Three Years Later
Seventy Miles off the Coast of Xonira
Alexander Hyman stood on the sundeck of his three hundred foot long luxury yacht, The Highwayman and shaded his eyes with a hand as he peered over the incredibly blue waters. He couldn’t help but wonder why the other boat seemed to be following them. Or was he just being paranoid? They’d been out here for about three hours now and the far distant boat was keeping its distance, true. But it also appeared to be keeping The Highwayman in view.
A tall, angular woman walked over to where Hyman stood. She held a pair of apricot coolers in her hands as she joined him. “Alex, you’re neglecting your guests! Myself in particular! What’s so fascinating out there?” She followed his gaze as she handed him his drink.
Hyman accepted it and smiled warmly at the tall woman. He’d only met Ulrika Malheur just four days ago and he was positive he was falling in love already. And why not? Ulrika Malheur had to be the most strikingly attractive women he’d ever met. Her wonderfully expressive eyes were the color of an overcast sky. Her luxurious crimson hair worn in a style that reminded Hyman of a cobra’s hood. All that, along with her prominent cheekbones lent her an exotic air.
Her background was equally exotic. A native born Xoniran she had left that island nation when she was barely out of her teens. No one knew much about what she had done or where she had been but when she returned to Xonira twenty years later she was an extraordinarily wealthy woman. She didn’t appear to have much purpose behind what she did with her days and nights outside of giving lavish parties, being seen in the best places with the right people while romancing rich and powerful men.
“Probably nothing. It’s a beautiful day and we can’t expect to be the only ones out here enjoying it. But you hear so much about pirates these days…”
Ulrika’s laughed merrily. “You don’t know much of Xoniran history, Alexander. Xonira was settled and founded in 1107 by pirate kings who quickly established that Xoniran waters were not to be poached upon. That policy holds true even today. Besides, isn’t your crew armed?”
Hyman took a swig of his drink and rolled it around in his mouth while nodding an assent. He swallowed before continuing his answer verbally; “Twelve good men who are all ex-military. They’ve all seen combat and have plenty of steel in their spine. How are the others doing?”
“Everybody’s enjoying the party except for you. You’re shamelessly rude, you know.” Ulrika smiled seductively over the rim of her glass as she sipped her drink. Alexander Hyman had taken ownership of The Highwayman ten days ago. He’d had the yacht constructed for him to his own specifications at the shipyard of Arcona and Gustloff, one of the best shipbuilders in the world. Saying that The Highwayman was lavish was something of an understatement. Contemporary in design and atmosphere, she boasted spacious cabins that were more like suites with handmade Italian furniture and state of the art entertainment systems. The fully equipped gym also had a Jacuzzi large enough to accommodate fourteen with a dropdown plasma screen if they wanted to watch a movie or any one a thousand different channels via satellite. The sundeck, upper deck and main deck were all large enough to accommodate a variety of activities such as alfresco dining, sunbathing, dancing or just simple relaxation.
“You’re right, Ulrika. Let’s go rejoin the others and-“Hyman stopped. Suddenly he was freezing cold as if he’d just stepped into a meat locker. But that was impossible. The day was a wonderfully balmy 70 degrees and the sun shone directly on him. He had been feeling nice and toasty just a minute ago. And why was he breaking out into a torrent of sweat all over? Literally rivers of sweat poured down his face, his neck, and his arms.
The glass slipped from his fingers and hit the deck, smashing into thousands of pieces sparkling in the bright sunlight. Hyman turned to Ulrika, trying to ask for help but he couldn’t speak. It was as if somebody had turned his vocal chords off. He took one faltering step before dropping to his knees.
Ulrika stepped back several feet and sipped her drink, watching him with a curious dispassion. She knew that all over the yacht, the scene was being repeated as the crew and the guests all drank poisoned drinks that she herself mixed for them. The crew had thought her charmingly kind to make lemonade for them. The guests had just snatched up the drinks without a second thought and gulped them down.
Blood poured from Hyman’s nose as if a faucet inside of his head had been turned on. It splattered on the deck and Hyman looked at Ulrika with utter terror in his eyes.
“It’s nothing personal, love,” Ulrika said softly, finishing her unpoisoned drink and throwing the glass overboard. “You’re just part of the plan is all.”
Hyman fell forward on his face. He kicked once, twice and then it was over.
Ulrika turned and reached into the top of her one-piece swimsuit to withdraw a small round compact. She flipped it open and used it to signal the far distant boat by flashing sunlight off the mirror. Ulrika satisfied herself that the other boat saw her signal and was on the way.
She turned and checked Hyman to make sure that he was dead. She then walked through the yacht, checking the other bodies with a clinical detachment. Some of her victims had not died as quickly as Hyman. The hideous contortions of their bodies, the agony on their faces was proof of that. But for all the emotion displayed by Ulrika she could have been checking on loaves of bread in a pantry.
The other boat came alongside The Highwayman. Saying it was a boat was something of an understatement. It was a combat ship bristling with weaponry and carrying a crew that looked as if they had just been released from solitary confinement in Xonira’s fearsome Ucaobol Prison. Indeed, many of them had done very hard time there and the scars they bore were both physical and mental.
The leader of this band leaped from his boat to stand on the deck of The Highwayman. He grinned at Ulrika. “A job well done, eh? This is a method that I like! It saves bullets and time.”
Ulrika grinned back as she said; “But I think your men would prefer a straight out and out fight rather than letting a woman do their work for them, Fabbozzi.”
Clem Fabbozzi shrugged. “My men do what I tell them. And when I told them that using this method might save a few of them from getting a bullet in the head, they kept their mouth shut.” Fabbozzi ran a hand through his straight black hair. “Everybody dead?”
“Of course. You’ve been in touch with headquarters?”
“Just about to check in. The boss will be pleased that your work has gone so well.”
As Fabbozzi and Ulrika spoke, Fabbozzi’s men swarmed over The Highwayman, collecting the dead bodies and carrying them onto the combat ship. They treated the bodies with special care, wrapping them all up carefully in body bags.
“You come back with me on the combat ship,” Fabbozzi ordered. “I’ll leave a couple of my men to bring this ship in. The boss’ll want to talk to you.”
Ulrika nodded and accepted Fabbozzo’s help as she stepped off of The Highwayman and onto the combat ship. She didn’t even look back and the act of mass murder she’d just committed didn’t seem to have affected her in the slightest. And why should it? She was a partner in a scheme that would pay off in ways far beyond mere money. There was nothing less than the fate of countries at stake here and it made her giddy to think she would have a hand in it.