The Girl Beneath the Sea – Andrew Mayne

Something else is in the water. Never dive alone. Dad’s words ring through my head as something splashes above me. My hand goes to the knife strapped to my leg. I take long breaths through my regulator and try to stop myself from fidgeting. If I’m already being hunted by something, it won’t really matter. Avoiding sudden movements is a way not to surprise an alligator or crocodile that hasn’t noticed you. If they have . it won’t make a difference. I didn’t see any large reptiles on the bank of the canal when I dived in, but that doesn’t mean one couldn’t have slipped past my attention. Unfortunately, I can’t see more than a few feet in front of me because of the murkiness of the water and all the sediment my shovel has kicked up from the bottom. The only wildlife I’ve observed so far is a curious turtle that quickly bobbed the other way once she spotted me. An alligator in this canal wouldn’t be unusual.

I’ve been around them my whole life. I don’t have any special fear of the toothy reptiles, only a healthy respect. As a teenager knee-boarding up and down the 84 Canal behind my boyfriend’s boat, I saw them all the time. They’d watch from the banks with their greenish-yellow eyes like bitter old men remembering the days before the rambunctious kids moved into their neighborhood. The gators had a good run, spending millions of years here in Florida as the peninsula rose from the ocean floor, sank back, and rose again, over and over, outlasting the saber-toothed cats, ground sloths, elephants, and camels that all called Florida home at one time or another. When people think of Florida, they tend to visualize the beaches, the blue-hairs, and the Everglades—forgetting the long history of the region. That’s why I’m fifteen feet underwater in an unusually deep depression in a canal that feeds into the Intracoastal Waterway. Somewhere below the muck I’m probing with my shovel, there’s a story to be told. Until the splash, I was looking for rocks and fossil fragments to bring back to my PhD adviser as a favor. On the wall of her office at South Florida University is a map of the region with little Post-it notes marking potentially interesting paleontological and archaeological locations. This is one of them. She got excited when I told her I dived for the police department and could help her investigate some of those sites—which basically meant me bringing her plastic bags of unusual things I found.

In a hole like this, you could find dinosaur fossils, mammoth bones—try to imagine those massive creatures roaming across the Sunshine State—or even ancient human remains. The Tequesta people spent two millennia in this area, and we still know very little about them. The fact that the Spaniards forcibly resettled many of them to Cuba didn’t exactly help preserve their culture. I remind myself that I might be risking my own extinction if I’m not careful. I take the knife out of the sheath, hold it in front of me, and pull my legs in so there’s less to chomp on. In my other hand, I raise my shovel as a second weapon. Although exceedingly rare, human deaths from alligators have increased as both of our numbers have gone up. If there’s an alligator in the water, 99.999 percent of the time it couldn’t care less. Millions of people come within feet of them every year without a problem.

Of course, millions of people don’t go diving in remote water holes in which an alligator might feel a little more territorial. Also, millions of people don’t sit on the floor of the canal like a large grouper waiting to be eaten . Then there’s the growing population of crocodiles, which are much more aggressive. Add to that the even more ferocious Nile crocodiles now swimming around out here too. Not to mention the increasing numbers of invasive giant pythons . It’s underwater Jurassic Park down here. I slowly turn my head and scan the water around me, ready to stab the eyes and snout of anything that emerges through the murk. I could be less than two yards away from a twenty-foot alligator and not even know it. I exhale a big burst of bubbles, letting anything nearby know I’m here. It’s better to surprise something from far away than accidentally step on it.

Satisfied that I’m not about to be attacked in the next half second, I decide it’s time to surface and head for the bank. I kick and swim for the shining surface, working my fins until my head pokes above the water. I half expect to see an alligator floating a few yards away watching me with a lazy expression. Instead, I’m greeted by a green canal still rippling from my own waves. It’s when I turn toward shore that I feel my heart stop. I’ve swum close to alligators hundreds of times. I’ve seen more sharks than I can count. The sight that greets me isn’t the first time I’ve seen something like this . but never so unexpectedly. The splash I heard wasn’t an alligator slipping into the water.

