Unasked for dangers greet a South American plantation owner as he tries to solve some mysterious deaths that have occurred at an archaeological site located on his plantation. He decides to take a different course of action planned to the one that the lead archaeologist from the State Minister has determined should be taken after her arrival.
|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.39(d)|
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Brandon Alexander looked out at the view from the balcony of his upstairs bedroom. The scene before his eyes left him with feelings of pride, but the tropical beauty went unnoticed with the unasked for help on its way to the plantation, his plantation. The land belonged to him as far as the eye could see, had for over twelve years since he inherited it from his father. He knew the sights, smells of his land; he had tasted its vitality, he had tamed it. As he grew and prospered with what he inherited, so had the people under his authority. His eyes narrowed with frustration. The muscles tensed, flexed along his jaw line. The state government was sending men to his plantation, into his domain. The letter was very clear. It was to happen, and to happen, straight away.
Brandon was tall standing over six feet two inches in height, well-muscled with wide tapering shoulders that Ved to a small waist. His physical stature was daunting at over 190 pounds. No one could guess he was only thirty-seven because endless sun left its marks in the lines of his face. Brandon's skin was the color of polished bronze due to the many long hours of work on the plantation and its grounds. His hair was a sun-bleached chestnut brown, worn short. His eyes were the soft gray of a dove's feather and well accustomed to noticing details.
Like the plantation's endless growth, Brandon grew in his authority. He used that authority to bring the plantation's wild areas under his control. Even more so, he appreciated the efforts of his own people to tame his lands. That someone, from the state, would try to push his authority aside, didn't please him.
Brandon ignored the tropical view from the balcony. He walked back into his bedroom. He picked up the letter he received that day from the Secretary of the Interior, scanning its pages, once more. His fingers tightened along the edge of the page, tearing it, as his anger grew. The muscles flexed along his jawline hardening in response to his frustration. He filed the reports requested by the Interior Secretary. He wondered why the Interior Secretary couldn't understand he not only could, but he would solve this problem without outside help?
Brandon eased his large frame into the desk's chair leaning back into the worn cushion. The chair gave a familiar protesting groan with his weight. He pushed his shoulders into its familiar comfort trying to relax. His mind refused to abandon his thoughts on the Secretary of the Interior's decision to send his own people without first asking him if he needed the help.
Brandon's jaw clinched in protest. The thought of anyone coming from the state, to investigate matters on the plantation, caused his jaw to clinch farther. This land was his domain, it was under his authority. His unease grew. He felt his authority compromised with the Interior Secretary's interference. As before, and, it probably wouldn't be for the last time, he could have been more pleased, if the Secretary, first, asked if he needed the help, second, the minister should have asked instead of taking matters into his own hands, sending the help.
A heavy, frustrated sigh escaped him. He ran his fingers over his tired eyes, pushing his shoulders farther back into the desk chair's familiar comfort. The plantation was his, his child, it needed his protection. The last three months, and what happened, violated its safety. His thoughts angered him.
Brandon was twenty-five when his father died and he inherited the plantation. In the twelve years he controlled it, it prospered. He doubled its size to over two-hundred and fifty-thousand acres by showing the local Indian tribal chiefs the benefits of cooperation with one another.
Just over two years prior, when some native workers, he used from these tribes, were clearing trees and brush off the land; discovered the ruins of some long forgotten Indian tribe. He found the discovery to be very interesting. He used several hundred men, year round, from the Indian tribes to clear the jungle growth from the stone ruins. He filed his reports with the Secretary of the Interior and, with the secretary's permission, he took control over the project with supervision from the archaeologists sent from the state capitol by the Interior Secretary's office.
All work progressed with no fatalities, only the usual number of minor accidents. He considered the lack of deaths to be fantastic considering the size and magnitude of the project and, sometimes, its hidden obstacles. These last three months changed the plantation's everyday routine, changed it with a finality that changed him.
The first death happened just over three months prior. Although he regretted the loss of the native worker, the real loss was to the tribe and to the man's family. His foreman, Pedro Reyes, reported it as an accident. Because he trusted his foreman, he accepted his explanation, filing the paperwork for the Interior Secretary's office. He finished with the required paperwork for the first death, accepting the death as the accident it appeared to be. When the second death occurred, only two or three days later, Pedro, again, reported it to him as an accident.
This second death angered and frustrated him since it happened so soon after the first death. He didn't understand its cause. Brandon's frustrated upset with the short proximity to the first death and, now, instead of just one report to file with the state office, there were two. His teeth clinched with his thought. This second report was so soon after the first. Brandon hadn't like losing two men in such a short time considering there had been no deaths with the discovery of the city until three months ago. He wondered if Pedro let the safety measures lapse on the job. That one thought about Pedro disappeared, as quickly as, it entered his mind. Pedro wasn't just his foreman, but a true friend he would trust with his life. Pedro's knowledge of the land and the project was intimate. He trusted that knowledge, used it.
