The Emperor's Revenge, Page 2Clive Cussler
“Lieutenant Pierre Delacroix, Your Majesty. I served under Commodore Maistral aboard the Neptune during the Battle of Trafalgar.” The Neptune was one of the few ships to escape the decisive naval engagement that made Lord Nelson a hero to the British.
Napoleon narrowed his eyes at the mention of one of his country’s worst defeats. “What is the meaning of this intrusion?”
“I mean to spirit you away from this island, Your Majesty. I have a fleet of eighty warships waiting for your command back in France.”
“Then why did you not attack the island to free me?”
“Because the officers will follow only your orders. They will not risk fighting the Royal Navy unless they know you’ve been liberated.”
He stared at Robeaud. “And Monsieur Robeaud? Why bring him to this godforsaken island?”
Delacroix nodded at Robeaud, who took a flask from his cloak. He unscrewed the cap, looked at the opening for a few long seconds, and downed its contents.
Delacroix took the flask and tucked it in his coat. “Not only did Robeaud volunteer to take your place, he agreed to swallow that arsenic in return for money to settle his family’s debts. He will be dead in a matter of days, but his family will be well off for the rest of their lives. The physicians that the English recently sent to take your personal doctor’s place do not know you well enough to recognize an impostor.”
Napoleon slowly nodded in appreciation of Delacroix’s tactical acumen. “Very good, Lieutenant. I see that you learned well from my example. If the British knew I had escaped, the squadron of ships guarding St. Helena would chase us down before we got thirty miles out to sea.”
“Exactly, Your Majesty. Now we must go.”
“Go where? How are we to escape?”
“I have a submarine waiting at Black Point.”
Napoleon’s eyes widened. “You mean Fulton’s strange vessel actually works?”
“Come with me and I’ll show you.”
Robeaud donned the nightclothes and got into bed while Napoleon dressed in one of the military uniforms that the British had allowed him to keep.
“I insist on retreating with the honor of a soldier,” he said. Napoleon picked up a book by the bedside. He tore several pages from it, tucked them in his tunic, and replaced the book. The cover read L’Odyssée, with Greek letters below the title. Homer’s Odyssey.
When Delacroix gave him a puzzled look, Napoleon said, “The pages have sentimental value to me.”
They snuck out of the estate the same way Delacroix and Robeaud had entered. Napoleon was in poorer health than his replacement, so the journey back to the coast took longer. They reached the cliff top with only a couple of hours until sunrise.
Delacroix tossed one end of the rope over the side so that the submarine crew could catch it, then readied the bosun’s chair. When Napoleon saw how he was to be lowered to the water, he initially refused. Delacroix reminded him that the bosun’s chair was the way officers were hoisted onto naval vessels while they were at sea, which quelled the emperor’s objections.
He took a seat in the chair while Delacroix stood on the operator’s board behind him and held on to the rope to steady them. When Delacroix signaled with three quick tugs on the rope, the crewmen below started playing the rope out that wrapped around the pulley at the top of the cliff. Napoleon sat erect, trying to retain as much dignity as possible in such an awkward position.
With only an hour remaining before dawn, Napoleon and Delacroix alighted on the deck of the submarine. The crewmen hauled the rest of the rope down as they stared with mouths agape at the legendary leader. When the rope was reeled in, all that would remain of their escape would be the inconspicuous bolt and pulley at the cliff top.
They shoved away from the cliff and retrieved the cork fenders. They would sail as far from the coast as they could before daylight and then submerge.
“Congratulations on your success, Lieutenant,” Napoleon said. “You will be highly decorated for this daring raid. Now, when we rendezvous with our frigate, I expect we will make straight for our fleet to—”
Delacroix shook his head. “There is no fleet.”
The statement was met with a look of disbelief. “No fleet? But you told me we had eighty ships at our disposal.”
“I said that so you would come with me willingly. This is a secret mission. No one must know you’ve escaped. Ever.”
