Reading the first three chapters will get you excited about purchasing this new adventure novel.
Reading the first three chapters will get you excited about purchasing this new adventure novel.
FAULT LINE – A Hawaii Volcano Adventure
“River Mountain Cave”
Southeast Vietnam, June mid-2000s
Hang Son Doong or River Mountain Cave, is one of the largest and most extensive cave systems in the world, housing some of the tallest stalagmites. The system runs for nearly six, long twisting miles within the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam.
In the main cavern, secured in a harness, yet floating in mid-air – Susan Andrews swings on the line, excited and nervous. She glances up to the hilltop opening of the cave. Then she looks down, a thousand feet below…
“Incredible,” she says as she rappels, enveloped by a passing shadow from a cloud overhead. She’s an active geologist in the field and has explored many caves over the past decade, but nothing like this. The mouth of the sinkhole is expansive, lush with greenery, a universe unto itself. She watches her geologist-volcanologist husband, Tom, suspended twenty feet above her on his own line. No doubt he is experiencing the same sense of awe and yet remains calm, maintaining his grip on a rock wall.
They’ve protected their bodies from the damp cold and sharp rock edges with skin-tight, neoprene suits, gloves, and cave spelunking shoes. Secured by climbing ropes and harnesses, they lower themselves down into the inky depths toward the bottom. She imagines they must look like tiny, black spiders dangling on fine threads.
She slows her descent and looks up again, observing Tom while he scans a section of a wall. Then he stops and hacks away at the rock with a small pick-hammer, a real-life Batman minus the cape. He’s never one to slack on a mission. Especially this one, she thinks.
Yesterday, they camped on the flat, valley floor below the mountains, in an area checkered with rice fields and craters filled with water, remnants of the Vietnam War, now used by the locals as aqua-culture fishponds. Death transformed to life. The cave system once sheltered the Vietcong from U.S. air bombardments. Now, they’re playgrounds for 21st century spelunkers and scientists.
For two days, Tom and Susan explored cavern openings, the stream crossings, the permo-carboniferous limestone formations, a doline where sunlight entered and trees flourished. They considered spending one more day in that section, surveying and mapping the terrain, but Tom insisted they hike out to explore another, more massive, second entrance, a mission that required this vertical descent.
“We’ve been here for over an hour and we’re still only halfway down. This place is humongous,” she says into her headset mic as air rushes through the cavern and goose pimples rise on her arms. Looking up out of the subterranean freak of nature, she sees the clouds darken, choking the sun’s light to a few meager rays. She pulls the neoprene gloves tighter over her wrists, and calls out to Tom.
“It’s starting to rain and the temperature’s falling. Maybe we should head back up. It’s almost five o’clock.”
A light mist pin-pricks her face. She glances below, where the silvery sunlight fades, plunging into an indiscernible depth. Then she hears Tom gasp.
“Whoaaaa,” he says. “I think I’ve found something. It couldn’t be… no, it’s impossible.” He leans forward, chipping away at the wall with his pick-hammer while yellow particles eject into the space around him. “Got it!” He shouts, words echoing through the cave.
Susan’s headlamp illuminates the yellow dust motes that fall from his hammer and surround her. Cheep. Cheep. The Geiger counter clipped to her waist signals an alert. She holds it up, viewing the LED display panel. A baritone voice echoes through her headset.
“Sounds mighty cozy down there, oh yeah…”
Jerry Russell. Programmer extraordinaire, fellow colleague, and contender for first place among adventure junkies (following Tom of course). Jerry’s mapped out the entire cave, marking the potential hot spots for mineral deposits. Still he’s found ample time on this expedition to relax, nurse an ice-cold Bia Hanoi beer, and hang out with his beautiful, Thai girlfriend, Soonlee, whom he insisted on bringing along for the trip.
“You sound relaxed up there,” Susan says. “And we’re down here freezing our proverbial asses off.”
“You know my style well, Dr. Sue. Free-spirited-wild-man, that’s me,” he says with a chuckle.
“That’s the understatement of the year.”
She thinks back to when she met Jerry at the University of Arizona. He could have taught computer science at Harvard, but he refused to “wear the geek badge” and loved the party life at U of A. He made good money programming for the Andrews’ geological database, while doing contract work for other companies on the side. Over the years, he settled down a little, but there’s a part of him still stuck in his crazed undergraduate days.
As dust continues to fall from Tom’s hammering, Susan’s hazel-green eyes flash in the light of his headlamp. She studies the meters on her Geiger counter again.
“Hey, I’m picking up radioactive traces,” Tom says.
Suddenly, Jerry is rapt with attention. “Come in. Hello? What did you say? Don’t leave me hangin.’ Please repeat.”
“It could be…vitrellium,” Tom says. “I’m about 95% certain that it is.”
“Ahahaha!” Jerry cackles. “Oh my gosh, no friggin’ way.”
“Yes, friggin’ way,” Tom says.
“If we manage to discover vitrellium mineral deposits in Southeast Asia…Man, that would give us some notoriety and you guys would be the most awesome-ic geo-team I’ve ever worked with….”
“Awesome-ic?” Susan asks.
“Awe-seismic if you prefer. Who cares? Because if this find proves true, I swear I’ll never work with another expedition team again.”
“You call sipping a cold ‘brewski’ in the tropics work?” Susan says. “You’d never join another team because they might actually make you do stuff. But you’re going to have to zip it for a spell. We’re trying to focus here.”
“Brewski? Stuff? Zip it? Sounds like you’re pickin’ up on our American slang. I could be rubbing off on you, Dr. Sue.”
“I sure hope not.”
