Valhalla Rising, page 28
Gunn shook Lasch's hand. "Thank you, Mr. Lasch. I hope we haven't unduly alarmed you, but Admiral Sandecker felt you should be aware of any potential danger."
"I quite agree. Please tell the admiral I'm grateful for his concern, but I foresee no serious problems. The Golden Marlin has undergone extensive sea trials, and Dr. Egan's engines and all the boat's emergency systems performed beautifully."
"Thank you, Mr. Lasch," said Pitt. "We'll keep you informed of any new developments."
As they left Lasch's office and were riding down in the elevator, Giordino sighed. "Well, we tried."
"I'm not surprised," said Gunn. "The Emerald Dolphin disaster has left the company hanging on the ropes. Postponing the sailing of the Golden Marlin would have closed the cruise line for certain. Lasch and his directors have no choice but to send the ship on her maiden voyage and hope for an uneventful cruise."
After Gunn returned to the airport for the flight back to Washington, Pitt, Giordino and Kelly arranged through Warren Lasch's private secretary to book rooms at the hotel for the night. As soon as he was settled in, Pitt called Sandecker.
"We failed to talk Lasch into postponing the sailing," Pitt explained.
"I thought you would." Sandecker sighed.
"Al and I, along with Kelly, are sailing on the boat."
"You cleared this with Lasch?"
"He agreed without argument."
Pitt could hear the admiral shuffling papers on his desk over the phone. Then Sandecker said, "I have a bit of news for you. The FBI think they have identified the man behind the fire on the Emerald Dolphin from descriptions given by the surviving passengers."
"Who is he?"
"A real sour apple, this one. His real name is Omo Kanai. Born in Los Angeles: He built a five-page rap sheet by the time he was eighteen and enlisted in the Army to escape an assault charge. Worked himself up through the ranks before becoming an officer and transferring into a highly secret military organization called CEASE."
"Never heard of it."
"Considering their function, very few in government have," said Sandecker. "CEASE stands for Covert Elite Action for Select Elimination."
"I've still never heard of it," said Pitt.
"It was originally formed to combat terrorism by assassinating terrorist leaders before their actions could threaten American citizens. But a decade ago, the president curtailed their projects and ordered them disbanded, which was not a good idea as it turns out. Highly trained in political and covert murder, Omo Kanai, now a captain, resigned along with twelve of his men and formed a commercial assassination company."
"A Murder Incorporated."
"Along the same lines. They hire out for killings. There is a whole list of unsolved deaths over the past two years, from politicians to corporate directors to certain celebrities. They've even hit Mafia leaders."
"Aren't they under investigation?" asked Pitt.
"The FBI has files, but these guys are good. They leave behind no evidence of their involvement. Investigative agents are frustrated because they have yet to lay a finger on Kanai and his murdering gang. There is growing fear that future economic wars will lead to death squads."
"Murder and mayhem are hardly what economic forecasters have in mind."
"Repulsive as it may sound," Sandecker said conversationally, "there are a few corporate CEOs here and there who will stop at nothing to achieve power and monopoly."
"Which brings us to Cerberus."
"Correct," Sandecker answered succinctly. "And it's becoming more evident that not only was Kanai behind the fire on board the Emerald Dolphin and the explosions that blew out the hull of the liner while under tow, but it was he, impersonating a ship's officer, who sabotaged the fire-control systems."
"One man could not have done all that alone," Pitt said dubiously.
"Kanai doesn't always work alone. That's why I'm warning you and Al to be alert every second you're on the Golden Marlin"
"We'll keep a sharp eye out for any suspicious behavior by the crew."
"Better you keep an eye out for Omo Kanai."
"You lost me," Pitt said, puzzled.
"His ego is too great. He won't leave a job like this to his subordinates. You can bet he'll run the show himself."
"Any idea what he looks like?"
"You should know. You met him."
"I met him? Where?"
"I've just received word from New York police investigators. Omo Kanai was the pilot of the old plane that tried to shoot you down."
The Golden Marlin looked like no other cruise liner ever built.
There were no promenade decks, no stateroom balconies, no smoke or exhaust funnels. Her rounded superstructure was covered with rows of large, circular viewing ports. The only prominent features were a round, domelike structure above her bow that housed the bridge and control room, while on the stern a high fin enclosed an opulent lounge and casino that revolved around stationary viewing ports.
At 400 feet in length and 40 feet wide, she was in the same class as most of the smaller luxury cruise liners that sailed the seas. Until now, undersea tourist excursions were undertaken in small submarines that were limited in depth and distance. The Golden Marlin was about to change the history of cruising. With her self-sustaining engines designed by Dr. Egan, she could travel throughout the Caribbean Sea, in depths up to 1,000 feet for two weeks, before coming into port for food and supplies.
