This is the 24th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “X“.
Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on the votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the first of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “X” as submitted by its author.
X (Marks The Spot)
Copyright 2020 — E. J. D’Alise
(3,330 words – approx. reading time: about 13 minutes based on 265 WPM)
” Black Sam Bellamy? The Prince of Pirates?”
“Yes. I’m one of his descendants,” Bonnie answered.
Sadie contemplated her friend. They’d known each other for the better part of five years, and she knew Bonnie as a rational and level-headed person not given to delusions.
“And you say you have a map to his hidden treasure?” she asked.
“Yes. I found it while going through my great-grandmother’s stuff, along with a journal describing the treasure and documenting previous efforts to find it,” Bonnie replied.
“After you called me, I did some research,” Sadie said. “Black Sam’s ship, the Whydah Gally, was found in 1984 where it had sunk off Massachusetts’s coast in 1717. He was not known to bury his loot, preferring to carry it with him, and his treasure is estimated at four-hundred million in today’s dollars. It’s supposed to be all there, buried in the sand, with the remains of his ship.”
“Yes, I know all that, but the journal speaks of earlier adventures, down the Atlantic coast,” Bonnie explained. “Shortly after parting company with Blackbeard, Bellamy captured the Whydah Gally, loaded with gold and other precious cargo. The journal says Bellamy didn’t want to risk losing it all, and that he and the crew buried some of it somewhere as he made his way up the Eastern seaboard.”
“Most of the crew died in the wreck, and they hung the rest, but why weren’t your previous relatives unable to find it if they had a map?” Sadie asked.
“Here’s the thing, it’s not a great map. It outlines a stretch of coastline,” Bonnie explained, “no more than a rough drawing. While many tried to find the location it describes, it’s pretty much a blind search, and most who tried ran out of money. They stopped looking during the Great Depression, and then, after WW II, no one wanted to get back to it. My grandmother packed the journal up with the rest of her mother’s belongings. When my grandmother died, my mother inherited it all but never bothered to look at what all was there. When she died, I got it all, and now, since the lockdown, I’ve been going through it.”
“Heck, you should write a book,” Sadie said. “You’d be more likely to make money from the sale of the book than finding the treasure.”
Bonnie stared back at Sadie and said nothing. After an uncomfortably long silence during which Sadie wondered if she’d insulted her friend, Sadie got it . . .
“. . . you’ve found it . . .” she said.
Bonnie just nodded, almost as if afraid to speak the words.
“Are you sure?” Sadie asked, firing off additional questions. “How do you know for sure? How did you figure it out? Are you going after it? Can I help? Wait . . . I don’t mean to horn myself in.”
Bonnie smiled before answering.
“First of all, calm down,” Bonnie replied. “Second, I wouldn’t have mentioned it if I wasn’t going to ask for your help. For a share of the treasure, of course, and we’ll likely need a few more partners.”
~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~
“Bonnie?” Scott asked as he offered his hand. “Nice to meet you. Sadie here urged us to meet but wouldn’t tell me why.”
“Nice of you to agree,” Bonnie replied as she offered a firm handshake, “especially given the little information we offered.”
“Sadie can be quite persuasive. For a while, I thought she was trying to set me up with someone,” Scott said. “Apparently, women don’t like to see unattached males roaming around. I’m glad that’s not the case.”
“Oh?” Bonnie asked, a hard mask of seriousness descending on her features. “Is there something about me you find objectionable? Not athletic enough? Not pretty enough?”
“No, I mean . . . look, I…” Scott stammered in response to Bonnie’s cold stare. Looking over to Sadie for help, he noticed her smiling, and looking back to the now laughing Bonnie, realized he’d been had.
“Sorry, I couldn’t resist it,” Bonnie said.
“OK, I deserve that. I walked right into it,” Scott said, smiling.
Sadie noticed that Scott’s attention on Bonnie was now more focused and wondered if perhaps she was witnessing the beginning of something between the two.
“So,” Scott said as they settled on the lanai of his waterfront Florida home, “what’s so hush-hush that required a face-to-face?”
Fifteen minutes later, Scott’s coffee now cold, they sat in silence, Sadie and Bonnie waiting as he looked out to sea.
