Authors: Des Hunt
It wasn’t until half an hour later that I could give Vermin’s message to Milt. In the meantime I was being rescued.
The male voice I’d heard calling was a worker who had come to check the sheep. He’d pulled up in the ute to ask Steph what was going on. After hearing about the smoke, he’d decided to investigate further. By then Steph was getting worried and didn’t want to stay by herself, so she joined the search as well.
After being scared by the sheep carcass, she’d then found me and thought I was dead, too. Apparently, she screamed louder than the first time—so loud that the worker thought she was being murdered. Fortunately, I came to just as he rushed onto the scene, otherwise he might’ve panicked, too.
The worker put out the fire, while Steph fussed over me, asking again and again whether I was all right.
I assured her that, apart from a sore neck, I was fine, and soon we were climbing back up the hill. We were driven to Tarquins where I gave my report. I would have preferred to tell Milt without Steph hearing. However, she was still hanging on to me as if I might die if she left my side. As a consequence, she heard about the threat to kill Pimi, which on top of everything else caused her to break down and start crying.
Milt found two upset kids too much to handle, for he quickly rang home, asking Dad to pick us up. Hence I
missed Milt’s conversation with the police and only heard about it much later in the evening, after I’d been sleeping all day.
A warrant had been issued for Scott Grey’s arrest, based on trespassing and his assault on me. The police didn’t come to Hauruanui, because they already knew he’d left the area. Vermin had been stopped for speeding on State Highway 5 out of Eketahuna. At the time, the officer was surprised to find a driver dressed as if he was off to war. But after accepting the explanation that it was for a paintball competition, he gave him a ticket and let him go. That was ten minutes before the warrant was issued.
Thus Scott Grey was still at large. However, the police were taking his threats seriously. Milt had passed on my information about the smell on Vermin’s breath. That, coupled with his behaviour, made the police suspect he was taking methamphetamine, or P. If this was the case, his behaviour could become even more bizarre. A roadblock had been set up outside Wally’s pub just in case he decided to return to the area. We were assured that we could sleep soundly: the roadblock would be in place until Vermin was caught.
Unfortunately, there are some things that the police cannot control, that nobody can control, no matter how powerful they are.
At eight a.m. local time, a large earthquake struck the southern tip of Chile. It was eleven o’clock at night in New Zealand. Within half an hour, a tsunami alert had been issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii.
The first I knew of any of this was a loud bashing on our back door at just after four in the morning. I stayed in bed, hoping that Dad would get it. He did, but when I heard snippets of conversation my curiosity got the better of me. It was Wally saying that a Civil Defence alert had been issued and Dad was needed at the CD post.
The post for Hauruanui was the pub, and Wally and Dad were the two wardens. Usually this didn’t involve much other than a few exercises each year. Every so often there would be a decent storm which meant the roads were blocked for a while, but in my lifetime there had never been anything really big, although Wally often talked about what would happen when the Big One came.
However, from what he was saying, this tsunami wasn’t going to be it.
‘Nobody expects it to come to much,’ he said, sounding a little disappointed. ‘Still, we’re going to have to treat it as if it will. They’ve called for the total evacuation of the east coast of New Zealand. Anywhere under twenty metres above sea level.’
‘Have the radio bulletins started?’ asked Dad.
Wally nodded. ‘Plus TV. And all the cell-phone towers along the coast have sent out text messages, not that anyone around here will get them.’
‘Will we get any help from the police?’
‘Unlikely. They’ll be concentrating on the bigger places. There must be thousands of people at places like Castlepoint and Riversdale. They’ll reckon we can deal with a couple of dozen surfies. Even those two manning the roadblock have gone, saying they were called back to Masterton.’
That made me prick up my ears. ‘The roadblock’s gone?’
‘Yep!’ replied Wally. Then he saw my concern. ‘Don’t worry about it, Jake. He won’t be back. His sort are usually pretty gutless—one sniff of danger and they’re off. He won’t be going anywhere near the coast.’
I wasn’t so sure, but I kept quiet.
‘When’s this thing coming?’ asked Dad.
‘Just after midday. There’s no great rush, though headquarters want everyone evacuated by ten o’clock. We should be able to do that, easy.’
