Silent Thunder

Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen

St. Martin's Paperbacks

ONE

Rock Bay Harbor, Maine

Eight Months Later

"She’s beautiful, isn’t she?" Conner parked the van on the dock and leaned back in his seat with a sigh of contentment. "She looks like a panther. Sleek, graceful, and magnificently lethal."

"My God, you’re waxing poetic." Hannah chuckled and shook her head as she jumped out of the van. "It’s a machine, Conner. A submarine. And she’s beautiful only in the way a finely constructed machine is beautiful. It was designed and built by man. It’s not as if it’s alive."

"You have no soul." Conner got out of the van and moved eagerly toward the edge of the pier. "Do you think Michelangelo’s David has no beauty because it was carved from stone? This is the same thing."

"You always say that." She followed her brother to the edge of the pier and gazed appraisingly at the black submarine. But she could see why Conner was bubbling with enthusiasm. There was something sleek and elegant about all submarines and this Oscar II was no exception although the hull showed every one of its twenty-two years Offcially named Kulyenchikov, the twin-reactor nuclear sub was dubbed Silent Thunder by its builders in the Severodvinsk shipyard, and the workers’ name stuck. An appropriate moniker, Hannah thought. The Silent Thunder’s dark, massive hull seemed to devour all light around it. At more than five hundred feet in length, it was one of the largest submarines in the world.

She glanced back at Conner. "You even thought that submersible I designed for the Titanic expedition was beautiful, and it looked like a goggle-eyed frog."

"Frogs can be beautiful." He made a face. "Well, they can be interesting-looking. Did I really say it was beautiful?"

She nodded. "But you were drunk at the time. It was the night we had the party at that bar in Halifax when the expedition was over. You were going home to Cathy and the kids, and you thought everything was beautiful."

"That was the longest time I ever had to be away from them. You had too many damn problems with that submersible."

"But interesting problems. And it performed well in the end."

He lifted a brow. "And that was all that was important to you. All the romance and excitement of the greatest expedition of the century, and you were only concerned with how efficiently your machine worked."

"You can have all the excitement." She took a step closer to the sub. "Satisfaction is enough for me. I did a good job, and it made it possible for all you dreamers to indulge yourselves to your hearts’ content."

"Well, thank God this job won’t be as all-consuming. Cathy told me she wanted me home in two weeks, or she was filing for divorce."

"Fat chance." Cathy was as practical as Conner was idealistic, and after ten years of marriage it had become second nature to her to act as her husband’s guardian as well as his lover. Since Cathy had been a high-powered and very successful aide to Congressman George Preston before the birth of their son, the transition was entirely natural. "But the job shouldn’t take more than a couple weeks. All I’m being paid for is doing a second schematic of the sub, checking it out for possible hazards, and suggesting a few tourist-friendly modifications before the museum opens it for exhibition. That’s the only reason I took the job. I needed a filler while I waited for them to be ready for me on the Marinth site."

"Oh, no, you couldn’t just sit back and rest for a little while. I’m surprised they didn’t do that check before they sailed it into this harbor. After all, it’s a nuclear submarine."

"The government did check it out for weapons and contamination last year when they discovered it hidden in that bay in Finland."

"That’s another weirdo. Why would the Russians want to hide this particular sub?"

"They say they didn’t, that they merely lost track of it during the political upheaval when the Soviet Union was breaking apart." She shrugged. "But the State Department thinks they’re giving us the usual bullshit. The Russians still don’t tell us anything they can keep to themselves. The scuttlebutt is that some Russian bureaucrat pocketed the money that had been appropriated for its dismantling. He paid off the shipyard director in Finland to hide it among the dozens of other ships and subs that the Russian Navy has there awaiting deactivation."

"There are that many?"

She nodded. "It’s expensive to scrap a submarine, especially if there are nuclear materials involved. Anyway, Bradworth says they’ve been very cooperative since the Finns discovered it."

"Bradworth?"

"Dan Bradworth, he’s the State Department liaison who negotiated with the Russians for the purchase of the sub for the Maritime Museum. Though not that much negotiation was necessary. Russia is so strapped for cash, they gave the museum a bargain. But the museum didn’t want to take any chances on surprises when they brought it here to set up the exhibit. That’s why Bradworth tapped us for the job."

"Tapped you," he corrected. "You’re the expert. You know it was the Ariel that got you the job."

She shrugged. "Maybe." Four years before, she’d designed a new Orca-class U.S. Navy submarine called Ariel, and it had marked a bold departure from what had come before. Nuclear-powered submarines had changed little in their first half century of use, and her innovative concepts brought her much attention among naval buffs and marine architects. Although the Orca program was ultimately shelved due to bud get cuts, the classified plans found their way into naval magazines and Web sites, where The Submarine That Never Was and its young creator had taken on a peculiar mystique. Whenever Hannah met someone in her profession, the Ariel was one of the first topics of conversation.

