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Chapter 8

Malin Hatch is the owner of Ragged Island, a small island off the coast of Maine long reputed to be the site where the infamous pirate, "Red Ned" Ockham, buried $2 billion worth in gold in 1695. But over the centuries, several people--most recently Malin's own brother, Johnny--have lost their lives trying to reclaim the treasure. For years, all Malin wanted to do was forget the island. But now, he has at last been convinced to let a new company try its hand. Armed with the latest in modern technology and huge reserves of capital, the expedition sets out to find and extract the cunningly buried treasure. But in this scene, Malin--in his role as partner and expedition doctor--learns that the malevolent island has lost none of its teeth.


 

Warning: This novel contains profanity and graphic violence.

 

HATCH STOOD AT the helm of the Plain Jane, watching the preparations going on around him. Almost despite himself, he felt a sense of mounting excitement. At his side, two communications monitors--a closed-band scanner covering all the expedition's channels, and a radio tuned to the dedicated medical frequency--emitted occasional chirps and squawks of conversation. The ocean was calm, with only the barest swell, and there was a gentle offshore breeze. The perpetual mist was thin today, gauzy linen loosely encircling the island. It was a perfect day for off-loading, and Captain Neidelman was making the most of it.

Although the Plain Jane was anchored in the same spot as the night before--just outside the Ragged Island reef--the landscape had changed dramatically. Setup had begun shortly after sunset and escalated at daybreak. The huge sea-barge was now anchored two points off the eastern shore by massive chains, bolted into the rocky sea floor by Neidelman's dive team. As Hatch watched, the hundred-ton floating crane was being moored off the western end of the island, its long hydraulic rig hanging over the shoreline like a scorpion's tail, ready to pluck off the wrack of two hundred years of treasure hunting. Lying in its shadow was the Griffin, Neidelman's command ship. Hatch could just make out the Captain's stiff, narrow figure on the flying bridge, closely supervising the proceedings.

Hatch continued scanning the activity around him until his gaze fell at last upon the island itself. He still felt a kind of sickness in his gut when he looked at it. Perhaps it was a sickness that would never go away. But he had made his decision, and that in itself lifted a huge burden from his shoulders. Every morning now, he awoke more certain that his decision had been the right one. The night before, he'd even caught himself speculating over what he could do with close to a billion dollars. Then and there, he'd made up his mind: he would put all of it, every penny, into a foundation in his brother's name.

A sudden flicker of white on the island briefly caught his eye before disappearing again into the mists. Somewhere, he knew, crews were already on the move, locating old pits, roping safe trails, tagging ancient junk hidden by the tall brush for later removal. Other teams, he knew, were taking corings from beams in the countless cribbed shafts. These corings would be carbon-14 dated to in the Cerberus lab determine their age in an attempt to pinpoint which shaft was the original Water Pit. He pulled out his binoculars and swung them slowly across the terrain until he located one of the teams, pale apparitions in the mist. They were spread out in a ragged line, moving slowly, hacking away at the chokecherries with brush hooks and axes, stopping occasionally to take photographs or scribble notes. One man swept a metal detector in an arc ahead of him; another probed the ground with a long, narrow instrument. At the head of the group, he noticed a German shepherd, diligently sniffing the ground. Must be trained to smell high explosive, Hatch thought to himself.

Hatch continued scanning the island. At the safe northern end of the island--the only area one could walk without fear--a pier and dock had gone up. Beside it, the tug was offloading a welter of equipment: crated generators, acetylene tanks, compressors, electronic switching equipment. Already onshore were orderly piles of angle iron, corrugated tin, lumber, and plywood. A tough-looking little All-Terrain Vehicle with bulbous tires was towing a trailerload of equipment up the improvised path. Nearby, a group of technicians was beginning the work of wiring the island phone system, while another was erecting Quonset huts. By tomorrow morning, one of them would be Hatch's new office. It was amazing how fast things were happening.

Still, Hatch was in no hurry to set foot on Ragged Island. Tomorrow's plenty soon enough, he thought.

