The Judas Strain

Page 35

Jessie had also offered an alternative explanation: But more likely it was just bad reefs and tricky currents.

Or was it something else entirely?

From seemingly out of sheer rock of the island, a trio of speedboats jetted into view. Blue, long-keeled, and low.

More pirates.

No wonder no one dares come here, Monk thought. Dead men tell no tales.

Monk glanced around him as some men hurried past, shouting in Malay. He strained to make out the words. He checked his watch. Where was Jessie? A little translation right about now would be handy.

Monk studied the island ahead.

From international reports, the Indonesian islands were riddled with hundreds of secret coves. Over eighteen thousand islands made up the Indonesian chain; only six thousand were known to be populated. That still left twelve thousand places to hide.

Monk watched the trio of boats buzz toward them, then split away, spinning sharply with a spray of seawater. They positioned themselves to either side of the cruise ship's bow and one directly in front. They headed back toward the island, puttering slowly in the chop.


The smaller ships were guiding their big brother to port.

As the island drew nearer, Monk was able to spot a narrow chasm in the cliff face, angled in such a manner as to be easy to miss. The gap appeared too small for the cruise ship, like passing a camel through a needle's eye. But someone had done proper soundings, compared them to the ship's dimensions and draft.

The cruise ship pushed its bow between two sheer walls of black rock. The rest of the ship had no choice but to follow. The port side scraped with a screech and tremble. Monk danced back as a spar of cliff on his side ground away a pair of lifeboats, smashing and raining down pieces.

The entire ship squealed.

Monk held his breath. But they did not have far to go. The way opened again. The Mistress of the Seas slid out of the chasm and into a wide, open-air lagoon, the size of a small lake.

Monk crossed back to the rail and gaped around. I'll be damned. No wonder they call this place a navel.

The island was really an old volcanic cone with a large lagoon at the center. Jagged walls circled all around and made up the crown of the island. Inside, the cliffs were less steep, lush with jungles, threaded with silver waterfalls, and lined by sandy beaches. The far side of the wide lagoon was littered with palm-thatched buildings and clapboard homes. Scores of wooden docks and stone jetties prickled from the small town. Several boats were pulled up on shore for repair; others were rusted down to ribbings.

Home sweet home for the pirates.

More boats sped out to meet the arriving cruise ship.

Monk expected they weren't coming to sell trinkets.

He searched upward, noting how the character of the light had grown shadowy when they had pushed into the lagoon. As if the storm clouds had blown over suddenly.

But it wasn't clouds that shaded the lagoon.

Someone's been busy, Monk thought as he craned upward.

Crisscrossed over the open cone of the volcano, a vast net had been strung. It looked fairly patchwork, built piecemeal, surely decades in its construction, possible centuries. While the main sections were supported with steel cable and latticework, strung from one peak to the next, other areas were formed of rope and reef nets, and even older sections appeared to be merely twined grass and thatch. The entire construct spanned the lagoon like a meshed roof, an engineering marvel, artfully camouflaged with leaf, vine, and branch. From above, the lagoon would be invisible. From the air, the island would appear to be just a continuous jungle.

And now the vast net had captured the Mistress of the Seas and hid it forever from prying eyes.

Not good.

The engines cut and the ship slowed to a drift. Monk heard the chug and gentle vibration as the ship's anchors were dropped.

A commotion toward the bow drew his attention forward.

Monk headed over to investigate. Other pirates were less stealthy and ran past him, assault rifles held in the air, cheering.

"That can't be good." Monk muttered.

Keeping back, Monk discovered a large crowd of the pirates gathered on the forward deck, massed around the pool and hot tub. Bahamian music blasted, courtesy of Bob Marley and his Rastafarian riffs. Many had bottles of beer, whiskey, and vodka, reflective of the mix of mercenary and local pirate. It seemed a welcome-home party was under way.

Along with games.

The pirates' attention focused toward the starboard side of the ship. Assault rifles were shaken in upraised fists; encouraging shouts rang out. Someone had unscrewed the diving board and had it protruding out from the rail, over the water. A man was dragged forward, his arms tied behind his back. He had been beaten, bloody-nosed, split lip.

Shoved around, Monk caught a glimpse of his face over the crowd.

Oh, no . . .

Jessie babbled desperately in Malay—but his words fell on deaf ears. He was forced at gunpoint over the rail and onto the diving board. It seemed these were fundamentalist pirates, sticking with tradition.

Jessie teetered on the plank, poked and prodded to the end.

Monk made a step in his direction.

