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Dick had only split seconds. He opened up his satellite intercontinental link, punching out a desperate message…

...

MAYDAY… MAYDAY… MAYDAY!!… Cuttyhunk 49 south 69… UNDER ATTACK… Japanese…”

At which point the message to the Woods Hole command center was interrupted by an ax handle thudding into Dick Elkin’s head.

Nothing, repeat, nothing, was ever heard from the US Oceanographic Institute research ship again. No wreckage. No bodies. No communication. No apparent culprit. Not a sign.

And that was all eleven months ago.

At forty-one years of age, Freddie Goodwin was resigned to remaining a local newspaper reporter for the rest of his days. He had always wanted to be either a marine engineer or a marine biologist, but his grades at Duke University were not good enough to gain him a place in the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic doctorate program.

Which more or less wrapped it up, deep-seawise, for Freddie. He decided that if he could not conduct scientific research on the great oceans of the world, he would write about them instead. And he would leave the academics to his much cleverer first cousin Kate Goodwin, with whom he had always been secretly and privately in love since he first met her, when she was just nineteen, after the death of her father…and his uncle.

Freddie set off into the rougher, more competitive path of journalism and was offered a place on his local newspaper, the Cape Cod Times, after submitting an incisive interview with a Greek sea captain who had been sufficiently thoughtless during a storm to dump a twenty-thousand-ton sugar freighter aground on Nauset Beach near Freddie’s family home.

He attracted the editor’s attention because of his somewhat nifty turn of phrase, and his obdurate tenacity in running the captain to ground in the back room of a Cypriot restaurant in south Boston. The purple pen, which had unhappily proved to be an insufficient weapon to impress the MIT professors, with their tyrannical insistence on FACTS, was just fine for the Times.

The news department in Hyannis also liked facts, but not with the furtive missionary fervor of the scientists. Within a very few years Freddie Goodwin became the lead feature writer on the paper and could more or less pick his own assignments, unless something really big was happening over at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, where he was always a welcome visitor.

He was a bit of a hell-raiser by nature, a striking-looking man, and talented, and he probably could have made it in Boston or New York had he been able to tear himself away from Cape Cod. As it was he felt contented enough when his feature stories were syndicated to other papers, including the Washington Post. On reflection, he preferred to live along the humorous, unambitious edges of journalism.

Cape Cod, the narrow land of his youth, his family’s headquarters for four generations, would always be home. He had never married — some said because no one quite measured up to his beloved, unobtainable Kate — but he had his boat, he even had a lobsterman’s license, and he had a stream of girlfriends. In the summer he crewed in the Wianno Senior racing class, and he watched the Cape Cod Baseball League, supporting the Hyannis Mets. In the winter, when the population of the Cape crashes by about 80 percent, he tended to drink too much.

On occasional assignments “off-Cape,” as the locals referred to the world outside their sixty-five-mile-long peninsula, Freddie Goodwin quickly missed the sight of his homeland — not just Mulligan’s bar up in Dennisport, but also the great saltwater ponds, the marshes and the sweeping sandy coastline, the shallow, gentle waters of Nantucket Sound, and the soft warm breezes of the Gulf Stream, which wrap themselves around the western reaches of the Cape for six months of the year.

He particularly missed those gentle breezes as he stood alone in the shadow of the great windswept icy cliffs that surround Christmas Harbor on the island of Kerguelen. And he wept helplessly again for his lost Kate, and for all of the twenty-three Cape Cod seamen and six scientists who had vanished off the face of the earth on that fateful December morning almost a year previously.

He had known many of them, especially Bob Lander. Freddie’s entire family had gone to the funeral of Bob’s wife just two years ago. The Landers had lived within a mile of Freddie’s parents in Brewster for almost fifty years, and the Goodwins were grief stricken by her death from cancer. Freddie wondered how the Landers’ three children were coping with this latest tragedy.

