Iceberg, p.18

Iceberg, page 18

 

Iceberg
 


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  Pitt looked at Lillie. "Okay, come up with a better one."

  "As an agent in good standing with the N.I.A I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm a bit confused."

  "You're confused." Pitt shook his head in mock sadness. "I can't say I find it too comforting knowing our nation's security rests in your hands."

  Lillie smiled faintly. "It is you who has provided the confusion, Major. It is you who has broken the chain."

  "What chain?" Pitt said. "Or am I supposed to guess?"

  Lillie hesitated a moment before answering. Finally he looked directly at Pitt.

  "During the last eighteen months a chain of strange circumstances has been forged by country by country, from the southernmost tip of Chile to the northern border of Guatemala. Secretly, through a complex series of clandestine maneuvers, the great mining companies of South America have slowly merged into one giant syndicate. Outwardly it's business as usual, but behind the locked and barred doors of their respective administrations, the policies governing their operations come directly from a single unknown voice."

  59

  Pitt shook his head. "Not possible. I can name at least five Countries that have nationalized their mining cartels. There's no way they could tie in with a private company beyond their borders."

  "None the less, it's a documented fact. Where the mines have been nationalized, the management is controlled by an outside organization. The Parnagus-janios high-grade iron ore pits of Brazil, the Domingo bauxite mines of the Dominican Republic, the government silver mines of Honduras, they all take their directives from the-same person or persons."

  "How did you gather your information?"

  "We have many sources," Lillie said. "Some within the mining companies themselves. Unfortunately, our contacts have not infiltrated top-level management."

  Pitt mashed his cigarette into an ashtray recessed within the car door. "Nothing mysterious about someone attempting to gain a monopoly.

  If they have the guts to pull it off, more power to them."

  "A monopoly is bad enough," Lillie said. "The names of the men we've been able to uncover, who are high on the totem pole, include twelve of the, wealthiest men in the Western World-all possessing vast financial Powers in mineral exploitation.

  And each with tentacles so long that they reach out and control over two hundred industrial corporations." Lillie paused, staring at Pitt. "Once they gain a monopoly they can force the prices of copper, aluminum, zinc and several other commercial ores halfway to the moon. The resulting inflation would devastate the economies of at least thirty nations. The United States, of course, being one of the first to go to its knees."

  "It doesn't necessarily follow," Pitt said. "If that happens, they and their financial empires would be sucked down too."

  Lillie smiled and nodded. "That's the catch. These men, F. James Kelly of the U.S Sir Eric Marks of Great Britain, Roger Dupuy of France, Hans Von Hummel of Germany, Than Mahani of Iran, and others-each worth close to ten figures-are all loyal to their respective countries. Any one of them might chisel and cheat on taxes, but none of them would willingly send his government over the brink of economic disaster.

  "Then where's the profit motive?"

  "We don't know."

  "And Rondheim's connection?"

  "None, except his relationship with Kirsti Fyrie and her offshore mining interests."

  There was a long silence; then Pitt said slowly, "The burning question, then, is where do you fit in?

  What does the takeover of Latin American mining syndicates have to do with Iceland? The N.I.A. didn't send you up here to play cab driver just to learn the local highway system. While your brother agents are lurking behind potted plants watching Kelly, Marks, Dupuy and the others, your assignment is to keep an eye on another member of the money boys' group. Shall I mention the name or would you like it written on paper and sealed in an envelope by Price Waterhouse?"

  Lillie stared at him for a moment, considering.

  "You're shooting in the dark."

  "Am I?" Pitt was homing in now. "Okay, let's drag out the suspense and digress for a moment. Admiral Sandecker said he checked every port authority between Buenos Aires and Goose Bay and found twelve that recorded the entry and departure of an Icelandic fishing trawler matching the remodeled Lax. What he should have said was that he had them checked. Someone else did the actual work for him and that someone was the N.I.A."

  "Nothing out of the ordinary in that," Lillie said flatly. "Records are sometimes easier for us to obtain than a government agency concerned with marine life."

