Permission To Come Ashore
Thomas Calabrese — Catherine was the youngest child of Terrence Hill, a senior computer engineer at ViaVector Technologies in Carlsbad, California and grew up in San Marcos with her mother Julia and two older brothers, Louis and Alex. When her father developed a state of the art cyberterrorism software program that would prevent hackers and foreign countries from gaining access to crucial defense systems, ViaVector sold Panther (name of the program) to the United States Government for 1.1 billion dollars. As part of the three year contract Terrence Hill would be required to oversee the implementation of Panther at American facilities and military installations. He asked for a particular benefit before accepting the assignment; If he was going to be away from home for more than six weeks, four first class airline tickets would be made available so that his family would have the option to visit him at his location.
For the first couple years, his family took advantage of the free flights, traveling to Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. The traveling eventually lost its appeal as other commitments on the home front arose. When I say that the traveling lost its appeal, I need to clarify that statement; it lost its appeal to every member of the family except Catherine who would fly fifteen hours only to stay a few days and then return home and resume her normal activities without missing a beat. She had boundless curiosity, immense energy and an adventurous spirit, but as time progressed, Terrence and Julia Hill came to realize that their daughter might have some type of mental disorder because she was continually seeking out risky activities like hang gliding, sky diving and rock climbing and waiting until the last moment to accomplish routine tasks so as to put more pressure on herself.
After a conversation where they voiced their concerns, Terrence and Julia convinced their daughter to see a medical professional. Their family doctors referred them to a specialist in behavioral disorders and he ran a series of physical and mental tests on Catherine before coming up with his diagnosis. Doctor Albert Evans spoke to the concerned parents in his office at the Bressi Ranch Medical Center, “When we hear the word addiction, we normally think about drugs, alcohol or cigarettes; less discussed is adrenaline addiction: creating stress to get an energy rush.”
“Are you saying that Catherine has an adrenaline addiction?” Terrence asked.
“That is my diagnosis,” Doctor Evans responded.
“Is there some type of medication or treatment for it? Julia asked.
“I don’t recommend that.”
“Why is that?” Julia inquired.
“Because your daughter is not sick, this is just part of who she is. Catherine is highly intelligent, creative and happier than most teenagers her age and completely healthy. You try to alter her personality with chemicals and you’d be going down a dark and dangerous path,” Doctor Evans warned.
“You gave us your diagnosis, but what is your prognosis or let me put this way; what would you do if she was your daughter?” Terrence asked.
“I had a feeling that you were going to ask me that question,” Doctor Evans sighed,
“Exactly what you’re doing, protect her, but what I’d try to do or have to do is find ways to challenge her. I really don’t have any proven advice that I can promise will work; you’re going to deal with this situation on a day by day basis and find a way to live with it. Remember this is her life and not yours; Catherine will make the final decision on how she wants to live it.”
“Not exactly the answer we were looking for,” Julia shook her head in resignation.
“I don’t know if this is any consolation, but history has shown that people who take great risks often accomplish great things,” Doctor Evans smiled.
Over the next few years, Catherine continued with her risky activities while placing seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her path just so she could overcome them. Her family gradually learned to accept her lifestyle although they could never stopped worrying.
Terrence was sitting in the living room when Catherine came in after a day at the Perris Valley skydiving center, “Got a few minutes?”
“Sure dad,” Catherine responded and sat down across from her father.
“I know that you’re pretty content with your part-time jobs, but have you given any thought about a career?”
“I have, but I can’t picture myself doing the same thing over and over,” Catherine replied.
“I know, you might have to make a few compromises, but I was thinking about a job that would give you some flexibility, a good income and financial security…interested?”
“Absolutely!” Catherine smiled.
“At ViaVector we often hire people on a contract basis; three months, six months, nine months at a time. I could help you get your certificates and teach you everything about the Panther program. We’re expanding it into embassies and consulates around the world. That way you can determine how much and when you want to work,” Terrence said, “The big question is do you have an aptitude for this kind of work?”
“Let’s find out,” Catherine replied.
Terrence showed his daughter some of the projects that he was currently working on and gave her a couple of test problems to solve to see what if she had any potential. He loved his daughter and he didn’t want her wasting her time if it wasn’t going to lead anywhere.
Nine months later, after tripling up on her course load Catherine the obtained necessary certificates then passed the extensive technical test given by ViaVector. After several routine assignments locally she was sent to the Signonella Naval Base, home to numerous United States surveillance units on the picturesque island of Sicily to make routine upgrades her father’s signature program.
