Aphra was getting more concerned every second that Curtsy didn’t swim back out of the cave. Her concerns had been a little different, watching her tuck and drive down from the surface, driving into the dark underwater cavity with lazy kicks, her buttocks bunching powerfully under the white bikini. How long has this been going on, she’d wondered. Babes underwater with tits all floaty and zero-grav, scissoring legs right at you like that? Damn?
But that had to have been over five minutes ago. She’d been extremely impressed by the blonde’s condition and diving skills on the way out to the reef–she and MeiMei cheating by hauling themselves along the Avalon marker rope, Curtsy mostly sculling along on the bottom peering at whatever weird skindiver shit was down in the silt. But this was beyond “experienced”; this was edging into “humanly impossible” and getting out there toward, “the dum bitch just drowned herself”.
She floated facedown, fixed with growing anxiety on the suddenly evil-looking overhang of the cave, crusted with strange growths and probably jagged teeth. MeiMei was really freaking out, taking big breaths and diving down, like she could do anything out here, and her as newbie at this shit as Aphra. Now WTF?
She was dithering between taking one desperation dive to the bottom, less than twenty feet, after all, and seeing if she could spot that damn ditz, or just writing off the money and heading back to the corral when she heard a piercing whistle. Her head popped out of the water and she stared across the ten yards of shallow water over the top of the reef and saw Curtsy standing knee-deep, laughing her ass off. Crazy bitch.
She caught MeiMei when she breached, gasping after another of her increasing frantic and useless attempts to see back into the cave. Pointed out the Golden Girl, posing like a Sports Illustrated cover standing in an infinite blue plate of Caribbean under scudding heaps of cumulous. “Must have been a back door,” she said, testily.
MeiMei started to yell something about scaring the crap out of them, but realized that had been the idea. “Very cute. How do we get over there?”
“Hyperventilate for a minute,” Curtsy told her, seriously. “Then drive straight down and power into the tunnel. Turn belly up. If you lose a fin or get in trouble, just crawl out along the roof of the tunnel. I’ll watch for you from this end.”
“Yeah, right,” Aphra sneered. “That why you brought us out here, play hidey-seeky?”
“Move to your right about six yards,” Curtsy told them. “See how the reef is skinnier there? Wait until a wave comes, give you a little more depth, then zip across real quick.”
She watched as her pupils followed her instructions with only a few false starts and a scrape or two, then rounded them up on the other side and tipped her mask back to give them her full gaze. “I brought you out here to see how you do,” she said. “See if you can handle being in the water. How you act if something goes wrong.”
“So did we pass, Teach?” Aphra was over it, but stuck with her pissed-off diction.
“Not bad. Nobody panicked, nobody ran for home, nobody started yelling.” She turned to MeiMei. “I appreciate your concern. You were going to try to come after me, weren’t you? Bad idea, good attitude.”
“Got any more caves you want to lose us in?” Aphra asked, looking around.
“Caves and tunnels and arches, oh my!” Curtsy burst out, her eyes shining. “It’s what makes this place so special. The whole Yucatan is just a flat plate of limestone eaten full of holes like Swiss cheese. On land they call them cenotes, underwater, they’re my personal playground.”
“That just sounds so dangerous,” MeiMei said, staring around at the curl of waves out to the lighthouse, a power cruiser spanking around the point. “What if you get stuck or run out of air.”
“The technical term for that,” Curtsy lectured learnedly, “Is ‘crab chow’. Kind of like, what happens if you run out of handhold when you’re mountain climbing. And you can’t do underwater spelunking with SCUBA tanks.”
Aphra nodded at that. She’d wanted to spring for tanks, feeling it would be safer and more professional than just swimming to the yacht with snorkles. But this little exercise Curtsy had termed a “test dive” had convinced her freedive was the way to go. No bulky gear, no tell-tale bubbles, no wetsuits covering up the goodies of her companions out here on this invisible meniscus between aquamarine water and deep-dish blue sky. “So.” she said. “What next, Houdinita?”
Well, we could go out to the lighthouse if you want. It’s really fun sitting out there, up in the air like that. But mostly let’s screw around in here. We can go outside…” she waved at the inlets between the string of low flat rocks, waves rushing though them and occasionally breaking over the rocks, scattering gulls and pelicans. “But we aren’t planning on going anywhere with wave motion, so let’s screw around in here for awhile, get used to diving, learn some signals.”
“Signals?” Aphra stuck in. “We aren’t going to be down in the Titanic or nothing. We can just stick our heads up and talk, right.”
“Yeah,” Curtsy said brusquely. “If we want people to hear us.”
Aphra nodded. She was suddenly aware that she resented not being the stealth expert. She was on Curtsy’s turf and aware that the girl could lose her or even kill her out here with no trouble whatsoever. She was in the hands of a blond for crissakes.
But she liked what she was seeing. Curtsy leading, MeiMei–in pretty decent shape her self for a scholarly type–because she needed to find and ID what they were looking for, and Aphra because she was bankrolling and anyway had a long-standing prejudice towards being on the scene when the shit goes down.
And if you wanted a practice field or dive dojo or whatever, this place was perfect. She could see now that the reef with the tunnel was paralleled by the other reef, that stuck up above water a foot or so, leaving a nice sheltered pool in between the two. To the south the strange triangle of the Avalon Reef stuck up like an abandoned Lego project, to the north was a necklace of rock wreathed with a tossing lace of wave, back behind them was an immense stretch of sand-bottomed shallows.
Curtsy was no drillmistress. She led them around showing them sights. Sting rays flying along the bottom like slo-mo birds, darting clouds of Blue Tangs, a big Parrotfish grinning like his dentures hurt. starfish, fan corals. But Aphra noticed each time they examined some cool little fish or cavern or shell they were getting smoother at going down, coming up without noise as she taught them how to displace the water in their snorkles before tipping them up to sip air, learning to be aware of each other’s positions and understand the others’ signals and gestures. They were starting to move together, like a herd of some kind as they learned their environment. Hmmph, she thought, School of Fish, is what we got here.
Curtsy pulled them up in the lee of the largest islet, MeiMei jabbering in wonder at the fish and various specimens she was seeing. “Is there always reef this close to the island?” she asked.
Curtsy laughed. “La Isla is a reef, Doc. A limestone reef. Where it’s dry they build houses on it; where it’s wet enough the coral build on it.”
Aphra was more into business than science. “You think we’ve got it together enough for the caper?”
“I think so. For beginners, you guys are doing fine. And everybody’s in shape. Should be a piece of cake now that we’re starting to move like a unit. Just remember: it’s two little raids we’re doing here. Yours and mine.”
Aphra nodded and started to speak when they heard another shrill whistle, this one brassy and cop-like. The girls started and looked towards shore, where a bulky guy in the red and white livery of the Avalon security squad was blowing a whistle and angrily motioning at them to go back into the roped-off area. All three laughed in unison.
“Not many rules in open ocean,” Curtsy giggled.
“And enforcement’s a bitch,” Aphra added.
MeiMei chuckled. “Know what we should do?”
Moving almost as if choreographed, the three spun around and laid out prone in the water. Then all three hauled down their bikini bottoms and paddled hard to hoist their gleaming butts above water, shooting the security guy a triple-barreled, tri-tone, multi-racial moon.
They turned and lay back, finning slowly to see the guard’s reaction. He stood for a minute, scowling, then laughed and started to applaud. They waved and Curtsy did a sort of water curtsy, then started back towards towels and shooters at Na Balam, laughing like schoolgirls.
“No, honey,” Aphra said between laugh spasms. “Now we’re moving like a unit.”