I wasn’t really listening anymore. My mind had shifted to Whale Pot Bay, and the things that needed to be done there. ‘What about the boat?’ I interrupted.
‘That’s a point,’ said Dad.
‘I think you’re going to have to risk it,’ suggested Wally.
Dad thought for a while. ‘Yeah. I’ll be busy here. Even if we got someone to take it to Castlepoint, we wouldn’t be able to get it out of the water. The trailer would still be back here.’
‘It’ll be all right,’ said Wally. ‘Chances are the whole thing won’t come to anything anyway.’
So, it was decided: the boat would stay where it was. Milt’s boat would probably do the same. But there was one other sea-going thing that I wasn’t prepared to let stay in the bay, and that was Pimi. She had to be convinced to get away. That was a job for Steph. I looked at the time and decided to wait until it was light. It was no use waking her until we could see what we were doing. After all, as Wally said, there was no need to rush.
There were still five hours to go when Steph and I headed to Whale Pot Bay. Dad was out trying to convince the campers at Hauruanui Beach to head to higher ground, and Vicky had the job of running the service station, just in case the evacuees needed petrol.
The people at Tarquins were in a state of high excitement when we arrived. Milt was closely watching television, Colin was typing furiously at the computer, while Melanie was striding about the room, too excited to sit down.
‘I’ve solved it!’ she shouted as soon as we walked in. ‘I know what buried the whaling station.’
I smiled. It was easy once you had the right clues. ‘A tsunami?’ I suggested.
‘Yes. But I know exactly when. On 7 November 1837, there was an earthquake in exactly the same region of Chile as this one.’
‘And it created huge waves here?’ I asked, unwilling to believe it.
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘Tell them, Colin.’
Colin stopped typing. ‘I got in touch with a lecturer who’s working on tsunami. He said that tsunami from South America always affect some places in New Zealand more than others, particularly around Christchurch. He’s been trying to find out why. One hypothesis is that the Chatham Islands concentrate the waves on the Canterbury coast. That seems to happen when the earthquakes are in northern Chile. He’s worked out that an earthquake as far south as this one will get concentrated on the Wairarapa coast—right around here. He thinks the damage done to the whaling station proves it.’
Milt muted the television. ‘That doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen this time,’ he said. ‘The latest reports are that it is smaller than expected.’ He pointed at the screen. ‘A report has just come in from Easter Island. They’ve detected two waves, but neither caused any damage.’
He returned the sound so that we could hear the announcer.
‘—and we have just received another report. This is from Russkaya, the Russian research station in Antarctica. ’ A map showing the location of Russkaya appeared on the screen. ‘They also report two waves, fifteen minutes apart, with the second one bigger than the first. It drove some boats up onto the shore, but otherwise caused no damage. After the brek, we’ll return to Civil Defence Headquarters for an update on the evacuation.’ Then an advertisement came on, which Milt quickly muted.
‘Looks like it’s a fizzer,’ he said. ‘I’m not going to bother about shifting the boat.’
‘It could be worse than you think, Milt,’ said Melanie. ‘I think we should bring everything from the dig up here. I don’t want to lose all the work we’ve done so far.’
‘And Pimi,’ cried Steph. ‘We’ve got to do something about Pimi.’
‘Yes,’ agreed Colin. ‘We’ve got to get her out to sea.’
‘Will she be all right out there?’ asked Steph, looking worried.
‘Yes. The tsunami wave is only high in shallow water. If she goes out five kilometres or so, she’ll be right.’
‘She might already be out there,’ I suggested.
Colin shook his head. ‘No, she’s been hanging around since daybreak. I think she’s waiting for you.’
I nodded. ‘Then we’d better go and feed her.’
‘Yes,’ added Steph. ‘And I’ll have a talk to her. I’ll soon convince her to go out to sea. She’ll do it for her baby.’ Then she smiled. ‘I’ll make sure she does.’
The sea was flat calm, which was good so far as Dad’s job was concerned: the lack of waves would stop the surfies moaning about having to leave the shore. On the other hand, fishermen might not be so readily shifted, because the calm sea would make for good fishing.
