Old Massett

As I begin to tie the various strands together to finish the tapestry of my story, I am looking back to early chapters in which many of the main characters and settings are introduced. This is one of my favorites, in large part for the description of the Haida longhouse and establishing the relationship between Ol’ Pa and Marta.

~ C.761285

 

 


 

Old Massett. Jul 14. 2022

54°00’19.6″N 131°41’06.5″W

An elderly man and his daughter wandered along the beach, their footprints paralleled the foamy margins of the ebb tide. Every so often, one of them knelt beside a shallow pool and plucked out a spiny urchin or purple sea cucumber. The woman placed them into the basket that she’d slung over her arm.

The recent earthquake made foraging more of a challenge; entire ecosystems had been damaged by the Tyee’s tsunami as far north as the shores of Haida Gwaii. As the northwest coast disintegrated, fish and marine life abandoned their habitats—waiting, it seemed, for the earth to calm itself. The Tyee’s catastrophe had only worsened the already tenuous conditions created by the ocean’s climbing temperatures. The chíin had long since abandoned their Inside Passage runs for cooler water offshore—and once there, massive factory trawlers scooped up the precious salmon. Few now returned to spawn. The local fishermen lost their livelihood and the islands’ residents, their main food source.

The old man veered off his path and began to follow a zigzagging trail of moist sand. He paused abruptly, stooping over a soggy patch to poke at the wet area with his walking stick, creating a miniature well. “Marta, come here—I bet there’s some k’áag hiding down there.”

The woman walked over to the puddle, already refilling with seawater. She bent down and swirled her fingers in the pool, creating a little funnel. “Hmm, maybe so… Did you bring your spade this time, Chiinga?”

He shook his head.

“I figured as much.” She sat the basket down beside her and helped him dig, using both hands to push away the sand.

“Here, try this.” Handing her a flat piece of driftwood, he continued to shovel with the end of his stick. Eventually they uncovered a few dozen butter clams and rinsed them in the saltwater, placing them on top of the catch in Marta’s basket.

“C’mon Ol’ Pa, let’s go home now, I want to soak these before they dry out.” Adjusting her straw hat so that the brim covered the back of her neck, she muttered, “Whew, it’s warm today.”

“OK—OK. Just hold on a minute. I want to take a look at what’s over by the point—see it?” He pointed toward the bluff, “I know for a fact that wasn’t there a week ago. I dug for k’áag at that very spot on Tuesday.”

“It’s just another boat washed up on the rocks, Ol’ Pa. They’ve been coming in all week—ever since the big quake. It’s getting too hot for you to be walking that far—forget about it.”

“Shush girl, I’m going to take a look.” He set off in the direction of the bluff.

Marta caught up with her father and they walked together for some time, the old man humming as they plodded along. The shipwreck was further away than he’d reckoned and it hovered, mirage-like, across the expansive beach. At last, they came upon their target: A blue hull resting askew on two large boulders with a gaping hole at its waterline. On the transom was painted a faded red flower, and beneath it, two words were stenciled in tarnished gold letters, “Dottie Rose.” Marta placed her hands on her hips and stared at the vessel, “We shouldn’t get too close, it might be one of those coyote boats.”

Ignoring her cautionary advice, the old man stepped inside and looked around. His voice echoed through the hull as he spoke. “There might be some stores inside. If there’s a transponder chip, we could salvage it and who knows, maybe sell it. I think I’ll check this out.” He disappeared completely into the boat’s cavity.

Marta sighed and sat down on one of the logs. Removing her hat, she twisted her greying hair into a thick braid. She knew there was no use arguing with Ol’ Pa, he was going to do whatever he wanted to—he always did. She hoped he didn’t get stuck inside the wreck, as she didn’t fancy going inside that dark, smelly thing to rescue him. Shifting her basket into a shadier spot, she covered it with her hat and waited for him to return.

“Daughter—come here! I’ve found something!”

Marta walked over to the hole and peered inside. The interior was dark and she had difficulty locating where his voice came from. Eventually, her eyes adjusted to the shadowy surroundings and she spotted his outline near a companionway. He carried something heavy in his arms. “Chiinga, what do you think you’re…?”

“Hurry up girl, she’s too heavy for me. I think she’s still alive. Come on—help me before I drop her.”

Marta stepped across the debris and realized that he held an unconscious little girl. She grabbed the child’s legs, supporting one foot on each hip as Ol’ Pa carried the girl by her shoulders, her head against his chest; tendrils of curly brown hair spilled across his arms. The two of them crab-walked over the frames, trying not to drop the child. As Marta backed out of the hole, her foot went through one of the vessel’s rotten planks. Marta fell, letting go of the child as her hands hit the rough wood. She felt warm blood trickle down her calf as she struggled to extract her leg from the broken hull. “Careful there, daughter! Pick her up again… OK, now take another step—nice and easy. Let’s put her down right here… Ah, good.”

They laid the girl on the warm sand and slumped down next to her, both winded by the exertion. The tiny girl looked so fragile, her pale face was peppered with dozens of freckles and a nasty gash ran along the side of her forehead, looking as if it might become infected. Marta placed her fingers under the girl’s chin to check for a pulse, the skin felt clammy to her touch, but Marta detected a feeble heartbeat. She glanced up at Ol’ Pa and nodded and then offered him her canteen. “OK, she’s alive–barely. Now what, Chiinga?”

The old man looked toward the ocean, the horizon was clear. “No trackers as far as I can see,” he said. Taking a long swig from his daughter’s canteen he handed it back. “They must not know the boat is here.”

Marta gulped down the water. “What do you suppose she was doing all alone in that boat? Perhaps somebody else went looking for help?” She poured some water on her shirt tail and squeezed the cool liquid onto the child’s lips.

“I don’t see any other footprints in the sand,” Ol’ Pa said. “Maybe if there were others, they got swept overboard?”

“Hmm, I don’t like this. Strangers bring trackers and trackers bring trouble for the village—you know that.” Marta ran her fingers through the child’s tangled hair, brushing several fine strands away from the girl’s eyes. It was a maternal gesture, one she had not used for many years. “Ol’ Pa,” she whispered, “If this little hlk’ín-giid is chipped, then what?”

“Well, there’s no sense worrying about what we can’t fix. Right now, we need to figure out how to get her back to the village.”

Marta stood up and instantly felt the pain in her calf. “Ahhh—that really smarts!” She rolled up her jeans and examined the wound. The bleeding had stopped but the cut looked jagged and deep. “Ugh, Doc’s going to want to stitch this up for sure,” she mumbled.

“Can you walk on it? If so, you go for help. Leave me the water and I’ll stay here,” he gestured inland. “But get Doc Gravin to take care of that cut first—it needs looking at.” He pulled himself up and dragged the little girl farther into the shade. Before Marta could argue, he continued, “Stop at Billy Telford’s place. He’s got that dune buggy—he’ll come for us… And besides, I’ve always wanted to ride in that contraption.”

Marta handed Ol’ Pa the canteen and took her basket of seafood. “Chiinga, please be careful. I’ll be back in a few hours. Promise me you won’t go back inside that boat—not for any stupid transponder chip… I don’t care how much you could get for it.”

Ol’ Pa waved her away. “Yeah, yeah—now off with you, girl. I want to be home in plenty time for my dinner.”

 

The Old Massett longhouse sat in the heart of the village and served as the assembly hall and community center for the inhabitants. The century-old structure was constructed of massive trees from the Naikoon forest and fastened together with wooden spikes. Inside its thick walls, the polished logs were decorated with carvings of ceremonial masks and stylized animals from Haida lore. Complex and colorful figurines of bears, whales and eagles were mounted next to mythical Thunderbirds. Wall-hangings made from roots and cedar bark hung beside woven tapestries that depicted events from long ago. These tactile works of art—created by many hands over the years, kept the Haida history alive. Outside, the building’s ancient timbers were protected by eaves of heavy, roughhewn beams. Columns of steel crabpots stacked along the walls awaited the coming húugaa season—when the spiny Dungeness returned to the shallows. Weathered totem poles towered over the grassy lawn, standing sentinel in front of the double doors. They varied in shape; some stout, others reaching over seventy-feet high. Faded colors clung to the crevices of the totems’ aged caricatures; their eyes—both human and animal—observed all who passed beneath. These gyáa’aang had witnessed many generations of Haida who gathered at the longhouse for potlatches, marriages, births and deaths for hundreds of years.

On this particular evening, the longhouse was packed to the rafters. From a distance, the rows of mullioned windows glowed amber as the oil-lamps burned within—power had not been fully restored to the island since the Tyee. It seemed as if the entire village had heard about Ol’ Pa’s discovery and wanted to see the shipwrecked girl for themselves. Chairs and tables filled the hall and, where there was no room to sit, villagers pressed themselves against the walls. The elders sat on the long bench near the end of the room and whispered amongst themselves as they sipped gángk’an from ceramic mugs. A large black raven perched quietly on the sill of an open window not far from the front doors.

Marta and her father sat near the table where the child rested, laying curled in a fetal position and staring impassively as Doc Gravin performed his examination. He listened to her breathing through his stethoscope, tapped her chest as she coughed and shined his otoscope into her ears and eyes. Marta leaned over to her father and whispered, “Why doesn’t she speak?”

“Well, I s’pose she’ll say something when she has something to say.”

Doc straightened up and looked around the room. “She’s a tough little survivor, this one. Aside from the cut on her head and a bout of chest cold, I’d pronounce her a pretty healthy little girl all in all—and a lucky one—very lucky.”

Eli Hammond the grocer, asked, “Has she said where she came from—how she got up here?”

“Not to me she hasn’t.” Doc said.

Marta inquired, “Do we know if she’s spoken at all… to anyone?”

Billy Telford leaned over from his bench against the wall and spoke. “She only moaned a little—y’know—when we set her in the buggy. Not a word after that for the entire ride back.”

Heads shook throughout the room and people began to murmur. The little girl had been in the village for several hours, but had not opened her mouth since regaining consciousness. Several voices from the back of the hall called out, “Has she been scanned yet?” … “Yeah, do we know if there’s an ID chip?” … “She’s Yáats’ Ýaat’áay, so she’s definitely got to have one.” … “That’s true—all the whiteys are chipped at birth these days.”

The chatter increased until at last Doc Gravin waved his hands to bring about order. “Quiet please, folks—let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I don’t have a scanner, so there’s no way of telling… but there’s nothing saying we can’t get over to the Greenwood to borrow theirs. Have any of their fetchers been spotted recently?”

The longhouse erupted in conversation as everyone spoke at once. Had the fetchers been across the strait? Were any of their tlúu spotted in the bay?… The consensus was that no one had seen any of the fetchers for the past few weeks. Annie Taw suggested that they send a message to the Greenwood in the morning, it was roundly approved by those gathered around.

“Where’s this hlk’ín-giid going to stay for now? who’s taking responsibility?” asked Russell Guujaw, one of the elders. Everyone looked around the room, wondering who would volunteer. It was one thing to rescue an outsider, but food and supplies were scarce these days. Who would be willing to share provisions with a stranger? Especially if that stranger brought trackers to the village.

A chair skidded noisily across the floor as Ol’ Pa rose to his feet. He stood up straight, hands resting on the tabletop for support. He looked around at his neighbors and said, “I will take care of the girl. Me and Marta, that is.”

Marta smiled as if she’d already guessed what her father was going to say.

