Wednesday, March 9, 2011

CHAPTER ONE



The ship was such a crumbling; decrepit hulk that it was amazing it had survived the journey from the volcanic island where it had been found.  Huge plates of rust, some more than eight feet in diameter, scaled the battered hull like the decaying, flaking skin on a corpse.

            Dillon fought off the feelings of desolation and unease as he made his way down the corridor to the captain’s cabin, trying not to cough at the fetid odors crowding his nostrils.  He sloshed through the two feet of green, syrupy water; thankful he’d worn the knee-high, waterproof boots he’d bought in Japan some four months ago when he’d taken time off after that adventure concerning the Daughters of the Peacock King.  God knows he’d needed the vacation time and he’d been enjoying himself immensely when word of this little job had reached him.  He’d been sufficiently intrigued to take a look into it.  Not that the money had been enough.  But the thought of wandering in the bowels of this vessel – long thought lost – had sparked his curiosity and snagged him out of the boredom he’d been suffering through.  Dillon hated to be bored worse than anything in the world.

            Fat, lazy fish with blind eyes swam in the mucky water and Dillon didn’t even want to know how they were surviving.  Ropy spider webs hung from the ceiling and spiders the size of dinner plates watched Dillon as he passed below, red eyes glittering like rubies dipped in fresh blood.

            Dillon’s powerful flashlight bored into the darkness ahead; his steps sure and steady as he continued to the captain’s cabin.

            The water ahead of him suddenly foamed and agitated as an albino snake – its body fully as thick as Dillon’s own considerably well-muscled thigh – broke the surface, whipping around wildly.

            Dillon jumped backward, wiping water from his eyes as his gloved hand dropped downward to a hidden sheath inside the top of his right boot.  He withdrew a switchblade and hit the button.  A long, ten-inch blade popped out, glittering in the light held in his other hand.

            The snake lunged forward; mouth gaped wide at an impossible angle, fangs springing into sight.  Dillon met the snake’s lunge with his own and the head went flying into the murk, neatly severed from its thick body.

            Dillon wiped off the blade and returned it to his boot, not even giving the churning water behind him another look.  The door of the captain’s cabin was rusted shut, but two good, solid kicks opened it in quick time.  Inside, a heavy, greasy coating of greenish-white fungus covered everything.  Dillon went on inside, water sloshing around his knees.  A desiccated corpse lay on the bed, still garbed in a captain’s uniform.  The cap rested next to the shriveled head.  A huge, ornate golden ring with an inlaid opal was on the second finger of the right hand.

            Dillon whispered a prayer before removing the ring from the finger, placing it inside a secure pocket of the bronze-colored leather jacket he wore.  He quickly retraced his steps, returning to the elevator at the end of the corridor.  Dillon climbed up through the access hatch in the ceiling and ascended up the maintenance ladder rungs bolted to the wall of the elevator shaft.  Now it was a matter of a simple climb back up to the main deck, sneak past the guards on the dock and the job would be over.  And Dillon would have satisfied another of his friends.  Easy and relatively unexciting.  Nice to have a job that was simple for a change.

            Suddenly, the entire ship lurched and one of Dillon’s gloved hands slipped.  He found himself clinging tightly to the metal rung by one hand, a bone-shattering drop waiting for him if his hand slipped.  He looked down at the yawning metal shaft below him.  It looked like a really long way down.  The ship lurched again, and damned if it didn’t begin to actually move, which was surprising in itself because the ship hadn’t moved under its own power in nearly seventeen years.  Dillon regained a firm hand and foothold on the metal rungs and scampered up the ladder, wondering exactly what the hell was going on now.

            He clambered out through the partially opened doors of the elevator and emerged onto the main deck of the luxury ocean liner, Goliath.  Once the proudest vessel in the Delta Star line of ships of British registry, it was now just a hulk, a shell of the glory it had been.  But it was a shell that somebody was taking.  Dillon looked down at the dock and saw British police officers assigned to guard the ship frantically running to and fro, shouting instructions and orders.  The dock was too far away for Dillon to make a jump for it so he quickly ditched the idea and ran up the nearest ladder to a higher level so he could see exactly what was happening.

            Shielding his eyes against the early morning sun, he looked toward the bow and saw eight cargo hovercrafts all towing the immense Goliath into the middle of the Thames River.  The skyline of London was clearly visible in the dawn light as well as two Balduur class attack helicopters, which were enthusiastically strafing the docks on either side of the river as the hovercrafts picked up speed.

            Dillon dropped to the deck and ran toward the stern of the ship.  Somebody was stealing the Goliath and doing quite an excellent job of it.  Of course, they’d had the abominable bad timing to be doing it the same day he’d picked, but sometimes that couldn’t be helped.  The thing to do now was to get off the ship before whoever was stealing it found out Dillon was on board, because the only thing of value that was onboard Goliath was the ring now in Dillon’s possession.

            One of the Balduurs swung by on a pass and Dillon clearly saw the pilot, which meant that the pilot clearly saw him.  Damn!  He’d be on the radio to whoever was on the ship, telling them they had company, which meant that right about now—

            Three armed men, garbed in standard mercenary gear came pounding up a ladder, all of them brandishing weapons.  “Hold it right there, pally!”

