Thanks for reading this #teasertuesday entry, the third chapter of my novel, The Bones of the King. Please join my blog so that I know you've visited and please comment on this chapter or all three. I live and die by your input and I appreciate your time and consideration. Mahalo, Doug.
The Bones of the King - CHAPTER 3
Hovering over the delta of sand and coral rubble that had snared the drum, D.T. reflected on how lucky they had been. One foot to the left or right and it would have continued down the slope, possibly descending well beyond the operational limit of the Hot Runner. McCoy continued to videotape the site while D.T. held station above their find.
It was the fuel drums used to supply to Hart’s diesel generator and then haphazardly stockpiled behind his shop, which had been the key. In the first photograph there were seventeen of them and in the second photograph there was one less. That the missing drum happened to be one of those closer to the shop only made it more probable that it had been used by Hart to dispose of Charlotte Gerber’s body. If not, then where did it go? The house was four miles of tire chewing lava away from the nearest secondary road. The stake out logs showed no activity on the night in question, and yet the very next day one of the fuel drums was gone.
All that Hart had had to do was wait until nightfall and then begin his task. Dressed in black, probably in a full wetsuit and booties, mask on his forehead, he would have carried the empty drum down to the edge of the sea. The knoll of lava would have blocked the view of anyone watching and the rush and rumble of incoming waves would mask any noise he might have made.
Removing one end of the drum would have presented little challenge to a man with a shop full of tools, nor would fashioning a way to close and seal it. Next Hart would have carried the body to the shore and placed it in the barrel. He would refasten the lid and tie a towrope around the top then tip it over into the surf and swim it out to sea. When he figured he had gone far enough he would have punctured the drum and let the sea slowly fill it.
The land dropped precipitously offshore of Hart’s property and he must have been very familiar with the bottom profile. He would know that he had only to swim a little way out and he would have hundreds of feet of water below him. Hart would have been quite content, knowing that the body of Charlotte Gerber would soon be out of reach of any search, and would eventually be consumed by the tiny but voracious life forms that inhabit the ocean.
The drum would have bubbled fitfully as the water closed over it. D.T. could picture Hart watching, maybe even following for a while to make sure the drum continued its descent. Starlight would help him track it for a while and then plankton, disturbed by the turbulence of its passing, would have marked the way with tiny beacons of cold light.
“Hot Runner, Surface One, comms check.”
Noah’s voice sounded in D.T.’s ear as he performed his half hour check in. D.T. keyed his push to talk button on the yoke and replied. “Surface One, Hot Runner, we have you loud and clear, how do you copy?”
“I have you loud and clear, D.T. How’s it going down there?”
Two days of sweeping the water offshore of Hart’s property with side scan sonar had yielded several contacts, but only three looked promising. The scans had been performed by Knowltonn and Noah using Manta Ray Submarine’s surface tender towing a sonar torpedo north and south in a series of overlapping swaths. By the afternoon of the second day they completed running passes and were ready to examine the data. They returned at sunset to Keahou harbor, parked the tender at Hale Kea, the seaside estate of a very good friend, and then headed north to Anaeho’omalu Bay with their laptop to see whether they would be diving the next day.
In an era where a good computing system was outmoded in the time it took to plug it in, the Manta Ray Submarines setup was excellent. In a safe room beneath the office space they had a very flexible setup of quad Mac’s that could crunch all the data they could throw at it in the blink of an eye. During the initial planning of the maintenance facility D.T. had insisted on budgeting that luxury first, and they had been rewarded many times over for doing so. Their computational needs were driven by a desire to immerse potential customers in a virtual simulation of their proposed dives and the system and software produced results that were visually stunning. They could generate a very realistic three-dimensional view of their entire operating area on monitors or via virtual reality visors and give the simulated controls of the Hot Runner to the customer. When prospective clients saw what awaited them on a real dive the sale was easy. Every time the Hot Runner submerged a new data set was collected and incorporated into the existing database. New objects appeared on the bottom, the reef grew or was impacted by storms. In one case they were able to document the damage done to coral by a super-yacht dragging its anchor along the bottom and convince the owner to be a more responsible mariner.
This morning, the third day of their search, with everyone anxious and excited, they had returned to the site towing the Hot Runner, and immediately dove to locate and examine each of the contacts. Examination of the sonar readout showed the lava flow that created the most recent layer of land had been flowing at high speed when it reached the sea. The rapid cooling of the lava created a steep slope that dropped quickly. From sea level to seven hundred feet it descended at an angle of almost fifty degrees before leveling off briefly in a small, nearly horizontal shelf. Below the shelf the drop off continued down to almost twenty-five hundred feet where it leveled off once more in wide plain that extended beyond their field of view. Their data indicated that two of the contacts were located on the first shelf at seven hundred feet. The third, and most shallow contact was in view in front of them and it was apparent that it was exactly what they had been searching for. D.T. keyed his microphone and answered Noah’s query.