After three long months of working seven days a week Catherine completed her assignment and decided to spend several weeks traveling in Europe before heading back to California. She rented a car in Palermo and began driving north with her final destination being Switzerland where she intended to do some rock climbing than depart out of Geneva. She had been to Italy several times before so she made it a point to stop off in Portofino to have lunch at Risotorante da i Gemelli, one of her favorite restaurants in the country. Catherine sat on the outside patio that overlooked the harbor and savored her meal of linguini with vongole, a calamari salad and a glass of local vintage Prosecco (sparkling white wine). A mega-yacht pulled up to the dock and several men stepped off while armed guards positioned themselves along the deck. Catherine noticed the name Bozo of the vessel and laughed to herself.
Catherine was a seasoned world traveler, spoke seven different languages and made it a point to know the culture of any country that she was visiting so that she could blend in. Her father routinely reminded her that a single woman away from home had to be alert and cautious because she was basically on her own. If Catherine was going to be in a dangerous situation, it would be one of her own choosing and not one forced upon her. To her there was a distinct difference between being a risk-taker and being stupid and reckless. As an attractive athletic woman, she learned how to downplay her beauty by wearing a baseball cap pulled low over her forehead, no make-up and wore casual gender neutral clothing. The most important thing she learned about traveling in Italy was to avoid making direct eye contact with men who needed very little encouragement to approach her, but that didn’t mean she was unaware of her surroundings. Catherine had almost finished her meal and was looking at the mega-yacht when a man sat down at her table while his bodyguards hovered within arms’ reach.
“A beautiful woman should never dine alone,” The man said.
“Unless it is by her choice,” Catherine replied.
“I saw that you were looking at my yacht, I would be happy to give you an up close and personal tour.”
“This is close enough,” Catherine wanted to ask about the name Bozo, but did not want to extend the conversation any longer than necessary with her uninvited guest.
“Have a nice day,” The man got the hint and walked away.
That went much better that Catherine expected and she was pleased that he didn’t push the issue. She stayed a few more minutes then walked back to her rental car. Two men came up behind her and one of them put a gun in her back just as she opened the door and prepared to get in. “Not a sound, it is up to you whether you live or die.”
When Catherine turned around, she recognized the men as the bodyguards of the man who sat at her table. She cursed to herself that she didn’t look behind her to see if she was being followed, it was a rookie mistake and she knew better to be this unobservant. The two men led her up the rear gangplank of the mega yacht the brought her below deck. The man from the restaurant was sitting on the couch in the master cabin, “I have a problem with rejection. We’ll talk later. Welcome to the Bozo.”
The two bodyguards then led Catherine to the bottom deck and roughly pushed her into a cabin and locked the door behind her. As soon as Catherine saw four other young women inside, she had a pretty good idea what type of situation that she was in. After she talked to the other women; one who was French, one who was Croatian and the other two that were English on how they ended up on the yacht, she was convinced that the man was a human trafficker and she had just become a marketable commodity.
There were six cabins and four women were in each one and according to the English girl, the yacht had made stops at various ports and at each one girls were brought on board and others were taken off. Catherine found out from the Croatian girl about the name of the boat. “Bozo is a South Slavic masculine name,” The girl elaborated as she swallowed her fear, “Growing up in my small town of Korcula, I heard stories of Bozo Jerkoncic, I never thought I’d be one of his victims.”
While out to sea, the captive women were given work assignments and if they failed to perform; they were punished by being beaten or locked in solitary confinement. After two days aboard the yacht, Catherine was taken to a cabin where a video of her was taken. While being recorded, Catherine looked at the extensive computer equipment and watched the man at the computer. Her educated guess was that her images were being posted on the dark web for potential buyers to review.
“You shouldn’t be here long, American girls are in great demand,” The guard standing at the door snickered.
Catherine was assigned to work in the galley, cleaning up after Bozo Jerkoncic and his henchmen. She feigned weakness and fear, but in reality she was having an adrenaline rush as she mentally worked on her escape plan. While picking up the dishes and silverware, Catherine slipped a knife into her shoe. After she was taken back to her cabin and heard the lock turn behind her, she walked over to the porthole and began loosening the screws on the metal grate over it.
The English girl nervously commented, “They’ll kill you if they see you doing that.”
“Then I better not get caught,” Catherine replied without stopping. It took over an hour to remove all six screws. She removed the grate and set it on the floor and looked out the porthole. It was pitch black and the only illumination was from the running lights of the vessel. Catherine figured that she was 15 feet below the main deck and the side of the yacht was smooth except for several metal rivets that protruded three quarters of an inch and were about five feet away from each other.
