|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
Reef of Gold
By Gary Dale
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Gary Dale
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNORTH KOREAN SHIP
She was low in the water.
Whipped by the unusually strong coastal winds of the Singapore Straits, the small blue and red flag of origin mounted on the freighter's stern crackled announcing its arrival to no one in particular. The ocean waves, seemingly coming from different directions, slammed against the rust-spotted ship's hull, bending and twisting the keel, causing the freighter to become less inclined to answer the helm. Enough of the welded steel hull was drawing at least three fathoms to risk running aground if she lost her heading and drifted too close to the barnacle-crusted shoals 200 meters away.
A concealed man, nestled in a dilapidated storage shack at the end of an abandoned pier, watched the freighter through binoculars. He consciously shivered and hunched his shoulders under his threadbare jacket, a futile gesture against the cold wind. His cramped position was tenuous at best. Falling into the freezing sea was not an option. With each pounding wave, he could feel the dilapidated dock shift under his feet. The weather-beaten shed surrounding him rattled and screeched against the few rusted nails holding the collection of bleached boards upright. The abandoned shack, barely four feet by four feet, was storage for a few torn life jackets, hung on the same rusted nails with coils of frayed hemp rope. Finally, he could stand the pain of cramping legs no longer. He carefully put all his weight on one leg and ever so slowly stretched out the other, inches at a time, letting the blood flow back into his muscles. Despite his precarious position, he reversed legs and felt instant relief.
Discounting the danger, the man raised his binoculars again to watch the distressed freighter, struggling to make it to port. Painted on the ship's bridge in scarred, yet bold letters was the name, 'Kim Song.' He watched as the North Korean ship plunged and rose in the high swells, trembling briefly at the top of the wave, shaking off the seawater running the length of the ship through her rusted scuppers. The distressed vessel crested on the next wave and then plunged again. The watcher shifted his gaze beyond the ship, to see foam covered waves identifying the razor-tooth reefs just off her starboard bow. It was going to be close.
A small crowd of longshoremen had gathered on the lee side of the old wharf to watch the pitching and rolling freighter in the near distance. One longshoreman, so worried about the ship's crew, wrung his hands constantly. Another, his head downcast, scuffed his sandals at the ancient wharf planks as if reminding himself of the thousands upon thousands of bare feet that had shuffled across the mahogany ribbed dock, unloading ships in all kinds of weather. As the longshoremen talked among themselves, no one alive could remember such a fierce storm at this time of the year. The wind direction was all-wrong for a Java Sea typhoon season.
The North Korean ship had no choice but to make it to the little used, aged wharf. The authorities must not see this particular cargo. A little further south in the same Singapore harbor, calmer waters prevailed. A modernized wharf facility contained a large number of giant lift cranes that moved along on their own rail tracks, parallel to the docked ships, efficiently plucking loose cargo and containers from the ships' holds, allowing goods to be stored in modern warehouse facilities for custom inspections. This was the world's largest cargo handling seaport. Singapore was proud of the tonnage title and wore it haughtily among the shipping companies of the globe. The dirty little secret however, was that Singapore couldn't afford to rip out the centuries old wharf on the northern section of the seaport and rebuild. To do so would make the Rotterdam docks in Holland, the world's largest. Publicly, the Singapore government would lose face and so the thought of tearing down the ancient wharf was inconceivable. A more sinister statement would say the wharf held the headquarters of the Singapore Triad thus completely untouchable.
The North Korean cargo ship rolled and pitched less now as it rounded the point, barely avoiding the dangerous coral shoals. It was as if the wind itself suddenly sought the protection of the harbor moderating enough to allow the ship's rudder to have a little more cause and effect. The freighter dropped her speed moderately as she approached the ancient docks until the force of two large sea-going tugboats promptly took control of her. With great skill, the tugs nestled the ship with the flapping blue and red flag against a familiar berth. Docking lines were tossed back and forth by the waiting longshoremen and relieved crew.
Shaking from the cold wind, the concealed watcher once again moved his stiff limbs in an attempt to keep the blood circulating. Keeping warm was important. His immune system was still not one hundred percent as a result of a recent encounter with the Triad hit men. Strong medication was helping him recover from the slashing knife wounds he had received several weeks ago, but he was still vulnerable to infections and possibly catching pneumonia. In spite of the bone chilling conditions, he watched the North Korean ship with great interest. It was his job to gather intelligence. He switched from binoculars to his long-range Nikon digital camera and snapped picture after picture. As he watched through the camera lens, heavy camouflaged canvases were being winched and pulled by crewmen across cargo hatches covering part of the old wharf, finally giving the canvas canopy a tent-like appearance.
