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Valhalla rising, p.42
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       Valhalla Rising, p.42

           Clive Cussler
 

  Kelly stared out the window dreamily at the trees surrounding the parking lot. "Then we'll never find it."

  "I suggest that we make a search from the river below the palisades," said Pitt confidently. "Finding a cavity in the rock under the surface is very possible with the use of side-scan sonar. We can round up a NUMA boat and sensor and be ready to go the day after tomorrow."

  Giordino was shifting into gear and pulling out of the college parking area when his cell phone buzzed. "Giordino." A pause and then, "One moment, Admiral. He's right here" He passed the phone to Pitt in the rear seat. "It's Sandecker."

  "Yes, Admiral," said Pitt. Then, for the next three minutes, he went mute and listened without replying. Then finally, "Yes, sir. We're on our way." He handed the phone back to Giordino. "He wants us back in Washington as quickly as we can get there."

  "A problem?"

  "More like an emergency."

  "Did he say what it was?" asked Kelly.

  "It seems Curtis Merlin Zale and his pals at Cerberus are about to cause a catastrophe even worse than the Emerald Dolphin."

  Part Four

  DECEPTION

  42

  AUGUST 8, 2003 WASHINGTON, D.C.

  Congresswoman Loren Smith felt as though she'd been tied to a wild horse and dragged across the desert. Though the directors of Cerberus had been subpoenaed to appear before her Congressional Investigative Committee into Illegal Marketing Practices, they had failed to show. Instead, they were represented by an army of their corporate attorneys who laid an impenetrable smoke screen over the entire proceedings.

  "Spin-and-stall tactics," she muttered under her breath, as she gaveled the hearings to a close until the following morning. "They don't come any slimier than we've seen here this morning."

  She was sitting there in utter anger and frustration when Congressman Leonard Sturgis, a Democrat from North Dakota, walked up and put a hand on her shoulder.

  "Don't be discouraged, Loren."

  "I can't say that you were much help today," she said, with a hard edge to her voice. "You agreed with everything they threw at us when you knew perfectly well it was nothing but distortions and lies."

  "You can't deny everything they testified about was perfectly legal."

  "I want to see Curtis Merlin Zale in front of the committee, along with his board of directors. Not a bunch of shysters throwing mud in the water."

  "I'm sure Mr. Zale will appear at the proper time," said Sturgis. "I think you will find him a quite reasonable man."

  Loren gave Sturgis a withering look. "Zale crudely interrupted my dinner the other night, and I found him to be utter vermin."

  Sturgis frowned, which was atypical for him. His face was rarely without a smile. In Congress he was known as the great pacifier. He had the weathered look of a man who'd spent most of his life on a farm. His brothers still farmed the family homestead in Buffalo, North Dakota, and he was continually reelected because of his unending fight to preserve the farming way of life. His only liability, as Loren saw it, was his coziness with Curtis Merlin Zale.

  "You met Zale?" he asked in genuine surprise.

  "Your reasonable man threatened my life if I didn't drop the investigation."

  "I find that hard to accept."

  "Believe it!" Loren said nastily. "Take my advice, Leo. Distance yourself from Cerberus. They're going down, and going down big time, and Zale will be lucky if he doesn't end up on death row."

  Sturgis watched her turn and stride away, immaculate in a beige tweed wool suit cinched at the waist with a suede belt. She carried a briefcase whose dyed leather matched the color of her suit. It was her trademark.

  Loren did not go back to her office. It was late in the evening, and she went directly to her car in the congressional underground parking level of her office building. Her mind wandered over the day's events as she made her way through the tail end of the rush-hour traffic. Forty-five minutes later, she reached her town house in Alexandria. As she stopped and clicked the remote to her garage door, a woman stepped from the shadows and approached her from the driver's side. Unafraid, Loren turned and rolled down her window.

  "Congresswoman Smith. Forgive the intrusion, but it's most urgent that we talk."

  "Who are you?"

  "My name is Sally Morse. I am the chairman of the Yukon Oil Company."

  Loren studied the woman, who was dressed only in denim slacks with a light blue cotton sweater. There was a sincerity in the eyes that appealed to Loren. "Step into the garage."

  Loren parked the car and closed the garage door. "Please come inside." She led the way into a living room. The decor was ultramodern, each piece of furniture individually designed by artisans. "Please sit down. Would you like a cup of coffee?"

  "I'd prefer something a little stronger, thank you."

  "Name your poison," Loren said, as she opened a liquor cabinet whose glass doors were etched with exotic floral designs.

  "Scotch on the rocks?"

  "Spoken like a man."

  Loren poured a shot of Cutty Sark scotch over ice and handed the glass to Sally. Then she opened a Coors beer and sat across a coffee table from her. "Now, Ms. Morse, why come to me?"

  "Because you're heading the congressional investigation into the Cerberus empire and its impact on the oil market."

  Loren's heart began to increase its beat and she forced herself to act composed. "Am I to assume you have information you'd like to share with me?"

