A pleasure cruise in Paradise leads a group of friends to a shark-infested Hell in Chris Jameson's Devil Sharks. . .
When Alex Simmons is invited to a college reunion in the Hawaiian islands aboard the private yacht of his old pal Harry Curtis, he is not sure what to expect. The two men had a falling-out years ago over the suicide of one of their friends. Could this be Harry’s way of making amends? Or is something more sinister in store?
The crew sets sail and arrives at Orchid Atoll, the site of a deserted former Coast Guard station. But they are far from alone. Out here, three hundred miles from civilization, Alex and his friends are about to encounter two very different brands of evil—one human, the other with fins—unlike anything they could have possibly imagined. They have entered a place where there’s no law, no mercy. . .and no way out.
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Efrim thought if he kept very still, Machii might not kill him. He lay belowdecks, wrists bound behind him and ankles tugged together with the same zebra-stripe duct tape he had over his mouth. The duct tape might kill him, even if Machii and his guys decided not to. Dried blood plugged one nostril, so Efrin could only breathe through the other — the left — in a desperate, steady wheeze.
His head pounded, still ringing from the fists and boots and the gun butt that had struck his skull. Blood had leaked from his right ear, his lips were split, and his tongue had found three broken teeth. From the neck down, he knew he was worse off. Left forearm broken. No telling how many ribs. His balls felt like they'd been kicked all the way up into his stomach.
But you're alive, he thought, forcing his heart to slow, forcing his breathing to steady. That wheezing sound from his one open nostril kept him alive. A cloth bag, someone's stinking laundry bag, had been yanked over his head, and he knew if he squirmed and twisted and dragged his head on the floor of the wheelhouse he might get it off, but what would that earn him? A few seconds' glimpse of the interior of the wheelhouse and then more broken ribs, maybe another boot to his broken nose that would close his other nostril, ending his life.
Forcing himself to breathe, to be quiet and still, Efrim tried to think. How long had they been out on the boat? How far might they be from the Big Island now? Where the hell were they taking him? He'd been unconscious for a bit — too many knocks on the skull — but couldn't be sure exactly how long. Too many questions ... and all of them just a distraction from the big one, the only one that mattered. Yes, he was still alive. But why? Why the hell hadn't they just cut his throat or put a bullet in his brain?
And what about Isko? Efrim had heard them beating on his friends, heard Isko cry out, but nothing after that. Guilt weighed on him. The others had been greedy little shits, just like Efrim himself. They'd all known what they were getting into. But Isko had only gotten involved because he and Efrim had been friends forever, and now that loyalty had led him here.
The sway of the boat and the hum of its engine as they cut across the water helped to calm him, let him think. Did he have something Machii wanted, some bit of information? Or maybe ... shit, maybe they'd admired his work. Maybe they'd take him into their operation, make him earn back the money he'd cost them. Shit, was that even possible?
He tasted copper. Blood. Wanted to spit it out, but the zebra duct tape blocked his mouth so he had to swallow, and only then did he realize how much harder it had become to breathe. How much thinner the wheeze coming from his one open nostril sounded. His chest began to hurt and he tried to quicken and deepen each breath, but panic ignited in his brain. Blood or mucus or some combination had started pooling, closing off his last breathing passage, and blackness crept in at the edges of his mind.
Efrim shoved his tongue out. Up and down, working the edges of the zebra duct tape. Strongest muscle in the body, they said, and he jammed it against the tape, wheezing, panicking.
One of Machii's men cursed in Tagalog and kicked him in the side. Cracked ribs broke and he felt something stabbing inside him, but then his tongue poked out the top of his mouth, forcing the duct tape away from his upper lip, and he dragged in a breath of sweet Pacific Ocean air that had been filtered through a dirty laundry bag. Pain singing in his broken ribs, Efrim sighed and let his body relax and he said nothing, just kept working at the zebra duct tape to guarantee he'd continue to breathe.
He'd barely noticed that the boat had slowed. Now as he gratefully inhaled, he felt the floor rocking harder beneath him and listened to the engine and realized the skipper had throttled down, nearly to a stop. His pulse quickened and his thoughts spun. What were the magic words, here? What could he say to convince Machii?
Hands grabbed his ankles, dragged him across the wheelhouse floor. He'd barely managed the first syllable of his pleading when those hands hauled him over the threshold of the hatch and out onto the deck. His ribs bumped up over the four-inch threshold and he screamed as things tore inside him.
"Shut him up," a voice said, clipped words, an audible snarl.
"Please ...," he groaned. Did he dare say the man's name, reveal he knew exactly who'd taken him, and why? Maybe he'd better not. But as he curled into a fetal ball, trying to make himself the smallest target, hoping to protect the shattered ribs that were daggers now inside him, he couldn't stop the words from coming. "Machii, please, I can help."
The zebra duct tape had come almost completely free of his lips.
Someone crouched beside him, he heard the shuffle of their shoes and a grunt, and then a strong hand clamped over his face as if to shush him.
"Don't talk," someone said quietly. "Better for you."
He wanted to ask about Isko but kept his mouth shut.
