Chapter 10


In the living room, Frik leaned forward, staring intently at the television screen. The announcer said that a lone Muslim extremist had claimed responsibility for the blast, and the camera closed once again on Peta. Encircled by a gold bezel, suspended from a gold chain, was a fragment of the artifact.
Filing away the certainty that she knew everything Arthur had known, he turned his attention to the people in the room. "Meeting's in order," he said. "You go first, Ray."
With visible reluctance, Ray pulled a videotape out of his coat pocket and slipped it into the VCR. It began with Channel 8 hype about the preopening advertising for his hotel.
"Ray Arno, owner of the new Daredevil Casino, is much more than a wealthy investor in a business suit," Paula Francis ofEyewitness News began. "He's a well-known Hollywood stuntman, an Evel Knievel, if you will. You're about to see him perform a spectacular, death-defying stunt to highlight his new adventure hotel, with its theme park full of thrill rides and its high-stakes casino."
"Behold one of those stupid macho stunts Peta was talking about," Ray said. "You will notice that there is no safety net."
Followed by cameras and reporters, Ray could be seen climbing to the top of Las Vegas's Stratosphere Tower - the tallest observation tower west of the Mississippi. He smiled, took a deep breath, and leaped into space. The camera tracked his shrinking figure until a rectangular skydiver's parachute unfurled behind him.
The camera angle changed to a shot of a wedge-shaped building with what looked like a space shuttle jutting from one side. A large neon sign in front of the structure proclaimedTHE DAREDEVIL . The image panned up to show Ray in his bright jumpsuit, expertly gliding toward the roof of the casino.
The report switched to a cameraman on the Daredevil's rooftop helipad. As Ray stuttered to a stop and removed his parachute, he said into the camera, "Follow me to the Daredevil.You may use the front door."
The screen filled with snow as the tape ended. "That'll do," Frik said. No one disagreed. "Who's next."
Briefly, as if they were reading Cliff's Notes, each of them, including Frik, added a tale of derring-do. Frik summarized an African man-faces-rhino ecoadventure that sounded like an outtake from Hemingway'sGreen Hills of Africa ; Keene and McKendry gave a precis about having infiltrated a white-supremacist group to rescue a black professor who had been taken hostage; and Simon described a shark attack during the exploration of a wreck near the Bermuda Triangle.
"Listen, everyone," Ray said after Simon had finished. "Why not talk about next year and call it a night? We obviously won't be able to meet here from now on, so how about my place in Vegas?"
"Your place?" Joshua Keene looked amused.
"My new hotel. Look, I realize this apartment was Damon Runyan's home, which made it perfect for us, and the Strip isn't Times Square - "
"But it's the next best thing to being here." Keene lifted his glass in a mock toast.
McKendry chuckled, appreciative as always of his friend's sense of humor.
"Someday I'm going to buy this place and turn it into a casino," Ray said. "But that's not happening quite yet. Meanwhile, why not some desert R and R away from" - he glanced at Arthur's bedroom - "the memories?"
The venue was readily agreed upon. Glasses were refilled, and a few people munched on pretzels and nuts.
"About next year." Frik got ready for what needed to be a convincing performance. "I have something to propose. Something urgent that I cleared with Arthur, on condition the rest of you agreed."
He too glanced toward the bedroom where Peta had gone, then sat back and put forth his proposal. He went over what information he wished to divulge: the discovery of the artifacts; the fire that had killed Paul Trujold; a description of how he had sustained third-degree burns on his face and left hand.
Having gained the group's attention, he went on to talk about his suspicion that Selene Trujold had at least one piece of the device, sent by her father, and he recounted her threats to destroy Oilstar. Of course, he said nothing about his true purpose, making it easy for everyone to agree upon a treasure hunt for the missing pieces of the artifact.
"I don't mean to minimize what you're suggesting, Frik," Keene said grimly, "but shouldn't we be putting our energies into finding out who killed Arthur?"
"You're right, Josh," Ray said quickly. "Given the relative skills of the rest of you, you'll have no difficulty divvying up Frik's search. I'll handle Arthur's death on my own. I can always call on the rest of you if I need help. Sound reasonable?"
Frik held his breath.
There was silence while the others thought everything through. "Sounds more than reasonable to me. I'll dive for the piece that was left behind," Brousseau said, not mentioning what Frik already knew -  that his doctor had warned him that his heart condition made deep-sea dives not just dangerous, but potentially suicidal.
Frik said nothing about it. Simon's reaction was perfect, imperative to his plan. The only risk was that Simon could mess things up by dying underwater before retrieving the piece, but that was a chance he was willing to take. "You can fly back with me," he said.
Simon shook his head. "I have to take care of some things in Miami first. Tell you what. Bring theAssegai to Grenada. I'll fly in there in a couple of weeks and you can sail me to Trinidad. I could use a good sail, a little time on top of the ocean."
Keene and McKendry volunteered to track Selene Trujold and her gang of ecoterrorists. From her father's notes and earlier comments, Frik knew that she had tended to focus her Green Impact activities in the main Venezuelan oil fields, near Maracaibo. If he was right, that was about to change. Now Oilstar's large newValhalla rig, just beginning production in the Orinoco Delta, would become her prime target.
"There is something elseyou can do," Frik said to Ray. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember that you told me you were building a state-of-the-art laboratory adjacent to your penthouse."
"Yeah. In my guilty moments I tell myself that I built it to develop a new means of detecting and neutralizing land mines and live shells in war zones. Really, though, I'm just a kid with a four-million- dollar chemistry set," Ray said, grinning.
"A useful one. If you don't mind, I'll have Trujold's computer models and results transmitted from our mainframe in Trinidad to your computer in Las Vegas. I need you to study them and determine if his findings were correct."
"Okay with me," Ray said. "Now if you'll all excuse me, I have to check on preparations my people are making for an important guest at the Daredevil."
He left the room to use the phone in Arthur's kitchenette. By the time he returned, Peta had reentered the room. Frik could see her closed suitcase standing upright on the floor near the open doorway.
"Fly back with me in the Oilstar jet," he said to her. "I'll divert and take you to Grenada before going on to Trinidad. Sure you won't come with us, Simon?"
Simon shook his head. "Aside from anything else, there's some diving gear I want to pick up in Miami."
"Diving gear?" Peta sounded shocked. "Are youtrying to kill yourself?"
"What are you talking about?" Ray asked. "He's been diving forever."
"I'm a doctor, remember," Peta said. "I don't need to do an EKG to see that he has a heart problem."
"Is that true?" Ray looked at Simon as if he hadn't really seen him before.
"Leave him alone, both of you," Frik said, more brusquely than he had intended. "He's over twenty- one."
"Yes. Stop fussing over me. I'm going to do this." Simon crossed his fingers, put his hand behind his back, and grinned like a little boy. "Tell you what, though. I promise you, this will be my last dive."