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by Steven D. Richards
Description: A rousing good tale of adventure. Human cloning is not far away and this page-turner reveals the potential misuse of this incipient technology by a wealthy drug lord in Costa Rica, who greedily tries to save his ownlife at the expense of all else. He is in pursuit of a living heart-donor--his own clone birthed 25 years before.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net, 2002
eBookwise Release Date: March 2006
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [581 KB]
Reading time: 418-585 min.
The boat's engine gently purred intermittently in the distance as Nick opened his eyes to a slit and noticed the movement of the craft near the horizon several hundred yards off the pure white sandy beach. He hated to get out of the hammock, but he knew his father would require him to handle all the details as he always did. Not only did he expect all aspects of the assignment to be exact, but he also believed that his son was the one manning the boat steering wheel as it quickly whipped to the waiting dock.
To prevent his old man from coming unglued, Nick decided it was time to awaken from his afternoon reverie and attend to the Fordolo family business. Perhaps it was his own laziness, or more likely that Nick wanted to feel the authority of being a Fordolo as he told Diego to make the run in the stealth boat. The many men in the employee of his father had always thought of Nick as a mere boy. Yet, Nick was now twenty-two, and he knew by more than subtle clues that his father was now demanding great things of him, beyond the senseless destruction of his red Ferrari the week before. Allowing Diego to take the trip this time might impress Nicholas Fordolo, Jr., enough that Nicholas Fordolo, III might actually get an office in the great house.
The heat of the Central American sun burned down on the coast like a blast furnace from the sky. It did not matter that the stealth boat was coming in broad daylight. The vessel would now be empty, and the secret, on board safe would be full of untraceable gold bullion, if all had gone as planned. Nick slid from the hammock secured between two palm trees and threw on a T-shirt over his sleek build as he headed for the pier. He could see Diego driving as expected, but there was something on his face something distorting his expression like an evil grin of the Joker. Nick helped the other men tie up the unusually shaped, low profile derivation of the Maranda B-28 Batboat that had been converted with radar absorbing attachments to the fuselage. The front end had been modified to hold a large cargo under the front deck, with upper doors cut into it for speedy loading and unloading. This shipment had been $10 million counterfeit American dollars that were intended for a Middle Eastern terrorist group whose intent was to destabilize the American economy by flooding the world market with bogus bills. Nick waited until the odd appearing speedboat had been tied up to the pier before he sprang into the center of the driving box as Diego shut off the engine. He could only see his black head from the back.
"Hey man! How did it go? What's that on your face?" Nick yelled.
Diego turned to reveal a traumatized mouth. His left check was in bloody shreds with broken teeth reflecting from underneath the gore.
"They got me"
"What do you mean, man?" said Nick as he grimaced at his injury while taking him by both shoulders.
"I caught a big slug from some stupid agent," he said with difficulty as he moved out of Nick's grip to step from the boat.
"Hang on!" barked Nick. "I'm sorry you got hit. We'll get you to the docs right away. But first the gold. I need the gold, Diego," Nick insisted as he perused the deck.
Noticing the electronic scanning pad on the boat's instrument panel, he sprang to the device and placed his right thumb on it. As he pushed, a light blue laser scanner deciphered his thumbprint and the concealed safe door slowly opened on the hydraulic hinges from under the dashboard. When the interior lights to the safe clicked on, Nick's face revealed shock at finding an empty container, not only because of the absence of the gold, but what his father would do. He could see that leathered face in his mind's eye, and as he produced that mental image, fear penetrated his chest like a flying ax. Nick jumped to the storage bin up front and threw open the laterally hinged doors to see an empty watertight compartment. By this time Diego was standing on the pier, looking down at him, holding his left cheek in a blood soaked handkerchief. Nick knew in a nanosecond that there would be awful repercussions because of this mistake. Besides the retribution that he feared he also wondered how he might get the funds to cover the missing cache of the Hererra's counterfeit money.
"What happened? Where's the shipment?" asked Nick as he banged his flat hand back and forth against the sides of the empty safe. A second later he pulled Diego back into the boat and showed him the empty compartment.
"Hey, man, at least I brought the boat back!" he said with even more difficulty through his heavy breathing.
"The boat does not matter. Where's the payment? That shipment was worth half a million. You know that if we don't deliver that gold, there is going to be a blood war, now don't you?" shouted Nick into the bloodied, shrinking face.
