“You found me …how?” Kumai asked Peter. Maybe she wasn’t fully awake and this was still part of the weird dreams she was having. In the dreams there was a boat and she couldn’t move. Taka yelled her name then slapped her. Kumai shook her head, rubbed her eyes, and then her jaw. It felt tender.
“I was trying to invite you on a dive tonight. You weren’t answering texts or calls. I sent Taka to your house to find you. Bonnie was at the house and told Taka that you were going to call her but that she hadn’t heard from you.” Peter said.
“I missed a dive?” She asked.
“Not yet. But you’re gonna. You’re in no shape to do anything. Someone dosed you. A Coast Guard boat is on its way to pick you up.”
“I feel great. No Coast Guard, please.” She slurred. “I don’t remember going out in the dinghy. You said that you found me floating out on the ocean. That’s like saying you found a grain of salt in a sugar bowl. Even if everyone knew something was wrong, it’s nearly impossible to find a person when you don’t know where to look. C’mon, Peter, how’d you find me?”
“Your cell.” He said and sat down. “Your bag was in the dinghy with you and we were able to locate you by tracking your cell.”
“Um, nope. You have to set up that kind of stuff on a phone for it to work that way…” Her voice drifted off while he just shrugged.
“You didn’t. While I was guiding dives? Geez.” She said. “I don’t know who’s more dangerous, them or you. And you know what? I can feel every bruise. Whatever you gave me is making me feel worse, not better.”
“Naltrexone. It saved your life. A few minutes later and you would have stopped breathing from all the opiates in your system.”
“I don’t understand. Opiates?” She asked. “I don’t do downers. I do, uh, used to do uppers.”
“Which is why I suspect that you didn’t drink too much and paddle away in a life boat like the crew of the Shades is claiming. That and the fact that you have no alcohol in your bloodstream.”
“You tested me?!” She hissed.
“To find out what was killing you. Kumai, we’re not the bad guys here.”
“You’re not the good guys, either. Well, okay, this time I guess you are since you saved me a serious sunburn tomorrow. Thank you for reviving me. Where’s Taka now?”
“He almost missed his flight. He stayed until we were sure that you were going to make it.”
“You don’t mean I would have died.”
“It was only a matter of minutes.”
Kumai sat up and put her forehead into her hand. “That Clarence Oglesby better hope he doesn’t meet up with me again.”
“Who?” Peter asked.
“Oh right, like you don’t know Skip Summerbourne’s given name.”
Peter didn’t answer. He stood up, patted her on the head, and said, “Take it easy here. They’ll monitor you better when you get to the hospital.”
She brushed his hand away. “No hospital. Call off the Coast Guard. You found me. Please, Peter, I’m fine.”
“I don’t think so.”
“If you put me in Kona Hospital, whoever did this will find me there and finish it. I’m safer here.”
Peter tapped his two middle fingers on the first aid kit, then sighed. “We’ll take on a paramedic from the Coast Guard to monitor you here. Drink.” He ordered, shoving a bottled water in her face.
“Ugh.” She groaned, taking the bottle and managing to swallow a few sips. “What’s the dive tonight about? Why’d you want me on it?”
“Some other divers have been exploring the spot where you found that metal box. It’s the best lead we’ve had so far. Since they’ve been diving at our exact spot, we suspect a leak. If we don’t get to the location first, whatever we hope to find could end up in their hands.”
“What do you hope to find? And who are they?” Kumai asked.
“They could be Da Hui. Some group with ties in Vegas, we know. No name yet, but we’re getting close. We located the cases on the last dive. Our team was off the dive chart for down time. We had to take a breather These other guys moved in…”
“So your divers may be swimming into a confrontation with a gang.” She finished.
“I had hoped you could be their lookout. There are lava tubes near the site with caves where you could have hidden. But now we’ll have to watch out for them from the surface.”
“I can dive. How deep are the caves?” She asked.
“Forty feet. But no way. You have chemical soup in your veins. There’s no telling what would happen to you under dive pressures.”
“How long ’til we get to the tie off?” She asked.
“No tie-off. Too deep. We’ll circle.”
“Geez that is dangerous.” She muttered. “Your divers will be going down to unknown bottom depths, exposing their backs to attack without the benefit of a warning system or cover, and they have to come up blind. Insanity.”
“I know. No options.”
The rumble of the Coast Guard engines thrummed the walls of the hold. Peter went above. Kumai fought sleep, but it overtook her as the Coast Guard pulled away without her on their vessel.
She awoke when the dive boat stopped. The teak stair rail lurched toward her as she struggled to get her legs under her and go topside. She banged into the small galley table instead. “Oh good. Another bruise.” She muttered, hoping that the boat was rocking and not her brain.
“Whoa.” A young man in a medic uniform held his palm toward her. He looked like an Asian teenager. She flashed on Kirby, wondering if this is how he looked when he started his job. “What’re you doing up?”
