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The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
3.
Robinson smiled. He was busted. There had been simply too many coincidences. He hadn't intended for her to find him diving in the same waters. Clearly she was no fool, and he was merely insulting her intelligence by sticking to his story.
"Okay," he said. "You win. I'm one of the good guys. More or less."
"Why should I believe you?"
"Well, let's see. I'm not the one who baited you last night with a note about your father, just to get you out on a lonely road and use you for target practice."
"And how do I know for sure you weren't involved in that?"
"If I wanted you dead we wouldn't be sitting here, would we?" Robinson shook his head. "Sheila, you're definitely something else. Let me tell you how I think this is playing out. One night your father gets a little too drunk and talks a little too much. He tells a tale about the Bright Hope and the treasure it carried, and about how the official location of its sinking is way off the mark. That, in fact, the ship lies somewhere just beyond the north reef. His indiscretion eventually brings him to the attention of some nasty characters. They abduct him and force him to tell the secret he has kept -- absent one or two indiscretions -- for twenty five years. You realize he's been missing for a while, grow concerned, and come to Grand Cayman. Evidently, George St. Cyr shared his secret with you. That's how you came by the crown sovereign, isn't it?"
"Yes. Many years ago my father dived in these waters, searching for the wreck. All he found was a handful of these." The crown sovereign she held up flashed in the sunlight. "He sent me one, with a letter in which he wrote that, if anything happened to him, it would be because of the Bright Hope's secret cargo. I would call him every month, faithfully. I meant to come and visit him but, well, I never seemed to get around to it." She shook her head, remorseful. "My mother is dead. He's all the family I have. The last time I called, there was no answer. He always made sure to be there when I called. That's why I came down here. But he's disappeared." She looked out across the water. "I don't know what else to do but dive here, searching for the wreck."
"And apparently someone doesn't want you to."
"Apparently." She gazed at him earnestly. "I have to have some answers. My father has always carried this terrible burden of guilt. Being the only survivor of a shipwreck is a curse, not a blessing, he once told me. He was sorry he hadn't died with his crewmates. But there was more to it than that. I think he felt somehow responsible for the sinking of the Bright Hope, though he would never speak of that night to me. Do you . . . do you think he's still alive?"
"I don't know."
"Well, at least you've stopped lying to me." She tried to stand, testing her injured leg, but the pain was so intense that she cried out and lost her balance. Robinson was there to catch her before she fell. He swept her up in his arms and then set her down gently on a seat locker. Reaching for the first aid kit, he wrapped her lacerated ankle with gauze and taped it tightly.
"You'll want to have a doctor take a look at those wounds," he said. "I expect you'll need stitches."
"What about you? When we went over the reef you were trying to shield me from the coral with your body. That was very gallant." She cupped his face in her hands and brushed her lips across his, catching him by surprise. It was the last thing he'd expected. "I don't know if I trust you, Mr. Robinson," she said softly. "But I do know I owe you."
She kissed him again -- and this time it was a long and passionate kiss, during which she pushed him down onto the deck and slipped off the seat locker to straddle him . . . .
Robinson responded to the kiss -- then with a lithe twist of the body he was on top and straddling her.
"Sorry, honey," he said. "I'm probably going to regret this later, but I just don't think I can make love to a woman who calls me Mr. Robinson. So, why don't we wait until you feel comfortable with Kelly?"
He rolled off her and let her up. Propped on an elbow, he marveled as her magnificent body. The hot afternoon sun caressed her brown skin, and the sea breeze swept her cinnamon-hued hair.
"I'll take you back to your boat," she said coolly, avoiding eye contact.
Robinson hauled in the anchor while she fired up the inboards. A few minutes later the Whalers were gunwale to gunwale.
"Thank you," she said, with stiff formality. "For everything."
"Glad to be of service," replied Robinson cheerfully as he climbed aboard his boat.
She opened up the throttle. Her Whaler lifted its squared-off bow and roared off toward Spanish Bay, leaving his craft wallowing in its wake. It had been, mused Robinson, one of the briefest romance in his notorious career, and he couldn't help but wonder about Sheila's motives for engaging in it. Perhaps it had been an example of that sudden thirst for life that, for some, follows a brush with death. Even to the extent of intimacy with a stranger. Or maybe there was more to it. Maybe Sheila St. Cyr was playing this dangerous game by her own rules.
