“Damnation! Drowning like a rat! “
Indeed, the water is up to his knees and rising with terrifying speed. There is nobody around to hear him, but Olrik keeps talking to himself by way of encouragement. He must take time to think, no matter what chaos is breaking out.
“Keep looking, dammit. There must be a way out somewhere!”
Of course, the only way out is up, but how to get there? Ignoring the screams and prayers in the distance, Olrik climbs a platform below the monorail. Surely there’s something nearby that will at least float for long enough to buy him time. Making his way along the beam Olrik spots a number of possibilities. A chunk of wall floats by too quickly to catch, then what looks like a sail or parachute. Cursing his luck, Olrik scans the current for signs of something, anything that can pass for a boat. He spots a flash of yellow beyond the next rail support, and hastens toward it. It’s a disc-shaped vehicle about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It bobs and bangs against the metal support but it’s clear that the flood will carry it away at any moment. Olrik walks as far as he can, until he’s forced to swim for it. After a dozen clumsy strokes he clutches a platform column and examines the disc as best he can. It’s not as smooth as it first seemed. There are indentations and grooves in the body of the thing, and large buttons on either side.
With a mighty effort Olrik propels himself from the support with his feet and grabs the edge of the disc. It bobs precariously and bangs against the platform, but he manages to clamber on top of it. He clutches at the groove around the glass dome. For a moment the craft holds still, then abruptly breaks free from the platform, nearly throwing Olrik into the drink in the process. Olrik forms a starfish on the “hood” and holds fast. It starts to spin, slowly at first, then more and more quickly. Olrik shifts his weight until he’s wedged the toe of his boot into the groove. Holding right with his left hand he punches the nearest side button. As he had hoped, the clear dome pops, then opens slowly. Slinging his leg over the rim, he falls gracelessly into the saucer, momentarily safe.
More than once Olrik has informed potential clients that he is capable of piloting any aircraft known to man given five minutes alone with its controls. This is not a boast, merely a plain statement of fact. That said, this craft is not exactly known to man in the traditional sense, and he’s never had to analyze a vehicle while it was spinning wildly in a flood zone. Olrik plants himself in what is obviously the driver’s seat and presses a button to his left. As expected, the dome closes tightly. The instrument panels are dark, but in the middle of the steering column there is what looks a bit like a small ankh with serrated teeth.
Olrik steadies the control wheel and fiddles with the key. He turns it right, then left, then pulls it out of the groove completely. When he pushes it firmly back in place, several panels light up and what Olrik now thinks of as the Water Bug emits a whine which deepens to a soft rumble. One of the panel indicators is red and flashing, which can’t be good. Ah, no wonder. He presses a button marked with a wave symbol and the Bug emits a series of clicks and knocks which Olrik interprets as the little craft’s way of going from street to water mode. There’s a third button in the series which he hopes means the Bug can take wing. He’ll find out soon enough.
In the few minutes Olrik has taken to gain control of the vehicle the dams and walls protecting Atlantis have nearly collapsed. For now he treats the Bug as a kind of speed boat, skimming across the rising waters, dodging the tops of buildings and weaving around the taller structures. He experiments with speed and direction. The control wheel works in four directions, which as he quickly determines means that the Bug can run above or below the surface of the water. Very good. Now it’s time for a leap of faith in his own abilities. Not too much farther ahead there’s half of what was once a bridge left standing. There is a good chance that he will be crushed by a collapsing tower or impeded by one of the many derelict vehicles or crashing bodies. None of that matters. All that matters is the runway, the timing, and his grip on the controls. He sets his eyes on where he wants to be, skims over the runway, and at the last possible moment jabs the air mode button. As Atlantis collapses below him, Olrik reaches for the sky.
He only has a moment to weigh what few options he has. He could attempt to get out of Atlantis the way he got in, but those caves and lakes are confusing and by now likely unstable. The Bug may be too large to manoeuvre through them in the best conditions anyway. There is another way, but it’s distressingly hypothetical. He replays in his mind exactly what King Tlalac said after Olrik had described the wonders of the surface world.
"The people beyond the wall lie to us. Their promises mean nothing! They have been lying to us for centuries, my subjects, my brothers. They claim that their forays to the surface are done to protect us, but they are hoarding the riches and knowledge of the upper region. They are laughing at us as they fly over us, over our cities. They leave us in the dust as they plunge into the lake and beyond, to the world above!"
And then he’d gestured with his right hand while facing Olrik. Yes, definitely the right. Thank goodness Olrik long ago learned the importance of listening to a ruler even when - perhaps especially - when he is raving.
The walls that once separated Tlalac’s people from The Insiders, as he’d called them so contemptuously, are no longer a consideration. Olrik guides the Bug over Tlalac’s kingdom, what’s left of it. He scans the tops of buildings below and spots the tip of the monolith and the upper level of the temple. Right. Up and over the mountain range and then the lake.
Simple: mountains, lake, home. Of course the mountains are a nightmare to negotiate and the lake is rising rapidly, but Olrik manages a water landing that has him seeing stars for several seconds. The lake is tumultuous but the Bug’s water mode allows it to submerge and a bit of experimentation demonstrates that the safest space is about four metres below the lake’s surface. Safest doesn’t mean safe. The Bug has an excellent lighting system, good enough that Olrik can see the boulders and logs crashing around him; good enough that he can see the denizens of the lake fleeing just as he is: schools of fish, an enormous shark, a massive squid. For an instant he glimpses an ancient sea monster. What do they call those things? Plesiosaurs? That’s impossible, but so is everything else that’s happened in the last few days.
Olrik has no watch and hasn’t figured out the Atlantean clock yet, which is something he will have to ignore for now. He refuses to worry about the length of the journey, knowing that the minutes will pass like hours. The lake, if he is still in the same lake, is very long and narrow, so he can use one side as a guide at least. Every time he has to dodge an obstacle he refers back to the bank and carries on, despite the darkness, the current, and the effort it takes to keep his nerve as the seconds tick by.
