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There they are! He adjusted the focus.
About four miles out, he spotted their motor-boat bobbing on the postcard-blue sea. With unzipped wet suit revealing a black hairy chest, Alan Seymour was leaning over the gunwale, helping his brother Bill inboard.
They were grinning. And now Jack could see why.
Slowly, they heaved on a line and with a rush of spray they bundled a barnacle-encrusted old theodolite onboard . . .
Jack's lean tanned features crinkled in a broad grin. So! That's where their precious wreck's lying!
Bending over his chart, he plotted the wreck's position. "Well," he mused aloud, turning to his jeep, "the Seymours have just lost their exclusive rights to this wreck!"
He was at the crowded Torrevieja marina as Bill and Alan heaved-to. Through the jumbled masts and rigging, he watched them unload a bulky hessian sack -- doubtless crammed with Second World War relics! Jack was an expert on that period. His mouth watered at the thought of all the plunder waiting to be brought to the surface...
Later that evening, Jack crossed the twilit sand towards the Cabo Roig beach barbecue that was in progress. The brazier's charcoal fumes irritated his eyes as he approached Alan Seymour who was lazing against a pile of boxes filled with cans of beer. The camp fires highlighted the distinctive Seymour aquiline nose. Jack also picked out Bill further up the beach, dancing with a shapely bikini-clad blonde.
"Hi, Alan -- bring up anything of interest to the authorities?" Jack enquired pointedly. As far as he could gather, they'd kept the wreck's discovery a secret...
Alan's drink slurped. "What - what do you mean?"
Jack sneered. "Don't pretend you haven't found a wartime wreck -- I saw you this afternoon. I also have its position ... Perhaps the Spanish government officials would be interested in your find?"
Alan lowered his glass. His head cocked sideways. "What are you after?"
"A share of the spoils . . ." Jack shrugged. "Nothing too much, I’m not greedy, you know . . ."
Momentarily, Alan cast an anxious eye at his brother. "Look," he said, gesturing towards Bill, "I can't make that decision -- Bill discovered the ship." He hesitated, bit his lip. "Anyway, I think we're -- ah, here he is!"
Tattooed arm looped around the blonde, Bill sauntered up to them. "Enjoying the party?"
Jack nodded, then switched his cold grey eyes to Alan.
"Bill, I -- could we talk alone a minute?" Alan stammered, edging away towards the shoreline.
"Go dance, pet!" Bill said, slapping the blonde's rump, then followed Alan.
Alone, Jack gulped his beer and watched them talking by the phosphorescent waterline, arms gesticulating, their raised voices distorted by the faint night breeze.
He opened another can just as the brothers returned.
Bill's rugged face appeared cloudy, black brows lowered. "Your scheme’s meaningless now, Gilzean . . . You see, we're reporting the wreck tomorrow -- it's too dangerous . . ." He grinned. "Tough, eh?"
"But --" They left him with mouth gaping and joined the hubbub of voices and music.
Staring after them, Jack grimaced and kicked up sand angrily. Damn! They're probably scared of a few unstable explosives!
Never found a valuable wreck in my life, he thought, and when a chance comes, I'm stymied! Unless... He grinned, thoughtfully stroking his dimpled chin.
Jack parked his jeep and rushed up the hospital steps, heart hammering fearfully.
"They're both on the critical list, sir . . ." the doctor explained in English outside the ward. "They'll be unconscious about twenty-four hours . . ."
So his meddling with their car hadn't killed them, after all. With any luck, they'd pull through.
I only wanted to delay them, make sure they didn't report the wreck yet. Still, they wouldn't be doing any talking today, not to anyone. Time for one dive...
Grinning under the cloudless sunny sky, he flung his diving gear into the back of the jeep and motored to the jetty. Once there, he leapt aboard his old MFV and steered for the wreck's co-ordinates.
About twenty minutes later he confirmed the position and cut the engine and anchored. Impatiently strapping on his two twelve-litre aluminium cylinders and ten-pound weight-belt, he smiled thinly. At last, an almost unspoiled wreck!
He tested the makeshift winch and pulley he'd set-up amidships. Should hoist a few items with that!
Slowly he lowered himself backwards into the warm waters. The viz was good.
Equalising his ears at about twenty feet, he could just make out the wreck's framework below. It seemed split in half.
Odd, nobody noticing it before. Then he remembered the profusion of rocky sea-beds around here. Without an accurate fix or sheer good luck like the Seymours had, it would never be found.
Legs pumping, eager hands guiding him over the barnacle-covered guardrail, he snaked across the bows. Her name looked like, Graf Skagerrak. German.
Ropes and hawsers littered the canted deck. A lifeboat hung lopsidedly in its davits. Fish lazed in the well-deck's shadows till his passage disturbed them.
He switched on his torch. Barnacles glistened. Fish darted away. Weeds billowed gracefully, shadows cavorted.
Up in the wheel-house he uncovered a ship's compass beneath the remains of a corpse -- all bone, silvery white.
He'd come back later for the compass and that pair of binoculars draped round the skeleton.
Jack finned down the companion-way, into the hulk's depths. Light lanced through numerous holes in the hull.
Emerging from the rent open stokehold, he finned over to the after section. Here he came across a closed cargo hatch. As he braced himself against the coaming, he heaved open the rusted hatch, its creaking sound carrying underwater.
There was no release of pressure from inside: Bill or someone else must have opened it earlier.
It was a spacious hold. Huge packing-cases were piled at the end.
He swam over.
The clamorous clang startled him.
He swirled round in a flurry of bubbles.
The hatch had slammed shut, probably with the swift current hereabouts.
He shrugged. Wedge it open later. He headed for the crates. Some were smashed open, revealing carboys nesting in straw. A number of these were cracked. Although he couldn't tell what was inside, tiny bubbles issued from the cracks.
Then his light discovered the German writing stencilled on the crates.
Tabun – Anorgarna GmbH, Dyhernfurth.
His heart raced as he wheeled for the exit-hatch above. But it wouldn't budge...
Previously published as ‘The Wreck Hunter’ by Platen Syder, 1973, in Parade; revised as ‘Wrecked!’ and published in The Coastal Press, 2005. Copyright Nik Morton 2011.
If you’d like to read more of my published (and prize-winning) short stories, please refer to When the Flowers are in Bloom (Solstice Publishing), 2011. This anthology might become a collector’s item as it will be out of print as from May, 2014.
Another collection, Spanish Eye, features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye, and is available as an e-book and paperback. Published by Crooked Cat.