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Valhalla rising, p.47
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       Valhalla Rising, p.47

           Clive Cussler
 

  49

  It doesn't look like any submarine I've ever seen," Giordino remarked, staring at a sleek vessel that looked more like a luxury yacht than an undersea boat.

  Pitt stood on the dock at Sheepshead Bay south of Brooklyn, admiring the eighty-five-foot craft whose exterior styling was that of an elegant powerboat. Giordino was right; above the waterline she looked like most any other expensive yacht. The only noticeable differences were what could be seen underwater. The large, rounded viewing ports in the forward sides of her hull were similar but smaller to those mounted in the hull of the Golden Marlin.

  Able to sleep eleven passengers and crew in lavish comfort, the Coral Wanderer was the largest model the Meridian Shipyard of Massachusetts built of the Ocean Diver series. Displacing 400 tons, it was designed to operate at a depth of 1,200 feet with a range of 200 nautical miles.

  Captain Jimmy Flett walked down the stairs from the deck to the dock and approached Pitt with an outstretched hand. He was short and burly, with a face turned ruddy from long years of a love affair with scotch whiskey, but his blue eyes had somehow managed to remain clear and bright. The skin on his arms and hands was not deeply tanned as one might expect on a man who had sailed on many voyages across warm, sun-splashed seas. Flett had spent most of his life on ships in the North Sea and had the tough, hardy look of a fisherman who returned home with a catch regardless of stormy seas. He had seen more than his share of hard blows and survived them all.

  He squeezed Pitt's hand to a pulp. "Dirk, how long has it been since we trod a deck and drank a scotch together?"

  "On the Arvor III back in 'eighty-eight."

  "The search for the Bonhomme Richard" said Flett, in a voice surprisingly soft. "As I recall, we didn't find it."

  "No, but we did stumble onto a Russian spy trawler that had gone down in a storm."

  "I remember. The British Navy ordered us to forget we'd ever found her. I always thought they were diving on her hours after we gave them the position."

  Pitt turned to Giordino. "Al, may I present Jimmy Flett. A good friend from times past."

  "Glad to meet you," said Giordino. "Dirk has often spoken of you."

  "Nothing good, I hope." Jimmy laughed, as he crushed Giordino's hand and got crushed in return.

  "So you've gone soft and become a skipper of luxury boats," said Pitt warmly, nodding at the underwater yacht.

  "I'm a seaman who prefers the surface. Nothing under the water has any interest for me."

  "Then why do it?"

  "The pay is good and the job easy. I'm getting old and can't fight the elements the way I used to."

  "Did you clear it with your bosses for us to use it?" asked Pitt.

  "They're not keen on the idea. She's still undergoing trials and is not certified yet. As soon as she passes all the regulations, I'm scheduled to sail her across the sea to Monte Carlo, where her new owners intend to put her out for charter to wealthy Europeans."

  "This is an extremely critical situation."

  Flett stared into Pitt's green eyes. "What do you want with her? All you said over the phone was that it was a NUMA charter."

  "We intend to use her as a torpedo boat."

  Flett stared at Pitt as though his gray matter were oozing from one ear. "I see," he murmured softly, "a torpedo boat. And what ship do you plan on sending to the bottom?"

  "A Liquid Natural Gas tanker."

  Now Flett could imagine gray matter flowing from Pitt's other ear as well. "And if I refuse your request?"

  "Then you will carry the blame for more than five hundred thousand lost lives."

  Flett instantly read the situation. "This tanker-are terrorists planning to blow her up?"

  "Not terrorists in the strict sense of the word. But a team of criminals who intend to run the ship aground near the World Trade Center towers before igniting the combustible gas."

  There was no hesitation, no more questions, no protests. Flett said simply, "Since the Wanderer doesn't carry torpedo tubes, what have you got in mind?"

  "Did you ever hear of the Confederate submarine Hunley?"

  "I have."

  "We're taking a page from her history," Pitt said with a self-assured smile, as Giordino began unloading a van parked on the dock.

  Twenty minutes later, the three men had mounted a long pipe that acted as a spar and protruded thirty feet in front of the boat's bow. Two more pipes were secured along the deck beneath the raised cabin. Without wasting another minute, they boarded, while Flett fired up the big supercharged diesel turbine engines. Busily occupied on the bow, Giordino attached magnetic explosive canisters to the ends of the two extra spars. The one that was already mounted had a hundred-pound plastic underwater charge bound on the end to a detonator.

  Flett took the helm as Pitt and Giordino cast off the bow and stern lines. The old captain stood at a console. Several levers protruding from its face controlled the surface and dive wings and directional thrusters, along with the throttle speed.

  Under three-quarter throttles, the Coral Wanderer soon shot across Sheepshead Bay into the open water and toward the Verrazano Bridge. The Coast Guard cutters and a fleet of smaller patrol boats had already spread out across the water ahead of the Wanderer's bow. Overhead they observed two Coast Guard and two New York Police helicopters circling like vultures above a huge repulsive-looking ship painted a dirty buff color.

