Riptideby Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child
For generations, treasure hunters have searched for the key to the Water Pit, the labyrinth of shafts and tunnels that honeycombs Ragged Island. But the Pit is reluctant to give up its treasure, and many will die before its secret is revealed.See more details below
For generations, treasure hunters have searched for the key to the Water Pit, the labyrinth of shafts and tunnels that honeycombs Ragged Island. But the Pit is reluctant to give up its treasure, and many will die before its secret is revealed.
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By Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Warner BooksISBN: 0-446-60717-7
Chapter OneJuly 1971
Malin Hatch was bored with summer. He and Johnny had spent the early part of the morning throwing rocks at the hornet's nest in the old well-house. That had been fun. But now there was nothing else to do. It was just past eleven, but he'd already eaten the two peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches his mother had made him for lunch. Now he sat crosslegged on the floating dock in front of their house, looking out to sea, hoping to spot a battleship steaming over the horizon. Even a big oil tanker would do. Maybe it would head for one of the outer islands, run aground, and blow up. Now that would be something.
His brother came out of the house and rattled down the wooden ramp leading to the dock. He was holding a piece of ice on his neck. "Got you good," Malin said, secretly satisfied that he had escaped stinging and that his older, supposedly wiser, brother had not. "You just didn't get close enough," Johnny said through his last mouthful of sandwich. "Chicken."
"I got as close as you."
"Yeah, sure. All those bees could see was your skinny butt running away." He snorted and winged the piece of ice into the water. "No, sir. I was right there."
Johnny plopped down beside him on the dock, dropping his satchel next to him. "We fixed those bees pretty good though, huh, Mal?" he said, testing the fiery patch on his neck with one forefinger.
They fell silent. Malin looked out across the little cove toward the islands in the bay: Hermit Island, Wreck Island, Old Hump, Killick Stone. And far beyond, the blue outline of Ragged Island, appearing and disappearing in the stubborn mist that refused to lift even on this beautiful midsummer day. Beyond the islands, the open ocean was, as his father often said, as calm as a millpond.
Languidly, he tossed a rock into the water and watched the spreading ripples without interest. He almost regretted not going into town with his parents. At least it would be something to do. He wished he could be anywhere else in the world-Boston, New York-anywhere but Maine.
"Ever been to New York, Johnny?" he asked.
Johnny nodded solemnly. "Once. Before you were born."
What a lie, Malin thought. As if Johnny would remember anything that had happened when he was less than two years old. But saying so out loud would be to risk a swift punch in the arm.
Malin's eye fell on the small outboard tied at the end of the dock. And he suddenly had an idea. A really good idea.
"Let's take it out," he said, lowering his voice and nodding at the skiff. "You're crazy," Johnny said. "Dad would whip us good." "Come on," Malin said. "They're having lunch at the Hastings after they finish shopping. They won't be back until three, maybe four.
Who's gonna know?"
"Just the whole town, that's all, seeing us going out there."
"Nobody's gonna be watching," said Malin. Then, recklessly, he added, "Who's chicken now?"
But Johnny did not seem to notice this liberty. His eyes were on the boat. "So where do you want to go that's so great, anyway?" he asked. Despite their solitude, Malin lowered his voice further. "Ragged Island."
Johnny turned toward him. "Dad'll kill us," he whispered.
"He won't kill us if we find the treasure."
"There's no treasure," Johnny said scornfully, but without much conviction. "Anyway, it's dangerous out there, with all those pits." Malin knew enough about his brother to recognize the tone in his voice. Johnny was interested. Malin kept quiet, letting the monotonous morning solitude do his persuading for him.
Abruptly, Johnny stood up and strode to the end of the dock. Malin waited, an anticipatory thrill coursing through him. When his brother returned, he was holding a life preserver in each hand.
"When we land, we don't go farther than the rocks along the shore." Johnny's voice was deliberately gruff, as if to remind Malin that simply having one good idea didn't alter their balance of power. "Understand?"
Malin nodded, holding the gunwale while Johnny tossed in his satchel and the life preservers. He wondered why they hadn't thought of doing this before. Neither boy had ever been to Ragged Island. Malin didn't know any kids in the town of Stormhaven who ever had, either. It would make a great story to tell their friends.
"You sit in the bow," Johnny said, "and I'll drive."
