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       Blue Gold, p.1

           Clive Cussler
 
Blue Gold


  Clive Cussler, “a master of building suspense and tension” (Richmond Times-Dispatch), introduced Kurt Austin in the marvelous New York Times bestseller Serpent

  “It’s all great fun . . . . Plenty of hair-raising derring-do and a convivial cast of characters engaged in an outlandishly hatched thrill ride.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “As always, Cussler twists fact and fiction into a rope of tension that will leave you dangling until the last page.”

  —Tulsa World (OK)

  “Fun . . . . In the tradition of Pitt, there’s a lot of underwater excitement . . . . Just right for the beach.”

  —The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

  “Endless excitement, nonstop action, and quite a degree of entertainment . . . The characters add to the overall fun . . . . A pleasurable thriller that will entice fans of action tales to want many more novels from the NUMA files.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  “Simply terrific fun.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  “Many twists and turns of the devious plot . . . certainly will delight mystery fans . . . . So convincing and dramatic is the description of the collision between the Stockholm and the Andrea Doria that one might think the authors were passengers aboard the ill-fated ship.”

  —The Cape Codder

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  Contents

  Acknowledgments

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  Thanks to pilots Bill Along, Carl Scrivener, and “Barefoot” Dave Miller, who gave so generously of their time and expertise.

  Prologue

  1991

  São Paulo Airport, Brazil

  WITH A POWERFUL KICK from its twin turbofan engines, the sleek executive jet lifted off the runway and shot into the vaulted skies above São Paulo. Climbing rapidly over the biggest city in South America, the Learjet soon reached its cruising altitude of thirty-nine thousand feet and raced toward the northwest at five hundred miles an hour. Seated in a comfortable rear-facing chair at the back of the cabin, Professor Francesca Cabral peered wistfully out the window at the cottony cloud cover, already missing the smog-cloaked streets and sizzling energy of her hometown. A muffled snort from across the narrow aisle interrupted her musings. She glanced over at the snoring middle-aged man in the rumpled suit and wondered with a shake of her head what her father was thinking when he assigned Phillipo Rodriques as her bodyguard.

  Extracting a folder from her briefcase, she jotted notes in the margins of the speech that she planned to deliver at an international conference of environmental scientists in Cairo. She had gone over the draft a dozen times, but her thoroughness was entirely in character. Francesca was a brilliant engineer and a highly respected professor, but in a field and society dominated by males, a female scientist was expected to be more than perfect.

  The words blurred on the pages. The night before Francesca was up late packing and pulling together scientific papers. She had been too excited to sleep. Now she cast an envious glance at the snoozing bodyguard and decided to take a nap. She set the speech aside, pushed the back of her thick-cushioned seat into its reclining position, and closed her eyes. Lulled by the throaty whisper of the turbines, she soon dozed off.

  Dreams came. She was floating on the sea, gently rising and falling like a jellyfish buoyed by soft billows. It was a pleasant sensation until one wave lifted her high in the air and dropped like a runaway elevator. Her eyelids fluttered open, and she looked around the cabin. She had an odd feeling, as if someone had grabbed at her heart. Yet all seemed normal. The haunting strains of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “One Note Samba” played softly over the sound system. Phillipo was still out cold. The sense that something was amiss would not go away. She leaned over and gently shook the sleeping man’s shoulder. “Phillipo, wake up.”

  The bodyguard’s hand went to the holster under his jacket, and he came instantly awake. When he saw Francesca he relaxed.

  “Senhora, I’m sorry,” he said with a yawn. “I fell asleep.”

  “I did, too.” She paused as if she were listening. “Something isn’t quite right.”

  “What do you mean?”

  She laughed nervously. “I don’t know.”

  Phillipo smiled with the knowing expression of a man whose wife has heard burglars in the night. He patted her hand. “I will go see.”

  He got up and stretched, then went forward and knocked on the cockpit door. The door opened, and he stuck his head through. Francesca heard a murmured conversation and laughter.

  Phillipo was beaming broadly when he returned. “The pilots say everything is okay, Senhora.”

  Francesca thanked the bodyguard, settled back in her seat, and took a deep breath. Her fears were foolish. The prospect of being freed from her mental meat grinder after two years of exhausting work had given her the jitters. The Project had consumed her, drained the hours from her days and nights, and demolished her social life. Her gaze fell on the divan that stretched across the rear of the cabin, and she resisted the impulse to see if her metal suitcase was still safely stored in the space behind the sofa cushions. She liked to think of the valise as a reverse Pandora’s box. Instead of evil, good things would pour out when it was opened. Her discovery would bring health and prosperity to millions, and the planet would never be the same again.