“You expect me to skulk away like a thief in the night, leaving an impostor in my place? No! How am I to retake my rightful position as emperor? I must announce my illustrious return to power. I refuse to flee my prison like some common criminal.”
“You no longer have any choice in the matter.”
Napoleon slammed his fist against the submarine’s conning tower. “Lieutenant Delacroix, I demand to know what your intentions are for my rescue!”
“You misunderstand, Your Majesty,” Delacroix said, and nodded to a sailor holding a set of iron shackles. “We did not come to this desolate place to rescue you. We came to kidnap you.”
Towering dunes and rocky crags stretched as far as the eye could see, baked by the harsh midday sun. The IL-76 cargo plane, now three hours out of Cairo, had been flying a zigzag pattern across the Sahara according to instructions.
Tiny Gunderson turned in his pilot’s seat and blinked in confusion when he saw Juan Cabrillo standing behind him.
Normally, Juan sported short blond hair, blue eyes, and a tan complexion like the native Californian he was, but today he was disguised as an Arab native, with dyed black hair, brown contact lenses, skin darkened even further by makeup, and a prosthetic nose to alter his appearance.
“For a moment, I thought you were one of our other passengers,” Tiny said.
“They’re busy down in the hold, checking their gear,” Juan replied. “They look a little nervous. A couple of them have never skydived before.”
“Well, they picked a doozy of a place to learn. I haven’t seen so much as a road for the last thirty minutes.”
“They want to make sure no one beats us to their target.”
“Fat chance of that happening. We’re nearing the latest checkpoint. I’m going to need the next set of coordinates.”
“Then my timing is impeccable,” Juan said. “Our client just gave me this. He said it’s the drop location.” He handed Tiny a piece of paper with a set of GPS coordinates. Tiny plugged the new numbers into the Russian jet’s autopilot computer, and the four-engine plane began banking in that direction.
“We should be on-site in ten minutes,” he said. “I’ll open the rear door two minutes before the drop.”
Juan nodded. “What’s our fuel status?”
“No problem. I’ve got eight more hours of flight time.”
“Remember,” Juan said, “they won’t leave the landing zone until you’re out of sight, so hightail it as soon as we’re away.”
“Like I’ve been bit in the butt, Chairman. Have a good fall.”
Juan smiled. “Keep in touch.” He left the cockpit and took the stairs down into the cavernous hold.
Four pallets occupied the center of the hold. Three dune buggies were packed nose to tail, their parachutes piled on top and their rip cords attached to the plane so they would be triggered automatically when dropped.
The dune buggies were Scorpion desert patrol vehicles sold as surplus by the Saudi Army, with their armaments removed, of course. It had taken a day to refit them with the .50 caliber M2 Browning machine gun and 40mm Mk 19 grenade launcher that were usually mounted on the chassis. Now they could take on anything, short of a tank, and, according to their clients, the weapons weren’t going to be just for show.
The fourth pallet, the same size as the dune buggies, was still under wraps at the front of the hold. It wouldn’t
be joining them on this drop.
Juan strode toward the six men gathered near the rear door. All of them were elite soldiers of the Saharan Islamic Caliphate, a terrorist organization hoping to build a fundamentalist state that would span the entire width of North Africa.
The leader of this particular group, a brutal Egyptian named Mahmoud Nazari, who was suspected of several attacks on tourist groups, had made it known that he was trying to gain access to weapons of mass destruction that would aid in his goal to become the ruling caliph. The NSA had intercepted a conversation between him and his benefactors in Saudi Arabia that he needed funds to make an incursion into Algeria, where he could obtain such weapons.
Although the type of weapon was never specified in the call, the threat was taken seriously, and the Corporation had been tapped to take on the mission to discover what Nazari was looking for.
Juan stopped in front of the group. Nazari, a thin man with a heavy beard and dead eyes, showed no emotion whatsoever. He said in Arabic, “How long until our jump?”
