Fire Ice: A Kurt Austin Adventure (NUMA Files Series)by Clive Cussler, Paul Kemprecos
The hero of Serpent and Blue Gold confronts a deadly global plot, in the breathtaking new Kurt Austin adventure. See more details below
The hero of Serpent and Blue Gold confronts a deadly global plot, in the breathtaking new Kurt Austin adventure.
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A Novel from the NUMA Files
By Clive Cussler with Paul Kemprecos
G. P. Putnam's Sons
Copyright © 2002 Clive Cussler.
All rights reserved.
Off the Maine Coast, the Present
LEROY JENKINS WAS hauling in a barnacle-encrusted lobster trap aboard his boat, The Kestrel, when he looked up and saw the giant ship on the horizon. He gingerly extracted a fat pair of angry crustaceans from the trap, pegged the claws and tossed the lobsters into a holding tank, then he rebaited the trap with a fish head, pushed the wire cage over the side and went into the pilothouse for his binoculars. He peered through the lenses and silently mouthed the word "Wow!"
The ship was huge. Jenkins examined the vessel from stem to stern with an expert eye. Before retiring to take up lobster-fishing, he had taught oceanography for years at the University of Maine, and he had spent many summer breaks on survey shipsbut this vessel was like nothing he had ever seen. He estimated its length at about six hundred feet. Derricks and cranes sprouted from its deck. Jenkins guessed it was some sort of ocean mining or exploration vessel. He watched until the ship vanished from sight, then went back to pull the rest of the string of pots.
Jenkins was a tall, rangy man in his sixties, whose rugged features mirrored the rockbound coast of his native Maine. A smile crossed his deeply tanned face as he hauled in the last trap. It had been an exceptionally good day. He had found the honey hole by accident a couple of months earlier. The spot produced an endless supply of lobsters, and he kept coming back even though he had to go farther from land than normal. Fortunately, his thirty-six-foot wooden boat was seaworthy even with a full load. Setting a course for land, he put the boat on autopilot and went below to reward himself with what they used to call a Dagwood sandwich when he was a kid. He had just layered in another slice of baloney on top of the pile of ham, cheese and salami when he heard a muffled "Boom!" It sounded like a thunderclap, but it seemed to come from below.
The boat shuddered so violently the jars of mustard and mayonnaise rolled off the counter. Jenkins tossed his knife in the sink and sprang up to the deck. He wondered if the propeller had broken off or if he had hit a floating log, but nothing seemed amiss. The sea was calm and almost flat. Earlier, the blue surface had reminded him of a Rothko canvas.
The boat had stopped vibrating, and he took a wondering look around, then, shrugging, went below. He finished making his sandwich, cleaned up and went out on the deck to eat. Noticing a couple of lobster traps that had shifted, he secured them with a line, then as he stepped back into the wheelhouse, he experienced a sudden unpleasant stomach-sinking sensation, as if someone had pushed the Up button in a fast elevator. He grabbed onto the mechanical hauler to keep his footing. The boat plunged, then levitated again, higher this time, plummeted once more and repeated the cycle a third time before sinking back into the sea, where it rocked violently from side to side.
After a few minutes, the motion stopped and the boat stabilized, and Jenkins saw a flickering movement in the distance. Retrieving his binoculars from the wheelhouse, he swept the sea, and as he adjusted the focus ring, he saw three dark furrows extending from north to south. The ranks of waves were moving in the direction of the coast. A long-dormant alarm bell clanged in his head. It can't be. His mind raced back to that July day in 1998 off the coast of Papua New Guinea. He had been on a ship, making a survey, when there had been a mysterious explosion and the seismic instruments had gone crazy, indicating a disturbance on the seafloor. Recognizing the symptoms of a tsunami, the scientists aboard the ship had tried to warn the coast, but many of the villages had no communication. The huge waves had flattened the villages like a giant steamroller. The destruction was horrifying. Jenkins never forgot the sight of bodies impaled on mangrove branches, of crocodiles preying on the dead.
The radio crackled with a chorus of hard-edged Maine accents as fishermen set the airways abuzz. "Whoa!" said a voice Jenkins recognized as that of his neighbor, Elwood Smalley. "Hear that big boomer?"
"Sounded like a jet fighter, only underwater," another fisherman said.
"Anyone else feel those big seas?" said a third man.
"Yup," replied a laconic veteran lobsterman named Homer Gudgeon. "Thought for a time there I was on a roller coaster!"
Jenkins barely heard the other voices chiming in. He dug a pocket calculator out of a drawer, estimated the time between the waves and their height, did some quick calculations and glanced with disbelief at the numbers. Then he picked up the cell phone he used when he didn't want personal messages to go over the marine channel and punched out a number.
The gravelly voice of Charlie Howes, Rocky Cove's police chief, came on the phone.
"Charlie, thank God I got you!"
"In my cruiser on my way to the station, Roy. You calling to crow about whippin' me at chess last night?"
