Dirk Pitt 14 - Flood Tide
Dirk Pitt 14 - Flood Tide
Dirk Pitt 14 - Flood Tide
Dirk Pitt 14 - Flood Tide
December 10, 1948 Unknown Waters
THE WAVES? TURNED VICIOUS AND WORSENED WITH EVERY rush of wind. The calm weather of the morningtransformed from Dr. Jekyll into a vehement Mr. Hyde by late evening. Whitecaps on the crestsof towering waves were lashed into sheets of spray. The violent water and black clouds mergedunder the onslaught of a driving snowstorm. It was impossible to tell where water ended and skybegan. As the passenger liner Princess Dou Wan fought through waves that rose like mountainsbefore spilling over the ship, the men on board were unaware of the imminent disaster that wasonly minutes away. The crazed waters were driven by northeast and northwest gales thatsimultaneously caused ferocious currents to smash against the ship from two sides. Winds soonreached a hundred miles an hour with waves that crested at thirty feet or more. Caught in themaelstrom, the Princess Dou Wan had no place to hide. Her bow pitched and drove under waves
that swept over her open decks and flowed aft and then forward when her stern rose, throwingher wildly spinning propellers free of the water. Struck from all directions, she rolled thirtydegrees, her starboard rail along the promenade deck disappearing in a torrent of water.Slowly, too slowly, she sluggishly righted herself and plunged on, steaming through the worststorm in recent history.
Freezing and unable to see through the blinding snowstorm, Second Mate Li Po, who stood watch,ducked back inside the wheelhouse and slammed the door. In all his days of sailing the ChinaSea, he had never seen swirling snow in the middle of a violent storm. Po did not think thegods were fair to hurl such devastating winds at the Princess after a voyage halfway around theworld with less than two hundred miles to go before reaching port. In the past sixteen hours,she had only made forty miles.
Except for Captain Leigh Hunt and his chief engineer down below in the engine room, the entirecrew were Nationalist Chinese. An old salt with twelve years in the Royal Navy and eighteen asan officer for three different shipping-company fleets, Hunt had served fifteen of those yearsas captain. As a boy he went fishing with his father out of Bridlington, a small city on theeast coast of England, before shipping out as an ordinary seaman on a freighter to SouthAfrica. A thin man with graying hair and sad, vacant eyes, he was deeply pessimistic about hisship's ability to weather the storm.
Two days earlier, one of the crewmen had called his attention to a crack in the starboard outerhull aft of the single smoke-stack. He would have given a month's pay to inspect the crack nowthat his ship was enduring incredible stress. He reluctantly brushed the thought aside. Itwould have been suicide to attempt an inspection under hundred-mile-an-hour winds and theraging water that spilled across the decks. He felt in his bones the Princess was in mortaldanger, and accepted the fact that her fate was out of his hands.
Hunt stared into the blanket of snow that pelted the wheel-house windows and spoke to hissecond mate without turning. "How bad is the ice, Mr. Po?
Building rapidly, Captain.“ ”Do you believe we're in danger of capsizing?“ Li Po shook hishead slowly. ”Not yet, sir, but by morning the load on the superstructure and decks couldprove critical if we take on a heavy list."
Hunt thought for a moment, then spoke to the helmsman. “Slay on course, Mr. Tsung. Keep ourbow into the wind and waves.”
“Aye, sir,” the Chinese helmsman replied, feet braced wide apart, hands tightly gripping thebrass wheel.
Hunt's thoughts returned to the crack in the hull. He couldn't remember when the Princess DouWan had a proper marine inspection in dry dock. Strangely, the crew's uneasiness about leaks,badly rusted hull plates, and weakened and missing rivets was totally lacking. They appeared toignore the corrosion and the constantly running bilge pumps that strained to carry off theheavy leakage during the voyage. If the Princess had an Achilles' heel, it was her tired andworn hull. A ship that sails the oceans is considered old after twenty years. She had traveledhundreds of thousands of miles scathed by rough seas and typhoons during her thirty-five yearssince leaving the shipyards. It was little short of a miracle that she was still afloat.