            Dillon most certainly did not ‘hold it right there’.  He never did.  Without breaking stride, he turned his headlong run into a one-handed somersault, reaching for his .44 Desert Eagle Magnum as he did so.  In an upside-down position, standing on one hand, he aimed and snapped off six shots that drove the mercenaries back through the hatch they’d popped out of.  Dillon landed on his feet and continued his run without losing a step.

            Bullets zinged and whizzed around him, hitting the deck, the railing, sending metal and wood chips flying around him.  He dived, rolled and came up with the Magnum held in both hands, firing at the Balduur attack chopper that had been firing its .40mm electric cannon at him so gleefully.  As the Balduur swooped over his head, Dillon emptied the clip into what he hoped was the gas tank.  The damn thing was going pretty fast and it had been a long time since he’d flown one, so he couldn’t exactly remember where the fuel tanks were. 

            But he must’ve hit something vital because he saw fat, bright sparks leaping from the underside of the helicopter, followed by a thick twist of black smoke that curled like an evil jinn escaping as the pilot steered the helicopter in a looping arc over the ship.

            Dillon got to his feet and continued running, ejecting the spent clip from his Magnum and slamming home a fresh one.  His mind was racing, running through his mental file cabinet of the mercenaries he knew, trying to figure out who had the bucks to spend on an operation of this size… armed men, attack choppers, hovercrafts . . . it was a short list and a lot of the names he was coming up with belonged to men and women who were dead… some of them as a result of crossing Dillon on a bad day.

            He rounded a corner and braked to a halt.

            Some twenty guns of various calibers were all aimed right at him, in the hands of men who looked as if they wanted nothing more than a chance to use them.

            Dillon lifted his hands, the Magnum dangling by the trigger guard from one long finger.  “I don’t suppose we could try diplomacy?”

            They bum-rushed him.





            Battered and sore from the gratuitous kicking and pummeling he had taken, Dillon was dragged to the bridge.  Five men were there, garbed and armed pretty much like the rest.  A sixth man stood off to one side, wearing a khaki safari suit that had obviously been tailor made to his lean, well-muscled body.  He puffed on a freshly lit Maya Viajante cigar, the light herbal scent battling with the smell of mold and decay.  His gorgeously dazzling blond hair swept back from his high, aristocratic forehead.  A beautifully embroidered black leather eye patch – depicting a dying dove impaled on a thorn – covered his left eye.  He was watching the hovercrafts towing Goliath into open sea as the helicopters kept pursuing police helicopters at bay.  He puffed on his cigar for a few seconds more and then turned to regard Dillon. 

            “Hold him.  Hold him good.  And search him.  He must have the ring.  It wasn’t in the captain’s cabin.”  The man with the eye patch sized Dillon up with some contempt.  “Do you have any notion of whom you’ve decided to interfere with, my friend?”

            “Sure I do.  I’ve heard of you.  You’re Cecil Henshaw.”

            “Very good.  And you are—?”

            “Dillon.”
           
Henshaw’s good eye opened wide in momentary surprise.  He quickly composed himself and replied.  “I’m surprised we’ve not crossed paths before.  Your reputation is well known to me, sir.”

            “Your reputation precedes you as well, Henshaw.  Had your lands and title stripped from you by the British courts as I recall.”

            “My lands and title were taken from me by jealous scum.  A situation I fully intend to rectify one day.”

            “Oh, please.  Gimme a break.  You’re a mercenary now and you like it.  Gives you a chance to indulge in your favorite sport, which if I remember right is shooting women in the back and drowning helpless infants.  You’re the sort that gives the profession a bad name.”

            The back of Henshaw’s hand striking Dillon’s cheek was sharp and harsh.  “I think I’ll remove your man sack myself before cutting your throat, my mouthy friend.”  Henshaw looked at the man who had searched Dillon.  “Did you find it?”

            “No, sir.  No ring.”

            Henshaw turned back to Dillon.  “Where is it?”

            “Where is what?”

            This time, Henshaw drove his fist into the pit of Dillon’s stomach.  Even though he was ready for it, Dillon doubled over in genuine pain.  Henshaw had put a lot behind that punch and it had hurt.

            “I’m only going to ask you once more and then I’m going to have my men slice you up like a Christmas goose.  Where is the damned ring?”

            “Okay, okay… tell your boys to let me go and I’ll produce it.”

            “Why?”

            “Because I swallowed it while your little sisters were getting their rocks off beating up on me.  You want it, I’ve got to bring it back up.”

            Henshaw motioned to his men.  “Cover him.  If he does anything else except bring that ring up, kill him on the spot.”

            Dillon’s arms were released and he bent over.  He must have been nine or ten when he’d learned the trick of swallowing an object and bringing it back up at will.  It had always been a good one and he was using it now as a stall while he figured a way out of this mess.  It wasn’t going to be easy.  The bridge was full of armed men and they all had their guns pointed right at him.
           