“Surface, Hot Runner, we have acquired target one.” He checked his systems readouts and turned to Detective McCoy.
“Do you want to check out the other two contacts?” he asked. They had enough air for another six hours and the battery amp hours were at seventy-five percent capacity. The scrubber, which absorbed carbon dioxide as they exhaled it, was effective for seventy-two hours with three passengers. He and McCoy were not going to be running any marathons inside the hull so life support was not an issue.
The detective had obviously forgotten the other contacts. He lowered his video camera. “What do you think?” he asked.
“The other contacts are less distinct but very similar in profile. They’re a little farther south at seven hundred and fifty feet.”
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” Mike asked. D.T. could see McCoy’s wheels turning as he came to terms with the implications of three barrels instead of one. “Can we do it? Can we get down there?” The question made D.T. laugh out loud and Mike frowned. McCoy didn’t understand that here at last was a question D.T. could answer easily. He keyed the microphone and spoke while looking at Mike and smiling.“Surface, Hot Runner, we’re leaving contact one at a depth of two eighty and heading south for contacts two and three.”
“Surface, aye. Good hunting,” replied Noah.
D.T. throttled up and turned to starboard, then lowered the nose until they began to glide a few feet above the steep sand slope. Past four hundred feet the sand gave way to a jumbled boulder field and the light diminished rapidly. Dark shades of blue were now the defining colors and black shadows the only contrast to them. At five hundred feet D.T. switched on a small set of exterior floodlights and the rocky scarp was illuminated in sharp relief. A school of weke flashed silver in unison, their myriad numbers darting right then left before parting to let the sub pass. A lone trevally accompanied the sub, keeping pace just off the bow as the Hot Runner descended.
McCoy and D.T. were most likely the first humans ever to see the terrain slowly unreeling in front of the view ports. In a world where the brightest light is the bioluminescence of phytoplankton their passage was like a brief but brilliant sunrise. A blenny froze atop the coarse sand as the light grew in intensity. The trevally swooped in and struck like a flash of blue lightning, leaving an explosion of sand to mark the spot. They moved deeper and the local rhythms returned to normal, the sub diminishing as it descended until it was just a dark shape within an aquamarine halo that faded slowly and then disappeared.
At seven hundred and fifty feet D.T. turned and traversed the slope, the port wingtip nearly brushing the sand. Somewhere out ahead of them lay the answers to questions that had not been asked until a few days ago. If the contacts were barrels would Detective McCoy want them raised? What if there were no obvious puncture marks in the sides? Was he sitting on information about other missing women? D.T. had been in some dark and lifeless places and seen there the results of the stupidity of men, but he had never encountered anything remotely similar. What kind of person would do this? And why? He realized in that moment that their dive was shedding light on a darker domain than the one passing beneath them.
“We got something.” Detective McCoy pointed at a shape slowly becoming more distinct against the jumbled backdrop of coral rubble, sand and rock. D.T. throttled back and then reversed the thrusters to arrest their momentum. They slowed and the lights gradually illuminated another barrel lying on its side. D.T. backed and rotated the sub until they were facing the slope. From that position he was able to maneuver to within a few feet of their target. The sea had begun to claim the barrel, but it would be many years before the patient growth of deep-water coral and the slow corrosion of iron would disguise its shape. It looked as though it had been submerged recently, but there was no way to tell. What set chills running up D.T.’s spine was the way the sides were pierced with numerous triangular openings, identical in shape with those they saw in the first contact. D.T. keyed the microphone and called Noah.
“Surface, we’ve found contact number two. Looks like we’d better order that arm.”
Noah and D.T. had been debating for some time whether to outfit the sub with a manipulator arm. Passengers were always asking why they didn’t have one and if there was one thing they realized early it was that the customer was always right. There would be trade offs with turbulence at speed so they had spent a lot of time looking for the right system. They wanted to be able to disconnect it in a heartbeat for those dives when they needed clean lines and no restrictions on their top-end speed. Now circumstances required action outside of their capabilities and the design characteristics had less priority. They had a recovery job to perform.
“I’ll make the call right now,” replied Noah. “Do you want to go with Sub Sea or...”
The underwater telephone reception was very good, so much so that D.T. had no trouble hearing the crack of an explosion followed by a muffled thump and an exclamation from Noah. Then silence, thick and palpable as a shroud.
D.T. was throttling up and blowing negative, headed quickly for the surface when the UWT came to life again, filling his ears with a high pitched electronic scream that grew too loud to bear. He ripped off his headset and pointed the sub toward the distant and obscured sun. Urging the Hot Runner on, D.T. outlined his plans to McCoy and had him prepare for their surfacing. Darkness gave way to deep blue in the view ports.
The sea let them pass.