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Week 3 of 52 Books in 52 Weeks

This week we're going to be discussing The Tears of Poseidon, the first Tex Ravencroft Adventure, which I wrote with my husband, Scott. Here's an excerpt from chapter one.

 

 

June 9, 1931

 

    Tex Ravencroft knew there was every chance he was about to die. He had faced death before, but this time it felt closer to him, like an itch on the back of his neck as though some unseen being was breathing on him. A step on his trail, that’s what the old timers would say. Maybe they were right.

“What is wrong?” his local guide, Kai, asked.

“Probably nothing,” Tex said, incapable of offering more reassurance than that. The truth was, they were already in six different kinds of trouble. They were trespassing on grounds sacred to the Hawaiian people. The coconut groves on the east coast of Kauai were kapu, forbidden, at least to commoners. They were meant for royalty alone.

Tex Ravencroft was a lot of things, a teacher, an explorer, an archaeologist, to name a few, but royalty he most certainly was not. Not for the first time he wondered if he needed to seriously reconsider his career choices.

Still, the monarchy was over, Hawaii was a territory of the United States. No royals were claiming the land, defending it against invaders such as him. At least, that was the theory. He still couldn’t shake the feeling, though, that he was in danger.

The air was moist and fragrant, pressing against him like a living, tangible thing as he made his way through the trees, stepping over fallen coconuts. He had come here chasing a legend, the way he so often did. For years he had collected several obscure references to a carved stone goblet. The ancient Hawaiians had used it in their human sacrifice rituals. The goblet was supposedly possessed of the power to destroy a man’s soul if used in a certain way.

Personally, he didn’t go in for that kind of thing. The world was a strange enough place without adding in mystical, supernatural elements. The rarity of the goblet, though, and its place in legend were enough of an enticement to bring him here in search of it. Treasures like this were meant to be shared with the world. And, if the museum happened to pay him to acquire objects like this, well, even an archaeologist needed to put food on the table.

He glanced behind him. The slim trunks of the coconut trees were all that was there. There was no vast army of warriors waiting even though it felt like there was. He turned back and as he did a glimmer of light caught his eye. It looked like light reflecting off the water.

The ocean was behind them, so this was something different. He felt his spirits lift slightly. He was looking for a pond and maybe this was it. He angled off in that direction and about fifty feet later it came into view. The pond itself was narrow, but very long so that from where he was standing on the one bank he couldn’t quite see the other one. The roughly rectangular shape was unusual, and he couldn’t tell if it was natural or shaped by the hand of man.

Partway down the left side he spotted a small section of lava rock wall lining the pond. The regularity of the lines betrayed it as man-made. He moved toward it with Kai trailing behind.

“So many things are changing,” Kai said. “More and more of your kind are coming here. Others, too. Puerto Ricans come to work the sugar plantations. Many from Korea, also. Soon our children will lose much of their memory of the old times and nothing will be sacred anymore.”

“If you don’t want to be here in the royal coconut groves then why did you bring me?” Tex asked.

“Someone was going to bring you, and I might as well have the money for it. Things are changing quickly, too quickly, but a man is wise to look to his future even if he does mourn his past.”

“And what is that future looking like?” Tex asked while keeping his eyes fixed on the lava wall.

“My eyes are telling me that this would be a wonderful location for a hotel.”

Tex barely managed to hold back a laugh. “Tell you what. You build it and I’ll be your first guest.”

“It is agreed then,” Kai said. 

Tex stopped as he reached the edge of the lava rock wall. There was a recessed ledge cut into it on the side facing the pond. The ledge held two objects. The first, a skull, bore a grotesque looking grin as though it was mocking all who came before it. It was not the first mocking skull Tex had come across in his travels, and they all served a single purpose. They were a warning to those who would dare continue in their search.

The second item on the ledge was a white ceramic cat brightly painted with a single paw raised.

“What is that?” Kai asked.

“It’s Japanese, maneki-neko, a beckoning cat. They’re used by merchants and restaurant owners to bring luck and money and beckon the passerby to come inside,” he explained.

Given the influx of immigrants to the islands it was not a surprise to find a maneki-neko on the island, but Tex certainly would never have thought to find one here.

“The skull warns us to keep away while the cat beckons us to come closer. There’s a mixed message for you,” he said drily.

“I do not like this,” Kai said. “What does it mean?”

The skull represented death. However, it might have a meaning beyond the standard “keep out” message those things were often meant to convey. It could be a symbol of the goblet itself, thus an indication that they were in the right place.

The cat’s meaning was perfectly clear, though. He put his satchel down on the ground.

“It means that it’s time to go on in,” Tex said, bending to relieve himself of his boots.

