THE FALCON'S TREASURE, Pt. III (A Relic Hunters Short Story)
"Pirate Skull and Booty" photo courtesy of FreeImages, user Dani Simmonds.
The Falcon's Treasure, Pt. III (A Relic Hunters Short Story)
Another car finally arrived, and Brett switched to it. He felt a bit dubious as to whether or not it could get him where he needed to go, as it didn’t look to be in much better shape than the first.
To his surprise, it got him there, and the driver stopped the car in front of an old, dilapidated shack. Brett paid the fare, then sauntered toward the front porch. An old man who looked to have seen at least a hundred summers sat smoking a pipe. A thick glass containing rum and ice sat on a small table beside a bottle of rum near his elbow.
“Can I help you?” the old man asked.
Brett tipped his hat back a little. “I’m here to see Raffi Jabaara. Is he here, by any chance?”
“You’ve found him, young man. Pull up a chair.”
Brett moved up the stairs, surprised at how sturdy they felt, then he pulled a nearby chair up to the table. He set his pack on the floor next to him. “I heard you’ve lived in these parts all your life. I wondered if you could tell me—”
Raffi held up a finger, silencing Brett. “First, we drink. Yes?”
Brett nodded. “Okay.”
He was eager to get down to business, but if the man needed to take things slow, he would go along with it. He sensed it was the only way he would get any information out of him anyway.
Lightning flashed, and Brett counted the seconds until the thunder came. By his estimate, the storm was about thirty miles out. With any luck, he could conclude his business here and get another cab before the rain started. The air already smelled heavy, as if the clouds would open up at any moment, and he was glad for the overhang above him.
The old man had a spare glass that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. He wiped it out with an old rag, then filled it with rum. He slid it to Brett, who picked it up and took a drink.
“Good stuff,” he said.
“Only the best will do. No need for that old rot gut some people make.”
“True.” Brett agreed.
“So, what can I do you for?”
“I’m trying to find some information.”
Brett leaned down and unzipped his pack, pulled out the journal, opened to a page he’d marked, and slid it across the table to Raffi. “Is there any chance you can pinpoint the area mentioned here?”
Raffi read the passage. He looked up, his gaze afar off. “I might know the place.”
“Can you draw a map for me?”
“I don’t know how accurate it’ll be, but I can try, for the right price. You after the treasure?”
“If it’s there. Is that a problem?”
“Not for me, but it’s in gang territory. You’ll want to be armed. And watch your back. Those thugs are sneaky, they are.”
“I can handle them.”
“So what’ll you pay me to draw this map? Rum ain’t cheap here. Neither are food and water. And upkeep on this mansion of mine.” Raffi laughed. What few teeth he had were yellowed with age and rotting away.
“I’ll pay you a hundred dubs to draw it for me.” Brett pulled a small pad of paper and a pen from his pack and handed them to the old man.
Raffi set to drawing, and as he moved pen over paper, he explained the area to Brett. “From here, you’ll set out toward the west. The hills separate the coast from the inland. Once you get through the jungle, you should see a lagoon. That’s where you want to be.” He turned the pad around and pointed to a spot where he’d drawn an X. “See that? It marks the entrance to a cave. I’ve never been inside, but I can tell you what I’ve heard, if you want.”
“Please,” Brett said.
“Alright,” Raffi said. He pulled the pad back toward himself and began drawing below the map as he continued. “There’s a passageway at the back of the cave. Take it for about fifty feet, then it branches off two ways. The left is a dead end. The right will take you to a cavern. There are other false corridors along the way. They go just far enough to waste a few minutes, but none of them are dangerous.”
“What can you tell me about the cavern?”
“It’s about like any other. Rather small compared to some. You’ll find the usual stalagmites and stalagtites inside. The centerpiece, though—it’s a stone pedestal. On top of this, you’ll find a small wooden trunk. That’s where the treasure is supposed to be.”
“How do you know all this?” Brett asked, sitting back in his chair.
“I’ve never had much use for treasure, but I’ve been interested in the lore of the place. What I just told you is what I’ve heard. I can’t guarantee the validity of it. I can only tell you that I’m not lying about what I’ve heard.”
“Fair enough.” Brett pulled out his wallet and took out a crisp, new 100 dub bill. He handed it to Raffi. “Thanks for your help. And the drink.”