This is prime situation for hallucinations, but Olrik is positive that he sees a dim, diffuse light ahead.There are fish and plankton that glow in the dark, but this seems too steady for that, and it’s growing brighter. Olrik slows the Bug and approaches carefully. It’s coming from above. All right then. He follows the light until he pops out of the water and finds himself bobbing on the ocean waves, below the beautiful, gleaming, life-saving gibbous moon. Olrik makes a lazy circle until he sees the twinkling of a small city no more than a mile away. He briefly pictures what would happen if he pulled up at the pier and demanded a line from the nearest dockworker and surprises himself by laughing. That’s fine. It’s an amusing thought and he has every reason to be in high spirits, but now is not the time to let his guard down. I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, Olrik recites to himself. And even more miles before I get paid.
This brief respite allows him to assess the Bug under calm conditions. The clock remains a mystery, but he hasn’t been travelling long or far, not really. He cuts all but the safety lights of the Bug and cruises towards shore. He does not, of course, pull up to the pier, but rather to a stretch of pebbly beach some miles away. It’s obviously a public place, but one happily deserted at the moment. It must be, what, late Sunday? Or very early Monday, more likely. In any case, he is alone. He withdraws and pockets the key, pops the top and steps out of the Bug on stiff, trembling legs, taking time to work his muscles and get some fresh air. It’s a beautiful night, crisp and clear with good visibility beneath a moon that was full only a few days ago.
Olrik raises his arms to the sky for a good long stretch and is immediately startled by a tremendous crash and a shocking, high-pitched roar. He hits the dirt instinctively, but within a second realizes that he is not under fire. He rises to witness what looks like a meteor shower in reverse. Hundreds, no, thousands, of missiles shoot up from somewhere in the interior of São Miguel. They must be coming from a massive lake, or perhaps a dormant volcano? The armada erupts for a long, long, moment before flaring out like a shower of fireworks.
“That’s going to leave a mark,” Olrik mutters to himself. Apparently at least some portion of the lost civilization of Atlantis will survive somewhere beyond the stars. Of course, that probably means that Blake and Mortimer have also been rescued and are planning some annoying course of action right now. Or they may be under the impression that Olrik is dead and there is no need to hurry; more fools they.
Olrik decides to allow another minute for a comfort break before heading out once more.
He pulls off the tunic and medallion given to him by Tlalac’s people and stows them in the small storage space behind the seats. Too bad he lost the absurd headdress in combat, as it was by far the showiest piece. Olrik searches the Bug carefully and is pleased to find a compact tool kit and what looks like the kind of bag used for hauling sports equipment. It’s made of an oddly smooth, shiny fabric and holds clothes and shoes appropriate for exercise, unfortunately the property of a man much smaller than Olrik, probably something of a dandy, the kind of person who exercises for the cosmetic benefits. There’re also three bottles made of an unknown substance, a hybrid of glass and aluminum in appearance. Olrik opens one and takes a sniff: fruity, a little like Concord grapes with orange and a hint of watermelon. It’s perfectly palatable, refreshing, and much needed. He drinks one and stows the bottle with the others.
Olrik explores the controls. The Bug’s light had turned on automatically in darkness, but there are ways to control the intensity. The type of lighting changes depending on mode, naturally. Most amusingly, the Bug is capable of beaming down a strong stream of light straight down for landing purposes. No wonder there have been so many reports of flying saucers since the second great war. The little craft is a miracle of fuel efficiency. From what he can tell the, fuel gauge has been steady at 70 percent since he left. He hasn’t put a dent in the supply. How much orichalcum does it take to fill the tank, he wonders. There is no navigation system to speak of, just a compass and altimeter. The Bug must be the Atlantean equivalent of a sports car, a zippy little number for city driving and impressing girls. Olrik has always favoured cars with gravitas, but given his extraordinary luck so far it seems unreasonable to wish for the Atlantean equivalent of a Ford Custom.
The Atlantean exodus will have roused the local populous, which isn’t great for him. On the other hand, one more unidentified flying object won’t stand out tonight. Olrik gets back in the Bug and straps himself in. He shuts and locks the bubble and puts out to sea for a water take-off. He stays low, not worrying about being spotted, and keeps his spotlight bright until he sees a wide ribbon of road. This time his landing and mode switch is smoother. He drives the Bug like a normal automobile, keeping to the right with the lights bright. Nobody else is on the road except a truck driver who gives up drinking for life after this night. Olrik follows the road until he sees a sign that indicates that Ponta Delgada is coming up. Excellent. So he’s on the southwest side of the island, and if he flies to the tip and continues more or less straight he’ll be on track for Lisbon. Olrik takes advantage of a long, straight stretch to once again send the Bug into flight, higher and faster than he’s taken it before.
It’s a short flight normally, but the Bug, for all its admirable qualities, is closer to a crop duster than a commercial jet, at least in terms of speed. The feel is completely different, however. There’s very little noise and either the night is extraordinarily calm, or there’s a mechanism that minimizes turbulence. Olrik takes a chance and messes with a mystery panel that seems to have nothing to do with power or navigation. One lever warms the cockpit to a comfortable temperature, another controls the interior lighting. It would be possible for a passenger to read while flitting over the city spires of Atlantis. If that weren’t incredible enough, there’s a series of buttons for music. Olrik settles on something vaguely symphonic in unknown instruments. It occurs to him that this would be a very comfortable flight if it weren’t happening in an actual flying saucer.
Like most small islands, São Miguel’s chief population centres, such as they are, line the coasts. Using the clusters of lights below as a guide, Olrik finds his way to the eastern tip of the island. He checks his fuel supply - still barely dented - and sets a course due east over open ocean. Flying in the dark holds no terrors for him and he has confidence in the Bug and his own abilities. Sure enough, within hours he spots city lights on the mainland. In the first hint of dawn he can’t see much of the ground below, but Lisbon is an easy city to spot, lit up against the deep blue of early morning. The land mass looks like the upper jaw on an open mouth seen in profile, the interior of the mouth being the mighty Tagus, or Tejo River. Olrik begins his descent as soon as he’s over the first lights, adjusting his course until he’s beyond the main city, over the river. He lands once again - almost perfectly this time - and continues in speedboat mode. As the sky brightens, he sticks to the north side of the river, not so close as to attract attention or hit a snag, but within sight of land.
