by Kristine Williams
"Jim. I was just curious, exactly what does Blair do for the department?" Katie had finished her spaghetti and was nursing a second cup of coffee, sitting opposite Jim.
"His knowledge of subcultures and human behavior has been a great help in several cases I've been working on." Jim replied. "Our Captain decided he might be a helpful addition to the department in an advisory capacity."
"Fascinating." Clive said, shaking his head. "I find it fascinating that he's so adept at getting himself into such adventurous circumstances. Makes my life here at the station sound so completely dull."
"I wouldn't call living out here dull, Professor. I mean, Clive." he corrected himself just as he realized Clive was about to. "It's incredible out here. I'd forgotten just how beautiful these islands are."
"Yes, they are that." Katie said, snuggling closer to her husband. "Listen, why don't you and Amy take Jim on a tour? I'm going to take some food upstairs to Blair. And it's Lucy's turn to do the dishes." She had raised her voice for the last sentence and Jim heard a soft moan behind him.
"Oh drat." Lucy said, reluctantly pushing herself away from the table. "I guess it is."
"Good idea dear." Clive kissed his wife quickly and stood, digging his pipe out of his sweater pocket. "Jim, Amy, shall we go down to the barge?"
Jim stood and let Amy precede him across the room. They each grabbed coats from the pegs near the door to protect them against the late afternoon chill blowing up from the bay. Jim glanced at the sky, taking note of the black clouds building there. "Looks like another storm."
"Yes, I think you're right." Clive glanced up just before starting down the steps to the pier. "We've had a few rough nights lately. And fog. Which is precisely why I can't talk that supply pilot into getting up here before Tuesday." he led the way down to the water and out across the pier, towards the research barge docked at the end. "We've had to extend this pier by nearly double what it was. The ship was found relatively close, so they decided it would be much easier to just elongate the dock, and set the barge up at the end. It's worked out rather well." They reached the barge now and climbed aboard. "The tanks and diving gear are stowed below, but the real fun stuff is over here." Clive led the way to the bow and into a large room filled with banks of lights and monitors. Jim noticed the submersible camera on the table and recognized the remote equipment lining the far wall.
"I haven't seen one of these in a while," he said, admiring the small, propeller driven machine.
"It's quite old actually." Amy said, smiling at the machine. "The University bought it new about ten years ago, but we've managed to keep it going." She moved over to the monitor next to the table and flipped a switch. "Igor still takes great pictures."
Jim turned and watched the screen as a clear image of an anemone covered rock filled the monitor. "Igor?" he asked.
"That's what we call it. Someone dubbed it that years ago, and it stuck. Here's the ship, as much as we've found of her." Amy pointed to the monitor and Jim could see the faint outline of a hull, half buried in the silt and sand.
She was right, there wasn't much of the ship there other than the main beams of the hull, a section of main mast, and two barnacle encrusted cannons. "How deep is she?"
"Right here, 80 feet." Amy pointed to the tip of the hull, then moved her finger back to a point they couldn't see. "And back here, the farthest we've found pieces, 110 feet. And cold." she shuddered visibly. "I don't go down there. Diving isn't something I've ever been brave enough to try. Maybe if we were in the tropics, I'd be more tempted. But here, especially this time of year, when you have a twenty minute survival time, that just doesn't make me want to try it any time soon."
"I'm sure if you wanted a closer look, we could talk Blair into going down with you." Clive said, watching the screen as the camera view panned the length of the ship. "Did he ever tell you about the time he nearly lost Igor for us?"
"No." Jim said, watching the ship on the screen. "No he didn't."
"I'd like to hear this one." Amy added, turning to the Professor.
