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Treasure of the Moon Goddess: Chapter 1

So here it is, the begining of Kristi Brickham's adventure!

Chapter 1

“Helga? Are you there? It’s me, Kristi,” I said, my breath coming out in a pant as if I’d just run ten miles. I hadn’t run, of course. I hated running, but the jitters that ran through my body made it hard to breathe.

My boss’ elderly secretary didn’t answer me. I knew she was still there. I could hear the rapid clicking of her computer keys. “Hello?”

“You will wait one moment,” Helga barked out in a Russian accent so thick I could barely understand her. “You are not the only one who demands Dr. Johansen’s attention.”

“Yes, I understand that, but this is super, crazy, important. I need to talk to Hans now. I’ve been trying to get ahold of him since yesterday, but he’s not answering his cell phone, his voicemail is full, and he isn’t responding to any of my emails.”

“He broke his phone again, but he knows of your discovery. He will email you shortly.”

“I thought he had a backup phone?” Honestly, Dr. Hans Johansen was one of the wealthiest men in the world. Why in the great beyond did the man not have a backup phone, or tablet, or a functioning landline not routed through his she-beast of an assistant, I would never know.

I was about to demand she put me through to him immediately when I heard the phone click. The woman had hung up on me. I rolled my eyes. “Honest to god, that woman,” I muttered and placed my phone face down on the bar.

The young bartender, who had wandered over to my end of the bar, backed up a step when a growl escaped my lips. I cleared my throat. “I’ll have a margarita,” I said and glared out over the aqua blue waters of the Caribbean.

The beachside bar was located where the white sand of the beach started. Palm trees leaned out over the water, their fronds rustling in the breeze. It was great. It was beautiful and breathtaking. The music coming from the overhead speakers changed to a soft bohemian song while patrons murmured, ate a variety of freshly caught fish, spicy french fries, and fruit-based cocktails. A few people stood at the railing separating the bar from the beach, holding their phones out, snapping pictures of the view. I snatched up my phone, except instead of snapping photos, I hit the refresh button on my email— again — with no change.

Inhaling deeply for focus and stopping myself from screaming in frustration, I forced myself to sign into my Facebook account as a distraction. Not that it was a great one per se.

Scrolling through my “friends” feeds are always filled with pictures of chubby-faced babies and kids on their way to sports games and dance practices. Or photos of a rural lake featuring happy couples that have decided to camp for their one week vacation, or just a lazy weekend of barbecuing and drinking beer around a fire pit all happily enjoying life — in the same town where we all grew up.

My feed is filled with happy things too, though they differ drastically from everyone else. I had no pictures of babies, or RVs parked at a lake or beer. Mine had pictures of broken bits of ancient pottery I had pulled from the Indian Ocean, or artifacts I had excavated from a flooded cave in France, or the odd-looking bug that had crawled inside of my tent while camping in Mexico. The last message I had read was from one of my friends from high school, Mallory, often pointed out that being an archeologist was a weird job, but that was okay, I couldn’t “help it” — whatever that means.

I sighed and licked the salt off the rim of my margarita when my inbox finally pinged with a new email.

Finally! And fumbled with the screen lock, scanning the message from my employer, benefactor, and fellow archeologist, Dr. Hans Z. Johansen, founder of the Johansen Exploration Corporation. The video I had sent him yesterday with my constant emails was enticing. I mean, how often does an archeologist find physical proof of something she thought she might never discover.

In his haste to write me back, he had not only written in a medley of Swedish and English. He had misspelled words and written one consecutive sentence, assuring me of his immediate departure from headquarters of J. E. Corp. in Stockholm, Sweden. Thank you, sweet baby Jesus! I couldn’t wait to get this project underway.

This trip was Hans’ first to the quiet little Island of Bimini in the Bahamas. I had been here several times before and was no stranger to diving in the vibrant turquoise waters, or lying out on the pristine beaches. Nor was it the first time I had explored one of the island’s main attractions — the Bimini Road.

