by Bonnie J. Cardone
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story! At the end of this post is an ad for Untreed Reads fun Thanksgiving short stories–please consider purchasing one of these fun stories–it helps us and the writers!
The great white shark appeared minutes after Danny and I climbed into the underwater cage. The animal was at least 15 feet long yet neither of us saw it until it was right in front of us. That was unnerving. As it swam slowly by, inches from the stainless steel bars that kept us off its menu, I got an up-close and personal view of a cold black eye and a row of large, jagged teeth. The chills that ran down my spine had nothing to do with the water temperature.
During that dive as many as three sharks glided silently through the water around us. They appeared and disappeared on an irregular basis. It was impossible to predict when or where they’d show up or when they’d leave. The body of each shark had a unique set of scratches and scars and after a while we were able to recognize individuals. The largest was a female with a distinctive notch in her dorsal fin. Telling the sexes apart was easy–the males had long fleshy appendages called claspers on their undersides.
Later, Danny and I downloaded our images and video to our tablets. While I was pleased with my shots, Danny was elated. He’d gotten terrific footage of a shark coming right at his camera, mouth wide open as it tried to chomp down on the head of a yellowtail tuna. The crew had used the fish head to lure the shark closer to the cages by tying it to a rope, tossing it into the water and pulling it back to the boat.
My name is Cinnamon Greene. I’d come on the great white shark trip with my boyfriend, Danny Decker. We were both eager to see and photograph the ocean’s greatest predator in its natural environment.
While many foreign scuba diving vacations involve the hassle of airports, security lines and crowded airplanes, this one was appealingly simple. Our destination was an island more than 150 miles off the coast of the Baja California peninsula. We would drive to San Diego from our homes in Cliffview, California, and get on a bus that would take us to Ensenada, Mexico. There we would board a boat that would cruise to tiny, sparsely populated Guadalupe. It would be a media-free vacation: no TV, internet or cell phone use would be possible.
We wouldn’t have to bring all our diving gear because instead of scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), we’d be using hookah rigs and air would be pumped to our mouthpieces, called regulators, through long yellow hoses connected to an air compressor on the boat.
I’d never dived with a hookah rig before and at first it felt weird not to have a tank on my back. Wearing a weight harness to counteract the buoyancy of my dry-suit and keep me from bouncing up and down in the cage took some getting used to as well. It resembled a pair of hefty suspenders attached to a cummerbund with pockets that held 40 pounds of lead weight.
We left San Diego early one morning and the last leg of the trip took place at night, while we slept. It was still dark when the boat arrived at Guadalupe and dropped anchor. Eventually, the passengers noticed the boat’s diesel engines were silent and made their way topside.
Sipping coffee on the deck at sunrise, Danny and I watched the crew put two cages in the water off the boats stern. Each cage held four people and eight of us would be in the water at the same time. We were assigned to groups that rotated in and out of the cages, which were available 24 hours a day. The stainless steel cages were designed to be photographer-friendly, with large openings for unobstructed views. Although these openings were too small to let great whites in, they were big enough for a diver to stick his/her head and shoulders out. We’d been told to keep body parts inside the cages, yet when there was little action and divers got bored, that warning tended to be ignored.
Leaning farther out of the cages than anyone else were two particular divers, Bob and Jim, the sons of a third man named Roger. If there was a family resemblance, I couldn’t see it. Bob and Jim, in their early 30s, didn’t look like each other or their dad.
I guessed Roger to be in his middle 50s. A tall, slender man, his face wore a perpetually worried look, which was probably the result of the chances Bob and Jim were taking. The boat crew, including the captain, tried to tell the men how dangerous their stunts were but nothing changed. The captain finally issued an ultimatum: If the men didn’t follow the rules they wouldn’t be allowed to dive. That earned him contemptuous looks and snorts from Jim and Bob. Danny is 6’1” but Bob and Jim were even taller, with weight-lifter builds. They knew the captain could not enforce his threat.
The father/son trio kept to themselves, paying no attention to the rest of us. The sons conversed with each other in Spanish. That was one of two things I excelled at in high school (the other was softball). They spoke so rapidly, however, I understood only an occasional word. The three men were the only non-photographers on the trip. Early on, it occurred to me they had little in common with the rest of us and maybe that’s why they were so reclusive.
