John R. Monteith
The commando lieutenant colonel entered the penthouse suite and caught his senior sergeant snacking on caviar and truffles. He pointed at the extravagant spread. “What’s this?”
The sergeant powered through chews like an angry bulldog and swallowed. “I’m having something nice before risking my life.”
“You’re too crude to appreciate the finer things.”
“You may have a point. I’d prefer a hamburger, to be honest, but I figure that rich people order the expensive stuff for room service.”
“And the steward didn’t notice your ugly face drooling when he brought the food?”
“I left instructions to enter our room while it was empty, and then I hid in the bathroom.”
“You were giggling like a little girl, I’m sure.”
The bulldog sergeant shrugged. “Not too loudly, since I didn’t get caught.”
“It was an unnecessary risk.”
“It’s part of our cover. People who rent rooms like this need to splurge to avoid attracting attention.”
The colonel clenched his jaw. “Fine. I disagree, but let’s not argue it. I don’t care how much you spend, but watch what you eat. You’re in the water in an hour.”
As the sergeant bit off another mouthful, the colonel walked towards the window. His Louis Vuitton loafers sank into the Berber carpet as he grabbed binoculars from his partner and draped them around the collar of his Tom Ford blazer.
At frame’s edge, he leaned forward, pushed the curtain aside, and beheld Muscat, Oman’s evening shoreline. His eyes found the whitewash of gentle beaching waves and then tracked the water southeast into the darkness of the Gulf of Oman.
A lone party craft approached the city pier, casting the luminescence of its leisure deck over the wake it drew pointing towards the anchored deep-draft vessels. Farther out, he saw dual white navigation lights stacked atop ships that swung in their prescribed circles while tethered to the seafloor.
When he spied his target, he held his breath, lifted the optics from his chest, and studied the magnified vessel.
The sergeant verbalized the view of their victim. “You should see up to four guards, two on each side of the ship.”
The colonel exhaled and accepted the gravity of watching men he would kill. “You said there were six.”
“Two are over the side.”
The colonel lifted the binoculars’ neck strap over his head and then handed it to the sergeant. Letting the curtain slide closed, he leaned back. “You’re certain?”
“I saw them enter after their shift change. Rebreathers, fins, underwater rifles. They look professional like you predicted, but we can handle them.”
“How’s the target’s position holding?”
The sergeant turned and stooped over a coffee table that a laminated chart covered. He grabbed a grease pencil and darkened an existing dot. “Its anchor landed here, about two hundred yards northeast of the center of the circle. It’s holding with its chain pointing west by northwest, and its position will hold as we approach.”
“Good. Everything’s ready.”
The sergeant stared at him during a disquieting silence.
“You’re looking at my strangely. What’s wrong?”
“I’m impressed with how nicely you clean up.”
While the sergeant stuffed a huge caviar-covered cracker into his face and chewed, the colonel studied his partner.
Though wearing a tailored Prada sports jacket and Ferragamo slacks, the elder warrior resembled a bulldog. His barrel chest tugged the fine threads in unintended directions, and his bulging thighs strained and lifted his pants.
“I can’t return the compliment. You’re built too much like a bulldog for those overpriced clothes.”
The bulldog jammed truffles into his mouth and mumbled a muffled response. “I prefer combat gear anyway.”
“I’m making the call.”
“That’s it then. The point of no return.” The colonel lifted a global satellite phone from his blazer and called his liaison. He heard a hint of sadness in the remote voice.
The colonel talked into his phone. “All is ready, my distant friend. It’s happening.”
“So many years you’ve been preparing for this day, and it comes so quickly. You’re sure you want to go through with this?”
The colonel strangled his rising doubts. “I couldn’t live with myself if I turned back.”
“This may be the last time we’ll talk.”
“You’re probably right, but you never know what the future holds.”
“Right. A man of your skill. You might somehow…”
“Don’t dwell on it. I can’t thank you enough. This wouldn’t be possible without you.”
“It’s the least I could do after all the selfless service you’ve provided.”
“Good bye, my distant friend.”
“Good bye and good luck. I’ll be watching and rooting for you.”
