Everything was grand at the Moreno Spa and Garden, a small landscaped resort abounding with broad leaf and flowering plants. Crystal clear pools flowed from one to the next, some obscured by vegetation and some open. The largest of which was the Opal Pit. A seemingly bottomless aquifer which opened like a crater and, at its deepest, where the light was dim, its angle turned somewhere unknown.
A man-made waterfall poured from a rocky crag where patrons could stand underneath as in a tropical paradise. The water flowed into the adjacent Opal Pit and beyond into smaller pools.
Men and women walked about the garden, some passive nature loving and some seeking romance. A tiki bar near the waterfall served exotic drinks, brimming with kabob’d fruits and paper umbrellas, designed to express the excess and beauty of a lifestyle indulged.
The Moreno, as the regulars referred to it, served as the perfect escape from domestic life. It was the second home of Cedric Balsworth when he went through his fourth divorce, a hideaway for Kitty King when her husband was imprisoned for tax evasion, and for Eduardo Calazans when he wanted to avoid responsibility.
The son of a wealthy taxi company owner, Eduardo carried himself with shoulders back and a raised nose, snobbish and dismissive. He always wore an unbuttoned silk shirt of various designs. His body was lean, yet unmuscular. His physical composition demonstrated a life unaccustomed to hard work.
On a warm sunny day, Eduardo disrobed and sat for a moment in a lounge chair. He adjusted a zipper on a yellow striped bowling ball bag, then walked to the Opal Pit, and jumped in.
Kitty appeared suddenly next to Cedric, who, given a start, reached for his pencil mustache with a flinching hand. “Oh, Kitty!”
Kitty stepped close to him, tippy toeing next to his tall, slender body. “There’s a turd in the punch bowl,” she said, blowing a lock of strawberry blond hair from her face and then a puff of cigarette smoke. They looked toward the Opal Pit, where Eduardo made a splash.
“Hm?” Cedric said, pinching his narrow chin that exaggerated his rectangular head.
“What do you mean, hmmmmmm?” Kitty replied.
She took a drag from her cigarette and blew a cloud toward Cedric’s face.
“You know that turns me on.” He closed his eyes until the smoke passed. “I said hm, not hmmmmmm,” Cedric replied. “Hm is questioning. Hmmmmmm implies sarcasm.”
“Well, then?” Kitty waited, holding her elbow above her other arm, which crossed her chest. Her cigarette smoldered with a pin stripe of smoke into the space between them.
“I don’t know,” Cedric answered. “That was the purpose of the, hm.”
Cedric turned with narrowing eyes at Kitty while a cloud of smoke erupted in his face once more.
“I think I’m ready for a drink,” Cedric said, staring through the smoke. “How about a Negroni to start the day?”
“Sounds splendid,” Kitty answered.
At the tiki bar, Cedric held two fingers in the air. “Due Negroni per favore.” Cedric commanded with a confident smile toward Kitty, who stood motionless.
“I’m from Ecuador, not Italy,” the athletic, square jawed bartender answered.
Kitty interrupted, “Yes, Huarton, we know, but Cedric can’t seem to get anything right until after his first drink.”
“Yes, sorry Horton.” Cedric added, twisting his mustache.
“It’s Huarton, not Horton,” the bartender snapped.
“Yes, yes, so right, so right,” Cedric shook his head.
Kitty looked out over the Opal Pit as Eduardo returned to his seat. He sat for a moment, then stood. She leaned back against the bar as her eyes widened. “Will ya get a load of that?” She said aloud as Eduardo neared the pool once again. “I swear it’s getting bigger every day.”
Cedric’s mouth dropped open with amazement as he watched Eduardo cradle his genitals with his right hand. “Good god! The man has a tumor.”
Kitty lit another cigarette and took a puff. “I’d like to perform an operation on that.”
Cedric turned toward Huarton. “Quick, man, I need that drink.”
Kitty looked on, pursing her lips, as Eduardo jumped in. Cedric twisted both ends of his mustache.
