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PrintPeter Makuck, Blue Distance

Wendell didn’t want to be thinking bitter thoughts. Be thinking period. That’s why he sat at the open-sided bar on The Reef’s back deck. A low sun left coppered streaks on the water. Oleanders swayed along the walkway to the finger piers where the charter boats moored. P.J. asked if he needed another beer.

Wendell checked his watch. Another might put him late, but he was uneasy about the arrival of these old friends. “Yeah, let’s do it.”

P.J. was in a good mood, steering his belly back and forth behind the bar. He pulled the Killian’s tap and nodded toward Wendell’s boat. “What’s with all them tanks in the skiff?”

“Some friends want to go wreck diving tomorrow.”

He plunked down the mug. “You? You got friends?”

“Well, it depends on definition, I guess.”

P.J. snorted. “Definitions. Man, you bad as Bill Clinton.” He looked out over the water. “Weather channel’s calling for light and variable.”

“So I hear.”

“Be nice out there tomorrow,” said P.J. “Flat as bird shit on a Buick.”

Wendell didn’t feel like talking. And he wasn’t ready for Kevin and Yvonne and their teenage son to arrive from Pennsylvania. In graduate school, Wendell had been with Yvonne but when he couldn’t make up his mind, she began seeing Kevin. And having ranted about how bourgeois it was to be possessive, he was hard put to say anything once Yvonne and Kevin became serious. They continued to play cutthroat tennis, go to films together, and have midnight beers at the Ron-Day-Voo. They had even kept up with each other until a year ago when Wendell moved down to the coast and cut himself off, stopped answering letters.

“Hey,” said Jocko. “I read this book and it shows how those weather guys don’t know dick.” Jocko had long curly hair and wore a silver stud in his ear. An African gray parrot called the Admiral rode on his shoulder and often left a white streak down the back of his Hawaiian shirts.

“Oh, he read a book,” said P.J., and stirred the air with his forefinger. “He’s always got to tell us about these books he’s reading so we won’t think he’s a loser.”

Loser. Wendell winced at the word. This time he had a list, had seen to details, checked things off, planned for the unforeseen. Yvonne and Kevin would be impressed. He was ready for anything, Kevin’s patented condescending smirk included.

Jocko said, “I don’t have no college degree, but if I did, I wouldn’t be tending bar.”

“Wouldn’t be tending bar,” squawked the Admiral, then began preening his wing.

The drinkers hooted. One of them said to P.J., “The Admiral nailed you, man.”

Wendell watched a 50’ Viking with outriggers and a tuna tower idle along the waterfront. Five sun-burned clients stood in the cockpit laughing and drinking beer. The skipper reversed its screws. The big diesels gargled. He watched the mate in the bow grab the mooring lines from a piling. The boat was probably some rich guy’s tax write-off. Wendell knew he needed to start thinking about money, but it was more pleasant just to watch the tall oleander bushes along the dock sway their red and white blossoms. Yvonne—she was lovely beyond words.

Jocko was saying that this sorry state needed a lotto. “I’d get me a ticket every day, change my luck.”

P.J. stirred the air with his forefinger again and began to sing “Beautiful Dreamer.”

“Hey, don’t knock luck. You never know.”

Jocko reminded Wendell of Parlay, a drunk he’d worked with a long time ago, heavy construction. Parlay was always looking to place a bet, his Friday paycheck gone before he got it. Old Parlay would fit right in at The Reef. Jocko repaired outboards for cash, was divorced and hiding out. Lenny, on the other side of the bar, detailed boats, was a fiberglass pro, an ace at repairing gelcoat dings and gouges. P.J. had been a cop—dirty, some said. Fat Ernie, the chef, had a habit and sold weed from the kitchen. And Wendell, well, it was hard to deny that the Reef often had the feel of a B-movie he was trapped in.

Jocko looked toward the end of the floating dock and said, “Dell, why’d you come down in the skiff?”