Scott pondered the situation. Admittedly, it was every young boy’s — and he presumed, young girl’s — dream to find a treasure map and follow it to the treasure. But he was no longer a boy . . . but one never loses the mystique of buried treasures. Heck, there were still people willing to invest time, money, and effort to search for treasures on Blackbeard Island despite no one having succeeded, and that’s atop the troves of treasure hunters scouring oceans for the billions they hide.
“How sure are you of the location?” he finally asked.
“As sure as I can be without actually going there and checking,” Bonnie answered.
“I’m willing to accept your certainty, but I want to play Devil’s Advocate, okay?”
“Okay,” Bonnie replied.
“What makes you so sure nearly three hundred years after the fact, when prior people were unable to find it?”
“Google Earth,” Bonnie answered.
“Google Earth. Let me explain; the treasure map is sparse, no more than a few lines and an ‘X’ marking the spot. Since the shutdown, I spent weeks carefully examining satellite images of the coast between Maine and Florida, scanning for similarities between coastal features and the drawing, and I think I found the spot.”
“It sounds plausible,” Scott said, “but why wouldn’t previous searchers also recognized the same features?”
“Two reasons,” Bonnie replied. “One has to do with the accuracy of the maps available to them. Have you seen navigation maps from the late 1800s and early 1900s? I believe they lacked the details to identify the particular spot.”
“Fair enough,” Scott said. “Today’s satellite images are extremely accurate . . . but, wouldn’t a treasure map drawn in 1717 also be inaccurate?”
“Yes and no,” Bonnie replied. “Whoever drew the map drew lines, but it was purposeful and with enough geographical detail to make it recognizable once you see the location. But, there’s more. The lines were assumed to show the mainland proper and inland landscape features, but I believe they depict one island’s coastline with the X marking the treasure on one of the smaller islands to its north. I think people were looking at coastal regions with inland hills, but I believe the map is showing small islands.”
“The Barrier Islands . . . but, they get affected by changing environments. Surely they’re not the same now as back then,” Scott said.
“Sufficiently so. The last major hurricane to hit there was in the 1890s, but even today we can find remnants of buildings and settlements dating before then. These islands formed during the last ice age. The place’s overall geology is fairly stable, except for the shoal deposits that change with the movement of the tides.”
Scott got up, dumped his cold coffee, and poured himself a fresh cup as he kept talking.
“OK, say you know where the location of the treasure. What do you need me for?”
“Well,” Sadie jumped in to answer, “for one, Noel thinks you’re trustworthy, honorable, and honest, and I trust my fiancé’s opinion. Two, you have contacts in financial circles. We need financial partners or investors willing to help us buy the island in question. Lastly, we need someone to help us navigate the tricky legal waters of recovering lost treasures. It’s not enough to find the treasure; we also need to be able to keep it.”
“How much money are we talking about?” he asked.
“The island was last in the market in 2019 for $200,000, but no one bought it, and they pulled the listing,” Sadie said. “We assume the price would be the same, but if someone shows up interested in buying it, it might drive the price up. We also need operational expenses. We figure we’d have to rent something local since the island in question is not habitable. That means hiring a boat or renting a boat and maybe a small crew since none of us can operate a boat. Conversely, we could camp on the island, but that would require generators, tents, and stuff we don’t know since we’re not campers. Lastly, we could hire some laborers, but we prefer to keep people’s involvement fairly small and do our own digging. The more people know about what we’re doing, the more potential complications we might have.”
Scott looked at the two women and Bonnie in particular. He shook his head, sighed, and then spoke.
“I can float the money as an advance to whatever we find, and I have access to a boat, so we can stay at a nearby marina or anchor at the island depending on water depth,” Scott said. “Normally, I do business on a handshake, but I think we should draw up a contract, mostly for your protection. Until then, I don’t need to know any more, but I’ll put out some feelers about finders-keepers laws. I presume we’re talking Georgia? Every state has different laws, and I think there’s a federal law that might come into play.”
“Are you serious?” Bonnie asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“What if I’m wrong, or if we don’t find anything?” Bonnie asked.
“I thought you were sure.”
“I’m sure about the location, but I don’t know for certain that a treasure is there.”
“Let me ask you this; are you, Sadie, and Noel putting most of what you have into this venture?” Scott asked.
