This story begins exactly one and a half years ago when Sean Avalon signed a contract with Araqe Industries to retrofit an 800,000 ton luxury liner that was well over the hill. In dry-dock at Engel’s shipyards in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The twenty-seven year old ship, formerly the “Queen of the Caribbean”, has been re-commissioned the “High-Roller,” and is being stripped to bare metal so she can be completely rebuilt using the latest in construction materials. She has been picked to bring space age technology to the maritime world, which will make her the fastest and most comfortable ride on the ocean.
Sean, a licensed Electrical Engineer specializing in maritime electronics, skillfully came in as the lowest bidder on the project, counting on cost over-runs to keep him in business. He is meeting with his Navy buddy Steve Pitts, an employee of Araque Industries, by the way, to put together a master plan for the looting of the “High-Roller” on her maiden voyage. An extremely difficult task considering there will be twenty-five highly trained security men and women on that trip, above and beyond the normal complement of one hundred and fifteen sea-going staff. She will carry about four hundred and fifty paying customers who have agreed to have with them a minimum of $20,000 in American greenbacks to prove them worthy of being the first gamblers to take to sea on the “High-Roller.” They will also be paying an additional $8,000 per person for that privilege. The cruise is sold out a year and a half in advance, and with a waiting list again as large.
Estimating four hundred and fifty times $20,000 plus a cash bankroll of another $1.5 million required by the gaming commission to be available in case everyone has a winning streak, coupled with the normal Pursers stash, the two men come up with an estimated net worth of over $ 10.7 million. A floating Fort Knox that also carries jewelry worth another million or three.
The problem is of course how to neutralize almost six hundred men and women all at the same time, for a long enough period for them to locate and take everything of value. They have that plan.
SEAN AT WORK
As Sean calculates the need for 950 foot No. 8 wire to link a single engine room control to the bridge, for example, he requisitions instead 1,900 foot of No. 8 wire. If he needs a V.H.F. antenna with 600 ft of coaxial cable he orders two antenna with 1,200 ft of coax. In fact, ironically, Araque Industries finds itself financing the take-over of their own vessel.
As Sean’s men run the cables here and there according to the schematics, Sean and his friend and helper Matthew branch off to a 10 x 12 foot space directly under the main bridge. This space has but one entrance and has been outfitted with a large hasp and a larger Master lock. A professionally made sign has been permanently welded to the entrance hatch and it reads, “CLIMATE CONTROLLED SPACE–NO UN-AUTHORIZED ENTRY.”
What is underway is a split personality for the ship. Eventually with a flip of one knife/shunt switch and a dozen toggle switches, all of the electronics in and out of the bridge will be diverted to this secondary control room rendering the regular equipment useless. Ship’s steering, engine speed and direction and all communications systems will be under the command of the phantom bridge.
Steve is an ex U.S. Navy Warrant Officer who spent four years on Shore Patrol duty. He was now under the employ of Araque Industries as one of its Chief Pursers and with his seniority had managed to not be assigned to the maiden voyage, but would rather be going off on a three week paid vacation. To get him on his own company’s ship as a guest would take the assistance of a professional Hollywood make-up artist. Fortunately Steve’s Lady of four years was just that. Margarita had worked the studios for many years and had accumulated enough materials to disguise a soccer team so their own coach would not recognize them.
Steve was to be aboard and to lead his team of seven men and women as they took out the ship’s security force. All seven were into Martial Arts and some type of petty illegal happenings. None were hardened criminals but none were angels either. Several had been Navy pals and others were picked up along the road of life. All were eager to share in this venture and had pledged loyalty and cooperation to either Shawn or to Steve personally. They could all be trusted, they hoped. These magnificent seven had manipulated, conned and bought their way aboard as stewards, cargo handlers and kitchen aids.
All of this action was to be accomplished with a minimum of bloodshed in an effort not to piss off anyone too badly. If it could go down as the armed robbery of a totally insured vessel in International waters, there might not be too much sympathy or heat. If there were injuries or death especially to the passengers, that would be another story and would no doubt cause a great chain reaction. The assault team would be armed but would try to rely on the element of surprise to do their jobs. Their special equipment consisted of pepper spray, eye wash and lots of duct tape.