He laughs through the static. She can picture him back at the base camp, sitting by the tarp-covered communication table. The camp is littered with ropes, carabineers, and muddy clothes. Or he could be taking a break from the database, relaxing in a swing back chair, with his headset on, his aloha shirt catching a breeze.
Or maybe, he’s lounging in his hammock while he gazes out on the tropical landscape, immersing himself in the scenery where passion flowers burst with bloom, vines cling to dwarf palms. Bamboo towers overhead. In the valley below, mango trees ripen, their fruit hanging above grasses that sway in the wind. The philodendron leaves are the size of elephant ears and the roots of the Banyan tree are as thick as a rhino’s leg. Everything pulses in the violet light of the tropics.
Then a loud, disgusting sound interrupts her thoughts.
“Bwaaaahhh…” Jerry belches into the receiver. “How ya’ gonna’ top this? An all expenses paid working vacation. Plus, thanks to the U.S. non-proliferation treaties, and if we can confirm this is vitrellium, we’ll increase our incomes substantially! I’m talking boku bucks, my friends.”
“They’ll be a few more hurdles to jump through before that happens,” Tom says.
As Susan listens to the exchange, her rope gives a sudden jerk.
“Jerry? What’s going on?”
The rope slackens as it drops her down a foot, then stops. Worry etches across her face. “This isn’t funny. Stop the nonsense.”
“I’m not sure what you’re referring to,” Jerry says.
“My rope is slipping…”
“Huh? I’ll check it out…Holy crap!”
Deep within the cavern, the rope’s tension releases.
“Susan!” Tom cries, reaching out for the rope as it slides past him. He manages to grab a hold of it for a split second, but the speeding line burns through his hand.
“Oh, God, no!” He cries.
Susan lets out a high-pitched scream. Her feet fly up and she plummets downward. She tumbles, flips into a back handspring, hands flailing. Frantically, she reaches to her chest harness to release the Apex BASE parachute.
“No!” Tom shouts. The echo ricochets between cavern walls. “Jerry, I’m going down for her.”
Tom unsnaps his harness and drops down a couple feet. He tugs the ripcord to release his own BASE parachute. All at once he’s falling, while the parachute unfolds. He keeps an eye out for any obstacles or snags. Counting down in his head, he twists right and left, his headlamp shining toward the cavern floor. He tries to gauge the distance and hopes not to land on a sharp stalagmite.
Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five… Falling, he lands in a murky pool of water with a splashy kerplop. His mid-section absorbs the force. He surfaces, covered in mud. Heaving and spluttering, he catches his breath.
Perched on a rock above the pool, Susan calmly adjusts her gear. Tom waddles toward her and stops in a shallow section, wiping mud clots away from his eyes and chin.
“Bravo Thomas, that has got to one of the most exquisite, mud dive belly flops I’ve ever seen,” she says, chuckling.
Tom growls. “You knew this was here!”
“Like I had time to say anything. But hey, gravity sucks. At least we’re alive. Heaven knows how we’re going to climb out of here.” Getting to her feet, she balances on another rock. “Check your receiver. Mine’s out cold.”
“I’m not picking up any signals either.”
“Great. These U.S. government issue receivers are rubbish,” she says, flicking the mud off of it. “They could have set us up with the new Hey Phones. You know, the ones developed with the British Cave Rescue Council and the Cave Radio Electronics Group?”
“You Brits have a better way of doing things, huh? I find that hard to believe.”
“At least neither one of us is injured.” Lowering herself into the mud, she trudges toward him. “Yikes, gets a bit deeper here.” She stops at chest level, feeling the cool through her vest.
“Hey, Hey, I bet those phones are impervious to mud,” Tom says with a sly grin.
“Very funny. We’re not supposed to be down here, but it’s better than being stuck in some stuffy office.” She looks up to the light from the cave entrance over a thousand feet above them and knows in an hour the tropical glow will fade to a faint lavender.
“Things don’t always go as planned,” Tom says while he starts to free himself from the parachute.
“I’m not sure you’ll find that deposit again, but at least we’re together down here, wherever that is.”
“Appreciate the cheery attitude,” he says with a sarcastic tone. “I’m not feeling so confident with Jerry being incommunicado.” He wipes the last clumps of mud off his neck. “As far as the vitrellium goes, we’ll just have to take another look tomorrow.” He sits down on the rock and removes a shoe to shake out the excess water. “Shall we take stock?”
“Broken rope,” Susan says.
“Jerry should be lowering the retrieving ropes…”
“Harder to climb back up…”
“Let’s try to stay positive.” She looks around at the cave walls, then back at him. “You know, love, you still look quite attractive.” She walks closer to him.
Tom wipes his face, a lock of hair falling over his eye. “Glad you think I’m worth a gander.” He pauses and tilts his head. “Did you hear something?”
“Only the echo of our own voices.”
“I think you should get back out of the water,” he warns her.
“Come on,” she says with a seductive slur. “I love a man in mud.”
“No, wait, I’m not joking. Get back on the rock, now!”
Within seconds, the muddy waters rise around them, whirling slowly at first, but gaining momentum. Tom lunges and tries to grab her hand. He’s only inches away from grasping her when she is swept off her feet and carried down to the back of the cave.
As the swirling water rushes in and fills the pool, Tom strokes after her, but the powerful flow is pulling her further into the darkness.
“Help me, Tommy…” She gurgles on the dirty water. She watches the whirlpool slosh around her, her body tumbling, as she covers her head to protect it.
