Valhalla rising, p.35

Valhalla Rising, page 35

 

Valhalla Rising
 



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  The other Vipers froze, their guns now aimed at Giordino, waiting for the word from Kanai to shoot.

  Darfur gazed apprehensively at the intruder for a moment, but when he saw that Giordino was not carrying a firearm and was a good foot shorter than he, the look on his face reflected an air of disdain. "Leave him to me," he said fiendishly.

  In the same instantaneous movement, he released Pitt, who fell in a heap onto the carpet, took two steps and swept Giordino up off the floor in a great bear hug and held him with his feet in the air. Instead of Darfur towering above his opponent, they stared face-to-face, no more than inches apart. Darfur's lips were drawn back in an evil leer while Giordino's face was expressionless, with a complete absence of fear.

  When Darfur had grasped him around the back above the waist and locked his arms like a vise, Giordino had lifted his arms so that they were free and stretched in the air above the giant's head. Darfur ignored Giordino's raised arms and used every ounce of his enormous strength to constrict the life out of the short Italian.

  Pitt, still dazed and in extreme pain, crawled across the room, drawing in great breaths, gasping in agony from his bruised chest and head. Kelly leaped onto Darfur's back with her hands around his face again, covering his eyes and wrestling with him, twisting his head back and forth. Darfur easily broke her hold with one hand and tossed her away as if she were a show window mannequin, sending her sprawling onto the sofa before he resumed his constricting grip around Giordino.

  But Giordino didn't need saving. He lowered his arms and tightened his fingers around Darfur's throat. The giant suddenly realized that he was the one who was staring death in the eye. The leer on his face turned to contorted fear as the air was cut off from his lungs and he tried to beat desperately at Giordino's chest with his fists one moment and pry the steel fingers from his throat the next. But Giordino was remorseless. He gave no sign of yielding. He hung on like a relentless bulldog as Darfur thrashed around the room like a madman.

  There was a horrible gasping wail as Darfur suddenly went limp and crashed to the floor like a timbered oak tree, with Giordino on top of him. At that instant, a fleet of sheriff's patrol cars and SWAT vans slid to a stop on the gravel driveway. Uniformed men with heavy weapons began dispersing around the house. The sound of approaching helicopters also came through the windows.

  "Out the back!" Kanai shouted to his men. He clutched Kelly around the waist and began dragging her from the room.

  "You harm her," Pitt said, his voice like cold stone, "and I'll blow you to pieces bit by bit."

  He saw Kanai quickly calculating the odds of escaping with a struggling prisoner.

  "Not to worry," Kanai replied derisively, as he threw her across the room at Pitt. "She's yours for now. That is, until we meet again, and we will."

  Pitt tried to follow, but he was in no condition for a footrace and he stumbled to a stop, leaning on a credenza, waiting for the cobwebs to clear and the pain to subside. After a minute, he returned to the living room and found Giordino cutting away the ropes that bound Thomas, while Kelly dabbed a cloth soaked with Jack Daniel's sour-mash whiskey at the wounds on the scientist's face.

  Pitt glanced down at Darfur on the floor. "He dead?"

  Giordino shook his head. "Not quite. I thought it best if he lives. Maybe he can be persuaded to tell the police and FBI what he knows."

  "You cut it a bit thin, didn't you?" Pitt said, with a tight grin.

  Giordino looked at him and shrugged. "I was on my way two seconds after I saw you get sandbagged, but I had to stop and take care of the guard outside the barn."

  "I'm grateful," said Pitt genuinely. "If not for you, I wouldn't be standing."

  "Yes, my intervention is getting monotonous."

  There was no getting the last word with Giordino. Pitt went over and helped Thomas to his feet. "How are you doing, old-timer?"

  Thomas smiled bravely. "I'll be good as new after a few stitches."

  Kelly gazed at Pitt as he put his arm around her and said, "You're one tough little lady."

  "Did he get away?"

  "Kanai?"

  "I'm afraid so, unless the sheriff's deputies can chase him down."

  "Not him," she said uneasily. "They won't find him. He'll come back to kill with a vengeance. His bosses at Cerberus won't rest until they have Dad's formula."

  Pitt stared out the window, as if searching for something in the distance beyond the horizon. When finally he spoke, it was in a quiet voice, as if he was dwelling on each syllable. "I have a strange feeling that the oil formula is not the only thing they're after."

  35

  It was late in the afternoon. Darfur and the two Vipers that Pitt and Giordino had subdued were handcuffed and driven away in patrol cars to the Sheriff's Department and booked for the murder of Egan's security guards. Kelly and Thomas gave their statements to the sheriff's homicide investigators, followed by Pitt and Giordino. Kelly was correct in saying the deputies would never catch Ono Kanai. Pitt traced the killer's tracks to the high cliffs above the Hudson River, where he found a rope leading down to the water.

  "They must have escaped in a waiting boat," observed Giordino.

  Pitt stood with his friend in a gazebo at the edge of the palisade and stared down at the water. He lifted his gaze across the river to the green hills and forests. Small villages strayed along the New York shore in the part of the Hudson Valley made famous by Washington Irving. "Amazing how Kanai covers every bet, every contingency."

