Authors: Alistair MacLean
MacLean, Alistar - Athabasca
Mar 2003 proofed by (xyz) from uc html
This book is not primarily about oil, but is based on oil and the means whereby oil is recovered from the earth, so it may be of some interest and help to look briefly at these phenomena.
What oil is, and how it is formed in the first place, no one quite seems to know. The technical books and treatises on this subject are legion -- I am aware that, personally, I haven't seen a fraction of them -- and they are largely, so I am assured, in close agreement -- except when they come to what one would have thought was a point of considerable interest: How, precisely, does oil become oil? There appear to be as many divergent theories about this as there are about the origins of life. Confronted with complexities, the well-advised layman takes refuge in over-simplification -- which is what I now do, as I can do no other.
Only two elements were needed for the formation of oil -- rock and the incredibly abundant plants and primitive living organisms that teemed in rivers, lakes and seas as far back as perhaps a billion years ago. Hence, the term fossil fuels.
The biblical references to the rock of ages give rise to misconceptions about the nature and permanency of rock. Rock -- the material of which the earth's crust is made -- is neither eternal nor indestructible. Nor is it even unchanging. On the contrary, it is in a state of constant change, movement and flux, and it is salutary to remind ourselves that there was a time when no rock existed. Even today there is a singular lack of agreement among geologists, geophysicists and astronomers as to how the earth came into being; but there is a measure of agreement that there was a primary incandescent and gaseous state, followed by a molten state, neither of which was conducive to the formation of anything, rock included. It is erroneous to suppose that rock has been, is and ever will be.
Yet we are not concerned here with the ultimate origins of rock, but rock as we have it today. It is, admittedly, difficult to observe this process of flux because a minor change may take ten million years; a major change, a hundred million.
Rock is constantly being destroyed and rebuilt. In the destructive process weather is the main factor; in the rebuilding, the forces of gravity.
Five main weather elements act upon rock. Frost and ice fracture rock. It can be gradually eroded by airborne dust. The action of the seas, whether through the constant movement of waves and tides or the pounding of heavy storm waves, remorselessly wears away the coastlines. Rivers are immensely powerful destructive agencies -- one has but to look at the Grand Canyon to appreciate their enormous power. And such rocks as escape all these influences are worn away over the eons by the effect of rain.
Whatever the cause of erosion, the end result is the same: The rock is reduced to its tiniest possible constituents -- rock particles or, simply, dust. Rain and melting snow carry this dust down to the tiniest rivulets and the mightiest rivers, which, in turn, transport it to lakes, inland seas and the coastal regions of the oceans. Dust, however fine and powdery, is still heavier than water, and whenever the water becomes sufficiently still, it will gradually sink to the bottom, not only in lakes and seas but also in the sluggish lower reaches of rivers and where flood conditions exist, in the form of silt.
And so, over unimaginably long reaches of time, whole mountain ranges are carried down to the seas, and in the process, through the effects of gravity, new rock is born as layer after layer of dust accumulates on the bottom, building up to a depth of ten, a hundred, perhaps even a thousand feet, the lowermost layers being gradually compacted by the immense and steadily increasing pressures from above, until the particles fuse together and reform as new rock.
It is in the intermediate and final processes of this new rock formation that oil comes into being. Those lakes and seas of hundreds of millions of years ago were almost choked by water plants and the most primitive forms of aquatic life. On dying, they sank to the bottom of the lakes and seas along with the settling dust particles and were gradually buried deep under the endless layers of more dust and more aquatic and plant life that slowly accumulated above them. The passing of millions of years and the steadily increasing pressures from above gradually changed the decayed vegetation and dead aquatic life into oil.
Described thus simply and quickly, the process sounds reasonable enough. But this is where the gray and disputatious area arises. The conditions necessary for the formation of oil are known; the cause of the metamorphosis is not. It seems probable that some form of chemical catalyst is involved, but this catalyst has not been isolated. The first purely synthetic oil, as distinct from secondary synthetic oils such as those derived from coal, has yet to be produced. We just have to accept that oil is oil, that it is there, bound up in rock strata in fairly well-defined areas throughout the world but always on the sites of ancient seas and lakes, some of which are now continental land, some buried deep under the encroachment of new oceans.
Had the oil remained intermingled with those deeply buried rock strata, and were the earth a stable place, that oil would have been irrecoverable. But our planet is a highly unstable place. There is no such thing as a stable continent securely anchored to the core of the earth. The continents rest on the so-called tectonic plates which, in turn, float on the molten magma below, with neither anchor nor rudder, free to wander in whichever haphazard fashion they will. This they unquestionably do. They are much given to banging into each other, grinding alongside each other, overriding or dipping under each other in a wholly unpredictable fashion and, in general, resembling rocks in the demonstration of their fundamental instability. As this banging and clashing takes place over periods of tens or hundreds of millions of years, it is not readily apparent to us except in the form of earthquakes -- which generally occur where two tectonic plates are in contention.
The collision of two such plates engenders incredible pressures, and two of the effects of such pressures are of particular concern here. In the first place the huge compressive forces involved tend to squeeze the oil from the rock strata in which it is imbedded and to disperse it in whichever direction the pressure permits -- up, down or sideways. Secondly, a collision buckles or folds the rock strata themselves, the upper strata being forced upward to form mountain ranges -- the northern movement of the Indian tectonic plate created the Himalayas -- and the lower strata buckling to create what are virtually subterranean mountains, folding the layered strata into massive domes and arches.
It is at this point, insofar as oil recovery is concerned, that the nature of the rocks themselves become of importance. The rock can be porous or non-porous. The porous rock -- such as gypsum -- permits liquids, such as oil, to pass through them, while the non-porous -- such as limestone -- does not. In the case of porous rock, the oil, influenced by those compressive forces, will seep upward through the rock until the distributive pressure eases, when it will come to rest at or very close to the surface of the earth. In the case of non-porous rock, the oil will become trapped in a dome or arch, and in spite of the great pressures from below can escape neither sideways nor upward but must remain where it is.
In this latter case, what are regarded as conventional methods are used in the recovery of oil. Geologists locate a dome, and a hole is drilled. With reasonable luck they hit an oil dome and not a solid one, and their problems are over -- the powerful subterranean pressures normally drive the oil to the surface.
The recovery of seepage oil which has passed upward through porous rock presents a quite different and far more formidable problem, the answer to which was not found until as late as 1967. Even then it was only a partial answer. The trouble, of course, is that this surface seepage oil does not collect in pools, but is inextricably intermixed with foreign matter, such as sand and clay, from which it has to be abstracted and refined.
It is, in fact, a solid and has to be mined as such; and although this solidified oil may go as deep as six thousand feet, only the first two hundred feet, in the limits of present-day knowledge and techniques, are accessible, and that only by surface mining. Conventional mining methods -- the sinking of vertical shafts and the driving of horizontal galleries -- would be hopelessly inadequate, as they would provide only the tiniest fraction of the raw material required to make the extraction process commercially viable. The latest oil extraction plant, which went into operation only in the summer of 1978, requires 10,000 tons of raw material every hour.
Two excellent examples of the two different methods of oil recovery are to be found in the far northwest of North America. The conventional method of deep drilling is well exemplified by the Prudhoe Bay oil field on the Arctic shore of northern Alaska: its latter-day counterpart, the surface mining of oil, is to be found -- and, indeed, it is the only place in the world where it can be found -- in the tar sands of Athabasca.
"This," said George Dermott, "is no place for us." He eased his considerable bulk back from the dining table and regarded the remains of several enormous lamb chops with disfavor. "Jim Brady expects/his field operatives to be lean, fit and athletic. Are we lean, fit and athletic?"
"There are desserts," Donald Mackenzie said. Like Dermott he was a large and comfortable man -- a little larger and a little less comfortable than his partner -- with a rugged, weatherbeaten face. Observers often took him and his partner for a pair of retired heavyweight boxers. "I can see cakes, cookies and a wide variety of pastries," he went on. "You read their food brochure? Says that the average man requires at least five thousand calories a day to cope with Arctic conditions. But we, George, are not average men. Six thousand would do better in a pinch. Nearer seven would be safer, I'd say. Chocolate mousse and double cream?"
"He had a notice about it on the staff bulletin board," Dermott said wryly. "Heavy black border, for some reason. Signed, too."
"Senior operatives don't look at staff boards."
Mackenzie heaved his 220 pounds erect and headed purposefully for the food counter. There was no doubt that BP/Sohio did extremely well by their staff. Here at Prudhoe Bay, on the bitter rim of the Arctic Ocean in midwinter, the spacious, light and airy dining room, with multicolored pastel walls backdropping the recurrent five-pointed-star motif, was maintained at a pleasantly fresh 72º F. by the air-conditioned central heating. The temperature difference between the dining room and the outside world was 105 degrees. The range of excellently cooked food was also astonishing.
"Don't exactly starve themselves up here," he said as he returned with a mousse for each of them and a pitcher of heavy cream. "I wonder what the old Alaskan sour-doughs would have made of it."
The first reaction of a prospector or trapper of yesteryear would have been that he was suffering from hallucinations. All in all, it was hard to say what feature he would have found the most astonishing. Eighty per cent of the items on the menu would have been unknown to him. But he would have been still more amazed by the forty-foot swimming pool and the glassed-in garden, with its pine trees, birches, plants and profusion of flowers, that abutted on the dining room.
"God knows what the old boys would have thought," said Dermott. "You might ask him, though." He indicated a man heading in their direction. "Jack London would have recognized this one right away."
Mackenzie said, "More the Robert Service type, I'd say."
The newcomer certainly wasn't of current vintage. He wore heavy felt boots, moleskin trousers and an incredibly faded mackinaw which went well enough with the equally faded patches on the sleeves. A pair of sealskin gloves were suspended from his neck, and he carried a coonskin cap in his right hand. His hair was long and white and parted in the middle. He had a slightly hooked nose and clear blue eyes with deeply entrenched crow's feet, which could have been caused by too much sun, too much snow or a too highly developed sense of humor. The rest of his face was obscured by a magnificent, grizzled beard and mustache, both of which were at that moment rimed by droplets of ice. The yellow hard hat swinging from his left hand struck a jarring note. He stopped at their table, and from the momentary flash of white teeth it could be assumed that he was smiling.
"Mr. Dermott? Mr. Mackenzie?" He offered his hand. "Finlayson. John Finlayson."
Dermott said, "Mr. Finlayson. Field operations manager's office?"
"I am the field operations manager." He pulled out a chair, sat, sighed and removed some ice particles from his beard. "Yes, yes, I know. Hard to believe." He smiled again, gestured at his clothing. "Most people think I've been riding the rods. You know, hobo on the boxcars. God knows why. Nearest railroad track's a long, long way from Prudhoe Bay. Like Tahiti and grass skirts. You know, gone native. Too many years on the North Slope." His oddly staccato manner of speech was indeed suggestive of a person whose contact with civilization was, at best, intermittent. "Sorry I couldn't make it. Meet you, I mean. Deadhorse."
Mackenzie said, "Deadhorse?"
"Airstrip. A little trouble at one of the gathering centers. Happens all the time. Sub-zero temperatures play hell with the molecular structure of steel. Being well taken care of, I hope?"
"No complaints." Dermott smiled. "Not that we require much care. There the food counter, here Mackenzie. The wateringhole and the camel." Dermott checked himself. He was beginning to talk like Finlayson. "Well, one little complaint, perhaps. Too many items on the lunch menu, too large a helping of any item. My colleague's waistline -- "
"Your colleague's waistline can take care of itself," Mackenzie said comfortably. "But I do have a complaint, Mr. Finlayson."
"I can imagine." Another momentary flash of teeth, and Finlayson was on his feet. "Let's hear it in my office. Just a few steps." He walked across the dining hall, stopped outside a door and indicated another door to the left. "Master Operations Control Center. The heart of Prudhoe Bay -- or the western half of it, at least. All the computerized process control facilities for the supervision of the field's operations."
Dermott said, "An enterprising lad with a satchelful of grenades could have himself quite a time in there."
"Five seconds and he could close down the entire oil field. Come all the way from Houston just to cheer me up? This way."
He led them through the outer door, then through an inner one to a small office. Desks, chairs and filing cabinets, all in metal, all in battleship gray. He gestured them to sit and smiled at Mackenzie. "As the French say, a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine."
"It's this Texas dust," Mackenzie said. "Sticks in the gullet like no other dust. Laughs at water."
Finlayson made a sweeping motion with his hand. "Some big rigs out there. Damned expensive and damned difficult to handle. It's pitch dark, say, forty below and you're tired -- you're always tired up here. Don't forget we work twelve hours a day, seven days a week. A couple of scotches on top of all that, and you've written off a million dollars' worth of equipment. Or you damage the pipeline. Or you kill yourself. Or, worst of all, you kill some of your mates. Comparatively, they had it easy in the old prohibition days -- bulk smuggling from Canada, bathtub gin, illicit stills by the thousand. Rather different on the North Slope here -- get caught smuggling in a teaspoonful of liquor, and that's it. No argument, no court of appeal. Out. But there's no problem -- no one is going to risk eight hundred dollars a week for ten cents' worth of bourbon."
Mackenzie said, "When's the next flight out to Anchorage?"
Finlayson smiled. "All is not lost, Mr. Mackenzie." He unlocked a filing cabinet, produced a bottle of scotch and two glasses and poured with a generous hand. "Welcome to the North Slope, gentlemen."
"I was having visions," said Mackenzie, "of travelers stranded in an Alpine blizzard and a St. Bernard lolloping toward them with the usual restorative. You're not a drinking man?"
"Certainly. One week in five when I rejoin my family in Anchorage. This is strictly for visiting VIPs. One would assume you qualify under that heading?" Thoughtfully, he mopped melting ice from his beard. "Though frankly, I never heard of your organization until a couple of days ago."
"Think of us as desert roses," Mackenzie said. "Born to blush and bloom unseen. I think I've got that wrong, but the desert bit is appropriate enough. That's where we seem to spend most of our time." He nodded toward the window. "A desert doesn't have to be made of sand. I suppose this qualifies as an Arctic desert."
"I think of it that way myself. But what do you do in those deserts? Your function, I mean."
"Our function?" Dermott considered. "Oddly enough, I'd say our function is to reduce our worthy employer, Jim Brady, to a state of bankruptcy."
"Jim Brady? I thought his initial was A."
"His mother was English. She christened him Algernon. Wouldn't you object? He's always known as Jim. Anyway, there are only three people in the world any good at extinguishing oil-field fires, particularly gusher fires, and all three are Texas-based. Jim Brady's one of the three.
"It used to be commonly accepted that there are just three causes of such oil fires: spontaneous combustion, which should never happen but does; the human factor, i.e., sheer carelessness; and mechanical failure. After twenty-five years in the business Brady recognized that there was a fourth and more sinister element involved that would come, broadly speaking, under the heading of industrial sabotage.
"Who would engage in sabotage? What would the motivation be?
"Well first we can rule out the most obvious -- rivalry among the big oil companies. It doesn't exist. This notion of cut-throat competition exists only in the sensational press and among the more feebleminded of the public. To be a fly on the wall at a closed meeting of the oil lobby in Washington is to understand once and for all the meaning of the expression 'two minds with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one.' Multiplied by twenty, of course. Let Exxon put up the price of gas by a penny today, and Gulf, Shell, BP, Elf, Agip and all the others will do the same tomorrow. Or even take Prudhoe Bay here. The classic example, surely, of co-operation -- umpteen companies working hand-in-glove for the mutual benefit of all concerned -- benefit of all the oil companies, that is. The state of Alaska and the general public might adopt a rather different and more jaundiced viewpoint.
"So we rule out business rivalries. This leaves another kind of energy. Power. International power politics. Say Country X could seriously weaken enemy Country Y by slowing down its oil revenues. That's one obvious scenario. Then there's internal power politics. Suppose disaffected elements in an oil-rich dictatorship see a means of demonstrating their dissatisfaction against a regime that clasps the ill-gotten gains to its mercenary bosom or, at best, distributes some measure of the largesse to its nearest and dearest, while ensuring that the peasantry remains in the properly medieval state of poverty. Starvation does nicely as motivation. This kind of setup leaves room for personal revenge, the settling of old scores, the working off of old grudges.
"And don't forget the pyromaniac who sees in oil a ludicrously easy target and the source of lovely flames. In short, there's room for practically everything, and the more bizarre and unimaginable, the more likely to happen. A case in point."
He nodded at Mackenzie. "Donald and I have just returned from the Gulf. The local security men and the police were baffled by an outbreak of small fires -- small, so-called, but with damage totalling two million dollars. Clearly the work of an arsonist. We tracked him down, apprehended him, and punished him. We gave him a bow and arrow."
Finlayson looked at them as if their scotch had taken hold too quickly.
"Eleven-year-old son of the British consul. He had a powerful Webley air pistol. Webley makes the traditional ammunition for this -- hollow, concave lead pellets. They do not make pellets of hardened steel, which give off a splendid spark when they strike ferrous metal. This lad had a plentiful supply obtained from a local Arab boy who had a similar pistol and used those illegal pellets for hunting desert vermin. Incidentally, the Arab boy's old man, a prince of the blood royal, owned the oil field in question. The English boy's arrows have rubber tips."
"I'm sure there's a moral there somewhere."
"Sure, there's a lesson: The unpredictable is always with you. Our industrial sabotage division -- that's Jim Brady's term for it -- was formed six years ago. There are fourteen of us in it. At first it was a purely investigative agency. We went to a place after the deed had been done and the fire put out -- as often as not it was Jim who put it out -- and tried to find out who had done it, why, and what his modus operandi had been. Frankly, we had very limited success. Usually the horse had gone, and all we were doing was locking the empty stable door.
"Now the emphasis has changed -- we try to lock the damned door in such a fashion that no one can open it. In other words, prevention: The maximum tightening of both mechanical and human security. The response to this service has been remarkable -- we're now the most profitable side of Jim's operations. By far. Capping off runaway wells, putting fires out, can't hold a candle, if you'll pardon the expression, to our security work. Such is the demand for our services that we could triple our division and still not cope with all the calls being made upon us."
"Well, why don't you? Triple the business, I mean."
"Trained personnel," Mackenzie said. "Just not there. More accurately, there are next to no experienced operatives, and there's an almost total dearth of people qualified to be trained for the job. The combination of qualifications is difficult to come by. You have to have an investigative mind, and that, in turn, is based on an inborn instinct for detection -- the Sherlock Holmes genes, shall we say.. You've either got it or not. It can't be inculcated. You have to have an "eye and a nose for security, an obsession, almost -- and this can only come from field experience. You have to have a pretty detailed knowledge of the oil industry worldwide. And, above all, you have to be an oilman."
"And you gentlemen are oilmen." It was a statement, not a question.
"All our working lives," Dermott said. "We've both been field operation managers."
"If your services are in such demand, how come we should be so lucky as to jump to the head of the queue?"
Dermott said, "As far as we know this is the first time any oil company has received notification of intent to sabotage. First real chance we've had to try out our preventive medicine. We're just slightly puzzled on one point, Mr. Finlayson. You say you never heard of us until a couple of days ago. How come we're here, then? I mean, we knew of this three days ago when we arrived back from the Mideast. We spent a day resting up, another day studying the layout and security measures of the Alaskan pipeline and -- "
"You did that, eh? Isn't it classified information?"
Dermott was patient. "We could have sent for it immediately on receiving the request for assistance. We didn't have to. The information, Mr. Finlayson, is not classified. It's in the public domain. Big companies tend to be incredibly careless about such matters. Whether to reassure the public or burnish their own image by taking thorough-going precautions, they not only release large chunks of information about their activities but positively bombard the public with them. The information, of course, comes in disparate and apparently unrelated lumps. It requires only a moderately intelligent fella to piece them all together.
"Not that those big companies, such as Alyeska, who built your pipeline, have much to reproach themselves about. They don't even begin to operate in the same league of indiscretion as the all-time champs, the U. S. Government. Take the classic example of the declassification of the secret of the atom bomb. When the Russians got the. bomb, the Government thought there was no point in being secretive anymore and proceeded to tell all. You want to know how to make an atom bomb? Just send a pittance to the AEC in Washington and you'll have the necessary information by return mail. That this information could be used by Americans against Americans apparently never occurred to the towering intellects of Capitol Hill and the Pentagon, who seem to have been under the impression that the American criminal classes voluntarily retired en masse on the day of declassification."