  Sally took a large swallow of the scotch, made a sour face and took a deep breath. "I hope you'll understand something. From this moment on, my life is in extreme danger, my property will likely be destroyed and my reputation and my position that I worked so long and hard to achieve will be scourged."

  Loren did not push Sally, but sat patiently. "You're a very brave woman."

  Sally shook her head sadly. "Not really. I'm only fortunate that I have no family for Curtis Merlin Zale to threaten or murder, as his henchmen have done with so many others."

  Loren's adrenaline was beginning to pump. The mere mention of Zale's name came like a lightning strike on the roof.

  "You're privy to his criminal activities," she ventured.

  "From the time he recruited me and formed the cartel with other major oil companies' corporate executive officers."

  "I wasn't aware of a cartel." Loren was beginning to feel she had struck the mother lode.

  "Oh yes, indeed," said Sally. "Zale's plan was to form a secret merger of our companies in order to create a nation that is no longer dependent on foreign oil. At first, it seemed like a noble cause. But then it became apparent that his plans went far beyond simply cutting off OPEC supplies."

  "What is his ultimate goal?"

  "To become more powerful than the United States government. To dictate his schemes to a country so dependent on fair-priced oil and abundant supplies that it'll applaud his efforts, never knowing that someday he'll pull the rug out from under it once he has a total monopoly and foreign oil is banned from our shores."

  "I don't see how that is possible," said Loren, unable to grasp the full extent of what Sally was saying. "How can he achieve a monopoly without bringing in huge new oil fields in North America?"

  "By having all American and Canadian restrictions on drilling and on exploiting government-owned lands lifted. By casting aside all environmental concerns. And by buying off and controlling Washington. Worst of all, convincing the American public to protest and riot against foreign oil shipments into the country."

  "Impossible!" Loren snapped. "No one man can achieve that much power on top of the backs of so many."

  "The protests have already started," Sally said somberly. "Rioting is just around the corner. You'll understand when I tell you his latest planned catastrophe. At the moment, little stands between him and a total oil monopoly."

  "It's unthinkable."

  Sally smiled grimly. "It's a cliche to say nothing can stand in his way or that he will not hesitate to use any
means to achieve his goals, even mass murder, but it's all too true."

  "The Emerald Dolphin and the Golden Marlin."

  Sally stared at Loren, confused. "You know about his involvement with those tragedies?"

  "Since you're telling me what you know, I feel safe in telling you that the FBI, working closely with NUMA, has proven the disasters were not accidents, but caused by agents of Cerberus called the Vipers. From what we gathered, the burning of the cruise ship and the sinking of the underwater cruise boat were meant to be blamed on Dr. Elmore Egan's magnetohydrodynamic engines. Zale wanted to halt their production because of a revolutionary oil Egan had formulated that virtually eliminates friction. If sold on the market, it would put a huge dent in oil sales and make the difference between profit and loss for the refinery corporations."

  "I had no idea government investigators were aware of Zale's secret circle of mercenary killers," said Sally in astonishment.

  "So long as Zale doesn't know."

  Sally spread her hands dejectedly. "He knows."

  Loren looked skeptical. "How? The investigation is being conducted in the strictest secrecy."

  "Curtis Merlin Zale has paid out more than five billion dollars to buy everyone in Washington that he can profit from. Over a hundred senators and representatives are in his pocket, along with officials in every department of government, including the Justice Department."

  "Can you name names?" asked Loren intently.

  Sally's expression turned almost fiendish. She pulled a computer disc from her purse. "It's all here. Two hundred and eleven names. I can't tell you how much they've been paid or when. But I came across a sealed file sent to me by mistake that was meant for Sandra Delage, the cartel's inside administrator. After making copies, I resealed the file and sent it to Sandra. Luckily, she did not suspect that I was having second thoughts about my involvement with Cerberus and Zale's mad scheme and she did not act the least suspicious."

  "Can you tell me a few of the names?"

  "Let's just say leaders of both houses and three top White House officials."

  "Congressman Leonard Sturgis?"

  "He's on the list."

  "I was afraid of that," said Loren angrily. "And the president?"

  Sally shook her head. "To my knowledge, he wants nothing to do with Zale. The president is not perfect, but he sees enough in the oil tycoon to know he's as rotten as a ninety-day-old truckload of fruit."

  Loren and Sally talked until nearly three o'clock in the morning. Loren was horrified when Sally reported Zale's scheme to blow up a supertanker in San Francisco harbor. The disc was inserted in Loren's home computer and the contents printed out until there was a stack of papers the size of a small book manuscript. The women then hid the disk and the printed copies in a safe Loren had built in her garage floor beneath a storage cabinet.

  "You can stay here for the night, but we've got to find you a safe hideout while the investigation is under way. Once Zale discovers you're going to blow the whistle on his insidious operation, he'll make every effort to silence you."

  "Silence, a nice word for murder."

  "They've already tried to torture Kelly Egan, Dr. Egan's daughter, for the oil formula."