  "Do you think the Vipers will talk under interrogation?"

  "It really wouldn't make much difference if they did," said Pitt slowly. "The Viper organization probably works in cells, each ignorant of the other, under the command of Kanai. As far as they know, the chain of command stops with him. I'll bet none of them are aware their true bosses sit in the corporate offices of Cerberus."

  "It stands to reason they're too smart to leave a trail leading to their doorstep."

  Pitt nodded. "Government prosecutors will never find enough hard evidence to convict them. If they're ever punished for their hideous crimes, it won't be under the law."

  Kelly walked across the lawn from the house to the gazebo. "You two hungry?"

  "I'm always hungry," Giordino said, smiling.

  "I fixed a light dinner while Josh mixed the drinks. He makes mean margaritas."

  "Dear heart"-Pitt put his arm around her waist-"you just said the magic word."

  To say that Dr. Elmore Egan's taste in decorating was eclectic would be an understatement. The living room was furnished in early Colonial, the kitchen had obviously been designed by a high-tech engineer whose passion ran more to exotic appliances than gourmet cooking and the dining room looked like it had come straight from a Viking farm, its chairs and tables crafted from heavy oak, with matching chairs carved and sculpted with intricate patterns and designs.

  While Pitt, Giordino and Thomas savored margaritas that could have jumped from their glasses and walked away, Kelly dished up a tuna casserole with coleslaw. Despite the trauma of the day, everyone ate normally.

  Afterward, they retired to the living room and replaced the uprooted pieces of furniture to their proper positions while Thomas poured everyone a glass of forty-year-old port.

  Pitt looked at Kelly. "You told Kanai that your father's formula was hidden in the laboratory."

  She glanced at Thomas as if seeking permission. He smiled slightly and nodded his approval. "Dad's formula is in a file folder that fits in a hidden panel in back of the door."

  Giordino swirled the port slowly in his glass. "He'd have fooled me. I would never have looked for it inside a door."

  "Your dad was a clever man."

  "And Josh is a brave man," Giordino said respectfully. "Despite a nasty beating, he told Kanai nothing."

  Thomas shook his head. "Believe me, if Dirk had not walked into the room when he did, I would have spilled the secret of the formula's hiding place to save Kelly further torture."

 
; "Maybe," said Pitt. "But when they saw they couldn't beat it out of you, they switched their efforts to Kelly."

  "They could come back, perhaps even tonight," said Kelly uneasily.

  "No," Pitt assured her. "Kanai would need time to put another team together. He won't try again soon."

  "We'll take every precaution," said Thomas seriously. "Kelly must leave the house and go into hiding."

  "I agree," said Pitt. "Kanai will no doubt assume that you'll secrete the formula someplace other than the farm, which still leaves the two of you their only key to finding it."

  "I could go to Washington with you and Al," said Kelly, with a mischievous gleam in her eye. "I'll be safe under your care."

  "I'm not sure yet whether we're going back to Washington." Pitt set down his empty glass. "Could you please show us Dr. Egan's laboratory?"

  "There's not much to see," said Thomas. He led them from the house to the barn. Inside were three counters upon which sat the usual apparatus seen in most chemistry laboratories. "It's not very exciting, but it's where we formulated and developed Slick 66."

  Pitt walked around the room. "Not exactly what I was expecting."

  Thomas looked at him queerly. "I'm not following you."

  "This can't be where Dr. Egan conceived and designed his magne-tohydrodynamic engines," Pitt said firmly.

  "Why do you say that?" asked Thomas cautiously.

  "This room is a chemistry lab, no more. Dr. Egan was a brilliant engineer. I see no drafting tables, no computers programmed for displaying three-dimensional components, no facilities or machinery to construct working models. I'm sorry, but this is not where an inventive mind would create a great advance in propulsion technology." Pitt paused and stared at both Kelly and Thomas, whose eyes were cast on the stained wooden floor. "What I can't figure out is why you're both stroking me."

  "Kelly and I are hiding nothing from you, Mr. Pitt," said Thomas seriously. "The truth is, we do not know where Elmore conducted his research. He was a fine man and a good friend, but he had a secretive streak that was nothing short of fanatical. Elmore would disappear for days, sometimes weeks, in a secret research laboratory whose location was known only to him. Kelly and I tried to follow him on different occasions, but he somehow always knew and eluded us. It was as if he were a ghost who vanished whenever he desired."

  "Do you think the secret lab is here on the farm?" asked Pitt.

  "We don't know," replied Kelly. "When we were certain Dad had left the farm on business or research trips, Josh and I looked everywhere, but never found a clue to its location."

  "What was Dr. Egan researching when he died?"

  Thomas shrugged helplessly. "I have no idea. He refused to take me into his confidence. He only said it would revolutionize science and technology."

  "You were his closest friend," said Giordino. "It's odd that he never confided in you."

  "You'd have to have known Elmore. He was two people. One minute the absentminded but lovable father and friend. The next, a paranoid master engineer who trusted no one, not even those closest to him."

