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Valhalla rising, p.34
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       Valhalla Rising, p.34

           Clive Cussler
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  "We'll find her," Giordino said gamely. "We won't stop searching until we do."

  They were on the verge of leaving when the huge gate slowly began to swing open.

  "I do believe we struck a chord," Pitt said, vindicated.

  "You know, of course, they'll be waiting in ambush to shoot us to pieces."

  Pitt slipped the car in drive and drove through the gate. "We're armed, too."

  "Oh, sure. You've got your antique .45 Colt, and all I've got is a screwdriver I found in the glove compartment. The guys we're going up against are loaded down with assault weapons."

  "Maybe we can pick up something along the way."

  Pitt drove past the farmland and slowed as he came to the vineyard, waiting for the barricade to rise up from the road. It came right on schedule and one of Kanai's men in a security guard uniform came to the car and leaned in the window, clutching an assault rifle across his chest. "Can I help you, gendemen?"

  "Where's Gus?" asked Pitt innocendy.

  "He called in sick," answered the guard. His eyes searched the car for weapons and, finding none, he relaxed.

  "How's his baby girl?"

  The guard's eyebrows raised fractionally. "Healthy, the last I heard-"

  He was cut off as Pitt gripped the Colt by the barrel that was out of sight under his right thigh and swung it across the steering wheel and into the guard's forehead. The eyes crossed and the head and shoulders slipped below the car door's window frame and disappeared.

  Almost before the bogus security guard hit the ground, Pitt and Giordino were pulling him through the grapevines into a large tree trunk and down eight steps to a security surveillance room underground. Twenty monitors were mounted against one wall, their cameras sweeping the farm fields and interior of the house". Pitt stood transfixed at the sight of Thomas trussed up and Kelly writhing on the floor, angry at seeing her abused but elated that she was alive and only a few hundred yards away. The five Vipers in the room seemed to have no indication they were being observed by cameras.

  "We found her!" Giordino said, his spirits suddenly lifted.

  "She's still alive," Pitt said, his rage mounting. "But it looks like those scum have given her a hard time."

  "Let's not charge in like the Seventh Cavalry at the Little Big Horn," said Giordino. "With the security system, we can cover the entire farm and house from here and pinpoint where the rest of Kanai's men are located."

  "We'll have to make it fast. They'll be expecting a report on us from the guy on the floor."

  Giordino sat down at the console as Pitt found the hired assassin's black clothing that he had removed when he'd donned Egan's security guard's uniform. He looked down at the motionless body and saw they were roughly the same size. He quickly removed his street clothes and slipped into the black pants and sweater. The boots were a tight fit, but he squeezed his feet into them and pulled a ski mask over his face and head, which completed the outfit.

  "These guys have no inhibitions when it comes to murder," said Giordino, as one of the monitors revealed the bodies of Egan's security guards stacked like grain sacks in a cellar under the barn. He switched from one camera to the next, searching for Kanai's men. "Besides the five in the house, I count two more. One guarding the back door overlooking the river and another by the barn."

  "That makes eight, counting our friend on the floor."

  "Now is as good a time as any to call for reinforcements."

  Pitt nodded at one of three phones sitting on the counter. "Notify the sheriff's department, report the situation and ask them to send in a SWAT team."

  "And you? What's your gig?"

  "In this outfit they'll think I'm one of them," said Pitt. "It won't hurt to have a friend inside the house when all hell breaks loose."

  "And me?" asked Giordino.

  "Stay here, monitor the situation and direct the SWAT team."

  "And when Kami calls and asks where the occupants in the car went?"

  "Fake it. Say they were a couple of fertilizer salesmen and you took care of them."

  "How are you going to get from here to the house?"

  "The vineyard runs within a short distance of the front of the house. I'll make my way through the grapevines, and move onto the front porch from behind the columns. Getting across the strip of grass will be the touchy part."

  "Don't you get us into another fine mess, Stanley," said Giordino, with the trace of a grin.

