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 aboard.
"Anybody hurt?" Jenkins said, his eyes sweeping the harbor and town.
"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."
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