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Valhalla rising, p.40
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       Valhalla Rising, p.40

           Clive Cussler
 

  "Where can we reach him?"

  "Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York. Dr. Wednesday is a professor of cultural history."

  "I know Marymount," said Kelly. "A Catholic women's college just across the river from Dad's farm."

  Pitt looked at Giordino. "What do you think?"

  "When searching for a historical treasure, you can never do enough research."

  "That's what I always say."

  "I thought I heard it somewhere."

  Pitt turned and shook Marlys's hand. "Marlys, thank you. Thank you for your hospitality and for being so helpful."

  "Not at all. You've given me gossip for the neighbors."

  She stood and watched, hand shielding her eyes from the sun, as the NUMA helicopter rose into a cloudless sky and set a course northeast to Duluth. Her thoughts traveled back to Elmore Egan. He'd been a true eccentric, an oddball but lovable, she recalled. She fervently hoped that she had given them a direction for their search, and that Dr. Wednesday might provide the final clue to the adventure.

  40

  Inconspicuous-looking, dusty four-wheel-drive Jeeps, Durangos and a Chevy Suburban cruised down the private road to the Cerberus-owned lodge beside Tohono Lake. None of the SUVs were new, and none were younger than eight years. They were chosen by design to blend in with the vehicles driven by the local residents of the county. As they passed through nearby towns on their way to the lake, no one paid the least bit of attention to their passengers, who were dressed as fishermen.

  They arrived ten to fifteen minutes apart and entered the lodge, carrying fishing tackle boxes, rods and reels. Oddly, none gave the slightest glance at the dock or the boats that had been tied to the mooring cleats. Once they disappeared into the lodge, they stayed inside and made no attempt at baiting a hook or casting a plug. Their mission went far beyond the solitude and joy of fishing.

  Nor did they did gather socially in the main hall with the huge moss-rock fireplace and high log ceiling. There would be no relaxing in the chairs and sofas draped with Navajo rugs amid the Western decor enhanced by Russell and Remington paintings and bronze sculptures. Rather, they assembled in a large basement room beneath the lodge, a room separated by a massive steel door from an escape tunnel that traveled more than two hundred yards into the safety of the forest. From there a path led half a mile to an open field, where helicopters could be called in at a moment's notice. Security systems with alarms watched over the road and grounds around the lodge for intruders. The setting was planned to look unobtrusive and ordinary, but every precaution had been taken against surveillance by government agents or state and local law enforcement.

  Down in the lavishly furnished basement room, six men and two women sat opposite one another around a circular pine conference table. The ninth person, Curtis Merlin Zale, was seated at one end. He passed out several leather-bound folders and leaned back in his chair, waiting for the others to study the contents.

  "Commit what you read to memory," he directed. "When we leave tomorrow evening, all paperwork and notes will be destroyed."

  It was vital to the interests of the Cerberus empire that the strategy planning session be held in the strictest secrecy. The men and women seated at the table were CEOs of the largest oil companies in the Northern Hemisphere and had congregated to map strategy for the coming months. To the economists, the officials at the Commerce Department and reporters of the Wall Street Journal, these giants of the oil industry directed only the day-to-day operations of the autonomous corporations under their independent control. Only those present knew that they were linked behind the scenes to Curtis Merlin Zale and the long arms of Cerberus. A monopoly had been created unlike any attempted in the past. The parameters were rigid.

  The oil tycoons had all made billions with their clandestine alliance with Cerberus, and none were about to go to jail for criminal business dealings. Though an extensive Justice Department investigation was sure to uncover the most enormous cartel formed to corner an oil market since Rockefeller and Standard Oil, precautions were taken to halt any such investigation before it got off the ground. The only very real threat was that one of them might sell out and inform the Justice Department of the criminal actions of the cartel. But potential deserters knew well that they and members of their families would quickly disappear or die in unfortunate accidents once word of their defection was out. Once in, there was no escape.

  If the risk seemed heavy, the expected returns were stratospheric. It took no stretch of the imagination for these people to know that the ultimate yield of their nefarious enterprise would ultimately go beyond billions into trillions of dollars. Beyond money, the power that went with total success could only be measured in the eventual degree of control they'd achieve over the United States government, its legislators and the executive branch.

  "You all know the predictions," said Zale, as he began the meeting. "I hasten to add they are not intentionally doctored figures. Between 1975 and 2000, the world's population grew fifty percent. The demand for crude oil followed suit. By 2010, the world's total oil production will peak. That's less than seven years from now. From then until 2050, production will drop to a small fraction of what it is today."

  The forty-six-year-old head of Zenna Oil, Rick Sherman, who had the appearance of a grade-school math teacher but led the nation's third-largest oil producer peered at Zale through thick rimless glasses. "Statistics are already coming up short. A permanent oil shortage has already begun ten years ahead of the predictions. Demand has exceeded global production, which will skid steeply from now on."

