Zygmunt Frankel

THE SHARK REEF


THE SHARKS

It was midday. We were stretched out on the sundeck after the morning dive, the green canvas awning protecting us from the sun, and watched the lovely smooth sea and the play of blue, yellow, and green over the Shark Reef some fifty metres away. We had been anchored here by popular demand since the morning. Our guests could not have enough of Shark Reef and wanted to dive there again and again. They claimed that they have started recognizing individual sharks and even named a smallish one Shmulik. We had already dived along the reef this morning and were going down again in the afternoon. Max and Werner, keen and tireless as ever, had begged an extra dive and were down there now together, Max carrying his bangstick just in case. I let them dive alone, without an instructor, because they were fully fledged by now, knew the reef, had proved themselves to be about the best and most responsible pair of divers in the group, and could be expected to stick to their promise not to go deeper than twenty metres and to stay no longer than half an hour so as not to accumulate too much nitrogen in their blood, risking a lengthy decompression. It was also convenient because the crew were refilling tanks and preparing lunch. Moreover, I was watching the reef edge from the deck through my polaroid sunglasses and could clearly see two pools of air bubbles erupting regularly side by side, which gave the divers' location and also the sign that they were breathing regularly and all was well.

From the galley came the smell of frying squid again. Last night, having returned from The Dolphin, we found a large school of them circling the boat, attracted by Sinbad's lights, and Maria and I brought out all our fishing roads, attached the green luminescent many-barbed lures to the lines, handed them out among the guests with a few words of instruction, and, with beginner's luck, they filled three buckets in under an hour.

Helga and I were stretched out in deckchairs side by side, talking softly about neutral subjects because we were within the earshot of others. She was telling me about her work for Werner, her little studio flat in Hamburg, and her interests and hobbies which consisted mainly of books, music, skiing in winter, and swimming in summer. From now on, she said, scuba would be the first on the list. I asked her what books and music she liked best and just as she was going to reply, three sharp whistles came from the direction of the reef, followed almost immediately by three more.

"Hold it!" I shouted at Pierre who had picked up his mask, snorkel, and knife and was racing for the railing. "Nobody jumps in! Lower the Zodiac !"

Bob was already doing it. I was somewhat relieved to see two heads on the surface next to the reef but did not like the brown stain spreading around them. The Zodiac splashed into the water; Bob started the engine with a single yank at the rope; Ilan and I jumped in; I shouted to Ron to make radio contact with the army station near Sharm and ask them to get medics and a helicopter ready, and we were off.

Max and Werner were by now out on the flat top of the reef which reached almost to the surface, the water around them bloody; Max, on his knees, the uncapped bangstick dangling from his wrist, supporting Werner, shouted for a tourniquet as soon as we ran the shallow-draft inflatable onto the top of the reef next to them. As a matter of fact two tourniquets were needed, and we got them out of the first-aid box and tightened one over Werner's thigh close to the crotch and the other just over his elbow, but I could see from the start that it was too late. If the bloody water extended all the way down to where they had been then it was too much blood for a man to lose and stay alive. My first thought was Gunther's bangstick, and I could already imagine him trying to persuade Major Yankele that it was an accident, but a different picture emerged.

Werner's left hand and wrist were gone, and a chunk of his left thigh had been torn out, including a section of the femoral artery. Both wounds were rough and jagged and bore the unmistakable marks of a shark's teeth. Both were still oozing blood, but without the squirting that a beating heart would cause. Werner's knife was missing from the sheath strapped to his thigh. His face was chalk-white, his eyes closed, and his head lolled lifelessly.

"Get him into the Zodiac, quick," I said. "No, not to the boat, to the beach." I saw our passengers lining the rail and placed myself between Werner and them to spare them the sight. "Ron!" I shouted. "Ask them to send the helicopter at once, and give them the location ofthe beach!" "Right away!" he shouted back, and made for the wheelhouse.

As we pulled away from the reef, Ilan put the mask of the resuscitator over Werner's face and began to pump, while Bob unzipped the jacket of Werner's wet suit and applied heart massage as efficiently as the cramped space in the inflatable permitted.

It was about two hundred metres to the sandy stretch of the beach, the rest being sharp rocks and cliffs, and I noticed with concern several people and a couple of tents there. By the time we had Werner out on the sand, cutting his wet suit open with our diving knives without interrupting the resuscitation and the heart massage, we have acquired a dozen shocked and silent spectators. I asked, in Hebrew, English, German, and French whether there was a doctor among them but there wasn't. I tried to feel the pulse in Werner's remaining wrist but couldn't detect any. Except for the artificial respiration and the heart massage there wasn't much we could do except wait for the helicopter. A woman's voice hissed angrily at the back of the circle of spectators "For God's sake get the kids away from here", and there was a slight shuffle, obviously the father applying force to drag them away. A fly buzzed in the restored silence, and I took Werner's wetsuit jacket and spread it over his mutilated wrist and thigh, wishing the helicopter would show up.

"Excuse me," someone said quietly and politely over my shoulder; "may I?"

I looked up and recognized Mr. Goldberg the Nazi hunter. He must have been on one of his regular trips south, and was wearing a pair of bathing trunks, a peaked tourist cap with "Shalom" and "Eilat" printed on it, and a pair of large sunglasses. He knelt down next to me, gently but firmly took hold of Werner's left arm with the severed wrist, lifted it, and looked intensely under the armpit. Not seeing any tattoo there he lowered the arm back onto the sand, replaced the jacket over it, and, looking into Werner's white face with the closed eyes and the mask of the resuscitator over his mouth and nose, said gently and quietly in German:

"I apologize."

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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