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Theodore Carl Soderberg

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Second day of Infamy
By Theodore Carl Soderberg
Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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Recent stories by Theodore Carl Soderberg
· Excerpt from The Summer of '72
· Chapter 1
· Summer of '72
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Splashing its way through Hong Kong streets awash in tropical rain, a limo stops at Peninsula Hotel as people frantically maneuver to escape the torrent. Jack fumbles with an umbrella; the driver speaks, “You will be meeting a Ms. Chamberlain… she’s with MI 6, and she’ll call you on this. The driver gives Jack a cell phone, along with a list of confidential phone numbers.
Jack in turn, hands the driver a number of Hong Kong dollars, then extricates his 6’5” frame from the Limo, and proceeds to the main entrance. Parked in front of the hotel, are examples of the world’s finest automobiles, a red Ferrari, and two Bentleys. Jack is impressed.
Things were improving by the minute, as a white gloved bellman secured Jacks luggage, as they made their way to the front desk.
The elegant setting of the lobby spilled into a casual dining area, with people in small clusters in varying states of celebration, reminding Jack that cocktail hour was in the offing, and he was thirsty. The bellman didn’t just open a door to a hotel room, but a porthole to opulence a normal person would never experience. Room 1019, with its exotic motifs in marble, exotic wood, and décor also had a breathtaking view of the water separating Kowloon from Hong Kong, and the harbors world-class beauty. Business always came first with Jack, and room 1019, at Jack’s request, was equipped with a fax machine, secure high-speed internet with computer, capable of sending encrypted communiqué on both. But first things first, and he headed to the well stocked mini bar, poured himself a Boodles and tonic, jettisoned his shoes, settled back in a luxurious leather recliner, and glanced at the majesty of Hong Kong’s Two IFC’s skyscrapers. Thinking all was right with him and the world, as he enjoyed a moment’s peace, as he brought the Waterford crystal glass to his lips. Ring ring!
“Now who can that be?” Jack raised the receiver, “Hello, this is Professor Thornton!” On the other end; sounding similar to a high-pitched racing gas turbine with a clipped Oxford accent,
“Helloooo, this is Ms. Chamberlain, welcome to Kowloon and Hong Kong Professor, “Yes, Helloo Ms Chamberlain…” “Oh my, I have been looking forward to our meeting. It will be a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, I have your picture on my writing table; we have heard so much in Hong Kong of your work in the field. I would like to suggest that we meet at Victoria Pier for a ferry ride to the Hong Kong side.” Jack felt as though a sharp bladed instrument had penetrated one ear and gone out the other; pulling the receiver away from his ear to prevent damage, he responded. “That sounds terrific Ms. Chamberlain; how does 6:30 this evening sound?” “Splendid, I will be wearing a blue dress with a white shall, at the ferry terminal near the chemist store”. He was not sure how much of this British whimsy dressed in formality he could handle. “Excellent! Blue dress with a white shall, see you then at 6:30,” as he was about disconnect, she interrupted.
“But what will you be wearing professor?”
“Ms. Chamberlin, you need not worry, I will find you.” And with that, he set the receiver down, scratched his pate that had become sparser with years, and wondered what in the heck Clark had gotten him into… “She has my picture on her writing table?” Although Victoria Pier was a short walk, Jack had no commitment to baking in the 34-celcius heat and humidity, and reckoned he would have the hotels house car drive him to meet Ms. Chamberlain. After a seven-minute ride, the large Bentley came to a halt at Victoria Pier, and Jack spotted a western woman, standing at a newspaper stand adjacent to a drug store, with a blue dress, white shawl, with Edwardian grand piano legs, and a mug like Sea biscuit. What followed was an evening Jack would prefer to forget.
