"At seventy- six," Carl Rutgers said without true conviction for his words, "I'm in fine shape..."
"Where the hell is it?" Carl asked himself, as he stumbled around in the dismal sea cave. "I know I marked the spot. I just know it."
It was hard enough for him to make his way through the dark with a flash light, never mind the dull gray color of everything around him. The columns, pillars and walls were all glistening smooth.
"It's been so long," he said, feeling defeated.
It was a rare occasion when Carl "The Monsoon" Rutgers felt defeated. He had been a fighter all his life. He took no shit, and gave out plenty. He was feared by many, respected by all his associates, and hated by nearly everyone he had ever met. The only exception had been Clara, his wife. But Carl had fallen in love with her the first time he saw her working in the diner when he had first returned from the War. He knew at first glance that Clara was the woman he would marry. It was almost guaranteed, because what Carl wanted, Carl got. And although the occasion never arose when he didn't get what he wanted, if it had, he lived by a code forbidding anyone to have what he could not possess.
Carl rubbed his shoulder. It was the one he had used for breaking down doors during his professional years. It was constantly aching from arthritis now, as did all his other joints. It was one of the only physical ailments reminding him he was old.
"Damn cave sure is bigger than I remember," he said with a whistle. The cave opening was at least ten limousine lengths away. "At least the tide is still low."
Rutgers decided before leaving his limousine driver that when the tide began entering the cave he would give up the search. Once the tide was up to the mouth, it would take at least an hour for the cave to fill. Certainly there would be time to work without having to fear being trapped by the rising water, but Rutgers didn't want to take any risks. It was a hard concept to accept for this man who once risked everything on a daily basis. Those who knew him, even those closest to him (except Clara) thought greed motivated him. Money and power and all the usual causes for a man to become a mercenary were not what motivated this man. He was an ethical man who felt the current system of his society was twisted. He didn't live for the money. Monsoon lived for the opportunity to put his training into practical use as often as possible.
"I was a very strong man," Rutgers said out loud in reflection, while he leaned up against a stalagmite for support. He looked at the Lucky Strike and shook his head, knowing the great Monsoon never violated the temple.
Monsoon was created out of hard-core training to become a Navy Seal. He was a demi-god really. Not just another mortal who fights for his country when called to do so. Here was a hero who ranked up there with Hercules and Odysseus. Adventures were just part of the occupation. The occupation was the lifestyle, and it was the only lifestyle for which Monsoon existed. He was a massive bulk of rippling flexible muscle, stealthy and deadly in any form of combat. Nothing was lovable about him, yet everyone called his name whenever the odds were unthinkable for an average man. No number of gooks, nor Nazis later in the war, could make him retreat. He respected anyone who showed the same courage, and he idolized his "bonsai!" enemies. The Nazis he despised however. He heard about their spy network and how they imitated Americans and English to learn valuable information. Such cowardly tactics Monsoon found unbecoming of a true warrior. Finding out about Nuremberg and the other death camps once Berlin fell didn't shock Monsoon like it did others.
"It's the sort of cowardice and ethic-lacking sport I expected of those snakes," Rutgers scowled after reflecting back on his golden years.
Rutgers was smiling. Thinking of the colossal ghost that once possessed his soul made him realize the importance of his trip here, in the caves along this stretch of California coast not popular with tourists. It was far enough from any major city to take it out of the limelight. Of course there were locals who came here. Some were even present today with overcast skies and a good deal of rain. What rain there had been too! Flooding occurred all over the region in the past ten days. The notion to come here today struck Lionel, the limousine driver, as being an odd request considering how high the tides and flooding were lately. He couldn't be told the purpose for the visit however, for it was a secret Rutgers had kept since "V"-Day.
"A prize that will grant me immortality," Rutgers told himself once more.
