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Authors: Steve Alten

The Loch (31 page)

BOOK: The Loch
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I was getting closer. I could see Aldourie Castle. I could see its green pastures of lawn.

And then the rising water wet my buttocks, and I knew I was going in.

Fifty yards …

The canoe wobbled with every stroke, only it scarcely moved.

Forty yards. Stay in the boat as long as possible!

The bow rose, the stern bobbed, then sank beneath me.

Oh, hell.

Releasing the paddle, I stood, then launched myself into the Loch, its all-too familiar embrace blasting my breath away as my churning legs leveled out into an awkward crawl stroke. My hiking shoes were concrete blocks, my clothing binding me, my fear preventing me from ducking my head underwater as I swam.

Twenty yards, Wallace… twenty damn yards! Two first down markers …

An image flashed in my mind's eye.
The body of a man. Naked. Dead.

"Awffff!"

Distracted, my forehead smashed painfully against a wood piling, striking it so hard I actually saw purple stars.

Get out of the damn water!

Reaching out blindly, I groped for the ladder, then dragged myself up its splintering rungs. Dizzy from the cold and exertion, I reached the summit and collapsed to my knees upon the pier, then lay back and closed my eyes, rubbing the aching knot on my head.

Eyes shut, I watched flashes of light skate past my eyelids as I listened to the waves lapping quietly below.

"You're okay. Breathe."

Calming my breaths, I allowed my weight to sink as I forced my mind to return to the subliminal images.

Something seemed different this time… clearer than the images from my previous night terrors. What was it?

Underwater… the light!

This time I had seen the light more clearly. It wasn't the sun's rays penetrating the deep, and it wasn't some heavenly glow, it was a brilliant artificial lance… an underwater lamp, penetrating my watery tomb like a lighthouse beacon.

I opened my eyes, my thoughts racing with the revelation. "That's what saved me seventeen years ago! It was an underwater light! It must have chased the creature into the deep."

I regained my feet, staring at the Loch in defiance. "I know your weakness now, Nessie, whatever the hell you are. Your eyes, they're sensitive to bright light. The next time we meet, I'll be ready."

My thoughts returned to my adventure in the canoe, and now I was confused, for it was not Justin Wagner's killer that had attacked that sturgeon. No, these water creatures, whatever they were, had been smaller, yet quite ferocious.

Was it Nessie's young, or another species?

"There's something bizarre happening here, something that's affecting the entire ecosystem." Remembering the lab, I searched my backpack for my cell phone and Sheriff Holmstrom's number.

"Sheriff, it's Zachary Wallace. What's the story with those blood samples and specimens I asked you to have analyzed? Hello?"

 

* * *

 

"I'm sorry, Dr. Wallace, I don't know how tae say this… but, well, it seems one o' our technicians misplaced yer samples."

"Misplaced?" My gut twisted in knots. "Exactly what was misplaced?"

"Everythin' ye gave us, I'm afraid. We're still searchin' the lab, an' rest assured, the man responsible's been disciplined, but—"

I hung up, cutting him off.

Angus was right, I was wasting my time.

Cursing aloud, I grabbed my backpack, then found cover beneath a larch. Stripping off my wet clothing, I changed into dry shorts and jeans.

And then another thought hit me.
Crabbit MacDonald! He was the one who had the underwater light. How did he know to carry it when he rescued me?

"That old bastard… he knows exactly what's down there."

Returning the pack to my back, I continued hiking, double-timing it north, wondering what scared me more, the creatures inhabiting Loch Ness, or the thought of confronting the old man.

 

… there is the familiar, and I have to say rather irritating confusion of Natural Selection with "randomness." Mutation is random; Natural Selection is the very opposite of random. In true Natural Selection, if a body has what it takes to survive, its genes automatically survive because they are inside it. So the genes that survive tend to be, automatically, those genes that confer on bodies the qualities that assist them to survive.