Next morning, the sun broke through multilayered smog giving Kowloon a beautiful purple haze. Ring, ring…. The tranquility of Jack’s early-morning serenity went out the window, as the phone jangled for the second time on a table overlooking the panoramic view of Hong Kong’s city center, and Victoria Peak. On the third ring, Jack yanked the receiver from the cradle of a tasteful telephone fashioned after a Shang dynasty burial urn, but before answering, he uncharacteristically waited three beats, “Let’s see, how many people know I'm in Hong Kong? Mmm, how many people even know I am at the Peninsula? For Jack, this was not exactly an Ellery Queen mystery… Bingo! Of course, who else could it be? It must be her!” He put the phone to his ear, and even before the first utterance was audible, Jack noticed his eyes were closed, and with a cheery chortle the voice on the other end said, “Good morning Professor Thornton, it’s Ester, I hope you’re thinking what I am thinking, and our mindsets are in agreement, wasn't last night just marvelous?” “What? Has this woman lost her marbles, has she cracked-up, gone off the deep end, around the bend…? “Thinking what I am thinking?” Jack was trying to organize his thoughts, and get a word in. “Well, I think it was a ….” Ester Interrupted again. “Oh yes Professor, what a splendid time” “Oh man, this can’t be happening, I have to deal with her now?” “Yes, good morning, Hello Ester, and how are you today? Indeed, that was a fine eve….” “Jack my dear, I thought we might get together this evening for cocktails at my suite, and we can discuss our countries current events, and plan for the future.” “Plan for the future, what future, whose future? She sure as hell better not be thinking about my future that would include her. What on earth was she talking about? What was she thinking, boy meets girl on spy campus, falls in love and lives happily ever after? Or was she really a professional , committed to her job, and concerned with the Jihad’s plans to destroy Western civilization as we know it, or was she just on the make?” Jack didn’t like the way this was going one bit, and had to regain control of the situation, otherwise this hot to trot middle aged over sexed emissary of the British government was going to be monopolizing his time in the wrong direction. He had to think quickly and come up with an alternate plan. "Fine, but it will have to be short, because I have a meeting with Ang for an early dinner to discuss additional business concerning our operation.” "Oh that is simply smashing, what a coincidence, because he will be joining the two of us at my suite!” “Curses, foiled by my own lack of preparation and foresight… Dam it, stuck, she got me…. Trapped. Trapped like an animal, like a rat, like a dog, like a mutt in a cage!” Trying to smile as he talked, “Yes of course, that will be great, what time did you say?” “I didn’t, but 6:00 would be splendid… my driver will be at the Peninsula at 5:45.” “Splendid, I will be in the lobby waiting.” Jack, thinking to himself, "Splendid’, Christ what the hell did I say that for? That goofy dame has me speaking some kind of bloody British fairy speak! She even has me swearing to myself, and talking some crazy kind of goof ball English nonsense. What kind of people say splendid anyway?…fuck!” Jack never said splendid. Jack hated the word splendid, and he began to take his doctors advice, and began counting to ten backwards to calm his increasing frenzy. Jack thought the word splendid either made him sound like a limp wristed fruitcake, or a pompous old stuffed shirt sounding like an authoritative old female schoolteacher with horn rimmed glasses. He was fashionably late, fifteen minutes to be exact; due to Hong Kong traffic madness; and on arrival, he wished he had been a half hour late. At Esters flat, she greeted Jack with more fanfare, and swiftly installed him in a love seat adjacent to Ang. Ang looking ever so much like a prisoner, smiled, and raised a glass. “Well here we are!”
Jack immediately detected Angs world-weary brow beaten appearance that only Ester could inflict on her company. The three of them imbibed in cocktails, as Ester shared her most hush-hush culinary secrets; “Jack you know these hors d'oeuvres are from a very special receipt that the Queen mum is quite fond off”. “They are tasty” Ang was working one around his mouth, with two perched on a doily ready for launch. After the second cocktail, Jack had come to the alarming conclusion that he had all valuable information he was going to receive, and would make a hasty retreat, and graciously excuse himself out the nearest exit. About the only useful information he had accumulated thus far was that the “canapés were served on lovely regal china with hand painted violet periwinkles.” Within an hour, Jack was on a secure phone with Clark, and they agreed that Jack would rendezvous with two operatives in Nantung China. With business out of the way, and Jack aroused for more suitable female companionship, he took a taxi to Mong Kok in the outer areas of Kowloon to go brothel hopping.

