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
"Sounded like a jet fighter, only underwater," another fisherman
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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."
"Make sure everybody is out of the area in fifteen minutes. That
goes for you and Ed Jacoby."
"Will do. Thanks, Roy. I think. 'Bye."
Jenkins was almost dizzy with tension. He pictured Rocky Point in
his mind. The town of twelve hundred was built like the seats in an
amphitheater, its houses clustered on the side of a small hill
overlooking the roughly circular harbor. The harbor was relatively
sheltered, but the town's inhabitants had learned after a couple of
hurricane-driven storm surges to build back from the water. The old
brick maritime buildings on the main street bordering the harbor
had been given over to shops and restaurants that served tourists.
The fish pier and the motel dominated the harbor. Jenkins cranked
up the throttle and prayed that his warning had arrived in
CHIEF Howes immediately regretted agreeing to Roy's urgent pleas,
and was overcome by a numbing sense of uncertainty. Damned if he
did, damned if he didn't. He'd known Jenkins since they were kids
and Roy was the smartest one in class. He had never known him to
fail as a friend. Still. Oh hell, he was near retirement
Howes switched on his flasher, nailed the accelerator and, with a
smoky screech of tires, roared toward the waterfront. While he
drove the short distance, he got the deputy on the radio and told
him to clear out the coffee shop then to go along Main Street with
his PA system blasting, warning people to get to high ground. The
chief knew the diurnal rhythms of his town: who would be up, who
would be walking a dog. Luckily, most businesses didn't open before
The motel was another story. Howes pulled over two empty buses on
their way to pick up schoolchildren and told the drivers to follow
him. The cruiser squealed to a stop beneath the motel's canopy, and
the chief huffed his way to the front door. Howes had been on the
fence about the motel. It would spoil the integrity of the harbor,
but it might bring in jobs for locals; not everyone in town wanted
to be a fisherman. On the other hand, he didn't like the way the
project was rammed through to approval. He couldn't prove it, but
he was sure there had been bribes at town hall.
The developer was a local named Jack Shrager, an unprincipled land
raper who was building condos along the river that ran off the
harbor, further despoiling the town's quiet beauty. Shrager never
did hire locals, preferring foreigners who worked long and
The desk clerk, a young Jamaican, looked up with a startled
expression on his thin, dark face as the chief burst into the lobby
and shouted: "Get everyone out of the motel! This is an
"What's the problem, mon?"
"I've been told there's a bomb here."
The desk clerk gulped. Then he got on the switchboard and began to
"You've got ten minutes," Howes emphasized. "There are buses
waiting in front. Get everyone out, including yourself. Tell anyone
who refuses that the police will arrest them."
The chief strode down the nearest hallway and pounded on doors.
"Police! You must evacuate this building immediately. You have ten
minutes," he yelled at the sleepy faces that peered out. "There has
been a bomb threat. Don't stop to gather your belongings."
He repeated the message until he was hoarse. The hallways filled
with people in bathrobes and pajamas or with blankets wrapped
around them. A swarthy man with an unpleasant scowl on his face
stepped from one room. "What the hell is going on?" Jack Shrager
Howes swallowed hard. "There's been a bomb threat, Jack. You've got
to get out."
A young blond woman poked her head out of the room. "What's wrong,
"There's a bomb in the motel," the chief said, becoming more
The woman's face went pale and she stepped into the hallway. She
was still in her silk bathrobe. Shrager tried to hold her, but she
"I'm not staying here," she said.
"And I'm not moving," Shrager said. He slammed the door.
Howes shook his head in frustration, then guided the woman by the
arm, joining the throng heading for the front door. He saw the
buses were almost filled and yelled at the drivers.
"Get out of here in five minutes. Drive to the highest hill in
He slid behind the wheel of his cruiser and drove to the fish pier.
The deputy was arguing with three fishermen. Howes saw what was
happening and yelled out the window, "Get your asses into those
trucks and go to the top of Hill Street or you'll be
"What the hell is going on, Charlie?"
Howes lowered his voice. "Look, Buck, you know me. Just do as I say
and I'll explain later."
