After witnessing her father's death in a maritime accident and becoming the captain of a salvage boat, McKenna and her crew take a job helping a freighter only to discover that it contains cargo that is being targeted by enemies.
Owen Laukkanen is the author of the Stevens and Windermere series, beginning with The Professionals, which was nominated for the Anthony Award, Barry Award, Spinetingler Magazine Best Novel: New Voices Award, and the International Thriller Writers’ Thriller Award for best first novel. His follow-up, Criminal Enterprise, was nominated for the ITW Thriller Award for best novel. A resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, he is now at work on the next book featuring Stevens and Windermere.
*Starred Review* A massive car-carrier ship, the Pacific Lion, transporting 5,000 Nissan autos, leaves Yokohama for the U.S. Stowed away is a Yakuza accountant carrying a briefcase containing $50 million in negotiable bearer bonds to be laundered in the U.S. In Seattle, McKenna Rhodes, captain of the oceangoing tug Gale Force, is still mourning the loss of her father to a rogue wave and the end of her brief affair with a handsome, full-of-himself naval architect. She's also worried about finding the money for major engine maintenance. But news of the Lion dead in the wild seas south of the Aleutian Islands, and listing 60 degrees, could mean an eight-figure payday if Gale Force can get a line on the ship and keep it from sinking. McKenna and her crew head west, aware of the risks but not expecting Yakuza gangsters and even piracy. Laukkanen has lots of rich material to work with: a woman competing in a male-dominated, cutthroat business; the laws of salvage and the sea; giant cargo ships; the cold, dangerous North Pacific; the role of the Coast Guard; and, of course, the Yakuza. Gale Force is compulsively readable-and a ripping-good yarn, perfect for all lovers of sea adventure. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.
The author of the Stevens and Windermere novels (The Forgotten Girls, 2017, etc.) taps into his nautical knowledge for this rousing seafaring yarn. In Yokohama, Tomio Ishimaru sneaks onto the cargo ship Pacific Lion with a silver briefcase containing $50 million worth of bearer bonds he's stealing from the yakuza crime syndicate. On its way to the United States, the ship changes out its seawater ballast incorrectly and begins to list to one side. Soon it founders and might even sink. Everyone except the stowaway abandons ship and its cargo of 5,000 Nissans 200 miles off the coast of Alaska. The ship desperately needs a tow, so several salvage tugs race to the scene, including Gale Force. McKenna Rhodes inherited the tug from her father after he was killed in an accident at sea. Now she and her crew head out to right the crippled ship and tow it to safety, her first salvage job on her own. The stakes are high—the Pacific Lion's owner agrees to pay Rhodes $30 million if t hey haul it safely into port, "but the crew wouldn't be paid one salty dime if they couldn't save the ship." It's an unusual story premise, and a good one—quick, name the last tugboat thriller you've read. The crew respects Rhodes as "a damn fine salvage captain" in an overwhelmingly male profession. Smart, brave, and worried, she knows how to command her crew and guide the tug through towering crests and swells. In the midst of all this, the crew must board the damaged ship and pump water back in to right it before beginning to tow. The beleaguered vessel may well take some Gale Force crew to the bottom of the sea. Belowdecks, Ishimaru hides with a treasure and a pistol, setting up an inevitable confrontation. Someone will get rich, and someone will die. Action-loving readers will be thrilled with this one. Laukkanen is a damn fine storyteller. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Present Day // Yokohama, after dark
The cargo ship Pacific Lion stretched 650 feet along the pier, her hull rising a hundred feet out of black water. At her stern, on a massive loading ramp, a long line of brand-new Nissan cars waited to be loaded, while amidships, a man smoked near a gangway leading from the pier to a small hatchway in the hull, the cherry end of his cigarette a beacon in the darkness.
Tomio Ishimaru stuck to the shadows as he hurried toward the man. He'd bribed a customs officer to let him access the docks, but at that moment, customs officers were the least of his problems. In his briefcase, he carried bearer bonds worth more than forty-five million euros-nearly fifty million American dollars-property of the Inagawa-kai syndicate of the yakuza, Japanese organized crime.
