SUNDAY, MAY 2, 2004
In the darkness, he touched her arm and said, "Stay here." She did not move, just waited. The smell of salt water was strong. She heard the faint gurgle of water.
Then the lights came on, reflecting off the surface of a large open tank, perhaps fifty meters long and twenty meters wide. It might have been an indoor swimming pool, except for all the electronic equipment that surrounded it.
And the very strange device at the far end of the pool.
Jonathan Marshall came back to her, grinning like an idiot. "Qu'estce que tu penses?" he said, though he knew his pronunciation was terrible. "What do you think?"
"It is magnificent," the girl said. When she spoke English, her accent sounded exotic. In fact, everything about her was exotic, Jonathan thought. With her dark skin, high cheekbones, and black hair, she might have been a model. And she strutted like a model in her short skirt and spike heels. She was half Vietnamese, and her name was Marisa. "But no one else is here?" she said, looking around.
"No, no," he said. "It's Sunday. No one is coming."
Jonathan Marshall was twenty-four, a graduate student in physics from London, working for the summer at the ultra-modern Laboratoire Ondulatoirethe wave mechanics laboratoryof the French Marine Institute in Vissy, just north of Paris. But the suburb was mostly the residence of young families, and it had been a lonely summer for Marshall. Which was why he could not believe his good fortune at meeting this girl. This extraordinarily beautiful and sexy girl.
"Show me what it does, this machine," Marisa said. Her eyes were shining. "Show me what it is you do."
"My pleasure," Marshall said. He moved to the large control panel and began to switch on the pumps and sensors. The thirty panels of the wave machine at the far end of the tank clicked, one after another.
He glanced back at her, and she smiled at him. "It is so complicated," she said. She came and stood beside him at the control panel. "Your research is recorded on cameras?"
"Yes, we have cameras in the ceiling, and on the sides of the tank. They make a visual record of the waves that are generated. We also have pressure sensors in the tanks that record pressure parameters of the passing wave."
"These cameras are on now?"
"No, no," he said. "We don't need them; we're not doing an experiment."
"Perhaps we are," she said, resting her hand on his shoulder. Her fingers were long and delicate. She had beautiful fingers.
She watched for a minute, then said, "This room, everything is so expensive. You must have great security, no?"
"Not really," he said. "Just cards to get in. And only one security camera." He gestured over his shoulder. "That one back in the corner."
She turned to look. "And that is turned on?" she said.
"Oh yes," he said. "That's always on."
She slid her hand to caress his neck lightly. "So is someone watching us now?"
"Then we should behave."
"Probably. Anyway, what about your boyfriend?"
"Him." She gave a derisive snort. "I have had enough of him."
Earlier that day, Marshall had gone from his small apartment to the caf? on rue Montaigne, the caf? he went to every morning, taking a journal article with him to read as usual. Then this girl had sat down at the next table, with her boyfriend. The couple had promptly fallen into an argument.
In truth, Marshall felt that Marisa and the boyfriend didn't seem to belong together. He was American, a beefy, red-faced fellow built like a footballer, with longish hair and wire-frame glasses that did not suit his thick features. He looked like a pig trying to appear scholarly.
His name was Jim, and he was angry with Marisa, apparently because she had spent the previous night away from him. "I don't know why you won't tell me where you were," he kept repeating.
"It is none of your business, that's why."
"But I thought we were going to have dinner together."
"Jimmy, I told you we were not."
"No, you told me you were. And I was waiting at the hotel for you. All night."
"So? No one made you. You could go out. Enjoy yourself."
"But I was waiting for you."
"Jimmy, you do not own me." She was exasperated by him, sighing, throwing up her hands, or slapping her bare knees. Her legs were crossed, and the short skirt rode up high. "I do as I please."
"Yes," she said, and at that moment she turned to Marshall and said, "What is that you are reading? It looks very complicated."
At first Marshall was alarmed. She was clearly talking to him to taunt the boyfriend. He did not want to be drawn into the couple's dispute.
