Grant turned around to look at his captain with a savage grin.With a voice akin to the restrained growl of lion, Waylon Whitman spoke in the microphone. “Are you callin’ me a liar, son?”
He winked at Grant and had a little laugh, deep and husky.
He waited for a minute, then two, then three.
“You still there, Magnussen?” Whitman said with feigned concern.
It still took a few seconds to get an answer. “We will withdraw. Hold your fire.”
“Attaboy!” Whitman cheered. “You just stay right where you are until we make sure you didn’t take anythin’ from the hold, and then you’ll be on your way”
He changed frequency and instructed his divers to get out of the ship and take a closer look at the wreckage. He looked at the hull thermometer: twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit. That would be one Hell of a cold swim for that poor bastard O’Neil.
More than an hour later, his diver came back to inform him that nothing had been taken: the arms of the Fýrisvellir were not powerful enough to get to the crates, and their divers hadn’t made their way to the hold yet.
He called captain Magnussen again. “Ferriswheeler, you’re free to go your merry way.”
“Acknowledged, Outrider,” the young captain said. “We leave you to your business.”
Whitman put the microphone on the console, beaming, and then grabbed a small leather pouch with a silver clasp from his armchair and fished out a plug of tobacco. He breathed in the sweet scent of the leaves and the cherry syrup. “Aaah! Californians really know how to make that stuff.”
“What’s the brand, cap’n?” Grant asked.
“Cherry Bomb, ‘course.”
“Expensive tastes, cap’n.”
“Yup, when it comes to my drinkin’ and smokin’, I spare no expenses. Can’t go ‘round drinkin’ swill an’ chewin’ schlock now, can I?”
“No, sir,” Grant said.
Whitman tucked the tobacco in his mouth and waited for it to release its flavour, sweet and acrid, with an aftertaste of citrus. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and sunk in his chair: the tobacco was having its usual relaxing effect. He could hear the aggressive beeping of the radar, steady and regular.
“They’re movin’, Cap’n,” Nielsen’s nasal voice announced, “real slow.”
The time between each blip got longer, and longer, and longer, until eventually there was nothing but a low humming.
“So, would you’ve shot’em, Cap?”
Whitman opened his eyes. His pilot knew full well what kind of damage the Outrider could cause, and he knew how vulnerable an immobile and unprepared sub was. And he also knew that they were all out of torpedoes. “Sure would’ve.”
Grant remained silent. He wasn’t one to ask more than one or two questions at a time.
The captain stood up from his chair and again went to the communication station to instruct his diver, as well as his mechanical arm operator, to commence the salvage operation.
Then, he ordered Grant and Nielsen to get the Outrider closer to the wreckage and deploy the mechanical arms
After a few minutes, the lightbulbs flickered as they started hearing the loud whirring, revving, buzzing, and humming of the massive mechanisms.
With a job like that they would be able to hire a new radio operator, give a good upgrade to their engine, and get a crateful of spare parts.
“Who’d be dumb enough to risk it, Grant?” Whitman asked with a little smile.
“You talkin’ ‘bout the Nordskis, sir?”
Whitman shrugged. “Who else?”
Grant stroked his bushy black beard with an amused look on his reddish face. “Plenty o’ dumb men this side o’ the Country.”
“True,” Whitman said.
But not that dumb, he thought.
“Fine, but no cap’n worth his salt would risk it.”
“Talbot would’ve,” Grant replied.
Whitman spat in a large bronze spittoon just next to his chair. “Just made my point, smartass.”
A laugh shook Grant’s giant shoulders. “Made my own point, cap’n: most dangerous an’ unpredictable thing out there is a stupid man, friend or foe.”
Whitman thought of Marty and Talbot, and of all the idiots sailing around the Earth’s oceans, and it gave him pause.
“Amen to that.”
(c) Jean-Philippe Savoie