Their flight from Miami arrived at Grand Cayman on schedule, the Cayman Airlines 747 touching down at Owen Roberts International Airport without a hitch or scare. They had no trouble retrieving their luggage. The smiling, faultlessly polite customs officials detained them hardly at all. The island's main source of income was tourism and, unlike many countries in the Caribbean, drugs were not a problem. Alexander Scott decided that, all in all, it had been a pleasant 450-mile journey, especially considering all the recent ballyhoo about airline inefficiency. Kelly Robinson didn't care about that -- all he knew was that the dark-eyed Panamanian stewardess in first class who had catered to his (almost) every whim had been highly efficient, not to mention extremely friendly and very sexy.
A decade had passed since Robinson's insatiable wanderlust had brought him to the Caymans, and he couldn't believe how the tourist trade had boomed. He and Scotty were jostled, shouldered, bumped and tangoed in the main concourse. Through it all they remained unflappable, and even refrained from using the tennis rackets they carried to clear a path for themselves. Spotting a bank of phone kiosks, they swam the human current to reach them, and Robinson dialed a number.
After the second jangle, a rough, slingshot voice exploded in his ear. "Blue Goose Air Service."
"Hello, Will, you old pirate."
"Kelly! Are you on the island? I got your wire but you didn't give me the flight number."
"I wasn't sure until the last minute when we'd be coming."
"No matter. We'll go off and get a charge or two and wake up tomorrow with winsome wenches beside us and one fearsome head apiece."
Robinson laughed. "You haven't changed a bit."
"You're still at the airport, then. Tell you what. I'll drop over in one of my birds and do a little air taxi number."
"What's your going rate these days? Forty bucks an hour?"
"No charge for old drinking buddies. Besides, I don't actually have time to do much charter work these days. The government has me on a contract now. I patrol the coast and fish lily-white tourists out of the drink. Be at the helipad in fifteen minutes."
Will Ives was punctual. Twenty minutes later Robinson and Scott and their luggage were crammed into the cockpit and being elevated straight up off the sun-hammered tarmac in a blue and gold Bell Jet Ranger. Ives was a burly, sundark Islander with washed-out blue eyes and sandy, close-cropped hair. He was something of a local celebrity. A resident of the Caymans for more than thirty years, he had opened the first public diving enterprise. Thanks in no small part to his entrepreneurship, the underwater spectacle of the Cayman's coral walls had become the biggest draw of the island's tourist industry.
"So how's business?" asked Robinson as they swept over rambling George Town, the capital of the Caymans.
"Outstanding," rasped the leathery pilot sarcastically. "We get more than a quarter of a million tourists every year. You'll see for yourself. Every day, from Pull-and-be-Damned Point to Spanish Bay, the sea fairly crawls with the flamin' lot. And more than a few have no business getting their little pinkies wet." He glowered at Robinson. "You're smirking, you wry bastard. I know what you're thinking. It's as much my fault as anybody's. Well, you're right. I'll admit it. That's why I sold my diving business and started up Blue Goose."
As they approached the sea, Robinson marveled at the line of new resort hotels and condominiums standing shoulder-to-shoulder along Seven Mile Beach. "When I was here last there wasn't anything down there but sand dunes and a few bungalows," he told his partner.
Ives sighed. "Yeah. You should've bought some beachfront property in those days for fifty dollars per square foot. Now it's going for ten grand a running foot."
And then they were out over the open sea. The Caymans stood on pillars of coral, and the islands were encircled by the emerald and turquoise shallows of the coral shelf, where underwater visibility was a remarkable 150 feet, changing abruptly to the dark blue-green of fathomless depths; the Caymans were located on the rim of the Cayman Trench, the deepest water in the Caribbean.
They swept the length of Seven Mile Beach, about three hundred yards from shore, towards the towns of West Bay and Hell. An incredibly prolific array of boats cluttered the coastline. Ives circled a passenger boat that, anchored near the Sand Chute, disgorged a crowd of at least fifty snorkelers like chum from its LCVM-type boat ramp. They bobbed and splashed and clumsied about in a timid cluster.
"It's enough to make a shark's dull little eyes light up," observed Scott.
Ives snorted his disdain. "What they don't realize is that, once, there was much more to see. Before the Marine Conservation Law there was indiscriminate looting of black coral and tropical fish. Conch and lobster were thinned out so much by fishermen that marine parks had to be established and strict catch limits enforced. The sea has been pretty thoroughly pillaged, frankly, and the only good thing to come of it is that the sharks have gone off to seek better hunting grounds, now that the tarpon and the grouper populations have dwindled." Ives grinned at Scott, a malicious twinkle in his eye. "Sometimes I think that's a damned shame, too. A good shark scare or two might be a blessing in disguise."
