The Opening

Chapter 1

Captain Jack Africa pinched his nostrils to shut out the stench, but the acrid smell of rotting flesh hung so heavy in the humid air he still gagged. Squinting his watery eyes, he took one last look at the purple strands of bloated snapper guts . . . the severed moray eel head, one dead opaque eye gazing skyward . . . the bony skeleton of a parrotfish, its decaying head and tail still intact . . . all floating in the bloody, icy slush slowly hardening in his rusty Kelvinator freezer.

Jack turned away. Tomorrow, frozen solid and dangling sixty feet below the surface of the sea, that block of ice would be ripped apart in minutes by a score of sharks with razor-sharp teeth and no manners. And at least one of the divers who had paid good money to kneel twenty feet away and watch the gory shark jamboree would probably lose his breakfast. Some folks just didn’t have the stomach for the show.

“Buck,” Jack yelled at the reed-thin man standing nearby with a bucket of fetid fish scraps. “For chrissake, dump that shit in the freezer. It’s time to call it a day.”

Buckmaster Jones raised his bucket and then took a step back. “How’d that freezer get so full of guts? Fishing hasn’t been that good.”

Little Man, who had been throwing around forty-pound scuba tanks like Presto logs, grabbed Buck’s pail and dumped the offal into the five-foot-long freezer. “Just because you’re too old to catch much anymore doesn’t mean the other guys don’t.” He slammed the lid shut.

Jack, wearing only a faded maroon T-shirt and black bikini swim trunks, pulled a Belizean five-dollar bill from his waistband and shoved it at Buck, who stared at the money. “Look, Buck, who else would pay you for fish guts? Nobody. But then nobody else in these islands had the smarts to pull off these shark parties, did they?”

Saying nothing, Buck took the five and sauntered across the sand to the water’s edge. A quiet ripple from the bay washed over his feet, dissolving the blood caked on his toes, and spinning crimson swirls into the clear Caribbean Sea.

Jack walked the other direction, past the scuba shack, a tin-roofed, garage-sized building stinking of unwashed neoprene wetsuits and compressor exhaust. A large driftwood slab leaned against the building with Cap’n Jack’s Rum Point Inn painted on it, the letters bleached from the sun. He hadn’t got around to hanging it back up since tropical storm Malvina ripped it off the siding last year.

Ahead, a few steps from the beach, his open-air tiki bar, built from scraps nearly forty years ago, rose from the sand. Blinking Christmas tree lights dangled from the frayed thatched roof. Stepping behind the circular bar, he reached into a Styrofoam chest and pulled out a Belikin beer, his third of the early evening. At last, the searing sun slipped into the sea, and a cool breeze freshened the air.

Inside his lodge, fourteen guests, mostly from Texas, Colorado, and California, chattered noisily, some nervously, as they dug into Monday night dinner:  shrimp Creole, fried plantains, rice, and beans. Twelve were scuba divers. They had flown in for Captain Jack’s Shark Week, to swim with sharks and to watch them dance. Tomorrow, God willing, they would do just that.