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Valhalla rising, p.27
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       Valhalla Rising, p.27

           Clive Cussler
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  "So the two of you developed a super oil," said Pitt.

  "Yes, you could call it that."

  "What would its advantages be if used in internal combustion engines?"

  "Theoretically, you could run an automobile engine two million miles or more before the internal workings required any repair," replied Thomas matter-of-facdy. "Heavy-duty diesel engines could conceivably operate efficientiy for ten million miles. Aircraft jet en-gines would especially benefit with longer life and less maintenance. The same for every industrial vehicle from forklifts to earthmovers."

  "Not to mention boat and ship-propulsion units," added Pitt.

  "Until new technology for energy is perfected that does not rely on moving parts," said Thomas, "our formula, which Elmore and I jokingly called Slick Sixty-six, will have enormous consequences for every mechanical power source that depends on oil for lubrication."

  "How expensive is it to refine and produce?"

  "Would you believe three cents a gallon more than normal motor oil?"

  "I don't imagine the oil companies will be particularly happy about your discovery. They could very well lose billions of dollars, even trillions over twenty years. Unless, of course, they buy your formula and market it themselves."

  Thomas shook his head slowly. "Never happen," he said decisively. "Elmore never intended to make a dime. He was going to give the formula to the world free of charge, no strings attached."

  "From what you've said, the formula was half yours. Did you also agree to contribute it to the common good?"

  Thomas uttered a quiet laugh. "I'm sixty-five years old, Mr. Pitt. I have diabetes, acute arthritis, an iron-overload disease called he-mochromatosis, and cancer of both the pancreas and liver. I'll be lucky to walk the earth five years from now. What would I do with a billion dollars?"

  "Oh, Josh," Kelly said despondently. "You never said . . ."

  He reached over and patted her hand. "Even your father had no inkling. I kept it from everyone until now, when it no longer matters." Thomas paused and picked up the wine bottle. "More wine, Mr. Pitt?"

  "Not quite yet, thank you."

  "Kelly?"

  "Yes, please. After what you've told me, I could use some courage."

  "I see you have heavy security," said Pitt.

  "Yes," acknowledged Thomas. "Elmore and I have had our lives threatened many times. I was wounded in the leg after a thief attempted to break into the laboratory."

  "Someone tried to steal your formula?"

  "Not just someone, but an entire industrial conglomerate."

  "Do you know who?"

  "The same corporation that threw Elmore and me out the door after twenty-five years of dedicated work."

  "You were both fired?"

  "At the time, Dad and Josh were still working to perfect the oil formula," replied Kelly. "The company's directors prematurely began making future plans to produce Super Slick and sell it with the goal of gaining enormous profits."

  "Elmore and I wouldn't hear of it," said Thomas. "We agreed that it was too vital for the human good to sell it only to those who could afford it. Foolishly, the directors thought their other chemists and engineers had enough data to produce it on their own, and they gave us our walking papers, threatening to sue us into the gutter if we attempted to complete the experiment on our own. Bodily harm and death were also veiled threats. But we went ahead anyway."

  "Do you believe it was your old company who tried to kill you and steal the formula?" asked Pitt.

  "Who else was aware of our work?" Thomas said, as if Pitt knew the answer. "Who else had the motive and stood to benefit? When they failed to find the key to our formula, their program became a disaster. Then they came after us."

  "Who are they?"

  "The Cerberus Corporation."

  Pitt felt as if he had been hit over the head with a mallet. " 'The Cerberus Corporation,' " he echoed.

  "You're familiar with it?" asked Thomas.

  "There is evidence that links them with the burning of the Emerald Dolphin."

  Surprisingly, Thomas did not appear shocked. "I would not put it past them," he said evenly. "The man who owns and controls the company will stop at nothing to protect his interests, even if it meant burning a cruise ship along with every man, woman and child on board."

  "He doesn't sound like somebody you'd want as an enemy. What about stockholders? Don't they have a clue about what's going on under the table?"

  "Why should they care, when they're pocketing enormous returns on their investments? Besides, they had little to say about anything. Curtis Merlin Zale, the man at the top of the empire, owns eighty percent of the stock."

  "A terrible thing for a giant American corporation to murder for company profit."

  "More of it goes on than you might suspect, Mr. Pitt. I can give you the names of men who were connected with the Cerberus Corporation and who, for whatever reasons, have disappeared or been found dead in what were called accidental circumstances. Some supposedly committed suicide."

  "How strange the government hasn't investigated their criminal operations."

