Ruby Redfort Take Your Last Breath (8 page)

Ruby gave him a sideways look, then climbed in very carefully and buckled up. Hitch took a key from a well-concealed compartment, slotted it into the ignition, turned it this way, that way, and then another way before the engine began to purr.

After fiddling with some switches, and once the roof was locked into place, Hitch pushed a lever and they moved forward, dipping smoothly under the waves. The cliff ledge suddenly disappeared, and the sub moved into deep water.

“Keep your safety belt fastened!” said Hitch as he pulled on another of the controls and the scuba-sub suddenly jetted forward at great speed, silently cutting through the ocean. Things on either side of them vanished into a blur as they passed by.

“How do you avoid colliding with a whale?” asked Ruby, who was sort of pinned to her seat, enjoying the ride, but not yet entirely relaxed.

“Automatic Avoidance Sonar,” said Hitch. “I’ve never hit anything yet, kiddo!”

It was a thrill to travel so fast — better than any amusement park — but Ruby wouldn’t have minded slowing it down a little, taking some time to look at the scenery. In the blink of an eye they reached another rock face; this one seemed to be covered in petrified insects — sort of prehistoric-looking flies and insect fossils.

“We’re stopping here?” asked Ruby.

“Not exactly,” said Hitch, pressing one of the buttons on the control panel. What looked like solid rock suddenly corkscrewed open, and they entered a water-filled tunnel.

They navigated their way up the passage until they reached a dead end, a round pool. Hitch switched off the engine and a platform under the sub lifted them and their vehicle out of the water.

They had arrived.

Ruby assumed this entrance must be the latest way in to Spectrum HQ, since it was not unusual for the location to be moved several times a month.

“So this is Spectrum?” said Ruby.

“Not exactly,” said Hitch again.

“What does that mean?”

“This, kid, is Spectrum’s Sea Division, Spectrum 5. Sea Division, as the name would suggest, is always located somewhere at sea.”

“So, given that we work for Spectrum 8, what are we doing here?” asked Ruby.

“Spectrum 5 has been working on a case that might cross over with a case that Spectrum 8 has been looking into. LB thought it might be a good idea to join forces.”

As they walked, some of the slick white corridors became clear glass-tube passageways, and fish swam by on the other side — sunfish, rockfish, cardinalfish, garibaldi, stingrays, and a thousand others. It was sort of like being in a giant aquarium, though the fish might well conclude it was the
who were the exhibits here.

It was strange for Ruby to enter Spectrum as a fully paid agent in training. She stifled a smile, remembering that at the tender age of thirteen she had already achieved her lifetime ambition of becoming an undercover secret agent for one of the most undercover and secret of secret agencies in the world.

She looked around her at the huge domed space with its glass floor and sea life moving underfoot.

“Hey, kid!” shouted Hitch. “Want to look lively? LB’s waiting.”

Ruby had taken off her jacket and slung it over her shoulder so it was again possible to read the slogan written in bold letters across her T-shirt:
excuse me while I yawn.

Hitch paused a minute. “Kid, my advice? Put your jacket back on and zip it right up. LB sees that and she might not find it so funny.”

“She not in a good mood?” Ruby called across the hall.

“I doubt that sincerely, kid. That diver who just washed up dead on the beach — he was one of ours, and losing an agent always puts a crimp in her day.”

that wound around and around and seemed like it must spiral right through the seabed. When they reached a black circular door, Hitch punched in some numbers and they were admitted to a screening room.

The room was full of agents and Spectrum staff, sitting in cinema-style seats that all faced a large white screen. There was a buzz in the air, everyone knew something big had happened but few knew exactly what had gone down. Ruby tried to get her bearings, looked around — unfortunately straight into the eyes of Agent Froghorn (he of the silent
). He made much of pointing to his watch, indicating that it was way past her bedtime, and Ruby mouthed a word not to be repeated. Agent Redfort and Agent Froghorn were not likely to ever exchange birthday cards.

Sea Division headquarters had much in common with Spectrum 8 HQ, but there were some very obvious differences, the main one being when you looked out of the window you saw water. Agent Trent-Kobie, head of Sea Division, had been called away on urgent business, and so the briefing was to be given by the boss of Spectrum 8.


Dressed all in white, LB walked into the room — and instantly the chatting stopped. LB had this effect on people. She was immaculately dressed but for her feet, which were bare with red nail polish perfectly applied to her toes. The head of Spectrum 8 did not much care for shoes of any kind and was rarely seen in footwear.

When she reached the front, where the microphone stood, she dropped a file onto the small table at her side and launched right in.

“So, as you will know by now, Agent Trilby’s body was found on Sunday evening — he had been diving off the coast not far from Twinford Bay Beach. During the past month he has been investigating unusual ocean activity — strange behavior of marine life. There has been a lot of unusual ocean activity recently, and it can all be found in Agent Trilby’s report.” She continued to go through example after example of things that had been occurring just off the coast of Twinford.

Dolphins refusing to leave the bay, seagulls flocking inland, fishing stock low.

“As we all know,” continued LB, “Trilby was a very proficient diver, and it is highly unlikely that he would have drowned in normal circumstances. We are still waiting for the autopsy results, but it would seem that he was unfortunate enough to come into contact with something like a stingray or an electric eel. There is evidence of bruising to his leg that still needs to be explained, but we feel it’s likely that he encountered this sort of creature and this either led to a cardiac arrest or a severe shock that in turn led to drowning.”