 

Two and a half months had passed since the discovery of their young castaway. Autumn’s early morning chill crept up the island chain and lingered until well after noon on most days. The humpbacks had reappeared in Dixon Entrance; their colossal flukes slapping the water could be heard from shore. Haida’s fishermen took hope from the whales’ return, trusting that the chíin might soon follow. They mended lines and reinforced their nets in preparation for whatever sockeye run might appear. Families of young children prepared for the onset of classes. Old Massett’s schoolyear was off to a late start as a result of the Tyee disruption. Many children who lived in the more remote parts of Haida Gwaii had not been to the village since the earthquake. There was an air of excitement and anticipation in the town that had not been felt for quite a while.

Ol’ Pa sat on the front porch, splicing his fishing lines. The little girl sat cross-legged on the floor in front of him and stitched whippings into the bitter-end of each rope. She’d taken to the job naturally and needed no instruction. She bent her head over her handiwork, ringlets of her soft brown hair curtaining her face as she moved the needle in and out. The deep cut on her forehead had healed, in its place was a white scar that ran parallel to her eyebrow. The faded denim overalls that she’d been given hung loosely on her slender frame. Marta appeared from the kitchen holding two cups of salal tea, she paused on the other side of the screen door and smiled at the sight of them both diligently working. “You two might want to stop for some lunch now,” she said, opening the squeaky door with her foot. “There’s a plate on the table for anybody who’s hungry.”

The little girl smiled, dropped her needle and stitching palm onto the floorboards and sprinted past Marta. The door slammed noisily behind her. Marta set the cup on the table next to Ol’ Pa, he grunted thanks while parting the strands of the braided line. Marta shielded her eyes, watching several of the neighbor’s boys wrestling in their yard across the street. One of the older boys turned on a garden hose and sprayed his brothers. Their mother’s voice screamed from inside the house, “Táan Olsen—you turn off that hose right now!”

Marta turned to Ol’ Pa and said, “This little girl of ours needs some friends her own age.” Ol’ Pa snorted and shook his head, mumbling under his breath at the twisted pile of rope on his lap. “How will we ever get her to speak someday, if her only companion is an old cuss whose vocabulary consists of assorted harrumphs and grunts?” Marta put a hand on her hip, shifting her weight onto the same leg. “Look here, school’s going to begin soon—I believe she should be enrolled… That is, I mean, if they’ll accept her—being mute and all.”

Ol’ Pa continued with his splices. “I should think any teacher would appreciate a kid who can keep their mouth shut. “

“Chiinga, be serious.”

“I am being serious, woman. Have you walked by that damn school when it’s in session?” He paused for a moment and took a drink. “Ahhh, that tastes good.” Returning to his handiwork, he grumbled, “What is formal schooling worth nowadays? Our children should be taught the old ways—especially now. That’s how we’ve always survived, that is how we will continue to endure. Ýaat’áa k’adangéehl— ‘Haida educated’, daughter.”

“Yes Ol’ Pa, that’s true. But if we’re to exist in this world, we must continue to know the other ways too. And need I remind you—this child is not Haida.” Marta continued to watch the rowdy boys playing as she spoke. Inhaling deeply, she stated, “Nope, I’m going to register her for school this week. I’m just not sure how old she is… I’d guess about nine or ten, but who knows? And we don’t even know what to call her…  What name should I put on the enrollment form?”

“Put down ‘Dot’. Her name is Dot.”

Marta snickered. “You’ve been calling her after the name of that old boat lately—what’s the story, Chiinga?”

“Well, it’s better than calling her nothing, and nothing is exactly what she says. I can think of a lot worse names than Dottie Rose for a little girl.”

“Alright, alright, old man, I’m not going to argue with you. We’ll play it your way. ‘Dot’ it shall be—for now. I suppose if she doesn’t like it, maybe she’ll say something about it.” Marta turned to open the screen door, she paused as if to add something, but just shrugged, smiled and said, “I think I’ll take Dot with me to pick some blackberries, can you survive by yourself for the afternoon?”

“Get on with you, woman.” Ol’ Pa waved his splicing fid in her direction as she closed the screen door.

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Mythical Threads

saka-em

 

 

 

 

Excerpt from Sea of a Thousand Words. (Chapter 22)


“Hey, Dot—c’mere and take a look at this sail, will ya’—is this what you wanted?” Ooligan spread the canvas out on the grass.The sail began to take on the shape of a large clamshell as she unwrapped its accordion-like folds. Dot backed out of the inner hull where she’d been lashing the last of the three mast steps to the frame. Tucking the leather strips into her pocket, she stepped over the cockpit and stood next to Oolie with her hands on her hips, carefully studying the sail.  Ooligan pointed toward the base, where the battens would meet the mast once the sail was bent on. “I’m pretty sure that I got them long enough this time. What do you think—wanna try it out?”

Dot nodded and the two women lifted the scalloped sail upright, carrying it over to the baidarka. Pasha glanced up from his stitching, clambered over the pile of old sail material and grabbed one of the masts that lay beside the boat. He carefully stepped it into its slot and twisted until a solid thunk emanated from inside the hull. Ooligan and Pasha held the fabric as Dot fastened the gaskets around the mast. They stepped back and admired the new fan-shaped sail rising from the baidarka’s deck like a peacock’s tail. “Bravo—one down, two more to go!” Oolie exclaimed. Dot smiled, it was her first attempt at sail design and she was pleased that her creation worked. Climbing back into the cockpit, she squeezed herself underneath the decking. The muffled exchanges between Ooligan and Pasha drifted into the hull as she sweated with her lashings in the confined chamber—their constant bantering now a part of the ambient sounds of her workday. She detected a new voice joining in the conversation and picked out the low cadence of Adili’s Kenyan accent. Dot backed her way out of the baidarka and pulled herself out of the mid-section cockpit. She wiped the perspiration off her brow with the back of her hand and waved at Adili.

“Hello Dot, I see progress is being made on your baidarka. This sail is most unusual, how does it work?”

Dot tied together two lengths of her leather straps and attached an end to the most outside batten of the sail. She sat back into the cockpit and then pulled on the strap. The sail pivoted toward her. Pointing to the opposite side, she mimed pulling a strap the same way. She brought her hands together, as if pulling back on the reins of a horse, and mimicked tying the straps onto a cleat. Adili nodded, “This is a remarkable design. You are a clever woman, Dot.”

Ooligan picked up her second sail and walked over to where Adili stood. “That’s not all—check out this slick feature she just added.” Oolie flipped the partially finished sail she was holding upside down—spreading the battens out into a circle on the grass and brought the clamshell shape together at its ends. The upside-down sail became a conical tent. “Isn’t this cool? We should’ve thought of this years ago, Adili. Just think about all those nights we’ve had to camp al fresco!”

Pasha set his canvas down and stood up, squinting toward the channel. He pointed toward the water, past where Dot’s little boat bobbed along the shore. “I think that your Saka is wanting for you to play, no?”

Dot looked toward the channel in time to see a black and white fluke slap the water. She tossed her gloves and straps into the boat and walked toward the shore. Saka surfaced a hundred yards out and flapped his pectoral fin on the waves as he splashed sideways. “He’s sort of like a kitten when he gets playful, isn’t he?” Ooligan said. “A great big, seven-thousand-kilo kitty.”

Dot looked around the row of kayaks and spotted several spare paddles. She motioned to the baidarka they were working on and pointed to the whale. Adili watched her and said, “Are you asking if Oolie and I want to go with you to see this whale?” Dot shook her head, pointing to where Pasha stood. “Ah, just the three of us? But your Saka does not know us. How will he react?”

Dot nodded her head and gestured again to the baidarka. Ooligan sprinted over to the paddles and grabbed three. “I don’t know about you, Kenyan… but I’m game for this!”

Pasha smiled, lifted the mast and sail from the hull and grabbed the prow of the baidarka. “Count me in.”

Adili squinted and looked skeptically at the black fin cutting through the water. He sighed and said, “Well, never let it be said that a Maasai warrior would be outdone by a skinny Russian.” He bowed and pulled a beaded necklace over his head, handing it to Dot. “Hold onto this for me please. There is a photo of my wife and child in the locket—I never wear it in the water.” He walked back to the baidarka and grabbed the stern. Hefting it onto his shoulder, he followed Pasha to the shore’s edge where Ooligan waited with the paddles. Dot smiled as she watched her friends launch the three person kayak and venture out to where Saka frolicked in the deeper water.

The sound of gravel under foot startled Dot and she turned to see the chief walking down the footpath toward them. She nodded at Reba and pointed to the threesome playing with the whale. Reba held her palm across her forehead and watched the fetchers as they laughed and reached out to pat the large fin. Saka dove beneath the baidarka and surfaced eighteen-feet high with a full body spy hop. Ooligan shrieked with delight. As the whale fell back into the water, the vessel and its three occupants were drenched in a column of water. Even Adili laughed with enjoyment at the soaking, “Kubwa!”

Reba shook her head and smiled, “A good omen, that.” Without turning her gaze away from the antics on the water, she asked, “Tell me Dot, in your adopted language, Saka’s kind are called ‘sgáan’, correct?” She glanced at the girl for confirmation and Dot nodded yes. Reba tilted her head to one side; lost in thought as she looked across the channel. Eventually she said, “In the tongue of my ancestors, orca are called ‘ska’ana.’ Did you know that ska’ana are considered extremely good luck by our people?” She pointed in the direction of Saka, “It has long been held that, at one time, orcas would capture our canoes and take them under the water to transform the occupants into ska’ana. For that reason, we have always believed that an orca near the shore is actually a human—transformed—trying to communicate with his or her family.” She looked over at Dot and smiled at the girl’s wide-eyed fascination.”What do you think of that?” They stood together on the shore and regarded the whale interacting with the fetchers for several minutes. Reba murmured quietly—almost as if to herself, “It’s also said that to be splashed by a ska’ana—like Saka out there—will ensure great luck and happiness because they are the guardians of the ocean and all who travel upon it. And so Dot, I believe that this is quite a good thing… What’s taking place out there right now.”

Dot beamed as she listened to Reba speak of the old legends. She turned her attention to her friends paddling in the channel with her old companion. She’d never given much thought to the lore of the sgáan. It had always been enough for her–the gift of Saka’s friendship. She’d never really attributed any special meaning to it. Now she felt an overwhelming sense of pride, knowing that Saka and his kind were held in such high regard by others.

Reba turned to go, but after taking a few steps toward the woods, she paused and looked over her shoulder at the girl standing alone on the beach. Reba thought about the other great significance of the ska’ana; that important chiefs were often reincarnated into orca when they died, returning as messenger spirits to guide the chosen ones. Reba considered sharing the story with Dot, but something held her back. It’s best to leave that myth alone for now. She’ll find her own truth as she needs ithaida-orca-totem

Buckle Up

Excerpt from Sea of a Thousand Words:  Chapter 38

By Christine Wallace


 

Queen Charlotte Strait. August 24 2033

52°20’32.5″N 129°33’34.3″W

 

“I don’t believe this is what this aircraft was designed for, Kai,” Adili muttered as he reached for the grab-rail above his shoulder.

“Are you kidding me? This is exactly the kind of thing these birds were made to do—just ask HighTower’s guy in back there… Hey, Ashfield—you awake?”

Adili turned to check on the prisoner when he failed to hear any response. His cold stare was returned by a disinterested nod from Trip, who upon acknowledgement, returned his gaze out the side window. Kai sent the helo plummeting toward the ocean sideways. “Man, I miss flying these things. I almost wish we weren’t so close to our destination… I don’t want to give this baby up.”

Adili frowned and shook his head. He didn’t share his partner’s enthusiasm for the whirling helicopter and would be glad to put his feet back on solid ground again—even if it was to be enemy soil.

