ESCAPE (N.) 1: AN ACT OF BREAKING FREE FROM CONFINEMENT OR CONTROL 2: AN ACT OF SUCCESSFULLY AVOIDING SOMETHING DANGEROUS, UNPLEASANT OR UNWELCOME 3: A MEANS OF ESCAPING FROM SOMEWHERE 4: A TEMPORARY DISTRACTION FROM REALITY OR ROUTINE.
Execution is meaningless without escape.
There’s no point getting something if you can’t get away with it.
In this case, Kurt, Paige and associates have executed the removal of a billion dollars from a Russian arms dealer (the get) and now they’re trying to live to enjoy it (the getaway). So they’re “successfully” (well, hopefully) “avoiding something dangerous, unpleasant or unwelcome,” that is, getting shot to pieces—which, absent a suicidal urge, is all three.
The money itself, the cash, is already escaping in trucks to a laundry in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Paige, Kurt and Crazy Isaiah (one of the aforementioned associates) are now trying to surf their way in through a very big wave known as the Banzai Pipeline East to make it to shore at Cabo Blanco, Peru.
This is not easy.
(If escaping were easy, everyone would do it. See Thoreau, Henry David, “Lives of quiet desperation, most men.”)
Big-wave surfing is not easy.
(If big-wave surfing were easy, everyone…no, they wouldn’t.)
Kurt and Paige are doing it.
They’re on the edge, the lip, the blade of the ax of a very big wave blown up by a local wind known as el virazón.
(It’s been my experience that anytime anything is titled el instead of the, it’s a bad motherfucker. This is especially true of drug traffickers, but that’s literally another story.)
Ol’ el virazón has whipped this wave up to a little over 40 feet.
Not the biggest wave ever ridden, by any means, but consider this—
It weighs 500 tons and it’s moving at 70 miles per hour. So if you wipe out, fall off that board coming down the face, you’re going to smack into the water at 70, and then a million pounds of water are going to come down on top of you—dangerous, unpleasant and unwelcome.
Repeatedly, if this is the first of, say, a four-wave set.
That’s if you’re even alive after the washing machine has rolled you, bent you, bounced you, slammed you, burst your eardrums and/or ripped your joints out of your sockets. That’s if you’re even “lucky” enough to make it to the surface at all to let the next 500 tons crash on you, if you haven’t drowned already or become so disoriented (the eardrum thing) that you dive down instead of up.
But say you do make it to the surface.
Now you’re in something cheerfully called “the impact zone.” And no, this is not like “the splash zone” at SeaWorld, where they give you a plastic poncho and you get all wet when the whale smacks its tail into the water and everyone screams and laughs.
This is where, normally, someone would be risking his or her life to zoom in on a Zodiac and get you the hell out of there before the next wave comes down on both of you.
This is the problem for Kurt, Paige and Isaiah.
There is nobody in a Zodiac to pull them out of the impact zone. This is going to be strictly YOYO.
You’re On Your Own.
You vs. the Ocean.
And here’s the thing that every waterman does or should know:
The ocean does not care.
Anthropomorphisms aside, the ocean is going to do what it is going to do without regard or concern for you, your life, your life story, your concerns, your hopes, wishes, dreams or needs. You are a nothing, a cipher, a zero, an insignificant speck to even the smallest wave, never mind one of these mackers.
Even if it could care, it wouldn’t, it doesn’t.
This is what Kurt has always liked about waves—or for that matter mountains or sky—what he likes about physics.
Now he glances at Paige, about to go over the top.
The only thing worse than going over the edge of a wave like this is going over late. A slice of a second too late and you can’t get set on your board, you’ll pitch over forward and then you’re in for the whole tumble down the face from which you probably won’t be able to recover.
So Kurt’s relieved when he sees her launch.
Then he goes.
A wave is energy.
Literally. That’s what it is.
And a big wave is a lot of energy, and Paige feels it thrumming under her board as she makes the drop.
