The day had begun over a fresh set of hills, soon proving itself to be a nice change of scenery. Lou dropped the car off and left Tekax just as the sun was rising. He didn't even feel a little bit tired, which made him happy. Normally he didn't feel tired, but the tedium of uniformity out at Usrique had exhausted him. Nothing to do with the labor—he was used to that kind of stuff.
Lou thought it was pretty easy to get lost in the city. All buildings looked the same. They were all man-made. Terrain wasn't. If anybody thought they'd easily get lost in these hills, he'd look at them like they were crazy. Because they were crazy. He didn't need a map for any of this. Each little bit of land had character. Moods. Birthmarks. Idiosyncrasies, like people. He didn't need a map to get through any of this, not as long as he had north, south, east, and west, and he didn't understand why anybody did.
And so he made it back to his spot at the crater rim fairly easily, fairly quickly. He found his tent still there, right where he left it… darker with rain-smeared dirt and a few more holes than he remembered, but still there. Smiling, he ducked inside and took the stack of photos out of his pocket and put them back on the ground next to the sheets, also still there.
So was his radio. There it stood on the table, gleaming in the vigor of his eyes, his best possession, his most steadfast companion.
Finally he'd gotten back.
And there were a million different places he could begin.
For one he could stick around for a little while just to see if this shallow part of the crater had as little in the name of dinosaur bones as he thought. Then he could get some scuba gear and go out to the water half of it. For sure nobody had ever done that before. He never thought he'd be grateful for growing up in L.A., but at least it had taught him everything he needed to know about living like an amphibian. Skiing, surfing, diving, all that jazz. It looked like he'd find a way to use every bit of it.
His eyes refocused on the radio before he allowed himself to get too carried away. Lou wasn't the type to exaggerate, and he hadn't been playing the caves up when he'd said they were dangerous. The mystery girl and the weird guy needed help.
Immediately he fiddled with the radio until he arrived at Henrik's station. "Rex calling Dutchman. Please pick up, old man," he muttered to himself. "I don't have a cell phone."
"Dutchman here," answered a familiar English accent. "And for the record, I'm sixty-four. I consider myself old, but I thought I'd offer you the facts before you reached your conclusions."
"I'm outta Usrique," said Lou. "Yeah, they were doing illegal stuff. But that's not why I called you. Those two friends of yours, I just dropped them off at Loltun Cave. Everybody else is still at the site. I think there's enough to prove what's going on there. We all saw it, for one thing. That's got to count for something."
"Hmmm," said Henrik. It was very difficult to tell what he was thinking or feeling just by his tone. He held people at arms' length just by talking. Lou hoped he wasn't mad because he'd done everything he asked him to do. And the old man was too valuable of a contact to lose. "Was the environment stable when you left?"
"Nope. Apparently the team leaders had a discussion in the other tent with some diggers they suspected. From your team."
Henrik sighed. "That sounds bad. And frankly I don't have time to deal with bad. I guess I'll have to make time, then. Are the diplomats there yet?"
"Diplomats?" Lou's head jerked back in surprise. "What are you talking about?"
"Well I see that the communication there has been just stellar," he said, a mixture mild amusement and exasperation evident in his tone. "There are diplomats coming out. Apparently black market activity is bad all over the country, and it's making all of the other countries think it's just a bit unfair for them to get away with it. From your surprise, it's clear that they haven't arrived yet."
"No. This place is just as empty as it always is."
"Are you near any of the roads?"
"Then maybe you're not as qualified to make that judgment."
"Look, I just got back from Tekax, and nothing was going on there."
"Any word on the street there?"
"I was in and out. Just to drop off the car before the people at the site could find me and bitch at me for taking it."
"I hope for their sake that you're living under a rock and they're close." Henrik paused. "In the meanwhile, I've got to get people out there to help in case they aren't. Stay close by. I'm going to make some phone calls. Over and out."
Lou rolled his eyes and turned off the HAM radio. Of course it would have killed Henrik to say thank you. He knew he didn't need to, and it would kill him to do anything he didn't need to. Lou owed Henrik for all of the spots he'd told him about so he could work and stay here. He knew it, Henrik knew it, and they were both past heartfelt gratitude. It was just what was scholars trying to make a living did for one another.
For the moment he lay back on the pile of sheets and looked through his photos for the millionth time. Maybe Henrik would call him back, but it was more likely he wouldn't. Now he needed to get a move on on all of this other stuff. Regarding Usrique, he'd done what he could. Now it was up to the rest of them.
