The Water Keeper - Charles Martin Page 0,1

dark belly of the ship.

There I found seven scared girls in a tight group breathing the last of a trapped air bubble in the now-submerged nose of the bow. With a little prompting and a quick comment about the Titanic, we formed a daisy chain, and I led them through the dark water and up the stairs. When the girls saw daylight, they swam out and started climbing up the now-inclining keel toward the main-deck lounge and the Whaler.

Each of them was scared, shaking, and mostly naked. Marie was not among them. I swam back into the dark hole but Marie was not there.

I returned to Fingers, who was nodding off. I shook him. “Fingers! Fingers!” His eyes opened. “Marie? Where’s Marie?”

He tried to speak.

I leaned in.

He shook his head. The admission painful. “Gone.”

“What do you mean, gone?”

He uncurled his hand, and an empty pill bottle splashed into the water. A tear filled his eye. “Overboard.” He paused, not wanting to say what happened next. “A weight tied to her ankle.”

The picture haunted me. The finality crushed me.

I got Fingers’ arm around my shoulder—which is when I felt the entry hole I had not seen. I ran my hand around his chest, only to find Fingers’ right hand covering the exit hole. He shook his head. The bullet had entered to the side of his spine and exploded out of his chest.

I stuffed a portion of his shirt in the exit hole, tucked his Sig behind my vest, and dragged him through the growing smoke and up to the main-deck lounge. While I dragged him, he eyed his worn Sig and said with a smile, “I want that back.” He coughed. “If that pistol could talk . . .”

The waves were tossing the Whaler around like a bobber. With all seven girls safely aboard, I lifted Fingers on my shoulder and timed my jump to the bow platform. We landed, rolled, and one of the girls threw off the line as I slammed the throttle forward. We had cleared a quarter of a mile when the explosion sounded. Fingers turned his head as a fireball engulfed the Gone to Market and a zillion pieces of super-luxury yacht rained down on the Atlantic just off the coast of Northeast Florida. Fingers rested in the bow, filling the front of the Whaler with a deep, frothy red and laughing with smug satisfaction. I cut the wheel toward shore, killed the engine, and beached the keel on a sandy paradise Fingers would never see.

He was having trouble breathing and couldn’t move his legs. How he’d held on that long was a mystery. Patrick “Fingers” O’Donovan had been both hard as nails and tender as baby’s breath from the day we’d met. Stoic. Wise. Afraid of nothing. Even now he was calm.

My lip trembled. Mind raced. I couldn’t put the words together.

Fingers was having trouble focusing, so I started talking to try to bring him back. “Fingers, stay awake. Stay with me . . .” When that didn’t work, I used the only word I knew would rouse him: “Father.” Fingers had been a priest before he started working for the government. And if you pressed him, he would tell you he still was.

Fingers’ eyes returned to me. He feigned a smile and spoke through gritted teeth. “Was wondering when you were gonna show up. ’Bout time you did something. Where the heck you been?” Everything about him was red.

It was never supposed to end this way.

Fingers reached for and then pointed to a worn, orange Pelican case tied to the console. He never traveled without it, which was why the box alone had logged several hundred thousand miles. Whenever I thought of Fingers, the image of that stupid orange box wasn’t far behind. And while he and I seldom talked about our work with anyone, he was—if caught in the right mood—oddly vocal about two things: food and wine. Both of which he protected with a religious zeal. Hence, the crash-rated, watertight, drop-proof box. He fondly referred to it as his “lunch box.” No one, not me, not anyone, ever got between Fingers and a meal or a glass of wine at sunset. Some people marked memorable moments in their lives with a cigar or cigarette. Fingers marked them with red wine. Years ago, he’d converted his basement into a cellar. Visitors were routinely treated with a tour and tasting. A total wine snob, he’d often hold his glass to the light, swirl