He checked his watch. Eleven o'clock: the Maine lunch hour. He went belowdecks, raided the gas-powered refrigerator, and returned with a lobster roll and a bottle of ginger ale. As he ate, a seagull landed on the thrumcap and eyed him quizzically. Hatch knew lobstermen hated seagulls--called them wharf rats with wings--but he'd always had a fondness for the loudmouthed, garbage-swilling birds. He flicked a piece of lobster into the air; the gull caught it and then soared off, chased by two other gulls. Soon, all three had returned and were perched on the taffrail, staring him down with hungry black eyes. Now I've done it, Hatch thought, good-naturedly plucking another piece of lobster from the roll and tossing it toward the middle bird.

In an instant, all three birds tore into the air with a desperate beating of wings. Hatch's amusement turned to surprise as he noticed they weren't after the lobster, but were instead fleeing the boat as fast as they could, heading toward the mainland. In the sudden hush left by their departure, he heard the chunk of lobster hit the deckboards with a soft splat.

As he gazed after the birds, frowning, he felt a convulsive shudder pass under his feet. He leapt out of the chair, thinking the anchor cable had parted and the Plain Jane had run aground. But the cable was still taut. Except for the thin veil of mist that girdled the island, the sky overhead was clear; there was no lightning. Quickly, he scanned the surroundings for any unusual activity. Had they been dynamiting? No, it was to early for that...

Then his eyes fell on a patch of ocean, just inside the reef about a hundred yards away.

In an area some thirty feet in diameter, the placid surface of the water had suddenly broken into chop. A roiling mass of bubbles crested the surface. There was a second shudder, another explosion of bubbles. As they died away, the surface of the water began to move counterclockwise: slowly at first, then faster. A dimple appeared in its center, almost immediately imploding into a funnel. A whirlpool, Hatch thought. What the hell--?

A burst of static on the scanner brought Hatch to the railing. There was hysterical shouting on the bands: first from one, then many voices. "...Man down!" broke through the riot of sounds. "...Get the rope around him!" cried another voice. Then: "Look out! Those beams are about to go!"

Suddenly, Hatch's private radio burst to life. "Hatch, do you copy?" came Neidelman's clipped tones. "We've got a man trapped on the island."

"Understood," Hatch said, firing up the big diesels. "I'm bringing the boat to the pier now." As a puff of wind blew shreds of mist from the island, he could make out a cluster of white-suited men near the island's center, scurrying frantically.

"Forget the pier," Neidelman broke in again, a fresh note of urgency coloring his voice. "No time. He'll be dead in five minutes."

Hatch glanced around for a desperate moment. Then he cut the engines, grabbed his medical bag, and pulled the Plain Jane's dinghy alongside. Tearing the rope free of its cleat, he tossed it into the dinghy, then leapt over the side after it. The dinghy heeled crazily under his sudden weight. Half-kneeling, half-falling onto the stern seat, Hatch pulled at the starter rope. The outboard leapt into life with an angry buzz. Grabbing the throttle, he pointed the little boat toward the circle of reefs. Somewhere near the south end, there were two narrow gaps in the jagged underwater rocks. He hoped to hell he remembered where they were.

As the shoreline drew nearer, Hatch watched the water beneath the bow turning from a bottomless gray to green. If only there was a bigger swell, he thought, I could see the rocks through the breaking water. He glanced at his watch: no time to play it safe. Taking a deep breath, he opened the throttle wide with a flick of his wrist. The boat sprang forward eagerly, and the green outline of the submerged reefs grew lighter as the water became rapidly shallower. Hatch braced himself against the throttle, preparing himself for the impact.

Then he was past the reef and the ocean floor sank away again. He aimed the boat at a small pebbled area between the two Whalebacks, keeping the throttle wide open until the last second. Then he cut the engine and swiveled the outboard upwards, raising the propeller above the wake. He felt the shock as the bow of the dinghy hit the shore and skidded up across the shingles.

