Brighter than Gold – Charissa Gracyk

Sheets of cold, hard rain pounded down from the dark Florida sky and waves crashed against the shore with an ungodly force. Thunder rumbled and lightning cracked, brightening the silhouette of a salvage ship anchored offshore. A small motor boat pulled up alongside the salvage ship, bouncing around in the ocean like a cork. It was enough to make even the most experienced seafarer green around the gills. Two men in wetsuits secured the smaller boat and climbed aboard. They lugged dive gear and other equipment onto the tilting deck. Dylan Ford struggled to stand upright, legs akimbo, his long, lean body moving with the pitch and roll of the ship. He gave his dark head a shake and slicked his wet hair back with large, callused hands. It was a little too long and needed a good cut. But, it was just the way he liked it. A little wild and dangerous-looking just like the rest of him. Rain sluiced down his chiseled face and caught in his long spiky lashes. He licked several drops off his upper lip and looked up at the black sky above. The sooner this is over, the better, he thought. Then, he reached down to start a pre-check on his scuba gear.

Nearby, Tony Burke threw an aluminum air tank onto his back. A dangerous air hovered around him and he blinked raindrops out of his eyes. All of a sudden, a bolt of lightning struck a metal pole beside Dylan. He jumped, sparks flying and showering over him and the deck. Tony laughed. “I told you lightning could be a problem.” Dylan looked down at himself, grateful to not be on fire, and then lifted his middle finger at Tony. Last night, clear skies and a golden-red sunset had filled the Florida sky. In a dimly-lit corner, Dylan sat in a booth across from Tony at the Sand Bar, a local dive. His long fingers wrapped around a beer bottle, turning it in a circle, and his shrewd mind raced. I need a big score, he thought. Actually, it was a little more than need. He was currently in fucking desperate straits and if he didn’t get his hands on some cash soon, he didn’t know what the hell he was going to do. “Lightning could be a problem,” Tony predicted. Dylan took a long swig of beer, listening to a guy he didn’t trust and didn’t like overly much either.

“Best time to find treasure is right after a big storm,” Dylan said. “The rough water shifts everything around.” “That’s why we need to go during the storm.” Dylan arched a dark brow. Tony wasn’t the brightest guy he knew and diving thirty feet deep in rough ocean water darker than ink wasn’t his idea of smart. In fact, after a run-in with a bull shark a few years ago, he avoided diving at night altogether. But, at this point, he was out of options and needed cash fast. Like yesterday. “Last major storm revealed 100 chests down there and over the last six months, they’ve only pulled out 30 and haven’t opened one.” Tony snorted in derision. “They just sit in salt water tanks, soaking in a cleaning solution. Fucking asinine.” “The salvage company is trying to preserve them,” Dylan said smoothly. “It’s Florida law.” “Fuck Florida law,” Tony hissed.

“Who cares if the goddamn trunk is preserved? I want what’s inside and there are at least 50 more chests sitting down there, rotting. I say we go grab a couple. Who the hell’s gonna know?” He pushed his empty beer bottle over against several others, hitting them with a clink. “Anything down there belongs to the sea and whoever has the balls to go down and get it.” Dylan wasn’t a fool. Luck hadn’t been his friend the last few years and he owed a lot of money to a lot of people. Unsavory people who wouldn’t hesitate to break his bones first and ask questions second. Word had gotten around town that he was in dire straits and now Tony suddenly wanted to partner up? Something felt off. But, this could be the score he needed to settle his debts. “Why me?” he asked. Tony shrugged. “I heard you could use some extra cash. I’m sure it’s not cheap to keep your Ma in that home.” Fuck. He had hit the nail on the head.

Five years ago, Nora Ford had finally worked herself into the ground. Ever since his Dad had left them when Dylan was a kid, Nora did everything she could to make ends meet. Dylan tried to convince her to slow down and told her she needed to take a day off sometimes, but she was a worker. And, despite all of her side jobs, there never seemed to be enough money. The call had broken Dylan’s heart. His Mom had been at her third job, and right in the middle of pouring coffee for a customer, when she collapsed. He rushed over to the hospital where the doctor told him that his mother had cancer. Fucking lung cancer, of all things. Completely ironic since the woman never smoked a cigarette a day in her life. Chemo and radiation had helped for awhile, but the cancer metastasized and spread to her colon, stomach and finally, to her brain. This past year, Dylan had to place her in a facility with round-theclock care. He just couldn’t care for her by himself any longer and he hated it. Felt guilty leaving her there. But, he visited every day. He made sure of it.

Tony leaned forward, over the cracked formica table, and narrowed his eyes. “Besides, you’re the only sonofabitch crazy enough to do it.” Yeah, he had that right. Dylan had a stack of medical bills to pay and he’d borrowed money from people who he should have gone out of his way to avoid. Back on the salvage ship, Dylan tied a rope around a notch on deck while Tony loaded a spear gun. Dylan’s gaze moved over to study the black water and his stomach churned. Sweat dripped down his body within the wetsuit. He took a deep, steadying breath and forced down the overwhelming dread that poured through him. The chance of it happening again is slim to none, he reminded himself. Besides, this time you’re prepared . He checked the military-issued Ka-Bar strapped around his thigh. Serrated and sharp as shit. Just the way he liked it. Think about Ma, he told himself. You’re doing this for her.

