The steel was painted white. Unlike the yacht’s luxurious parts, this was nothing more than bracing, plating, and rivets. A small room straddled the keel. It looked like a cube dropped into the bottom of the ship. Harold ducked to enter, and Bill felt his hair brush the top of the door frame. The ceiling lightly touched the top of Harold’s hair.
Bill had never been claustrophobic, but the low ceiling and ten-by-ten room made him nervous. Chuck was chained to a desk that was welded to the floor. He chewed on an unlit cigar that he clenched between his teeth.
Chuck smiled and said, “I’d stand up, but I’m afraid that isn’t possible at the moment. Please, have a seat, boys.”
Garcia spoke up, “I’ll be right outside.”
Chuck nodded, and Garcia left the room and closed the door.
Harold commented, “I’m surprised Doc wasn’t still in here with you.”
Chuck shrugged, “He’s around here somewhere. I imagine Garcia has him monitoring me on the cameras they tried to hide behind the walls.” Chuck gazed around the room, “I can’t see them, but I know they’re here.”
Bill asked, “Why did you have Lori killed?”
Chuck turned and looked at Bill. His dead eyes put a chill down Bill’s spine. Chuck’s lips curled down. He said, “I didn’t have Lori killed. I thought you understood that.”
Bill leaned closer, despite the fear that was twinging in his back. He said, “You sent Nigel to get me. He killed Lori, so you had Lori killed. Why? Why even come for me? I had nothing to do with any of this. Your song and dance about revenge, and then a mysterious stranger wanting to meet my brother doesn’t hold water with me. Men like you do what they want, and you want what benefits you.”
Chuck’s lips stayed flat. He pulled out his cigar, spat on the floor, and stuck it back in.
Harold said, “Well, answer my brother. I want to know the answer too.”
Chuck looked down at the desk. “It has to do with Harold’s father.”
Harold raised his voice, “My father’s dead.”
Chuck shook his head, “No, your real father.”
Harold stood and hovered over Chuck. Bill pushed his chair out of the way. Harold grumbled, “My real father is dead,” and then sat back down.
Bill asked, “Harold’s Uncle did this?”
Chuck pointed at Bill. “You really are the smart one. Yes, Harold’s father is behind all of this.”
Harold spoke up, “Okay, first of all, he’s not my father. He’s a rapist and a sperm donor who has nothing to do with me. Secondly, you expect us to believe that an estranged relative who raped my mom suddenly decides to come after me decades later? How does that even make sense?”
Chuck pushed back against his chair and took the cigar out of his mouth. “The man who helped conceive you is named Hunter. He has been searching for you ever since your mother put you in an orphanage. Garcia won’t tell me how they did it. Still, somehow your mom, April, Rachel, or whatever she was calling herself then, and the orphanage managed to conceal your identity when you were adopted.
“Hunter found out who your parents were a few years ago. He knew you wouldn’t have anything to do with him now that you’re a grown man. So, I was asked to execute a plan that would cause your father to be desperate to do business with him. His plan was to work his way into your family, become your friend, and then reveal who he really is.”
Bill spoke up, “That sounds nuts. What kind of a loon does that? Who is this guy?”
Chuck looked back at Bill, “He may be a loon, but he’s a smart loon.
“Hunter ran into a guy from Yemen while in hiding. Hunter’s new friend got him in touch with some freedom fighters in the middle east.”
Harold interrupted, “You mean terrorists.”
Chuck smiled, “It depends on which side you’re on. Anyway, Hunter found a group of men he could get along with. They appreciated his fighting ability, and he appreciated their views on women and other vices.”
Bill interrupted, “Wait if he’s hanging out with Muslim extremists, wouldn’t they believe the opposite of what Hunter would want?”
Chuck laughed for a moment and then started to chew on his cigar again. “Kid, you have so much to learn about the world. These guys aren’t practicing Muslims. That just gives them cover. Sure, there are a few real believers in their ranks to make them look legit. Most of these guys are just warlords looking for their piece of the pie.
“Anyway, Hunter got his piece of the pie. He runs a small village in the middle of Iran. Hunter provides men to Iran for certain missions with weapons from me. The Iranian government leaves him alone to govern his village as he sees fit, as long as he’s at their disposal.”
Bill said, “It sounds like he has a village full of slaves.”
Chuck shook his head, “No, you have it all wrong. These are volunteers. They are berserkers, like you two. They’re people who struggled with their gift in the civilized world, so Hunter gave them what they really wanted. A place to practice their talent. Skirmishes and wars to fight to their heart’s content.”
Harold asked, “I still don’t understand. Why come after me, or Bill?”
Chuck answered, “Because you’re Hunter’s son. He’s planning to pass the torch to you. As for your half-brother, well, he was just the bait. Hunter doesn’t allow half-breeds into the family.”
