Showing posts with label hurricane. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hurricane. Show all posts

07 December 2018

Opening Lines: Best and Favorite

by O'Neil De Noux
OK, we've had a few posts about opening lines but I do not think we SleuthSayers put up a post about the favorite and the best opening lines of a short story and novel we have written. So here is my subjective opinion of mine.

The Best opening line of a novel I've written is:

The wail of bagpipes echoes through the cold fog and silences the men at the earthen rampart behind the Rodriguez Canal.
– from BATTLE KISS (2011)

American breastworks at The Battle of New Orleans battlefield, Chalmette, LA
Photo ©2011 O'Neil De Noux

My favorite opening line of a novel I've written is:

There is no trick-or-treating Halloween night, two months AK – After Katrina.
– from CITY OF SECRETS (2013)


Photo of sculpture Mackenzie by Vincent De Noux used on cover of CITY OF SECRETS

The Best opening line of a short story I've written is:

It was a kiss with promise behind it, as much promise as a good girl would give, enough to make my heart race as we stood under the yellow bulb of her front gallery.
– from "Too Wise" (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Vol 132, No. 5, November 2008 Issue

My favorite opening line of a short story I've written is:

The black German shepherd wasn't a cadaver dog but she found the skeleton in the hideaway closet under the stairs of the unpainted, wooden shotgun house.
– from "Just a Old Lady" (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Vol. 60, No. 9, September 2015 Issue)

Lagniappe. How about a Worst? Here is the Worst opening line of a story I wrote that was published:

It was a dark and stormy night with the wind barking through the mangroves like the voices of angry two-year olds fighting over crayons and I dreamt of a land far away, very far away, a helluva distance away, probably on the other side of the world where it wasn't dark nor was there a storm barking through the mangroves, a place where the mangroves were peaceful and green and I could sit reading Shelley or Keats or maybe Sidney Shelton without the wind whipping the pages of my book or the rain pelting my eyes, blurring my vision of Daphne in a see-through dress with the sunlight streaming through the diaphanous material and I could see all her goodies and make yummy sounds as she slinked up to me like a skank in the night (no, it wouldn't be night because we would be on the other side of the world and the sun would be shining – through her dress).
– from "Like a Stank in the Night" (Hardboiled Sex 2006 Collection)

So what are your favorite and best opening lines? What about your worst?

www.oneildenoux.com



17 September 2017

Road Trip

by Leigh Lundin

Shortly before Hurricane Irma struck, I closed shop and ran, thinking Alabama looked pretty desirable as the massive storm trampled South Florida. I’d gassed up a couple of days earlier, fortunate because stations in Orlando and along the interstates had closed for lack of fuel. I came across a full-sized bus (like a tour bus) abandoned on the Interstate, which made me wonder if it had run dry.

I shot north on I-75 fighting rain and high winds. Before hitting the Georgia border, I turned west on I-10 churning as much distance as possible from the hurricane. Past Tallahassee, my gauge read a quarter tank and it had become obvious no place had fuel. News article had mentioned people driving until they ran out of gasoline; I didn’t want to be one of those gamblers.

Angel from Alabama

The first of a series of quiet heroines helped out, an Alabama emergency services operator who monitored shelters not only in her state, but took the time to look up Georgia and Florida as well. With her guidance, I turned back toward Tallahassee and located a refuge in a Baptist Church… closed… but a sign offered directions to a Red Cross shelter in a nearby elementary school. They squeezed me in and gave me a cot. A women lent me a blanket and sheet.

I’d brought Valentine, my 30-year-old cockatoo. His old travel case was long gone, and pet stores and Walmart had been sold out of pet carriers and cages for days. I nested a couple of plastic baskets and later borrowed a plastic kennel from the Red Cross until I could buy a cage.

Through our stay, the pets were universally well-behaved– several dogs, a kitten, a gecko, a fish, and Valentine. A couple of adults could have taken lessons.

