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Valhalla rising, p.44
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       Valhalla Rising, p.44

           Clive Cussler
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  The door was ajar, so he very slowly eased it half open with his toe. Kelly was standing in front of a half-steamed mirror wearing a towel around her body and a smaller one wrapped around her head. She was putting on eye makeup. She saw Pitt's blank stare in the mirror and smiled engagingly.

  "Welcome home. I hope Sally and I haven't upset your routine."

  "It was suggested you stay here, too?" he asked.

  "Loren thought it safer than her place. And the government safe houses could not be trusted because of Zale's infiltration into the Justice Department."

  "Sorry I have only one bedroom in the apartment. I hope you and Ms. Morse don't mind sharing the bed."

  "It's king-size," Kelly said, returning to her makeup as if she and Pitt had lived together for years. "We won't mind." Then as an afterthought: "I'm sorry, would you like to use the bathroom?"

  "Don't mind me," Pitt said wryly. "I'll pack some clothes and shower downstairs in the guest quarters."

  Sally had stepped from the kitchen. "I fear we have inconvenienced you."

  "I'll survive," Pitt said, as he began throwing some things in an overnight bag. "You ladies make yourselves at home."

  From his dry tone, Sally and Kelly could tell that Pitt wasn't overjoyed at their intrusion. "We'll stay out of your way," promised Kelly.

  "Don't get me wrong," Pitt said, sensing her uneasiness. "You're not the first ones who have stayed here and slept in my bed. I adore women and am actually quite fond of their curious mannerisms. I come from the old school that elevates them on a pedestal, so don't think I'm a nasty old grunt." He paused and grinned. "Actually, it will be enjoyable having a pair of gorgeous creatures like yourselves, cooking and cleaning house for me."

  Then he walked from the bedroom and down the circular stairway to the main floor below.

  Sally and Kelly watched in silence as he disappeared from view. Then they turned, looked at each other and broke out laughing.

  "My God," burst Sally. "Is he for real?"

  "Take my word for it," said Kelly. "He's bigger than life."

  Pitt set up house in the Manhattan Limited Pullman railroad car that sat on rails along one wall of the hangar. A relic from a Hudson River search operation several years ago, he used it as guest quarters when visitors and friends stayed with him. Giordino often borrowed it for the night when he wanted to impress one of his string of lady friends. Women found the luxurious antique railroad car a very exotic setting for a romantic evening.

  He had stepped from the shower and was shaving when the extension phone in the Pullman car rang. He picked up the receiver and simply said, "Hello."

  "Dirk!" St. Julien Perlmutter's voice boomed in Pitt's ear. "How are you, my boy?"

  "Fine, St. Julien. Where are you?"

  "Amiens, France. I spent the day talking to Jules Verne scholars. Tomorrow, I have an appointment with Dr. Paul Hereoux, president of the Jules Verne Society. He has graciously given me permission to conduct research in the society's archives, which are inside the house where Verne lived and wrote until his death in 1905. Verne was an amazing man, you know-I had no idea. A true visionary. He established the genre of science fiction, of course, but he also anticipated flights to the moon, submarines that could circle the globe underwater, solar heating, moving escalators and walkways, three-dimensional holographic images-you name it, he was there first. He also foresaw asteroids and comets striking the Earth and causing wide devastation."

  "Discover any new revelations about Captain Nemo and the Nautilus?"

  "Nothing beyond what Verne wrote in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and The Mysterious Island."

  "That was the sequel, right? The one that told what happened to Nemo after the Nautilus was lost in a maelstrom off the Norwegian coast."

  "Yes, Twenty Thousand Leagues came out in 1869 as a magazine serial. The Mysterious Island in 1875 revealed the history and biography of Nemo."

  "From what I gathered from Dr. Egan's research on Verne, he seemed fascinated by how the author created Nemo and his submarine. Egan must have believed that Verne had more than a brilliant imagination working for him. I think Egan thought Verne built the story around a real person."

  "I'll know more in a couple of days," said Perlmutter. "But don't get your hopes up. Jules Verne's tales, however ingeniously clever, were fiction. Captain Nemo may have been one of the greatest protagonists in literature, but really, he was nothing more than the precursor of the mad scientist out to exact revenge for past wrongs. The noble genius gone wrong."

  "Still," Pitt persisted, "for Verne to have created a technical marvel like the Nautilus from the keel up in his own mind seems incredible. Unless Jules Verne was the Leonardo da Vinci of his time, he must have had technical advice above and beyond what was generally thought available in 1869."

  "From the real Captain Nemo?" asked Perlmutter cynically.

  "Or some other engineering genius," Pitt answered seriously.

  "You don't appreciate true genius," said Perlmutter. "I may glean new details from the archives, but I'm not betting my life's savings on the outcome."

  "It's been many years since I read the books," said Pitt, "but Nemo was a man of mystery in Twenty Thousand Leagues. If I recall, it wasn't until near the end of The Mysterious Island that Verne offered an insight into Nemo."

