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Iceberg
  • Текст добавлен: 17 сентября 2016, 20:07

Текст книги "Iceberg"


Автор книги: Clive Cussler


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Текущая страница: 8 (всего у книги 20 страниц)

Rondheim stopped before the table, his even white teeth flashing in a seemingly cordial smile. "Kristi darling. How delightful you look tonight." Then he affectionately embraced her.

Pitt waited to see where the blue-gray eyes would move to next-to himself or the admiral.

He guessed wrong. Rondheim turned to Tidi.

"Ah-and who is this lovely young lady?"

"Admiral Sandecker's secretary, Miss Tidi Royal," Kirsti said. "May I present Oskar Rondheim."

"Miss Royal." He made a slight bow. "I am charmed by such interesting eyes."

Pitt had to hold his napkin to his mouth to muffle the laughter. "I think this is where I came in."

Tidi began to giggle, and Sandecker joined in with a hearty laugh that turned heads at the nearby tables.

Pitt kept his eyes on Kirsti. He was intrigued by a frightened, almost panicky expression that flickered across her face before she forced a thin smile and went along with the surrounding mirth.

Rondheim didn't go along with it at all. He stood there, his eyes staring blankly in confusion and his mouth pressed tightly together in anger-one didn't need to be a mind reader to see that he wasn't in the habit of being laughed at.

"I said something humorous?" he asked.

"This seems to be the night for complementing women on their eyes," Pitt said.

Kristi explained to Rondheim and then hurriedly introduced Sandecker.

"It is indeed a pleasure to meet you, Admiral."

The cool look was back in Rondheim's eyes. "Your reputation as a mariner and oceanographer is widely known throughout seafaring circles."

"Your reputation is known widely throughout seafaring circles, Mr. Rondheim," 'The admiral shook Rondheim's hand and turned to Pitt. "Major Dirk Pitt, my special projects director."

Rondheim paused a moment, making a coldly professional assessment of the man standing before him before he extended his hand, "Major Pitt."

"How do you do." Pitt gritted his teeth as Rondheim's hand closed like a vise. Pitt fought a desire to squeeze back; instead he let his hand go limp in a deadfish grip. "Good heavens, Mr. Rondheim, you're a very strong man."

"I'm sorry, Major." Rondheim winced with surprised disgust and jerked his hand back as though he had been shocked by an electrical circuit. "The men who work for me are a rugged breed and have to be treated as such. When I am off the deck of a fishing boat, I sometimes forget to act like a gentleman of the land."

"Goodness, Mr. Rondheim, you needn't apologize. I admire virile men." Pitt held up his hand and wiggled his fingers. "No harm done as long as I can still wield a brush."

"Do you paint, Major?" Kirsti asked.

"Yes, landscapes mostly. I also enjoy doing floral still lifes– There is something about flowers that inspires the soul, don't you think?"

Kirsti looked at Pitt curiously. "I would love to see your work sometime."

"Unfortunately all of my canvases are in Washington. However, I'd be delighted to present you with my impressions of Iceland while I'm here." Pitt held a finger against his lips in a femine gesture. "Watercolors, yes, that's it. I'll do a series of watercolors. Perhaps you can hang them in your office."

"You are very kind, but I could not accept-"

"Nonsense," Pitt interrupted. "Your coastline is magnificent. I'm simply dying to see if I can capture its contrasting forces of sea and rock meeting one another in a natural eruption of light and color."

Kirsti smiled politely. "If you insist, but you must permit me to do something for you in return."

"I ask one favor-a boat. To do your shoreline justice, I must sketch it from the sea. Nothing fancy. Any small cruiser will do."

"See my dockmaster, Major. He will have a cruiser ready for you." She hesitated a moment as Rondheim loomed up and placed his hand on her neck and shoulder. "Our boats are moored at Pier Twelve."

"Come, darling," Rondheim said, white-teethed and softly. "Max is reading his new anthology tonight.

We must not be late." His hand tightened, and she closed her eyes. "I hope you good people will excuse US "Yes, of course," Sandecker said. "It's been a very enjoyable two hours, Miss Fyrie. Thank you for joining US."

Before anyone could say anything further, Rondheim hooked his hand through Kirsti's arm and led her from the dining room. As soon as they passed beyond the door, Sandecker threw his napkin down on the table.

"Okay, Dirk, suppose you explain your little act."

"What little act?" Pitt asked innocently.

