Getting to Know You
As soon as I looked into his eyes when I walked out of the pilothouse, I was in trouble.
Tall? Check. Handsome? Hell yeah. Muscled? Yep.Diver? Uh-huh. Big hands and feet? Check. All the little things that were on my Perfect Man list, he met. I looked for a ring, he had none.
He’s either gay or an asshole, no way a guy like this isn’t snapped up like a donut at a cop convention. I go to introduce myself, my knees almost giving out as he takes my hand to his soft lips and kisses it.
I have to take control here, I have to rein this in. I’m the one in charge, and he’s going to have to respect that. We talk about his background, it’s impressive, I just hope he knows enough of me to be comfortable with me being the lead diver for these operations. Ben had made it clear he was hiring me, and he’d supply the safety diver.
“You’d be safe in those arms, your face buried on those pecs,” my subconscious told me. I pushed my inner slut back and took charge. The whole time I was explaining how the remotely piloted vehicle worked, my mind was imagining what he would be like in bed. I had to stop myself from leaning into him, from initiating innocent contact with him.
Finish the job first, I told myself.
I spent hours getting him up to speed on the equipment I’d brought, then I left him to prepare his own gear. We were plowing through the warm waters of the Persian Gulf, moving up the western side off Kuwait then Iraq. There wasn’t a lot of traffic; most of the traffic on the radar was traditional fishing vessels (dhows) which were easily avoided. There were a few warships patrolling the area, American cruisers or destroyers operating in the area to provide radar and forward air control for the carrier-based aircraft patrolling over Iraq. Ben and Mark were alternating in the pilothouse, so I went below to the galley and started on dinner. Ben couldn’t cook, and I loved to, so I put together a shrimp creole with white rice, a dish my Mama taught me to make when I was six.
I bowled the servings up, it was a decent night out and with the breeze in the evening it wasn’t worth going below decks. I brought Mark and Ben their food in the pilothouse first. “How are we doing?”
“Good, we should be in the operating area before nightfall,” Ben said from the wheel. I looked out over the waters, it was not that different from back home, just shallower water. They had a small refrigerator in there, I grabbed a couple cokes from it and took the last two bowls back out.
“That smells amazing,” James said as I handed him his dinner. His eyes lit up when he saw me coming, and my stomach flipped a little when he smiled at me.
“Just a little dish I threw together,” I said as I sat by him. The area just aft of the pilothouse was covered with a weather tarp and gave us a little shade while the breeze kept it cool and kept the flies away. The flies could be thick here. I sat on the port bench next to him, his diving gear was in a big bag at his feet.
I watched him take the first bite, pleased at how his face lit up with the taste of it. “It’s not too spicy? I forget sometimes that people aren’t used to Cajun food.”
“It’s wonderful, I love it,” he said. “It’s not what I grew up on, not by a long shot.”
“Really? Where did you grow up?”
“Underwood, Minnesota. Home of hotdish and people who complain about how ’that ketchup is TOO SPICY for me.” I laughed, that was about as far away from my upbringing in New Orleans and Houston as you could get. I think Momma added hot sauce to my formula as a baby. “It wasn’t much from a cuisine standpoint, but it was a good childhood. Summers on the lakes, long winters with the swim team. When I graduated, I couldn’t wait to get away.”
“That’s how you got into the SEALs?”
He nodded. “I wanted to be the best, and that is what they were. I tested high enough to get a spot in the school, and stubborn enough to make it through.”
“Yeah. The dropout rate in the SEAL pipeline is very high, because they make it really easy to drop out. They’ll run you to exhaustion, while an instructor stands next to the bell with a donut and a mug of coffee, offering it to anyone who rings out. They’ll lean down while you’re shivering from hypothermia after an ocean swim and tell you there’s a hot meal and a warm bed waiting for you if you just ring the bell. Every time someone quits, they would celebrate weakness leaving the pipeline. You have to be stubborn as hell to not just quit.”
“I enlisted, got through the prep course at Great Lakes, then to Coronado for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. After making it through that, you can make it through anything. Still, there was another almost year of training before I joined a Team. I loved the diving part of it more than land combat or skydiving, so that’s what I gravitated to. I took every class, every assignment I could get that involved diving. I was with the Teams for eight years, then the CIA recruiter talked to me and I made the jump.”
“Why would the CIA want a diver,” I asked. My food was getting cold, I had been listening so intently I’d forgotten to eat, so I took a bite.
“You’d be surprised at how much they find for me to do, especially since I can operate on land after I swim there.” He had that look like he couldn’t tell me more. “I’m more interested in how you ended up here.”
I blushed a little, taking another bite to give me a chance to compose my thoughts. “I grew up on the water, my father started the business and met my mother shortly afterward. She died of cancer when I was ten.”
“I’m sorry,” he said as he reached over and put his hand over mine. “I lost my parents when I was deployed, they were hit by a drunk driver. You never really get over it, do you?”