"There was nothing I could do, Nick, believe me. I was running the coast as planned, and they came out of nowhere. Helicopters, two coast guard ships--they were all over me. I could have outrun them--but they fired their guns at the boat. They took the containers with the bills but I--I escaped."
"You escaped? You escaped?" shouted a red faced Nicholas Fordolo as he ripped off his sunglasses. He reached into the waist of Diego's pants and produced a chrome plated .9 millimeter semiautomatic and popped the bullet clip into his hand. The clip was full.
"You didn't even get off a shot!" said Nick quietly. He then gazed out over the emerald blue water, engrossed in thought. Diego began to shake like it was ten below instead of ninety-five in the shade. Several silent moments passed before he spoke to the other five men on the pier.
"Take him to the cabana next to the pool. Call Dr. Wingart. Get him a drink of whiskey. I will be there in a minute."
The five muscular men took him by the elbows and escorted him off the pier and up the tile walkway leading to the Fordolo great house. Nick stayed behind for a few minutes as he sat in the stealth boat's captain's seat. He fingered the steering wheel as he talked to himself.
I should never have let Diego do this thing. He really has screwed me up this time, he thought. He intuitively knew what would happen. The family way demanded it. He had been a good companion over the last three years--very loyal, hard working, and clever. He hated to see him go, but there was no other way. Not only would he lose his acquaintance, but also this would personally cost him at least half a million dollars, if not more. The Hererra family was expecting expeditious delivery to a freighter off the Yucatan peninsula as was outlined in the understanding between Nick's father and the head of the largest counterfeiting operation in Costa Rica. The Fordolo's would make $250 thousand for the delivery, transferable by untraceable electronic funds as they shifted through a dummy corporation, and the Hererra family would take the half million in gold bullion which had originated in Iran. Nick could cover the client's portion with his own cash, and he hoped that he could induce his father to waive the family cut. The problem was that there was an interdiction by the U.S. Coast Guard. That was nothing but bad for business and the Fordolo reputation of timely and concealed delivery of the products that they handled. Nick's father would be rabid, he suspected, especially when he discovered that Nick had not made the run himself but had sent a drinking buddy instead.
As he left the boat, he noticed several bullet holes in the stealth material covering the stern. There was gasoline oozing from them, draining down over the stern panel where B-1 was inscribed. As he slowly walked, he thought about what his father might require of him now. Twisting the story about in his mind, he finally arrived at the cabana and table where a terrified Diego sat waiting.
The walkway led up to the main structure of the Fordolo compound. The entire complex covered some five hundred acres along the coral outcroppings of the Atlantic side of the Costa Rican beach. Feathered with waving palms, and framed with white stucco walls, red tile roofs and the tropical waters off shore, the home and its various cabanas and cottages appeared more like a Caribbean resort than it did a criminal fortress. The Fordolo family had been there for many years. Nick only knew it as far back as his grandfather, Nicholas Sebastian Fordolo who built the main building and had named the estate Fordolovilla. It was an impressive mansion with an entire glass wall overlooking the ocean inlet below; and from behind that window his father, Nick Jr. now looked out upon his holdings and the various activities of his transporting enterprise. Long ago Grandfather had begun the transportation business after he quickly learned of the difficulties in manufacturing the stuff of vice rum, hash, cocaine, and counterfeit money. His business of transporting these substances quickly grew, especially with his profit sharing plan involving the local police. His reputation for quiet, efficient transportation, mostly to the northern latitudes of the United States and beyond brought Nick's grandfather untold wealth in a very short period of time. The stealth boat was a modern addition, brought in by Nick's father. He was known as "Toubouli" to his close friends because of his gastronomic proclivity to that food. Violent maintenance of order in his family business was widely known as a characteristic of Toubouli. It was to this standard that Nick wondered how best to handle Diego, especially since he was rapidly becoming as close a friend as Roberto. As Nick made his way up the walk he thought never to send Roberto on an assignment that was his alone. Otherwise the difficulty he now encountered would be ten fold greater than that now facing him should Roberto fail.
Turning into the large pool area, decorated with several dark-skinned nearly naked women, Nick found Diego and two of the pier men waiting for him under the bribri palm roof of a poolside table. Two drinks in tall glasses were in front of him, and the wounded young man was already consuming his with a straw entering the good side of his mouth. Nick grimaced at his appearance again as he sat down and took one of the whiskey sours.
