Hayden leaned back, accusation in his eyes. “Back to the item you so quickly glossed over...” His eyes drilling into Carlos. “You said it was in fact you who hacked Maximum Pharmaceuticals?”
“Yes.” Carlos replied, simple and direct. “Not me per say, but someone I trust, paid very handsomely to recover any information I deemed should not be in the hands of anyone.”
Hayden waited in silence. When he realized he was not getting anything more out of Carlos, he challenged him. “Why is that?”
Carlos held his hands open. “Besides the fact I felt no one should have to suffer as I did, I never trusted the executives at Maximum Pharmaceuticals with the information.”
Hayden seemed to share the sentiment, as did Danica now, yet this was still new information to them, so he had to ask the question. “Why not?”
Carlos stood and moved about the kitchen. “Originally, I only had possession of my eight pages, which I kept safely here for decades. I had assumed my diary was long destroyed in the fire. Ironic now that I think about it.” He was pacing. “When I discovered my diary had survived, I was stunned. I later discovered a smaller museum had found the original journal a few years back, how I will never know, but I tried my best to get it back.” He paused with resignation. “But to no avail.”
Danica had now turned into the conversation and was listening intently. “So what happened?”
Carlos smiled that Danica had proven interested. “Well from my investigations, I determined the journal was not considered all that important, thus the museum had it stored. It seemed they’d rather keep it in a box out of the way than to display it or sadly, sell it to an interested collector.”
“You being the collector?” Hayden remarked.
“Yes.” Carlos replied emphatically. “But to my good fortune, not theirs, the museum later failed in its operations, forcing them to put its acquisitions up for sale, including my memoirs. I knew I had my chance to get it back.”
“But you didn’t get it?” Danica asked, already knowing the answer.
“At the time, I played fair.” Carlos sounded regretful he had done so. “I attended the Bristol auction as scheduled to purchase it, if for no other reason than it was rightfully mine. And I felt my declaration of it having been mine one hundred years after my reported death might have proven an uphill battle.”
Hayden found some amusement in that. “You were outbid I assume?”
“You can say that.” Carlos seemed to get angry as he said it. “The item was sold before the auction, a week prior.”
Hayden looked confused. “How is that possible? I thought once sale items are put to auction, or placed in an auction catalogue, it’s sold at the show without deviation. From what I know, missing items from a potential sale could damage an auction house’s reputation.”
“Normally yes, but money talks.” Carlos showed his annoyance at the act by clenching his fists and holding them. “It’s uncommon, but possible. That and though my journal was a part of the inventory, it was considered shelf filler, not a true prize, so it never made it into the auction listing. It was to be included with one of the actual items according to the young lady running the show. So by the time I arrived, my journal was long gone.”
“How did you find it again?” Danica queried.
“It took a small fortune and a lucky break after a few weeks of private eye work to later discover, Anthony Darby, Maximum Pharmaceuticals current COO had purchased it and to my dismay, my original medical records.” Carlos stated.
Considering their own observations of Carlos healing, the notes by the medical doctor who had cared for Carlos over the years had to be a phenomenal acquisition, Danica surmised. If for no other reason, it supported the treasure at the end of the quest by an unbiased source through documentation of an unexpected origin.
For the Thornes, it had to be an addictive morsel to continue their mission for the prize, and as proven, at any cost.
Carlos then declared out of the blue. “Some things were never meant to be found.”
Danica’s blood ran cold. ‘That’s what exactly the attacker in South America said in front of her greenhouse on the night of the chamber’s destruction.’ She rose from her seat, staring icily at Carlos, backing away from him.
Hayden seeing his partner’s reaction also rose to side with her.
Before they could continue, Carlos raised his hands in surrender. “Please. Don’t be alarmed. I’m well aware of what I just said.”
Hayden was not, as he had not been present with Danica at the attack in her camp. Though she had told him prior, he had focused on the act itself, not the conversation.
Carlos turned to Hayden. “I should begin by apologizing to you Doctor Lattimer.”
“Me?” Hayden looked confused. “Why me?”
“As Doctor Swift has deduced, I was the one who had the chamber destroyed.” Carlos said it with such calm and reserve, it was like he had archeological treasures destroyed every day. “I paid a mercenary to find its location and destroy any and all existence of it, including any possibility of it being rediscovered.”
