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Tác giả: David Baldacci
Thể loại: Trinh Thám
Nguyên tác: The Whole Truth
Biên tập: Dieu Chau
Upload bìa: Dieu Chau
Language: English
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Chapter 45
ITH THE AID OF A RED-EYE FLIGHT on board his private jumbo jet Nicolas Creel had exchanged Los Angeles for Italy and was playing captain today aboard his massive ship, Shiloh. The giga-yacht was far longer than a football field with a beam of over seventy feet and boasted nine floors of opulence. Creel’s master suite alone measured five thousand square feet, or far larger than the average house. It could carry up to thirty guests in extreme luxury since it also housed an indoor pool, cinema, disco, gym, wine cellar, basketball court, every water toy imaginable, two helipads, several hot tubs, and its very own private submarine with a capacity of forty passengers. The sub exited the ship via the bottom of the hull, so Creel could come and go in privacy. The Shiloh also carried a crew of several dozen superbly trained professionals whose only goal was to serve with pleasure.
The Shiloh was also a very safe ship with state-of-the-art security, motion sensors, and even a special missile-detection system. And while he was parked here in Italian waters, the Italian government, ever mindful of Creel’s prestige and his humanitarian and political connections in their country, provided a couple of police boats to stand guard.
Despite its gigantic size, it being far larger than many naval vessels, the Shiloh could still manage a top speed of twenty-five knots, allowing it to easily outrun any storm.
All in all, Creel had considered it a bargain at a mere $300 million. Of all his residences around the world, he loved the Shiloh the best. As a youngster he’d had a secret passion for the sea and a desire, never fulfilled, to join the merchant marine and see the world as a sailor.
In keeping with his nautical surroundings, today he had on a dark blue double-breasted jacket, cream-colored slacks, and a white seaman’s cap. He watched as the chopper headed toward the ship, covering the still waters below at just over a hundred knots. The aircraft slowed, hovered, hit its pad mark, and the blades wound down. Dick Pender stepped off, shrouded in a wide-brimmed hat, large sunglasses, and a long leather coat. He carried a slim briefcase that flapped against his leg from the prop wash.
Creel met him on the aft deck and escorted him down wide polished teak stairs to a large walnut burl–paneled room amidships. Outside the large porthole windows the coastline of Italy was visible across the dark brooding plain of the Mediterranean.
“Is the missus with you?” Pender asked as he removed his hat and coat and threw them over a chair.
“No. The crew enjoys her nude sunbathing habit a little too much. She’s in Switzerland at some spa rejuvenating herself. From what exactly I was never clear about.”
Pender glanced at the flat-screen TV on the wall where scenes of the London Massacre were being replayed.
“Quite a mess over there,” Pender said. “You’ve been a busy man.”
Creel had enough information to bury Pender many times over and the man knew it. So he never worried about Pender turning on him. And no one knew Pender was here. He came in secret and he would leave in secret. It was just the way Creel worked. When you basically had your own airline, there was nothing easier to accomplish.
“Let’s get down to it.”
Pender spread out the contents of his briefcase. “I’m assuming the appropriate materials were left behind at The Phoenix Group?”
“Any indication whether the police have gone over them?”
“It’s early yet, but they’re easy to find. Only a matter of time.”
“You have someone on the inside?”
Creel simply nodded at this question.
“You know when you called and told me what you’d discovered about The Phoenix Group it seemed too perfect.”
“I thought the same thing,” Creel admitted. “But it all checked out, or else I wouldn’t have done it. So tell me the steps you have planned to get our next ‘truth’ out to the public.”
Pender picked up a piece of paper. “For maximum exploitation and dissemination we recommend going to the Web first and letting the mainstream outlets reverse engineer the story. The major networks don’t like to acknowledge the fact but they troll the blog world constantly looking for cutting-edge stories and trends. It’ll make it appear to be more grassroots and homegrown that way. Lends credibility and throws off suspicion.”
Creel nodded in agreement. “So we get the payoff of Phoenix’s true ownership that way, which will segue nicely into the inevitable leak that will come out of what’s discovered in London.”
“That’s how I see it playing out. We have the revelation of ownership and then the really earth-shattering news of the activity having been conducted there coming out. It’ll be disputed, of course,” he added.
“Of course it will, and that will only lend credibility to it being true. If you dispute, you lose.”
“Your boots on the ground worked to perfection.”
“Well, they’re not done yet,” Creel responded cryptically.
“When will the leak come?”
“She is primed and ready. I’ll pull the trigger on that when I deem the time right.”
“And she can be trusted?”
“It’s not a question of trust.”
“And after she’s performed the leak?”
“Then I will decide what to do, Dick.”
“In my experience,” Pender began, before Creel cut him off by lighting a cigar and turning away from him and picking up a decanter.
“A glass of port? I always find port particularly supportive of grand scheme-making.”
“I’m sure your port is better than anyone else’s,” Pender said, smiling.
A ship’s horn sounded.
Pender glanced out the starboard porthole in time to see a twenty-six-foot launch pulling up with about a dozen excited children dressed in shabby clothing on board.
He looked at Creel with an amused expression. “You running tours on the Shiloh, Mr. Creel? Earning some extra income from the dirty-faced Mediterranean rabble?”
Creel didn’t return the smile. He rose from the chair and pressed down his sailor’s jacket and reset the cap on his head. This was why he’d worn the uniform today, for the children.
“They’re Italian kids from a local orphanage. They never get to do anything. So when we’re at anchor here I always have them come out. For a good meal, new clothes, toys, and some fun. They’re just children; they should have some fun, Dick.”
“Very generous of you.”
“It’s why I didn’t have my wife come. It’s impossible for the woman to keep her clothes on while on this boat, even with little kids running around. I mean, adults are one thing, and if the crew wants to ogle her, but children? It’s really quite an appalling facet of her personality. Had I known before the wedding? Well, there you are.”
“A small dent in your aura of omniscience,” Pender said, not bothering to hide his smile.
“Dick, I’ve found that you occasionally take liberties with me that you have no right to take.”
Pender looked startled. “I’m sorry, Mr. Creel. I had no intention—”
Creel set a glass of port in front of him. “By the way, it is the best.”
A pale-faced Pender nervously lifted his glass with Creel.
Creel said, “To a better world.”
“To a better world,” Pender mumbled nervously.
“Don’t look so glum, Dick, I wasn’t being entirely serious.”
This comment didn’t seem to make Pender feel any better at all.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes after I get the kids settled down to eat. Then after that I’m going to take them on a submarine ride.”
“You have a submarine!”
“I have everything, Dick. I thought you knew that.”
“Yes, but Italian orphans on a submarine?”
“And when one has everything, one needs to share,” Creel added firmly.
As Creel headed abovedeck to see his youthful guests, Pender set back to work. However, part of his mind was contemplating the oddness of mankind in general and the peculiarity of one enormously rich man in particular. He also made a mental note to never, ever treat himself as an equal to the billionaire. That, he knew, could be deadly. It was perfectly true that there were only a very few people who could do what Dick Pender could do.
But it was also true that there was only one Nicolas Creel.
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