Launched in 1913 as the Lanai by shipbuilders Harland and Wolff for Singapore Pacific SteamshipLines, her tonnage grossed out at 10,758. Her overall length was 497 feet from straight-up-and-down stem to champagne glass-shaped stern with a sixty-foot beam. Her triple-expansion steamengines put out five thousand horsepower and turned twin screws. In her prime she could cut thewaves at a respectable seventeen knots. She went into service between Singapore and Honoluluuntil 1931, when she was sold to the Canton Lines and renamed Princess Dou Wan. After a refit,she was employed running passengers and cargo throughout Southeast Asian ports.
During World War II, she was taken over and fitted out by the Australian government as a trooptransport. Heavily damaged after surviving attacks by Japanese aircraft during convoy duty, shewas returned to the Canton Lines after the war and served briefly on short runs from Shanghai
to Hong Kong, until the spring of 1948, when she was to be sold to the scrappers in Singapore.
Her accommodations were designed to carry fifty-five first-class passengers, eighty-fivesecond-class, and 370 third-class. Normally she carried a crew of 190, but on what was to beher final voyage, she was manned by only thirty-eight.
Hunt thought of his ancient command as a tiny island on a turbulent sea engulfed in a dramawithout an audience. His attitude was fatalistic. He was ready for the beach and the Princesswas ready for the scrap yard. Hunt felt compassion for his battle-scarred ship as she wrestledwith the full brunt of the storm. She twisted and groaned when inundated by the titanic waves,but she always broke free and punched her bow into the next one. Hunt's only consolation wasthat her worn-out engines never missed a beat.
Down in the engine room the creaking and groaning of the hull were uncommonly clamorous. Rustdanced and flaked off the bulkheads as water began to rise through the walkway gratings. Rivetsholding the steel plates were shearing off. They popped out of the plates and shot through theair like missiles. Usually, the crew was apathetic. It was a common occurrence on ships builtbefore the days of welding. But there was one man who was touched by the tentacles of fear.
Chief Engineer Ian “Hong Kong” Gallagher was an ox-shouldered, red-faced, hard-drinking,heavily mustached Irish-man who knew a ship in the throes of breaking up when he saw and heardone. Yet fear was pushed from his mind as he calmly turned his thoughts to survival.
An orphan at the age of eleven, lan Gallagher ran away from the slums of Belfast and went tosea as a cabin boy. Nurturing a natural talent for maintaining steam engines, he became a wiperand then a third assistant engineer. By the time he was twenty-seven, he had his papers aschief engineer and served on tramp freighters plying the waters between the islands of theSouth Pacific. The name Hong Kong was given to him after he fought an epic battle in one of theport city's saloons against eight Chinese dockworkers who tried to roll him. When he turnedthirty, he signed on board the Princess Dou Wan in the summer of 1945.
Grim-faced, Gallagher turned to his second engineer, Chu Wen. “Get topside, put on a life vestand be ready to abandon ship when the captain gives the order.”
The Chinese engineer pulled the stub of a cigar from his mouth and stared at Gallagherappraisingly. “You think we're going down?”
“I know we're going down,” Gallagher replied firmly. “This old rust bucket won't lastanother hour.” “Did you tell the captain?”
“He'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to figure it out himself.”
“You coming?” asked Chu Wen.
“I'll be right behind you,” answered Gallagher.
Chu Wen wiped his oily hands on a rag, nodded at the chief engineer and made his way up aladder to a hatch leading to the upper decks.
Gallagher took one final look at his beloved engines, certain they would soon be lying in thedeep. He stiffened as an unusually loud screech echoed throughout the hull. The aged PrincessDou Wan was tormented by metal fatigue, a scourge suffered by aircraft as well as ships.Extremely difficult to distinguish in calm waters, it only becomes evident in a vessel poundedby vicious seas. Even when new, the Princess would have been hard-pressed to bear up under theonslaught of the waves that pounded her hull with a force of twenty thousand pounds per squareinch.
