The Silence Of The Mist

Copyrighted © 2006 All Rights Reserved
By B. S. Raven


Disclaimers:

Love/Sex: This story features strong consensual relationship between adult women, and some inferred m/m relations. It also has scenes of f/m relations. Love is love, no matter where or with whom it is found. So, if this bothers you, is illegal in the State, Province or Country you live, or if you are under the age of 18, please find something else to read. There are many general stories out there more acceptable for you.

Language: Some. I have tried to keep the profanity down, but sometimes a couple of words do slip out, but nothing really vulgar.

Violence: There are brief depictions of violence having been done, but not to the main characters.

Hurt/Comfort: There is some hurt/emotional discomfort in this story, with scenes of angst and heartache to be dealt with by the characters, but dealt with in an encouraging way, (I hope).

Dedication: This story is for Cherry. For all you do, and for you are, and for all you mean to me.

Special Dedication: To Anna, and Helen, without whose help this story and all my other stories would never have reached this stage. You both have my gratitude forever.

Acknowledgement: Ocean-BIO Marine Research Institute, and to Merille for use of their sites for reference materials. This material was used with their permission, and I am extremely grateful for being allowed to quote some of their information and wish to praise them for their research efforts. Merille, your particulars gives the story continuity and I thank you not only for that, but for the various other materials you allowed me access.

Copyright: This material is copyrighted with all rights reserved. For your reading pleasure only, and please, do not reproduce in any form without permission.

Further, this is a fiction story, and any resemblance's to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. Some of the areas mentioned in this story are real, but may not be exactly as depicted in the story.

FEEDBACK: Comments are appreciated. All feedback will be answered, whether it is nice or not; just make it constructive and I will be happy to respond to any criticisms: bsraven2000@yahoo.com




Chapter 1


The hot, muggy garage was filled with music by the Mills Brothers from a tape deck sitting on the concrete floor next to an opened, battered toolbox. On the other side of the old, red container sat half-a-bottle of RC Cola and an open carton of double-decker Moon Pies. A fan twirled at high speed in front of the light tan, 1935 Ford truck, pushing the humid air from the front of the vehicle through to the open double wooden doors. A pair of very tanned legs in cutoff jeans wiggled on the mechanics dolly halfway beneath the ancient vehicle, as bare feet flopped from side to side in perfect beat to the music.

“Son-Of-A-Biscuit-Eater,” the voice shouted from beneath the truck as a wrench came flying out from under the vehicle and struck the toolbox. Bare heels dug into the concrete causing the dolly to roll from beneath the truck. The woman stood up clutching her hand. “Damn, that smarts,” she bellowed, shaking her hand.

“Is that any kind of language for a lady to use?” the woman with soft gray hair streaked with gold asked. as she entered the open doors. (asked from the open doorway)

Still clutching her bleeding fingers, the startled younger woman glanced towards the older woman. “Aunt Isabelle, I don’t give a fig’s as--, uh, butt, about the language. I’m fed up with repairing this friggin’ piece of junk.” She shook her hand up and down several times before she checked her blood-covered fingers.

The woman took out a dainty, white lace handkerchief. “How many times have I told you to get Cowan to fix your truck?” She carefully wiped the finger off so she could examine the scraped skin. “He keeps my vehicles in tip top shape,” she said, “and I don’t have to worry about them running properly.” Her niece winced as she blotted at the finger. “This needs to be washed off with hydrogen peroxide. You need a bandage on it, too. Come on in the house and I’ll take care of it.”

“Cowan keeps your vehicles in tip top shape because you pay him a gold mine for fixing them. Tomorrow I’m going to the dealership and get me a brand new four-wheel drive SUV, and you can take this…” she kicked the tire of the vintage vehicle and hopped up and down when her toes hit the rim. “Damn that hurts,” she moaned as she hopped on one foot.

Her aunt just shook her head at her niece’s antics as she opened the screen door to the kitchen and stepped into the house. “You can’t do that, Lenora,” she motioned for her niece to enter the room while she held the door open.

“You just watch me,” she said, hobbling up the steps and through the open doorway.

“I guess you forgot you have a charter tomorrow?”

Lenora Benegan stopped and turned to face her aunt. “That’s another thing I want to talk to you about. Aunt Isabelle, you insisted I buy, and live in this eighty year old house, which by the way, you owned in the first place. At your insistence, I have a vintage 1936 Packard on blocks in my garage out back, with only twelve hundred miles on it, and I’ve never even driven the blasted car. Further, I even gave in and bought a 1933 salvage-barge instead of that three-year old model we checked out at the shipyard up in Charleston. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about The Athena, ‘cause she’s one honey of a ship. But, Aunt Isabelle, you have got to stop setting up charters for me.” The golden-haired woman jerked out a kitchen chair and sat down at the table as her aunt reached under the sink cabinet for the first aid kit.

She cupped her hankie-wrapped hand and continued, “Please don’t start out on that tangent you always go off on by saying, ‘I’m doing this for your own benefit and at some point in time, you will understand;’ because Aunt Isabelle, I’m thirty-one years old and I don’t understand one damn thing you insist I should do, much less your hounding me until I do it just like you want...” She moaned when her aunt unwrapped the bloody handkerchief from the injured fingers.

“Lenora, my time of insisting you do certain things, a specific way is almost over. Rest assured that very soon, all will be clear to you.” Her aged aunt carefully poured the peroxide over the fingers. “I did stop by The Athena, and Logan had just finished stowing the supplies for your charter tomorrow.” She glanced over at her only niece; “You were ready for this charter this morning before you started working on your truck. Why do you try and give me such a difficult time?”

“You make it easy for me,” she grinned. “All kidding aside, Aunt Isabelle, I know you’re concerned about getting this special research done by this particular marine biologist, or you wouldn’t have furnished the grant for the study or the funds for the program. But, I need to decide who I’m going to take out on my boat, and not you.” She reached over with her good hand and placed it lovingly on her aunt’s hand. “Please, Aunt Isabelle,” she smiled at her beloved aunt.

Isabelle heard the sincere plea in her niece’s voice and looked up at her tenderly. “You have my solemn promise that after this charter tomorrow, I will not place any more requirements on you for this decade,” she placed her hand tightly over her niece’s. “You’ve been my life, Lenora.”

The younger woman smiled back at her elderly aunt. “You know I feel the same way, Aunt Isabelle. When my folks didn’t come back from that salvage job, you were right there to take me in and care for me all these years,” her eyes began to mist and she sniffled. “You were both mother and father; you wiped my nose when I had a cold and chucked me full of liquids when I had a fever. There wasn’t a baseball game that you weren’t right there on the bleachers watching me play and cheering me on even though you don’t understand a thing about the game. When I was eleven and wanted to learn to fly, you took me over to the navy base and somehow conned the commander into having one of his pilots take me up and after twenty minutes of whirls and dives, I didn’t stop upchucking for the rest of the day. That wiped aviation straight from my mind. The next day, you took me down to the marina, and we walked around looking at the boats until we stopped in front of The Empress. My heart leapt in my chest as I stood there and watched her bob up and down on the incoming surf.” Lenora examined the bandaged fingers and grinned at her aunt. “Great job, Aunt Isabelle,” she stood, picked up the first aid kit and returned it to its place under the sink before she snatched several paper towels from the rack next to the sink and wiped the tabletop. “You want something cool to drink?”

“Yes, but not one of those RC’s, don’t you have a coke?” Isabelle watched the younger woman as she opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a tall bottle of RC.

“Well, I have some iced tea or some orange juice, but no Coke. Don’t drink the stuff, and you know it.” Her large hand flicked the bottle top off with one quick twist and sat it on the table. “Which will it be?”

“Isn’t that an Orange Crush on the bottom tier of the door?”

Lenora turned and squatted in front of the open door. “You have the eyes of hawk, Aunt Isabelle. I forgot all about this. It's left over from the picnic we went on last weekend.” She removed the soda from the door and twisted off the top. “You want a glass?”

“No, I like to drink my Orange Crush from the bottle,” her hand went up to take the soda from her niece. “You really fell in love with The Empress on that day didn’t you?” She raised the bottle to her lips and drank several swallows before returning it to the table.

Lenora sat down and picked up her RC. “You bet your sweet as…, uh bloomers, I did. I might have been only eleven, but once you stepped onto the deck and beckoned me to join you, I felt like I was in heaven.” The bottle went to her lips again, but slowly she sat the bottle back on the table. “Aunt Isabelle, I’ve been meaning to ask you about that for twenty years. Just how did you know I’d take to the sea as I did and what possessed you to buy me a thirty-five foot sailboat? And,” she looked at her blushing aunt as she leaned forward and placed her chin on her hand, “and why didn’t I know you were an experienced master sailor before that day?”

Isabelle drank heavily of the soda and avoided her niece’s eyes.

“I’m waiting?”

Isabelle finished the small drink and placed the empty bottle on the table. “You really should get Cowan to fix your vehicle, dear.” She pushed her chair back and stood up. “I’m late for a board meeting, but I’ll be at the pier to see you off tomorrow,” she leaned in and kissed her niece on the forehead.

“Aunt Isabelle, you didn’t…”

“Must run,” she stepped to the kitchen door and turned, “one more thing, Lenora, make sure you take your sextant with you tomorrow.”

The honey-haired woman stood, “You gave me a classic sextant, Aunt Isabelle, I never go anywhere without it. You know it stays aboard The Athena in its locked case,” her mind raced at her aunt’s strange statement. This entire week had been one bizarre thing after the other from her. What is going on here? Why is she so concerned about my sexton, the supplies, the arrangements? “Aunt Isabelle, why...”

“Board meeting; late,” she waved and disappeared through the door.

Lenora scratched her short, choppy hair as she stood up. With her RC in her hand, she followed her aunt into the garage. However, the elegantly dressed woman hurried down the oyster shell driveway to her waiting car without turning around. As she drove off, she raised her hand and gave a little wave. Lenora watched as the car weaved down the curved drive and stopped before it made a left turn onto the highway and headed towards town.

“Man, she is getting weirder by the day,” she said, still looking towards the disappearing car. She raised the bottle and finished the drink before turning back to the truck. “She’s right about one thing; I’m not going to climb under that pile of junk anymore today. It’s a good thing I took my duffle bag full of clothes to the boat this morning, because now I can play.”

*****


She squatted down beside the toolbox and picked up the wrench, wiped it off, and placed it carefully in the proper tray before she closed it and fastened the clamp on her prized possession. Her daddy had left the box in his truck the morning she watched them pull away from the pier for the salvage trip off the coast of Louisiana. It was one of the few things she wouldn’t allow her aunt to store in the large shed behind her old Victorian home in town. The red toolbox had sat on the lower shelf of the bookcase in her room from the time she was six and she came to live with her aunt, until she repaired her first vehicle at age sixteen with the help of Cowan, the owner of the local garage. The toolbox was even stowed in the back of her car when she went off to Massachusetts to earn her degree in Marine Engineering. “Holy mackerel, I’ve had my dad’s box over twenty years ago,” she touched the toolbox affectingly. “Even getting that degree was the strangest thing.” She stood up with the toolbox in her hand and carefully placed it behind the drivers’ seat in the cab of the truck.

She pushed the seat back into place and gently closed the door of the truck. Her foot came up and she propped it on the running board and laid her chin on her arm in the open window. “The weirdest stuff has been happening these past six months, so why would I think about going off to school so far from home all those years ago?” Her green eyes closed and her mind started to drift, but she caught herself and straightened up.

