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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:12

Confident they were on the right course, Kurt went aft, to find Joe and Renata assembling a glider. “Ready to take wing?”

“Almost,” Renata said. She checked the latches on the glider’s payload and activated a camera with a powerful zoom lens. “All set.”

Kurt moved to a spot in front of the winch controls. They were normally used to tow a sonar array, but the steel cable had been replaced by a thin plastic line that was now attached to the glider, which Joe was carrying to the stern.

“Ready,” Renata said.

Joe stood on the transom holding the glider up high over his head. It all but jumped from his hand as the lengthy wings caught the slipstream formed by the boat’s forward motion.

As the glider took flight, Kurt spooled out the tether and the thin, fiber optic cable began to unwind from the drum of the winch. As the glider rose above and behind the boat, Renata took control of it using a small handset.

When the glider reached five hundred feet, she stopped the climb. “Lock it in there,” she said to Kurt.

Kurt stopped the winch and the glider held altitude, trailing out behind the Sea Dragon. “How does it look from the bird’s-eye view?”

Renata switched on the glider’s camera, watching as the video came up on a computer screen to her right. At first, everything was blurry, but the autofocus sharpened quickly and the Sea Dragon could be seen clearly, plowing across a field of deep blue.

“We look fine,” she said. “Now, let’s see about our friends.”

She panned to the north, where a pair of boats came into view. Initially, they were tiny specks on the ocean, like two grains of rice on a dark blue tablecloth, but as she adjusted the powerful zoom lens on the glider’s camera it brought the targets into focus.

“Can you zoom in closer?” Kurt asked.

“Start with the barge,” he suggested.

She focused on the barge, extending the telescopic lens until the details began to emerge. White lettering along its red hull spelled out D’Campion Conservancy. A small crane sat at one end of the barge. The crane was currently supporting a large PVC tube. Turbulent water and sediment were pouring through it. The silt washed out onto a metal screen designed to trap anything larger than a fist-sized stone, but the residue and seawater splashed through unabated, leaving a milky stain that spread west of the barge.

“Looks like they’re tidying up,” Joe said.

“Vacuuming up the entire seafloor,” Kurt added.

As the camera panned, two men could be seen examining various items caught in the screens. After quick looks, they tossed the items overboard.

“Rocks, shells or bits of coral,” Kurt guessed.

“They must be looking for big prizes,” Joe replied. “More tablets like the one I saw in the museum. What do they care if they flush minor treasures back into the sea?”

“They’d care if they were truly working for the conservancy,” Kurt said, “but I don’t think that’s the case.”

He turned to Renata. “Can you focus on the other boat?”

“Either they’re taking a yoga class or . . .”

Standing behind these men was another figure. In his arms, a long-barreled rifle.

Renata tried to zoom farther in, but the camera’s autolock was challenged to keep the man’s face in the picture. “Can’t see his features,” she said.

“We don’t need to,” Kurt told her. “I think we all know who we’re dealing with.”

“Maybe we should contact the Coast Guard or the Maltese Defense Force at this point,” she suggested. “They could send a few boats from the Defense Force. We could round up the whole gang.”