“I do not know what might be in that pond,” Kai said, alarm clear in his voice.

“Isn’t that part of the fun?” Tex looked more closely at the cat. “I think he’s pointing.”

“Pointing at a couple of fools. Time to give up.”

“Never,” Tex hissed. He had come too far to give up now. He turned and dropped into the pond, plunging beneath the waters. The temperature was colder than he had anticipated. That was likely owing to the fact that the pond was somewhat screened from the tropical sun by the dense coconut grove.

The water stung his eyes when he opened them. It was too dark to really make anything out. He moved his hands against the packed earth that was keeping the water in the pond prisoner, searching for something that seemed out of place. His hands brushed against tree roots and coconut husks. All to be expected.

Then his hand brushed against something rough with ridges and rounded edges. He seized hold of it and tried to lift it free. Whatever it was proved too heavy and he finally had to go up for air.

“Help me, there’s something down here,” he said.

A moment later Kai splashed into the water next to him. That was the thing with Hawaiians, they spent more time in the water than anyone else Tex had ever met. It was second nature to them.

This time Tex was able to brace his foot against a root protruding from the bank. Together they heaved and were able to bring the object to the surface of the water. Tex held it afloat while Kai scrambled out and together they got it onto solid ground.

It was a giant clam shell.

“What on earth was that doing in there?” Kai asked.

Tex got out of the water and squatted down beside it. “Someone put it there for safekeeping,” he said as he examined it more carefully.

Kai just shook his head.

“When you build your hotel you should use clamshells as the sinks,” Tex said.

Kai wrinkled up his nose. “I don’t think that would be easy to do.”

“Trust me; it would be worth it.”

“Maybe someday you’ll retire and buy a hotel. Then you can do with it what you like.”

Tex reached into his bag and took out his trowel. He found a spot where he could insert it in between the two halves of the shell. He applied pressure downward and the top of the shell began to move. He was able to grab hold of it and open it the rest of the way.

Inside there was a faded piece of kapa cloth wrapped around something. Tex picked it up and slowly unwrapped the object inside. When at last the cloth fell away he was holding a small, rough hewn cup with hideous, distorted faces carved all the way around it. 

Tex touched it and felt a shiver dart up his spine. He had a sudden sick feeling deep inside that he struggled to ignore. It was just the legends about the cup that were working on his imagination, conjuring up horrific thoughts and feelings. It had no basis in fact.

“This is what it’s all about,” he muttered and began to wrap it back up. It was then that he noticed a smaller piece of cloth. He set everything down on his satchel and then unwrapped the smaller bit of cloth.

Inside it was a small gem, shaped like a teardrop. It was dark hued, almost black but with a kind of purple glow to it. He reached out his hand to touch it. Where he expected it to be cool to the touch it was instead warm. Tex had never seen anything like it.

Something about it tugged at him, as though he were trying to remember a long forgotten dream. Slowly things became clearer and he realized that the gem looked like something he might have heard about once in a lecture. He stared at it for another moment, transfixed. It couldn’t possibly be what he thought it was.

“What is that?” Kai asked.

“Something that shouldn’t exist,” Tex muttered. He quickly wrapped it back up and shoved it in his pocket. “What’s important, though, is that we got what we came for.”

He stood and picked up both the sacred cup and the satchel. “It’s time to go home.”

He put the cup in its cloth wrapping into the satchel, eager to not have to touch it anymore. His mind, though, was on the gem in his pocket. It had been in one of Dr. Reid’s classes that he’d heard a legend about teardrop shaped gems such as that one. Dr. Reid was a bit of a riddle himself. The man always lectured his classes about not jumping to conclusions and about taking myths and legends with a large grain of salt. Yet, despite his many rants against what he called para-archaeology, he knew everything there was to know about mythology. Tex had long suspected that Dr. Reid was actually more believer than skeptic. Whatever his beliefs, it was well-known that his knowledge of antiquity was beyond compare. If you were chasing down legends like the cup or the teardrop gems, he was the guy you’d want to talk to.

“You never know what you’re going to find until you find it,” Tex muttered.

That had always been Dr. Reid’s favorite saying. That theory had actually proven itself out in the field time and time again.

“You seem troubled. Are you not happy to have the object of your search in your hands?” Kai asked.

“I am,” Tex said. Although truth be told he’d be much happier once the artifact was out of his hands. There was a deep level of satisfaction in the finding of such an object. There was an infinitely deeper level of satisfaction in making it home alive and turning it into someone else’s problem.

Fortunately this expedition already had a backer, someone who had shown more interest in acquiring the ceremonial cup than they had much of anything else in the past few years. That was Nathaniel, though. He always went in for the weird items. The creepier the better.