“Wonder if Cowan can come over here this afternoon and get this bucket of bolts repaired while I go do a little fishing over on Lighthouse Sound?” She picked up the old fashioned, black telephone on the wall stand in the garage and dialed the number of the garage.

“Hi, this is Lenora Benegan, is Cowan in?” Her foot began to tap time to the Mills Brothers tape that had rewound and begun again. “Hi there, I was…” She stopped talking and listened. “Okay, so I tried to fix the crate by myself again. I don’t want any 'I told you so out of you. Can you come over this afternoon and tie this heap back together again?” she listened again, “that’s great. The doors will be open and the key is over the visor. Leave the bill under the phone and I’ll drop you by a check later today.”

The phone was returned to the cradle and her toes began to move over the concrete floor to the music as she began to do a little swing to the music. The gentle swaying moved her towards the rack on the wall as her hands pretended to play an imaginable instrument.

“Ah well,” she sighed, and reached up to the rack and removed two rigged rods and reels from their cradle. She bent down and picked up the five-gallon bucket below the rack, which had her tattered tackle box inside and started for the open doors. “Oh shoot,” she sat the tackle and bucket inside the truck body and ran inside. She snatched up a beat-up pair of sneaker and slid them on her feet as she moved to the refrigerator. The door was opened and two bottles of RC were removed before the door was bumped closed by a shapely hip. Stepping over the mechanics dolly she reached down and picked up the carton of Moon Pies. The sodas and the Pies were shoved into the bucket before she picked it up again in her right hand and grabbed the tackle with the left.

Her eyes blinked rapidly as she turned the corner of the garage into the sunlight and headed down the incline to the extended dock behind her house. She trotted down the wood structure to her fourteen-foot run-a-bout and quickly secured the tackle under the seat and placed the bucket inside the boat next to the middle seat. Removing the front tie line from the piling, she pulled the skiff back to the pier before she tossed it into the boat. At the back of the boat, she removed the loop from the piling and held the rope as she carefully stepped into the back of the run-a-bout and placed the rope under the back seat next to the gas can. She squeezed the balloon a couple of times forcing gas into the engine and then pulled the cord on the top of the motor. It roared to life on the first pull. Lenora smiled as she settled on the seat and took the steering column in her hand. Her strong fingers pushed the forward gear as she twisted the stick giving the motor a little gas. The boat moved slowly away from the dock as the honey-headed blonde woman began to hum to herself.

Within a minute, the humming stopped. “Now where do I want to fish?” she asked out loud. “Hmm, don’t seem to be too many on the bay side, guess they don’t know about the bluefish venturing inside with the tide the last couple of days.” She pushed the stick to the right and gave it a half twist on the gas handle, causing the front end of the skiff to rise slightly out of the water.

The salty spray from the bay covered Lenora’s face as the boat bobbed up and down crossing the open water. A grin of delight covered her face as the scattered droplets hit her face. She loved everything about the sea and the feel and taste of salt on her skin. The imagery of the sea suggested an adventurous ocean that appealed to all of her five senses. Along with an adventurous ocean, her love of anything marine also sets (set) a mood of freedom through imagery of traveling sea gypsies. Even her figures of speech went beyond the average persons love for the sea. Everything about the attractive woman indicated she compared everyday life to a long sea voyage and had a strong longing for the sea and would never be far from it.

When she went inland for some duty for her aunt, she would attempt to complete the work within a day so she could return to her beloved Gulf of Mexico. She had traveled the oceans of the world on various salvage assignments of all kinds. She loved the action of a ship moving through high seas and strong winds.

She loved everything about her life. She even found acceptance of her aunt’s insistence on some strange, and at times odd circumstance, such as the old house, a vintage boat, ancient cars and even the furnishings in her old home. Her aunt had accepted some of her…shall we say different life choices, and hadn’t flinched when Lenora made it very clear that she preferred women in her life instead of a boyfriend or a husband. Isabella had discouraged her smoking the little black cigars, but had given in when Lenora tempted her into trying one of them on one of their frequent picnics. Lenora chuckled at the thought of her aunt coughing the first time she inhaled the cigar, but after a few puffs, she declared, “Why this isn’t half bad,” and ever since that day had enjoyed an occasional cigar with her niece.

Lenora chuckled out loud about the thought, and slowed the speed of the skiff as she spotted one of her favorite fishing spots on the peninsula and headed for a break in the rocks. She maneuvered the small craft within a couple of feet of the rocks and turned the steering rod so that the back of the boat swung slowly towards the rocky embankment. As the back of the boat bumped a rock she wanted, she reached out and caught the surface of the damp stone. With her other hand, she cut the power on the motor and grabbed the tie rope from under her seat.

The rope was quickly wrapped around the rock, securing the boat tightly to the stone structure. Carefully stepping to the middle seat, she picked up the bucket and retraced her steps to the back of the boat where she sat the bucket on the rocks surface before returning for the rods she had stowed under the same seat.

With her back to the Pensacola lighthouse and keeper’s quarters, she cast lure into the bay and started reeling it back slowly. Occasionally, she would jerk the tip of the reel upwards slightly to make the lure jiggle in the water. After her first four casts, she braced herself on rock perch and reeled in a good size bluefish. “Aunt Isabelle will certainly like you for supper,” she said to the fish as she placed it in the bucket which had been emptied of the contents and bay water added before she sat down to fish.

The sun finally hit the 160 feet high lighthouse, casting a shadow over the woman and her fishing area. She was a frequent visitor to the lighthouse keeper quarters and always took the keeper and his family a string of fish for their evening meal. Lenora liked visiting the old two-story structure and the seasoned watcher. After dinner the old man and his wife would sit on the second story gallery with her and smoke the little black cigars that she favored.

The mariner reeled in another bluefish and carefully removed the hook, before she released the fish back into the water. “You need to grow a bit, little fellow. I’ll catch you next year,” she mused as the fish wiggled in the water between the rocks and made its way to the bay and quickly disappeared from view.

Lenora started humming again as she stopped reeling and let the lure settle to the bottom. She stopped humming when her mind drifted back to the day she left for the university.

“Aunt Isabelle, I’ve told you a zillion times, I don’t want to go off to some darn Yankee school. What’s wrong with me going to the University of Miami? They offer all the Marine Engineering courses I could possibly want to take?” She threw the tennis racket onto the top of the trunk, which her aunt had helped her pack.

“Lenora, watch your mouth. You have got to trust me. You won’t regret it, and as soon as you graduate, we’ll be off to Charleston to buy you that salvage boat you want. You already have your master’s license, but you need the proper engineering degree to help you with some salvage in different parts of the world. Trust me, honey,” she patted her niece’s hand before she moved to the tape rack on top of the stero. “You taking any of your Mills Brothers tapes?”

“You know I’ve packed them all,” she sat down on the bed and threw her legs over the end of the double bed. Her legs weren’t overly long, but had always been one of her prime features. “I just don’t understand why I have to go way off to school?”

“I have nothing against other universities, Lenora. I just want you to have the kind of degree that will benefit you the most in your life.” She replaced a “Mikado” CD and turned to her niece. “You might as well stop whining and get that pout off your face. Benjamin will be here,” she looked at watch, “in twenty minutes to load your things. You plan on wearing those clothes on the trip?”

Lenora exhaled sharply and turned her head towards her aunt. “I love you Aunt Isabella, but you drive me nuts sometimes.” She sat up on the bed, but didn’t get up.

“As long as it is only sometimes and not all the time, Dearest. Now, don’t you think you should change to that nice jumper suit we picked up last week?”

Lenora exhaled again, but stood up reluctantly and went toward her closet. “I don’t want to wear that jumper suit. Its…Its too friggin’ girly. You picked it out, and I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now. I’m going to wear my new blue jeans and a buttoned-down oxford for our first night on the road.” She disappeared into the walk in closet and closed the door.

Isabella shook her head as she watched the door close. You’ll understand my reasons one day Lenora, she thought as she moved the tennis racket to the bed and opened the trunk. After she placed the racket under the straps in the trunk, she pulled the lid down and fastened the locks in place. “One day you will know all.” Isabella looked around the room to make sure they hadn’t forgotten anything. Just as her eyes fell on her niece’s ball mitt, the closet door opened and out came a blue jean dressed seventeen year old. “You going to take your mitt?”

“Don’t think so, Aunt Isabella. They don’t have a women’s softball team. Going to try and make the swim team and they have both indoor and outdoors tennis courts.”

She returned to the present when her line was struck hard, bending the rod. “Ah ha, you just keep running like that bluefish. You are a beauty.” Lenora stood on the rock and reeled the fish towards her. “Yep, another couple like you and I can head for the lighthouse. Mrs. Humbard will certainly appreciate a couple of you fat ones before I head home.” She started humming another Mills Brothers tune as she placed the fish in the bucket and settled back on the rock before casting again.

*****


“Guess no one is going to help me with the unloading,” she muttered to herself as she exited the van. Dr. Muriel Davenport opened the side of the vehicle and began to carefully unload the expensive equipment. Within minutes she had placed all the boxes on the pier, and returned to the front seat where she removed a large duffle bag, a laptop and an out of shape sailors hat, which she plopped on her head. She set the computer on top of box and tossed the stuffed duffle bag down beside the carton. Her eyes gave The Athena a closer scrutinizing inspection. “Well, it seems to be in tip top shape for such an older vessel.” Muriel stepped over her duffle bag and walked the length of the craft, taking in all the added features of the ship. “Have to give you credit Ms. Benegan, this is quite the vessel, and I’ll have no problems in getting all the samples and test need, and diving from that platform will be just perfect,” she said to open air as she stood at the stern of The Athena.

“Hello there,” Isabelle Benegan called from the wharf to the marine biologist.

Muriel turned and smiled at the older woman as she jumped onto the wharf from the pier. “Good Morning, Ma’am. Lovely morning, isn’t it?”

“It certainly is that. Not only are you early, but I see you have all your equipment stacked and ready to be placed aboard.” Isabelle extended her hand to the marine-biologist.

“Yes Ma’am. Guess I am a bit early. There doesn’t seem to be anyone about.” Muriel grasped the smaller hand gently.

“The captain will be here shortly. Muriel, my niece may be very stubborn, but there isn’t a better captain anywhere, and she knows these waters like the back of her hand.”

The biologist glazed into the soft green eyes before her. “Your niece is the captain of this vessel?”

“Yes. That was one of the reasons I choose The Athena for the research project. I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about your safety aboard the boat.”

“Ms. Benegan, I assure you I can take care of myself. I grew up with two brothers and learning to hold my own was a necessity. Holding a black belt in karate also goes a long way in deterring unwanted aggressors.”

“Muriel, I have my reasons for this ship, at this time, and this research. The reasons for my funding your studies and the marine biology experimental-projects will be evident by the time you return from this voyage.” Isabelle turned toward the van and not waiting for a response. “There is parking there,” her finger indicated the large lot across the street from the pier. Checking her watch, she looked back at the younger woman. “Lenora will be here within minutes, she is never late and will want to get underway as soon as your belongs are aboard.”

The younger woman didn’t understand any of her benefactor’s mysterious ways. But this marine-biology research program was dear to her heart and she was extremely grateful for the older woman’s backing and support. If she holds a captains license, she must be qualified, so if I have to put up with a stubborn woman for a couple of weeks, so be it, she nodded to Isabella and walked to the van to move it as instructed.

