Read Hunting the Dragon Online

Authors: Peter Dixon

Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult

Hunting the Dragon

Copyright © 2010 by Peter Dixon. All rights Reserved. Published by Hyperion, an Imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information please address Hyperion, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.

Printed in the United States of America

First Edition

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file.

ISBN 978-1-4231-4738-1

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www.hyperionbooksforchildren.com

To Marilyn and Paul Stader
for friendship and helping hands

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

F
irst, the dolphins. Thank you all for swimming among us, for inspiring compassion and bringing joy. We’re better humans because you exist in the wild. Your deaths in the nets have fostered empathy for your kind in most of us.

Thanks to all ocean defenders and warriors who fight the constant battle against the needless slaughter of dolphins and whales, and even sharks. Thanks to all who give their time and effort to protect the sea from the ever-growing waste flushed down rivers from our factories and cities, dumped from garbage scows and ships into the oceans. Then there’s the disposable military ordnance, chemical and nuclear, carelessly consigned to the depths. Thanks to the Cousteau family for taking us underwater and opening our eyes to the beauty of
The Silent World
. I’m indebted to Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd, the Greenpeace activists, and Sam LeBuddie, whose video brought about international awareness of the killing of dolphins to catch tuna. Good fortune to all who are fighting to stop the slaughter of whales and dolphins and the ever-rising tide of human assault on the seas.

I’m grateful to my longtime friend, the late pioneer marine biologist Dr. Rimmon C. Fay, who saw the future decades ago and inspired me by his wisdom to help protect the ocean’s fragile health. Included among those who care is Hugo Verlomme, a fellow waterman, who first read the manuscript, found merit in my work, and took the risk of publishing this book in France. David Konig’s skill in translating English to French gave the manuscript art and life. Thank you both. When help was needed most, Chris Palmer, wildlife film producer and founder of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking, offered generous support.

Editorial assistance and enthusiasm far beyond the norm was graciously given by my super agent Albert Zuckerman of Writers House, and editor Wendy Lefkon of Hyperion Books. Pahl Dixon’s careful review and typo-hunting skills helped the manuscript find its way into readers’ hands.

So many people have helped to me live by, on, and, briefly, under the sea. I thank you all. Most of all, I shout out my deep love for Sarah Dixon, who swims by my side through life—loving, caring, and laughing.

INTRODUCTION

M
any people—good friends, colleagues, and those I’ve met on my life’s journey—contributed to the writing of this novel. The chilling story that Phil Eastley told me of his experiences on a tuna clipper was the motivating moment that set me on the path to write this book. Phil was perhaps the first to dive into a purse seine to save netted dolphins—and he was made to suffer for his compassion.

Dolphins—bless them for their exuberance and joyousness. I first swam with dolphins at the old Marineland sea park in Palos Verdes, California, under the watchful eye of Dr. David Brown, curator of marine mammals. David helped me to understand their physiology and spiritual side. I’m also indebted to my mentor, film director Paul Stader and his wife, Marilyn, who believed that this young diver could be depended on underwater. Paul invited me to join the stunt divers on the old
Sea Hunt
TV series. That path led to meeting producer Ivan Tors, who was launching a series about a dolphin named Flipper.

While Ivan was waiting for NBC to decide to broadcast
Flipper
I decided to write an episode on my own. The moment I heard that the network had bought
Flipper
I presented the script to Ivan. Then I waited. Ivan called next week. He remarked, “This one’s too long. I’ll shoot it as a twoparter. And I want you to write the first episode.” I went on to write many more scripts about that remarkable dolphin and her human family. Yes,
her
. Flipper was in reality female.

Work for the Cousteau Society brought me into contact with dolphins again. Writing books and filming documentaries with my wife, Sarah, in Japan, Mexico, Trinidad, El Salvador, Canada, New Zealand, and many other coastal countries also allowed swims with dolphins. Then came Phil Eastley’s moving account of dolphins’ slaughter in the nets for dollar-a-can tuna…and this book was born some years later. Thank you, Phil.

