after a while, perci returned with a suspiciously short length of rope.
buppo thrust the rope at joto. “no more talk! go, my fine hero!”
joto virtually tore the rope from buppo’s hands before he could change his mind.
buppo looked around the shaft with a sly smile. “now, my hero, all we need is something firm to peg the rope to, eh? do you see anything?”
joto slammed his pick into the floor of the shaft. it only went in a few inches.
the villainous kardo laughed. “that is not very good, prince. here, let a man try.” and he slammed his pick into the floor, but with about the same success as joto.
“we are wasting time,” growled buppo. “tie the rope to one or the other. here - “ he pointed to kardo’s’s pick - “this is closer to the hole. let us proceed.”
joto tied one end of the rope to kardo’s pick and the other around his waist.
perci tried to protest. “you should use the one further from the hole, because the leverage - “
“enough!” cried buppo. “are you ready?” he asked joto.
without another word joto lowered himself into the hole.
he knew right away that there was nothing beneath him.
here was his chance. his chance to somehow escape from the mines, to somehow reunite with his beloved green star.
he let go of the rope.
what joto and the others did not know was that a tremendous earthquake, unprecedented in the history of the empire and probably triggered by the very enterprise - of the mining for the golden pearl at the heart of the earth - that they were engaged in, had just erupted and that the capital and the surrounding countryside were being reduced to powder even as joto fell into the center of the earth…
joto seemed to fall forever…
and when he awoke…
he was in a small boat drifting down a dark tunnel. at first joto thought he was alone in the boat, but then realized it was being piloted by a little hunchbacked woman.
she looks like a witch, he thought. i must have died, and now i am in the twenty-seventh circle of the underworld, the one populated by hideous witches and gorgeous dragon-women.
suddenly the boat bumped to a stop. they had come to a rise over which the water only trickled, not enough to carry the boat.
the witch got out and began walking down the tunnel, with the boat-pole over her shoulder.
“should we drag the boat?” joto called after her, but she did not answer or look back.
he hurried after her. the tunnel got darker and narrower, then completely black.
joto thought he could he hear the witch scurrying along in front of him, or could he?
suddenly he saw something shining by the side of the tunnel. not a lantern, but something lying on the ground.
as he got closer, it almost blinded him.
it was the pearl! the pearl of armon-mu!
cosima woke up.
pete was still running on with his ridiculous story about the pearl of gumma-goober or whatever.
cosima was a very well-bred person and one of the best bred things about her was the ability to sleep with her eyes open and an expression of polite interest on her face, when the occasion called for it.
pete paused. was it for dramatic effect, or had he noticed that she had been asleep?
cosima smiled. “this is all very interesting, pete. why don’t we take a little break? get up, stretch our legs, freshen our drinks?”
“sure, if you like.”
“did i just hear the front door open?” cosima asked. she stood up.
they could hear voices on the floor below, and then coming up the stairs.
“that must be conrad,” cosima muttered. “i hope he is alone, but he probably isn’t.”
the voices got a little louder.
“it sounds like that damned ramirez fellow,” cosima sighed. “what a bore.”
“ramirez?” pete asked. he looked toward the door. “ramirez? not - “
“he calls himself frisco johnny ramirez,” said cosima. “does the name mean anything to you?”