"You look awful. Ramón, have you called the doctor?"
"Yes Nick. Roberto went to pick him up," said one of the men who now returned to the bar area. Just then, a jet powered helicopter chopped at the sky overhead and flew out over the sea before it made a curvilinear turn back toward the mainland. After the noise had passed and Roberto had flown the helicopter out of sight, Nick turned to Diego.
"How are you feeling?"
"Not too bad. The whiskey is helping."
"What happened out there?"
"It was like I said. The Coast Guard came out of nowhere. I don't see what the big deal is, Nick. They can always print more money," he said with great difficulty from the good side of his mouth.
"Where were you?"
"I was past the Yucatan according to the computer navigation screen. Things were going great. It was pitch black and I must have been about ten miles off shore and then wham bright lights were all over the place."
"I don't see how that was possible. The boat does not show up on radar. They must have seen you at a refueling station."
"Maybe. Everything seemed to be going as planned though. You gotta believe me. I would never do anything to jeopardize the company. You know me better than that--don't you, Nick?"
"Sure. We'll get this straightened out with Father somehow. Relax--drink till it doesn't hurt. We'll figure out a way to come up with the money, I'm sure. I am more worried about the Coast Guard figuring out our techniques for the future. Tell me what happened after they boarded you."
Diego took a long sip of his drink as the sea breeze brought pain to his wounded cheek. The blood was now crusted all over the left side of his face. He winced in pain for a moment, and then spoke.
"It's hard to remember everything exactly, but I do know that they took me off the boat first thing. They then went straight to the forward cargo hold and began off loading the shipment. They were saying things like 'I was in deep trouble' and that I had to cooperate if I ever wanted to see my family again. They cleaned the boat out in about twenty minutes. They never handcuffed me--or anything. Since I was alone not armed, they seemed to relax a little bit."
"Where was your gun?" asked Nick between sips.
"Under the seat of the captain's chair. They never searched for it. It wouldn't have done me no good anyway--they were all over the place. You gotta understand--just as they finished off-loading the boat, I grabbed the machine pistol out of one the agent's hands as he passed by me. I jumped from the cutter back into the boat, and threw open the throttle. Then I turned the wheel real hard and started shooting at them as I ducked down. Things happened so fast--there was so much noise that I never heard them fire back, but I did see the flames from their barrels. I was doing fine when I saw some bullets hit the dash, and then my face really stung like a bee got me. I felt the blood on my neck next and I knew I was also hit. I just headed as fast as that boat would take me south. They never found me on radar and I never saw them again. The B-1 is the fastest thing I ever seen, man. I used its radar and the satellite gizmos to bring me right back here. That's how it happened."
Nick decided to test him as he finished off his drink and signaled for another one.
"I don't believe you. You are lying. You took the containers somewhere else and hid them. You probably also have the gold stashed somewhere as well. Perhaps the half million in bullion is residing in a place know only to you."
"Nick, my friend! Why would you accuse me of such of a thing? I had no time to plan anything. You know that you just had me make this run at the last minute. When would I have had time to create such a complicated mission? And if I did that, would I have come back here with half my face shot off?"
"The Coast Guard does not let people stand on their ship uncuffed and watch counterfeit money being loaded--and they certainly would not permit you to steal their guns and shoot them up. You are lying to me. I want the truth now."
There was silence as both men watched the stealth boat being raised by a crane onto the back of a truck to be taken to a dry dock. Finally he replied.
"I am telling you how it happened. There is nothing else I can do to make you believe me."
Nick signaled the bar man to bring another drink. He got up from the chair and whispered to the large armed bartender, "Get him drunk, Ramón. He's in a lot of pain." The bartender smiled and continued mixing another whisky sour for the injured man. Nick turned and began to walk toward the great house that was attached to the far end of the pool.
"Nick," shouted Diego, "are you going to kill me now?"
He shouted back, "I've never killed anybody. Toubouli doesn't know what happened. Relax. I'll be back in a minute. I've got to smooth this thing over. Remember that it was me who sent you out there. In some ways you saved me if what you are saying is true. Father wanted me to make this run--not you. Drink up. Who knows? Maybe they can print some more like you said. The doc will be here soon to patch you up."
Diego sighed with relief and began downing his next whiskey sour as Nick disappeared through the side servants' entrance. Perhaps Nick would be able to smooth this over. He reckoned that Toubouli would honor loyalty to the family over a misfortune that only resulted in loss of wealth--although a sizeable amount. He figured the Fordolo family could afford it. His life depended on that.
