Clipper

The big seaplane droned on towards the bright orange setting sun. Viewed from the front, the two story Martin Clipper looked like the face of a huge dog with two long ears sticking straight out over a long snout. The upper wing was joined to two shorter lower wing-like areas by four diagonal bars. Four Pratt and Whitney propellers turned in unison, making a single sound. Every once in a while, number two slipped out of sync, slightly slower, producing an annoying change in rhythm. Flight Engineer Johnson, two weeks out of engineer’s school, ran to his panel and adjusted the controls to stop the noise. His two main tasks were to keep the engines running and in sync.
Too late.
The Captain turned and scowled. The light from the setting sun glinted off his gold wings as he sat with his arms crossed, staring back at the flustered man until the engines returned to their normal sound.
“Probably woke him up.” Johnson kept his thoughts to himself. The Captain was still annoyed. He glared at his Radio Officer, seated behind him at the navigators table. “Harris, did you make a position report to that vessel back there?”
“Yes, sir. I just finished. She’s on her way to Auckland, too.”
The cockpit door opened as the other engineer walked in.
“Cap, there’s a funny smell coming from the rear cargo hold and I can’t find it. It’s not a burning smell, just funny. How about sending somebody to investigate?”
Johnson quickly stood up, hoping to check out the red head in the sheer white dress he spotted boarding in Honolulu. She was a real looker.
“No, you sit down and do your job. From the sounds I heard, you need the practice. Harris, you go.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
Harris stood and smiled at Johnson then made his way down the steps and past the galley. The two stewards were busy with preparations for the evening meal. It was always hard to prepare a six course gourmet dinner every night, but they did a superb job. His stomach growled. He’d stop on the way back for some nuts off the appetizer tray.
As he passed through the main cabin, some passengers looked up, but most didn’t. They were engrossed in reading or doing crosswords or just enjoying the cocktail hour. He passed by two Japanese men who did notice and stopped their conversation until he’d passed.
The older man wore a loose suit with a white starched shirt and a knotted tie with a stickpin. His younger companion had removed his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and loosened his tie. The older man put down his newspaper and leaned closer towards his seatmate. They whispered in Japanese.
“The pictures are clear.”
“The entire Pacific fleet is in.”
“It is what the admirals wanted.”
“We accomplished our mission.”
“We serve the Emperor.”
Eyes closed, both men bowed slightly in their seats. None of the other three dozen passengers looked in their direction.
Harris walked down the main corridor, past the galley, forward passenger compartment, lounge/dining room, two rear passenger compartments and into a bathroom. He opened the cargo compartment hatch to the right of the sink cabinet, stepped through, and shut it behind him. Wooden crates, full of everything from ears of corn to light bulbs, rows of suitcases, and dozens of clothing trunks filled the area.
“Where do I start?”
Harris pushed aside a four foot tall mailbag, climbed over a rectangular metal locker, then sat on it. He sniffed the air.
“I don’t smell anything.”
The cruise ship off their right wing was just over two miles away.
An orange ball of fire erupted from the cabin windows, then a huge boom as the plane exploded. Burning pieces fell to the sea. The fuselage broke apart as it hit the ocean. The passengers on the port rail, out to watch the sunset, stood in silence, mouths and eyes agape in astonishment and disbelief.
Rescue boats launched from the cruise-ship found very little, just a few cushions and shoes floating amid an oil slick. The sailors collected as much as they could before dark and returned to their ship. On board, a young sailor opened a satchel, pulled out a paper, looked at it, then gasped and ran to the bridge.
Shoving the bag into the arms of the ship’s captain, he exclaimed, “Captain, you won’t believe this!”
Inside the satchel were several photos, some already blurred by exposure to the sea. Yet they were unmistakable. A harbor with ships and buildings were clearly noted in Japanese.
“Isn’t that Pearl Harbor?”

8 thoughts on “Clipper

    • Kathy Panzella says:

      John, Appreciate your time and consideration. I didn’t know if this should be the prologue or put in the story as a flashback or bit of info. Would love readers for the rest of the book, if you have time. If you want to read 40 more pages, email me kcpwriter@gmail.com, thanks, Kathy

  1. Douglas Hazelrigg says:

    I, too, was engaged. It’s well-written and easy to follow. It’s somewhat unclear at this point how, or even if, the Japanese gents, who are obviously agents of some sort, are directly related to the explosion on the plane, but one assumes this will become more clear as one continues with the story.