Tom yells back, but he’s still attached to the parachute and it drags him down beneath the surface. He attempts to clasp its lines, but the raging water pushes his hands away. The level rises higher and higher. He has just enough time to snatch a breath before the powerful current grips him, pulling him off his feet. Remembering his high school water polo days, he kicks his legs egg-beater style and tightens his abdomen to rise up above the water.
His headlamp shines, light rays dance on the walls and ceiling. To the left, there is a series of stalactites, like monster’s teeth, hanging down from a cave’s mouth. On the right side, sharp black rocks jut out from under the water. He could be impaled from above, beside, or below.
Up ahead, he sees Susan’s headlamp bobbing, the light flashing in the distance. Then the light disappears. He grits his teeth as he watches her being sucked into an overhead tunnel. The current pulls him along and he accidentally gulps cave water.
He can’t imagine the thought of losing his beautiful wife. Two hours ago, they were standing at the top of the River Mountain Cave, ready for an adrenalin-pumped adventure, but safe. In the dappled forest light, Susan’s hair had a lustrous copper tint, touched with gold, like a rare mineral he discovered. As lovely as that recent thought is, he’d never forgive himself if it was last happy memory of her.
“Hold on, babe,” he calls out. He resumes his stroke and makes contact with her while his right hand clutches at a rock outcropping above the waterline. With his left hand he grabs her sleeve, twisting the material.
“Don’t worry,” he reassures her, but the hold is tenuous. A surge of water barrels in and dashes against them. Struggling to hold her, she slips away again.
“Damn,” he gasps. Using his legs to propel him, he claws at the tunnel ceiling with both hands and angles his head up to take a few breaths before he releases from the wall, dropping back into the turbulent flow.
They speed down the twisting tunnel, bodies zipping from side to side. The flow increases with force and velocity, bludgeoning them against rocks and low ceiling sections, ripping their wetsuits as the tunnel turns into a speeding water-slide ride.
Susan catches glimpses of Tom while he swims toward her, closing the gap between them. Closer and closer. He dives and gains hold of her outstretched hand. Their fingers interlock, nails digging into each other’s palms – I’ve got you, he seems to say. A charge of gratitude and relief surges through her.
The flow begins to subside. The tunnel widens, with more space to breathe and relax…the air circulates…and then, the outside light seems to increase…
“Oh shit, no way!” Tom shouts.
Susan spins around in a panic. “No, no, no, no,” she says, spitting out water.
In desperation, Tom snatches her other hand and then, PWAAAAHH! The tunnel spits them out as though shot from a water cannon and they soar, ejected into the air. They trundle downward, with the thunderous, muddy waterfall pounding upon them.
Reading the first three chapters will get you excited about purchasing this new adventure novel.
FAULT LINE – A Hawaii Volcano Adventure
Back at the base camp, an onslaught of rain drenches the equipment. Soonlee hurries to cover it. Jerry runs over to the mango tree where Susan’s rope was tied. He bends down and picks up the cut rope, examining it in his hands. He saw the rope zip fly past him, but he couldn’t predict that it would be tampered with.
“What the hell? Who would do this?”
He looks around, scoping the perimeter of the camp for any intruders. No one is here. He tosses the rope aside and reactivates his headset receiver, shouting into it.
“Tom? Susan? Can you hear me? Come in!” He stands up and walks over to the cavern sinkhole opening. He wishes he could stop the downpour. They could be trapped or hurt, if they’re even alive. Dropping down to his haunches, he peers into the sinkhole.
Soonlee stands under a tent canopy. “You see them?” She calls out as her eyebrows twitch nervously.
“No, they must be way the hell down at the bottom. There’s too much foliage. It’s way too dark to see ‘em.”
Rain thrashes the camp, accumulating in puddles and torrents. Water funnels down the tarp and batters Jerry’s amassed collection of empty beer cans. Rat-atat-tat-tat. It’s not letting up.
He shouts into his mouthpiece. “Guys, if you can hear me, I want ya’ to know – I’m comin’ in, you hear me? I’m comin’ for ya’!” He dashes back and forth, rushing to secure and set up his rope system, along with two rescue ropes. He pulls on his wetsuit, momentarily slipping in the muddy ground. He grabs his repelling gear and starts putting it on.
“You need help?” Soonlee asks.
“Yeah, babe. Help me secure this.”
She adjusts his harness as he puts on the BASE parachute and wraps a bandana around his head. “You don’t have to do this,” she says, reaching to kiss his cheek.
“I’d much rather stay up here with you. But I gotta’ find these guys.”
They kiss each other on the lips, a lingering kiss moistened by the tropical downpour.
“It’s gonna’ be okay,” he says. “All right,” he shouts into the receiver. “Gear on, I’m good to go.”
He turns toward Soonlee. She clips the helmet strap and he secures it. He clips himself to his rope, drops over the other ropes, turns on his headlamp, and begins lowering himself backwards over the slippery edge and into the sinkhole abyss. The rain gushes.
“You scared, Jer Bear?”
“Nah, Jer Bear doesn’t get scared,” he sings out with false bravado as he makes the-sign-of-the-cross in deference to his religious mother. He clings to a side rock wall. “I just don’t like plunging into waterfalls. I can’t even see the friggin’ bottom. Keep the flashlight on, little to the right, okay. It’s going to be mighty slick down there.”
Soonlee nods, holding out a powerful flashlight with one hand, watching him descend into the cave. Her other hand controls the rope. Her eyes are intent and fixed. Even the pounding rain can’t distract her. But while she watches Jerry descend, neither of them see what’s happening in the base camp behind them.
Behind jungle foliage and massive philodendron leaves, three commandos, camouflaged with face paint, watch them. The soldiers blend into the undergrowth. One of the soldiers has his eyes and an AK-47 trained on Soonlee’s back.
