UNDER A SIX-SHADES-of-gray sky, thirty miles off the coast of Boston, the Lady Luck, thirty-five feet of rust, leaks and peeled paint, coughed and sputtered its way through choppy, dark Atlantic water. It was headed due east, just after dawn.
Geysers of white spray shot up as its barnacle-encrusted hull alternately slapped frothy wave crests and troughs.
The ceaseless grind of its rebuilt diesel engine was deafening. Thick black exhaust spilled out from its stern and swirled away.
Inside the boat's forward cabin, bleary-eyed Charlie Davenport, the Lady Luck's owner, grasped the wheel with bony, white-knuckled hands. A healthy captain would have had difficulty staying on course under the present conditions. For Davenport, emaciated and chronically sick from a diet consisting mostly of distilled liquids, it was nearly impossible.
Styrofoam coffee cup within his fingertips, he briefly released the wheel, and pulled out a nearly drained half pint of rum from inside his grimy windbreaker.
Momentarily unguided, the ship lurched to port. Davenport, uncaring, focused on the higher priority of sloshing booze into the cup. Some made it in—more ended up on his shaky blue hand.
“Shit!” he shouted. Davenport stowed the bottle, took a sip, and smacked his hands back on the wheel.
The sudden, loud bang of metal striking metal caused him to drop the cup. It hit the deck and emptied onto his already soaked deck shoes. Davenport bared rotten teeth, turned his head and glared over his shoulder at his paying customers, five scuba divers who had dared to go out on a poor-excuse-for-a-boat, captained by a drunk with an improbable story.
“For Christ's sake, Sanchez, secure that friggin' air tank! My insurance ain't paid up. If you blow yourself to pieces, all your widow gets is chum!” shouted the captain.
Standing mid-ship, dark-haired Mike Sanchez fought to maintain his balance, nodded and secured the aluminum tank with a bungee cord.
“You own a damn dive shop,” added Davenport. “You of all people should know better.”
Sanchez, normally soft-spoken, had enough. “If you kept your hands on the wheel as much as you do the booze bottle, Charlie, maybe our shit wouldn't fly around like inside a blender.”
Sanchez noticed that Davenport had long since turned his back on him and ignored his retort. He shook his head, gave Davenport the finger anyway, then retested the bungee cord.
Paul Yogman, another diver, entered the cabin, stood next to Davenport, who failed to acknowledge his presence. The ship pitched, forcing Yogman to quickly grab an overhead grip. Thirty and tall, the cramped quarters forced Yogman to crouch down somewhat, an uncomfortable position made worse by his bulky dry suit.
Yogman gave his chewing gum an extra workout before spitting it out the side window. He turned back to Charlie, intent to break the silence. “Was it this bad when you took that group fishing last week?”
Charlie squatted, picked up the styrofoam cup at his feet and drank whatever remained in it. His gaze remained fixed on the Lady Luck's pitching bow.
Yogman, determined, gave it another try. “Charlie Davenport, you like you've been dead for a week.”
A long pause followed.
“It's only late summer, Yogman. Wait till you see how I look come winter.”
Yogman smiled. “All right. Now I at least know you haven't gone deaf.”
Davenport finally looked at Yogman, softened his tone of voice. “Yeah, Paul, it was like this for the first half of the day.”
Davenport returned his gaze seaward.
“And you're convinced it's a wreck you hooked onto? Charts don't show any out here. I've looked at them all.”
Davenport bobbed his head, adjusted the brim of his sweat-stained cap. “I've discovered enough wrecks in my day to know.” He turned to Yogman. “I'd bet my left nut on this one.”
Yogman held on to the grip extra tightly as the Lady Luck took on a brutal wave. “Anyone besides you know the coordinates?”
Charlie bit his lower lip and gave Yogman a quick, angry side glance. “If you're worried about that prick, Miranski, the answer is no.”
* * *
YELLING FROM THE ship's stern broke above the engine noise. Startled, Charlie and Yogman turned in its direction..
Divers Tom Curtis, Sanchez and the father-and-son team of Al and Max Weber were wildly swinging their arms at curious invaders.
Flying fish, dozens of them, nearly a foot long streaked across the boat from port to starboard. Their long, pointed fins, used as wings, allowed the marine creatures to break the water's surface and fly distances of a quarter mile or more.
