Road Whose Course Does Not Turn Back

Chapter 14

At first Nancy didn't know what the problem was. When the set of pits whipped under her as she and Sonny reached the top of the hill, she saw that they had unearthed a large stone slab, at least as tall as she was. This was stone the Maya would have written on. It depicted a scene between what looked like gods and had glyphs hammered in under it. It appeared remarkably well preserved.

"I need to get a closer look," said Sonny.

"Let's go, then." They started to make their way down the hill.

"Nancy! Where have you been?" Beltrán snapped up at her. "Come down here."

Just then Nancy remembered that her relationship cover excluded Beltrán, who disallowed relationships between diggers. José looked at her as someone reasonably sane looked at someone crazy. Now his leverage was lost and he had no reason to continue asking her to look into black market affairs, not when this was supposed to be a secret from Beltrán and now Beltrán knew. She felt humiliated. She was sick at her failure.

Maybe Beltrán wouldn't notice this one indiscretion, but José would lose his faith in her as a hard worker, and he might close off the area of investigation he had opened. And even if not, Nancy's misstep bothered her. And the sudden gritty air around the site contributed to the desire to be far, far away from here. Still she kept her face innocent and authoritative. She struggled to remember what Dylan told her, something troubling, but truthfully she hadn't been listening as well as she should have right then.

And then she saw it.

Lying right next to the stone.

The power saw.

She knew it.

Knew it was out of place from the moment she saw it when she first arrived at the site.

"They're going to cut it up!" Sonny said incredulously.

"I know," she replied. After a pause, she continued. "But why would they do it?"

"To move? To sell in chunks?" He spoke as if from another continent of shock. Then words began tumbling out of his mouth in a sudden fury. "But I can't believe they'd actually go there!"

They appeared behind the other diggers without any recollection of getting there. Why do it then, in the middle of the day? Nancy wondered. With the daylight and the noise, it would be too conspicuous.

Sonny leaned his head closer to hers without looking away. "We need to do what we can now," he murmured out of the corner of his mouth. "I have a feeling that its minutes are numbered." He led them in front of a row of diggers, edging closer. "There. Now we can see." Quickly he took out his phone, zoomed in, and snapped a picture. He took several more, each closer than the last or closing in on certain portions.

For once, the site was not dead silent. A blanket of murmuring made itself apparent around all their heads. The diggers spoke with one another in words Nancy could only partially understand, though the varying tones of their voices gave away their disconcertion.

Alexander and Holly shared the devastation as Mayan scholars. They seemed to very much like Henrik, who cared just as much but took part in illegal activities so he could continue his studies and keep caring. Holly already seemed to be making a decent living, and at first Nancy wondered why she was even here. But mingled with the pain and disgust in her eyes was something else: understanding. Maybe she had come here for the understanding. Maybe she had been well off all her life and never experienced or saw around her this desperate, battleground respect, the searing realization of "it's it or me, this artifact or me."

Richard did not hold this same grief, but the others' was infectious for him.

Even Lou looked uncomfortable.

And all of them showed Nancy that Henrik surrounded himself with people like himself, conscientious people who had to forge their own moral code if they couldn't strictly abide by the one they were offered, the one that couldn't give them the means to live the lives they wanted. She met Dylan's eyes, too, just then, before he bowed his head, and knew that she still disagreed with the choices he and Lou and Henrik made.

But she'd never know what it was like to be in their shoes.

Still, in that moment, she knew she cared too. Maybe she couldn't appreciate the artifacts as much as someone who'd studied them for years, but she felt fiercely the wrong that was about to take place.

She moved to go further forward.

Sonny held her back. "Careful," he warned.

"What do you mean, 'careful?'" she hissed. "They're going to destroy this artifact!"

"And there's nothing you can do to stop it," Sonny said. The corners of his mouth pulled downward.

"I have got to try something. This isn't right."

"You're just going to put yourself in danger. You won't stop them."

"I can convince them to delay it until—"

"You don't have that sway with them. None of us do."

"But I have to do something."

"Okay." He looked squarely at her. "Find enough evidence to put them away so they won't do it anymore. That's why we're here."

Nancy opened her mouth to speak, but no words came.

"I know it's culturally significant. Just look at everybody here. This is their heritage." He looked down at their intertwined fingers. "It is still just a thing. It isn't living. So don't try swapping your life for it. It isn't a fair trade."

She stayed. She sighed a shuddering sigh. She ignored the lump in her throat. The remembered desire to be anywhere else.

Beside her, Sonny frowned at the stone. "Those aren't Mayan gods."

"What do you mean, they aren't Mayan gods?"

"They're not Mayan gods. I spent a few months with Joanna hitting me over the head with them. Sometimes literally. With clipboards. Believe me, I know. I couldn't forget any of them, and I tried."