Brandon had all the work at the project stopped until he could check with Pedro about the safety of the men. Pedro came to the main house to explain what he thought caused the sudden deaths. Brandon read all of Pedro's reports, but he wanted to hear, in Pedro's own words, what he thought happened.
Pedro explained a day before the first death, the workers uncovered a strange, large rock wall with an over-sized stone doorway in its base. Pedro bypassed the doorway with the archaeologist's approval. The doorway remained shut until the natives pulled all the growth from the large wall. Several days later, he broke the seal on the doorway. The archaeologists discovered nothing but a large room behind it.
Early the next morning, the first body appeared near the doorway. Pedro's report explained how the man's chest was crushed inward with all the chest area bones broken. Pedro assumed the man fell from the top of the rock wall to his death at the bottom. The second man's body was discovered near the same location and, like the first body, almost all the bones in the upper chest area were crushed. Pedro's report, again, reported the man fell from the top of the large rock wall to his death at the bottom.
Brandon and Pedro returned to the project, checking all the work and safety procedures in place. He found nothing lacking in either Pedro's work standards or the safety procedures. He left the project with Pedro's assurance there would be no more deaths if he could prevent them. Brandon returned to the main plantation with the assurance Pedro's work and safety procedures were well within the archaeologist's standards.
Brandon had been back at the plantation, for just over two weeks, when Pedro informed him seven more of the native men vanished from the project. Before this was reported in his report to the Interior Secretary, several more native's bodies were discovered at the base of the rock wall. He reported all this to the Secretary of the Interior. Before he could take any action to solve the causes of the deaths or the reason behind the native's disappearances, he received the damnable letter from the Interior Secretary's office.
Brandon tossed the letter back on to the top of the desk, pushing up from the chair as it gave a useless groan. He gave the chair a quick push backward towards the desk. Brandon's anger grew at the lack of understand on the Interior's Secretary's part. To his own dismay, the letter confirmed he would have government people overseeing the project. His teeth clinched, the muscles flexed along his jawline. They would stay at the plantation and at the project on a permanent basis.
Brandon's steps back to the balcony were loud as his boots hit the floor. The evening sun was setting, casting a warm glow over the trees and the plantation's grounds. He took a deep, calming breath of the warm, humid air. Some of his anger disappeared as he looked out at the beauty he saw, but the anger returned as his thoughts returned to the usurping of his authority and the people under that authority.
Brandon refused to concentrate on anything that had taken place at the project, more concerned with the safety of his people returning from there. He swallowed hard. He hoped they followed his instructions to evacuate the project, as quick as possible, returning to the plantation or their various tribes. Pedro and the plantation's natives still hadn't returned, and it was getting late. He was anxious. Behind the anger at the Interior Secretary, he was wondering what was delaying Pedro.
Brandon pushed away from the balcony. He felt the taste of bitterness in the back of his throat. A drink should dilute the taste of the bitterness of not being able to do anything, but would it dilute the frustration having to wait before you could do anything. His need for the drink, to take away some of that frustration and the anger, took him to the stairs. Brandon sled his hand over the banister's aged, hand-smoothed wood, walking with quick steps down to the bottom. As he removed his hand from the banister, he decided he would give the men only an hour, but not much more, to return. Brandon frowned, knowing Pedro would be the last to depart the project. He gave a slight shake of his head. Pedro would wait until all the others were safe, on their way before he would leave.
Brandon pulled a glass from the counter top, adding ice. He heard the tinkling sound as the ice bounced around the inside of the glass before it settled to the bottom. He ignored the sound. His eyes followed the bourbon gurgling out from the bottle, pouring like golden silk over the ice. He swirled the glass after the bourbon settle to the bottom not raising the ice. Brandon frowned. He then up-ended the bottle, pouring a healthy shot of liquor into the glass. Brandon swirled the golden liquid over the ice cubes and around the glass. His mouth watered anticipating the drink's bitter taste. The glass was raised to his lips. He took a long, slow drink, wincing as the bourbon passed through his mouth and throat. He swallowed.
Brandon was drinking the last of the bourbon from the glass when he heard the sounds of trotting horses. He looked up, hearing the noise behind the horse's hoofs. Brandon released his held breath. To his relief, which appeared in the guise of a relieved smile, he heard the unmistakable background noise of a lone jeep.
Brandon was waiting at the main gate into the house as the men dismounted from their sweating, exhausted horses. He looked up the driveway at the approaching jeep with anxious eyes. He released a sigh on a heavy breath when the jeep pulled to a stop behind the horses. He could see the dirt-streaked face of its occupant. Sweaty dirt caked the wrinkles on Pedro's face, making him appear older. As Pedro walked towards him, Brandon remembered their first meeting when he was seventeen.
