Scientists fight to stop the most devastating natural disaster in history.
The Woodson family's car wound its way down the driveway of a quaint beach cottage they'd rented in Easton, Maryland. Jack and Susan Woodson, along with their daughters Rebecca and Amy, had planned on spending a week at the oceanside that July. Seven days was nearly double the time they normally allotted for their summer vacation. This was the first year that Rebecca Woodson would be capable of venturing into the ocean depths unsupervised. On previous family sojourns the perennial threat of their youngest child's meeting with disaster the moment their backs were turned had proved excessively taxing for her parents. As a result, the couple had set four days as the upward limit on subsequent seaside adventures.
"We're here!" Rebecca Woodson, a five-year-old girl with short black hair that hung down her forehead in bangs, shouted as the car came to a stop. She jumped out of the vehicle and rushed up the door of the house gushing with energy built-up over 180 days of incarceration in an elementary school classroom. "Open it," she shouted at her father, incapable of waiting a moment longer for a glimpse of the seaside bungalow's interior.
Amy Woodson, nine years old with short brown parted hair, emerged from the car a few moments after her sibling. With one hand, she carried a small light-blue suitcase. With her other she held the string of a purse draped over her shoulder. The feel of its leather strap against her fingers reminded her that she now wore a pocketbook. Neatly tucked below this arm was a copy of Anne of Greene Gables. For the precocious young lady, summer meant not only science camp but the unlimited freedom to indulge in the fiction she was unable to enjoy at her leisure over the academic year.
As Jack heaved suitcases, groceries and a day bag up the front path, he could feel the khaki shorts and striped blue button-down he'd soaked with perspiration packing the family's car clinging to his skin. He attempted to balance the day bag on his knee as he pulled at the screen door with the hand that held the bag of groceries including a carton of eggs. Finally giving up, he laid the sack of beach toys down causing all its contents to spill out. Jack would delegate the task of gathering up the loose items. He'd saved the eggs. He could take some solace in that miniscule victory.
Rebecca rushed in under her father's arm the moment Jack pushed the door open. "Wow, you can see the whole beach right from our window!" she exclaimed as she admired the view through the panoramic living room plate glass. "Which room is ours?" she asked eagerly as she ran to investigate the rest of the house.
"Second one on the right," her father replied, only assigning these particular quarters to his children moments after their entrance. This room was farthest from the dining area where his wife would be churning out a report that she had only two days to finish, and he hoped to enjoy at least a glass of wine or two with Susan in peace.
Rebecca had insisted on taking the window-side bed so as to be afforded a direct view of the ocean upon waking every morning. Amy was tempted to exercise her authority as the elder sibling to claim her right to first choice in the determination of sleeping accommodations. She was reminded, however, by past experiences of the value in selecting her battles wisely. Amy slowly began to unpack her suitcase, refolding all of the clothing items she took out of her luggage before putting them into the turquoise chest of drawers that stood next to her bed.
Early the following morning, Rebecca awoke and threw off her covers just minutes after the sun made its first appearance over the watery horizon. She walked into the living room and tried unsuccessfully not to wake her family while she performed a series of preparation exercises she'd been taught by her swimming instructor. She was soon joined at breakfast by her mother and sister who rubbed their eyes as the three of them began preparing breakfast together. Both Susan and Amy had lain in bed for nearly half an hour lacking the energy to arise and march into the living room in order to murder the young aerobicizer. Wolfing down her breakfast, Rebecca stared at her sister taking her time as she prepared her morning finger food, small collections of egg she carefully forked onto her toast. Rebecca expressed her irritation with a series of exasperated exhales. After observing her sister's eating ritual for another 10 minutes, she finally lost her patience altogether.
"Come on!" she shouted at Amy refusing to tolerate any more delay of her first venture onto the golden sands just beyond the doorstep of their cottage.
By the time Amy had finally finished her breakfast, Rebecca was standing in the house's entryway holding the bag full of beach toys.
"You're not going anywhere until you've put on sunscreen," her mother announced. In spite of Rebecca's newly acquired proficiency as an aqua-tot, Jack and Susan were reluctant to allow their children to spend the majority of the day alone at the beach. However, Susan's deadline obviated the possibility of her serving as a watchful guardian and a sunburn from a trip to the local swimming pool had rendered Jack loathe to sit outside for an extended period of time.
After returning from the bathroom holding the tube of Banana Boat that she'd sloshed about haphazardly about her person, Rebecca begged her mother for permission to leave before her sister was ready to accompany her.
Susan's reply, "Not without Amy," was about to draw a dramatic exhibition of her daughter's increasing ire before Amy let out a placating, "Okay, let's go" to spare her from such a tantrum.
Susan watched the two girls as they finally exited the house and began making their way along the sand. She couldn't shake the nagging awareness of how ineffective her younger daughter's touted swimming ability would prove in the face of a single wave that equaled her in height.
"Don't let her out of your sight!" Susan shouted to Amy.
"Don't worry, Mom," her elder daughter responded without looking back.
After trudging over five feet of sand, Rebecca dropped the toy bag and her towel and sprinted towards the surf, kicking the knee-high waves with her feet as she ran. Amy delicately laid down her own bag and spread out her towel before herself continuing to the water where she waded in the ripples behind her sister. She stopped the moment she felt two inches of cold June seawater sending needles up her legs.
After indulging in half an hour of frolic with her younger sister, Amy began walking back towards her towel. She stopped at the water's edge and turned to Rebecca.
"See that," Amy said pointing at a red buoy about 20 feet from the shore. "Don't go past it!"
Amy headed back up her towel and donned her Walkman headphones. She lay down on her stomach placing her chin in her hands and drank in the delicious feeling of the early summer sun's rays on her back. She switched on Vanessa William's "Save the Best for Last," and stared out into the glistening water, watching foam crests forming just beyond where her sister dove headlong into wave after wave.
Finally having herself gotten her fix of ocean surf, Rebecca walked back up the sand to where he sister lay sprawled out with one eye on her and one on her novel. A stiff breeze had begun to blow off the water. Rebecca donned a jacket and pants she'd brought, and Amy, who'd also started to feel the chill, took a summer dress out of her bag and slipped it on over her suit. Steeled against the wind, Rebecca grabbed a plastic bucket and strolled back down the beach to collect "cement-mixing" water. Upon raising her eyes after filling her pail, Rebecca noticed that the surf appeared to be sliding further and further away.
"Look!" she shouted. "The water's disappearing."
"It's called low-tide," Amy explained didactically. "The waves come in and out every day as a result of the moon's gravitational pull."
Yet, as Amy observed the ocean, the water seemed to be moving precipitously farther out with each break of the surf. It appeared as if the sea's daily rhythm had been thrust into hyper-drive. Amy soon realized that what she was witnessing was far from normal.
Within less than a minute, the water had receded over 100 yards from shore.
"Does the tide do that every day?" Rebecca asked in amazement.
"No," Amy replied attempting to stifle evidence of her own increasing trepidation.
"Let's go get sea shells!" Rebecca shouted.
"I don't --"
"Come on!" Rebecca screamed already having run 10 feet down the exposed sand.
Amy reluctantly stood up and followed her sister. The two girls began making their way out onto the barren sand watching as the water laid bare greater stretches of the ocean floor with each passing moment. Amy stopped to admire a collection of Arrow Dwarf Tritons that'd collected about 50 feet from shore. Rebecca paused to look at the shells for a moment before tiring of the small collection. She'd already had her eye on booty that lay much further along the nearly naked sand.
"Don't go so far Becca!" Amy shouted as her sister began proceeding far beyond the other beach-goers.
Rebecca ignored her sister and continued until she reached a giant Horse Conch that lay just at the edge of the vanishing surf.
At that moment, a siren began to sound. One of the lifeguards stood up from his chair. "Get off the beach!" he yelled. Parents started grabbing their children and running towards the head of sand.
Amy looked up and saw a massive swell beginning to form. "Becca!"
As she stood admiring the dazzling white shell she held with both hands, Rebecca only nominally recognized the sound of her sister's voice. Amy began rushing out to where her sibling stood transfixed by the sloping curves of the conch. The moment she reached her, she grabbed Rebecca's hand and began pulling her, causing her to drop the shell.
"Wait," Rebecca said reaching out to retrieve her treasure.
"No!" Amy screamed and she began running with her younger sister straggling behind towards the shore. A quick glance over her shoulder as she sprinted with Rebecca in tow revealed to Amy that the wave had now developed into a towering wall of water that all but obstructed the light of the sun behind it. They'd just reached the top of the sand when the wave came crashing down, engulfing them both in the tidal bore.
"Don't let go of my hand!" Amy shouted as she and her sister floated helplessly in the current.
The two girls were washed beyond the head of the beach and down the street past a line of now fully-submerged stores. As the water dragged them along past T-shirt and fudge shops with other swimmers struggling to stay afloat, Amy grabbed on to a light post. Holding her head just above water, Rebecca watched as a car floated by just beyond her feet. Shouts of another child who'd been washed up onto a pile of debris could be heard echoing in the distance. Amy tried desperately to hold on to her sister's hand, but the force of the current slowly loosened her grip. Now a ring on Rebecca's left index finger was all that provided the traction Amy needed to prevent the fledgling swimmer from being pulled into the torrent. As she finally lost hold of her sister's left hand, Amy could only watch helplessly as Rebecca was pulled away by the rushing water.
After that day, the ocean became a menace to Amy. Whenever her family would vacation at the seashore, she would sit on the sand reading magazines with her headphones turned up loud enough to drown out the sound of the surf. She refused to ever set foot in the water.
In high school, Amy's class took a trip to the Cape Charles waterfront at the end of the academic year. With the encouragement of her friends, she finally garnered the temerity to dip a toe into two-inch ripples. After this, she was able to wade in ankle-high water but couldn't bring herself to venture any further out into the ocean. Two boys, who saw Amy's skittishness as some kind of juvenile inhibition, decided to baptize their classmate by fire. They crept up behind her and pushed her down into a five-foot wave coming crashing down at that moment. Water ran up Amy's nose as her face collided with the surf. Seconds later another wave overtook her enveloping her in a blur of salt water that filled her mouth with a bitter saline taste. Amy stood up in tears and ran back towards her towel. After grabbing the backpack she'd left on the sand, she headed out into the parking lot and boarded the school bus where she spent the rest of the afternoon with her nose in a book facing away from the water.
In spite of her continued aversion to all things nautical, the erudite young lady became fascinated during a college geology course by the study of the tectonic plates that existed underneath the ocean surface. It had never occurred to her how integral a connection existed between the different gravitational forces of the earth. Amy found herself particularly entranced by the idea of marine volcanoes. An eruption with all the fury of a flaming Mt. Vesuvius occurring in the most remote, uninhabited regions of the planet felt utterly surreal to her. In spite of Amy's childhood anxieties, the vast unexplored deep with its array of undiscovered luminescent creatures slowly began to captivate her. She decided that one day she'd work as a scientist manning vessels that excavated underwater canyons at depths man had never yet reached.
After college, Amy attended a graduate program in Oceanography at the University of Maryland. Shortly after receiving her PhD, she was hired by the Center for Marine Geology in Baltimore. She was a few months into her post-doc when she was assigned to work on a project with a colleague named George Campbell. George was a bespectacled academic type in his thirties. Amy couldn't help but find herself slightly attracted to him in spite of the way that his glasses always migrated to the edge of his nose, and his T-shirts consistently stuck out below his sweaters.
As George and Amy spent more and more time collaborating, they'd often stray into conversations wholly unrelated to aquatic species and Hadapelagic Zone fissures. Amy began to feel slightly uncomfortable with the increasing familiarity that appeared to be developing between them. She'd always made it a point to keep her work life and personal life separate. In college she'd declared dormmates strictly off-limits as romantic partners, even the ones with whom she'd listen to the Eurythmics into the wee hours of the morning. In graduate school, she refused to have anything to do with gentlemen even tangentially connected to her PhD program. When Amy began to sense George developing an emotional attachment to her, she panicked. She repeatedly admonished herself for breaking her own rules and decided it was time to set some firm limits.
One weekend George invited Amy on a trip to the National Aquarium situated on the Baltimore waterfront. To prove to herself that this was professionally-related, Amy spent the train ride to the warf cataloging the many ways that observing fish in their native habitat was integral to the work of a marine biologist.
In spite of her determination, Amy's efforts to note the mating habits or diet of each creature she viewed quickly fell by the wayside. She spent the majority of the afternoon with George laughing at fish that pressed their face to the glass or rammed little sunken chests to elicit hidden bubbles. When the two scientists had reached the top of the aquarium's cylindrical ramp and admired the fish from above its enormous four-story tank, George asked Amy if she was interested in having dinner. Feeling more than a bit nervous at her colleague's suggestion that they continue their outing, Amy reminded herself that it was almost seven and ride back would take over 40 minutes.
After she accepted George's invitation, George led her to a cozy French restaurant he'd actually investigated on his way to the museum. As they ate, Amy found herself charmed by her colleague's explanation of his adolescent passion for biology. George described his triumphs reaching the Westinghouse finals in high school and constructing a miniature submersible in college able to transmit sonar at blue whale-friendly frequencies.
When dinner was over and the check came, George picked it up and asked Amy if she minded if he took care of it. Such a gesture, Amy realized, she could find no excuse for in her growing web of self-deceptions. "They don't pay you that much more than me," Amy said trying to make her refusal of George's overture appear less confrontational.
"Okay," said George attempting to disguise his disappointment. Following their meal, he walked Amy to the train station. Just before bidding her farewell, he turned to his colleague and asked, "You sure you don't want a lift?"
"It's way out of your way," Amy replied.
"It's not that far," George responded disingenuously.
"No, the train's fine," she insisted. "I can read stuff without distractions."
"Okay, well I hope you enjoyed the fish," George said.
"I did...thanks," Amy replied.
"I'll see you tomorrow," George added offering a stunted wave.
"Yup," Amy said smacking her lips and lowering her eyes at the sudden recognition of how little emotional distance her brush-off truly afforded her.
A few weeks later, Amy learned that her aunt Melinda had passed away. She was surprised at her reaction to the news. She and Melinda had hardly been close over the past few years. After Rebecca was killed, the time Amy spent with her parents was always fraught with a palpable discomfort. As an adolescent, she'd exhibited a rebellious streak that many times belied her true nature simply to avoid contact with them. Even the family's happy moments that harkened back to the period in the Woodsons' life before Rebecca's death were overshadowed for Amy by a cloud no amount of parental affection could abrogate. Inevitably at these times someone would say something that reminded them of the pigtailed girl who'd wake up the family with her morning swim preparation, and Susan or Amy, or sometimes both, would break down in tears.
