The truck blocking the road finally moved. The driver behind swerved out and around them. Niccolo threw his hands up in annoyance and shoved the van into gear. He drove on, honking when necessary and waving to people he knew.
“How are things going out there on the Pandora? What’s your job? I’m sure it’s something important.”
“I’m a diver. I work, I lift, I repair. I do what I’m told to do,” he said, an edge of boredom to his response. “I’ve been working for Stefano for seven years. Someday he’ll learn I have more to offer.”
The bitter tone in his voice tugged at Riley’s heart. “It must be difficult being the youngest. That’s how I felt at the Vatican. I was just an intern, and I was working for people who had spent years working there. The curators made me feel like I didn’t have enough experience to be of much use. A counselor told me it would teach me humility, and it was all part of being an apprentice. There will always be someone who knows more and who does the job better. Someone to answer to. Someone, regardless of their abilities, will get more respect because they have more experience. Someday your brothers will realize you are not just their baby brother. Someday they’ll see you as a man. Between now and then, have faith in yourself and do the best job you can. Respect yourself, be true to yourself. Decide to excel whether anyone is looking at you or grading you. You’ll know that you’ve done your best. You’re the only one you have to impress. Only you know what you’re truly capable of, Niccolo.”
Niccolo looked at Riley. “Please call me Nikki,” he said, nodding and turning his eyes back to the road. He said nothing more as they continued to Sorrento. He parked, and they removed luggage from the van, two men with dark leathery skin coming to their aid. Riley followed Niccolo and the men, carrying only her tote bag. The two men were telling Niccolo about a fisherman who lost a net full of fish while trying to balance it across the bow of his boat.
The speed boat Stefano promised was waiting at the dock. Riley introduced herself to Roberto as he and Niccolo loaded her luggage. They waved goodbye to the men, and Roberto started the engine, which roared to life. Riley clutched the sides of the boat tightly. Niccolo took over as captain, and if he piloted boats like he drove cars, she expected a vigorous ride across the Bay of Naples.
They whipped across the dark blue water, the cool foam flying up on both sides of the boat and misting Riley’s face. She could see Mt. Vesuvius majestically presiding over Napoli, and in the distance, the island of Capri was nestled in the Azure waters of the Mediterranean.
Her excitement rose as they neared a large blue and white ship twenty minutes later. The boat bounced through the choppy water, and she squinted to read the name in large blue capital letters across the bow. So, this was the Pandora. She had arrived. Her breath caught in her throat as she blinked, but the ship remained, blocking the sun and enveloping them in shade as they came alongside a metal landing at the end of metal stairs that led up to the deck. It became quiet except for the lapping water when Niccolo turned off the small boat’s tiny, raging engine.
“Ciao, ciao. Siamo qui!” Niccolo yelled in a booming voice upward toward the deck of the Pandora.
As the smaller vessel bobbed on the swells, Riley took it all in, breathing in the fresh salt air and feeling anxious. She glanced upward and saw men moving above them on the deck, twenty-five feet off the water.
Niccolo reached out a hand to her, his legs spread wide to maintain his balance in the bobbing boat. He helped her to her feet, pointing with his free hand to step out on the platform and head up the stairs. “I’ll get your bags. All of them.”
Riley hadn’t realized it was going to take such an enormous effort to get her large bags on board, and it embarrassed her.
Niccolo waved her ahead with a warm smile.
“Mille grazie,” she said to him before concentrating on the bottom of the rocking boat and stepping over and around her luggage, gas cans, tools, and coils of ropes. The gas fumes were making her lightheaded. She stood for a moment to judge the distance from the edge of the boat to the landing, then took a brave leap across the abyss and landed firmly on the metal plate. She grabbed the handrail leading up the steep metal stairs and glanced backward at the undulating swells she had jumped across.
How deep is this? she thought as she gazed at the seemingly endless water. Deeper than the SCUBA pool, that was certain. Would she have the nerve to step off into it and sink below?
Archaeologist Riley Cooper is offered the chance of a lifetime: a chance to find the Crux Fidelis, the coronation cross of Charlemagne. Under Water Sea Adventures members believe they have found remains of the Indigo, a heavily laden cargo ship commissioned by Charlemagne and presumed lost on its maiden voyage off the coast of southern Italy in the early 800s. If Riley can find the cross, it will prove Charlemagne’s coronation as the First Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day had not been a spontaneous act, but rather a desperate political maneuver by a Pope in need of protection.
When Riley joins UWSA off the coast of Sorrento, Italy, tensions and tempers fly as a competing team arrives in search of the treasure and an approaching hurricane gains strength and heads straight toward the dive site. And when one of the crew is murdered, Riley must find the strength to fight back and keep the treasure out of the other team’s hands.
Stacy’s passion for adventure has taken her to five continents to explore over fifty countries. Stacy also plays guitar and sings, when she isn’t traveling around the world in search of new locales and new stories.
Stacy served on the Board of Trustees of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, the Pacific Northwest Mystery Writers of America chapter, and currently serves as Vice President of the Southeast Mystery Writers of America (SEMWA) chapter. She lives in Georgia with her husband and a very large house cat named Valentino.