The bonds were a simple game. The syndicate funneled money from its numerous criminal enterprises into stock certificates for an anonymous corporation based nominally in Switzerland. Basic money-laundering-except, instead of delivering the bonds as he'd been contracted, Tomio Ishimaru had made a play. Now the bonds were his, and that made him-for the moment-a very rich man.
Assuming he could get out of Yokohama alive.
The man with the cigarette stepped out of the shadows as Ishimaru approached. His name was Okura, and, once upon a time, he'd been a teenage friend of Ishimaru. Now he wore the dress uniform of an officer in the Japanese Overseas Lines, and his face had aged considerably since those early years.
Okura took another drag of his cigarette. Regarded Ishimaru with a wry smile. "Ishimaru-san," he said. "I thought you were going to miss the boat."
Ishimaru didn't bother to return the smile. Okura hadn't any idea how much effort he'd expended to be there. There were bodies in his wake. There were members of the Inagawa-kai close behind. There was no time for idle banter.
"The bonds took more effort to obtain than expected," he replied. "When can we board the ship?"
Okura looked up and down the dock. The row of Nissans, five thousand of them, was nearly at its end. Soon, the ship would sail.
"Patience," he told his old classmate. "When I go back inside, I won't set foot on dry land again for two weeks."
Ishimaru shifted his weight. Followed Okura's gaze. "You're sure you can hide me. Nobody is aware?"
"You'll be fine," Okura replied. "This ship is filled with hiding spaces. If you stay silent and keep out of sight, we'll be okay."
Ishimaru nodded. Scanned the dock again with nervous, darting eyes. Wondered when Okura had become such a shark, wondered just how much debt his old friend had accrued in the parlors. Wondered how he, Ishimaru, had found himself here.
Finally, Okura flicked his cigarette away. "Iiyo," he said, stepping back to the gangway. "Welcome aboard."
In point of fact, Tomio IshimaruÕs path to the Pacific Lion had begun months ago, in one of YokohamaÕs many dimly lit and smoky jansou-underground mah-jongg parlors operated by the Inagawa-kai. At first, heÕd imagined that this path had been accidental. Lately, he wasnÕt so sure.
By nature, Ishimaru wasn't much of a gambler. He was an accountant, a numbers man, and anyone with even a weak grasp of numbers could see that it was near impossible to win money consistently in the parlors. In the first place, the rakes charged by the operators were obscene. It took skill to beat the house, much less one's opponents. Ishimaru hadn't the skill, nor the gambler's desire. He wasn't sure why he'd come to the jansou at all.
He was a bachelor, was the reason, little more than a hardworking salaryman. He had few friends, but his coworkers, fellow accountants with the Inagawa-kai, and associates of the syndicate drank for free at many of the parlors in the city. Ishimaru went to be social, to get drunk. He went to stare at the pretty hostesses who flitted about the crowded rooms, draping themselves on the arms of the high rollers.
It was in one of these parlors, late at night, that he'd reconnected with Hiroki Okura. And it was there, in the bar, as the hours grew long and the conversation turned from old classmates and memories to the present day, that Ishimaru had carelessly let slip his position with the syndicate-and it was in a similar bar, in a similar parlor some nights later, that Okura had first broached his idea.
"It's suicide," Ishimaru had replied as his former classmate explained the plan. "We'd never make it out of Yokohama, much less the whole country."
Okura had laughed, poured more sake. "You haven't been paying attention, Ishimaru-san," Okura had said, clapping him on the shoulder. "I can get us out of the country, no problem. You just get us those bonds."
Okura had persisted. Needled, angled, flattered, cajoled. And Ishimaru? He'd realized, as Okura spoke, that he was sick of his boring, unglamorous life. He was sick of working to death on behalf of the syndicate, trading his youth and seeing no real reward; sick of returning to his tiny apartment alone every night.
Okura had kept speaking. Ishimaru had listened. And, eventually, he'd agreed to join with the sailor, to steal the yakuza bonds and stow away to America.