The last line, a blue Dacron mooring line slipped from the bollard, as the crew winched it aboard. The grain ship Sea Voyager, departed the sprawling, polluted, dangerous shipyard in Nantung, and was outbound on the Yangtze River. In the evening, she passed Shanghai, entering the cosseted Yellow Sea, and slowly headed north. Her new deck configuration, with new color-coded paint was not the only thing that had changed. The Sea Voyager had a Caucasian crew, of blue-eyed Muslim extremists that spoke perfect English, with a working knowledge of Korean, Russian, and Serbo Croatian in the western sub group of Belarusian. In the beginning, Mikal Zorin, the ships Master, had reservations about his new commands sea worthiness. Refitting and renovating a ship without a complete hull survey, and a marine architect in most cases was a recipe for disaster. Always positive, with his chin thrust forward, Mikal stood on the open bridge wing, and in the early evening Chinese air he was satisfied in knowing that he, his crew, and his ship were one hundred percent ready for the mission of a life time. Although his job was dangerous, it was simple: get safely to North Korea with his ship, pick up several large suitcases, and steam westerly for an arrival somewhere on the West coast of North America. When a ship eases out from a pier, and begins steaming under her own power, without the aid of tugs, as that first swell sets a ship in motion, all aboard experience a feeling of escape and freedom. At sea, sailors are in their environment, unfettered by the shackles and confinement of shore-side laws and regulations, unless a US federal marshal is waiting at the bottom of the gangway with an arrest warrant. Mikal was in thought, as he stood outside the port bridge wing, looking down at the pilot boat rolling with the swell, as the Chinese pilot ambled down the pilot ladder. The mate responded, “Pilot on the ladder.” Shortly thereafter, “pilot away,” Mikal then yelled into the wheelhouse, “Rudder hard to port, half ahead, I want her up to full sea speed ASAP.” From inside, rudder commands, and engine orders relayed back to the Captain. As the ship answered her rudder, Mikal entered the wheelhouse. “Helmsman, ease to twenty, and bring her around to new course zero five zero.” “Aye, aye, zero five zero Captain.” A year before the mission, the small crew of fifteen trained together, and during that year there were four replacements, as members washed out for different reasons that would jeopardize the mission. Bander had personally selected eight of the current crewmembers, with Habib selecting the remaining seven. The last addition was the most startling, and most difficult for Captain Mikal to accept, because as with his crew, and his newly named ship, the female gave him equal cause for concern. When Natasha entered a room, men had a natural reflex to stop everything and look. It was an uncontrollable riposte born between the Tigris and Euphrates River the first day man saw the first beautiful woman. Either this gorgeous creature would be the Sea Voyagers secret weapon, or it would be the Sea Voyagers end of days. Captain Mikal indeed had his hands full, the least of which was the ship. Natasha was not just a pretty face with aristocratic middle European good looks, because along with her pleasant appearance, there was an intelligence that intimidated most men. She might have had blond hair, but she was leagues away from having the intelligence of a tow-headed bimbo. Natasha had a mind that worked at the speed of light, a mind notorious for cunning, and cruelty, and only the brave or foolish would attempt to challenge her aggression. Natasha had come from the former Soviet Union as a KGB agent, not withstanding her good looks, she was ambitious, and lethal. Disguised in the beguiling good looks of a feminine bombshell, she was also the ships political officer, and capable of mounting deadly, powerful forces against her enemies. Although Mikal Zorin was Master of the ship, Natasha was in charge of the overall operation, and she took orders directly from Habib, as well as an eye on Moscow. Captain Zorin never felt comfortable in Natasha’s presence; she was arrogant, she was aggressive, she was crude, and especially annoying when deliberately testing his patience and tolerance. Staying out of a person’s way on a ship is difficult, even for a Captain. One day on the bridge, with his first glimpse at her unnerving behavior, after having an uncomfortable confrontation with Natasha, Mikal recalled an experience at home. The Captain had seen this behavior before in a little girl when visiting the Moscow zoo. It was feeding time for the big cats, and in anticipation of their meal, the lions in a frenzy, roared, filling the lion house with a cacophony of the wild. One lioness was roaring at full volume, lungs expanding and contracting with the full force of her roar, spittle from the lion’s mouth spewed into the