  "Except you already had the information before Sandecker requested it."

  Lillie said nothing. He didn't have to. His grim expression was all the motivation Pitt needed to continue.

  "One evening a couple of months ago, I ran into an Army communications officer in a bar. It was a slow night and neither of us felt like partying or chasing girls, so we just sat around and drank together until closing time. He had just finished a tour of duty at the Smytheford radio-communications station on Hudson Bay, Canada-a complex of two hundred radio masts forming a huge dish on a thousand-acre site. Don't ask me what his name and rank were so you can turn him in for divulging military secrets. I've forgotten them anyway."

  Pitt hesitated a moment to shift his feet to a more comfortable position before he went on.

  "He was proud of the installation, especially so since he was one of the engineers who helped design and construct it. The sophisticated equipment, he said, was capable of electronically monitoring every radio transmission north of New York, London and Moscow After the installation was completed, he and his crew of Army engineers were politely ordered to leave for duty elsewhere. It's only guesswork on his part, of course, but he was certain that it's currently being operated by the National Intelligence Agency which specializes in undercover eavesdropping on behalf of the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. A rather interesting assumption when you consider that Smytheford is advertised as a satellite tracking station."

  Lillie leaned forward. "Just where is all this leading to?"

  "To two gentlemen named Matajic and O'Riley.

  60

  Both deceased."

  "You think I knew them?" Lillie asked curiously.

  "Only by name. I see little reason to explain who they were. You already know. Your people at Smytheford monitored Matajic's message to Sandecker identic lying the long-lost Lax. It must have meant little to your intelligence analysts at the time, but their electronic ears undoubtedly pricked up when they received the pilot's last message seconds before the black jet blasted all three men into the sea. At this point, the plot thickens.

  Admiral Sandecker played it cagy and handed the Coast Guard a phony story about missing equipment, requesting air-sea search in the area NUMA's plane disappeared. Nothing was found . . . or at least nothing was reported. The Coast Guard struck out, but the N.I.A. didn't-they had the Lax and its mysterious crew pinpointed right from the start. Every time the ship radioed its home base in Iceland, the Smytheford computers plotted its exact position. Now the experts at your headquarters in Washington began to smell a connection between the lost undersea probe and the mining operations takeover in South America, so they backtracked and traced the ship's movements up and down the Atlantic Coast. When Sandecker asked for the same information, they discreetly waited a few days and then, fighting to keep a straight face, handed him a previously prepared copy."

  "This?"

  "Do you honestly expect me to admit to any of-"

  "I don't much give a damn what you admit to," Pitt said wearily. "I'm merely pointing out a few facts of life. Put them all together and they spell the name of the man you have under surveillance here in Iceland."

  "How do you know it isn't a woman?" Lillie probed.

  "Because you've reached the same conclusions I have-Kirsti Fyrie may control Fyrie Limited, but Oskar Rondheim controls Kirsti Fyrie."

  "So we're b
ack to Rondheim."

  "Did we really ever leave?"

  "Clever, clever deduction, Major Pitt," Lillie murmured.

  "Care to fill in any gaps?"

  "Until I receive orders to the contrary, I can't fully brief an outsider on all the details of our operation." Lillie's voice carried an official tone that didn't quite come off. "I can, however, acknowledge your conclusions. You are quite correct in everything you've said. Yes, the N.I.A. picked up Matajic's message. Yes, we tracked the Lax. Yes, we feel Rondheim is in some way connected with the mining syndicate. Beyond that there is little I can officially tell you that you don't already know."

  "Since we've become such close friends," Pitt said, grinning, "why don't you call me Dirk?"

  Lillie was gracious in defeat. "Have it your way.

  But don't you dare call me Jerome-it's Jerry." He held out his hand. "Okay, partner. Don't make me sorry I took you into the firm."

  Pitt returned the grip. "Stick with the kid here and you'll go places."