An old truck pulled into the parking lot ahead of Muriel and a jeans clad woman hopped out and trotted across the parking lot towards Isabelle. “Ah, me thinks the captain has arrived,” she watched the attractive woman embrace her aunt and gesture to the boxes sitting on the pier. “Well, at least I’ll have something nice to look at the next couple of weeks,” she chuckled and pulled the van into a spot next to the truck. “Wonder if she likes to play underwater?” Muriel chuckled at her question and took a quick look at rearview mirror at the two women before she exited the van.

“Guess I should start getting this cargo aboard,” Lenora looked around and scratched her head. “Not like Logan not to be here before me to get things stowed away,” she remarked, picking up one box and stepping closer to the railing of the barge.

“Hmm,” was all the sound heard from Isabelle as she sat down on a pier piling and watched as her niece stepped over the rail and rested a carton on the top stand of the guard railing.

“Careful with that one. It has breakables inside,” Muriel called as she stepped onto the pier beside the pile.

Isabelle closed her eyes, It’s started already, she shook her head at the thought.

Lenora rolled her eyes as she picked up the carton and carefully set it onto the deck of The Athena. “I’m always careful, Dr. Davenport,” her tone was somewhat sharp.

“Now ladies, don’t be disagreeable. Work together and get this research done for me,” she implored the two women who were now standing and staring at each other.

“Wasn’t being disagreeable, Aunt Isabelle. But your marine biologist better get it through her pretty head before we leave the dock, I’m captain here, and don’t need some ….”

“Lenora, mind your manners. Dr. Davenport was only cautioning you about the delicate equipment and instruments. The contents of those boxes cost over a quarter million dollars and I would not like to think the research couldn’t be completed because of damaged or…”

“When have I ever damaged one darn thing aboard this craft, Aunt Isabelle?” her head snapped towards her aunt. “You can just finish putting YOUR cargo aboard all by yourself, Dr. Davenport,” she spewed at the biologist and stomped off to the roundhouse.

Muriel stood dumbfounded. What brought that about? she questioned silently.

“Never mind her, Muriel.” Isabelle stood up and patted her shoulder as she walked past. “I’ll have a talk with her while you finish stowing your gear aboard.”

“You were right, she is one stubborn woman,” the biologist mumbled to the back of her benefactor then turned as she tossed her duffle bag aboard the vessel and went to work loading the remaining cargo.

As Isabelle stepped into the round house, her niece looked up from the chart table.

“Don’t start on me, Aunt Isabelle. You’d better have a talk with your researcher, or I might just leave her on the bottom of the Gulf if she gets snappy or short with me.”

Isabelle twisted the captain’s chair around and sat down. Oh Lenora, if you only knew how your life is about to change. She continued to gaze on the only relative remaining in her life with a deep, loving look. How will you take it? I’ve tried to prepare you as much as I can, but will it be enough?

When her aunt didn’t respond to her sharp comment, Lenora set the pencil down and turned to face her aunt. Her aunt had been acting very strangely for weeks now. Well, even more stranger than usual and she was beginning to worry about her. “Aunt Isabelle, are you alright?”

Isabelle continued to gaze at her niece. A faint smile turned the corners of her mouth and she rose from the seat and took the three steps to the younger woman and placed her arms around her. “Lenora, you be careful out there this trip. Remember all your training and navigations skills, and trust your instincts, My Precious One.” Her arms tightened around the trim body.

Lenora felt something unusual as she returned her aunt’s embrace. “You know I’m a safety first gal, and I never take chances out on the water. Aunt Isabelle, is something wrong?” She gently pushed her aunt back so she could see her face.

“Lenora, you need to take special care with Muriel. She may be a marine biologist, but she doesn’t have the sea smarts you do, nor is she as strong as she appears.” Isabelle’s eyes were cloudy with tears.

“Aunt Isabelle, you’re crying. What’s wrong?” She pulled her aunt back into a deep embrace. “Why are you telling me this, and acting this way? You’re scaring me a little.”

Isabelle tightened her arms around her niece. “Just be careful, Lenora, don’t get caught up with any situation, just rely on what you know.” She stepped away from her niece and headed for the cabin door then turned. “Logan won’t be going out with you this time, honey. He had an unexpected emergency.” Her hand went up to steady herself as stepped through the door then turned again. “I know you can handle this boat by yourself or I’d never let you go out this trip. You must go on this trip, Lenora, just be careful with Muriel and…the experiments,” she cautioned, turned and headed towards the stern of the ship.

“What the hell!” she said puzzled, then her eyes snapped open, “What in blue-blazes is she talking about Logan not coming?” She dashed to the open door and called to her aunt. “How’d you know Logan won’t be here, he didn’t call me?”

Isabelle turned and smiled her mysterious smile. “He won’t be here, Precious. Trust me,” she turned and hurried towards Muriel who was now standing on the deck of the boat next to the stack of equipment.

“Take your bag up there,” she pointed toward the wheelhouse. “There is quite a nice cabin next to Lenora’s that has been prepared for you.” Isabelle extended her hand to the marine- biologist. “I’m counting on you, Muriel, for some significant results of this research,” her smile was warm and encouraging.

“I’ll do my best, Ms. Benegan. You don’t know what this opportunity means to me. I’m hoping the experiments will make it worth all the expense you’ve gone to in making this possible.”

“If you only knew,” she murmured as she released the young woman’s hand and stepped towards the railing. She stopped and glanced back at Muriel. “Just remember everything that happens in our life, happens because it is destined to happen. Everything.” Isabelle’s serious facial expression suddenly became warmer. “I’ll be waiting right here for you when your return.” She ducked under the railing and carefully stepped onto the pier.

She surely is a weird woman. Heck, I can stand a little weird if they agree to fund this project. I really like the old girl. “Thank you ma’am. You think I should remove the tie lines before I stow my personals?”

“No, I’ve arranged for, ah, here he comes now.” She waved to the elderly seaman that was approaching.

Muriel watched as the elegantly attired woman chatted briefly with the gruffly dressed seaman. He helped her up the steps of the pier onto the dock before he walked down the pier towards the roundhouse and spoke to Lenora. She shook her head yes, and he went to the piling and removed the tie rope and tossed it onto the deck where Lenora wound it in a tight curl around two cleats secured to the deck before she returned to the wheelhouse and started the engine. The captain stuck her head out the door and motioned for the elderly seaman to cast off the stern line and toss it aboard The Athena.

“You need to secure that line to the cleats, Davenport,” she called to the marine-biologist.

Muriel’s head moved in the direction of the voice to see the captain waving to the back of the ship and the line. “Okay,” she called, and went to secure the line. Fortunately, she was familiar with boats and made the double eight loops over the fixed cleats and waved to the captain the line was secure.

The young woman watched as the ship moved away from the pier with ease and waved to Isabelle who stood on the dock waving to her. Muriel watched the older woman continue to stand there waving as the ship picked up speed and moved towards the bay’s entrance. Isabelle was still standing looking after the ship until it rounded the cove and moved from site.

“That was a little strange. Wonder if she always sees her niece off?” She picked up her duffle bag by the hand strap and laptop before she turned towards the roundhouse. Before she reached the structure Muriel glanced to the stern of the boat. She noticed there wasn’t much of a wake, even though the boat was doing close to twelve knots. “Good, low drag, we’ll make good time. Guess I should get this over with and get the equipment undercover.” She stopped and placed the strap over her shoulder so accessing the walkway would be easier with the stuffed bag.

“Your aunt said I have a cabin where I can put my things,” she said at the open wheelhouse door.

“Yes, go back to the main entrance way door, second cabin on the left. You’ll have to stow your equipment by yourself as my deck hand didn’t show up, while I get us out of the channel into the gulf,” she spoke quietly to the researcher, then turned back to the wheel.

“Thank you, Captain. I’ve always taken care of my equipment, and it’s not a problem. Where do you want me to store it?” she asked as she gazed at the side profile of the honey-headed woman.

“In the first cargo hole, behind the roundhouse. We’ve set up a made shift laboratory for you down there.” Lenora didn’t turn to look at the woman.

“Thanks, I appreciate your efforts.” Muriel watched the captain, who didn’t glance at her, but tapped an instrument before she looked back at the horizon. Muriel nodded her head and turned to find her cabin.

“Dr. Davenport?”

Muriel turned back to the open doorway. “Yes,” she answered.

“We didn’t get off to a very good start. Things haven’t been normal around here for a few weeks with my aunt, and arranged for your charter of The Athena through my office, but without my knowledge. I respect her and will may your trip as successful as possible. I shouldn’t have jumped you like that. I’m sorry,” Lenora apologized.

“I understand, and there is no need to apologize. Your aunt, shall we say, is a bit persuasive, and is pretty much determined to have her way about things. I wasn’t going to accept this study program, but she threw out some very interesting aspects of the research. So much in fact, no marine-biologist could turn down such a chance at doing this research. It’s the dream of every researcher to be involved with such a program, and Ms. Benign, well, as I said, can be very persuasive.”

“I wouldn’t call her persuasive exactly. More like stubborn and determined to have her way, exactly as she wants it.” Lenora stressed, “But don’t think you’re the only one, for she has been running my life since I came to live with her…nope, now that I’ve thought of it, she was instrumental in my life as long as I can remember and way before my parents…” She didn’t complete the sentence.

“You don’t need to explain. She seems to have her mind made up about certain issues and how things should come about. Take me for instance. I was going to work at the California Marine Research Facility for my doctorate, and after a half dozen visits, I changed to Miami to complete my doctorate, and have been working at the Institute for Marine Research ever since. It wasn’t until after my first three months there that I learned not only did she sit on the board, but she owned the Institute and had arranged for my scholarship in California without me knowing it.”

Lenora allowed Muriel’s statements to sink in, before she glanced around at the young researcher. “Un-huh, she’s done a lot for people to get a good education, but she must have some special interest in you.” The captain reached up and ran her fingers through her short hair. “She bought that place in Miami about ten years ago, and insisted they update all the equipment, select daring new scientists and encourage various lines of investigate(investigative) research.” The captain glanced briefly at her passenger.

“Hell, she is so damn mysterious at times, and I don’t even know what all she does own, or have interest in. I don’t even know what all I own at times. She just says, Lenora we need to go look at this, and the next thing I know, she tells me, it’s in my name, but I’ll have to wait to make any changes in whatever the venture might be.” Lenora tooted the ship’s whistle at the lighthouse as she went by and saw the lighthouse keeper wave back to her and make the sign for a safe voyage. “Gets frustrating at times.”

“I can imagine it does.” Muriel lowered her head, the looked back at the captain. “I should get the equipment down below before we hit a wave and something topples over and breaks,” she smiled at the side view of Lenora’s profile.

“That might be a good idea as the tide is starting in and the waves gets pretty rough once we hit the breakers,” the captain glanced sideways at Muriel, then quickly back to the water.

“Fine,” Muriel said, “I’ll see you shortly.”

“Okay. Hope everything meets your approval in the made shift lab.”

“I’m sure it will be fine. Hey, this is the best salvage vessel I’ve been on, and the first time I’ve had any type of lab set up for me.” She halfway laughed as she headed down the walkway and stopped in front of the main entrance hatchway.

The marine-biologist didn’t have to duck as she opened the cabin door and stepped inside. “Nice cabin, and sure as heck beats those cramped low ceiling quarters aboard that tub last year.”

Muriel set the laptop down on bunk bed and placed her duffle bag on top of a small four-drawer chest at the head of the bed. She glanced around the room as she unzipped the bag. It contained a wood rocker with a padded cushion on the back with a hanging lamp off to one side, which she was sure had been rigged for reading. Her personal belongs were neatly placed in the chest and the latches on the drawers turned back into place to keep the drawers shut in rough weather.