With a sudden, sharp retching sound the ring came back up to lay in Dillon’s gloved palm, the opal sparkling like a dark, wet eye.

            Henshaw nodded in approval.  “Place it on the deck and step away.  Very slowly, if you please.”

            Dillon slowly knelt down and placed the ring on the deck.  His mind had seldom moved so fast, calculating distance, trying to figure out whom to jump first…

            The windows of the bridge exploded into a million miniature flying glass knives as bullets from the machine guns of a British Army helicopter strafed the Goliath.  Four of Henshaw’s men died instantly, armor-piercing bullets punching through their body armor effortlessly.  They jiggled and danced as if 10,000 volts of electricity had suddenly been slammed through their bodies, their fingers tightening on the triggers of their weapons, adding to the general mayhem.

            Dillon snatched the ring and his fist continued upwards from the deck in a beautiful uppercut that that sent Henshaw flying backwards out through a window.  Dillon then dived for cover as Henshaw’s remaining men opened fire on the Army helicopter, which broke off its attack and dived away.  Dillon saw his Magnum lying just a few feet from him, dropped by one of Henshaw’s dead mercenaries.  But there was no way he could get to it without being properly ventilated.

            Maybe it was time to try diplomacy.  “Hey!  Hey!”  Dillon yelled.  “Listen to me, you idiots!  It’s over!  You hear me!  Over!  Henshaw’s through!  You want to die for nothing or spend the rest of your lives in a British prison?  That Army chopper’s just the beginning!  There’s probably a dozen more as well as gunboats surrounding this wreck right now!”  Dillon ducked back down again as more bullets filled the air.

            “You sound like you’re talkin’ a deal, guy!”

            “I am and here it is!  Every man for himself!  I don’t stop you from getting away and you don’t stop me!”

            “Give over the ring!  Henshaw promised us a lotta jake if we got that ring!  Even if he’s dead, its gotta be worth a lot!  Enough to make this morning worth the work at least!”

            “Shove it up a grainy hole!”

            “Think it over!  Y’got five seconds an’ y’just used two of ‘em!”

            The Army copter and the Balduur were circling over the ship, firing on each other, trading lethal curtains of lead that bounced off the considerable armor plating covering the metal hide of each aircraft.  The Balduur jinked down and to the right and Dillon saw one of the forward rocket launchers on the Army copter ignite, preparing to fire.  He made a split second decision, diving forward as low as possible, right toward his gun.  He grabbed it up and rolled wildly out of the bridge’s hatch, tumbling down a flight of steps as the bridge was disintegrated by the rocket, leaving a flaming, smoking ruin behind with charred, screaming bodies flying through the air.

Dillon crashed onto the deck, stunned, coughing and struggling to focus his twinning eyesight.  He staggered to his feet and surveyed the battle in the sky and the air.

            Just as he’d told Henshaw’s cronies, there were four or five British Army helicopters circling the Goliath.  One of the Balduurs – most likely the one he’d plugged earlier – was just about done for.  The amount of smoke pouring out of the aircraft was appalling and the pilot had to be one hell of a flier to keep the crippled ship in the air.  The other choppers were pounding bullets into the hovercrafts towing the Goliath.  It had been a daring plan, indeed.  But this one wasn’t destined for success.  Dillon reckoned that it would be another thirty minutes or so and Goliath would be retaken.

            It was while Dillon was watching the battle and thus distracted that Cecil Henshaw leapt on his back, whirling him and punching him right in the jaw, sending him flying.

            The ring left Dillon’s hand, skittered across the deck, and came to rest perilously close to the edge.

            Dillon still had his Magnum in his hand and he got off a shot, which missed.  Henshaw grinned and came back on in, heavy fists landing in Dillon’s midsection, the solid blows driving Dillon back several steps.

            The Army chopper cut loose with a rocket that smashed into the side of the Goliath and the resulting explosion kicked the ocean liner to one side, heaving and rocking in the water.

            The ring slid toward the edge with frightening speed, toward the ocean and oblivion.

            Dillon ignored Henshaw and leaped, the welcome liquid-fire of adrenaline burning in every vein.

            The ring went over the side, spinning in mid-air and began its drop to the ocean.

            Dillon’s gloved hand closed over the ring, saving it from eternal loss.

            Henshaw leaped on Dillon’s back, hissing in rage.  “Black bastard!” as he gripped Dillon’s head and gave it a vicious twist, trying to break his neck.

            Dillon brought the Magnum up and fired over his shoulder. The large Magnum slug went through the embroidered eye patch and exited out the back of Henshaw’s skull, taking a sizeable amount of brain matter with it.

            Dillon thrust Henshaw’s body off his back and shakily got to his feet.  Hearing the sound of a Balduur he turned to see one of them heading right for him.  Dillon ejected the clip in his Magnum, quickly snagged a clip containing armor-piercing shells from his belt and slammed it home.  He whipped the big gun around and sent six slugs right through the armored glass of the canopy.  Four of the bullets did in the pilot, who slumped forward over the controls, blood splashing the inside of the cockpit from the massive exit wounds.