The sunrise is welcome, but it signals a deadline. Olrik pulls into a quiet section of the river, startling a group of large, pale birds. They erupt as a group, much like the Atlantean fleet, their wings faintly pink in the dawn. Flamingos. Olrik recalls hearing that the Tagus is famous among birdwatchers. Imagine having the kind of leisure time to stalk birds and then not eat them. He finds a flat section barely wide enough to accommodate the Bug and pulls up on shore as high as he can, noting that the fuel gauge has moved down only very slightly in all this time. Excellent. That will strengthen his hand considerably.
Most of the items in the tool kit are a mystery, but Olrik finds an eight-inch saw that folds into its handle. He carefully stows the key in a secure pocket and cuts enough branches to cover the Bug completely. As he steps back to check his work, a large grey and black bird slaps the water lightly and soars off with a small silver fish in its talons. Beautiful. If he had all the time in the world he would certainly linger. Instead, Olrik turns away from the river and begins trudging through the forest. There are more birds here, small ones, twittering and chattering constantly; also biting flies and mosquitoes. They are not enough of a distraction to keep him from counting his steps, and remembering to snap branches frequently to mark his way. At number 447 the brush thins out and he is on the side of a road, not a highway, but something that will no doubt lead to a highway. Olrik removes his jumper and gives it a good shake to dislodge any leaves or unwelcome passengers. He takes off his undervest and ties it securely to the trunk of a tree set slightly closer to the road that its companions. The road ahead looks long and empty, but it can’t go on forever.
Fitzallen and Tupnell has offices in the chief European capitals, as well as affiliates in another thirty cities throughout the world. At Mr. Tupnell’s insistence there are even on-call agents in such backwaters as Vancouver and Canberra. Lisbon is considered a chief capital and has a full office, not that you’d know it from the storefront on Rua Vitor Cordon. The dim and dusty window with its uninspired sign is far from inviting, and if a curious or confused person wanders in, there is always someone at the shabby front desk who will politely and firmly point the way to the nearest accountant, lawyer, or travel agent. Fitzallen and Tupnell provides all these services, among others, but not to just anyone.
At 10 a.m., shortly after the office officially opens, a dusty, unshaven man in peasant clothes snaps open the door and closes it behind him with a bang. The bored receptionist sits up instantly. Every instinct says this is not just anyone. Disheveled through he is, something in his glance makes her wish she’d ironed her blouse a little more carefully this morning.
“Can I help you, sir?” “You have done so frequently in the past.” The man is obviously a foreigner, like most the clientele, but he speaks clear, slightly formal Portuguese.
“Very good, sir. What would be the name on the file?” “I’m between names at present, but my information would have been passed on by Thomas Delaney of London.”
Her eyes go wide, but only for a second. “Your arrival very welcome, sir. If you would please wait for just a moment I will immediately arrange for a personal concierge.”
The receptionist, Aline by her name tag, gestures at a slightly shabby, overstuffed chair. Olrik declines to sit. He’s having enough trouble staying awake without getting comfortable. Luckily he hadn’t walked far before catching a ride, but he’s stiff and sore from the journey in the Bug, plus time spent in the back of a pickup truck between crates of fruit. He stands back and listens to the clerk light a fire under someone’s backside. Within a minute a slim, grey-haired man in an exquisite grey-blue suit opens the door to the back officers and upper stories. The door looks like cheap wood but is definitely steel. Olrik would bet that the entire wall would withstand a battering ram.
“Mr. Templeton. So glad to see that you’ve come to us, safe and sound. My name is Matthew Underdown and I will be handling your case. Do you wish to carry on in Portuguese, or would you prefer French or English?”
“English is fine,” Olrik replies, extending his hand. English is clearly Underdown’s mother tongue, with received pronunciation acquired in adulthood. Olrik wonders briefly if Delaney chose a self-invented man for personal reasons or because he knows Olrik appreciates the type.
Everything behind the steel door is clean white plaster and modern furniture. Underdown leads the way to an inner room furnished more like a parlour than an office. There’s an antique coffee service and a covered tray waiting on the low table between the oxblood leather chairs.
“If this isn’t satisfactory we can order something else immediately, of course.” Underdown lifts the cover and pours two cups of coffee, adding sugar to his own and a splash of cream to Olrik’s. Of course the file would be that detailed.
“Tell me what you’ve done already while I break my fast,” says Olrik turning to the meal, a hot sandwich of shaved ham and creamy cheese, sliced fruit and a custard tart. It would be delicious even if he weren’t ravenous. Underdown hands over the packet of identification papers under the Archibald Templeton alias and explains that he has sent a coded message to Delaney to let him know he still has a client and opened a Fitzallen and Tupnell line of credit.
“I wasn’t here yesterday, but I’m told a very large, very insistent gentleman visited the office wanting to leave a message for a man fitting your description; he wasn’t sure of the name either, but he knew what he wanted. The gentleman has your luggage and has dismissed his co-workers with pay and the order to stay within reach for a week. We’ve put him in one of our flats on Rua Canastras where he’s most likely wearing a path in the carpet as he awaits our call.”
Olrik takes a break between the sandwich and the tart. “Call him by all means, but he’s not to show up here until three p.m. That’s firm. When is sunset? Six-forty-five?' “Approximately, yes. I can find out the exact time if you wish, and will contact your man right away. We do have a recovery suite ready for you.” Underdown frowns delicately, as if about to break bad news. “I understand that you normally prefer a house with grounds and staff, but I’m afraid we don’t have anything suitable immediately, not near town. We do have a number of very private penthouse flats with service, if that would be acceptable in the short term.”
Olrik shakes his head. “I’ll need something a little different for the next few days, but get a house ready. Here’s what I’ll need today.” As Olrik speaks Underdown takes notes without raising an eyebrow. Mr. Templeton’s requirements will take a little work but they’re by no means unusual. He’s dealt with stranger things this very morning. When their business is done Underdown rings for an attendant. He will work while Mr. Templeton rests.
Olrik has spent time in Fitzallen and Tupnell recovery suites in several cities, but this is the most attractive so far with its high ceiling, arched windows (bulletproof glass), and figured wallpaper in white and Wedgwood blue, all very soothing and tasteful. The room is dominated by a mahogany double bed. It’s tempting to collapse on the coverlet and be done with it, but there’s also a full bathroom attached with plenty of towels and a set of cotton pyjamas on a hanger. Olrik decides to wash up now and shave later. By the time he wakes, his work clothes will be clean, his boots will be scraped, and Sharkey will be losing his mind in one of the offices below.
