Terrors of the High Seas
Kerry stretched out her legs, and then propped them up on the railing of their room’s porch. The day had dawned bright and sunny, and she had decided to spend the time waiting for breakfast by attempting a little poetry. Dar was off picking up something at the hotel’s sundry shop, and she had a few minutes to simply look out over the harbor and revel in the gorgeous view.
And it was, truly, gorgeous. High up on the slope as they were, the harbor stretched out below her, and curved to either side, cupping a crystal aqua circle of water with just the lightest visible chop on it. Around her, she could hear the rustle of trees, the cry of gulls, sounds from the harbor – but very little traffic or bustle. The air mostly bore the scent of foliage and salt air and Kerry felt a sense of peaceful well being as she relaxed in the warm sunlight.
With a smile, she returned her attention to the book balanced on her lap and the heavy, injected ink writing pen Dar had given her. The pen was hardwood, and warm from her hand, and it balanced well in her grip as she flexed her fingers around it. Thoughtfully, she regarded the page, and then wrote two more lines to add to the several already there.
A knock on the door, however, interrupted her. With a resigned sigh, Kerry put her book down and went inside, going to the door and peeking through the eyehole. “Oh, crap.” She considered not answering it, seeing the female half of DeSalliers gumshoes outside. Then she figured she was likely to get more info from the woman than the woman was going to get from her, so she opened the door. “Yes?” She didn’t pretend to be friendly, however, and the woman took a half step back.
“Oh, hello Kerry.” The woman recovered. “I was hoping to talk to you.”
“Why?” Kerry asked bluntly.
“Just because I think we can help each other.”
Kerry had to wonder, briefly, if stupidity was contagious. Perhaps Christina had spent a little too much time with Bob. “Help each other do what?” She inquired. “So far, all you people have done is helped me get a migraine.”
Christina sighed. “Look, can I just come in and talk?”
“No.” Kerry replied. “I’m not sure what it’s going to take to get across the fact that we don’t want anything to do with you, your boss, your stupid mission, or the people you represent. I’m out of options. Should I hire a flying banner plane?”
“The fact is, honey, you are involved.” Christina’s attitude changed, and became harder. “So either you let me in and give me what I want, or…”
“Or what?” Kerry found it almost funny. “Are you going to pull a gun on me?”
“Are you going to make like Jackie Chan and start yowling Japanese haiku’s while striking kung fu poses?”
Christina didn’t answer.
“Are you going to try to hit me?” Kerry’s nose crinkled up in amusement. “Threaten me with a lawsuit? What?”
“You think this is a game, don’t you?”
“Hey, you’re the one making the threats.” Kerry laughed, and then got serious herself. “You listen to me, you half baked excuse for a high priced snoopy lackey.” She pointed. “You better just back off and go back where you came from. Stop messing with us.”
“Or?” Christina threw the comment back at her.
“Or I’ll call the president of your agency and file a complaint of harassment without cause.” Kerry replied.
“You think he’ll care?” Christina laughed.
“When the executive VP of the company he gets all his data from calls? Yeah.” Kerry smiled. “He’ll care.” She assured the now not smiling Christina. “And if he doesn’t listen to me, he’ll listen to Dar.” She watched Christina’s face. “Tch… didn’t do your homework, did you?”
“Your inquiry came back totally negative.”
“Not surprising.” Kerry smiled. “Try it with a last name of Stuart.” She started to close the door. “You, on the other hand, provided us with a lot of information. You and your little partner really should work a little harder, you know? That last job of yours was a real disaster.”
Christina had turned brick red.
“So don’t you mess with me, lady.” Kerry warned her, very seriously. “You’re an amateur. It offends me that you actually get paid to be an amateur. My Labrador Retriever would do better as a detective, and as far as I’m concerned, you’re just a flashy poser. Scoot.”
She slammed the door with a sense of guilty satisfaction. “Jerk.” She turned and started to walk away, then turned as a knock came at the door again. With a growl, she whirled and yanked the door open, a further stream of invective ready and waiting.
Only to be swallowed when she found herself facing a doe eyed, uniformed room service waitress. “Oh.” She stepped back. “Hi. C’mon in.”
Christina was no where to be found. Kerry allowed herself a moment of regret for her outburst, wondering belatedly if she shouldn’t have just let the woman in to have her say. Maybe she could have learned something from her.
Ah well. Kerry watched the waitress set the tray down. Too late now. “Thanks.” She walked over and took the check, reviewing it and then signing. “Everything looks great.”
The woman smiled shyly. “You are welcome. You are good customers.” She said. “So many, bring sandwiches with them, just make a mess.”
Kerry grinned, her good humor restored. “Well, we’ve got sandwiches on the boat, but one of the nice things about visiting other places is getting to sample their culture and foods. You can’t do that with peanut butter.”
The woman nodded agreement, then slipped to the door, backing in surprise when it opened inward to admit Dar. “Oh.”
Dar regarded the woman with a raised eyebrow, then moved aside to let her out. She closed the door after her then walked over to Kerry, setting a colorful print bag down on the chair. “Hi.” Her blue eyes went to the table. “Looks like I’m just in time.”
“Yes, you are.” Kerry agreed, lifting the covers and revealing some very intriguing dishes involving eggs, fruit, native spices, and seafood. “You just missed our friend Christina.”
“No, I didn’t.” Dar sniffed appreciatively. “She crashed into me on her way storming out of the building.” She sampled a bit of papaya. “Mm.”
“I think I pissed her off.”
“Good. I made it worse. She fell on her ass.” Dar replied. “What’d she want?”
Kerry sat down “Unfortunately, I have no idea. I was too busy insulting her to find that out.” She gave Dar a mildly regretful look. “In hindsight, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. She wanted to talk to me, said she could help me out.”
“Out of what?” Dar asked, setting her napkin aside and pouring Kerry some passion fruit juice.
“Well, that’s what I don’t know.” Kerry said. “I told her she was fraud, and sent her packing, actually. I told her if she didn’t leave us alone, we’d call her boss.”
“Ah.” Dar investigated her fluffy, shrimp and pepper egg cup. “Well, I don’t really blame you.” She admitted. “I’m just waiting for it to be nine am over in the states before I put in a call to Wharton. Maybe after that, they’ll just disappear.” She opened a crusty brown roll and put some butter on it. “Damn, these people are a pain in my ass.”
Kerry slowly chewed a piece of star fruit. “What do you think he’ll do?” She asked. “Wharton, I mean? He seems pretty rough. Is there a chance this is going to backfire on us, Dar?”
“Eh.” Dar put a bit of her eggs on her roll. “I was thinking about that. Maybe I should keep it anonymous instead of telling him who I am.”
“Hm.” Kerry murmured. “Just tell him you’re out here, and you found something? Will that be enough for him to call off DeSalliers and the wonder twins?”
Now in the light of day, Dar had been wondering the same thing. Her plan last night had seemed simple and straight forward, but now she was starting to have doubts. “I don’t know.” She answered honestly. “I’d feel better if I actually had something under my belt before I call him, maybe.”
“You want to visit the government offices first?” Kerry asked. “Maybe we can dig up some stuff there, and you can just fax it or something. Maybe that’ll be enough.”
And then what? “Okay, that sounds good.” Dar agreed. “You know, Ker, I was just thinking. What if the old man was nuts?”
“The thought had crossed my mind.” Kerry admitted. “But leaving your fortune to charity doesn’t sound very nutty to me, Dar. If he’d left it to Greenpeace after spending a life trolling a net, maybe, but… I checked out the charities. Fisherman’s Home, local firefighters in Boston… a lot of community stuff.” She said. “So I don’t know – maybe he had reason to cut the kids out.”
