Chapter 33

Ship of Fools

Tommy led them down a narrow hallway and into a large room paneled in dark walnut and furnished with heavy, dark wood furniture. Paintings and bookshelves filled with leather volumes lined the walls; strands of gold wire running across the front of the shelves to hold the books in place in rough seas were the only evidence that they were on a boat. There were no windows; the only light came from small spotlights recessed into the ceiling that shone on the paintings.

Tommy paused in the middle of the room, fighting the urge to stop and look at the books. Lash moved to his side.

"See that?" Lash asked. He nodded toward a large painting  -  bright colors and bold shapes, squiggles and lines  -  that hung between two doors at the far end of the room.

Tommy said, "Looks like it should be hung on a fridge with ladybug magnets."

"It's a Miro," Lash said. "It must be worth millions."

"How do you know it's an original?"

"Tommy, look at this yacht; if you can afford a boat like this, you don't hang fakes." Lash pointed to another, smaller painting of a woman reclining on a pile of satin cushions. "That's a Goya. Probably priceless."

"So what's your point?" Tommy asked.

"Would you leave something like that unguarded? And I don't think that you can run a boat this size without a crew."

"Swell," Tommy said. "Jeff, let me have that shotgun."

Jeff, still shivering from his dunk, handed over the gun.

"Shell in the chamber," Jeff said.

Tommy took the gun, checked the safety, and started forward. "Keep your eyes open, guys."

They went through the door to the right of the Miro into another hallway, this one paneled in teak. Paintings hung along the walls between louvered teak doors.

Tommy paused at the first door and signaled for Barry to back him up with a speargun as he opened it. Inside, row upon row of suits and jackets hung on motorized tracks. Above the tracks, shelves were filled with hats and expensive shoes.

Tommy pushed aside some of the suits and peered between them, looking for a set of legs and feet. "No one here," he said. "Did anyone bring a flashlight?"

"Didn't think about it," Barry said.

Tommy backed out of the closet and moved to the next door. "It's a bathroom."

"A head," Barry corrected, looking around Tommy's shoulder into the room. "There's no toilet."

"Vampires don't go," Tommy said. "I'd say this guy had this boat built for him."

They moved down the hall checking each room. There were rooms full of paintings and sculpture, crated, labeled, and stacked in rows; another with oriental carpets rolled and stacked; a room that looked like an office, with computers, a copy machine, fax machines, and filing cabinets; and another head.

They followed the hallway around a gentle curve to the left, where it traced the line of the bow of the boat. At the apex there was a teak spiral staircase that led to a deck above and one below. Light spilled down from above. The hallway curved around the bow and back to the stern.

"The hallway must go back to that other door in that big room." Tommy said. "Lash, you, Clint, Troy, and Jeff check the rooms on that side. Your Majesty, Barry, Drew, come with me. Meet us back here."

"I thought we were going to stay together," Jeff said.

"I don't think you're going to find anything down there. If you do, yell like hell."

The Emperor patted Lazarus's head. "Stay here, good fellow. We shan't be long."

Tommy pointed upward with the shotgun and mounted the stairs. He emerged onto the bridge and squinted against the light coming through the windows. He stepped aside and looked around the bridge while the others came up the stairs behind him.

"It looks more like the bridge of a starship," Tommy said to the Emperor as he came up.

Low consoles filled with switches and screens ran along the front of the bridge under wide, streamlined windows. There were five different radar screens blipping away. At least a dozen other screens were scrolling figures and text; red, green, and amber lights glowed along the rows of toggle switches over three computer keyboards. The only thing that looked remotely nautical to Tommy was the chrome wheel at the front of the bridge.

"Anybody know what any of this stuff is?" Tommy asked.

Barry said, "I'd say that this is the crew that we were wondering about. This whole thing is automated."

Barry stepped up to one of the consoles and all the screens and lights winked out.

"I didn't touch anything," Barry said.

The foghorn on Alcatraz sounded and they looked out the window toward the abandoned prison. The fog was making its way across the bay toward shore.

"How's our time?" Tommy asked.

Drew checked his watch. "About two hours."

"Okay, let's check that lower deck."

As they came down the steps, Lash said, "Nothing. More art, more electronics. There's no galley, and I can't figure out where the crew sleeps."

"There is no crew," Tommy said as he started down the steps to the lower deck. "It's all run by machines."

The floor of the lower deck was made of diamond-plate steel; there were no carpets and no wood: pipes and wires ran around the steel bulkheads. A steel pressure hatch opened into a narrow passageway. Light from the bridge two decks above spilled a few feet into the passageway, then it was dark.

