Among the crowded beaches in the state of Hawaii, it is still possible to discover a stretch of sand that offers a degree of solitude. Kaena Point, jutting out into the Kauai Channel like a boxer's left jab, is one of the few unadvertised spots where onecan relax and enjoy an empty shore. It is a beautiful beach, but it is also deceptive. Too often its shores are whipped by rip currents extremely dangerous to all but the most wary swimmers. Each year, as if predestined by a morbid schedule, an unidentifiedbather, intrigued by the lonely sandy strand and the gentle surf, enters the water and within minutes is swept out to sea.
On this beach a six-foot-three-inch deeply suntanned man, clad in brief white bathing trunks, lay stretched on a bamboo beach mat. The hairy, barrel chest that rose slightly with each intake of air, bore specks of sweat that rolled downward in snailliketrails and mingled with the sand. The arm that passed over the eyes shielding them from the strong rays of the tropical sun, was muscular but without the exaggerated bulges generally associated with iron pumpers. The hair was black and thick and shaggy, andit fell halfway down a forehead that merged into a hard-featured but friendly face.
Dirk Pitt stirred from a semisleep and, raising himself up on his elbows, stared from deep green glistening eyes at the sea. Pitt was not a casual sun worshipper; to him, the beach was a living, moving thing, changing shape and personality under the constantonslaught of the wind and waves. He studied the swells as they rolled in from their storm-rocked birthplace thousands of miles at sea, rising and increasing their velocity when their troughs felt the shallow bottom. Changing from swell to breaker, they rosehigher and higher--eight feet, Pitt judged--from trough to crest before they toppled and broke, pounding themselves into a thundering mass of foam and spray. Then they died in small, swirling eddies at the tideline. Suddenly Pitt's eyes were attracted by a flash of color beyond the breakers, about three hundred feet from the shoreline. It was gone in an instant, lost behind a wave crest. Pitt kept gazing with intent curiosity at the spot where the color was last visible.After the next wave rose and crested, he could see it again gleaming in the sun. The shape was undistinguishable at that distance, but there was no mistaking the bright fluorescent yellow glint.
The smart move, Pitt deduced, would be to simply lay there and let the force of the surf bring the unknown object to him; but he pushed sound judgment from his mind, rolled to his feet, and walked slowly into the surf. When the water rose above his knees,he arched his body and dove under an approaching breaker, timing it so that he only felt the surge crash over his kicking feet. The water felt as heated as a tepid hotel room bath; the temperature was somewhere between seventy-five and seventy-eight degrees.As soon as his head cleared the surface, he began to stroke through the swirling foam, swimming easily, allowing the force of the current to carry him into deeper water.
After several minutes, he stopped and treaded water, searching for a hint of yellow. He spotted it twenty yards to his left. He kept his eyes keyed on the strange piece of flotsam as he narrowed the gap, only losing sight of it momentarily when it droppedin the advancing troughs. Sensing that the current was pulling him too far to his right, he compensated his angle and slowly increased his strokes to avoid the dangerous threat of exhaustion.
Then he reached out and his fingers touched a slick, cylindrical surface about two feet long, and eight inches wide, and weighing less than six pounds. Encasing the object was a yellow waterproof plastic material with U.S. Navy printed in block letterson both ends. Pitt locked his arms around it, relaxed his body, and surveyed his now precarious position some distance beyond the surf.
He scanned the beach, searching for someone who might have seen him enter the water, but the sand was empty for miles in either direction. Pitt didn't bother to examine the steep cliffs behind the shore; it was hopeless to expect anyone to be scaling therocky slopes in the middle of the week.
He wondered why he took such a stupid and fool-hardy risk. The mysterious yellow flotsam had given him an excuse to dare the odds, and once started, it never occurred to him to turn back. Now the merciless sea held him securely.
For a brief moment he considered trying to swim in a straight line back to shore. But only for a brief moment. Mark Spitz might have made it, but Pitt felt certain he'd never have won all those gold medals at the Olympics while smoking a pack of cigarettesa day and consuming several shots of Cutty Sark Scotch every evening. Pitt decided to concentrate instead on beating Mother Nature at her own game. Pitt was an old hand at rip currents and undertows; he had bodysurfed for years and knew their every trick. A man could be swept out to sea from one section of the shore, while a hundred yards away children cavorted in the diminishing waves without noticingthe slightest tug from the current. The unrelenting force of a rip current occurs when the longshore flow returns to the sea through narrow, storm-grooved valleys in offshore sandbars. Here the incoming surf changes direction and heads away from land, oftenas rapidly as four miles an hour. Now the current had nearly expended itself, and Pitt was certain he had but to swim parallel to the shoreline until he was out of the sandbars, and then head in at a different point along the beach.
