Eventually, the particle plume reached the sea. In a startled tumult it dispersed, broadening its sweep, extending its reach, no longer limited by the boundaries of a landmass beneath it. Like a heat-dazed serpent uncoiling under sudden shade, the pale gold shimmer of dust unfurled a lacy haze above the deep blue waters of Africa's western coastline. Its elegant leading edge undulating toward the lush distant lands of the Caribbean and the Americas, the golden filigree of ancient dust was visible from space. Thousands of unseen eyes began to watch it, waiting and wondering what effect it might have on distant shores and distant lives.
May 31, 4:57 p.m., eastern coast of Barbados
"Did you cut every one of my classes?" Richard Carlisle?senior meteorologist for a major TV network, professor emeritus of the meteorology department at Cornell, and generally mild-mannered Southerner on the receding edge of middle age?stared at his former student with undisguised disbelief. He might have laughed if his safety weren't at stake.
Barely sparing it a glance, Richard pointed, straight armed, to the breadth of paned glass behind him. The window framed the limitless expanse of the Atlantic Ocean from the steep, rugged cliffs dropping below him to a horizon nearly obscured by an encroaching, churning late-afternoon sky. Thick layers of cumulonimbus mamma clouds resembled sinister, undulating bubble wrap as they stretched across the water.
"In case you were asleep at the wheel that semester, Denny, what's brewing out there is called a tropical storm. The sustained wind speed is fifty-five miles an hour and gusts are hitting seventy-five. Does that mean anything to you, son?" He paused. "Let me refresh your memory. A person can't remain vertical against anything stronger than that. And you want me to go out there?on a rooftop terrace?and do my stand-up? Are you plumb crazy?"
He would have preferred to say something stronger, but there were too many between-shift waitstaffers bustling through the rooftop dining room of one of Barbados's most luxurious oceanfront hotels on the eve of hurricane season. The island, the easternmost in the Caribbean and arguably the first that would feel the effects of the season's weather, was facing the upcoming storm season in typical Caribbean style, with a languid shrug.
Twenty-four-year-old Denny Buxton, Richard's former student and current assistant producer, grinned with the unique idiocy of someone who has seen just enough of life not to realize he hasn't seen nearly enough. "Dude, c'mon. The Weather Channel guys do it. Hell, Jim Cantore is somewhere on a beach right now getting his ass sandblasted six ways 'til Sunday." Denny paused. "Okay, how's this? We'll tie you down. I saw some of those loop things in the floor that they use to tie down tents."
Richard continued to stare at him, dumbfounded. The kid was a fool. Unfortunately, he was also right. Viewership spiked during bad weather, but doing something crazy never hurt.
Denny's idiot grin never faded. In fact, it grew broader. "You want to do it. Holy shit, man, I can't believe it. You're gonna do it." Laughing, Denny exchanged an exuberant high five with the cameraman, who was not much older and no more sensible.