Wendell said, “Car traffic. Fourth of July weekend. I was afraid the island might sink with all the tourists.”

“Hey, Dell.” He got up and came around the corner of the bar, leaned in close, and lowered his voice. “Any chance I could borrow the boat for a few hours on Sunday?”

Wendell asked what he needed it for.

Jocko winked, “I figure I’d just take her for a little swim out by Sand Dollar Island.”

Jocko never asked for favors. Last year he had replaced a bilge pump on the skiff for cost. Perky-eyed, the parrot looked at Wendell, whistled and gave his gray head a quizzical tilt.

“What’s in it for the Admiral?”

“Him?” said Jocko. “He likes to watch.”

Wendell shook his head and looked at the Admiral: “Twisted.”

“Twisted!” squawked the Admiral.

He laughed. “Sure, give me a call.” He stood up and took a deep breath. “I’ve got to go.”

As Wendell was freeing the bow line, a girl with long brown legs walked down the dock looking at boats and drinking a strawberry daiquiri through a straw. She gave him a big smile. It would have been easy to chat, ask if she thought her daiquiri might like to go for a ride. Her face was familiar, reminded him of Jenelle Winters, a former student he’d rather forget, lovely though she was. He’d also rather forget one of Kevin’s digs: You’re only as old as the women you feel.

He eased the skiff through the no-wake zone, picked up speed at the end of the channel, and swung west under the bridge. Water was a dark mirror streaked with red and orange. A brown pelican atop a channel marker gave him a long disapproving look.

***

Kevin had helped him get a job in the county school system where he last taught. This was after Wendell’s divorce from Betty. Betty was a police dispatcher. Toward the end, she hit him in the face with a cup of hot coffee. She could lose her job, she screamed, if he ever got busted for possession. But their problems were more basic than weed. Betty was ambitious and wanted what Wendell’s country club parents already had. He wanted none of it, wanted to tell her the trip wasn’t worth the effort, but he never did. They weren’t on the same page, the whole foggy thing a mistake.

He throttled back and idled up the canal. The house had lots of plate glass to show off the vaulted ceiling and was set back in a grove of live oak and palmetto. A wall of yucca stood on the lawn’s edge in front of the screened-in porch, its blossoms like phosphorus in the long shadows. Kevin was standing on the seawall.

“Wendell P. Bennett, III. Right on time, as usual.”

“Sorry,” said Wendell. “Got hung up. You have any trouble finding the place?”

“No, good directions,” said Kevin.

He tied the boat, fixed the fenders, and climbed up.

They shook hands. Grinning, Kevin said, “You asshole.” He had a buzz-cut and small gray eyes that crowded his nose. He was trim and muscular. He used to try to get Wendell to jog with him, but Wendell had a few strong opinions about health clowns and sports junkies, had bad memories of tennis camps, country club tournaments, hateful parents and scenes.

“Look at you,” said Kevin, touching Wendell’s ear. “Gold hoop, and the Fu Manchu ponytail. I like it. And a tattoo for good measure. What’s the character?”

“The Tao.”

“Ahhh!” Kevin nodded and gave him that patented smirk. “Puts me in mind of the Turn family. Remember the Turns?”

“I do. Wasn’t the punch line, ‘Never leave a Turn unstoned’?” Irony and jest seemed wired into Kevin’s DNA. But that tired punch line was really a question: Are you still smoking dope? He wasn’t, but the reference annoyed him nonetheless and he said, “I read this novel. One of the characters says, ‘There is no such thing as a grown-up’.”

Kevin tilted his head to look at the earring again and said, “Hey, from where I stand, the author’s got that right. But it’s not perpetual adolescence that’s so terrible. It’s apathy. Everybody’s drowning in apathy nowadays . . . but I don’t care.”

Wendell took a deep breath and shook his head: “Man, that was muy stinko.”

