Home > Adrift (A Mer Cavallo Mystery #1)(17)

Adrift (A Mer Cavallo Mystery #1)(17)
Author: Micki Browning

“Vanished. Nowhere to be found. I saw—” She searched for the words. “I thought I saw Ishmael. Only now I’m not so sure.”

“Were there other divers in the water with you?”

“No.”

“Then who else could it have been?” he asked.

“According to Amber? A ghost.”

“You don’t believe in them.”

“I don’t know what I believe anymore.”

He arched his brow.

“I’d left three ChemLights at the base of the mooring line. Something passed over them. I thought it was Ishmael. Obviously, I was wrong.”

“You don’t know that.”

She held her water glass against her cheek, the condensation cool against her flushed skin. “For all I know, it was a grouper. Hell, it could have been a barracuda. The problem was I assumed it was Ishmael. And I left.”

“You had to get Amber to the surface or you would have had two casualties.”

“They’re sending up Coast Guard helicopters at dawn to begin a surface search. Monroe County Search and Recovery team is going out to the Spiegel at seven.” She put down her water and lifted the bottle to examine the label. Master selection. Aged eighteen years. “Mind?”

He passed her his glass. “What’s your gut tell you? Do you think he drowned?”

She brought the whiskey to her nose. The spicy fumes burned her nostrils and made her eyes water. “I don’t know.” She set the drink on the table and slid it back, untasted. “I found a glow stick in a passageway.”

His voice hardened. “You penetrated the wreck at night?”

“Don’t be absurd.” She raked her fingers through her curly hair. “Not on the first dive. And, technically, not on the second one, either.”

“Technically.”

She buried her face in her hands. “When I went down the second time, I took one of the other crew members. We swam to the hatch, where we’d been trying to affix a listening device. Anyway, I peeked into the hallway. That’s when I saw the glow.”

“The ChemLight?”

She nodded. “I ran a line. Went into the passageway. I had to. I had to know. We started the dive with glow sticks attached to our tanks. I accounted for all the lights but his. Then I found his mask.”

“That’s not good.”

“No,” she whispered, “it’s not.” She stood. She had to do something. Anything. The sound of lapping water drew her to the railing and she paced along its edge like a caged beast. “Somewhere out there is a man. Alone. Because I left him there.”

“You can’t blame yourself for this.”

“Detective Talbot seems to think I should.”

Selkie straightened. “Josh?”

Mer paused pacing. “Tall, dark, asks imprecise questions and gets defensive when you call him on it?”

“Not quite how I’d describe him. Although he does like to quote Shakespeare.”

“How did he phrase it?” She searched the night sky for answers. “That’s right. He found my involvement in both recent incidents on the Spiegel Grove ‘criminally curious.’ ”

“He’s just trying to rattle you.”

“Why on earth would he feel the need to do that?” she asked.

He shrugged. “It’s what cops do.”

“Not Vito.” She’d been on a ride-along with her brother once, but that was before he was promoted to detective. Was he just like Detective Talbot now? The thought disturbed her. She twisted her face. “I take it you know this detective?”

“We’ve met. What else did you find?” he asked.

She resumed pacing. “I don’t understand your question.”

“You’re a scientist. You make a living sifting through minutia and interpreting data.”

A breeze had picked up and fluttered against her T-shirt, toying with the fabric. “Nothing about this night makes sense.”

“Yet.”

“You know the image of Snoopy painted on the passageway deck?” Mer collapsed onto the chaise. “It looked like someone had taken a leaf blower and blown it clean. There was silt everywhere else. But not there.”

“Is that where you found his mask?”

She nodded. The horror of being trapped a hundred feet underwater without a mask chilled her. She imagined he’d swept his hand across the deck, searched for his mask, desperate to regain his ability to see his gauges, his buddies, the way out. How had he lost his mask? She shivered. “Do you know the definition of ‘paranormal’?”

“The study of banshees and boogeymen?”

“You’re thinking of folklore and legend. The paranormal is phenomena beyond the scope of scientific explanation. Tonight turned out to be everything Ishmael wanted.”

“To capture on film,” Selkie amended.

“The camera!” Mer jumped up. “If the strobe and the shutter were synced, wouldn’t that mean that each time the strobe activated Amber took a photograph?” She stopped and faced Selkie. “Maybe the images will help us figure out what happened.”

Selkie joined her at the rail. “Should be easy enough to download the memory card.”

Her shoulders drooped. “It’s in a hundred and thirty feet of water. I’ll have to tell Detective Talbot. It wasn’t flashing by the time we went down on the second dive. The battery must have died.” The last word caught in her throat and her vision blurred with tears. She held her breath, hoping to suffocate the sob building in her chest. She didn’t want to cry. Not now. Not in front of Selkie.

“I should go,” Mer said, pushing away from the rail.

“Wait.” He reached for her and his hand touched her elbow.

She spun. Tears streamed down her face. “I couldn’t find him. I was the safety officer. This is my fault.”

He drew her close and rested his chin against the top of her head.

Her body shook with effort as she struggled to keep quiet. She inhaled a jagged breath and a choked sob escaped. “This is all my fault.”

He stroked her hair. “It’s okay.”

But it wasn’t.

The pulse in his neck beat against her forehead, and she tried to match her breaths to his. Tried not to relive the horror of needing a breath and inhaling water instead. Tried not to think of Ishmael. Trapped. Scared. Dying.

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