“No problem, man. I don’t get much company out in these parts. I hope you find the treasure.”
Brett touched the rim of his hat, then tipped it forward a bit before picking up his pack and turning to go.
“Say, how do you plan to get out there?”
Brett turned to look at him. “I’ll call another cab.”
“After all the rain we’ve had, they won’t be able to get through. But I’ve got a donkey you can use. Just cost you fifty dubs more, and you won’t have to buy gas or worry ‘bout breakdowns.”
“That sounds like a fair offer. What condition is it in?”
“She’s sturdy as they come. She’s well looked after and has been itchin’ to get back on the trail. Pay up, and she’s yours for the duration.”
Brett took out some more cash and handed it to Raffi, who counted it and slipped it into a pocket along with the first bill.
“Wait here. I’ll get her ready for you and bring her ‘round. Have another drink or two while you wait.”
Brett slipped his wallet back, then he took a seat. He studied the map for a few minutes, burning the image into his memory. The rain arrived, tap-tap-tapping on the roof above him. He frowned at the thought of traveling in bad weather, and he pulled a clear, plastic poncho out of his pack. He slipped it over his head, anticipating its need when he hit the trail.
In the time it took him to have two more drinks, Raffi saddled and bridled an aging donkey and brought her around to the front of the house.
“Myrtle, here, is getting old, but she’s strong. She’s not one to panic at gunshots or thunder. If anyone can get you through those hills, it’s this girl.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Brett said, inspecting the donkey. “How long do you figure it’ll take me to get there if I don’t run into trouble?”
“A couple of days, tops. Unless this rain turns into a deluge. In which case, it could take you twice that, at least.”
Brett held a hand out to the old man, who took it with a firm grip.
“I’ll bring her back as soon as I’m done. Thanks for all your help.”
“Bring Myrtle back in good shape, and I’ll be happy.”
Brett took the reins in hand and put his left foot into the stirrup, then he raised himself up and swung his right leg over Myrtle’s back. He settled himself in the saddle, then lightly kicked the donkey’s sides. He nodded to Raffi, then focused on the path ahead and the hills in the distance. The rain was coming down harder, and he wanted to find shelter before the bulk of the storm arrived.
Bane shivered. As it turned out, the two walls weren’t enough to protect him from the elements. The wind blew the rain right into his shelter, so the roof didn’t do him any good until the wind finally died down some time later.
He shivered again and pulled out his MCD. He tried calling Raven’s number again. For the fifth time, he got no response.
He called Catin next. She answered on the third ring.
“Hey, I’m at the Zamada guest house ruins.”
“Are you okay?”
He smiled slightly at the concern in her voice. “Yeah, just a bit wet and cold. I’ll be all right. Have you found Raven yet?”
“No, but we’ll be searching round the clock. I promise, we’ll find him.”
“I know. Thanks.”
“So, what’re your plans?”
“Once this rain lets up, I’m gonna head down to the lagoon, see if I can find the cave. If I can find it, I’ll know I’m close.”
“Any sign of Brett Holt?”
“Not yet, but I’m watching—” His voice trailed off as he spotted a man coming his way. The owner of the dog, maybe?
“Bane? Are you there?”
“Um, yeah, I’m here. Hang on.” He squinted through the rain and noticed the man had a mohawk, and he wore a leather vest, pants, and biker boots. He also held a knife in his hand, a nasty looking thing with a serrated blade. “Catin, I’ll have to call you back.”
“What’s hap—?” Catin began, but he hung up the phone, flipped it shut, and slipped it back into his pocket. He knelt down and pulled the knife from his boot, then waited for the man to draw near.
Brett found a rocky overhang under which to take shelter. By then, Myrtle was struggling to keep her footing on the muddy path. One slip in the wrong direction could have sent donkey and rider crashing to their deaths far below. Brett didn’t want to take that chance.
There was a bush on which to tether Myrtle, and sparse grass for her to eat. Brett sat down to inspect the journal. His pack had kept it dry, but he didn’t want to take any more chances, so he took out an extra plastic bag and slipped it into that and sealed it with a small cord. This he slipped into another plastic bag, sealing it, as well.