It had been twenty-four hours since Kai piloted the HighTower helo off Haida Gwaii, leaving Mike’s bloodied corpse on the gravel below. Since then, Adili spent much of his time staring out of the copilot’s window in a brooding silence. The violent hand-to-hand combat and its grisly aftermath had taken a heavy toll on the Maasai warrior and memories from long-ago returned to haunt him. Kai glanced across the cockpit at his sullen friend, he could only guess what was troubling him, as they’d never spoken of Adili’s life back in Kenya. With an inaudible sigh, Kai returned his attention to the skies ahead.

A fuel alarm began to beep and a red button on the instrument panel flashed. Kai tapped the readout. “Shit.”

“What—what’s wrong?” Adili asked.

“Fuel. That kerosene we used from Eli’s stock must be a lot less efficient… Damn.”

Adili watched nervously as his partner scanned the GPS screen. “Now what do we do? Will we crash into the—the…?”

Shhh! Let me look—OK, I’m pretty sure we can make it to Campbell Island… I’ll put her down in Bella Bella.” With that, Kai turned the controls and the helo tilted shoreward, heading toward the hilly green archipelago of the British Columbia Coastal Islands.

 

A short time later, they touched down in Bella Bella on the outskirts of main street. Trip had been staring out the back window for the entire ride and suddenly recognized the run-down store where he and Mike had quizzed the Native girl about Kim Chen. He cleared his throat and shifted his gaze to the opposite window. Kai jumped out of the cockpit and threw the headset on the seat. “What do you want to do with him?” he asked, gesturing to Trip.

Adili shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll stay here with him.”

“Nah, I’ll need some help with the jerry-cans. I don’t think we’re going to find a gas station that will let us pull in with a helo, mate.”

Adili walked back to the passenger compartment and unlatched Trip’s harness. Without a word, he grabbed the six-foot-one prisoner and hauled him to the ground. Trip winced as his wounded leg folded beneath his weight. “Can you walk?” Adili asked.

“Gee, I dunno. What do you think, Kunta Kinte?”

Adili pulled Trip to his feet and wrapped his long arm around the hostage’s waist, gruffly leveraging the injured man’s weight onto his hip. Together, they hobbled their way toward the village. Kai walked ahead, counting out the money.

They reached the general store and Kai nodded at Adili. “Wait out here, I’ll ask where we can find some fuel.”

Adili deposited Trip into a folding chair and stood beside him, arms folded across his chest, eyes fixed straight ahead. With a heavy sigh, Trip straightened out his leg and adjusted his position. He glanced up at the big man next to him, scrutinized Adili’s expression and then looked away deep in thought. Finally, he coughed and chuckled aloud, as if enjoying a private joke. “You always the farmer’s dog?”

Adili looked down with distaste. “What do you mean by that?”

Trip stretched and sucked on his teeth as he looked down the empty street. “Nothing really—just observing, that’s all. I see you, always at the beck and call of these people—you fight their battles for them; carry their cargo…” gesturing toward himself, “you’re their boy. I’m just rather surprised that you’re OK with it Adili, that’s all.” Picking a stalk of dried grass off his trousers, Trip waited for his words to sink in and take effect. After a moment of silence, Trip looked up. He found Adili in the exact same position, his focus had not changed, nor his expression.  At last, the big man looked down at Trip with a withering gaze.

“I am who I am. I do what I want for my friends—my people. Tell me, why did you bring this helicopter up to the islands, Mr. HighTower suit? Who is really the boy, here?”

Kai pushed the creaky screen door open and rejoined them. “They say they’ll have to send a boat over to Shearwater for fuel. I told ‘em we can’t go there ourselves—too risky.” He tossed a package of jerky at Trip and handed Adili one of the bags of provisions. “Let’s get back to the bird—we might be here for a while.”

As they spoke, young woman climbed the stairs and reached for the door handle. She glimpsed at Trip as she pulled the door open and did a double take. “Hey, I remember you—you’re the one who gave me all that cash for the salmon! You almost got me fired, mister.”

Trip nodded with a frown and gave her a cursory wave.

“Did you ever find your friend—the one who was travelling with Ooligan?”

Kai and Adili exchanged glances as Trip mumbled, “Nope, I never found him.”

“Huh, OK. Well then… have a good’un.” She shook her head and walked into the store, letting the screen door slam behind her.

“Let’s go,” Kai said. He helped Trip to his feet and motioned for Adili to lead the way, saying, “I got him this time.” As the two stumbled back to the helicopter, Kai said, “You know, we’re not you’re enemy. Why does it have to be like this?” He paused and knelt lower to get a better grip on Trip’s waist. “These people here—and back in Old Massett—they’re all just trying to live their lives. What have they done to HighTower? Why is it we’re all so expendable to you folks in your big cities and fancy buildings? Man, we’re all in this together… It doesn’t make any sense.”

Trip gritted his teeth as he half-stepped across the grassy meadow. He let out a terse laugh and said, “I’m just earning a paycheck, my naïve Kiwi friend.”

“Trust me, mate—there’s better ways to earn a buck.”

“You think so? I happen to be pretty good at my job. And, most of the time, I enjoy it.”

“I’m sorry for you, Trip. Really sorry.”

As the men approached the helicopter, they were met by two elderly Heiltsuks. The pair introduced themselves to Kai as friends of The Greenwood’s—code speakers. The elders had family members who lived in Tsawwassen. A three-person baidarka had been stopped by ferry officials close to shore several days ago… a baidarka that resembled the one that had been seen near Bella Bella recently.

Adili and Trip waited beside the helo as Kai spoke at length with the elders. Upon his return, Kai announced that they would stay the night in Bella Bella to learn more about the fate of the paddlers and why they’d chosen to move closer to the mainland shore.

They set blankets underneath the helicopter and ate a frugal dinner of apples, jerky and flat bread. The sun began to sink behind the hills of Campbell Island and Kai rose to leave. “I’m heading into town—the code speakers may have received more news about Dot and Táan—and that guy you’re so hot to locate, Mr. Ashfield.”

Adili tied Trip’s hands together and lashed them both to the skids. He moved himself apart from the other bed rolls yet sat near enough to keep a wary eye on their prisoner. The two of them spent the next few hours in silence with only the soft sounds of the trees and the water around them. Trip rolled onto his side and stared up at the yellow moon.

Kai returned to camp with some good news: the code speakers confirmed that the paddlers had been released and, from their general descriptions, Kai was certain that the three were indeed their friends—and that they all seemed to be unharmed. He’d asked the code speakers to send word throughout the southern network—that should anyone encounter their companions, aid would be rendered and word sent back to The Greenwood at once.

The men settled into their bed rolls but sleep was soon interrupted by the buzz of Trip’s mobile; the electronic device vibrated so loudly that it fell from the dash and landed on the footboard above Kai’s head. He grabbed the mobile and looked at the display. Urgent texts from Amanda Terrance demanded that Trip respond immediately. Despite several tries at unlocking the protected device, Kai was unable to respond to the director’s requests. After his last attempt, the screen went dark and would not open back up. They spent a restless and troubled night underneath the helicopter; each man pondering what the messages foretold.

The fuel arrived early the next morning and after Kai had poured the jerry-cans into the helicopter, it was time to leave. They silently lifted Trip into the seat and climbed into the pilot and copilot seats. Before he pushed the ignition, Kai turned around to address their hostage. His face was somber as he spoke. “Okay, I can’t think of any other way to say this. You’re going to have to cooperate with us, Trip. There is only one way.”

Bringing his bound hands up to scratch the stubble on his cheek, the cleaner raised one eyebrow and offered a sardonic smile. “It always comes down to ‘only one way’, Kai. That’s what you’ve missed.”

“Look… We need to help our friends. I don’t give a shit about your loyalty to your craft—or to HighTower, or to what-the-fuck-ever. It’s simple, you help me out or you don’t. But if you don’t, I’m going to lighten the load in this bird by about a hundred and eighty pounds over the Pacific.”

“I don’t doubt you, Kai. And I don’t think for a second that your big friend here wouldn’t hesitate to do the same thing to me that he did to the mercenary.” Adili looked back over his shoulder with a scowl but Trip pressed on, “It’s nothing personal. This is just how it goes. Trust me.”

“I see.”

Kai started the ignition and the dual rotors began to hum. The helo rose slowly, parting the dried grass beneath the skids into flaxen furrows. As they flew over Queen Charlotte Sound the mobile buzzed again with a flurry of messages from HighTower. Kai glanced back via the mirror on his dash. He had a strange look in his eyes—as if concentrating on a puzzle. He closed one eye and squinted with the other—wrinkling his bronzed brow as he blurted out, “Adili—grab that mobile off the dash… OK right… Now try entering the words ‘Sun Tsu’, only all one word—lower case.”

After asking Kai how to spell the name, Adili punched in the six letters and the screen flashed back to life. “It says it needs a fingerprint,” Adili muttered and without hesitation, reached behind him and grabbed Trip’s hand. Pressing the astonished prisoner’s thumb hard onto the display, he shouted, “Got it!” Kai shook his head and chuckled.

Trip grabbed the edge of Kai’s seat and leaned forward as far as his restraints would allow him. “How in the hell did you figure out my password?”

Kai smiled and adjusted the mirror. Looking back at the cleaner, he smiled as he replied, “I didn’t. But you’ve got to be careful what you give away when sparring with my wife, mate. She’s a fan of The Art of War as well… And from what I hear, you two traded some quotes during your friendly little chit-chat back at Doc’s house.”

Trip’s eyebrows shot up and he opened his mouth to speak—thought better of it and collapsed back into his seat, shaking his head. At last he muttered, “I’ll be goddamned.”

Adili whispered, “God damned is right.”

With little time wasted, they were able to access the texts and learn that Kim had been detected at a charter dock in old Seattle earlier that morning—around one o’clock according to Amanda’s terse communication. Kai directed Adili to respond that Trip was southbound and would check in as soon as he arrived. Before long, another incoming message flitted across the screen.

“Ashfield—get your ass to the compound. I want both of Chen’s family members and the journalist taken care of: Disappear them. Do it today. Banks.”

“What is this about?” Adili asked of Trip. “Who is this ‘Banks’?”

Trip shut his eyes and rolled his head toward the window. “Guys, I don’t have any problems with telling you who Nelson Banks is or what he’s referring to—you can look it all up on my device for Chrissake. But I think I should warn you—you’re in so far over your heads right now… There’s absolutely no way out of this.”

Kai twisted the controls, sending the helicopter into a side-slip toward the water. “All the more reason to go big or go home!” he yelled. “Now or never, Ashfield. You want to stay in or are you ready to swim?”

Trip clutched the grab-rail above his head as Adili leaned back to unfasten the harness that kept him inside the compartment. The helicopter continued its sideways dive toward the Pacific. “In! Goddamn it—I am in for Chrissake!”

The helo levelled off and ran parallel with the surface of the ocean. Trip shut his eyes and took a measured breath. He exhaled and looked down at the water to confirm he was still above it. “Alright. We’ll try it your way for now,” he said. “We’re dead men either way—you realize that at least. But it seems logical to hedge my bets for the short term.”

 

By the time they’d reached the San Juan Islands, Kai had a hashed out a rough plan. Armed with the knowledge that Trip was ordered to appear at the compound by HighTower’s senior executive, Kai decided he would land the helo on top of the roof. With Adili’s assistance—and close oversight to ensure cooperation, they would take their wounded hostage straight to security and order the guards to deliver them the prisoners, citing the need to dispose of them offsite. Beyond rescuing Kim’s family members—and some unknown French journalist—Kai had no comprehensive strategy. “We’ll just wing it,” he’d explained.

 

 

“How much longer?”

Kai checked the computer on his instrument panel. “I’d say we’re only about thirty minutes out. Let’s hope that this plan works.”