Reaching the lobby of Rum Grove, with its heavily oiled cedar paneling and ponderous ceiling fans, Robinson crossed the polished teak floor to the reception desk leaving a trail of blood drops. A young black man was on duty, the broad, muscled sweep of his shoulders threatening to rip the single needle stitching of his crisp white button-down.
"The rental office referred me to you," said Robinson. "I'm afraid I have some bad news."
The concierge held up a hand. "The charges for the lost equipment have already been taken care of, Mr. Robinson."
With a rueful smile, Robinson said, "The lady has a mind of her own."
"She has also made arrangements for a physician to be on hand when you arrived, sir."
His eyes shifted to someone coming up behind Robinson, who turned to identify the source of the soft tread that reached his ears. A short, stout black man in an impeccable three-piece suit of white tussore, emerald-green four-in-hand and alligator shoes was beaming at him. Gold-rimmed spectacles served only to enhance the roundness of his moon-shaped face. His hair was full, straight, and as white as his suit, and came forward in a widow's peak. In spite of the color of his hair, though, the man wasn't old -- Robinson guessed he was in his early forties. Looking down into the moist spaniel eyes behind those thick prescription lenses, Robinson put him at not an inch over five feet.
"I am Dr. Napoleon Bocce, at your service, sir," he said, extending a soft, meaty hand. He looked at the coral lacerations on Robinson's legs. "It appears you have become acquainted with the unpleasant attributes of our beautiful reefs."
"It was the lesser of two evils, Doc, believe me."
Bocce pursed his lips. "If you wish, we can go to your room and I will treat your injuries there." He lifted, slightly, the black leather bag in his left hand.
"Thanks, but I'll just prescribe my own medication." Robinson turned to the concierge. "Have a bottle of Bombay gin and another of Schweppes sent to my bungalow, please."
"At once, Mr. Robinson."
Dr. Bocce's tone of voice was velvet and insistent. "I believe you really do need looking after, sir. Since I must charge your benefactor for my services regardless of whether you accept them it only seems right and proper to . . . ."
"You're right, doctor. The lady should get her money's worth."
The gin and tonic arrived at the bungalow right on their heels. Dr. Bocce declined, so Robinson mixed his own and then sat back with the drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, his feet propped up on a wicker ottoman, idly watching the physician tend to his wounds.
"Do you do much diving, Mr. Robinson?" Bocce was trying to make small talk as he delved into his medical bag.
Robinson laughed. "Yes, though seeing the damage I've done to myself you'd be right to take me for the rankest amateur."
Bocce shook his head. "The sea is a very unpredictable mistress to those who love and live by her. So tell me, where did this happen?"
"On the far side of the north reef, beyond Tarpon Alley."
Bocce glanced up, surprised. "Very few people dare to dive there. Dangerous undertows."
"And great big hungry fish, too."
"Most assuredly. Did you find anything of interest on the reef?"
"Yes, very interesting."
Bocce began to dab tincture of iodine on the worst of Robinson's wounds. He looked up inquisitively.
"Sheila St. Cyr," said Robinson between clenched teeth. "The young woman who is generously -- ouch -- footing the bill for this house call." He took a drag off his cigarette and then asked: "Would you happen to know George St. Cyr?"
"I have lived here all my life, sir, yet I do not believe I know that name." He worked a while longer dressing Robinson's injuries. "There! It is done." He rose, went to his bag, unclasped and half-open on a sideboard. "I suggest you refrain from diving, for a few days at least."
A distant klaxon intruded on Robinson's consciousness, quickly growing louder.
"I can provide you with some painkillers, if you wish," offered Bocce.
"No thanks. I don't mind a little pain." Robinson rose, intending to fill his glass.
The klaxon was quite close now -- on the grounds of Rum Grove.
"We shall see about that, Mr. Robinson."
Robinson half-turned because Bocce had moved behind him, and then looked down at his left thigh to identify the source of a quick stab of pain. It was a small, disposable hypodermic needle, jammed into his leg. He took a step towards Bocce -- and froze. There was a .38 snubnose Webley in the doctor's hand. aimed steadily at his heart. A wave of numbness swept like liquid fire through him. Strabismus, nausea, constriction of the trachea and loss of muscle control followed in a matter of seconds. Robinson fell, dimly heard the shattering of his glass.