The younger Fordolo climbed the stairs that ascended into the main office and living area of the great house. Nick was a strong, sinewy man, somewhat lanky in his twenty-two years. His formal education was now completed, having sat under the tutorage of a long line of private teachers from San Jose and other cities of the world, all hired by his father during his childhood. He never attended any public or private schools. Toubouli considered it risky and troublesome since such a venture would make the family vulnerable to either a kidnapping or other injury. He found it much less distracting to have Nick at home, knowing that his son was relatively out of the sights of other criminals of his own ilk.
Over the years Nick matured obviously with alterations of his physical stature and mental capacities to that of a young man in his prime. Toubouli was unhappy with the uncontrolled, chaotic behavior that Nick now demonstrated, surfacing at irregular moments. He noticed a distinct absence of that desired stability in his son, regrettably as a result of the Lucinda's absence, as well as his own, during critical stages of his child's life. The hormones of youth were presently coursing through Nick's young form, and the duties of family were needed to train him to be the Fordolo that his father envisioned. To that end, Toubouli employed his considerable wealth in a land savaged by poverty in many places. With appropriate application of his money, he lured the most attractive of women to Fordolovilla, if not for his own pleasure, but also to raise the potential for a wife for his bounding son.
Nick was well known among the women at the pool, although to him their faces were constantly changing even as their bodies stayed the same. He was a favorite among them enjoying his special status as the son of Toubouli. He was rich, wild, and looked something like an unmasked Zorro character. His behavior was not unlike the mythical personality much of the time as well. Until now, Toubouli had accepted his son's foolishness without as much as a flit. Nick now wondered what might happen. The Ferrari was one thing loss of a shipment was quite another. His intuition caused him to fear the worst for their employee at the pool, if not for himself. Being an only son, he felt some consolation that his life would not be threatened.
As he entered his father's office he gulped as he saw the small army of bodyguards lounging around the plush quarters. The sun sliced through the glass wall and fell onto Toubouli's bald head, creating a halo effect as he sat behind his large cedar desk.
As Nick stepped to a parrot perch to the side of the room, a multicolored macaw took a peanut from his hand. Toubouli looked up from his desk at his son.
"There's 18 holes in the stern, Nick. Are there any in you?" he asked.
Nick stared at the scarlet macaw known as "Monkey." The bird had been in the family since Nick was a small child. The large bird cracked the peanut easily with his sharp beak as he replied.
"No, father. No holes--at least that I know of. On the other hand--Diego is drooling some blood by the pool."
"Diego? You sent him to do this?"
Nick mumbled, "Yes, I did."
Toubouli jumped to his feet, "I curse you, Nick! What are you trying to do? I spend all my life keeping this family afloat and then you come along and do one stupid thing after another. What is going on with you, son?"
"Sorry, father. Sending him was a good idea though. Actually he caught the bullet that was meant for me. So in some ways you should be grateful."
Toubouli was a hot-tempered man. It took little for his anger to flare like the smoking volcano several miles from their quarters. He picked up a glass paperweight and hurled it at Monkey who squawked and flew up off the perch as Nick twisted out of the way of the missile that opened a new fenestration in a side window. Toubouli was now in Nick's face.
"Come sit down and I will tell you about grateful, you insolent cur," growled his father as he pulled him by the arm into a large leather chair in front of the desk.
Nick knew it was coming. He just did not know in what form the volatile personality of his father would be manifest. He knew of the stories of his father removing any enemies in his path. He also knew of the rumor that Toubouli had killed Fordolo Sr. many years before. As he sat in the chair, he felt like he was five years old again, caught lying to his parents. Somehow, though, the results of this upbraiding would be truly horrible in its final context.
Toubouli's face said much as he slowly took his seat behind the desk in front of the window. With a face like flint, he signaled to his armed guards to leave the two of them alone. Nick was wondering how much whiskey Diego had put away by now. He felt like a few more drinks might be in order for himself.
"You know, Nick, the Fordolo family has a long reputation for effective service among its many clients. It is our family name that must be guarded at all costs. You have not told me yet what happened to the B-1 but whatever it was, I know that our reputation is at stake. And do you know what, Nick?"