  "Did he ever take time for pleasure?" inquired Pitt.

  Josh and Kelly looked at each other.

  "He was incredibly passionate about researching the Vikings," said Thomas.

  "He was also a dedicated fan of Jules Verne," added Kelly. "He read his works over and over."

  Pitt motioned around the laboratory. "I see no indication of any such passions."

  Kelly laughed. "We haven't shown you his library."

  "I'd like to see it."

  "It's in a separate building beside the house overlooking the river. Dad built it almost twenty years ago. It was his home away from home, his sanctuary from the pressures of his work."

  The building that housed Egan's study was made of stone and appeared to be designed after an eighteenth-century grain mill. Slate covered the roof, and ivy rose on the rock walls. The only admission to modern convenience were the skylights in the roof. Thomas used a large, old-fashioned key to unlock the thick oak door.

  The interior of the library was what Pitt had imagined. The rows of mahogany bookshelves and the paneled walls oozed finesse and refinement. The big overstaffed chairs and couch were leather, and the desk, still littered with research papers, was a huge rosewood roll-top. The ambience smothered the visitors with comfort and solace. This library must have fit Egan like a snug, well-worn glove, Pitt thought. It was an ideal setting in which to conduct research.

  He walked along the bookshelves that ran from floor to ceiling. A ladder with wheels on its upper frames moved along a track, enabling Egan to reach the top shelves. Paintings of Viking ships hung on the only open wall. On a table below the paintings sat a model of a submarine nearly four feet in length. Pitt guessed the scale at a quarter of an inch to the foot. As a marine engineer himself, Pitt studied the model closely, noting the exacting craftsmanship. The boat was rounded on the ends, with portholes along the sides and a small tower that sat toward the bow. The propeller's blades were shaped more like paddles than the curved tips of modern designs.

  Pitt had never seen a craft quite like it. The only comparison he could think of was a diagram of a submarine he'd studied once that had been built by the Confederates during the Civil War.

  The brass plaque on the base beneath the model read, Nautilus. Seventy meters in length with an 8-meter beam. Launched 1863.

  "A beautiful model," said Pitt. "Captain Nemo's submarine, isn't it? From Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea?"

  "Dad designed it from an etching in the original book and found a master model builder by the name of Fred Torneau to construct it."

  "Classic work," said Giordino admiringly.

  Pitt continued his tour, examining the titles of the books on the shelves. They all covered the Viking era from 793 to 1450 A.D. One entire section was devoted to the runic alphabets used by the Germanic and Norse people from the third to the thirteenth centuries.

  Kelly watched Pitt's interest in the books and came up, holding his arm. "Dad became expert at translating the characters found on rune stones throughout the country."

  "He believed the Vikings came this far south?"

  She nodded. "He was convinced. When I was little, he dragged mother and me around half the midwestern states in an old camper while he copied and studied every rune stone he could find."

  "Couldn't have been a large number," said Giordino.

  "He found and recorded over thirty-five stones with ancient runic alphabets." She paused and pointed to one entire shelf of binders and notebooks. "It's all right there."

  "Did he ever intend to publish his findings?" asked Giordino.

  "Not as far as I knew. About ten years ago, it was as if a light switch had been turned off. He suddenly lost all interest in his Viking research."

  "From one fixation to another," said Thomas. "After the Vikings, Elmore immersed himself in Jules Verne." He swept a hand across one entire bookcase. "He collected every book, every story Verne ever wrote."

  Pitt pulled one of the books from the shelf and opened it. The covers were leather bound. Gold lettering on the spine and front cover read Mysterious Island. Many of the pages were heavily underlined. He returned it to the shelf and stepped back. "I see no bound papers or notebooks concerning Verne. Apparently, Dr. Egan read the books, but wrote no commentaries."

  Thomas looked exhausted from the traumatic events of the day. He slowly lowered himself into a leather chair. "Elmore's dedication to Verne and the Vikings is something of a mystery. He was not the kind of man who drove himself to become an expert on a subject purely for pleasure. I never knew him to gain specific knowledge without a purpose."

  Pitt looked at Kelly. "Did he ever tell you why he was so absorbed in the Vikings?"

  "It wasn't so much the lore and history of the culture as the runic inscriptions."

  Giordino took one of Egan's Viking notebooks from the shelf and opened it. His eyes squinted as he thumbed through the pages
, his face registering bafflement. He flipped through the pages of a second notebook, then a third. Then he looked up, utterly mystified, as he passed the notebooks to the others standing beside him. "It looks like Dr. Egan was more of an enigma than any of you knew."

  They all studied the notebooks and then looked at each other in puzzled incomprehension.

  All the pages in all the notebooks were blank.

  "I don't understand," said Kelly, looking totally lost.

  "Nor I," added Thomas.

  Kelly opened two more notebooks and found them empty as well. "I vividly remember the family trips into the backwoods searching for rune stones. When he found one, he would highlight the rune fonts with talcum powder before photographing them. Then, while we camped nearby in the evening, he would translate the messages. I used to pester him, and he'd shoo me away as he scribbled in his notebooks. I saw him make notations with my own eyes."

 

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