“Again, congratulations,” Mer said, with more sincerity.
Ishmael cleared his throat. “Here comes Isaac Goldfarb, known to all as Rabbit.”
A lanky young man walked toward the picnic table carrying a diver-propulsion vehicle. Despite the heat, he wore a knit cap and tight curls escaped from under the edge. White cords dangled from his ears and disappeared into the pocket of his shorts.
“Shalom.” He set down the scooter and plucked out his earbuds. Music leached from the bits of plastic. “You must be Meredith. Ishmael told us about you. I’m Rabbit.” He brushed his hand fingers along the side of her head. Before she could swat his hand aside, he pulled a coin from her ear.
“Let me guess,” Mer said. “They call you Rabbit because you’re always doing magic tricks.”
“Naw.” He worked the coin back and forth along his knuckles. “When I asked my mom where I came from, she told me the doctor pulled me out of a hat.”
“Rabbit is majoring in environmental studies at Brandeis University and is interning with us over the summer,” Ishmael said. “He does a bit of everything, including underwater videography.” Then he pointed toward a Latino man with a goatee who sat hunkered over a laptop. “And last, but definitely not least, are the ears of the outfit, Echo.”
“Echo.” He stood but kept his hands shoved in his pockets. He had only a couple of inches on Mer, but he was twice as heavy. Tattoos crawled up his neck and down his arms. Even his calves were covered in ink. She guessed his age at mid-twenties, but something behind his eyes suggested that he’d seen more than someone his age should.
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Mer.”
He nodded. “Mer.”
It took a moment before she registered that the irises of his eyes were different sizes. His gaze was straightforward, but she had the feeling that one of them was listing. She examined the data displayed on his laptop. “You using single or multiple frequency?”
“Single or split beam?”
Ishmael drew Mer’s attention to a tubular device. “Hydroacoustics is an important part of our research,” he said.
She cocked an eyebrow. “Research?” Hydroacoustics described the study and application of how sound moved through water. Underwater equipment could determine water depth, the presence of plants, the location of fish, their size, and even their behavior. But fish and fauna were real. “Tell me, how does all this prove ghosts?”
“You seem well acquainted with research methodology,” Ishmael said.
“I was part of a study to flesh out the data on the biogeography of Arctic cephalopods.”
“And how did you find your elusive Arctic octopi?”
“Octopuses.” Why could no one get that right? “We located likely distribution hubs and then used both passive hydroacoustic technology and echosounders to confirm or invalidate our working hypothesis.”
“Wow!” Amber’s eyes widened. “You’re smart.”
Ishmael brushed Amber’s remark aside and continued to address Mer. “In other words, you did exactly what we’re doing.”
“How do you figure?” Mer asked.
“We heard there was paranormal activity on the Spiegel Grove.” He tapped the top of Echo’s laptop screen. “We’ll deploy sonar technology to confirm if what we’re looking for is present.”
Mer crossed her arms. “We also looked for creatures that preyed on the cephalopods.”
He turned his spooky eyes on her. “Tell me, Meredith, do you believe in God?”
“I don’t see how faith relates to research.”
He held out his arm. “I found God in the flames.”
She touched the seahorse at her neck. “I drowned once.”
Ishmael rubbed his chin. “Drowned? Intriguing.”
She started and realized that she’d spoken the words out loud. “Not if you experience it.”
Lindsey snapped her camera housing shut. “Are we earning class credit for listening to you two, or can we go find ghosts?”
Ishmael looked over his shoulder at her. “Can you please, just once, let me finish a conversation?”
Lindsey stood. “Maybe if you were saying something important and not talking just to hear yourself speak, I’d consider it.”
“Will you excuse us, Mer? Lindsey and I have some business to discuss.”
Mer retreated to the boat and climbed the ladder to the wheelhouse.
Leroy was reclining in the captain’s chair, his feet up on the console, with a cup of cold coffee in his hand. “You throwing gasoline on the fire again?”
“Uh-huh.” He used his cup to point toward the parking lot.
Lindsey and Ishmael stood close to one of the Suburbans. Nose to nose, they punctuated their conversation with hand-waving and stomps. Finally, Lindsey turned her back on Ishmael and climbed into the car. He tried to stop her from closing the door, but she pushed him out of the way and started the engine. He banged on the rolled-up window. Lindsey put the car in reverse and floored it. The fender grazed Ishmael as he jumped out of the way. She threw it in gear and roared out of the lot, the tires spitting gravel.
“Huh.” Leroy sipped his coffee. “Guess you’re the bait now.”
The sun didn’t set until after eight o’clock. The lights on shore receded and only the stars marked their progress as the LunaSea plowed through five and a half nautical miles of Atlantic Ocean to its destination. Six white mooring balls marked the site of the massive Spiegel Grove shipwreck. Leroy chose the midship ball and Mer hooked the LunaSea’s bowline to it.
“On line.” She signaled Leroy.
The deck shuddered under her bare feet, then Leroy killed the engines and the LunaSea settled in the current. Gentle waves lapped against the hull, and for a moment all was silent. The ocean’s roll filled Mer with a quiet joy. The only magic she believed in.
The USS Spiegel Grove was her favorite dive site. Named after President Rutherford B. Hayes’s Ohio estate, the dock landing ship was commissioned in the fifties, and found her final resting place off Key Largo as an artificial reef in 2002. When they sank her, she landed upside down, her bow protruding in a most undignified manner for such a grand dame. A month and a couple of hundred thousand dollars of engineering later, she rolled onto her starboard side, where she remained until Hurricane Dennis knocked her straight.