Authors: Jinx Schwartz
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Sea Adventures, #Women's Adventure, #Genre Fiction, #Sea Stories
TABLE OF CONTENTS
JUST DIFFERENT DEVILS
We're all in the same boat,
Just different levels.
Dealing with the same hell,
Just different devils.
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!
Something went bump in the night.
At least I think so, because both Po Thang and I were startled awake—he evidently a nanosecond ahead of me. While I was fighting off the dumbness of a disrupted deep sleep, he was already stiff legged and growling.
I instinctively groped for my Springfield XDM 9mm, found nothing on my built-in bedside table but a Kindle: a jolting reminder I'm on my boat in Mexico, and don't have no stinkin' gun. Rats!
Po Thang's menacing rumble grew louder as he pounced from his two-thirds of my queen-sized bed. Pushing myself upright, I was all ears, taking heed of his familiar route. Toenails scrambled up three teak steps leading to the main cabin, the muffled galloping paws pounded the carpet, then up another five wooden steps. His doggie door whopped as he dove through and claws scraped the fiberglass deck above my cabin in an effort to gain purchase. Then, a second of silence as he went airborne before executing a four-pawed, ten-point plant into my skiff tied alongside the aft swim platform. A small tsunami of displaced water swayed my yacht.
I kicked aside tangled sheets and flipped on a wall switch controlling the deck floodlights, then another for the underwater LEDs mounted on my boat's hull. Peering anxiously out a porthole next to the bed, all I saw was turquoise Sea of Cortez water glimmering, jewel-like, in that eerie glow-in-the-dark effect of a night lit swimming pool.
Within seconds, the lights—an irresistible visual lure—attracted everything from tiny tropical fish to larger predators, their splashes and dashes sending Po Thang into a barking, snapping frenzy. If it
some kind of threat that woke us, all that darting sea life quickly obliterated any recollection of it from my dog's fickle little golden-retriever brain.
Higher cognitive processing is not his strong suit.
Seeing nothing scary out there, I convinced myself all was well. Hell, it isn't that unusual to get whacked upside the hull by a fish, or an entire school of them, during the night. Many a morning I've found some feckless flee-er had miscalculated and, instead of escaping becoming a midnight meal for something higher on the food chain, ended up just as dead in my dinghy.
Trudging out on deck in my panties and oversized tee shirt sleep gear, I hissed, "Put a lid on it, dawg," hoping he hadn't woken the entire anchorage. An almost full moon shone on the other residents at
San Francisco: five sail boats, two power boats a little smaller than my forty-five-foot Californian motor yacht,
, and a Mexican booze-cruise megayacht on the far north end. The hundred-and-seventy-five footer was still ablaze with lights and alive with laughter in these wee hours. At least they wouldn't be annoyed by our lights and barks. I hit outdoor switches and snuffed all the lights on my own boat, instantly putting the kibosh on Po Thang's merriment, as well.
Fully awake now, I grabbed a bottle of water from my outdoor fridge and climbed to the flying bridge to stargaze. Even in the brilliant moonlight, the Milky Way shimmered in an indigo sky like nighttime traffic on a Houston freeway. On the horizon, a dim halo marked the city of La Paz, Baja California Sur, about forty-five miles to the south.
My boat was snuggly anchored in only twelve feet of water in the sandy hook at the southwestern anchorage of this tiny island. Even without underwater lights, the white sand bottom around us glowed, mottled by moonlit streaks. In the clear water I identified garden eels, their tails buried in sand homes, swaying gracefully with an incoming tide.
Po Thang joined me on the bridge, vaulted effortlessly into the second mate's chair, and whined.
"No way, Sailor Dawg. No walk now. So, avast yer snivelin' ye scurvy mongrel, and get ye to thy pee pad."
He hates that pee pad, which is actually a piece of artificial turf tied to a rail with a piece of line, and easily tossed overboard for a rinse when needed. With all his bad habits, one would think fastidiousness in Po Thang's privy habits might be on the lax list, but this is the one area of his training that actually took. Taking a leak, much less a dump, on the boat deck evidently goes against his personal dogma.
He woofed and looked so distraught that I led him onto the foredeck and took a sympathy squat on the pad. Guilt assuaged, he followed my lead.
The things you do for your dog.
Since I knew there was no way I'd get back to sleep anytime soon, I made a cup of coffee, pulled on lightweight sweat pants, and went back to the bridge. A gentle southwesterly breeze swung us bow-to the incoming tide and a slight swell, saving the boat from rolling on its longitudinal axis, which is boat speak for getting whacked broadside by enough water to roll the boat from side to side and make us toss our cookies.
The refreshing zephyr also kept bugs at bay. If the wind shifted, we'd have to beat feet out of Dodge, because San Francisco Island, in the southern part of the Sea, is famous for no-see-ums wafting out from the island's interior salt flats to make life miserable for woman and dog alike. I am highly allergic to the dastardly little sand flea's bite and actually spike a fever in reaction. The chomp sites itch and ooze for days and leave marks for months. I've tried every anti-bug potion known to exist, but they nail me right through it. For at least another month, until the first norther of the fall whoops down from California and chills the air and sea, I have to be on the alert.
I turned the subsurface lights back on because I enjoy the almost glass-bottomed-boat-like effect. Po Thang immediately headed back for the dinghy as roiling fish returned and he went back to Bonkerland mode, his head snapping back and forth as he kvetched in frustration at the excess of visual riches.