Gallagher's heart froze when he saw a crack appear in a bulkhead that spread downward and thensideways across the hull plates. Starting on the port side, it widened as it progressed tostarboard. He snatched up the ship's phone and rang the bridge.
Li Po answered. “Bridge.”
“Put the captain on!” Gallagher snapped.
A second's pause, and then, “This is the captain.”
“Sir, we've got a hell of a crack in the engine room, and it's getting worse by the minute.”
Hunt was stunned. He had hoped against hope that they could make port before the damage turnedcritical. “Are we taking on water?”
“The pumps are fighting a losing battle.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gallagher. Can you keep the engines turning until we reach land?”
“What time frame do you have in mind?”
“Another hour should put us in calmer waters.”
“Doubtful,” said Gallagher. “I give her ten minutes, no more.”
“Thank you, Chief,” Hunt said heavily. “You'd better leave the engine room while you stillcan.”
Hunt wearily replaced the receiver, turned and looked out the aft wheelhouse windows. The shiphad taken on a noticeable list and was rolling heavily. Two of her boats had already beensmashed and swept overboard. Making for the nearest shore and running the ship safely agroundwas now out of the question. To reach the smoother waters, he would have to make a turn tostarboard. The Princess would never survive if she was caught broadside in the maddened waves.She could easily be plunged into a trough without any hope of getting out. Whatever thecircumstance, breaking up or the ice building on her superstructure and capsizing her, the shipwas doomed.
His mind briefly traveled back sixty days in time and ten thousand miles in distance to thedock on the Yangtze River at Shanghai, where the furnishings from the Princess Dou Wan'sstaterooms were being stripped in preparation for her final voyage to the scrap yard inSingapore. The departure had been interrupted when General Kung Hui of the Nationalist ChineseArmy arrived on the dock in a Packard limousine and ordered Captain Hunt to converse with himinside the car.
“Please excuse my intrusion, Captain, but I am acting under the personal directive ofGeneralissimo Chiang Kai-shek.” General Kung Hui, skin and hands as smooth and white as asheet of paper, sat fastidious and immaculate in a tailored uniform that showed no sign of acrease. He took up the entire rear seat in the passengers' compartment as he spoke, whileCaptain Hunt was forced to sit uncomfortably twisted sideways on a jump seat. “You are hearbyordered to place your ship and crew in a state of readiness for a long voyage.”
“I believe there has been a mistake,” said Hunt. “The Princess is not in a state ofreadiness for an extended cruise. She is about to depart with barely enough men, fuel andsupplies to make the scrap yard in Singapore.”
“You can forget about Singapore,” said Hui with an airy wave of one hand. “Ample fuel andfood will be provided along with twenty men from our Nationalist Navy. Once your cargo is onboard...” Hui paused to insert a cigarette in a long holder and light it. “... I should sayin about ten days, you will be given your sailing orders.”
“I must clear this with my company directors,” argued Hunt. “The directors of Canton Lineshave been notified the Princess Dou Wan will be temporarily appropriated by the government.”
“They agreed to it?”
Hui nodded. “Considering they were generously offered payment in gold by the generalissimo,they were most happy to cooperate.”
“After we reach our, or should I say, your destination, what then?”
“Once the cargo is safely delivered ashore, you may continue on to Singapore.”
“May I ask where we're bound for?”
“You may not.”
“And the cargo?”
“Secrecy will dominate the entire mission. From this minute on, you and your crew will remainon board your ship. No one steps ashore. You will have no contact with friends or family. My
men will guard the ship day and night to guarantee strict security.”
“I see,” said Hunt, but obviously he didn't. He could not recall seeing such shifty eyes.
“As we speak,” Hui continued, “all your communications equipment is being either removed ordestroyed.”
