The RedeemerHarry Hole investigates a mistaken assassination
The Indian Ocean
The light of a half-moon shimmered off the restless sea like a streak of flaming mercury. To Lieutenant Alberto Conti, the iridescent waves reminded him of a Monet waterscape viewed in a darkened room. The silvery froth reflected the moonlight back to the sky, illuminating a bank of clouds far to the north, the fringe of a storm that was soaking the fertile coast of South Africa some fifty miles away.
Tucking his chin from the moist breeze that buffeted him, Conti turned to face a young seaman standing watch beside him on the conning tower of the Italian submarine Barbarigo.
“A romantic evening, Catalano, is it not?”
The sailor gave him a quizzical look. “The weather is quite pleasant, sir, if that’s what you mean.” Though fatigued like the rest of the crew, the seaman still held a rigid demeanor in the presence of officers. It was a youthful piety, Conti considered, one that would eventually vanish.
“No, the moonlight,” Conti said. “I bet it shines over Naples tonight as well, glistening off the cobblestone streets. It wouldn’t surprise me, in fact, if a handsome officer of the Wehrmacht isn’t escorting your fiancée on a stroll about Piazza del Plebiscito at this very moment.”
The young sailor spat over the side, then faced the officer with burning eyes.
“My Lisetta would sooner jump off the Gaiola Bridge than associate with any German pig. I do not worry, for she carries a sap in her pocketbook while I’m away, and she knows how to use it.”
Conti let out a deep laugh. “Perhaps if we armed all of our women, then neither the Germans nor the Allied Forces would dare set foot in our country.”
Having been at sea for weeks, and away from his homeland for months more, Catalano found little humor in the comment. He scanned the horizon, then nodded toward the dark, exposed bow as their submarine sliced through the waves.
“Sir, why have we been relegated to transport duty for the Germans rather than the merchant raiding, for which the Barbarigo was built?”
“We’re all puppets on the Führer’s string these days, I’m afraid,” Conti replied, shaking his head. Like most of his countrymen, he had no idea that forces were at work in Rome that would, in a matter of days, oust Mussolini from power and announce an armistice with the Allies. “To think that we had a larger submarine fleet than the Germans in 1939, yet we now take our operational orders from the Kriegsmarine,” he added. “The world is not so easily explained at times.”
“It doesn’t seem right.”
Conti gazed across the sub’s large forward deck. “I guess the Barbarigo is too big and slow for the latest armed convoys, so we are now little more than a freighter. At least we can say our Barbarigo attained a proud wartime record before her conversion.”
Launched in 1938, the Barbarigo had sunk a half dozen Allied ships in the Atlantic during the early days of the war. Displacing over a thousand tons, she was much larger than the feared Type VII U-boats of the German wolf pack. But as German surface ship losses began to mount, Admiral Dönitz suggested converting several of the large Italian sommergibili into transport vessels. Stripped of her torpedoes, deck gun, and even one of her heads, the Barbarigo had been sent to Singapore as a cargo vessel, filled with mercury, steel, and 20mm guns for the Japanese.
The S.S. John Bury shuddered from bow to stern as it plowed through the rolling waters of the Indian Ocean. She was known as a “fast freighter,” designed to accompany warships and used to traveling at a decent clip, but with all boilers going full out the John Bury was moving at a pace she hadn’t seen since her sea trials. Damaged, burning, and trailing smoke, the John Bury was running for her life.
The ship crested a ten-foot wave, the deck pitched down and the bow dug into another swell. A wide swath of spray kicked up over the rail and whipped back across the deck, rattling what was left of the shattered bridge.
Topside, the John Bury was a mangled wreck. Smoke poured from twisted metal where rockets had pounded the superstructure. Debris littered the deck, and dead crewmen lay everywhere. But the damage was above the waterline, and the fleeing ship would survive if it avoided any more hits.
On the dark horizon behind, smoke poured from other vessels that had been less fortunate. An orange fireball erupted from one, flashing across the water and briefly illuminating the carnage.
The burning hulks of four ships could be seen, three destroyers and a cruiser, ships that had been the John Bury’s escort. A Japanese submarine and a squadron of dive-bombers had found them simultaneously. As dusk approached, oil burned around the sinking vessels in a mile-long slick. It fouled the sky with dense black smoke. None of them would see the dawn.
The warships had been targeted and destroyed quickly, but the John Bury had only been strafed, hit with rockets and left to run free. There could be only one reason for that mercy; the Japanese knew of the top secret cargo she carried and they wanted it for themselves.
Captain Alan Pickett was determined not to let that happen, even with half his crew dead and his face gashed by shrapnel. He grabbed the voice tube and shouted down to the engine room.
“More speed!” he demanded.
There was no response. At last report a fire had been raging belowdecks. Pickett had ordered his men to stay and fight it, but now the silence left him gripped with fear.
“Zekes off the port bow!” a lookout called from the bridge wing. “Two thousand feet and dropping.”