It couldn’t have been a stinging creature that killed him,
thought Ruby,
Trilby would definitely have utilized his Spectrum-issue anti-sting Miracle serum.
It was a comfort to know that every diving agent had this lifesaver with them even if it couldn’t guard against shocks and bites.

LB pushed her glasses back up to the bridge of her nose. “Yes?” she said, spotting a raised hand.

“Do you think the strange ocean activity is linked to something else — some dark plot, I mean — or do you think it’s all just a consequence of some natural event throwing things off course?”

The question came from Agent Blacker, a disheveled-looking man in a crumpled jacket — an agent Ruby admired. They had worked together on the Jade Buddha case, and he was not only a smart person, he was a nice guy. He had a laid-back manner, but was as sharp as a tack.

“There is nothing to suggest that Trilby was the victim of foul play, if that’s what you’re getting at,” replied LB. “However, I am interested in his findings in the context of other unusual activity. Some of you will have been party to the ongoing investigation into the missing or scrambled coast-guard signals and reports of disruption with shipping vessels; cargo going awry, turning up in the wrong place.”

She listed the coast-guard reports — and the list was long. Shoes, coffee, corn, bananas, you name it, it seemed to have ended up in the wrong port.

“Even a six-ton elephant on its way to Baltimore has gone astray,” concluded LB.

Ruby made a mental note to apologize to Del Lasco: give or take a few elephants, she had actually been telling the truth.

LB wound up her talk and removed her glasses, hooking them onto her shirt. “To be honest with you,” she said, “we really have no idea what might be going on. To date we are not investigating any criminal activity. All we know is that Agent Trilby was monitoring unusual events at sea and regrettably died. If it wasn’t for the coast-guard reports, we would continue monitoring marine life and not look any further.”

Blacker raised his hand again.

“Yes?” she said.

“So you
looking to make a link?” said Blacker.

“Either that or to establish that there isn’t one — it could all be a coincidence,” she replied.

“But link or no link, you’ll be wanting me to plot through Trilby’s findings and see where they take us?” said Blacker.

“Correct. Meanwhile, I understand that Agent Kekoa from Sea Division will take over Trilby’s ocean research. She intends to make sound recordings — this way we hope to learn just what is causing the marine disturbance. If the strange sea life occurrences are just a series of natural blips and shifts, then so much the better; the information will be passed on to those who deal with such things, and we will concentrate on the shipping alone.”

LB stepped to one side and Agent Kekoa walked to the front. Ruby’s dive instructor looked shorter out of the water and less assertive. You could tell she wasn’t particularly comfortable standing there talking. She clearly wasn’t really comfortable out of her wet suit. In fact, clothes made her look strangely out of her depth.

“There have been reports of a sound, a whispering sound,” said Kekoa. She clicked the remote and up popped a slide showing a freckly kid of about seventeen, his photo alongside a map of the Twinford coast, and an arrow pointing to the sea beyond Little Bay.

“Tommy Elson was swimming out past Little Bay and reported a whispering sound coming from under the water.”

: Slide of a young couple in beach gear. The map showed that they were on a sailboat far out at Rock Point.

“Same story with Hallie Grier and Lyle Greene.”

: A surfer girl with a couple of missing teeth. She was smiling and shielding her eyes from the sun.

“Billie-May Vaughn was surfing with her dog and heard a noise that she described as someone calling, but calling in a whisper; she dove under the water but could see nothing to explain it. She claimed her dog reacted to the sound too.”

There was some snickering in the audience that could have come from Agent Froghorn, but Kekoa took no notice.

“The girl alerted the lifeguard, who swam out but found nothing to substantiate what Billie-May had told him.”

Kekoa clicked through some more pictures that showed various fresh-faced looking people and the location references.

“The sounds have generally been heard when people are swimming a mile or so from shore, or on boats farther out to sea. One person, Danny Fink Junior, heard the sound when fishing on a rock which juts out into the ocean, almost an island, but that’s the only example of anyone hearing the sound on dry land.”

heard it?” asked one of the agents.

“No,” said Kekoa.

“And how many years have you been diving in those waters?” asked another.

“Seven,” said Kekoa. “But I’ve been in Hawaii the last couple of months.”

“Yet you yourself have heard nothing?” said the first agent. “Even since you got back?”

“No,” said Kekoa.

A rippled whisper went through the audience.

“So have you considered that these accounts could all be bogus? I mean, some of the people who reported it are just little kids,” continued the first agent.

“Yes,” said Kekoa. “But I consider it unwise to disregard them just because
just because
have no personal experience of them.”

Ruby couldn’t agree more strongly with this statement. There were people who made wild claims about spotting aliens and spacecraft, and there were other people who claimed that this was nonsense and that aliens and spacecraft didn’t exist, but either way what you had to accept was that these people had seen

“In conclusion,” said LB, stepping back in front of the screen so the smiling face of Danny Fink Junior was projected across her white suit, “I want this case wrapped up all neat and tidy AS”— she rapped the file with her fountain pen —“AP.” She couldn’t have looked more serious.

“One of our agents is dead. Spectrum needs to know if it was foul play or just plain bad luck. The coast guard needs to know if all this disruption to the cargo shipping is incompetence or something a lot more serious. The fishing industry needs to know where all the fish have gone. I want to know if I have a team smart enough to give me some answers. If I don’t get the right ones, then I’m not happy; if I’m not happy, some of you are going to have to take a walk.”

“Yikes,” whispered Ruby. “What’s LB like when she’s unhappy, I mean,

“You don’t want to see it,” said Hitch.

Ruby was glad she had taken Hitch’s advice and zipped her jacket up. LB was in one very bad mood.

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