Looking back over his shoulder, Adili shot Trip an intimidating look—the same one he used when hunting lions in the savannah as a Maasai ilbarnot.

Glancing out the corner of his eyes, Trip acknowledged the threat. He cleared his throat and spoke loudly enough to be heard in the front compartment, “It’ll work. Just don’t overreact.”

 

 

The HighTower helicopter approached Puget Sound—which meant that old Seattle was only eighty miles away. Some distance below them, a solitary red navigation buoy bounced about in the waves. Kai spotted it out of his side window. “Hang on, Adili—I’m takin’ her down for another dive—Whooohoohoo!”

Casting Director

My youngest daughter is an avid writer, and I have learned many valuable things from her in the last three years. One of the latest ideas is to “fan cast” (her words, not mine), my novel.

Now, like most authors, I’ve become intertwined with every one of my characters—inseparably so, and I’ve developed a detailed image of each of them in my brain. Some of them were fully created before I put pen to paper, others came gradually as the story progressed and still others popped off the page after a certain scene, “Bam—here I am!”  Initially, I was hesitant to commit trying to match my characters into flesh and blood people, but once I began the process I couldn’t stop. (Yeah, thanks a lot Pinterest).

It’s taken a while to assemble them all, and my apologies of course to those who have already formulated different looks for their favorites, but here is my casting director’s collage of the cast from Sea of a Thousand Words. *If you hover over the photograph, you can see the character’s name… or try guessing who they are from what you’ve read.

And hey, thanks for another great tip, kiddo.

 

One

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Hecate Strait. Jul 8. 2033

54°00’19.6″N 131°41’06.5″W

 

Tendrils of mist rose skyward as fog clung to the tranquil water of Massett inlet. A large raven perched alone on the high crags and waited—as he so often did—for the arrival of a small wooden boat with tanbark sails. As if on cue, a single mast appeared from the mouth of the bay. A crisp pop echoed from the cliff wall as the sail embraced the fresh breeze of Dixon Entrance. Even with the bird’s keen eyesight, the girl in the boat looked like a small dot. Her name in fact, was Dot, and in spite of her almost-eighteen years, she handled the boat with expertise. The raven cocked his head and then without further ado, extended his wings and coasted downward in a lazy spiral. Landing on the foredeck of the small craft, he danced around to gain his proper footing and bowed. Dot responded with three short clicks and tossed a piece of candied salmon on the deck.

He didn’t need a pet-name, although the island people called him “Monk” and since food often accompanied the sound of this name, he accepted it. Dot was different than the rest however, she needed no name or label for him. They understood each other plainly enough for the raven’s purposes.

They sailed along quietly for some time and after a while, the sun’s warmth dispelled the last of the fog. An expansive channel opened widely around them. Dot rolled up the sleeves of her blouse and tied back her unruly hair then looped a short rope to the tiller and leaned back in her seat with a yawn. A sharp pssssssssh broke the encompassing silence as a glossy black fin sliced the surface of the water, growing ever taller as an orca emerged from the depths below. By the time his blunt rostrum and white eye-patch were level with the boat, his dorsal fin towered several feet above them. Monk flew up to the crosstree, not so much from surprise or fear but from disdain of being splashed by the orca’s wake. The whale kept pace with the sailboat as they tacked, his fin withdrawing now and then between loud blows. Noisy wavelets slapped against the boat’s hull, filling the vacancies of his presence.

As morning subtly gave way to afternoon, the wind calmed to a gentle whisper. Growing restless, the orca slipped below the surface. Dot watched the whale’s silhouette fade into the blueish-green, his white saddle barely discernable before it merged into the darkness. She smiled to herself, happy hunting Saka. Reclining against the cockpit rails, she snacked on a loaf of bread and fish. Monk descended and took his place next to her on the bench. After tossing several more bites to her companion, the girl adjusted her sail and nestled down, allowing the boat to drift idly with the breeze. The swells from Alaska’s Gulf caused the sailboat to bob along in a rhythmic motion and its inhabitants relaxed, each in their own manner.

As the little boat neared Rose Point, the current of Hecate Strait met the stronger tide of the Pacific, creating a wash-bucket effect that made sailing uncomfortable. Dot turned her boat toward shore. As they rounded Rose Point, she kept an eye on the jagged rocks cropping up near the water’s surface. The lee of Haida Gwaii provided relief from the confused sea-state, so Dot doused her sail and reached for a paddle. A glint of bright color along the otherwise charcoal-hued coastline caught her attention and she paused to scan the rocks. Whatever she spied seemed to have vanished, or perhaps it was just an illusion—a reflection from the sun. She continued toward a shallow embankment up ahead and the object came into view again; so out of place in the earthy tones of the shore that it appeared garish in its intensity. Swinging the paddle to the opposite side of the boat, she steered in the direction of the color. The boat slid between some shallow rocks and she braced herself as its prow came to a stop—the keel rested upon the gravely bottom. Dot sprang from the cockpit and waded knee-deep through the chilly water, coaxing her boat further ashore. Once she’d secured the line, she glanced around and made a series of clucking noises with her tongue. The bird replied in kind and adjusted his course toward the mystery object, his long wings made a whooshing sound as he flew.

The rocks were covered with a slimy green algae and Dot slipped into the water several times while scrambling up the embankment. Monk hopped from stone to stone, pausing long enough to examine the narrow cracks and fissures between rocks with his dagger-like beak. He ruffled his feathers and bobbed his head several times as Dot reached the crest of the boulders. She stood upright and wiped her hands against her pants.

The bright color that had initially captured her attention was a large, rectangular bolster, similar to what one would find on a ship’s settee. The plastic-y orange cushion was covered with dried strands of eelgrass that clung to the coarse fabric. Monk pecked at the seaweed and a small beetle scurried for cover. Suddenly, a dirty bruised hand appeared from beneath the foam and groped towards Dot’s feet. She gasped and stepped backward, toppling over the rocks behind her. The arm extended and a soft groan could be heard. Monk flapped skyward with several throaty squawks. Landing a safe distance upland, he eyed the cushion warily.

Regaining her composure, Dot reached for a stick and prodded the cushion. The moaning intensified and a faint voice whispered, “Bāng wǒQǐng bāngzhù wǒ.

Dot had no idea what the words meant, but she understood the pleading quality in their tone. With apprehension, she moved closer and wedged her stick underneath the corner of the cushion, taking great care to stay out of reach of the groping hand. She held her breath and upended the water-laden foam, flipping it over to expose what lay underneath. She gasped.

An Asian man of about thirty years lay prone among the rocks, his right leg was bent at an unnatural angle. One of his arms was pinned underneath a heavy piece of driftwood, the one stretching out in front of him was badly bruised and had several deep scratches. His clothes were shredded and stained in blood and dirt. Resting beside him was a sodden briefcase, saltwater had formed lacy patterns across the leather as it dried. Dot examined the bag, hoping to find a clue as to the man’s identity. She noticed a narrow brass plate with several strange characters etched into the metal, below them she could make out the words “Dr. Kim Chen.” She twisted the hasp back and forth to no avail, the case was locked tight. Lifting it closer, she investigated its base and sides, finally giving it a good shake—the case was intact. Just then, Dot perceived that a slender cable connected the handle to the man’s wrist.

In the course of her investigation she jostled his injured arm. The man stirred again and murmured, “Hē shuǐ.

Dot knelt beside his head. She could tell he’d been trapped like this for several days by the condition of the brittle seaweed and his parched lips. She straightened up to fetch water from her gear but as she turned to go, the hand grasped at her leg. “Qǐng, bāngzhù wǒ.

Dot backed away and climbed down the embankment. When she arrived at the boat, she paused to weigh her options. There was no possibility of moving the injured man. She couldn’t tell for sure how severe his many injuries were but even so, he was too heavy for her to move without help. Grabbing a pebble from the shore, Dot dropped it into her pants pocket. She stepped into the cockpit to retrieve her water bottle and snatched up the remainder of her lunch. Crawling over the transom, she walked down to the water’s edge and stooped near an outcrop of boulders. Dot took the pebble out of her pocket and began to tap it against one of the partially submerged rocks. She replicated her pattern for several minutes: two solid—pause—three solid—pause—two staccato—pause—one solid—full stop… repeat. Satisfied at last, Dot rose and, gathering her things, climbed back up the rocky bank.

Monk acknowledged her return with a nonchalant blink as Dot set her water bottle beside the injured man. She hoped he would have the strength to reach for it, but his arm remained motionless, the utterances had stopped. Panicked, she leaned over his face, tilting her head to listen for any breath. It was there, faint and uneven, but he lived. She sighed and slipped her hand underneath his neck. Gently, she tilted his head enough to drip small amounts of water through his cracked lips. He choked and sputtered, his eyes opened wide as he gulped at the reviving liquid. It reminded Dot somewhat of the chíin that Ol’ Pa used to throw onto the deck of his skiff each summer; their eyeballs bulging and mouths agape. The memory caused a shadow of a smile to play across her face as she held the bottle. At last, the man could drink no more so Dot placed his head back onto the rocks. His eyes fluttered closed.

Dot knew she was taking a big risk by remaining there with him. It was likely that the injured man was chipped and if so, he could be discovered by the Mossies. If he’d come ashore with any of the snakeheads or coyotes, then they would both be detained—or worse. Dot wished she had a personal scanner, but those were precious to come by, and usually in the possession of the fetchers who came over from the Greenwood. She found herself longing, for what seemed the hundredth time, to have a position among the select ranks of fetchers.

 

Mossies had been sighted in the archipelago with growing frequency over the past year. The HighTower trackers had been a fixture for almost a decade, although they were easy to spot and for the most part, avoidable. As HighTower’s presence along the borders became more prevalent, their reconnaissance methods became more advanced, and with waning oversight, their detention methods became even harsher.

The Canadian and U.S. solution to the escalating climate refugee problem had resulted in a contract with the private government contractor, HighTower Security Authority, or HSA. The crisis back in 2019 that caused the European Union’s collapse was enough to spur North America to close its entire borders to climate migrants. The Prime Minister in Ottawa and President in Washington D.C. granted full control to HSA’s director, and by 2020 HighTower had become synonymous with border defense. In the years to follow, the HSA had assimilated the departments of Customs, Homeland Security and Immigration, even the Coast Guard was requisitioned for offshore border patrols. The trackers—eighty-seven-foot former USCG cutters—ran along the Pacific coastline and the Inside Passage in search of unregistered vessels. If a ship did not carry a transponder chip, the trackers would fire a warning shot. If the ship did not respond, then it was typically destroyed. Only small vessels such as kayaks, native longboats and sailboats were permitted to cruise without these chips, and even then, there was a considerable risk of being boarded or fired upon.

Dot spent most of her life under the shadow of HSA’s scrutiny. The trackers in the northern islands recognized her little boat and paid her little attention. However, the Mossies were a different matter: The “Mobile Observation Systems-C” were HighTower’s “eyes in the sky.” MQ-9C drones deployed to scan for transponders and report undocumented watercraft to HSA’s marine traffic station. To be reported by a Mossie meant certain trouble. Recently, HSA had become disposed to skip warnings and simply sink any vessels that could not or would not identify themselves.

To make things worse, Tyee survivors continued to migrate, even after so many years. When the Tyee—the Cascadia Subduction mega-quakehit the Pacific Northwest in 2022, it destroyed hundreds of miles of coastline and decimated Seattle and surrounding towns. Suddenly there were tens of thousands of homeless refugees who were moving inland and northward. HighTower did not discriminate between nationalities. Their motto was: If it doesn’t scan, it doesn’t land.

