That tidbit of information was enough to convince Mer that she never wanted to personally experience the power of a hurricane. A noise on the rear deck caught her attention. Hard plastic Pelican cases full of equipment were being dragged out and gear assembled. She scooted along the gunnels, then swung onto the deck, landing next to Rabbit. He jumped and dropped the coin he was manipulating through his fingers.
“Oy! You scared me,” he said.
Mer grinned. “And you call yourself a ghost hunter.”
He plucked out his earbuds and let them hang around his neck. “I ain’t ’fraid of no ghosts.”
“Have you seen one?”
The other paranormal divers were rummaging through their gear. Echo sat hunched over his sonar devices and computer equipment, his fingers tapping away on the keyboard. Amber held her Nikon against her face, snapping candids of the crew. The rest of her camera rigs, bulky housings, and strobes littered the deck. Ishmael stood at the stern, overseeing the chaos.
Mer spoke to Rabbit. “I’m curious. How’d you end up with this crew?”
“You ever been to New York in the summer?” He tugged his sweat-soaked T-shirt away from his body. “Brutal. I thought it’d be cooler working on a boat. Apparently, I was wrong.”
“You might want to take off your hat, then.” Despite the darkness, the temperature had dropped only a couple of lines and the thermometer still read ninety-two degrees. She could taste the moisture in the air, hot and salty from the ocean. “I still don’t get it,” she said. “You’re an environmental-studies major.”
“You mean why the paranormal?”
“It’s the last realm. Environmental studies is holistic. It takes economics, law, policy, and history and mixes it up with natural and social studies. Who’s to say that we’re not missing a component?”
“But it’s a variable that can’t be calculated or even replicated.”
“That’s why it could be a potential game changer. The great unknown. You know?”
Echo looked up from his laptop. “You know what would be helpful? Moving that underwater scooter before it falls on my equipment.”
Rabbit pocketed his coin. “Plus, I earn credit toward my degree and get to work with only the finest individuals.” He lifted the diver propulsion vehicle and moved it forward, careful not to nudge the attached camera. “Can’t believe we bothered to lug this on board. No sense having just one.”
“Do you normally have more?” Mer asked.
“Lindsey drove off before we could unload it.”
Leroy came down from the wheelhouse and dropped an enlarged map of the Spiegel Grove on the dry table and gathered everyone around him. “We’re tied off to the number six mooring ball. Follow the line down and you’ll find yourself midship on the port superstructure. You’ll hit that at about sixty-five feet. Most of your dive will be down around ninety feet. Mer’s going to mark the path with these here glow sticks.” He snapped a six-inch ChemLight and shook it until it fluoresced an eerie green. “Who’s going down with you?”
“Rabbit,” Mer replied. He didn’t need to do anything to help her, but a deep dive at night required a buddy. Rabbit fit the bill nicely.
“Meanwhile,” Leroy continued, “the rest of you all can gear up and get ready to find Casper. After the two divers return and sit out their surface interval, the pool will officially be open. Mer will escort you down.”
“Amber and I will accompany Mer as she places the lights,” Ishmael said.
Rabbit, one leg in his wetsuit, paused, a wrinkle running across his forehead.
Mer attached a ChemLight to her tank valve. “It would be better if you waited until I assess the conditions. Light the path. Stick to the plan we agreed to on the dock.”
“I’ve reconsidered. The Expedition channel wants a complete documentary of our procedures from start to finish. This is part of it. Plus, I want to make certain that our positive intentions are known, and not just the vibes of a skeptic.”
“Too bad we can’t burn a smudge stick underwater,” Mer said. She secured glow sticks to the tanks of the other divers’ rigs.
“While I suspect sarcasm, at least you understand the concept,” Ishmael said. “There’s no telling how intuitive spirits are.”
“Which camera should I take, Ishie?” Amber asked. “Video or still?”
“Video’s mine,” Rabbit reminded her. “It’s complicated.”
Amber put her hand on her hip and pulled a face.
“Let’s save the video for when Rabbit’s down with us,” Ishmael mediated. “Why don’t you take Lindsey’s? I’ll signal what I want you to take photos of.”
Mer interjected, “For the record? I’m your safety diver. I didn’t sign up to be photographed.”
Amber put down her camera. “Why not? You’re not just smart, you’re beautiful.”
“Beautiful,” Echo muttered. He scrutinized data on his computer, then tapped the tip of a small hydrophone. “Can you take Ariel down with you? I’m getting strange readings. I need some known noise to compare.”
“Ariel?” Mer asked.
“Ariel. My little mermaid. Can’t talk, just listens.”
Amber put her hand on Echo’s arm. “That’s so sweet.”
Even in the harsh glare of the boat lights, Mer saw Echo flush before he hid behind his laptop again.
A flicker of annoyance passed across Ishmael’s face. “I thought you had the recorder all ready to go.”
The woman tattooed on Echo’s shoulder jumped as he shrugged.
“Fine,” Ishmael said, still not looking happy. “I’ll take it down.”
Mer tucked her pendant flat and zipped herself into her wetsuit. The neoprene stopped mid-thigh and had short sleeves, but the water hovered at eighty-five degrees, and that was all she needed even at the depth of the wreck. “Let’s get this over with,” she said.
Bungee cords held the prepared tanks tight in their slots. Mer opened the valve to her tank and checked her gauges. “I just want to reiterate that all experiments will be conducted on the exterior of the ship. Entering the wreck beyond the open passageways is forbidden at night.”