What’re you doing playing dress up? “Getting some fresh air.” She said.
“I didn’t want to stay down in the hold with motion sickness. Thought the air would help.” She shrugged casually while noting that there was still one dive tank on deck without any gear set up beside it.
“Well…” He looked around for supervisors, “I suppose. But it’s best if you sit down.”
“Is there really any risk to me at this point? I feel like I’m outta the woods now.” She said.
“Yeah. How long do I have to take it easy before we know that I’m gonna live?”
“Oh,” the kid chuckled. “You’re gonna live. Until you don’t. Of course.”
A medical genius.
“I mean, this OD won’t be what kills you. I just mean, I can’t say that you won’t die because we all have to die some day, but since you’re older than me…”
Stop talking now. “… and death’s the way of all life.” Kumai nodded.
“Exactly. That’s exactly what I meant.” He sat down and cleared his throat. He absentmindedly reached for her wrist and felt her pulse while she remained standing.
“Where are the divers?” She asked.
“Getting briefed up on the bridge deck.” He nodded his head in the direction of the ladder, then cursed and felt harder for her pulse.
Kumai pulled away. “I’ve been bruising too easily lately. Let’s just agree that since I am talking, I have a pulse?”
“It’s a little sluggish.” He said.
“You think that’s bad, you should see my finances. But it’s probably just a lingering effect of the kava.”
“You had kava too? You must have really wanted to relax.”
“The opiates were not ingested voluntarily.” Kumai snapped.
“Oh right, that’s what Mr. Yelley said.”
“Right. Well. If I’m excused?” Kumai asked and pointed in the direction of the briefing.
“I’ll stabilize you on the ladder.” He offered.
“No need.” She said but was secretly glad that he followed her anyway. The wooziness came and went in waves. Falling from a deck ladder would finish off her full body bruising.
Two rungs up, her hand slipped away from the ladder when the boat rolled. The man put his hand under her, his palm a tailor fit for her bottom. Or maybe she hadn’t been touched there in too long. Either way, the contact was welcome. He seemed unaware, however, of having just grabbed her backside. Her wattage meter dropped below zero.
Shrugging, she pulled away from his stabilizing hold and finished the climb. Divers were splitting up from the gathering on the bridge, apparently finished with their briefing. Kumai ducked behind the side braces on the bridge and stayed out of sight, facing the back of the boat. It was dark enough now that unless someone walked around the wheel house, they wouldn’t see her. Five divers descended to the lower deck followed by Peter.
Air tanks clanked on the deck below. She wondered if Peter would search for her up here. Maybe the medic had already forgotten her. When silence followed all the splashing below, she peeked over the railing.
“Coming down?” The kid asked. He was sitting on the padded bench looking up at her. He stood up, “I’ll help keep you steady.”
“Where’s Peter?” She asked.
“On the radio.” He pointed to a slatted teak door under the deck where she stood. “C’mon down.”
The tank stood strapped to the rail behind him. It didn’t make sense for her to leave those divers without cover. As Kumai descended, she announced, “I’m going diving.”
“Yeah.” He said.
“No, really. You’re not going to stop me.” She stepped down from the last rung but held the rail. Her other hand went on her hip.
“Nope. Any body who has a backside as fit as yours is going to be fine.”
Kumai’s wattage tester moved its needle.
“Besides, Peter said you’d try this and if I thought you were okay, to just let you go.”
“Okay… did he say where I could find the lava tubes?” She asked.
“Yeah. He said to tell you to ‘Follow the fresh water’. Whatever that means.”
“It means that the tubes are feeding fresh water into the sea from the land. I can’t see it in the dark, but usually it’s blurry. I’ll be able to feel it and follow it in.”
“Feel water while you’re in the water?” He asked.
“Yeah. It’s ice cold.” She shivered reflexively. “And less buoyant.”
“Ah.” He gestured to some dive gear tucked behind the bench for her. She was glad to see a 2 mil full wetsuit.
“Mind turning around?” She asked. Wrestling with neoprene was not a spectator sport.
“It’s night. I’m a medical professional. Nothing I haven’t seen.”
She waited. He walked toward the teak door. “Need any help with the flatlock zipper?” He asked.
“I got it, thanks.”
“Okay…” he said and went inside.
Only when Kumai slipped into the water did she wonder how smart this was. Peter knew she was going to dive. The other divers didn’t know she would be there, but any danger warnings that she could provide them would help. Going on a night dive without a buddy didn’t really qualify as being careful, which she had promised to both Kirby and Taka.
Relief washed over her as she saw the dive lights coming back her direction. The team were already coming out of the dive. But then she counted the number of dive lights. There were six. She counted again. Maybe someone had two lights. Maybe the whole team hadn’t been at the briefing. Maybe there was one too many divers.