Amy's aunt and uncle had never had any children. Amy became like a daughter to the couple and Melinda, much younger than either of her parents, became a surrogate for the sibling she herself had lost. Amy would stay with Melinda and her husband when her parents went away, and she and her aunt would go binge shopping together or just hang out watching My Two Dads. Susan Woodson had been raised Baptist and whenever her daughter would come to her with a question about sex, she'd refer her to a book that she'd picked up for her when she was 13. Consequently, Amy turned to her aunt with all of her curiosities on the subject. Melinda was the first relative Amy'd lost since her grandmother had died when she was 20. Her aunt's death caused Amy to relapse briefly into the poignant grief she'd struggled with immediately after Rebecca's accident.
One night, Amy was sitting in her office attempting unsuccessfully to make progress on the initial stages of an experiment when a sudden thought of Melinda caused her to erupt into tears.
George, the only other scientist left in the office that evening, happened to be walking by at that moment. Hearing him in the hallway, Amy tried in vain to stifle the sound.
"Hey, what's wrong," he asked empathetically as he poked his head inside the door.
"Nothing, it's nothing," Amy said wiping the tears from her eyes.
"It's not nothing," George said.
"It's stupid," Amy continued.
"Don't tell me, P-values too high?" he continued trying to lighten the mood with data humor.
Amy chuckled through her tears.
"Can I come in?" George asked.
"Sure," Amy said grabbing a tissue.
"So, what's wrong?" George inquired taking his officemate's seat and rolling it over to Amy's side of the room.
She turned away shyly. Without looking back at George, Amy began expounding the source of her woes. "Okay, so I had this aunt who I was close to when I was a kid and she died."
"I'm sorry," George responded. "But why is that dumb?"
"Because I haven't spoken to her in like five years."
"So what?" George replied. "Judging by those water works you must have been pretty close."
"When I was young, yeah. She didn't have any kids and after my sister died I had these...," Amy looked up, "issues with my parents. She kind of filled a gap I guess. She was..." Amy started to cry again.
This time George rolled over to her desk and pulled out another Kleenex for her. As Amy continued her hysterics, she slowly lay her brow against George's shoulder. He put his hand gently on the back of her head. After a few moments, he looked down at Amy and stared straight into her eyes. She slowly moved her face closer to his and he leaned forward to meet her lips.
Following that night, Amy and George began to see one another outside the office on a regular basis. They tried to keep their burgeoning intimacy under wraps for a while to avoid undermining the Center's professional atmosphere. Nevertheless, subtle exchanges between them colleagues noticed passing the pair alone together or conversations that some of their coworkers overheard became a consistent source of gossip for the group.
After nearly a year of hiding their workplace romance, George and Amy decided not only to finally confess the truth of their clandestine relationship but to make it official with 14-carat hardware. A few months after they announced their engagement, they were married on a beach along the Maryland coast. Immediately following the ceremony, they set off for a scuba diving expedition in the Cayman Islands, a trip that proved not only romantic but tax deductible as well.
Amy and George settled into the routine of married life shortly after their return from the Caribean, and the new status of their relationship appeared to have little negative effect on the Center's professional dynamic. Mailings to their place of business for either George or Amy were commonly handed to whichever member of the duo happened to be in the office at the time.
On a Saturday morning, two years into their marriage, the happy couple lay in bed lazily contemplating their plans for the day.
"How about The Walters?" Amy asked.
"You know how I feel about art museums," George replied.
"Okay, what about another trip to the aquarium?"
"That depends, will you let me drive you home or will you insist on taking a 40-minute train ride to avoid spending additional time with me?"
"I'll make you a deal," Amy said. "I'll let you take me home if you promise to kidnap me and have your way with me in an abandoned ocean shanty."
"Deal!" George responded.
"The aquarium it is then," Amy said turning towards her husband and beginning to stroke his bare chest suggestively. "But how 'bout a little later?"
George looked at the top of his wife's head for moment. "Hey, I got a letter in the mail from The London Tsunami Center yesterday," he said as his wife moved her face closer to his and began nibbling at his lower lip.
"To do what?" Amy asked suddenly pulling her head back and meeting her husband's eyes.
"To do research on oceanic disturbances off the Dover Coast." After a short pause, he continued. "That's really my forte, honey. It's an incredible chance!"
"True, that is what you do," Amy said now lying on her back staring up at the ceiling.
"Ready to go watch fishies?" George asked trying to change the subject.
"Sure," Amy said still grappling with the news her husband had just sprung on her.
"You want first shower?" George asked.
"No, you go," she replied in a muted tone.
The next day George went to speak to Carl Moffit, a bearded man in his early fifties who'd been in charge of the Institute for over seven years. George asked him about the possibility of his taking a few months to work on a tidal wave project in London.
"Well, you don't want to pass up an opportunity like that," Carl replied. "Will Amy be joining you?"
"Actually, the offer is...um...just for me."
"Well, distance makes the heart grow fonder," Carl added encouragingly.
That evening as George and his wife sat at dinner, Amy rolled broccoli around on her plate and ate looking down at her food.
"I'm gonna' take it," George said to his wife after two minutes of silence.
"Okay," Amy said turning her head slightly to the left.
"You don't sound very happy about it," George replied.
"I can't imagine why I shouldn't be? What woman wouldn't thrill at the idea of her husband running 3500 miles away after swearing life-long devotion to her?"
"If you'd prefer that I don't take it, I won't," George said.
"I don't want to hold you back," Amy responded. "If it's something you really want to do, then you should take advantage of the offer."
George smiled. "We can Skype every night," he promised her "and I'll be back before you know it."
A few weeks later, George was packing the last few items he planned on bringing. He'd already shipped most of his things to England and only had a few last odds and ends that he'd be carrying with him.
"Sweetheart," Amy said walking into his study, "You said you were only going to be gone for a little while."
"I am," George responded.
"You've shipped almost everything you own," she continued.
"That's not true."
"Well, you've taken all of your clothes and there's hardly anything left in here either," she said looking around.
"I needed my computer and my external drives, honey. I can't fit all of the data I've collected from my experiments onto my laptop. But hey," he said motioning towards his open desk drawer, "there's still some staples here."
"Some staples?" Amy exclaimed.
"How about you stop feeling like I'm deserting you. I promise you're not even gonna' notice I'm gone. We can Facetime like adulterous lovers trying to escape from passionless marriages."
"Okay," Amy said with an exasperated sigh. "Call me when you land."
"I will. Alright, I gotta' go. Bye, bye, I love you." He leaned over and kissed his wife.
"I love you too," Amy said watching him walk out the door.
As George sat on the plane waiting to take off, he played his conversation with Thomas Sherwalter, the head of the London Tsunami Research Center, in his mind. It occurred to him that he when told his wife about the project, he was merely estimating the amount of time he'd be needed in England based on Thomas' letter. George realized that he'd never actually inquired as to the exact duration of his stint at the Center. Tired from waking up at 6:00 am, he tilted his chair back, closed his eyes and promised himself he'd investigate the issue the moment he arrived.
The minute he got off the plane, George found himself overwhelmed with the number of tasks involved in settling in to London. In place of the phone call he intended to make to his wife, he sent only a five-word text indicating that he'd landed safely. He was whisked from the airport to the office without so much as a momentary glance at his new apartment. When he was finally able to get to his new place, a charming one-bedroom with an eat-in kitchen in Piccadilly Circus, he was informed by the building office that many of the items he'd shipped still hadn't gotten there. This left him eating on paper plates and washing himself with nothing but travel shampoo as he waited for the boxes he'd mailed to arrive.
During his first few days of work at the Center, George was overwhelmed with a series of pre-project obligations and forgot to even broach the subject of the experiment's length. Far from having the luxury of contemplating his departure date, he couldn't find a single minute to even set up the internet in his apartment. He didn't feel it appropriate to Skype from his office and got nowhere near a store to pick up an affordable mobile system he could use to contact his wife.
One morning he arose from bed to face the question "WHEN ARE YOU COMING HOME?" in a message from Amy first thing after he turned on his computer. He was heading out that day on a research vessel leaving a dock in Dover at 10:00 am sharp. He thought the fact that he'd woken up before his alarm gave him just enough to time to swing by the office and find out the answer to Amy's question. However, immediately upon walking back into his room to get dressed, he saw 12:00 am blinking on his clock radio. Apparently, he'd pulled the cord out of the socket the night before and his unprompted wake-up was, in fact, a result of the failure of his alarm to sound. With 30 minutes to get all the way to Dover, nothing about the length of his stay in London was going to be resolved that day.
Following this debacle, George realized that the future of his marriage depended on his giving Amy a definitive answer to the question of the project's duration. When he finally broached the subject the next day with the Center's supervisor, Thomas could only offer him the vaguest of predictions. George called his wife that evening on a finally operational video chat platform and offered her a ballpark estimation of his return date. In their first real conversation since George's departure, Amy catalogued a list of complaints about what she considered her husband's recent insensitivity. The Skype session quickly devolved into a tete-a-tete over George's initial decision to risk their marriage by moving so far away. Following this blow-up, George intentionally avoided querying his supervisor any further as to the expected length of his tenure in England.
As the weeks and months went by, Amy felt the emotional connection between her and George beginning to slip away. The, digital communications she had with her husband twice a week at most brought to Amy's mind the phrase "a virtual life," used in an article she'd read to describe such forms of long-distance romance. This, she decided, was now her existence in a nutshell.
George was finally able to ascertain that the project would under no circumstances require that he stay in England beyond Christmas that year. Amy began to feel less neglected when George promised her a romantic pre-holiday skiing weekend and a football game to make up for his absence.
Then, one evening, Amy received a phone call from her husband. The phrase "Sweetheart, I've got some..." caused a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach before he'd even finished the sentence.
"We used some faulty controls for our research and we need to redo some parts of the experiment," George explained.
"I don't think I like where this is going," Amy said.
"We need to revise a month of work by early-January in order to meet our deadline," he continued. "I'm sorry, honey. I'm not going to be able to make it home for Christmas."
Amy let out a huge sigh.
"I promise I'll come back for a visit when we've at least completed some preliminary revisions."
"When's that going to be?" she asked.
"January 12," he replied.
"You mean you're not even going to be here for New Years!"
"Sweetheart, I wish there was some way I could make it but if we don't get these lab tests right the whole project could get scrapped. The Center's anticipating our results for its annual presentation at the London Oceanographic Society Conference."
Amy began to cry.
"Honey, are you there?" George asked after a few moments of silence.
There was nothing but the sound of sniffles on the other end of the line.
"Come on, say something," he pleaded.
"What do you want me to say?" Amy asked.
"That you forgive me. That you'll be able to enjoy the holidays without me and this'll just make you that much more eager to see me when I finally make it back."
"Baby I'm so sorry, I promise if there was..."
"I'm not blaming you," his wife said. "Anyway, I gotta' turn off the stove."
"Okay, bye bye. I love you," George said.
"I love you too," his wife replied before swiping off the call.
Fortunately for Amy a presentation she was preparing for a geology summit in downtown Baltimore that weekend left her little time to think about how much she missed her husband. Oceanographers and climatologists from all over the world had descended on the city for an annual seminar on the state of Cryosphere mutations. Amy arrived late hoping to avoid being reminded of George's absence by encounters with her and her husband's mutual professional acquaintances. She followed a crowd of scientists into an auditorium where Bill Mason, recognized for his work on Abyssopelagic Zone currents, stood at the podium with the graphic of a volcano erupting displayed on a screen behind him.
When the theatre had filled to capacity and a number of the conference participants began congregating in the back of the auditorium like molecules trapped in an interstitial host, one of the seminar organizers approached the podium and introduced the speaker. The geologist showered his colleague with accolades before Dr. Mason, a slightly paunchy man with longish hair that bushed out at the back of his neck, was finally invited to the lectern.
"Thank you, Dr. Jarvis, for that wholly undeserved encomium," he said adjusting the mic. "I wish that for all the years I've devoted to the environmental game, I could offer more insights into potential solutions for the problems we as a scientific community face." With that disclaimer, he glanced back at the image displayed behind him before turning again to the audience. "50,000 years ago, the collapse of a Canary Island volcano caused a massive tsunami that destroyed 90% of the animal life across the eastern United States and southern Europe. Global warming has increased the chances of such a catastrophe reoccurring within our lifetimes."
Five minutes further into Bill's discussion of the physics behind the potential disaster, he pulled up a slide that depicted a tsunami wiping out a city. "Here's an image of the wave's projected impact."
An audience member raised his hand. "Do you think that other cities would be as severely affected as New York?"
Bill threw his raised index finger back over his shoulder. "That's Philadelphia," he replied.
The group of scientists immediately started to murmur in response to the speaker's statement.
At the conclusion of the talk, Amy stood up and began walking towards the exit among the throng of departing scientists. Her peers' visages seemed universally to wear the expression of dread she'd witnessed on her colleagues' faces after a seminar screening of the film An Inconvenient Truth. She trailed the speaker as he chatted with another scientist, quickening her pace as soon as their conversation ended, until she matched his steps with her own.
"You've detailed quite a distressing scenario there."
"That's one way of looking at it," Bill replied glancing only cursorily at her.
"Have you been down there yourself?" Amy inquired.
"Just got back last week," Bill answered.
"How fast is the sea actually rising?"
"Let's put it like this," he responded. "How long have we been talking?"
Amy did a double take at Bill's reply. "It's happening that quickly?"
"Without some reinforcement of the island's clay soil, the slightest tremor could cause a significant landslide."
Amy said nothing in response but continued to look straight ahead as she walked.
"Let me know if you'd care to know more," Bill finally said turning to Amy and handing her a business card he'd taken from his wallet.
That night, Amy lay in bed contemplating the implications of such a ponderous geological event. She thought about the trajectory of a wave emerging from the West Coast of Africa and attempted to triangulate the exact points of coastal impact. She began to think of her family in Virginia and started to calculate how much of the state a wave of the magnitude Bill had described would destroy. The next morning, Amy arranged to have coffee with Bill.
"I don't get it," Amy said as she and Dr. Mason sat drinking cappuccinos a few days later. "The Cumbre Vieja Volcano has existed for thousands of years. It's even erupted. What makes you believe there's more of a threat now?"
"Think of it this way. As the earth's glaciers melt, they increase the ocean levels. As sea levels rise, they elevate the force affecting the ocean floor's crust. And down there, that increased pressure causes more chance of volcanic eruptions."