  "I promise to be good, Ollie."

  Giordino turned back to the monitors, as Pitt went up the stairs through the old tree trunk and crept through the vineyard.

  Pitt's mind registered two emotions, a fear that he could not rescue Kelly before Kanai's goons worked her over again and a stark, simple urge for vengeance. He found it difficult to believe all the dead bodies left in the wake of the Cerberus Corporation and its gang of murderous Vipers, and for what? Profit? An obsession for power? No one lived long enough to enjoy such rotten rewards for very long. In Pitt's eyes, it was insane.

  Crouching below the upper branches of the grapevines, he ran between the rows, his boots sinking in the soft soil. He had not taken the automatic rifle from the incapacitated Viper. He seldom shot a rifle and preferred to travel light, with only his old .45 Colt and two spare ammo clips. The summer day was warm and humid and he began to sweat inside the ski mask. He did not remove it because it was standard wear for the Vipers, and he didn't want to look conspicuous.

  He ran more than a hundred yards before the rows of grapevines ended near the front of the house, separated by a narrow strip of well-mowed lawn. He was out of view of the Vipers guarding the barn and back of the house, but moving across fifty feet of open space without being detected by anyone in the house was more like a study in playing invisible man than in acting with stealth. He looked at the windows and detected movement on the other side, which suggested he would be totally visible once he left the shelter of the grapevines.

  Fifty feet lay between him and the first column on the porch of the house, fifty feet of open grass under brilliant sunshine. He edged across the end of the grapevines until his movements were veiled by curtains. A sudden dash might catch the eye of someone inside, so he moved very slowly across the yard, watching for any sign of the guard behind the house. One step at a time, he moved like a cat stalking a bird pulling at a worm.

  Five wooden steps led up to the columned porch, and Pitt trod slowly, quiedy, fearful of a loud creak that thankfully never came. In less than a few seconds, he was pressing his back against the house around the corner and two feet from the big bay window of the living room. Now he laid himself out prone and inched his body below the window until he reached the other side and could stand and step toward the front door. He slowly turned the knob and cracked the door. No one was in the foyer and he slipped inside like a shadow.

  There was no door to the living room. It was entered through an open archway. A clay pot sat on a pedestal beside the archway, with a small tropical plant sprouting from it. Pitt used it as cover to peer into the living room-not a quick glance, but a slow study to firmly fix everyone's position in his mind.

  Josh Thomas, with blood trickling down his head from thin cuts on his forehead, ears and nose, sat slumped and bound in a chair in the center of the room. He recognized Ono Kanai as the pilot of the red Fokker. Kanai sat in the center of a large leather sofa, casually leaning against one armrest, calmly smoking a cigar. Two of the Vipers, dressed in black, stood on opposite sides of the fireplace, weapons at the ready. Another stood beside Thomas, a knife in one hand poised above one of Thomas's eyes. The fifth Viper was a giant monster who gripped a struggling Kelly by her long hair with one hand and held her in the air, her feet inches above the carpet. No screams came through her mouth, only agonized moans.

  Pitt pulled back a moment around the archway, wondering if Giordino was watching him on a monitor. It was ridiculous to think he could simply walk into the room and say, "All right, you varmints, reach for the sky," and liv
e to a ripe old age. The men inside would think nothing of shooting him a hundred times if he tried anything so foolish. They had spent years training to kill and would not waste a microsecond in decision. Killing came as naturally to men like these as brushing their teeth. Pitt, on the other hand, had to gear himself to shoot another human being. Though he had killed in self-defense, cold blood did not run in his veins. He had to stiffen himself for the ordeal and justify his resolve by the fact that he would be saving the lives of Josh Thomas and Kelly Egan. But only if he was successful-a dim prospect in any light.

  Though surprise was on his side and he would not be immediately suspect if he entered the room in black Viper clothing, he decided they'd be safer with another two-second advantage if he shot through the tropical plant while he was still partially hidden. Not immediately knowing where the bullets were coming from would slow their reaction time. He could select his targets in order of priority.

