Читать онлайн "The Solomon Curse" автора Cussler Clive - RuLit - Страница 5

 
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“I could get used to lying on this beach, Sam,” she said, closing her eyes.

“It’s gorgeous, I’ll give you that,” he agreed.

“If only they had a Bloomingdale’s . . .”

“Or a decent dive shop.”

“To each their own.” Remi slipped a Valentino flip-flop off her heel and dangled it from her toe.

They hadn’t been sure what to expect when they’d agreed to fly to Guadalcanal and were relieved to find themselves in a tropical paradise of warm water and blue sky.

A tall, lanky man in his fifties approached from down the spit of sand, with a face that was red from sunburn, a pair of battered steel-rimmed spectacles perched on his hawklike nose. His scuffed hiking boots threw up a cloud of white with each step. A group of islanders lounged nearby, watching the divers, laughing among themselves at some private joke. The man’s shadow stretched long on the shore as he neared them. Sam looked up at the new arrival and a grin lit his ruggedly handsome face.

“Well, Leonid, what do you make of all this?” Sam asked.

“It’s definitely unlike anything else on the island,” Leonid said in his slight Russian accent. “Looks man-made. But as I said on the phone, that’s impossible. It’s in eighty feet of water.”

“Maybe you found Atlantis,” Remi offered brightly, teasing Sam’s longtime friend. “Although you’re about five thousand miles off the mark, if the traditional accounts are to be believed.”

Leonid frowned, his expression conveying nothing but his usual disapproval of anything and everything. An academic on a three-year sabbatical from Moscow, Leonid Vasyev was an unhappy man even when freed from the Russian winter to roam the globe in search of lost civilizations—his passion—made possible by a grant from the Fargo Foundation.

When Sam and Remi had gotten his call about reports of a sunken find in the Solomon Islands, they hadn’t hesitated to travel halfway around the world to join him on his quest. They’d landed that morning, arriving too late to secure diving gear until the following day, and had contented themselves with reading the background matter he supplied while enjoying the tranquillity of the beach.

Two weeks earlier, a baffled teacher on Guadalcanal had called her former professor in Australia with an odd story. Her husband and son had registered unusual readings on their new fish finder and had turned to her for help. The Australian had been too busy with classes to do anything besides refer her to Leonid, a colleague she knew was footloose and fully funded.

After a series of long-distance discussions, the reluctant Russian had flown in to see for himself what the teacher was describing. Over the past few days, he’d grown increasingly puzzled by the formations his divers reported. The fishermen had thought that the irregularities might have been war wreckage, but they were mistaken. Their fish finder, one of the first on the island, had spotted something unexplainable—what appeared to be man-made structures jutting up from the bottom of the sea.

That was when Leonid decided to seek out reinforcements. He was an academic, not a deep-water diver, and he knew that he needed help. Since the Fargos were his benefactors and friends, he decided to go straight to the top, and after a long-distance conference call they’d agreed to come join him on Guadalcanal.

“Your underwater camera system could use some fine-tuning,” Sam said, eyeing a blurry photograph taken the prior day. “And couldn’t you get some photo paper? This looks like someone spilled wine on a newspaper.”

“You’re lucky I found a place with a color printer. In case you haven’t noticed, Guadalcanal isn’t La Jolla,” Leonid said drily. He considered the image Sam was studying. “Come on. What do you think?”

“It could be just about anything. We’ll have to wait until I suit up and dive. This might as well be a Rorschach test, for all the detail it’s showing.”

“Do you see your mother’s angry face?” Remi asked innocently.

Leonid eyed them like they were insects in a jar. “I see the infamous Fargo sense of humor hasn’t melted in the heat. That’s quite a relief.”

“Lighten up, Leonid. We’re in paradise, and this seems like it might be exactly the kind of mystery we love. We’ll get to the bottom of it,” Sam said. “Although Mom did look kind of annoyed in that last snapshot.” He looked over at the divers. “You sure I can’t borrow some gear from one of the locals?”

Leonid shook his head. “I already asked. They’re fiercely protective of their stuff. Sorry. We’ll reserve some for tomorrow once we’re back in town.” Because of the limited amount of equipment, during high season most of the island’s reliable gear was already claimed by the local dive tour companies.

“That’ll work,” Sam said.

“I’m going to check on what the divers found this time around,” Leonid said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.

They watched him trudge down the beach, ungainly as a stork in his long khaki pants and tropical-weight long-sleeved shirt. Remi leaned in to Sam. “What do you make of this?”

Sam shook his head. “I have no clue. I’ll reserve judgment until we know more. But it’s definitely intriguing.”

“What baffles me is how anything could remain undiscovered this close to shore.”

Sam looked around the desolate bay. “Well, there isn’t a lot going on here, is there?”

Remi nodded. “I think we agreed on that a few minutes ago.” She shook out her auburn hair, and Sam noted that she was already getting tanned. He eyed her reclining form and slid closer.

They watched Leonid bark at the lounging islanders, who reluctantly rose and pulled one of the skiffs to the beach so he could board. A small wiry man wearing cutoffs and a dark brown T-shirt splashed to the stern and hoisted himself over the side. After three energetic pulls on the starter cord, the old motor roared to life, and they backed away from shore and cut a beeline to the dive boat.

Remi glanced down the beach to where several of the islanders were dozing in the shade near the water’s edge and sighed.

“You have to admit the place is idyllic. I mean, blue sky, warm water, trade winds . . . What more could you ask for?”

Sam grinned. “Cold beer?”

“The one-track Fargo mind surfaces again.”

“Not entirely one-track,” Sam said.

Remi laughed. “We’ll have to try out a track or two tonight.”

Leonid’s boat returned several minutes later, and when he disembarked, the frown lines on his face were etched deeper than ever. He glared at the loafing natives and stomped back to where the Fargos were sitting. “They confirmed that there are a number of mounds covered with marine growth. They think they’re structures.”

Remi’s eyes narrowed. “Structures? What kind of structures?”

“They aren’t sure, but they appear to be the ruins of buildings.”

Sam gazed off at a line of storm clouds on the horizon. “Curiouser and curiouser.”

“They have to be ancient,” Leonid said, and then glared at the boat. “Damned locals and their superstitions . . .”

Remi’s brow furrowed. “Why do you say that?”

“Oh, the head of the local team’s giving me problems. Says after this he doesn’t want to dive on the site any longer. That he remembers his great-grandfather saying something about this bay being bad juju or some such idiocy.” Leonid snorted, and wiped his brow with a soiled red bandanna. “Trying to get more money out of me, the crook. Old gods indeed.”

“What did you tell him?”

“That if he wants to get paid at all, he’ll finish out today’s dives, and then based on what he’s able to find, I’ll decide whether to hire him again. I won’t be extorted. I’m already paying well over top dollar. That shut him up.”

     

 

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