Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Manta – Part 12 of 17

© 2011 by Henry Melton

He was back on the island, treating himself to a nice grilled grouper with jam glaze when he suddenly remembered that she hadn’t called in days.
He checked the phone and put it back on the charger.
I can afford to do that now.
The next project was to take the leftover pieces and put together a secondary power system for the island–something to have packed up and ready, just in case.
It was a shame Brenda wasn’t calling, but perhaps he’d done something to offend her.
Food stocks were getting low, so he returned to his regular kelp beds and harvested enough to make a batch of his staple flour he used for breakfast and the times when fishing was poor. There were also salvaged canned goods from recent shipwrecks and her gifts, but as Brenda said, his diet was poor. 
He shredded the kelp and followed a finger stained recipe written in a feminine hand that he'd been using forever. 
For some reason he paused when he pulled out the fragile sheet. By this time, he knew the steps by heart anyway, so he carefully put the page back in a safe place. 
Wednesday again. Why am I paying so much attention to the calendar? Maybe it’s that computer. I should turn off its calendar display.
Then it occurred to him, hadn’t Brenda called on Wednesdays?
But noon came and there was no call.
I’ve got it wrong. There’s something I’m supposed to remember. What is it?
Maybe Brenda would know.
He had written down her office number when he tracked her down the first time to report the volcano. He punched the buttons.
“Hello, is Miss deMay there?”
There was a silence. “Who is calling?”
He had a moment of panic. “Uh... Nemo?”
“Oh, you mean she isn't with you?”
“No. I haven’t seen her since ....” He strained to remember. “She was going to interview turtle-breeders.”
“That was a week or more ago. She turned in that report and then went missing. I just thought she’d gone to spend time with you. I was about getting ready to track her down and threaten to fire her.
“Are you sure you don’t know anything more?”
“No. Sorry. I’d thought she was just busy at her job. Now I’m worried.”
“Me too. Call this number if you find out anything. I’ll check my sources as well. Can I call this number and get you?”
“I’m underwater most of the time, but you can try. I’ll check in when I can.”
I need more information. He looked at the laptop. Where can I get a network connection?
He stowed the island project just well enough so it wouldn’t be ruined by rain and made a run for the oil platform.
He was pushing it, but he was surprised at how much faster the Manta could travel when he had enough energy to push the ballast pumps faster. Faster rise and sink times meant more thrust on the wing.
He surfaced near the platform, intending to call for the man he talked to the other time. But the laptop flickered an icon. There was a wireless connection coming from the platform. The computer automatically connected, and there were suddenly a dozen alerts, warnings of various systems coming awake that hadn’t bothered when there was no network.
Frustrated, he clicked the little boxes until everything settled down.
Okay, Brenda said there was a website.
He pulled the old newspaper and found the highlighted box that advertised the paper’s companion on the web. He connected and began reading every article that had her name.
He was coming up to speed, when he made the mistake of reading the article that had pictures of him. There were comments, several of them, that claimed to identify him.
His eyes blurred.
“No! No time for that.”
He forced the noise growing in his head off to the side.
I have to find out what happened to Brenda. That’s the only thing that matters.
The memory of signing a paper forced its way back.
There was a scribble.
“You did it! I’m so glad.” The signature said Oscar Gerber. It was his.
No time. Deal with that later.
Brenda got the power system for him from Frank Hancock.
Frank picked up the phone.
“Sir, there’s a call for you, from Oscar. Oscar Gerber.”
“Put him on.”
“Hello, Oscar! I’m glad to hear from you.”
“Um, Frank. When did you last see Brenda deMay?”
The voice was Oscar’s, but he sounded different. A lot of years and a lot of miles, he guessed.
“It was over a week ago, when she picked up that power system for you. How is that working out for you, by the way?”
“Fine, Frank. But she’s missing. What can you tell me?”
“Oscar, I have no idea. I don’t know what she told you about the stocks, but certainly we wouldn’t do anything illegal.”
“Huh? No, Frank. I’m not saying that. I just want to know everything about Brenda.”
“Oscar, I’m afraid it’s very little. She came here, asked about Sally, haggled for the power system. She delivered it to you, and then faxed me the document from some hotel on Grand Cayman.”
Sally. It hit him like a brick to the head. He staggered, but he didn’t drop the phone.
Stay focused.
“What hotel?” It was almost a whisper.
“I can look it up. Hang on.” There was the sound of a file cabinet being opened.
“It was the Meridian Grand Cayman.”
“Thanks Frank.”
Before he began the next step, the phone buzzed.
“This is Karl Hansen, Brenda’s boss. She took a chartered plane from Jacksonville Florida, two of them in fact, to a spot near Antigua.”
“That was me.”
“Good because she didn’t charge those to the paper. But she did charge one part of the flight. She stopped in Antigua, apparently to refuel, and then turned around to go to Grand Cayman, which is where I told her to go to research stories of turtle poaching.”
“Turtle poaching. Really?”
He could hear the man shrug. “It’s news. That’s what we do. Grand Cayman has a big sea turtle breeding facility. Reports were that a lot of the turtles that were being released to the wild were going missing–more than normal losses. She went to do a little research, and turned in a story about the turtle farm and such as background.
“And that’s the last I heard of her.”
“So, did she go off to do another story?”
“She didn’t charge a flight to the paper. As far as I can tell from her expense account, she’s still on Grand Cayman. That’s why I thought she went back to you. She’s pretty good about paying for personal things.”
“She stayed at the Meridian.”
“Hmm. I don’t see that. I’ll call and check. Can you stay by the phone?”
It was unbearable to wait. His memory played back her voice complaining about waiting.
He pulled out his charts and estimated how long it would take for him to get to Grand Cayman with the Manta. It was days, at best. Even at his new best speed, he’d still have to take breaks to recharge. And this would be over unfamiliar waters. Deeper waters than he was used to. No settling down on the bottom to anchor for the night. Not unless he wanted to do so in Cuban waters.
Is the US still hostile towards Cuba? Maybe it’s all changed. Who knows?
How much time could he afford to waste by the oil platform to find out simple common knowledge that he’d skipped over these past ... how many years?
He checked the calendar, and felt the weight of lost years.
I’ve been like a man in a coma. All because of ... Sally.
There was a flash of memory. Racing back to the Ocean Ray, trying to dock with the ship while it was still sinking. Seeing the flames running over the surface of the water. Pushing into dead corridors in scuba gear. Finding her. She’d barricaded the door to keep the fire out. She’d drowned instead.
Oh, my dear Sally. So afraid of drowning that you couldn’t go into the water.
What did I do? Why did I make you go?
He remembered a noise. A strange wailing noise. His own screams of madness into his scuba mouthpiece.

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