The marlin was the color of the ocean at twenty fathoms, an iridescent blue, with eerie light smoldering within its silky flesh as if its electrons had become unstable by the cold friction of the sea. A ghostly phosphorescence, a gleaming flash, its large eyes unblinking as it slipped into a seam in the current, then rose toward the luminous surface where a school of tuna was pecking at the tiny larvae and crustaceans snagged on a weed line.
The marlin attacked from the rear of the school. An ambush. It accelerated from thirty knots to double that in only a few yards. A fusion of grace, efficiency, and blinding power. For a creature with the bulk of a bull, the marlin was as sleek as any missile and blazed through the water at a speed not even the most powerful torpedo could attain. When it crashed into the school, it stunned each fish with a blow from its three-foot bill, then swallowed it headfirst.
Morgan Braswell saw its dorsal fin and the curved arc of its tail. She saw its shadow just below the surface. Maybe it was simply the angle of the sun, but the fish looked twice the size of an ordinary marlin. Before she could utter a word, the marlin hit the trolled lure and the outrigger popped.
"Fish on!" Johnny yelled.
In the fighting chair Morgan lifted the rod and settled it into the leather holder that was belted around her waist. At the same moment the rod tip jerked and the hundred-pound monofilament began to scream off her reel. Nothing she could do for now except hold on and watch. They were twenty-two miles south of Key West, a marlin highway that ran along a drop-off in the ocean floor, an east-to-west ridge that plummeted from nine hundred feet to two thousand in less than a mile. Wood's Wall was its name, the beginning of the Straits of Florida.
Andy and Johnny stood beside her. Her two brothers. Andy was the older, curly blond hair and rangy like their dad. At seventeen, a major-league science whiz, chemistry, electronics. He spent long hours in the MicroDyne lab, tinkering with new materials, new fibers, new everything. He was movie-star handsome, funny. A gifted athlete, president of his high school class, perfect scores on his college boards, courted by Stanford, M.I.T. A golden boy. Everyone in awe of him, most of all Johnny. Johnny was the quiet kid who tracked his big brother's every move, stood in his shadow, said little.
Morgan was the second child, a year younger than Andy, with electric blue eyes, a sinuous figure, glossy black hair that she wore as short as Andy's. She was well aware of the effect she had on boys, but didn't give a damn about trading on her looks, scoring points in the Palm Beach social scene. She'd rather hang with Andy. The two of them endlessly tinkering in A.J.'s workshop or at the company lab. Metallurgy, ceramics, carbides. Morgan had the intense focus and scrupulously logical mind. Andy was the creative one, spontaneous and intuitive, a genius. She was the yin to his yang. The controlled left brain to his exuberant right. A neatly nestled fit.
Up on the flybridge, Darlene Braswell stood beside her husband, watching her daughter closely. A tall, black-haired woman with shadowy Italian eyes. A violinist with the Miami Symphony till she'd met and married A.J. Braswell. Now a vigilant mom. Too vigilant. She and Morgan hadn't spoken for days. A bitter standoff. Last week, coming into Morgan's room, staring at her for a full minute in prickly silence. Morgan knew what it was about, but didn't think her mother had the nerve. She held Morgan's eyes and finally spoke, voice neutral, asking if anything was going on she should know about. Going on? Morgan playing dumb. You know what I mean, Morgan. Is something happening between you and Andy? Morgan said nothing, glaring into her mother's dark eyes. Okay, her mother said, if you won't discuss this, then I'll talk to Andy. One way or the other, I'm going to find out. You go ahead, Mom, talk to Andy, but if you do, I'll never speak to you again. Never. Now get out of my room. Morgan pointed at her door, kept pointing till her mother turned and walked to the door and stood there a moment waiting for Morgan to open up. But she didn't. She wasn't about to. Her mother wouldn't understand. Never. Not in a million years.
Copyright 2002 by James W. Hall. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, St Martins Press.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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