Here’s a teaser to the third installment in the trilogy, NIKKI WHITE: POLAR EXTREMES, which is out today, March 24, 2017, the very day the sun sets for six months of darkness at South Pole Station, the setting for much of this story.
But first, Nikki must survive a swim with sharks near Dyer Island, South Africa … here is Chapter 1, in its entirety. Enjoy …
point of view
January 1, 2020
Off the coast
of South Africa,
near Dyer Island
The sea gulls taunted me with their freedom.
They had it and I didn’t. And they could fly anywhere, but no, they had to show off, shrieking at me as they cruised alongside the boat.
After months of indoor isolation and captivity, I suppose I should’ve been rejoicing at this “reward” of fresh, saltwater air; a new start and new training for the new year. But the sun that I hadn’t seen or felt in so long was a no-show, masked by thick, dark-gray clouds; the air was stained with the stench of fish guts, and my own guts were roiling from sea sickness.
To add insult to indignity, a sea hag kept heckling me from the rear of the boat in German, Dutch or whatever the hell it was.
My only consolation was Roy, the biggest and blackest of my abductors, looked even more nauseous than I did. He sat on the bench a few feet to my left and held his breakfast back with a massive hand over his mouth.
That’s when the mystery captain, driving the boat behind tinted glass on the upper deck, suddenly cut the engine, leaving us to pitch and roll in lazy, 6- to 8-foot swells. The torturous motion immediately forced me to get up and stagger to the rail. I might have fought it back, but the sound of Roy hurling over the opposite rail was too much. Out it came, pouring into the sea below.
Happy Effing New Year.
And not one drink the night before to make it remotely worth it.
Then the short, stocky sea hag approached me with a big gray scooper in her hand and a prankster smile on her weather-beaten face.
“To settle the stomach, ja,” she attempted in gruff English.
She showed me the fish head and cackled. I seized up and wretched the rest of my innards overboard. Before I could regroup enough to curse her out, she was already back at the stern stirring her revolting cauldron of dead fish.
I just flipped her off with zero satisfaction, turned around and headed for the bow. The island was in front of us, its hilly outline barely visible in the haze. Yes, it was summer here, on the underside of the world. Little did I know at the time how far under I would go.
Could I jump off and swim fast enough to escape a speed boat? Definitely not. Even if I just swam normally without fear of being caught, would I reach the island before hypothermia set in? Not likely. They had warned me the water was cold, even in the summer, due to the Antarctic currents. And all they had given me to wear was a skimpy, two-piece turquoise bikini. There were no wetsuits in sight.
Was there anyone even on that island who could help me? And if my father couldn’t help me escape from The Bridge, who could?
Tears stung my eyes just as I instinctively felt someone else’s eyes on me. I turned to look up at the second deck and there he was: Dr. Peter van Wooten, smiling down at me. The rage took a second to fully engulf me, but then came his predictable wink, setting me off like a bomb.
“You!!! Where’s my father?! What did you do with Bill?! Where’s Adam and Max?! Why are you driving me around on this boat?!”
But he just kept smiling … and the next thing I felt was a hard shove from behind, and nothing hard beneath my bare feet.
The sea hag had bull-rushed me overboard, her laughs suddenly silenced when I belly-flopped into the ocean. I got my mouth above water and screamed from the pain, not from my collarbone — that had fully healed since Hurricane Felicia — but because that’s how frigid the water felt.
As I forced my shocked limbs to swim back toward the bow, the engine kicked on and the boat whipped around. It began moving away from me, so now I was chasing the stern. Peter had climbed down the rear ladder and joined the hag, both clearly amused by my predicament.
With no wetsuit, I knew I wouldn’t last long in this water before hypothermia set in. The island was too far away. I had to catch the boat, no matter how much it killed me to swim toward these assholes.
My lungs and body ached as I churned after the boat as fast as I could. Again the sea gulls taunted me, trailing the boat with ease and hovering around a big blue barrel next to the hag. That’s when she began reaching into the cauldron with her scooper and dumping the fish heads/guts into the water in front of me.
I slowed down for a second, repelled by the hideous smell, the gruesome chunks all around me and the terrible thoughts knifing through my brain.
“Fucking shark week!” I shouted, tredding the icy water and shooting Peter evil-yet-futile looks as the sea tossed me up and down.
He had grabbed a megaphone and directed it toward me, some 20 feet behind the slow-moving boat.
“Maybe now you’ll listen to my mother,” he said with a laugh, while wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “She can still kick some ass.”
She smiled, nodded and poured more shark bait into the sea.
“Nothing like starting the new decade off with a nice, brisk swim, eh Nikki?” Peter ribbed me into his megaphone. “But I’d advise you to pick up your pace and get back on deck as soon as possible.”
I swore at him through gulps of water, gagging and crashing through the waves as I resumed my ragged and desperate pursuit of the boat.
Then I heard the hag cry out. “Shark!!!”
She didn’t need a megaphone. I heard her well enough for the paralyzing chill to rip through me. And I’m sure she was only too happy to shriek that word in my language.
