Road Whose Course Does Not Turn Back

Chapter 13

Around midday Nancy found herself running up the big hill that hid the cars, yelling before the car started and got away and hoping that the land didn't block her voice.

José had finally called her to follow Dylan's moves and even shadow him when he left to coordinate deals. Nancy had asked to examine the artifacts to see if Dylan was tampering with them. José agreed that this was a good idea and lauded her cleverness. And so Nancy went into the tool tent carrying a small camera every morning. The pictures went in her notebook with a few notes about Dylan next to each one, just in case someone got a hold of her notebook while she was there. It excused her from digging sometimes, although this work was a lot more time-consuming. She had to treat this side assignment as if it were real; that would tell them they could trust her. As to how to let Dylan know without shooting up red flags to Beltrán and José… that would be difficult enough without also considering she had to balance the Sonny-loving cover. That was José's "leverage." If she dropped that and still continued doing what he wanted her to do, then she'd seem too eager to get in on black market activities. That would get his suspicions going for sure. In his position, Nancy would already be very suspicious of herself.

Up until now Nancy had been following him around the site, taking note of his methods. His visits to Tekax became less often as the finds became more scarce. He hadn't left the site since José had appointed Nancy to watchdog status.

Today, though, Dylan would finally head out to Tekax to set up a sale.

And now she was scrambling, since Dylan had prepared to leave ahead of schedule without alerting her. Not that he could, since he didn't know she was tailing him.

But there, running, moving her limbs and pushing her feet on and trying to keep her breathing even, Nancy thought that it might have been nice.

And so, just as Dylan was about to set off for another friendly chat with a potential buyer in Tekax, he heard a voice. It was too far off for him to make sense of it, but still he figured he'd stay in case he had managed to get himself in trouble of some sort.

When the figure came closer, he saw a flash of red around the head.

He nodded grimly to himself. Of course.


She waved both her hands wide in the air. "Wait!" she panted.

He sighed and waited for her to arrive. Although she was running, it was a long distance, and it would take at least a minute. This would make him late. Which wouldn't make anybody happy.

"I'm going with you," she said, bending to get in the car and pulling repeatedly at the front door handle. Once she realized it was locked, she straightened and tapped her foot.

Dylan got in and unlocked it from her side.

Someone was already inside. One of the diggers. She greeted him.

He looked away.

The car started to rumble. "Disclaimer," Dylan began as they left the site, "I'm British. This is the wrong side of the road for me. It's a good thing there aren't a lot of things for me to crash into."

"But there's no road," Nancy said, turning to look behind her.

"Yeah, well, I'm just that terrible of a driver. Figured I'd say it anyway, especially since I'll probably forget to say it when we get into town where there are roads."

"Do you want me to drive?" Nancy asked.

Dylan sighed. "I'm here; you're there. It'd be more of an effort to switch than the trouble my driving would cause." He reached over and knocked the dashboard on Nancy's side. "Does this have airbags?"

"Somehow I doubt it." Nancy turned around. "Manuel?" She asked tentatively. She was good with names, but most people's names had only been used once at the site—for introductions—because nobody talked.

He nodded.

"Great. Este coche tiene bolsas de aire?"

"You know Spanish?" Dylan asked her, surprised.

"Took it in high school," Nancy replied. "I only know enough to get by."

Manuel shook his head. "Estos coches son más baratos."

Nancy turned to Dylan. "Cheaper cars. I guess most other cars have them. Not these, though."

"Okay. Well." Dylan shifted to four-wheel drive, preparing to navigate open terrain. "Don't die."

"So far I've been lucky." Nancy lay back in her seat. "I don't think you'll be the one to do me in."

"Oh, lots of people have said that."

"And have you killed anyone?"

Dylan looked to be considering a smart-aleck response before remembering that this was a point on which he didn't want there to be debate. "No," he said straightly.

"Good," said Nancy. "Not too long ago I had to deal with someone who had. It wasn't pleasant."

They left it off there for conversation. About fifteen minutes afterward Dylan pulled back onto asphalt. Apart from a few times he drifted past the divider, his driving was perfectly fine. Nothing to warrant the "disclaimer" he had so sincerely provided.

Of course, everything became much more reassuring when he didn't have to share the road with anybody. Apparently Tekax was dead around this time of day.

