Valhalla rising, p.49

Valhalla Rising, page 49

 

Valhalla Rising
 



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  "Where do you want to hit her?" he asked Pitt.

  "Below the engine room, port side of the stern, careful not to set off an explosion in the hull under one of those tanks. We put a charge too far forward and the whole ship could go up and everybody within two miles along with it."

  "And our third and last charge?"

  "Same area but on the starboard side. If we can put a pair of big holes in her stern, she should slip under the water quickly since she doesn't have a deep draft."

  Giordino spoke with a curious look of satisfaction on his face. "With no screws to contend with, this run should be a piece of cake compared to the last one."

  "Never count your chickens before the check clears the bank," Pitt retorted, as he had on other occasions. "We're not ready for bed yet."

  52

  John Milton Hay wrote, 'Luckiest is he who knows just when to rise and go home,' " quoted Jimmy Flett, as a missile launched from the Mongol Invader flashed narrowly past the submerging control cabin, exploding on impact with the water less than a hundred feet astern. "Maybe we should have taken his advice."

  "They're onto us, all right," said Pitt.

  "They must really be mad now that they've discovered we're the ones who broke their boat," Giordino cracked.

  "She looks like she's dead in the water."

  "If her crew of rats is abandoning the ship," said Giordino, as the water rose past the windshield, "I don't see them lowering the boats."

  The instant the water closed over the cabin roof and the Coral Wanderer was out of sight to those on the LNG tanker, Flett dove at full speed and hung a sharp turn to starboard. And not a moment too soon. An audible thump rocked the luxury submarine as another missile struck the water and exploded almost where they would have been if not for Flett's quick maneuver.

  He straightened out and set the bow on a dead-set course for the port hull of the disabled LNG tanker. Another missile burst, but farther away. The Vipers had lost their chance to destroy their nemesis. The Wanderer was now shrouded by the water and invisible to those on the ship. What little wake her propellers left behind was mostly dissipated by the time it reached the surface.

  Pitt returned to the observation view port in the bow and took up his vigil again. With the big ship heaved to, this run would not be nearly as intricate or hazardous as the first assault. The Viper crew must be preparing to escape, he thought. But where? They weren't lowering the boats. They couldn't just swim away. Then something he'd seen earlier flashed through his mind.

  Now was not the time to ponder variables. He had to concentrate every brain cell, focus his eyes and be ready to warn Flett again . . . and then the mammoth hull burst across the view port. It was easier this time. Flett did not close the gap at full speed as before; they were approaching a stationary ship without having to dodge its propellers.

  A minute, then two, then Pitt saw the hull fill up the viewport. "We're on her, Jimmy."

  Flett expertly reversed the engines to slow speed and turned parallel to the hull. In a display of masterful seamanship, he brought the sub alongside no more than six feet away. Then he increased speed as they moved toward the section of the stern that contained the engine-room machinery.

  In the control cabin, Giordino studied the screen of the computerized underwater radar system intently. Slowly, he raised a hand, then waved it. "Coming up in thirty feet."

  Flett dutifully made a turn, using the reverse thrusters until the bow and the charge on the end of the spar were pointing directly against the Invader's hull plates opposite the vulnerable engine room.

  The magnetic charge clunked against the hull, and the luxury sub quickly backed away. When they reached a safe zone, Giordino grinned. "Once more with feeling." Then he pushed the detonator switch. Another dull boom raced through the water as the Wanderer shook off the pressure wave.

  "There's a mortal blow," said Flett. "With that highly advanced explosive material you brought, she must have a hole bigger than any naval torpedo could have opened."

  Pitt entered the control cabin from below. "Jimmy, I assume you have a safety escape chamber."

  Flett nodded. "Of course. All commercial undersea craft are required by international maritime law to have them."

  "Do you have dive gear on board?"

  "I do," acknowledged Flett. "There are four sets of suits and gear for passengers who want to dive from the boat after she's put into charter."

  Pitt looked at Giordino. "Al, what say you and I get wet?"

  "I was about to suggest the same thing," Giordino said, as though he looked forward to it. "Better we reload the spar underwater than risk a missile down our throats."

  They didn't waste a moment putting on wet suits. They decided that every minute counted and they could suffer the cold water wearing only their shorts in the time it would take them to place the third charge on the end of the spar. Going through the airlock, which was large enough for two people, they attached the explosive charge and were back aboard in less than seven minutes, their bodies numb from the sixty-five-degree water.

  As soon as they returned inside the airlock, Flett sent the Coral Wanderer on her final attack. Before Pitt and Giordino had come up into the control cabin, he had rammed the charge against the hull and was running astern.

  Pitt placed a hand on Flett's shoulder. "Nice work, Jimmy."

  Flett smiled. "I'm not one to dillydally."

  Giordino toweled his wet body and sat in a chair in his shorts. He picked up the explosive remote before putting on his clothes. At Flett's command, he flicked the little lever, detonating the charge and blowing another huge hole in the stern of the Mongol Invader.

