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Dugan Gallagher sat in the small jumbled office where he spent his days, with his feet propped up on the desk, tilted back in his chair so he could see the harbor.
He wore his usual costume of khaki work shirt, khaki shorts, and topsiders, about as formal as he ever got since quitting his job as a stockbroker ten years ago. Of course, the nice thing about being a business owner was that he got to set the dress code. And this was Key West besides. Even the lawyers came to work dressed this way, and kept a suit hanging in their offices for the times they needed to go into court.
Watching the Sea Maid put out with her current cargo of tourists who wanted to dive a wreck, he felt pretty good. All his captains and dive instructors had shown up today, which meant he, Dugan Gallagher, didn't have to get wet. Which was just fine with him. He might live on an island and have an office on a harbor, and make his living from boats, but he hated to get wet. Period. The bathroom shower was his maximum preferred water exposure.
He also preferred to stay holed up in his tiny office as far away from the tourists as possible. Oh, he was well aware of the irony in the fact that he owned a diving business that catered to tourists when he hated both the water and tourists, but life was ironic any way you looked at it. Besides, never having to wear a tie again was reward enough for putting up with the other annoyances.
The Sea Maid—not the most original name in the world, but what the hell, he wasn't angling for awards, just for business—eased out of the harbor and sailed away with her precious cargoof tourists and compressed-air tanks. From experience, he knew that everyone was talking and laughing with excitement, and that Jill, the instructor on board, was encouraging them with her own enthusiasm.
He almost snorted, then reminded himself not to get too cynical about what he did. It might show. The dives they took the tourists on were relatively tame, for liability reasons. But while he might be jaded about diving wrecks, his customers weren't, and he needed to keep that in mind.
Besides, this job was better than Wall Street any day. Unfortunately, it was also a little more hectic then he'd planned on when he had dropped out ten years ago with the express intention of becoming a beach bum. Instead, he'd wound up buying a dying business and turning it into a profitable concern. He figured he must have a loose screw somewhere.
On the other hand, you couldn't beat the view of the harbor, or the lazy pace around town, or the nightlife that never seemed to end. So he was a productive beach bum. It didn't exactly call for hand-wringing and mea culpas.
There was a knock on his door, and Ginny, his office manager, the lady who dealt with ninety percent of the onshore crap of the business, stuck her head in. "Couple of people want to see you, boss."
He didn't even stir, but kept looking out the window at the mast of the sailboat riding at dock just outside. Maybe it was time to take the Mandolin out for a long, long sail in Caribbean waters. Maybe two weeks of long sail. "I'm busy," he said.
"I can see that. When you get through contemplating your navel, you might want to see these folks. They're talking about a long-term charter."
That perked his interest a bit, though he was reluctant to show it. "Yeah? What...two days?"
"Open-ended, probably several months."
He was about to say no way. Then he realized that he was curious. He turned his head and looked at Ginny. She was a thirtysomething redhead who'd spent too much time in the sun and had done too many drugs until the day she woke up and realized her live-in boyfriend was sucking her dry, leeching her meager income, and killing her with cocaine. She'd thrown out the boyfriend, kicked her habit, and come looking for a job. Dugan had never regretted hiring her.
"Okay," he said.
"Okay? Okay, what? Charter the boat? Send them in here? Make them wait?"
Count on Ginny to give him a hard time. While he never regretted hiring her, sometimes he thought of her as his thorn in paradise. "Send them in."
Then he went back to contemplating the navel of the world—or in this case, the mast of the sailboat. Which to him was the same thing, since he thought of sailing as the center of his personal universe. For somebody who didn't like to get wet, he sure liked to be out on the water.
He heard the door open again and turned his head just enough to see his visitors. The first to enter was an elderly man who leaned on a cane. Dugan didn't need to be a doctor to recognize the signs of cancer. The man looked like too many AIDS victims he'd seen on the streets of Key West.
But his eyes were bright blue and lively yet, though his face was gaunt and his head absolutely hairless. He wore casual khakis, too, and Dugan decided he could probably deal with this guy—unless the old man wanted to arrange to have his own ashes dumped somewhere out there. Dugan hated people who insisted on burial at sea. Mainly because when Dugan was forced to go in the water, he didn't want to be thinking about what he might be swimming through or by. Not that he was squeamish. He just figured some things were better buried.