He turned onto a narrow street crowded with houses with barely enough room to walk between them. Then he pulled to the side of the street and waited for the car to come to a stop.

Manuel chose to stay in the car. His presence might make the buyers suspicious, was his justification.

Nancy's orders were different. She had to follow Dylan. This meant everywhere, pretty much.

They entered a ramshackle gray house that looked abandoned. But Nancy was surprised to see that at least ten people were crammed inside, and all of them stared suspiciously at the newcomers. Only one looked remotely friendly, in fact overly so. He had a cheesy grin on like the stereotypical shyster lawyer. A stereotype her father had been quick to debunk. She bit back a smile, remembering it wouldn't exactly be appropriate for the current environment. Clearly he thought his grin would shave a couple thousand off the price of whatever artifact Dylan was selling.

She checked her memory. This wasn't one of the pieces that had major clues. It was a fragment that didn't have any type of writing on it—the whole thing probably did, but this one was tiny. Besides, it was a building tool. Of course there wouldn't be writing on it. Nancy had to stop assuming that there would be writing on everything.

The smiling man noticed. "Looks like the site is going through a dry spell, yes?" he chuckled.

Dylan didn't share the laugh. For a second he looked annoyed. Then he went back to his cheery self.

A battle of charms, Nancy thought to herself. This would be worth watching.

Nancy remembered that she documented the material on the piece and everything else that seemed noteworthy.

As Dylan reached into the bag he'd brought, she hoped she didn't miss anything.

But he didn't produce the artifact. Instead it was a piece of paper.

"We're going to agree on the price. I'll take this to my superiors. Then you get the money, I get the artifact, and we meet here."

Apparently black market transactions weren't as simple a process as she thought.

She really needed to brush up on those.

Smiling Man's eyes narrowed, although his smile stayed. "What's the girl doing here?"

"Uh," Dylan looked at her.

"I'm here to make sure we really want to sell things to you," said Nancy.

The smiling man's smile finally faded.

Dylan looked like he had swallowed something the wrong way. He looked at her as if to say, "Couldn't you have stuck with secretary?" Nancy had considered that. But for as little as she knew about black market dealings, at least on the ground level, she did know that these were very intimate transactions. There were never secretaries.

Still, she thought, forcing herself to keep eye contact, she probably could have come up with something better.

Smiling Man's smile jumped back. "Caution," he said unctuously, "is to be esteemed. We are dealing with a thorough group, I see. I'm sure you will find that everything here meets your approval." Springing up from a ratty-looking chair, the only one in the room, he wasted no time in offering his seat to Nancy. "Please," he said, with a flourish resembling a partial bow.

Nancy sat and nodded to him in acknowledgement, though she didn't smile. Standing her ground would result in a better deal. Thinking like a criminal always made her uncomfortable, but this time she felt a strange pride, too.

Then wondered if her conscience had abandoned her completely.

Of course, thinking like a criminal would make it much easier to catch a criminal.

And she always liked finding out she could do new things.

So this had to be a good thing.

Looking relieved, Dylan continued. "Just so we're all on the same page. The object for sale is," he took out a picture, "this. A flint chisel, what looks to be a primitive building tool." He allowed Smiling Man to examine it for a minute or so before he took it back. "225,000 pesos."

Quickly Nancy did the math. That was about $16,500.

Smiling Man didn't look displeased. In fact, his smile grew. "That's a little high, don't you think?"

Nancy thought about speaking but remembered what had happened last time she opened her mouth. If she told him, no this wasn't high, then she ran the risk of offending him. Or, worse—blowing her cover.

"It isn't high at all if you're reasonable." Dylan flashed him a smile of his own. "The chisel is in perfect condition. You'll have museums fighting over it."

"Then who's fighting over it right now?" asked Smiling Man, still smiling.

"I have offers from three other parties."

Looking for any signs of mistruth in Dylan, Nancy couldn't find any. She had to admit she was impressed. She had the ability to judge character and sincerity in many people, but Dylan was good at his game. She'd missed some of his lies in Egypt.

She just hoped he wasn't lying about being on their side.

A few beads of sweat started at Smiling Man's temple and disappeared in the wrinkles around his eyes. "150,000," he said.

"No," said Dylan.

