Iceberg, p.20

Iceberg, page 20

 

Iceberg
 


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  "It's also good business to do the impossible," Kelly said "What you've suggested is not business, but political power madness." Kelly shook his head. "Madness maybe, but political power with selfish and inhuman motives, no." He searched the faces on the other side of the fireplace.

  They were all blank with disbelief.

  "I am F. James Kelly," he said softly. "In my lifetime I have amassed over two billion dollars in assets."

  No one present doubted him. Whenever the Wall Street Journal listed the one hundred wealthiest men in the world, Kelly's name always stood at the top.

  "Being wealthy carries tremendous responsibilities.

  As many as two hundred thousand people depend on me for their living. If I was to fail financially tomorrow, it would cause a recession that would be felt from one end of the United States to the other, not to mention the many countries around the world that depend upon my subsidiary companies for a high percentage of their local economies. Yet, as these gentlemen around me can testify, riches do not guarantee immortality. Very few of the rich are remembered in the history books."

  Kelly looked almost ill as he paused. No one in the room did anything but breathe until he continued.

  "Two years ago I began thinking about what I would leave after I was gone. A financial empire fought over by parasitic business associates and relatives, who had only Counted the days till my funeral so they could grab the spoils. Believe me, gentlemen, it was a pretty dismal thought. So I considered methods to distribute my assets in ways that would benefit mankind.

  But how? Andrew Carnegie built libraries, John D. Rockefeller set up foundations for science and education.

  What would do the most good for the peoples of the world regardless of white, black, yellow, red, or brown skins?

  Regardless of nationalities? If I had listened to my human emotions, it would have been an easy decision to use my money to assist the Cancer Crusade, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army or any one of the thousand medical centers or universities around the country.

  But was it really enough? Somehow it sounded too easy.

  I decided upon a different direction-one that would have a lasting impact on miwons of people for hundreds of years."

  "So you plotted to use your resources to become the self-proclaimed messiah of the poverty-stricken Latin nations," Pitt said.

  Kelly offered Pitt a condescending smile. "No, you're quite mistaken, Major-ah-"

  "Pitt," Rondheim provided. "Major Dirk Pitt."

  Kelly gazed at Pitt thoughtfully. "Are you by chance any relation to Senator George Pitt?"

  "His errant son," Pitt acknowledged.

  Kelly stood like a wax statue for a moment. He turned to Rondheim but only received a stone face in return. "Your father is a good friend," he said woodenly.

  "Was," Pitt said coldly.

  Kelly fought to keep his composure. It was apparent that the man was deeply troubled by his conscience.

  He downed his brandy, took a second to collect his thoughts, and went on.

  "It has never been my intention to play God.

  Whatever path I chose had to come from a means far more calculating, far less emotional than the human mind."

  "Computers!" the word fell from the lips of Kelly's elderly friend. "Hermit Limited was the project you programmed into the computers at our data processing division nearly two years ago. I remember it well, James. You closed down the entire complex for three months. Gave everyone a vacation with pay-a display of generosity that you've seldom demonstrated before or since. Loaned the use of the equipment, you said, to the government for a top secret military project."

  I was afraid even then you might have guessed my intentions, Sam."

  It was the first time Kelly had called the old gentleman by name. "But systems analysis provided the only efficient solution to the problem I presented myself. The concept could hardly be classed as revolutionary. Every government has its think tanks.

  The space systems devised for our rocketry and moon projects have been utilized for everything from diagnosing crime reports to improving surgical procedures. Programming a computer to select a country or geographic location that is ripe for a 67

  controlled and developed utopian atmosphere and the method to achieve that goal is not as farfetched as any of you might think. "It's sheet science fiction."

  "In this day and age we all deal in science fiction, do we not'?" Kelly answered. "Consider this, gentlemen.

  Of all the nations of the world, the nations of Latin America are the most vulnerable to outside penetration, primarily because they have not had to face foreign encroachment in well over a hundred years. They were protected by a wall, a wall built by the United States and called the Monroe Doctrine."

  "The American government will take a very dim view of your grandiose scheme," said a tall man with white hair, white eyebrows and solemn eye.

  "By the time their agents have penetrated Hermit Limited's organization we will have proven our intentions with solid accomplishments," Kelly said. "They will not bother us. in fact, I predict they Will discreetly give us a green light and provide whatever aid they consider possible without international repercussion."

  "I take it you don't intend to go it alone," Pitt probed.

  "No," Kelly tersely answered. "After I satisfied myself that the program was sound and had every chance to succeed, I approached Marks, Von Hummel, Boyle and the other gentlemen you see here who possessed the financial means to make it a reality. They thought as I did. Money is to be used for the, common good of all. Why die and leave nothing but a large bank account or a few corporations that soon forget who Planted their seed and nourished them to financial maturity? We then met and formed Hermit Limited. Each Of us owns equal shares of stock and has an equal voice on the board of directors."

  "How do you know one or more Of Your partners in crime won't get greedy?" Pitt smiled faintly. "They may swindle a couple or two for themselves."

