By Paul Garrison
Published by William Morrow
January 2003; 0060081678; 352 pages
David Hope knelt to empty the urn that the crematorium had FedEx-ed to Tortola. He had sailed south all night and through the morning, racing down the backside of the Leeward Islands, fleeing a ghost that stuck closer than the wind. When he stopped his boat, at last, deep inside the Caribbean, St. Croix lay sixty miles in his wake, South America five hundred ahead, and the vast blue sea spanned barren horizons.
Famous ashes-scattering disasters leapt to mind, gruesome, comic, twisted. The deceased who stuck to the airplane's fresh paint. Weeping mourners fleeing a change in the breeze. Before he'd quit the newspaper business, he'd written about a man who had arranged to have his ashes poured into his ex-wife's central air conditioning.
Hope had found a letter taped to the urn. "Barbara's dying wish," her parents claimed. She wanted her ashes spread on the ocean.
That was a lie.
She had loved the sea, all right. Loved it as fiercely as only an ignorant romantic could love. Loved it enough to die for it. But to express a dying wish, you had to be able to think. And Hope, who had persisted in telephoning the doctor monitoring her coma, knew the truth. Barbara Carey had not voiced a waking thought in the long year since she smashed her beautiful head on a semisubmersible offshore oil rig that she had vowed to stop from "raping" -- her furious word -- the Gulf of Mexico.
A brave and magnificent woman. One in a million.
Her parents could have hired one of the professional services that scattered ashes for a fee. But it appeared that they were still looking for someone to blame. Hard to blame them. For they knew one immutable fact. Barbara's merry band of eco-crusaders would never have set foot on the floating oil rig without the help of a blue-water sailor who had the sense to know they were truly risking their lives.
Who better to bury her?
So Hope had sailed her ashes far from any shore and confirmed with binoculars and radar that they were alone. They sat for a while in the shade of the bimini top. Finally he asked, "Ready?" and carried her down the dive steps in the back of the starboard hull and knelt on the grate.
Mindful of the wind, he submerged the urn in the clear water and slowly unscrewed the top. The powdery ash was sprinkled with larger bits that sank like pebbles. But the dust that remained spread like a ghostly fog. He was wondering whether he was supposed to keep the urn when her ashes enveloped his wrist.
He jerked his hand out of the water and dropped the urn, which commenced a two-mile voyage to the bottom. The low waves dispersed the fog. Heart pounding, stomach churning, he rinsed off, repeatedly, until it occurred to him, So what? They'd shared a hundred intimacies. Why not this?
When he calmed down, he was struck anew by the immensity of the ocean and how Barbara was quite suddenly and completely gone. Not a bad way to go. Though when his own time came, if he had a choice, he thought he would prefer an eternal version of the celebrated seasickness cure -- a quiet spot under a tree.
He cranked out the roller-reefed main and Jib, opening his sails to the northeast trade wind, and set the catamaran flying home to Tortola. A pair of scuba-diving couples arriving from New Jersey would be his last paying charter job before he sailed north for the summer. He had to clean up the boat and provision for a week of live-aboard reef exploring.
He was late, having procrastinated the burial-sailing much further south of the British Virgin Islands than he had to, then sitting around the cockpit for hours talking to her urn. So he pushed the cat hard, constantly tweaking the sails to extract the most power from the wind, adjusting and readjusting the depth of the daggerboard that projected below the starboard hull to keep the swift, surface-skimming, twin-hull boat from sliding sideways.
Racing had the additional benefit of keeping him too busy for memory and guilt and regret. It worked for a while. So well, at first, that he found himself thinking thoughts he had not allowed himself since the accident. I'm ready to meet somebody. Why not? He'd paid his dues. He had been alone -- absolutely, celibately alone with the possible exception of a drunken night with a New York lawyer at the end of Antigua Race Week. Now, at last, it felt all right to admit that he was lonely. It would be terrific to meet somebody who was looking, too. Maybe he would get lucky. He should put out the word to his friends: Hope was prepared to hope. He was savoring that thought, encouraged by a pretty sunset, when the helm jammed.
He reacted swiftly to stop the suddenly rudderless boat, winching in the main and jib sheets to steer her bows into the wind. Then he jumped belowdecks and found what he expected: a loose rudder cable he had neglected to tighten had jumped its quadrant. Crouching in a stifling hot steering gear compartment, he worked the steering cable back into its quadrant groove and repeated an oftpromised pledge to replace the entire steering system with hydraulics as soon as he had the cash.