"I admire virile men," Sandecker mimicked. "That goddamned homo act-that's what I mean. All that was missing was the lisp."

Pitt leaned forward, elbows on the table, his face dead serious. "There are situations that offer a definite advantage in being underestimated. This is one of them."

"Rondheim?"

"Exactly. He's your reason behind Fyrie's sudden reluctance to cooperate with the United States and NUMA. The man is no dummy. Once he marries Kirsti Fyrie, control of two of the largest privately owned corporations in the world will come under one roof. The possibilities are immense. Iceland and its government are too small, too dependent on the future Fyrie Rondheim cartel for its economy to offer even a token resistance against a highly financed takeover. Then, with the right strategy, the Faero islands and Greenland giving Rondheim virtual control over the North Atlantic. After that, one can only guess in which direction his ambitions lie."

Sandecker shook his head. "You're assuming too much. Kirsti Fyrie would never go along with an international power play."

"She will have no choice in the matter," Pitt said.

"In marriage the spoils go to the dominant personality."

"A woman in love is blind. Is that it?"

"No," Pitt answered. "I don't think this is a match based on love."

"Now you're an expert on affairs of the heart," Sandecker said sarcastically.

"No contest," Pitt said, grinning, "but we are fortunate in having an expert in our Midst who has a built-in natural intuition for such things." He turned to Tidi.

"Care to give us a feminen opinion, dearheart?"

Tidi nodded. "She was terrified of him."

Sandecker looked at her speculatively. "What do you mean by that?"

"Just what I said," Tidi said firmly. "Miss Fyrie was scared to death of Mr. Rondheim. Didn't you see how he clutched her neck? I guarantee that she'll be wearing high collars for the next week until the bruises disappear.

"Are you sure you're not imagining or exaggerating?" Tidi shook her head. "It was all she could do to keep from screaming."

Sandecker's eyes were suddenly full of hostility.

"That rotten son-of-a-bitch." He gazed at Pitt steadily.

"Did you catch it?"

"Yes."

This increased Sandecker's anger. "Then why in hell didn't you stop it?"

"I couldn't," Pitt said. "I would have had to step out of character. Rondheim has every reason to think I'm a faggot. I want him to go right on thinking that."

"I'd like to think you have a hazy idea of what You're doing," Sandecker said grimly. "However, I'm afraid you bricked yourself into a corner with that crap about being an artist. I know for a fact that you can't draw a straight line. Natural eruption of light-my God."

"I don't have to. Tidi will handle that little chore for me. I've seen samples of her work. It's quite good."

"I do abstracts," Tidi said, a pained look on her pretty face. "I've never tried a true-life seascape."

"Fake it," Pitt said briskly. "Do an abstract seascape. We're not out to impress the head curator at the Louvre."

"But I have no supplies," Tidi whined. "Besides, the Admiral and I are leaving for Washington the day after tomorrow."

"Your flight has just been canceled." Pitt turned to Sandecker. "Right, Admiral?"

Sandecker folded his hands and mulled for a few moments. "In view of what we've learned in the last five minutes, I think it best if I hang around for a few days."

"The change of climate will do you good," Pitt said. "You might even get in a fishing trip."

Sandecker studied Pitts face. "Fairy queen imitations, painting classes, fishing expeditions. Would you humor an old man and tell me what's running through that agile mind of yours?"

Pitt picked up a glass of water and swilled the lucid contents. "A black airplane," he said quietly. "A black airplane resting beneath a watery death shroud."

Chapter 9

They found Pier Twelve at about ten in the morning and were passed through the entrance barrier by a tali swarthy Fyrie guard. Sandecker dressed in old rumpled clothes, a floppy, soiled hat, carrying a tackle box and fishing rod. Tidi in slacks and knotted blouse warmly covered by a man's windbreaker. She held a sketching pad under one arm and a satchel-sized handbag under the other, both hands jammed deeply in the windbreaker's pockets. The guard did a classic double-take at Pitt, who brought up the rear moving along the pier in a short sissyish gait.

If Sandecker and Tidi looked and dressed like a pair of fishermen, Pitt came on like the queen of the May. He wore red suede pull-on boots, multicolored striped duck pants, so tight the seams were strained beyond endurance, supported by a two-inchwide tapestry belt and a – stretched purple sweater trimmed at the collar by a yellow neckerchief. His eyes blinked rapidly behind a pair of Ben Franklin glasses and his head was covered by a tasseled knit cap. The guard's mouth slowly drifted agape.

