by Chris Allen
“Sonar contact, Skipper,” Kowalski’s voice rang out suddenly in the still silence of the control room of the submarine, Seaview.
“What do you read, Kowalski?” asked Captain Crane.
“It’s a vessel of some sort on the surface, bearing 125 degrees, two hundreds yards off our port bow.”
Captain Crane called over to Sparks. “See if you can contact the ship, Sparks. There shouldn’t be any craft in this area. It’s miles from any shipping lanes.”
“Aye, sir,” answered Sparks. He tried unsuccessfully to contact the vessel. “Skipper, she doesn’t respond. Shall I try again?”
“Yes, try different frequencies. She may be having radio trouble.”
Lee Crane walked up to the periscope island. “Let’s see what she looks like. Up periscope.” Crane looked through the periscope and was able to sight the vessel almost immediately. “It looks like an old fishing trawler. No sign of life on deck. Chip, ask the Admiral to come to the control room for a minute. You’ll find him in the lab.”
“Aye, sir.” Commander Chip Morton called for Admiral Nelson on the intercom.
“I’ll be right there, Chip,” replied Nelson.
Sparks had been unable to make radio contact with the trawler. Nelson, Crane and Morton conferred as to the best plan of action. The fishing boat was certainly far away from the usual shipping lanes and could be in trouble. It was decided that the Seaview would surface and show her position. If the fishing trawler’s radio and sonar were not working, then the occupants would have no idea that a submarine was nearby.
“Surface, surface!” Commander Morton gave the order to bring the Seaview to the surface.
“Crack the hatch!” ordered Crane. He and Chip grabbed their jackets and binoculars and headed topside. It was early morning and quite foggy but they could still see the trawler clearly. There was still no sign of life on board. Crane grabbed the megaphone and hailed the boat. There was no answer.
“Well, Chip. It looks like we are going to have to board her to see if there is anyone there. I suppose they could have had engine trouble and decided to abandon ship and make for land in a lifeboat. The trawler could have been drifting for days.”
“Looks like she has seen some rough times. Needs a paint job,” observed Chip. “I can just make out the name. It’s badly faded but it looks like Neptune.”
“I’ll hail her one more time then we’ll get a boarding party to check her out,” said Crane. “Ahoy, Neptune. Is there anyone aboard?” No answer. “Okay, Chip, ready a boarding party. I’ll go with them.”
Crane, Kowalski and Chief Sharkey stepped into the inflatable raft and manoeuvred their way to the trawler. They tied off the raft and began to climb up the rigging that was strung over the side of the boat. When they reached the top and peered over they found no one on deck. They called out repeatedly but there seemed to be no sign of life.
“Sharkey, you go below and look around,” ordered Captain Crane. “Kowalski, let’s check out the wheelhouse.”
As Crane and Kowalski mounted the steps leading up to the wheelhouse they suddenly heard a creaking sound. They looked at each other and then looked up to see the door to the wheelhouse closing.
“Is anyone there?” Crane called out and then took his gun out of the holster. Kowalski followed suit. Nobody answered so they continued carefully up the steps and Crane slowly opened the door to the wheelhouse. They stepped inside but it seemed to be empty.
“Must have been the wind, Skipper,” said Kowalski, although he felt a bit spooked by the whole thing.
“Must have been,” agreed Crane. “Well, there’s no one here. See if you can find the log, Ski. Maybe we can find out what happened to the crew.”
They looked around but couldn’t find a log or charts or anything to indicate where the Neptune had come from or what its destination had been. Crane suggested that they find Sharkey and see if he had found anything. They started down the steps to the lower deck. Crane had almost reached the bottom when something grabbed his foot and pulled him off balance. He fell down the last few steps and landed hard on the deck. Kowalski was right behind him. He grabbed hold of Crane’s arm and yanked him up quickly and was just about to get his gun out of his holster when someone else jumped him from behind. Kowalski shook off the attacker and pushed him down but lost his gun. It slid across the deck and over the side. Meanwhile, Crane was fighting off another attacker. A third man appeared and joined in the fight, then two more men appeared. They knocked Crane down onto the deck and held him down. He tried to take out his gun but was soon overpowered.