You have to survive the drop.
Survive that first almost vertical plunge and you can find a sweet spot in the wave, this one a big left-hander. Paige turns in to it, toward the curve of the barrel, and jets down at a diagonal, cutting a white line through the angry green water. The wave bounces under her, tries to throw her off, but this woman has balance from years of skiing, confidence that she can stay upright. Surfing is not her best thing—running, climbing and skiing are—but she is a world-class ultra-athlete and her body is usually going to do what she demands of it and now she demands that it stay on that board, and it does and then—
She hits a bump, an arbitrarily cruel ruffle that at 70 per is enough, and suddenly she’s not in the water, she’s in the air.
Kurt makes the drop.
Now he’s not thinking about Paige.
Let’s be honest here.
He’s thinking about survival.
He’s not even really thinking, he’s reacting. His muscles and nerves are working together to feel that wave under him and stay on it, and years of surfing, climbing and running have given his legs the strength to do it as—
The wave curls over him and he’s in the—
Famous tube, the greenroom, the barrel—
He reaches out his back hand to touch the water and then—
The water envelops him.
This is where a surfer can just disappear. A big wave swallows him (Jonah meets whale) and never spits him back out, at least not alive. If you’re watching from the outside, the surfer is just gone, that’s all, all you see is water and all you can do is wait and hope, and now—
The wave shoots him out the tube, fast and hard, and he stays on until it’s all white water, jumps off and turns to try to see Paige and Isaiah.
Isaiah he sees, wading in, all six-seven of him hard to miss.
He doesn’t see Paige.
Look, if stealing a billion bucks were easy, everyone would do it, not just Wall Street cocksuckers and Congress.
(You steal a mere billion in lower Manhattan or D.C., you a small-change chump, Charlie.)
So in addition to the wave issue, Kurt, Paige and Crazy Isaiah have another problem—a go-fast boat with three angry and armed Russians (one of them being Yegor Chubaiv, former owner of said billion dollars) coming their way at speed from the 535-foot yacht that used to contain the cash.
Yegor is pissed.
(a) It’s his money.
(b) He believes his stepson Lev was in on it.
(c) He further believes that what’s his is his and what’s yours is his. (See above, Wall Street cocksuckers and Congress.)
The go-fast is bouncing like goofy crazy and Yegor doesn’t figure it’s going to catch the miscreants, because they left (escaped, if you will) in his helicopter, adding the proverbial insult to the proverbial injury, not to mention another hundred mil to the tally.
Then he sees his helicopter.
Well, remnants of it.
Busted up, floating on the swell.
As are random $100 bills.
This makes Yegor even angrier.
What cheers him up a little is that he also sees a corpse, in a life jacket, and the last time he saw this man, the man was flying his helicopter off the deck. So this is justice of a sort, but it’s also very bad news because the chopper was carrying—
(a) The thieves that Yegor wanted to kill himself.
(b) His stepson, allegedly as a hostage, though Yegor doesn’t believe it for a second, but nevertheless it is going to play hell with his sex life when he has to inform stepson’s mother.
(c) Worse, much worse, the billion dollars in cash, which is now sinking into very deep water in a very strong current.
Good that the bastards have received their just deserts, bad that they’ve taken his unjust deserts with them.
Yegor is very rich, but every little billion counts.
The go-fast boat pulls up.
“You think there are any survivors?” he asks his guys.
“In these seas?” one of them answers. He wants to go back to the 535-foot yacht because, fuck it, it’s not his money.
“Sons of bitches,” Yegor says.
Lev doesn’t ride a wave, he rides a billion dollars.
In the back of one of Alvaro’s trucks headed for one of Alvaro’s tame banks.
This is not because Lev is a coward or a shirker—quite the opposite—but because he has a task to perform before hooking back up with Paige and Kurt: Make sure that Alvaro (a.k.a. Señor Clean) sends the billion electronically around the world a few times and then home again.
For the fee of five percent of a billion, which is….
