After breakfast they drove to Owen’s house. He felt like a kid excited to share his secret fort with a new friend. Monica’s anticipation was built upon tattered nerves. She tried to liken one hundred feet to something she encountered in daily life. Owen sensed her nervousness and explained everything she needed to know to make a dive like that; and the necessity of a ten foot stop. And, as she had done before, Monica asked intelligent questions. Giddiness escalated within him the closer they got to his house.
It took less than an hour to prepare the boat and gather necessary provisions. Owen switched on the motor while Monica stowed supplies below deck. Exhaust gurgled in the brackish water.
Habitually, Owen reached toward the throttle to grab the St. Christopher necklace Julia had given him. His heart sank when he realized it was no longer there. Ritualistically, he kissed it for luck each time he set out for the wreck. He shook away his disappointment and laughed at his superstitious nature before bumping the throttle with the heel of his hand; engaging the motor in reverse. Slowly, the boat moved into the channel. When it was clear of the dock, he reversed speed and moved past homes that lined the canal before heading into the gulf.
He navigated the waters around the Keys speedily and recklessly without concern for who might take note of his boat and its seemingly urgent path into the open ocean. The long ride offered the opportunity to once again think about how he left Julia. Opportunities lost had driven him to vow that when another presented itself it would not be squandered. Sharing his secret with Monica was meant to fill that void.
The boat skipped across the waves and Monica’s nerves became fatigued. She worried about her ability to make such a difficult dive without professional training. Life for her had been a struggle against a homeland she loved and missed. The horizon she stared at had an endless and eternal quality that represented a great deal of uncertainty. She wondered whether or not she could see the actual spot on the globe that was their destination, or did it lay beyond her perspective. “What awaits us out there?” she asked, pointing in front of the boat.
Owen smiled. “A treasure that will make life worth living for us both.”
She nodded her approval, and then asked a more ethereal question. “What do you think awaits us after death?”
Owen shifted his gaze sharply from the ocean that lay ahead to his friend. “Why are you so gloomy today?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “No reason. We have a long way to go and it’s definitely a worthwhile subject … among friends.”
He returned his attention to the waves that effortlessly tossed the boat. “I’ve never really been a big believer in Valhalla, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
He took a deep breath and exhaled. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t believe that to get into heaven, if there is one, that it’s conditional on the accomplishments of one’s human self. The vision of my God is one that loves all and forgives all, which is something we have not been able to do.”
“Humans,” he answered. “We do everything in our power to segregate each other into neat little categories in order to define the kind of person we think they are. It doesn’t matter the kind of person we are.” He stopped and looked at Monica. His glance was met with a curious look. “Take Ivy, for example. He spends much of his day denigrating everyone he meets without the same credentials he possesses.”
“And, your point?”
“My point is that somewhere, buried deep inside him is a truly good person, and when he dies I choose to believe that my God will accept him regardless of the many he has refused to acknowledge. That good person will survive forever among all others.”
“I like your sentiment,” she hesitated, “but I must say that I find it odd coming from you.”
“Because … as un-accepting as Ivy can be, you are equally accepting … of other men’s wives into your bed. That makes you a hypocrite, in my book.”
Owen nodded. “I understand.”
“And?” she insisted.
Owen throttled down the boat until it simply drifted aimlessly in the water. He swiveled around in his chair and faced his friend. “I’ve thought a lot about that. Before last night my response would have been that if it wasn’t me it would be someone else, so I might as well enjoy the pleasure of their infidelity. You opened up a lot of old wounds for me, and that has allowed me to see things more clearly than I ever have before.” He paused. “Not until recently have I come to understand that I suffer from depression. I’m not sure if it’s caused by being beaten into an emotional fetal position by the only father I ever knew or if it’s how my brain is hard-wired.”
Monica interjected, “They have medication for that.”
Owen shook his head. “I can’t do that.”
“There have been suicides linked to anti-depressants.”
“But that is such a small percentage of people who use them.”
“One is too many. Besides that, if I were on anti-depressants now, I would not have the benefit of clarity you’ve brought to my life. I’m afraid it would have masked the breakthrough I had last night as a result of our conversation.”
