Authors: Tymber Dalton
The interior of the boat looked luxurious, the walls covered with a lush seafoam-colored upholstery. There were numerous brass fittings, shiny still even in their new watery surroundings, and plenty of oiled teak trimmed out the numerous shelves and furniture.
A couple of weeks down here will take care of that
A small door swung open and shut to his right. He pushed it open, revealing the cabin’s head. The toilet seat floated up and down in the sudden current he created by opening the door. Nothing of interest caught his eye. He penetrated the dim cabin further, his halogen dive light brightly illuminating the second door before him. He reached forward and grabbed the knob.
* * * *
“Hey, you keep chewing those things, you’ll be right down to your knuckles,” Ron joked, motioning at the fingernail Mitch was vigorously gnawing.
She looked down at her hand. “God, I haven’t done that in years.”
“I know he is. But this whole business is just plain weird. I mean, it was unnerving to find that guy. I wasn’t expecting it. I was planning on having a relaxing weekend and getting away from shit like this.”
As a sideline to the dive shop, they contracted out commercial search and recovery work. Most of it involved equipment recovery in phosphate pits for local mining companies, but they did quite a bit of work for the local sheriffs’ departments. This involved everything from recovering cars submerged for one reason or another, to recovering divers who drowned in local sinks and caves.
Their most memorable and unpleasant job was a small Piper Cub that crashed in Hernando County, out in the cypress wilderness near the mouth of the Chassahowitzka River one night. Airboat-mounted sheriff’s deputies, Marine Patrol officers, and wildlife officials stood guard in a perimeter around the devastated plane and shot alligators while Mitch and Ed and their team of divers raced to collect as many body parts as possible.
“I know, hon.” He patted her on the shoulder.
They both turned at the sound of line stripping off a reel.
“I got it!” Jack crowed. He jerked the pole out of its holder. After a five-minute struggle, he reeled in a nice twenty-pound red grouper.
Mitch grabbed the gaff and leaned over the gunwale to help Jack land the fish. When she did, she spied a chum bag floating in the current, tied to the cleat.
“Oh, no. How long has this been out?”
At first, the men didn’t know what she was talking about. Once the grouper was safely on board, they looked over the gunwale.
Jack spoke up. “Oh, we put it in while you were down. We were fishing until you came up. Why? What’s wrong?”
She quickly reeled it up and dropped it in the bait cooler. “That’s why that shark and those ’cuda started hanging around all of a sudden. Thank God Ed took the powerhead with him.”
Concern flooded Ron’s face. “Oh, no. I’m sorry, Mitch. I never even thought about that. Oh, shit.”
“How bad could it get?” Jack asked.
She slumped into one of the deck chairs. “Well, there’s hammerheads and tigers up this way, and they can get pretty aggressive when they want to.”
Ron and Jack looked at each other. Ron was the first to speak. “I’m sure that if there’s any problem, he’ll come right back up.”
Inside the closet, Ed found a concealed panel that shifted out of place when the boat sank. Normally, it would have fit flush into the floor and blended right in. Now, it hovered above the closet’s floor, revealing its hidden cargo.
Small bricks, about a foot long and eight inches wide, tightly wrapped in black plastic, packed the space.
It looks like they were carrying some pretty illegal cargo.
He left the bricks in place and carefully backed out of the cramped area. As he turned to exit, a dark shape glided past the cabin’s small window.
I certainly hope you’re a nurse shark, buddy.
Back in the main salon, the corpse had drifted into a different position. Ed reached out and nudged the body out of the way with the butt of his speargun. Playing his light over the interior, he decided to investigate the aft cabin as well. The door was jammed, but a hard shove opened it. He peered inside.
As he suspected, it was the larger aft cabin, also equipped with a head. He didn’t bother opening the closet. When satisfied that the dead man was alone on board, Ed returned to the main cabin.
He tested the main hatch. It definitely would not close.
He studied the corpse.
How are we going to do this?
Ed finally decided to tow the man by the back of his shirt collar. He turned his light off and released the safety on both the powerhead and the speargun. No telling how the barracuda would react to the body, but Ed wasn’t keen on explaining to the dead man’s family how he became dinner for some hungry fish.
A dark shape swam over the stern as Ed reached the main hatch. He froze, recognizing the telltale stripes of an eight-foot tiger shark.
Oh, dear God, please not now.
Ed shrank inside the cockpit, clutching the corpse’s collar. Heart pounding in his chest, he forced himself to concentrate on his breathing, to keep the bubbles flowing past his ears smooth and regular. Another dark shape materialized. His heart sank at the unmistakable sight of a hammerhead. It was a large one, about fourteen feet. The shark silently cruised past him, its eerie eyes studying him from the ends of its oddly shaped head.
Oh, shit. Just what I need.
The hammerhead also disappeared. With dawning horror, Ed realized what must have happened.
The damn chum bag.
Ed thought long and hard. Did Ron and Jack hang it back out when Mitch was down? If they had, it was probably still out unless Mitch saw it.
Ed glanced at his gauges. He still had half a tank of air left, but his dive computer said he had to surface in four minutes or make a safety stop.
He didn’t think the sharks would care much about that.
* * * *
Mitch anxiously watched Ed’s bubbles on the surface. They finally changed, indicating he was out of the wreck, but he wasn’t moving. A school of baitfish off to their starboard side caught her eye. She pointed it out to Ron and Jack. The three of them watched, fascinated, while the school churned the glassy surface of the water.
