Caribbean Cabal – Hap Stoner Series, Book #2 Preview:
Will Kellogg’s Executive Suite
Will scanned the San Andres bay leaning with both hands firmly gripping the rail. “So, you are going to kill this Hans von Bock, a.k.a. Hans Kreuger? Never met the man,” he said without turning.
Standing next to Will, Rich said nothing. Instead, he simply nodded.
“So, Franz von Bock was a …”
The Nazi hunter helped him complete the sentence. “Abwehr agent.”
Neither man looked toward the other as they spoke. “And Franz von Bock is really Kreuger?”
“When you show the hand, that’s what the cards say, Will. He jump-started in business and built an empire with Nazi gold stolen from the Vichy French. I suspect he snuffed out everybody associated with the operation. Hitler silenced those in Germany who knew of the operation in the last few months of the war.”
Will puffed up his upper lip and nodded. “I hope you’re wrong Rich, but your story does corroborate the old man arriving on the island prior to the war.” He hesitated, letting out a sigh. Franz von Bock’s emissary had left his office three hours earlier to deliver a message straight from the old man’s lips. He would be calling the $13 million-dollar marker within 30 days. Shrewd for sure but, if he were dead, maybe the Kraut couldn’t collect the marker.
“Something on your mind, Will?”
Will’s eyes rolled back slightly to meet Rich’s questioning stare. “Between my CIA days, your Mossad days, and everything in between, I can’t let you do this alone.”
Johannes ducked out of the front hatch and leaned into the sonar shack to look over the technician’s shoulder at the blip on the scope. “Can we catch him?” he asked.
“Yes, Captain. The vessel is making six knots and towing a torpedo. The shadow vessel is six-miles in trail. Same course and speed.”
A submersible cargo container, the torpedo contained a ballast tank for submersion control and could maintain a depth of 98 feet below the surface. Typically towed by a fishing trawler, the torpedo was difficult to spot by air below 90 feet. If by chance the authorities became suspicious and approached the trawler, the torpedo was released.
Left to their own devices, the crew within the cramped confines of the torpedo would release a buoy with a location transmitter inside. Shaped like a piece of wood, a trailing vessel would retrieve the tow line and the delivery would continue.
“Let’s go active, give me one ping, Felix.”
The technician nodded and opened the cover to depress the active component to their sonar system. The screen lit up with a return and confirmed the second target directly behind and below the surface contact. “There is your torpedo Captain.”
Johannes patted Felix on the shoulder and ducked back into the control room. “Plot, time to intercept.”
The Executive Officer looked up from the chart. “Will be in range to shoot within 45 minutes.”
“Very well,” Raus said, delivering a glance towards the clock fixed above the chart table. “Alarm at the top of the hour number one. I will be in my quarters.”
Johannes flopped down in his bed with his shoes on and privacy curtain open. Located across the passageway from the sonar shack, he rested his head into cupped hands to take in the song of the boat. It was music to his ears as the equipment responded to the valves opening and closing allowing pumps to push ballast throughout the boat.
“Passing 150 feet,” the diving officer announced in a deliberate tone.
The Executive Officer voice replied, “Very well, level off at 200 feet.”
Captain, its time,” the exec said slowly patting his leg. Johanne’s eyes opened slowly. “Range?”
“1700 yards Captain. We are parallel to the target’s course.”
Johannes’ legs swung out of bed gingerly, straightening his stiff back. “Call the crew to general quarters.”
Alone, he splashed water on his face from the sink next to his bed as the claxon reverberated throughout the Graf Spee. He ducked into the control room. “Recommended heading?”
“Two six five Captain,” the Exec said.
“Bring the vessel to periscope depth, come left to two six five degrees,” Johannes ordered as he clambered into the conning tower.
Graf Spee’s bow pitched toward the surface as its single propeller pushed the submarine into a climbing left turn. Minutes later he felt the aluminum deck fall out from under his feet as the boat leveled off.
“Periscope depth Captain, heading two six five. Angle off the bow zero degrees. Shadow vessel is two two zero.”
