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Valhalla rising, p.46
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       Valhalla Rising, p.46

           Clive Cussler
 

  "So the whole exercise was a waste," murmured Sandecker. "Zale never intended to devastate San Francisco or any other densely inhabited port city."

  "Looks that way," said Pitt, dejectedly. "But if that's the case, why the subterfuge? What did he have to gain?"

  "Maybe he was just testing us?"

  "That's not his modus operandi."

  "There are no mistakes?" Yaeger asked Max.

  "I got inside the records of every port authority in the lower forty-eight states."

  Sandecker made as if to leave the office and shook his head wearily. "I guess that ends that."

  "Did you gentlemen ever consider a different type of vessel?" asked Max.

  Pitt looked at her with interest. "What do you have in mind?"

  "I was thinking on my own. An LNG ship could do far more damage than a UULCC."

  The revelation struck Pitt like a hammer blow. "A Liquefied Natural Gas tanker!"

  "One blew up in Japan back in the forties with nearly the explosive power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb," Max enlightened them. "The death toll ran more than a thousand."

  "Did you check to see if any are bound for stateside ports?" asked Yaeger.

  Max acted as if she were pouting. "You don't seem to have a high regard for my intuitive talents. Of course, I checked all incoming LNG ships."

  "Well?" Yaeger prompted.

  "The Mongol Invader, bound from Kuwait, is scheduled to dock in New York at ten-thirty."

  "A.M. or P.M.?" asked Sandecker.

  "A.M."

  The admiral checked his watch. "We can eliminate her. She would have docked twenty minutes ago."

  "Not so," said Max. "She was delayed by problems with her generators and had to heave to until repairs were made. She's running five hours late."

  Pitt and Sandecker exchanged stricken expressions.

  "That has to be Zale's plan," said Pitt. "Feint with the Pacific Trojan on the West Coast and strike New York from the east with the Mongol Invader."

  Sandecker pounded his fist against a table. "He caught us napping like diapered infants."

  "There's not much time to stop her before she reaches the lower bay and heads into the Narrows," Max remarked.

  "What does the Mongol Invader look like?" Yaeger asked Max.

  She revealed an image of the ship on the screen of a large monitor. The vessel looked like something out of a science-fiction comic book. The hull had the same lines as an oil tanker, with its engines and superstructure mounted at the stern, but there the resemblance ended. Instead of an expansive flat main deck, there were eight identical mammoth, freestanding, spherical tanks rising out of the hull.

  Max began to tick off the ship's specifications. "The largest LNG tanker yet built. Overall length is one thousand eight hundred sixty feet with a three-hundred-sixty-foot beam. She carries a crew of only eight officers and fifteen crewmen. The low number is due to the fact that she is almost entirely automated. Her cross-compound, double-reduction gear turbine engines put out sixty thousand shaft horsepower to each of her twin screws. Her country of registry is Argentina."

  Yaeger asked, "Who owns her?"

  "I traced her pedigree through a facade of paper companies that led to the doorstep of the Cerberus empire."

  Yaeger grinned. "Now, why did I think that's who you'd find?"

  "LNG tankers have a much shallower draft than oil tankers due to the difference in weight between gas and oil," said Sandecker. "She could very well make it up the Hudson River before turning and running toward lower Manhattan, then slip between the docks without grounding until she struck the shore."

  "Sally Morse said the Pacific Trojan was going to ram the city at the World Trade Terminal," said Yaeger. "Can we assume that Zale made a slip and meant the World Trade Center in New York?"

  "Exactly where I would strike Manhattan's shore if I wanted to do the most damage," Sandecker said in agreement.

  "What gas volume is she carrying?" Pitt asked Max.

  "Seven million five hundred seventy thousand three hundred thirty-three cubic feet."

  "Very bad," Yaeger muttered.

  "And the gas cargo?"

  "Propane."

  "Even worse," Yaeger moaned.

  "The fireball could be horrendous," explained Max. "A railroad tank car exploded in Kingman, Arizona, in the seventies. It held eight thousand gallons of propane, and the fireball extended almost an eighth of a mile. One gallon of propane will produce two hundred seventy of gas. Or, figuring one hundred sixty-two cubic feet of propane vapor per cubic foot of liquid, then multiply it by seven and a half million, you could conceivably produce a fireball almost two miles wide."

  "What about structural damage?" Sandecker queried Max.

  "Heavy," answered Max. "Major buildings such as the World Trade Center skyscrapers would still stand, but their interiors would be gutted. Most of the other buildings close to the center of the blast would be destroyed. I don't even want to speculate on the loss of life."

  "All because that crazy Zale and the Cerberus cartel want to inflame the American public against foreign oil," Pitt muttered angrily.

  "We've got to stop that ship!" said Sandecker in a cold tone. "There can be no mistakes this time."

  Pitt said slowly, "This ship's crew won't allow it to be boarded like the Pacific Trojan. I'll bet a month's pay Omo Kanai has his Viper group operating the ship. Zale would never trust such an undertaking to amateurs."

