kissed his cheek, pausing for a moment, and then stepped back, her beautiful blonde hair pulled up in a bun to reveal the exquisite, tanned face of a top London fashion model. He read the thanks in her emerald eyes and could still smell the intriguing scent she’d left behind.
Matt headed straight for the breakfast buffet the staff had laid out for their guests. Bypassing the crab omelets and eggs Benedict, he went right for the coffee and could have found it with his eyes closed, locked in like a hunting dog on a much different scent. Sam Norton emerged through the automatic sliding doors of the West Indian mahogany dining room and nodded to his friend. His white short-sleeved shirt decorated with a ring of blue palm trees lay over the bulge of another holstered weapon. They both looked like they belonged there: handsome features, perfect tans on fit bodies. Sam was fresh out of a shower and ready for the day. Matt did not return the smile.
“Nothing out of the ordinary inside, Matt,” Sam reported. “Sorry I missed all the fun.”
Matt’s gaze out over the sea didn’t change as he shook his head slowly and sipped another and then another bit of coffee. They were in hearing distance of the guests, so Matt kept up the charade.
“No, it was better that you won the coin toss and got to watch over the bikinis all day while I took the late shift. I love being on the water, but especially at night. Back home on my boat I can lie there and watch the stars for hours. It’s how I picture heaven.”
Matt cleared his throat and his thoughts. “I prefer the quiet of the night and the sounds of the sea anyway. If there had been more than one boat, or someone had fired a weapon, I would have given you a shout on the radio.”
Matt stopped talking and turned to stare at his friend. “Maybe now that we’ve spent a few weeks screwing around over here, you’re ready to go home and deal with the divorce.” Last night was the last straw, he thought. Matt was done.
Sam nodded, and then they both walked away from the guests to a quieter spot on the stern. Once there, Matt leaned back against the railing and continued.
“It’s been long enough for me, too. Claire texted last night that all is quiet. There’s nothing, no chatter. Her team hasn’t found anything about who might have dispatched Anika or the two assholes that tried to drown me in the Potomac.”
As part of Matt’s duties as a contracted specialist for the United States’ intelligence services, he had helped MI5 in the UK snare a killer of women and the powerful man who had directed the assaults: the killer’s uncle, Thomas Sinclair. Two men had attacked Matt at a marina in D.C. weeks before this and the last words Matt heard before going under that night were, “Thomas Sinclair sends his regards.” With the help of the NSA and British intelligence, Matt was able to come face-to-face with his attackers and leave them dead in his wake.
Anika Ivanova, a Russian assassin, had killed Helene Coleman, the Director of National Intelligence for the United States. Coleman was also Matt’s relative, and that made his next mission very personal. His exceptional sense of intuition and other intellectual skills allowed him to track her to Thailand, where his revenge was carried out near a deserted beach bar late one night. Sam had unknowingly introduced Anika to Coleman, and it was his guilt that drove him to accompany Matt on the journey to find her and deliver swift justice.
Matt stood silently, almost as if Sam wasn’t there, and then gave a nod of recognition as Captain Worsley walked past them.
“She’s still worried that if she pokes around the CIA or MI6 for help, things might get really complicated. It might be better for her to let it go and turn me loose to do my own thing.”
The captain came back toward them with a questioning look. Matt read his mind. He put down his coffee, raised his hands, palms out: No more. “Told ya, skipper. The sea reclaimed the three and the little boat. End of story.”
Worsley nodded, excused himself, and headed back to the bridge.
The heat and humidity of Thailand were almost as overpowering as the strong morning coffee. Matt could feel it intensifying by the hour. Sam wiped the sweat off his forehead and watched with an amazed expression as Matt retrieved his cup and took another gulp.
“It’s going to take a long time for us to find out who ordered the hit on Helene and the payback hit on me,” Matt said. “I already know why. I just need to find them and feed them to the fishes like those unlucky bastards.”
Sam nodded. “You sure they’re done coming after you? Wouldn’t it be best to just maintain a low profile and hang out here for a few months?”
Matt leaned back against the ship’s railing to finish his coffee. His posture and his tone hardened abruptly when he realized his cup was empty. Standing tall, he stepped closer to Sam.
“I’ll want to talk about last night once we get off this boat, Sam, but not here, not now. My only other concern right now is for Claire. I’ve made her promise to let it go for now, or they—whoever the hell they are—might go after her just like they did Helene, and I can’t let that happen.” Matt felt his neck muscles tighten at the mention of that incident. He had to force himself to relax. “But no, Sam, I can’t lay low any longer. For me, it’s time to get back to work.”
Sam looked out across the quiet sea and back at Matt. “I really like it here. I’m beginning to favor beaches and bikinis over bison and the damn bears back home.” He grinned. “Who wouldn’t, right? I think I’ll rent myself out as armed security on some of the charters that leave out of here and see where that takes me. Maybe find one that will sail over to Vietnam.”
