Penelope Meyer drove up her four-hundred-foot driveway after dropping the girls off at school. She was surprised to see Sebastian’s car in the driveway because he didn’t come home all night. She could give a shit, hoping someday he would stay away forever. Two bags of groceries were carried in and ample time was taken to put them all away. Still no Sebastian. With a deep sigh, she went upstairs to say hello.
“Good morning, dear. Why aren’t you at work?”
Sebastian pressed into the end of the couch and looked out the window. He looked odd to Penelope, but she had done her wifely duty saying good morning and had no further wish to engage. So she changed into her tennis clothes and left without another word.
Sebastian was in agony and held his right hand gingerly. Once downstairs, he laid his hand in an ice bucket and poured ice over it, flinching as the cubes hit his mangled fingers. He hoped it would heal on its own. An emergency visit to x-ray his right hand had to be avoided and that was his driving force at the moment. Three strong pain pills were washed down with whisky and then he laid down. When he closed his eyes, he saw the blood. Buckets and buckets of blood all over his office that had to be cleaned up with just one hand.
Penelope, still red-faced from her game of tennis, walked into her room, pulling her polo shirt over her head. She stifled a scream, seeing Sebastian asleep on the bed. In twenty years of marriage, she had never known him to take a day off unless he was projectile vomiting. He looked peaceful, no trashcans near the bed to vomit into, no sticky hair from a fever. Something was definitely wrong, she could feel it. She grabbed her clothes and went to the guest rooms to shower. By nine o’clock she tried to wake him, knowing there was a board meeting at ten. The triple dose of pain medicine made that impossible, but he stirred in his sleep, pulling his hand from under the covers. Penelope staggered backward, seeing his mangled hand, and crashed into a large ornate floor vase, quickly grabbing it so it didn’t fall over. Sebastian’s hand was triple its normal size, with purple fingers sticking out in unnatural directions. She raced out of the room and called his secretary to cancel the meeting for today.
Sarah sighed and hung up the phone. She looked at the nine annoyed board members in the lounge and stood up to deliver the bad news. They had been crowding her and complaining for the past hour, and she was glad to be rid of them. When they finally filed out, she was alone at her desk and pulled a leather pouch from her purse, choosing three tiny instruments from it. She watched the hall outside their glass partition while she expertly worked the lock picks, and four minutes later she was locked in Sebastian’s office. Sarah froze, sniffing the air while the hairs on her neck stood straight up.
There is no mistaking the smell of blood and bleach. She felt nausea coming and ran for the waste can. The sweat rolled down her face as she bent over the can, waiting for the vomit, but after a few minutes, her stomach settled. She worked fast, going through every drawer, file, and notepad until every piece of paper had been examined. She pushed the power button on his computer and sighed with relief when there was no password to stop her intrusion. She worked fast, knowing she would be caught if Sebastian tried to log in remotely. Nothing, absolutely nothing was amiss. Before she shut it down, she looked at his browser search history, scanning through hundreds of porn websites until a group of strange icons appeared. She opened them one at a time, feeling panic grip her. With shaking hands, she searched her purse for her thumb drive and slammed it into the USB port to copy his browsing history. If she was caught, he would kill her, so the minutes seemed like hours as the thumb drive was updating. Finally, she yanked it out and shut down the computer. Pressing her ear against the door, she heard nothing and boldly slipped out into her office, locking the door behind her.
Sarah’s heels echoed against the stairwell as she climbed her way to the top of the building. She had called in the rescue code to the FBI command center and pushed her burning legs until the door to the roof swung open. She could already hear the approaching chopper and finally felt the grip around her neck release. She made one more phone call, writing coordinates on her hand as she ran for the landing bird. She scrambled into the front seat and yanked the headset down, nodding to the agents in the back seat while she addressed the pilot, reading off of her hand.
Darius updated the navigation system and listened to Maia go over procedures with Holly. They were cut from the same cloth. Two young women who climbed the ranks in a male-dominated field by being early, eager, and hungry for their place on the bridge. He had the utmost respect for them both.
Darius was tired. This trip had been a fascinating challenge on a mega-yacht, and he had taken it around the world. He looked forward to some rest with just the four friends on Claire’s yacht where he could watch his Maia grow round with his baby. She blew him a kiss as she left the bridge.
Two more days to New York, three weeks on anchor, four days of which pulling the engines apart for a tune-up, closed up inside due to the cold weather, then the party. A month from now, give or take, they would be Jamaica bound. He couldn’t wait.
“Uh, uh… Darius, dear, I need a private line.”
He picked up the bridge phone and called her cell. Something was wrong, he could hear it in her voice.