“Yeah, and we’re facing a terrible shortage of dwarves.”

Yvonne and Sean came across the lawn. She gave Wendell a big hug. “It’s beautiful down here,” she said. “Is that the boat we’re going diving on?” She was trim too, tanned, and wore her blond hair much shorter now. Touch, scent, the way she looked at him—Lord, everything came back.

Wendell said, “Hey, Sean, give me five.”

The boy gave him a loud smack on the palm. “Hey.”

“How old are you now?”

“Fifteen last week.”

Wendell laughed. “I forget sometimes how long you guys have been married.”

Sean said, “Cool boat.”

Kevin said, “You’ve done okay for yourself. That beautiful house and, wow.” He pointed to the thirty-foot Grady-White that read “Floating Options” in fancy cursive below the starboard gunwale.

Wendell explained that the owner of the house and boat, though wealthy, was a regular guy.

“The rich are different,” said Kevin. “They have more money.”

“That’s not exactly it,” said Wendell, “but I’ll let it pass. Hey, before I show you where you’re going to sleep, help me transfer these tanks from the skiff to the big boat.”

***

Afterward, leaving Sean in the house to channel surf the satellite TV, they took gin-and-tonics and walked through the maritime forest to a deck that overlooked the ocean. They sat on the railings and watched their faces become indistinct in the lowering light. The ocean crashed over and over, and the great blue distance redefined everything. They reshuffled scenes from graduate school; they talked about movies, books, mutual friends, and one of their professors who had recently died. Wendell asked about their new jobs. They were both working at a private academy. Yvonne taught French and wrote speeches and correspondence for the headmaster. Kevin coached the soccer team and taught English. Sean got free tuition.

Kevin said, “So how did you meet this Floating Options guy?”

“His name’s Bob,” said Wendell, “Bob Moody.”

“Now I get the connection—you’re both moody.”

“Kevin, please,” said Yvonne.

“Right, we’re getting too old for that shit,” said Wendell.

Kevin said, “Well?”

“I clean his house. That’s what I do now. I clean houses, do repair work, maintenance.”

Yvonne said, “When did this happen?”

“Little more than a year ago. I got sacked. Political hassle.”

A wave thundered on the sand below, retreated with a hiss. After a moment, Kevin said, “Buying from a student isn’t a very bright move.”

Wendell wasn’t really surprised. The news had to have come from a mutual friend. Kevin had lots of friends, was a fanatic about keeping in touch. In fact, he was surprised Kevin hadn’t yet told him what a lousy correspondent he was. “The deal was that I—”

“Not a very bright move,” Kevin repeated. “Man, you need to get it together. You need to—”

“Join a country club? Build a portfolio? Buy into some piss-elegant community with gates and guards? Drive a Beamer? Become a slave to appearances—”

There was a loud whistle. It was Yvonne. He had forgotten how she could whistle like a guy. “Time out!” she yelled, then slowly: “We’ve had a long drive and—”

“We’re getting too old for this shit,” said Kevin.

“Riiight!”

They laughed and watched the surf ignite then darken. Nobody spoke. Waves broke and hissed around the pilings of the deck.

Kevin said, “You want your life back?”

Wendell said he had a life.

“But not the one you ought to have.”

“What, did you guys come down here to gloat?”

Kevin said, “Don’t be so paranoid.”

Yvonne shook her head. “Dell, no need to cop an attitude. Look, if you want back into teaching, you’ve got it. Our academy’s looking for a history teacher. We recommended you.”

“Thanks, but—”

“Jesus,” said Kevin. “Just think about it for a while.”

“I’d need recommendations, and when the story of my dope deal and dismissal comes out, end of story.”

“That was in another state,” said Yvonne. “Besides, this is a private school. No hiring committee. The headmaster does all the hiring himself. He’s a friend. We told him about you, the whole thing. He’s interested.”