R
ICHARD
D
AWKINS,
T
HE
B
LIND
W
ATCHMAKER:
W
HY THE
E
VIDENCE OF
E
VOLUTION
R
EVEALS A
U
NIVERSE
W
ITHOUT
D
ESIGN
, 1986

 

A feasible explanation is that the "Monster" may be some type of deep water animal which only rarely comes to the surface. It is possible these animals were cut off in Loch Ness from the ocean many ages ago by earth movements, and their descendants managed to survive.


C
.
E
RIC
P
ALMER,
C
URATOR OF
N
ATURAL
H
ISTORY,
G
LASGOW
M
USEUM, 1951

Chapter 22

 

Bona Narrows, Loch Ness

W
ithin the hour, I found myself on the northeasternmost point of Loch Ness. From here, I could either find a means to cross the channel known as the Bona Narrows, bringing me again to Loch Ness's western shoreline, or I could continue on following the eastern bank another twelve twisting miles, passing Loch Dochfour and the River Ness—a winding route that would eventually lead to Inverness and the Moray Firth.

The thought of being back on the Loch in a boat unnerved me, so I continued trudging along the eastern shoreline in my wet hiking boots, prepared to walk all the way to Inverness if I had to.

The powers-that-be were about to intercede.

As I approached the Bona lighthouse, I saw the water bailiffs motorboat suddenly race across the channel, then veer sharply towards me.

Calum Forrest waved at me from the pilothouse. "Michty aye, Dr. Wallace. Ye do get a'roond, dae ye no'?"

"So they tell me. Is there something I can do for you?"

"Perhaps there's somethin' I can dae for
you.
Come aboard, I'll ta' ye across."

"No thanks. I, uh, I think I'll walk."

"What? A' the way tae Dochfour Weir? Dinnae be daft."

Before I could respond, he drove the bow of his vessel onto the gravel shoreline.

I hesitated, my pulse racing.

"C'mon, there's nae need tae worry aboot you-know-who."

His conviction, combined with the size of his boat, gave me the comfort I needed. Pushing the craft's bow away from the shallows, I climbed aboard.

"Just for the record, how can you be so sure our friend won't show up?"

"Gie me a wee bit o' credit. I may no' have yer degrees, doctor, but I've been on these waters since afore ye were in nappies. The big 'uns, they dinnae like the shallows, 'cept lately, 'course, but only after dark."

"Big ones? Then you've seen them?"

"Nah." Calum aimed the boat for the western shoreline, keeping the motor at a low idle so we could speak. "A' I've seen wis the imprint that big female left on Invermoriston beach. Same as you, yeah?"

Female? How did he know it was a female?
My eyes darted back and forth between the old man and the water's surface. "But how—"

"I'm the water bailiff, Doc. 'Tis my job tae ken whit goes on in Loch Ness."

"And how do you know it was a female?"

"A quid guess, that's all."

I didn't believe him. "Why didn't you mention any of this in court?"

"Well then, naebody asked me, did they, so stuff them, says I. As for bein' there in the first place, yer faither's bastard barrister sup'ineed me. I said what I had tae, but far as I'm concerned, he can burn in Hell if he thinks any o' us wearin' the tartan'll support Angus's nonsense."

"Then I take it you don't believe my father's story?"

"Nor dae ye, but no' 'cause o' whit I said. So keep at it, young Wallace, yer daein' fine. An' ye're right in focusin' on the Loch as a whole, for the answers tae a' ye seek lie here, no' in chasin' ghosts. But be fair warned, when it comes tae Loch Ness trust nae one, for there's far mair at stake than ye can possibly imagine."

"If you know so much then help me."

He shook his head. "I cannae dae that, laddie. I've taken a blood oath, dae ye ken whit I mean?"

"No, I don't ken… I don't understand. If there's so much at stake—"

"My grandfaither, God rest his soul, wis John Reid Forrest. His mother wis Clan Stewart, his wife, my mum, Clan MacDonald."

Message received. The Forrests were descendants from two of the largest clans in the Highlands. I'd sooner budge a mountain than move Calum Forrest. "And the Black Knights? Were they also part of your heritage?"

"Black Knights? Never heard o' them." He accelerated across the Bona Narrows, barely avoiding a tree stump.

"What separates the Black Knights from the rest of the Templar, Mr. Forrest? What's their mission?"

