Good Bad Guys Are So Fun to Write

When you wind up with some really good bad guys—you know, the ones who revel in just being bad… Well, I’ve got to admit, it’s plain fun to write ’em. Sometimes I have to remind myself that Trip Ashfield is not the center of the story!

~ Chris


Excerpt from Sea of a Thousand Words. 

HighTower Corporate, Denver CO. Jun 7. 2033

39°45’13.2″N 104°59’55.4″W

Trip Ashfield tapped his finger on the rim of his cup and stared at the concentric ripples forming on the surface of his coffee. The split-screen conversation on Trip’s monitor had devolved into something akin to a shouting match as his employer Nelson Banks debriefed U.S. Secretary of State Maureen Gorton on the current Hong Kong crisis.

“So, what I’m not getting here, Nelson, is how in the year 2033, there can possibly be something as archaic as laptops and hardcopy emails just lying around a top secret laboratory? Because, it seems to me at least—and I am no scientist here—but it seems like that would be an incredibly asinine protocol to have in place.”

“Maureen, you’re preaching to the fucking choir, believe me. Allow me to have Mr. Ashfield describe—Trip—are you still there? Explain this all to Madame Secretary for me. I still can’t fathom the logic behind it.”

Trip cleared his throat and sat forward in the chair. “Madame Secretary, it goes something like this: When companies or individuals deal with sensitive material and if data breach is of high concern, they will typically opt for lower-tech methods. That is to say, they’ll use their own air-gapped systems, randomized operating systems on older models of computers. They tend to build in personal encryptions, combined with a variety of other security protocols. They will keep everything off the cloud so that hackers would have difficulty accessing the information. It’s not impossible, mind you—it can be hacked—but it becomes much more complicated to get inside.”

“Yes, thank you Mr. Ashfield, I believe I have a pretty firm grasp of espionage counter measures. But I am referring specifically to the emails right now. This doesn’t begin to explain the existence of the goddamn emails. I mean, who in blazes even prints out paper copies anymore?”

“Well Ma’am, I’m afraid that the weak link appears to be on HighTower’s…”

“Now, wait a minute here—I can assure you, Maureen…” Banks interrupted.

“Quiet Nelson. Please proceed, Mr. Ashfield.”

“Yes, of course. It appears that one of Huang’s scientists—a Zhao Xu—used a separate account when he corresponded with HSA’s contact. As I understand it, Mr. Xu was paid to pass along certain components of the human genome editing experiment covertly to HSA, dubbed ‘Project Revelations.’ My supposition is that the printed emails were sort of a C.Y.A. measure. Archaic? Yes. But in some circumstances—and with some types of people, still a highly regarded back-up plan.”

Maureen interrupted, “What in the hell is C.Y.A.?”

“My apologies—a protection measure—he was ‘covering his ass,’ you might say.”

“Ahhh—go ahead.”

“Now, Huang’s lead researcher—this individual named Chen—was unaware of Xu’s relationship with HSA concerning the weaponized variation. Chen apparently kept these documents that he discovered and, after he destroyed the lab’s air-gapped system, has added another layer of encryptions to the remaining data. We are working to crack his new codes of course, however as Xu’s personal computer was lost in the fire, so were the only existing copies of those downloaded files.”

“I see. And, Mr. Ashfield, how exposed would you say we are at this moment?”

“Well Madame Secretary, I can inform you that, at this moment, Mr. Xu is no longer a factor in our equation. My operatives have assured me that the other scientist—the Mr. Chen—should be in HighTower’s custody within the day. Cleanup is occurring as we speak… so my opinion is that our exposure risk is minimal.”

“There… So you see, Maureen,” said Banks, “we’ve put a tight lid on this matter, like I told you—the whole…”

“I have no interest in hearing about a lid, Nelson. There is not going to be any ‘put a fucking lid on it.’ Do you get my meaning, here? Am I being succinct enough for you? I want this entire matter to be dealt with… Disappeared, dissolved, dissipated—dis-effing-owned.”

“I hear you loud and clear Madame Secretary. Loud and cl…”

“…And furthermore, I am informing you that as of right now, the Administration has no knowledge of this Revelations project—absolutely none. We’re catching a lot of heat from people like Raj Kaleka and his organization about the whole immigrant thing. We cannot handle any more negative press—or god forbid, a scandal. So, if there’s any blowback, it will be your heads that swing—and only yours. The buck stops with HighTower, Nelson.”