Before the boat came to a halt, Hatch had grabbed his kit and was scrambling up the embankment. He could now hear the shouts and cries directly ahead. At the top of the rise, he stopped. Ahead stretched an unbroken mass of sawgrass and fragrant tea roses, swaying in the breeze, concealing the deadly ground below. This wild southern end of the island had not yet been mapped by the Thalassa team. It's suicide to run across there, he thought even as his legs began to move and he was crashing through the brush, jumping over old beams and skittering across rotten platforms and around gaping holes.

In a minute he was among the group of white-suited figures clustered around the ragged mouth of a pit. The smell of seawater and freshly-disturbed earth rose from its dark maw. Several ropes were wrapped around a nearby winch. "Name's Streeter," shouted the nearest figure. "Team Leader." He was the same man who had stood behind Neidelman during his speech--a lean figure with compressed lips and a marine-style haircut.

Without a word, two of the others began buckling a Swiss Seat harness around Hatch.

Hatch glanced into the pit, and his stomach contracted involuntarily. Dozens of feet down--it was impossible to tell exactly how far--he could see the yellow lances of flashlight beams. Two roped figures were frantically working at a thick beam. Beneath the beam, Hatch was horrified to see another figure, moving feebly. Its mouth opened. Over the roar of water, Hatch though he could hear an anguished scream.

"What the hell happened?" Hatch cried, grabbing a medical kit from his bag.

"One of the dating team fell into this shaft," Streeter replied. "His name's Ken Field. We sent a rope down, but it must have snagged on a beam. Triggered some kind of cave-in. His legs are pinned by the beam, and the water's rising fast. We've got three minutes, no more."

"Get him a scuba tank!" Hatch yelled as he signaled the winch operator to lower him into the pit.

"No time!" came Streeter's reply. "The divers are too far offshore."

"Nice way to lead the team."

"He's already roped," Streeter continued after a moment. "Just cut him loose and we'll haul him up."

Cut him loose? Hatch thought just as he was shoved off the edge of the pit. Before he could think, he was swinging in space, the roar of water almost deafening in the confines of the shaft. He dropped for a moment in near free-fall, then the Swiss seat jerked him to a rude halt beside the two rescuers. Swinging around, he found a purchase, then glanced down.

The man lay on his back, the massive beam lying diagonally across his left ankle and right knee, pinning him tightly. As Hatch watched, the man opened his mouth again, crying out with pain. One rescuer was scrabbling rocks and dirt away from the man, while the other was chopping at the beam with a heavy axe. Chips flew everywhere, filling the pit with the smell of rotten wood. Beneath them, Hatch could see the water, rising at a terrifying rate.

He knew immediately that it was hopeless; they could never chop through the beam in time. He glanced at the rising water and made a quick mental calculation: no more than two minutes before the man would be covered, even less than Streeter had guessed. He mentally reviewed his options, then realized there were none. No time for a painkiller, no time for an anaesthetic, no time for anything. He rummaged desperately through his kit: a couple of scalpels long enough for a hangnail repair, but that was it. Tossing them aside, he began shrugging out of his shirt.

"Make sure his rope's secure!" he shouted to the first rescuer. "Then take my kit and get yourself topside!"

He turned to the other. "Stand by to hoist this man up!" He ripped his shirt in half. Twisting one sleeve, he tied it around the trapped man's left leg, about five inches below the knee. The other sleeve went around the fat part of the man's right thigh. He knotted first one sleeve, then the other, jerking them as tight as possible.

"Give me the axe!" he cried to the remaining rescuer. "Then get ready to pull!"

Wordlessly, the man handed him the axe. Hatch positioned himself astride the trapped man. Bracing his own legs, he raised it above his head.

The trapped man's eyes widened in sudden understanding. "No!" he screamed. "Please, don't--"

Hatch brought the axe down on the man's left shin with all his might. As the blade drove home, it felt to Hatch for a curious instant like he was chopping the green trunk of a young sapling. There was a moment of resistance, then a sudden give. The man's voice ceased instantly, but his eyes remained open, straining, the cords of his neck standing out. A wide, ragged cut opened in the leg, and for a moment the bone and flesh lay exposed in the weak light of the pit. Then the rising water roiled up around the cut and it filled with blood. Quickly, Malin drove the axe home again and the leg came free, the water frothing red as it churned across the beam. The man threw his head back and opened his jaws wide in a soundless scream, the fillings in his molars shining dully in the glow of the flashlight.