Hayden now understood the reasoning for the acid wash used on the chamber walls. But still, he was not impressed. “You sent a man to attack us and destroy the chamber on a whim?” Hayden stated in dismay. “Do you know how old that chamber was?” More concerned with history than his well-being.
“It was not a whim. And yes, I did and I would do it again without a moment’s hesitation.” Carlos felt no remorse in his declaration.
Hayden was open mouthed. “Your man nearly blew us up.”
Danica turned in Hayden’s direction. “I told you before, we were half a kilometer away.”
Ignoring Danica’s last statement, Hayden challenged. “But he did attack Danica.”
Carlos shook his head. “He was given very specific instructions not to harm you.” He turned to Danica. “But as I was informed, it was to you I should have given those instructions.”
Danica grinned remembering her satisfying kick and gunshot having sent the man running.
“Plus I had no idea who you were at the time.” Carlos defended. “I was trying to destroy any path to the island. The longer the chamber remained open, the better the chance someone could have found the route. I had no idea what was written in there and I couldn’t take the chance.”
“How did you find out about it so quickly?” Danica asked. “We barely only discovered it before it was assaulted upon.”
“Your report.” Carlos answered matter-of-factly. “It was remarkably detailed. The internet is nothing if not a perfect pool in which to fish. With the right filters for certain words, text or lines, at strategically placed servers around the globe, no matter how encrypted, information can be netted, redirected and reviewed.”
Hayden was impressed with Carlos’ network. “What happened to your guy?”
Carlos gave them both a puzzled look. “I’ve no idea. I lost track of him in Toronto. He was supposed to intercede at the hotel and get the laptop. He never checked in. Chances are, the worst.”
“Just so you know we didn’t get rid of him or anything.” Hayden added.
Carlos smiled warmly. “I didn’t suspect that in the least. Once he failed to check in, I put the pages up for grabs as fast as possible, making special care to email details to your company.” Looking to Danica. “Baiting the snare.”
“Why them?” Danica asked. “Just because they bought your journal?”
“I have been investigating many avenues for years in regards to paths leading to the island.” Carlos took a breath. “And using Rios’ vast fortune made it easy.” He looked up to Danica. “And at almost every turn, I found Maximum Pharmaceuticals right ahead of me. Buying books, acquiring maps and absconding with any evidence of the island they could. That and of my original trip in the 1800’s. Amazingly, once in their possession, the information vanished. So I suspected they were after the island. I had no desire to share in their hunt until now.” He turned to both Danica and Hayden. “But I believe the only reason for your involvement is your discovery of the story chamber. A rather lucky find for them. And of what I know of them, they are ruthless in their endeavors, so you should count yourselves very lucky they chose not to rid the world of you both already with what you know.” He leaned back. “Presuming they have not already planned it.”
Hayden and Danica found that entirely discomforting.
Hayden was suddenly more interested in the dirt on his now former employers than the loss of the chamber. “What did your private investigators discover?”
Carlos gritted his teeth, almost like he was disgusted at what he found. “You’re aware Maximus and Maxima are twins right?”
“You mean there is another set of them out there?” Hayden chuckled. “Great more two bible thumping muscle bound punks to contend with.”
Carlos shook his head, cutting Hayden off. “No. I mean, they’re fraternal twins. Brother and sister.”
Hayden’s joke died on his tongue. His felt his facial muscles scrunching up. “What? But they said they’ve been married for over twenty years.”
Carlos shrugged. “I never said they weren’t also married.”
Hayden grimaced even more. “But that would mean their boys are incestuous children?” He said it with such disgust, he looked like he was going to lose his own lunch. “Though that would explain their looks.”
Danica burst with a sudden laugh, amazed at Hayden’s ability to see the funny side of the situation.
“What about their parents?” Hayden queried. “They had to see what was happening.”
“I’m afraid not.” Carlos replied. “Both their parents died when they were very young. They assumed control of the company when they turned eighteen. They spent a great deal of money covering up their past, but I’ve been around for a very long time and have connections far beyond theirs.”
