For $200 Willow bought a 500ft coil of the strongest nylon rope available from a nautical supply store as well as a thinner, shorter cord. The large coil was heavy, but she slung it across her shoulder like a sherpa going on an expedition. In a sports shop on the same stretch of the main street, they rented wetsuits and diving gear.
"Now we need a boat," Willow was walking-and-talking purposefully.
"We're going out there, aren't we?" Tara, who was carrying the suits and gear, skipped to keep up.
"Yep. I read this in a book. We're gonna get as close as we dare without arousing suspicion, then I'm diving down to wrap the rope around the propellers. It should be strong enough to immobilize them and not get minced to pieces. The best thing is that it's not suspicious, it can happen to any boat and it'll take a long time to undo the mess."
"And did it work in the book?"
Willow grinned. "Yep. Our hero was in the same predicament as us, needing to delay a boat until he could climb onboard, arrest the baddie and rescue the beautiful damsel in distress."
Tara covered a few steps before turning to Willow. "There's one flaw on your plan," she said seriously.
"You are not diving down alone. We both are."
That led to a hot argument all the way to the boat rental. In terms of ability, there wasn't much between them - both were qualified recreational divers and had many hours of experience. Tara argued that they would get the job done quicker if there were two of them. Willow counter-argued that there was only one coil of rope and someone needed to act as lookout on their own small boat. Tara wanted to be the one diving down, since she felt responsible; Willow pointed out that it was for that exact reason that she was the better choice to carry out the assignment, since she could handle it objectively.
"Darling, let's not argue about this, it really doesn't matter who does it. It'll only take a few minutes. I'll tie the shorter rope around my waist and you can help haul me up when I'm done." The finality in Willow's voice was apparent.
Tara walked on in silence, and Willow was afraid she would get mad. Then she ran her hand up the inside of Willow's arm and it was fine. They reached the quay and paid for a whole day's rental on a fast motorboat. Gibraltar was full of tourists, and people renting a leisure boat to explore the multitude of wrecks in the bay was a common phenomenon.
Willow waited till they were well out to the bay before changing into the wetsuit. Tara, for disguise, also donned a suit, and covered her face with a large hat and sunglasses. Since the yacht was in the repair dock last night, it was anchored in the open waters in the bay rather than moored to the berths themselves.
They drifted slowly toward the yacht, keeping an eye on activity or anyone spotting them. When they were as near as they dared, Tara cut the engine and let the motorboat bob slowly in the calm waters. Willow had her gear on and had completed her checking. She tied the short cord around her waist and tossed the larger coil into the water. She took a deep breath and took Tara in her arms.
"I'll be fine. If anything happens, pull on the rope twice and I'll come right up," she said calmly.
Tara marveled at how steady Willow was. Her heart was pounding and she could feel adrenalin pumping through her. "Be careful, love. Come back quickly," she said quietly.
Willow kissed her. An open, tender kiss that promised everything Tara would wish for. They didn't exchange "I love you's" since there was no need. Nor good-byes. Willow splashed water in her mask and tumbled off the motorboat in one graceful roll. On the way underwater, she grabbed the rope and made sure it didn't tangle up with her breathing tubes. She entered the water from the side of the motorboat shielded from the yacht, and swam around their boat before heading toward her target.
Tara held onto the thin cord as if it was her life.
Willow stayed at a depth of twenty-five feet until she reached Artina. Carefully she surfaced at a point near the stern to check that she had the right yacht. Satisfied with the confirmation she dove down and toward the propellers. This was the most dangerous part of the operation since there was a risk that the engines would turn on without warning. She would stand no chance against the powerful blades. She dismissed the thought, trusting Tara to keep an eye on the activities above her.
She made her way below one of the propellers and fumbled with the rope. It was very difficult, like wrestling with an octopus with long slimy tentacles. Swearing in her head, she worked the knot with stiff fingers until she finally got it free and uncoiled it carefully. She wrapped the end of the rope firmly around one propeller blade and began to wrap it around the other parts of the ensemble. It was hard work, the rope constantly threatened to wrap around her legs, or worse, strangle her. The water was cold and the yacht blocked most of the sunlight.
But finally she did it, tucking the other end of the rope into the cat's cradle that surrounded the twin propellers. When the engines started, the rope would tightened even more, completely melding it into the propellers. Hopefully the shaft holding the blades would bend and might even cause the engine to blow.
