Deep Time

Deep Time

Rob Sangster

June 2015 $15.95
ISBN: 9781611946321

A Jack Strider Thriller, Book 2

A disaster lurks beneath the ocean floor.

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Blurb

A riveting Jack Strider suspense

• Deep in the Earth’s crust beneath the Pacific Ocean lies an ancient site likely to be the birthplace of life on our planet . . .
• And a portal into unimaginable forces and incredible wealth . . .
• A place where large ships mysteriously disappear, including the vessel carrying Jack Strider’s goddaughter, Katie . . .

A greedy energy baron risks everything to pursue vast supplies of power trapped deep in the Pacific Ocean sea bed off the Oregon coast. But the man’s psychopathic scheme is about to launch a terrifying tsunami that will destroy the entire west coast of the United States. Strider’s beautiful, brilliant partner in law and love joins the fight, and Jack leads a desperate attack on the largest offshore platform ever built. Jack Strider may be the only man who can stop the disaster that is already underway . . . or maybe no one can.

Rob Sangster is an award-winning author, Stanford lawyer, newspaper columnist, sailor, rock climber, and has traveled in 110 countries so far. He and his mystery writer wife divide their time between homes in Memphis and on the wild coast of Nova Scotia.
www.robsangster.com/books.html and www.facebook.com/rob.sangster.authorandRob@Sangster.com


Reviews

"Wild ride, in-depth characters, compelling plot, cutting-edge issues." -- Marq de Villiers, prize winning author, Order of Canada Award.

"Masterful, high-stakes suspense thriller." -- Lisa Turner, bestselling mystery writer, Edgar Award nominee

"Rob Sangster has done it again. Great read with fly by the seat of your pants action and adventure. This book has everything it takes to make a great read.” -- Vera Mallard, Vera’s Book Reviews and Stuff

"Jaws gave us the teeth of the monster to worry about; - Deep Time gives us the minds of men to fear.”


Excerpt

Chapter 1


July 6

7:30 p.m.

Northeast Pacific Ocean

"ALL HANDS TAKE cover,” Captain Turner shouted into the micro­phone that reached every space on his ship, Aleutian. "Rocket-propelled grenades incoming. Helmsman, hard to starboard. Engine Room, get us out of here.”

Turner dove for shelter behind a steel bulkhead on the bridge as a rocket-propelled grenade whistled past and threw up a geyser beyond his ship. A second RPG slammed into the hull just forward of the deckhouse and exploded.

He’d had Aleutian circling Nikita Maru since dawn, loudspeakers citing the international laws the whaling ship was violating. His crew had dropped small explosives and noise-making devices into the water to scare off any whales in the neighborhood.

To him, Nikita Maru was far more than a seaborne factory butchering whales its high-tech hunting boats had killed. It represented insatiable corpo­rate greed driving its prey to extinction. He had committed himself to fighting them every way he could. Damn them to hell.

Very aware that a sister Greenpeace vessel had been rammed and sunk by a similar Japanese ship, he’d felt like a matador engaging a maddened bull, but with no weapon that could kill it. Now the bull had turned on him. He had to flee to save the crew and the ship.

He kept Aleutian turning until she presented only her stern to the whaler, heavy seas making her an erratic target. The next two RPG shells splashed harmlessly short. Just as he thought Aleutian was out of range, a Hail Mary shot crashed squarely into the fantail.

"All hands, man your stations. Damage Control, see whether that last shot hit the rudder or steering gear. Communications, tell our Vancouver office what happened, and that we’re running for Seattle.” He looked over his shoulder at his navigator. "How far to the nearest land?”

"Two hundred ten miles to the Oregon coast, Skipper.”

The Japanese captain had already been so aggressive he might decide to come after them. If he did, he had the speed to run them down. It would be dark soon, and that also favored the whaler, because its electronic equip­ment was far superior to Aleutian’s thirty-year-old systems.

"Jenkins, have the lifeboats made ready. Katie, keep close watch on the radar. Tell me immediately if Nikita Maru is catching up to us.”

He wiped sweat from his forehead. This is going to be a very long night.

