Carlo too was breathing heavily, and his dark skin shone with perspiration.
“Dr. Held! Tsunami!”
They all stared, most of them absorbing neither the strange word nor the terror so obvious in his dark eyes.
“Tsunami!” he cried again.
In uneven, rapid steps, Andrew crossed the room.
“Tidal wave, Carlo? You are sure? You know the signs?”
Still fighting for breath, Carlo described the warning signs he had just seen in the bay, and then what he had seen as a boy of twelve when a tsunami swept into the town of Hilo. Buildings knocked off their foundations. Buses overturned. Sixty-one people drowned because they refused to heed fair warning. And much more.
It was a frantic recital, a spilling of ugly, brutal pictures. Shocked, Norma automatically turned toward her husband, waiting for him to call it all nonsense. Instead, he murmured, “Frightening”—though in the same detached tone of voice he would use to find fault with the opera’s new baritone.
Warren Brock’s thick, sun-bleached eyebrows rose in skepticism. He remembered newspaper accounts of a “disaster” in Hawaii—but those people loved them! Look what they did every time Mauna Loa erupted. They rushed so they could charter planes and fly over the crater!
Felicia simply did not comprehend tsunami as a scientific reality. Her eyes strayed to the frosty wine bucket and its unopened bottle of champagne.
Only Andrew listened with silent intensity. With Carlo’s first gasping announcement, Andrew’s lightning calculator of a mind had raced backward from effect to cause, mentally tracing the links from tidal wave to earthquake, to submarine landslide or explosion, to the fearful potential of the Armageddon bomb test on Pater Island. And realizing the origin, he fully appreciated the danger.
With one quick gesture, he cut off Carlo’s monologue. “Carlo, how much time do we have?” His commanding tone made it clear to everyone: Andrew Held was in charge.
Felicia took a step backward . . .
The massive body straightened up, and Donald’s small eyes caught and held hers. He stood erect, making no effort to step into the shadow or to close the door.
She tried to speak, and no sound came out. She tried to run, but her body did not respond. It was like her nightmare, when a faceless Jean Charles had been transposed into a naked Donald, and she and he had been bound together by the misty paralysis of the dream.
Except, in the dream, Donald had been grinning. The real Donald had longing in his eyes, and hope.
“It’s you,” he said.
“I’m sorry. I thought . . . I assumed no one was here.”
“Only you and me.”
“Put something on.” She meant to scold, to dictate, but her voice shook.
“I don’t want to,” he said thickly, and walked toward her.
Her heart was pounding, and an inner voice screamed, Run! But her legs were immobilized by an overpowering weakness.
“I ain’t been too bad to you, have I?”
She gasped out, “The devil’s clubs! That day in the woods. You stood by and watched, knowing what would happen when I touched them. You were going to let me!”
“I felt sorry about that. Forget it. I ain’t done nothing since. I’m talking about something else. A way I been good to you.”
She nodded helplessly. “You mean that you haven’t told Dr. Held . . .” Her words came out unevenly, jerked out of her mouth by her furious pulse. “That you haven’t told him about Carlo.”
Donald’s big head moved up and down in slow assent. He took a few more steps, as slow and inexorable as a figure in a dream.
“I ain’t going to tell him,” he said, looming over her. “I was going to. I don’t want to, no more.”
“Go away.” It was an anguished whisper. “Go back.”
“You don’t mean that. I’m big and dumb. You called me an animal. Maybe I am. But I got eyes. You can call me anything you want, but that don’t change what I know. And I know you’re hurting just as bad as me.”
She stared up at him, trembling with awareness of a body her mind commanded her to flee from. Transfixed, the mute and helpless Felicia stood perfectly still, even when she saw what he was going to do. A separate Felicia, standing outside the circle of the dream, watched him open her shirt, pull it off her shoulders, and drop it to the ground.
“Oh sweet Jesus,” he said hoarsely, his eyes fixed on her full breasts. He licked his lips and slowly, worshipfully, bent his head.
When he touched her, the nightmare dissolved. The rasp of his breathing, the hot, searching tip of his tongue, released her.
“No!” she screamed—and, unlike in the dream, the full sound of terror burst from her throat.
The world around Rolf and Carlo was a storm-enclosed cave, all black and white and filled with turbulence: the roaring black sea casting up spumy white crests; the black sky spewing white snowflakes; the dugout plunging from boiling whitecap to black hole between waves.
Carlo’s one shouted word carried back to the stern despite the howling wind. Rolf hunched his shoulder forward to brush snow off his face without releasing his grip on the paddle.
It was Phoenix Island, all right. A dark, shadowy shape, humped up at the north end, dropping into a saddle, and rising again to the south in a series of lower hills. A lone island, erupting from the violent sea like a mystical creature surfacing for air. Phoenix, Diana, safety.
Despite muscles straining and chest aching with the effort to breathe, Rolf felt a surge of power. They were no longer moving blindly in the storm. Their goal was visible. They could reach what they could see.
Carlo was shouting again. But this time, he turned back toward the stern and, heedless of the danger of lifting his paddle from the water, pointed with it toward the dugout floor. Rolf blinked and wiped his eyes. Squinting against the cold, he saw what Carlo was trying to show him.
An ominous crack had opened up down the center of the canoe. There was not enough luck in the world to hold this dugout in one piece.
Not unless he could lash it together.
Rolf’s glance darted to their fishing gear, stowed next to their water bottles under the center thwarts. There was at least enough line to encircle the dugout in two or three places. With the hull wrapped and tied tightly, the crack would close. Such a patchwork repair wouldn’t last, but at the speed they were traveling, it would get them to Phoenix.
Should he put down his paddle to do the job, relying on the bow man to keep them headed into the swells? Or was it best to keep the steering paddle moving in the stern, while he tried with shouts and signals to guide Carlo through the task?
Weighing this made him hesitate—and in those few seconds, the maniac sea took command.
A huge wave smashed against the dugout. Caught at a slight angle, the canoe began to broach. In the stern, Rolf struggled to keep her from swinging around broadside—but by now the crack was widening, and water was coming in through the crack as well as over the gunwale. The damaged shell, once so responsive, had become heavy and unwieldy.
As the boat rose sideways on the ridge of the wave, Rolf saw the fishing gear break loose and slide across the bottom of the dugout. If it went over the side, they would lose the only lashing they had, and their only chance of holding the canoe together. He leaped for it, groped wildly as the dugout cracked and shuddered from the murderous force of the wave. The gear escaped him, grazing his fingertips as it slid by with the roll of the boat and disappeared over the side.
He was still on his knees when the crack opened wide and the dugout split in two, as cleanly as if giant hands had pulled it apart.
Rolf heard a cry from Carlo, and then the sea swept over him, and he was fighting it, beating his arms against the rushing water, kicking his feet, praying for breath.