Bocce rolled him over. Robinson's body was rigid. He couldn't move, and could barely draw breath. Bocce's moon-shaped face swam sickeningly in and out of focus, and when he spoke his voice sounded very very far away.
"A curare derivative, Mr. Robinson." He held up the syringe, and Robinson saw that it still contained a brownish-red fluid. "It is commonly used in Latin America, in small dosages, to counter epileptic seizures. Unless I misjudged your weight and general fitness and gave too too large a dose, your heart should continue beating, though at a much reduced rate. You see, I don't particularly want you dead. Not yet, anyway."
Bocce was about to stow the syringe in the medical bag when he heard the turning of the knob on the bungalow door. Moving with amazing agility for one so rotund, he slipped behind the door as it opened.
Seeing Robinson on the floor, Scott rushed forward. Robinson could see everything that happened next, but he couldn't move, couldn't speak -- couldn't warn his partner. Scott was saying something to him, but the words seemed to come to him through a long tunnel, muffled and distorted. Helplessly, he watched Bocce slip up behind Scott and insert the syringe. Scott flinched, began to spin around, and then fell flat on his back, immobilized by the curare.
Bocce put the syringe back in his medical bag. A moment later he was answering a knock on the door, and admitting two men in white uniforms who maneuvered a stretcher into the bungalow.
"Make room for an additional patient, gentlemen," said the physician pleasantly. "We've gotten two for the price of one."
When Robinson came to everything seemed to happen in reverse. His vision gradually cleared and the first thing he saw was the last thing he'd seen before going under -- Bocce's moon-shaped face, wearing a benign smile. He saw the hypodermic syringe but didn't feel the injection; apparently the doctor had just given him a shot of something. The catatonic state induced by the curare derivative was quickly reversed. As his heart began to beat at a normal rate he felt a warm rush of new life through his body. He also felt a rush of self-disgust as he swung his legs off the narrow built-in bunk he'd been laying on. Bocce had caught him completely off-guard. That didn't happen too often. And never before had he felt so helpless as when the curare had paralyzed him.
He took a look around. He was in a small, windowless cabin. By the gentle but unmistakable sway of the deck it was obviously part of a fairly large vessel cruising slowly in open waters. On a bunk identical to his across the room sat Sheila. She was trying to remain calm and composed, but he could see the fear in her eyes, and he smiled reassuringly. Scotty was on a stretcher on the floor; Bocce gave him an injection, and Robinson was relieved to see his friend's legs move.
As Scott sat up, Napoleon Bocce stepped cautiously back and the man stationed at the cabin door came forward, holding a .45 Astra. The gunman looked as lethal as the gun -- a Latin goliath standing at least six feet six and carrying three hundred pounds, most of it brawn. He wore a muscle shirt, and his arms were almost solidly tattooed from wrist to shoulder. The expression on his pockmarked face made it plain that he would kill without compunction.
"Well," said Scott drily, "I've heard of one-way rides before. Is this a one-way cruise?"
To the left of the cabin door was a narrow counter with a built in stainless steel sink and cabinets above and below. Bocce beamed at him before turning to wash his hands in the sink. "Ah, Mr. Scott, I so admire a man who displays humor in the face of adversity. But you are quite right. This is not a round trip for you, I'm afraid."
Scott didn't see the medical bag. But a minute ago Bocce had used a syringe. And now, as he turned around, his hands were empty.
"So you've trying to find the sovereigns," said Robinson.
"Yes. Initially we were trying to be very discreet about it. Your appearance, however, has convinced my employer that we must try a new tactic."
"Surely there's no harm in telling us who your employer is," said Scott.
"None at all. Paolo Cordillo. Perhaps you have heard the name."
Scott nodded -- and grimaced. Cordillo was the most powerful crime boss in the Caribbean basin. If he was involved, the only thing higher than the stakes would be the body count.
"I am merely Senor Cordillo's loyal lieutenant," continued Napoleon Bocce, humbly placing a hand over his heart. "I am his financial director, you might say. Some years ago these lovely islands cast about for a scheme to improve their lot. As there were no tax treaties or legislation on the books -- and all the legal, accounting and communication services necessary to handle international financial business were available -- the powers that be decided to provide the world with the perfect tax haven. Secrecy laws were passed, assuring depositors that transactions would be completely confidential. At last count there were about five hundred banking institutions in the Caymans, through which some twenty thousand corporations process nearly five hundred million dollars a day. The Justice Department of the United States has complained bitterly and often that this provides those so inclined with the perfect opportunity to launder dirty money. That is precisely what I do for Senor Cordillo. To the tune of eight million dollars a month, on average."