  Sandecker checked his watch again. "We have four and a half hours before she enters the Hudson River off Manhattan. I'll report what we've discovered to Admiral Dover and have him alert his Coast Guard units in the New York area to launch an intercept."

  "You should also call the New York State Antiterrorist Division," suggested Max. "They train and run practice drills for just such a possibility."

  "Thank you, Max," said Sandecker, warming to Yaeger's computer creation. Previously, he'd always thought Max was a strain on NUMA's budget, but he had come to realize that she was worth every nickel, and much more. "I'll see to it."

  "I'll round up Al. Using NUMA's new tilt-wing Aquarius jet, we should be on the NUMA dock in New York inside an hour."

  "What do you plan to do after you get there?" inquired a curious Max.

  Pitt looked at her as if she were asking Dan Marino if he knew how to throw a football. "Stop the Mongol Invader from destroying half of Manhattan. What else?"

  48

  Anyone gazing at a Liquefied Natural Gas tanker would have done so with grave skepticism, finding it hard to believe such a grotesque-looking ship could ever cross the oceans. The Mongol Invader, with her eight bulbous tanks rising from the upper half of her hull, was the largest of the LNG tankers ever built and did not look as if she belonged on the water, as she burrowed through choppy seas on a course dead set for the entrance to New York Harbor. Strictly utilitarian and painted an adobe brown, she had to be one of the ugliest ships afloat.

  Her architects had designed her to envelop, support and protect her eight immense, insulated-aluminum spherical cargo tanks that right now were full of liquid propane that should have been refrigerated to a temperature of about minus 265 degrees Fahrenheit. But on this trip from Kuwait the temperature had been gradually raised until it was only twenty degrees below the danger level.

  A floating bomb with the potential to devastate the lower half of Manhattan Island, the Mongol Invader was driven through the unruly waves at 25 knots by her great twin bronze screws, her forward underwater prow shrugging aside the water with deceptive ease. Flights of gulls came and circled but, sensing an ominous aura about her, they remained strangely silent and soon winged away.

  Unlike on the Pacific Trojan, no crew could be seen exploring the Mongol Invader's tanks or walking the long runway across their domed roofs. They remained unseen at their action stations. There were only fifteen of them scattered throughout the ship. Four operated the controls in the wheelhouse. Five ran the engine room while the remaining six were arme
d with portable missiles that could sink the largest Coast Guard cutter or bring down any aircraft that might attack. The Vipers were fully aware of the cost of indifferent vigilance. They were secure in the knowledge that they could easily repel any attempt to board by professional Special Forces, to whose military elements most of them had once belonged. They were supremely confident they could prevent any attempt to stop them before the ship entered the outer reaches of the city-and once they passed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge it was even money whether the commander-in-charge of the intercept operation would risk igniting a massive fireball.

  Leaning over the railing of the starboard bridge wing, Omo Kanai stared at the menacing dark clouds that drifted in an overcast sky. He was certain that any force arrayed against him would find it unlikely that fifteen men who were not fanatical terrorists, but simply well-paid mercenaries, would even think of committing suicide for their employer. This was not a James Bond movie. He smiled to himself. Only those on board the ship knew about the submarine attached to the hull one hundred feet forward of the rudder and twin screws. Once the ship was turned toward the Manhattan shoreline, Kanai and his Viper crew would board the hidden submarine and escape into deep water to avoid the ensuing fireball.

  He walked back onto the bridge, crossed his arms and ran his eye along the course he'd laid out on the chart, following the red line that traveled past Rockaway Point, then Norton Point at Seagate, before moving under the Verrazano Bridge that spanned Brooklyn and Staten Island. From there the line ran up the center of the Upper Bay and beyond the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Once past Battery Park, the red line made a sharp right turn into the shore and ended at the base of the twin World Trade Center towers.

  He flexed his muscular shoulders, his body attuned to the speeding mass of the ship below his feet. The Mongol Invader would not be stopped, could not be stopped before reaching her destiny. He would be remembered a thousand years from now for achieving the worst man-made disaster ever attempted against the United States.

  Kanai looked up through the bridge windshield and observed the cars moving over the bridge above the water turned a gray-green by the dark clouds. The colors on the cars' bodies flickered like insects as they crossed. He noted on the instrument console that brisk twenty-knot winds were blowing from the southeast. All the better to expand the killing distance of the fireball, he thought.

  The thought of thousands of incinerated victims never entered his mind. Kanai was incapable of emotion. He was immune to death and had no hesitancy about facing it when his turn came.

  His second in command, Harmon Kerry, a tough-looking customer with tattoos running up and down his arms, stepped onto the bridge from below. He picked up a pair of binoculars and peered at a cargo ship passing on their port side and heading out to sea. "It won't be long now," he said, with more than a hint of pleasure. "The Americans are in for a nasty surprise."

