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Valhalla rising, p.21
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       Valhalla Rising, p.21

           Clive Cussler
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  He closed down that part of the memory as he had done so often in the past and stared at his reflection in the window. The eyes still radiated an intensity that had never dimmed, and yet there was a slight hint of age and weariness creeping into them. He wondered what it would be like to meet himself as he was twenty years ago. Suppose the young Dirk Pitt of two decades ago walked up and sat down next to him on a park bench. How would he receive the fresh young buck who had served with distinction as an Air Force pilot? Would he even recognize him? How would the youth see the old Dirk Pitt? Could he remotely foresee the wild adventures, agonizing heartbreaks and bloody encounters and injuries? The old Pitt doubted it. Would the young Pitt be repulsed at what he saw and shy away from what lay ahead, taking a totally different direction in their lives?

  Pitt turned back from the window, closed his eyes and put the vision of his youth and what-might-have-been out of his mind. Would he do it all over again if given the chance for a restart? For the most part, the answer was yes. Oh sure, he would have made a few alterations and fine-tuned different episodes of his life. But on the whole, it had been extremely satisfying and filled with achievement. He felt thankful simply to be alive, and let it go at that.

  His thoughts were interrupted by the bouncing of the plane as it hit turbulence. He complied when the FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELT light gonged on. He stayed awake and read magazines until the plane landed at the John Rodgers International Airport in Honolulu. He and Giordino were met by the pilot from NUMA who was to fly them to Washington. He escorted them to the carousels so they could pick up their luggage and then drove them to a turquoise-painted NUMA Gulfstream jet on the far side of the airport. When they took off, the sun was falling in the western sky and the blue was slowly turning black in the east.

  For most of the trip, Giordino slept like a zombie, while Pitt fitfully dozed off and on. When he woke, his mind began to work. Was his end of the Emerald Dolphin tragedy finished? There was little doubt that Admiral Sandecker would put him to work on a new project. He made up his mind to argue against that possibility. He decided he had to see the mystery through to its conclusion. Those who had caused the terrible fire of the cruise liner must pay. They had to be tracked down, their motives dissected and then punished.

  His mind slowly turned from the inhuman unpleasantness to the lure of sleeping in his own down-filled bed in his aircraft hangar apartment. He wondered if Congresswoman Loren Smith, his current lady love, would meet him after the plane landed, as she did so often. Loren, with her cinnamon hair and violet eyes. They had come so close to marriage on several occasions, but never quite got over the hump. Maybe now was the time. God only knows, thought Pitt, I can't be bounding all over the oceans and falling in a pit of devilment for many more years. Age, he knew, was creeping over his body like a layer of molasses, slowing it down infinitesimally, until one day he would wake up and say, My God, I'm eligible for Social Security and Medicare.

  "No!" he said aloud.

  Giordino awoke and looked at him. "Did you call?"

  Pitt smiled. "Talking in my sleep."

  Giordino shrugged, rolled to his side and reentered dreamland.

  No, Pitt thought silently this time. I'm not going out to pasture, not for a long while yet. There would always be another undersea project, another maritime investigation. There was no way he would quit until they closed the lid on his casket.

  When he woke up for the final time, the aircraft was touching down at Langley Air Force Base. The day was dark and rainy, the water streaking across the windows. The pilot taxied to the NUMA terminal and stopped just short of an open hangar. When Pitt stepped to the asphalt, he paused and looked toward the nearby parking lot. His hopes were in vain.

  Loren Smith was not there to greet him.

  Giordino went to his condo in Alexandria to clean up and call a bevy of his girlfriends to let them know he was back in circulation. Pitt postponed the comforts of home and took a NUMA jeep to the NUMA headquarters on the east hill overlooking the Potomac River. He parked the jeep in the underground parking lot and took the elevator up to the tenth floor, the domain of Hiram Yaeger, the agency's computer genius, who headed up a vast network. Yaeger's library contained every known scientific fact or historical event about the oceans since recorded history, and then some.

  Yaeger came out of Silicon Valley and had been with NUMA almost fifteen years. He looked like an old hippie, with his graying hair tied in a ponytail. His standard uniform for the day was a pair of Levi's, a Levi jacket and cowboy boots. Nobody knew it to look at him, but he lived in an elegantly designed house in a fashionable residential section of Maryland. He drove a BMW 740il, and his daughters were honor students and equestrian trophy-winners. He'd also created and designed a technically advanced computer named Max that was nearly human. He'd programmed photos of his wife into the holographic image that appeared when he talked to it.

  Yaeger was studying the latest results sent from a NUMA expedition off Japan that was drilling into the sea floor in a search of life under the silt in the fractured rock, when Pitt walked into his sanctum sanctorum.

  He looked up, then stood and smiled as he extended his hand. "Well, well, the scourge of the dismal deep is home again." He was taken aback at Pitt's appearance. The NUMA special projects director looked like a lost soul off the street. His shorts and flowered shirt were ratty, and he was wearing slippers over heavily bandaged feet. Despite several hours of sleep on the airplanes, his eyes looked tired and washed out. His face had over a week's growth of scraggly beard.