"Hi, sweetie," Pitt said, smiling slyly. "Is our boat ready?"

The guard's mouth remained agape, his eyes blank and unable to communicate to the brain the apparition they were focusing on.

"Come, come," Pitt said. "Miss Fyrie has generously loaned us the use of one of her boats. Which one is it?" Pitt stared fixedly at the guard's crotch.

The guard jerked alive as if he had been kicked, the stunned look on his face quickly turning to one of abject disgust. Without a word he led them down the pier, stopping in a hundred feet and pointing down at a gleaming thirty-two-foot Chris Craft cruiser.

Pitt leaped aboard and disappeared below. In a minute he was back on the pier.

"No, no, this won't do at all. Too mundane, too ostentatious. To create properly I must have a creative atmosphere." He looked accross the pier. "There, how about that one?"

Before the guard could reply, Pitt trotted the width of the pier and dropped to the deck of a forty-foot fishing boat. He explored it briefly, then popped his head through a hatchway.

"This is perfect. It has character, a crude uniqueness. We'll take this one."

The guard hesitated for a moment. Finally, with that twitch of the shoulders that indicated a shrug, he nodded and left them, walking along the pier back to the entrance, throwing a backward look at Pitt every so often and shaking his head.

When he was out of earshot. Tidi said, "Why this old dirty tub? Why not that nice yacht?"

"Dirk knows what he's doing." Sandecker set the rod and tackle box down on the worn deck planking and looked at Pitt. "Does it have a fathometer?"

"A Fleming six-ten, the top of the line. Extrasensitive frequencies for detecting fish at different depths."

Pitt motioned down a narrow companionway. "This boat was a lucky choice. Let me show you the engine room, Admiral."

"You mean we ignored that beautiful Chris Craft simply because it doesn't have a fathometer?" Tidi asked disappointingly.

"That's right," Pitt answered. "A fathometer is our only hope of finding the black plane."

Pitt turned and led Sandecker through the companionway down into the engine room. The stale air and the dank smell of oil and bilge immediately filled their nostrils, making them gasp at the drastic change from the diamond-pure atmosphere above. There was another odor. Sandecker looked at Pitt questioningly.

"Gas fumes?"

Pitt nodded. "Take a look at the engines."

A diesel engine is the most efficient means of propelling a small boat, particularly a fishing boat. Heavy, low revolutions-per-minute, slow, but cheap to run and reliable, the diesel is used in nearly every workboat on the sea that doesn't rely on sails for power, that is, except this boat. Sitting side by side, their propeller shafts vanishing into the bilge, a pair of Sterling 420 h.p. gas-fed engines gleamed in the dim light of the engine room like sleeping giants awaiting the starting switch to goad them into thunderous action' "What in hell would a scow like this be doing with all this power?" Sandecker queried quietly.

"Unless I miss my guess," Pitt murmured, "the guard goofed."

"Meaning?"

"On a shelf in the main cabin I found a pennant with an albatross on it."

Pitt ran a hand over one of the Sterling's intake manifolds; it was clean enough to pass a naval inspection.

"This boat belongs to Rondheim, not Fyrie."

Sandecker thought for a moment. "Miss Fyrie instructed us to see her dockmaster. For some unknown reason he was absent, and the pier was left in charge of that grizzled character with the tobacco-stained mustache. It makes one wonder if we weren't set up."

"I don't think so," Pitt said. "Rondheim will undoubtedly keep a tight eye on us, but we've given him no cause to be suspicious of our actions-not yet, at any rate. The guard made an honest mistake. Without special instructions he probably figured we were given permission to select any boat on the pier, so he quite naturally showed us the best of the lot first. There was nothing in the script that said we would pick this little gem."

"What is it doing here? Rondheim surely can't be hard up for dock space."

"Who cares," Pitt said, a wide grin stretching his features. "As long as the keys are in the ignition, I suggest we take it and run before the guard changes his mind." The admiral needed no persuasion. When it came to indulging in devious games to achieve-in his mind-an honest purpose, he was sneaky to a fault.

Squaring his battered hat, he lost no time in issuing the first order of his new command.

"Cast off the lines, Major. I'm anxious to see what these Sterlings can do."

