A day in the Keys with Dr. Mer Cavallo by Micki Browning

adriftIt’s cold in the Arctic. I know it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure that out, but after I lost my research funding, it explains why I decided to temporarily relocate to the Florida Keys. The Keys are warm and a bit of latitude adjustment was just what I needed.

I still get up before dawn, but now it’s to prep the LunaSea, the dive charter boat I work on as a divemaster and scuba instructor. The job is temporary—just until I secure a new research position—but it keeps me in the water and the waters around Key Largo are intoxicatingly beautiful.

Yesterday, I rescued a man from drowning. It’s not as heroic as it sounds, but this incident bothered me. Saving the man wasn’t the problem. The reason he needed rescuing is what doesn’t make sense.

The diver claims he saw a ghost.

If that were the only peculiar thing about the rescue, I’d chalk it up to the diver’s stress level. A near-death experience plays havoc with a person’s mind. But that’s not the only thing about the situation that skews strange.

Here are the facts as I know them.

  1. The diver wasn’t diving from our boat, the LunaSea.
  2. He wasn’t even diving on the same reef.
  3. He was wreck-diving on the USS Spiegel Grove—which is a good five nautical miles from where we were.
  4. The Gulf Stream’s powerful current pushes water north along the east side of the Florida Keys.
  5. We were five nautical miles SOUTH of the shipwreck.

No one, myself included, has yet posited a satisfying hypothesis of how a distressed diver traveled five miles from the Spiegel Grove to Molasses Reef without the use of teleportation, a TARDIS or a wormhole.

Unfortunately, news of the event went viral and since then, the Keys have become absolutely buggy with ghost-hunters. Worse? Now I’m a minor celebrity on an island where the weird go pro, which for the record, is not a plus in the world of academia. My doctorate is in teuthology. If the diver had fled an octopus, I’m confident I’d be able to add some clarity to the situation, but being embroiled in a situation involving a ghost just isn’t in my skill set.

I was feeling a bit sorry for myself that this whole ghost-fiasco would impact my professional credibility. That was when Leroy, the captain of the LunaSea, reminded me that I get points for rescuing someone. He likes to come across gruff, but he doesn’t fool anybody. He has a way of putting things into perspective, and he always cheers for the underdog. That’s why he took me under his wing two months ago when I showed up at the Aquarius dive shop.

But even Leroy couldn’t predict what happened next. A ghost-hunting documentary film crew charted the LunaSea for a midnight dive on the Spiegel Grove to search for this supposed ghost. Guess who ended up being their safety diver? Me.

The crew leader, Ishmael Styx, has the spookiest green eyes I’ve ever seen. When he held out his hand in introduction, I experienced a hesitation that is out of character for me. I’ll admit, he goaded me and I took the bait. He vowed he’d turn me into a believer before the night was out. Not a chance. My mother was born in Sedona and she’s been trying to convert me to her crystal astrology woo-woo beliefs for years.

I went on a bit of a rant. I informed him I deal with facts. Data makes me happy. Adhering to the scientific method makes me downright giddy. Then, I probably went a bit overboard and told him that his quest for paranormal activity struck me as silly. He just laughed and before I knew it, I’d agreed to work the boat. Now I’m the voice of reason, and unless we encounter an angelfish tonight, the crew of the Spirited Divers, Paranormal Dive Team is going to be sorely disappointed.

Sorry to cut this short, but I’ve got to prep the boat for tonight. Usually night dives are on shallow reefs, but this dive will be deep, dark, and focused on finding the dead.

My job is to make sure nothing goes wrong, and I’m determined to do just that.


ADRIFT is the first in the NEW Mer Cavallo mystery series published by Alibi-Random House, January 2017.

In this breathtaking mystery debut, marine biologist–turned-divemaster Meredith Cavallo stands accused of a chilling crime after a dive gone wrong. But do the murky circumstances point to an accident, a murder, or a supernatural encounter?

Mer thought adjusting to a laid-back life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze. But when she rescues a floundering diver who claims to have seen a ghost, she’s caught in a storm of intrigue. News of the encounter explodes on social media, attracting a team of ghost hunters who want to capture proof that a greenish ghoul haunts Key Largo’s famed USS Spiegel Grove shipwreck.

Meredith knows the wreck inside and out, and agrees to act as their safety diver. When Ishmael, the charismatic leader of the group, vanishes during a midnight dive, everyone except Mer is convinced the ghost has claimed another victim. Topside, the tenacious detective in charge of the investigation finds Mer’s involvement in both incidents suspicious, and her enigmatic neighbor resurrects ghosts from her past.

Determined to find a rational explanation, Mer approaches Ishmael’s disappearance as any scientist would—by asking questions, gathering data, and deducing the truth. But the victim’s life is as shrouded in mystery as his disappearance. Still, something happened under the water and before long, she’s in over her head. When someone tries to kill her, she knows the truth is about to surface. Maybe dead men do tell tales after all.

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Meet the author
micki-browningAward-winning author Micki Browning worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and is an FBI National Academy graduate. She is a professional divemaster and resides in Southern Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment. Visit Micki at www.MickiBrowning.com and on Goodreads.

All comments are welcomed.

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10 responses to “A day in the Keys with Dr. Mer Cavallo by Micki Browning

  1. Sounds like a great mystery.

  2. Sounds good to me.

  3. Barbara Hackel

    I am hooked…an underwater ghost story! Thanks Dru Ann for the latest addition to my TBR list. 🙂

  4. To the author- My son would love to meet you. He’s one of the volunteer divers who clean the tanks at the Coney Island Aquarium. He doesn’t go on a vacation without packing his dive gear to take along.

    Love Key West stories and would love to add this one to my growing library of mysteries.

    • One of my favorite dives was an aquarium dive at Epcot. The water was crystal clear–because of people like your son! I’m afraid my luggage is always overweight with dive gear as well. I recommend Bonaire. If flying there, they allow extra weight for scuba divers! I hope both you and your son enjoy this story. It was so much fun to “research!”

  5. Sounds amazing.

  6. Della Williamson

    Boy! does it look like a most intriguing read. Great post! Thanks Dru for the intro to a new author and read. That TBR list is getting bigger. Thanks for the heads up

  7. Thanks everyone for the opportunity to share a bit of Mer Cavallo’s life with you!

  8. This sounds like a really intriguing start to a new series!