“Just don’t use me as a reference. We’ll get into that later.” Matt walked away from his friend, headed for his bunk and a few hours’ sleep. In his cabin, just as he pulled the covers up to offset the AC he had set to a cool 60 degrees, Matt smiled as he listened on his radio to the captain ordering the anchors raised and the ship set on a heading back to port. He had done his job and had enjoyed the work, keeping focused, keeping busy. He also hadn’t had a drink in weeks.
The sun had begun its run for the horizon by the time the vessel docked, and the charter guests had been escorted off the ship.
Matt approached Captain Worsley, the strap from the black backpack he’d slung over his right shoulder marking where sweat met his blue High Times & Climbs Everest t-shirt, a souvenir from another of his deadly excursions. There was an awkward silence between them as the man stared at Matt for some time, but then broke eye contact as Sam came up behind them with two bags in hand.
“Still can’t believe he let me sleep through all the fun. You ready to roll?” Sam asked Matt.
“I have known about men like you, but you’re the first I’ve ever met,” the captain said in a sincere tone. “You came aboard, saw a threat, dealt with it, and then went and had coffee.” He shook his head in disbelief. “You two are a couple of cool characters.”
Sam laughed. “Him, not me, skipper. I just carry the bags.”
Matt stepped forward and extended his hand to the captain. “It’s caveman instinct, plain and simple. Me see threat. Me kill threat. Me go home.”
The captain didn’t look amused. “But how could you know for sure that they were going to hurt any of us? They could have just been hard up and looking for some cash or something to barter. But before they made their demands, you killed them dead.”
Matt smiled. “They had knives, Skipper, assault knives, and I guarantee you they weren’t coming aboard to help your chef prep a crudité. They weren’t just beggars trying to feed their families. That boat and those knives aren’t cheap. There are some sickos in the world, and while there’s a slim chance they may not have harmed anyone, are you saying you were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt?”
Sam nodded. “That’s what makes Matt so special to law enforcement and investigations back home. He has a sense, a gift, that’s really rare. He just knows. But heck, there are assholes among us, plain and simple. Back in Wyoming, we had a case a few years back. We got it all on the security tapes. A guy walked into a convenience store late one night. He pointed a gun at the clerk. She handed over the money. As he headed for the door, he turned around and looked at her, then at the camera, and then back at her. He shot her in the face and then walked away into the darkness. Once an asshole has the upper hand, you never know what they might do, so never, ever let them have it.”
“So,” Matt added, “you put them down without flinching. It’s in the flinch, in the split-second delay that they can pounce, so you have to be decisive before they have a chance to do it to you. I know these sorts of things are rare in your yachting world, but they happen all the time in ours.”
The captain extended his hand and stepped forward to thank Sam and Matt for what they had done.
“Kildt ’em dead, huh?” Sam repeated the captain’s words and accent. “Didn’t know you were from Texas.”
“Dallas,” Worsley said, smiling as he shook their hands, “and don’t say a damn thing about my Cowboys!” He handed Matt a thick white envelope he pulled from his back pants pocket. “This is from Mr. Anderson. He asked me to give it to you after they departed because he was sure you would have refused it. I counted it. It’s fifty grand, U.S.”
Sam dropped the second bag. “Holy shit. We made ten grand each for a week’s work, and now a bonus?”
Matt took the envelope, smiled, and picked up his bag from where Sam had dropped it.
“Adios,” he said and then walked down the short gangway onto the dock. Sam caught up quickly. Together, they disappeared into the crowd of locals and tourists who congregated at the docks to ogle the magnificent yachts and the rich and famous that traveled in them.
“Fifty grand. Damn, I can use my half as a down payment on a new place in Jackson,” Sam said enthusiastically. They kept walking until it must have occurred to Sam that there was something on Matt’s mind. He came to a stop and asked Matt what was up.
Matt patted the envelope in his front pocket. He was now ready to have this conversation.
“Your half, my ass! You don’t deserve a damn cent of it. I’m giving this to a charity, all of it.” I just have to figure out which one—maybe the Thai Red Cross, Matt thought.
“What the fuck, Matt! This is bullshit. It was meant for us to split! We’re a team, right. Or at least I thought we were.”
Matt stepped closer to Sam. “A team? Where were you last night when I called you on the radio four fucking times? Didn’t bother to get your ass out of the bunk or whoever you were in, did you? We were lucky they were amateurs. If they’d been professionals this could have ended a lot differently.”
Matt watched Sam’s expression. He could see the wheels turning, but Sam had no answers for him. He was busted.
“This is the second time you’ve screwed up, Sammy boy, so let’s not bicker over the split. It goes to charity unless you want to discuss this in another way.”