Bonnie and Sadie looked at each other before Sadie answered. “Yes, but we …”
“That’s all I need right now. I’m willing to take the risk, and besides, I always wanted to buy an island, but it never made sense. At least now I have a good enough reason to. Well, good-ish reason,” Scott interrupted. “Now, Noel should be back any moment with the shopping. Let me prepare a decent meal, we’ll crack a bottle of wine, and we’ll spend a nice evening talking about the history of your family.” Scott pointed the coffee cup at Bonnie as he spoke.
~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~
Six weeks later, the boat they were living on docked at St. Simons Island Marina, Scott and Bonnie sat on the observation deck watching the sun making its first appearance of the day. Veiled by early morning fog, it appeared as an orange ball casting an attractive light on the surroundings.
“How are you doing?” Scott asked.
“A little nervous,” she replied, “but also relieved. It’s been a whirlwind month-and-a-half, and now that we’ve closed on the island, I feel a bit better.”
“We’ll head out to Dolbow Island later, once Sadie and Noel get here,” Scott said. “Have any doubts about the treasure?”
“Well, I didn’t want to be too obvious when the realtor showed us around the island, but I’m fairly sure I know the approximate location of the tabby concrete ‘X’ marker. The difficult thing is confirming its exact location.”
“Remind me again; if our calculations are correct, and based on the description, the concrete itself weighs close to seven tons,” Scott said. “That’s going to make it…”
Scott stopped as he felt the boat move. Someone had gotten on board; a couple of someones. A few seconds later, a well-dressed man stepped onto the observation deck accompanied by two large individuals.
“Hello, Scott,” the man said, and then addressed Bonnie.”And you must be the walking treasure map.”
Bonnie looked at the man and then at Scott, unsure of what was transpiring. Scott wasn’t looking pleased and made to get up, but the two big guys approached and had him sit back down.
“Who are you?” Bonnie asked.
“Scott, would you like to introduce me to the lady?” the man asked.
Unhappy, Scott nonetheless complied. “Bonnie, this is Mark, the lawyer I’ve been consulting. Mark, this is Bonnie, and if you…”
“Spare me the drama and threats, Scott,” Mark said.
“Bonnie,” the man continued, “I’m pleased to meet you. Let me explain how things will go. You and I are going on a little trip while Scott waits here with my friends.”
“Yes. It’s my understanding you and your friends just bought an island. I’d very much like to see this island, and perhaps my friends and I can help you find your ancestor’s gold.”
“So help me, Mark,” Scott interrupted, “Anything happens to her, and there’s no place on Earth where you’ll be safe.”
“Well, now,” Mark answered, “that seems like a pretty stupid thing to say. Had I nefarious intentions, that threat would automatically seal your fate on the spot. But, no; I’m not interested in hurting anyone, and certainly not murder… provided I get what I’m after.”
“I can tell you where it is,” Bonnie said, “just let us …”
“As I said,” Mark jumped in to say, “I’d like for you to show me. Once we get what we want, we’ll leave you on the island, and Scott here can come and get you.”
Scott tried again to get up, but one of the men showed him back down. Bonnie could see Scott’s muscles tense and yelled out.
“Stop,” she repeated, looking at Mark. “I’ll go with you.”
“Bonnie …” Scott started to speak, but Mark’s laugh stopped him.
“Well, look at that! It seems you two care for each other. Well, that makes things easier.” He lost his smile as he added, “Let’s go.”
~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~
The ride to the island was mostly silent except for Mark trying to make small talk and Bonnie having nothing of it.
“You don’t like me much, I presume. Fair enough; given the circumstances, it’s understandable,” he said.
“I can’t help think that if this were a movie script, you’d be the result of lazy writing, the archetypal cliché of the greedy lawyer double-crossing the protagonists,” Bonnie replied.
“Maybe, but in this script, there is no last-minute rescue,” Mark said. “And, you have no more right to the moral high ground than I do. Did you disclose to the seller why you wanted the island? Had you told them, they might have kept the treasure for themselves and leave you with nothing. That’s the thing; everyone is out for themselves. You, me, same coin, different sides. You cheated someone on the sly; I’m doing it more openly.”