Pickett glanced through the shattered glass in front of him. In the failing light he saw four black dots wheeling in the gray sky and dropping toward the ship. Flashes lit from their wings.
“Get down!” he shouted.
Too late. Fifty caliber shells stitched a line across the ship, cutting the lookout in half and blasting apart what was left of the bridge. Shards of wood, glass and steel flew about the compartment.
Pickett hit the deck. A wave of heat flashed over the bridge as another rocket hit ahead of it. The impact rocked the ship, peeling back the metal ceiling like a giant can opener.
As the wave of destruction passed, Pickett looked up. The last of his officers lay dead, the bridge was demolished. Even the ship’s wheel was gone, with only a stub of metal still attached to the spindle. Yet somehow the vessel chugged on.
ALEXANDER COCHRANE WALKED ALONG the quiet streets of Geneva. It was well past midnight, on a dark winter evening. Snow drifted softly from above, adding to three inches that had fallen during the day, but there was no wind to speak of, and the night was hushed and peaceful.
Cochrane pulled his knit cap down, drew his heavy wool coat tighter around him, and thrust his hands deep into the coat’s pockets. Switzerland in January. It was supposed to snow and often did, usually taking Cochrane by surprise.
The reason for that was that Cochrane spent his days three hundred feet underground in the tunnels and control room of a massive particle accelerator known as the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC. The LHC was run by the European Council for Nuclear Research, though it went by the acronym CERN as the French spelling used those initials (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire).
The temperature in the LHC’s control room remained a perfect 68 degrees, the lighting was constant, and the background noise was an unchanging hum of generators and pulsing energy. A few hours spent down there felt no different than a few days, or a few weeks, as if time wasn’t passing.
But of course it was, and it often stunned Cochrane how different the world appeared upon his return to the surface. He’d entered the building this morning under blue skies and a crisp, if distant, sun. Now the clouds hung thick, heavy and low, illuminated from beneath in an orange glow by the lights of Geneva. All around lay a three-inch blanket of snow that had not been present twelve hours before.
Cochrane walked through the field of white headed for the train station. The big shots at CERN—the physicists and other scientists—came and went in CERN-provided cars with drivers and heated seats.
Cochrane was not a physicist or particle theorist or any other designation of that nature. He was an educated man to be sure. He had a master’s in electromagnetic theory, twenty years of experience in the energy-transfer business, and was well compensated. But the glory of CERN went to the physicists and the others looking for the building blocks of the universe. To them Cochrane was nothing more than a highly paid mechanic. They were bigger than him. Even the machine he worked on was bigger than him. In fact, it was bigger than anyone.
The Large Hadron Collider was the largest scientific instrument in the world. Its tunnels ran in a twenty-seven-kilometer circular track that extended outside the territory of Switzerland and into France. Cochrane had helped design and build the superconducting magnets that accelerated the particles inside the tunnels. And as an employee of CERN he kept them running.
Sam Fargo eased back on the throttle, taking the engine to idle. The speedboat slowed, gliding to a stop in the water. He shut off the engines, and the craft began rocking gently from side to side.
A quarter mile off the bow their destination rose from the water, a thickly forested island whose interior was dominated by sharp peaks, plummeting valleys, and thick rain forest; below these, a shoreline pockmarked with hundreds of pocket coves and narrow inlets.
In the speedboat’s aft seat, Remi Fargo looked up from her book—a little “escapist reading” entitled The Aztec Codices: An Oral History of Conquest and Genocide—pushed her sunglasses onto her forehead, and gazed at her husband. “Trouble?”
He turned to her and gave her an admiring stare. “Just enjoying the scenic view.” Then Sam gave an exaggerated wiggle of his eyebrows.
Remi smiled. “A smooth talker.” She closed the book and placed it on the seat beside her. “But Magnum P.I., you’re not.”
Sam nodded at the book. “How is it?”
“Slow reading, but the Aztecs were fascinating people.”
“More than anyone ever imagined. How long until you’re finished with that one? It’s next on my reading list.”
“Tomorrow or the next day.”
As of late, each of them had been saddled with a daunting amount of homework, and the island to which they were headed was largely the cause. In any other circumstances, the speck of land between Sumatra and Java might be a tropical getaway, but it had in the last few months been turned into a dig site crawling with archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, and of course a plethora of Indonesian government officials. Like all of them, each time Sam and Remi visited the island, they had to negotiate the tree house–like rope city the engineers had strung above the site lest the ground collapse below the feet of the people trying to preserve the find.
What Sam and Remi had discovered on Pulau Legundi was helping to rewrite Aztec and U.S. Civil War history, and as the directors of not only this project but also two others, they had to stay current on the mountain of data coming in. It was for them a labor of love. While their passion was treasure hunting—a decidedly hands-on, field-intensive avocation based as much on instinct as it was on research—each of them had come to it from a scientific background, Sam a Caltech-educated engineer, Remi an anthropology and history major from Boston College.