Dar selected a strawberry, took a bite, and then offered the rest to Kerry. “Money sometimes ruins a family.” She observed. “It changes everything, doesn’t it?”
Kerry didn’t answer immediately. “I guess it does.” She said. “In my family, that was kind of taken for granted.” She sounded a little surprised. “No one really thought about the money part of it. It was the power that attracted the attention.” A faint chuckle emerged from her throat. “You know something? They’re executing my father’s will this week, and I never even thought twice about being cut out of it.”
“What would you do if you weren’t?” Dar asked curiously. “I mean, if you found out you were getting something?”
“Donate it to charity.” Kerry answered instantly. “I don’t… want anything from him. From them.” She studied her fork. “I have everything I’ve ever wanted or needed in you.”
Dar reached over and clasped Kerry’s hand. “Ker, you know I feel the same way. But don’t be shocked if you end up with something in that will after all.” She spoke quietly. “But it might not be money.”
Kerry was briefly silent, then she lifted her eyes and met Dar’s. “Do you know something, or are you just guessing?” She asked quietly.
“Just guessing.” Dar shook her head.
“Or is it because you have the father you do, that you cut mine some slack?” Kerry rested her chin on her hand. “People are bastards, Dar. Fatherhood doesn’t grant them any nobility if they didn’t already have it in them.”
“True.” Dar said. “But most people aren’t either totally good or totally bad. You never know.” She eased off the subject, seeing Kerry’s discomfort with it. “At any rate, I think a visit to town is probably a good idea. I’ll hold off contacting Wharton until we’ve got more data available to us.”
Kerry wasn’t quite ready to release the conversation though. “Do you really think my father had redeeming qualities?” She asked Dar seriously.
“I think he was your father, and that’s enough of a redeeming quality for me.” Dar replied.
Kerry sighed. “I used to think that.” She said. “Maybe part of me still wants to believe it. But… if I believe that, then it makes it all the more difficult for me to accept what I did.”
“Mm.” Dar chafed Kerry’s fingers with her own.
“So it’s easier for me to believe otherwise.” Kerry went on. “I’d rather hate him than hate myself.” She sighed heavily. “So, frankly, I hope I get a sack of coal, if I get anything, Dar.”
Ah. “I gotcha.” Dar squeezed her hand.
“Maybe after some time’s passed, I’ll feel differently. But right now, I can’t deal with it.”
Kerry looked at her. “That’s pretty chickenshit, isn’t it?”
A wry chuckle. “Yes it is.” Kerry said. “But you know, that’s the first time I’ve been able to talk about that since he died, so maybe it’s okay to be a chickenshit for a while.” And it was, she realized. It was as though she’d taken a step back, and gained at least a tiny measure of perspective. Was it part of some healing process?
Maybe. Kerry felt obscurely better all of a sudden, and she picked up her fork and went after the remainder of her breakfast.
“I’ve got to go to the bank.” Dar suddenly remembered. “Damn, I forgot about that. Get that cash out.” She took a mouthful of eggs and chewed them. “Get that done before we go hunting for information.”
“I can’t believe you got them to agree to let you do that.” Kerry smiled. “I’m glad you did, though.”
“Well, it’s going to be a loan, they won’t let me get away with giving it to them as a gift.” Dar said. “But the terms’ll be a hell of a lot better than they had.” She shook her head. “Want to come with me?”
“You bet your butt I do.” Kerry finished her fruit juice, and stood up. “Be right back.”
Dar watched her duck into the bathroom, then she concentrated on clearing her plate as the sound of running water filtered through to her. The decision to do some data mining before confronting their putative adversary was, she thought, a good one. They might find some facts. Dar liked facts. She put them in her pocket and used them like darts, flipping them out and nailing people with them when they least expected it.
Facts were good. Dar drained her coffee cup. She didn’t mind bluffing, but bluffing was always easier when you had something to fall back on. She stood and wiped her lips, then dropped her napkin on the table. Her backpack stood mutely in the corner; she went over and lifted it, then slipped it over her shoulders. Kerry came out and joined her at the door, and they left the room, heading off to find some facts.
Or some trouble. Or maybe both.
Dar held open the door to the Chase Bank, waiting for Kerry to enter and then following her inside. The bank was on the way to the police station and courthouse, so they’d decided to stop there first. Dar pulled her sunglasses off and looked around, then walked across to a small desk with a receptionist behind it.
“Good morning.” The receptionist greeted them, with a professional smile. “What can I do for you ladies today?”
“I have a wire transfer I need to pick up.” Dar explained. “It was generated last night.”
“Sure.” The woman glanced behind her, to a single desk with a young man at it. “Mr. Steel? Are you free?”
The man looked up. “Yes, I am.”
Dar and Kerry walked over and sat down at the man’s desk. Dar removed her driver’s license from her wallet and handed it to him. “I requested a wire transfer last night.” She repeated. “From Florida.”
Mr. Steel took the license and put it in the desk, then typed Dar’s name into his computer. He waited, then nodded. “Yes, Ms. Roberts we have it.” He leaned closer to the screen. “For… ten thousand American?”
“Would you like that as a draft, ma’am?”
A draft. Dar considered her memory of Cheapside Guido, and sighed inwardly. “Cash.” She replied. “Gimme it in hundreds.”
The bank officer frowned. “Ma’am, it’s not a good idea to carry that much currency on your person.” He objected. “Really.”
“I know.” Dar agreed. “But I won’t be carrying it long, hopefully.”
The man still didn’t like it, but he tapped in a request, and hit enter. “Okay, let me just get that for you.” He stood and walked to a locked door, keying in a code and disappearing.
Kerry looked around at the empty bank, with its one teller. “Quiet.”
“Mm.” Dar leaned back. The bank’s outer door opened and two men came in, bypassing the receptionist and heading for the teller. They were tall, and there was something vaguely familiar about one of them that set Dar’s mind itching.
The man was dressed in typical island fashion, surfer type shorts and a loose print shirt. He was wearing deck sandals, and a red baseball cap. He was carrying a worn bank deposit bag.
Dar frowned. A lot of people on the island looked just like this guy. So what was it? The walk? The attitude…
“Dar.” Kerry’s voice broke into her concentration.
Kerry lowered her tone considerably. “I think that’s one of the pirates that attacked us yesterday.”
Oh. Duh. “Guess that’s why he seemed familiar.” Dar whispered back.
They watched the man, who pushed several things across to the teller, and seemed relaxed and at ease. The teller took them and processed them, smiling at the man and seeming to be familiar with him.
“What are we going to do?” Kerry murmured. “If we recognized him, he’ll probably recognize us.”
Dar gauged the distance between them. “He didn’t on the way in.” She said. “Let’s just turn around, and see what happens.”
Kerry shifted in her chair and looked at Dar. “Okay, but what are we going to do after that?”
“Maybe we can find out what his name is.”
“And report him to the police?” Kerry glanced quickly behind her then back. “Dar, he’s obviously a known quantity here.”
“Uh huh.” Dar didn’t seem surprised.
The inner door opened, and the bank officer reappeared. He was carrying a small box, and he looked around as he crossed back to his desk. His eyes fell on the two men. “Ah. Morning, Mr. Chasiki.”
The man turned at his name and smiled, then his eyes slipped past him and focused on Dar’s face.
Uh oh. Dar thought fast, meeting his eyes briefly, then moving on, hoping she was projecting an air of profound disinterest. She’d seen the recognition as he looked at her.
“Yah, yah.” The man answered the bank manager. “Great holiday, yeah?” His voice was tense.