  Phillipo brought Francesca a cold bottle of orange juice. She thanked him, thinking she had grown to like her bodyguard in the short time she had known him. With his wrinkled brown suit, balding pepper-and-salt hair, thin mustache, and round spectacles, Phillipo could have passed for an absentminded academic. Francesca couldn’t know that he had spent years perfecting the shy, bumbling manner. His carefully cultivated ability to merge into the background like faded wallpaper made him one of the top undercover agents in the Brazilian secret service.

  Rodriques had been handpicked by her father. Francesca initially balked at her father’s insistence that a bodyguard accompany her. She was far too old to have a baby-sitter. When she saw his genuine concern for her welfare, she went along. She suspected her father was more worried about good-looking fortune hunters than for her safety.

  Even without her family’s wealth, Francesca would have drawn male attention. In a land of dark hair and smoky complexions, she was a standout. Her blue-black almond-shaped eyes, long lashes,
and almost perfect mouth were the legacy of her Japanese grandfather. Her German grandmother had passed along her light brown hair, her height genes, and the Teutonic stubbornness of the delicately sculpted jaw. Her shapely figure, she decided long ago, had something to do with living in Brazil. Brazilian women seem to have bodies especially designed for the country’s national dance, the samba. Francesca had improved on the natural model by many hours spent in the gym where she went to relieve the tension of her work.

  Grandfather had been a minor diplomat when the Empire of Japan ended under twin mushroom clouds. He stayed on in Brazil, married the daughter of a Third Reich ambassador similarly unemployed, became a Brazilian citizen, and switched to his first love, gardening. He moved the family to São Paulo, where his landscape company served the rich and powerful. He developed close ties with influential government and military figures. His son, Francesca’s father, used those connections to move effortlessly to a highly placed position in the commerce department. Her mother was a brilliant engineering student who put her academic career aside to become a wife and mother. She never regretted her decision, at least not openly, but she was delighted that Francesca would choose to follow in her academic footsteps.

  Her father had suggested that she fly on his executive jet to New York, where she would meet with United Nations officials before boarding a commercial flight to Cairo. She was glad to get back to the States, if only for a short visit, and wished she could make the plane move faster. The years she had spent studying engineering at Stanford University in California would always be pleasant memories. She glanced out the window and realized she had no idea where they were. The pilots hadn’t reported on the flight’s progress since the plane left São Paulo. Excusing herself to Phillipo, she went forward and stuck her head in the cockpit.

  “Bom dia, senhores. I was wondering where we are and how much longer we’ll be in the air.”

  The pilot was Captain Riordan, a rawboned American with crew-cut straw-colored hair and a Texas accent. Francesca had never seen him before, but that wasn’t surprising. Nor was the fact that Riordan was a foreign national. Although the plane was privately owned it was maintained by a local airline that supplied pilots.

  “Bowanis deeyass,” he said with a lopsided grin, his Chuck Yeager drawl and butchered Portuguese grating on her ears. “Sorry for not keeping you up to date, miss. Saw you were sleeping and didn’t want to disturb you.” He winked at the copilot, a thickset Brazilian whose overmuscled physique suggested he spent a lot of time pumping iron. The copilot smirked as his eyes roved over Francesca’s body. Francesca felt like a mother who had come upon two mischievous boys about to play a prank.

  “What’s our timetable?” she said in a businesslike manner.

  “Waall, we’re over Venezuela. We should be in Miami in approximately three hours. We’ll stretch our legs while we refuel and should be in New York about three hours after that.”

  Francesca’s scientific eye was drawn to the screens on the instrument panel. The copilot noticed her interest and couldn’t resist the chance to impress a beautiful woman.

  “This plane is so smart it can fly itself while we watch the soccer games on TV,” he said, showing his big teeth.

  “Don’t let Carlos blow smoke up your flue,” the pilot said. “That’s the EFIS, the electronic flight instrument system. The screens take the place of the gauges we used to use.”

  “Thank you,” Francesca said politely. She pointed to another gauge. “Is that a compass?” she said.

  “Sim, sim,” the copilot said, proud of his successful tutelage.

  “Then why does it indicate we’re going almost due north?” she said with a furrowed brow. “Shouldn’t we be heading in a more westerly direction toward Miami?”

  The men exchanged glances. “You’re quite observant, senhora,” the Texan said. “Absolutely right. But in the air a straight line isn’t always the fastest way between two points. Has to do with the curvature of the earth. Like when you fly from the U.S. to Europe the shortest way is up and around in a big curve. We’ve also got to deal with Cuban airspace. Don’t want to get ol’ Fidel all haired up.”

  The quick wink and smirk again.

  Francesca nodded appreciatively. “Thank you for your time, gentlemen. It’s been most instructive. I’ll let you get back to your work.”

  “No bother, ma’am. Any time.”

  Francesca was fuming as she took her seat. Fools! Did they think she was an idiot? The curvature of the earth indeed!

  “Everything’s okay, like I said?” Phillipo asked, looking up from the magazine he was reading.