Dot wasn’t really sure whether a specific person’s ID chip could be picked up by an overhead drone, but she didn’t feel the urge to find out right then.

 

Splashing noises from the shore below startled her and she turned to see Saka’s familiar markings as he spy-hopped several meters from the boat. She made her way downward as he emitted a series of noisy bursts, spray hung in the air above his head. Wading waist-deep into the water, Dot reached out to rub his nose as the orca swam near, then ran her fingers along his back as he returned to the deeper water. Clapping her hands three times, she waited for the Saka’s response. The orca rose higher out of the water and swayed his head to and fro—his giant flippers and dorsal fin now completely visible. Dot made a wide, pointing gesture with her left arm and swung her right arm in tight circles overhead, similar to that of a cowboy throwing a lasso. Saka rolled onto his side, exposing his expansive white belly. He slapped the water with his flipper and disappeared beneath the waves.

Dot returned to the narrow beach. The sun had already fallen behind Haida Gwaii and she knew that with its absence the temperature would be dropping soon. Her wet blouse and pants now clung to her skin. Shivering, she rummaged through the cockpit’s contents for supplies and found a raincoat, a flashlight and one tattered life-jacket. She sighed, this’ll have to do. Rolling her provisions inside of the jacket, she trekked back to the wounded man and began her vigil.

Whiskey Golf

The latest chapter revolves around our orca named Saka.

Bull_orca_victoria

Excerpt from Sea of a Thousand Words, (beginning of Chapter 33):


Strait of Georgia. B.C. Canada. Aug 20 2033

49°26’36.4″N 124°18’14.8″W

 

“Which way do we go, Kij’?” Táan looked back, shouting over his shoulder.

Dot tilted her head toward the right and they both pulled back on the starboard sheets. The Dyson sails rotated and the baidarka’s prow altered course in response. She felt the wind kiss her cheek as they settled into the new heading.

Dot and Táan had recently switched positions in the baidarka—Dot assuming the most aft position in order to control the sails. Táan now sat in the middle cockpit and paralleled his sail to match the main’s. The north breeze was at their back, allowing them to spend most of their time running downwind—they employed the paddles only for course adjustment or to steady their boat. Once past Jedidiah Island, the wind gained momentum as it funneled down the wider channel. Prior to departure, Kai had advised them to keep to the Vancouver Island side of Georgia Strait—avoiding the heavier concentration of marine traffic and denser population of the mainland. However, Dot noticed the wind veering eastward and observed the fetch start to build up in the channel. Selecting a point on the horizon, she adjusted their heading and sat back to monitor the sea state.

By lunchtime, they’d reached the southern tip of Texada Island—the last headland before open water and the commercial shipping lanes. Whiskey Golf lay off to the southwest. Kim unwrapped the last package of saltfish and passed back the loaf of bread they’d saved from Yaculta. The threesome laid their paddles across the cockpits and allowed the wind to propel them forward while they consumed their midday meal. Dot looked up and scanned the clouds for any sign of Monk. He often arrived at lunchtime for leftovers. However, today he was nowhere to be found. Dot tucked a chunk of the heel into her pocket in case he flew overhead later that afternoon. Kim turned around in his seat and held up the empty food bag. “We’re going to have to stop early enough to provision this evening. We’re all out of fish,” he called back. “I’ll set out some tackle once we’re out of this deep water.”

Before Dot could respond, their boat was hit with a jarring thunk. She laid her paddle flat against the opposing waves to keep the boat from capsizing. Kim turned around and yelled, “What was that?”

The baidarka was hit hard again—this time from directly beneath the forward part of the hull. Kim screamed as the bow was lifted into the air, then slammed back into the sea with an enormous splash. Táan and Dot leaned over the sides, peering into the shadowy depths for the source of the blows. A forceful spray of water from behind her right shoulder alerted Dot to the next assault. She braced herself as the orca’s pectoral fin slammed down on the baidarka’s aft section—grazing her right arm as it landed. Táan dug in hard with his paddle, “C’mon—pull! We need to get clear of this!”

As the boat lurched, Dot looked behind her. She saw a long shape underneath the water’s surface. It followed some ten or twelve feet below them. The whale’s giant head swung to and fro as it swam. As the whale twisted, Dot spied a lopsided saddle patch, and knew the whale’s identity at once. Saka! Why are you doing this? She leaned farther outboard to track the whale. It began to dive. “Kij’—get back in your cockpit!” Táan shouted.

Ignoring his pleas, Dot strained to catch a glimpse of Saka. All at once, she saw the white markings of the whale’s face appear from the murky depth—shooting toward the surface with increasing speed. She leaned back and grabbed hold of the combing as Saka emerged like a rocket, dousing the paddlers and tossing the baidarka onto its side. The whale fell backwards shaking his head—mouth open; rows of teeth visible.

Táan grabbed his paddle. “Holy shit! That’s Saka! What’s happened to him? Dot shook her head with an expression of concern.

“We’d better get as far away from him as we can—until he calms down.” Táan shouted. Dot touched Táan’s shoulder. He turned to face her and she pointed toward her ears, shaking her head back and forth. “He can’t hear us?” he asked her. Dot quickly nodded-yes… Touching her fingers to her forehead, she looked directly at Taan, then spiraled her palm outward in circles that grew larger as they moved forward. Táan watched her actions intently and said, “Saka can’t use his, uh…echolocation whatchamacallit—is that it?”

She nodded her head vigorously. Yes! That’s it!  That’s why he’s so shaken up—I just know it!

Just then, Kim shouted, pointing at the four-foot dorsal fin that cut through the waves as Saka headed toward an outcrop of jutting rocks. Dot seized the halyard from its cleat and doused her sail then pushed her paddle deep into the swells. Taan followed her lead and together the three paddlers aimed the baidarka north-by-northeast, fighting against the wind and current. As they came alongside Saka, Dot tapped the hull in a succession of short and long pauses, the whale closed in on the boat. As Saka’s face came closer to the surface, Dot caught a glimpse of blurry red markings near his eye patch. She strapped her paddle onto the deck and leaned out for a closer look. Saka’s head broke through the foam of a large swell and Dot saw that the red marks were blood dripping from the orca’s eye. Glancing at the shore of Rabbit Island, Dot quickly calculated their distance off the reef. Suddenly, Saka dove, reappearing in front of them, seven-feet out of the water. “Turn—now! We’re going to hit him!” Kim shouted from the bow.

The baidarka collided with one of Saka’s pectoral fins. The whale shook his massive head, causing swells to crash against their hull. Saka’s high-pitched screeches and whistles rent the air. He slammed sideways back into the ocean, drunkenly swimming toward the shallow bay. Táan cried out, “He’s going to beach himself—if he doesn’t run into those rocks first!”

Kim looked back and shouted to Dot. “What do we do?”

Dot’s thoughts raced madly through her head. She’d never seen her long-time companion behave like this before, not even when they’d first rescued him as a calf. The only thing she knew for certain was that Saka was in agony.  She had to act fast. Dot pointed toward the shore and dug in with her paddle. Táan and Kim joined in and they raced after the orca.

Saka headed straight toward the shallow water. Once the baidarka was between the whale and the beach, Dot tapped Táan’s arm. Placing her paddle inside the cockpit, she climbed onto the deck. Taan looked at her in disbelief. “You are not getting in the water with that whale, Kijii! Are you nuts?”

Dot shook her head and lowered herself into the frigid water. She needed to connect with Saka. It will be alright—it has to be alright. Taan grasped her arm, holding tightly. “Please—please don’t do this Kij’. Listen to me—he’s not safe right now.” She smiled and placed her hand on his, then took a deep breath and slipped below the waves in search of her whale.

.  .  .

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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.”

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.


 

Cascadia_Insert16

 

Chapter Latest

refugees-at-sea

I’d been searching for that “way in” to my latest chapter that revolves around the “good guys and the bad guys”–in a sense, one of the pivotal chapters in the novel so far… I came across this 4/24/16 photo of a Syrian man trying to keep his children alive in the Aegean Sea.

It struck a chord within and became my go-to inspiration. (No made-up piece of fiction can be as heartrendingly visceral as this photograph), but I went for it nonetheless.

For my fans and beta readers who have been following my progress on the manuscript “Sea of a Thousand Words”, I will post the latest chapter–it is a long one, so grab a cuppa’.  And keep in mind two things: #1). It’s raw story, you’ll likely find a punctuation faux pas somewhere in there… #2). It’s like, chapter 25, so you aren’t going to understand the who’s, the why’s and the wherefores… but just roll with it.

Enjoy. I do hope you like it–(Boo and hiss at the bad guys).


 

Montreal Quebec. Jul 26. 2033

45°30’16’ N, 73°33’36″W

The week-long “Global Climate Migration Summit” in Montreal was well underway. It was a much-anticipated and highly attended event, with government dignitary’s, multimillionaires and private organizations from all across the world in attendance. Symposiums ranged from “Addressing International Food Shortages”; “Ways to Mitigate World-wide Coastal Absorption”; “Civil Unrest and Refugee Terrorism” to “Defense Strategies” and “Border Protection.”

At first sight, the Palais des congrès de Montréal might have seemed like an inappropriate location to host such an event; it’s opulent façade of multicolored glass panels and priceless art installations were in stark contrast to the conference’s subject matter of refugees and displaced peoples. However, the facility and the city’s commitment to sustainable, green alternatives gave a nod to credibility as far as being part of the solution rather than the cause.

Due to the over-capacity attendance and the star-power of the summit’s presenters, security at the convention center was rigid. Admittance was impossible without credentials and scan-able identification. The top billed seminar on this day’s schedule was the billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Raj Kaleka, president of the global non-profit ATHENS Foundation “Applied Technologies in Healthcare, Energy and Natural Sciences.” A populist figure, with an amassed net worth of over eighty-five-billion dollars, Raj possessed the financial and political clout to pursue any number of his pet humanitarian and environmental agendas. His countenance was recognizable everywhere—from villages in remote Tanzania to digital billboards in Tokyo railways. He had his hand in a multitude of ventures, not the least of which was his initial investment project, the ITER light-water fusion reactor. Raj served for over two decades as the dynamic leader of the consortium known only as “The Elders”, an independently funded alliance of wealthy donors, who pooled their collective skills to resolve global conflicts and find new approaches to end human suffering. The combination of Raj’s charismatic personality, humanitarian work and innate gift for showmanship, resulted in consistently large crowds wherever he spoke.

President Kaleka’s sold-out presentation, “Removing the Migrant Stigma” was scheduled to be held at one-o’clock in the Hall Riopelle—and ironically coincided with the HighTower seminar “Strengthening Borders—Preventing the Next Societal Breakdown” in the adjacent Hall Espace. HSA’s West Coast Director Richard Cross, was the featured speaker and registrations for that event were at capacity as well.

It was a universally known fact that the HighTower and ATHENS organizations were long-time nemeses. They held opposing positions on most global matters—none more so than the issue of migrants and climate refugees. Perhaps it was an intentional gambit on the summit organizers part—scheduling the two titans simultaneously—an attempt to avoid accidental run-ins between the adversaries. Regardless, the summit coordinators were on tenterhooks all morning as they prepared for the dual showcase sessions.

Thirty minutes before the presentations were to begin, each hall was humming with activity. The sound and audio-visual technicians worked furiously to complete their final installations and checks before the doors opened. Security personnel from the convention center organized check-points at all entrances while private agents for ATHENS and HighTower conducted their own safety inspections in the respective halls. Eager registrants began to cue along both ends of les Galeries du Palais for admission.

