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Valhalla rising, p.26
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       Valhalla Rising, p.26

           Clive Cussler
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  26

  Admiral Sandecker stood at a podium and fielded questions thrown at him by the news media. If there was one thing the admiral was not, it was a media narcissist. Though he always had good relations with press and TV reporters and often enjoyed their company on a one-to-one basis, he simply was not at home in the spotlight, nor was he comfortable evading or dancing around probing inquiries. There were times when Sandecker was simply too honest and outspoken for bureaucratic Washington.

  After forty minutes of hard questions about NUMA's role in the investigation of the tragic loss of the Emerald Dolphin, Sandecker was thankful that the news conference was winding down.

  "Can you tell us what your people found inside the wreck during their probe with the submersible?" asked a nationally recognized female TV reporter.

  "We believe we have found evidence suggesting that the fire was deliberately caused," replied Sandecker.

  "Can you describe the evidence?"

  "What looks like an incendiary material was found in the area where the ship's crew reported the fire started."

  "Have you identified this substance?" asked a reporter from the Washington Post.

  "It's over at the FBI lab as we speak," Sandecker hedged. "They should have results shortly."

  "What can you tell us about the terrorist hijacking of your survey vessel, the Deep Encounter'?" This from a reporter with CNN.

  "Not much that you already don't know from previous reports. I wish I could tell you why criminal elements hijacked a NUMA ship, but unfortunately none of the pirates responsible lived to tell the tale."

  A woman in a blue suit from ABC News raised her hand. "How did your NUMA crew manage to destroy the pirate ship and everyone on board?"

  The question had to come, and Sandecker had prepared himself for it. As much as he hated to, he lied to protect the NUMA scientists and ships' crew from being labeled killers. "As near as we can tell, one of the hijackers guarding the entrance to the lagoon fired a missile in the dark at the Deep Encounter. He missed and the missile struck the pirate ship."

  "What happened to the guard?" the woman persisted. "Didn't he live to be arrested?"

  "No, he accidentally died during a struggle with my special projects director, who was attempting to stop him from firing a second missile at our survey ship."

  A reporter from the Eos Angeles Times caught Sandecker's attention. "Do you know what possible connection there might be between the two incidents?"

  Sandecker threw up his hands and shrugged. "It's a mystery to me. You'll probably have better luck finding answers from the FBI and CIA during their ongoing investigation."

  The L.A. Times reporter motioned for one more question, and Sandecker nodded.

  "Would that be the same NUMA special projects director who was in on the rescue of the twenty-five hundred people on the Emerald Dolphin, who saved your survey vessel from being destroyed, and who saved the lives of those disabled children in New York yesterday during the dogfight?"

  "Yes," Sandecker said proudly. "His name, as you already know, is Dirk Pitt."

  The woman in the back of the room shouted the next question. "Do you think there is a connection-?"

  "No, I do not." Sandecker cut her off. "And please don't ask me any more questions on that subject because I haven't talked to Mr. Pitt since the incident, and I only know what I read in your newspapers and see on your television news programs." He paused, stepped back from the podium and raised his hands. "Ladies and gentlemen, that's all I know. Thank you for your courtesy."

  Hiram Yaeger was waiting in Sandecker's outer office when the admiral returned. Dr. Egan's old leather case was sitting on the floor beside his chair. He had a fondness for the old case and had begun using it to take his workload home because it was larger and more square than the common briefcase. He rose and followed Sandecker through the door.

  "What have you got for me?" asked Sandecker, sitting at his desk.

  "I thought you might like an update on the CIA's dive project on the hijackers' ship," he said, opening the case and removing a file folder.

  Sandecker stared at Yaeger over a pair of reading glasses, his eyebrows arched. "Where did you get your information? The CIA has given out nothing yet. I know for a fact they've only been diving on the wreck"-he paused to glance at his watch-"for the past ten hours."

  "The project manager insists on running a constant data program every hour. You might say that we'll know what they've discovered almost as soon as they will."

  "If they find out Max is hacking secret CIA files, we'll catch twenty different kinds of hell."

  Yaeger grinned deviously. "Believe me, Admiral, they'll never know. Max is gaining the data from the salvage ship's computer before it's cryptogrammed and sent on for analysis at their headquarters at Langley."

  Now it was Sandecker's turn to grin deviously. "So tell me what Max found."

  Yaeger opened the file folder and began reading. "The hijackers' boat was identified as a one-hundred-thirty-five-foot crew/utility work boat built by the Hogan and Lashere Boat Yard of San Diego, California. She was designed to service the offshore oil industry in Indonesia. She was considered to have great flexibility and speed."

  "Did they establish who owned her?" asked Sandecker.

  "She was last registered to Barak Oil Company, a subsidiary of Colexico."

  "Colexico," Sandecker echoed. "I thought they ceased to exist after they were bought out and shut down."

  "A situation that didn't go down •well with the Indonesian government when their main source of oil income disappeared."

