Shane West held the flamethrower, stunned when he realized he wasn't alone. He'd come to the deserted beach to make his stand. His teachers were always saying he wasn't working up to potential, but this was just a different kind of potential.
Two girls rode by on their bikes just then-perfect but terrible timing. He recognized Mickey Halloran as she turned to stare at him, saw the fire. She looked panicked, and she must have thought he needed help, because suddenly she came charging at him on her bike. He tried to gesture "go away," but she flew at him like a two-wheeled missile, and he had to admire her for it. He knew single-minded purpose when he saw it. But just then she went into a skid and took a header over her handlebars.
Dousing the fire in a sand dune, he ran across the road, as the other girl-Jenna Carlson, he thought-jumped off her bike, ran back, and dropped to her knees next to Mickey. Shane pushed past her and crouched, leaning over to look into Mickey's eyes. He had never talked to her, but he'd noticed her around school. Her face was pretty, pale, lightly freckled; her enormous eyes were light green. Two long brown braids hung from beneath her dark blue knit cap. He could tell in one glance that it wasn't good. She had hit her head when she landed, and blood was pooling on the pavement. But her eyes were still open.
"Mickey, why'd you turn like that? Oh God!" Jenna was crying, almost hysterical.
"Don't move," Shane said to Mickey.
"They're going to move the U-boat," she said. "And they're acting like it's a public service." Her lips were blue; Shane knew she might be going into shock.
"Not if I can help it," he said.
"You were on fire," she said.
"Shhh," he said. "Pretend you didn't see that."
Her eyes rolled back, and her eyelids flickered.
"Whoa," he said, panicking. His heart accelerated, full blast. He hadn't been there for his father, but he was here now. Back then, things had gone so wrong. This time he'd make sure they went right. He stared down at the girl. They were in the same class, but different crowds. "No going to sleep. Talk to me. Your name's Mickey, right?"
"Yes, that's her name," the friend said. "And I'm Jenna, and she's right, you were holding fire in your hand. What was that?"
"Mickey, hey," Shane said, ignoring her friend. "Stay with me here. Dismantling the U-boat, taking it away? Changing the surf, and the way the beach is formed? How badly would that suck? Mickey?"
"Terrible," she said, coming back from the brink, those green eyes bright again, full of life. "Can't happen. The birds . . . snowy owl . . . need the beach the way it is . . ."
"Yeah," Shane said, thinking how sweet she looked, seeing how hard she was trying to stay alert. "And surfers need that U-boat. Birds and surfers. Fly by air, fly by sea. Come on, Mickey. Stay awake." He looked up at her friend. "We have to get her an ambulance."
"Where? How?" Jenna asked, starting to cry again. She might not know exactly what was wrong with Mickey, but she could see the blood, and like Shane she knew it was bad. She was willowy and blond, and Shane took note of her pretty powder-puff looks and hoped she could be tough right now. "We're five miles from the main road, and cell phones don't work down here," she said.
Shane had come the back way, through the frozen bog. His car was broken down, and he had no money to fix it. His mother was out of town, so he couldn't borrow hers. Besides, cars left tire marks, and any idiot with a TV had seen enough forensics shows to know that treads could be traced. So he'd fit everything he needed into his pockets, carried the rest, and come to do what needed to be done.
"I'll run for help," he said, peeling off his parka. It was old, patched in places by silver duct tape. "You keep her awake and talking no matter what-you hear me?"
"Yes," Jenna said.
"Don't move her," he said. "Not even an inch."
Mickey was trembling. As he tucked his coat around her, careful not to jostle her, Shane touched her face; it was ice cold. She gazed up at him as if he was some kind of savior. The look in her eyes caught him like a fishhook because he knew he held her life in his hands.
"Does it hurt?" he asked.
Her mouth moved, but no sound came out.
"Think of that snowy owl," he said. "Just stay wide awake, and wish, and the owl will fly overhead. Just keep your eyes open so you don't miss it."
"You saw it?" Mickey managed to whisper.
"Of course," Shane said, staring into Mickey's green eyes. "Every time I surf. It's been here all winter." Then, to her friend, "Remember what I said-keep her awake."
"Okay. Hurry!" Jenna said.
Shane jumped up. "Watch for the owl," he said to Mickey, and then took off running. In another phase of his life, he'd been on the track team. His event had been the hundred-yard dash, but he wasn't a bad distance runner. Right now, although he had five miles to cover before reaching the state road, he ran as if it were a sprint-flat out, as fast as he could go.