“Very good, thanks.” The officer sat down, and put the box in the center of his desk. He pulled some paperwork over and filled out a few forms. “All right, Ms. Roberts. Let me just fill this out and you’ll be all set.”
“Thanks.” Dar rested her elbows on the desk, and resisted the urge to turn and look at the pirate. Next to her, Kerry was leaning back with her arms folded, her back mostly turned towards the teller. The blond woman looked tense, a furrow creasing her brow.
“Here you go. Please sign here” Mr. Steel indicated a space on the form. “I’ve got copy of your driver’s license, and here’s that back.” He handed her the card.
Dar picked up the pen and studied the form, her ears cocked as she heard footsteps approaching them. They stopped just behind her, and she watched the officer’s eyes from the corner of her own, seeing them go up and over her shoulder curiously. She signed her name on the form.
“Something you need, sir?” The officer asked.
“Nah. Just thinking.” The pirate spoke from just behind them. “Later.”
The footsteps receded, and the door opened behind them, letting in the sound of wind and the street.
Dar pushed the paper back over to the officer. “There you go.” She leaned back, feeling the tension relax from her shoulders. “Always quiet like this here?”
Mr. Steel took the paper. “Oh, mostly.” He said. “Fridays, payday, it gets a little hectic.” He smiled, then he looked curiously at Dar. “Beg your pardon, Ms. Roberts, but did you know Mr. Chasiki, the gentleman who was just here?”
Dar glanced Kerry’s way. Kerry’s eyes widened slightly, and her pale brows lifted. “He seemed a little familiar.” She temporized. “Why?”
“Oh, he was just staring at you, and I was wondering.” The officer said easily.
Dar turned and gazed at the closed door, then looked back at him. She shrugged. “Who is he?”
The man shrugged back. “He’s known to be a ladies man.” He said. “Bit of a rogue, but a generous one.” He handed over the box. “Here you go, Ms. Roberts. I hope you do take care, and put this somewhere shortly. It’s really not a good idea to be carrying it.”
Dar stood and lifted her backpack up, then opened the box and transferred the bound stacks of bills to the pack. “Thanks for the warning.” She finished and zipped the pack up, handing him back the box. “Nice doing business with you.” She shouldered the pack, adjusting it around her shoulders and pulling the straps tight. “Ker?”
Kerry gave the officer a brief smile, rising and joining Dar as they headed for the door. She put a hand on her partner’s arm as they exited the bank, both of them looking left and right as the sunlight hit them. “Dar, that was very creepy.”
“That was very creepy.” Dar acknowledged. “C’mon. I want to get a hold of Bud, and get rid of this cash before we do anything else.” Her senses were jangling. “Last thing we need is for that jerk to follow us and hold us up.”
Kerry looked around nervously. “You really think he would?”
“I’d rather not find out.” Dar told her, taking out her cell phone and opening it. She dialed Bud’s number. After two rings, he picked up. “Bud, its Dar.” Dar spoke into the receiver crisply. “Did you get hold of your friend?” She waited for the answer. “Good. We’re heading back to the hotel now.” She closed the phone and clipped it to her belt. “We’ll take care of that, then …”
“Seeing him kinda threw a chunk into things, huh?” Kerry asked. “At least we have his name now.”
“And he has mine.” Dar reminded her. “Kerry, I don’t know if going to the police here is a good idea.” She started walking back towards the hotel. “I just don’t know who we can trust here. If we go to the cops, and tell them, and they’re in on it, then what? They’re gonna want to protect him.”
“Yikes.” Kerry sighed.
Dar shook her head, and they crossed the street and headed for the long climb up. They’d walked for just a few minutes when Dar heard steps behind them. She used an appreciative look around to glance behind her, and sure enough, two men were meandering up the slope after them. “Son of a bitch.”
Kerry looked. “Cripes.” She muttered. “Maybe they’re not following us, Dar. We could just be a little paranoid.”
True. Dar swerved, as the smell of coffee and hot dough hit her. She pulled Kerry into a shop they were passing and went over to the counter. “Two johnnycakes and two coffees, please.”
The man behind the counter handed both over readily, accepting Dar’s cash and giving her back change. Dar picked up one of the cakes and handed Kerry other, and took her coffee. She strolled casually to the entrance and leaned against it, waiting. Kerry eased up behind her.
At first there was only silence. Then abruptly the two men passed the shop, talking casually to each other and not giving Dar so much as a second glance.
Kerry released her held breath, and took a bite of her cake. “Mm.” She murmured.
“Good call.” Dar complimented her quietly. “C’mon.”
They eased out of the shop and continued up the stepped street. “This would be a great morning workout.” Kerry commented, almost dizzy with relief.
“Oh yeah.” Dar agreed. She finished her cake and dusted her fingers off, then took a sip of the coffee. “Ugh. Gross.” She stopped dead, and looked for a garbage can.
“I was wondering when you’d realize you took it from there without any cream or sugar.” Kerry smiled. “I figured we were going to toss the stuff in those guys’ faces – I never dreamed you’d try to drink it.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Dar disposed of the offending beverage and resumed her climb. She was still uneasy, and the in at the top of the hill seemed a very long way off.
Three quarters of the way up, she heard footsteps again. She glanced at Kerry, and they both looked around. Six men were coming up after them. They looked at each other. “Race ya.” Kerry murmured, increasing her pace to jog.
Dar joined her, and they powered up the steps. They heard the men behind them speed up as well. Twenty steps more to go, though, and they’d be at the inn level.
Ten, and they heard the men catching up.
Five, and Dar could hear the heavy breathing.
Then they topped the steps and were in front of the inn. Dar spotted Bud waiting in front of the door for them, and she headed in his direction, with Kerry stuck to her like a flea on a dog.
The steps behind them stopped. Dar slowed her pace and risked a glance behind her, only to see the men clustered at the top, apparently in an argument. Bud watched them curiously as they approached, cocking his head as they pulled up next to him.
“What’s up?” Bud looked past her to the men.
“Tell you later.” Dar said. “Let’s go inside.”
Bud was staring over her shoulder. His eyes narrowed. Dar turned to look, but the six men were melting back down the stairs and were out of sight a moment later. She glanced back at Bud. “You know those guys?”
Bud looked at her.
“Let’s go inside.” Dar repeated.
Cheapside Guido was waiting as they entered the lobby. He spotted Bud, and nudged the big gorilla he had with him, then his eyes fell on Dar. A relatively disagreeable smile crossed his face as Dar, Kerry, and Bud reached them. “Bring your girlfriends? You switched sides, there, Buddy?”
“You want your money? Then shut up.” Bud replied gruffly. He indicated a small, side room with a couple chairs in it.
“Oh, so now you’re telling me to shut up?” Guido snorted. “You little horse’s ass.”
Dar was already very much on edge. Her temper was at the shivering break point, and for a moment, she felt all better sense leave her as she stalked towards the nasty, greasy looking man. She’d only taken two steps when she felt a hand gripping her shirt from the back though, and then an even firmer grip on the back of her shorts.
“He’s not worth it.” Kerry spoke in an almost normal tone. “You’ll just get your hands dirty, and it’ll take a week to wash the stench off.”
Guido spun, and looked at her then tilted his head up and found Dar’s set, angry face facing him. He looked like he very much wanted to laugh, but a second look up instead convinced him to just walk into the room behind Bud. “Figures you have girls protecting your pansy ass.”
Bud went stone faced. “You got the papers?”
“You got the money?” Guido tossed back at him.
Bud looked at Dar. Guido turned. “Oh, right. Well, chickee, I don’t take no friggen Platinum cards.”