It wasn’t a crocodile or a slithering snake. It was a body. A human body. A dead body. Dumped into the canal while I was underwater. CHAPTER TWO COASTLINE “You were diving alone?” a detective named Levine asks me. “Yeah,” I reply, glancing at the body under the tarp by the canal. “That doesn’t seem very safe,” he scolds before walking away to confer with his colleagues. No. It’s not.

Dad taught me everything about diving. First and foremost was to never dive alone. Sure, he did it. And I did it, but you weren’t supposed to. And Nadia wasn’t supposed to cancel on me today either. She’s got a good heart, but my Brazilian friend is a little on the flaky side when it comes to morning appointments. I had drinks with her last night, and she’d begged me to go out dancing. I declined. My daughter, Jackie, was with her father at his parents’ mansion in Miami Beach, and I decided to binge Jane Eyre on Netflix and then get a full night’s rest. Of course, I ended up texting with Jackie until past midnight as she relayed the latest outlandish things her grandmother said.

Jackie . Jackie deserves a mother who isn’t so stupid. A mother who isn’t standing fifty feet away from a corpse she bumbled into. Palm Beach Deputy Macon, a middle-aged man with a kindly demeanor, tries to keep me distracted while various men wearing khaki pants and polo shirts with different department logos take turns looking at the body. Some of them take photos. Others compare the body to images on their phones. “That’s six,” I note as another vehicle pulls up with yet another cadre of cops from some agency or department. “What’s that?” asks Macon. He’d been asking me what school my daughter goes to when Detective Levine walked over to tell me that diving alone was dumb. Yep.

Got it. Maybe I should make a sign and wear it? I point to the SUV behind Macon as two men get out. “Miami-Dade PD,” I explain. “No markings, and the rims look like something a drug dealer would have, which means the vehicle was probably a seizure. So I’m guessing they’re narcotics.” Macon turns around to glance at the two men dressed in light pants and loose-fitting silk shirts. Both of them have their badges out on lanyards. Undercover cops. “Huh,” Macon replies. “You said you’re a part-time police officer? You looking to go full somewhere?” The undercovers walk over to Detective Levine, who responded after Macon called it in.

“No. I’m working on my doctorate in archaeology. I prefer my bodies to be long dead.” I regret the joke immediately. It’s fine for hanging out with friends over beers. Here, maybe not so professional. Macon gives me a half smile. “So, you dive mostly? Just for your department?” “They loan me out a lot. Lauderdale Shores has the highest number of canals and waterways per capita of any city in America,” I reply, giving our rote response. We’re a tiny community that most police departments barely know exists.

“We also have three bridges and a mile of canal in a high-trafficking zone. It was cheaper to put me on the payroll than keep hiring me freelance to pull guns and evidence out of the water.” “So I guess this isn’t your first body.” “Sadly, no.” Macon’s a nice enough man, and I decide to give him a fuller answer. “Remember that small jet crash six years ago in the Everglades? That was my first.” “Mercy. Eight people died, right? That had to have been horrible.” “The worst part was the jet fuel and the gators and snakes. I had to wear a dry suit.

It was hot that summer.” I omit the part where I passed out from dehydration and the only thing that saved me was inflating my buoyancy compensator at the last minute. I’d pulled a dozen more bodies from the water since then. Some only hours dead, others in such advanced stages of decomposition that I had to wrap them in plastic so parts didn’t fall off. Today’s body is the latest addition to that morbid list—if you don’t count the people I rescued lifeguarding and spotting dive excursions. They’d all lived. But today, I could tell the moment I saw her that she’d been killed recently. Maybe within hours. Her. It’s the first time I’ve thought of the body as anything more than a body.

After dragging her to shore, I’d torn off my dive gear and tried mouth-to-mouth in case there was hope. The coldness of her lips told me it was too late. But I had to try. Grandpa Jack used to tell stories about men being pulled into the boat who seemed like goners, only to be revived after a heroic bout of CPR. He had lots of stories like that. Fighting off pirates, giant squid, hammerheads with vendettas. Some were probably even true. The woman I’d pulled from the water today looked to be about twenty-three. She was wearing denim shorts and a T-shirt and had a smattering of post-millennial tattoos and hair dyed dark red. The most distinguishing mark on her was the angry red gash across her neck.

