Vital Signs dmb-2, page 22part #2 of Dr. Marissa Blumenthal Series
Marissa followed along, enjoying the surroundings more than the boats. The day was glorious. A hot, tropical sun blazed in the middle of an azure sky. Large cumulus clouds dotted the horizon particularly over the peaks of the neighboring islands. To the north in the far distance a group of dark clouds clustered, suggesting a thunderstorm on the way.
"Here's a good one," Wendy said. She'd stopped at a boat slip where one of the larger boats was moored. The name emblazoned on the transom was "Oz." It was a cabin cruiser, painted white, with a spacious cockpit. Several swivel deep-sea fishing chairs were mounted there. Against the forward bulkhead a long row of scuba tanks was secured.
"What makes this one better than the others?" Marissa asked.
"This one has a nice dive platform right at the water's edge," Wendy said, pointing to a grate like wooden structure that hung from the transom of the boat.
"I can also tell there's a compressor on board. That means they can fill their own scuba tanks.
Besides, it looks like it's about fifty feet. That means it will be nice and stable."
"I see," Marissa said. She was impressed that Wendy knew so much about it. She felt she was in good hands.
"You ladies interested in fishing or diving?" a bearded man asked.
"Possibly," Wendy said.
"What's the charge for a full day's divine. " "Come on aboard and we'll discuss it," the man told her.
"Name's Rafe Murray. I'm the captain of this vessel."
With experienced steps, Wendy marched out on the two-foot wide planks that separated the boat' slips and swung herself onto the gunwale of the Oz. Then she stepped down onto the deck of the boat.
Marissa tried to follow with the same bravado, but hesitated with one foot on the dock and one foot on the boat. The captain lent her a hand for balance and she was able to step on board.
A handsome, muscular younger man came out of the cabin. He smiled and tipped his lived-in Australian hat to the women.
"This here's my first mate and dive master, Wynn Jones," the captain said.
"Knows the reef like the back of his hand, he does."
Wendy asked if they might tour the boat, then followed the agreeable captain from bow to stern. Satisfied, she sat down in the cabin with the captain and bargained for an all-day dive rate.
Marissa had never seen this tough side of her friend.
Eventually a deal was struck and Wendy and Rafe shook hands. At that point, the captain asked if the women would care for a couple of "stubbies," which Marissa soon learned were small brown bottles of beer.
After the beer, Marissa and Wend climbed up onto the gunwale and leaped to the dock. Wynn gave Marissa a hand to make sure she made it.
"Goddamn cheap son-of-a-bitch bastard Yanks," the captain said as Wynn rejoined him in the cabin.
"She got me down so low it will barely pay for the petrol."
"We haven't been out for four days," Wynn reminded him.
"We'll just go to the closest reef and let them look at some dead staghorn coral. It will serve'm right."
"Hello!" a voice called.
"Now what?" Rafe said. He squinted through the cabin door.
"Maybe things are looking up. We got a Nip-" "I don't think he's a Nip," Wynn said.
"He looks Chinese to me."
Rafe and Wynn walked out into the afternoon sunlight.
"What can I do for you, sir?" Rafe called to the man on the pier.
"Are you available for charter tomorrow?" the man said.
"What do you have in mind?" Rafe asked. He could always forget the women.
"I want to do some serious fishing on the outer wall of the. reef," the man said.
"We're at your service," Rafe said.
"But the outer reef is forty nautical miles away. It'll be somewhat dear."
"I'm prepared to pay, "the man said.
"But I don't like crowds.
You got many people scheduled tomorrow?"
Rafe raised his eyebrows at Wynn, trying to decide what to say. He didn't want to lose this Chinese man's money, but he didn't want to pass up the Yanks' money either.
Rafe turned back to the Chinese man.
"We just signed up a couple of ladies to do some diving," he said.
"But I can always cancel them."
"Two ladies won't bother my fishing," the man said.
"But leave it at that. No more passengers."
"Fine by me," Rafe said, trying to hide his excitement.
"Come on aboard and we'll make the necessary arrangements. For a day's charter to the outer reef, we'll need some money up front."
Nimbly, the Chinese man jumped on board.
"The name's Harry Wong," he said.
"I don't have a lot of time at the moment.
How about two hundred dollars to reserve the boat?" He opened his wallet and took out the money.
Rafe took the bills.
"This will do just fine," he said.
"Any particular time you'd like to depart?"
"What time did you tell those women?" the man asked.
"I told them eight o'clock," Rafe said.
"But that can change."
"Eight is fine," the man said.
"But I might want to sleep on the way out to the outer reef. Do you have a cabin I could use?" "Absolutely," Rafe said.
"You can use the main cabin."
The Chinese man smiled.
"See you at eight," he said. He leaped from the boat to the pier, then walked briskly away.
Willy Tong was pleased. He knew Ned Kelly would be too.
The only weak part of the whole plan had been the problem of getting the women to the outer reef. Now that seemed assured.
He entered The Crab, a pub along the waterfront, and ordered an amber. He hadn't had a chance to finish his beer when Ned showed up.