Fuck the sharks. Besides, he refused to let a little dark, cold, rough, shark-filled water stop him. I am definitely the only one crazy enough to do this. He checked his dive watch, then slid his mask down and put the regulator in his mouth. Ah, fuck it, he thought, and stepped off the edge of the deck, sinking into the choppy, black waves below. The roar of the wind and waves disappeared the moment Dylan slipped below the surface and began to follow the anchor line down. Enveloped by the sound of his own breathing, he held his handmounted dive light up and it cast an intense, very concentrated, 6-degree beam that penetrated the darkness. Around 25-feet down, he and Tony reached the sea floor where approximately 50 chests sat, half-buried in the shifting sand. Tony reached for the rope at his side and they moved toward the closest chest, struggling against the rough current. All around them, various fish and several, smaller sharks swam. After they secured the chest, Dylan and Tony swam back to the surface and climbed aboard the ship. They stripped their mask, fins and various equipment off and then began to haul the chest up. After heaving it onto the deck, Tony took an axe and chopped through the wood preserved by 300 years of coral and barnacles. The chest split open to reveal stacks of gold bars. The rain continued to fall as Tony began to paw through the gold, counting, and Dylan picked up a heavy bar and laughed in amazement.

“Fifty,” Tony verified. He stood up and tilted his head. “One more?” “Hell, yeah,” Dylan said, weighing the gold bar in his hand. All his financial problems were about to be over and his Mom’s care would be set for the next year. ∞∞∞ Hollis Quinn sat on the edge of the couch, caramel-colored eyes glued to the television screen where a meteorologist tracked the storm. She gathered her long, wavy copper hair into a messy bun and sighed. She wanted to leave, but her father just stood at the window and gazed out the rainstreaked glass. He didn’t turn around, but felt her impatient stare. “Almost,” he said. Charles “Chaz” Quinn, a legend in the treasure-hunting world, was Hollis’s idol. Though retired and well into his 60s, Chaz still maintained a zest for life and adventure. Hollis inherited his same spirit and also possessed a feisty, independent side. Typical traits of a redhead. Thunder rumbled the glass in its windowpane and Chaz waited for another strike of lightning, but none came. “Lightning’s over.

We’re good to go.” “Oh, thank God.” Hollis jumped up and grabbed her jacket. She’d never been known for her patience. Twenty minutes later, Chaz and Hollis stepped onto the deck of the salvage ship and froze. A light rain still sprinkled down and the first thing they saw was the broken-up chest and stacks of gold bars. “Tombraiders,” Chaz warned. Hollis raced over to the railing, her gaze following a tethered guideline into the depths below. Her face darkened and she glanced over her shoulder and saw her Dad pulling on a dive tank. “I’m going with you,” she said, but he held a hand up. “No, you need to stay up here. Call the salvage company and keep an eye on the gold.” Even though she wanted to argue, she bit her tongue. Whoever did this needed to be reported and arrested, and the sooner the better. God, she hated tombraiders.

They gave all treasure hunters a bad name. “Be careful,” she said. With a nod, he finished checking his equipment, slid a hand over the sheathed knife strapped to his hip and dropped into the choppy water. Swallowed up by the eerie quiet beneath the surface and the susurration of bubbles released by his regulator, Chaz followed the anchor line down. He turned his dive light on and it didn’t take long for him to spot the two divers tying rope around another chest. Caught off guard by a third companion, Dylan released the rope and Tony turned the spear gun toward Chaz. When Chaz pulled his knife, Tony hit the trigger and Dylan shoved his arm. The spear shot, off-target, yet sliced between Chaz and his gear, catching his wetsuit. The harpoon point lodged in a chunk of coral-covered rock, pinning Chaz. His knife, dropped by the impact, now laid on the sandy bottom, out of reach. As Chaz struggled to break free, Tony dropped the spear gun and swam to the surface without a backward glance. Up on deck, Hollis paced back and forth, near the rail. Suddenly, a diver surfaced and she hurried out onto the dive platform. But, it wasn’t her father. It was Tony Burke, she realized when he pulled off his mask.

A coldness settled in the pit of her stomach. Big fucking surprise. He climbed up and pushed past her. “Why am I not surprised?” she asked, crossing her arms. But, Tony ignored her and headed straight for the gold. He grabbed a few bars, stuffing them in a bag. “Where’s my Dad?” Hollis demanded. “Didn’t see him.” She grabbed his arm and he shoved her away. “Back the fuck off,” he snarled. “Where is he?” When he refused to answer, she lunged for the bag. “You can’t take that.” But, he yanked it away and raced across the deck to his boat. Hollis took off after him. Far below the surface, Dylan swam toward Chaz.

He slid his Ka-Bar out, raised his hands to show he meant Chaz no harm, then moved in to pry the harpoon from the rock. It was jammed in there good, but the knife’s steel was of highest military quality and, after a couple of minutes, Dylan finally managed to break Chaz free.


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Updated: 15 September 2021 — 03:17

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