  "Who acquired Colexico?"

  Yaeger gazed at him and smiled. "Colexico was taken over and disbanded by the Cerberus Corporation."

  Sandecker leaned back in his chair, a smug expression on his face. "I'd like to see Charlie Davis's face when he hears this."

  "There won't be a direct tie-in," said Yaeger. "Ownership of the boat was never transferred. A check through our own library finds no trace of the boat from 1999 to the present. And it's extremely unlikely the hijackers kept any evidence leading to Cerberus on the boat."

  "Have the CIA salvage people identified any of the hijackers yet?"

  "There's not much left of the bodies to ID, and the guard at the lagoon entrance went out to sea with the tide. As Dirk suspected, dental records and fingerprints will probably find that those guys were former Special Forces warriors who took discharge and went to work as mercenaries."

  "A common occurrence with the military these days."

  "Unfortunately, there's more money to be made outside than inside."

  "Has Max come up with any theories on what possible motives the directors of Cerberus could have for committing mass murder?"

  "She can't create a scenario that makes sense."

  "Perhaps Dr. Egan is the key," Sandecker said pensively.

  "I'll put Max to work on researching the good doctor's life."

  Yaeger returned to his vast computer department and sat down at his keyboard. He called up Max and sat there staring into nothingness while she appeared in holographic form and waited. Finally, he looked up at her over his console.

  "Anything happen while I was with the admiral?"

  "The salvage divers reported finding virtually nothing relating to the pirate crew. No personal effects, no notebooks, nothing except their clothes and weapons. Whoever was in charge of the hijacking operation was a master of the cover-up."

  "I'd like to take you off that project and have you do an in-depth biography on Dr. Elmore Egan."

  "The scientist?"

  "The same."

  "I'll see what I can find that goes beyond the normal bio."

  "Thank you, Max."

  Yaeger felt tired. He decided to leave and go home early. He had been neglecting his family since he became immersed in the Dolphin Incident, as it was becoming known. He decided to take his wife and two daughters out for dinner and a movie. He set the leather case on an open space of the conso
le and opened it to deposit some files and papers inside.

  Yaeger was not a man who startled easily. He was known as being as calm and laid-back as a bloodhound. But what he saw stunned him down to his socks. Cautiously, as if he were reaching into a bear trap, he dipped his hand inside the case. He rubbed the substance he encountered between his thumb and forefinger.

  "Oil," he muttered to himself, staring blankly at the liquid that half filled the leather case. It's not possible, he thought in confusion. The case had not been out of his hands since he'd left Sandecker's office.

  27

  Kelly drove up Highway 9 on the west bank of the Hudson River. The day was soggy, with wind gusts throwing sheets of rain against the car. She handled the Jaguar XK-R hardtop sports car easily over the wet pavement. With a 370-horsepower supercharged engine under the hood and computer-activated suspension and traction control under the chassis, she didn't hesitate to propel the car at speeds far above the posted limit.

  Pitt relaxed in the soft leather passenger's seat and enjoyed the drive, his eyes occasionally shifting to the left and marking the needle on the speedometer. He wanted to trust Kelly's driving abilities, but he hadn't known her long enough to know how sharp they were in the rain. To Pitt's relief, the traffic was light on an early Sunday morning. He relaxed and returned to watching the countryside roll by. The rocky land above the palisades was green, and forested with tall trees so thick he could rarely see for more than a quarter of a mile except when they opened up into farm fields.

  He must have counted two dozen antique shops before Kelly turned right on a narrow asphalt road not far above Stony Point, New York. They passed several picturesque houses with flower gardens and well-manicured lawns. The road curved like a snake and finally ended at a gate that cut across the middle. It was not what one would expect in such a rural atmosphere. The tall rock walls leading from the gate looked rustic enough, despite their ten-foot height. But the gate was a steel-barred affair that would have stopped a speeding semi-truck and trailer loaded with lead. Two television cameras sat atop high poles opposite the road twenty yards behind the gate. The only way to put them out of operation was with well-aimed rifle bullets.

  Kelly leaned out her window and punched a code in a box embedded in a rock pillar beside the road. Then she took a remote from the glove compartment and punched in another code. Only then did the gates slowly swing open. Once the car was through, they closed quickly so another vehicle behind could not have followed the Jaguar inside.

  "Your father was certainly security conscious. His system is much more elaborate than mine."

  "We're not through his security just yet. You can't see them, but there are four guards."

  The road meandered through fields of corn, alfalfa and grain. They were passing between a vineyard thick with grapevines when a large barricade suddenly popped up in front of the car. Kelly was aware of the obstacle and had begun to slow down. The minute she stopped, a man stepped out of a large tree trunk with an automatic rifle, leaned down and peered inside the car.

  "Always good to see you, Miss Egan."

  "Hello, Gus. How's the baby girl?"

  "We threw her out with the bathwater."

  "How very wise of you." She motioned ahead toward a house that was barely visible through a copse of trees. "Is Josh here?"

