A Body of Water
by Tim Simmons
|part 1 of 5|
Grayson Thorne, a super-successful software designer, has been funding his archeologist friend Jack Sheppard’s research. Jack has discovered the statue of an Assyrian water demon, and the inscriptions on the accompanying plates are said to hold the secret of immortality. Grayson is skeptical at first, but the ancient treasure seems to hold both a lure and a curse...
A middle-aged man in a very expensive designer suit tapped his right foot while staring at the elevator’s down button. After pushing the button several times, the bell rang and the doors slid open. Empty.
He rushed inside and pushed the ground floor button. His eyes followed the numbers as they lit. 48... 47... 46... Reaching into his left pants pocket, his fingers closed around a prescription bottle and he absently fondled it. 39... 38... 37...
He gazed sideways and saw his reflection in the mirrored sides of the elevator. Stepping closer, the man squinted while scrutinizing his appearance. His face, strong and clean-shaven, was just starting to show the telltale signs of encroaching age: tiny wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, the inevitable receding hairline and an almost imperceptible second chin.
Frowning, the man pulled at his jaw line, temporarily turning back the clock a few years. He turned from his reflection and eyed the numbers again. 23... 22... 21... He felt the sweat on his palms and he started pacing back and forth. 12... 11... 10... He halted, closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly each time. He opened his eyes. 3... 2... 1...
A slight jolt and the doors opened. He pushed past a small group of people, through the lobby and out of Thorne Towers toward the congested city streets. Flailing his arms in the air, he hailed an oncoming taxi, already occupied by passengers, which swerved toward him to avoid an imminent collision in the next lane.
The taxi grazed the man and knocked him to the ground while the horn let out an annoying peal. The man jumped back onto his feet and yelled and waved his arms in the general direction of another oncoming taxi.
This one was empty and it pulled up to the curb. “Where to?” the cabby asked. The man, slightly winded, panted, “Willow Brook Apartments #283. I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you make it quick, and another hundred to wait at the door until I’m done.”
“Say no more. You’re there. You’re there!” Tires screeched and the taxi bolted off toward the most extravagant apartments in the city.
Grayson Thorne was at the apex of his career. If anyone had it all, it was Grayson Thorne, founder of Thorne Software Associates. He had erected his software empire from the ground up, exchanging time for money. But even though he could acquire practically anything with his fortune, one thing had steadily eluded him.
The taxi parked and Grayson flipped a crisp hundred over the driver’s shoulder and got out. Finding the apartment, he rang the doorbell and waited. The door opened at once.
“Jack, you devil! It’s been quite a while. I didn’t even know you were in town.”
“Man, it’s good to see you again. I hope you don’t mind the short notice.” The smooth, youthful voice of Jack Sheppard seemed to hypnotize Grayson for a second. “Come in. We’ve got a lot to talk about, pal.” Grayson entered the apartment, glancing around to acclimate himself to the surroundings.
“Thanks. You look like you could use a little drink. You still prefer brandy, right?”
“Your memory is as sharp as ever.”
Jack removed a bottle from the cabinet and poured some of the golden liquid into a small glass and handed it to Grayson. “Sit down. Make yourself comfortable,” Jack implored.
Grayson chose a seat on the antique couch. “Jack, I hope this discovery is as interesting as you claim, or I’m afraid I may have to stop funding your efforts. It’s going on five years now.”
Jack spoke in a soothing tone: “Now, Grayson, you know I wouldn’t have asked you to come at once unless it was of extreme importance. So, I’ll get to the point. During these past three years, I’ve been tracking down the whereabouts of Hudor Diabolos — the water devil.” Jack paused and sipped some bourbon.
“Hudor who? Jack, I thought you were trying to find the cup of the pharaoh Khree Knops?”
“I was. But let’s just say I made a discovery that forced a change in plans. Listen to this. The legend of Hudor Diabolos speaks of a worship ritual involving a small, carved image made from an iron and copper alloy and a set of three etched, triangular bronze plates. According to the legend, the worshiper would place the plates on a table, where they formed a fourth triangle in the middle. Inside this space, the statue was placed and the words that were etched on the plates were recited by the worshiper, summoning the water devil to appear.