Once his youth was well behind him, his fortunes made, and the warrior Monsoon ceased to exist, Rutgers thought himself a pitiful sight. His glumness distressed Clara, his faithful loving wife who never questioned his business trips, and never got too curious about the nature of his "business". They were very close and loving and shared almost all their lives together. It was only the freelance activities of Monsoon Clara never knew about, nor would she ever. Even though he wondered what he would do should she ever become persistent about his irregular activities, the only true occupation he had other than investments which were handled through professionals; Rutgers knew lying to her would be necessary before revealing his other-side. Of course Clara never did become too curious or meddlesome. He let her know what her limitations were when it came to what she could know about his activities and she accepted them gracefully, lovingly. It was knowing he had a wife so committed, so devoted, and so lacking of curiosity and suspicion that made Rutgers feel even more empty since she passed away two years back. Now it seemed imperative to retrieve the lost prize, the ancient magical artifact not only capable of keeping him alive, but powerful enough to resurrect Monsoon.
He could hear the waves now. Soon the tide would enter the cave. A terrible feeling of despair overcame Rutgers. He looked at the feeble shell, the zombie only mimicking the man once resembling him. Monsoon had moved on to another plane and left this geriatric with an eroded memory to match the deteriorated body behind.
"There's no such thing as old age for a warrior," Rutgers said as he walked to the far end of the cavern. "Once the warrior can no longer run, nor fight like three ordinary men, then the warrior dies. He doesn't grow old. He simply returns to Valhalla to share in the feast and add his own heroic tales to the lore of Thor's brethren."
Rutgers felt he was not alone in the cave. He thought he'd heard movement in the cave moments before, and suddenly had an intuitive feeling someone else was here. Monsoon wouldn't only know for sure if someone else were present, but he'd know exactly where they were, and could smell their intention. The tension exhilarated Rutgers, although he was scared, a feeling alien to Monsoon. Still, the excitement made him feel good.
Rutgers' memory suddenly flashed on. He remembered something about this cave. There was a shelf nearly twelve feet wide right here, along the rear wall of the cave. The artifact was on the shelf. He looked out at the entrance and was distressed to learn the sea was already inside the entrance. It had taken him far too long in locating the shelf. His flashbacks and memories weren't helping him either. Everyday was the same way though. He swore he was suffering from either senility or Alzheimer's disease, even though the doctor said his mind was healthy and he was in great shape for seventy-six. He still couldn't believe the 50th anniversary of "V"-Day was close at hand. It was all so vivid for him, like it was just yesterday.
"How am I supposed to get up there?" He asked himself; now noticing the shelf was a few feet over his head, out of his reach. "I'll help you."
Rutgers turned quickly. Lionel was standing a few feet away, half-concealed by a stalagmite. He had an AK-47 assault rifle pointed at him.
"Drop the gun," Lionel ordered. Rutgers did as he was told. He wasn't Monsoon. Not yet! "I knew you'd lead me to it. Guess you didn't see me standing in the shadows when you found that amulet laying in the rubble, ay? I even took the risk of sneaking it out of your duffle bag that night while you were off with the boys. It certainly is a beautiful artifact. Priceless!"
"Why didn't you steal it in `45 when you had the chance?"
"What? Steal from Monsoon, the greatest warrior in the world. That would be suicide! You should know that, old friend. Or is your memory that far gone?"
"So you hunted me down to get control of its power, right?"
"Power? I don't know about any power," Lionel said in a sarcastic, mocking tone. "I went to college when I came back stateside. I wasn't the mean-hearted killer like Monsoon. My days as a murderer ended with my commitment to my country. Monsoon could only kill when he came back because he didn't know anything else, nor did he want to, right?"
"My services were never used for selfish, evil purposes. I was cleaning up this country as a private contractor. There are many more criminals than justice ever finds. The only men I worked for were powerful men in business and politics who wanted something done about the worst of the bunch. Those who were above the law, because they could afford to be there."
"Killing is killing, and a murderer deserves to be dealt with as a criminal, no matter what his excuse. You stepped outside the law to continue your `heroic' deeds."
"You're going to kill me now, right?"
"That depends on you."
Rutgers knew it was a lie. His ability to detect a lie had not deteriorated with the rest of his abilities. One thing he hated most of all was a liar. For the first time since Monsoon left him, Rutgers felt a true desire to fight and to kill. It wasn't because he wanted to exercise the deadly skill for the sake of doing it. He just was reacting to the basic survival skill so prevalent in all animals. And although he was cultured and refined, he was, at heart, just an animal.