Do Unto Others

Bunker living comes with unspoken rules, mainly a duty to intrude upon others as little as possible and likewise ignore annoyances as much as possible. Good citizens don’t notice tetchy babies, major bra adjustments, and peculiar pajama habits. Really, it was okay that one lady chose to spend day and night in her pajamas… there wasn’t much to do anyway. I have little knowledge of other guys, so I never guessed any male past the age of eight wore pajamas. Now that I’ve witnessed man-jammies, I’d consider legislation outlawing them.

Several of us wanted to shampoo, but we encountered an unanticipated problem. Sinks for 1st and 2nd graders are only knee-high to an adult. It just ain’t possible.

Restrooms presented an additional problem. Florida classrooms are built very differently from their northern counterparts. Schools in the cooler north are constructed with indoor corridors and inward-facing rooms, more like a hotel than a motel, where the latter’s room doors open onto a walkway. Florida schools usually take the motel approach with outward-facing rooms opening onto sidewalks. That meant people visiting the loos had to force their way outside and stagger through driving winds and rains. Fortunately, a teachers’ lounge contained a couple of indoor restrooms, so one could choose to queue up or brave the elements.

Can you hear me now?

Unlike Houston, Irma disrupted phone land lines. Cell service and SMS (texts) still remain spotty… sometimes one bar, sometimes zero. The most reliable communications has oddly been wifi, although with so many people using it at once, the internet crawled.

Here the etiquette rules broke down when one hardheaded mother tried to stream Barbie videos while the rest of us simply prayed for email to respond. Worse, she let her daughter play video games on her tablet keeping others awake at three in the morning. As residents and Red Cross volunteers begged her to shut down the racket, she slept– or pretended to sleep. I offered ear-buds, an offer ignored.

Next day, some of the ladies tried a quiet chat with the young mother who pointedly turned her back. Later, those frustrated women were seen stirring a cauldron, chanting into the winds and wearing odd black hats. Soon after, that mother vanished. I’m not saying there’s a connection, but…

Cross at the Red Cross

Another complained loudly and bitterly about the Red Cross, especially that they weren’t feeding us, which seemed strange since they provided coffee, food and snacks 24-hours a day. I think she meant they weren’t offering seafood and chateaubriand, but she became so belligerent, volunteers refused to deal with her without a deputy present. A worker asked if I could speak with my wife– she camped next to my cot. When I explained I didn’t know her, the worker said, “Lucky you!” As soon as the main crisis abated, the sheriff’s department escorted the overstressed woman and her son away, reportedly to a homeless shelter. Potential murder mystery material here.

I don’t know if it’s related, but as I was driving through the fringes of the hurricane, a radio broadcast urged people not to donate to the Red Cross. I don’t know what the hostess’ issues were, but frankly, the Red Cross became my heroes and heroines. Not only did they feed and shelter people, but they cleaned up after us. Criticize the ladies (and men) of the Red Cross, and I have a few words to say about it.

One young father was proactive in cleaning up, getting kids involved and he himself swept up, but as local all-clears were given, nearby residents walked out, leaving the cleanup to volunteers. I discovered most out-of-state Red Cross helpers pay their own way to drive into disaster, deprivation and danger to help others. If that’s not quietly heroic, I don’t know what is.

The Kid in Me

Children liked me mainly because I haven’t grown up. My reply to people who say “You’d make a great father,” is no, I simply make a great uncle.

The young dad who helped with the cleanup was terrific with the kids. On a stage at one end of the auditorium-cum-cafeteria, he organized dodgeball with the kids. Somewhere he found a scaled-down basketball goal, a huge pink dollhouse perhaps 4’ by 4’, and a similarly-sized kitchen cabinet/oven/dishwasher/sink/refrigerator play set. While little girls climbed all over the dollhouse, the boys were a bit frustrated with the lack of boys’ toys except for Star Wars action figures. Then the boys decided the kitchen set sorta, kinda looked like a castle. Thus it became Darth Vaders’s palace quarters.

