Iceberg, p.2

Iceberg, page 2

 

Iceberg



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  The speaker crackled in reply. "The pilot says he's most grateful for your concern, Captain, and he respectfully requests that you have some men on hand to secure the landing gear the instant he touches the pad."

  "He's a courteous bastard," Dover grunted. "I'll say that for him."

  Jutting his chin out an extra half inch, Koski took another viselike grip on the pipe stem. "Courteous, hell! There's every possibility that idiot will wreck a good-sized piece of my ship." Then he shrugged in resignation and picked up a -bull horn, shouting into the mouthpiece. "Chief Thorp! Have your men ready to secure that bird the second it lands. But for God's sake, keep them under cover until it's firmly on the pad-and have a crash crew standing'by.

  "Right about now," Dover said softly, "I wouldn't trade places with those guys up there for all the sex goddesses in Hollywood " ' The Catawaba could not head squarely into the wind, Koski calculated, because the ttirbulenc'e dealt by the superstructure would litirl the aircraft to sure destruction. On the other hand, if the ship ran abeam of the sea, the roll would be far too excessive for the helicopter to land firmly on the pad. All the years of skill and judgment, coupled with the knowledge of the Catawaba's handling characteristics, made his decision almost routine.

  "We'll take them in with the wind and sea broad on the bow. Reduce speed and make the necessary course change."

  Dover nodded and disappeared into the wheelhouse. He returned a few moments later. "Broad on the bow as ordered and as steady as the sea allows."

  Caught in the cold grip of apprehension, Koski and Dover stared at the bright yellow helicopter as it swept through the mist, headed into the wind and approached the Catawaba's stern on a thirty-degree angle above the ship's spreading wake. Though the wind was buffeting the Ulysses badly, the pilot somehow managed to keep it in a level position. About a hundred yards back, it began slackening speed until it finally stopped in midair, hovering like a hummingbird over the rising and falling landing pad. For what seemed an eternity to Koski, the helicopter maintained its height while the pilot gauged the high point of the cutter's fantail each time it lifted on the crest of a passing swell. Then abruptly, when the landing pad hit its apogee, the copter's pilot cut back his throttles, and the Ulysses dropped neatly onto the Catawaba, a bare instant before the stern lurched downward in the trouch of the next wave.

  The skids had hardly kissed the pad when five of the cutter's crewmen dashed across the tilting deck and began struggling under the strong gusts to secure the helicopter before it was blown over the side into the water. The engine exhaust soon died away, the rotor blades idled to a stop, and a door opened on the side of the cockpit. Then two men, their heads bowed against the driving mist, leaped to the platform.

  "That son of a bitch," Dover murmured in wonder. "He actually made it look easy."

  Koski's face tightened. "Their credentials had better be first-rate-and their authority better come from Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington."

  Dover smiled. "Maybe they're congressmen on an inspection tour."

  "Not likely," Koski said curtly.

  "Shall I escort them to your cabin?"

  Koski shook his head. "No. Offer them my compliments and bring them to the officers' mess." Then he grinned slyly. "Right about now, the only thing that truly interests me is a hot cup of coffee."

  5

  In precisely two minutes, Commander Koski was sitting at a table in the officers' messroom, his cold hands gratefully encircling a steaming mug of black coffee. It was nearly half drained when the door opened and Dover entered the room, followed by a chubby character with large rimless spectacles mounted on a bald head that was edged by long unkempt white hair.

  Although the initial effect reminded Koski of a stereotypic mad scientist, the face was round and goodnatured, and the brown eyes had a crinkled grin. The stranger caught sight of the commander and marched up to the table and extended his hand.

  "Commander Koski, I take it. Hunnewell-Dr. Bill Hunnewell. Sorry to inconvenience you like this."

  Koski rose and shook Hunnewell's hand. "Welcome aboard, Doctor. Please sit down and have a cup of coffee."

  "Coffee? Can't stand the stuff," Hunnewell said mournfully. "I'd sell my soul for a nip of hot cocoa though."

  "Cocoa we've got," Koski said agreeably. He leaned back in his chair and raised his voice. "Brady!"