Precisely one minute later, the guard came running down the pier waving his arms like a crazy man. It was too late. Pitt stood on the deck and waved back good naturedly as Sandecker, happy as a child with a new toy, gunned the engines and steered the deceptivelooking boat out into Reykjavik harbor.

The boat was named The Grimsi, and her tiny squared wheelhouse, perched just five feet from the stern, made her look as though she rode in the opposite direction than her builder had intended when he laid her keel. She was a very old boat-as old as the antique compass mounted beside the helm. Her mahogany deck planks were worn smooth, but still lay strong and true, and smelled strongly of the sea. At the pier she had looked an old ungainly bathtub from her broadbeamed, stubby shape, but when the mighty Sterlings mumbled through their exhaust, her bow lifted from the water like a sea gull soaring into the wind. She seemed to delight in being carried along without effort or trouble in a buoyant sort of way.

Sandecker eased the throttles back a notch above idle and took The Grimsi on a slow, leisurely tour of Reykjavik harbor. The admiral might have been standing on the bridge of a battle cruiser from the regulation smile on his face. He was back in his element, and he was enjoying every minute of it. To an interested observer his passengers looked like ordinary tourists on a chartered cruise-Tidi sunning herself and aiming a camera at everything in sight, and Pitt drawing furiously on a sketch pad. Before leaving the harbor they tied up at a bait boat and purchased two buckets of herring.

Then, after an animated conversation with the bait fishermen, they cast off and headed toward the sea.

As soon as they rounded a rocky point and lost sight of the harbor, Sandecker eased open the throttles and slowly pushed The Grimsi to 30 knots. it was a strange sight indeed to see the ungainly hull skipping over the waves like a Gold Cup hydroplane. The waves began to melt together as The Grimsi increased speed and lost them behind her swirling wake. Pitt found a chart of the coast and laid it on a small shelf beside Sandecker.

"It's right about here." Pitt tapped a spot on the map with a pencil. "Twenty miles southeast of Keflavik."

Sandecker nodded. "An hour and a half, no more. Not the way she moves. Take a look. The throttles are still a good two inches from their stops."

"The weather looks perfect. I hope it holds."

"No clouds in any direction. It's usually calm around the southern end of Iceland this time of year. The worst we can look forward to is meeting a bit of fog. It usually rolls in during the late afternoon."

Pitt sat down, propped his feet on the doorway and gazed out at the rocky coastline. "At least we don't have to worry about fuel."

"What do the gauges read?"

"About two-thirds full."

Sandecker's mind clicked like a Burroughs adding machine. "Ample for our purpose. No reason to conserve, particularly since Rondheim is footing the bill."

With a smug, satisfied expression on his face, he jammed the throttles against their stops.

The Grimsi sat down on her stern and took off across the blue wrinkled sea, her bow splitting two giant sheets of spray. Sandecker's timing left something to be desired. Tidi was cautiously climbing the ladder from the galley, balancing a tray laden with three cups of coffee when the admiral opened up the Sterlings. The sudden acceleration caught her totally off guard and the tray flew into the air and she vanished into the galley as though jerked backward by an invisible hand. Neither Pitt nor Sandecker caught the vaudevillian fall.

Thirty seconds later she reappeared in the wheelhouse, her head thrown back in anger. her hair stringy with dampness, her blouse stained brown by coffee.

"Admiral James Sandecker," she shouted, the highpitched voice drowning out the roar of the Sterlings.

"When we get back to our hotel, you can just add the cost of a new blouse and a trip to the hairdresser on your expense account."

Sandecker and Pitt stared at Tidi and then at each other in utter uncomprehension. "I could have scalded myself into a hospital," Tidi continued. "If you want me to act as your stewardess on this voyage, I suggest you show a little more consideration." With that, she whirled and disappeared into the galley.

Sandecker's eyebrows came together. "What in hell was that all about?"

Pitt shrugged. "Women rarely offer an explanation."

"She's too young for menopause," Sandecker mumbled. "Must be on her period."

Mentally applauding, Pitt said, "Either way, it's going to cost you a blouse and a ' Tidi's hairdo."

It took Tidi ten minutes to make another small pot of coffee. Considering the dip of The Grimsi's keel as it soared over and smacked the crests of the swells, it was a professional feat of dexterity that she managed to climb into the wheelhouse without spilling a drop from the three cups she clutched with dogged determination.

Pitt couldn't help smiling as he sipped the coffee and watched the indigo blue water pass under the old boat.