Finlayson raised a defensive hand. "Hold. Enough. I accept that you haven't infiltrated Prudhole Bay with a battalion of spies. Answer's simple. When I received this unpleasant letter -- it was sent to me, not to our H.Q. in Anchorage -- I talked to the general manager, Alaska. We both agreed that it was almost certainly a hoax. still, I regret to say that many Alaskans aren't all that kindly disposed toward us. We also agreed that if it was not a hoax, it could be something very serious indeed. People like us, although we're well enough up the ladder in our own fields, don't make final decisions on the safety and future of a ten-billion-dollar investment. So we notified the grand panjandrums. Your directive came from London. Informing me of their decision must have come as an afterthought."
"Head offices being what they are," Dermott said. "Got this threatening note here?"
Finlayson retrieved a single sheet of notepaper from a drawer and passed it across.
"'My dear Mr. Finlayson,"' Dermott read. "Well, that's civil enough. 'I have to inform you that you will be incurring a slight spillage of oil in the near future. Not much, I assure you, just sufficient to convince you that we can interrupt oil flow whenever and wherever we please. Please notify ARCO.'"
Dermott shoved the letter across to Mackenzie. "Understandably unsigned. No demands. If this is genuine, it's intended as a softening-up demonstration in preparation for the big threat and big demand that will follow. A morale-sapper, if you will, designed to scare the pants off you."
Finlayson's gaze was on the middle distance. "I'm not so sure he hasn't done that already."
"You notified ARCO?"
"Yup. Oil field's split more or less half-and-half. We run the western sector. ARCO -- Atlantic Richfield, Exxon, some smaller groups -- they run the eastern sector."
"What's their reaction?"
"Like mine. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst."
"Your security chief. What's his reaction?"
"Downright pessimistic. It's his baby, after all.
"If I were in his shoes, I'd feel the same way. He's convinced of the genuineness of this threat."
"Me too," Dermott said. "This came in an envelope? Ah, thank you." He read the address. "'Mr. John Finlayson, B.Sc., A.M.I.M.E.' Not only punctilious, but they've done their homework on you. 'BP/ Sohio, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.' Postmarked Edmonton, Alberta. That mean anything to you?"
"Nary a thing. I have neither friends nor acquaintances there, and certainly no business contacts."
"Your security chief's reaction?"
"Same as mine. Zero."
"What's his name?"
"Bronowski. Sam Bronowski."
"Let's have him in, shall we?"
"You'll have to wait, I'm afraid. He's down in Fairbanks. Back tonight if the weather holds up. Depends on visibility."
"We don't have one. Precipitation on the North Slope is very low, maybe six inches in a winter. High winds are the bugaboo. They blow up the surface snow so that the air can be completely opaque for thirty or forty feet above the ground. Just before Christmas a few years ago a Hercules, normally the safest of aircraft, tried to land in those conditions. Didn't make it. Two of the crew of four killed. Pilots have become a bit leery since -- if a Hercules can crash, any aircraft can. These high winds and the surface snowstorms they generate -- that snow can be driving along at seventy miles an hour -- are the bane of our existence up here. That's why this operations center is built on pilings seven feet above ground -- lets the snow blow right underneath. Otherwise we'd end the winter season buried under a massive drift. The pilings, of course, also virtually eliminate heat transfer to the permafrost, but that's secondary"
"What's Bronowski doing in Fairbanks?"
"Stiffening the thin red line. Hiring extra security guards for Fairbanks."
"How does he set about that?"
"Approach varies, I suppose. Really Bronowski's department, Mr. Dermott. He has carte blanche in those matters. I suggest you ask him on his return."
"Oh, come on. You're his boss. Bosses keep tabs on their subordinates. Roughly, how does he recruit?"
"Well, he's probably built up a list of people whom he's personally contacted and who might be available in a state of emergency. I'm honestly not sure about this. I may be his boss, but when I delegate responsibility, I do just that. I do know that he approaches the chief of police and asks for suitable recommendations. He may or may not have put in an ad in the All-Alaska Weekly -- that's published in Fairbanks." Finlayson thought briefly. "I wouldn't say he's deliberately close-mouthed about this. I suppose when you've been a security man all your life you naturally don't let your left hand know what the right hand's doing."
"What kind of men does he recruit?"
"Almost all ex-cops -- you know, ex-State Troopers."
"But not trained security men?"
"As such, no, although I'd have thought security would have come as second nature to a State Trooper." Finlayson smiled. "I imagine Sam's principal criterion is whether the man can shoot straight."
"Security's a mental thing, not physical. You said 'almost all.'"
"He's brought in two first-class security agents from outside. One's stationed at Fairbanks, the other at Valdez."
"Who says they're first class?"
"Sam. He handpicked them." Finlayson rubbed his drying beard in what could have been a gesture of irritation. "You know, Mr. Dermott, friendly, even genial you may be, but I have the odd impression that I'm being third-degreed."
"Rubbish. If that were happening, you'd know all about it because I'd be asking you questions about yourself. I've no intention of doing so, now or in the future."
"You wouldn't be having a dossier on me, would you?"
"Tuesday, September 5, 1939, was the day and date you entered your secondary school in Dundee, Scotland."
"What's so sensitive about the Fairbanks area? Why strengthen your defenses there particularly?"
Finlayson shifted in his seat. "No hard-and-fast reason, really."
"Never mind whether it's hard and fast. The reason?"
Finlayson drew in his breath as if he were about to sigh, then seemed to change his mind. "Bit silly, really. You know how whisperings can generate a hoodoo. People -on the line are a bit scared of that sector. You'll know that the pipeline has three mountain ranges to traverse on its eight-hundred-mile run south to the terminal at Valdez. So, pump stations, twelve in all. Pump Station Number Eight is close to Fairbanks. It blew up in the summer of seventy-seven. Completely destroyed."
"Explanations given for this blow-up?"
"The pipeline construction company -- Alyeska -- were satisfied."
"But not everyone?"
"The public was skeptical. State and federal agencies withheld comment."
"What reason did Alyeska give?"
"Mechanical and electrical malfunction."
"Do you believe that?"
"I wasn't there."
'The explanation was generally accepted?"
"The explanation was widely disbelieved."
"Perhaps. I don't know. I was here at the time. I've never even seen Pump Station Number Eight. Been rebuilt, of course."
Dermott sighed. "This is where I should be showing some slight traces of exasperation. Don't believe in committing yourself, do you, Mr. Finlayson? still, you'd probably make a good security agent. I don't suppose you'd like to venture an opinion as to whether there was a cover-up or not?"
"My opinion hardly matters. What matters, I suppose, is that the Alaskan press was damned certain there was, and said so loud and clear. The fact that the papers appeared unconcerned about the possibility of libel action could be regarded as significant. They would have welcomed a public inquiry. One assumes that Alyeska would not have."
"Why were the newspapers stirred up -- or is that an unnecessary question?"
"What incensed the press was that they were prevented for many hours from reaching the scene of the accident. What doubly incensed them was that they were prevented not by peace officers of the state but by Alyeska's private guards who, incredibly, took it upon themselves to close state roads. Even their local PR man agreed that this amounted to illegal restraint."
"No court action resulted."
When Finlayson shrugged, Dermott went on, "Could it have been because Alyeska is the biggest employer in the state, because the life blood of so many companies depends on their contracts with Alyeska? In other words, big money talking big?"
"Any minute now I'll be signing you up for Jim Brady. What did the press say?"
"Because they'd been prevented for a whole day from getting to the scene of the accident, they believed Alyeska employees had been working feverishly during that time to clean up and minimize the effects of the accident, to remove the evidence of a major spillage and to conceal the fact that their failsafe system had failed dangerously. Alyeska had also -- the press said -- covered up the worst effects of the fire damage."
"Might they also have removed or covered up incriminating evidence pointing to sabotage?"
"No guessing games for me."
"Ah right. Do you or Bronowski know of any disaffected elements in Fairbanks?"
"Depends what you mean by disaffected. If you mean environmentalists opposed to the construction of the pipeline, yes. Hundreds -- and very strongly opposed."
"But I assume they're open about it -- always give their full names and addresses when writing to the papers."
"Besides, environmentalists tend to be sensitive and non-violent people who work within the confines of the law."
"About any other disaffected types, I wouldn't know. There are fifteen thousand people in Fairbanks, and it would be optimistic to expect they're all as pure as the driven snow."
"What did Bronowski think of the incident?"
"He wasn't there."
"That wasn't what I asked..."
"He was in New York at the time. He hadn't even joined the company then."
"A relative newcomer, then?"
"Yes. In your book, I suppose that automatically makes him a suspect. If you wish to go ahead and waste your time investigating his antecedents, by all means do so, but I could save you time and effort by telling you that we had him checked, double-checked and triple-checked by three separate top-flight agencies. The New York Police Department gave him a clean bill of health. His record and that of his company are -- were -- impeccable."
"I don't doubt it. What were his qualifications, and what was his company?"
"One and the same thing, really. He headed up one of the biggest and arguably the best security agencies in New York. Before that he was a cop."
"What did his company specialize in?"
"Nothing but the best. Guards, mainly. Additional guards for a handful of the biggest banks when their own security forces were understaffed by holidays or illness. Guarding the homes of the richest people in Manhattan and Long Island to prevent the ungodly making off with the guests' jewellery when large-scale social functions were being held. His third speciality was providing security for exhibitions of precious gems and paintings. If you could ever persuade the Dutch to lend you Rembrandt's 'Night Watch' for a couple of months, Bronowski would be the man you'd send for."
"What would induce a man to leave all that and come to this end of the world?"
"He doesn't say. He doesn't have to. Homesickness. More specifically, his wife's homesickness. She lives in Anchorage. He flies down there every weekend."
"I thought you were supposed to do a full four weeks up here before you got time off."
"Doesn't apply to Bronowski -- only to those whose permanent job is here. This is his nominal base, but the whole line is his responsibility. For instance, if there's trouble in Valdez, he's a damn sight nearer it in his wife's flat in Anchorage than he would be if he were up here. And he's very mobile, is our Sam. Owns and flies his own Comanche. We pay his fuel, that's all."
"He's not without the odd penny to his name?"
"I should say not. He doesn't really need this job, but he can't bear to be inactive. Money? He retains the controlling interest in his New York firm."
"No conflict of interests?"
"How the hell could there be a conflict of interests? He's never even been out of the state since he arrived here over a year ago."
"A trustworthy lad, it would seem. Damn few of them around these days." Dermott looked at Mackenzie. "Donald?"
"Yes?" Mackenzie picked up the unsigned letter from Edmonton. "FBI seen this?"
"Of course not. What's it got to do with the FBI?"
"It might have an awful lot to do with them, and soon. I know Alaskans think that this is a nation apart, that this is your own special and private fiefdom up here, and that you refer to us unfortunates as the lower forty-eight, but you're still part of the United States. When the oil from the pipeline arrives at Valdez, it's shipped to one of the West Coast states. Any interruption in oil transfer between Prudhoe Bay and, say, California, would be regarded as an unlawful interference with interstate commerce and would automatically bring in the FBI."
"Well, it hasn't happened yet. Besides, what can the FBI do? They know nothing of oil or pipeline security. Look after the pipeline? They couldn't even look after themselves. We'd just spend most of our time trying to thaw out the few of them who didn't freeze to death during their first ten minutes here. They could only survive under cover, so what could they do there? Take over our computer terminals and master communications and alarm detection stations at Prudhoe Bay, Fairbanks and Valdez? We have highly trained specialists to monitor over three thousand sources of alarm information. Asking the FBI to do that would be like asking a blind man to read Sanskrit. Inside or out, they'd only be in the way and a useless burden to all concerned."
"Alaska State Troopers could survive. I guess they'd survive where even some of your own men couldn't. Have you been in touch with them? Have you notified the state authorities in Juneau?"
"They don't love us. Oh, sure, if there was physical trouble -- violence -- they'd move in immediately. until then, they'd rather not know. I can't say I blame them. And before you ask me why I'll tell you. For good or bad, we've inherited the Alyeska mantle. Alyeska built the pipeline and they run it, but we use it. I'm afraid there's a wide gray area of non-discrimination here. In most people's eyes they were pipeline, we are pipeline."
Finlayson reflected on his,next words. "It's hard not to feel a bit sorry for Alyeska. They were pretty cruelly pilloried. Sure, they bore the responsibility for a remarkable amount of waste, and incurred vast cost overruns, but they did complete an impossible job in impossible conditions and, what's more, brought it in on schedule. Best construction company in North America at the time. Brilliant engineering and brilliant engineers -- but the brilliance stopped short of their PR people, who might as well have been operating in downtown Manhattan for all they knew about Alaskans. Their job should have been to sell the pipeline to the people. All they succeeded in doing was in turning a large section of the population solidly against the line and the construction company."
He shook his head. "You had to be truly gifted to get it as wrong as they did. They sought to protect the good name of Alyeska, but all they did, by blatant cover-ups -- it was alleged -- and by deliberate lying, was to bring whatever good name there was into total disrepute."
Finlayson reached into a drawer, took out two sheets of paper and gave them to Dermott and Mackenzie. "Photostats of a classic example of the way they handled those under contract to them. One would assume they learned their trade in one of the more repressive police states. Read it. You'll find it instructive. You'll also understand how by simple thought transference we're not in line for much public sympathy."
The two men read the photostats.
Alyeska Pipeline Supplement No. 20
Service Company Revision No. 1
Pipeline and Roads April 1, 1974
Job Specification Page 2004
C. IN NO EVENT SHALL CONTRACTOR OR ITS PERSONNEL REPORT A LEAK OR AN OIL SPILL TO ANY GOVERNMENTAL AGENCY. Such reporting shall be the sole responsibility of ALYESKA. CONTRACTOR shall emphasize this to all its supervisory personnel and employees.
D. Further, IN NO EVENT SHALL CONTRACTOR OR ITS PERSONNEL DISCUSS, REPORT, OR COMMUNICATE IN ANY WAY WITH NEWS MEDIA whether the news media be radio, television, newspapers or periodicals. Any such communication by CONTRACTOR shall be deemed to be a material breach of CONTRACT by CONTRACTOR. All contracts with news media - regarding leaks or oil spills shall be made by ALYESKA. If news media people contact CONTRACTOR or CONTRACTOR'S personnel, they shall refer news media to ALYESKA without further discussing, reporting or communicating. CONTRACTOR shall emphasize the aforementioned ALYESKA news media requirements to all its supervisory personnel and employees.
Dermott rested the photostat on his knee. "An American wrote this?"
"An American of foreign extraction," Mackenzie said, "who obviously trained under Goebbels."
"A charming directive," Dermott said. "Hush-up, cover-up or lose your contract. Toe the line or you're fired. A shining example of American democracy at its finest. Well, well." He glanced briefly at the paper, then at Finlayson. "How did you get hold of this? Classified information, surely?"
"Oddly enough, no. What you would call the public domain. Editorial page, All-Alaska Weekly, July 22, 1977. 1 don't question it was classified. How the paper got hold of it, I don't know."
"Nice to see a little paper going against the might of a giant company and getting away with it. Restores one's faith in something or other."
Finlayson picked up another photostat. "The same editorial also made a despairing reference to the 'horrendous negative impact of the pipeline on us.' That's as true now as it was then. We've inherited this horrendous negative impact, and we're still suffering from it. So there it is. I'm not saying we're entirely friendless, or that the authorities wouldn't move in quickly if there were any overt violations of the law, but, because votes are important, those in charge of our destinies rule from behind. They sense the wind of public opinion, then enact acceptable legislation and adopt correspondingly safe attitudes. Whatever happens, they're not going to antagonize those who keep them in power. They are not, with the public's eye on both them and us, going to come and hold our hands because of any anonymous threat by some anonymous crackpot."
Mackenzie said, "So it amounts to this. until actual sabotage occurs, you can expect no outside help. So far as preventive measures are concerned, you're dependent solely upon Bronowski and his security teams. In effect, you're on your own."
"It's an unhappy thought, but there it is."
Dermott stood up and walked back and forth. "Accepting this threat as real, who's behind it and what does he want? Not a crackpot, that's sure. If it were, say, some environmentalist running amok, he'd go ahead and do his damnedest without any prior warning. No, could be with a view to extortion or blackmail, which do not have to be the same thing. Extortion would be for money; blackmail could have many different purposes in mind. Stopping the flow of oil is unlikely to be that primary purpose. More likely, it'll be a stoppage for another and more important purpose. Money, politics -- local or international -- power, misguided idealism, genuine idealism or just crackpot irresponsibility. Well, I'm afraid speculation will have to wait on developments. Meantime, Mr. Finlayson, I'd like to see Bronowski as soon as possible."
"I told you, he has business to finish. He'll be flying up in a few hours."
"Ask him to fly up now, please."
"Sorry. Bronowski's his own man. Overall, he's answerable to me, but not in field operations. He'd walk out if I tried to usurp his authority. Unless he had the power to act independently, he'd be effectively hamstrung. You don't hire a dog and bark yourself."
"I don't think you quite understand. Mr. Mackenzie and I have not only been promised total co-operation, we've been empowered to direct security measures if, in our judgement, such extreme measures are dictated by circumstances."
Finlayson's Yukon beard still masked his expression, but there was no mistaking the disbelief in his voice. "You mean, take over from Bronowski?"
"If, again in our judgement, he's good enough, we just sit by the sidelines and advise. If not, we will exercise the authority invested in us."
"Invested by whom? This is preposterous. I will not, I cannot permit it. You walk in here and imagine -- no, no way. I have received no such directive."
"Then I suggest you seek such a directive, or confirmation of it, immediately."
"The grand panjandrums, as you call them."
"London?" Dermott said nothing. "That's for Mr. Black."
Dermott remained silent.
"General manager, Alaska."
Dermott nodded at the three telephones on Finlayson's desk. "He's as far away as one of those."
"He's out of state. He's visiting our offices in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. At what times and in what order I don't know. I do know he'll be back in Anchorage at noon tomorrow."
"Are you telling me that is the soonest you can -- or will -- contact him?"
"You could phone those offices."
"I've told you, I don't know where he'd be. Ht could be at some other place altogether. Like as not, he's in the air."
"You could try, couldn't you?" Finlayson remained silent and Dermott spoke again. "You could call London direct."
"You don't know much about the hierarchy in oil companies, do you?"
"No. But I know this." Now Dermott's customary geniality was gone. "You're a considerable disappointment, Finlayson. You are, or very well may be, in serious trouble. In the circumstances, one does not expect an executive in top management to resort to stiff outrage and wounded pride. You've got your priorities wrong, my friend -- the good of the company comes first, not your feelings or protecting your ass."
Finlayson's eyes showed no expression. Mackenzie was staring at the ceiling as if he had found something of absorbing interest there. Dermott, he had learned over the years, was a past master at pinning an adversary into a corner. The victim either surrendered or placed himself in an impossible situation of which Dermott would take ruthless advantage. If he couldn't get co-operation, he would settle for nothing less than domination.
Dermott went on, "I have made three requests, all of which I regard as perfectly reasonable, and you have refused all three. You persist in your refusals?"
"Yes, I do."
Dermott said, "Well, Donald, what are my options?"
"There are none." Mackenzie sounded sad. "Only the inevitable."
"Yes." Dermott looked at Finlayson coldly. "You have a radio microwave band to Valdez that links up with the continental exchanges." He pushed a card toward Finlayson. "Or would you refuse me permission to talk to my head office in Houston?"
Finlayson said nothing. He took the card, lifted the phone and talked to the switchboard. After three minutes' silence, which only Finlayson seemed to find uncomfortable, the phone rang. Finlayson listened briefly then handed over the phone.
Dermott said, "Brady Enterprises? Mr. Brady, please. . . Dermott." There was a pause, then, "Good afternoon, Jim."
"Well, well, George." Brady's strong carrying voice was clearly audible in the office. "Prudhoe Bay, is it? Coincidence, coincidence. I was just on the point of phoning you."
"Well. My report, Jim. News, rather. There's nothing to report."
"And I have news for you. Mine first, it's more important. Open line?"
"One moment." Dermott looked at Finlayson. "What security classification does your switchboard operator have?"
"None. Jesus, she's only a telephone girl."
"As you so rightly observe, Jesus! Heaven help the trans-Alaska pipeline." He pulled out a notebook and pencil and addressed the phone. "Sorry, Jim. Open. Go ahead."
In a clear, precise voice Brady began to recite a seemingly meaningless jumble of letters and figures which Dermott noted down in neatly printed script. After about two minutes Brady paused and said, "Repeat?"
"You have something to say?"
"Just this. Field manager here uncooperative, unreasonable and obstructive. I don't think we can profitably operate here. Permission to pull out."
There was only a brief pause before Brady said clearly, "Permission granted." There came the click of a replaced receiver and Dermott rose to his feet. Finlayson was already on his. "Mr. Dermott -- " Dermott looked down at him icily and spoke in a voice as cold as winter, "Give my love to London, Mr. Finlayson, if you're ever there."
