"What can we do?" Chang asked, troubled.
Captain Sen knew he was a vocal dissident in China and had been desperate to flee the country. If he was deported by U.S. Immigration he'd probably end up in one of the infamous jails in western China as a political prisoner.
"We're not far from the drop-off spot. We're running at full speed. It may be possible to get close enough to put you ashore in rafts."
"No, no," Chang said. "In these waves? We'd all die."
"There's a natural harbor I'm steering for. It should be calm enough for you to board the rafts. At the beach there'll be trucks to take you to New York."
"And what about you?" Chang asked.
"I'll head back into the storm. By the time it's safe for them to board you'll be on highways of gold, heading toward the city of diamonds....Now tell everyone to get their belongings together. But only the most important things. Your money, your pictures. Leave everything else. It will be a race to the shore. Stay below until the Ghost or I tell you to come up top."
Captain Sen hurried up the steep ladder, on his way to the bridge. As he climbed he said a brief prayer for their survival to Tian Hou, the goddess of sailors, then dodged a wall of gray water that vaulted the side of the ship.
On the bridge he found the Ghost standing over the radar unit, staring into the rubber glare shade. The man stood completely still, bracing himself against the rolling of the sea.
Some snakeheads dressed as if they were wealthy Cantonese gangsters from a John Woo film but the Ghost always wore the standard outfit of most Chinese men -- simple slacks and short-sleeved shirts. He was muscular but diminutive, clean-shaven, hair longer than a typical businessman's but never styled with cream or spray.
"They will intercept us in fifteen minutes," the snakehead said. Even now, facing interdiction and arrest, he seemed as lethargic as a ticket seller in a rural long-distance bus station.
"Fifteen?" the captain replied. "Impossible. How many knots are they making?"
Sen walked to the chart table, the centerpiece of all ocean-crossing vessels. On it sat a U.S. Defense Mapping Agency nautical chart of the area. He had to judge the two ships' relative positions from this and from the radar; because of the risk of being traced, the Dragon's global positioning system and her EPIRB emergency beacon and Global Maritime Distress and Safety System were disconnected.
"I think it will be at least forty minutes," the captain said.
"No, I timed the distance they've traveled since we spotted them."
Captain Sen glanced at the crewman piloting the Fuzhou Dragon, sweating as he gripped the wheel in his struggle to keep the Turk's head knot of twine, tied around a spoke, straight up, indicating that the rudder was aligned with the hull. The throttles were full forward. If the Ghost was right in his assessment of when the cutter would intercept them they would not be able to make the protected harbor in time. At best they could get within a half mile of the nearby rocky shore -- close enough to launch the rafts but subjecting them to merciless pounding by the tempestuous seas.
The Ghost asked the captain, "What sort of weapons will they have?"
"Don't you know?"
"I've never been interdicted," the Ghost replied. "Tell me."
Ships under Sen's command had been stopped and boarded twice before -- fortunately on legitimate voyages, not when he was running immigrants for snakeheads. But the experience had been harrowing. A dozen armed Coast Guard sailors had streamed onto the vessel while another one, on the deck of the cutter, had trained a two-barreled machine gun on him and his crew. There'd been a small cannon too.
He now told the Ghost what they might expect.
The Ghost nodded. "We need to consider our options."
Copyright © 2002 by Jeffery Deaver
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