The menace of sharks was his only worry. The sea's murder machines didn't always signal their presence with a water-slicing fin. They could easily attack from beneath with no warning, and without a face mask Pitt would never know when the slashing bitewas coming, or from what direction. He could only hope to reach the safety of the surf before he was placed on the menu for lunch. Sharks, he knew, seldom ventured close to shore because the swirling turbulence of heavy wave action forced sand through theirgills; this discouraged all but the hungriest from a handy meal.
There was no thought of conserving his energy now; he struggled through the water as if every man-eater in the Pacific Ocean was on his tail. It took nearly fifteen minutes of vigorous swimming before the first wave nudged him toward the beach. Nine morebreakers marched by; the tenth caught the buoyancy of the cylinder and held it, carrying Pitt to within twelve feet of the tideline. The instant his knees touched sand again, he rose drunkenly like an exhausted shipwrecked sailor and staggered out of the water,dragging his prize behind him. Then he dropped thankfully onto the sun-warmed sand.
Wearily, Pitt turned his attention to the cylinder. Underneath the plastic covering was an unusual aluminum canister. The sides were ribbed with several small rods that resembled miniature railroad tracks. One end held a screw cap, so Pitt began twisting,intrigued by the great number of revolutions, before it finally dropped off in his hand. Inside was a tight roll of several papers, nothing else. He gently eased them into the daylight and began studying the hand-written manuscript exactingly penned among titledcolumns and lines.
As he read over the pages, an ice-chill hand touched his skin, and in spite of the ninety-degree heat, goose-flesh broke out over his body. More than once he tried to draw his eyes away from the pages, but was stunned by the enormity of what he held inhis hands.
Pitt sat and gazed vacantly out over the ocean for a full ten minutes after he read the last sentence in the document. It ended with a name: Admiral Leigh Hunter. Then, very slowly, Pitt gently inserted the papers back in the cylinder, screwed on the cap,and carefully rewrapped the yellow cover.
An eerie, unearthly blanket of silence had fallen over Kaena Point. As the breakers rolled in, their roar somehow seemed muted. He stood and brushed off the sand from his wet body, packed the cylinder under his arm, and began jogging up the beach. Whenhe reached his mat, he quickly wound it around the object in his hands. Then he hurried up the pathway leading to the road alongside the beach.
The bright red AC Ford Cobra sat forlornly on the road. Pitt wasted no time. He threw his cargo on the passenger's seat and moved rapidly behind the steering wheel, his hand, fumbling with the ignition key.
He swung onto Highway 99, passing through Waialua and heading up the long grade that ran next to the picturesque and usually dry Kaukomahua Stream. After the Schofield Barracks Military Reservation disappeared behind the rearview mirror, Pitt took theturnoff below Wahiawa and headed at high speed toward Pearl City, completely ignoring the threat of a wandering state highway patrolman.
The Koolau Range rose on his left, with its peaks buried underneath perpetual dark rolling rainclouds. Alongside of them the neat, green pineapple fields spread in vivid contrast against the rich, red volcanic soil. Pitt met a sudden rainstorm and automaticallyturned on the wipers.
At last the main gate at Pearl Harbor came into view. Pitt slowed the car as a uniformed guard came out of the office. Pitt pulled out his driver's license and his identification papers from his wallet, and signed the visitors' logbook. The young marinesimply saluted and waved Pitt through.
Pitt then asked the guard for directions to Admiral Hunter's headquarters. The marine pulled a pad and pencil from his breast pocket and politely drew a map which he handed to Pitt. He saluted once more.
Pitt pulled up and stopped in front of an inconspicuous concrete building near the dock area. He would have passed it but for a small, neatly stenciled sign that read: headquarters, 101st salvage fleet. He turned off the ignition, picked up the damp package,and left the car. Passing through the entrance, Pitt mentally wished he'd had the foresight to carry a sport shirt and a pair of slacks with him to the beach. He stepped to a desk where a seaman in the Navy summer white uniform mechanically punched a typewriter.A sign on the desk read: Seaman G. Yager. "Excuse me," Pitt murmured self-consciously. "I'd like to see Admiral Hunter." The typist looked up casually, then his eyes almost burst from their sockets.
