Beyond the window, rain fell in splotches on the canal. Her horoscope had warned that today would be a day of intrigue. The weather report said it’d be sunny. Two for two. Served her right for reading either one.
Despite the weather, she longed to be on the ocean. There were only so many times she could rearrange the shop’s collection of postcards, snorkel gear, and colorful diving T-shirts.
But, first, coffee. She needed a cup to counteract the fitful sleep she’d experienced last night. Maybe one day she’d buy a coffeemaker for her place, but then she’d just have one more item to store when she got her next research job.
She’d taken two steps when the bell above the door jingled and a man entered. Gray tinged his surfer-blond hair, which appeared casually tousled with the help of too much hair gel.
He paused next to a slanting framed poster of the Spiegel Grove shipwreck, cocked his head to the side, then reached out and straightened it. Satisfied, his eyes fell on Mer and he steered toward her. “They call me Ishmael.” He thrust out his hand.
The spookiest green eyes she had ever seen pinned her in place. His hand remained outstretched, yet she found herself reluctant to shake it. When she did, his grip mashed her fingers.
“Captain Ahab’s out at the moment.” She withdrew her hand before he could do permanent damage. “Something I can help you with?”
“Finally.” He leaned against the counter and winked conspiratorially. “Someone who gets me.”
The overhead light bounced off the face of the Rolex Submariner that circled his wrist. Most men she knew who wore Rolexes fell into one of three categories. His manicure argued against a military background. Her photographer friends didn’t wear pressed khakis or crisp linen shirts. That left rich.
“What, exactly, are you seeking?” she asked.
He lowered his voice, even though they were the only people in the shop. “Something even more elusive than a white whale.”
Mer caught her eye roll before it made its full revolution. The only thing he needed to complete his act was a wand and a puff of smoke.
“According to the news outlets, it was the crew of an Aquarius dive boat who rescued the diver from the Spiegel Grove,” he said.
Coffee. She really needed coffee.
“We rescued a diver from Molasses Reef, not the Spiegel Grove,” she corrected.
“Then I’m in the right place.”
She threw her rain-soaked paper towel at the trash can and it bounced off the rim. “Only if you want to be in the Aquarius Dive Shop.”
He stroked his chin as if he once had a beard. The cuff of his long-sleeved shirt fell back, revealing puckered skin. “So tell me, what happened?”
She leaned over and stuffed the paper towel into the bin. “I’m sorry, I really don’t feel like talking about it.”
His eyes widened. “It was you.”
He said it as if she were the catalyst that had precipitated this whole fiasco. It irked her—not only because she’d been turned into a minor celebrity on an island chain where the weird went pro but because the rescue was the culmination of an event that was beyond her comprehension, beyond scientific understanding.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but all I did was pull someone out of the water. This is a tourist destination. Not everyone keeps up on their skills. We make rescues every week. This was no different.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.”
“Please, call me Ishmael.”
“I’m sorry, but unless you need something else I can’t help you.” She grabbed a mess of postcards and aligned their edges against the countertop.
“Ah, but you can.” He stared at her, unblinking. “I need a boat.”
“That I can arrange.” She gave the cards a final adjustment and then plucked the binder that held the boat reservations off the counter. “We run boats every morning and afternoon. The morning trip goes to one of the several wrecks in the area, and in the afternoons we dive the reef. Snorkelers are welcome.”
“Actually, I want to charter the entire boat.”
Boats came in two basic sizes in the commercial dive community: six-packs and cattle boats. Mer flipped to a tabbed page of the smaller vessel. “The Dock Holiday carries six divers—”
“Honey, I need your big boat.”
“That’s Doctor Honey.” Mer plastered a neutral expression on her face and flipped to the second tab. Researching in the Arctic was so much easier than customer service. Plus, cephalopods weren’t nearly as slimy as some people.
She ran her finger down the calendar page for the LunaSea. It packed in thirty-two divers, two tanks for each person, crew and all the accoutrements required for a Coast Guard–rated vessel. “Did you want the next available time or do you have a particular date in mind?”
He reached into his wallet and pulled out a business card. “I want to charter a night dive to the Spiegel Grove on the next moonless night.” He snapped the card against the counter. “I’ll need at least six hours. And then a return trip the next morning.”
The swirled colors on his card reminded Mer of a foggy horizon. She glanced at the print, then read it again, aloud. “Spirited Divers Paranormal Scuba Team?”
“We seek ghosts.”
He raised an eyebrow. “We’re filming a documentary about paranormal activity on the Spiegel Grove for the Expedition channel.”
“Wouldn’t the science-fiction channel be more appropriate?”
A smile played on his lips. “I see I’ve encountered a nonbeliever.”
“I believe in science.” She tapped her pen against the binder. “And proof.”
“Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Did she really want to get into a philosophical argument before her first cup of coffee? Her mug mocked her from atop the glass case that held dive watches and knives. She eyed the leftover sludge from yesterday, then the rain outside the window. Why not? The LunaSea had already left the dock, and people wouldn’t start checking in for the afternoon boat for another couple of hours.
“There’s a reason it’s called blind faith,” she said. “You can’t spin gold from straw. Yet a lot of people tried. And there have always been charlatans happy to capitalize on the gullible.”