THE REST OF THE TEAM
Al Henricson was a professional cook specializing in pastry. He had worked aboard cruise ships off and on for ten years or more. He signed up for and was awarded the position of lead pastry chef for the maiden voyage. His live-aboard was Soledad, a Martial Arts Instructor and holder of a 3rd degree Black Belt in Tai Kwan Do. She managed to sign on in the scullery right next to the baking area.
Gustavo had been a Navy Boatswain’s Mate and could drive anything that could float. He had been working at the shipyards overhauling the engines on the “High-Roller” but had been fired for missing too much work. He would have to go aboard as a paying guest. The love of his life was Verleene, who made her living as a physic palm reader. She was hired by the agency to entertain the guests for the entire trip.
Doug and Marion were both pilots and had been living together for a decade or two. They flew cargo out of Roatan, Honduras and had managed to acquire and overhaul a fairly new Cessna Caravan that they had outfitted with pontoons for ocean landings and take-offs. They had brought it up from a 250-foot deep grave off of Guanaja where the famous singer and song writer Jimmie Buffet had lost her. No one knew of the salvage operation or of her new condition. She was ready to fly but no one knew she existed. They would join the circus act right near the end of the venture.
Finally there was Don and Bridget, Johnna and Ruben. They had a traveling magic act and contracted with several cruise lines to come aboard for one night and do their special show. They would join the ship when she made her first stop off of Ambergris Caye in Belize, Central America where they called home.
That makes twenty-one in all, and only a mere six hundred potential adversaries to take care of. The plan had better be a good one.
The time is now. With one week remaining until the sailing, all hands showed up at Hooters Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale for their final rehearsal. Those who needed to be in disguise were in disguise, those who needed to have special equipment brought that along. Everyone had a plan book and a proforma depicting everyone’s part down to the last detail. Who did what, where they were to do it at, and exactly when they were to do it was all in the book. Everyone had memorized their part as well as their partner’s part, as well as everyone else’s parts in case of an emergency. It was like a Broadway play with everyone able to perform almost in their sleep.
Hand signals and verbal codes were practiced and everyone was surprised at how well the other guys did. This was now a tight group capable of anything. They hoped.
Tickets and money were disbursed. Steve and Shawn, Soledad, Matthew and Margarita all needed tickets and the $ 20 thousand in cash to show upon demand. This was not a cheap buy-in and many personal items were in hock shops as well as a 2nd mortgage or two on record.
The evening ended with a three shooter toast and everyone went their own way.
Sean and Margarita arrived right on time. They happened to get in line a few couples behind Matthew and Soledad. Sean and Matthew were both wearing beards and sun glasses and flashed on how much alike their disguises had made them look. They went through the sign up and found their staterooms, then back up on deck for the waving to the poor spectators who would not be sailing this day and a few unnoticed nods to some of the other players. No one had checked them for their cash and no one would, but that detail had been covered just in case. Now the cash was a bother to all four of them and they wondered just how secure the ship was. What if someone else had the same idea they did? Paranoia strikes deep and it takes one to know one.
The life raft drill went off well and everyone was eager to steam out to sea so they could start trying their luck. The gaming rooms would be locked down until the two mile marker had been achieved. International waters and international rules.
The weather was calm and the day absolutely beautiful. Some of the wives were headed for their staterooms to change into something better suited for the swimming pool areas.
The ships security force stood out like sore thumbs. Wearing black golf shirts with a gold badge embroidered on the front and carrying Glocks as sidearms for everyone to see. A few had on golf caps with again the gold badge telling the world what they did for a living. They were a mix of personal bodyguards and bank security people trained just enough not to shoot themselves. All with fresh haircuts and prepped to greet the paying guests with a smile and a good morning.
The Head of Security was Captain John Thompson a retired Chief of Police from Trinity County, California. He had not seen action in over ten years but knew the ways of the street and commanded everyone’s respect and attention. His wife Susan was aboard as a perk that came along with the contract.
