Raiders of the Lost Chance

“Well they sure don’t look harmless to me,” MeiMei said. “Those underslung jaws are bad enough, but their eyes have that attitude like, you know…Just start something, bitch.”

Aphra wasn’t that crazy about the big school of barracuda, either. In fact, she wasn’t nuts about snorkeling in dark shallows at night with the only light some sort of gizmodo halogen thing Curtsy had brought but didn’t seem to want to ever turn on. But she’d let Ms. China Syndrome do the whining.

Curtsy wouldn’t have turned the light on at all if she’d known it would show a big bank of silvery killers hovering around them a sardine can full of primordial hard-eye. But she steadied MeiMei up with a chuckle. “You know how many people have ever been killed by barracuda around here? Zero. You know how many barracuda I saw roasting on a beach fire last month? Fifty. So who’s the dangerous ones here?”

She gotten her bearings straight and figured her team of Gnarly’s Angels was about as comfortable with dark water as they were going to get. She splashed the surface and when they looked at her, she pointed the direction.

Aphra did one more nervous adjustment of her mask, muttering, “I don’t see why we gotta swim around our elbows to get to that asshole. Plenty of docks over there by Rolandis.”

“You didn’t want anybody seeing us going in,” Curtsy told her curtly.

“Or more important, coming out,” MeiMei threw in. She was aware that the plan had been built around Aphra’s tactics, so the Black girl was probably just doing a little mood-lightening. What worried her was coming back to the cul de sac where they’d left their rented, street-legal golf cart. The heavy current in through Sac Bajo had made getting to the mouth of Macax Lagoon almost a waterslide, but coming back they’d be tired, possibly in a hurry, and fighting that surge. But she had faith in Curtsy. Their “test dive” had impressed her with her underwater abilities–about what you’d expect of a woman enamored of dolphins. She had figured that impressing them had been part of the reason for the maiden run. So now she blindly followed the blonde into black water between even blacker scrub.

The only thing that creeped her out was having things brush her legs. Plastic bags, seagrunge, flesh-stripping monster tentacles: hard to tell until it was too late. It was getting easier to see as they moved down the lagoon, streetlights, waterfront bars and restaurants, work lights in the marinas, various glows from boats. She’d been nervous in the dark, but the gradually lightening of their little swim reminded her that the main thing was not to have anybody see them. That’s why she and Curtsy rubbed that black gunk all over themselves. Curtsy had said that wetsuits would just be too hot in the summer backwaters and she’d turned down Aphra’s offer to help her smear the blackface all over her bod.

She didn’t have much kit on her: a workmanlike chisel-tipped, serrated diving knife sheathed on one leg and a black fanny pack full of tools she assumed came in handy for unauthorized entry. Aphra had a knife that looked less like a tool and more like a prosecutor’s exhibit in a serial murder trial. And a watertight packet box full of electronic doodads strapped around her waist. Curtsy seemed mostly clothed in ropes, various rigs to get them up the daunting sides of the yacht. Last resort stuff, Aphra had said: there would probably be lines or an anchor chain or some sort of fantail ladder. But, Aphra had pointed out, “Best you be prepared.”

And when Curtsy had said she must have been a boy scout, Aphra had given her a private grin and said, “Actually, I was more of a girl scout.”

So they were ready. And moving past El Varadero. MeiMei stuck close to the mangroves across the channel, even though that increased her contact with “things”. She could see the fat Black woman carrying two buckets of beer to a couple of guys so authentic salty and seafaring you just knew the closest they came to boat ownership was having a beer schooner or two. The soft, golden glow of the restaurant and rollick of Cuban son and mambo made her wish she could just ditch this whole craziness, swim over there and get some shrimp and beer, maybe run into that Tuan guy again.

Then it hit her that passing Varadero meant they were almost to the swaging yard. She looked ahead, shaking her mask clear of water to see the Nahual. There was a dark hulk in front of her, listing into the water. She remembered the half-sunken ferry she’d seen. She started to move between it and the shore, but the tight gap gave her pause. A lair of vicious Things if she ever saw one. She moved around the foundered boat, trying to stay low in the water with only the tip of her snorkle exposed to harsh lights of the repair yard. She trailed a her gloved hand along the wrecked hull to keep oriented, the rubber-ribbed nylon sliding along the rough, slimy timbers without giving her any splinters or queasies. She felt a change in the curvature and realized she had reached the taper of the stern. She swam a little faster, couldn’t resist poking her head up for a look.

And bumped right into Aphra’s tight ass.

She and Curtsy hovered vertical in the black water, finning slowly while staring at the empty place where the Nahual should have been moored. MeiMei jerked her head to the left, checking the boatyard. No gigantic mega-yacht there: she would have noticed it right away.

The Nahual had left the building.

Aphra turned to her and Curtsy, calm in the face of a total fuck-up. “Slight change of plans, kids,” she said. “Follow me.”

Cariña, if you trying to ‘pass’, you need to look around, some better kind make-up,” the Varadero owner told Curtsy, laughing her huge ass off as she trundled off to fetch them a bucket of Superior.

Oddly they hadn’t drawn that much attention, three hot women in swimsuits and facemasks, two smeared with back goop, all three lashed up with commando gear. The Varadero probably gets all kinds, MeiMei was thinking.

She’d been shocked when Aphra had headed towards the lights of the restaurant, swimming fast across the channel where there might be boats coming through even this late. But when they’d all three reached the dock, she’d explained. “Nothing to hide at this point, fellahs. No crime, no foul. And I’m pissed off and need a beer.”

Sounded reasonable, so here they were sitting around a table under clusters of fishnet and starfish and faded Revolución posters like the Back Up Singers From The Black Lagoon, tinking beer bottles together and chugging thirstily.

Nobody seemed to feel like talking about it until halfway through their second Superior apiece, when MeiMei figured it was time to mention deep topics like, Now What? and was starting to pose that very question when she was startled by the raucous voice of the owner.

Hola! Where your little Chinee ass been, anyway?”

She jerked around, Excuse ME? on her lips but saw it wasn’t a Chinese being addressed at all. Close enough, though. “O.B.” Tuan Tomasino stood by the cash register with a friendly smile for the owner, but an evaluating gaze for MeiMei Chiang. He took in the girlz’ dress code, the ropes and riggings, the burglary tools on the table where MeiMei had dumped them while ransacking the fanny pack for her little waterproof necklace of mad money. The look he gave her was knowing and somehow sad.

Then he stepped out on the deck to glance at where the Nahual was conspicuously absent, looked back at her, and cracked up.

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