Hunt was stunned. “Surely you can't expect me to attempt a voyage at sea without a radio. Whatif we encounter difficulties and have to send out a call for assistance?”
Hui idly held up his cigarette holder and studied it. “I foresee no difficulties.”
“You are an optimist, General,” said Hunt slowly. “The Princess is a tired ship far beyondher prime. She is ill-prepared to cope with heavy seas and violent storms.”
“I cannot impress upon you the importance and great rewards if this mission is carried outsuccessfully. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek will generously compensate you and your crew ingold after you successfully reach port.”
Hunt stared out the window of the limousine at the rusting hull of his ship. “A fortune ingold won't do me much good when I'm lying on the bottom of the sea.”
“Then we will rest together for eternity.” General Hui smiled without humor. “I will becoming along as your passenger.”
Captain Hunt recalled the frantic activity that quickly erupted around the Princess. Fuel oilwas pumped until the tanks were filled. The ship's cook was astounded by the quality andquantity of the food carried aboard and stored in the galley. A constant stream of trucks soonbegan arriving, stopping beneath the huge cranes on the dock. Their cargo of large woodencrates was then lifted onto the ship and stowed in the holds, which were soon filled tocapacity.
The stream of trucks seemed unending. Crates small enough to be carried by one or two men werestowed in the empty passenger cabins, vacant passageways and every available compartment belowdecks. Every square foot of space was crammed to the overhead decks. The final six truckloadswere lashed down on the promenade decks once strolled by the passengers. General Hui had beenthe last to board, along with a small cadre of heavily armed officers. His luggage consisted often steamer trunks and thirty cases of expensive wines and cognacs.
All for nothing, Hunt thought. Beaten in the homestretch by Mother Nature. The secrecy, theintricate deception, had been for nothing. From the time they left the Yangtze, the Princesssailed silent and alone. Without communications equipment, radio calls from other passing shipswent unanswered.
The captain stared down at the recently installed radar, but its sweep showed no other shipwithin fifty miles of the Princess. Unable to send a distress signal, there could be no rescue.He looked up as General Hui stepped unsteadily into the wheel-house, face deathly white, asoiled handkerchief held to his lips.
“Seasick, General?” said Hunt tauntingly.
“This damned storm,” Hui murmured. “Will it never end?”
“We were prophetic, you and I.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Resting together on the bottom for all eternity. It won't be long now.”
Gallagher rushed topside and ran, clutching the handrail for support while sliding his handalong it down the passageway to his cabin. He was neither frantic nor confused but calm andcomposed. He knew exactly what he must do. He always kept the door locked because of what wasinside, but did not waste time fumbling for the key. He kicked the door open, smashing itagainst the stop.
A woman with long blond hair, wearing a silk robe, lay stretched on the bed reading a magazine.She looked up startled from the sudden intrusion as a small dachshund jumped to its feet besideher and began barking. The woman's body was long and beautifully proportioned. Her complexion
was smooth and flawless with high cheekbones, her eyes the vivid blue of a late-morning sky. Ifshe stood, the top of her head would have come up to Gallagher's chin. She swung her legs tothe deck gracefully and sat there on the edge of the bed.
“Come on, Katie.” His hand on her wrist, he jerked her to her feet. “We've precious littletime.”
“Are we coming into port?” she asked in confusion.
“No, darlin'. The ship is about to sink.”
Her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh God!” she gasped.
Gallagher was jerking open closet doors, tearing out drawers and throwing clothes at her overhis shoulders. “Put on every piece of clothing you can get into, every pair of pants you'vegot and every pair of my socks you can slide over your feet. Dress in layers, thinner garb onthe inside, heavier on the outside, and be quick about it. This old tub is heading for thebottom any minute.”
The woman looked as if she was about to protest, then silently and quickly threw off the robeand began pulling on her underwear. She moved rapidly and purposely, wiggling first into herslacks and then Gallagher's pants. Five knit sweaters went on over three blouses. She feltfortunate indeed that she had packed a full suitcase for her rendezvous with her fiance. Whenshe could wear no more, Gallagher helped stuff her into one of his working jumpsuits. A pair ofhis boots went over her silk hose and several pairs of his socks.