She shook out her three-quarter-length rain slicker to get some of the wrinkles out and looked towards a small louver door, which she guessed, was the only hang-up closet in the small cabin. “Nice, and the wooden hangers are attached on swivels,” she said as she placed the raincoat on the hanger and snapped the top button of the garment. “Need to run get my other bag, and put my toiletries….” She opened the small wooden door next to the closet door and stepped into a small, but efficient bathroom, which contained a head, lavatory, and a small shower. There was a latched medicine cabinet over the sink, which she opened and found it empty. “Hmm, thought I might be sharing with the captain, but guess not,” she said with a little disappointment in her tone. She exited the tiny bathroom, and picked up her duffle bag and stored it on the floor of the small closet before she opened the cabin door and left to stash her research gear before she returned. “Guess I should get the equipment undercover before I bring the other bag back here,” she commented as she stepped out onto the deck and hurried to the pile of boxes on the rear of the salvage-barge.

“Wow!” She exclaimed as she stepped down the ladder and looked around the oversize cargo area that had been set up as her research station. “Can’t believe all the space.” Muriel turned around several times and finally set the carton on the floor under a long table and hurried back up for more boxes.

Within half a hour, Muriel had all the equipment and instruments either stored under the long table and strapped securely to the legs of the bolted down tables, or arranged behind the security bar on the back of the table and covered with a heavy tarp she found folded neatly in the corner of the cargo hole. Once satisfied with the arrangements in the lab, she climbed the stair and secured the cover over the cargo bay.

Today, still diminutive, but definitely more woman than girl, Muriel wore her smooth brown hair in a short angular wedge. Subtle shading had replaced the circles that used to ring her bright green eyes. The dark circles were from many nights of stressful and mysterious dreams. Dreams filled with vapors, whirlpools, and of being pulled into the waterspouts that followed the unexplained vortex, which drew her deep into the silent portals of the mystical mist as it surrounded her. She would wake from the deep sleep confused by the dreams and their meanings. Last night at the end of her dream, a bright light parted the mist, and a hand reached down for her and drew her into a comforting, protective embrace. The young scientist woke, but this time there was no confusion, only the feeling of the comforting arms around her.

Muriel walked to the stern of the barge and bent to pick up her last personal bag. A sea gull flew close by and landed on the wide triangle of the steel hoist on the back of the boat. The gull squawked a few time, and looked directly at the green-eyes that returned the stare. “What are you up to, you old gull?” she pulled the bag in front of her and interlocked her other hand over the strap as she continued to gaze at the seagull that only squawked again and continued its stare.

Franklin Davenport’s daughter had inherited the best of her father and mother’s looks. She was a knockout, and an unshakable free spirit. Muriel had decided her life was to have meaning and purpose, and today, unbeknown to her was the beginning of that purpose. “You’d better be on your way, old fellow, or you might have a really long flight back to the harbor and the rest of your buddies.” She took a step towards the steel hoist to shoo the gull away, but the bird only hopped to the opposite side of the hoist out of her reach. The seagull continued to watch the woman when the woman removed her seamen hat and shakes it as if to shoo it away. “Go on fellow, beat it!” She waved the hat at the bird, that didn’t let up with its stare. Muriel replaced her hat and gazed at the gull that seemed to be mesmerized by the woman. “Okay, you stay here if you want, but I’m going to my cabin and then get something to eat.”

Muriel turned and started back towards the facilities at the front of the large barge and stop quickly as the gull circled her and flapped its’ wings in an awkward manner in front of Muriel. Startled, Muriel threw up one arm to protect her face, but lowered it as she realized the gull wasn’t coming closing on her. The gull was flapping and moving in a manner Muriel could only categorized as a sea chantey due to its iambic gauge and natural rhythm, which gave it a song like quality. Lowering her arm, she watched the flapping slow to a premeditated, rhythmic flutter, creating a song like quality through the use of iambic meter and alliteration it seemed to Muriel. The motions of the wings seemed to follow the actions of a tall ship through high seas and strong wind. The seagull performed the ritual like flutter a few moments more, before making one low squawk towards the young woman, then flew off and headed back towards the lighthouse.

“Now that was bizarre to say the least.” Her eyes followed the gull until it left her sight. An uneasy feeling, the same sort of feeling that accompanied her dreams flooded over her. Her body shivered from the feeling, forcing her to grab the metal railing for support. She shut her eyes as a gateway of soundless existence flowed over her. Momentarily a full shower of seawater spray snapped her attention back to the moment.

“What is happening with me,” Muriel almost stumbled as her eyes opened from the impact of the spray and her return to reality. Muriel released her hold on the railing. She stepped forward as her hand went up and wiped the salt spray from her face. The marine-biologist halfway stumbled through the main entranceway to her cabin. Once inside the safety of her cabin, she dropped the bag as her body sank to the floor from some unexplained weakness. “My God, what kind of episode is this? What is happening to me?” The sound of her own voice was the last thing she heard as she collapsed into unconsciousness.

It was a quiet sleep and a sweet dream of a long sea voyage that followed.

Sometime later, all she remembered as she opened her eyes was the gentle swaying of the salvage-barge and the smell of the same salty air.

Muriel sat up and steadied herself. A pulse thudded in her head harder and harder. After looking around, the young scientist slowly dragged herself to the bunk and leaned back against it. “I feel so strange,” she murmured as she held her head between both hands.

Soon, her breathing became steady and the strange feeling left. The woman licked her lips and realized she was extremely thirsty. Muriel checked her watch and sucked in her bottom lip. “I was out for over an hour,” she tilted her back and rested it on the bunk. She opened her mouth to take a deep breath.

“What’s going on? I’ve never passed out in my life, and I had a complete physical just last week and the doctor found me in perfect health.” She steadied herself on the post at the end of the bunk, when she rose and stood, still holding onto the bedpost. “What does this mean?” Muriel was silent for a moment as she peered past the open cabin door, hoping the captain hadn’t left the wheel and had come looking for her.

Muriel’s fingernails on her free hand dug into her palm. Whatever happened, she must keep some perspective. Muriel saw her knuckles, white on the bedpost. As she glanced to the mirror secured on the wall opposite the chest, she was astonished by the lines visible on her face. Even the dark circles around her eyes were back.

The scientist forced herself to sit down on the bunk. The woman took several calming breaths and put a hand on her face. “Nothing bad is going to happen,” she closed her eyes and willed it so. “I’ll be alright in a few minutes.” Muriel turned and swung her legs up on the bunk and lay down. “Just need to rest a few minutes, that’s all.” Her mind went blank, and she slipped into another deep slumber, only this time, there were no dreams, just peaceful rest.

*****


Muriel heard a soft voice, and opened her eyes to see the captain kneeling beside her, shaking her shoulder gently. “Dr. Davenport, the boat is on cruise and I’ve prepared a hearty breakfast. Would you like to join me in the galley or you want to sleep for awhile longer?” Lenora stood and went to the open cabin door. “Did you drive all night last night to get to the dock by 5:00 this morning?”

Muriel sat up slowly. There was no uneasy feeling. Matter of fact, she felt refreshed and relaxed with her physical state.

“Excuse me, are you okay, Dr. Davenport?” asked the captain from the doorway.

Muriel rose gradually from bunk and stood. She took a deep breath and exhaled. Her body felt remarkably refreshed and had an inner calm she hadn’t experienced before. “Actually, I feel great, Captain. I’m so hungry I could eat a shark.”

“You’ll have to settle for hash browns, scrambled eggs, and biscuits with honey or jam,” Lenora looked quizzically at her passenger. “I checked on your over an hour ago, and you were sound asleep. You must have been exhausted.”

“Guess I was, although I drove up yesterday, and got a good nights rest last night. I wanted to be here at first light,” she said, reaching down, picked up her bag and set it on the berth. “This’ll wait until after I eat, I’m famished.”

“The galley is the next entranceway down. If you want to wash up, I’ll go ahead and dish it up.” Lenora’s lips parted to speak again, but she closed them and gazed at Muriel. Each feature, each mannerism and expression on the passenger’s face was familiar. She had seen the woman’s face in her mind often, but the features were only outlined and not in full focus. The captain nodded and turned down the hallway quickly.

Muriel’s eyes watched the woman disappear from view, and wished for a moment like this when she could touch Lenora’s face. “What a stupid thought,” she drew in a breath that seared her throat. “I’ve been without a woman much too long,” the woman shook her head and went into the small bathroom to wash up.

When she looked into the small mirror above the sink, she noticed the dark circles and lines were gone from her face. She even looked years younger. “What in the devil is going on here?” The woman questioned the image in the mirror. “And what was that strange feeling earlier this morning. It’s gone now and I feel great, but what on earth happened to me earlier?”

Muriel splashed more water over her face, and rubbed her hands over her cheeks before she glanced in the mirror again. “Talk about weird, how weird is talking to your image?” She grabbed the towel hanging on the back of the door and dried her face. “Must be having a case of the old ‘sea fever’ I’ve heard the old mariners talk about.” Muriel draped the towel back over the hook, headed for the open door to put something in her stomach.

*****


“This is wonderful,” Muriel stuffed the last of her third biscuit into her mouth and dipped another spoonful of hash browns on her plate.

The captain picked up her mug and glanced from Muriel to her plate and quickly away. Lenora was sure Muriel had caught her staring at her several times earlier. They had even exchanged a knowing look. Lenora was sure of it.

“I love the laboratory,” Muriel said, placing her fork beside her plate. “And I think you have a marvelous boat.”

“So do I. The Athena is another of my aunt’s insistence purchases, but I’m really happy with the old girl, and there isn’t another ship around that can hold a candle to the way she handles and takes the rough seas.”

“I didn’t mean to go to sleep on you.” Muriel drew up her shoulders and let them drop again. “I’ve never done that before. I normally like to be on the bridge when going to a diving site.”

Lenora finished her coffee, but her eyes never left Muriel’s. She was tired of looking away from the woman across from her. There was something so familiar about the marine-biologist; the captain was determined to remember the familiarity, even if she had to catch quick glances the entire trip.

Muriel glanced at the white painted walls and exposed beams that shone darkly. “I can see why you have never considered another ship or barge after taking this one out. It has a hypnotic sway to it,” she said, picking up her orange juice glass and emptying it. “That’s probably the reason I was able to sleep so soundly.” She looked around the galley-ward room and noticed the original galley equipment was still being used, including the stainless steel table and benches where they were seated. “Remarkable condition for its age,” her hand swept around the small galley fixtures.

“They work better than the new stuff, and this galley was designed specifically for this equipment.” Lenora stood up, picking up her plate and utensils. “I’ve found that I can whip up a meal for my deck hand and myself in a few minutes, but I did put in a microwave so we could have coffee or a cup of hot tea without a lot of effort.” She placed the dishes in the sink and turned on the water.

“The breakfast was wonderful,” Muriel followed Lenora to the sink. “Are we still on time?”

The captain checked her watch. “Yep, we should be at the man-made reef well before sunset.” The ship swayed and Muriel was forced to step toward Lenora, who quickly reached up and caught her arms. “Careful there,” she said, as she steadied her passenger, then stepped aside and started for the mess door. “You’re welcome to join me on the bridge,” she tossed over her shoulder along with another quick look at her passenger before turned and opened the door.

“Thanks, I will once I take care of these dishes,” she said, and placed her dishes in the sink half-full of water.