Yesterday though was the first time I had spotted the oddity through the murky tropical water. The Bimini Road was an oddity in itself. It was made up of rectangular shaped blocks of limestone that gave the appearance of large road that hooked at one end to form a J. Since the Road's discovery in the late sixties, the mysterious origins of the rock formation was a topic of heated debates. No one could agree if the site were a natural structure or man-made, and if man-made who had created it and when. And I was about to enter into those turbulent waters of the debate, only I’d be armed with evidence to bolster my theory.

I re-watched the footage I had taken for what felt like the thousandth time. The water was cloudy with bits of seaweed and debris, but I was able to see a spiral carved into the side of one of the stones. About the size of my head, the carving spiraled out in perfectly measured increments, reminiscent of a seashell with shallow straight lines running through the center and disappearing beneath the sand line. It was one of the most breathtaking sights I had ever seen.

The water, ordinarily clear to the sandy bottom, had been stirred up by a severe tropical storm a week ago. The result had swept away sand, uncovering more of the stones that form the Road.

When I had heard about the fierce storm that had hit the small island, I almost decided not to go at all. Hans was the one who persuaded me to still make the trip. The day I had arrived on Bimini, I was again tempted to leave. The water was too cloudy to see more than a few feet, but I had decided to stay and catch a little down time— until yesterday. When I had woken and saw the water had cleared substantially, I knew I had to dive and start exploring. Talk about timing— luck, fate, destiny or whatever you wanted to call it, a few more days and the sand would have covered the spiral once more with no one the wiser.

I sipped at my drink slowly, squinting at the video as the graceful, arching swirls of the spiral appeared on my screen. This spiral could be the clue to what I’ve been searching for; To prove that bronze age sailors crossed the Atlantic thousands of years ago. Though my work for J. E. Corp had been stellar up over the last few years, the research in my field had lacked momentum. It had been two years since I had any breakthrough in my study of ancient maritime civilizations and I was starting to feel the tendrils of defeat.

I pulled up another video, one I had taken two months before and was the catalyst of why I was here on Bimini. It was of the island of Crete, south of the Greek mainland. For months I had studied pieces of a crumbling plaster of a fresco from a four-thousand-year-old temple. What made it so interesting was the fresco depicting a voyage; a voyage that looked as if it had sailed across a large body of water and made landfall on a series of islands, before finally ending on a large landmass. Above the ships, painted in red and gold were a series of spirals of various sizes; The same spiral I had seen on the Bimini Road the day before.

I had dived the Bimini Road site only a few times before yesterday, each time as a tourist on vacation. The waters surrounding the site were crystal clear and warm, the fishing excellent, and the people were some of the happiest and friendliest I had ever met. One of the locals and the captain of a boat I had rented, had become a close friend over the years. So, when I had called to say I would be visiting again, this time on a work project, Emilio hadn’t hesitated to offer up his boat for what he called my “adventures.”

“Excuse me, Dr. Brickham? Kristi Brickham?”

Surprised by the voice just over my shoulder, I jumped, choking on a mouthful of margarita. “What the hell?” I gasped and cleared my throat. I turned to the man who now stood beside me. Where in the hell had he come from? He was about my age, thirty or so, clean-shaven, and looked as if piles of books covered in dust should surround him, instead of here, looming over me at a beachside bar. I wondered how long he had been standing there and how much of the video he had seen. I was so focused on my work. I wouldn’t have noticed a troop of dancing gorillas.

I snapped the lid of my laptop closed. It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that the video was the Bimini Road. The stones were iconic to the area and easily identifiable, especially since I was sitting at an ocean-front bar not 500 yards away from the site.

The man didn’t seem daunted by my reaction. He extended a hand, “My name is Dr. George Morrison. You are Dr. Brickham, right?”

