Off the Maine Coast, the Present
LEROY JENKINS WAS hauling in a barnacle-encrusted lobster trap aboard his boat, The Kestrel, when he looked up and saw the giant ship on the horizon. He gingerly extracted a fat pair of angry crustaceans from the trap, pegged the claws and tossed the lobsters into a holding tank, then he rebaited the trap with a fish head, pushed the wire cage over the side and went into the pilothouse for his binoculars. He peered through the lenses and silently mouthed the word "Wow!"
The ship was huge. Jenkins examined the vessel from stem to stern with an expert eye. Before retiring to take up lobster-fishing, he had taught oceanography for years at the University of Maine, and he had spent many summer breaks on survey ships-but this vessel was like nothing he had ever seen. He estimated its length at about six hundred feet. Derricks and cranes sprouted from its deck. Jenkins guessed it was some sort of ocean mining or exploration vessel. He watched until the ship vanished from sight, then went back to pull the rest of the string of pots.
Jenkins was a tall, rangy man in his sixties, whose rugged features mirrored the rockbound coast of his native Maine. A smile crossed his deeply tanned face as he hauled in the last trap. It had been an exceptionally good day. He had found the honey hole by accident a couple of months earlier. The spot produced an endless supply of lobsters, and he kept coming back even though he had to go farther from land than normal. Fortunately, his thirty-six-foot wooden boat was seaworthy even with a full load. Setting a course for land, he put the boat on autopilot and went below to reward himself with what they used to call a Dagwood sandwich when he was a kid. He had just layered in another slice of baloney on top of the pile of ham, cheese and salami when he heard a muffled "Boom!" It sounded like a thunderclap, but it seemed to come from below.
The boat shuddered so violently the jars of mustard and mayonnaise rolled off the counter. Jenkins tossed his knife in the sink and sprang up to the deck. He wondered if the propeller had broken off or if he had hit a floating log, but nothing seemed amiss. The sea was calm and almost flat. Earlier, the blue surface had reminded him of a Rothko canvas.
The boat had stopped vibrating, and he took a wondering look around, then, shrugging, went below. He finished making his sandwich, cleaned up and went out on the deck to eat. Noticing a couple of lobster traps that had shifted, he secured them with a line, then as he stepped back into the wheelhouse, he experienced a sudden unpleasant stomach-sinking sensation, as if someone had pushed the Up button in a fast elevator. He grabbed onto the mechanical hauler to keep his footing. The boat plunged, then levitated again, higher this time, plummeted once more and repeated the cycle a third time before sinking back into the sea, where it rocked violently from side to side.
After a few minutes, the motion stopped and the boat stabilized, and Jenkins saw a flickering movement in the distance. Retrieving his binoculars from the wheelhouse, he swept the sea, and as he adjusted the focus ring, he saw three dark furrows extending from north to south. The ranks of waves were moving in the direction of the coast. A long-dormant alarm bell clanged in his head. It can't be. His mind raced back to that July day in 1998 off the coast of Papua New Guinea. He had been on a ship, making a survey, when there had been a mysterious explosion and the seismic instruments had gone crazy, indicating a disturbance on the seafloor. Recognizing the symptoms of a tsunami, the scientists aboard the ship had tried to warn the coast, but many of the villages had no communication. The huge waves had flattened the villages like a giant steamroller. The destruction was horrifying. Jenkins never forgot the sight of bodies impaled on mangrove branches, of crocodiles preying on the dead.
The radio crackled with a chorus of hard-edged Maine accents as fishermen set the airways abuzz. "Whoa!" said a voice Jenkins recognized as that of his neighbor, Elwood Smalley. "Hear that big boomer?"
"Sounded like a jet fighter, only underwater," another fisherman said.
"Anyone else feel those big seas?" said a third man.
"Yup," replied a laconic veteran lobsterman named Homer Gudgeon. "Thought for a time there I was on a roller coaster!"
Jenkins barely heard the other voices chiming in. He dug a pocket calculator out of a drawer, estimated the time between the waves and their height, did some quick calculations and glanced with disbelief at the numbers. Then he picked up the cell phone he used when he didn't want personal messages to go over the marine channel and punched out a number.
The gravelly voice of Charlie Howes, Rocky Cove's police chief, came on the phone.
"Charlie, thank God I got you!"
"In my cruiser on my way to the station, Roy. You calling to crow about whippin' me at chess last night?"
"Another time," Jenkins said. "I'm east of Rocky Point. Look, Charlie, we don't have much time. There's a big wave heading right toward town."
He heard a dry chuckle at the other end. "Hell, Roy," the chief said, "town like ours on the water is bound to get lots of waves."
"Not like this one. You've got to evacuate the people from near the harbor, especially the new motel."
Jenkins thought the phone had gone dead. Then came Charlie Howe's famous guffaw. "I didn't know today was April Fool's."
"Charlie, this is no joke," Jenkins said in exasperation. "That wave is going to slam into the harbor. I don't know how strong it will be, because there are lots of unknowns, but that motel is right in its path."
The chief laughed again. "Hell, some people would be real happy to see the Harbor View washed into the sea."
The two-story edifice that extended into the harbor on stilts had been a source of controversy for months. It had gone up only after a bitter fight, an expensive lawsuit filed by the developers and what many suspected were bribes to officials.
"They're going to get their wish, but you've got to get the guests out first."
"Hell, Roy, there must be a hundred people staying there. I can't roust them out for no reason. I'll lose my job. Even worse, I'll be a laughingstock."
Jenkins checked his watch and cursed under his breath. He hadn't wanted to panic the chief, but he had reached the end of his self-control.
"Goddamnit, you old fool! How will you feel if a hundred people die because you're afraid of being laughed at?"
"You're not kidding, are you, Roy?"
"You know what I did before I took up lobstering."
"Yeah, you were a professor at the university up at Orono."
"That's right. I headed up the Oceanography Department. We studied wave action. You've heard of the Perfect Storm? You've got the perfect tidal wave heading your way. I calculate it will hit in twenty-five minutes. I don't care what you tell those motel people. Tell them there's a gas leak, a bomb threat, anything. Just get them out and to higher ground. And do it now."
"Okay, Roy. Okay."
"Is there anything open on Main Street?"
"Coffee shop. Jacoby kid is on the night shift. I'll have him swing by, then check out the fish pier."