Only Robert ever sees the plane. But the pilot is shadowy -- maybe his missing father, maybe not.
Robert doesn't mention this vision to Elliot, his cousin, whom he meets when he moves from Ohio with his mother and sister to live out the war with his grandparents in Rhode Island. Elliot can draw better than anyone Robert has ever seen, but he keeps his talent hidden in Grandpa's house. He won't say why. No one will talk either about Robert's father, who left the house as a teenager, never to return. After one dinner, Elliot draws a picture of Grandpa wielding a carving knife like a murder weapon.
The time is February 1942, and Nazi submarines are torpedoing U.S. ships off the coast. In March, two tremendous guns are trundled to nearby Fort Brooks. They are mighty sixteen-inch bore Naval guns, one hundred forty-three tons apiece, capable of firing all the way to Nantucket Island. Elliot is frightened by the sight, but half an hour later he's got them down on paper, their huge gray barrels, the nervous crowd of townspeople. "Everything was just like that," Robert exclaims when he sees the finished drawing. "Only this is even better."
"That's what happens," Elliot says with a nod. "If I do it right, that's exactly what happens. The real thing gets caught....It can't get you."
Also watching the guns' arrival is another artist -- a well-known one from Germany -- Abel Hoffman. A recluse, he becomes Elliot's teacher and friend. But his prowls along the beach raise local suspicions, and his arrest, when it occurs, unleashes havoc in a scene neither cousin can forget.
This is a story of dangers lurking inside and outside a house, of deceptive enemies and secrets held too long, and howtwo friends must find their own very different ways of fighting back.