"I really don't have much more to offer," said Smiling Man. "175,000."

"The price is already quite cheap." Dylan examined the fingers of his right hand as he flexed them. "We can take our offer elsewhere."

"Then take it elsewhere."

Dylan sighed and took off his hat, bending his head to the side as he considered the situation. "I can't offer less," he said, voice taking on a confidential tone. "Orders."

A tense silence followed. More sweat formed above Smiling Man's eyebrows.

"Do you," he began slowly, "or do you not, have the money? Because if you don't have 225,000 pesos, I'm going to take this somewhere else for someone who sees sense in the price."

"No one will see sense in the price." But Smiling Man's lips had started to twitch.

Dylan watched. He knew that several similar pieces had sold for 250,000 based on what Beltrán had told him. But they wanted to sell quickly. There simply wasn't a good place to keep the artifacts when the tents came down every day. Most of the time they ended up in the cars, which was why Beltrán and José always stood on the big hill over where the cars were kept, as far as he could tell.

Then abruptly he turned to leave.

Nancy stood, wanting to see how this finished. Because she could tell it wasn't finished.

"Come on," he snapped to her.

Oh. Right. Leaving was a tactic to make the other man desperate.

"All right," Smiling Man said behind them.

Nancy, who had scurried ahead of Dylan in her hurry to keep up the charade, saw his leer when she turned. He was facing away from everybody else, so they didn't see. But what Nancy saw was him having power he never had before coming to Mexico, and him relishing it. What she saw scared her a little.

"If I come by on Saturday," said Dylan, turning back around to them, "Will you have the money?"


"Good." After glancing around the place, he left—for real that time.

Nancy followed him. Neither said a word until the car pulled out of the dirt that comprised the driveway.

And neither said a word for some time after that, either.

Just as Nancy was starting to doze off, Dylan spoke. "What are you doing here?" he asked.

She jumped, not so much surprised at the sound of his voice as she was by the sudden quality it had taken on. It was almost…


Not the Dylan she knew.

"Thought you needed company," she replied.

"They still don't trust me, do they?"

"I don't know," said Nancy, looking pointedly in the rearview at José.

Dylan bit his lip and curled his fingers more tightly around the steering wheel. When he exhaled, it was tense and audible. His shoulders didn't deflate with the rest of him. "Never mind. But don't start talking like that again."

"I should be seen and not heard, yeah?"

"This isn't your avenue. You don't know how to handle these people."

Nancy whirled on him. "You've been excluding me for the past few weeks. How am I supposed to know how to talk to them?"

"That isn't my call," Dylan said through a set jaw. His teeth were almost gritted together with a millimeter of space between them.

"No. It's Beltrán's." Nancy crossed her arms tightly over her chest. "And now I'm here."

"I'm not sure if you can tell, but anything can blow a sale. Anything. That may or may not include insulting the buyer."

"You needed help, and I offered it."

"I was going to say," Dylan began at the same time.

Nancy fell silent.

"I was going to say that you were my partner in setting these sales up. That I looked into potential buyers and you were a financial consultant. You looked into other black market dealings to compare prices."

All right. Nancy did hate to admit it, but that was better. "Usually when people are quiet like that…"

"They don't know what to say. I know. You wanted to cover that up before enough time passed to make them suspicious. But timing is crucial in these things. It's like it's all staged, but it isn't." He looked briefly at her before returning his eyes to the terrain. "I'm not stupid. I know why you're here. But we're doing this my way. That's the way it has to be done."

Nancy was livid. She would have argued if Manuel weren't in the back seat. She would have pointed out that until now, Dylan had no luck getting involved with the black market. That she had almost as much experience as he did.

She stopped.

And what would he say? That she's still been on the side of the law all her life?

That would be correct.

"Okay," she replied.

For the rest of the ride back Nancy worked on engaging Manuel in light conversation, mainly because she felt uncomfortable not talking to him because it almost seemed like pretending he wasn't there. Those were his orders more or less, just to go to Tekax with Dylan and not to talk to him or even help him with the sales—just to stay with the car. Still, ignoring him didn't seem right.

By the time they pulled in around the familiar set of hills of Usrique, the conversation had all but petered out. Nancy had spent the last five minutes dozing. She disliked sleeping in the middle of the day, but in this case she knew it wouldn't encroach on her ability to sleep at night. Even if she wasn't digging as much, she ended up just as exhausted.