"Another time," Jenkins said. "I'm east of Rocky Point. Look, Charlie, we don't have much time. There's a big wave heading right toward town."
He heard a dry chuckle at the other end. "Hell, Roy," the chief said, "town like ours on the water is bound to get lots of waves."
"Not like this one. You've got to evacuate the people from near the harbor, especially the new motel."
Jenkins thought the phone had gone dead. Then came Charlie Howe's famous guffaw. "I didn't know today was April Fool's."
"Charlie, this is no joke," Jenkins said in exasperation. "That wave is going to slam into the harbor. I don't know how strong it will be, because there are lots of unknowns, but that motel is right in its path."
The chief laughed again. "Hell, some people would be real happy to see the Harbor View washed into the sea."
The two-story edifice that extended into the harbor on stilts had been a source of controversy for months. It had gone up only after a bitter fight, an expensive lawsuit filed by the developers and what many suspected were bribes to officials.
"They're going to get their wish, but you've got to get the guests out first."
"Hell, Roy, there must be a hundred people staying there. I can't roust them out for no reason. I'll lose my job. Even worse, I'll be a laughingstock."
Jenkins checked his watch and cursed under his breath. He hadn't wanted to panic the chief, but he had reached the end of his self-control.
"Goddamnit, you old fool! How will you feel if a hundred people die because you're afraid of being laughed at?"
"You're not kidding, are you, Roy?"
"You know what I did before I took up lobstering."
"Yeah, you were a professor at the university up at Orono."
"That's right. I headed up the Oceanography Department. We studied wave action. You've heard of the Perfect Storm? You've got the perfect tidal wave heading your way. I calculate it will hit in twenty-five minutes. I don't care what you tell those motel people. Tell them there's a gas leak, a bomb threat, anything. Just get them out and to higher ground. And do it now."
"Okay, Roy. Okay."
"Is there anything open on Main Street?"
"Coffee shop. Jacoby kid is on the night shift. I'll have him swing by, then check out the fish pier."
"Make sure everybody is out of the area in fifteen minutes. That goes for you and Ed Jacoby."
"Will do. Thanks, Roy. I think. 'Bye."
Jenkins was almost dizzy with tension. He pictured Rocky Point in his mind. The town of twelve hundred was built like the seats in an amphitheater, its houses clustered on the side of a small hill overlooking the roughly circular harbor. The harbor was relatively sheltered, but the town's inhabitants had learned after a couple of hurricane-driven storm surges to build back from the water. The old brick maritime buildings on the main street bordering the harbor had been given over to shops and restaurants that served tourists. The fish pier and the motel dominated the harbor. Jenkins cranked up the throttle and prayed that his warning had arrived in time.
CHIEF Howes immediately regretted agreeing to Roy's urgent pleas, and was overcome by a numbing sense of uncertainty. Damned if he did, damned if he didn't. He'd known Jenkins since they were kids and Roy was the smartest one in class. He had never known him to fail as a friend. Still. Oh hell, he was near retirement anyhow.
Howes switched on his flasher, nailed the accelerator and, with a smoky screech of tires, roared toward the waterfront. While he drove the short distance, he got the deputy on the radio and told him to clear out the coffee shop then to go along Main Street with his PA system blasting, warning people to get to high ground. The chief knew the diurnal rhythms of his town: who would be up, who would be walking a dog. Luckily, most businesses didn't open before ten.
The motel was another story. Howes pulled over two empty buses on their way to pick up schoolchildren and told the drivers to follow him. The cruiser squealed to a stop beneath the motel's canopy, and the chief huffed his way to the front door. Howes had been on the fence about the motel. It would spoil the integrity of the harbor, but it might bring in jobs for locals; not everyone in town wanted to be a fisherman. On the other hand, he didn't like the way the project was rammed through to approval. He couldn't prove it, but he was sure there had been bribes at town hall.
The developer was a local named Jack Shrager, an unprincipled land raper who was building condos along the river that ran off the harbor, further despoiling the town's quiet beauty. Shrager never did hire locals, preferring foreigners who worked long and cheap.
The desk clerk, a young Jamaican, looked up with a startled expression on his thin, dark face as the chief burst into the lobby and shouted: "Get everyone out of the motel! This is an emergency!"
"What's the problem, mon?"
"I've been told there's a bomb here."
The desk clerk gulped. Then he got on the switchboard and began to call rooms.
"You've got ten minutes," Howes emphasized. "There are buses waiting in front. Get everyone out, including yourself. Tell anyone who refuses that the police will arrest them."
The chief strode down the nearest hallway and pounded on doors. "Police! You must evacuate this building immediately. You have ten minutes," he yelled at the sleepy faces that peered out. "There has been a bomb threat. Don't stop to gather your belongings."
He repeated the message until he was hoarse. The hallways filled with people in bathrobes and pajamas or with blankets wrapped around them. A swarthy man with an unpleasant scowl on his face stepped from one room. "What the hell is going on?" Jack Shrager demanded.