Their fascination quickly turned to horror as a large, beige shape came up underneath the school and rolled at the surface. It exploded in a frenzy of movement, then sank back into the Gulf after giving them the unmistakable view of its dorsal fin.
Mitch barely managed a whisper. “Oh, shit.”
“A tiger?” Ron asked.
He patted her shoulder. “What can we do?”
“Wait.” She looked up at her friend. “And pray.”
Jack shook his head and stared at the ripples still blooming where the shark hit.
* * * *
Ed couldn’t tell if it was the same tiger or not. But when it finally disappeared into the distance, he decided to make a run for it. He kicked for the anchor rope, corpse in tow, and looked around. Even the barracudas had vanished.
Ed forced himself to stick to the ascent rule of a foot per second, freezing at thirty feet when the tiger shark materialized below him. The tiger slowly undulated back and forth, arching its back, its moves growing increasingly erratic as it ascended. From all his years of diving, Ed knew a lot about shark behavior. What this shark did worried the hell out of him.
It was preparing to attack.
* * * *
“What the hell?” Mitch exclaimed.
Ron and Jack quickly joined her. “What’s wrong? Ron asked.
“He was coming up, then he stopped about midway. What the hell?”
A splash near the stern, followed by Pete’s excited barking, drew their attention. They rushed aft just in time to see another dark shape cruise by the boat before sinking into the depths of the Gulf.
“Holy crap!” Jack exclaimed. “Was that what I think it was?”
Mitch’s grim face was all the confirmation he needed, but she said, “Hammerhead.”
She locked Pete in the main cabin. It was definitely not the time for the dog to suddenly decide to take a swim.
* * * *
Ed brought the speargun up in front of him and kicked for the surface. The tiger made several close passes, then changed course and aimed right for him. Ed tightened his already white-knuckle grip on the spear gun and prepared for the concussion from the powerhead. The tiger veered away at the last absolute second as something rammed Ed from behind.
The impact took him square between his shoulders, driving his tank and BC hard into his back. He was jerked back and forth several times and heard the shark’s teeth grating on the aluminum scuba tank before it finally let him go. The blow was enough to make Ed bite through the teeth-grips on the regulator’s mouthpiece. Ed barely managed to hold on to his speargun and the corpse. He turned to catch a glimpse of his attacker circling around behind him.
Unlike the typical “bump and bite” profile that rare shark attacks on divers followed, this one was coming back for seconds, attracted by the corpse, no doubt.
Ed turned to face the shark. At the last second he dodged, spinning around and stabbing the hammerhead with his speargun. The powerhead made contact just behind its head. The concussion jolted Ed while the shark erupted in a flurry of erratic movement. Blood, turned green by a trick of the light at depth, blossomed from the dying shark. Ed watched as it sank toward the bottom, still writhing in its death agonies.
The barracudas magically reappeared and their razor-sharp teeth set to work on the huge shark. Ed stared for a moment, watching the feast, until the thought of the tiger shark still lurking somewhere broke the spell and started him kicking for the surface again.
* * * *
“There he is!” They rushed to get Ed and the corpse out of the water.
They unceremoniously hoisted the dead man onto the dive platform. Then Ron and Jack extended hands to Ed and pulled him out of the water, gear and all. The black scuba tank had several deep scratches in the paint, and one of the straps that held the BC in place was bit in two, sliced as neatly as a razor by the shark’s teeth.
“Ed? Are you okay?” Mitch anxiously looked him over.
“That was a
goddamn shark!” He shrugged out of his BC, collapsing in a deck chair. His face looked pale and his hands shook from the adrenaline rush.
“What happened?” Ron asked.
Ed shook his head and pulled his mask off. “Bastard took a run at me. A
hammerhead, about fourteen feet long. There was a damn tiger down there, he was coming right at me. The fuckin’ hammerhead blindsided me from behind. You see what he did to the tank. Had to powerhead him.” He dropped the mask onto the deck and ran his hands through his wet hair. “Son of a bitch!”
Mitch wanted to hug him. “I’m just glad you’re okay. We saw the sharks. We were worried something might happen.”
He looked up at her. His laughter had a slight hysterical edge to it. “Well, something sure as hell happened, all right.”
Jack examined the severed strap. It was the bottom one, approximately twelve inches below the valve where the first stage regulator attached to the tank. “Just be glad that big boy’s aim was off. A few inches higher, and you would have been sucking water instead of air. He would have chewed through your hoses.”
Ed shook his head. “I’ve never,
had anything like that happen before. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was going to have to powerhead that damn tiger, then all of a sudden,
! The hammerhead hit me from behind! I saw him earlier, but when he disappeared, I just figured he was gone.
Ron and Jack sheepishly looked at each other. Ron spoke up. “Um, well, that might have partly been our fault.”
Jack finished the explanation. “We sort of had the chum bag out when we were fishing.”
“I was afraid of that. Hey, if you can’t laugh you’re gonna cry, and I really don’t feel like crying right now. I needed a little excitement in my life.” He winked at Mitch. “Right?”
“I don’t think this is exactly what I would have had in mind, but it’ll do.”
“Well, sit down, it gets better,” he warned.
He launched into his tale of finding the bricks, and when he finished, Mitch groaned.
“Oh, yes. Call the Coast Guard back, find out how long until their boat gets here, then get a number we can call them on the cell phone and tell them about this. I don’t want to broadcast this over the VHF.”
Mitch contacted the Coast Guard. When she returned to the stern, the men were staring at the body, trying to decide what to do.
“Too bad we can’t use him for chum,” Jack quipped. Ron hushed him with a nudge to the ribs.