“Do you know there’s zero ambient light down at seven hundred feet? I’ve got an external lamp on the hatch that I can rotate from inside. Hard to find a lamp that can take that kind of pressure. Had to make the servo rig for it myself.” Fish looked up to see if the sunburned tourist with the buoy-shaped belly was still listening. The two faux-blondes next to them at the bar had no interest in the minutiae of flow meters and ballast valves, and Fish had seen the way they rolled their eyes.
“So you are here testing your submarine because the law is easy and you can pay off whoever.” Fish’s drinking companion wiped away the beer that was dripping down one side of his speckled beard. “You Americans, always looking for an angle.”
“Nah,” said Fish. “It’s the drop-off. The wall. A half-mile out from the island, the sea drops thousands of feet. Edge of the Cayman Trench. You know how far offshore from Florida you’d have to go to get that kinda depth? Mid-Atlantic. Here we got the wall. That’s why I brought her here—the smallest two-man sub in the world.”
“You look too young to be captain of a submarine. Pulling my leg, are you?” The Swiss man smiled at one of the blondes, who looked away.
“I cut the first steel for Adeline when I was fifteen,” Fish said flatly.
The man snorted. “You named it Adeline?”
“Yeah—that’s the name of the girl they saved in a book I read when I was a kid. She was held captive in a chamber way down in Lake Winnetonka, and the only way they had to save her was to build a sub and pull her out, at night, when Mr. Evil was on land.” Fish rested his lean frame on his elbows against the bar and rubbed one bare shin against the other.
“And Fish—did you make that up?”
“Fisher’s my last name. People’ve called me Fish forever. Yours again?”
“Stefan.” Stefan wiped his beard a second time and smiled at two chattering brunettes in tank tops who had just arrived. One of the women smiled back. “And what do your parents think about you, here, a crazy boy with a submarine?”
“They’re out of the picture. She, my mom, used to say I’m better with machines than people. We didn’t get along so well. My dad? Who knows. Anyway, I’m adjusting the CO2 absorption rate right now. The specs for the absorbent matrix don’t quite translate to the small volume of Adeline, and the air feed may be too close to the absorbent bed, sucking up the O2. Yesterday I was down at three hundred feet and got a little woozy. But it’ll be fixed. On that dive I saw a sea lily that’s never been described before, at least not in my books. I get the O2-CO2 worked out and I’ll be down to seven hundred feet. That’s where I hit pressure max for the design.” Maneuvering the sub just next to the undersea cliff was no big trick, Fish continued, but nudging rare shells off the rocks and trapping them in a net at the front of Adeline took a lot of practice. “It’s worth it, though. A shell like that can go for two, three thousand. Collectors around the world. Genus Adansonianus. I’ll be going deeper to get more, once I’m past the CO2 problem. I sell enough of those shells, I’ll build the next sub and go even deeper.”
There was a long silence after Fish had stopped talking. Stefan tore his gaze away from the woman who had smiled back and asked Fish how old he was.
“Twenty-three. But I’ve been at it awhile. I made the armrests for Adeline out of mahogany in shop class. High school. ’Course, to mount them on the inside of the hull, you can’t just drill into the steel. That would bring down the compressive strength. You have to weld-mount them.”
“What about girls around here?”
“Well, there’s some with the cruise ships. I hate it when they come in. The locusts swarm over the best beach and leave their plastic cups all around. But when the sub’s ready, they’ll pay top dollar for a ride. And then there are the divers and the backpackers always coming through. A lot of pretty ones. We don’t have that much to talk about.” Fish was rubbing his thumb across a puddle of foam on the bar. “But there’s this Venezuelan girl on one of the sailboats anchored out there. We get by with half-Spanish/half-English. Really sweet. She wants to go down with me in Adeline, but Rolf won’t let her. Rolf’s her husband. From Hamburg. He’s about thirty years older. Nice guy. Sails all over the world, he says.”
“So, you get any from her?”
Fish kept his eyes on the bar. “It’s not like that, but sometimes I think … And she’s married and all that. But Rolf doesn’t go onshore much. Likes his boat. Nice boat. Must have cost him a lot. Likes the sea, like me. Funny thing is Sylvia doesn’t speak German, and he doesn’t speak Spanish, and he doesn’t know more than a few sentences of English, so they have to get by on just her half-English.”
“So is she on shore tonight?”
“Nah, I don’t think so.”
Stefan persisted. “Where does she go when she’s on shore? Ripples?”
“Nah, she doesn’t like bars. Sometimes she’ll stop by here ’cause Toby’s a friend of mine; guess he’s taking a break tonight.” Fish sniffed and looked toward a stretch of beach where several local boatmen were passing around a brown bottle and lighting a fire on the sand.
Stefan sniffed the air too and frowned. “Scheiss. What the hell is that?”
“It’s the septic tank over there next to Maria’s joint. About half the town’s shit goes there and it backs up. And if the breeze turns our way … Tank’s too close to the water too, so it’s leaking into the sea. Wasn’t made for all the people coming here now. But it keeps the sandflies down. They don’t like it either. I tried to tell the locals how to fix the mess, but they don’t want to bother with it.” Fish drained his mug and stepped back from the bar. “Gotta go. Sun’s up early. Thanks for the beer.” Stefan gave a thumbs-up, and Fish walked off into the darkness.
