Chapter 26


Blaine rolled into the water and started a quick plummet back to the cave opening. He didn't take the time to consult a tech dive table, but he was sure that two quick ups and downs at such depth had to be bad.
Besides, this was probably a pointless dive. Unless he could find the object Frik wanted so badly - on Simon, or Peta, or still wedged somewhere in the underwater cavern - the dive would only confirm that Peta was dead. And that Simon was dead. After overstepping his authority so badly, he was sure to join the dead soon himself, if the dive didn't kill him first.
This must be the way an American death row prisoner feels, he thought, hoping against hope for the governor's eleventh-hour pardon.
His stomach in knots, he approached the cave opening.
A school of annoying yellowfins hovered there, as if they were thinking about going inside to nibble on something tasty. They dispersed like seeds blown from an aquatic dandelion as Blaine approached, only to reform into a loose school a dozen feet away.
Ready to enter, he adjusted his air mixture. If he kept the oxygen as lean as possible, he might avoid getting bent. One of his tanks scraped along a rocky outcrop with a noise far worse than fingernails on a chalkboard.
He kicked onward, passing into the channel where the walls became smooth and finally widened as he neared the main cavern. As he reached that opening, diver's intuition told him that something was wrong.
He flashed on the shark.
Had it beat the yellowfins in here? he wondered. Was that why the fish had hesitated? If so, the shark wouldn't take too kindly to being disturbed while dining.
Entering the cavern, he realized that it was not the shark that had given him pause. It was Simon, who, freed from the weight of his BC vest, bobbed near the top of the cavern above the crazed squiggles.
She was a clever girl, that Peta, using Simon's equipment to save herself. Frikkie would be happy -  overjoyed, even - when he heard that she was alive and that he would have a shot at getting the other piece of the artifact.
That might even get Frik off his back, Blaine thought. He turned slowly and kicked his way out of the cave. Sooner or later he would think about whether it was necessary to deal with the fact that Peta knew he had tried to kill her. Not yet. Not unless she was somewhere up there waiting for him. She was a tough cookie, quite capable, he suspected, of exacting her own justice.
When he had ascended far enough to see clearly where the leg of the oil rig broke through the waterline, now only forty feet above him, he discovered her payback. She was not waiting on the surface to kill him after all. Instead, she had taken his boat and left him with no transportation back to shore. It would be one hell of a surface swim back to San Gabriel.
Resting at fifteen feet for another safety stop, he considered his options.
He could get lucky and flag down a passing fishing boat. That was unlikely, though. The few boats that passed the rig would be piloted by superstitious Trinis who would think he was the Obeahman.
Another option was to pop enough air into his BC to ride the choppy wake of the sea, turn on his back, and kick his way to shore. That would take three hours, maybe more. He would be baked crisp by the sun and easy bait for any passing sharks, but it was not impossible.
Whatever option he attempted to exercise, the real problem was that he would get very thirsty with the hot sun bearing down on him. What was that cliche line from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" that they had taught him in English class back home in Venezuela? Water, water, every where...
Like hooking a billfish, his mind latched onto the answer. The rig would have an emergency radio. He could simply climb out of the water and call Frikkie. He almost laughed into his regulator. She was not so clever after all, little Miss Peta.
His watch told him that it was time to get to the surface. Once there, he shed his tanks, fins, and BCV, and dragged them to the rig's docking platform.
On the long climb, he thought he could see his boat heading north through the Dragon's Mouth. It looked like Peta had decided to go all the way home to Grenada, rather than take a chance of running into Frik in Port of Spain.
Reaching the main deck of the rig, he was happy to discover that while vandals had thrown rocks and fired guns at the windows, they had lacked the courage to board the platform for robbery. The emergency radio was intact, and he soon contacted Oilstar's main dispatcher, who agreed to send a helicopter for him.
Having done that, he called Frik to let him know that Peta was fine. Then, satisfied that he had handled the crisis as well as he could, he reached into his shorts, pulled out the specimen bag, and examined the bizarre object that Frik apparently considered to be worth the life of Simon Brousseau and Abdul, and heaven knew how many others.
The boat rode the choppy sea giddily, a child's toy bouncing in a giant bathtub. Peta glanced over her shoulder at the rock spires piercing the water behind her.
As soon as she'd passed through the Dragon's Mouth and moved away from the sheltering effects of Trinidad, the sea had turned rough. She had ridden tramp freighters between Grenada and its southern neighbor many times as a girl, and she recalled how rough the journey could be, even in those relatively large boats. The passage would last more than three hours, even in Blaine's fast little craft. If she spent the time focused on the ups and downs of the sea, she would soon be leaning over the rail like some land-loving tourist on her first voyage.
To take her mind off of the bumpy ride, she tried to understand what she had just been through and to guess at what made the pieces of that weirdly shaped object so precious that people had to be killed.
