Poseidon's Arrow - By Clive Cussler





THE LIGHT OF A HALF-MOON SHIMMERED OFF THE RESTLESS sea like a streak of flaming mercury. To Lieutenant Alberto Conti, the iridescent waves reminded him of a Monet waterscape viewed in a darkened room. The silvery froth reflected the moonlight back to the sky, illuminating a bank of clouds far to the north, the fringe of a storm that was soaking the fertile coast of South Africa some fifty miles away.

Tucking his chin from the moist breeze that buffeted him, Conti turned to face a young seaman standing watch beside him on the conning tower of the Italian submarine Barbarigo.

“A romantic evening, Catalano, is it not?”

The sailor gave him a quizzical look. “The weather is quite pleasant, sir, if that’s what you mean.” Though fatigued like the rest of the crew, the seaman still held a rigid demeanor in the presence of officers. It was a youthful piety, Conti considered, one that would eventually vanish.

“No, the moonlight,” Conti said. “I bet it shines over Naples tonight as well, glistening off the cobblestone streets. It wouldn’t surprise me, in fact, if a handsome officer of the Wehrmacht isn’t escorting your fiancée on a stroll about Piazza del Plebiscito at this very moment.”

The young sailor spat over the side, then faced the officer with burning eyes.

“My Lisetta would sooner jump off the Gaiola Bridge than associate with any German pig. I do not worry, for she carries a sap in her pocketbook while I’m away, and she knows how to use it.”

Conti let out a deep laugh. “Perhaps if we armed all of our women, then neither the Germans nor the Allied Forces would dare set foot in our country.”

Having been at sea for weeks, and away from his homeland for months more, Catalano found little humor in the comment. He scanned the horizon, then nodded toward the dark, exposed bow as their submarine sliced through the waves.

“Sir, why have we been relegated to transport duty for the Germans rather than the merchant raiding, for which the Barbarigo was built?”

“We’re all puppets on the Führer’s string these days, I’m afraid,” Conti replied, shaking his head. Like most of his countrymen, he had no idea that forces were at work in Rome that would, in a matter of days, oust Mussolini from power and announce an armistice with the Allies. “To think that we had a larger submarine fleet than the Germans in 1939, yet we now take our operational orders from the Kriegsmarine,” he added. “The world is not so easily explained at times.”

“It doesn’t seem right.”

Conti gazed across the sub’s large forward deck. “I guess the Barbarigo is too big and slow for the latest armed convoys, so we are now little more than a freighter. At least we can say our Barbarigo attained a proud wartime record before her conversion.”

Launched in 1938, the Barbarigo had sunk a half dozen Allied ships in the Atlantic during the early days of the war. Displacing over a thousand tons, she was much larger than the feared Type VII U-boats of the German wolf pack. But as German surface ship losses began to mount, Admiral Dönitz suggested converting several of the large Italian sommergibili into transport vessels. Stripped of her torpedoes, deck gun, and even one of her heads, the Barbarigo had been sent to Singapore as a cargo vessel, filled with mercury, steel, and 20mm guns for the Japanese.

“Our return cargo is deemed highly critical to the war effort, so somebody has to act as the mule, I suppose,” Conti said. But deep down, he was angered by the transport duty. Like every submariner, he had something of the hunter in him, a longing to stalk the enemy. But now an enemy encounter would mean death for the Barbarigo. Stripped of its weaponry and floundering along at twelve knots, the submarine was more a sitting duck than a feared attacker.

As a white-tipped wave splashed against the bow, Conti glanced at his illuminated wristwatch.

“Less than an hour to sunrise.”

Heeding the unspoken command, Catalano hoisted a pair of binoculars and scanned the horizon for other vessels. The lieutenant followed suit, circling the conning tower with his eyes, taking in the sea and sky. His thoughts drifted to Casoria, a small town north of Naples, where his wife and young son awaited him. A vineyard grew behind their modest farmhouse, and he suddenly longed for the lazy summer afternoons when he would chase his boy through the sprouting vines.

Then he heard it.

Over the drone