The Curse of Maxwell’s Treasure

“Captain, you told me to get you if anything appeared on the radar… Well, something has appeared on the radar.”

Captain Lance Hancock looked up at the man standing just outside his cabin door. He smiled weakly and nodded.

“Yes, thank you Wilson. I will be up shortly.”

“Yes, Captain”, Wilson nodded curtly, then disappeared from Hancock’s view. Hancock sighed, rubbed his tired eyes. So, Boothe had been right—again. It was starting to get infuriating. Still, there was nothing to be gained from sitting here. Might as well get it over with.

Hancock stood and headed for the door. He paused at the threshold, then doubled-back to his desk, pulled open the top drawer and grabbed the loaded pistol sitting inside. He tucked the pistol into his pants and adjusted his shirt so it wasn’t visible, then headed for the bridge.

The Village Baron was a small ship: barely more than a glorified fishing trawler. It had twin diesel motors and a massive crane sticking out the back. A submersible hugged the starboard side of the boat, and a large array of radar and sonar equipment covered the top of the small bridge. Apart from those details, it was unremarkable.

Except for the chest in its hold, of course.

Hancock tried to put thoughts of the chest out of his mind. It wouldn’t do to dwell on anything other than his current problem: the blip on the radar screen. It was coming their way, he knew. Wilson hadn’t said as much, but Hancock knew, all the same. It was inevitable. Boothe had said so, and Boothe was always right. Mostly right… Right some of the time.

Right tonight.

Wilson was waiting for Hancock inside the bridge. The mate gave his Captain a worried look, then turned back to look over the ocean. Hancock entered wordlessly then walked over to the coffee machine and poured himself a cup. It was important to be calm in matters such as these. Wilson needed his captain to be calm.

“Show me the blip,” Hancock said, when his coffee was ready. He took a sip; black and hot.

“Here, sir,” Wilson pointed to the black radar screen. There was a small circle just on the screen’s edge. As Hancock watched, the blip got closer to the centre of the screen.

He took another sip of his coffee, tried to hide the slight tremble in his wrist; if Wilson noticed, he didn’t say anything. He focused, instead, on the steadily-approaching blip on the radar screen.

Hancock looked out of the windows, towards the ocean. He couldn’t see anything yet, but the boat was out there. It was coming for them.

Wilson headed to the cupboard at the rear of the bridge. He spun the dial on the combination lock and popped the door open, pulled out a rifle.

“No,” Hancock ordered. “Put it back. This is expected, Wilson. It will be okay.”

“But…”

“That was an order, Wilson.”

A pause, then: “Yes, sir,” and Wilson placed the rifle back in the cupboard. Hancock nodded, placed his coffee on the nearest table. For some reason it tasted rancid now and, besides, he could see a dark shape on the water now.

“They’re here,” Hancock said.

Gunfire raked across the boat’s hull. Hancock and Wilson ducked down low as bullets ricocheted throughout the bridge. It took all of Hancock’s control not to grab the pistol tucked into his pants; Wilson was having a similar urge to open the cupboard holding the rifle.

The sound of a bullhorn washed over them. The voice was crisp and feminine.

Prepare to be boarded. Stand on the deck with your hands up! You have thirty seconds to comply!”

“What do you think?” Wilson asked.

“We stand on the deck,” Hancock said, through gritted teeth. He stood—slowly—and walked out of the bridge, held his hands in the air. He looked down at the boat that was floating beside them. It was darker than midnight, but he could see movement: two people were on the deck.

They threw a rope around the Village Baron’s mooring rings and secured the two craft together. The two shadowy figures quickly jumped from their boat, onto Hancock’s. The captain saw two submachine-guns and eyes that were dark and wary. One of the guns was aimed at Hancock, the other pointed back towards the stern.

“Come down here!” a man ordered. Hancock nodded, and he and Wilson took the stairs down to the lower deck. The man with the gun shoved it into Hancock’s chest. It missed his hidden pistol by an inch.

“Don’t even think of breathing unless I tell you,” the man snarled.

“It’s okay, Dawson,” the woman said. She stepped out of the shadows and walked towards Hancock. A pretty woman, to be sure—pretty and dangerous.

“Hello Captain Hancock,” she said, then smiled. “We have much to discuss.”

Hancock was sitting around the mess table, with the woman opposite him. Wilson was in the far corner of the galley, and the woman’s pirate friend was standing in the doorway, blocking any exit. He had his submachine-gun aimed at Wilson. The woman had rested her rifle against the table, tantalisingly within Hancock’s reach.

“My name is Sophie Masters,” the woman said. “I suppose you have heard of me?”

“The art dealer,” Hancock nodded. “Yeah, I’ve heard of you. I didn’t realise you were a pirate.”

“I do what I must… and the treasure in your hold is too alluring to pass up. If the rumours are true, of course.”

“Rumours?” Hancock cocked an eyebrow, managed a smile. “I’m a little old to be dealing in rumours. We’re a fishing boat. We haven’t caught a thing all week. Right, Wilson?”

“Right,” Wilson said, somewhat weakly. His face had lost all colour. Hancock smiled at his mate, but Sophie Masters was shaking her head. She picked up the rifle and cradled it in her lap.

“Let’s not play games, Captain Hancock,” she said.

Ah, so you know who I am,” Hancock nodded, satisfied. “I did wonder.”

“Where is your lapdog?” Masters demanded. “Boothe—where is he?”