“Whoa. You act like I don’t have a life. I’ve got friends here. And there’s Dawn. You’ll meet her tomorrow. In case you haven’t noticed, the island’s beautiful. Some people would say I’ve got it made.”

“Got. You got health insurance?” asked Kevin.

“Ahh . . . Mr. Practical.”

Kevin went into his Rod Steiger routine. “That’s great when you’re a kid. But you’re pushin’ on, Slugger. It’s time to think about gettin’ some ambition.”

“Yeah, I know, I coulda been a contendah.”

“Will you guys please stop it!” said Yvonne, shaking her head. “And men wonder why . . . Jesus.” Her voice seemed suddenly drained. She stood up. “I’m really tired.”

They agreed to leave the dock at nine. Wendell turned on his running lights and took off in the skiff. There was a moon, and the channel markers stood up in silhouette from the silver blue surface. It was easy running. He watched the wake move outward, breaking in a long white line to the north where the channel rose to the low-tide flats. Yvonne . . . Best not go there.

***

Tying the skiff to a mooring buoy in the shallows, he waded ashore, and walked up the single street in Marina Mobile Park. Dogs barked. A yellow Camaro rumbled to a stop. A shirtless guy with tattoos and a bandido mustache got out and limped toward a Confederate flag snapping from a rail pole.

“Rusty, how’s it going?”

“Dell, you need anything?”

“Nah, I’m okay.”

The bedroom light was on, Dawn probably leafing through the Monet he got for her birthday. A highly skilled rehab nurse, she was addicted to trash novels, but she loved painters and painting. Wendell stopped to look up at the sky. Lots of stars. High pressure holding. On a line between porch posts, his blue wet suit fluttered its arms and legs in the onshore breeze like some tortured ghost.

When he eased into the narrow room, Dawn was face down on the bed in her bathrobe, her long cinnamon hair fanned out on the pillow like the algae swirls you saw when diving on a wreck. She didn’t move, and for a second he shivered, then took a few steps. The aluminum skin of the trailer creaked. When he sat down on the side of the bed and touched her elbow, she pulled her arm under her body; it was a sulky kid reaction and made him smile. “C’mon, don’t be like that.”

“How do you expect me to be?” she moaned.

“How about . . . more flexible?”

“I don’t even know these people. They’re from your past.”

Wendell said, “Your pals, Karen and Dana, are from your past. Did I act like this when they were here? Did I once complain about Dana’s total lack of interest in anybody but himself?”

“That was different.”

“How different?”

“I discussed it with you before they came. We talked it over.”

Wendell sighed. “Okay, I’m sorry. I should have talked it over with you before I told Kevin to come down.”

“This trailer is so small you can—”

“Hear a mosquito fart in the next room. I know.”

“Well, you can.” She rolled over the looked up at him. “Dell, we got to get off this island.”

“We’re going to talk about that.”

“When?”

“Pretty soon. But let’s focus on one thing for now. It’s important to me. I’ve made arrangements for them to stay in one of the houses I take care of.”

“Are they here already?”

“Yes.”

“God, you never tell me anything. Where are they?”

“Bob Moody’s place.”

“Did you ask him?”

“We’re going diving tomorrow morning. I was hoping you would come along.”

Dawn remained silent, then said, “You’re using his boat too?”

“He told me I could use it whenever I wanted to.” Wendell went fishing now and then with Moody when he was in town. He didn’t remember Moody’s exact words, but, yeah, Mi casa, su casa. Something like that. “Look, sweetheart, you don’t have to cook, don’t have to do anything.”

“I’m going to feel awkward. These people are going to be thinking trash about our age difference and what all.”

“Hey, they can think whatever they want. We know what we have going, right?”

She smiled.

“Fine,” he said, “Listen, all you have to do is stay in the boat while we dive.”

“I can barely swim.”

“You’re not going to swim. You just have to keep the deck clear, help people get back on board after the dive. We’ll fly a dive flag, but you might have to wave boats off if they get too close. Lots of boaters don’t know the rules.”

