Iceberg, p.29

Iceberg, page 29

 

Iceberg
 


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  Deep down Pitt had known that he had little chance of taking Rondheim in a prolonged fight, that he couldn't hold the other man off for more than a few minutes, but he had schemed and timed for the element of surprise, the one advantage that played on his side before the karate blows could lash his face again. As it turned out, the advantage was a small one.

  Rondheim was incredibly tough; he had taken a hard blow, yet he was already recovering. He sprang from the mast and threw a kick to Pitts head, missing by a scant inch as Pitt ducked easily away. The ill timing cost him. Pitt caught Rondheim with a series of left jabs and another short, hard right that sent him to his knees on the deck, holding a hand to a broken, bleeding nose.

  "You've improved," Rondheim whispered through the streaming blood.

  "I said I misled you." Pitt was hanging back tensed in a half boxing, half judo position, waiting for Rondheim's next move.

  "In reality, I'm about as queer as Carzo Butera."

  With the sound of his true name, Rondheim could see death's fingers reaching out to touch him, but he kept his voice under iron control, his bleeding face an expressionless mask. "It seems I underestimated you, Major."

  "You were an easy man to lead astray, Oskar, or should I call you by the name on your birth certificate?

  No matter, your run has played out."

  Mouthing a string of curses through blood-speck lips, his face now frozen in insane hate, Rondheim flung himself at Pitt. He hadn't taken a second step when Pitt brought an uppercut from the deck and rammed it as solidly as a sledgehammer into Rondheim's teeth. Pitt had given it everything he had, thrown his shoulder and body into it with such force that his ribs screamed in agony and he knew even as he did it that he could never marshal the strength to do it again.

  There came a dull squish sound, mingled with a muffled cracking noise. Rondheim's teeth were jerked from their sockets and imbedded in torn lips as Pitts wrist snapped. For two or three seconds Rondheim seemed to straighten and stand there poised like a frame frozen in a movie projector, then, with the unbelievably slow, irrevocable finality of a falling tree, he crumbled to the deck and lay still.

  Pitt stood and panted through clenched teeth, his right wrist hanging -limply at his side. He stared up at the little lights flashing from the make-believe cannon on the fortress and then he noticed that the next excursion boat was passing through the chamber. He blinked his eyes to focus more clearly and the sweat ran into them and stung. There was something he had to do.

  At first the thought repulsed him, but he shook it aside, determined that there could be no other way.

  He stepped over the sprawling legs of the unconscious man and bent down, propping one of Rondheim's arms against the deck and the bottom base of the railing. Then, riisin,g one of his feet, he stomped on it, shuddering inwardly as the bone broke a few inches below the elbow.

  Rondheim stirred sluggishly and moaned.

  "That's for Jerome Lillie," Pitt said, his voice bitter.

  He repeated the process with Rondheim's other arm, noting with grim satisfaction that his victim's eyes had opened and were staring vacantly, pupils enlarged, in a glassy state of physical shock.

  "Score that one ior Tidi Royal."

  Pitt moved automatically as he turned Rondheim's body so that the legs were pointing in the opposite direction, propped as 99

  the arms had been on the deck and trained The thinking, emotional part of Pitts mind was C, no longer part of his brain. It floated outside its cranial vault, keeping enouph contact to pull the strings that made the hands and feet work. Inside the bruised, cut, and in some places. deserted shelter, the machine was quietly, smoothly ticking over. The deadly exhaustion and pain were pushed into the background, forgotten for the moment until his mind regained full control.

  There. he jumped on Rondheim's left leg.

  "Mark that up for Sam Kelly."

  Rondheim screamed a scream that died in his throat. The glazed blue-gray eyes stared upward intg Pitts. "Kill me," he whispered. "why don't you kill me?"