  This was clearly a man who had seen hard times. "For the man of the hour, you look like second-class roadkill."

  Pitt shook Yaeger's hand. "I came directly from the airport just to harass you."

  "I don't doubt it for a moment." He looked into Pitt's eyes with pure admiration. "I read the report about the incredible rescue performed by you and the Deep Encounter's, crew, followed up by your fight with the pirates. How do you become involved in so much havoc?"

  "It finds me," said Pitt, throwing up his hands in a modest gesture. "Seriously, the lion's share of the credit goes to the entire complement of the research ship, who worked like fiends in saving the passengers. And Giordino did most of the work in rescuing the crew of the survey ship."

  Yaeger well knew Pitt's aversion to words of praise and compliments. The guy was too self-conscious for his own good, Yaeger thought. He skipped over any more talk of the recent events and motioned for Pitt to sit down.

  "Have you seen the admiral yet? He has about fifty media interviews lined up for you."

  "I'm not ready to face the world just yet. I'll see him in the morning."

  "What brings you to my world of electronic manipulation?"

  Pitt laid Egan's leather case on Yaeger's desk and opened it. He unwrapped the object taken from the cruise liner and handed it to him. "I'd like to have this analyzed and identified."

  Yaeger examined the odd-shaped thing for a moment, then nodded. "I'll have the chemistry lab do a number on it. Unless it has a complicated molecular structure, I should have an answer for you in two days. Anything else?"

  Pitt passed over the videocassettes from the Abyss Navigator. "Computer-enhance and digitize these into three-dimensional images."

  "Can do."

  "One final thing before I head home." He laid a drawing on the desk. "Have you ever seen a company logo like this?"

  Yaeger examined Pitt's crude drawing of the three-headed dog with a snake for a tail and the word Cerberus beneath. He stared at Pitt queerly. "You don't know what outfit this is?"

  "No."

  "Where did you see it?"

  "It was covered up on the side of the pirates' work boat."

  "An oil rig work boat."

  "Yes, the same type," Pitt replied. "You're familiar with it?"

  "I am," replied Yaeger sagely. "You're opening a real can of worms if you connect the Cerberus Corporation with the hijacking of the Deep Encounter."

  "T
he Cerberus Corporation," Pitt said, uttering each syllable slowly. "How stupid of me. I should have known. The conglomerate owns most of the U.S. domestic oil fields, copper and iron mines, and its chemical division makes a thousand different products. It was the three-headed dog that threw me. I failed to make the connection."

  "All very relevant when you think about it."

  "Why a three-headed dog as a corporate logo?"

  "Each head stands for a division of the company," answered Yaeger. "One for oil, one for mining and the other for the chemistry division."

  "And the serpent's tail?" asked Pitt half facetiously. "Does that represent something dark and sinister?"

  Yaeger shrugged. "Who can say?"

  "What's the source for the dog?"

  "Cerberus . . . sounds Greek."

  Yaeger sat at his computer and typed on the keyboard. In a chamber just opposite his console, the face and figure of an attractive woman appeared in three dimensions. She was dressed in a one-piece bathing suit.

  "You called," she said.

  "Hello, Max. You know Dirk Pitt." The hazy brown eyes flicked from Pitt's feet to his face. "Yes, I am familiar with him. How are you, Mr. Pitt?"

  "Fair to middlin', as they say in Oklahoma. And you, Max, how are you?"

  The face changed to an angry pout. "This stupid bathing suit Hiram put on me. It doesn't flatter me at all."

  "Would you prefer something else?" asked Yaeger.

  "An elegant Armani suit, Andra Gabrielle lingerie, and high-heel, ankle-strap sandals by Tods would be nice."

  Yaeger smiled a cocky smile. "What color?"

  "Red," Max replied without hesitation.

  Yaeger's fingers flew in a blur over the computer keyboard. Then he sat back to admire his handiwork.

  Max faded for a few moments and then reappeared in an elegant red suit with blouse, jacket and skirt. "Much better," she said happily. "I hate to look mundane when I'm on the job."

  "Now that you're in a good mood, I would like you to produce data on a subject."

  Max ran her hands over her new outfit. "Just name it."

  "What can you tell me about Cerberus the three-headed dog?"

  "From Greek mythology," Max came back instantly. "Hercules- Latin for Herakles, as the Greeks called him-in a fit of temporary insanity murdered his own wife and children. The god Apollo ordered him to serve King Eurystheus of Mycenae for twelve years as punishment for his terrible act. As part of his sentence, Hercules had to perform twelve labors, feats so challenging they looked impossible. He had to overcome all sorts of hideous monsters, the most difficult being the submission of Cerberus, again Latin for the Greek Kerberos. This was the three-headed grotesque dog who guarded the gates of Hades and prevented the dead souls from escaping from the underworld. The three heads represented the past, present and future. What the serpent tail signified is not known to me."

