July 17, 2014

Excerpt: Hidden Mountain; Antonio Explains

“Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt and live like it’s heaven on Earth.”
— Mark Twain

Cover Design by William Kenney

In a matter of days, my life as a dedicated archeological anthropologist had emanated into a world engulfed by secrets, risks, and espionage. Amanda’s peculiar entrance into my once sterile intellectual world created nothing less than the perfect dichotomy. Hell, she was a dichotomy. Amanda’s unusual radiance intrigued me from the beginning. She is both benevolent and alluring to this day, this often confuses me. 

More importantly, at this particular point, I was obsessed with her mystery. At first, I believed her to be incredibly intelligent, but indecisive, perhaps even slightly off-center. In Miami, the events compelled me to draw a different conclusion. Somehow, the illogical became cryptic. Her demureness took on a new meaning. 
Now here I am; recovering at my parent’s expansive Miami home as a result of OPERA’s henchmen having hurled me into a near oblivion that could only be described as death’s doorstep. Operation Political Empowerment Reform Alliance, better known as OPERA is a powerful organization operating within obscure shadows of the United States Government, for reasons, not yet clear to me, they want King Solomon’s Scrolls.
              Finding Amanda and seeing her is my only thought. Trying to get out of bed made me realize just how weak I was. Someone must have been posted out in the hallway to listen for movement, for soon after giving up getting out of bed on my own, Marc, my younger brother came into the room.
              "Hey sleepyhead, finally decide to rejoin the living?"
              I nodded, for trying to move my mouth had already proven painful. My tongue felt like it was wrapped in barbed wire and stapled for good effect.
              "I know you have questions, and I will try to tell you all I know."
              I mumbled and tried to say Amanda's name. I needed to know she was okay. Marc must have understood for he told me what I needed to know.
              "Amanda is fine. Better than you anyway. Her injuries were slight and she doctored herself with the most amazing collection of little bottles and packs of flowers."
              His words gave me a small token of relief, but I needed to see her with my own eyes.
              "You are pretty banged up, but nothing lethal. Your mouth is going to take some time to heal. Pop says it's just the swelling and small cuts that he hopes do not get infected. Of course if they do-you might find it hard to be lovey-dovey with the flame haired beauty down the hall." I am quite sure Pop did not add that last part.
              Once more I tried to rise from the bed, and Marc pushed me back down. "If you need the bathroom, just say so and I will bring that little pitcher Nydia left for you to use."
              The image of indignity that picture brought to mind was enough for me to gain the strength I needed to push up on the side of the bed. The effort cost me greatly since I could only use one arm;the other was in a sling.
              "Okay Antonio, I get the message. Just give me a minute to get Ramon. Your carcass weighs too much for me to get down the hallway on my own."
              Funny manI knew I was larger than my brothers, but hard work on dig sites gave my large frame the extra muscle I needed for my work. I could hear Marc laughing and the sounds of Ramon joining him as they neared the door. I am so glad my family gets such entertainment from my pain. Grimacing with sarcasm does not have quite the same effect as being able to say it; but it felt good anyway.
              Barely able to move, I shuffled slowly along the hallway with assistance from my younger brother Marc on my left, and my brother-in-law Ramon on the right. I was determined to reach Amanda, to see for myself that she was fairing as well as they told me.
              My thoughts became focused on Amanda when we entered the room.
              I could see my appearance shocked her, but the joy on her face quickly replaced the shock. She rushed to my side and just the feel of her next to me gave me strength.
              When I tried to speak, my mouth felt as if it was on fire, and Amanda immediately began giving orders.
              "Marc, Ramon, take Antonio into the bath, and I will bring something to help his pain." Amanda hurried to that infernal case of hers and began digging for God only knows what!
              Marc and Ramon helped me into the bath and sat me down on the closed commode. I tried to mumble thanks. But it sounded and felt like I was speaking through crushed glass, and I soon gave up the effort.
              Marc patted my shoulder, and Ramon said; "How about I get a pen and paper and you write what you want to say?" I nodded gratefully.
              I made the mistake of looking in the mirror across from me, and my eyes widened at the sight. No wonder everyone was concerned, I looked as if I had gone 10 rounds with Hulk Hogan and lost!
              Amanda came in with a small bottle; she smiled at me and set it down beside the sink. I tried to speak, and she patted me on my head and smoothed my curls. With all this patting I was beginning to feel like a sick dog. I watched Amanda fill a small glass with water and add a few drops of amber liquid from the bottle.
              Amanda called Marc to help me stand beside the sink.  Then she told me; "Antonio just swish this around inside your mouth, a small amount at a time. Do not swallow it."
