The Westhampton Hurricane

 

Published 11/14/2016

 

Chapter One

It was 7:00 A.M. when a young Colton Banyon rolled over in his twin bed and looked out the two windows of his second story bedroom. Something was not normal. A howling roar from very high winds and a torrent of rain continuously slapped against the glass outside. It made the big house vibrate and shudder. He had felt the sensation many times before. He knew a tropical storm was passing through Long Island and cursed softly. It meant he would not be spending time outside anytime soon, and there would be no adventures or new experiences to draw from today. He was stuck inside.

Too bad, he thought. I was hoping for some adventure today.

Colt was almost eighteen years old and couldn’t wait to finish growing up and reach the legal age limit. He felt like his brain was an empty shell that needed to be filled with knowledge and experience. He approached every day with raw youthful optimism. He wanted to learn. His energy level was always high. He attacked even daily tasks with two goals—he wanted do them faster and do them better. Life was one constant adventure to him. However, he didn’t believe he would have a chance to advance his knowledge and learn new skills that day.

Nonetheless, he leaped out of bed, knocking the novel he was reading the night before to the floor. After he had made his bed perfectly, he picked the book up and gazed at the cover. The title was Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. He smiled when he read the words. The book was fast becoming one of his favorite novels, and one quote from the author was permanently bouncing around Colt’s unfilled mind. It was, “Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him”.

Suddenly the room was filled with rock and roll music. Colt’s older brother had also heard the commotion from the storm. He had reached over and turned on the radio that sat on the big roll top desk between their beds. The song, Do you believe in Magic by the Lovin’ Spoonful blared out.

“That’s the number 28th top song on Friday, September 24rd, 1965. And folks it’s moving up the charts fast,” the unmistakable voice of a popular radio announcer on station WOR-FM announced. “This is Murray the K with the swinging soiree.”

Colt’s brother quickly turned the tuning dial to WALK out of Patchogue, N.Y. It was a news station.

“Hey, why’d you do that?” Colt challenged loudly as he turned and glared at his sibling. “I like that song.”

“This storm outside is a hurricane, dummy,” his year older brother spat out as he pointed to the windows. “I want to know how strong it will become. It could be big trouble, you know.”

Colt thought about that for a second. He already knew that Long Islanders were wary of Hurricanes. Every person over the age of thirty in Westhampton remembered the unnamed hurricane of 1938. Over Twenty-nine lives were lost in Westhampton Beach alone. The water surge reached the second floor on many buildings on Main Street which was a mile inland. The water marks were still visible on some buildings. And there had been many other destructive storms too.

In fact, Twenty-two full-fledged hurricanes had crossed over the eight-mile-wide Long Island in the last hundred years and that didn’t count the tropical storms that had been downgraded before they hit land. There were two or three storms every fall between the months of August and November.

Colton Banyon and his friends were all trained by their parents to move inland, go uphill, and find some shelter whenever there was a threat of a hurricane. Everybody in town did. But because of radio and television, most people knew one was coming days in advance now, so they could prepare. Nobody panicked.

“But, we live four miles inland on high ground here,” Colt protested. “We’re also surrounded by lots of woods. We’ll just get some broken tree branches to clean up. Turn the music back on,” he pleaded.

“Not everyone we know lives inland,” his brother replied with the stubbornness that would never leave him. “And don’t forget about our boat. It’s moored at the dock in Remsenburg. It could get damaged or washed away.”

“Groovy,” a frustrated Colt answered while meaning the opposite. “Okay, you figure out what’s happening. I’ve got first dibs on the bathroom.” Colt grabbed his clothes and left the room.

When Colt returned to the bedroom, his brother told him the hurricane was named Gladys and it had been recently downgraded to a tropical storm with winds of only about fifty miles an hour. The eye of the storm would pass Westhampton at around nine o’clock that morning. The weather would be clear for an hour and then the back side of the storm would hit. The news only made Colt feel more depressed. More rain coming, he thought.

“That’s just great,” he replied sarcastically.

“The good news is that your school day has been canceled,” his brother said brightly. He then put the covers over his head and went back to sleep. Colt’s brother was home on leave from the Navy. He wanted to take full advantage of his free time.

***

Colt was halfway through his breakfast of Kellogg’s corn flakes and considering what he would do on his day off from school, when the phone rang.

“It’s for you,” Colt’s mother announced with annoyance. She didn’t like the children tying up the phone. There was only one phone for the ten people currently living in the Banyon household, and it was a party line. That meant several families shared the same phone number. When you answered the phone, the caller would say which extension they wanted. The Banyon extension was “J”.

“Hello?” the curious adolescent asked.

“Colt its Dale,” his friend said. “I just heard on the radio that the storm has caused a wave surge and part of Dune Road has just washed out. Several houses have been pushed into the bay. It’s a big mess. Do you want to go see them?”

“Can you pick me up?” Colt asked expectantly as his excitement grew. He looked at his mother and noticed she was shaking her head no.

“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” Dale reported.

“See you then,” the young Banyon replied. This could be a new adventure, he thought.

