B007JJU92E EBOK, p.1
OTHER “VAMPIRE POODLE” MYSTERIES BY CAMPBELL JONES:
MITZI MAGEE: VAMPIRE POODLE
MITZI MAGEE: BLOOD SCENT
Copyright Rover Press 2012
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright holder.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the writer’s imagination or are fused fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
I was the first to spot the fins gliding around us.
I kept my mouth shut.
We were technically out of the water, sitting with knees tucked up on the port wing of a ditched DC-9, which stubbornly refused to sink; the green water sloshed over our shoes occasionally as the big craft rocked gently in a thankfully calm sea.
The three of us had managed to haul out individual seat cushions ostensibly usable as “flotation devices”, but that wouldn’t protect our lower bodies once the plane slithered away and we were left bobbing helplessly like corks. Or kibble.
But until that happened, I saw no reason in reporting the fins to either Clancy or my dog Mitzi. Sharks, I’ve heard, can sense fear.
So we sat on the six foot wide alloy wing closest to the fuselage and watched the sun descend slowly (but not slowly enough) to a flat, gray horizon of ocean from a bright expanse of blue sky.
We had no idea where the hell we were.
But we were all secretly praying for somewhere off the coast of Great Britain.
Hopefully not far off, though we could see no land in any direction.
We were cold and wet. As yet far from freezing and not yet shivering under a relatively warm autumnal sun. Nighttime would be different, as each of us also secretly knew and dreaded, especially in the water. Hypothermia would eventually claim us without the help of the fins.
To keep our hopes up, we agreed to think positively. We were somewhere off the coast of the British Isles, we would be picked up at any moment: Clancy had left the plane’s emergency frequency hailing loud out over the waves and the big plane’s black fuselage left a clear imprint for searching eyes. A ship, aircraft, or perhaps even Heathrow Airport itself would soon locate our signal, if they hadn’t already, and be beating to our rescue. None of us acknowledged or talked about the fact that the plane’s nose was already underwater and the cockpit and instruments were possibly flooded, short-circuiting the radio.
To keep us distracted from the water slapping our shoes and the sun’s inevitable descent, Clancy read to us from the Planet Earth Catalogue app on her iPhone when she wasn’t sending out random rescue calls…none of which had yet been responded to, though she thought she might have heard what she construed as a busy signal or two. I was skeptical of floating cell towers. But again I said nothing. When hope is all you have, it can grow in increasing disproportion to reality.
“…’Great Britain is an island northwest of Continental Europe and east of Ireland, separated by the North Sea and the English Channel. It is the ninth largest island in the world—the largest in Europe as well as the British Isles. Population about 60.0 million. It’s surrounded by over 1,000 smaller islands and islets’…”
I turned to her beside me, sea water sloshing my soles, leaving a white crust on my upper socks. “That’s a break.” I said. “So we don’t have to be in downtown London to discover landfall.”
“Are you being sarcastic, Ed?”
“No! Hell no. I’ll take any trash-littered piece of beach real estate I can get!”
“Good, because we’re just as likely to drift into Scotland, Wales or even Ireland. Assuming the current’s with us. If it’s against us—“
“We drift further out to sea, I know. ’Think positive,’ wasn’t that the agreement?”
She turned back to the cellular screen. “‘All of the island is territory of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Most of the United Kingdom is in Great Britain. Most of England, Scotland, and Wales are on the island of Great Britain as are their respective capital cities of London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. The Kingdom of Great Britain resulted from the political union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland with the Acts of Union 1707 on May 1st 1707 under Queen Anne…’”
“This is just fascinating,” came the thought from a weary Mitzi flopped on the other side of me, nose pointed at the water, eyes half closed.
“Go on,” I encouraged Clancy.
“’In 1801, under a new Act of Union, this kingdom merged with the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.”
“All of which isn’t as large as Texas.”
“Mitzi,” I reacted sternly, “Clancy’s trying to keep our spirits up. Just for once try and stow the irony, huh?”
The poodle lifted her head an ironic inch. “Stow? What’re you, Captain Ed Magee now?”
“Shut-up. Clancy, go on.”
“’After the Irish War of Independence most of Ireland seceded from the Union—‘”
“Oh, what’s the point? We’re all going to end up in the drink anyway!”
“The watered isn’t freezing this time of year” I countered quickly, “and we have the seat cushions—“
“Which will do us no damn good when we drift off to sleep tonight!”
“We’ll clasp hands!” I said angrily and a little too loudly.
Mitzi snorted, put her head down on a slosh-free section of wing again. “Clancy, try calling on that thing again.”
Clancy sighed at the iPhone. “I already tried a dozen times. The battery’s getting low.”
“The plane’s getting low!”
“The plane’s fine, Mitzi!” I glared. “It’s still afloat, isn’t it? We’re damn lucky for that! Quit worrying about the plane!”
“You quit worrying.”
“No, you’re worrying about that shark that’s been circling us for the last hour.”
