Although a painstakingly slow return to the surface was necessary after such a deep dive, the final phase of this recovery for William Benson and James Martin was cut short. Always cantankerous and unpredictable, Lake Superior had settled into restlessness under a twisting indigo sky. The potential ramifications of the clandestine and illegal visit to the wreckage of Edmund Fitzgerald also motivated those present to encourage brevity.
The mate and two crewmen had already lifted much of the equipment and lights out of the water and carefully removed the multiple tanks from Benson and Martin. A tri-mix gas had allowed the divers to descend over five hundred feet to the resting place of the mighty freighter, but there remained a need to allow excess nitrogen time to escape the body of each man. However, given the dubious legality of their venture and worsening conditions, the captain elected to pull each man from the water before the final phase – a thirty–minute surface float of rest and calm – was completed.
Clamoring onto the deck, the divers sat down and began to remove their gear. The captain helped with the dry suits as much as possible. With the hulking behemoth on the lakebed so fresh in their minds, the forty – foot Hadley now looked especially minuscule to the divers.
The mate and the crewmen pulled up the remaining cables and hoses. Conspicuous fishing equipment, present in the event that Hadley was stopped during this expedition, was carelessly pushed aside.
“Just as I said before,” Benson said quietly, “she is on the bottom in two pieces. We had a good six or seven minutes with her.”
“How about the photos?” the mate inquired as he carefully packaged the camera.
“Blacker than night on the bottom, but I’m sure Martin took some excellent images. No selfies though, so you never heard our names when the Canadians come calling.”
“We’re sure you won’t mind the fines,” Martin added.
The captain responded to a sudden gust with a silent signal to a crewman. The subordinate quickly moved to start the engine. The sky had darkened so that early afternoon passed for late evening.
“See anything unusual?” the mate asked.
Benson raised an eyebrow.
“You know what I mean,” the mate continued with a grin.
“What doesn’t everyone understand?” Martin countered brusquely.
“Anyone seeing Edmund Fitzgerald – let alone the wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald – chasing other ships around the lake is out of their mind,” Benson raised his voice as the engine sputtered to life and Hadley cautiously lurched forward. “She’s on the bottom in two pieces and she’s been on the bottom in two pieces since ’75.”
“Understood,” the mate said with a chuckle. “I’m only curious. I want to know what people are seeing.”
“National Enquirer or Weekly World News wants a story,” Benson retorted. “That’s what I see. A couple of boats disappeared in a storm, and a couple of coots had their drunken ramblings embellished.”
The mate shrugged and looked up to an ominous sky.
“Our checks better clear,” Martin said with a scowl, “and that’s all I have to say. Next time they can interview Gordon Lightfoot.”
“I hear that,” Benson replied as he stood. “I’m going to Punta Cana and I may just stay this time.”
Lightning flashed through the clouds and thunder echoed in the distance. The lake uneasily jostled Hadley.
The captain slowly turned away from the divers. His eyes and ears seemed trained on the lake.
“Just get us back,” Benson directed. “I got a hot date in Marquette tonight – Miss Yooper – and a three – hour drive to get to her.”
Benson turned and looked down on Martin with a widening smile.
“That’s Miss Upper Peninsula to you.”
Lake Superior coarsely rocked the boat and Benson reached out for the captain in order to steady himself.
“Do you hear that?” the captain asked coolly.
Benson looked forward but offered no answer. However, he was also keenly aware of the chorus of strange noises that seemed to originate beneath the waves.
“Some ghost ship,” Martin offered with a laugh as he struggled with his remaining swim fin. “Did you guys see the story that called this a case of a zombie ship?”
No answer was heard as all seven hundred and twenty – nine feet of Edmund Fitzgerald surged to the surface with a deafening roar. The smaller boat immediately capsized as the immense bow of the zombie ship crashed down just forward of where Martin sat.
The Coast Guard recovered only trivial debris, along with two soaked checks from the Weekly World News.
To be continued.