Dar studied him. Then she unhitched the pack off her back and set it on the small table in the room. “You’re right.” She said to Kerry. “Definitely not worth it.” She pulled out several stacks of hundreds and tossed them at Guido. They hit him in the chest, and he grabbed at them. She pulled out three or four more stacks and chucked them as well.
“Hey!” Guido lost one, and it bounced off the floor. “Cut that out, freak!”
Dar whipped the final two stacks at him. They hit him in the face. Dar turned her back on him and zipped up her bag, trying to let her raw scraped nerves settle before she had to turn back around and continue the conversation. She heard the rustle as he captured the bound bills.
“Where’s the papers?” Bud asked, in a toneless voice.
“Hold on to your pecker. You should be usta that.” Guido muttered. “I gotta count this.”
Dar turned and sat down in the nearest chair, her knees finally giving out as the adrenaline stopped pumping. Kerry settled on the arm of the chair and Dar curled a hand around Kerry’s knee, the touch soothing her nerves. Guido had given his thug most of the stacks, and he was counting one laboriously. The thug was watching Dar with a dour glare.
Bud sat down in one of the other chairs, mostly focusing his gaze on the floor.
Kerry put a hand on Dar’s neck, her fingers working gently at the rigid muscles. She could almost feel the vibrating tension in her partner, and though she completely understood Dar’s silent rage, she’d been called worse by far better than that little greasy punk. “If you’re going to have to take your shoes off for that, let me know so I can get the window open.” She remarked casually.
Guido looked up at her. “Shut up.”
“Why?” Kerry asked. “I’ve talked to animals since I was a kid. Most of them were better looking than you, though.”
“You looking to get hurt, chickee?”
Kerry smiled charmingly at him. “The both of you together aren’t a quarter of the man it would take to do that.”
Dar chuckled, and rubbed the bridge of her nose.
“You got a big mouth.” The thug told Kerry.
“That’s all right. You’ve got a pea brain.” Kerry responded. “And I can always shut up.”
“All right.” Guido finished counting one stack. He took another and pressed it down with his thumb and forefinger, matching it against the one in his hand. They were exactly even. He repeated the process with the rest of the stacks, then handed the stacks back to the thug. “Sucker girlee. What’d he promise you for this? Don’t tell me a good time.” Guido pulled a wad of papers out of his back pocked and threw them at Bud. “You got real lucky, fag. One more week, and we’d have torched that shithole.”
“Guess I did.” Bud answered softly.
“Not nearly as lucky as he was.” Dar remarked flatly, giving Guido a level, cold stare.
Guido snorted. “Lousy doing business with you. Don’t call again.” He motioned the thug to leave, after he’d stuffed the cash into a plastic bag the thug had in his pocket. They walked out without looking back, heading for the front door to the hotel.
Dar slowly let a breath out. “That sucked.” She enunciated the words with precision.
“Mm. Glad it’s over.” Kerry agreed, moving her hands around to give Dar’s shoulders some serious attention. “Makes me wish we’d had them embed dye packets in the bills.”
Bud glanced at her. “You’re pretty damn funny.”
Kerry grinned back. “I’m really, really glad we could do this for you.” She told Bud honestly. “No one should have to deal with assholes like that.” She felt Dar’s muscles unlock under her hands.
Bud looked down at the papers again, slowly shaking his head at them. “It was a bad choice to have to make.” He admitted. “I hate taking help from anyone.”
“Yeah.” Dar spoke up at last. “I know the feeling.” She stretched her legs out, and slumped in the chair. “I can’t do it either.” She said. “Ask for help, I mean.”
Bud glanced at her, then looked at Kerry, who was still industriously kneading. “Right.”
Dar caught the look. “She doesn’t count.” She said. “Besides, she doesn’t wait to be asked.”
Kerry leaned over and gave Dar a kiss on the top of her head. “Okay.” She said. “Now that’s over.”
Bud shifted, giving her a wary look.
“Talk to me about pirates.” Dar addressed him. “I spotted the guy running the pirate boat who tried to board us at the bank. Making a deposit.”
Bud chewed his lower lip. “Can we talk upstairs?” He finally said. “Charlie’s supposed to call any time.”
Upstairs. Dar felt exhausted. A pot of strong coffee, and a nice milkshake was really what she wanted, and she figured room service could probably take care of that for her. “Sure.” She got up, glancing at Kerry when Kerry took the backpack. “Hey.”
“It’s okay, honey.” Kerry gave her a kiss on the shoulder. “I can handle it, really.”
Kerry was, Dar realized, in fact handling the entire thing a lot better than she was. She thought about that as they walked up the short flight of stairs to the inn’s rooms. Was she letting the stress get the better of her? Was she too much out of her element? Better get your damn head on straight and stop reacting to everything. What the hell is wrong with you, Dar?
“Hey, Dar?” Kerry glanced back. “Are you going to try calling Wharton?”
Dar studied a point in the middle of Kerry’s shoulder blades. “Let’s wait till we get to the room, and let me sit down and think.” She said. “I don’t want to complicate this whole damn thing even more than it already is.”
“Okay.” Kerry nodded. “Good, because I was just getting a really bad feeling about you calling him. He’s just… it’s too unknown a quantity. This whole thing is just getting weird.”
Dar felt slightly relieved. “Oh, so it’s not just me?” She muttered, as they stopped in front of their room and she unlocked the door with the large iron key. Kerry pushed the door open and walked in, then stopped short.
“Son of a bitch.”
Bud peeked past Dar’s shoulder as Dar edged into the room in back of Kerry.
The room was in total shambles. Everything had been ripped apart as though a tornado had blown through the place.
“Damn.” Bud uttered. “They mess up your stuff?”
Kerry let out a disgusted breath. “We didn’t have any here.” She lifted her hands in utter exasperation and let them fall. “One bag, with two pairs of jammies and some toothpaste.”
Dar moved through the room, shaking her head. She walked over to the room phone and picked it up, waiting for the operator to answer. “I need to speak with the manager.” There was a pause. “Your name? Mr. Brack. Well, Mr. Brack, we have a problem. Our room has been ransacked.” Another pause. “The door wasn’t broken into. So whoever in your staff was paid off to let someone in here..”
Kerry could hear a loud voice protesting all the way across the room.
“Would you like to come up here and explain how else they go in?” Dar asked. “Good. See you shortly.” She dropped the phone into its cradle. “If those bastards have gone anywhere near the boat, they’re toast.”
“I’ll go check.” Kerry started out the door, only to be hauled to a halt abruptly. ‘Whoa!!!” She turned to find Dar hanging on to the back of her shirt.
“Not by yourself.” Dar told her quietly. “And before you say it, yes, I know you’re a big girl and you can take care of yourself, and I’m being an overprotective ninny.”
Kerry shut her jaw, and her face scrunched into a very wry grin.
“I’ll go.” Bud interrupted, going to the door and exiting before Dar could reply.
“B…” Dar looked at the closed door. “Damn.”
“Bet he wanted to get out of talking about pirates.” Kerry sighed. “Dar, would you look at this place? What a bunch of jerks!” She walked over to their one bag and examined it. The contents had been pulled out, then carelessly shoved back in, and she felt her blood begin to boil at the thought.
A soft knock came at the door, and Dar went to it, pulling it open to find the hotel manager and a man in a security guard’s uniform standing there. She stepped back and gestured to them to enter. “C’mon in.”
The manager’s eyes widened at the state of the room. Both men entered, and looked around. “This is…” The manager started, then stopped. “I’ve never had…”
The security guard seemed just as bewildered. “Sir…” He cleared his throat. “Ma’am, when did you find this?”
“Sixty seconds before I called you.” Dar stated. “I want an explanation.” She folded her arms over her chest, and gave the manager a cold stare.