“It was believed that the water devil would grant the request of the worshiper but the worshiper was required to do something in return. Many believed that the water devil could even grant immortality to the worshiper.”
Grayson’s eyebrows arched as Jack continued. “The statue was supposedly carved sometime during the Assyrian rule, around 650 B.C., in what is now Iraq. However, the last mention of the statue in the legend told of the Egyptian pharaoh Khree Knops II and his command to have the image destroyed along with the plates.”
“Look, this is all very interesting, but I left the office right in the middle of a very important meeting with one of my largest accounts to come here. Can you just give me the short version?” Grayson asked and took another swig from his glass.
“Okay, I’ll make it quick. About three years ago, while tunneling between two small rooms beneath the tombs of Khree Knops, my shovel hit something much harder than the sediment I had been removing. I dug around it carefully and in a few minutes, I was holding nothing less than the actual statue of Hudor Diabolos!
“At first I was elated. Then I remembered that there was another piece to the puzzle. I had to find the plates. I never told you about finding the statue because without the plates, the statue is worthless. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last three years.” Jack hesitated, a sly smile emerging. “Grayson, your funding has finally paid off. I’ve found the plates.”
The door to Jack’s spare bedroom opened and he flipped on the light. On a small stand in the middle of the room was a statue resting on a black velvet spread. Three small bronze plates surrounded it. “You are looking at the culmination of three grueling years,” Jack beamed. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Grayson walked up to the statue and was about to touch it when Jack shouted “Grayson, no! Don’t touch it!” Grayson stumbled backwards.
Jack stared at Grayson with crazed eyes until he could no longer hold back the laughter. “Man, you should have seen your face!” Jack bellowed, slapping Grayson on his shoulder. “Sorry, pal. I couldn’t resist.”
“Jack, I should slug you for that! You just about gave me a heart attack.” Grayson drew some deep breaths with his right hand on his chest.
“I’m sorry. I just couldn’t help myself. Go ahead. Take a closer look at it. The craftsmanship is inhuman. It seems almost alive.”
Grayson braced himself for another trick and stepped forward to gain a closer look. “It’s rather plain, don’t you think?” he asked. “And it’s so small. I wouldn’t have thought that these people would waste their time worshipping a statue no taller than your hand.”
“Grayson, you’re missing the subtleties. Look at the eyes. Can’t you just feel the power?” Grayson perused the statue but couldn’t seem to find anything out of the ordinary about it. To him, it was a small blackish-green effigy of some bizarre two-legged creature. Even the eyes seemed lifeless, like an unpainted mannequin in the back of some old clothing shop.
“Well, what do the plates say? Have you tried summoning the spirit yet?” Grayson asked with a big smile as he reached out and stroked the embossed inscription on one of the plates with his index finger.
“No, I was waiting to give you the privilege. This is your project, remember? You invested a lot of money and it’s only fair that you get first shot at it. Besides, I haven’t finished translating the plates. It’s not that they have much text on them, but I must be sure that I’m translating them correctly. I should be done by tomorrow, perhaps.”
“You must be very proud of such an accomplishment.”
“I’m fortunate. But these last few years have been the toughest years of my life, Grayson. You see... I’m married now.” Grayson then saw the band of gold on Jack’s finger that he had not noticed before.
“Congratulations, Jack. I didn’t know you had gotten married.” Jack walked back toward the living room as Grayson followed.
“I didn’t get to be with my wife very much while I was overseas. So, now I hope we can make up for the lost time. Say, I have a great idea. Why don’t you have dinner with us tonight and meet Sarah?”
“Jack, I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it. I have to finish a presentation for tomorrow.”
“I’m only asking for two hours. You can burn the midnight oil and hit the caffeine. Come on, pal. Be a sport.”
“Well, it has been a while since we’ve talked face to face. All right. Time?”
“How about seven? That will give us time to get settled and relaxed.”
“All right then. I’ll see you tonight at seven.”
Jack walked Grayson back toward the front door. “I’ll see you then, pal. Bring your appetite. She makes a mean dish of Tandoori chicken.”
After shaking hands, Grayson walked outside toward the awaiting taxi and waved goodbye as he boarded. “Thorne Towers” he instructed the cab driver. Buildings, shapes and colors flew past him as he stared out the window as if in a daydream.
* * *
Copyright © 2008 by Tim Simmons