Inside the Hall Riopelle, Raj Kaleka held court with a handful of the international press. He positioned himself in the center of a comfortable settee in one of the antechambers surrounded by aides and journalists. The reporters sat patiently, awaiting their turn as Raj’s personal assistant briefed him on the revisions for his upcoming speech. After approving the changes, he looked up and smiled widely—pointing at a journalist from The Guardian. “You had a question for me earlier—please, fire away.”

The woman nodded and glanced at her tablet briefly before responding. “Yes—thank you, Mr. Kaleka. Concerning the rising tide of refugees that have engulfed the UK and are spreading elsewhere—how do you purpose balancing aide and asylum without sacrificing economies and overpopulation?”

Raj crossed one leg over the other and leaned back into the leather sofa, his flawless Brioni suit revealed nary a wrinkle. He let out an audible sigh before answering. “OK, first off everybody—I’d like to get rid of this term ‘rising tide,’ for good. We need to erase that phrase from our collective lexicon right now. A ‘tide’ refers to movement of the ocean—as a matter of fact, I’m hearing ‘waves of immigrants’ used too often by the media as well.” He gestured toward a middle aged reporter from CNN. “Your company is particularly guilty of this, Mitchell.”

The CNN journalist nodded and grinned, “I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Kaleka. But I’ll be sure to pass on the word.”

Raj gave Mitchell an affable wink and continued. “The thing is, we’re referring to actual human beings that are caught up in the true crisis of our epoch. Real people: Mothers; fathers; children; babies… Many of them are doctors and artists, engineers and students and some are truly from impoverished, rural villages—all trying to survive. They aren’t ‘tides’ or ‘waves’, and they’re especially not ‘epidemics’—these words only serve to remove the humanity quotient from this situation and make it easier for our governments and certain corporations to push the problem underneath the table. Are we all clear on this?”

A young French journalist shot his hand into the air, interrupted. “Mr. Kaleka, when you say ‘certain corporations’… are you referring specifically to the HighTower Security Authority?”

Raj glanced at a note his personal assistant placed in front of him, nodded briefly and waved her away. He looked up, refocusing and responded to the reporter’s question with a wry smile. “I’m going to resist naming any individual organizations at this time. On the other hand, if any of you would like to wander down the concourse and catch HSA’s presentation—I think it’s called something like, ‘repelling the epidemic of refugees’… I imagine you could draw your own conclusions.”

The press corps bent over their devices, scribbling furiously.

A voice from the middle of the media pack called out, “Sir, you’ve been a rather vocal critic of HighTower’s CEO, Nelson Bank’s practices regarding North America’s border security. Can you please speak to your recent accusations against HSA’s human rights violations?”

At that moment a young woman attired completely in black, leaned into the doorway and caught Raj’s attention. She held up five fingers and waited for acknowledgement. Raj nodded, slapped his hands on his thighs and said, “OK—I apologize that we didn’t get to everyone’s questions. I suppose that means you’ll just have to sit through my presentation in the hope that I’ll address your issues during the next hour or so.” The audience of journalists chuckled and collectively closed their recorders and tablets. Raj stood and stretched his neck and shoulders as his assistant helped him on with his suit jacket. The press corps clapped as he headed toward the stage door, waving a casual salute. Raj paused and, almost as an afterthought, issued a final farewell remark. “Kudos to all of you folks—it’s up to those of you ‘responsible journalists’ in the mainstream media to hold the governments’ feet to the fire regarding our basic human rights. Who knows, it could be any one of us next… So, keep it up.”

The respective auditoriums were filling up quickly as the dual lines of attendees filed through security check points. A young man dressed in an ill-fitting suit raced down the causeway, dodging convention goers and hawkers as he ran toward the Hall Espace. A burly security guard stepped into his path and said, “Whoa there—let’s see some credentials from you buddy… Otherwise you’re going nowhere.”

Gasping for breath, the young man bent over and placed his hands on his knees. “I have an urgent message for Director Cross—I have to reach him before he goes on stage.” Handing the guard his identification badge, he straightened up and panted, “Please—may I get in to see him?”

The guard scanned the HighTower badge and nodded, stepping out of the lad’s way. The young man sprinted away from the check-point and into the convention hall. He skirted the rows of chairs and ran along the wall, bumping into technicians and staff as he dashed toward backstage.

Richard Cross stood in the wings offstage, skimming through notes on his tablet while a young woman brushed powder onto his forehead. A somewhat fleshy man in his mid-fifties with an unfortunate comb-over, Director Cross appeared ill-suited for his title—bearing more of a resemblance to an appliance salesman than that of a regional director for the world’s largest private security firm. This unfortunate circumstance may have been partially to blame for his infamous short temper and chronic scowl. He was, in short, an unpopular and thoroughly resistible corporate officer. Although one who came in handy when Nelson Banks required a company figurehead at soirées and events that he did not relish attending himself.

The young gentleman ran up the stairs and stopped abruptly in front of the director. Richard stepped back, appalled at the state of the youth. “Who the hell are you—who let you back here?”

“Sir… my apologies Director Cross. I have a message from Deputy Director Terrance.” He stopped momentarily to catch his breath.

“Well then, spit it out you imbecile—and then get the hell away from me.”

“Sir… a moment.” The youth reached into his suit jacket and retrieved a mobile. He unlocked the device and handed it over to the director. “Deputy Terrance left a rather detailed message—for your eyes only, sir.”

The director read the message and looked at the boy. “Have you seen this?”

“No sir. It came through as urgent and encrypted. This is a company mobile.”

Richard Cross frowned and waved the boy away. “Wait for me over there—somewhere where I can’t hear you breathing.” He turned his back toward the curtains and placed a call to Amanda.

Amanda’s voice came on the line. “Hello, this is Deputy Director Terrance.”

“This is Cross. Look I’m less than two minutes from going on stage. What’s the meaning of dragging me into this?”

“I apologize Richard—I wouldn’t have bothered you, if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re in some nebulous territory here.”

“I don’t understand.”

“We’ve technically exceeded our limits—the Galapagos still belong to Ecuador. We aren’t officially even supposed to have a bird this far south.”

“Fuck technicalities, Amanda. Do we or do we not have evidence of boat-loads full of illegals inbound?”

“Yessir- our eye in the sky has pinpointed two vessels… Twenty-five miles seaward of Isla Fernandina. Each carrying about one-hundred-and-fifty to two-hundred refugees. It’s hard to get an accurate figure because they are so heavily overcrowded.”

A nervous stagehand ducked his head from the in front of the curtained proscenium, waved frantically and gestured toward the podium. Director Cross held up his finger and nodded. “I still am not getting your conundrum here, Amanda. Did or did not CEO Banks recently state that we are getting overrun with South Pacific Islanders coming up the coastline and refueling or transferring coyote vessels in the Galapagos?”

“Yes he definitely said that, Richard.”

“And did he or did he fucking not direct us to solve the South Pacific coyote problem?”

“Yessir, he…”

“Then just fucking do it! I’ve got to get on stage right now.”

“I appreciate that Richard—but we run the risk of violating at least one international treaty if we are caught eliminating these targets, sir.”

“Well, are there any other gawddammed boats in the vicinity?”

The overhead PA system buzzed as the microphone was switched on. An announcer’s voice could be heard from backstage warming up the audience. As the applause died down, Richard overheard the speaker recite his introduction. He placed his free hand over his ear, straining to hear as Amanda said, “Sir, our drone hasn’t pinged any other vessels and its sensors are not showing any…”

Richard spoke with a clenched jaw, trying to keep a lid on his rising temper. “Deputy Director Terrance. I am giving you a direct order to prosecute those illegal vessels. Are you clear on this matter?”

“I am, Director Cross. Completely clear, sir.”

“Jesus F. Christ. Show some initiative, Terrance. Now if there is nothing else—you don’t need my permission to change a tampon or anything do you?”

“No, fine. That’s everything I needed, Director Cross. Be assured that we will take care of the matter right away.”

Cross threw the mobile across the stage floor at the young man. The boy picked it up and placed it back in his suit pocket, looking expectantly at the director. Cross shot him a sour look and shouted, “Get off the stage, shithead. I don’t want to see your sweaty face for the rest of this conference.” He strode past the stagehand, pushing through the curtains toward the podium and with his right arm held aloft, gave a dramatic wave to the crowd and launched into his speech.

 

 

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Jul 26 2033

0°34’33.6″S 91°12’54.3″W

The Persephone sat at anchor in Elizabeth Bay, nearly one-hundred yards off the shore of Isla Isabela, tucked in behind the cover of Fernandina’s peaks. The ATHENS research vessel had been stationed in the archipelago for the past three weeks as scientists monitored the bay’s coral reefs and dwindling populations of the Galapagos penguins and native requiem sharks.

The islands were quiet—almost eerily so—and the ATHENS team of marine biologists, botanist and geologists had the entire bay exclusively to themselves. Since 2027, when Ecuador bowed to pressure from the international scientific community and restricted tourism, the Galapagos chain had fallen into a state of abandonment. Bereft of the lucrative dollars generated by visitors, coupled with the depletion of its marine ecosystems due to a warming ocean, the islands had become an unaffordable drain on Ecuador’s tenuous economy. The Galapagos remained Ecuadorian territory as a formality, however with the mainland’s rising sea levels, glacial melt-off and subsequent flooding, the country’s resources and attention had shifted elsewhere over a decade ago.

A bank of oxygen tanks and several bins of dive gear lined the starboard rail of Persephone’s aft deck. On her port rail, the heavy ROV—ATHENS’ remote unmanned submarine was secured next to its launching crane. Lengths of fiber-optic control cable sprawled across the railings in gigantic coils. In the center of the deck, a lopsided “X” was taped across the planking—serving as a landing pad for the vessel’s quadcopter drone—currently hovering seventeen miles to the east over a pod of transiting humpback whales. Persephone’s rigid-inflatable tender was tethered to the transom while several scientists dove in the coral beds six fathoms below. A handful of large sea turtles paddled lazily around the tender, following the bubbles that escaped from the divers’ apparatus.

Minutes before the lunch bell was due to ring, the senior drone pilot summoned the ship’s mate into the operations cabin. The first mate entered the tight quarters, shutting the door behind him. “What’s up? See anything unusual?” he asked.

The drone pilot removed his headset and pointed toward the display. “Not as far as the whales are concerned… there’s three mothers and calves in the midst of the pod—see… Right over there.” He brushed his fingers against the screen, enlarging the area where the whales moved. “It’s a sizable pod of humpbacks.”

“Nice—it’s good to know they’re still hanging in there… But what’s the deal? You didn’t really call me in here to show me baby whales, right?”

“True enough—actually, I wanted to get some advice on what to do about this…” The pilot flicked the screen until the camera image showed two dilapidated boats, one in front of the other. As the camera zoomed in, both men could make out hundreds of people crammed onto the decks of both vessels. “It looks as if they’re headed right into our lagoon. What do you think?”

The officer leaned both hands on the desk and winced as he looked closely at the image. “Jesus—why does this have to happen on my shift?  Just my luck….” He moved closer to the display and said, “Huh, is it just me, or does it look like that one boat is towing the other?” The pilot squinted at the screen, he placed his finger on the second boat and the image instantly became a still shot. He slid the picture to the top of the display and expanded the photo. A thin line—probably a wire cable—stretched over two-hundred-feet between the boats. “Well shit,” the mate mumbled. “I can’t see any way around having to call this one in. They’ve got to be coyotes—just look at the conditions on those boats, man. Shit, shit, shit… The amount of paperwork for all of this is going to ruin my whole week.”

The pilot flicked the still photo off his display and returned to the live image. “Yeah, I figured as much. I’ll let you handle it from here on out. I can archive all the footage in case they require you to transmit this as evidence.”