“Maureen, I am acutely aware of this. Thank you for reminding me.”

Trip leaned back in his chair and folded his hands behind his head. Their chatter was beginning to give him a headache. He yawned and stretched his neck until the vertebrae popped, then returned his attention to the conversation.

“Gentlemen, I have to go down the hall now and debrief the President about your situation. Did you hear me say that— your situation? I can assure you that he will not be pleased in the least to hear this news. So now, is there anything else that I should know about before we end our conversation?”

“Only that Trip has been given full authority to clean this mess up using any means necessary—quickly and cleanly. And that by the next time we talk Maureen, this project will be concluded—history.”

“What project would that be, Nelson?”

“Right… Yes. Exactly, Madame Secretary.”

“Oh, and gentlemen… do I need to remind you that this matter must never reach the Prime Minister’s ears? It must be contained—correct?”

“That goes without saying.”

“Fine. I trust you’ll have some good news for me in the next twenty-four hours, Nelson. And thank you for your time, Mr. Ashfield. Good afternoon.”

“Thank you, Maureen.” Banks replied.

“My pleasure, Madame Secretary.” Trip pressed the escape key and the spit screen vanished. His mobile buzzed.

“Yes?”

“That is the absolute last ass-whooping I plan to receive from that obnoxious bitch—you got that?”

“I’m reasonably certain that I understand your meaning.”

“Excellent, as long as we are clear on that particular issue. So, what have you got on this missing celestial?”

“The search of Chen’s apartment yielded nothing. Two operatives are paying a visit to his associate—a woman named Jiang Lui—she’s one of the other researchers in Huang’s lab, apparently she was pretty tight with Chen. They’re currently interrogating her; I’ll receive a call once they’ve sifted out anything relevant.”

“Sift her fine, Trip. We need some solid results soon.”

“They know what’s expected of them. Look Nelson, we’ve got analysts checking scanners at all airports and docks. This guy’s going to turn up on our radar soon—there’s no other way around it.” Trip stood up and walked over to the plate-glass window with his cup. His reflection off the mirrored glass was clearly visible—golden hair, a deep set brow with steel blue eyes glared coolly back at him as he sipped the lukewarm coffee and said, “We’re not leaving any crumbs behind on the trail, Nelson.”

“Good, good. You know the consequences on this one.”

“Understood.”

“Oh, and listen—Trip—In the event that this intel should fall into the hands of a terrorist organization… Well, how soon would we know about—would we have the time…?”

“There’s no way to predict. They’re telling me that solving this encryption process could take a month or more. But from what I’ve seen so far, this guy’s clearly an amateur. He’ll be dealt with long before he could round up any buyers.”

“I need to hear from you that there will be no loose ends on any front.

“Relax Nelson, my advice for you is to handle things one crisis at a time. There will be no loose ends.”

“Alright then. Look, there’s a guy named Richard Cross—the director over in our west coast office—he’s up to speed as far as things stand right now. I’m sending you his mobile number. Keep him in the loop from here on out—I may need a few more ‘buffers’, if you know what I mean.”

“Roger that.”

Trip ended the call, swiped his screen and glanced at the text. Swallowing the last of his coffee, he turned to the clerical robot seated next to his desk. “Did you catch all that?”

“Yes, Mr. Ashfield, the conversation has been transcribed in its entirety.”

“Great. That’ll be all then.”

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Inspiration Over a Cup of Coffee

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Lucky Jack likes to join me on the fantail for coffee. For the past week we’ve observed this gigantic school of fish travel around our gate in the marina. One of the old fishermen tells me that they are anchovy.”Hard to catch but well worth the eatin’.” 88c10ff8-a33d-46db-ad2e-261c1c09f78d

I don’t really fancy trying to catch any of them, but I do like to stare at them for at least two-cups-worth of coffee. So does the cat.

As I watched them maneuver around our boat, switching directions instantaneously with some unspoken communication, I got to thinking: What if our favorite harbor seal was nearby? Then the story grew… What if they were up in Johnstone Strait (where my story’s heroes are currently travelling southbound)… And then: What if “Saka”, my  orca was also nearby? Hmmmm

Well, lets just say that my little coffee-break-buddies are now in the book. Immortalized in fiction.

They seemed okay with it.

Here’s a short excerpt from the current chapter, still in progress as I write this post (but it comes with anchovy).