“Look at 'em! Holy crap! I don't believe it!” blared Curtis. Flailing away, his powerful hands struck and deflected a number of them.
“There's hundreds!” added gray-haired Al Weber.
Sanchez madly swung his diving hood with one hand, and protected his face with the other. Young Max Weber had success swatting them with one of his fins.
The specimens that struck the deck were markedly uncharacteristic of the species. With eyes bulging and spewing thick blood, the writhing fish, covered with boils, gnashed the air. The snapping of their toothed jaws was audible and unnerving.
Horrified at their ghastly appearance and sound, the four men gradually lowered their fatigued arms, stepped back and solemnly observed. Yogman and Davenport joined them and were equally stunned.
Davenport broke out of his torpor. “Kick 'em off the side! Get 'em off the damn boat!” He grabbed a nearby broom and swept the bloody fish off the deck, their fins vainly flapping.
Max and Tom chipped in and kicked most of the rest overboard. Nearly done, they and the others abruptly looked out to sea. The previously turbulent ocean had suddenly gone flat as glass and tomb silent. The sky, now an even dull gray from horizon to horizon, added to the eerie stillness.
Hands on hips, looking about, everyone was baffled by the suddenness of the change.
Davenport stowed his broom. “I'll go and, uh... cut the engine. Yeah, cut the engine...”
Paul grabbed Davenport's sleeve. “Did this happen last week, too?”
Davenport brushed off Yogman's hand. “Yeah, just like last week.” About to say more, he hesitated before headed back to the cabin.
Yogman, an unofficial leader of the divers, addressed the others: “All right, show's over. Everyone suit up.”
At the ship's bow, Davenport had a quick drink of rum, then began gathering the anchor line's rope, before winding it into loose, wide circles on the deck, to prevent tangling. Sanchez and Yogman joined him.
Sanchez tapped Yogman's shoulder. “I'll go down first and secure the anchor line after Charlie latches on. Once it's set I'll send up a styro cup to signal the dive's a go.”
Davenport waved off help, picked up the rusted steel anchor and groaned. “As I said when I called yous two, it's at about two hundred-ten feet. Depending on how the wreck—”
“If it's a wreck,” interrupted Yogman.
Davenport scowled, spit over the side, continued. “Depending on how it's situated, part of it could be a lot deeper.”
Charlie heaved the anchor over the side and rubbed the small of his back.
Sanchez scratched his head. “I'm surprised Eric and Urabelle didn't come along. Dives like this are what those two live for.”
Davenport and Yogman, incredulous, stared at him.
“Mike, it's the third anniversary,” said wide-eyed Yogman.
“Eric don't dive, won't do anything on this date,” added Davenport.
Sanchez drew a blank, shrugged—then recalled and lowered his head.
* * *
NEARLY SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH Sanchez's reaction, square-jawed Eric Cage quietly sat at his kitchen table, sulking. He picked up the coffee cup before him, decorated with the US Navy logo, started to take a sip, then set it back down with force.
He ran his hand through his straight, light brown hair, shook his head, breathed heavily.
In his mind, he re-ran the series of events from three years prior, for the fiftieth time since awakening from a near-sleepless night. Each time was torture, an exercise in self-inflicted pain.
His source of anguish occurred in the same house, in the backyard, at 2:15 in the afternoon. He was driving home from the supermarket, made the usual turns, waved to a neighbor and drove on.
Well before he reached his house, he saw the lights flashing on the police cars and emergency vehicles. Eric gunned the engine of his pick-up truck, got within two houses, pulled off the road, crossed two neighbors' front lawns, then hit the brakes hard in front of his own property.
The bags of groceries on the rear seats flew off, banged against the backs of the front ones and spilled their contents onto the floor into a jumbled, broken mess. Eric never noticed.
He shot from the truck, passed through the open front doorway and sprinted to the rear screen door, a short distance away.
In the modest backyard chaos reigned—cops, EMTs and firefighters raced about, shouting. Eric froze, didn't know where to look first, and nearly passed out when he finally focused on the first responders working at the side of the built-in pool off to his right. They were pulling his father, Roger, from the water. Starkly white and motionless, even at a distance it was a foregone conclusion that he was dead.
Farther to the right, a second horror came into his view: EMTs were feverishly attempting to resuscitate his six-year-old son, Ethan.
A bald, middle-aged cop rushed to Eric, who was physically and emotionally paralyzed.