One corner of the heavy canvas was still flopping in the wind when a steel hatch opened from alongside the ship's bridge. Several well-dressed men emerged, looking bewildered at the deck activity. They quickly regained their composure, grabbing at their hats and scurrying across the windswept deck, slipping often on the wet deck, and nearly falling with each gust of wind before ducking under the secured canvas cover. Their exposure to the elements was only a brief moment, but it was enough time for the motorized 100 mm long-range camera to snap several incriminating photos.
The moment the camouflage covers were finally secured, the ship's deck hummed with activity. The lighter cargo was shunted under the heavy tarp canopy. Indonesian laborers, carrying staggering loads on their thin backs as thousands of laborers had done centuries before them, quickly moved the lighter cargo from ship to warehouse. For them, walking the plank during the storm took on a new meaning.
"At last," the shivering man in the dilapidated shack muttered to himself. He felt he had solved part of the mystery. The heavier cargo that required the use of the ship's deck cranes must be unloaded at night after the American spy satellite passed over the harbor. After viewing the ship through the long-range camera, the man was positive the deck canvas had been treated with special chemicals to blur the American satellite photos and keep the illicit passengers and cargo secret. What other purposes could the heavy canvas possibly have other than deception? And who were the three special passengers in suits who dashed across the wind swept deck? He hoped the long-range camera snapped enough images to tell him. He ejected the camera disc, palming it quickly into a hidden pocket of his ragged jacket. Uploading the pictures would come later when the atmospheric conditions were more favorable.
He would not delay his departure any longer for fear of discovery. Too much dock activity. Dressed as an unemployed deckhand, he had dyed his hair a light shade of black, added a beak of a nose with actors putty and colored a big, inflamed sore on his lip. He streaked his face with dirt and bunker oil making his eyes hooded like a great horned owl. His old pants and jacket were ripped in places; oil stained, and smelled of continuous human use. The disguise would fit in well as one of the many derelict sailors hanging about the area, desperately looking for a pub willing to let them in to evade the chilling wind. A slight shuffle completed the disguise.
The binoculars and camera were of no value to him now and would only become a dangerous hindrance. He looked down between his legs and found rotting boards. He kicked at the boards using the heel of his shoe, smashing a hole large enough to drop the hindrance into the sea below. He glanced at his cheap watch. It told him it would be dark shortly giving him the cover needed to make his way back to his rendezvous point, only five warehouses away. An old bicycle would be waiting for him to make his escape. He had hidden it among the garbage dumpsters scheduled to be emptied the next morning.
As he hugged the darkest shadows of the dimly lit warehouse buildings, the man moved cautiously. The darkest shadows held his huddled presence intact while he slowly surveyed the area where he had left his bicycle. Squinting, he looked for any object that looked out of place, often looking slightly away from his intended spot to pick out even the smallest suspicious detail. Instinctively, he knew that to look directly at one spot, the cornea of his eye would not focus properly. A natural human physical fault, he knew from previous hunting trips with his Dad many years ago that the human eye could and would play tricks on him.
The sight of a few drunken seamen wandering about in a cold daze suddenly broke his concentration. The four men struggled from being blown off their feet. The nearest pub that might welcome them was several hundred meters away, and each drifter mentally calculated if he would make it safely. Three of the men looking for any temporary shelter decided to turn down an alleyway, eventually disappearing.
The remaining inebriated seaman, drifted on, hunched over, head down, fighting the wind, abruptly stopped in his tracks. Facing a gray painted dumpster and using one arm to steady himself, he turned slightly before barfing downwind, ejecting buckets of flying raw beer and rice crackers. He gagged for several moments, before wiping the residue on his sleeve. He leaned against the dumpster to regain is balance before slowly moving on, tracing the containers with his shoulder, trying to find a place out of the miserable wind, if only for a few minutes.
The seaman suddenly stopped before moving to the next waste container and stared at the dark void between the dumpsters. He could not believe his good luck. It was a bicycle. He looked cautiously around to see if anybody would see him steal his newly found prize. With his balance problem, he knew if he tried to ride the bicycle in this storm, he would certainly crash, damaging the bicycle. No, the excited seaman thought, he would push the bike instead until he was out of the windiest area and hide it and himself until morning. Then he would sell the two-wheeled monster to a street vendor. His fellow patrons at the Ding Ho pub would relish the story. Seeing no one, he slid in between the garbage containers to collect his prize.
As the US Commerce Department special agent, Ric Templeton, watched the liberation of his bicycle, he felt like he had just been kicked in the stomach. Now, he had no choice but to get some immediate transportation. He had to upload the photos without haste. Walking swiftly to a weather protected store entrance a few blocks away, he disappeared into the shadows.