            Dillon jammed his still smoking weapon into its holster and ran for the opposite side of the ship, helped considerably by the fact that the huge Goliath was already slanting in that direction. He figured he had maybe twenty seconds to cover a distance half the size of a football field before the ‘copter hit the side of the ship.  Maybe.

            The Balduur dived right at Goliath, piloted by a dead man.

            Dillon leapt over the rail of the ship, arms and legs outstretched, the water looking awfully far away as he plummeted straight down, yelling like a Comanche.

            The Balduur impacted into the Goliath’s side like a runaway comet and the explosion was an incredible, apocalyptic fireball of orange and red that seemed to engulf the entire front half of the ocean liner.

            The rush of superheated air from the explosion rocked the nearest Army chopper and the pilot swore as he fought to control his suddenly bucking aircraft.

            “Good bloody Lord,” his co-pilot whispered, crossing himself.  “Should we look for the bloke who jumped for it?”

            The pilot turned the chopper back toward London.  “Take a good look at that, mate!  D’you really think anybody human could have survived that?”

            The Goliath was going down fast.  The bow was already underwater and the flames were spreading toward the rest of the ocean liner with a greedy pace that made the orange flames seem alive.  Thick, inky black clouds billowed into the bright blue morning sky and the water was covered in a lake of flaming oil extending two hundred feet around the ship.

            “You’re right about that,” the co-pilot said slowly. “Nobody human could’ve survived all that…”





            Lady Thelma Sharpe sat in her bedroom, still in the frilly, lacy, pale pink nightgown she had gone to bed in, sipping straight vodka from a Stinelle crystal goblet.  Lady Thelma couldn’t get her day going until she had consumed enough vodka to put most grown men into a coma.  And this was her third goblet.  She reached out and softly touched the call-pad on her nightstand.

            Ten seconds later, her personal assistant entered the bedroom.  Kris Quinlan was a tall South American beauty that knew she turned heads without even trying.  She walked across the spacious room on three-inch heels as if she were born wearing them.  Her spectacular mane of blond hair was like a waterfall of gold around her shoulders.

            “Yes, Lady Thelma?”

            “Have you seen the news?  Have you?  The entire ship is lost!  It’s burning so hot that no rescue ships can get near it!  The whole thing has turned into a bloody disaster!  Haven’t you been able to get hold of Lavimore Watson yet?  Where is he?”

            Kris responded in an even, quiet tone that she had learned how to use not too long after entering Lady Thelma’s service.  “I’ve left messages all over town for him.  He seems to have gone into hiding.”

            “He damn well better have!  He’s totally bollixed up this entire affair!  What’s the name of this so-called friend of his?  The one who was supposed to be getting the ring ‘with no trouble whatsoever’?”

            “Dillon is his name, Lady Thelma.”

            Lady Thelma threw back the last two fingers of vodka in her goblet and motioned for Kris to pour her another drink.  “What in God’s name could have happened?  What did this man Dillon do?”

            “According to the soldiers on the Army helicopters, they saw a black man fighting against several others.  The black man would be Dillon.  The pilot and co-pilot of one of the helicopters reported seeing him jump off the ship before it exploded but they doubted he could have survived.”

            Lady Thelma swirled the vodka around in the goblet before taking a gulp.  “I trusted Lavimore to hire the best to get my ring back and he assured me that there was none better than Dillon.  According to Lavimore, Dillon makes his living surviving things like this.  Where’s Mr. Whalen?  I want to see him right now!”

            Kris lifted her wrist and spoke softly into the comlink strapped around it.  She received confirmation and turned to Lady Thelma.  “He was making a personal sweep of the grounds.  He’ll be here shortly.”

            Lady Thelma nodded and turned her attention back to the television.  Her estate covered nearly eleven thousand acres in Chelsea and her influence reached even further than that.  Lady Thelma’s family was a major power in world shipping, had been for nearly one hundred and three years now.  Lady Thelma herself was highly feared not only in her native England but also in many other parts of the world.  Mainly because nothing seemed to make her happy save for the acquisition of power.  Power over life and death.  Power to alter the destinies of countries and dynasties.  Lovely, lovely power.

            Unfortunately, all that power wasn’t doing her a whole lot of good since she didn’t seem to be able to lay her hands on one simple damned gold ring.

            Frederick Whalen came into the room without knocking.  He was quite used to doing so.  Standing at an even seven feet tall, weighing four hundred pounds, he was nicknamed, of course, ‘The Whale’.  Lady Thelma had found him fifteen years ago on a trip to Sri Lanka where she became intrigued by stories of a giant boy with freakish, superhuman strength helping a sect of monks build a temple.  She’d followed up on the rumors and found the monks and the boy.  The monks had explained that his parents had abandoned the boy when he was eighteen years old.  Even then, he stood six feet six inches and ate whole roast pigs twice a day without a belch.  Lady Thelma had taken Whalen with her when she left Sri Lanka, educated him in the finest private schools in London and hired the world’s best martial artists to train the boy in a dozen different disciplines.  Frederick Whalen was totally devoted to Lady Thelma and worshipped her with no reservations whatsoever.

