The following is an excerpt of the new thriller from Eric Douglas, Return to Cayman: Paradise Held Hostage. If you want to find out what happens next, or what’s really going on, pick up a copy in softcover or on Kindle. Eric will also donate a portion of all sales through July 31, 2015 to the Cayman Magic Reef Recovery effort.
Return to Cayman: Paradise Held Hostage
Return to Cayman
Tanya was deep in her reports, sitting on the swaying boat and feeling mildly nauseous. A swaying boat at anchor made her feel that way, especially when she was looking down and trying to read. The divers were bringing her consistent numbers and their efforts really seemed to be paying off. She just had to figure out the best way to present it to the Department of the Environment so they continued to support her work and spread their efforts to more dive sites around the island. They had told her if she was able to fix things, or at least improve them, in the harbor, she could improve things anywhere.
Fish populations were up. Coral growth and regrowth were up. There was a greater diversity of coral and fish species, too. Not just more numbers of a few fish, but more types of fish. They still had to figure out the best way to deal with the invasive lionfish, but the lionfish rodeos seemed to be keeping them at bay for now. Several restaurants on the island had added lionfish entrees to their menus and the local divers and fishermen were doing their best to keep the eateries supplied. That was the one case where Tanya agreed, and fully supported, overfishing. “Eat ‘em to beat ‘em” was a motto crossing the Caribbean.
Tanya felt something coming up behind her before she saw it. She turned to see a massive cruise ship approaching the harbor. But it was out of position. The ship needed to be 100 yards to its port—the north. It was too far to the south and right on top of the coral reef they were tracking. A feeling of dread came over Tanya. It was right where Mike and Kelly were diving, too.
The radio. Tanya sprinted for the boat’s pilot house. The captain had been dozing in the sun, waiting on the divers to return and was startled to see Tanya come flying up and more startled to see the massive white hull looming in front of him.
“We have to pull the anchor and move!” the boat captain shouted at Tanya. “Dat ting gonna run us down!”
“We can’t move, Biko. We still have divers in the water. Send out the recall. Get them up here, now!” Tanya barked. “I’m gonna call that captain and tell him he’s in the wrong spot.”
Biko, the boat captain, knew Tanya was right and ran to the diveboat’s stern to activate the diver recall system. The boat had an underwater buzzer that gave off a high-pitched squeal when activated. The divers had long-since been briefed to surface and return to the boat when they heard that noise. It could only mean there was a problem. Tanya grabbed the VHF radio and tuned it to the frequency she knew the harbormaster used to guide cruise ships into position.
“Island Paradise, Island Paradise, this is the Bubble Blower,” Tanya said, identifying the ship she was calling followed by the boat she was calling from. The name was written on the massive ship’s bow towering above her. “Island Paradise, you are out of position. There are divers in the water beneath you and you are on top of protected coral reef. Repeat. You are out of position, Island Paradise. This is an emergency!”
“Bubble Blower, this is a restricted frequency. You do not have authorization to broadcast here,” the harbor master replied immediately. “I show the ship is in perfect position, right where it should be.”
“Rex, it’s Tanya. That ship is in the wrong spot, and I have divers in the water right below it. You know I’m out here. I told you I was coming out an hour ago. I’m sitting right where I always am. If you’re on that ship, look down!”
“Tanya, I don’t know why you are trying to cause trouble today, but I’m going to order you off this channel once and for all. You do not have authorization to be on here. Once this is done, I’ll order an investigation into your actions today. Now clear this channel!”
Tanya slammed the radio microphone down in frustration and turned to the boat captain.
“Is there any chance we’re in the wrong position?”
“None, ma’am,” Biko replied over his shoulder as he scanned the water for the returning divers. “We’re tied off on the only mooring ball on this site. The same one we use every time.”
Two divers broke the surface just behind the boat. They started to ask what the problem was, but immediately figured it out when they saw the cruise ship. Two more teams of research divers in the water and Mike and Kelly were still unaccounted for.
Mike stared upward in horror as the cruise ship’s anchor and chain began crashing into water. They were directly beneath it. He looked around at Kelly and saw his friend gesture frantically for him to follow and then Kelly began swimming as hard as he could. Mike took off. He doubted he could outrun the falling steel, but he wasn’t one to give up either.