  "Dare we risk surfacing to see our handiwork?" Flett asked Pitt.

  "Not yet. There's something I'd like to explore first."

  The deck in the wheelhouse gave a lurch as the second charge blew a second gaping void in the tanker's hull. The blast seemed to come right beneath Kanai's feet. The stern superstructure shuddered from the blast. To those gazing at the tanker from shore, on the boats and the bridge, her bow was noticeably beginning to lift from the water.

  Kanai thought they might survive the first blast and somehow get the ship headed back into the Narrows. It was purely wishful thinking. The next explosion sealed the ship's fate. The Mongol Invader was going to the bottom of the lower bay in two hundred feet of water. He sat in the captain's bridge chair and mopped the blood that was seeping from his forehead into his eyes where a piece of glass from the windshield had gashed the skin to the bone.

  The engine's beat had ceased minutes before. He could only wonder if the chief engineer and his men had escaped from the engine room before the two blasts sent tons of water rushing inside. He glanced around the bridge, which looked as if it had been ransacked by a frenzied mob. Holding a towel to his forehead, he walked over to a cabinet, opened the door and stared at a panel of switches. He set the timer for twenty minutes, his mind foggy, without considering the possibility that the ship might sink before the charges laid beneath the gargantuan tanks of propane went off. Then he engaged the detonation switch to the on position.

  Harmon Kerry stepped off of the ship's outside stairway. Blood oozed from half a dozen wounds, but he seemed not to notice. His eyes were glassy, and he was gasping for air as if from great exertion. He hung on to a navigation counter to catch his breath.

  "Didn't you take the elevator?" asked Kanai, curious as if detached from the disorder around him.

  "It was damaged and out of order," Kerry rasped. "I had to climb ten flights. A cable was shot off a pully, but I repaired it. I think it will get us to the bottom deck if we take it slow."

  "You should have gone directly to the escape sub."

  "I won't desert the ship without you."

  "I'm grateful for your loyalty."

  "Have you set the charges?"

  "They're timed for twenty minutes."

  "We'll be lucky to be a safe distance away," said Kerry, seeing the anguish of de
feat on Kanai's profile. He looked like a man who had been cheated in a poker game. "We'd better get a move on."

  The ship took a sudden lurch and the deck tilted backwards. "Are the men clear?" Kanai asked.

  "As far as I know, they've all left their posts for the sub."

  "There is nothing more to be accomplished here."

  Kanai took one last look around at the bodies. There was one wounded man still breathing, but Kanai figured he was as good as dead and stepped over him to the elevator. As he turned inside, he took one last look at the panel with the explosive charge timer. The red numbers on the digital clock were ticking down toward detonation. At least the mission wasn't a total failure. Some death and damage were better than none at all, he thought perversely.

  Kerry pushed the button for the bottom deck after the doors closed and hoped for the best. The elevator trembled and jerked, but descended slowly until it reached its bottom stop at the bilge deck just above the keel.

  By the time they reached the open hatch of the escape sub, which protruded up through a watertight seal in the hull, they were wading in a rush of water up to their knees and had to lean forward to compensate for the sharpening angle of the sinking stern.

  The chief engineer was waiting for them, covered with sweat and oil. "Make it quick or the sub will be swamped. The ship's going down and going down fast."

  Kanai was the last man to drop through the hatch into the main passenger cabin. Six men, three of them wounded, sat in seats opposite one another-all that remained of the entire Viper team.

  After dogging the hatch, Kanai stepped into the control cockpit along with the chief engineer, who took the seat next to him and threw on the battery switches.

  Above them they could hear the Mongol Invader groaning and howling in protest from the stress as her bow lifted into the air. She was only minutes away from sliding onto the bottom stern first.

  He was about to engage the propulsion motors when he glanced through the bubble-shaped windshield and saw a strange craft approaching out of the murky water ahead. At first he thought it might be a private yacht that had been caught up in the battle and was sinking, but then he realized it was the vessel he'd seen earlier slipping beneath the waves. As it drew closer, he could see a long metal spar sticking out from the bow slanted up toward the hull above. Too late he discovered the mysterious boat's purpose.

  It surged forward until its metal spar rammed into the mechanism holding the escape sub to the bottom of the LNG tanker's hull, effectively jamming the release pins. Kanai's face turned as rigid as a plaster death mask. Frantically, he worked the handle of the release mechanism. It failed to respond. The pins refused to pull out of their slots and drop the escape sub away from its cradle attached to the bottom of the hull.

  "Why aren't we falling free!" shouted the chief engineer, on the verge of terror. "Good God, man, hurry before the ship sinks on top of us!"

  While feverishly yanking on the release mechanism handle with every ounce of his strength, Kanai stared out into the green void at the sub hanging in the water just beyond the curving edge of the hull. To his growing horror, he recognized the man sitting inside the large viewing port on the boat's bow. Because of the magnification of the water through the port, he could discern the green eyes and black hair, and the satanic grin on the face.