"Then what gods are they?"

"They might not be gods."

She sighed. "Then what non-gods are they?"

"That almost looks like…" Sonny leaned forward. "Is that…"

The rest of his question was drowned out by Beltrán, who barked for everyone to stand back as he picked up the power saw and turned it on.

Nancy moved her mouth next to Sonny's ear. "Take a video. Evidence."

Sonny did so. "Alexander's not around," He said. Nancy could tell his apprehension from his fingers moving and flexing. "I'd love to know what those glyphs say."

"You can read them."

"I overestimated my ability to read the glyphs. Couldn't do it last time."

"Look at it. It's only one sentence. Give it a shot. I think you can do it."

"I think I need to have the book with me to actually remember what they're supposed to look like but…" Sonny's voice trailed off, his mouth agape. His eyes widened. He mouthed a series of words to himself. Then did it again.

"What is it?"

"That can't be right."

"What can't be right?" Nancy's voice rose above a whisper.

"Shhh. I'll tell you later." His eyes moved up to a drawing in the corner. He froze. "I can't believe it."

"Can't believe wh—"

"Look." He nodded at the drawing at the top right corner of the stone, what Nancy had assumed was a set of glyphs. Three triangular figures stood at fixed points from one another.

Nancy shook her head and looked at him. "I don't—"

"Look again." Sonny said. "Doesn't that look exactly like the drawing on the bottom of the bowl? What I thought was a triangle on a line and you thought were clock hands?"

Her eyes widened. "Of course. The bowl was chipped. That drawing was incomplete!"

"And look at that one," he pointed, voice going faster every inch Beltrán advanced with the tool. "It's different from the others."

"Yeah. Those two others are pyramid shapes."

"It's a ziggurat!" Sonny's eyes widened. "And the other two are pyramids, not just pyramid shapes. And Nancy, look at where they're positioned."

"I'm looking," she said quickly.

"The ziggurat's at the top there. And the two pyramids are below it to its left. And the one on the far left is way below the one on the right."

"You know you're going to have to explain this to me," Nancy said with some exasperation as Beltrán got close enough to touch it.

"The ziggurat's in Sumer. The right pyramid is in Egypt. And the far right one…"

"We're standing in," Nancy realized after a few seconds.

Sonny nodded. "I've studied the Annunaki's contact with all three locations." As Beltrán began to cut into the stone, he gripped her hand. His lips were smashed so tightly together that they were white.

Nancy wanted the twenty seconds of bliss back. A few minutes ago she'd wanted progress—all of her desires hinged on the investigation and finding a breakthrough. Now all of a sudden she wanted to keep the slow days and weeks.

Dylan's eyes were tinier than she ever remembered them. The locked tension in his face made him almost unrecognizable.

"Ana harrani sa alaktasa la tarat," Sonny said beside her. He tensed as he did so. He spoke out of desperation for any distraction.

Nancy looked at him.

"It's a Sumerian saying. Road whose course does not turn back."

"Sumerian?" she asked. "What made you think of it just now?"

"It's written on the stone."

Nancy closer examined his face. It was white.

"It's written in Mayan hieroglyphs on the stone. I swear I saw it there. I checked it. You saw me check it. But somehow I was able to read it, understand it. And I couldn't believe it."

"Road whose course does not turn back? That could mean just about anything. It doesn't really say anything."

"No, but it's the fact that it was used." He turned to her. "How does that set of words make it from the primeval society in the Middle East to an ancient society across an ocean?"

"It's only seven words long," Nancy offered. "Maybe it's a coincidence."

"'Detectives aren't allowed to believe in coincidences.'" He smiled wanly.

Nancy forced herself to stop and think about this. It seemed so impossible, and yet why was the ziggurat there at the top of the stone? It did look like Sumerian culture somehow made its way to South America thousands of miles and years later. There were of course an array of directions in which she could work toward a reasonable explanation for this phenomenon.

But it was just so incredible.

"Inanna," he muttered. "One of the gods looked exactly like Inanna."

"Who's Inanna?"

"Sumerian goddess. Think Aphrodite equivalent."

"How do you know it looked like her?" Nancy asked warily. "It's on a slab of stone. Not much detail."

"Most things depict her holding or wearing seven very specific objects to aid her in her descent to the Underworld. I think I saw a couple of those. Anyway, now I have a photo."

"What does this mean?" she asked.

"I don't know."

Nancy moved closer to Sonny's side. "What do we do?" she asked, determination permeating her tone.

Sonny only shook his head, looking on in unending dismay.

"Why pieces?" Nancy asked, knowing her voice was lost on him. She spoke in a lower tone. "Why pieces, then this?"