Over the next three days, Fish fixed the CO2 absorption bed and made two dives down to five hundred feet to test it. For each dive Adeline had to be towed out of the cove to deep water and then back because the trip would take too long if Fish relied only on her tiny propellers. The first dive was fast and perfunctory, since he was focused on hitting the depth goal and making sure his breathing was normal. He barely took time to look around.
For the second dive the surface was choppy on the way out, and the forty-foot towline sliced in and out of the water as it snapped taut, then relaxed. Once out of the cove, an irregular wave sloshed into the hatch just as Fish closed it. The splash was a shock but also a relief in the heat, which became even more oppressive once the hatch was sealed and the fuselage was still bobbing on the surface, absorbing the rays of the high sun.
Fish twisted the buoyancy valves and put the sub into a spiraling dive. The air inside cooled quickly as he passed through the thermoclines, and the brilliant blue light flickering through the fist-thick portholes faded into a gray sameness. He aimed the sub toward the wall.
The great undersea cliff was dusted in sediment that had rested in place for hundreds or thousands of years, undisturbed even by the hurricanes, like the one that had blown through the year before. Fish scanned the ledges of the cliff face for the rare anemones he’d seen on an earlier dive. He told himself that if Sylvia were here, he would joke and say, “I call them Sylvianamarinus, in honor of you.” And she would laugh with that light bell-peal he had heard when they first met on the pier and she had thought it funny that he had his own submarine.
The air was heavy and hot the next afternoon when Fish passed by Toby’s café.
“Halloo, submariner!” yelled Stefan from a table behind a hibiscus bush. Big Toby was there too, his plastic chair ready to collapse. His beefy black arms were folded across an apron that was bright white except for the greasy patch that always rubbed against the grill. Stefan had a girl next to him and several glasses of beer in front of him. “Sit, sit, my underwater friend,” he said with a careless wave of his hand. “Come hear about the hurricane.”
Fish smiled briefly and slid into a chair. The smell of frying onions and fritters made his stomach rumble.
“So, before the hurricane,” Toby continued, nodding at Fish, “it was getting worse and worse around here. A lot of folks were jealous of my business, growing like it was, and jealous of the stream of tourists, thinking what money I must be making. A couple of mornings I found notes tacked on the kitchen door, nasty stuff. One night I chased a man from my house, and I found a can of gasoline tipped on the porch. I had to start sleeping with a gun.”
“But what about the hurricane?” bellowed Stefan.
“It came three days later. Folks talk about the big tragedy. All the houses that got knocked down. All the wrecked business. All the tourists gone. But I wish that hurricane had swept everything away. Everything.” Toby swooped his arm through the air as if to clear the table in one broad stroke. His bald head was beaded with sweat. “Then maybe we could all shake hands and lose our greed and envy and start from zero. Be nice to each other again. But we weren’t so lucky.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re back in business,” said Stefan as he raised a glass and tilted the beer into his gullet. He burped and said, “You, Fish the Fish-man. Why so quiet?”
“I was down all night.”
“Down where?” said the girl next to Stefan. She had an American accent.
The girl shrieked with laughter. “All night? She must have been good!”
Stefan swallowed more beer. “That’s not a woman, it’s his sub. What do you mean you were at it all night?”
“Night dive. Five hundred feet. Bull sharks. A school of tuna as big as a cloud, all around me. Squid. And a worm-like thing, the size of a human. I bet no one has seen it before. Had to wait till sunrise to come up. For the towboat to pick me up. Had to load extra O2. A little cold too. But the human worm. He was thick and he pulsated; the feathery things along his body, I mean. He came right up to Adeline and—”
“Okay, so you didn’t get laid last night,” said Stefan as he turned his grin toward the American girl.
The following afternoon Fish walked down the road and out onto the pier near where the yachts were anchored offshore. Sylvia had invited him to come to the boat. Fish could dive with Rolf for lobster. They could have dinner on the deck. Fish thought of asking if all of that was okay with Rolf, but didn’t. He’d memorized the profile of her boat—hers and Rolf’s—and he saw her there waving. A lemon-colored scarf was tight around her chest, and a short floral sarong hung loosely from her hips. She hopped into the small Zodiac alongside the yacht and gunned the motor, swerving toward him in a broad arc, her thick, black hair lifting into the air behind her.
“Fish, como estás?”
“Okay, que tal?”
She kissed his cheek as he stepped down into the Zodiac, which rocked and tipped Fish off balance. His hand hit her hip as he tried to steady himself, and it rested there for a second as Sylvia grabbed his arm and said, “Easy to fall; such a little boat.”
She was light on the throttle as they puttered back to the yacht. Fish could feel the sweat beading on his face. He told her about all the adjustments he’d made to Adeline and about his night dive and the giant worm. Sylvia laughed and let her hand brush against his. She said, as far as Fish understood her Spanish, that he was like a new Magellan.
From a distance her husband had the fit body of a younger man, but as Rolf stepped onto the Zodiac, Fish was reminded of his leathery skin and the gray hairs in tufts behind his ears. Rolf studied Fish’s face through wire-rim spectacles that magnified his eyes, then he spoke a few words to Sylvia and pointed to indicate that they would dive for lobster at a coral shoal not far away.
Rolf was swift in the water, and in a few minutes, at a depth of twenty feet, he was gesturing toward a spiny lobster so that Fish could see it beneath an overhang. Rolf jabbed his gloved hand and grabbed it. Fish was out of air and came up. A few seconds later Rolf was on the surface, the lobster whipping its tail in the German’s webbed sack. As the two men treaded water, Rolf said, “Fast, you must be … And go like …” He chopped his free arm into the water. “Then is he yours.”