My response was to scream like a banshee until I realized maybe I better not draw any more attention to myself beyond my flailing and splashing.
Then my drenched eyes locked on the massive gray fin and I froze in the water, my teeth chattering as a wave washed over me.
The fin disappeared just as quickly, swerving around the front of the boat, so I surged forward again, but those foreign idiots kept driving the boat away from me.
“I’m really going to die. A great-white shark is going to have me for lunch,” I chattered to myself out loud, perhaps somehow trying to jinx the inevitable.
That’s when the boat stopped, still 20 or so feet away from me.
“Please … let me get back on!!” I shouted at Peter, who just eyed my predicament with morbid anticipation, like any fan of the movie, “Jaws.”
“Two sharks!!” the hag bellowed, pointing past me.
Now I would be a chew toy for two competing sharks, half of Nikki for each. I literally pissed into the sea and closed my eyes. I refused to even look back.
“Save her!” Peter suddenly yelled into his megaphone.
I faux-laughed, swallowed a rogue wave, choked and then wanted to scream, “Oh, now you fucks decide to save me, when it’s too fucking late!!”
But I never got the words out of my mouth for two reasons.
One, I saw what I thought was Fin No. 1 again, directly between me and the stern.
Two, a man in a hooded black wetsuit dove off the second deck and splashed into the water to the right of the boat.
He swam toward me and I rushed to meet him. He whipped around in front of me and shouted, “Put your arms around my neck!”
His voice sounded oddly familiar, but I didn’t get a good look at his face. He was young. And strong. I clung to his back through a wave and he swam us toward the boat.
“Thank you,” I yelled into his hooded ear as my eyes darted left and right to see where the next fin would pop up.
But my jaw dropped when he suddenly stopped in mid-stroke and jerked me off his back, still a good 8 feet from safety.
“What are you doing?!!” I screamed.
He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eyes.
“No fucking way!” he shouted.
“B-but h-how?” was all I could stutter before I pushed away from his grasp and dove underneath the water. The cold didn’t even bother me anymore. I just dove and dove, ready to die — either by shark or lack of oxygen. I was done with this world.
However, the sight of a great-white shark under water, maybe 15 feet away, made me change my mind in a frozen heartbeat.
I shot back up to the surface and swam for the stern with whatever energy I had left.
“Save her or we’ll leave you both to die!” I heard Peter shout at Thomas “Lee” Harvey, his black hood bobbing in the water. The boat had moved slightly further away from us while I was under.
It was too late anyway. One of the sharks circled us both on his menu, mercifully choosing Thomas as the appetizer.
Yet Thomas refused to be lunch. When the shark’s head came up toward him at an angle, he reared back with his right arm and punched it hard near the eye. That caused the shark to swerve sharply away from us, enough so that I exploded toward the boat, thrashing violently until I reached the outstretched hand of our tormenter, Peter.
“That a girl!” he had the gall to say as he yanked me up with ease and placed my hypothermia-ruined body on the lower deck. At least I was still in one piece, I marveled to myself.
Peter tossed a warm blanket over my quasi-corpse, and then shouted toward the water, “Great job, Tom! There’s hope for you yet.”
“Fuck you!” Thomas shot back, refusing Peter’s attempt to assist him as he got back on board.
“Hey, shut the hell up and get yo ass back up here!” Roy shouted down from the top deck. “This ain’t some pussy prison.”
“No shit, I just punched out a shark.”
“A baby shark, really,” Peter pointed out, extending his arms as the boat dipped between waves. “Only about 3 meters long.”
Thomas shot him a homicidal stare, one I knew well. Peter just smiled, daring him to take a swing. Roy descended the ladder a few rungs and towered over both of them, but he glowered at Thomas.
“OK thug. Get back up there … or take your shot at a great black and see how that goes down,” Roy challenged him.
“And I wouldn’t call Roy a baby,” Peter quipped.
Thomas kept his mouth shut, started unzipping his wetsuit and dripped his way up the ladder following Roy. Thankfully, he never looked down at me, still a miserable heap on the deck.
Peter, on the other hand, flashed me his best anchor-man smile and, of course, a wink. I hissed and pulled the blanket over my head.
Thomas “Lee” Harvey — who should still be in prison on the other side of the world until 2039 for shooting me and Adam Upton because we derailed his plot to shoot up our New Hampshire high school — somehow had been reinserted into my real-life nightmare. He also had stared down a great-white shark and survived.
Looking at it another way, The Bridge had sprung my would-be killer out of jail and tricked him into rescuing me so they could apparently torture us both even more.
Perhaps succumbing as a chew toy for a “baby” shark would have been a more merciful fate after all.
Read the rest of the book on Kindle ($2.99) or in paperback ($13.99) at the Amazon link below. The book is also available at Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Conn., and all major ebook retailers. The first two books in the Nikki Janicek series, STREAKS OF BLUE and NIKKI BLUE: SOURCE OF TROUBLE, also are available at all of the same retailers.