After he hung up the phone, his mother spoke. “You’re not going out into that storm, young man,” Colt’s mother reprimanded him. She had her hands on her hips for emphasis.

“We’re just going out while the eye of the storm passes. I need to check on our boat. I’ll be back before the rains start up again,” Colt promised.

“I said no and I mean no,” his mother shouted and stamped her foot.

“We can’t lose the boat,” he pleaded. Water and particularly the ocean were a big part of everyone’s life in the resort filled Hamptons. To not have access to a boat was unthinkable and they couldn’t afford a new one. “How will we go waterskiing? What about the fish we catch? The crabs and clams too?”

His mother turned pensive and considered his request. Colt knew he had a penchant for finding trouble and so did his mother. But usually he could wiggle out of it. He also knew he was good at manipulating people and wondered if she thought this need to check on the boat was a ruse. But he was confident that if the small runabout boat was lost, there would be no peace in the house. Half the family would be up in arms, and she would be blamed.

“Okay, you can go, but if you’re late,” his mother threatened. “I’ll give you something to cry about.” She waved a wooden spoon in front of his face.

“Thanks, Ma,” Colt said sincerely.

“And by the way, where else are you going?” she suddenly demanded.

“Don’t worry, we won’t be leaving Westhampton,” he gave as a reply. To Colton Banyon, Westhampton was actually several hamlets that ran from Eastport to East Quogue. It was the area that the Westhampton Beach High school covered. All the kids in that area went to the same high school, so it was all Westhampton to him.

Colton Banyon quickly grabbed his rain slicker and went out the front door to wait in the closed-in porch before his mother changed her mind.

 

Chapter Two

A few minutes later a funny-looking little car pulled into the Banyon circular driveway. It was actually a Nash Metropolitan that had been made in England. The car was so small it looked like a cute toy. The body shape was similar to several car models of the nineteen-fifties, like the Plymouth Belvedere, but smaller. It had no trunk and the spare tire stood straight up on the back bumper. The top half of the car was painted a turquoise and the bottom half was painted white. The tiny engine got over thirty miles to the gallon, and the car had a top speed of almost seventy miles per hour—if it was traveling downwind. It had one more feature. The hood ornament was a wooden duck, carved by one of his relatives. Everyone knew it belonged to Dale Raynor. It was the only one like it on the eastern half of Long Island.

“Your car’s righteous,” Banyon yelled out as a compliment as he jumped into the small seat. Dale was six months older and already had a car.

“Glad you’re stoked about it,” Dale replied as he headed back to the road.

Dale Raynor was as unusual as his car. He was voted the class clown in high school and had a dry wit. He seemed to always have a half-grin or a smirk on his face. He also had many interests, but always seemed to have time for his friends. Colt thought he was a cool guy.

His family had been some of the first settlers of the Westhampton area. Their roots went back to 1634. As a result, Dale had many relatives in the area. He was always getting the inside scoop on everything, and he seemed to know or was related to everybody in town.

“I’ve got to be back before it starts raining again,” Colt admitted. “My mom was freaking out when she heard I was going out.”

“Bummer,” Dale shot back. “Are you worried?”

“What—me worry?” Colt replied quoting the cartoon character Alfred E. Newman and spreading his arms wide.

“Okay, that’s cool, we’ll make it work,” Dale answered in the slang that teenage boys were using.

The rain stopped and the sun came out just as they reached the corner of Speonk-Riverhead Road. Before Dale could turn left and onto Old Country Road, both boys heard a loud whopping sound. They looked at each other with confusion.

Three dark shadows passed directly over the car. Colt quickly opened his window and stuck his head out.

“It’s three large military helicopters,” Colt yelled.

“They’re probably headed out from the Westhampton Air Force base to where the ocean broke through Dune Road,” Dale replied confidently.

“I don’t think so,” Colt said in disagreement. “These are those big new Chinook transport ones with two propellers. I’ve never seen any on the base.”

“Hmm, I haven’t either,” Dale exclaimed.

“What’s going on?”

“It beats me.”

“And they came right over our heads,” the young Banyon continued as he pointed to the ceiling. “The Air Force Base is six miles to our west. Why would they come this way? And one more thing,” Colt said.

“Shoot.”

“They had Navy markings on the sides.”

“That’s wacked,” Dale replied.

“The nearest Navy base is in New London, Connecticut. That’s almost sixty miles away,” Colt shouted to be heard over the noise in the car.

“Why would the military need transports from Connecticut on Dune Road?” Dale asked as he scratched his head.

“I don’t know, but step on it,” an anxious Colton Banyon responded.

“Solid,” Dale replied deadpan as he tried to coax a few more miles per hour out of his little car.

***

The little Metro putted across the usually busy Montauk Highway and onto Mill Road. It eased past the High School and finally reached the six corners, the beginning of down town. There were very few other cars on the road. Most people had the sense to stay indoors during a storm.

“Hey,” Colt shouted and pointed. “Eckart’s luncheonette is closed. They’re always open.”

“You spaz,” Dale said with a smile. “We’re in the middle of a hurricane. Nobody is going out to eat.”

