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The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
by Jason Manning
(October 2002)
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."
Rum Grove was not the most expensive or fashionable hostelry on Grand Cayman, but it was better than a lot of places Robinson and Scott had stayed, so they weren't going to complain. The main building had once been the home of a wealthy British MP, retired, a rambling villa built around a cobbled courtyard with decks all round. Its shiplap exterior was painted a cool dresden blue, set off by white trim and columns. Brick-edged gravel walks hedged by oleander and bougainvillea in wild and fragrant profusion radiated out to cozy limestone cottages placed discreetly in carefully maintained tangles of palm, fern and poinciana.
It was not by chance that their bungalow was situated so that from one of its windows the approach to Sheila St. Cyr's bungalow could be seen. While Ives helped himself unabashedly to the complimentary Bacardi, Robinson won a coin toss with his partner and took a brisk cold shower, exchanging his travel-wrinkled clothes for a pale yellow Land's End shirt, white jeans and deck shoes, while Scott kept an eye on Sheila St. Cyr's pad.
About fifteen minutes after Robinson began his watch, she returned from her daily dive. He smiled at first sight of her. She was a very attractive young woman. He was sure of this because he could see quite a lot of her; she wore a canary yellow bikini that couldn't have required more than a square foot of material to make. She had a Mary Quant beachwrap, but it was draped over an arm. Her skin was nicely tanned, and her hair looked like burnished copper in the tropical sunlight. She was tall, her legs sleekly muscled. He glanced at Will Ives, who was sprawled on a sofa, morosely eyeing the empty Bacardi bottle.
"Well, my Man, looks like my luck is holding. Can you get us a car? A fast one would be nice."
"Consider it done," said Ives. He heaved himself off the sofa. "I'll be back in less than an hour."
In spite of all the demon rum he'd imbibed, Will's step was straight and steady as he headed for the door. Robinson wasn't worried about him. He'd seen Ives drink a lot more than one bottle and remain compos mentis.
Forty-five minutes later Sheila St. Cyr emerged from the bungalow, dressed in a simple, lightweight, cream-colored cotton sheath dress that displayed the firm, shapely contours of her body. Robinson rose and turned to Scott, who had taken Will's place on the sofa. The Rhodes Scholar was reading the complimentary newspaper.
"Time to eat," said Robinson.
"Good." Scott threw the newspaper down. "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse."
"I don't think they'll be serving cayuse here, Duke, but we can ask."
The restaurant, located in the main building, was a comfortable room, with its rich teak floor and paneled walls, square mirrored columns and ponderous ceiling fans. Sheila St. Cyr sat along by the west wall of french windows, which framed her, fetchingly, in the fiery pyrotechnics of a Caribbean sunset; the sun, an oversized shimmering ball of red-orange melting into the sea, dabbed the darkening sky with ocher and old rose and turned to gold ranks of cirrus cloud. Scott and Robinson sat across the room, with the latter taking the chair that allowed him to watch her without moving his head. Scott kept up a rambling chatter just for the sake of appearances.
"If you ask me," he said, "Will Ives has a right to gripe. They're going too far too fast on the islands. They throw up a new hotel or clutch of condos every week, or so it seems. A few years back they were laying the foundation for a highrise resort on Seven Mile Beach, and came upon a stone slab. There were some skeletons unearthed around the slab. One had a cutlass beside him and a musketball in his skull. Another had a knife between his ribs. Did they find a pirate treasure trove under that stone, you ask? No, they did not. They didn't even bother to look. They were in too much of a rush to put the hotel up." Scott shook his head.
Robinson stared at him. "You're making that up."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"Hey, Man, I'm laying it on you straight."
"How do you know that really happened?
Scott shrugged. "I dunno. I read it somewhere."
Robinson shook his head. "Do you ever forget anything you read?"
"What would be the point of reading it if I was going to forget it later?"
Their meal was excellent -- rabbit turnovers with cranberry mayonnaise, white beans and marlin cassoulet, and the fried plantain rolls, stuffed with guava and cream cheese, called pianonos. Scott washed his meal down with coffee; Robinson opted for Red Stripe beer.