Bill leaned forward, “What do you mean, half-breeds?”
Chuck lifted up his handcuffed hands, and the chains rattled, “Easy, that’s just Hunter’s words. Full-blooded berserkers only. He wants to keep the bloodline pure.”
Bill commented, “Great, another bigot with delusions of grandeur.”
Chuck shrugged, “Yea, well, it’s working out for him so far. Anyway, we didn’t know you were a
berserker. Hunter assumed April had either jumped Joshua’s bones or found some poor sap who liked crazy women.”
Bill grumbled, “It was Hunter that made her crazy.”
Chuck took out his cigar, “Yea, well, I wasn’t there, so I can’t say. If Hunter had realized your ability, I’m sure you’d make the recruitment list.”
Bill shook his head, “Don’t bother.”
Harold asked, “So, why are you spilling the beans?”
Chuck answered, “I know when I’m beaten. Hunter put me on a timer after the sting operation to bring you in. He’s pushing seventy, and his doctor told him after he turned sixty he could keel over at any time. So, he’s desperate to meet his son and try to get you to take over the family business.”
Harold quipped, “I already have a family business.”
Chuck continued, “Nobody was supposed to get killed when I had Nigel come for Bill. My plan was to snatch your brother, make a trade, and deliver you to Hunter to work out your family issues. After that fiasco blew up in my face, I was out of men and had to find freelancers to help with everything. The episode at the hanger was another fiasco. They were supposed to take Bill while he was being transported to the airport, but these guys thought they knew better.”
Harold asked, “What about Darla? She’s not a berserker. What was Hunter’s plan for my wife?”
Chuck answered, “He was going to take you without her. According to Hunter, he had a woman picked out that would make you forget all about Darla.”
Harold rolled his eyes and then said, “This guy’s an idiot. Do you know how to get in touch with him?”
Chuck answered, “Yea, Garcia is going to have me contact him once we get to Gitmo. You have a message for him?”
Harold leaned in close until he was almost touching the cigar in Chuck’s mouth. He said, “Tell Hunter if I ever see him near me, my family, or my friends, I’ll kill him.”
Chuck smiled, “Noted.”
Bill spoke up, “You can second that for me as well.”
Chuck answered, “It sounds like the family reunion is postponed indefinitely.”
Bill said, “I think we have some things to talk about.”
“Then let’s talk.” Quipped Chuck.
Harold said, “He meant without you.”
Bill stood, and Harold followed suit. They knocked on the door, and Garcia let them out. The three men walked up the first ladder to the cabins in silence. Joshua came out of his room and joined them. The group headed up the next set of stairs to the main deck.
Darla looked up from the table, “Well?”
Bill answered, “I have a lot to think about.”
Harold responded to her, “You and I can talk about it in our room.”
Carol asked, “Is there anything I can do?”
Joshua interjected, “We can talk if you like.”
Bill shook his head. “Just give me some time. I’m not sure I can explain what’s going on in my head.”
Everyone sat down. Harold continued the conversation. “Chuck told us about Hunter.”
Darla and Garcia looked at each other and back to Harold and Bill. “Okay, we expected that.”
Bill leaned towards Garcia, “What do you mean you expected that?”
Darla answered, “Chuck told us the same thing. Harold, you know Chuck as well as we do. He’s going to say anything he can to get a rise out of both of you.”
“So, then it’s not true?” asked Bill.
Garcia answered, “Oh, I think it checks out. Bill, you were correct in your early observations. Chuck has no reason to have gone this far. He could have had a quiet retirement in some unwatched corner of the globe if somebody wasn’t pushing his buttons.”
Bill scowled, “Lori died for nothing.”
Carol took Bill’s hand, “No, she didn’t.”
Bill looked into her eyes. Carol’s black eyes glistened, and a tear ran down her cheek. “She brought you back together with your brother.”
Bill asked, “How?”
Carol responded, “If it wasn’t for Chuck, Lori’s death, and whoever this Hunter character is, you would have never found your brother.”
Bill took his hand back and crossed his arms. He mumbled, “I’m not sure it was worth the trade.” He looked over at Harold, “No offense.”
“None taken,” replied Harold.
Joshua spoke up, “I think Bill’s right. Let’s talk more about this tomorrow.”
Bill stood, “I need some time alone. I’ll be in my cabin.”
He left everyone and locked the door to his room. Bill stared out the window and spoke. “So, this is it? This is how you answer my questions? I wanted a family, and you gave me a brother who already has a family. I ask you why Lori died, and you show me a psychopath.”
Bill reached for a nearby book and flung it into the wall on the far side of the room. He let out a long, slow breath and then whispered, “You’re the God of the universe. I expected something more meaningful.”