“I guess.” After a moment, she smiled again. He leaned down to kiss her. She opened her arms.

***

They eased out of the canal into the main channel and headed east toward the inlet, passing a boat on the flats, a guy on the bow with a throw net. Kevin asked what he was after. Over the engine and wind noise, Wendell yelled, “Menhayden. Good live bait.”

“What for?”

“King mackerel, cobia . . . .”

When they crossed the bar, Wendell keyed in the GPS coordinates for the wreck.

Kevin asked how the electronics worked.

“Mini computer, measures signals from different satellites and tells you your position.”

Kevin leaned close. “Sufferin’ succotash,” he lisped.

It was a mistake trying to be serious with Kevin. Wendell looked to the stern. Dawn and Yvonne sat in the deck chairs, were talking and laughing. Wendell called Sean to the wheel. With something to do, the kid might not think about getting queasy. Wendell put his arm on the boy’s shoulder and showed him the bearing number on the screen, then told him to keep the compass needle on the same heading. Sean hopped into the captain’s chair with a big smile. His eyes were green like his mother’s.

Kevin looked back toward the women, then leaned closer to Wendell. “It appears you’ve taken a turn for the nurse.”

“Jesus, don’t you ever get tired of that shit?”

“She’s real nice,” Kevin yelled. “Hey, how fast can this thing go?”

“Depends. With five people and all these tanks, maybe 40 knots, under millpond conditions.”

He had to hand it to Kevin. The guy had a curiosity that wouldn’t quit. But Wendell was curious too. Who hatched the academy idea, and why? Maybe he had inherited some of his mother’s paranoia after all. Maybe not. But gratitude got old, was heavy, like a ball and chain.

There were no other boats on the horizon, which was good. Some sites were over visited. Dive boats could arrive at a wreck site like tour buses at the Grand Canyon. Wendell deliberately chose a small wreck instead of one of the huge freighters or the German sub, and one that wasn’t too deep. But there was a trade-off—currents were sometimes strong.

Kevin gave him an elbow. “Hey, how about them Red Sox?” It was an old chain-pull routine. Kevin knew he hated team sports, obscene salaries, and all that sports-builds-character crap.

“Hey, how about O. J. Simpson?”

“Lance Armstrong.” Kevin laughed.

“Bobby Knight. There’s character for you!”

“Great coach.”

“Sure! Hey, how about these kids?”

“What?”

“Here come the kids!” Wendell pointed. Four dolphin came leaping toward the boat, veered off, and shot to the bow where, two on each side, they lifted their flukes and rode the wake. Wendell said, “Teenagers. They get bored quick, then range off looking for some other oceanic mall.”

Kevin laughed.

“Cool,” said Sean. “They can really jump. Mom! Check it out.”

***

When they got to the wreck, acres of surface were pocked with bait fish. P.J. was right. Water was flat, and so clear the wheelhouse of the wreck, a 140’ trawler, was visible. On signal, Kevin heaved the big danforth overboard. Wendell had told him how to figure eight the line and snug the cleat, but Kevin was having trouble, so he made his way to the bow. “Like this,” he said.

Kevin apologized. “I couldn’t remember if you said the rope went over or under.”

Wendell said nothing, pleased with the mistake. Kevin was in his world now. Then later: “No, like this,” he said, when Kevin had attached Sean’s second stage regulator upside down. He cautioned them to make sure the O rings were in place before they tightened down regulators to the tanks. He felt good; it was like teaching again, being in control.

When they were half in their wet suits, the safety lines set at bow and stern, he said, “Listen up, refresher course. You’ve probably heard this before, but we plan the dive, then dive the plan.” Then he outlined what they were going to do. Kevin insisted on buddying up with Sean who had only just been certified. Wendell would be with Yvonne, an excellent swimmer. “I know you’ve had experience, but remember, you come back onboard with 500 psi. Standard procedure. When we first hit the wreck, look around so that you can find the anchor line again. Stay together. But the water’s clear, all you really have to do is look up, and you’ll see the boat. Oh, don’t be freaked by the barracuda. Sometimes they come right at your mask and veer off, just to let you know whose territory you’re in. Everybody cool?”