Clive chuckled, lighting his pipe again. "He found a rather impressive native ceremonial canoe, sunk out there in the channel, and was trying to get some clear pictures of it without having to dive down out there. Well, he gets Igor all the way out, which is at the absolute limit of the poor machine's remote range, and it dies. Just flat out dies. Floats, thank God, to the surface, and just sits there. Well, we had a slack tide that was only going to last another twenty minutes, then all we'd be able to do would be to wave as our University's $48,000 piece of equipment floats out the channel into the sea." Jim was grinning now, picturing his housemate's face. "So Blair sails off the pier, which at that time was much shorter, and starts swimming out there like a madman, trying to reach Igor before the tide changes. One other student jumped in to follow...Eddie, I think was his name. They get out there, get hold of Igor, whose camera is still functioning as we were watching this from the monitor, and get the propeller unclogged. Then, just as they turn to swim back with it, Blair comes eyeball to eyeball with a migrating humpback." Clive was shaking his head, trying not to laugh too much. "They rarely ever get into the channel here, usually they miss these islands altogether on their way up north. We mostly see killer whales here. Anyway, there he is, he and Eddie, and there's this whale. And at that time we had switched over from being a whale migration observatory to anthropology, and here comes this anthropology student, who gets the absolute best pictures of a whale so rarely seen...Well, the biology department was so impressed, they tried for days to recruit him out of anthropology."
Jim was laughing, trying to picture Blair out there, in the near freezing water, face to face with a creature so huge. Jim had seen whales that close before, but never a humpback, and never without a complete diving suit and several companions around. The experience was one he would never forget. Just then lightning flashed outside, followed quickly by thunder.
"Here we go again." Amy said.
"We'd better get inside. Maybe this time it will blow over and clear out some of the clouds." Clive flipped off the monitor and instructed Amy to secure the instruments.
"I'd like to have a quick look at the diving equipment if you don't mind." Jim said, following the Professor.
"Certainly. It's all kept down below." He pointed to the hatch that led down to the belly of the barge. "Help yourself. I have to go batten down the hatches, so to speak."
Jim nodded and watched him leave, then headed down below to have a look at the tanks. They were lined up in rows, chained to the wall unit that held them in place. Twenty tanks in all. Jim glanced at each one, noting they were all full. Kenny had said the tanks were turned in that morning for replacements. He couldn't help but think that was a little convenient. When Tim got back to them, he could check with the dive shop that maintained the tanks, find out if there was anything wrong with the one Emily had used. He heard another clap of thunder and decided to head back up to the research center. Amy had just completed her shut down of the equipment and accompanied him back up the pier.
"How's Blair taking this?" she asked just before they reached the door. "I know he and Emily were close once."
"He'll be okay. It's never easy to lose someone like this. She was very young."
"Yes. She would have turned 26 this summer. I still can't believe it."
The entered the building then and both left their coats by the door. It had started to rain halfway up the pier and they were dripping already.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to this weather. I'm from Arizona originally." Amy shook her coat out slightly before hanging it up, then she glanced into the living area and Jim followed her gaze, seeing Kenny and his two followers sitting together around a table that was covered with papers. Jim focused in on what the boys were studying and recognized nautical maps and charts.
"What all have you been finding down there, in the wreck?" he asked, handing his coat to Amy who was reaching for it.
"Oh, artifacts mostly. Personal items from the ship's crew. It was originally from Mexico, and had several lovely custom made captain's galley items, plates and art work." She hung up his coat and they both walked to the kitchen. "Coffee?"
"No thanks. I think I'll take a hot shower, get warmed up." As he walked to the hallway that would lead to their room he glanced back out to the couch, noting that Kenny was watching him as he went.
Blair wasn't in the room, so he found the bathroom across the hall and the stash of clean towels, and took a long hot shower. Kenny Pritchard filled Jim's mind as he let the hot water run down his back, warming the chill he'd been feeling down at the barge and tried to work out that bunched up muscle in his back. There was something he didn't like about that one. And Blair's reaction to him earlier that day only confirmed it. For someone who had just witnessed the accidental death of his girlfriend, he seemed way too glib. Everything about him was too neat and tidy. From his perfectly tailored clothes, which were odd enough at a College research station, to his yuppy hair cut. Jim had never liked boys like Kenny when he was in school. Rich, spoiled, and with way too much free time on their hands. He had to wonder how a girl could date two of the most opposite men he had ever known.
This whole situation was beginning to smell fishy. Sure, diving accidents happened. But at 80 feet, they weren't down so far as to be unable to make it back up in a hurry. And if Kenny had noticed their tank levels, why hadn't Emily? If they were both using full tanks, they should have had the same amount of air. Her, even more, as women tended to breath more shallowly underwater, doing a better job of conserving air. And his attitude about not only her death, but Blair's arrival, just wasn't sitting well with Jim. He shut off the water and began to towel himself dry. He had cared enough about her to go to the mainland and purchase a nice coffin, but not enough to even fake a more emotional response to being questioned about the accident that killed her? Blair had been more upset than Kenny seemed to be, and yet Blair was feeling guilty about not feeling worse. No, there was definitely something going on here.