“Thanks. I’ll go wake Cap’. He’s going to be overjoyed about this, I can tell you.” The mate walked out of the cabin and before closing the door, called behind him, “Cook’s going to be ringing that bell any second—you want me to get somebody to bring a plate in?”

“Nah, I’m off in fifteen min… Holy fuck—look at that!” The pilot slid his chair back and gaped at the display screen. He shook his head in disbelief, reaching forward with shaky hands to enlarge the image in front of him. “Christ almighty—are we really seeing this?”

The mate stared at the screen, then darted out the doorway, running past the galley and above deck. The ship’s cook followed him up the companionway, full of questions. “Did you hear something? Was that us, man? Sounded like a far off canon or an explosion.”

The mate swore under his breath. “Son of a bitch.” He glanced over at the panicked cook and nodded. “It was a missile—right out of nowhere. I’ve got to wake up the captain.” With that, he ran back below deck. The cook stood alone, spoon in hand, watching the mushroom cloud of smoke rise from the other side of Isla Fernandina.

 

Within the next hour, all the divers were back onboard and the solo botanist had been retrieved from shore. The deckhands set about lashing the quadcopter to its deck mounts. The engineer stood outside the deckhouse, listening attentively as Persephone’s generator and main diesel warmed up. At the captain’s command, the crew weighed anchor and the ship motored out of Elizabeth Bay, en route to the explosion site. The drone pilot transferred the footage onto a backup drive and delivered the device to the Captain. “Here you go Cap’, sir.” I’ve made a couple more copies and uploaded them to ATHENS server. Is there anything else you need?”

The captain scratched at the patchy stubble on his chin, pondering what might be in store once Persephone rounded the point of Isla Fernandina. He frowned and then tapped the first mate on his shoulder. “Take the con, will ya? I need to have a talk with someone higher up on the food chain than myself.”

“Right, I’ve got the con.” The mate stepped behind the wheel and reached for the GPS unit, plotting a course forty yards from the island’s headland.

As the captain strode toward his cabin, he motioned for the drone pilot to follow him. They turned into the passageway and the captain asked, “Tell me, how quickly can you get your ‘copter back in the air if we need it?”

The drone pilot replied, “She’s recharged and ready to fly when you say so, sir. She could be airborne within five minutes. Should I locate my copilot?”

The captain reached his cabin door and paused. “I’ll let you know when I get off the horn with the home office. But listen here, once your bird’s in the air, I want you to record whatever we find—and I want it fed directly to the clouds—just in case…” The captain’s voice trailed off as he arched one of his brows. Turning the door handle, he inhaled briefly and continued, “…In case whoever fired that missile decides to erase potential witnesses. Do you follow me?

The pilot swallowed and nodded. “Yessir.”

By the time Persephone had rounded the southern tip of Fernandina island, the smoking wreckage had almost completely vanished. Scientists and deckhands stood alongside the rails with binoculars held to their eyes—searching for any sign of survivors. The captain throttled back as the ship approached the debris field. Wave heights were four-to-six feet high and managed to conceal many of the objects floating within the targeted area. Persephone slowed to idle and the crew immediately launched the rigid-inflatable from the ship’s leeward side. The drone pilots maneuvered the quadcopter to fly overhead in a grid pattern, recording everything via live feed to ATHENS servers.

The first mate and a crew member manned the small boat through the flotsam. Careful not to run over any human remains, both sailors leaned well over the sides of the tender to keep a look-out as they moved in and around the wreckage. A body floated face-down in the water—the mate swung the tiller to come alongside and they turned it over. They identified a young male, approximately thirty-years of age. His hair and skin color resembled a Pacific Islander’s—however, as his corpse had rapidly cooled in the frigid water, it was difficult for them to gage the man’s original pigmentation. The crewmember looked imploringly at the first officer for direction. The mate sighed and said, “We can’t do anything for the dead ones… there are just too many. Let it go.”

“Shit, are there any live ones left? It’s been over an hour since they were hit,” the deckhand mumbled.

“I’m going to shut down for a few minutes—maybe we can hear something without the motor running.” With that, the mate pulled the kill-switch on the tender’s outboard and they drifted in relative quiet. The deckhand scanned the debris for any movement and pointed toward a patch of floating objects several hundred yards to the north. They used the paddles in place of the engine and made their way to the swath of wreckage.

From somewhere in the mass of floating objects, the mate heard a man’s voice. “Hello!” he stood up in the tender and held the binoculars to his eyes. “Hello—Anybody out there? We’re from a research ship—we’ve come to help!”

A faint voice called out, “Kwo maron ke jiban!”

“Do we know where these people were from, sir? Should we try speaking in French…Spanish?”

“Shhh! Did you hear that?” The mate held up his hand to silence the deckhand. The tender bobbed up and down on the ocean’s swells. Suddenly a splashing sound and voices could be heard nearby. The mate switched the engine back on and motored toward the debris. As they spun the tender to port, they spied twenty or thirty people huddled around a large ragged chunk of Styrofoam—remnants of a makeshift fish-hold. “Holy Christ—survivors!” He throttled down as they approached the desperate refugees—taking care not to throw a wake from the tender as they came alongside. As soon as they’d come to a stop, their rigid-inflatable was assaulted by the shipwrecked souls—people flung their arms and legs onto the port side chamber, attempting to throw themselves into the boat. Before the deckhand and mate could shout orders, the tender began to heel precariously to its left side. “Stop! Please—you must wait!” the mate screamed. Finally, to keep from capsizing with the weight of the survivors, the mate shifted the throttle into reverse and moved the vessel away from the panicked crowd.

Men and women began to scream and flail—several let go of the foam raft and swam toward the tender. “Kwo maron ke jiban!”

“What are they saying?” the deckhand shouted.

“How in the fuck would I know—but I bet it’s something like ‘get us the hell out of here!’ Come on—let’s try and regain some control of this fubar situation!” The mate faced the group and waved his hands back and forth in front of his chest. He shouted loudly, using simple words and distinctive pronunciation. “Everybody stop—arrêtezdetener! We must all go slowly—one at a time—Claro? …Comprendre?”

The two men helped pull the frightened victims out of the water. The eighteen-foot tender began to ride dangerously low in the water as more and more survivors were brought onboard. Eventually, the mate shook his head and called up to the crewmember. “We can’t take any more—we’ll sink before we get back to the ship with this much weight!”

“I know, I know—and these waves are getting higher,” replied the deckhand. “How the hell are we going to make all the ones in the water understand that we’ll come back for them?”

The mate blew out a huge sigh and tapped one of the women lying near his feet. “You—do you speak any English?”

Aet… a little” she whispered, her teeth chattering from the exposure.

“Tell them…” The mate pointed toward the thirteen other victims that were still clinging to the cobbled-together life-raft.
“Tell ‘em we will be back to pick them up—that we can’t hold any more people right now. Can you do that?”

The woman nodded, and pulled herself up to face the others still floating in the ocean. As she began to translate, her voice was soon drowned out by screams and protests from the remaining victims. The mate shook his head and yelled, “Shit—this is no good. Just hold on, we’ve got to get back to Persephone before we capsize.”

The rigid-inflatable motored back toward the mothership. The Pacific’s waves had increased in size and intervals and their ride grew hazardous as they plowed through the swells. Several times the boat became awash and a number of the refugees were nearly swept overboard. As they arrived alongside the Persephone, the crew had dropped her boarding ladder and waited to help off-load the exhausted survivors. As the last passenger limped aboard, the mate called up, “Cap’, we’re heading back out—there’s another full boat-load in that same wreckage!”

“Hang on! The captain called down, “The drone pilot says they’ve spotted a couple of live ones over on the starboard side—just a few hundred yards toward the island. They don’t have anything to cling to… It’s best to rescue them first.”

“Aye, Cap’—on our way.” The tender peeled away from the ship’s hull and hit the oncoming swells one after another, sending plumes of sea spray flying in all directions. The deckhand signaled to where the refugees waited and they slowed to meet up with them. An exhausted father clung to his two toddlers as the waves tossed them up and down. The oldest child, perhaps three-years old, waved and shouted as the younger sibling—an eighteen-month-old baby—grasped at his father’s neck. The deckhand reached overboard to grab the baby first, but a giant wave threw the boat eight-feet into the mounting sea. The mate and deckhand paddled over to the castaways and attempted to reach for the child once again. “Can you throw one of them to us?” The mate yelled to the father. The man shook his head, not daring to let go of one son to save the other. Another mammoth swell separated the boat from the stranded family. “Swim!” yelled the mate. “You’ll have to swim!”

The man tried to paddle toward the tender, but with both hands grasping hold of his children, his attempts were unsuccessful. “You are going to have to throw the boy—that’s the only way we can get to him—do you understand? Throw your boy!” The mate pantomimed his orders. “Ready? One… Two… Three—Now!”

The man kissed his son, touching the boy’s forehead to his own. He treaded water as he pitched the boy toward the inflatable with both hands as the baby grasped around his neck. The deckhand leaned out—his arms extended fully and caught the little boy, dragging him into the boat seconds before a nine-foot swell carried them upward. As the boat crashed back into the trough, the mate looked all around for the father and baby. “Where are they?” he shouted.

“I don’t know!”

The mate spun the tender in a full circle, then reversed and repeated the maneuver. Another swell picked them up, carrying the boat some ways. “There—over there!” the deckhand shouted. Holding onto the boy with one hand, he pointed toward the crest of an adjacent wave. The mate swung the tiller and accelerated toward the father. As they came upon him, they saw that he swam alone. His face was a wretched mask of pain and sorrow. He screamed and cried in a language that neither sailor could comprehend, thrashing in the waves as he frantically searched for his infant son.

The young boy in the tender sat up and clutched the sides of the inflatable. “Papa—Papa!”

The father looked achingly at his son, then dove below the oncoming wave and was not seen again.

 

By the end of the day, only forty-five survivors—out of what had initially been over four-hundred refugees—had been rescued. Spent and defeated, they stretched out on Persephone’s deck, sharing blankets and bottles of fresh water. The scientists did what they could to provide medical care—triaging the most severe and leaving the deckhands to bandage and splint the less urgent cases. The precious quadcopter and ROV had been returned to their stations, secured and ready for transport. Both of the unmanned vessels had retrieved numerous items that might be analyzed in the ship’s onboard lab for traces explosive residue—clues as to who committed the murderous act. The captain had placed his call to ATHENS on the ship’s satellite phone, confirming that the video feed was uploaded and on the web. Persephone’s crew resumed their regular shifts and set course for San Diego Bay. The orphaned three-year old boy sat on a tall stool near the helm, holding tightly to the first mate’s hand while the officer completed his watch.

 

 

Montreal Quebec. Jul 26. 2033

45°30’16’ N, 73°33’36″W

The standing ovation permeated throughout the Hall Riopelle after Raj Kaleka’s final comments and the applause could be heard at the opposite end of the concourse. Raj stepped from behind the podium and waved with both hands at his enthusiastic audience. The giant screen on the back wall displayed a close-up of the captivating tycoon smiling and bowing in appreciation. After several minutes of applause, the event facilitator stepped up to the microphone. As Raj moved stage right, she thanked him for his speech and invited those interested to stick around for a short Q and A session. “Mr. Kaleka has generously agreed to take a handful of questions—but please—keep them brief as we have limited time in the hall.”

As the woman continued to speak, one of Raj’s aides approached him and tapped his elbow. She handed him his tablet and stood nearby waiting for a response. Raj stared down at the screen with a look of concern that quickly turned into an angry scowl. He shook his head as he scanned the device, the fingertips of his free hand involuntarily touched his lips as he watched with mounting revulsion. Raj turned toward the aide and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and took the tablet with her backstage, handing it to the audiovisual technician.