"No maybe. You’re the real star here, and you know it," Conner said. "I just go along for the ride."

"That’s not true." She frowned. "You’re very good at your job. I wouldn’t know what to do without you."

"Hey, I didn’t mean to make you feel guilty. I like being your gofer. Where else would I get paid for traveling all over the world and accepting your abuse?" His smile faded when she still looked troubled. "Stop it, Hannah. Do you think I would have worked with you all these years if I hadn’t wanted to do it? I love you, but I’m not that self-sacrificing. I’ve always known you were the smart one in the family. Not only are you a mathematical and mechanical whiz, but you have that quirky memory. I knew from the minute you took one glance and quoted my Boy Scout manual from cover to cover that I was going to be trailing behind you."

"I didn’t mean to make you feel—I was just a kid trying to be a smart aleck. You were always making fun of me. It’s what brothers do. I guess I wanted you to think I was special."

"And you were special," he said gently. "And I could see it wasn’t easy for you. I saw how the other kids teased you. That’s why I stopped doing it myself. Being different is always hard. A lot of jealousy. A lot of misunderstanding. I never wanted that burden. I’m no Einstein, but that’s okay. I like what I do, and I like who I am." He grinned. "And thank God Cathy likes who I am, too."

She cleared her throat, and said gruffly, "She’d better. You’re kind of special."

"Not ‘kind of Absolutely."

"And you are smart."

He chuckled. "I have horse sense, but there’s no brilliance lurking in my noggin. I wouldn’t want it. It would be too uncomfortable." He gave her a sly glance. "And it might prevent me from enjoying the finer things in life. Look at you. You can’t even enjoy the beauty of this submarine. It’s a true work of art."

"It was built to kill, Conner. At the time it was in action it was a state-of-the-art nuclear submarine."

"Or to keep killing from happening. It’s all how you look at it. Silent Thunder was built during the Cold War. The Russians were just as afraid of our doing a first strike as we were of them."

"Now you’re waxing philosophic about the Cold War?"

"Sure, why not?" His smile faded as his gaze returned to the submarine. "She’s beautiful, but it’s going to be strange working on her."

"Why?"

"She’s an Oscar II. Ever since I watched the TV coverage of the deaths of those Russian sailors on the Kursk, I can’t think of Oscar II without remembering them. It’s like they’re all . . . ghost ships. It makes me sad."

"Not me. It makes me angry." Her lips tightened. "I offered my services to the Russian government to find a way to get those sailors out of that sub, and they were too proud to let me do it."

"I remember. At the time you were so mad you were ready to start World War III."

"They let them die. They didn’t do enough. God, I hate politicians. How do you think those sailors felt, trapped and knowing they were going to die?"

"Easy," Conner said. "It’s over, Hannah. You did all you could. It wasn’t your failure."

"Yes, it was. It was everyone’s failure. We should have ignored all that international diplomacy bullshit and gone in and saved them. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. They’d have to shoot me out of the water to keep me from trying a rescue."

He gave a low whistle. "All that passion. I seem to have stirred you up a bit. Or maybe you’re feeling a little of the same creepiness I am about this submarine."

"Don’t be ridiculous."

"What do we know about the crew?"

"Not much yet. Bradworth obtained a complete dossier on them for the museum from the Russians, but I haven’t seen it. He’s also supposed to give me the complete documentation of the sub from the time it was discovered in Finland until it was sailed into this harbor."

"Then how do you know I’m being ridiculous?"

"Ghost ships?" She stared at him incredulously. "You’ve got to be kidding. It’s just an old sub."

"But maybe it’s sending out vibes." He lowered his voice melodramatically. "Concentrate. Do you feel them, Hannah?"

A sudden chill went through her. What the hell? It had to be suggestion, and she’d be damned if she’d let Conner know he’d gotten to her. "I’m too busy concentrating on keeping myself from calling out the booby hatch brigade for you."

He threw back his head and laughed. "I almost had you. I could see it."

"You did not. I’m not that gullible."

"But you seem to be in an uncommonly sensitive mood. It doesn’t happen that often, and I thought I’d get you while the getting was good."

"Uncommonly sensitive? I am sensitive, you bastard."

"And so delicate in expressing it. Forgive me for doubting you, but you—Ouch."

"Dammit, I’ll show you delicate." She punched him again in the arm. "First, you make me feel guilty, and then you tell me I’m a callous bitch."

"I didn’t actually say it." He laughed as he backed away from her. "And you shouldn’t object if I did. You have to admit that it’s not your gentler side that fills you with pride. You’re definitely a no-nonsense woman, Hannah. I’m surprised you took offense."