*****


Chapter 2


Lenora checked the locator again then corrected her course once more. She turned to the back cabin wall and placed ran her finger down the CD holder she had installed until she found the one she was seeking. “Ah, yes,” she removed the CD and placed it in the small player behind a bar on the shelf and pushed the lid closed with one finger. Moving slowly back from the machine, she began to sway with the beat, and joined the Mills Brothers in one of her favorite tunes. Her body and feet continued to keep time with the music as she checked the navigational locator once more. Her head and arms joined in the rhythm filling the wheelhouse as Lenora started tapping the console with her fingers, keeping perfect time with the music.

Muriel leaned back against the railing and continued to watch the captain swing and swaying back and forth to the tempo. Bet she is a real swinger on the dance floor, she chuckled out loud at the thought.

Lenora’s head shot around to the sound of the chuckle and she stopped moving. She exhaled and looked back to the window in front of her. “You caught me,” she said and moved to the chair behind the wheel.

“Nice moves there, Captain. I must say it is unusual to find someone that enjoyed that old music as much as I do.” Muriel moved into the cabin and took the remaining stool chair near the wall.

“You like the Mills Brothers?” Lenora asked sheepishly, not looking toward her passenger, but hitting the navigational control and checked the instruments needlessly.

“Very much so. Actually, I enjoy all the swing music of the 30’s and 40’s. It must be something about the rhythm or cadence that gets to me.” Muriel drew her feet up to the ring on the stool. “Used to drive my parents crazy playing it so loudly and make up the majority of my collection. You may find it surprising to know that I had two original Mills Brothers 78 rpm recordings…well, tapes of those recordings.”

Lenora’s head turned to her passenger. “No kidding? Well, I have twelve of their originals. What do you have and how did you find them?”

Muriel grinned at the captain’s interest. “Would you believe the first one was in a box in the attic of the old woman that lived next door to us in San Francisco? I would go over and read to her when her eyesight began to fail, and she take me up to the attic to see her ‘collectable of her wicked days’ as she called it. She’d put some old times recordings on this old player and we’d go through her wicked era a box or trunk at a time. One day, after moving some boxes in the corner, I discovered a full box of old recordings. After dragging them out to the middle of the floor and getting rid of the roaring twenties get-up I had on, I removed each recording and marveled at the treasures she had.”

“You found a full box of old 78 rpm recording?”

“Sure did, and they were in mint condition. Ms. Harding rocked back and forth in her old rocker as my eyes got bigger and bigger with every record I pulled out.” Muriel shook her head at the memory of that day. “You know something that was even stranger,” she said as she pulled one knee up to seat level, “She looked at me kind of funny and said, ‘you’re one of them’. I didn’t know what she meant, but when I left that day, she gave me six of the recording and told me I was to have the rest when she passed. Her only condition was that I take good care of the records and never part with them.”

“Do you still have them?”

“No sadly, I don’t. I only played them once after Ms. Harding died and the remainder was willed to me. Then when I was in college in California I played them again, but this time I recorded them on tapes. I had them at my apartment in Miami carefully protected in a special box. One night when I was out on a research dive in the Keys, there was a break-in and would you believe, those recordings were the only things stolen.” She sighed, and dropped her knee.

“They took enough, Dr. Davenport. They are worth a small fortune.”

“Please call me Muriel.”

“Okay, Muriel. I’m Lenora,” she held out her hand.

“Lenora is a pretty name,” Muriel shook the hand quickly, then drew hers back.

The captain felt warm rushes pass through her body at Muriel’s touch, and quickly looked away after the handshake. “You said you had two recordings?”

“Yes, came upon one at an auction sale in New Orleans with my parents just before I went off to school. Sadly, I had placed it in the box with the other oldies and some creep took them.”

“That is so sad.”

“At least I still have my tapes. Fortunately I made several copies of the tapes, because I seem to wear them out from listening to them.” She jumped down from the stool, “Hey, this is one of my favorite pieces. Would you care to swing with me, Lenora?” She extended her hand to the captain.

“Wouldn’t mind that at all,” Lenora stepped down off the captains’ seat and grabbed Muriel’s hand. The two women did their own version of the 30’s swing and jive and were just getting down each other’s steps when the CD ended and they stood breathless against the console.

“You’re an excellent dancer, Muriel.”

“Thanks, but you have me beat by a country mile.” She flopped down in the Captain’s chair. “Where did you learn to dance like that?”

Lenora turned and checked the compass, “My aunt Isabelle taught me.”

“Really, that nice, refined old lady taught you to cut a rusty?”

“Yes, and a lot of other things as well.”

“Like?”

“She taught me to fish, to sail, and how to cook. I can also sew, although I don’t particularly enjoy it, but I needed to put my own buttons back on cause I popped them off so much.”

“Ahhh, some very useful talents. Anything else?”

Lenora went to the tape deck, and removed the tape then shoved it into the empty slot on the rack attached to the wall. “I came to live with her when I was pretty young, so she taught me a lot of adolescent things.” She turned back to the captain’s chair and sat down.

“Adolescent things?”

Lenora’s face had a tinge of red. “You know, juvenile stuff, swimming, playing ball, flying a kite, how to make popcorn over an open fire, and we loved to camping to all parts of the world and I learned to set up a complete camp by the time I was ten.”

“I see,” Muriel sat down on the spare stool. “When did she teach you to dance like that?”

Lenora gave a side-glance to the seated scientist, and sighed. “It was just after we got back from New York and she took me to see several shows there and even my first nightclub in Harlem where they were doing the swing, jive, jitterbug, and some of the slickest tap dancing I’ve ever seen.”

“My goodness, that must have been quite the experience?”

“It was, but the most memorable performance I saw that year was The Mikado, and Madam Butterfly,” Lenora felt the redness go away and a warm feeling came over her. It was nice to remember all the good things her aunt had done with her. The captain wasn’t too sure that Isabelle had enjoyed the performance almost as much as she had.

“Ah-hah, now you’re talking. Two of my favorite productions also.” Muriel stood up and stared out the window. After a long silence, she spoke. “Sounds to me as if your aunt taught you a great deal besides adolescent things.” She turned and looked directly at Lenora.

Lenora eyes met Muriel’s and held. “If you’re talking about adult traits, you’d be right. She always stressed honor, integrity, straightforwardness, compassion, friendship, truthfulness and a couple of things a lot of people don’t have the first clue about.”

“And that would be?” Muriel’s head cocked slightly with her question.

“She taught me to live fully each day as it comes and most importantly, she showed me unconditional love.”

Muriel blinked. “We should all be so lucky to have such a teacher.”

Lenora’s head nodded slightly before she forced herself to check the instruments again before she turned off the cruise and changed their course slightly. “Were your parents strict on you when you were at home?”

Muriel burst out grinning and sat back down on the stool. “Strict isn’t the word I’d use, Lenora. I was the youngest and the only girl. Not only did my parents dote over me, but my grandparents also. It wasn’t too bad growing up, but once I became of dating age, my brothers took up where my parents and grandparents left off. They made dating almost impossible.”

The captain glanced over at her passenger, “Don’t have any siblings, so I wouldn’t know about that part of life. Were they overly protective of their little sister, or were you…” Lenora didn’t finish the sentence.

“Any guy that gave me a second look knew they’d better not try anything or Matt and Clark would be in their face, or worse. Heck, I thought it was kind of ironic considering I knew from the age of 14 that my fancy didn’t run with boys.”

Hmm, now this might not be such a difficult two weeks. She is very cute, Lenora thought, releasing her breath slowly. Have to apologize when we get back Aunt Isabelle, this time your interference might be really interesting.

“Of course, when my brothers and grandfather found out my preference, it took them several years to come around to accepting it. My grandfather was the last hold out. When my grandmother told him I was coming for Thanksgiving along with the rest of the family, and if he couldn’t act civilly, he could go to a restaurant for dinner.” Muriel chuckled and turned to tape deck. “Do you mind if I put on another tape?”

“No, help yourself.”

“Thanks,” Muriel ran her finger down the cassette holder until she found another Mills Brothers tape. She removed it, dropped it into the player and pushed the play button. As the tune started, she adjusted the volume down a little and went back to her place at the console.

As the music began, Lenora nodded approval of Muriel’s selection. “Did your grandfather behave civilly?”

“Mostly, but every now and then, I’d catch him looking at me and shaking his head in disbelief.” The scientist checked her watch, “We are near the reef aren’t we?”

“We’re about two nautical miles away,” Lenora answered, “but I’m circling due south to come in on the starboard side of the reef.”

“Good idea. They added two new frigates to the man-made structure last year, and it should make just the right environment for the research,” Muriel said, turning to the chart table and tracing her finger over the reef Lenora had marked.

“If not, then we can move gradually up the reef until you find a better location.”

“I figure we’ll cover the entire reef area during these two weeks,” she tapped the compass on the chart, then turned back to the console. “

Your grandfather ever come around?”

“Oh, eventually. But it was months before that happened and many conversations about wasted woman hood and such.”

“My aunt has always been accepting of all ways of life, and insisted I make up my mind. The only conversation I ever remember having about ‘you’re such a nice looking girl, and I think your aunt isn’t strict enough on you about' was from a neighbor friend of my Aunt’s.” Lenora remembered the night the neighbor was asked to leave the front porch and told not to return. The captain let out a kind of snicker before she added, “It was only a few weeks later that the neighbor and her family just up and moved to another part of the state. Never heard from them again.

“Good riddance, I’d say.”

“I didn’t miss her, but I know my aunt missed their afternoon teas sometimes.”

“Sorry.”

“Aunt Isabelle never mentioned her again. We did have that, 'make sure you know what you want and don’t ‘mistreat people’ talk many times.”

“Look!” Muriel pointed to the school of dolphins jumping out of the water near the starboard side of the ship.

“Yeah, they’ve been following us for about an hour. I think they will stay with us for a few days and then head south again.”

“Towards the Keys?”

“Probably.”

“Think I’ll go get my camera and take a few shots of them,” she said smiling.

“Hmm.”

Muriel dashed out of the wheelhouse and disappeared from view. A few minutes later, Lenora caught a glimpse of the marine biologist snapping away at the dolphins as they continued to put on water dance for the young woman.

*****


The boat was anchored at the south end of the man-made reef behind the State’s marker buoy and had flashing warning lights both at the stern and bow of the barge coming on periodically to warn other ships in the area of their mooring.

The women had eaten, and the galley had been cleaned. They had taken a pot of coffee to the afterdeck to watch the evening skies.

“Want me to get a couple of deck chairs?”

“Nah, why don’t we sit on the hole covering.” Muriel didn’t stop until she had reached the second covering and sat down cross-legged on the hatch. Lenora sat on the other side of the of covering and placed her mug down and ran both hands through her hair. “Beautiful night.”

“Hmm. I love this time of day, well…I love the break of dawn best, but this time is really relaxing.”

“Yes, it is.” Muriel looked over at the captain. “You’re an excellent cook, Lenora. These two weeks will be hard on my figure. Thank heavens I’ll be swimming and diving a lot.”

Lenora laughed, “You’ll need the energy and I wouldn’t worry about putting on any fat. It gets pretty hot in #l cargo bay when the air conks out, which it does frequently.”

“Now you tell me. I could have done the experiments on the deck under a tarp.”

“Yeah, you could have, but what about any sudden, unexpected squalls? And the winds whip up without warning at this location. Nah…best the cargo bay.”

Muriel gave a quick look towards the captain and caught a glimpse of a mischievous grin before the young woman raised her mug and sipped the coffee. “I bow to your judgment,” she raised her cup in a salute, then took a sip before she sat it down on the hatch cover. “This is a very unusual ship, Lenora. I don’t ever recall seeing a salvage with a wide barge deck before.”