I cursed the dog silently and faced Clancy, chagrinned.
But she hadn’t even reacted.
Probably read my mind the minute I spotted the fins. I wasn’t as good at locking down my thoughts as she and Mitzi were; this whole ‘Sending’ stuff was still new to me. Or maybe she’d silently witnessed the fins herself.
Without a trace of telepathy from her, Clancy suddenly lowered the iPhone to her knees, followed shortly by her head, burying her face in the crook of her crossed arms. “It’s only one shark, Ed,” managed her muffled voice.
I turned on the wing, regarded her downcast demeanor. “One?”
She nodded against her wrist. “The smaller shark following behind the big shark is really the big shark’s caudal.”
I blinked. “His what?”
“Tailfin,” from a resigned-sounding Mitzi. “It’s all one shark, Ed, its dorsal and tailfin both stick out of the water.”
I spun around on my wet ass quickly, searching desperately for the fins.
I didn’t have to look far. They were right behind the partly submerged wing.
I drew up my legs reflexively, trying to measure with my eye the distance between the dorsal and tailfin. “Jesus! That thing’s over ten feet!”
“Fifteen feet,” Mitzi sighed. “Tell him,
Clancy sat motionless, head down.
I touched her arm. “Hey…”
Clancy lifted her head, took a deep breath. “It’s an oceanic white tip. Carcharhinus longimanus.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because it has a white tip on its fin, stupid.”
Clancy jerked to the poodle. “Don’t call him stupid, Mitzi!” And I knew she was scared.
I craned around again, searched the flat sea for the fin. It was gone.
“No,” Mitzi said, “it’s right under your ass.”
I looked past the soaked tip of my shoes. A dark shadow was passing three feet under the wing. It seemed to go on forever, like a slightly smaller version of the DC-9 we were sitting on.
“Is it dangerous?” I asked, dry-mouthed.
When no one answered I turned to Mitzi.
“I’d see them occasionally off the side of the ship on cruises with Alicia. The species is apparently known for following big ships, waiting for the garbage to be dumped. What they call an ‘opportunistic’ predator. Remember the movie Jaws, Sport? That scene where a half drunk Quint is talking about the Japanese torpedoing the USS Indianapolis July 30, 1945? Well, that’s a true story. It’s believed those sailors stranded in the water who didn’t die from exposure were taken by sharks, the white tip being the main contender.”
I turned to Clancy who was studying the iPhone screen again. “’A large pelagic shark notable for its long, white-tipped, rounded fins, especially the wing-like pectoral and dorsal. Ranges world-wide, spending most of its time in the upper layer of the oceans, to a depth of 490 feet. Prefers deep-ocean areas where the continental shelf is narrow and there is access to nearby deep water. A slow swimmer but capable of surprising bursts of speed. Very aggressive. Engages in feeding frenzies not triggered by the typical bloodlust of other sharks, but the species’ highly strung and goal-directed nature. In addition to the World War II Indianapolis incident, the steamship Nova Scotia, sunk by a German sub near South Africa, deposited over 1,000 people in the water…from which only 192 survived white tip attacks. Jacques Cousteau, who nearly met his end in the teeth of a longimanus, labeled it the most dangerous shark in the sea.’”
Clancy looked up at me. “Shall I go on?”
“Yes,” Mitzi telepathed, “tell him the rest.”
Clancy sighed back at the iPhone. “’The shark—‘”
“No, dear, not about the shark.”
Clancy stiffened. “Goddamnit, Mitzi!” she hissed.
I looked from one to the other of them. “What the hell’s going on? Clancy--?”
Her head was down again. “I should have told you before…”
She ran a shaky hand through, straggly corn-colored curls and held up the iPhone again. “Great Britain’s coordinates are 53.826oNorth at 2.422oWest.”
My brows shot up. “There’s a map on that thing?”
“A GPS System,” from Mitzi. “Works off satellites buzzing up there way overhead. Even gives our own location, right, Clance? Our little silver dot here in the North Sea. What’re our latest coordinates, dear?”
Clancy gave them to me slowly. We were approximately a hundred and twenty miles off the coast of the Straits of Dover.
I made an encouraging sound. “That’s not that far!”
Clancy gave me a desultory look. “Half an hour ago we were ten miles closer….”
My face fell. We were headed out to sea…
I looked up at the horizon, heart thumping. How could the sun have fallen that far already?
Abruptly, I yelped. My butt flew half a foot into the air as something bumped the wing hard from below.
Mitzi leapt to her feet growling.
I looked down. The shark was cruising away again casually.
“Not to throw cold water on the whole ‘think positive’ thing’,” from Mitzi, “but I’d say he’s tightening his circle, wouldn’t you?”
Clancy clung with both hands to the edge of the wing, face and knuckles white. “I think it’s a female. They’re bigger than the males.”
“Thank you,” from Mitzi, “that information will make being ingested much less taxing.”