Behind the man came a young woman, maybe thirty, with brilliant blue eyes and hair as blue-black as a raven's wing, except for one intriguing white streak. He couldn't tell how long her hair was, because she had it pinned tightly to the back of her head.
That was the first thing he didn't like about her, the tightly pinned hair. The next thing he didn't like was the very, very nice figure barely hidden by a tank top and shorts. He didn't like it because he couldn't ignore it. He also wondered if she had any idea how fast even that tawny skin of hers was going to burn in the subtropical sun.
"What can I do for you?" he asked the man. He knew he should have stood and shook hands, but he'd sworn off formality and didn't see any reason to break his vow for these two.
"We'd like to charter one of your boats for several months," the man said.
Dugan could have told him he never did that. He could have pointed him to a charter boat business. But he didn't. He was curious why they'd chosen him, and why they wanted the charter. They sure as hell didn't look like drug runners. So instead of saying no, and saving himself from all the trouble—a significant error, he was to realize shortly—he said, "Why? Better yet, why me?"
The man nodded to one of the chairs, and Dugan waved him into it. Then, falling back on dusty manners, he waved the woman to the other chair. His feet were still on his desk, and he had no intention of taking them down, not even when he realized the woman was looking at him with disapproval. He resisted the urge to belch and scratch his chest—just barely.
"Well," said the man, "perhaps I'd better tell you who we are."
Dugan didn't especially want to hear this part, but it had to be better than going back to his bookkeeping, so he nodded.
"I'm Orin Coleridge. This is my daughter Veronica Coleridge. We're both archaeologists."
And now Dugan guessed exactly what was coming. If he'd had an ounce of brains, he'd have shown them the door immediately. He didn't want any part of their headache. "People have gone broke and died young hunting for treasure."
"That may be," said Coleridge, with a small nod that acknowledged Dugan's quickness. "But my daughter isn't in any danger of going broke in this lifetime, and we have good information on the location of a particular wreck."
"So have a lot of people." Dugan put his feet on the floor and faced the old man directly. "It took Mel Fisher sixteen years to find the Atocha—after he finally got good information. I won't even mention the twenty years that came before that. Do you have any idea how much seafloor there is out there? How far a wreck could have drifted over the years? How unlikely that there's still enough of it in one piece to identify?"
"We're archaeologists," Coleridge said.
"And then there's the permits. Have you got permits?"
"We certainly have. We've done our legwork, Mr. Gallagher."
"Maybe so. But have you talked to anyone who's actually hunted for a wreck? Are you prepared to devote the rest of your life to this search?" Which, as soon as he said it, struck him as an utterly insensitive thing to say to a man who probably didn't have much life left. Too late now.
But Coleridge didn't seem to take offense. He smiled faintly. "That should be my concern, not yours. We simply want to charter a boat from you for the next three months."
"We need a dive boat. And we need divers. You have a good reputation."
Having a good reputation in Key West could mean a lot of things, depending on who you talked to. But there was one thing Dugan wouldn't give ground on to anyone: He had safe boats, good instructors, and the best equipment. In that respect he wanted a good reputation. The rest of it he didn't care about. "I don't rent boats for three months at a stretch. I need all my boats to handle the tourist demand. If I start turning people away, it won't be good for my business." Which wasn't strictly true, because he turned people away all the time for lack of room. He just didn't want to be cutting back his schedule by one boat.
"Well, we can rent a boat elsewhere, I suppose," Coleridge said, looking at his daughter. "It's just that you were highly recommended."
Did he really want to throw this job to a competitor? Three months of easy work, charter fees.... He looked out the window again, pondering. Of course, he'd have to get wet.
"Three months," Coleridge said. "We'll pay in advance, whatever you'd make off the boat regularly plus twenty-five percent. We'll pay all costs, and we'll pay for your diving services and one or two other divers of your choice."
"I don't know."
The woman spoke, too loudly. "Will you look this way when you talk?"
He turned sharply, prepared to take umbrage, but Coleridge was waving a hand. "Forgive my daughter, Mr. Gallagher. She's deaf. She can't read your lips when you look away."
Dugan's anger deflated almost before it was born, and he looked at the woman with new interest. Deaf? What a goddamn shame. Not his problem, of course, but when he considered some of the shysters and hucksters around here who might try to take advantage of a deaf woman and her ailing father, he felt something akin to a moral qualm, a feeling so rare that he almost didn't recognize it. "Yeah?" he said.
"Yeah," she said.