The manager collected himself. “No one but security, and the housekeeping have the keys.” He said. “We have checked the security logs, and no one was allowed into this room. I have called the chief housekeeper, and perhaps she can shed some light on what has happened.”
They all turned to see a small, wizened woman in the doorway, dressed in a neat, gray uniform. Dar guessed this was the housekeeper. The woman entered slowly and looked around, wide eyed. “What has happened here? Why was this done?” She looked at Dar. “What have you done this for to the nice lady’s room?”
The manager drew breath. “Constantina, this room is registered to these two ladies here. What do you mean?”
The woman drew back in dismay. “These ladies? Oh… but…” She twisted her fingers together. “Oh, sir, I am so sorry. A very nice woman came to me when I was cleaning, and she said she left her key inside the room. You know so many guests to do that, so…” Her eyes moved over the room. “She said this was her room.”
“And you didn’t check?” The manager frowned.
“She was a nice woman, sir!” The housekeeper protested. “Nice clothes, with rings and why should I think she was not telling me the truth?”
The manager looked like he’d swallowed a live cockroach, and it was crawling around inside his stomach. “Constantina, go to my office and wait there for me.” He said, with very quiet restraint. “Jan, please bring your camera up here, and take photographs of everything.” He turned to Dar and Kerry. “I will have you moved to a new room immediately while we start our investigation. I will also be calling in the police.”
The housekeeper’s eyes widened.
“We can give you the probable identity of the person you’re looking for.” Kerry said. “We’ve been pestered by some people since our arrival in the islands.” She added “I’d like a chance to discuss that with the police as well.”
The manager nodded. “Certainly. Constantina, please.” He grasped the woman’s arm and steered her outside. “The bellman will be up to move you in just a moment.”
“It’s okay.” It’s just this.” Dar held up the bag. “All the damage was done to your hotel, not our property.”
A facial tic started on the manager’s face. He left and took his two employees with him.
For a moment, the room was silent. Dar and Kerry looked at each other, then at the same time, lifted their hands in a shrug and let them drop. “This is nuts.” Dar sighed. “This is just nuts.”
Kerry’s eyes narrowed. “You got that guy Wharton’s phone number?”
Dar regarded her warily. “His office, yeah.”
Dar removed a slip of paper from the backpack, and took out her own cell phone. “I’ll handle it.” She took a breath, and composed herself.
“I know.” Dar cut her off. “I know you can do this, but I really, really want to.”
Dar opened the cell and dialed. She put the phone to her ear.
A low, growling voice answered.
“I need to speak with Mr. Wharton.” Dar started off with being civil.
“Where the hell did you get this number?”
Okay, so much for that. “Does it matter? You Wharton?”
“Who the hell is this?”
Dar listened to the voice. It was middle aged, had a slight rasp, and a distinct New England accent. “Someone who’s been just east of St. John.” She replied. “Now, are you Wharton, or not?”
“Good.” Dar answered. “Then maybe you can explain why I’ve got your hired hands crawling all over my last nerve.”
“Look, lady. I don’t know who the hell you are…”
“YOU…” Dar barked at top volume. “Don’t have to know who I am, mister!” She drew in a breath. “All you need to know is that the two bit amateur you’re paying top dollar for couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag with instructions printed on the inside of it in twenty four point black letters.”
“I.” Dar dropped her voice to a low purr. “Have what you’re looking for.”
Silence. “Who the devil are you!”
“You wouldn’t know who I was if I told you my name.” Dar told him quietly. “And I’d have been a much happier person if I’d never heard your name or the name of the jackass you hired, trust me.” She added.
“Now you listen here…”
“No, YOU listen to me.” Dar overrode him. “You get your little paid pirate the hell out of here or I’ll go to the cops and blow you wide open.”
Silence. Then a click.
Dar eyed the phone. “Hung up on me.” She commented.
Kerry scratched her nose. “Well, honey, but I think you got across the message you were going for.”
“Did I?” Dar mused, as Kerry walked over and slid an arm around her waist.
“Yep.” Kerry assured her. “I wouldn’t want to be a fly on DeSalliers boat walls, unless I could swim, really well.”
“Ma’am?” The security guard was back, with a smaller man. “Jasar will take you to your new room, okay?”
Kerry picked up their overnight back. “Lead on.”
Grumbling, Dar put the phone away and followed her, shouldering the backpack. Her discussion with Wharton hadn’t been very satisfactory, and she ran over the brief exchange in her head as she walked down the hallway. Should she have started out more professional? Explained who she was? Full of self doubt, Dar felt her brow furrowing. Maybe she should have let Kerry handle it after all.
Dar felt very off balance. She didn’t like it. She wasn’t even sure why she felt that way.
They stopped in front of a door, and the desk clerk opened the door for them. “Here you go, ladies.” He stood back to let them enter, then he followed them in and shut the door.
This room was on the corner of the cliff, and roughly three times the size of the other. It had a wraparound balcony, and a general sense of plushness the other room, though comfortable, lacked. “The manager said he would be up shortly, with the police.” The desk clerk said softly. “Is there anything else we can get you?”
Dar dropped her backpack on the couch then sat down next to it. “Yeah.” She said. “Pot of strong coffee and a big chocolate milkshake.”
“Make that two.” Kerry added. “Thanks.”
“Right away.” The desk clerk left.
Kerry took her time exploring the new room. She opened the door next to the bathroom, exposing a hot tub, neatly sunken into a wooden deck. “This is nice.” She concluded, peeking out the window. “I guess this is the ‘please don’t sue us’ suite.” She turned, leaning against the windowsill and regarding Dar. “Okay, so where are we?”
Dar let her head rest on the back of the couch. “I wish I knew.” She admitted. “Well, one thing - that idiot woman wasted her time. Did she really think we’d be stupid enough to leave something… anything… valuable in that hotel room?”
Kerry exhaled. “Good question.” She got off the sill and came over, sitting down on the couch next to Dar. “Maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was just trying to prove a point. I got.. ah.. kinda nasty with her earlier.”
Dar’s brow rose. “You did?” Kerry didn’t usually go the nasty route.
“Yeah.” The blond woman looked a touch sheepish. “I was just so pissed off at her, at them, at…” She let out a disgusted sigh.
Dar turned and leaned forward, gazing at Kerry. “Is this whole thing driving you nuts?”
“So it’s not just me?”
Kerry shook her head. “No.” She said. “I’m just so upset.”
Dar edged closer and took her hands. “About what, sweetheart?” She was more than glad to focus her attention on Kerry, rather than their perplexing problem.
“Well it’s… I feel really stupid saying this, but I’m just really ticked off that they’re messing with our vacation.” Kerry confessed. “I feel like they’re robbing me. Robbing us, and it’s making me very mad.” Inexplicably, she felt tears welling up. “It’s not fair, Dar. I know we didn’t get into this on purpose, and we’ve just been reacting to all this stuff but…”
Reacting. Dar felt a puzzle piece slip into place. “I know.” She murmured. “I think that’s part of the problem. We’re not in control of any of this. It just keeps rolling over us.”
Kerry sighed. “It’s not that I don’t want to solve this stupid thing.”
Dar decided she thought Kerry needed a hug. Accordingly, she slid an arm around her and pulled her closer, then enfolded her in both arms. She felt Kerry exhale warm against her skin. “All right.” She murmured. “Let’s hold on a minute and see if we can get a handle on this.”
“Buh.” Kerry buried her face into Dar’s shoulder. “I want my milkshake.”
Dar chuckled faintly. “Listen.”
“We fixed Bud and Charlie’s problem.”
“Right.” Kerry nodded.