She had lost all sense of time while working, and when she looked at her watch a full half hour had passed. She was too concentrated in her task that she hadn't noticed any tugs on the cord around her waist. She knew Tara would be anxious, and swiftly made her way back toward their motorboat. She was so tired, and knew that she would need the comfort of Tara's arms and a hot cup of soup when they got back onshore. She pulled on the cord as she swam as quickly as she could, but there was no responding pull. She tried not to get worried, Tara might have tied it to the side of the motorboat.
She was almost back and she could see a dark shape directly above her. When she got closer, her heart stopped when she realized there were two shapes, a larger one next to the other. A moment of panic hit her and she almost lost control, becoming disoriented and almost losing her mouthpiece. She blinked hard and tried to steady herself. Carefully she swam away from the boats until she was about fifty feet away. She was just rational enough to remember to take her mask off to prevent the glint from the glass when she broke surface. All her self-control was lost and she had to try very hard to suppress a yell when she saw what was happening.
A speedboat had coupled itself next to their motorboat, its size and menace overwhelming their little craft. The unmistakable hulk of Luke had Tara in an arm-lock and was manhandling her onto the speedboat. Tara was shouting and struggling but helpless against the larger man's strength. A deathly chill passed through Willow, from the top of her head to the heel of her feet and she forgot to tread water. Her limbs felt leaden and felt herself shaking. Luke glanced her way as she was sinking and that jolted her senses back. When she came back up to the surface, the speedboat was on its way to Artina.
"Think, Will. Think. Don't lose it now," she kept repeating to herself. She knew she needed to keep her mind blank and focus only on the immediate present. She stayed in position, barely moving, in case the mayor's men came back. She watched in desperation the speedboat docking at the yacht and Luke again manhandling Tara onboard.
"Get your hands off her, you filthy oaf. Just you wait. You and I," she seethed.
No one looked or came back her way and she swam to the motorboat, but didn't climb on. Holding onto its hull on the ocean-side so she was invisible to Artina, she tried to rest and catch her breath.
There wasn't time to think of the hows and the whys. The fact was, Tara was discovered and captured. Since Wilkins didn't seem to have inflicted physical harm to his other prisoners, Willow hoped against hope that Tara wouldn't be hurt. More than ever, Tara needed her. She had to get herself back to shore to raise the alarm.
Although close to exhaustion, she knew that she couldn't take the motorboat. She would have to swim across the bay, and it looked further and further away. It would be a strenuous swim. She took off her air tank and pushed it onto the motorboat. She didn't think it would be safe for her to dive all the way back, it would have to be a slow swim. She was grateful for the wetsuit and mask.
Filling her mind with images of Tara, she took several deep breaths and started her long journey. Most of the time she side paddled, and when she was near Artina she ducked underneath the surface and swam as far as she could in one breath.
"Tara, remind me never to enter a triathlon," she muttered as, after what seemed to be an endless, mindless swim, she reached land. Too exhausted to do anything but to sit on the ground and pant, wanting to curl up and fall asleep where she was.
"Okay. Get up. Get up. Need to help Tara." She had been talking to herself and pushing, pushing, pushing. Putting one foot in front of the other, she made her way slowly to the hotel. Although she tried to keep her mind blank, she was in tears when she stumbled into their room.
She peeled off the wetsuit and stood under the shower for a long time, tears still flowing freely and mixing with the hot water pounding her skin.
She avoided looking at anything belonging to Tara, lest it would completely paralyze her.
Agent Burkle and her team would arrive in two hours, she had to hold it together until then. She never thought of going to the local police.
Like Tara that morning, she stood transfixed at the window and watched Artina. Activity had picked up again, and soon the anchor came up and it moved off slowly. Was it only an hour ago that she was underneath it, getting the rope all over its propellers? And why was it moving?
She gradually became aware of a strange noise and realized it was her teeth grinding. It wasn't working. 2,000 horsepower was too much for a few coils of rope, she had visions of the propeller blades ripping through the rope, just like her hopes of rescuing Tara. She had to hold onto the windowsill to stop herself from falling over.
All gone. I'll never see her again.
The yacht made its way out of the marina, picking up speed as it headed into the Mediterranean Sea. Watching the white of the bow wave, she realized her life might as well come to a stop.
The grinding turned into a keening.
And then it happened. A slight swerve and it tilted on its starboard side. A sudden spin and water boiling at its stern as engines churned to keep the propellers moving. Then nothing. The bubbling stopped as the engines spluttered to a halt, leaving the yacht drifting uncontrollably. Willow could see frantic movement, and after a while, a tugboat from shore chugged its way to the stricken vessel, towing it back to the marina.
We did it. Now I'm coming to get you. Hold on.