Rolf caught two more lobsters, each time poking Fish’s shoulder and pointing to the prey before he snatched it. Each time Fish was out of air and came up first.
Sylvia hovered nearby in the Zodiac until Rolf climbed aboard so she could take him and their catch back to the yacht. She returned to where Fish was plunging down to study a coral outcropping that flashed with the bold colors of the creatures that lived and died without ever leaving their craggy clump. Fish rose and floated belly-up on the water, his arms outstretched beneath the tamed, low sun.
“Todavía no he nadado,” Sylvia said as she eased the rubber boat up to Fish. “Rolf makes the lobster. Let’s swim.” She took off the colored veils that covered her bikini and jumped in. He stared at her through his mask as she wriggled downward, encased in blue. Fish felt his heart stop in mid-beat. He swam to catch up, timing his strokes to glide on top of her. Sylvia locked her legs around him, and they slowly rose through their bubbles. He clunked his mask into hers when he tried to kiss her at the surface, and Sylvia laughed a tinkling laugh, like seashells dropping on pebbles.
When the sun hit the horizon, they swam to the drifting Zodiac and laughed about the awkward tugging and pulling that was needed to climb up and over the side. They let their hands touch as Sylvia steered them back to the yacht.
Rolf already had the dinner laid out topside. He shook his head impatiently when he saw Fish crack open his lobster. “No, this way.” He wrenched apart another carapace, then meticulously plucked the flesh from its deepest creases. “Is better. To get the meat.”
With Sylvia’s help and his own few words of English, Rolf asked how deep and how far Fish could go in the sub, what swell height he could manage when on the surface, how fast the sub could go. Rolf had no interest in the strange life forms that Fish said could be seen down deep, but they made Sylvia’s eyes light up.
Fish was licking a finger cut by a lobster spine when he looked up and saw Rolf staring directly at him with a wide, stationary smile.
“Sylvia likes sub. You take her,” said Rolf.
Sylvia put her hand on her husband’s arm and said, “Gracias, gracias, Rolf,” shaking her wild hair and grinning. She kissed him on his unshaven cheek.
Rolf pointed at the dismantled radar gear scattered around the base of the mast and moved his hands as if to show a job to be done. He set to work while Sylvia and Fish carried the dishes below. After they’d washed the plates, the two sat across from each other at the cabin table as Rolf’s footsteps and tools sounded above them.
“I have pictures, Fish.” Sylvia reached for an album and showed him photos of her family and the pink clapboard house where she grew up on a dirt street in the coastal town of Cumaná. There were shots of Sylvia in a neighborhood fashion show, parading past tinsel and plastic flowers in translucent blouses, hight heels, and slit skirts. Sylvia slid a bare foot over Fish's and pressed. He asked polite questions about the pictures and her family as their feet caressed and retreated beneath the table. Fish occasionally glanced up to the narrow window panels above a bookshelf, through which he could see Rolf’s calves intermittently passing by.
“Sylvia, maybe we’ve been down here long enough.” Fish was starting to stand when Sylvia reached across the table and squeezed his hand; he retracted his arm by reflex. “Sorry, I … With him up there …” Fish looked away.
Rolf’s back was toward them as they climbed up the ladder from the cabin. When Sylvia asked if she could take Fish back to shore, he nodded without turning. “Gute Nacht.” When they reached the pier, Fish stood and held on to the dock. “Thanks for showing me the pictures,” he said.
Sylvia reached up to put a hand on each of Fish’s shoulders. He looked toward the rocking lights of the yacht and squeezed her with one arm. Sylvia stood on the tips of her toes and nudged her cheek against his. They kissed, kissed again, and he turned toward the ladder to climb up on the pier.
“When do we go in Adeline?”
“Tomorrow is okay, if the weather is good. See you at Toby’s at noon.” Fish gave a quick wave as she gunned the throttle, looking back at him. He could just make out Rolf’s back, hunched beneath a floodlight hanging from the mast.
The next day Fish was up at sunrise, testing compressed air tanks on the dock next to the hoist from which Adeline was suspended, compact and heavy, just above the surface of the water. The sea was as smooth as a ray’s wing, undulating gently.
He heard steps on the dock, looked up, and stopped whistling. It was Propface. He never objected to the nickname he’d gotten after having his face shredded by the back end of one of the wooden water taxis that careened along the coast. He used to dive for conch, but he didn’t bother with the sea anymore.
He was drunk. “So, Mista Bottom, you goin’ down oh up today?”
“Well, this isn’t a helicopter hanging here, so I guess I’m going down.” Fish kept himself busy with the tanks.
“You makin’ any cambio w’dat yellow monsta yet?”
“Not much yet. I gotta work out a few things first. It’ll come,” said Fish.
Propface sat down cross-legged and teetered. “Ders plendi cambio out there. Jus’ gotta know who da talk to.” Propface reached out for a line of tubing and started twisting it. “Your monsta’s like dis tube. You put sumptin’ in one end and it come oudda udder end and no one see it.”
Fish turned his head and met Propface’s bleary eyes. The man’s nose was mostly missing, one cheekbone was caved in, and the matching eye socket was missing a brow. Several roughly parallel scars, thick and knotted, ran across his entire face. Fish knew the visage well enough that he didn’t have to stare.
“Yora nice boy. No one dever know. Nice white boy. Jus’ need to know who da talk to. Lotta stuff movin’ in dis place.”
“Propface, you look hungry. Here’s some cambio. Go get some pasteles and take a snooze.” Fish handed him some grimy bills.
