by Ken Eklund
The inspector stepped aboard. “What have we got, Lieutenant?”
“A woman, dead. A man, missing.”
“Yessir. I have a dive team looking.”
The inspector surveyed the other three people in the boat. “Who are they?”
“This is Griff and Susanna Hambler. Friends of the, uh, victim and her husband. The man with the tattoo is Bart Spindler. He owns the boat.”
The inspector lifted a canvas sheet, revealing the body of an Asian woman in a wetsuit, her face white and contorted. The inspector noted a gash on her cheek, bruises around her mouth, and blood in the face mask hanging around her neck. The lieutenant spoke up. “Mya Hendricks. Drowned, sir. And a lung embolism from coming up too quickly.”
“Yes, Lieutenant. How did you get here?”
“I received a Mayday, sir, at 1334 hours. I was here in twenty minutes. Only Mrs. Hambler was here. She knew nothing about the Mayday. I called for a dive team. At 1401 he” — pointing at Bart — “surfaced with the victim. She was dead.”
“He said that about twenty minutes ago, the victim surfaced, in agony from what he thought were the bends. He radioed a Mayday, grabbed a tank of fresh air for each of them, and went down to try to recompress her. But she was already losing consciousness and eventually she drowned.” Pause. “That seemed right, sir. He had no wetsuit, just a weight belt and mask. He was blue with cold. He had a tank on, and was holding one for her.”
“What about Griff Hambler?”
“We sighted Mr. Hambler at 1422. He was swimming to the boat from downcurrent. The dive team had to bring him in.”
“No sign of the victim’s husband.”
“Mr. Charles Hendricks. Charley. No sir, not on the surface. I have two boats searching.”
The inspector lowered his voice. “Is he out of air?”
“Probably, sir. By at least forty minutes now.”
“Who organized this dive?”
“I did,” said Griff Hambler defiantly.
The lieutenant looks at her notes. “Dive to the Ptarmigan wreck, sir. It’s a tug that went down in ’68. About seventy feet down. Supposed to be a dive of forty minutes. Spindler says they entered the water at about 1300.”
“Diving separately or together?”
“Husband and wife teams, sir. That was the plan.”
“Mr. Hambler, tell me about your dive.”
Griff Hambler remained silent. After a moment, the lieutenant read from her notes again. “Both he and Mrs. Hambler gave the same story. They were separated before they even reached the wreck. Visibility was very bad. They searched but never found anyone. Mrs. Hambler says she explored the wreck a little on her own.”
“That could be dangerous, Mrs. Hambler. You could get –“
” — stuck. Or snag your air hose on a jag. Spare me the safety lecture,” said Susanna Hambler, who was a dark, trim woman in her early thirties. She tossed her wet hair back.
“Your friend Mrs. Hendricks might be alive if she listened to safety lectures.”
“She knew the risks,” rumbled Griff Hambler. He surveyed the tarpaulin, then looked out to sea.
“And Mr. Hendricks? Did he know the risks too?”
Susanna Hambler glared at the inspector. “You talk as if he’s dead.”
“It’s certainly possible.”
“Charley’s not dead. He’s just downcurrent, I’m sure. We should pull anchor –“
“Let him drift.” Griff Hambler flicked his eyes over to his wife. “If he knew Mya was dead, he’d prefer to drown.”
That got her. She lashed back. “You just want to get him out of our partnership.”
“Partnership?” the inspector asked.
“Yeah.” Griff Hambler looked off toward the coast this time. “All four of us are partners in a surf and dive shop.”
“It’s doing real well.” Bart Spindler spoke up suddenly. “We were going to open another shop. We had champagne.”
The inspector raised an eyebrow. “We?” Griff said, “The Hendricks wanted to open one in Sausalito. Bart was going to manage it for us.” There was disapproval in Griff’s voice.
“Sausalito,” the inspector said. “Sounds expensive.” Griff grunted but said nothing.
The lieutenant interrupted. “Divers, sir.” Two divers came up right near the boat. The droop of their shoulders signaled the bad news.
“He’s on the bottom, about ten feet away from the wreck on the lee side,” the lead diver gasped, his voice too loud. “Got a weight belt in his lap. Air hose cut right through.” There was a little gasp from Susanna Hambler, and then she fumbled at her ankle. But by the time she brought her dive knife up to point at Griff Hambler’s throat, the lieutenant was ready and took it away from her without much trouble. “Put it away,” the inspector warned Griff Hambler, who by now held his own razor-sharp knife in a shaking hand.