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Pleasure Cruise

Chapter One


In the still of the night, stars twinkled brightly against the dark heavens. On the water below, a sixty-foot yacht silently drifted along on the rolling waves of the English Channel. Banks of clouds, their shape ever changing, trickled across the charcoal sky partially blotting out the dull yellow moon and the stars. The inky black water, cold and uninviting, lapped against the side of the yacht as a gentle breeze brushed the flapping sails against the mast. The vessel gently rose and fell with the swell producing shafts of dull reflections that danced on the water’s surface on this Saturday night, late in the month of May.
In the far distance appeared the glow of lights accompanying the engine throb of a motor launch stirring the night air. The volume increased as it neared the yacht, drifting gently on the waves and making no headway.
On the far side from the launch, masked by the yacht, a small sailing boat with an outboard motor silently slipped away under the cover of darkness and vanished into the night. A break in the clouds brought a flicker of light from the moon and bathed the area with an incandescent glow, allowing a momentary reflection from the yacht to glisten on the shimmering water.
A searchlight, mounted high on the coastguard’s motor launch, cut a path through the darkness seeking its target. The luminescent beam scanned a vast area of sea towards the fleeting reflection. Silence was broken when shouts erupted as a ray of light fell on the drifting vessel and fingers were pointed in her direction. The throaty roar of the launch’s engines increased in volume as she sped towards their discovery.
‘That could be her,’ pronounced Captain Paul Woodley to his six-man team.
The well-built, six-foot-plus captain had skippered the coastguard launch for nearly twenty years, was a man who had spent all his working life at sea, and his bronzed deep-lined suntanned face bore witness to that fact. He was born into a family of sailors who had battled with the sea for as many generations as he could remember; it was in his blood and was the only career he had ever considered.
‘Yeah, it looks as if the tip-off was genuine. She’s running without lights, and looks to be drifting. I can’t see any movement aboard,’ declared Grant Patcham, the six-foot tall gangly framed first mate of the launch, staring hard into the darkness through his binoculars.
The launch came alongside and the two craft gently bumped together. One crewman jumped aboard, a line was thrown across and the yacht secured before Patcham and one other crewman boarded her.
‘Go careful,’ warned the skipper caressing his full beard; a beard he first grew as a young man, and had never shaved off even though it had now turned mainly grey. ‘I’m not sure what we should expect. I always get a bit nervous when we receive an anonymous tip-off.’
‘Okay, skip,’ Patcham responded.
With flashlights illuminating a path before them, the three men first checked the top deck of the yacht and found nothing out of place. Entering the wheelhouse, everything looked in order until the flashlight beam fell on the radio equipment; smashed beyond repair. With the entrance to the cabin area closed, Patcham grabbed the handle and yanked, pulling the unlocked door open. He drew back at the distinctly foul aroma that escaped from below.
‘I’m not sure what’s down there, but it doesn’t smell too good,’ he declared.
Patcham descended the three steps into eerie silence following the beam from his flashlight as it shone upon the interior of the cabin. Broken furniture and dark, shiny pools were visible on the floor. Stepping into the cabin, Patcham shone a light around the galley and lounge area and took in the scene before him. Illuminated in the beam were the bodies of three men spreadeagled on the floor. Each one had been shot. Patcham then realised what the dark patches on the floor were; it was their congealed blood.
‘There are three bodies down here! You’d better tell the skipper what we’ve found and ask him to come aboard,’ Patcham called out.
‘Aye, aye, number one, I’ll get him,’ replied the crewman, backing out of the cabin with undue haste.
The skipper boarded the yacht. ‘What a stink, and what an unholy mess,’ he declared, turning up his nose and removing his peak cap to scratch his head of thick wavy hair.
‘We’d better not touch anything. The police forensic team will want to check this yacht for clues,’ stated Patcham.
‘Right. But first we’d better make sure there are no more bodies hidden here in all this mess.
'The pair searched the rest of what were previously the bedroom cabins, bathroom and laundry. All of the cabins had been torn apart and wrecked almost beyond repair.
‘Somebody was obviously looking for something, and didn’t give a damn about how they went about it or how much damage they caused while doing it,’ Patcham stated.
‘At least it doesn’t look as if there are any more bodies lying around,’ added Woodley, pulling the smashed door to a wardrobe aside and flicking his flashlight beam on the interior.