The other two soldiers break away and head straight for the center of camp. With combat knives strapped to their waist belts, they lift tent tarps to reveal computers and high-tech geological equipment – calibration weights, compasses, sensors, sieves, and pick-hammers. They ignore the geological tools, but work quickly to gather up the files, laptops, and computer storage units. Within seconds they are gone, disappearing into the jungle, footprints erased by the rain.
This is the end. The grand finale!
Susan’s stomach lurches while she clutches onto Tom’s hand. She can feel the tension in his neck and the beating of his pulse through the fingertips. They were flying for a second. Now they are hurtling down to the canyon floor, nearly two thousand feet below them.
It was a good life. I love you Mum, Dad, Sissy, Tom. If it’s gonna end, at least we are with each other.
Suddenly she feels a powerful jerk and Tom’s hand fiercely grips her wrist.
They come to a swinging stop. He groans with the pain of her weight as his chute harness tightens.
“It caught on something,” Tom says.
“Don’t let go of me!”
He twists his neck and glances up, then back down at her. “I won’t. Don’t worry. Wow, that rock just saved our lives.”
Tom smiles at the success, but the pendulum swing of their bodies reminds him of the current danger. Pain racks throughout his body. “Hold on, it’ll be alright.”
“What else can I do?” She sags under him. The rain lightens up. Sunshine peeps through the clouds, accompanied by a rainbow. The waterfall flow has slowed down and the air is still and almost peaceful.
It was like being on a carnival ride, she tells herself. Minus the safety contraptions. Bloody hell, don’t look down.
Tom’s arms quiver. His face reddens. Then Susan catches herself looking down again. “Please don’t let go…” Hot tears trickle down her cheeks. “Please, don’t…” She starts to hyperventilate, her legs shaking.
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Tom says, “But stay calm. You’ll have to pull yourself up to redistribute our weight. With your right hand, grab my left foot.”
“I can’t do that. I can’t even move.” Both her mind and body freeze up. Charged with desperation, she lunges and reaches for his foot. Then he swoops down, using his free hand to raise her up to his waist. She finds herself hugging the barrel of his body, her thighs wrapped around his middle section. Shaking, she rests her head. “I do like this position much better.”
“Yeah, me too.” He sighs. “Keep talking. It’ll help us think this through. The parachute might still be functional. If we can just free it from this ledge…” Tom lifts one arm and tugs at the chute lines.
“What? Wait a second,” Susan says, distraught. “Hold on there, Geronimo. What if the chute rips? Or it won’t open? Or it won’t hold the both of us? These are only meant for 150 some kilos.”
“Three-hundred and thirty pounds.”
“I don’t care what system you use.”
“One-twenty-eight and one-eighty, makes three-hundred and eight pounds. We’re under the weight limit.”
“It’s still a bad idea.”
“Well, I’m a little…hung up here. Excuse the terrible pun. You got a better suggestion?”
Susan looks up. “The ledge we’re hanging from is big enough for both of us to rest on. First we would climb up the chute. I’d go first and secure the line,” she offers.
Tom tightens his grip around her waist. “That would be a feat. But even if we can climb up, what then? We sit up there all night, soaking wet, freezing to death. What happens if the chute gives way when you’re half way up? We’ll both die. And we’ve got those guys to consider…”
Susan follows his gaze across the sky to a flock of large buzzards surfing the warm air currents and circling above them. She bites her lip, but she’s resolved to be strong.
“Okay, I got it. We separate. I’ll climb up the ledge, kick the chute free, you glide down and find us some help.”
“What kind of help? You’d still be stuck up there.”
“Helicopter or something.”
“So, I land safely and hike back to our camp. I’ll barely make it there before dark. Then I have to drive a few hours to the Dong Hoi airport. In the morning, I have to find someone to help me rent a helicopter, with a pilot, and then we all fly back here and rescue you? Do I look like Indiana Jones?”
“No. You’re missing the fedora.”
“Shit, Suze, this is no time for jokes!”
“You started it. You don’t think I’m totally bloody freaked out?”
Tom glances back to the ledge. “No, we’re gonna’ have to stick to my plan. If it doesn’t work, at least we’ll end our lives together and I couldn’t think of a better position to do that in.”
Tom looks lovingly at his wife – her flushed skin, her eyes bright with tears. “You are so beautiful.” He leans forward to kiss her. She accepts with trembling lips.
“Suze,” he whispers. “We’re going to do this. Now just lean backwards and arch away from me. We need to get some momentum going.”
Tom hoists her up, tightening his grip around her waist. Attached at the hips, Susan arches back as Tom holds her and they rock back and forth in a seesaw motion.
“Kind of ah…kinky, eh?” He winks. “Especially in these ripped wetsuits.”
“Only you would think of that. We could die!”
As the rocking motion picks up speed, the parachute’s top slides to the ledge. Small pebbles and dirt fall down on them. Then suddenly, the parachute breaks and they free-fall, speeding toward the ground.
In a fit of panic, Tom tugs on the chute straps above him, trying to open it.
“Oh God, please help us!” Susan shouts into the rushing air.
They speed down to the valley floor, a flat expanse of tropical foliage dotted with sharp, black rocks. Susan can hear the sound of impending death – the crunch and crackle of entire bone structural systems, the thrash of dismemberment, a whoosh of fresh blood.
“Pwooooohh…” The chute opens with a gentle stretch, as though nothing ever happened. Aloft with the wind, Tom and Susan float down, a hundred feet above the ground, until they land in a soft tumble, falling over each other onto a pile of leaves. Terra firma.
