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Iris Johansen, Roy Johansen

Silent Thunder

For Iva Beatrice Needham

mother and grandmother

celebrating a landmark birthday…

celebrating her eternal place in our hearts

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

No one knows submarines better than the brave men and women who spend months at (and under the) sea on the vessels, and their input was vital to the story, atmosphere, and very concept of this book. Special thanks to Captain Third Rank Igor Kolosov, former staff officer of the Russian submarine fleet in Vladivostok. His patience and kindness were nothing short of monumental as he shared his years of experience with us.

On the other side of the Cold War, we also owe a debt of gratitude to David H. Stryker, USN (Ret.), former executive officer of the USS Will Rogers. A chance meeting in Poland became a valuable resource for the technology-and psychology-of underwater warfare.

PROLOGUE

HELSINKI

SEPTEMBER 21

Kirov!

No, it couldn't be Kirov, Jennings thought frantically, as he ran down the dock. Kirov was dead. Pavski had given him his word that the stories were all lies. He'd laughed and said that a ghost couldn't kill.

And the person behind him was no ghost. It didn't have to be Kirov. Jennings had made a lot of enemies in his life, and any one of them might be the man behind him.

But there was no one behind him now. A quick glance behind him revealed an empty dock. His heart slowed as he drew a deep, relieved breath. He'd lost him. Maybe it had only been a thief. Yes, that was it. It was a lousy section of town, and the man had just targeted his wallet.

Not his life.

He shouldn't have panicked. But after he'd heard about Lantz's death, his nerves had been on edge. He'd be glad to be done with this business. His pace slowed as he approached the pier where the sub was moored. The Silent Thunder lay still and lethal as if crouching, waiting for prey, waiting to take another life.

Prey. He tried to suppress the shiver that went through him. He only had to get on the sub and do what Pavski had asked him to do. Nothing was going to happen. It was no more a death ship than Kirov was a ghost.

But, God, he didn't want to go on that sub, he thought desperately as he reached the end of the block. He should have never listened to Pavski and stayed undercover. No amount of money was worth this-

A leather noose slipped around his neck from behind!

Pain. He struggled wildly to turn his head to see the man who had stepped out of the shadows. He only had an impression of height and broad shoulders as he started to black out. He couldn't breathe…

The garrote tightened around his neck.

The sub…

He could see the Silent Thunder before him, patiently waiting, ready to take him to hell as it had all the others. His vision was fading, and he could see nothing but that monster of a sub. He was going to die, he realized incredulously. No! He struggled harder.

'Stop it.' The order was a soft murmur in his ear. 'I don't want to kill you yet. They say you might still be useful.'

Kirov. My God. Damn you, Pavski. Lies. Lies. Lies.

Kill the bastard. His hand closed on the knife holstered on his left arm.

'Well, actually I do want to kill you now,' Kirov said. 'Thank you for giving me the excuse.'

He twisted the garrote, jerked backward, and broke his victim's neck.

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 twentytwo years. Officially 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.'

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