There was a sudden, loud banging sound and the earth shook violently beneath his feet throwing him onto the ground. He barely managed to twist his body in time so that he didn’t land on top of the satchel and its prize. Next to him Kai hit the ground as well, his eyes wide in terror.

A coconut landed inches from Tex’s head. He shielded the satchel with his body and then covered his head with his arms, knowing that if one of those coconuts hit him in the head it would almost certainly kill him.

“We have angered the gods. They are trying to kill us!” Kai shouted. “We must put the goblet back where you found it.”

“This has nothing to do with gods or goblets. This is an earthquake! It will stop in a few sec-” Tex broke off, hissing in agony as a coconut smashed against his left arm. Pain seared through him and he knew the arm was broken.

The irony was it was the same arm that had been broken when he experienced his first earthquake as a very young child. He and his aunt had survived the 1906 quake in San Francisco although their house had partially collapsed and later been destroyed entirely by the fires that swept through the city.

Digging in the pile of debris several days later and feeling the wild joy of discovering a favorite toy thought lost forever had honestly been what started him on the path of archaeology. So, that earthquake was responsible for him being here during this earthquake. He just hoped the irony didn’t kill him.

The earth stopped shaking at last and he got up slowly, fighting the urge to clutch his broken arm and instead using his good hand to pick up his satchel. That had been a close one.

He turned and looked at Kai who was still prostrate on the ground. “Are you okay?” he asked.

Kai looked up at him slowly, eyes full of fear. “No thanks to you. You must put the cup back, exactly where you found it.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Tex said. “The two events have nothing in common. It’s just unfortunate timing.”

Kai stood slowly to his feet. Tex could see that the other man was shaking. It was probably his first earthquake, and while Tex didn’t blame him for being frightened by it, he wouldn’t suffer silly superstitions to get in his way.

“Come on. There’s a plane bound for Oahu tonight and I intend to be on it.”

“Not with the cup you won’t be.” Kai took a step forward menacingly.

“Come on, Kai. I like you. I’m going to stay at your hotel when you build it, remember?”

Kai lunged forward, trying to grab the satchel and Tex twisted out of the other man’s reach. “Kai, be reasonable.”

Kai pulled a hunting knife out of a sheath he wore on his belt.

“That is definitely not reasonable,” Tex muttered as he went into a fighting stance. He’d only have one good chance to end this before one of them got killed.

He swung the satchel up underneath his left arm and hissed sharply as pain radiated out through the arm. It left his right hand free, though. Kai lunged forward and Tex was able to grab his wrist and twist it such that the other man dropped the knife.

Quick as a flash Tex snatched up the knife, flipped it over in his hand, and threw it so that the butt end hit Kai squarely in the head. The guide went down hard. Tex tarried a moment to make sure that he was still breathing, then he set out through the coconut grove.

It was five miles to the airport but with pain shooting up his arm at every step he took it might as well be a hundred miles. He stuck to the fields. It made the walking slower, more jarring to his arm, but he couldn’t risk Kai or one of his friends finding him on the road. As it was he heard only three cars drive by him.

He reached what passed for an airport on the island at last. He could see the plane on the tarmac that would be carrying passengers to Honolulu. He carefully surveyed his surroundings, wary of any possible traps. He could see no one out of the ordinary, though.

He finally made a dash for the plane and was halfway up the stairs before pausing to look behind him. Fortunately no one seemed to be giving chase. He climbed the rest of the way inside and met the startled eyes of the stewardess.

“This flight is full,” she said.

“I have a reservation. Ravencroft.”

She checked her manifest. “Yes, Dr. Ravencroft. You’re the last to arrive. We were beginning to think we’d be taking off without you.”

“Trust me, I was worried about that, too,” he admitted.

He took his seat, stowing his satchel under the seat in front of him. He began to relax when the stewardess sealed up the door. Usually he took flights as a perfect opportunity to update his journal. With his arm the way it was, though, he was just hoping that he would pass out instead. Fortunately the flight wouldn’t be a long one and then he could see a Doctor on Oahu who could fix him up.

His journal was tucked safely away in his satchel along with his finds and there it would stay for a while. He’d have to record the day’s events in it soon. He made a habit of keeping notes on his adventures though no eyes but his ever read them. Good archaeologists took extensive notes at every dig site to do their best to record what they found so others might later study the information. He’d gotten into the habit of taking those detailed notes when training on his first dig site. His activities that were a little beyond the pale also came in for the same treatment though he wasn’t sure he was doing himself a service by recording some of his more questionable activities.

He sighed as he leaned his head back. Things had been going so well earlier. Why did they so often have to take a turn for the worse. It was a lovely island. Too bad he wouldn’t be staying at Kai’s hotel after all.

 

 
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