  "Pitt!" he gasped.

  Pitt stared back at Kanai with morbid curiosity. There was a great rumble from the sinking LNG tanker as her stern struck the bottom on a sharp angle that produced a huge cloud of silt. Slowly, the rest of her hull began to settle, until the escape sub was only feet away from being buried in the silt by the colossal weight from above. The expression of horror on Kanai's face abruptly switched to one of black fury. He shook his fist at Pitt as the great hull above began to press the escape sub into the bottom silt. Pitt had to get it in before it was too late. He spread his lips into a wide smile that showed every tooth and waved bye-bye, as Jimmy Flett moved the Coral Wanderer astern so they wouldn't be buried under the great ship, too.

  Then the escape sub with the entire remaining Viper team vanished in a swirl of muddy water, interred for eternity under the wreck of the Mongol Invader.

  Kanai died, crushed in the terror of total blackness, never knowing that the explosive charges had failed to erupt under the monstrous propane tanks. He died not knowing that a shell fired from the twenty-five-millimeter bow guns of the Coast Guard cutter Timothy Firme into the tanker's wheelhouse had sliced through the main wire leading to the detonators.

  The heroic fight by the Coast Guardsmen had not been in vain.

  Part Five

  FULL CIRCLE

  53

  AUGUST 12, 2003 AMIENS, FRANCE

  The silver-and-green Rolls-Royce rolled silently, regally through the French city of Amiens. Situated in the Somme Valley north of Paris, the original village existed long before the Romans settled in the area. Battles were fought in and around the city for centuries between the Celts and Roman legions, during the Napoleonic Wars and then World Wars I and II, when it was occupied by the Germans.

  The Rolls-Royce passed the splendid Amiens cathedral that was begun in 1220 and finished in 1270. Romanesque as well as Gothic, its walls included a rose-windowed facade running around ornate galleries enhanced by three portals and twin towers. The car continued on past the waterway where truck farmers sold their fruit and vegetables from small boats on the Somme River.

  St. Julien Perlmutter did not travel with the foul-smelling rabble, as he called the common public. He detested airplanes and airports, preferring to travel by boat and bringing his beautiful 1955 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn with him, driven by his chauffeur, Hugo Mulholland.

  Leaving the old section of Amiens, Mulholland turned the car onto a small narrow road and continued for a mile before stopping at an iron gate mounted between high, vine-covered stone walls. He pressed a button on a communications box and spoke into the receiver. No voice answered, but the gate slowly began to swing open. Hugo followed a gravel drive that circled around the front of a large French country house.

  He slipped from behind the wheel and held the door open as Perlmutter heaved his great bulk from the backseat and walked with the heavy use of a cane up the steps to the front door. A few moments after he pulled the bell chain, a tall, thin man with a narrow, handsome face below a thick, brushed-back mane of white hair pulled open the door, its glass panes etched with sailing ships. He stared at Perlmutter through soft blue eyes and bowed gracefully as he extended his hand.

  "Monsieur Perlmutter, I am Paul Hereoux."

  "Dr. Hereoux," said Perlmutter, enveloping Hereoux's slim hand with his great fleshy paw. "It is indeed an honor to finally meet the esteemed president of the Society of Jules Verne."

  "The honor is mine, to have such a distinguished historian in Mr. Verne's home."

  "And a lovely home it is."

  Hereoux showed Perlmutter down a long hall into a large library containing more than ten thousand books. "Here is everything Jules Verne wrote and everything ever written about him until his death. All the later works about him are in another room."

  Perlmutter acted impressed. Though the size of the library was extraordinary, it was still less than a third the size of Perlmutter's own maritime history collection. He walked over to a section where binders held manuscripts, but he did not reach out and touch one.

  "His unpublished material?"

  "You're quite astute. Yes, those are manuscripts he either did not finish or did not believe worthy of publishing." Hereoux motioned to a big, overstuffed couch in front of a large picture window overlooking a lush garden. "Won't you please sit down? May I get you coffee or tea?"

  "Coffee would be fine."

  Hereoux gave instructions over an intercom and then sat down across from Perlmutter. "Now then, St. Julien. May I call you by your Christian name?"

  "Please do. Though we've only met face-to-face moments ago, we've known each other for a long time."

&nb
sp; "Tell me, how can I help your research?"

  Perlmutter spun his cane around in front of his spread knees. "I would like to dig into Verne's research on Captain Nemo and the Nautilus."

  "You mean, of course, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea"

  "No, Captain Nemo and his submarine."

  "Nemo and his submarine were Verne's greatest creations."

  "Suppose they were not merely creations?"

  Hereoux looked at him. "I fear I don't understand."

  "I have a friend who thinks that Verne did not create Nemo from scratch. He suspects Verne used a real-life model."

  Hereoux's expression remained constant, but Perlmutter detected a slight twitch in the blue eyes. "I'm afraid I can't help you with that theory."

 

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