Road Whose Course Does Not Turn Back

Chapter 24

Dylan didn't think that something as simple as waiting could drive him insane. Growing up, he'd never heard the old adage "Patience is a virtue." He hadn't heard it until much later in his life, when it was too late for him to change his habits. He didn't like waiting. He liked living in the moment, which the travel did for him.

This was the middle of nowhere, cut off from modern civilization. That's why he liked these sites—to get away from modern trivialities—but for once he wished he were closer to somewhere, anywhere. He checked his phone compulsively. Nothing from nobody. Lou didn't have one, but he lived out here.

He'd heard nothing from Nancy and Sonny.

What was scarier was that he had a vision of them disappearing, forever. Neither seemed like the type to live to a ripe old age.

And that worried him.

Dylan knew he wasn't the type, either, but they were younger than he was. It still worried him.

Speaking of not surviving things… Dylan's thoughts moved to the three captives at the site. The diggers were getting antsy. They wanted to do away with them. And Dylan had people skills. He could negotiate. But he was no diplomat. He couldn't keep things from escalating forever.

In fact, he couldn't keep things from escalating for very much longer.

Had Nancy or Sonny made it to the police? he wondered. Or Lou, for that matter?

He had hidden extra copies of the provenance records, but José hadn't been able to get to them before the diggers overtook him. And the diggers weren't thinking about the documents or artifacts at all. Instead their eyes, ears, and sixth senses were hooked on the three leaders like they were afraid they'd shimmy out of their binds and start exercising their authority again, somehow overpowering numbers six or seven times their size, this time worse because they were angry. Beltrán, Claire, and José must have been horrible to earn this fear out of reasonable people. After working with them for a few weeks he knew they were a quiet bunch, but he could also make that call.

He felt even sorrier. What for him was a jumpstart to a new tour location were these people's lives. They'd tied Beltrán, Claire, and José up. They hadn't burned the evidence. They would not go to jail. Dylan would make sure of that somehow.

And as for his continuing tour career? Yes, Yucután would be fine. It was a little farther from London than he was accustomed to. Maybe, if he could have his choice, in some dark place underground, though. After all this work he was sick of the heat. He was sick of the sun. Yet at some point he still wanted to get back to Egypt. Do things right.

At that point his attention wandered. Holly, Alexander, and Richard, the other three members of his team, hunched close together and muttered. Dylan hadn't remembered them ever to be friends, but they probably felt they had nobody else to depend on in the turmoil.

Quickly he looked back to the diggers and their captives. Things seemed under control.

He stepped over to them.

As if this was the catalyst they needed they broke apart abruptly, sending him expressions ranging from confused to livid.

"What is going on?" Richard asked him. "Yesterday we're dragged out of our beds in the middle of the night for a talk. For them to accuse us of stuff we had no idea was going on. Today this is going on?"

"Things are more complicated than they seem, I guess," said Dylan.

Alexander's lips pressed together. "Do you know what is going on?"

"I don't know a lot." Dylan shifted his head sideways. "And I don't want to talk about it right now. Things are a little volatile."

Although Alexander, thankfully, seemed satisfied by this, Richard opened his mouth to reply.

"I don't know why agreed to this dig," Holly muttered bitterly at the same time. "Mid-life crisis?" she scoffed. "Cynical about university politics? Wanting to get back to my roots, so to speak? This entire experience has been inconceivable. I'll be happy never to leave my office again. Now at least I know it's bad on all levels."

"I think I've had it with traveling," Richard agreed.

Alexander didn't say anything, but his face said it all.

It was on the edge of Dylan's tongue to tell them otherwise, to advise them to give it another go, but somehow he knew his words would be wasted on them even before speaking. When looking at them Dylan saw most people in the world, the people who'd dream about adventure and then after age seven or so forget they ever did. They'd live ordinary lives. He himself had almost been caught in that trap. He'd almost settled for tame pleasure. But a few veered off, for better or for worse. He, Sonny, Nancy did. Jamila did.

And right after that thought, right on cue, came a tremendous roar of engines from the hill nearest the cars. Only something told him that these weren't their cars.

A slew of Mexican policemen flew in, presence prefigured by the mass squealing of tires. "This is it," a female voice hurled itself into the din. "People have been digging here illegally. And selling on the sly."

They came up over the hill, thirty-five to fifty of them.

Some of the others tried to run. The policemen raced after them, hot in pursuit, leaving one figure who appeared behind them all. He thought he'd seen the swirl of scarves behind their suits, so colorful and free. It further clashed against the sand when the men skittered away in opposite directions around the hill.

Jamila El-Dine.

Dylan smiled.

She didn't see him right away as she took out her phone. In fact, she noticed close to nothing, which she didn't really mind. This was in Mexico's hands now, and Nancy and Sonny were still missing. That was her priority.