He'd been young when his father had died, but if he could have run for help like now, he would have. Today, he knew failure was not an option. Surfing all winter, powering through the Atlantic cross-chop, kept him lean and mean, and he used the look in Mickey's eyes to make him run faster than he ever had.
He headed up the road, the dunes at his right. The thicket had thinned out here, and an icy wind blew full force off the ocean. Sand had drifted right onto the pavement; he saw the drifty remains of the girls' bike tire marks and admired them for riding down here on such a day. Hardly anyone loved this remote winter beach the way he did, not even most of his surfing buddies. They went for easy access, at the town beach. Mickey had mentioned the snowy owl. Was the bird the reason she'd come all the way out here in twenty-degree weather?
When he got to the ranger station, his stomach tightened. This wasn't going to be pretty. He saw O'Casey's green truck parked outside the low one-story building. Painted gray-blue, the color of the February sea, the ranger station blended into the sea and sky, into the beach itself.
Shane tore up the steps, into the office. O'Casey sat at his desk, dressed in his khaki uniform, glancing up over his reading glasses, looking just like the hard-ass authority figure that he was. Ex-Marine, people said. Shane wouldn't be surprised, and he thought of his mother down at Camp Lejeune. Jerks. Standing there, not wanting the ranger to see how out of breath he was, Shane glared down. He watched O'Casey tense up, his hand inching toward the desk drawer. Did he keep a sidearm in there? Jesus Christ, Semper Fi
"What brings you back here?" O'Casey asked.
"Call 911," Shane said to his old enemy.
"What are you talking about?"
"There's a hurt girl," Shane said. "Hurry up."
All at once the ranger was on his feet. One hand reaching for the radio-static cracking, the police dispatcher taking the information as Shane relayed it: "Injured girl, bike wipeout, Beach Road, mile marker 3, near the jetty"-other hand grabbing his jacket, a bulky green government-issue job, just about as beat-up as the one Shane had left covering Mickey.
In that second, registering that Shane didn't have a coat, O'Casey thrust his at him. Shane refused to take it. He backed toward the door, hating to stand by the ranger. At six foot four, O'Casey towered over him. His shoulders were huge, but he somehow managed to look fit and trim for an old guy. His skin was weathered and lined, his hair nearly all gray. The way his eyes looked behind those reading glasses: like he'd spent most of his life either in battle or looking for one. That look sent a shiver down Shane's spine.
Locking the door behind him, O'Casey followed Shane down the steps. They climbed into the beach truck. The bench seat was cluttered up with coiled lines, binoculars, gnarly old leather gloves, and a printer's box of new Refuge Beach brochures-ready for next summer.
"What's that smell?" O'Casey asked as he backed out of the sandy lot.
Shane knew he reeked of kerosene, but he just stayed silent, staring at O'Casey. It was a combination of disbelief and dare: disbelief the ranger could ask that when a girl was lying hurt in the road up ahead, and daring him to figure out what Shane was planning next.
"You're on probation," O'Casey said. "As far as I'm concerned, they should have taken your board away."
"Just for surfing the tail end of a hurricane?" Shane asked.
"Try thinking about the rescue workers who would have had to go in after you," O'Casey said, and that shut Shane right up. He felt himself go red, as if he'd suddenly gotten a sunburn. "Mile marker 3, you said?" the ranger asked, staring down the road.
"Right there!" Shane said, pointing.
But everything was different than he'd left it. The road was empty: the broken bike had been hauled off to the side, and Mickey and Jenna sat huddled together under Shane's jacket. Shane wasn't sure he'd ever felt this relieved: she wasn't paralyzed.
Jumping out of the truck, Shane ran to her. Her brown braids and the side of her face were streaked with blood from a scrape along her hairline. Her face was nearly blue-white, and she cradled her right arm with her left hand. At the sight of Shane-or maybe the ranger-she began to cry like a very little girl.
"Let me see, sweetheart," O'Casey said, crouching down beside her, first-aid kit tucked under his elbow, tenderly pushing her hair back to see the wound. He must have jostled her arm, because she moaned in pain.
"Hey, watch it," Shane said. "Can't you see she has a broken arm?"
"Is that right?" O'Casey asked.
"My wrist, I think," she said.
"It's just hanging there, limp!" her friend said. "She can't even move it!"
Mickey pulled back Shane's jacket so O'Casey could see. Shane noticed that she'd bled all over the nylon, and he felt glad he'd been able to keep her warm. She wasn't in shock, and she was sitting upright: two great signs.
"I moved," she said, looking up at Shane.
