The morning was cold, yet humid, and invigoratingly fresh. The dewy sweet taste of the moisture on the air filled his mouth with each deep breath he took, like drinking down syrup at a maple sap festival in Canada after it was boiled and poured onto newly fallen snow for succulent ingesting.
He stepped forward, the gentle squish of mud blossomed up and around his hiking boot treads. He didn’t even notice.
‘God, he loved the South American jungle.’
Miles of trees, vines and plants in every direction, blocking the sun in some areas, shrouding it in twilight, yet bright and open in others, feeding the ground life with rich energy and sustenance.
If he paused to listen, which he had long gotten used to it, he could hear the forest sounds speaking to him, constant squeals, loud chirps and the occasional growl.
‘Mother Nature in all her glory.’
He stood in the midst of a ten metre square patch of grass, mostly battened down by his foot treads, which he had carefully mapped out on the ground with over a hundred individual wooden stakes tied together by white weatherproof string to form a gigantic checker board, ten by ten grid, specifically for digging, searching and excavation.
Over the grid was a large green tarp with a white covered layer for sun reflection, suspended by four poles at each of the four corners of the site, pulled taut, but angled high from the centre to allow rain torrents to spill down and away from the dig as opposed to pooling and crashing down on the occupant beneath.
He had examined five blocks so far, having found two arrowheads, a piece of broken pottery and some bone fragments.
The bones appeared to be a Capuchin monkey, based on its large shape and round skull.
Nothing anyone was looking for. Least of all him. But he kept them anyway.
He was Doctor Hayden Lattimer, archeologist and purveyor of the past. He stood at six one, with short blonde hair, slightly askew from his many weeks spent in the jungle. He had bright blue eyes, which could melt a woman’s heart, and had done many times, even if inadvertently, framed by a chiseled jaw and perfect teeth. Combined with smooth tanned skin, tinted with a touch of red when the sun was at its strongest, and a well formed physique, he considered himself quite the hunk, trying not to be arrogant about it.
It was simply nature’s selection.
He looked well kept, as no matter how many days he spent in the wild, his appearance was something he took pride in.
‘Not all animals in the jungle had to look uncivilized.’ He theorized.
Today he sported a blue short sleeved collared shirt, a light brown vest and matching khakis, and a pair of well-worn high top hiking boots, crusted by mud.
Around his neck draped a compass on a chain, given to him by his father, with the instructions, with it, he would always find his way home. The only unique feature, his father had it custom made, with North removed and the text “Beer” put in its place.
His father was funny that way.
His current sabbatical from the University of Toronto included his search for ancient tribal life in the Americas as it was considered his archeological expertise, and the only reason the board approved it.
Hayden was not flamboyant like his American whip wielding and fedora wearing cousin to the South, nor his gun toting British baby sister in tight shorts and big breasts to the East. However, if he was correct, they only had one PhD each, whereas he had two. He might be your average run of the mill archeologist out of Toronto Canada, but he was a damn smart one. The mainstay of his studies was ancient societies and his second doctorate was ancient languages and the secrets they contained.
Secrets he always sought to find.
Hayden took a break from his digging. He pulled out his smartphone and smiled. “Awesome. I got a signal today.” He liked to talk to himself. When you did lonely jungle excavations in the middle of nowhere, you had to have someone intelligent to listen to.
Hayden turned into the webpage for GTNN news. Global Television News Network out of Toronto, his home town. He was hoping his favourite reporter might be on, Annabelle Veracity. Blonde, beautiful and brilliant. Dumb women did nothing for him. He would rather talk to a post.
He tuned in a lot more to GTNN after they had that huge debacle a few years back. Something to do with a huge meltdown at the station, a police crackdown and the capture of some guy who tried to frame a cop for a crime he didn’t commit. Actually dressed up like the cop to do it. Mr. X or something like that.
Whatever it was, Hayden was now a fan.
Once online, he watched for a few minutes. Nothing of any interest and his anticipated reporter was on vacation.
‘Maybe in South America?’ He thought. ‘Yeah, right.’
He quickly checked the weather prediction webpages.
A storm was coming his way this afternoon.
Hayden rose and moved out from under the cover of the tarp, letting the warm and welcoming air envelope his face and exposed arms. Even in the morning, it felt hot and toasty.