  "Cerberus has its claws into every agency in the state and federal government. They think nothing of paying a million dollars to a minor official to work undercover for them, relaying useful information of importance. Any politician who toes the line in behalf of Cerberus will find himself very wealthy, with a fortune in an offshore bank account, when he retires from politics." Thomas paused to pour himself another glass of wine. "And don't kid yourself into thinking someone might turn informer if they think they've been slighted or suddenly feel a desire to go honest. Cerberus has a program to prevent their dirty laundry from going public. The informer's family might be threatened by bodily harm, and that'd be backed up by a son or daughter suffering a broken arm or leg in what would look like an innocent accident. If that didn't keep the informer silent, he or she would simply become a suicide. Or maybe he'd succumb to a fatal disease injected into his body unknowingly in a crowded situation. You'd be surprised at how many news media investigations were called off by the heads of the newspapers or television networks after meetings with Cerberus directors. One who threw them out of his office came into the fold when one of his daughters was found badly beaten in a supposed mugging. Believe me, Mr. Pitt. These are not nice men."

  "Whom do they hire to do their dirty work?"

  "A covert organization called the Vipers. They only take their orders from Zale personally. I know this because Elmore was secretly told by an old friend in the Vipers who warned him that he and I were on the murder list."

  "What happened to the old friend?"

  "He disappeared," Thomas answered offhandedly, as if it was a foregone conclusion.

  Something tugged in the back of Pitt's mind. "The tail of Cerberus, the guardian of Hades."

  Thomas looked at Pitt, intrigued. "You know about the three-headed dog."

  "The corporation logo. The end of the dog's tail is the head of a snake."

  "It's become a corporate icon," said Thomas.

  "What is morale like among the employees?" Pitt asked.

  "From the day they come on the job, they are indoctrinated like recruits in a cult. The company goes out of its way to provide a four-day workweek, large year-end bonuses, perks that go far and above what other corporations provide. It's almost as if they've been enslaved and don't know it."

  "Cerberus has no problems with the unions?"

  "Unions have never made a dent in Cerberus. If union officials make an appeal, word quickly goes out that anyone who wants to unionize will not be fired, but lose their bonus and fringe benefits, which as I've said are considerable. When an old employee dies or retires, his job usually goes to his children; it's that hard to break into the company infrastructure. The relationships from the top on down to the janitors are like parishioners in a church. Adoration of the company has become a religion. In the workers' eyes, Cerberus can do no wrong."

  "How is it you and
Dr. Egan survived for so long after leaving the company?"

  "Because the man who directs corporate operations left us alone, planning to steal the formula for the oil and the designs for Elmore's magnetohydrodynamic engine designs at his convenience."

  "But why wait until Dr. Egan's engines were perfected and installed in the Emerald Dolphin?"

  "So they could destroy the ship and blame the cause on the engines," replied Thomas. "If they ruined the engines' reputation for reliability, it'd discourage buyers and they could snatch up the patents for a song."

  "But the fire did not start in the engine room."

  "I was not aware of that," answered Thomas in bewilderment. "If what you say is correct, my only guess is that the operation to burn the ship somehow miscarried, didn't go as planned. But that's only a guess."

  "Perhaps a good one," Pitt said in agreement. "We found incendiary devices in the ship's chapel where the crew said the fire started. A string of them was probably timed to go off in sequence, beginning in the engine room and traveling to the upper decks until the last one ignited in the ship's chapel. But as you suggest, something went wrong."

  Pitt did not say it, but he realized that failing to condemn the MHD engines for the disaster was another reason for the ship to be sunk before an official investigation.

  Thomas dropped his voice, speaking softly. Pitt could barely hear him. "I only hope and pray they don't attempt the same criminal act on the Golden Marlin."

  "The new luxury submarine that's designed like an underwater cruise ship?"

  "Yes, it begins its maiden voyage two days from now."

  "Why should you be concerned?" inquired Kelly.

  Thomas looked at her. "You don't know?"

  "Know what?" Pitt came back.

  "The Golden Marlin is owned by the Blue Seas Cruise Lines. The engines that Elmore and I developed were built and mounted in her, too."

  28

  Pitt immediately alerted Admiral Sandecker, who dispatched a NUMA jet to pick him up at the Gene Taylor airfield. Kelly drove even faster on the return trip down the river, arriving only minutes before the jet landed. She insisted that she could be useful, and no argument from Pitt held enough water to keep her from boarding the plane and accompanying him to Washington.

  Giordino and Rudi Gunn were waiting on the tarmac when the plane taxied to a stop at Langley Field. They'd no sooner boarded the plane than it was airborne again, flying south to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the corporate headquarters of the Blue Seas Cruise Line. Gunn had arranged for a Lincoln Town Car as transportation, and within minutes of the jet landing, they were heading toward the harbor with Giordino at the wheel.

  The Blue Seas building towered 900 feet above the waterfront on an island where the Blue Seas cruise ships docked. The exterior design was shaped like a gargantuan sailboat. The outside elevators were housed in one huge shaft that rose into the sky like a mast. The rest of the mostly glass-enclosed building was arched like a giant sail. The glass walls were blue, with a center wall of stretched white fabric that could withstand winds up to 150 miles an hour. The lower forty floors of the building housed the offices of the cruise line, while the upper fifty floors housed a hotel for the passengers to stay in before boarding the fleet of cruise ships.