  "Did Hercules destroy the dog?" asked Pitt.

  Max shook her head. "Near the gates of the Acheron River, one of five running into the underworld, he wrestled the monstrosity into submission after being bitten, not by the dog's jaws, but by the serpent on the tail. Hercules then took Cerberus to Mycenae and showed him off before returning him to Hades. That's about it in a nutshell, except that Cerberus's sister was Medusa, the hussy with snakes for hair."

  "What can you tell me about the Cerberus Corporation?"

  "Which one? There must be a dozen businesses around the world that go under the name Cerberus."

  "A widely diversified corporation that does business in oil, mining and chemistry."

  "Oh, that one," said Max, enlightened. "Have you got about ten hours?"

  "You have that much data on Cerberus?" Pitt asked, constantly amazed at Max's enormous library of information.

  "Not yet. But I will after I've entered their network and those of the companies who do business with them. Since their interests are international, various world governments must also have extensive files on them."

  Pitt looked at Yaeger suspiciously. "Since when is hacking into corporate networks legal?"

  Yaeger's expression took on that of a canny fox. "Once I give Max a command to search, far be it from me to interfere with her methods."

  Pitt rose from his chair. "I'll leave it to you and Max to come up with the answers."

  "We'll get to work on it."

  Pitt turned and gazed at Max. "So long for now, Max. You look stunning in that outfit."

  "Thank you, Mr. Pitt. I like you. A pity our circuits can't integrate."

  Pitt approached Max and extended his hand. It went through the image. "You never know, Max. Someday Hiram may be able to make you solid."

  "I hope so, Mr. Pitt," said Max in a husky voice. "Oh, how I hope so."

  The old aircraft hangar, built in the nineteen thirties for a long-since defunct airline, stood off in one corner of Ronald Reagan International Airport. The corrugated metal walls and roof were coated with orange/brown rust. Its few windows were boarded over, and the door to what once had been the office was weather-worn, with fading and peeling paint. The rounded roof structure sat at the end of an airport maintenance dirt road not far from a guard gate.

  Pitt parked the NUMA jeep in the weeds outside the hangar and paused at the entrance door. He glanced at the security camera atop a wooden pole on the other side of the road to see that it had stopped its swivel and was aimed directly at him. Then he punched a sequence of numbers, waited for a series of clicks inside the hangar and turned the brass latch. The ancient door swung open noiselessly. The interior was dark except for a few skylights above an upstairs apartment. He switched on the lights.

  The sudden effect was dazzling. Set off in their most elegant magnificence by the bright overhead lights, white walls and epoxy floor were three rows of beautifully restored classic automobiles. Sitting incongruously at the end of one row, but just as dazzling as the others, was a 1936 Ford hot rod. On one side of the hangar sat a World War II German jet fighter and a 1929 trimotor transport. Beyond was a turn-of-the-century railroad Pullman car, an odd-looking sailboat mounted on a rubber raft and a bathtub with an outboard motor attached on one end.

  The collection of automotive mechanical masterpieces of art represented events in Pitt's life. They were relics of his personal history. They were cherished, maintained by him and seen by only his closest friends. No one driving the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway past Ronald Reagan Airport who glanced at the obsolete aircraft hangar across the end of the runways could have imagined the incredible array of breathtaking artifacts inside.

  Pitt closed and locked the door. He took a brief tour, as he always did after returning home after an expedition. Several rainstorms in the past month had kept down the dust. Tomorrow, he told himself, he would run a soft cloth over the gleaming paint and remove the light coating of dust that had seeped inside the hangar while he was gone. Finishing his inspection, he climbed the antique iron circular staircase to his apartment that was perched above the main floor against the hangar's far wall.

  The interior of his apartment was just as unique as the eclectic transportation collection below. Here there were all sorts of nautical antiques. No self-respecting interior decorator would have set foot in the place, certainly none who endorsed clutter. The 1,100 square feet of living space that included the living room, bathroom, kitchen and a bedroom were crowded with objects from old ships sunk or scrapped. There was a large wooden-spoked helm from an ancient clipper ship, a compass binnacle from an old Orient tramp steamer, ships' bells, brass and copper divers' helmets. The furniture was an assemblage of antique pieces that came from ships that had sailed the seas in the nineteenth century. Ship models in glass cases sat on low shelves, while marine paintings of ships crossing the seas by the respected artist Richard DeRosset hung on the walls.

  After taking a shower and shaving, he made reservations at a small French restaurant that was only a mile from the hangar. He could have called Loren, but decided he wished to dine alone. Rel
ationships could come later, once he'd wound down. An enjoyable dinner alone and then a night in his large goosedown-mattress bed would serve to rejuvenate him to face the next day.

  After dressing, he had twenty minutes to kill before leaving for the restaurant. He took the slip of paper with Kelly's phone number on it and called her. After five rings, he was about to hang up, wondering why her voice mail didn't come on, when she finally answered.

 
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