“Sir, if you’d like to sit down, I’m sure someone will be here in a few minutes.” Sharkey glares at the receptionist and throws himself into an easy chair. Thirty seconds later he’s up and pacing again. The girl at the desk keeps looking at him under her eyelashes. Well, if she doesn’t like him walking around, she can send him upstairs or get someone to help haul the luggage, or something, anything, to get this show on the road. After what seems like an eternity, a skinny, grey guy in a fancy suit slips through the security door like an eel. He’s smooth and apologetic, and Sharkey finds himself nodding in agreement, his irritation forgotten. The grey fellow goes by the unlikely name of Underdown. Maybe fake? Not that Sharkey cares. They climb a flight of stairs and Underdown taps lightly at the door marked Salon 2.
“Come in.” Sharkey’s heart leaps in his chest. Until this second he wasn’t sure things were going to work out, but now he knows. Underdown opens the door, ushers Sharkey in, then disappears.
The colonel is sitting in a beautiful leather armchair, looking almost exactly like he did when he set off last week. He’s wearing the same clothes even, without the makeup that darkened his skin or the beard. He looks tired, but healthy and full of energy.
“I’m real happy to see you, boss. Been on pins and needles waiting.” The colonel doesn’t like what he calls “demonstrations” but he looks pleased. He motions for Sharkey to sit down.
“Help yourself,” he says, waving his hand at the sherry and biscuits laid out. “Order more if you need it. We have a great deal work ahead of us this evening.”
“I’m good boss. I’ve just been getting ready. All our things are packed up and I told the boys to split, but I can get them back if you need ‘em.”
“Unnecessary. You and I can do this job ourselves and, frankly, the fewer people involved the better for now. There will be guards at the safe house, but they’re not part of this. You’ll have to keep them in their places.”
Sharkey nods. Of course he’s in charge of security, but he appreciate the boss giving the reassurance.
“Can do, boss. What’s the plan?”
Olrik spreads out two maps with the same route marked out on both in red. He explains that this is an approximation, that he was not in a position to pinpoint the route and they’ll have to be flexible. The main task is to pick up a large load, quickly and discreetly, and haul it back to a hideout near Sobralinho. The directions to the final destination are written out as there is no real address
“You will be towing the load,” says Olrik. “I trust that won’t be a problem.”
It will not be a problem, Sharkey confirms. He’s not a getaway man but he’s spent plenty of time in small trucks, both in the service and before, in civilian life, before he got into the security game. Olrik taps an ink circle on the map and hands over a full page of driving directions.This is where they’ll be spending the night, and assuming everything work outs it’s where they’ll be sealing the deal. Yes, the deal they’ve been working on the whole time. If Ostrog has fled they’ll deal with someone else.
Sharkey frowns in confusion. “So you found the whatsit? The ori.. orich…”
“Orichalcum. Yes, a limited supply, but enough. There’s more to it, however, something better shown than told.”
Sharkey knows he will have to satisfy himself with that. The boss has a streak of razzle-dazzle in him. In fact, sometimes he reminds Sharkey of a magician he saw at Balaban and Katz as a kid, not that he’d ever mention that to Olrik. Suppressing a smile, Sharkey throws back the thimbleful of sherry and pops the last two biscuits in his mouth.
“Ready whenever you are, boss. Lead the way.”
Olrik does lead in the way, and in style with a 1954 Crestline, a handsome green and ivory vehicle that would be flashy in London or Paris but seems perfectly appropriate here, not to mention being easy to follow in a crowded street. All the luggage is in the trunk and the back seat. Sharkey doesn’t have room in the truck, and besides, they need to avoid excess weight in the Nash which has seen better days.
Traffic is heavy in town, but it thins when they get to the outskirts. Olrik has allowed plenty of time to pick up the mysterious load before dark, which is just as well as they have to stop and rework the route twice, once on the N-1 highway and again just past São João de Talha, where they start hitting poorly marked side roads. They’re on a narrow tree-lined country road near the Tagus when Olrik slows to a crawl for a long stretch before finally coming to a stop. Sharkey passes and parks out in front, allowing room for loading just in case.
Sharkey gets out to stretch his legs, not sure if they’ve hit their destination or if the boss wants to check the maps again. He watches as Olrik unties a white undershirt from a tree and tosses it in the car. Ah, a marker. They’ve made it, and there’s nearly an hour of daylight.
Olrik hands Sharkey a whistle. “I have to get the item by myself. Listen for three blasts, respond with two when the coast is clear.”
“How long should I wait?”
Olrik smiles. “I won’t be more than thirty minutes, and there’s no real danger at this point.” He raises a hand to hush the objection he sees coming. “Yes, I have a sidearm. Don’t fret about that. But truly, I’ll be very surprised if I come across anything more threatening than a mosquito. Get the chains and tarpaulins ready while you wait."
Sharkey moves to obey and Olrik plunges into the woods. Sharkey listen to the rustling of branches and snapping of twigs until Olrik is out of range, then gets to work lowering the ramp to the trailer and unfolding tarps. Whatever the boss is after must be pretty big as they have enough tarps to cover a circus tent. Sharkey finishes the prep work and lights a smoke while he waits for the signal. He has time to finish it, and cool his heels until he’s thinking of lighting up another when he hears the whistle. Three blasts. There’s nobody on the road, so he answers with two, nice and loud.
After a minute Sharkey hears an odd noise, like a long, high note from a faraway pipe organ coming through a fan. It grows louder until Sharkey feels the hair on the back of his neck prickle. He looks up and damn near jumps out of his skin at what he sees. For a split second he thinks of a helicopter, but this thing is, well, there’s no other word for it; it’s a flying saucer and a bright yellow one at that. It makes a wide circle overhead, then descends. He watches it land a quarter mile down the road and roll towards him, scary fast at first, then slower, slower, coming very close. Sharkey can’t help himself. He leaps into the ditch as the flying (driving?) saucer slows to a crawl. He can see the boss inside the bubble dome. Good lord. With an effort Sharkey clamps his jaw shut as Olrik manoeuvres the crazy yellow thing up the ramp to the bed of the trailer. The boss pops the top, climbs out, and is beside him in an instant.