  "Yes, ma'am," answered the guard. "Mr. Thomas hasn't left the premises since your father died. I'm real sorry. He was a fine man."

  "Thank you, Gus."

  "Have a nice day." Almost before the guard finished speaking, he had melted back into the tree trunk again.

  Pitt looked at her questioningly. "What was all that about throwing the baby out with the bathwater?"

  "A code," Kelly explained with a smile. "Had I asked about his baby boy instead of girl, he'd have known I was being held hostage and shot you dead before alerting the other three guards."

  "Did you grow up in this environment?"

  Kelly laughed. "Oh my heavens, no. There was no need for security when I was a little girl. My mother died when I was ten, and because of Dad's long hours and dedication to his work, he thought it best if I move to the city and live with my aunt. So I grew up on the sidewalks of New York."

  Kelly stopped the Jaguar in a circular drive in front of a large two-story Colonial house with tall columns around the front porch. Leaving the car, Pitt followed her up the steps to a large double door carved with the images of Vikings.

  "What's the significance?"

  "Nothing enigmatic. Dad loved to study Viking history. It was only one of his many passions besides his work." She held up a key but punched the doorbell. "I could let myself in, but I'd rather alert Josh."

  In half a minute, a bald-headed man in his early sixties opened the door. He was wearing a vest with a striped shirt and bow tie. The remaining hair was gray, and he had the limpid blue eyes of someone who was constantly lost in thought. He wore a neatly clipped gray mustache beneath a long, rounded nose, reddened by a constant supply of alcohol.

  At seeing Kelly, he broke into a wide smile, stepped forward, and swept her in his arms. "Kelly, how wonderful to see you." Then he rased her back and his face clouded with sorrow. "I'm so sorry about Elmore. It must have been horrible seeing him die."

  "Thank you, Josh," said Kelly quietly. "I know what a shock it must have been for you."

  "I never expected him to go, not that way. My greatest fear was they would do him mortal harm."

  Pitt made a mental note to ask Josh Thomas who they were. He reached out and shook the offered hand as Kelly introduced them. The grip was not as firm as Pitt would have liked. But Thomas seemed like an affable man.

  "Happy to meet you. Kelly told me a great deal about you over the phone. Thank you for saving her life, not once but twice."

  "I'm only sorry I couldn't have helped Dr. Egan, too."

  Thomas's face reflected agonized grief, and he put his arm around Kelly's shoulders. "And Mary. What a wonderful lady. Why would anybody want to kill her?"

  "She is a great loss for us both," Kelly said grievously.

  "Kelly has told me you were very close to her father," said Pitt, trying to get off the subject of death.

  Thomas motioned them inside. "Yes, yes, Elmore and I worked together off and on for more than forty years. He was the smartest man I've ever known. He'd have given Einstein and Tesla a run for their money. Mary was brilliant in her own right. If she hadn't loved flying so much, she might have been a first-rate scientist."

  Thomas led them into the comfortable living room decorated with Victorian furniture and offered them a glass of wine. He returned in a few minutes with a tray, holding a bottle of Chardonnay and three glasses. "I feel odd, entertaining Kelly in her own house."

  "It will be a while before the estate is settled," said Kelly. "In the meantime, consider it your home." She held up her glass. "Cheers."

  Pitt stared at the wine inside the glass as he spoke. "Tell me, Mr. Thomas, what was Dr. Egan working on when he died?"

  Thomas looked at Kelly, who nodded. "His big project was the design and development of a proficient and reliable magnetohydrody-namic engine." He paused and looked Pitt in the eye. "Kelly tells me you're a marine engineer with NUMA."

  "Yes, that's right." Pitt had a vague feeling that Thomas was shielding something.

  "Then she's told you Dr. Egan was on the Emerald Dolphin's maiden voyage because the engines he created and whose construction he supervised were mounted in the cruise ship."

  "Kelly made me aware of it. But what I would like to know is what Dr. Egan's contribution was. Magnetohydrodynamic engines have been in the experimental state for twenty years. The Japanese built a ship using the same propulsion principles."

  "True, but it was not efficient. The ship was slow and never became commercially efficient. Amazingly, Elmore created a successful source of power that would revolutionize the field of maritime propulsion. He designed the engines almost from scratch in a little over two years. An
amazing achievement, considering that he worked alone. The research and development should have taken over a decade, but he built a working model in less than five months. Elmore's experimental units went far beyond any MHD technology. They were self-sustaining."

  "I explained to Dirk how Dad's engines were able to use seawater as a source for fuel, which created the energy source to pump the water through thrusters," said Kelly.

  "As revolutionary as the idea was," Thomas continued, "the first engines did not function properly and would burn out from the extremely high rate of friction buildup. I went to work with Elmore to solve the problem. Between us, we came up with a new formula for oil that would not break down under extreme heat and friction. This threw open the door for engines that could operate indefinitely without breaking down."

 
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