Given the public's insatiable lust for leisure-time activity and with an economy that put increased amounts of spendable income in their pockets, ocean cruising had become a mushrooming segment of the three-trillion-dollar international travel and tourism market. Now, with a submarine cruise liner, the horizon for undersea travel was about to spread immeasurably.
"She's beautiful," exclaimed Kelly, as she stood on the dock in the early morning, staring up at the unique vessel.
"The gold is a bit much," muttered Giordino, adjusting his sunglasses from the glare that glinted off the superstructure from the rising sun.
Pitt was silent as he studied the seamless shape of the titanium hull. Unlike on older ships, no plates or rivets were visible. The big tourist submarine was a marvel of marine technology. He was admiring the workmanship when a ship's officer approached from the foot of the gangway.
"I beg your pardon, but are you the people from NUMA?"
"We are," answered Giordino.
"I'm Paul Conrad, the boat's first officer. Mr. Lasch advised Captain Baldwin of your joining us for the maiden voyage. Do you have any luggage?"
"Only what we carry," said Kelly, looking forward to seeing the interior of the boat.
"You'll have a stateroom, Miss Egan," said Conrad politely. "Mr. Pitt and Mr. Giordino will have to share a cabin in the crew's quarters."
"Next to the showgirls who perform in the theater?" asked Giordino with a straight face.
"No such luck," Conrad laughed. "Please follow me."
"I'll be with you in one moment," said Pitt. He turned and walked along the dock to a ladder leading to the water. A man and a woman wearing wet suits were checking their dive gear before stepping down the ladder and entering the water. "Are you the team who is going to inspect the bottom of the hull?"
A slim, handsome man looked at him and smiled. "Yes, that's right"
"My name is Dirk Pitt. I was the one who requested your services."
"And the lady?"
"My wife, Caroline. Honey, this is Dirk Pitt from NUMA. We can thank him for the job."
"Pleased to meet you," said a lovely blonde who nicely filled out her wet suit.
Pitt shook her hand, surprised at the strong grip. "I'll bet you're an expert diver."
"Been doing it for fifteen years."
"She can dive as well as any man," Martin said proudly.
"Can you tell us exactly what it is we're looking for?" asked Caroline.
"No sense in dodging the issue," replie
Martin looked unfazed. "And if we find one?"
"If you find one, you'll find others. Don't touch them. We'll arrange for an underwater demolition team to remove them."
"Who do we notify?"
"The captain of the ship. It's his responsibility at that point."
"A pleasure meeting you, Mr. Pitt," said Martin.
"Likewise," Caroline spoke, with a charming smile.
"Good luck," Pitt said warmly. "You'll make my day if you don't find anything."
By the time he reached the gangway, the Martins were in the water and diving under the Golden Martin's hull.
The boat's first officer led Kelly through a luxurious solarium and up a glass elevator etched with tropical fish to a comfortable stateroom on the Manta Deck. Then he showed Pitt and Giordino to a small cabin below the passenger decks in the crew's quarters.
"I would like to meet with Captain Baldwin as soon as it's convenient," said Pitt.
"The captain is expecting you for breakfast in the officers' dining room in half an hour. The boat's officers and an inspection team from the boatbuilder that came aboard late last night will also be present."
"I'd like Miss Egan to attend," said Pitt in an official tone.
Conrad looked uneasy but quickly recovered. "I'll ask Captain Baldwin if he'll permit the lady to sit in on the meeting."
"Since this boat wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for the genius of her father," said Giordino curtly, "I think it only proper that she be present."
"I'm sure he'll agree," Conrad said hastily, as he exited the cabin and closed the door.
Looking around the sparse and closetlike cabin, Giordino said, "I get the impression we're not welcome here."
"Welcome or not," said Pitt, "we've got to ensure the safety of the boat and its passengers." He reached into his duffel bag and handed Giordino a portable radio. "You contact me if you find anything. I'll do likewise."
"Where do we start?"
"If you wanted to send this vessel to the bottom and everyone with it, how would you go about it?"
Giordino looked thoughtful for a few moments. "If I got away with a fire on the Emerald Dolphin, I might try the same game again. But if I wanted to send her to the bottom with no fuss or muss, I'd blow out either the hull or the ballast tanks."
"My thoughts exactly. You start with that scenario and search the ship for explosives."
"What are you going to look for?"
Pitt smiled, but there was no humor behind it. "I'm going to look for the man who will light the fuse."
If Pitt had hoped the captain of the Golden Marlin was going to be a model of harmonious cooperation, he was wrong. Captain Morris Baldwin was a man who walked a straight line and never deviated. He ran a tight ship and did not intend to have outsiders come on board and disrupt his set routine. His only home was the ship he served. If he had a wife, which he did not, or a home, which he found a waste of time, he would have been an oyster without a shell.