  A steward wearing a white jacket ambled from the galley. He was long and lean and walked with a gait that could only spell Texas. "Yessir, Captain. What'll it be?"

  "A cup of cocoa for our guest and two more coffees for Lieutenant Dover and-" Koski stopped and peered questioningly behind Dover. "I believe we're missing Dr. Hunnewell's pilot?"

  "He'll be along in a minute." Dover bore an unhappy look on his face. It was as if he tried to signal a warning to Koski. "He wanted to be sure the helicopter was tied down securely."

  Koski stared back speculatively at Dover, but then he let it go. "There you have it, Brady. And bring the pot; I could use a refill."

  Brady simply nodded in acknowledgment and returned to the galley.

  Hunnewell said, "It's true luxury to have four solid walls around me again. Sitting in that vibrating kite with nothing between me and the elements but a plastic bubble was enough to turn a man's hair gray."

  He ran his hand through the few remaining white strands surrounding his dome and grinned.

  Koski set down his mug, and he wasn't smiling. "I don't think you realize, Dr. Hunnewell, just how close you came to losing the rest of your hair and yourself as well. It was pure recklessness on the part of your pilot to even consider making a flight in this weather."

  "I can assure you, sir, that this trip was necessary." Hunnewell spoke in a benevolent tone, the same tone he might have used lecturing a schoolboy. "You, your crew, your ship has a vital function to perform, and time is the critical dimension. We cannot afford to lose a single minute." He pulled a slip of paper from his breast pocket and passed it across the table to Koski.

  "While I explain our presence, I must ask you to set an immediate course for this position."

  Koski took the paper without reading its contents.

  "Forgive me, Dr. Hunnewell, I am not in a position to grant your request. The only order I have from the Commandant's Headquarters is to take aboard two passengers. Nothing was mentioned about giving you carte blanche to run my ship."

  "You don't understand."

  Koski stared piercingly over his coffee mug at Hunnewell. "That, Doctor, is the understatement of the day. Just what is your capacity? Why are you here?"

  "Put your mind at ease, Commander. I'm not an enemy agent out to sabotage your precious ship. My PhD. is in oceanography, and I'm currently employed by the National Underwater and Marine Agency."

  "No offense," Koski said equably. "But that still leaves one question unanswered."

  "Perhaps I can help clear the air." The new voice came soft but firm with an authoritative resonance.

  Koski stiffened in his chair and turned to a figure who leaned negligently against the doorway-a tall, well-proportioned figure. The oak-tanned face, the hard, almost cruel features, the penetrating green eyes suggested that this wasn't a man to step on. Clad in a blue Air Force flight jacket and uniform, watchful yet detached, he offered Koski a condescending grin.

  "Ah, there you are," Hunnewell said loudly.

  "Commander Koski, may I present Major Dirk Pitt, Special Projects Director for NUMA."

  "Pitt?" Koski echoed flatly. He glanced at Dover and lifted an eyebrow. Dover only shrugged and looked uncomfortable.

  "By any chance the same Pitt who broke up that underwater smuggling business in Greece last year?"

  "There were at least ten other people who deserve the lion's share of the credit," Pitt said.

  "An Air Force officer working in oceanogaphic programs," said Dover, "a little out of your element, aren't you, Major?"

  The lines around Pitts eyes etched into a smile.

  "No more th
an all the Navy men who have gone to the moon.

  "You have a valid point," Koski conceded.

  Brady appeared and served the coffee and cocoa.

  He left and returned again, setting down a tray of sandwiches before retreating for the last time.

  Koski began to feel uneasy in earnest now. A scientist from a prominent government agency-not good.

  An officer in another branch of the service with a reputation for dangerous escapades-bad news. But the combination of the two, sitting there on the other side of the table telling him what to do and where to goabsolute plague.

  "As I was saying, Commander," Hunnewell said impatiently. "We must get to that position I gave you as quickly as possible."

  6

  "No," Koski said bluntly. "I'm sorry if my attitude seems hard-nosed, but you must agree, I'm perfectly within my rights in refusing your demands. As captain of this ship, the only orders I'm obliged to obey come from either Coast Guard District Headquarters in New York or the Commandant's office in Washington." He paused to pour--himself another cup of coffee.