  Flett shoved the twin throtde levers to their stops, lifting the bow clear of the water. He hugged the north shoreline in the dash across the bay, rounding Norton Point at Seagate, and cut a course that would send the Wanderer on an angle toward the LNG's midships.

  "What's her top speed?" Pitt asked Flett.

  "Forty-five knots on the surface. Twenty-five beneath."

  "We'll need every knot you can coax out of her once we submerge. The top speed of the Mongol Invader is twenty-five knots, too."

  "Is that her name?" asked Flett, as he gazed at the tight colossal tanks bulging on the big ship. "Mongol Invader?"

  "Somehow it fits her," Pitt replied caustically.

  "We should come alongside before she passes under the bridge."

  "Once she gets into the Narrows, it'll be too difficult to blast her from the air without taking out half of Brooklyn and Staten Island."

  "Your Hunley plan better work if the Coast Guard and New York's finest fail."

  Pitt pointed at the armada through the windshield. "The posse is closing in."

  On board the William Shea, Admiral Dover opened contact with the LNG tanker Mongol Invader. "This is the United States Coast Guard. Please heave to immediately and prepare for boarding."

  The tension on the bridge of the cutter was deepened by the absence of conversation. Dover hailed again, and a third time, but there was no reply. The Invader remained headed into New York Harbor without any indication of decreasing speed. The crew and captain on the bridge were all watching the admiral now, waiting for his orders to attack.

  Then abruptly a calm steady voice settled over the quiet bridge. "Coast Guard, this is the master of the Mongol Invader. I have no intention of bringing this ship to a stop. You will be advised that any attempt to damage my vessel will bring dire consequences."

  The uncertainty and suspense were suddenly swept away. There was no doubt now. The horror was real. Dover could have engaged the LNG's master in talk, but time was not on his side. There was a grave disadvantage to any stalling tactics. He gave the order for the helicopters to land their antiterrorist teams on the open deck forward of the tanks. At the same time, he directed the cutters to come alongside with their guns manned.

  He gazed through binoculars at the bridge of the ungodly-looking ship surging toward the Narrows bridge, wondering what her crazy commander was thinking. He had to be crazy. No sane man would attempt to devastate a city and a million people purely for monetary profit. These were no terrorists fanatical to a cause or religion.

  Dover could not believe any human could be so cold-bloodedly rotte
n. Thank God for a calm sea, he thought, as the helicopter hovered over the tanker in preparation for landing, and the cutters surged smoothly on a hundred-and-eighty-degree arc to approach and close on the great ship.

  The two red-orange Coast Guard-modified Dolphin helicopters took up station behind the stern of the LNG tanker as the first blue-black Jayhawk police copter came in low over the bow. The pilot increased the throttle and the collective pitch of the blades, matching the speed of the massive vessel as he drifted over the bow railing and hovered a few moments, studying the deck for hatches, ventilators or anchor chains that might foul a safe landing. A tall radar-and-watch mast stood between the upper tip of the bow and the first gas tank. The pilot, satisfied that he had enough room for an unobstructed landing, flared out the helicopter only twenty feet above the bow.

  That was as far as he got.

  Dover stood shocked, staring through his binoculars, as a small missile launched from atop the first tank tore into the helicopter, bursting it open like a firecracker in a tuna can. Flames from the shattered fuel tanks enveloped the craft as it hung blazing for a moment before dropping into the water, taking the police antiterrorist team with it. In seconds, after it had sunk from sight, there were only a few bits and pieces floating on the water, along with a spiral of smoke that stretched into the brightening sky.

  50

  Kanai watched with detached indifference as the Mongol Invader bullied its way through the pitiful floating remains of the wreckage of the police helicopter. He felt no guilt about erasing twelve men from the earth in less than ten seconds. In his mind, the helicopter's attack was merely an annoyance.

  Nor did the flotilla of Coast Guard cutters and the fireboats that surrounded his ship dispirit Kanai. He felt secure, knowing they would never dare assault him with guns blazing-not unless the commander of the fleet was either mad or incredibly stupid. If a stray shot penetrated one of the tanks and caused combustion, every ship and aircraft within a mile would be obliterated, including the cars and their passengers crossing the bridge far above.

  He stared upward at the roadway of the great bridge, one of the longest spans in the world. The ship was almost close enough to where he could hear the rumble of traffic above. With growing satisfaction, he observed the other helicopters pulling away, their pilots realizing that they were exposed and defenseless against rocket fire. Kanai turned his attention to the two Coast Guard cutters, with their white superstructures and hulls and the wide-angled orange stripes and CG insignias set off from narrow blue bands behind them. The two cutters were approaching the LNG tanker on opposite sides of her great hull. Their intention was clear, but their guns looked woefully inadequate to cause major damage to the Invader.

  Now it was his turn, he thought with amusement. But before he could give the order to his Viper teams to launch missiles against the cutters, they both opened fire simultaneously with twenty-five-millimeter Bushmaster guns mounted on their bows. The twin-barreled guns seemed insignificant to the task, too minuscule to cause damage to such a monster ship.

  The starboard cutter concentrated its armor-piercing rounds on the three-eighth-inch steel bulkhead of the bridge and wheelhouse, while the cutter on the port side blasted away at the lower hull of the stern in an attempt to penetrate the thicker steel plates that shielded the engine room. The men manning both guns were careful not to aim anywhere close to the giant tanks filled with the deadly propane.