Lenora took another sip of the coffee, before setting it down. “That’s because it was specially built in 1935, for special heavy duty salvage jobs. It does have the standard structure front and four diesel engines to maneuver it about. As far as I know, there were only six of these old girls ever built. The shipbuilders didn’t want to just manufacture a salvage ship, they wanted it to have the large flat surface of a barge, the towing capacity of a large tug, and the housing facility half way between a tug and a salvage ship.” She drew one leg up onto the hatch cover and leaned back as she tilted her head to gaze up at the sky.

Muriel looked around at the deck of The Athena and nodded. “It certainly fulfills that specification and then some. Those are the largest hoists and capstan I’ve ever seen on a ship this size. You could lift a Spanish galleon, cannon, or even a submarine to that heavy duty platform,” she pointed to the raised deck between the two cargo holds.

“Yeah, or an airplane, another smaller boat, a tank, several large trucks, a hydro chamber, or even a submersible.” Lenora continued to stare at the sky.

“I’m assuming all those items have been on the platform?”

“Yes, they were, and several hundred other objects, plus numerous stacks of supplies or equipment of one kind or the other.”

“I bet it has, and you love every time you go out, don’t you?”

“Can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing, Muriel. But, when I’m on land, I do enjoy going to see a good performance every so often when I’m not fishing.” Lenora lifted her hands from behind her and lay back on the hatch.

Muriel watched as the captain stretched out on the covering. “That looks comfortable. Mind if I join you?”

“Not like this 20’ cover doesn’t have the room,” she laughed, “Be my guest.”

Muriel lay back on the cover and crossed her legs at the ankles almost. “You have to admit, there is something mystical almost about being on a boat on a clear night with the skies twinkling with stars.”

“Yeah, it’s hard to beat.”

Muriel turned her head towards the captain. “You like to go to stage performances or concerts?”

“I thoroughly enjoy watching the old stuff. You know, like The Mikado, or Madame Butterfly.

“That’s two of my favorites also. I went to a performance of Madame Butterfly when I visited my parents in San Francisco last month. What’s your favorite part?”

“Hmm…Well, I like the entire production, but if I had to choose,” Lenora reached up and scratched her nose. “Guess it would have to be the poignant song in the opera in which the little Japanese mother sings to her child, "Sal cos' ebbe cuore".”

“Ah yes, Do You Know Sweet One,” Muriel nodded and smiled at Lenora’s selection.

“Plus, it’s kind of hard not to appreciate a pitiful appeal to little "Trouble" not to listen to the bad man when he suggested that her husband had forgotten her.” Lenora drew up a knee and crossed her other leg over the knee. “I tear up every time I hear it sung by someone that really does it justice. Another that I like is the famous flower duet, in which, greatly excited at the sound of the cannon announcing the entry of the man-of-war into the harbor, she bids her maid scatter the room with blossoms.”

“Yes, that is spectacular, especially when they use real fresh blossoms.” Muriel started tapping her fingers on the cover as she started humming the song.

“You keep pretty good timing there, Davenport.”

“Love music, even thought about becoming a music major, but there was something about marine life that drew me to it more than the music.”

“Know what you mean. The sea is my life. I’ve never wanted to do or be anyplace else….well, I can take traveling see a just so long, but will bear it if I can attend a good performance.” Lenora exhaled.

“I agree. Madame Butterfly is very sad, Lenora. But when it’s done by good performers it makes me cry also.” She stopped tapping her fingers and drew her arms over her stomach, interlocking her fingers. “You know a scene that also moves me in the opera?”

Lenora turned her head towards Muriel and waited.

Muriel’s didn’t respond and kept looking at the sky until she heard Lenora ask her which one. “You know the scene where the consul and the lieutenant entered the house together and met the maid. She saw a lady in the garden, and learned from the consul that this was Pinkerton's American wife. Weeping, she went to awaken her mistress and break the tragic news to her. When Cho-Cho-San was finally brought to understand that she had been abandoned, she chose to die. She blindfolded her child and then stabbed herself with a dagger her father has used to commit suicide, at the Emperor's command. Then when Lieutenant Pinkerton enters the room to ask for her forgiveness, he finds her dying. Now that can be a two handkerchief scene if it’s done right.”

“Yeah, but I my sympathy doesn’t go to him, but to Cho-Cho-San.”

“Sure it does, that’s the way it should be,” Muriel sighs.

“You said the marine life drew you. Was it the scientific aspects?”

“Can’t say for sure, partially I guess. There is something mystical about the sea, the water, and the creatures in the sea. You probably know what I mean?”

“Yes. There is a lot of mysteries that have never been explained about some ships, marine creatures and happenings at sea. Always found some of the fables, or tales most intriguing. Heck, the actually goings on.” Her body shifted as she arched her back slightly. “Some tales are enough to blow your mind away.”

“Know what you mean.” She turned over onto her side and propped her head on her arm. “You ever wonder about the Titanic or the Mary Celeste?

“The Titanic was tragic and could have been avoided. There wasn’t proper abandon ship procedures practiced or followed and they didn’t do life boat drills with the crew or passengers.” Lenora turned over on her side and faced Muriel. “It’s a proven fact that there were enough life jackets aboard the Titanic to be strapped together to make life rafts and every person and animal aboard could have been saved. They simply weren’t prepared and really believed the ship was unsinkable.”

“I’ve heard about the ill prepare drills for the crew and passengers, but I’ve never heard about the lifejacket idea before. Where’d you get that idea? I’ve never heard it before.” Muriel asked, moving her arm up so the elbow rested on the hatch.

“We did a marine time study of over a hundred ship tragedies, and the Titanic was one of them. The captain, crew, staff, engineers and even some of the passengers were accountable for the lost of the majority of lives.” Lenora reached down and pulled her mug closer to her. “Over half the lifeboats were lowered and were only half full. Several capsized or founded by the time they hit the water. The crew never went through the drills enough to get familiar with their stations or their responsibilities and hadn’t even lowered the lifeboats to make sure the lines were even working properly.” She raised the mug and took several sips. Still holding the cup in her hand, she shook her head in disapproval of the sad event.

“There were more than enough lifejackets for every man, woman and child on, the ship. They didn’t skimp on the vest, and they were thick enough that half the vests could have been strapped together to make four-five inch thick rafts that would have saved everyone one on board without the first boat being launched. There were several passageways that opened just above the waterline and the rafts could have been tossed into the ocean and the passengers could have scampered down ladders or even hopped to the made shift very buoyant jackets.”

“Then why didn’t they do it?” Her voice rasped with concern.

“They weren’t prepared. Didn’t think it was essential to have an alternate plan for the ‘unsinkable ship’, plus it never occurred to them it would ever be necessary.”

“That is so sad,” she exhaled slowly. “I’ve read a lot about the Mary Celeste, but still find there is so much about that ship that has never been explained.”

“Now that’s one of the many mysteries that make for a good story.” The cup came up to Lenora’s lips. “The tale of the Mary Celeste is known as the ship that sailed itself. It is one of the most famous, intriguing, and still unsolved mysteries of the sea. Back in 1872, the crew of the Dei Gratia, sailing from New York to Gibraltar, found the Mary Celeste floating unmanned about 600 miles west of Portugal. The ship was in perfect condition. The sails were set, its cargo of 1,700 barrels of commercial alcohol were untouched, except for one barrel, which had been opened, a breakfast meal looked as though it been abandoned in the middle of being eaten, and all of the crew's belongings remained onboard. Yet its captain, Benjamin S. Briggs, his wife, his daughter, and the ship's crew of seven were gone. Some versions of the story say that the ship's lifeboat was missing, while others say it was still in place on deck. All that seemed to be missing was the ship's chronometer, the sextant, and the cargo documents. There was no sign of a struggle, violence, storm, or any other kind of disturbance. The last entry in the ship's log was made on November 24, and made no indication of any trouble. If this ship had been abandoned soon after this entry, the Mary Celeste would have been adrift for a week and a half. But this was impossible, according to the crew of the Dei Gratia, considering the ship's position and the way its sails had been set. Someone - or something - must have worked the ship for at least several days after the final log entry. The fate of the crew of the Mary Celeste remains a mystery.”

“Wasn’t the Mary Celeste spotted several times by different groups of people who reported spotting it, then it disappearing?” Muriel turned her head towards the captain.

“You mean like the Glencairn beach folk who stood about keenly discussing the whys and wherefores of the vessel as it came into sight and closer to the shore. With uncanny volition, the ship sailed steadily on as the Glencairn beach folk watched. Just as the excitement reached its climax, however, the mystery ship vanished into thin air as strangely as it had come, remaining a mystery.” Lenora sat the cup down and scratched her nose again.

“Some mystery!” Muriel scooted her arm down on the covering and lay her head gently back down on her appendage.

“Mystery? Some ships just seem cursed with bad luck.” Lenora stretched, then continued. “Take The Amazon, which was christened in 1861 at Spencer Island, Nova Scotia, and just 48 hours after taking command of the ship, its captain suddenly died. On its maiden voyage, the Amazon struck a fishing weir, leaving a gash in its hull. While being repaired, the ship suffered a fire, which broke out on board. Not long after, during its third Atlantic crossing, the Amazon collided with another ship. Finally, in 1867, the ill-fated ship was wrecked off the coast of Newfoundland and abandoned for salvagers. But the ship had one last date with destiny. It was raised and restored by an American company who sailed it south for sale. It was purchased in 1872 by Captain Benjamin S. Briggs who raised its sails and headed out to sea toward the Mediterranean with his family...only now the ship was renamed the Mary Celeste!

“WHAT?” Muriel sat up. “You’re pulling my leg.”

“Nope, The Amazon and the Mary Celeste were one and the same.” She emptied her cup and swung the mug by one finger in its handle. “Told you, some ships are labeled bad luck from the day they were christened.”

“Bad luck ships, huh? I suppose your studies have revealed a long list of such ill fated boats?” Muriel drew her knees up to her chest and draped her arms around them. When she looked at Lenora’s face, she noticed the moon- beams danced across it causing a mystical appearance, or perhaps, she just wanted the captain to be mysterious and intriguing.

“Not all of them, but the professor was an old salt himself, and even wrote several books on various ships, including the Mary Celeste.

“Any as mysterious at the old Mary C?

“The Mary Celeste still remains a mystery, Muriel, but there are other ships that have some real unusual occurrences.” Lenora returned to her prone position flat on her back and placed her hands under her head.

“Take the Great Eastern which was built in 1857, at 100,000 tons. The Great Eastern was the Titanic of its day. It was six times larger than any ship ever built and, like the Titanic, seemed destined for trouble. When its builders tried to launch it, the ship was so heavy that it jammed the launch mechanism and stopped dead. Even though it was eventually put afloat, it lay in harbor for about a year because the money had run out to finish it. The Great Eastern was then bought by the Great Ship Company, which finished it and put it out to sea. But during its sea trials, a huge ventilator explosion killed at least one man and scalded several others with boiling water. One month later, its builder, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, died of a stroke.” Lenora reached up with her free hand and swiped her hair out of her eyes.

“Despite its size, the cursed ship never carried a full complement of passengers, not even on its maiden voyage. On her fourth voyage, it was badly damaged in a storm, necessitating costly repairs. In 1862, while carrying its record number of 1500 passengers, it sailed over an uncharted area and tore open its bottom. It was saved from sinking only by its double hull. On several occasions, a strange hammering noise of an unknown source could be heard far below decks.”