The woman at the podium concluded her announcements and stepped aside, gesturing toward Raj. The disturbing images, still fresh in Raj’s mind, consumed his awareness and for a few uncomfortable seconds, he stared distractedly at the floor while the entire auditorium waited. The facilitator cleared her throat and leaned into the microphone, “Mr. Kaleka, would you like to call on your first question?”

Startled out of his contemplation, Raj blinked and brought his full attention back to the audience in front of him. He walked back to the podium and cleared his throat. Placing his hand on the microphone, he unscrewed it from its stand and walked around the front of the lectern. The large screen behind him flickered back on and then went to blue—the words “input—live stream video” appeared in a plain white font on the bottom corner.

Raj held the microphone close to his face and opened his mouth to speak, but instead, shook his head, lowered the mic and covered his mouth to cough. “I’m sorry—I apologize for this, but I am not going to take any questions right now. And for those who are strong enough of constitution to watch what is about to appear on the screen behind me,” he gestured over his shoulder. “Well, you’ll soon understand why.” Raj looked toward the curtained edge of the stage and nodded at his assistant. The blue screen disappeared and a video of the Pacific Ocean and Galapagos Islands came into focus. Raj looked back at the screen as he spoke into the mic. “Many of the images on this live feed are going to be very graphic—to say the least. I would caution anyone who is not up to witnessing death at close range to leave the room now. I regret that it is unedited—you are all seeing this exactly as I am—for the very first time.”

Only a handful of the two-hundred participants left the room as the lights dimmed. Raj moved toward the side of the screen and sat on the dais steps, watching the Persephone drone’s lens reveal the grisly aftermath of the missile strike. Stillness engulfed the room as image after image appeared in front of them. Occasional cries and gasps from audience members broke the surreal quietude as footage of burned body parts, floating corpses and helpless victims were broadcast for all to see. Raj viewed the horrific pictures in grim silence, the microphone laid limply across his knee, completely ignored for the present. Toward the video’s end, the camera displayed the attempted rescue of the father and his two boys. From its vantage point overhead, the drone captured what both of the sailors in Persephone’s tender had been unable to see—the infant son slipping from his father’s shoulders as his brother was thrown to safety. Men and women in the audience wept openly as they watched the silent drama of a father’s nightmare play out before their eyes.

The screen went dark and the house lights returned to full intensity. Seasoned journalists, politicians and people of all occupations and ideologies wiped tears from their cheeks at the conclusion of the video stream. Raj stood up and once again, held the mic to his face. His voice was audibly strained as he spoke. “I received this from one of our research vessels stationed in the Galapagos Islands. The time difference is two hours—so at approximately one-o’clock their time, they witnessed this unprovoked attack on unarmed refugees.” He shook his head and drew a long sigh. “I don’t know what to tell you—other than the crew has retrieved numerous samples from the wreckage and are currently analyzing them.”

A man in the second row stood up and asked, “Who could do this? Is it a terrorist group—an act of war?”

Raj shook his head. “We shouldn’t start throwing around any assumptions—nor would it be prudent to make any accusations… Yet. Our ATHENS team of scientists can determine very accurately what kind of weapon was used, and then… at that juncture, it will be time to start pointing some fingers. But not now—not when we know so little.”

The CNN journalist raised his hand and Raj pointed at him. “Mitchell?”

“Once it has been determined where the explosive device came from—from whatever country or organization—are you going to hand this evidence over to appropriate authorities?”

Raj curled his top lip, chuckling bitterly. “Mitch—for heaven’s sake, it’s been streaming live. Every Tom, Dick and Harry with access to the internet is free to download and scrutinize each pixilated portion as far as I’m concerned. And yes, sure—ATHENS will turn over any and all evidence to whatever authority or jurisdiction requires it without hesitation. But I’ll also tell you that I am very angry right now—I am beyond angry!” Raj paced across the front of the hall, his voice regaining its characteristic potency. “And know this—that once we have irrefutably identified who committed this barbaric, inhuman crime—well, I’m announcing right here, that I intend to bring the full weight and capital of my extensive resources against them—whomever they are, however big they might be. If the governments cannot or will not do something to put an end to this—then by God, I intend to.”

The energy in the Hall Riopelle became electric as reporters, bloggers and journalists of every medium recorded Kaleka’s words. Government officials searched each other out to discuss the repercussions of Raj’s pronouncement. Ordinary citizens conversed about what they had just witnessed and many individuals were already on their mobiles; spreading news about the bombing and the potential clash of the billionaire against who-knew-what organization or government. Attendees filed into the concourse chattering about the recent events. Before long, the entire Palais des congrès center was obsessed with the topic.

At the far end of the building, in the Hall Espace, Richard Cross fielded questions from the audience after his lengthy presentation. Several attendees were gathering their belongings and preparing to exit when, from the far end of the hall, a journalist raised his hand. The director pointed toward him and one of the technicians handed a mic to the reporter. “Yes, thank you—I’m from Reuters News Agency. My question is: Do you have an official response to the missile strike off the Galapagos island of Fernandina in Ecuadorian waters? Rumors are circulating that the chemical schematics have been traced to an enhanced explosive formulation that is currently only used by HighTower Security Authority. Would you care to comment on these findings, Director Cross?”

The audience turned to face the reporter, several other journalists frantically flipped through their devices, searching for the big scoop that had just landed like a figurative rocket into their midst. Richard Cross grabbed the edges of his lectern. He felt the icy lance of panic jabbing at his spine as he scrambled for an appropriate response. “What? That is not… I—I certainly have no knowledge of such an incident. I’m afraid I cannot comment until I am fully briefed… Next question, please?” He desperately searched the room for any journalist known to be friendly to HSA. He spotted a blonde reporter who was on the HighTower payroll. “Heather—do you have a question for me?”

The leggy blonde stood up and held her tablet in the air. “I’m seeing a recorded stream here that was uploaded thirty minutes ago from a research vessel that was on scene. Their drone has recorded some rather disturbing images, Director Cross. And it’s true—lab results are citing traces of some very expensive, high-explosive components utilized only in HSA Hellfire missiles. Can HighTower go on the record to deny any involvement in this international incident?”

“I have no comment. No further questions. Thank you.” The director turned and strode off the stage, fumbling his way between the proscenium curtains. The stunned audience fairly buzzed with chatter and questions as members of the media rushed toward the exit doors—eager to call in and upload their stories.

A flustered event organizer climbed the stairs to the podium and leaned into the microphone. “Excuse me—uh, we’d like to thank you for attending our session today. I am certain that the HighTower representatives will have an official response very soon. Until then, I’ll ask everyone to please leave in an orderly…”

Someone from the audience shouted, “Hey—Raj Kaleka is holding a press conference—it’s starting in five minutes out at the main entrance!”

Chairs were overturned as conference attendees rushed toward the exits. The security personnel tried to subdue the chaos as crowds pushed through the doors, but were soon overrun. “People! Please, exit in a safe and orderly fashion! Excuse me—we need to consider safety… Oh, screw it.” The overwhelmed announcer walked off the platform and threw his badge on the floor.

 

Residence of Nelson Banks.  Denver CO.  Jul 26. 2033

39°45’13.2″N 104°59’55.4″W

Nelson Banks stretched out lengthwise across the leather divan in the center of his living room. The late afternoon sun shone through the floor-to-ceiling windows of his penthouse apartment, creating a glare that reflected harshly off of the glass-surfaced coffee table near his head. He harrumphed as he rolled onto his side and buried his face into the cushions. “West-facing window shades to sixty-percent,” he mumbled into the pillow.

“I am very sorry; I could not interpret your command,” replied a suave female voice from a wall-mounted speaker.

Nelson flopped onto his back once more and with his hand shielding his eyes from the offending sun, he repeated the command—adding a few expletives to his sentences. The plate glass windows automatically transitioned to a subtle amber tone. Nelson kicked off his Ferragamo loafers and blindly reached for the half-empty bottle of Dalmore ‘43 Single Malt. As his hand fumbled around for the bottle, his mobile fell onto the plush carpet, followed immediately by his glass of melted ice. “Well, shit.”

Nelson rolled himself into a sitting position and picked up the glass and mobile. He shook the liquid from the device and tapped the screen to check for damage. “Play last message received,” he said.

The mobile responded and the constricted, somewhat nasal pitch of Amanda Terrance’s voice could be heard through the transmitter. “…and you’ll find that I’ve sent over not only the recording, but the transcript of my entire conversation with Director Cross regarding the… er, ‘incident’ that we’ve discussed at length. I trust you will find that there was no ambiguity in his orders. I am available at any time to speak with you further about the matter. Please give me a call at your convenience. Thank you, sir. Good bye.”

Nelson heaved a dramatic sigh and tossed the phone onto the cushions. He reached into the insulated pewter ice bucket and grabbed a handful of cubes. Holding his hand some distance above the glass, he dropped them one by one, listening to the clink they made as they landed. He grabbed the bottle by its neck and sloshed a healthy pour into the glass, sloshing the ice and Scotch around in small circles before taking his drink. Sighing, he leaned back into the comfort of his overstuffed divan. His mobile buzzed, vibrating against the leather cushion. Nelson grabbed it. “Banks. Make it short.”

“This is Maureen, Nelson. Be assured, I plan on adhering to brevity.”

Nelson rubbed his forehead and silently mouthed the word Fuck before responding to the Secretary of State. “Good evening Madame Secretary. I assumed I might be hearing from you today.”

“Fuck you, Nelson. We were very clear about what would happen should anything wind up in the press. And here we are—this is unprecedented—I am not even going to try and describe the bloodbath we’re having with the media right now…. I mean, shit, Nelson!”

“Madame Secretary… Maureen—this is solvable. We can ride this out.”

“Really Nelson. Because you’ll never guess who is sitting in the Oval Office right now—I guarantee you—you’ll never guess.”

“Maureen, I…”

“Raj-Fucking-Kaleka—that’s who. Jesus Christ, Nelson, he’s got the President by the short and curlys!” The Secretary’s rage was unmistakable, causing her voice to crack the more she spoke.  “Here is the thing—listen very carefully to me. When last we talked, I made it clear that should any heads be required to swing, they would be coming from HighTower, not our administration. And I want a head, a significant head—and I want it served to me on a silver, fucking platter by dinnertime tonight. Do you understand me?”

“I do—believe me I definitely do. I have your sacrificial lamb already picked out, ready for the slaughter. The details will be sent within the next ten minutes. Satisfied?”

“Raj-Fucking-Kaleka, Nelson. Dear God!”

“Look, we’ll bury our West Coast Director and then this will all blow over. Be assured Madame Secretary, Raj Kaleka is just acting the part of an overblown peacock… Once his stocks go up from all this, he’ll back down.”

“Nelson. HighTower is on very thin ice—and not just with us… I hear that the Prime Minister is seeing red. You’d better get your house in order. And that other thing—the one we will never speak of—should it ever surface, I’ll feed you and yours to the sharks so fast they’ll swallow your unborn great-grandchildren before you know what happened.”

“Thank you Madame Secretary. I get the picture.”

“Send me that fucking name, Nelson.”

Nelson Banks slammed the phone onto the glass surface, causing adjacent contents to rattle across the tabletop. He poured another glassful of Scotch—omitting the ice, and gulped it down. He rose unsteadily from the divan and walked into the bathroom. Bracing himself with his outstretched arm, he grasped hold of the gold-plated towel rack. He stood in front of the urinal and belched loudly. As he flushed the commode, he muttered to the wall, “Dial HighTower West Coast—Amanda Terrance’s private line.”