His face was a stern mask, red, ruddy and never cheerful. He gazed through beady dark walnut eyes under heavy lids that were set and grim. Only the magnificent silver mane gave him an air of sophisticated authority. His shoulders were as broad as Giordino's, but he was a good ten inches heavier in the waist. He drummed his fingers on the table in the officers' dining room and stared steadily at Pitt, who stared back without so much as a blink.
"You say this ship is in danger?"
"I do," said Pitt, "and so does Admiral Sandecker and a number of other high officials with the FBI and CIA."
"Nonsense," he said distinctly, his knuckles whitening on his chair's armrest. "Just because one of our liners suffered a disaster doesn't mean there will be a repeat performance. This boat is as safe as they come. I've gone over every inch of her myself. Hell, I even supervised her construction." He looked around the table in irritation at Pitt, Giordino and the four-man inspection team sent by the shipbuilders. "Do what you think you have to do. But I warn all of you not to interfere with the operation of this boat during the voyage, or I swear I will put you ashore in the next port, regardless of whatever reprimand I receive from management."
Rand O'Malley, a man every bit as gruff as Baldwin, smiled sardonically. "As head of the inspection team, I can assure you, Captain, we will not get in your way. But I expect you to cooperate if we should find a problem with any of the safety systems."
"Search all you want," muttered Baldwin. "I promise that you'll find nothing that will endanger this boat."
"I suggest you wait until you receive a report from the divers who are inspecting the lower hull," said Pitt.
"I see no reason to wait," Baldwin snapped.
"There is the possibility they may find foreign objects attached to the hull."
"This is real life, Mr. Pitt," Baldwin said indifferently, "not some fantasy tale on television."
For perhaps nearly half a minute, there was silence, total silence. Then Pitt was on his feet, arms outstretched, leaning on the table with both hands, his lips parted in a brisk wintry smile, his eyes boring into Baldwin's.
Giordino knew all the signs. Here it comes. Good old Dirk, Giordino thought blissfully. Give the arrogant jerk hell.
"It appears that you have no idea of the danger your boat is facing," Pitt said solemnly. "I'm the only one at this table who witnessed the terrible havoc the fire created on the Emerald Dolphin. I saw men, women and children die by the hundreds, some burning alive in agony, others drowning before we could get to them. The sea bottom is littered with ships whose captains thought they were invincible and immune to catastrophe. The Titanic, Lusitania, Morro Castle, their captains all ignored the omens and the danger signs and paid a heavy price. When it comes, Captain Baldwin, as it surely will, to this boat and everyone on board, it will come with lightning speed before you and your crew can react. The crisis will strike with overwhelming suddenness from a quarter you never suspected. And then it will be too late. The Golden Marlin and everybody on it will have died, and their deaths will be on your head."
Pitt paused to stand up straight. "The people who are determined to destroy your ship are doubtless already on board as we speak, posing as one of your officers, your crew or perhaps passengers. Do you get the picture, Captain Baldwin? Do you?"
Strangely, Baldwin did not show anger. His expression was remote, without any show of emotion. Then he said tightly, "Thank you for your opinion, Mr. Pitt. I shall take your words under consideration." Then he came to his feet and walked toward the door. "Thank you, gentlemen. We sail in exactly thirty-seven minutes."
As soon as the room cleared, except for Pitt, Giordino and O'Malley, Giordino leaned back in his chair and irreverently crossed his feet on the conference table. " 'We sail in exactly thirty-seven minutes,' " he mimicked Baldwin. "Exacting old bird, isn't he?"
"Made out of dung and concrete, that one," observed O'Malley.
Pitt took an instant liking to the man, as did Giordino. "I hope you take us more seriously than Captain Baldwin."
O'Malley grinned with every tooth. "If you're right, and I'm not saying you ain't, I'm not about to die on this extravagant folly to man's greed."
"I take it you're not fond of her," said Pitt, amused.
"She's overbuilt," snorted O'Malley. "More expense and planning went into the palatial decor than into the true guts of the engineering systems. Successful sea trials or not, I wouldn't be surprised if she goes down and doesn't come up."
"Somehow I hate to hear those words from an expert on ship construction," muttered Giordino.
Pitt folded his arms across his chest. "My primary concern is that the disaster will be caused by human hands."
O'Malley looked at him. "Do you know how many places a madman could set an explosive that would cause this tub to sink?"
"If the boat is deep underwater, a rupture almost anyplace on the hull would do the trick
"That and a puncture in the ballast tanks."
"I haven't had time to study the plans and specifications of the boat, except very briefly last night," said Pitt. "But there must be an underwater system for evacuation."
"There is," answered O'Malley, "and a good one. Instead of lifeboats, the passengers enter their assigned pods; they can hold fifty people. Then the entry door is closed and sealed. At the same time, the outer doors open, a stream of air is sent into the ejection system and the pods shoot free of the ship and float to the surface. Take my word for it, the system is efficient. I know, I consulted on the project."
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