Eyewall

Eyewall

H.W. "Buzz" Bernard

May 2011  $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-001-5


 
Our PriceUS$15.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

No one was aware of the storm's sudden force.

Not the Hurricane Hunter crew trapped in its center. Not the family marooned on a resort island while searching for their missing teen. A deadly Category Five hurricane has never hit the Georgia coast in modern times.

Until now.

St. Simons Island, Georgia, has never been hit by a Category 5 hurricane.

Until now.

No one predicted the storm's sudden force. A crippled Air Force recon plane, trapped in the eye of a violent hurricane. An outspoken tropical weather forecaster, fired from his network TV job before he can issue a warning: the storm is changing course and intensifying. A desperate family searching for a runaway daughter on Georgia's posh St. Simons Island, cut off from escape as the hurricane roars toward them. A marriage on the rocks; an unrequited sexual attraction; a May-December romance. All will be swept up by the monster storm.

Get ready for a white-knuckle adventure.

Reviews

"Eyewall has all the great things to be looked for in a good read: a plot to make you wonder where the twists and turns can make you wonder where the story will go next.Good characters that you can easily support. The bad guy that you start to despise from his first showing, that's not the complete evil villain." -- Travis Jackson, Net Galley

"Reminded me of The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger." -- Lorraine Eden Hermann, Amazon Reader Review

 

"But I've found a new author who has taken his [Michael Crichton's]place in my reader's heart: Buzz Bernard." -- Cheryl Norman, Amazon Reader Review

"You can't put it down." -- Jack Williams, science author and founding weather editor at USA Today

"A one-sitting, white-knuckle read." -- Vicki Hinze, award-winning author of Deadly Ties

"An angry hurricane collides with the frailty and heroism of human nature...exciting and emotional." -- Michael Buchanan, co-author and screenwriter of The Fat Boy Chronicles and Micah's Child

"An edge-of-the-seat, action read of the finest quality." -- Elizabeth Sinclair, author of Hawk's Mountain

Excerpt

Chapter One

AIRBORNE, 175 MILES SOUTHEAST OF THE GEORGIA COAST
LABOR DAY SUNDAY, 0800 HOURS

Dead ahead of the aircraft, a massive redoubt of roiling clouds, the eyewall of Hurricane Janet, billowed toward the heavens and poked into the underbelly of the stratosphere. Between the aircraft, an Air Force Hurricane Hunter, and the towering wall, layers of white and gray clouds, innocuous outliers of the storm, cluttered the skyscape. But the eyewall itself was obsidian, foreboding.

Major Arlen Walker leaned forward in the pilot's seat, scanning the sky through the cockpit windshield. Beads of cold sweat spotted his forehead. His muscles were tense, strangely alert to some undefined threat. It was as if he'd been awakened in the dark to the heavy creak of a floorboard, or the rustle of bushes outside a window when there is no wind.

He understood—or thought he did—that the probable source of his apprehension was not Janet but the strange events of the previous day. Thus, there should be no rational, no logical reason for his unease. Or was there? He stared at the barrier of clouds, trying to take their measure, guess at what lay within them. Janet was a mere category one, the lowest intensity on the rating scale, yet if you could judge a storm by its looks... He spoke into the intercom, addressing the on-board weather officer, Captain Karlyn Hill. "Karlyn, this thing might have teeth. Is it still looking like penetration at 5000 feet?"

Her voice came back. "Yes, sir. The Hurricane Center said she'd still be a cat one on our first pass. If she isn't, we'll do the next fly through at 10,000. And kick the asses of those guys next time we see 'em."

Walker considered her words, her tone of voice. Whistling past the graveyard? Colonel Bernie Harlow, the copilot, didn't think so. "Attaboy, girl," he said. Walker gripped the aircraft's controls and stared at his looming adversary. "Give me a heading, nav," he said.

"Zero-four-five," Major John Best called out.

Walker turned the aircraft to the new track, then glanced at the cockpit radar. They were minutes from the edge of the eyewall. On the radar, solid red and magenta returns indicated torrential precipitation. They were approaching a palisade of rain. "No way this thing is a one," he said.

"Yeah," Karlyn responded. She usually added a commentary or light-hearted one-liner before penetrating the eye of a hurricane. This time she didn't.

The plane was doing a little dance now, a constant jiggle as it barreled toward the bulwark of bruise-colored clouds.

"Winds are going up fast," Karlyn said.

"Is there a better way in?" Walker asked.