I’d gotten plenty of shark photos and was not planning to make another dive that first day until Danny urged me to join him in the cage. He wanted close-ups of my face to use in his shark videos. “Look afraid, Cinnamon,” he directed, as we were getting ready. “Look very afraid.”
Light was beginning to fade when we climbed into an empty cage. It was nice not to have to share it with anyone else. Jim, Bob and Roger were in the other cage.
The sharks were somewhere else. Danny focused on my face and I pantomimed fear, even though there was nothing to inspire it. My attention wandered. I watched Jim and Bob take turns leaning out of their cage. It looked as if they were trying to out-do one another. There was way too much testosterone there.
Twenty minutes went by. A small shark appeared, circled the boat and disappeared into the gloom. A sudden movement caught my eye. I was shocked to see one of the sons under the other cage and clinging to it with both hands. I couldn’t tell if it was Jim or Bob. but whoever the unlucky man was, he was facing certain death. His long yellow air hose was stretched to its limit. If he let go of the bars, the heavy weight harness would take him straight to the bottom more than 100 feet below.
Drawn by the unusual activity, two sharks materialized from the blue water and glided around the struggling diver. Their interest in him telegraphed through the water like a shock wave. Suddenly the regulator popped out of the diver’s mouth. Seconds later, he plummeted into the abyss. The sharks turned and went after him; all three disappeared in the depths.
The whole episode had taken less than a minute.
I was trembling so violently it was difficult to climb out of the cage. Back on the deck, I couldn’t stop shaking. Danny’s face was ashen. Our shipmates crowded around, peppering us with questions. While I related what had happened, Roger and Bob quickly shed their dive gear and went below without saying a word. When the captain knocked on their stateroom door, they refused to come out or speak to him.
Everyone was stunned. There was none of the usual laughter and camaraderie during the cocktail hour in the galley, during which I downloaded the few images I’d shot on that horrific dive to my computer. I wanted to show them to Danny and see his footage but I couldn’t find him. I couldn’t imagine where he was; the boat wasn’t that big. As dinner was being served the captain made an announcement over the PA. A death onboard the boat dictated the trip would be cut short. We’d be heading for Ensenada at first light. He advised us to pack our gear and make sure everything was secure because the ride back was likely to be bumpy.
Danny finally appeared, edgy and restless. He picked at his food and ignored me when I asked where he’d been. I hadn’t finished eating when he suggested we go to our stateroom. There was urgency in his request. The door had barely closed when he asked, “You didn’t see it, did you?” His blue eyes searched mine.
Danny set up his laptop and played the footage from our last dive. It opened with shots of my face and segued to shimmering schools of tiny baitfish swimming in blue water. Then the camera panned to Jim holding onto the bottom of the cage as his brother and father peered down at him. Focused on the dangling diver, I hadn’t seen Roger, who was on the side of the cage farthest from me and partially blocked from view by Bob and Danny, grab Jim’s air hose and start yanking on it. Jim’s eyes and panicky movements showed his terror. Then Roger stomped on his fingers, trying to dislodge them. Meanwhile, Bob was halfway out of the cage, extending a hand to his brother. He wasn’t nearly close enough. Two sharks appeared. Roger tugged on the yellow hose and the regulator popped out of Jim’s mouth.
Roger renewed his attack on his son’s fingers, dislodging two of them. As Jim struggled to regain his hold his heavy weight harness slipped down one shoulder. The sudden weight shift was too much. Jim lost his grip. A silent scream and a stream of bubbles escaped from his mouth as he fell. The sharks turned and followed him. Fortunately, the water was too deep and dark for the video to pick up what must have happened next.
We played the terrifying video four times.
“That wasn’t an accident, it was murder,” I said with a shudder. “Roger killed Jim. Does anyone know you have this?”
“I showed it to the captain.”
“What did he say?”
“He was horrified. Then he pointed out we’re more than 150 miles offshore, far from any law enforcement personnel.
He’d already told American authorities about Bob’s death and didn’t think it was a good idea to contact them again on marine radio to tell them it was murder. Those conversations are not secure. He will notify the authorities when we get within cell phone range and have law enforcement meet us at the dock.
“There will be two crewmembers on watch tonight,” Danny continued. “The captain cautioned me not to tell anyone else about the footage, to lock our stateroom door and not go anywhere alone after dark.”