“Wait a minute, a strange hammering noise of an unknown source?” Muriel eyebrows raised. “Come on, you’re pulling my leg?”

“The crew said it could be heard even above the gale of a storm and sometimes woke sailors from their sleep. The ship continued to lose money for its owners, but was successful in helping lay a transatlantic cable in 1865. Better ships built for the purpose soon replaced the Great Eastern, however, and for 12 years it sat rusting until it was eventually sold for scrap metal. When it was being taken apart, the source of the ship's bad luck, perhaps and the phantom hammering, was discovered: within the double hull was the skeleton of the master shipwright who had mysteriously disappeared during its construction.”

“Yuck! You’re just full of ‘um aren’t you?” “

Well you asked,” she chuckled and slowly raised one hand and pointed to the sky. “There’s the big dipper.”

Muriel looked up. “Hey, the dipper is tipped downward. Isn’t that a sign of rain…you know the dipper tipped, pouring out water?”

Lenora laughed softly. “That, my friend is just a landlubber’s fable.”

“I’m not a landlubber you sea imp. The ocean is my living, my world, and I’m completely at home being on the water.” The scientist stuck out her tongue. “Well, maybe not so great on sail boats….” Muriel said almost under her breath.

The captain’s head turned slowly toward the marine-biologist. The glow from the moon only lit up one side of the young woman’s face. Although it was only partially illuminated, Lenora sensed Muriel was a kindred spirit and loved the sea as much as she did. Some kind of strange bond connected them, but again, she didn’t understand how or why.

Yet, from the first glimpse of Muriel, we seemed to ‘connect’ with each other at a very deep level. I liked Davenport as soon as I met her even with her spicy attitude--heck even before I even knew what she looked like there was something familiar at the mention of her name. Being here with her all seems so ‘real’ and full of meaning, absolutely unexplainable, but full of significance in the best sense of the word, and at the same time rooted in a kind of gentle homeliness, and profoundly moving. Lenora sat up and gazed at the young woman before her. Jumping sea juniper, I’m getting even weirder than my aunt, and she doesn’t make sense half the time about anything.

“I didn’t mean it in a…”

“Forget it, Lenora. I knew what you meant. Say, what is that saying about the red sky at night?”

“Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”

“Well, it certainly has been a delightful evening,” Muriel raised her head and smiled. “Know anymore spooky ship tidbits?”

“Sure a few, but you must have some bizarre stories about sea creatures you want to talk about?”

“You’re talking sea monsters here, Benegan. I’m a marine-biologist…a scientist, and I don’t deal with fables or sea monsters,” she responded in a quiet tone. “But those “Nessie” creatures tales were some of my favorites growing up.” Muriel let go of her knees and stretched them out as she shook them to get the circulation moving again.

“Oh, come on Davenport, you must have a few sea monster tales you like to entertain the undergraduates with and keep them in stitches?”

Muriel turned over on her side again and stretched her legs out. Propping her head on the palm of her hand., she said, “None that will baffle you, but there are a couple that have a bit of mystery.” The researcher held her hand up to her mouth to conceal a yawn.

Well, some of the first reports of a sea serpent surfaced right here in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea way back in the 1830’s. The sea monster was supposedly a dark brown, smooth-skinned creature, which moved by means of vertical undulations of its sixty foot long, serpentine body.”

“Now you’re pulling my leg. You’re talking about the "Glaucester Sea Serpent," and you know it begun in the early 1800’s, when approximately three hundred reputable residents of coastal Massachusetts villages claimed to have seen your dark brown, smooth-skinned creature, moving by means of vertical ripples of its long, winding snake like body.”

Muriel chuckled lightly. “You know your sea monster fables, Lenora. Yes, you’re correct. There has always been a remarkable variety of animals described in antebellum sea serpent tales. Most of these creatures are readily identifiable as giant squid, basking sharks, oarfish, manatees, manta rays, mobulas, whale sharks, and other well-known marine fauna, but, as with contemporary UFO stories, a sufficient number of unexplainable reports surfaced to keep alive popular interest in, and popular controversy over, sea serpent stories.”

“You said it, controversy and plenty of hoaxes surrounding your sea monsters sighting. But I’ve seen some pretty strange looking creatures while diving in some places, not just here in the Gulf, but other places in the world, and I couldn’t identify a few of them,” Lenora said.

“Some of the species I’ve seen make me really wonder about them too. Ran upon an octopus once that was deformed, and was the weirdest looking creature I’d ever seen. Scared the salt out of me.” Muriel shivered slightly. “The hoax’s have really cast dispersions on the true sightings and finds of genuine sea creatures…Somewhat sad. It causes a storm of criticism from the scientific community and sometimes makes not only scientific research, but medical discoveries on some of them difficult and scrutinized.”

“Yeah, I can only imagine the sea serpent phenomenon falling into a state of scholarly and popular disrepute by would be authorities.” Lenora turned her head slightly towards Muriel, studying her momentarily. “Your research is extremely important, isn’t it?” Lenora prodded for a response.

“The scientific data is significant for many reasons, Captain. The work of marine biologists becomes increasingly important as people use more and more of the ocean's resources for food and recreation. We seek to learn how extensively marine plants and animals can be harvested as food without destroying their natural populations. We also investigate whether or not certain human activities, such as dumping waste products in the ocean, harm marine life.”

Lenora leaned forward a little as she spoke softly, “That’s not your chief interest is it, Muriel?”

A slight curve of the scientist’s bottom lip gave her away. “Not really.” She lowered her head to look at Lenora.

“Medical research is my primary interest,” she explained. “In my field of research, we try to discover what substances marine organisms produce that can be used to treat human diseases.”

“A most worthwhile endeavor.”

“I think so. Fortunately, your Aunt Isabelle feels the same and believes in the research enough to back the Institute, it’s research and has shown more than just interest in this particular study.” Muriel drew her leg up to her body before she leaned back on her hands.

“You making any progress?”

“Certainly, and in some unlikely places. Substances have been found in sponges, soft corals, and other marine animals that appear to be effective in treating bacterial and viral infections. Other substances are being tested by drug companies as possible treatments for arthritis and various types of cancer, including leukemia.”

“That is most impressive.” Lenora sat up. “Any form of cancer research, or the human life process has a deep personal appeal with my aunt.”

“I know. She has spent hours with me discussing both projects.”

“She has always shown a strong interest in the human life process also. She bring that up?”

“Yes.”

Lenora looked over at the scientist again. “How is that significant?”

“Researchers have used marine animals in experiments to increase our knowledge of human life processes. For example, much of our understanding about the early developmental states of organisms has come from the study of marine animals.” She extends her leg and crosses her legs at the ankles. “In experiments with the eggs of sea urchins, marine biologists have determined how chemical substances influence the development of embryos, developing young. We have also have used the squid's giant nerve fibers to discover how nerves work. The squid's nerve fibers are so large that scientists can place instruments inside different parts of the nerve to record mechanical, chemical, and electrical responses.”

“That sounds like some intense analysis and serious exploration.”

“It is, Lenora. Some studies have taken years but have produced some remarkable results.”

“Anything you believe stands out above others?”

“Not anything I’m working on, but from studies I’ve kept abreast of and examined, I have come to one conclusion that I follow myself.” Muriel’s feet had begun to twist back and forth, as if swiveling to some unheard music.

Lenora’s curiosity was peaked. “Are you going to enlighten me?”

Muriel shrugged her shoulders. “I take calcium made from coral daily, and I make sure I get sun on my face every day when possible.” With that explanation, she uncrossed her ankles, slid down to the edge of the cargo covering, stood up and walked quickly to the back of the ship and rested against the diving platform rail.

Interesting--calcium from coral and sunshine every day. Aunt Isabelle started me on that plan in my early teens. She always said it was an unrecognized program for making sure you never got cancer, or--, the thoughts ran through Lenora mind as she raked her hand through her hair as she studied her passenger, or as an unscientific cure, but proven treatment to stop cancer growth, and eradicate it in one’s system. Lenora blinked as a particularly dreary thought came to mind. How long have you taken this particular supplement, Muriel, and why? And what did Aunt Isabelle say to me? “Take care of Muriel, she isn’t as strong, or as knowledgeable about the sea as you are.” Hum…I think maybe the added phase about taking care of the experiments was an afterthought. Lenora jumped to her feet. Oh, Great Neptune, NO! Her hand went to her mouth to silence any utterance. Slowly she started breathing again and lowered her hand. Maybe you’re misreading things here, Lenora. Why don’t you just go ask her? If you need to watch over her and be protective you need to find out before she starts diving tomorrow.

Lenora stared at the figure leaning against the platform support beams. “Somehow or for some reason, I don’t feel that is the reason Aunt Isabelle cautioned me about watching out for her.” The captain muttered softly as she tightened her fists several times and started towards Muriel.

Muriel turned her head slightly as the captain joined her at the railing. “Sorry about just walking away, Lenora. These experiments are most important to me for very personal reasons,” the biologist sighed before turning back to stare out at the gulf.

“You don’t have to explain anything to me,” Lenora shrugged her shoulders then leaned against the steel column of the platform.

Muriel glanced quickly at Lenora. “I know that, but I think you should know it isn’t just a job to me.”

“The thought never crossed my mind, Muriel.” Lenora spoke softly. Muriel’s head acknowledged the captain’s statement before she turned back towards the water. “I told you I grew up with boys, which is true. What I didn’t tell you is that I had a sister. Marlene was two years older and died when I was only five.” The words seemed to linger in the air. “My aunt and grandmother had cancer too, and died by the time I was ten.” Her head hung down and her chin touched her chest. “If I can do anything to help find a cure for this or any disease, I will go to the ends of the earth, and dive into the darkest, darkest deep of any sea or ocean, to do any research that might help in the fight.”

Lenora watched the expression on Muriel’s face. Her countenance was somewhat drained and sad but her determination was clearly visible.

“Maybe this particular project will have the results you’ve been working towards.”

A slight smile started across Muriel’s mouth as she turned to face Lenora. “Now that would be the prize of the century for me,” she said grinning. Her hand went up to Lenora’s cheek and patted it gently. “You’re a great cook, apparently a very experienced captain, certainly a great dancer and besides being rather cute, you are a very comforting conversationalist, but if I’m to be at my best for diving tomorrow, I need to get some sleep.” Without saying anything else she turned and made her way across the deck and disappeared through the cabin-way door.

Lenora watched long after Muriel disappeared from view before turning back to gaze out over the gulf. The wind picked up a little, and the waves began to beat gently against the hull. “You’re kind of cute yourself,” she chuckled to the open air. “Aunt Isabelle must have known about the illnesses. Don’t worry, Aunt Isabelle, I’ll look after her.” The respectfully spoken words settled tenderly on the water as she rested against the column once again.

After a while, the winds picked up even more causing Lenora to rub her hands up and down her arms to ward off the goose bumps. Shrugging off the chill, she headed towards the wheelhouse on the top deck to check out the instruments and turn on the signal beacon before she went below to her cabin.

Once in her quarters, she shucked her clothes and dropped them in the sea bag in her closet. She quickly took a shower, dried off and put on her shorty pajamas before she turned the touch-latch on the medicine cabinet and removed her toothbrush and tube of fluoride paste. Lenora’s eyes, the deep, tranquil green of a sea foam lagoon, focused on her image with fierce intensity. “You are in way over your head here, Lenora.” She averted her eyes, and confusion fluttered briefly across her tanned features before she faced her image again. “Why does my life seem to have come abruptly full circle and about to become as turbulent as a water spout?” Her head was starting to throb and her thoughts became unclear. She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I’m getting as weird at Aunt Isabelle and all her nonsense,” she placed the toothbrush in her mouth and turned away from the mirror to complete the task.