              With Marc propping me up on one side, I managed to take the small glass in one hand and raise it to my lips. I sniffed the contents, but the odor was flowery and slightly nice. Smelled sort of like spicy honey, I like Honey its sweet. I took a small sip and swished it around in my mouth. At first it was nice and then my mouth caught on fire, some of it went down my throat and I gagged; and did what came naturally, I spewed the amber colored water all over the mirror in front of me. Amanda was pounding my back and Marc was laughing. All I could do was wheeze as the effects of the medicine wore off.
              I turned and looked at Amanda accusingly; "It was just a little Calendula powder and Tea Tree Oil." She replied defensively. "I told you not to swallow it."
              Pushing the glass back to my mouth, Amanda insisted I finish the treatment. I closed my mouth and shook my head no. Marc was laughing again, and I pushed him with my hip.
              "Drink it Antonio, stop being a baby!" Amanda had that obstinate look on her face, and I knew I would never hear the end of it from Marc if I wimped out now.
              Sighing, just like the put-upon poor man I felt like-I swished and spit over and over until the foul brew was gone. My eyes were watering by the end and knew I was acting like a child when I tilted sideways out of feigned weakness and spit the last mouthful right on Marc's shoes.
              Marc's exclamation of disgust almost made it worthwhile when he let go and I really did tilt all the way over and ended up on the floor.
              "Damn-it Antonio, I'm sorry. No I'm not. You did that on purpose!" Marc was still laughing while he helped me up.  Amanda was now giving him the look, and I felt better already. My mouth did feel less painful, and I experimented with moving my tongue around and sighed with relief when I discovered the foul brew had rinsed out most of the glass.
              My relief ended shortly after when Amanda said I had to repeat the process every two hours the rest of the day.
              Marc called Ramon and the two of them helped me back into the bedroom. They were going to take me back down the hall, but I insisted with the aid of the small notebook and pen Ramon had brought, that I would stay here with Amanda.
              "Of course you are staying here, we have been apart too long." Amanda's sweet compliance made me feel so loved. Marc and Ramon carefully assisted me in lying back on the soft bed where soon I hoped my love would join me.
              "After all, I need to be sure you are taking care of your mouth and I have a few deep massage tricks that while painful, will help you get over that awkward step and make your arm feel better." I frantically wrote a note to Ramon and shoved it at him.
              “Do not leave me here. Take me back to the small room. She is going to torture me when you leave." Both of my male compatriots read the note and looked at me with their brows raised, and then Ramon crumpled the note and threw it away. Both of them turned to look at Amanda; and I knew what they were seeing. A titan haired beauty with small hands and a petite body; how much harm could she do?
              "Sorry brother, but you're on your own." They left me there to my fate; what kind of brothers were they? Petulantly I drew the covers over my shoulders, and vowed to ignore everybody for the rest of the day.
              A soft knock at the door announced the arrival of my sister Nydia.
              "Antonio, I made some tea, just the way you like it."
              Okay, maybe not everybody. My sister Nydia was sweet and kind and she loved me, no matter how stupid I acted. Besides she made great tea. Don’t get me wrong, while Nydia was a truly good woman, you have to remember the Judge was her father and she inherited half of her genes from him; and sometimes there was no hiding the fact that she was truly his daughter!
              I mumbled my now familiar version of thank you, and Amanda fluffed the pillows behind me so I could sit up and drink the tea.
I watched Nydia and Amanda chat for a while, and had to smile. While both were beautiful, tiny women, well-educated and well spoken; there the comparison stopped. Nydia was the consummate wife and mother with a streak of stubbornness and loyalty to her family. She was well educated and well spoken, but she used her charms in subtle ways that kept my brother in-law wrapped around her fingers. She kept her hands in projects that promoted his career and allowed her to be a moving force without ever allowing people to realize she was there behind the scenes; like a chess master.
On the other hand, my Amanda; she was a virtual silent dynamo. Never letting anyone too close she moved through life with a purpose, towards a goal that not even I knew the full story of yet. But I knew we would soon have to breach that wall she built around herself and get to those secrets she guarded so fiercely. If Nydia was a chess master, Amanda was the one who wrote the book of the rules.
As the women's voices washed over me, I began to doze off and the last thing I remember is the touch of Amanda's hands as she gently gripped my face and kissed my forehead. Her voice was soft as she murmured; “Sleep my love, and I will wake you in a couple of hours." That jolted me for a moment as my peaceful drift into sleep was interrupted by the reminder of torture to come! Yet, not even that was enough to stop my weary body from claiming sleep.
Sammy Sutton