The Lion sailed at midnight. From a storage locker at the rear of the shipÕs accommodations deck, Ishimaru sipped tea and peered out through a porthole as the crew cast off lines and a fleet of tugs moved the ship from the pier. He could feel the LionÕs massive engines rumble beneath him. Watched the lights of the harbor swing past.
Before he left Ishimaru to his new, cramped confines, Okura had assured him that he was safe. "No one should disturb you here, but just in case, keep the door locked," the ship's officer had said. "I'll bring you food when I'm able."
"Bring me a book, too," Ishimaru replied. "Two weeks in this cave and I'll surely go crazy."
"For ten percent of your cut, I'll see what I can do," Okura replied, and Ishimaru couldn't be sure he was joking. Then an alarm sounded, and Okura left him, making his retreat to the bow to supervise the big ship's departure.
Alone now, Ishimaru was in his hiding place, stowed away in secret, watching the lights of the harbor slowly recede in the distance, and feeling the tension in his muscles dissipate.
Though his body relaxed, his mind wasn't able to. The adrenaline rush-the urgent, electric thrill of his flight to the docks-had subsided. All that remained was a mounting fatigue, and the inescapable truth of what he had done. The memory of the warm pistol in his hands, the shocked looks of his colleagues-his friends-as he'd turned on them, betrayed them, murdered them in cold blood.
He'd made it on board the Lion. He was now a rich man. But as Ishimaru stretched out in his locker and tried to relax, he thought of the money, and of the three friends he'd killed for it, and he couldn't quite chase the feeling that he'd just sold his soul.
Seven days later
Second officer Hiroki Okura checked the Pacific Lion's coordinates on the ship's GPS instruments. Then he crossed the bridge to the intraship telephone and placed a call to the captain's quarters.
It was nearly midnight, and the ship was approaching the American territorial limit, two hundred miles from the Alaskan Aleutian Islands. It had been an uneventful voyage so far, with reasonable weather; they were making good time. Lately, however, the North Pacific had developed some bite. The Lion was plowing through a steady fifteen-foot swell, twenty-knot winds. Hardly dangerous stuff for a ship of this size, but lumpy enough to be noticeable.
Nobody had yet discovered Tomio Ishimaru. The yakuza accountant remained safe, secreted away in his unused storage locker, the stolen bonds secure in his briefcase.
Fifty million dollars. Okura had been able to think of little else since the Lion began her voyage.
The telephone rang twice, and the captain answered. "Yes?"
"Second Officer Okura, sir," Okura said. "We are approaching the American two-hundred-mile limit. I request your clearance to dump the ballast water."
The captain grunted. "Seems a little rough, doesn't it?" he replied. "Might be safer to jog into these seas for a while, wait for the swell to die down."
"As you wish," Okura replied. "Though we risk missing our window at the Port of Seattle if we wait too long."
The captain was silent a moment, and Okura could almost read his thoughts. Unlike most cargo ships, whose payloads rested close to the waterline, the Pacific Lion was a car carrier, a large, bricklike vessel with a high center of gravity. Consequently, the Lion carried seawater as ballast to retain stability, but American law required the ship to change out the ballast water before entering U.S. territorial waters, to prevent the spread of invasive marine species.
It was a delicate procedure, involving the release of the ship's old ballast simultaneous with the intake of new seawater, and Okura knew the captain would prefer to wait for the calmest seas possible. But Okura also knew that the captain had a schedule to maintain, and that the shipping company gave close scrutiny to any unforeseen delays. Captain Ise risked his yearly bonus if he dawdled too long; no ship's master wanted a reputation as a laggard.
Okura had a schedule, too. He had a buyer in Seattle lined up for the bonds, but time was of the essence. Sooner or later, the syndicate in Yokohama would trace Tomio Ishimaru to the docks, to the Lion. And the syndicate's reach extended across the Pacific Ocean; the yakuza had friends on the American shore. Okura wished to liquidate the bonds quickly, before the syndicate could catch up. From there, he'd have enough money at his disposal to disappear completely.
Finally, the captain came back on the line. "At your discretion, Mr. Okura. Proceed with the ballast changeover as you see fit."
Okura ended the connection and made another call, this time to the engine room. "This is the bridge," he told the engineer who answered. "Please stand by for ballast changeover."