“After we talked last night, I lay awake for quite a while thinking about my life.” Owen held both hands to his chest. “I now realize that because of my depression I am attracted to gregarious types because they provide a balance for me. They are the court jesters in the halls of the dark, dank castle that is my mind. I’ve had three friends who committed suicide. They were all very outgoing, yet volatile people. I can remember being inebriated most of the times we were together … and if we were all four together, man!” Owen’s tone shifted from that of an excited discovery to a more somber one. “It’s not that I don’t love them, because I do, and I miss them terribly. I wish I could tell them what I now understand. It may have helped save their lives.” A tear rolled over Owen’s lower eye lid and down his cheek. He quickly wiped it away with his thumb. “I thank God that you were able to be the kind of person that I was incapable of being for my friends.”
Monica was stunned. “That’s the greatest compliment I’ve ever been given.”
“Good, because I was afraid I’d never be able to show you how much you mean to me,” he said, as he shoved the throttle forward once again, engaging the boat’s motor and propelling them forward. He maneuvered it left and then right as he read the G.P.S. coordinates attempting to get the boat back onto the course that would take them to his shipwreck.
Nearly two hours later, Owen throttled down the motor in the exact spot he needed to drop the bow anchor. Hurriedly, he stood in his chair and stepped one foot onto the dashboard as he launched his weight forward over the windshield. Quickly he walked to the anchor-locker, opened it, grabbed the anchor and tossed it overboard. He gave it time to sink to the ocean’s floor; watching the anchor line disappear over the bow. When it stopped moving he tied it to the cleat before carefully making his way back over the glass and into his seat. He engaged the engines in reverse and slowly backed the boat. When the line became taut he shut down the engine and looked at the GPS. Ocean currents kept the boat hovering over the wreck.
When Owen removed his shirt and began to put on his wetsuit he asked Monica one last time, “Are you sure you’re ready to make this dive?” She nodded. It was obvious she was nervous. Her curiosity provided the drive to perform such a dangerous task. Treasure had a way of distorting vigilance. “When we get to the bottom I want you to look for a mesh bag. It’ll probably be buried under a foot or two of sand, but I’ll show you where to look.”
She nodded. Her arms and legs felt numb as she put on the wetsuit he had given her to wear. When she was finished he helped with her buoyancy control device and tank. Monica breathed through the regulator and found the air to be cold. Chills ran down her spine. Once she was suited and ready to go Owen put on the rest of his equipment. This was the first time in over a year he made a dive of significant depth with a partner. It felt good and his excitement could hardly be contained. He gave a both thumbs up signal and they moved to the diving platform. Owen went into the water first so that he would be there to help if she needed it. He held a nylon rope that was tied to one of the aft cleats. It would secure the mesh bag. There was no way he would allow it to be left behind, again.
Owen held Monica’s hand as they descended into the darkness. He made the trip as slowly as he could for her benefit, but knew they needed to be quick about their business. When the white sands of the ocean floor came into view of their flashlights, a moray eel quickly slithered into an exposed hole in the hull of the ship that protruded from the bottom. Owen quickly surveyed the territory and pulled on his friend’s hand, guiding her to the spot where he wanted her to look for the bag. He knew she must be terrified, so he stopped and looked into her eyes. She appeared relatively calm, but he asked her anyway if she was okay by pointing to her and then giving the okay sign by encircling his thumb and forefinger. She nodded and he breathed a little easier.
The spot where she needed to search was communicated by making digging motions with his hands above the area. Once she began, Owen swam away to look in another spot.
Monica waved her hand gently over the ocean floor generating a small current to move the sand and create a crater. Her approach led to murkier water and diminished sight. With every breath she became more uncomfortable, bordering on claustrophobia. When the sense of urgency became too great she stopped brushing away the sand and plunged her hands into the ocean floor. She desperately wanted to surface.
While digging she frantically looked around for Owen. He was nowhere to be seen. Surely he would not leave me alone down here, she thought. Her breathing became quick and short, but she was not deterred from the task at hand. She dug deeper and deeper, while moving her hands away from the center of her search. Disappointing Owen was not something she would allow to happen.