Jim finished toweling off, wrapped the larger towel around his waist and crossed the hallway to their room. Blair was inside, sitting on top of the desk, watching the lightning that was flashing across the sky with more intensity.
"Hey Jim. Katie tells me you got the tour?"
Jim smiled, reaching into his bag for clean socks. "Yeah. That's some set up down there." he pulled on the socks and found some underwear. "They've got good footage of the wreck from the underwater camera." He tossed aside his jeans and pulled on sweats instead.
"Igor? That old thing is still working?"
"Yeah. Working pretty well, judging by the pictures I saw of that wreck." he pulled on a sweatshirt and rubbed the towel through his short hair one more time. "I heard about you nearly losing that camera."
Blair laughed. Jim was relieved to see him smiling again. "Man, that was something. I thought I was going to die right there on the spot." He shook his head, looking at Jim, but his eyes were blank for a moment as he remembered. "God, it was incredible. I was staring right into its eye, and it was watching me. You could see the intelligence there, like he knew exactly who I was and what I was doing."
"That's not something you ever forget."
Blair nodded. "Yeah. I actually considered switching to marine biology that night. Until I saw the pictures I had taken of the canoe we were looking for."
Jim laughed a little and settled in on the bed, leaning against the wall so he could watch the storm outside. "This place is something. We should come up to these islands more often, bring the kayaks, do some camping."
Blair looked out the window as another flash of lightning lit up the night sky. "Clive's been up here for a long time. He keeps saying he should leave, find something more interesting to do. I can't see him ever leaving. And Katie, she's been here with him since the beginning. They've really got a little piece of paradise here." he paused, watching the wind blow the branches they could see from the few trees next to the building. "Hey Jim, I know I've been a little out of it lately, and I just wanted to say..."
"Forget it Chief. I understand."
"No, really. I need to say it Jim." Blair looked at him then, "I've been a little self-absorbed, and I wanted to thank you for putting up with it."
Jim smiled, nodding. "No problem." Another round of thunder hit, closer this time, and Jim squinted against the echoing in his head. He had his hearing turned down, but that one was louder than he had anticipated. "If this clears up tomorrow, how about a dive?"
Blair looked at him, "You want to see the wreck?"
"Yeah, I wouldn't mind. Seeing as how we'll be up here for a couple of days. Clive tells me you're a pretty good diver. Another little aspect of you I had no idea about."
Blair laughed, "Sure, okay. I haven't seen it myself yet, could be fun." He paused, glancing outside. "Cold though."
"I saw plenty of wetsuits down on that barge. Besides, cold water diving gets your heart pumping, your blood flowing..."
"Yeah, your teeth chattering, your fingers turning blue.."
"You're not getting too old on me are you Sandburg?"
Blair just laughed. "Okay, you're on."
Jim was glad to see his housemate's return to whatever normal was for Blair. He was still a little quiet, a little sad around the edges maybe, but he did seem to be perking up. Jim hoped it was from their chat earlier, although it could have been something Katie or Clive had said to him upstairs. He doubted that, though, after what Clive had said about Blair never talking about himself. And Jim had been forced to pry him open, out there on the rocks. No, he was coming around now. He'd be fine. He still needed work, but he'd be fine.
"Listen, Blair, how well do you know these students up here?"
Blair raised his eyebrows for a moment, considering the question. "Larry Dike, and Ross something..."
"Yeah, Ross Edwards, I hardly know at all. Amy and I have been on research projects together before, when she was in anthropology, before she switched her major. The other girl, I saw her in the kitchen earlier, I've never met her."
"Lucy Evans. What about this Pritchard guy?"
Blair paused, rolling his eyes, and moved from the table to the bed, sitting down and leaning against the wall to face Jim. "Kenny Pritchard. I've known him for a little while. Knew more about him, really, than actually knowing him. Emily, well, her mother wasn't too keen on she and I staying together for very long. And Kenny was the son of a friend of a friend, or something." He sighed a little, looking at his hands. "Her parents had higher goals for their only daughter. And we were nowhere near being that serious anyway, so she broke it off and started seeing him."
