Deception Point Page 93

Deception Point Page 93

POTUS.

She felt a sudden surge of hope. Something about POTUS struck Gabrielle as being a perfect Sexton password. Simple, positive, self-referential.

She quickly typed in the letters.

POTUS.

Holding her breath, she hit “return.” The computer beeped.

Invalid Password – Access Denied

Slumping, Gabrielle gave up. She headed back toward the bathroom door to exit the way she had come. She was halfway across the room, when her cellphone rang. She was already on edge, and the sound startled her. Stopping short, she pulled out her phone and glanced up to check the time on Sexton’s prized Jourdain grandfather clock. Almost 4:00 A.M. At this hour, Gabrielle knew the caller could only be Sexton. He was obviously wondering where the hell she was. Do I pick up or let it ring? If she answered, Gabrielle would have to lie. But if she didn’t, Sexton would get suspicious.

She took the call. “Hello?”

“Gabrielle?” Sexton sounded impatient. “What’s keeping you?”

“The FDR Memorial,” Gabrielle said. “The taxi got hemmed in, and now we’re-“

“You don’t sound like you’re in a taxi.”

“No,” she said, her blood pumping now. “I’m not. I decided to stop by my office and pick up some NASA documents that might be relevant to PODS. I’m having some trouble finding them.”

“Well, hurry up. I want to schedule a press conference for the morning, and we need to talk specifics.”

“I’m coming soon,” she said.

There was a pause on the line. “You’re in your office?” He sounded suddenly confused.

“Yeah. Another ten minutes and I’ll be on my way over.”

Another pause. “Okay. I’ll see you soon.”

Gabrielle hung up, too preoccupied to notice the loud and distinctive triple-tick of Sexton’s prized Jourdain grandfather clock only a few feet away.

113

Michael Tolland did not realize Rachel was hurt until he saw the blood on her arm as he pulled her to cover behind the Triton. He sensed from the catatonic look on her face that she was not aware of any pain. Steadying her, Tolland wheeled to find Corky. The astrophysicist scrambled across the deck to join them, his eyes blank with terror.

We’ve got to find cover, Tolland thought, the horror of what had just happened not yet fully registering. Instinctively, his eyes raced up the tiers of decks above them. The stairs leading up to the bridge were all in the open, and the bridge itself was a glass box-a transparent bull’s-eye from the air. Going up was suicide, which left only one other direction to go.

For a fleeting instant, Tolland turned a hopeful gaze to the Triton submersible, wondering perhaps if he could get everyone underwater, away from the bullets.

Absurd. The Triton had room for one person, and the deployment winch took a good ten minutes to lower the sub through the trap door in the deck to the ocean thirty feet below. Besides, without properly charged batteries and compressors, the Triton would be dead in the water.

“Here they come!” Corky shouted, his voice shrill with fear as he pointed into the sky.

Tolland didn’t even look up. He pointed to a nearby bulkhead, where an aluminum ramp descended belowdecks. Corky apparently needed no encouragement. Keeping his head low, Corky scurried toward the opening and disappeared down the incline. Tolland put a firm arm around Rachel’s waist and followed. The two of them disappeared belowdecks just as the helicopter returned, spraying bullets overhead.

Tolland helped Rachel down the grated ramp to the suspended platform at the bottom. As they arrived, Tolland could feel Rachel’s body go suddenly rigid. He wheeled, fearing maybe she’d been hit by a ricocheting bullet.

When he saw her face, he knew it was something else. Tolland followed her petrified gaze downward and immediately understood.

Rachel stood motionless, her legs refusing to move. She was staring down at the bizarre world beneath her.

Because of its SWATH design, the Goya had no hull but rather struts like a giant catamaran. They had just descended through the deck onto a grated catwalk that hung above an open chasm, thirty feet straight down to the raging sea. The noise was deafening here, reverberating off the underside of the deck. Adding to Rachel’s terror was the fact that the ship’s underwater spotlights were still illuminated, casting a greenish effulgence deep into the ocean directly beneath her. She found herself gazing down at six or seven ghostly silhouettes in the water. Enormous hammerhead sharks, their long shadows swimming in place against the current-rubbery bodies flexing back and forth.

Tolland’s voice was in her ear. “Rachel, you’re okay. Eyes straight ahead. I’m right behind you.” His hands were reaching around from behind, gently trying to coax her clenched fists off the banister. It was then that Rachel saw the crimson droplet of blood roll off her arm and fall through the grating. Her eyes followed the drip as it plummeted toward the sea. Although she never saw it hit the water, she knew the instant it happened because all at once the hammerheads spun in unison, thrusting with their powerful tails, crashing together in a roiling frenzy of teeth and fins.

Enhanced telencephalon olfactory lobes… They smell blood a mile away.

“Eyes straight ahead,” Tolland repeated, his voice strong and reassuring. “I’m right behind you.”

Rachel felt his hands on her hips now, urging her forward. Blocking out the void beneath her, Rachel started down the catwalk. Somewhere above she could hear the rotors of the chopper again. Corky was already well out in front of them, reeling across the catwalk in a kind of drunken panic.

Tolland called out to him. “All the way to the far strut, Corky! Down the stairs!”

Rachel could now see where they were headed. Up ahead, a series of switchback ramps descended. At water level, a narrow, shelflike deck extended the length of the Goya. Jutting off this deck were several small, suspended docks, creating a kind of miniature marina stationed beneath the ship. A large sign read:

DIVE AREA
Swimmers May Surface without Warning
– Boats Proceed with Caution-

Rachel could only assume Michael did not intend for them to do any swimming. Her trepidation intensified when Tolland stopped at a bank of wire-mesh storage lockers flanking the catwalk. He pulled open the doors to reveal hanging wetsuits, snorkels, flippers, life jackets, and spearguns. Before she could protest, he reached in and grabbed a flare gun. “Let’s go.”

They were moving again.

Up ahead, Corky had reached the switchback ramps and was already halfway down. “I see it!” he shouted, his voice sounding almost joyous over the raging water.

See what? Rachel wondered as Corky ran along the narrow walkway. All she could see was a shark-infested ocean lapping dangerously close. Tolland urged her forward, and suddenly Rachel could see what Corky was so excited about. At the far end of the decking below, a small powerboat was moored. Corky ran toward it.

Rachel stared. Outrun a helicopter in a motorboat?

“It has a radio,” Tolland said. “And if we can get far enough away from the helicopter’s jamming… “

Rachel did not hear another word he said. She had just spied something that made her blood run cold. “Too late,” she croaked, extending a trembling finger. We’re finished…

When Tolland turned, he knew in an instant it was over.

At the far end of the ship, like a dragon peering into the opening of a cave, the black helicopter had dropped down low and was facing them. For an instant, Tolland thought it was going to fly directly at them through the center of the boat. But the helicopter began to turn at an angle, taking aim.

Tolland followed the direction of the gun barrels. No!