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Torn Deep - Chapter 1

A figure clothed in a black scuba suit with purple flashings and matching flippers emerged from the surf and unlatched the breathing gear. It landed with a faint thud on the rocky, volcanic beach.

 
After the mask was removed, bright blue eyes observed the waves crashing against a magnificent boulder several meters from shore. White foam surged into the air before splashing against rocks in a spectacular show of water vying with earth for supremacy. The gaze then moved to watch the ethereal display of day to night, as darkness gradually pushed away daylight, the sun slipping out of view as the moon began to show itself on the horizon. The harvest moon greeted the watcher, creating a glow eclipsing the bright beacon of stars in the heavens, and setting a welcoming scene on a cold autumn evening.
 
The figure gathered up scuba gear and walked with lithe ease up the beach and onto the boat ramp that led to the underbelly of the house that was literally carved into the hillside. Three garage doors appeared and a delicate hand unzipped a pocket on the wetsuit, retrieving a door opener, and seconds later one of the doors opened. Inside, the scuba gear was placed on one side of the wall where racks of the same type of gear resided. In the center of the area, a jet ski rested along with various forms of fishing tackle.
 
Once the gear was stowed away, the figure moved to the back of the garage and opened an inner door. The wetsuit fell to the floor leaving her wearing a full body swimsuit that left little to the imagination. The woman’s well-maintained body strode out of that room and across to the bathroom where a shower awaited her.
 
Ten minutes later, in shorts and a t-shirt, she toweled her short chestnut hair dry. Crossing the lobby, she took a short staircase up to the main house. She nodded in appreciation as the smell of freshly baked bread and a bubbling pot of chili welcomed her.
She scanned the room and frowned.
 
“Angela, I told you before that if you needed anything from the cellar I’d get it for you.” Her voice didn’t hold any real censure.
 
“We can’t have our meal without wine. Besides, now that you’ve fixed the hand rail, I don’t have a problem,” Angela replied.
 
“Ok, have it your way. But remember the last time you had a fall— it was three hours before I returned and found you.” Zea smiled at the older woman, who she knew considered her the daughter she’d never had.
 
“Point taken, Zea. Now you sit and I’ll serve dinner.” Angela returned the fond smile.
 
“I just need to download.…”
 
Angela held up a hand in protest. “No, you will not. That infernal computer can wait. You haven’t eaten since breakfast and that was hardly enough for a sparrow to live on.”
 
Zea raised her eyebrows at the chastisement, however, she meekly sat down at the dining table. “I’m hungry, I have to admit and the chili smells divine. I’ll open the wine since you went to such lengths to retrieve it from the cellar.”
 
 
Michael Tomlinson stroked his diminutive beard as he stared at the report on his desk. “How accurate is this?”
 
He glanced at the author.
 
“Very. I’d stake my reputation that the findings are as precise as one can be without the actual object in my hands.”
 
Michael eyed the confident woman for a few moments. “I’m told you have a very good reputation. How much will it cost me for you to undertake the restoration?”
 
A melodic laugh greeted the man’s ears as Susan Callahan shook her head vigorously.
 
“I’m sorry. I think we have a misunderstanding. I only looked over the details you gave me because a friend asked as a favor. Besides, the curators of the.…”
 
“I only use the best, Ms. Callahan. You’re the best.” Michael tugged at his beard again and liked the feel of the coarse hair under his fingers.  “What will it take for you to undertake this assignment?”
 
He watched every move the woman made.
 
“I can’t be bought, Mr. Tomlinson. Are you an agent for the...?”
 
“Thank you for your time, Ms. Callahan. Send my secretary your bill.”
 
He wasn’t interested in her anymore.
 
“No problem.” Ms. Callahan picked up her valise and headed for the door.
 
Michael waited until the woman closed the door before he made a call. “Donald, I need you to do a delicate job for me.”
 
 
Susan felt the breeze of a cold, fresh autumn morning whistle past her ears and sting her cheeks as she rode her bicycle as hard as she could down the familiar territory of Dakar’s Park. It was her only exercise in what would be another packed week of evaluation meetings with possible clients. As she freewheeled down the slight incline to the gates to leave the area, she mused over her conversation with Michael Tomlinson the previous day.
 