air, as her spectators witnessed the heated breath. A little girl walked up to the cage with her father, as the lioness was at the height of her roaring; the little girl standing six feet from roaring beast looked straight into the beast’s eyes, and within seconds, the lion calmed to silence. It was the most incredible display of courage, and defiance he had ever seen. The little girl was fearless, as she stared the beast down. Natasha was just this sort of woman; for when she spoke, she spoke with an economy of words, with no equivocation, and exuded a mysterious force. And like that little girl Natasha would stare anyone down that got in her way…not bat an eye, flinch a muscle, give quarter, or be intimidated. One thing, and only one thing was on her mind, and that was to get to Pyongyang North Korea and take delivery of a nuclear device.

To say friction between Natasha and the Captain had come to a point of no return, would have been a gross understatement, and all too obvious to those present. Both knew there was a personal war of dominance in motion, and both realized it must not jeopardize the mission. He, an older man of a formal maritime background in the Iranian navy; she a power hungry attractive young former Soviet operative, and twice decorated with the Order of Lenin medal, was in her mind, no match for a lowly ship captain. From the first day aboard, she took exception to the Captains lax attitude toward the crew and junior officers. She thought men should be on bridge watch for eight hours not four, she also thought too much food allocated to sailors, and rations of two beers a day unnecessary. Captain Mikal in turn, took exception to her suggestions, and took exception to a woman on his ship, especially a woman that showed no deference or respect for his position, especially a woman usurping his power. Like most mariners, especially mariners with many years of sea time, he was dead set against women on ships in any capacity...."They got in the way, they changed the attitude of the crew, they were bad luck, they wanted special accommodations, according special treatment, and most of all, they created dissention and infighting amongst the crew". Perhaps he was right, but then again this was no ordinary woman, and he would be the first aboard to make that discovery. Not long after they left the harbor, the calm flaxen colored water began to form cats-paws of evidence that the weather was changing. The Sirius clouds soaring above the East China Sea high altitude were now darting across the late afternoon sky, and at middle elevation, gray cumulous clouds were forming. One only needed glance north, to see the immense dark clouds filling the horizon. Natasha might not have been a sailor, but it did not take a Magellan to see that the Sea voyager was in for more than a blow. On the bridge, the aneroid barometer plunged to 920.15 millibars, as the Captain ordered the helmsman to steady-up on a new course. That night and early morning, the four hundred foot coastal ship was pounded by nine-meter seas that at times would slam the ship on her beams end, nearly broaching her to a fatal roll. A handful of the crew, including the Captain had many years of experience, but the majority aboard, including Natasha, were clearly out of their element. Nightfall came without a moon, all was black, as the dark skies met the black water, and the only way to distinguish sea from sky, was the white streaking water blowing over mountainous crests. The Sea Voyager was laboring in deep troughs in a full tropical typhoon, as mountainous swells slammed her bow, with torsioning force flexing her steel, and she was in trouble. From nowhere, a large sea struck with tremendous power, and the foundering ship healed over 40 degrees, pausing for a moment, as if suspended by wires from the sky, with another sea striking, her cargo began to shift, while the crew prepared for the worst. A third sea rolled under the ship as she began to right herself. Natasha, never taking her eyes off the captain, the ship, or the seas, went below for a minute to her cabin. The Captain in panic mode, and desperation, ordered the helmsman to steer out of the storm, and for a nearby island to find a lee. With instincts of a jungle cat, she felt the ship turn, and in a blaze of fury, stomped back up to the bridge, ordering the navigation watch to continue steering for North Korea. The watch officer reminded Natasha of the Captains night orders, “Mam with all due respect for you and your position, the Captain has given me orders.” She shot back with a verbal salvo that caught the young officer off guard, and he was visibly stunned. “You can put that out of your mind, I am running this ship, you hear me, now do it!" Startled, and unaccustomed to having the Captains orders countermanded by anyone, especially a woman, a woman that most likely didn’t even have an officers license, the mate gave orders to the helmsman to come about.
