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Brian DeMaria

Excerpt Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Heraklion Harbor, Crete

The air was crisp and morning sky clear and the harbor waters calm, in the protected harbor, of Heraklion, on the coast of Crete, it was the first day of February. The Mediterranean Sea was emerald green and shimmered as if it was mixed with quartz crystals against the azure sky.

The magnificent ship, Oleander was at anchor, where she had been for the previous week, in preparation for the upcoming event.

Paul Guilbaud renowned chef at the Taliver restaurant on Champs-Elysées, in Paris, had been working non-stop, ordering the food, for a menu that had been deemed the gastronomical celebration of the century, by the relative few that had been invited to the special event.

From the deck of the Oleander, you could see how the city of Heraklion was cut into the limestone cliff which comprised the islands coast. Cars could be seen speeding along the coastal road surrounding the harbor. The serenity, of the place was mesmerizing, broken only when a plane past overhead, on its way to, Nikos Kazantzakis airport.

It would have been convenient, if the yacht had been tied up at the dock, however it was deemed necessary to keep it off the coast for security reasons. A launch was used for transportation to the ship, shuttling supplies and people to the nearby Rocca Mare docks at the old Venetian fortress. 

The Oleander was 400 feet of pure elegance. Its upper decks were decorated in opulent splendor, which the owner personally oversaw, during the two years of construction that it took to build the yacht, at the Saint-Nazaire yard in France.

The main entertainment deck was covered with a convertible transparent glass ceiling that could be closed if the weather became too cold or rainy. In such event, it would still allow the guests to enjoy being outside while protected from the weather.

Tonight called for crystal clear skies, but the chilly 30 degree weather necessitated that the transparent ceiling be closed for the evening’s festivities. The main deck was set-up for the occasion, with tables covered in fine linen, crystal and china. The ship had a built in stage at the end of the main deck, which could accommodate, Vegas level performances, including this evenings top rock group.

The accommodation decks were built-out with suites; luxuriously appointed, to satisfy the tastes of the owner’s diverse international friends and clientele. The lowest deck was outfitted with offices capable of running the owner’s business empire.

The only person, who could appreciate a ship of the Oleander’s caliber, was one who knows them. Peter Oland was such person. He grew up in the shipping business, working his way through the ranks to captain. His natural seafaring ability proved second to his business savvy. Sailing as captain, he proved himself invaluable in scheduling cargos, expediting loading and unloading. He was brought ashore to work in the offices of the shipping line, eventually becoming the trusted right hand man to Mr. Lloyd its owner. 

 After Mr. Lloyd’s death, his family had no interest in managing the business and offered Oland the chance to buyout the company. The price was hefty, but they agreed to finance it for him at a rate which would allow him to retire the debt with the cash flow from operations. Oland accepted the offer without even a counter on the price.

It took him only, three years, to pay off the, billion dollars in debt, incurred by the purchase, after which he owned the company free and clear. He renamed the company Oland Carriers, which is now the world’s largest shipping company.  

Oland’s philosophy; perhaps, from his being an orphan, was to give a percentage of profits annually to assist those in peril. His philanthropy led to his supporting a number of worthy causes. This year, 2012, Oland was holding a gala fundraiser, for the protection of people in West Africa, an area besieged by criminals decimating the population, in search of black market diamonds.


Tonight’s gala guest list, included business leaders and politicos, from Europe, and the Middle East. A lavish meal was to be served by the famed chef, Guilbaud, followed with live concert, by the famous Irish, politically inspired rock band, MIA. 

King Abdul-Bari, was in attendance, so was the Prime Minister of Israel, Moshe Rabin. Their attendance was a sign of unification, against the atrocities being carried out by the West African diamond smugglers; whose profits went to support terrorism.

Prime Minister Rabin was a newcomer to politics, and a leader considered by many as a ray of hope that there would be peace in Israel’s future. 

The politicos were invited to garner support for the cause, while the wealthy philanthropists, were there to provide funding for the expensive task, of rebuilding West African communities like; Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast.

Several actors and musicians were to be aboard, including the American singer Isis, who had always created a stir with her shockingly explicit sexual performances.

Peter Oland had received confirmation, through RSVP’s, from the committed guest list of close to nine hundred million dollars. An amount he pledged to match, up to a billion.


It was late afternoon, just before 4 p.m. when the guests started arriving alongside at the Roca Mar dock where they boarded one of the Oleander’s luxury tenders. The tenders had a half covered salon mid-ships and were heated by overhead heat strips which provided warmth, while its passengers one enjoyed the fresh night air. On the launch, the guests were served Hors D'oeuvres and glasses of, Veuve Clicquot champagne, for the ride across the channel to where the Oleander was anchored.


MIA had just started their second song as the first course was being served by an army of highly skilled servers. The stars shimmered in a cloudless night sky under the glass ceiling. Isis was on the edge of her seat watching MIA crank out another of her favorite songs.

Halfway through the second song, Isis looked over at her husband, movie mogul, Shelton Lambert. Her eyes open wide, Shelton thought it was her excitement, but then her mouth gaped open, as if she was trying to scream, but only a moaning exhale escaped. Shelton leaned over and put his hand on her wrist, to see what the matter was, but her arms fell from the table. “Are you alright honey?” he asked her, now becoming concerned.

Isis tried to stand, but her legs did not seem to work, they just trembled. Shelton stood and moved towards her chair. He touched her, and flinched, as his bare hand touched her skin, it was as hot as a furnace.