In closing, I must state that all the characters in this novel are fictitious and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

Peter Dixon

Malibu, California

CHAPTER ONE

H
e stood in the open boat and looked far out to sea. The afternoon glare burned his eyes, but he could see that the huge swells breaking over Bombora Reef, Fiji, were still possible to surf. His stomach muscles tightened and he noticed his heart was pounding. He wondered if his tension was from excitement or fear.

As Billy watched the swells break and become surfing waves, he peeled a flake of sunburned skin off his tender nose. He flicked it away, and the tiny fragment of dried human bark landed on the water beside the skiff. He wondered how many layers of skin he had left to offer the sea. It was time to slather another coat of sunblock on his nose. Distracted by the surf boiling over the reef, he forgot. Then he saw a small fish dart from the coral and his flake of nose tissue went down its mouth.

Except where his body was covered by faded heavy-duty red nylon surfing trunks, Billy glowed a healthy brown. But no amount of sunscreen created a strong enough barrier against the bombardment of ultraviolet rays that daily tanned his muscular eighteen-year-old surfer’s body. His whole torso was a case of skin cancer waiting to happen. He didn’t care. Since Billy Crawford had been an airhead Southern Californian sun-bronzed ten-year-old, the surfing addiction had grabbed him with a force stronger than food, girls, or money.

He was in Fiji fulfilling his dream of a surfer’s endless summer by working his way around the oceans of the world. His search for the perfect wave was a consuming goal and the reason he had decided to skip college for a couple of years.

Bombora Island was the primo place to find the ultimate wave. Better yet, he had a job as a surf-taxi wrangler, running boatloads of guests from the Bombora Surf Camp out to Bombora Reef, four miles offshore. At the reef he would anchor the skiff in deep water off to the side of the break. There he’d lifeguard the surfers until they were so exhausted they could barely paddle toward another wave.

He stared at the giant, storm-born swells rolling in from the Tasman Sea far to the south and sensed they were growing even larger. The swells, which would soon become perfect surf, marched in relentlessly. For an instant before they broke, the crests hovered as if not wanting to end their long journey. Then the swells destroyed themselves in white-maned explosions on this remote Fijian coral reef.

At Bombora Reef, the gigantic waves formed a shoulder: part churning crest, part smooth unbroken slope. On a curling Bombora wave a skilled surfer could ride a half mile and more. These were the waves that the guests he was responsible for had traveled halfway around the world to challenge.

Billy leaned against the warm shroud of a Yamaha 50-horsepower outboard motor and judged that they were breaking an honest sixteen feet from crest to trough.
Best surf in three months, and getting bigger
.

He had anchored the boat where the reef descended into a deepwater channel. It was so deep, he believed, that no wave could possibly break here. Not far beyond the launch, and just in front of the churning white water, was the only spot where a surfer could take off safely. To be caught inside a wave’s crushing maw meant a horrendous wipeout, followed by a pounding on the sharp coral that lay waiting only feet below the surface.

He watched enviously as the surfers he had taxied out to Bombora Reef paddled frantically to position themselves for these dangerous but nearly perfect waves. One of them turned, took three strokes, and began sliding down the steep face of a tunneling breaker. He stood, and a second later, white water cascaded around him. The surfer angled steeply downward gaining speed. Near the bottom he turned and accelerated across the translucent moving wall of water and raced ahead of the curling shoulder. Then he slowed, allowing the wave to tunnel over him. Billy saw him vanish inside the tube and feared he would be pounded onto the reef. As the wave collapsed, tons of falling water compressed the air inside the rolling cylinder. The air then exploded out of the open end of the tunnel, shooting the surfer safely out of the wave.

Billy was stoked by the surfer’s fantastic ride and thrust his fists into the air in self-congratulation.

What am I doing in the boat? Billy asked himself. He grabbed his nine-foot big wave board and leaped over the side. Three minutes later he paddled into the lineup with the other surfers.

A huge swell passed under Billy’s surfboard and he was lifted skyward. He looked out to sea and gasped. “Oh, no! Here they come!” What he saw was a series of giant, jagged-edged moving mountains rushing toward them. He knew these swells would produce waves of such size and force, such violence and speed, that very few surfers could survive a wipeout if they were fool enough to ride one. They were true killer waves—one of nature’s most powerful phenomena.