  "If you lived for a thousand years," Pitt said grimly, "you could never make up for all the pain and misery you've caused. I want you to know what it's like, feel the agony as your bones part, the helplessness of lying there and watching it happen. I should break your spine like you did Lillie's; watch you rot your life away in a wheelchair. But that would be wishful Thinking, Oskar. Your trial might last a few weeks, even months, but there isn't a jury in the world that won't hand you a death sentence without leaving the box. No, I'd be doing you a favor by killing you, and that would never do. This one is for Willie Hunnewell."

  There was no grin on Pitts face, no gleam of anticipation in the deep green eyes. He leaped for the fourth and final time and the hoarse, horrible scream of pain rolled over the ship's decks, echoed through the chamber, then slowly faded and died.

  With a feeling of emptiness, almost sadness, Pitt sat there on a hatch cover and stared down at the broken figure of Rondheim. It wasn't a pretty sight. The fury within him had found its outlet and now he felt totally drained as he waited for his lungs and heart to slow back to normal.

  He was sitting there like that when Kippmann and Lazard came charging across the deck, followed by a small army of security men. They said nothing. there was nothing they could say, at least not for a full sixty seconds, not until the full significance of what Pitt had done became clear to them.

  Finally Kippmann broke the silence. "A little rough on him, weren't you?"

  "He's Oskar Rondheim," Pitt said vaguely.

  Are you sure?"

  "I seldom forget a face," Pitt said. "Especially when it belongs to a man who kicked the hell out of me."

  Lazard tur-led to look at him. His lips twisted in a wry smile. "What was it I said about you hardly being in shape for hand-to-hand combat?"

  "Sorry I couldn't get to Rondheim before he started popping away with his silencer," Pitt said. "Did he hit anyone?"

  "Castile was nicked in the arm," Lazard said.

  "After we cold-cocked those two clowns in the stern seat, I turned and saw you playing Errol Flynn on the bridge. I knew then we weren't out of the woods yet, so I threw myself over the family up front and forced them to the bottom of the boat."

  "Likewise with our visitors from Latin America."

  Kippmann smiled and rubbed a bruise on his forehead.

  "They thought I was crazy and gave me a rough go for a minute."

  "What happens to Kelly and Hermit Limited?" Pitt asked.

  "We'll arrest Mr. Kelly along with his internationally wealthy partners, of course, but the chances of convicting men of their stature are almost impossible. I should imagine the governments involved will hurt them where it hurts them most-in the pocketbook. The fines they'll probably have to pay should build the Navy a new aircraft carrier."

  "That's a small price to pay for the suffering they've caused," Pitt said wearily.

  "None the less, it is a price," Kippmann murmured.

  "Yes . . . yes, it is that. Thank God they were stopped."

  Kippmann nodded to Pitt. "We have you to thank, Major Pitt, for blowing the whistle on Hermit Limited."

  Lazard smbed suddenly. "And I'd like to be the first to express my gratitude for your Horatius-at-the-bridge act. Kippmann and I couldn't be standing here now if you hadn't taken the cue when you did." He put his hand on Pitts shoulder. "Tell me something. I'm curious."

  "About what?"

  "How did you know those pirates on the bridge were real flesh and blood?"

  "As the man once said," Pitt said casually, "there we were just sitting on the bridge eyeball to eyeball . . . and I could swear I saw the other guys blink."

  Epilogue

  It was a pleasant Southern California evening. The day's smog had cleared away and a cool breeze from the west carried the strong, clean smell of the Pacific Ocean through the center garden of the Disneyland Hotel, soothing the soreness of Pitts 100

  injuries and tranquilizing
his mind for the task ahead. He stood silent, waiting for the glass-enclosed elevator to descend along the exterior of the building.

  The elevator hummed and stopped and the doors slid open. He scratched an imaginary itch in his eye and lowered his head, shielding his face as a young man and woman, arm in arm, laughing gaily to themselves, stepped past him without noticing his worse-for-wear features or the arm enclosed in a plaster cast and supported by a black cloth sling.

  He entered and pushed the button marked six. The elevator rose swiftly, and he turned and looked through the windows at the skyline of Orange County. He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, watching the sparkling carpet of lights spread and widen toward the dark horizon as the first three floors slid by. The lights blinked in the crystal air, reminding him of a jewel box.