Propface unbent his legs and stood up without taking the money. “Yora nice boy, Fish. Tanks. I’m okay widda cambio.” He rose dizzily and leaned himself against a pylon. “See ya, Fish.”
Propface was singing as he made his way back to the hard-packed dirt at the end of the dock. Fish put some new clamps on the joints between the tanks and the tubing, then went to meet Sylvia at Toby’s. There was a slight onshore breeze, and sunlight was flaking off the sea beyond his right shoulder.
Big Toby was on his patio, stabbing his beefy hands toward the sky and shouting, “I don’t know the man!” His body was shaking beneath his apron as the shadows of palm fronds played across his broad face. The skinny man in front of him was puzzling over a piece of paper in his hands. He wore a dull-blue jacket with an embroidered patch stitched on the left shoulder. Obviously from the mainland, he was struggling with the English of the island. He said they’d stopped a boat, and the man on it had said something about Toby’s café. The official attempted to describe the man again.
“I don’t know him!” Toby grabbed the paper. The skinny man grabbed it back and started shouting in Spanish.
Fish put his hands in the pockets of his shorts and eased himself to a distant table. The skinny man left the patio with a glare and a curse.
Toby sat down next to Fish. “He wants something out of me. The bastards sniff and nose in anywhere they think there’s money.” Fish started to ask what the problem was but stopped when he saw Sylvia striding toward the gate, swinging her arms as if she were on a catwalk. The skinny man in blue looked her up and down as they passed each other.
“That girl is some magnet,” said Toby. “She could pull down a freighter.”
Fish walked out to meet her, trying to control his smile.
“Que rico el día!” Sylvia said as she unfurled her arms toward the sky, kissing Fish on both cheeks.
“Yep, a fine day. Adeline is ready,” said Fish. “I fixed the lateral buoyancy tanks, but don’t be surprised at the tilt when we start diving. We’ll try four hundred feet. There’s a gap in the wall, maybe it’s a cave. We’ll give it a look. Oh, and thanks for dinner last night. How’s Rolf?”
“He is good. But today is our day. You and me and Adeline.” Sylvia grabbed Fish’s arm and pressed her head against his shoulder.
They walked between shaded shacks surrounded by packed dirt and creeping sea grape. At the dock, bright-yellow Adeline was hanging from the hoist, her steel wings making her resemble a strange bird taking flight. Without the wings and two short towers, the sub would look like nothing more than a ten-foot sewer pipe capped at both ends.
Fish busied himself describing to Sylvia how she should slide feet-forward into the hatch tower in the middle of the fuselage, lie down in the body of the sub, and then shimmy backward to where she could sit upright in the rear tower—a cylindrical stub with three plexiglass ports at eye level. He would get in after her and sit with his head in the forward tower.
“There’s enough room for your legs to fit around my back. I’ll keep the hatch open while we get towed out. It’ll be pretty hot until we’re underwater,” Fish said as he waved to a baseball-capped boy sitting in a nearby skiff that had a small motor strapped on the stern. Fish turned the winch to lower the sub onto the water, where she floated.
He held Sylvia’s hand as she stepped onto one of the wings and leaned against the circle of the open hatch. She braced her arms and lifted both legs like a gymnast, extending them down into the hatch until she was standing in the sub. Fish untied the winch lines and readied the towrope, which he tossed out to the boy approaching in the boat.
“Okay, now slide in, and then back yourself up so you can sit. Don’t touch any switches, okay?”
Sylvia’s head soon appeared in the porthole of the rear tower. She was frowning but her face brightened when she saw Fish, and she blew him a kiss.
Fish lowered his legs into the open hatch and waved for the boy to tow them out. Adeline’s prow submerged and rose against the gentle waves as the towboat’s outboard motor whined. It wasn’t a minute before Sylvia was shouting.
“Fish! It’s hot. Demasiado. I will sick!” She kicked her bare feet against his calves; he was still standing in the open hatch, his upper half in the light breeze.
“What?” Fish kneeled down to hear her. “Okay, come out.” Fish lifted himself out of the hatch and Sylvia emerged, her delicate brown skin glistening with sweat. She was on the verge of crying.
“It’s hot. I need aire. I cannot get aire.”
“The sun heats things up. I know it’s small inside. Maybe you’re a little seasick. It all goes away when we dive. It’s cool down there. But maybe I should take you back.”
“No, no, no, Fish. I want to go with you!” She pulled herself up to join him on the sub’s hull and grabbed his arm. “Podemos …we can sit like this, on the top, and when we are out there, I go in again. Please! I want to stay with you.” She moved closer and clung to him.
Fish patted her shoulder awkwardly and nodded. “Okay, sure. Stay on top for now. There’s a fan inside. It’ll blow on your face when we’re ready to dive. Then it cools off.”
A few minutes later, after they’d been towed to the deep water, Sylvia was still trembling as she squirmed back into Adeline, followed by Fish. He closed the hatch and turned the wheel above his head to make the seal. Sylvia’s sweaty legs were around his hips.
Fish reached forward to turn several squeaky valves as the nose of the vessel tilted downward. “It’ll be a little steep here,” he said.
The sub tipped forward and the water splashed against the windows surrounding their faces. Soon the sub was nearly vertical, and Sylvia was sliding into Fish’s back.