“Well, I hate to put a kibosh on your thinking, but Gladys is no longer classified as a hurricane,” Banyon said and stuck out his chin.

“We don’t have time to scarf down food anyway,” his friend replied as he tensely watched the road. “We’re on a mission of extreme importance.”

“Look out!” Colt suddenly screamed. They had just turned onto Jessup Lane, and he saw a big tree branch in the middle of the road.

“Don’t have a cow,” Dale uttered. “I got this,” he said confidently.

Dale spun the steering wheel to avoid the branch, and the small car went into a spin. It went around and around like a shiny top on Christmas morning and eventually stopped when it hit the curb like it was a bumper car at an amusement park. The two young men looked at each other. They had been frightened by the loss of control, but quickly recovered. Like most teenage boys, they felt they were invincible—nothing bad could ever happen to them. Their fear didn’t last long.

“Let’s not mention that to my mom okay?” Colt offered. Then they both started laughing.

“That was kind of fun actually,” Dale admitted with bravado and slapped the steering wheel.

Dale put the Metro in gear and backed up. He shifted gears and went forward squeezing past the tree branch. They proceeded down Jessup Lane and past the exclusive Westhampton Country Club.

Eventually, huge ten-foot high hedges appeared on both sides of the road. The small car chugged past the large estates on the road to the beach where many famous and wealthy people kept summer homes. They could see the Bath & Tennis Club and the Swordfish Club in the distance. They were both resorts on Dune Road and just over the drawbridge that connected the mainland to the skinny sand bar known as Dune Road. It was only a couple of hundred feet across at its widest point, but was wildly popular to people who lived in the big city of New York. It was only seventy-five miles to the west.

The narrow strip of land was called a barrier island. It was all sand and dunes. At one time, Dune Road was part of Fire Island and stretched from Jones Beach to Southampton, a distance of over sixty miles. But a Nor’easter broke through and formed the Moriches Inlet in 1931. The remaining twelve mile island was named Dune Road. The current breakthrough had occurred about four miles from the western end of the island.

***

As they crossed over the West Bay Bridge in Westhampton Beach, Colt saw something very distressing. The road was blocked ahead. They couldn’t turn right. Two of Westhampton’s finest police officers stood in front of a wooden barrier. A heavily armed military soldier, dressed for combat stood between them. A police officer waved the Metro over to the side of the road. The only road to the breach in the dunes was closed, and they couldn’t go any further.

The boys pulled over and got out of the car. Both officers and the guard stood firmly in place with their legs slightly spread wearing dark and menacing sunglasses in the middle of a hurricane. There wasn’t a smile on any of their faces.

“Can’t go any further,” the officer on the right announced. “Dune Road is closed to all traffic.”

“Bo, is that you?” Dale said to the officer on the right.

“How you doing, Dale?” the officer replied in a friendly voice. “What are you doing here?”

Officer Bo Raynor was a few years older than Dale. He had wanted to be a police man all his life and now he was a veteran. He was built for the job, too. He had broad shoulders on his six foot two inch frame and an inquisitive mind.

“We just wanted to see where the ocean broke through Dune Road,” Dale told his cousin.

“No can do,” he responded and shook his head no.

“But we just want to take a look,” Colt protested.

“There’s a bunch of military type personal out there right now, and we’ve been told to not let anyone else on to the island west of this barrier until further notice,” the officer replied.

Colt turned his head to the left and could see more army guards stationed about every thirty feet all the way down to the water. No one was going to get past them. Heavy security, he thought.

He looked down the road where the ocean had wiped out the dunes. It was about a half a mile along the narrow sand-covered street. He could see the tops of three houses that seemed to be floating in the middle of Moriches Bay. It was an eerie sight. But the three Chinook helicopters hovered in the air above the open ocean not the bay. It was like they were protecting something, he thought. There were military armed guards positioned all around both sides of the gaping opening in the landmass. Something isn’t right, he realized. They were guarding something instead of searching or recovering.

Without warning a loud truck-horn blasted three times and everyone flinched at the abrasive resonance. Colt turned around and saw a line of military trucks coming down the straight road and over the drawbridge. Only it wasn’t the army corp. of engineers with bulldozers and cranes as he expected. The trucks carried several military assault boats.

“What’s going on?” Colt yelped in surprise.

“You don’t need to know kid,” the army guard said roughly. “And you didn’t see anything. Do you understand? Now, step back and let the transports pass.”

The police officers and guard began to move the wooden road block aside to let the trucks through. There were seven boats on the vehicles along with men in diving suits.

Colt turned and looked back at the breakthrough area, but this time he concentrated on the ocean south of the island. What he saw surprised him. Sticking out of the water about a hundred yards from the shore was a large black metal object.

“What’s that?” he asked curiously and pointed.

Tensions suddenly rose.

“I told you. You saw nothing, got it? Get the hell out of here,” the guard all but screamed at him. The military man was getting agitated and young Banyon didn’t know why.

“What are you guys hiding?” Colt shot back as he turned to leave.

 



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