The A to Z Challenge – R is for -” Riches beyond avarice”

We were standing at the entrance of Aladdin’s cave.  At least that was the name on the sign above the entrance.

Three days driving, the last 122 miles into the desert, or what was now desert, through three ghost towns, which looked like sets out of a movie, to what was once supposed to be a theme park.

In the middle of nowhere.  Literally.

We’d parked in what was once a thousand car carpark now almost relatives by the sand, through a large gate that proclaimed the seven wonders of the world, through to a cliff face where there were several caves, where we were now.

“And remind me exactly why we are here?”

“We win the bidding war for this place.  I mean, think of the potential.”

“I’m thinking, but not of the potential.”

Good thing then Lexie was not my wife or girlfriend, because if she was, she’d be questioning my sanity right about now.

She was a work friend, along for the ride.

Well, to begin either, this whole area was a storage facility for the nuclear weapons that were designated for destruction after the non-proliferation treaty.  There are about a dozen caves around here, all with massive blast doors, of which Aladdin’s cave was the first.  I can’t wait to see inside.”

“If it truly is Aladdin’s cave then should it not be riches beyond avarice.  I want the lamp.”

There was only one small problem.  I needed the code to open the doors, and that was only available once we had arrived.  Once there, I was to give a person on the end of the phone a code, one that changed every day, once I proved my identity.  It was a crazy system, but I had to admit, it made the cave secure.”

I made the call, once I could see the code.  It was on the screen, behind a nuclear blast-proof window, rather apt considering.  It was a code that changed every hour.

“The voice on the other end of the phone simply said, “Code please?”

I read it to them.  As soon as the call was disconnected, the doors began to open.

Then behind me, another voice.  “Thank you for that.  Now, step away, or your friend here dies.”

I turned.  I thought I recognized the voice of Joe Santiago, crime boss, a man who’d served his ten years, but never divulged where he had hidden the loot.

Another six months with guns were standing in a semi-circle, cutting off any exit I might try.

“So, this is where you hid the money, and key evidence.”

“And, as they say, it’s where the bodies are buried.  This really wasn’t going to be a theme park.”

“O rather guessed that.  I was expecting someone else, a lackey, but you did say one, you couldn’t trust any of those you worked with.”

With that said, six shots, six men down, and a seventh, at that moment when Santiago was disorientated by the first six shots.  Not to kill but disable.

A well-planned and executed operation to catch Santiago, who had never suspected we had turned one of his gang and had known all along where his loot was. 

Then it was just a matter of waiting until he got out of jail, after advertising the fact I’d won the auction to buy the Theme Park site, outbidding all of his people.

A visibly shaken Lexie said, “and when were you going to tell me we were going to be bait?”

“None of us were sure this was going to work.”

A swarm of agents moved in to take away the seven, including a cursing Santiago, who swore he’d been set up.

The doors were now open, and we were looking into a dark abyss.  The light only went so far.  I stepped inside and used the torch on the side wall, looking for the light switch.

It was about ten feet away, a large lever that had to be pushed up.  I gave it a moment, then pushed it into the on position, and the lights came on.

I heard a gasp from Lexie and turned around.

It was huge, a cavern gouged out of the small mountain, all but empty except for a shipping container sitting about fifty yards from the entrance.

Yet another new voice came from behind us.

“We’ll take it from here.”

It belonged to an FBI agent, who was with three others.  No guns were drawn, but I suspect if I objected, they might.

“Did you not get the memo that I am in charge here,” I said.

He handed me a phone, “Your commander would like a word.”.

I took it.  “Sir?”

“We’ve been trumped by jurisdiction, just let them take over, but stay and let me know when they’ve gone.”

“There’s a shipping container right bang in the middle of the cave.”

“Let them take it “

He disconnected the call, and I returned the phone.

“Do as you wish.”

A forklift went past, and we watched as it picked up the container and took it to a waiting truck.

The FBI agent saluted, and he left with his team.

Lexie had watched the whole proceedings with an amused expression on her face.  This was obviously not news to her.  “Couldn’t have predicted that could we.”

I pulled out my phone and called the boss.  “They’ve gone.”

“They went for the big shiny object.  I’m surprised they didn’t realize Santiago is all about the show.  I’m sure they’ll soon discover it’s booby-trapped, but that’s fine, they’ll take a while to realize they’ve been had.  Now, you two go to work.  The real evidence is hidden in there somewhere.  Call me when you find it.”

Lexie looked over at me.  “What did he say?”

“The evidence is still here, not in the container.”

She looked around at the wide, deep, open space where, if it was going to be Aladdin’s cave, there would be treasure stacked everywhere.

“I’m guessing we need yo do a sweep.  You start on the other side, I’ll start here, and we’ll meet at the middle of the rear.”

I waited until she was in position, and then we moved towards the rear, studying the wall for hidden doors.  It was possible that rooms or passages ran off this cave.

A few minutes later Lexie let out a triumphant “Ah-ha!”

I stopped.  “What is it?”

She held up a small object that looked like the proverbial lamp.

“Aladdin’s lamp.  Perhaps if I polish it.” She did so, with a flourish.

Suddenly, there was a flash of light…

© Charles Heath 2022

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