  "No surprise," Kanai muttered, "not if they realize by now that the Pacific Trojan was a decoy."

  "Do you think they're wise to the operation?"

  "Zale has yet to come up with a flawless plan," Kanai said flatly. "Unexpected and unforeseen circumstances kept them from total success. What we have achieved this far, we have done well. But someone, perhaps many, in the United States government has put two and two together. The five hours we were delayed by generator problems cost us dearly. Instead of arriving unexpectedly at the same time as the Pacific Trojan was boarded, and under cover of darkness just before dawn, we may have to face everything they can throw at us. And you can bet they'll be better prepared this time."

  "I look forward to seeing a smoldering and melted Statue of Liberty," said Kerry, with a diabolical grin.

  The helmsman who stood at the control console reported, "Forty minutes until we reach the bridge."

  Kanai stood and stared at the slowly approaching span. "If they don't try and stop us very soon, they'll never have another chance."

  Admiral Dover had flown in aboard a Navy fighter jet from the Alameda Naval Air Station on the West Coast within fifteen minutes of Sandecker's dire alert. His pilot had requested an emergency landing between commercial jetliners at JFK International Airport. From there, an NYPD helicopter flew him over to the Sandy Hook Coast Guard Station, where two fast 110-foot patrol cutters were waiting for his arrival to intercept the Mongol Invader.

  He stepped into the conference room of the station, his hands clenching and unclenching into fists from anxiety and desperation. He forced himself to think calmly. He could not allow himself to be overwhelmed by Zale's trick, or blame his powers of deduction for missing something that in hindsight seemed so obvious. Sandecker might still be wrong. There was nothing solid on which to hang another intercept operation, only conjecture, yet he was determined to see it through. If the Mongol Invader turned out to be another false alarm, so be it. They would keep searching until they got the right ship.

  Dover nodded silent greetings to the ten men and two women clustered in the room as he walked to the head of the conference table. He wasted no time on niceties. "Have the police aerial patrols flown over the ship?"

  A police captain who stood along one wall nodded. "We have a copter on station as we speak. He reports that the tanker is running at full speed toward the harbor."

  Dover sighed with relief, but only slightly. If this was indeed the ship that was to devastate Lower Manhattan, it had to be stopped. "Gentlemen, you've all been briefed over the phone and fax by Admiral Sandecker in Washington and know what to expect. If we can't turn it away, it must be sunk."

  A Coast Guard commander spoke off to Dover's side. "Sir, if we fire into the tanks, we could very well turn her into one immense explosion. Conceivably, the entire flotilla of intercepting boats, as well as the pilots flying the police patrol helicopters, could be caught in the fireball."

  "Better a thousand than a million," Dover replied curdy. "But under no circumstances are you to fire forward of the stern superstructure. If the crew refuses orders to heave to, then I will have no choice but to call in U.S. Navy fighters to destroy the ship with air-to-surface missiles. In that event, everyone will be warned in ample time to put as much distance as possible between their vessels and the Mongol Invader before combustion occurs."

  "What are our chances of boarding her, overpowering the crew and cutting off any detonation devices?" asked one of the police.

  "Not good if she won't stop, and continues at full speed inside the harbor. Unfortunately, the military force we had in San Francisco was ordered to stand down and return to their respective stations when we found we had the wrong ship. We haven't had time to reassemble them again or fly in new teams in time. I realize New York's Anti-terrorist Response Teams are trained for just such emergencies, but I don't want to commit them until we're certain the crew will put up no resistance." He paused to sweep the faces of the men and women in the conference room. "If you don't already know, the maximum flame temperature in the air of propane is three thousand six hundred degrees Fahrenheit."

  One of two New York Harbor fireboat captains present raised his hand. "Admiral, I might add that should the tanker cargo be exposed to fire, the resulting vapor explosion of seven million cubic feet of propane could produce a fireball nearly two miles in diameter."

  "All the more reason for us to stop that tanker before she comes anywhere close to the city," Dover answered tersely. "Any more questions?" There was no response. "Then I suggest we launch the operation. Time is running out."

  Dover left the briefing and went directly to the dock and walked up the gangway to the Coast Guard cutter William Shea. A deep sense of foreboding fell over him. If the Mongol Invader refused to be boarded and the Navy fighters failed to send her to the bottom short of her goal, time was far too short to evacuate Manhattan. Unfortunately, at this time of day the streets and buildings would be filled with office workers. The damage and loss of life would be horrendous if the LNG tanker were allowed to blow up.

  The o
nly other thought that briefly crossed his mind was Sandecker's quick mention that Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino would be involved with the intercept after all. But Dover had seen no sign of them. He wondered what had delayed them from attending the briefing, not that they might have made a difference. Dover doubted that they would have proved critical to the operation.

  The sun was trying to probe through the clouds as the William Shea and her sister cutter, Timothy Firme, cast off and sailed toward their confrontation with the Mongol Invader and her deadly cargo of propane gas.

 
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