Now This Is No Shit
I woke up about three in the afternoon, and I felt great. I looked up at the bunk above me and knew the love of my life was just a few feet away, snoring lightly. The feelings from the night before were still there; pride, accomplishment and love.
We’d done it. We had gone under the Iranian military’s nose and taken their latest technology, and gotten away without a trace. It was fucking epic, I was so proud of our team, I was so impressed with Charlotte and what she could do with her gear. We couldn’t have done it without her.
I took care of business in the bathroom and got dressed. We had some time, the rendezvous with the cruiser wouldn’t happen until after sunset. I looked at Charlotte, she was sleeping soundly and I wasn’t going to wake her. I leaned over and kissed her softly on the cheek, then left her and went upstairs.
“How’s it going, Ben,” I asked the old man as I entered the pilothouse.
“Slow and hot,” he said. “Charlotte still sleeping?”
“Yeah. If you want food, I can make it.”
He laughed. “I’ve had your food, I can wait for her to wake up. No offense.”
“None taken, I’d rather eat her cooking than mine.” I smiled, thinking about lazy weekends together and sneaking bites of food out of her pot.
“I’ve seen how you look at each other, James. I can feel the tension between you, like you’re tied together with a giant rubber band. I’m happy for you, I really am. She’s a good woman, and you both deserve to be happy.” He turned and looked into my eyes. “The question for you is how much risk you are willing to put someone you love into. You know the life we have chosen, James, the risks we take. She’s not us.”
“She agreed to come out here, she’s good at what she does,” I answered.
“I’m not arguing competence, I’m talking about risk,” he said. “She’s completed her contract, made a nice payday and can go back home. She can go back to her business and her father, and when you’re done out here you can go back to her. If we convince her to go back north again to look for Eden, we’re putting her at risk and for what? Curiosity? Revenge?Money?” He shook his head. “If you love her that much, send her home.”
I looked at him, shocked. “Wait a minute, you’re the one who is offering her double the money to go back!”
“I know, I have to, for me money is easy. I like her, but I’m not invested in her like you are. Look, we know how to use her equipment. We could rent it from her, put her on a plane and bring it back to her in a couple weeks and she’s safe at home.”
I looked at him, I wanted to tell him he was wrong, but he had a point.
“If I love him that much, why the hell would I let him go off and risk getting killed, when we could work faster together and all go home? Do you think I want any of you getting killed when I could prevent it? We are a good team, and you’re not kicking me out now.” Her voice startled both of us, she must have been standing just outside the pilothouse.
“Everything.” She moved next to me, her arm going behind my waist. “Let me make a few things perfectly clear. My equipment goes with me. I may let someone else take a turn when I need a break, but the gear is MINE and I’m the one who’s reputation is on the line when it is used. I don’t rent it out, and I’m not going to sell it. Got it?” She was staring down Ben, who nodded slowly.
She turned to look at me. “And you. I’m your dive partner, your friend, and if things go right, you’re my future. I’m not letting you get killed or captured out there if my presence could prevent it. I’m one jealous, stubborn bitch when I need to be. I’ve had to be that to succeed in the field I’m in.”
“I don’t want you hurt, Charlotte,” I said.
“Fine. Then be my partner, be my swim buddy, but fucking BE WITH ME one way or another. If you die on me, I’ll haunt your ass.” She pulled me down, kissing me possessively and I loved every second.
“That’s all I need, Charlotte. Together. Leave or stay, we’ll do it together.” I pulled her into a hug.
“Fuck.” Ben looked at the two of us. “All right, James. You explain to her what the next dive is about, and you can both make your choice by the time we get the offload done. I can’t do this without Charlotte and her gear, so if you decline, I’ll have to let Headquarters know.”
I looked down at Charlotte. “We need to talk,” I said.
“Come on, breakfast ain’t making itself, and I want food before I talk business.” She led be back below decks to the galley and opened up the small refrigerator. Pulling out a bag of hamburger buns, ham and cheese, she started making sliders and chips. “It’s not fancy, but it works for breakfast or dinner,” she said. “Cut up that fruit into cubes.”
I busied myself cleaning and cutting the fresh fruits, which she mixed with a bit of powdered sugar and put into Solo cups for ease of eating. Mark got up while we were cooking, poking his head in and saying hi, so we wrapped everything up and took it upstairs. “Mark’s going to be here soon, he just got up.”
“He relieves me at six,” Ben said as he took one of the sandwiches and set the Solo fruit cup in a drink holder by the wheel. We ate silently as the vessel plowed at eight knots through the warm Gulf waters. “We should talk about the next mission,” he finally said to break the silence.