  "Chapter Sixteen," Perlmutter recited. "Nemo was born the son of a rajah in India. Prince Dakkar, as he was named, was an exceptionally gifted and intelligent child. Verne described him as growing up handsome, extremely wealthy and full of hatred for the British who had conquered his country. His lust for revenge affected his thinking as he grew older, especially after he led and fought in the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857. In revenge, British agents seized and murdered his father, mother, wife and two children.

  "During the years he brooded over the loss of his family and country, he threw himself into the science of marine engineering. On a remote, uninhabited island in the Pacific, he used his wealth to build a shipyard, where he created the Nautilus. Verne wrote that Nemo harnessed electricity long before Tesla and Edison built their generators. The engines in the submarine powered the boat indefinitely without the need of refueling or regeneration."

  "Makes me wonder if Verne didn't envision Dr. Egan's magneto-hydrodynamic engines."

  "After completing his undersea vessel," continued Perlmutter, "he brought on a loyal crew and vanished under the sea. Then in 1867 he took on three castaways who had fallen off an American Navy frigate that he had attacked. They recorded his secret existence and voyaged around the world with him underwater. The castaways-a professor, his servant and a Canadian fisherman-escaped when the Nautilus sailed into the maelstrom and Nemo disappeared. By the time he was sixty years old, his crew had died and he was interred in a coral cemetery beneath the sea. Alone with his beloved submarine, Nemo spent his final years in a cavern beneath a volcano on Lincoln Island. After aiding castaways on the island against pirates and helping them to leave and sail home, he died of natural causes. The volcano then erupted and Lincoln Island sank beneath the sea, burying Captain Nemo and his extraordinary Nautilus in the depths, where they are now enshrined in fictional history."

  "But was it fiction?" Pitt mused. "Or based on nonfiction?"

  "You'll never sell me that Nemo was anything more than a figment of Verne's imagination," said Perlmutter, in a quiet, authoritative voice.

  Pitt said nothing for a few moments. He did not fool himself. He was chasing shadows. "If only I knew what Dr. Egan discovered about the Vikings and Captain Nemo," he said at last.

  Perlmutter sighed patiently. "I fail to see a connection between two such totally different topics."

  "Egan was a fanatic on both. I can't help but feel they somehow tied in with each other."

  "I doubt that he uncovered any previously undiscovered facts on either. Certainly nothing that hasn't already been recorded."

  "St. Julien, you're an old cynic."

  "I'm a historian, and I do not ch
ronicle or publish anything I can't document."

  "Enjoy yourself in those dusty old archives," said Pitt humorously.

  "Nothing stirs my blood more than finding a new angle on history in a forgotten log or letter. Except of course the taste of fine wine. Or a gourmet meal prepared by a great chef."

  "Of course," Pitt said, smiling to himself as he pictured Perlmutter's great girth, which was a direct result of excessive indulgence in food and drink.

  "I will call should I turn up anything of interest."

  "Thank you." Pitt hung up the phone as Sally Morse called from the balcony above that dinner was ready. He shouted an acknowledgment but did not immediately leave the Pullman car and walk up the staircase.

  Now that he was removed from any role in the operation to stop Curtis Merlin Zale, the murderous Viper organization and the Cerberus cartel, Pitt felt lost, without direction. It was not his nature to sit powerless on the outside looking in. He had run out of road- and he wished to high heaven that he had turned off earlier and turned down one he'd overlooked.

  45

  The Cerberus offices in Washington were housed in a large mansion that had been built for a wealthy senator from California in 1910. Set on ten acres on the fringe of Bethesda and surrounded by a high vine-covered brick wall, the mansion-turned-office-building did not contain spartan offices for the conglomerate's engineers, scientists or geologists. The four floors of lavish suites were filled with corporate attorneys, political analysts, high-level lobbyists and influential former senators and congressmen, all working to increase Zale's grip on the United States government.

  At one o'clock in the morning, a van advertising an electrical contractor pulled up to the gate and was passed through. Security was tight. Two guards manned the house at the front gate while two more patrolled the grounds with attack dogs. The van eased to a stop in a parking slot near the front door. A large black man walked toward the entrance with a long box containing fluorescent light tubes. He signed in at the guard-reception desk and took an elevator to the fourth floor, where he stepped across a teak floor covered with expensive handwoven Persian rugs. There was no secretary in the foyer of the large office at the end of the hallway. She had left for home an hour earlier. He passed her empty desk and entered a spacious office whose door was open.

  Curtis Merlin Zale was seated in a huge leather executive chair studying a geologist's seismic reports on a previously undiscovered oil and gas field in Idaho. He did not look up as the electrician entered. Instead of installing the light tubes, the electrician boldly sat down in a chair in front of the desk. Only then did Zale look up into the dark sinister eyes of Omo Kanai.

  "Was your distrust validated?" asked Kanai.

  Zale smiled smugly. "The unsuspecting fish took the bait."

  "May I ask who?"

  "Sally Morse of Yukon Oil. I began to doubt her dedication to the cause when she raised questions over our plan to ram the supertanker into the heart of San Francisco."