"It's physics," he said briefly, and turned slightly away. He tried to ignore her beauty.
"What kind of physics?" she persisted.
"Wave mechanics. Ocean waves."
"So, you are a student?"
"Ah. And clearly intelligent. You are English? Why are you in France?"
And before he knew it, he was talking to her, and she introduced the boyfriend, who gave Marshall a smirk and a limp handshake. It was still very uncomfortable, but the girl behaved as if it were not.
"So you work around here? What sort of work? A tank with a machine? Really, I can't imagine what you say. Will you show me?"
And now they were here, in the wave mechanics laboratory. And Jimmy, the boyfriend, was sulking in the parking lot outside, smoking a cigarette.
"What shall we do about Jimmy?" she said, standing beside Marshall while he worked at the control panel.
"He can't smoke in here."
"I will see that he does not. But I don't want to make him more angry. Can I let him in, do you think?"
Marshall felt disappointment flood through him. "Sure. I guess."
Then she squeezed his shoulder. "Don't worry, he is busy later with other business of his."
She went and opened the door at the back of the lab, and Jimmy came in. Marshall glanced back and saw him hanging back, hands in his pockets. Marisa came up to stand beside Marshall again, at the control panel.
"He's all right," she said. "Now show me."
The electric motors at the far end of the tank whirred, and the wave paddles generated the first wave. It was a small wave, and it rippled smoothly down the length of the tank, to splash on a slanted panel at the near end.
"So, this is a tidal wave?" she said.
"It is a simulation of a tsunami, yes," Marshall said, his fingers tapping the keyboard. On the control panel, displays showed temperature and pressure, generated false-color images of the wave.
"A simulation," she said. "Meaning what?"
"We can make waves up to one meter high in this tank," Marshall said. "But the real tsunamis are four, eight, ten meters high. Occasionally even more."
"A wave in the ocean that is ten meters?" Her eyes widened. "Really?" She was looking toward the ceiling, trying to imagine it.
Marshall nodded. That would be over thirty feet high, the height of a three-story building. And it would be moving at eight hundred kilometers an hour, roaring up to the shore.
"And when it comes to the shore?" she said. "Is that the slope at this end? It looks like a pebble texture on it. Is that the shore?"
"That's right," Marshall said. "How high the wave goes up the shore is a function of the angle of the slope. We can adjust the slope to any angle."
The boyfriend came forward, moving closer to the tank, but still he hung back. He never said a word.
Marisa was excited. "You can adjust it? How?"
"It is motorized."
"To any angle?" She giggled. "Show me vingt-sept degrees. Twenty-seven."
"Coming up." Marshall typed at the keyboard. With a slight grinding sound, the slope of the shore angled higher.
The American boyfriend went closer to the tank to look, drawn by the activity. It was fascinating, Marshall thought. Anybody would be interested. But the guy never spoke. He just stood and watched the pebbled surface tilt. Soon it stopped.
"So that is the slope?" she said.
"Yes," Marshall said. "Although in point of fact, twenty-seven degrees is fairly steep, more than the average shoreline in the real world. Maybe I should set it to"
Her dark hand closed over his. "No, no," she said. Her skin was soft. "Leave it. Show me a wave. I want to see a wave."
Small waves were being generated every thirty seconds. They rippled along the length of the tank, with a slight whoosh. "Well, I first have to know the shape of the shoreline. Right now, it's flat beach, but if it was an inlet of some kind amp;"
"Will it change to make an inlet?"
"Really? Show me."
"What kind of inlet do you want? A harbor, a river, a bay amp;"
"Oh," she said, shrugging, "make a bay."
He smiled. "Fine. How big?"
With the whir of electric motors, the shoreline began to sink into a curve, the slope indenting into a bowl.
"Fantastic," she said. "Come on, Jonathan, show me the wave."
"Not yet. How big is the bay?"
"Oh amp;" She gestured in the air. "One mile. A bay of one mile. Now will you show me?" She leaned toward him. "I do not like to wait. You should know this."
