Winner of the New Jersey Notable Book Award!
It's a beautiful day on the New Jersey shore. The residents of Long Beach Island—a narrow strip of land connected to the mainland by a single bridge—are going about their daily routines, enjoying the lovely weather.
They have no idea that far out to sea, a plane carrying a nuclear device has crashed. The resultant explosion triggers a massive underwater landslide . . . and a massive tsunami forms, heading straight for Long Beach Island.
By the time anyone realizes the water is coming, it's almost too late. The National Guard is deployed—on the mainland, since the fast-approaching thirty-foot-high wall of water will flatten everything on the island. Terrified residents stream toward the slender lifeline of the bridge, causing the island's first—and last—major traffic jam.
In the frantic struggle to reach safety, strangers offer help to people they've never seen before and neighbors turn against neighbors. Some cannot decide which precious possessions must be saved, and so take nothing—or refuse to leave. Others attempt to profit from the panic, looting abandoned homes and businesses.
Time is running out. The first wave will hit in less than three hours.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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About the Author
WIL MARA is the author of more than seventy books for adults and young readers. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Wave won the New Jersey National Book Award when it was first published.
Wil Mara is the author of more than seventy books for adults and young readers, including Wave, which won the New Jersey National Book Award. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Read an Excerpt
By Wil Mara
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2005 Wil Mara
All rights reserved.
Sayed Zaeef shuffled along with the other passengers toward the boarding gate. The woman at his side, whose name he had come to learn was Aleida, was still talking. She'd been going nonstop for nearly a half hour. He didn't mind a bit. She spoke in her native Dutch, the official language here in the Netherlands. He'd learned it over the last three years, along with another native tongue, Frisian, but hadn't mastered either. All the better that she was dominating the conversation.
Zaeef had picked her out of the crowd shortly after arriving. She was among about two-dozen passengers who had come early and were hanging around, waiting. Some watched the giant airliners out the windows while others tried in vain to catch some rest on the torturously uncomfortable contour chairs. Aleida was one of the plane-watchers. She stood with her arms folded and spoke to an elderly woman sitting nearby whom she obviously did not know. She was the type who would talk to any stranger. Perfect. He set his shoulder bag down and moved alongside her, saying nothing. He adopted a look of almost childlike fascination as the planes came and went, mimicking her expression. Eventually, as he expected, she peered over and found him there. When she did, he returned the glance and smiled. She remarked how amazing modern technology was, and he agreed. Their conversation soon moved from airplanes to other matters — the weather, current events, and, ultimately, personal issues. She found him attractive, he could tell. And he was attractive, a handsome Syrian in his early thirties. His smile could charm a dying man out of his last heartbeat. The women were particularly easy, he thought, and this appeared to be a prime example.
As the line moved along, she started offering cutesy little anecdotes about her husband. He nodded and laughed in all the right places. She was probing him now, he knew, gauging his reaction to the fact that she was married. On the outside she was the good and faithful wife, but if the right, discreet opportunity came along, she'd stray. He cultivated the flirtation. For the other passengers, to see him with this woman would create an aura of acceptability. How could you be suspicious of someone who was so intimate with one of your own?
The little American flag-pin on his lapel sealed it. He'd figured this out quickly enough after September 11, 2001 — Americans and other Westerners were far less likely to pay you any mind if you had a flag of some kind on your clothes, flying from your car, or hanging outside your home. He found the gullibility amazing.
They reached the counter and handed over their tickets. The uniformed woman greeted him with a smile, which he returned. A man in a matching uniform stood behind her. Zaeef avoided eye contact. It was important to appear casual. The woman removed something from the envelope, then handed it back and said, "Have a nice flight, Mr. Qari." He nodded and thanked her. Aleida was still talking. Something about her flowerbeds.
They went down the rectangular tunnel and reached the door of the plane. Five more employees stood waiting — two female flight attendants and three pilots. They were all smiling, very happy to see everyone this morning. They locked on Zaeef as soon as he appeared, but he pretended not to notice. When he reached the threshold, he laughed out loud and said something in Dutch to his new friend. He appraised the crew with a single, fleeting glance and made his evaluation. The female flight attendants were of no concern. Aging wannabe-models with too much makeup, nail polish, and unjustified arrogance — about as dangerous as houseflies. The pilots had an ex-military scent about them. They kept their hair short and their faces smooth. They would've been equally at home in business suits and ties, sitting in a boardroom with their briefcases on the floor beside them. Two were small, a little paunchy and out of shape. They'd be no problem, if it came to that.
It was the third man — the captain — that made Zaeef nervous, as nervous as he was capable of being. He was older, probably late fifties, with a bronze tan and thin, steely eyes. They were watchful, intelligent. This was a man who was not easily fooled. His motto could have been, "Earn my trust first." And in spite of his age, he looked fit and able. He stood with arms akimbo, his hands ready. A deep, primal instinct that had saved Zaeef's hide before told him this man could be trouble. As they started down the aisle, Zaeef felt his eyes boring into him, studying him.