Nick stared at the countenance that he had known from infancy. His was a hard face, somewhere in the fifty's. As Nick looked into those deep coal-black eyes, he knew that a cold heart beat beneath his chest. It was then that his impression of his father was confirmed--he realized that he had no conscience. This was a family characteristic that Nick feared he was developing as well, as he aged. Toubouli was a man of distinct contradictions--fiercely competitive, ruthless in all manners, yet demanding of family traditions. While Nick's mother was alive, he believed him to be mellower. Yet, her bloody body that was removed from the compound late one evening would never appear to him again except as the occupant of a beautiful coffin at some forgotten cemetery when Nick was eight years old. All of these images flashed before him as he looked into that serious expression, thinking how he resembled one of the wild boars that he and Roberto frequently hunted.
"No, father, what?"
Toubouli leaned over the desk toward Nick and quietly whispered, "It will not be tolerated by me either in you, or any of your drunk friends. Do I make myself clear?"
Nick just stared at him, not moving in the chair.
"DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR!" shouted Toubouli.
"Yes, yes father--very clear--very clear. Just calm down, okay?"
Toubouli lowered his heavy body back into the leather chair that groaned as he sank into it. He picked up his letter opener and spun it between his fingers as he and Nick eternally locked eyes together.
"Now, Nick. I know how much you have wanted to grow up--to take on the family business, and I think the time has come to let you do some of that, son."
Nick cringed. He knew what was coming next.
"What's that, father?" he murmured through flexing jaw muscles.
You have a friend drinking at the pool right now with only half a smile--am I correct?"
"Yes. He's sort of a friend of mine--the one I told you about. He's the one who caught the bullet for me."
"He's the one who has cost us a very large sum of money. And you know how I feel about money, don't you Nick?"
"But Dad--it wasn't his fault. You can't--"
Nick said no more. The die had been cast.
"He will be disposed of. Either you do it, or I will. The choice is yours, Nick."
"But father--we can't kill Diego. He's a friend."
"He's a mistake, Nick. You are a mistake too. If you were not my only son, you would be going his way as well. I have nothing more to say on this matter. Take care of it. Do it quietly. Fernando will accompany you."
Nick looked up to see Toubouli punching a button on the desk. Within seconds, a heavy, shaven-headed man, known as Fernando, who had a "Fu Manchu" mustache, appeared next to Toubouli. Nick's father looked at him and subtly nodded. Fernando smiled a bit and followed Nick out of the door. As he was leaving, he turned back to see Toubouli re-perching his pet macaw.
"Father!" entreated Nick once more. Fernando placed a heavy hand on his shoulder, indicating to Nick that the discussion was over. As the two left the room and reentered the courtyard, Nick wondered what was next. Fernando circled to the far side of the pool as Nick composed himself and returned to Diego who by now was feeling the effects of the alcohol.
Nick picked up his empty glass as well as the one from which his companion was drinking. He gave them both to Ramón as he said, "Doubles for both of us. Any word from Dr. Wingart or Roberto?"
"No, Nick. No word yet."
Ramón returned a few minutes later with two drinks reeking of ethanol. Nick smiled at him and said, "Drink up. It will dull the pain. Are you not feeling better already? I think you may need some serious surgery on that face--the whiskey will help you--"
Diego took another large slug of the drink through his straw and swallowed.
"So, Nick. What did Toubouli have to say?"
"Nothing much. He's docking my pay for the next year. I have to pay for the boat repairs and cover the loss of the money. Just like I said."
"Did you tell him what happened?" he asked, unaware that the great house was the command center for electronic surveillance all over the compound. Toubouli knew what had happened as soon as it was spoken.
Nick thought for a moment and then said, "He told me that you will be attended to by one of our physicians, and then you are to gather your things because you are fired."
"Really? I'm fired?" he asked.
"That's right. I'm firing you. You are fired." said Nick as he hoisted his drink into the air in a toast to his friend. "Drink up."
Nick kept the conversation going, being careful not to imbibe too much as Diego began moving his brain into an alcoholic stupor, all under the watchful eye of Fernando in the shadows of the pool. Within the next two hours, in spite of the fact that he was a heavy drinker, he was reeling in his chair. Both of them were unaware that Fernando had placed many milligrams of chloral hydrate into each of the drinks that Diego consumed. Before long, Nick and Fernando dragged the inebriated man from the pool under each arm, and placed him in the back seat of Fernando's jeep. Nick got in the passenger's side, and the three of them pulled out of the Fordolo family estate, driving into the nearby jungle.