  "If production looks gloomy, the resulting drop in the world economy looks absolutely pitch-dark," said Jesus Morales, the CEO of the CalTex Oil Company. "The shock will be paralyzing and permanent. Prices will skyrocket, accompanied by hyperinflation and even rationing. I shudder to think what level transportation costs will hit."

  "I agree." Sally Morse polished the lenses of her reading glasses and studied Zale's report. The chief of Yukon Oil, Canada's largest oil producer, she'd been the last to reluctantly join the secret cabal five years earlier, but was beginning to have second thoughts. "There will be no major finds in the future. Since 1980, despite geologists' forecasts, few new fields have been found that produce over ten million barrels. The one thousand three hundred eleven known major oil-producing fields contain ninety-four percent of the world's known oil. As these fields diminish, oil and gas prices will rise on a steep, unending curve."

  "The bad news," said Zale, "is that exploration finds only one new barrel of oil for every ten barrels we consume."

  "A situation that will only get worse," added Morales.

  Zale nodded. "The very reason we formed our alliance. With China and India's industrial capacity requiring more and more oil, competition between them, Europe and the United States will quickly become a hard-fought battle over prices."

  "All to the gain of OPEC," said Sherman. "With worldwide demand increasing rapidly, the OPEC oil producers will squeeze every cent they can get out of a barrel of oil."

  "It's as though the entire situation were falling into our hands," said Zale confidently. "By pooling our resources, our fields and refineries in North America, we can dictate our own terms and prices. We can also double production by drilling where the government has not allowed us to go before. Our newly built pipeline systems will carry the oil overland without the expensive use of tankers. If our strategy works according to plan, the only oil and gas sold north of Mexico will be American and Canadian. Or, to put it in simple terms, ninety-six percent of the income will go to enhance the profit of our respective organizations."

  "The OPEC nations won't roll over and play dead." Old oilman Gunnar Machowsky had started as a rigger and had busted five times with dry wells before he'd struck a huge reservoir in the middle of Nevada. He was a big man with a round stomach and white hair circling a bald head. The sole owner of Gunnar Oil, he ran a notoriously tight company that never failed to show a healthy profit. "
You can bet they'll undercut us at every turn on the price of a barrel of oil."

  Zale grinned. "I don't doubt it for a moment. We'd all go bankrupt trying to match their price, but the plan is to make foreign oil so unpopular with American citizens that our elected officials will have to listen to the uproar and place an embargo on foreign oil."

  "How many legislators do we have in our pockets?" asked Guy Kruse, the laid-back, bespectacled, soft-spoken director of Eureka Offshore Oil Ventures.

  Zale turned to Sandra Delage, the cartel's chief administrator. Her attractive, demure looks were deceiving. An ash blonde with velvet blue eyes, Delage's lightning mind and razor-sharp organizational skills were admired and respected by everyone at the table. She studied a large notebook for a moment before looking up. "As of yesterday, we can safely count on thirty-nine senators and one hundred ten representatives who will vote as you direct."

  Kruse smiled. "It looks as if our sugar money went further than we hoped."

  "I think it's safe to say the White House will also accommodate your counsel," Delage added.

  "That leaves the environmentalist lobbies and those members of both the Senate and Congress who want to save the beavers," said Machowsky gruffly.

  Zale leaned across the table and waved a pencil in his hand. "Their protests will be swept aside by the public's outcry when the oil shortage and high prices become acute and hit home. We already have enough votes to open new oil fields from Alaska to Florida over the protests of the environmentalists. The American and Canadian governments have no choice but to allow our exploration operations expanded access on federal lands for drilling in areas where geologists have found rich reserves."

  "Lest we forget, the government dug its own grave after it began opening up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. They've dipped into it five more times, until there isn't enough left to supply the country's fuel needs for more than three weeks."

  A scowl spread across Machowsky's face. "The whole thing was a politically activated joke. Our refineries were already running at full capacity. It accomplished nothing but selling the gullible public into thinking their government was doing them a favor."

  Sally Morse nodded. "It seems they unknowingly played right into our hands."

  Sam Riley, the chairman of Pioneer Oil, a company that owns vast reserves throughout the Midwest, spoke for the first time. "We couldn't have planned it better if we'd had a channel to the future."

  "Yes," said Zale, "a combination of luck and our forecasts being on the mark." He turned to Dan Goodman of Diversified Oil Resources. "What's the latest report on our shale oil operation in western Colorado?"

  A former Army general who'd headed the Fuel Supply Command, Goodman was a good ten years older than anyone at the table. Overweight at 250 pounds, he still possessed a physical toughness along with a dour sense of humor. "Because of a technological breakthrough in shale, our startup operation will be launched in one week. All shale recovery systems and equipment have been tested thoroughly and are on line. I can comfortably state that we now have an enormous potential source of oil, hydrocarbon gas and a solid fuel that can exceed coal. Our estimated yield of forty gallons of oil per ton of rock appears reasonable."

  "How large do you figure the deposit?" asked Kruse.

