Home > Dead in the Water (Deep Six #6)(6)

Dead in the Water (Deep Six #6)(6)
Author: Julie Ann Walker

   When she turned and sauntered down the passageway, her hips swishing dramatically, he got the distinct impression the approaching storm was the very least of his worries.



Chapter 2


      11:52 PM...



   On the recommendation of a local, William White and his three best friends found themselves at Schooner Wharf Bar in Key West.

   “Oysters are good and the beer is better,” the old-timer running the souvenir shop had told them.

   Will wasn’t a fan of Gulf oysters. Too meaty. Too dirty tasting. And their shells were all stove to hell, as they liked to say where he was from. A man couldn’t suck one of the slimy suckers down the ol’ gullet without getting a shard or two of crumbly black junk stuck on his tongue or lips.

   Will far preferred the clean, bright-tasting eastern oysters found in New England.

   But the souvenir shop owner had been spot-on about the beer. It was cold and plentiful, and that’s really all Will and his friends cared about. Plus, the band in the corner sang nineties covers, and the clientele was a mix of tourists and Conchs—Will had learned that’s what the natives call themselves. So it was a humdinger of a crowd all-in-all.

   Not a bad way to spend a few days while the hurricane made its way to the mainland.

   And once she’s gone, we’ll finish what we came down here to do, he thought determinedly, taking a long pull from his pint glass and welcoming the bitter, herbal taste of hops on his tongue.

   He barely gave the three guys who grabbed the barstools across from him and his friends a glance when they first sat down. But his ears perked right up when the bartender shambled over to the newcomers and, by way of welcome, asked loudly, “You boys find the Santa Cristina’s treasure yet?”

   One of the new arrivals, a dark-haired fella who would’ve looked right at home wearing buckskin and feathers, shook his head and told the bartender, “Not yet. But we’re getting closer.”

   Will glanced meaningfully at Fin, widening his eyes because they both knew the man was lying through his teeth. They had an inside source that assured them the men and women of Deep Six Salvage had located the cache of riches and had planned that very day to bring the treasure up from the ocean floor.

   “Julia run you off Wayfarer Island?” the bartender asked the trio.

   Another dark-haired dude answered. By the sound of his accent, Will pegged him for a New Yorker. Or maybe a New Jerseyan. “Thought it was best to get Wayfarer II out of harm’s way. Got her anchored in the marina.” The man hitched his chin toward the long dock and piers that ran into the water outside the bar.

   Jace shoved an elbow into Will’s ribs and it took herculean effort not to grunt. Of the four of them, Jace looked the most like the quintessential New England cod fisherman. He had the full head of wavy hair, the dark beard, the stevedore’s build that’d made all the high school hotties spleeny in their younger days.

   Then and now, the sonofabitch didn’t know his own strength.

   Will turned and gave Jace a look that said, Ayuh. I heard. And how about you go easy on the ribs, eh? Then he barely refrained from groaning aloud because Brady spoke up, his voice raised theatrically.

   “Let’s book it after this round!” Brady made a show of downing the beer in his glass. “I’m tired and my hotel bed is callin’ my name.”

   Leaning around Jace’s massive frame—Jace and Brady were polar opposites in appearance. As dark and burly as Jace was, that’s how blond and spritely Brady was—Will faked a smile at Brady and said through his clenched teeth, “Be cool, man.”

   “What?” Brady blinked. “I’m cool like ice.”

   Will rolled his eyes before facing forward again. He had to work hard not to stare at the trio of treasure hunters. He only managed it by concentrating on his beer. Hard. So hard anyone looking at him might think the secrets of the universe were floating somewhere inside his pint glass.

   Acting was not his forte. It wasn’t any of their fortes, come to think of it. And in the ten minutes it took them to finish the pitcher of beer and tab out, he thought it a wonder their body language didn’t tell everyone in Schooner Wharf Bar precisely what they’d come to Key West to do.

   Namely, pull off a heist.

   And who’d a thunk it? Will wondered. Certainly not him. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

   He and his friends could claim a long line of scrappy New England fishermen as their ancestors. Strong men. Hardworking men. Honest men. But their fathers had begun to struggle even before the four of them graduated high school. Commercial cod fishing had collapsed in their hometown because the persnickety fishes liked cold water, and the Gulf of Maine had been particularly affected by climate change. The water there had risen three degrees in the last decade alone, ninety-nine percent faster than the rest of the oceans.

   By the time Will and his buddies were handed their diplomas, there was a distinct lack of opportunity in the area. They’d done the best they could, but it’d been tough to watch as friends and family members, despondent over the lack of jobs, fell victim to the opioid epidemic. And eventually Will and his friends had been forced to move their kids and their wives back into their parents’ houses when the cost of a two-bedroom apartment in town exceeded the sixteen dollars per hour they made working at the local cannery.

   American Dream my ass! he thought bitterly. The American Dream had driven Jace to try his hand with Lady Luck and bet the deed to his father’s house on a horse race. A bet he’d lost, and now here they all were, 2000 miles from home and dead set on turning themselves into criminals.

   “It’s gotta be on the ship, doncha think?” Fin whispered once they were outside the bar. The warm, moist air smelled familiar, fishy, and it made Fin’s auburn curls dance around his head. “I mean, they probably loaded it up and sailed it here to keep it safe from the storm.”

   “You think they were able to salvage it all in one day?” Brady countered. “The king tide just rolled in last night and—”

   “Maybe they didn’t get all of it,” Will was quick to interject. “But we don’t want all of it, right? We just want some. We just want enough.”

   That was how they’d all rationalized it when Jace came to them with the plan and begging for their help. They’d leave plenty for the salvors who’d found the loot. More than enough.

   Jace dragged a hand down his thick beard. “So what do we do now?”

   “Let’s find the ship first and see what we see.” Will gave a decisive jerk of his chin. “Then we can decide what comes next, ayuh?”

   “Ayuh,” all three of his buddies answered.

   It didn’t take them long to locate the Wayfarer II. Most of the vessels anchored in the marina were small fishing boats or pleasure cruisers. The big salvage ship reminded Will of that old Sesame Street song. One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong.

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