“Grab the tarps, Sharkey. We don’t want just anyone seeing this.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
“Later, Sharkey. Now, we work. Come on!”
Together they swaddle the saucer - which is smaller than the Crestline - and chain it securely to the trailer. It doesn’t look all that suspicious covered in fabric. It could be a load of construction supplies or a water tank, something terrestrial at any rate.
When he’s satisfied that the object is safe Olrik dusts off his hands.
“Check the map and directions, just in case we get separated. If you somehow get ahead of me, wait outside the gate and don’t engage with the welcoming committee. Got it? Move out.”
Olrik gets into the Crestline and makes a u-turn, then waits for Sharkey to follow. As he wrangles the truck and trailer back and forth Sharkey makes himself three promises. One, he will not think too much about the load he’s carrying lest he swerve off the road. Two, he will play it cool and not nag the boss to explain himself, knowing that Olrik will want to tell the whole story at his leisure. Three, he will never let on how close he came to wetting his trousers when that saucer flew over. Gunfire is one thing, but alien aircraft? Saints preserve us.
Underdown’s directions to the safe house are a page long, but most of that is due to an overabundance of detail. They turn off the highway at Sobralinho, then right, right, left, and right on country roads, past four farms (all described at length) until they reach a wide, pale stone gate lit by lanterns on each side. Olrik sounds the Crestline’s horn three times and gets out. In two minutes a young man with a friendly face and a Thompson slung over his shoulder comes out to greet them and open the gates.
Olrik introduces himself as Archibald Templeton and mentions Underdown. The young man turns out to be not only an English speaker but an actual American, Kenneth Beauchamps of Sacramento. He waves over a shorter, darker man, a local fellow named Salvador Serrador. Sharkey likes the two men right away. Beauchamps points out the farmhouse, the guest house where he and Serrador are staying, and the massive barn. The latter might look like a rickety wooden ruin but is reinforced concrete and steel within.
“It all appears satisfactory,” says Olrik. “Now the cargo is need-to-know at the moment…”
“We’ll make ourselves scarce. Come on, Sal, let’s grab the luggage. I suppose you want some some grub? We’ll take care of it.”
While the guards take care of the car and the bags, Olrik guides Sharkey into the barn. It’s big enough to accommodate the Nash, trailer, and load complete with room to spare. Without a word the two men cut the lights, lock the barn, and check the gate. As they walk to the house Olrik asks Sharkey for the time, which is ten minutes short of nine.
“Early yet,” Olrik says with a satisfied sigh. “I suppose I can manage to answer a few questions before we turn in.”
It must have rained in the night. Sharkey sniffs the fresh, fragrant air and shuts the door behind him gently. Sunrise is thirty minutes away and the boss is still asleep or at least not up and around. No big surprise there. The colonel has amazing stamina, but Sharkey has been with him long enough to know the signs. Kenny had laid out a real nice spread left by the housekeeper, all kinds of cold meat and fruit and bread, plus a pretty good soup of potatoes and greens. Olrik had eaten a bowl of soup and a little bread, but nothing else. He’d told his crazy story about going to Atlantis and back in a bare-bones way, high on drama, low on description. That alone told Sharkey that the boss was beyond tired, so he hadn’t pressed for more details. Besides, that thing in the barn tells him more than any number of words could.
So this morning, rather than bumble around the farmhouse, Sharkey decides check in on Ken and Sal and walk the perimeter as soon as there’s enough light. He wants to keep busy because everything the boss said last night just raised more questions, so he fixes himself a quick snack of sliced ham on a roll - these folks could teach any Chicago butcher a thing or two about what to do with a pig - and starts his day. The guest house is lit up, and as he walks by Ken opens the door and waves him over. Salvador has made extra coffee, anticipating Sharkey’s visit. He greets Sharkey wordlessly and says something to the big, wiry hound at his side. Sharkey only recognizes the word for “friend.” Clearly the dog is part of the security team. They drink coffee on the porch together while Ken explains the lay of the land. Sal interrupts in Portuguese now and then, demonstrating that while he doesn’t speak English, he understands it very well.
Together the three men walk around the property. The place is called Fazenda Alhandra, after the closest islet in the Tagus. It’s a ten-acre chestnut farm, actually owned by Fitzallen and Tupnell and leased out to harvesters for a song. It’s a good cover for a safe house and the season is over, so they won’t be disturbed. They are the only employees living in, but around 8:30 Señora Vale will be in by drop off food, tidy up, and make breakfast. She’ll come back around seven this evening with more food, but won’t stay. She’s really a caterer who will do a little light housekeeping and her cooking is top-notch. She had been head chef in a Lisbon hotel until she was tried and acquitted of killing her husband, but now she prefers to be out of the public eye, hence Fitzallen and Tupnell.
The entire farm is fenced, mostly with steel, but with stone close to the house. There are invisible trip wires everywhere. The trees are starting to turn gold and russet, which adds a bit of colour to an uninteresting piece of property. The farmhouse itself is ugly, having been built in four different stages by people who didn’t care how it looked. The guest house is a serviceable guard shack, but nothing more, and the barn is a fortress. The farm is crossed by two wide dirt roads to accommodate farm equipment, or perhaps a truck carrying an unusual load. Fitzallen and Tupnell did well, Sharkey figures. Nobody would taken a second look at this place and Ken and Sal are real professionals. The boss likes to relax in more lux surroundings, but he doesn’t much care when they’re still working.
When it’s close to 8:30 Ken and Sharkey go to the front gate leaving Sal and Pedro the dog to check trip wires. Señora Vale pulls up in a funny little orange truck full of boxes. Tall, slim, with sharp features, she’s not at all what Sharkey expected. In fact, she looks like she could be the boss’s sister, complete with attitude. She shakes his hand briskly and indicates the boxes he and and Ken should haul inside before leading the way like she’s at the head of a parade.