“Up scope,” Johannes ordered. Clutching the grips, he adjusted the handles focusing in on the target bathed in a moons weak glow. “Does sonar have the torpedo.”
The Exec cut his eyes forward to see Felix in the passageway nodding his head. “Second target still in tow Captain.”
“Open outer doors one through four. Set the safety for 1000 meters. Active on guidance.” The torpedo would go active 1000 meters from Graf Spee’s bow.
The Exec spoke into a voice tube relaying the order to the vessel’s only torpedo room. Moments later the Petty Officer’s muffled voice traveled through the voice tube. “Tubes one through four outer doors open, tubes pressurized, safety set for 1000 meter with active homing.”
The Exec spoke up, “Fish are spun up. We are ready to fire Captain.”
“Fire one,” Johannes said calmly and a kick followed as the torpedo whooshed from the tube. Seconds passed. “Fire two,” Johannes repeated. Another kick and the second torpedo left the tube. “Fire three ‘…fire four.” Two kicks followed as both torpedoes whooshed away out of their tubes.
Fish running hot and true, Captain,” the exec said. Johannnes peered into the scope, the only person on the boat with the view for a kill as Graf Spee’s torpedoes sped away at 40 miles per hour. “Ten seconds to impact on the primary target, Captain. Twenty seconds for shadow vessel.”
Almost to the second, the first torpedo exploded underneath the unsuspecting vessel’s hull. Framed in the explosion’s yellow flash, human bodies and ship parts were cast out of the light and into the night sky. The second torpedo explosion ensured any of the crew who survived the initial explosion, were DOA. He swung the scope to the left as the exec counted down the seconds for the torpedo to make contact. The initial explosion mirrored what had happened moments before and the second torpedo issued the coup de grace.
“Down scope,” Johannes slapped the handles of the periscope into place. “Down scope. Close outer doors, full speed ahead. Extend spar. Sonar you have the conn.” As the periscope was sucked into Graf Spee’s bowels, the outer doors covered and sealed tubes one through four.
Four explosions all passed through the hull seconds from the other.
Felix’s voice could be heard from the passageway. “Come left to 263 degrees and dive to 90 feet.”
“Left two six three, take her down to 90 feet diving officer,” the Exec parroted. “Time to impact: 4 minutes and 35 seconds. Spar extended, Captain.”
Johannes said nothing, instead focused on the crew coordination as the Graf Spee zeroed in for the kill. At 200 meters Johannes would order the propeller into reverse attempting to ram the torpedo as it closed to within 5 knots of forward speed preventing the torpedo being split in half spilling the booty to the bottom.
“Target maintaining 90 feet Captain, come left to two six three degrees,”
The exec repeated sounds’ instructions in a low tone, “Helm, come left to two six three degrees, maintain 90 feet,”
“Reverse in 30 seconds,” Felix said, his voice growing anxious.
“Mark,” Johannes said.
The exec started the stopwatch palmed in his right hand. He reached over to depress the claxon warning the crew of the pending collision. Watertight doors could be heard closing throughout Graf Spee.
“Ten seconds Captain,” the exec said staring down at the watch.
Johannes nodded and said nothing.
The exec began counting down the seconds. “Five, four, three, two, one . . . ” he spoke into the voice tube connected to the maneuvering room. “Full reverse.”
The Graf Spee vibrated brutally as the hunter slowed to ensure the bundles of U.S. currency remained inside the confines of the torpedo instead of scattered across the ocean floor. Seconds later, the familiar noise passed through Graf Spee’s hull—the scraping sound of the 51-foot spar punching a six-inch hole on either side of the torpedo. Toggles on the end of the 51-foot spear deployed, gigging the torpedo as if it were a flounder. In seconds, the vessel would fill with sea water. Graf Spee would punch off the spar before rising to the surface. The early years of “gigging” properly named “Happy Times” as the environment was rich with unsuspecting targets.