Aleida found her seat first. Checking Zaeef's ticket for him, she realized he would be more than ten rows back.
"Maybe I can come back and see you once we're in the air," she said in Dutch.
"That would be nice."
He moved on, inwardly thankful to be away from her for awhile. He made a point of looking carefully at every number on every row, hoping to appear a little helpless and vulnerable. He found his seat and scanned the area. A heavyset white-haired woman was in the seat on the opposite side of the aisle, reading a copy of People. She looked at Zaeef the way most people look at snakes in a zoo. This is an American, he thought. "Hello," he said with a quick nod.
As he expected, she did not reply. Instead, she shrank back slightly and brought the magazine a little higher, as if using it as a shield.
Ignoring the slight, he opened the overhead compartment and stuffed in his green shoulder bag. Then, in another calculated move, he took off his suit jacket and set it carefully in the adjoining seat. He wanted the people around him to see that he was concealing nothing — no knives, no boxcutters, no plastic explosives. They were all appraising him, he knew, even if they were trying to appear as though they weren't.
He took his seat. The plane was almost full now and would be in the air in a matter of minutes. It would take nearly nine hours to reach Washington. He glanced at his watch; it was just after six-thirty a.m. A personal thought crept in — I'll never see another six-thirty in my life. He pondered this for only a moment before the years of training and mental discipline kicked in and erased it.
The plane shuddered as it pulled away from the dock and began a slow taxi toward the runway. A single electronic note rang through the overhead speakers, and a disembodied voice reminded everyone to buckle up and turn off their cell phones and laptops. People around him began chatting with their neighbors. Idle talk, useless talk, the talk of the small-minded.
As soon as they were in the air, he set the seat back, closed his eyes, and folded his hands across his stomach. Then another personal thought crept in, and it surprised him — he remembered the time he had spent a Sunday helping his mother make bread. Back in those days in Damascus it was not uncommon for a mother to make bread for her family, but it was unusual for a son to help. Young boys in Syria were not supposed to busy themselves with domestic chores. But for some reason he had wanted to help her that day, and what was strange was the fact that his mother hadn't seemed the least bit puzzled or surprised. She rarely showed any emotion, but he had hoped he would see something then. Less than a month later she was gone, the victim of an American bomb meant for an ammunitions warehouse that had gone astray.
Surely she would approve of what he was doing now.CHAPTER 2
"This is for Patrick, but only if he eats everything else first," Karen said, holding up a small container of chocolate pudding. Brown hair, medium height, attractive enough although not to her own satisfaction. She wore a cream-color business suit, one that never seemed to fit quite right. "I made him a baloney-and-cheese sandwich, which he likes, at least this week. There's also some milk in here, a bag of pretzels, and a nice big —" She rummaged frantically through the bag, then her shoulders drooped. "Oh no ... I forgot the orange. I'd better go to Acme right now and g —"
Nancy took her arm. "We've got oranges, sweetheart. Don't worry."
"Oh, no, you already do so much for —"
"Karen, we've got plenty."
Karen finally relented, but Nancy knew it would bother her for the rest of the day. She would probably bring two oranges tomorrow — one for Patrick, and one to replace the one Nancy had given him today.
"Okay, well there's also some money in here in case the ice-cream truck comes around. And I packed their swimsuits just in case Bud wants to take them on the boat."
The two boys bounded into the sunny Holgate kitchen, bursting with springtime energy. Patrick, four, was the older. He was as skinny as a rail and as fair-skinned as a ghost. Michael, three, was dark-haired, pudgier, and wildly freckled. He considered his brother something of a god and shadowed him ceaselessly. This didn't seem to bother Patrick in the least.
"What are we going to do today, Mrs. Erickson?" Patrick asked, grabbing hold of Nancy's floral dress and jumping up and down. Michael did likewise.
"Boys, boys ..." Karen pleaded.
Nancy smiled and looked down adoringly at her charges. "Well, your mother brought your swim trunks along, so I guess you'll have to go out on the boat at some point."
The boys cried gleefully — Karen was amazed at how much noise two small children could make — and jumped some more. Nancy beamed down on them, not the least bit put off by the intensity of their enthusiasm, while Karen thanked God once again for bringing Nancy Erickson into her life. She was nothing short of an angel.
The women had met in 1979, when ten-year-old Karen walked into a Beach Haven Elementary School classroom on the first day of sixth grade. Teacher Nancy Erickson was writing her name on the blackboard (which was actually pea green) as Karen slid quietly into a seat in the second row. Their mutual fondness was instantaneous — Karen was a well-behaved, hard-working student, and her new teacher was patient, gentle, and nurturing. Karen cried when the school year ended and she had to move on to another grade, another room, and another teacher. After college she moved away from LBI, but, like so many others, she eventually returned.
She spotted Nancy at Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, on Marine Street, shortly after she got married, and the two women essentially picked up where they'd left off. Having lost her mother to breast cancer two years earlier, Karen adopted her former teacher as something of a surrogate. Nancy accepted the role without hesitation.