“Less than ten minutes,” Juan replied with flawless Saudi Arabian inflection. He also spoke Russian and Spanish fluently in various accents, but he’d never been able to master Arabic in any other dialect, so his backstory sold him as a jihadist from Riyadh.
Given the atrocities Nazari was thought to have committed, Juan got a bad taste in his mouth every time he had to talk to the terrorist. When Nazari bragged about slicing off an infidel civilian’s hands during one of his attacks, Juan nearly threw him out of the plane’s door without a parachute, but the mission to find the WMDs was too important to indulge his urge.
“How far do we have to drive once we land?” Juan continued.
“You’ll know when I tell you. Now, complete your preparations.” Juan hadn’t been expecting an answer, but he would have seemed suspicious if he weren’t curious about the mission.
“Yes, sir,” Juan said, forcing himself to say the words with a convincing tone of feigned respect. He pointed at the warning light above their heads. “That will flash red when the rear door opens. Stay behind the yellow line on the floor if you don’t want to get sucked out. The light will change to amber a minute before the jump, then green to signal the jump. The pallets will go first, then us. Understand?”
“We went over this in the preflight briefing,” Nazari said with clear disdain. “We’re not simpletons.” His men, who busily rechecked their harnesses and static lines, didn’t seem bothered by the reminder.
“Of course,” Juan replied. “I didn’t mean to offend. I’ll see you on the ground.”
Juan left them and headed to the front of the cargo deck. The only reason he cared if they made it to the ground intact was so they could lead him to the target. It had been a challenge to get them to trust him to the degree they had, which was why this operation hadn’t been tasked to U.S. Special Forces. As good as they were, infiltration wasn’t their specialty, and the CIA had their own limitations.
Juan had created the Corporation to do work the U.S. government couldn’t engage in directly. Plausible deniability was the rule. His stint as an agent in the CIA had made it clear that there were plenty of those types of operations needing to be carried out through the Corporation. Juan had offered to take on the risks, for which he and those in his employ had been well compensated. Side jobs supplemented their income when work from the CIA was scarce, but Juan never took on a job that he didn’t feel was in the best interests of America.
This mission certainly fit the bill.
It had taken weeks of secret meetings to gain Nazari’s trust enough to be hired for the mission. He required a clandestine insertion into the southern Algerian desert, fifty miles of rough terrain from the nearest settlement or oasis. The dune buggies had only enough fuel to get them from the drop to the target and then back to civilization, which was one of the reasons for the aerial insertion. The other was because they weren’t supposed to be on Algerian soil. The Oregon was already positioned at the port of Algiers to smuggle them out of the country. Tiny Gunderson, the Corporation’s fixed-wing pilot, would return the chartered IL-76 to its owners at the end of the mission. Originally, the operation was to take place three days from now, but Nazari had suddenly shortened the time line for unknown reasons.
Juan found Eddie Seng verifying that the pallet tie-downs for the dune buggies were tight. As lean and sinewy as an Olympic gymnast, Eddie was another veteran of the CIA and the Corporation’s chief of shore operations. Though he was fluent in Mandarin, he didn’t know any Arabic, so he hadn’t mixed with Nazari and his crew. Juan told them that Eddie was a freedom fighter from Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world. Luckily, they hadn’t recognized that Eddie was actually of Chinese descent.
“How are our friends doing?” Eddie asked, and smiled when he saw one of them wrestling with the line that would pull his rip cord. “Some of them look a little green.”
“I just hope they hold it together until they jump,” Juan said, shrugging into his parachute rig. “Tiny will have a fit if they toss their cookies and he has to clean up the mess before he returns the plane. Are we set?”
“Everything checks out. We’re good to go.”
“Just took one last trip to the head,” said a basso voice behind Juan. He turned to see Franklin Lincoln, carrying his chute in one hand and two AK-47 assault rifles in the other as if they were toys. The gargantuan African American, with a head as smooth as a cue ball, handed Juan an AK-47, one of his least favorite weapons. He took it reluctantly.