“Here are your drinks,” Huarton said, and then stepped away.
Cedric threw the paper umbrella from his glass and took a gulp. “You’re a shameless beer wench, Kitty.” A cloud of smoke engulfed his face. Cedric’s eyes narrowed. “Nice try, but it won’t do. I thought you hated that dirtbag.”
“I do, I do,” Kitty answered. She turned, lifted the umbrella from her glass, and took a sip.
“Well, if I’m not enough for you… Why don’t you just say it?” Cedric said as his glass clacked on the bar.
Kitty smirked. “No man’s enough for me, dear, so get over it.” She turned, facing the pool.
Cedric took another large swallow, then a deep breath, and turned around to face the Opal Pit. At the same moment, Eduardo climbed from the pool.
Kitty and Cedric both stood silent, their mouth’s open in question as Eduardo returned to his chair. His bulge had vanished.
“Hm?” Cedric questioned.
“Hmmmmmm.” Kitty added with a raised eyebrow. She twirled a small paper umbrella between her right thumb and forefinger. “That’s strange. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Cedric’s eyes narrowed. “Who would bring a bowling ball to the Moreno?”
Kitty and Cedric took their drinks to a small pool known as The Lilac Lagoon. The purple flowers of the bushes had since withered. A thick green leafy hedge now surrounded it.
Kitty lounged chest deep in the water, elbows back over the edge, with a glass in her hand. Cedric sat, his legs submerged below the knees. For a few minutes, neither spoke.
“I wonder what he took from his shorts?” Kitty asked.
Cedric’s eyes shifted to Kitty and then away. “You know, Zara used to say, ‘demons lurk below calm waters.'”
“Your second wife?” Kitty asked.
“Sorry, I keep forgetting. So, what does it mean?”
“It means, Kitty, that I don’t want to swim to the bottom of the Opal Pit, you conniving cat. I know what you’re thinking.”
“Who said anything about the bottom?”
“Ha! See? I was right. I don’t suppose you’d like to try it?”
“You know I can’t get my hair wet.” Kitty shot back.
“And you know I can’t go down for very long,” Cedric replied.
Kitty turned her head. “Ain’t that the truth,” she whispered.
Cedric’s eyes darted to Kitty. “What was that?”
“I said, ain’t enough vermouth… This Negroni needs more sweet vermouth.”
Cedric smacked his lips. “Tastes all right. I was thinking more gin.” He smiled.
“Light me a cigarette. My hands are wet,” Kitty said. “And tell me why I keep you around again?”
“Because I’m a dirty scoundrel and you’re a buxom wench.”
Kitty laughed, then looked around. “Make sure nobody’s near.”
Cedric lit a cigarette and placed the pack on the ground. He took a puff, then stretched his neck, swirling his head about. “The coast is clear.” He handed the cigarette to Kitty.
She held it in her teeth as a smile grew on her face.
“What is it, you conniving kitten?” Cedric asked. “I see you preening your claws.”
“I just had a get rich idea.”
“This isn’t going to end up like the pet ransom scheme you dreamed up?”
“Will you stop harping on that? I said the dog had a red collar, not a red color.”
“Well, I did what you said, and it was a disaster.”
“Who would paint a dog red?” Kitty asked rhetorically. “Oh, just forget about that. Now listen.”
Kitty stared through a cloud of smoke. “Remember the airport jewelry heist a few days back?”
“Yes?” Cedric questioned.
“The guy got away in a taxi.”
“Well, that’s a poor choice.” Cedric guffawed. “There’s never one when you need him. How could you guarantee a ride in such a hurry?”
Kitty looked at Cedric with half-open eyes and mouth, then scraped the ashes of her cigarette off on his thigh.
“Ouch! What was that for?” Cedric flinched.
“Don’t be a schmuck.” Kitty took another drag. “Eduardo’s father owns that cab company.” Kitty stared at Cedric wide-eyed. “Get it?”