Amy jumped back in her seat. "Eruptions? Plural?"
"Mhmm. The Cumbre Vieja is the most potentially dangerous, but there are others."
"Has anyone ever tried to reinforce the structure of the slope underneath the volcano?"
"It's been considered," Bill answered. "It would take one hell of a barrier to stop that hill from coming down. Where do you work?"
"The Marine Geology Center in Baltimore," Amy replied.
Bill motioned with his head. "Talk to your colleagues. See if they think a project like that makes any sense."
Amy raised her eyebrows. "Okay. Just out of curiosity, how much do you think something like this would cost?"
"I don't know. I remember about 30 years ago the Japanese built a wall to try to reduce tidal forces off the coast of Tokyo."
"And how much did that run them?"
"The original structure, 750 million."
"Well, at least it's under a billion," Amy responded.
"Not after they had to rebuild it from scratch," Bill added.
Amy suddenly pulled her head back away from the coffee she was about to sip.
The following day, members of the Geological Center were gathered at a conference table. Carl, who sat at the head, had received a degree in marine biology long before remotely operated vehicles were commonly used to explore the bottom of the ocean. He'd constantly found himself one-upped by his younger colleagues whose cutting-edge knowledge of hyberbaric chambers and extensor mechanisms always seemed to date his knowledge of the field.
Carl'd been in charge of the Center for a number of years. He was also serving as an interim supervisor for the Baltimore Oceanographic Institute while the boss, Patricia Olmstead, was out on a maternity break. The two facilities had originally been sections of the same research program before they split up into two distinct entities.
Amy relayed the details of her conversation with Bill to the group. "I know the chances are slim, but if this volcano ever did erupt, it would send out a wave that could turn Giants Stadium into a fish tank."
"Well, why not just construct a defense barrier in the ocean like they did off the coast of Tokyo?" one of her colleagues asked.
"We could try that, but it took the Japanese a quarter of a century to build that sea wall, and the tidal wave that hit in '11 tore right through it. It looks like the only real option is to create some kind of structure around the perimeter of the volcano."
"You're probably right," Carl agreed. "Anything that would reduce the chances of a landslide could be worth a shot."
As December drew nearer, Amy threw herself into the project she'd proposed and tried to forget that she'd be spending the holidays by her lonesome. Her friend Leslie, a fellow graduate student with her at Maryland, invited her to a New Year's Eve party. Amy accepted Leslie's overture, however when she began to think of the idea of not having George there to kiss her, she started to dread the approaching soir She felt she'd almost prefer to screen When Harry Met Sally, the film she and her spouse watched every December 31st, and then to retire for the evening by 10:30. Deciding at the last minute to honor her commitment, she spent very little time preparing for the celebration. She'd meant to get her hair cut, but the appointment slipped her mind. Her makeup was uneven and the dress she wanted to wear was still in the wash. She picked the only item in her wardrobe worthy of a New Year's Eve party, a gown two sizes too small which sat in a box of clothing items slated for consignment.
Her interactions that night made her feel her husband wasn't simply an ocean away but had, in fact, quietly passed into the next life. Amy could only convey to friends who asked when George was, in fact, planning to move back what he'd told her: "a few months." After seeing Amy all alone on New Year's Eve, a number of Leslie's guests couldn't help but wonder about the future of her marriage.
As she stood in the corner sulking, Amy was approached by Evan McCreary, one of Leslie's former colleagues. "Sorry about your fella'," he said. Evan wore a delphinium boutonniere on his tuxedo lapel that complemented the blue in his eyes.
"Thanks," Amy replied.
"I hope he was very apologetic."
"Yeah, he promised he'd make it up to me by taking me skiing and to a Raven's game."
"Are you a big Baltimore fan?" Evan asked.
"Mhmm," Amy responded.
"Me too. Unfortunately, my girlfriend isn't. I bought a ticket for her in the hopes of convincing her to come with me but she's not budging."
"That's too bad," Amy said. "But I'm sure it shouldn't be too hard to find another tailgater for a pro-football game."
"Well, the tickets are nosebleed seats and the team's not doing so hot this year. I grew up in the area but just moved back to Baltimore recently, and I don't really know that many people here."
"Well, if you can't find anyone, let me know and I'll be glad to join you," she said reaching into her wallet and handing Evan one of her business cards.
"Okay, thanks," he replied.
As the evening went on and both Amy and Evan kept downing vodka tonics, Amy found herself enjoying her conversation with Evan more and more and thinking about George's MIA status less and less. The two guests found they'd lived fairly close to one another as children. They shared tales of eateries and video arcades that they'd both frequented in their youth. Even their mutual participation in high school science fairs had created a few common acquaintances between them.
Around 11:55 when Leslie announced, "Five minutes!" Amy was suddenly startled back into an awareness of her husband's absence. "Oh boy," she said. "Here's the moment I've been trying to avoid thinking about for two months."
"Well, if it'll be any consolation, I could offer a placeholder kiss," Evan said.
"Thanks," Amy responded noticing for the first time the way Evan's hair came to a peak in the center of his forehead. She'd long ago stopped thinking about the appearance of men she met at parties. However, she'd gotten so used to her husband's receding hairline that she suddenly found the way that the strands of Evan's lox met in a sharp corner particularly attractive.
At the stroke of midnight, Evan leaned over and planted a platonic peck on Amy's cheek. "Happy New Year!" he said.
"Happy New Year," Amy replied smiling meekly.
A few days later, Amy received an email from Evan with the title, "Still interested?" She'd all but forgotten about her promise to fill in for his significant other. George wouldn't be there for another week and she didn't see any harm in accepting an invitation from a new acquaintance, especially someone already in a relationship.
"Sure," Amy wrote back along with her home address.
"Great," Evan answered. "Pick you up around noon?" came a short reply seconds later.
"Sounds good!" she responded. "See you Sunday!"
The Ravens won the game, and Amy had the most fun she'd experienced since George's departure. The event was the first Baltimore match-up she'd been to in at least three years and she'd forgotten how much she enjoyed watching football live. It was cold, and Evan had brought a blanket. Amy demurred at first to Evan's suggestion that she burrow under the section of the Afghan he offered her, but when the chill of the air began to set in, she subtly tugged part of the blanket over her own lap. It was already 5:30 by the time they left the stadium and Evan asked Amy if she wanted to get something to eat.
"Why not?" Amy replied without a hint of reservation.
"Great! There's a really good pizzeria right near here," Evan said.
"Okay, lead the way," she responded with a casual wave of her hand.
Amy eased into a chair behind a picture of downtown Baltimore circa 1930 hanging on the restaurant wall. After the waiter had taken their order, Amy asked Evan, "So what's your girlfriend doing while you're off watching blood sports?"
"Well, I'm not sure actually."
"Oh," said Amy sensing a slight tension in Evan's voice.
"We kind of broke up," he continued.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"It's okay. It's been a long time coming. We just wanted very different things."
Amy's thoughts immediately drifted back to George. How would he feel knowing she was spending a day with a guy who turned out, retroactively, to be single?
Having no driving responsibilities, Amy felt few qualms about downing one Red Oak Ale after another as she and Evan talked. With three beers in her, Amy started conveying to her companion the many frustrations with George she'd be keeping bottled up, including her ire at his most recent stunt.
After dinner, Evan insisted on taking Amy home even though she told him it was an easy subway ride back to her house...her first aquarium trip with her husband immediately popped into her head. When they finally arrived back at Amy's apartment, she felt very much like she was coming to the end of a romantic evening. With George having been gone for so long, it seemed to her that the only thing differentiating the outing from a date was the ring on her finger.
"Well, thanks for a great time," she said to Evan.
"Thanks for coming," he replied.
"Sorry about your break-up."
"It's for the best," Evan responded.
"I'm sure it is," Amy said smiling.
Evan watched Amy walk towards her apartment entrance and his eyes remained fixed on his evening companion until the door swung closed behind her.
The following week, Amy sat before a senate judiciary committee.
"Thank you for agreeing to meet with us Ms. Woodson. Now can you please outline for the committee exactly what your institute feels has necessitated a failsafe against the collapse of this volcano."
"The Cumbre Vieja erupted 50,000 years ago destroying almost all life on what is now the continental US and Europe. It's beholden upon the global community to take measures that would prevent such an eventuality from happening again."
"And what makes you believe that this event is more likely to occur now than it has been for the previous 50 millennia?"
"The impact of global warming has expedited the rise of ocean levels, and this puts more pressure on the earth's tectonic plates."
The speaker leaned forward and spoke directly into the microphone. "Be that as it may, Ms. Woodson, this wall would would cost upwards of 1 billion dollars."
"We're aware of the price of such a construction. Our Center's prepared to ask the English government for their help in defraying the cost on the grounds that this is as much of a threat to them as it is to us."
"Very well," the senator said. "We'll initiate an independent investigation on the value of such a project and inform you as to whether or not we can offer you the support you've requested."
"Thank you very much," Amy responded picking up her things nervously and heading out, holding the strap of her purse as she exited.
The day in January when Amy picked up her husband from the airport, he explained with enthusiasm all of the intricacies of his recent investigations at the project in England. She nodded as he spoke, but her thoughts seemed to consistently drift back to her outing with Evan.
She was so swamped with back-logged work from the holidays that she was hardly able to find a minute to spend with George during the weekend he was there. As they sat eating lunch on the second day of his visit, Amy repeated to her husband her inquiry as to when his assignment would finally end.
"I don't know exactly," he told her, "but it shouldn't be more than two more months."
"Two more months," Amy shouted in surprise. "In December you said it would be one more month at most!"
"I know...I'm sorry," George said scrunching his cheek muscles.
Amy turned away. "George, are you happy living like this?" she asked.
"In this vacuum. Sometimes I think about you and I just...I don't even remember who you are anymore."
"Sweetheart we Skype at least once a week," George replied.
"It's not the same thing as having you here. I can't go on hikes with my computer. I can't see a movie with my computer."
"Honey, I know this isn't ideal but it won't be forever."
"But you don't know how long it will be," Amy exclaimed.
"And the way you talk about your work makes me feel like you've gotten pretty settled over there."
"Is this all because I missed the holidays?" George asked.
"No," she replied.
"Then what is it? Is there someone else?"
Amy hesitated before replying. She was hurt that George would even suspect her of infidelity. "No, but suppose there was?" Amy replied suddenly letting out some of her increasing hostility. "Would it shock you?"
"Shock me, no, upset me, Hell yeah!" George replied. "I mean I've only been gone a few months. I hardly think that gives you the right to go jumping into bed with someone else."
"Yet you expect me to just sit here holding a candle when you could be gone for God knows how long? You didn't even call me to wish me a Happy New Year."
"Yeah, I apologize. I was working really late and I thought I could make it until it was midnight here."
"I fell asleep."
Amy sighed. "George, I think I need some time to think this through," she said looking down.
The next day, George boarded a plane back to London in disbelief that his long-awaited trip home had turned into a fight to save his failing marriage. He made a belated New Year's resolution to up the number of his Facetime sessions with Amy and give his notice to the folks at the Center.
For all of her own frustrations, when Amy thought seriously about George's absence being any more than a temporary situation, she decided that such a prospect was beyond unbearable.
One morning a few days later when Amy arrived at the Center, she passed the office of her closest friend, Lisa Porter, another "surrogate sister" born only days apart from her. It suddenly struck Amy as she overheard the tail end of Lisa's conversation with her mother that she'd been so distracted by her own romantic ills she'd been completely ignoring the personal tribulations of the people closest to her.
"Doing better, thanks for asking." Lisa's teen sibling Sam had been suffering from pancreatic cancer for two years. She herself had been monstrously caught up with assisting Amy on research for the wall. She'd gone three whole weeks without visiting him, the longest she'd delayed seeing her brother since he fell ill.
"You going over there any time soon?" Amy asked. "I could come with."
"Today actually, but I've got dentist appointment right before so maybe another time."
"Okay, lemme' know."
"I will, thanks," Lisa said already immersed back in the world of coral reef erosion she'd been chronicling moments earlier.
That afternoon, Lisa greeted the hospital nurses as she made her way past an admin station. She walked in to Sam's ward carrying flowers where her seventeen-year-old brother, bald from the cancer treatment, lay in bed asleep. Amy'd been checking up on Sam so frequently that she'd even begun to bring cards for the physician's assistants when one of her visits happened to fall on or near one of their birthdays. Lisa picked up a vase and replaced the flowers it contained with the set she was holding.
"Hey," Sam said raising himself with his elbows.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you," she said.
"That's okay, I was just about up."
"How are you?" Lisa asked.
"Pretty good," Sam replied. "The doctor says that the chemo has kicked the malignant cells into the middle of next week."
"That's great!" his sister said.
"Yeah, maybe I'll get some hair back one of these days."
"Oh, I'm kind of getting used to the 'Yul Brynner' look." Sam smiled. "How's work?"
"Well, besides the fact that a giant tidal wave is about ta' wipe out the Eastern Seaboard, not bad."
"From what, an earthquake?"
"No, they're concerned that a volcano off the coast of Africa might collapse into the ocean and generate waves that could decimate England and the Eastern United States," Lisa explained.
"Well, if I had to choose, I guess I'd rather go out in watery apocalypse than wither away from cancer."
"No one's gonna' get clobbered by a giant tsunami on my watch," Lisa replied.
"Well, what's the plan?"
"Right now, we're talking about building a wall to brace the volcano if it erupts."
"A wall...to hold up a volcano?" Sam remarked skeptically.
Lisa paused. "Well...a big wall," she responded.
A few weeks later as Amy sat watching the news, she overheard the phrase "Canary Islands" in the anchor's broadcast. She turned up the volume as the reporter started describing an incident that took place on the island of La Palma.
"Sources say that a small chunk of rock from the Cumbre Vieja Volcano fell into the ocean yesterday," the newscaster explained. "Geologists have begun to monitor this volcano because of the potential tsunami threat it poses."
The next day, Amy received a phone call from the head of the investigative committee informing her that the protective wall project had been approved. She spent the ride home from work musing over the fact that talking to the powers that be in England would require a trip to London. She finally had an excuse to visit George, she thought. Maybe she'd even surprise him.
When Amy came home from work that evenings, she found a message from Evan. In the voicemail, he explained that he didn't want to seem like a homewrecker but he was feeling kind of lonely and hoped that they could hang out again. Little did he know that Amy's marriage was still somewhat on the rocks.