Okay, so she was good at the lipreading thing. He looked at Coleridge again. "Just three months?"
"At this time. After that, we'll have to reconsider and possibly get different equipment."
"You can't search a whole lot of seafloor in three months," he said, making a point to look at the woman when he spoke.
"We can search enough," she said succinctly, and still too loudly.
He decided he didn't like her at all. "It's your money," he said finally. Only then did he realize what he had just walked himself into.
Oh, Christ, the whole damn town was going to be laughing at him. Dugan Gallagher, treasure hunter. He'd rather be called an asshole.
"One stipulation," Veronica said.
"Yeah? What's that?"
"Nobody at all is to know what we're doing. Nobody."
He sighed. "Lady, you can't keep a secret in Key West. It's impossible."
"You're not to tell anyone," she repeated. "No one. No information. I don't care if they know we're looking for a wreck, but beyond that everything has to be secret."
"Well, sure, okay." Like anybody would be interested anyway. People were always looking for treasure around these parts and coming up empty. No big deal. His reputation could stand it.
Coleridge spoke. "We need you to find us some more divers. Trustworthy ones. We'll pay their rate."
"Slow down a minute." He waved a hand and propped his feet back on the desk. "Just searching, right? No dredging or anything."
"Not unless we find something."
"I'll have to look into the equipment I'll need to get."
Coleridge nodded. "We've already ordered the metal detectors and magnetometer. They'll be arriving Saturday."
"So that's all you want to do? Sweep the seafloor for metal?"
"Right now, that's it."
Chickens for the plucking. The phrase crept into Dugan's mind, and that's when he knew he absolutely had to do this. Not so he could pluck this pair of chickens, but so that he could keep someone else from doing it. The old guy was nigh unto death, and the woman was deaf. Under those circumstances he couldn't fall back on the P.T. Barnum philosophy of life. Nobody else might be able to live with him, but he had to.
"What happens if you find something?" he asked.
"Then we consider a salvage attempt."
Of course. That was obvious, so obvious that asking the question was stupid. "Sure. Okay. So where are we searching?"
"You don't need to know that," Veronica said.
"Not until we have a contract," Coleridge added. "Not until we're ready to go."
"Like the state doesn't already have a record."
"The state has a record of a very large piece of water," Veronica said. "That's all they have."
"And you have a more refined idea?"
"What did you say?"
"I asked if you have a better idea where this vessel is in this large piece of water."
He nodded slowly, wondering if this woman was as crazy as she was deaf. Enunciating with considerable care, he said to her, "Regardless, you do understand that you're searching for a needle in a huge haystack?"
"Of course." She said it dismissively.
"Well, it's your money. When do you want to start?"
"As soon as we sign a contract and get the metal detectors," Coleridge said. "Saturday or Sunday."
Dugan rubbed his chin, thinking about it. In spite of himself, he was intrigued. He'd been thinking about a vacation on his boat, and this would be a kind of vacation, even if he did have to dive. "Water depth?"
"No more than thirty feet."
"Okay. Why the hell not. Just as long as you understand that a three-month search isn't going to turn up anything except a lot of mud. Cripes, I'm practically fleecing you."
Coleridge shook his head. "You can't fleece someone who is getting exactly what they're willing to pay for."
"Right. I hope you feel the same way three months from now."
Dugan wished he was half so sure.
Dugan had plenty of time to regret his hasty decision to help the Coleridges. All afternoon and early evening in fact. By the time he saw his last boat back in harbor and cleaned and readied for the next day's business, he'd had ample time to wonder if P.T. Barnum had been talking about him.
Feeling like a royal sucker, he strode home through the busy streets, sidestepping crowds of tourists who were having a hell of a good time and drinking a bit too much. Finally he reached his own home, a blessed four blocks from Duval Street, where everything was quiet and dark except for the occasional passing motor scooter.
He'd bought the house when he'd first arrived, never realizing what a good investment it would turn out to be. It was a Key West original, built sturdily by a ship's carpenter, and likely to last forever. At the time he bought it, it had been sadly neglected, but it had been exactly the therapy he'd needed to get over Jana. He had no idea how many hours he'd spent working on the place, repairing, repainting, improving, and remodeling the interior. Now he had a showpiece, a white-clapboard house with green tropical shutters, a wide shady porch, and a backyard—a small, Key West backyard—filled with a pool and tropical foliage that made it feel like the most private place on earth. And it was worth far, far more than he had put into it.