He smelled her perfume. He typed quickly. "Here it comes," he said. "A big wave, coming into a one-mile bay, with a twenty-seven-degree slope."
There was a much louder whoosh as the next wave was generated at the far end of the tank, and then it rippled smoothly toward them, a raised line of water about six inches high.
"Oh!" Marisa pouted. "You promised me it would be big."
"Just wait," he said.
"It will grow?" she said, giggling. She put her hand on his shoulder again. Then the American glanced back, and gave her a dirty look. She jerked her chin in the air, defiant. But when he looked back at the tank, she took her hand away.
Marshall felt despondent again. She was just using him, he was a pawn in this game between them.
"You said it will grow?" she said.
"Yes," Marshall said, "the wave will grow as it comes to the shore. In deep water a tsunami is small, but in shallow water it builds. And the inlet will concentrate its power, so it goes higher."
The wave rose higher, and then smashed against the curved shore at the near end. It foamed white, and sloshed up the sides of the shore. It came up about five feet, he guessed.
"So it comes high," she said. "In the real world?"
"That's about forty, fifty feet," he said. "Fifteen meters."
"Ooh la la," she said, pursing her lips. "So a person cannot run away from this."
"Oh no," Marshall said. "You can't outrun a tidal wave. There was a wave in Hilo, Hawaii, in 1957, came right down the streets of the town, tall as the buildings, people ran from it but"
"So that's it?" the American said. "That's all it does?" His voice was growly, like he needed to clear his throat.
"Don't mind him," she said quietly.
"Yes, that's what we do here," Marshall said. "We generate waves"
"Jesus f**king A," the American said. "I could do that in my bathtub when I was six months old."
"Well," Marshall said, gesturing to the control panel, and the monitors displaying data, "we generate a lot of databases for researchers around the world who are"
"Yeah, yeah. That's enough. Boring as whale shit. I'm leaving. You coming, Marisa, or not?" He stood and glared at her.
Marshall heard her suck in her breath.
"No," she said. "I am not."
The American turned and walked off, slamming the door loudly as he left.
Her apartment was just across the river from Notre Dame, and from the balcony in the bedroom he had a beautiful view of the cathedral, which was lighted at night. It was ten o'clock, but there was still a deep blue in the sky. He looked down at the street below, the lights of the caf?s, the crowds walking on the streets. It was a busy and glamorous scene.
"Don't worry," she said, behind him. "If you're looking for Jimmy, he won't come here."
Actually, the thought hadn't occurred to him, until she mentioned it. "No?"
"No," she said. "He will go elsewhere. Jimmy has many women." She took a sip of red wine, then set the glass down on the bedside table. Unceremoniously, she pulled her top over her head and dropped her skirt. She was wearing nothing beneath.
Still in her high heels, she walked toward him. He must have seemed surprised, because she said, "I told you: I do not like to wait," and threw her arms around him and kissed him hard, fiercely, almost angrily. The next moments were awkward, trying to kiss while she tore off his clothes. She was breathing hard, almost panting. She never spoke. She was so passionate she seemed almost angry, and her beauty, the physical perfection of her dark body, intimidated him, but not for long.
Afterward she lay against him, her skin soft but her body taut beneath the surface. The bedroom ceiling had a soft glow from the church fa?ade opposite. He was relaxed, but she seemed, if anything, to be energized, restless after making love. He wondered if she had really come, despite her moans and her final cries. And then abruptly, she got up.
She took a sip of wine. "To the toilet," she said, and turned away, passing through a door. She had left her wineglass. He sat up and took a sip, seeing the delicate pattern of her lipstick on the rim.
He looked at the bed and saw the dark streaks on the sheets from her heels. She had not taken them off until midway through their love-making. Now the heels were tossed away, coming to a stop beneath the window. Signs of their passion. He still felt, even now, as if he were in a dream. He had never been with a woman like this. Beautiful like this, living in a place like this. He wondered how much this apartment cost, the wood paneling, the perfect location amp; He took another sip of wine. He could get used to this, he thought.