A FEW MINUTES after midnight, the ship entered a pocket of cold air. Captain Turner shivered and said to the helmsman, "Holding up okay, Tommy?”

"Heavy seas. Doin’ my damnedest to keep on course, sir.”

For the hundredth time, he stared over Katie’s shoulder at the radar screen. More than once he’d seen ghostly blips that faded away. Must be nerves from worrying that the son of a bitch might run right over his ship. Katie had been aboard only a week, but had already proved smart and strong-minded. She’d kept her attention riveted on the radar screen for hours without a break. He knew if anything real showed up, he could count on Katie to spot it.

He braced himself against a steel bulkhead while his eyes scanned the darkness. Almost immediately, he saw something unexpected. He squinted. Good God, it isn’t possible.

"Skipper,” the helmsman shouted, "tell me what—”

Before he could answer, it was too late.

Chapter 2


July 7

5:00 p.m.

Tikal, Guatemala


JACK STRIDER pressed his long frame against a nearly vertical rock face hundreds of feet above the Guatemalan jungle tree canopy.

His weight rested on his left toes wedged into a crack and his right foot on a slightly higher, angled shelf. He’d jammed his left hand into a shallow crevice above his shoulder, but his right hand was useless, unable to reach any handhold. His muscles quivered from fatigue, ready to let go. He could hang on for only a few more seconds. He’d taken one chance too many.

Trying to back down blind would be suicide. His only chance was an un­protected leap for a hold above. If he missed, he’d be dead in however many seconds it would take to plunge into the tree tops far below. The humid stillness was broken by buzzing insects strafing his head.

Son of a bitch. I was insane to try this climb alone.

He sucked in a deep breath. Time was up. He had to try.

Desperate for lift, he shifted more weight to his right foot. As he lunged upward, top layers of rock scaled off, and the shelf collapsed. He hooked his right hand, fingers like talons, over the edge of an impossibly out-of-reach hold. Dangling from his hands, he jerked his left knee up and flattened his climbing shoe against a crease in a column. His stability would only last for a few heartbeats. A one-arm pull-up gained him a higher connec­tion with his left hand. His foot found a niche.

Adrenaline, skill, and urgency all kicked in, and he moved fluidly from point to point, defying gravity, until he hauled himself across the summit outcrop.

Muscles burning, he rolled onto his back and tossed his Petzi helmet to the side. After several looping spins across the rock, it dropped out of sight over the lip of the cliff. Damn. There was a spot a few hundred yards away where he could rappel down, but now he’d have to descend with his head unprotected against falling rocks.

Something that had seemed so important when he’d stood at the bot­tom of the cliff looking up had vanished a couple of minutes ago when he’d felt trapped. Now it filled his mind again. His old friend, Zalman Amos, fascinated by the ancient Maya civilization, had proposed months ago that they attempt to scale this peak in Guatemala’s Tikal National Park. They both knew the climb would be tough, but the panoramic view of Tikal, seat of power of the Maya empire, was said to be unsurpassed. When Zalman later developed health problems, he’d made climbing to this place the only entry on his bucket list. Then he became too weak to make the trip.

Thinking the climb was too risky to attempt solo, Jack had invited Debra Vanderberg, his law partner and very significant other, to join him. She was an experienced climber who could hold her own. She was also the love of his life. He remembered how days under a tropical sun and nights wrapped in sultry breezes had stoked their intimacy in the past.

She had accepted, but had been very reserved on their flight down, keep­ing busy and avoiding eye contact with him. Not long after they’d reached their room at the Tikal Inn, her frustration had burst out.

"You keep hiring more lawyers—sure, they’re hotshots, but they’re all ex­pensive, and they need desks and paralegals and. . . . The point is that the firm’s revenues haven’t been keeping up. We’re close to going on the rocks. And you’ve been acting like a stress-bomb because you’re way behind sched­ule finishing your brief for the make-or-break appearance in federal court coming up. That lawsuit against Armstrong Air Force Base is the most important this firm has ever handled for our clients, for the firm, and for you.”

Her flashing eyes and flushed cheeks told him that her frustration had transformed into anger—at him.