  It hardly seemed like two hours since the park doctor had set his wrist and Pitt had showered and shaved and eaten his first solid meal since leaving Iceland.

  The doctor was quite definite that he go to a hospital but Pitt wouldn't hear of it.

  The doctor had said sternly, "You're a fool, you're damn near dead on your feet. You should have given up and collapsed hours ago. If you don't get your butt between the sheets of a hospital bed, you're going to experience a first-class breakdown."

  "Thanks," Pitt had said shortly. "I'm grateful for your professional concern, but there's one more act to play out. Two hours-no more-then I'll dedicate what's left of my body to medical science."

  The elevator slowed and stopped, the door opened and Pitt stepped onto the soft red carpet of the sixth floor foyer. He abruptly halted in midstep to keep from colliding with three men who were waiting to go down.

  Two of the men he took to be Kippmann's agents. Of the third man, the one slumped head downward in the middle, there was no doubt, it was F. James Kelly.

  Pitt stood there blocking their way. Kelly slowly lifted his head and stared at Pitt vacantly, unrecognizing. Finally Pitt broke the uneasy silence.

  "I'm almost sorry your grand scheme failed, Kelly.

  "In theory, it was glorious. In execution, it was impossible."

  Kelly's eyes widened by slow degrees and the color drained from his face. "My God . . . is that you, Major Pitt? But no . . .

  you're . . ."

  "Supposed to be dead?" Pitt finished, as if it no longer mattered too much except to himself.

  "Oskar swore he killed you."

  "I managed to leave the party early," Pitt said coldly.

  Kelly shook his head back and forth. "Now I understand why my plan failed. It seems, Major, that fate cast you in the role of my avenging nemesis."

  "Purely a matter of my being at the wrong place at the wrong time."

  Kelly smiled thinly and nodded to the two agents. The three of them entered the waiting elevator.

  Pitt stood aside, then suddenly said, "Sam left you a message."

  Kelly took seconds to recover. "Is Sam-"

  "Sam died out on the tundra," Pitt finished. "Near the end he wanted you to know he forgave you."

  "Oh, God . . . oh, Cod," Kelly moan in agony, his fingers covering his eyes. For many years afterward, Pitt carried the mental picture of Kelly's face just before the elevator door closed-The stricken lines, the dull, lifeless eyes, the ashen skin. It was the face of a man who looked as if he was strangling.

  Pitt tried the door with the numerals 605. It was locked. He walked to the door of 607 and twisted the knob. It opened. He quietly stepped over the threshold and eased the door closed. The, room was cool and dark. The smell of stale cigar butts invaded his nostrils before he passed through the entry hall. The odor was all he needed to know it was Rondheim's room.

  Moonlight filtered through the drapes, casting long shapeless shadows as he searched through the bedroom, nothing but Rondheim's clothes and luggage was undisturbed. Kippmann had kept his word. His men had been careful not to alert Kirsti Fyrie or give her the slightest warning of Rondheim's fate or the sudden demise of Hermit Limited.

  He moved toward a shaft of yellow light that split the half-open door to the adjoining room. He entered, treading softly, noiselessly like a night animal ready to spring. It could hardly be called a room, a plush suite would have been a fairer description. it consisted of a hall, a living room with an amply stocked bar, a bathroom and a bedroom, edged on one side by a large sliding glass door that led to a small balcony.

  101

  All the rooms were empty except the bathroom; the sound Of running water told him that Kirsti was in the shower. Pitt walked over to the bar, casually poured himself a scotch on the rocks and just as casually eased into a long comfortable sofa.

  Twenty minutes and two drinks later, Kirsti emerged from the bathroom. She was wearing a green silk kimono, loosely sashed at the waist. Her golden hair danced around her head like a silver-colored halo. She looked incredibly fresh and lovely.