  "And my orders were to take on two passengers, nothing more. I have obeyed, and now I'm resuming my original patrol course."

  Pitts eyes weighed Koski's granite features as a metallurgist might test a shaft of high-grade steel, probing for a flaw.

  Suddenly he straightened up and cautiously walked over to the galley door and glanced in. Brady was busy pouring a bulky sack of potatoes into a huge steaming pot. Then Pitt, still cautiously, turned and scrutinized the alleyway outside the messroom.

  He could see his little game was working; Koski and Dover were exchanging confused looks between taking in his movements. Finally, seeming satisfied there were no eavesdroppers, Pitt moved to the table and sat down, leaning close to the two Coast Guard officers, lowering his voice to a murmur.

  "Okay, gentlemen, here's the story. The position Dr. Hunnewell gave you is the approximate location of an extremely important iceberg."

  Koski colored slightly, but managed to keep a straight face. "And what, if I may ask without sounding stupid, Major, do you class as an important iceberg?"

  Pitt paused for effect. "One that has the remains of a ship imbedded under its mantle. A Russian trawler, to be exact, crammed with the latest and most sophisticated electronic detection gear Soviet science has yet devised. Not to mention the codes and data for their entire Western Hemisphere surveillance program."

  Koski didn't even blink. Without taking his eyes off Pitt, he took a pouch from under his jacket and calmly began loading his corncob.

  "Six months ago," Pitt continued, "a Russian traller , bearing the name Novgorod, rode just a few mil off the Greenland coast and kept watching other activities at the U.S. Air Force missile base on Disko Island.

  Aerial photographs showed that the Novgorod carried every electronic reception antenna in the book, and then some. The Russians played it cool, the trawler and crew, thirty-five highly trained men, and yes, women too never strayed within Greenland's territorial limits.

  She even got to be a welcome sight to our pilots, who used her as a checkpoint during poor weather. Most Russian spy ships are relieved of duty every thirty days, but this one maintained its position for a solid three months. The Department of Naval Intelligence began to wonder at the long delay. Then one stormy morning, the Novgorod was gone. It was nearly three weeks before her relief ship appeared. This time lag compounded the mystery-the Russians, up to then, had never broken their habit of relieving a spy ship until another one appeared on station."

  Pitt paused to tap his cigarette in an ashtray.

  "There are only two routes the Novgorod would have taken home to mother Russia. One was to Leningrad via the Baltic Sea, and the other was through the Barnets Sea to Murmansk. The British and Norwegians have assured us the Novgorod took neither. In short, somewhere between Greenland and the European coast, the Novgorod disappeared with all hands."

  Koski put down his mug and stared thoughtfully at its stained bottom. "It strikes me a bit strange that the Coast Guard was never notified. I know for a fact that we've received no report of a missing Russian trawler."

  "It struck Washington a bit strange too. Why would the Russians keep the Novgorod's loss a secret? The only logical answer is they didn't want any trace of their most advanced spy ship found by a Western nation."

  Koski's lips twisted in a sarcastic grin. "You're asking me to buy a Soviet spy ship locked in an iceberg?

  Come now, Major, I gave up on fairy tales when I discovered there was no Oz over the rainbow or a pot of gold under it."

  Pitt matched Koski's grin. "Be that as it may, it was olie of your own patrol planes that spotted a ship matching the outline of a trawler in an iceberg at 47036'N-43017'W."

  "It's true," Koski said coldly, "the Catawaba is the closest rescue ship to that position, but why haven't my orders to check it out come direct from District Command in New York?"

  "Cloak and dagger stuff," Pitt answered. "The last thing the boys in Washington wanted was a public announcement going out over the radio. Fortunately, the pilot of the aircraft who spotted the berg waited until he landed before making a detailed location report. The idea, of course, is to go over the trawler before the Russians have a chance to catch on. I think you can appreciate, Commander, how invaluable any secret information concerning the Soviet spy fleet is to our government."

  "It would seem more practical to place investigators on the iceberg who are skilled in electronics and intelligence interpretation." The subtle change in Koski's tone could hardly be called a softening, but it was there. "If you don't mind my saying so, a pilot and an oceanographer don't make sense."