“Kowalski, make a run for it!” yelled Crane, as he continued to struggle with his attackers. “Go get help!” Kowalski looked helplessly over at Crane, not wanting to leave his Captain in trouble but knowing they were hopelessly outnumbered. “Go!!” ordered Crane. Kowalski decided he’d better get away now while he could. He leaped over the railing and jumped over the side and into the murky water. Immediately he heard shots being fired. Bullets cut into the water all around him. He quickly took a deep breath and dove straight down under the water and then turned and swam toward Seaview as fast as he could, praying that a bullet wouldn’t find him.
The lookouts on the bridge of the submarine heard the shots. They alerted Mr. Morton who quickly issued orders for arms to be distributed to the crew. Extra guards were posted on deck. The men of the Seaview returned fire as a cover for Kowalski. They were careful to aim high so as not to hit Crane and Sharkey. They couldn’t see the Captain or the Chief but they assumed they were still aboard the Neptune. After a few harrowing minutes, Kowalski was finally fished out of the water and quickly taken aboard the Seaview. He explained to the Admiral and Morton what had happened aboard the Neptune. Admiral Nelson ordered Sparks to continue to try to contact the fishing trawler. The lookouts reported no sign of Crane or Sharkey on board the Neptune.
Chief Sharkey struggled with his bonds but realized he couldn’t free himself from the ropes. His head ached from whatever had hit him as he had descended the stairs into the cabin area. Moments ago he had heard sounds of struggling above him and then gunshots. Now all was quiet. He prayed that the Skipper and Kowalski had not been hurt. He tried to get his bearings but it was too dark to make out where he was. He assumed he was in some kind of storage room. The air was musty and smelled of rotten fish. Then he heard footsteps and a scraping sound as if something was being dragged along the floor. The door was suddenly flung open and the light temporarily blinded Sharkey. Something heavy was dumped on the floor next to him and then the door was slammed shut again. Everything was quiet once more. Then there was a low moaning sound. There was someone in the room with him! Sharkey struggled over to the dark form that was lying on the floor. As his eyes adjusted to the dark once again, Sharkey realized it was Captain Crane laying there next to him!
“Skipper, Skipper, can you hear me?” Sharkey moved against Crane and managed to shake him gently, trying to wake him. Crane did not move. In the dim light Sharkey leaned over to examine the Captain. He couldn’t move too well with his hands and legs tied but he was able to get close enough to see that Crane had been severely beaten. Anger surged through his body. He wanted to break free of the ropes that were binding him and find whoever did this to the Captain. Sharkey realized he had to stay calm and figure a way out of this. His only hope was to try to wake the Captain up so he could help untie him. He wondered what had happened to Kowalski.
“Skipper, you got to wake up! Skipper!” Sharkey had to whisper. He was afraid the attackers might hear him. A guard had been posted just outside the door. He was relieved when Crane started to move a bit. He kept calling to him and finally Crane opened his eyes. He started to get up but was immediately overcome by a wave of dizziness and closed his eyes again.
“Sharkey?” Crane recognized the concerned face of Chief Sharkey leaning over him. “I’m okay. Just give me a minute.”
Sharkey didn’t think that Crane looked okay. Blood was still streaming down his forehead and his mouth was bleeding. He watched Crane struggle to sit up. It looked as if he had been kicked or punched in the ribs because Crane was holding his side as he started to get up but then sat back down again and slumped over, leaning against the wall and closing his eyes again. “Skipper, can you untie me?”
Crane opened his eyes and struggled into a sitting position. He felt the blackness descending on him again but he shook it off and leaned over to try to untie the Chief. After nearly ten minutes, Crane was finally able to loosen the ropes that secured Sharkey’s hands. Sharkey finished untying the ropes around his legs and was finally free. “Skipper, are you okay?” There was no answer. Crane had passed out again and was laying motionless on the floor. Sharkey knew he had to come up with some kind of a plan to escape. He was worried about the Skipper and he had no idea what they had done to Kowalski.
The Neptune had not answered any of the Seaview’s signals. Sparks had continued to try to contact them on a number of different frequencies. Admiral Nelson had tried to talk to them over the megaphone from the bridge but their only answer was a hail of bullets directed at the Seaview.
Nelson and Morton discussed their options. What they really wanted to do was to blast the Neptune out of the water with a well-aimed torpedo but obviously that was out of the question with Crane and Sharkey still on board.
“If they would only tell us what they want,” said Chip. “Why would they keep Lee and the Chief captive? What purpose would that serve?”