Suddenly, he felt a pang of pain in his lower region.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have drunk all that coffee this morning.” Hayden muttered. “But then again, Waste not, want not.”
Hayden turned and put his one hand on his hip.
The camp was almost a mile away in heavy brush. He had a machete which he used to clear a path over recent weeks, but a mile was still a mile.
He never liked to camp too close to his excavation site. The reason was, in the night, with the pulled up Earth, it tended to attract night crawlers and their like from around the forest, to explore and search for newly dug food and snacks in the soft and freshly turned soil. And imaging a bunch of creepy crawlers prancing all over him while he slept gave him the ’Heebee Jeebees.’
Archeologist or not, he did not like such things. ’His archeologist cousin hated snakes didn’t he?’
He looked at his watch and considered the time it would take to trek back to the camp, followed by his return for more digging before the predicted storm forced him to quit.
Regardless of all the artificial lighting in the world, sunlight was the safest for digging up ancient artifacts as it did only natural damage to discoveries, unlike the bright halogen radiation of modern luminesce which could scorch delicate and unprotected finds in minutes.
‘Finds’ he desperately sought.
And in South America, a great deal remained unexplored and a mystery to the modern world.
He didn’t mind the walk back, as he did it daily, but he only had to piss.
‘What could it hurt? Who would know?’
Moving away from his excavation, he carefully stepped into the heavier woods, over two well planted logs, under a large moss covered branch and past a pile of boulders. He moved several metres through the trees looking for a private and barren location.
He didn’t want to soil his site.
Beneath a heavily tree covered area, he finally reached a private spot and about time as he was ready to explode.
He unzipped his fly and suddenly paused. Right before him was a small metal spike rammed into the Earth with a tiny triangular red flag on it, no taller than a foot in height, etched with the letter “M” on the material.
‘What’s this doing out here?’ He thought.
Turning left and then right, he saw no one in any direction.
He mused. ’I’m in South America after all, who’d know?’
He took aim and fired forth. He felt relief taking over as he started to empty his full bladder.
At least until he suddenly heard a furious feminine yell. “What the Hell are you doing?!”
Problem was with thick forests, a quick inspection did not mean no one was there.
‘All those damn trees’
Hayden stopped urinating mid-completion. He took a breath as stage fright set in. His body started to feel the burn. He figured he might as well be honest. “Trying to take a piss, if you don’t mind?”
“I do mind!” The woman’s voice snapped. “That little flag you’ve chosen to mark your territory with by your excrements is my marker for a possible unknown flora.”
Hayden wanted to finish, but his intruder was making that impossible. He couldn’t turn in another direction based on her position without giving a show. Choking down the pain, knowing he would pay for it later, he zipped up and spun to face her, ready to defend what he did. Before he could fire back, his breath caught in his chest.
The woman before him was stunning, even by model standards. Her long auburn hair, layered by thin streaks of blonde, was pulled straight and tied behind her head in a ponytail, draping down to the middle of her back. She had soft tanned skin, with an almost perfectly shaped face, a short pert little nose, small mouth and a dimple on her left cheek. Her eyes were a deep hazel brown, with flecks of yellow, like pure amber.
Hayden found himself thinking he was lucky he wasn’t an insect or he would be spending an eternity trapped in those golden pools.
She wore a long sleeve white cotton dress shirt, brown khakis and hiking boots, obviously for the area they were in. She had a pair of gold wire-rimmed glasses, which appeared more for reading and examining things than visual impairment, resting at the top of her hairline, deeply wedged between her strands. Over her shoulder, a large carry pack with numerous items, a small shovel and a stainless steel coring unit for digging around plants and protecting their roots. Finally, a stack of petri-dishes, pressed one inside the other for easy retrieval and capping, hanging over her belt. Some were filled with dirt and plant life.
Hayden was at a loss for words.
The woman on the other hand felt no such inhibition. “I ask again, what the Hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” He stood firm. “I was taking a well-deserved piss. We’re in a jungle after all.”
She glared at him. “Yes. Miles and miles of jungle in fact. Yet in of all this space, you choose to soil a one inch flag in the middle of this area because it helps you focus your aim?” She took a breath. “What’s wrong with you? Bladder issues? Ever hear of adult diapers?”