Scott could sympathize. Like most Caymanians, Ives was dismayed by the inexorable destruction of their only resource -- the best diving waters in the world -- by this infestation of funseekers. The irony of the situation was that this very same swarm supplied the islanders with their single source of livelihood. It was a case of Catch-22.
There was a lull in the conversation, filled by the pulsating thunder of the Jet Ranger's rotors. Then Ives cast a sidelong glance at Kelly Robinson.
"So what brings you, Kelly? Here to play in the tennis tournament next week? Or on spy business?"
Robinson looked at his partner. They knew that Will Ives was a CIA stringer, a part-timer who occasionally worked for American intelligence when called upon to do so. The Department had left it to their discretion just how much to tell Ives about their business on Grand Cayman. Considering that Ives had been an acquaintance of his for many years, Robinson had decided to leave it up to Scott if they brought the chopper pilot in. Scott shrugged and nodded the go-ahead.
"Have you heard of George St. Cyr, old buddy?" asked Robinson.
"St. Cyr? Sure. That old codger is a looney tunes. Everybody knows that. He hasn't been right since the Bright Hope went down -- what is it, now, thirty years ago?"
"December 12, 1942," said Scott.
"Right. And if there's anything left of that ship you'd need a bathyscape to get to it. A hurricane took her down in the open seas."
"St. Cyr claims it broke up on the north reef," said Robinson.
"How come you know so much about it? The old man was drunk in some randy dive when he made that one up. A couple of toughs followed him out that night and beat the tar out of him, wanting to know more. He was quick to wise up after that, and found himself a hole. Now, I've been diving these parts for thirty-plus years, and believe me, there's no wreck on the north reef. The old man was telling a tall tale."
"What do you know about the Bright Hope?"
"Common knowledge. A South African merchant vessel. Lost at sea while making for the Canal Zone. The two barflies who put the hurt on St. Cyr thought there might be something aboard worth salvaging, I guess."
"There is," said Robinson.
A slow grin creased the helicopter pilot's craggy face. "Well, that answers my question. Why you're here. What was she carrying?"
"Gold crown sovereigns," announced Scott. "About fifty million dollars worth on today's gold market."
Ives whistled. "But how could something like that be kept secret for so long?"
"It was top secret cargo," said Scott. "In the early going of World War Two there was some doubt as to the fate of South Africa. A strong pro-Nazi opposition movement called the Ossewabrandwag was committed to the violent overthrow of the government. Things got so bad that the South African government decided to transfer its treasury to Canada, just as Churchill had done with the British Exchequer when it looked as though Britain might not be able to stand up to Hitler. Currency, bullion and sovereigns were secreted aboard several ships. All but the Bright Hope reached their destination."
"And you found out where she lies!" exclaimed Ives, as excited as a little boy at Christmas.
"No." Robinson had to laugh at the expression on his friend's face. "Sorry, Will. I have no idea. Apparently no one else does, either. Except George St. Cyr. He has a daughter -- his only living kin -- who resides in New York City. She's an investment broker for a major Wall Street firm. A week ago she took a leave of absence and came here, to a home she hasn't seen since she was a child. She's spent every day since her arrival diving off the north reef where her father, suddenly vanished, claimed in a rash moment of drunken indiscretion, that a fortune in gold sovereigns can be found."
"And how on earth do you know that?"
"A coworker of hers. He is . . . very fond of Sheila St. Cyr. All he knows for sure is that a little over a week ago she received a letter from her father. He didn't read the letter, but he could tell that Sheila was very upset. He insisted on coming with her, but she refused his company. She has, however, called him several times, and confided in him that she was diving daily to find the wreckage of the Bright Hope. He thought about coming down here himself, except he was afraid that if he showed up at her door she might be angry at him. So he asked a friend of his for advice -- a friend who happens to be a retired Coast Guard officer, and a man who has connections with the Pentagon."
"Fine. I can buy that," said Ives. "But how do you know about the sovereigns?"
"The Pentagon made some inquiries," explained Scott. "London and Pretoria have always thought the cargo lay at the bottom of the Cayman Trench, and no serious effort to search for it has ever been made."
"I see," said Ives. "But the sovereigns don't belong to the U.S. right? So what business is it of ours?"
"Washington doesn't think anything will come of this," said Robinson breezily. "But if it does, they've decided it would be a good thing if South Africa owed us a favor."
"Well, you can count on me, Kelly. Whatever you guys need."
"I know I can. Thanks. My guess is we'll spend all our time working on sun tans and backhands."
"Where do you start?"
Robinson watched the surface of the crystal-clear sea flash by mere meters beneath the Jet Ranger's skids. "Sheila St. Cyr is staying at Rum Grove. We just so happen to have a reservation there."
"What a coincidence. I bet she's a looker, too. You always have that kind of luck, Kelly."
"That's in his contract, you know," said Scott. "He wouldn't sign on until they guaranteed that all the chicks would be lookers."