Other hands took hold of him, hauled him up from the deck, forced him to stand. He grunted quietly, hissed between his teeth, leaned on the unbroken leg. Efrim wanted to whisper further pleas, but if silence would be better for him then he would do his best. He stood on one foot on the deck, letting the hands clutching at his bloodied clothing hold him in place. The boat swayed, the engine idled, and he listened to men grunt and murmur to one another as something was dumped overboard. Half a dozen somethings, hitting the water with heavy splashes, and tears spilled from his eyes, both because he knew those heavy somethings had been his friends and because he was not among them.
Machii. He wanted to speak up again, to make his case, to ask what the hell was going on.
When strong hands clutched his head, he wanted to cry out, but still he bit his tongue. Then he felt warm breath, even through the fabric of the laundry bag, and Machii spoke to him.
"You wonder why you're still in the land of the living."
Efrim would have nodded, but Machii held his head firmly.
"I'll tell you. I liked you, Ef. I knew you were dumb as a rock, but I liked you. What I did not understand was precisely how dumb you really were. You made me regret liking you. You hurt my feelings, Ef."
For half a second, Efrim didn't know what Machii wanted him to do. But Machii hadn't been talking to him. Hands lifted him. Broken bones ground together, but he struggled anyway as they raised him off the deck. Fear washed over him. He thrashed, screaming for them to stop, shouting for Machii as if the man were his friend instead of a brutal, merciless, soulless killer. Even then, it still hadn't clicked for Efrim ... not until he felt himself hoisted, felt the strength of the men carrying him as they cocked their arms.
They hurled him into nothing. Efrim screamed inside the dirty laundry bag, his nostrils still clogged with his blood. The bag flew off as he fell and he had a glimpse of the boat's hull and then he hit the water, plunging deep, the shock of it driving all the air from his lungs in one drowning bellow. He snapped his mouth shut, eyes bulging, adjusting, more light underwater than there had been inside that bag. If only he'd taken a breath and held it, he might have a moment.
Dumb. Efrim knew the level of his own stupidity. It had put him here. Yet the shock of the water snapped his thoughts into some order of clarity and he twisted around, chest already burning for air, and spotted the broken and bloody corpses of his friends surrounding him.
One of those corpses opened its eyes.
Isko. Not dead after all. The water had shocked him backed to consciousness, and now as Efrim stared in astonishment Isko glanced about underwater, then turned and started to swim past the bodies of their dead friends.
Go, brother. Go! Efrim thought.
Pain screaming in his broken limbs, he kicked toward the surface, knowing Machii would still kill him but thinking he could buy Isko a moment or two and wanting only, in that moment, not to drown. Anything but that. Anything but the suffocating pressure that crushed his chest and made his brain cry out for him to open his mouth, to inhale, to breathe.
Something dark flashed by in the water. Nothing mattered but breathing, and yet somehow a deeper fear was triggered in the most primal part of his brain. From the corner of his eye he saw a corpse jerk, tugged, bleeding into the water.
Efrim reached the surface, gasping for breath, sucking in sweet blessed air.
Something bumped his thigh, nudged him hard, and then he felt razor teeth clamp down and rip his flesh, felt himself dragged and twisted, and he screamed as he went under for a second time.
Eyes open, in a cloud of his own blood, mind numb, he saw the sharks feeding on the bodies floating around him. Saw the cold, dull, black eyes of the one knifing toward him. The one who would end him.
Swim, Isko, he thought.
The airplane jostled Alex Simmons awake. His heart jumped and he gripped the armrest, braced for something ugly. The Walter Mosley novel on his lap slipped to the floor with a thump and he knew he'd lost his page. The plane juddered again, the overhead bins rattling, and he heard the whine of the engines as the plane began to slow, in the midst of its descent.
"You're adorable when you're scared out of your mind," Sami said.
Alex wiped a bit of sleep drool from his mouth as he sat up straighter in his seat. "Not scared. Just sleeping."
"Uh-huh. Tell that to the armrest you just manhandled."
He cocked his head and glanced sidelong at his wife. "I'll tell you what's gonna get manhandled."
Sami arched an eyebrow and pursed her lips. "Mmm-hmm. Okay. We get into a room all our own and I'll show you what it's like to be 'womanhandled.' Till then, you just do some breathing exercises."
Alex exhaled loudly, a smile on his face. He'd planned to watch movies and read through most of the ten-hour flight from Chicago to Honolulu, but instead he'd slept off and on throughout the journey, which was for the best considering the electrical current of anxiety that ran through him anytime he boarded a plane. All his life he'd had this fear, and it infuriated him. He'd faced up to bullies as a kid and been beaten in parking lots. He'd driven too damn fast and survived a crash off a bridge into frigid water that should have broken or drowned him. He'd served a tour in Iraq and come home with a bullet hole in his shoulder and a host of images seared into his brain that he'd never share with his wife or his daughter. Hell, he'd married a woman so sharp, so funny, so beautiful, that she still intimidated him most days, and their six-year-old daughter Tasha was shaping up to be everything her momma was and more.