A hand towel was removed from the rack above the head and dabbed across her face and hands before she looked into the mirror at her image again. “Cute, huh?” She shook her head, returned the towel to the rack before she switched off the light and pulled the door closed behind her.

Picking up one of the books she always kept in the rack at the head of her bed, she opened it to the silver mermaid bookmark her aunt had given her for her tenth birthday, but instead, closed it and returned it to the rack. She pulled down the cover on her berth but didn’t get into bed. The mariner went to the open porthole and took several deep breaths. Her fingers found their way to her short hair and she began to run them through her hair slowly several times. “My mind is like a noisy waterspout,” she whispered. “I can’t think clearly.” The captain returned to the bed and sat down. Lenora reached to the side of the bed and switched off the reading lamp. She sat there in the dark for several minutes before she finally swung her feet up on the bed.

Stretched out on her berth, Lenora tried, without much luck, to think straight. Her movements and thoughts were as sluggish as a diver’s in a deep-sea suit. Her mind functioned with even less alacrity. Regret joined the muddle in her mind. Regret that she didn’t understand the warmth she felt towards Muriel, and yet, there was little doubt that she felt extremely close and even affectionate towards the woman for some weird reason.

“Weird is exactly what I’ve lived with for years now, so why should this be any different?” She turned over and ruffled her pillow up with her fist before she sank back onto it. Her legs couldn’t stay still and she drew her legs up and crossed one over the other at the knee. The swinging foot moved up and down in no certain rhythm. “Damn weird is all I can say,” Lenora flopped her legs back down on the cool sheets.

“Here I am thinking burning thoughts of running my tongue all over Muriel’s body and even…Jumping sea horses, I’m getting as peculiar as Aunt Isabelle.” She scooted off the bed and went into the bathroom for another drink of water.

Thoughts about the woman in the next cabin and the strange connection they seemed to have kept her awake until late into the night. “Dream on, girl,” Lenora mumbled as she dropped in and out of a dreaming state.

In the next cabin, Muriel lay on her side thinking about all the strange feelings and rather bizarre events since she had stepped aboard this vessel. First the gull with the strange stare and circling her like that, then the weak experience on the deck and in the cabin followed by the need to sleep and now the odd feeling she had made love with Lenora before and it wasn’t just lust she was experiencing towards the captain.

Muriel’s mournful _expression brightened. “I met Isabelle Benegan’s only niece. What a knockout,” she turned over on her back. “I won’t argue with that observation, Davenport.” Muriel gingerly tugged the sheet up on her naked body as a bizarre feeling of déjà vu descended on her as a nude vision of Lenora appeared. “You’re not only a scientist, Davenport, you’re a dirty old woman lusting after flesh like that.” Her vivid eyes flashed above her leering grin, and she wiggled her perfectly arched brows.

“Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t happen but it never hurt to imagine and I’m willing to bet my prize sharks tooth that wasn’t a sisterly look I saw in those green eyes of hers,” she spoke softly to the bunk above her. “I’ll not be sleeping by myself too long,” she thought, not if her instincts were right about Lenora.

*****


Chapter 3


The following morning Lenora stepped onto the deck and found a blanket of mist shrouded the vessel. “What the…?” she caught the handrail and inched her way to the outside stairs that lead to the upper wheelhouse. “This stuff is so thick I can’t see my hand in front of me.” She muttered as she closed the wheelhouse door and flicked on the lights. After briefly checking the instruments, she hit the automatic foghorn button and instantly a long, warning blast resounded into the shroud of mist.

BUHHAH! The warning blast sounded again causing Muriel to turn over and grabbing the sheet as she fell to the floor. “It’s a good thing I wasn’t on the top bunk, might have broken my….” BUHHAH! She was interrupted. The young woman rubbed her buttocks as she stood up and walked to the open porthole. “What was that?” She stared out the porthole but all she could see was a strange fog. It didn’t come through the porthole, but cloaked everything outside. “Now that is something you don’t see every day,” she scratched her head and went to put on clothes. By the time she tied her deck shoes and stepped from the corridor onto the deck the mist had mysteriously disappeared. She trotted up the stairs and into the round house.

“What happened to it?” Muriel asked Lenora who was thumping first one instrument then another.

“I don’t know.”

Muriel joined Lenora at the instrument panel. “What do you mean you don’t know?”

Lenora stopped tapping the screen and cut her eyes towards Muriel. “It just disappeared and it didn’t leave a trace on any of my instruments.”

“That’s not possible, Captain. It was so thick; it would have taken it some time to dissipate.”

“I’m telling you it just rolled away almost instantly. I rushed up here to turn on the warning fog signal and you couldn’t see anything outside the wheelhouse. I’ve gone over these instruments a dozen times. Look for yourself,” her hand swept across the instruments. “There is nothing. Not even the slightest element on the radar screen and take a look at the barometer.”

Muriel did a double take as she stared at the gauge. “That’s impossible!”

“If you think that’s strange, look at this.” Lenora waved some papers in front of Muriel. “I’ve printed out the weather forecast for this area and the general summary of current weather conditions,” she handed the papers to Muriel. “The general synopsis on all of them read normal.”

The marine-biologist rapidly scanned the reports. “The area forecasts for the next 24 hours have winds South Westerly not more than 5 or 6 knots, with occasional showers but only quick, light drizzles. Nothing indicates fog, mist, or any kind of haze at all.” She handed the papers back to Lenora. “These instruments aren’t showing anything either.” She also tapped the glass on several of the dials.

BUHHAH! Startled by the foghorn, both Muriel and Lenora jumped, then sighed with relief as the captain reached up and turned off the signal.

“Well, I can’t explain it, but the gulf is peaceful and just right for diving. Want to get a quick breakfast and start your experiments?”

Muriel looked out the wheelhouse window checking the water and nodded. “Yes, and I should tell you, I eat a big breakfast, a light lunch and I overstuff at dinner,” she grinned at the captain.

“Somehow I knew that,” she waved her hand towards the door and waited for Muriel to exit. “Did you notice how the mist didn’t come into the boat, not even through the open wheelhouse door or the portholes?”

“Yes, it is strange to say the least. It just hovered over the outside of the boat.” Muriel placed her feet on the side rails of the stairs and slid down as if she were in the navy or on a firehouse pole.

Where did she learn to do that, Lenora scratched the back of her ear and followed suit.

*****


With skin-diving gear on their backs the two women sat on the platform as they put on their fins.

“Have you been a certified diver long?” Lenora asked as she finished pulling on her fins and checked Muriel’s tanks once again before turning and allowing the marine biologist to do the same for her.

“Since I was sixteen. Besides a great library, Oceanside didn’t have much else to do except swim, boating, fishing or be involved in some sport.”

“Oceanside? Where’s that?”

“It’s on the coast of California, about half way between Los Angeles and San Diego.” Muriel adjusted the mask over her face. “I just want to look around this first dive, Lenora. I’m assuming you’ve been here before?”

“Sure, many times. You might want to investigate the second ship on the reef. It’s an old cruiser the Navy sank here after some gunnery practice several years ago. It seems to have settled in a forty-five degree angle and there is an abundance of various sea-lives around it.”

“Okay, lead the way,” she smiled and picked up an underwater video camera.

Lenora put on her facemask, adjusting the piece carefully, and picked up a spear gun. She stood up on the secondary platform, which was submerged a foot under the water, turned sideways and stepped off the stage and slid beneath the surface.

“Can you hear me?” Lenora asked from below.

“The underwater mike is working fine and the water is really clear. I can see you to the right of the stage holding onto the safety line.” Muriel replied, and stepped off the platform with the camera.

When the two women swam down towards the man-made reef, an array of various fish came and went from their view.

“If he were alive today, Lloyd Bridges would just die,” Muriel said.

Lenora turned to acknowledge her diving companion. “As it is, in that great water world in the sky, he’s probably reverse-inducted his air supply, causing his regulator to reverberate and self-destruct, or whatever it is regulators do when they implode in dismay.” Both women chuckled as the first ship came into view.

Forty minutes later, they sat on the secondary stage of the diving platform removing their facemask and fins.

“You’re right, the sea-life is everything I could have wished for,” Muriel tossed her footgear onto the deck of The Athena. “I want to review the video of that gun turret. I thought I saw several squid and that is most unusual.”

“It’s not unusual for here, Muriel.” Lenora placed the spear gun on the deck and helped the marine biologist remove her tanks.

“It is if it’s the species of squid I think it is,” she motioned for Lenora to turn around so she could help with her gear.

Lenora lowered the gear to the deck. “You handled yourself very well down there. You didn’t learn that being a marine-biologist.”

The blue-eyed woman grinned. “I earned part of my tuition as an active-status Skin Diving Instructor. Not only did I teach skin diving, but the NAUI Scuba Diver Course as well.”

Lenora picked up two towels and tossed one to Muriel. “I thought as much.”

Briskly, she rubbed the towel through her hair and wiped off her neck and face again, the towel was pulled through one of the chain links to dry. “You are an instructor also, aren’t you?”

Lenora removed the towel from the link and placed it over the railing along with hers. “It’ll dry better here,” she smiled at Muriel. “Yes, I teach both NAUI Skin-Diving and Scuba Diving courses at the local marina.”

“I thought as much,” Muriel mimicked Lenora, bent down, picked up the camera and walked away from the surprised mariner.

“Well blow me over matey. A pretty sassy wench you’ve set me up with Aunt Isabelle.” Lenora chuckled softly as Muriel disappeared down the stairs of the make-shift laboratory to view her video.

One thing was certain. This wasn’t going to be normal research trip. Not with Muriel Davenport aboard.

Lenora shook her head, “Nope, this won’t be a routine voyage.” She thought about the marine-biologist’s forceful presence, her intoxicating scent, the contour of her profile and her velvet-smooth voice, which had sent hormones reeling through her bloodstream like drunken sailors. In the sunlight, her extraordinary looks, beautiful in a somewhat stunning way, had stolen her breath, while a saner part of her noted the secrets hidden in her deep blue eyes.

“I have got to be out of my mind.” She turned and kneeled down to check out the gear. “Weird.”

Below in the laboratory, Muriel had removed the tape from the camera and pushed it into the VCR. She twisted the remote in her hand several times without turning the machine on.

I’ve allowed my emotions to aroused by a woman who regards me only as one of her aunt’s indulgences. Well, so much for instinct Davenport, when it makes you crave a woman who obviously has ice water running through her veins and isn’t the least bit interested in you.

No, she’d grown too old at twenty-nine to believe the woman of her dreams would ever materialize. Soon she’d be back in Miami, her hasty feelings for Lenora unaccepted, and prospects for a relationship about as substantial as smoke on a windy day. Muriel held out the remote, clicked on play and sat down in the canvas chair before the screen to view the footage.

On deck, Lenora had refilled the tanks and placed the gear next to the arm of the diving platform.

Ignoring these feelings is the right thing to do, isn’t it? Turning her back towards the gulf, she lifted her face into the breeze, inhaling the tang of salt and the scent of elusive freedom. She steeled herself against her first glimpse of Muriel, so her face wouldn’t give her away. More than anything, Lenora longed to scoop her into her arms as soon as she appeared, but such behavior would be disastrous. To keep her safe and help with the experiments was what she had promised her Aunt. She had to remain aloof and wary, because Muriel Davenport could mean catastrophe, heartbreak or both to her.

*****


Part II Chapters 4 & 5


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