Within minutes, the ship’s Captain, bellowed in a fit of rage directed at the watch officer. Standing her ground, and not flinching muscle, looking directly at the Captain,
“I gave the orders to change course, do you have a problem with that Mr. Captain?” The Captain in a fury could barely get his words out, and was in the middle of a string of expletives directed toward her; but before he could finish, she reached inside her leather coat, pulled out a pistol, and before he could defend himself, shot the Captain twice in the face. Frozen with surprise, shock and disbelief, the watch officer, Able seaman, and Ordinary seaman stood petrified in silence, and horror. Hanging on to the steering console with one hand, and the weapon in the other hand, Natasha spewed out a mouth of vomit as the ship rolled, with white spray from the bow engulfing the bridge, as Natasha gulped for air, “Listen up, you pigs! I want everyone to hear this! I will not tolerate any more insubordination," pointing with pistol in hand, "You over there, you are the watch officer right?” “Yes mam.” “Well, not anymore, you’re the new Captain of the Voyager, and unless you do as I say you too will be shot, with your carcass feed the sharks. Looking at the dead Captain on the deck, blood pooling around his head, punctuating every word with the pistol in her right hand, she screamed at the watch officer, “Well. What the fuck are you waiting for? Now get some of your people up here and get this piece of garbage over the side. Then I want you to continue on our base course for our destination, and I want to know the weather conditions ahead, plus our ETA at this course and speed. I will give you fifteen minutes. Are we clear?” “Aye aye, yes mam!” She clicked on the safety, withdrew the pistol to her coat, turned on her heel, walking aft, spiting in the corner of the bridge, she opened the door, blew chunks on the deck as she went below.

Even by Russian standards, North Korean winters are brutally cold. Undaunted and seemingly uncaring for the weather, Natasha stood on the exterior bridge wing with her back ramrod straight peering into the icy cold night air, locked in thought, and preparation, as the stinging of sub-zero winter froze her face. The Sea Voyager made her way through the Yellow Sea in January ice, pushing her way through ice-laden seas on her approach to the North Korean Capital of Pyongyang. On arrival, the Sea Voyager took a river pilot, as occasional coastal ships would meet her as transiting the treacherous waters of the Jim Kon Sim River, continuing past Nampo, up river to Pyongyang. Pyongyang, the final destination, was under military law, and Natasha and the Sea Voyager prepared for a greeting by high-ranking officials’ from the ROK army. Natasha planned for a pre-arrival talk with the crew, but time had run out. On the ships radio the Korean navy hailed the Sea Voyager on channel 16. Natasha yelled across the bridge to the new Captain, "Pick it up, and tell them who we are, and tell them where we are!" "Yes mam of course, yes mam!" "This is the Sea Voyager. I read you loud and clear, come in harbor pilot station." "Yes sea voyager, this is the North Korean Navy, good morning, please give your course, speed and location." The pilot would be boarding in 30 minutes, and the Polo Dawn must have a pilot ladder rigged three meters on the starboard side, Natasha nodded to the Chief mate, and he radioed to the engine room to low program down the main engine as they made their approach. Fifteen minutes later a lookout yelled, “White over red, two points to port.” The Captain pulled the ships throttle back ship, and in fifteen minutes, a pilot with two escorts climbed the Sea voyager’s ladder, en route to the bridge.

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Reviewed by J Howard 5/28/2011
well, i didn't see Natasha coming on strong like she did. wow, some characterizations!! well done.

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