The cargo ship plowed through the tall waves like a skyscraper on its side. My partner and I scrambled over the red and orange shipping containers buried deep in the cargo hold, bare bulbs lunging overhead. We found the two containers, opened them and discovered the black bags. There were far too many to carry by hand, at least a dozen in each. The ship jolted to a stop and careened forward like a tripping basketball player. The lights angled impossibly up toward the ceiling.
I called to my partner, “As soon as the water comes in and you begin to rise to the surface, blow your breath out so your lungs don’t explode.”
I couldn’t see him but I knew he was over there nervously holding onto the nylon handles of several black bags. We should have brought salvage balloons with us to help us get to the surface easily and carry the weight of more bags.
We could hear the water rushing up the sides of the ship and over the top of the immense white cargo hold doors. They were pneumatically actuated and opened very slowly. I grabbed the rusty switch and called out, “Get ready! Don’t forget to exhale as you rise.”
I could hear the ship sinking quickly now and I lost my footing as the gangway shifted beneath me at a 45 degree angle. Drips of saltwater turned to rivulets along the inside of the hull. The button pressed, the cargo doors whirred to life and a crack appeared between them.
Instantly we were consumed by water like a professional boxer’s blow to the head. There was no slow rush of water in to the gigantic hold. Blinded, I struggled to hold my breath as I floated off the floor, the black bag’s handle wrapped around my wrist. As I rose, I passed the struggling cargo doors surrounded by bubbles and metal. I started to think, “If I blow out too much air, I’ll never make it to the surface and I’ll drown. Maybe I shouldn’t have told my partner to do that.”
I was rising to the surface, but my ascent slowed as I was caught in the wake of the sinking vessel, flotsam and debris falling all around me in metallic groans.
I opened my mouth to scream and I blacked out.
When I woke up, I was sitting on my side, my arm on my knee, soaked through, the black bag at my side, darkness retreating from my vision like emerging from a tunnel. I was sitting on a narrow asphalt road in a puddle of my own making with a female police office approaching me. Behind her about 150 feet away was a body, my partner. Among him was ship wreckage which looked to be part of the ship’s bridge and what appeared to be a UPS truck that had collided with it. The police officer saw that I was stunned but alive and she jogged over to the body of my partner.
Barely able to open my soaked eyes, water streamed from my mouth as I slowly opened the black bag and saw stacks of $100 bills connected together in rows wrapped in plastic. A backpack was next to me and I slowly dragged one row after another into the pink and blue backpack while the officer was attending to my partner, her hand at her neck. As I pulled the third row out, a brown van pulled up and three FBI agents in black assault gear pointed rifles at my head. Raising my hands, I started to talk about salvage rights and international waters. The world evaporated and was replaced by the ceiling of my bedroom.