            “You wanted to see me, Lady Thelma?”  The Whale’s voice was even, well modulated, soft.  His tailored suit fit his immense body well, but it didn’t completely hide the massive ropes of muscle moving on his arms and back.

            “You’ve done some background work on this man of Watson’s.  This Dillon.  What’s your opinion?”

            “Dangerous.”

            “You’ve heard about the Goliath blowing up this morning.  You think this Dillon could have survived it?”

            “If even half of what I’ve heard about him is true, I’d say yes.”

            Lady Thelma gulped more vodka.

            “What’s his next move going to be?  Do you think he’ll come here?”

            “He’ll need money to get out of the country and Watson doesn’t have any.  I think its safe to assume he’ll come here.  That’s why I’ve been checking the grounds and house myself.  I’ve got the house security staff on full alert.”

            “Finish whatever it was you were doing when I called for you then get right back here.  Until we know exactly where Dillon is and what he plans I want you right where I can see you, Mr. Whalen.  Kris, I want you to call Frayne and tell him to get over here.”

            Kris looked dismayed.  “Frayne?… but he’s—”

            “He’s the man I want you to call right now.  Go do what I tell you!”

            Kris nodded quickly and double-timed it out of the room, followed by Whalen.  Despite his size he moved as quietly and gracefully as a Russian ballerina.  Lady Thelma reached for her drink and took a sip, staring at the television screen without actually seeing it.  Her mind’s eye was looking back into the past, to a day that seemed as sharp and clear in her memory as if it had happened last week…



                             

SOMEWHERE IN BRAZIL

1983

 

 

Only the hierarchy of the world intelligence community – which was a separate realm that operated under its own rules and codes of behavior and protocol – knew of the location of this secret laboratory complex.  Before the meeting, the participants had spent months undergoing strenuous background checks, confirmation of identities, and rechecking of bonafides so that they could attend this demonstration.  The complex had been built under a cloak of fanatical security and those who worked there had not left the complex for nearly four years.

            Inside the complex, four people sat behind a thick plexiglass window looking into a large, well-lit rectangular room.  Three men and one woman.  They all sat in comfortable leather chairs an equal distance from one another and they all had one trusted bodyguard standing at their elbow.  They were all powerful people who had come to this remote location, hidden in the mountains of Brazil, and built on the ruins of a lost city, to invest in what could only be termed as the ultimate weapon.

            Leopold Gynt walked into the rectangular room.  Six inches over six feet, he was well muscled and extremely powerful in appearance despite his advanced age.  His age was apparent, however, from the obvious deeply sunken lines in his face and the liver spots on his hands and visage.  But there was still power of character and will in his squarely set jaw and hooded eyes… a gaze that burned with menacing fanaticism.  His thick iron-gray hair was swept back dramatically from his high forehead.  Long ago, in another life, he had been known by another name.  A name he had adopted again for this operation.

            He beckoned and three items were wheeled in on separate trolleys.  A crystal vase, a metal cube three feet square, and a concrete block five feet square.

            Leopold Gynt, also known as Odin, cleared his throat and spoke to his audience.

            “It has taken me many years to construct the device I am going to demonstrate for you today.  I think you will be impressed with the results enough that you will agree that this is an extraordinary leap in weapons technology…

            “For most of my adult life, I have studied the military applications of harmonic wave variances.  The theory is simple: everything on Earth, no matter if it is organic or inanimate vibrates at a specific and unique pattern.  If that pattern can be isolated and identified, a counter vibratory wave pattern can be generated that will disrupt the original pattern.  I will now demonstrate to you what can occur when this happens.”

            Gynt motioned to his assistants again and they rushed out to return a few minutes later, pushing another machine on a hydraulic flatbed.  A fist-sized, black stone shaped like an oval was connected to electronic taps that ran to huge black condensers and generators that hummed as electric coils glowed with arcane energies.  A cone of cloudy, yellowish crystal pulsed with mysterious power within.

            Gynt walked over to the machine and began making adjustments on the control panel.  The machine hummed musically and a series of metal rods, some barely an inch in diameter and others as thick as a human leg, unfolded from the interior of the machine and pointed at the black stone.  The cone swung around until it pointed at the crystal vase.  Gynt turned knobs and dials and the needles within the dials swung sharply from a resting position to stand upright.

            The cone blazed with bitter, inner light and the vase exploded into powder with a sound like the dying wail of a banshee.

            Gynt’s whole body seemed to swell with excitement as he manipulated the controls again and the cone swung around to point at the cube.  He tapped a button to increase the power and the machine throbbed faster.  The metal cube glowed a bright cherry red, turning quickly to orange, and then purest white.  The cube began to bubble and smoke, melting in rivulets of hot liquid metal that ran like water onto the floor.  Gynt’s assistants ran over with jugs of cold water that they poured over the blistering liquid and the demonstration chamber was soon filled with clouds of steam.

            Gynt was dancing from one side of the control panel to another like a macabre ballerina as he manipulated the awesome energies he had called forth.  One slip, one mistake, and a cataclysm would be the result.