“No. I… “ Hayden stopped. He felt no explanation would justify what he was doing, so why bother. “My name’s Hayden by the way. Doctor Hayden Lattimer.”
“Did I ask for your name? I asked why you chose to urinate on my scientific marker?”
Hayden figured he might as well be himself. His dad always taught him, always be yourself as it can go one of two ways, they love you or hate you.
“Look. I’m sorry. We can go have a beer back at my camp to make up. And if it was the piss you’re worried about, I’ll have plenty more pretty soon. In fact, tomorrow morning, I’ll have lots.”
The woman’s eyes clenched. “Did you just proposition me?”
“That depends…” Hayden shrugged. “Are you accepting?”
“I’m afraid I would get pissed on.” She snidely offered. “That and I find the inhabitants around us more enticing. At least, they’re more evolved.”
‘Thanks Dad. This time, the latter.’ But Hayden had to admit. ‘It wasn’t a no either.’
The woman brushed him aside and stared down in the now steaming area. She quickly dawned a pair of surgical gloves, the latex snapped as she thrust them on. “Should I keep my gloves on for when I check the remainder of my markers?”
“No need.” Hayden shrugged. “I only found the one.”
She shook her head. “So you know, you pissed on a possible undiscovered plant?”
Hayden looked down with a shrug. “It’s obviously not undiscovered if you found it.”
The woman looked at him with true vehemence. “You said you were a doctor?” She seemed to scoff. “You can’t be a micro-biologist too?”
Hayden was never a fan of that area of science, but obviously she was.
“No. I’m an archeologist.” Hayden said it proudly.
“Oh” She paused, looking down at her plant carefully cutting around it with a stainless steel blade. “I thought you were a real Doctor.” She emphasized the sarcasm in real.
He ignored her, knowing many in his doctoral community received such criticism, but they knew and always understood, archeology was the foundation of many discoveries. Those who did not understand the past were doomed to repeat it. He decided to go with the flow. “I never got your name by the way.”
“That’s because I didn’t offer it.”
Hayden realized she was not going to offer this readily. “Then why are you being so obviously intrusive?”
“Me being intrusive?” She sneered, standing up and placing the flower into one of her petri holders with a touch of plant food. “My question is more along the lines of, ’Why are you being intrusive?’ Besides the opportunity to soil one of my scientific research markers?” She looked at him.
“I’m doing an excavation.” He pointed back to the tarp and set up.
She let her eyes slide in that direction and back. “So don’t you have a camp? A latrine you can use?”
Hayden leaned up against a tree and grinned. “I like to rough it.”
“Rough it?” She really seemed to take great annoyance in that answer. She drew a circle in the air around them. “Regardless, I have a permit to be doing a scientific investigation in this very area. What about you?”
“So do I.” Hayden responded with confidence. “I have a permit to do an archeological investigation.” He drew an equally big circle in the air. Then he paused, repeated the gesture, this time making it a bit bigger. “In this very area.”
“Impossible.” She paused, more in disbelief. “Let me see it.”
Hayden grinned. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
She bristled, both at his immaturity and his not listening to her order. She turned to rummage through her packsack.
In seconds, she pulled out a yellow piece of paper, with the Government of South America logo watermarked in the corner, typewritten with specific GPS co-ordinates, Global Positioning System, for this very area. “Here is MY permit. From this point and a two mile radius in every direction. All to do my research on behalf of my company, without being urinated on.”
Hayden at this point felt obligated. From his back pocket, he withdrew an equally designed permit, stamped in the same way with all the matching signatures.
Both held up their permits in front of the other.
The woman’s mouth fell open as she stared at his, appearing shocked. “This can’t be right. It’s for the exact same area, overlapping one another.” She rechecked hers and returned to his. “This is absolute crap. I’m going back to the government offices in town about this.” She packed the remaining things in her backpack. “And you’re coming with me. If for no other reason than to prevent you from vacating your bowels on my remaining flags.”
Hayden happily accepted to join her. He wasn’t concerned with the crossover in the designated areas. Personally, he could care less. In fact, when she held up the permit, he hadn’t even bothered with reading the parameters of it at all.
He convinced her to show it to him for the one thing he was looking for.
His mystery woman’s name was Doctor Danica Swift.