“Darius, this sounds a bit strange, but I’ve given your cell number to a pilot that needs to land and have a meeting. It’s rather important and I will need you and Jamie to join me if possible. Can Maia take your place for twenty minutes?”
“Please send her back up, Danny. The call is coming in so I will meet you on the main deck.”
His back stiffened as he heard the pilot request coordinates and a speed of three knots. He made the adjustments as Maia walked in, looking a bit pale. Her big eyes searched his face, but he could offer no comfort until he knew more. He told her to prepare for a helio landing and keep it at three knots until he was back.
Jamie had been pulled from sleep and ran into Darius on the way to the foredeck. They both looked at the blue sky, searching for the helicopter. It took another ten minutes before it was spotted, and the expert pilot wasted no time setting it down on the deck. Darius noticed the absence of crew since coming down from the bridge and figured they were sequestered. Now he was very concerned.
A tall, striking woman was walking toward them with two men in tow. She shook hands and asked for Danny as they were ushered inside. Danny grabbed the woman in a long hug. They seemed to know each other, but not by sight. Things were getting weirder.
“This is Sarah, at least that’s the name she uses. She is with the FBI undercover task force investigating Sebastian for insider trading and manipulation of stock value. I spoke to her when calling for Sebastian, some time ago, and knew she was not what she pretended to be. Well, it worked on me for several days until I called her back and accused her of fraud. We spoke for thirty minutes or so and she finally told me I was correct, but nothing more. She has been my eyes on Sebastian ever since and her information has been invaluable, like the two men he sent to infiltrate the party in California and I can’t remember what else right now.”
Danny looked white-faced and frail suddenly. Sam jumped up and guided her to sit next to him, holding her hand. The room got quiet until Sarah took a deep breath and delivered the news that would break Danny’s heart.
“Sebastian’s mental health has been deteriorating steadily, as you have hosted parties around the world. He was very close to becoming the majority stockholder, and you pulled the rug out from under him. I am so proud of you, Danny. Stopping him is nothing short of a miracle. He was absolutely positive you would not come to New York, the coup de grass, as it were. When he heard about the invitations to the New York party, I think he lost his mind. He locked his office door for two days and I got worried for you. He didn’t come to work today. Penelope says he’s sick and can’t get out of bed, so I searched his office and computer.” Sarah took a breath and stared at her feet. “ He has spent the last two days researching snake venom, Danny. Hours of research on trans-dermal envenomation, as well as suppliers of the venom on the deep web. I believe he is planning to murder you.”
The last sentence was said quietly to soften the blow and Sarah locked eyes with Danny as if lending her strength. Looking around the saloon, she asked if everyone was accounted for. Has anyone come aboard in the last two days? She said nothing about the blood and bleach smell in his office. She was sure he had killed someone the night before but couldn’t reveal that until a proper investigation was completed.
“You have to cancel the party, Danny. He had plenty of time to hire someone to come on board and paint the venom on door handles, your hairbrush handle, comb, lipstick. Any surface you would be sure to touch, or anyone else. Do you see? With a hundred or more people in here, how can you monitor everyone?”
“Quite right. The company be damned. I won’t risk a single life on this boat… Sarah, I owe you my life.”
When Danny’s voice cracked and the tears came, Sarah jumped up and pulled Danny into her arms before passing her to a concerned Sam.
“I’m sorry, Danny, but I have to make haste back to New York. How fast does this boat travel?”
“Darius cleared his throat and promised no one could catch them.”
“Good, don’t get any closer to New York. Go somewhere safe and I will keep you updated. Our people will take control today and seal that floor of the building. I will contact the board of directors and let them know that Sebastian will not be returning anytime soon. They can assign someone to take his place for the interim, right?”
“Don’t do that. Call John Steiner. He is on the board and he is an honest man. We started working for my father’s company at the same time, on the production floor of Meyer’s Steel. He will convene the board and he will be in contact with me.” Danny looked up at Sarah. “What will happen to Sebastian now?”
Sarah hugged Danny and avoided the question. “I will be in touch.”
She motioned to the men in black suits they were leaving and grabbed Darius by the arm, leaning in.
“Get them away from here, fast.”
Sarah and her team were in the air in a matter of minutes. She was on her phone immediately, dispatching people to arrest Sebastian at his home and seal off the entire floor of the Meyer’s high rise until they secured a warrant. She was unaware of her right foot pressing into the floor of the cockpit, like an accelerator. She needed speed more than air right now and prayed the crime scene had not been contaminated.