“Cool,” they said.

The boat rocked easily on the swells. “What do I do?” asked Dawn.

“Nothing,” said Wendell. “Wave the dive flag if another boat comes along and gets too close. Relax, we won’t be down more than 40 minutes.”

When Kevin, Sean, and Yvonne had eased off the swim platform into the water and were holding on to the safety line, Wendell did a back roll off the portside gunwale to take the lead.

***

Holding the anchor line with one hand, he tugged the air release on his vest and began to go under. Taking two or three deep breaths to calm himself, down he went, hand over hand. Below the flat tips of his swaying fins he could see the outline of the trawler with four dark squares where hatch covers had been. A school of silversides billowed, then the rusty deck reappeared. Yvonne’s blond hair swirled around her face. Wendell pointed to his nose, then squeezed to remind her to equalize. Even with features distorted by mask and mouthpiece, she was lovely. Exhaust air became silver discs that grew into plates and platters and wobbled toward the surface. Long, slim barracuda were the first to appear, nasty looking choppers exposed, grinning caricatures of evil. Yvonne pointed. Wendell nodded and gave the okay, thumb and forefinger circle.

The anchor had barely hooked onto a rail thickened with barnacles and urchins. Wendell gave it an extra turn then wedged both flukes into a gap in the bulkhead. Along the bottom flew a large diamond-shaped shadow, its wingtips churning up brief whorls of sand. Yvonne pointed, and opened her hand: What? Wendell wrote “Manta” on a slate tethered to his vest. She nodded, widened her eyes, and began to drift upward. Wendell pulled her back. He pointed to her dump valve: Release more air.

Kevin and Sean were suddenly there. All signaled okay, and together they eased off along a deck umber with rust. Yvonne pointed to a small growth of stag-horn coral, yellow and thin as a wire coat hanger. They floated over beds of polyps, strands of kelp, anemone, bright rosy fronds. Everything swaying. Motes of plankton slanted across the wreck, like falling snow. He saw Kevin and Sean on the far side of the deck near the wheelhouse where the spade fish were. He had told them how, on a wreck, fish establish territory and defend it, and now they would see just what he had explained they would see. Good, except they shouldn’t be off on their own . . . .

He touched Yvonne’s arm, then forked his fingers to his eyes: Watch. He pulled his dive knife from its ankle sheath, pried loose two purple urchins, and chopped them open. In a few seconds, they were surrounded by a slow-motion cloud of spot-tail pinfish feeding on the chopped urchin. Back and forth they looped, their large ventral fins a violet bright as neon. It was a trick he learned from diving with Jocko. Yvonne shook her head, eyes wide and fiery green.

He checked his air gauge, then hers. Plenty of time. Down over the side into the sand. On the bottom, he spotted what he was looking for. He pointed right at it, but Yvonne didn’t see. Then he touched it with his forefinger. From a small exploding cloud, the flounder shot away with undulant strokes, hugging the bottom, leaving a trail of sand smoke. Being underwater was a bit like smoking dope—you focused on small intriguing particulars and lost track of time. An insight he’d have to think about later. When he turned for Yvonne’s reaction, she was gone.

At first he thought she was playing a game. Maybe she slipped into that great gash in the hull. He peered inside and saw only shadows and the bulldog face of an amberjack. Kevin might do something foolish, but not Yvonne. He turned on his back. On the great shifting field of silver overhead, only the black shape of the boat’s hull. Nothing else. His heart began to thump, he could hear it. Maybe she went to Sean and Kevin. He shouldn’t have let them go off on their own.