"So, he's your typical spoiled rich kid, getting an education off his parents' hard work?"
"Seems to me he's just a little too self-composed."
"What do you mean?" Blair looked at him then, a slow dawning of worry crossing his face.
"I'm not sure yet." Jim replied, shrugging. "I just know there's something about this guy I don't like. And those other two, they hang on his every word. I have a feeling if he said jump, they'd do it. Amy seems to have a will of her own, though."
"She's been around longer than the others. She's a grad student, working on her doctorate in field research. All the others are under grads, but Kenny likes to take charge wherever he is. Doesn't always work, but he tries."
"He's tried that with you? What's the story here, Chief?"
Blair sighed, looking at his hands, then out the window. "I just blew it, that's all." He shrugged. "I'm not from the right circles, and Kenny was. And he liked to remind me of that after...Well after Emily left me and started to date him." Blair shifted on the bed and Jim could see a struggle behind his eyes. "You know, I never did care about a persons background, not that way, but Kenny...he makes you think about it. He likes to remind you of things." Blair shrugged again and stopped talking.
Jim was nodding, and opened his mouth to speak when there was a knock on the door. He stood and opened it,
"Ah, Jim. I was going to offer you a drink and some conversation, now that the young ones are in for the night." Clive smiled in at Blair then looked back at Jim expectantly.
"Sounds good. I'd love to hear more stories about my friend here." Jim grinned, glancing at Blair for just a moment.
"Hey now, come on."
"Just you relax. I'm sure there's not much I can say that would be a surprise to someone like Detective Ellison." Clive winked at Jim and motioned for him to follow.
"You kids have fun. I'm going to bed." Blair called after them as Jim shut the door.
Jim followed Clive back down the hall and up the stairs, where he found Katie sitting on the couch pouring white wine into glasses. She smiled as they approached, and offered a glass to Jim.
"Blair staying down?"
"I think it's past his bed time." Jim said, accepting the glass with a smile. "He's afraid we'll embarrass him."
"Oh, I don't think that's possible." She sat back with a glass in her hand and patted the couch for her husband to sit next to her.
Jim took one of the chairs facing the couple and sipped his wine, looking outside at the storm that was blowing past the windows. The lightning and thunder had stopped, and the clouds were beginning to move, allowing the bright white light of the moon to peak through on occasion. He found himself admiring Blair's choice of friends in the Professor and his wife. His friend could be so easily influenced by the people around him that Jim had to wonder what kind of effect he was having on the younger man.
"Blair tells me there's a story behind that ship out there."
"Ah yes." Clive sat down and put a hand on his wife's knee. "Legend, really. During those gold rush days, there were ships coming and going through this inside passage, from California, to Washington, then up to Alaska. During the trips back down, there were some pirates who would occasionally sink a ship for it's gold. Many of the prospectors took to shipping their gold down on the trains when that started, but they'd run into hassles coming down through Canada, which was not too happy about being a tramping ground at the time. You may recall reading about that little war, with the pig?"
"It's my contention that the pig was only wounded in that war." Katie chimed in, laughing.
Jim nodded, trying to recall his local history. He never was good about the lesser known facts, and the Pig War was one he simply couldn't bring to mind.
"Well, anyway, these ships often tried to out maneuver both the pirates and the authorities by sailing in and around the islands a few times, either to confuse their chasers or hide from the locals. This ship was thought to have been empty, on its way up from California. But, legend has it that the ship was full of gold that had already been melted into bars, and was going down the coast, not up." He paused to light his pipe and took a few long puffs. "I will admit, when it was discovered, I was entertaining thoughts of the glittering metal myself. For research funding, of course."
"Of course." Jim smiled.
"But, there was nothing found. At least, nothing of that type of value. But archeologically speaking, and scientifically, it's a wonder to behold. It was a beautiful vessel in its day. I have pictures somewhere, I think. Hard to believe it was there for so long and we missed it all this time."
"Well, no one was looking for it here." Katie said, patting her husband's knee.
"How was it found?" Jim asked.
"Nearly a year ago, or more like 8 months I suppose, anyway, there was an earthquake, not too terribly big, but enough to shift around some rocks that weren't too well balanced to begin with, and voila. She poked her broken nose out and Igor spotted her one afternoon. I have to admit, it took me a few rewinds of that tape before I recognized what I was looking at was a ship. We were looking for more finds like the canoe Blair spotted that time. And we were picking up some lunch on the way back. Igor has a nice claw fitting for grabbing the occasional lobster or urchin."