Nancy started watching the boys sparingly at first, when Karen and Mike were in a jam and needed someone quick. She soon found that after almost ten years of retirement she not only missed the interaction with youngsters but looked forward to Patrick's and Michael's exuberant presence. She and Bud had three children of their own, but all were grown and had long since moved off to build their own worlds. Only one of them, a son who designed industrial-application software in California, had children, and visits were infrequent. Patrick and Michael filled an emotional void.
When Nancy first proposed the idea of watching them all four days a week that Karen worked at Tarrance-Smith Realtors, just a few miles past the Causeway on the eastbound side of Route 72, Karen resisted. She was concerned that the boys would run the couple ragged. Nancy was in her late sixties, Bud over seventy. But Nancy would hear none of it — she said she felt as fit as a cheerleader. That was only part of the truth. The rest was based on an opinion that she and Karen shared — that daycare just wasn't what it used to be. Nancy wanted to make sure these two boys that she had grown to love received a solid foundation. Under her care they never sat zombie-eyed in front of a television set. Instead, they were taken on nature walks and slow rides around the bay behind the house in Bud's little motorboat. They were given basic lessons in math and spelling.
For Karen and Mike, Nancy and Bud were a dream come true. They were overjoyed to the point of guilt. Karen insisted on paying Nancy at least the same amount she would have paid to put them into daycare. Nancy refused the money at first, but agreed to take it once she realized Karen would have it no other way. She had taught Karen to be proper and decent, and she had taught her well. In fact, Karen was still uncomfortable referring to Nancy by her first name, which Nancy insisted on. In her heart, Karen could not think of the woman as anything other than "Mrs. Erickson." Most of the time she simply formed her sentences and questions in such a way that using a name was unnecessary.
"Okay, I've got to go," she said, looking at her watch. "Mommy's going to be late." She crouched down and opened her arms. "Come give me a kiss."
The boys charged over and nearly knocked her down, smothering her with affection.
"I love you guys."
"Love you, too, mommy," they replied in an uneven chorus.
"We'll walk out with you," Nancy said, following the ritual.
Karen stepped out into the bright spring day. "Call me if you need anything," she said, pulling the keys from her purse as she walked away, backward.
"We'll be fine," Nancy told her. The boys were already waving. They looked perfectly happy. Maybe too happy, Karen thought. Aren't they supposed to be sad when I go? They certainly were when Mike left for that meeting in San Francisco three days ago. They cried until she had to distract them with ice cream and a Disney movie.
She climbed into her Nissan Maxima and waved back through the windows. She continued waving as she pulled away. Watching the three of them grow smaller in the rearview mirror, she felt the sting of tears that hadn't diminished even slightly over the last two years.
* * *
In the brightly lit office of Long Beach Township Mayor Donald J. Harper, a trio of attorneys sat in their conservative suits and waited. On the opposite side of the enormous, L-shape desk, Harper was hunched forward, elbows on the glass, hands together, forefingers raised like a church steeple. He paid his guests no mind. It was as if he'd forgotten they were there.
They sat like a judgment panel, left to right, in three chairs. At one end, a young man with dark hair and GQ features was reviewing some papers that had nothing to do with the mayor's case. As far as he was concerned, Harper was yesterday's business. He knew a lost cause when he saw one, and J. Quentin Taylor — a third-year attorney who already owned a new BMW and a 32-foot yacht — didn't waste his energy on lost causes. He had come today only because due process and professionalism demanded it, but in his mind this was nothing more than the final viewing of a corpse.
Next to him was the only female in the group. Susanna Graham had been with the firm less than a year, had in fact been out of law school less than two, but she already knew how to carry herself like the frigid corporate bitch she'd always longed to be. With one leg crossed over the other, she stared down Harper and wondered why an elite firm such as hers had ever gotten involved with such a loser.
Jay Bennett was the senior member of the coven, a full partner in Thomasen, Smithfield, Bennett, and Clarke. It was one of the largest firms in South Jersey, handling everything from divorces to personal injuries to criminal litigation. Forty-nine and in perfect health, Bennett had silver hair and wore small, round glasses set in tortoise-shell frames that cost more than most people made in a week. He was single, had no major vices, and was so introverted that people who had worked with him for years had no idea how he felt about anything. That was just how he wanted it.
Bennett allowed another moment to pass, and then, realizing they might end up sitting there all day if someone didn't say something, offered, "Mr. Mayor, Judge Hadley will be expecting a decision on our plea in about —"
"You know," Harper interrupted, "there was a time when I wouldn't have taken a paper clip that wasn't mine." He let out a little laugh that seemed more like a cough.
Taylor removed a silver pen from inside his jacket and scribbled something on one of his papers, apparently unaware his client had spoken. Graham rolled her eyes and repositioned herself yet again. Bennett nodded noncommittally and studied the beige carpeting.
Excerpted from Wave by Wil Mara. Copyright © 2005 Wil Mara. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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