Howes swallowed hard. "There's been a bomb threat, Jack. You've got to get out."
A young blond woman poked her head out of the room. "What's wrong, babe?"
"There's a bomb in the motel," the chief said, becoming more specific.
The woman's face went pale and she stepped into the hallway. She was still in her silk bathrobe. Shrager tried to hold her, but she pulled away.
"I'm not staying here," she said.
"And I'm not moving," Shrager said. He slammed the door.
Howes shook his head in frustration, then guided the woman by the arm, joining the throng heading for the front door. He saw the buses were almost filled and yelled at the drivers.
"Get out of here in five minutes. Drive to the highest hill in town."
He slid behind the wheel of his cruiser and drove to the fish pier. The deputy was arguing with three fishermen. Howes saw what was happening and yelled out the window, "Get your asses into those trucks and go to the top of Hill Street or you'll be arrested."
"What the hell is going on, Charlie?"
Howes lowered his voice. "Look, Buck, you know me. Just do as I say and I'll explain later."
The fisherman nodded, then he and the others got into their pickups. Howes told his deputy to follow them and made one last sweep along the fish pier, where he picked up an elderly man who sorted through the rubbish bins for cans and bottles. Then he scoured Main Street, saw that it was quiet and headed for the top of Hill Street.
Some of the people who stood shivering in the cool air of morning shouted at him. Howes ignored their insults, got out of his cruiser and walked partway down the steep hill that led down toward the harbor. Now that the adrenaline rush was over, he felt weak-kneed. Nothing. He checked his watch. Five minutes came and went. And so did his dreams of a peaceful retirement on a police pension. I'm dead, he thought, sweating despite the coolness.
Then he saw the sea rise above the horizon and heard what sounded like distant thunder. The townspeople stopped shouting. A darkness loomed out near the channel entrance and the harbor emptied outhe could actually see bottombut the phenomenon lasted only a few seconds. The water roared back in with a noise like a 747 taking off, and the sea lifted the moored fishing boats as if they were toys. It was reinforced by two more waves, seconds apart, each taller than the one before. They surged over the shore. When they receded, the motel and the fish pier had vanished.
THE Rocky Point that Jenkins returned to was far different from the one he had left that morning. The boats moored in the harbor were jumbled together along the shore in a tangled heap of wood and fiberglass. Smaller craft had been thrown up onto Main Street. Shop windows were smashed as if by a gang of vandals. The water was littered with debris and seaweed, and a sulfuric smell of sea bottom mixed with the odor of dead fish. The motel had vanished. Only pilings remained of the fish pier, although the sturdy concrete bulkhead showed no sign of damage. Jenkins pointed his boat toward a figure waving his arms on the bulkhead. Chief Howes grabbed the mooring lines and tied them off, then he stepped aboard.
"Anybody hurt?" Jenkins said, his eyes sweeping the harbor and town.
"Jack Shrager was killed. He's the only one as far as we know. We got everyone else out of the motel."
"Thanks for believing me. Sorry I called you an old fool."
The chief puffed his cheeks out. "That's what I would have been if I'd sat on my ass and done nothing."
"Tell me what you saw," Jenkins said, the scientist reasserting itself over the Samaritan.
Howes laid out the details. "We were standing at the top of Hill Street. Sounded and looked like a thunderstorm, then the harbor emptied out like a kid pulling the plug in a bathtub. I could actually see bottom. That only lasted a few seconds before the water roared in like a jet plane."
"That's an apt comparison. On the open ocean, a tsunami can go six hundred miles an hour."
"That's fast!" the chief said.
"Luckily, it slows down as it approaches land and hits shallower water. But the wave energy doesn't diminish with the speed."
"It wasn't like I pictured. You know, a wall of water fifty feet high. This was more like a wave surge. I counted three of them, each bigger than the last. Thirty feet, maybe. They whacked the motel and pier and flooded Main Street." He shrugged. "I know you're a professor, Roy, but how exactly did you know this was going to happen?"
"I've seen it before off New Guinea. We were doing some research when an undersea slide generated a tsunami thirty to sixty feet tall, and a series of waves lifted our boat off the water just like what I felt today. The people were warned and many made it to high ground when the waves hit, but even so, more than two thousand people were lost."
The chief gulped. "That's more than live in this town." He pondered the professor's words. "You think that an earthquake caused this mess? I thought that was something that happened in the Pacific."
"Normally, you'd be right." Jenkins furrowed his brow and stared out to sea. "This is absolutely incomprehensible."
"I'll tell you something else that's going to be hard to figure. How am I going to explain that I evacuated the motel for a bomb scare?"
"Do you think anyone will care at this point?"
Chief Howes surveyed the town and the crowds of people cautiously making their way down the hill to the harbor and shook his head. "No," he said. "I don't guess they will."
Excerpted from Fire Ice by Clive Cussler with Paul Kemprecos. Copyright © 2002 by Clive Cussler. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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