Wailing Octopus


17. Trapped in Twenty Fathoms

Scotty writhed to one side, and the fact that the frogman had fired from too great a distance gave him time to dodge. The spear went by, and Scotty lifted his own gun to return the shot.

Rick, senses suddenly acute, glanced upward again in time to see two more figures descending through the murky layer. He hooted for danger!

Scotty glanced up, too. Then, instead of firing, he sped forward and thrust the tip of his spear at the frogman's chest. The frogman lifted his hands high. Scotty jerked the man's face plate loose, then turned swiftly and motioned to Rick.

Rick followed, fins driving, as Scotty led the way into deeper water in the direction of the wreck.

The frogman who had been in the cave was temporarily out of things. His Scuba was the type that combined the breathing apparatus with the full face plate. He could clear the face plate of the water Scotty had let in, but it would take a little time.

Suddenly Scotty shot upward. Rick turned and looked over his shoulder as he followed. The second two frogmen were in clear water now, and both had spear guns!

Scotty led the way into the murky layer, then leveled off and swam horizontally. Rick wondered what kind of evasive action his pal was planning, but he followed without trying to communicate with the other boy. In a situation like this, Scotty's instincts were dependable.

Rick stayed close to Scotty in the murky layer, swimming at his side and a little behind. After a few yards Scotty dove again, into clear water. Rick looked around but could see no sign of the enemy. Apparently the frogmen had followed and were still in the murk.

Scotty shot downward, Rick at his side. The wreck was directly below them. Scotty didn't hesitate. He let his momentum carry him right through the grouper's front door into the cabin. Rick followed, half expecting to see Scotty and the grouper meet head on, but the fish hadn't returned.

Inside the cabin, Scotty switched on his flashlight, took his slate, and wrote, "Thyl thnk we wnt bk to bot. We sty hr lng nuff thy fnd out we nt thr & cm bck lkng fr us. Thn we go up to bot."

Rick nodded his understanding. It was good strategy, provided they timed it right. The frogmen would assume the boys had returned to the Water Witch when they went up through the murky layer. They would examine the boat, then dive down again. At that time, if he and Scotty could time it right, the two groups would pass in the murky layer and the boys would emerge while their enemies were still descending.

He looked at his watch. They had only a few minutes of air left. The frogmen would have more air, not only because they had entered the water after the boys were already on the bottom, but because they had not descended so deeply.

He wrote, "Rlax. Brethe easy."

The less effort they made, the longer their air would last. For a moment he debated suggesting that they share one tank by trading the mouthpiece back and forth, but that would leave one of them practically without air when they had to leave. He tried to imagine the movements of their enemies. The frogmen would be on the surface now, approaching the boat ladder with caution. They couldn't be sure the boys were not waiting in ambush.

Both boys had switched off their lights and were resting motionless in the darkness of the cabin. A little light filtered through the hole near the roof, but not enough to see by.

Suddenly the light was blocked out!

Rick reached for his belt knife and Scotty thrust the spear gun forward, then both relaxed a little. The grouper had returned.

The big fish turned at the opening and backed into his hole. He hovered in the opening, holding position while he stared out into his watery kingdom. Apparently the fish had no idea that the boys were in the cabin. When it came time to leave and they touched him or hooted at him, he would get the surprise of his life.

Even in their predicament, Rick could see the humor in the grouper's reaction. He wondered if groupers were subject to heart failure from shock.

Rick returned to trying to imagine the movements of the frogmen. Now they would be cautiously boarding the Water Witch, one up the ladder, the other climbing the anchor chain. They would be careful, still unsure whether or not the quarry was aboard.

He thought he felt constriction in his lungs from the warning signal that his air was running out, but finally decided it was only his imagination.

Now the frogmen would be aboard the Water Witch, making a quick search, spear guns ready to fire their lethal shafts. Now they would be in the cabin and shouting their disappointment.

Now the frogmen would be hurrying back into the water, readjusting their face masks, ready to dive.

The grouper shot out of the cabin with a flick of his powerful tail that raised the silt around them.

Rick's heartbeat faltered. The grouper had been alarmed. They had mistimed!

Right now, the frogmen were outside the Maiden Hand;