  "Do you think she talked to authorities?"

  "I'm certain of it. Her plane did not return to Alaska but flew to Washington."

  "A loose cannon in the capital could be dangerous."

  Zale shook his head. "She has no documentation. Only her word. Nothing can be proved. Little does she suspect that she did us a great service by turning renegade and defecting."

  "If she testifies before Congress . . . ," said Kanai, without finishing his thought.

  "If you handle your end, she'll have an accident before she can be interrogated."

  "Has the government put her in a safe house?"

  "Our sources inside the Justice Department say they have no knowledge of her whereabouts."

  "Any idea where she can be found?"

  Zale shrugged. "None at the moment. She must be hiding with private parties."

  "Then she won't be easy to find," said Kanai.

  "I'll locate her for you," said Zale confidently. "I have more than a hundred of our people looking for her. It's only a question of hours."

  "When is she due to testify before the committee?"

  "Not for another three days."

  Kanai appeared satisfied.

  "I assume all is in readiness," Zale said. "There can be no oversight, no unforeseen problems."

  "I expect none. Your scheme is brilliant. The operation is planned down to the tiniest detail. I see no room for failure."

  "Your Viper team is on board?"

  "All except me. A helicopter is waiting to carry me to the tanker when it is a hundred miles out." Kanai glanced at his watch. "If I am to direct the final preparations, I must be leaving."

  "The military cannot stop the tanker?" Zale asked hopefully.

  "Those who try will be in for a rude awakening."

  They stood and shook hands. "Good luck, Omo. Next time we meet, the U.S. government will have its strings pulled by new hands."

  "And where will you be during the holocaust tomorrow?"

  A sharp grin curled Zale's lips. "I will be testifying before Congresswoman Smith."

  "Do you think she knows about your designs on domestic oil?"

  "Sally Morse has no doubt revealed our agenda to her." Zale turned and stared out the window at the twinkling lights and the floodlit monuments of the capital. "But by this time tomorrow, it won't matter. Public outcry over foreign oil and gas will have surged like a tidal wave across the nation and all resistance against Cerberus will have been swept aside."

  When Loren walked from her office in the Congressional Office Building into the hearing room, she was stunned as she stared at the table reserved for those subpoenaed to appear before her committee. There was no army of Cerberus corporate attorneys, no platoon of company directors or officials.

  Curtis Merlin Zale sat alone behind the table.

  No papers or notes were laid out on the surface before him. No briefcase on the floor. He simply relaxed casually in his chair, immaculately suited, and smiled at the members of Congress as they entered and sat down at the raised desks above the main floor of the hearing room. His eyes strayed to Loren as she sat down and laid a sheaf of papers on her desktop. She caught him staring at her, and she suddenly felt unclean. Despite his attractive looks and impeccable attire, she found him repulsive, like a venomous snake sunning itself on a rock.

  She looked over to see if the other members of the committee were settled in their chairs and ready to begin the proceedings. She exchanged looks with Congressman Leonard Sturgis, who nodded politely, but his face appeared strained, as if he was leery of having to go through the motions of asking tough questions of Zale.

  Loren said a few preliminary words to open the investigation and then thanked Zale for appearing. "You realize, of course, that you have the privilege of appearing with counsel," she advised him.

  "Yes," he said in a calm voice, "but in the spirit of full cooperation and disclosure, I sit here before you ready to answer fully any and all questions."

  Loren glanced up at the big clock on the far wall of the hearing chamber. It read 9:10 A.M. "The proceedings may run most of the day," she informed Zale.

  "I am at your disposal for as long as it takes," said Zale in a quiet voice.

  Loren turned to Congresswoman Lorraine Hope of Texas. "Congresswoman Hope, would you do the honor of beginning the investigation?"

  Lorraine Hope, a heavy black woman from the Galveston shore of Texas, nodded and launched the proceedings. Loren knew that Hope's name was not on the list of those bought off by Cerberus, but she couldn't be positive of Hope's views on the company. Up to this point her probes had been moderate and seemingly independent. But that was soon to change now that she was confronted by Zale himself.

  "Mr. Zale, is it your position that the United States would be far better off if we became self-sufficient in domestic oil and did not require the importing of foreign crude from the Middle East and Latin America?"

  Oh God, thought Loren, she's playing right into his hands.

 
"Our reliance on foreign oil," began Zale, "is draining the economy. For the past fifty years, we have been at the mercy of OPEC, who has played with market prices like a yo-yo. Their insidious ploy was to raise the price of a barrel of oil by two dollars, then drop it one. Raise it two and drop it one, keeping the price edging slowly up and up until we are now looking at nearly sixty dollars a barrel for every barrel of imported oil. Prices at the gas pump are outrageous. Trucking companies and drivers who own their trucks are going under. Prices for airline tickets have skyrocketed because of higher aviation jet fuel prices. The only way to stop this madness that will eventually break the country is to develop our own fields and not have to rely on outside oil."

 
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