"Nancy?" Dylan asked suddenly.


He didn't finish the thought right away. Instead he rested his head on the edge of the steering wheel. "Be careful."

"What do you mean?"

"The weather's been hot lately. Drink lots of water. Take care of yourself."

He got out of the car and opened the door for Manuel, who left as well, leaving Nancy alone and a bit bewildered.

She'd gotten the sense he didn't want her around for these trips. But there was a separate, almost palpable feeling of foreboding.

Be careful, she mouthed to herself. Was it a suggestion? Or a warning?

Was he just apprehensive about the possibility of getting caught?

Or was he hiding a guilty conscience?

She found herself still considering these questions as she finally left the car three minutes later. José probably expected her to go straight back to digging. But instead she stayed on that side of the big hill, out of sight, stretching herself against the incline and taking a few deep breaths.

"Shouldn't you be working?"

She scrambled up. "I was just feeling a little heat sickness…" she defended.

"Then I'm not the right guy for you."

Her eyes rose.

Sonny stood there, grinning at her. "I'm sorry to interrupt your nap. But, after all, you interrupted mine."

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Nancy snarked before lying back again.

"I think you're getting the hang of this 'relaxing' thing," he said, standing in front of her and picking at a scab of dirt on the back of his hand.

"Don't ask me if I should be working. I thought you were José," Nancy said, equally angry with him and herself. She should have recognized the sound of his voice, at least. Apparently she was too tired even for that.

"Ah, no. It's just Sunspot."

"Shouldn't you be working?" She opened her eyes and stared up at him.

"Maybe. In some universe." He gestured to a spot of grass next to her. "You mind?"

"Go for it."

He sat. "I've been thinking about that stone fragment."

"Oh no. You've been thinking again?"

"Hah hah. Yes, I've been thinking again." He pulled his notebook from behind his back and opened it to the last filled page. "See?"

Nancy moved to look. "That's a picture of José with long hair and eyelashes in a petal dress."

"Huh?" Sonny's eyes widened. He looked down at the drawing. "Ooops," he laughed sheepishly. "Wrong notebook."

"Let's see what else you've got." Nancy took it from his hands.

"Noooo, let's not." He snatched it back. "None of it's relevant anyway."

She threw him an odd glance. "Since when do you care?"

"I don't know." He hugged his notebook to his chest.

"Yeah, well, I respect your space."

His eyes went wide as he surveyed her without blinking, and his head tilted slightly to the side. He looked ten to fifteen years younger then, every bit the child he seemed for the rest of the time. Then, without warning, he burst into raucous laughter, rolling around in the grass ten feet away and then five feet to each side and making an utter spectacle of himself.

"What?" Nancy asked, annoyed.

"That is the least true statement ever." He said, finally settling on his side facing her. "You've never respected anyone's space in your life."

"That's not true," she protested. "When I'm not on a case I do."

"When are you not on a case?"

Well, he had her there.

"Either way," she said, changing the subject. "Don't let Rosie see that," she said, rolling onto her own side and pointing to the notebook.

"Wow," he said with a new admiration. "You have a warped mind."

"No," Nancy said, turning away and trying to ignore the sudden flutter in her chest. "I just know the way you think."

"If you know the way I think, then what am I thinking right now?"

"I can't imagine."

"Pick a number between 1 and 10."


"Just do it," he said in sing-song.

She sighed. "Fine…"

"Don't tell me what it is!" he blurted before she could say anything else.

"I wasn't going to tell you," she said, forcing herself to be patient.

"Okay. Uh, seven."



"Oh," he said quietly.

"Well, I mean, seven was my second choice."

"Was it?" A happy note reentered his voice.

"Yeah." Nancy rolled onto her back and stretched her head to look at him.

They passed a few seconds in comfortable silence.

Knowing Sonny, that was all the silence they'd get before his thoughts switched track.

Sure enough, Nancy thought as his eyes lit up.

"Wait." A new energy grew in his face. "Wait."

"I'm waiting."

"I just remembered something! What was in the other notebook!" He sat up. "The Olmecs carved their writings on stone. The Mayans wrote on paper. This provesit's an early Mayan site!"