  "The computer hose well," Kelly said, undaunted.

  "Look at us. No one is under the age of sixty-five.

  What do we have left? One, two, maybe with luck ten years. We are all childless. Therefore, no heirs. What does any one of us have to gain by excessive avarice?

  The answer is simple. Nothing."

  The Russian shook his head incredulously. "Your scheme is absurd.

  Even my own government would never consider such drastic and reckless action."

  "No government would," Kelly said in patient explanation. "But there lies the difference. You think only in political terms.

  In the history of man, no nation or civilization has ever fallen except by internal revolution or by foreign invasion. I intend to write a new chapter by accomplishing the impossible by adhering to strict business principles."

  "I can't say as I recall murder being taught as a required course in business administration school," Pitt said, easily, lighting a cigarette.

  "An unfortunate but necessary part of the plan," returned Kelly. "Methodical assassination is perhaps a more fitting term."

  He turned to the Russian. "You should have your KGB agents read the Ismailians, Comrade Tamareztov. It goes into great detail concerning the methods used by a Persian sect of fanatics that spread terror through the Mohammedan world in 1090

  A.D. The word Assassin is their dark memorial to the ages."

  "You're as mad as they were," the Frenchman said severely.

  "If you believe that," Kelly said slowly, "you're very naive."

  The Frenchman looked dazed. "I do not understand. How can you-"

  "How can my associates here and I take over an entire continent?" Kelly finished. "Basically, it's elementary. Purely a problem of economics. We start with an impoverished country, gain control of its monetary resources, discreetly eliminate its key leaders and buy it out."

  "You wax lyrical, James," said the old man.

  "You'll have to do better."

  "There is genius in simplicity, Sam. Take
, for example, Bolivia. A country whose people are close to starvation . . . in many cases the income per family barely exceeding twenty dollars a year. its whole economy is based on the Peroza copper mines.

  Gain control of the mines and you gain control of the country."

  "I should think Bolivia's army will have something to Say about a foreign-inspired takeover," Pitt said, Pouring a glass to the brim with brandy.

  "Quite right, Major Pitts" Kelly smiled, then said briskly: "But armies have to be paid. Each has its price, particularly its generals.

  If they refuse to be bought, it is then a simple matter of elimination. Again, a business principle. In order to build a more efficient organization, you discard the deadwood and replace it with hardworking, dedicated individuals." He paused a moment, unconsciously smoothing his beard. "After Hermit Limited assumes the administration of the government, the army shall be gradually disbanded. And why not?

  It is only a drain on the economy. Again, you could compare an army to a company that is losing money. The obvious solution is to close the doors and write it off as a tax loss."

  "Have you forgotten the people, James?" It was SaM who spoke. "Do you truly expect them to stand idly while you turn their country upside down?"

  68

  "Like any going concern, we have an advertising and marketing department. As with a new product about to be introduced on the market, we have a detailed promotional campaign all worked out. People only know what they see and hear in the media to which they have access. One of our first steps was to purchase, under a local citizen's name, of course, whatever newspapers, radio and television stations that were available."

  Pitt said: "I assume you don't envision a free press in Your Shangri-La?"

  "A free press is pushing a form of permissiveness," Kelly said impatiently. "Look what it has done to the United States. Print anything so long as its filthy, scandalous, sensational-anything to sell more papers in order to obtain more paid advertising.

  The so-called free press in America has stripped every moral fiber from a once great nation and left nothing but a stagnant pile of garbage in the closets of the people's minds."

  "Granted, the American press isn't perfect," Pitt said. "But they at least make an effort to get at the truth and expose autocrats like yourself."

  Pitt quickly fell silent, surprised at himself for making a speech. He had come close to falling out of character. He knew now that if there was a slight thread of hope for escape, it lay in his continued masquerade as one of the gay boys. "Goodness, I didn't mean to get carried away."

  Frowning, baffled, Kelly lifted his eyes to look again at Rondheim. His silent question was answered with a disgusted shrug.

  The old man called Sam broke the silence. "After you buy out one country, James, how do you intend to take over the rest?

  Even you and your associates, as you call them, haven't the capital to gain financial control of the entire continent in one fell swoop."

  "True, Sam, even our combined resources can only go so far. But we can make Bolivia, for example, into an orcanized and fruitful society. Try and imagine it, with no corruption at the administrative level, the military, except for a token force, eliminated, the agriculture and the industry all geared toward providing a better life for the people, the, consumers." The intensity in Kelly's voice began to rise. "Again business principle, sink every nickel and dime into growth. None goes to profit.

  Then, when Bolivia is established as the utopian prototype the envy of all the peoples on the continent, then we shall annex her neighboring countries, one by one."

  "The poor and the hungry waiting breathlessly to be swept into paradise," the Frenchman said contemptuously. "Is that it?"

  "You think you exaggerate," Kelly said indifferently, "but you hit the truth closer than' you intended.

  Yes, the poor and the hungry will be eager to snatch at any straw that guarantees an immensely higher standard of living."

  "The domino theory impelled by noble thoughts," Pitt added.

