“Dismantle the bridge after crossing it”
Wednesday, August 26
S.S. Palma Soriano, 120 miles off the coast of Sevastopol, Ukraine
They executed the entire row. Two dozen men on their knees. Hands tied behind their backs. Looking over the side of the freighter at a reflection of the quarter moon on the calm waters of the Black Sea. Just a few seconds of racket. Then the bodies fell forward. Bled out. The men in black military fatigues relaxed. Let the muzzles of their suppressed MP5 submachine guns face the deck. A stocky, Nordic-looking redhead standing at one end of the firing squad whistled. Pointed at them.
They changed their clips.
The second half of the crew was brought out. Knelt next to the bodies of the first group, in deep, warm puddles of maroon.
Racket. Fall. Bleeding.
The wheel lock for the bulkhead hatch spun around and the door opened. An Asian woman in her late thirties walked out onto the deck, a twenty-four inch sword strapped to her back, a ninja-to. Two men in Russian military officer uniforms, a general and a colonel, followed her. Behind them, two more men in black fatigues escorted out the white-haired captain of the ship handcuffed. The general said something in Russian to the Asian woman. She turned to the colonel. In heavily accented English, he said, “General Kornilov wants to know if your men have checked the entire ship yet. He also thanks you again for agreeing to meet him here for the exchange, Ms. Mochizuki.”
With an American accent, she said, “Please, Colonel Grieg, call me Chiyome.” The colonel put his hand to his chest, genuflected slightly. Chiyome motioned towards the row of dead men. “We checked every inch, could only find forty-eight. But I’m sure your smuggler friend has a few secret compartments you’re unaware of.”
Grieg translated for Kornilov, briefly discussed something with the general. Then he sauntered over to the ship’s captain, said something in Russian. The white-haired man answered, shook his head at Grieg. Emphatic. The colonel got in the old man’s face. Yelled.
Pointed at the crew’s bodies.
The captain shook his head again, repeated his previous answer.
Grieg stepped away, turned to Chiyome. “That is everyone.”
“Good.” She moved in front of the captain. Smiled. Brushed his shoulders off. Then unsheathed her ninja-to and decapitated him in a single fluid motion.
Kornilov and Grieg froze. Watched the head roll across the deck. Over the side.
“Well,” said Chiyome, taking a breath, “now that that’s out of the way….” The redhead came over to them with a laptop under his arm, opened it so that Kornilov could see the screen. Chiyome flung the captain’s blood off of her sword. “Fifty million American, as promised. All you have to do is press enter.”
Snickering, Kornilov moved to press the key.
Chiyome put the tip of her blade against his chest. “Wait.” She pushed her sword into him, forced him to move back. “Colonel Grieg, would you be so kind as to ask General Kornilov if he’s spoken to anyone else about our transaction?”
The colonel did as instructed. Got a response. “He says no, not to anyone.”
“Is that so?”
“He swears it.”
She stared into the general’s eyes. “How honest.”
The two men who’d been holding the white-haired captain drew their pistols on Kornilov and Grieg. Forced them onto their knees.
Kornilov shouted. Grieg translated. “What’s going on? I thought we had a deal.”
Chiyome sheathed her ninja-to. Took the computer from the redhead. Pressed several keys. Held it so that Grieg and Kornilov could see a video feed of the general talking and having coffee with a man in a suit in an office. The symbol of the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, was visible on the suited man’s cup. The video cut out. Came back on a close-up of the suited man’s dead body on the floor of the office, Chiyome standing over him. Static. Chiyome closed the laptop, squatted in front of the general. “You could’ve at least switched cars before driving to Lubyanka.”
Kornilov spat in her face.
She wiped it off. Nodded to the man behind him.
Racket. Fall. Bleeding.
Chiyome came over to Grieg.
“No, no,” he said. “Please…I—I don’t even know what this is about. I am just a translator.”
She nodded again.
Racket. Fall. Bleeding.
This action-packed opening grabbed my attention right away. It’s a great opening hook. I could easily envision the scene. And the terse, rapid-fire style lends itself to the thriller genre.
That said, some of the longer paragraphs could be more divided. For example, the one beginning “They executed….” I’d like to see a new paragraph start with, “The men in black military fatigues…” We are switching attention from the executed to the executioners, and this would be a good place for a paragraph break.
I wasn’t sure who was meant by “Pointed at them.” Who? Maybe change to “Pointed at his comrades.”
I started to get confused by the paragraph beginning with, “The wheel lock opened…” Three people are mentioned here and I wasn’t sure who was the translator at first. I think this could be made clearer. I’d start a new paragraph beginning with “The general…” And I might name the characters more quickly. Here’s my rewrite:
General Kornilov spoke in Russian to the translator, Colonel Grieg. The colonel turned to the Asian woman and said in heavily accented English, “General Kornilov wants to know if your men have checked the entire ship yet. He also thanks you again for agreeing to meet him here for the exchange, Ms. Mochizuki.”
You mention that the Asian woman speaks with an American accent. Is this necessary? Is she American? Yet she’s Asian. And the other guys are speaking Russian and accented English. It gets confusing.
Also, the second time you mention “the redhead”, I’d rather you say “the redheaded man or soldier.” I tend to think of redheads as being female.
By the third “Racket. Fall. Bleeding,” I am getting tired of this phrase and I’m ready for the language to have a more natural flow.
More importantly, whose viewpoint are we in? An omniscient presence hovering over this scene? While the action holds my interest and I get the gist of what’s going on, I’m yearning to be in someone’s head and to experience this emotionally from a viewpoint character. In other words, emotional impact is missing.
In the best thrillers where the story starts with a prologue and someone dies, the writer immediately puts you into a character’s viewpoint so that you feel their horror as they face the last minutes of their life. Thus you care as a reader about what happens to them. Action without reaction is merely plot.
What if you have the trio on deck during the initial executions? What if we’re in the general’s head? We’d experience his cold sweat, his twisted gut, his fear of discovery. With this emotional investment, we’d be eager to see who would bring down this Asian woman after she kills him.
It’s a great beginning, but it could be even better if the reader identifies with one of the victims. Or you could even make the viewpoint character one of the soldiers who is sickened by what he has to do and what he sees.
This sounds like an exciting story, and after this engaging opening, I’d certainly be curious to read more.