  He quickly rejected the idea. He might get two or three of them, but those who remained would surely pepper him with bullets before he could finish the job. Then there was the very likely possibility that a stray bullet could catch Kelly or Thomas. He decided the only hope was to stall for time until the SWAT team showed up. He laid his Colt on the table behind a flower vase and stepped unobtrusively into the room and stood quietly.

  At first, Pitt wasn't noticed. Everyone in the room was focused on Kelly, who was struggling with Darfur. He could see the tears streaming from her eyes at the ungodly pain, and it was agonizing for him to stand rigid without attempting to stop the torture. He figured another five minutes would pass before the SWAT team arrived, but he could not stand by and see Kelly and Thomas suffer.

  He said calmly to Kanai, "Tell fat boy to let her go."

  Kanai looked at Pitt, his eyebrows rising in puzzlement. "What did you say?"

  "I said, tell your fat flunky to take his slimy hands off the girl." And he pulled off the ski mask.

  Every Viper in the room immediately recognized Pitt as an im-poster, and guns were swiftly raised and aimed at his chest.

  "You!" Kanai muttered in astonishment. "Wait!" he shouted. "Do not kill him. Not just yet."

  Kelly momentarily dismissed her suffering and stared in stunned surprise. "No, no, you shouldn't have come!" she gasped through clenched lips.

  "You'll be next to die, Kanai," said Pitt coldly, "if he doesn't release her."

  Kanai gave Pitt a bemused look. "Oh really? And who's going to kill me? You?"

  "A SWAT team will be arriving any second. The road is the only way out. You're trapped."

  "You'll forgive me, Mr. Pitt, if I don't believe you." Then he gave a brief tilt of his head toward the giant. "Set the lady on her feet, Darfur." He turned his attention back to Pitt. "Did you kill one of my men?"

  "No," Pitt said. "I merely knocked your pal in the security center unconscious and borrowed his clothes."

  "I have a score to settle with you, Mr. Pitt. Would you disagree?"

  "Speaking for myself, I think I should be awarded a medal for fouling up your rotten plans. You and your friends belong back in Jurassic ooze."

  "Your death will be slow and painful."

  There it was. Kanai was not going to kill Pitt quickly. In the killer's mind, it was payback time. Pitt fully realized he was in a precarious position. What was Giordino thinking as he viewed the scene over the monitor? The law was coming. That much he was sure of, but when? He had to stall as long as he could.

  "Did I interrupt something when I crashed the party?" he asked innocently.

  Kanai gave him a calculated look. "I was having a friendly discussion with Miss Egan and Mr. Thomas regarding Dr. Egan's work."

  "The old find-the-oil-formula routine," Pitt said dismissively. "How uncreative of you, Kanai. It seems everybody in the state knows the formula but you and your pals at Cerberus."

  Kanai's eyes widened marginally. "You are well-informed."

  Pitt shrugged. "It's all in how you interpret the drums."

  Kelly had moved over to Thomas. She removed his gag and was wiping away the blood from his face with her sweater, revealing her bra. Thomas looked up through dull eyes at her, murmuring his thanks. The huge Darfur stood behind Pitt, looking like a coyote who had a rabbit trapped in a gulch.

  "You may prove to be a blessing in disguise," Kanai said to him. He turned to Kelly. "Now then, Miss Egan, you will kindly give me the oil formula or I will shoot this man in the knees, then the elbows, then I'll blast off his ears."

  Kelly looked at Pitt in anguish. It was the final blow. With Kanai threatening both Pitt and Thomas, she knew she didn't have the fortitude to hold out, and abruptly crumbled. "The formula is hidden in my father's laboratory."

  "Where?" Kanai demanded. "We've already made a thorough search of it."