"The tide is coming in Rutgers. Let's get on with it."
Indeed the tide was coming in. The cave floor was covered almost up to their feet now. It still was not too deep. Thinking about the incoming tide was quite difficult. The man who Monsoon had trusted and depended on most during the war had returned to rob and kill him. This was the worst sort of betrayal that existed. And yet, Rutgers wondered how Lionel knew so much about his business activities over the years here in the states.
"If you don't believe in the power of the amulet, then why do you want it? Is it just the dollar value motivating you? If so, I'll give you whatever you think it is worth. No amount is too high. To me this is a priceless artifact."
"Put your hands up against the wall Rutgers."
He hesitated. The reason for Lionel's appearance at his doorstep six months ago for a job was now clear, but he needed to know the true motivation, even though he was quite sure he knew. The adrenalin was pumping fast, and Rutgers felt like he was undergoing some sort of metamorphosis. He was seeing everything in shades of red-- a color scheme that had been lost to him for some time.
"The amulet is a priceless artifact. It originated in the Mediterranean, probably between one and two thousand B.C. I'm quite certain it came out of the Mycenaean culture, but it could even be Minoan."
"How can you be so sure?" Rutgers asked. He was facing the wall now, with his hands up against it. The sea lapped against the back of his shoes. He suddenly remembered something else. The cavern was not level, with the rear being higher elevation, as well as the mouth of the cave, than was the middle. Time truly was running out.
"I have a photographic memory. `Til this day I remember all the details of that beautiful hand-carved amulet, with its semi-precious stones, and the writing. That writing is either Linear A or Linear B, I don't know which, but I will find out very soon."
"Money is what matters, so why not let me pay you to keep it for myself." Rutgers was nearly screaming he was so upset.
"You are so narrow-minded. The amulet is a treasure that can advance our knowledge of whichever civilization it came from. I'm not taking it to get rich. I am really concerned about mankind, unlike yourself."
There was a moment of silence. Rutgers knew this was truly a moment for Monsoon. The only other option was to gain the advantage of the dark. The flashlight was in his hand. He thought about the risky plan, but then another light shone in his eyes.
"Forget it! I brought a light. Monsoon was a good teacher. Too good, ay?"
"You didn't learn enough."
"Alright," Lionel snapped. Lionel was obviously frightened.
'And of what?' Rutgers wondered. `Certainly not an old man.' Rutgers wondered if Lionel believed in ghosts. "I don't want to drown in here, so I'm going to give you a boost up on that ledge."
Lionel put down his assault rifle, leaning it against a stalagmite with the butt in several inches of water. He reached down and took a six-inch blade from a boot-sheath. He walked up to Rutgers with the knife poised for hand-to-hand combat. Monsoon could have easily taken Lionel even though his opponent had a knife. Lionel was the second best SEAL in the company, but Monsoon was the ultimate warrior.
"Nothing funny or you will die."
Rutgers nodded. He was too fired up to speak, fearing he'd reveal the explosive energy improving Rutgers perception and confidence with every passing second.
"Damn!" Lionel said.
"The water is above the top of my boot. We got to work fast."
Lionel put the knife between his teeth. Rutgers lifted one foot and kept it suspended while Lionel put the flashlight between his legs and then gave him the boost. With little effort, Rutgers got himself up on the ledge, feeling a new life kindling inside him. He could see the entrance of the cavern. It was already too deep for Lionel, he was certain of it. For Monsoon, however, there was plenty of time.
The cavern would still take forty-five minutes to fill completely. Swimming out would be simple for the ultimate warrior. All he had to do now was stall for time, so he could catch Lionel off-guard.
"Hurry it up!" Lionel sounded nervous. It made Monsoon smile.
Monsoon located the symbol immediately. His memory was impeccable. It was a bright green stone in the crude shape of a cross. It was glued to an iron ball, now rusted and corroding. There was a chain connected to the ball on which barnacles were growing. It fed down into a six-inch diameter hole in the limestone shelf.
"Have you got it yet?"
Lionel was shining the light up on the ledge. Monsoon was far enough back so that he was out of sight. He could have stayed hidden, but he didn't want Lionel to get suspicious.