                 

Chapter 29 excerpt.      Sea of a Thousand Words

by Chris Wallace

Kim bent over his outstretched leg and concentrated on the serrated knife wedged between his shin bone and the dirty cast. Yaculta’s ancient dock wobbled and creaked as he vigorously rubbed the blade back and forth—his strokes sawing through the soft padding and into the fiberglass shell. Sweat formed across his forehead as he hacked away at the resilient encasement.

Dot sat beside him and repaired the bolt-rope in her Dyson sail. The whippings had torn during their open crossing and now the entire leach threatened to unravel. She glanced up from her stitches to observe her friend’s progress. Dot realized that Kim’s hair had grown quite long in the last couple months; the ends now curled all around the base of his neck. His shoulders and arms had become muscular, bearing the marks of a serious paddler. With the return of his physical health, Kim’s mood had improved as well. Days upon end with nothing to do except reach for the next paddle stroke had healed his mind from its habitual worrying. There was nothing for one to do on the open ocean but fall into a ritual of breath and movement, and it had proved to be restorative for them all.

Dot smiled inwardly as she watched Kim remove his cast. He certainly doesn’t look like a brainy scientist who used to just sit behind a desk. She stared down at her own well-defined biceps and deltoids. I am beginning to look like Reba and Oolie now too—that is good. Their non-stop voyage from Calvert Island, across Queen Charlotte Sound and Johnstone Strait had been arduous, but had succeeded in shaping them into hardened, resilient voyagers. The rough weather, torrential rain and biting wind tested everyone’s resolve—but as she reflected on the past two weeks, Dot appreciated the transformation that her relentless paddling had produced. The motion of the sea had become part of her—or she part of it. It pulsed through her veins in the same rhythmic motion as the tide. The skin of the baidarka’s hull, measuring only a few millimeters, transmitted the songs of the ocean through Dot’s bones as she rowed upon its surface. Melodic calls of humpbacks; the sonorous drumbeat of the grays; staccato clicks of the orcas and porpoise, even the rustling sound of kelp forests… all were felt and amplified through the baidarka’s covering. Dot recalled her last two nights of paddling under the shadow of a crescent moon—the margin between sea and sky was indiscernible—so black were the nights. Phosphorescent plankton burst into firecracker-like explosions every time her paddle dipped through the water and sparkling beads fell from her blade at each arc, splashing back into the inky depths. Even at her weariest, those silent light shows kept Dot awake and entranced. Happy as she was to be back on land for a spell, Dot couldn’t wait to step back into the baidarka and revisit the liquid environment to which she’d grown so accustomed.

 

“It’s finally off!” Kim separated the halves of his cast and rubbed the pale, wrinkled skin of his lower leg. “Oh man, that feels so good.” He muttered while massaging the exposed limb. Rising to his feet, he exclaimed, “Look at how much thinner it is than my other leg, Dot!” He shook the fiberglass crumbs from his leg and tested its strength, slowly placing weight on his foot. “All is well.” He smiled and hobbled around the dock.

Dot returned to her needle and stitching palm. She pulled the length of waxed twine through the canvas and then stopped—a glint from the water caught her eye. She leaned forward and looked below the dock. Ripples formed in collective rings as three-inch anchovies revealed themselves. Diminutive splashes occurred randomly as the fish jumped for food. Dot set aside the sail and laid down on her stomach—her chin resting on the back of her hands. She spotted the school of tiny fish as they swam several feet below the water’s surface. There must be hundreds—if not thousand—of these little guys! The fingerlings crowded together, moving as one body, then instantly shifted in another direction. The sunlight glistened off of their silvery sides as they turned. Dot waved Kim over and pointed at the swiftly moving school. He sat on the edge of the dock and dangled his feet over the side as he watched them feed. Suddenly, the swarm of fish compacted—swimming tighter together in a massive, undulating orb. Kim leaned forward to get a better look at the shape-shifting anchovies. Dot’s attention was drawn to a slow moving shape in the background. She watched as an oblong head glided stealthily toward the school of panicked fish. Its sleek fur was dotted with brown and white spots, its dark eyes skimmed along the water’s surface; intent on its prey.

