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.As if he wasn't already a classic case of battle fatigue when he arrived at Orion Lake, he had to go and get himself shot again.”“Shot?” Sandecker's face clouded.“Nobody told me he'd been shot.How bad is it?”“Not serious.Luckily, the bullet just missed the pelvis, going hi and coming out the upper side of his right buttock.A doctor in Grapevine examined and dressed the wound.He insisted that Dirk shouldn't be up and running around, but our friend laughed and demanded we find a bar, claiming a couple shots of tequila would make him as good as new.”“Did two shots of tequila do it?” Sandecker asked cynically.“More like four.” Giordino turned as Pitt emerged from the helicopter.“See for yourself.”Sandecker looked up and found himself looking at a man dressed like a backwoods hiker, thin and played out, as if he'd been existing on little else but berries in a forest.His hair was tangled in every direction, face drawn and haggard but split by a smile as broad as a highway billboard with eyes clear and intense.“By God, it's the admiral,” Pitt boomed.“You're the last man I expected to see standing out in the rain.”Sandecker wanted to laugh, but he fixed a frown on his face and spoke as if angered.“I thought it might be nice to demonstrate my charitable disposition and save you a five-thousand-mile round trip.”“You don't want me back at my desk?”“No.You and Al are leaving for Manila.”“Manila,” said Pitt, puzzled.“That's in the Philippines.”“It hasn't been moved that I was aware of,” Sandecker said.“When?”“Within the hour.”“Within the hour?” Pitt stared at him.“I've booked you on a commercial flight across the Pacific.You and Al will be on it.”“What are we supposed to do once we get to Manila?”“If you'll come in out of the rain before we drown, I'll tell you.”After Pitt was ordered to drink two cups of coffee, Sandecker gathered his finest team of ocean engineers in the privacy of an aquarium.Sitting among tanks filled with North Pacific sea life under study by NUMA marine biologists, the admiral briefed Pitt and Giordino on the meeting he and Gunn had with the President and officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.“The man whose criminal operation you screwed up at Orion Lake directs a vast smuggling empire that traffics in illegal immigrants, transporting them into nearly every country of the world.He literally smuggles millions of Chinese into North, Central, South America and Europe.Under a shroud of secrecy, he is supported and often funded by the Chinese government.The more people he can remove from the over-populated country and place in positions of influence overseas, the better the potential to achieve international power bases working under directives from the mother country.It is a worldwide conspiracy with incredible consequences if Qin Shang continues unchecked.”“The man is responsible for hundreds of dead bodies lying on the bottom of Orion Lake,” said Pitt angrily.“You're telling me he can't be charged with mass murder and hanged?”“Charging him and convicting him are different sides of the street,” answered Sandecker.“Qin Shang has more corporate barriers around him than waves pounding a shore.I'm told by the commissioner of INS, Duncan Monroe, that Qin Shang is so far removed, politically and financially, there is no direct evidence linking him to the mass murders on Orion Lake.”“The man seems impregnable,” said Gunn.Pitt said in a measured tone, “No man is impregnable.We all have an Achilles' heel.”“How do we nail the bastard?” Giordino asked bluntly.Sandecker answered partially by explaining the two objectives the President had ordered NUMA to investigate, the old ocean liner United States and Qin Shang's shipping port of Sungari in Louisiana.He concluded by saying, “Rudi here will be in charge of a special team for an underwater probe of Sungari.Dirk and Al will examine the former ocean liner.”“Where do we find the United States?” asked Pitt.“Until three days ago, she was at Sevastopol in the Black Sea undergoing a refit.But according to satellite surveillance photos, she's left dry dock and passed through the Dardanelles on her way to the Suez Canal.”“That's covering a lot of territory for a fifty-year-old ship,” said Giordino.“Not unusual,” said Pitt, staring at the ceiling as if retrieving something once cataloged in his mind.“The United States could leave the best of them in her wake.She beat the Queen Mary's best time across the Atlantic by an amazing ten hours.On her maiden voyage she set a speed record between New York and England, averaging thirty-five knots, that still stands.”“She must have been fast,” said Gunn admiringly.“That works out to about forty-one miles an hour.”Sandecker nodded.“She's still faster than any commercial ship built before or since.”“How did Qin Shang get his hands on her?” asked Pitt.“It was my understanding that the U.S.Maritime Administration would not sell her unless she remained under the American flag.”“Qin Shang easily got around that by purchasing the ship through an American company who in turn could then sell it to a buyer who represented a friendly nation.In this case a Turkish businessman.Too late, American authorities discovered that a Chinese national bought the ship, posing as the Turkish buyer.”“Why would Qin Shang want the United States?” Pitt asked, still in the dark.“He's in league with the Chinese People's Liberation Army,” replied Gunn.“The deal he struck with them gives him the right to operate the ship, possibly to smuggle illegal aliens under the guise of a cruise ship.The Chinese military, for their purposes, has the option of commandeering the ship and quickly converting it to a troop transport.”“You'd have thought our defense department would have seen the light and converted her years ago,” said Giordino.“She could have moved an entire division of troops from the States to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War in less than five days.”Sandecker stroked his beard in thought.“Airlifts are the thing to transport men these days.Ships are used primarily to haul in supplies and equipment.Any way you look at it, the former pride of the transatlantic greyhounds was way past her prime.”“So what's our job?” Pitt asked with diminishing forbearance.“If the President wants to prevent the United States from smuggling aliens into the country, why doesn't he order a nuclear submarine to quietly put a couple of Mark XII torpedoes into her side.”“And give the Chinese military a bona fide excuse to retaliate by blasting a cruise ship filled with American tourists out of the water?” Sandecker said sharply.“I don't think so.There are more practical and less hazardous ways of cutting Qin Shang off at the knees.”“Like what?” Giordino asked guardedly.“Answers!” Sandecker snapped back.“There are perplexing questions that must be answered before the INS can take action.”“We're not undercover specialists,” said Pitt, unmoved by it all.“What does he expect us to do? Pay our ticket, reserve a stateroom and then send questionnaires to the captain and crew?”“I am aware that you find this uninspiring,” said Sandecker, seeing that both Pitt and Giordino were regarding their mission with a marked lack of enthusiasm, “but I'm dead serious when I say that the information you're to obtain is vital to the future welfare of the country.Illegal immigration cannot continue hi an uncontrolled flood.Sleaze like Qin Shang are conducting modern versions of the slave trade.” Sandecker paused and gazed at Pitt [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]