  She started to answer, but Pitt interrupted. "Don't tell him. Better we all die than give his murderous friends at Cerberus a bonanza they don't deserve."

  "Enough," Kanai snapped. He removed an automatic from a shoulder holster and aimed the muzzle at Pitt's left knee. "It seems Miss Egan has to be persuaded."

  Darfur walked over and stood in front of Pitt. "Sir, I would consider it an honor if you'd allow me to obtain work on this dog."

  Kanai looked at the big man and smiled. "I stand remiss. I'd neglected your powers of persuasion, old friend. He's all yours."

  As Darfur turned to lay his rifle against a chair, Pitt, who'd pretended a look of fear, suddenly uncoiled like a rattier and lashed out at Darfur with his knee, catching the monstrous man in the groin. It should have been a stunning blow, or at least an incapacitating one, but Pitt's aim was slightly off and the major force caught Darfur just to the side of the genitals where the thigh joins the torso.

  Darfur was taken by complete surprise and doubled over with a hoarse gasp of pain, but only for a moment. He recovered almost instantly and struck Pitt in the chest with both hands clutched together in a sledgehammer punch that forced an explosive gasp of breath and knocked him over a table, crashing to the carpet. Pitt had never been struck so hard. He came to his knees, heaving to put air in his lungs. Any more of this punishment and he'd be a candidate for the morgue. He knew he could never take the giant down with his feet and fists, and he'd have required muscles the size of drainage pipes even to attempt any display of resistance. He needed a weapon, any weapon. He picked up a coffee table, lifted it high and brought it down on Darfur's head, shattering the wooden surface. The monster must have had a skull of iron. His eyes seemed to go out of focus, and he swayed unsteadily. Pitt thought he might go down and readied himself to leap for the gun in Kanai's hand, but Darfur shook off the blow, rubbed his head, refocused his eyes and renewed his attack.

  Pitt was in the fight of his life, and he was losing. There is a truism in the world of boxing that says a good little man can never beat a good big man. At least not in a fair fight. Pitt frantically looked around for something to throw. He snatched a heavy ceramic lamp off an end table and threw it with both hands. It merely bounced off of Darfur's right shoulder like a rock off a Patton tank. Pitt threw a telephone, followed by a vase, followed by a clock off the mantel. He might as well have been throwing a barrage of tennis balls. None had the slightest effect on Darfur's massive body.

  Pitt could read the cold, dead eyes and saw that the giant was tired of playing the game. Darfur launched himself across the room like a defensive guard against a quarterback. But Pitt was still agile enough to step aside and let the express train thunder past and crash into a piano. Pitt ran over and picked up the piano stool, preparing to smash it into Darfur's face. The blow never fell.

  With Kelly's arms clutched around his neck, Kanai brushed her away as if he she were a small rodent and brought the butt of his gun down on the back of Pitt's head. The blow did not knock him unconscious but unleashed a sea of pain that dropped Pitt to his knees, briefly causing him to black out. Consciousness slowly returned, and through a darkness that clouded his vision, he bec
ame aware of Kelly screaming. As his vision cleared, he saw Kanai holding her at bay, twisting her arm until it was a millimeter away from breaking. Kelly had attempted to wrest the gun away from him while his attention was focused on the one-sided fight between Pitt and Darfur.

  Pitt was suddenly aware of being jerked to his feet by Darfur, who circled his arms around Pitt's chest, clutched his hands together and began to squeeze. The breath was slowly, irreversibly being compressed within his lungs is if he were being wrapped by a boa constrictor. His mouth was open, but he could not even utter a gasp. The blackness was returning, and he had no illusions of seeing daylight again. He felt his ribs on the verge of cracking, and he was within two seconds of giving in and letting death relieve his agony, when abruptly the pressure released and the arms around his chest loosened.

  As if in a dream sequence, he saw Giordino walk into the room and kidney-punch Kanai from the rear, doubling him over in agony. Kanai dropped the gun and released his grip on Kelly's arm.

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