Cedric’s eyes blazed with possibility. “Yes, yes, I get it…” He paused, then raised a finger. “The jewel stash is in the Opal Pit, and we’re going to get it!”
“That’s right, my darling Cedric.”
His jaw muscles clenched and his chest writhed with deep breaths. He downed his drink, then set the glass down. He glared at Kitty, who looked on in anticipation. “And now you’re going to get it, my little pussycat. I’m coming in.”
Kitty and Cedric returned to the tiki bar with their empty glasses. They looked out over the placid water of the Opal Pit.
Kitty pointed. “This is where Eduardo rose to the surface each time.” She pointed at the side opposite the waterfall.
Cedric nodded. “A small tunnel leads to the Blue Hole pond from there…” His eyes narrowed. “It’s not deep. You can swim through, but it gives me the creeps.”
“Is it dark?” Kitty asked.
“Only in the middle.”
“Well?” Kitty poked Cedric with her elbow. “The sooner the better, Eduardo’s gone.”
“These things take time.” Cedric’s eyes focused on the pool.
“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.”
Cedric turned to Kitty. “Did one of my ex-wives say that?”
“No, Miles Davis, now hurry.”
Cedric stood firm. “We haven’t decided how we’ll split it.”
“Even of course.” Kitty nodded.
“But I’m doing all the leg-work.” Cedric demanded.
“Leg-work? When this is done, I’ll give you some leg-work. Now get kicking. Besides, who do you think is going to fence this merchandise?”
“Fence?” Cedric asked.
“Yeah, move, squeeze, shuffle, sell the goods. I’m the one taking all the risks.”
“Well, now that you put it that way, I guess fifty-fifty is fair, but we still need a plan. Where are we going to put it? He made at least three trips, and who knows how many before that?”
“Leave that to me,” Kitty answered. “Right now, just see if something is there.”
Cedric took a deep breath and began stretching his arms. A voice came from behind them.
“Here you go, my love birds.” Huarton placed two drinks on the tiki bar.
Kitty and Cedric turned.
“Hm?” Cedric smiled.
“Hmmmmmm.” Kitty’s eyebrows knitted.
“On the house.” Huarton smiled with a bow of his head.
“Why thank you.” Cedric replied.
Kitty and Cedric placed their empty glasses on the bar and received their drinks.
Kitty pulled Cedric away by the arm. “Let me show you something, dear. The gladiolus near the warm spring look just marvelous.”
Cedric furrowed his brow. “Since when do you—”
Kitty touched her cigarette to Cedric’s arm.
“Ouch!” Cedric cried. “What was that for? I’m looking like an abused stepchild.”
“Be quiet.” Kitty glanced around. She pulled Cedric further away. “Huarton knows something,” she whispered.
“Yes, like how to make an excellent Negroni.” Cedric waggled his brows.
“No. Something about the stash.”
“How could he?” Cedric asked.
“The same way we did. Besides, he could have overheard us talking. We can’t waste any time and pour out your drink when we’re out of sight. I bet he’s trying to get us drunk.”
Cedric looked down at his glass. “I thought that’s what we were trying to do.”
“It’s time to go to work.”
“I hate those words.” Cedric answered.
The water of the small Blue Hole pond flowed from an underwater tunnel connected to the Opal Pit, only twenty feet away. Above the ground, Bougainvillea vines spilled over a fence on its far side. Crimson red flowers erupted like a lava flow. Kitty and Cedric crouched behind with the tiki bar in sight.
“Get ready to climb in,” Kitty ordered. “We’ll have to wait until Huarton takes a break.”
Kitty and Cedric spied on the bartender as he went about his work, polishing glasses and stocking the bar. A few drinks were served. Huarton made a phone call and then left in a rush.
“He’s gone. Now’s our chance. Get in there and look.”
Cedric stepped from behind the thorny flowered hedge. He eased into the Blue Hole, took a deep breath, and then descended underwater like a sinking ship, while holding his nose. A few feet below the surface, a four foot wide tunnel opened. The light of the Opal Pit lit the other end. Cedric swam through.