I’ve now moved into a motel, although phone and SMS problems persist throughout this area. Calls drop, the internet crawls, and text messages arrive jumbled if at all. Minor stuff. People are safe and dry.

But… good news.

Yesterday, I received word power has been restored in my neighborhood. Reports say others on the street received damage including a tree crashing through the roof of the ladies who live opposite me. Fortune may have been with me this time as my house is reputedly intact.

I’ll head home but not before car repair. In the blinding rain on the interstate, I ran over a sailboat or a cow or a 4x4 or something… and it popped loose a fender on my old Acura. Once that’s dealt with, I’ll make the return journey. Gas stations have been getting fuel, although running out by afternoon. At least I won’t have the pressure of a hurricane.

I've gone through Hurricane Andrew and later three devastating hurricanes in a row: Charlie, Frances, and Jeanne. This time, evacuating was the sensible step with such a huge storm and dire predictions. Camping out in my badly damaged house for two weeks in 2004 was bearable, but 13 years later, I was not excited to repeat it.

Remembering

At least three dozen people have lost their lives in this storm. Those in the Caribbean didn’t have the option Floridians enjoyed to get the hell out of Dodge. It’s easy to forget how fortunate we are. There’s a fine line between a mini-adventure in a hurricane bunker and a catastrophic disaster.

09 October 2016

The Fantôme

Hurricane Matthew
Hurricane Matthew
by Leigh Lundin

My SleuthSayers colleagues became a personal comforting presence as Florida braced for a hurricane that had already killed 800 people in Haiti. Fortunately my area was spared with little more damage than downed limbs and a 13-hour loss of power.

Fixed in my mind was 2004 when four major hurricanes attacked Florida. Three of them impacted me personally but I came out of them with the most important thing, bodily intact.

One other positive grew out of the devastation. Enduring endless hours without electricity, with canyons lined with debris and so many fallen trees that roads remained blocked for days and weeks, I began to write.

For this Hurricane Matthew, preparations included food, water, batteries, and propane for cooking on the grill with my friend Thrush. About the time SleuthSayers started, fellow mystery author Susan Slater moved from New Mexico to St. Augustine two miles from the ocean, well within reach of the winds and surge zone. She retreated to stay with friends on higher ground. Another friend and writer, Claire Poulsen, abandoned Amelia Island for the safety of a cabin in North Carolina.

But when I think of hurricanes, I don’t think of my own experiences, fortunately dreadfully dull. Instead, other efforts come to mind.

Labor Day Hurricane

The building of the Florida East Coast Railway makes a fascinating tale involving ingenious engineers, incredibly brave laborers, and an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit.

During construction, hurricanes struck in the late 1800s, then again in 1906 and 1909. I have been unable to identify the date, but one of the stories involved a rescue train chased by a ’cane that didn’t take the time to turn around. The train raced up the coast backwards to avoid the deadly winds.

In testament to the careful planning and design, the current US 1 Overseas Highway is partly built on footings constructed more than a century ago. The FECR sold the right-of-way to the State of Florida for pennies on the dollar following the deadly Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the one described by Lionel Barrymore in Key Largo.

Castaway Cay
Hurricane Floyd

The incredible engineering of a century ago was brought home in a personally observed way. Disney Cruise Line leases Castaway Cay (formerly Gordo Cay) from the Bahamian government. In taking over the private island, Disney built a pier its ships can sidle against so that passengers can come and go using gangways rather than tenders.

In 1999, Hurricane Floyd swept through the Bahamas. Disney evacuated the island of the few dozen resident cast members (employees). It was with trepidation a team returned to the island where they found two surprises.

Voices in the Dark
In my teens, it was ‘a thing’ to visit the airport at night where we could stand out on a deck with our dates, cuddling and watching flights coming and going. Well, mostly cuddling but we could tune in speakers to listen to air traffic controllers in flat, unemotional voices direct planes amid hand-offs with ground control.