Once this small chore was done, he took out a protein bar, some venison jerky, and a bottle of water. Once finished with his meal, he packed away all wrappers and containers, then retrieved his bedroll and spread it out on the ground. He sat down, and thought about where to go from here.
He closed his eyes and pictured the map in his mind. Raffi had drawn a landmark a couple of miles or so ahead — stone ruins of an archway. If he went through that, the trail would lead him toward the lagoon. He could actually see the lagoon. From up here. It appeared to be closer than it actually was, but because of the winding nature of the path, it would take him several more hours to get there.
He looked out over the jungle. There had to be a quicker way to get there. Time was money, and every extra minute raised the chances that Bane Asmodei would get to the treasure first. He couldn’t afford to let that happen. He had to be the first one there.
But how? He didn’t know the terrain like Asmodei did.
He lay down, still puzzling over his predicament. He could follow the trail Raffi had drawn up, trying to speed it up when he could. Or he could go off the beaten path and keep the lagoon in sight, hoping he’d find a better trail down.
He fell fast asleep with this problem on his mind.
“Hey!” The man called out. “You got five minutes to get off my property.”
Bane didn’t respond. He didn’t think the man had seen him yet.
“Yo! I know you’re in there. I saw you.” The man laughed. “Plus, my dog don’t bark for no reason. Show yourself, or I’ll send him in after you.”
Slowly, Bane rose to his feet. “Your property? Looks abandoned to me.”
“Yeah, well, looks can be deceiving.”
“Not from where I’m standing. You know what I see?”
“I see a two-bit hoodlum in a hurry to get his throat slit.”
“You think you can beat me?”
Bane smiled grimly. “I know I can. But I don’t want any trouble. I was just looking for a place to get out of the rain. I’ll leave, and no harm done.”
“Too late,” the man said. “You just challenged me. Now you gotta prove yourself.”
“You threatened me. What’d you expect me to do?”
“Don’t matter much, now, does it? This is my land, and you’re on it. So, let’s see what you’re made of.”
Bane glanced around. He saw a small opening at the back of the stone wall he might be able to squeeze through. He estimated how fast he would have to run to make it, then how long it would take to run to the edge of the jungle beyond. It would be close, but he had to try.
“All right, give me a minute.”
He went over to his pack and hefted it over his shoulder, then he made a mad dash for the back wall, his knife still in his hand. He heard the squeak of an old, rusted gate, then the barking of the dog, and he sped up his pace.
He reached the wall, but the space was too small for him to fit through. He dared to look back, and he caught the glint of sunlight on metal just before the shot rang out. The punk had a gun!
A bullet hit the rock inches to his left, then he felt a searing pain as the projectile ricocheted and sank itself into his bicep.
With all the strength he could muster, he hefted himself up onto the top of the wall, then jumped down the other side. His long legs quickly carried him to the edge of the jungle, and he took a zigzagging path, running around trees and brush and swinging his knife wildly to cut off any hindering vines that might entangle him.
The barking of the dog grew louder as the dog came closer and closer. Still Bane pushed onward, toward the nearby stream that led to within yards of the lagoon. If he could reach the stream soon enough, he could throw the dog off his scent.
That is if the stream had water in it.
When Brett woke, the sun was low on the horizon. He cursed his luck. He’d slept much longer than intended, and now he would have to rush if he wanted to get to the treasure before Bane.
He gathered the journal and other things into his pack, then mounted and guided Myrtle back onto the path, kicking her sides lightly to urge her to greater speed.
To Bane’s satisfaction, there was water in the stream. For some time, he moved through it, and when he’d put some distance between himself and the dog, he moved back onto the opposite shore. There was a path that led up into the hills, and he planned to lead the goon and his dog up into the jungle. The goon had struck him as a city dweller. He didn’t think the man would follow him very far into the hills. Once he lost him, Bane would head back down via a different route and go straight to the lagoon and find the cave.
With that thought in mind, Bane left the stream and headed north into the hills.
He stopped along the way to take out some gauze to bandage the wound in his arm. It would be several hours before he could have someone take a look at it, but he could at least sterilize and wrap it.
Once that was done, he set out again.
Brett was in danger of snoozing in the saddle. Myrtle’s pace was slow and steady, and the rhythmic movement made him sleepy.