“What is that?” Kim asked, pointing toward the harbor seal as it approached. Dot held her finger to her lips, indicating not to spook the animal. They observed the seal as it rounded up the school of fish, drawing them into a constricted noose. Kim remained transfixed by the seal’s tactics. A subtle movement in the distance prompted Dot to look up. She caught a glimpse of Saka’s dorsal fin near the entrance of Mudge Bay. Anchovies aren’t the only item on this morning’s menu, she mused. Dot nudged Kim and gestured toward the fin, now only eight-inches above the waterline and moving swiftly. Kim looked back toward the unwitting seal as it prepared to dive into the condensed ball of fish. He flashed a concerned glance at Dot.

Dot shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. After so many years, she’d grown accustomed to witnessing Saka’s hunts. She briefly considered sparing Kim the shock of seeing the kill, but held back. He’s a scientist, he can be objective… Besides, one can’t exactly be companions with an apex predator and not acknowledge its feeding habits. Saka’s dorsal fin submerged completely. Dot knew exactly what was occurring at that moment: The whale had just increased his speed; planning to strike the distracted seal from behind and below. She rolled over onto her back and closed her eyes. Kim’s sharp intake of breath informed her that Saka had found his target. She didn’t need to turn around to picture what transpired—the orca most likely shot out of the water with the injured seal in his teeth… If he was feeling particularly playful, he would perhaps let it go—giving the mortally wounded creature a chance to escape. Dot had seen this tactic many times—Saka would allow the seal to swim some distance and then grab it once again, rattling it in his strong jaws until the bones were pulled from the meat. Occasionally she’d observed him tossing his catch into the air—like a cat teasing its mouse before the final kill. Dot loved Saka with all her heart, but preferred not to watch the orca play with his food.

Kim shook his head and tapped Dot’s arm. She opened her eyes and rolled onto her side. “Now I see why they are called ‘Killer whales’… that was pretty intense.” He looked back to where the kill had transpired, the scene appeared undisturbed, save for a red tinge in the water. The anchovy school spread out once again and resumed their plankton feast.


Here is a brief video of my little fishy pals, taken from Kwaietek’s fantail. (And thanks for the story idea, lil’ guys).

 

 

Adios, Astoria.

Astoria bridge at sunset

Certain parts of my novel are in flashback–they of course all tie together and are a big part of what has happened to the world by the year 2033. This particular chapter occurs fairly early on in my novel (chapter 7) and is one of those flashbacks. It’s a biggie as far as our main protagonist goes.

Realizing that I needed to accurately describe what would occur in the event that a Cascadia Subduction Zone mega-quake should happen in the next 5-50 years (which, by the way, all signs point to “yes”). I did some extensive research on the CSZ and the resulting tsunami. I’ll give you a hint: You do not want to be anywhere near Seaside Oregon, Ilwaco or Long Beach, Washington when it happens!

I’ve spoken and emailed back and forth with some very knowledgeable and passionate experts on the CSZ quake. This chapter, set in Astoria Oregon, takes place in  July, 2022. I am currently trying to figure out which portion of the chapter to submit for the forthcoming edition of CLOVER Literary periodical. So, if you’re enjoying the story tidbits that I tend to throw willy-nilly onto this site–then by all means, read ahead and enjoy. Just don’t read it while vacationing at the Pacific NW coast!

(I’d  like to thank Chris Goldfinger, OSU Oceanographer and tectonic plate specialist, for his advice and recommendations–even while on vacation!

(PS: Things don’t end very well for our little seaside town of Astoria).

~ Chris


 

 

Astoria Oregon. Jul 3. 2022

46°11’26.5″N 123°50’59.8″W

 

Evie stood upright on her pedals and forced her bicycle over the steepest portion of the bridge’s ramp. Beads of sweat formed on her freckled face as she pumped the last few yards. Come on almost… there. Motorists sped past her, oblivious of the girl’s struggle as they focused on the four-mile overpass. Once Evie reached the first span—where the sidewalk separated from the two-lane traffic—she hopped off her bike and slid the pack from her shoulders. She unzipped its pouch and grabbed her handheld radio and the binoculars that her parents had given her on her recent birthday. She unclicked her bike helmet and slung it over the handlebars. Now all she had to do was wait.

The new binocs were heavy, but the magnification was strong and they automatically focused as she scanned the horizon. With these new glasses and the added height of the bridge, she figured that she could spot her dad’s boat as it crossed the Columbia bar. To kill time, she aimed her spyglasses at the waterfront and watched the activities below.

