Richard and Robin Mariner are in Long Beach, California, to oversee the arrival of their container ship, Sulu Queen, before joining their friend Nic Greenbaum aboard his fifty-million-dollar motor yacht as he races his daughter Liberty in an Olympic-standard Katapult multihull down the coast to Mexico.
But when an ARkStorm, with the potential to cause catastrophic devastation, overwhelms them, Richard is forced into dangerously unprecedented action. Turning Sulu Queen into a real Noah’s ark, Richard must guide her into the deadliest storm to come off the Pacific in 150 years as he fights to save those closest to him, as well as countless other lives.
About the Author
Peter Tonkin was born in Ulster, son of an RAF officer. He spent much of his youth travelling the world from one posting to another. He went to school at Portora Royal, Enniskillen and Palmer's, Grays. He sang, acted, and published poetry, winning the Jan Palac Memorial Prize in 1968. He studied English with Seamus Heaney at Queen's Belfast. In his year were Paul Muldoon, Bernard MacLaverty and Ciaran Hinds.
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By Peter Tonkin
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 Peter Tonkin
All rights reserved.
Robin Mariner woke into the last good day at an unusually early hour for her. She did so not because she knew things would grow worse and worse after today until her own life and those of many she cared for would be at risk – or even suspected that this could ever happen or happen so soon. Not because of the morning noises from the adjoining suites, the stirring of stewards busily delivering room service along the endless corridors outside, or because of the intensifying beams of sunshine bursting into her accommodation. Not even because it was coming up to teatime in her jet-lagged head.
She woke simply because her back was cold enough to make her shiver, and that was enough. Or nearly so.
It took Robin a moment to realize that the chill along her spine running from her shoulders to buttocks was what had disturbed her, and an instant more to work out what was causing it. She had a hazy memory of falling asleep in a tangle of bedclothes stark naked, with her equally bare-skinned husband Richard curled against her, their bodies fitting together like a pair of spoons. She was still nude now and the bedding remained in a mess, but Richard was missing – and his absence caused chilly tremors powerful enough to wake her.
She blinked, opening her grey eyes wide, though it cost her some effort to do so. She untangled her right arm from the bedclothes and felt behind her, discovering more icy vacancy. 'Oh, you bloody man,' she grumbled. 'Where in heaven's name have you gone to now?' But even in her half-awake bleariness, she knew the answer to that one: the only thing capable of dragging her loving husband away from a bed she occupied in her current state was a different sort of female altogether.
And this one's name was Mary.
After a moment's sleepy indecision, she rolled on to her back and sat up, pulling the bedclothes into some sort of order, wriggling her hips and digging her heels into the mattress until her derrière slid up the bottom sheet and the pillows gathered into a backrest behind her shoulders. At least the friction warmed things up a little, she thought. Enough to stop her shivering, at any rate, and smooth the goosebumps that had risen along her arms and legs. A moment's further reflection established that her sleepy head was clear – nothing lingering from the jetlag or the wine she'd consumed rather too freely last night. She sighed with relief. Then she looked around blearily.
And caught her breath.
For Robin found herself sitting in a sizeable if tumbled double divan at the heart of the Art Deco perfection of a long-vanished age, in the midst of a suite of rooms that might have graced the old Savoy or Strand Palace hotels in London during the years between the two world wars. It was as though she was Mrs Simpson, recently returned with her freshly abdicated Edward, still impressed by how that nice Herr Hitler was organizing things in Germany. Or, given where she was, like Daisy Buchanan coming to after an illicit night of passion with the mysterious Jay Gatsby.
Immediately opposite her, well clear of the foot of the bed, was a built-in unit of honey-coloured wood with drawers, closets and a make-up table, behind which stood a mirror, its crystal surface filled with the reflection of the almost identical fittings that surrounded the head of her bed. In the centre of the bed sat her own temptingly tousled reflection, like one of Russell Flint's nudes painted as president of the Watercolour Society after 1936. Bang on time with the decor, in fact, she reckoned. Without further thought she pulled the Egyptian cotton sheet up over the all-too-perky coral tips of her breasts, which had not smoothed down with the goosebumps, ran a hand through the jumble of her golden curls and looked away with a sigh that tacitly admitted that the mother of two university-age children – twins, no less – would be unlikely to catch the eye of Sir William Russell Flint. Sir Peter Paul Rubens was looking more and more likely, she thought darkly. He of the adjective Rubenesque, meaning 'plump, voluptuous ...'
To her left, the king deluxe suite stretched inward above a modest prairie of blue, fan-patterned carpet, past more honey-coloured wardrobes towards the main door leading out into an apparently endless corridor beyond the bathroom, from which issued the unmistakable aroma of her errant husband's Roger and Gallet aftershave. To her right, across Richard's deserted half of the bed, the suite stretched through a doorway panelled in pale golden wood into a reception room with a table and chairs beneath a pair of portholes whose curtains stood wide, through which the sun was pouring in as it rose distantly above Bixby Park, Grissom Island and the outwash of the Los Angeles River as it ran into Queensway Bay.