Calum yanked back on the throttle, then pushed his face in mine, so close I could taste his last meal under his breath. "I dinnae ken nothin' aboot no Black Knights, see, an' dinnae ask me that again."

We rode in silence until we reached the western shore. The old man wiped spray from his brow, then thought for a long moment. "Tell me, lad, have ye been salmon fishin' since ye've been back?"

"Salmon fishing? No. Why? Catch any big ones lately?"

"Naw. I've been too busy wi' a' this trial nonsense. One o' these days, I'll have tae get ower tae their spawnin' grounds an' have a wee look. Or maybe ye should have a look, aye?"

His eyes held mine, ensuring the message was delivered, then he guided us closer to shore, throttling back as the hull scrapped against the shallows.

"Go wi' God, young Wallace. May Sir William's courage flourish in yer heart."

I jumped down to the beach, then watched him speed away without so much as a nod.

I was back in Lochend, the tranquillity of the Great Glen lost amidst the heavy traffic of the A82 at my back. To the south, Loch Ness's waters reached across the valley like the shadow of a giant serpent. Her black waves lapped at my feet, and her distant thunder rumbled above her mountains, threatening an evening shower.

At that moment, I felt like Dorothy, lost in the land of Oz. Calum Forrest was my Scarecrow, pointing me toward the yellow brick road, warning me to ignore the wicked witch and stay focused on the path that lay ahead. Yet what he wasn't saying seemed more important than what he was. Surrounded by clues, I was homing in on the truth, but still couldn't see the forest for the trees.

Calum Forrest. Blood of the MacDonald and Stewart clans, and no doubt a member of the Black Knights. He knows what Nessie is, but as a Black Knight, he can't say. Still, as water bailiff it's his sworn duty to protect the Loch, but that's causing a conflict with his blood oath to the Black Knights.

"So he's reaching out to me, hoping I'll resolve the problem for him."

As if in response, the heavens growled, unleashing a flash of white lightning that disappeared over Aldourie Castle.

"Okay, Dorothy, time to find the wizard."

Wait… what was it Calum said about salmon? The spawning grounds… he wanted me to take a look.

Tightening the straps of my backpack, I jogged south, hoping to make it to Brackla and the Clansman Hotel before being struck by lightning.

Clansman Hotel
Brackla
7:45 P.M.

Vietnam veteran Pete Lindner sat on the transom of his seventeen-meter cruise ship,
Wiley
, keeping an eye on the weather as he finished off the last of his prawns and white wine. Two years earlier, the former billing manager at Verizon had taken an early retirement when Jonathan Deval, an old war buddy in the Royal Navy, had offered him a partnership in his Great Glen touring business. Since then, Lindner had spent his winters in New York with the grandkids and his summers in the Highlands, ferrying passengers up and down the Caledonian Canal from Fort William to Inverness.

But recent events had forced a change in plans. The business was clearly in Loch Ness, and the profits were too high to be wasting time and fuel trekking back and forth all the way to Fort William. So Lindner told his partner he'd stay put in the Loch, riding the tourism wave as long as he could, even if it meant mooring off Cherry Island.

Locating an open berth at the Clansman was sheer luck, tougher than finding a parking space in Manhattan.

Lindner finished off another prawn as a rental car screeched to a halt in the adjacent parking lot. Three men exited the vehicle, all in their early thirties, their laughter egged on by the alcohol moving through their bloodstream.

The leader and oldest of the three was an American named Chuck Jones, a talented musician who had once toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Jones was on hiatus from his job in law enforcement, forced to the sidelines because of a severe neck injury. The man who had planned the vacation was his cousin, Ron Casey, who also worked for the police, but as a crime scene photographer. The youngest of the trio, Chad Brager, was a former USC ice hockey defenseman and Ron Casey's best friend. The three had been on holiday in London when word of the Nessie attacks had broken. A road accident, a brainstorming session, and a quick shopping spree provided them with equipment and a plan.

Chuck Jones popped the trunk of the rental car, stepping aside to allow his more adept buddies to struggle with a heavy burlap bag and what looked like the carrying case for a trumpet.

BOOK: The Loch
2.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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