Pimi took little convincing to leave Whale Pot Bay. I think she’d only came in for the company. She took less than a kilo of squid before turning and idly swimming away from us. Steph swam with her for a while, talking to her until she dived—a sure sign that she was on her way. We saw her again when she breathed at the mouth of the bay, and again briefly when she was about a kilometre away. After that she was out of sight. It was all so easy that I began to think that the tsunami wasn’t going to be a problem. Once we’d packed up the dig, we’d be able to relax and sit back to watch the events from the safety of Tarquins.
It took three hours to get the stuff up to the house. It was amazing how much we’d collected when it was all put together. The last item was the whale pot. I’d suggested that it could stay behind; arguing that if it had already survived one tsunami, then it would probably survive another. But no, Melanie said everything had to be taken up to Tarquins.
The three of us were standing by the pot, working out the best way to move it when suddenly Melanie strode off to where a tent had been.
‘What’s the problem?’ I asked.
‘Something’s missing,’ she replied, her mind elsewhere.
‘What something?’ I asked.
‘That’s the problem, I don’t know. I think we should have another look around.’ So we did, although it was hard to look for something when you didn’t know what it was.
We found nothing, and eventually Melanie agreed that we should give up and get on with the difficult task of rolling the whale pot across to the elevator. However, part-way across the beach, she stopped pushing and stared at us. ‘I know what it is,’ she said. ‘Did either of you two take the harpoon up?’
Steph and I looked at each other.
‘No,’ replied Steph.
Funny things were starting to happen in my stomach. ‘Nor me,’ I said quietly.
‘Then it must still be down here.’ She marched off back to the mound. We followed, yet I knew it would be a waste of time. The harpoon had already been taken away, and not by one of us. It would have left Hauruanui in the back of Vermin’s car.
We didn’t find it, and by the time we finished, it was becoming more urgent that we get the pot up to the house. It was past ten o’clock, the deadline Civil Defence had set for all beaches to be emptied.
With considerable effort we got the pot across the rest of the bay and into the elevator. From then on it should have been easy. But it wasn’t. The elevator was overloaded and the motor almost didn’t cope. It took an age for the
cage to start moving; then, when we’d climbed about a third of the way, it stopped. I pressed the Up button, but nothing happened. I pressed it again—still nothing. On the third press, the elevator started moving. Twice more it stopped before we got to the top. Each time I had to hit the button several times to get the elevator going again. Finally we got there, and with some relief we stored the pot away in a spare bedroom, alongside the rest of the gear.
Having cleared the beach, we settled for the wait—just under two hours, if the wave arrived on time. I had a grandstand view by a window overlooking the bay. My camera was all set up in the hope that I might take some prize-winning photos. Melanie had arranged a video camera alongside another window so that she could get a full record of the event. She said that most archaeologists could only hypothesize about what might have buried things. The tsunami presented a unique opportunity to see what really happened. She wasn’t going to miss any of it.
It was a long wait. My thoughts roamed for a while before settling on thinking about school. While neither Vicky nor Dad had mentioned whether I’d be going away to school recently, I couldn’t help but think about it. I’d even gone onto the website of Dad’s old school to see what they had to offer. After searching around for a while, I got into the Art Department’s pages, and there I found something that gave me plenty to think about. Theirs was one of the few art departments in the country to offer photography at all year levels. This was supported by
several pages of photographs taken by students. Some of them were stunning, and they made me realize how little I knew. Maybe correspondence school might not be the best thing for me.
My thoughts were broken by the telephone ringing. Milt answered it and immediately switched it over to the speaker-phone.
‘—ought to know that we’ve got a bit of a problem.’ It was Wally.
‘What’s that?’ asked Milt.
‘Alan and I were down at the beach when it happened…’
He paused for so long that eventually Milt prompted, ‘Yes, Wally?’
‘We were trying to convince the surfies to evacuate, and of course half of the idiots wanted to stay to see the waves. Some even suggested going out and riding them in. Morons.’
Milt shot us an exasperated look. ‘Yes, I agree, but what was the problem you wanted to tell us about?’
‘Well, when we got back to the pub, Molly said that two vehicles had gone past, heading down to the beach. She thought that one of them might be that fella who the police were meant to keep away from the area. Scott Green, is that his name?’
Suddenly the room went very still.