A gunshot rang out, and he bolted upright. He glanced around, but saw nothing. He’d been keeping the bay on his left, and the forest on his right. He might have to go into the deep tangle of trees and brush if trouble lurked somewhere below.
He tugged on Myrtle’s reins, and when she halted, he stood in the stirrups in an effort to get a better look at the land below.
More gunshots rang out, and Myrtle fidgeted.
Brett sank into the saddle again and nudged the donkey forward. He strained his ears for the sound of more gunshots, for sounds of scuffles. He heard nothing but the birds in the trees, the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks in the distance, and the sound of Myrtle’s slow, steady gait on the path.
And he could now see the lagoon off in the distance. His heart quickened at the sight, and he urged the donkey to a slightly greater speed.
Bane continued walking for some time, and when he neither saw nor heard further signs of pursuit, he allowed himself to relax a bit. He let his mind wander to his purpose on the Isle of Aladraar, and a smile came to his face as he thought back on some of his exploits with his best friend and captain, Sahmi Zamada.
A shot rang out, and the trunk of the tree behind him splintered just above his head. He ducked just as another shot rang out, and he booked it through the trees as fast as he could.
The cliffs came into sight, and he made a run for them. It was a long way, but he was fast. And his pursuer was sure to run out of ammunition eventually.
Bane knew the cliffs like the back of his hand. He’d been coming here regularly for over a thousand years. He knew every chip, every handhold, every nook and cranny, and he would use them to good purpose.
He leapt up onto a large bolder, the first obstacle on the way to the higher elevations, and chanced a glance over his shoulder. The goon was still behind him, but he’d fallen back a bit. For the first time that Bane could remember, he was grateful for his long legs. They enabled him to keep a solid lead on his pursuer.
He spotted a familiar crevasse up ahead. He pushed himself, gaining momentum, then put all the strength he could into his legs and leapt over it. He didn’t stop once he landed, but he glanced back over his shoulder again as the goon stopped, clearly unwilling to risk the jump.
A bullet whistled by Bane’s pointed left ear, and another ricocheted off the stones in front of him to his right, harmlessly hitting the ground a few yards ahead. He glanced back again, and saw the goon turn and stalk away.
Bane didn’t slow down until he reached the end of the cliff. He looked back again. The goon was now nowhere in sight.
He stood at the edge of the precipice and looked down into the water far below. He knew it was much deeper than it seemed. And it was a long way down. The water would be cool. It would refresh him. It would also bring him a little closer to his target, the cave where Sahmi’s treasure was supposed to be.
He moved back several yards, took a deep breath and let it out, then he ran as fast as he could. In the next moment, he was airborne. Like a professional diver, he focused on his form in order to make the impact as minimal as possible, and when he hit the water, he barely noticed, save for the coolness of it. It felt good on his skin, and as he rose to the surface, another smile came to his face as he remembered Sahmi’s young son, Pedro, and his first swimming lessons in the very lagoon he was about to swim into.
With old memories on his mind, he swam toward the outer entrance to the lagoon. The high cliffs loomed above him, parted by about eight feet of empty space, each side of which had been carved at odd angles so as to make the entrance impossible to spot unless you were in the right place at the right time.
Once through, he made a beeline for the beach. He still found no sign of the goon as he emerged, and he flopped down on the sand to catch his breath and to enjoy the sun on his face.
Somehow, he felt as if he’d come home.
Brett pulled out his scope and surveyed the land below. He spotted a man wearing black leather and carrying a firearm, a large black dog by his side.
He halted and petted Myrtle’s neck in an effort to keep her calm and quiet. Soon, the gunman moved far enough past him that he could continue his traveling without being heard.
He nudged Myrtle onward, and she emerged from the forest at the bottom of the hill. The lagoon lay several dozen yards ahead, and Bane sat on the beach looking out over the water. If Brett were the killing type, he could have squeezed off a shot that would have taken the arael’s head clean off.
Good thing for the arael that he wasn’t a murderer.
Brett found a stand of palm trees, and he dismounted there, where the trunks could hide him and the donkey. He resumed petting Myrtle so she would remain quiet and not give away the fact that he was there.
He’d wanted to be the first to arrive, but since Bane had arrived first, he had to change his plan. So he watched the arael, waiting to see what his rival would do next. If he had to be an opportunist this time around, then by the gods, that’s what he’d be.