I hesitated briefly before taking his well-manicured hand. My gaze swept up his arm to his face. He was tall and absurdly dressed for the laid back island setting. He wore a tweed suit and bowtie despite the ninety-degree heat and crazy humidity. Sweat beaded on his forehead and ran down the side of his well-cut jaw. He absently ran a hand through dark hair that swept back with a mixture of hair gel and sweat. It wasn’t a good look.

“Yes, I’m she,” I said, warily.

“Great!” he exclaimed, “I’ve been searching all over the island for you.”

“Oh?” I said and placed an arm over my laptop, fully prepared to make a run for it.

“Yes, well, I did try your hotel first, but they were no help. All they would say was that you were out. It was only luck I passed by and recognized you from the picture on your latest article. I have recently read your expedition to Crete and found it quite fascinating. It was brilliant to include the insight of the maritime people who had created the temple.”

“Thank you?” I said, confused. Who was this guy? Probably fifty people had read my paper on the Temple of Knossos, most of them being coworkers. My brain finally clicked into motion and a sudden foreboding sunk into my very core. No, no, no, I closed my eyes briefly — a coworker, or worse yet, an affiliate that Hans had hired recently.

Dr. Morrison nodded and slid, uninvited, onto the stool next to me. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m bothering you.”

I looked around me to see if this was some kind joke. Maybe my best friend Helena had set this up? It would be like her to do something like this. My friend was sweet, but devious when she was bored. She had remarked about how my life wasn’t spiciness enough right before I left.

“It has occurred to me,” I said and wondered how he knew I would be here on Bimini.

“Yes, well then, I’ll get straight to the point. For months now I’ve been studying the habitation and culture of Native Americans we call the Mount Taylor Period on the East coast of Florida,” he said, then paused.

It took me a moment before I realized he was waiting for something; a response, or recognition of his work, “Ok?”

“Last year, I was sifting through a particularly large midden heap and found several fragments of pottery. You see, pottery associated with the Native Americans of that time and location—”

I held up a hand interrupting him, “Did Hans send you?"

George grinned, “Yes, I was notified by his secretary last night. He thought my expertise in Native American cultures could be of great help to you. Since I was already in Miami, it was only an hour long flight here this morning.”

Damn it! Why the hell didn’t Helga say anything about this, and why was it Hans had time to email this guy and not me? I glared at the man seated beside me. I understood the companies protocol whenever one of us found an artifact of interest or sensitive. All hands on deck and what not, but why hadn’t he told me about Doctor Morrison in his email. I had never seen this man in my life, nor heard of any of his work.

Paranoia reared its ugly head as I gave him another once over. Maybe he was lying, and he wasn’t an employee or affiliated with us. That would make sense why Helga hadn’t warned me of his impending arrival. My perusal must have made him nervous; more sweat beaded his brow, and he fidgeted with a slim leather briefcase I hadn’t noticed before.

“I’ve never seen you at the main office before,” I said, my irritation causing my voice to harden ever so slightly.

He blinked rapidly; he hadn’t expected my question. His mouth opened and closed like a fish. “I’ve only been to the main office once. It is something I don’t relish in repeating.”

“Why’s that?” I asked, confused. The main offices of Johansen Exploration in Stockholm, Sweden was an incredible complex of offices, employee apartments, antiquities museum, and small botanical garden. It was an idyllic workspace.

He paused, his mouth flatting into a thin line. “Dr. Johansen’s secretary was quite rude and flat out refused to help me when I asked for a meeting with him. It was almost two weeks before I was able to speak with him.”

My eyebrow lifted. Okay, so George, and I, and everyone else that worked for J. E. Corp had that in common. Even so, Helga was above all fair-minded and got tasks completed, and scheduled meetings with ruthless efficiency. I had a feeling he must have been irritating and condescending.

“So, let me get this straight, you just dropped your current excavation in Florida to come here. Just like that?” I asked, snapping my fingers.