Then he thought of Hunnewell, of Fyrie, of Matajic, of O'Riley, and he wasn't smiting any longer.

He still wasn't smiling as he watched the stylus the fathometer's graph zigzag across the paper, measuring the sea floor. The bottom showed at one hundred and thirty feet. He wasn't smiling now because somewhere down there in the depths was an airplane with a dead crew, and he had to find it. If luck played into his hands, the fathometer would register an irregular hump on its chart.

He took his cross bearings on the cliffs and hoped for the best.

"Are you sure of your search pattern?" Sandecker asked.

"Twenty percent certain, eighty percent guesswork," Pitt answered.

"I could have lowered the odds if I had the Ulysses as a checkpoint."

"Sorry, I didn't know yesterday what you had in mind. My formal request for salvage was acted upon only a few hours after you crashed. The Air Force airsea rescue squadron on Keflavik picked your craft out of the surf with one of their giant helicopters. You have to give them credit. They're an efficient lot."

"Their eagerness is going to cost us," Pitt said.

Sandecker paused to make a course change. "Have you checked the diving gear?"

"Yes, it's all accounted for. Remind me to buy those State Department people at the consulate a drink when we get back. Dressing up and playing bait fishermen took a bit of doing on such short notice.

To anyone gawking through a pair of navy binoculars it could have only looked like an innocent encounter. The diving gear was slipped on board so smoothly and inconspicuously while you were going through the routine of bait buying that I almost missed detecting the transfer from ten feet away."

"I don't like the action. Diving alone invites danger, and danger invites death. I'll have you know I'm not in the habit of going against my own orders and allowing one of my men to dive in unknown waters without the proper precautions." Sandecker shifted from one foot to the other. He was going against his better judgment, and the discomfort showed clearly in his expression. "What do you hope to find down there besides a broken airplane and bloated bodies? How do you know someone hasn't already beaten us to it?"

"There is an outside chance that the bodies may carry identification that might point to the man behind this screwed-up enigma. This factor alone makes it worth an attempt to find the remains. What's more important is the aircraft itself. All identifying numbers and insignia were hidden under black paint, leaving nothing recognizable at a distance except a silhouette. That plane, Admiral, is the only positive lead we have to Hunnewell's and Matajic's murderer. The one thing black paint can't cover is the serial number of an engine, at least not on the turbine casing under the cowling. If we find the plane, and if I can retrieve the digits, it then becomes a simple matter to contact the manufacturer, trace the engine to the plane, and from there to the owner."

Pitt hesitated a moment to make an adjustment on the fathometer. "The answer to your second question," he went on, "is no way."

"You seem damned sure of yourself," Sandecker said mechanically. "As much as I hate the murderous son-of-a-bitch, I still give him credit for brains. He'd have already searched for his missing plane, knowing that the wreckage could give him away."

"True, he would have made a surface search, but this time-for the first time-we have the advantage.

Nobody witnessed the fight. The children who found Hunnewell and me on the beach said they investigated only after they noticed the Ulysses laying in the surf-not before. And the fact that our friendly assassins didn't kill us when they had an ideal opportunity instead of arriving at the doctor's house much later, proves they weren't ground observers. To sum up, I'm the only survivor who knows where to look-" Pitt broke off suddenly, his eyes concentrating on the graph and stylus. The black lines began widening from a thin waver back and forth across the paper to a small mountainlike sweep that indicated a sudden rise of eight to ten feet above the flat, sandy sea floor.

"I think we've found it," Pitt said calmly. "Circle to port and cross our wake on course one-eight-five, Admiral."

Sandecker spun the helm and made a two-hundred-and-seventy-degree swing to the south, causing The Grimsi to rock gently as it passed over the waves of its own wake. This time the stylus took lonszer to sweep to a height of ten feet before tapering back to-zero.

"What depth?" Sandecker asked.

"One hundred and forty-five feet," Pitt replied.

"Judging from the indication, we just passed over her from wing tip to wing tip."

Minutes later, The Grimsi was moored over the reading on the fathometer. The shore was nearly a mile away, the great cliffs showing off their gray vertical rock more distinctly than ever under the northern sun.

At the same time, a slight breeze sprang up and began to ruffle the surface of the rolling water. It was a mild warning, a signal foretelling the beginning of rougher weather to come. With the breeze a state of chilling apprehension raised the hairs on Pitts neck. For the first time he began to wonder what he would find beneath the cold Atlantic waters.


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