(Ah, fuck it, you work it out; if I’d majored in math I wouldn’t be doing this.)
In line with this objective, Army Ranger (retired) Woody Barnes sits in the front seat of the lead truck beside Alvaro with a Remington shotgun pointed at Alvaro’s neck. If anything goes wrong, the first thing to blow will be Alvaro’s head.
Off his shoulders.
It’s not a matter of trusting Alvaro—you’d have to have the collective IQ of a Westboro Church executive board meeting to trust Alvaro—but as Woody puts it—
“I trust two things in life. Myself and my dog. Unless I have a bone in my hand, then I trust myself.”
Well said, Woody.
Everything so far has gone pretty much according to plan. Oh, there have been a few wrinkles, but what’s life without a few distractions from reality or routine?
There are also a few things Lev doesn’t know.
He doesn’t know, for instance, that their pilot, Dave Davids, was killed while fake crashing the chopper into the ocean.
And he doesn’t know that Kurt and Crazy Isaiah have plunged back into said ocean (having just escaped it) in a desperate attempt to get Paige out.
Adele did a song called “Rolling in the Deep.”
All respect and love to a great singer, but Adele doesn’t know dick about rolling in the deep.
No one knows about rolling in the deep until a 40-foot wave actually rolls you in the deep and won’t let you up, and then you don’t care about your boyfriend dumping you or the scars of his love, none of that matters, you just want a breath.
Not a lot to ask, but a lot to receive when you’re 15 feet under 500 tons of water.
Paige knows about it. There’s that old expression about “not knowing up from down”? She doesn’t. How could she when she’s been rolling at high speed for 200 yards? Then the rolling stops so she can start to find her way up to the surface. The question is, which way is up?
What you can’t do in this situation is what your body wants to do.
You panic here, your heartbeat accelerates and burns up oxygen your lungs desperately need. Panic here and make one bad decision and you’re dead.
Paige doesn’t panic.
You could put that on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker and shorten it up if you want—“Paige Don’t Panic”—not in a free fall, not on a cliff face, not running in Death freaking Valley and starting to burn up from the inside.
Paige Don’t Panic.
What she does is grab her leash.
The leash is a cord Velcro’d around her ankle and attached to the board, and there’s one thing that Paige is sure of—the board will always eventually go up, not down.
So Paige pulls herself up (otherwise she’d be pushing, no?) on the cord, knowing that the surfboard is by now bobbing on the surface. Her lungs feel like they’re going to explode, but she’s trained all her life to ignore feelings and then she plunges through and grabs.
That lovely, lovely breath she’s going to need because she sees—
The next wave coming down on top of her.
Paige grabs another breath and dives under.
Kurt sees her headstone.
This is not as morbid as it sounds—a headstone in this context is the top of a surfboard bobbing above the water.
It’s not a bad sign or for that matter a good one. It could mean that the leash snapped and Paige could be anywhere. It could also mean that she’s unconscious under the board.
But it’s the only chance he has, so he swims toward it.
So does CI, a much stronger swimmer and waterman.
Problem is, by the time they can fight their way into the white water, it’s washed the board away and they have to start looking again.
Three more times.
Waves crash on Paige and she goes under.
The board lurches and takes her on a ride, and she thinks of trying to bend forward—a sit-up against tons of rushing water—and unhook herself, as the board is now a possible blessing or a curse. It’s dragging her around, but it’s also her orientation to “up,” and it could be seen by her friends, if indeed theymade it to shore.
Three times she takes as much air into her lungs as she can and goes under, knowing she’s going to be under for a long time. The last time she doesn’t think she’s going to make it—the board takes her for a sled ride and then she feels the damnedest thing on her back.
Paige gets her feet under her and forces herself up.
Stands in knee-deep white water, doubles over, gasps for air, then straightens up to find Kurt and CI.
Sees them out in the water, looking for her.
Paige waves her arms and yells.
“Guys! I’m on the beach!”