Amy picked up her phone immediately. "Hey, it's Amy," she said averting her eyes from a picture of her and George in the Grand Canyon. "Yeah, sure, let's do something," she said into the recording.
That Saturday night, Evan took Amy to a Sundance winner playing at a local art house.
"I haven't been to this kind of movie in years," Amy said as she sat next to Evan munching on pop-corn in the still brightly lit movie theater. "The only kind of films that George likes to watch are Sci-Fi and action flicks."
Following the movie, the pair of new friends went out for a night cap. Amy'd begun to recognize that alcohol was a bad idea, but by this point in George's absence, late night carbicides held more attraction for her than the booze. They walked in to a swank upscale bistro, the only place they could find open after the feature. There she and Evan shared a delicious Tiramisu that she washed down with a dessert aperitif she'd ordered as an afterthought. Once again, the alcohol freed her tongue, and Evan listened as Amy rattled off one frustration after another. While part of her found the opportunity to air her complaints liberating, another emotional section of her brain furnished the desire for some reassurance from Evan that her grievances were, in the end, rather trivial. It seemed to Amy that rather than defending George, Evan appeared bent on fanning her anger by pointing out insensitivities on her husband's part she hadn't even considered.
The discussion continued during the car ride home. As she was exiting Evan's BMW, Amy exclaimed, "You're right. He really is blowing me off. I've gotten so used to defending him that I've been completely blind to what a total asshole he's been."
Evan pursed his lips. "If you wanna' talk more, call me anytime," he said to Amy as she stepped out of the passenger's seat.
"Thanks," she replied gently closing the door.
The next day, Amy received a call from her husband. He was about to tell her that he'd informed the Center he'd be leaving on February 15. But before he could mention the good news, something in his wife's tone made him forget what he'd phoned for in the first place.
"George," she said partially interrupting him. "I've though a lot about this and I think I'd like to try taking some time off from our relationship. It sounds like you've become very comfortable in London, and if that's where your real interests lie, I think you should consider staying there."
George couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"I can send you the rest of your things and I guess I'll have to take your name off the lease," Amy continued.
"You want a divorce?" he nearly screamed into the phone.
"I'm sorry," she said.
George felt the need to make it clear that this was all silly. He wanted to explain to her that it was only going to be another short month. But somehow he got the sense that it wasn't just his being away. He'd been extremely sleep deprived after burning the midnight oil at work. That fact increased the paranoia he'd been experiencing ever since Amy had told him that she "needed time to think." All of the minor differences between them...their taste in movies, his lack of interest in art, seemed to appear to him as glaring evidence of their incompatibility.
The evening George sat at a pub with his friend Hugh Bailey, one of his colleagues at the project, eating fried fish and downing pints of Guinness.
"She didn't seem to even consider whether or not I felt the same way when she let the ax fall," George told his companion.
Hugh had been George's closest confidant during his time in England and he wanted to be supportive. The fact that it was his encouragement that led to Thomas extending the offer to George made him feel more than a little guilty for his workmate's failed marriage.
"You have to do what you have to do," he said not knowing exactly what advice to give. It was the stern, unwavering attitude of the British. The stiff upper lip, which he'd perennially maintained in his own relationships, had always seemed to be the correct front to display. "Not gonna' get very far with blubbering," he told his American friend.
The Englishman had no idea that if Amy had just given George a chance to tell her his side he would have explained to her exactly how he felt at that moment. He would've made it clear to her that he'd leave the project the next day and move back to Baltimore.
But fueled by what she considered an "objective" observer's perspective, she didn't. And so, with that brief conversation, a year of courtship followed by two years of marriage came to an abrupt end. Three years of finishing each other's sentences, of earmarking articles that the other should read in scientific journals, all stopped. Both parties were left wondering on an hourly, and then eventually a daily basis, "What if?" Was the pain really worth it? Were the dreams from which both Amy and George woke feeling like a limb had been cut off, the missing vital supply of weekly contact, ultimately worth the price?
After the initial shock of her conversation with George had subsided, Amy began to feel the guilty impulse to call Evan and explain what she'd done. To her slight surprise, when she finally mentioned her separation, the news didn't appear to come as a surprise to him at all.
"It's for the best," he told her. "You two obviously just aren't right for each other."
"You don't think I acted rashly?" she asked searching for cognitive dissonance.
"Not at all," Evan replied. "If he'd really loved you, he would've found the time to come back earlier."
Surprisingly, the more Evan tried to reassure her that she'd chosen wisely, the more she began to second guess her decision. "What's done is done," she said attempting to banish such a concern.
"I've got a way to get your mind off of it," Evan continued. "Let's go skiing this weekend! You can make up for your lost opportunity."
"Whoa, Evan, that's thoughtful of you but we've just met!"
"Relax, you'll have a room all to yourself."
"Okay," Amy said after contemplating the offer for a few moments. "That actually sounds like a great idea!"
Amy hung up the phone. "A rebound," she said to herself. Then suddenly she thought about the way that the sleeve of Evan's polo shirt hugged his bicep as he scooped popcorn into his mouth.
"A long rebound."
A few days later, Amy was talking on the phone with Leslie. She told her that she was planning on joining Evan for a ski-weekend. From this she segued into a monologue in which she detailed for her friend the way in which she'd slowly begun accepting the idea that the differences between she and George had just seemed to prove irreconcilable.
"I knew you and Evan might hit it off," Leslie said. "When he mentioned the game, I told him that you could definitely use some cheering up after the conversation you had with your husband. It was sweet of his girlfriend to let him take you out again after your big fight with George."
Amy paused. "He and Vanessa broke up," she said.
"Oh, really!" Leslie said. "When?"
"The day before we went to watch the Raven's."
"You told Evan that George and I were thinking of splitting up?" Amy asked suddenly experiencing the sinking feeling she'd been managing to hold at bay since she'd chosen to divorce her husband.
"Yeah, why?" Leslie asked.
"Nothing," Amy replied before bidding her friend farewell and throwing the phone receiver onto the cradle as if it'd just bitten her. Suddenly everything she'd imagined about Evan seemed to have been based on the false premise that he was just a sweet guy who happened to be there when she needed a friend. In all reality, Evan had actually known that she was having difficulty with George. He had, in fact, been lying to her when he told her that he just wanted some company. Worse, he'd even used his "inside knowledge" to try to convince her to leave her husband.
The next day, she sat down at her computer and opened up her email. She typed in Evan's address and wrote "Distraction" in the subject box.
You've helped get my mind off of my divorce over the last two weeks and for that I am grateful to you. I will not, however, be seeking any further association with you as I value honesty between two individuals far more than common interests, and you've exhibited your manifest lack of such a trait.
After closing her browser, Amy thought about George. She wanted to call him up and tell him she was sorry. Then she began to play over in her mind the way that she had ended things. She wondered if the momentary thrill of an illicit tryst hadn't led her to fantasize about a temporary suspension of her marital vows. She decided that in a little while she might call her husband and apologize. However, at that moment she still reeled at the thought of George's willingness to remain thousands of miles away regardless of the effect it was having on her. This, in concert with Evan's duplicity, diminished her desire to have anything to do with men at the moment.
Amy soon began coming up with excuses for why she couldn't make the trip to London herself. She filed through the list of her colleagues and wondered which one of them she could most easily convince to make the journey in her place. She realized however, that no one she worked with was so unfamiliar with her personal story that they would buy her excuse that work demands prohibited her from making the sojourn herself.
The next day she spoke to her supervisor. "I'm gonna' have to go sooner than later," she told Carl.
"Are you sure you want to handle this by yourself?" he asked.
"I need to," Amy said thinking about the multiple disasters she'd unconsciously attempted to address on her voyage.
"Okay, keep us posted," her boss responded encouragingly.
"And don't give up the miniature vodka bottles. It's on us."
"Thanks Carl," she responded.
The next morning, she sat at her desk reviewing seismographic charts. She'd decided that she was finally ready to reconcile with her estranged spouse when she was in London. As she gathered her belongings at the end of the day, she thought about all the things she planned to say to her husband upon her arrival.
That evening, she happened to pass Carl as she was leaving for the day.
"You started making plans for the trip yet?" Carl asked as he walked by her.
"Yup. Oh, and by the way, I decided I'm gonna' patch things up with George when I'm over there."
Carl glanced at her for a second. "I thought you two were...you know, going your separate ways."
"I thought so too for a while but I've been going over a lot of things in my mind lately and I feel like maybe I jumped to conclusions about the way George's acted."
Carl said nothing but looked away.
"What is it?" Amy asked immediately sensing Carl's discomfort.
"I'm not sure how to tell you this Amy, but I just heard from Eric over at the Institute that George has started dating someone there."
"Oh really," Amy said seemingly nonplussed by the news.
"I'm sorry, Amy."
"No, that's alright. At least this way he can stay over there as long as he needs to, and I can stop wrangling with this in my head every five seconds."
"Good attitude," Carl said trying to sound encouraging.
Amy just smiled. "Okay, see you when I get back."
"Safe trip," Carl said.
Amy held on until she reached her car. She lacked the presence of mind to even put the folder she was carrying next to her as she sat down in the driver's seat. Before she'd even closed the door, she began letting out protracted guttural sobs that drenched the report she'd spent over three weeks preparing.
A few months later, the grief that Amy had experienced at learning that her partner had moved on had begun to fade. Amy had spent a great deal of time rationalizing she and George's separation with the argument that if he'd really cared for her, he wouldn't have been able to leap into another relationship quite so quickly. The fact that she was planning to go off skiing with another man a week after their official decision posed only a minor obstacle to this line of argument. When she learned through the grapevine that George's rebound woman had come to an abrupt conclusion, she stifled another impulse to immediately contact him again. She wanted to firmly establish his professional intentions before considering any discussions of a rekindled romance.
England was not as accommodating with regard to the protective barrier as her own government had been. She was forced to spend hours in her hotel room the night before her meeting with Parliament researching questions they'd presented to her in an official correspondence. Her jetlag left her completely unprepared to do so.
The next day she was greeted at the Parliament building by an Englishman wearing a bowtie and mutton chops. Everyone was so polite to her that she felt duchess-like as she was ushered into the assembly chambers. Unfortunately, the grilling she received from the British officials left her feeling like anything but royalty. Totally unprepared for the interrogation, she left the meeting with the sense that her exhaustion might have just doomed over a sixth of her country's population.
After meeting with Parliament, Amy finally took it upon herself to contact her husband. She had no idea what his current romantic situation might be but she wanted to see him nonetheless on the chance that they might still be able to reconcile. She'd arranged with him to meet for tea on a rainy afternoon the following day and she sat at a cafwaiting for her ex-husband. The divorce paperwork was still pending, but she felt it was emotionally more prudent to think of him in such past terms. When the time approached 3:15 and she finally decided to call George to make sure she was in the right place, she was sent straight to voicemail.
She waited another 15 minutes before deciding that, for whatever reason he simply wasn't going to show, and finally picked up her things and left. She continued glancing at her phone all afternoon and into the evening. No texts, no calls.
Finally, her phone rang. She picked it up relieved at the idea of being offered another one of George's lame excuses for failing to show that afternoon. Her heart sank the moment she heard the voice on the other end. It wasn't George, it was Lisa.
"Hey, just calling to find out how your high tea with George went?"
"He...never showed up," Amy responded.
"Oh, well I'm sure he had a very good reason. Has he called you?"
"Not yet," Amy replied.
"Well, you know George. He wouldn't even miss a hair dresser's appointment unless he was trapped under a heavy piece of furniture."
"Yeah, I suppose he was probably held up somewhere," Amy responded.
She knew Lisa was right. It was for this very reason, when she hadn't heard from her ex-husband by 10:00 pm that evening, she really began to wonder if the situation was about more than a meeting running late or a stalled tube. She finally turned off her phone so as to ensure she'd get enough sleep to be able to wake up in time for her 7:00 am flight the next day. As she lay in bed, she began a defensive catalogue of all the reasons that getting back together, if that had in fact been on George's mind, was not the best idea. By the time she actually drifted off to sleep, George stood in her esteem somewhere between Ghenghis Kahn and Benito Mussolini.
When she woke up the next morning she saw that George had finally called her.
"I'm sooo sorry," he explained in his message. "My car broke down on the highway and my phone was out of battery. I hope we can reschedule for some time tomorrow," he said not realizing that his ex-wife was already on her way back home.
Amy knew he was telling the truth, but somewhere in the back of her mind she felt that the window of opportunity had passed.
She called him on the way to the airport. "Sorry George, my flight leaves at 7:00 am."
Her ex-husband suddenly felt a surge of anger at his faulty head gasket. "Okay, well, I really wanted to talk to you again."
More bad luck, she wondered to herself. Who forgets to charge their phone the day before meeting again with an estranged spouse? Even if nothing went wrong on his end, she could've have been lost and needed to ask directions. She began to wonder if his general indifference towards her wasn't lurking behind these ostensible "mishaps."
When Amy landed, a voicemail on her phone from Carl superseded all thought of what her next conversation with George would entail. England had, in fact, approved the protective barrier and she was being called into service to select the crew for the project. A major relief, she thought. Now at least failing at her professional obligations wouldn't compound the dissolution of her marriage.
Finally putting thoughts of her relationship behind her for good, Amy began journeying up and down the coast interviewing contractors. She was sent as far north as Bangor to visit with someone who promised to be the right man for the job. She travelled all the way to Maine to meet with a man who supposedly possessed more experience than any other engineer in the US with exactly this type of structure. The contract was nearly signed when the engineer decided he really had no interest in braving the sweltering heat of the La Palma jungle.
Finally, she was given a name by Marty Shumacher, one of her old college friends. Jim Dorland had done extensive work in architecture of this particular nature both at home and abroad. After supervising the construction of the towering Seven Oaks Dam, he was recognized by a national society of structural engineers for his expertise in the area of Retaining Wall Reinforcement. Marty had been working on a safety barrier along Interstate 70 heading straight up through the Rocky Mountains when the company found a glitch in the plans. The project foreman recommended that they contact Jim. Martin had asked his supervisor what good the opinion of someone who'd never seen the structure would do them.
"That's not important," his boss assured him. "All he needs is the blue prints. I'd give Jim's remote assessment of the error more credence than the professional opinion of anyone here looking directly at the Fuck Up."
The moment Amy deplaned at the Miami Airport, she was hit with a blast of swamp humidity. After hopping out of the cab that took her to the firm and walking through the front door, she was greeted by a secretary greeted who immediately stood up upon her arrival.