‘Thank goodness for that.’
Woodley moved a broken shelf aside and suddenly froze. The light fell on a canister lashed to a timing device with a hand ticking around the face of a clock, and stood alongside a can of diesel fuel.
‘Shit! You don’t know how to defuse a bomb, do you?’ asked the skipper.
‘I had basic police training, but that didn’t extend to defusing explosives. I left that to the bomb squad. Why?’
‘Take a look.’
Patcham shone a beam on the can of fuel, moved it to the canister and across to the clock, its seconds hand flicking past the number six.
‘Christ! It looks like an explosive device coupled to a timer, and it doesn’t take an expert to see that this little lot is due to go off in less than thirty seconds.’
‘Let’s get out of here fast,’ said the skipper, scrambling from the cabin and heading for the steps.
Patcham turned, then stopped. He turned back, grabbed the explosives and headed for the exit. Scurrying across smashed woodwork, he leaped up the steps and dashed from the wheelhouse to bowl the canister as far as his cricketing arm would allow.
‘Get down!’ yelled Woodley.
The crewmen all watched the canister loop across the night sky, and to a man dropped to the deck. The bomb plunged into the sea and exploded, sending a torrent of water high into the air, raining down on the two vessels.
‘Phew! That was a close thing,’ declared the skipper, eyeing his first mate as they got to their feet. ‘Are you always this damn stupid?’
‘I guess it’s the latent policeman instinct in me. Leaving the force hasn’t dulled my enthusiasm to catch criminals, especially when it’s murder we’re looking at. I didn’t want all this evidence to be wiped out. The forensic boys will want to get fingerprints and the like, and that little incendiary device would have quickly started a fire with diesel spread everywhere. It would have sunk this vessel in no time, destroying everything.’
‘Aye, including us if we’d stayed aboard. Somebody didn’t want this yacht found intact,’ declared Captain Woodley.
‘If we hadn’t discovered her so quickly, we might have thought it was an unfortunate accident.’
‘Hmm,’ mused the skipper. ‘Or even got us blown sky high if we’d have come alongside at the wrong moment.’
Patcham grinned. He was more familiar with facing such dangerous situations during his time in the police force. The two men brushed themselves down and returned to the lounge cabin.
‘Have you taken a good look at this body?’ asked Patcham, an ex-Metropolitan police detective with an eye for detail.
‘No. Why?’ asked the skipper.
‘Because he’s the only one who’s been tied up, and one of his fingers has been unceremoniously chopped off. It’s here on the floor,’ he stated, pointing the beam of light on the severed digit. ‘He was also shot in the chest and the leg, probably the leg first, unlike the others who were shot in the chest and would have certainly died straight away.’
Woodley screwed his face up in disgust. ‘Why do you think they did that?’
‘I reckon they were trying to get some information out of him. He must have been the skipper.’
‘Poor chap. I imagine he was in agony before he died. It was probably a release when they killed him.’
‘Yeah. This has all the hallmarks of a drugs run, so I presume the stuff was hidden somewhere aboard, and whoever killed them and left that bomb, tried to force the location from him first. Looking around, I imagine they had quite a job and probably didn’t succeed.’
‘That would explain the state of this yacht. Whoever did this has wrecked practically everything in their search.’
‘Yes, it’s a shame. This was once a quality motor yacht. I wonder if they did find what they were looking for before they scarpered?’ mused Patcham, looking around the dishevelled cabin.
‘That’s not our concern. Try starting the engines, otherwise we’ll have to tow her into the harbour. I’ll radio the police and let them know what we’ve found.’
‘Okay, skipper.’
‘Did you notice the name of this yacht?’
‘Yeah. It’s Quester Two.’
‘Quester Two. Okay. The police should have no problems in tracing her owners. We can help them with that.’
While Captain Woodley returned to his launch to contact the police, Patcham checked the wheelhouse. The key was still inserted in the ignition. Twisting it illuminated a red light.
‘So far, so good,’ he muttered to himself.
His finger hovered over the starter button for a few seconds before he pressed it, half wondering if the killers had been clever and left more than one set of explosives to blow the yacht to pieces. To his relief they had not, and the engine fired up immediately.
Switching on the lights, Patcham called across to the skipper, ‘Everything seems to be in working order.’
‘Good. Follow us in slowly to Littlehampton Harbour. The police will be waiting for us there when we arrive.’
Nodding, Patcham span the wheel and followed his skipper in the wrecked floating coffin that was once a luxury motor yacht named Quester II.


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