Stripping himself of his ragged, smelly clothes, he was left with wrinkled cotton pants, a rumpled cotton shirt, a stained sweatshirt for warmth and a raincoat. He still smelled like a brewery floor but at least he would blend in with the few pedestrians, braving the fierce storm. Searching the discarded foul smelling jacket, he found the camera disc and slipped the film disc down the back of his neck into a specially made shirt pocket, knowing that a hurried body search by any security personnel rarely went as high as his neck. Using the sleeve of his stained sweatshirt and a little personal spit gave him the moisture needed to erase the red sore spot on his lip. The beaked nose was twisted off. He picked at the remnants of his nose as he walked toward a main thoroughfare. Once there, he looked both ways for a taxi stand. Turning left, a half a block away was a hotel entrance with a flapping weather canopy. A rain squall had momentarily moved into the immediate area, dumping a torrent of water. He dashed for the hotel entrance.
A taxi drove up next to the deserted hotel entrance and stopped. A frustrated taxi passenger struggled with his umbrella as he climbed out of the taxi. The hotel canopy didn't quite reach the curb, allowing rain water to cascade down the front of the apron. As the passenger stepped under the dripping canopy, Templeton used that moment to slip into the taxi. Slamming the taxi door, he told the driver to quickly take him to the inter-island ferry dock. The driver scowled, held his nose with one hand and steered with the other. His passenger smelled like a wet dog.
Chapter TwoLIAISON OFFICE/SAN FRANCISCO
Hailing a cab, Brad headed back to his hotel to consider the day's events. His confidence in the reef of gold project soared during the meeting with the Chinese seafaring expert, Mr. Wong, and his lovely granddaughter. The grandfather's interpretation of the written Chinese portion of his newly discovered maritime journal confirmed his earlier research. The story of the reef of gold of unimaginable wealth was true and not a fable. According to Mr. Wong's research, a second journal written during the same time period, confirmed details of his journal. The seafaring captains of the early 1400's kept accurate accounts of their journeys and passed on the records to their families. The trading ports and the personal contacts were extremely valuable for continued business. Coupled with the Norwegian translation from a Nordic professor at Stanford University fired Brad's imagination. The keys to finding the fabled 'reef of gold' required both journals. Having access to the second journal rumored to be located in Macau was critical to finding the actual Norwegian Rune stone where the final location of the reef of gold was chiseled.
The more he thought about the adventure, the more excited he became. He knew others would want his valuable journal. He would have to keep one step ahead of them. He located a quiet corner of the hotel lobby where his voice wouldn't echo or be overheard and sat down in a comfortable overstuffed armchair. He would call his parents for financial help and give them a piece of the action. They believed in him. Besides, he wouldn't need any investment money right away. He would use his personal savings for the research time in Australia and then worry about the money for exploration.
Brad shucked his clothes as soon as he walked into his hotel room and ran the shower to luke-warm before stepping in. He disliked the shower water being too hot and besides, he was running through the shower, not soaking in it. He quickly finished and was toweling off when he heard a phone ring. The muted ring, he discovered, was not the hotel phone but his cell phone, half buried under the clothes that he had carelessly tossed onto his bed.
Brad didn't recognize the private number on his cell phone and his hesitation at answering caused him to miss the connection. "Figures," he mumbled to himself in frustration. He fiddled with the phone for a moment before tossing it back onto the bed. "Maybe they will call back." Brad padded around the hotel room in his bare feet, taking his time getting dressed. He watched the Fox Newscaster on television report of another terrorist attack on an American Embassy somewhere in the world. Attacks were becoming common with American embassies especially in foreign countries being the favored target.
Just as he was planning to head out for a sightseeing walk, he noticed his cell phone light blinking at him. He flipped through the settings and found he had an urgent saved message. The voice mail message was from an official at the American Embassy Liaison office. The official stated that his brother Ric had an accident. It was urgent that Brad phone the Liaison office immediately for an appointment. Brad stared at his phone.
"It can't be," he exclaimed. He looked at his watch and figured he still had time to make it to the embassy before it closed. Wait a minute, he thought. What gives here? The embassies aren't normally open on a Sunday. He checked the message time on the cell phone call. The call had come in less than a half hour ago.
Without hesitating any longer, he quickly grabbed a few things, locked his hotel room door and ran along the long hallway. Skipping the slow elevators, he bolted down the concrete hotel fire stairs taking two steps at a time, occasionally grasping the steel handrail to slow his headlong speed. He checked the red backpack containing the reef of gold journal with hotel security before jumping into the first cab available. He shouted at the driver to hurry and get him to the American Embassy Liaison office. The driver had a difficult time finding it.
Excerpted from Reef of Gold by Gary Dale Copyright © 2011 by Gary Dale. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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