  "That's what I'm afraid of." Lillie sighed and gazed over the barren countryside for a moment as if weighing the turn of events. Finally he broke his thoughts and looked at his watch. "We'd better head back to Reykjavik. No thanks to you, I've got a busy night ahead of me."

  "What's on your agenda?"

  "First, I want to contact headquarters as soon as possible and pass on the serial number of the black jet.

  With a bit of luck they should be able to run a make and have the owner's name back to us by morning. For your sake, after all the trouble you went to, I hope it provides an important lead. Second, I'm going to poke around and see where that hydroplane was moored.

  Somebody has got to know something. You can't keep a craft like that a secret on an island this small. And third, the two scaled replicas of South American capitol buildings. I'm afraid you threw us a weird twist when you fished them from the briny deep. They must have a functional purpose. They may be vital to whoever built them, or they may not. Just to play safe, I'd better request Washington to fly in an expert on miniatures and have every square inch of those models thoroughly examined."

  "Efficient, industrious, professional. Keep it up. I may slowly become impressed."

  "I'll try to do my best." Lillie said sarcastically.

  "Would you like an extra hand?" Pitt asked. "I'm free for the evening."

  Lillie smiled a smile that made Pitt feel a twinge of uneasiness. "Your plans are already made, Dirk. I wish I could trade places with you, but duty calls."

  "I'm afraid to ask what's on your nasty little mind," Pitt said dryly.

  "A party, you lucky dog. You're going to a poetry reading party."

  "You've got to be kidding."

  "No, I'm serious. By special invitation from Oskar Rondheim himself. Though I suspect it was Miss Fyrie's idea."

  Pitts eyebrows came together over his penetrating green eyes. "How do you know this? How could you know this? No invitation arrived before you picked me up at the consulate."

  61

  "A trade secret. We do manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat occasionally."

  "Okay, I'll concede a point and stick a gold star on your chart for the day." It was beginning to get chilly so Pitt rolled up his window. "A poetry reading," he said disgustedly. "God, that ought to be a winner."

  Chapter 13

  It is debated among Icelanders whether the great house, sprawling over the crest of the highest hill above Reykjavik, is even more elegant than the President's mansion at Bessastadir. This could be argued until both structures crumbled to dust, mostly because there is no real case for comparison. The President of Iceland's residence is a model of classic simplicity, while Oskar Rondheim's modern edifice looked as if it had been spawned by the unleashed imagination of Frank Lloyd Wright.

  The entire block in front of the ornate grille doors was lined with limousines representing every expensive auto manufacturer of every country: Rous-Royce, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac. Even a Russian-built Zis stood temporarily in the circular driveway, unloading its cargo of formally dressed passengers.

  Beyond the entryway, eighty to ninety guests drifted in and out of the mairl salon and the terrace, conversing in a spectrum of different languages. The sun, which had been hidden off and on by a stray cloud, shone brightly through the windows even though it was just past nine o'clock in the evening. At the far end of the great salon, Kirsti Fyrie and Oskar Rondheim anchored the receining line under a massive crest bearing the red albatross and greeted each arriving guest.

  Kirsti was radiantly beautiful, gowned in white silk with gold trim, her blond hair elegantly wound Grecian style. Rondheim, tall and hawklike, towered beside her, his thin lips cracking in a smile only when politeness required. He was just greeting the Russian guests and smartly steering them toward a long table set with even rows of caviar and salmon and embellished by a huge silver punch bowl, when his eyes widened a fraction and the forced smile froze. Kirsti stiffened suddenly as the murmur of the guests died to a strange stillness.

  Pitt swept into the room with all the flourish of a matinee idol whose grandiose entrances were his stockin-trade. At the head of the stairway he stopped and took the handle of a lorgnette, hanging around his neck by a small gold chain, and held the tiny single lens up to his right eye and surveyed the startled audience who unabashedly stared back at him.