Olrik opens the door for them. He’s wearing his dark blue suit and looks well-rested. Sharkey watches him interact with Señora Vale with a little envy in his heart. The boss can be pretty rough with the boys when they mess up, but he has a knack of talking to servants and contractors, especially women. He charms them without acting like he’s trying to charm them and Sharkey can never spot the trick of it. Olrik and Señora Vale talk for ten minutes before she starts her work. Olrik takes four newspapers out of one of the baskets and sits at the head of the farmhouse table. Ken puts away the provisions and leaves with a quick salute.
Sharkey stands awkwardly for a moment, wondering if he should offer to help Señora Vale, but Olrik gestures at him impatiently.
“Sit down, Sharkey. This is a small room. Anything to report?”
“No, boss, it’s all good. F&T know what they’re doing. A place like this, someone would have to know what they’re looking for to begin with. We’re way back from the main road and the place looks like nothing. Nicer inside, of course.”
That’s certainly true. The interior is immaculately clean, with new tile and freshly painted plaster. The furniture is plain but high-quality and the kitchen gleams with the latest appliances. Señora Vale wheels a cart to the table and places the coffee service before them. The china looks new and expensive, but Sharkey is no expert.
Olrik takes a sip of coffee and smiles. “It may surprise you to know that everything we see here is less two years old and built to state-of-the-art security specifications. Underdown is absurdly proud of it. They salvaged materials from condemned and collapsing buildings to make the exterior look as it does while they rebuilt the inside. Clever. I admit.”
“Yeah.” Sharkey thinks for a moment. “Like dressing like a tramp when you’re carrying loot.”
Olrik raises an eyebrow and continues reading silently until Señora Vale brings breakfast, eggs in tomato sauce, rolls, fruit, more of the little custard tarts that are all over the place here. Olrik sets his papers aside to enjoy the meal, which is excellent. Sharkey is able to do it full justice and has his eye on the last tart when Olrik begins.
“The papers are full of nonsense about a freak lighting storm in São Miguel, as if lightning would come out of the ground. A lot of ridiculous speculation, although less ridiculous than the truth. Not a thing on our English friends, which means they made it out.”
“If they were missing or dead the press would know by now. They could be back in London or perhaps on our trail, although that seems unlikely. I doubt if anyone noticed my arrival with everything else going on. Did you happen to see Ostrog after I left?”
“No, boss. One of his guys said something about a backup contractor, but maybe that was just to make me nervous. I don’t know.”
Olrik pauses and finishes his coffee. “I’m going to be working in the library today, and if all goes well the deal with be done by tomorrow or Thursday at the latest.”
“What should I do?”
“Prepare a scenario. Ostrog will want to bring his own people, and that won’t do. I want to keep him on his toes without drawing attention to our location. And he may want to bring his own vehicles, although I’d prefer to unload the truck on him.”
“There’re some decent dirt roads between the trees. Nice and straight, run the whole way down the field. Or whatever they call it on a nut farm. Good if we need to exchange the dingus here.”
“Good. And make sure there isn’t the possibility of a hijacking before the deal.”
“You think he’d do that?”
Olrik considers. “No, but anything is possible. I don’t trust him.”
“All right, boss. I’ll go talk to Ken and Sal.”
“Let me know if you’ll need more men as soon as possible. Oh, and touch base around two to remind me of lunch, if nothing else.” Olrik refolds the papers and takes them with him down the hall. Señora Vale appears like a genie leaving Sharkey to snag the remaining tart and the last of the rolls before he leaves her to her work.
Sharkey explains the situation to Ken and Sal. They both know good men within the F&T network, all trustworthy and cool under fire. He leaves the farm on foot to check for vulnerabilities. A man could break in and steal the cargo, but not with any kind of stealth. He’d need armoured vehicles or aerial support, which would tough with all these trees. Frankly, Sharkey thinks the boss is being a little paranoid. Ostrog is a creepy little guy who might pull a double-cross, but not with force, and not when it’s not his own money. Two more men should do the trick. He’ll put in the order immediately.
These tasks are not a full day’s work. Sharkey offers to help Señora Vale tidy up and load her truck, and finds that the more useful he is, the better her English gets. He normally goes for the cute and bouncy type, but there’s something about her that makes him turn on his own style of charm. He also visits with Ken, Sal, and Pedro. They do the rounds and talk about fishing. In between he returns to the main house a few times to gauge the weather. Several incoming calls indicates flurries of activity, Olrik’s raised voice warns of storms ahead. Shortly before two Sharkey takes it upon himself to make some sandwiches and heat up more potato soup. He’s about to knock on the library door when Olrik bursts out, scowling and muttering.
“You’d think I was sending smoke signal for all the action I’m getting.”
“It’s still early, boss.” Sharkey sets the table and pours two glasses of wine. Over the years they’ve come to an understanding that close quarters and informality are acceptable when they’re on the job, but only then. Sharkey’s still the one who brings the food to the table, mind you.
Olrik says he hasn’t spoken to Ostrog, but has determined that the Russian is still in Ponte Delgado, although he’s changed hotels. They’ll need a warehouse in Lisbon. Fitzallen and Tupnell is freeing up a space now and are ready facilitate payment, should Ostrog come through.
“If not, I’ll have to shop the item.”
Olrik says this airily, as if auctioning off completely unknown technology is SOP, but Sharkey isn’t at all happy. A bidding war could mean more money, but he’d rather keep the parties involved to a minimum. He doesn’t like the idea of the boss getting in the middle of enemy countries, and the more people involved the more likely they are to attract cops.
“How would you get the word out? I mean, if you haven’t seen the thing it sounds crazy.”
Olrik snorts derisively. “Ostrog has already indicated his skepticism, damn him. Oh, don’t look at me like that, Sharkey. I would also prefer to avoid multiple parties, and the plan is to sell to Ostrog just as it always has been, if only to wipe the smirk off his face when he sees the Bug.”
The phone rings, and Olrik goes back to the library, leaving Sharkey to tidy up. He happens to venture close to the door, close enough to hear his boss chuckle, then speak rapidly in Russian. Maybe the clouds are clearing out.