Thirteen hundred miles southeast of Prudhoe Bay, at ten P.M., Brady's men met Jay Shore in the bar of the Peter Pond Hotel in Fort McMurray. Among those qualified to pass judgement on such matters, it was readily agreed that as an engineering construction manager Shore had no peer in Canada. His face was dark, saturnine, almost piratical -- which was rather an unfair trick for nature to play on him, since that same nature had made him easygoing, companionable, humorous and cheerful.
Not that he felt in the least humorous and cheerful at that moment. Nor did the man who sat beside him, Bill Reynolds, Sanmobil's operations manager, a rubicund and normally smiling man to whom nature had given precisely the kind of diabolical mind that Shore appeared to have but didn't.
Bill Reynolds looked across the table to Dermott and Mackenzie, whom he and Shore had met thirty seconds previously, and said, "You make fast time, gentlemen. Remarkable service, if one may say so."
"We try," Dermott said comfortably. "We do our best."
"Scotch?" asked Mackenzie.
"Thanks." Reynolds nodded. "Twin jet -- is that it?"
"A shade expensive, a man would think."
"Gets you around." Dermott smiled.
"Head office -- that's Edmonton -- told us you might take up to four days. We didn't expect you in four hours." Reynolds eyed Dermott speculatively over his newly poured glass. "I'm afraid we don't know much about you."
"Fair enough. We probably know even less about you."
"Not oilmen, then?"
"Of course. But drilling oilmen. We're not familiar with mining the stuff."
"And your full-time job is security?"
"So there's no need to ask what you were doing up on the North Slope?"
"How long were you up there?"
"Two hours! You mean you can lick a security"
"We licked nothing. We left."
"May one ask why?"
"Operations manager was... unhelpful, let's say."
"Me and my big mouth."
"I'm the operations manager here. But I get the message."
Dermott said pleasantly, "No message. You asked a question, I answered."
"And you decided to walk out -- "
"We have a backlog of cases all over the world, and no time to waste trying to help those who won't help themselves. Let's not get off on the wrong foot, gentlemen -- your company expects Mackenzie and me to do the questioning while you do the answering. When was this threat received?"
Shore said, "Ten o'clock this morning."
"You have it with you?"
"Not exactly. It came by phone."
"Anchorage. International call."
"Who took the message?"
"I did. Bill here was with me, listening in. Caller gave us his message twice. Word for word he said, 'I have to inform you that Sanmobil will be incurring a slight interruption in oil production in the near future. Not much, I assure you, just sufficient to convince you that we can interrupt oil flow whenever and wherever we please.' That was all."
"No -- surprisingly."
"Don't worry. The demands will come when the big threat does. Would you recognize this voice again?"
"Would I recognize the voices of a million other Canadians who talk exactly as he does? You take this threat seriously?"
"I do. We take most things seriously. How good is security at the plant?"
"Well -- fair enough for normal circumstances, I suppose."
"These promise to be highly abnormal circumstances. How many guards?"
"Twenty-four, under Terry Brinckman. He knows what he's doing."
"I don't doubt it. Guard dogs?"
"None. The usual police dogs -- alsatians, dobermans, boxers -- can't survive in these extreme conditions. Huskies can, of course, but they make lousy watchdogs -- they're more interested in fighting each other than looking for intruders."
Shore rolled his eyes upward and looked sorrowful. "You want to equip the environmentalists with a gallows right on the site? Why, if even the meanest old wolf were to singe its mangy hide..."
"Okay, okay. I suppose it's pointless to ask about electronic beams, sensor devices and the like?"
"Pointless is right."
Mackenzie said, "How big is this plant site?"
Reynolds looked unhappy. "About eight thousand acres."
"Eight thousand acres." Mackenzie's voice was all doom. "What kind of perimeter would that make for?"
"Yes. We have a problem here," Mackenzie said. "I take it your security duties are twofold: the guarding of vital installations in the plant itself and patrolling the perimeter to keep intruders out?"
Reynolds nodded. "The guards are in three shifts, eight men per shift."
"Eight men, without any protective aids at all, to guard the plant itself and at the same time patrol fourteen miles of perimeter in the blackness of a winter night."
Shore was defensive. "Ours is a twenty-four-hour operation. The plant is brilliantly lit day and night."
"But the perimeter isn't. A blind man could drive a coach and four -- hell, why go on? A couple of army regiments might help, although I doubt even that. As I say, a problem."
"Not only that," Dermott said, "all the brilliant illumination in the world isn't of the slightest help. Not when you've got hundreds of workers on each of the three shifts a day."
"Subversives! Less than two per cent of the work force are non-Canadians."
"There's been a royal decree abolishing Canadian criminals? When you hire, you investigate backgrounds?"
"Well, not intensive questioning, third degree, lie detector tests or any of that rubbish. Try that and you'd never hire anyone. We check on previous experience, qualifications, recommendations and, most important, criminal records."
"That's the least important. Really clever criminals never have criminal records." Dermott looked like a man who had been about to sigh, explode, curse or quit, but had changed his mind. "Well -- it's late. Tomorrow, Mr. Mackenzie and I would like to talk to your Terry Brinckman and look over the plant."
"If we have a car here at ten o'clock -- "
"How about seven o'clock? Yes, seven will be fine."
Dermott and Mackenzie watched the two men go, looked at each other, emptied their glasses, signalled the barman, then looked out through the windows of the Peter Pond Hotel, named after the first white man ever to see the tar sands.
Pond went down the Athabasca River by canoe almost exactly two hundred years before. He did not take too much interest in the sand, it appears, but ten years later the much more famous explorer Alexander Mackenzie was intrigued by the sticky substance oozing from outcrops high above the river, and wrote: "The bitumen is in a fluid state, and when mixed with gum, or the resinous substance collected from the spruce fir, serves to gum the Indians' canoes. In its heated state it emits a smell like that of sea-coal."
Oddly, the significance of the words "sea-coal" wasn't appreciated for more than a hundred years; nobody realized that the two eighteenth-century explorers had stumbled across one of the world's largest reservoirs of fossil fuels. But had they not so stumbled, there would have been no Peter Pond Hotel where it is today nor, indeed, the township beyond its windows.
Even in the mid-nineteen-sixties Fort McMurray was little more than a rough, primitive frontier outpost, with a population of only thirteen hundred, and streets covered with dust, mud or slush according to season. By now, though still a frontier town, it had become a frontier town with a difference. Treasuring its past, but with an eye to the future, it was the epitome of a boomtown and, in terms of burgeoning population, the fastest expanding township in Canada. Where there were thirteen hundred citizens fourteen years earlier, there were now thirteen thousand. Schools, "hotels, banks, hospitals, churches, supermarkets and, above all, hundreds of new houses stood and more were being built. And, wonder of wonders, the streets were paved. This seeming miracle stemmed from one factor and one factor only: Fort McMurray sits squarely in the heart of the Athabasca tar sands, the biggest such known deposits in the world.
It had been snowing heavily earlier in the evening and had still not completely stopped. Everything -- houses, streets, car tops, trees -- was under a smooth cover of white. Hundreds of lights shone hospitably through the gently falling flakes. The scene would have gladdened the eye and heart of a Christmas postcard artist. Some such thought had occurred to Mackenzie.
"Santa Claus should be here tonight."
"Indeed." Dermott sounded morose. "Especially if he brought along some of that peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Whatever happened to peace on earth? We're running low on goodwill toward men. Shortage of everything. What did you make of that telephone message to Sanmobil?"
"Same thing you did. Practically identical to the letter Finlayson received up in Prudhoe Bay. ' Obviously the work of the same man or group of men."
"And what do you make of the fact that Alaskan oil people got a threatening message from Alberta, while the Albertan oil interests received the same threat from Alaska?"
"Nothing -- except that both threats had the same origin. That call from Anchorage. For a certainty, from a public telephone booth. Untraceable."
"Probably. Not certainly. I don't know if you can dial direct from Anchorage to here. I don't think so, but we can find out. If not, the telephone operator will have a record. There's a chance that we might locate the phone."
Mackenzie briefly surveyed Fort McMurray through the base of his glass and said, "That'll be a big help."
"It might be a small help. Two ways. That call came in at ten this morning. That's six A.M. Anchorage time. Who except a nut -- or some night-shift worker -- is going to be out in the black and freezing streets of Anchorage at that hour? That sort of odd behaviour, I suggest, isn't likely to go unnoticed."
"If there's anyone there to notice."
"State Troopers in a patrol car. Taxi driver. Snowplough driver. Mailman on the way to work. You'd be surprised at the number of people who go about their lawful occasions in the dark watches of the night."
"I would not be surprised." Mackenzie spoke with some feeling. "We've done it often enough in this damned job of ours. Two ways, you said. What's the second way?"
"If I locate this pay phone, we can have the police remove the coin box and give it to their fingerprint boys. The chances are good that the person who made the call to Fort McMurray used more high-denomination coins than anyone else who went into the pay phone that day -- or night. Get two or three large coins with the same prints, and that's our man."
"Objection. Coins are handled by many people. You'll get prints, all right. A plethora, shall we say, of fingerprints."
"Objection overruled. It's established that on a metal surface -- the overlay -- the last person to touch such a surface leaves the dominant print. By the same token, we'd print the area around the dial. People don't dial in fur mittens. Then we'd check with criminal records. The prints may be on file. If they are, we'll get the man and ask him all sorts of interesting questions."
"You do have a devious mind, George. Low cunning, but albeit a mind. First catch your man, though."
"If we get a description or prints with history, it shouldn't be too difficult. If he's gone to ground, it would be different. But there's no reason why he should think he has to take cover. Might be awkward for him anyway. May well be a pillar of the Anchorage business and social communities."
"I'll bet the other Anchorage pillars would love to hear you say that. They'd have the same opinion of you as our friend John Finlayson has now. What are we going to do about Finlayson, anyway? Rapprochement doesn't seem advisable -- it's essential. With the tie-up so obvious -- "
"Let him stew in his own juice for a while. I don't mean that the way it sounds, but just let him worry awhile in Prudhoe Bay until we're ready. He's a good man, intelligent, honest. He reacted precisely the way you or I would have if a couple of interlopers had tried to take over. The longer we stay away, the more certainly we're guaranteed his co-operation when we get back. Jim Brady may have been the bearer of bad news, but that call of his couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Gave us the perfect excuse to take off. Speaking of Jim -- "
"I've been thinking that I don't much like any of this. Presentiments. My Scottish forebears, one presumes. You know that Prudhoe Bay and this place here contain well over half the oil reserves of North America. It's an awful lot of oil. A man wouldn't want anything to happen to these two."
"You haven't worried about such things before. An investigator is supposed to be cold, clinical, detached."
"That's about other people's oil. This is our oil. Massive responsibilities. Awesome decisions at the highest levels."
"We were talking of Jim Brady."
"I still am."
"You think we should have him up here?" "I do."
"So do I. Must be why I raised the subject. Let's go call him."
Jim Brady, that passionate believer in leanness, keenness, fitness and athleticism for his field operatives, stood five feet eight in his elevator shoes and turned the scales at around 240 pounds. Never a believer in travelling light, he brought with him on the flight from Houston not only his attractive, blond wife, Jean, but also his positively stunning daughter Stella, another natural blond, who acted as his secretary on these field trips. He left Jean behind at the hotel in Fort McMurray, hut kept Stella with him in the minibus that Sanmobil had sent to ferry him out to the plant.
The first impression he made on the hard men of Athabasca was less than favorable. He wore a superbly cut dark-gray business suit -- it had to be well cut even to approximate a frame as spherical as his -- a white shirt and a conservative tie. On top of these indoor clothes, however, he wore two woolen overcoats and a vast beaver coat, the combined effect being to render his vertical and horizontal dimensions approximately equal. He sported a soft felt hat the same color as his suit, but this too was almost invisible, anchored by a gray woolen scarf that passed twice over the crown and under his chins.
"Well I'll be damned!" he exclaimed. His voice was muffled by the ends of the scarf, tied across his face just below the eyes, which were the only part of him that could be seen. Even so, it was clear to his companions that he was impressed.
"This sure is something. You boys must have a lot of fun digging away here and building these nice little ol' sand castles."
"That's one way of putting it, Mr. Brady." Jay Shore spoke with restraint. "Not much, perhaps, by Texas standards, but it's still the biggest mining operation in the history of mankind."
"No offence, no offence. You don't expect a Texan to admit there's something bigger and better outside his own state?" One could almost feel him bracing himself for a handsome admission. "That beats anything I've ever come across."
"That" was a dragline, but a dragline such as Brady had never seen before. A dragline is essentially an engine housing with a control cabin that operates a crane like boom. The boom is hinged and swivelled at the base of the engine housing, and so can be both raised and lowered and swung from side to side. Control is achieved by cables from the engine housing which pass over a massive steel super-structure and reach out to the tip of the boom. Another cable, passing over the tip of the boom, supports a bucket which can be lowered to scoop up material, raised again and then swung to one side to dump its load.
"Biggest thing that ever moved on earth," said Shore.
"Move?" Stella said.
"Yes, it can move. Walks, shuffles would be a better word, on those two huge shoes at the base, step by step. You wouldn't want to enter it for the Kentucky Derby -- it takes seven hours to travel a mile. Not that it's ever required to travel more than a few yards at a time. Point is, it gets there."
"And that long nose..." she said.
"The boom. The comparison most generally used is that it's as long as a football field. Wrong -- it's longer. From here the bucket doesn't look all that big, but that's only because everything is dwarfed out of perspective. It scoops up eighty cubic yards at a time or enough to fill a two-car garage. A large two-car garage. The dragline weighs sixty-five hundred tons -- about the same as a light-medium cruiser. Cost? About thirty million dollars. Takes fifteen to eighteen months to build -- on the site, of course. There are four of them, and between them they can shift up to a quarter of a million tons a day."
"You win. This is a boomtown." Brady said. "Let's get inside. I'm cold." The other four -- Dermott, Mackenzie, Shore and Brinckman, the security chief-looked at him in mild astonishment. It seemed impossible that a man so extravagantly upholstered and insulated, both naturally and otherwise, could possibly feel even cool, but if Brady said he was cold, he was cold.
They clambered into the minibus, which if a bit short on other creature comforts, did at least have heaters in excellent condition. Also in excellent condition was the girl who sat down in the back seat, lowered her parka hood, and beamed at them. Brinckman was much the youngest of the men, and had not paid much attention to Stella. Now he touched the rim of his fur cap and lit up like a lamp. His enthusiasm was hardly surprising, for the white fur parka made her as cuddly looking as a polar bear cub.
"Wanna' dictate anything, Dad?" she asked.
"Not yet," Brady grunted. Once safely sheltered from the vicious cold, he undid the ends of the scarf that concealed his face. Somewhere in the distant past there must have been signs of the character that had driven him from the back streets of poverty to his present millions, but years of gracious living had eradicated all trace of them. Bone structure had vanished under a fatty accumulation which had left him without a crease, line or even the hint of crow's feet. It was a fat, spoiled face like a cherub's. With one exception: There was nothing cherubic about the eyes. They were blue, cool, appraising and shrewd.
He looked through the window at the dragline. "So that's the end of the line."
"The beginning of it," Shore said. "The tar sands may lie as deep as fifty feet down. The stuff above, the overburden, is useless to us -- gravel, clay, muskeg, shale, oil-poor sand -- and has to be removed first of all." He pointed to an approaching vehicle. "Here's some of that rubbish being carried away now -- it's been excavated by another dragline on a new site.
"To impress you further, Mr. Brady, those trucks are also the biggest in the world. A hundred and twenty-five tons empty, payload of a hundred and fifty, and all this on just four tires. But, you will admit, they are some tires."
The truck was passing now, and they were indeed some tires; to Brady, they looked at least ten feet high and proportionately bulky. The truck itself was monstrous -- twenty feet high at the cab and about the same width, with the driver mounted so high as to be barely visible from the ground.
"You could buy a very acceptable car for the price of one of those tires," Shore said. "As for the truck itself, if you went shopping for one at today's prices, you wouldn't get much change from three quarters of a million." He spoke to his driver, who started up and moved slowly off.
"When the overburden is gone, the same dragline scoops up the tar sand -- as the one we've just looked at is doing now -- and dumps it in this huge pile we call a windrow." A weird machine of phenomenal length was nosing into the pile. Shore pointed and said, "A bucket-wheel reclaimer -- there's one paired with every dragline. Four hundred and twenty-eight feet long. You can see the revolving bucket wheel biting into the windrow. With fourteen buckets on a forty-foot-diameter wheel, it can remove a fair tonnage every minute. The tar sands are then transported along the spine of the reclaimer -- the bridge, we call it -- to the separators. From there -- "
Brady interrupted, "Separators?"
"Sometimes the sands come in big, solid lumps as hard as rock, which could damage the conveyor belts. The separators are just vibrating screens that sort out the lumps."
"And without the separators the conveyor belts could be damaged?"
"Put out of commission?"
"Probably. We don't know. It's never been allowed to happen yet."
"The tar sands go into the travelling hoppers you see there. They drop the stuff onto the conveyor belt, and off it goes to the processing plant. After that -- "
"One minute." It was Dermott. "You have a fair amount of this conveyor belting?"
"A fair bit."
"How much exactly?"
Shore looked uncomfortable. "Sixteen miles." Dermott stared at him and Shore hurried on. "At the end of the conveyor system radial stackers direct it to what are called surge piles -- -just really storage dumps."
"Radial stackers?" said Brady. "What are they?"
"Elevated extensions of the conveyor belts. They can rotate through a certain arc to direct the tar sands to a suitable surge pile. They can also feed bins that take the sands underground to start the processes of chemical and physical separation of the bitumen. The first of those processes -- "
"Jesus!" said Mackenzie incredulously.
"That about sums it up," Dermott said. "I have no wish to be rude, Mr. Shore, but I don't want to hear about the extraction processes. I've already heard and seen all I want to."
"Good God Almighty!" exclaimed Mackenzie by way of variation.
Brady said, "What's the matter, gentlemen?"
Dermott picked his words carefully. "When Don and I were talking to Mr. Shore and Mr. Reynolds, the operations manager, last night, we thought we had reason to be concerned. I now realize we were wasting our time on trifles. But, by God, now I am worried.
"Last night we had to face the fact of the ridiculous ease with which the perimeter can be penetrated and the almost equal ease with which subversives could be introduced onto the plant floor. In retrospect, those are but bagatelles. How many points did you pick up, Don?"
"My count also. First off, the draglines. They look as impregnable as the Rock of Gibraltar. They are, in fact, pathetically vulnerable. A hundred tons of high explosive would hardly dent the Rock of Gibraltar, but I could take out a dragline with two five-pound charges of wrap-around explosive placed where the boom is hinged to the machine house."
Brinckman, an intelligent and clearly competent person in his early thirties, spoke for the first time in fifteen minutes, then immediately wished he hadn't. He said, "Fine, if you could approach the dragline -- but you can't. The area is lit by brilliant floodlights."
"Jesus!" Mackenzie's limited repertoire was in use again.
"What do you mean, Mr. Mackenzie?"
"What I mean is I would locate the breaker or switch or whatever that supplies the power to the floodlights and immobilize it by smashing it or by the brilliantly innovative device of turning it off. Or, I'd cut the power lines. Simpler still, with a five-second burst from a submachine gun I'd shoot them out. Assuming, of course, that they're not made of bulletproof glass."
Dermott saved Brinckman the embarrassment of a long silence. "Five pounds of commercial Amatol would take out the bucket wheel for an indefinite period. A similar amount would take care of the reclaimer's bridge. Two pounds to buckle the separator plate. That's four ways. Getting at the radial stackers would be another excellent device -- that would mean Sanmobil couldn't even get the tar sands stockpiled in the surge piles down below for processing. And then, best of all, is this little matter of sixteen unpatrolled miles of conveyor belting."
There was quiet in the bus until Dermott rumbled on. "Why bother sabotaging the separation plant when it's so much simpler and more effective to interrupt the flow of raw material? You can't very well carry out a processing operation if you've got nothing to process. It'd be childishly simple. Four draglines. Four bucket wheels. Four reclaimers' bridges. Four separators. Four radial stackers. Sixteen miles of conveyor, fourteen miles of unpatrolled perimeter, and eight men to cover. Situation's ludicrous. I'm afraid, Mr. Brady, there's no way in the world we can stop our Anchorage friend from carrying out his threat."
Brady turned what appeared to be one cold, blue eye on the unfortunate Brinckman. "And what do you have to say?"
"What can I say except to agree? Even if I had ten times the number of men at my disposal, we still wouldn't be geared to meet a threat like this." He shrugged. "I'm sorry, I didn't even dream of anything like this."
"Nor did anyone else. Nothing to reproach yourself about. You security people thought you were in the oil business, not at war. What are your normal duties, anyway?"