Hatch stepped back a moment, and took several deep breaths. He clamped down hard on the trembling that was beginning in his wrists and forearms, then repositioned himself around the man's right thigh. This was going to be worse. Much worse. But the water was now bubbling above the man's knee and there was no time to waste.

The first blow hit home in something softer than wood, but rubbery and resistant. The man slumped to one side, unconscious. The second blow missed the first, cutting a sickening gash across the knee. Then the water was boiling around the thigh, heading for the man's waist. Estimating where the next blow had to fall, Hatch positioned the axe behind his head, hesitated, then swung it down with a tremendous effort. As it plunged into the water he could feel it strike home, slicing through with a crack and give of bone.

"Pull him up!" Hatch screamed. The rescuer gave two tugs on the rope. Immediately, it went taut. The man's shoulders straightened and he was pulled into a sitting position, but the massive timber still refused to release him: the leg had not been completely severed. The rope slackened once more and the man slumped backward, the black water creeping up around his ears, nose, and mouth.

"Give me your brush hook!" Hatch yelled to the rescuer. Grabbing the stubby, machete-like implement, he took a deep breath and dove below the surface of the surging water. Feeling his way in the blackness, he worked his way down the right leg, located the cut, and quickly sliced through the remaining hamstring muscle with the hook.

"Try again!" he coughed the moment his head broke the surface. The rope jerked and this time the unconscious man came bursting out from under the water, blood and muddy water running from the stumps of his legs. The rescuer went next, and then a moment later Hatch felt himself hoisted toward the surface, barely managing to grab his kit in time. Within seconds he was out of the dark, damp hole and crouching next to the man in a swale of matted grass. Quickly, he felt for the vitals: the man was not breathing, but his heart was still beating, fast and faint. Despite his improvised tourniquets, blood was oozing from the savaged stumps of the legs.

ABC, Hatch recited under his breath: airway, breathing, circulation. He opened the man's mouth, cleared out mud and vomit with a hook of his finger, then rolled him on his left side, squeezing him into a fetal position. To Hatch's great relief a thin stream of water came from the man's mouth, along with a sigh of air. Hatch immediately began a stabilizing pattern: a ten count of mouth-to-mouth, then a pause to tighten the tourniquet around the left leg; ten more breaths; a pause to tighten the other tourniquet; ten more breaths; then a pulse check.

"Get my bag!" he yelled at the stunned group. "I need a hypo!"

One of the men grabbed the sopping bag and began rummaging through it.

"Dump it out on the ground, for Chrissakes!" The man obeyed and Hatch fished through the scatter, pulling out a syringe and a bottle. Sucking one cc of epinephrine into the hypo, he administered it sub cu in the victim's shoulder. Then he returned to mouth-to-mouth. At the five-count, the man coughed, then drew a ragged breath.

Streeter came forward, a cellular phone in his hand. "We've called in a medevac helicopter," he said. "It'll meet us at Stormhaven wharf."

"The hell with that," Hatch snapped.

Streeter frowned. "But the medevac--"

"--Flies from Portland. And no half-assed medevac pilot can lower a basket while hovering."

"But shouldn't we get him to the mainland--?"

Hatch rounded on him. "Can't you see this man won't survive a run to the mainland? Get the Coast Guard on the phone."

Streeter pressed a number in the phone's memory, then handed it over wordlessly.

Hatch asked to speak to a paramedic, then quickly began describing the accident. "We've got a double amputation, one above, one below the knee," he said. "Massive exsanguination, deep shock, pulse is thready at 55, some water in the lungs, still unconscious. Get a chopper out here with your best pilot, there's no landing spot and we'll need to drop a basket. Hang a bag of saline, and bring some unmatched O negative if you have it. But get your ass out here, that's the most important thing. This'll be a scoop and run." He covered the phone and turned to Streeter. "Any chance of getting those legs up in the next hour?"