The meeting is on, and they have five hours to get ready. Sharkey calls Fitzallen and Tupnell to pass on instructions for the two new men. The pair recommended by Sal and Ken are available, which seems a good sign. Señora Vale arrives early, as requested, to tidy up and drop off food for later. She gives Sharkey precise instructions, and unless deprivation has addled him, her attitude seems a little warmer. Interesting. She’s safely on her way back before five.
Sharkey triple-checks the perimeter and heads to the barn. The truck and trailer are parked outside and inside he finds the boss in his shirtsleeves arranging the contents of the Bug on a long bench. It’s an interesting collection of artifacts: tools, coins, clothes, shoes, bottles, and an odd device that might be a tiny computer of some kind. The Bug itself is in the centre of the room, beside a bucket of hot water and rags. Together the two men wipe down and polish the saucer. Sharkey finishes up as Olrik does a final inspection of the showroom.
“Good enough,” Olrik says. He puts on his jacket and tie, and, almost as an afterthought, places the odd golden key to the Bug in his pocket. He glances at Sharkey who is chewing his lip. “Now what are you worried about?”
“Um. Not worried, exactly. Only… it looks like a toy or something”
Olrik looks at the Bug. Free of dust and salt the metallic canary yellow is rather bright and striking. He wouldn’t say it looks like a toy, but it wouldn’t look out of place on a movie set. He steps back to see what the room would look like to someone coming in cold. To Sharkey’s surprise, whatever Olrik has imagines brings a wicked smile to his face. He picks up a tarp and indicates that Sharkey should help him cover the Bug.
“We’ll do a formal unveiling. Ostrog has demonstrated an almost disrespectful lack of faith in me recently. If he dares to suggest I faked this, I’ll know what to do with him.”
At 8:30 everyone takes their places. Sharkey stands at the gate under a blazing torch, Sal and Ken are in the shadows, weapons at the ready. Olrik takes a bucket of champagne and glasses into the barn where he waits with the Bug. Shortly before nine a black Renault sedan rolls up to the gate. The driver cuts the lights and approaches. He’s a towering scarecrow of a man with a jagged scare on his right cheek, exactly fitting the expected description. Sharkey nods at the man who in turn whistles. In a moment they’re joined by Ostrog and another security guard, a young man with black curly hair and a crooked nose. This would be Sal’s cousin Marco. Sharkey is pleased to see that Ostrog looks quite uncomfortable without his own entourage, but that was the deal.
Sharkey leaves the two newcomers to guard the gate while he escorts Ostrog to the barn where Olrik is waiting. The two men greet each other politely enough, although Olrik rebuffs Ostrog’s attempt to conduct the business in Russian. They’ll speak English to accommodate Sharkey, Olrik says, something he’s never cared about before.
The little Russian bursts out laughing when Sharkey pulls the tarp. “This is the big secret? Oh, my friend, you will have to do better than this. Did you pull it off a carousel?” He laughs even harder at his own joke. Olrik’s own response is a genial smile, which would be a warning to a more observant man.
“Carousel? Perhaps you would enjoy a ride, then? Sharkey, open the doors.” He grasps Ostrog firmly by the arm and helps him into the Bug’s passenger seat, ignoring his sputtering protests. Sharkey gets the hell out of the way as Olrik fires up the Bug and heads out to the first dirt road between the chestnut trees. Sharkey catches a glimpse of Ostrog’s eyes, wide behind his glasses, before they turn the corner. Ten seconds later there’s that warbling, high-pitched note again and a light shoots into the sky.
Ostrog agrees to everything. His government will pay for the Bug, the orichalum within, and all of the Atlantean artifacts at the asking price, no haggling. They will finalize the deal at noon tomorrow, with Fitzallen and Tupnell handling the transaction itself. As a concession, Olrik throws in the truck and trailer at no extra cost and graciously pretends not to hear Ostrog vomiting in the bushes as he pours the champagne. Everyone gets a glass, even Sal’s cousin and the terrifying Simon. The hired guards studiously ignore the shape under the tarp.
Ostrog has recovered most of his dignity by the time they say their goodbyes. Marco and Simon assure Sharkey they will have him at the office by noon, money in hand. Sharkey watches them go and locks the gate. He douses the torch, checks the barn, and joins the others inside where the celebration dinner is already in the works.
Sharkey wakes unwillingly to the sound of footsteps and talking. He flips on the bedside lamp and there’s the boss, fully dressed and raring to go. It’s 6:01, which is two hours too early. Before Sharkey can make reasonable inquiries, Olrik tells him to hurry, they have private business, throw some clothes on and get moving.
Sharkey does so within two minutes, although he has to fasten his jacket on the fly. Olrik is saying something he doesn’t quite catch about the fuel gauge and the extreme efficiency of orichalum.
“It’s not as if one more quick flight will make a difference,” Olrik says as he unlocks the barn. “Besides, it will eventually occur to Ostrog that having someone around who knows how to fly the Bug might be advisable. My handful of flight hours tops literally everyone else on the planet, not to mention my insight into Atlantean culture. Open the doors all the way.”
Sharkey watches with dawning apprehension as the boss pulls the tarp and pops the flying saucer’s top. Olrik grins and gestures at the Bug.
“I assumed you wouldn’t want to miss this. It's not every day you have the chance to build a legend.”
What can Sharkey say to that? He clambers into the saucer, which at least has more leg room that you’d guess, and tries to look happy about it.
“You’ll want to strap yourself in. Transitions between modes can get bumpy.”
Sharkey doesn’t want to know what that means, but he pulls the straps over his hips and chest. They seem to be held with magnetic clamps. The seat is surprisingly comfortable and to his astonishment, there’s odd music piped in from somewhere. Olrik irritably jabs a panel until it changes to something peppier.
They pick up speed along the dark, ragged road until Olrik hits another button and they take to the sky. Sharkey’s gasp is drowned out by the takeoff noise, thank goodness. They gain altitude quickly, then level off. Olrik explains the limitations of the Bug, comparing it to a float plane as far as flight goes. It also has elements of a sports car and a speed boat. Sharkey gets the impression that Olrik would like to take this crazy thing around the world.
“Too bad we can’t risk a flight in broad daylight, the views are excellent. Still, you get the idea. The stabilizing technology alone is a staggering advance. They’ll be studying the Bug for decades to come.”