As more torpedo crews vanished without a trace, the cartels adapted. Contingency breathing apparatuses were added for each of the crew in case their fiberglass hulls were breached. In those instances, sonar would hear crewmembers struggling to free themselves from inside their tomb. If any of the crew were so fortunate to make it to the surface, Johannes would issue a coup de grace to the head and leave the bodies for shark bait.
Once there was no more movement inside the hull, Graf Spee would blow its ballast and surface. The cable would then be attached to a winch to be pulled to the surface. Once the cargo was transferred into its torpedo room, the cable would be released and the hulk, with spar still embedded, would sink into the abyss.
“On course, on depth Captain,” Felix stated.
Johannes rested with his back against the conning tower rail adjusting the satellite phone out of the small of his back as the phone beeped. An email had arrived.
The last million-dollar bundle of cash had vanished inside the Graf Spee and the exec signaled the senior crew member topside a quick slash across his throat. An order was barked, and a bolt cutter sliced through the cable and the drug runner became a tomb as it slowly vanished into the depths.
“38 bundles, Captain,” the exec said.
Johannes nodded, opened his email, which read: “Wilhelmshaven,” the prearranged code to return to San Andres immediately. He leaned over the rail and barked out an order. “Clear the decks, prepare to get underway.” He turned to lean over the open hatch. “Watch to the bridge. Prepare to get underway.”
Johannes dropped into the control room landing on both feet with a clunk. “Come left to 180 full speed ahead. We are going home.”
Smiles broke out amongst the control room. The Graf Spee was going home, and the 30-man crew would split $10 million of the $38 million in prize money.
Jake unpacked a brown paper bag on the table’s opposite end. “Sorry I’m missing Carla’s legendary enchiladas.”
Hap didn’t bother to respond. No way Jake could understand the full meaning of her absence.
Jake pursed his lips around a straw to take a long draw from one of Hap’s insulated workout mugs before he settled into the high back chair. “Did Will ever discuss an old colleague of his who made a fortune writing WW II history?”
From the other end of the table, Hap picked at the last of an enchilada like a kid pushing around the cabbage on his plate. Even before rolling in the sack for the first time, Carla won him over satiating his palate with a homemade chicken enchiladas recipe. “No, Jake,” he said between chews in a less than enthusiastic tone.
Jake sipped from a crystal scotch glass and leaned around Carla’s favorite homegrown flower arrangement centered on the table. “Rich Garbaccio traveled the world in search of the old goose-stepping sons of bitches. He used writing as a cover.”
Hap spoke from behind the arrangement. “Met Rich on a plane from Stockholm to Rio months ago. Sat at a dinner table briefly with an executive prospect discussing contract deal points and I’ll be damn if he didn’t join us, uninvited. The situation spun out of control from there.”
“Apparently he’s been on the trail of a particular SS Colonel for decades and found the son of a bitch in Rio.”
“I was there, Jake, and that explains some of the night’s events. But we haven’t spoken since then.” Hap rested both elbows on the cherry wood table and slowly massaged his forehead. “Would have never thought the man sitting across from me that night was old enough to serve in the Reich. If Hans Guderian is the Nazi he was looking for, the old fucker had aged like a fine wine.”
Jake peered around the other side of the arrangement.
Hap continued. “Explains why the minute Rich joined Mr. Guderian the situation went to hell in a handbasket. So, what does a Nazi war criminal pissing Rich off in Rio have to do with a king’s ransom?”
Jake’s response was to begin pulling the tablecloth hand over hand toward his end of the table.
Hap leaned over the table and his strapping forearms corralled the take-out, a styrofoam container holding lukewarm enchiladas, as the cloth moved caddy corner toward Jake.
The arrangement the size of a large raccoon veered towards the side of the table. Jake didn’t stop pulling until the men could look at each other without straining their necks.
“Better,” Jake said smiling. “Apparently, the bastard took the name of an SS officer killed during the Ardennes offensive.”
Hap leaned across his empty paper plate to reach for the humidor. “Thousands of Krauts took another name to escape the gallows. Want a stogie?” Hap looked at Jake over the opened lid. Made of cherry wood the arched lid carried a Marine Corps Eagle Globe and Anchor carved into the top.