Monica plucked her left hand from the sand and held the gauge that dangled from her buoyancy control device. She had been under water for over thirteen minutes and knew time was short. Just as she began to feel like a failure something brushed past her pinky. Fear kept her from grabbing it outright. Slowly she slid her fingers over what felt like a piece of metal. She maintained contact, but dug vigorously into the sand until she was able to wrap her fingers around whatever it was. Tugging mightily did nothing to budge her find.
Suddenly, a tap on her shoulder frightened her. Monica rolled over onto her back and saw Owen. He held out his hands, palms up, questioning the luck with her search. When her fright dissipated she realized she had not let go of her find. Relief overcame her. She took Owen’s hand and forced it into the sand next to hers. He dug as she had until he felt what he knew to be his mesh bag. The smile on his face grew so wide it caused the mask’s seal to break away from his face. Cool ocean water rushed in before he had a chance with his free hand to secure it once again.
He pulled with all of his might. The bag was heavy and buried in the sand. It wiggled slightly, but he persisted and it began to slide toward him. Monica tapped him on the shoulder. She motioned to her wrist that they were running out of time. He nodded by quickly bobbing his head. Frustrated, he acknowledged the obvious. Monica pointed to the ocean floor vigorously and waved it away. She wanted to leave the bag, but Owen would have none of it. He shook his head forcefully. There was no way he would leave it again.
Owen pointed toward the nylon rope that was swaying in the current a few yards away. He wanted her to retrieve it, and she did. Without loosening his grip he removed his fins. He then sank his feet into the sand on either side of the treasure. When he had done so, he reached down with his free hand, secured both to the handle and pulled using every ounce of leverage he could muster. To his astonishment the bag slid out of the sand relatively easily.
Monica handed him the loose end of the rope and he tied it to the handle, making so many knots upon knots that there was no way it would come loose when they pulled it to the surface. Once he finished, Owen took a deep breath and pushed it out through his regulator. The mass of bubbles rose toward the surface and the two exchanged smiles filled with satisfaction. She could not resist reaching down and holding the bag in her hands, massaging the coins between her fingers. Owen reached down and grabbed her left hand. When she looked at him he pointed toward the surface with his thumb. She nodded, let go of the bag, and the two began to swim toward the boat.
The journey away from the depths was joyous. Monica was no longer scared and the satisfaction Owen felt was palpable. Dutifully, he watched the instruments that hung from his equipment to make sure they were not ascending too quickly in their fervor to get to the boat. A couple of times they looked at one another and grinned uncontrollably.
Owen’s elation quickly shifted to worry as they neared the surface. There were two boat hulls hovering on the surface of the water. Monica had not noticed it and he questioned whether he should alarm her. He did nothing until they got to the ten-foot stop. They drifted at the depth while Owen tried to develop a plan to get on the boat safely. The pirates would not leave before murdering all witnesses.
Thoughts raced through his mind until his concentration was broken when he saw the bag of coins ascending toward the boat. When it passed the couple Monica saw it too. She quickly looked at Owen and then toward the surface. There she saw the two boats. He saw the panic in her eyes before she began to swim quickly toward the surface. There was no other choice. He followed her.
When he reached the dive platform he took off his mask, tossed it over the side, and wiped away the saltwater from his eyes. He saw three Bahamians; one of whom held Monica by the arms from behind. His mask had landed at the feet of another man, who held a rifle with its butt against his hip and the barrel pointed skyward. Owen unbuckled his vest and allowed it to slide off his shoulders, sinking to the depths below. He knew that if he had any chance of saving his friend he had to be free of all encumbrances.
Reluctantly, Owen climbed into the boat. One of the men grabbed him and shoved him toward the helm. On the deck at the third man’s feet was his bag of coins. The apparent leader, the man with the rifle, saw that Owen was looking at what he considered his find.
“Nice bag of coins, huh?”
Owen acknowledged begrudgingly with a nod, and looked at Monica. There was a peace he sensed about her. Maybe she was simply relieved to breathe through her nose. Regardless, her demeanor had a calming affect on him, until he realized she might be in cahoots with the pirates. She appeared too calm. He was so nervous that it felt as though his legs would collapse beneath him at any moment.