"We're here," Jamila said as soon as Henrik picked up. "At the site. They're making arrests. Collecting evidence. You need to contact the governor. She needs to be involved. I'd do it myself, but I doubt she'd pick up the phone for me. You've talked to her before."

"Several times," Henrik affirmed.

"Right. Well, they wanted to know how I knew, and—oh," she said in surprise, turning to face the sudden noise behind her. "There are other people here."

"Other people?"

"They look like… diplomats?" she tried to make sense of their smartly-dressed figures, so out of place amidst the workers. "Never mind. I'm not concerned about it. So they—the police, that is—need to know about the investigation. For one thing, to be assured of our immunity. I don't want to spend any time in jail, and I doubt any of the rest of us does either."

"I'll do it as soon as I'm off the phone with you."

"I've not heard from Sonny," she continued. "But according to the diplomat who apparently also contacted the authorities, Nancy and Sonny made it in and are well lost. We all arrived together. Just a second ago he was saying they've cancelled all the tours. They don't even have policemen going in. Just a lot of reporters and curious people outside. And policemen telling other policemen they can't go in." Her voice hardened. "Said they were as good as dead."

"What do you want me to do about it?" Henrik asked.

"Call the governor and tell her that this is unacceptable."

"I have sufficient faith they'll make it out."

"They'll make it out, all right, but that isn't the point," she fumed.

"By the time Governor Moreno can do anything about it, they'll be out. It'll save a lot of headache if we just let it lie."

"I can't believe this!"

"You're young," he said tiredly. "Of course you can't believe it."

"What has my age to do with it?" she asked. "Are people less morally inclined when they get older?"

"Yes, Jamila, they are."

"Then I want no bloody part of it!"

"Neither do I, my dear," said Henrik with mild amusement.

"Anyway," she said, taking a deep breath, "I should go so you should call Governor Moreno."

"All right, Jamila. I never thought I'd be saying this to an associate of Sonny Joon, but it's been a pleasure working with you."

"Same," she said without registering the slight on Sonny. "Goodbye." She hung up and continued down the hill.

"—don't arrest them!" a male voice spoke loudly, sounding as though he was trying not to yell but didn't really have a choice if he wanted to be heard. "Arrest them!"

"The ones who are tied?" said one of the police officers.

"The others helped take them out. Those three are the ones doing the selling. Yeah, I helped, but I was sent."

Dylan. She recognized the voice.

"Sent?" the police officer asked, sounding skeptical. "Who sent you?"

"The governor," Jamila spoke up. "As part of an investigation. She's going to sort all this out."

Dylan looked up when he heard her voice.

She smiled a little.

"Here, I have evidence." Dylan led them to the antiquities tent. "Artifacts in there, plus receipts and falsified records I helped them make. There are copies under my mattress. I was afraid they'd destroy some or all of the evidence, but they didn't."

In the few minutes that took, Jamila looked around. The diplomats—or whoever they were—were talking to the diggers, some sitting down with them. The policemen continued their interrogation with notepads, heads very still, occasionally bobbing up and down with the movements of their pencils.

Finally Dylan came out of the tent and walked away briskly before the police officer could catch up. For a second he slowed, wondering where he should go, before his eyes locked on Jamila and he stopped completely.

Then he bounded over, adjusting his hat, relief evident in his easy posture. "Jamila!" he called. "You're here!"

"I'm here," she repeated with a firm nod.

"Boy am I glad to see you," he said. "Ritz or better for dinner, and I'm getting you flowers too."

"Still not holding you to it," Jamila said, laughing.

"I'm going to set up tours here, since I'm allowed to for helping. At some point I'll come back to London. And I'm taking you to dinner."

She laughed again. "If this is still about paying me back…"

"It's not about paying you back." He clasped his hands in front of him. "Look, in Egypt I sort of ignored you, and now I'm sorry for it. I want to get to know you."

For a moment she considered this, looking away. Finally, she spoke and met his eyes. "That's acceptable."

"Good." Dylan brightened. "I was rather hoping we could be friends."

She smiled again. "That, too, is acceptable."

He looked around. "This is over, isn't it?"

"Yes. They're making arrests."

"I wish the other fellows didn't have to be punished," he said. "Probably got forced into doing it. It's barely their fault."

"It is unfortunate," she agreed.

"The real criminals are right over there," Dylan nodded to the three bound figures outside the artifact tent.

"Have you heard from Nancy and Sonny?"

"No. I didn't even get to talk to them before they left."

"Well then, that's my next stop."

"Where's your next stop?"

"Loltun Cave," she told him. "That's where they are, according to Henrik. You coming?"

He looked around again. "Er, aren't we supposed to stay here? Just in case they want to talk to us?"

"I have other worries more important than what they want with me. I'll sort it out later." She turned and made her way back to the cars. "Do you have the keys to any of these?"

"No, but I know where they're kept." Beltrán had showed him at some point, sort of to counteract José making another digger accompany him on all his visits. Dylan rushed off to the antiquities tent and returned with them. "Get in."

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