Chapter 43 of Silent Vector

Chapter 43, in which the hunted spots the hunter

CHAPTER 43

THE VIEW FROM THE WATER

Nick sits at the portside helm of the 36-foot Chris-Craft Constellation and slowly guides the boat through the clear waters of the Atlantic off the north coast of St. Thomas. Dalila sits next to him scanning the coastline for any sign of a laboratory through Nick’s Bausch & Lomb Zephyr 7x35 binoculars. Kyle Richardson and Pete Hall make half-hearted attempts at fishing off the boat’s stern from time to time for the sake of cover.

A detailed chart of the coast and the immediate offshore waters sits in front of the boat’s wheel. Nick scans the chart constantly, mindful of the area’s dangerous reefs and sandbars. A slight breeze from due north works on the boat’s modest freeboard and forces Nick to make constant, subtle adjustment’s to maintain course. Offshore and away from the surf, the boat glides easily, steadily, making Dalila’s job manageable.

Since negotiating the channel between St. Thomas and Thatch Cay they’ve surveyed the coastline of every bay and inlet: a quick inspection of diminutive Tutu Bay just northwest of the channel; a more extended scan of the popular and expansive Magens Bay; a return trip for Nick to Hull Bay, the site of his clumsy surfing attempts; then into another channel, this one between Neltjeberg Bay to port and Inner Brass Island to starboard. Dalila scours the coast as they motor slowly through the channel before continuing on past two more small bays – Mail and then Caret to the west. A finger of rocks protrudes into the Atlantic west of Caret Bay, after which Nick heads south to stay parallel to the coastline. As they passed the point of land separating Hendrik and Santa Maria Bays, Nick throttles both engines back to a speed that barely allows him to maintain headway and steerage.

“Kyle, take the wheel.”

Richardson reels in his line, secures his hook to an eye on his rod, stows the rod and heads for the wheelhouse.

“We’re coming up on Santa Maria Bay. The maps show the ruins of an old sugar plantation at the northeast end of the bay. Sounds like a perfect place to hide a lab. I want to take a good look.”

Nick grabs a second pair of binoculars out of his sea bag stowed in the forward cabin as Kyle takes the wheel. He returns to the wheelhouse and positions himself next to Dalila. It doesn’t take long before he spots the ruins.

“There. Just below the bluff separating it from Hendrik Bay.”

Nick points to what he and Dalila see simultaneously: the remains of a sugar plantation’s round, stone mill tower rising out of a dense tangle of growth. The southern side of the tower is being overtaken by thick climbing vines. Another two or three years and the stonework will be completely covered and hidden from view.

They scan the surrounding terrain carefully, looking for buildings, man-made clearings, signs of jeep trails or roads, antennae, anything to indicate the ruins are in current use.

“Anything?” Nick asks Dalila.

“Only the tower,” she responds without lowering her binoculars.

“Kyle, take us back around. I want to take one more look. Take us east of the point and then we’ll come back around for another look.”

“Got it.”

Richardson opens the throttles slightly to increase his control during the turn. He cuts the wheel to starboard. In short order they are at the turnaround point, ready for a second pass.

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Behind the dense growth on St. Thomas’s north shore, in one of the small buildings above Santa Maria Bay which houses the successful experiments of Hartmut Schnelling, at one of the few windows in the complex, the professor sits watching as Nick’s chartered Chris-Craft motors slowly east again before heading west just beyond the point. His third look at the craft and its occupants convinces him.

“The American is back,” he says to himself. “This time with reinforcements.”

Schnelling drops his binoculars as he frets about the additional American manpower. Then it hits him. A mission for Kropotkin! If he can convince Kropotkin of the need to eliminate the Americans, then he’ll achieve two goals at once: the elimination of the increasing threat from the U.S., and a change in focus for the malevolent Kropotkin. And should Kropotkin fail, the Soviets might recall him or even terminate him, a sublime proposition as far as the professor is concerned. But none of it can happen until he can reestablish contact with Moscow. Why has he heard nothing? Where is Kasparanov? How much further can or should he proceed with production without instructions from the Kremlin?

Schnelling once again trains his binoculars on the waters of Santa Maria Bay just in time to see the Americans motor west out of sight. He checks his watch. Kropotkin’s thrice weekly “visit” will end soon. He’ll have to continue his work on the final production logistics the day after tomorrow. For now it is enough to know that with luck Kropotkin will be otherwise engaged for the immediate future.