“You okay, Suze? No broken bones?”
“None whatsoever,” she says.
They sit up, dazed and exhausted.
“We did it. I can’t believe it,” Tom says.
Susan catches her breath. “That was insane.” She swings her arms around Tom’s neck.
“Don’t get too excited yet. We still have to walk back to our camp.”
“More like slip and slide with the rain.”
Mud has already encased their feet, crusted over the zippers of their wetsuits, and streaked across their faces. But outside the cave system, the temperature is warm and humid. They unzip and peel back their suits.
Susan follows Tom, keeping her eyes trained on the ground, occasionally glancing up at Tom’s bare shoulder and his tattoo. KAISi3O8. It’s the chemical formula for orthoclase feldspar, or K-feldspar, one of the silicate minerals in igneous rock. K-feldspar forms in rectangular prisms, with two perpendicular vectors and a third vector that doesn’t meet at 90 degrees. A monoclinic crystal system.
Tom has had the tattoo since before they met and in twelve years it hasn’t faded. If anything, it appears darker against the smooth, hairless spot on his shoulder.
While walking, they discuss certain surprises of the River Mountain Cave – the depth of the second doline, the green foliage in the first one, the rivers of mud, the flash floods in the passageway, and the hell ride that led to the waterfall plunge.
“That was unexpected,” Susan says. “Catching my breath still.”
“Certainly. Do you realize that we may have been the first research explorers of this cave?” Tom says.
“There may have been others. Local explorers and such.”
“Yes, but we may be the first geologist team,” Tom says with excitement as they trek up a hill. “We could come back and map this place. Make it famous. Leave our mark.” He watches a lock of reddish gold hair fall over her eye. She knits her brows and at once he sees that contrast of innocence and thirty-something woman worry.
“What’s wrong, babe?” He asks.
“Which means something important.”
She sweeps her hair back. “I just miss home.”
“We’ll be back there in forty-eight hours.”
How does one explain the concept of home to the perpetual wanderlust man? There’s not even a pet at home to miss. With all the demands of work and travel, they don’t have time to take care of one. She misses the comfort and familiarity, the feeling of being settled.
“Hey,” Tom says peering at his receiver. “I’m getting a signal. No audio from Jerry, but he’s not far from here. We’re close to camp.” He looks to Susan. “Just try to enjoy Vietnam for the last day. Think – thirty years ago or so, this place was a potential bomb zone. But now, it’s so peaceful and beautiful, plus it’s a pretty cool country. Not temperature wise, but you know, Fonz cool.”
She chuckles. I have liked it here. She thinks back to the delicious street side pho in Hanoi and touring the museums and temples for a half day. She learned about Caodaism, a mix of Catholicism (introduced by the French colonists), Buddhism, and indigenous folk traditions.
They’re a world away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, though Susan enjoyed both the busy city and the now, the chattering of birds in the forest. The tropical rain opens her pores. The scent of the jungle’s flowers intoxicates.
“Jerry!” Tom calls out.
Jerry and Soonlee are walking toward them, a hundred yards outside the base camp.
“What happened to you guys?” Jerry says. “I went almost all the way down to the bottom and it was flooded. You look like all hell, but I’m glad you’re okay.”
“We are. It’s a miracle.”
Jerry’s temporary smile of relief fades to consternation, as he hands them bottles of water.
“I hope ya’ll don’t get too upset.”
“Why, what’s going on?” Susan asks.
“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” Jerry asks.
“Crud,” Tom says. “I don’t know. Normally, I’d say bad news, but I’m not sure how ‘bad’ bad is. So, shoot me the good news.”
“Well, you’ll probably still win that geoscientist award thingy. Between this find and the Hawaii research, you’re the top dog.”
“Tell me something I don’t know. So that’s the good news. Now, what’s the bad news?”
Susan watches Tom scratch at dollop of dried mud on his face. He’s so casual about everything and yet logical. He’s weighing the known good news and figuring the bad news is in equal measure and Jerry will tell him something minor, since Tom has been indifferent about the award.
Maybe there was a miscalculation in the doline depth recording. Perhaps there were more hidden caverns than they estimated or they didn’t consider the effect of the monsoon rains. These are all forgivable errors. But something is amiss with Jerry. His goofy grin has been obliterated and he’s never looked so serious in his life.
“Our data. Actually, your data and equipment…”
“Yeah, what about it?” Tom asks.
“It’s been stolen.”
“What? How? Who could have?”
“I don’t know, but it’s all gone. I’m so sorry.”
“Whoa…But how could you have known, Jer? We weren’t prepared for this.”
“Must have happened while I was distracted trying to rescue you guys. Those rip-offs probably cut off Susan’s rope too. It wasn’t any accident, man.”
Stunned, Susan and Tom look at each other. They’re speechless.
Reading the first three chapters will get you excited about purchasing this new adventure novel.
FAULT LINE – A Hawaii Volcano Adventure
“Geoscientist of the Year”
Six Months Later
Hyatt Regency Hotel
Los Angeles, CA
Wild and crazy…stupid and negligent…
Susan is never sure where to place the blame for their stolen laptops and files. They shouldn’t have explored the second doline. Jerry should never have left camp.
Fortunately, Tom had the older information saved on his home desktop. Still, what third party would want the data and how would they interpret it? Who would want the files?
Leaning in front of the hotel bathroom’s vanity, she applies her makeup. She applies glittering, light brown shadow to her eyelids and opens her eyes, standing, half-way dressed in a slip and flesh toned lace bra. She dusts her cheeks with bronzer, but the harsh fluorescent light makes her skin look pale.