“Yes, well, my university and I have come to something of a fork in the road. I believe the pottery fragments are of a design of a superior culture. They disagreed with my theory of the pottery’s origin and refused to let me investigate further. When I protested in defense of my theory, the university went so far as to put one of my colleagues in charge of my dig. So, I applied to Hans Johansen Exploration. He’s well known for his philanthropy in helping scholar’s conduct their studies,” he replied crossing his arms over his chest, his cheeks heating to a blotchy red.

I knew he didn’t like my questioning the abandonment of his work. I might as well have accused him of child abandonment. Professionally, it was a slap in the face; to have your theories shot down, then be replaced by another colleague to oversee your project. It hurt and was a betrayal. But over the years and past experiences, I’ve learned you could never be too careful in protecting your work. My discovery was my new baby, and I didn’t like the idea of sharing it with someone I didn’t know. Even more so now, because George seemed like he had something to prove and that had my senses on high alert. I also had a gut feeling there was something else— something he didn’t want to tell me; Call it intuition.

“So you're here to further your theory as well as assist me?” I reiterated, “And you think to explore the origins of the pottery you found by working with me?”

“Yes, exactly, I realize we just met, but I think we could benefit each other in the long run. I have a vast knowledge of the ancient tribes of North America and the Caribbean. I could be a tremendous asset to Dr. Johansen and you,” said George.

He scooted his stool closer to me until his legs blocked mine up against the bar, inadvertently trapping me. I clenched my teeth. The action made me want to deck him, snatch my things up, and make a run for it. Not that he noticed — George barely stopped for breath as he continued. “My knowledge and background are first-rate. And with your help, I can’t take my research to the next step.”

“I don’t think this project is the right—” I began.

“Can I call you Kristi?” He interrupted, clicking open his briefcase. “I was hoping you could review these. I have no doubt you’ll find them useful.”

He lifted a thin stack of what looked like pictures and a map from his briefcase.

I stared at the middle of his forehead, watching the sweat bead up as he unsuccessfully tried to get me to take it from him, finally setting them on top of my laptop. I frowned at them, then at him, my cheeks flushing and a twisting knot began to formed in my stomach. I had a bad feeling, something was off. “I don’t think this project is right for you.”

George sat up, ramrod straight on his stool and wiped at the sweat on his temple, “But my theory…”

“Yes, let’s talk about your theory. I have a feeling you're not telling me everything. Not to mention that most institutions don’t drop their archeologists like a bad habit over a disagreement. So, Dr. Morrison, please tell me again about your theory on the pottery you found,” I said, watching the way his eyes slewed over to the side where his papers lay. I knew it. He was hiding something.

“I feel you’ll have better insight if you would look through my notes before we have a discussion.”

I leaned back and folded my arms, sighing heavily. “Just tell me what it is.”

“My research has led me,” he said, clearing his throat loudly. “To believe… that the legendary Fountain of Youth is here in the Caribbean somewhere and not in Florida,” he finished in a rush.

My eyebrows shot up, and I had to fight the grimace that was trying to creep across my face. Had I heard right?

“Now, by the look on your face, I can see you’re already jumping to conclusions. I’m sure you’re wondering where and how I have come to this conclusion. Let me expound,” George said and tapped the folded paper on top of the stack. It was a map of the Eastern coast of Florida and the entire island of Bimini.

I lifted my now empty margarita glass and waved it like a flag, hoping the bartender would refill it post haste. It was unprofessional to drink while listening to another colleague rhapsodized over their work, but it was this or I would gather my stuff up and leave. This man was a co-worker— so he said— and Hans had wanted him here. I got that, but I’d be damned if I’d let him have input on my project when I now knew he was crazy.

I slid his folder back to him, wrinkling several of the papers as I did so. “Well, you found it. The locals call it the Healing Hole. If you rent a kayak and head out to the mangroves on the East side of the island, you’ll see a sign for it. I believe you can even swim in it.”

George puffed out his cheeks, snatching up the papers and smoothing them out the best he could. “I already know about the Healing Hole. That’s not what I’m talking about; I believe the Fountain of Youth was something else completely.”