            The concrete block was next.  It split right down the middle, huge chunks flying into the air.  Some hit the thick plexiglass window.  The entire room was beginning to vibrate, not only the demonstration room, but also the room where the visitors were watching.  Gynt was playing with one of the fundamental forces of the universe and it was not meant to be tamed by any human for long.  Not even a man as brilliant as Leopold Gynt.

            Gynt shut down the power and the machine quieted.  He turned to face the window, his face shining with triumph.

            “As you can see, I have developed a weapon of incredible power.  It can break stone.  It can shatter steel or melt human flesh.  I still have much testing to run in order to learn how to correctly harness it and make sure it will be safe for your organizations to use.  But give me a year, just a year!  And I can guarantee a weapon that this world has never seen and one that you no doubt will want to have in your arsenal.”

            Lady Thelma looked over at her elderly companion’s shoulder at John Velvet, the Deputy Director of the American Intelligence Machine.  A lean, hawkish man who was known for two things in the intelligence community: his brilliantly ruthless mind… and his wardrobe.  Velvet was always impeccably groomed and well dressed.  Designers frequently sent him custom made suits as Velvet could wear them with the quiet, elegant grace that eluded even most professional models.  Velvet invariably changed clothes two or three times a day and rumor had it that he’d long ago had his sweat glands surgically removed since no one in living memory could ever remember having ever seen him sweat.  Outside of clothing, his only passion seemed to be his job.  He performed with a tenacity and single-mindedness of purpose that could only be described as scary.

            “Do you think Velvet is taking any of this seriously, sir?” Lady Thelma asked the aged gentleman with her.  He was an old turtle of a man with no neck and watery eyes sunk deep in his bullet shaped skull.  It was rare for the head of The British Secret Service to make this trip and he would rather if one of the Double-O’s could have made the trip with him, but Lady Thelma’s family had much influence and power and she herself was just as capable as any field agent.  And besides, The Prime Minister herself had asked for Lady Thelma to go along as a personal favor.

            The old man grunted.  “He seems bored if you ask me.  But then, Velvet was always a practical fellow.”

            “You sound as if you had first hand knowledge of the man.”

            “Velvet took some training with our Double O lads when he was just starting his career.  I tried to recruit him myself with no luck.  He’s no mercenary, that one.  Loyal to his country, first last and always.”

            Lady Thelma nodded and said “What about this weapon?  Do you wish me to put in a bid for it?’

            The old man snorted in disgust.  “The British government doesn’t have time to waste on damned comic book nonsense.”

And even as he said that, Lady Thelma fought to hide a secret smile.  Maybe he didn’t have a use for this weapon but she knew that one day, someone would…


  


            Dillon finished his third huge mug of hot, sweet coffee, washing down the last of the second massive medium-rare steak he had literally devoured in front of his friend’s eyes.  “Damn but that was good.”

            Lavimore Watson looked on with amused amazement.  “You’ve got a remarkable appetite for a man who’s been shot at, beaten up and almost incinerated.”

            “Shit like that works up an appetite, chum.”  Dillon stood up and stretched his long, six foot four body.

            Lavimore Watson put down his coffee cup and pushed his long, iron gray hair away from his face. A former CIA operative who had been forcibly put out to pasture, he worked freelance now.  He and Dillon had met some seven years ago when Dillon had gotten involved in a CIA operation in Australia.  Since then, they’d worked together on several jobs.  Watson sighed.  “I guess I owe you an explanation, huh?”

            “I’d say so.  There’s a lot more to this job than you let on.  Cecil Henshaw was no small timer and he had a small army on that ship.”

            “Henshaw was no pushover, pal.”

            “Let him go impress the rest of the losers in Hell.  What’s the deal, Lavimore?  And give it to me straight, okay?”

            “All I know is that Lady Thelma’s family owns the Goliath.  When she heard that it had been found, she put out the word that she needed the ring recovered from her father’s body and she was willing to pay a lot of money to get it back.  I figured you’d be the best man for the job.”

            “Which tells me that you had an idea that there might be some trouble.”  Dillon moved to the closet, selected a storm cloud gray double-breasted Italian suit and began dressing.  Dillon had been using Watson’s London townhouse as a base while in England, and he had had some of his clothes and weapons shipped here from one of the many safe houses he owned around the world.  He had no safe house in London since he rarely visited England, due to some bad blood between him and the London underworld.  “And she gave you no idea just why the ring is so valuable to her?”

            “None at all.  I swear.”

            “I’ve examined it and there’s no hidden compartment, no writing on it, no circuitry inlaid on it… nothing.”

            “So where are you going now?”

            “To see Lady Thelma, of course.”  Dillon selected a midnight black tie and knotted it around his neck.  “Not only does she owe me money, but she might be in danger herself.  Henshaw had a lot of friends and they’re not going to like me blowing him up.  His buddies might decide to take it out on her.”

            “Anything I can do to help?”

            “Just lend me a car and wait for a call from me.  Chances are I’ll be coming back this way in one hell of a hurry.”  Dillon slipped his Desert Eagle into a holster belted just behind his right hip.  The suit was cut in such a way that the gun was barely noticeable, even to a trained, expert eye.