"Do as much investigating as you want on this front," Sonny said. "This needs to stop. Seriously, if I grab you for help on something and you're busy doing something about this…"

She squeezed his hand to signify she understood.

"Just let me know, and we'll regroup," he finished in a murmur.

"Soon I'll have what I need," Nancy answered, voice lowering several pitches. "Will you have what you need?"

"I think we need the same thing," Sonny said. "Later on the greater importance will become clear. We can work on those at the same time. Right now we deal with this."

"How much time do we have?" Nancy asked, voice hitching as another chunk fell away.

"I don't know," replied Sonny. "Not much."

"We need to make progress on the clues. Tonight."

"Where's Dylan in all this?"

"I don't know. He won't talk to me."

"That's going to have to change. Aren't you supposed to be shadowing him?"

"He's closed off just about as much as anybody can be closed off."

"Well, find a way."

"Easier said than done."

"You need my help?"

"Maybe," Nancy said thoughtfully. "I'm worried about him, but I'm also not sure how much I trust him."

"Okay. Right now let's focus on the clues in what we've been finding."

"Love to," Nancy said with a sinking feeling, "but we have to get back to work." She looked at him reluctantly. Finally after a few seconds she let go of his hand.

"We'll get this," Sonny told her before she started walking away.

Just then another figure appeared at the top of the hill that hid the vehicles.

Nancy stopped and looked.

The person's hair blew loosely in front of her, showing it to be about ten inches long.

It was a woman.

The same woman she'd seen in Tekax.

The woman's sharp gaze lowered to the stone, now in pieces. Nancy watched as she watched. A hardness already stood in her face, one that seemed to be reactionary to some previous pain, a lot of pain from the look of it. And her expression hardened one more notch before she turned away.

"Claire!" Beltrán ran up the hill to meet her. "Claire, look what we've just found. After weeks of meager findings, we have this. Almost perfect condition. It'll bring in a lot."

At that moment Dylan's words flashed briefly through Nancy's mind. "There's been a find," he had said—verbatim, breaking the few minutes' break she'd enjoyed with Sonny. Her heart tugged. It seemed so long ago now. And what a find it had been. No flaw that she could see.

Until they had cut it into pieces.

Then Nancy continued to look at this woman, Claire, as she moved forward to the dig site expressing neither approval nor disapproval, and something clicked in her mind.

Claire Warwick.

The archaeology student she'd met at that dig in Illinois, the one who never wanted her there. Claire had tried so hard to prove herself intelligent to those around that she often said things that were very false. The harder she tried to be mature, the more she came across as immature. The others had made fun of her for that and her snobbish demeanor.

This wasn't the same Claire Warwick that stood in front of her now. This Claire had finally tasted her success in the only way she could come out on top—by setting up her own network of black market dealings and playing unfair.

Probably in response to what she thought had been others playing unfair.

And still Nancy found she didn't hate the woman. She only felt sad for her.

Then she remembered that Claire might remember her, especially in how strongly she had resented her, and she bowed her head and tugged her hat over her hair. She knew it wasn't realistic to expect Claire not to see her at some point if she walked through the site, but at least then Nancy could limit her exposure to a passing chance. Besides which the possibility remained that Claire would not stay long enough to walk through the site. Maybe she had only come to glance, to check up on how things were going.

Although, Nancy reminded herself as Claire continued to descend the hill, Tekax was a good while away from here. She doubted that Claire wouldn't want to stay for at least a little bit.

Claire immediately went over to talk with Beltrán and José and Dylan. They moved out of earshot of the others.

Nancy began to follow them. She had orders to follow Dylan.

Of course, the implication was to follow him when Beltrán and José weren't around.

Still, something ate away at her, pushing her forward to listen to their conversation. This investigation needed a jumpstart. Witnessing the destruction of the new find had set fire to her blood. It was time to figure out what was going on. Then it would be time for them to get out of here.

Sonny looked up from his shovel as she passed by. She stopped briefly as their eyes met. He smiled. "Be careful," he mouthed. "Sincerely, Sunspot."

She smiled back and tried to ignore the sensation of helium filling her body as she continued after the three.

Returning to his work, Sonny gazed at the ground for a few seconds before impaling it with a shovel. There was that development, he smiled. Then, finally, all this finally moving forward. No, what had happened today wasn't okay. He looked up to the sky. But it would be okay.

And when he thought about all that, he almost felt the wind of thousands of years past rushing through him like he wasn't even born yet, blowing in the direction of some great change where past and future met. And his mind kept returning to that Sumerian saying that he'd carried with him, having learned it in Akkadian, Canaanite, Sanskrit, and Mayan and Egyptian hieroglyphs in an excited frenzy.

Road whose course does not turn back.

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