Through Kate, he knew big Tug Mottram, and Henry Townsend, and Roger Deakins, and Kate’s two assistants, Gail and Barbara. The Woods Hole oceanographic community was as tight-knit as any law firm despite the vast size of the waterfront complex, the 1,400 employees, and the 500 students. Those who make long and perilous ocean voyages to the Arctic and the Antarctic in pursuit of deep scientific research are often bound together for all of their days.

Freddie Goodwin could not bring himself to believe the entire ship’s company of the Cuttyhunk was dead. For months he had used the columns of the Cape Cod Times to rail against the government investigation of the ship’s disappearance. He was emotionally and intellectually unable to accept the official report:

...

There is no evidence to suggest that Cuttyhunk is still floating. It must be presumed that she has gone to the bottom of the Southern Ocean with all hands. The chances of finding any survivors in these inhospitable waters is plainly zero.

At various times Freddie had demanded to know in both his newspaper and in letters to various Washington government departments how anyone could explain away Cuttyhunk’s last message: the assertion that the ship was under attack and that the Japanese were responsible. The Pentagon repeatedly pointed out that the Cuttyhunk had been the subject of an extensive sea search conducted by the US Navy over a period of three months, and that the President himself had ordered a frigate from the Seventh Fleet into the area within hours of the last message from the research ship.

Other government officials had written Freddie back in the self-interested, lethargic tones of the bureaucrat, explaining that “exhaustive inquiries from the State Department to the Japanese minister and indeed to their military High Command, had left everyone in a state of bewilderment.”

“The Japanese,” wrote one official, “are denying any involvement in the incident.”

Freddie had replied by telephone after a couple of good-size glasses of winter bourbon. “Well, what about the goddamned Chinese, or the Vietnamese or any of those other guys out there who look a bit the same to the American eye?”

No one had been able to help, and Freddie now stood beneath these dark, menacing cliffs, staring at the gray, icy waters of Choiseul Bay, shivering despite his heavy foul-weather gear, pondering the tragic loss of Kate Goodwin and the crew of the Cuttyhunk.

Throughout the long ordeal of the past year, his editor, Frank Markham, had been completely supportive. Frank had suggested that it might be a good idea for Freddie to get down to Kerguelen, at the newspaper’s expense, and write a series of features about the island at the end of the world, using the loss of the Cuttyhunk as its centerpiece.

“You find a way to get there, we’ll pay and help you get organized, and then you can have a darned good snoop around and see if anything shakes loose.”

Frank had put his arm around Freddie and told him that if he found one thing, it would be a huge story, and that the experience would be cathartic. “Maybe help you lay your Kate to rest, at least in your own mind.”

And now the star feature writer from the Cape Cod Times stood alone on this blasted shoreline, trying to wipe the freezing tears from his face, and he stared out forlornly at another research ship, waiting with engines running a hundred yards out, the one that had carried him from Miami to Kerguelen.

His final destination was the McMurdo Station, from where he would be airlifted out by helicopter and eventually flown back to Boston. Frank Markham had paid the ship’s owners the sum of $4,000 to hang around for two or three days while the reporter gathered his material.

As it happened they would probably have done it for nothing. Everyone liked the writer from Cape Cod, and he had regaled the crew throughout the long southern voyage with stories about Cuttyhunk and those who sailed in her. By the time they arrived off Christmas Harbor, no one aboard that research ship believed that the whole truth about the ship’s disappearance had yet emerged. Freddie had convinced them all that his cousin might still be alive.

Today, with the sea calm for once, he had been permitted to go ashore alone in a rubber Zodiac, which he had driven into the beach, raised the outboard, and dragged ashore — it was an exercise he had been carrying out in somewhat warmer waters since he was old enough to walk.

Alone with his thoughts and memories, he stared in turn at the landscape and at his chart of the island. A lifelong devotee of Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, Freddie kept telling himself that the answers lay in the “little gray cells.” He had jotted down the known final positions of Cuttyhunk, and looking at his charts he could see they must have run down to Kerguelen’s northwestern headland, right past Bligh’s Cap.

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