THE CROW’S NEST
Eastern Tropical Pacific off Baja Mexico
The sea can keep a secret and the night can hide its sins—it’s your friends you gotta worry about.
Isosceles LeBeau, Captain Jonny to all but his mama, wedged his short reedy frame through the top hatch of the crude submarine. Steadying himself against the slow swell lapping three feet below, he scanned the darkness, a stingy moon his only light. It was almost serene, but he knew tranquility at sea was an illusion. Like his ex-wife, it could turn fast.
He pawed the scruff of his six-day beard, more out of anxiety than discomfort, before checking his watch. He was early, which should have brought him some satisfaction after a grueling trip from Colombia and navigating blind under the sea half the time, but the sooner he unloaded, the faster he’d get to land and a few days of real sleep before starting again.
It was time. “Get ready below, I’m gonna signal.” After a few moments, Jonny heard his two crewmen scramble to their stations at the port and starboard cargo hatches.
Jonny raised his light and sent the signal, praying under his breath it caught the right eyes.
Lashed together less than a mile away, three speedboats drifted in the empty sea. The six men aboard were silent, their hearing dulled by screeching outboard motors after the two-hour run from Ensenada. They were, however, vigilant, straining tired eyes in the blackness for the signal that would get them home.
Falco, the leader of the small armada, peered again at the GPS screen and looked up. Hopeful expectation was etched in the faces of the men. He folded his arms and shook his head, “Nada.”
Disquiet settled over the boats. Falco knew to these men the sea held no allegiance, no allure. It was a job, a dirty job, and if not for the threat of a double tap through the brain, they’d be chugging cheap tequila in some skanky beach bar, not here puking their guts overboard.
The spell broke. “Ten o’clock!” the crewman from Bravo boat shouted, pointing southeast. “Lights. Fifteen hundred meters.”
Four long flashes, a pause, and two short flashes.
“That’s it, ready up.” Falco reached under the console and grabbed the spotlight. Two quick signals, four long.
Two long flashes returned.
The speedboats roared to life, strafing the Pacific on cushions of roiled foam and throttling down just fifty feet short of the beacon.
The boats idled like jittery thoroughbreds in the starting gate, gasping, gurgling, and coughing acrid fumes into the still sea air.
Falco squinted hard, the target was barely visible. Only three feet shone above the surface, her gray-blue skin the color of her namesake—the whale.
A low rumble reverberated through the hulls of the speedboats as hissing air from the whale’s ballast tanks erupted in a torrent of bubbles. In slow motion, a shadow rose from the black depths.
A dim light suddenly appeared as her starboard hatch opened. Falco gestured to the other drivers. Bravo boat motored over and the crewman jumped aboard. Charlie boat followed, disappearing around the whale’s stern before tethering to the port hatch.
At a distance Falco watched as four men, two from the speedboats and two from the whale, struggled to off-load the two-hundred-pound bales. Within fifteen minutes, the two burdened speedboats slogged for shore.
Falco motored Alpha boat into position. At the hatch, he locked his eyes on his crewman. “You know what to do.”
The man, his face erased of expression, patted the bulge at his waist.
Jonny was busy in the bilge when the deafening report of a handgun echoed through the cavernous hull. Startled, he hoisted himself from the bowels of the whale to see his two crewmen lying dead on the deck.
Jonny glared at the shooter, his revulsion masked beneath a thousand-yard stare—the face of wounded detachment.
The shooter shrugged, shoved the revolver back into his waistband, and smirked. “No witnesses, no evidence.”
Jonny stepped over the bodies of his crewmen and boarded Alpha boat. In only a T-shirt and shorts, the fresh sea air chilled him. The pilot offered his hand. “I’m Falco. Good job with the shipment.”
Jonny nodded and moved toward the bow.
Alpha boat chugged away from the submarine for several feet before Falco juiced her to life.
Jonny sat alone, his attention drawn to his watch as he wiped the salt spray from his black, hatchet-shaped face—a testament to his Haitian-Choctaw heritage. He looked up and caught Falco’s gaze for a moment, then down at his watch and a silent count. Suddenly, a blinding yellow-orange flash seared the night. Seconds later, a thirty-foot plume of water and debris erupted, followed by a thunderous roar. The men braced against the gunwales as the violent surge pummeled the boat and the salt spray rained.
“Jesus H. Christ,” Falco screamed. “They’re gonna see that explosion for miles!” He jammed the throttle forward and the bow of the twenty-five-foot-long boat lurched upward five feet as the blades of the twin props grasped the sea. Only when they were safe from the wreckage did he turn to Jonny and ask, “What the hell happened? We lose this load and we’re all dead.”
Jonny, a drenched cigarette dangling from his lips, shot him a dismissive glare and in little more than a murmur, finally spoke. “No witnesses, no evidence.”