Matt’s posture stiffened even more, and Sam took a step back. They were about the same size, build, and physical condition, but Sam knew better than to get into this fight. America’s national security organizations recognized Matt as one of the brightest and most gifted. Over the years, Matt had been unable to tell his friend much about the places he’d been and the cases he’d worked, but he had shared quite a bit about his training. And Sam knew better than to go up against that.
Matt had spent time with the FBI, CIA, and the Navy SEALs for weapons, tactics, physical and mental training, and shortly afterward, he’d been sent overseas to experience the same with MI5 and MI6 in England. He’d mastered everything to be learned about fighting, defensive and offensive hand-to-hand combat, and then some. What Matt hadn’t let on to Sam was that he had failed the exercises designed to overcome one’s fear of drowning. They were the only ones he couldn’t pass. As a result, the SEALs transferred him to the Army Rangers to continue more land and air training there.
“Okay, okay, I let you down last night,” Sam confessed. He lowered his head. “I knew it was our last night at sea, and the Chief Steward and I had been wanting to bump uglies the entire time we’d been out there.”
“This isn’t Below Deck damn it! You couldn’t have waited until you got to port?”
Sam turned and looked back at the ship and then at the other beautiful yachts that were tied up in a row. From classic designs and lines to a few that looked straight out of Star Wars, all were mostly in white except for a dark blue beauty and one painted in gray as if to resemble a Navy vessel. After a minute, he turned back to Matt.
“Anika got past me, Matt. But she got past the FBI, NSA, and whoever else took a look at her. Don’t forget that. You can’t hold that against me forever.”
Matt kept staring at Sam and then removed his sunglasses so Sam could see directly into his eyes. “I’ll give you that one, Sam. But last night sucked big-time.” Matt picked up his bag and began to walk away, headed toward the row of hotels that led across the beachfront and down into town.
“Where you going?” Sam called out once, and then again, until Matt stopped and turned back toward him.
“I need some space. I’m going to the Palace Hotel. In the morning, I’ll head out. Be careful playing with the rich and famous. I’ll see you down the road.” With that, Matt turned and kept walking, giving a slight wave with his right hand.
Sam just stood there on the dock and watched as his friend moved farther and farther away until he disappeared into the crowd. His emotions quickly shifted from sadness back to simmering rage. The fact was that his best friend had just walked off with a bag of money, half of which he still felt was his. But it wasn’t all about the money. Sam knew he had screwed up in recent months, a lot, and now he was paying for it.
After checking into the beautiful five-star hotel, Matt dropped his bag and his backpack in the suite, and locked the cash and what weapons and ammo he could fit in the safe. He placed his assault rifle behind the corner curtain, fronted by a chair, and took a quick shower. Now in a plain green t-shirt and khaki hiking shorts, he read a text from Jenny, his stepsister. She’d sent him two illustrations she’d been working on for the next project they’d been developing together. He smiled and replied.
THE KIDS WILL TOO
HEADING FOR A BAR
KEEP THEM COMING!
With everything Matt was involved in, and everything he had, he chose to keep a good bit of himself and his life private. In addition to his investigative and contract work, there were his philanthropic efforts. And what would surely come as a surprise to most was that he authored children’s books under a pen name. Matt had lost a brother and a sister at an early age and knew how confused, scared, and lonely he had felt. With this, he thought he could help others. The books were meant for pre-teens and addressed loss and grief: friends moving away, pets, siblings, or parents running away, getting lost, or getting sick and dying.
Despite having no children of his own, or wanting them, he’d shared his thoughts once with someone he’d flown beside who, it turned out, was in the publishing business. Before long, he was an author and he’d asked Jenny to participate. She was a relentless investigative reporter, but she also loved children and hoped to have her own little family someday. She was an artist with her words for her reporting but had created images for the books that really connected with the kids. Every dime they made from the books was donated to the Make-A-Wish foundation.
As he hung the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the knob, he looked back to the open suitcase lying on the bed. They’ll just think I’m kinky if there’s a turndown service, he thought of the sets of plastic flex cuffs he had left out on the bed. His backpack—his weapons bag—was already secured with steel handcuffs underneath the bed to its metal frame.
Time for the beach bar. No more coffee for him; it was time for very cold beer. He’d spent a week working the night shift on the yacht, and in his professional capacity as armed security, he had stayed away from alcohol. He hadn’t tasted a drop since the beers on the beach he had shared with Sam, toasting Helene’s memory right after her killer had been disposed of in the brush. Now it was time to decompress.
But before he’d been able to down half a bottle of Singha, the local beer, and enjoy the sunset and the beautiful Thai servers who were dressed in nothing but smiles and bikinis, he made a big mistake: he checked his phone.
F1 TEAM OWNER’S JET-SETTING SON FOUND MURDERED IN MONTREAL
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