She thought of the artifact she had hidden away in the bank vault. It was a match to the one she believed was the reason Arthur had been blown up, and to the one Simon had died to recover. All of the pieces had come from that undersea cavern with its Daliesque wall mural.
What the hell was that place? What made the artifact important enough to Frikkie that he would send his supposed friends to their deaths so that he could get the pieces?
Why? What did he know?
All Manny had been able to tell her was that Paul had said it would change the nature of energy production around the world. Perhaps it could put not just Frikkie but all of OPEC out of business, changing the balance of power around the world practically overnight.
Was that important enough to have her killed?
Obviously, Frik thought so. She had to remember that: he wanted her dead. When he found out she had survived, he'd try again. Which also meant she would have to be prepared to kill to protect herself.
The sunlight disappeared. Looking up, she saw a lone gray cloud, but when she looked east, she saw a dark line following the first, like an army arrayed behind a single scout. How long, she wondered, before the whole battalion reached her? Open ocean in a tiny boat was not a good place to be with a storm coming on.
Behind her, the island of Trinidad was just a memory. If she headed for Tobago, she'd be steering straight into the oncoming storm, but Grenada was a long way away.
A childhood recollection bubbled into her brain. She had been six, spending a week with her grandparents in Carriacou. Her grandfather decided to take her fishing in his little Gouyave sloop, a tiny single-masted sailboat hand-built in Grenada's famed fishing village.
The day started out sunny and bright. They sailed easily out of Tyrrel Bay and around the southern tip of the island, heading west into the deeper waters on the Atlantic side. As they cruised along, she trailed her fingers in the beautiful blue water. It had felt like magic to her.
Passing the big rock called Saline Island, her grandfather told her to check the gear and bait the hooks on the two fishing rods he'd brought along - a big one for him, a small one for her. She remembered it because it was the first time he had let her ready the lines. From the bucket of small silver fish called jacks she pulled one out, and hooked it just ahead of its dorsal fin, then repeated the process with the other pole.
After her grandfather had brought down the sail, the boat rocked in the current. They cast their lines and, as if God had been smiling on them, were soon catching fish. She remembered that she hadn't wanted to stop, not even after they had a half dozen in the boat.
"This be plenty," her grandfather said, chuckling.
She had been so fascinated by the process of casting and reeling and pulling the fish into the boat that she hadn't noticed how much the little craft had begun to rock. What she recalled most clearly was the feeling when the sun had vanished. It wasn't like the times when the thin skittering clouds would cut the glare. That time the sun had disappeared and she'd felt the chill of a strong wind on her neck.
"We done with fishing now, little one," her grandfather had said. She remembered as if the image had been burned into her mind: the way his face looked; the twinkle gone, the fun vanished. "We been too long at sea and Mother getting mad."
Standing at the wheel of Blaine's boat, she could remember with her whole body the feel of that little sloop as the growing waves tossed it around.
Her grandfather had struggled with the sail, having to keep it partly furled in the strong wind that had arrived with the clouds. She had wanted to say "Can we go home, Grandpa?" but she sat silently. He obviously wished to get home too.
When the first drop of rain hit her arm, she thought that she had never seen such a large drop of water. It was soon followed by another and another.
As their tiny craft rounded Mushroom Island and her grandfather eased them into a turn toward Southwest Point, they were hit by one large wave that nearly knocked her into the sea. His large hands grabbed her and shoved her into the growing puddle at the bottom of the boat.
She remembered that he'd smiled again. "We be home soon." His eyes narrowed as another wave broke over the railing, drenching both of their faces. "You not gotta swim for it. You know everything gonna be fine, Peta."
She had nodded, though she hadn't known that at all.
"Grandpa - I'm scared."
The little boat had passed Southwest Point and the rocking eased a little. Her grandfather hugged the coastline to stay in the lee of the island. "I know, little one," he'd said, leaning forward. "But I tell you, when you not alone, you not ever be afraid, okay?"
In that moment, it hadn't mattered that the sun was gone, or that their faces were wet with the streaming rainwater, or that the ocean wanted to come into the boat. They were together, and there was nothing to be afraid of.
Alone in Blaine's boat, Peta looked to the east and saw the line of rain approaching. A bright silver flash in the sky ahead of her heralded the arrival of an airplane at Point Saline Airport.
Today, she would stay ahead of the storm.
She would make it back to St. George's and watch the storm from the safety of her own home.
The image of the strange mural on the wall of the cavern rose in her mind and she knew there was a much bigger storm brewing than the little squall that was blowing in from the Atlantic.
Who am I kidding? she thought.
Her grandfather had been dead for over twenty years and she still missed him; would always miss him, the way she would always miss her father and Arthur.
No matter how much she missed them, though, they were gone and they weren't coming back. She was alone now. And she was afraid.