Alone, he would have gone for it, because he knew Bombora Reef and the exact moment to launch down the wave’s slope. Today was different, and Billy hesitated. The massive swells charging toward them would totally dominate the surfers he had been hired to protect. Billy stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled a loud blast. His shrill warning carried across the open water to the seven wave riders sitting dumbly astride their boards, unaware of the coming watery avalanche.

Seven heads turned as one to stare at Billy and saw him pointing frantically at the horizon. He screamed the one word they would all understand and respond to:
“Outside!”

They heard Billy and knew that something dangerous was approaching.

The surfers saw the awesome swells and began paddling rapidly seaward in a desperate attempt to escape before it was too late.

Billy stroked furiously, making sure the surfers were all moving out to sea. He studied the swells and knew there was a good chance one might break in the channel where the launch was anchored. It was all happening too fast. He thought fearfully, Without the boat, we’ve had it.

They all made it over the first of the giant crests. He looked seaward. More mountainous swells marched toward them. They gotta be twenty-five feet!, he thought as he paddled up the face of the next one. He made it over the top, as did the rest of the surfers. The outside swells were even larger.

There were four more in the set, all killers, all so pregnant with force that anyone caught in the impact zone would be battered and held down longer than a panting, exhausted surfer could survive. And then there was a real danger of being jammed between the coral heads.

He glanced at the boat as a house-high swell passed under the hull. The bow lifted and the anchor line grew dangerously taut. Would it hold? Would a wave swamp their only link to the surf camp? There wasn’t time to worry about his dumb decision to surf instead of stay on the boat. He had to get his flock of frightened, gasping surfers to safety.

“Paddle! Damn it! Paddle!” he bellowed, feeling his shoulder muscles ache from the tremendous strain. Two of the stronger, more experienced surfers were angling for the channel, knowing that deeper water would retard the swells from breaking. The others took their lead and followed. An overweight, out-of-shape kid began to fall behind. He turned to Billy. Between fearful gasps he yelled, “I’m not going to make it!”

All Billy could do was scream, “Paddle!”

A monster swell rushed down on them, looming so tall it cast a dark, ominous shadow. The thundering roar, and the hiss of moisture-laden air displaced by the towering bulk of the wave, combined to send a stab of fear deep into Billy’s guts.

He took another few deep strokes and reached the winded kid. The surfer’s eyes were wide with dread and his arms dug in feebly. Billy knew he was spent. He had two choices—help the guy, or leave him. If the exhausted surfer went over the falls and was caught in the maelstrom of breaking waves and jagged coral, he would die. Billy did the only thing he could: try to save him. As the swell began to break, he shoved the surfer’s board up the swell’s face with all the strength he had left.

As he pushed the kid upward, he lost his own momentum. His board began sliding backward down the wave’s steep front. He would be blasted and buried if he didn’t make a desperate move for survival. With a last look at the surfer, who was scrambling over the top of the breaking crest, Billy flipped his board around and took one deep stroke down the wave’s near-vertical face.

His takeoff was impossibly late, but the wave seemed to hesitate an instant before it slammed down. The reprieve gave Billy a microsecond to come to his feet and push the nose of his board downward. The cresting wave was so steep he almost pitchpoled, but his stance was perfect and he retained control. As he shot toward the trough, he shifted his inside foot back and pressed downward. The board’s fin dug in and he began the critical bottom turn. Deep in the dark wet valley of the wave, he trimmed the board and raced from the monster that was plunging down on him. His speed was now so great that it carried him ahead of the collapsing wave and out onto its shoulder. Billy was going so fast that his board hummed with the fin’s vibration. He could have ridden on to the channel, where the wave’s great force would dissipate in deeper water, but there was the boat and the other surfers. He angled upward, flew over the top of the wave and out of its grip.

Billy dropped over the backside and saw a huge rogue swell rolling down on the anchored boat. He prayed that it wouldn’t break on the frail fiberglass hull. His prayer wasn’t granted. Ten yards in front of the boat the giant wave crashed down. The launch, outboard, seats, and life preservers were blasted free. It was as if Neptune’s trident had smashed their means of survival into atoms.