  "Did they succeed?"

  "No, she was rescued before Zale's Viper pals could find out anything."

  "I'd like to meet her."

  "You can. She was staying with me, but after Zale found us together over dinner the other night, I had to hide her elsewhere, too."

  "I came away with only an overnight bag. I have just a few cosmetics, jewelry and a couple of changes of clean underwear."

  Loren gauged Sally's shape and nodded. "We're about the same size. You can borrow whatever of my wardrobe that suits you."

  "I'll be a happy woman when this dirty business is over."

  "You realize that by doing this you're going to be ordered to testify before Justice officials and my congressional investigating committee."

  "I accept the consequences," Sally said solemnly.

  Loren put her arm around her. "I'll say it again. You're a very brave woman."

  "It's one of the few times in my life I've put good intentions in front of my ambition."

  "I admire you," Loren said sincerely.

  "Where do you want me to hide after tonight?"

  "Because Zale has too many moles in the Justice Department, I don't think it wise to put you in a government safe house." Loren smiled craftily. "I have this friend who can put you up in an old aircraft hangar that has more security systems than Fort Knox. His name is Dirk Pitt."

  "Can he be trusted?"

  Loren laughed. "Honey, if the old Greek philosopher Diogenes were still wandering around with a lantern looking for an honest man, he could have ended his journey at Dirk's door."

  43

  After Kelly left the aircraft in Washington, she was escorted to an unmarked van that transported her to a safe house in Arlington. Pitt and Giordino saw her off and entered a NUMA Lincoln Navigator and relaxed as the driver steered the car toward Landover, Maryland. Twenty minutes later, they turned onto Arena Drive and drove into the vast parking lot of FedEx Field, the stadium that is home to the Washington Redskins football team. Built in 1997, it can accommodate 80,116 fans in wide, comfortable seats. Restaurants on the end zones serve a wide variety of ethnic foods. Two huge video screens for replays and four scoreboards make it enjoyable for fans to follow the finer points of the game.

  The Navigator rolled into the underground VIP parking area and stopped by a doorway guarded by two security men in combat gear, holding automatic rifles. They stopped Pitt and Giordino and studied their faces with photographs provided to them by NUMA's security department, before allowing them to pass into a long corridor that stretched beneath the seats of the stadium.

  "Fourth door on the left, gentlemen," instructed one of the guards.

  "Doesn't this strike you as overkill?" Giordino asked Pitt.

  "Knowing the admiral, he must have a good reason."

  They reached the door and found another armed guard outside. He merely studied them for a quick moment, then swung open the door and stepped aside.

  "I thought the Cold War was over years ago," Giordino muttered quietly.

  They were mildly surprised to find themselves in the locker room for the visiting football teams. Several people were already seated in the team management office. Loren was there, with Sally Morse. Admiral Sandecker, Rudi Gunn and Hiram Yaeger represented NUMA. Pitt recognized Admiral Amos Dover of the Coast Guard, Captain Warren Garnet of the Marines and Commander Miles Jacobs, who was a veteran of Navy SEAL operations. He and Giordino had worked with all of them in the past.

  The only one who was not familiar was a tall man with the distinguished good looks you'd expect from a cruise ship captain. Adding to his image of a mariner was a black patch over the left eye. Pitt guessed him to be in his late fifties.

  Pitt momentarily shuffled the stranger to one side of his mind as he greeted his NUMA associates and shook hands with the military men he'd known from past adventures. Dover, a great bear of a man, had worked with Pitt on the Deep Six project. Garnet and Jacobs had been engaged in a losing firefight in the Antarctic until Pitt and Giordino had made a timely appearance in Admiral Byrd's colossal Snow Cruiser. Only after a few pleasantries were exchanged did Pitt focus his attention on the man with the eye patch.

  "Dirk," said Sandecker, "may I introduce Wes Rader. Wes is an old naval friend. We served in the Baltic Sea together, keeping an eye on Russian submarines heading out into the Atlantic. Wes is a senior deputy director at the Justice Department and will coordinate all activities from the legal end."

  Questions rose in the back of Pitt's mind, but he waited until the proper moment to present them. Alone, he would have hugged Loren and kissed her boldly on the lips. But this was business and she was a member of Congress, so he merely made a slight bow and shook her offered hand. "Nice to see you again, Congresswoman."

  "
Likewise," Loren said, with a sly glint in her eye. She turned to Sally. "This is the man I was telling you about. Sally Morse, meet Dirk Pitt."

  Sally looked deep into Pitt's opaline green eyes and saw what most women who met him saw, a man they could depend on. "I've heard a great deal about you."

  Pitt gave a side glance at Loren and smiled. "I hope your source didn't lay it on too thick."

  "If everyone will please find a chair and get comfortable," said Sandecker, "we'll start the proceedings." He sat down, pulled out one of his immense cigars, but in deference to the ladies present did not light it. He probably could have without protest. The women would probably have preferred it to the smells of sweat that still hung in the air of the locker room from the last football game.

 
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