"How'd it go, mate?" Ned asked as he hopped onto a barstool.
"Smooth as silk," Willy said. He told Ned the details.
"Perfect!" Ned said.
"I didn't have any trouble either. I rented one of those big powerboats that have enough engine to drive a supertanker. Come on, finish your beer. We got to go buy bait.
A lot of bait."
The Hamilton Island Resort had so many ethnic restaurants to choose from, Marissa and Wendy had trouble making up their minds. They eventually settled on Polynesian, thinking it was the closest thing to local. To get into the mood they had purchased bright floral-print sarongs in the hotel's gift shop.
Having concluded the arrangements for the following day's diving, Marissa and Wendy had spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around the pool, soaking up the warm tropical sun.
Although it hadn't been crowded, there had been enough sunbathers poolside to make people-watching interesting. They'd even struck up a conversation with several single men who were intrigued to discover the women hailed from Boston.
Marissa was amazed at the number of Australians who had visited the States. Many had made it to Boston. Australia seemed to be a land of travelers. The six weeks' holiday they got every year had to be a boon to the adventurous.
"Let's order some champagne to celebrate being here," Wendy suggested.
"I'm so excited about tomorrow, I can't stand it."
The food was "interesting," as Wendy had put it, but pork wasn't Marissa's favorite. And eating off large tropical leaves didn't strike her as appetizing.
While they were waiting for dessert, Marissa looked at Wendy.
"Have you been thinking much about Gustave?" she asked.
"Of course," Wendy said.
"Be hard not to, even though I'm trying. Have you been thinking about Robert?"
Marissa admitted that she had.
"It started on the plane," she said.
"Do you think I ought to call? I may have overreacted about Donna."
"Go ahead and give him a call," Wendy said.
"If it's on your mind, I think you should do it.
The dessert arrived. It was called Coconut Extravaganza. They both tried it. Wendy said she thought it was so-so. She put down her spoon.
"I don't think it's worth the calories."
Marissa leaned forward.
"Wendy," she said with a lowered voice.
"There is an Asian man behind you who's been watching us.
Wendy responded by twisting in her seat.
"Where?" she asked.
Marissa grabbed her arm.
"Don't look," she said.
Wendy faced her companion.
"What do you mean, don't look?
How am I supposed to see who you mean?"
"Be subtle!" Marissa whispered.
"He's three tables behind you, he's with a dark-haired man whose face I can't see. Uh oh!"
"What's the matter?" Wendy asked.
"The guy with the dark hair is looking this way now," Marissa said.
Wendy couldn't contain herself any longer. She twisted around again. Turning back to Marissa, she said, "Well, so what? They like our new sarongs."
"There's something about the Asian man that makes me feel uncomfortable," Marissa said.
"It's almost a visceral reaction."
"Do you recognize him?" Wendy asked.
"No," Marissa admitted.
"Maybe he reminds you of those creeps at the Women's Clinic," Wendy suggested.
"That's a thought," Marissa agreed.
"Maybe he's from the People's Republic," Wendy said.
"Everybody that I know who's gone to China has told me that they stare to beat the band."
"He's driving me crazy," Marissa said, forcing herself to look away.
"If you're finished, let's get out of here."
"I'm done," Wendy said, tossing her napkin over her coconut extravaganza, Emerging from the dining room into the outdoors, Marissa looked up in awe. She had never witnessed such stars as she did in the velvety purple of the Australian night. Gazing at their intensity, she felt instantly better. She wondered why she was so sensitive about that Asian. After all, he'd been far across the room from them.
Back in the hotel room, Marissa sat down on the edge of her bed and figured out what time it was in the States.
"It's seven fifteen in the morning in Boston," she said.
"You call first," Wendy said. She stretched out on the bed.
With trembling fingers, Marissa dialed her home. As the distant phone rang, she tried to think of what she would say. By the fourth ring, she knew Robert wasn't home. Just to be certain, she let it ring ten times before hanging up. She turned to Wendy.
"The bastard's not home," Marissa said.
"And he never leaves for the office before eight."
"Maybe he's on a business trip," Wendy said.
"Fat chance," Marissa said.
"He's probably with Donna."
"Now don't jump to conclusions," Wendy warned.
"There are probably plenty of explanations. Let's see what happens to me."
She sat up and dialed her number.
Marissa watched as Wendy waited. Finally Wendy dropped the receiver back into its cradle.
"Gustave's not home either," she said.
"Maybe they're having breakfast together." She tried to snidle.
Gustave is a surgeon," Marissa said.
"What time does he usually leave for work?"
"About seven-thirty," Wendy said.
"Unless he has surgery. It's true he's been doing a lot of surgery lately."
"Well, there you go," Marissa said.
"I suppose," Wendy said. She didn't sound convinced.
"Let's go for a walk," Marissa said. She stood up and stretched out a hand for her friend. Together they wandered out onto the beach. For a while neither of them said a word.
"I have a bad feeling about my marriage," Marissa said at last.
"Lately Robert and I seem to see everything differently. It isn't just the mess with Donna."