"Oh, there's something I haven't had in a while." Katie sighed deeply and looked at Jim. "Blair got me hooked on urchins when he was out here the first time. Clive prefers them boiled, but Blair and I eat them raw." Jim was making a face and she laughed. "You haven't tried them?" Jim shook his head. "Well, you're missing a treat. I'll have to gather some up tomorrow for dinner. You just cut a circle around their mouths, and dig right in. Well, I suppose it's an acquired taste for some. Like oysters. Clive still prefers those fried."
Jim shuddered for a moment, picturing himself eating a raw urchin. He did enjoy oysters, and even liked them best raw, but the urchin was more stomach than meat. But then, Blair liked tongue. I wonder what other organs he enjoys?
"How long have you known Kenny Pritchard?" Jim decided it was time to change the subject, before he had himself promising to taste something he'd regret. Although the tongue had turned out to be rather tasty.
"Oh, not long." Katie glanced at Clive for confirmation. "He came up the month that ship was found, with his class. They were here for about a month, then it was summer and he didn't come back up until the fall class came. By then, he was much more interested in the ship and the artifacts they were bringing up." She paused, sipping her wine. "He's not a very easy one to get to know. There's something about him I've seen in very few students here. And it's not just his wealthy background, although that may have been what shaped his personality. He's just, well, more reserved."
"Like he's trying to outguess you at every step." Clive finished for her. "You can see it whenever you ask a question. He's considering your reaction to his answer before he answers you." he pulled on his pipe, shaking his head. "No. That one isn't destined for much greatness as far as his studies go. He's not curious enough. Too calculating, too cold."
"And the others?"
"Larry and Ross are okay, I suppose." Katie said, thoughtfully. "Not much by way of personality. They seem to follow Kenny around everywhere, and just do what he says. I'm surprised they're even here. As far as the wreck goes, they both seem interested enough, but they don't have the drive you normally see in students of this field. This is their first time up here, so I may be wrong. They've only been up for three weeks."
"And Lucy, she seems to be another Pritchard follower so far." Clive said. "Although she's much more intelligent as the other two, she still seems to bow to Kenny's authority. Of which he really has none, not here anyway."
"And Amy? She's a grad student, isn't she?"
"Yes. Now there's a scientist in the making." Clive smiled, re-lighting his pipe. "She's quick, intelligent, and curious. And, she's just as adept at handling the equipment, like Igor, as Blair always was. Although, she's never had to swim out to retrieve it." At that he chuckled.
"Did you tell her about that?" Katie asked her husband. "She wasn't here when that happened, was she?" Clive nodded, then shook his head, still trying to light the pipe. "I'm afraid if it's an unbiased opinion you're looking for on Kenny and the others, you've come to the wrong place. I usually enjoy these students, but every now and again we get a group that just doesn't click. You could speak to Amy about the other students, but I don't think she thinks too highly about Kenny either. And I know Blair doesn't like him, though I've never seen those two up here together. Amy has told me stories about Blair and Emily's breakup."
Jim raised his eyebrows slightly, wondering about the breakup himself. Maybe later Blair would open up more about that. Maybe he'd have to open him up. "Well, thank you for the wine. I should turn in." Jim stood, setting the now empty glass down on the table. "Blair said he'd take a dive with me tomorrow, if this weather clears up."
"Oh good. It'll be good for him to do something other than wait around for that paperwork to come back, and a pilot to take you all back. And I hear the wind should blow it all out tonight." Katie looked outside at the now visible moon. "It certainly seems to be trying."
"Well, good night."
Clive nodded, still trying to get his pipe to hold a flame and Katie said goodnight.
As Jim walked back down the hallway to the room he and Blair were sharing, he passed by the now closed doors to the students quarters, automatically opening his hearing to full.
"Don't worry about it. We've got that nicer coffin, and once the papers come through, she'll pass right through customs. It's not like they open caskets for crying out loud. It's only Canada, not some third world country."
Jim could almost believe they were discussing a simple case of nervous sorrow about having their friend shipped home in a casket. If it hadn't been Kenny doing the talking.
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