Olrik makes a tight turn and changes the lighting to there’s a strong beam shooting straight down.
They plunge into the Tagus. Sharkey finds himself holding his breath, then forces himself to breathe. He’s managing to keep it together, mostly because the boss is completely relaxed and confident. Olrik actually chuckles as they spook a school of fish.
“Ostrog started praying at this juncture, poor bastard. I’m changing modes on three.”
They burst out of the river and continue on the surface, with the front of the Bug riding high. Sharkey has to agree that it is, indeed, a lot like a speedboat, except…
“Water takeoffs are the easiest from what I can tell. Makes sense, with the Atlantean geography,” Olrik notes. He launches into a steep climb. Sharkey can see the lights of Lisbon for a moment before they turn to make their way northeast. They’re on their way back, thank goodness, although how the boss is navigating, he can’t imagine. Olrik admits that he hasn’t quite mastered all the instruments, but there is a way to mark points and return to them.
“Logically there must be a way to track several recurring destinations, and I suspect there’s an auto-pilot option as well. Here’s a trick I figured out only last night.” To Sharkey’s horror they slow to a stop far, far above the farm.
“Hover function,” says Olrik, entirely unconcerned. “We’ll land as light as a soap bubble.”
They do so, and Sharkey feels his heart rate slow to near normal as they bump along the road back to the barn. Olrik drives the Bug up the trailer ramp and pulls the key. He jumps lightly from the trailer and Sharkey follows, staggering slightly on weak knees.
“I’ll be sorry to see her go, but needs must.” Olrik slaps the side of the Bug and orders Sharkey to grab the tarps. They cover up the Bug and fasten the chains.
“Ostrog can get his own people to clean it this time. It doesn’t affect the price.” Olrik lights a cigarette and inhales deeply. He checks his watch. “Six-forty-five. We have time to pack everything up before Señora Vale’s final visit. I know you’ll want to be on hand for her arrival.” Sharkey chooses to ignore his tone on that last bit.
Sharkey has time to not only pack but also place the bags and boxes in the Crestline and have a bit of chat with Sal and Marco. Sal is pleased with his little cousin, who is new to Fitzallen and Tupnell. He and Simon, the scarred man, used to do a bit of smuggling and gun running, until Simon nearly lost his sight in a deal gone bad. Marco is thriving in a comparatively straight job and Sal hopes that in a few years he’ll settle down, find a nice girl, make his family proud. Sharkey gets the impression that Sal’s words are directed at Kenny, who cheerfully ignores them. Ken has lots of living to do before he retreats to domesticity. He suggests that Sharkey join him for a fishing trip, that is if he sticks around Lisbon after the deal is done.
He’s not the only one in a mood to socialize. Señora Vale - Inez - slips her business card inside Sharkey’s breast pocket, just in case he’d like to experience a genuine Portuguese home-cooked meal. She even twirls her hair a bit when he loads the final basket into her truck and shakes her hand. If there’s any way on God’s green earth he can accept that invitation, he will.
At eleven the whole team gathers to review the plan. Olrik will lead the way in the Crestline. Sharkey will drive the truck, Pedro at his side, and Sal and Mario will sit with the Bug, weapons at the ready. They leave the farm slowly, allowing time to lock the gates. Sharkey doesn’t worry about staying on the boss’s tail. He allows the Crestline to surge ahead, just within view, until they come to a series of plain-faced buildings on Rua Augusto José Vieira. Two men are waiting to open the door. Olrik drives inside. After a moment he sounds the horn three times to tell Sharkey to follow.
Mr. Underdown is there. He helps Olrik carry the artifacts from the back seat of the Crestline. Ken and Sal position themselves beside the truck. Sharkey hands the truck keys to Olrik and sticks close enough to hear the boss’s conservation with Underdown. The amount of money they’re discussing is staggering, even when you subtract the Fitzallen and Tupnell fees and bonuses for the boys. The boss could live comfortably for the rest of his life on this job, but he won’t, and Sharkey isn’t foolish enough to suggest such a thing. Underdown and Olrik go to a shabby office to make a call. Sharkey can’t hear them, but they seem pleased when they emerge.
“Deal is done,” Olrik says. Nobody speaks, but the atmosphere in the warehouse changes. Fifteen minutes later the black Renault appears. Ostrog is in the front passenger seat beside Marco. Another man, an obvious goon, sits in the back with Simon. Ostrog has regained his air of smugness, although he is more polite than usual.
Olrik meets his customer in the middle of the room. They speak briefly in Russian. Olrik hands over a handful of keys, one for the truck, one to unlock the chains, and the strange key, the golden ankh to start the Bug. They shake hands and Olrik rejoins Underdown and Sharkey. Simon helps Ostrog to climb into the truck, and they watch as the Russian and his bodyguard turn towards the docks.
Underdown breaks the silence. “Very good. Just a few more bits of business. He hands out pay packets to Sharkey and the guards. Only Marco expresses surprise at the amount, but Simon pulls him into the Renault before he can make a fool of himself. Ken grins and whistles for the dog. Sal tips an imaginary hat. Underdown has something for Olrik as well, yet another set of keys and a map. He believes they will find the villa satisfactory for October. If they wish to stay beyond the month, that can be arranged. Now it’s his turn to shake hands with Olrik. He waves to Sharkey and leaves the warehouse, followed by Ken and Sal. Ken turns and makes a casting gesture at Sharkey before they go.
“I gather that your new friend wants to go out and play,” Olrik says, more teasing than scornful.
“If we’re going to spend time here, I wouldn’t mind.”
Olrik shrugs. “It seems as pleasant a place as any to rest and regroup. Word of this will get out within weeks and I’ll be busier than ever. It wouldn’t hurt to have a little quiet in the meantime. I should write down all my impressions of Atlantis while they’re still fresh. You’ll have time to spend your bonus, don’t worry.”
He hands the map to Sharkey and they begin the drive to their new home away from home. As it happens, Sharkey does spend some of the (very generous) bonus, but only a fraction. Most of it goes to savings to nourish Sharkey’s dream of having his own establishment some day. That leaves plenty to show Inez a good time, drink with Ken, and have a few adventures. The boss manages to enjoy Lisbon too, in his own way, but that’s another story.