A pause. "Are you certain? It feels rough out there."
"Captain's orders," Okura said. "Would you like me to tell him the engine room wishes to delay?"
"That won't be necessary" came the reply. "Five minutes and we'll be ready."
As he waited, Okura's mind drifted to Ishimaru. The accountant still believed this was all a coincidence; that Okura had found him in that parlor by chance. In fact, Okura's debts to the parlors had been precarious even then. He'd seen Ishimaru, known his old classmate had taken a job with the syndicate. Gradually, he'd worked out a plan.
All that remained was to off-load the bonds. And to take care of Ishimaru, of course. The accountant had played his role, and could now be discarded. Sometime soon, in the days ahead, he would suffer a tragic accident by falling overboard far from land. He would disappear into the ocean, and never be heard from again.
And the entirety of the syndicate's fifty million dollars would belong to Hiroki Okura.
The phone rang. The engine room calling back. "Ready to begin," the engineer reported.
Okura shook Ishimaru from his mind. Surveyed the bridge, verified with the helmsman that the ship was in position. "Very good. Clear to open the starboard ballast tanks."
"Opening starboard tanks," the engineer replied. Okura put down the phone and crossed to the front of the bridge. Stared out over the bow at the black ocean beyond as slowly, almost imperceptibly, the ship began to list to the portside.
This was normal. The water rushing out of the starboard tanks would create an imbalance that the engineers would rectify by refilling the tanks with new, American seawater. Okura had personally overseen the procedure more than fifteen times since he'd come aboard the Pacific Lion.
Still, he couldn't remember ever feeling the Lion heel over this quickly.
Twenty degrees, twenty-five, thirty. The ship continued to list, slow and sickeningly steady, as the bow launched up and lurched down in the teeter-totter swell. Okura hurried back to the bridge telephone, nearly losing his balance on the slanted deck. "What is going on down there?" he asked the engineer. "This is far too much list."
The engineer's reply was panicked. "The tanks aren't refilling. All the old water's pumped out, but I can't get any new water in to replace it. We're high and dry down here!"
No. Okura stared out the window at a world gone cockeyed. In this awkward position, the ship was increasingly vulnerable.
"Maintain current heading," Okura told the helmsman. "Keep our bow to the waves, whatever you do."
This was bad. As the engineer pumped water from the Lion's starboard ballast tanks, the ship had not only heeled over to port-as Okura could currently attest-it had been rendered lighter, displacing less water, sitting higher on the ocean's surface.
The center of gravity, already above that of a normal ship, was now dangerously high. Any force exerted from the starboard side of the ship could send the Lion into a full capsize.
"Steady," Okura told the helmsman. "Keep us steady."
No sooner had he said this, though, did the ship lurch beneath him, and the bottom fell out of his stomach. A rogue wave from the starboard side, large and unpredictable, had pummeled the Lion's exposed hull and keel with precisely enough force to ruin the big ship's precarious equilibrium.
On the phone, the engineer swore. "I can't fix this," he said. "It's no use! We're going over!"
The Lion continued to tip, faster now. At the wheel, the helmsman stumbled, fell to the deck, slid down toward the port wall. The wheel stood unattended, the ship at the sea's mercy, the swell helping her over now, books falling to the floor, paper charts and coffee cups, too.
Okura dropped the phone. Gripped a railing. "Brace yourself," he told the helmsman as the whole world went sideways. "Sound the alarm."
The wave awoke Ishimaru from dreams of a beach, sunshine, a pretty companion. He awoke in midair, then slammed into hard steel a split second later, landing in a heap, dazed, and unable to remember where he was.
He wasn't on the beach, anyway. It was dark here, and cold, and the walls were all cockeyed. Somewhere in the darkness, an alarm began to blare.
Nante koto? What the hell?
Then he remembered. His little locker. The Pacific Lion. Hiroki Okura's plan, and the promise of America. Only now something had gone terribly wrong.
Ishimaru tried to sit up, failed, the whole ship funhouse slanted. He fumbled in the dark for a handhold, found a shelving unit and pulled himself upright, the deck still listing, faster now.