Mana fell asleep on top of Chaz’s bare feet. Under the leafy parasol of the huge banyan tree, grackles teetered onto their evening roosts. Their metallic echoes drowned out any further conversation. Kumai stood and was spied by Peter Yelley, her dive master, as he advanced from the pier. He dashed across the street to connect with her. Kumai smiled, then turned to curse silently. Mana darted after a gekko by the trash barrel. She trapped his leash with her foot, picked it up, and walked to the rubbish with her sticky triangle of flattened sno-cone paper.
“Hey!” Peter shouted over the bird uproar. “You decided to join us. I knew you would. Can’t skip an invitation to adventure, huh?”
Yes, yes I can. “Uh. Well, I was just…” Kumai gestured toward Chaz, who had disappeared.
“Does the dog have sea legs?” Peter asked.
“He loves the ocean.” Kumai nodded. It didn’t matter if she didn’t mean what he did, they wouldn’t be on that boat tonight anyway.
“I’m headed to the ABC Store. Need anything?”
“Yes,” Kumai said, “One of those dashboard hula dolls.”
“Okay. See you in a few.”
Since he failed to perceive that she was joking, Kumai was alerted to just how focused this Special Agent was tonight. She wanted to know what they were diving for that couldn’t wait for day. Curiosity provoked her to slip back down to the darkened pier. This time she searched for lurking suits, but found none. Other than the scurrying preparations on their dive boat, the Kona Investigator, the pier seemed abandoned. Street lights, dim and yellow to protect the observatory on Mauna Kea, spilled urine pools onto the cement.
Kumai smelled sulphur before she heard the hiss of a safety flare off to her right. The sharp light arced through the air toward the dive boat. A flare gun went off next with a hollow pop and cut a welding line across the seam of indigo sea and dark sky, ending just aft of the dive boat.
Agent Yelley surprised Kumai from behind and grabbed her elbow without slowing his run, “C’mon! We have to launch before they explode the dive tanks!”
The pup followed directly on Kumai’s heels, tail tucked. He ducked with each new volley that lit up the dark. They reached the vessel just as the bow lines were tossed back on board. Peter hoisted Kumai onto the boat. The dog leapt at the same time and slid on the fiberglass surface, toenails scraping.
“Get Below!” Peter yelled.
“Yessir.” The guy answered, with an unexpectedly young voice.
A lit flare skidded past Kumai’s feet, heading for the hatch. She stomped on the blazing stick, grabbed the unlit end, and hurled it back to the pier. A man yelped and leaped out from the cement blocks. A metal can crashed.
Another flare bounced on board toward the lined-up dive tanks. Kumai lurched after it. This time she threw it sideways like a boomerang. It reached short of the pier’s edge and sizzled.
They were now clear of the no-wake zone and under way. The captain gunned the engines. Kumai toppled, catching herself on a diver who was crouched in the starboard well and held a semiautomatic rifle aimed at the land.
Kumai staggered back, “Sorry.” she gasped.
“Nice shot with the flare.”
“I wasn’t thinking.” She apologized.
“I’ll have to try that.” He said.
Kumai snorted, then sat down hard on the center bench.
Peter came to check on them, “Looks like we’re clear from anyone on land. We’ll keep watch for other vessels while we’re under way to be sure they don’t follow.”
“Whoa! Wait. Clear from what? What was that?” Kumai asked.
“Kumai, gear up. Sergeant, assist her as needed. Stow your weapon where I can find it when we anchor at the dive coordinates. Meet me below.”
Kumai’s hands were shaking as she quickly squeaked on a wet suit, not worrying about being down to her underwear in the dark. The man assisting her wore neoprene shorts. His features were difficult to discern in the dark, as if shadows were doubled. She thought maybe he was wearing face camouflage. If so, he didn’t plan on diving with a sealed face mask.
He added weights to her belt and cinched down the small BCD. Kumai noticed that other than Peter and herself, none of the regular dive crew were aboard. She tested her regulator and gauge, then removed the vest to strap it to a full air tank. Her fins could stand on end inside the vest with her mask and snorkel securing them.
“I need to go below.” She said when they were done.
