“Your room has already been paid for,” The hotel clerk told Cassandra.
“Did they leave a name?” Cassandra asked hopefully.
“No,” the clerk replied. “In fact, there was just money on the counter with a note, and the room key was missing.”
“You didn’t find that odd?” Cassandra asked the clerk.
“Well, I did, but whoever did it paid more than the room was worth, so management let it slide,” the clerk, an older horse woman wearing glasses, told her. The woman was probably someone’s grandmother. Cassandra shook her head. Money made the world go around. It also was the reason that so many good people turned bad. She left the hotel and looked around. She decided she was still near Piedras Negras. The buildings of the city were run down but serviceable and made from stone, and were probably partially the original architecture from the city. She had packed the burlap sack and skull into her leather saddlebag.
Cautiously, she walked down the streets of the city. No one paid any attention to her. Cassandra walked through a farmer’s market. She was looking at an apple when she heard a familiar voice.
“We will find her, boss,” Someone was saying.
“See that you do,” The voice of Draven floated to her ears, and she turned her head slightly to look in the voice’s direction. She could see Draven standing with some of his henchmen. They split away from him and walked around the market. They were making no secret that they were looking for someone. They blatantly walked up to people and yanked the hats off their heads or sunglasses off their faces. Cassandra put her head down and began a hasty retreat from the market. When she thought she was out of eyeshot she began running.
“There she goes!” Draven shouted. She could hear stalls being overturned and the angry shouts of merchants.
Cassandra did not know the layout of the city, and there were so many twists and turns. She turned down an alley, but it was a dead end. She turned to run back, but the henchmen were already there, blocking her path. Draven pushed through his henchman to stand face to face with Cassandra.
“Ah, Cassandra...” Draven smiled at her. “It appears as if your luck has run out. No masked stranger to save you.”
With that, the henchmen descended on her, grabbing her by both arms.
“Now, to take what you stole from me,” Draven told her as he strode forward. He seized Cassandra’s saddlebag and opened it. Pulling out the burlap sack and opening it. He gasped as he pulled out the crystal skull. Putting the skull back into the sack, he turned and began walking away.
“You’ll never get away with this, Draven!” Cassandra shouted at his back.
“Oh,” Draven looked back at her over his shoulder. “It looks like I already have!”
“Uh, boss?” One henchman said in an asking tone.
“What is it?” Draven snapped at him.
“What about her?” Another henchman asked.
“We’ll take her with us,” Draven laughed. “Put her in the trunk.”
Cassandra struggled against the henchman, but the third put a gun against her back.
“Let’s do this the easy way, huh?” He growled at her as he prodded her with the gun. They walked Cassandra to an old car down a back alley. Opening the trunk, they pulled out some rope, quickly tied her hands and feet before they forced her into the trunk.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” A henchman laughed as he slammed the trunk in her face.
Cassandra could feel the roar of the engine and gravel being thrown as the car sped away from the town. Bringing her hands up in front of her face, Cassandra began looking for the knot with her mouth. She found it and bit down, using her teeth to loosen the knot. She pulled her hands free from the binding as she pulled her feet up and untied them. She stuffed the ropes into her saddlebag.
“So stupid,” She chuckled as she felt around inside the trunk. She found the edge of the carpet and searched around underneath it. “Bingo!” She breathed, finding a long wire. She pulled it hard towards the front of the car. As if by magic, the trunk lock popped open. She reached out and held the trunk lid down.
“What was that?” She heard one henchman say.
“Probably just hit a rock,” She heard the other henchman respond.
“Didn’t sound like no rock,” She heard the first henchman retorted.
“Calm down,” Draven’s voice floated back to her ears. “Cassandra’s trapped in the trunk. We have the skull. We’ve won!”
“I say that we should kill her,” The first henchman told Draven.
Draven clicked his tongue, tsking him. “That is not how these things are done,” Draven laughed.
“Yeah, we’ll let Ahuitzotl decide what to do with her,” Draven continued. “He will know what to do. We will probably get extra bringing both the skull and Cassandra to him!”
“Yeah, maybe, but I still don’t like it,” The first henchman said. Cassandra could imagine that he was sitting there grouchily with his arms crossed, pouting over not being able to shoot his gun.
Cassandra laid in the trunk holding the trunk closed enough so that they could not see it open from inside the car, but open enough she could see out. She made mental notes of sights that they passed. The car hit a pothole and the trunk crashed down on her fingers. She stifled a scream by biting the inside of her cheek. The car slowed a bit and she rolled out of the trunk, pulling it closed as she did so. Rolling on the road, she got to her feet, crouched over, and ran into some bushes. Cassandra examined her hand and knew that she had broken her index and middle finger. Crouched in the bushes beside the road, she put the strap of her bag in her mouth and bit down on it as hard as she could at the same moment as she yanked her fingers back into place. Using a bit of rope and a stick, she found she fashioned a makeshift brace around her two broken fingers.
“At least that isn’t my good hand,” Cassandra laughed weakly.