Everything was grand at the Moreno Spa and Garden, a 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.
The Moreno, as the regulars referred to it, opened each day at nine o’clock am. Many patrons gathered, hoping to seize the best spots, or occupy their favorite pools. Snobbery was not in short supply, and a position at the line’s front demanded that you glance backward to the peasants in the rear with a raised eyebrow.
Cedric Balsworth, a lanky, brown-haired man with a pencil mustache, swiveled his head, looking out over the gathering crowd in line with a toffee-nosed expression. His long forehead provided a hint of the intelligentsia. This could not have been further from the truth.
He scanned the crowd until his eyes met those of Kitty King, who stood mid-way in the rear. Wavy locks of strawberry blonde hair curved around her neck stopping above an upmarket, metallic gold swimsuit. Her sumptuous breasts pushed upward. Cedric’s eyes faltered between her penetrating stare and her cleavage, like watching a child play with a Yo-Yo.
Kitty’s head made a sharp tip to the left. Cedric mimicked her motion, tipping his head, which was of course in the opposite direction.
“No,” Kitty mouthed the word, while rolling her eyes.
Cedric recounted his action, looking upward. He turned until his body was facing forward again. There, in front of him, a swanky, high-heeled Gloria Ellerman, stood waiting with a single oversized bag over her right shoulder. A large blue and white striped wide brimmed sun hat shielded her from the site of Cedric’s periscoping head.
Cedric looked back toward Kitty with a questioning expression. Kitty made a slow and deliberate nod up and down. Cedric reached up and twisted one end of his mustache, while taking a deep breath. He balled his hand into a fist, against his mouth. There was a pause, while Kitty readied herself. In that moment, a cacophony of hacks and coughs erupted from Cedric as he bent forward, leaning on Gloria and stripping her bag from her body. Everything Gloria and Cedric held, fell into a pile on the ground. Gloria turned, her face contorted with disgust as Cedric leaned on her hacking.
“Cedric!” Kitty shouted as she rushed from the rear of the line. “Are you ok, my dear?” She grabbed at the items on the ground, holding them in her grasp as Cedric regained his composure.
She rolled up Cedric’s towel and handed it to him, then Gloria’s bag to her.
“You had better get right into that dry sauna, Mister Balsworth,” Gloria said with a wagging finger.
The line moved and without another mention of it, Gloria walked forward, but not without a confident glance backward at the waiting crowd. At the entrance window, Gloria riffled through her bag. “Where’s my purse?” She whined as Cedric and Kitty showed their passes and separated into the men’s and women’s entrances.
Inside the Moreno Spa and Garden, a man-made waterfall poured from a rocky crag where guests could stand underneath, as in a tropical paradise. The water flowed into the adjacent Opal Pit and beyond into smaller pools.
People walked about the garden, single or in couples, some passive nature-loving, and some seeking romance. Most, in a state of utter relaxation. A tiki bar near the Opal Pit served exotic drinks, brimming with kabob’d fruits and paper umbrellas, designed to express the excess and beauty of a lifestyle indulged.
The spa served as the perfect escape from domestic life. It was the second home of Cedric Balsworth when he recovered from his fourth divorce. For Kitty King it was a hideaway after federal authorities imprisoned her husband for tax evasion and a brief respite 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 bowling shirt. His body was lean, yet unmuscular. His physical characteristics showed a life unaccustomed to hard work.
As the sun rose higher in the late morning, Eduardo took off his shirt and reclined in a lounge chair. He removed his aviator sunglasses, sat up, and looked around. He adjusted a zipper on a yellow striped bowling ball bag, next to his chair, then stood and walked toward the Opal Pit.
Cedric waited on a flagstone patio just a few steps from the tiki bar. Kitty appeared next to him. Given a start, Cedric reached for his pencil mustache with a flinching hand. “Oh, Kitty!”
“So what was the take?” Kitty spoke from the side of her mouth.
“Two-hundred and twenty-three dollars and twenty-eight cents, three credit cards, and one ticket to see La Bohème, eighty dollars a ticket I happen to know,” Cedric answered waggling his eyebrows.
“La di dah,” Kitty replied. “You take the ticket, I get the cards and we split the dough. Deal?”
“Well… Why don’t we split the cards?” Cedric answered.
“Cause all you’re gonna do is get us caught. You haven’t got the slightest clue on how NOT to get caught.” Kitty lit a cigarette and took a puff. “You go see La Boner, or whatever the hell. I’ll go see La Nordstrom.”
“It’s La Bohème, an opera by Puccini.” Cedric’s lips puckered.
“An Italian?” Kitty’s mouth dropped open. “That figures, he’s dead, and he’s still taking everyone’s money.”
“Ok—deal.” Cedric crossed his arms pouting.
Kitty stepped close to him, standing on her tip-toes next to his tall frame. “There’s a turd in the punch bowl,” she said, blowing a lock of strawberry blond hair from her face with a puff of smoke.
They looked toward the Opal Pit, where Eduardo made a splash.
“Hm?” Cedric said, pinching his narrow chin that exaggerated his large forehead.
“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 answered. “Hm is questioning. Hmmmmmm implies sarcasm.”