Hayden got a chill thinking back to that conversation in the corporate head office. ‘We were born to be a couple.’ He shivered inwardly. He quickly looked in Danica’s direction. “Don’t you research your employers before you apply?”
Danica was offended. “First, they head-hunted me ,not the other way around. And second, you’d be surprised how few times the question doesn’t come up in the job interview. ‘Oh by the way, love your wedding bands. Are you two also brother and sister?’”
Carlos laughed, continually amused at Danica and Hayden’s intelligent, yet comical arguments, even if somewhat childish. “Look. We still have an advantage. The island is two miles down from the surface, preceded by a maze of caves far longer. Even if they beat us to the cave, they still have to find their way down and let me assure you, it is not a simple feat.”
“Do you remember the way?” Danica asked with hope in her eyes.
“Honestly no.” Carlos replied, watching as Danica’s eyes dropped a touch. “The cave system is too massive. When we first explored it, it took us weeks to find our way down. And we had a team of fifty men working in shifts of six hours, twenty four hours a day, dropping coloured rocks to mark dead ends to prevent doubling back. I have no doubt the guardian tribe has long since removed them.”
Hayden grimaced. “Even if we get there, the chances of us not crossing paths with them in such a system is remote. And considering what they were willing to do to get the eight pages, imagine what they would do to us when they’re within spitting distance of the prize.”
The trio remained silent, suspecting the dire consequences of being caught in an underground cave system with the Thornes who already proven their willingness to lie, cheat, steal and very likely kill to get what was on that island.”
Danica sighed. “This does not bode well for a starting point.”
Carlos tried to cheer them up. “Well, I can tell you this, if we find the natural stairways down, it means we’re going in the right direction. There are only seven to find.”
Hayden’s ears perked up. “How many sets of stairs?”
“Seven.” Carlos responded. “The caverns and corridors do drop significantly over distances, but I do remember seven specific descending natural stairways, if you could call them that, dropping us a good amount at each point.”
Danica could see Hayden’s excitement and asked right away. “What is it?”
“The seven discs we hadn’t deciphered.” Hayden replied. “The ones layered one atop the other which we thought looked like a lightning storm or you thought could be art?”
Danica envisioned them. “Of course.”
Hayden pumped his fists. “What if it was a map? A map of the cave system as it leads down to a small mountain in a lake beneath it. Remember, the discs were suspended on a mountain like tip at the base.”
“I read about them in your report, but they weren’t attached to it.” Carlos piped in, the excitement becoming infectious. “I searched the Maximum Pharmaceutical database and it wasn’t there.”
Danica had a smile that went from ear to ear. She held up her Smartphone. “That’s because I could never get it to attach to the message. In fact….” She keyed her photo library in the memory. With a few swipes of her finger, she held up a selection of fourteen photos, from different angles, depicting the seven discs. “I still have the only copies.”
Carlos held out his hand. “May I see your phone?”
Danica handed it off with ease.
Carlos took it gingerly and asked them to follow him to his office where he kept his computer.
It was a vast room of certificates, photos and maritime art. Carlos was not a minimalist decorator. If there was a space, it was filled. He took a seat in his large leather chair and with a tap of his fingers on the screen, the thirty inch monitor blazed to life. He attached a USB wire to the phone and in seconds, downloaded all the photos.
Carlos explained as it uploaded. “We will use my 3-D imaging program to scan them. And based on my quick look at them, re-position and stack them in order.”
“How will we know the order?” Danica asked.
As they scanned, Hayden gestured to a small symbol on each disc, rear side, near the edge, which was the only odd point. “Line those symbols up.”
Carlos did, layering the seven stone discs from the stone temple at the bottom upwards, in the order Hayden had carefully remarked at the time, using the ancient symbols to centre them, one atop the other, spinning them until they lined up with the upper spaces to reveal a clear route down.
The trio was filled with positive energy.
“The Thornes will take weeks to find the bottom based on this system.” Hayden pointed to the map with a huge grin. “And only we have the key.”
Danica smiled too. “Now, we can beat them to the island.”
Carlos hesitated and then smiled. ’Yes. With this, we will get there first.”