  No one could reOly blame them, even an authority on etiquette. Pitts outfit looked like a cross between a Louis XI court costume and God knew what. The red jacket sported ruffles on the collar and sleeves while a pair of brocaded yellow breeches tapered and disappeared into the red suede boots. Around his waist he wore a brown sHk sash, whose tasseled end hung to within inches of his knees. If Pitt had been searching for an eye-shattering effect, he achieved his purpose with honors. After building the scene to its peak, he daintily walked down the stairway and approached Kirsti and Rondheim.

  "Good evening, Miss Fyrie . . . Mr. Rondheim. How good of you to invite me. Poetry readings are absolutely my favorite soirees. I wouldn't miss one for all the lace in China."

  She gazed at Pitt, fascinated, her lips parted. She said huskily: "Oskar and I are happy you could come."

  "Yes, it's good to see you again, Major-" The words stuck in Rondheim's throat as he forgot and grasped Pitts deadfish handshake.

  Kirsti, as if sensing an embarrassing situation in the making, quickly asked, "You're not wearing your uniform tonight?"

  Pitt casually swung the lorgnette around on its chain. "Heavens no. Uniforms are so drab, don't you think? I thought it would be amusing if I came in mufti this evening so no one would recognize me." He laughed loudly at his own left-handed joke, turning every head within hearing distance.

  To Pitts extreme pleasure, Rondheim visibly forced himself to smile courteously. "We had hoped Admiral Sandecker and Miss Royal might also attend."

  "Miss Royal wig be along shortly," Pitt said, staring across the room through his eyeglass. "But I'm afraid the admiral isn't feeling well. He decided to retire early. Poor fellow, I can't blame him after what happened this afternoon."

  "Nothing serious, I hope." Rondheim's voice betrayed a lack of concern for Sandecker's health that was as obvious as his sudden interest in the reason behind the admiral's incapacity.

  "Fortunately, no. The admiral only suffered a few cuts and bruises."

  "An accident?" Kirsti asked.

  "Dreadful, simply dreadful," Pitt said dramatically. "After you were so kind to offer us the loan of a boat, we cruised to the south side of the island where I sketched the coastline while the admiral fished. About one o'clock we found ourselves enveloped by a nasty fog.

  Just as we were about to return to Reykjavik, a horrible explosion occurred somewhere in the mist. The blast blew out the windows in the wheelhouse, causing a few small cuts about the admiral's head."

  "An explosion?" Rondheim's voice was low and hoarse. "Do you have any idea as to the cause?"

  "Afraid I haven
't," Pitt said. "Couldn't see a thing.

  We investigated, of course, but with visibility no more than twenty feet, we found nothing."

  62

  Rondheim's face was expressionless. "Very strange. You are sure you saw nothing, Major?"

  "Absolutely," Pitt said. "You're probably thinking along the same lines as Admiral Sandecker. A ship might have hit an old World War Two mine or possibly a fire broke out and touched off its fuel tanks. We notified the local coastal patrol. They have nothing to do now but wait and see what vessel is reported as missing.

  All in all a terrifying experience-" Pitt broke off as Tidi approached. "Ah, Tidi, here you are."

  Rondheim turned on the smile again. "Miss Royal." He bowed and kissed her hand. "Major Pitt has been telling us of your harrowing experience this afternoon."

  The bastard, Pitt thought. He can't wait to pump answers out of her. Tidi looked cute and frisky in a blue full-length dress, her fawn hair falling straight and natural down her back. Pitt hung his arm loosely around her waist, letting the hand slip down out of sight, and pinched her soft bottom. He smiled as he looked down into those wide brown eyes-eyes that possessed a wise, knowing quality.

  "I missed most of it, I'm afraid." She reached behind her back and, clutching Pitts hand discreetly, twisted his little finger until he gave in and just as discreetly removed his arm from her waist. "The blast knocked me against a cupboard in the galley." She touched a small swelling on her forehead, the purplish bruise neatly covered by makeup. "I was pretty much out of it for the next hour and a half. Poor Dirk here trembled and threw up all the way back to Reykjavik."

 
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