“Not here,” Hancock said sadly. “We… Didn’t see eye to eye on this one.”

“No? I thought you two were inseparable.”

“He’s not driven the same as I am,” Hancock said.

“He is an idealist,” Masters agreed. “And you?”

“Pure greed,” Hancock told her. Masters smiled.

“Which brings us neatly to the treasure in your hold—Captain Maxwell’s treasure.”

Admiral Maxwell,” Hancock corrected, with heavy respect dripping from his voice. Masters shrugged.

“Not when he retired. He was demoted. Greed has a price, after all. The curse—Maxwell’s curse—has a price, and the captain paid it in full. He was demoted, then his wife divorced him—rare, in those days—and, lastly, financial ruin. I’m sure you know all this as well as I do. Even his olive groves all dried up, every last one. Do you believe in the curse, Captain?”

“I don’t believe in ghost stories, Miss Masters. I believe in the facts. They don’t stack up. There is no curse.”

“They say that the treasure has been found in the past—multiple times. First by the Spaniards, then the Portuguese, and even once more by the English. All stories, of course, but there is a ring of truth to them. Greed is so easy to believe, is it not?”

“Indeed it is.” There was silence, at that. No sound save for the gentle groaning of the Village Baron as it floated in the sea.

“You found his treasure,” Masters said. “It is in your hold.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hancock said. “We’re out fishing.”

“Have you noticed my machine gun, Captain? Would you like me to point it at your face?”

“No, that won’t be necessary,” Hancock said, knew there wasn’t any point in playing games. “Captain Maxwell’s treasure… It is in our hold.”

“And you’ve opened it?”

“What do you think?”

“Take me to it,” Masters demanded.

“What are you going to do with it?”

“It is if no concern of yours.”

“But you can tell me, all the same,” Hancock pressed. Masters frowned, and the captain wondered for a moment if the woman would shoot him, but she didn’t; she shrugged, instead.

“Sell it, of course. There are a few buyers that would be interested. Very interested. What did you plan to do with it?”

“Restore it,” Hancock said. “Donate the most valuable items to museums around the world. There would be plenty of less-impressive items I could sell—legally, with a proper record of transfer.”

Masters shrugged again.

“Not much different to my own plans, really. I must confess: I am disappointed. I had thought you would be more charitable.”

“We are talking about a fortune, after all.”

“And you’re stalling,” Masters said. Her voice grew icy; she stood. “Take me to your hold. Now.

Hancock nodded, then gestured for Wilson to follow.

“We’ll go together,” Hancock said. He pointed to the pirate blocking the door. “Will you get your dog to back off?”

“No funny business,” Masters warned. Hancock thought of the pistol in his pants, and how he would love to shoot Sophie Masters where she stood. A fine dream…

“No funny business,” he echoed.

“Then lead the way,” she said.

The hold of the Village Barron was empty, except for the metal chest that rested in its centre. The chest was a little larger than a coffin—it reminded Hancock of a sarcophagus: square and squat and quite ugly.

“What is this?” Masters demanded. “This is a navy chest.”

“It is Maxwell’s treasure,” Hancock said.

“Do I look like a fool, Hancock? This chest is much too modern. It looks Prussian.”

“Yes. From World War One,” Hancock agreed. “Quite this history, does Maxwell’s treasure have. Like you said: it has been found many times.”

Masters’ submachine-gun came dangerously close to spitting at Hancock’s chest. Masters narrowed her eyes.

“I do not appreciate playing games,” she said.

“No games,” Hancock said. “There were reports of a German U-boat stumbling over the treasure in nineteen-sixteen. Completely by accident, of course—they didn’t know what they had found. The U-boat was sunk before it could get back to the North Sea. There were only a handful of survivors—hence how we learned of the tale—and the story was passed around as a myth. Nothing more than a story. Of course, the chest in front of you proves the tale. Here lies Maxwell’s treasure: a bounty of gold and silver and artworks; worth millions. Maybe even more than millions.”

“And it’s all mine,” Masters’ eyes lit up with greed. “Dawson—the box! Open it.”

Masters’ mate—Dawson—nodded silently, then approached the box. There was no lock—it had been removed. He placed his submachine-gun against the rusted metal box, then flicked the heavy latch open and grasped the lid. With a heave, the lid opened.

Something erupted from inside the box. Dawson staggered back, his hands in the air. Hancock moved with lightning speed: he pulled out his pistol and aimed it at Masters before the woman could recover. But she still held her own gun..

Don’t!” Hancock cried, half an order and half a plea. Masters hesitated, then lowered the gun. Hancock looked to the figure that had emerged from the chest: John Boothe, bathed in sweat and red in the face. “How you going, John?”

“Good, now that I’m out of that damn thing,” he smiled. His pistol was pointed at Dawson. “What do you think of Maxwell’s treasure? More handsome than you expected, I bet. Now: turn around, and put your hands behind your back. Piracy, Miss Masters? I expected better from someone of your calibre.”

Masters didn’t say anything, just turned around and obeyed Boothe’s commands. Boothe stepped out of the metal sarcophagus, ignored Dawson, walked right up to Sophie Masters. He kissed her fondly on the back of the neck, then slapped a pair of handcuffs around her wrists.

“And the treasure?” Masters asked. “What have you done with the treasure? Where is it? I want to see it. I must see it!”

“I tell you what,” Boothe whispered into her ear. “If I ever do find Maxwell’s treasure, I’ll send you a photo,” he promised.

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