Malin watch Johnny fiddle with the shift lever, open the choke, pump the gas bulb, then yank the starter cord. The engine coughed, then fell silent. Johnny yanked again, then again. Ragged Island was six miles offshore, but Malin figured they could make it in a half hour on such a smooth sea. It was close to high tide, when the strong currents that swept the island dropped down to nothing before reversing. Johnny rested, his face red, and then turned again for a heroic yank. The engine sputtered into life. "Cast off!" he shouted. As soon as the rope was uncleated, Johnny shoved the throttle all the way forward, and the tinny little eighteen-horsepower engine whined with exertion. The boat surged from the dock and headed out past Breed's Point into the bay, wind and spray stinging Malin's face delightfully. The boat sent back a creamy wake as it sliced through the ocean. There had been a massive storm the week before, but as usual it seemed to have settled the surface, and the water was glassy. Now Old Hump appeared to starboard, a low naked dome of granite, streaked with seagull lime and fringed with dark seaweed. As they buzzed through the channel, countless seagulls, drowsing one-legged on the rock, raised their heads and stared at the boat with bright yellow eyes. A single pair rose into the sky, then wheeled past, crying a lost cry.
"This was a great idea," Malin said. "Wasn't it, Johnny?"
"Maybe," Johnny said. "But if we get caught, it was your idea."
Even though their father owned Ragged Island, they had been forbidden to visit it for as long as he could remember. Their dad hated the place and never talked about it. Schoolyard legend held that countless people had been killed there digging for treasure; that the place was cursed; that it harbored ghosts. There were so many pits and shafts dug over the years that the island's innards were completely rotten, ready to swallow the unwary visitor. He'd even heard about the Curse Stone. It had been found in the Pit many years before, and now it was supposedly kept in a special room deep in the church basement, locked up tight because it was the work of the devil. Johnny once told him that when kids were really bad in Sunday School, they were shut up in the crypt with the Curse Stone. He felt another shiver of excitement.
The island lay dead ahead now, wreathed in clinging tatters of mist. In winter, or on rainy days, the mist turned to a suffocating, pea-soup fog. On this bright summer day, it was more like translucent cotton candy. Johnny had tried to explain the local rip currents that caused it, but Malin hadn't understood and was pretty sure Johnny didn't, either.
The mist approached the boat's prow and suddenly they were in a strange twilit world, the motor muffled. Almost unconsciously, Johnny slowed down. Then they were through the thickest of it and ahead Malin could see the Ragged Island ledges, their cruel seaweed-covered flanks softened by the mist.
They brought the skiff through a low spot in the ledges. As the sea-level mist cleared, Malin could see the greenish tops of jagged underwater rocks, covered with waving seaweed; the kind of rocks so feared by lobstermen at low tide or in heavy fog. But now the tide was high, and the little motorboat slid past effortlessly. After an argument about who was to get his feet wet, they grounded on the cobbled shore. Malin jumped out with the painter and pulled the boat up, feeling the water squish in his sneakers.
Johnny stepped out onto dry land. "Pretty neat," he said noncommittally, shouldering his satchel and looking inland. Just up from the stony beach, the sawgrass and chokecherry bushes began. The scene was lit by an eerie silver light, filtered through the ceiling of mist that still hung above their heads. A huge iron boiler, at least ten feet high, rose above the nearby grass, covered with massive rivets and rusted a deep orange. There was a split down one side, ragged and petalled. Its upper half was cloaked by the low-lying mists.
"I bet that boiler blew up," Johnny said.
"Bet it killed somebody," Malin added with relish.
"Bet it killed two people."
The cobbled beach ended at the seaward point of the island in ridges of wave-polished granite. Malin knew that fishermen passing through the Ragged Island Channel called these rocks the Whalebacks. He scrambled up the closest of the Whalebacks and stood high, trying to see over the bluffs into the island. "Get down!" Johnny yelled. "Just what do you think you're gonna see in all this mist? Idiot."
"Takes one to know one-" Malin began, climbing down, and received a brotherly rap on the head for his troubles.
"Stay behind me," Johnny said. "We'll circle the shore, then head back." He walked quickly along the bottom of the bluffs, his tanned legs chocolate brown in the dim light. Malin followed, feeling aggrieved. It was his idea to come out here, but Johnny always took over.
"Hey!" Johnny yelled. "Look!" He bent down, picking up something long and white. "It's a bone."
"No, it isn't," Malin replied, still feeling annoyed. Coming to the island was his idea. He should have been the one to find it.
"It is, too. And I bet it's from a man." Johnny swung the thing back and forth like a baseball bat. "It's the leg bone off somebody who got killed trying to get the treasure. Or a pirate, maybe. I'm gonna take it home and keep it under my bed."
