With the waters rising and the winds whipping through the sky, a hurricane of terrifying intensity is looming over Florida. Along a state highway, a handful of foolhardy souls trying to outrun the storm are forced to seek shelter in an abandoned house after discovering that a nearby bridge is out of commission. Thrown together by nothing more than chance, this disparate bunch of misfits and wanderers includes an undercover agent seeking revenge for a personal tragedy, a burgeoning criminal in over his head, a beautiful young widow trying to start over, and a businessman whose life’s work is crumbling before his eyes. Their refuge from the awesome power of nature becomes a sort of grand and grisly hotel—especially once the invisible hand of flying death descends.
Features a new Introduction by Dean Koontz
Praise for John D. MacDonald
“The great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller.”—Stephen King
“My favorite novelist of all time.”—Dean Koontz
“To diggers a thousand years from now, the works of John D. MacDonald would be a treasure on the order of the tomb of Tutankhamen.”—Kurt Vonnegut
“A master storyteller, a masterful suspense writer . . . John D. MacDonald is a shining example for all of us in the field. Talk about the best.”—Mary Higgins Clark
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About the Author
Date of Birth:July 24, 1916
Date of Death:December 28, 1986
Place of Birth:Sharon, PA
Place of Death:Milwaukee, WI
Education:Syracuse University 1938; M.B. A. Harvard University, 1939
Read an Excerpt
Except for a slow oily swell, the Caribbean Sea was flat and quiet and eerily still on the morning of Sunday, October fourth. Sarrensen, Captain of the Swedish motor vessel Altagarde, had a late solitary breakfast in his cabin. He had slept poorly and his digestion, never reliable, was bothering more than usual on this trip.
He was a small quiet remote man with a soured expression and a reputation for reliability. It was after nine when he climbed to the bridge, nodded to the Third, checked the log and the heading, and walked out onto the port wing of the bridge. He put short blunt fingers inside his belt and pressed against the area of a stomach cramp and looked at the sea world around him. He did not like the look of the day. The sky, though cloudless, was too pale. The sun was fierce and white. The flat sea had the look of a blue mirror on which warm breath has been blown, misting it. It was impossible to see where the sea ended and the sky began.
The immediate destination of the Altagarde was Havana, about five hundred nautical miles away. He looked at his gold watch and looked at the sky and estimated their time of arrival at nine on Monday evening. But he did not like the look of the day.
He walked in and stood by the Third and looked at the barometer. Low. Not dangerously low, but significantly low.
“Still slipping,” he said.
“Not much. It’s pretty steady. Been about where it is since six. I told Sparks to pick up all the weather he can.”
Sarrensen walked out onto the starboard wing. He leaned his arms on the rail and gave a small grunt of pain at an especially sharp stomach twinge. There was no sense of motion in the Altagarde. It moved smoothly across the featureless sea, rocking but slightly to the long slow swells. The wake was a ruled line behind her. Through the soles of his shoes, and in the tremor of the rail, Sarrensen felt the deep and comforting cha-gah, cha-gah, cha-gah of the turning shaft.
He took out his watch and timed the swells. Somewhere between five and six a minute. In these tropical waters the norm was eight. A hurricane reduces the incidence of the swells, and sends them radiating out in all directions from the center of the storm, moving sometimes as fast as eighty miles an hour, moving far ahead of the storm, carrying a sure warning to primitive peoples of the islands. He carefully noted the direction from which the swells were coming in relation to the compass direction of the ship. Then he went below.
At three o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday, October fourth, the wind began. It came out of the east. It was a fitful, elusive, teasing wind. It riffled the misted blue of the sea. Infrequent gusts, almost as sturdy as a squall, pressed against the steel flank of the Altagarde and she would roll in response. Sarrensen went out onto the starboard wing. Streamers of high cirrus cloud radiated from a point on the southeast horizon. Sarrensen faced directly into the wind. It was a rule of thumb, as old as the half-rule of man over the sea, that in the counter-clockwise winds of hurricanes in the northern hemisphere, when you face into the wind your right hand points at the storm center. It gave new confirmation of the direction the swells had told him. It was far from him, behind him. Knowing the location of it stilled some of the uneasiness he had felt all day.
The Altagarde radioed her position and reported the estimated position of a tropical disturbance. The report was relayed to Miami where it became a partial confirmation of previous reports. At the time the report was received the tropical disturbance was termed an area of suspicion. By five-twenty on Monday evening the first search aircraft entered the area and radioed back sufficient information so that by the time of the six o’clock news broadcasts the disturbance had been dignified by awarding it the name of Hilda. It was the eighth storm of the season.
But it did not begin, as though on signal, with the designation of a name. It began earlier, and in a timeless way. Flat sea baking under a tropic sun. Water temperature raised by the long summer. The still air, heated by sun and sea, rising endlessly, creating an area of low pressure to be filled by air moving in from all sides to rise in turn.
But these factors alone could not create hurakan. There must be added the thousand miles an hour spinning of the earth itself. The warm currents rose high, and there was the effect of drag, the way a speeding car can raise dust devils along the dry shoulder of a highway. The spin began slowly at first, very slowly. At times it died out and then began again. It covered a great area, and the winds spun slowly at the rim of the wheel, but more quickly toward the hub. It gathered momentum. It began to gain in force and speed and it seemed to feed upon itself, to gain greater life force as it began to move slowly from the area where it began, began to move in the long curved path that would carry it in a northwesterly direction until, on some unknown day in the future it would at last die completely away.
As it moved it pushed the hot moist air ahead of it, and the moisture of that air, cooled by height, fell as heavy drenching rain.
Man spoke across the empty air above the sea. The location, direction, velocity were charted. Man warned man. Prepare for this violence that is now aimed at you.
But the other living creatures were warned in other ways. They were affected by the barometric changes. Birds turned away from the path of the storm. On small keys legions of fiddler crabs marched inland, ponderous claws raised. The fish ceased feeding and moved at lower levels.
By eight o’clock on Monday night the wind velocities near the center of the disturbance were measured at eighty miles an hour. The hurricane had begun its lateral movement At from fifteen to eighteen miles an hour it moved north-northwest toward the long island of Cuba. It was carefully watched and plotted.
In Miami, a city wise in the ways of hurricanes, sucker disks were fastened to the big shopwindows and thumb screws tightened the disks to rigid metal uprights that would keep the windows from picking up the vibration that would shatter them. Men climbed on roofs and put additional guy wires on television aerials. The sale of radio batteries was brisk. Drinking water was stored. Gasoline stoves were taken out of storage. There was a flavor of excitement in the city, even of amiability, as man accepted this immediate and understandable tension in fair exchange for the tiresome tensions of his everyday life.