Mer addressed the couple. “Can you help the captain get the other divers on board?”
The wife nodded, the husband put down his cellphone. “On it.”
Over the next ten minutes they settled the remaining thirteen divers on the pitching boat.
Leroy consulted Mer. “How’s he doing?”
“Stable. Time to cast off?”
A petite older woman stepped forward. “I’m first-aid-certified if you need me to watch over him.”
“Perfect.” Mer sprang to her feet and headed for the bow. “I’ll only be a minute.”
Leroy fired the engines and Mer unhooked their mooring. “Line off,” she shouted above the noise of the diesel engines. Leroy motored off the reef, then gunned it.
Mer bumped her way back to Rob as the LunaSea plowed through the waves.
Rob sat with his back against the bench, the other divers clustered around him. Several held their smartphones, filming or snapping photos.
“It was a ghost and the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen,” Rob said. “It was shaped like a man, but green and kind of see-through.”
Mer gaped in disbelief.
“He pointed at me. Then crooked his finger like he wanted me to come over. Well, no way was that going to happen.”
“Rad,” the twentysomething diver said, still filming Rob’s ramblings. “Uploading this to YouTube now.”
The husband dipped his head toward his wife, but spoke loud enough for all to hear. “I already posted the video clip of the rescue.”
Mer recovered her senses and pushed through the crowd. “Everyone back up, give me some room.” She knelt next to her patient and held the mask over his face. “You need to keep this on.”
He swatted it away. “People have to know about this.”
“Already posted. Don’t worry, dude, they’ll know your story.”
“On Facebook now, too,” another diver said. “Fifty likes in less than five minutes. That’s gotta be a record for me.”
“Really, people?” Mer said. “This man was just pulled out of the ocean unconscious. He didn’t see a ghost. Now back up.”
“I know what I saw.” Rob eased back down, seemingly relieved that the others believed his story.
Mer snapped the mask over his nose and mouth. “Inhale.” She followed her own advice and drew a big breath. She’d saved a man from drowning, but that didn’t mean he was out of danger medically. She needed to concentrate on that. Nothing else.
The forty-minute return trip stretched into forever. A circuslike atmosphere permeated the boat. The divers huddled together, sharing photos and liking one another’s posts and uploads. One excited young man boasted that his post already had more than a thousand views. Another said she’d alerted a local news personality on Twitter.
Mer looked to see if her patient had overheard. His eyes were shut and his face was expressionless, but his chest rose and fell steadily.
The LunaSea lurched as Leroy backed off the engines in the no-wake zone.
“Almost there.” She patted Rob’s shoulder, then stood and spoke to the others. “When we dock, let the medics board first. We’ll get you off as quickly as possible, but I need you to all stay clear.” She herded them to the back of the boat.
Leroy radioed his approach to crash corner, Port Largo’s dangerous ninety-degree turn, to make sure it was clear of traffic. The timbre of the engines changed as they motored through the bend.
The Aquarius Dive Shop was a short distance beyond the turn, and one of the few dive outfits in Key Largo that had its own dockage, retail space, and parking all in one spot. When Mer glanced at the dock, she did a double take.
Emergency lights from the ambulance and the fire truck splashed off of the shop windows in waves of red and blue. Medics stood in front, but a crush of media people and gawkers crowded the remaining space. Reporters jostled for position and did last-minute primps in anticipation of their impending live shots. The gawkers held their cellphones aloft.
Kyle had a front-row view of the spectacle from the doorway of the equipment room as he guarded the expensive regulators, dive computers, and other gear the shop rented to divers. As soon as the LunaSea drew near, he closed the door and pushed through to the dock.
Leroy spun the boat in the narrow canal and brought it broadside against the dock, pointing in the direction they’d just traveled. Kyle handed Mer the lines, and the medics pushed on board. A couple of photographers tried to follow, but Leroy slid down from the wheelhouse and blocked their access. The click of electronic camera shutters filled the air like cicadas on a summer night.
The medics secured Rob to a backboard and carried him off the boat to a waiting gurney. A cheer rose from the crowd when he raised his hand and waved.
A reporter sporting a brunette bob shoved a microphone into Rob’s face. “Wendy Wheeler, Keys News. Is it true that you encountered a ghost on the Spiegel Grove today?” He nodded. “How on earth did you get to Molasses Reef?”
Rob scraped the mask off his face. “I can’t explain it. Mind-blowing. Terrifying.” One of the medics brushed her aside and cleared a path while the other pushed the gurney through the crowd and into the parking lot, where the ambulance waited.
Wendy spun on Mer. “Wendy Wheeler. Were you the heroic rescuer?”
The question surprised Mer. “Heroic? No.”
“Brave, beautiful, and bashful. Come on, now, don’t be shy. What was it like to encounter a ghost?”
“There was no ghost. Only a man who needed assistance.”
Wendy held her hand so that her body shielded it from the camera and made a circular motion that urged Mer to elaborate. When she didn’t, the reporter shot out another question. “How long has the Spiegel Grove been haunted by the Spiegel Spirit?”
Mer swallowed a groan. “It’s not.”
“How did Rob get to the reef?”
“I don’t know.”
Exasperation flickered across Wendy’s face. “Good thing you were there to save the day. I’m Wendy Wheeler, the key to Keys News.” She signaled her cameraman to cut. “I’d love to do a more in-depth interview. You know, after you’ve had some time to prepare.”
“There’s really nothing to prepare.” Mer stepped off the boat and was engulfed by jostling reporters shouting questions about ghosts, mermaids, and other supernatural phenomena. More camera clicks, more questions. People reached out to touch her, grab her clothes, talk to her.