When he reached the deck, Sean was at the wheelhouse corner. He was motioning to Wendell, looking at something out of sight.

It was Kevin, caught in a tangle of fishing line. The line was snagged between Kevin’s tank and vest. Wendell pulled out his knife and cut. Though he wasn’t sure, he wrote on his slate: “Yvonne topside.” Then he beckoned them to follow.

When he surfaced at the transom, Dawn’s face was right there, blurry with tears. She was yelling, “I . . . away.”

“Where is she?”

Dawn was sobbing. “I threw a rope but it wouldn’t reach.”

Wendell yelled, “Hey, Stop! That’s not helping! Where is she?”

“The current pulled her away.”

He removed his fins and threw them into the cockpit. Then his mask and snorkel. Dawn held on to the floating vest and tank until he was topside, then Wendell hauled them up. His weight belt clunked on the deck. God, it was taking forever. And Kevin was screaming questions, instead of getting onboard. Sean was slumped forward in the deck chair. Wendell yanked off the boy’s vest and tank, then helped Dawn pull Kevin onboard.

Wendell murmured, Dear God . . . . To the north, the ocean was huge blue distance, horribly empty. To the south, a tugboat, and a barge at the end of an invisible towline.

Kevin yelled, “Radio the Coast Guard!”

Wendell said, “No, that will waste time. We’re closer.”

Kevin grabbed his arm, “Listen, I—”

“No, you listen! I know what I’m doing!”

He reminded Kevin she was an excellent swimmer. Her vest would keep her afloat. He only hoped she wouldn’t panic, ditch vest and tank, and try to make it to the beach. He started the engines, the cockpit a mess of loose gear. His mouth was dry. Dear God, please.

Dawn said, “What about the anchor?”

“Shit! Cut the line!”

Dawn took the knife and went to the bow. She stooped and began sawing.

Kevin turned to Sean, put his arm around the boy. “We’ll get her.”

Dawn jumped into the cockpit and yelled, “Go!”

Wendell hit the throttles and cranked up the rpms to 4700, the twin Yamahas roaring. The surface current was running from southwest to northeast. The boat jumped quickly on plane and he brought it to a heading of 50°. He felt light-headed. Everything wore a black halo. He could see a coil of white line slowly ballet its way down to the anchor wedged into the bulkhead. It felt as if he were still on the wreck, but without a tank. His breath came hard, mouth so dry he couldn’t swallow. To the north was an empty sweep of water, a thin white band of beach, and a jumble of cubist beachfront houses, tiny under a towering billow of bruised cumulus. He was trying to keep himself from thinking about what a new anchor would cost when a dot of bright yellow popped into distant view. Kevin saw it at the same time. “There!” he yelled.

“Got her,” said Wendell.

***

Yvonne was laughing when she came on board. “I’ve got faith,” she smiled, “I knew you’d find me.” But she had the shivers. It was a good act, just as it had been last night when she came very close to concealing her disappointment.

“You weren’t afraid?” said Dawn, still sniffing, but trying to lighten up. “I’d of peed my pants.”

“I guess my belt was under weighted. Couldn’t stay down.”

Wendell said, “And the suit made you lighter.”

“Right, last dive was in the Caymans—I didn’t need a wetsuit.”

For a while, they just drifted on the swells. Wendell asked if they wanted to go back to the wreck. The boat had plenty of line in its anchor locker. He could swim it down and tie on to the rail again. Kevin was against the idea. His face wore a look that Wendell had never seen. Incredibly, Yvonne said she was up for what everybody else wanted. Dawn was with Kevin. “Never mind that wreck,” she said. “Look at this one”—she pointed to herself—“Enough for today.”

They ran toward the inlet at half speed, saying little to each other. The billowy clouds over the land had darkened and lowered into a black wall. The wind picked up and shoved the water into white ridges. Then it began to rain. They crowded under the canvas top. Wendell stood at the helm. Yvonne stood next to him and once put her arm around his waist when the ocean surged. She gave him one of those old smiles and quietly said thanks.