"Hello," she said. "Mr. Dorland has been expecting you."
"Is he in there now?" Amy asked pointing at the office door.
He is, but it'd probably be better if you wait a few minutes until he's finished with the tower he's working on."
"A tower?" Amy inquired.
"Yes, out of dominoes. It's something he does around this time every day and he prefers not to be disturbed while he's assembling it."
Amy nodded slowly. She took a seat in the lobby and waited five minutes before asking, "Do you think he's done yet?" with a condescending sideward flick of her chin.
"Hold on, I'll see."
Jim was gingerly setting the last domino in place when the secretary knocked on the door.
Jim let out an exasperated sigh.
"I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Dorland," but Ms. Woodson is here.
"About the miracle wall?" Jim asked.
"Yes, that's correct," his assistant replied.
"Okay, send her in."
Amy walked into the office and looked around at all of the engineering degrees that adorned Jim's wall. A certificate congratulating him for his work on the Hoover Dam stood out prominently among his other accolades. Jim was a solidly built man, and Amy couldn't help noticing the way his rear end filled out the jeans he wore. In spite of his rugged look, his skin still resembled that of the average upper-level manager whose only contact with the sun occurred during his daily commutes.
"Have a seat, Ms. Woodson," Jim insisted walking away from his toy structure and collapsing into his own desk chair. "Thank you," Amy said easing into an uncomfortable wooden seat facing Jim's desk.
"Do all architects get thanked by the federal government for construction projects?" Amy asked Jim reading the signature on one of the letters that hung behind him.
Jim crossed his arms. "Well, the material expansion from the hot air caused the dam to spring a leak. They called me in to Boulder City to patch it up before it started flooding the whole Black Canyon."
"I see. Very impressive. So, you have a lot of experience building things in this type of heat?" she asked pointing out the window.
"You could say that," he replied before uncrossing his arms. "So, what exactly did you need me to do down there?"
"Well, for starters, lay down a foundation that can prevent volcanic activity from destabilizing the surrounding terrain."
"What about ultimately?"
"We want you to construct a barrier that's gonna' prevent a landslide in the case of an eruption."
"With all due respect Ms. Woodson, what you've described is, in my humble opinion, totally impractical. A collapse of something of that magnitude would generate hundreds of cubic tons of debris."
"If you don't think you're up for the job, Mr. Dorland, I wish you would've informed me of that before I wasted the Center's money coming all the way down here."
"It's not that I'm not up for the job. It's that the job isn't worth the investment."
"Well, we have very little choice in the matter. The recent slide indicates that a potential eruption is imminent. This project may not be able to stop the entire hill from coming down, but we feel it might do enough to severely weaken the force of a collapse."
"I really doubt it," Jim said shaking his head.
"I'm sorry you feel that way," Amy continued. "But we've spent a lot of time ass-kissing Washington big wigs to ensure we can offer someone ample incentive to try. Now are you or are you not interested in this managing this operation?"
"Give me a few days to draw up some sketches," Jim said. "I doubt the wall itself would do much, but inserting rods into the granite under the volcano might at least help stabilize the base. I'll let you know."
"Thank you, Mr. Dorland," Amy replied. "But please inform me of your decision sooner than later. If you do choose to accept the contract, I'd like to get started as early as possible on arrangements for your trip."
"Appreciate it. And speaking of logistics, would there be a limo to pick me and my team up from the airport?"
"I'm afraid we don't have the funds for something like that."
"I thought you said you guys had yanked millions from the Fed's coffers."
"We have...for the wall."
"What about a car service?"
"Perhaps you'll get a lay from a woman you down there."
"Now you're talking!" Jim replied.
"A flowered garland, Mr. Dorland. You might get a garland to welcome you and your crew down there. It's part of the island's culture."
"Oh," Jim said jerking back his head in disappointment.
"Thanks for your time, Mr. Dorland," Amy said curtly rising from her seat and walking towards the door.
"Ms. Woodson," Jim said as Amy was about to exit the office. "Since you're here overnight anyway --"
"It's Mrs. Woodson," Amy insisted peaking in with just her head. She was suddenly thankful that her divorce was still pending. "And thanks, but no thanks."
Two months later, Jim was flown to the airport in Tenerife along with a large crew he'd brought down with him, and from there they took a ferry over to La Palma. The island was known for its majestic waterfalls and geological curiosities. At the beginning of the 10th century, a German scientist researching the impact of volcanic activity found locations in the Canaries in which magma chamber migrations led to enormous explosions, digging out caverns over a mile deep. It was here where the Spanish word "Caldera" was coined from the Latin word "caldron." A great deal of folklore also surrounded the history of volcanic activity on the island. Hundreds of years ago when the Cumbre Vieja erupted, a small part of the town containing a Catholic church was spared. This miracle was attributed to divine forces protecting the religious site from the wrath of the mighty Achaman, Lord of the Volcano.
Jim's assistant Greg Walker, a man in his thirties who kept a pencil behind his ear at all times, threw down a duffle bag at the construction site containing some of the tools that he'd purchased from a local supplier on La Palma. Jim had most of his own equipment, including earth-moving vehicles, shipped over from the states feeling little confidence in the quality of the bulldozers and power drills produced on the island.
Greg had been happy for the opportunity to visit such an exotic locale. He was a little hesitant to leave his wife, having just been married three weeks prior, but the promise of Rum drinks with little paper umbrellas proved all the incentive he needed to sign on to the project. The crew had set up a make-shift trailer at the base of the operation. After workers drilled a set of steel spikes into the ground, they began pouring concrete into a rectangular mold that would serve as the wall's foundation. As some of the men paused in their labor to wipe the sweat from their brows, which they did frequently in the tropical heat, Jim walked over with a pitcher and cups and offered them a cool drink. The foreman had been used to dealing with Spanish workers on projects in Florida. In one instance, he whispered quietly to Greg that the men he'd hired seemed to be more productive when provided with ample refreshments and multiple breaks. Greg smiled politely at Jim's comment, having long before this learned to hold his tongue regarding his boss' manifest racism.
Inside the trailer, Jim, Greg and Pedro Hernandez, the manager of the firm Jim and his company had partnered with in La Palma, hovered over a table examining blueprints. Pedro deferred to Jim on all engineering questions. He'd been assured multiple times of the contractor's uncanny expertise in this specific area of construction. He also knew that any workplace injury compensation would be much higher were the error to be considered the fault of the American supervisor rather than his own.
The three men spent at least 15 minutes looking over the plans Jim had created. Occasionally the project chief would look up at the mountain still debating the potential efficacy of a concrete ballast against a crumbling mountain. "What they think we're gonna' accomplish with this thing is beyond me," Jim said reiterating his skepticism to his Spanish colleague.
"You no think it'll hold?" Pedro asked.
"Oh, it'll stop a couple pounds a' debris." He spun around and walked towards the window. "But just look at that thing." He returned to the table and pointed backwards with his thumb. "If this baby went off, it'd take the Great Wall of China to keep any of it back."
"Well, let's just hope that time is on our side," Greg said.
"Luckily that's one thing that Mother Nature's got a whole hell of a lot of," Jim responded.
That evening, Greg and Jim sat at a pub in downtown La Palma drinking. Portraits of Spanish dignitaries who'd originally settled the island hung on the wall. A brisk Latin mambo played on the bar's stereo system.
Two patrons wearing sombreros and traje corto jackets sat talking in the corner of the saloon. One of the men glanced over at Jim and Greg. The man looked down and stared at Jim's heavy dirt-encrusted work boots. He turned back to his companion and muttered something in Spanish. A few moments later, the two men arose and began walking over to where Jim and Greg were sat.
"We have heard Americans have come to build a wall by lava mountain?" one of the Spaniards said.
"That's us," Jim replied gesturing at Greg with his chin.
The first man glanced at his companion before turning back towards Jim. "Achaman no like men to interfere with fire."
Jim looked at Greg. His assistant leaned in closely to his boss. "Achaman is the God of the Volcano. The locals think messing with him will bring bad karma."
"Well, don't mean to bother Mr. 'Achaman, but there are two continents he might turn into swimming pools if we stop."
"No one can control the power of Achaman."
"Look, you got a zoning complaint, take it up with the people who hired me," Jim replied.
The two superstitious men looked at one another before walking away without saying a word.
"Guess these guys don't take too kindly to foreigners trying to hem in their ju-ju," Jim said.
"Guess not...just be careful not to walk under any ladders or nothin'," Greg said eliciting a chuckle from his boss.
In Baltimore, Lisa and Amy sat around their supervisor's dinner table with two of their former colleagues from the Oceanographic Institute, Jenn Maruso and Eric Valence. Jenn was an Italian girl from Matawan, NJ. The Maruso family, including her grandparents and father, came over from Sicily during the Second World War. Jenn's mother died when she was young leaving responsibility for her, along with her two brothers, squarely in the hands of her father, a fisherman who supported his family reeling in Smallmouth Bass along the Jersey Shore. Jenn was the first member of her family to attend college and when she told her grandmother and grandfather that she'd be going on for a PhD after she graduated, they looked at her with blank expressions. The name of the degree held no meaning within their frame of reference.
Eric discovered his love of the ocean as a surfer off the coast of Long Beach, CA. After completing his post-doctoral work, he was actively recruited by a number of different oceanic programs. The young man never seemed to let his colleagues forget how sought after he'd once been whenever grunt work at the Institute happened to fall in his lap.
Carl's wife Diana stood in the kitchen removing the dessert she'd cooked from the oven. Diana served as something of a den-mother for the scientific coterie. She'd worked as a chef before she quit her job to devote all of her time to raising her and Carl's two children. Once their kids were old enough to stay by themselves, she began accompanying her husband on his many research expeditions. The group was smaller than usual in the absence of George, Marjorie and Wes Lurman, a colleague from the Center who'd been living in Anarctica for two years studying penguin migration. Nevertheless, Carl's proteges still estimated the amount of time Diana spent cooking for them to be in the five to six-hour range. Carl's wife challenged the protests she received from them for investing so much effort by explaining that she loved cooking.
"You deserve it for all your hard work," Diana explained, "but's it's not just that."
"What else?" Lisa asked.
"...up with him," Carl said sourly finishing his wife's favorite joke.
At the conclusion of the meal, Carl held up a glass of wine. "A toast! To a great team."
"Do we really count as a team if we all labor away in different places?" Lisa asked.
"Well, we all work with a common goal. That's what matters."
"And what exactly is that?" Amy inquired.
"Making the world safer for the dolphins, of course!"
"Considering what we're doing to our oceans, there won't be any more "Willies" in 100 years," Amy insisted. "The only fish that'll make it'll be the bottom dwellers who live far enough below the surface to survive the toxic cocktail we've created."
"Well, that's a positive way of looking at things," Lisa remarked.
Amy sighed as she twirled pasta on her fork. "Sometimes I feel like we're just marine morticians tallying every inch of destruction our society has managed to reap."
"Amy's got a point," Jenn said. "We wouldn't have to worry about the entire Eastern United States becoming beach-front property if housewives didn't drive their kids to soccer practice in eight-cylinder vehicles."
"Well, luckily, everything you're talking about keeps us employed," Eric said smugly. He then raised his glass and clinked with Carl, who hesitantly returned his gesture. Four angry women expressed their disgust at this toast with a pronounced sideward tilt of their heads.
As the workers in La Palma hammered away one afternoon during the second week of construction, men began to look up as puffs of smoke started emitting from the volcano's opening. Moments later, a faint tremor shook one of the bulldozers and knocked over a set of power drills leaning against the base of the wall.
Greg raised his eyes. "That thing doesn't sound happy."
"Maybe Achaman wants a sacrifice," Jim said.
Suddenly, part of the volcano began sliding down obliterating the completed section of the barrier. Jim rushed out of the operations hut and started shouting at the men, but the volume of the machinery rendered his words inaudible. He ran towards the crew and tapped an imaginary spot in the air above him. When the workers turned around, they saw massive amounts of rubble heading right towards them. The laborers began darting off to the side to avoid being hit. Suddenly, a man fell and Jim rushed over to him and threw him over his shoulder. He carried him out of the way and they collapsed just as the torrent of dirt and rocks hurled past them. Other men sprinted out of the trailer just before it was crushed by the landslide. Jim sped over to a cliff and watched the debris falling into the ocean. Seconds later, Greg ran up next to him.
"Do you have your phone?" Jim shouted.
Greg motioned with his head. "No, it was in there."
Jim turned and looked at the mangled aluminum of the flattened hut. "Mine too. We've got to let people know. They're gonna' feel this one in the States!" Moments later, he ran over to one of his workmen. "I need your phone."
The man looked at him blankly. "How do I tell him in Spanish?" he asked Greg.
Greg translated Jim's inquiry to the man who handed over his phone.
"There's no signal. The slide must have knocked out the cell tower," Jim exclaimed.
Jim and Greg rushed to a jeep that had been covered in dust. Grabbing on to the roll bars, they both jumped inside and sped away from the site of the disaster until they reach a small bodega in downtown La Palma. Thy threw open the vehicle doors and leapt out before darting towards the store. Greg once again issued Jim's request to the shop owner. The clerk just looked at Greg and shook his head.
"Explain to him what happened!" Jim screamed.
Greg conveyed the details of the catastrophe to the man as his wife walked up next to him.
"What's going on?" she asked in Spanish.
The shop owner explained to his spouse what had just occurred. He then told her to go get his phone. She walked to the back of the store and returned a few seconds later with her husband's cell.
Jim tried dialing a number. "Still no signal. We need a landline phone." He turned to Greg. "Ask him if there's someone around here who'd have one."
Greg relayed the inquiry to the shop owner and the clerk pointed towards a building. The two men rushed in the direction he'd indicated and into the lobby of a run-down hotel. Greg shouted Jim's question at the desk clerk.
The employee looked at them. "Are you guests?" he asked in Spanish.
"What does he want?" Jim screamed.
"He asked if we're guests."
Jim reached over the desk and grabbed the phone. The clerk jumped back, startled, as Jim began dialing the number for the Geological Center.
"Carl Moffit? This is Jim Dorland! I'm the fellow your gal hired to head the support structure project down here in the Canaries. Listen, we just lost about 8000 tons a' mountain."
"Jesus Christ!" Carl exclaimed. "How long ago?"
"At least half an hour."
"Wow, that doesn't give us much time."
Jim shook his head. "No! No, it doesn't."
Moments later at a research outpost on a small island off the coast of Cuba, a scientist hung up the phone in his office. He looked at a set of seismograph readings before rushing into another room and shouting at his colleague in Spanish. His co-worker picked up his mobile and called the Office of Emergency Services in the nation's mainland.