“Don’t blame me, Chairman,” Linc said. As a former Navy SEAL, he would have much rather been carrying a more state-of-the-art weapon, too. “Remember, we’re trying to fit in.” Linc’s cover was that he was a Nigerian who had joined the struggle to fight the Western infidels.
Intel said that it was unlikely that Nazari and his men spoke any English. Juan had told Nazari that he, Eddie, and Linc had only English as a common language, since they were supposed to be from Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Nigeria. Still, Juan kept his voice low when he could, just in case the intel was wrong.
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Juan said. He secured the rifle to his pack.
“Any word yet on what our target is?” Eddie asked.
“Nada. Nazari’s not the sharing type. I’m not even sure his men know.” Juan tapped his watch, and voices suddenly popped into his earpiece. He could hear Nazari as clearly as if he were standing next to the terrorist. So far, the minuscule microphone transmitter that Juan had installed in the liner of his harness hadn’t yielded any strong intel.
“But they have done everything we’ve required,” Juan could hear one of the soldiers telling Nazari.
“I don’t care,” Nazari said. “We can’t take that chance. Once they realize what we’ve dug up, they may change their minds about—”
At that moment, the rear door lowered, letting in a blast of air that garbled the sound so much that Juan could only catch a few snippets of the remaining conversation.
Juan, Eddie, and Linc didn’t waste any time finishing the drop prep. Everything was ready when the amber light flashed.
A minute to the drop.
“We’re going to have to keep on our toes once we reach the target and recover whatever it is they’re looking for,” Juan said, his eye on Nazari at the other end of the hold. “I’m pretty sure I just heard that that’s when our client plans to kill us.”
Linc smirked. “Lovely.”
Then the green light blazed, the dune buggy pallets neatly slid out the back one after the other, and Juan led the jump out over the desert waiting a mile below.
Henri Munier would never admit to a soul that he couldn’t stand motor sports, not when he was the president of a bank in a country with the world’s most famous auto race. Many of
his biggest clients were Formula series drivers who lived in Monaco to take advantage of its reputation as a tax-free haven. They would be appalled to learn that he thought their sport was obnoxious and boring.
He couldn’t help cringing as he drove his new customized Tesla electric SUV past the Monaco Grand Prix turn known as La Rascasse. The morning race of Formula 3.5 cars was nearing its end, the sleek race cars’ high-pitched engines whining as they rounded the corner and revved to full speed. The SUV’s windows did little to block out the incessant shriek.
And it would only get worse. The main Formula 1 event, featuring the most advanced race cars on earth, would take place later in the afternoon. The race was one of the few Grand Prix events run on city streets, and Munier hated the disruption to Monte Carlo traffic, for the six weeks before and the three weeks after, as the course was constructed and then taken down.
He had no intention of attending the race and getting stuck feigning interest in it for two hours. As he did every year, he took the opportunity to accept an invitation to one of the lavish parties thrown on the multitude of mega-yachts squeezed into the harbor, many of them with a perfect view of the racecourse. He’d sent his wife and two daughters to sunbathe on the beach in Antibes so he could enjoy the weekend by himself.
This year, he’d scored the most sought-after invitation in town. One of the largest yachts in the world, the Achilles, had tied up along the harbor’s longest berth, and the decadent bashes visible on her decks had been the talk of the city all week. The host, Maxim Antonovich, had sent a gilded invitation for Munier to be his guest, and the banker suspected the reclusive billionaire wanted to talk about stashing a substantial portion of his holdings in Credit Condamine. Perhaps he was even considering becoming a citizen.
Munier wouldn’t mind combining a little business with his pleasure.
He stopped at the end of the pier closest to the Achilles and stared at the massive vessel. Even though Munier was accustomed to the trappings of wealth, it was like no other yacht on the water.