"As long as you did it yourself, it's okay," he said, looking into her green eyes. "It's when other people move you that it can be a problem."
O'Casey had the first-aid kit open now. He eased Shane out of the way, pressed gauze to the still-bleeding wound on Mickey's head. Shane watched the way he stared steadily into Mickey's eyes as he gently applied more pressure. Mickey gazed up at the ranger as if he were her father, or the best doctor in the world. The trust in her eyes did something inside to Shane, made his heart tumble over, like a stone falling off a cliff.
"Can we get out of here?" Jenna asked. "It's freezing, and we have to get Mickey to the emergency room."
"We'll take her there right now," O'Casey said, and when they looked up the road, they saw the convoy: an ambulance and two cop cars.
"I don't need them," Mickey said, panic in her eyes. Shane wasn't sure whether she meant the ambulance or the police.
Two officers and the EMTs walked over. One of the policemen gazed down with recognition. Shane's stomach flipped, but the cop wasn't looking at him-he was staring at Mickey.
"Hello there," he said to her. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she whispered.
Shane concentrated on the spark in her eyes. He wanted to put his arm around her, help her into the ambulance. Were they just going to let her sit here on the cold ground?
The EMTs began doing their thing, with O'Casey giving them his take on her head wound and broken wrist. Suddenly they had her up and into the ambulance; they wrapped her in blankets and handed Shane his jacket back. Jenna was led to a squad car, their bikes loaded into the back of O'Casey's truck. The ranger said something to the second cop. Shane saw their eyes flick over to him.
His blood was on fire. He knew he should run-start now and never stop until he got to California. There were places to surf out there that made the waves here look like they belonged in a bathtub. He could find his dad's friends, and they'd hide him in dune shacks till he was older and grayer than O'Casey.
But he had a mission here on this beach, and he had to say one last thing to Mickey. Make her a promise that would help her get well fast. Something made him know that was necessary-the fear in her eyes was too familiar to him to let her just drive away without speaking to her.
He pushed past the EMTs, crawled right into the ambulance. She was already strapped onto a stretcher, orange straps tight across her chest. She was staring at him, eyes focused on his jacket.
"I bled on your jacket," she said. "I'm sorry."
"That's okay," he said. "It'll remind me . . ."
"Of what?" she asked.
"Of the owl," he said.
"The snowy owl . . ."
"I won't let them chase it away," he said. "If it's the last thing I do."
"Thank you," she whispered.
Shane touched her face, and then he felt himself being hauled out from behind. The ambulance rear door was slammed shut, but he could still see her face through the window as the vehicle began pulling away. She'd seemed really shy when he'd seen her around school. And Shane had stayed back in grammar school-he'd had "adjustment problems" that they attributed to his father's death. Whatever the reason, it had always made him feel like an outsider and he'd never approached her.
"The last thing you do," one of the cops said. "Interesting choice of words."
"Ranger O'Casey told us he smelled kerosene on you," the other cop said. "So we looked around and found these." He held up the Nerf pump-action ball launcher. Unfortunately, Shane had already soaked the Nerf in kerosene-he'd been seconds away from applying flame when Mickey had had her wipeout.
"Yeah, what about it?" Shane asked.
"You think acting like a moron, destroying Cole Landry's heavy equipment, is really the best way to stop them from dismantling the U-boat?" O'Casey asked.
"What's a surf slacker care about that?" Cop Number One asked. "It's just a tin can full of dead krauts."
Shane opened his mouth to let loose on him, tell him that the sunken U-boat was responsible for the most reliable swells on this stretch of shore, that its length, and the height of its conning tower, and the periscope and every other bit of barnacle-encrusted metal, caused a vortex, pulling so much water from below, creating waves that moved straight and fast, folding back on themselves and erupting in terrible, elegant explosions craved by surfers everywhere.
But O'Casey beat him to it.
"It's a grave, Officer," O'Casey said.
"It's not a 'tin can,' " O'Casey said. "It's U-823, and there are fifty-five dead men aboard."
"Hey, Tim-your father's Joe O'Casey, right?" the other cop asked.
Ranger O'Casey nodded, and nothing more was said. Even with his jacket back on, Shane was freezing. He tried to hold the shivers inside, under his skin, so the cops and O'Casey wouldn't see. Not that the cops cared. One of them pulled out handcuffs, yanked his hands behind his back.
"You're under arrest," he said. "For the unlawful use of hazardous materials, destruction of property, and we'll see what else. You have the right to remain silent . . ."
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Edge of Winter by Luanne Rice. Copyright © 2007 by Luanne Rice. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.