- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
The rain pummeled down from the night sky in sheets as thick as lead. The furious onslaught from the heavens lashed the windshield of the armored truck as it rumbled down the busy Metro City thoroughfare. Life never took a breather in a city like Metro, and even at 4 a.m. in such inclement weather, the streets were teeming with people, cars and even a stray dog or two. Car horns blared, certain people--johns, hookers, bums, cops--milled about, yelling, weeping, running, fighting. Night was always a bleak time in Metro City, and this night was no exception.
"Man, what a time to be delivering this cargo," Ralph said from the passenger seat of the armored truck. "Why the heck do we get stuck with all the crap jobs, Jim?" Ralph was a burly, heavy-set man in his fifties with a full, graying mustache and heavily-lidded eyes. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, while his partner peered intently through the windshield, trying to keep control of the truck in the appalling conditions.
Jim shrugged his shoulders. "And why do we have to deliver this thing at this ungodly hour?"
"Mr. Latham told us to," said Ralph, who noted Jim's sour expression. He sighed. "See, Mr. Latham thought it best to deliver such valuable cargo at a time when there was the least chance of anything going wrong. That work better for you?"
Jim, younger, slimmer and less hairy than his co-pilot, arched an eyebrow. "Yeah, but that doesn't reflect well on us though, does it? I can't wait to get rid of it. Darn thing gives me the creeps."
"Ah well. Latham pays for the service, so who are we to argue?"
"What is it exactly, anyway?" Jim asked. "Some voodoo piece?"
"I don't know,and I don't really care. All I know is we were warned it shouldn't be touched under any circumstances. Something about it being dangerous. Beats me how, though."
Jim shivered at the mention of the word "dangerous."
The truck inched its way through the torrential rain, down the hectic Montgomery Street, swarming as it was with that particular brand of nightlife for which Metro had long since become infamous. Red light turning green, Jim veered into the narrower Harris Street, and then out into the wider expanse of Joseph Boulevard.
"Are you sure we're going the right way?" Jim asked, guiding the truck as best he could down the wide, lengthy road. He fiddled with the defrost controls on the truck's dashboard, trying to get it to work but without much luck. The windshield was fogged over so bad he could hardly see a thing.
"Yeah, yeah, turn here," Ralph replied. He removed a handkerchief from his right-side trouser pocket, and wiped the windshield clear as best he could.
Jim moved the truck onto George Avenue and finally toward the looming Metro City Gallery. The lights of the gallery shone through the foggy windshield in bright blotches as the truck turned and drove carefully up the short drive, coming to a halt at a security gate.
Jim wound down his window. "Hey, where do we deliver this?" he asked the guard in the small booth beside them.
"You the special delivery guys?" the guard shouted above the din of the pouring rain. Jim nodded. "Go round the turn there and then head to the back." The guard thumbed to somewhere further down the drive.
"Yeah, okay. Sure thing," Jim said and rolled up the window. "I'll be glad to hand this stuff over and get back home. I can just catch a few hours sleep before my next shift. I hate night shifts." He drove the truck further down the drive as directed.
"Especially in this kind of weather," Ralph said. "You think it's ever going to stop raining? How long's it been? Two weeks? I'm practically growing gills already."
"I read in the paper it's expected to rain most of this month," Jim said as he parked the truck in the circular loading zone protected from the elements by a large overhead awning. "C'mon, let's get this over with."
The two security officers exited the truck and moved back to the vehicle's rear door, the sound of their footsteps barely distinguishable from that of the rain. They looked up to see a tall, well-dressed man with thinning hair and a grin that would make the Cheshire Cat green with envy approaching them from the gallery's loading dock. He was flanked by several uniformed armed guards, ready to take possession of the truck's goods.
"Gentlemen, my name is Bartholomew Gregory. I'm the curator of this gallery," he said in a hearty tone. "I am so glad to see you've arrived with our invaluable artifact."
"What is this we're hauling, exactly? Some voodoo stone or something?" Jim asked while opening the truck's rear door.
"An artifact that is absolutely priceless," Gregory said, still smiling. "The Cortes Stone, an ancient Aztec stone carving, depicting one of their gods, Huitzilopochtli, defeating the invading Spaniards led by Hernando Cortes. It was only recently discovered in the wilds of Mexico in a heretofore undiscovered tomb. Our great patron, Robert Latham, ensured this international treasure would make its home here as part of this city's two-hundredth anniversary celebration."
Ralph looked to Jim and rolled his eyes. Jim knew what he meant. Is this guy reading off a cue card?