Birmingham, England Four months ago William Cantor had sneezed into the microphone before he knew he was about to. The need hit him that hard, and he didn’t have the chance to turn his head away. The phlegm the sneeze had discharged into his nasal passages had to be snorted back, and that amplified sniff echoed through the nearly deserted meeting room.
“Sorry,” he said miserably and coughed, covering his mouth and turning away so as to show the ten-odd people here for his lecture that he wasn’t a complete philistine. “As an American I knew at Christ Church College said”—that’s right, you rubes, I went to Oxford—“I can shake a hand, I can shake a leg, but I sure can’t shake this cold.”
The response from the crowd might have been polite laughter or, most likely, a muted cough.
God, how he hated these lectures, the ones in annex buildings or village libraries, where the only attendees were pensioners with no interest in the subject but nothing better to do with their afternoons. Worse than those, actually, were the ones in cities such as Birmingham, so blighted that the sun never seemed to shine, and the people in the room were just here to get warmed up before heading out to panhandle or line up at soup kitchens. He had counted ten attendees before taking the lectern and no fewer than fourteen overcoats. He imagined a string of rusted shopping carts, overladened with detritus, in the library car park.
“ ‘I have not told half of what I saw.’ ” A much better opening line than spraying the microphone with bogies, Cantor thought ruefully. Still, he had goals, and one never knew, maybe the bundled up woman toward the back of the fluorescent-lit room was secretly J. K. Rowling in mufti. “These were the last words uttered by the great Venetian explorer Marco Polo upon his deathbed.
“We know from his legendary book, The Travels of Marco Polo, dictated to Rustichello da Pisa while both languished in a Genoese prison, that Polo, along with his father, Niccolò, and uncle, Maffeo”— the names tripped off Cantor’s tongue despite his head cold, this being far from the first time he had given this particular talk—“that he made many incredible discoveries and beheld many amazing sights.”
There was a disturbance at the back of the room as a newcomer entered from the library’s brutalist-style reading room. Metal folding chairs creaked as a few people turned to see who had come to hear the speech, probably assuming it was a homeless buddy coming in from Chamberlain Square.
The man wore a cashmere overcoat that nearly swept the floor over a dark suit, dark shirt, and a matching dark tie. Tall and big, he gave an apologetic wave and took a seat in back before Cantor could see his features. This looked promising, the cash-strapped scholar thought. At least this bloke was wearing clothes that hadn’t already been discarded a few times.
THE NOONDAY SUN BURNED THROUGH THE DENSE LAYER of dust and pollutants that hung over the ancient city like a soiled blanket. With the temperature well over the century mark, few people lingered about the hot stones that paved the central court of al-Azhar Mosque.
Situated in eastern Cairo some two miles from the Nile, al-Azhar stood as one of the city’s most historic structures. Originally constructed in the year 970 A.D. by Fatimid conquerors, the mosque was rebuilt and expanded through the centuries, ultimately attaining status as Islam’s fifth most important mosque. Elaborate stone carvings, towering minarets, and onion-domed spires vied for the eye’s attention, reflecting a thousand years of artistry. Amid its fortresslike stone walls, the centerpiece of the complex was a wide rectangular court surrounded by rising arcades on every side.
In the shade of an arcade portico, a slight man in baggy trousers and a loose-fitting shirt wiped clean a pair of tinted glasses, then surveyed the courtyard. In the heat of the day, only a small number of youths were about, studying the architecture or walking in silent meditation. They were students from the adjacent al-Azhar University, a preeminent institution for Islamic learning in the Middle East. The man touched a thick beard that covered his own youthful face, then lifted a worn backpack to his shoulder. With a white cotton keffiyeh wrapped about his head, he easily passed as just another theology student.
Stepping into the sunlight, he trekked across the court toward the southeast arcade. The façade above the keel-shaped arches featured a series of ornate roundels and niches cut into the stucco, which he noticed had become favored roosting spots for some local pigeons. He walked toward a protruding central arch topped by a high rectangular panel, which signified the entrance to the prayer hall.
The call to midday salat, or prayer, had occurred nearly an hour earlier, leaving the expansive prayer hall nearly empty. Outside the foyer, a small group of students sat cross-legged on the ground, listening to a university instructor lecture on the Qur’an. Skirting around the group, the man approached the hall entry. There he met a bearded man in a white robe, who eyed him sternly. The visitor removed his shoes and quietly offered a blessing to Muhammad, then proceeded in with a nod from the doorman.
The prayer hall was an open expanse of red carpet punctuated by dozens of alabaster pillars that rose to a beamed ceiling. As in most mosques, there were no pews or ornate altars to provide orientation. Cupola-shaped patterns in the carpet, outlying individual positions of prayer, pointed toward the head of the hall. Noting that the bearded doorman no longer paid him any attention, the man made his way quickly along the pillars.
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