Curiosity overcame Malin's annoyance. "Let me see," he said. Johnny handed him the bone. It felt surprisingly heavy and cold, and it smelled bad. "Yuck," Malin said, hastily handing it back.
"Maybe the skull's around here somewhere," Johnny replied. They poked among the rocks, finding nothing but a dead dogfish with goggle eyes. As they rounded the point, a wrecked barge came into view, left from some long-forgotten salvage operation. It was grounded at the high-tide mark, twisted and pounded onto the rocks, buffeted by decades of storms.
"Look at this," said Johnny, interest rising in his voice. He scrambled out on the heaved, buckled deck. All around it lay rusted pieces of metal, pipes, busted gears, and nasty snarls of cable and wire. Malin began looking through the old junk, keeping an eye out for the gleam of a pirate doubloon. He figured that the pirate, Red Ned Ockham, was so rich he'd probably dropped a whole lot of doubloons around the island. Red Ned, who'd supposedly buried millions and millions in gold on the island, along with a jeweled weapon called St. Michael's Sword, so powerful it could kill any man who even looked at it. They said Red Ned had once cut a man's ears off and used them to make a bet in a dice game. A sixth-grade girl named Cindy told him it was really the man's balls that Red Ned cut off, but Malin didn't believe her. Another time Red Ned got drunk and cut a man open, then threw him overboard and towed him by his guts until the sharks ate him. The kids at school had a lot of stories about Red Ned.
Tiring of the barge, Johnny motioned for Malin to follow him along the rocks that lay scattered at the bottom of the bluffs on the windward side of the island. Above them, a high dirt embankment rose against the sky, roots of long-dead spruce trees poking horizontally from the soil like gnarled fingers. The top of the embankment was lost in the clinging mists. Some of the bluffs were caved in and collapsing, victims of the storms that slammed into the island every fall.
It was chilly in the shadow of the bluffs, and Malin hurried on. Johnny, excited now by his finds, was bounding ahead, heedless of his own warnings, whooping and waving the bone. Malin knew his mother would throw the old bone into the ocean as soon as she found it.
Johnny stopped briefly to poke among stuff that had washed up on shore: old lobster buoys, busted-up traps, pieces of weathered planking. Then he moved toward a fresh gash farther up the bluffs. A bank had recently caved in, spilling dirt and boulders across the rocky shore. He leaped easily over the boulders, then disappeared from view.
Malin moved more quickly now. He didn't like having Johnny out of sight. There was a stirring in the air: it had been a sunny day before they disappeared into the Ragged Island mist, but anything could be happening out there now. The breeze felt cold, as if weather was coming on, and the sea was beginning to break hard over the Ragged Island ledges. The tide would be close to turning. Maybe they'd better start back.
There was a sudden, sharp cry, and for a terrible moment Malin feared Johnny had hurt himself on the slippery rocks. But then the cry came again-an urgent summons-and Malin scrambled forward, clambering over the fallen rocks and around a bend in the shoreline. Before him, a huge granite boulder lay at a crazy angle, freshly dislodged from the bank by a recent storm. On its far side stood Johnny, pointing, a look of wide-eyed wonderment on his face. At first, Malin couldn't say a word. The movement of the boulder had exposed the opening of a tunnel at the foot of the bank, with just enough room to squeeze behind. A clammy stream of stale air eddied from the tunnel mouth.
"Cripes," he said, running up the slope toward the embankment. "I found it!" Johnny cried, breathless with excitement. "I bet you anything the treasure's in there. Take a look, Malin!"
Malin turned. "It was my idea."
Johnny looked back with a smirk. "Maybe," he said, unshouldering his satchel. "But I found it. And I brought the matches."
Malin leaned toward the tunnel mouth inquisitively. Deep down, he'd believed his father when he said there never was any treasure on Ragged Island. But now, he wasn't so sure. Was it possible his dad could be wrong?
Then he leaned back quickly, nose wrinkling against the stale smell of the tunnel.
"What's the matter?" Johnny asked. "Afraid?"
"No," said Malin in a small voice. The mouth of the tunnel looked very dark.
"I'm going first," Johnny said. "You follow me. And you'd better not get lost." Tossing his prize bone away, he dropped to his knees and squirmed through the opening. Malin knelt also, then hesitated. The ground was hard and cold beneath him. But Johnny was already disappearing from sight, and Malin didn't want to be left on the lonely, fogbound shore. He squirmed through the opening after his brother.
There was the snap of a match, and Malin sucked in his breath unconsciously as he rose to his feet. He was in a small antechamber, the roof and walls held up by ancient timbers.
Excerpted from Riptide by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child Excerpted by permission.
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