THE SINKING SHIP
Sunday, June 9
Sprinting toward the sea, Colter Shaw eyed the craft closely.
The forty-foot derelict fishing vessel, decades old, was going down by the stern, already three-fourths submerged.
Shaw saw no doors into the cabin; there would be only one and it was now underwater. In the aft part of the superstructure, still above sea level, was a window facing onto the bow. The opening was large enough to climb through but it appeared sealed. He'd dive for the door.
He paused, reflecting: Did he need to?
Shaw looked for the rope mooring the boat to the pier; maybe he could take up slack and keep the ship from going under.
There was no rope; the boat was ed, which meant it was free to descend thirty feet to the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
And, if the woman was inside, take her with it to a cold, murky grave.
As he ran onto the slippery dock, avoiding the most rotten pieces, he stripped off his bloodstained shirt, then his shoes and socks.
A powerful swell struck the ship and it shuddered and sank a few more inches into the gray, indifferent water.
He shouted, "Elizabeth?" No response.
Shaw assessed: there was a sixty percent chance she was on board.
Fifty percent chance she was alive after hours in the waterlogged cabin.
Whatever the percentages, there was no debate about what came next. He stuck an arm beneath the surface and judged the temperature to be about forty degrees. He'd have thirty minutes until he passed out from hypothermia.
Let's start the clock, he thought. And plunges in.
An ocean isn't liquid. It's flowing stone. Crushing.
Shaw's intention was to wrestle open the door to the cabin, then swim out with Elizabeth Chabelle. The water had a different idea. The minute he surfaced for breath he was tossed toward one of the oak pilings, from which danced lacy flora, delicate thin green hairs. He held up a hand to brace himself as he was flung toward the wood. His palm slid off the slimy surface and his head struck the post. A burst of yellow light filled his vision.
Another wave lifted and flung him toward the pier once more. This time he was just able to avoid a rusty spike. Rather than fighting the current to return to the boat—about eight feet away—he waited for the outflow that would carry him to the vessel. An upward swell took him and this time he gigged his shoulder on the spike. It stung sharply.
There'd be blood. Sharks here?
Never borrow trouble...
The water receded. He kicked into the flow, raised his head, filled his lungs and dove, swimming hard for the door. The salty water burned his eyes but he kept them wide; the sun was low and it was dark here. He spotted what he sought, gripped the metal handle and twisted. The handle moved back and forth yet the door wouldn't open.
To the surface, more air. Back under again, holding himself down with the latch in his left hand, and feeling for other locks or securing fixtures with his right.
The shock and pain of the initial plunge had worn off, but he was shivering hard.
Ashton Shaw had taught his children how to prepare for cold- water survival—dry suit, number one. Wet suit, second choice. Two caps—heat loss is greatest through the skull, even with hair as thick as Shaw's blond locks. Ignore extremities; you don't lose heat through fingers or toes. Without protective clothing, the only solution is to get the hell out as fast as you can before hypothermia confuses, numbs and kills.
Twenty-five minutes left.
Another attempt to wrench open the door to the cabin. Another failure.
He thought of the windshield overlooking the bow deck. The only way to get her out.