“We ticked off Wharton, and maybe now he’ll call DeSalliers on the carpet.”
“Here’s what we’re gonna do. The cops are on their way here to talk to us. We’re gonna tell them the whole seven layer Mexican bean dip these last couple days have been. The pirates, DeSalliers, the works.”
“Then we’re gonna go out, and dive a gorgeous blue hole, and see that cave I was telling you about before we left Miami.”
“Oo. This is getting more interesting.”
“Then we’re gonna have dinner on the boat under the stars.” Dar rubbed Kerry’s ear gently. “And when we get back here, we’re going to enjoy that hot tub with a bottle of cold wine and big bowl of strawberries.”
“Mm.” Kerry relaxed against Dar’s body. “That sounds awesome.” She said. “But you know what?”
“I’d be just as happy to spend the entire time instead just like this.” Kerry said. “I like the idea of telling the police everything, Dar. Even if they are in on whatever is going on with the pirates, it would make me feel better just to say it.”
Dar nodded. “So here’s how I think we should play it.” She felt a little more stable. “Let’s not mention that we know who the pirate is, or that we know it’s not the first time. We’ll do the outraged American executives on interrupted holiday routine.”
“Gee, that’s a stretch.” Kerry chuckled.
“You know what I mean.”
“Like we did with the hotel manager.” Kerry nodded. “I get it.” She considered. “Because if we tell him all we know, the first question they’re going to want to ask is, why didn’t we come forward before?”
“And, why we didn’t just leave the island and get out of the situation.”
“Wish we had?”
“Yeah.” Dar nodded. “But you know what? Once they’d gotten it into their damn stupid heads that we had something from that wreck, I’m not sure we could have.”
No. Kerry thought back over the last few days. Their big mistakes were diving the wreck, and saving Bob. She straightened a little inside the circle of Dar’s arms, not sure she was willing to give up either event, despite what they were going through now.
She thought about that. “You know, I think you’re right.”
Dar grinned. “However, if you want to go on feeling crummy about it, I’ll be glad to sit here and comfort you all day long.”
Kerry started laughing. “God, you know, this whole thing is just so ridiculous.” She said. “The only thing that could top it is if it started snowing.”
Dar glanced at the window in pure reflex. “Right.” She unclipped her phone and dialed a number. “Better tell Bud what room we’re in.” She listened, but after two rings the phone switched to voice mail. “Hm.” Dar waited for the beep, then spoke. “Bud, it’s Dar. Give me a buzz when you get this, and I’ll tell you where we are.” She closed the phone.
Kerry eyed her. “You don’t think he’s going to run off, do you? He seemed really spooked about those men.
“I don’t know.” Dar cocked her head as she heard footsteps approaching. “Ah. That’s either room service, or the cops.” She reluctantly released Kerry and went to answer the knock. “Or both.”
Outside the door were the manager, a tall, thin man in khaki uniform, a room service waiter, and most importantly, two chocolate shakes. Dar opened the door and waved them all in, neatly stealing one of the shakes as the waiter passed on by.
The manager waited until the waiter put the tray down, and Dar signed for the check. After the man left, the manager cleared his throat. “Ms. Roberts, and Ms. Stuart – this is Captain Alalau, who is in charge of the police. I have asked him to come and investigate this destruction of our property, and of your peace of mind.”
Kerry almost applauded at the speech. The police captain seemed reserved, but politely friendly. “Captain, why don’t you sit down? This might take a few minutes to explain.” She said. “And you too, Mr. Brack.”
“Thank you, Ms. Stuart.” The policeman answered, in a gracious tone. He and the manager sat down. “You are most kind. I understand how upset you and Ms. Roberts must have been to come and find your room in such disarray.”
“After the week we’ve had?” Dar came around the couch and handed Kerry her shake, then sat down next to her on the couch facing the two men. “You could say that, yes.”
The officer leaned forward. “Mr. Brock tells me you knew this woman? Is this true?”
“We think so.” Kerry said. “Based on the description from the housekeeper. She’s one of two people who have been bothering us while we were here on the island.”
“Ahh.” Captain Alalau nodded. He had a handsome, finely sculpted face, and almost nonexistent hair. “That would be Mr. DeSalliers two employees, would it not be?”
Dar’s eyebrow twitched. “You know him?”
The captain produced an almost imperceptible sigh. “Ms. Roberts, there are few here who do not.” He said. “He is a very well known, good connected man here, and is used to getting his way. His agent came to speak with me today, in fact, to lodge a complaint.”
Dar’s other brow lowered. “Against us?” She hazarded a dour guess.
The officer pressed his lips into a faint smile. “No. Against another man they claim is encroaching on a wreck they are attempting to recover.”
“Ah.” Kerry said. “Bob.”
Now it was the officer’s turn to look surprised. “You know this man? We have been searching for him. There are charges being pressed.” He looked from Kerry to Dar and back. “I have a warrant for his arrest.”
The manager glanced between them, obviously at sea. “If they are after this other man, why then did they come into your hotel room?”
Dar leaned back. “All right.” She lifted one hand. “Let’s just start from the beginning, shall we?”
The officer took a pad from his pocket and a pencil. He scribbled a few notes. “That is an excellent idea.” He said. “I am sure we can clear up this unfortunate situation once we have all the facts.”
Kerry sucked on her shake, and tried not to smile, hoping the facts didn’t, in fact, send the man off screaming. She liked this policeman.
Besides, she really wanted to hear what he’d been told about Bob.
“You know something, Dar?” Kerry was sprawled on the big, comfortable bed on her back. “I didn’t realize just how wild the last couple of days had been until we told someone about them and watched their brain dribble out their ears in response.”
“Errff.” Dar made a small sound of bemused agreement. “I thought he was going to fall over when we told him about shooting at the pirates. Did you see that?”
Kerry nodded. “He knows something.” She looked at Dar. “You were right. He was really relieved when you told him no one seemed to have gotten hurt.”
“And did you see how fast he changed the subject?” Dar cracked her knuckles. “All right. So now they know everything.”
“And boy, I bet they wish they didn’t”
Dar smiled. “The captain said he was going to haul our detective friends in if he could find them, and he’s contacting DeSalliers to make sure he leaves us alone.”
“I think we put in a few points for Bob.” Kerry mused. “But we’d better warn him to lay low.” She drew her knees up and stretched, arching her back. “But I’m really glad we got the police involved. I feel a lot better now.”
Dar’s ears twitched approvingly at that. “Yeah, even if he did look at us like we’d dropped a ticking bomb onto his desk.” She agreed. “So. You up for a dive? Now that we’ve put things to bed?”
Kerry folded her hands across her stomach and considered. “Yeah.” She said after a moment. “I don’t feel sick at all today. A dive would be nice.” She turned her head. “What did you mean about a blue hole?”
Dar grinned and held a hand out. “Come with me, Yankee. I’ll show ya.”
Unable to resist that kind of invitation, Kerry rolled up off the bed and joined Dar, taking her hand as Dar shouldered the backpack and they headed for the door. “Make sure you lock it.” She had their overnight bag in her hand, just in case.
Dar snorted. “I’m willing to bet anyone who opens this door for someone gets their fingers cut off.” She opened her cell phone and dialed Bud’s number again. “C’mon, Bud, you damn big chicken. Answer the phone.”
But still, it went to voice mail. Dar shook her head. “Bud, we’re heading out for some water time. Let us know how Charlie’s doing, okay?” She considered a moment. “We just got finished telling the cops everything. I think we’re clear now. Gimme a call.” With a frown, she closed the phone and restored it to her belt. “Damn stubborn old mackerel.”