“Take the wetsuit off the girl, mon,” the leader of the gang instructed the man who held Monica by the arms. “She might bring quite a price in the black market.”
Black Market, Owen thought. They really are going overboard trying to make it look like they aren’t all in this together. He looked into the faces of each of the men. None of them looked the least bit familiar to him. The two underlings wore side arms that were holstered and locked down with a leather strap. Appearing to be the most immediate threat was the leader. He had scars on his face that seemed to physically manifest a psyche that was equally damaged. He was jittery and sweat streamed down his face. The man paced back-and-forth in the small space between the boat’s stern and its helm, much like a caged lion contemplating his next move to ensure survival. Owen saw that his finger held the rifle’s trigger in a manner that was much too precarious for him to try to disarm the man. He looked once more at Monica. There was no way he could rely on her, and for his own safety had to count her as one of the bad guys. She will be taken out last, he thought.
The man holding Monica was wispy, yet wiry enough to present a threat to anyone who crossed him. She was spun around by her arms so that she faced him. He smiled at her through rotten teeth that were brown like his skin. She turned away in disgust. The leader sat on the edge of the boat and watched as his compadre unzipped the wetsuit she wore. When the zipper was just below her navel the man grabbed its open collar and pulled it over her shoulders and down to her waist. She stood helpless with nothing but a stringy bikini top to offer protection from physical and emotional abuse.
It became apparent to Owen by the men’s lustful stares they had never seen her before. Each of them was drawn in to her beauty and Owen saw his opportunity to strike while their minds entertained fantasies. Slowly, he slid his right foot backward to plant it at the juncture of the deck and the wall. He planned to spring toward the leader and disarm him before he had a chance to lower the barrel of his gun.
Just before making his move, the leader hopped off the edge of the boat and announced, “There will be time for that later. We need to get rid of the man,” he said as he lowered his gun and pointed it at his intended victim. When he turned to face Owen something caught his eye. “What’s that, mon?” the man pointed toward his dive belt. His hand shook and his manner was edgy. Something silver captured his attention.
Owen looked down. Hanging over the belt was the St. Christopher pendant that Julia had given him. Rather than spend time below gathering Spanish Pieces of Eight, Owen wanted to find the charm he had always used to guide him safely in his travels.
“I threw that overboard the last time I was on your boat.” The man walked toward Owen, reaching for it. Instinctively, Owen reached down and grabbed the necklace and held it tightly to his waist. The man lowered his gun and pressed it into Owen’s chest, pushing him backward and letting him know who was in charge. Owen held the charm tighter as rage grew within him. He thought about how Bobby made him grovel for the most basic of necessities, and how Jenny never came to his rescue. Living on the fringe for so long had colored his outlook on life and he realized that, with Monica’s help, life was not disposable. A week earlier he would have faced death and accepted it. The instinct to survive had never been stronger. He knew there was something greater that awaited him. What that was, he had no idea, but the desire to seek out experiences beyond the physical overcame him with a fury.
He lunged and grabbed the barrel of the leader’s rifle, then tried desperately to yank it from the man’s hands. His grip was too tight. A chill ran down Owen’s spine as he realized he had provoked the man and was unable to disarm him. Determination to fight until the very end cloaked him like a shield. Owen pushed the barrel of the gun skyward as he bull-rushed him.
The thug who held Monica at bay stepped back, planted his foot on the deck of the boat and lunged into her with a punch across her left cheek. She quickly collapsed onto the deck. Owen pushed the leader against the edge of the boat and had an advantage as the man leaned backward precariously over the water. He turned and saw the man who hit Monica kicking her ribs repeatedly. Owen pulled the rifle and the leader back into the boat. He had given up his advantage to try his best to take aim and shoot the pirate who was killing the only true friend he had ever known. The two men struggled mightily with the rifle, Owen desperately tried to hold a steady aim, and the leader tried with equal determination to disrupt him. Just as Owen felt he had a bead on the man, he felt a crushing blow to the back of his head. Desperation caused him to squeeze the trigger. The sound of the rifle reverberated across the water as Owen fell to the deck. He heard the leader yelling at one of his underlings. “You kill her. Take the damn gun out of its holster and shoot her right between the eyes.”