"I don't know," Streeter said evenly. "The water will have made the pit unstable. We might be able to send a diver down to reconnoiter."

Hatch shook his head and turned back to the phone. "You'll be flying the patient straight through to Eastern Maine Medical. Alert the trauma team, have an OR standing by. There's a possibility we may recover the limbs. We'll need a microvascular surgeon on tap, just in case."

He snapped the phone shut and handed it back to Streeter. "If you can recover those legs without risk of life, do it."

He turned his attention back to the injured man. The pulse was lousy but holding steady. More importantly, the man was beginning to regain consciousness, thrashing feebly and moaning. Hatch felt another wave of relief; if he'd stayed unconscious much longer, the prognosis would have been poor. He sorted through his kit and gave the man five milligrams of morphine, enough to give him some relief but not enough to lower his pulse any further. Then he turned to what remained of the legs. He winced inwardly at the raggedness of the wounds and the shattered ends of bone; the dull blade of the axe was nothing like the nice, neat saws of the operating room. He could see some bleeders, especially the femoral artery of the right leg. Sorting among the refuse of his medical kit, he grabbed a needle and some thread and began tying off the veins and arteries.

"Dr. Hatch?" Streeter asked.

"What?" Hatch replied, head inches from the stump, using tweezers to fish out a medium-sized vein that had already retracted.

"When you have a moment, Captain Neidelman would like to talk to you."

Hatch nodded, tied off the vein, checked the tourniquets, and rinsed the wounds. He picked up the radio. "Yes?"

"How is he?" Neidelman asked.

"He's got a fair chance of survival," Hatch said. "Provided there's no screw up with the helicopter."

"Thank God. And his legs?"

"Even if they recover them, I doubt there's much chance of reattachment. You better review some basic safety procedures with your Team Leader here. This accident was entirely avoidable."

"I understand," said Neidelman.

Hatch switched off the phone and looked toward the northeast and the nearest Coast Guard station. In three minutes, perhaps four, they should see the bird on the horizon. He turned to Streeter. "You'd better drop a marker flare. And get this area cleared, we don't want another accident on our hands. When the chopper comes in, we'll need four men to lift him onto the stretcher, no more."

"Right," said Streeter, his lips tightening.

Hatch saw that the man's face was unnaturally dark, blood throbbing angrily through a vein on his forehead. Tough luck, he thought. I'll repair that relationship later. Besides, he's not the guy who's going to live without legs for the rest of his life.

He glanced again at the horizon. A black speck was approaching fast. In a few moments, the dull thud of heavy rotors filled the air as the helicopter shot across the island, banked sharply, then approached the small group gathered around the pit. The backwash from the blades whipped the sawgrass into a frenzy and kicked dirt into Hatch's eyes. The door of the cargo bay slid back and a rescue platform came bobbing down. The injured man was strapped aboard and sent up, and Hatch signaled for the platform to be sent down again for himself. Once he was safely on board, the waiting paramedic shut the door and gave the pilot a thumbs-up. Immediately, the chopper banked to the right and dug its nose into the air, heading for the southwest.

Hatch looked around. There was saline already hung, an oxygen bottle and mask, a rack of antibiotics, bandages, tourniquets, and antiseptics.

"We didn't have any O negative, doctor," the paramedic said.

"Don't worry," Hatch replied, "you've done okay. But let's get an IV into him. We've got to expand this guy's blood volume." He noticed the paramedic looking at him strangely, then realized why: shirtless, covered in a crust of mud and dried blood, he didn't look much like a Maine country doctor.

There was a moan from the stretcher, and the thrashing began again.

 


RIPTIDE is copyright 1998 by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this text, or any portion thereof, in any form.
RIPTIDE is available in paperback from Grand Central Publishing, www.HachetteBookGroup.com.


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