“It seemed to be a setup from the start,” explained Nelson, “they made it look like the Neptune was abandoned so they could lure our men on board. But what I don’t understand is why? And why are they not answering us?” Nelson was frustrated. He was used to solving problems but this time he had no idea what to do next. “It seems to be a matter of waiting to see what their next step is.”
Chip agreed. “They will need to take the next step. But what can we do meanwhile? When it gets dark we could send a diving party over and surround the boat and try to take them by surprise.”
“Not with Lee and Sharkey on board. They might just decide to kill them if we try anything. Let’s continue to try to contact them to find out their terms and then take it from there. Meanwhile I want you to double the lookouts and place armed guards at all the outside hatches in case they try to get aboard.”
Sharkey reckoned they had been held captive for about four hours by now. He was relieved to see that Crane had come around again and was looking a little better. He certainly wasn’t in any shape for a fight but maybe they could come up with a plan to escape without having to confront their attackers. They had checked out the room and couldn’t find anything they could use as a weapon. There were a few empty barrels and some old rags but that seemed to be about it.
“Skipper. Who do you think these jokers are? And why are they holding us here?”
“I don’t know, Sharkey. They certainly had this planned though. They wanted us to think the boat was abandoned so we would come on board. I don’t know why, though.”
“I hope the Admiral has some tricks up his sleeve because I sure don’t know how we’re going to get out of here.”
Crane walked painfully over to one of the barrels and tried to get the lid off. “Sharkey, give me a hand here.”
“Aye, skipper. You got a plan?”
“I’m not sure. Help me get this lid off.”
They struggled together to get the lid off the barrel. It was empty inside just as they had suspected. Crane ran his hand through his hair as he thought about a possible way of getting out of the room. It was risky but it could work. He explained his plan to Sharkey.
The lookouts on the bridge of the Seaview were keeping a close watch on any activity on board the Neptune. They had seen a number of men moving around on deck but no sign of Captain Crane or Chief Sharkey. Suddenly there was some activity by the mast. A flag was being raised. One of the lookouts grabbed the microphone and asked Admiral Nelson to come topside.
Nelson looked over at the Neptune and saw them raising the flag. He couldn’t believe what he saw. It was the skull and crossbones! The Neptune was a pirate ship. A modern day pirate ship! Sparks’ voice came over the intercom. “Admiral, the Neptune is hailing us. Their captain wants to speak to you.”
“I’ll be right down. Keep him talking!”
Nelson grabbed the microphone. “This is Nelson.”
“Ah, you must be Admiral Nelson. I am so pleased to make your acquaintance, Admiral. I have been so looking forward to meeting you.”
“Who the devil are you and what have you done with my men?”
“You must forgive my manners, Admiral. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Captain Jonathan Blackstone of the Neptune. I would really like to meet you in person but unfortunately that could be a little difficult considering the circumstances.”
“Just what is it that you want?” The Admiral was having difficulty controlling his temper. This Blackstone seemed to be treating the situation too lightly.
“Well, Admiral. You do seem anxious to get right down to the details. Well, I’ll tell you what I want. You see I have something of yours and you have something that I want. I propose we make a trade.”
“Are my men alright?”
“A little damaged perhaps but they are safe for the moment. Now Admiral, I have a proposition to make to you. I will return your Captain and Chief to you in exchange for what I want.”
“And what exactly is it that you want?” The Seaview wasn’t carrying anything valuable that this Blackstone character might want.
“Well Admiral, what I want is your Seaview.”
“What the devil do you mean?” spluttered Nelson. He could barely control himself. He wanted to get his hands around this pirate’s neck.
“Precisely what I said, Admiral Nelson, I want the Seaview. You and your men can go free. I may even let you have the Neptune. A pretty fair exchange, don’t you think?”
“It’s totally out of the question!” Nelson roared his answer into the microphone.
“Come now, Admiral. Surely the lives of your two men are worth more than your submarine. Why, you could always build yourself another one.” Blackstone seemed to be enjoying his position. He knew he had the upper hand. Pirating the high seas with the Seaview as his base seemed like a dream come true.
Nelson tried to think. “Give me some time to decide, Blackstone.”
“Of course, Admiral. I will give you two hours. I will call again at 1400 hours. Blackstone out.”