My smile at his antics froze and my heart submarined into my stomach when a large dark shape in the water caught my peripheral vision. It had emerged from under the boat, then quickly disappeared underneath us again. Luckily Po Thang missed seeing it, but I spilled what was left of my coffee in my haste to turn on the fishfinder/depthsounder. It took a minute to spool up and when it did an alarm went off because I had it set at fifteen feet while anchoring a couple of days earlier. Once anchored, I turn it off, relying on my GPS alarm to alert me of a shift in location in case we dragged.
The fishfinder/depthsounder monitor screen was a blur of red, as if we were hard aground, which I knew we were not. Something was blocking the image. Something large that went bump in the night?
Ordering Po Thang to
when he was so entranced was useless, so I raced to the swim platform, grabbed his harness and hauled him back to the bridge with me. As I peered over the side from safety fourteen feet above the water, he strained against my hold, grumbling and letting out little yips in protest, but I knew if he spotted whatever it was in the water, he'd go after it. And there was no way my dog was gonna be shark food, or worse, ripped to shreds by a giant Humboldt squid, on
Before I left the dock in La Paz for this mini-cruise with my pooch, the Cruisers Net scuttlebutt warned of increasing incidents involving giant squid in the Sea of Cortez. Over the past few months, several scuba divers had disappeared—or been found torn to shreds—in suspected attacks.
To make matters worse, one of these attacks had purported witnesses.
Supposedly, in full view of beachgoers near Loreto, a pack of these behemoths attacked several fishing pangas, turning them over and killing seven fishermen. Horrified spectators reported the men's bodies looked like they'd been attacked by giant suction cups and paper shredders. One survivor was "barely identifiable" after being dragged from his boat and "chewed" by the monsters. I'd Googled the incident when I heard about it, but didn't come up with much, so I shrugged it off as urban legend. But, as they say, where there's smoke there's fire, and all of these new incidents gave the story a modicum of credence.
Marine biologists, including my friend, and my best friend Jan's significant other, Dr. Chino, were called to the scene at Loreto and after a few days managed to capture one large squid, a thirty-foot female weighing three hundred and fifty pounds. They speculated that, if this was one of the attackers, the pod was made up of mostly females numbering in the hundreds, and possibly hunting with a gang mentality known to take on prey as large as whales.
"—Red Devils—by Mexican fishermen, they are rumored to grow to forty feet and weigh five hundred pounds. Once again, I couldn't find any proof of one this big on the Internet, but the biologists speculated that if these attack reports were true, they might be on the increase due to overfishing in the squid's natural hunting grounds.
Hey, I can relate. I know there are some folks who think of
as an overweight red-haired devil, but I prefer to think of myself as a zaftig, titian-tressed sea wench who only turns vicious when really hungry.
Although most of these attacks occurred farther north of the popular cruising grounds close to La Paz, a cautionary notice to take care was released by Port Captains for the entire Sea. They didn't have to warn
twice. I grabbed a flare gun from the abandon-ship pack I keep on the bridge.
Bubbles rose and popped on the starboard side, but that was all I could see. Clipping Po Thang's harness to a stainless steel rail, I shushed him so I could listen. Rational thinking told me I was safe so high up on the flying bridge. Or was I? Just how long is the reach of a forty-foot squid's tentacles, anyhow? Hook-laden club tentacles, I might add, that seize a prey with lightening speed, drawing the captive into a squirming nest of eight arms, then chomping chunks of flesh with a massive, powerful, razor-sharp, parrot-like beak. Oh, and if that isn't enough to ruin your whole day, its tongue also sports rings of curved teeth.
Kinda like me attacking a carrot cake.
I shook off that gory image—the squid, not me and a cake—but warning bells were going off as I noticed the garden eels had pulled in, hiding under the sand, and most of the fish had skedaddled from around the boat, fleeing whatever lurked under us.
More bubbles rose and a dark head broke the surface, making me leap backward, away from the railing. I landed on Po Thang's paw, causing us both to yelp. I doubted my bare foot actually hurt him, but the contact gave us both something to yip about. "Sorry, baby," I soothed, petting his soft fur while cautiously peering back over the rail.
I sighed in relief. Backlit in my underwater lights was a common dolphin.
I'd recently learned to identify these dolphins during the summer while working on a dive boat on the Pacific side of the Baja. Our mission was to find what was left of a Manila Galleon that sank there in the late fifteen hundreds, and the expedition leader was Dr. Brigido Comacho Yee, a.k.a. Chino, the aforementioned world-renowned marine biologist, and my best friend Jan's
l'amour du jour
. He and Jan divide their time between his whale camp on the Pacific Coast, and his home on Magdalena Bay just six hours north of La Paz by road.
All boaters find joy in the jumping and chattering antics of dolphin pods traveling with them and playing chicken with the bow wake. The common dolphins are my favorites, as their clowning includes high breaches, somersaults, squeaks, and eye contact.
I'd never seen one alone, nor, like this little guy—if you can call a five-foot critter "little"—lying so still on the surface. Had I not heard what, to my untrained ear, sounded like labored gasps through his blowhole, I might have thought him dead. He slowly raised his head, squeaked at me weakly, then turned and looked behind him.
His tail flukes were wrapped—ensnared, really—in a fishing net, with a huge ball of that net trailing behind. It probably took every bit of his strength to overcome the weight of that mesh trap to get to the surface. I know dolphins cannot breathe underwater, and this one was in dire danger of being pulled under and drowned.
Looking at me again, he seemed to sigh in resignation, then sank beneath the surface. The poor animal was in deep do-do, weighed down by the heavy mesh, and was losing the battle to resurface for air.
It needed help, and needed it pronto.
Boy, oh boy, did that dolphin pick the wrong boat.