It got rough. Wendell pulled back on the throttles. Kevin went into the rain, threw open his arms, and laughed when lightning crackled. Then he worked to separate regulators from vests, vests from tanks. Ever the neat freak, he bungeed the tanks into their racks and packed all loose equipment into dive bags until the cockpit was uncluttered and spacious again. Finally he came out of the weather and they watched the beachfront houses get larger. Dawn called Yvonne and Sean to sit in the cabin.

After a while, Kevin said, “I should have had a knife. What an asshole I am!”

He remembered how angry Kevin got after losing at tennis, how much he enjoyed telling Wendell how he needed to get his shit together, become a detail person. And he thought he had. So much for Wendell’s details and plans. Something had to be salvaged. The boat plunged ahead into the deep swells, spray sizzling against the windshield, visibility barely twenty feet beyond the bow. When they were finally leeward of the long stone jetty that protected the inlet from southwesterlies, the water flattened, and the rain began to relent. Wendell said to the boy, “You going to be hungry pretty soon?”

Sean nodded.

“Well, I know where we can get some good nachos.”

“Cool. My dad says you’re a great tennis player.”

“He lies.”

A sky blue shrimp boat moving seaward passed them in the channel. The skipper waved from the wheelhouse.

Sean said, “Think you can check out my backhand later on?”

Wendell winked, “We might be able to arrange something.” From the helm, he could see Dawn and Yvonne facing each other from opposite bunks in the cabin below. Dawn was telling her the kind of nursing she did, but how she wanted to get into the management part of it, and how she would need an MBA.

They were passing the giant red gantry cranes of the port. A Russian freighter was being loaded with cargo containers. Kevin leaned toward Wendell, his voice full of shadows. “Man, I thought I was gonna die down there. I should have had a knife. Then not seeing Yvonne, I was thinking all kinds of bad shit. And the worst is I don’t even know how I can thank you—”

“Kev, whoa. I didn’t do anything. Relax.”

They were moving parallel to a line of eelgrass islands, white sand and clear water. Yvonne and Dawn came up from the cabin laughing. They seemed like sisters who had never soured on each other, never soured on anything.

Dawn said, “Look.” She pointed.

Water turned a radiant green where a single spoke of bright light moved over a sandspit in the distance. Behind thinning clouds, the sun was a ghostly circle; then it dazzled, sparks spreading quickly on the water. Holding up his hand to shade his eyes, Wendell said, “Oh wow.”

Kevin laughed, “I haven’t heard ‘Oh wow’ since the Age of Aquarius. Like music.”

The motors hummed softly. Sean began talking about what he had seen on the dive, those purple spiky things that were on the deck and rails.

“Urchins,” said Yvonne.

“Those things that looked like a bouquet—what were they?”

“Either tube worms or anemones,” said Wendell.

“And those bright rosy fronds,” said Yvonne. “Just beautiful.”

“Yeah,” said Sean. “They were cool.”

Kevin cleared his throat, as if making an announcement. “Anemones are nice, but with fronds like these, who needs anemones?”

Sean said, “Dad, that was so bad.”

They all booed, then laughed. Later, thought Wendell, he’d hit some tennis balls with the kid. He tried not to think about the academy. Expectation was too risky, a bad habit. Bob Moody would be coming to the coast next week. The house would have to be cleaned, the sheets and towels washed. The biggest problem would be the anchor. He’d have to revisit the wreck. A fifty-foot tankless dive wasn’t that hard. He’d free the anchor in less than a minute, swim up with the line, then haul. Maybe get Jocko to go along, just in case. About luck, Jocko had been right. But it was more than luck. He needed to say something to Kevin and Yvonne. He told himself to stop thinking. He watched his hands on the wheel. The boat turned into the back channel that led to The Reef.