  Pitt looked penetratingly at Koski, across to Dover, and back to Koski again. "A false front," he said quietly, "but one with a purpose. The Russians aren't exactly primitive when it comes to espionage operations. They couldn't help but become 7

  suspicious of military aircraft milling about an area of open sea where few, if any, ships ever travel. On the other hand, National Underwater and Marine Agency aircraft are commonly known to conduct scientific projects in desolate waters."

  "And your qualifications?"

  "I'm experienced at flying a helicopter in Arctic weather," Pitt answered. "Dr. Hunnewell is, with little doubt, the world's leading authority on ice formations."

  "I see," Koski said slowly. "Dr. Hunnewell will study the berg before the intelligence boys crash the party."

  "You have it," Hunnewell acknowledged. "If that really is the Novgorod under the ice, it's up to me to determine the most expedient method for entering the ship's hull. I'm sure you're aware, Commander, icebergs are a tricky lot to play with. It's like cutting a diamond; a miscalculation by the cutter, and the prize is lost. Too much thermite in the wrong place, and the ice can crack and split apart. Or, sudden and excessive melting might cause a change in the center of gravity, forcing the berg to topple upside-down. So you see, it is imperative the ice mass be analyzed before the Novgorod can be entered with any degree of safety."

  Koski leaned back and noticeably relaxed. His eyes locked on Pitts for a moment, and then he smiled.

  "Lieutenant Dover!"

  "Sir?"

  "Kindly oblige these gentlemen and lay a course for 47'36'N-43017'W, full ahead. And signal District Command in New York of our intent to depart station."

  He watched for a change of expression on Pitts face.

  There was none.

  "No offense," Pitt said equably. "I suggest you drop that signal to your District Command."

  "I'm not suspicious or anything, Major," Koski offered apologetically. "It's just that I'm not in the habit of cruising all over the North Atlantic without letting the Coast Guard know where their property is."

  "Okay, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention our destination." Pitt snuffed out his cigarette. "Also, please notify the NUMA office in Washington that Dr. Hunnewell and I have arrived safely on board the Catawaba and will continue our
flight to Reykjavik when the weather clears."

  Koski raised an eyebrow. "Reykjavik, Iceland?"

  "Our final destination," Pitt explained.

  Koski started to say something, thought better of it, then shrugged. "I'd better show you to your quarters, gentlemen." He turned to Dover. "Dr. Hunnewell can bunk with our engineering officer. Major Pitt can move in with you, Lieutenant.

  Pitt grinned at Dover, then stared back at Koski.

  "The better to keep an eye on me?"

  "You said it, not me," Koski replied, surprised at the pained expression that crossed Pitts face.

  Four hours later Pitt was dozing on a cot that had been squeezed into the iron womb Dover called his cabin. He was tired, almost to the aching point, but too many thoughts were running through his mind to allow him entry into the paradise of deep sleep. One week ago at this time he had been sitting with a gorgeous, sexmad redhead on the terrace of the Newporter Inn, overlooking the picturesque waterfront of Newport Beach, California. He fondly remembered caressing the girl with one hand while holding a scotch-rocks in the other, contentedly watching the ghost-like pleasure yachts glide across the moonlit harbor.

  Now he was alone and regrettably suffering on a plank-hard folding cot aboard a tossing Coast Guard cutter somewhere in the refrigerated North Atlantic Ocean. I must be a cardcarrying masochist, he thought, to volunteer for every madcap project that Admiral Sandecker keeps dreaming up. Admiral James Sandecker, Chief Director of the National Underwater and Marine Agency, would have shied at the term madcap project-damned bung twister would have been more his style.

  "Damned sorry to drag you from sunny California, but this damned bung twister has been dumped in our lap." Sandecker, a small, fire-haired, griffon-faced man, waved a seven-inch cigar in the air like a baton. "We're supposed to be engaged in scientific underwater research. Why us? Why not the Navy? You'd think the Coast Guard could handle its own problems." He shook his head in irritation, puffed on the cigar. "Anyway, we're stuck with it."

 

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