  "Two trillion barrels."

  Zale looked at Goodman. "Say again."

  "Two trillion barrels of oil from shale, and that's a conservative estimate."

  "Good lord," muttered Sherman. "That's far below the estimates on government energy reports."

  "Those were doctored," Goodman said, with a sly twinkle in his eye.

  Riley laughed. "If you can get your cost below fifty dollars a barrel, you'll put the rest of us out of business."

  "Not yet. At the moment we figure our cost will run around sixty dollars a barrel."

  Morales leaned his chair back on two legs and placed his hands on the back of his head. "Now all that is left before we can begin our operation is the final completion of the oil pipeline system."

  Zale did not immediately reply. He nodded at Sandra Delage, who pressed a button on a remote control that lowered a large screen. Almost instantly, a large map of Alaska, Canada and the lower forty-eight states filled the screen. A series of black lines traveled across national and state borders from oil fields to refineries to major cities. "Ladies and gentlemen, our oil transportation system. Thirty-seven thousand miles of underground pipeline. The final line from Sam Riley's Pioneer Oil fields in Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas and the Dakotas will be in place and ready to send oil by the end of the month."

  "Circumventing the environmentalists by laying pipe underground was a brilliant stroke," said Riley.

  "The excavation pipe-laying machinery developed by Cerberus engineers enabled our construction crews working around the clock to lay ten miles of pipe every twenty-four hours."

  "An ingenious concept," said Jesus Morales, "leasing the right-of-way from the railroads and laying pipe along the track."

  "I must admit it saved untold billions in litigation and hassles with private and public land owners," acknowledged Zale. "It also allows us to pump oil directly into every major city in both countries without restrictions or having to worry about strict governmental regulations."

  "It's a miracle we've come this far without interference from the Justice Department," said Sally Morse.

  "We've covered our trail well," said Zale. "Our moles in the Justice Department ensure that any mention or questions by their agents or from the FBI are quietly misplaced or filed away for future review."

  Guy Kruse looked at Zale. "I understand a congressional committee led by Congresswoman Loren Smith is launching an investigation into your affairs at Cerberus."

  "Smith's probe will go nowhere," Zale asserted firmly.

  "How can you be so sure?" asked Morse. "Loren Smith is one member of Congress who definitely is not on our side."

  Zale looked at her, his eyes cold. "The matter will be handled."

  "Like the Emerald Dolphin and the Golden Marlin?" Machowsky murmured sarcastically.

  "The end justified the means," retorted Zale. "The ultimate goal was accomplished by blaming the disasters on malfunctions by Elmore Egan's engines. All contracts by shipbuilders to install his magnetohydrodynamic engines have been canceled. And with Egan dead, it's only a matter of days before we have the formula for his super oil. Once we go into production, we will control and share in the profits of the manufacture and sales of his engines. As you can see, we're covering every side of the fuel oil market."

  "Can you assure us that there will be no more interference from NUMA?" asked Sherman.

  "A temporary situation. They have no jurisdiction in our commercial affairs."

  "Pirating their survey vessel and crew was not wise," said Riley.

  "A circumstance that unexpectedly turned against us. But that is history. No trails lead to Cerberus."

  Dan Goodman raised his hand. "I, for one, applaud your successful campaign to enrage the general public against foreign oil coming into the United States. For decades, no one cared where their fuel supplies were coming from. But with the supertanker disasters your Viper group caused in Fort Lauderdale, Newport Beach, Boston and Vancouver, where millions of gallons of oil spills invaded highly populated and affluent areas of the country, public outcry to become self-sufficient in oil has soared."

  "All those arranged accidents within the space of nine months made the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska look like a minor melodrama," agreed Morales.

  Zale shrugged his shoulders indifferently. "A tragic necessity. The longer the cleanup goes on, the stronger the demand for domestic oil."

  "But haven't we sold our souls to the devil to establish our market position and monopoly?" asked Sally Morse.

  "Monopoly is a distasteful word, my dear lady," said Zale. "I prefer to call it a market trust."

  Morse held her head in her hands. "When I think of all the people, the birds, animals and fish that have
died for us to achieve our goal, it makes me ill."

  "Now is not the time for conscience," Zale admonished her. "We are in an economic war. There may be no need for generals or admirals, tanks, submarines or nuclear bombers, but to win we have to supply the public's insatiable appetite for fuel. Soon, very soon, we will be in a position to tell every person living north of Mexico what fuel to buy, when to buy it, and how much to pay for it. We will be accountable to no one. In time, our efforts will replace a governmental state with a corporate state. We cannot weaken now, Sally."

  "A world without politicians," Guy Kruse murmured thoughtfully. "It seems too good to be true."

  "The country is on the verge of mass demonstrations over foreign oil," said Sherman. "We need only one more incident to push them over the edge."

  A foxlike grin cut Zale's features. "I'm one jump ahead of you, Rick. Such an incident will take place three days from now."

 
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