            “You be careful, hear?  Lady Thelma has a bodyguard who looks like Schwarzenegger on steroids.”

            “The Whale?  Yeah, I’ve heard stories about him.  But I’m not going looking for trouble.”

            Watson raised a questioning eyebrow as he watched Dillon slip his switchblade into a sheath strapped to his forearm, but said nothing.





            Gregory Tipp looked more like a banker or a schoolteacher than a top agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Slight of build, thin and balding with round wire-frame glasses covering watery gray eyes, he looked like he would have trouble opening a bag of potato chips.  In fact, he was strong enough to bend a fireplace poker into a U shape.  His thirty years of service had won him an impressive reputation in the intelligence community.

            He sat in his office, located on the tenth floor of the Transworld Consortium building.  The entire forty-three-floor structure was nothing more than an elaborate front for the Secret Service, although the first eight floors of the building were actually used as a working import/export firm that managed to turn a tidy profit for the government.  Tipp turned down the volume of the radio and Mariah Carey’s voice diminished.  He turned back to the report he was reading about the wild and explosive events that had taken place that morning aboard the now destroyed Goliath.  Other files were stacked on his desk; files that he was rapidly coming to believe were all connected.

            Most of the files were about the activities of a man who had been whispered about for years, but no one could lay a hand on him.  Indeed, no one knew what his nationality was or could even produce a picture of the fellow. 

            Odin was a shadowy terrorist who had come to prominence in the last ten years or so.  A man of total mystery who worked in the darkness, through his agents, all of which had been recruited from the ranks of the world’s most dangerous mercenaries, adventurers and rogues.  Odin’s organization, The Order of the Black Sun, was known primarily for the theft of the latest in technological advances and devices.  Odin’s trademark was using the extreme advances of the world’s most innovative scientists to further his ends.  What those ends were was anybody’s guess.

            Gregory Tipp was working along with other agents from the United States, France, Australia, Canada and Japan to track down Odin and his shadow organization, to no avail.  However, just this morning, one of Tipp’s more reliable snitches had sent him word that Cecil Henshaw had been the cause of that morning’s Goliath fiasco.

            And then there was the eyewitness account of a man who had jumped off Goliath as it exploded.  Was he a member of Henshaw’s gang who had tried to double-cross his boss?  Or was this a new player who had gotten caught in between?

            Tipp wished to God he had gone on vacation like he was supposed to.  Two weeks in Trinidad sounded a damn sight better than sitting in a drafty office under fluorescent lights that made his eyes ache, trying to make his tired brain work when it quite clearly didn’t want to.  What his brain wanted was to swim in an ocean filled with Bahama Mommas.

            His special line rang.  It was a secure direct line that was used by his network of informants and undercover field agents.  He answered it. “Tipp.”

            “Hiya.  This is Malden.”

            “Good to hear from you.  Have you learned anything more about exactly what Henshaw’s connection was to that disaster this morning?”

            “Word on the street is hard to come by.  Everybody’s even tighter-lipped than usual.  But an interesting name has been bandied about.  Ever hear of Dillon?”

            “Of course.”

            “Well, he’s here in England.  May even still be in London.”

            “Are you serious?”

            “As a bloody heart attack.  Near as I could find out, he was first seen four days ago.  Given his rep, I don’t think it’s such a wild guess that he had something to do with that set-to this morning, right?”

            “Not at all.  Thanks, Malden.  Watch yourself out there and get in touch with me the minute you learn anything else.”

            Tipp hung up the phone.  Dillon.  Well, that bit of intelligence was making things a bit clearer.  One could usually tell where Dillon had been by following the trail of outrageous destruction the outlaw seemed to leave in his path wherever he went.  Tipp consulted his computer for a few minutes and then picked up the secure phone again.

            “I want all field agents to be on the alert for a man I want found and picked up if possible.  His name is Dillon.  That’s the only name I have on file for him.  His aliases are too numerous to name now.  They’ll be on a more detailed alert sheet.  He’s black, between 30 and 40 years of age.  Weight around 240 pounds. Height is six feet, four inches.  His eyes are his most identifiable feature.  They’re a copper color, described in my file as being the color of freshly minted American pennies.  He’s to be considered extremely dangerous but he’s also been known to have co-operated with law enforcement agencies in the past.  When he’s spotted, I want him brought to me straightaway.  And the agents who spot him are to identify themselves to him.  I don’t want anybody getting shot and killed because of a misunderstanding.”





            Kris Quinlan opened the door and Dillon stepped into the foyer of Lady Thelma’s estate.  “Good evening, Mr. Dillon.  I’m Kristin Quinlan, Lady Thelma’s personal assistant.  Welcome.”

            Dillon looked around at the foyer.  It was larger than some homes he’d been in, with its chandeliers and huge works of art decorating the walls and the painted ceiling, depicting the history of Lady Thelma’s family.

            “Please, come with me into the visitor’s lounge where you can be more comfortable while waiting for Lady Thelma.”