Her throat was so badly crushed I could hear a faint wheeze as I tried to force air into her lungs. But I’d kept trying anyway. It’s what I would have wanted if it had been my . Don’t go there, Sloan. Don’t go there. The detective in charge, Ruiz, walks over to us. He’s got a stocky build, a thick head of hair with silver streaks, and a goatee. We’d spoken briefly when he first came to the scene. “Do you have an ID on her?” I ask. Ruiz squints at me for a moment, then recognition dawns on him.

“Right. You’re the deputy for Lauderdale Shores?” “Yes.” I’d explained this to him a half hour ago. “Did you know her?” he asks. Suddenly he sounds like a cop talking to a person of interest. Something weird is going on here. “I don’t believe so. Have you identified her?” He ignores my question. “What do you mean you don’t believe so?” I count to three and spare him the legendary McPherson temper. “She doesn’t look familiar.

” Ruiz nods and jots a note on a pad. “And you were underwater when it happened?” You want to cop me? I’ll cop you back. “When what happened?” He gives me an incredulous look. “You were underwater when the girl was killed?” “How would I know that?” This is frustrating. It’s not what you’d normally ask a witness. It’s what you’d ask a potential suspect. Macon is watching us closely, sensing the tension. He tries to defuse the situation. “McPherson’s the one that pulled the bodies from that plane crash in the Everglades we all had to respond to.” “I know who she is,” Ruiz replies dryly.

I almost sensed a what in his response, implying that he knows my family history—including about my uncle Karl, currently serving time for a drug-trafficking-related parole violation. I point to the body and ask again, “Do you know who she is?” “No, we don’t. Not yet.” I nod at the cops scattered around the scene. “I’ve pulled my share of bodies from the water. I’ve never seen . ” I count all the jackets now on the scene. “DEA, Customs, FBI, BSO, PBSO, and Miami-Dade all show up for one. That’s a little unusual. Don’t you think?” Something changes in his demeanor.

I wouldn’t quite call it relaxing, but his focus shifts slightly. “Yeah. It’s odd. The field examiner took a temperature reading. She estimates the victim died about seventy minutes ago.” He watches the expression on my face as my body turns as cold as the victim’s. She wasn’t only dumped here . I was in the water when she was killed. Perhaps in this exact spot. “You okay?” asks Ruiz.

“I’m managing.” His tone softens slightly. “There’s nothing you could have done. If they’d seen you, they would have just taken her somewhere else to kill her.” He adds, “I don’t think you were ever in any danger.” My attention goes to the knife still strapped to my leg. “I wasn’t worried about me.” Ruiz turns to Macon. “Will you get a copy of her driver’s license and contact information?” “Do we need the suit?” Macon asks, pointing to my dive suit, which I forgot I’m still wearing. “I think we’re okay,” Ruiz replies.

This comes as a relief. If he thought I’d killed the woman, he’d want it as evidence. “Where are you parked?” asks Macon. I point to my Explorer on the side of the road behind a row of bushes. “There.” He glances at the truck, then back to the water, probably noticing what I did: it’s not visible from the road. Ruiz returns to the other cops while Macon walks me to my truck. “Let’s be careful,” he says, pointing to a muddy patch. Forensic techs are already cordoning off the area so they can try to get footprints and tire tracks. Hopefully it’ll be enough to find the killer if they already have leads.

Hopefully. At my Explorer, Macon waits while I rummage through my backpack. Half the contents are already spilled on the floor. I’d dumped it out when I raced back to get my phone to call 911. “Here you go,” I say as I pull my wallet from the pile, then freeze. Something is wrong. “McPherson?” Macon asks. “You okay?” I turn my wallet toward him so he can see the spot where I keep my driver’s license. It’s empty. “Shit .

,” he says. “You don’t seem like the kind of person to forget that.” I shake my head. No, I’m not. Macon shouts to the group of detectives. “Ruiz!” He comes running over to us. “What’s up?” I show him my empty wallet. His cop brain figures it out quickly. “He took your license.” I nod.

The killer knows who I am. The killer knows where I live.


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