"Drew," Tommy said, "you got a lighter?"

"Always," Drew said, handing him a disposable butane lighter.

Tommy crouched and went through the hatch, took a few steps, and clicked the lighter.

"This must lead to the engines," Lash said. "But it should be bigger." He knocked on the steel wall, making a dull thud. "I think this is all fuel around us. This thing must have an incredible range."

Tommy looked at the lighter, then back at Lash, whose black face was just highlights in the flame. "Fuel?"

"It's sealed."

"Oh," Tommy said. He moved a few more feet and barked his elbow on the metal ring of a pressure hatch. "Ouch!"

"Open it," Drew said.

Tommy handed him the shotgun and lighter and grabbed the heavy metal ring. He strained against it but it didn't budge. "Help."

Lash snaked past Drew and joined Tommy on the ring. They put their weight on it and pushed. The wheel screeched in protest, then broke loose. Tommy pulled the hatch open and was hit with the smell of urine and decay.

"Christ." He turned away coughing. "Lash, give me the lighter."

Lash handed him the lighter. Tommy reached through the hatch and lit it. There were bars just inside the hatch, beyond that a rotting mattress, some empty food cans, and a bucket. Red-brown splotches smeared the gray walls, one in the shape of a handprint.

"Is it the fiend?" the Emperor asked.

Tommy moved back from the hatch and handed back the lighter. "No, it's a cage."

Lash looked in. "A prison cell? I don't get it."

Tommy slid down the bulkhead and sat on the steel floor, trying to catch his breath. "You said this thing had an incredible range. Could stay out to sea for months, probably?"

"Yeah," Lash said.

"He has to store his food somewhere."

Inside the vampire's vault, just above his face, a computer screen was scrolling information. A schematic of the Sanguine II lit up one side of the screen with nine red dots representing the vampire hunters and Lazarus. Green dotted lines traced the patterns of their movements since they had boarded the ship. Another area of the screen recorded the time they had boarded and another showed exterior views of the yacht: the raft tied up at the rear, the dock, fog sweeping over the Saint Francis clubhouse. Radar readouts showed the surrounding watercraft, the shoreline, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate in the distance. Optical disk drives recorded all the information so the vampire could replay it upon awakening.

Motion detectors had, upon sensing Barry's presence near the console on the bridge, activated switches that rerouted all of the ship's control to the vault. The Sanguine II was wide awake and awaiting its master.

"How's our time, Lash?" Tommy asked.

"About an hour."

They were gathered at the stern of the yacht, watching the fog roll into shore. They had searched the entire ship, then gone back through it again, opening every closet, cupboard, and access panel.

"He's got to be here."

"Perhaps," said the Emperor, "we should go ashore and set Bummer on another trail."

At the mention of his name Bummer yapped and worked his head out of the Emperor's pocket. Tommy scratched his ears.

"Let him out."

The Emperor unbuttoned his pocket and Bummer leaped out, bit Tommy on the ankle, and shot through the hatch.

"Ouch!"

"Follow him," the Emperor said. "He's on the trail." He ran through the hatch, followed by the Animals and Tommy, limping slightly.

Five minutes later they were standing on the diamond-plate floor of the engine room. Bummer was scratching at the floor and whining.

"This is stupid," Barry said. "We've been through this area three times."

Tommy looked at the section of floor where Bummer was scratching. There was a rectangular seam, ten feet long by three feet wide, sealed with a rubber gasket. "We didn't look under the floor."

"It's water under the floor, isn't it?" Jeff said.

Tommy got down on his knees and examined the seam. "Troy, give me one of those swords."

Troy Lee handed him a fighting sword. Tommy worked the tip under the rubber gasket and the blade sank into the seam. "Get that other sword into this crack and help me pry it up."

Troy worked his sword into the seam and they counted to three. The edge of the panel popped up. The other Animals caught the edge and lifted. The floor panel came up, revealing a coffin-length stainless-steel vault two feet below the floor. Bummer leaped into the opening in the floor and began running around the vault, leaping and barking.

"Well done, little one," the Emperor said.

Tommy looked at the Animals, who were holding the floor panel up on its edge. "Gentlemen, I'd like you to meet the owner of this vessel."

Drew let go of the floor panel and jumped into the opening with the vault. There was just enough room in the opening for him to move sideways around the vault. "It's on hydraulic lifts. And there's a shitload of cables running in and out of it."

"Open it," Troy Lee said, holding his sword at ready.

Drew pulled at the lid of the vault, then let go and knocked on the side. "This thing is thick. Really thick." He reached up and took Troy's sword, worked the blade under the lid, and pried. The sword snapped.