"Don't see one."

"Break it off, Major?" Colonel Harlow asked.

"Negative. Let's do the mission. It's not a cat five." Harlow was testing him.

"Let's hope," Best chimed in.

"‘Half a league, half a league, half a league onward. All in the Valley of Death rode the six hundred," Harlow recited, holding his gaze on the eyewall.

"What's that?" Walker asked. "Tennyson. ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade.' The Brits. Crimean War."

"If I recall my history, that didn't end well."

The plane rattled more sharply now, the jiggle lapsing into a hard shake.

"No. It didn't." Harlow looked at him. And in his eyes, Walker caught a flicker of doubt, something he'd never seen before.

KEESLER AFB, MISSISSIPPI
THREE AND A HALF HOURS EARLIER

Major Walker trudged toward a WC-130, a bulky four-engined Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter, squatting on the ramp at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. The plane bore no resemblance to a sleek commercial airliner. With its landing gear almost flush against its plump fuselage, the high-tailed craft looked like an overweight duck floating on a sea of concrete.

As Walker neared the plane, he could see the ground crew making its final preflight checks. Overhead, a Milky Way of insects swarmed around the stanchioned lights that lit the tarmac in glaring brightness. A power cart tethered to the airplane coughed noisily, sputtered, then resumed a steady purr.

A rotund sergeant from the crew approached. "Morning, sir," he said. "She's lookin' good. Double your money back if she craps out on you."

"You guys didn't do the preflight on the previous bird, did you?"

The sergeant laughed. "The one that aborted because of hydraulic problems? No, sir. They must've had the second string on that one."

"Take off's in forty-five minutes. If we bust two recon flights in a row, the Hurricane Center will really get its knickers in a twist."

"This ain't Delta, sir. We'll have you rollin' down the runway right on time."

"Thanks, Sergeant. Give your guys a high-five for me."

"I will, Major. By the way, what's the scoop on Janet? Still no big deal?" He swatted at a bug orbiting his head.

"Looks that way. At last report, 75 mph; a minimal hurricane. So I guess we'll just slap the plane on autopilot, put our feet on the yoke and snooze through the trip."

"Yeah, but it's still a hell of a way to spend Labor Day Sunday."

"You're out here, too, Sarge."

"Me? Not to worry, sir. I'll be home shortly. Got a pig on a spit, an apple in its mouth."

Pig on a spit. Kind of the way I feel, too, but I don't know why. The sergeant snapped off a crisp salute which Walker returned. No, I do know why. Yesterday, of course.

He and his wife Donna had been visiting a traveling carnival, something neither of them had done in years. It had been designed as a fun trip, one he hoped might ameliorate some of the tension that had been festering between them for over a year now.

She spotted the palm reader's tent first. "Go ahead," she said, nudging him in the ribs with her elbow. "For kicks. And who knows, maybe what you hear will validate your decision."

Don't start, he pleaded silently, and ducked into the tent, not only to cater to Donna's whim but to escape the harangue he knew would follow.

The interior of the tent was shadowy, dimly lit. Dust motes, caught in shafts of sunlight that streamed through gaps in the canvas, swirled like fish in an aquarium. A faint odor of something cooking, meaty and greasy, permeated the air. He stood for a moment, allowing his eyes to grow accustomed to the duskiness.

In front of him, a rickety chair stood next to a small table covered in black cloth. At least there wasn't a crystal ball on it. "Anybody here?" he asked.

"Yes," a voice said from somewhere outside the tent, the words raspy and broken. "Sit."

He sat. A flap in the wall of the tent behind the table opened, and a bent, wizened lady entered. She limped to a chair on the opposite side of the table and lowered herself onto it, slowly, carefully. She smiled at Walker, revealing yellowed, broken teeth. Her skin was crenulated and age spotted, her eyes, inky, riddled with cataracts.

"You are right handed?" she croaked.

"Yes."

"Let me see your right hand. Put it on the table. Palm up."

She bent her head close to his palm.

Walker leaned back slightly, catching the stench of her breath: decay, alcohol, onions. "You're a palm reader?" he said, trying to be polite, though he knew it was pseudoscience, trickery, cheap theater.

"Chiromancer," she corrected, tracing a skeletal finger over his palm. "You are an athlete?" She looked up.

"No." He decided not to tender any personal information, much less to tell her he was a pilot and, in civilian life, a banker. She was the fortuneteller. Let her figure it out.

