~ One Year Earlier ~
Gold, glorious gold. Harrison Quaid could almost taste the treasure, even if he was seventy feet below the Caribbean Sea.
The world of the deep blue was far more peaceful and promising than up topside.
Here, schools of sherbet-colored fish swam freely and unperturbed by his presence. They swam idly between the reefs, an alluring sight.
He wished that he could stay here forever, floating free of the troubles that lay above.
None of the daily stresses of life, no exes, no hitmen trying to kill him.
But the deep below was different. This undisturbed world held captive a frozen history and treasures beyond comparison.
In centuries past, magnificent galleons had traversed the world, carrying everything from spices to gold. Yet, even the most advanced vessels at the time were no match for Mother Nature.
Skulls of the victims who challenged her bedded the ocean floor, ghosts of a different age.
It had been four months since Harrison had begun his search for the 15th century lost Spanish trading ship, La Reina. Rumor had it that a hurricane had crushed the ship beneath a deep-sea coral reef.
Using his state-of-the-art diving gear, he dove deeper than he’d gone before. The compressed air tank and fins propelled him forward.
The wooden ship, or what was left of her, had to be around here somewhere. He salivated in his air mask thinking of what he might find.
Gold coins, royal jewels, even indigenous artifacts, could be worth millions. Lavish treasures waited for him beneath. All he had to do was dive, dive, dive below.
However, he wasn’t the only one guarding this enigma of a ship. Bull sharks encircled Harrison, protecting the area. As the experienced diver drifted deeper into the murky green waters of the Caribbean, he was mindful of them. Any perceived provocation could be met by an attack.
These killing machines had a massive twelve-foot frame, yet they were as swift in the water as they were powerful. Their tails twitched and their taut, tough, ashen-grey flesh radiated as beams of sunlight filtered through the surface of the water.
The group was led by one shark in particular, the most experienced of the bunch. His massive teeth and scuffed snout served as an eerie reminder of just who exactly was king of this marine forest.
Regardless, Harrison continued onward, regretting that he had decided to go shirtless today of all days.
His toned, muscular biceps and triceps were no match for the sharp coral reefs or the razor sharp maw of a bullshark.
If he got nicked, it was over. They could smell blood over two and a half miles away. Harrison was only about fifty feet from the herd.
Even with his spear gun, bull sharks were known to appear out of nowhere, shooting out from behind a jagged rock at a moment’s notice.
If he were agile enough, maybe he could fire off a shot, but the chances weren’t so terrific and a speargun only had one shot. If he missed, he’d have no other chance.
Harrison couldn’t think about such things. If there was one thing he loved more than booze and women, it was facing danger in the hunt for bounty.
Especially a bounty worth millions.
It was here, waiting for him. He’d be damned if he would let it lie there, at the bottom of the sea.
Thirty-five years old and he was loving the retired life. He’d lasted this long off the grid and wanted to keep it that way.
With a price on his head, there was nary a spot in the world where somebody didn’t want to take a shot at him.
At least here he could escape the rigors of life.
Snaking his way through these underwater tunnels while trying to maneuver in the pitch-dark was risky enough. Forget about the sharks.
If it weren’t the stingrays or jellyfish, it was the sea snakes. They were just as deadly, and a lot more difficult to spot than a shark.
As Harrison twisted through the tight crevices of a cavern, he spotted something that made him freeze.
The ship’s hull—or what was left of her—lay bare straight ahead, through the tunnel’s narrow entryway. All his months of research had paid off.
A wide smile crept over his face. He adjusted his goggles, and air bubbles protruding from the breather blocked his vision for a brief moment.
The ship’s hull was mostly intact. It rested on one side and bore a substantial hole in its hull.
The magnificent scale of the ship was humbling, to see something so grand brought to its knees by the wills of nature.
Fish went about their daily routines, in and out, unaware of the valuable cargo that lay within the wreck.
Excitedly, Harrison rushed forward. Something slimy brushed against his bare skin as he did so, startling him.
He turned sharply, scraping his arm against the ragged walls of the cavern.
Splotches of red blood wafted throughout the water. It was careless, but it was also a shark’s catnip.
What a rookie mistake; he should have known better. There was no time to chastise himself. He had to get to the hull.
But first, where were the sharks?
The water was clear. They were gone, all of them.
Likely on their way to him. He had to move fast.
He swiveled his way through the tunnel, unaware of what might lurk around its darkened corners. Fear bubbled up in his chest, simmering under his skin.
Only a few feet away from the ship, Harrison was about to bullet out of the tunnel when a shark’s tail swerved, cutting through the water.
It came directly towards him, a silvery blur.
Body slamming him against the rocks, it sliced through his air supply. Streams of bubbles shot up towards the surface.
Harrison flailed his arms, scrambling to steady himself as he grasped for the tube.
Sealing it shut with his fingers, he only had five minutes to hold his breath before he’d have to come up for air.
He should have known better. His mind had been clouded by the thought of all that gold.
He’d come too far to quit.
With half a dozen sharks now circling the ship, he’d have to be fast.
His wound pulsated, squirting out shots of scarlet blood into the ocean water. Any second now and the school of sharks would be hot on his trail.
Bracing himself, Harrison slithered out of the cave, his harpoon ready.
Shadows overcast him, a brief whoosh of darkness. The sea vegetation swayed, a muffled rustle in these nebulous waters.
His heart ached with its pounding, pushing ever more blood into the salt water.
Something hovered above. What was it? Harrison tilted his head up for a better view when something sucked him up, and everything around him.
Buffeted around, he was dragged helplessly by the waves. He clung to rocks as he struggled against the pull of water.
A glint of light revealed the culprit, and his eyes widened with horror. The propeller of a ship sliced its way through the water.
Harrison’s life flashed before his eyes as the dread swam around in his head, and he trembled with panic.
He was next.