But put him on a fucking airplane and even the little happy pill that was supposed to smooth out the static buzzkill of his flying fear couldn't do the job.
Alex reached over, slid his hand behind Sami's neck, and bent to kiss her with lips still slicked with his naptime drool. She laughed and ewwed and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, but when he went to kiss her again she sank against him with the same sultry surrender that always made him feel like himself again. Sami's husband. He'd had a lot of roles in his life, but that and Tasha's daddy were his favorites by far.
"You all right?" she asked quietly.
The landing gear started to grind and whine as it deployed. Alex jumped a little and then nodded. Landing gear, that was a good sign. He studied Sami, the tight coils of her close-cropped hair, the copper gleam of her eyes, the smile lines at the corners of her mouth. In her lap she held a biography of a queen he'd never heard of, and that seemed right to him. Sami would teach their daughter to enter every room like a queen, to claim her authority. Alex had a lot of what his own mother had called backbone. He had plenty of swagger to him, and he still stepped up, fists clenched, if a situation warranted. But day by day over the past eight years with Sami, he'd been teaching himself to step back when she wanted to step up.
"Perfect," he said. "I'm perfect."
Sami smirked. Any other time she'd have teased him about claiming perfection, but she must have figured she'd teased him enough for one flight. Anxiety still buzzed inside him, but Alex exhaled again and felt some of the tension go out of him. He bent to pick up the book he'd dropped, flipped through until he found the last page he could remember having read, and folded it down. He made a show of dog-earing the page. Sami thought anyone who didn't use a bookmark had to be a monster.
"You ready for this?" she asked. "Seeing Harry again?"
"I'm not focused on Harry."
"It's his reunion."
"Nah. Don't say that. It's my reunion.
Harry's just paying for it."
Sami arched that eyebrow again.
"Alexander. You can't pretend our host is invisible, no matter how much you may want to. He paid for our plane tickets. We're staying in his home tonight. We'll be on his boat all week."
Alex pointed a finger at her. "True. It's just a shame he has to be there with us."
"You said you'd play nice. The guy was your friend once upon a time."
He nodded slowly, remembering those days. Harry Curtis hadn't just been a friend; he'd been one of Alex's closest friends. There had been eight of them then, a disparate group of students at Brown University who'd arrived in Providence, Rhode Island, as freshmen hoping they would finally fit in. Brown was an Ivy League school, after all, a whole campus full of kids who had been competitors in high school, kids who weren't kids anymore, kids who were serious about where life was going to take them next. Only life on College Hill hadn't been like that at all. Students' at Brown might've been smarter than average when it came to schoolwork, but the alcohol still flowed freely and the school had its fair share of vomiting, ignorance, and campus rape.
The eight of them had found one another sophomore year, mostly because of Harry Curtis, who played soccer but didn't spend all his time with the team. Who liked to host parties and get people laughing and dancing, but who never seemed to get so drunk himself that he'd shirk those duties. Who double majored in philosophy and business because he knew manipulation was the key to corporate success. That last bit had amused them all through their college careers, right up until it became clear how serious Harry felt about it. How little conscience he had. How profoundly he believed that anyone who engaged in business took on the risk of ending up well-and-truly-fucked by a merciless bastard who would take advantage of any flaw, any misstep. Harry Curtis aspired to become that merciless bastard.
As far as Alex knew, he'd fulfilled those aspirations.
In college, though, they'd loved Harry in spite of himself. Luisa had even slept with him once, on a weekend they were all up in Vermont together, hiking the snowy woods and skiing and drinking peppermint schnapps, Cat playing guitar by the chalet's fireplace at night, Alex curled up on the sofa with Alliyah, which meant it had to be February of their junior year, because that mistake hadn't lasted longer than February. The shortest month, thank God. They'd stayed friends, just like Harry and Luisa had stayed friends. Just like they'd all stayed friends.
Until Derek Li had thrown himself off the library roof because he'd gotten a C on his biochemistry mid-term, fucking his whole semester. Derek, who'd been the kindest of them, somehow both the quietest and the funniest of them. Derek, with his passion for 1980s pop and movies everyone else hated. Derek, who'd been the best of them.
"Who does that?" Harry had said. They'd been sitting under a shade tree on the Main Green, the seven of them who remained now that Derek had left them. Alex and Harry and Nils. Luisa and Cat and Alliyah and Nalani.
"I wish I'd known," Cat had said, wiping at her tears. "I wish he'd talked to me."
Alex had felt numb. Sick. He'd cradled his head in his hands. "The poor bastard, thinking this was the answer."
Harry had scoffed. Alex had twisted to stare at him, sure it must have been a cough or something. But the others were looking, too, and Harry's facial expression seemed clear enough.
"Fuck that guy," he'd said, climbing to his feet, glancing around at them all with disdain. "He quit. You play to win, that means you've got to deal with it on those occasions when you lose. Derek wasn't playing to win. He didn't know what he was even working for. Guys like that, they're always gonna lose."
"You piece of shit," Alliyah had breathed. "He's dead. It's not a game."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Devil Sharks"
Copyright © 2018 Daring Greatly Corporation.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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