Thor stared at him.
Jack smiled. “He was a German immigrant—not a real count—working down here in the hospital. He fell in love with a Cuban girl named Elena. He knew she had tuberculosis. He made up some weird kind of cure, but despite his efforts, the girl died. Family had her buried. A few years later, he decides she should be buried in a great mausoleum, so he builds it, and supposedly that’s where the girl’s body is interred. But as time goes by, folks start to notice odd things about his place. Like it looks as if he’s dancing with this huge doll. Turns out the poor bastard dug up Elena and tried to put her back together again so that he could try some whacked-out thing to bring her back to life. Bastard slept with the corpse for years, repairing her constantly. Finally the family got wind of it, and the sister goes to see him. There was an uproar, but there’s a statute of limitations on whatever crime they figured it to be, so he gets off. This is Key West, after all. He not only gets away without being charged, he winds up with people sending him money to survive.”
“You’re a lying sack of shit, Jack,” Thor told him.
“I swear to you, it’s a true story. Ask anyone. Look it up. Newspapers all over the country carried the story.” He paused and took a puff of his cigar. “The point is, comparatively speaking, the young lady you’re staring at is as sane as they come. And damned better looking than any other I’ve ever seen with these old eyes.”
Thor shook his head and lifted his beer. “I saw her out there today, and when you’re diving, the last thing you need is someone going off the deep end, no pun intended. Ask her out on a date, Jack, but don’t bring her on my boat. There’s too much at stake.”
“I’ve gone diving with that girl many a time, Thor. She knows what she’s doing. As far as hooking up with her, hell, I could be her father. And I’ve known her forever, since she was a kid.”
Thor shook his head again and turned his focus to the water. Late summer. Hot days, gorgeous nights. There was always a breeze coming off the ocean. And the sun, when it set, was glorious. It was eight at night, and the sky was getting ready to change. Now it was light. Soon it would be pink, purple, gold, yellow, blue…streaks of color that would slowly deepen. Then, around eight-thirty, it would suddenly go dark.
He was staring at the water…and then he was staring at her again. It was hard not to stare at her, he thought, realizing what it was about her that drew him so powerfully. She emanated a natural, easy sensuality. It was evident in her every movement. Nothing forced, nothing overt. Something she herself wouldn’t even know she possessed.
“Sun’s going down now,” Jack commented. “You could take off the shades.”
Thor smiled again. Hell, no. He liked the ink-dark Ray-Bans. No one could tell when his eyes kept turning toward the other table.
“Can’t take your eyes off her, huh?” Jack asked.
“What’s not to appreciate about eye candy? I just don’t think any rational man—especially a diver—should get too close to a loose cannon.”
“Want to hear about the guy who thought his doll was alive and all the folks who think it’s cursed?”
Thor groaned. “Jack, give it a rest.”
“Hey, it’s all real stuff. Know where the name Key West came from? When the Spaniards first arrived, it was one big boneyard. An Indian tribe that died out? Killed in a massacre? No one knows. But there were bones everywhere, so they called it Cayo Hueso, Island of Bones. The English didn’t bother to translate the Spanish, just turned it into words they knew. I’m telling you, Thor, Key West is a unique place.”
Thor smiled slowly. “Jack, if you’re trying to convince me that she’s totally right in the head, you’re not getting anywhere. The woman claims she saw a body in the water. And that it talked to her.”
“Hey…for every tale out there, you’ll find a grain of truth.”
“Have you heard about a missing person in the area? Anybody looking for a murder victim? I had the news on—far as I can tell, everyone’s accounted for.”
“You’re sounding like a callous son of a bitch, and I know better,” Jack told him. “What you are is so focused on diving that you don’t mind going through women like Kleenex.”
Thor arched a brow. “Yeah? Haven’t seen you settle down.”
“Never knew a woman could keep up—in my generation. They probably existed somewhere. We just didn’t cross paths.”
“I don’t play where I work,” he said softly.
Jack let out a guffaw. “That’s ’cause the one woman on our team is married and an Amazon to boot.”
“Now, who’s being a son of a bitch?”
“Me? I think Lizzie’s great, but she’s all business. Tough as nails, and I think she could take me if we were arm wrestling. And if she couldn’t, well, who the hell would want to mess with Zach?”
