“I understand.” He added two more bills to the pile.
Seven hundred dollars to split with Leroy.
No one taught scuba for the money. There was none. Like any service-industry staff, scuba instructors and boat crews depended on tips for survival. Bijoux paid better than most, but, even so, Mer made more in gratuities than in wages. Large tips were common when an entire boat was chartered by an organization, but it seemed downright Faustian to accept this man’s money.
He flicked his wrist and glanced at his watch. “Do I need to add more?”
“Gratuities are at our guests’ discretion.” Pragmatism and an anemic bank account overcame Mer’s reluctance. “I’ll still need to clear it with Leroy, but if he’s agreeable, I’ll be your safety diver.”
Triumph flared in Ishmael’s spooky green eyes.
Even coffee wouldn’t fix this.
The LunaSea and the Dock Holiday returned to the dock within minutes of each other. Tired divers straggled off the boats, lugging their wet gear. Mer swung onto the deck and started prepping the LunaSea to take Ishmael’s team out. Tom and Taylor hosed down the Dock Holiday to put her to bed for the night.
Beyond the fringe of palm trees, the parking lot was a mass of movement as rental Camrys, Impalas, and convertibles in search of a happy hour maneuvered to get past two black Suburbans with tinted windows and an equally dark Hummer pulling in to go diving. If she didn’t know better, she’d think the president had arrived with his Secret Service detail in tow.
She expected a Ghostbuster to look like Bill Murray, so she was surprised when a statuesque blonde slid from the driver’s seat of the closest car.
Leroy nudged her. “She must be the bait.”
The woman wore shorts and a T-shirt that hugged her bronzed body. Oversized sunglasses hid her eyes. She opened the liftgate of the Suburban and grabbed two large Pelican cases. As she walked nearer, Mer upped her age assessment of the woman. She had the body of a cheerleader but the maturity of a coach.
“You’re staring, Leroy.”
“So are you.”
“Yes, but I can claim intellectual curiosity. You’re just being a hound dog.”
The straw in his mouth bounced. “There’s another one.”
This woman got out of the passenger seat of the Hummer driven by Ishmael. She bounced over to his side, stood on her tiptoes, and planted a big kiss on his cheek.
“Looks like she’s taken,” Mer observed.
The younger woman draped a camera around her neck and slung two more soft cases over her shoulder. She took a photo of Ishmael, turned the camera sideways, and snapped another. She blew him a kiss and sashayed toward the boat.
“My wife’s already raised three girls.” He moved the straw to the other side of his mouth. “I don’t think she’d take kindly to raising another.”
“They look a lot alike,” Mer said.
“Maybe this is a family affair.”
The younger woman swept by the older one and claimed one of the two picnic tables by the dock. The older woman’s lip curled in distaste, and she chose the other table to set down her gear.
“Or not,” he added.
Ishmael walked over to the last vehicle and briefly spoke to the two male occupants, then pointed toward the LunaSea. Both men got out and started unloading scuba gear.
Ishmael hefted a mesh gear bag and approached the boat. When he neared, Mer saw that the skin on his right arm was puckered with extensive burn scars.
“Meredith,” he hailed. “So glad you could make it.”
“As if I could be anywhere else.”
“By the end of the night, you’ll be thanking me for letting you come on this adventure.”
“Letting me?” She eyed the growing pile of equipment by the picnic tables and decided to make the most of it. Some of the items she recognized—photographic equipment, laptops, hydroacoustic devices; all items she had used in her own research, but a couple of the cases hadn’t been opened and she wondered what they held.
“See?” Ishmael laughed. “I can already tell you’re intrigued. Come on over, I’ll introduce you to the crew.”
Leroy gave her a little shove. “Go on. The tanks will wait.”
She followed Ishmael to the picnic tables.
Both women eyed Mer as she approached.
Ishmael put his arm around her shoulders. She had an overwhelming urge to shrug it off.
“I’d like to introduce Meredith. She’s going to be our safety diver this evening.” Ishmael indicated the older blonde. “Meredith, this is Lindsey Hatchet. She’s the team’s underwater photographer.”
Lindsey glanced at Mer, then back down at her camera housing. “And part owner of this operation.”
“Yes.” Ishmael’s jaw tightened. “Lindsey and I are co-owners of the business.”
“This is a business?” Amazement tinged Mer’s voice. “I’m sorry, I assumed ghost hunting was a hobby.”
Lindsey lifted the designer sunglasses onto her head and turned her piercing gaze on Mer. “Hobbies pay more.” She lowered the frames once again, leaving Mer staring at her own reflection in the massive lenses. Emerald studs decorated the woman’s ears. The interlocking Cs logo on her Top-Siders represented a brand that Mer saw only in magazines. Business or hobby, apparently chasing spirits turned a profit.
Ishmael swept his arm toward the young woman. “This is our land photographer.”
The older blonde snorted. “She might want to take the lens cap off her camera, then.”
Ishmael ignored the interruption. “Amber Greene.”
“Colorful.” Mer shook the younger woman’s hand.
Up close, the resemblance between the two women was even more striking. They shared the same delicate features, although Amber’s face was more heart-shaped while Lindsey had a stronger jaw.
Amber nestled under Ishmael’s arm. “He forgot to tell you I’m also his fiancée.” She held up her hand and fluttered her fingers. A huge rock weighted down her ring finger. The Arctic had smaller glaciers.
“Congratulations.” Poor thing, Mer thought.
“I guess if we’re trotting that out as a credential”—Lindsey held up her hand and wiggled her bare fingers—“you should know that I’m his ex-wife.”