“Actually, I told them why we wanted the island. Not in specifics, but that we’re searching for treasure,” Bonnie said. “They laughed.”
Another boat was already anchored by the island, and three men stood ashore, a pile of tools near them.
“OK, so, point us to the spot,” Mark said once ashore.
“From the map of the island, it should be at the high ground and in those trees,” Bonnie said. “There’s a large tabby concrete ‘X’ buried about four feet underground. Find the ‘X’, find the treasure.”
“It’s a concrete made by burning oyster shells to create lime, then mixing it with water, sand, ash, and broken oyster shells..”
“How big is this ‘X’?”
“From corner-to-corner, about nine feet.”
“That’s got to weigh more than a couple of tons!” Mark said.
“About seven tons, we think,” Bonnie replied.
“And the treasure is under it?”
“One leg of the X has a lead plaque on it to indicate the distance to the treasure in the direction of that leg.”
“That sounds complicated,” Mark said.
“Pirates apparently liked to complicate things, thinking they were clever,” Bonnie said. “Understand, I don’t guarantee we’ll find anything, and even if we do, I don’t know how much we’ll find.”
Mark didn’t respond but pointed for Bonnie to lead the way. She worried about the look he gave her.
It took over an hour to locate the ‘X’ by digging small holes, using a boat hook to poke the ground, excavating when hitting something solid, and repeating it when it turned out to be just a rock. Once they located the concrete ‘X’, the men set about digging around it. As it often happens in these things, the leg with the plaque was the last one they cleared. The portion with the plaque pointed to the northeast, and the lead plaque had the number fifty carved on it.
They tried fifty feet, dug and found nothing, and then tried at fifty steps. They struck and broke a large pot four feet down, revealing gold and silver coins and gems. An hour later, they had recovered four more pots spread within a ten-foot circle. They dug a while longer in an ever-widening circle to satisfy themselves there were no more, and then stopped.
“I have to admit,” Mark said, “even as I had my doubts, I’d hoped for more. Rough calculations put us at about nine-and-a-half million dollars on the gold coins alone, and that’s using the low end of what a collector would pay. The gems and silver should be half again as much, if not more. Not a bad haul, but much less than the reputed treasure of legend.”
Just then, his phone rang. Frowning, he answered and listened without speaking.
“It seems Scott got the drop on my two associates when Sadie and Noel showed up, and he’s on his way here,” he said as he ended the call. “Time for us to leave. No one is hurt as of now, but that might change if there’s a confrontation.” As he spoke, Mark lifted his shirt to show the holster and gun he carried.
Mark helped the men construct a makeshift pallet, and they moved the treasure to the boats in two trips. Once finished, as one boat left, Mark walked up to Bonnie and handed her a gold coin.
“Just so that you’re not left empty-handed,” he said, tipping an imaginary hat.
Within minutes, Bonnie could barely make out Mark giving a last wave as his boat rounded Egg Island’s north end and was gone from view.
Twenty minutes later, Sadie, Noel, and Scott found Bonnie sitting on the concrete ‘X’.
“Are you alright?” Scott asked, rushing ahead of the others and sliding down the shallow pit.
“I’m fine,” Bonnie said. “What happened to you? Are you OK?” she asked when she noticed the bruise on his chin.
“It’s nothing,” he replied. “You should see the other guy.”
Sadie and Noel looked relieved when they saw she was unhurt. They then all walked to the treasure site, now an empty hole, as she recounted what they found.
“Well, this isn’t good news,” Sadie said, “but the important thing is no one got hurt … except for Scott and the two thugs.”
“I didn’t want to let them go and almost chased after them,” Scott said as they retraced their steps on the sandy soil, “but I wanted to get here as fast as we could.”
“Well, not the optimal result, for sure,” Noel added, “but a great adventure just the same. Perhaps we should become treasure hunters, but next time, no lawyers allowed.”
“You know this was all about the ‘X’, right?” Bonnie asked as she stopped to pick up a sledgehammer and then walked down to the excavated marker. “Well, I might have left out a few details.”
She smiled and swung the sledgehammer wide, up, and brought it down on the center of the ‘X’, and then again.
They could all see the unmistakable shine and shape of gold ingots under the broken pieces of tabby concrete.
X, after all, always marks the spot.
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