“Well, then?” Kitty waited, propping her elbow upon her other arm. Her cigarette smoldered with a pinstripe of smoke in 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’m ready for a drink,” Cedric said, staring through the smoke. “How about a Negroni to start the day?”
“Which of your hoity-toity drinks is that again?” Kitty asked. “I was thinking a beer.”
Cedric counted with his fingers as he spoke, starting with his pinky. “One part Gin, one part Campari, and one part Sweet Vermouth.”
“Sounds good enough,” Kitty answered.
At the tiki bar, Cedric held two fingers in the air. “Due Negroni per favore,” Cedric commanded, with an Italian accent and a confident smile toward Kitty.
“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 the crotch of his swimsuit 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 as he waited.
“Here are your drinks,” Huarton said, and then stepped away.
Cedric tossed 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 blinked. “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. A minute passed, and Eduardo climbed from the water.
Kitty and Cedric both stood silent, their mouths open in question as Eduardo returned to his chair. His bulge had vanished.
“Hm?” Cedric questioned.
“Hmmmmmm,” Kitty hummed with narrowing eyes. She twirled a small paper umbrella between her right thumb and forefinger. “That’s strange. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Cedric stood with a blank expression. “Who would bring a bowling ball to the Moreno?”
Kitty shook her head. “Let’s go somewhere private.”
Kitty and Cedric took their drinks to a small pool known as The Lilac Lagoon. The purple flowers of its namesake had since withered. A thick green leafy hedge now surrounded it.
Kitty lounged chest-deep in the water, elbows back over the flagstone 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 said.
Cedric’s eyes shifted toward 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 alright. I was thinking more gin.” He smiled.
“Light me a cigarette. My hands are wet,” Kitty said. “And tell me again why I keep you around?”
“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, my little kitten?” Cedric asked. “I see you preening your claws.”
Kitty stared off. “I just had a get-rich idea.”
A wry expression grew on Cedric’s face. “This isn’t going to turn out like the pet ransom scheme you dreamed up, is it?”
“Will you stop harping on that?” Kitty rolled her eyes. “I said the dog had a red collar, not a red color.”
“Well, I did what you said, and it was a disaster.” Cedric nodded.
“Who would paint a dog red?” Kitty asked rhetorically. “Oh, just forget about that. Now listen.”
Kitty inhaled deeply on her cigarette. The lit end crackled. She exhaled and stared through the cloud of smoke with bedroom eyes. Her teeth peeked with a sinister smile. “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 it. How could you guarantee a ride in such a hurry?”
Kitty tilted her head sideways. She looked at Cedric with half-open eyes and mouth, then scraped the ashes of her cigarette on his thigh.
“Ouch!” Cedric flinched. “What was that for?”
“Don’t be a schmuck.” Kitty took another puff. “Eduardo’s father owns that cab company.” She 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.”
Cedric’s jaw muscles clenched and his chest writhed with deep breaths. He gulped 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 inky, placid water of the Opal Pit.
Kitty pointed. “This is where Eduardo rose to the surface each time.” She pointed at the side opposite from 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, biting his fingernail.
“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, sweating with condensation on the tiki bar.
Kitty and Cedric turned.
“Hm?” Cedric smiled.
“Hmmmmmm.” Kitty’s eyebrows knitted.
“On the house.” Huarton bowed his head.
“Why thank you,” Cedric replied.
Kitty and Cedric placed their empty glasses on the bar and picked up their drinks.
Kitty pulled Cedric away by the arm. “Let me show you something, dear. The gladiolus near the warm spring…” She paused as her eyes shifted. “They 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.” Kitty looked at him sternly.
“I hate those words,” Cedric answered.
The water of the small Blue Hole pond flowed from a tunnel connected to the Opal Pit, only twenty feet away. Above the ground, Bougainvillea vines spilled over a fence around it. Crimson red flowers erupted from the vines like a lava flow. Kitty and Cedric crouched behind the fence 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. After a few drinks were served. Huarton made a phone call and then left in a rush.
“He’s gone. Now’s our chance. Let’s go,” Kitty ordered.
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 from the Opal Pit on the other end, guided Cedric as he swam.
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 swam 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 sides of the tunnel, as small bubbles escaped 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 tunnel, frozen. The sack pulled at his arm. Before him, an explosion of bubbles tore through the white surface and a torpedoing figure emerged. Huarton swam toward him. In that instant, Eduardo grabbed Cedric from behind. Cedric jumped into the vastness. Eduardo followed, holding on to the sack.
Though each man swam upward, the weight of the jewels held them in suspended animation. In between Cedric and Eduardo, Huarton closed in, joining the struggle.
A large air bubble belched from Cedric’s lips as he mouthed the word, “HORTON”.
The three men spun and flipped, each pulling at the sack. Cedric let go. His cheeks bursting, defying the impulse to breathe. Eduardo and Huarton continued their tug of war. The weight of the jewels pulled at them as their arms and legs thrashed, clawing at the surrounding water. Huarton rotated his body, spinning like a crocodile on a carcass, wrapping his body 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 smiled, having the sack to himself. Then, a grimace of horror waved over his face, before an explosion of silver bubbles erupted from his mouth. His body descended, flinching once or twice, then relaxed, fading into the murky darkness until he passed a rocky ledge. There, he vanished as if sucked into a vacuum cleaner.
Two days 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?”