Perhaps one diver in a thousand would have noticed the faint glimmer on the ocean floor. Dante Lewis spotted it immediately.
Heart racing, he deflated his buoyancy compensator vest and began to descend toward it, passing towering coral formations and clouds of sea life.
The Hidden Shoals off the Caribbean island of St. Luc boasted some of the most spectacular colors on the face of the earth – the brilliant turquoise of a parrotfish, the electric magenta of red algae, the neon yellow of a snapper’s tail, the shimmering violet of a school of Creole wrasses.
Dante perceived none of it.
That wasn’t exactly true. He could see everything – and far sharper than the average person. But only in black and white and shades of gray.
The promising thirteen-year-old photographer was colorblind. That was why he had accepted the diving internship at Poseidon Oceanographic Institute. Not to learn color – his brain wasn’t wired for that. But maybe he could learn to detect it, deduce it from the clues he could see – light, dark, and shading.
He checked the Fathometer on his dive watch. Forty feet.
So far, the plan was a dismal failure. Descending in full scuba gear, Dante swung around his Nikonos underwater camera to snap a picture of a flamingo tongue – a rare spotted snail, supposedly orange on peach. To Dante, it appeared gray on gray.
Everything is gray on gray, he reminded himself glumly. And it always will be.
Sixty feet. He looked down. The glint of silver was still far below.
Now he was stuck on a backward island in the middle of nowhere for the whole summer. There was nothing to do but dive, an activity that he wasn’t much good at, and liked even less. He had almost gotten himself killed at least once.
And for what? Gray fish, gray plants, gray coral.
But there was money in these waters. From centuries of sunken ships. Dante and his companions had already found an antique Spanish piece of eight. His brow clouded. The three-hundred-year-old coin had been stolen from them by their supervisor, Tad Cutter. The interns would not make the mistake of trusting the slick Californian again.
Eighty feet. It was deeper than he had ever been, but he barely gave it a second thought. He was completely focused on reaching the source of the glimmer.
And then his flippers made contact with soft sandy bottom. He peered down at the object that had drawn him to the depths.
A Seven-Up can.
His disappointment surged like the clouds of bubbles that rose from his breathing apparatus.
Stupid, he berated himself. It was crazy to believe that every glint in the ocean was some kind of lost treasure.
But it would have been sweet to snag a pile of silver and rub it in Cutter’s face! The institute man had done a lot more than swipe one little coin. He and his team had taken over the wreck site it had come from.
They’re probably over there right now, digging up our discovery!
It was a huge rip-off, no question about it. Yet the whole business didn’t seem to bother Dante right then. Instead he felt pretty good. A dull pleasant fatigue, like a runner’s high.
Funny – he was normally pretty nervous on a dive. Underwater seemed like a place that people simply weren’t meant to be. But today he was confident. Fearless, even.
A curious lionfish ventured close – a mass of spines and fins and stripes.
An underwater porcupine in designer clothes!
In some remote corner of his mind, it occurred to Dante that he should take a picture of such a remarkable fish. But he made no move for the Nikonos tethered to his arm. Instead, he reached out to touch an elaborately striped fin.
The attack came from above, knocking him backwards. His dive partner, fourteen-year-old Star Ling grabbed him linebacker-style around the waist, driving him away from his quarry. She shook a scolding finger in his face, then whipped out a dive slate and scribbled: POISON!
Dante squinted at the message, his vision darkening at the edges. He could see all the letters, but for the life of him, he couldn’t put them together to read the word. What the young photographer didn’t realize was that he was experiencing nitrogen narcosis – the rapture of the deep. Under deep-water pressure, the nitrogen in air dissolves in the bloodstream, producing an effect similar to drunkenness. In diving lingo, he was “narced.”
All that registered with Dante was that he was having a fine time, and here was Star, ruining it. The lionfish had gotten away, leaving Dante sweating from his efforts.
Who needs a rubber suit to dive in boiling water?
Before Star’s horrified eyes, Dante unzipped his lightweight tropical skin suit and began to peel off the thin material. In his narced state, he had forgotten that the wetsuit was not for warmth; it was for protection from the sting of coral and other venomous sea life.
She grabbed him and held on. He fought back, the upper half of the wetsuit flapping from his waist.
That was when she saw the shark.