“Hold yourself against the armrests so you don’t slide down,” Fish instructed. She pushed her elbows against the polished mahogany of the armrests and eased her pelvis off of Fish’s back. As their downward glide became more gradual, Sylvia shimmied to the rear and sat upright. Fish felt her shivering in the faint stream of air coming out of a plastic accordion tube.
“Once the sweat dries off, you’ll be comfortable.” Fish patted her bare foot, resting near his thigh. “We’re at fifty feet now. The wall is in front of us, not too far. We’ll hit it at a depth of one hundred feet and then make our way down the face. Before I added the electric propellers to Adeline, I had to do it all by gliding.” Fish stopped talking and the sub was filled with the sound of their breathing. “D’you see how the light is fading? Look out the porthole. Don’t worry, I have a light right here.” Fish raised his hand to the hatch-mounted lamp.
A sudden hissing sound crescendoed into a mechanical scream.
“Fish! What is it?”
“Just a minute.” He quickly folded his torso into the narrow fuselage and extended one arm, straining for the valves that controlled the air feed. His fingers clasped the correct one and turned. The screaming suddenly stopped. Sylvia was gasping behind him.
“Just a joint that popped loose. I switched the line to a different cylinder.”
“It happens before?”
“No. First time.”
They slid through the water soundlessly. To their left Fish pointed out three crevices that sliced into the ageless great wall, a series of jagged rock edges falling vertically beyond sight. At four hundred feet he said, “That’s a sea lily, you see it? That one only lives deep down. It has little legs beneath that umbrella of tentacles, so it can walk along the ledge. It’s a walking plant.” Fish swiveled the lamp to make sure Sylvia could see the creature.
“I see it,” said Sylvia, “all alone. Alone with the rocks.”
The top of the lily had white, feathery arms arching out in a perfect circle. The feathery spokes were supported by a long, crooked stem that branched at its bottom into irregular fingers resting on the narrow shelf of rock. If there had been the slightest current, it would have toppled over, drifting downward like a leaf in slow motion, its delicate bloom grazing the hard mineral edges and leaving its broken arms in a silent trail straight down to the bottom.
As they went deeper there was a creaking sound. Sylvia tapped her knee against Fish’s hip to ask what it was.
“The specs on the plexiglass portholes go to seven hundred feet of pressure. But they groan a little as we go down. Don’t worry about it. Look. Here are some spider crabs. Not so rare.” Fish reached up to rotate the lamp. “D’you see? They’re really small. You see?”
There was a soft pop, and the light went out, leaving them in darkness.
“Hmmm.” Fish flipped the switch back and forth. “We lost the light.” He pulled out a flashlight and pointed it through his porthole at the crabs with long legs as thin as needles. “See them?”
There was a bump as the front end of the sub gently hit the cliff face.
“Fish, now we go up? Is there aire?”
“Plenty of air in the tanks. But let’s go to five hundred if it’s okay with you. Just a little further. It’s worth it.” He reversed the propellers to ease them away from the cliff and put the sub into a shallow dive. The plexiglass creaked under the pressure again just as Fish said, “That’s five hundred feet. We’re there.”
Sylvia reached forward and put her hands on Fish’s shoulders. She pressed her shins against his hips.
“You are right. It is beautiful here, capitán.”
“I wish the big worm would come so you could see it. Maybe it’s out there. But without the light … he can’t see us. Maybe he can sense us anyway.”
“How you know he is a he? Maybe a woman.”
“It could be, or it could be both. A lot of these marine animals are sequential hermaphrodites, going from one state to the other depending on the environment.”
“So you are científico!” Sylvia’s laugh rang around the closed compartment.
Fish twisted the ballast valves, and they ascended in a slow, tilted spiral. “We have to go around and around like this to see what’s above us, looking sidewise through the portholes. Some of the big dive boats up there have five-foot propellers. Adeline wouldn’t like to bump into them.”
The wind had risen by the time they reached the surface, and the sub bobbled with the cresting waves as spray hit the towers. The sky was blue except for a distant storm’s gray edge that appeared and disappeared with the swell.
“It’s a little rough,” said Fish. “I’ll look for the tug.” He lifted himself out of the hatch. The boy in the baseball cap was a dark spot at the mouth of the cove hundreds of yards away. Fish yelled and waved as he gripped the fuselage between his knees.
“Fish. I get sick!” Sylvia yelled from within the steel chamber.
“He saw me. He’s coming.” Fish spoke into the open hatch. “If you have to puke … vomit, go ahead. We’ll get you back as quick as we can.”
Fish heard her retching as the boat boy sped toward them, bouncing hard on the choppy water. At a distance of fifteen yards, he eased off the throttle and threw the rope. It missed Fish. The boy tried and fell short again, and Fish reached out too far trying to grab it and toppled into the water. He stroked against the waves to grasp the rope and tied it to the sub’s bow ring. As he tried to climb back on, a wave knocked him against the forward edge of one of the wings, which promptly rose into the air with the swell and nearly trapped his head when it slapped back down.
Fish heard Sylvia scream.
“Take us in! I’ll stay in the water. Pull us in!” Fish gripped the rope where it was knotted to the nose of the sub and extended one arm high to motion toward the cove.
The rope tensed and the sub rotated into line with the skiff as it accelerated. The wind was onshore and Adeline rode the waves like a surfboard, tilting up in the rear and nose-diving into the troughs, each time submerging Fish for a moment. Fish clung to the rope with both hands, timing his breaths to the rising glide and downward plunge, and trying to ignore the sound of Sylvia screaming inside the fuselage.
