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Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Summit at Sea

Here's Part II of a two-part early read of
JP Trevor's new novel The Summit

The purser was going through the guest list. There were no passengers apparently. The camp purser raised his eyebrows a little. Then his eyebrows shot up near the center of his forehead when he read the one and only footnote underneath a blank guest list. All it said was prepare the ship for receiving twenty or so heads of state and their entourage. Not even Captain Bates knew who the heads of states were. No Rothchilds or Guggenheims. This peripheral information that normally went with a passenger list was missing. Such as their itinerary and how long they would on board and their contact phone and address into. But then it would not be normal to have the President of Russia's cell phone number on a list.
Unlike world cruises that lasted months these guests would not be consuming the annual intake of thirty eight thousand pounds of smoked salmon. There would be an amount of smoked salmon proportionate to the duration of this cruise which was six days. And a smaller portion of the two hundred and thirty thousand bottles of wine consumed annually on board the Queen. The six day summit would be a modest affair by comparison. In a private chat with Cunard's administration Captain Bates had been told that a multi billionaire had rented the ship for six days for a private gathering. And that one leak to the media from Cunard and the gathering would be cancelled on the spot. Cunard's crew and admin and PR had been ordered to give the appearance of a routine cruise to say New York or Barbados. Small bonus for all.
Of the normal one thousand odd crew only about half would be on this voyage into an unknown point in the Pacific some crew think between Hawaii and the west coast of California but that could be disinformation. There was no question of any security agency or MI6 checking out the crew. This was total lockdown. Cunard would be holding the whip and Cunard was responsible for the blackout. At Camp David it had been agreed between the superpowers to have their governments deflect any inquiries with a no comment or this is not something we are in a position to answer. This was history in the making for the G20 and nothing must reveal what was really going on. When the time was right maybe in a few weeks. And even then an easily digestable watered down version. Something like a very wealthy philanthropist having a positive influence and talks are under way to work out details of how his influence can help the current global financial crisis. Which was basically the truth. Only the colossal amounts of gold and oil would not be mentioned.
Mr Mozaar or Mr William Fisher as he was now known to the British agent understood that maritime piracy was a problem these days. He had allowed for protection for his illustrious guests and the magnificent eight hundred million dollars Queen Mary Two.
So at Long Beach harbour on the California coast Navy Seal divers were underneath the one thousand one hundred and thirty two foot long double hull ship looking for mines and they would be in the water right up until the ship sailed away from the American west coast in a matter of hours.
The first guests would arrive soon and most would have their own security doing their own sweeps on board and staying for the duration of the summit. And decoy cars and aircraft would be among the actual ones that carried the heads of state. The President of the United States would arrive last as a security precaution with four decoys. Around the top edges of the harbour and dock buildings there had been thirty marksmen with sniper rifles for the last two days and nights. NASA had kindly supplied Cunard with ECUS or Extreme Close up satellite of the ship and the surrounding areas.
There was an eerie quietness on board the Queen Mary Two. Secrecy creates an atmosphere. An eerie quietness. Leaving in the middle of the night with no lights. Just slip away from the docks with almost no sound at all. A security cordon of two miles was in place around the berth of the Queen and if some fisherman at three in the morning saw the QM2 leave there was nothing unusual about ships leaving in the night. The fisherman might have read the news about Lloyds of London regarding the QM2 as the 2012 Olympics biggest terrorist target by the intelligence firm advising Lloyd's of London and that they have insured her for more than two and half billion
As well as creating the appearance of preparing a routine cruise Cunard had also used the heightened terrorist threat to deflect curiosity and it had worked like a charm. So the black cars and stealth and discretion made sense to outsiders. The air space south north east and west of Long Beach is restricted to emergency or military aircraft only.
The target had paid Cunard well. All the red carpets had been made to look new or had them replaced and the guest's staterooms were given gold plated taps. On the top deck an Apache helicopter would stay there until the QM2 returned to port in six days. This was the first thing that a crew noticed which added to the mystery. The sinister narrow helicopter sitting there. But they all had been briefed about terrorism and that the QM2 was a major target. Most of the funding for the Apache and the British warship HMS Daring had come from the wealthy philanthropist Mr William Fisher. Cunard had paid for the insurance portion that Lloyds of London had specified.
HMS Daring was the world's most advanced warship and it was on this warship that Mr William Fisher would be arriving to join the summit on the QM2. Her Majesty the Queen and her Defense Minister were only to happy to let the white suited trillionaire make use of her latest warship that needed a few more sea trials anyway. Especially happy as Mr Fisher had paid enough for the British to build another warship like it. And for cash strapped British defense this was like winning the lottery.
