The Swamp (Part 24)

Hendricks told them both the story of how he had escaped from the prison, leaving out the all-important bits about how and why he had been put there in the first place. He told them about the stinging bug, the ants and diving into the bog pool, and later, of finding the hidden cavern.

He was not sure if they believed him or not, and it was exhausting and at the same time exhilarating confiding in them.

“I am glad that you have trusted me enough to tell me this story, Mr. Hendricks.” Patel wanted to hear more.

“It’s not a matter of trust, Ravi. Hell, I don’t even know if I can find the place again. If I don’t get back there before the rainy season, all of my markings will be washed away for sure.” Hendricks laughed bitterly. “It’s just one more big fucking joke on me, this time from God or whatever or whoever the fuck is up there fucking with me all the time!”

Ravishankar Patel turned his back on them, put his glass down on the table and picked up the gem. He held it up to the light, studying it. He turned around quickly, slamming his fist down. “Then damn it, we have to get your yankee ass back there as soon as we can, don’t we!”

They all laughed at that.

“Seriously, Mr. Hendricks, I will get to work on this. We can’t let this opportunity pass us by. First of all, I think we will need quite a bit of money. A couple of million dollars should do the trick, don’t you think?”

“Ummm, yeah. But where the hell are you going to come up with that kind of dough. Are you that rich?” asked Hendricks sarcastically.

“Don’t be rude, Henrique, he is only trying to help,” chided Luz, poking him with her elbow.

“I’m sorry, Ravi, it’s just that, well, I find all of this hard to believe.”

“Oh, you find it hard to believe, huh? How about me? I find two people adrift in the middle of the ocean, miles away from any shore, almost dead of exposure and thirst, and then, viola, one of them happens to have four magnificent super-rare pink diamonds.”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Hendricks, “did you say four diamonds?”

“Yes, why do you ask?”

“Because I had six stones with me. Shit! I must have dropped some in the boat.” Hendricks shook his head.

“Well, I would not be worried about that too much. If what you say is true and we can find this place of yours, we will have all of the diamonds that we can handle,” Patel went on. “Oh, and as for the cash to mount the expedition, well, just one of these little pink babies will more than finance the trip, don’t you think?” He laughed his infectious laugh once again, and Hendricks and Luz couldn’t help but join him.

“Are you saying that it’s worth two million dollars?” Hendricks asked in amazement.

Patel just nodded, smiling. “You can’t sell these to just anyone, mind you, but I know several collectors who would love to get their hands on them.”

“Mr. Patel, I don’t know what to say?” Hendricks just stared at him, then shook his head, “But, no, it’s really impossible. I can’t involve you in this. I’m a fugitive, it would be way too dangerous for you. I have to handle this thing on my own.”

“Mr. Hendricks, I may not look like a tough guy, and really I am not, but I have some, how would you say, resources at my disposal, and I can make sure that we have extra security. Obviously, there will be a lot of planning and details to attend to, this won’t happen overnight, but I think the sooner we can get back, the better.

Of course, I don’t want to pressure you, and you could easily just take the money from the sale of the gems and disappear. You have at least four or five million dollars worth of diamonds here. I just think that, if we don’t go back, we’ll never know what could have been, the endless possibilities. Just think of all the good we could do with that money. Imagine, billions of dollars worth of pink diamonds, hidden in the middle of an ancient jungle. It boggles the mind! Such an adventure this will be! I changed my mind, Mr. Hendricks, I will pressure you! I must pressure you! Finally, something worth the risk, something to live for!”

Hendricks looked hard at Ravi, unblinking, “I…I need to think on it. This is all happening so fast, but yes, I agree that it would be incredible, truly amazing..." He shook his head, unbelieving.

Luz held his hand tight. Her face was dark and somewhat red, but she was smiling, as if she expected this all along.

“Henrique, please, you have to listen to him. This…all this…it is a miracle. Don’t you see, this was meant to be, all of this….is your destiny. Our destiny.” Her eyes were wide but there was a softness to her, a glow of compassion and the sincerity of youth.

Hendricks loved to see her like this. He realized right then that no matter what else happened, he would always love this girl, this beautiful light, that had come into his life and let’s face it, he thought, saved his miserable hide.

Ravi noticed the looks and feelings that passed between them. She is so young, he thought, definitely too young for this American.

On the other hand, he knew that all things must be possible in this amazing, unpredictable world. He himself had fallen long ago for a beautiful young woman, no less than a princess to his besotted mind. Ravi remembered chasing this girl, his Maya, who later would become his wife. He laughed, remembering that he had worn her down with his incessant courting.

She was a student at a nearby high school when he was already a grown man, twenty four years old and already well on his way to being the prosperous merchant he would one day become.

Maya had come into his jewelry store with her girlfriends, all wearing those CatholicSchool uniforms that he and his friends had always found so irresistible. From the moment she crossed the threshold, his heart had ceased to beat within his sternum and his palms became clammy. In fact, he realized that he was sweating profusely, and he cursed himself silently for having such traitorous glands.

Gathering himself quickly, he rudely stepped in front of the other salesman, his buddy Yogi, who just shrugged and stepped aside, happy to be rid of these girls that obviously were too young to actually purchase anything.

Ravi insisted on attending her personally, though it turned out to be considerably more difficult than he had anticipated since he was so nervous his hands kept shaking, and his embarrassment was complete when he dropped the earrings she wanted to try on at her feet. When he bent down to pick them up, the entire store could hear the cheap material of his threadworm pants rip. He felt the breeze on his bare legs and realized that his backside was bare.

“Ravi, you have finally found a way to keep cool in this heat!” Yogi blurted, doubling up in laughter.

Maya’s girlfriends all joined in the laughter and Ravi hung his head in abject shame, but then Maya did an amazing thing which he would never, ever forget: she turned around sharply and glared at the girls, hands on her hips, and with just that single scowling look they quieted down at once. He was dumbfounded and thoroughly impressed, that a fifteen year old girl should be able to command so much attention. If he had been in love with her before, now he was her slave forever.

She turned around to face him and smiled a smile as dazzling as the Hope Diamond itself. From that moment on it was all he could do not to camp outside her house.

One year later they were married in a lavish wedding in a small village near Calcutta where her family had originated from.

No, it was not his place, he thought, to meddle with love, no matter what the age difference or his own petty ignorance. Ravi cherished tolerance. He also knew that this man was on the run, a fugitive by his own admission. It was clear by his furtive actions and the rags he was found in that he had undergone extreme stress, fatigue, pain, and privation.

What could possibly drive a man to endure these extremes, he asked himself. There before him was one of the reasons surely; love. Ravi knew that love was a powerful force. But he knew that he had not been told the whole story and that Hendricks was driven by powerful demons, by things that Ravi was not being made privy to, and possibly never would.

But Ravi also prided himself on being a great judge of character and even more than character, he was a keen judge of goodness. Ravi felt rather than knew that this man sitting in front of him was a good man, a man to be trusted. Yes, he decided right there and then. He would risk all for this strange man and this lovely girl.

to be continued

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