NASA flight controllers use similar restrained, equable commands and commentary during launches and landings. Those passionless voices sends chills when listening to the unforgettable recordings from the takeoff of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the fiery disintegration of Columbia over Texas.
The buildings remained largely intact and most of the wind destruction involved little more than shingles and lounge chairs. The real surprise was the pier. That massive hunk of concrete and steel twisted up out of the seabed like a bitter joke. The storm surge made a mockery of our so-called ‘modern’ construction. Whereas hundreds of Flagler’s railroad foundations remain intact today, this present-day foundation ended up junk.

Hurricane Mitch

On 26 October 1998, I joined a consulting project with shore-based operations of Disney Cruise Line. The people I worked with were experienced ship’s officers, mostly captains extensively recruited from Europe and the US Coast Guard, plus a couple of South Africans and Australians. Unlike me, the other members were professional seamen.

The same day I started my job, Tropical Storm Mitch became Category 5 Hurricane Mitch heading toward Honduras. Unleashing twenty days of hell, it would become one of the most unpredictable of cyclonic storms, wreaking devastation through Central America, slugging Florida, then sailing across the Atlantic where it slapped the British Isles and Iceland. It would take 9000 lives, mostly in Central America. Thirty-one of those lives became of special interest.

Fantôme
The Fantôme (The Phantom)

The four-masted, steel-hulled Fantôme was a beautiful ship with a fascinating history. Purchased in 1927 by the Duke of Westminster, it was later acquired by the Guinness family. At the outbreak of WW-II, Ernest Guinness docked her in Seattle. There it remained until 1953 because of unpaid fees and taxes.

Aristotle Onassis, who would later marry Jackie Kennedy, purchased the yacht, renovated it, intending it as a wedding gift for Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco. Gossip says the couple omitted Onassis from their guest list, forfeiting the lovely present. In 1969, the owner of Windjammer Cruises swapped a freighter for the schooner and spent another fortune, reportedly $6-million, refurbishing it as the Windjammer flagship.

The Wait

On 25 October, TS Mitch, a thousand miles distant, grew in strength and changed course toward Jamaica. As a precaution, Captain Guyan March dropped off the one-hundred passengers and ten non-essential crew at Belize City.

Based upon the latest models and frankly unpredictable storm path estimates, March headed north. The hurricane stopped dead. Then it turned. The Fantôme reversed south in efforts to dodge the onrushing storm apparently driving toward the Yucatán. The captain intended to shelter in the lee of Roatan, but Category 5 Mitch with winds of 300kmph (185mph, 162 knots) veered magnetically toward the ship. A desperate Fantôme turned eastward toward the open sea.

31 Souls

In the Disney Cruise Line offices in Celebration, Florida, the European staff had set up an espresso machine with a number of flavored syrups to supplement the coffee maker. The coffee station contained one other instrument, a shortwave radio.

Upon arrival, I found the professionals gathered around coffee and charts. While tracking the hurricane and the Fantôme, they listened in on the cat-and-mouse playing out in the wavebands of the radio, the coast guards in the flat tones of men aware lives were at stake.

The hurricane picked up her skirts, exchanging eye-wall speeds of 250kmph (155mph, 135 knots) for forward motion. About 16:30 on the 27th, the Fantôme relayed her position. As the storm center approached the vessel, the Fantôme radioed she was fighting winds of 100 knots and four-storey high seas. Five o’clock approached. Few standing around the radio moved to go home.

And then…

And then nothing. Silence. Not silence, but a repeating call into the abyss.

“Fantôme… S/V Fantôme… Fantôme…”

Through the next day. And the next.

“Fantôme… S/V Fantôme… Fantôme…”

Men wore hollow looks. Women blinked away tears.

“Fantôme… S/V Fantôme… Fantôme…”

Days passed. The hurricane swung north.

On 2 November as Mitch took aim at Florida, the British destroyer HMS Sheffield found life-preservers and rafts bearing the stamp S/V Fantôme floating off the coast of Guanaja.

The beautiful Phantom had vanished.