SUN SLANTED FARTHER PAST noon, burning the cloudless sky pale, puddling fiery sheets between smooth swells as the breeze died. The bow of the inflatable sliced glittering ripples as Peter pulled on the oars, glancing over his shoulder. He edged out into deeper water, skirting a rocky toe where sunlight glared white off the cliffs, even the suck of sea on stone listless in the heat.
He pulled harder on the oars, working off his hangover and way too many questions, sweat running down his bare back.
One more pull, then he leaned back against the hot rubber, gliding on smooth blue. He took off his shades and winced as the sun knifed in, ultraviolet intensity haloing everything it touched. Toh phos—that Greek light. Wiping his face with his forearm, he closed his eyes, letting the salt bake. It was quiet, except a bird somewhere, and the rhythmic shush of water on rocks. He tried to breathe deep and slow with that distant rhythm, fighting the fast hot surge of blood in his wrists and throat as red-tinged darkness behind his eyelids pulsed against the heat pressing down on him.
Ticking like a countdown. To what? Looked like fast-talking wasn’t going to get him out of this one—now he was a recruit for the Med League. Could he play along, make a break later? Or was this the new winning side to be on? Was there any “winning” to be had any more?
He frowned and sat up, pushing the shades on. There was a grinding noise now, far engines coming closer. He squinted under his hand and spotted it across the molten glare—another cutter with a big gun, patrolling out beyond the defensive ring of mines. As Panos back at the dock had pointed out, he’d be an idiot to try a run for it.
He let the dinghy drift closer to the rocks, then threw out a weighted line. He leaned over for his fins and slipped them on, threaded the snorkel onto his mask, spat on the lens and rinsed it over the side. He strapped a holster onto his thigh and loaded the pneumatic spear gun.
Peter didn’t know much about this new Med League—other than taking over some shipping ports and lanes, complicating his usual routes. And the rumors about Ariadne Demodakis healing RIP-Leprosy with “holy water” while those Corybant wild women were busy blowing up the odd nuke plant or microwave tower in her name, the rest humming peace prayers to Mother Gaea crystals. He snorted. Holy loonie-tunes. He knew that tune too well.
His grip tightened on the spear gun, then he shrugged and slipped it into the holster. He knew himself well enough. He was good in a pinch—direct action, how to make things work, fast reflexes—but notso hotso at thinking out big personal decisions, analyzing strategy. So if he stopped picking at it all, worrying it like a scab, sometimes the right answer would just come clear.
Etse k’etse. He snugged the mask onto his face and eased over the side. A quick, sharp breath and then his muscles eased, salty clean cold closing over him, deep blue washing through him. He took another deep breath and dove.
He kicked hard, straight down into hushed shadow. The water split and reformed around him as he arrowed into it, sharp-edged as flowing crystal. It was bare underneath, too, rock outlined precise below him, not much in the way of fish or plants. Here and there a sparse weed curtsied in the swell, fingerlings scattering in a silver spurt of alarm. But the water: incredible clear blue like swimming in air, and the pure salt cool of it you could almost see forever stay forever, siren voices calling him deeper. . . .
His lungs screamed. A shrill panicky voice sent him shooting for the surface in a cloud of bubbles.
He burst through, gasping in the white flare of sun, skin tingling with the salt chill. He’d never get over this Mediterranean water. The Florida Keys he’d grown up on and under were a whole different thing, softer-edged. He flipped onto his face, finning along the surface, sighting below. He floated face-down closer to the cliff, suspended in the hypnotic rhythm of the swells. Strobing ripples of blue-tinged light drifted him back:
Shadows whispering, pages rustling in the night, taking him away from vengeful Fathers and the rod not spared. Pegasus wings of his secret boyhood hoard, those deliciously pagan books, as he devoured the old Greek myths by flashlight under the covers. . . .
The books burning, his father fervent in the pulpit, red hair burning like the torch of the Reformed Brethren scouring the sinful earth. Reverend’s righteous voice ringing out King David and the born-again warriors for the glory of God, the good fight for the Way and the Mideast oil and the blessed U.S. of A. . . .
Haggard faces in the dim glow of control panels, fingers gripped over firing studs, stink of fear and trapped-animal sweat as the stricken submarine plummeted into the purple-blue depths—
Peter jerked his head up from the sea, shaking off a pathetic thrashing urge to scramble back to the dinghy and cling to the sunny surface. He took deep breaths, held the last, and plunged into those flickering shadows.
Clearing his ears, he kicked deeper, touching cold rock. He pulled himself down over the boulders, legs drifting upward as he peered into a crevice to see an eye staring back at him and a snakelike suction-cupped arm coiling back into its lair.
Jacknife reverse and back to the surface, lungs burning, heart hammering. He was going a little soft, not bad for thirty-four, but maybe he should think about working on it, maybe cut down on the booze. Clean up his act? And here he was in another pointless screw-up.
He kicked along the surface, scanning, closer to the cliff. A flash of dull color, fins hovering.
He hadn’t really expected to see anything, decades of dynamite fishing had taken care of most anything close in, and the tactical nukes over in the east Med some more, but there was some restocking going on. Now he recalled those caiques at the quay, nets on some, they weren’t all sponge boats. He grabbed more air and shot down, pulling the gun free.
The fins flickered ahead, disappeared in dark. He churned past a rock edge over a dropoff, almost too far, spotted the crevice to the side, a narrow dark cave, almost gave it up, chest starting to ache with the pent-up breath, saw a faint flicker, was doubling up before he could think and down through it. Dark, then sliding light, flashing strobe from above, more dark, rocks squeezing in, no air, but then he was through into open water. No sign of fins. Lungs aching.
He broke surface and flung drops, gasping. Treading water, dragging in air, he looked around to see he’d come through a tumble of stone slabs into a cove nearly sealed off from the open sea. Down below, a sand bottom and the escaping gleam of scales.
Reflexes took him down and after. The lithe body whipped away, then reversed and hovered. The spear shot of itself in a burst of bubbles.
The fish flailed at the end of the line, fighting the spear in a dark cloud of blood. Peter surfaced, pulling it in, suddenly wishing he’d let it go. Eyes gone dull already. But it was a nice pompano, he’d take it to the taverna and have them cook it up in some olive oil for dinner. If.
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