"If you're a bookkeeper you must feel a little out of your depth," observed Scott.
"A pleasant change of pace from the constant juggling of facts and figures. Nothing happens on this island that I, and Senor Cordillo, do not know about. So, when Miss St. Cyr arrived and began diving off the north reef, following the disappearance of her father, we kept a close watch on her. If she found the Bright Hope's lost treasure, we would take it from her. But then the two of you arrived. You must have suspected that she was being watched. After all, you lured her away with that note about her father. When she left Rum Grove in response to it you followed her, and the next day the two of you were diving in the same area she has been searching for the past week."
"You were hoping she would find the 'lost treasure,' as you put it," said Robinson. "And if she did, you'd move in and take it from her."
"And you gentlemen kidnapped her father, yes? To blackmail her into finding it."
Robinson glanced at Sheila, who was staring at him, doubt clouding her features. Obviously there was another player in the game besides Bocce. But there was nothing to be gained by making that case here and now, apart from the purely personal consideration of exculpating himself in Sheila's eyes.
"So what now?" he asked Bocce.
"So now, tonight, you will bring us the rest of these." Bocce brandished a crown sovereign. "We found this in Miss St. Cyr's possession. We are on our way to the North Sound, and we will drop anchor where the two of you were diving yesterday"
"And if we bring you the rest, you're still going to kill us," said Scott.
Bocce shrugged. "Sadly, I have no recourse. We are less than an hour from the North Sound. When we arrive you will take my divers to the location of the wreck. By dawn we will be away with, hopefully, no one the wiser. If you cooperate you buy yourself a few more hours of life. To appease the darker side of my crew's nature, I have agreed to let them throw you overboard -- alive. These Caymanians are descendants of cutthroat corsairs. Walking the gangplank is the traditional form of execution. Of course, it will be done well away from the islands. Your bodies must never be found."
"And if we don't cooperate?" ask Scott.
Something darkly sinister broke through Bocce's benign facade. "Then I will hand Miss St. Cyr over to my crew for their amusement. And you will die with her screams echoing in your head."
"I guess we don't have much of a choice," said Scott.
Bocce smiled. "Splendid. I will leave the three of you alone to make your peace with one another. You'll have until we reach the North Sound."
The Latin goliath followed Bocce out. Robinson heard the lock turned. He glanced at Sheila, put a finger to his lips, and went to the door, listening for a moment. Then he sat next to her.
"Where is my father?" she asked coldly.
"We don't have him."
"But I think I know who does," said Scott.
"You found something?" asked Robinson.
Scott nodded. "There aren't that many places on this island to land a plane. I found one with bulletholes in it. I'm sure it's the one we tangled with last night. A little more digging and I learned it belongs to a company owned by a man named Tabor Ebanks." He turned to Sheila. "Ever heard of him?"
"No, never."
"So there's yet another player," murmured Robinson.
Scott nodded. "And we need to find out what his game is. First, though, we have to get out of here."
"Why should I trust the two of you?" asked Sheila.
"You shouldn't trust anyone," conceded Robinson.  "But it's not in your best interest to stay on this boat." He looked askance at Scott. "I'm gravely disappointed in you, sir. Just so you know. You weren't supposed to get captured, you see. Now there's nobody left to ride to the rescue."
"Sorry," said Scott.
"Sorry? Is that all you have to say for yourself? Sorry?" Robinson shook his head in mock disgust. "This is another fine mess you've gotten us into, Stanley." He sat down in a corner of the room and leaned back against the bulkhead, hands behind his head. "I'll just sit back and wait until you come up with some brilliant plan to get us out of here."
Scott went to the counter. The empty syringe lay in the sink. Napoleon Bocce had forgotten it. He held it up for Robinson to see, and smiled.
"Like I said, a little out of his depth."
"What do we do now?" asked Sheila.
"We wait." Scott picked up the syringe and went to his bunk recently vacated by his partner. Stretching out, he closed his eyes and tried to relax.