  Kanai threw himself to the deck as the twenty-five-millimeter rounds slashed through the bridge, taking out the windows and ripping into the control console. The Viper at the helm was killed instantly. Another fell mortally wounded from the unanticipated assault. Scorning the storm of shells, Kanai reached up and snatched the radio from the bridge counter and shouted, "Launch surface-to-surface missiles now!"

  He lay on the deck and looked up through the shattered windows. The Invader was less than a mile from passing under the bridge. He also noticed that the bow was swinging slighdy to starboard. Shot to pieces, the navigation console was a mass of jagged holes, the computerized controls unable to send a course command to the rudder.

  He called down to the engine room. "Report damage."

  The Viper, who was a former chief engineer on naval ships used for secret operations, answered in a slow and deliberate voice. "Gunfire has disabled the port generator, but the engines are untouched. I have one man dead and one badly wounded. Shells are penetrating the bulkhead like wind-driven hail, but they're pretty well spent by the time they strike the machinery, which keeps damage to a minimum."

  Kanai saw that the tanker was beginning to veer out of the channel toward a buoy. "The bridge controls are shot away. Helm the ship from down there. Bring her back on course three-five-five to port or we'll collide with a bridge span. Hold steady until I order you otherwise."

  He crawled out on the bridge wing and peered down and saw a Viper lean over the starboard railing and fire missiles point-blank onto the bow of the Timothy Firme. The first passed through the thin deck and through the hull, exploding in the water. The other exploded against a bulwark and sent shredded steel cascading across the deck and cutting down the men manning the twenty-five-millimeter Bushmaster. Pieces of the gun flew in the sky like burning leaves.

  Then the air on the opposite side of the Mongol Invader was torn apart, as another missile bored into the funnel of the William Shea. It struck like a giant hammer, heeling the ship ten degrees and sending out a huge spray of debris and a cloud of dense black smoke. But the lone twenty-five-millimeter Bushmaster on her bow still peppered away at the hull surrounding the Mongol Invaders engine room.

  A second missile slammed into the Timothy Firme. Her hull trembled and flames burst out of her stern. An instant later, another plowed into her superstructure below the bridge. The explosion scattered steel splinters throughout the forward part of the ship. Coast Guard cutters were not heavily armored, as most naval vessels were, and the damage was severe. Half the officers were down on the bridge. She lost headway and began to fall away from the LNG tanker, afire in two places, smoke pouring out of her, badly crippled and drifting helplessly. More savage crashes and explosions rocked both Coast Guard cutters, smoke and flame twisting into the sky.

  Kanai had achieved the tactical advantage.

  He was gratified at the way the battle was going in his favor. He threw a glance astern and saw both of the larger Coast Guard cutters battered and nearly reduced to burnt-out derelicts, drifting helplessly. There would be no further worry from surface ships.

  With the police helicopters held at bay, he knew he wasn't home free, not yet. The Mongol Invader may have been closing in on the Verrazano Bridge, but Kanai was certain that whoever was in command of the intercept operation would call in military jet fighters before the ship reached relative safety under and beyond the bridge.

  Dover checked his body for wounds. He was bleeding from shrapnel cuts on his left shoulder and the side of his head. He felt for his ear and found it dangling by a shred of flesh. Out of frustration more than pain, he pulled it away and stuffed it in his pocket, certain that a surgeon could sew it back on later. He picked his way across the shattered wheelhouse. Dead and wounded men spread across the deck. They were young men who shouldn't be treated like this, he thought absently. This was not a war with a foreign enemy of the United States. This was a battle over internal economics. None of the slaughter made sense to him.

  The cutters had been sitting ducks against the concentrated fire from at least four portable shoulder-fired guided-missile systems. He could feel the speed falling off and the ship slowing down. The damage below her waterline was severe, and she was beginning to sink.

  Unable to assess the harm to the Timothy Firme on the other side of the Mongol Invader, but assuming the worst, Admiral Dover ordered the only officer of the Firme still standing to turn the cutter toward the nearest shore and ground her. The Coast Guard's struggle against the nightmare ship was finished.

  The last thr
ow of the dice, Dover thought grimly. Clutching the radio, he ordered in the three Air National Guard F-16C fighters that had assembled and were circling a few miles out to sea. He instinctively ducked as a missile from the LNG tanker flashed in front of the bridge and burst harmlessly in the water a hundred yards beyond. Then he crouched and peered over the railing, his eyes turned skyward.

  He changed the frequency on his radio and said slowly, distinctly, "Blue Flight, Blue Flight, this is Red Fleet. If you hear and understand me, attack the LNG tanker. Repeat, attack the ship. But for God's sake, don't strike the tanks containing the propane."

  "Understood, Red Fleet," replied the flight leader. "We will concentrate our fire on the stern superstructure."

  "Try for the engine room under the funnel," ordered Dover. "Do whatever it takes to stop her and stop her quickly without setting off the gas."

  "I copy, Red Fleet. Launching attack now"

 
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