“I’ll see you there.” He answered, turning to the back of the boat.
Light tinted by fluorescent bulbs shot up out of the hatch, making her eyes hurt after the darkness. The handrail helped to steady her and she felt her way down the ladder-like steps. At the bottom, Mana ran up to her and danced circles, then sat in front of her panting and shivering. The dog let out a big yawn and a whimper. She looked up to see a young man watching the dog intently. “Thank you.” she told him. He nodded.
“Did you already give him water?” she asked. The fellow rose, got an empty KTA deli container and filled it with water from a bottle. Mana trotted over with a stagger caused by the swells and lapped. Watching him made Kumai thirsty so she grabbed a bottle of water for herself.
Kumai made sure not to stare when the sniper clunked down the hatch steps and she saw his face. One half was darkened with tribal tattoos, covering his shaved head and neck as well. The whorling motifs suggested that he was Maori.
Two other men at the galley table scanned a topography map. Peter banged out from the head wearing his neoprene shirt and some pants of space-age fabric that he had been talking about.
Kumai said, “Peter, please tell me what’s going on. This dive feels off. Why are we night diving with a whole new crew?” She handed a water to him.
He pointed with the plastic bottle for them to sit on five-gallon buckets that were pulled up as stools. Peter sat down. “First, some background. You know I grew up in Minnesota? Yes, that’s true. I never did lie to you, Kumai. I just didn’t tell you all this.”
Kumai sat down.
“Anyway, like you, I hated winter. I went into the Navy to be able to move somewhere warm, can you believe that?” He sipped his water.
I wonder, thought Kumai.
“Eventually, I trained with the SEALS.” He nodded to indicate the other divers at the table. “Then I gigged undercover with Interpol. I ended up back in cold climates. So when I was told I could ‘retire’ in Hawaii, I took the offer.”
“But why work here undercover?” She asked.
“Good question.” Peter said absently. “Did you notice anything around Kona on the shoreline maps?”
“They labeled it ‘Kailua’, of course. But no… nothing.”
“Now that you know what I really do, time is of the essence.”
“I don’t really know what you do, Peter. People are shooting flares and using snipers. Over what? Besides, I’m going to need to know what I’m looking for.”
He chugged down the water, and put the cap back on the bottle, then answered, “I can tell you that we are looking for a lost shipment. It’s old, from World War II. They were doing repairs but didn’t want to leave any aircraft on the ground when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Right after takeoff, a cargo plane went down with a load of morphine. Ampules are starting to surface on the black market, but nothing near the full quantity that was on that carrier. I think the crash site was marked on one of those maps you had.”
Kumai nodded her head no, “I don’t know if I want to help with something this,” she was going to say life-threatening, but knew the other divers were listening, “…involved.”
“You are working for the law, now, not against it. Besides, I need your skills.”
Kumai looked at the collection of divers in the room and wondered what skill she could possibly have that a Navy SEAL wouldn’t.
The Captain called down the hatch, “Gear up!” as the boat slowed, then stopped. The hull echoed with the ratcheting of a chain as they dropped anchor. Kumai grimaced to think of the coral that would be torn up by their not tying off to a tether. That meant they would dive from in an irregular stopping spot for boats.
The rocking in the hold made it feel stuffy. Kumai said to the young man, “Please care for Mana until I get back.” He looked to Peter who nodded assent.
Kumai asked Peter, “Where’s my spear gun?”
“You don’t know how to handle those, Kumai! The men are cover for you.” Peter said.
“Yeah? I’m not going down there to face who-knows-what with just my ‘needed skills’.” She took a stance with her feet wide apart to stabilize on the rocking boat, hands on hips.
“No.” Peter said.
“Great. If I get attacked by whoever was shooting at us, I’ll just, what? Bubble ’em to death? Give me your dive knife.” She said.
“What? No! This was a gift from my wife…” He protested.
But Kumai had already bent down to unwrap the velcro straps from his ankle, “You probably made up your wife, too.” She grumbled, then backed to the ledge, strapped on the knife, and added, “You’re not geared up so you won’t need it tonight.” as she stepped forward into the warm black ink of the ocean.