All cell phones and pagers and radios belonging to the crew had been locked in a safe on board and all normal SATPHON on board had been rendered useless for the six days. Only security chiefs had use of secure radio frequencies for emergencies only. And if some satellite picked anything up it would be normal ship talk. The crew on the bridge could not communicate with the outside world except for making a mayday call. And the Captains own quarters had phones removed discreetly with much apology.
Being a good sport Captain Bates quietly observed the security team removing the phone from his quarters next to the bridge then asked. "How do I call my mother to ask how to make porridge?"
At first the President of the United States security advisors had insisted the QM2 be at least within a one hour rescue time zone. Then the security advisors had relaxed after a chat with the British Ministry of Defense who assured them that their warship HMS Daring was already on standby in the Pacific.
Even if some comms geek detected the warship and the QM2 leaving at night and the mystery surrounding the 2012 summit and the geek told the media something odd was happening. Then some coffee fuelled journalist decided the summit was going to happen somewhere in the Pacific the media would call it a nutters story. Why would the G20 do that when there were plenty of secure places on land which would be far less expensive and less of a headache for security. They could talk inside some bunkers in the Cheyenne Mountains for chrissake…
So a leak from a geek would be seen as rumour to make a fast buck. In any case for months now a decoy leak to the press had the summit taking place at an undisclosed location on land. But most media had lost interest anyway. The summits had recently lost respect what with the circus in Cannes with the British Prime Minister getting a brush-off from the French President. Behaving like kids having tantrums. Nobody except the fat cat bankers were taking the summits seriousely anymore. The only newsworthy item of interest was the superpowers had screwed up the world economy and could not agree on how to fix it.
Two San Diego Coast Guard helicopters and three frigates were slowly combing two miles out to sea directly on the path the QM2 would be taking tomorrow night. They were looking for anything floating that might conceal a bomb or mine attached to a buoy. So far they had removed a tourist on a lilo with too much factor thirty suncream and bad breath. The Coast Guard had been advised that once the Queen was beyond twenty miles out into the Pacific their protection job was over and they could go back to base and have a doughnut and coffee.
Aside from the Apache attack helicopter on the top deck of the QM2 and various armed Seals inside the ship there would be no heavy protection such as missiles or air to air toys. That was left in the very capable hands of HMS Daring.
The target Mr William Fisher arriving in style on the British warship was typical of eccentric trillionaires who liked a good show and understood well the dynamics of power play. How else had he got his trillions. Now he had something useful to spend his trillions on. A vision. His extraordinary donation of wealth beyond any governments imagination with one modest condition that the summit took place on water with complete anonymity. Easily agreed to by the superpowers. Don't bite off the hand that feeds them. Smile and say thank you. Thank you for more oil and gold the world had ever seen. Ever. For Mr William Fisher the icing on le bateau was his arrival in style that would make Mr Bond drool into his Martini.
His mother had once taken the boy Fisher to see a major warship arrive at Southampton. She told Fisher that warships were terribly exciting. And since Fisher as a child did not feel at all exciting or excited a dream had lodged itself in his mind.
Mr Fisher had studied magpies and he understood that even heads of state liked things that shined and were very big. And that if humans killed over who's God was the better one humans would certainly fight over who had the most wealth. Or the most oil or the most gold. Especially gold if there was colossal amounts of it. So Mr Fisher had made quite sure the gold would be shared equally in a tightly controlled fashion. Noah's Ark was his vision and it had taken him years to work out the details and it was his gold and so it was he who called the shots.
A little smoke was coming out of the red funnel of the QM2 as the Captain tested systems in the engine room. This trip had to go as smooth as a baby's bottom or his face would be red. The British had invented shame and guilt. Where else would you find a framed colored poster designed by London Transport showing different shades of blushing with actual color thumbnails of Joe Passenger who had been 'discovered' in front of other passengers that he was riding the bus or train sans ticket. So Cunard and certainly commander of the largest British flagship passenger vessel in the world would not want any embarrassment with say an engine failure or running out of diesel mid Pacific with these kind of guests on board. This has to be a flawless.
The entire docks and harbour area of Long Beach had now been evacuated. Even the lone fishermen hoping for a mackerel for breakfast had been sent home. The docks were a ghost town with only vitally essential personnel allowed in providing they were dangling laminated cards with computer chips.
The chief of Navy Seals from San Diego was listening to a dispatch on his Motorola radio. Some guests were only two miles away from Long Beach. The first was the President of Russia.
JP Trevor is a novelist who lives in southwest England.
Copyright© JP TREVOR 2012.
WGA Registration Number: 1527862