The sack hit the soft earth with a thud.
"Twenty pounds. Clean."
The man rubbed his chin and the hard stubble of his beard scratched against his hand like singing of cricket's wings. Shadows cast by the fire danced across his face, conferring on him a beastial quality. Tiger stripes dancing on man flesh. Still, his thoughts were clear.
"Do we bury it?"
The man's hand stopped playing at his chin and now held it tight the way a thief might hold a jewel to the light once he'd had left his pursers behind him. A minute passed, maybe four. The man's eyes never left the plumb sack. The fall had embedded it into the sand, sinking it down until it looked like a coiled snake.
Slowly, the man gave his response. "No."
"You don't sound so convinced, Tarek." Usain emerged behind them from the shadow of the oasis. Upon arriving, the three men set about their task. Tarek carried the gold along with his and Usain's camel, and guided them to a spot within the oasis he knew would serve them well.
Horace set about gathering supplies for the night. Sticks for the fire, water, food. If anyone stumbled upon them they would need to appear as simple travelers. Three journeymen sharing a fire and a few stories. And so Horace had set about creating the illusion.
Usain, as soon as the oasis came into view, abandoned his camel and set out for the side in order to scout the area. If other travelers had already taken up residency in the oasis, it would be better if they only spied Tarek and Horace. Coming in undetected would make it easier for Usain to slit their throats in the night. If it came to that.
"If something happens we will not have time to dig it up."
"Then what?" Horace asked. His face looked gaunt in the fire light, as if the weight of the past week had stripped the meat from his bones and left him malnourished and crippled.
Tarek considered the question for a moment. If not for the fire light dancing across his face, giving him the impression of movement, he would be as still as the night.
"We take our share."
"What are you suggesting?" Usain had been keeping to the edges of the campsite. The light from the fire only barely reaching him. Now, his face breached the penumbra and in the light he looked elfin and more severe, as if someone had taken hold of his face and pulled it back, stretching the skin tight over his bones.
Tarek's hand had disappeared into his shirt and produced a knife. Both men pulled drew back. Fear drenched Horace's face, but Usain eyed the dagger with disdain.
Eyeing his companions, Tarek allowed a tight grin to grace his face. Rarely over the past few months of planning the robbery, gathering supplies, scouting locations, did Tarek enjoy the opportunity to put Usain on his heels. He relished the moment.
"I'm suggesting we cut it open and divide it up." With a nimble flick of his wrist, Tarek tossed the dagger into the air a few inches above his hand. It spun in the firelight, catching the light of the flames and the moon in equal measure, before falling back and coming to a stop in Tarek's fingers, hilt out.
Slowly, Tarek twisted his body, offering the handle the Horace. "After you."
Horace eyed the weapon with suspicion. His shoulders high and his back bent, he looked like a man considering a deal with the devil. His gaze shifted to Usain who met it with as much malice. Horace drew back as if his companion had reached out and swiped at him. Without taking his eyes off either man, he reached out and took the knife. Hesitantly he looked at the dagger. It looked odd in his hand. Foreign. He held it, fingers out, like it might sting him if he treated it too harshly.
Slowly, Horace stepped closer to the bag. Which, incidentally, took him farther away from Usain. When the outside of his foot hit the sack, it shook him from his stupor and his eyes finally fell to the prize. Elation came over him all at once and in an instant he was on his knees, plunging the knife into the sack, tearing it open.
Tarek had retreated to a spot by the fire and was carving the hard rind off a pineapple. He smiled up at Usain. "Relax. Maybe take a nap."
"I don't need any sleep." Usain spat.