Which was a rather odd thing for a man who'd come to Florida determined to waste his life away in bars. But then, so was the business, which he'd bought from Tam Anson. Tam and he had met up in a bar one night, neither of them really sober. Tam had been bemoaning the fact that his diving business was going belly-up. Dugan, not thinking too clearly, had offered to bail him out. Which was how he'd come to own Green Water Diving, Inc. A piece at a time, anyway. He'd started by buying in as a partner, but as time passed, Tam had wanted less and less to do with it, and had sold the rest of the business to him.
Now Tam was his tenant, renting the upstairs apartment in the house and working for him intermittently as a diver while he tried to find himself. After eight years, Dugan figured Tam was never going to find himself, and probably wouldn't pay the rent ever again either.
Which was okay by Dugan. He'd left his cutthroat ways behind in New York. And he kind of figured he owed Tam something for getting him into the diving business.
Besides, Tam was a good buddy and kept him from forgetting that he'd come here to lie back, not to rev up to Wall Street speeds. Tam was always ready to party, be it bar-crawling along Duval or taking a boat out to celebrate the sunset.
Tam was lying in the pool area, reading a copy of Mad Magazine and drinking a longneck. He was wearing blue swim trunks, still damp from the pool, and had a towel slung around his neck. He looked like the perfect beach bum with his sun-streaked blond hair and moustache. There'd been a time when Dugan had envied that look. These days he was content that his dark brown hair was still thick.
"Hey, what's up, dude?" Tam asked, looking up from the magazine.
"Nothing much," Dugan replied, resisting the urge to 'fess up to his stupidity. He'd get around to that later. "You?"
"Just hanging around. Thought maybe I'd invite a couple of guys over for poker, but everybody's busy."
That surprised Dugan. Sometimes he thought most of Tam's friends did nothing except party. "What about Serena?" Serena was Tam's current interest, a girl too young to be running around Key West on her own, in Dugan's opinion, but what did he know? Twenty-one was twenty-one.
"She went home for a week. Her dad's sick."
Tam shrugged. "It happens. Grab yourself a beer, man, and hop in the pool. Water's warm."
"Funny. Very funny." Tam knew damn well he'd put in the pool only to enhance the property's value, and because that particular summer he'd had an overwhelming need to dig a deep hole.
He went into the house and popped open a Heineken, carrying it back out onto the deck with him, pausing to flip on the yard lights and some reggae on the outside speakers. A golden glow and quiet, upbeat music filled his private tropical paradise.
The beer did its work rapidly, considering he hadn't eaten since breakfast. Soon he was relaxing and thinking maybe he hadn't just made the biggest mistake of his life. There could be advantages to a job that involved sailing around a quiet piece of ocean and diving. Plenty of peace and quiet for one. As long as Veronica Coleridge wasn't talking all the time. The old man at least would be easy to deal with. The woman he wasn't sure about.
Basically, it might be a little more intensive than that vacation he'd been thinking about, but probably not much. How much work could be involved in taking a few shallow dives each day and running a metal detector over the seafloor? Low stress, that's what it would be, because he didn't give a damn if the Coleridges found anything at all.
Yeah, it'd be okay. Three months of sea and sun. Except for the getting wet part, it was his favorite way to spend time.
So... no big deal. And feeling better about it, he didn't mind telling Tam what he'd done. He was aware that his major failing was his reluctance to admit he'd messed up, but he couldn't see any good reason for trying to change himself.
Tam chose that moment to dump the magazine and jump in the pool. A splash went up, and Dugan watched water drops darken his khaki shorts and shirt. Some people, he thought, never grew up. The fact that he was one of them didn't mean he couldn't notice it in other people.
When Tam resurfaced, he grabbed the edge of the pool and shook his wet hair back from his face. "You oughtta come in, dude. Great way to cool down."
"No thanks. I'm not hot."
Tam gave him a wry look. "Yeah, right. You were a cat in your last life, right?"
"Maybe. Or maybe I'm one this time around. I just have a good barber."
"So, you want a diving job for the next three months?"
"Taking tourists out? I don't know." Tam dropped the beach-bum attitude and grew serious. "You know I'm not that reliable, Dugan. I'll drive you nuts."
"Way I figure it, if you're on a boat, you're reliable. This isn't for Green Water."
"No? What then?"
"Some crazy woman and her dad want to look for a wreck. They figure they can find it in three months."