Jake returned a nod but remained silent.
Hap stuffed a cigar into his mouth. “There are a lot of coves with plenty of natural caverns snaking all through the island so that gold could be anywhere. But let me guess, the gold is in the Buccaneer’s vault?”
Jake frowned. “Not exactly, Colonel.”
Hap said nothing as he reached into the humidor for a cigar.
Jake’s fingers manipulated the crystal glass now void of scotch. “Across the bay from the Buccaneer.”
Thin lines sneaking from the corners of Hap’s eyes tightened closer together.
“When you refill my glass and hand me a cigar, I will tell you a little story, Colonel.” He held up the empty glass as if issuing a toast until Hap took it.
Hap stepped behind the high back chair to the antique 1900 French Renaissance buffet cabinet. Made of walnut, it was one of those items Carla just had to have when the two of them shopped in Fredericksburg Texas after a several hour visit to the Nimitz museum.
Jake bit off the end of the cigar and spit the tobacco remnants into the empty take-out container. He brought the cigar to life with each draw then picked up on the story as Hap dropped the first cube of ice into the empty glass. “Han’s brother was the number two Nazi for subversion in the Americas. He worked for an agent named Ribbentrop based out of Mexico City.”
Hap returned double-fisted holding out his right hand. “Cut to the chase, Jake.”
Jake smiled and relieved Hap of one of the glasses. He resumed his conversation as Hap retook his seat. “The brother was responsible to ensure gold made it to a Panamanian bank before each transaction with the U.S. oil company. From there, it converted to American greenbacks with banks friendly to the Nazis. America enters the war and the U.S. and British governments threaten certain oil executives leaving the two Nazis with a lot of loose change and nothing to spend it on.”
Hap bit the inside of his lips, savoring the taste of the 18-year-old single malt. “I have heard these stories. U.S. Merchantmen and U.S. Sailors were killed by U-Boats whose fuel bunkers were full of U.S. refined diesel.“
“Had Germany not declared war on the U.S., the oilies would have continued to do business with the Nazis.” Jake raised his glass to his lips and polished off its contents. “Come on, Colonel, under similar circumstances you wouldn’t have cut similar deals with the Nazis?”
“Bullshit, Jake. Cutting deals at the expense of American lives. . . so many innocent civilians is unbecoming.” Hap shook his head around a stiff lower jaw. “It would compel me to pass. If my board would have insisted, I would have resigned but not before challenging each to a fist fight.”
“Luckily I didn’t come here tonight to debate the morals of business.”
Hap leaned back, paused, and finally allowed himself to muster a half-smile.
Jake stretched his arms overhead, letting out a drawn-out belch. “That’s a compliment to the chef, whoever that is,” Jake said. “How about we move on to the reason I’m here.”
After a moment, Hap leaned forward, unable to repress a deep sigh. “Jake, Carla has left me.” He removed a couple of cigars from the lacquered walnut humidor. Offering one as if gripping an exclamation mark, he flipped it end over end in a low arc across the table. “Take it with you.”
Hands clasped behind his head, Jake slowly nodded—the cigar wedged between big teeth in a mouth turned down at the corners. Reaching out with his right hand, he snagged the second cigar and tucked it into his pocket. “If I didn’t know better, the gold is sitting in the old Spanish fortress across from the Buccaneer.”
“Jake,” Hap said rolling the cigar back and forth between his fingers. “What makes everybody believe the gold is in the fortress?”
“Gold has a big footprint Hap. Besides, the gold was removed from Fort San Louis on Martinique and only makes sense the Germans would use another fortress to create another cache.
Hap flipped open a zippo with the Marine Corp emblem on one side and, on the other side, the figure of the camel in sunglasses smoking a cig. Hap wedged the cigar between the fingers of his left hand and spoke behind a cloud of smoke. “And we are simply going to take it?”
“All three billion Hap . . . and that’s in 1945 dollars.”