Astoria’s waterfront was jam-packed with cafes, hotels and gift shops as well as warehouses and freight yards. A giant cruise ship dominated the wharf alongside the Old Cannery Mall pier. Sunlight reflected off its alabaster hull and twenty decks-worth of windows. Evie zoomed in to observe the dockworkers as they rushed up and down the ramps to load supplies and fuel onboard the vessel. Groups of early-bird passengers mustered near the boarding gate. She magnified her lenses further and searched for her mother inside the boarding kiosk. The building was partially obstructed by the large HighTower offices, however she managed to spy her mother’s face from the open ticket window. Evie thought about radio-ing her mom to tell her she’d made it to the bridge, but knew that boarding-days were her busiest, so she just watched through the binocs as the line of eager cruisers sprawled down the pier.

Growing tired of spying on the passengers, Evie raised her glasses toward the boardwalk. Sightseers ambled along the wooden walkway that stretched from the wharf toward Smith Point Park. Tour groups—fresh off the buses—clutched visitor’s maps and paused at historical markers to snap photos. She adjusted the focus to watch Mr. Dunsmuir’s rusty tug push the fireworks barge upriver for tomorrow’s Independence Day celebration.

Astoria’s busiest weekend was in full swing as vacationers flocked to the Oregon Coast to explore its beaches and see the fireworks show over the Columbia. It seemed to Evie that everywhere she looked there were hundreds of gapers—her dad’s favorite word for the out-of-towners. She yawned and rested her elbows on the rails. A horn blast from below the bridge caught her attention. Shielding her eyes from the sun’s glare, she gazed across the river toward Washington’s shoreline. A RORO—one of the big ships that imported cars overseas, motored underneath the bridge. Evie liked the way its nickname tripped off her tongue. “Ro-ro,” she murmured. “Roll on—roll off.”

The Columbia River’s anchorages were full of these mammoth cargo ships and freighters, but from Evie’s lofty vantage they resembled a fleet of toy boats. Commercial fishermen maneuvered around the behemoths, taking care to stay well away from the oversized anchor chains. Evie absentmindedly peeled a flake of green paint from the railing and flicked it over the side, staring as it fluttered toward the water. Suddenly a familiar red-hulled vessel appeared in the distance. She reached down for her binocs and flipped the knob of the handheld.

Evie’s father Brock, steered his sixty five-foot boat Nomad, past the Cape Disappointment lighthouse. After two weeks at sea, he returned to Astoria with his hold full of Albacore tuna. The crew were anxious to cash in their shares and Brock looked forward to spending the Fourth with his wife and daughter. Conditions on the bar were rough that morning and large waves rapidly stacked up as Columbia’s current confronted the Pacific’s strong flood. Brock throttled up and Nomad plowed through the fourteen-foot waves. Once they crossed the bar, things calmed down somewhat and Brock checked his GPS, making a brief note in the ship’s log.

A static-y voice came over the VHF. “Nomad, Nomad, Nomad. This is Buttercup, do you copy?”

Brock smiled and pulled the radio’s mic from its hook. He replied, “Buttercup, this is Nomad, switching over to six-eight.”

“Six-eight, Nomad.” Brock turned the dial on his VHF and spoke into the mic. “Well, hello there! What-up, Buttercup?”

“Dad? Is that you over by Fort Stevens?”

“Yep, that’s us. I’d say in about an hour we’ll be tied up at dock. I’m sure glad to be home.”

“I thought so—these new binocs are awesome! I’m on the bridge looking right at you guys. Can you see me?”

Brock picked up his binoculars from the dash and scanned the bridge. “What are you doing up there on a busy holiday? Does your mom know where you are?”

“Mom said if I wore my helmet I could wait up here—I’m standing just past the on-ramp by my bike. I’m waving… see? It’s totally safe, there’s lots of other people up here too.”

Brock set his glasses back on the counter as he turned the helm to avoid a rolling wave. “Ah, OK then. Hey, I should be back in time to pick you and Mom up for some lunch—is she working at the terminal this morning?”

“Yeah, she’s down at the kiosk right now. I can see her through… Wh­—what’s going on?” …Dad?”

A sudden jolt slammed the bridge where Evie stood and knocked her away from the handrail. Her bike fell over onto its side and rattled against the pavement. A noise, like the roar of a speeding train filled the air. People on the bridge fell or knelt to the ground as the shaking rumble increased. “Daddy! What’s happening?” Evie shouted into the radio, “Everything’s moving!”