Then a steep nosedive lasted too long. Fish was pressed deep into the frothing water as Adeline’s tail rose straight up on the crest of a large wave. When at last he returned to the surface, choking, his hands were still on the rope, but the sub had flipped over. The rope stayed tight and the inverted vessel swiveled around to follow the boat. Fish felt for the running rods along one of the wings and pulled himself underwater to look into Sylvia’s porthole. For only an instant, through the watery blur, he saw an elbow. She was upside down. He had no way of knowing how much water had entered the open hatch when it flipped; no way to tell if she was now doing a headstand in sea water. Fish pulled on the runner and thrust his head up for air. He yelled to the boy to go as fast as he could, and heard the motor’s whine rise before he went back down beneath the sub, probing with his free hand for the hatch. He tried to pull himself in, but the sub lurched, driving the rim of the hatch into his neck.
Fish pulled his head to the surface again, still holding on to the runner with one hand as Adeline entered the calmer waters of the cove. Again he plunged under the sub. He got a hand around one of Sylvia’s ankles, but the water dragged hard against him and wrenched him from the vessel. He wouldn’t be able to get her out while it was upside down. How much time had passed, would pass, before they could get to the winch? When the pier was close, he swam to it frantically and climbed up the ladder.
“Come here! Here!” he shouted to the boat boy. Fish grabbed the cable clip, released the winch, and jumped back into the water. He hooked the clip to the bow and raced back on to the pier again, cranking the gears to raise Adeline’s nose. After a moment of vertical suspension, like a yellow bird pointed to the sky, Fish released the cable. Adeline slammed down on the water, upright. Fish leaped from the pier and dove head first into the hatch. He saw only Sylvia’s brown legs in a layer of water. He struggled to pull her body through the fuselage by her knees, then her thighs, then her hips, until he had her face nose-to-nose with his. He dug his fingers into her shoulders and pulled her torso up through the hatch, then the rest of her. Her mouth was open as he laid her body out on the sub’s wing and there was a rough gash at her hairline where her head had smashed into the steel when the sub flipped over. Fish breathed into her lungs furiously. He closed his eyes as he did so because it was unbearable to look at her expressionless face.
The water in the cove was now still. So was Sylvia. He turned her on her side and slapped her back repeatedly, then resumed mouth-to-mouth and pumped her heart.
No matter how many times he checked for a pulse, there was none.
Fish thought he should cry but he didn’t. He stared at her delicate body and traced with his eyes the searing outline of her arms and fingers against the brilliant canary-yellow paint. Water droplets on her brown limbs were sparkling in the sunlight.
A long, whining whistle came from the shore beyond the pier. For the first time, Fish looked up. The boy in the baseball cap was gone. Propface was sitting in the shade of a dusty tamarind tree, staring at the trio at the end of the dock: Fish, Sylvia, and Adeline.
Now Fish let out a sob. He bent forward and pressed his face into the steel and moaned and rocked.
“Dat’s okay, man. Dat’s okay. Happens all da time roun’ here. You tried. You tried. Ah tell ’em. Yeah, ah tell ’em you tried.” Propface was now on the dock, holding on to the winch pole. “C’mon, man. Let’s gedder up an’ oudda here.”
Fish raised his eyes toward the disfigured man. He lifted Sylvia onto his shoulder, then had no choice but to take the hand of Propface to get the load up and onto the dock. Once ashore he placed her on a tarp beneath the trees and covered her face with his T-shirt.
“Damn pretty girl. Damn pretty. You were almost lucky,” Propface said, nodding. He seemed sober.
“I’ll run to town. I’ll get somebody. You’ll watch her?”
Fish was three steps away when Propface said, “I’ll take care of her. But no one know. Jus’ you an’ me. No need, you know.”
Fish paused and turned his head back toward the water. He squinted, wondering how it was possible that he had arrived at this moment. Then he turned and ran, his bare feet thumping against the dusty earth toward town.
Big Toby wasn’t at his café, so Fish darted into the dive shop next door and told the woman there to call the police cabin up the road to report an accident at the cove. “A bad one,” he said. Because Sylvia wasn’t a local, he knew there would be calls to the mainland. Then Fish was running again, to look for Rolf.
There was no other way to get out to the yacht, so he swam. He pulled himself up partway by a fender line and called out but there was no response. He swam to the stern and climbed up the ladder. There was no answer when he pounded on the locked cabin door. The yacht was battened down. The Zodiac was gone.
It was almost dusk when he returned to find the small crowd around the refrigerated meat locker where they had taken Sylvia. The silhouettes of huddled men were visible in the misted light from the solitary yellow bulb. Fish stepped into the hazy coolness and saw her naked body on a wooden pallet; it appeared as if someone had cut her clothes off. Three of the five men inside were kneeling next to her, talking and staring and moving her limbs.
“What the fuck are you doing? Get the fuck out!” Fish pushed one of the squatting men, toppling him backward. Two of the others grabbed Fish’s arms and held him.
“Let him be, let him be,” Big Toby boomed from the doorway. “Fish, we have some oh‑ficials here.”
Fish recognized the skinny one in the blue uniform who had been grilling Toby earlier in the day. There was another one, in a brown uniform, still squatting. He spoke English with a mainlander’s Spanish accent. “Looks like the girl wasn’t alone.” He pulled up on one of her knees and pointed to a translucent ooze in a spot on the tarp beneath her labia.
Fish broke free and roared, “Leave her alone!”
“Fish.” Toby was at his side, grabbing him in a bear hug. “Calm down. Where’s her man? Calm down. Where is he?”