She was a little surprised too. From the time she was ten years old she had known what she wanted of her life. Machines had always fascinated her, and the sea had called her with a power that couldn’t be denied.

Every college break she had spent on a ship, working and perfecting her knowledge and skills. Even after she had graduated with honors, it still hadn’t been an easy road. She had fought her way up the ladder in a man’s world by her in dependence and tough-mindedness. It was odd that little remark by Conner had triggered a sudden rush of guilt. Or maybe not so odd. It could be that she had been worrying about Conner on a subconscious level for a long time. "You know, if you ever want to leave me and get a job in Boston closer to Cathy and the kids, it will be okay with me." She was lying. It wouldn’t be okay. They’d been together too long. As children they’d had the usual sibling rivalries, but that had passed, and they’d grown closer and closer over the years. From the time she had brought him on board on her first in dependent job, he had been her anchor and her friend as well as her brother. She’d be miserably lonely without him.

He grinned mischievously. "I’d consider it, but I’d hate to wreck your career. We both know I’m the only one who’d put up with you. One of my biggest career assets is my ability to smooth down all the assholes you refuse to tolerate. What I lack in brains I make up for in social skills. That’s why we’re such a good team."

She opened her mouth to defend herself, then closed it again. "Come on, we’re supposed to meet Bradworth at the bed-and-breakfast in an hour." She turned away and started back up the pier. "But you’re right, I certainly don’t know what I’d do without you."

"My, my, sensitivity again? I was expecting you to give me a verbal knockout punch. What’s gotten into you?"

She smiled at him over her shoulder. "Maybe you’re rubbing off on me. Next, I’ll be comparing that damn sub to a sunset or a tropical flower." She glanced at the submarine lying still and dark in the water like a sleek shark waiting to attack its prey. Another chill went through her, and she quickly looked away. "But somehow I don’t think so."

Bradworth rocked slowly back and forth in the rocking chair on the porch of Richardson’s Bed-and-Breakfast, his gaze on the glimpse of sea he could see in the distance. It was nice here, he thought wistfully. Quiet, pleasant, ocean views that made him remember the house near Myrtle Beach where he’d grown up.

Jesus, he must be getting old if he was already starting to think of the good old days. Nah, the juices were still flowing if he could feel that stir of lust as he watched Hannah Bryson and her brother walk up the street toward him. At least, he assumed it was her brother, Conner. He’d never been introduced to him and had only briefly met Hannah two weeks ago when he and Randolph, the public relations director for the museum, had gone to her apartment in Boston to offer her the job. They didn’t look much alike. Conner Bryson was smaller, built with a lean, wiry muscularity, and his tightly curled dark hair and triangular face gave him a puckish appearance. There was nothing puckish about Hannah. Her features were strong, with high cheekbones, deep-set blue eyes, and chestnut hair that curled wildly and incongruously around that riveting face. According to her dossier she was thirty-five, but she looked younger. No, that wasn’t quite right. She was one of those women who appeared ageless. She was probably five-foot-nine or -ten with a strong, slim body, long legs, and great shoulders. God, he loved women with straight, broad shoulders. Tits and ass were all very well, but there was something more subtly challenging in the turn-on of those smooth, broad shoulders and that bold carriage. It made a man want to meet that challenge in the most basic sexual way.

Hell, Hannah Bryson was probably going to be a challenge in more ways than the physical. She was exceptionally intelligent. He had recently watched a two-year-old National Geographic special in which Hannah had described her childhood obsession with scuba diving, and her ever-increasing desire to go farther and deeper than her tanks could ever take her. Before she’d even graduated from college, she had made a name for herself with a series of radical yet extremely workable sub designs that instantly catapulted her to the forefront of the traditionally male-dominated profession of marine architecture. She possessed an amazing photographic memory that gave her instant mental access to every sub ever designed, and her skill and creativity enabled her to improve on many of them.

Bradworth ruefully shook his head. Dammit, he would have preferred to have someone a hell of a lot less sharp, but he’d been forced to accept her. He just hoped he could get her through this and—

His phone rang, and he picked up. "Bradworth."

"Is she there?"

He tensed. "Dammit, Kirov, I told you I’d call you after I spoke to her. Stop pressuring me."

"Is she there?"

"She’s walking down the street toward me right now."

"She took her time. They were down at the pier looking at the sub an hour ago."

"And you were there watching her. I told you to stay away from that damn sub, Kirov."

"And I told you to go to hell. I’ll do what I please." He paused. "I wasn’t the only one watching her. There

Excerpted from Silent Thunder by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen.
Copyright 2008 by Johansen Publishing LLLP.
Published in July 2008 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.