The following is the second excerpt from the Mike Scott thriller novel, Cayman Cowboys. See the first excerpt here.
Mike plunged into the warm, clear water and could instantly see why Tanya was so excited about this dive site and why she had wanted him along. It instantly reminded him of the way the island looked below the water line 10 years before. Maybe it was his “you should have been here when…” mentality kicking in. He had always hated the fact people didn’t realize that their memories were better than reality ever had been. But this place is certainly amazing, he thought.
Whatever his reason for thinking so, it was beautiful. And the sea life was everywhere. Fish of every description and color. The shallow nature of the dive prevented the water from leaching out the reds and oranges from the penetrating sunlight, which reflected off the vivid soft and hard corals, sponges, fish and other marine animals. It was a virtual fishbowl, and Mike slipped effortlessly into photographer mode. He quickly began choosing his shots and framing up his images in his mind long before he ever moved in with his camera.
It is often said that photographers are the worst dive buddies. They get so involved with the images they are making that they forget about everything else going on around them—including their buddy.
In the case of this dive Tanya was the perfect buddy for Mike. She wanted to show Mike her private reef, so she pointed out everything and helped him set shots up, and then stayed out of the way, hanging back and waiting—unless he wanted an underwater model. In those situations, her grace, natural beauty and comfort underwater allowed her to gracefully swim into frame with just a few simple hand signals from Mike and add just the right element to the image.
Mike had shot a lot on the dive, but still had room on his digital camera card as he and Tanya rounded the final bend underwater. What he saw made him glad he did. Incredibly, the coral reef appeared to have been scoured clean of all life. They were stunned by what they saw.
It looked as though someone had run a bulldozer underwater and leveled everything. There was absolutely nothing. No Elkhorn coral, no brain coral, nothing. No shape, texture or color, except for the pile of once-vibrant color mixed into a jumbled mess, like the colors of a bowl of kid’s cereal floating in milk. Parrotfish were everywhere eating the broken coral. Mike photographed the scene to record the devastation.
When they finally surfaced after the long dive, Mike and Tanya discovered they were the last two up. The rest of the teams of researchers and volunteers had finished their dives, and most were already out of the water. From the sounds of their voices, they couldn’t believe what they had seen any more than Tanya and Mike could.
“What in the world happened down there?” Tanya asked at the top of her lungs to no one in particular. She and Mike were floating on the surface of the water.
“You mean you haven’t seen this before?” Mike responded. “When was the last time you made this dive?”
“It’s been about a week since the team made this dive. We try to hit it regularly, but not so much as to attract attention. We don’t want a lot of people coming down here messing up our research,” Tanya explained. “I just can’t believe it. That’s a mess. Someone is going to pay for this.”
“So you’re saying that a week ago, this section of the reef looked exactly like the rest of it? Not this parking lot?” Mike said. “That’s amazing. Have you heard of any groundings or anything that could explain it?”
As they talked Mike and Tanya swam toward the exit point.
They climbed up the rope ladder and on reaching the ledge, Tanya headed for the nearest rock that offered comfort to her outrage and grief and slumped onto it. She was sickened by what she saw, and as the reality of the destruction and its effect on her work penetrated more deeply, she became completely withdrawn, like someone who had just lost a loved one. “I just feel numb,” she muttered as she finally stood up and stumbled across the rocks and back to her truck.
Tanya’s staff of researchers went wild all around. Mike didn’t know exactly how to handle things, so he quietly packed away his gear and disassembled Tanya’s as well. Upon reaching the truck, she cast him a glance that showed that the fire had returned to her eyes. Her pain had turned to anger. There was going to be trouble. “I’m going down to Government House to find out what is going on here,” she bellowed.
“You all go back to the lab and download everything. Log every single detail and record all your findings in the computer archives. Take extra time if you need. Don’t leave out a single detail of what you saw. I want everything in the computer tonight.”
Tanya looked at Mike who had remained silent, allowing her to formulate her thoughts without interruption.
“Someone did this on purpose, Mike. This is not like the damage caused by some cruise ship anchor or some other grounding. Sure damage occurs from time to time, but this is unbelievable. Usually it’s only localized and relatively minor. Something that will recover over time. But this is extermination. It’s scarred forever or at least for longer than I’m going to be around. This was deliberate, calculated, and systematic—almost neat. Besides, cruise ships don’t come up here and there is nothing else I can think of that would have caused it.”
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Mike asked.
“I’m sorry, Mike. I didn’t mean to take this out on you. I know this isn’t exactly the dive I planned to show you, but I’ve got to find out what is going on. Do you mind if I drop you off at Sunset House?” Tanya asked.
“Not to worry, Tanya. I have some things to catch up on anyway,” he lied. He had no plans for the afternoon, but it would serve no purpose adding guilt to her woes.
On the way back to the hotel, Tanya was quiet, but Mike could tell she was thinking—she was somewhere between finding a cause for the damage and planning a response.
“Sorry I haven’t been good company, Mike,” she said as they pulled up out front of the hotel. “Kelly and I will be by about 7:30 p.m. to pick you up for dinner. By that time I’ll have cooled off some and will hopefully have some answers.”
“See you guys tonight,” he answered, intentionally keeping it short to give her an escape. Anyway, he thought, she probably didn’t hear a word I said.