Sammy, we need to talk. Can you come meet me?
Sponson B, off the anchor room, at 0100.
We need to talk — seriously? Where did he think they were, in junior high? He reached the entrance to the anchor room, pushed open the door, and made for the big hatch that opened to the outside.
Schofield was a reasonable guy, some might even say overly so. But the petulance, the possessiveness, the petty arguments over nothing! Sam wasn’t used to this kind of drama, and God knew an aircraft carrier on deployment was the last place on earth for it. Enough.
He reached for the hatch to the exterior, grasped the handle — and stopped. Was he overreacting?
Maybe he should blow off this rendezvous altogether, turn himself right around and go back to his cabin. Confront Bennett quietly tomorrow in the light of day, when cooler heads prevailed.
He took a long breath in, then let it out again and slowly shook his head. It would be easy to let the anger dissipate, just let it go, but right now he needed to stay a little angry. Right now, it was time to end this thing.
He pushed open the big steel hatch, bracing himself against the onrush of muggy heat. Ducking his head so he wouldn’t slam it on the steel frame overhead, he walked out into the darkness and stepped to the rail.
He heard the hatch thud shut, felt the presence behind him, but he didn’t turn around, just stood with his hands on the rail breathing in the hot soup of Gulf air. There was the distant schusss of the ship’s prow slicing through the black water, the groans and creaks of great cords up on the flight deck holding their cargo fast. On the distant shoreline, oil derricks poked pinpricks of flame in the thickening dark; the moon’s pale scimitar hung overhead, silently watching.
“I don’t want to make this any more difficult than it needs to be.” Schofield kept his tone calm and even. “But all this drama. It has to stop.”
The presence behind him said nothing at all. Which did not entirely surprise him, because really, what was there to say?
“I don’t mean to be unkind,” he added, then shook his head in self-reproach. For Pete’s sake, why was he apologizing? “Honestly, your note took me by surprise. In fact, I didn’t even think you were on board tonight.” He began to turn and face the other man. “Didn’t you have to fly a run over to Doha —”
A thousand needles stabbed him in the face, his eyes scalded shut by a savage yellow blast of pure pain. Oleoresin capsicum.
He staggered back against the rail, clawing at the air, fighting for breath, then felt a single needle stab him in the neck.
Not a metaphor.
An actual needle.
He managed to rake in one ragged breath, then another. Like forcing a cheese grater down his throat.
What the hell, Bennett?
He found himself seated on the catwalk flooring, back to the rail, legs splayed out, zip ties on his wrists, still blinded and fighting to breathe.
Something was happening to him, something taking control of his legs, his arms, his fingers. Whatever he’d been jabbed with.
It was freezing his body into stone.
Before full paralysis could take effect, he pried open one burning eyelid. Looked in the face of his attacker.
Not the face he expected. But a face he knew.
YOU? Why are you doing this! he wanted to say.
But he couldn’t speak.
The face leaned close. Hands held up two objects before his one open eye, so he could see them clearly.
A can of pepper spray.
And a box cutter.
“We don’t have much time,” the voice whispered.
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