Through blurred vision Owen saw the silhouette of a man walking toward him and holding the rifle across his body. He knew he had to rush the man again. It was his only chance. He gathered his feet under him and acted a bit more dazed than he actually was in hopes of not exacerbating the man’s edginess. Just as he lunged at the man with every ounce of energy left in his body, Owen heard the distinctive click of the gun’s firing mechanism. His momentum shoved the man backward and over the side of the boat with ease. The man let go of the rifle as he waved his arms in the air trying desperately to regain his balance as he fell overboard. Somewhat astounded at his good fortune, Owen stood at the edge of the boat holding the rifle. Before he had a chance to gather himself, he realized that the man who was ordered to kill Monica was moving toward him. He held an aluminum gaff and raised it high over his head, then swung it swiftly downward, toward Owen. Pain radiated through Owen’s extremities as he held his left arm up to absorb the force of the blow. Instinctively, he drew his arm into his body to protect it from further damage. The rifle fell to the deck between the two men.
The pirate looked at the bent gaff he held in his hand and tossed it overboard. He drew his gun from its holster and took aim at Owen. Monica struggled mightily against the pain of broken ribs and a crushed jaw as she pivoted on her side in order to swing her legs around and trip the man. He fell, but held onto the gun. While he gathered himself, Owen reached for the rifle and pointed it at the man. He refused to fire it, shaking his head as he stared intently at the man imploring him not to fire his weapon. “Jump over the side of the boat and you can live.”
Without a word the man scurried to his feet and did just that. Owen and Monica were relieved to witness his acquiescence. He stood, holding his arm tightly to his stomach, and walked backward reaching for the captain’s chair as he watched Monica closely. When he felt the chair behind him he spun it on its pedestal and sat so that he faced the rear of the boat where she lay.
“Are you okay,” he asked.
She shook her head. “I can’t breath,” Monica replied, in a shallow voice and through clinched teeth. “I think my ribs are broken and I’m sure my jaw is too.”
Owen had forgotten about the third pirate, but realized he must have hit him when he pulled the rifle’s trigger. While the thought of having killed someone seeped into his psyche, Owen saw the hands of the pirate leader grabbing the side of the boat as he tried to pull himself aboard. He stood and walked slowly to where the man was; held the rifle firmly against his ribs with his good hand and pointed it at his head. It was obvious the man was filled with evil, and the only thing the other two were guilty of was not having an adequate spine. He mourned the one man he had been forced to kill, but this was not a man. If he did not shoot him Owen was certain that the man would live to terrorize others. A great sense of satisfaction came over him as he pulled the trigger and watched blood explode from the man’s forehead. He walked to the edge and watched as the pirate’s lifeless body sank into the water. Owen threw the rifle in behind him, and thought about how he might see him again if he ever came back to the wreck. He looked at his arm and could tell it was broken. It would be quite a while before he came back, if ever.
“Hey, Mon,” a voice called. Owen walked to the stern of the boat. He saw the second man treading water. He asked, “Can I get in my boat now?”
“Wait until we’re gone!” Owen barked.
“Mon, can you leave now, please? My arms are getting tired.”
Owen smiled, nodded and then walked back to the helm, stopping to pick up a machete. Quickly he hopped on top of the bow and cut away the anchor rope. The boat drifted while he walked cautiously back toward the controls. Once there he stopped and removed the Saint Christopher medal from his belt and hung it around the throttle lever. In one swift motion, he turned the ignition key and shoved the throttle forward sending the boat bouncing on top of the late afternoon ocean waves toward the nearest hospital on Stock Island. Monica was silent the entire trip. Her skin became pale and clammy. He worried several times that she had died. Remorse was an emotion he never understood, but he knew that he was responsible for her, and if she died he would never be able to forgive himself. Only then did he realize his animalistic rage had given way to an unyielding passion like he had never known. Guilt overcame him as he realized the contempt he held for those who chose a life based upon greed could be employed when describing him. Voracity for possessions that merely held physical value could no longer be ignored. He would have gladly traded his life for all that it provided, but when his avarice nearly killed Monica he understood their relationship meant more to him. Desires that were once carnal and mortal became spiritual and eternal.
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