  Kelly nodded. "As you say, noble thoughts. And why not? Western civilization has a constant history of rebirths impregnated by noble thoughts. We businessmen, as perhaps the largest and most powerful influence of the last two hundred years, now have a golden opportunity to determine whether another brilliant rebirth shall occur or whether a civilization that lies in the gutter shall remain there and stop breathing forever.

  "At this point I must admit to being a stick-in-the-mud. I hold a number of doctrines that have been poohpoohed by the best academic minds of higher learning. I entertain the thought that organization is better than confusion. I prefer profit to loss, strong means to gentle persuasion to accomplish a goal. And I'm dead certain that sound business rules are more valuable than political ideologies."

  "Your grand design has a flaw," Pitt said, helping himself to another brandy. "A deviation that could easily screw up the works." Kelly stared at Pitt speculatively. "Your brain against the most advanced techniques of computer science? Come now, Major. We've spent months programming every possibility, every abnormality. You're merely Playing games."

  "Am I?" Pitt downed the brandy as if it were water and said to Kelly: "How do you explain Rondheim and Miss Fyrie? They hardly pass the age requirements for executive material of Hermit Limited. Rondheim is short by twenty years. Miss Fyrie . . .

  well, ah . . . she doesn't even come close."

  "NEss Fyrie's brother, Kristjan, was an idealist, like myself, a man who was searching for a way to raise people from the mud of poverty and misery. His acts of generosity in Africa and other parts of the world where his business transpired led us to make an exception.

  Unlike most hardheaded businessmen, he used his wealth for the common good. When he tragically lost his life, we, the board of directors of Hermit Limited," he bowed to the men seated around him, "voted to elect Miss Fyrie in his place."

  "And Rondheim?"

  "A fortunate contingency we had hoped for, but not counted on. 'enough his extensive fishing faculties appeared an enticing asset toward developing the fishing industry of South America, it was his hidden talents and useful connections that swung the pendulum in his favor."

  "The superintendent of your liquidation department?" Pitt said grimly. "The leader of your private sect of Ismailians?"

  The men around Kelly looked at each other, then at Pitt. They looked in silence with curiosity written on their faces. Von Hummel wiped his brow for the fiftieth time and Sir Eric Marks rubbed his hand across his lips and nodded at Kelly, a movement that did not go unnoticed by Pitt. Swinging the sash around his waist semicomily, Pitt walked over to the table and poured himself another glass of the Rouche, a last drink for the road, because he knew Kelly never meant for him to leave the house through the front door.

  "You guessed that?" Kelly said in an even voice.

  69

  "Hardly," Pitt said. "After you've had three attempts on your life, you kind of get to know these things."

  "The hydroplane!" Rondheim snapped savagely.

  "You know what happened to it?"

  Pitt sat down and sipped the brandy. If he had to die, at least he had the satisfaction of knowing he held the stage at the end.

  "Terribly sloppy of you, my dear Oskar, or should I say the late captain of your last boat. You should have seen the look on his face just before my Molotov cocktail hit him."

  "You damned queer!" Rondheim said, his voice shaking with fury. "You lying faggot!"

  "Sticks and stones, my dear Oskar," Pitt said carelessly. "Think what you may. One thing is certain. Due to your negligence, you'll never see your hydroplane and crew again."

  "Can't you see what he's trying to do?" Rondheim took a step toward Pitt. "He's trying to turn us against each other."

  "That will do!" Kelly's tone was cold, his eyes commanding. "Please go on, Major."

  "You're very kind." Pitt downed his brandy and poured another. What the hell, he thought, might as well deaden whatev
er pain. that was coming. "Poor Oskar also bumbled the second attempt. I don't have to go into the sorry details, but I'm sure you're aware that his two feeble-brained assassins are talking like women on a party line right this minute to agents of the National Intelligence Agency."

  "Damn!" Kelly spun around to Rondheim. "is that true?"

  "My men never talk." Rondheim glared at Pitt.

  "They know what will happen to their relatives if they do. Besides, they know nothing."

  "Let us hope you're right," Kelly said heavily. He came and stood over Pitt, staring with a strangely expressionless gaze that was more disturbing than any display of animosity could ever have been. "This game has gone far enough, Major."

  "Too bad. I was just getting warmed up, just getting to the good part."

  "It isn't necessary."

  "Neither was killing Dr. Hunnewell," Pitt said. His voice was unnaturally calm. "A terrible, terrible mistake, a sad miscalculation. Doubly so, since the good doctor was a key member of Hermit Limited."

  Chapter 15

  For perhaps ten shocked, incredulous seconds Pitt let his words soak in as he sat nonchalantly in an armchair, cigarette in one hand, glass in the other, the very picture of relaxed boredom. Not so Rondheim and the other members of Hermit Limited.

  Their faces were as uncomprehending as if each had just come home and found his wife in bed with another man. Kelly's eyes widened and his breath seemed to stop. Then slowly he began to gain control again, calm, quiet, the professional businessman, saying nothing until the right words formed in his mind.

 
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