“After I’m out, put the grate and screws back. I’ll do my best to come back for you,” Catherine promised and reached out for her first handhold. It was going to take immense strength and body control to keep from falling to the ocean below. Only her index, middle finger and thumb could grip the rivet and she would not only have to hold her entire body weight with only those three digits, but reach up with the other hand and pull herself up. By the time she reached the deck, her forearms were so tight that it took a couple minutes before she could straighten her fingers and get her arm muscles to relax.
She took cover behind a lifeboat and surveyed the area and determined that there were only two men on deck at this time, one on the bow and the other on the stern. Catherine assessed the situation and decided to go after the guard at the rear of the vessel. She quietly made her way to a concealed position that was several feet behind him and picked up a deck chair and smashed him in the back of the head. When he hit the deck, Catherine kicked him in the face several times until she was sure that he was unconscious. She took his weapon and rolled him over the side and he disappeared into the propeller backwash.
Catherine kept the assault weapon nestled in her shoulder and her index finger curled around the trigger of the assault rifle just in case she crossed paths with another guard as she headed below deck. She made it to the computer/video room without being noticed and Catherine and walked over to the computer terminal, sat down and quickly hacked into the system. . She didn’t know where their next destination was, but determined the yacht’s current position by accessing a GPS program. She sent several e-mails then returned to her cabin and unlocked the door. Catherine went over to the bed, tore the sheet into two foot lengths then turned for the Croatian girl, “Feel like helping?”
“Lead the way.”
“What about us?” The French girl inquired.
“Just stay here, we’ll be back.”
It was 2:30 am and most of the crew and guards were asleep in their quarters. Over the past four years, Bozo Jerkoncic and his men had traveled throughout Europe and Asia while enjoying the benefits from their nefarious business. They were predators and victimizers and never had any reason to fear their women captives. Things were different now. Catherine Hill was aboard ship and she was the antithesis of victimhood.
When Catherine and Aklina, the Croatian girl reached the bridge, there were only two men there. One was sound asleep in a chair and the other was dozing off at the helm as the yacht was set on auto-pilot. Catherine nudged the man at the helm with the muzzle of her weapon, “Wakey wakey.”
When the man saw the gun, he was startled. Catherine then gave the other man a hard kick to his shin and he yelled out, “What the hell!”
“Join the party,” Catherine leveled her weapon at him.
“You don’t actually think you can get away with this,” The man growled as he rubbed his leg.
“If I determine that; who do you think is going to be the first person I’m going to shoot… that would be you,” Catherine turned to Aklina, “Tie their hands behind their back, their ankles and gag them,” then handed her six lengths of the torn sheets. When Aklina had finished securing the two men, Catherine double-checked to make sure that the bonds were tight enough, “Very good, they’re not going anywhere.”
Catherine looked at the navigational equipment and digital map and quickly determined what needed to be done, “I need you to make a course correction to 190 degrees, do it very, very slowly, we don’t want to alert the crew and guards.”
“I can do that,” Aklina responded, “What are you going to do?”
“There are some people locked in their cabins, I’m going to let them out,” Catherine was gone in an instant.
Bozo Jerkoncic awakened to the sounds of sirens and loudspeakers and when he looked out over the water, he saw two United States Navy ships cruising beside his yacht. He immediately rushed on deck to find his crew and guards on their knees with the women pointing weapons at them. When he looked around, his eyes opened wide in shock and disbelief. Catherine had changed course so that the yacht went straight into the harbor of Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, home to U.S. Naval Forces Europe and the U.S. Sixth Fleet.
Bozo panicked and attempted to escape when the vessel got close to land and jumped to the pier. He had only taken a few steps when Catherine leaped from her position on the yacht and took the fleeing human trafficker down with a bone shattering tackle that would have made a professional football player envious. She pulled a bloodied Bozo to his feet as several naval officers and Interpol officials approached.
Catherine brushed off her clothes, “Permission to come ashore.”
“What the hell is going on?” An Interpol official inquired.
Catherine looked up at the women on deck who were no longer victims, gave them a salute of congratulations then quipped, “Mutiny On The Bozo.”
Epilogue — When Catherine Hill returned to the United States, she knew she had found her calling. She quit her job at ViaVector and began working for the International Justice Alliance, an anti-human trafficking organization. With her computer skills and physical abilities, she soon became a dreaded nemesis of traffickers around the world. Three years later, she organized her own strike team and recruited a select group of former elite warriors from Special Operations to assist her. Catherine still climbed mountains and jumped out of airplanes, but also got her adrenaline rush by saving lives and rescuing victims.