The little dachshund darted between their legs, leaping up and down, ears flapping inexcitement. He had been a gift from Gallagher along with an emerald engagement ring when he hadproposed marriage. The dog wore a red leather collar with a gold dragon charm that swung wildlyacross his little chest.
“Fritz!” she scolded him. “Lie on the bed and be still.”
Katrina Garin was a strong-minded woman who did not require detailed instructions. She wastwelve years old when her British father, who was master of an interisland freighter, was lostat sea. Raised by her mother's White Russian family, she went to work at Canton Lines as aclerk and worked her way up to the director's executive secretary. The same age as Gallagher,she had met him at the steamship offices when he was called in to report on the conditions ofthe Princess Dou Wan's engines, and she became attracted to him. Though she would havepreferred a man with a touch of style and sophistication, his rough manners and jovialdisposition reminded her of her father.
They met frequently in the following weeks and slept together, mostly in his cabin aboard ship.It was the added thrill of sneaking on board and making love under the noses of the captain andcrew that she found especially exciting. Katie had been trapped on board when General Huisurrounded the ship and dock with a small army of security guards. Unable to go ashore despitepleas by Gallagher and an angry Captain Hunt when he was informed of her presence, General Huiinsisted she remain on board for the duration of the voyage. Since leaving Shanghai, she hadrarely stepped from the cabin; her only companion when Gallagher was on duty in the engine roomwas the little dog that she had taught tricks to pass the long hours at sea.
Gallagher hurriedly inserted their papers, passports and valuables in a waterproof oilclothpouch. He threw on a heavy sailor's peacoat and looked at her through blue eyes clouded withconcern. “You ready?”
She held up her arms and looked down at the bulky mass of clothing. “I'll never get a lifejacket over all this,” she said, a tremor in her voice. “Without one I'll sink like a stonein the water.”
“Have you forgotten? General Hui gave orders that all Me jackets be thrown overboard fourweeks ago.”
“We'll get away in the lifeboats then.”
“The boats that haven't already been bashed to pieces can never be launched in these waters.”
She looked at him steadily. “We're going to die, aren't we? If we don't drown, we'll freeze todeath.”
He pulled a stocking cap down over her blond hair and ears. “Warm head makes for warm feet.”Then he gently tilted her face upward between his massive hands and kissed her. “Darlin',didn't they ever tell you that Irishmen never drown?” Taking Katie by the hand, Gallagherdragged her roughly into the passageway and headed up a companionway to the deck above.
Forgotten in the bedlam, Fritz the dachshund stretched out obediently on the bed, believing hismistress would soon return, bewilderment in his brown eyes.
Those of the crew off duty who weren't sitting around playing dominoes or telling stories ofother storms they survived were sleeping in their berths, oblivious to the ship about to breakup around them. The cook and his galley help were leaning up after dinner and serving coffee tothose who lingered. Despite the battering from the storm, the crew was happy at the prospect ofreaching port. Although their destination had been held from them, they knew their exactposition within thirty miles.
There was no complacency in the wheelhouse. Hunt stared aft through the snow flurries, barelydistinguishing the deck lights trailing toward the stern. In horrified fascination he watchedas the stern appeared to rise on an angle downward amidships. Over the howl of the wind throughthe superstructure, he could hear the hull shrieking as it ground itself to pieces. He reachedout and punched the emergency bell that rang the general alarm throughout the ship.
Hui knocked Hunt's hand away from the emergency bell button. “We cannot abandon ship.” Hespoke in a shocked whisper.
Hunt stared at him in disgust. “Die like a man, General.” “I must not be allowed to die. Ivowed to see the cargo safely deposited in port.”