“Ginger kid for life,” she sighs. A simple diamond necklace sparkles below her delicate collarbone. She puts on a sage green chiffon dress, pressing her hands down to smooth out any small wrinkles that the dry cleaner didn’t catch.
“Have you seen my purse, love?” She calls out.
“Right here next to my jacket,” Tom shouts back.
“Thanks.” Without glancing at him, she knows how he’s sitting in the living room. His feet are up on the Ottoman, tie askew, uncomfortable in tuxedo pants. He’s never been one for formality. He’d wear swim trunks and a worn out T-shirt every day if he could. He had spent too many years in Southern California.
They met there, at Caltech. She was a recent Oxford grad, finishing her post-doc. Years before, she had read Dr. Thomas Andrews’ articles in Geoscience Journal. One of the articles was on Cenozoic rock strata of the Tucson basin, the other on the volcanic basalt sea caves of Hawaii. To her, his research was expansive and fascinating, covering faraway iconic American subjects. Applying to and then attending Caltech were the most outrageous decisions of her life at that point.
“It’s a bit rash,” Susan’s mother said a few months prior to the departure.
“I agree. But it’s an incredible opportunity. I’m beyond lucky to be in this program.”
“Why can’t you just stay here? What’s wrong with studying in England?”
“Mum, please try to understand.”
“I never would want to impose upon you lovey. But California? There’s a reason they call it ‘the land of fruit and nuts.’ ”
“And some very incredible geological features. El Capitan, La Brea Tar Pits, San Andreas Fault. I’m not going to spend my life studying rock cairns in Lockerbie, okay?”
“What’s wrong with that?”
She mentioned Lockerbie as a joke, but clearly her Mother didn’t get it and there was no way that she could. She had worked in marketing at a flagship British department store. The Lowell descendants had never lived outside the U.K. They wasted away, gossiping on Sundays and perpetually drinking tea and being British in all the prescribed BBC show ways. Indeed, it was hideous.
So why not venture out and be a bit of a maverick?
Susan planned to return to England., but the moment she walked onto the Caltech campus with its sprawling green lawns and warm sunshine, she knew she wouldn’t leave.
During the summer before her teaching schedule started, she was invited to the Geology Department’s annual “Seismo Social” event where she would meet up with advisors and colleagues.
“I’m sure it will be a proverbial geek fest,” she joked to her housemate as she put on an eyelet summer dress. “There better be some wine.”
When she arrived at five p.m., it was way beyond her expectations. The organizers had set up large canvas tents on the quad, festooned with twinkling lights. They were prepared for a late evening. It was fully catered with a Mexican food theme, where caterers served shrimp enchiladas, massive mounds of nachos, “shaken” margaritas, and a frosted cranberry jello “Earthquake Cake,” stenciled with the words: SAN ANDREAS
After dinner, Susan waited in line for a piece of cake, slightly blinkered from a lime margarita. She watched the Geology faculty interact – some laughed uproariously, others huddled in small groups discussing their special interests. They were all so informal here in their faded cargo shorts, Hawaiian shirts or t-shirts, and surfer “flip-flops.”
Where was stodgy old Dr. Mortimer Ross in his tie and tweed jacket? Where were the lab coats and spectacles? How could anyone really take these young California scientists seriously? But they were the best of the best.
Spun out in thought, Susan didn’t see the looming figure behind her. Then he slid by, walking to the dessert table, essentially cutting her in line.
“Hey,” she called out.
The waiter cut a medium slice of cake and scooped it onto a plate designed with seismograph patterns. He reached over the rude cutter. “Here you go, Miss, lots of frosting for you.”
And then the cutter and Susan stepped toward each other. Whoosh – plop! The collision of cake. The gelatinous, dyed frosting covered her dress from chest to hips.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” he sputtered.
She glanced up to him. Oh my gosh was right. She couldn’t help staring. As he tried to suppress a chuckle, his dark, wavy hair bobbed up and down in a spastic motion. Stubble dotted his face. There was a quivering dimple in his left cheek and a movie star cleft in his chin. He was gorgeous. A clumsy slob, yes, but handsome.
“Here, I’ll help you clean up.” He leaned forward with a napkin to swipe her front side.
“No, it might smear. I’m fine. I’ll just go to the ladies’ room.”
“Ok, Susan. McCarthy.” He winked as the wafts of sweet frosting proliferated the air between them.
“How do you know my – oh, yeah, the name tag,” she said, fumbling to regain her composure. “Amazing, it was spared from the recent seismic activity.”
“Ha, nice.” The stranger extended his hand. “I’m not one for name tags. I’m Tom Andrews.”
“You’re Dr. Thomas Andrews? Of the Hawaiian cave and lava tube research? The Southeast Asia explorations?”
“Among other things.”
“I am a huge fan! I’ve read your articles for years.” She reached out to shake Tom’s hand.
“Glad to hear that, since you know, we’ll be working together.”
She blushed. It almost wasn’t fair that such an attractive man was also a brilliant researcher and writer. His smile spread, to reveal full lips and perfect, white teeth as his eyes glimmered in the late afternoon sun.
Indigo blue eyes, like nothing she had ever seen.
And in those eyes, there was sheer joy and playfulness, but a sense of depth too. Right away she knew he was a bit wild. She couldn’t help but think, You, Dr. Andrews, are the one I’ve been waiting for…
Now, after twelve years together (five dating, seven married), she feels as though she is still waiting, waiting for him to grow the heck up. Is it his charm that allows her to forgive him for the terrible domestic hab18 its? He eats in bed and loses things. He never unloads the dishwasher or picks up after himself and it seems all right to him to let the bills pile up in a tower.