  She walked through the bedroom into the living room and was in the midst of mixing herself a drink when she saw Pitts reflection in the mirror behind the bar. She stood there as if suddenly struck by paralysis, very pale, with an expression of uncertainty on her face.

  "I suppose," Pitt said quietly, "the appropriate thing for a gentleman to say when a beautiful woman leaves her bath is, Behold, Venus arises from the waves."

  She turned and the look of uncertainty slowly turned to one of curiosity. "Do I know you?"

  "We've met."

  She clutched the edge of the bar, silent, her eyes searching him. "Dirk!" she whispered softly. "It's you. It's really you. Thank God, you're still alive."

  "Your concern for my welfare comes a little late."

  They stared at each other, green eyes locked on violet.

  "Elsa Koch, Bonny Parker and Lucretia Borgia," he said, "all could have taken lessons from you on how to kill friends and influence enemies."

  "I had to do what I've done," she said faintly' "But I swear to you I have killed no one. I was unwillingly pulled into the vortex by Oskar. I never dreamed that his association with Kelly would lead to death for so many."

  "You say you've killed no one."

  "Yes.

  "You're lying."

  She gazed at him oddly. "What are you talking about?"

  "You killed Kristjan Fyrie!"

  She looked at him now as if he'd gone mad. Her lips were trembling, and her eyes-those lovely violet eyes-were dark with fear.

  "You can't mean what you're saying," she gasped.

  "Kristjan died on the Lax; he was burned . . . burned to death."

  The time had come, Pitt told himself, to settle the account, balance the entries, tally the final score. He leaned forward.

  "Kristjan Fyrie didn't die a fiery death on a ship in the North Atlantic-he died under a surgeon's scalpel on an operating table in Veracruz, Mexico."

  Pitt let it sink in. He took a couple of sips of his drink and lit a cigarette. The words were not easy for him. He watched her without speaking.

  Kirsti's mouth had fallen open. She closed it quickly and numbly searched for something to say. She was on the verge of tears that would never come. Then she lowered her head and covered her face with her hands.

  "I have it on good authority," Pitt continued. "The operation took place at the Sau de Sol Hospital and the surgeon was a Dr.

  Jesus Ybarra."

  She looked up with an expression of agony. "Then you know everything."

  "Almost. There are still a couple of loose ends."

  "Why do you torture me by beating around the bush? Why don't you come out and say it."

  Pitt spoke calmly. "Say what? That you're really Kristjan Fyrie?

  That there never was a sister. That Kristjan died at the exact moment you were born?" He shook his head. "What difference would it make? As Kristjan you weren't willing to accept the sex your body had given you so you undertook sex conversion surgery and became Kirsti. You came into this world a transsexual. Your genes crossed you up. You weren't satisfied with the hand nature dealt y
ou so you made a change.

  What more is there?"

  She came from behind the bar and leaned against the leather-padded surface. "You can never know, Dirk. You can never know what it is to lead a frustrating and complicated existence, playing the strong, virile male adventurer on the outside while inside you are a woman longing to be free."

  "So you escaped the shell," Pitt said. "Slipped away to Mexico to a surgeon who specializes in conversions. You took hormone injections and silicone implants for your . . . ah . . . chest. Then you soaked up the sun on a Veracruz beach, getting a tan while your incision healed. Later, at the appropriate time, you showed up in Iceland claiming to be your long-lost sister 102

  from New Guinea.

  "What astonishing confidence you must have had to think you could get away with it," Pitt continued.

  "I've met a few slick operators in my short life span, but by God, Kirsti, or Kristjan, or whoever, you've got to be the shrewdest bastard . . . or rather, bitch that ever came down the pike. You took everyone. You conned Admiral Sandecker into thinking you were going to turn the undersea probe over to our government. You faked a thousand men and their ships and aircraft into a wild-goose chase, searching for a ship that was never missing. You beguiled Dr. Hunnewell, an old friend, into identifying a charred body as your own. You used Fyrie Limited's personnel-and they died carrying out your orders. You used Rondheim.

 
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