Tam lifted both eyebrows, then hefted himself out of the pool by his arms and sat on the edge dripping. "Three months. You're kidding, right? Or did they come from Mars?"
"They think they have a pretty good idea where it's at."
"Yeah. Sure. They're crazy."
"I think I already said that."
"I'm agreeing with you."
Tam shook his head. "So what exactly do they want us to do?"
"Use metal detectors. Two divers, one boat, just a search."
"Sounds like a vacation."
"That's what I'm thinking." And, now that he thought about it, feeling a tad guilty, too. Was it any more honest for him to take these people's money just to protect them from somebody who'd take twice that or more? Or was he just rationalizing the fact that he was a sucker?
Tam, who hadn't completely forgotten what he'd learned as a businessman, asked, "You didn't make any promises, did you?"
"Hell, no. I even tried to talk them out of it. They said they'd done their research. Well, if you ask me, if they'd done any serious research, they'd know they're probably never going to find that wreck, even if they spend the next thirty years looking."
"Did you see their permits?"
"Yep. I'm not crazy enough to get into something illegal. It's all on the up-and-up, Tam."
"Then maybe they're not as crazy as they seem. I hear only a few people get those permits every year, and hundreds try to get them. They must have something going for them."
"Maybe. But I figure it's not my problem. They want one boat and two or three divers for three months for an easy job. Nice money, nice work, no hassle, right?"
"Sounds good to me."
Tam at least wasn't asking the questions that Dugan was asking himself, such as, How could he be thinking about getting tangled up in something like this when he was already as busy as he wanted to be with the diving business?
But, he acknowledged, there was still some of the beach bum in him. Still something of the guy who'd wanted to lead a laid-back, hassle-free existence. Something of the man who'd been so singed by a bad marriage that he'd vowed never to get involved in anything serious again.
And running the diving business was beginning to seem too much like work. Seven days a week. Bookkeeping. Employee problems. The list was endless. He also had not the least doubt that with minimal supervision Ginny could run the business. No problem there. He made a mental note to give her another raise.
"So," Tam asked, "what wreck are they looking for?"
"I haven't a clue. They're keeping all the information under wraps."
Tam snorted. "Cripes. Like everyone around here hasn't talked about every wreck and every salvage operation forever. Like anyone around here would give a shit that some new group is going after a wreck. They could come put up banners and nobody would think twice about it."
"Maybe they don't want to look like fools if it doesn't pan out."
"If they're gonna look like fools, there's a whole herd of fools running around here." He shrugged and let it go. Tam wasn't one to let unanswerable questions trouble him for long. "Three months. Now I've heard everything."
Dugan nodded, but his thoughts were already drifting on to something else—namely the hunger gnawing his belly. He really needed to eat lunch. But since it was too late for that, he decided to get a pizza. And maybe it was time to call Linda. She was always a good evening of fun. Light fun. She was no more interested than Dugan in getting seriously involved, so their relationship was comfortable for both of them.
And that was the whole point, wasn't it? he asked himself. To be comfortable. That was the mistake he'd made with Jana. It had never been comfortable.
Damned if he was ever going to be uncomfortable again.
Posted December 9, 2008
In Tampa, archeologist Orin Coleridge is not afraid to die except he worries about his beloved daughter Veronica wasting away to nothing. He is lost for ideas how to help his child regain her spirit that she lost after the accident cost Veronica her hearing followed by her spouse Larry Hauser deserting her. Desperate Orin hears the voice of his deceased spouse for the first time in a quarter of a century. She advices him to tell Veronica about ¿The Mask of the Storm Mother¿, the artifact that led to the death of Orin¿s wife. <P>An outraged Veronica becomes obsessed with completing her mother¿s dream. She and her father hire a reluctant former stockbroker Dugan Gallagher, a diver who hates the water. As Veronica and Dugan spend several months together in close proximity, they fall in love with one another. However, neither one trusts relationships as both have been burned in the past. Then there remains the danger from wealthy consumed Emilio Zaragura who will do anything to attain the mask for himself. <P> WHEN I WAKE is an exciting romantic suspense that stars two wonderful, lead characters and a strong support cast. The story line is loaded with action as several players turn the search form the mask into a personal quest that makes them risk everything including love to appease their personal demons. This makes the characters seem genuine and turns Rachel Lee¿s novel into a strong statement on what drives an individual. <P>Harriet Klausner
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