"We're here to prevent three things -- physical trouble among members of the work force, petty pilfering, and drinking on the plant site. But so far we've had few instances of any of them."
Visibly, Brinckman's words struck a chord in Brady. "Ah, yes. Trouble in moments of stress and all that." He turned in his seat. "Stella!"
"Yes, Dad." She opened a wicker basket, produced a flask and glass, poured a drink and handed it to her father.
"Daiquiri," he said.""We also have scotch, gin, rum -- "
"Sorry, Mr. Brady," Shore said. "No. The company has very strict regulations."
Brady gave him some terse suggestions as to what he could do with company regulations and turned to Brinckman again.
"So, in effect, you've been pretty superfluous up "I'll now and, if anything, are going to be even more so in the future?"
"I'd agree with half of that. The fact that we've had little to do up to now doesn't mean we've been superfluous. Presence is important. You don't heave a brick through a jeweller's window if there's an interested cop standing by five feet away. As to the future, yes, I agree. I feel pretty helpless."
"If you were carrying out an attack somewhere, what would you go for?"
Brinckman was not of two minds. "The conveyor belting every time."
Brady looked at Dermott and Mackenzie. Both men nodded.
"Agreed." Shore was absentmindedly sipping some scotch that had found its way into his hand. "Apart from the fact that there's so damn much of it, it's fragile. Six feet wide, but the steel cord belting is only an inch and a half thick. With a sledgehammer and chisel I could wreck it myself." Shore looked and sounded tense. "Not many people are aware of the vast quantities of material that are processed here. To keep the plant operating at capacity and to make the project commercially viable, we need close on a quarter of a million tons of tar sands a day. As I said, the biggest mining operation ever. Cut off the supplies, and the plant closes down in a few hours.
That's a hundred and thirty thousand barrels of oil a day lost. Even Sanmobil couldn't stand this kind of loss indefinitely."
"How much did it cost to set up this plant?" Brady asked.
"Two billion, near enough."
"Two billion dollars. And a potential operating loss of a hundred and thirty thousand barrels of oil a day." Brady shook his head. "No one's arguing about the brilliance of the men who dreamed up this idea. Same goes for the engineers who made it work. But there's another thing no one would question -- at least I would never question -- and that is that those towering intellects had a huge blind spot. Why didn't the bosses foresee this? I know it's easy to be wise after the event, but, goddamn, you don't need much foresight to think of that. Oil is not just another business. Couldn't they have seen the giant potential for hate or crackpots -- or blackmail? Couldn't they have foreseen that they'd built the biggest industrial hostage to fortune of all time?"
Shore gazed gloomily at his glass, gloomily drank its contents, and maintained a gloomy silence.
Dermott said, "Well, not quite."
"What do you mean 'not quite'?"
"Sure, it's an industrial hostage to fortune. But not the biggest of all time. That dubious distinction belongs without any question to the trans-Alaska pipeline. Their capital outlay wasn't two billion -- it was eight billion. They don't transport a hundred and thirty thousand barrels a day -- they transport one million two hundred thousand. And they don't just have sixteen miles of conveyor belting to guard -- they have eight hundred miles of pipeline."
Brady, handed his glass back for a refill, digested this unpleasant thought, fortified himself and said, "Don't they have any means of protecting the damned thing?"
"To the extent that they can limit damage, certainly. They have magnificent communication and electronic control systems, with every imaginable fail-safe and backup device, even to the extent of a satellite emergency control station." Dermott produced a paper from his pocket. "They have twelve pump stations, locally or remotely controlled. They have sixty-two remote gate valves, all radio-controlled from the pump station immediately to the north. Those gate valves can stop the flow of oil in either direction.
"There are eighty check valves to prevent the oil from flowing backward, and, well, all sorts of other weird valves that would only make sense to an engineer. Altogether they have a remote-control capability at well over a thousand points. In other words, they can isolate any section of the line at any time they want. Because it takes six minutes to shut down a big pump, some oil is bound to escape -- up to fifty thousand barrels, it's estimated. That may seem a lot, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to what's in the pipeline. But there's no way the oil can keep on pumping out indefinitely."
"All very interesting." Brady sounded cool. "You can bet they try harder to protect the environment. You can also bet that crooks and extortionists don't give a damn about the environment one way or another. All they want is to interrupt the flow of oil. Can the line be protected?"
"Well, about this huge blind spot you mentioned -- "
"What you're trying not to tell me is that the pipeline can be breached any place, any time."
Brady looked at Dermott. "You've thought about this problem?"
"And you, Donald?"
"Well then, what have you come up with?"
"Nothing. That's why we sent for you. We thought you might come up with something."
Brady looked at him maliciously and resumed his pondering. By and by he said, "What happens if there's a break and the oil is stopped in the pipe? Does it gum up?"
"Eventually. But it takes time. The oil is hot when it comes out of the ground and it's still warm when it reaches Valdez. The pipeline is very heavily insulated, and the oil passing through the pipe generates friction heat. They reckon they might get it flowing again after a twenty-one-day standstill, maximum. After that -- " He spread his-hands.
"No more oil flow?"
"Not ever again?"
"I shouldn't think so. I don't really know. Nobody's talked to me about it. I don't think anyone really wants to talk about it."
No one did until Brady said, "Do you know what I wish?"
"I know," Dermott said. "You wish you were back in Houston."
The radio-phone rang. The driver listened briefly, then turned to Shore.
"Operations manager's office. Will we return immediately. Mr. Reynolds says it's urgent." The bus driver picked up speed.
Reynolds was waiting for them. He indicated a phone lying on his table and spoke to Brady. "Houston. For you."
Brady said, "Hello." Then he made a gesture of irritation and turned to Dermott.
"Horseshit. Damn code. Take it, huh?" This was hardly reasonable of Brady, since it was he who had invented the code and insisted on using it for almost everything except "Hello" and "Good-bye." Dermott reached for a pad and pencil, took the phone and started writing. It took him about a minute to record the message and two more to decode it.
He said into the phone, "Is that all you have?" A pause. "When did you get this message, and when did this happen?" Another pause. "Fifteen minutes and two hours. Thank you." He turned to Brady, his face bleak. "The pipeline's been breached. Pump Station Number Four. Near Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range. No hard details yet. Damage not severe, it seems, but enough to close down the line."
"No chance of an accident?"
"Explosives. They took out two gate valves."
There was a brief silence while Brady surveyed Dermott curiously.
"No need to look so goddamned grim, George. We were expecting something like this. It's not the end of the world."
"It is for two of the men on Pump Station Four. They've been murdered."
It was half-past two in the afternoon, Alaskan time, almost dark, but with good visibility, a ten-knot wind and a temperature of -- 4ºF. -36ºC. below when the twin-jet touched down again on one of the Prudhoe Bay airstrips. Brady, Dermott and Mackenzie had moved quickly after receipt of the message from Houston. They had driven back to Fort McMurray, packed essentials, which in Brady's case consisted primarily of three flasks, said good-bye to Jean and Stella and driven straight to the airport. Brady was asleep when they entered Yukon air space, and Mackenzie dozed off shortly afterward. Only Dermott remained awake, trying to puzzle out why the enemy, in carrying out what they said would be -- and, in fact proved to be -- no more than a token demonstration, should have found it necessary to kill in the process.
As the jet came to a halt, a brightly lit minibus pulled up alongside and slid open a front door. Brady, third out of the aircraft, was first into the bus. The others followed him in and the door was quickly closed. As the bus moved off the man who had ushered them aboard came and sat down beside them.
Aged anywhere between forty and fifty, he was a broad, chunky man with a broad, chunky face. He looked tough, but he also looked as if he could be humorous -- although he had nothing to smile about at that moment.
"Mr. Brady, Mr. Dermott, Mr. Mackenzie," he said, in the unmistakably flat accent of one who had been born within commuting distance of Boston, "welcome. Mr. Finlayson sent me to meet you -- as you can imagine, he's right now practically a prisoner in the Master Operations Control Center. My name's Sam Bronowski."
Dermott said, "Security chief."
"For my sins." He smiled. "You'll be Mr. Dermott, the man who's going to take over from me?"
Dermott looked at him. "Who the hell said that?"
"Mr. Finlayson. Or words to that effect."
"I'm afraid Mr. Finlayson must be slightly overwrought."
Bronowski smiled again. "Well, now, that wouldn't surprise me either. He's been talking to London, and I think he suffered some damage to his left ear."
Brady said, "We're not out to take over from anyone. That's not how we work. But unless we get co-operation -- I mean total co-operation -- we might as well have stayed home. For instance, Mr. Dermott here wanted to talk to you right away. The chairman of your company himself had guaranteed me complete co-operation. Yet Finlayson refused point-blank to co-operate with Dermott and Mackenzie."
"I'd have come at once if I'd known," said Bronowski quickly. "Unlike Mr. Finlayson, I've been a security man all my life, and I know who you are and the reputation you have. In a set-up like this I can do with all the expert help I can get. Go easy with him, will you? This isn't his line of country. He treats the pipeline as his favorite daughter. This is a new experience for him and he didn't know what to do. He wasn't stalling -- just playing it safe until he'd consulted on the highest level."
"You don't need lessons in sticking up for your boss, do you?"
"I'm being fair to him. I hope you will be, too. You can imagine how he feels. Says that if he hadn't been so ornery, those two men up at Pump Station Four might be alive now."
"That's plain daft," Mackenzie said. "I appreciate his feelings, but this would have happened if there had been fifty Dermotts and fifty Mackenzies here."
"When," Brady asked, "are we going out there?"
"Mr. Finlayson asked if you and your colleagues would come first to see him and Mr. Black. The helicopter is ready to go any moment after that."
"General manager, Alaska."
"You been out at the station?"
"I was the man who found them. Rather, I was the first man on the scene after the attack. Along with my section chief, Tim Houston."
"You fly your own plane?"
"Yes. Not this time, though. That section of the Brooks Range is like the mountains on the moon. Helicopter. We've been making a continuous check on the pump stations and the remote gate valves since this damned threat came through, and we'd stayed at Station Five last night. We were just approaching Four, a mile away, I'd reckon, when we saw this damned great explosion."
"You know, oil smoke and flames. You mean, did we hear anything? You never do in a helicopter. You don't have to -- not when you see the roof take off into the air. So we put down and got out, me with a rifle, Tim with two pistols. Wasting our time. The bastards had gone. Being oilmen yourselves, you'll know it requires quite a group of men and a complex of buildings to provide the care and maintenance for a couple of thirteen-thousand-five-hundred-horse-power aircraft-type turbines, not to mention all the monitoring and communications they have to handle.
"It was the pump room itself that was on fire, not too badly but badly enough for Tim and me not to go inside without fire extinguishers. We'd just started looking when we heard shouting come from a store room. It was locked, naturally, but the key had been left in the lock. Poulson -- he's the boss -- came running out with his men. They had the extinguishers located and the fire out in three minutes. But it was too late for the two engineers inside -- they'd come down the previous day from Prudhoe Bay to do a routine maintenance job on one of the turbines."
"They were dead?"
"Very." Bronowski's face registered no emotion. "They were brothers. Fine boys. Friends of mine... and Tim's."
"No possibility of accidental death? From the effects of the explosion?"
"Explosions don't shoot you. They were pretty badly charred, but charring doesn't hide a bullet wound between the eyes."
"You searched the area?"
"Certainly. Conditions weren't ideal -- it was dark, with a little snow falling. I thought I saw helicopter ski marks on a wind-blown stretch of rock. The others weren't so sure. On the remote off-chance, I contacted Anchorage and asked them to alert every public and private airport and strip in the state. Also to have radio and TV stations ask the public to report hearing or sighting a helicopter in an unusual place. I haven't but one hope in ten thousand that the request will bring any results."
He grimaced. "Most people never realize how huge this state is. It's bigger than half of Western Europe, but it's got a population of just over three hundred thousand, which is to say it's virtually uninhabited. Again, helicopters are an accepted fact of life in Alaska, and people pay no more attention to them than you would to a car in Texas. Third, we've still only got about three good hours of light, and the idea of carrying out an air search is laughable -- anyway, we'd require fifty times the number of planes we have, and even then it would be sheer luck to find them.
"But, for the record, we did find out something unpleasant. In case anything should happen to the pump station, there's an emergency pipeline that can be switched in to bypass it. Our friends took care of that also. They blew up the control valve."
"So there's going to be a massive oil spillage?"
"No chance. The line is loaded with thousands of sensors all the way from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, and any section of it can be closed down and isolated immediately. Even the repairs would normally present no problem. But neither metal nor men work too well in these abnormally low temperatures."
"Apparently that doesn't apply to saboteurs," Dermott said. "How many were there?"
"Poulson said two. Two others said three. The remainder weren't sure."
"Not a very observant lot, are they?"
"I wonder if that's fair, Mr. Dermott. Poulson's a good man and he doesn't miss much."
"Did he see their faces?"
"No. That much is for certain."
"No. Their fur collars were pulled high up and their hats low down so that only their eyes were visible. You can't tell the color of a man's eyes in the darkness. Besides, our people had just been dragged from bed."
"But not the two engineers. They were working on the engines. How come at that very early hour?"
Bronowski spoke with restraint. "Because they had been up all night. Because they were going home to their families in Fairbanks for their week's leave. And because I had arranged to pick them up there shortly after that time."
"Did Poulson or any of his friends recognize the voices?"
"If they had, I'd have the owners behind bars by this time. Their collars were up to their eyes. Of course their voices would have been muffled. You ask a lot of questions, Mr. Dermott."
"Mr. Dermott is a trained interrogator," Brady said cheerfully. "Trained him myself, as a matter of fact. What happened after that?"
"Poulson and his men were marched across to the food store and locked in there. We keep it locked because of bears. Unless bears are near starving, they aren't very partial to human beings, but they're partial indeed to all human goodies."
"Thank you, Mr. Bronowski. One last question. Did Poulson or his men hear the fatal shots?"
"No. Both the men Poulson saw were carrying silenced guns. That's the great advantage of those modern educational pictures, Mr. Dermott."
There was a pause in the questioning. Brady said, "Because I am an acute observer of character, George, I can tell something's eating you. What's on your mind?"
"It's only a thought. I'm wondering if the murderers are employees of the trans-Alaska pipeline."
The silence was brief but marked. Then Bronowski said, "This beats everything. I speak as Dr. Watson, you understand. I know that Sherlock Holmes could solve a crime without leaving his armchair, but I never knew of any cop or security man who could come up with the answer without at least visiting the scene of the crime."
Dermott said mildly, "I'm not claiming to have solved anything. I'm just putting forward a possibility."
Brady said, "What makes you even think that?"
"In the first place, you pipeline people aren't just the biggest employer of labor around here... you're the only one. Where the hell else could the killers have come from? What else could they have been? Lonely trappers or prospectors on the North Slope or the Brooks Range in the depth of winter? They!d freeze to death the first day out. They wouldn't be prospectors, because the tundra is frozen solid, and beneath that there's two thousand feet of solid permafrost. As for trappers, they'd be not only cold and lonely, but very hungry, indeed, because they wouldn't find any form of food north of Brooks Range until the late spring comes."
Brady grunted. "What you're saying in effect is that the pipeline is the sole means of life-support in those parts."
"It's a fact. Had this happened at Pump Station Seven or Eight, circumstances would have been quite different -- those stations are only a hop, skip and jump from Fairbanks by car. But you don't take a car over the Brooks Range in the heart of winter. And you don't backpack over the Range at this time of year, unless you're bent on quick suicide. So the question remains, how did they get there and away again?"
"Helicopter," Bronowski said. "Remember I said I thought I saw ski marks? Tim -- Tim Houston -- saw the marks too, although he was less sure. The others were frankly skeptical, but admitted the possibility. But I've been flying helicopters for as long as I can remember." Bronowski shook his head in exasperation. "God's sake, how else could they have got in and out?"
"I thought," Mackenzie said, "that those pump stations had limited-range radarscopes."
"They do." Bronowski shrugged. "But snow plays funny tricks on radar. Also, they may not have been looking, or maybe they had the set switched off, not expecting company in such bad weather."
Dermott said, "They were expecting you, surely."
"Not for another hour or so. We'd had deteriorating weather at Number Five, so we left ahead of schedule. Another thing -- even if they had picked up an incoming helicopter, they'd automatically have assumed it was one of ours and would have had no reason to be suspicious."
"Be that as it may," said Dermott, "I'm convinced. It was an inside job. The killers are pipeline employees. The note announcing their intention of causing a slight spillage of oil seemed civil and civilized enough, with no hint of violence, but violence there has been. The saboteurs blundered, and so they had to kill."
"Blundered?" Mackenzie was a lap behind.
"Yes. Bronowski said the key had been left in the storeroom door. Don't forget, all the engineers locked inside were engineers. With the minimum of equipment they could have either turned the key in the lock or slipped a piece of paper, cardboard, linoleum, anything, under the bottom of the door, pushed the key out to fall on it and hauled the key inside. Me, I'd have thrown that key a mile away. But the killers didn't. Their intention was to bring the two pump-house engineers to the storeroom and usher them in to join their friends, and lock them in, too. But they didn't do that either. Why? Because one of the saboteurs said or did something that betrayed their identity to the two engineers. They were recognized by the engineers, who evidently knew them well enough to penetrate their disguises. The saboteurs had no option, so they killed them."
Brady said, "How's that for a hypothesis, Sam?"
Bronowski was pondering his reply when the minibus pulled up outside the main entrance to the administrative building. Brady, predictably, was the first out and scuttled -- as far as a nearly spherical human being could be said to scuttle- -- to the welcoming shelter that lay behind the main door. The others followed more sedately.
John Finlayson rose as they entered his room. He extended his hand to Brady and said, "Delighted to meet you, sir." He nodded curtly toward Dermott, Mackenzie and Bronowski, then turned to a man seated to his right behind a table. "Mr. Hamish Black, general manager, Alaska."
Mr. Black didn't look like the general manager of anything, far less the manager of a tough and ruthless oil operation. The rolled umbrella and bowler hat were missing, but even without them his lean, bony face, immaculately trimmed pencil moustache, thinning black hair parted with millimetric precision over the center of his scalp and the eyes behind pince-nez made him the epitome of a top City of London accountant, which he was.
That such a man, who could hardly tell a nut from a bolt, should head up a huge industrial complex was not a new phenomenon. The tea boy who had painstakingly fought his way up through the ranks to boardroom level had become a man of no mean importance. It was Hamish Black, so adept at punching the keyboard of his pocket calculator, who called the industrial tune. It was rumored that his income ran into six figures -- pounds Sterling, not dollars. His employers, evidently, thought he was worth every penny of it.
He waited patiently while Finlayson made the introductions.
"I would not go as far as Mr. Finlayson and say I'm delighted to meet you." Black's smile was as thin as his face. His flat, precise, controlled voice belonged to the City -- London's Wall Street -- -just as surely as did his appearance. "Under other circumstances, yes. Under these, I can only say that I'm glad you, Mr. Brady, and your colleagues are here. I assume Mr. Bronowski has supplied you with details. How did you propose we proceed?"
"I don't know. Do we have a glass?"
The expression on Finlayson's face could have been interpreted as reluctant disapproval: Black, it seemed, didn't believe in using expressions. Brady produced, poured the inevitable daiquiri, waved the flask at the others, who waved it on and said, "The FBI have been notified?"
Black nodded. "Reluctantly."
"There's a legal obligation to notify of any interruption of interstate commerce. Quite frankly, I don't see what they can achieve."
"They're out at the pump station now?"
"They haven't arrived here yet. They're waiting for some specialist Army Ordnance officers to accompany them -- experts on bombs, explosives and the like."
"Waste of time. Among the people who built and run this line there are as good -- if not better -- explosives experts than in any Army Ordnance Corps. The killers wouldn't have left a trace of explosives at Pump Station Number Four."
If a silence can be said to be cold, the ensuing silence was downright chilly. Finlayson said stonily, "Does that statement mean what I think it means?"
"I should imagine it does," said Brady. "Explain, George."
Dermott explained. When he had finished, Finlayson said, "Preposterous. Why should any of our pipeline employees want to do a thing like that? It doesn't make sense."
"It's never a pleasant thing to nurture a viper in your bosom," Brady said agreeably. "Mr. Black?"
"Makes sense to me, if only because no other immediate explanation occurs. What do you think, Mr. Brady?"
"Exactly what I was asking Mr. Bronowski as we touched down."
"Yes. Well." Bronowski didn't seem any too comfortable. "I don't like it. An inside job is all too damn plausible. Point is, carry this line of thinking a little further and the finger points at Tim Houston and myself as the two prime suspects." Bronowski paused. "Tim and I had a helicopter. We were in the right place at approximately the right time. We know of a dozen ways to sabotage the pipeline. It's no secret that we're both pretty experienced in the use of explosives, so taking out Station Four would have presented no problem for us." He paused. "But who's going to suspect the security chief and his number two?"