    Some criticisms:

    You have written what the Japanese men say in English, even though they are in reality whispering in Japanese. This sort of omniscient narrator reveal doesn’t quite work for me. Of course, the challenge is to provide the reader with enough information so they have a good idea what’s going on, while maintaining a sense of both realism and suspense. It occurs to me that you may not even need to include the dialogue — the fact that they’re Japanese, along with how they stopped talking until Harris had gone by, and there’s an explosion, coupled with the fact that the ship finds photos of Pearl Harbor in the plane’s debris, all adds up to the same effect, I think.

    I would have liked something suspenseful involving Harris when he is poking around in the cargo area, such as: he comes across an odd-looking device that is ticking, etc. (although my example is a bit cliche).

    After the explosion, the pace changes quite abruptly. Before, you were giving us a nice play-by-play of what was happening; but after, it’s quite abbreviated. Maybe you condensed it so the reveal about the photos would come in under the 1,000 word limit? Still, I would want something of a continuation of the same sort of pacing after the explosion, showing us some of the things the ship does in reaction to the plane exploding.

    It occurs to me that maybe the two sets of pacing should be reversed. What I mean is, a bit less detail in the first part, with just enough information to set the scene of the espionage, but MORE detail afterwards, since it seems that this is where the real body of the story will now commence. Hope that makes sense.

    Overall, good job 🙂

  2. Gerry Gainford says:

    I liked it, very like the opening of Clive Cussler novels. Some of the descriptions are a bit wordy but it reads nicely and looks like just the sort of novel I spend a day reading.

  3. Alex Zaykov says:

    Hi Kathy,
    I fully agree with the fellow campers that the opening is engaging. I think it’s a very good place and time to begin your novel. Also, you have managed to convey well the flavor of the period. Even if I don’t read extensive description, somehow the picture painted is convincing, which is great and means you’ve achieved it economically from a writing perspective.
    One point in the story that I am not sure I understood was with the Japanese passengers. I suppose the photos that were found after the explosion belong to them as they were probably spies sent to gather information prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Was the explosion on the plane caused by them? I suppose not, as it wouldn’t make sense. They would need to bring the photos back to Japan.
    I guess if I read on, the answers would be there. 🙂

    A couple of technical points:
    – The opening sentence the three adjectives for the sun seem heavy and redundant: “bright orange setting sun”;
    – a few pairs that should be hyphenated: “two story”, “six course”;
    – The dialogue between the Japanese passengers sounds as info dumping. Not sure if they are spies they would be that careless to say all this even in Japanese. And why would they need to say it? Something along the lines: – “We’ve accomplished our task.” – “We serve the emperor” is more laconic, and leaves a bit more to the imagination and, anyway, a few paragraphs later the Americans find the photos and the reader would figure things out.

    Overall, a good, engaging story. I would read on as I love historical fiction.

  4. Kathy Panzella says:

    I appreciate all your comments. I wanted to keep the Japanese dialogue so the reader would not be confused. I will rewrite it and keep both versions. There were real spies that took Pearl Harbor photos in preparation for the attack. Also, a Clipper was destroyed over the Pacific. No wreckage was found. Unfortunately, a fuel leak could have produced an explosion. In my script, this happens on page 1 so a big opening. I’m writing the script into a novel and am about 45 pgs in, which is only about 20% of the script. This will result in a 275 pg book, which is too short. The script is fast paced, which I want to keep in the novel, but also must add in descriptions and information. The script spans the globe, from San Francisco to Australia to Africa and back to New York, around a world at war in six weeks. If anyone wants to read what I’ve written so far, email me. Thanks again, Kathy

  5. NobHobbit says:

    I might not be the right reader for this story, because my feeling is about the opposite of the others. The first part was confusing to me, full of a lot of different people. I didn’t know who they were or which ones were important, or what exactly was happening, and wasn’t very interested in continuing. I’m not sure what your POV is either – omni? If you really need to keep this section, I might suggest that you stick with Johnson’s POV.

    I wasn’t really caught until the ending. I’d prefer to start with the passengers on the cruise ship seeing this unexplained explosion, and going to the rescue, and finding the satchel with the spies’ photos. Spies?? Oooh! Now, I want to read more. The only part of the last bit that threw me a little was the sailor’s instant recognition of Pearl Harbor. I am assuming that this is before the Japanese attack on the harbor? I think the overall tension would be raised if you had several people trying to figure out what the photo was of, and what it meant, rather than instantly explaining it.

    Best,
    Chelle

  6. Kathy Panzella says:

    Chelle, Thanks for your comments. Since Clippers and ships docked in Pearl Harbor, I figured the sailor would know his home port. The book has spies in it and more intrigue plus a harrowing flight around the world. The crew are in the middle of a dogfight, escape a German torpedo, and host a lady spy. Plus lots more. Will consider your suggestions. KP

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