The fisherman nodded, then he and the others got into their
pickups. Howes told his deputy to follow them and made one last
sweep along the fish pier, where he picked up an elderly man who
sorted through the rubbish bins for cans and bottles. Then he
scoured Main Street, saw that it was quiet and headed for the top
of Hill Street.
Some of the people who stood shivering in the cool air of morning
shouted at him. Howes ignored their insults, got out of his cruiser
and walked partway down the steep hill that led down toward the
harbor. Now that the adrenaline rush was over, he felt weak-kneed.
Nothing. He checked his watch. Five minutes came and went. And so
did his dreams of a peaceful retirement on a police pension. I'm
dead, he thought, sweating despite the coolness.
Then he saw the sea rise above the horizon and heard what sounded
like distant thunder. The townspeople stopped shouting. A darkness
loomed out near the channel entrance and the harbor emptied out-he
could actually see bottom-but the phenomenon lasted only a few
seconds. The water roared back in with a noise like a 747 taking
off, and the sea lifted the moored fishing boats as if they were
toys. It was reinforced by two more waves, seconds apart, each
taller than the one before. They surged over the shore. When they
receded, the motel and the fish pier had vanished.
THE Rocky Point that Jenkins returned to was far different from the
one he had left that morning. The boats moored in the harbor were
jumbled together along the shore in a tangled heap of wood and
fiberglass. Smaller craft had been thrown up onto Main Street. Shop
windows were smashed as if by a gang of vandals. The water was
littered with debris and seaweed, and a sulfuric smell of sea
bottom mixed with the odor of dead fish. The motel had vanished.
Only pilings remained of the fish pier, although the sturdy
concrete bulkhead showed no sign of damage. Jenkins pointed his
boat toward a figure waving his arms on the bulkhead. Chief Howes
grabbed the mooring lines and tied them off, then he stepped
"Anybody hurt?" Jenkins said, his eyes sweeping the harbor and
"Jack Shrager was killed. He's the only one as far as we know. We
got everyone else out of the motel."
"Thanks for believing me. Sorry I called you an old fool."
The chief puffed his cheeks out. "That's what I would have been if
I'd sat on my ass and done nothing."
"Tell me what you saw," Jenkins said, the scientist reasserting
itself over the Samaritan.
Howes laid out the details. "We were standing at the top of Hill
Street. Sounded and looked like a thunderstorm, then the harbor
emptied out like a kid pulling the plug in a bathtub. I could
actually see bottom. That only lasted a few seconds before the
water roared in like a jet plane."
"That's an apt comparison. On the open ocean, a tsunami can go six
hundred miles an hour."
"That's fast!" the chief said.
"Luckily, it slows down as it approaches land and hits shallower
water. But the wave energy doesn't diminish with the speed."
"It wasn't like I pictured. You know, a wall of water fifty feet
high. This was more like a wave surge. I counted three of them,
each bigger than the last. Thirty feet, maybe. They whacked the
motel and pier and flooded Main Street." He shrugged. "I know
you're a professor, Roy, but how exactly did you know this was
going to happen?"
"I've seen it before off New Guinea. We were doing some research
when an undersea slide generated a tsunami thirty to sixty feet
tall, and a series of waves lifted our boat off the water just like
what I felt today. The people were warned and many made it to high
ground when the waves hit, but even so, more than two thousand
people were lost."
The chief gulped. "That's more than live in this town." He pondered
the professor's words. "You think that an earthquake caused this
mess? I thought that was something that happened in the
"Normally, you'd be right." Jenkins furrowed his brow and stared
out to sea. "This is absolutely incomprehensible."
"I'll tell you something else that's going to be hard to figure.
How am I going to explain that I evacuated the motel for a bomb
"Do you think anyone will care at this point?"
Chief Howes surveyed the town and the crowds of people cautiously
making their way down the hill to the harbor and shook his head.
"No," he said. "I don't guess they will."
Excerpted from FIRE ICE © Copyright 2002 by Clive Cussler.
Reprinted with permission by G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of
Penguin Putnam Inc. All rights reserved.