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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:00

The first mate knew what that meant. “Mafia?”

Bracko nodded. “We should have paid. We’re smuggling in their waters. They want their cut.”

Thinking he could slip by in the dark of night, Bracko had taken a chance. His roll of the dice had come out badly. “Break out the weapons,” he said. “We have to fight.”

“But Constantine,” the first mate said. “That will go badly with what we’re carrying.”

The Torino’s deck was loaded with shipping containers, but hidden in most of them were pressurized tanks as large as city buses filled with liquefied propane. They were smuggling other things as well, including twenty barrels of some mysterious substance brought on board by a customer out of Egypt, but because of the rampant fuel taxes throughout Europe it was the propane that brought in the big money.

“Even smugglers have taxes to pay,” Bracko muttered to himself. Between protection money, transit money and docking fees, the criminal syndicates were as bad as the governments. “Now we’ll pay double. Money and cargo. Maybe even triple, if they want to make an example of us.”

The first mate nodded. He had no wish to pay for someone else’s fuel with his life. “I’ll get the guns,” he said.

Bracko tossed him a key. “Wake the men. We fight or we die.”

The crewman took off for the weapons locker and the berths on the lower deck. As he disappeared, another figure entered the wheelhouse. A passenger who went by the odd-sounding name Ammon Ta. Bracko and the crew called him the Egyptian.

Thin and spindly, with deep-set eyes, a shaven head and caramel-colored skin, there was little about the man that seemed imposing to Bracko. In fact, he wondered why anyone had chosen so unformidable an escort to accompany what he only assumed to be barrels of hashish or some other drug.

“Why has the ship been darkened?” Ammon Ta asked bluntly. “Why are we changing course?”

After a moment of calculation, the Egyptian seemed to understand. He pulled a 9mm pistol from his belt, held it limply and stepped to the door, where he gazed out into the dark void of the sea.

“Behind us,” Bracko said.

Even as Bracko spoke, he was proven wrong. From just off the port bow, two beams of light snapped on, one painting the bridge with a blinding glare, the other lighting up the rail.

Two rubber boats raced in. Bracko instinctively turned the ship toward them, but it was no use, they swung wide and turned back, quickly matching his course and speed.

Grappling hooks were thrown up, catching the three metal cables that acted as the safety rail. Seconds later, two groups of armed men began climbing up and onto the Torino.

Covering fire rang out from the boats.

“Get down!” Bracko shouted.

To Bracko’s surprise, the gunfire was deadly. Ammon Ta had drilled two of the boarders with perfect head shots despite the pitching deck and the difficult angle. His third shot put out one of the spotlights being aimed their way.

Following the shots, the Egyptian stepped back without haste or wasted motion as a furious hail of automatic fire answered.

Bracko remained on the deck as incoming fire rattled around the wheelhouse. One bullet grazed his arm. Another shattered a bottle of Sambuca that Bracko kept for good luck. As the liquid spread out on the deck, Bracko considered the ill omen. Three coffee beans contained in the bottle were supposed to herald prosperity, health and happiness, but they were nowhere to be seen.

Angry now, Bracko slipped his own pistol from a shoulder holster and prepared to fight. He glanced at the Egyptian, who remained on his feet. Based on the man’s demeanor and deadly accuracy, Bracko’s opinion of him quickly changed. He didn’t know who this Egyptian really was, but suddenly figured he was looking at the most lethal man on the ship.

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Good, he thought, at least he’s on our side.

“Excellent shooting,” he called out. “Perhaps I’ve misjudged you.”

“Perhaps I intended you to,” the Egyptian said.

More gunfire boomed in the dark, this time from the aft section of the ship. In response, Bracko stood and fired out through the shattered window, shooting blindly.

“You’re wasting ammunition,” the Egyptian said.

“I’m buying us time,” Bracko said.