  Giordino turned into an underground tunnel that ran under the water to the island holding the huge building. A valet took the car, and they entered one of the outer elevators and rode three levels up to the main lobby, which was situated under an atrium that rose 700 feet in the middle of the office and hotel floors. The secretary to the CEO of the Blue Seas Cruise Lines was waiting for them and escorted them up a private executive elevator to the head office on the fortieth floor. Warren Lasch, the president of the cruise line, came from behind his desk to greet them.

  Rudi Gunn made the introductions, and everyone took a chair.

  "Now, then." Lasch, a tall man with graying hair and slightly on the heavy side, looked as if he might have played football in college. He peered through dark, coffee brown eyes that moved from Pitt to Kelly to Giordino to Gunn like a panoramic camera recording a scenic vista and then back again. "What is this all about? Admiral Sandecker seemed quite adamant over the phone that we postpone the sailing of the Golden Marlin"

  "There is fear the ship may suffer the same fate as the Emerald Dolphin" Gunn replied.

  "I have yet to see a report that says it was anything but an accident," Lasch said, his face expressing doubt. "I find it impossible that another disaster could happen."

  Pitt leaned forward slightly in his chair. "I can assure you, sir, that NUMA has found irrefutable proof that the fire was intentionally ignited and evidence that clearly shows explosives were used to sink the ship while she was under tow."

  "This is the first I've heard about it." The sudden anger in Lasch's voice was distinct. "The insurance companies that covered the ship have not reported to me or my corporate directors that the fire was deliberately set. All we've been told is that the fire emergency systems, for whatever reason, failed to operate properly. Blue Seas will, of course, file lawsuits against the companies who manufactured the systems."

  "That may present a problem if it is proven conclusively that the fire systems were purposefully disabled."

  "You'll never sell me on that fairy tale."

  "Believe me," said Pitt, "it is no fairy tale."

  "What possible motive could anyone have for destroying the Emerald Dolphin and murdering thousands of passengers?"

  "We believe the motive was the destruction of Dr. Elmore Egan's new magnetohydrodynamic engines," explained Giordino.

  "Why would anyone want to destroy the greatest propulsion technology of the new century?" asked Lasch, seemingly baffled.

  "To eliminate competition."

  "Frankly, gentlemen"-he nodded at Kelly and smiled-"and ladies, I cannot help but find your story anything but pure fabrication."

  "I wish we could explain in more elaborate detail," said Gunn, "but at the moment our hands are tied until the FBI and CIA make their conclusions public."

  Lasch was no fool. "Then this is not an official NUMA inquiry, nor is it authorized."

  "In all honesty," Gunn answered, "no."

  "I hope you're not going public with such outlandish speculation."

  "Admiral Sandecker agreed that any official report should not be released until the investigation is concluded by all the agencies involved," said Pitt. "I might also add that he believed that it would harm the cruise ship industry if the news media began sensationaliz-ing the incident with stories of terrorists destroying ships and killing passengers."

  "I couldn't agree more heartily on that point," Lasch conceded.

  "But why prevent the Golden Marlin from sailing? Why not a hundred other cruise ships? If the sinking of the Emerald Dolphin was a terrorist act, why not alert other cruise lines around the world?" Lasch threw up his hands. "You cannot convince me to delay the sailing of the Golden Marlin on her maiden voyage. As the first underwater cruise ship, she will usher in a new age of luxury sailing. People made their reservations as long as two years ago. In good conscience, I cannot disappoint the four hundred passengers who have booked passage. Many have already arrived and are staying in the hotel. I'm sorry. The Golden Marlin will sail tomorrow as scheduled."

  "Since we cannot persuade you otherwise," said Pitt, "can we make a case for increased security and a crew of marine inspectors to maintain a constant check of all equipment and systems on board the ship during the voyage?"

  "Boat," Lasch interrupted, grinning. "Submarines are called boats."

  "Isn't it a luxury liner?" asked Kelly.

  "When sailing on the surface, but this vessel is built to cruise underwater."

  "Will you agree to extra security and an inspection team?" persisted Gunn.

  "Yes, most certainly," Lasch said affably.

  Pitt was not finished with his requests. "I would also like to have a dive team inspect the hull below the waterli
ne."

  Lasch nodded curtly. "I can arrange for divers. We have them on staff for underwater repair and maintenance to both ships and building."

  "Thank you for your cooperation," said Gunn.

  "Though I believe the precautions are unnecessary, I don't want a repeat of the Emerald Dolphin tragedy. If not for Lloyds of London, Blue Seas would have surely filed for bankruptcy."

  "Giordino and I would like to go along, if you have no objection," said Pitt.

  "Include me," Kelly insisted. "I have a vested interest in my father's work."

  Lasch rose from his chair. "I see no problem. Despite our differences of opinion, I'll be happy to arrange for staterooms. All the passenger accommodations are booked, but there may be a few no-shows. If not, I'm sure we can arrange something in the crew's quarters. The boat will arrive at the dock front of the hotel tomorrow morning at seven o'clock. You may board then."

 
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