Brock stared out his window to see the bridge sway back and forth. Sections of the middle crumbled into the river. “Evie! Evie—stay where you are! Do not move—do you hear me?”

“Dad—it’s coming apart! Daddy—it’s an earthquake!”

Brock slowed Nomad’s speed and turned the boat toward shore. The two deckhands ran into the wheelhouse. One of them screamed, “Look at the city! Jesus Christ—look at the hillside!”

The cliffs above Astoria began to move, trees toppled onto roofs and took out telephone lines. The roar of the quake was deafening. Suddenly, a large cloud of dirt mushroomed skyward and entire neighborhood collapsed down the hillside. The noise of the earthquake was augmented by the sounds of houses and vehicles crashing into the waterfront below. The grinding sound of earth and rock increased, reverberating over the river and off the opposite shoreline.

Brock’s attention was on the remaining span of bridge where his daughter gripped the railing. “Evie, are you there—you OK?” From Brock’s position, he saw the ramp tear away from the bridge, cars, bicycles and pedestrians were hurled into the rushing water beneath. “Dear God. This is the one—this has gotta be the big one.”

Evie’s trembling voice emanated from the mic in his hand. “Daddy? What should I do? I can’t get down from here. Dad, I’m so scared.”

“You hold on tight Evie. You hold on very tight… and pray—you hear me?” Tears rolled down Brock’s face as he spoke.

“Uh… Hey, Brock—man, what’s happening?” His first mate asked.

Nomad rocked violently and loud bangs echoed from its steel hull. The crew grabbed onto counters and bulkheads as the vessel slammed about. Brock looked out the wing-door as chunks of concrete and debris hurtled toward them. Suddenly, Nomad began to move backward as the current’s speed increased. “What in the hell?” He throttled up and tried to fight the current, but his boat made no headway. Then with a resounding thud, its lead keel settled onto the muddy river bottom. He laid the mic on the dash and climbed out the port door. Nomad leaned into the mud as dirty water swirled all around them. There was no way to move the boat—the mighty Columbia River was now below his propeller. He looked around—ships and other vessels lay drunkenly along the riverbed. The earthquake’s tremors shook the muddy current like a blender. Holy mother of God.

 

Evie fell to the pavement, closed her eyes and grabbed the bars with all her might. The sounds of screams and asphalt crumbling could barely be heard over the intense rumble of the quake. The pillar of bridge upon which she sat swung back and forth, cars skidded across the two lanes. Evie felt the binoculars slide off her lap and she opened her eyes long enough to grab them before they fell. As she looked up she saw a huge fireball on the pier, right behind the cruise ship. The fuel dock exploded as the waterfront fell six feet toward the water. Pipes burst and sent geysers of fluid and steam shooting above rooftops. Evie grasped the rail with one hand and tried to steady her binoculars, scanning the dock for any sign of her mother. The kiosk and HighTower office building were obscured in smoke. The radio beeped and she heard her father’s worried voice.

“Evie—Evie are you there? Please God, be there, Evie.”

The bridge segment pitched violently forward and Evie gasped. One of the pedestrians nearby was thrown off the side of the bridge, Evie watched her land on the rocks below. She placed the binoculars in her lap with her free hand and reached for the radio without letting loose of the railing. “Daddy—people are dying! I’m afraid the bridge is going to break apart! Help me!”

“Honey, I can’t get off of the boat. We’re stuck here. I love you—you know that right?”

“Daddy… help me!”

“Listen Evie—listen to me! You hold onto the handrails of that bridge and you don’t budge—you don’t move one inch. Do you hear?”

“Y… y… yes, I get it,” Evie cried as she spoke. “Dad—I love you.”

“Oh Evie…” Brock removed his thumb from the speaker button as a racking sob escaped from his mouth. He paused and regained his composure before pressing it again. “You’re my brave girl and you’re going to be alright. You’ll find your mom after this and both of you will get up the hill—OK?”

“OK Dad.”

Brock heaved a sigh. He looked over at the waterfront and noticed the flames near the cruise ship. “Evie, hey Evie—can you see the cruise terminal from your location.”

“Daddy—I can’t see Mom. There’s too much smoke down there. Do you think she got away?”

Even through the radio’s tinny speaker, Evie discerned the strain in her father’s voice as he replied, “Sure she did, hon’. They’re all safe inside the terminal, don’t worry about Mom. She’ll know what to do.”