Isis’s eyes started to weep tears, and turned a cherry tomato red. Shelton waved his arms and yelled out for a doctor, when it hit him. His face felt as if someone was holding a blow torch to it.  His face contorted, and he tried to scream and grabbed a full glass of ice water and poured it over his forehead. The water did not diminish the pain, which was now moving down his neck to his chest. He tried to wave his arms but they would not respond. His eyes turned cherry red like his wife’s had. He looked down to see Isis, her body now collapsed on the floor. All he could do was mouth the words – H E L P, before his legs collapsed and he fell, landing on top of his wife.

The couple sitting next to, Shelton and Isis watched in hopeless dismay as their dinner companions struggled. Their reaction to yell for help came as the same fire engulfed them. The scene now was being repeated, one table, after another. 

The band finally took notice of the crowd as they crumbed in front of them like puppets on a string at the end of a show. MIA stopped playing, Ringo the lead singer, hailed for help from the staff. Then Ringo started to feel like molten embers had been cast on his face. Blinded by the pain, he stumbled forward falling off the stage onto the deck.

 There were three physicians onboard, two were with the guests, and became stricken along with them. The third doctor was just finishing sewing up a knife cut on one of the kitchen staff’s hands, when he received the call, that he needed to report to the Promenade deck.

 The doctor sent the cook back to the kitchen after warning him to be careful, then picked up his medical kit and then hurried out of the ward towards the elevator.

He tried to call the other two doctors, but received no reply. Very strange, he thought, he pressed the Promenade deck button in the elevator.   


Renald had been with Peter Oland a long time, having served under him as a seaman when Oland had been a captain. Renald was now the chief mate on the Oleander and was in charge of operations. 

Just as MIA started their first set, a guest walked down to the gangway dock, where the launches which ferried the passengers to shore were tied up; only one launch operator was present.

Renald saw the guest on the floating dock talking to the lone operator, and decided to go down to find out what was going on.

The launch operator told Renald, “This man needs to get ashore as soon as possible.”

Renald seeing that the guest was talking on his cell phone, could sense urgency in the situation. Wanting to keep the launch operator on the dock, Renald told them that he would drive the man to shore himself. Something he enjoyed doing, and a brief break from his duties. 

The man boarded the launch, still on his cell phone, Renald fired up the engine and then headed to shore. On the way, the man finished his phone call and nodded to Renald thanking him for his attention.

Renald maneuvered the launch to the dock with the smooth precision that exemplified his experience from the many years at sea. The Roca Mar dock-master assisted Renald in holding the launch alongside while his passenger departed. The man thanked Renald again for the ride, and expressed his disappointment at having to leave early, saying that MIA, was one of his favorite bands. Renald then turned the launch around and headed back to the ship.

Half way back, he could tell something was amiss. The sound of the band drifting across the harbor was now silent. He noticed what looked like black trash bags being cast over the side from the promenade deck. He reached out, and picked up the binoculars from the console, adjusting them to see what was falling into the water. He wiped his eyes after a first glance, not believing what he saw; it was people flailing jumping into the ocean.

Renald pushed the throttle level to its stops, and picked up the VHF to call the bridge, “Oleander, Oleander, Oleander, this is the Conch calling on channel 16. What the hell is going on?”  There was no reply, so he tried again, this time to the mate on watch, “Iverson, come in Iverson, this is Renald, what’s your status?” Still no reply, he tried calling the floating dock operator, but there was only silence. Realizing the enormity of what he was witnessing, he called out a, MAYDAY, on channel 16, to report an emergency onboard the Oleander. All he heard was static on the radio. He keyed the mike again, calling the Roca Mar dock master who had just helped him tie up and who, he knew, was at his radio, but again, silence.

Renald tried to push the throttle open further but it was already against its stop. It was a torturous final 500 yards to the ship’s floating dock. He pivoted the launch into position, throwing it into reverse, hastily throwing a bite of line around a cleat, then jumped off onto the dock and ran up to the main deck.

At the top of the gangway Renald found the other launch operator Philip and a crewman, lying on the dock face up. Both of their faces both were scarlet red, and inflamed with bulging red eyes, that stared into nothingness. He did not have to look to see if they were breathing, he knew they were dead.

Instead of taking the elevator, he bounded up the outside stairwell to the Promenade deck. What he found was incomprehensible. The guests were crumpled in disarray, some face down on tables, others on the floor, and some still in their chairs, slumped backwards, heads cocked back, as if they were looking at the sky. He could not get out of his mind that their faces reminded him of those red rubber balls he used to play with in gym class.

He stepped over the bodies looking for Mr. Oland. Not finding him at his table, he felt a ray of hope that maybe, by a miracle, he had somehow avoided the plight of his guests. So he headed to the next logical place, the bridge deck.

 He climbed the stairs as fast as he could, taking the steps two at a time, till he reached the bridge. At the top stair, he slowed for a moment noticing a tingle on his face. He realized that whatever was responsible for this catastrophe, was now affecting him, and that he needed to get the word out to someone.

As he entered the bridge, he found the second mate, Iverson, lying face down on the deck and Peter Oland slumped over the radar, the VHF radio microphone was in his hand. Renald felt like he had just been gut punched seeing the painful expression on his boss, and dear friends face. Renald pried the microphone from his hand and radioed Roca Mar again, again no answer. The tingling on his face started to grow hot; he innately knew he did not have much time. He pressed the automatic MAYDAY button on the VHF.

As the pain started to grab hold of him, he stumbled outside onto the bridge wing and pulled out an EPIRB beacon from its holder and pulled the activation float cord, to set off the automatic satellite distress call. It dawned on him then, that anyone coming to the ship would find death themselves.

His final minute alive, was excruciating, but his strong will pushed him to the computer console in the chart room. The computer was tied into Oland Carriers dispatch. He was now blinded by whatever had attacked the ship, and typed by feel, hoping he hit the right keys. The message he sent was brief: 

All dead here - whatever killed us is still onboard - Renald.

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