"I have to say this infertility business has put an enormous strain on Gustave and me."
"And to think of the promise our relationship started with."
The women stopped. Their eyes had adjusted to the darkness.
Ahead they saw the silhouette of a couple nestled in an embrace.
"Makes me feel nostalgic," Wendy said.
"Me too," Marissa agreed.
"Maybe we'd better head in another direction."
They wandered back to the resort. There they happened to pass by a couple with a crying toddler in a stroller. Both the man and the woman were happily window-shopping, ignoring the wailing child.
"Can you believe those people, bringing such a small child out to an island like this?" Wendy said.
"Poor thing is probably sunburned."
"I think it's awful for them to keep the child up this late," Marissa said with equal vehemence.
"It's obvious the child is exhausted."
Marissa caught Wendy's eye. They both smiled at each other, then shook their heads.
"Envy is a terrible thing," Wendy said.
"At least we recognize it for what it is," Marissa said.
Wendy had Marissa up at the crack of dawn for a big English breakfast of coffee, eggs, bacon, and toast on their lanai. As they ate, a huge tropical sun rose into a cloudless sky. They got to the boat just before eight and the captain already had both diesels idling. After first tossing on board their shoulder bags with their bathing suits and other paraphernalia, Wendy and Marissa climbed over the gunwale.
"G'day!" Rafe said.
"Ready for adventure?"
"You bet," Wendy said.
"You ladies mind lending a hand here?" Rafe asked.
"Not at all," Wendy said.
"Then cast off those stern lines when I give a yell," Rafe said.
He then went into the cabin. Wynn was already out on the bow making preparations. The sun glistened off his shirtless back.
Marissa felt the boat tremble as the engines were revved up.
Wynn began to release the bowlines.
"Okay, ladies," Rafe yelled.
Wendy took the starboard line, Marissa the port. They slipped them from their cleats and tossed them onto the dock. With a shudder, the boat moved out of the slip.
Until they got out of the marina, Marissa and Wendy stayed in the stern, watching the activity in the bustling port. Once the boat reached open water and the captain increased their speed, they went forward to the cabin.
Wynn was still on the bow deck, lounging agaiast one of the two dinghies, smoking a cigarette. Marissa noticed he was sporting a different hat, one just as woebegone as the day before, but with a fishnet around the hatband for a decorative touch.
Marissa spotted something on deck that had not been there the day before: a cage made of heavy steel bars. At its top it was attached by a cable to one of the forward davits.
"What's the cage for?" Marissa yelled over the sound of the engines. She pointed through the windshield.
"That there is a shark cage," Rafe said, eyeing an upcoming buoy.
"What the hell is that for?" Marissa asked. She turned to Wendy, who shrugged.
"We're not going someplace where there are sharks, are we?" Wendy asked Rafe.
"This is the ocean," Rafe yelled.
"Sharks are in the ocean.
There's always the chance that one might be around. But relax!
The cage is just a precaution, especially on the outer reef where I'm taking you two lucky ladies. The outer reef's where all the fish are as well as the best coral. Even the visibility is the best out there."
"I don't want to see any sharks," Marissa yelled.
"Probably won'"" Rafe yelled in reply, "It's Wynn who wants the cage. Just to be safe. It's like a seat belt."
Marissa led Wendy down into the
"I don't like the sound of this," Marissa said urgently.
"Shark cage! What are we getting ourselves into?"
"Marissa, calm down!" Wendy said.
"Everything the captain said is right. Even in Hawaii I saw sharks on occasion. But they don't bother divers. I think we should be impressed that these guys even have a shark cage. It just means they're very careful."
"You're not concerned?" Marissa asked.
"Not in the slightest," Wendy said.
"Come on, don't get yourself all worked up. You're going to love this, believe me."
Marissa studied her friend's face. She obviously believed what she was saying.
"Okay," Marissa said.
"If you can honestly tell me it will be safe, I'll try and relax. I just don't like the idea of sharks. I've always had a mild phobia for the ocean that hasn't kept me out of it, but it certainly has made me aware when I'm in it. And as I said before, I don't like slippery, slimy creatures."
"I can personally guarantee you will not have to touch one slippery, slimy creature," Wendy said.
Marissa and Wendy felt the boat shudder as it was pushed up to full throttle.
"Come on," Wendy urged.
"Let's go up on deck and enjoy this."
Buoyed by her friend's enthusiasm, Marissa followed her on deck.
The boat headed almost due east, directly into the rising sun.
At first they were cruising through clear turquoise water, but soon they began to pass over the reef itself. Then the water became a deeper blue.
Wendy got Wynn to break out the scuba gear so she could check it out. She went over all the technical aspects with Marissa to refresh her memory.
Once all the diving gear had been checked, Marissa and Wendy sat in the sport-fishing chairs and enjoyed the spectacular view.
"I'm surprised that we're the only ones on such a large boat," Wendy said to Wynn when he joined them.
"It's our off-season," Wynn explained.
"If you came back in September or October, we'd be full to the gunwales," "Is it better then?" Wendy asked.
"You can count on the weather more," Wynn said.
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