Well outside the waves’ impact zone, Billy gathered the panicked surfers together. As they caught their breath and fought down fear, Billy glanced at the sun. Three hours of daylight left. They could attempt paddling back to the surf camp, but he knew that the fast-moving current was against them. In the darkness they’d likely miss the island. If they failed to reach Bombora, the next landfall was Tonga, six hundred miles to the southeast. Or they could wait here until someone missed them and dispatched another boat. Then Billy remembered he wasn’t expected back until dark. If rescue didn’t come before nightfall, they might not be found at all. He could just see the island through the mist created by the huge surf pounding the reef.

He stared at the shaken, gasping surfers. They were beginning to shiver. Was it from the breeze chilling their wet, exhausted bodies, or from shock? Their lives were in his hands, and he thought, It’s time to play leader and show some confidence.

With forced calm, he told them, “We’re paddling back. So, pair up and stick together. We’ll be easier to spot in a group.”

“I’ll never make it,” said the chubby surfer Billy had saved.

Another glared at Billy and muttered, “You should have stayed in the boat.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” he answered trying to sound tough. “Let’s go, unless you want to hang around here for the reef sharks. They feed at night.”

They had paddled two of the four miles when the sun touched the horizon. The current was flowing against them and they were making slow progress. Billy took a bearing on an early rising star and judged the direction of the wind and current. If he missed the camp in the darkness, they were dead. He tried to jolly his increasingly fearful group, “Hey, we’re doing great. I bet they’ll save supper for us. Come on, only a couple miles more.”

In the fading light, the silhouette of Bombora Island, low in the sea and etched with the jagged fringes of coco palms, vanished in the growing dimness. He called a break and promised that salvation was only a short paddle away. “We can do it, guys. An hour more!”

Twelve minutes later darkness came with an abrupt, tropic suddenness. Billy heard one of the surfers whisper, “Dear God, don’t let me die out here.”

He shouted at him to knock it off, and said it was their guts that would save their lives. He felt the same fear, but added, “They’ll be out looking for us. It’ll just be a few minutes. Hang in there and keep paddling.”

There was no moon and Billy was beginning to doubt they’d make the island. On his exhausted shoulders hung the knowledge that he was responsible for this disaster.

Something long and dark whooshed past his surfboard and he instinctively pulled his arms out of the water. Was it a white-tipped reef shark, a green venomous sea snake, or what? One of the others cried out, “Sharks!”

“Shut up and keep paddling,” Billy threatened.

Another black form appeared and slowed beside Billy. He heard a of rush of air and felt warm moisture drift down on him. Then came a burst of rapid click-ticks, followed by a highpitched whistling. He peered into the darkness and drew back as a rounded beak emerged from the water next to his leg. Behind the snout was a bulbous head and Billy cried out, “Hey, guys. We lucked out. They’re dolphins! We don’t have to worry about sharks now.”

The shadowy cetaceans took up positions forward of the group. Billy imagined they were pointing the way back to the island and told the surfers to follow them. They paddled another five minutes, refreshed by their convoy of spouting escorts. Suddenly, the dolphins vanished. He sensed their disappearance was for a reason. He called for a rest, and told everyone to be silent. Three minutes passed. His dread came boiling up again. Then he heard the familiar sound of an idling Yamaha outboard. Billy whistled louder than he had ever whistled before. A handheld searchlight probed through the darkness. Then a voice boomed across the water, “Hey, Billy! We’re coming!”

He recognized Druku’s deep baritone and thanked the Fijian gods of old for placing this good-natured, smiling personification of the bula spirit of hospitality aboard the rescue boat. Nobody but Druku could have found them in the darkness.

“What are you doing paddling back, Billy?” Druku asked as he helped him aboard the launch.

“You know me. I went surfin’ when I should have stayed in the boat. The waves took it.”

“Figures, bro.”

“How’d you find us in the dark?”

“The dolphins…”

Billy offered a silent prayer of thanks and asked, “Do you think they really led you to us?”

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