The shaking stopped almost as abruptly as it began. Evie held her breath as she listened to the bridge’s support beams groan and crackle. All around her, people moaned and cried—screams originated from several cars that hung over the edges of the broken overpass. A cacophony of noises rang from the town below—explosions, car alarms and shattering glass coalesced into white noise inside Evie’s head. She held the binoculars to her eyes, and saw a sailboat aground on Front Street, one of the city garbage trucks lay on its side on top of Mason’s Pharmacy. Sewage sprang from the street in front of the Cannery restaurant. The cruise ship was now completely engulfed in smoke and flames. Passengers scrambled away from the docks as crew leapt from the upper decks two hundred feet into the shallow mud. To Evie, life had now taken on a slow-motion, surreal quality. She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead into the cold steel rails.

Several minutes passed and she heard footsteps as a number of survivors gathered near the railing. People filed past her without even noticing her as they looked for a way off of the piling. She heard them talking and then all at once, four men climbed onto the rail. She peered over the edge and watched them start to descend the steel girders. The space between the beams was over five feet in some places; even more where the beams had broken off or been crumpled by the quake. As they fought their way down the hundred-foot structure, those who remained on the bridge shouted encouragement. At last, the four men reached the bottom. They scrambled over slimy rocks and mud to find firm ground. Waving at the six others on the bridge, they yelled, “It’s do-able! Come on–climb on down!”

Evie stared as the stranded people climbed over the rails, one by one. They called down to the men below for instructions. “Where do I put my foot?” “…I can’t see the next step—where should I go next?”

Her radio beeped. It was Brock’s voice. “Evie, are you still there?”

She held the radio close to her cheek and replied, “Yes—are you okay, Dad?”

“Still hangin’ in there, Buttercup. How are you?”

“Daddy, there are some people climbing down the steel beams. Some of them are already on the ground. Do you think I should follow them?”

“Evie, no. Don’t leave the bridge right now—not now. This is really important. Promise me that you will stay put.”

“I promise Dad, but… but don’t you think I should get down there and find Mom?”

“Evie, it’s not over yet, honey. There’s going to be a big wave pretty soon—a really big one. You’ll have to stay up there where it can’t get you. Understand me?”

Evie frowned and tilted her head. “Dad… are you talking about a tsunami?”

“Yeah babe, a tsunami.”

“But if it could get me way up here…”

“Evie.”

“Yes?”

“You are going to hold onto that railing and… Please. Just do it.”

Evie stared at her father’s distant fish boat while they spoke. She imagined he was sitting there next to her, his arm around her shoulder. As she looked toward Nomad, she noticed a white wall on the horizon. It covered the entire ocean as far as Evie could see. She placed the binoculars to her eyes and said, “Dad—there’s a huge cloud or something right near the water.”

“Hang on a sec.”

Brock stepped on deck and walked to the stern. His crew sat on fish crates and smoked, staring at the white wall across the sea. “Get below guys, let’s have this old girl fired up and ready to roll once there’s some more water under her keel.”

“It’s gonna be a wild ride huh, boss?”

“It’s gonna be somethin’, that’s for sure.”

“Well, Yippee-Ki-Yay, then says I.”

Brock returned to the wheelhouse and picked up the mic. “Calling station Buttercup-Buttercup, this is fishing vessel Nomad. Do you copy?”

Evie smiled and returned the formal hail, “Nomad, this is Buttercup. I copy you loud and clear. Over.”

“Buttercup, it looks as if we’ll be heading in to town real soon here. Thinkin’ I might be a little busy for the next hour or so… Maybe I could use an extra pair of hands after that. What say we transmit our coordinates once this little ride is over and meet up?”

Nomad, I copy. I’ll be waiting for your call. Over.” Evie sighed and smiled, then pressed the transmit button again, “Nomad?”

“Buttercup, this is Nomad.”

“You should’ve taken me with you like I asked.”

“Yeah, well I sure could use an extra pair of hands in the wheelhouse at this point. You may just be right about that. I’m sorry I didn’t listen.”

“I really love you, Dad. I’ll see you in a little while, OK?”

“See you soon sweet girl—what did I say about staying put?”

“You said, ‘hold tight—don’t let go’ Daddy. I swear I won’t move.”