“He wasn’t there. I went to the boat.” Fish was struggling to breathe against Toby’s tight hold. “To tell him.”
There was a clatter of Spanish between the two uniformed men. Toby eased his grip on Fish. The squatting man let Sylvia’s leg drop with a thud and stood.
“The German,” said one of the other men huddled around the body. “My wife saw him go out in his rubber boat. Out to a big cruiser passing by. They took him on and went straight out.”
“A médico comes in the morning,” said the man in brown, glaring at Fish. “He’ll take a look and tell me what is the truth. But first, you tell me. What is your story?”
Fish told them what had happened. He was shaking by the time he concluded, “There’s the boat boy who pulled us in. And Propface. I left her with Propface. I ran. I ran to town.”
“We have to keep you,” said the man in brown, shrugging.
“I’ll keep him,” said Toby. “He won’t go anywhere. Can’t go anywhere.”
The official in brown asked for two other men to take him out to Rolf’s yacht. Toby took Fish to his home, laid him on a couch, and turned on the television. Fish sipped the beer Toby poured for him but Propface’s mutilation flashed in Fish’s mind, and he retched. Toby was a dim, aproned mass going back and forth beyond the kitchen doorway.
Fish didn’t know how long it had been when the two officials returned to the house and sniffed the simmering peppers and grouper. Toby dished it out for them as Fish watched from the couch. The overhead lights were out by then, and the foreheads of the two officers glowed blue in the television’s flicker while they ate noisily.
“We found him,” said the larger one, the boss.
“Her man?” asked Toby.
“The guy with the face. You call him Propface. He was floating belly down. Close to the yacht. He’s even more banged up now.” Sauce was dripping down the man’s chin as Fish fixed his gaze on him. “No papers in the boat. We broke the lock. You had a busy day, good boy. Two people dead.”
Fish felt bitter stomach juice on the back of his tongue. “I left him with her. He was alive, he was fine. He was watching her.”
“Her man,” said Toby, “he was in the business. Must’ve been. Else why would he leave like that?” Toby poured beers for the two visitors.
“A difficult situation. Very difficult,” said the boss.
“Bad spot for such a good boy,” said Toby.
The man in brown scooped a slug of grouper into his mouth. “Very good you feed us. You’re good in the kitchen. Lots of people like your table. The good boy—can he cook too?”
Toby answered by ladling out more sauce. Fish stared at the rising horizontal lines on the television screen; the fluttering reminded him of the rhythmic beating of the feathery edges of the giant deep-water worm.
“Can’t imagine how he can cook much in that shack of a casa he lives in,” said Toby. “Fish, you have some family you could call? Get a little help, maybe some cash?” Fish met Toby’s eyes as the host leaned forward to pour more beer. Toby missed the rim of the mug, and beer dripped off the edge of the rattan coffee table onto the skinny man’s trousers.
“Puta madre!” he snapped, glaring with red eyes.
The boss man laughed. “My friend here is a little rough.” He patted the wet leg. “Doesn’t know how to handle himself. A situation like this.”
Fish sat upright. He was sweating. “It’ll be tough to track her down. My mother. I’ll try first thing in the morning.”
The visitors kept drinking and Toby kept pouring. Fish gave up the couch for the men when Toby slapped a DVD into the video player. In a few seconds they were watching a porno movie.
“Fish, why don’t you go lay your head down on my bed. You’re not in the mood for this movie. You look sick.” Toby waved his hand toward the narrow corridor next to the kitchen. “I think our friends are going to stay the night.”
“Sí, sí, we’ll see what you say in the morning … how good you cook something for us,” said the man in charge, his eyes fixed on the screen.
Fish went into Toby’s room and examined the window, wondering how much noise he would make if he crawled out. He paced along one wall until he noticed that he was making the floorboards creak and sat down on the bed. A poster of Louis Armstrong stared at him from the wall, with cheeks bulging out so far that they seemed about to pop.
Fish needed to pee and wanted to vomit. Despite the yelps and moans coming from the video, Toby must have heard Fish click open the door to the toilet, because he was there crowding the narrow space even before Fish could put his chin over the edge of the toilet bowl.
“Get up, Fish.” It was a whisper. “Either you got a lot of cash or you have to get out. They’ll take you over tomorrow. Things’ll go worse on the mainland. They’ll be trying to pin two dead ones on you. Double the price. A foreigner will have even less chance than a local. That’s no chance. There’s money under the lamp next to the bed. Don’t say anything. Just get out. Time for me to pour for our friends.” Toby’s sweating hand grabbed Fish by the neck and pulled him up to his feet. Toby reached over Fish’s shoulder to yank the flush string and then he was gone.
Fish found the dollars under the lamp and eased himself over the windowsill into the softly crackling palm fronds. He crouched as he made his way up the slope from the bungalow and followed a row of trees that shaded him from the moonlight and led him back to the edge of the road that would take him to Adeline. He skirted several open-air bars spilling out cheerful voices until finally the road was empty and dark as it curved toward the cove. Fish worried about Toby as he ran. And he calculated how far the remaining charged air canisters would take him.
The half-moon was lifting itself off the cusp of the hills as he slipped between the trees, picking his way between the plastic bottles and other trash scattered by the families living in the shacks farther up in the tangle of brush and sea grape near the cove. Just before stepping from the cover of the trees toward the shoreline and the dock, he heard a low whistle. His eyes finally found the faint outline of two bony legs stretched out on the ground.