"I've found where its hidden but the box is rusted shut. Going to take a minute to get it."
Monsoon was stalling. He only needed a little time. The corroded tin box was actually already in his possession. It wasn't sealed shut either. He opened the box and was enraptured by the beauty of the ancient medallion, with its pictures and writing and jewels. It was as timelessly vibrant and beautiful as the day it was stored in this dismal sea cavern.
Ingenuity was a blessing. Monsoon felt proud for the ingenuity he had used when packing this prize. He reached into the box and pulled out his well-kept treasure. It truly was an artifact, but he was certain it still had its wondrous power.
The seawater was up past Lionel's knees. His swimming prowess was worse than Rutgers, for he chain-smoked for the past forty-years. He looked at the Camel he had just lit a moment ago and felt disgusted with himself. Being here with Monsoon made him sadly aware of how weak and undisciplined he had become.
"Come on Rutgers!"
"Here!" Monsoon shouted and tossed the amulet. He purposely overthrew it and the ploy worked. Lionel reached up and didn't even see Monsoon take aim with the sacred artifact, a German Luger. It was confiscated from the same rubble in Berlin where the amulet was found.
Monsoon fired three times. Luckily Rutgers had remembered to put the fresh bullets in his cigarette case. The handgun was still accurate and deadly. All three bullets hit Lionel in the center of his wide, out-stretched chest. Two bullets penetrated the heart, and Lionel was dead before he could even gasp in pain. Monsoon smiled at the dead man; a stranger who had once been a great warrior and his best friend.
"You always were just second best," Monsoon said.
The water was already a couple feet deep on the far wall when Rutgers finally got down off the ledge. The amulet had to be recovered too. Monsoon made a mental note of where it landed, but Rutgers couldn't remember. He got down in the water, crawling around desperately, praying to find the medallion. Rutgers held his breath and dived. He couldn't believe how short of a time he stayed submerged. He only managed to hold his breath for slightly over twenty seconds. His fingers were stinging also. The paper-thin skin was cut and bleeding profusely from rubbing and scraping on the limestone floor and stalagmites and debris. The water got deeper with each passing moment, but Rutgers wouldn't leave without the prize.
"Youth is all I crave," Rutgers said, tears in his eyes. The adrenalin was pumping in his veins once again, but it wasn't the same kind of energy he got when confronted with a backstabbing spy.
The next dive, Rutgers stayed down longer and opened his stinging eyes for the first time. He saw the shining gold and precious stones and thrashed out wildly for the amulet. He scooped the talisman up with his right hand and then shot to the surface, which seemed eons away. He made it to the top just before he started sucking in water. He was startled to find the water was neck deep where he was standing. It was still a good two hundred yards or so to the entrance of the cavern. He saw it, the only light in the cave now, since his flashlight was dropped just after he spotted the amulet. He was suddenly aware of why he dropped the flashlight. His left arm was throbbing, and he couldn't move it. In his haste to get the amulet he must have smashed it on a stalagmite or against the floor. Rutgers held the amulet to his heart, trying desperately to subside his fear.
"Bring back Monsoon Poseidon," Rutgers prayed, "bring him back, oh forger of this magical device for warriors of the sea."
He hung the talisman around his neck. The entrance was almost completely submerged. The middle was well over his head, and where he stood the water was up to his lower lip. He closed his eyes.
Monsoon knew no fear. Pain was but a distraction from the mission. He was the ultimate warrior. There was no battle he couldn't win. So he knew leaving this cavern would be as easy as escaping from a P.O.W. camp. They called that impossible too, but he did it twice!
"...And I'm a survivor!"
Rutgers dived courageously into the black water of the encroaching sea, knowing the long awaited reunion with Monsoon was underway.
I am a father of two boys and live in Easton, Massachusetts. I have been writing as a hobby since my freshman year of high school, but until now have only submitted poetry for publication. My degree is in English, but like so many other English majors I know, I work in a completely unrelated field. I enjoy writing stories that have a sense of the paranormal or surreal about them. The characters in my stories, however, are very real and flawed. I appreciate any feedback, as it helps me to develop my limited abilities, which is true not only in writing, but life.
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