Nelson slammed his fist against the console. He would never give up the Seaview to that pirate! But what about Lee and the Chief? How did he know if they were even still alive? Seaview’s crew easily outnumbered the Neptune’s crew but what good would it do if they attacked the pirate ship? Crane and Sharkey would surely be killed before they could get to them.
Crane knew his plan had only a slim chance of working. Even if they were able to get out of the storage room, how were they going to get past the rest of the crew? He wasn’t in very good shape. His ribs were hurting and his head was still spinning. He didn’t feel very steady on his feet but he also didn’t like sitting in this room doing nothing. It was time to make a break. Sharkey had finished stuffing the pile of rags into the empty barrel. The plan was to set fire to the rags in the barrel. Hopefully the smoke coming through the crack under the door would be noticed by the guard outside. They hoped to take the guard by surprise as he opened the door to check on the smoke. It wasn’t the best of plans but still worth a try. Sharkey set the rags alight and they waited. They shoved the barrel over by the door and tipped it over. Crane and Sharkey started yelling.
The guard outside saw the smoke and yelled for the other members of the crew to get some water. He opened the door and had to step back away from the smoke. Crane and Sharkey saw their chance. The Chief dove through the open doorway and jumped on the guard knocking him down. Crane quickly grabbed his rifle and used the rifle butt to put the guard out of commission. The smoke continued to fill the cabin area. Crane and Sharkey could barely see where they were going. It was getting hard to breathe. They quickly ducked into another room when they heard the others coming. They were in the galley. So far so good but how were they going to get topside? Sharkey carefully opened the galley door and looked out. The smoking barrel had worked better than they thought. The flames were proving difficult to put out because of the amount of smoke. Crane nodded to Sharkey and they both ran out the door and headed for the stairs going up. As they reached the top of the stairs they were greeted by the ship’s captain holding what appeared to be a seventeenth century musket. It was aimed directly at the Chief and the Captain.
Nelson realized that he had no choice but to pretend to go along with Blackstone’s wishes. But first he had to guarantee the safety of Crane and Sharkey. He stood in the observation nose of the submarine; Nelson’s front porch, as it was often referred to by the crew. He always did his best thinking, standing there, staring out at the ocean.
His thoughts were interrupted by Chip Morton’s arrival. “Admiral, the lookouts report smoke coming from the Neptune!”
“Let’s go,” ordered Nelson. He and Morton headed for the bridge and were amazed to see smoke pouring out of the portholes on the starboard side of the Neptune. There were shouts coming from the trawler and men were running about on deck.
“What about Lee and Sharkey?” asked Chip with a look of concern. “If they’re trapped down there . . . .”
“I know, Chip. I think this just might be the time to pay the Neptune a little visit. Send a diving party over. Tell them to stay underwater until they reach the ship and have them board on the port side, away from all the action. But they better hurry, that fire could spread pretty fast. They are to find Lee and Sharkey and get them out of there, fast!”
“Well, Gentlemen, we meet at last. I am Captain Jonathan Blackstone,” he laughed, pointing the musket at Crane and Sharkey. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to visit you in your quarters but I had business with your Admiral Nelson. This is most unfortunate that you have escaped and caused all this trouble. This smoke is getting quite thick. My men will soon have the fire out but meanwhile would you please accompany me topside.”
The Chief and the Captain had no choice. The musket looked very old but they didn’t want to take any chances. Blackstone had the upper hand right now but at least they were out of the storage room. They headed up the stairs with Blackstone right behind them.
There was quite a commotion when they got on deck. Blackstone’s men informed him that the fire had gotten out of control. If they weren’t able to put it out soon they would have to abandon ship. Blackstone remained unnaturally calm or so it seemed to Crane and Sharkey. He ordered two of his men to watch them while he headed for the wheelhouse. Blackstone signalled his radioman to contact Seaview.
“Nelson here. What do you want, Blackstone?”
“Well, Admiral, it seems I will have to cut your decision time short. I am in need of your Seaview right now. Your men have created quite a problem here as you are probably aware by now.”
Nelson couldn’t help smiling as he realized it was Crane and Sharkey who were responsible for the fire. “What are your terms, Blackstone? But before you say anything I want assurances that my men are still alive.”
“Admiral, your men are quite safe, for now. They are up on deck right now. I’m sure your men on the bridge should be able to see them.” Nelson glanced over at Morton who nodded in agreement. Morton had just come to report that the lookouts had spotted the Captain and the Chief on the deck of the Neptune. “Unfortunately it looks like the Neptune will no longer be available for you and your men, so I suggest you begin evacuation of your submarine immediately.”
