Valhalla Rising, page 45
"Are there enough reserves underground to support American needs, and if so, for how long?" asked Lorraine Hope.
"Indeed," Zale said boldly. "There is more than enough oil in the continental United States and Canada, plus offshore oil reserves, to make North America completely self-sufficient for the next fifty years. I can also announce at this time that the enormous shale oil deposits throughout Colorado, Wyoming and Montana will be ready to process into crude oil within the next year. This alone will keep us from ever again becoming reliant on foreign oil. Then perhaps, by the middle of the century, technology will perfect alternative sources of power."
"Are you saying that there should be no environmental considerations in opening new fields?" asked Loren.
"The environmental protests are vastly overstated," retorted Zale. "Few if any animals have died because of oil-drilling rigs or pipelines. Migratory trails can be altered by wildlife-management experts. There is no contamination on the ground or in the sky due to drilling. And most important, by keeping foreign oil off our shores, we can eliminate the kind of tragedies that we've seen with the Exxon Valdez and the other oil spills the nation has suffered in the last few years. Without the need for tankers to bring oil into the United States, that threat is eliminated."
"You make a strong case," said Congressman Sturgis. "I, for one, lean toward your scenario. I have always been against blackmail by the foreign oil cartels. If American oil companies can supply the country's needs without leaving our shores, I'm in favor of it."
"What about the companies bringing up oil from around the world and shipping it into our ports and refineries?" demanded Loren. "If their flow to the United States is cut off, they'll most likely go broke."
Zale didn't look the least bit disconcerted. "They'll simply have to sell their output to other countries."
The questions were given out and the answers returned. Zale, Loren could see, was not about to be daunted. He well knew that he controlled three of the five members on the Unfair Practices Committee, and he felt in total control. Except for occasionally sneaking a look at his wristwatch, he was completely unfazed.
Loren lifted her eyes to the clock on the far wall just as often. She found it almost impossible to keep her mind from wandering to the disaster approaching San Francisco, and wondered if the Coast Guard and Special Forces were going to stop it in time. It was especially discouraging knowing she could not confront Zale with her knowledge and accuse him in advance of attempted mass murder.
The sea's surface rolled and marched in endless formation. There were no whitecaps, and the troughs curled like furrows in a plowed field. There was a strange silence about the sea. A light mist floated over the waves, muting any sound of moving water, barely hiding the stars dipping over the western horizon. San Francisco's lights glowed in a creamy cloud against the dark sky to the east.
It was an hour before dawn when the Coast Guard cutter Huron, running at full speed, intercepted the gargantuan supertanker Pacific Trojan twenty miles west of the Golden Gate. Two Coast Guard helicopters circled the big ship, accompanied by the latest addition to Marine Air, a Goshawk copter that carried Captain Garnet and his thirty-man Marine Recon Team. A fast, armored Army patrol boat followed at the stern of the tanker. Onboard were Commander Miles Jacobs and his Navy SEAL team, prepared to shoot grappling hooks attached to ladders onto the vast deck of the tanker.
Admiral Amos Dover, who was in charge of the boarding operation, stood with binoculars pressed against his eyes. "She's a big one. As long as five football fields end to end, and then some."
"An Ultra, Ultra Large Crude Carrier," observed the cutter's commander, Captain Buck Compton. Twenty-three years in the Coast Guard, Compton had served around the world, commanding cutters in daring rescues in stormy seas, and stopping ships whose cargoes were illegal immigrants or drugs. "You'd never know that eighty percent of her mass is below her waterline. According to her specs, she can carry over six hundred thousand tons of oil."
"I wouldn't want to be within ten miles if her cargo of oil explodes."
"Better here than in San Francisco Bay."
"Her captain is making no attempt at skulking into the bay," Dover said quietly. "He's got every light from bow to stern turned on. It's almost as if he wants to announce his presence." He lowered his glasses. "Strange that he would advertise his presence so conspicuously."
Still studying the tanker, Compton could clearly see the ship's cook empty a pail of garbage into the sea, as gulls swooped down into the water rushing past the gigantic hull. "I don't like the looks of it," he said flatly.
Dover turned to his radioman, who was standing nearby with a portable radio plugged into the bridge speaker. "Contact our helicopters and ask if they see any signs of hostile activity."
The radioman complied and waited until a voice replied over the speaker. "Admiral Dover, Lieutenant Hooker in Chase One. Except for a crewman who appears to be checking pipe fittings and the ship's cook, the decks appear empty."
"The wheelhouse?" Dover inquired.
The message was relayed and the answer came back quickly. "The bridge wing is vacant. All I can make out through the bridge windshield is two officers on watch."
"Pass on your observations to Captain Garnet and Commander Jacobs and tell them to stand by while I hail the tanker."
"She carries a crew of fifteen officers and thirty crewmen," said Compton, studying the computer data on the tanker. "British registry. That means all hell will break loose if we board a ship flying a foreign flag without proper permission."