Thor shrugged, amused. Lizzie—Elizabeth Green—was not a woman to be taken lightly. She wasn’t an inch shorter than his own six-three. Her husband, Zach, had been a professional basketball player, and between them, they were a daunting pair. Lizzie waged a lot of the company’s battles when they were seeking permits for projects. She could best almost any man. “Lizzie’s tough. And down to earth. She isn’t going to fly off the handle, seeing corpses that aren’t really there.”
“Come on. Everyone’s been spooked by something once or twice.”
“And you’re a pile of crap yourself, Thor.”
“You’d have your tongue on the pavement if she crooked her little finger.”
“Yeah? Bull.” He spoke coolly, but he knew he was lying. The nutcase was almost explosively hot. But he hadn’t been lying when he said he didn’t fool around where he worked. Even on a long haul, they put into port somewhere, and that’s where he did his playing. Complications on a job were something nobody needed.
“I call ’em like I see ’em,” Jack said flatly. “No one’s ever accused me of lying.”
“Hell, I’m accusing you right now,” Thor said.
Jack laughed, noticing that Thor was watching the other table again. “Remember, Thor, the mighty can fall,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve been hearing that ‘mighty Thor’ shit all my life,” Thor told him, then waved to the bartender, the owner’s son, ordering another round.
“We all looked, Genevieve,” Victor said. “There was nothing there.”
“I’m telling you, I saw a woman’s body,” Genevieve repeated stubbornly, her jaw set. “Look, I don’t know if it was some kind of a joke, or if there’s a real murder victim down there. But I didn’t hallucinate. I saw it.”
Bethany Clark touched Genevieve’s knee. “Hey, honey, all of us see things down there sometimes. It’s the mind playing tricks. The water playing tricks, causing visual distortion.”
“Have another beer,” Victor said dryly. “It will make everything better.”
Genevieve groaned, gritting her teeth. She couldn’t say they hadn’t tried. She had kicked her way to the surface with the speed of lightning. Thankfully, she hadn’t been deep. The moment the woman had opened her eyes and smiled, she had felt such a sense of sheer panic that she had rocketed to the surface, which could have been deadly if she had been down deep. When she’d reached the surface, she had nearly choked on salt water, spitting out her regulator and waving her arms madly.
Marshall Miro, head of their unit, had been on board, and she knew she’d been babbling as he’d helped her out. Victor had surfaced right after her, having seen her ascent. Then Bethany and Alex, not too far distant, had come up, and Bethany had stayed aboard while the others had gone down, searching for the woman’s body. The Seeker, one of their fellow ships, had been in the vicinity, as well. Her crew had gone down, too.
And none of them had seen anything.
Maybe she had imagined the eyes opening, the woman reaching out, but she had seen a body. She just didn’t know what had happened to it.
Unfortunately, she had babbled something about the eyes and the fact that the dead woman had moved, even tried to speak, and now even Bethany, her best friend, thought she was crazy.
She glanced around the small resort in the old-town area of Key West where they were staying. She actually owned a house not even half a mile away that her great-great-however-many-greats-grandfather had built on the island years before the Civil War.
But this place was a local hangout. Jack kept his beat-up old fishing boat here, and there was one slip where three of the area cops kept their boats berthed. They liked to come here just to have coffee, or drinks in the evening.
She’d stayed here on purpose to be able to work this project at the blink of an eye with the others. Their dive boat was right there, where they needed it, along with The Seeker. There was no spa or twenty-four-hour room service, but what it did have was true old Conch charm. The main house had been built in the 1800s. Bungalows had been added right around World War II and were spread out over a sandy beach, and each offered an outside table and chairs on a little individual patio. There was also the tiki bar and “munch house,” as they called it, which opened at seven in the morning and stayed open until midnight or so. The night bartender was the owner’s son, so he kept it open as long as he was having fun. The menu wasn’t gourmet, but it was fresh and delicious.
Despite the fact the divers following her garbled directions hadn’t found a body, Genevieve had insisted on reporting what she had seen to the police—by then calm enough to report the body but not the fact it had seemed to move of its own volition. It had been late when they had actually returned to shower and change and meet here at the bar to dine on fresh fish sandwiches, and the resort’s own coleslaw and potato salad.