Pedro Reyes had been a young, healthy native his father hired to come and work on the plantation. He had been educated at one of the white schools on the coast, speaking good English. He hadn't been as tall as Brandon but stood at five foot, eleven inches. His hair was jet black and shown with a blue cast in the sun. His eyes were the dark, native brown, alert to their surroundings. They retained the alertness, even with age. Just as Pedro grew with his father to become the plantation's foreman, and had been the right hand of Brandon's father, Pedro gave the same respect, same honor to Brandon.
Pedro stopped in front of Brandon. He spoke in a low voice with his words edged in pain, "Seven more men were killed at the project." The pain in his voice increased. "More vanished during the night. We could not find them." Brandon understood Pedro's sorrow. He still felt his own remorse with the first of the deaths. His response came in a subdued voice, "Did they vanish or run away to their tribes?"
Pedro looked at the ground. His thoughts seemed to turn inward. He looked at Brandon. "All I know is that they vanished." His words faltered. "I do not know what happened. We saw nothing. It happened all at once, Brandon." Pedro's words were almost a groan. His movements were uneasy, matching the emotion behind his words. His eyes took on a frightened, questioning stare. "We have the bodies of the dead men in the truck. They will be here, soon. You can see for yourself what they look like." Pedro's voice became shaky with his next words, "They are different, Brandon, from the first ones." His frightened eyes carried the fear he still felt. He looked at Brandon's face, but didn't see him. "The bodies were squeezed. They were squeezed, Brandon." Pedro's voice faltered, again. He couldn't believe his own words.
Brandon reached out pulling Pedro forward. They walked down the path leading to the house and then up the steps. Brandon could hear Pedro's heavy breathing. "Let's get you a drink."
Pedro downed the amber liquid in one swallow, placing the glass on the counter top. He looked up when Brandon questioned. "What happened up there, Pedro? What happened three months ago, anyway? It was about that time all this started, wasn't it? What happened?" Brandon stared into Pedro's face, waiting for his answer, hoping to find out more information about the deaths other than what he already knew.
"Yes, it was about that time, I think." Pedro's eyes narrowed. He seemed to focus inward, recalling his memories of the events at the project. Pedro's eyes opened wide. He shook his head with a recalled thought. "We encountered the doorway on the rock wall. That is it, Brandon. We found the doorway. I broke the seal, and I opened it, but I never entered, just the archaeologist entered. They said it contained nothing. I re-shut the stone doors, sealed them." Pedro's eyes narrowed to slits. He seemed to, again, focus inward, looking for memories. "We found nothing there. I am sure it goes nowhere. It was empty. Maybe, it had been used for storing something?" finished Pedro. His look was direct, pleading for Brandon to believe what he was saying was true.
"Are you certain no one went inside the room other than the archaeologist?" asked Brandon. He took a short, shallow breath, his eyes narrowing as Pedro's eyes looked away and seemed to look inward, once more.
"No, not that I know," answered Pedro, in a low voice. "I did not go myself and I told no one to go there. Maybe, someone went in there on their own but it is just a large room. It goes no ..." Pedro's voice trailed off; his eyes carried a plea looking at Brandon. He wanted Brandon to know he was speaking the truth.
Brandon heard the break in Pedro's voice and, quickly, said, "Don't worry, Pedro, we'll clear this thing up." Brandon's voice, his words carried the re-assurance Pedro was waiting for, needing to hear.
Pedro's eyes opened wide with fright. Pedro looked at his trembling hands and then looked back at Brandon. There was panic deep inside Pedro's frightened eyes.
Brandon knew Pedro. What he saw in the man's face caused him to take a shallow breath. He asked, "Is there something else you need to tell me?"
"My son is missing, Brandon," said Pedro. The anxious words were spoken low. Pedro's voice broke with his admission.
Juan was the mirror image of the younger Pedro. He was fourteen-years-old, very intelligent. As the boy grew older, Pedro used him, more and more, on the plantation. Pedro made arrangements with Brandon when the boy's primary education ended, he would enroll him in the college down on the coast. Brandon walked over to Pedro placing his hand on Pedro's shoulder. He looked down on Pedro's gray-streaked head.
"I have to go back," pleaded Pedro. His voice, again, broke. He looked at Brandon with an unmistakable plea in his eyes. "I have to search for him, Brandon."
"We'll go together, my old friend," assured Brandon. He gave Pedro's shoulder a slight squeeze to confirm his commitment. "The people from the state will be here tomorrow morning. We'll see to them and then we'll go search for Juan."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "City of the Guardians"
Copyright © 2018 Jerylyn Harrington.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
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