His Second in Command was Tom Wozniak, a gung-ho F.B.I. Academy drop-out with a terrible selection of friends. His weapon of choice was an Uzi that he kept with him day and night, rain or shine. He never had the opportunity to use it off of the practice range, but he had high hopes that someday he could spray his way to fame. Most of his adult life had been spent guarding Henry Stewart as he made his merry way around the world entertaining and enjoying the fast life. He was locked and loaded as they say.
The security team had been told their vulnerable times would be in ports along the way. The ship would leave Miami and head straight for Ambergris Caye in Belize. An overnight there and then on to Roatan, Honduras. Another day there and straight back to Miami. They felt once they were out at sea they could kick-back and enjoy the scenery and from the looks of the guests and the guest’s guests it would be a very scenic voyage.
They stood at their designated posts while the ship upped anchor and as she steamed out of land’s sight they turned their thoughts to flexing and hanging around the pool areas. With three eight-hour shifts and only twenty-five men including bosses, they had but eight men on duty at any one time. Not a lot for such a huge area with all of its decks and sub decks.
Soledad had absolutely nothing to do and Al was whipping up some cream puffs, so she grabbed Margarita and they donned their bikinis and headed for the biggest pool. This was a rare treat for the two of them and they were going to have the time of their lives before risking same when the games began. Pockets full of cash and a key to charge anything on. They had been warned not to go crazy in the shopping mall, but it was not a serious threat.
They ordered two double Margaritas in honor of one of their names and toasted to the present. As if by coincidence two of the eight security guards who were on duty just happened to station themselves directly above the two girls. Soledad noticed before Margarita and they formulated a bit of a plan. A few glances, a quick smile and the scene was set. After half an hour of baking in the sun they both jumped up and headed for the Jacuzzi platform overlooking the entertainment deck. Oddly enough both security guards felt it was time to do a little roaming patrol work and followed at a safe distance trying to look casual.
The girls were in the tub by the time the men strolled up and tried to start a conversation. It went rather awkwardly and one of the men walked off the deck and back to his post. The other, a tall, thin blonde surfer type knelt down and really got into the “What’s your sign” questioning. He seemed to want to concentrate more on Soledad, so Margarita said she had enough and she was par boiled and going back to the cool pool. This left the two of them alone and now Mr. California surfer really started coming on.
He ran across two decks and stole someone’s sun tanning lotion. Without asking he poured some in his hands and started rubbing it on Soledad’s shoulders. She put up with it for about three seconds and then suggested he stop what he was doing. She said it in such a friendly manner he took it as nonsense and continued pouring and spreading. After another ten seconds she issued still another warning by saying something about his getting back to work, she was fine alone. This too went through one ear and out the other so she casually reached up and waited for his hand to round her shoulders headed for parts unknown. He was now on both knees and really reaching out in about a forty-five degree angle. It took nothing at all to firmly grab his finger and lean forward just a taste. He struggled for a couple of long seconds and then plunged head first into the hot tub, Glock, hat and golf shirt, watch, wallet and passport. By the time he recovered he was alone except for four old ladies pointing and laughing.
BACK IN THE CARIBBEAN
Meanwhile back on Roatan, Doug and Victoria are putting the last minute touches on the plane. The numbers they chose to paint on her fuselage were copied from a Mayan Island Airlines commuter plane out of Belize. They looked good but if traced would lead the authorities on a wild goose chase right back to nowhere.
They had added four forty-gallon fuel tanks to the interior of the craft giving them enough air time to get to the target and over to the final destination with the load. The load consisting of the cash, jewels, Sean, Steve and Margarita. Everyone else had to leave via some other means; this was all this plane could carry.
In Belize Don, Bridget, Johnna and Ruben did a last minute rehearsal on their act. Costumes in ready and plans gone over. This foursome would have to remain on board the ship after the project’s completion so they would need to remain anonymous at all cost. Stocking masks and surgical gloves were packed under a false bottom in a suitcase, enough for the entire assault team so these guys could not miss the boat.