He was quickly under way again. But if David Hope had entertained the belief that scattering Barbara Carey's ashes would close a black chapter, he was mistaken. The darkness that descended with the sun brought him the worst night since the accident. Every time he closed his eyes to catch five minutes of sleep in the cockpit, the nightmares struck, familiar as a brutal jailer.
By dawn he felt half dead, his blue eyes red and stinging, his heavy swimmer's shoulders knotted with tension, his long, weathered face haggard. It was scored by two weary lines that cut from his nose to his jaw. As if he'd been branded with a number eleven, he thought when he glimpsed his reflection in the mirror in the head. A sneak preview of how he would look when he was old. Or in the grave. People who usually assumed he was ten years younger than his forty-eight would jump this morning to offer their seat on a bus.
He brewed some strong black coffee. It didn't help. He riffled through his CDs. Cyrus Chestnut playing hymns on the piano. He bumped through the tracks. "Onward Christian Soldiers" made him feel better. But not much. "The Old Rugged Cross" helped, too. But not enough. Somehow, he had to sleep. So he took a careful look around to make sure that he and Oona were sailing alone. He set his internal alarm for ten minutes, and the radar to sound if any vessel came within three miles, then prayed -- begged -- for a peaceful ten minutes, and closed his eyes.
Six minutes later, he saw an enormous dolphin leap from the ocean. The animal rose straight up on its tail, stood taller than seemed possible, and began to spin, burnished gold and red by the morning sun.
Hope suspected another dream. He felt fast asleep and he was experiencing a dreamer's double perspective of a close-up and a long shot. Or was he dreaming a memory of waking for a moment and seeing the creature while he checked that the sea was clear of ships?
It had to be a dream. The dolphin was enormous -- supernaturally larae -- as colossal as a killer whale.
But whatever the reality, at least the big, beautiful dolphin wasn't a nightmare and for that gift he was grateful. Then something outside dream or memory made a noise. It banged against the starboard hull with a sharp, hollow donk. Not at all the sound he'd expect of a collision with a large mammal, and Hope snapped awake to see what his boat had hit.
With his electrifying, lightning-paced thrillers, Paul Garrison has firmly established himself as the premier author of contemporary high seas adventures. And now he plunges us into perilous waters once again with a spellbinding tale of danger, unnatural phenomena, and technology gone mad.
A charter captain in the British Virgin Islands, David Hope is a man severely shaken by personal loss and looking for nothing more than one last client to round out the season. At first it seems Sally Moffitt is his salvation. Beautiful and reckless, a filmmaker specializing in the mysteries of the deep, she meets David in a Tortola bar. And before long they are riding the placid Caribbean waters aboard David's catamaran, Oona, carrying a cache of "liberated" film equipment.
They aren't alone. There is something swimming beneath the surface, sleek and frightening -- an inexplicable perversion of the natural order never before caught on film . . . until now. No sooner is Sally's precious footage shot and secured than they are hailed by a huge, elaborately fitted research vessel -- a towering high-tech windjammer under the command of one William Tree.
Though charmed by the amiable, obese, and wildly eccentric Tree -- a scion of one of America's wealthiest and most powerful families -- David and Sally are not ready to trust him with their discovery, for the big man knows more than he is letting on. And he would brush them aside as easily as he would an annoying insect in his singleminded pursuit of a dark and brilliant vision that is slowly coming to light -- one that the whole world will recognize ... and fear.
But David and Sally have something Tree desperately needs, and they intend to keep it hidden -- until catastrophe strikes. A nightmare uncontained and all too real is rising up from the depths, setting the two adventurers off on a breakneck hunt for answers to the greatest and most devastating mystery the seas have ever nurtured -- a mystery that is now, ruthlessly and relentlessly, hunting them....
Crackling with tension and alive with the salt-spray-tinged authenticity that is Garrison's trademark, Sea Hunter is a magnificent voyage of uncharted waters, as deep and mysterious as the ocean itself.(back to top)
Paul Garrison works with boats, tugs, and ships. Like his grandfather who wandered the South Seas in the last of the square-rigged copra-trading vessels, he travels where business takes him, and spends as much time as he can at sea. He is fascinated by the Far Pacific's violent past and volatile future, and the region's warrior men and women.