  She leaned across the aisle and spoke in a low, even tone. “No, everything is not okay. I think this plane is off-course.” She told him about the compass reading. “I felt something odd in my sleep. I think it was the shifting of the plane as they changed direction.”

  “Maybe you’re mistaken.”

  “Perhaps. But I don’t think so.”

  “Did you ask the pilots for an explanation?”

  “Yes. They gave me some absurd story saying the shortest distance between two points was not a straight line because of the curvature of the earth.”

  He raised an eyebrow, apparently surprised by the explanation, but he still wasn’t convinced. “I don’t know . . . ”

  Francesca pondered some other inconsistencies. “Do you remember what they said when they came on board, about being replacement pilots?”

  “Sure. They said the other pilots were called off on another job. They took their place as a favor.”

  She shook her head. “Peculiar. Why did they even bring it up? It’s as if they wanted to head off any questions I might have. But why?”

  “I have had some experience in navigation,” Phillipo said thoughtfully. “I will go see for myself.” He sauntered up to the cockpit again. She heard male laughter, and after a few minutes he came back with a smile on his face. The smile faded as he sat down.

  “There’s an instrument in the cockpit that shows the original flight plan. We are not following the blue line as we should be. You were right about the compass, too,” he said. “We are not on the correct course.”

  “What in God’s name is going on, Phillipo?”

  A grave expression came onto his face. “There was something your father didn’t tell you.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  Phillipo glanced toward the closed cockpit. “He had heard things. Nothing that would persuade him you were in danger, but enough so that he would like the reassurance of knowing I would be nearby if you needed help.”

  “Looks like we could both use some help.”

  “Sim, senhora. But unfortunately we must do for ourselves.”

  “Do you have a gun?” she said abruptly.

  “Of course,” he said, faintly amused at the hard-nosed question from this beautiful and cultured woman. “Would you like me to shoot them?”

  “I didn’t mean—no, of course not,” she said glumly. “Do you have any ideas?”

  “A gun is not just for shooting,” he said. “You can use it for intimidation, use its threat to make people do things they don’t want to do.”

  “Like pointing us in the right direction?”

  “I hope, senhora. I will go forward. I will ask them politely to land at the nearest airport, saying it is your wish. If they refuse I will show them my gun and say I would not like to use it.”

  “You can’t use it,” Francesca said with alarm. “If you put a hole in the plane at this altitude, it would depressurize the cabin, and we’d all be dead within seconds.”

  “A good point. It will increase their fear.” He took her hand and squeezed it. “I told your father I would watch out for you, senhora.”

  She shook her head as if it would make the situation go away. “What if I’m wrong? That these are innocent pilots doing their job?”

  “Simple,” he said with a shrug. “We call ahead on the radio, we land at the nearest airport, we b
ring in the police, we straighten things out, then we resume our trip.”

  They cut their conversation short. The door to the cockpit had opened, and the captain stepped into the cabin. He ambled forward, having to bend his head because of the low overhead.

  “That was some joke you just told us,” he said with his crooked grin. “Got any more?”

  “Sorry, senhor,” Phillipo said.

  “Waall, I got one for you,” the pilot replied. Riordan’s droopy, heavy-lidded eyes gave him a sleepy look. But there was nothing sluggish about the way he reached behind his back and produced the pistol he had tucked in his belt.

  “Hand it over,” he said to Phillipo. “Real slow.”

  Phillipo gingerly opened his jacket wide so the shoulder holster was in plain view, then extracted his gun by the tips of his fingers. The pilot stuck the gun in his belt.

  “Grazyeass, amigo,” he said. “Always nice to deal with a professional.” He sat on an armrest and with his free hand lit a cigarette. “Me and my partner have been talking, and we think maybe you’re on to us. Figured you were checking us out when you came up a second time, so we decided to lay it all out so there won’t be any misunderstandings.”

  “Captain Riordan, what is going on?” Francesca said. “Where are you taking us?”

  “They said you were smart,” the pilot said with a chuckle. “My partner never should have started bragging about the plane.” He blew twin plumes of smoke from his nostrils. “You’re right. We’re not going to Miami, we’re on our way to Trinidad.”

  “Trinidad?”

  “I hear it’s a real nice place.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “It’s like this, senyoreeta. There’s going to be a welcome party waiting for you at the airport. Don’t ask me who they are ’cause I don’t know. All’s I know is we’ve been hired to deliver you. Things were supposed to go nice and easy. We were going to tell you we had mechanical problems and needed to land.”

  “What happened to the pilots?” Phillipo asked.

  “They had an accident,” he said with a slight shrug. He ground the cigarette butt on the floor. “Here’s the situation, miss. You just stay put, and everything will be fine. As for you, cavaleiro, I’m sorry to get you in trouble with your bosses. Now I can tie you both up, but I don’t think you’d try anything foolish unless you can fly this plane yourselves. One more thing. Up, partner, and turn around.”

 
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