Danny was shaken down to her bones, but she held her head up and entered the bridge with Darius. Jamie was waking Claire and would join them soon.
“Holly, dear. I’m sorry, but you must return to your quarters. Just for a little while. The rest of the crew is there already. I will let you know when to come up.”
Maia was wide-eyed, looking at Darius, feeling the stress of the moment. When Jamie returned with Claire, she looked equally freaked out after hearing the details from Jamie as she dressed. Darius was speaking quietly with Maia and they turned back to the group after several minutes.
Sam looked at Darius. “Just how fast can this boat go?”
“Eighty knots, sustainable.”
“Well, alright. I would feel calmer to check the exterior doors and decks.” He put his hands on Danny’s shoulders. “Like I said, I’m with ya till the wheels fall off. Where you go, I go.” He kissed her forehead and left the bridge to secure the doors.
“Where to Danny?”
“Setting a course for paradise.” He looked up and winked at Danny, hoping to make her smile. She didn’t and left the bridge to tell the crew about their new direction and why.
Danny sat in the saloon waiting for Sam. In those quiet moments, she saw Sebastian, newly born, nursing at her breast. The swell of love she had for that precious little boy almost choked her, and she filled her lungs to ward off additional tears that were pricking her eyes.
Sam sat down and placed a whisky bottle and two glasses in front of them.
“Ya know, whisky is like medicine sometimes. I know you don’t drink …”
Danny grabbed a glass and held it out for him to fill. She filled her mouth with the amber liquid and her eyes started to water.
“Ya have to swallow it for it to work.”
She made a gulping sound and held the glass out again. This time she swallowed immediately and sat back on the couch with her eyes closed. In her mind, she said goodbye to her son and watched a door close behind him.
“Will you accompany me below so I can spring the crew and fill them in?”
“You don’t have to tell them about Sebastian, sweetheart.”
“Yes, I do. They will feel bad for me, but they will be happy to be back in Jamaica. Let’s go”
Darius was uneasy waiting for Maia and Jamie to calculate their time to Jamaica at fifty knots. He had turned the yacht 160 degrees and waited rather impatiently.
“Come on you two, just get close and be done with it.”
Jamie stood up straight, “twenty-four hours, Darius.”
Maia said, “twenty-three point five hours.”
“Fine. By this time tomorrow, we should drop anchor in Jamaica. We can put all this behind us. We are heading straight into the active shipping lanes off the continent. It’s not a great position to start from, but here we are. Jamie and Maia, you are both with me until we’re safely away from those lanes.”
Darius exhaled loudly and entered their course to Jamaica while Maia pulled the high-powered field glasses out and handed one to Jamie. He and Maia calibrated the sonar and radar and reported them fit to the captain. Darius pushed the button on his bridge radio and delivered the “all hands to the bridge” directive. Ten minutes later they were all on the bridge and you could hear a pin drop, they were so quiet. Darius addressed them with authority. There could be no mistakes for the next twenty-four hours.
“Thank you for your prompt response. We are minutes from pushing our speed up to seventy knots. Before we cross the shipping lanes, I drop it to twenty knots and we may get three more hours at seventy before we lose the sun. As you know, those speeds are dangerous and decks will be locked. Alert the bridge of any emergency that requires stepping onto the deck and we drop to twenty again. Tethers are required until we drop anchor in Jamaica. Steven, Holly, report to your rack for shut-eye. You will report to fore and aft at nightfall and it will be a long night. We will be running dark tonight.”
A collective gasp was heard and Darius was ready to crumble under the weight of his decision.
“Jesus, Darius, we forgot about Chef!”
Chef was in the galley with his favorite country music playing while he perfected the new line dance sweeping America. He was excited to get to New York and wanted to be polished when he grabbed a position in the front line. He started over.
“Chef to the bridge, please. On the double.”
He jerked his head up and turned down the music. Then he ran, taking two steps at a time to the bridge deck. He listened to the update and safety precautions, but all he could think of was how shattered Danny must be. He returned to the galley and quickly prepared a solid meal for Steven and Holly with enough carbohydrates to last a twelve-hour shift. His shoulders slumped forward and his spine wasn’t ramrod straight, as it always was. He had so much emotion in his head and stomach it was an effort to put one foot in front of the other. He finally stopped and sat down, letting his mind process the details he heard on the bridge.