But a mass of pirates stood between him and the young nurse. And what could he do? Plainly Monk could not shoot his way through the throng of pirates here. It would just get them both killed.

Still, Monk's hand drifted to his rifle.

He should never have involved the kid. He'd come to lean too heavily on him, pushed him too far. Jessie had left an hour ago, searching for any local maps of the region. Someone must have a map or could sketch one. The pirates had to be getting their supplies from somewhere nearby. Monk had urged caution, but Jessie had scampered away, eyes bright.

And look what it bought him.

With a final wail, Jessie fell from the plank's end and tumbled into the water, striking it hard. Monk rushed to the rail, along with most of the pirates, standing shoulder to shoulder as they catcalled, cheered, and cursed. Bets were placed.

Monk let out a held breath when Jessie resurfaced, kicking hard, on his back, gasping. A pair of pirates near the bow leveled rifles at the struggling victim.

Oh God ...

Shots cracked crisp, especially loud under the muffle of the netting.

Spats of splashes marked the impact.

At Jessie's heels.

More laughter.

The kid kicked harder and writhed, swimming away from the boat.

He would never make it to shore.

One of the blue speedboats aimed straight toward his floundering shape, meaning to run him over. But at the last moment, it dodged away, swamping Jessie with its the wake.

He sputtered up, looking more angry than frightened.

On his back, he scissor-kicked and used his bound arms as some sort of rudder. The guy was strong and wiry.

But the speedboat was faster.

It swung around again, sweeping back for another pass.

A laughing gunman in the back of the boat braced himself and aimed his assault rifle. He strafed the water as the boat passed between the cruise ship and the boy.

Monk cringed, knowing Jessie could not have survived this time.

The speedboat buzzed past.

And there Jessie was, coughing and sputtering. He paddled and kicked. A small cheer arose from the pirates.

Monk's hands clenched on the rail, hard enough to rip it away. Goddamn assholes were toying with Jessie, stretching out the torture.

Although he was unable to act, refusing to turn away, Monk's fingers tightened into a knot. His face, heated to a red-hot fire, must be glowing through the nut-brown makeup.

All my fault. . .

Jessie fought toward shore, on his side now, searching for how far he had to swim to reach the beach. The speedboat circled back. Laughter echoed over the water.

Jessie kicked faster. Suddenly he popped up, finding sand under his toes. He ran, fell, shoved, and dove toward shore. Then his legs were high-stepping through the lapping water. He pounded across the beach toward the dense jungle.

Go, Jessie . . .

The speedboat raced by. Shots were fired. Sand exploded, leaves shredded. Then Jessie dashed the last steps and vanished headlong into the forest, arms still tied behind his back.

More cheers, some disappointed groans.

Money changed hands.

But most were still chuckling, as if at some private joke.

Monk nudged his neighbor. "Apa?" he asked.

As the band of pirates here was a mix of locals and foreign mercenaries, Monk had learned that pigeon Malay passed okay. Not everyone was as fluent as the native pirates.

The gentleman at his side was missing several teeth, but was happy to show how many he had left by grinning broadly. He pointed toward shore, but he aimed higher up. A few wisps of smoke could be seen near the ridgeline. Some camp was up there.

"Pemakan daging manusia," the pirate explained.

Same to you, bud.

The pirate must have noted his confusion and only smiled wider, showing his decaying wisdom teeth. He tried again. "Kanibals."

Monk's eyes widened. That was one Malay word Monk could translate himself. He stared back toward the empty beach, then up toward the trails of smoke. It seemed the pirates shared the island with a local tribe of cannibals. And like any good guests returning home, the pirates had thrown their caretakers a bone.


The pirate at his side continued to babble and pointed toward the water. Monk only caught a few phrases, a word here and there.

". .. lucky... at night. . . bad . . ." The man pantomimed with his hand, a claw rising up and grabbing something and dragging it down. "Mis."

The last was a Malay curse word.

Monk had heard it enough times, but he was fairly certain the man was using its direct translation.


"Raksasa iblis," he repeated, and babbled a bit more, ending in a whispered name, drying his grin into more of an ache. "Rangda."

Monk frowned and straightened, leaning over a bit to stare at the water. He remembered Jessie's old wives' tale. Rangda was the name of the Balinese witch queen, whose demons were supposed to haunt these waters.

"At night. . ." the man mumbled in Malay, and pointed to the water. "Amat, amat buruk."Very, very bad.

Monk sighed. Just great. He stared with concern toward the forest, toward where Jessie had vanished.

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