Amy was typing on her computer when Carl walked into her office. "We just received word from the construction chief in the Canaries that a huge chunk of the volcano has fallen into the ocean. Cuba's confirmed that a tidal wave is headed towards the Southeastern United States."
"How much time do we have?"
"12, 13 hours at most."
"Should we try to get the people on the coast out?" Amy asked.
"It's worth a shot," Carl said.
"Okay, let's start making some calls."
The giant wave set off by the falling debris rushed across the Atlantic. A small Caribbean fishing boat was operating in relatively tranquil waters. As anglers pulled in a load of tuna, one of the fishermen pointed off the bow and shouted in French. The men stared off the port side of the vessel in shock as the tsunami capsized the boat spilling the entire cargo over the side of the ship.
At the FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., two staff members manned the phones fielding calls from the State Department and the Red Cross. Other employees were occupied issuing directions to local authorities in parts of the Outer Banks of North Carolina and near Myrtle Beach.
An aide ran into the office of North Carolina's Governor, Fred Lawson. The governor, a balding man in his sixties, sat at his desk reading an email about fisheries in Cape Hatteras and the recent impact of off shore drilling on the halibut population.
"Mr. Governor, we've just been informed by FEMA that a tidal wave is heading towards the Outer Banks."
"Where's it coming from?" the governor asked.
"It was produced by a landslide in the Canary Islands, Sir.
"How big is the wave?" the governor inquired.
"It looks like when it hits land it'll be about 11 meters high and two miles wide at its most extreme point of impact."
Governor Lawson had handled his share of natural disasters including three hurricanes and a fire that had consumed 200 square miles of forest in western North Carolina. Ocean surge was nothing new to him, and he was confident he had plenty of trained personnel ready to get people out if necessary.
Fred got up from his desk. "How much time do we have?"
"About 12 hours, Sir."
"Alright. I'll make an address. But if this thing's coming from all the way down there, why didn't we hear about it hours ago?"
The aide shook his head. "I don't know, Sir."
Both men walked through the door of the governor's office and into a hall where a crowd of reporters began shouting questions.
Later that day at the Oceanographic Institute, Carl picked up his office phone and dialed the London Tsunami Center. In England, George stood at one end of a wave
simulation machine and Hugh at the other. A model ship floated in front of George and a wave approached his end of the machine. The vessel bobbled but stayed upright.
"Oh yeah! Well take that!" George exclaimed sending a wave towards the other end of the machine. Hugh enjoyed moments like this when he could see that his friend had all but put thoughts of his marriage out of his mind.
"Oh, so that's the way you wanna' play huh?" Hugh responded.
At that moment, the phone rang.
"Hello," Hugh said taking a time out from he and his colleague's Battleship game to answer the call.
"Hello, my I speak to George Campbell please."
"Georgie, it's for you," Hugh said.
George walked over and glared at his colleague before taking the phone. In his childhood days, long before George was an accomplished researcher, his fixation with science earned him the reputation as somewhat of a teacher's pet. He often found himself spending his elementary school recess periods alone, and Hugh's appellation brought back unpleasant memories of his awkward youth.
"George, it's Carl," George's supervisor announced. "Listen, a landslide just went down from the Cumbre Vieja Volcano and it's sending a monster towards the Irish coast."
"Roger. How much time?" George asked.
"Four hours at most."
"God! Okay, I'll try to get a hold of someone in Cork."
"Who was that?" Hugh asked after George'd hung up the phone.
"Carl from Baltimore. There's a behemoth heading towards Ireland's southern coast."
"From the Cumbre Vieja?" he asked.
"Yup," George replied.
"Well, we'd better get the word out," Hugh said.
"I'm calling Cork," George shouted as he ran back towards his office.
Moments later, the Mayor of Cork sat at his desk going over notes prior to a meeting regarding a proposed new search procedure law when the phone rang. "'Ello," he said with a thick Irish accent.
"Hello. My name is George Campbell and I'm with the London Tsunami Research Center. A tidal wave is headed right for you. You've got to evacuate the town!"
"All Roight. 'Ow much time we got?"
"About four hours," George replied.
"Blimey!" the Mayor exclaimed.
George tried to glean more knowledge about the incident from the reports being posted on various websites around the scientific community. From what he was able to discern from the bulletins, the wave would be reaching the US in about seven hours. He knew that wasn't enough time to get everyone out. He wondered if Amy would leave the evacuation to emergency personnel or if she'd be the one trying single-handedly to usher the entire state of Maryland out of harm's way.
Hugh walked into his colleague's office. "Luckily it doesn't seem to be all that ferocious. Maybe your friend's wall helped after all."
"Doubt that," George responded. "They'd just started building it."
"Then I guess those blokes better keep going."
"My guess is that whatever was there is gone."
"Well, snaps to the lady for tryin'"
George smirked and nodded his head. "Yeah, she's a trooper."
Later that afternoon, the governor of North Carolina stood at a podium. "I've just been informed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that a tidal wave is headed towards the coastal towns of North Carolina," he said to a shocked television audience. "Everyone in these areas is advised to evacuate the area immediately!"
TV news stations blasted warnings out. People in restaurants asked for the check and told the waitress they'd take their food to go. A coastal resident in Southport, NC had already started boarding his first-floor windows when a policeman drove up to him.
"You're gonna' have to do more than that," the cop said to the homeowner as he hammered.
"What do you mean?" the property owner asked peevishly having worked up a tremendous sweat pounding nails into his window panes in the humid 90-degree summer weather.
"Wave's gonna' be twenty feet high. That top floor'll need as much protection as these windows down here."
The man looked up at the row of windows both in two upstairs rooms as well as in the attic. Realizing he wouldn't be able to reach the panes by ladder, he started to shake his head in frustration.
On a coastal highway in The Outer Banks, heavy traffic stretched for miles as panicked citizens attempted to flee the impending disaster. On the downtown streets of Cape Hatteras, a policeman issued directions using a megaphone attempting to persuade naysayers to follow the government issued orders. "Please evacuate now! A tidal wave is expected to hit the shore in less than 10 hours."
Two surfers sat on a beach. One slid through media posts on his iPhone. "Dude, they say it's actually gonna' be a tidal wave," he remarked, his eyes reddened by the cannabis he'd recently consumed.
"Kowabunga Dude!" his companion replied.
Later that day in downtown Cork, police were attempting to direct traffic out of the center of the city. There was a suspension bridge that spanned one of the only arteries for ships carrying people to safety. When the vehicles had stopped completely, officers were called in to allow a certain number of automobiles at a time to pass so as to avoid excessive cars backing up on the bridge. Some reclined in front of their vehicles on beach chairs as they waited for a policeman to wave the next set of evacuees through.
At a local pub in Cork, a group of men sat in a bar drinking. "I remember they told us that a tidal wave was gonna' 'it back in '84," one man said.
"That's roight. Wuddn't much more than a little splash," his friend responded. "Think I'm gonna' watch this from roight 'ere."
One of the bartenders, who was in the process of shutting down the establishment, overheard the men's conversation. He looked out through the panoramic windows and admired the foam gathering at the bay head. He then glanced at the day's total intake on the register tally he held in his hand. After pausing for a moment, he stuck his head outside, turned the "Closed" sign back around, and returned to the bar where he switched on the local news.
Back in Baltimore, Amy sat reading her computer screen when Lisa walked in. "Looks like we dodged a bullet on this one," Amy said. "Just a bit of that thing came off down there."
Lisa was less sanguine about the predictions than her colleague. "Well, from the reports we're getting, a bit is all it took. They're saying that at least 100 miles of the coast are gonna' be affected."
Amy dipped her head. "Well, couldda' been worse."
"I guess," her colleague replied. "Ya' think we'll we be alright here?" Lisa asked.
"We should be," Amy said cautiously.
Carl rushed in. "9 hours to impact," he shouted. "What do you hear from Ireland?"
"They're trying to get people out as quickly as possible," Lisa replied.
Amy looked at her watch. "They've only got about another 45 minutes."
Amy thought of George. She wondered if England would be at all affected by the wave. For once she took comfort in George's timidity in the face of emergency situations. She remembered a trip to the Galapagos during which a hurricane was predicted. She'd gone out to consult with the authorities about the safety of their hotel. When she returned to the room, George was lying in bed reading a book.
"Aren't you the least bit curious about this thing?" she asked her husband.
"Sorry, ogling the carnage of weather disasters isn't really my thing."
"But it's the power of nature. How can you not want to witness something like that?" she asked.
"For the same reason I wouldn't have watched public executions."
When the storm hit, Amy stood under the roof of an open-air balcony to watch it. The experience brought back memories of the times after Rebecca's death she'd stand outside naked in monsoons. As the torrents pelted her face, she would defy nature to once again render her victim to its wrath. Time for rebel redux, she thought to herself as she continued to monitor the wave's signature.
When the tsunami finally hit the UK, it was felt as far as the northern shore of Wales. In Cork, a giant wave came sweeping over a dock capsizing dozens of fishing boats. Millions of tons of water rushed through the city's streets washing away cars and crashing through store windows.
Patrick O'Donnell and his wife Susie reclined on a couch in their living room. Both in their eighties, the elderly couple had weathered storm after storm in their home and decided they were too old to go running away from this incident. They sat with their arms entwined drinking glasses of strong Merlot that brought tears to their eyes as water began to fill their home.
In another part of town, a small boy crouched on the roof of a car that sat atop a pile of other automobiles caught in a current. He'd lost his mother's hand when the flood began to fill the streets. She stood 40 feet away grasping a road sign attempting to dissuade firefighters from rescuing her when her child could be washed off his temporary perch at any moment.
Meanwhile, off the coast of North Carolina two hours later, another tsunami hit the outer banks with relentless speed. The wave overturned boats along the entire length of the state's coastline. Many had tried to secure their vessels with anchors and extra moorings, but the force of the wave proved insurmountable. In another area of the beach community, water poured through the front of a seaside restaurant knocking over a ceramic swordfish mounted in its plate-glass window.
Many of the motorists who were attempting to escape from the carnage along an interstate found themselves floating through a gulley formed by the mountain walls of the expressway. Having abandoned their cars, they bobbed helplessly in the flash flood.
In the wake of the deluge, many amusements lining the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland had toppled. A 200-foot Ferris wheel that once dominated the skyline of the coast now lay flat on top of a splintered carnival booth.
At an emergency meeting of the governor's office in North Carolina, Sean Hughes, another one of the state leader's aides, sat alongside his boos at a conference table with a group of local officials. "Sir, this thing hit us harder than we expected," Sean explained. "A bridge near Cape Hatteras has been washed out. A family's car went over the side and we can't pull them out. We need your permission to dispatch the emergency personnel who've already been assigned to downtown evacuation efforts."
Fred's thoughts immediately darted to the elderly aunt and uncle among the inhabitants of the area he'd initially failed to warn of the impending threat. Attempting to appear in charge of the situation in the eyes of his fellow bureaucrats, he sanctioned the order along with a pointed request that he be apprised of details as they became available.
When firefighters and policemen arrived at the scene Sean had detailed, they saw the vehicle hanging precariously over the edge with a couple and their two children trapped inside. Keith and Isabelle Ulman were traveling with their family to Cape Hatteras. They'd left moments after the warning finally went out about the tsunami. As they were driving over a bridge connecting the beach community to the mainland, a wave suddenly jumped up and hit the main supports of the structure causing it to give way. Seconds later, the concrete started crumbling and the iron spikes holding the bridge in place began bending as an enormous slab of concrete tipped over sideways. The car was now kept moored to the bridge by the weight of its backseat passengers alone.
Ryan Walmist, a Coast Guard Sergeant, received a call from the local 911 operator moments after Keith had reported the accident.
"We got a family trapped on a bridge," Sergeant Walmist told his deputy," after hanging up the phone. "We need to get a chopper out there pronto."
He contacted a local precinct in Hatteras. "Hey, we're gonna' need two army gents in motion ASAP. We got ourselves a dangler off the Piscataway Bridge."
"Copy that. Bird heading out in three."
Luke Danforth and Rob Gilchrist were two volunteer SARs who who'd served for five years in the organization. One an Army commando and the other a fireman who'd worked fighting blazes in the San Gabriel Mountains, the two men had put in more aerial rescue hours than anyone else on the emergency squad. Along to feed rope to the pair of emergency personnel was Garrick Olsen, a young police recruit barely out of the academy.
Upon reaching the Ulmans, the team discovered that rather than twenty feet of water they could safely fall into, below them was actually a set of outcropping rocks lining the bank of the river.
"Can we get down there?" Luke asked his pilot.
"Wouldn't recommended it. The weight of our chopper alone could tip the scale. Best if I stay up here. The helicopter hovered over the car while two rescuers repelled down. As they were descending, the bridge suddenly buckled and the car rolled perilously closer to the edge. Patrick, the Ulman's nine-year-old son who'd just graduated from child-seat status, slipped right out of his belt and was thrown into the front seat. The arm his father had raised was the only thing that saved Patrick from hitting his head on the dashboard. Keith instructed his wife to climb rearward in order to maintain the vehicle's balance. The rescuers began dropping faster and landed hard on the bridge right next to the car. Isabelle grabbed her son and held him tightly as the two emergency personnel tried to attach the cable. The moment Luke connected the line onto the bumper, the front of the vehicle slipped further off the bridge completely and now teetered over the edge with its back wheels six feet in the air.
"Shit, it's off," Luke shouted. "We're gonna' have to take them out one by one."
Rob began lowering down a rope with a carabiner at the end.
"I need to get you out individually!" Rob shouted into the Ulman's open window.
Keith nodded his head.
"Let's get the kids out first. Rob pulled Ava, the family's five-year-old girl out and attached the metal buckle to her belt. He tugged on the rope to indicate to his partner that it was okay to hoist her up. Patrick was just as easy to extricate and smiled as he was pulled up towards the chopper thinking of the dare-devil story he'd have to share with his friends.
"I don't have a belt," Isabelle said nervously after her two children'd been removed from harm's way.
"It's okay, put this on," Rob instructed the woman handing her a harness. She awkwardly put her legs through the straps. Rob then slowly raised her out of the back window and sent her skyward.
"Okay, you're up sir," Rob said to Keith.
The trapped motorist nodded his head. He took the rope he was handed by the fireman and was about to clip it to his belt when the bridge sunk further and the car dropped off completely. The vehicle now dangled from the rope with Keith was trapped inside. The pilot desperately tried to increase his elevation, but the car's weight was too much for him and began pulling the aircraft towards the rocks below.