Carlos quickly uploaded the completed map back to Danica’s Smartphone, and again to his and Hayden’s. “I will keep a copy here as well, safe and sound.”
Danica turned to both Carlos and Hayden. “We’ve been lied to, attacked, flown across the world and abandoned and all disguised with the purpose for us to deliberately fail.” She scowled. “I for one am pissed and in need of some payback.”
Hayden grinned. “Need to kick someone?” He turned to Carlos. “You’ll heal faster. Want to take one for the team?”
Carlos smiled back. “I appreciate your volunteering me, but I think our Doctor Swift has something else in mind.”
“Do you Doctor Swift?” Hayden said with some sarcasm in his tone.
“I think we should not only beat our former employers to their treasure, but I think we should take it from them and give it to the world for free.”
Carlos, now part of the team, raised his fist in support. “It’s been a long time since I went on an adventure and returning the favour of the Thorne’s disreputable actions only sweetens deal.”
Danica warned, speaking directly to Carlos. “Are you prepared to return to an island that took you thirty years to remember?”
Carlos paused. “It was inevitable. I have long felt I lost more than I gained on that island and my return was something I would eventually have to do.” He turned to them both. “And bringing allies such as you with me only secures my feeling I will succeed this time where I originally failed.”
Hayden shrugged. “I like all your devotion to the past for justice and all, but I’m for simply sticking it to Maximus and Maxima, so inevitable or not, I’m coming.” Hayden pumped his fist too. “Plus as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum said, ’This isn’t over.”
Danica and Carlos exchanged a look of satisfaction.
Danica announced. “Carlos. You call your contacts and I’ll call mine. Let’s get this little adventure on the road.”
Carlos nodded. “Agreed.”
Hayden stood there with his hands in his pockets. “While you do that, I’ll get myself another beer.”
Danica scowled and walked away, taking her cell phone to the patio to make some calls.
Carlos returned to his bedroom.
Over the next hour, after numerous calls, bookings and more, all the arrangements were made and the trio returned to the kitchen.
Danica smiled. “A car is on the way. We have an hour. We’ll be driven to the airportand be on our way back to South America by sun up.”
“Fountain of Youth.” Hayden announced. “Here we come.”
Danica interrupted. “Carlos told you it was not the Fountain of Youth.”
“What should we call it then?” Hayden asked with innocence. It was a logical question.
Danica turned to Carlos, unsure how to respond.
Carlos looked slightly uncomfortable. After a few seconds of consideration, he responded. “I have memories, but mostly from my dreams.” He shivered involuntarily. “I’m sure they’re of the island, but I don’t remember many specifics. And what I do recall is deeply disturbing.”
Danica placed her hand on Carlos’ shoulder. “Anything you can remember will only benefit us.”
Carlos relaxed at Danica’s touch. “In my dreams, when I get close, real close, I wake up in a cold sweat, pushing the visions back down again.” He took a deep breath. “I remember it being hot. Very hot. So much so, it felt like it was almost hard to breathe.” More deep breaths. “And it smelled. Like death. Not recent death, but death nonetheless.”
Hayden and Danica tried to imagine, but the images did not blossom in their minds without any reference of comparison to something this dark and foreboding.
Carlos continued. “But one thing always comes back to me. The most horrible thing of all. I remember hearing whispers in my head and all around me. Everywhere and yet, nowhere. No words I can discern. It was unintelligible, but it was always very loud.”
Hayden stared at Carlos. “That’s sounds almost contradictory. Loud whispers?”
Carlos shrugged. “I can only tell you what I remember, not the why or the how. And to this day, when I hear people whisper, my blood runs cold.”
Danica asked. “Were you alone?”
Carlos tried to remember back to his nightmares, as that was what they were to him. “I don’t think so. I remember eyes peering at me from the darkness. Empty and devoid of life, yet not dead. Lost souls left to suffer and live on.”
The air seemed to chill around Danica and Hayden.
“And of courses the screams.” Carlos added. “Loud and constant screaming when the whispers were at their loudest. But when I think hard about that, I’m pretty sure some of it was my own.”
Hayden and Danica had nothing to offer as it sounded terrible.
Carlos ended with one more thing. “If I had to give it a name, absolutely must, I would say I was in Hell.”