Robin blinked again as her memory slipped more clearly into place. She was in an exclusive superior suite aboard the legendary North Atlantic cruise liner Queen Mary in her anchorage at Long Beach, California. Built in the John Brown shipyards on the River Clyde and commissioned by the Cunard line in 1936, it was famously the first of their queens whose name did not end in 'ia'. Holder of the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing between Europe and America from the late thirties to the early fifties and now, the better part of eighty years after her maiden voyage, it was one of the top hotels in Los Angeles and Long Beach. Her interior spaces represented the acme of late thirties Art Deco after the fashion of Messieurs Bouwens and Expert in the Normandie, presenting the pinnacles of work by artists and designers such as Gilbert Bayes, Alfred Oakley and Agnes Pinder Davis, whose legendary but long-vanished carpeting had once graced these very decks. Not that Robin wouldn't have been just as happy wallowing in the steely stark twenty-first century ambience of the Hyatt or the Westin up in LA. Or even the Renaissance out at LAX.
But to be fair, Robin decided at last, she was quite satisfied. Satisfied in more ways than one, in fact. She glanced down the length of the gently curvaceous body outlined by the tangled sheet like an Egyptian mummy in its wrappings, and gave a sensuous little wriggle of her hips which were anything but mummified. In spite of the temptations of twenty-first-century luxury, her relentlessly romantic husband Richard had found the promise of the bygone elegance Queen Mary offered irresistible. So here they were.
Or, at least, here she was – but where the hell was he?
Richard and Robin had arrived on BA flight 283 at LAX yesterday, touching down at 16.30 local time and piling into a limousine just before 18.00; one a.m. in London and in their heads. The limousine, a Lincoln Town Car, had been booked by Richard in spite of the fact that their business partner and friend, Nic Greenbaum, had offered his company chopper. Instead, the American limousine had whisked them down highways 405 and 710 in sufficient comfort for Robin to power nap. And, as she was eight hours behind London time, that had been the least she required, for she had already been up and about for nearly twenty hours.
They'd arrived at the Queen Mary at 19.30 and gone straight to their suite to unpack. They'd showered one at a time in the dual purpose bath and shower – Richard finding the shower head a little low for his six-foot-four-inch frame, though it suited Robin's more svelte five foot eight inches fine. Then they had changed into the closest thing they had packed to eveningwear. They'd been booked into the Sir Winston restaurant at 21.00, an hour before last orders, their table beside the windows with breathtaking views across Long Beach; just a couple of decks, in fact, above the portholes in their suite.
Robin was not certain she approved of the restaurant's overly familiar name – her mother's father had been an occasional visitor at Chartwell after the Churchills had retired there; like Sir Winston and Sir William Russell Flint, he'd been a noted watercolourist. But she'd certainly approved of the decor, the table, the view and the food. And the fact that, chopper or not, Nic Greenbaum and his daughter Liberty had been seated at the table waiting for them when they arrived. They'd proposed that the Mariners should join Nic on a cruise down to his new property in the Mexican resort of Puerto Banderas. They'd been dressed to the nines, in acquiescence to the five-star restaurant's exacting dress code. And with a bottle of the most divine domestic Chablis chilled to perfection, all ready and waiting.
Robin rolled out of bed on that thought and paused, looking at herself in the mirror, her right hand automatically patting the pale, not quite Rubenesque curve of her tummy as she wondered how much she regretted the cordon-bleu but calorie-laden oysters Rockefeller and beef Wellington with asparagus and truffle mash she had consumed, along with rather too much of the Chablis. Richard had also tucked into the oysters – though he had chosen to share a chateaubriand steak with Nic, while Liberty had settled for the Ahi tuna and green salad. The girls chatted about sailing, for which they both had a passionate expertise and on more than one occasion had been fierce rivals, while the boys discussed the business that had called the Mariners to cross the pond – and the North American continent behind it.
As ever, thought Robin, there were several situations that overlapped, all of which could, with luck, be dealt with in the next few days before the Mariners snatched a bit of R&R time in Mexico. Richard's huge container vessel Sulu Queen, inbound from Hong Kong, was due to dock in the port of Los Angeles multiuse terminal soon after midnight. If all went to plan, she would be emptied of her cargo of Chinese iron within the day. Iron produced in Guangzhou then shipped down the Pearl River to the huge Kwai Tsing container terminals and on to the Heritage Mariner vessel, destined to support the renaissance of the US's West Coast shipbuilding industry now that the voracious appetite of China's domestic house boom had slowed so suddenly. The plan was to turn the huge vessel round within the day, Robin knew. A day during which Richard was due to go aboard her and discuss matters with her captain, Captain Sin Heng Son, while the hull was reloaded with containers full of machine parts, top-end domestic appliances, disassembled motorcars from the General Motors Advance Automotive Division in North Hollywood, several thousand gallons of California wine in bottles of various shapes and sizes, and several farms-worth of biologically engineered corn, soy, alfalfa and beets. All due to be loaded within forty-eight hours so Sulu Queen could turn round and sail again, and all destined for various parts of China's society, economy and agronomy; a virtuous circle of trade negotiated by Heritage Mariner's office in Jardine House, No. 1, Connaught Place, Hong Kong Central. Richard had been holed up there for most of the last few months while Robin had taken care of the day-to-day business back in London.