Chef started working for Danny’s special events with his father. A brilliant chef who taught him everything he knew. Danny would alert them of a coming event so they could clear their schedules to cook for her. From fifteen to nineteen years old, he accompanied his father and cooked for Danny. She always greeted them with a hug and a bright smile, and it was she who nicknamed him Little Chef. His father left this earth a few days after his twentieth birthday. As the memories came through his mind, a wet tear rolled down his cheek. Year after year Danny left messages for him to cook for one of her parties, but he didn’t respond. Instead, he clicked the flame on his electronic lighter and held it to a glass pipe, full of his escape. Chef hit the skids hard and dropped off the grid until seven years later when warm hands touched him on a sidewalk in Manhattan. He had not slept in a week, so she had to work for his consciousness. It was his miracle.
He was put into a detox program that he hated with every ounce of his being. When his addiction gripped him, he threatened to walk off the program. Danny would receive a call and she would show up for his group meetings the next day to coach him, with love, and remembrance of his dear father. After detox, he was put into a ninety-day rehab program that he hated and when he was ready to lose his mind, Danny would show up the next day and follow him from meetings, to group counseling, to lunch, and afternoon therapy sessions. She was tenacious, and failure on his part was not an option. Chef stayed in that program for six months, scared shitless he couldn’t cope with the outside world. Danny would pull him out to cook for one of her functions and return him the next day. After he completed the program, twice, it was Danny who picked him up and surprised him with a clean studio apartment and six months of paid rent.
Tears dropped unabated into his lap and he touched his forearms where he felt her hands on that freezing night in Manhattan.
“Looks like there’s a story to be told at this table, and I would like to hear it.”
Sam sat opposite Chef at the small table in the galley and locked eyes with him. Chef’s mouth started moving, and he told Sam his story about the greatest person he had ever known, and how she saved him. They talked until Chef was dry-eyed and Sam was touched he felt Danny’s pain so completely.
When Sam went to their rooms, he watched her sleep until her eyes fluttered open and she held out her hand so he would join her. He laid behind her, knowing her pain was far outside his ability to understand. A mother’s love was absolute, and the women, throughout history, that sacrificed themselves to save their children was proof. He would treat her tenderly, and give her his loving support, but he would never know the depth of her pain.
Once away from the shipping lanes, the yacht cut through the water at 60 knots. As long as the sun was up, they could push their speed and be almost transparent from small planes and helicopters. Come night, they would be a beacon with the running lights, and impossible to miss. Darius would rely on the sonar and radar to avoid running the yacht into a landmass, and Jamie was nervous about that.
“Darius, are you sure about going black tonight? It makes me very nervous.”
“Yes. It’s a military maneuver that will keep us cloaked. We run with lights five minutes out of twenty. I understand it is unnerving.”
“Five minutes out of twenty? Why turn them on at all if it’s so dangerous?”
“There are other vessels in the sea, Jamie. Their instruments raise the alarm there is a large vessel approaching but they cannot see it. Then suddenly, our lights go on long enough to verify our bearing and size before we are cloaked again.”
“But why turn them off at all? Sebastian won’t know anything until we don’t show up in New York.”
Darius was quiet for several minutes, staring out at the water. “Someone in the world has been tasked with spreading venom where Danny will touch it. Based on the bonuses paid and promised by Sebastian so far, what might he pay an assassin to kill her? This person stands to make a million dollars at least. I would bet my life on it. Sebastian has come unhinged so it wouldn’t surprise me if he gains another million when she is confirmed dead. I guarantee this person knows exactly where we are and will not stop looking when we disappear.”
Darius pulled a small paperclip and placed it on the map table, which was huge in comparison. That is the open ocean and the paper clip is our boat. He grabbed another paperclip and held it high above his head, crisscrossing the table like a small plane or drone would do, if they were looking for them.
“Our lights will lead them right to us. Five minutes out of twenty reduces our exposure by seventy-five percent and five minutes of light allows other vessels on the water to verify we are a ship. It takes nerves of steel Jamie. Your job will be to watch the sonar and radar for anything we might plow into. Don’t look so glum. We’ll rotate ten minutes shifts with you three so you don’t get too sick.” Darius saw Jamie’s confusion. “We hood the instruments with black fabric and you are inside, watching the green glow from five inches away. It tends to make a person sick.”
Darius looked at Maia and felt a surge of pride in her steady nerves and fearless attitude. Her trust in him never faltered and that was calming to the crew. She was one in a million.
“We have a half-hour of sunlight left. You three take twenty to grab dinner and bring a tray back if you would. Claire, get Holly and Steven up on your way back. Maia, go below and grab two of the night vision monoscopes for them. Jamie, go down to the engine room and record the pressures on all five.”