“That’s my gal! I love you. Don’t ever forget it. This is Nomad signing out.”

“Buttercup, out.” Evie gulped and set her radio in the backpack. She grabbed the bars of the railing and shook them with all her might. Then with a sigh, she bowed her head and waited.

Ten minutes passed, and then ten more. Evie dozed off a little and when at last she opened her eyes, the white wall had reached the mouth of the Columbia. The wave spanned the entire horizon, reaching up to sixty feet above the ocean’s surface. A thunderous roar echoed from the shores of the Columbia River. The river’s current, shallow as it had become, now ran backward—toward the Cascade mountains. The tsunami forced the water in front, overtook it and assimilated it into the furious mass of destruction.

Evie was fixated on the wave’s sheer size. She stared at the towering cliff of water for some time in disbelief. Her gaze moved toward what lay ahead in the tsunami’s path and she saw Nomad; it looked so tiny now. Its keel was no longer embedded in the mud, the boat—like many others—was motoring at full throttle upriver, attempting to outrun the calamity behind them.

 

Nomad powered forward at thirteen knots of speed. The extra push of the receding river gave them several knots advantage, but Brock knew that the pursuing wave traveled much faster than his engine could turn. “Arrrrgh! Move forward, you bitch!” He shouted at the controls and pushed the throttle to the dashboard. The ocean’s roar boomed all around them. He dared not look over his shoulder for risk of losing his nerve. His deckhands stood behind him and clung to the doorway—their life jackets strapped on tightly. A large shadow suddenly blocked the sun across Nomad’s port windows. Brock leaned forward and looked up toward the sky. One of the freighters careened sideways toward them. The broadside of the freighter’s hull filled the entire window. As the ship bore down on Nomad, Brock looked over at his crew and said, “Fellas, this is it.”

 

From her perch atop the bridge piling, Evie stared across the Columbia as Nomad disappeared underneath the freighter’s keel. The tsunami came upon them and swallowed both vessels. She held tightly to the railing and clutched the handheld radio against her chest, whimpering, “Daddy, Daddy… Daddy don’t go. Please, come back.”

 

The wall of water consumed the town’s waterfront. It broke over seawalls, flooded roads and forced everything in its path into a raging torrent of debris. People were swept into the crush as they grasped street posts and doorways. Evie spotted a couple clinging to a restaurant balcony, then suddenly the woman was gone. The people who had climbed down from the bridge were devoured where they stood—sucked underneath the filthy whitecaps. Nothing remained but the surging sea. Astoria and the Columbia belonged to the Pacific Ocean now.

The crippled cruise liner, still ablaze, was lifted and deposited on top of the Old Cannery Mall. The building collapsed into splinters as the sea carried away its beams and walls. Bodies poured out of the wreckage and were swept into the current. Evie screamed and hugged the railing as the tsunami roared around the base of her feeble pillar. She felt the entire structure vibrate, heard the metal creak and felt the damp air rise from the energy of the wave. At last, when she had no voice left, she squeezed her eyes and silently mouthed, I love you.

 

For the next four hours the tsunamis returned, as if each new surge meant to claim what its predecessors had been unable to destroy. Evie sat alone on the bridge’s sidewalk and hugged her little section of rail, dully observing the water’s progress and retreat. Her radio that lay across her lap now transmitted only a low static. Suddenly, the entire piling shuddered. Evie jumped, the radio slipped off her lap and tumbled ninety-feet into the water. She gripped the hand rail and peered below. Pinned against the side of the piling was an old fishing schooner. The current had pulled it close to the shoreline as the last wave receded. Its bow was now lodged between the bridge and the rocks but its hull was intact. From where Evie stood, she could make out the name on its transom: The Dottie Rose. Evie stared at the boat for some time, wondering if she could reach its deck from her precarious location.

An aftershock threw her to the pavement as the ground trembled. The damaged trusses began to crumple as the vibrations continued. Sounds of sheering metal reverberated through the asphalt. Evie realized that the time for escape was now or possibly never. She threw her leg over the side and without looking down, reached for the beam and placed her weight on it. Step by step, she crawled down the framework. The last two supports were missing, torn away by the tsunami’s rampage. She drew a big breath and looked beneath her feet—there was a twelve to fifteen-foot drop to the deckhouse roof on the fishing vessel. If she miscalculated, or if the boat shifted, she would be engulfed in the flood.

Evie shut her eyes and let go.


 

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