"We've gotta' cut the line," Rob shouted to Keith. "Can you get to the rope?"
"I'll try." Keith reached into the back of the car where the end of the rescue cord had fallen. He managed to shove aside his son's toy truck that lay on top of the rope, but it was still caught underneath his daughter's car seat. He finally got his hand on the end of the line, but an earnest tug revealed that the friction was too strong for him to slide it over the back of the seat. "I need more slack!" Keith bellowed.
"More rope!" Rob shouted up to Luke.
"That's as far as it goes!" Luke screamed back.
Keith contemplated climbing into the back seat but he feared that at an increased angle the rope would snag. As he glanced up quickly, he could see that the line holding the car was already beginning to fray. He looked back to where the rope was wedged underneath the seat. Holding on to the steering wheel, he reached over until his hand was inches from the belt's release. He stretched out his arm and suddenly lost his grip on the wheel. As he started plummeting towards the back of the vehicle, he grabbed the top of the passenger side seat belt and jerked quickly to a stop. He reached out again and hit the button with the tip of his finger. Yanking the chair out of the way sent it flying through the open window. Keith watched the seat plunge for a moment before clipping the biner to his belt.
"Okay!" he shouted to Rob.
The father, whose family waited for him anxiously in the helicopter, emerged from the vehicle just seconds before the rope snapped sending the car plunging towards the water. All four of the Ulmans watched in horror as their family roadster smashed onto the rocks below. The fireball created by the explosion singed the bottoms of Keith's shoes as he was pulled to safety.
Moments later at the Geological Center, Amy's office was overrun with a steady stream of water. She struggled to grab maps and charts from her desk as the flood level rose. Amy rushed out of the room and down the hallway. When she reached the end of the corridor, she was knocked over by a surge of water coming from the adjacent hall.
Carl and Lisa, who'd run out of the building moments earlier, waded through two feet of water towards the shallow end of the pool that had formed outside the Center. Realizing that Amy was still in the building, Carl rushed back inside and searched until he reached his colleague attempting to trudge her way through the run-off. He put her arm over his shoulder and walked her towards the exit. Amy collapsed onto the damp ground next to Lisa -- exhausted.
"Well, I guess we should consider that fair warning," Carl said surveying the destruction.
"What do you mean?" Amy asked panting.
"All of that came from just a few thousand tons of dirt."
"Maybe now that the volcano Gods have flexed their muscles they'll be satisfied for a while," Lisa said.
"Not likely," Carl responded. "Word from La Palma is that the landslide was caused by an early tremor."
Amy looked up at her boss. "You mean that thing might actually blow?"
Carl nodded his head. "It could," he replied.
"We've got to figure out a way to reinforce that terrain," Amy exclaimed. "Can't they put more men on the wall?"
"What wall? The slide knocked out the whole operation. It would take a month to restart it."
"Well, then we need to send someone down there to find out how imminent the threat is," Amy said.
"That might very well be our only option," Carl agreed nodding his head.
The next day at the Institute, Eric walked into Jenn's office.
"It looks like we're gonna' have to make space for a few refugees" Eric said.
"Well, I don't mind sharing," Jenn responded. "How bad was the damage over there?"
"The whole building's under three feet of water." Eric looked at Jenn's computer. "They're also gonna' need our equipment to keep watching this thing."
"No problem. It'll be just like old times."
Later that day, Amy got out of her car holding all of the documents she was able to rescue from her office. As she walked into the Center and entered the temporary workspace they'd set up for her, her new officemate Jenn stopped typing and turned around.
"Anything I can do with these?" Amy asked about to drop the chart tubes, binders and sloppily folded maps slipping out her hands.
"Over here," Jenn said pointing at the make-shift desk she'd created for her new officemate.
"Thanks for the hospitality," Amy said.
"Me casa es su casa," Jenn responded.
"How much did you manage to pull out of there?" Jenn asked.
"I got the charts and some of the maps. A lot of the data's still in the building."
"How long until you'll be able to get to it?" Jenn continued.
"I don't know. For now, we'll just need to work with what we have."
Eric walked in. "Hey there. Sounds like you almost got washed away."
"We had no idea it was gonna' come this far inland," Amy replied.
"Carl says you guys are headed to the Canaries. Heard they've got great deep-sea fishing down there."
Amy scoffed. "Same old Eric."
"Did Carl mention that George is gonna' meet you guys?" Eric asked with a slight grin.
Amy turned away. "He mighta' said something like that. I'm not sure."
"If the sparks start flying between you two again, make sure you keep 'em away from the volcano," Eric said.
Amy tilted her head to the side in a gesture of irritation at Eric's comment. "I think we've got a little too much on our hands right now for any rekindled romances," Amy replied heading out the door to go finalize the details of her upcoming sojourn.
When Amy walked in to Carl's office, she looked around and smiled mischievously. "Must be nice having space in two places. Twice as many private rooms for all your secret liaisons."
Carl, who had been rereading plane itinerary when Amy came in, continued to stare at his monitor. "It's got its downsides," he responded. "Sometimes I forget which office I left my wedding ring in."
"Very funny!" Amy remarked.
Carl swung around in his chair. "You almost ready?"
"Yup. Renewed my passport. Just gotta' finish packing. What time are we heading out?"
Amy groaned. "Do you think we're gonna' get anything from this...except a lot of air miles?
"I hope so," replied Carl. I really hope so."
After the long flight to the Canaries, Amy and Carl attempted to get the lay of the land in La Palma before setting out to excavate the volcanic site. The locale was ideal for tourists but was anything but hospitable to scientists researching the scene of a natural disaster. Amy and Carl had a great deal of trouble renting a vehicle that could handle the rocky terrain of the roads that wound their way up the side of the mountain. When they arrived at the remains of the retaining wall, the two researchers set out on foot to scale the flanks of the Cumbre Vieja.
As Carl examined the opening, he caught site of some modest billows of smoke. "This thing looks like it's about to toss its cookies." He then pointed at an outcropping portion of the mountain that remained when everything beneath it was gone. "And based on this kind of structural dissipation, an eruption would send this entire hill straight into the ocean."
"Well, if we can't rebuild the barriers, we've got to figure out a way to stop the wave," Amy said.
"You can't prevent something like that. Anything we do would be like putting our fingers in the dike after it's already burst."
Amy turned back towards the volcano. "Well, we've got to try something," she said.
George, along with Hugh, had landed at the La Palma airport a few hours after his ex-wife and boss had arrived. George's stomach began to tighten as he anticipated seeing Amy for the first time in almost three months. He wondered if the butterflies were mutual.
The two men climbed into a jeep they'd rented and headed towards the volcano. Less than an hour later, they pulled up to where Amy and Carl were now standing. Hugh and George got out and walked over to them. George shook Carl's hand, avoiding eye contact with his travel partner.
"Hey George, how've you been?" Carl queried.
"Can't complain," he replied.
"So how bad was it in Cork?" his former boss asked.
"Well, let's just say that they won't have any problem finding cod for their fish and chips." George shifted onto his other foot nervously. "How 'bout the Carolinas?"
Carl raised his eyes up the height of the volcano. "Well, coulda' been worse," he said.
George glanced at the mountain. "And looks like it might be."
"We think that the fall-off was precipitated by some pre-eruption hiccups," Carl continued looking down the mountainside.
This whole puppy feels like it'd collapse if someone sneezed too hard near it."
"Yup. We're probably in danger just standing here," George noted. "What about the barricade?"
"It's too dangerous at this point," Carl responded. "If this thing blew everyone working on it would be killed instantly."
"Well, then I think a 'Plan B' is in order."
That evening, the group walked through a street festival taking place in downtown La Palma. The scientists watched performers in aboriginal costumes engaged in native dances and a shirtless man who juggled firesticks. Booths offered candied fruits, children's toys and clothing items worn by La Palma's pre-colonial inhabitants.
"So, what's this shindy all about?" Hugh inquired.
"It's called the 'Fiesta de la Virgen de los Dolores,' the Virgin of the Volcanoes Festival," Carl responded.
"What's the origin?" George asked.
"Legend has it that there was once a volcanic eruption, which threatened to destroy the whole town," Carl explained. The lava was flowing directly towards the local church, but at the last second it was diverted towards the mountains."
"They're big on their folklore around here, huh?" George said.
"You could say that," Carl answered.
The group made their way past a set of concession booths to a nearby restaurant where they sat down at an outdoor table.
George motioned with his head towards the crowds. "Maybe we'll get another miracle."
Amy, who'd said almost nothing since George's arrival, finally looked at ex-husband. "Yeah, well we shouldn't count on one."
"We could really use your help in Baltimore," Carl said looking at George and Hugh. "How'd you two feel about joining us for a while?" he asked causing Amy to look down.
"Fine by me," George said. He turned to Hugh. "What about you pal? You up for another trip?"
"Well, almost out of travel toothpaste...but okay, why not?"
"Great! We've all had to relocate to the Oceanographic Institute while they mop out the Geological Center, but hopefully they'll have everything you need."
"I'm sure we can make do," George said.
During a hearty meal of taccitos, conversation remained relatively light-hearted. A few glasses of Spanish wine had led Amy to almost forget that it wasn't likely she'd ever again share a bed with the man who sat diagonally across from her. She enjoyed regaling the group with humorous anecdotes from her experience negotiating the details of international crisis prevention with top government brass. Later, it was her turn to fix her eyes solidly on the table in front of her when George began describing to Carl details of his London project.
The Institute Supervisor picked up the tab for the entire group and the four scientists headed back towards their respective vehicles. Just before reaching the car he and Amy had rented, Carl stopped.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to take a few pictures while we're here" he said pulling a digital camera from his pocket.
George spread out his arm. "Be my guest."
Carl gave Hugh a subtle glance.
"You know what, I think I'd like some photos of this bash as well," George's colleague said.
Carl and Hugh headed back in the direction of the festivities.
George and Amy stood looking in opposite directions -- finally, George turned towards his ex-wife. "Wish we could have seen each other again under better circumstances," George said.
"I don't know. These seem like as good as any. At least you've got a reason to suffer the jet lag," Amy responded.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Amy sighed. "Okay George, here goes. You never seemed all that upset when I told you it was over. I knew your work came first."
"I was about to tell you I'd leave the Center and come home if you wanted me to," George exclaimed.
"Then why didn't you?" Amy asked.
"I don't know. I got the feeling that your decision was about more than just me being away."
"George, first it was the busy phone lines, then it was a dead cell phone. At some point, these things made me feel like you just have other priorities."
"Shit happens Amy, but I never stopped loving you. I can still give London up. I never intended it to be forever."
"Well, you sure seem pretty settled there now," Amy replied.
George turned away for a brief second before continuing. "Are you seeing anybody?"
Amy looked down. "No."
"Well, at least I've got the excuse to be near you again...for a little while," he said.
Amy shook her head. "You know what they say about relationships that begin...again...under high pressure circumstances."
"Yeah...better sex," George said.
"No. That's not what they say," Amy responded smirking before she climbed into her jeep and closed the door.
The next day, Carl and George walked into the Mayor of La Palma's office. When they reached the secretary, who appeared to work as the clerical assistant for the entire political outfit, Carl asked to speak to the man in charge. He was informed that the mayor wasn't in and was instead ushered into the office of the deputy mayor, a thin, balding man in his sixties. The official proudly displayed a gold pen in a holder at the edge of his desk, a gift from his superior for his efforts during the country's recent electric grid failure.
Carl pointed up towards the Cumbre Vieja and began explaining his concerns to the politician in Spanish. "That volcano is very dangerous," he said. He started making a steep wave motion with his hands to indicate the size of the tsunami. It caused a big wave in our country. We need you to watch it very carefully."
The deputy mayor nodded his head vigorously.
"Thank you," Carl said before he and George got up and walked out into the street.
"Think he understood what you were saying?" George asked.
"I hope so...Spanish was never my best subject."
Upon their return, Amy sat with members of the group including Eric and Jenn around a conference table at the Institute.
Carl was standing pointing at a slide featuring the volcano in a PowerPoint display. "As you can see here, this whole area of the volcanic base has eroded making everything above it even more unstable."
"Would there be anything we could do about another wave if it did occur?" Jenn asked.
"Well, I invited George and Hugh to come back here and help shed some more light on our options," he replied.
"George?" Eric asked.
Eric looked at Amy. "Well, this should be interesting."
"He's not staying for long," Amy said insistently.
"Come on Woodson, if the half the Atlantic takes up new digs around here, wouldn't it be nice to have your man to hold onto?" Eric asked.
Jenn turned towards Eric. "If George tries to play the hero when that happens, the only thing she'll be able to hold on to is his memory...if she makes it herself."
Carl looked at the group. He could sense Amy's ambivalence about her ex-husband returning to the Institute even temporarily and began second guessing his decision. As much as he valued George's expertise in this oceanographic sub-field, he knew it was the wrong time to be compromising his team's focus with unnecessary distractions.
That evening, Amy lay in bed tossing and turning. She dreamed that she was standing at the head of a beach and the water begins to recede. She shouts to her sister who sits right next to her on the sand looking at sea shells, but Rebecca doesn't acknowledge her. A mega tsunami begins to form in the distance. The tidal wave hits the coast overturning ocean liners, pouring through city streets, overtaking cars and knocking skyscraper after skyscraper to the ground. Amy woke up in a cold sweat.
As George and Hugh drove to the airport through a heavy downpour, Hugh turned to his colleague who sat gripping the steering wheel with two hands staring straight ahead.
"Are you sure you're ready to head back there?" Hugh asked point blank. "Your knuckles are white from holding that wheel."
George looked down at his hands. "You try driving on the wrong side of the road in this weather."
"Yeah, I'll bet that's it," his friend replied. "So where are we staying once we get over there anyway?"
"Carl found us a place northwest of the city in Grove Park."
"Doesn't your ex live up in the North?"
"She's around there, yeah?"
"How 'bout you shack up with her, save the Institute some money?"
"Very funny," George replied.
"Why the cold-war nonsense, Mate? You two we're meant to be together."
"Maybe, maybe not."
"Come on, you're both scientific packhorses. I've never seen two people more devoted to their work."
"Well, perhaps that means neither of us has the time for another person in our lives."
Hugh begin strumming an imaginary guitar. "There's always time for love," he sang in a saccharine tone.
"Not right now there isn't," George said trying to shift his thought process away from his failed marriage and back to more pressing concerns.
