entry shock n. the discharge of static electricity felt by a rescue swimmer when entering open water from a helicopter’s hoist cable.
A quiet morning was a good morning.
Mackey repeated the words to himself as he glided from location to location, senses open to detect anything abnormal. So far, only the usual: salt, a hint of ethanol from a vessel long past, a pulse of electricity here and there, and blood.
There was always blood somewhere in the water. But he’d been trained to ignore it. It could be distracting to his work, so he was grateful for that training, as hellish as it had been. When it came to his shark brain, he needed all the advantages he could muster.
He checked on ItoSu first, slipping into the little bay that housed their marina. He did his usual circuit around the inlet’s perimeter, finding nothing more threatening than a jellyfish, before swimming over to scan the houseboat Jay Ito and Pete Sutherland shared. Everything there seemed in order. The trapdoor they used to slip out and shift into their dolphin forms was closed. He had to assume it was locked from the inside because he couldn’t check it right now; the boat was rocking a little, and he could hear Pete. He turned and swam for the mouth of the bay. Wasn’t like he was some creepy-ass eavesdropper or something.
Down the shore a ways, he checked for Lieutenant Landry’s boat. It wasn’t a houseboat, just a motored cruiser, but sometimes Landry and Espinoza got away for a night and anchored off-shore. Not last night, apparently, but when he tried the next most likely place, he found the Lieutenant doing his own morning swim. He twitched his tail in Morse—O-K—so the seal would know it was just him and then made for his next destination.
The only problem with a quiet morning was the water’s surface. When it was flat like this, there was no hiding his dorsal fin amid a little chop. Careful to stay under, he made his way farther down the coast to Rogue Rescue headquarters. It had occurred to him he could just swim to work every day. But there was no good ingress into the site—it was secured, of course—and that would mean he’d be climbing up the nearby rocks naked. He didn’t care, but someone would eventually notice and report him, and then there’d be a whole thing, so no. That could expose his team. Unacceptable.
As he arrived, so did the graveyard unit in their chopper, though from a rescue or from drills, he couldn’t tell. Didn’t matter. He was more concerned with the waters surrounding the facility. He swam them, scared off a few pesky mantas and then moved on.
Had he known where Commander Brackett lived, he might have patrolled that area, too, but in twelve years he’d never figured it out. Wasn’t like he was going to follow her home to find out. Besides, she had Nichols to guard her. That he had figured out.
They thought nobody knew. They were wrong.
But they were also safe, so he made for his final stop of each morning. The old pier jutted into the water on sketchy posts. From land, the thing looked on the verge of collapse, but that’s what he liked about it—kept away the fussier sorts who congregated at the newer concrete piers that boasted coffee shops at the ends.
Only a few intrepid old men fished off this pier, and he liked to circle its algae-furred posts and listen to them. He couldn’t hear their words, but one of them had a low, gravelly voice that sounded like his granddad’s. It always sent him back to his own place ready to meet the day.
But the man wasn’t there this morning. Mackey weaved around the posts, listening and ignoring the tempting chunks of bait on the lines above him, but he couldn’t hear the voice he sought. Worry began to niggle at his mind—had something happened to the guy? Was he sick? Had someone hurt him?
But he had to shut those thoughts down. He had to get back, get ready for work. The other men on the pier didn’t sound distressed about anything, so he tried to let it go as he swam back toward his place.
It lay up the shore, farthest north of his team’s homes. The lighthouse had been his granddad’s, and his granddad’s before him, and even further down the line. For a couple hundred years, a Mackey had served from that big hunk of rock. It looked every one of those years, its wood exterior weathered to gray and patched in spots. Its structure was sound—he kept it in good repair—but he resisted painting it. Didn’t need to attract attention from tourists, or worse, divers.
The beacon drew enough attention, but then that was its job. His granddad had fought automating it, but Mackey’s work—his paid work—meant he couldn’t man the light all the time. He couldn’t let it just stop, though, even if people had started to say lighthouses were no longer necessary, with GPS and depth sensor technology.
One person might need it someday, and that was reason enough.
As he neared it, he thought about the old fisherman again. He wasn’t really a fisherman, he guessed. Couldn’t make much of a living off a decrepit pier, not in California. The man had probably done something else and only fished because he was retired and free to do so. Except for this morning. Something had kept him from it, and Mackey wondered—
A flicker of tail snagged his attention.
Focus. He kicked in the direction of the fish, all senses wide open. Light, sound, smell, taste, temperature—all the same—but there. He felt the electric pulse from the creature’s muscle movements. Surging forward, he opened his mouth wider. The teeth usually did the trick. He didn’t like things lurking around his rock, and specifically near the grate he used to access his house. Whatever this was—
—slammed into his side. Panic, rage, aggression. Whipping around, he caught a flash of gill, of white belly—shark—and surged after it. The thing churned up the water, creating a curtain of air bubbles. He broke through the attempt at camouflage and charged the beast. It turned sharply to face him and bared its teeth.
Blood, the scent, the flavor, the heat warming the water around him.
The next thing he knew, Mackey was charging toward his rock as if he was going to ram it. Slowing just enough, he used his snout to bump the stone that hid the mechanism, and the round iron grate swung open. He swam into the tunnel, pushed the corresponding stone on the wall there, and then swam the few remaining meters. When he came to the half-circle well at the center of the rock, he shifted and grabbed the ladder.
He gripped the rungs and tried to do the same with his thoughts. He usually fought hard to keep them with him in a tussle. Emerging from a skirmish with no memory of exactly what had happened… He’d heard guys throw hero worship at the ones they called berserkers—the warriors who would go into some kind of fugue state at the start of a battle and come out only when it was over, if they survived. Maybe it kept them alive, but that kind of mindless violence scared the shit out of him. Made him feel more fish than human. Of some lower order. Unacceptable.
It had been another great white. He hadn’t seen one around the rock in a while, had managed to stake his claim here pretty effectively. Once in a while, his fucking dolphin colleagues showed up to play some prank or other, but sharks steered clear. This one just now must be new to the area. He’d just have to make matters clear for it.
He tasted blood again and wiped his mouth, but then felt the warmth of it over his right eye. He splashed his face, but red began to streak down his chest again. Hustling up the ladder, he keyed his code into the pad by the access door. When its bolts clunked open, he pushed through and locked it again. Checked the clock. Forty-three minutes before briefing.
It was a gash, but only one and nothing he couldn’t take care of. Leaning on his bathroom counter, he pressed a towel to his forehead. Went through the mental checklist of things to do before work every morning. He did most of them upon rising, but a couple remained.
Holding the towel in place, he took the stairs up and around to the watch room. Checked the console. Scanned the shallow eave above the gallery outside for anything that shouldn’t be there. Just a gull’s nest, but it wasn’t hurting anything. On his way out of the bright, round space, he paused by the door. Nodded to the man in the photo that hung there. Then he took the stairs down two at a time, all the way to the bottom and the long tunnel under the water.
At the far end, he jogged up the steps to his garage. The shelf above the shop sink held his first aid kit. Two tapes stitches and a heavy bandage later, he looked almost presentable.
As he backed his Jeep out of the garage, he checked the time again. Not as early as he’d like. Taking a deep breath, he tried to slow his pulse. It was pounding in the cut on his forehead.
So much for a quiet morning.