"Me, for one;" said Brady. He sipped his drink and sighed. "I'd have you clapped behind bars right now were it not for your impeccable record, lack of apparent motive and the fact that it's incredible that you should have acted in such a clumsy fashion."
"Not clumsy, Mr. Brady. The killers were stupid to the point of insanity... or badly frightened. The job certainly wasn't the work of professional hit men. Why shoot the two engineers? Why leave any evidence that murder had been done? Just knock them unconscious -- a dozen ways that can be done without leaving a mark -- then blow them to pieces along with the pump station. Act of God, and no hint of foul play."
"Amateurism is a grievesome thing, is it not?" Brady turned to Finlayson. "Could we have a line to Anchorage, please? Thank you. Give him the number, then take the call, George." Dermott did so and within four minutes had hung up, his part of the conversation having been limited mainly to monosyllables.
"Wouldn't you know," Dermott said.
"No luck?" said Mackenzie.
"Too much. The Anchorage police have located not one but four hot phone booths. Suspicious characters either inside them or lurking in the vicinity, and this at that most ungodly hour. All four of them, dammit, with a disproportionate number of high-denomination coins inside them. All four have been dismantled and taken along to the cop shop. But they haven't been fingerprinted yet, and it may be hours before the cops can check the prints against their files."
Black said with sardonic restraint, "The relevance of this call escapes me. It has something to do with Pump Station Four?"
"Maybe," said Brady. "Maybe not. All we know for certain is that Sanmobil -- the people who have the tar-sands concession north of Fort McMurray, in Alberta -- have also received a threat against their oil production lines. Couched in almost identical terms with the threat you received, the only difference being that while yours arrived by mail, theirs came from a public phone booth in Anchorage. We're trying to trace which booth and, with any fingerprint luck, who the caller may have been."
Black thought briefly, then said, "Curious. A threat against Alaskan oil from Alberta, and one against Albertan oil from Alaska. Must tie up with Pump Station Four... the arm of coincidence isn't all that long. And while you're sitting here, Mr. Brady, some ill-intentioned person or persons may be planting an explosive device at some strategic point in Sanmobil's tar sands."
"The thought had not escaped me. However, surmise and speculation will serve no point until we turn up one or two hard facts. We hope that one may even result from a close inspection of Pump Station Four. Coming out there, Mr. Black?"
"Good heavens, no. I'm very much a desk-bound citizen. But I shall await your return with interest."
"Return? I'm going no place. Those frozen wastes -- not for me. My excellent representatives know what to look for. Besides, someone has to stay and run the command post. How far to the pump station, Mr. Bronowski?"
"Helicopter miles? Hundred and forty, give or take."
"Splendid. That will leave us ample time for a belated lunch. Your commissary is still open, Mr. Finlayson, I trust, and your wine cellar tolerable?"
"Sorry about that, Mr. Brady." Finlayson made no effort to conceal the satisfaction in his voice. "Company regulations forbid alcohol."
"No need to distress yourself," Brady said urbanely. "Aboard my Jet is the finest cellar north of the Arctic Circle"
Three generator-fed arc lamps threw the half-demolished pump house and its shattered contents into harsh relief, glaring white and stygian blackness, with no intermediate shading between. Snow drifted silently down through the all-but-vanished roof, and a high wind blew a fine white cloud through a gaping hole in the northern wall. Already the combined effects of the two snows had softened and blurred the outlines of the machinery, but not sufficiently to conceal the fact that engines, motors, pumps and switch-gear had been either destroyed or severely damaged. Mercifully, the snow had already covered the two mounds that lay side by side before the mangled remains of a switchboard. Dermott looked slowly around with a face again as bleak as the scene that lay before him.
"Damage evenly spread," he said, "so it couldn't have come from one central blast. Half-a-dozen charges, more likely." He turned to Poulson, the head man, a black-bearded man with bitter eyes. "How many explosions did you hear?"
"Just the one, I think. We really can't be sure.
If there were more after the first one, our eardrums were sure in no condition to register them. But we're agreed that one was all we heard."
"Triggered electrically, by radio or, if they used fulminate of mercury, by sympathetic detonation. Experts, obviously." He looked at the two shapeless, snow-covered mounds. "But not so expert in other ways. Why have those two men been left here?"
"Head office. Not to be moved until the postmortems have been carried out."
"Rubbish! You can't do a postmortem on a frozen body." Dermott stooped, began to clear away the snow from the nearest of the mounds, then looked up in surprise as a heavy hand clamped on his left • shoulder.
"You deaf or something, mister?" Poulson didn't sound truculent, just annoyed. "I'm in charge here."
"You were. Donald?''
"Sure." Mackenzie eased Poulson's hand away and said, "Let's go talk to the head office man, Black, and hear what he has to say about obstructing murder investigations."
"That won't be necessary, Mr. Mackenzie," Bronowski said. He nodded to Poulson. "John's upset. Wouldn't you be?"
Poulson hesitated briefly, turned and left the pump room. Dermott had most of the snow cleared away when he felt a light touch on his shoulder. It was Poulson again, proffering him, of all things, a long-handled clothes brush. Dermott took it, smiled his thanks and delicately brushed away the remaining snow.
The dreadfully charred skull of the dead man was barely recognizable as that of a human being, but the cause of the round hole above the eyeless left socket was unmistakable. With Mackenzie's help -- the corpse was frozen solid -- he lifted the body and peered at the back of the skull. The skin was unbroken.
"Bullet's lodged in the head," Dermott said. "Rifling marks on it should be of interest to the police ballistics department."
"I suppose," Bronowski agreed reluctantly. "But Alaska covers just over half a million square miles. I'm afraid optimism is not my long suit."
"We're agreed there." They lowered the body to the ground and Dermott tried to unzip the shredded green parka, but it, too, was frozen. There was a slight crackling of ice as he eased the jacket away from the shirt beneath and peered into the gap between the two layers of clothing. He could see some documents, including a buff-colored envelope, tucked away in the inside right pocket. By sliding his hand in flat he tried to extract them with his fore and middle fingers, but because he could achieve so little grip, and because they seemed frozen -- not only together but also to the side of the pocket -- they proved impossible to move. Dermott straightened to an upright kneeling position, looked at the dead man thoughtfully, then up at Bronowski.
"Could we have the two bodies moved to someplace where they can be thawed out a bit? I can't examine them in this state, nor, by the same token, can the doctors carry out their postmortems."
"John?" Bronowski looked at Poulson, who nodded, albeit with some reluctance.
"Another thing," Dermott said. "What's the quickest way of clearing away the snow here from the floor and machinery?"
"Canvas covers and a couple of hot-air blowers. No time at all. Want me to fix it now? And the two men?"
"Please. Then there's a question or two I'd like to ask. In your living quarters, perhaps?"
"Straight across. Be with you in a few minutes."
Outside, on their way, Mackenzie said, "Your hound-dog instincts have been aroused. What gives?"
"Dead man back there. Index finger on his right hand is broken."
"That all? Wouldn't be surprised if half the bones in his body are broken."
"Could be. But this bone appears to have been broken in a rather peculiar fashion. Be able to tell better, later."
Bronowski and Poulson joined them around the table of the comfortable kitchen living quarters. Poulson said, "Okay, fixed. Snow in the pump room should be gone in fifteen minutes. About the two engineers -- well, I wouldn't know."
"Considerably longer," Dermott said. "Thanks. Now, then. Bronowski, Mackenzie and myself think it likely that the murderers were employees of the trans-Alaska pipeline. What would you think of that?"
Poulson glanced enquiringly at Bronowski, found no inspiration there, looked away and pondered. "It figures," he said at last. "The only living souls for ten thousand square miles around here -- a hundred thousand as far as I know -- are employed by the pipeline. More than that, while any mad bomber could have blown up the pump station, it took an oilman to know where to locate and destroy the bypass control valve."
"We also theorize that the engineers -- what were their names, by the way?"
"James and James. Brothers."
"We think that the bombers gave themselves away in one fashion or another, that the Jameses recognized them and had to be silenced for keeps. But you and your men didn't recognize them. That's for sure?"
"For sure." Poulson smiled without much humor. "If what you suppose is correct, it's just as well for us that we didn't. But then it's not surprising that we didn't. Don't forget that up here in Number Four we're no better than hermits living on a desert island. The only time we see anybody is when we go on leave every few weeks. Travelling maintenance engineers like the Jameses -- or, come to that, Mr. Bronowski here -- see ten times as many people as we do, and so are likely to recognize ten times as many people. Which makes your idea that it was an inside job all the more likely."
"You and your men are certain there wasn't the remotest peculiarity about them, either in speech or dress, that struck a chord?"
"You're flogging a dead horse, Dermott."
"I suppose. There's a possibility that those saboteurs came by helicopter."
"Damned if I can see how else they could have come. Mr. Bronowski here thought he saw skid marks. I wasn't sure one way or another. It was a bad night for being sure of anything... dark, with a strong wind and drifting snow. Circumstances like that, you can imagine almost anything."
"You didn't hear this helicopter approaching -- or imagine you heard it?"
"We heard nothing. Don't forget we were all asleep and -- "
"I thought you mounted a radar watch?"
"In a fashion. Any errant bleep triggers off an alarm. But we don't sit with our eyes glued to the screen night and day. Then, because of the extremely heavy insulation, it's difficult for any sound to penetrate from outside. The generator running next door doesn't help much either. Finally, of course, the wind was blowing -- as it still is -- almost directly from the north and would have carried away the sound of any craft approaching from the opposite direction. I know that a helicopter is one of the most rackety bits of machinery in existence but -- -even though we were wide awake then -- we didn't hear Mr. Bronowski's chopper coming in from the south. Sorry, that's all I can tell you."
"How long will it take to repair the pump room?"
"A few days, a week. I'm not sure. We'll need new engines, switchgear, pipelines, a mobile crane and a bulldozer. All those we already have at Prudhole except the engines, and I expect a Here will fly those in this evening. Then a chopper or two can fly the stuff out here. The repair crews will be on the job in the morning."
"So a week before the oil starts flowing again?"
"No, no. Tomorrow, with luck. The bypass control valve is not a major repair job... parts replacement mainly."
Dermott said, "You might look at all this as just a minor disruption?"
"Technically, yes. The ghosts of the James brothers might see it differently. Want to look at the pump room now? Most of the stuff should have melted by this time."
The snow in the pump room had gone, and the atmosphere was warm and humid. Without the protective white covering, the scene was more repellent than before, the extent of the devastation more clearly and dishearteningly evident, and the stench of oil and charring more pungent and penetrating. Each with a powerful flashlight to lighten the shadows cast by the arc lamps, Dermott, Mackenzie and Bronowski embarked on a search of every square inch of the floors and walls.
After ten minutes Poulson said curiously, "What are you looking for?"
"I'll let you know when I find it," Dermott said. "Meantime, I haven't a clue."
"In that case, can I join in the search?"
"Sure. Don't touch or turn anything over. The FBI wouldn't like it."
Ten minutes later, Dermott straightened and switched off his light. "That's it, then, gentlemen. If you've found no more than I have, among the four of us we've found nothing. Looks as if fire or blasts have wiped the platter clean. Let's have a look at the James brothers. They should be in a fairly examinable state by now."
They were. Dermott moved first to the man he'd looked at in the pump room. This time the zip on the green parka unfastened easily. The blast effect that had shredded the parka had not penetrated it, for the plaid shirt beneath bore no signs of damage. Dermott removed some papers, cards and envelopes from the inside right pocket of the jacket, leafed through and replaced them. He then lifted both charred wrists, examined them and the hands in an apparently cursory fashion and lowered them again. He repeated the process with the other victim, then rose to his feet. Poulson bent a quizzical eye on him.
"That's the way a detective examines a murdered man?"
"I don't suppose it is. But then, I'm not a detective." He turned to Bronowski. "You all through?"
"If you are." Sam Bronowski led the way to the helicopter, Dermott and Mackenzie following through the thinly driving snow that reduced visibility to a few yards. It was intensely cold.
"Clues," Mackenzie said into Dermott's ear, not from any wish for privacy but simply to make himself heard. "Man can't move around without tripping over them."
"None in the pump room, that's sure. Place had been pretty comprehensively quartered before we ever got there. Almost certainly before the snow had started to cover anything."
"What do you mean?"
"The old fine-tooth comb is what I mean."
"Poulson and his men?"
"And/or. Who else?"
"Perhaps there was nothing to find?"
Dermott said -- or rather shouted, "That dead man's forefinger had been deliberately broken. Bent in at forty-five degrees toward the thumb. Never seen anything like it before."
"'Odd' is better. Something else odd, too. When I searched him first there was a buff envelope in his inner pocket. I was unable to get it out."
"But you were when you unzipped it later?"
"No. It was gone."
"'And/or' at work, you think?"
"So it seems."
"All very curious," Mackenzie said.
Jim Brady was of the same opinion. After reporting the results of their investigation, Dermott and Mackenzie had retired with him to the room he'd been allocated for the night.
Brady said, "Why didn't you mention those things to Black and Finlayson? Those are hard facts -- an oddly broken finger, a missing envelope?"
"Hard facts? There's only my word for it. I've no idea what was in the envelope anyway, and although I'd say the forefinger had been deliberately broken, I'm no osteologist."
"But no harm in mentioning those things, surely?"
"Bronowski and Houston were there too."
"You really don't trust anyone, do you, George?" Brady's tone was admiring, not reproachful.
"As you never fail to remind people, sir, you taught me yourself."
"True, true," Brady said complacently. "Very well, then, have them up. I'll do my Olympian act while you ply them with questions and strong drink."
Dermott spoke on the phone and within a minute Bronowski and Houston had knocked, entered and taken seats.
"Kind, gentlemen, kind." Brady was at his most avuncular. "Long day, I know, and you must be damnably tired. But we're babes in the wood up here. We're not only short of necessary information, we're totally devoid of it, and we believe you two gentlemen are those best equipped to supply us with that information. But I forget myself, gentlemen. I suggest a pre-inquisitional restorative."
Mackenzie said, "What Mr. Brady means is a drink."
"That's what I said. You gentlemen like scotch?"
"Off-duty, yes. But you know the company regulations, sir, and how strictly Mr. Finlayson interprets those."
"Strict? I am ironclad in the interpretation of my own regulations." The wave of Brady's arm was, indeed, Olympian. "You are off-duty. Off regular duty, anyhow. George, refreshments. Mr. Dermott will ask the questions, alternating, I do not doubt, with Mr. Mackenzie. You gentlemen, if you will be so kind, will fill in the gaps in our knowledge."
He took his daiquiri from Dermott, savored it, laid down his glass, relaxed in his chair and steepled his hands under his chin. "I shall but listen and evaluate." Nobody was left with any doubt as to which was the most demanding task of the three. "Health, gentlemen."
Bronowski lifted his own glass, which he had accepted with no great show of reluctance. "And confusion to our enemies."
Dermott said, "That's precisely the point. The enemy aren't confused. We are. The taking out of Pump Station Four is only the opening skirmish in what promises to be a bloody battle. They -- the enemy -- know where they're going to hit again. We have not the vaguest idea. But you must have -- by the very nature of your job you must be more aware of the points most vulnerable to attack than anyone else between Prudhoe Bay and Valdez. Take off your security hats and put on those of the enemy. Where would you strike next?"
"Jesus!" Bronowski fortified himself with some of Brady's malt. "That's more than a sixty-four-dollar question. It's an eight-hundred-mile question -- and every damned mile is virtually a sitting target."
"The boss is right," Tim Houston said. "If we sit here and drink your whiskey while pretending to help, we're only abusing your hospitality. There's nothing we or anyone else can do to help. A combat-ready division of the U. S. Army would be about as useful as a gaggle of Girl Scouts. The task is impossible and the line indefensible."
Mackenzie said, "Well, George, at least we're operating on a bigger scale than with the tar-sands boys in Athabasca. There they said a battalion wouldn't be big enough to guard their installation. Now it's a division." Mackenzie turned to Bronowski. "Let's switch hats with the enemy. Where wouldn't you strike next?"
Bronowski said, "Well, I wouldn't strike at any of the pump stations again on the assumption that, until this matter is cleared up, they will be heavily guarded. I'd have been sorely tempted to go for Pump Station Ten at the Isabel Pass in the Alaska Range, or Number Twelve at the Thompson Pass in the Chugach Mountains. All pump stations are vital of course, but some are more vital than others, and those are Number Ten and Number Twelve -- along with Number Four here." He considered briefly. "Or maybe I would go for them... I mean, maybe you'd be so damned certain that I wouldn't hit again in the same place that you wouldn't much bother -- "
Dermott held up his hand. "Start in on the double-guessing, and we're up all night. On with the hazards -- the low priority ones, I mean."
"I wouldn't go for the two Master Operations Control Centers at Prudhoe Bay. They could be taken out easily enough and, sure, they'd stall all production from the wells immediately, but not for long. It's no secret that contingency plans for bypassing the centers are already in hand. Repairs wouldn't take all that long. In any event, security will be now tightened to the extent that the game wouldn't be worth the candle. So we can be pretty certain that there will be no attempt made to sabotage the oil supply before it enters the pipeline. Same goes for when it leaves the pipe at Valdez. Maximum damage there could be inflicted at the Oil Movements Control Center, where the pipeline controller can monitor and control the flow of oil all the way from Prudhoe to Valdez, and the terminal controller -- he's in the same room, actually -- controls practically everything that moves in the terminal itself. Both of those, in turn, are dependent on what's called the Backbone Supervisory System Computer. Knock out any of those three and you're in dead trouble. But they're pretty secure as they are. From now, they'll be virtually impregnable. Again, not worth it."
Dermott said, "How about the storage tanks?"
"Well, now. If one or two of them were attacked or ruptured -- it would be impossible to get them all at once -- the containment dikes would take care of the spillage. Fire would be another thing, but even then the snow would have a blanketing effect -- we may only have an annual dusting of snow up here, but down there they have over three hundred inches. Anyway, the tank farms are the most open and easily guarded complex on the entire pipeline. There's no way you can really get at them without bombing the area. Not very likely, one would think."
"What about the tanker terminals?"
"Again, easily guarded. I hardly think they're likely to run to underwater demolition squads. Even if they did, they couldn't do much damage, and that would be easily repaired."
"The tankers themselves?"
"Sink a dozen and there's always a thirteenth. No way you can interrupt the oil flow by hitting the tankers."
"The Valdez Narrows?"
"Block them?" Dermott nodded and Bronowski shook his head. "The Narrows aren't as narrow as they look on a small-scale chart. Three thousand feet -- that's the minimum channel width -- between the Middle Rock and the east shore. You'd have to sink an awful lot of vessels to block that channel."
"So we cross off the unlikely targets. Where does that leave us?"
"It leaves us with eight hundred miles." Bronowski shifted.
"The air temperature is the overriding factor," Houston said. "No saboteur worth his salt would consider wrecking anything except the pipeline itself. This time of the year any attack has to be in the open air."
"This is only early February, remember, and to all intents we're still in the depth of winter. As often as not the temperature is well on the wrong side of thirty below, and in these parts thirty below is the crucial figure. Rupture the pipeline at, say, thirty-five below, and it stays ruptured. Repair is virtually impossible. Men can work, although well below their norm, but unfortunately the metal they may try to repair or the machine tools they use to make the repairs won't co-operate with them. At extreme temperatures, profound molecular changes occur in metal and it becomes unworkable. Given the right -- or wrong -- conditions, a tap on an iron rod will shatter it like glass."
Brady said, "You mean, all I need is a hammer and a few taps on the pipeline -- "
Houston was patient. "Not quite. What with the heat of the oil inside and the insulation lagging outside, the steel of the pipeline is always warm and malleable. It's the repair tools that would fracture."
Dermott said, "But surely it would be possible to erect canvas or tarpaulin covers over the fracture and bring the temperature up to workable levels by using hot-air blowers? You know, the way Poulson did at Station Four?"
"Of course. Which is why I wouldn't attack the pipeline directly. I'd attack the structures that support the pipeline, those that are already frozen solid at air temperature and would require days, perhaps weeks, to bring up to a working temperature."
"Indeed. The terrain between Prudhoe and Valdez is desperately uneven and traversed with innumerable watercourses which have to be forded or spanned in one way or another. There are over six hundred streams and rivers along the run. The six-hundred-fifty-foot free-span suspension bridge over the Tazlina River would make a dilly of a target. Even better would be the twelve-hundred-foot span -- a similar type of construction -- over the Tanana River. But one doesn't even have to operate on such a grandiose scale, and I, personally, would prefer not to." He looked at Bronowski. "Wouldn't you agree?"