“Not until my men are returned to the Seaview!”
“No, Admiral. Your Captain and Chief will be returned once I see the entire crew of Seaview in the lifeboats. Now please, Admiral, I am running out of time.”
Nelson was stalling for time. The divers should be almost at the Neptune. It was risky for Lee and Sharkey but Nelson wasn’t planning on having over one hundred of his men sitting in lifeboats hoping to be rescued. He would pretend to go along with Blackstone’s crazy plan until the last possible minute.
“All right, Blackstone. I’ll give the orders to abandon ship but if any harm comes to my men . . . . . “
“Don’t worry, Admiral. I’m looking forward to taking possession of the Seaview. Let’s get on with it!”
The two crewmembers who were watching Crane and Sharkey were getting anxious about the amount of smoke coming from below deck. Suddenly there was a shout of alarm from the port side of the boat. The divers had been spotted climbing up the side. Shots rang out. Crane and Sharkey saw their chance. Sharkey grabbed the arm of the man closest to him and tried to get his gun away from him. He pushed him into the other man and Crane managed to knock the second man down. Then he and Sharkey started to head for the railing when there was a sudden loud boom. Crane fell to the deck, his shoulder bleeding. As he looked up, he saw Blackstone looking down at him from the wheelhouse, his musket still smoking. Sharkey leapt into action, grabbing Crane and dragging him over to the railing. With a desperate burst of energy he managed to push Crane over the side and then jumped into the water after him.
Nelson and Morton watched helplessly from the bridge. The diving party had captured a number of the crew of the Neptune but some of them had seen Crane and Sharkey jump overboard and were riddling the water with bullets. The fight continued on the deck of the Neptune. Blackstone was holed up in the wheelhouse with a few of his men. The fire was getting worse and the smoke was now so thick that it was difficult to see what was happening. There was no sign of Crane or Sharkey.
Kowalski, Patterson and a number of other crew members were on the deck of the submarine peering into the water to see if they could see the Skipper or Sharkey. The smoke from the Neptune was drifting over the water making it almost impossible to see more than a few feet. Suddenly, there was a shout for help. It was Sharkey! Kowalski and Patterson dove into the water, heading for where they thought they heard Sharkey’s voice. After a few moments of desperate searching they found Sharkey, completely exhausted, dragging the Captain’s limp form, trying to keep his head above water. Kowalski and Patterson dragged them both to Seaview where they were all helped out of the water by willing hands.
It was all over in a matter of minutes. The Neptune was completely engulfed in smoke and flames. It began to take on water quickly and slipped quietly beneath the surface. The Seaview sent out lifeboats to rescue both the crew of the Neptune and the diving party. Miraculously, all of the diving party returned safely to the Seaview with only a few suffering minor injuries. Only five members of the Neptune’s crew were rescued. Blackstone was not among them.
“Well, Skipper,” said Doc Jamieson. “I must admit, this is the first time I have ever removed a musket ball from someone. You were pretty lucky. The wound was not too serious but those broken ribs of yours will put you on light duty for quite a while. You also swallowed a lot of sea water while Sharkey was trying to get you back to Seaview. So take it easy for a while, Skipper.”
“Thanks, Doc. I’ll try to stay away from abandoned pirate ships for a while.” Lee Crane was feeling much better and was anxious to get out of the Sickbay.
As he entered Sickbay, Admiral Nelson overheard Doc’s comments to Crane. He added, “You almost didn’t have a Seaview to come back to, Lee, if Blackstone had gotten his way.”
“Well, thanks to Sharkey, I’m still here. Did our divers ever recover Blackstone’s body?”
“No. The Neptune is laying on the bottom, two hundred feet down but there was no sign of Blackstone. You know, he really thought he was a pirate. When I sent our report on the incident to the Institute they did some checking into Blackstone’s background. It turns out he was a descendent of Blackbeard the pirate and had spent his whole life on the wrong side of the law.”
“And what has he got to show for it?” asked Crane.
“Only a permanent place of residence in Davy Jones Locker.”
Admiral Nelson smiled. “Come on, Lee. This ship needs its captain back.” He looked over at Doc who was frowning. “I know, Doc, light duty only for our captain.” Admiral Nelson smiled again as he and Crane headed for the control room together.
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