            Dillon followed her down a wide, mirrored corridor to the visitor’s lounge, which came equipped with a bar, comfortable low couches and high-backed leather chairs.  Sliding doors looked out onto a lovely garden that ran riot with multicolored flowers that looked as if they were tended to 24/7.

            “May I fix you a drink?”  Kris asked.

            “Please.  Demarara rum with a twist of lime… easy on the ice.”

            While she fixed his drink, Kris sized him up.  He certainly looked fit enough to take on armed bands of mercenaries.  “You know, I was quite flabbergasted when you called and said you were coming to see Lady Thelma.”

            “Really?”  Dillon was wandering around the room, seemingly just looking at the paintings on the walls, admiring the expensive knick-knacks and bric a brac.  Actually he was scanning for surveillance devices.  He sneaked a look every now and then at his watch.  If the normally black face turned orange, that meant he was within ten feet of a bug.  So far, in the short time he’d occupied the room, the watch face had turned orange four times.  “Why is that?”

            “I was pretty well convinced you’d perished in that explosion.  Lady Thelma was… more optimistic.”  Kris came from behind the bar to hand Dillon his drink.  He watched her as she walked toward him, admiring the spring in her step. 

            “I’m not sure how to say this without sounding like I’m bragging, but my reputation is based on my surviving things of that nature.  Do you think I could see Lady Thelma now?”

            “She’ll be here shortly.  You’ve made her quite nervous, you know.”

            “And what exactly does she have to be nervous about?  She didn’t have a gang of hired killers trying to kill her before breakfast.”

            “You seem upset.”  Kris said, cocking her head to the side in a manner that made her very desirable.  Dillon kept his mind on his business.  A difficult thing to do when standing just a few feet from such a lovely package, but after all, he did pride himself on being a professional.

            “Miss Quinlan, there are risks in my chosen profession that I accept.  However, I dislike the fact that there were vital facts that were withheld from me.  Facts that might have resulted in my premature demise if it wasn’t for the fact that I can run like a roadrunner on crack.”

            “So you think Lady Thelma is obligated to tell you the true nature of the object you recovered?”

            “I do.”

            “I don’t.”  Those stony words came from the raspy throat of Lady Thelma, who entered the room wearing a simple yet elegant pale green pantsuit.  The mountainous Frederick Whalen was close at her back.  Dillon had heard stories about him, sure, but that was quite different from seeing the fellow in person.  Dillon tipped his head back and looked up at the smiling giant.  Lady Thelma was amused despite her initial anger.

            “Impressive, isn’t he?”

            “And then some.  What do you feed him?  Fishing villages?”

            “If you don’t drop that cocky attitude, you’ll quickly find out.  Now give me my ring.  Now.”

            “Not so fast.  I’d like the answer to a few questions first.”

            Whalen answered, his voice rumbled from the deep recesses of that cave he called a chest.  “You agreed to perform a job for Lady Thelma, Dillon.  I suggest you hand over her property so that we can conclude this business and you can leave.”
           
“I didn’t bring it with me.”  Dillon sipped his drink calmly, looking up into Whalen’s angry eyes.  Dillon was wondering if he could use his glass to blind the giant if Whalen decided to yank Dillon apart like a chicken wing. He turned his head to look at Lady Thelma while still managing to keep Whalen in his line of sight.  “Look, Lady Thelma, I think you’re into something that’s way over your aristocratic head.  I know your rep and know how tough you’re supposed to be, but in this arena, there are players who will rip out your liver and eat it right in front of you just for grins.  Don’t you think that having me on your side will help us all out in the long run?”

            Lady Thelma grinned, displaying a truly alarming set of bright teeth and blood-red gums.  “But I already have plenty of help on my side.  Come on in, Frayne.”

            Alistair Frayne came in from a side door, moving like a lean and cruel panther.  His leather duster flapped around his legs and his shoulder length platinum hair shone in the bright sunlight streaming into the room.  He was as handsome as a fallen angel and a thirst for violence was in his eyes.

            The four men with him carried AK-47’s and silently surrounded Dillon, their weapons aimed at him.  Frayne smiled and tied his hair into a ponytail as he said, “I suggest you get real smart real fast and do as you’re told.  Give over the ring.”

            Dillon shrugged, finished his drink and very slowly and carefully put the glass down.  He reached into a pocket, pulled out a dark gray globe the size of a tennis ball and gripped it in both hands, giving the top half a twist.  The room was filled with a high-pitched whine and a red light on top of the ball began blinking.

            The blood drained from Frayne’s wolfish face.  “Are you mad?”

            Dillon just smiled widely.

            “What is it?”  Lady Thelma demanded.  “Is it a grenade?”

            Whalen answered her.  “It’s a Belinski explosive device.  It’s powerful enough to destroy this entire room and us with it.”

            “Good boy, Jumbo,” Dillon confirmed.  “You will note that I’ve got it set to go off three seconds after I take my finger off the safety.  Which means that it would not be a smart move to shoot me. Agreed?”

            Frayne licked his lips and nodded.

            Dillon’s copper eyes were unemotional but his voice was pure sugar as he said softly, “Now, shall we try diplomacy?”


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