"Completely. Operate on a much more moderate and undramatic scale, but one equally effective. I'd go for the VSMs every time."
Dermott said, "VSMs?"
"Vertical support members. Roughly half the length of the pipeline is above ground and lies on a horizontal cradle or saddle supported by vertical metal posts. That makes for a fair number of targets -- seventy-eight thousand of them, to be precise. They would be a snap to take out -- wrap-around beehive plastic explosives which would need all of a minute to fix in position. Take out twenty of those, and the line would collapse under its own weight and the weight of the oil inside it. Take weeks to repair."
"They could still use those hot-air canvas shelters."
"A hell of a lot of help that would be," Bronowski said, "if they couldn't bring up the cranes and crawler equipment to effect the repairs. Anyway, there are places where, at this time of year, it just couldn't be done. There is, for instance, one particularly vulnerable stretch that gave the designers headaches, the builders sleepless nights and security nightmares. This steep and dangerous stretch is between Pump Station Five and the summit of Atigun Pass, which is between four and five thousand feet high."
Houston said, "Four thousand seven hundred and seventy-five feet."
"Four thousand seven hundred and seventy-five feet. In a run of a hundred miles from the pass the pipe comes down to twelve hundred feet, which is quite a drop."
"With a corresponding amount of built-up pressure?"
"That's not the problem. In the event of a break in the line, a special computer linkage between Four and Five will automatically shut down the pumps in Four and close every remote valve between the stations. The fail-safe procedures are highly sophisticated, and they work. At the very worst the spillage could be restricted to fifty thousand barrels. But the point is, in winter the line couldn't be repaired."
Brady coughed apologetically and descended from his Olympian heights.
"So a break in this particular section, about now, could immobilize the line for weeks on end?"
"Then forget it."
"The burdens I have to bear alone," Brady sighed. "Let me have men about me who can think. I begin to understand why I am what I am. I find it extraordinary that the construction company never carried out any tests to discover what happens to the viscosity of oil in low temperatures. Why didn't they seal off a couple of hundred feet of experimental pipe with oil inside it and see how long it would take before it gummed up to the extent that it would cease to flow?"
"Never occurred to them, I suppose," Bronowski said. "An eventuality that would never arise."
"It has arisen. An estimate of three weeks has been bandied about. Based on scientific calculations, one assumes?"
Bronowski said, "I wouldn't know. Not my field. Maybe Mr. Black or Mr. Finlayson would know."
"Mr. Black knows nothing about oil, and I doubt whether Mr. Finlayson or any other professional oilman on the line has anything but the vaguest idea. Could be ten days. Could be thirty. You take my point, George?"
"Yes. Blackmail, threats, extortion, some positive and very material advantages to be gained. Interruption is one thing, cessation another. They require a lever, a bargaining counter. Close down the line completely, and the oil companies would laugh at their threats, for then they would have nothing to lose. The bargaining arm would have gone. The kidnapper can't very well hold a kidnappee for ransom if it's known that the kidnappee is dead."
"I question if I could have put it better myself," Brady said. He had about him an air of magnanimous self-satisfaction. "We are, clearly, not dealing with clowns. Our friends would have taken such imponderables into account and would err on the side of caution. You are with me, Mr. Bronowski?"
"I am now. But when I was talking about hazards, I wasn't taking that side of it into account."
"I know you weren't. Nobody was. Well, I think that will do, gentlemen. We appear to have established two things. It is unlikely that any attack will be carried out on any major installation -- that is Prudhoe, Valdez or the intervening twelve major pump stations. It is further unlikely that any attack will be carried out in regions so inaccessible that repairs may be impossible for weeks on end.
"So we're left with the likelihood that any further sabotage will take the form of attacks on accessible stretches of VSMs or the taking out of minor bridges -- the possibility of destroying the Tazlina or Tanana bridges is remote, as those could well take weeks to repair. We may not have come up with too much, but at least we have clarified matters and established some sort of system of priorities."
Not without difficulty Brady heaved himself to his feet to indicate that the interview was over. "Thank you, gentlemen, both for your time and information. I'll see you in the morning -- at, of course, a reasonably Christian hour."
The door closed behind Bronowski and Houston. Brady asked, "Well, what did you make of that?"
Dermott said, "As you said, just a limitation of possibilities, which, unfortunately, still remain practically limitless. Three things I'd like to do. First, I'd like the FBI or whoever to carry out a rigorous investigation into the pasts of Poulson and his pals at Pump Station Four."
"You have reason to suspect them?"
"Not really. But I've an odd feeling. Something is wrong at Number Four. Don shares my feeling, but there's nothing we can put a finger on except that buff envelope that was missing from the dead engineer's pocket. Even with that I'm beginning to question whether my eyes or imagination were playing tricks on me. The lighting was damned harsh, and I could have got my colors wrong. No matter -- as you'd be the first to agree, every pipeline employee is a suspect until his innocence is established."
"You bet. You said Poulson and Bronowski seemed on pretty cordial terms?"
"Bronowski is the sort of character who seems on pretty cordial terms with everyone. If you're suggesting what I think you are, I might mention that according to Finlayson there have been three security checks carried out on Bronowski."
"And passed with flying colors, no doubt. What does Finlayson know about security checks and how to evaluate them? Has he any guarantee that none of those three professedly unbiased investigators was not, in fact, a bosom friend of Bronowski? Now, / have a very good and very discreet friend in New York. As you say yourself, every pipeline operator is as guilty as hell until proved otherwise."
"I didn't quite say that."
"Hair-splitting. The second thing?"
"I'd like a medical opinion, preferably that of a doctor with some osteopathetic knowledge, on how the dead engineer's finger came to be broken."
"How can that help?"
"How should I know?" Dermott sounded almost irritable. "God knows, Jim, you've emphasized often enough never to overlook anything that seems odd."
"True, true," Brady said pacifically. "There was a third matter?"
"Let's find out how the fingerprint boys in Anchorage are getting on with that telephone-booth affair. Three tiny things, I know, but it's all we have to go on."
"Four. There's also Bronowski. And now?"
The telephone rang. Brady picked it up, listened briefly, scowled and handed the phone over to Dermott. "For you." Dermott lifted an eyebrow. "It's that damnable code again."
Dermott gave him a familiar look, put the phone to his ear, reached for a pad and started to take notes. After barely a minute he hung up and said, "And now? That was your last question, wasn't it?"
"What? Yes. So?"
"And now it's back to the old jet and heigh-ho for Canada." Dermott gave Brady an encouraging smile. "Should be all right, sir. still plenty of daiquiris in your airborne bar."
"What the devil is that meant to mean?"
"Just this, sir." Dermott's smile had gone. "You will recall our three brilliant minds sitting around in Sanmobil's office and coming to the unanimous conclusion that there were six points vulnerable to attack -- the draglines, the bucket wheels, the reclaimers' bridges, the separator plates, the radial stackers and, above all, the conveyor belting? Some joker up there obviously didn't see it our way at all. He's taken out the main processing plant."
Four hours later the Brady Enterprises team stood shivering in Sanmobil's sabotaged processing plant at Athabasca. Brady himself was enveloped in his usual cocoon of coats and scarves, his temper not improved by the fact that the flight from Alaska had deprived him of dinner.
"How did it happen?" he repeated. "Here we have an easily patrolled area, brilliantly lit, as you pointed out yourself, and staffed with one hundred per cent -- I beg your pardon, ninety-eight per cent-loyal and patriotic Canadians." He peered through a large hole that had been blown in a cylindrical container. "How can such things be?"
"I don't think that's quite fair, Mr. Brady." Bill Reynolds, the fair-haired and ruddy-faced operations manager, spoke up for his colleague Terry Brinckman, the security chief at whom Brady's remarks had been directed. "Terry had only eight men on duty last night -- and that was his second shift of the day. In other words, he himself had been continuously on duty for fifteen hours when this incident occurred. You can see how hard he was trying."
Brady did not nod in assent. Reynolds went on, "You remember we had all agreed on the priorities -- the areas most liable to attack. Those were the places that Terry and his men were doing their best to protect -- which didn't leave any men for patrolling the plant itself. You will recall, Mr. Brady, that you were in complete agreement. You also said Terry had nothing to reproach himself with. If we're going to apportion blame, let's not forget ourselves."
"Nobody's blaming anybody, Mr. Reynolds. How extensive is the damage?"
"Enough. Terry and I figure that these guys let off three charges here -- that's the gas-oil hydrotreater -- and the same number next door at the Naptha hydrotreater. In fact, we've been extremely lucky -- we could have had gas explosions and fuel fires. We had none. As it is, damage is comparatively slight. We should be on stream again in forty-eight hours."
"Meantime, everything is shut down?"
"Not the draglines. But the rest is. The radial stackers are full."
"One of the plant operatives, you think?"
Brinckman said, "I'm afraid we're sure. It's a big plant but it takes surprisingly few people to operate it, and everybody on a shift knows everybody else. A stranger would have been spotted at once: Besides, we know it was an inside job -- six thirty-ounce explosive charges were taken from the blasting shed last night."
Reynolds said, "We use explosives to break up large chunks of tar sand that have become too tightly bound together. But we've only got small charges."
"Big enough, it would seem. The blasting shed is normally kept locked?"
"Somebody forced the door?"
"Nobody forced anything. That's why Brinckman told you we're sure it was an inside job. Somebody used keys."
"Who normally holds the keys?" Dermott asked.
Reynolds said, "There are three sets. I hold one, Brinckman has two."
"One I keep permanently," Brinckman explained. "The other goes to the security supervisor for the night shift, who passes it on to the person in charge of the morning and afternoon shifts."
"Who are those other security shift supervisors?"
Brinckman said, "My number two, Jorgensen -- this is his shift, really -- and Napier. I don't think that any of the three of us is much given to stealing explosives, Mr. Dermott."
"Not unless you're certifiable. Now, it seems unlikely anyone would risk abstracting keys and having copies made. Not only would they be too likely to be missed, but there's also more than a fair chance that we could trace the key cutter and so the thief."
"There could be illegal key cutters."
"I still doubt the keys would have been taken. Much more likely someone took an impression. That would need seconds only. And that's where the illegal side would come in -- no straight key cutter would touch an impression. How easy would it be for anyone to get hold of the keys, even briefly?"
Brinckman said, "About Jorgensen's and Napier's I wouldn't know. I clip mine to my belt."
Mackenzie said, "Everybody's got to sleep."
"You take your belt off then, don't you?"
"Sure." Brinckman shrugged. "And if you're going to ask me next if I'm a heavy sleeper, well, yes, I am. And if you're going to ask me if it would have been possible for anyone to sneak into my room while I was asleep, borrow my key for a couple of minutes and return it unseen, well, yes that would have been perfectly possible too."
"This," Brady said, "is not going to take us very far. Sticky-fingered characters with an affinity for keys are legion. Would there have been any security man in this area tonight?"
"Jorgensen would know," Brinckman said. "Shall I get him?"
"Won't he be out patrolling sixteen miles of conveyor belting or something?"
"He's in the canteen."
"But surely he's in charge -- on duty?"
"In charge of what, Mr. Brady? There are four men keeping an eye on the four draglines. The rest of the plant is closed down. We think it unlikely that this bomber will strike again tonight."
"Not much is unlikely."
"Bring him along to my office," Reynolds said. Brinckman left. "I think you'll find it warmer and more comfortable there, Mr. Brady."
They followed Reynolds to the office block, through an external room where a bright-eyed and pretty young woman at the desk gave them a charming smile, and on into Reynolds' office where Brady began divesting himself of several outer layers of clothing even before Reynolds had the door closed. Reynolds took his chair behind the desk while Brady sank wearily into the only armchair in the room.
Reynolds said, "Sorry to drag you all over the northwest like this. No sleep, no food, jet lags, all very upsetting. In the circumstances, I feel entitled to bend company regulations. Come to think of it, I'm the only person in Sanmobile who can. A refreshment would be in order?"
"Ha!" Brady pondered. "Early in the morning. Not only no dinner but no breakfast either." A hopeful look crept into his eye. "Daiquiri?"
"But I thought you always -- "
"We had an unfortunate experience over the Yukon," Dermott said. "We ran out."
Brady scowled. Reynolds smiled. "No daiquiris here. But a really excellent twelve-year-old malt." A few seconds later Brady lowered his half-tumbler and nodded appreciatively.
"A close second. Now you two" -- this to Dermott and Mackenzie -- "I've done all the work so far."
"Yes, sir." Not even the shadow of a smile touched Mackenzie's face. "Three questions, if I may. Who suggested checking up on the amount of explosives in the blasting shed?"
"Nobody. Terry Brinckman did it right off the bat. We have a meticulous checking system and an easy one. The tally sheet's kept up to date twice a day. We just count the numbers of each particular type of explosive, subtract that number from the latest entry on the tally sheet, and that's the number that's been issued that day. Or stolen, as the case may be."
"Well, that's certainly a mark in favor of your security chief."
"You have reservations about him?"
"Good heavens no. Why on earth should I? Number two -- where do you hang up your keys at night?"
"I don't." He nodded toward a massive safe in a corner. "Kept there day and night."
"Ah! In that case I'll have to rephrase what was going to be my third question. You are the only person with a key to that safe?"
"There's one more key. Corinne has it." "Ah. That lovely lassie in the outer office?" "That, as you say, lovely lassie in the outer office, is my secretary."
"And why does she have a key?" "Various reasons. All big companies, as you must know, have their codes. We're no exception. Code books are kept there. Corinne's my coding expert. Also, I can't be here all the time. Undermanagers, accountants, our legal people and the security chief all have access to the safe. I can assure you the safe contains items of vastly more importance than the keys to the blasting shed. Nothing has ever been missing yet."
"People just walk in, help themselves and walk out?"
Reynolds lifted his eyebrows and looked hard at Mackenzie. "Not quite. We are security conscious to a degree. They have to sign in, show Corinne what they've taken and sign out again."
"A couple of keys in a trouser pocket?" "Of course she doesn't search them. There has to be a certain amount of trust at executive levels." "Yes. Could we have her in, do you think?" Reynolds spoke into the box on his desk. Corinne entered looking good standing up, in her khaki cord Levi's and nicely distorted plaid shirt, a person with a smile for everyone. Reynolds said, "You know who those gentlemen are, Corinne?" "Yes, sir. I think everybody does." "I think Mr. Mackenzie here would like to ask you some questions." "Sir?" "How long have you been with Mr. Reynolds?"
"Just over two years."
"I came straight from secretarial school."
"You have a pretty sensitive and responsible position here?"
She smiled again, but this time a little uncertainly, as if unsure where the questions were leading. "Mr. Reynolds lists me as his confidential secretary."
"May I ask how old you are?"
"You must be the youngest confidential secretary of any big corporation I've ever come across."
This time she caught her lip and glanced at Reynolds, who was leaning back in his chair, hands clasped lazily behind his neck, with the air of a man who was almost enjoying himself. He smiled and said, "Mr. Mackenzie is an industrial sabotage investigator. He has a job to do, and asking questions is part of that job. I know he's just made a statement, not asked a question, but it's one of those statements that expects comment."
She turned back to Mackenzie, with a swing of her long chestnut hair. "I suppose I've been pretty lucky at that."
She spoke with marked coolness, and Mackenzie felt it. "None of my questions are directed against you, Corinne, okay? Now, you must know the executive-level people pretty well?"
"I can hardly help it. They all come through me to get to Mr. Reynolds."
"Including those who have business with that safe there?"
"Of course. I know them all well."
"All good friends, I take it?"
"Well" -- she smiled, but the smile had an edge to it -- "lots of them are much too senior to be my friends."
"But on good terms, shall we say?"
"Oh, yes." She smiled again. "I don't think I've made any enemies."
"Perish the thought!" This came from George Dermott, who took over the questioning on a brisker note. "Any of the people using the safe ever give you trouble? Like trying to take away what they shouldn't?"
"Not often, and then it's only absentminded-ness or because they haven't studied the classified list. And surely, Mr. Dermott, if anyone wanted to get something past me they'd hide it in their clothing."
Dermott nodded. "That's true. Miss Delorme." The girl was inspecting his rough-and-ready good looks with a spark of humor in her eye, as if amused by his blunt approach. He caught the expression and, in his turn, watched her for a reflective moment. "What do you think now?" he asked her. "Do you think anyone might have smuggled something past you out of the safe?"
She looked him in the eye. "They might," she said, "but I doubt it."
"Could I have a list of the people who used the safe in the past four or five days?"
"Certainly." She left and returned with a sheet which Dermott studied briefly.
"Good Lord! The safe appears to be the Mecca for half of Sanmobil. Twenty entries at least in the last four days." He looked up at the girl. "This is a carbon. May I keep it?"
Corinne Delorme smiled at the room in general, but the blue eyes came back to Dermott before she went out.
"Charming indeed," said Brady.
"Plenty of spunk," Mackenzie said ruefully. "She built a whole generation gap between you and ,me, George." He frowned. "What gave you the idea . her name was Delorme?"
"There was a plaque on her desk. 'Corinne Delorme,' it said." Dermott shook his head. "Hawkeye Mackenzie," he said.
The other men laughed. Some of the tension that had grown in the room during the questioning of the girl fell away again.
"Well. Anything more I can do for you?" Reynolds asked.
Dermott said, "Yes, please. Could we have a list of the names of your security staff?"
Reynolds bent over the intercom and spoke to Corinne. He had just finished when Brinckman arrived accompanied by a tall, red-haired man whom he introduced as Carl Jorgensen.
Dermott said, "You were in charge of the night security shift, I understand. Were you around the sabotaged area at all tonight?"
"So often? I thought you would have been concentrating on what we regarded -- mistakenly -- as the more vulnerable areas."
"I went around them a couple of times, but by jeep only. But I had this funny feeling that we might have been guarding the wrong places. Don't ask me why."
"Your funny feeling didn't turn out to be so funny after all. Anything off-beat? Anything to arouse suspicion?"
"Nothing. I know everybody on the night shift and I know where they work. Nobody there that shouldn't have been there, nobody in any place that he hadn't any right to be."
"You've got a key to the blasting shed. Where do you keep it?"
"Terry Brinckman mentioned this. I have it only during my tour of duty and then I hand it over. I always carry it in the same button-down pocket on my shirt."
"Could anybody get at it?"
"Nobody except a professional pickpocket, and even then I'd know."
The two security men left and Corinne came in with a sheet of paper. Reynolds said, "That was quick."
"Not really. They were typed out ages ago."
Brady said to the girl, "You must come and meet my daughter, Stella. I'm sure you'd get on. Both the same age. Stella is very like you, actually."
"Thank you, Mr. Brady. I think I'd like that."
"I'll have her call you."
When she had gone, Dermott said, "What do you mean, like your daughter? I've never seen anyone less like Stella."
"Dancing eyes, my boy, dancing eyes. One must learn to probe beneath the surface." Brady heaved himself to his feet. "The years creep on. Breakfast and bed. I'm through detecting for the day. It's tougher than capping fires."
Dermott drove the rented car back to the hotel, Mackenzie sitting beside him. Brady took his ease across the entire width of the back seat. He said, "I'm afraid I wasn't quite leveling with Reynolds there. Breakfast, yes. But it'll be some hours before I -- we -- retire. I have come up with a plan." He paused.
Dermott said courteously, "We're listening."
"I think I'll do some listening first. Why do you think I employ you?"
"That's a fair question," Mackenzie said. "Why?"
"To investigate, to detect, to think, to plot, to scheme, to plan."
"All at once?" Mackenzie said.
Brady ignored him. "I don't want to come up with a proposal and then, if it goes wrong, have to spend the rest of my days listening to your carping reproaches. I'd like you two to come up with an idea and then if it's a lemon we can all share the blame. Incidentally, Donald, I take it you have your bug-box with you?"
"The electronic eavesdropping locator-detector?"
"That's what I said." • "Yes."
"Splendid. Now, George, let's have your reading of the situation."
"My reading of the situation is that for all the good we're doing we haven't a hope in hell of stopping the bad guys from doing exactly what they want and when they want. There is no way to forestall attacks on Sanmobil or the Alaska pipeline. They're calling the shots and we're the sitting ducks, if you'll pardon the mixing of the metaphors. They call the tune and we dance to it. They're active, we're passive. They're offensive, we're defensive. If we have any tactics, I'd say it's time we changed them."
"Go on," his leader urged him from behind.
"If that's meant to sound encouraging," Dermott said, "I don't know why. But how's this for a positive thought? Instead of letting them keep us off-balance, why don't we keep them off-balance? Instead of their harassing us, let us harass them.".
"Go on, go on," the back seat exhorted.