God damn him…he never let me finish a sentence…how rude! Anyway, how can he offer me a contract on a piece he doesn’t own? The Smithsonian owns it and they have their own people.
 
What is it about people with money? Not everyone has a price. Hasn’t he learned that by now? Then again, if the right incentive were offered, most would take it. I’m glad I didn’t. I think it has shady undercurrents. I’ll have to call Guy at the Smithsonian and find out if Tomlinson works for him.
 
The bike glided through the gates and Susan steered away from a woman pushing a buggy with a loudly crying baby.
 
Well, he can certainly keep that scenario…I’m glad it isn’t on my horizon.
 
The screaming child became louder and made her grimace.
 
The Tomlinson meeting resembled something out of an old thirties black and white movie.
 
I’m sure there are others who can help him if it is legit, she thought. Even if it isn’t. Yep, that’s even more reason to call Guy.
With negligent ease, she moved from the pavement to the road and checked for a gap in traffic before riding into the steady stream of vehicles. Five minutes later, she saw her condominium and thought about taking a quick shower before heading out for a meeting about a possible dig.
 
Just as Susan was about to ride into her driveway, she spied a disturbance to her left. She squeezed the hand brakes and pulled over to the footpath. A man, dressed in torn jeans and a dark hoodie, was pulling at a young woman. From Susan’s vantage point, the woman, who looked frail, wasn’t fighting back.
 
Susan looked for evidence that anyone else was in the vicinity and was dismayed to see that she seemed to be alone.
 
Ok, she could handle this. It was simple… she would call 911 and say…yeah, say what?
 
This isn’t any of your business, Susan.
 
As the argument between the man and the woman escalated, Susan sighed.
 
I can either intervene or go inside and do nothing. 
 
She leaned her bike against the railing of her driveway and strode across the street to within a few feet of the pair. 
 
She puffed out her chest in a show of what she hoped was courage. “Hey, buddy, the lady doesn’t need you pushing her around.”
 
Susan groaned inwardly at her pathetic attempt at bravado.
 
The man lifted his head and gave her a cold stare. It was then that Susan noticed his pockmarked face and the tattoo covering his neck. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
 
What occurred next left Susan in no doubt that she should have done what most would have—gone into her home and locked the door. As the man turned his attention on her, he moved closer menacingly. “Lady, now that we have the guest of honor, the party’s just beginning.”
 
What the hell did that mean? Taken off guard, Susan was captured by the not so frail woman. With surprising strength, the woman dragged Susan’s arms around her back and held her firmly.
 
“Hey what’s the idea? I was trying to help you,” Susan cried.
 
My God, some people are deceptive, she thought, as she tried and failed to get out of the vice-like grip. In the process, her glasses fell to the ground, leaving her virtually blind and very vulnerable.
 
A screech of tires sounded as a car halted at their position and she was dumped viciously into the backseat. Then the vehicle moved away at such a pace that Susan felt physically sick.
 
As she regained her equilibrium, she felt her body dragged upright before she saw a thin, bespectacled man peering at her.
In a measured, authoritative voice, the man spoke.
 
“Don’t bother with the usual crap, Ms. Callahan…yes, you’ve been kidnapped and no, we don’t want a ransom. There’s no point in screaming—the vehicle is soundproof. It will be easier on you if you just allow this exercise to take place without the usual hysterics.”
 
Susan was at a loss for words as she watched numerous cars and people pass by. She knew all she could do was watch the outside world through the car’s tinted windows. She looked at the man. “Why?”
 
For a few moments, the man remained silent and it was hard for Susan to tell if he’d even heard the question.
 
“Unfinished business,” he said finally.
 
Susan was about to go into full questioning mode when she felt the man grip her arm and pull up her sleeve. Before she could protest the man’s actions, the needle of a syringe pierced her skin. A woozy sensation began to override all her previous brain functions and in what seemed like seconds, her eyelids closed and she fell into a drugged sleep.
 
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