That day – today – was also one in which Nic wanted to show his old friends round his latest toy, a multi-billion dollar gin palace yacht called Maxima, built for him by Edminston at the Dunya shipyards in Turkey, which had just been delivered via the Panama canal and run up past Mexico and the Baja California to the Long Beach marina not far from Sulu Queen's berth.
Nic had explained that he needed Maxima here at this particular moment for two reasons. First, to run his guests – starting with the Mariners – down to his palatial new property in the burgeoning holiday destination of Puerto Banderas on the Pacific coast of Mexico, where Richard and Robin were hoping for the promised rest and relaxation they needed at the end of a hard year. Secondly, to be available while Liberty and her crew tested the Katapult8, the latest in a series of super yachts that currently held the Fastnet trophy, as well as the Admirals and the Americas Cups. They, in turn, were designed and built by Heritage Mariner themselves, and were also in the marina beside Maxima. Both were under twenty-four-hour armed guard. It was at this stage of the conversation that the girls joined in most forcefully, just as the maître d' regretfully brought to their attention that the restaurant was otherwise empty, the kitchens were closed and the waiters wanted to go home to bed.
The oysters, perhaps, explained the fun and games that had ensued immediately on the Mariners' arrival at their suite after dinner and a farewell coffee with the Greenbaums in the Observation bar, where they'd put their immediate plans for the next day in order. Or perhaps it was the ambience, after all, Robin allowed – the excitement of imagining themselves as Edward Windsor and Wallis Simpson, Fred and Phyllis Astaire, Bob and Dolores Hope or Spencer Tracy and Greta Garbo, all of whom had crossed the Atlantic aboard. Though, on this occasion at least, Miss Garbo most definitely did not want to be 'alone'.
They had christened the bed, being circumspect in their love-play as the walls were notorious for carrying sound from one suite to another. They'd remade it, giggling like naughty schoolchildren. They'd showered, individually and regretfully – unable to indulge in their usual foolery beneath the faucet because the facilities were so cramped. Then they had wrecked the bed all over again before falling asleep, full and – as Robin thought to herself as she crossed the suite the next morning – fulfilled. She hadn't quite made it to the bathroom door before her cell phone on the bedside table started ringing. Safe in the knowledge that no one except the occasional passing seagull could look in through the portholes, she returned to the bedside and picked up the phone. Richard's face filled the screen. 'Where are you, lover?' she asked.
'I'm on the bridge. Robin, you've got to see this!'
'As soon as I'm fit to be seen myself,' she promised.CHAPTER 2
Richard Mariner had been up and about for the last two hours of the last good day. Though he, like Robin, had no idea how fast and how fully things would go downhill in the all too immediate future and how many lives, including their own, would be at risk. Full of beans since five a.m., probably because it was lunchtime in his head if not in his still well-lined stomach, he had carefully peeled himself away from the somnolent Robin, patted her right buttock gently but proprietorially, and done his best to slide some of the bedding over her pale pink curves. Then he'd tiptoed into the bathroom, showered and shaved before dressing and slipping out, like a student playing truant, to explore. He'd wandered through the grand vessel on a self-guided tour, from the aft engine rooms several decks down with their huge steam turbines, through the engine starting platforms, gazing at the massive turbine turning gears, through the emergency steering stations, onwards and upwards. His fey Scottish ancestry had failed to alert him to any of the ghosts that famously haunted the spaces that he visited – just as it failed to warn him how deeply into death and destruction he and those he loved would be swept within the next few days. Instead, the more he had discovered the more he had fallen in love with this grand old lady, as though she harboured nothing unsettling from the past or the future.
At this precise moment, as he broke contact with Robin, Richard was in heaven. Or, he reckoned wryly, as close to heaven as he was ever likely to get. He was also in the past, though not as far back as Robin, who was fancying herself as Grace Kelly now rather than Dolores Hope, or the coincidentally named Robyn, the second Mrs Astaire – as she luxuriated in the shower, lazily lathering herself with the green tea and willow soap provided for the purpose, and wondered whether she should summon room service with a bracing cup of English Breakfast tea before she went aloft.
Rather, Richard was back in his schooldays, when terms at the forbidding Gothic pile of his Edinburgh alma mater had been leavened with the occasional visit to the west coast, where his love of the sea had been born. For the old-fashioned brass controls all around him on Queen Mary's command bridge took him to gleaming memories of the bridge, control and engine spaces of the venerable paddle-steamer Waverley, which plied up and down the River Clyde in the days of his youth and had sailed all around the coast of Britain to this date, the last ocean-going paddle steamer in the world. With his parents on weekend exeats and during summer vacations, he had clambered from stem to stern, from truck to keel as Waverley pounded downriver from Greenock's Custom House Quay to call at Gourock, and Largs, then on to Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae and back, past Clydebank where the John Brown shipyards used to stand in the long-gone days when Queen Mary herself, hull 534 until she was named, sat on the slipways.
Excerpted from Mariner's Ark by Peter Tonkin. Copyright © 2015 Peter Tonkin. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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