Ten feet into the tunnel, a crevasse held a large, white object. Cedric reached in and tugged, pulling on a rope that revealed a canvas sack, cinched shut. It sank to the floor of the tunnel from its weight. Cedric’s eyes bulged, straining to hold his breath. He let go and swam back to the Blue Hole.
Cedric burst through the surface of the water, gasping for air. His mustache drooped like whiskers on a wet cat. “It’s there, Kitty, it’s there.” Cedric called out.
“The stash?” Kitty whispered through vines.
“Yes,” Cedric winced, catching his breath. “In a heavy sack.”
Cedric’s eyes lit up as he turned to see Eduardo and Huarton standing together in swimming suits and pointing. “Good God! They’re in cahoots. Can you see Kitty? Eduardo and Horton—”
“Get it before they see us,” Kitty interrupted.
Cedric took a deep breath, submerging once again, and swimming through the tunnel to retrieve the sack. Kitty watched as Eduardo approached and jumped into the Blue Hole.
Small air bubbles dribbled from Cedric’s lips and danced above his head on the surface of the tunnel as he pulled the sack. He then turned to see Eduardo in the pond, staring at him through the opening. Cedric scrambled through the remaining length of the tunnel toward the Pit, pulling on the long rope.
He stopped at the end, his limbs spread out to the side of the tunnel, as small bubbles escaped upward from his lips. He stared into the ominous expanse of the Opal Pit. Light shone through the surface, white, then a deep dark blue fifty feet below. At its furthest depth, rocky outcrops obscured the direction of the aquifer that disappeared through meandering underground caverns and currents.
Above, Huarton scaled the side of the waterfall. He stood straight, chest out, and then leaped into a swan dive.
Cedric crouched at the precipice of the Opal Pit, frozen, the sack pulled at his arm. Above, an explosion of foam tore through the white surface and a torpedoing figure emerged. Huarton swam in his direction as Eduardo grabbed him from behind. Cedric leaped into the vastness before him. Eduardo followed, holding on to the sack.
Though each man swam upward, the weight of the sack held them in suspended animation. In between Cedric and Eduardo, Huarton joined the fight.
A large air bubble belched from Cedric’s lips as he mouthed the word, “HORTON”.
The three of them spun and flipped, each pulling at the sack. Cedric let go. His cheeks bulged, defying the impulse to breathe. Eduardo and Huarton continued the struggle. The weight of the jewels pulled at them as their arms and legs thrashed. Huarton rotated his body, spinning like a crocodile on a carcass, wrapping his arms in the rope.
Cedric reached the surface, took a breath, and then looked down into the water as Eduardo released his grip. Huarton, unable to use his arms, kicked violently. The heavy sack pulled him toward the dark blue.
Huarton seemed to smile, having the sack to himself. Then, a grimace of horror before an explosion of silver bubbles erupted from his mouth. His figure descended, blending with the murky darkness until he passed a rocky ledge. There, he vanished as if sucked into a vacuum cleaner.
Two day later, a crowd gathered around the Opal Pit as scuba divers emerged with the body of Huarton.
“Someone must have called for help after seeing him jump in and not come out,” Kitty said to Cedric as they watched.
“Do you see a white sack?” Cedric asked.
“No, I don’t, but I see Eduardo on the other side of the pit.”
Eduardo watched. He looked across at Kitty and Cedric, then left.
Kitty blew a puff of smoke. “You know what that means?”
“That the jewels are gone forever?”
“Eh, eh. It means you’re taking scuba diving lessons. Eduardo’s thinking exactly what we are.” Kitty flicked her ashes. “Put down your drink. I know a surf shop that rents that stuff.”
“I’m not going back in there!” Cedric demanded. “I nearly died, and you know I can’t stay down for very long.”
“Hm.” Kitty blew a puff of smoke into Cedric’s face. “That’s all going to change, my dear. Your deep diving lessons are about to begin.”
Cedric’s eyes narrowed. “Hmmmmmm?”