"Christ, Drew! That sword cost a week's pay."

"Sorry," Drew said. "We're not going to pry this baby open. Not even with a crowbar."

Tommy said, "Lash, how's our time?"

"Forty minutes, give or take five."

To Drew, Tommy said, "What do you think? How do we get it open? A torch?"

Drew shook his head. "Too thick. It'd take hours to get through this. I say we blow it."

"With what?"

Drew grinned. "Common items you can find in your own kitchen. Someone's going to need to go back to the store and get me some stuff."

Cavuto watched Troy Lee's Toyota turning around, put down his binoculars, and quickly backed the cruiser into a driveway behind the shower buildings. He hit the redial on his cell phone and the gate guard answered on the first ring.

"Saint Francis Yacht Club, gate."

"This is Inspector Cavuto again. I need to know the registered owner of the Sanguine Two."

"I'm not supposed to give out that information."

"Look, I'm going to shoot some guys in a minute. You want to help, or what?"

"It's registered to a Dutch shipping company. Ben Sapir Limited."

"Have you seen anyone coming to or from that boat? Crew? Visitors?"

There was a pause while the guard checked his records. "No, nothing since it came into harbor. Except that it fueled up last night. Paid cash. No signature. Man, that baby's got some fuel capacity."

"How long has it been here?"

Another pause. "A little over three months. Came in on September fifteenth."

Cavuto checked his notebook. The first body was found on the seventeenth of September. "Thanks," he said to the guard.

"Those guys you had me let in are causing trouble. They took a boat."

"They're coming back through the gate. Let them do what they want. I'll take responsibility."

Cavuto disconnected and dialed the number of Rivera's cell phone.

Rivera answered on the first ring. "Yeah."

"Where are you?" Cavuto could hear Rivera lighting a cigarette.

"Watching the kid's apartment. I got a car. You?"

"The kid and the night crew are on a big motor yacht at the Saint Francis yacht club-hundred-footer. Boat's called the Sanguine Two; registered to a Dutch shipping company. They've been out there a couple of hours. Two of them just left."

"He didn't seem like the yachting type."

"No shit. But I'm staying with the kid. The Sanguine Two pulled into port two days before the first murder. Maybe we should get a warrant."

"Probable cause?"

"I don't know  -  suspicion of piracy."

"You want to call in some other units?"

"Not unless something happens. I don't want the attention. Any movement from your girl?"

"No. But it's getting dark. I'll let you know."

"Just go knock on the damn door and find out what's going on."

"Can't. I'm not ready to interview a murder victim. I haven't had any experience in it."

"I hate it when you talk like that. Call me." Cavuto rung off and began rubbing a headache out of his temples.

Jeff and Troy Lee were running through the Safeway aisles, Troy shouting out items off Drew's list while Jeff pushed the cart.

"A case of Vaseline," Troy said. "I'll get it out of the stockroom. You grab the sugar, and the Wonder Grow."

"Got it," Jeff said.

They rendezvoused at the express lane. The cashier, a middle-aged woman with bottle-blond hair, glared at them over her rose-tinted glasses.

"C'mon, Kathleen," Troy said. "That eight-items-or-less bullshit doesn't apply to employees."

Like everyone who worked days at the Safeway, Kathleen was a little afraid of the Animals. She sighed and began running the items over the scanner while Troy Lee shoved them into bags: ten five-pound bags of sugar, ten boxes of Wonder Grow fertilizer, five quarts of Wild Turkey bourbon, a case of charcoal lighter, a giant box of laundry detergent, a box of utility candles, a bag of charcoal, ten boxes of mothballs...

When she got to the case of Vaseline, Kathleen paused and looked up at Jeff. He gave her his best all-American-boy smile. "We're having a little party," he said.

She huffed and totaled the order. Jeff threw a handful of bills on the counter and followed Troy out of the store, pushing the cart at a dead run.

Twenty minutes later the Animals were scrambling through the Sanguine II with the bags of supplies for Drew, who was crouched in the opening with the stainless-steel vault. Tommy handed down the boxes of fertilizer.

"Potassium nitrate," Drew said. "No recreational value, but the nitrates make a nice bang." He tore the lid off a box and dumped the powder into a growing pile. "Give me some of that Wild Turkey."

Tommy handed down some bottles. Drew twisted the cap off one and took a drink. He shivered, blinked back a tear, and emptied the rest of the bottle into the dry ingredients. "Hand me that broken sword. I need something to stir with."

Tommy reached for the sword and looked up at Lash. "How we doing?"

Lash didn't even look at his watch. "It's officially dark," he said.
   

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