"Well, here's your precious carving, packed away nice and tight," Ralph said, indicating inside the truck.
"I cannot thank you enough for your vigilance and speedy arrival here. I shall make sure Mr. Latham hears of your exemplary work," Gregory said. The curator indicated his own guards to take charge of the situation, which they promptly did, surrounding the truck carefully, their guns raised in readiness for any eventuality. From the rear of the loading dock several workmen appeared dressed in overalls, one of whom pulled a metallic trolley behind him.
"Uh, yeah, well, thanks," Ralph said, scratching his head with one hand while brandishing a clipboard with the other. "Now, if you could just sign here, Mister--"
"Over there, please be careful with the package," Gregory shouted to one of the workmen, ignoring Ralph. "It's your jobs if you drop it."
Two of the workmen climbed into the truck and removed the fastenings securing the wooden crate to the truck floor. They then carefully shifted the large crate to the edge of the truck, then onto the awaiting trolley.
"Now, let's get this inside and away from this atrocious weather," Gregory said, turning on his heels and quickly making his way back into the gallery. The workmen, with the secured carving, followed suit, the gallery's security guards remaining on alert.
"Uh ... Mr. Gregory?" Ralph shouted, waving his clipboard. "Could you--" But Gregory had already disappeared, vanishing within the bowels of the city gallery. Ralph looked to Jim, who merely shrugged his shoulders. "C'mon, we have to get this guy's signature before we can leave."
They strode the path down into the loading dock and climbed the stairs up to the main loading area. They were greeted by a plethora of crates and boxes and lighting so low as to be almost sinister, the boxes and crates casting eerie shadows on the walls surrounding them.
"Where'd they get to?" Jim asked, stumbling around in the darkness.
"Over there." Ralph pointed. "There's some light."
The two arrived at a partially-open wooden door. A weak light shone from the other side. Peering round, Jim saw a long, narrow corridor snaking down toward a murky center.
"Take a look," Jim said and let Ralph grab a peek.
"I guess they went that way," Ralph said, again scratching his head.
They passed through the corridor, entered the larger, darkened room beyond, then heard voices coming from yet another room, the entrance to which lay ahead of them.
"This way. Let's just get this signed so we can get outta this maze," Ralph muttered.
They passed through this last doorway to find themselves in a large, cavernous area with high glass ceilings and low, moody lighting. The rain beat down on the glass, its steady drum rumbling throughout the room. Paintings and etchings of incredible beauty and intricacy lined the walls. Bartholomew Gregory and three of his workmen stood at the far side of the room. The armed guards were nowhere in sight.
"Careful. The stone is the most precious piece we've ever received," Gregory said.
As the two security officers walked over to join him, two of the three workmen cautiously pried open the wooden crate containing the carving.
"Mr. Gregory, we need your--" Ralph started to say but was cut off by a wave of the hand.
"Hmm...? Oh, yes, one moment please," the curator replied absently.
With the wooden crate open, a gloved workman lifted a small, rounded, stone slab roughly twelve inches in diameter above the rim of the crate. Gregory's eyes shone bright at the sight of it. The surface of the stone was decorated with carvings of unique and complex beauty, with depictions of various figures, both human and stylized animal, that neither Jim nor Ralph recognized.
"It's even more beautiful than I could have ever imagined," Gregory said under his breath. "See the great sun god wreaking vengeance on the Conquistadors? And here"--he indicated to one of the figures on the carving--"on Cortes himself. A depiction of the Aztec Indians greatest desire, and one which they sadly never realized." He stopped to catch his breath. "And the jade embossing the rim ... it is an amazing piece." Gregory straightened. "Put it over there." He nodded toward the stand, shaped much like a speaker's lectern, nearby.
The workman holding the stone laid it gently into its ready-made cradle at the top of the stand.
"Good," Gregory said, still marveling over the stone. "I find I cannot take my eyes off this. It's as though I..." He moved closer to the object. "I need to--" He reached out to touch the carving, to run his fingers along its elaborate imagery of godly vengeance.
"Mr. Gregory, no!" Ralph cried.
But it was too late.
Gregory's face lit up in apparent ecstasy as he felt the texture of the stone and its carvings, then lurched backward, coughing, his body heaving violently. He collapsed in a heap on the gallery floor--and quickly disintegrated into ash before the shocked eyes of those present.
Posted October 7, 2009
No text was provided for this review.
Posted October 7, 2009
No text was provided for this review.