"Let's attack them and put them on the defensive. Let them start worrying, instead of us." He paused. "I see things as through a glass darkly, but I say plant a light at the end of the tunnel. What we'll do is, we'll provoke them. Provoke a reaction. Provoke the hell out of them. We'll hang it on this one factor: Our own pasts, our backgrounds, can be probed until the cows come home, and nothing will be turned up. But you can say that about how many people in a hundred?"
Dermott twisted his head briefly to locate a peculiar noise from the back of the car. Brady was actually rubbing his hands together. "Well, Donald, what's your reading of it?"
"Simple enough when you see it," Mackenzie said. "All you have to do is to antagonize anywhere between sixty and eighty people to hell and back again. Investigate them as openly as possible. Deploy maximum indiscretion."
Brady beamed. "What sixty to eighty people do . we investigate?"
"In Alaska all the security agents. Here, the security agents again, plus everybody who's had access to Reynolds' safe in the past few days. Going to include Reynolds himself?"
"Good heavens, no."
Mackenzie said inconsequentially, "She is a lovely girl."
Brady looked aloof. Mackenzie asked him, "Do you really expect to find your panjandrum among that lot?"
"The prime mover. Mr. Big. Messrs. Big."
"Not for a moment. But if there's a rotten apple in the barrel, he may well find him for us."
Mackenzie said, "Right. So we get all their names and past histories. Later on -- sooner rather than later -- we'll have the lot fingerprinted. Sure, they're going to stand on their civic rights and yell blue murder, and that will please you no end -- refusal to co-operate will point the finger of suspicion at the refusee, if that's the word I want. Then you feed the information to your investigators in Houston, Washington and New York. Cost no object, urgency desperate. Not that you'll care a damn whether the investigators come up with anything or not. All that matters is that the suspects get to hear such inquiries are under way. That's all the provocation they'll need."
"What kind of reactions do we expect to provoke?" Dermott asked.
"Unpleasant ones, I should hope. For the villains, I mean."
"The first thing I'd do," Dermott told Brady, "is send your family back to Houston. Jean and Stella could really become a liability. The scheme might rebound on you. Can't you see the word coming through -- lay off, Brady, or something unpleasant's going to happen to your family? These people are playing for high stakes. They've killed once, they won't hesitate to kill again. They can't be hung twice."
"Same thought occurred to me." Mackenzie turned to face the back seat. "Either get the girls right back home, or have the RCMP protect them."
"Hell -- I need them!" Brady sat forward with indignation. "Number one, I have to be looked after. Number two, Stella's handling the Ekofisk business for me."
"Ekofisk?" Dermott almost turned backward. "What's that?"
"Big fire in the North Sea, Norwegian half. Started after you'd come north. We have a team going in there today."
"Well, okay," Dermott gave way a little. "So you have to keep in touch. But why not work through the locals? That brunette of Reynolds' -- Corinne. She could field calls for you."
"What happens when we go back to Alaska?"
"Use somebody up there. Finlayson's got a secretary -- must have."
"No substitute for the personal touch," said Brady magisterially. He sank in the seat as though the argument were over.
His two heavyweights turned forward again with an exchange of looks. Having been through all this a hundred times before, they knew that further pressure would be useless for the moment. Wherever he went, Brady maintained the fiction that his wife and daughter were part of his essential life-support system, and he kept them with him regardless of the expense. Or danger.
Not that Dermott and Mackenzie in the least minded having Jean and Stella around. Like mother, like daughter: whereas Jean was a strikingly handsome woman in her middle-forties, with that lovely, naturally blond hair and intelligent gray eyes, Stella looked the spittin' image of her mother, only younger, and even livelier, with, as her father was so fond of claiming, dancing eyes.
The men found Jean awaiting their return in the lounge bar of the Peter Pond Hotel. Tall and elegant, she advanced to meet them with her usual expression of tolerant, kindly amusement. This look, Dermott knew from experience, reflected her genuine feelings: An equable temperament was no small advantage for someone who had to spend her life humoring Jim Brady.
"Hi, honey!" He reached up slightly to kiss her on the forehead. "Where's Stella?"
"In your room. She's got some messages for you -- been pretty busy on the phone."
"Excuse me, then, gentlemen. Maybe one of you would be so kind as to buy my wife a drink."
He waddled off along the corridor, while Dermott and Mackenzie settled comfortably into the warmth of the bar. In marked contrast to her husband, Jean scarcely drank alcohol at all, and she sipped carefully at a pineapple juice while the two men addressed themselves to the scotch. Nor did she try to talk shop in Brady's absence. Instead, she chatted pleasantly about Fort McMurray and its modest midwinter pleasures until her husband returned.
When he came back, Stella was with him, swinging along with her easy, loose-hipped walk. Dermott -- not normally given to flights of fancy -- was suddenly struck by the absurd disparity between the two figures. Jesus, he thought to himself: a hippo and a gazelle. What a pair!
Scarcely had Brady subsided into an armchair, with an outsize glass of daiquiri in his pudgy hand, than he made a slight sign to Dermott and Mackenzie, who muttered something and slipped off.
Brady seemed in buoyant form, and began to regale his family with an edited account of his movements around the far north. After a while Jean said doubtfully, "It doesn't seem to me you've accomplished very much."
Brady was unruffled. "Ninety per cent of our business is cerebral, my dear. When we move into action, what happens is merely the almost mechanical and inevitable culmination of all the invisible hard work that's gone on before." He tapped his head. "The wise general doesn't fling his troops into battle without reconnoitering beforehand. We've been reconnoitering."
Jean smiled. "Let us know when you've identified the enemy." Suddenly she became serious. "It's a nasty business, isn't it?"
"Murder always is, my dear."
"I don't like it, Jim. I don't like you being in it.
Surely this is for the law. You've never come across murder before in your business."
"So I run away?"
She looked at his ample frame and laughed, "That's one thing you're not built for."
"Run?" Stella said, mock-scornfully. "Dad couldn't jog from here to the John!"
"Please!" Brady beamed. "I trust no such haste will be necessary."
"Where did Donald go?" Jean asked.
"Upstairs, doing a little job for me."
Mackenzie was at that moment moving slowly around Brady's apartment with a calibrated metal box in one hand, a portable antenna in the other and a pair of earphones on his head. He moved purposefully, a man who knew what he was about. He soon found what he was looking for.
When he came back to the bar he headed straight for Brady's family encampment.
"Two," he reported.
"Two what, Uncle Donald?" Stella asked sweetly.
Mackenzie appealed to his boss. "When are you going to start training this incorrigibly nosy daughter of yours?"
"I've stopped. Failed. Mother's job, anyway." He jerked his head upward. "Got them all, did you?"
Dermott also reappeared to report.
"Ah, George," Brady greeted him. "How did it go?"
"Reynolds' seems very co-operative. Unfortunately, all records are stored at the head office in Edmonton. He says by the time they've been dug out and flown up here, it may be late this evening or even tomorrow morning."
"What records?" Stella asked.
"Affairs of state," Brady told her. "Well, can't be helped. Anything else?"
"Naturally enough he's got no fingerprinting equipment."
"Fix it after lunch."
"He says he'll fix it himself -- the police chief's a pal of his, apparently. Thinks the chief might be a bit stuffy about the delay in reporting the crime." He grinned across at Stella. "And don't ask 'what crime?'"
"No, sir, Mr. Dermott, sir!" She wrinkled her upper lip in a fetching manner. "I never ask questions if I'm just permitted to fetch and carry, mend and clean."
Brady went on, "Reynolds can always claim that at first he thought it was an industrial accident."
"I understand the chief of police has twenty-twenty vision and intelligence to match."
"Well -- Reynolds will have to handle it as best he can. What about Prudhoe Bay?"
"An hour's hold. They'll page me."
"Fair enough." Brady shifted his attention to Stella. "We met an enchanting girl this morning -- didn't we, George? Knock spots off you, any day. Wouldn't she, gentlemen?"
"Unquestionably," said Mackenzie.
Stella looked at Dermott. "Foul, aren't they?"
"Dead heat," said Dermott, "but she's very nice."
"The manager's secretary," Brady said. "Corinne Delorme. I thought maybe you'd like to meet her. She said she'd like to meet you. She must know all the nightclubs, discos and other iniquitous dens in Fort McMurray."
Stella said, "News for you, Dad. You've got to be talking about another town. I don't know what this place is like in summer, but whatever it is, it's a dead city in mid-winter. You might have warned us that this is an Arctic town."
"Lovely choice of phrase. Wonderful sense of geography. That's education for you," Brady said to no one in particular. "Maybe you should have stayed in Houston."
Stella looked at her mother. "Did you hear what I just heard, Mom?" she asked with a scornful shake of the head at her father, which brought the pale blond hair swinging around her face.
Jean smiled. "I heard. Sooner or later, my dear, you have to face up to the fact that your father is no more and no less than a fearful old hypocrite."
"But he dragged us up here, kicking and screaming against our wills, and now..." Remarkably, words failed her.
As much as it was possible for so rubicund a face to register an expression, Brady's was registering unhappiness. "Well, now you've found out you don't like it, maybe you'd rather get back down to Houston." A note of wistfulness crept into his voice. "It'll be nearly seventy .degrees back there now."
Silence descended. Brady looked at Dermott and Dermott looked at him. Jean Brady looked at both of them. "Something goes on that I don't understand," she said. Brady dropped his eyes, so she switched her attention to Dermott. "George?"
"George!" He looked at her. "And don't call me 'ma'am.'"
"No, Jean." He sighed and spoke with some feeling. "The boss of Brady Enterprises is not only a fearful old hypocrite, he's a fearful old coward as well. What he wants, in the good old-fashioned western phrase, is that you should get out of town." . "Why? What on earth have we done?"
Dermott looked hopefully at Mackenzie, who said, "You've done nothing. He has -- or is about to." Mackenzie shook his head at Dermott. "This is difficult," he said.
Dermott explained, "We've decided on a course of action to flush the ungodly into the open, make them show their hand. Don and I have this unpleasant feeling that their reaction may be directed against Brady Enterprises in general and its boss in particular. The reaction may be violent -- these people don't play by any rules but their own. We don't think they'd go for Jim himself. It's well known that he can't be intimidated. But what's equally well known is what he thinks of his own family. If they got you or Stella, or both of you, they might figure they could force him to pull out."
Jean reached out to take Stella's hand. "But this must be nonsense," she said. "Drama. Things like that don't happen anymore. Don, I appeal to you..." She looked anxiously at her daughter, gave her hand a little shake and released it.
Mackenzie was dogged. "Don't appeal to me, Jean. When they snip off your finger with the wedding ring on it, will you still be saying things like that don't happen anymore?" She looked hurt. "Sorry if I sound brutal, but things like that have never stopped happening. It may not come to anything so bad. I'm looking on the blackest possible side. But that's the only sensible way to look. We've got to find a safe place for you and Stella. How can Jim operate at his best if you're on his mind?"
"He's right," muttered Brady. "Go pack your bags, please."
During Mackenzie's speech Stella had sat with her hands clasped together on her lap, like a schoolgirl, listening gravely. Now she said, "I can't do that, Dad."
"Who's going to make your daiquiris for you?"
Her mother cut in sharply. "There's a little more to this than the damned daiquiris. If we left, who's going to be number one target?"
"Dad," said Stella flatly. She glowered at Dermott. "You know that, George,"
"I do," he answered mildly. "But Donald and I are pretty good at looking after people."
"That would be just fine, wouldn't it?" She threw herself back in her chair, hazel eyes blazing. "All three of you shot or blown up or something."
"Getting upset isn't going to help," said Jean soothingly. "Logic will, though." She transferred her attention to Brady. "If we went, you'd still be worried stiff about us, and we'd be worried stiff about you. So where would that get us?"
Brady said nothing, and she went on, "But there's only one point that really matters. Not only will I not run away from my husband, I'll be damned if Jean Brady will run, period."
Stella said, "And I'll be damned if Stella Brady runs either. Who's gonna maintain communications, for one thing? You know how long I spent on the phone today -- to England and all that? Four hours." She stood up decisively. "Another drink, Dad?" She cocked an ear at him ostentatiously. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear that."
'"Monstrous regiment of women,' was what I said."
"Ah!" she smiled, collected the empty glasses and headed for the bar. Brady glared at Dermott and Mackenzie. "Hell of a lot of good you two are. Why didn't you back me up?" He sighed heavily and changed his tack. "Why don't we all get something to eat? Lunch, and after that I'll catch up on some sleep. What are you girls proposing to do this afternoon?"
Stella came back with full glasses. "We're going for a sleigh ride. Won't that be nice!"
"Good God! You mean outside?" Brady gloomily surveyed the few flakes drifting past the window. "Very nice for some, I'm sure, but not for the sane." He struggled to his feet. "The dining room in two minutes, then. George, if you will." He took Dermott aside.
With a giant Caribou T-bone steak, a quarter of blueberry pie and some excellent California burgundy inside him, Brady watched his befurred wife and daughter go out through the main entrance and sighed with satisfaction at the feeling of physical well-being that enveloped him.
"Well, gentlemen, I really believe I might manage a brief snooze after all. Yourselves too?"
Dermott said, "Off and on. Donald and I thought we'd chivvy up Prudhoe Bay and Sanmobil and get those names and records through as soon as possible."
"Well, thank you, gentlemen. Very considerate. Do not wake me up unless Armageddon is nigh. Aha! Here, not unexpectedly, return the ladies." He waited until his wife had reached the table. "Something up, then?"
"Something is up." Jean did not sound pleased.
"There are two men on the driving bench of that sleigh. Why two?"
"My dear, I'm not the arbiter of local customs. Are you afraid they're homosexual?"
She lowered her voice. "They're both carrying guns. You can't see them, but you can, if you know what I mean."
Brady said, "Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are entitled to bear arms at all times. Says so in their constitution."
Jean stared at him, snorted with resignation, turned and left. Jim Brady beamed in satisfaction. Mackenzie said airily, "They tell me there are some very handsome young constables in the RCMP."
Apart from chatting with Ferguson, Brady's pilot, Dermott spent the afternoon alone in the lounge, consuming one cup of coffee after the other. About mid-afternoon Jean and Stella returned, rosy-cheeked and in high spirits. Stella, it appeared, had learned from their escorts of a place where the younger people congregated of an evening, and had called Corinne Delorme at work to invite her out. Whether they intended to invite their erstwhile escorts along, Stella did not say nor did Dermott inquire. Brady would have the place comprehensively checked out before he would let them near it. Shortly afterward Dermott received a call from Alaska. It was Bronowski in Prudhoe Bay. John Finlayson, he said, was out at Pump Station Four but was expected back soon. He, Bronowski, would immediately set about obtaining what Dermott wanted and would arrange for the services of a fingerprint expert from Anchorage.
At five o'clock Reynolds came through to say that the fingerprinting was well in hand. The records Dermott required were even then being delivered to Edmonton airport and would be delivered straight from McMurray airport to the hotel. At six-thirty Mackenzie appeared, looking refreshed but at the same time reproachful.
"You should have called me. I'd meant to come down a couple of hours ago."
"I'll sleep tonight," Dermott said. "That's four hours you owe me."
"Three and a half. I put a call through to Houston, explained what we had in mind, told them to alert Washington and New York, and emphasized the urgency."
"I trust your unofficial listener got it all down."
"He could hardly fail to," Mackenzie said. "There was a bug installed inside the base plate of the telephone."
"Well, that should be the final stirring-up of the hornets' nest. Let's hope the wrong people don't get stung. How's Jim?"
"Peered around his door on the way down. Looked like he'd died in his sleep."
At seven o'clock a call came through from Sanmobil. Dermott indicated to Mackenzie that he should listen in on the extension earphone slotted onto the back of the receiver.
"Mr. Reynolds? Not more bad news, I hope."
"For me it is. I've been told to shut down the plant for a week."
"Now. Well, a few minutes ago. And I'm to be contacted in forty-eight hours to see if I've complied."
"Was the message from Anchorage?"
"They sent an open message?"
"No. Code. Our own company code."
Dermott looked at Mackenzie. "Pretty sure of • themselves, aren't they?"
Reynolds said, "What was that?"
"Talking to Donald Mackenzie. He's listening in. So they know that we know it's an inside job. They must be pretty sure of themselves. Who's got access to the code books?"
"Anybody who's got access to my safe."
"How many people does that make?"
"Twenty. Give or take."
"What do you intend to do?"
"Consult Edmonton. With their approval I intend to be on stream again inside forty-eight hours."
"I wish you luck." Dermott replaced the receiver and looked at Mackenzie. "Now what?"
"Do you think Armageddon is nigh enough to justify waking up the boss?"
"Not yet. Nothing he, we or anybody can do. Infuriating. Let's try Anchorage. Want to bet they've had a similar threat to close down the pipeline?" He lifted the phone, asked for the number, listened briefly then hung up. "Hold, they say. One hour, two hours. They're not sure."
The telephone rang. Dermott picked it up. "Anchorage? No it can't be. I've just been told -- ah, I see." He looked at Mackenzie. "Police." Mackenzie picked up the extension receiver. They both listened in silence. Dermott said, "Thank you. Thank you very much," and both hung up.
Mackenzie said, "Well, they seem pretty confident."
"They're certain. Perfect copies of the prints from the Anchorage phone booths. But they can't match them up with any of their lists."
"It all helps," Mackenzie said gloomily.
"It's not all that bad. The photostat is promised for tomorrow. Might just match up with some of the prints we hope to collect. The Alaskan ones, I mean. It would be too easy to check up on anyone here who made a brief stopover in Anchorage."
Stella came into the lounge, all set for dancing in black sequinned silk and colored tights, and carrying her coat. Dermott said, "And where do you think you're going?"
Stella said, "I'm going out with Corinne. First a snack and then the bright lights and the light fantastic."
"You'll confine your dancing activities strictly to this hotel. You're not going any place."
When she had got through a diatribe, calling him a stuffed shirt and a spoilsport, she added, "Mr. Reynolds said it's all right."
"When did he say this?"
"We phoned about an hour ago."
"It's not up to Mr. Reynolds to give you permission."
"But he knows Corinne is coming with me. She lives near here. You don't think he'd let his secretary walk into danger, do you?"
"She wouldn't be walking into danger. Nobody would be interested in her. But in you, yes."
Stella said, "You sound as if you're convinced something is going to happen to me."
"That's the way to make sure that nothing will happen to you -- by taking precautions. See what your father says anyway."
"But how would he know what's safe and what isn't? How would he check up?"
"He'd go to the top -- the chief of police, I'm certain."
Stella smiled brilliantly and said, "But we've
talked already to him. Over the phone. He was with
Mr. Reynolds. He says it's perfectly okay." She smiled again, impishly. "Besides, we won't lack protection."
"Your friends of this afternoon?"
"John Carmody and Bill Jones."
"Well, I suppose that does make a difference. Ah, here comes Corinne." He beckoned her across, made the introductions and watched as they moved off. "Well, I suppose we worry too much." He glanced at the doorway. "When I look at that lot coming in, I hardly think we need worry at all."
"That lot" were a pretty formidable looking pair -- big men in their late twenties or early thirties who looked eminently capable of taking care not only of themselves but of anyone who might be along with them. Dermott and Mackenzie rose and crossed to meet them.
Dermott said, "I could be wrong, but you wouldn't be two policemen disguised as civilians?"
"There we go," said the fair-haired man. "Can't be very good at undercover work if it's as obvious as that. I'm John Carmody. This is Bill Jones. You must be Mr. Dermott and Mr. Mackenzie. Miss Brady described you to us."
Mackenzie asked, "You gentlemen on overtime tonight?"
Carmody grinned. "Tonight? Two gallant volunteers. Labor of love. Doesn't look like being any great hardship."
"Watch them. Beautiful she may be, but Stella's a conniving young minx. One other thing. You know we have a feeling some bad actors might try to hurt her. Or take her out of circulation. Just a suspicion, but you never know."
"I think we might be able to take care of that."
"I'm sure you can. Most kind of you gentlemen. Very much appreciated, I can tell you. I know Mr. Brady would like to thank you himself, but as he's in the land of dreams, I'll do it on his behalf. The girls are through there. I hope you have a pleasant evening."
Dermott and Mackenzie returned to their table, where they talked in desultory fashion. Then the phone rang again. This time it was Alaska: Prudhoe Bay.
"Tim Houston here. Bad news, I'm afraid. Sam Bronowski is in the hospital. I found him lying unconscious on the floor of Finlayson's office. Appears to have been struck over the head with a heavy object. He was hit over the temple where the skull is thinnest. Doctor says there may be a fracture -- he's just finishing some X rays. He's certainly concussed."
"When did this happen?"