A roaring sound filled Mike’s ears. He glanced backward without meaning to, his body reacting to the sound. When he looked back Kelly was gone.
Mike began swimming again as hard as he could, racing against the inevitable.
Where did Kelly go?
And then he saw bubbles coming from an opening in the reef below him. Back into the coral swim-through. The skylight opening was just big enough, but it was going to be close. Mike pushed his camera ahead of him and tried to make himself as streamlined as possible as he dove for the opening. He felt the gloom surround him as he made a final push forward, the adrenaline rushing through his body urging him forward.
And then it hit. The massive anchor chain dropped onto the coral with the force of a bomb blast. The water transmitted the energy of the anchor’s collision with the reef. Mike tumbled in the water as everything grew suddenly dark. He was turned upside down and slammed against the jagged coral. Debris fell all around him. His mask was knocked from his face and he lost his regulator.
Mike was in trouble.
“Island Paradise! You just dropped anchor on my divers and a reef. What are you doing?” Tanya screamed into the VHF radio microphone. “Are you insane? I’ve got people in the water!”
The force of the anchor chain hitting the water rocked the small dive boat, throwing Tanya, Captain Biko and the team of divers that had made it on board to the deck. As soon as she climbed back to her feet, she was back on the radio. She switched the radio to Channel 16, the emergency channel.
“All vessels, all vessels. MayDay, MayDay MayDay! We have an emergency. The cruise ship Island Paradise just dropped anchor on divers in the water. I need help. Six divers are missing. There may be injuries. Please respond!”
“Miss Tanya, the divers are surfacing. I’ve got two buddy teams on the surface,” Biko called out. He was pointing to the two groups of divers and scanning the surface for the third team.
“Who is it? Doesn’t matter. Get them on board. And keep an eye out for the last group,” Tanya said as she raced for the boat’s stern, to help the divers on board. She quickly realized who was on the surface. It was her two teams of science divers. Her people were safe. But that left Kelly and Mike still down there.
“I need help!” one diver called out while he towed his partner to the boat. “Kim’s unconscious!”
Without hesitation, Tanya grabbed a rescue float and dove into the water headfirst. She was there in mere moments and grabbed the stricken diver. With the strong kicks of an experienced swimmer she began towing the young woman to the boat, letting the other diver care for himself. As she swam, she checked the diver’s breathing and shouted at her to see if she was able to respond at all.
“Kim, Kim! Are you still with me? Come on, Kim, wake up!” she yelled to the girl, just inches from her face.
As they reached the swim step of the boat, Kim began to stir. Tanya handed the girl off to the boat captain and the other divers on board and began helping the diver’s buddy out of his gear.
“Phil, what happened?” she asked.
“We heard the recall alarm and started heading back. And then we heard the anchor falling. It was like a wall of water knocked us over and slammed us against the reef. I didn’t realize Kim was out until I started to swim for the surface and she didn’t follow. I grabbed her and brought her up.”
“You did good, Phil. You probably saved her life,” Tanya said, treading water at the back of the boat. “Did you see Kelly? Or Mike?”
“Not at all. No idea where they went.”
“Give me your mask,” Tanya ordered the young man. “I’m going to see if I can find them.”
Knowing the others on board would take care of the injured diver and bring everyone on board, she had time to think about her husband and friend.
Tanya hadn’t paused to put on fins so she couldn’t swim down very far, but fear and worry allowed her to swim down 10 feet to look around. Visibility was bad as the anchor and chain kicked up sand, tore coral loose, and threw everything every which way. She surfaced quickly.
“Any sign of them?” Tanya called out to the divers on the boat.
“Nothing yet, Tanya.”
The first dive boat to respond to Tanya’s Mayday call over the radio slowed as it approached the scene. The boat and crew was from Off The Wall Divers, a different dive shop from the one she and Kelly owned. In an emergency none of that mattered. All the divers on the island knew each other and most had worked together at one time or another. If not, they had partied together. They were a community and were there to help each other out if one was in trouble. That was what it meant to be a Cayman cowboy. They looked out for each other.
Blind and without any air, it took Mike a moment to pull himself together. Then his training kicked in and he reached out for his regulator. It was still attached, so it couldn’t go far away. He quickly found the second stage mouthpiece and put it in his mouth. With the last bit of air in his lungs he blew out the water and then took a cautious breath in. Air never tasted sweeter, even the dried and filtered air from a scuba tank, than when you were deprived of it.