The big dorsal ploughed on about thirty feet, waved lazily left and began another slow circle, a tiny bow wave formed before it like a smile.
I got up on my knees, gestured past Clancy at the plane. “I think we better get up on the fuselage! What’s left of it above water!”
She hesitated, a deer in headlights. “But you said concentrating weight there would make the plane sink faster!”
I shook my head. “Doesn’t matter now, we can’t take another hit like that!”
I caught Clancy’s hand, helped her climb and scrabble up the slippery, curved hull of the plane, Mitzi leaping after us.
We sat huddled there in a shaky heap, thankful to be on higher ground, watching the big fish circle the craft from a higher perspective, which only made it look bigger.
“The starboard wing’s gone under!” Mitzi noted suddenly.
“Shit!” I wrenched around, found she was right. Not by much, though. “Not by much though!” I cheer led. “Either the main cabin’s filling very slowly or there’s some kind of extra buoyancy area around the cargo compartment!”
Mitzi nodded carefully over the side. “That paranoid Iraqi had a freakin’ ejection seat built into his cockpit, I wouldn’t put extra flotation devices past him!”
Clancy clung to my arm against stiffer ocean breezes. “We’re still sinking, though, look at the nose! And the tail sections coming clear of the water!”
Mitzi glanced that way mournfully. “Just like the Titanic…nose first.”
I calculated the above-water space around us. We had maybe twenty by fifteen feet of dry fuselage clear of the water. The shark could have come in fast, skidded over the top and grabbed one of us if it wanted to.
“Why waste its energy?” Mitzi said in my head. “It hasn’t anywhere to go, and we’re only headed in only one direction…down.”
A sudden cold fury shook me. The sight of Clancy being torn apart by those jaws…
I turned to her pale profile. “Those calls you’ve been making? Did you give our coordinates?”
She started to frown impatience, then traded it for a brave, forgiving smile. “Ed, nobody ever picked up at the other end. I just kept punching O for ‘operator.’”
She looked apologetic, as if she was somehow responsible for our lives. “I… may have gotten sea water in the phone, I’m not sure. It was such a scramble getting out…”
I patted her back. “It’s okay.”
“Our best hope was probably the aircraft radio.”
And after a second added: “Is the radio.”
I smiled at the wind-blown, still lovely in spite of it all face. I was just so glad to have her back…even for a little while.
“Hey,” from Mitzi, nose pointed at the water.
Two more sharks were rising from the depths.
“Longimanus, Mitzi sighed. “Apparently they follow downed aircraft as well as ships.”
I watched the new arrivals warily join the first fish, definitely curious but keeping a respectable distance. “’Longimanus,’ Is that Latin? Wonder what it means?”
“Big hands,” Clancy told me. “It’s a reference to those paddle-like pectoral fins.”
Mitzi was watching the sharks intently. “…just like they follow ships…looking for handouts. Hmm. Maybe we should give them some.”
I didn’t like the sound of her voice in my head. Something there she wasn’t quite showing. “What are you getting at?”
Mitzi tossed her wooly ears. “Me, of course. I’m the closest thing we’ve got to excess
Clancy lifted her head sharply. “You’re out of your canine mind!”
Mitzi sat up, suddenly straight and perky. “No, really, it might work! I jump in, see, and start dogpaddling around them! See how they like it for a change! Who knows, it might scare them off.”
“And it might draw them in!” I warned.
“So what if it does? I’ll get in the first bite, at least.” She brightened. “Maybe I can even even turn one! Hey, vampire sharks! Can you see it?”
“Seriously, so what if they rip me to pieces-- they’re going to in the end anyway. Maybe it’ll satisfy them and they’ll go their way, or at the least buy you two some extra time, right?”
I nodded grimly. “Go ahead! Jump in! I’ll be right behind you!”
She shook her furry head. “Exactly the asinine thing I’d expect you to say. Think about Clancy, for cripe’s sake.”
“Yes!” the lady in question exclaimed, “think about Clancy! Who gets to sit here and watch the water boil red while they feed on you two--work up an appetite—and get me for dessert!”
“It’ll make the plane lighter if I go,” from Mitzi.
“Make it a hell of a lot lighter if I go!” I told her.
“Just shut-up! Both of you!” Clancy was shaking all over. “Nobody’s getting into the goddamn water! A plane or helicopter’s going to swoosh overhead any minute now! You’ll see! Any second! Now everyone quit arguing and listen for the drone of engines! Listen hard!”
As if in answer, her iPhone went off in her breast pocket. Playing The Beach Boy’s “Wish They All Could Be California Girls”.
It was such a civilized, familiar sound, it sounded almost alien there on the vast ocean. I don’t think any of us quite understood what it was for a second.
Finally Clancy grabbed at her blouse. “Hello--?”
Mitzi and I could hear the strident female voice on the other end from where we sat. “Hello? Mrs. Brunswick?”
Clancy gasped. “No! This is Miss Blaine! Clancy Blaine!”
“Oh, sorry! Wrong number—“