"That's Washington's problem. We're operating under strict orders to board her."
"Just so long as you and I are off the hook."
"You do the honors, Buck."
Compton took the transmitter from the radioman. "To the Captain of Pacific Trojan. This is the captain of Coast Guard Cutter Huron. Where are you bound?"
The supertanker's captain, who was in the wheelhouse as his ship neared the United States coast, answered almost immediately. "This is Captain Don Walsh. We are bound for die offshore oil-pumping facilities at Point San Pedro."
"The answer I would expect," muttered Dover. "Tell him to heave to."
Compton nodded. "Captain Walsh, this is Captain Compton. Please heave to for a boarding inspection."
"Is this necessary?" asked Walsh. "It will cost the company time and money to stop and it'll throw us off our schedule."
"Please comply," answered Compton, in an authoritative tone.
"She's riding low in the water," commented Dover. "Her tanks must be filled to the brim."
There was no answer of compliance from Captain Walsh, but after a minute Dover and Compton could see that the wake caused by the tanker's churning screws was falling off. She still held the bone of foam on her bow, but both men knew it would take nearly a mile to bring her huge mass to a complete stop.
"Order Commander Jacobs and Captain Garnet to board the ship with their assault teams."
Compton looked at Dover. "You don't wish to send over a boarding crew from the Huron?"
"They're better equipped to deal with resistance than our boys," answered Dover.
Compton gave the order and they watched as the pilot dipped the Marine helicopter around the stern of the supertanker, its blades beating above the superstructure until it was clear of the radar mast and funnel. Then it hovered for a minute while Garnet studied the deck for any indication of hostility. Satisfied that the huge upper deck was clear, he motioned for the pilot to descend to an open deck area forward of the superstructure.
Below in the water, Jacob's patrol boat closed along the hull just aft of the stern. Grappling hooks were shot out of a pneumatic gun and gripped their hooks onto the bulwarks. The SEALs quickly scaled the rope ladders and spread across the deck, moving toward the main superstructure, arms at the ready. Except for one startled crewman, there was no indication of other life.
Several men under Jacobs's command found bi
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. "You people aren't Coast Guard."
Garnet ignored him and spoke over his portable radio. "Admiral Dover. This is Team One. The crew quarters and wheelhouse are secure."
"Commander Jacobs?" inquired Dover. "Report on Team Two."
"We still have a lot of space to cover," replied Jacobs. "But no sign of explosives in the tank areas we've already covered."
Dover turned to Compton. "I'm going over."
A boat was lowered and carried Admiral Dover over to the tanker where Garnet's men had dropped the pilot's boarding ladder. He climbed to the deck and ascended five sets of stairs to the bridge, where he found an angry Walsh.
The captain of the Pacific Trojan seemed surprised at finding a Coast Guard admiral boarding his ship. "I demand to know what in Hades is going on," Walsh snapped at Dover.
"This ship has been reported to be carrying explosives," said Dover. "We are making a routine inspection to verify."
"Explosives!" burst Walsh. "Are you crazy? This is an oil tanker. No one in his right mind would bring explosives on board."
"That's what we intend to find out," Dover replied calmly.
"Your report is ridiculous. Where did it come from?"
"From a high-level official at Cerberus Oil."
"What has Cerberus Oil got to do with anything? Pacific Trojan belongs to the Berwick Shipping Company of Great Britain. We transport oil and chemical products around the world for any number of foreign clients."
"Whose oil are you carrying?" asked Dover.
"This voyage, it belongs to Zandak Oil of Indonesia."
"How long has Berwick been transporting oil for Zandak?"
"More than twenty years."
"Team One reporting," came Garnet's voice over Dover's radio.
"This is Admiral Dover. I'm listening."
"We can find no sign of explosive devices in the engine room or stern superstructure."
"Okay," said Dover. "Give Commander Jacobs a hand. He has far more territory to cover."
An hour passed, while Captain Walsh fumed and paced the bridge like a man in the depths of frustration, knowing that each passing minute the ship was delayed cost his company many thousands of dollars.
Captain Compton came over from the Huron and ascended to the tanker's bridge. "I'm afflicted with impatience," he said, smiling. "I hope you don't mind my dropping in to see how it's going."
"Not well," said Dover in exasperation. "So far there is no sign of explosives or detonation devices. The captain and crew are not acting like men on a suicide mission. I'm beginning to fear we've been conned."
Twenty minutes later, Jacobs reported in. "She's clean, Admiral. We found no trace of explosive material."
"There!" roared Walsh. "I told you so. You people are crazy."
Dover made no attempt to soothe the irate captain of the tanker. He was beginning to harbor large doubts about Sally Morse's truthfulness. But he was also vastly relieved to find that the ship had no intention of blowing up half of San Francisco.
"Sorry for the intrusion and the delay," he told Walsh. "We'll be on our way."