“This ship is breaking in two,” said Hunt. “Nothing can save you and your precious cargo.”“Then our position must be fixed so it can be salvaged.” “Fixed for whom? The lifeboats havebeen crushed and swept away. You demanded all life vests be cast overboard. You destroyed theship's radio. We can't send out a Mayday call. You covered our tracks too well. We're not evensupposed to be hi these waters. Our location is unknown to the rest of the world. All ChiangKai-shek will ever learn is that the Princess Dou Wan vanished with all hands six thousandmiles south of here. You planned well, General, too well.” “No!” Hui gasped. “This cannothappen!” Hunt actually found himself amused at the look of rage and helplessness on the faceof Hui. The shifty look in the dark eyes was gone.
The general could not bring himself to accept the inevitable. He tore open the door to thebridge wing and ran out into the storm gone berserk. He could see the ship twisting in itsdeath throes. The stern was swinging on a pronounced angle to starboard now. Steam was eruptingfrom the tear in the hull. He stood and watched in shock as the stern separated from the restof the ship in a protest of the grinding and tearing sound of metal being ripped apart. Thenall the lights aboard ship j blinked out and he could see no more of the stern.??????
Crewmen burst from below onto decks covered in snow j and ice. Frustrated by murderous wavesthat had smashed the ! lifeboats, they cursed the lack of life jackets. The end came soquickly, most all were caught unprepared. This time of year the j frigid water was only thirty-four degrees, the air temperature only five degrees above zero. In panic they jumped over theside, seemingly unaware that the cold water would kill them in a matter of minutes, if not fromhypothermia then from the stoppage of their hearts at the shock of having their bodies exposedto an instantaneous sixty degree drop in temperature.
The stern sank out of sight in less than four minutes. The hull amidships seemed to evaporateinto nothingness, leaving a long gap between the sunken stern and the bow section forward ofthe smokestack. A small group of men struggled to lower the only partially damaged lifeboat,but a massive wave thundered over the forecastle and swept across the deck. Men and boatdisappeared under the deluge, never to be seen again.
Holding Katie's hand in a death grip, Gallagher dragged her up a ladder and across the roof ofthe officers' cabins toward a life raft that was mounted aft of the wheelhouse. He wassurprised to see that it was empty. Twice, they slipped on the ice coating the roof and fell.Spray flung by the gale stung their faces and blinded them. In the confusion none of theChinese officers or crew had remembered the life raft atop the roof. Most all, includingGeneral Hui's soldiers, had headed for the remaining lifeboat or had thrown themselves into thedeadly water.
“Fritz!” Katie cried in anguish. “We left Fritz in the cabin.”
“No time to return,” said Gallagher.
“We can't leave without him!”
He looked into her eyes solemnly. “You must forget Fritz. It's our lives or his.”
Katie twisted away, but Gallagher held her tightly. “Climb in, darlin', and hold on tight.”Then he pulled a knife from his boot and furiously slashed at the ropes securing the raft.Gallagher paused as he cut away the last rope and glanced through the windows of thewheelhouse. Dimly lit by the emergency lights, Captain Hunt stood calmly beside the helm,accepting his death without remorse.
Gallagher frantically waved at his captain through the windows, but Hunt did not turn. Hemerely shoved his hands inside the pockets of his coat and stared vacantly into the snowbuilding around the windows.
Suddenly, a figure emerged from the bridge through the swirling blanket of white. He stumbledlike a man chased by a banshee, thought Gallagher. The intruder bumped against the life raft,striking it above the knees, and tumbled inside. Only when he stared up, eyes fixed more inmadness than in terror, did Gallagher recognize General Hui.
“Don't we have to cut the raft loose?” Hui shouted above the wind.
Gallagher shook his head. “I've done that chore.”
“The suction from the sinking ship will drag us under.”
“Not in this sea, General. We'll be swept clear in seconds. Now lie down on the bottom and geta good grip on the safety ropes.”
Too numb with cold to reply, Hui did as he was instructed and took his place inside the raft.