"What proves it's a Mayan site at all?" Nancy asked doubtfully.

"Because of the distinct cultural differences, don't you see? The Olmecs wouldn't have…" he paused and tried again. "The Olmecs have different gods. Different language." He began talking faster. "Where's your notebook?"


He wrenched it from her hands and pried it open to the newest entry, tearing a couple of pages in the process. Then he pointed at the glyphs she'd drawn in with enough energy to bend his finger back the wrong way. Which he did, as Nancy saw him flinch a little. "See this? Their writings never looked like that."

"If you say so," Nancy said.

"But don't you know the significance of this?"

"I have an idea." Still she couldn't help but smile at his excitement. Nancy had taken a role in changing history numerous times. This wasn't so new to her.

"I just can't believe we found it!" Sonny said with a gleeful, awed laugh. "Nancy, this means everything for us. S.P.I.E.D. us," he clarified quickly. "Because they'll, everyone will know we accomplished it, you and I, and it gets the message out that we have to do something and that we are doing something else otherwise this wouldn't have appeared!"

Out of the corner of her eye Nancy saw José pop up above the curve of the hill. "Shhh," she tried.

Sonny started looking around.

Drat. That wasn't the reaction she'd been looking for.

Nancy put a hand on his cheek to stop his head from moving. Then she scooted closer to his chest and pressed her lips to his.

At first he seemed surprised. Then Nancy felt an arm wrap around her waist.

For a second she was able to enjoy it, him, them, there.

But Sonny pulled away.

She stared at him.

He blinked. "You interrupted me for that?"

"Uh, no," Nancy said, "José was here a second ago."


"You were being conspicuous."

"This isn't my domain," he retorted. "You're supposed to worry about the cover."

"That was the cover."

"I don't think I was being too conspicuous."

"You were yelling," Nancy informed him flatly.

"Oh." He paused. "Was I? I do that sometimes."

"You know what?" Nancy began, suddenly angry. "Forget it. I have to go."

"Mmm, no you don't." Sonny looked amused. "You're just looking for an excuse to be excused. And your excuse could be better."

"Could it? I think I have the best excuse in the world. There are those artifacts I still have to analyze, which could take hours, and with everything José is asking me to do, I'm really, really behind. There are so many clues, and I have to see how they fit together—if they fit together—and what they mean. This isn't a vacation. It never is a vacation."

"Clearly," said Sonny with raised eyebrows. "Why don't you take a day off?"

"I don't want to take a day off."

"Maybe you did at one point and then you forgot you ever did."

This was met with silence.

"Well, why don't we talk?" Sonny suggested. "It's been a while since we just talked."

"I really don't have time."

"Okay." Sonny crossed his arms. "Tell me why you don't have time."

"Because I've spent too much time thinking and talking about things that aren't relevant to this case."

"Yeah. How dare you enjoy yourself? Enjoying yourself is such a bad thing."

Nancy felt an unfamiliar lurch in her chest. Before she knew what she was doing, she was yelling. She stood as her voice rose, ramming her words into him without aim in an exhausted tirade. Vaguely she became aware that the sentences kept taking an upward inflection, which meant questions.

Always questions.

And when she finished, having little recollection of what she'd said, he continued to lie there without moving, expression unchanged as he regarded her. "Don't you just feel you're fighting against something instead of letting it take its course?" he asked.

Sonny stayed where he was when he said that, but he somehow gave the illusion that he was moving closer with every word. He didn't have to be referring to her with his "you." He could've been using the general "you." He could've meant a million different things with what he said, but he only met one—Nancy knew that—and which one it was she couldn't put her finger on, could only think that none of this made sense and it wasn't like it was with Ned because with that everythinghad made sense and he had just asked her out and they'd gotten on so well from the beginning, that it just made sense, they just made sense, she enjoyed his simplicity, he admired her complexity…

Nancy took a deep breath. Why was she even thinking about… about him in the same sentence as Ned?

"You know some things are simpler than you think." Sonny broke into her thoughts.

Nancy jolted. Then she was angry again, angry she couldn't even have her thoughts to herself anymore. He still could have been using the general you. His voice was thoughtful and distant enough for it, which meant he was looking at a whole.

She shook her head. She knew him too well, had worked on knowing him too much.