“I don’t want to know,” I mumbled into the fresh glass of mango margarita, staring sourly at the marshmallow happy face the bartender had stuck on the top.

“Dr. Brickham,” he said, though a jaw so clenched that it caused the muscle there to tick.

“George, you need to go away and leave me alone. Hans may have invited you here, but I didn’t. I’m not interested in your Fountain of Youth, or your theory, or anything else swirling around in that head of yours,” I said, finally looking him in the eyes— I hated confrontation. “I’ve had enough trouble in the academic world. I don't want to have any association with some theorist who thinks myths are facts. Hans might tolerate your theory, but I won’t have my work discredited because you're trying to work in a Fountain of Youth angle.”

“I just thought since you work with J. E. Corp that you would have an open mind, but I am mistaken. You’re no different then those close-minded idiots who sit in the lairs of universities across the world. No, you know what? You’re worse because you’ve affiliated yourself with Dr. Johansen who is known for his wider thinking,” he said, raising his voice and drawing the attention of several nearby patrons. “Hans made it clear you found something of interest here on the island, what else could it be if not the Fountain of Youth.”

I froze in my seat and wanted to slap the words he had just shouted back down his throat. Sweat trickled down my back as I gripped the edge of the bar so I couldn’t smack the idiot sitting beside me. I couldn’t panic, it would only draw more attention to us. Bimini was a tiny island, and many people had no doubt observed Emilio, and I was diving on the Bimini Road yesterday. I stood, clutching my laptop to my chest with one hand and shoving his knees out of the way with the other.

“Hold on,” he said, putting out his hand to stop me.

“No!” I snapped.

“Is this man bothering you, Kristi?” asked a warm, familiar voice.

I turned, relieved to see Emilio standing behind me. With his feet braced apart and arms folded across his chest, he was an imposing figure. He glowered down at George.

“Nope, I was just leaving,” I said, looping my arm through Emilio’s, “Let's go.”

Emilio nodded once to George and led me dutifully out onto the boardwalk.

As we turned the corner, I looked back and caught a glimpse of George leaning against the bar, his arms folded across his chest. It was meant to be a casual pose, but the glare he leveled my way would have set me on fire. It didn’t bode well for our working relationship in the future. I knew I would see George all too soon. No doubt he’d spend the rest of the afternoon and evening at the airport waiting for Hans to land.

I let out a long exhale when we were out of sight. No wonder Helga had been such a viper, especially if had acted the same way with her as he did with me.

“Are you all right?” Emilio asked, patting my small hand with his bear-sized one. His voice a melodic Bahamian roll that was comforting.

I sighed and shook out the tension in my shoulders. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“I thought at first he was hitting on you. It wasn’t until I got close enough to hear what he was saying that I knew he was bothering you. If he bothers you again, you, and I’ll take care of him, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, grinning. I knew Emilio. He wouldn't hurt a fly, but at six foot six and almost three pounds, he just looked like he could and would. “Emilio, did you see that man hanging around the marina earlier today?”

He chuckled. “No, and I would have remembered him if he had been wearing that suit. Why?”

I rolled my eyes. “His name is George Morrison, and he thinks we are searching for the Fountain of Youth, oh, and just shouted it out to a bar full of people that we found something. All it would take is some curious tourist to dive on the spot and find the spiral.”

Emilio fingered one of his shoulder-length dreadlocks. “But you said the Fountain of Youth. Let’s hope if anyone does start poking around, they’ll think of the Healing Hole.”

“I hope so. Hey, if you see George again before Hans arrives tomorrow, or see him snooping around the other boats, be sure and let me know.”

I didn’t relish the idea of leaving my discovery unguarded. Some would think I was overreacting or just plain paranoid. But my worst fear was to wake up and find an army of treasure hunters flocking to the Road, thinking there was a treasure to be found and compromising the site. The very thought of it caused sweat to pop out all over my body. Thanks to George, I knew time was not on our side.

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