A deep rumble swelled up from below as the cold water surged over the boilers, causing them toexplode. The forward section of the ship shook and vibrated, then lurched downward amidships,sending the bow rising into the cold night. The cables supporting the tall, old-fashionedsmokestack snapped under the strain, and it fell with a large splash. The water reached thelevel of the life raft, and its buoyancy lifted it from its mounts. The last Gallagher saw ofCaptain Hunt, water was surging through the doors of the wheelhouse and whirling around hislegs. Determined to go down with his ship, he clutched the helm and stood as firm as if he hadturned to granite.
It felt to Gallagher as if they were suspended in time. Waiting for the ship to drop from underthem seemed an eternity. Yet it all happened in a few seconds. Then the raft was washed freeand hurled into the chaotic waters.
Cries for help came in Mandarin and Cantonese dialects that were impossible to answer. Finalpleas to friends slowly faded between the monster wave crests and their troughs and into thefury of the wind. There would be no rescue. No ships were close enough to notice them vanishfrom radar and no call for help went out. Gallagher and Katie watched with a feeling of horroras the bow rose higher and higher, as if clawing at the stormy sky. She hung suspended fornearly a minute, her ice-shrouded upper works giving her the look of an apparition. Then shegave up and slipped under the black waters. The Princess Dou Wan was no more.
“Gone,” Hui muttered, his voice unheard above the storm. “All gone.” He was staring withutter disbelief at where the ship had been.
“Huddle together for our combined body heat,” ordered Gallagher. “If we can make it untilmorning, we stand a chance of being picked up.”
Surrounded by the specter of death and a terrible sense of emptiness, the raft and its pitifulpassengers were swallowed by the bitter-cold night and unrelenting fury of the storm.
By dawn the malignant waves were still pounding the small raft. The blackness of night hadgiven way to a ghostly gray sky covered with dark clouds. The snow had turned to a chillingsleet. Mercifully, the wind had fallen to twenty miles an hour and the waves had dropped fromthirty to ten feet. The raft was solid and sound but was an old model that lacked emergencyequipment for survival. Its passengers were left with nothing but personal fortitude to keep uptheir spirits until rescue.
Bundled under the heavy layers of clothing, Gallagher and Katie had survived the night in fairshape. But General Hui, dressed only in his uniform and without a coat, was slowly, inexorablyfreezing to death. The wretched wind was cutting through his uniform like a thousand ice picks.His hair was coated with ice. Gallagher had taken off his heavy peacoat and given it to Hui,but it became obvious to Katie that the old war-horse was rapidly fading.
The raft was tossed over the crests and spun around by the brutal waves. It didn't seempossible that the frail craft could take the pounding. Yet it always recovered from the crushof the curling waves, righted herself, and steadied before facing the next onslaught. Neveronce did she cast her miserable passengers into the cold water.
Gallagher rose to his knees every hour and scanned the agitated waters from the top of thewaves as the raft was thrown skyward before plummeting into the trough again. It was anexercise in futility. The waters were empty. During the awful night, they saw no sign of lightsfrom another ship.
“There has to be a ship nearby,” said Katie through chattering teeth.
Gallagher shook his head. “The water is as empty as a homeless waif's piggy bank.” He didn'ttell her that visibility was cut to less than fifty yards.
“I'll never forgive myself for abandoning Fritz,” Katie whispered, the tears falling down hercheeks before turning to ice.
“My fault,” Gallagher consoled her. “I should have grabbed him when we ran out of thecabin.”
“Fritz?” queried Hui.
“My little dachshund,” replied Katie.
“You lost a dog.”
Hui abruptly sat up. “You lost a dog?” he repeated. “I lost the heart and soul of mycountry—”
?He paused and went into a coughing spasm. Misery etched his face, despair clouded his eyes. Helooked like a man whose life had lost all meaning. “I have failed in my duty. I must die.”
“Don't be stupid, man,” said Gallagher. “We'll come through. Just hang in a little longer.”