Heathrow's system had a special designation for research aircraft. After George and Hugh had dropped off their rental and made it through security, they met the pilot, Jack Kudrow at the door of one of the outer gates. Jack was an old bachelor who used his layovers while transporting scientists to scope out local native women. An airport employee drove them in a handicapped transport out to a Bi-plane owned by the Tsunami Center. It was primarily used for excavations in the Indian Ocean and the Fiji Islands. The aircraft had never made a trip all the way to the US.
"This is your first time aboard Willie, isn't it George? Hugh asked.
"Indeed it is," George replied.
"Hope you didn't eat too large a breakfast," Jack said facetiously.
"You ever sailed in a bad storm?" Jack queried.
"Like a rainstorm or a tropical storm?"
"Don't worry," Jack added. "We got plenty 'a barf bags."
Luckily for George, the westerly current was relatively calm that day and he was able to keep down his bangers and mash. After a seven-hour trip, Jack announced that Baltimore-Washington Airport was in sight.
George looked out the window as the plane coasted towards a short runway at the BWI Airport. "Good old US of A...nice to be back!"
Hugh poked his head around George to get a look at the parts of the historical city visible through the narrow glass pane.
As George glanced out over the area immediately around the airport, he could see little impact of the tidal wave that'd struck only a matter of weeks beforehand. Some pools of standing water in parts of the downtown area became visible as they neared the ground, but the city appeared relatively intact in spite of the flooding.
Only a few miles away, however, the supports of a Baltimore Harbor levee revealed severe damage that local civic engineers had cited as a possible reason for concern. The steel girders had begun to strain under the intensity of the pressure.
George and Hugh's plane landed with a thump and George's suitcase nearly came crashing down on his head. Before disembarking, the two scientists stopped to talk with Jack. The men began joking about the single pilot's plans for the two days he'd set aside to spend in Baltimore before heading back to London.
Meanwhile, three miles from where this badinage was taking place, the harbor levee started to buckle. At first the water began seeping through a narrow crack in the dam. The fire department had intentionally breached the levee the day after the tidal wave to release some of the pressure on the structure. A guard sitting in a harbor patrol office looked out at the restricted area inland from the dam and noticed a shallow pool of water. The patrolman thought that the small run-off they'd created had fully dissipated. He remained unconcerned, however, when his casual observation revealed to him that a sizable pool still filled the grassy area underneath the levee.
A few minutes later when the guard looked out again, he noticed that the water was in fact rising rather than draining. He then suddenly saw a thin spray emerging from the dam wall. By the time he stood up and walked outside, the force created by the water rushing out of the opening had expanded the gap to a five-foot-wide hole.
He darted back inside and radioed his supervisor. Returning to the observation deck a few moments later, he saw that the breach had expanded into a semi-circle 15 feet in diameter. The gap was now not only allowing water to seep in, but a ton of marine life was suddenly wrested from the harbor and sent pouring through the funnel that'd formed. The water now lept over the gate cordoning off the dam from the city's outskirts. Waves of run-off spilled through downtown Baltimore -- cars were washed down the street.
Most of the folks enjoying a night out had already returned home for the evening leaving the streets relatively empty. Vickie Danton was leaving her apartment for a rendezvous with her boyfriend at a chic French restaurant in Baltimore's garment district. The moment she walked out of her front door, she was swept up in a rush of water. Pinned against the side of a building, she suddenly felt a sharp pinch just below her left elbow. When she looked down, she saw that a large crab had attached one of its claws to her forearm to avoid being jostled any longer in the rushing torrent.
Back on the BWI tarmac, the Center's pilot had flipped open the plane door and George and his colleague climbed down the stairs and began walking along the runway towards the airport.
"How big's the limo waiting for us?" Hugh asked his colleague in jest.
George looked at him and smiled. "You mean the economy two-door the Institute got for us?"
"What am I supposed to do if I need to get somewhere on my own?" Hugh asked.
"Uber. You've never driven in the States. Now's not the time ta' learn."
Suddenly the two men saw a wave of water rushing towards the airport fence. As the flood knocked the gate flat, George and Hugh started sprinting towards the airport entrance. They were nearly at the door when the wave overtook the two travelers and began dragging them towards the building. As the deluge slammed into the wall, it began increasing in depth. Underwater, the men struggled to get their bearings. George pointed at the gate. Both men began swimming towards the door -- suddenly, a shark glided right past George and took a bite out of Hugh's leg. The Englishman buckled in pain as blood began flowing into the water. George caught sight of a piece of a fence post floating next to him. He grabbed it and awkwardly harpooned the shark before swimming back and pulling Hugh through the water. Though injured, the shark continued its pursuit.
George saw a rolling staircase extending just above the water. He swam towards it dragging Hugh by the shirt collar. He began climbing the moment he reached the stairs, carrying his colleague along with him step by step. The shark swam up right behind them. George had just lifted Hugh out of the pool that'd formed on the tarmac, but his legs still dangled in the water. The shark lunged at Hugh's foot failing to latch on to it with its teeth but pulling off his shoe. Frustrated, it returned for sustenance, and darted at Hugh's leg just as George pulled his friend's entire body out of the water. The flood began to recede and soon the shark was left flapping in knee-deep run-off.
George eased his workmate down the stairs and waded through water with Hugh's arm over his shoulder. He banged on the door that'd been shut tight to prevent the building from flooding. A pilot opened it, and 500 gallons of deluge poured in.
George led his bleeding colleague into the terminal and laid him down on a bench. "Hang in there you limey prick!"
Hugh continued to breathe heavily. He tried to avoid looking down at his injury. It was an ugly gash that ran the entire length of his calf. Medical personnel rushed over to the Englishman and begin bandaging his wounded leg.
"Always wanted to see the place where you Yankees whooped us," Hugh sputtered out between labored breaths. "Just didn't expect I'd get my own ass kicked in the process."
"Saved by an American!" his friend exclaimed. Just promise me you won't tell any of the fellows back home. They'd never let me hear the end of it."
"Alright, deal!" George replied.
In downtown Baltimore, Amy sat on her couch watching the evening news.
The anchor's report addressed the devastating effects of the dam break on a 10-square mile area of Baltimore. "The levee failure flooded the entire downtown and the Baltimore-Washington Airport. Emergency crews, already struggling to combat the effects of the tidal wave, are now trying to drain the additional water out of the city."
As she was watching the broadcast, Amy's cell rang. "Hello," she said not recognizing the number.
George stood at the BWI terminal holding a phone he'd borrowed from a stewardess. "Amy, it's me."
Amy had been bracing for the meeting between them at the Institute. She'd already planned exactly what demeanor she intended to use during their initial encounter. Focused, reserved and aloof -- she was determined to convey to her ex that whatever sentiments he felt he needed to convey to her could wait!
"Where are you?" she asked apprehensively, neglecting to employ any of the vocal tones she'd rehearsed for their first meeting.
"I'm at the airport. We got caught in the levee break."
"Are you alright?" Amy asked trying to disguise her growing sense of concern.
"I'm fine. Hugh had a bit of a run in with an unexpected razor-toothed tourist, but he'll live."
"Oh my God!" Amy exclaimed.
"Listen, I'm gonna' need your specs on the volcano," George continued.
"Sure. I'll give them to you at the Institute tomorrow."
"There isn't time. I was hoping I could stop by your place tonight."
"Okay," said Amy hesitating slightly.
George ushered Hugh off to the hospital before heading over to the car rental location. Luckily some of the airport operations were elevated enough so to be able to continue to function normally.
Later that evening, Amy went to open her door after hearing her bell ring. George stood in her hallway, a travel beard he'd developed adding to the rugged journeyman image she'd always considered her husband's sexiest look. She had the immediate impulse to pull him close to her the second he appeared outside her apartment.
"Hi," Amy said.
"Hi," George responded. After a few moments of awkward silence, George asked, "Can I come in?"
"Sure," Amy said pulling the door wide open.
George looked around as he walked into Amy's flat. Most of the dor consisted of paintings and knick-knacks they'd displayed in their old apartment. Following George's departure, Amy had moved into her own one-bedroom.
"So, this is home, huh?" George asked.
"Yup," Amy said.
"Nice," he replied.
"I see you kept the giraffe," George said motioning towards a statue that he'd picked up on a trip to Nigeria.
"Yeah," Amy answered sheepishly. She'd sold a number of the belongings that George left behind but she'd developed something an affection for this particular relic of their life together. Amy paused for a moment and then walked over to the refrigerator. "Can I get you anything?"
"No, that's okay."
She grabbed a Coke out of the fridge and popped the tab. In addition to her late-night binges she'd taken to drinking regular soda instead of diet. The few extra pounds she'd gained did nothing, however, to quell the desire that began stirring in her husband's loins as he stood alone in his ex-wife's presence.
Amy moved over to her dining room table where maps and charts of the volcano were laid out. She sat down and she motioned for George to take the chair in front of him at the far end of the table. Ignoring her gesture, George selected a seat right next to her. Amy looked down and stared intently at the data she'd laid out. George watched her for a second before shifting his focus to the chart.
"So according to this, the landslide dropped about 1/1000 of a cubic kilometer of debris," Amy said.
George leaned back and put his hands behind his head. "There was a similar incident that occurred about 40 years ago in the Pacific. It caused a tsunami that wiped out half the coast of New Guinea."
"How big was that?" Amy asked.
"About 1/100 of a cubic kilometer," he replied.
Amy motioned towards the chart. "And how many cubic kilometers would we be talking about here?" she inquired.
George looked up for a second and then back at Amy. "500!"
Amy sat back quickly in her chair. "Do you think there's any way to stop a wave generated from something like that?" she asked.
George pointed at one of the charts. "I don't know. But before I can start contemplating a solution, I need to figure out how the features of the ocean floor in this area could affect the speed of the wave."
"Well, they're all yours."
"No problem," Amy replied.
"Hopefully I'll have something constructive to share tomorrow," George said standing up.
Amy nodded her head.
"Everyone's excited about seeing you again."
George smiled. "Did Eric's wife give birth yet?" he asked.
"Nope, due next month," Amy responded. "But they found out it's gonna' be a boy."
"I'll bet that made Eric happy," George said.
Amy smiled and nodded her head as she walked George
towards her apartment entryway. "Well, see ya' in the morning," George said as Amy opened the door.
"See ya'," she replied.
George turned to leave.
"George," said Amy as her ex-husband began walking away.
George swung around. "Yeah?"
"Nothing...ga'night," she said as she closed the door.
As George looked at Amy's buzzer before slowly making his way to the elevator, he had to suppress the unbearable thought of it announcing the arrival of another suitor.
The next day, members of the scientific team except Amy were gathered around a conference table. A graphic of ocean topography was posted on a slide, but they weren't going to worry about it until official business began that morning. The faces of the group all lit up as George made his entrance.
"The prodigal son returns!" Eric exclaimed standing up and hugging his old colleague. "How's it been over there?" Eric asked.
"Not bad," George responded.
"Those British lasses as aggressive between the sheets as I've heard?" Eric inquired.
"Some of 'em. The last one I was with was a bit too pushy for my taste."
"Well, you know what they say about British women: If you don't like their attitude, wait five minutes and it'll change."
"Spoken like a true-meteorologist asshole! Jenn said.
"Where's Hugh?" Eric asked ignoring Jenn's comment.
"Yeah, Hugh and I were caught in a flash flood last night at the airport. He got bitten by a shark."
"Holy Bad Jaws sequel!" Eric exclaimed.
"Is he alright?" Carl asked.
"Yeah, we made it into the gate and they patched him up quickly."
"They've managed to drain most of the water from downtown," Lisa interjected. "Hopefully that'll give folks some sense of what a real blast from Baltimore Harbor might be like."
A few moments later, Amy entered and Carl quickly called the meeting to order.
No one seemed phased by George's awkward presence. As the group took their seats again around the table, it was almost like he'd never left. The fact that he and Amy now used separate bank accounts and different mailing addresses was relatively overshadowed by the impact that recent events had had on the group.
Finally, George walked over and turned on a PowerPoint presentation he'd created. He pulled up a slide highlighting an area of the eastern Atlantic. "Okay. Judging by the features along this ridge, the wave will lose some of its momentum as it heads towards the southern English coast." He pointed at a swathe of ocean south of the US. "But over here, there'll be much less dissipation of the velocity."
Eric looked at George. "And what might we be able to do about all this?"
"Well, it's possible we could use a sonar pulse," George replied. "It's stopped rogue waves before. The blast will reduce the tsunami's magnitude underwater and spread the crest out a bit."
"Yeah, but we'd have to hit this thing much further away," Eric said.
"Well, we could always ramp up the frequency," George replied.
"But with something that size, will it really have any impact?" Jenn asked.
"We should at least test it out," George continued. "We don't have many other options."
"Alright George, why don't you and Jenn look into this?" Carl said.
Jenn sat forward. "But don't we need the wave machine calibrations?"
"Unfortunately, those are under three feet of water," Amy responded. "We'll just have to use what we've got. We can configure the missing data with a pencil and paper."
"You can't replace 10 years of research with some quick long division," Jenn insisted.
"Well at this point we don't have much choice," Amy said.
When the meeting was over, George almost instinctively began following Amy into her make-shift office. Seeing her sitting at a conference table without the ability to caress her always left him feeling wanton. He'd gotten used to sneaking a quick snog after their group colloquia.
In the oceanographic laboratory wave room, Jenn and George were conducting an experiment to ascertain the potential usefulness of previously employed tsunami deterrents. Jenn was crouching and staring at the water in the wave simulator. "So, how was the reunion down there?" she asked.
Jenn stood up. "Between the two lovers driven asunder?"
"Any chance for reconciliation?" Jenn inquired.
"I don't think so. Amy doesn't seem to have much patience for an epistolary romance right now."
Jenn nodded her head.
George looked back at the experiment. "Anyway, let's try this out."
"Okay, here goes," Jenn said initiating a wave in the model.
George stood at the far end of the machine. He activated a device that released a sonar blast. After staring at the water for a few moments, it became clear to the two scientists that the pulse had little effect on the wave.
"Doesn't look very promising does it?" Jenn remarked.
George shook his head. "The largest sonographic emission we could deliver would barely make a dent in this thing."
"Well, how 'bout we tell Uncle Sam we need something bigger?"
"We could. Probably take about two years and 10 million dollars to develop, but I'm sure Congress would love to shell out that kinda' dough for something totally experimental."
Jenn glanced again at the undulating water sloshing back and forth in the simulator before letting out a deep sigh.