She dropped quickly to hover close beside the lava and coral sea wall. Cold water washed against the right side of her face. A fresh water spring.
Keeping her eyes on the beams of the divers’ lights, she backed toward the source of the cold current. The mineral wall opened up behind her into a gaping black hole. Icy water blurred in front of her mask. She decided to hide in the cave and observe if these divers returned to her boat or went somewhere else. And if so, where.
Their approach suggested a line toward the boat. But something still didn’t seem right. They were sweeping the area with light as they progressed. She didn’t want to risk exposure in case this wasn’t her team. She also needed to keep them in sight. No ready solution presented itself. She risked putting one hand on the wall to keep from moving with the gentle surge. She rested her back against the lava.
Her free hand would have to shield her mask from reflecting any light that passed her way. She splayed her fingers and grasped a wide hold on her face, making sure she could still see out. As she got still, light passed just below her feet.
Her air bubbles would be the ocean equivalent of a smoke signal if she released her full breath. Instead, she breathed in and released only a trickle of air whenever the pressure felt too great to bear.
Her ability to hold position was challenged by an inexplicable riffle in her hair. Something was feeling her head. She willed it not to be an eel. It wriggled down onto her forehead and held on. She wanted to scream and flail.
A beam of light traversed her midriff.
Next, a rubbery tentacle wrapped itself over her masking hand. A close up view of military rows of suction cups confirmed that she was being covered in octopus. Perfect.
The animal was strong. It pulled on the back of her hand and hard as she tried, she couldn’t keep her hand pressed against the mask. Both hand and mask pulled away from her face, flooding her vision with sea water. She reseated the mask full of salt water, remained still, and opened her eyes to see as best she could.
As the bulk of the octopus glided across her face, so did the sweep of light. The globe of mantle glowed from the light behind it, except for the dark V of a beak. Kumai hoped her fingers didn’t look like ballpark franks. Something scurried across her other hand as she held onto the wall. She gasped in, but remembered to keep her out breaths to a trickle.
And then, everything stayed dark.
No sweeping lights, no noises, just the graceful undulations of white cups as they felt her mask and moved on. When the octopus made it down to her torso, she tilted her mask up, blew air out her nose to clear the water, reseated the mask, and looked around.
She peeked behind her. Blacker nothing.
She shivered and returned to warmer waters. That’s when she understood why the divers had ceased their search. The men in grey suits had showed up. Three sharks glided past in lazy figure eights. The octopus gave Kumai a squeeze that caused her to release her air in a burst. Silvery bubbles lit up like flying saucers in the dark water.
She decided to try to outswim him. At least if he was behind her, the sharks would get to him first. She forgot to account for the drag of the attached octopus. She tried to pry the creature loose from her waist and swim at the same time. Not only did she veer to open water, her hand got trapped under the octopus. She stopped and gathered her strength to pull the thing off.
A sharp blow hit her calves. She blew out a blast of air as the pain registered. The pursuing diver had caught up with her and was readying his fish club to give her another blow. The vibration from the strike caused the octopus to loosen its grip. It started to swim away.
Not so fast. Kumai gathered it with the tentacles facing away from her. Its sleepy eyes looked at her. She spun and found the diver facing her. He had a fresh angry cut on his cheek. She shoved the octopus at his face, turned, and swam as fast as she could to hide in a valley in the rocks.
She followed the depression in the lava formation up to the forty foot depth, hoping to catch the feel of another cold current to guide her. Instead, she found five dive lights thirty feet below the next ridge.
They were working in one spot, not scanning or searching. So, did she tap her tank now to warn them and risk them losing their dive location? Unless the octopus tried to taste the fresh cut on that diver and released blood into the water, the sharks wouldn’t be a threat. But the diver himself was another story.
She decided to join the divers in their efforts. Another pair of hands would make the work that much faster. And she could sign a warning about the interlopers.
As she swam closer she could see that they were chipping away the perimeter of old metal boxes that had become part of the hillside. But unless these guys worked incredibly fast, they had made too much headway for how short a time they had been down here. Kumai wondered if she had been in the lava tube longer than she realized. She checked her gauge. About fifteen minutes of air remained, if she breathed calmly. So how did they get these boxes cleared so fast?
The team startled when she approached, and she had to do some fast signaling. They got the message and everyone redoubled their efforts.
She chose to work with a diver on a box that was nearly loosened from the coral. The leading edge was latched and she tried to open the lock. The metal slipped off like a wet fish. The diver looked at her in surprise. She shrugged. He tapped his tank for the other divers to join them. They all gathered as he worked the hinge and they were able to lift the lid.
Someone had not only had gotten there first, but they had left a little surprise for anyone who followed them. Like synchronized swimmers, they all backed away from the bright red sticks taped into groups of three and stacked inside the antique box.