From his office, Henrik tried calling Nancy to no avail. Then Sonny Joon.
Right. Wherever they were, they probably didn't have signal. It hadn't even occurred to him; last time he was in Mexico, cell phones hadn't been around yet.
He remembered Jamila and tried calling her next. She'd only gotten back to him after a few days the first time and didn't follow up, so she proved herself none too reliable, but she was his last hope.
She didn't answer.
Henrik tried again.
Four more times.
Finally he wasn't greeted with voicemail. "Who is this?" asked an irate English-tinged voice.
"This is Henrik Van Der Hune," he said, rather taken-aback. "Don't you have my number?"
"Didn't recognize it from your last call. And, of course, Sonny didn't give it to me," she replied with thinly-veiled exasperation.
"I was just calling in to make sure you told him what I said. I never received a follow-up call."
"Yeah," Jamila said. "I apologize. Very busy last couple of days. I didn't have the time."
"Uh…" In all honesty, Henrik didn't know how to respond to this. Apparently the looming threat of blowing Nancy's and Sonny's cover wasn't a big deal to her. It sounded a bit… flaky. He had hoped Sonny's alien friend wouldn't be crazy by some miracle. Now he just felt silly for hoping so. "Well, did you?"
"Of course I did. Has the situation gotten any worse?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"I understand you've been busy. Have you been checking regularly?"
Henrik bristled. "As the person who sent them there with some of my own colleagues, I bear a certain responsibility in ensuring all their safeties."
"Wait. You're the one who sent them there?"
"Yes," Henrik replied after a few seconds. Indubitably she was crazy.
"Oh!" she said. "See, Sonny never told me that. He just gave me your number and said, 'This guy might call you.'"
Understanding dawned on Henrik. He suppressed a Sonny-induced sigh. "Is that so?"
"Yes, it is. I'd apologize on his behalf, but I really don't feel like it today."
A ghost of a smile rose on Henrik's face. A comrade. "Understood," he said. Then he remembered how he'd been unable to contact her. "I must ask," he began tentatively. How to open the topic without a blow-up? Admittedly Henrik didn't much care about honoring other people's feelings over truth, but assuaging her potential irritation would take time he didn't have. "Where have you been the past few days? Not that I care to hear your personal affairs, but you're missing out on some important—"
"I've been dealing with a family emergency," Jamila cut across.
"Oh." Henrik stuttered and blinked several times. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Oh, it isn't my family emergency," she said quickly. "It's a… friend's."
"I see," Henrik replied, even though he didn't. "I've called you for a specific reason. Two, actually. The diplomats who are conducting investigations of their own are likely in Mexico by this point. I can only imagine they're headed to Usrique now and if not now, soon, certainly."
"Well, perhaps you should let Sonny know he needs to hurry. I'll call him when I can."
Henrik's mouth tightened. He did not have time for this. Of course, he couldn't say that. "In light of your situation," he began carefully, "I would under normal circumstances be happy to. However, I figured it would be safer for you to contact him. I have some contacts in the area who could be traced back to me."
"Good point," she said succinctly. "That it would. Suppose I'll call him, then."
She didn't sound like she had an abundance of time, either.
"Look, if that's all, I need to go. To be honest, I've got a lot on my hands right now," Jamila said, confirming Henrik's impression.
Candor and brevity. Promising traits, even for the colleague of an alien believer. Probably an alien believer herself. Oh well, Henrik thought. He'd seen far stranger things in his lifetime. Remembering he wasn't finished, Henrik spoke. "That isn't all, I'm afraid. There was a bit of a skirmish at the site. Sonny and Nancy are both gone."
"Oh," Jamila replied. "Wish Sonny would call with updates once in awhile. Do you happen to know where they're headed?"
Less of a reaction than he'd expected. Then again, Jamila worked often with Sonny; perhaps he did his disappearing acts on a regular basis. It was easy to talk to this woman, Henrik noted, while not easy to talk to Sonny. How she was able to talk to Sonny was beyond him. "Loltun Cave according to a friend of mine."
"A friend of yours?"
"Was he at the site with them?"
A harsh sigh came from the other end of the line. "Sonny needs to do a better job of keeping me in the loop. I'm going to have to talk to him. Again."
"Good luck getting him to listen."
"I'll try to get Nancy to tell him. He listens to what she says."
"Yes," Henrik chuckled. "I got that sense too."
"Whom else did you send?"
"Two colleagues of mine and an acquaintance. Names Holly Klee, Alexander Norgaard, and Richard Reeves, for your information."
"And are they safe?"
"As far as I know."