After he hung up, the bulldog mocked him between chews of foie gras. “That was touching.”
“Shut up. Swallow that and let’s go.”
A rapid elevator descent brought the duo to the lobby, and the colonel marched behind his squatty companion. After passing from the hotel’s dry interior into the sultry evening air, he leaned into the sergeant’s ear as the bulldog handed a card to a valet. “What vehicle did you rent?”
“A Range Rover.”
Minutes later, the colonel saw a silver supercharged model arrive and stop at the curb. “I see that you spared no expense.”
“I thought you’d be impressed. It also has the five-liter engine, in case performance becomes an issue.”
The colonel scoffed. “It won’t. But good thinking anyway.”
The valet sprang from the driver’s door and extended the keys towards the sergeant, who queried his leader. “Do you want to drive?”
“No, I want to think.”
“I prefer to use my instincts. Thinking is exhausting.”
The colonel stepped around the grill, reached the SUV’s far side, and climbed into the passenger seat. “I also prefer that you work on instincts. They’ll serve you well. But I can’t afford the luxury.” Thoughts consumed him as his bulldog sergeant took the Range Rover southerly towards the Almouj Marina.
He questioned a mission for which a rapid window of opportunity had precluded extensive preparations for the logistics of the raid. He questioned the resolve of the technical men who lacked combat experience. He questioned his own sanity in leading an improbable mission.
At the entrance to the marine port, the automobile swung left and opened a view to the basin. The colonel gazed upon upscale boats. “Which one is it?”
“The fifth vessel on the right.”
The forty-eight-foot Fairline Targa oozed extravagance, but it blended into the marina’s moored masses like a single pearl on a long necklace.
The Range Rover stopped, and the colonel walked onto the dock. His heels hit hard wood and echoed on the water. As his yacht came into view, it appeared flawless in its design for performance and luxury. “It’s beautiful. I trust you rented it.”
“Yes, it’s a rental.”
“I’d hate to waste the money of a purchase.”
Aboard the vessel, the colonel found the environs quiet. “Everyone’s below?”
“Yes. It’s comfortable enough for them, including space for their equipment. I didn’t want them to feel cramped while waiting. The upgrade for the larger size vessel was worth it.”
“Good decision. Make sure they’re ready.”
As the bulldog ducked into the cabin, the colonel recalled the skills of his sixteen-man team — nine warriors, including himself, and seven technical experts. He wanted more combatants for stealing the ship and more technicians for operating it, but he accepted the limits of his funding and the circle of men he could trust.
And when he’d reflected upon the final numbers during moments of brutal honesty, he’d admitted the perfection of his staff’s size. Anything larger would have implied a need for contingencies, which the speed and decisiveness of his strike would preclude.
The sergeant’s heavy steps thudded on the fantail. “They’re ready, sir.”
“The keys are in the ignition?”
“Take in the lines and head below to suit up.”
Alone on the weather deck, the colonel nudged the throttle into reverse and backed he yacht from its mooring. A few gentle rudder and engine movements placed the vessel in the marina’s exit channel.
He turned northeast and accelerated to the channel’s permissible limit. Turning, he saw Muscat’s graceful nighttime skyline, including his former vantage atop the hotel, which a backdrop of mountains humbled.
With satellite navigation guidance, he ignored landmarks and focused on his electronic display. The icon of the target’s anchor awaited him seven miles away. Angling the yacht out of the channel, he shoved the throttle forward until the speed gauge indicated fourteen knots. The gulf became choppy, and he steeled his grip on the boat’s wheel.
The bulldog’s voice overcame the wind. “How’s it going, sir?”
The colonel glanced behind him at a wetsuit’s hood poking from the cabin’s door. Wind whipping his cheeks, he screamed over his shoulder. “I want you in the water in twenty minutes.”
The bulldog sergeant nodded and disappeared.
His heart racing with anticipation, the colonel pushed the vessel toward the target. A white mast light signaled its forward orientation, and its silhouette began to form.
With his yacht’s lights illuminated to prevent suspicion, he knew the sentries saw him. He kept his radio silent and drove.
Two miles from the target, b ...