At one point Scott startled his partner by suddenly sitting bolt upright and violently snatching several times at the air between them.
"Epilepsy?" asked Robinson wryly.
"Nope." Scott opened his hand under the other's nose. "Black salt marsh mosquito. Two thirds of the Cayman land mass is mangrove swamp, y'know."
"Uh, no, actually, I didn't know that," sighed Robinson. But he wasn't surprised that Scott did.
Will Ives arrived to inform them that their ride was here. He accepted their invitation to sit down. A waiter appeared instantly, and Ives, eyeing Robinson's Red Stripe beer, ordered one for himself.
"Black Triumph Spitfire, parked out front," said Ives. "Keys will be under the mat on the driver's side.  You can get away with that here. Precious little theft or burglary on the islands, and not a single murder last year."
"Let's hope they can say the same about this year," said Scott.
"I think you're just in time, Will," remarked Robinson, for while Ives was getting settled he'd been watching a waiter approach Sheila St. Cyr's table and hand her a slip of paper. As she studied the note, the waiter passed right by the table occupied by Robinson, Scott and Ives on his way to the kitchen.
"The man who just went by gave our girl a message," Robinson told Ives. "Find out if he can tell you anything about it, or about the person who sent it." He handed Ives all the money in his Aigner billfold. "That's for the bill and any baksheesh you may have to pay. I think she's about to leave, and we're going to follow. Don't wait for us. We'll call you tomorrow."
When she moved, she moved quickly. Stepping out onto the front gallery, Robinson and Scott saw her tail lights flash as she took the curving drive hard and fast, ramming gears, gravel spewing from spinning wheels. They spotted the Spitfire convertible and made a dash for it. As Ives had promised, the key lay beneath the rubber floormat. Robinson got behind the wheel. The 3.2 litre engine roared instantly to life.
Sheila was driving a red Mustang, and she handled the car like someone who was late for an urgent appointment. But the Mustang's six-cylinder was no match for the power plant beneath the Triumph's sensuously curved bonnet.
On the coastal road to George Town, Robinson closed to within two hundred meters. He was hoping she would turn off before reaching town. To avoid losing her in George Town's narrow, traffic-clogged lanes he would have to get very close and risk discovery.
He needn't have worried. She took the cutoff to the Bodden Town road. As they raced away from the lights of "resort row" along Seven Mile Beach, through a stretch of mangrove swamp, Robinson cut the headlamps off and closed the gap a little more. The early moon turned the road before him into a ribbon of silver.
Soon the swamp was to their left and the sea to their right, beyond a low stone retaining wall. At first they mistook the sound for the murmur of the sea, but when it got louder they realized it was the snarl of a motor. Robinson checked the rearview. The road ran fairly straight here, and there was no one behind him.
"It's not behind us," said Scott. "It's above us."
Robinson looked over one shoulder, then the other. There it was. A twin-engine aircraft -- a mosquito plane, with the three running lights beneath wingtips and cockpit. Curving in over the road from the swamp, flying low and moving ahead of him. Now he could see the plane clearly against the backdrop of moonlit clouds.
"Remember that mosquito back at the restaurant?" asked Scott casually.
"Uh huh," said Robinson. "Made a big impression on you?"
"Those things used to be so dense that cattle would suffocate, clouds of mosquitos clogging their windpipes. Ten years ago you might get as many as eight hundred thousand in a single trap. Now you might catch fifty. The government fought them for years, by plane. Like the one up there. The black salt marsh mosquito swarms only twice a day, just after sunset and just before dawn. That's when they would go up in the planes and spray them with Dibrom."
"Thank you, Professor."
The Triumph's lights were still off, and Scott wondered if the pilot had seen them. The mosquito plane settled in behind the Mustang, not fifty feet off the ground, and a hundred meters in front of the Triumph.
Then the Mustang's brake lights flashed urgently, and they heard the unmistakable stutter of rapid automatic weapon's fire, saw red tracers arcing through the darkness. The Mustang swerved violently, slammed into the retaining wall with a sickening crunch of metal, and then caromed out of control across the road and into a ditch, tires smoking, to nosedive into a geyser of murky swamp water.