“Give him the benefit of the doubt, Dar.” Kerry chuckled. “Maybe he’s getting Charlie out of the hospital. If it were me, I wouldn’t be answering my phone either.”
“Mmph.” Dar rocked her head from side to side. “He doesn’t call back in a little while; I’ll call the hospital and find out what’s going on.”
They walked together to the lobby and out the front door.
They made it down to the dock without incident. The sun was out, and everything seemed peaceful and quiet, back to the sleepy friendliness of normality again.
The docks were fairly busy – boats were pulling in and out, and Dar noticed there was no sign of DeSalliers monster. They reached their slip, and she paused to check the boat over before they boarded but the vessel seemed untouched floating in its assigned space. “Looks okay.”
Kerry hopped over and jumped to the stern deck, going to the door and peering inside.
Dar unlocked the door and pushed it open, and they entered to find it reassuringly just as they’d left it. Even the apple Kerry had left on the countertop was still in place, beckoning invitingly to her as she crossed the floor and took possession of it.
Dar continued on and poked her head into the rooms in the bow, then returned looking satisfied. “Well, if they did search the place, they didn’t leave any marks.”
Kerry nodded, and took a bite of the apple. It crunched pleasantly, mostly sweet and a little tart against her tongue. It felt good to be back on board their traveling home and she felt herself relaxing and looking forward to their dive. “Tell you what. You go get the gerbils hustling, and I’ll check out our gear. Deal?”
“Deal.” Dar circled her and leaned in for a kiss. The brief notion lengthened as Kerry put her apple down and returned the kiss with gentle passion. She rested her forehead against Kerry’s when they parted and nibbled the tip of her nose affectionately. “I think things are looking up.”
“I think they are, too.” Kerry tilted her head up and brushed her lips against Dar’s again, coaxing her into a longer, deeper exploration. “Oh, definitely.” She whispered, lifting her hand to caress Dar’s cheek. She felt the skin under her thumb move as Dar smiled.
They loitered together a few minutes longer, then reluctantly parted and went about their separate tasks. Kerry ducked down into the gear room and set aside their buoyancy compensators. She felt the engines rumble to life as she carefully checked Dar’s regulator, connecting it to a single tank they kept strapped to the wall for exactly this purpose and pressurizing it.
Cocking her head to one side, she listened for leaks, then shut the valve and repeated the process with her own equipment. Satisfied, she slung both regulators over her shoulder and picked up the BC’s on her way out the door.
The boat shifted as she traveled, her body compensating almost automatically for the motion. The view out the windows changed, as Dar directed the vessel out and away from the docks. Kerry caught a breath of cool, sea air as it rushed through the portholes, and she found herself smiling broadly as she stepped out onto the stern deck.
What a gorgeous day it was. She tipped her head back. The sky was clear, deep blue with only a couple of fluffy clouds down on the horizon. There was a nice breeze, and as they headed out across the water the spray from the boat’s wake whisked through the air and dusted Kerry with its damn richness.
With a chuckle, she went to the tank cabinet and opened it, removing two of the tanks inside and lifting them with a grunt. She carried them over to the bench and set them in their holders, letting the BC’s slide down onto the bench next to them. “Hey, Dar?”
“Yeah?” Dar’s voice carried down from the flying bridge.
“This blue hole thing a good place for pictures?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Kerry finished readying their gear and trooped back inside to get her camera and its waterproof housing.
Dar slowed the boat’s speed as she approached the lee side of the island, its overhanging cliff structures circling them with wild grandeur. The sun poured in over her shoulders, reflecting off the glittering surface of the sea with molten darts, and she could see the pale green of the shallow waters deepening as it neared the cliffs to a deep clear blue.
There were a few other dive boats nearby, smaller ones since the open topped cave wasn’t a popular choice with the beginning divers who populated the cattle boats. Dar picked a spot in relatively open water and circled it. “Ker?”
“Yeah?” Kerry was on the bow, peering avidly at everything.
“What have I got under the keel?”
Kerry looked down, shading her eyes. “Sand.”
Kerry leaned over, coming perilously close to examining the surface in a real, personal way. “Yeah. Go ahead, let it loose.”
Dar hit the switch for the anchor, and heard the rumble as it released and plunged into the water. Then she cut the engines and stood up, stripping off her shirt and letting it drop onto the back of the chair. She adjusted the strap on her swimsuit and made her way to the ladder, climbing down it to the lower deck.
Now that the engine was off, she could hear the lap of the water, and the rustling crash of the waves against the stone walls in the cliffs nearby. Kerry joined her a moment later, and they stood side by side near their gear.
“Weren’t you going to call about Charlie?” Kerry suddenly remembered. “At the hospital?”
Dar paused in the act of fastening her regulator to her tank. “Damn. You’re right.” She shook her head. “Hang on.” She walked over to the cabinet near the door, and then stopped. “I don’t think I have the number.” She suddenly realized.
Kerry had connected her tank to her BC. “Is there information out here?” She wondered. “The hotel probably would know the number.”
“Good thought.” Dar dialed the number of the hotel they were staying in. She listened, and then scowled. “Busy.” She tapped the cell phone against her neck as she thought. “Well, let’s go under, and when I come back up, I’ll try it again.”
Dar put the cell phone in the cabinet’s drawer and closed it, then walked over and got into her BC, fastening the belly strap and standing up. The heavy tank shifted, and she had to make a few adjustments, then she buckled the front buckles and turned, waiting for Kerry to stand up.
“Okay, ready.” Kerry preferred to buckle everything first. She stood and hopped a little, getting everything settled as much over her center of balance as she could. “Let’s go.”
They both picked up their fins and masks and walked to the back of the boat. Dar let down the dive ladder and opened the back gate, then rested her hand on the gate and slipped her fins on. “We’re gonna go in, then just go down for ten feet or so. We’ve got to swim over to where the water color change is.”
“Okay.” Kerry agreed, feeling a little excited, and a touch pleasantly scared. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Dar settled her mask over her face, pulling her hair out from under the rubber and seating the seal firmly. Then she winked at Kerry, and inserted her regulator, taking a big step off the back of the boat and plunging into the water.
Kerry followed, clasping one hand over her camera case and one over her mouthpiece and mask as she stepped off the deck and entered the ocean.
Oo. Her eyes opened wide in surprise, not expecting the relative mild chill of the water. She’d been used to the almost bathtub warmth they’d been in so far, and this was definitely a change. Briefly, she wondered if putting on their shortie wetsuits would have been a good idea, but after a moment her body adjusted and she let herself drift down to the shallow bottom in water so clear it was almost like glass.
Dar was resting on her knees on the sandy bottom, her dark hair floating freely about her head as she waited for Kerry to descend.
Kerry hugged her arms and rubbed them, giving Dar a wry look from behind her mask.
Dar slapped her head, then held her hands up in apology, and pointed to the surface with a questioning look.
Kerry shook her head, and pointed towards the rocks.
After a moment’s hesitation, Dar flipped over and started swimming slowly, glancing behind her as Kerry caught up. They finned along side by side over the sandy bottom, moving through schools of colorful fish that scattered at their approach then reformed behind them.
Kerry looked ahead of her, to where she could see a rocky escarpment that rose almost to the surface. The waves were breaking over it, churning up the water and sending bits of debris tinkling down to the ocean floor.
As they swam closer, Kerry could feel a current against her of cooler water, and she could see the faintest hint of a shimmer. She unstrapped her camera and took a few shots of the approaching wall.
Dar swam ahead of her to the wall and caught hold of it, reaching out to grab Kerry as she came closer. She grinned around her mouthpiece and mimed a shutter near her mask.