But just from the words, it sounded like he was talking to her. A simpler conversation, when everything was understood. A complete conversation. He covered the whole. She covered—

"Details," Sonny shook his head. "Semantics. You don't need those right now."

An edgy, grainy silence followed. To her credit, Nancy did try to stop thinking about everything at once. Unfortunately she wasn't able to.

Sonny frowned. He wasn't paying attention to her anymore. His mouth opened and closed several times before making some sound. Finally he said, "Well, I have wanted to talk to you for some time now, mainly to—"

José came back. Sonny, the first to see him, inhaled sharply through his teeth. "Been fun. It's been fun. Should probably get back to work." He pushed himself off the grass and walked away.

"Sonny?" she called, hating the note of desperation that entered her voice.

"Yeah?" He turned his head without turning his body, hands still in his pockets.

"Come back here."

He trudged back, muttering and avoiding her eyes.

"What were you going to say? Just now?"

"Nothing. I wasn't going to say anything," he said, though he still looked frustrated about something that very much wasn't nothing.

She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes as she looked at him, trying to read his expressions. "Fine. Then maybe you can clear something up for me."

"Sure," he said mildly.

"What did you mean when you said it was just a kiss a few weeks ago?"

His eyes shot up in surprise. Nancy knew what he was thinking. It was a shot in the dark, and she nailed it. Like hitting a star in space. Not that he didn't expect her not to nail it. Just not quite this soon.

A moment later his eyes settled as he recomposed himself.

"At Pancake City, before we left," Nancy continued. "You said, quote unquote, 'It was one kiss, and we really don't have that much in common."

An eyebrow rose. "Is that in your case notes?"

"This isn't a joke, Sonny!"

"Fair enough. Sorry."

"What does that mean?"

"Okay." He took a few steps backward, waving his arms. "You're normally the calm one, so I have no idea what to do right now."

"Are you really diverting the subject right now?"

"No, I'm just trying to figure out where this is coming from."

"From speaking irresponsibly. This is all your fault."

"It's always all my fault," Sonny replied blankly. "Are you actually surprised?"

"What did you mean?" Nancy advanced. "Did that not mean anything to you?"

He froze.

"I just, I just, that was the one thing I thought I could keep."

"It meant everything to me," he said softly.

Frowning, Nancy waited for him to continue.

"But when I saw you, you didn't seem receptive. That's honestly the only reason I said that. You seemed to want to be needed for professional reasons. I don't blame you."

"You didn't call me for eight months!"

Sonny bit his lip. "That was stupid. I'm sorry."

"How was I supposed to respond?"

"Probably the way you did." He flinched. "I'm sorry."

"Stop saying you're sorry," she snapped.

"All right. How about that… I feel very strong… feelings about you? I, uh, really want us to keep seeing each other and—"

Nancy shook her head and kissed him again, this time with such dizzying force that she almost pushed both of them over, embracing him awkwardly with one arm around his neck and the other around his back. The air seemed to cool around them, leveling out the intensity of weeks worth of unspoken feelings amidst the harrying path the investigation had taken of late. And even when she broke away she didn't let go, burying her face in his neck and clinging to him tightly.

She could tell Sonny's surprise from the way he was still slightly out of sync. She didn't dare move her head to meet his eyes. And when his arms went around her, she felt happiness, his happiness, and for a second she was wildly joyful, and the rest of the time she was content.

Four or five times she heard something odd, and far off, but it didn't matter, not right now. Nothing else mattered.

Then the noise came again, and all of a sudden she remembered where she was and what if it was Beltrán and why was she still thinking in run-on sentences because she was annoying herself but anyway back to the noise.

A throat clearing.

Nancy raised her head just slightly so she could see over Sonny's shoulder.

Dylan surveyed them without comment. That's when Nancy knew, even before he said anything, and a feeling of reasonless dread with accurate precision pervaded her. Dylan, who always had something cheeky to say.

She blinked. Realization washed over her. This was the first time that she actually got where Sonny was coming from. She'd become better at trying to understand.

Now she just understood.

And she understood something was wrong even before Dylan told them. And when he did, she didn't believe the words, yet still felt her feet moving. For the first time she kept pace with Sonny as they tore over the hill to see for themselves, feeling his wild pulse in their quickly and clumsily linked hands.

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