"I care about helping people too,” she’d said, "but we can’t keep turn­ing away paying clients. We’re on the edge, and I’m fed up.”

Caught by surprise, he’d been defensive. That had upset her so much she’d packed up and hired a van to catch a plane to Guatemala City and back to San Francisco.

The intensity of her feelings had shaken him, but he’d still felt commit­ted to the mission he’d accepted from Zalman. It was about respect. Okay, maybe some of his decision had been a testosterone-fuelled need to prove something to Debra. Taking on this wicked technical climb solo had been nuts, but he hadn’t thought it would almost kill him.

Giving his nerves a few moments to unclench, he sat crossed-legged at the edge of the cliff, looking down at monumental stone structures built in the fourth century BC, hundreds of years before London was even a settle­ment on the Thames. Fierce Mayan kings had ruled from Tikal’s palaces until the whole region was mysteriously abandoned in the tenth century. Since then, the grip of the rain forest had taken over. Temples poked above Spanish cedars and mahogany giants laced together by spiny lianas. He couldn’t see the jaguars, ocelots, and coatimundis in the dense forest, but knew they were there. A brilliant red and gold toucan tilted to inspect him as it blazed past far below.

He reached into his fanny pack and pulled out the cell phone he’d brought to photograph the landscape so important to Zalman. Moving carefully along the ledge, he took the shots and emailed them.

The ringtone startled him. He hoped it was Debra calling from Guatemala City to say she was coming back to Tikal to work it out. Then he saw Hank Thompson’s name on the screen.

An instant of disappointment, then pleasure. He and Hank had been good friends since sophomore year of college. They’d rowed on the Stanford crew, double-dated, even bought an old Ford convertible together for $500. Even though they lived hundreds of miles apart and led hectic lives, they found time to get together for some small adventure at least once a year.

Hank’s job at Greenpeace had led to Jack doing pro bono work for the non-profit. When Hank had asked him to be godfather to his only daughter, Katie, he’d been delighted to accept. With his own parents dead, and having no siblings, it was his chance to become part of a family.

Katie was no distant goddaughter. Last summer, she’d put her blond hair up in a bun and worked for Debra as an intern. She’d also crewed for him in Saturday sailing races, sure-footed on deck and able to read the wind as well as any seagull. He and Debra thought of her as almost their shared child.

He’d sworn to himself that as a surrogate father, he’d do a damned sight better job than his own father had. That brought a flash-memory of his father to whom he’d been no more than an extension of ego. He’d been too young then to understand why that hurt. Now he did. He brushed the dark thought back into its cave.

"Hey, Hank, what’s up?”

"Katie’s in bad trouble. I need your help.” His voice was raw.

"Of course. What’s the problem?”

"Aleutian, our shipin the northeast Pacific, was attacked. Katie is aboard as radar operator.”

"My God, no. Tell me what happened.”

Hank told him about the RPG attack by Nikita Maru and Aleutian’s at­tempt to escape. "Captain Turner said Aleutian was taking on some water but seemed seaworthy. No one was hurt. He thought he could make Seattle unless the whaling ship tracked them down. Using the VHF emergency channel, he hailed what he thought was a fleet of fishing boats a few miles south of him, but they didn’t respond.”

"Damn them. As soon as Aleutian makes port in Seattle, get deposi­tions from Turner and his crew. We’ll file a complaint against Nikita Maru and track down the fishermen who refused to help.”

"Aleutian never made it to port, and Captain Turner never contacted us again. That’s why I’m freaked out. We tried to reach him. No answer. We also tried to communicate with ships and aircraft that might be in the area, including the fishing fleet he saw. Nothing.”

"Then you have no idea where Aleutian is.” Or even if she’s afloat, he didn’t say."You must have a search going.”

"Coast Guard Air-Sea Rescue, but they’ve found nothing, not even de­bris or an oil slick. She’s disappeared.”

He pictured Katie and the rest of the crew clinging to lifeboats some­where in the vast northeast Pacific.

"I know someone who can help search. Give me the coordinates of Aleutian’s last position.” Seconds ticked away. "Hank? Hank, are you there?” Damn it. Some mindless satellite had dropped the call. He tried again. No signal.

