aspects of the interrogation over to the others, standing by only to ask

the questions themselves.

Tombstone remembered very little of the details of that hour, but the

pain, the sheer horror of being deliberately and methodically hurt while

being physically helpless, took more of a toll on his mind than on his


Hsiao removed his glasses and polished them on a flowered shirttail.

“Once again, Commander. We know that Jefferson has both antiaircraft

missiles and a close-in defense system called Phalanx. What we need to

know is if those systems are operational while your ship is in port.”

The air stank with the by-products of the interrogation, with the

sour-mingled stenches of vomit and feces, urine, blood and burnt hair,

and fear.

“Go … hell …” Tombstone’s lips were swollen and bloody, and the

words came out cracked and distorted.

Hsiao nodded to Phreng. “Again.”

Tombstone watched through swollen, slitted eyes as the grinning That

extended the prod again. The contacts brushed against the tender skin

of his armpit.

When the ragged echo of the scream had died away, Hsiao shook his head

sadly. “Don’t think you are helping anybody by being so … noble,


We have all the information we need, courtesy of three of your seamen.”

He pulled a notebook from his pocket and flipped through the pages.

“Yes, here we are. Signalman Third Class Charles R. Bentley. Radarman

Third Class Frederick K. Paterowski. Seaman Ernesto Rodriguez. These

men told us everything we wanted to know. They were quite thorough in

their rundown on Jefferson’s defensive systems. We know, for instance,

the operational parameters for the VPS-2 search and track radar

incorporated in the Phalanx CIWS.” He read the letters from his

notebook, letting each fall like a blow. He flipped the notebook shut.

“All we require from you, Commander, is verification. You are an

aviator. Your life depends on the way your ship’s defenses work each

time you approach the Jefferson for a landing.

If you give us this verification, I promise you that you will spare

yourself a great deal of unpleasantness!”

Tombstone remained silent.

At this point he wasn’t entirely sure why he was holding out. Concepts

such as duty and defense of country seemed remote indeed each time

Phreng’s thumb came down on the cattle prod’s firing button.

What was not remote was the purpose behind those questions.

“Shall we talk about aircraft approach procedures, Commander? What if

a That helicopter wanted to land on Jefferson’s flight deck? Who would

they call? What would they have to do?”

The silence was broken only by the harsh wheeze of Tombstone’s


So many of Hsiao’s questions were like that … questions which could be

assembled into only one pattern that made any sense at all.

These bastards were planning some sort of attack against the Jefferson.

Possibly they were terrorists, possibly something else. All Tombstone

knew was that the lives of his shipmates might well be riding on whether

Hsiao got the verification he demanded.

“You are being needlessly stubborn. You must know we will get what we

want sooner or later.” Hsiao gestured to Phreng for the cattle prod.

Stepping close to Magruder, he slapped the rod against his open palm for

effect. “I will have the information I require, Commander. I will have

it out of you! You can give it to me freely or I can tear it word by

word from your broken body, the way a fisherman guts a fish!”

When Tombstone still didn’t answer, Hsiao shook his head. “Perhaps,

though, we are following the wrong approach. We hold two friends of

yours prisoner, you know. Lieutenant Commander Bayerly … and your

pretty friend, Pamela Drake.” He paused and smiled. “You see, we …

how do you say? Hold the aces. I’m sure you don’t want your lover

subjected to the same sort of treatment that you have been


The words were as sharp as the discharge of the prod. Tombstone

wrenched wildly against his bonds, summoning all his strength in a

useless struggle against them. Hsiao, standing only two feet away,

laughed up at him. His need to strike back drowned everything else.

Summoning what moisture he could in his dry mouth, Tombstone snapped his

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Categories: Keith Douglass