"All right," she said, sounding weary. "Thanks. I'll book the next available flight."
"I'm not sure that that's necessary—" Henrik began reluctantly. He supposed her strange "family" situation entitled her to an out. But someone needed to be down there.
"Sonny never does things the easy way. He's not going to answer his phone. I mean, of course I'll call him, but he isn't going to answer. Why he's trying to get Jin to get a cell phone when he barely answers his own, I don't know," she continued heatedly.
"Who is Jin?" Henrik asked, confusion overriding his relief.
"Never mind that. I am going to fly down there and get in contact with the authorities. If Sonny and Nancy are gone, that means their cover is blown, and, knowing them, if their cover is blown, they have enough evidence for the authorities, and since their cover is blown, the authorities' presence can't hurt them now." said Jamila. "Did you hear anything about Dylan, by any chance?"
"Dylan?" Henrik repeated.
"Damn it, Sonny," she muttered. "Dylan Carter. English tour guide. He had him looking into black market activity."
"I didn't hear anything."
"Great," she said darkly. "Have to get down there and make sure he's not dead. Aren't things a mess."
"Certainly seems like it."
"Thanks, Henrik. I have to go." She hung up without waiting for a goodbye.
That wasn't so bad, Henrik thought. At least some of Sonny's friends who were looking out for him had more sense than he did. With that he got back to work, sensing that his role in this chaotic plan was over or nearly so. Yet he couldn't help but smile. For a few minutes at least he'd re-experienced his days in the 70's, traipsing about the Yucatán region with long hair and ideals of a balanced world and an afrotastic sidekick with an aversion to psychedelic tea.
Jamila dropped her phone into her purse and closed the latch-lock with a sour glare on her face. Her patience had expired days ago. Mostly it was the lack of sleep, the trying to get ahold of Chin-Sun and convince her that yes, her father was dying and this wasn't just his histrionics, and the knowledge that Sonny would not answer his phone yet of course when she got there he would still ask her, "Why didn't you just call me?"
And then she'd try her best not to talk to him like he was four years old, since he hated that. Not that it was her responsibility to tiptoe around him. She just wasn't in the mood for his sulking.
She stood and patted Jin's wrist. "I'm going to find your grandson."
"Sonny?" Jin's eyes brightened. This was one of his better days. He'd been lucid for the last few hours and holding.
"Yes. The one who never listens. To anyone."
"Will you bring him to me?" He looked so tiny, so young, that Jamila felt another ripple of rage for what would be another stressor in her life, the realization that she cared about Jin more than she even thought which would make for a few miserable days after he crossed the bar.
"Yes, Jin," she said. "I promise."
Tears came to his eyes then.
"Keep holding on," she said quietly, turning to leave. "Just a little longer. I'm so sorry about the timing of this."
"You remind me so much of Chin-Sun," he replied, barely audibly.
She froze with her back to him.
"She was everything you'd want in a daughter. Honest. Smart. Independent. Never held anything back. Never let anything stop her. She knew what she wanted, and she went after it. She wouldn't fail. She brought Sonny up all by herself. His father left a very long time ago."
Jamila didn't want to hear this. She never knew her grandparents. She barely knew her parents. Sonny had been the first person outside of the Order she could call a friend. But she gritted her teeth and bore it.
"Just knowing you was like being able to relive my life," he continued. "The second time with her approval."
Suddenly then Jamila became angry at Sonny for what seemed the millionth time in the past few days. Chin-Sun Joon had abandoned Jin out of anger from feeling missed out on his adventures, from his absence in her childhood. Now Sonny was doing the same thing, abandoning him when he needed him most, except for the opposite reason—being too invested in Jin's adventures rather than not invested at all. To the point where he valued them over him, where those became more central to his life than his own family. Chin-Sun chose her life over Jin. So had Sonny, it seemed, ironically enough.
Jin's life was rife enough with loss.
Jamila rubbed her temples. That wasn't fair of her. She wasn't thinking clearly anymore. "Thank you, Jin," she said, acknowledging him by turning her head to the side. "That means a lot to me."
"Thank you, Jamila, for bringing light back into my life." Jin's eyes were glassy, but now they held a twinkle. "I haven't been so happy since the day Sonny was born."
She walked toward the door that led out to the hallway in Rhode Island Hospital, afraid. These were deathbed confessions.
She shouldn't be the one hearing them.
"Hold on, Jin," she said, holding the knob. "I'll come back with Sonny. And Chin-Sun."
She started. "Yes?" she asked loudly and abruptly, turning toward him again.