He heard fluttering overhead. Surprised, he turned just as a king vul­ture—bald head, hooked orange beak, and white shoulders—dropped to the rock a dozen yards away.

"Get away!” He shouted and waved both arms. Flapping heavy wings, it hopped on its talons but didn’t go far. Others would be on the way, lured by the possibility of a big meal. He hurled a stone. The vulture ignored it.

He was damn glad Debra wasn’t with him now. He fitted the harness, got the line in his hand, and backed over the side, hanging in space. If he got stuck as he rappelled down and hung motionless against the cliff, he’d have to fight off the vultures. That didn’t matter. Katie needed his help.

"WELCOME BACK, Sr. Strider,” the clerk at the desk of the Tikal Inn called softly to him as he hurried past the open window of the rustic hotel’s office. "You had a pleasant afternoon I hope,” she said with a tentative smile.

"I’d call it . . . memorable. Listen, an emergency has come up. I need your help to get back to San Francisco right away.”

Her eyes opened wider and the corners of her mouth turned down, meaning she knew Debra had left abruptly and alone. Then a smile returned as she assumed that he was doing the right thing, going after his maiden.

After giving her instructions about lining up transportation and airline tickets, he walked to his thatched-roof bungalow. Distracted by his thoughts, he banged his head on a doorway not designed for someone his height.

He slumped into an armchair and punched the stored phone number for Frank Williams, president of Google Maps which had exclusive use of the GeoEye satellite. If GeoEye didn’t cover the section of the northeast Pacific where Aleutianhad last checked in, he’d know who had a bird that did. The signal was back, so he impressed on Frank the urgent need for satellite reports.

"I’ll get right on it. If Aleutian is afloat, GeoEye will spot her,” Frank said.

Jack told him how to contact Hank to get the last coordinates they had for Aleutian.

"I’ll get them. Problem is, GeoEye is blind until after dawn. I’ll call you as soon as I have something to report.”

He couldn’t accept that Katie might be lost. If the satellite didn’t find her, then what? The Coast Guard was doing what it could with limited resources, but had found nothing. Maybe an airplane that could fly low, slow patterns over the area like an airborne bloodhound could do better. He wondered how fast he could charter a plane and pilot. Wait a minute! He already knew the perfect pilot for the job. He tapped in a number in Mexico and listened to it ring over and over. No answer. No invitation to leave a message.

He was about to break the connection when he heard, "What’s up, Mr. Justice Jack? You headin’ back down here to Copper Canyon, maybe for some high-flying target practice out the airplane window like that Sarah Palin woman? If you do, bring that fireball partner of yours along, you hear?”

The syrupy sound of Gano LeMoyne’s voice always reminded Jack of a New Orleans pool hustler.

"I’ll tell Debra what you said.” He wasn’t about to tell Gano that Debra had stormed out with smoke shooting out of her ears. "Gano, there’s an emergency, so I’ll get right to why I called. A Greenpeace ship has disap­peared somewhere off the Oregon coast.” He repeated what Hank Thompson had told him, but left Katie out. It hurt too much to repeat that part. "If we don’t find the ship or the crew fast . . . well, we just have to.”

"That’s some damn mystery, son. So I suppose you want me to crank up my ol’ Cessna Skylane turbo-banger and fly those wave tips like some drunk crop duster. Well, I’m afraid that’s not in the cards. Lookin’ for poor souls lost at sea just ain’t my kind of gig. Here’s the thing, you got this picture of me stoned and bored, feet up on the railing of this rickety ol’ hotel of mine in Divisadero, right?”

That was exactly how he pictured Gano—lanky, tan, bold mustache, cowboy hat shading his eyes as he stared across Copper Canyon, some kind of firearm within reach, willing to work on either side of the law.

"Fact is,” Gano went on, "there are a lot of fine ladies down here, within arm’s reach you might say, and well-heeled clients who pay for my services in cash. Comprende?”

He had to have Gano, so he had to tell him the rest, "My goddaughter Katie is in that crew. She could be in a lifeboat or a life jacket. I need your help. You’re the only—”

"Why are you still talking? I’ll be airborne in an hour. With my extra tank, I have a range of fifteen hundred miles. All I need are the search coordinates.”

