Zygmunt Frankel

THE SHARK REEF


MAX

I thought about it at night, during the first watch at the wheel as Sinbad chugged steadily south. Most of the guests have already turned in after a long

and leisurely dinner of tuna steaks washed down with modest but pleasant Israeli wine. We took our coffee and liqueurs on the sundeck under the full moon. Helga twice found an opportunity of laying her hand briefly on mine while nobody was looking or she thought nobody was looking; I am almost sure Maria noticed it the second time. Finally, around midnight, the flight from Europe, the long hot day, the two dives, the late dinner, and the drinks got the better of them and they retired to their bunks in the airconditioned cabins, except for Max and Maria who were nesting in the Zodiac inflatable suspended from its davits in the stern.

Max had introduced himself as a beginning diver and showed me his logbook with just over twenty dives. While assembling his gear for the first dive he had screwed the regulator onto the tank the wrong way, attracting attention to it by his apologetic laugh and a remark about not having dived for a long time. In the water, however, I noticed various little things which seemed to indicate rather more experience than he admitted to: the almost automatic ease with which he adjusted his buoyancy at various depths; the precision of his passage over and between corals and rocks; the frequent casual checks not only of his own pressure gauge but also of that of his diving buddy Werner, as if comparing his companion's rate of air consumption with his own; and then there was the underwater haircut. The explanation could have been quite innocent: he must have attended a really good diving course. German instructors were often more thorough than their French and Italian counterparts. I may have also been made excessively suspicious by Yankele the night before. On the other hand, there was no harm in discretely looking into things, and the next morning I arranged for Bob, Ilan, and Ron to accompany our guests on the first dive of the day (Maria would be busy at the galley preparing lunch), saying that I had a few urgent things to see to on board.

First I looked into Max's diving bag on the deck. It was almost empty now, with him wearing most of his gear while diving. There was a spare mask and snorkel, an extra pair of canvas gloves, and the bangstick because we were not in real shark waters yet and Bob and Ilan were carrying one each anyway. The logbook was not in the waterproof side pocket. Making sure that Maria was in the galley and busy, I went below, into the cabin Max was sharing with Olaf Jorgensen, and closed the door behind me. Max's bunk was the top one and his small suitcase was at the foot of it. Before opening it, I took note of how exactly it was placed in relation to the corners of the bunk and the folds of the blanket, and whether there wasn't an unnoticeable hair or a few grains of sand on it.

Inside the suitcase there was a pair of light pyjamas, a few sports shirts, some underwear and socks, a camera, a zippered toilet case, and a wallet. The wallet contained Max's passport - a recently issued one, travellers checks, some German money, his return ticket, a photograph of an elderly woman whom he resembled a little, obviously his mother, his diving card, and a few credit ones. In the toilet case there was a shaving kit, toothbrush and toothpaste, a bottle of aftershave lotion, six packets of condoms, a packet of tissue handkerchiefs, some first aid dressings, and a small bottle of iodine. The logbook was under the shirts and I took another look at it. The first pages contained Max's photo and certification, printed diving rules, decompression tables, and illustrations of underwater signs. There followed unnumbered ruled pages where the diver entered the serial number and details of each dive. In all, the logbook carried a record of twenty-three dives, all of them in German waters, most certified with the stamp of his diving club, and a few of the later ones with the signatures of his diving buddies; not as official as a club's stamp but still an identification of a witness. The twenty-three dives covered the last summer and a part of early autumn so that there was a two months' blank, obviously due to the European winter, during which Max had not dived and which well may have accounted for his attaching the regulator the wrong way. Altogether, in addition to the certification and information pages, the logbook contained sixteen proper log pages, with ten lines per page, allowing for one hundred and sixty dives.

I remembered that Werner had a logbook of exactly the same type and went to have a look at it. This was easier because his book was in the side pocket of his diving bag on the deck, protected by a plastic case. It was indeed exactly of the same type, published by the same company, but it had twenty log pages to Max's sixteen.

I went back to Max's cabin and looked at his logbook again. There was no sign of four pages- a double-spread sheet folded in the middle - having been removed, and there didn't have to be because the book was simply stapled together. A page could have been torn out and the corresponding one on the other side pulled out without leaving traces because the pages and the individual dives were unnumbered. There still remained the theoretical possibility that entering his twenty-first dive at the top of a new page Max made a slip or a mistake, and, rather than messing up his new logbook , tore the page out and continued on the next one.

I went through his suitcase again, more thoroughly this time. The packet of tissue handkerchiefs in the toilet case was much too heavy. At the bottom of it, under the tissues, there was a stainless-steel, double-barbed spearhead, with a strange bayonet fitting instead of the usual tapped hole for screwing it onto the spearshaft, but I thought I knew what it would fit. Slipping it into the pocket of my shorts, I went on deck. Maria was still in the galley, and the divers had not surfaced yet; they would be down for another half an hour. I took Max's bangstick from his bag and removed the bayonet-mount cover cap from the front. The spearhead clicked into its place perfectly, converting the slim aluminium rod into a simple but effective handspear which could have been propelled forward, a short distance but quite powerfully, by the rubber wrist loop.

I took off the spearhead, replaced the cap, and put the spearhead back with the tissues, leaving everything exactly as I found it. There was still enough time for a glass of beer on the deck and some thinking.

I still had nothing on Max. He may not have heard about the spearfishing regulations until this morning, and, having heard, may have decided to keep the spearhead out of sight. On the other hand, all his equipment was of high quality and expensive. Had he been considering spearfishing, he could have bought a proper speargun with all the accessories, instead of an attachment to his bangstick to double as a hand-spear. Well; we were going to be in the same boat for the next fortnight and it wasn't going to be difficult to keep an eye on him.

# # #

1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
You are welcome to print-out this material for your personal reading, but it is illegal to modify or sell it


feedbackmain The Shark Reef menu

feedback | main The Shark Reef menu