“I knowed you lovin’ her too much. Lovin’ da monsta. Da yellow monsta.”
Fish froze, then slowly stooped. He stared.
“Long day, Fish.” Propface was lying on his back, his head resting on an empty milk carton. Fish tried to breathe several times before he got any air into his lungs.
“They said you were dead.”
“They give me cambio ’nuf to lie low. And uh coupla smacks. Nodnuf to quit dis good’n gracious life.”
Fish looked around and knelt on all fours. “You fucking … piece of shit,” he whispered. “They should’ve smashed your brains out.”
“Wasin’ me, Fish. Wasin’ me. I godda tell yuh, wasin’ me. They’s the ones messed with her.”
Fish crawled forward and grabbed Propface’s arm. “You were supposed to watch her.”
“Ah did watch her. Ah did watch dem. Budah couldn’t myself. Couldn’t.”
Fish tasted the sourness of rising vomit and swallowed it back. “Tell me what’s going on! Tell me. Where’s Rolf?”
“Don’ madder. She was gone from dis gracious life. Her old man was dun widder. He know da biznuss. Got his new boat and plendi cambio. He was on ta you an’ her. He know da biznuss, movin’ candy here an’ der. Lodda friends. Yuh bedder go. Budah din’t. Ah din’t.”
Fish hit him in the chest. “Tell them I didn’t do it. Tell them it was an accident. Tell them Sylvia and I were …” Fish lunged on top of Propface and grabbed his neck. He raised the mutilated head and started banging it against the ground.
“Ah tell ’em. Ah tell ’em!” Propface coughed out the words over and over until Fish finally stopped. They lay next to each other, panting. Fish got on his knees and stayed in a crouch until he had caught his breath. Then he crawled through the sand creepers down to the pier and unlocked his supply crate. From a tackle box nailed to the bottom of the crate he took out his passport and other papers wrapped in plastic. He slid Toby’s money in with the papers. The sub was motionless on the flat water, its hatch still flipped open. With a small pail he scooped out the water that had sloshed into Adeline when she had overturned. In the moonlight he thought maybe the water had the tint of Sylvia’s blood. He wriggled into the hull to pull out an air tank and replaced it with another from the supply crate. A spare battery pegged the amp meter, and he switched it for the one in the sub. There was no more fresh CO2 absorbent. He hoped there would be enough left over in the onboard matrix.
Fish looked over his shoulder as he stood in the open hatch. He heard Propface muttering to himself, but he saw nothing on the dark shore. He checked the hinge and the seal on the hatch, pushed off from the pier, lowered himself in, and clamped the steel disk shut. Inside, the smell of Sylvia’s vomit was faint but persistent.
Fish twisted the ballast valves just enough to sink the wings and hull so that the small propellers were below the waterline. Adeline eased out into the shallows, showing only her two steel heads. She was slow and it took her an hour to reach the mouth of the elongated cove. Fish then put her into a shallow dive that pressed his shoulders against the familiar hard rim of the tower encircling his head. His eyes adjusted to the faint moonlight glow that penetrated the water around him in dim streaks. His mind was filled with faces. Sylvia laughing. Rolf staring at him. The sneering uniformed man. Big Toby shouting. Propface. Sylvia on the pallet.
He thought about making a deep dive. He could take Adeline down for one last look. He could take her down deeper than ever before. And then what? Quit this good and gracious life.
His lips pulled back in an involuntary grimace; he was on the verge of crying, but he forced himself not to. He tilted the sub and angled off toward a coral-studded stretch of the wall a few miles to the northeast that drew the big, double-deck dive boats from far away, their cabins full of foreigners in search of beauty. They would be there at sunrise. Fish adjusted the propeller speeds to put Adeline on the right heading, and as he took a deep breath, he shivered. He realized he was cold and that his clothes had absorbed all the water that he had not been able to purge from the hull. The vomit odor was nauseating. He heard a motorboat’s engine pass over three times, though he never could catch a glimpse of it through the near-blackness at that depth. The night seemed to go on forever. He was very cold and yet so sleepy.
Fish woke up when his head knocked against the sharp edge of the porthole in front of his face. He was gasping; he knew he must be breathing his own carbon dioxide. He reached forward, running his hand along his leg, groping for the ballast valves. He concentrated on making his fingers move. The valves hissed and Adeline tilted her nose up as Fish drifted in and out of fainting. His face hit the porthole again when Adeline broke through the surface and flattened out on the water in a sharp slap. With trembling fingers he felt above his head for the hatch wheel and turned it slowly, his hands numb and clumsy. The lid was heavy against his palm as he tried and failed to push it up. He managed only to wedge his fingers through the seal and raise himself high enough to pull air into his nostrils through the narrow gap.
After several breaths he got the hatch open and breathed some more and struggled out. He sat astride the yellow hull, squinting at the purple fringe of the arriving dawn. He took in more air and rocked gently as Adeline lulled between his legs.
The dive boats came and anchored, and Fish had his choice of them. He swam toward the largest one after he had climbed back into Adeline, twisted the ballast valves, and let her descend with the hatch open. His body was tugged backward for a moment by the whirlpool that formed when she submerged with a slurping sound, but he stroked against the pull and kept his eyes fixed forward. Fish was counting the seconds as he approached the dive boat’s ladder, and by the time he climbed aboard, he estimated that Adeline was already past a thousand feet, unless the fluid drag on her wings was causing her to flutter as she made her way to the bottom, passing by deep-sea lilies and other creatures rarely, if ever, seen by humans.
* * *