“You know we were here before looking for the torpedo,” I said. “We had a much bigger boat, and we used an autonomous vehicle to magnetically map the area of interest. That’s how we came up with the list of possible locations. I was the lead diver on the operation, my partner was Tim Schmidt. We didn’t have your sub, so we were diving every night on one of the fourteen possible locations at depths between two hundred and fifty and three hundred and fifty feet.”
“How did you do that?”
“Same way we dove the torpedo, using a scuba sled with GPS and deep-dive gear. With the transit time and the decompression, we could only dive one location a night. If we got to the bottom and didn’t find it, we had to try again the next night. We were on target area number nine when it happened.”
“Take the wheel,” Ben said to me, and I took over while he pulled out his iPad. The video file was unlocked, and he played it for Charlotte.
“What the fuck was that,” she said after watching Tim’s severed leg float through the screen.
“We had the Company image analysts try to enhance it, and this is what they came up with.” He went to the grainy photo that looked like the head of a bull with the head of an eagle.
“Shit, that’s a cherubim!” She looked at me and I nodded. “I thought that was a Sunday school fable when I was young. I saw a drawing of one in elementary school and it gave me nightmares. When I was in college I learned more, but thought Ezekiel just had a bad acid trip.”
“It’s real, and it’s given me nightmares too after it killed my last partner,” he said. “As you can imagine, I’ve done a lot of research since then.” Mark came up and took the wheel, and I got out my own iPad. I walked her through it all; the Bible verses, the archaeological evidence and my theory. “The Book of Genesis says that two of these angels, armed with flaming swords that go in all directions, are set in place to guard the entrance to the Garden of Eden.”
“The CIA is going after the Garden of Eden? Really? Mark, are you buying this shit?” Charlotte was looking at the two of us like we were nuts.
“No, officially the CIA doesn’t believe what we do, but they weren’t here,” Ben said.
“And this isn’t a fairy tale, Charlotte. Do you know the difference between a fairy tale and a sea story,” Mark asked her. She shook her head no. “A fairy tale starts with ‘Once upon a time’ while a sea story starts with ‘Now this is no shit.’”
“Well, this is no shit,” I said. “I was down there, and you saw the video. I wasn’t stupid enough to tell them the whole story when we got back. I heard a voice booming in my head after Tim was killed. It told me to leave or I would be killed. It scared the hell out of me, and I’ve been in some scary places before.” I pulled Charlotte a little closer to my side. “I am convinced this is what is down there, and I want to prove it. I don’t want to risk meeting one of those angels again, though.”
“What does the CIA think it is?”
“They don’t know, but they think it could be a kind of weapon, maybe a mine. The ability of something to slice through water that quickly and appear like fire, they don’t know,” Ben said. “This is a bonus mission; the torpedo is being used to justify the cost of this vessel, the gear, and you. My orders are to try and get pictures of this thing, recover it if possible. I was specifically ordered not to send divers down due to the danger, that’s where you came in.”
Charlotte was quiet for a while; she had taken my iPad and was looking at the map. “So just like this last operation, we stay just outside Iranian waters and send the sub in at night,” she said.
“Yes,” Ben replied. “We’re going to be a little farther north, closer to Khark Island and the place we were chased out of. I don’t want to be there more than one night, the longer we stay there, the more attention we get.”
“And the payment?”
“Like I said, we will double your fee. Daily rate continues and another one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar bonus. It’s up to you.”
I could see her thinking, the total haul for this operation would almost double for another three days of work. “Let me noodle on it,” she said. “With you, James,” she said as she took my hand. I put my iPad away and we walked back to the stern, where the wind and distance would keep anyone from overhearing us. “What do you want to do?”
I pulled her into my side, enjoying how her body fit to mine. “I want to find out what killed my friend,” I said. “I want to know if it’s real.”
“It seems so fanciful, I don’t know what to think.”
He took my hand. “I’m not going to pressure you either way. Say no and I go home with you and we never mention it again. Say yes, and we have one more adventure and then I go home with you and we never mention it again. Either way, I end up with you, and that's what I really want.”
She looked out over the water. “I’ve got to know,” she said. “Let’s find Eden.” She turned and hugged me, burying her face in my chest. I just held her tight. “We just can’t tell Ben for another hour or two,” she said as she looked up to me.
“Well, right now our mission is over, so my rules on fraternization don’t apply. As soon as we accept the new mission, I won’t be able to kiss you anymore, and I really want to kiss you right now.”