Impact - By Douglas Preston




The trick would be to slip in the side door and get the box up the back stairs without making a sound. The house was two hundred years old and you could hardly take a step without a flurry of creaks and groans. Abbey Straw eased the back door shut and tiptoed across the carpeted hallway to the landing. She could hear her father puttering around the kitchen, Red Sox game low on the radio.

Her arms hugging the box, she set her foot on the first step, eased down her weight, then the next step, and the next. She skipped the fourth step—it shrieked like a banshee—and put her weight on the fifth, the sixth, the seventh. . . . And just as she thought she was home free, the step let out a crack like a gunshot, followed by a long, dying groan.


“Abbey, what’s in the box?”

Her father stood in the doorway of the kitchen, still wearing his orange rubber boots, his checked shirt stained with diesel fuel and lobster bait. His windburned brow was creased with suspicion.

“A telescope.”

“A telescope? How much did it cost?”

“I bought it with my own money.”

“Great,” he said, his gravelly voice tense, “if you never want to go back to college and stay a waitress the rest of your life, blow your paycheck on telescopes.”

“Maybe I want to be an astronomer.”

“Do you know how much I spent on your college education?”

She turned and continued up the stairs. “You mention it only five times a day.”

“When are you going to pull yourself together?”

She slammed the door and stood for a moment in her tiny bedroom, breathing hard. With one arm she swept the bedcover free of stuffed animals, set the box down on the bed. She flopped on the bed next to the box. Why had she been adopted by white people in Maine, the whitest state in the union, in a town where everyone was white? Hadn’t there been a black hedge-fund manager somewhere looking for kids? “And where do you come from?” people would ask her, as if she’d recently arrived from Harlem—or Kenya.

She rolled over in bed, gazing at the box. Sliding out her cell phone, she dialed. “Jackie?” she whispered. “Meet me down at the wharf at nine. I got a surprise.”

Fifteen minutes later, cradling the telescope, Abbey cracked the bedroom door and listened. Her father was moving about the kitchen, washing the dishes that she was supposed to have washed that morning. The game was still on, turned up, Dave Goucher’s obnoxious voice barking out of the cheap radio. By the sound of her father’s occasional swearing she figured it must be a Sox–Yankees game. Good, he’d be distracted. She crept down the stairs, stepping gingerly, trying not to creak the old pine boards, slipped past the open kitchen door and in a moment was out and into the street.

Balancing the tripod over her shoulder, she darted past the Anchor Inn toward the town wharf. The harbor was as calm as a millpond, a great sheet of black water stretching to the dim silhouette of Louds Island, the boats lined up by the tide like white ghosts. The peppercan buoy marking the channel at the mouth of the narrow harbor blinked its light, blink, blink, blink. Above, the heavens swirled with phosphorescence.

She angled across the parking lot, past the lobster co-op, and headed onto the wharf. The strong smell of herring bait and seaweed drifted on the damp night air from a stack of old lobster traps at one end of the pier. The lobster joint hadn’t opened yet for the summer season and the outdoor picnic tables were still turned up and chained to the railings. Back up the hill she could see the lights of the town and the steeple of the Methodist Church, a black spire against the Milky Way.

“Hey.” Jackie stepped out of the shadows, the red glow of a joint bobbing in the dark. “What’s that?”

“A telescope.” Abbey took the joint and inhaled sharply, with a crackle of burning seeds. She exhaled and handed it back.

“A telescope?” asked Jackie. “What for?”

“What else is there to do around here but look at the stars?”

Jackie grunted. “How much was it?”

“Seven hundred bucks. Got it on eBay, a Celestron six-inch Cassegrain, automatic tracking, a camera and everything.”

A low whistle. “You must be getting some good tips over at the Landing.”

“They love me over there. I couldn’t get bigger tips if I was giving out blow jobs.”

Jackie burst out