Kerry lifted her camera up. Then Dar held her hand over her eyes.
Oh, c’mon Dar. But Kerry humored her, covering her eyes as she trustingly allowed her partner to maneuver her over the escarpment. She sensed the rocks moving under her, feeling her fins brush against them and hearing the sound of the waves close over her head.
Then Dar pulled her hand away, and she could see.
For a moment, she simply stared. Beyond the escarpment was a vast chasm in the sea, filled with the deepest blue water that was yet clear enough for the sunlight to penetrate down it seemed hundreds of feet.
It was gorgeous. She could see divers far off down the rocks, exploring the sides of the chasm. Swarms of fish darted past them, reflecting the sun. Quickly, she lifted the camera and snapped off a few shots, then looked at Dar and simply pointed imperiously downward.
Dar smiled, and pushed off the wall, letting the air out of her BC and sailing downward. Kerry shoved off after her, feeling a wash of cooler water ease past her as she descended.
It was like floating into a fantasy world. The rocks on either side were crawling with life, schools of small fish and crustaceans hanging from the crevices. A swordfish whisked past her and she barely focused in time to catch it, only to have Dar tug her arm.
She turned to see a dark, grey figure lazily moving through the water and her eyes widened fully. She didn’t need the up thrust fin to identify the animal as a shark, and she quickly looked at Dar to gauge the danger.
Dar seemed quite relaxed. She pointed to her right. Kerry looked and saw a grouper bigger than she was nibbling at the wall, then they both jumped as two clown fish chased each other between them, brushing their legs as they sped towards the rocks.
They were still drifting down. Kerry could now see a cave at the bottom of the chasm, with a ripple above it. The water also seemed to mist. She pointed at it, and looked at Dar in question.
Dar tapped the water bag Kerry had strapped under her tank, and mimed a gush of something welling up.
Oh. A freshwater spring. Kerry looked at the rocks as they drifted closer, seeing a crab making it’s way along. She turned and tight focused, getting a good shot of its blue/black shell against the tan rock. She looked down, seeing the bottom coming up. She turned and looked across the space, watching it fill with swarms of fish.
They swam in and out of the sunbeams, and she could barely take one shot before another presented itself.
Then she lowered her camera and checked her dive computer. At 120 feet, it was the deepest she’d ever been, but with the clarity of the water, it hardly seemed more than a regular reef dive. She looked at Dar, who was watching her with a visible grin.
Kerry held up three fingers, then made an o with her thumb and forefinger, then three fingers again.
But she knew she only had about ten minutes at this depth, and she was determined to make the most of it. She moved off towards the underwater spring, swimming over the gap in the rock through which fresh water gushed. She put a hand into its path, feeling the pressure, and then she took a picture of it.
Turning, she saw Dar relaxing nearby, idly playing with a blowfish. The creature had blown itself up into a spiky ball, and Dar was bouncing it gently from hand to hand as she floated. Kerry immediately took a picture of her.
A flounder wafted past. It watched Kerry out of one eye as she turned in the water and snapped it. A sand shark squiggled below her, and she jumped a little, getting out of its way. Then she flipped over onto her back and took several shots looking straight up, through the clouds of fish to the surface.
Kerry felt lines of poetry erupt into her mind, and she just floated there for a moment, exulting in the sheer wonder around her.
Then, with an almost apologetic look, Dar swam over and tapped her wrist. Kerry nodded reluctantly, and they started drifting upward.
She used the rest of her roll of film on the way up, and wished she’d had a second.
Dar’s head broke the surface, and she grabbed the boat’s ladder. With a grunt, she pulled herself onboard and dumped her fins and mask, turning to help Kerry up out of the water as she felt her weight on the ladder.
Kerry barely waited to get her body clear of the sea before she pulled her regulator out of her mouth and squealed like a pig. “Eeeeeeeeeeehyhoooo!!!!!!” She jumped onto the deck and hopped a few times, despite the fact that she still had her gear on. “Dar... that was by far the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen!!!!!”
Dar dumped her tank and dropped her mask and snorkel into the water well. “Guess I picked a good one, huh?” She asked with a grin. “Gimme your stuff.”
Kerry unbuckled her vest and turned, shrugging out of it as the weight of the tank lifted. “Oh my freaking god.” She set her camera down and went to the cabinet, grabbing a towel to dry her face with. As she opened the door, she heard a chirp. “Your cell’s squeaking.” She told Dar. “Bet Bud called back.”
Dar turned from where she was putting up the gear. “Good. I’ll get it in a minute.”
Kerry walked over and dried Dar’s face for her. “That place is great. Did you see the caves that kind of went on from the bottom??”
“I did.” Dar nodded. “But you really don’t want to go in there unless you’ve done cave training. It’s dangerous.”
“No problem.” Kerry reached into the cooler and pulled out a bottle of water, uncapping it and drinking. “I loved looking up and seeing the sun all that way up. Jesus!” She still felt exhilarated. “Dar, that was worth the entire damn trip.”
Dar turned and walked over. “Glad you liked it.” She wore a very pleased grin.
“Liked it?” Kerry put the water down and threw her arms around Dar instead, hugging her fiercely. “Errrooof. I loved it.” She told her partner. “I got some fantastic pictures. I think I’m going to do a series of under waters from this trip for the cabin.”
“Mm.” Dar exhaled in satisfaction. She liked underwater shots. She liked the cabin. She loved Kerry. It all seemed to be falling together perfectly so far as she was concerned.
Kerry gave her one last squeeze, and then released her. “How about I make you a special surprise for dinner?”
“Surprise?” Dar inquired. “Like what?”
“Hardly be a surprise if I told you, sweetie.” Kerry winked. “Trust me. You like it.”
“Okay.” Dar agreed amiably. “But as hungry as I am right now, you could serve me pureed asparagus on wheat toast and I’d like it.”
Kerry chuckled. “I’m going to go shower and change.” She gave Dar a pat on the side and disappeared into the cabin.
Dar wiped her hands off and picked up the still chirping cell phone. She opened it and dialed her voice mail, listening to the phone as she dried herself.
Her brow creased at the voice. Instead of the expected Bud, it was Charlie’s.
“Hey, Dar? This is Charlie. Listen, they let me loose from this joint, and I’m trying to get hold of Bud to come pick me up. Gimme a call here if you’ve seen him – cell’s not answering, and I’m figuring he got stuck in some damn poker game or something. Thanks.”
“Huh.” Dar studied the phone. “Now, what the hell is going on?” She dialed the number Charlie had left, and waited. “Charlie?”
“Hey, Dar?” Charlie’s voice sounded relieved. “Glad to hear ya. You know where Buddy is?”
Dar took a breath. “Charlie, I thought he was with you.” She said reluctantly. “He left our room this morning, and he was just going to check on the boat. Haven’t heard from him since. I left him a couple of messages, but no answer.”
Kerry stuck her head out of the door, having heard voices. “What’s up?”
“Bud’s missing.” Dar mouthed at her.
“Well, damn.” Charlie said. “Where the hell can he be?”
Good question. Dar ran her hand through her damp hair. “I don’t know.” She admitted. “Listen, we can…” her eyes shifted to Kerry. “Um…”
“Go back, pick up Charlie, and find Bud.” Kerry completed the statement, with a wry smile. “Lift the anchor, Cap’n Dar.” She patted Dar’s arm and disappeared again.
“Charlie, stay put. We’ll swing back by and get you.” Dar said. “We’re out off the western side of St. Thomas, so it’ll take a little while.” She acknowledged the grateful response, and then closed the phone. Thoughtfully, she made her way to the ladder and climbed up, her mind turning to this new problem.
Afraid she already knew the answer to it.