“Rob. My name is Rob Price.”
“Rob. Pleasure to meet you.” She used the cheerful voice she reserved for small children and drowning men. “How about we get you back to the boat?”
He jerked upright. “We gotta get out of here!”
“I’m going to tow you in. Can you help kick?”
“It’s getting closer.”
His alarm quickened her pulse. “What’s getting closer?” The ocean had plenty of docile animals that looked like man-eaters to the inexperienced, and just enough real dangers to keep things interesting. She dipped her face in the water and scanned beneath them. Nothing. “How are you feeling?”
“Not good. Nothing’s right.”
Crap. Wrong answer. “What’s going on?”
“I’m…my…did you see that?” He pointed behind her.
His fear infected her. She twisted around but didn’t see anything. “What? What did you see?”
He tensed, shuddered, then went limp.
“Shit!” She moved quickly, pulling him backward until he floated faceup on the water. She stripped her mask off, hooked it over her arm, and then checked to make sure he was still breathing. The waves pummeled them, but at last his chest rose.
The boat bobbed nearly a hundred feet away. “Why is it always the big guys?” She yanked the weight pockets out of his vest and let them fall the thirty feet or so to the ocean floor. Grabbing the tank valve, she towed his limp body toward the LunaSea.
“Couldn’t be the size of a turtle.” She spoke to calm herself. “Nooooo. You had to be a flippin’ whale shark.”
The current worked against her. “Oh, and for the record?” She struggled to keep his face protected from the waves. “It’d be really nice if you’d mentioned what I’m protecting you from.”
She swiveled her head, searching for threats. The wind wailed in her ears and blasted spray into her face. She focused on the LunaSea. Kicked harder.
Finally she reached the end of the orange current line and Leroy pulled her the remaining twenty-five feet. The ladder slapped the water with the passage of each wave.
The buckles on Rob’s vest held fast as she fumbled in the water to release them. At last they yielded, and Mer freed the unconscious man from his equipment.
Leroy leaned over the stern and grabbed Rob’s gear. “I’ve been timing the waves,” he said. “Wait for the next one to pass and grab the ladder as quick as you can.”
She yanked off her fins and flung them toward the captain. “Catch.”
Mer fought to keep Rob on the surface, and they bobbed in the water just beyond the back of the boat. She’d get only one chance at doing this without injury, and she’d have to move fast.
She imagined carrying him like a sleepy child, his arms draped over her shoulders, his face against her neck. Only she had to grab the ladder, find her footing and wedge her leg between his, or the force of the rocking boat would slam them back into the ocean and slap them with the metal ladder for good measure.
“Here it comes, Cavallo,” Leroy said. “Get ready.”
Mer inhaled a deep breath, felt the power of the water swell beneath her. As the wave ebbed, she swam toward the boat, planted her foot, and drew her arms in to pin Rob between her and the ladder. Another wave hit, raising the LunaSea’s stern into the air. Gravity pulled at Mer, doing its best to drag her back into the sea. She gripped the ladder. Her biceps strained until Leroy seized Rob under the armpits and hauled him onto the deck like a gaffed fish.
Before Mer could readjust, the swim step plummeted toward the water and hit with a teeth-jarring thud, then dragged her beneath the surface. She held tight as the boat righted itself, and her head broke the surface just as another wave crested. She spit out salt water and clambered up the ladder, pausing at the top to catch her breath.
Two divers had already surfaced. The husband held his cellphone eye level with Mer’s face while his wife huddled under a towel, trying to stay out of the way. Emergency equipment littered the deck like flotsam. Mer dropped her gear on the bench.
Leroy leaned over the now conscious diver. His tense face made Mer’s pulse race.
Rob clawed at the oxygen mask on his face. “Tell her!”
Leroy brushed the man’s hand aside and resettled the mask.
Mer gripped her pendant. “Tell me what?”
“He says he was diving the Spiegel Grove.”
“Impossible,” she said. “We’re five miles away, and the current’s going in the wrong direction.”
“That he was diving the Spiegel and there was a—” Leroy struggled to find the right word. “Presence.”
“A presence? You mean like a ghost? Please.” She pursed her lips.
He shook his head. “I know. Except just after you went in the Sea Dragon radioed they’re missing a diver off the Spiegel.” He nodded toward Rob. “This one.”
Leroy rapped a wrench against the ladder three times to recall the other divers. “I’ve radioed for medics. They’ll be on the dock when we pull in.”
Mer nodded. The husband and wife team had helped her move Rob into the shade. His eyes were closed, clamped so tightly shut that his face wrinkled and air hissed out the side of the oxygen mask.
“Relax,” Mer said. “You’re safe.”
He shook his head, dislodging the mask. “You didn’t see it. You don’t know.”
“I don’t know what you saw, but it wasn’t a ghost. Maybe a stingray. In the distance, the way they move can be a bit spooky. Did you take any medications today?”
“I’m telling you, I saw a ghost.”
She leaned closer and sniffed, expecting to smell alcohol. Nothing.
“Can you tell me what day it is?”
His eyes popped open. “What’s it gonna take for you to believe me? I’m not crazy. There’s a ghost down there, so can we just get the hell out of here?”
Mer readjusted his mask. “As soon as everyone’s back.”
Another diver surfaced. Leroy helped him out of the water while Mer tended to Rob.
“Dude.” The diver swiped his long hair out of his eyes and looked at Rob. “Everything okay?”
“Medical emergency,” Leroy answered, guiding the twentysomething to the bench.