"My God, buddy, are you off your gourd? What are you trying to pull, coming here wearing nothing but a bathing suit? If the old man catches you, you're dead. Now beat it quick or you'll wind up in the brig."
"I know I'm not dressed for an afternoon social," Pitt spoke quietly and pleasantly, "but it's damned urgent that I see the admiral."
The seaman rose from the desk, his face turning red. "Stop clowning around," he said loudly. "Either you go back to your quarters and sleep it off, or I'll call the Shore Patrol."
"Then call them!" Pitt's voice was suddenly sharp.
"Look, buddy," the seaman's tone became one of controlled irritation. "Do yourself a favor. Go back to your ship and make a formal request to see the admiral through the chain of command."
"That won't be necessary, Yager." The voice behind them carried the finesse of a bulldozer scraping a cement highway.
Pitt turned and found himself locking eyes with a tall wizened man standing stiffly within an inner office doorway. He was dressed in white from collar to shoes and trimmed in gold braid beginning at the arms and working up to the rank boards on the shoulders.The hair was bushy and white, very nearly matching the tired cadaverous face beneath. Only the eyes seemed alive, and they glared curiously at the canister in Pitt's hand.
"I'm Admiral Hunter, and I'll give you just five minutes, big boy, so you better make it worth my while. And bring that object with you," he said, pointing to the canister.
"Yes sir," was all Pitt could reply.
Hunter had already spun and was striding into his office. Pitt followed, and if he wasn't embarrassed before he stepped into the admiral's office, there was no doubt of his discomfort now that he was inside. There were three other naval officers besidesHunter seated around an ancient, immaculately polished conference table. Their faces registered astonishment at the sight of Pitt standing half naked with the strange-looking package under one arm.
Hunter routinely made the introductions, but Pitt wasn't fooled by the phony courtesy; the admiral was trying to frighten him with rank while studying Pitt's eyes for a reaction. Pitt learned that the tall, blond lieutenant commander with the John Kennedyface was Paul Boland, the 101st Fleet's Executive Officer. The heavyset captain, who was perspiring profusely, possessed the odd name of Orl Cinana, the officer in command of Hunter's small fleet of salvage ships. The short, almost gnomelike creature, who hurriedover and pumped Pitt's hand, introduced himself as Commander Burdette Denver, aide to the admiral. He stared at Pitt, as if trying to remember his face.
"Okay, big boy." That term again. Pitt would have given a month's pay to ram his knuckles against Hunter's teeth. Hunter's voice oozed with sarcasm. "Now if you will be so kind as to tell us who you are and what this interruption is all about, we willall be eternally grateful."
"You're pretty rude for someone anxious to know why I'm carrying this canister," Pitt answered, settling his long body comfortably in a vacant chair, waiting for a reaction.
Cinana glared across the table, his face twisted in a clouded mask of malevolence. "You scum! How dare you come in here and insult an officer!"
"The man's insane," snapped Boland. He leaned toward Pitt, his expression cold and taut. He added, "You stupid bastard; do you know who you're talking to?"
"Since we've all been introduced," Pitt said casually, "the answer is a qualified yes."
Cinana's sweaty fist slammed to the table. "The Shore Patrol, by God. I'll have Yager call the Shore Patrol and throw him in the brig."
Hunter struck a light to a long cigarette, flipped the match at an ashtray, missing it by six inches, and stared at Pitt thoughtfully. "You leave me no choice, big boy." He turned to Boland. "Commander, ask Seaman Yager to call the Shore Patrol."
"I wouldn't, Admiral." Denver rose from his chair, recognition flooding his face. "This man some of you have referred to as filth and a bastard and wish to cast into chains, is indeed Dirk Pitt, who happens to be the Special Projects Director of the NationalUnderwater and Marine Agency, and whose father happens to be Senator George Pitt of California, Chairman of the Naval Appropriations Committee."
Cinana uttered something short and unprintable.
Boland was the first to recover. "Are you certain?"
"Yes, Paul, quite certain." He moved around the table and faced Pitt. "I saw him several years ago, with his father, at a NUMA conference. He's also a friend of my cousin, who's also in NUMA. Commander Rudi Gunn."
Excerpted from Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler. Copyright © 2010 by Clive Cussler. 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.