"Maybe you are going to a sporting event soon, like baseball or football?"

He shook his head.

She lowered her gaze and continued moving her finger across his palm. "So. It is odd, I sense you in a coliseum. A large stadium." She stopped, then retraced an area. "No," she whispered, "trapped in a stadium. No way out. No stairs. No exits. No gates. And... I don't like this." She snapped her head up and stared at him through her maculated eyes.

Theater. Pure theater. He leaned back, away from the foulness of her exhalations that had become uneven and labored. From outside the tent, he could hear the laughter of children, the shout of a carnival barker, the trill of carousel music.

"It makes no sense," she said, gripping his hand now, hard. "There is an aura about the stadium. Something suggesting great danger. And there are others with you. All of you are being stalked. I sense evil." She released his hand but continued to fix him in an unwavering gaze. "I do not understand," she continued. "I can only tell you, do not go."

"Go where?"

"To the stadium."

"What stadium?"

"You will know."

"How will I know?"

She shrugged. "Maybe you won't until it is too late." She stood and turned to go.

"Here," he said. He reached into his wallet for money.

"No," she responded. "I fear it does not end well. I do not take money for that." She shuffled out.

Walker remained seated, staring at the now-closed flap through which the harridan had exited. He hadn't been aware of it earlier, but his temples were throbbing, blood pulsing through his brain almost audibly. As if it would clear his mind, reorient his thoughts, he shook his head vigorously, as a horse might warding off a bothersome fly. Finally he stood and went back outside, squinting against the late-summer sunshine.

"Well," Donna said, "do you feel better about what you decided now? After a little help from your friendly local soothsayer?" She snickered and took a swallow of beer from a plastic cup.

He looked at her, momentarily puzzled, forgetting why he'd scuttled into the tent so quickly in the first place. But now he remembered, and could see she was winding up to throw a beanball. What the hell. "You mean, what you decided."

"Don't be such a dick head. At least admit it was our decision. I thought we agreed your career in the Reserve was shot to hell. No more promotions. Stuck in-grade."

"It doesn't matter, I love to fly."

"The point is, not only is your Reserve job in the toilet, so is your bank job," she snapped. "Your real job."

"I'm an assistant vice president."

"Dime-a-dozen. You should be an executive vice president by now, climbing the corporate ladder, investing your extra time at the bank instead of tootling around in cloud formations with your tin-soldier flyboy buds."

A calliope started up somewhere on the carnival grounds, filling the afternoon air with loud, discordant sounds; a small boy, swirls of blue cotton candy held aloft in each hand, darted past them, pursued by a smaller child, a sibling or playmate.

"I resent that remark, Donna."

"Resent it then. You think I fucking care? I'm the one stuck at home, living in middle-class poverty because you can't get ahead."

"Middle-class poverty?" It sounded laughable. "What the hell is middle-class poverty?"

She faced him—a pit bull now, not the soft, cuddly puppy he'd married. "Not being able to afford the country club," she barked. "Driving a ten-year-old car. Having the same furniture now as when we got married."

"We're hardly destitute."

"You can do better. I want something more for you, not just me." She took another swill of beer.

No, you want it for you, he wanted to shout. But he held his return fire. He'd never heard his father raise his voice to his mother in forty years and wasn't about to alter that tradition now. He'd been raised to respect the sanctity of marriage, though he wondered how much sanctity—how much life—was left in his. He now thought of the waterbed he and Donna shared as the Dead Sea.

Corny as it seemed to some, he'd made a commitment on his wedding day and intended to honor it. But of late he'd begun to wonder if a commitment wasn't just an abstraction to hide behind to avoid doing something more difficult.

Donna waited for him to respond, but when he didn't, she apparently took his silence as tacit agreement with her position and continued her rant. "You were close, buddy, real close. If you hadn't decided to tender your resignation to the Reserve, I was damn near ready to bail out. Someday after one of your little military gallivants you would've walked in the door to an empty house. You don't think I wouldn't have taken you to the cleaners?" She paused, then added derisively, "Not that that would've produced a big load."

"Enough, Donna. Drop it. My last flight is tomorrow."

"Make sure," she said. She tossed her beer cup, only half empty, onto the ground, pivoted and strode away.

Walker went back to where she had stood, picked up the cup, and jammed it into a trash bin. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of the tiny, gnarled soothsayer peering out at him from her darkened tent. Then, like Donna, she was gone. But the old lady's warning lingered: Do not go.

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