Nick was in a new world now. The translation from the games of childhood to the mantle of responsibilities of the family operation was in full swing, along with all the bizarre thoughts that went with them. The transition was all the more poignant to Nick as he looked in the back seat of the jeep with his barely breathing friend. Elimination of the unwanted was a new task for him. The time had arrived, as he knew it would one day. Long ago Nick had decided he would carry the family name into further annals of crime, as did his father and his father before him. Nick surmised that Fernando was along for assistance in that process, if not to make sure that Diego would not speak to anyone about the failed operation. Nick knew that Fernando had a reputation for bloodthirsty ruthlessness, and he fully expected that he would come to some gruesome demise very shortly.
"So Fernando, what do we do now? He looks like he is barely breathing."
Fernando replied, "He won't be much longer. I gave him an overdose--and with that much alcohol in his system, he'll be dead in a few minutes. We just have to dispose of the body so that no one finds him."
"Doesn't he have some family somewhere?" asked Nick innocently.
"I don't think so. Doesn't matter anyway," said Fernando as he manipulated the jeep over the rough jungle dirt highway.
"Why not?" asked Nick.
Fernando just looked at him and smirked out an answer. "If necessary, we'll kill them too."
Nick blinked several times. This killing people was going to take some getting used to.
A few minutes later the jeep came alongside a river where the road followed it up into the mountains for many kilometers. In the distance, Nick could make out smoke on the horizon. Volcan Arenal was just up ahead only a short distance, spewing forth smoke, ash and regurgitant molten rock.
Fernando pulled the vehicle to the side of road and turned off the engine. He glanced at his watch, and then walked around to the back of the jeep where he began to feel the carotid pulse of the lifeless Diego.
"Its about time for the stuff to work fully," said Fernando. A moment later he climbed back into the jeep and began driving again.
"Well," asked Nick.
"He's dead," replied Fernando, coldly. "See? Problem solved."
Nick took another look at the still body in the back seat. He now looked dead.
Nick thought, The price for screwing up. He then turned to considering means to dispose of the corpse. He trusted that Fernando had already thought it through. He did not seem too concerned about covering up the body as they drove. There was no one in the jungle to see them.
They drove on for another ten kilometers in silence. Nick was absorbed into his thoughts about what they were doing. After a while Fernando began speaking.
"See that smoke up ahead?"
"Yes, Fernando. I saw it earlier."
"Before you were born--a couple of years before--'68 I think it was--that volcano erupted and killed several people. It's still active, too. There's a pool where the lava comes to the surface--not far from here."
"I think it will be the answer to our little disposal problem. There's a tarp in the back seat. Throw it over the body. We may run into some tourists around the volcano."
"How long have you been with my father, Fernando?" asked Nick.
"Too long to remember. Why do you ask?"
"I just wonder if you might someday kill me, that's all."
Fernando just grinned at Nick--a grin that turned his stomach as he twisted in his seat to spread the tarp over the deceased man.
About twenty minutes later the two of them with the body in the back were at the foot of the lava basin coming from the Arenal volcano, which towered over them like a pagan god. Fernando had been correct about the tourists. Several Orientals were concluding their souvenir picture taking of the various mudpots and lava flows as they arrived.
The volcano had been fairly stable over the last thirty years after the initial eruption, and metal walkways had been laid for visitors. Fernando and Nick waited nearby until the last pictures were snapped and the area was vacated.
As Fernando jumped from the jeep he whispered, "Help me with the body."
Nick and Fernando picked up the lifeless Diego still covered with the tarp, quickly wrapping it tighter around him. Fernando motioned with his chin to carry their load toward the active lava pit not ten yards away. The area had a hellish sulfur smell about it, and black, hardened, craggy rock covered the landscape in the vicinity. Without any further conversation the two men began swinging the body to and fro, higher and higher until Fernando whispered, "one, two, threeee." At that moment, the tarp-wrapped corpse flew through the heat waves over the lava pit and splashed down into the molten sludge with a horrific hiss and burst of flames. Nick thought of the burning of a pinch of incense before the Roman emperor as the body sank beneath the unknown depth of ignited granite, incinerating instantly as it went. The stench of burning flesh mixed with the sulfur creating a ghastly aroma that lingered in Nick's nostrils. Fernando thought nothing of it--no more than taking out the trash. Obviously he had been at this pit on more than one occasion.