‘Scott Grey,’ Milt said quietly.
‘Yeah, that’s the one. Anyway, Molly said that he had a boat on the back of the car, as if he was going fishing.’
Milt looked puzzled. ‘Wouldn’t you have seen it as you drove back?’
‘Well, that’s the thing. We went up Bill Murphy’s track, as sometimes the surfies access the small bay on his property. There weren’t any, but the cars must have gone down to the beach while we were there.’
‘So why don’t you drive back down to the beach and catch up with them?’ asked Milt.
‘We have. Well, at least Alan has.’
Again a long pause. ‘And?’ Milton prompted.
‘He’s just got back to me on the radio. He’s found one of the cars hidden behind a tree. There was no one in it, but there were newspapers and magazines all over the back seat. Alan thinks it’s that photographer guy. You know, the other fella who’s not allowed to trespass.’
‘Stuart Weston,’ I said.
Milt nodded. ‘What about the car towing the boat?’
‘It was down at the beach, but the boat was already in the water and heading out to sea. Alan says it’s definitely that Scott person.’
‘How big is the boat?’ I asked.
‘Hi, Jake,’ said Wally. ‘I thought you might be there.’
‘Yeah, how big is the boat?’
‘Your dad says it’s just a tiny thing. Not much more than a dinghy. He won’t get far with that.’
‘Would he be able to get around to Whale Pot Bay?’ asked Milt.
‘Yeah, I suppose it’s a possibility. But whether he can get there before the tsunami hits is another thing.’
‘Thanks for warning us,’ said Milt. ‘We’ll keep a watch out for him.’
‘Yeah, I thought I’d better do that. There’s nothing else we can do. There’s not enough time to put out a boat and
haul him back. Anyway, a person like that, it’s not worth the risk.’ With that final comment, he hung up.
Milt switched off the speaker-phone and looked around at us. ‘What do you think?’
Steph was the first to answer: ‘He’s after Pimi! He’s gone out to sea to get her.’
Colin leaned over and touched her arm. ‘That’s very unlikely, Steph. He can’t possibly know where she is.’
‘He’ll come here,’ I said. ‘This is where he expects to find her.’
‘He might not be after the whale,’ put in Melanie. ‘Weren’t the police afraid he might start going after you, Milt?’
‘Well, he’s not going to get me, is he? Even if he lands in the bay, he’s still stuck down there. He can’t get up here unless the elevator goes down. And if he comes up the track, he’ll still not get into the house.’ Milt gave a short chuckle. ‘I always knew building this place like a castle might come in handy some day.’ He walked over to Steph. ‘There’s nothing to worry about,’ he said, resting his hand on her head. ‘He’s not going to do anything to Pimi or to any of us here. The only person who’s likely to get hurt is himself.’
The projected arrival time for the tsunami came and went. Still there was no sign of any sort of wave. In a way it was a great let-down. All morning things had been building to a climax, only for nothing to happen.
On television, the presenters were finding it hard to keep things going. They’d showed us the aerial shots of
empty streets in Gisborne and Napier; we’d heard endless discussions about the origins of tsunami; and now all they could do was give us views from hilltops looking out at a flat sea. They kept repeating that the time given for the tsunami to reach New Zealand was only the earliest time, and it could be anything up to two hours later. They urged people to keep away from the sea; however, you could tell that they weren’t expecting anything much to happen.
With the combination of sunlight shining through my window and the background drone of the television, it was impossible for me to stay awake. I drifted into a dreamless sleep.
The next thing I knew was Milt tapping me on the shoulder and asking, ‘Where’s Steph?’
Instantly I was awake. I swung round. ‘She was behind me last time I looked. Maybe she’s gone to the toilet.’
He nodded and moved out of the lounge, calling her name. A moment later he hurried back into the room. ‘She’s not in the toilet and the elevator’s no longer up here.’
I rushed back to the window and looked down to the elevator rails. It was just arriving at the bottom. ‘She’s gone down to the beach.’
Milt shook his head in annoyance. ‘Why?’
I looked into the bay, searching for a reason. It didn’t take me long to find one. A dark shape was moving in the water a hundred metres from the shore. It was Pimi. She’d come back, and was lazing around in the surf as if she expected us to go out and feed her.