I shook my head no and took another bite. “My Dad had to work, he was out at sea fifty weeks a year, and he brought me with him. I graduated high school in the dining hall of an oil rig and was diving salvage when I was fourteen. My Dad needed a safety diver, and I was it. I made my first dive to three hundred feet when I was sixteen.”
“And you branched into remote vehicles?”
“Yeah, Dad and I modified existing designs for what we needed. He’s slowing down now, and I’ve had to take over more of the operational side. Using remote vehicles allows me to work deeper and safer. I love what I do. It’s in my blood, I guess.” I finished my bowl and downed my Coke. “The plan for tonight is pretty simple. We’re going to dive together to about ninety feet and practice emergency procedures, then we’ll deploy the minisub and give you some time piloting it and learning to use the arms. I’ll need you to be minimally functional since I can’t operate it continuously for ten hours.”
“That sounds fun,” I said. “Normal tanks then?”
“Yes, we’ll save the trimix tanks for when we need them. Get your gear ready, James. If I can’t trust you down there, we’re not going again.” I got up and took his empty bowl, heading for the wheelhouse.
“I’m going to enjoy this,” he said as I closed the door. I just sighed to myself. “Me too.”
There was an abandoned oil rig about eighteen miles offshore of Iraq, and Mark tied off to it with a long line to hold us against the slight current and wind. The sun had set an hour earlier, and we were using red lights on the deck to maintain our night vision while we geared up. Eighty feet of water was a simple dive in the best conditions, but diving at night in these waters wasn’t simple. We needed to learn to dive together, learn these waters, and he had to learn that I was the one in charge.
I didn’t miss the way his eyes strayed to my body as I pulled my wetsuit on over my one-piece suit. He pretended not to notice the way I looked at his body as he got ready, and for that I was thankful. My God, that man was cut with a sharp knife. He was strong, but not big and bulky like a bodybuilder. He had the bodyfat of a swimmer and moved with the grace of a cat. I didn’t miss the six-pack or the v-line headed towards the jackpot. I had to turn away and zip up my wetsuit, then I put on my dive belt with its knife. I put the dive computer on my left forearm, and strapped high-powered lights to my wrists. We each had a mesh net for carrying things hands free. Mark helped me with the twin air tanks, and I buckled them into place. I checked my air, then spit into my mask and put that on.
Our dive plan was simple; we would descend together to the bottom, where we would practice working to find objects and staying in sight of each other. We would then simulate a “short on air” event, where we would tap into the other person’s alternate air supply as if our own tanks were low or out of air. Once we had each done this, we would go back on our own tanks and perform a controlled ascent with planned safety stops for decompression reasons.
Mark went over to the stern, he had a large pin and shackle, plus a 2” wide bolt about a foot long with a big nut for it. He tossed the objects off the back. “Bring ’em back and be safe down there.”
The boat had a swim board attached at the stern, and after a quick review of our plan, we entered the water. We turned on the lights underwater, we had powerful lights attached to our shoulders and the tops of our heads, plus we could turn on the hand lights when we needed them. The waters of the Gulf aren’t blue and clear, they are murky with visibility of ten to twenty feet in the best times. We needed to go straight down, so I signaled descent and got the OK before starting down.
To stay under the ship, we swam in a corkscrew pattern down. The pressure built as we went, and we stopped a couple times briefly to adjust to the pressure, check our air and verify everything was working well. Since I was lead diver, James stayed to my left and slightly behind, about an arm’s length away.
He swam easily, clearly comfortable in this environment. We made it to the bottom, and adjusted our buoyancy before starting the search for the dropped objects. We swam in a rough circle, staying about eight feet apart. We found the four objects after about fifteen minutes of searching, leaving plenty of time. I gave him the low air signal, and he swam over. I attached my regulator to his tank, took a few breaths, then went back to my own. He did the same, then we checked the dive computer. We only had ten minutes of bottom time left, and I called for ascent.
Our dive plan had us stopping four times for safety stops, which helped your body deal with the nitrogen that pushed into tissues during dives at depth. We moved up to forty-five feet, adjusting our buoyancy and staying there for the planned two minutes. We then stopped for a minute at thirty-five feet, a minute at twenty-five and a minute at twenty feet before our final stop at fifteen feet. We stayed there for five minutes before surfacing.
We came up about a hundred yards away and swam along the surface. “Nice dive,” he told me as I hauled myself onto the swim platform.
“You too. I think we’re going to work well together.” We handed the objects up to Mark, then climbed aboard and started removing our equipment. Mark took the tanks to the air compressor to refill them, while we inspected everything to make sure it wasn’t damaged. Once it was properly stowed, I got out of my wetsuit and rinsed it and myself off with a freshwater showerhead.
Now the second part of our night could start, and we could see how well my minisub worked in these waters, and if James could drive as well as he could dive.