“All hands, this is the captain. We are going dark at thirteen-thirty hours and we drop back to eighteen knots until daybreak. Any volunteers to watch the water tonight will be compensated. Grab a monoscope and a tether, warm clothes, and clip yourselves to the foredeck. There is a box of personal flashlights in the galley. They do not provide much light, but you might see the wall a few seconds before you run into it. Give me an aye captain please.”
One by one radio’s clicked, and each crewman responded. Darius was torn about waking Danny. He would give anything if she could sleep all the way to Jamaica but she will surely freak out if she wakes on a blacked-out boat.
“Um, um… no, I think it’s that button on the side, Sam. No, that one, I think.”
Darius shook his head and chuckled at Danny’s ineptitude with the radio. He felt relieved she heard the ship was going dark and knew Sam would help her. He watched the last of the sun dip below the horizon and dropped speed to eighteen knots.
“Holly and Steve, position and status.”
Holly was on the aft deck getting comfortable, Steven was on the foredeck.
“Please move to the foredeck Holly, you both stay there. If you’re warm, tethered, and monoculars are dialed in, let me know. All hands, we are going dark in three minutes. Position and status please.”
Brittany’s radio crackled, “foredeck captain, for the duration.”
One by one, the crew gave the captain their location, “foredeck, for the duration.”
Darius turned around, looking at Claire, Jamie, and Maia. They were all smiling at him. And then…
“Ah, um… Darius dear, if you can hear me, I am on the foredeck with a tether and a monocular. We are here for as long as we can stand it. Did I push the right button, dear?”
“Dropping speed, going black.”
Jamie had pulled the hood over the instruments and took a deep breath before lifting the fabric over his head. It took less than a minute to feel his stomach start churning and his head spin. After ten minutes, Maia tapped him on the shoulder and he pulled out, relieved to feel his stomach calm down. This went on until the running lights lit up for five minutes. Each crewman felt instantly calmed when the lights around the ship went on, only to go off again in five short minutes.
The bridge crew continued to rotate through the night, and Claire carefully made her way down to the main deck to check on the crew. When she opened the door she heard them singing, very quietly. Silent Night. It was beautiful and brought tears to Claire’s eyes. When the song finished, she asked if anyone needed anything. They all said coffee, in unison. Easy, for these brave souls, she thought. In fifteen minutes she was back, handing each crewman a thermos with whatever they ordered. She also passed out snack bags with cookies and banana bread. They were already singing as she stepped back into the dark boat and ran right into another person.
“I’m sorry to be in the way, Claire!”
“Jesus, Chef, why aren’t you in bed?”
“I checked the decks, pretty hard when there’s no light. I want to be up with the crew.”
“Stay tethered on the foredeck, sweetheart. We are almost through this crazy night.”
At three in the morning, Darius lifted the sleeping Maia and carried her to their bedroom, where he pulled off her clothes and dropped her favorite NHL jersey over her head. He could never understand why the girl loved hockey so much. With her hair falling into her face, she protested, wanting to help on the bridge.
“Not to worry. The sun is coming up, and I am sending everyone to bed,” he lied. “Sleep on this side so the bed will be warm when I come back.”
He laughed at her confusion and told her he was kidding. As she sank into the mattress, he pulled the covers over her and kissed her cheek. She was already asleep.
At six o’clock in the morning, Darius released the lock on the lights and the boat lit up as the sun rose in the sky. They still had hours to go before dropping anchor.
“All hands, report to your rack. Anchors drop in five hours. Thank you for keeping watch. You are the best crew I have ever had the privilege to work with.”
The sleepy crew came in carrying a bundle of coats, and sweaters they had peeled off as the air became warmer through the night. Darius exhaled in relief, threw the locks on exterior doors, and pushed their speed up to fifty knots. The yacht cut through the ocean like a hot bullet over butter, which chased away his fatigue. Darius ordered Claire to bed and apologized to Jamie who would stay on the bridge for another five hours. Jamie didn’t mind. Darius had been on the bridge for almost twenty-four hours straight. It was his honor to hold him up for five more.
In New York City, a forensics team had processed Sebastian’s office before FBI agents took the three upper floors apart. They would continue searching and interviewing the key executives for the next five days.
A separate team was dispatched to the home of Sebastian and Penelope Meyer. Sebastian was handcuffed and led outside to a waiting vehicle. He moaned and yelled at the agents to get him pain medication or a hospital. Penelope and the girls watched it all, including the dismantling of their home, and electronic devices confiscated. When the agents left at two o’clock in the morning there wasn’t a computer, tablet, or cell phone left in the house. The girls screamed into their pillows when their mother didn’t, or couldn’t respond to all they had lost. Not one of them asked, or showed any concern for Sebastian, husband, and father because they just didn’t care.