"Half hour ago. No more. But that's not all. John Finlayson is missing. He vanished soon after coming back from Pump Station Pour. Searched everywhere. No trace of him. Not in any of the buildings. If he's outside on a night like this, well" -- there was a grim pause -- "he won't be around for long. We've got a high wind and heavy drifting, and the temperature's between thirty and forty below. Every man in the place is out looking for him. Maybe he was attacked by the same person who attacked Bronowski. Maybe he wandered out dazed. Maybe he was forcibly removed -- although I don't see how that could be possible with so many people around. Are you coming up?"
"Are the FBI and the State Police there?"
"Yes. But there's been another development."
"A message from Edmonton?"
"Telling you to close down the line?"
"How did you know?"
"They made similar demands. We've got one here. I'll talk to Mr. Brady. If you don't hear, you'll know we're on our way." He replaced the receiver and said to Mackenzie, "Armageddon? Enough to wake Jim?"
"More than enough."
Ferguson, the pilot, was unhappy and with good reason. Throughout the flight he was in more or less continuous touch with the operations center in Prudhoe Bay, and knew that the weather ahead was dangerous. The wind was gusting at 40 miles per hour. Flying snow had cut ground visibility to a few feet, and the thickness of the drifting surface snow storm was estimated at sixty feet or even more -- less than ideal circumstances for landing a fast jet in darkness.
Ferguson had every modern navigational and landing aid, but although he could make a hands-off touchdown if he had to, he preferred to see terra firma before he put his wheels down on it. One factor in Ferguson's favor was that he was a profound pessimist. His three passengers well knew that he was not given to endangering his own life, let alone those of other people on board, and would have turned back had the risks been too great.
Brady, who had been wakened from a deep sleep and was in a sour mood, spoke scarcely a word on the way north. Mackenzie and Dermott, aware that the flight might be their last opportunity for some time, spent most of the trip asleep.
The landing, with much advancing and retarding of the throttles, was a heavy, bouncing one, but nonetheless safely accomplished. Visibility was down to twenty feet, and Ferguson crept cautiously forward until he picked up the lights of a vehicle. When the cabin door was opened, freezing snow whirled in, and Brady lost no time in making his customary elephantine dash for the shelter of the waiting minibus. At the wheel was Tim Houston, lieutenant to the invalided Bronowski.
"Evening, Mr. Brady." Houston wore no welcoming smile. "Filthy night. I won't ask if you had a good flight because I'm sure you didn't. Afraid you haven't had too much sleep since you came to the northwest."
"I'm exhausted." Brady didn't mention that he'd had six hours' sleep before leaving Fort McMurray. "What's the word about John Finlayson?"
"None. We've examined every building, every pump house, every last shack within a mile of the Operations Center. We thought there was a remote chance that he'd gone across to the ARCO Center, but they searched and found nothing."
"What's your feeling?"
"He's dead. He must be." Houston shook his head. "If he isn't -- or wasn't -- under cover, he couldn't have lasted a quarter of the time he's been missing. What makes that even more certain is that he didn't take his outdoor furs with him. Without furs? Ten minutes, if that."
"The FBI or police come up with anything?"
"Zero. Conditions are bad, Mr. Brady."
"I can see that." Brady spoke with feeling and shivered. "I suppose you'll have to wait for daylight before you can carry out a proper search?"
"Tomorrow will be too late. Even now it's too late. Anyway, even if he is around, the chances are we won't find him. We might not find him until warmer weather comes and the snow goes.','
"Drifting, you mean?" This was Mackenzie. ~
"Yes. He could be in a gully or by the roadside -- our roads are built five feet high on gravel -- and he could be lying at the bottom of a ditch with not even a mound to show where he is." Houston gave a shrug.
"What a way to die," Mackenzie said.
"I'm accepting the fact that he is gone," Houston said, "and though it sounds callous, maybe, it's not such a bad way to go. Perhaps the easiest way to go. No suffering. You just go to sleep and never wake up again."
Dermott said, "You make it sound almost pleasant. How's Bronowski?"
"No fracture. Heavy contusions. Dr. Blake reckons the concussion is only slight. He was stirring and seeming to make an effort to surface when I left the camp."
"No further progress in that direction?"
"Nothing. Very much doubt whether there will be either. Sam was the only person who could have told us anything or identified his assailant. It's a thousand to one that he was attacked from behind and never caught a glimpse of his attacker. If he had, the attacker would probably have silenced him for keeps. After you've killed two people, what's a third?"
"The same people, you reckon?"
Houston stared. "It's too much of a coincidence to be different people, Mr. Brady." "
"I suppose. This Telex from Edmonton?"
Houston scratched his head. "Told us to close down the line for a week. Says they're going to check in forty-eight hours."
"And in your own company code, you said?" Dermott asked him.
. "They didn't give a damn about letting us see it was an inside job. Damned arrogance. And the Telex was addressed to Mr. Black. Only someone working on the pipeline would know that he was up here. He spends nearly all his time in Anchorage."
Dermott said, "How's Black taking this?"
"Difficult to say. Bit of a cold fish -- not much given to showing his feelings. I know how I'd feel in his shoes. He's the general manager, Alaska, and the buck stops with him."
Houston was doing Black a degree less than justice. When they arrived/at his office in the Operations Center, he had a distinctly unhappy and distraut air about him. He said, "Good of you to come, Mr. Brady. Must have been a highly unpleasant trip -- and in the middle of a winter's night." He turned to a tall tanned man with iron-gray hair. This is Mr. Morrison. FBI."
Morrison shook hands with all three. "Know of you, of course, Mr. Brady. I'll bet you don't get too much of this sort of thing out in the Gulf States."
"Never. Don't get any of this damnable snow and cold either. Mr. Houston here tells me that you're all up against a blank wall. Finlayson' just vanished."
Morrison said, "We were hoping that a fresh mind might be of use."
"I'm afraid your hopes are misplaced. I leave detection to the professionals. I'm merely, as are my colleagues here, a sabotage investigator, although in this case it's clear that sabotage and crimes of violence have a common ground. You've had Mr. Finlayson's office fingerprinted, of course."
"From top to bottom. Hundreds of prints, and not one seems to be of any use. No prints there that shouldn't have been there."
"You mean that the owners of those prints all had regular and legitimate access to the office?"
Morrison nodded. "Just that."
Brady scowled. "And since we're convinced that this character is someone working on the pipeline, any one of those fingerprints might be his."
Mackenzie asked the FBI man, "Any sign of the weapon used on Bronowski?"
"Nothing. Dr. Blake believes the blow was administered by the butt of a gun."
Dermott asked, "Where's the doctor?"
"In the sick bay, with Bronowski, who's just recovered consciousness. He's still dazed and incoherent, but it seems he'll be okay."
"Can we see the two of them?"
"I don't know," Black said. "The doctor, certainly. I don't know whether he'll allow you to talk to Bronowski."
"He can't be all that bad if he's conscious," said Dermott. 'It's a matter of urgency. He's the only person who might be able to give us a clue about what happened to Finlayson."
When they arrived in the sick bay, Bronowski was speaking coherently enough to Dr. Blake. He was very pale, the right hand side of his head had been shaved, and a huge bandage, stretching from the top of his skull to the lobe of the ear, covered the right temple. Dermott looked at the doctor, a tall, swarthy man with an almost cadaverous face and a hooked nose.
"How's the patient?"
"Coming on. The wound's not too bad. He's just been soundly stunned, which is apt to addle anyone's brains a bit. Headache for a couple of days."
"A couple of brief questions for Bronowski."
"Well, brief." Dr. Blake nodded at Dermott's companions,
Dermott asked, "Did you see the guy who knocked you down?"
"See him?" Bronowski exclaimed. "Didn't even hear him. First thing I knew of anything was when I woke up in this bed here."
"Did you know Finlayson was missing?"
"No. How long's he been gone?"
"Some hours. Must have gone missing before you were clobbered. Did you see him at all? Speak to him?"
"I did. I was working on those reports you asked me to get for you. He asked about the conversation I had with you, then left." Bronowski thought about it. "That was the last I saw of him." He looked at Black. "Those papers I was working on. Are they still on the table?"
"I saw them."
"Can you have them put back in the safe, please? They're confidential."
"I'll do that," Black said.
Dermott asked,."May I see you a minute, doctor?"
"You're seeing me now." The doctor looked quizzically at Dermott down his long nose.
Dermott smiled heavily. "Do you want me to discuss my chilblains and gout in public?"
In the consulting room Dr. Blake said, "You look in pretty good shape to me."
"Advancing years is all. Have you been up to Pump Station Four?"
"Ah, so it's that business! What stopped you discussing it out there?"
"Because I'm naturally cagey, distrustful and suspicious."
"I went up with Finlayson." Blake made a grimace at the memory. "Place was a ghastly mess. So were the two murdered men."
"They were all that," Dermott agreed. "Did you carry out an autopsy on them?"
There was a pause. "Have you the right to be asking me these questions?"
Dermott nodded. "I think so, Doctor. We're all interested injustice. I'm trying to find out who killed those two men. May be three, by now, if Finlayson stays missing."
"Very well," Blake said. "I carried out an autopsy. It was fairly perfunctory, I admit. When men have been shot through the forehead, it's pointless to try to establish the possibility that they died of heart failure instead. Although, mind you, from the mangled state of their bodies, it's clear that the blast effect of the explosion would in itself have been enough to kill them."
"The bullets were still lodged in the head?"
"They were and are. A low-velocity pistol. I know they'll have to be recovered, but that's a job for the police surgeon, not for me."
"Did you search them?"
Blake lifted a saturnine eyebrow. "My dear fellow, I'm a doctor, not a detective. Why should I search them? I did see that one had some papers in an inside coat pocket, but I didn't examine them. That was all."
"No gun? No holster?"
"I can testify to that. I had to remove coat and shirt. Nothing of that nature."
"One last question," Dermott said. "Did you notice the index finger on the same man's right hand?"
"Fractured just below the knuckle bone? Odd sort of break in a way, but it could have resulted from a variety of causes. Don't forget the blast flung both of them heavily against some machinery."
"Thank you for your patience." Dermott made for the door, then turned. "The dead men are still at Pump Station Four?"
"No. We brought them back here. I understand their families want them buried in Anchorage, and that they'll be flown down there tomorrow."
Dermott looked around Finlayson's office and said to Black, "Anything been altered since Bronowski was discovered here?"
"You'd have to ask Mr. Morrison. At the time, I was across seeing my opposite number in ARCO and didn't get here for twenty minutes."
The FBI man said, "Some things have been touched, naturally. My men had to when they were carrying out their fingerprinting."
Mackenzie nodded to the buff folders on Finlayson's desk. "Are those the reports on the security men? The ones that Bronowski said he was studying when he was clobbered?"
Black looked at Houston, and the security man said, "Yes."
"There were fingerprints, too." Mackenzie raised an eyebrow.
"Those will be in the safe," Houston said.
"We'd like to see those and the records," Dermott said. "In fact, we'd like to see everything in that safe."
Black intervened. "But that's' where all our company confidential information is kept."
"That's precisely why we'd like to examine it."
Black compressed his lips. "That's a very large order, Mr. Dermott."
"If our hands are to be tied, we might as well go back to Houston. Or have you something to hide?"
"I consider that remark offensive."
"I don't." Brady had spoken from the depths of the only armchair in the room. "If you have something to hide, we'd like to know what it is. If you haven't, open up your safe. You may be the senior man in Alaska, but the people in London are the ones that matter, and they've promised me we would be afforded every co-operation. You are showing distinct signs of lack of co-operation. I must say that gives me food for thought."
Black's lips were very pale now. "That could be construed as a veiled threat, Mr. Brady."
"Construe it any damned way you like. We've been through this up here once before. And John Finlayson has gone on a walk-about or somewhere even less attractive. Co-operate or we leave -- and leave you with the task of explaining to London the reason for your secretiveness."
"I am not being secretive. In the best interests of the company -- "
"The best interest of your company is to keep that oil flowing and head off these killers. If you don't let us examine that safe, we can only conclude that for some reason you choose to obstruct the best interest of your company." Brady poured himself a daiquiri as if to indicate that his part of the discussion was over.
Black surrendered. "Very well." The lips had now thinned almost to nothing. "Under protest and under, I may say, duress, I agree to what I regard as an outrageous request. The keys are in Mr. Finlayson's desk. I will bid you good night."
"One moment." Dermott didn't sound any more friendly than Black. "Do you have records of all your employees on the pipeline?"
It was clear that Black was considering some further opposition, and then decided against it. "We do. But very concise. Couldn't call them reports. Mainly, just brief notes of previous jobs held."
"Where are they? Here?"
"No. Only reports on security personnel are kept here, and that's because Bronowski regards this as his base. The rest are kept in Anchorage."
"We'd like to see them. Perhaps you can arrange for them to be made available?"
"I can arrange it."
"I understand from Dr. Blake that you have a flight to Anchorage tomorrow. Is it a big plane?"
"Too big," said Black the accountant. "A 737. Only one available tomorrow., Why?"
"One or more of us might want to hitch a lift," Dermott answered. "We could, among other things, pick up those reports. Seats would be available?"
Black said, "Yes. No more questions, I trust?"
"One. You received this threatening Telex message from Edmonton today telling you to close down the line or else. What do you propose to do?"
"Carry on production, of course." Black tried to smile sardonically, but 'the moment was wrong. "Assuming, of course, that the criminals have been apprehended?"
"Where's the Telex?"
"Bronowski had it. It may be on his person. Or in his desk."
"I'll find it," Dermott said.
"I don't think Bronowski would like you rummaging about his desk."
"He's not here, is he? Besides, he's a security man. He would understand." Dermott shook his head. "I don't think you ever will."
"No," Black said. "Good night." He turned on his heel and left. No one said "good night" to him.
"Well, well." Brady exclaimed. "A friend for life in three minutes flat. Don't know how you do it, George. Pity he acts so suspiciously -- otherwise he'd have made a splendid suspect."
"Badly ruffled feathers," Morrison said. "To put it in a restrained fashion, ruffling other people's feathers is his speciality. A martinet of the first order, they say, but an extraordinarily able man."
Dermott said, "Not, I gather, universally popular. Does he have friends?"
"Professional business contacts, that's all. Socially, nothing. If he has any friends, he hides them well." He tried to conceal a yawn. "My normal bedtime lies well behind me. In the FBI, we try to get to bed by ten P.M. Can I be of any assistance before I go?"
"Two things," Dermott said. "The maintenance crew at Pump Station Four. Fellow called Poulson in charge. Could you have their backgrounds investigated as rigorously as possible?"
"You have a reason for asking?" The FBI man sounded hopeful.
"Nothing really. Just that they happened to be there when the sabotage occurred. I'm clutching at straws. We have damn little else to clutch at." Dermott smiled wryly.
"I think we can do that," Morrison said. "And the other?"
"Dr. Blake tells me that the two dead engineers were brought back here today. Do you know where they were put?"
Morrison knew and told them, said his good nights and left.
Brady said, "I think I shall go and rest lightly in my room. Notify me if the heavens fall in. But not after the first half hour or so. I take it you two are about to indulge your morbid curiosity in viewing the departed."
Dermott and Mackenzie looked down at the two murdered engineers. They had been covered in white sheets. No attempt had been made to clean them up since they last saw them at Pump Station Four. Perhaps it had been impossible. Perhaps no one had had a strong enough stomach for the task. Mackenzie said, "I hope they're going to be sewn up in canvas or something before being taken to Anchorage tomorrow, or their relatives are going to have the screaming heebie-jeebies. Whatever you're looking for, George, look for it quick. I'm not enjoying myself."
Nor was Dermott. Not only was the sight revolting, but the smell was nauseating. He lifted the hand of the man he'd briefly examined before and said, "How would you say that forefinger got that way?"
Mackenzie bent, wrinkled his nose and said, "It sounds crazy, but it could have been broken by a pair of pliers. The trouble is that charring's obliterated any marks that might have been made on the skin."
Dermott went to a wash basin, soaked his handkerchief and cleaned up the charred area as best he could. The black carbon came off surprisingly easily. It didn't leave the skin clean -- the pitting was too deep for that -- but clean enough to permit a closer examination.
"No pliers," Mackenzie said. "To break the bone, pliers would have had to close right into the flesh and would have been bound to leave saw-tooth marks. No saw-tooth marks, so no pliers. But I agree with you. I'm sure that bone was deliberately broken."
Dermott rubbed some carbon off the charred clothing and smeared it on the cleaned area so that it did not look as if it had been wiped. He opened the jacket and slid his hand into the inside pocket: it came out empty. Mackenzie said, "The papers and cards have taken wing and flown. With assistance, of course."
"Indeed. Could have been Poulson or one of his pals. Could have been Bronowski when he was out there yesterday. Could have been the kindly healer himself."
"Blake? He does look like a first cousin of Dracula," Mackenzie said.
Dermott raised the damp handkerchief again and started to clear the area around the bullet in the forehead. He peered closely at the wound and said to Mackenzie, "Can you see what I imagine I see?"
Mackenzie stooped low and peered closely. Still stooped, he said softly, "With the hawk eyes of my youth gone forever, I could do with a powerful magnifying glass." He straightened. "What I imagine I see is the brown scorch marks of burned powder."
As before, Dermott smeared some carbon back on the cleaned area. "Funny -- my imagination runs the same way. This guy was shot at point blank range. The scenario reads that it was a very close thing indeed. The killer had a gun on this engineer and was probably searching him. What he didn't know was that the engineer not only had a gun of his own, but had it out. However it was, he must have seen it just in time and shot to kill -- there could have been no time to indulge in any fancier gunwork. The engineer's gun hand must have gone into muscular spasm -- irreversible contraction; not unknown at the time of violent death. To free the gun, the killer had to wrench it so violently that he snapped the trigger finger. Don't you think that fits in with the peculiar angle at which the finger was broken?"
"I think you have it. It fits, anyway." Mackenzie frowned. "There's only one thing I see wrong with your scenario. Why should the killer take the gun in the first place? He had a gun of his own."
"Sure he had, but he couldn't use it anymore," Dermott said. "More accurately, he couldn't afford to keep it anymore. Having seen no exit holes at the back of the head he knew he had left two bullets in the region of two occiputs, and that the police could match up the bullets with the gun he was carrying. Which meant he would have to get rid of it. Which meant that he would be gunless, at least temporarily. So he took the engineer's gun. My guess is that he will have got rid of both guns by this time, and he's almost certainly got another weapon by now. In these United States -- and don't forget Alaska is the United States -- getting hold of a hand gun is extremely simple."
Mackenzie said slowly, "It all fits. We may well be up against a professional killer."
"We may well be up against a psychopath."
Mackenzie shivered. "My Scottish Highland ancestry. Some ill-mannered lout has just walked all over my grave. Let's take counsel with the boss. Counsel and something else. If I know our worthy employer, he'll already have had half the .contents of the jet's bar brought to his room."
"And you want his ideas?"
"I want some of those contents."
Mackenzie had exaggerated somewhat. Ferguson hadn't brought across more than a tenth of the plane's stock, but even that represented a goodly amount. Mackenzie had already had his first scotch and was on his second. He looked at Brady, propped up in bed in a pair of shocking heliotrope pyjamas, which served only to accentuate his massive girth, and said, "Well, what do you make of George's theory?"
"I believe in the facts and I also believe in the theory, for the adequate reason that I see no alternative to it." Brady contemplated his fingernails. "I also believe we're up against a trained, ruthless and intelligent killer. I don't doubt that he might be a psychopath on the loose. In fact, there may be two psychopaths -- an even more unpleasant prospect. The trouble is, George, I don't see how this advances us much. We don't know when this nut will hit again. What can we do to prevent it?"
"We can scare him," Dermott answered, "that's what we can do. I'll bet he's already worried by the fact that we're raking in fingerprints and records all over the shop. Let's try to worry him a little more. I'll go down to Anchorage tomorrow while you and Mackenzie stay here and do some work." Dermott sipped his scotch. "It should be a change for at least one of you."
"I could be deeply wounded," Brady said, "but slings and arrows from an ungrateful staff are nothing new to me. What, precisely, do you have in mind?"
"Drastically narrowing the range of suspects is what I have in mind. All very simple, really. This is a close-knit community here in Prudhoe Bay. They more or less live out of each other's pockets. Everyone's movements must be known to at least a handful of other people, probably a great deal more. Check on everybody and find out who has a definite alibi for being here on the morning the engineers were being killed out in the mountains. If two or more people, say, can honestly tell you that X was here at the time of the crime, you can strike X off the suspects list. At the end of the day we'll know; how many suspects we have. Not even a handful, I bet. I wouldn't be surprised if there were none at all. Remember that Pump Station Four is a hundred and forty miles away, and the only feasible way of getting there is by helicopter. One would have to have the time and opportunity and the ability to fly a helicopter to get there, and there would be no hope of taking a chopper without someone noticing. I think you'll find it all very straightforward.