Hui appeared not to hear him. He seemed to wither and give up. Katie was gazing into thegeneral's eyes. It was as if a light behind them had suddenly switched off. They took on aglazed, unseeing look.
“I think he's dead,” Katie murmured.
Gallagher checked to be sure. “Move over against his body and use it as a shield from the windand spray. I'll lie on the other side of you.”
It seemed ghoulish to her, but Katie found that she could hardly feel Hui's cadaver through thebulk of her clothing. The loss of her faithful little dog, the ship plunging under the blackwater, the insane wind and crazed waters all seemed unreal to her. She hoped that it was all anightmare and soon she would wake up. She burrowed deeper between the two men, one alive, theother dead.
Through the rest of the day and following night the intensity of the storm had slowly abated,but they were still exposed to a murderous windchill factor. Katie could no longer feel herhands and feet. She began to slip in and out of consciousness. Fantasies ran through her mind.Oddly, she found it macabre that she might have eaten her last meal. She thought she saw asandy beach beneath swaying palm trees. She imagined Fritz running across the sand, barking ashe came toward her. She talked to Gallagher as though they were sitting at a table at arestaurant, ordering dinner. Her dead father appeared to her, dressed in his captain's uniform.He stood in the raft, looked down and smiled. He told her she would live and not to worry. Landwas only a short distance away. And then he was gone.
“What time is it?” she asked hoarsely.
“Sometime late in the afternoon, I should judge,” answered Gallagher. “My watch stopped soonafter we abandoned the Princess.”
“How long have we been adrift?”
“A rough guess would put it about thirty-eight hours since the Princess went down.”
“We're near land,” she muttered abruptly.
“What makes you say that, darlin'?”
“My father told me.”
“He did, did he?” He smiled at her compassionately under a mustache and eyebrows caked whitewith ice. Icicles hanging from whatever hair was exposed, gave Gallagher the appearance of amonster risen from the depths of the South Pole in a science-fiction movie. Except for her lackof facial hair, Katie wondered if she looked the same.
“Can't you see it?”
Dreadfully stiff from the cold, Gallagher struggled to a sitting position and scanned thehorizons of his restricted world. His view was blurred by the driving sleet, but he kepttrying. Then he thought his eyes were deceiving him. He could just make out large bouldersscattered along a shoreline. A short distance beyond, no more than fifty yards, snow blanketedtrees swaying in the wind. He spotted what looked like the dark shape of a small cabin amid thetrees.
His joints numb and unresponsive, Gallagher removed one boot and used it as a paddle. After afew minutes, the exertion seemed to warm his body and the effort became less arduous. “Takeheart, darlin'. We'll be on dry land soon.”
The current was working parallel to the shore, and Gallagher fought to break out of itsclutches. He felt as if he was struggling against a stream filled with molasses. The gapnarrowed with agonizing slowness. The trees seemed so close he could reach out and shake them,but they were still a good sixty yards away.
Just when Gallagher had reached the end of his endurance and was about to collapse fromexhaustion, he could feel the raft bumping against underwater boulders. He looked down atKatie. She was shivering uncontrollably from the damp and chill. She could not last muchlonger.
He shoved his frozen foot back inside the boot. Then, sucking in his breath, he prayed that thewater would not close over his head and jumped in. It was a hazard he had to risk. Thankfully,the soles of his boots struck hard rock before the water level reached his crotch.
“Katie!” he shouted in happy delirium. “We've made it. We're on land.”
“That's nice,” Katie murmured, too paralyzed and oblivious to care.
Gallagher dragged the raft onto a shore covered with wave-smoothed rocks and pebbles. Theexhausting effort took the last of his strength, and he sagged like a lifeless rag doll anddropped onto the cold, wet rocks. He never knew how long he lay there, but when he finallyrecovered enough to crawl up to the life raft and peer over the side, he saw that Katie's skinwas blue and mottled. Fearful, he reached in and pulled her toward him. He wasn't sure whethershe was alive or dead. Then he noticed a wisp of vapor coming from her nose. He felt for a