When she walks into the hotel living room she sees heaps of towels on the floor and the foot drying mat strewn across the couch. The TV hums along, but Tom’s not watching it. He faces away, sitting on a bar stool, with Thor Heyerdahl’s Kontiki in his lap. Lately, he’s been on a kick of re-reading his favorite books from childhood.
“You ready?” She asks, grabbing her purse.
“Just a sec.” His eyes skim the book’s text, while his cell phone sits in the crook of his neck. Of course multi-taking is most fervent when they’re getting ready to go somewhere. He says a quick good-bye into the phone and turns to Susan.
She stares at him. “You’ve been waiting for me all this time and your shoes are still not on. Who was that on the phone?” She says.
“What does she want?”
“Nothing really. She just wants to hear about this trip, I guess. I’ll be ready in a jiff.”
“Can’t we do anything without her knowledge?”
“She’s excited for me and the award.” He strolls over to the couch where his shoes lay and he puts them on as he gazes at the TV.
“The man of honor shouldn’t be late, Mr. Geoscientist of the Year.”
“Doctor Geoscientist of the Year. But that’s besides the point. Tonight he’s escorting the most beautiful woman in the known universe,” he says grinning like the Cheshire-cat.
“Classic. Dr. Charmer.”
He stands up and leaps toward her for a hug.
“Me shoes are tied, milady!”
“It might be funnier if you tripped over the laces.”
“You want the Stooges foreplay routine, huh?”
“Oh, good lord, no…” She sighs. “What are we going to do with that bow-tie? It’s all askew.”
She leans back to adjust the tie and straighten his cummerbund. It’s definitely a step-up from the flip-flop days. She straightens her dress.
“So, do you still think I’m the most beautiful woman in the universe?”
He nods. “Absolutely.”
“But Doctor Andrews, there are over ten billion galaxies in the known universe and our galaxy alone has at least a hundred billion stars in it. So far, we’ve only examined a few star systems in comparison. So, based on those irrefutable facts, how can you be one-hundred percent certain?”
“Well, I’ve done some intense, first-hand research. With up-close, personal attention and knowledge of the field.” His smile widens as he runs his hands over her bottom.
She fidgets. “That tickles! Thank you darling. But if you don’t hurry, you’ll be late for your own awards ceremony.”
On the TV screen behind them, the news report airs a video of young Koreans rioting in the streets of Seoul. Firing tear gas, the police chase them. Other images show the police beating students with clubs. Plumes of fire consume cars and buildings. Over it all, a newscaster drones on about the mayhem –
“The government is in disarray as the riots in South Korea continue and begin to turn deadly. Soldiers, students, and various workers have united in their demands, rumored to be instigated by a new political party, known as the Korean Unification Front, possibly backed with funding from the North Korean government and perhaps other unknown support.”
Tom watches and pauses, listening to the TV reporter.
The newscaster continues, “Outside U.S. military bases, the protests have become violent, but the U.S. government still refuses to…”
Susan grabs the remote and turns the TV off.
“Hey, I was watching that,” Tom blurts out.
She registers his miffed look. “We need to go…”
“I’m just trying to stay a little informed about the world. You’re the one who wants me to move beyond geology obsessions.”
“Did I say that? All right, there are strange happenings in Korea, but we can’t make it less crazy. I’m tired of hearing about government this and that.”
“I did agree I wouldn’t take on any more government contract, unless it’s Hawaii related.”
“Hawaii is the compromise, yes. Remember we could have died on that last Vietnam expedition.”
“And an earthquake could hit this hotel.”
“Thomas, we could worry about an infinite number of things. I know where you could start.”
“Down at your feet.”
He follows her eyes to the towels on the floor.
“Oh yeah,” he says. “Sorry about that.”
Chagrined, Tom picks them up and carries the pile outside to the balcony, where he hangs the towels on the chairs. He places a hand on the railing of their fifth-story hotel room. The air is dry, but nothing like their home in Arizona. “For such a fancy hotel, it’s a lousy view of a parking lot…and a dirty, overrated city,” he grumbles.
The city is a sea of incandescent lights, traffic, and miniaturelooking people. Ficus and jacaranda battle for breathing room within the cracked cement sidewalks. Venus, the morning star, twinkles in spite of the omnipresent smog.
He steps back inside. “L.A. isn’t really my style,” he says. “But you already knew that.” He walks toward her. “Fantastic foxy lady – are you ready for dinner now?”
“Aye, aye captain. Lead the way,” she says, taking his arm.
He whisks her through the room and out to the foyer. Her dress lightly grazes the marble hallway floor while she catches a glimpse of their reflections in the elevator’s mirrored doors. We do clean up well, she thinks. When they step into the elevator, she senses his nervousness.
“Worried about the ceremony?” she says, pressing down on the Lobby button.
“No, I’m thinking about the Homeland Security and NSA nonsense. They advised me not to publish my findings on the susceptibility of trigger points in Kilauea’s fault zones and sub-surfaces. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“The government doesn’t make sense, but I suspect they have their reasons.”
“A credible threat shouldn’t be about politics. They’re frickin’ fools. My Big Island data provides more than enough evidence to warrant the preventative measures that I suggested.”
She nods in agreement. The elevator dings and the door slides open, revealing a hall crowded with formally dressed employees directing academics and guests into the banquet room.
The host spies them walking out of the elevator and his eyes light up. “Dr. Andrews!”
“We’ve been spotted,” Tom says.
“Isn’t that the idea?” Susan says.
The host guides them into the ballroom while guests stop to greet Tom. He shakes their hands and looks back to Susan with raised eyebrows as though to say – “Nice people, but I have no idea who they are.”