Johnna had contracted to open a small specialty shop in the ship’s mall. She would go on board with Belizean handicrafts, some books and some musical C.D.’s. Hidden in her load would be twenty-one high powered electrical stun-guns and forty-two pairs of handcuffs.
BACK ON BOARD
Dinnertime was approaching and although everyone involved was tense they all agreed to try and have some fun. Dressed to the nines and looking beautiful and handsome they all made their way to the dining room. No childlike signals between the working people and the imitation guests. Some were served and some were serving. Al peeked his head out of the window just in time to see Soledad enter with Sean, Steve and Margarita. They had signed up for a table together and made a beautiful foursome. Both of the girls had managed a quick power-shopping trip at the ship’s mall after the hot tub incident and were wearing new shoes and accessories.
Just as the waiter brought the salads, two already-drunk cowboys from Oklahoma stumbled into the room. Thinking they were really cool and necessary to the happiness of the other passengers they started working the room. “Hey boy, buy this table a drink and put it on 1st Class Stateroom 103,” shouted one of them to a passing waiter from another section. When he tried to explain it was not his table the cowboy grabbed him by the waistband and pulled him into his face. “I said get them some drinks.” The waiter agreed and bolted out of the room.
Then the two hailed a few other people they thought they knew from the life jacket drill and tripped their way past Sean and Steve’s table kicking one of the legs which caused their water to spill all over. They kept going, never knowing what they had caused; and Sean and Steve let it happen, knowing they could not dare get into anything that would call attention to them. They had a feeling they would meet again though and shot glances to each other.
That second meeting did not take long to happen. After dinner the foursome teased Al who was still stuck in the kitchen and went upstairs to the gambling deck. This room was about 150 foot wide and 200 foot long and contained every machine, table and device known to the gambling world. Noises and music and chatter and flashing lights came from the slot machines, yelling and laughing and cheering from the crap table section and on top of all that KENO numbers being called out over the P.A. system.
Just like Las Vegas or Atlantic City only newer and more exciting. Change girls in tiny bikini-type costumes, cocktail waitresses with complimentary champagne or any drink you can think of. Casino gentlemen in tuxedos who can supply their clients with anything Wal-Mart pharmacy can and then some.
Just as the group entered, someone had a big win at the crap table in the center of the room. Whooping and screaming they all had to look. Guess who, the cowboys from hell. Heading for anywhere but there they found four contiguous seats at a newly opened black-jack table and sat down. Before they could adjust their crouches there were two waitresses at their sides asking what their favorite beverages were and at what frequency did they want them delivered. This was going to be a great evening, one to take the edge off the nerves.
About twenty minutes later with Sean up $500 and Steve down about the same and the ladies losing a hundred or two, it happened. In all the juke joints in all the world, the cowboys wobbled and bounced off of people and landed in the only two empty black-jack seats in the room. Within a minute one was hitting on Soledad and the other on Margarita. That is, hitting and spitting being in an almost out of control drunken condition. The girls did their best to avoid any contact and ignored the touching and pawing that came in waves. When Soledad started to get up to leave one cowpoke grabbed her by the elbow. Without thinking she knew at least eight moves with which to put him under the table but instead paused and then jerked her arm free. She moved over to Sean, then thought she should not be bringing this problem to him so she headed into the crowd and across the casino. Not one to lose a Heffer, the idiot was hot on her trail knocking into men and women alike. He saw her as she exited the casino and went after her.
Once outside Soledad thought she was safe and slowed down. Busting out of the doorway was her stalker. “Hey pretty lady, where you goin?” She looked around, saw they were alone and let him advance in her direction. She even put on a smile and let her wrap fall open revealing a very inviting form. He lost contact with her eyes and as he was looking down a taste he noticed a knuckle coming into his vision. One blow to the forehead and his vision failed. His eyes were watering, his head hurting, he was disorientated and in pain. It was in fact so painful, he almost sobered up but not quite. As he wiped his eyes so he could see where it was again, the same knuckle headed for his mustache. That was all he remembered until security brought him to with one of those little glass tubes wrapped in woven cloth. He could not tell them a thing and shook them off heading back to the casino. [/private]