That was very good advice and I intended to follow it, but when I awoke in the night and needed to pee, I hated to disturb Danny. Both of us had tossed and turned before falling asleep.
The boat had two heads, one on each side of the main deck. As I walked through the galley on my way there, I was surprised to see two crewmembers sound asleep. Fine watchmen they were. One sprawled on his back in a booth, snoring loudly; the other had his head down on a table. Half-empty cups of coffee sat in front of them.
“Should have drunk all of it,” I muttered as I went by. I’d wake them up on my way back to my stateroom.
I used the port head. When I stepped out of it a few minutes later, I saw a light moving across the sea and heard the sound of a boat heading toward us.
Curious, I walked to the bow, watching the light. Suddenly, someone grabbed me from behind and a huge hand covered my mouth. My struggles proved fruitless. My captor was way too strong. He pushed me to the deck and slapped a strip of duct tape across my mouth, then used more tape to bind my hands and feet. When he finished, he threw a tarp over me.
Ugh! The tarp smelled very much like the dead fish the boat crew had used as bait to lure the sharks in. It took me a while to wiggle out from under it. I’d been bound quickly but carelessly. By hooking the tape on a cleat, I managed to free one hand, then the other. I pulled the tape off my ankles and mouth.
I heard men talking in Spanish in low voices. I crawled to the side of the boat, peering around the wheelhouse toward the stern. Ten feet from me, Bob stood next to an opening in the gunwale. Roger sat at his feet, his wrists bound in front of him and a piece of duct tape across his mouth. A small cabin cruiser bobbed on the water next to our boat. If I didn’t act quickly, the murderers would board the smaller boat and escape.
I needed to awaken my shipmates and summon help and I needed to do it fast. Looking around for something–anything–to use as a distraction, I spotted a life ring. Although I hadn’t thrown anything in years, I was once the star pitcher on the Cliffview High girl’s softball team. I gave the life ring a mighty heave and it flew along the deck like a Frisbee, glancing off Bob’s shoulder.
Startled, Bob fell off the boat through the opening in its side. The blood curdling scream he uttered before he splashed into the cool, dark ocean awakened everyone on board except the two crewmen in the galley. As Bob foundered around on the surface coughing and sputtering, excited passengers and crew swarmed the deck. Both a crewmember and a man in the small boat threw Bob life preservers. They were too late. As we watched, a sleek, torpedo-shaped form with sharp, pointy teeth broke the surface, grabbed Bob and sank back into the depths. A loud, collective gasp arose from those watching.
The small boat revved its engine and raced off into the night.
I was making my way toward Danny, who stood on the stern, when I came face to face with Roger. A crewmember had removed the duct tape covering his mouth and was cutting the line that bound his wrists. As soon as his arms were free, he threw them around me and mumbled, “Thank you, thank you! You saved my life.”
Over the next few minutes he revealed that his real name was Warren Burroughs and he was a real estate tycoon worth millions. He’d been kidnapped from the parking lot of his office building a few hours before we left San Diego. “Jim” and “Bob” (Warren didn’t think those were their real names) had stuffed him into the trunk of their car and driven to the bus. They had guns and threatened to kill him and everyone else unless he did as he was told so he did, all the while looking for a way to escape.
The smaller boat was supposed to ferry the three men to a fishing village on the Baja peninsula. Once the kidnappers had the ransom money they’d demanded, Warren was pretty sure he’d be killed. He might even have been dumped in the sea before the boat reached land.
On the last dive, when “Jim” leaned farther out of the cage than usual, Burroughs had given him a shove, then yanked the regulator from his mouth and stomped on his fingers to make him to let go of the cage. After that, “Bob” bound Burroughs’ hands, feet and mouth and confined him to their stateroom until it was time to board the smaller craft.
When our boat got close to shore some 18 hours later, the captain was able to confirm Warren Burroughs’ story. Everything he’d told us was true. Also, we were pretty sure that the crewmembers were on watch had been drugged.
Later, on the drive back to Cliffview, Danny said, “I knew you played softball in high school, but I didn’t know you were the team’s pitcher.”
“Star pitcher,” I corrected him. “We won the championship in my senior year. But that was a long time ago.”
“Do you have any other hidden talents?”
“That’s for me to know and you to discover,” I replied.
Wait till he finds out what a whiz I am with a Hula Hoop.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.