Mike looked around. Without his mask, everything was blurry. He could only see shapes, but he could see light filtering down from the broken coral above him.
Now where did my mask run off to? He’d had it until he was slammed against the wall. He reached up and touched his face. It was tender and he thought he could see some blood in the water. That’s gonna leave a mark.
Searching around him with his hands, he found his mask below him and shook it in the water to clear the debris from it. He quickly placed it against his face and pulled the strap in place, exhaling through his nose to clear the water from in front of his eyes. The lens in front of one of his eyes was cracked, but it held and he could see. Through the gloom and mayhem surrounding him he took stock of his situation. The skylight opening he had just come through was blocked. He thought he could make out part of the anchor chain in the rubble.
That’s about as close as it gets. Time to find Kelly and get out of here.
“Tanya, I heard Kelly say something about showing Mike the ‘swim-through’,” Biko called to Tanya who was still treading water.
“Jon,” Tanya yelled to the divemaster from Off The Wall Divers. “Kelly and Mike might be stuck in the swim-through. Do you know it? From the looks of it, the anchor chain dropped right on top of that area.”
“We’ll get ‘em, Tanya. Kelly still owes me money,” Jon said with a smile that didn’t make it to his eyes. “I’ll be underwater in 30 seconds.”
Jon Rusho and Higgy Higginbottom grabbed their gear as they jumped in the water, settling straps into place as they fell. They didn’t hesitate or resurface. As soon as they hit the water, they began swimming for the bottom, clearing water from their masks as they kicked.
Mike looked around him. A war photographer, he’d been in war zones and seen bombed out buildings before. This reminded him of every one of those times. Except, this was the first time he combined that experience with being underwater. He was in a small “room" in the tunnel, but the hole he had bolted through was gone. Rock and steel lay over his head. To his left, there was rubble and it looked like the tunnel had collapsed. To his right, things still seemed to be stable.
The question in his mind, though, was Where is Kelly? If his friend was on the other side of that pile of rubble to his left, or worse underneath it, he couldn’t just leave him. And then again, his air supply was limited. He couldn’t stay down forever.
They had been nearing the end of their dive, and it had been a relatively shallow one, so he still had air, but there were still physical limits. Mike checked his pressure gauge. He had 1000 PSI in his tank. At that depth, he could probably last another 20 minutes or so. Twenty minutes to find Kelly and swim out of this mess. Not a lot of time.
Mike paused for a moment and stared at the rubble pile looking for any sign of bubbles rising through the rock that might signal Kelly was buried underneath. If Kelly isn’t breathing anymore… he thought. Mike tried to be still and slow his own breathing. It was dark, but his eyes were slowly adjusting to the dim light.
Okay, time to get out of here. Kelly is probably on the surface waiting for me.
As Mike turned to swim away from the rubble pile and out the other end of the tunnel, he hoped, he was startled to see a diver swimming toward him out of the darkness. Kelly.
Mike smiled for a moment, relieved his friend was alive. Until he saw the look on Kelly’s face. Kelly gave him the Okay handsignal and Mike replied with the same signal. Question asked and answered. Then Kelly gestured back down the tunnel and then moved his hand on a chopping motion, across the tunnel.
The two men were trapped in what was left of the swim-through. They had survived the falling anchor and chain, but now they might run out of air less than 30 feet underwater.
To find out what happens next, or what’s really going on, get your copy of Return to Cayman: Paradise Held Hostage today! And remember, a portion of all sales will be donated to the Cayman Magic Reef Recovery effort. If you don’t know what that is, read this article from Scuba Diving Magazine.
If you’re interested in the other books in the series, check out:
Mike Scott Adventures
Wreck of the Huron
Heart of the Maya
The Mike Scott Thrillers Boxed Set
Withrow Key Short Stories
The complete Withrow Key Collection: Tales from Withrow Key
Going Down with the Ship
Bait and Switch
Put It Back
Frog Head Key
Life Under the Sea
The Sea Turtle Rescue
Swimming with Sharks
Other books by Eric Douglas:
Scuba Diving Safety
Keep on, Keepin’ on: A Breast Cancer Survivor Story
Common Valor: Companion to the multimedia documentary West Virginia Voices of War
Russia: The New Age
Return to Cayman: Paradise Held Hostage