"You can bet there will be a protest launched by my government against yours," said Walsh angrily. "You had no legal cause to stop and board my vessel."
"My apologies for any inconvenience," Dover said, with honest regret. He turned to Compton as they exited the bridge, and spoke in a low tone. "I'd hate to see the looks on everyone's faces in Washington when I notify them that they've been hoaxed."
Pitt was seated at his desk, clearing it of NUMA business before flying to Elmore Egan's farm in New York, when Admiral Sandecker abruptly walked past his secretary, Zerri Pochinsky, and entered his office. Pitt looked up in surprise. When the admiral wanted to discuss NUMA concerns, he nearly always insisted that his special projects director come up and meet in his office. It was obvious that Sandecker was deeply disturbed. His lips were taut beneath the red Vandyke beard and the authoritative blue eyes reflected uneasiness.
Before Pitt could say a word, Sandecker snarled, "Zale threw us a red herring."
"I'm sorry?" replied Pitt, confused.
"The Pacific Trojan came up empty. Admiral Dover just reported in. There were no explosives on board. The ship was clean, the captain and crew are completely innocent of any plot to destroy the San Francisco waterfront. Either we were duped or Sally Morse was hallucinating."
"I trust Sally. I prefer to think we were duped."
"For what reason?"
Pitt looked thoughtful before answering. "Zale has the wits of a jackal. The chances are he fed Sally a fake story, knowing she was about to defect and would alert the government. He used the old magician's method of waving one hand to distract the audience while using the other to perform the trick." He looked directly at Sandecker. "I think he has another disaster up his sleeve."
"All right," said Sandecker. "I'll go along with your thinking, but where does it lead?"
"I'm counting on Hiram Yaeger and Max to come up with the answer," Pitt said, as he came to his feet, hurried around the desk and headed out the door.
Yaeger was studying pages of overseas bank accounts, whose com-puterized records Max had penetrated while tracking down Cerberus's illegal payoffs and bribes to almost a thousand members of the United States government. The total sum was nothing less than astronomical.
"You're sure about these totals, Max?" asked Yaeger, stunned by the amount. "They seem a trifle bizarre."
Max's holographic figure shrugged. "I did the best I could. There are probably at least fifty or more I haven't tracked down as yet. Why do you ask? Do the amounts surprise you?"
"Maybe twenty-one billion, two hundred million dollars doesn't seem like big money to you, but to a poverty-stricken computer tech it's big bucks."
"I'd hardly call you poverty-stricken."
Pitt, with Sandecker two steps behind, rushed into Yaeger's office like someone being chased by a water buffalo. "Hiram, the admiral and I need you and Max to launch a new probe as quickly as possible."
Yaeger looked up and saw the look of gravity in both Pitt and Sandecker's faces. "Max and I are at your disposal. What do you wish me to search for?"
"Check all maritime ship arrivals at major U.S. ports, beginning now and for the next ten hours, with emphasis on super oil tankers."
Yaeger nodded and turned to Max. "You hear that?"
Max smiled bewitchingly. "I'll be back to you in sixty seconds."
"That fast?" asked Sandecker, always in awe of Max's potential.
"She hasn't failed me yet," Yaeger said, with a knowing grin.
As Max slowly vaporized and vanished, Yaeger handed Sandecker the results of her latest probe. "There it is. Not quite complete yet. But with over ninety-five percent of the findings in, here are names, offshore bank accounts and the amounts of deposit of those who were paid off by Curtis Merlin Zale and his Cerberus cronies."
Sandecker studied the figures and looked up in astonishment. "No wonder Zale has so many high officials in his pocket. The sums he paid out would cover NUMA's entire budget for a hundred years."
"Did the Coast Guard and Special Forces teams stop the oil tanker from entering San Francisco Bay?" Yaeger asked, uninformed of the events.
"Zale made fools out of us," said Sandecker curtly. "The ship was transporting a full load of oil all right, but it was empty of explosives. None could be found on board, and the ship continued on its voyage to its scheduled mooring terminal south of the Bay Area."
Yaeger looked at Pitt. "You think it was a decoy?"
"I believe that wa
"So you're considering the prospect that Zale is sending another tanker into a different port city," Yaeger suggested.
They went silent as Max's feminine form materialized on her little stage. "I believe I have what you gentlemen were after."
"Did you check all supertankers entering our domestic ports?" asked Sandecker anxiously.
"There are several Very Large Crude Carriers arriving at several ports, but of the Ultra, Ultra Large Crude Carriers, there is one bound for Louisiana from Saudi Arabia, but her mooring terminal is a hundred miles from a major city. Another is headed for the offshore pumping station off New Jersey, but she isn't due until tomorrow, and finally, a UULCC bound for Long Beach, California, is still two days out to sea. That's the lot. It looks like your friend Mr. Zale has lost any opportunity of sneaking in another tanker."