He gave Gano the contact information for Greenpeace.

"I hate to sound mercenary at a time like this,” Gano said, "but the motto on my business card reads, ‘If the money’s right, I’ll get it done.’ These Greenpeace folks are always raising funds from rich whale huggers and the like, so they must be loaded. No sweat them financing this excite­ment, right?”

"Damn it, Gano, it’s a non-profit, not that you’d know what that is. If they don’t have enough, I’ll make up the rest.”

"I’m pulling my stuff together as we speak.”

"Good man.” He hung up.

Gano was unpredictable, hot-headed, and far too quick to draw and shoot. But when Jack had needed someone to protect his back in the past, even step out front, Gano had been rock solid. If Katie and the crew of Aleutian could be found, Gano would do it.

He called Hank to give him a status report, but was routed to his voice mail.

He had a few minutes before the van would show up, so he got out of his sweaty climbing clothes and turned on the shower. The water was tepid and the pressure low, but he came out feeling better. He pulled on a navy blue shirt and faded Levi’s, ran a comb through his black hair, and stuffed his clothes and climbing gear into his duffel bag.

Plate of nachos and cold bottle of Moza Bock beer in hand, he sat on a small verandah to wait for the van. Staring across a clearing into a dense stand of cedars, he remembered how he’d thought this evening would end. He’d planned to find a park guard who didn’t mind taking a few quetzales to break the rules and let a crazy gringo and his lady back into the park. He and Debra would climb the steep wood ladders attached to the side of Temple IV, the tallest structure in all of pre-Columbian America. They’d sleep up there so they could watch the glorious sun rise together. He’d thought it would be pretty romantic.

He’d met Debra when she was a student in one of his advanced semi­nars. From the moment she’d walked in, her beauty had filled the space. He’d learned later that her Balinese mother had provided the genes that gave her high cheekbones, golden coloring, and long, glossy black hair. Her eyes were slightly almond shaped, tilting up infinitesimally at the outer corners. But it wasn’t how her eyes looked that reached him. It was how her eyes looked at him. Her height of five feet nine had been inherited from her Dutch father. There was something in her enigmatic smile, composed de­meanor, and the tilt of her head that made him sure that in her childhood she’d been admired, even adored. By the end of the third class session, it was also clear she was the smartest student in the room.

He’d been a professor long enough to know better than to give in to his strong temptation to get to know her on a personal level. That had changed when they’d been thrown together in Mexico three years ago. She’d been sent to spy on him, but soon joined him in a battle that involved nuclear waste and contamination of an aquifer that millions depended on. Afterward, romance had bloomed.

His cell phone signaled a call. Hank. He delivered the news that Google GeoEye and Gano would be on the job and would report back.

"That means a lot,” Hank said, but his voice was as glum as it had been earlier.

"Hank, ships as big as Aleutian just don’t suddenly disappear, so what could have happened? If there had been a tsunami or violent weather, you would have mentioned it, right?

"Of course.”

"If Nikita Maru had been catching up, Aleutianwould have picked her up on radar miles away. Even if she had started to sink, Aleutianwouldn’t have gone down instantly. Same for a collision with some other vessel.”

"We heard nothing.”

"Pirates?”

"Not in the northeast Pacific. Besides, the whaling ship would have been a much better target for ransom.”

"Terrorists?”

"No one has claimed responsibility. In any of those situations, Aleutian would have fired out a distress call. Whatever happened, they had no time to call for help.”

Jack agreed to stay in touch and clicked off. He took a swig of the Moza Bock. It tasted sour. He couldn’t make himself bite into the con­gealed nachos.

The tension on the cliff face followed by the horrible news about Katie and Aleutian had drained him, but something nagged deep in his brain. He, Hank, and everyone else were approaching this in a rational way. What if the answer wasn’t rational or was beyond their experience? He’d read for years about strange phenomena at sea, but had given the stories no credibil­ity because they usually pointed fingers at aliens or Greek gods. But maybe something really weird was going on in that part of the Pacific Ocean.


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