He’s too uncomfortable to ask for their names. The host directs Tom and Susan into the lavish banquet room. Tom scans the international crowd of academics, specialists, and dignitaries. Susan marvels at the intricate, sparkling chandeliers suspended from the ceiling. Women parade in designer dresses. The men wear tuxedos. It’s a far cry from field uniforms of Carhart pants and work boots.
“Definitely more people here than I’d thought there’d be,” Tom says. “I was figuring this would be more of a ‘secret society’ type meeting.”
“It’s quite the hobnobbing scene,” Susan answers. “And all for you.”
“So they tell me. Maybe we should get a drink first. I think I see Dr. Haverford, but -”
Before Tom says another word, a swarm of reporters shove their way through the crowd. “Dr. Andrews, I have a question for you,” one says. Another reporter unceremoniously pushes his way in. “Dr. Andrews, a word please?”
Looking over his shoulder, Tom says to his wife, “Hold that thought honey, I’ll find you at our table. Wherever that is.”
The reporters sweep Tom away.
Susan lingers a moment, observing the elaborate tropical flower arrangements on each table. Young women servers, of various ethnicities, but all thin and pretty, sashay through the crowd maze, offering appetizers.
Geo-scientists hold conversations throughout the room, some arguing furiously in corners, others grinning in efforts to gain favor with a superior. A few people look as awkward and alone as she does.
Perhaps it’s the nature of the field. She recalls introverted James Hutton, “the father of modern geology.” Born in 1726, alive at the height of the Enlightenment, he dedicated his life to understanding erosion and sedimentation. He originated the theory of uniformitarianism, in that the Earth formed by natural processes over geological time.
In the Scottish Highlands, Hutton discovered that granite was formed from the cooling of molten rock, not from precipitation as was hypothesized. At the Sicar Point sea cliffs, he observed ripple marks, confirming his proposal that the rock beds had been laid horizontally in water. He theorized that there were cycles of deposition, uplift, and erosion with the thickness of the rock indicating that it was a slow process over thousands of years. Since then, further observations, qualitative, and quantitative data confirmed Hutton’s theories.
The Godfather of Geology spent years alone. He never married. Today, even with 21stst century technology and networking within the field, geologists spend every waking hour in study. Few people outside of the academic sphere can understand that level of commitment. Susan was like that herself. Tom was a focused intellectual and yet he had an extroverted personality, too. He could talk to anyone. He could speak in public, in a manner that was both eloquent and relatable. And it didn’t hurt that he looked like a model.
Tom Andrews, GQ Geologist. Now there’s a headline for you, reporters.
She chuckles to herself, ready for a glass of wine. A lithe, honeyhaired server walks by carrying a tray of champagne glasses, but she ignores Susan.
She taps the girl’s shoulder. “Excuse me.”
The girl spins around and stares blankly like a googly-eyed Pomeranian.
“Yes, I’ll have one of those, thank-you-very-kindly,” Susan says in a mock-Audrey Hepburn accent. Sometimes you have to kill them with graciousness. Young, pretty idiots.
She scoops up two glasses and immediately downs one. The rose champagne bubbles dance on her tongue and fizzle down her throat. She sets one champagne flute on the server’s tray and wanders over to the assigned table.
She’s happy to see the familiar face of Dr. John Haverford, a mentor at Caltech, sitting at the table. They shake hands. He asks her what courses she’s taught at Tucson (Stratigraphy and Sedimentation, Environmental History of the Southwest). She asks him about his recent studies.
“You think Tom will ever show up?” Dr. Haverford asks, laughing. “Quite the schmoozer.”
She squints at the table placards: Dr. Thomas Andrews and then Susan Andrews. Just Susan Andrews, no professional title of McCarthy, no hyphenated name. I earned a doctorate, too. The nerve! Nearly seven years of graduate study – analyzing, writing, researching, processing micro-paleontological samples and she’s just a tag-along to Tom.
I gave up a job in California, potentially a career, to follow that nutty man to the Sonoran Desert. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t work my ass off!
Inspecting her glass, Susan signals a passing server for a top-off and takes a seat, turning her attention to the stage. After ten minutes of introductions, followed by “thank yous” and “wish you wells,” Tom takes the stage as the audience claps.
He stands at the podium and accepts the much-coveted plaque and grant for $10,000. It’s something to be proud of for sure. He deserves it. He turns to face the audience, beaming and reveling in the excitement, like the crazy kid asked to “be on your best behavior.” Above him, a banner reads:
U.S. Geological Society
Geoscientist of the Year
Stepping up to the microphone he leans forward to address the crowd. “Good evening, friends and fellow colleagues, I’m going to keep this brief and meaningful. I’d like to thank some very special people who have made this incredible journey possible. To Dr. Hans Mueller of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory and to Dr. Tan Yamasaki at Mount Fuji, you two will always have my undying gratitude. Such incredible mentors since day one. And for the one person I owe my entire career to…”
Susan sets her glass down and starts to rise, expectant. This is it. A moment of recognition. Finally, a taste of acknowledgment.
“My dear mother, Mrs. Genevieve Andrews.”
Susan’s shoulders collapse as Tom continues talking. “She can’t be here today, I wish she was, but without a doubt she’s the one woman who made me who I am. Since early childhood she always encouraged me in all my scientific endeavors. Thank you, Mom. And thank you ladies and gentlemen.”
With a frozen stare on her face, Susan looks down, disappointed. As the applause washes over her in a nauseous swell, she notices her glass is almost empty. She downs the rest of the champagne.
This calls for a third glass.