An Unexpected Totem

April 9, 2012

Here is that passage I promised, from the last part of chapter 1 of The Red Circle (which launches tomorrow). First let’s set the stage:

Having just turned sixteen, Brandon is out on the Pacific Ocean with a family of three (two young parents and their three-year-old son) on a catamaran, sailing from Tahiti to Hawaii — a journey of nearly two weeks and about 3,000 miles.


A day before we reached our destination, I came up on deck from my stateroom on the port side of the boat. It was a gorgeous morning. As I stood on deck, something in the hull caught my eye.

I bent down to look.

Just above the waterline, a swordfish had rammed our boat during the night, spearing himself straight through the hull and breaking off the tip of his snout. That damn fish must have leapt clear out of the water to spear us. I grabbed my camera to take a picture of it. I still have that snapshot. The next day we breezed into the harbor at Hilo with a short length of swordfish beak jammed through our hull.

The image of that swordfish stuck in my mind as firmly as its beak stuck in the Shilo’s flank. What the hell was going on for that fish? What made it leap up out of the water to attack this strange, unknown vessel? Did it know it was going up against something more than ten times larger and heavier than itself?

And what future was I leaping out of the water to go up against?

Years later I would learn this odd factoid of biology: Although like all fish it is cold-blooded, the swordfish has special organs in its head that heat the eyes and brain as much as 60°F above ambient temperature, greatly enhancing the animal’s vision and therefore its ability to nail its prey.

The falcon or eagle would probably be most people’s choice, but if you were looking for a totem to represent the idea of a sniper—especially a sniper who works in water—the swordfish would not be a bad pick.

Perhaps this had been a vision quest, after all.

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